The reactions were mixed among Dimitri’s family members.Some cried.Some were stunned.
And some-mainly Yeva and Viktoria-simply took it in and kept their emotions from their faces, just as Dimitri would have done. That upset me almost as much as the tears; it reminded me too much of him. Out of all of them, pregnant Sonya-who came home shortly after the news broke-had the most intense physical reaction. She ran sobbing to her room and wouldn’t come out.
It didn’t take long, however, for Yeva and Olena to spring into action. They spoke rapidly in Russian, clearly planning something. Phone calls were made, and Viktoria was dispatched to run an errand. No one seemed to need me, so I mostly wandered the house and tried to stay out of the way.
I found myself studying the shelves I’d seen earlier, running my hands along the leather-bound books. The titles were in Cyrillic, but it didn’t matter.
Touching them and imagining Dimitri having held and read them somehow made me feel closer to him.
“Looking for a little light reading?” Sydney walked up and stood beside me. She hadn’t been around earlier but had heard the news.
“Very light, seeing as I don’t understand any of them,” I replied. I gestured to the scurrying family members. “What’s going on here?”
“They’re planning Dimitri’s funeral,” Sydney explained. “Or, well, his memorial service.”
I frowned. “But he’s not dead-“
“Shh.” She cut me off with a sharp gesture and glanced warily at the others as they hustled around. “Don’t say that.”
“But it’s true,” I hissed back.
She shook her head. “Not to them. Out here… out in these villages… there’s no in-between state. You’re alive or you’re dead. They aren’t going to acknowledge him being one of… those.” She couldn’t keep the disgust out of her voice. “For all intents and purposes, he is dead to them. They’ll mourn him and move on. So should you.” I didn’t take offense at her blunt attitude because I knew she hadn’t meant to give any. It was just her way.
The problem was, that in-between state was very real to me, and there was no way I could move on. Not yet.
“Rose…” began Sydney after several seconds of silence. She wouldn’t meet my eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“You mean, for Dimitri?”
“Yeah… I had no idea. I haven’t really been that nice to you. I mean, I’m not going to act like I feel any better about hanging out with your kind, but you guys are still… well, not human, obviously. But… I don’t know. You still have feelings; you still love and hurt. And while we were coming here, you had all this horrible news in you, and I didn’t make it any easier for you. So I’m sorry for that. And I’m sorry for thinking the worst of you.”
At first, I thought she was talking about thinking I was evil, but then I got it. She’d thought this whole time that I really was coming to be a blood whore and now believed delivering the news to Dimitri’s family had been my only purpose. I didn’t bother to correct her.
“Thanks, but you couldn’t have known. And honestly, if I were in your place… I don’t know. I’d probably act the same way.”
“No,” she said. “You wouldn’t. You’re always nice to people.”
I gave her an incredulous look. “Have you been traveling with someone else these last few days? Back home, I’ve got a reputation for not always being so nice. I’ve got attitude, and I know it.”
She smiled. “Yeah, you do. But you also say the right things to people when you have to. Telling the Belikovs what you did… well, that was hard.
And no matter what you say, you can be polite and go out of your way to make people feel good. Most of the time.”
I was a bit startled. Was that how I appeared? I often thought of myself as a trigger-happy queen bitch and tried to think about my behavior with her these last few days. I had sparred with her a lot, but among the others we’d met, I supposed I had been friendly.
“Well, thanks,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
“Did you see Abe yet? When you walked around town?”
“No,” I said, realizing I’d forgotten about my mysterious rescuer. “Should I have?”
“I just figured he’d find you.”
“Who is he? Why did he come get us when you told him I was hurt?”
Sydney hesitated, and I thought I was going to get some more of the Alchemist silent treatment. Then, after glancing around uneasily, she said in a low voice, “Abe’s not royal, but he’s a really important guy. He’s not Russian either, but he’s in the country a lot, always on business-both illegal and legal, I think. He’s friends with all the important Moroi, and half the time, it seems like he controls the Alchemists, too. I know he’s involved in the process of making our tattoos… but his business goes far beyond that. We have a name for him behind his back… Zmey.”
“Zma what?” I had barely heard the word. It sounded like zz-may. It was certainly nothing I’d ever heard before.
She gave a small smile at my confusion. “Zmey is Russian for ?®snake.’ But not just any snake.” Her eyes narrowed as she pondered a better explanation. “It’s a term used in lots of myths. Sometimes for giant snakes heroes have to battle. There are also a few stories about wizards with snake blood who get called that. The snake in the Garden of Eden? Who made Eve fall? He was called a zmey too.”
I shivered. Okay, that was pretty freaky, but it made something click into place. The Alchemists allegedly had ties to leaders and authorities, and Abe apparently wielded a lot of influence with them. “Is Abe the one who wanted you to come with me to Baia? The reason the Alchemists made you come here?”
Again, she paused, then nodded. “Yeah… when I called that night in Saint Petersburg, I was told there was a search going on for you.
Abe gave orders through the Alchemists for me to stay with you until he could meet up with us here. He’s apparently been searching for you on someone’s behalf.”
I went cold. My fears were being realized. People had been looking for me. But who? If Lissa had initiated a manhunt, I would have sensed it when I visited her mind. I didn’t think it was Adrian either, not from the way he seemed so desperate and clueless about my whereabouts. Plus, he seemed to accept my need for this quest.
So who was looking for me? And for what reason? This Abe sounded like a high-ranking person-albeit someone involved in shady business someone who might very well be connected to the queen or others almost as important. Had he been ordered to find me and bring me back? Or considering how much the queen hated me-had he perhaps been ordered to make sure I didn’t come back? Was I dealing with an assassin?
Sydney certainly seemed to regard him with a weird mix of fear and respect.
“Maybe I don’t want to meet him,” I said.
“I don’t think he’ll hurt you. I mean, if he wanted to, he already would have. But be careful. He’s always playing several games at once, and he deals in enough secrets to rival the Alchemists.”
“So you don’t trust him?”
She gave me a rueful grin as she turned to walk away. “You forget: I don’t trust any of you.”
When she was gone, I decided to go outside, away from the sorrow and business indoors. I sat down on the top step of the backyard porch, watching Paul play. He was building a fort for some of his action figures. While sensitive to the grief in his family, it was hard for him to be too affected by the “death” of an uncle he’d only met a couple of times. The news didn’t mean as much to him as it did to the rest of us.
With so much time on my hands for the rest of the day, I decided to do a quick check-in with Lissa. In spite of myself, I was kind of curious about how things had panned out with Avery Lazar.
While Lissa’s intentions were good, she’d still had some misgivings about bringing Avery along to lunch. And yet, she was pleasantly surprised to see Avery fitting in perfectly, charming both Adrian and Christian. Admittedly, Adrian was impressed by pretty much anything female. Christian was harder to crack, but even he seemed to be growing fond of her-probably because she kept teasing Adrian. Anyone who could make a joke at Adrian’s expense ranked high on Christian’s list.
“So, explain this,” Avery said, winding linguine around her fork. “You just, what, hang around the Academy all day? Are you trying to redo your high school experience?”
“Nothing to redo,” said Adrian loftily. “I totally ruled my high school. I was worshipped and adored-not that that should come as a shock.” Beside him, Christian nearly choked on his food.
“So… you’re trying to relive your glory days. It’s all gone downhill since then, huh?”
“No way,” said Adrian. “I’m like a fine wine. I get better with age. The best is yet to come.”
“Seems like it’d get old after a while,” said Avery, apparently not convinced by the compelling wine simile. “I’m certainly bored, and I even spend part of the day helping my dad.”
“Adrian sleeps most of the day,” noted Lissa, trying to keep a straight face. “So he doesn’t actually have to worry about finding things to do.”
“Hey, I spend a good portion of my time helping you unravel the mysteries of spirit,” Adrian reminded her.
Avery leaned forward, curiosity all over her pretty face. “So it’s actually real? I heard stories about spirit… about how you can heal people?”
It took Lissa a moment to respond. She wasn’t sure she’d ever get used to her magic being out in the open now. “Among other things. We’re still figuring it out.”
Adrian was more eager than she was to discuss it-probably in the hopes of impressing Avery-and provided a quick rundown of some of spirit’s abilities, like auras and compulsion. “And,” he added, “I can visit people in their dreams.”
Christian held up a hand. “Stop. I can feel there’s a comment coming on about how women already dream about you. I just ate, you know.”
“I wasn’t going to go there,” said Adrian. But he kind of looked like he wished he’d thought of the joke first. I couldn’t help being a little amused.
Adrian was so brash and flippant in public… and then, in my dreams, he’d show that serious and concerned side. He was more complex than anyone gave him credit for.
Avery looked floored. “Man. I used to think using air was cool. I guess not.” A small breeze suddenly blew her hair back, making her look as though she were posing for a swimsuit photo shoot. She gave the group a dazzling smile. All that was missing was a photographer.
The sound of the bell made them all stand up. Christian realized he’d left homework in another class and hurried off to get it-after kissing Lissa goodbye, of course.
Adrian departed equally as fast. “The teachers start giving me dirty looks if I hang around once classes start.” He gave Lissa and Avery a small half bow. “Until next time, ladies.”
Avery, who couldn’t care less about what teachers thought, walked with Lissa to her next class. The older girl’s face was thoughtful. “So… you really are with Christian, right?” Was she ever. If Avery’d seen half the things I’d seen Christian and Lissa do through the bond, there’d be no question.
Lissa laughed. “Yes, why?”
Avery hesitated, piquing Lissa’s curiosity. “Well… I heard that you were involved with Adrian.”
Lissa nearly stopped walking. “Where did you hear that?”
. The queen was saying how happy she is about you guys being a couple and how you’re always together.”
Lissa groaned. “That’s because whenever I go to Court, she invites him too and then sends us both off to do things for her. It’s not by choice… well, I mean, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind spending time with him, but the reason we’re always together there is because Tatiana makes us.”
“She seems to like you, though. She talks about you all the time, about how much potential you have and how proud she is of you.”
“I think she’s proud to manipulate me. Going there is such a pain. She either completely ignores the fact that I’m dating Christian or takes whatever chance she can get to slip in insults about him.” Queen Tatiana, like so many other people, could never forgive Christian’s parents for willingly turning Strigoi.
“Sorry,” said Avery, looking like she felt really bad. “I didn’t mean to bring up a bad subject. I just kind of wanted to know if Adrian was available, that’s all.”
Lissa wasn’t mad at Avery. Her fury was turned toward the queen, at how she assumed everyone would behave the way she wanted and dance when she commanded it. The Moroi world had been ruled by a king or a queen since the beginning of time, and sometimes, Lissa thought it was time for a change. They needed a system where everyone had an equal say-royal and non-royal alike. Even the dhampirs.
The more she thought about it, the more she felt her temper spike, anger and frustration flaring up in a way more common to me than her. It made her want to scream sometimes, to walk right up to Tatiana and tell her their deal was off. No college was worth this. Maybe she’d even tell Tatiana that it was time for a revolution, time to overturn the Moroi’s backward Lissa blinked, astonished to find she was shaking. Where had that emotion come from? It was one thing to be upset with Tatiana, but this…?
She hadn’t had such out-of-control rages since she first began using spirit. With a deep breath, she tried to use some of the calming techniques she’d acquired so that Avery wouldn’t know what a nutcase she’d nearly turned into.
“I just hate people talking about me, that’s all,” Lissa said at last.
Avery hadn’t seemed to notice Lissa’s lapse into anger. “Well, if it makes you feel better, not everyone thinks that about you. I met a girl… Mia?
Yeah, that was her name. Some non-royal.” Avery’s dismissive tone suggested she held the view a lot of royals had toward “common” Moroi. “She just laughed about you and Adrian being together. Said it was ridiculous.”
Lissa almost smiled at that. Mia had once been Lissa’s rival and a self-centered brat. But after Strigoi killed her mother, Mia had taken on a fierce, determined attitude, one both Lissa and I liked immensely. Mia lived at Court with her father, secretly training to fight so that she would be able to battle Strigoi someday.
“Oh,” said Avery suddenly. “There’s Simon. I should go.”
Lissa looked across the hall and saw Avery’s stern guardian. Simon might not be as grim as Avery’s brother Reed, but he still had that same stiff and dour look he’d had when Lissa first met him. Avery seemed to get along with him fine, though.
“Okay,” said Lissa. “I’ll see you later.”
“You bet,” said Avery, starting to turn.
“Oh, and Avery?”
Avery glanced at Lissa. “Yeah?”
“Adrian is available.”
Avery’s only answer was a quick grin before she headed off to join Simon.
Back with the Belikovs in Baia, the memorial service was going forward. Neighbors and friends, all dhampirs, slowly arrived, many bringing food. It was my first glimpse of the dhampir community, though it still didn’t seem as mysterious as Sydney had implied. The kitchen turned into a banquet hall, with every counter and table surface covered in dishes. Some were foods I knew, and there were lots of desserts-cookies and pastries covered in nuts and icing that smelled freshly baked. Some of the dishes I’d never seen before and wasn’t sure I wanted to ever again. There was a slimy bowl of cabbage in particular that I went out of my way to avoid.
But before we ate, everyone went outside and gathered in a semicircle in the backyard. It was the only place that could accommodate so many people. A priest appeared just then, a human one. That surprised me a little, but I supposed when living in a human town, dhampirs would attend a human church. And to most humans, dhampirs looked just like them, so the priest no doubt thought he was making an ordinary house call. A handful of Moroi who had been in town were also present, but they, too, could more or less pass for humans-pale ones-if they were discreet with the fangs. Humans didn’t expect to see the supernatural, so their minds rarely considered it an option, even when it was right in front of them.
Everyone grew silent. It was sunset now, with orange fire burning in the western sky, and shadows falling across all of us. The priest performed a funeral service in Russian, chanting in a voice that sounded unearthly in the darkening yard.
All the church services I’d ever attended were in English, but I could see how this had the same feel. Every so often, those gathered would cross themselves. I didn’t know the cues, so I simply watched and waited, letting the priest’s mournful voice fill my soul. My feelings for Dimitri churned within me like a growing storm, and I worked to keep them in, locked up in my heart. When the service finally finished, the eerie tension that had engulfed the group dispersed. People moved again, hugging the Belikovs and shaking hands with the priest. He left shortly thereafter.
Food followed. Plates were loaded up, and everyone sat wherever they could find space, be it inside the house or in the backyard. None of the guests really knew me, and Dimitri’s family was far too busy to pay much attention to me as they ran around and tried to make everyone feel welcome. Sydney stayed with me a lot of the time, and while conversation was light between us, I took comfort in her presence. We sat on the living room floor, leaning against the wall near the bookcase. She picked over her food, like always, which made me smile. There was something soothing about that familiar habit.
When dinner was over, people continued chatting in small groups. I couldn’t understand any of it, but I kept hearing his name mentioned: Dimitri, Dimitri. It reminded me of the incomprehensible hissing that the ghosts made during their visits. It was oppressive and smothering, the force of his name pressing on my heart. Dimitri, Dimitri. After a while, it grew to be too much. Sydney had stepped away for a bit, so I went outside to get some air. Some people had built a bonfire in the back and were sitting around it, still talking about Dimitri, so I headed off toward the front yard.
I walked down the street, not intending to go far. The night was warm and clear, with the moon and stars burning brightly in the blackness above me. My feelings were tangled up, and now that I was away from the others, I allowed a bit of that pent-up emotion to burst forth, coming out as silent tears on my cheeks. When I was a couple of houses away, I sat down on the curb, resting and enjoying the stillness around me. My peace was short-lived, however-my sharp ears picked up the sound of voices coming from the Belikov house. Three figures appeared. One, tall and slim, was Moroi, and the others were dhampirs. I stared as they came to a stop in front of me. Not bothering with formalities, I remained where I was, looking up into the Moroi’s dark eyes. I didn’t recognize this group from the service-but I did recognize the Moroi from somewhere else. I gave him a wry half-smile.
“Abe Mazur, I presume.”