Blood Promise Chapter Five

The rest of the trip passed uneventfully.Sydney never entirely lost that discomfort she seemed to have around me, but sometimes, while I was trying to figure out Russian television, she’d take the time to explain what was going on.There were some cultural differences between these shows and the ones we’d both grown up with, so we had that in common.

Every once in a while, she’d crack a smile over something we both found funny, and I’d sense there was someone in there I could possibly be friends with. I knew there was no way I’d ever find a replacement for Lissa, but I think some part of me still longed to fill the void of friendship that had been opened up when I left her behind.

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Sydney napped throughout the day, and I began to think she was just an insomniac with bizarre sleep patterns. She also continued her equally odd treatment of food, hardly touching her meals. She always let me have the leftovers and was a bit more adventurous with Russian cuisine. I’d had to experiment when I first arrived, and it was nice to have the guidance of someone who, though not a local, knew a lot more about this country than me.

On the third day of our trip, we arrived in Omsk. Omsk was a larger and prettier city than I’d expected of Siberia. Dimitri had always teased me that my images of Siberia looking like Antarctica were wrong, and I could tell that he was right-at least as far as the southern part of the region was concerned. The weather wasn’t much different from what I’d have found in Montana this time of year, cool spring air occasionally warmed by sunshine.

Sydney had told me when we got there, she’d get us a ride from some Moroi she knew. Several lived in the city, blending in with the large population. Yet as the day went on, we discovered a problem. No Moroi would take us to the village. Apparently, the road was dangerous. Strigoi often hung out near it at night, hoping to catch traveling Moroi or dhampirs. The more Sydney explained it, the more worried I became about my plan. Apparently, there weren’t many Strigoi in Dimitri’s town itself. According to her, they lurked on the town’s periphery, but few lived out there permanently. If that was the case, my odds of finding Dimitri had dropped. Things got even worse as Sydney continued describing the situation.

“A lot of Strigoi travel the country looking for victims, and the village is just an area they pass through,” she explained. “The road is kind of remote, so some Strigoi will stay for a while and try to get easy prey. Then they move on.”

“In the U.S., Strigoi often hide in large cities,” I said uneasily.

“They do that here too. It’s easier for them to take victims without being noticed.”

Yes, this definitely threw a wrench into my plans. If Dimitri wasn’t residing in this town, I was going to have some serious problems. I’d known Strigoi liked big cities, but somehow, I’d convinced myself Dimitri would return to the place where he grew up.

But if Dimitri wasn’t there… well, suddenly, the enormity of Siberia hit me. I’d learned Omsk wasn’t even the biggest city in the region, and finding even one Strigoi here could be hard. Looking for him in any number of cities that might be larger? Things could get very, very ugly if my hunch proved wrong.

Since setting out to find Dimitri, I’d occasionally had weak moments in which I half-hoped I’d never find him. The idea of him as a Strigoi still tormented me. I was also visited by other images… images of the way he’d been and memories of the time we’d spent together.

I think my most precious memory was of just before he was turned. It was one of those times when I’d sucked up a lot of the spirit-induced darkness from Lissa. I’d been out of control, unable to get a grip. I was afraid of becoming a monster, afraid of killing myself like another shadow kissed guardian had.

Dimitri had brought me back to myself, lending me his strength. I’d realized then just how strong our connection was, how perfectly we understood each other. I’d been skeptical about people being soul mates in the past, but at that moment, I knew it was true. And with that emotional connection had come a physical one. Dimitri and I had finally given in to the attraction. We’d sworn we never would, but… well, our feelings were just too strong. Staying away from each other had turned out to be impossible. We’d had sex, and it had been my first time ever. Sometimes I felt certain it would be my only time.

The act itself had been amazing, and I’d been unable to separate the physical joy from the emotional. Afterward, we’d lain together in that small cabin for as long as we dared, and that had been amazing too. It had been one of the few moments where I’d felt he was truly mine.

“Do you remember Victor’s lust charm?” I had asked, snuggling closer against him.

Dimitri looked at me like I was crazy. “Of course.”

Victor Dashkov was a royal Moroi, one who had been friends with Lissa and her family. Little did we know that he’d secretly studied spirit for years and had identified Lissa as a spirit user before she even knew. He’d tortured her with all sorts of mind games that truly made her think she was going crazy. His schemes had fully culminated in his kidnapping and torturing her until she healed the disease that was killing him.

Victor was now in prison for life, both for what he’d done to Lissa and because of his treasonous plans for rebellion against the Moroi government.

He had been one of the few to know about my relationship with Dimitri, something that had worried me to no end. He’d even furthered our relationship by creating a lust charm-a necklace infused with earth and compulsion. The charm was full of dangerous magic that had made Dimitri and me give into our most basic instincts. We had pulled back at the last moment, and until our night in the cabin, I had believed our charm induced encounter to be the ultimate physical high.

“I didn’t realize it could get better,” I had told Dimitri after we’d actually slept together. I felt a little shy talking about it. “I thought about it all the time… what happened between us.”

He turned to me, tugging the covers up. The cabin was cold, but its bed had warm blankets. I suppose we could have put clothes on, but that was the last thing I wanted to do. Being pressed skin-to-skin felt too good.

“I did too.”

“You did?” I asked, surprised. “I thought… I don’t know. I thought you were too disciplined for that. I thought you’d try to forget it.”

Dimitri laughed and kissed my neck. “Rose, how could I forget being naked with someone as beautiful as you? I stayed awake so many nights, replaying every detail. I told myself over and over that it was wrong, but you’re impossible to forget.” His lips moved to my collarbone, and his hand stroked my hip. “You’re burned into my mind forever. There is nothing, nothing in this world that will ever change that.”

And it was memories like that that made it so hard to comprehend this quest to kill him, even if he was a Strigoi. Yet… at the same time, it was exactly because of memories like that that I had to destroy him. I needed to remember him as the man who’d loved me and held me in bed. I needed to remember that that man would not want to stay a monster.

I wasn’t very excited when Sydney showed me the car she’d bought, particularly since I’d given her the money for it.

“We’re going in that?” I exclaimed. “Can it even make it that far?” The trip was apparently seven hours.

She gave me a shocked look. “Are you serious? Do you know what this is? It’s a 1972 Citroen. These things are amazing. Do you have any idea how hard it would have been to get this into the country back in the Soviet days? I can’t believe that guy actually sold it. He’s clueless.”

I knew little about the Soviet era and even less about classic cars, but Sydney stroked the shiny red hood like she was in love. Who would have guessed? She was a car geek. Maybe it was valuable, and I just couldn’t appreciate it. I was more into sleek, brand-new sports cars. To be fair, this car didn’t have any dents or rust, and aside from an outdated look, it appeared clean and well cared for.

“Will it run?” I asked.

If possible, her expression grew even more incredulous. “Of course!”

And it did. The engine sprang to life with a steady hum, and with the way it accelerated, I started to understand her fascination. She wanted to drive, and I was about to argue that it had been my money that bought it. Seeing the adoring look on her face, though, I finally decided not to come between her and the car.

I was just glad we were leaving right away. It was already late afternoon. If the road was as dangerous as everyone claimed, we wouldn’t want to be out there while it was dark. Sydney agreed but said we could get most of the trip in before sundown and then stay overnight at a place she knew. We’d arrive at our destination in the morning.

The farther we drove from Omsk, the more remote the terrain became. As I studied it, I began to understand Dimitri’s love of this land. It had a scrubby, barren look, true, but spring was turning the plains green, and there was something hauntingly beautiful about seeing all this untouched wilderness. It reminded me of Montana in some ways yet had a certain quality that was all its own.

I couldn’t help but use Sydney’s crush on the car as a means of conversation. “Do you know a lot about cars?” I asked.

“Some,” she said. “My dad’s the Alchemist in our family, but my mom’s a mechanic.”

“Really?” I asked, surprised. “That’s kind of… unusual.” Of course, I was hardly one to talk about gender roles. Considering my life was dedicated to fighting and killing, I couldn’t really claim to have a traditionally feminine job either.

“She’s really good and taught me a lot. I wouldn’t have minded doing that for a living. Wouldn’t have minded going to college, either.” There was a bitter note in her voice. “I guess there are a lot of other things I wish I could do.”

“Why can’t you?”

“I had to be the next family Alchemist. My sister… well, she’s older, and usually it’s the oldest kid who has to do the job. But, she’s kind of… worthless.”

“That’s harsh.”

“Yeah, maybe. But she just couldn’t handle this kind of thing. When it comes to organizing her lip gloss collection, she’s unstoppable. But managing the kinds of networks and people we do? No, she’d never be able to do it. Dad said I was the only one capable of it.”

“That’s a compliment, at least.”

“I guess.”

Sydney looked so sad now that I felt bad for bringing it up. “If you could go to college, what would you study?”

“Greek and Roman architecture.”

I decided then it was a good thing I wasn’t behind the wheel, because I probably would have driven off the road. “Seriously?”

“You know anything about it?”

“Um, no.”

“It’s amazing.” The sad expression was replaced by one of wonder-she looked nearly as enamored as she’d been of the car. I understood then why she’d liked the train station. “The ingenuity it took for some of that… well, it’s just unreal. If the Alchemists won’t send me back to the U.S. after this, I’m hoping I’ll get assigned to Greece or Italy.”

“That would be cool.”

“Yeah.” Her smile faded. “But there are no guarantees you’ll get what you want with this job.”

She fell silent after that, and I decided that coaxing her into this small conversation had been victory enough. I left her to her own thoughts of classic cars and architecture while my mind wandered to topics of my own. Strigoi. Duty. Dimitri. Always Dimitri…

Well, Dimitri and Lissa. It was always a toss-up over who would cause me more pain. Today, as the car lulled me into a daze, it was Lissa I went to, thanks largely to Adrian’s recent visit in my dream.

Early evening in Russia meant early morning in Montana. Of course, since the school ran on a nocturnal schedule, it was technically night for them too in spite of the sunshine. It was nearly curfew, and everyone would have to return to their own dorms soon.

Lissa was with Adrian, over in his room in guest housing. Adrian, like Avery, had graduated, but as the only other known spirit user, he’d come to stay indefinitely at the school and work with Lissa. They’d just spent a long, exhausting evening working on dream walking and sat on the floor facing each other. With a sigh, Lissa collapsed back and lay down, stretching her arms over her head.

“This is useless,” she groaned. “I’m never going to learn it.”

“Never took you for a quitter, cousin.” Adrian’s voice was as flippant as usual, but I could tell he was weary too. They weren’t really cousins; that was just a term royals sometimes used with each other.

“I just don’t understand how you do it.”

“I don’t know how to explain it. I just think about it, and… well, it happens.” He shrugged and pulled out the cigarettes he always carried. “Do you mind?”

“Yes,” she said. To my surprise, he put them away. What the hell? He’d never asked me if I minded if he smoked-which I did. In fact, half the time, I swore he did it to annoy me, which made no sense. Adrian was way past the age when guys tried to attract girls they liked by picking on them.

He tried to explain the process. “I just think about who I want and sort of… I don’t know. Expand my mind toward them.”

Lissa sat up and crossed her legs. “Sounds a lot like how Rose described reading me.”

“Probably the same principle. Look, it took you a while to learn auras. This is no different. And you’re not the only one with a learning curve. I’m only now finally moving past healing scratches, and you can bring back the dead, which-call me crazy-is kind of hard-core.” He paused. “Of course, some would argue that I am actually crazy.”

At the mention of auras, she studied him and summoned the ability to see the field of light that shone around every living thing. His aura came into focus, surrounding him in a golden glow. According to Adrian, her aura was the same. No other Moroi had that kind of pure gold. Lissa and Adrian figured it was unique to spirit users.

He smiled, guessing what she was doing. “How’s it look?”

“The same.”

“See how good you are at it now? Just be patient with the dreams.”

Lissa wanted so badly to walk dreams the same way he could. Despite her disappointment, I was glad she couldn’t. Adrian’s dream visits were hard enough on me. Seeing her would… well, I wasn’t entirely sure, but it would make this cool, hard attitude I was trying to maintain in Russia a lot harder.

“I just want to know how she is,” said Lissa in a small voice. “I can’t stand not knowing.” It was the conversation with Christian all over again.

“I saw her the other day. She’s fine. And I’ll go again soon.”

Lissa nodded. “Do you think she’ll do it? Do you think she can kill Dimitri?”

Adrian took a long time in answering. “I think she can. The question will be if it kills her in the process.”

Lissa flinched, and I was a bit surprised. The answer was as blunt as one Christian might give. “God, I wish she hadn’t decided to go after him.”

“Wishing’s useless now. Rose has got to do this. It’s the only way we can get her back.” He paused. “It’s the only way she’ll be able to move on.”

Adrian surprised me sometimes, but this took the prize. Lissa thought it was foolish and suicidal to go after Dimitri. I knew Sydney would agree if I told her the truth about this trip. But Adrian… silly, shallow, party-boy Adrian understood? Studying him through Lissa’s eyes, I realized he actually did. He didn’t like it, and I could hear the hurt in his words. He cared about me. My having such strong feelings for someone else caused him pain. And yet… he truly believed that I was doing the right thing-the only thing I could do.

Lissa looked at the clock. “I’ve got to go before curfew. I should probably study for my history test, too.”

Adrian grinned. “Studying’s overrated. Just find someone smart to copy off.”

She stood up. “Are you saying I’m not smart?”

“Hell no.” He rose also and went to pour himself a drink from the fully stocked bar he kept on hand. Self-medicating was his irresponsible way of keeping spirit’s effects at bay, and if he’d been using spirit all night, he would want the numbness of his vices. “You’re the smartest person I know.

But that doesn’t mean you have to do unnecessary work.”

“You can’t succeed in life if you don’t work. Copying from others won’t get you anywhere.”

“Whatever,” he said with a grin. “I copied all through school, and look how well I’m doing today.”

With an eye roll, Lissa gave him a quick hug goodbye and left. Once out of his sight, her smile faded a bit. In fact, her thoughts took a decidedly dark turn. Mentioning me had stirred up all sorts of feelings within. She was worried about me-desperately worried. She’d told Christian that she felt bad about what had happened between us, but the full force of that didn’t hit me until now. She was racked by guilt and confusion, continually berating herself for what she should have done. And above all, she missed me. She had that same feeling I did-like a part of her had been cut out.

Adrian lived on the fourth floor, and Lissa opted for the stairs rather than the elevator. All the while, her mind spun with worry. Worries about whether she’d ever master spirit. Worry for me. Worry that she wasn’t currently feeling spirit’s dark side effects, which made her wonder if I was absorbing them, just as a guardian named Anna had. She’d lived centuries ago and was bonded to St. Vladimir, the school’s namesake. She’d absorbed spirit’s nasty effects from him-and had been driven insane.

On the second floor, Lissa could make out the sounds of shouting, even through the door that separated the stairwell from the hallway. Despite knowing it had nothing to do with her, she hesitated, curiosity getting the best of her. A moment later, she quietly pushed the door open and stepped into the hall. The voices were coming from around the corner. She carefully peered around it-not that she needed to. She recognized the voices.

Avery Lazar stood in the hallway, hands on her hips as she stared at her father. He stood in the doorway to what must have been his suite. Their stances were rigid and hostile, and anger crackled between them.

“I’ll do what I want,” she yelled. “I’m not your slave.”

“You’re my daughter,” he said in a voice both calm and condescending. “Though at times I wish you weren’t.”

Ouch. Both Lissa and I were shocked.

“Then why are you making me stay in this hellhole? Let me go back to Court!”

“And embarrass me further? We barely got out without damaging this family’s reputation-much. No way am I going to send you there alone and let you do God knows what.”

“Then send me to Mom! Switzerland’s got to be better than this place.”

There was a pause. “Your mother is… busy.”

“Oh, nice,” said Avery, voice heavy with sarcasm. “That’s a polite way of saying she doesn’t want me. No surprise. I’d just interfere with her and that guy she’s sleeping with.”

“Avery!” His voice rang out loud and angry. Lissa flinched and stepped back. “This conversation is done. Get back to your room and sober up before someone sees you. I expect you at breakfast tomorrow, and I expect you to be respectable. We have some important visitors.”

“Yeah, and God knows we’ve got to keep up appearances.”

“Go to your room,” he repeated. “Before I call Simon and make him drag you there.”

“Yes, sir,” she simpered. “Right away, sir. Anything you say, sir.”

And with that, he slammed the door. Lissa, ducking back behind the corner, could hardly believe he’d said those things to his own daughter. For a few moments, there was silence. Then, Lissa heard the sound of footsteps-coming toward her. Avery suddenly rounded the corner and stopped in front of Lissa, giving us our first good look of her.

Avery was wearing a tight, short dress made of some kind of blue fabric that shone silvery in the light. Her hair hung long and wild, and the tears pouring from her blue-gray eyes had destroyed the heavy makeup she wore. The scent of alcohol came through loud and clear. She hastily ran a hand over her eyes, obviously embarrassed at being seen like this.

“Well,” she said flatly. “I guess you overheard our family drama.”

Lissa felt equally embarrassed at being caught spying. “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. I was just passing by…”

Avery gave a harsh laugh. “Well, I don’t think it matters. Probably everyone in the building heard us.”

“I’m sorry,” Lissa repeated.

“Don’t be. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“No… I mean, I’m sorry he… you know, said those things to you.”

“It’s part of being a ?®good’ family. Everyone’s got skeletons in their closet.” Avery crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. Even upset and messy, she was beautiful. “God, I hate him sometimes. No offense, but this place is so fucking boring. I found some sophomore guys to hang with tonight, but… they were pretty boring too. The only thing they had going for them was their beer.”

“Why… why did your dad bring you here?” Lissa asked. “Why aren’t you… I don’t know, in college?”

Avery gave a harsh laugh. “He doesn’t trust me enough. When we were at Court, I got involved with this cute guy who worked there-total nonroyal, of course. Dad freaked out and was afraid people would find out. So when he got the job here, he brought me along to keep an eye on me and torture me. I think he’s afraid I’ll run off with a human if I go to college.” She sighed. “I swear to God, if Reed wasn’t here, I’d just run away, period.”

Lissa didn’t say anything for a long time. She’d gone out of her way to avoid Avery diligently. With all the orders the queen was giving Lissa lately, this seemed the only way Lissa could fight back and stop herself from being controlled. But now, she wondered if she’d been wrong about Avery.

Avery didn’t seem like a spy for Tatiana. She didn’t seem like someone who wanted to mold Lissa into a perfect royal. Mostly, Avery seemed like a sad, hurting girl, whose life was spinning out of control. Someone who was being ordered around as much as Lissa was lately.

With a deep breath, Lissa rushed forward with her next words. “Do you want to eat lunch with Christian and me tomorrow? No one would mind if you came to our lunch period. I can’t promise it’ll be, um, as exciting as you want.”

Avery smiled again, but this time, it was less bitter. “Well, my other plans were to get drunk by myself in my room.” She lifted a bottle of what looked like whiskey out of her purse. “Scored some stuff of my own.”

Lissa wasn’t entirely sure what kind of an answer that was. “So… I’ll see you at lunch?”

Now Avery hesitated. But slowly, a faint gleam of hope and interest appeared on her face. Concentrating, Lissa tried to bring up her aura. She had a little difficulty at first, probably worn out from all the practice with Adrian tonight. But when she was finally able to get a grip on Avery’s aura, she saw it was a mix of colors: green, blue, and gold. Not uncommon. It was currently ringed in red, as often happened when people were upset. But right before Lissa’s eyes, that redness faded.

“Yeah,” Avery said at last. “That would be great.”

“I think this is as far as we can go today.”

On the other side of the world, Sydney’s voice startled me out of Lissa’s thoughts. I didn’t know how long I’d been daydreaming, but Sydney had turned off the main highway and was driving us into a small town that fit perfectly with my backwoods images of Siberia. In fact, “town” was a total exaggeration. There were a few scattered houses, a store, and a gas station. Farmland stretched beyond the buildings, and I saw more horses than cars. The few people who were out stared at our car in amazement. The sky had turned deep orange, and the sun was sinking farther and farther into the horizon. Sydney was right. It was nearly nightfall, and we needed to be off the road.

“We’re only a couple hours away at most,” she continued. “We made really good time and should get there pretty quickly in the morning.” She drove to the other side of the village-which took, like, a minute-and pulled up in front of a plain white house with a barn beside it. “Here’s where we’re staying.”

We got out of the car and approached the house. “Are these friends of yours?”

“Nope. Never met them. But they’re expecting us.”

More mysterious Alchemist connections. The door was answered by a friendly looking human in her twenties who urged us to come inside. She only spoke a few words of English, but Sydney’s translation skills carried us through. Sydney was more outgoing and charming than I’d seen her thus far, probably because our hosts weren’t despicable vampiric offspring.

You wouldn’t think riding in a car all day would be tiring, but I felt exhausted and was anxious to get an early start in the morning. So after dinner and a little TV, Sydney and I went to the room that had been prepared for us. It was small and plain but had two twin beds covered in thick, fluffy blankets. I snuggled into mine, grateful for the softness and the warmth, and wondered if I’d dream of Lissa or Adrian.

I didn’t. I did, however, wake up to a slight wave of nausea rolling through me-the nausea that told me there was a Strigoi nearby.

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