Shadow Kiss Chapter 17

SEVENTEEN

OUT ON THE RUNWAY, Christian stood near the entrance to the plane, along with a few of the other guardians.Lissa ran off to talk to him, leaving me and Dimitri alone.He hadn’t said a word the entire way back from the spa.

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Strong and silent were typical behaviors for him, but something about his mood struck me as unusual this time.

“Are you still thinking about what Rhonda said? That woman’s a total scam.”

“Why do you say that?” he asked, stopping not far from where the others stood. A sharp wind blasted us all in the face, and I hoped we could board soon.

“Because she didn’t tell us anything! You should have heard my future. It was, like, one sentence stating the obvious. Lissa had a better fortune,” I admitted, “but it wasn’t really anything that profound. Rhonda said she’d be a great leader. I mean, seriously, how hard is that to figure out?”

Dimitri smiled at me. “Would you be a believer if she’d given you a more interesting reading?”

“Maybe if it was good.” When he just laughed, I asked, “But you’re taking it seriously. Why? You really believe in that kind of stuff?”

“It’s not so much that I believe … or that I don’t believe.” He wore a black knit cap over his head today and tugged it down to better cover his ears. “I just respect people like her. They have access to knowledge other people don’t.”

“She’s not a spirit user, though, so I’m not really sure where she’s getting this knowledge. I still think she’s a con artist.”

“She’s a vr?jitoare, actually.”

“A…” I wasn’t even going to touch that one. “A what? Is that Russian?”

“Romanian. It means…well, there’s no real translation. ‘Witch’ is close, but that’s not right. Their idea of a witch isn’t the same as an American’s.”

I had never expected to have a conversation like this with him. I just didn’t think of Dimitri as the superstitious type. For half a moment, I thought that if he could believe in something like witches and fortune-tellers, maybe he could handle me seeing ghosts. I considered saying something to him but promptly decided against it. I wouldn’t have had a chance to say anything anyway because Dimitri kept talking.

“My grandmother was like Rhonda,” he explained. “That is, she practiced the same kind of arts. Personality-wise, they’re very different.”

“Your grandmother was a … v-whatever?”

“It’s called something else in Russian, but yes, same meaning. She used to read cards and give advice too. It was how she made her living.”

I bit off any comments about frauds. “Was she right? In her predictions?”

“Sometimes. Don’t look at me like that.”

“Like what?”

“You’ve got this look on your face that says you think I’m delusional, but you’re too nice to say anything.”

“Delusional’s kind of harsh. I’m just surprised, that’s all. I never expected you to buy into this stuff.”

“Well, I grew up with it, so it doesn’t seem that strange to me. And like I said, I’m not sure I buy into it 100 percent.”

Adrian had joined the group by the plane and was protesting loudly about us not being able to board yet.

“I never thought of you as having a grandmother, either,” I told Dimitri. “I mean, obviously, you’d have to. But still…it’s just weird to think about growing up with one.” Contact with my own mother was rare enough, and I’d never even met any of my other family members. “Was it weird having a witch grandma? Scary? Was she always, like, threatening to cast spells if you were bad?”

“Most of the time she just threatened to send me to my room.”

“That doesn’t sound so scary to me.”

“That’s because you haven’t met her.”

I noted the wording. “Is she still alive?”

He nodded. “Yeah. It’ll take more than old age to kill her off. She’s tough. She was actually a guardian for a while.”

“Really?” Much like with Ambrose, my fixed ideas about dhampirs, guardians, and blood whores were getting muddied. “So she gave it up to become a – uh, to stay with her kids?”

“She has very strong ideas about family – ideas that probably sound kind of sexist to you. She believes all dhampirs should train and put in time as guardians, but that the women should eventually return home to raise their children together.”

“But not the men?”

“No,” he said wryly. “She thinks men still need to stay out there and kill Strigoi.”

“Wow.” I remembered Dimitri telling me a little about his family. His father had popped back every so often, but that was about it for the men in his life. All of his siblings were sisters. And honestly, the idea didn’t sound so sexist. I had the same ideas about men going off to fight, which was why meeting Ambrose had been so weird. “You were the one who had to go. The women in your family kicked you out.”

“Hardly,” he laughed. “My mother would take me back in a second if I wanted to come home.” He was smiling like it was a joke, but I saw something in his eyes that looked a lot like homesickness. It was gone in a flash, though, as Dimitri turned around when Adrian started whooping about how we could finally board.

When we were settled on the plane, Lissa could hardly wait to tell our friends about the news. She started off with how I’d been called in to see the queen. That wasn’t a topic I’d wanted discussed, but she pushed forward, excited that the queen had wanted to “praise” me. Everyone seemed impressed except Adrian. The look on his face told me that he was sure that she most definitely hadn’t called me in for that. However, there was enough of a puzzled look in his eyes to make me think he had no clue about the real reason. It was about time I knew something he didn’t. I had a feeling he would have been as shocked by the idea of him hooking up with Lissa as I’d been.

Lissa then told them about the offer to live at Court and go to college at Lehigh.

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“I still can’t believe it,” she mused. “It sounds too good to be true.”

Adrian knocked back a glass of what looked like whiskey. How had he gotten a hold of that so soon? “Coming from my great-aunt? It is too good to be true.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. After being accused of being engaged in a fictitious romance by Tatiana and finding out she had a dhampir lover/feeder, nothing about her would surprise me anymore. “Is Lissa in trouble?”

“What, bodily? Nah. It’s just, my great-aunt doesn’t do things out of the kindness of her heart. Well,” Adrian amended, “sometimes she does. She’s not a total bitch. And I think she means it about worrying about the Dragomirs. I’ve heard she liked your parents. But as to why she’s doing this … I don’t know. You’ve got radical ideas. Maybe she does want to hear different opinions. Or maybe she wants to keep an eye on you, keep you from causing trouble.”

Or maybe she wants to marry Lissa off to you, I silently added.

Christian didn’t like any of this. “He’s right. They could be trying to rein you in. You should go live with Aunt Tasha. You don’t have to go to a Moroi school.”

“But she’ll be safer if she does,” I admitted.

I was all for fighting the system – and keeping Lissa away from royal plans – but if she went to a college that wasn’t one the Moroi protected, she’d be in danger, and I certainly didn’t want that either. I started to add more, but just then, the plane took off. As soon as it was up in the air, my headache from yesterday returned. It was like all the air around us pressing on my skull.

“Son of a bitch,” I groaned, putting my hand on my forehead.

“You’re sick again?” asked Lissa, worried. I nodded.

“Have you always had trouble flying?” asked Adrian, gesturing for someone to refill his drink.

“Never,” I said. “Damn it. I don’t want to go through this again.”

I gritted my teeth and tried to ignore the pain, as well as those black shapes again. It took some effort, but if I focused hard enough, I actually got it all to lessen a little. Weird. Still, I didn’t want to talk much after that, and everyone left me alone. The college conversation dropped off.

Hours passed. It was almost time to arrive back at the Academy. One of the Moroi flight attendants walked down the aisle to our group, a frown on her face. Alberta instantly snapped to attention. “What’s wrong?”

“An ice storm just blew through the area,” the flight attendant said. “We can’t land at St. Vladimir’s because the runway isn’t accessible with the ice and the winds. We need fuel, however, so we’re going to land at Martinville Regional. It’s a small airport a few hours away by car, but they weren’t as affected as much. Our plan is to land there, refuel, and then fly into the Academy once they’ve cleared the runway. It’s less than an hour by air.”

It was annoying news, but it didn’t sound too bad. Besides, what could we do? At the very least, I’d get some relief soon. If my headache behaved like before, it’d go away when we were on the ground. We settled back into our seats and put on our belts, readying for the landing. The weather looked miserable outside, but the pilot was good and landed with no difficulties.

And that’s when it happened.

As soon as we touched the ground, my world exploded. The headache didn’t go away; it got worse. Much worse – and I hadn’t thought that was possible. It felt like my entire skull was being ripped open.

But that was just the beginning. Because suddenly, all around me, were faces. Ghostly, translucent faces and bodies – just like Mason’s. And oh God, they were everywhere. I couldn’t even see the seats or my friends. Just those faces – and their hands. Pale, shining hands reached out for me. Mouths opened like they would speak, and all of those faces looked as though they wanted something from me.

And the more they came at me, the more of them I started to recognize. I saw Victor’s guardians, the ones who had been killed when we’d rescued Lissa. Their eyes were wide and terrified – over what? Were they reliving their deaths? Mixed in with them were children I didn’t recognize right away. Then – I knew. They were the ones Dimitri and I had found dead after a Strigoi massacre. These children had the same washed-out look Mason had, but their necks were covered in blood, just as they’d been at the house. Its scarlet hue stood out in stark contrast to their shadowy, luminescent bodies.

Thicker and thicker the faces grew. While none of them actually spoke, there seemed to be a buzzing in my ears that grew louder as more and more of them came. Three new figures joined the crowd. They should have blended into the rest, but they stood out almost as sharply as the blood on the children’s necks had.

It was Lissa’s family.

Her mother, her father, and her brother Andre. They looked exactly as they had the last time I’d seen them, just before the car accident. Blond. Beautiful. Regal. Like Mason, they wore no marks of their deaths, even though I knew the crash had done horrible things to them. And like Mason, they just stared at me with sad eyes, not speaking but clearly wanting to say something. Only, unlike with Mason, I understood the message.

There was a large patch of blackness behind Andre that was steadily growing bigger. He pointed at me, and then he pointed at it. I knew, without understanding how I knew, that it was the entrance to the world of death, the world I had come back from. Andre – who’d been my age when he died – pointed again. His parents joined him. They didn’t have to speak for me to know what they were saying: You shouldn’t have lived. You need to come back with us….

I started screaming. And screaming.

I thought someone on the plane was talking to me, but I couldn’t be sure, not when I couldn’t see anything but those faces, hands, and the blackness behind Andre. Every so often, Mason’s face materialized nearby, solemn and sad. I appealed to him for help.

“Make them go away!” I yelled. “Make them go away!”

But there was nothing he would – or could – do. Frantically, I undid my seat belt and tried to stand up. The ghosts didn’t touch me, but they were all too close, still reaching and pointing with skeletal hands. I waved my arms to fend them off, screaming for someone to help me and make this all stop.

There was no help for me, though. No help for all those hands and hollow eyes or the pain that consumed me. It grew so bad that glittering black spots began to dance across my field of vision. I had a feeling I was going to pass out, and I welcomed that. It would make the pain go away and save me from the faces. The spots grew bigger and bigger, and soon I could no longer see anything. The faces disappeared, and so did the pain as sweet black waters dragged me under.

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