Vampire Academy Chapter 15

FIFTEEN

MASON DELIVERED.

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He found me the next day before school.He was carrying a box of books.

“I got them,” he said.“Hurry and take them before you get in trouble for talking to me.”

He handed them over, and I grunted.

They were heavy. “Christian gave you these?”

“Yeah. Managed to talk to him without anyone noticing. He’s got kind of an attitude, did you ever notice that?”

“Yeah, I noticed.” I rewarded Mason with a smile that he ate up. “Thanks. This means a lot.”

I hauled the loot up to my room, fully aware of how weird it was that someone who hated to study as much as I did was about to get buried in dusty crap from the fourteenth century. When I opened the first book, though, I saw that these must be reprints of reprints of reprints, probably because anything that old would have long since fallen apart.

Sifting through the books, I discovered they fell into three categories: books written by people after St. Vladimir had died, books written by other people when he was still alive, and one diary of sorts written by him. What had Mason said about primary and secondary sources? Those last two groups were the ones I wanted.

Whoever had reprinted these had reworded the books enough so that I didn’t have to read Ye Olde English or anything. Or rather, Russian, I supposed. St. Vladimir had lived in the old country.

Today I healed the mother of Sava who has long since suffered from sharp pains within her stomach. Her malady is now gone, but God has not allowed me to do such a thing lightly. I am weak and dizzy, and the madness is trying to leak into my head. I thank God every day for shadow-kissed Anna, for without her, I would surely not be able to endure.

Anna again. And “shadow-kissed.” He talked about her a lot, among other things. Most of the time he wrote long sermons, just like what I’d hear in church. Super boring. But other times, the book read just like a diary, recapping what he did each day. And if it really wasn’t just a load of crap, he healed all the time. Sick people. Injured people. Even plants. He brought dead crops back to life when people were starving. Sometimes he would make flowers bloom just for the hell of it.

Reading on, I found out that it was a good thing old Vlad had Anna around, because he was pretty messed up. The more he used his powers, the more they started to get to him. He’d get irrationally angry and sad. He blamed it on demons and stupid stuff like that, but it was obvious he suffered from depression. Once, he admitted in his diary, he tried to kill himself. Anna stopped him.

Later, browsing through the book written by the guy who knew Vladimir, I read:

And many think it miraculous too, the power the blessed Vladimir shows over others. Moroi and dhampirs flock to him and listen to his words, happy just to be near him. Some say it is madness that touches him and not spirit, but most adore him and would do anything he asked. Such is the way God marks his favorites, and if such moments are followed by hallucinations and despair, it is a small sacrifice for the amount of good and leadership he can show among the people.

It sounded a lot like what the priest had said, but I sensed more than just a “winning personality” People adored him, would do anything he asked. Yes, Vladimir had used compulsion on his followers, I was certain. A lot of Moroi had in those days, before it was banned, but they didn’t use it on Moroi or dhampirs. They couldn’t. Only Lissa could.

I shut the book and leaned back against my bed. Vladimir healed plants and animals. He could use compulsion on a massive scale. And by all accounts, using those sorts of powers had made him crazy and depressed.

Added into it all, making it that much weirder was that everyone kept describing his guardian as “shadow-kissed.” That expression had bugged me ever since I first heard it…

“You’re shadow-kissed! You have to take care of her!”

Ms. Karp had shouted those words at me, her hands clenching my shirt and jerking me toward her. It had happened on a night two years ago when I’d been inside the main part of the upper school to return a book. It was nearly past curfew, and the halls were empty. I’d heard a loud commotion, and then Ms. Karp had come tearing around the corner, looking frantic and wild-eyed.

She shoved me into a wall, still gripping me. “Do you understand?”

I knew enough self-defense that I could have probably pushed her away, but my shock kept me frozen. “No.”

“They’re coming for me. They’ll come for her.”

“Who?”

“Lissa. You have to protect her. The more she uses it, the worse it’ll get. Stop her, Rose. Stop her before they notice, before they notice and take her away too. Get her out of here.”

“I…what do you mean? Get her out of…you mean the Academy?”

“Yes! You have to leave. You’re bound. It’s up to you. Take her away from this place.”

Her words were crazy. No one left the Academy. Yet as she held me there and stared into my eyes, I began to feel strange. A fuzzy feeling clouded my mind. What she said suddenly sounded very reasonable, like the most reasonable thing in the world. Yes. I needed to take Lissa away, take her –

Feet pounded in the hallway, and a group of guardians rounded the corner. I didn’t recognize them; they weren’t from the school. They pried her off of me, restraining her wild thrashing. Someone asked me if I was okay, but I could only keep staring at Ms. Karp.

“Don’t let her use the power!” she screamed. “Save her. Save her from herself!”

The guardians had later explained to me that she wasn’t well and had been taken to a place where she could recover.

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She would be safe and cared for, they assured me. She would recover.

Only she hadn’t.

Back in the present, I stared at the books and tried to put it all together. Lissa. Ms. Karp. St. Vladimir.

What was I supposed to do?

Someone rapped at my door, and I jerked out of my memories. No one had visited me, not even staff, since my suspension. When I opened the door, I saw Mason in the hall.

“Twice in one day?” I asked. “And how’d you even get up here?”

He flashed his easy smile. “Someone put a lit match in one of the bathroom’s garbage cans. Damn shame. The staff’s kind of busy. Come on, I’m springing you.”

I shook my head. Setting fires was apparently a new sign of affection. Christian had done it and now Mason. “Sorry, no saving me tonight. If I get caught – “

“Lissa’s orders.”

I shut up and let him smuggle me out of the building. He took me over to the Moroi dorm and miraculously got me in and up to her room unseen. I wondered if there was a distracting bathroom fire in this building too.

Inside her room, I found a party in full swing. Lissa, Camille, Carly, Aaron, and a few other royals sat around laughing, listening to loud music, and passing around bottles of whiskey. No Mia, no Jesse. Natalie, I noticed a few moments later, sat apart from the group, clearly unsure how to act around all of them. Her awkwardness was totally obvious.

Lissa stumbled to her feet, the fuzzy feelings in our bond indicating she’d been drinking for a while. “Rose!” She turned to Mason with a dazzling smile. “You delivered.”

He swept her an over-the-top bow. “I’m at your command.”

I hoped he’d done it for the thrill of it and not because of any compulsion. Lissa slung an arm around my waist and pulled me down with the others. “Join the festivities.”

“What are we celebrating?”

“I don’t know. Your escape tonight?”

A few of the others held up plastic cups, cheering and toasting me. Xander Badica poured two more cups, handing them to Mason and me. I took mine with a smile, all the while feeling uneasy about the night’s turn of events. Not so long ago, I would have welcomed a party like this and would have downed my drink in thirty seconds. Too much bothered me this time, though. Like the fact that the royals were treating Lissa like a goddess. Like how none of them seemed to remember that I had been accused of being a blood whore.

Like how Lissa was completely unhappy despite her smiles and laughter.

“Where’d you get the whiskey?” I asked.

“Mr. Nagy,” Aaron said. He sat very close to Lissa.

Everyone knew Mr. Nagy drank all the time after school and kept a stash on campus. He continually used new hiding places – and students continually found them.

Lissa leaned against Aaron’s shoulder. “Aaron helped me break into his room and take them. He had them hidden in the bottom of the paint closet.”

The others laughed, and Aaron gazed at her with complete and utter worship. Amusingly, I realized she hadn’t had to use any compulsion on him. He was just that crazy for her. He always had been.

“Why aren’t you drinking?” Mason asked me a little while later, speaking quietly into my ear.

I glanced down at my cup, half surprised to see it full. “I don’t know. I guess I don’t think guardians should drink around their charges.”

“She’s not your charge yet! You aren’t on duty. You won’t be for a long time. Since when did you get so responsible?”

I didn’t really think I was all that responsible. But I was thinking about what Dimitri had said about balancing fun and obligation. It just seemed wrong to let myself go wild when Lissa was in such a vulnerable state lately. Wiggling out of my tight spot between her and Mason, I walked over and sat beside Natalie.

“Hey Nat, you’re quiet tonight.”

She held a cup as full as mine. “So are you.”

I laughed softly. “I guess so.”

She tilted her head, watching Mason and the royals like they were some sort of science experiment. They’d consumed a lot more whiskey since I’d arrived, and the silliness had shot up considerably. “Weird, huh? You used to be the center of attention. Now she is.”

I blinked in surprise. I hadn’t considered it like that. “I guess so.”

“Hey, Rose,” said Xander, nearly spilling his drink as he walked over to me. “What was it like?”

“What was what like?”

“Letting someone feed off you?”

The others fell quiet, a sort of anticipation settling over them.

“She didn’t do that,” said Lissa in a warning voice. “I told you.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know nothing happened with Jesse and Ralf. But you guys did it, right? While you were gone?”

“Let it go,” said Lissa. Compulsion worked best with direct eye contact, and his attention was focused on me, not her.

“I mean, it’s cool and everything. You guys did what you had to do, right? It’s not like you’re a feeder. I just want to know what it was like. Danielle Szelsky let me bite her once. She said it didn’t feel like anything.”

There was a collective “ew” from among the girls. Sex and blood with dhampirs was dirty; between Moroi, it was cannibalistic.

“You are such a liar,” said Camille.

“No, I’m serious. It was just a small bite. She didn’t get high like the feeders. Did you?” He put his free arm around my shoulder. “Did you like it?”

Lissa’s face went still and pale. Alcohol muted the full force of her feelings, but I could read enough to know how she felt. Dark, scared thoughts trickled into me – underscored with anger. She usually had a good grip on her temper – unlike me – but I’d seen it flare up before. Once it had happened at a party very similar to this one, just a few weeks after Ms. Karp had been taken away.

Greg Dashkov – a distant cousin of Natalie’s – had held the party in his room. His parents apparently knew someone who knew someone, because he had one of the biggest rooms in the dorm. He’d been friends with Lissa’s brother before the accident and had been more than happy to take Andre’s little sister into his social fold. Greg had also been happy to take me in, and the two of us had been all over each other that night. For a sophomore like me, being with a royal Moroi senior was a huge rush.

I drank a lot that night but still managed to keep an eye on Lissa. She always wore an edge of anxiety around this many people, but no one really noticed, because she could interact with them so well. My heavy buzz kept a lot of her feelings from me, but as long as she looked okay, I didn’t worry.

Mid-kiss, Greg suddenly broke away and looked at something over my shoulder. We both sat in the same chair, with me on his lap, and I craned my neck to see. “What is it?”

He shook his head with a sort of amused exasperation. “Wade brought a feeder.”

I followed his gaze to where Wade Voda stood with his arm around a frail girl about my age. She was human and pretty, with wavy blond hair and porcelain skin pale from so much blood loss. A few other guys had homed on her and stood with Wade, laughing and touching her face and hair.

“She’s already fed too much today,” I said, observing her coloring and complete look of confusion.

Greg slid his hand behind my neck and turned me back to him. “They won’t hurt her.”

We kissed a while longer and then I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Rose.”

I looked up into Lissa’s face. Her anxious expression startled me because I couldn’t feel the emotions behind it. Too much beer for me. I climbed off of Greg’s lap.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Be right back.” I pulled Lissa aside, suddenly wishing I was sober. “What’s wrong?”

“Them.”

She nodded toward the guys with the feeder girl. She still had a group around her, and when she shifted to look at one of them, I saw small red wounds scattered on her neck. They were doing a sort of group feeding, taking turns biting her and making gross suggestions. High and oblivious, she let them.

“They can’t do that,” Lissa told me.

“She’s a feeder. Nobody’s going to stop them.”

Lissa looked up at me with pleading eyes. Hurt, outrage, and anger filled them. “Will you?”

I’d always been the aggressive one, looking after her ever since we were little. Seeing her there now, so upset and looking at me to fix things, was more than I could stand. Giving her a shaky nod, I stumbled over to the group.

“You so desperate to get some that you’ve got to drug girls now, Wade?” I asked.

He glanced up from where he’d been running his lips over the human girl’s neck. “Why? Are you done with Greg and looking for more?”

I put my hands on my hips and hoped I looked fierce. The truth was, I was actually starting to feel a little nauseous from all I’d drunk. “Aren’t enough drugs in the world to get me near you,” I told him. A few of his friends laughed. “But maybe you can go make out with that lamp over there. It seems to be out of it enough to make even you happy. You don’t need her anymore.” A few other people laughed.

“This isn’t any of your business,” he hissed. “She’s just lunch.” Referring to feeders as meals was about the only thing worse than calling dhampirs blood whores.

“This isn’t a feeding room. Nobody wants to see this.”

“Yeah,” agreed a senior girl. “It’s gross.” A few of her friends agreed.

Wade glared at all of us, me the hardest. “Fine. None of you have to see it. Come on.” He grabbed the feeder girl’s arm and jerked her away. Clumsily, she stumbled along with him out of the room, making soft whimpering noises.

“Best I could do,” I told Lissa.

She stared at me, shocked. “He’s just going to take her to his room. He’ll do even worse things to her.”

“Liss, I don’t like it either, but it’s not like I can go chase him down or anything.” I rubbed my forehead. “I could go punch him or something, but I feel like I’m going to throw up as it is.”

Her face grew dark, and she bit her lip. “He can’t do that.”

“I’m sorry.”

I returned to the chair with Greg, feeling a little bad about what had happened. I didn’t want to see the feeder get taken advantage of anymore than Lissa did – it reminded me too much of what a lot of Moroi guys thought they cold do to dhampir girls. But I also couldn’t win this battle, not tonight.

Greg had shifted me around to get a better angle on my neck when I noticed Lissa was gone a few minutes later. Practically falling, I clambered off his lap and looked around. “Where’s Lissa?”

He reached for me. “Probably the bathroom.”

I couldn’t feel a thing through the bond. The alcohol had numbed it. Stepping out into the hallway, I breathed a sigh of relief at escaping the loud music and voices. It was quiet out here – except for a crashing sound a couple rooms down. The door was ajar, and I pushed my way inside.

The feeder girl cowered in a corner, terrified. Lissa stood with arms crossed, her face angry and terrible. She was staring at Wade intently, and he stared back, enchanted. He also held a baseball bat, and it looked like he’d used it already, because the room was trashed: bookshelves, the stereo, the mirror…

“Break the window too,” Lissa told him smoothly. “Come on. It doesn’t matter.”

Hypnotized, he walked over to the large, tinted window. I stared, my mouth nearly hitting the floor, as he pulled back and slammed the bat into the glass. It shattered, sending shards everywhere and letting in the early morning light it normally kept blocked out. He winced as it shone in his eyes, but he didn’t move away.

“Lissa,” I exclaimed. “Stop it. Make him stop.”

“He should have stopped earlier.”

I barely recognized the look on her face. I’d never seen her so upset, and I’d certainly never seen her do anything like this. I knew what it was, of course. I knew right away. Compulsion. For all I knew, she was seconds away from having him turn the bat on himself.

“Please, Lissa. Don’t do it anymore. Please.”

Through the fuzzy, alcoholic buzz, I felt a trickle of her emotions. They were strong enough to practically knock me over. Black. Angry. Merciless. Startling feelings to be coming from sweet and steady Lissa. I’d known her since kindergarten, but in that moment, I barely knew her.

And I was afraid.

“Please, Lissa,” I repeated. “He’s not worth it. Let him go.”

She didn’t look at me. Her stormy eyes were focused entirely on Wade. Slowly carefully, he lifted up the bat, tilting it so that it lined up with his own skull.

“Liss,” I begged. Oh God. I was going to have to tackle her or something to make her stop. “Don’t do it.”

“He should have stopped,” Lissa said evenly. The bat quit moving. It was now at exactly the right distance to gain momentum and strike. “He shouldn’t have done that to her. People can’t treat other people like that – even feeders.”

“But you’re scaring her,” I said softly. “Look at her.”

Nothing happened at first, then Lissa let her gaze flick toward the feeder. The human girl still sat huddled in a corner, arms wrapped around herself protectively. Her blue eyes were enormous, and light reflected off her wet, tear-streaked face. She gave a choked, terrified sob.

Lissa’s face stayed impassive. Inside her, I could feel the battle she was waging for control. Some part of her didn’t want to hurt Wade, despite the blinding anger that otherwise filled her. Her face crumpled, and she squeezed her eyes shut. Her right hand reached out to her left wrist and clenched it, nails digging deep into the flesh. She flinched at the pain, but through the bond, I felt the shock of the pain distract her from Wade.

She let go of the compulsion, and he dropped the bat, suddenly looking confused. I let go of the breath I’d been holding. In the hallway, footsteps sounded. I’d left the door open, and the crash had attracted attention. A couple of dorm staff members burst into the room, freezing when they saw the destruction in front of them.

“What happened?”

The rest of us looked at each other. Wade looked completely lost. He stared at the room, at the bat, and then at Lissa and me. “I don’t know…I can’t…” He turned his full attention to me and suddenly grew angry. “What the – it was you! You wouldn’t let the feeder thing go.”

The dorm workers looked at me questioningly, and in a few seconds, I made up my mind.

You have to protect her. The more she uses it, the worse it’ll get. Stop her, Rose. Stop her before they notice, before they notice and take her away too. Get her out of here.

I could see Ms. Karp’s face in my mind, pleading frantically. I gave Wade a haughty look, knowing full well no one would question a confession I made or even suspect Lissa.

“Yeah, well, if you’d let her go,” I told him, “I wouldn’t have had to do this.”

Save her. Save her from herself.

After that night, I never drank again. I refused to let my guard down around Lissa. And two days later, while I was supposed to be suspended for “destruction of property,” I took Lissa and broke out of the Academy.

Back in Lissa’s room, with Xander’s arm around me and her angry and upset eyes on us, I didn’t know if she’d do anything drastic again. But the situation reminded me too much of that one from two years ago, and I knew I had to defuse it.

“Just a little blood,” Xander was saying. “I won’t take much. I just want to see what dhampir tastes like. Nobody here cares.”

“Xander,” growled Lissa, “leave her alone.”

I slipped out from under his arm and smiled, looking for a funny retort rather than one that might start a fight. “Come on,” I teased. “I had to hit the last guy who asked me that, and you’re a hell of a lot prettier than Jesse. It’d be a waste.”

“Pretty?” he asked. “I’m stunningly sexy but not pretty.”

Carly laughed. “No, you’re pretty. Todd told me you buy some kind of French hair gel.”

Xander, distracted as so many drunk people easily are, turned around to defend his honor, forgetting me. The tension disappeared, and he took the teasing about his hair with a good attitude.

Across the room, Lissa met my eyes with relief. She smiled and gave me a small nod of thanks before she returned her attention to Aaron.

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