The paper was tiny, its elegant cursive almost impossible to read.


Rose,

If you're reading this, then something terrible has happened. You probably hate me, and I don't blame you. I can only ask that you trust that what I did with the age decree was better for your people than what others had planned. There are some Moroi who want to force all dhampirs into service, whether they want it or not, by using compulsion. The age decree has slowed that faction down.

However, I write to you with a secret you must put right, and it is a secret you must share with as few as possible. Vasilisa needs her spot on the Council, and it can be done. She is not the last Dragomir. Another lives, the illegitimate child of Eric Dragomir. I know nothing else, but if you can find this son or daughter, you will give Vasilisa the power she deserves. No matter your faults and dangerous temperament, you are the only one I feel can take on this task. Waste no time in fulfilling it.

--Tatiana Ivashkov

I stared at the piece of paper, its writing swirling before me, but its message burning into my mind. She is not the last Dragomir. Another lives.

If that was true, if Lissa had a half-brother or half-sister... it would change everything. She would get a vote on the Council. She would no longer be alone. If it was true. If this was from Tatiana. Anyone could sign her name to a piece of paper. It didn't make it real. Still, I shivered, troubled at the thought of getting a letter from a dead woman. If I allowed myself to see the ghosts around us, would Tatiana be there, restless and vengeful? I couldn't bring myself to let down my walls and look. Not yet. There had to be other answers. Ambrose had given me the note. I needed to ask him... except we were moving down the aisle again. A guardian nudged me along.

"What's that?" asked Abe, always alert and suspicious.

I hastily folded the note back up. "Nothing."

The look he gave me told me he didn't believe that at all. I wondered if I should tell him. It is a secret you must share with as few as possible. If he was one of the few, this wasn't the place. I tried to distract him from it and shake the dumbstruck look that must have been on my face. This note was a big problem--but not quite as big as the one immediately facing me.

"You told me I wouldn't go to trial," I said to Abe. My earlier annoyance returned. "I took a big chance with you!"

"It wasn't a big chance. Tarus couldn't have got you out of this either."

Abe's easy attitude about all this infuriated me further. "Are you saying you knew this hearing was a lost cause from the beginning?" It was what Mikhail had said too. How nice to have such faith from everyone.

"This hearing wasn't important," Abe said evasively. "What happens next is."

"And what is that exactly?"

He gave me that dark, sly gaze again. "Nothing you need to worry about yet."

One of the guardians put his hand on my arm, telling me I needed to move. I resisted his pull and leaned toward Abe.

"The hell I don't! This is my life we're talking about," I exclaimed. I knew what would come next. Imprisonment until the trial. And then more imprisonment if I was convicted. "This is serious! I don't want to go to trial! I don't want to spend the rest of my life in a place like Tarasov."

The guard tugged harder, pushing us forward, and Abe fixed me with a piercing gaze that made my blood run cold.

"You will not go to trial. You will not go to prison," he hissed, out of the guards' hearing. "I won't allow it. Do you understand?"

I shook my head, confused over so much and not knowing what to do about any of it. "Even you have your limits, old man."

His smile returned. "You'd be surprised. Besides, they don't even send royal traitors to prison, Rose. Everyone knows that."

I scoffed. "Are you insane? Of course they do. What else do you think they do with traitors? Set them free and tell them not to do it again?"

"No," said Abe, just before he turned away. "They execute traitors."

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