They saw me and shut up.

Scowling, I skulked off across the quadrangle. Still alive, still alive.

I'd refused to let Lissa talk about the similarities between the fox and what had happened two years ago. I didn't want to believe they were connected, and I certainly didn't want her to either.

But I hadn't been able to stop thinking about that incident, not only because it was chilling, but because it really did remind me of what had just happened in her room.

We had been out in the woods near campus one evening, having skipped out on our last class. I'd traded a pair of cute, rhinestone-studded sandals to Abby Badica for a bottle of peach schnapps - desperate, yes, but you did what you had to in Montana - which she'd somehow gotten hold of. Lissa had shaken her head in disapproval when I suggested cutting class to go put the bottle out of its misery, but she'd come along anyway. Like always.

We found an old log to sit on near a scummy green marsh. A half-moon cast a tiny sliver of light on us, but it was more than enough for vampires and half-vampires to see by. Passing the bottle back and forth, I grilled her on Aaron. She'd fessed up that the two of them had had sex the weekend before, and I felt a surge of jealousy that she'd been the one to have sex first.

"So what was it like?"

She shrugged and took another drink. "I don't know. It wasn't anything."

"What do you mean it wasn't anything? Didn't the earth move or the planets align or something?"

"No," she said, smothering a laugh. "Of course not."

I didn't really get why that should be funny, but I could tell she didn't want to talk about it. This was around the time the bond had begun forming, and her emotions were starting to creep into me now and then. I held up the bottle and glared at it.

"I don't think this stuff is working."

"That's because there's barely any alcohol in - "

The sound of something moving in the brush came from nearby. I immediately shot up, putting my body between her and the noise.

"It's some animal," she said when a minute went by in silence.

That didn't mean it wasn't dangerous. The school's wards kept out Strigoi, but wild animals often wandered into the outskirts of campus, posing their own threats. Bears. Cougars.

"Come on," I told her. "Let's head back."

We hadn't gone very far when I heard something moving again, and someone stepped out into our path. "Ladies."

Ms. Karp.

We froze, and whatever quick reactions I'd shown back by the marsh disappeared as I delayed a few moments in hiding the bottle behind my back.

A half-smile crossed her face, and she held out her hand.

Sheepishly, I gave the bottle to her, and she tucked it under her arm. She turned without another word, and we followed, knowing there would be consequences to deal with.

"You think no one notices when half a class is gone?" she asked after a little while.

"Half a class?"

"A few of you apparently chose today to skip. Must be the nice weather. Spring fever."

Lissa and I trudged along. I'd never been comfortable around Ms. Karp since the time she'd healed my hands. Her weird, paranoid behavior had taken on a strange quality to me - a lot stranger than before. Scary, even. And lately I couldn't look at her without seeing those marks by her forehead. Her deep red hair usually covered them but not always. Sometimes there were new marks; sometimes the old ones faded to nothing.

A weird fluttering noise sounded to my right. We all stopped.

"One of your classmates, I imagine," murmured Ms. Karp, turning toward the sound.

But when we reached the spot, we found a large black bird lying on the on the ground. Birds - and most animals - didn't do anything for me, but even I had to admire its sleek feathers and fierce beak. It could probably peck someone's eyes out in thirty seconds - if it weren't obviously dying. With a last, halfhearted shake, the bird finally went still.

"What is that? Is it a crow?" I asked.

"Too big," said Ms. Karp. "It's a raven."

"Is it dead?" asked Lissa.

I peered at it. "Yeah. Definitely dead. Don't touch it."

"Probably attacked by another bird," observed Ms. Karp. "They fight over territory and resources sometimes."

Lissa knelt down, compassion on her face. I wasn't surprised, since she'd always had a thing for animals. She'd lectured me for days after I'd instigated the infamous hamster-and-hermit-crab fight. I'd viewed the fight as a testing of worthy opponents. She'd seen it as animal cruelty.

Transfixed, she reached toward the raven.

"Liss!" I exclaimed, horrified. "It's probably got a disease."

But her hand moved out like she hadn't even heard me. Ms. Karp stood there like a statue, her white face looking like a ghost's. Lissa's fingers stroked the raven's wings.

"Liss," I repeated, starting to move toward her, to pull her back. Suddenly, a strange sensation flooded through my head, a sweetness that was beautiful and full of life. The feeling was so intense, it stopped me in my tracks.

Then the raven moved.

Lissa gave a small scream and snatched her hand back. We both stared wide-eyed.

The raven flapped its wings, slowly trying to right itself and stand up. When it managed to do so, it turned toward us, fixing Lissa with a look that seemed too intelligent for a bird, its eyes held hers, and I couldn't read her reaction through the bond. At long last, the raven broke the gaze and lifted into the air, strong wings carrying it away.

Wind stirring the leaves was the only sound left.

"Oh my God," breathed Lissa. "What just happened?"

"Hell if I know," I said, hiding my stark terror.

Ms. Karp strode forward and grabbed Lissa's arm, forcefully turning her so that they faced each other. I was there in a flash, ready to take action if Crazy Karp tried anything, though even I had qualms about taking down a teacher.

"Nothing happened," said Ms. Karp in an urgent voice, her eyes wild-looking. "Do you hear me? Nothing. And you can't tell anyone - anyone - about what you saw. Both of you. Promise me. Promise me you won't ever talk about this again."

Lissa and I exchanged uneasy glances. "Okay" she croaked out.

Ms. Karp's grip relaxed a little. "And don't ever do it again. If you do, they'll find out. They'll try to find you." She turned to me. "You can't let her do it. Not ever again."

On the quad, outside my dorm, someone was saying my name.

"Hey, Rose? I've called you, like, a hundred times."

I forgot about Ms. Karp and the raven and glanced over at Mason, who had apparently started walking with me toward the dorm while I was off in la-la land.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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