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."


"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 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. 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."

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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