And me? There was only one Moroi I wanted.
Two classes later, I finally earned my lunch escape. As I stumbled across campus toward the commons, Dimitri fell into step beside me, not looking particularly godlike - unless you counted his godly good looks.
"I suppose you saw what happened in Stan's class?" I asked, not bothering with titles.
"And you don't think that was unfair?"
"Was he right? Do you think you were fully prepared to protect Vasilisa?"
I looked down at the ground. "I kept her alive," I mumbled.
"How did you do fighting against your classmates today?"
The question was mean. I didn't answer and knew I didn't need to. I'd had another training class after Stan's, and no doubt Dimitri had watched me get beat up there too.
"If you can't fight them - "
"Yeah, yeah, I know," I snapped.
He slowed his long stride to match my pain-filled one. "You're strong and fast by nature. You just need to keep yourself trained. Didn't you play any sports while you were gone?"
"Sure," I shrugged. "Now and then."
"You didn't join any teams?"
"Too much work. If I'd wanted to practice that much, I'd have stayed here."
He gave me an exasperated look. "You'll never be able to really protect the princess if you don't hone your skills. You'll always be lacking."
"I'll be able to protect her," I said fiercely.
"You have no guarantees of being assigned to her, you know - for your field experience or after you graduate." Dimitri's voice was low and unapologetic. They hadn't given me a warm and fuzzy mentor. "No one wants to waste the bond - but no one's going to give her an inadequate guardian either. If you want to be with her, then you need to work for it. You have your lessons. You have me. Use us or don't. You're an ideal choice to guard Vasilisa when you both graduate - if you can prove you're worthy. I hope you will."
"Lissa, call her Lissa," I corrected. She hated her full name, much preferring the Americanized nickname.
He walked away, and suddenly, I didn't feel like such a badass anymore.
By now, I'd burned up a lot of time leaving class. Most everyone else had long since sprinted inside the commons for lunch, eager to maximize their social time. I'd almost made it back there myself when a voice under the door's overhang called to me.
Peering in the voice's direction, I caught sight of Victor Dashkov, his kind face smiling at me as he leaned on a cane near the building's wall. His two guardians stood nearby at a polite distance.
"Mr. Dash-er, Your Highness. Hi."
I caught myself just in time, having nearly forgotten Moroi royal terms. I hadn't used them while living among humans. The Moroi chose their rulers from among twelve royal families. The eldest in the family got the title of "prince" or "princess." Lissa had gotten hers because she was the only one left in her line.
"How was your first day?" he asked.
"Not over yet." I tried to think of something conversational. "Are you visiting here for a while?"
"I'll be leaving this afternoon after I say hello to Natalie. When I heard Vasilisa - and you - had returned, I simply had to come see you."
I nodded, not sure what else to say. He was more Lissa's friend than mine.
"I wanted to tell you..." He spoke hesitantly. "I understand the gravity of what you did, but I think Headmistress Kirova failed to acknowledge something. You did keep Vasilisa safe all this time. That is impressive."
"Well, it's not like I faced down Strigoi or anything," I said.
"But you faced down some things?"
"Sure. The school sent psi-hounds once."
"Not really. Avoiding them was pretty easy."
He laughed. "I've hunted with them before. They aren't that easy to evade, not with their powers and intelligence." It was true. Psi-hounds were one of many types of magical creatures that wandered the world, creatures that humans never knew about or else didn't believe they'd really seen. The hounds traveled in packs and shared a sort of psychic communication that made them particularly deadly to their prey - as did the fact that they resembled mutant wolves. "Did you face anything else?"
I shrugged. "Little things here and there."
"Remarkable," he repeated.
"Lucky, I think. It turns out I'm really behind in all this guardian stuff." I sounded just like Stan now.
"You're a smart girl. You'll catch up. And you also have your bond."
I looked away. My ability to "feel" Lissa had been such a secret for so long, it felt weird to have others know about it.
"The histories are full of stories of guardians who could feel when their charges were in danger," Victor continued.
"I've made a hobby of studying up on it and some of the ancient ways. I've heard it's a tremendous asset."
"I guess." I shrugged. What a boring hobby, I thought, imagining him poring over prehistoric histories in some dank library covered in spiderwebs.
Victor tilted his head, curiosity all over his face. Kirova and the others had had the same look when we'd mentioned our connection, like we were lab rats. "What is it like - if you don't mind me asking?"
"It's...I don't know. I just sort of always have this hum of how she feels. Usually it's just emotions. We can't send messages or anything." I didn't tell him about slipping into her head. That part of it was hard even for me to understand.
"But it doesn't work the other way? She doesn't sense you?"
I shook my head.
His face shone with wonder. "How did it happen?"
"I don't know," I said, still glancing away. "Just started two years ago."
He frowned. "Near the time of the accident?"
Hesitantly, I nodded. The accident was not something I wanted to talk about, that was for sure. Lissa's memories were bad enough without my own mixing into them. Twisted metal. A sensation of hot, then cold, then hot again. Lissa screaming over me, screaming for me to wake up, screaming for her parents and her brother to wake up. None of them had, only me.
And the doctors said that was a miracle in itself. They said I shouldn't have survived.
Apparently sensing my discomfort, Victor let the moment go and returned to his earlier excitement.
"I can still barely believe this. It's been so long since this has happened. If it did happen more often...just think what it could do for the safety of all Moroi. If only others could experience this too. I'll have to do more research and see if we can replicate it with others."