"Hi, Rose."

A moment later, I felt a smile slowly creep over my face. "Hello, Mia."


IF YOU'D ASKED ME six months ago, I would have said there was no way I'd be happy to run into Mia Rinaldi at the Royal Court. She was a year younger than me and had held a grudge against Lissa since freshman year - a grudge so big that Mia had gone to great extremes to make life miserable for us. She'd done a good job. Jesse and Ralf's rumors about me had been a result of her efforts.

But then Mia had gone with us to Spokane and been captured by the Strigoi. And, just like for Christian and Eddie, that had changed everything. She'd seen the same horrors the rest of us had. In fact, she was the only one of my friends who had witnessed Mason's death and me killing Strigoi. She had even saved my life then by using her water magic to temporarily drown one of the Strigoi. In the great Moroi argument about whether or not they should learn to fight with the guardians, she was firmly on the fighting side.

I hadn't seen Mia in almost a month, ever since Mason's funeral. In studying her, I felt like it'd been a year. I had always thought Mia looked like a doll. She was short compared to most Moroi and had young, round-cheeked features. The fact that she'd always curled her hair in perfect ringlets had sort of reinforced that image. But today, she hadn't gone to nearly that much trouble. Her golden blond hair was pulled into a ponytail, its only curl coming from a slight, natural waviness. She wore no makeup, and her face showed signs of having been outdoors a lot. Her skin looked chapped from the wind, and she had a very, very faint tan - almost unheard of for Moroi, with their aversion to sunlight. For the first time ever, she actually looked her age.

She laughed at my shock. "Come on, it hasn't been that long. You look like you don't even recognize me."

"I almost don't." We hugged, and again, it was hard to believe that she'd once plotted ways to ruin my life. Or that I'd broken her nose. "What are you doing here?"

She beckoned us out the door. "We were just about to leave. I'll explain everything."

We went to a neighboring building. It wasn't like a mall or anything, but it did have a few businesses that the Moroi who worked and visited here needed - a handful of restaurants, some small stores, and offices that offered all sorts of services. There was also a coffee shop, and that was where Mia led us.

A coffee shop seems like an ordinary thing, but I rarely got to go to them. Sitting in a public place (or semi-public) with friends, not worrying about school... it was great. It reminded me of when Lissa and I had been on our own, when our entire lives hadn't been contained within a school and its rules.

"My dad works here now," she told us. "And so now I live here."

Moroi children rarely lived with their parents. They were sent off to places like St. Vladimir's, where they could grow up safely. "What about school?" I asked.

"There aren't many kids here, but there are some. Most of them are rich and have personal tutors. My dad pulled some strings and set it up so that I can go to them for different subjects. So I'm still studying the same things, just in a different way. It's actually pretty cool. Less teacher time - but more homework."

"You've been doing more than that," said Eddie. "Unless your classes are outside." He'd noticed the same things I had, and in looking at her hands as they held her latte, I could now see calluses.

She wiggled her fingers. "I made friends with some of the guardians here. They've been showing me a few things."

"That's risky," said Christian, though he sounded like he approved. "Since there's still a debate about Moroi fighting."

"You mean about Moroi fighting with magic," she corrected. "That's what's controversial. No one's really talking about Moroi fighting hand-to-hand."

"Well, they are," I said. "It's just been overshadowed by the magic controversy."

"It's not illegal," she said primly. "And until it is, I'm going to keep doing it. You think with all the events and meetings that go on around here that anyone even notices what someone like me does?" Mia's family, in addition to being non-royal, was also pretty lower class - not that there was anything wrong with that, but she had to feel the effects of that around here.

Still, I found her whole situation cheering. Mia seemed happier and more open than she had during the entire time I'd known her. She seemed ... free. Christian spoke my thoughts before I could.

"You've changed," he said.

"We've all changed," she corrected. "Especially you, Rose. I can't quite explain it."

"I don't think there's any way the five of us couldn't have changed," Christian pointed out. A moment later he corrected himself. "Four of us."

We all fell silent, thoughts of Mason weighing us down. Being with Christian, Eddie, and Mia stirred up that grief I always tried to hide, and I could see from their faces that they continually fought the same battle.

Conversation eventually turned toward all of us catching up on what had happened here and at the Academy. Yet I kept thinking about how Mia had said that I had changed more than the others. All I could think about was how out of control I'd felt lately, how half the time my actions and feelings didn't seem like my own. Sitting there, it almost seemed like Mia was controlled by all of her positive traits now - and I was controlled by my negative ones. Conversations with Adrian replayed through my head, reminding me about how I supposedly had such a dark, dark aura.

Maybe thinking about him summoned him, but he and Lissa eventually joined us. Their bar was probably in the same building, I realized. I'd been blocking her out and not paying much attention. Adrian hadn't completely gotten her drunk, thankfully, but she'd agreed to two drinks. I could feel a slight buzz through the bond and had to carefully shield it out.

She was as surprised as we'd been to see Mia but gave her a warm welcome and wanted to catch up. I'd heard most of this already, so I just listened and drank my chai. No coffee for me. Most guardians drank it the way Moroi drank blood, but I wouldn't touch the stuff.

"How'd your thing with the queen go?" Christian asked Lissa at one point.

"Not so bad," she said. "I mean, not great either. But she didn't yell at me or humiliate me, so that's a start."

"Stop being modest," said Adrian, putting his arm around her. "Princess Dragomir totally stood her ground. You should have seen it." Lissa laughed.

"I don't suppose she mentioned why she decided to let us come to the trial?" Christian asked stiffly. He didn't look very happy about the bonding that was taking place here - or about Adrian's arm.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
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