Stan read over a few more technicalities, and I found myself tuning them out. I knew this stuff. We all did. Glancing around, I could see I wasn't alone in my impatience. Excitement and apprehension crackled in the crowd. Hands were clenched. Eyes were wide. We all wanted our assignments. We all wanted this to begin.

When Stan finished, he handed the clipboard to Alberta. "Okay," she said. "I'm going to call out your names one by one and announce who you're paired with. At that time, come down here to the floor, and Guardian Chase will give you a packet containing information about your Moroi's schedule, past, etcetera."

We all straightened up as she leafed through her papers. Students whispered. Beside me, Eddie exhaled heavily. "Oh man. I hope I get someone good," he muttered. "I don't want to be miserable for the next six weeks."

I squeezed his arm reassuringly. "You will," I whispered back. "Er, get someone good, I mean. Not be miserable."

"Ryan Aylesworth," Alberta announced clearly. Eddie flinched, and I instantly knew why. Before, Mason Ashford had always been the first one called on any class lists. That would never happen again. "You are assigned to Camille Conta."

"Damn," muttered someone behind us, who'd apparently been hoping to get Camille.

Ryan was one of the suck-ups in the front row, and he grinned broadly as he walked over to take his packet. The Contas were an up-and-coming royal family. It was rumored that one of their members was a candidate for when the Moroi queen eventually named her heir. Plus, Camille was pretty cute. Following her around wouldn't be too hard for any guy. Ryan, walking with a swagger, seemed very pleased with himself.

"Dean Barnes," she said next. "You have Jesse Zeklos."

"Ugh," Eddie and I both said together. If I'd been assigned to Jesse, he would have needed an extra person to protect him. From me.

Alberta kept reading names, and I noticed Eddie was sweating. "Please, please let me get someone good," he muttered.

"You will," I said. "You will."

"Edison Castile," Alberta announced. He gulped. "Vasilisa Dragomir."

Eddie and I both froze for the space of a heartbeat, and then duty made him stand up and head toward the floor. As he stepped down the bleachers, he shot me a quick, panicked look over his shoulder. His expression seemed to say, I don't know! I don't know!

That made two of us. The world around me slowed to a blur. Alberta kept calling names, but I didn't hear any of them. What was going on? Clearly, someone had made a mistake. Lissa was my assignment. She had to be. I was going to be her guardian when we graduated. This made no sense. Heart racing, I watched Eddie walk over to Guardian Chase and get his packet and practice stake. He glanced down at the papers immediately, and I suspected he was double-checking the name, certain there was a mix-up. The expression on his face when he looked up told me that it was Lissa's name he'd found.

I took a deep breath. Okay. No need to panic just yet. Someone had made a clerical error here, one that could be fixed. In fact, they'd have to fix it soon. When they got to me and read Lissa's name again, they were going to realize they'd double-booked one of the Moroi. They'd straighten it out and give Eddie someone else. After all, there were plenty of Moroi to go around. They outnumbered dhampirs at the school.

"Rosemarie Hathaway." I tensed. "Christian Ozera."

I simply stared at Alberta, unable to move or respond. No. She had not just said what I thought. A few people, noticing my lack of movement, glanced back at me. But I was dumbstruck. This wasn't happening. My Mason delusion from last night seemed more real than this. A few moments later, Alberta also realized I wasn't moving. She looked up from her clipboard with annoyance, scanning the crowd.

"Rose Hathaway?"

Someone elbowed me, like maybe I didn't recognize my own name. Swallowing, I stood and walked down the bleachers, robot-like. There was a mistake. There had to be a mistake. I headed toward Guardian Chase, feeling like a puppet that someone else was controlling. He handed me my packet and a practice stake meant to "kill" the adult guardians with, and I stepped out of the way for the next person.

Disbelieving, I read the words on the packet's cover three times. Christian Ozera. Flipping it open, I saw his life spread out before me. A current picture. His class schedule. His family tree. His bio. It even went into detail about his parents' tragic history, how they'd chosen to become Strigoi and had murdered several people before finally being hunted down and killed.

Our directions at this point had been to read through our dossiers, pack a bag, and then meet up with our Moroi at lunch. As more names were called, many of my classmates lingered around the gym, talking to their friends and showing off their packets. I hovered near one group, discreetly waiting for a chance to talk to Alberta and Dimitri. It was a sign of my newly developing patience that I didn't walk right up to them then and there and demand answers. Believe me, I wanted to. Instead, I let them go through their list, but it felt like forever. Honestly, how long did it take to read a bunch of names?

When the last novice had been assigned his Moroi, Stan shouted above the din for us to move on to the next stage of the assignment and tried to herd out my classmates. I cut through the crowd and stalked up to Dimitri and Alberta, who blessedly were standing with each other. They were chatting about something administrative and didn't notice me right away.

When they did glance at me, I held up my packet and pointed. "What's this?"

Alberta's face looked blank and confused. Something in Dimitri's told me he'd been expecting this. "It's your assignment, Miss Hathaway," Alberta said.

"No," I said through gritted teeth. "It's not. This is somebody else's assignment."

"The assignments in your field experience aren't optional," she told me sternly. "Just as your assignments in the real world won't be. You can't pick who you protect based on whim and mood, not here and certainly not after graduation."

"But after graduation, I'm going to be Lissa's guardian!" I exclaimed. "Everyone knows that. I'm supposed to have her for this thing."

"I know it's an accepted idea that you'll be together after graduation, but I do not recall any mandatory rulings that say you're 'supposed' to have her or anyone here at school. You take who you're assigned."

"Christian?" I threw my packet on the floor. "You're out of your mind if you think I'm guarding him."

"Rose!" snapped Dimitri, joining the conversation at last. His voice was so hard and so sharp that I flinched and forgot what I was saying for half a second. "You're out of line. You do not speak to your instructors like that."

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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