Yeah. We were badasses.

The elementary campus proved to be a center of activity. Strigoi and guardians were actively fighting around the entrances to one of the dorms. For a moment, I froze. There were almost twenty Strigoi and half as many guardians. So many Strigoi together...Until recently, we'd never heard of them banding together in such large numbers. We'd thought we'd disbanded a large group of them by killing Isaiah, but apparently that wasn't true. I allowed myself only a moment more of shock, and then we jumped into the fray.

Emil was near a side entrance, fending off three Strigoi. He was battered and bruised, and the body of a fourth Strigoi lay at his feet. I lunged for one of the three. She didn't see me coming, and I managed to stake her with almost no resistance. I was lucky. Christian meanwhile set flames to the others. Emil's face reflected surprise, but that didn't stop him from staking another of the Strigoi. I got the other.

"You shouldn't have brought him here," Emil said as we moved to help another guardian. "Moroi aren't supposed to get involved with this."

"Moroi should have been involved with this a long time ago," said Christian through gritted teeth.

We spoke little after that. The rest was a blur. Christian and I moved from fight to fight, combining his magic and my stake. Not all of our kills were as fast and easy as our early ones had been. Some fights were long and drawn out. Emil stuck with us, and I honestly lost count of how many Strigoi we took down.

"I know you."

The words startled me. In all this bloodshed, none of us, friend or foe, did much talking. The speaker was a Strigoi who looked to be my own age but was probably at least ten times older. He had shoulder-length blond hair and eyes whose color I couldn't make out. They were ringed in red, which was all that mattered.

My only answer was to swing out with my stake, but he dodged that. Christian was setting a couple of other Strigoi on fire, so I was handling this one on my own.

"There's something strange about you now, but I still remember. I saw you years ago, before I was awakened." Okay, not ten times my age, not if he'd seen me when he was a Moroi. I hoped his talking would distract him. He was actually pretty fast for a young Strigoi. "You were always with that Dragomir girl, the blonde." My foot hit him, and I jerked my kick back before he could grab me. He barely budged. "Her parents wanted you to be her guardian, right? Before they were all killed?"

"I am her guardian," I grunted. My stake swiped dangerously close to him.

"She's still alive, then...There were rumors that she'd died last year..." There was a sense of wonder in his voice, which mixed weirdly with the malice. "You have no idea what kind of reward I'd get to take down the last living Drag -  Ahh!"

He'd dodged my stake from hitting his chest again, but this time I managed an upward strike that dragged the stake's tip across his face. It wouldn't kill him there, but the touch of a stake - so filled with life - would feel like acid to the undead. He screamed, but it didn't slow his defenses.

"I'll come back for you after I finish her," he snarled.

"You'll never get near her," I growled back.

Something shoved into me from the side, a Strigoi that Yuri was fighting. I stumbled but managed to drive my stake through Yuri's Strigoi's heart before he could regain his balance. Yuri gasped his thanks, and then we both turned to other parts of the battle. Only the blond Strigoi was gone. I couldn't find him anywhere. Another took his place, and as I moved toward that one, flames lit up around him, making him an easy mark for my stake. Christian had returned.

"Christian, this Strigoi - "

"I heard," he panted.

"We have to go to her!"

"He was messing with you. She's across campus, surrounded by novices and guardians. She'll be okay."

"But - "

"They need us here."

I knew he was right - and I knew how hard it was for him to say that. Like me, he wanted to run off to Lissa. Despite all the good work he was doing here, I suspected he would rather have sunk all his magic into protecting her, keeping her ringed in a wall of fire no Strigoi could cross. I had no time to deeply investigate the bond, but I could sense the important things: She was alive, and she wasn't in pain.

So I stayed on, fighting with Christian and Yuri. Lissa hovered at the back of my mind, the bond telling me she was okay. Aside from that, I let battle lust consume me. I had one goal and one alone: Kill Strigoi. I couldn't let them get into this dorm, nor could I let them leave this area and possibly go to Lissa's dorm. I lost track of time. Only the Strigoi I was currently fighting at any given moment mattered. And as soon as that one was gone, it was on to the next.

Until there wasn't a next one.

I was sore and exhausted, adrenaline burning through my body. Christian stood beside me, panting. He hadn't engaged in physical combat like me, but he'd used a lot of magic tonight, and that had taken its own physical toll. I looked around.

"We gotta find another one," I said.

"There are no others," a familiar voice said.

I turned and looked into Dimitri's face. He was alive. All the fear for him I'd held back burst through me. I wanted to throw myself at him and hold him as close to me as possible. He was alive - battered and bloody, yes - but alive.

His gaze held mine for just a moment, reminding me of what had happened in the cabin. It felt like a hundred years ago, but in that brief glance, I saw love and concern - and relief. He'd been worried about me too. Then Dimitri turned and gestured to the eastern sky. I followed the motion. The horizon was pink and purple. It was nearly sunrise.

"They're either dead or have run away," he told me. He glanced between Christian and me. "What you two did - "

"Was stupid?" I suggested.

He shook his head. "One of the most amazing things I've ever seen. Half of those are yours."

I looked back at the dorm, shocked at the number of bodies lying around it. We had killed Strigoi. We had killed a lot of them. Death and killing were horrible things...but I had liked doing what I just did. I had defeated the monsters who had come after me and those in my care.

Then I noticed something. My stomach twisted, but it was nothing like my earlier Strigoi-sensing feeling. This was caused by something entirely different. I turned back to Dimitri.

"There are more than just Strigoi bodies there," I said in a small voice.

"I know," he said. "We've lost a lot of people, in all senses of the word."

Christian frowned. "What do you mean?"

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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