A minute later, his shape materialized before me, looking a little paler than before. For the first time since all this had begun, I was happy to see him. He, of course, looked sad. Same old same old.

"Finally. You were making me look bad." He simply stared, and I immediately felt bad for joking. "I'm sorry. I need your help again. We have to find them. We have to save Eddie."

He nodded.

"Can you show me where they are?"

He nodded again and turned, pointing off in a direction that was almost directly behind me.

"They came in through the back of campus?"

He nodded yet again, and like that, I knew what had happened. I knew how the Strigoi had gotten in, but there was no time to dwell on that just now. I turned to Dimitri. "We need a map," I said.

He walked back through the gate and spoke a few words to one of the guardians on duty. A moment later, he returned with a map and unfolded it. It showed the layout of campus, as well as the surrounding roads and terrain. I took it from him and held it out to Mason, trying to keep it flat in the whipping wind.

The only true road out from the school was right in front of us. The rest of the campus was surrounded by forests and steep cliffs. I pointed to a spot at the back of the school's grounds. "This is where they came in, isn't it? Where the wards first broke?"

Mason nodded. He held out his finger and without touching the map, traced a route through the woods that flanked the edge of a small mountain. Following it long enough eventually led to a small dirt road that joined an interstate many miles away. I followed where he pointed and suddenly had my doubts about using him as a guide.

"No, that's not right," I said. "It can't be. This stretch of woods by the mountain has no roads. They'd have to go on foot, and it'd take too long to walk from the school to this other road. They wouldn't have had enough time. They'd be caught in daylight."

Mason shook his head - to disagree with me, apparently -  and again traced the route back and forth. In particular, he kept pointing to a spot not far beyond the Academy's grounds. At least, it wasn't far away on the map. The map wasn't particularly detailed, and I guessed the spot was probably a few miles away. He held his finger there, looked at me, and then looked back down.

"They can't be there now," I argued. "It's outside. They might have come in through the back, but they had to have left through the front - gotten in some kind of vehicle and took off."

Mason shook his head.

I looked up at Dimitri, frustrated. I felt like the clock was ticking on us, and Mason's weird assertion that the Strigoi were a few miles away, outdoors in the daytime, was stirring up my irritable nature. I sincerely doubted they'd gotten out tents and were camping.

"Is there any building or anything out there?" I demanded, pointing at the spot Mason had indicated. "He says they were going out to that road. But they couldn't have walked there before the sun came up, and he claims they're there."

Dimitri's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Not that I know of." He took the map from me and brought it to the other guardians to check with them. While they talked, I glanced back at Mason.

"You better be right about this," I warned him.

He nodded.

"Have you...have you seen them? The Strigoi and their captives?"

He nodded.

"Is Eddie still alive?"

He nodded, and Dimitri walked over.

"Rose..." There was a strange sound to Dimitri's voice as he brought the map back, like he couldn't entirely believe what he was saying. "Stephen says there are caves right at the base of the mountain here."

I met Dimitri's eyes, no doubt looking just as astonished as he did. "Are they big enough - "

"Big enough for the Strigoi to hide out in until nighttime?" Dimitri nodded. "They are. And they're only five miles away."


IT WAS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE to believe. The Strigoi were practically right next door to us, waiting for nightfall so that they could finish their escape. Apparently, in the chaos of the attack, some of the Strigoi had obscured their tracks while others had made it look as though they might have exited through any number of points on campus. Caught up in our own aftermath, no one had given it much thought. The wards had been restored. As far as we were concerned, the Strigoi were gone, and that was what mattered.

Now we had an odd situation before us. Under normal circumstances - not that a massive Strigoi attack was normal - we would have never pursued them. Those kidnapped by Strigoi were usually written off as dead, and, as my mother had pointed out, guardians rarely knew where to look for Strigoi. This time, however, we knew. The Strigoi were essentially trapped. It presented an interesting dilemma.

Well, it wasn't a dilemma to me. I honestly couldn't figure out why we weren't in those caves right now, flushing out the Strigoi and looking for survivors. Dimitri and I hurried back, anxious to act on our news, but we had to wait until all the guardians gathered.

"Do not interrupt them," Dimitri told me as we were about to walk into the meeting that would decide our next course of action. We stood near the doorway, speaking in low voices. "I know how you feel. I know what you want to do. But ranting at them isn't going to help you get your way."

"Ranting?" I exclaimed, forgetting to speak softly.

"I see it," he said. "That fire's in you again - you want to tear somebody apart. It's what made you so deadly in the fight. But we're not fighting right now. The guardians have all the information. They'll make the right choice. You just have to be patient."

Part of what he said was true. In preparation for the meeting, we had relayed all our information and then done some more searching. Investigation had revealed that several years ago, one of the Moroi teachers had taught a geology class and mapped the caves out, providing us with everything we needed to know about them. The entrance was five miles from the Academy's back borders. The caves' longest chamber was about half a mile long, the far side letting out about twenty miles from the dirt road on the map. It had been believed that landslides had blocked both entrances. Now, we realized, clearing those out wouldn't be too difficult with Strigoi strength.

But I wasn't sure I trusted what Dimitri said about the guardians making the right choice. Minutes before the meeting began, I appealed to my mother.

"Please," I told her. "We have to do this."

She looked me over. "If there's a rescue, it's not going to be a 'we' thing. You aren't going."

"Why? Because our numbers were so badass the first time that no guardians died?" She flinched. "You know I can help. You know what I did. I'm a week away from my birthday and only a few months away from graduation. You think something magical's going to happen before then? I've got a few more things to learn, yeah, but I don't think that's big enough to stop me from helping. You guys need as much help as you can get, and there are plenty of other novices who are ready too. Bring Christian, and we'll be unstoppable."

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