I stared. It was the blond Strigoi. The one who had spoken to me in the battle.
He grabbed Dimitri and pulled him to the ground. They grappled, strength against strength, and then I saw those fangs sink into Dimitri's neck. The red eyes flicked up and made contact with my own.
I heard another scream - this time, it was my own.
My mother started to double back toward the fallen, but then five more Strigoi appeared. It was chaos. I couldn't see Dimitri anymore; I couldn't see what had happened to him. Indecision flashed over my mother's features as she tried to decide to flee or fight, and then, regret all over her face, she kept running toward us and the exit. Meanwhile, I was trying to run back inside, but someone was stopping me. It was Stan.
"What are you doing, Rose? More are coming."
Didn't he understand? Dimitri was in there. I had to get Dimitri.
My mother and Alberta burst out, dragging Ms. Carmack. A group of Strigoi were after them, skidding to a halt just on the edge of the waning light. I was still fighting Stan. He didn't need the help, but my mother grasped a hold of me and tugged me away.
"Rose, we have to get out of here!"
"He's in there!" I screamed, straining as hard as I could. How could I have killed Strigoi and not been able to break free from these two? "Dimitri's in there! We have to go back for him! We can't leave him!"
I was rambling, hysterical, shouting at them all that we had to go rescue Dimitri. My mother shook me hard and leaned close so there were only a couple inches between us.
"He is dead, Rose! We can't go back in there. The sun will be down in fifteen minutes, and they are waiting for us. We're going to be in the dark before we can get back to the wards. We need every second we can get - it still may not be enough."
I could see the Strigoi gathered at the entrance, their red eyes gleaming with anticipation. They completely filled the opening, ten I believed. Maybe more. My mother was right. With their speed, even our fifteen-minute lead might not be enough. And yet, I still couldn't take a step. I couldn't stop staring at the cave, back where Dimitri was, back where half of my soul was. He couldn't be dead. If he was, then surely I would be dead too.
My mother slapped me, the pain snapping me out of my daze.
"Run!" she yelled at me. "He is dead! You are not going to join him!"
I saw the panic in her own face, panic over me - her daughter - getting killed. I remembered Dimitri saying he'd rather die than see me dead. And if I stood there stupidly, letting the Strigoi get me, I'd fail both of them.
"Run!" she cried again.
Tears streaming down my face, I ran.
THE NEXT TWELVE HOURS were the longest in my life.
Our group made it back to campus safely, though most of it was done at a run - which was hard with so many injured. The entire time I felt nauseous, presumably because Strigoi were near. If they were, they never caught up to us, and it's possible I was simply sick from everything that had happened in the caves.
Once back behind the wards, the other novices and I were forgotten. We were safe, and the adults now had a lot of other things to concern themselves with. All of the captives had been rescued - all the ones that were alive. As I'd feared, the Strigoi had decided to munch on one before we got there. That meant we had rescued twelve. Six guardians - including Dimitri - had been lost. Those weren't bad numbers considering how many Strigoi we'd faced, but when you took the difference, it really meant we'd only saved six lives. Had the loss of all those guardians' lives been worth it?
"You can't look at it that way," Eddie told me as we walked toward the clinic. Everyone, prisoners and raiders, had been ordered to get checked out. "You didn't just save those lives. You guys killed almost thirty Strigoi, plus the ones on campus. Think about all the people they would have killed. You essentially saved all those people's lives too."
A rational part of me knew he was right. But what did rationality have to do with anything when Dimitri might be dead? It was petty and selfish, but in that moment, I wanted to trade all those lives for his. He wouldn't have wanted that, though. I knew him.
And through the tiniest, smallest chance, it was possible he wasn't dead. Even though the bite had looked pretty serious, that Strigoi could have incapacitated him and then fled. He could be lying in the caves right now, dying and in need of medical care. It drove me crazy, thinking of him like that and us unable to help. There was no way we could go back, however. Not until daytime. Another party would go then to bring back our dead so that we could bury them. Until then, I had to wait.
Dr. Olendzki gave me a quick check, decided I didn't have a concussion, and then sent me on my way to bandage my own scrapes. She had too many others to worry about right now who were in far worse condition.
I knew the smart thing was to go to my dorm or to Lissa. I could have used the rest, and through the bond, I felt her calling to me. She was worried. She was afraid. I knew she'd find out the news soon, though. She didn't need me, and I didn't want to see her. I didn't want to see anyone. So rather than go to my dorm, I went to the chapel. I needed to do something until the caves could be checked out. Praying was as good an option as any.
The chapel was usually empty in the middle of the day, but not this time. I shouldn't have been surprised. Considering the death and tragedy of the last twenty-four hours, it was only natural that people would seek comfort. Some sat alone, some sat in groups. They cried. They knelt. They prayed. Some simply stared off into space, clearly unable to believe what had happened. Father Andrew moved around the sanctuary, speaking to many of them.
I found an empty pew in the very back corner and sat there. Drawing my knees up to me, I wrapped my arms around them and rested my head. On the walls, icons of saints and angels watched over all of us.
Dimitri couldn't be dead. There was no way he could be. Surely, if he was, I would know. No one could take a life like that from the world. No one who had held me in bed like he had yesterday could really be gone. We had been too warm, too alive. Death couldn't follow something like that.
Lissa's chotki was around my wrist, and I ran my fingers over the cross and the beads. I tried desperately to put my thoughts into the forms of prayers, but I didn't know how. If God was real, I figured He was powerful enough to know what I wanted without me actually saying the right words.
Hours passed. People came and went. I got tired of sitting and eventually stretched myself across the length of the pew. From the gold-painted ceiling, more saints and angels stared down at me. So much divine help, I thought, but what good were they really doing?