"Rose!"

Dimitri's voice triggered some instinctive response in me. I glanced back and saw him still grappling with Galina. They were both exhausted, but it was clear he was getting the worst of it. But in their fighting, he kept trying to restrain her in a way that exposed her chest to me. His eyes met mine. Back when he'd been a dhampir, we'd rarely needed words to convey our thoughts. This was one of those times. I knew what he wanted me to do. He wanted me to stake her.

I knew I shouldn't. I needed to hop out that window right now. I needed to let them keep fighting, even though it seemed obvious Galina was about to win. And yet... despite my misgivings, some force drew me across the room, stake poised and ready. Maybe it was because I would never fully lose my pull to Dimitri, no matter what kind of monster he'd become. Maybe it was an unconscious sense of duty, since I knew he'd just saved my life. Or maybe it was because I knew one Strigoi was going to die tonight, and she was the more dangerous.

But she wasn't easy to get hold of. She was fast and strong, and he was having a hard time with her. She kept wriggling around, trying to renew her attack. All she'd need to do was incapacitate him as I had; then it'd just require decapitation or burning to finish him off. I had no doubt she could arrange either.

He managed to turn her slightly, giving me the best view of her chest I'd had. I moved forward-and then Dimitri slammed into me. I was addled for a moment, wondering why he'd attack me after saving me, until I realized he'd been pushed-by Nathan. Nathan had just entered the library, along with Marlen. It distracted Dimitri but not me. I still had the opening he'd given me on Galina, and I plunged my stake into her chest. It didn't go in as deeply as I would have liked, and she still managed to fight me, bucking hard. I grimaced and pushed forward, knowing the silver had to be affecting her. A moment later, I saw the pain twist her face. She faltered, and I pushed my advantage, shoving the stake in all the way. It took several seconds, but she eventually stopped moving, her body crumpling to the ground.

If the other Strigoi noticed her death, they didn't pay attention. Nathan and Marlen were fixated on Dimitri. Another Strigoi-a female I didn't recognize-soon joined the face-off. I jerked my stake out of Galina and slowly began backing toward the window, hoping I wouldn't attract too much attention. My heart went out to Dimitri. He was outnumbered. I could possibly lend my strength and help him fight...

Of course, my strength was fading. I was still suffering from days of vampire bites and blood loss. I'd fought two Strigoi tonight and killed a powerful one. That had been my good deed, removing her from the world. The next best thing I could do would be to leave and let these Strigoi finish off Dimitri. The surviving ones would be leaderless and less of a threat. Dimitri would be free of this evil state, his soul finally able to move on to better places. And I would live (hopefully), having helped the world by killing more Strigoi.

I bumped against the windowsill and looked out. Nighttime-not good. The sheer side of the manor was not ideal for climbing, either. It could be done, but it would be time consuming. I didn't have any more time. Directly below the window was a thickly leafed bush of some sort. I couldn't see it clearly and only hoped it wasn't a rosebush or something equally sharp. A second floor drop wouldn't kill me, though. Probably wouldn't even hurt-much.

I climbed over the ledge, briefly meeting Dimitri's gaze as the other Strigoi moved in on him. The words came to me again: Don't hesitate. Dimitri's important lesson. But it hadn't been his first one. His first had been about what to do if I was outnumbered and out of options: Run.

Time for me to run.

I leapt out the window.

Chapter Twenty-Six

I think the profanities that came out of my mouth when I hit the ground would have been understandable in any language. It hurt.

The bush was not particularly sharp or pointy, but it wasn't soft by any stretch of the imagination. It broke my fall somewhat, though it didn't save my ankle from twisting underneath me. "Shit!" I said through gritted teeth, climbing to my feet. Russia sure was making me swear a lot. I tested the weight on my ankle and felt a twinge of pain but nothing I couldn't stand on. A sprain, thank God. The ankle wasn't broken, and I'd had worse.

Still, it was going to slow down my getaway.

I limped away from the bush, trying to pick up the pace and ignore the pain. Stretching before me was that stupid hedge maze I'd thought was so cool the other night. The sky was cloudy, but I doubted moonlight would have made it easier to navigate. No way was I going to fight that leafy mess. I'd find where it ended and get out through there.

Unfortunately, when I circled the house, I discovered an unhappy truth: The hedge was everywhere. It encircled the estate like some kind of medieval moat. The annoying part was, I doubted Galina had even had it installed for defense. She'd probably done it for the same reason she had crystal chandeliers and antique paintings in the hallways: It was cool.

Well, there was nothing for it, then. I picked an opening to the maze at random and started winding my way through. I had no idea where to go, no strategies for getting out. Shadows lurked everywhere, and I often didn't see dead ends coming until I was right on top of them. The bushes were tall enough that once I was only a little way into the maze, I completely lost sight of the top of the house. If I'd had it as a navigation point, I might have been able to just move in a straight (or nearly straight) line away.

Instead, I wasn't entirely sure if I was going backward or in circles or what. At one point, I was pretty sure I'd passed the same jasmine trellis three times. I tried to think of stories I'd read about people navigating mazes. What did they use? Bread crumbs? Thread? I didn't know, and as more time passed and my ankle grew sorer, I began to get discouraged. I'd killed a Strigoi in my weakened state but couldn't escape some bushes.

Embarrassing, really.

"Roza!"

The voice carried distantly on the wind, and I stiffened. No. It couldn't be.

Dimitri. He'd survived.

"Roza, I know you're out there," he called. "I can smell you."

I had a feeling he was bluffing. He wasn't close enough for me to feel sick, and with the cloying perfume of the flowers, I doubted he could scent me yet-even if I was sweating a lot. He was trying to bait me into giving up my location.

With new resolve, I headed down the next twist in the bushes, praying for the exit. Okay, God, I thought. Get me out of this and I'll stop my half assed churchgoing ways. You got me past a pack of Strigoi tonight. I mean, trapping that one between the doors really shouldn't have worked, so clearly you're on board. Let me get out of here, and I'll... I don't know. Donate Adrian's money to the poor. Get baptized. Join a convent. Well, no. Not that last one.

Dimitri continued his taunting. "I won't kill you, not if you give yourself up. I owe you. You took out Galina for me, and now I'm in charge.

Replacing her happened a little ahead of schedule, but that's not a problem. Of course, there aren't many people to control now that Nathan and the others are dead. But that can be fixed."

Unbelievable. He truly had survived those odds. I'd said it before and meant it: Alive or undead, the love of my life was a badass. There was no way he could have defeated those three... and yet, well... I'd seen him take on crazy odds before. And clearly his being here was proof of his capabilities.

The path ahead of me split, and I randomly chose the right hand path. It spread off into the darkness, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Score. Despite his breezy commentary, I knew he was also moving through the maze, getting closer and closer. And unlike me, he knew the paths and how to get out of it.

"I'm not upset about you attacking me, either. I would have done it in your place. It's just one more reason why we should be together."

My next turn took me into a dead end filled with climbing moonflowers. I kept my swearing to myself and backtracked.

"You're still dangerous, though. If I find you, I'm probably going to have to kill you. I don't want to, but I'm starting to think there's no way we can both live in this world. Come to me by choice, and I'll awaken you. We'll control Galina's empire together."

I almost laughed. I couldn't have found him if I wanted to in this mess. If I'd had that kind of ability, I'd My stomach swirled a little. Oh no. He was getting closer. Did he know it yet? I didn't fully understand how the amount of nausea correlated to distance, but it didn't matter. He was too close, period. How close did he need to be to truly smell me? To hear me walking on the grass? Each second brought him closer to success. Once he had my trail, I was screwed. My heart started racing even more-if that was even possible at this point-and the adrenaline pumping through me numbed my ankle, even though it still slowed me down.


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