"Why does she think she can just snap her fingers and get me to go anywhere she wants, anytime she wants?" Lissa growled.
"Because she's the queen. And because you made a deal with the devil."
Lissa and her boyfriend, Christian, were lounging in the attic of the school's chapel. As soon as I recognized the surroundings, I nearly pulled out of her head. The two of them had had way too many "romantic" encounters up here, and I didn't want to stick around if clothes were going to be ripped off soon. Fortunately-or perhaps not-her annoyed feelings told me there'd be no sex today, not with her bad mood.
It was kind of ironic, actually. Their roles were reversed. Lissa was the raging one while Christian remained cool and collected, trying to appear calm for her sake. He sat on the floor, leaning up against the wall, while she sat in front of him, his legs apart and his arms holding her. She rested her head on his chest and sighed.
"For the last few weeks, I've done everything she's asked! 'Vasilisa, please show this stupid visiting royal around campus.' 'Vasilisa, please jump on a plane for the weekend so that I can introduce you to some boring officials here at Court.' 'Vasilisa, please put in some volunteer time with the younger students. It looks good.'" Despite Lissa's frustration, I couldn't help a little amusement. She had Queen Tatiana's voice down perfectly.
"You would have done that last one willingly," Christian pointed out.
"Yeah... the point being willingly. I hate her trying to dictate every part of my life lately."
Christian leaned over and kissed her cheek. "Like I said, you made a deal with the devil. You're her darling now. She wants to make sure you're making her look good."
Lissa scowled. Although Moroi lived inside human-run countries and were subject to those governments, they were also ruled by a king or queen who came from one of the twelve royal Moroi families. Queen Tatiana-an Ivashkov-was the current ruler, and she'd taken a particular interest in Lissa as the last living member of the Dragomir family. As such, Tatiana had cut Lissa a deal. If Lissa lived at Court after graduating from St.
Vladimir's, the queen would arrange for her to attend LehighUniversity in Pennsylvania. Lissa was a total brain and thought living in Tatiana's household would be worth it to attend a semi-big, prestigious university, as opposed to the tiny ones Moroi usually went to (for safety reasons).
As Lissa was finding out, though, the strings attached to that deal were already in place now. "And I just sit and take it," Lissa said. "I just smile and say 'Yes, your majesty. Anything you want, your majesty.'"
"Then tell her the deal's off. You'll be eighteen in a couple of months. Royal or not, you're under no obligations. You don't need her to go to a big school. We'll just take off, you and me. Go to whatever college you want. Or don't go to college at all. We can run off to Paris or something and work at a little cafe. Or sell bad art on the streets."
This actually made Lissa laugh, and she snuggled closer to Christian. "Right. I can totally see you having the patience to wait on people. You'd be fired your first day. Looks like the only way we'll survive is if I go to college and support us."
"There are other ways to get to college, you know."
"Yeah, but not to any that are this good," she said wistfully. "Not easily, at least. This is the only way. I just wish I could have all this and stand up to her a little. Rose would."
"Rose would have gotten herself arrested for treason the first time Tatiana asked her to do something."
Lissa smiled sadly. "Yeah. She would have." The smile turned into a sigh. "I miss her so much."
Christian kissed her again. "I know." This was a familiar conversation for them, one that never grew old because Lissa's feelings for me never faded.
"She's okay, you know. Wherever she is, she's okay."
Lissa stared off into the attic's darkness. The only light came from a stained-glass window that made the whole place look like a fairyland. The space had been recently cleaned out-by Dimitri and me, actually. It had only been a couple of months ago, but already, dust and boxes were accumulating once more. The priest here was a nice guy but kind of a pack rat. Lissa noticed none of this, though. Her thoughts were too focused on me.
"I hope so. I wish I had some idea-any idea-where she is. I keep thinking that if anything happened to her, if she-" Lissa couldn't finish the thought. "Well, I keep thinking that I'd know somehow. That I'd feel it. I mean, I know the bond's one-way... that's never changed. But I'd have to know if something happened to her, right?"
"I don't know," said Christian. "Maybe. Maybe not." Any other guy would have said something overly sweet and comforting, assuring her that yes, yes, of course she'd know. But it was part of Christian's nature to be brutally honest. Lissa liked that about him. So did I. It didn't always make him a pleasant friend, but at least you knew he wasn't bullshitting you.
She sighed again. "Adrian says she's okay. He visits her dreams. I'd give anything to be able to do that. My healing's getting better and better, and I've got the aura thing down. But no dreams yet."
Knowing Lissa missed me hurt almost more than if she'd completely written me off. I'd never wanted to hurt her. Even when I'd resented her for feeling like she was controlling my life, I'd never hated her. I loved her like a sister and couldn't stand the thought of her suffering now on my behalf. How had things gotten so screwed up between us?
She and Christian continued sitting there in comfortable silence, drawing strength and love from each other. They had what Dimitri and I had had, a sense of such oneness and familiarity that words often weren't needed. He ran his fingers through her hair, and while I couldn't see it so well through her own eyes, I could imagine the way that pale hair would gleam in the rainbow light of the stained-glass windows. He tucked several long locks behind her ear and then tipped her head back, bringing his lips down to hers. The kiss started off light and sweet and then slowly intensified, warmth spreading from his mouth to hers.
Uh-oh, I thought. It might be time to take off after all. But she ended it before I had to.
"It's time," she said regretfully. "We've got to go."
The look in Christian's crystal-blue eyes said otherwise. "Maybe this is the perfect time for you to stand up to the queen. You should just stay here -it'd be a great way to build character."
Lissa lightly elbowed him and then planted a kiss on his forehead before standing up. "That is not why you want me to stay, so don't even try to play me."
They left the chapel, and Christian mumbled something about wanting to do more than play that earned him another elbow. They were heading toward the administration building, which was in the heart of the upper school's campus. Aside from the first blushes of spring, everything looked like it had when I'd left-at least on the outside. The stone buildings remained grand and imposing. The tall, ancient trees continued their watch.
Yet, inside the hearts of the staff and students, things had changed. Everyone carried scars from the attack. Many of our people had been killed, and while classes were up and running again, everyone still grieved.
Lissa and Christian reached their destination: the administration building. She didn't know the reason for her summoning, only that Tatiana had wanted her to meet some royal guy who had just arrived at the Academy. Considering how many people Tatiana was always forcing her to meet lately, Lissa didn't think too much of it. She and Christian stepped inside the main office, where they found Headmistress Kirova sitting and chatting with an older Moroi and a girl about our age.
"Ah, Miss Dragomir. There you are."
I'd gotten in trouble with Kirova a lot while I'd been a student, yet seeing her now made me feel kind of nostalgic. Getting suspended for starting a fight in class seemed worlds better than traipsing through Siberia to find Dimitri. Kirova had the same birdlike appearance she'd always had, the same glasses balanced at the end of her nose. The man and girl stood up, and Kirova gestured to them.
"This is Eugene Lazar and his daughter Avery." Kirova turned back toward Lissa. "This is Vasilisa Dragomir and Christian Ozera."
A fair bit of sizing up went on then. Lazar was a royal name, but that was no surprise since Tatiana had initiated this meeting. Mr. Lazar gave Lissa a winning smile as he shook her hand. He seemed a bit surprised to meet Christian, but the smile stayed. Of course, that kind of reaction to Christian wasn't so unusual.