The two ways to become Strigoi were by choice or by force. A Strigoi could turn another person-human, Moroi, or dhampir-by drinking their blood and then feeding Strigoi blood back to them. That was what had happened to Dimitri. The other way to become Strigoi was unique to Moroi -and it was done by choice. Moroi who purposely chose to kill a person by drinking blood would also turn Strigoi. Usually, Moroi only drank small, nonlethal amounts from willing humans. But taking so much that it destroyed another's life force? Well, that turned Moroi to the dark side, taking away their elemental magic and transforming them into the twisted undead.
That was exactly what Christian's parents had done. They'd willingly killed and become Strigoi to gain eternal life. Christian had never shown any desire to become Strigoi, but everyone acted as though he were about to. (Admittedly, his snarky attitude didn't always help.) A lot of his close family-despite being royal-had been unfairly shunned as well. He and I had teamed up to kick a fair amount of Strigoi ass during the attack, though. Word of that was getting around and improving his reputation.
Kirova was never one to waste time with formalities, so she got straight to the point. "Mr. Lazar is going to be the new headmaster here."
Lissa had still been smiling at him politely, but her head immediately jerked toward Kirova. "What?"
"I'm going to be stepping down," explained Kirova, voice flat and emotionless enough to rival any guardian's. "Though I'll still be serving the school as a teacher."
"You're going to teach?" Christian asked incredulously.
She gave him a dry look. "Yes, Mr. Ozera. It was what I originally went to school for. I'm sure if I try hard enough, I can remember how to do it."
"But why?" asked Lissa. "You do a great job."
It was more or less true. Despite my disputes with Kirova-usually over me breaking rules-I still had a healthy respect for her. Lissa did too.
"It's something I've thought about returning to for some time," explained Kirova. "Now seemed as good a time as any, and Mr. Lazar is a very capable administrator."
Lissa was pretty good at reading people. I think it was part of spirit's side effects, along with how spirit made its users very, very charismatic. Lissa thought Kirova was lying, and so did I. If I'd been able to read Christian's mind, my guess would have been that he felt the same way. The attack on the Academy had sent a lot of people into a panic, royals in particular, even though the problem that had led to the attack had long since been fixed. I was guessing that Tatiana's hand was at work here, forcing Kirova to step down and have a royal take her place, thus making other royals feel better.
Lissa didn't let her thoughts show, and she turned back to Mr. Lazar. "Well, it's very nice to meet you. I'm sure you'll do a great job. Let me know if there's anything I can do for you." She was playing the proper princess role perfectly. Being polite and sweet was one of her many talents.
"Actually," said Mr. Lazar, "there is." He had a deep, booming voice, the kind that filled a room. He gestured toward his daughter. "I was wondering if you could show Avery around and help her find her way here. She graduated last year but will be assisting me in my duties. I'm sure she'd much rather be spending time with someone her own age, however."
Avery smiled, and for the first time, Lissa really paid attention to her. Avery was beautiful. Stunning. Lissa was beautiful too, between that gorgeous hair and the jade green eyes that ran in her family. I thought she was a hundred times prettier than Avery, but beside the older girl, Lissa felt kind of plain. Avery was tall and slim like most Moroi but had a few sexy curves thrown in. That kind of chest, like mine, was coveted among Moroi, and her long brown hair and blue-gray eyes completed the package.
"I promise not to be too much of a pain," said Avery. "And if you want, I'll give you some insider's tips on Court life. I hear you're going to be moving there."
Instantly, Lissa's defenses went up. She realized what was going on. Not only had Tatiana ousted Kirova, she'd sent a keeper for Lissa. A beautiful, perfect companion who could spy on Lissa and attempt to train her up to Tatiana's standards. Lissa's words were perfectly polite when she spoke, but there was a definite edge of frost in her voice.
"That'd be great," she said. "I'm pretty busy lately, but we can try to make the time."
Neither Avery's father nor Kirova seemed to notice the back off subtext, but something flashed in Avery's eyes that told Lissa the message had come through.
"Thanks," said Avery. Unless I was mistaken, there was some legitimate hurt in her face. "I'm sure we'll figure something out."
"Good, good," said Mr. Lazar, totally oblivious to the girl drama. "Maybe you can show Avery to guest housing? She's staying in the east wing."
"Sure," said Lissa, wishing she could do anything but that.
She, Christian, and Avery started to leave, but just then, two guys entered the room. One was a Moroi, a little younger than us, and the other was a dhampir in his twenties-a guardian, from the look of his hard, serious features.
"Ah, there you are," said Mr. Lazar, beckoning the guys in. He rested his hand on the boy's shoulder. "This is my son Reed. He's a junior and will be attending classes here. He's very excited about it."
Actually, Reed looked extremely unexcited. He was pretty much the surliest guy I'd ever seen. If I ever needed to play the role of a disgruntled teen, I could have learned everything there was to know about it from Reed Lazar. He had the same good looks and features as Avery, but they were marred by a grimace that seemed permanently attached to his face. Mr. Lazar introduced the others to Reed. Reed's only response was a guttural, "Hey."
"And this is Simon, Avery's guardian," continued Mr. Lazar. "Of course, while on campus, he doesn't need to be with her all the time. You know how it goes. Still, I'm sure you'll see him around."
I hoped not. He didn't look as completely unpleasant as Reed, but he had a certain dour nature that seemed extreme even among guardians.
Suddenly, I kind of felt sorry for Avery. If this was her only company, I'd want to befriend someone like Lissa pretty badly. Lissa, however, made it clear that she wouldn't be part of Tatiana's schemes. With little conversation, she and Christian escorted Avery to guest housing and promptly left.
Normally, Lissa would have stayed to help Avery get settled and offered to eat with her later. Not this time. Not with ulterior motives afoot.
I came back to my own body, back in the hotel. I knew I shouldn't care about Academy life anymore and that I should even feel bad for Avery. Yet lying there and staring into the darkness, I couldn't help but take some smug-and yes, very selfish-satisfaction out of this encounter: Lissa wouldn't be shopping for a new best friend anytime soon.
At any other time in my life, I would have loved exploring Moscow. Sydney had planned our trip so that when our train arrived there, we'd have a few hours before we had to board the next one to Siberia. This gave us some time to wander around and grab dinner, though she wanted to make sure we were safely inside the station before it grew too dark out. Despite my badass claims or my molnija marks, she didn't want to take any chances.
It made no difference to me how we spent our downtime. So long as I was getting closer to Dimitri, that was all that mattered. So Sydney and I walked aimlessly, taking in the sights and saying very little. I had never been to Moscow. It was a beautiful city, thriving and full of people and commerce. I could have spent days there just shopping and trying out the restaurants. Places I'd heard about all my life-the Kremlin, Red Square, the Bolshoi Theatre-were all at my fingertips. Despite how cool it all was, I actually tried to tune out the city's sights and sounds after a while because it reminded me of... well, Dimitri.
He used to talk to me about Russia all the time and had sworn up and down that I'd love it here.
"To you, it'd be like a fairy tale," he'd told me once. It was during a before-school practice late last autumn, just before the first snowfall. The air had been misty, and dew coated everything.
"Sorry, comrade," I'd replied, reaching back to tie my hair into a ponytail. Dimitri had always loved my hair down, but in combat practice? Long hair was a total liability. "Borg and out-of-date music aren't part of any happy ending I've ever imagined."
He'd given me one of his rare, easy grins then, the kind that just slightly crinkled up the corners of his eyes. "Borscht, not borg. And I've seen your appetite. If you were hungry enough, you'd eat it."