Not far away, I saw Eddie stiffen and glance around uneasily. I did the same. I might have been desperate for social contact, but not at the risk of dangerous parties overhearing us. Our crimes getting out would make garden labor seem like a vacation. We were alone, but I still pitched my voice low and attempted an honest face.

"I heard they were humans hired by Victor." That was yet another theory running wild, as was this one: "Actually, I think he turned Strigoi."

"Right," Christian said snidely. He knew me too well to believe me. "And I also heard one of the guardians has no memory of what made him attack his friends. He swears he was under the control of someone. Anyone who had that kind of compulsion could probably make others see humans, mimes, kangaroos...."

I refused to look at him and slammed the shovel hard into the ground. I bit my lip on any angry retort.

"She did it because she thinks Strigoi can be restored to their original form."

My head shot up, and I stared at Eddie in disbelief, astonished he'd spoken. "What are you doing?"

"Telling the truth," replied Eddie, never stopping his work. "He's our friend. You think he's going to report us?"

No, rebel Christian Ozera was not going to report us. But that didn't mean I wanted this out. It's a fact of life: The more people who know a secret, the more likely it is to leak.

Unsurprisingly, Christian's reaction was not all that different from everyone else's. "What? That's impossible. Everyone knows that."

"Not according to Victor Dashkov's brother," said Eddie.

"Will you stop it?" I exclaimed.

"You can tell him or I will."

I sighed. Christian's pale blue eyes were staring at us, wide and shocked. Like most of my friends, he rolled with crazy ideas, but this was pushing the crazy line.

"I thought Victor Dashkov was an only child," Christian said.

I shook my head. "Nope. His dad had an affair, so Victor's got an illegitimate half-brother. Robert. And he's a spirit user."

"Only you," said Christian. "Only you would find something like this."

I ignored what appeared to be a return to his normal cynicism. "Robert claims to have healed a Strigoi--killed the undead part of her and brought her back to life."

"Spirit has limits, Rose. You might have been brought back, but Strigoi are gone."

"We don't know about spirit's full range," I pointed out. "Half of it is still a mystery."

"We know about St. Vladimir. If he could restore Strigoi, don't you think a guy like him would have been doing it? I mean, if that's not miraculous, what is? Something like that would have survived in the legends," argued Christian.

"Maybe. Maybe not." I retied my ponytail, replaying our encounter with Robert in my mind for the hundredth time. "Maybe Vlad didn't know how. It's not all that easy."

"Yeah," agreed Eddie. "This is the good part."

"Hey," I shot back at him. "I know you're mad at me, but with Christian here, we really don't need anyone else making snide comments."

"I don't know," said Christian. "For something like this, you actually might need two people. Now explain how this miracle is supposedly done."

I sighed. "By adding spirit to a stake, along with the other four elements."

Spirit charms were still a new concept to Christian too. "Never thought of that. I guess spirit would shake things up... but I can't imagine you staking a Strigoi with a spirit-charmed stake would be enough to bring them back."

"Well... that's the thing. According to Robert, I can't do it. It has to be done by a spirit user."

More silence. I'd rendered Christian speechless yet again.

At last he said, "We don't know that many spirit users. Let alone any who could fight or stake a Strigoi."

"We know two spirit users." I frowned, recalling Oksana in Siberia and Avery locked away... where? A hospital? A place like Tarasov? "No, four. Five, counting Robert. But yeah, none of them can really do it."

"It doesn't matter because it can't be done," Eddie said.

"We don't know that!" The desperation in my own voice startled me. "Robert believes it. Victor even believes." I hesitated. "And Lissa does too."

"And she wants to do it," Christian said, catching on quickly. "Because she would do anything for you."

"She can't."

"Because she doesn't have the ability or because you won't let her?"

"Both," I cried. "I'm not letting her anywhere near a Strigoi. She's already..." I groaned, hating to reveal what I'd discovered in our time apart through the bond. "She got a hold of a stake and is trying to charm it. So far, she hasn't had much luck, thank God."

"If this were possible," began Christian slowly. "It could change our world. If she could learn... "

"What? No!" I'd been so eager to get Christian to believe me, and now I wished he hadn't. The one saving grace in all this was that with none of my friends thinking it was possible, none of them had given any thought to Lissa actually trying to fight a Strigoi. "Lissa's no warrior. No spirit user we know is, so unless we find one, I'd rather... " I winced. "I'd rather Dimitri died."

That finally made Eddie stop working. He threw down his shovel. "Really? I never would have guessed that." Sarcasm to rival my own.

I spun around and strode toward him, my fists clenched. "Look, I can't take this anymore! I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say. I know I screwed up. I let Dimitri get away. I let Victor get away."

"You let Victor get away?" asked Christian, startled.

I ignored him and continued shouting at Eddie. "It was a mistake. With Dimitri... it was a weak moment. I failed in my training. I know I did. We both know it. But you know I didn't intend the damage I caused. If you're really my friend, you have to know it. If I could take it back..." I swallowed, surprised to feel my eyes burning. "I would. I swear I would, Eddie."

His face was perfectly still. "I believe you. I am your friend, and I know... I know you didn't mean for things to turn out like they did."

I sagged in relief, surprised at how truly worried I'd been about losing his respect and friendship. Looking down, I was startled to see my fists balled up. I relaxed them, unable to believe I'd been that upset. "Thank you. Thank you so much."

"What's all this shouting?"

We both turned and saw Hans heading toward us. And he looked pissed off. I also noticed then that Christian had practically vanished into thin air. Just as well.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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