I could only pray Christian and Lissa would listen to me and not do anything stupid. My attention had to stay on Dimitri, or I'd get myself killed. And if I died, Lissa and Christian died for sure. My impression while fighting our way inside had been that the guardians outnumbered the Strigoi, though that meant little sometimes. Still, I had to hope my colleagues would finish our foes off, leaving me to do what I had to do.

Dimitri laughed at my dodge. "I'd be impressed if that wasn't something a ten-year-old could do. Now your friends... well, they're also fighting at a ten-year-old level. And for Moroi? That's actually pretty good."

"Yeah, well, we'll see what your assessment is when I kill you," I told him. I made a small feint to test how much he was paying attention. He sidestepped with hardly any notice at all, as graceful as a dancer.

"You can't, Rose. Haven't you figured that out by now? Haven't you seen it? You can't defeat me. You can't kill me. Even if you could, you can't bring yourself to do it. You'll hesitate. Again."

No, I wouldn't. That's what he didn't realize. He'd made a mistake bringing Lissa here. She increased the stakes--no pun intended--on everything. She was here. She was real. Her life was on the line, and for that... for that, I wouldn't hesitate.

Dimitri must have grown tired of waiting for me. He leapt out, hand again going for my neck. And again I evaded, letting my shoulder take the brunt of the hit. This time he held on to my shoulder. He jerked me toward him, triumph flaring in those red eyes. In the sort of space we were in, this was probably all he needed to kill me. He had what he wanted.

Apparently, though, he wasn't the only one who wanted me. Another Strigoi, maybe thinking he'd help Dimitri, pushed toward us and reached for me. Dimitri bared his fangs, giving the other Strigoi a look of pure hatred and fury.

"Mine!" Dimitri hissed, hitting the other Strigoi in a way that he had clearly not expected.

And that was my opening. Dimitri's brief distraction had caused him to loosen his grip on me. That same close proximity which made him so lethal to me now made me just as dangerous. I was by his chest, by his heart, and I had my stake in hand.

I'll never be able to say for sure just how long the next series of events took. In some ways, it felt like only one heartbeat passed. At the same moment, it was as though we were frozen in time. Like the entire world had stopped.

My stake was moving toward him, and as Dimitri's eyes fell on me once more, I think he finally believed I would kill him. I was not hesitating. This was happening. My stake was there--

And then it wasn't.

Something hit me hard on my right side, pushing me away from Dimitri and ruining my shot. I stumbled, barely avoiding hitting anyone. While I always tried to be vigilant regarding all things around me in a fight, I'd let my guard down in that direction. The Strigoi and guardians were on my left. The wall--and Lissa and Christian--were on my right.

And it was Lissa and Christian who had shoved me out of the way.

I think Dimitri was as astonished as I was. He was also equally astonished when Lissa came toward him with that stake in her hand. And like lightning through the bond, I read what she had very, very carefully kept from me the last day: She had managed to charm the stake with spirit. It was the reason she'd been so keyed up during her last stake-practice session with Grant and Serena. Knowing she had the tool she needed had fueled her desire to use it. Her hiding all of that information from me was a feat on par with charming the stake.

Not that it mattered right now. Charmed stake or no, she couldn't get near Dimitri. He knew it too, and his surprise immediately changed to delighted amusement--almost indulgent, like the way one watches a child do something adorable. Lissa's attack was awkward. She wasn't fast enough. She wasn't strong enough.

"No!" I screamed, leaping toward them, though pretty certain I wasn't going to be fast enough either.

Suddenly, a blazing wall of heat and flame appeared before me, and I barely had the presence of mind to back up. That fire had shot up from the floor, forming a ring around Dimitri that kept me from him. It was disorienting, but only for a moment. I knew Christian's handiwork.

"Stop it!" I didn't know what to do, if I should attack Christian or leap into the fire. "You'll burn us all alive!" The fire was fairly controlled--Christian had that much skill--but in a room this size, even a controlled fire was deadly. Even the other Strigoi backed away.

The flames were closing in on Dimitri, growing tighter and tighter. I heard him scream, could see the look of agony, even through the fire. It began to consume his coat, and smoke poured out from the blaze. Some instinct told me I needed to stop this... and yet, what did it matter? I'd come to kill him. Did it matter if someone else did it for me?

And that's when I noticed Lissa was still on the offensive. Dimitri was distracted, screaming as the flames wrapped around him. I was screaming too... for him, for her... it's hard to say. Lissa's arm shot through the flames, and again, pain surged through the bond--pain that dwarfed the earlier singe from Christian burning her ropes. Yet she kept going, ignoring the fiery agony. Her alignment was right. She had the stake aimed at the heart.

The stake went in, piercing him.

Well, kind of.

Just like when she'd practiced with the pillow, she didn't quite have the strength to get the stake where it needed to go. I felt her steel herself, felt her summon up every ounce of strength she had. Throwing her full weight into it, she shoved again, using both hands. The stake went in further. Still not enough. This delay would have cost her her life in a normal situation. This was not a normal situation. Dimitri had no means to block her, not with the fire slowly eating him. He did manage a small struggle that loosened the stake, undoing what little progress she'd made. Grimacing, she tried again, pushing the stake back to its former position.

Still, it wasn't enough.

I came to my senses then, knowing I needed to stop this. Lissa was going to burn herself up if she kept trying to stake him. She lacked the skill. Either I needed to stake him or we just needed to let the fire finish him off. I moved forward. Lissa caught sight of me in her periphery and sent out a blast of compulsion at me.

No! Let me do this!

The command hit me hard, an invisible wall that made me come to a halt. I stood there dazed, both from the compulsion itself and the realization that she'd used it on me. It only took a moment for me to shake it off. She was too distracted to put her full power into the order, and I was pretty compulsion-resistant anyway.

Yet, that slight delay had stopped me from reaching her. Lissa seized her last chance, knowing she'd get no other.

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