I didn't know how Adrian spotted Christian, aside from the not-so-subtle mask metaphor. With his height and dark hair, Christian easily blended in with the other Moroi around him and had even been chatting with a girl standing nearby, which seemed out of character. "No way did he get a legit invite," I said. If any Ozeras had been deemed special enough to come to this, Christian wouldn't have been one of them.

"He didn't," agreed Adrian, making a small gesture for Christian to join us. "I gave him one of the passwords I stole from Mom."

I gave Adrian a startled look. "How many did you steal?"

"Enough to--"

"Let us come to attention."

A man's booming voice rang out through the room, halting both Adrian's words and Christian's steps. With a grimace, Christian returned to where he'd been standing, cut off from us now on the other side of the room. It looked like I wouldn't have the chance to ask Lissa about Dimitri after all.

Without any direction, the others in the room began forming a circle around the fire pit. The room wasn't big enough for us to make a single-layered circle, so I was still able to stay behind other Moroi as I watched the spectacle. Lissa stood by me, but her attention was fixated across from us, on Christian. She was disappointed that he hadn't been able to join us.

"Tonight we come to honor the spirits of those who died fighting the great evil that has plagued us for so long." This was the same man who had called us to attention. The black mask he wore glittered with silver swirls. He wasn't anyone special that I recognized. It was probably safe to assume that he was someone from an important bloodline who happened to have a good voice for bringing people together. Adrian confirmed it.

"That's Anthony Badica. They always recruit him as an emcee."

Anthony seemed more like a religious leader than an emcee right now, but I didn't want to answer back and attract anyone's notice.

"Tonight we honor them," continued Anthony.

I flinched as almost everyone around us repeated those words. Lissa and I exchanged startled looks. Apparently, there was a script we hadn't been told about.

"Their lives were taken from us too soon," continued Anthony.

"Tonight we honor them."

Okay, this script might not be so hard to follow after all. Anthony kept talking about how terrible the tragedy was, and we repeated the same response. The whole idea of this Death Watch still weirded me out, but Lissa's sadness permeated the bond and began to affect me too. Priscilla had always been good to her--and polite to me. Grant might have only been Lissa's guardian a short time, but he had protected her and helped her. In fact, if not for Grant's work with Lissa, Dimitri might still be a Strigoi. So, slowly, the gravity of it all began to hit me, and even if I thought there were better ways to mourn, I appreciated the acknowledgment the dead were getting.

After a few more refrains, Anthony gestured someone forward. A woman in a glittering emerald mask came forward with a torch. Adrian shifted beside me. "My darling mother," he murmured.

Sure enough. Now that he'd pointed it out, I could clearly make out Daniella's features. She tossed her torch into the fire pit, and it lit up like the Fourth of July. Someone must have doused that wood with either gasoline or Russian vodka. Maybe both. No wonder the other guests had kept their distance. Daniella melted into the crowd, and another woman came forward holding a tray with golden goblets. Walking around the circle, she handed a cup to each person. When she ran out, another woman appeared with a tray.

As the goblets were distributed, Anthony explained, "Now we will toast and drink to the dead, so that their spirits will move on and find peace."

I shifted uncomfortably. People talked about restless spirits and the dead finding peace without really knowing what that meant. Being shadow-kissed came with the ability to see the restless dead, and it had taken me a long time to gain control so that I didn't see them. They were always around me; I had to work to keep them blocked out. I wondered what I'd see now if I let down my walls. Would the ghosts of those killed the night of Dimitri's attack be hovering around us?

Adrian sniffed his cup as soon as he got it and scowled. For a moment, I felt panic until I sniffed mine too. "Wine. Thank God," I whispered to him. "From your face, I thought it was blood." I recalled how much he hated blood that wasn't straight from the source.

"Nah," he murmured back. "Just a bad vintage."

When everyone had their wine, Anthony raised his cup over his head with both hands. With the fire behind him, it gave him an almost sinister, otherworldly look. "We drink to Priscilla Voda," he said.

"We drink to Priscilla Voda," everyone repeated.

He brought the goblet down and took a sip. So did everyone else--well, except for Adrian. He gulped half his down, bad vintage or not. Anthony raised his cup over his head again.

"We drink to James Wilket."

As I repeated the words, I realized James Wilket was one of Priscilla's guardians. This crazy group of royals really was showing respect to dhampirs. We went through the other guardians one by one, but I kept my sips small, wanting to keep a level head tonight. I was pretty sure that by the end of the name list, Adrian was faking his sips because he'd run out.

When Anthony finished naming all who had died, he held his cup up again and approached the blazing fire, which had begun to make the small room uncomfortably hot. The back of my dress was growing damp with sweat.

"To all those lost by the great evil, we honor your spirits and hope they will move on in peace to the next world." He then dumped the remainder of his wine into the flames.

All this talk of spirits lingering in the world certainly didn't go along with the usual Christian afterlife beliefs that dominated Moroi religion. It made me wonder just how old this ceremony really was. Once more, I had an urge to drop my barriers and see if any of this had really drawn ghosts to us, but I feared what I'd find. Besides, I promptly got distracted when everyone else in the circle began dumping their wine into the fire as well. One by one, going clockwise, each person approached. All was silent as this happened, save for the crackling in the fire pit and shifting of logs. Everyone watched respectfully.

When my turn came, I fought hard not to tremble. I hadn't forgotten that Adrian had sneaked me in here. Lowly Moroi weren't allowed, let alone dhampirs. What would they do? Declare the space violated? Mob me? Cast me into the fire?

My fears proved unfounded. No one said or did anything unusual as I poured out my wine, and a moment later, Adrian stepped forward for his turn. I melted back beside Lissa. When the entire circle had gone up, we were led into a moment of silence for the departed. Having witnessed Lissa's kidnapping and subsequent rescue, I had a lot of dead to ponder. No amount of silence would ever do them justice.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
Articles you may like