Another unspoken signal seemed to pass through the room. The circle dispersed, and the tension lifted. People again fell into small chatty groups, just like at any other party, though I did see tears on the faces of some.

"A lot of people must have liked Priscilla," I observed.

Adrian turned toward a table that had mysteriously been arranged during the ceremony. It sat against the back wall and was filled with fruit, cheese, and more wine. Naturally, he poured a glass.

"They aren't all crying for her," he said.

"I find it hard to believe they're crying for the dhampirs," I pointed out. "No one here even knew them."

"Not true," he said.

Lissa quickly caught his meaning. "Most of the people who went on the rescue would have been guardians assigned to Moroi. They couldn't all be Court guardians."

She was right, I realized. We'd had too many people with us at the warehouse. Many of these Moroi had undoubtedly lost guardians that they'd become close to. Despite the disdain I often had for these types of royals, I knew some had probably formed legitimate friendships with and attachments to their bodyguards.

"This is a lame party," a voice suddenly said. We turned and saw that Christian had finally made his way over to us. "I couldn't tell if we were supposed to be having a funeral or summoning the devil. It was kind of a half-assed attempt at both."

"Stop it," I said, surprising myself. "Those people died for you last night. Whatever this is, it's still out of respect for them."

Christian's face grew sober. "You're right."

Beside me, I'd felt Lissa light up inside when she saw him. The horrors of their ordeal had brought them closer together, and I recalled the tenderness they'd shared on the ride back. She offered him a warm look and got a tentative smile in return. Maybe some good would come of all that had happened. Maybe they'd be able to fix their problems.

Or maybe not.

Adrian broke into a grin. "Hey. Glad you could make it."

For a moment, I thought he was speaking to Christian. Then I looked and saw a girl in a peacock mask had joined us. With the mingling people and masks, I hadn't noticed that she was purposely standing near us. I peered at her, seeing only blue eyes and golden curls before I finally recognized her. Mia.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

She grinned. "Adrian got me a password."

"Adrian apparently got passwords for half the party."

He seemed very pleased with himself. "See?" he said, smiling at me. "I told you I'd make this worth your while. The whole gang's here. Nearly."

"This is one of the weirdest things I've ever seen," said Mia, glancing around. "I don't see why it has to be a secret that the people who got killed were heroes. Why can't they wait for the group funeral?"

Adrian shrugged. "I told you, this is an ancient ceremony. It's a holdover from the Old Country, and these people think it's important. From what I know, it used to be a lot more elaborate. This is the modernized version."

It occurred to me then that Lissa hadn't said a single word since we'd noticed Christian had come with Mia. I opened myself to the bond, feeling a flood of jealousy and resentment. I still maintained Mia was one of the last people Christian would be involved with. (Okay, it was hard for me to imagine him involved with anyone. His getting together with Lissa had been monumental.) Lissa couldn't see that, though. All she saw was him continually hanging out with other girls. As our conversation continued, Lissa's attitude grew frostier, and the friendly looks he'd been giving her began to fade.

"So is it true?" Mia asked, oblivious to the drama unfolding around her. "Is Dimitri really... back?"

Lissa and I exchanged glances. "Yes," I said firmly. "He's a dhampir, but no one believes it yet. Because they're idiots."

"It just happened, little dhampir." Adrian's tone was gentle, though the topic clearly made him uncomfortable too. "You can't expect everyone to get on board with it right away."

"But they are idiots," said Lissa fiercely. "Anyone who talks to him can tell he's not a Strigoi. I'm pushing for them to let him out of his cell so that people can actually see for themselves."

I wished she would push a little harder for me to get to see him, but now wasn't the time to talk about that. Eyeing the room, I wondered if some people would have trouble accepting Dimitri because of his role in the deaths of their loved ones. He hadn't been in control of himself, but that wasn't enough to bring back the dead.

Still uncomfortable around Christian, Lissa was growing restless. She also wanted to leave and check on Dimitri. "How long do we have to stay here? Is there more to--"

"Who the hell are you?"

Our little cluster turned as one and found Anthony standing by us. Considering most of us were here illicitly, he could have been speaking to anyone. But, based on where his gaze was fixed, there was no question who he meant.

He was talking to me.

Chapter Twenty

"YOU'RE NOT MOROI!" HE CONTINUED. He wasn't shouting, but we'd definitely gotten the attention of the people standing near us. "You're Rose Hathaway, aren't you? How dare you and your impure blood invade the sanctity of our--"

"That's enough," a lofty voice suddenly said. "I'll take it from here."

Even with her face covered, there was no mistaking that voice. Tatiana swept in beside the guy, wearing a silver flowered mask and a long-sleeved gray dress. I'd probably seen her earlier in the crowd and not even realized it. Until she spoke, she blended in with everyone else.

The whole room was quiet now. Daniella Ivashkov scurried up behind Tatiana, her eyes widening behind her mask when she recognized me. "Adrian--" she began.

But Tatiana was seizing the situation. "Come with me."

There was no question that the order was for me or that I would obey. She turned and walked swiftly toward the room's entrance. I hurried behind her, as did Adrian and Daniella.

As soon as we were out in the torch-lit hall, Daniella turned on Adrian. "What were you thinking? You know I don't mind you bringing Rose to certain events, but this was--"

"Inappropriate," said Tatiana crisply. "Although, perhaps it is fitting that a dhampir see how much the sacrifices of her people are respected."

That shocked us all into a moment of silence. Daniella recovered herself first. "Yes, but tradition states that--"

Tatiana interrupted her again. "I'm well aware of the tradition. It's a bad breach of etiquette, but Rosemarie being here certainly doesn't ruin our intentions. Losing Priscilla..." Tatiana didn't choke up, exactly, but she lost some of her normal composure. I didn't think of someone like her as having a best friend, but Priscilla pretty much had been. How would I act if I'd lost Lissa? Not nearly so controlled.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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