"Whatever's going on between you is your business," I told him calmly, "but she's used it to trick you into thinking she's someone she isn't. She did it to me too, and I fell for it. It's all a scam."

"I don't believe it," he said, still stone-faced. "As queen, she's put into all sorts of tough situations. There must be more to it--she'll change the decree, I'm certain of it."

"As queen," I said, imitating his tone, "she should have the ability to--"

My words fell off as a voice spoke in my head. Lissa's.

Rose, you're going to want to see this. But you have to promise not to cause any trouble. Lissa flashed a location to me, along with a sense of urgency.

Ambrose's hard look shifted to one of concern. "Are you okay?"

"I--yeah. Lissa needs me." I sighed. "Look, I don't want us to fight, okay? Obviously we've each got different views of the situation... but I think we both agree on the same key point."

"That kids shouldn't be sent off to die? Yeah, we can agree on that." We smiled tentatively at each other, and the anger between us diffused. "I'll talk to her, Rose. I'll find out the real story and let you know, okay?"

"Okay." I had a hard time believing anyone could really have a heart-to-heart with Tatiana, but again, there might be more to their relationship than I realized. "Thanks. It was good seeing you."

"You too. Now go--go to Lissa."

I needed no further urging. Along with the sense of urgency, Lissa had passed one other message through the bond that sent my feet flying: It's about Dimitri.

Chapter Twenty-Three

I DIDN'T NEED THE BOND to find Lissa. The crowd tipped me off to where she--and Dimitri--were.

My first thought was that some kind of stoning or medieval mobbing was going on. Then I realized that the people standing around were simply watching something. I pushed through them, heedless of the dirty looks I got, until I stood in the front row of the onlookers. What I found brought me to a halt.

Lissa and Dimitri sat side by side on a bench while three Moroi and--yikes--Hans sat opposite them. Guardians stood scattered around them, tense and ready to jump in if things went bad, apparently. Before I even heard a word, I knew exactly what was going on. This was an interrogation, an investigation to determine what Dimitri was exactly.

Under most circumstances, this would be a weird place for a formal investigation. It was, ironically, one of the courtyards Eddie and I had worked on, the one that stood in the shadow of the statue of the young queen. The Court's church stood nearby. This grassy area wasn't exactly holy ground, but it was close enough to the church that people could run to it in an emergency. Crucifixes didn't hurt Strigoi, but they couldn't cross over into a church, mosque, or any other sacred place. Between that and the morning sun, this was probably as safe a location and time as officials could muster up to question Dimitri.

I recognized one of the Moroi questioners, Reece Tarus. He was related to Adrian on his mom's side but had also spoken in favor of the age decree. So I took an instant dislike to him, particularly considering the haughty tone he used toward Dimitri.

"Do you find the sun blinding?" asked Reece. He had a clipboard in front of him and appeared to be going down a checklist.

"No," said Dimitri, voice smooth and controlled. His attention was totally on his questioners. He had no clue I was there, and I kind of liked it that way. I wanted to just gaze at him for a moment and admire his features.

"What if you stare into the sun?"

Dimitri hesitated, and I'm not sure anyone but me caught the sudden glint in his eyes--or knew what it meant. The question was stupid, and I think Dimitri--maybe, just maybe--wanted to laugh. With his normal skill, he maintained his composure.

"Anyone would go blind staring into the sun long enough," he replied. "I'd go through what anyone else here would."

Reece didn't seem to like the answer, but there was no fault in the logic. He pursed his lips together and moved on to the next question. "Does it scald your skin?"

"Not at the moment."

Lissa glanced over at the crowd and noticed me. She couldn't feel me the way I could through our bond, but sometimes it seemed she had an uncanny sense of when I was around. I think she sensed my aura if I was close enough, since all spirit users claimed the field of light around shadow-kissed people was very distinct. She gave me a small smile before turning back to the questioning.

Dimitri, ever vigilant, noticed her tiny movement. He looked over to see what had distracted her, caught sight of me, and faltered a little on Reece's next question, which was, "Have you noticed whether your eyes occasionally turn red?"

"I..." Dimitri stared at me for several moments and then jerked his head back toward Reece. "I haven't been around many mirrors. But I think my guards would have noticed, and none of them have said anything."

Nearby, one of the guardians made a small noise. He barely managed to keep a straight face, but I think he too had wanted to snicker at the ridiculous line of questioning. I couldn't recall his name, but when I'd been at Court long ago, he and Dimitri had chatted and laughed quite a bit when together. If an old friend was starting to believe Dimitri was a dhampir again, then that had to be a good sign.

The Moroi next to Reece glared around, trying to figure out where the noise had come from, but discovered nothing. The questioning continued, this time having to do with whether Dimitri would step into the church if they asked him to.

"I can go right now," he told them. "I'll go to services tomorrow if you want." Reece made another note, no doubt wondering if he could get the priest to douse Dimitri in holy water.

"This is all a distraction," a familiar voice said in my ear. "Smoke and mirrors. That's what Aunt Tasha says." Christian now stood beside me.

"It needs to be done," I murmured back. "They have to see that he isn't Strigoi anymore."

"Yeah, but they've barely signed the age law. The queen gave the go-ahead for this as soon as the Council's session let out because it's sensational and will make people pay attention to something new. It was how they finally got the hall cleared. 'Hey, go look at the sideshow!'"

I could almost hear Tasha saying that word for word. Regardless, there was truth to it. I felt conflicted. I wanted Dimitri to be free. I wanted him to be the way he used to be. Yet I didn't appreciate Tatiana doing this for her own political gain and not because she actually cared about what was right. This was possibly the most monumental thing to happen in our history. It needed to be treated as such. Dimitri's fate shouldn't be a convenient "sideshow" to distract everyone from an unfair law.

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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