Adrian looked skeptical, but it was hard for him to refuse me anything. "When?' When indeed? It was almost noon, and I hadn't paid much attention to where we'd stopped. How long would it take us to reach Court? From what I knew about the elections, those who passed this last test would give speeches when the Moroi day started. In theory, they'd then go straight to voting--except, if our plan worked, Lissa's involvement would slow that down for days. Provided she passed.

"Midnight,' I said. If I was guessing correctly, the Court would be completely wrapped up in the election drama, making it easier for Mikhail to get out. I hoped. "Will you tell him?'

"Anything for you.' Adrian swept me a gallant bow. "Although, I still think it's dangerous for you to be involved directly with this.'

"I have to do this myself,' I said. "I can't hide.'

He nodded, as though he understood. I wasn't sure he did.

"Thank you,' I told him. "Thank you so much for everything. Now go.'

Adrian gave me a crooked grin. "Boy, you don't waste any time kicking a guy out of bed, huh?'

I flinched, the joke hitting a little too close to home. "I want Mikhail to be prepared. And I also need to watch Lissa's last test.'

This sobered Adrian. "Does she have a chance? Will she pass?'

"I don't know,' I admitted. "This is a tough one.'

"Okay. We'll see what we can do.' He gave me a small kiss. My lips responded automatically, but my heart wasn't into it. "And Rose? I mean it. Be careful. You're going to be awfully close to Court. Not to mention a bunch of guardians who have you on their most wanted list and will probably try to kill you.'

"I know,' I said, choosing not to mention that there was no "probably' about it.

With that, he vanished, and I woke. Strangely, what I found in my own world seemed almost more dreamlike than what I'd experienced with Adrian. Dimitri and I were still in bed, snuggled under the covers, our bodies and limbs still wrapped around each other. He slept with that rare peaceful look of his and almostseemed to smile. For half a second, I considered waking him and telling him we had to hit the road. A look at the clock happily squashed that thought. We still had time, plus it was getting close to the test. I had to go to Lissa and trusted Sonya would come by if we overslept.

Sure enough, I'd gauged the testing correctly. Lissa was cutting across the Court's lawns, marching like someone going to a funeral. The sun, flowers, and birds were lost on her. Even her company did little to cheer her up: Christian, my mom, and Tasha.

"I can't do this,' she said, staring ahead at the building that held her fate. "I can't do this test.' The tattoo kept her from giving out any more information.

"You're smart. Brilliant.' Christian's arm was around her waist, and in that moment, I loved him for his confidence in her. "You can do it.'

"You don't understand,' she said, with a sigh. She'd come up with no answers to the riddle, meaning the plan was at stake--and her desire to prove herself.

"For once he does,' said Tasha, a slight teasing tone in her voice. "You can do it. You have to do it. We have so much riding on it.'

Her confidence didn't make Lissa feel better. If anything, it added to the pressure. She would fail, just like in the Council dream the chalice had shown her. She'd had no answer there either. "Lissa!'

A voice brought them to a halt, and Lissa turned to see Serena running toward them, her long athletic legs quickly covering the distance between them. "Hi Serena,' said Lissa. "We can't stop. The test--'

"I know, I know.' Serena was flushed, not with exertion, but with anxiety. She proffered a piece of paper. "I made your list. As many as I could remember.'

"What list?' asked Tasha.

"Moroi that the queen was having trained, to see how well they could learn fighting.'

Tasha's eyebrows rose in surprise. She hadn't been around when they'd discussed it last time. "Tatiana was training fighters? I never heard about anything like that.' I had a feeling she would have liked to be one of the ones helping with instruction.

"Most didn't,' agreed Lissa, straightening the piece of paper. "It was a big secret.'

The group crowded around to read the names, listed in Serena's neat handwriting. Christian let out a low whistle. "Tatiana might have been open to the idea of defense but only for certain people.'

"Yes,' agreed Tasha. "This is definitely an A-list.'

All the names were royal. Tatiana hadn't brought in "commoners' for her experiment. This was the elite of the elite, though as Ambrose had noted, Tatiana had gone out of her way to get a variety of ages and genders.

"Camille Conta?' asked Lissa in surprise. "Never saw that coming. She was always really bad in P.E.'

"And there's another of our cousins,' added Christian, pointing to Lia Ozera. He glanced at Tasha, who was still in disbelief. "Did you know that?'

"No. I wouldn't have guessed her either.'

"Half the nominees too,' mused Lissa. Rufus Tarus, Ava Drozdov, and Ellis Badica. "Too bad they--oh my God. Adrian's mother?' Sure enough: Daniella Ivashkov.

"Whoa,' said Christian. That summed up my reaction too. "Pretty sure Adrian didn't know about that.'

"Does she support Moroi fighting?' asked my mom, surprised as well.

Lissa shook her head. "No. From what I know about her, she is definitely in favor of leaving defense to dhampirs.' Neither of us could imagine beautiful and proper Daniella Ivashkov in a fight.

"She already hated Tatiana,' noted Tasha. "I'm sure this did lovely things for their relationship. Those two bickered all the time behind closed doors.'

An uncomfortable silence fell.

Lissa looked at Serena. "Did these people see the queen a lot? Would they have had access to her?'

"Yes,' said Serena uneasily. "According to Grant, Tatiana watched every training sessions. After he died ... she started debriefing with the students individually, to see how well they'd learned.' She paused. "I think ... I think she might have met with some the night she died.'

"Had they progressed enough to learn to use a stake?' asked Lissa.

Serena grimaced. "Yes. Some better than others.'

Lissa looked back at the list, feeling ill. So much opportunity. So much motivation. Was the answer here on this piece of paper? Was the murderer right before her? Serena had said earlier that Tatiana had purposely picked people resistant to training, probably to see if the obstinate could still learn. Had she gone too far with someone? One name in particular kept scrolling across Lissa's mind.

"I hate to interrupt,' said my mother. Her tone and stance indicated sleuth time was over; it was back to business. "We've got to move, or you'll be late.'

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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