After the epic adventure of the first test, Lissa expected something equally intimidating. What she found instead was an old Moroi woman sitting comfortably in a chair in a mostly empty room. Her hands were folded in her lap, holding something wrapped in cloth. The woman hummed, seeming very content. And when I say old, I mean she was old. Moroi could live until their early 100s, and this woman had clearly crossed that mark. Her pale skin was a maze of wrinkles, and her gray hair was wispy and thin. She smiled when she saw Lissa and nodded toward an empty chair. A small table sat beside it with a glass pitcher of water. The guardians left the women alone.

Lissa glanced around her surroundings. There were no other furnishings, though there was a plain door opposite the one she had come through. She sat down and then turned toward the old woman. "Hello,' said Lissa, trying to keep her voice strong. "I'm Vasilisa Dragomir.'

The woman's small smile grew, showing her yellowed teeth. One of her fangs was missing. "Always such manners in your family,' she croaked. "Most people come in here and demand we get down to business. But I remember your grandfather. He was polite during his test as well.'

"You knew my grandfather?' exclaimed Lissa. He had died when she was very, very young. Then, she picked up another meaning in the woman's words. "He ran for king?'

The woman nodded. "Passed all his tests. I think he would have won the election, if he hadn't withdrawn at the last moment. After that, it was a coin's toss between Tatiana Ivashkov and Jacob Tarus. Very close, that one. The Taruses still hold a grudge.'

Lissa had never heard any of this. "Why'd my grandfather withdraw?'

"Because your brother had just been born. Frederick decided he needed to devote his energy to his fledgling family, instead of a nation.' Lissa could understand this. How many Dragomirs were there back then? Her grandfather, her father, and Andre--and her mother, but only by marriage. Eric Dragomir hadn't had any brothers or sisters. Lissa knew little about her grandfather, but in his place, she decided that she too would have rather spent time with her son and grandson, instead of listening to the endless speeches Tatiana had had to deal with.

Lissa's mind had wandered, and the old woman was watching her carefully. "Is ... this the test?' asked Lissa, once the silence had gone on too long. "Is it, like, an interview?'

The old woman shook her head. "No. It's this.' She unwrapped the object in her lap. It was a cup--a chalice or a goblet. I'm not sure which. But it was beautiful, made of silver that seemed to glow with its own light. Blood-red rubies were scattered along the sides, glittering with each turn of the cup. The woman regarded it fondly.

"Over a thousand years old, and it still gleams.' She took the pitcher and filled the chalice with water while Lissa and I processed the words. A thousand years? I was no metal expert, but even I knew silver should have tarnished in that time. The woman held out the cup to Lissa. "Drink from it. And when you want to stop, say'stop.''

Lissa reached for the cup, more confused than ever by the odd instructions. What was she supposed to stop? Drinking? As soon as her fingers touched the metal, she understood. Well, kind of. A tingle ran through her, one she knew well.

"This is charmed,' she said.

The old woman nodded. "Infused with all four elements and a spell long since forgotten.'

Charmed with spirit too, thought Lissa. That too must have been forgotten, and it put her on edge. Elemental charms had different effects. Earth charms--like the tattoo she'd been given--were often tied with minor compulsion spells. The combination of all four in a stake or ward provided a unified blast of life that blocked the undead. But spirit ... well, she was quickly learning that spirit charms covered a wide range of unpredictable effects. The water no doubt activated the spell, but Lissa had a feeling that spirit was going to be the key player. Even though it was the power that burned in her blood, it still scared her. The spell woven into this cup was complex, far beyond her skills, and she feared what it would do. The old woman stared unblinkingly.

Lissa hesitated only a moment more. She drank.

The world faded away, then rematerialized into something completely different. She and I both recognized what this was: a spirit dream.

She no longer stood in the plain room. She was outdoors, wind whipping her long hair in front of her face. She brushed it aside as best she could. Other people stood around her, all of them in black, and she soon recognized the Court's church and graveyard. Lissa herself wore black, along with a long wool coat to protect against the chill. They were gathered around a grave, and a priest stood near it, his robes of office offering the only color on that gray day.

Lissa took a few steps over, trying to see whose name was on the tombstone. What she discovered shocked me more than her: ROSEMARIE HATHAWAY.

My name was carved into the granite in regal, elaborate font. Below my name was the star of battle, signifying that I'd killed more Strigoi than could be counted. Go me. Beneath that were three lines of text in Russian, Romanian, and English. I didn't need the English translation to know what each line said because it was standard for a guardian's grave: "Eternal Service.'

The priest spoke customary funeral words, giving me the blessings of a religion I wasn't sure I believed in. That was the least weird thing here, however, seeing as I was watching my own funeral. When he finished, Alberta took his place. Lauding the deceased's achievements was also normal at a guardian's funeral--and Alberta had plenty to say about mine. Had I been there, I would have been moved to tears. She concluded by describing my last battle, how I'd died defending Lissa.

That actually didn't weird me out so much. I mean, don't get me wrong. Everything going on here was completely insane. But, reasonably speaking, if I was actually watching my own funeral, it made sense that I would have died protecting her.

Lissa didn't share my feelings. The news was a slap in the face to her. She suddenly became aware of a horrible empty feeling in her chest, like part of her was gone. The bond only worked one way, yet Robert had sworn losing his bondmate had left him in agony. Lissa understood it now, that terrible, lonely ache. She was missing something she'd never even known she'd had. Tears brimmed in her eyes.

This is a dream, she told herself. That's all. But she'd never had a spirit dream like this. Her experiences had always been with Adrian, and the dreams had felt like telephone calls.

When the mourners dispersed from the graveyard, Lissa felt a hand touch her shoulder. Christian. She threw herself gratefully into his arms, trying hard to hold back sobs. He felt real and solid. Safe. "How did this happen?' she asked. "How could it have happened?'

Tags: Richelle Mead Vampire Academy Fantasy
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