Home > Last Sacrifice (Vampire Academy #6)(22)

Last Sacrifice (Vampire Academy #6)(22)
Author: Richelle Mead

After living in the wilds of Montana, I was used to how completely the night could swallow you once you stepped away from even the tiniest hint of civilization. I was even used to wandering the twists and turns of dark forests. But the St. Vladimir's terrain had been familiar. The woods of West Virginia were new and foreign, and I had completely lost my bearings.

Once I was pretty sure I'd put enough distance between me and the motel, I paused and looked around. Night insects hummed and sang, and the oppressive summer humidity hung around me. Peering up through the leafy canopy of trees, I could see a brilliant sky of stars, totally untouched by city lights. Feeling like a true wilderness survivor, I studied the stars until I spotted the Big Dipper and figured out which direction was north. The mountains Sydney had driven us through had been to the east, so I certainly didn't want to go in that direction. It seemed reasonable that if I hiked north, I'd eventually hit an interstate and either hitchhike or walk my way back to civilization. It wasn't an airtight plan, but it wasn't the worst one I'd ever had, not by a long shot.

I wasn't really dressed for hiking, but as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I managed to avoid most trees and other obstacles. Following the tiny road out of town would have been easier--but was also what Dimitri would expect me to do.

I fell into a steady, subconscious rhythm as I made my way north. I decided it was a good time to check in on Lissa, now that I had time on my hands and no guardians trying to arrest me. I slipped into her mind and found her within the depths of the guardians' headquarters, sitting in a hallway lined with chairs. Other Moroi sat nearby, including Christian and Tasha.

"They'll question you hard,' Tasha murmured. "Especially you.' That was to Christian. "You'd be my first choice if something illicitly blew up.' That seemed to be everyone's opinion. From the troubled look on her face, I could see Tasha had been as surprised by my escape as I had. Even if my friends hadn't filled her in on the whole story yet, she had probably pieced most things together--at the very least, who was behind it.

Christian gave her as charming a smile as he could manage, like a kid trying to dodge being grounded. "They'll know by now that it wasn't caused by magic,' he said. "The guardians will have scoured every inch of those statues.' He didn't elaborate, not in public, but Lissa's mind was working along the same lines as his. The guardians would know now the explosion hadn't been elemental. And even if my friends were the primary suspects, the authorities would have to wonder--just as I had--how teenagers would get a hold of C4.

Lissa nodded her agreement and rested her hand on Christian's. "We'll be okay.'

Her thoughts turned to both Dimitri and me, wondering if we'd made it out according to the plan. She couldn't focus on finding Tatiana's killer until she knew we were safe. Like me, the breakout had been a hard choice: freeing me put me in more danger than keeping me locked up. Her emotions were keyed up, prickly and a bit wilder than I would have liked. So much spirit, I realized. She's using too much. Back at school, she'd managed it with prescription medication and later through self-control. But somewhere, as our situations grew increasingly complicated, she'd allowed herself to wield more and more. Recently, she'd used astonishing amounts, and we'd come to take it for granted. Sooner or later, Lissa's reliance on spirit would catch up with her. With us.

"Princess?' A door across from Lissa opened, and a guardian peered out. "We're ready for you.'

The guardian stepped aside, and inside the room, Lissa heard a familiar voice say, "Always a pleasure speaking with you, Hans. We should do it again sometime.' Abe then appeared, strutting out with his usual swagger. He stepped past the guardian in the doorway and gave Lissa and the Ozeras a winning, all-is-right-in-the-world grin. Without a word, he strode past them toward the hall's exit.

Lissa almost smiled but reined it in, putting on a sober look as she and her companions entered. The door shut behind them, and she found herself facing three guardians seated at a table. One of them I'd seen around but had never met. I think his last name was Steele. The other two I knew well. One was Hans Croft, who ran the guardians' operations at Court. Beside him--to my astonishment--was Alberta, who was in charge of St. Vladimir's guardians and novices.

"Lovely,' growled Hans. "A whole entourage.' Christian had insisted on being present when Lissa was questioned, and Tasha had insisted on being present with Christian. If Abe had known the interrogation time, he probably would have joined the group too, undoubtedly followed by my mother ... Hans didn't realize he'd dodged a house party.

Lissa, Christian, and Tasha sat down opposite the guardians. "Guardian Petrov,' said Lissa, ignoring Hans's disapproval. "What are you doing here?' Alberta gave Lissa a small smile but otherwise kept in professional guardian mode. "I was here for the funeral, and Guardian Croft decided he'd like an outside opinion for the investigation.'

"As well as someone familiar with Hathaway and her, uh, associates,' added Hans. Hans was the kind of guy who got straight to the point. Usually, his attitude bothered me--that was my normal reaction to most authority figures--but I did respect the way he ran operations here. "This meeting was intended just for you, princess.'

"We won't say a word,' said Christian.

Lissa nodded and kept her face smooth and polite, even though there was a trembling in her voice. "I want to help ... I've been so, I don't know. I'm so stunned about everything that's happened.'

"I'm sure,' said Hans, voice dry. "Where were you when the statues exploded?'

"With the funeral procession,' she said. "I was part of the escort.'

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