Thursday, October 10, 2019

Vampire Academy Chapter 16

SIXTEEN THE NEXT DAY, IT FULLY hit me how much things had changed since the Jesse-and-Ralf rumors first started. For some people, I remained a nonstop source of whispers and laughter. From Lissa's converts, I received friendliness and occasional defense. Overall, I realized, our classmates actually gave me very little of their attention anymore. This became especially true when something new distracted everyone. Lissa and Aaron. Apparently, Mia had found about the party and had blown up when she learned that Aaron had been there without her. She'd bitched at him and told him that if he wanted to be with her, he couldn't run around and hang out with Lissa. So Aaron had decided he didn't want to be with her. He'd broken up with her that morning†¦and moved on. Now he and Lissa were all over each other. They stood around in the hall and at lunch, arms wrapped around one another, laughing and talking. Lissa's bond feelings showed only mild interest, despite her gazing at him as though he was the most fascinating thing on the planet. Most of this was for show, unbeknownst to him. He looked as though he could have built a shrine at her feet at any moment. And me? I felt ill. My feelings were nothing, however, compared to Mia's. At lunch, she sat on the far side of the room from us, eyes fixed pointedly ahead, ignoring the consolations of the friends near her. She had blotchy pink patches on her pale, round cheeks, and her eyes were red-rimmed. She said nothing mean when I walked past. No smug jokes. No mocking glares. Lissa had destroyed her, just as Mia had vowed to do us. The only person more miserable than Mia was Christian. Unlike her, he had no qualms about studying the happy couple while wearing an open look of hatred on his face. As usual, no one except me even noticed. After watching Lissa and Aaron make out for the tenth time, I left lunch early and went to see Ms. Carmack, the teacher who taught elemental basics. I'd been wanting to ask her something for a while. â€Å"Rose, right?† She seemed surprised to see me but not angry or annoyed like half the other teachers did lately. â€Å"Yeah. I have a question about, um, magic.† She raised an eyebrow. Novices didn't take magic classes. â€Å"Sure. What do you want to know?† â€Å"I was listening to the priest talk about St. Vladimir the other day†¦Do you know what element he specialized in? Vladimir, I mean. Not the priest.† She frowned. â€Å"Odd. As famous as he is around here, I'm surprised it never comes up. I'm no expert, but in all the stories I've heard, he never did anything that I'd say connects to any one of the elements. Either that or no one ever recorded it.† â€Å"What about his healings?† I pushed further. â€Å"Is there an element that lets you perform those?† â€Å"No, not that I know of.† Her lips quirked into a small smile. â€Å"People of faith would say he healed through the power of God, not any sort of elemental magic. After all, one thing the stories are certain about is that he was ? ®full of spirit.' â€Å" â€Å"Is it possible he didn't specialize?† Her smile faded. â€Å"Rose, is this really about St. Vladimir? Or is it about Lissa?† â€Å"Not exactly†¦Ã¢â‚¬  I stammered. â€Å"I know it's hard on her – especially in front of all her classmates – but she has to be patient,† she explained gently. â€Å"It will happen. It always happens.† â€Å"But sometimes it doesn't.† â€Å"Rarely. But I don't think she'll be one of those. She's got a higher-than-average aptitude in all four, even if she hasn't hit specialized levels. One of them will shoot up any day now.† That gave me an idea. â€Å"Is it possible to specialize in more than one element?† She laughed and shook her head. â€Å"No. Too much power. No one could handle all that magic, not without losing her mind.† Oh. Great. â€Å"Okay. Thanks.† I started to leave, then thought of something else. â€Å"Hey, do you remember Ms. Karp? What did she specialize in?† Ms. Carmack got that uncomfortable look other teachers did whenever anyone mentioned Ms. Karp. â€Å"Actually – â€Å" â€Å"What?† â€Å"I almost forgot. I think she really was one of the rare ones who never specialized. She just always kept a very low control over all four.† I spent the rest of my afternoon classes thinking about Ms. Carmack's words, trying to work them into my unified Lissa-Karp-Vladimir theory. I also watched Lissa. So many people wanted to talk to her now that she barely noticed my silence. Every so often, though, I'd see her glance at me and smile, a tired look in her eyes. Laughing and gossiping all day with people she only sort of liked was taking its toll on her. â€Å"The mission's accomplished,† I told her after school. â€Å"We can stop Project Brainwash.† We sat on benches in the courtyard, and she swung her legs back and forth. â€Å"What do you mean?† â€Å"You've done it. You stopped people from making my life horrible. You destroyed Mia. You stole Aaron. Play with him for another couple weeks, then drop him and the other royals. You'll be happier.† â€Å"You don't think I'm happy now?† â€Å"I know you aren't. Some of the parties are fun, but you hate pretending to be friends with people you don't like – and you don't like most of them. I know how much Xander pissed you off the other night.† â€Å"He's a jerk, but I can deal with that. If I stop hanging out with them, everything'll go back to the way it was. Mia will just start up again. This way, she can't bother us.† â€Å"It's not worth it if everything else is bothering you.† â€Å"Nothing's bothering me.† She sounded a little defensive. â€Å"Yeah?† I asked meanly. â€Å"Because you're so in love with Aaron? Because you can't wait to have sex with him again?† She glared at me. â€Å"Have I mentioned you can be a huge bitch sometimes?† I ignored that. â€Å"I'm just saying you've got enough shit to worry about without all this. You're burning yourself out with all the compulsion you're using.† â€Å"Rose!† She glanced anxiously around. â€Å"Be quiet!† â€Å"But it's true. Using it all the time is going to screw with your head. For real.† â€Å"Don't you think you're getting carried away?† â€Å"What about Ms. Karp?† Lissa's expression went very still. â€Å"What about her?† â€Å"You. You're just like her.† â€Å"No, I'm not!† Outrage flashed in those green eyes. â€Å"She healed too.† Hearing me talk about this shocked her. This topic had weighed us down for so long, but we'd almost never spoken about it. â€Å"That doesn't mean anything.† â€Å"You don't think it does? Do you know anyone else who can do that? Or can use compulsion on dhampirs and Moroi?† â€Å"She never used compulsion like that,† she argued. â€Å"She did. She tried to use it on me the night she left. It started to work, but then they took her away before she finished.† Or had they? After all, it was only a month later that Lissa and I had run away from the Academy. I'd always thought that was my own idea, but maybe Ms. Karp's suggestion had been the true force behind it. Lissa crossed her arms. Her face looked defiant, but her emotions felt uneasy. â€Å"Fine. So what? So she's a freak like me. That doesn't mean anything. She went crazy because†¦well, that was just the way she was. That's got nothing to do with anything else.† â€Å"But it's not just her,† I said slowly. â€Å"There's someone else like you guys, too. Someone I found.† I hesitated. â€Å"You know St. Vladimir†¦Ã¢â‚¬  And that's when I finally let it all out. I told her everything. I told her about how she, Ms. Karp, and St. Vladimir could all heal and use super-compulsion. Although it made her squirm, I told her how they too grew easily upset and had tried to hurt themselves. â€Å"He tried to kill himself,† I said, not meeting her eyes. â€Å"And I used to notice marks on Ms. Karp's skin – like she'd claw at her own face. She tried to hide it with her hair, but I could see the old scratches and tell when she made new ones.† â€Å"It doesn't mean anything,† insisted Lissa. â€Å"It – it's all a coincidence.† She sounded like she wanted to believe that, and inside, some part of her really did. But there was another part of her, a desperate part of her that had wanted for so long to know that she wasn't a freak, that she wasn't alone. Even if the news was bad, at least now she knew there were others like her. â€Å"Is it a coincidence that neither of them seems to have specialized?† I recounted my conversation with Ms. Carmack and explained my theory about specializing in all four elements. I also repeated Ms. Carmack's comment about how that would burn someone out. Lissa rubbed her eyes when I finished, smudging a little of her makeup. She gave me a weak smile. â€Å"I don't know what's crazier: what you're actually telling me or the fact that you actually read something to find all this out.† I grinned, relieved that she'd actually mustered a joke. â€Å"Hey, I know how to read too.† â€Å"I know you do. I also know it took you a year to read The Da Vinci Code.† She laughed. â€Å"That wasn't my fault! And don't try to change the subject.† â€Å"I'm not.† She smiled, then sighed. â€Å"I just don't know what to think about all this.† â€Å"There's nothing to think about. Just don't do stuff that'll upset you. Remember coasting through the middle? Go back to that. It's a lot easier on you.† She shook her head. â€Å"I can't do that. Not yet.† â€Å"Why not? I already told you – † I stopped, wondering why I hadn't caught on before. â€Å"It's not just Mia. You're doing all this because you feel like you're supposed to. You're still trying to be Andre.† â€Å"My parents would have wanted me to – â€Å" â€Å"Your parents would have wanted you to be happy.† â€Å"It's not that easy, Rose. I can't ignore these people forever. I'm royal too.† â€Å"Most of them suck.† â€Å"And a lot of them are going to help rule the Moroi. Andre knew that. He wasn't like the others, but he did what he had to do because he knew how important they were.† I leaned back against the bench. â€Å"Well, maybe that's the problem. We're deciding who's ? ®important' based on family alone, so we end up with these screwed-up people making decisions. That's why Moroi numbers are dropping and bitches like Tatiana are queen. Maybe there needs to be a new royal system.† â€Å"Come on, Rose. This is the way it is; that's the way it's been for centuries. We have to live with that.† I glared. â€Å"Okay, how about this?† she continued. â€Å"You're worried about me becoming like them – like Ms. Karp and St. Vladimir – right? Well, she said I shouldn't use the powers, that it would make things get worse if I did. What if I just stop? Compulsion, healing, everything.† I narrowed my eyes. â€Å"You could do that?† The convenient compulsion aside, that was what I'd wanted her to do the whole time. Her depression had started at the same time the powers emerged, just after the accident. I had to believe they were connected, particularly in light of the evidence and Ms. Karp's warnings. â€Å"Yes.† Her face was perfectly composed, her expression serious and steady. With her pale hair woven into a neat French braid and a suede blazer over her dress, she looked like she could have taken her family's place on the council right now. â€Å"You'd have to give up everything,† I warned. â€Å"No healing, no matter how cute and cuddly the animal. And no more compulsion to dazzle the royals.† She nodded seriously. â€Å"I can do it. Will that make you feel better?† â€Å"Yeah, but I'd feel even better if you stopped magic and went back to hanging out with Natalie.† â€Å"I know, I know. But I can't stop, not now at least.† I couldn't get her to budge on that – yet – but knowing that she would avoid using her powers relieved me. â€Å"All right,† I said, picking up my backpack. I was late for practice. Again. â€Å"You can keep playing with the brat pack, so long as you keep the ? ®other stuff' in check.† I hesitated. â€Å"And you know, you really have made your point with Aaron and Mia. You don't have to keep him around to keep hanging out with the royals.† â€Å"Why do I keep getting the feeling you don't like him anymore?† â€Å"I like him okay – which is about as much as you like him. And I don't think you should get hot and sweaty with people you only like ? ®okay' â€Å" Lissa widened her eyes in pretend astonishment. â€Å"Is this Rose Hathaway talking? Have you reformed? Or do you have someone you like ? ®more than okay'?† â€Å"Hey,† I said uncomfortably, â€Å"I'm just looking out for you. That, and I never noticed how boring Aaron is before.† She scoffed. â€Å"You think everyone's boring.† â€Å"Christian isn't.† It slipped out before I could stop it. She quit smiling. â€Å"He's a jerk. He just stopped talking to me for no reason one day.† She crossed her arms. â€Å"And don't you hate him anyway?† â€Å"I can still hate him and think he's interesting.† But I was also starting to think that I might have made a big mistake about Christian. He was creepy and dark and liked to set people on fire, true. On the other hand, he was smart and funny – in a twisted way – and somehow had a calming effect on Lissa. But I'd messed it all up. I'd let my anger and jealousy get the best of me and ended up separating them. If I'd let him go to her in the garden that night, maybe she wouldn't have gotten upset and cut herself. Maybe they'd be together now, away from all the school politics. Fate must have been thinking the same thing, because five minutes after I left Lissa, I passed Christian walking across the quad. Our eyes locked for a moment before we passed each other. I nearly kept walking. Nearly. Taking a deep breath, I came to a stop. â€Å"Wait†¦Christian.† I called out to him. Damn, I was so late for training. Dimitri was going to kill me. Christian spun around to face me, hands stuffed in the pockets of his long black coat, his posture slumped and uncaring. â€Å"Yeah?† â€Å"Thanks for the books.† He didn't say anything. â€Å"The ones you gave to Mason.† â€Å"Oh, I thought you meant the other books.† Smartass. â€Å"Aren't you going to ask what they were for?† â€Å"Your business. Just figured you were bored being suspended.† â€Å"I'd have to be pretty bored for that.† He didn't laugh at my joke. â€Å"What do you want, Rose? I've got places to be.† I knew he was lying, but my sarcasm no longer seemed as funny as usual. â€Å"I want you to, uh, hang out with Lissa again.† â€Å"Are you serious?† He studied me closely, suspicion all over him. â€Å"After what you said to me?† â€Å"Yeah, well†¦Didn't Mason tell you?†¦Ã¢â‚¬  Christian's lips turned up into a sneer. â€Å"He told me something.† â€Å"And?† â€Å"And I don't want to hear it from Mason.† His sneer cranked up when I glared. â€Å"You sent him to apologize for you. Step up and do it yourself.† â€Å"You're a jerk,† I informed him. â€Å"Yeah. And you're a liar. I want to see you eat your pride.† â€Å"I've been eating my pride for two weeks,† I growled. Shrugging, he turned around and started to walk away. â€Å"Wait!† I called, putting my hand on his shoulder. He stopped and looked back at me. â€Å"All right, all right. I lied about how she felt. She never said any of that stuff about you, okay? She likes you. I made it up because I don't like you.† â€Å"And yet you want me to talk to her.† When the next words left my lips, I could barely believe it. â€Å"I think†¦you might be†¦good for her.† We stared at each other for several heavy moments. His smirk dried up a little. Not much surprised him. This did. â€Å"I'm sorry. I didn't hear you. Can you repeat that?† he finally asked. I almost punched him in the face. â€Å"Will you stop it already? I want you to hang out with her again.† â€Å"No.† â€Å"Look, I told you, I lied – â€Å" â€Å"It's not that. It's her. You think I can talk to her now? She's Princess Lissa again.† Venom dripped off his words. â€Å"I can't go near her, not when she's surrounded by all those royals.† â€Å"You're royal too,† I said, more to myself than him. I kept forgetting the Ozeras were one of the twelve families. â€Å"Doesn't mean much in a family full of Strigoi, huh?† â€Å"But you're not – wait. That's why she connects to you,† I realized with a start. â€Å"Because I'm going to become a Strigoi?† he asked snidely. â€Å"No†¦because you lost your parents too. Both of you saw them die.† â€Å"She saw hers die. I saw mine murdered.† I flinched. â€Å"I know. I'm sorry, it must have been†¦well, I don't have any idea what it was like.† Those crystal-blue eyes went unfocused. â€Å"It was like seeing an army of Death invade my house.† â€Å"You mean†¦your parents?† He shook his head. â€Å"The guardians who came to kill them. I mean, my parents were scary, yeah, but they still looked like my parents – a little paler, I guess. Some red in their eyes. But they walked and talked the same way. I didn't know anything was wrong with them, but my aunt did. She was watching me when they came for me.† â€Å"Were they going to convert you?† I'd forgotten my original mission here, too caught up in the story. â€Å"You were really little.† â€Å"I think they were going to keep me until I was older, then turn me. Aunt Tasha wouldn't let them take me. They tried to reason with her, convert her too, but when she wouldn't listen, they tried to take her by force. She fought them – got really messed up – and then the guardians showed up.† His eyes drifted back to me. He smiled, but there was no happiness in it. â€Å"Like I said, an army of Death. I think you're crazy, Rose, but if you turn out like the rest of them, you're going to be able to do some serious damage one day. Even I won't mess with you.† I felt horrible. He'd had a miserable life, and I'd taken away one of the few good things in it. â€Å"Christian, I'm sorry for screwing things up between you and Lissa. It was stupid. She wanted to be with you. I think she still does now. If you could just – â€Å" â€Å"I told you, I can't.† â€Å"I'm worried about her. She's into all this royal stuff because she thinks it's going to get back at Mia – she's doing it for me.† â€Å"And you aren't grateful?† The sarcasm returned. â€Å"I'm worried. She can't handle playing all these catty political games. It isn't good for her, but she won't listen to me. I could†¦I could use help.† â€Å"She could use help. Hey, don't look so surprised – I know there's something funny going on with her. And I'm not even talking about the wrist thing.† I jumped. â€Å"Did she tell you?†¦Ã¢â‚¬  Why not? She'd told him everything else. â€Å"She didn't need to,† he said. â€Å"I've got eyes.† I must have looked pathetic, because he sighed and ran a hand through his hair. â€Å"Look, if I catch Lissa alone†¦I'll try to talk to her. But honestly†¦if you really want to help her†¦well, I know I'm supposed to be all anti-establishment, but you might get the best help talking to somebody else. Kirova. Your guardian guy. I don't know. Someone who knows something. Someone you trust.† â€Å"Lissa wouldn't like that.† I considered. â€Å"Neither would I.† â€Å"Yeah, well, we all have to do things we don't like. That's life.† My snarky switch flipped on. â€Å"What are you, an after-school special?† A ghostly smile flickered across his face. â€Å"If you weren't so psychotic, you'd be fun to hang around.† â€Å"Funny, I feel that way about you too.† He didn't say anything else, but the smile grew, and he walked away.

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