All eyes are on me. I hastily open the envelope:
The Keepers were attack. Many were injured and a few casualties. Luckily it was only a single Strigoi and the group could take him down. He was looking for you. Be careful, stay safe. –Sydney
My eyes widen as I meet Dimitri's gaze.
"We have to go back to West Virginia." I hand him the note. He quickly reads it and nods in agreement.
"What's happened?" Lissa asks. I quickly explain to her about the redneck vampires we met in the backwoods during our stint in West Virginia. Then I read Sydney's note aloud for the group to hear.
"You've made a lot of Strigoi enemies," Dimitir says.
"Yes, you've told me. And that's why you were stalking me, to kill me, remember?" I flash a smile. His face goes stone cold. I grab his hand and squeeze.
"I guess if word's around that you've been healed, you probably have enemies too." I finally say. He nods.
"I should go too. If people have been injured I can help them." Lissa says.
"Lissa you can't go. You're Queen." I say. I see a little frown forming on her face.
"Maybe Sonya can go?" she says.
"No. She was just reunited with Mikhail. We can't ask her to leave him. Not just yet. It'll be fine." I say.
"I'll go." My head snaps to Adrian. He shrugs. "It's not like I have anything else to do."
"Me too." Christian says with excitement behind his voice.
"No. We can't take two Moroi, nonetheless two Royal Moroi, out with us unprotected by Guardians. I've learned my lesson. I won't put their lives in danger. And if we are being hunted by Strigoi, they will be in danger." I quickly say. Dimitri nods.
"I'll get a Guardian." Christian says. My face lights up and I flash one of my most charming smiles.
"Dear lord. I know that look. What's your crazy idea now?" Lissa says letting out a laugh.
"Christian, could you request Eddie? I don't think many people want him anymore after his association with me." I say.
"Great idea. He'd be a good asset to St. Vladimir's too."
"And Adrian, if you still want to come," I turn slightly toward him. He nods. "You could request Mikhail. He's done so much to help us too. And he's still being punished for leaving when Sonya turned Strigoi." Dimitri smiles.
"But you just said," I interrupt before Lissa can finish.
"If Sonya leaves, Mikhail can't follow. But if Mikhail leaves, Sonya will follow. It's too perfect actually. She can help Adrian with Spirit too." In this moment, my earlier dark emotions have turned happy. Maybe I can make amends for some of the awful things I've done.
I look to Dimitri and meet his approving smile.
"What's the smirk for?" I ask.
"Just remembering how flustered you were when Angeline challenged you to a fight." He teases. "To see if you were worthy enough to marry her brother." He openly laughs.
"What?!" Lissa exclaims.
"Good lord. You had to bring that up!" I laugh too. I tell them about the misunderstanding that occurred. And that led to more information being revealed about this group and how they lived.
"He asked me to live in a cave!" The bewildered look on my face made everyone laugh.
After a while Dimitri takes charge and starts giving out orders.
"We should hit the road at sun rise. If Strigoi are hunting us, we need to move during daylight. I'll get a car and supplies. You three have business to attend to at the Guardian HQ." Adrian promises to keep Lissa posted through her dreams as we say our farewells and head out the door.
The entire walk over to the Guardian HQ my stomach is tied in knots. I always wanted to be a Guardian, Lissa's Guardian. Now I finally have both and I'm giving them away. I know this is the right decision, even though it's a hard one. When we get there, I'm not sure exactly what to say. For once in my life I'm speechless.
"After Belikov's decision this morning, I figured it was only a matter of time before we'd be seeing you." Hans says.
"Yes. It was a very generous gesture of you to reestablish his title, but it also made many people nervous. And you know me, I'm a loose cannon. The Queen doesn't need me on her guard. I'll just attract too much attention, and not necessarily in a good way." I smile. He nods in agreement.
Once my discharge paperwork has been completed, Adrian and Christian request their guardians by name. Hans hesitates momentarily before sending a runner for Eddie and Mikhail. Both graciously accept the position. Walking out into the Plaza Eddie speaks first,
"Okay Rose, exactly what have we agreed to?" I look at him with a puzzled face. "What did we get ourselves into?"
"First off, why do you think I'm involved? Secondly, why do you think you've 'gotten yourself' into something?" I ask with an edge of humor in my voice. All eyes are on me and everyone is smiling.
"Okay fine. Here's the deal." I give Eddie and Mikhail a quick recap of our mission.
"When do we leave?" Eddie asks.
"Sunrise. Dimitri's getting us a car." I say. "Oh, and Mikhail, don't forget Sonya." His smile widens. We part ways with an agreement to meet back just before sunrise. Dimitri's waiting for us with a Ford Excursion. We all pile in. Dimitri drives and I ride shotgun.
"So, exactly where are we going?" Eddie asks after we've been on the road a little while.
"West Virginia." I say.
"The place you went after your escape?" Mikhail asks. I glance to Dimitri.
"Er, kinda." I say.
"What do you mean kinda? It's either a yes or no." Christian says.
"Yes we went there after our escape." I say glancing out the window. I feel Dimitri's gaze on me.
"I thought it was a boring motel in the middle of nowhere." The sound of Adrian's voice makes me flinch.
"Yes. That place was. We're not going there." I say.
"Rose, stop talking in riddles." Christian says. "What happened? You went to two different places in West Virginia?"
"Yes. We had a run in with the local law enforcement at the first place. This was an alternate." Dimitri says.
"You tried to run." It appears Adrian knows me better than I though. Everyone takes my silence as confirmation.
"How'd she get away from you Belikov?" Mikhail asks. Dimitri tenses, gripping the steering wheel.
"She played upon a weakness and caught me off guard." He finally says.
"I punched him." I say with a mischievous grin plastered on my face. He grunts.
"Man would I give anything to see you two fight each other. I bet that's an amazing match. I heard about the warehouse, the night you were saved. Everyone says they dared not try to get in between you two for fear of their life." Mikhail laughs. "How many times have you two fought?" I fidget in my seat and notice Dimitri gripping the wheel again.
"Too many." I finally say. Everyone nods.
"What happened in Russia?" Adrian's voice cuts through the awkward silence. His question pierces me through the heart. He's always wanted to know about my time in Russia, but I never told him. I never told anyone except Lissa. Our eyes meet.
"I killed Strigoi." I say.
"Cut the crap. Remember I funded your little escapade?" he quips.
"Well obviously she didn't find him. Or else he wouldn't be here." Mikhail says.
"Or she wouldn't be here." Sonya adds.
"But I did. I found him." I whispered. "And I failed him." I look to Dimitri. He still doesn't like talking about his time as a Strigoi. Everyone looks to me.
I tell a broad overview my trip to Russia - my strategy for finding Dimitri, my initial hesitation, my captivity and finally my escape. Of course I left out the finer details of my captivity and escape, those are private.
Sonya commended Dimitri on his ability for control as a young Strigoi. Saying it must have been his feelings for me directing his actions. He thought about that a while, then I could tell he dismissed it. After a while we stopped at a camping store.
"I'll be right back." Dimitri says.
"I'll come with you." I say.
"No. Stay here. I'll be quick." I nod as he closes the door.
A few minutes pass when Adrian's voice cuts through the silence once more.
"He fed off you, didn't he?" My eyes shot daggers at him.
"That is none of your business." He touched upon a nerve.
"That's why you were so messed up." He's finally putting it all together. "And why couldn't you kill him?"
"I thought I did! I stabbed him twice! Once with a wooden stake during my escape, then again on the bridge. I stabbed him with MY stake. I thought he was dead when I left Russia." All the grief of thinking I killed the love of my life filled my heart. I never allowed myself to mourn that feeling. Even though it's not true, it still tortured me at the time.
"You were his blood whore. That's what he did to you." Adrian says. Tears well up in my eyes, I quickly turn to face the front before anyone notices.
"No. It's not like that with Strigoi. Usually you're a meal and dead." Sonya says. "What he did with Rose, only the more powerful Strigoi have that type of control. To be able to control his blood thirst. That is an amazing feat in itself."
"What do you mean?" I ask.
"Strigoi drink blood for food. They typically don't take pleasure in it. Well, if they do take pleasure in it, usually the victim isn't allowed to live afterward." Sonya says. "Strigoi have a hard time expressing their feelings for love, so they compensate in other ways such as power and pleasure. To a Strigoi, taking pleasure in a feeding is just like making love." We all jump when Dimitri opens the back doors to put in his purchase. I blush.
"Did I interrupt something?" he asks.
"Nope." I say. Suddenly I feel very awkward.
"Rose was just about to tell us more about The Keepers." Christian says. My eyes meet his showing a small 'thank you'.