"Rose! I swear it's not too late."
Shoot. His voice was close. I looked around frantically. I couldn't see him, but if he was still calling for me, he likely couldn't see me yet either. The city haze was still my guiding star, but there were trees and darkness between me and it. Suddenly, an unexpected person came to mind. Tasha Ozera. She was Christian's aunt, a very formidable lady who was one of the forerunners of teaching Moroi to fight back against Strigoi.
"We can retreat and retreat and let ourselves get backed into corners forever," she'd said once. "Or we can go out and meet the enemy at the time and place we choose. Not them."
Okay, Tasha, I thought. Let's see if your advice gets me killed.
I looked around and located a tree with branches I could reach. Shoving my stake back into my pocket, I grabbed hold of the lowest branch and swung myself up. My ankle complained the whole way, but aside from that, there were enough branches for me to get good hand-and footholds.
I kept going until I found a thick, heavy limb that I thought would support my weight. I moved out onto it, staying near the trunk and carefully testing the limb's sturdiness. It held. I took the stake out of my pocket and waited.
A minute or so later, I heard the faint stirring of leaves as Dimitri approached.
He was much quieter than I had been. His tall, dark form came into view, a sinister shadow in the night. He moved very slowly, very carefully, eyes roving everywhere and the rest of his senses no doubt working as well.
"Roza . . ." He spoke softly. "I know you're here. You have no chance of running. No chance of hiding."
His gaze was fixed low. He thought I was hiding behind a tree or crouched down. A few more steps. That was all I needed from him. Against the stake, my hand began to sweat, but I couldn't wipe it off. I was frozen, holding so still that I didn't even dare breathe.
"Roza . . ."
The voice caressed my skin, cold and deadly. Still scrutinizing his surroundings, Dimitri took one step forward. Then another. And then another.
I think it occurred to him to look up the instant I jumped. My body slammed into his, knocking him to the ground back-first. He immediately tried to throw me off, just as I tried to drive the stake through his heart. Signs of fatigue and fighting were all over him. Defeating the other Strigoi had taken its toll, though I doubted I was in much better shape. We grappled, and once, I managed to rake the stake against his cheek. He snarled in pain but kept his chest well protected. Over it, I could see where I'd ripped his shirt the first time I'd staked him. The wound had already healed. "You. Are. Amazing," he said, his words full of both pride and battle fury.
I had no energy for a response. My only goal was his heart. I fought to stay on him, and at last, my stake pierced his chest—but he was too fast.
He knocked my hand away before I could fully drive the stake through. In the process, he knocked me off of him. But before I could regain my balance and run for my life—knowing that taking Tasha's advice almost worked —he was on top of me, pinning my hands on the ground. "You left me no choice Roza. I would have to awaken you by force. But I know that you'll thank me for this later." I tried to wriggle out of his grip but he was too strong. Or I'm just too weak. Damn. His face was close to me now. Now I'm completely sure that Tasha's advice would get me killed. No. I thought. "Shit!!!" funny how that became my last word as a Dhampir. It was too late. His teeth sank into my neck, and I felt my soul slipping away from my body. After what felt like almost an eternity, I felt something wet on my lips. Blood, I thought. I tried to fight with my entire will not to swallow it but to no avail. Everything in me screamed not to take it, but I took it anyway. That just proves how bad I am at following orders. Finally, I opened my eyes, my new eyes. Strigoi eyes. The first thing I saw was Dimitri's eyes on me, scrutinizing me. This could not be happening. I felt rage take over my entire body. Why did he have to drag me to this life? I hated him. He was not my Dimitri. Not anymore. I wanted to kill him. But how? I felt strong. But I couldn't touch stakes anymore. I would have to stick with the only option I could think of. Decapitation. I jumped onto him and caught him by surprise. I knew that instant he was confused as to why I still wanted to pursue my goal—to kill him when we could be together forever. I sank my teeth—fangs— into his neck and ripped out a chunk from it. He cried out in pain and fury. "You left me no choice, comrade," I said in his ear. "You know what happens to those who mess with me. I would have to find a way to kill myself after this, I know. Goodbye. I love you." And with as much effort as I could muster, I ripped his head out of his body. This time, he is definitely dead. I finally did what I had to do. I freed his soul. But what about my soul? Shit.