My heart was pounding against my chest in a frenetic lullaby, unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and the adrenaline that was pumping through my veins had me with a sharp, crystalline state of mind. The scene below me moved in slow motion: strigoi, guardians, and moroi alike moved with a grace and finesse I had never stopped to appreciate. My moment of clarity was short lived when I realized what had happened; The endorphins were putting up a good fight, but I still had enough presence of mind to turn around and swing my elbow up at Avery's face, delivering a blow to her nose. The jab distracted her just enough for her to step back to clasp her nose in her hands. I fell out of her reach, lightheaded, and extended my arm for my stake, which had dropped when she had tackled me. It was so close…just two steps down. I moved myself forward as much as I could, but Avery had me pinned. I knew she was advancing on me, and I didn't have to look to see that she would be pissed. I hadn't noticed it was raining until the thick gushes of water began to fall fast, obscuring my vision. The rain was making it hard to see, but I knew my stake was close. I stretched as far as I could, my fingers grazing against the cool metal.

At the same time that I touched the stake, Avery lunged, wrapping her fingers around my neck. She yanked my chin up just hard enough; She wasn't going to kill me. It was apparent that she wanted me with them. She wanted me to be turned, and so I would be turned. When she made a grab for me, she released me a little, and I was able to reach further. The stake was close to me, my fingers could touch it, but I just needed a little more leverage… I felt her breath as she pressed her fangs against my neck again, and the shock made me limp. The second wave of endorphins began to course through me, and I felt dizzy and weak. But I knew I had to push myself; I moved again, lowering myself down the steps the best I could, my hand closing over the stake. I didn't get a good grip on it with Avery still attached to my neck, but I slid it closer to me and picked it up.

Avery sank her fangs deeper into my flesh, and I could feel the heat of my own blood spreading out down my shoulder. I felt drained and exhausted; Avery pulled me closer to her, and I watched helplessly as my stake tumbled from my hand as my muscles relaxed. It ricocheted down the steps in the slowest possible manner, falling and bouncing from stone to stone, creating a path to the bottom. My vision went fuzzy, turning dark, as my breathing began to grow labored, slowing down. My heart was slowing down too, and all rational thought was beginning to evade me.

I slumped against Avery, comfortable and content, not worried about the blood that trickled down my neck, mixing in with the torrent of rain. It was an out of body experience if ever I had one. I felt myself floating above us, but I was still on the ground, leaning back against the strigoi. I watched her through weary eyes as she loosened her grip and shifted out from under me, letting me fall to the ground. My head smacked against the stone, but neither Avery or myself were very concerned by it. Undaunted, Avery brought her own wrist to her mouth and ran her fangs across it, drawing her own blood in deep rivulets. She watched it well up there with apparent fascination before bringing it to my lips.

Though I didn't feel as if I were bound to my body, I was clearly not omniscient. I did not notice Lissa's presence until Avery did. Lissa smacked her in the back of the head with all the force she could manage, drawing Avery away from me. I watched them through hooded eyes as they made toward eachother, Avery moving awkwardly but with all the speed in the world. Unfortunately for her, Lissa was much more graceful. It was a funny thing to watch at first, but then as my mental clarity began to return slowly, I realized what was going on. Lissa was attempting to stake Avery. Of course. She couldn't just snap her neck? She had to try and save her from the strigoi state she was in? I wondered whether Lissa knew that it would do Avery no good to be normal again, since her mind would still be gone, but that thought dissolved when I snapped back into myself, my mind focused on killing Avery.

I couldn't leave Lissa alone up here, but I had to get my stake. Avery needed to be disposed of. I stared down the steps, looking through the fat drops of rain at my stake on the ground. Lissa was a walking target, being a spirit user, but I was the reason Avery had been created. When Dimitri had been a strigoi he had been intent on changing me because he knew my skills would make me a very powerful strigoi. I knew that if I could get Avery's attention back on me, I could distract her from Lissa. Getting her attention didn't prove an easy feat though. I jumped at her, attempting to latch onto her back the way she had done to me. I was weak because of the lack of blood, but determination pushed me forward.

Avery did not seem the least bit deterred by my attack. Without a stake, what threat was I to her anyways? I could not decapitate her with my bare hands, and my stake was far away. Avery shrugged me off and I dropped to the ground, watching desperately as she sized Lissa up. "Lissa, give me the stake!" I called, looking from behind Avery to see Lissa, her blonde hair plastered to her face thanks to the rain. She always looked beautiful, even now, but the resemblance to an angel seemed to have disappeared. She no longer looked like a divine creature, but a haunted soul back from another world. Like me.

She shook her head without removing her eyes from Avery's, refusing to step down. Avery seemed to be pleased with the challenge. She laughed, stretching her arms out before her and dodging toward Lissa in a single move. The imagery was some kind of mix between a zombie and a child attempting to tickle a baby. I almost wanted to laugh, but in light of the circumstances, it seemed like a bad idea. I pulled myself up to my feet and jumped again, my arms closing around Avery's thin neck. I was able to hold onto her more tightly this time, and she attempted unsuccesfully to dislodge me. Lissa moved without hesitation, aiming for Avery's heart. Unfortunately, Lissa had not had nearly a fraction of the training I did, and she missed her mark, overcalculating. Avery shrieked as the metal poked into her skin, backhanding Lissa in the same instant. I dug my nails into Avery's skin, attempting to capture her attention as Lissa gathered herself and stood up.

Avery seemed to tire of the game, pulling out all the stops. She pushed me off of her with enough force to send me flying into the stone wall. I landed on the ground, breathless. I didn't let myself stay down, and I tried to maneuver myself into a sitting position, but all of a sudden the simple action seemed physically impossible. I grabbed a hold of the wall, clutching a groove from the natural stone, and pulled myself up on shaky arms. I looked away for only a second, but when I turned back Avery was ensconced in flames.

They were weak though, courtesy of the rain, barely enough to succeed in finishing her off. I looked up in time to see my stake flying through the air towards me. I reached up, ignoring the pain in my side, and caught it between my palms. Avery was just distracted enough that I had an opportunity for a hit. I got it to her chest, but my body did not seem to have enough strength to drive it home. Noticing the trouble I was having, Christian let the flames drop altogether and sprinted to my side to take over, pushing the stake deeper into her chest. Avery's face went through a display of emotions: shock, amusement, and then pain as Christian slowly sank the weapon deeper and deeper in her heart until her face went blank. Christian tore the stake from her chest and pushed her roughly to the ground, turning to help Lissa, who was already standing, coming toward me.

The two of them moved to my side, concerned. "Thanks." I told them, wincing as the word sent a quick pain through my side. Lissa grabbed my hands and, before I could stop her, she closed her eyes and began to heal me. I meant to protest, to tell her to save her magic for somebody who would really need it, but I was unable to force the words from my mouth. The magic felt warm and golden and sweet like honey, both within me and flowing through the bond. The pain in my side erased and Lissa stood, pulling me up with her.

"There are tons of them, Rose." Lissa said grimly, as if she were just reminding me. I nodded, looking down the steps at the swirl of action. Christian handed my stake back to me wordlessly.

"You aren't supposed to be here, Lissa. They're targeting you."

"Me?" Lissa asked, genuinely surprised. Sure, she had been targeted before. After all, once the strigoi got her they would have finished off the Dragomir blood line. Well, not anymore, thanks to Jill, but that had once been the misconception. Even with that kind of honor, Lissa found it hard to believe that they had stormed the court exclusively for her.

"Spirit users make strong strigoi. So do the shadow kissed. They're targeting criminals and psychos, too."

"Why?" Christian asked, his face dark. I noticed a scratch on his face, and the questioned flashed through my mind as to why Lissa hadn't yet healed that away.

"Criminals are desperate. They'll turn if they can just get a chance at freedom. And the mentally ill...they're in no position to refuse them. They don't even know what's going on. I can't tell you how many strigoi have laughed in my face as I was about to kill them. They don't even know what they are."

"I don't even know what's going on." Christian said, looking down upon the people below them.

It felt like we were in some kind of time warp, unable to gather our thoughts and send our bodies into motion. Lightning forked through the sky, illuminating the fallen bodies, and I came to attention.

"Please go inside with the moroi, Lissa." I said, moving toward the steps.

"I'm helping, Rose." Lissa said stubbornly. "Christian and I are joining the war. You need us."

"I need you alive." I said lamely. I wanted to push more conviction into my voice, but I was beginning to feel drained.

"Take what you get, Hathaway." Christian said, heading for the steps. He began to descend, scoping out the hillside, looking for someone to attack. Lissa followed him, casting me a victorious look.

I knew it was a battle of the wills that I would not win. Lissa and Christian were both stubborn. I was too, but with everything that was going on, I could not find it in me to stand there and argue with them. My will was weakening. I only wanted to last til sunrise, to run the strigoi into their shelter, wherever that may be. I followed my friends, unable to think of anything good enough to stop them from trying to play hero. I would just have to stay with them, chaperone them and fight in a group to make sure that they stayed safe.

Christian attacked the first strigoi he saw, lighting him on fire. I wasn't sure whether he realized his elemental magic was not going to be enough to get him kills. As he looked over at me, I realized that was not the intent. He wanted me to stake them while he distracted them. I hesitated only briefly, not at all attracted by the idea of walking through flames. But they were relatively weak, and besides that, Lissa could heal away any burn marks later. They come first.

I bowed my head, looking at the ground, and charged through the fire, my stake heating up in my hands. The flames disappeared once I was in close proximal distance to the strigoi. As they began to dissolve into his clothes, he remained momentarily distracted. It gave me the moment I needed to stake him.

I lost track of my kills as we surged on, seeking out strigoi. We repeated the same pattern time after time. Lissa would draw the stirigoi's attention, even though it made me feel sick to use her as a sort of bait. Christian would light them up like a Christmas tree, and I would use their sudden distractions to my advantage. It felt endless and monotonous as I staked again and again, focusing on nothing but Lissa, Christian, and the strigoi. Christian seemed to be keeping track, announcing numbers after each strigoi crumpled to the wet Earth. He did not seem proud of the numbers he ticked off, but he announced them with a resigned tone, almost like a sigh. We were doing good. We were protecting the moroi, but it felt wrong. Even though the marks on my neck showed that I had killed countless strigoi, I had never killed so many as I did all in the course of that day. I caught a glimpse of Lissa's face after each staking, her pallor pale and ashy. She needed to be taken away from all of this, the chaos and destruction, but every time I asked her to take cover, her irritation with me grew. So, also, did her determination.

After what felt like hours but had probably been only forty minutes, Lissa was determined to get in on the action. She conceded that she had staked Dimitri before, and we all knew he was among the best. If she could do that, then by her logic, she could take out any of the strigoi here. Arguing was a moot point; All I could do was stick with her. It was not until one of the strigoi crept behind us and bit Christian on the neck that I believed her. Lissa reacted on such penultimate fury, turning around and jamming the stake right into the strigoi's chest in a fluid movement. When the strigoi collapsed onto the ground, I realized that Lissa's stake was just a normal one. She had not, as I thought, charmed it. She was not trying to bring them back, so much as prove herself a force to reckon with.

Christian refused to let Lissa heal away the puncture wounds, and while they argued- over that, I looked around. I had thought that things were bad before, but now it was truly beginning to dawn on me that the perfectly manicured lawn of the court had become a blood saturated battlefield. Around us, I could see plumes of fire spreading out across the grounds, torrents of water swirling through the air, rocks that seemed to be pelting out of the sky from nowhere. I could feel the gusts of wind that pushed them all along and realized that there must be many moroi out here. I looked around for the source, willing myself to see more than just the strigoi at arms, and was shocked by what I saw. "No." I whispered, caught between horrified and nauseated.

Jill stood off to the side, segregated from the battle physically, her mind completely engaged. With one hand she was creating the rain that drove the humans away from the battle, and with the other she was creating the air that moved violently against the strigoi, deterring them from their pursuit, stealing the air from around them just to make them slow. She was completely focused and intent; from where I stood she looked like some kind of patron saint of war, ready to put an end to this. The resemblance to Lissa was startling. But it was not Jill alone on the hillside that worked her magic; Jesse stood at her side, his face focused. I could not see what part he had in the attack, but I paid him no attention as I saw exactly what they were looking at.

Tasha was in the midst of all the action, casting fire to strigoi after strigoi, in some cases driving them back and in others strengthening their resolve. Jill was intentionally holding the area clear of her magic so that Tasha could get in a good, strong fire. "I'm going to help Jill." Lissa said, seemingly satisfied at having gotten her kill. I did not argue; I would much rather her stand up on the hill with Jill and Jesse than seek out strigoi for a fight.

"I'm going to help Aunt Tasha." Christian said. Their eyes locked and I knew they were going to kiss. I moved quickly away from them, down towards the battle. I moved past where Tasha stood, surrounded by a ring of strigoi. She could handle them all, and with Christian coming to help her she should be able to finish up soon. I wished she would go inside; She had a baby to worry about, after all. But I knew her too well. Tasha Ozera would not give up. It was simply not in her nature. I kept walking, not quite sure where I was headed or who I was looking for until I found him.

Adrian was removed from the battle, healing away scrapes, burns, and bite marks. There were several guardians sitting and laying on the slick grass, regrouping before joining the fray of battle. I saw my mother assisting them, doling out bottles of water and giving commands. Viktoria and Karolina were helping her, running around on her orders. Moroi were among the ranks of injured, though they seemed more shaken up then anything. "Where's Abe?" I asked, the only thing I could think to say.

"He's fighting." My mother answered without turning to look at me.

I snorted, unable to help myself. My mind was at wits end. "He's fighting and you're here?"

"Rose." Adrian's tone was stern and gentle at the same time. Looking at him, my walls fell down. He was sweaty and dirty, looking more exhausted then I had ever seen him.

"I need to talk to you." I did not know what I had to say to him. There was plenty I wanted to say, but I could not figure out which was the most important. Adrian looked at me stonily, but my mother's voice spurred him on.

"Go ahead, Lord Ivashkov. I have everything under control here." Still she did not turn, she was so absorbed with whatever she was doing. Adrian looked slightly resigned, but he followed me anyways. The chapel was just a few feet away, and so I led him there into one of the small rooms.

"Adrian, I'm sorry-"

"Please, Rose. It's not important."

"It is." I said stubbornly. "I'm in love with you. But I also love Dimitri."

"This isn't the time." Adrian said, his voice cold. He made a move for the door, but I stopped him, looking up at him imploringly.

"Don't leave me." My voice sounded desperate to my own ears, but it must not have sounded that way to Adrian. He shook his head slowly, and I did the first thing I could think of to stop him. I kissed him.

It was soft and sweet, a show of our genuine love. And then it turned into something more: insistent tugging at clothes, nonsense mutterings, and passion lighting up like fire. Lust took over , finishing what love had started, until we stopped moving, looking at eachother deeply. I loved him. And I loved Dimitri. The answer to all my woes was obvious to me now. I kissed him again, getting up and finding my clothes. I did not care that I had just defiled a church. I did not care that I had ditched the battle. I did not care that I had just somehow betrayed Dimitri. I had spent my whole life looking after others, and now it was time to take my life back for myself. Nothing had ever felt more right.

"I love you." I told him truthfully. "And I still love Dimitri. I think that fate has decided to hate us three for some reason. Any choice I make is going to hurt. But the only fair choice is the one I'm going to take."

Adrian stood up and wrapped me in his arms. He understood me well. He knew what I was going to do. "If you go, I'll follow you."

"Your life is here. At court."

"My life is where you go." He was determined.

I shook my head softly. "I've never known anything other than this life. I need to get away. You, Dimitri, Lissa...I love you all, but I need something less. I need something different. I don't expect you to understand, but-"

"I understand." Adrian said quietly, watching me with those penetrating green eyes. "But I don't want to. That makes it easier to be mad at you."

"I'm sorry, Adrian." I could think of nothing more, but I was spared from having to fill the silence with nothingness when a streak of fear curled out to me from the bond. I threw my shirt back on quickly and moved out the door. I was across the groundws in a flash, at Lissa's side as she clutched onto Christian weakly.

"What's wrong?" I demanded as I looked at them, assessing the situation. Christian was standing, and though Lissa was slumping a little I could tell that she was not hurt.

Lissa turned to me slowly, her face streaked with tears. "I'm sorry, Rose." She choked before absolving into sobs. She wrapped herself back in Christian's arms, burying her face in his shirt. I probed the bond on instinct, looking for answers, but Lissa's mind was too jumbled to give me an answer. I turned to Christian, who looked cold and grim.

"What's going on?"

Christian swallowed, and I was sure he would rather be anywhere but here. I was sure he did not want to tell me what I wanted to know. "Rose...Dimitri's dead."

I watched his face intently, waiting for it to absolve into a wicked grin. I waited for him to say he was just joking. But when Lissa turned to look at me, I saw the truth. I saw more than I wanted. Alberta lunging and grabbing for him. Dimitri was so fast, but she had been faster...she turned his own stake against him. I closed my eyes, trying to shut off the bond. I didn't want to see this.

But it would not stop. Images surged to me, clips of action, whispers of last words. No. I put my hands to my ears, trying to block it off. Stop. I thought, over and over again, the word growing in volume each time I thought it until I realized I wasn't just thinking it anymore. I was screaming it. "Stop!" I roared, looking at Lissa angrily. I wanted her mind to shut off the connection to mine. I didn't need to see this. Lissa was shaking her head, the tears rolling down her face. Christian wrapped her closer to him, like he could protect her. "Stop! Stop! Stop!" Every last bit of energy I had poured into that sentence, leaving me deflated. But, like magic, it stopped. The bond went numb, and the only pain that I felt was my own.

Lissa looked at me in shock, her lips slightly parted. Though she had never been able to feel me through the bond, she could sense that something had just changed. I didn't stick around to discuss the details with her, though. Something divine led me to Dimitri, back by the makeshift camp my mother had set up. A crowd had gathered, and I knew he was there. I pushed my way through them, ignoring Viktoria who was on her knees, pulling at her hair. Somebody had grabbed Karolina and pulled her back from him, and she was screaming and kicking. I barely registered Abe's voice trying to calm her, because my eyes fell on Dimitri.

His face was still beautiful, but the hole in his shirt and the puncture in his chest through which blood had spilled out distracted from his beauty. Were it not for that, I'd have thought him to be alseep. My throat wa sraw and swollen, and I wanted to fall to my knees by Viktoria and continue to scream, to cry. I wanted to tear up the grass, to kick, and to kill someone.

I turned and ran. My mother's voice and Abe's carried after me, calling out my name like a hopeless prayer. I ignored them, running on, seeking out destruction. The horizon was just beginning to twinge orange, and I knew I did not have much time until the strigoi left. Earlier I had just wanted to fight them off until sunrise. Now I was going to fight them all, until they were dead or until I was.

The army that had stormed the gates had dwindled. The number of bodies that lay on the ground were proof. There were not many left; Only the best of them had survived til now. They would be following their orders, trying to take over the castle. I doubled back to where the battle had begun and found what I had anticipated. A small ring of strigoi clustered on the lawn, seemingly in some kind of meeting. I counted seven of them. Alberta's curly head stuck above the rest; my target. I moved forward, only to be tackled to the ground.

I did not look at who had landed on top of me, but I threw the strongest left hook I had ever managed. The reaction that elicited was not that of a strigoi's. Eddie jumped to his feet, grabbing me by the collar of my shirt. He dragged me back into the cover provided by a row of trees and I noticed that we were not alone. Four others stood around us, wet, burned, and dirty, but their faces fixed with such hard resolve I felt like they might attack me in their blood lust.

"There are six of us. Seven of them. We can attack, but we have to move quickly. You almost ruined that, Rose." Eddie said briskly, looking at me sharply. He was all business now. "Those are the last of them. If we get them all, it's over. Run faster than you've ever run in your life, and do not slow down for anything!"

Everyone nodded. I looked at Eddie, grateful for his leadership even if I didn't want to listen to him. "Alberta's mine." I said, my voice a low growl. "The one with the curly hair." I looked at the faces of the others, recognizing them all as guardians. They had all been trained by her. They all knew who she was. "If any of you go after her, I'll kill you myself."

I hadn't even known what I was saying until it had come out, but the words rolled smoothly off my tongue. No one seemed to doubt the truth of my words. No one was going to challenge me. Eddie clapped his hands and we straightened up, like a football team breaking from a huddle. His nod signaled us to run.

The rest of the world seemed to fall away from me like cardboard scenery, leaving me and Alberta. I ran for her, more focused on killing her than anything I had ever focused on. The strigoi noticed our presence while we ran for them, but they did not run to meet us. Instead they held their ground until we reached them. I was in the lead, and so several of the strigoi lashed out for me. I dodged them, surprising them when I didn't fight back. Alberta seemed to know that I was going exclusively for her. She waited until I was close, and then moved into a defensive position, eying me shrewdly.

"Are you out for vengeance, Hathaway? You found out I killed your lover boy, did you?"

I stared at her, refusing to let her trick me with her words. She was not going to distract me from the task at hand.

"You're smart, Rose, and the best guardian in your class. You would make a fine strigoi."

"The Alberta I knew would not say that."

Alberta smiled, and the illusion was almost real. "I'm the same Alberta. Just better. I'm faster. I'm stronger. You can't imagine how great this feels."

"Yeah." I said, carelessly. "But I can imagine how this feels." I jumped out at her, swiping her with my stake. She grimaced as it skimmed across her skin, leaving a light red scratch.

She looked at me with something like admiration. "You are a monster, Rose. A machine."

"You're the monster." I said, glancing at her feet to make sure she wasn't about to move.

"Me? Because I kill?" I didn't answer her, sneaking a glance at the horizon. The sun was beginning to sneak into the sky. Alberta laughed. "So do you. You've killed many today. I heard the Ozera kid say something like twelve. And then you alone have killed at least nine. Your friends, too. " I took my second chance, lunging out at her again. I scratched her across the face, this time a deeper wound. Alberta straightened, looking cold with determination. "We came today with over a hundred. And this is what remains. You guys have killed our people. How are you any different?"

"We don't kill the innocent." I said through gritted teeth. I glanced surreptitiously out of the corner of my eye at the sun. It was just beginning to peek out from over the hills in the distance.

"Don't you? Not all of those strigoi turned themselves. Some of them were created by others. They were innocent people."

"Once upon a time." I said dryly, making my third mark. Alberta grabbed my wrist, throwing me aside. The scratch on her shoulder had torn through her shirt and was deep enough to bring blood bubbling to the surface. She looked at me now in an almost controlled fury.

"Perhaps I was wrong. I've given you three chances and you haven't even come close to my heart. Maybe you aren't a good guardian at all." Her lips twisted into a cruel little smile as she taunted me. I shook myself from her grip and scratched her again on the neck. Instead of retreating that time, I swiped her again and ran out onto the other side of her. She was furious as she advanced toward me. I got her once again, right down the leg, and she grabbed me with one hand, lifting my feet off the ground. She brought her face close to mine, so that I could see all the lines of her face. The red-ringed eyes spurred me to strike out again, leaving one last cut down her face. Her nails dug into my neck. "Alright, Hathaway. You've asked for it. I'll make it slow." She plucked the stake from my hand and threw it as far as she could. Alberta threw me to the ground, stealing the air from my lungs. I couldn't move, but I felt triumph begin to steel over me as I looked at the cuts I had made on her face. I smiled. "What are you smiling for?"

"I wasn't trying to get your heart." I said, watching the shadows disappear from her face as the sun slid into place in the sky. Alberta looked up at it and realized her mistake too late. She screamed, a blood curdling cry that ripped from her throat. She tried to move for cover, but Eddie cut her off, stepping in front of her with his stake in his hand. She backed away from him, further out into the light of day, and the scream continued to issue from somewhere within her even as she fell to her knees. She turned black, her body charring, and the awful sound died as she stopped moving. A gust of wind blew at her, scattering the charred ashes into the wind until nothing of Alberta remained.

Eddie offered me a hand, helping me up into a sitting position. He was saying something to me, but I wasn't paying attention. I looked around, watching the bodies of strigoi turn black under the sun's sharp rays. I understood that the bodies that remained were those of guardians, moroi, or humans. Eddie talked to me, but I did not hear a word he said. I tried to tune into his chatter, but I felt like somebody had hit the mute button. I couldn't hear a single thing, until I heard my own name. I looked up, seeing Viktoria come running toward me. Eddie pulled me to my feet and gave me a hug, but I didn't return it. I was watching Viktoria, who was running at me with a look of relief on her face.

When she was closer I saw that tears were still making their way down her face. She threw her arms around me in a bear hug. I didn't register the pain that I felt as she squeezed me, pressing on my bruised bones and ribs. She was saying something, but I could not process what it was. It took me only a moment to realize that it was Russian. I focused, thinking about what I had learned during my sojourn to Baia. I didn't need to think too hard, though, because Viktoria clarified for me, in English. "He's alive!"

I pulled away from her, looking at her tear-soaked face, dazed. I realized the tears were of joy, the excitement on her face because of the news she was delivering to me. "What?" I managed.

"Dimitri. He's alive, Rose! He's here." She grabbed my hand and began to lead me toward the place that I had last seen him, his beautiful eyes empty and his strong face smoothed down with defeat.

"No." I said, not allowing myself to believe it. Eddie grabbed me around the side and slung my arm over his shoulder as we walked. Viktoria let go of me, too excited to think properly.

"It's true, Rose. He's back."

I shook my head, feeling sorrow for Viktoria. She was so struck by grief that she wasn't thinking normally. She must be hallucinating. Yet, as they led me up to where I had last seen them, I realized Viktoria wasn't the one hallucinating. It must have been me. I must have hit my head. Maybe I had died and gone to heaven. That was just stupid, of course. As if I would actually ever get into heaven.

Dimitri still lay on the ground, a group of people around him. But his eyes were no longer vacant and hollow. I watched from his feet as his chest moved, expanding with the breath he took into his lungs. I edged closer to him, still afraid to believe it. The blood was still on his chest, but the hole was gone.

"Dimitri?" I asked, looking at him unsteadily. Dimitri's eyes flickered to me and when they connected a thousand things seemed to pass between us. He pushed himself to sit up and kissed me gently. "You're really here. You were never gone." I felt like crying, but my eyes wouldn't allow it.

"I was gone, Roza." He murmured, his voice soft. "I went to the other side."

I shook my head, chancing a smile. I couldn't believe this, but he hadn't disappeared yet. This must be reality. "Then how are you here?" I laughed, attempting to stave off the tears.

A shadow seemed to pass over Dimitri's face and I didn't understand the meaning of it until I noticed that everyone had grown silent. I looked around, wondering why the sudden quiet. Everybody avoided my gaze. "What is it?" I asked, looking at Abe for an answer. He swallowed visibly, looking at my mother for assistance. "Mom?"

"I'm sorry, Rose."

I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I was tired of hearing that. I needed to know what was going on. Nothing came to me from the bond, and so I looked around for Lissa and found her standing near the edge of the group with Christian at her side. Jill stood with them, Jesse's arm wrapped around her as silent tears rolled down her face. "Lissa..." I said coldly. I was scared. Were they going to tell me I was dead? That this was a dream? He wasn't actually here? Was I crazy? Had I actually been executed for killing the queen, and this was just some sort of after-life? I needed answers, and I knew that Lissa was going to give them to me. She moved to my side and the crowd parted in two, giving me a clear view of what lay on the other side. Or rather, who.

Adrian looked like an angel that had fallen from heaven with his dark hair falling away from his pale face. His eyes were closed, his face smooth. I stared at him, my heart pounding, and took a step closer. My feet gave out from under me and I fell down next to him, reaching for his hand. It was cold like ice beneath mine. I shook my head, refusing to believe this all. It was a dream. A rotten, horrible dream.

"I'm sorry."

I wasn't sure who said it, but I ignored it altogether, squeezing Adrian's hand. But he did not squeeze it back. He did not open his eyes or smile at me. He did not move at all. He simply lay there, cold and empty. A flood of tears made it's way past my defenses and I let them loose, my throat burning and my eyes swelling as they cascaded from my lashes down.

"I'm sorry." This time, it was me speaking. I looked at him, wishing he would come back. But I couldn't have them both. I was going to give them both up. That had been the plan. But Adrian hadn't wanted that. He had known I wouldn't choose, and so he chose for me.

I apologized to him over and over again, knowing there was no way he could forgive me for this. I was vaguely aware that someone sat down next to me and pulled me into their arms. I turned into Abe's chest and let loose, crying like a lost little girl on her daddy's shoulder.