CHAPTER 1

It had been a week after the attack on the school, and then the raid to take out the Strigoi. Things had gone back to normal, but the people were scarred. Their lives had been snatched up and rattled around, and for some, their lives had even been taken. The remaining people at St. Vladimir's Academy had witnessed the worst tragedy in the school's history, and now their faith in the school had been shattered. Many of St. Vlad's occupants would look around campus, a shadowed look in their eyes. It was obvious that, despite what the school had done to restore the ravaged campus, the people attending or working there still saw before them the ruins that the Strigoi had left after their attack.

I was one of those people.

I kept looking around campus, looking for an ounce of its previous beauty—anything that could prove to me that life was worth living again.

But I saw nothing. I saw bloodstains in the concrete. I saw the flower petals ripped apart, dying slowly. I looked upon the front gate warily; despite the fact that I knew why the wards had failed, I still had trouble overlooking the fact that they failed, regardless.

When we had raided the caves, it had been the scariest moment of my life. I had not only watched my best friend, Eddie, get savagely ripped apart by a bloodthirsty Strigoi, but I had nearly watched the same happen to the love of my life, Dimitri. Thank God, he escaped the attack. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised; he was, after all, a badass, and everyone knew it. But still…seeing him in that situation in the first place had made my blood run cold, and every muscle in my body had tensed, wanting to jump in and guard his back. My mother, Janine Hathaway, had held me back steadfastly, unwilling to let me into the Strigoi-infested caves. When Dimitri had stumbled out, having lost some blood but not too much, I had broken free of her restraints and had run to him. I ached to cure him and make him perfect again, but there was nothing I could do.

I clung to him during the twelve-hour trek back to school. When Dr. Olendzki had checked him out and given him a clean bill of health, with a few iron supplements to replenish his blood, I had thrown myself into him with all of my force and had simply breathed in his intoxicating scent, trying to hard to wipe the horrible memories from my mind.

After things had begun to settle down at St. Vladimir's was when the depression struck me. I found myself curled up in a ball on my bed, refusing to eat, refusing to sleep, refusing to shower and change. I kept flashing back to Eddie's gruesome death, and then several months back, to my best friend Mason's grisly death by Strigoi in Spokane.

Neither of their deaths had been directly my fault. Tracking down Strigoi in Spokane had been Mason's idea, and he had died trying to come back and rescue me during our escape attempt. The Strigoi, Isaiah, had snapped Mason's neck with ease, right before my eyes, and I had no way to stop it. Eddie had been captured during the attack on St. Vlad's and had died trying to get out of the caves during the counter-raid. I, again, had no way to stop it.

Still, I couldn't overcome the feeling of guilt that had consumed my life. I kept trying to clutch onto Lissa and Dimitri; I kept trying to force myself to see the beautiful things left in my life, but I couldn't seem to keep the good memories in my mind long enough to drown out the bad ones.

There was a knock on my door. I didn't move from the spot on my bed. I was disgusting; I hadn't showered recently, I was still clad in my wrinkled pajamas, and my appearance had become sallow and sunken during my misery.

Adrian let himself in quietly, sending me one of his charming smiles. "Little dhampir," he said. "You look like hell."

I blinked at him. "Thanks." I said flatly.

He sighed, coming closer. I could smell his cologne when he first entered; at he came closer, it began to make me nauseous. I held out a palm, signaling for him to stop. "Come any closer and I'll forcibly remove you from this room."

He cocked an eyebrow and laughed. "I see you're not that sick. You're still up to fending me off."

I blinked again. "What do you want, Adrian."

He leveled me with an interrogative stare. "Tell me what's bothering you."

I shrugged, forcing myself to seem nonchalant. Despite the intensity of my internal battle, I refused to let out any other signs that my friends could use against me as a weakness. "The attack hit me hard. What can I say? I guess I'm not invincible, after all."

Adrian frowned, obviously frustrated with my walls. "Little dhampir, don't lie to me."

I kept my face blank. "I'm not." With a sigh, I said, "I'm tired, Adrian. I'll talk to you later." To enforce my point, I stretched out and climbed beneath my blankets, closing my eyes contentedly. I watched as he exasperatedly let himself out of my room and then resumed my previous fetal position on top of my covers.

Rose, I chastised myself, your friends are trying to break through these walls and get the old you back. They all miss you. All you can feel through the bond is Lissa's unrelenting concern and pain for you. Why can't you get past this?

It was the million-dollar question: Why couldn't I get past this?

I finally gave in to my hunger and devoured a chocolate bar that I had had hidden in my desk drawer. I even took the time to take a meager shower and change into yoga pants and a loose T-shirt. I almost felt my Rose-bravado returning, but just as quickly as I had identified the rise in my attitude, it disappeared again.

There was the guilty part of my mind, chiming in again: You don't deserve to be happy. Look at what you do to your friends. You poison everything to touch. Every person you interact with is destined for pain and torture.

I staggered backwards at the brutal force of hatred within my words. I tried to summon my strength: my memories of Dimitri and me, grinning and laughing, kissing each other. I tried to summon Lissa in my mind: she was my reason for living. At least, she had been until I had found Dimitri.

But I failed at using them against the darkness within me. The sane part of me vaguely pieced together a hypothesis in my head: what if this depression was caused by the darkness that I had stolen from Lissa? That was as far as my idea had gotten before I was sucked back into feeling immense self-loathing and self-pity.

It was Lissa who came to my room next. Her platinum blond hair was pinned up in a messy ponytail and she was wearing a wrinkled T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. I knew her well enough to know that they were the first things on top of her laundry hamper, and that she had been too concerned about me—again—to bother putting any effort into her wardrobe choice.

She, unlike Adrian, came right to me and sidled up next to me on my bed. "Talk to me, Rose. I'm worried about you." In response to my silence, she continued in frustration, "I wish this damn bond was two-ways! You know exactly how I feel…past that, you know exactly how to respond to it. If I'm angry, you know how to diffuse it. If I'm sad, you know how to cheer me up. If I'm ecstatic about something, you know how to make sure that attitude is with me for as long as possible."

I didn't say how I suddenly saw that as my obligation to her. My obligation to her not only as her best friend and "sister", but also as her future guardian. I knew that voicing that to her would only serve as a cold, sharp knife that caused her more pain.

In my silence, she went on, "Rose, you mean the world to me. I love you. I can't imagine life without you. And this…funk…you're in…you might as well be gone." There were tears in her eyes. "I need to know why you're in so much pain. I want to fix you, like you've always been able to fix me." I was still silent, and the tears rolled down her cheeks. "I'm here for you, you know. No matter what. No matter whether you've committed some heinous crime, or if you are having boy troubles, or if your mother is causing you distress again. All you need to do is call me, and I will be here in two minutes."

I felt tears welling in my own eyes. I wanted to confide in her, and tell her all of my problems…but hell, I hadn't even told her about Dimitri and me! If she didn't even know about the significant other in my life; my other half; the person who, if I lost him, would lead to my ultimate destruction…if she didn't know about Dimitri, how could I dump on her about my self-pity and my self-loathing concerning Eddie's and Mason's deaths?

I finally turned to look at her. "I know, Liss."

The pain in her eyes was unimaginable. It stung almost more than the hatred I had for myself. I never wanted to hurt Lissa; it was my life's mission to protect her from anything that would hurt her. The fact that I was undermining that was nearly unbearable in itself.

She slowly peeled herself away from me, seemingly numb from my indifference. At my door, before she left, she turned back to me and said, "I'm not giving up. I know you're still in there, Rose, and I will get the old you back."

I almost laughed. It sounded like such a cheesy line; such melodrama should be saved for the movies. Yet I couldn't summon forth the sound.

Is this what I have amounted to? I thought solemnly. I'm empty now…filled with nothing but misery?

Was I nothing but a shell of whom Rose Hathaway used to be?