Home > The_Meeting (Vampire Academy #1.1)

The_Meeting (Vampire Academy #1.1)
Author: Richelle Mead


I turned instantly at the sound of my name, shooting a glare at the guardian approaching in the darkness. What was he thinking? Everyone out here tonight knew how essential secrecy was. It didn’t matter that he was young and simply excited about his first big mission. We had no room for errors, not when this was the only break we’d had in over a year. Realizing his mistake, he grew apologetic, though not nearly enough.

"Sorry." He dropped his voice to a stage whisper and tapped his ear. "Headset’s not working. We checked the house, and they’re already gone. They must have had warning, maybe a perimeter of spies on the streets." As his excitement returned, the young guardian—Laurence—began speaking rapidly. "I was thinking about it. They probably have a whole network of people working with them! It makes sense, right? How else have they managed to stay ahead of us for so long? There’s no telling how deep this conspiracy goes! We might be facing an army tonight!"

I said nothing and showed nothing as I mulled over his words. It was something of a mystery how a couple of teenage girls had managed to escape detection for two years, especially when one of them was a privileged Moroi princess and the other a delinquent dhampir with a disciplinary file so long that it broke school records. When I’d joined the teaching staff of St. Vladimir’s last year and learned of the princess’s case, I’d honestly been surprised the girls hadn’t slipped up sooner. Being in league with others might explain how they’d remained hidden …and yet, in all our data gathering, we’d never once had even the slightest hint that they had one accomplice, let alone "a whole network" or "army."

My silence made Laurence nervous, and he no longer smiled. "It’s irrelevant now," I told him. "And there’s no point jumping to conclusions when—"

"Dimitri?" A female voice crackled in my earpiece. "We’ve got visuals on them. They’re approaching the intersection of Brown and Boudreaux, from the north."

Without another word to Laurence, I turned and headed toward the streets indicated. I heard him running after me, but his stride was shorter, and he couldn’t quite keep up. I tried to force calm as my heart rate increased, but it was difficult. This was it. This was it. We might finally have her: Vasilisa Dragomir, the missing princess, last of her line. Although I knew all guardian work was honourable—including the instruction of future guardians—part of me had longed for something more at St. Vladimir’s. When I’d learned about the Dragomir princess and how she’d escaped the school, I’d made finding her a personal project, pushing leads that others had said were hopeless.

Me? I didn’t believe in hopeless.

I slowed my pace as the intersection neared, allowing Laurence to catch up. A quick scan revealed the dark shapes of other guardians lurking in shadows and behind objects. This was the spot they’d chosen for the interception. Quickly, I stepped off the road and hid in the cover of a tree, urging Laurence to do the same with a jerk of my head. We didn’t have to wait long. As I peered around the tree’s edge, I saw two female figures approaching, one practically dragging the other along. At first, I assumed it must be the stronger dhampir helping the princess, but as they grew closer, their heights and builds revealed that it was exactly the opposite.

I had no time to ponder this oddity. When they were about six feet from me, I quickly stepped out from the tree and blocked their path. They came to a halt, and whatever weaknesses the dhampir girl had now vanished. She grabbed the princess roughly by the arm and jerked her back, so that the dhampir’s own body served as a shield keeping me away. Around us, other guardians fanned out, taking defensive positions but not advancing without my command. The dhampir girl’s dark eyes made note of them, but she kept her attention focused squarely on me.

I didn’t entirely know what to expect from her, maybe that she’d try to run away or beg for her freedom. Instead, she shifted into an even more defensive position in front of the princess and spoke in a voice that was barely more than a growl: "Leave her alone. Don’t touch her."

The girl was hopelessly outmatched yet still defiant, as though I were the one at a disadvantage. In moments like these, I was glad my old instructors in Russia had grilled me into concealing my feelings— because I was surprised. Very surprised. And as I took this dhampir girl in, I suddenly understood with perfect clarity how they’d eluded us for so long. A network of accomplices? An army? Laurence was a fool. The princess didn’t need a network or army, not when she had this protector.

Rose Hathaway.

There was a passion and intensity that radiated off of her, almost like a palpable thing. Tension filled every part of her body as she regarded me, daring me to make a move. She possessed a fierceness I hadn’t expected—that no one had expected, I realized, most likely because they couldn’t see past that delinquent record of hers. But there was a look in her eyes now that said this was no joke, that she would die a thousand times over before she let anyone harm the princess at her back. She reminded me of a cornered wildcat, sleek and beautiful—but fully capable of clawing your face out if provoked.

And yes, even in the poor lighting, I could see that she was beautiful—in a deadly way—and that struck me too. Her pictures hadn’t done her justice. Long, dark hair framed a face filled with the sort of hard-edged beauty a man might easily dash his heart against. Her eyes, though filled with hatred for me, still managed to be alluring—which only added to her danger. She might be unarmed, but Rose Hathaway was in possession of many weapons.

I didn’t want to fight her and held out my hands in a placating gesture as I took a step forward. "I’m not going to—"

She attacked.

I saw it coming and wasn’t surprised by the action itself so much as that she’d even try it with the odds stacked against her. Should I have been surprised? Probably not. As I’d observed, it was clear that Rose was willing to do anything and fight anyone to protect her friend. I admired that—I admired that a lot—but it didn’t stop me from striking out to block her. The princess was still my goal tonight. And although Rose might have passion and defiance, her attack was clumsy and easy to deflect. She’d been gone too long from formal training. She recovered badly and started to fall, and I remembered how she’d stumbled earlier. Out of instinct, I reached out and caught her before she could hit the ground, keeping her steady on her feet. That long, marvellous hair fell away from her face, revealing two bloody marks on the side of her neck. Another surprise—but it explained her fatigue and pale complexion. Apparently her devotion to the princess went beyond just defence. Noticing my scrutiny, Rose knocked some of her tangled hair forward to cover her neck.

Despite the hopelessness of her situation, I could see her lithe body preparing for another attack. I tensed in response, even though I didn’t want this brave, beautiful, and wild girl to be my enemy. I wanted her as…what? I wasn’t sure. Something more than an outmatched scuffle on a Portland street. There was too much potential here. This girl could be unstoppable if her talents were properly cultivated. I wanted to help her.

But I would fight her if I had to.

Suddenly, Princess Vasilisa caught hold of her friend’s hand. "Rose. Don’t."

For a moment, nothing happened, and we all stood frozen. Then, slowly, the tension and hostility eased out of Rose’s body. Well, not all of the hostility. There was still a dangerous glint in her eyes that kept me on guard. The rest of her body language said that although she hadn’t exactly admitted defeat, she had conceded to a truce—so long as I gave her no cause for alarm.

I didn’t plan to. I also don’t plan on ever underestimating you again, wild girl, I thought, momentarily locking eyes with her. And I’ll make sure no one else ever underestimates you either.

Satisfied that she was pacified—at least momentarily—I dragged my eyes from her dark gaze and focused on the princess. After all, runaway or not, Vasilisa Dragomir was the last of a royal line, and certain protocols had to be followed. I bowed before her.

"My name is Dimitri Belikov. I’ve come to take you back to St. Vladimir’s Academy, Princess."

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