Blood Promise (Vampire Academy #4)


by Richelle Mead

Prologue

Once when I was in ninth grade, I had to write a paper on a poem. One of the lines was, "If your eyes weren't open, you wouldn't know the difference between dreaming and waking." It hadn't meant much to me at the time. After all, there'd been a guy in the class that I liked, so how could I be expected to pay attention to literary analysis? Now, three years later, I understood the poem perfectly.

Because lately, my life really did seem like it was on the precipice of being a dream. There were days I thought I'd wake up and discover that recent events in my life hadn't actually happened. Surely I must be a princess in an enchanted sleep. Any day now, this dream-no, nightmare would end, and I'd get my prince and happy ending.

But there was no happy ending to be found, at least not in the foreseeable future. And my prince? Well, that was a long story. My prince had been turned into a vampire-a Strigoi, to be specific. In my world, there are two kinds of vampires who exist in secrecy from humans. The Moroi are living vampires, good vampires who wield elemental magic and don't kill when seeking the blood they need to survive. Strigoi are undead vampires, immortal and twisted, who kill when they feed. Moroi are born. Strigoi are made-forcibly or by choice-through evil means.

And Dimitri, the guy I loved, had been made a Strigoi against his will. He'd been turned during a battle, an epic rescue mission that I'd been part of as well. Strigoi had kidnapped Moroi and dhampirs from the school I attended, and we'd set out with others to save them. Dhampirs are half vampire and half-human-gifted with human strength and hardiness, and Moroi reflexes and senses. Dhampirs train to become guardians, the elite bodyguards who protect Moroi. That's what I am. That's what Dimitri had been.

After his conversion, the rest of the Moroi world had considered him dead. And to a certain extent, he was. Those who were turned Strigoi lost all sense of the goodness and life they'd had before. Even if they hadn't turned by choice, it didn't matter. They would still become evil and cruel, just like all Strigoi. The person they'd been was gone, and honestly, it was easier to imagine them moving on to heaven or the next life than to picture them out stalking the night and taking victims. But I hadn't been able to forget Dimitri, or accept that he was essentially dead. He was the man I loved, the man with whom I'd been so perfectly in sync that it was hard to know where I ended and he began. My heart refused to let him go even if he was technically a monster, he was still out there somewhere. I also hadn't forgotten a conversation he and I had once had. We'd both agreed that we'd rather be dead-truly dead-than walk the world as Strigoi.

And once I'd had my mourning time for the goodness he'd lost, I'd decided I had to honor his wishes. Even if he no longer believed in them. I had to find him. I had to kill him and free his soul from that dark, unnatural state. I knew it was what the Dimitri I had loved would have wanted. Killing Strigoi isn't easy, though. They're insanely fast and strong. They have no mercy. I'd killed a number of them already-pretty crazy for someone who was freshly eighteen. And I knew taking on Dimitri would be my greatest challenge, both physically and emotionally.

In fact, the emotional consequences had kicked in as soon as I made my decision. Going after Dimitri had meant doing a few life-altering things (and that wasn't even counting the fact that fighting him could very likely result in the loss of my life). I was still in school, only a handful of months away from graduating and becoming a full-fledged guardian. Every day I stuck around at St. Vladimir's Academy-a remote, protected school for Moroi and dhampirs-meant one more day was going by in which Dimitri was still out there, living in the state he'd never wanted. I loved him too much to allow that. So I'd had to leave school early and go out among humans, abandoning the world I'd lived in nearly my entire life.

Leaving had also meant abandoning one other thing-or rather, a person: my best friend, Lissa, also known as Vasilisa Dragomir. Lissa was Moroi, the last in a royal line. I'd been slated to be her guardian when we graduated, and my decision to hunt Dimitri had pretty much destroyed that future with her. I'd had no choice but to leave her.

Aside from our friendship, Lissa and I had a unique connection. Each Moroi specializes in a type of elemental magic-earth, air, water, or fire. Until recently, we'd believed there were only those four elements. Then we'd discovered a fifth: spirit.

That was Lissa's element, and with so few spirit users in the world, we hardly knew anything about it. For the most part, it seemed to be tied to psychic powers. Lissa wielded amazing compulsion-the ability to exert her will on almost anyone. She could also heal, and that's where things got a little strange between us. You see, I technically died in the car accident that killed her family. Lissa had brought me back from the world of the dead without realizing it, creating a psychic bond between us. Ever since then, I was always aware of her presence and thoughts. I could tell what she was thinking and feel when she was in trouble. We had also recently discovered I could see ghosts and spirits who hadn't yet left this world, something I found disconcerting and struggled to block out. The whole phenomenon was called being shadow-kissed.

Our shadow-kissed bond made me the ideal choice to protect Lissa, since I would instantly know if she was in trouble. I'd promised to protect her my whole life, but then Dimitri-tall, gorgeous, fierce Dimitri-had changed it all. I'd been faced with that horrible choice: continue to protect Lissa or free Dimitri's soul. Choosing between them had broken my heart, leaving an ache in my chest and tears in my eyes. My parting with Lissa had been agonizing. We'd been best friends since kindergarten, and my departure was a shock for both of us. To be fair, she'd never seen it coming. I'd kept my romance with Dimitri a secret. He was my instructor, seven years older than me, and had been assigned to be her guardian as well. As such, he and I had tried hard to fight our attraction, knowing we had to focus on Lissa more than anything else and that we'd also get in a fair amount of trouble for our student-teacher relationship.

But being kept from Dimitri-even though I'd agreed to it-had caused me to build up a lot of unspoken resentment toward Lissa. I probably should have talked to her about it and explained my frustration over having my entire life planned out. It didn't seem fair, somehow, that while Lissa was free to live and love however she wanted, I would always have to sacrifice my own happiness to ensure that she was protected. She was my best friend, though, and I couldn't bear the thought of upsetting her. Lissa was particularly vulnerable because using spirit had the nasty side effect of driving people insane. So I'd sat on my feelings until they finally exploded, and I left the Academy-and her-behind for good.

One of the ghosts I'd seen-Mason, a friend who had been killed by Strigoi-had told me Dimitri had returned to his homeland: Siberia. Mason's soul had found peace and left this world shortly thereafter, without giving me any other clues about where in Siberia Dimitri might have gone. So I'd had to set out there blindly, braving a world of humans and a language I didn't know in order to fulfill the promise I'd made to myself.

After a few weeks on my own, I had finally made it to Saint Petersburg. I was still looking, still floundering-but determined to find him, even though I dreaded it at the same time. Because if I really did pull this insane plan off, if I actually managed to kill the man I loved, it would mean Dimitri would truly be gone from the world. And I honestly wasn't sure I could go on in a world like that.

None of it seems real. Who knows? Maybe it isn't. Maybe it's actually happening to someone else. Maybe it's something I imagined. Maybe soon I'm going to wake up and find everything fixed with Lissa and Dimitri. We'll all be together, and he'll be there to smile and hold me and tell me everything's going to be okay. Maybe all of this really has been a dream.

But I don't think so.

Chapter One

I was being followed.

It was kind of ironic, considering the way I'd been following others for the last few weeks. At least it wasn't a Strigoi. I would have already known.

A recent effect of my being shadow-kissed was the ability to sense the undead-through bouts of nausea, unfortunately. Still, I appreciated my body's early warning system and was relieved my stalker tonight wasn't an insanely fast, insanely vicious vampire. I'd fought enough of those recently and kind of wanted a night off.

I had to guess my follower was a dhampir like me, probably one from the club. Admittedly, this person was moving a little less stealthily than I would have expected of a dhampir. Footsteps were clearly audible against the pavement of the dark side streets I was traveling on, and once, I'd caught a brief glimpse of a shadowy figure. Still, considering my rash actions tonight, a dhampir was the most likely culprit.

It had all started earlier at the Nightingale. That wasn't the club's true name, only a translation. Its real name was something Russian that was beyond my ability to pronounce. Back in the U.S., the Nightingale was well known among rich Moroi who traveled abroad, and now I could understand why. No matter what time of the day it was, people at the Nightingale dressed like they were at an imperial ball. And, well, the whole place actually kind of looked like something from the old, royal days of Russia, with ivory walls covered in gold scroll-work and molding. It reminded me a lot of the WinterPalace, a royal residence left over from when Russia had still been ruled by czars. I'd toured it upon first arriving in Saint Petersburg.

At the Nightingale, elaborate chandeliers filled with real candles glittered in the air, lighting up the gold decor so that even in dim lighting, the whole establishment sparkled. There was a large dining room filled with velvet-draped tables and booths, as well as a lounge and bar area where people could mingle. Late in the evening, a band would set up in there, and couples would hit the dance floor.

I hadn't bothered with the Nightingale when I arrived in the city a couple weeks ago. I'd been arrogant enough to think I could find Moroi right away who could direct me to Dimitri's hometown in Siberia. With no other clues about where Dimitri had gone in Siberia, heading to the town he'd grown up in had been my best chance of getting closer to him. Only, I didn't know where it was, which was why I was trying to find Moroi to help me. There were a number of dhampir towns and communes in Russia but hardly any in Siberia, which made me believe most local Moroi would be familiar with his birthplace. Unfortunately, it turned out that the Moroi who lived in human cities were very good at keeping themselves hidden. I checked what I thought were likely Moroi hangouts, only to come up empty. And without those Moroi, I had no answers.

So, I'd begun staking out the Nightingale, which wasn't easy. It was hard for an eighteen-year-old girl to blend into one of the city's most elite clubs. I'd soon found that expensive clothes and large enough tips went a long way toward helping me get by. The waitstaff had come to know me, and if they thought my presence was strange, they didn't say so and were happy to give me the corner table I always asked for. I think they thought I was the daughter of some tycoon or politician. Whatever my background, I had the money to be there, which was all they cared about.

Even so, my first few nights there had been discouraging. The Nightingale might have been an elite hangout for Moroi, but it was also frequented by humans. And at first, it had seemed those were the club's only patrons. Crowds grew larger as the night progressed, and in peering through the packed tables and people lingering at the bar, I'd seen no Moroi. The most notable thing I'd seen was a woman with long, platinum-blond hair walking into the lounge with a group of friends. For a moment, my heart had stopped. The woman had her back to me, but she had looked so much like Lissa that I'd felt certain I'd been tracked down. The weird thing was, I didn't know whether to feel excited or horrified. I missed Lissa so, so much-yet at the same time, I didn't want her involved in this dangerous trip of mine. Then the woman had turned around. It wasn't Lissa. She wasn't even a Moroi, just a human. Slowly, my breathing returned to normal.