Home > Homecoming (Vampire Academy #6.5)(6)

Homecoming (Vampire Academy #6.5)(6)
Author: Richelle Mead

Dimitri kissed the top of my head. "Admit it. You don't mind going after this Strigoi. It's the right thing to do. Even if they're walking into it, innocents are still dying because of him."

"Yeah, yeah, it's the right thing. I would've volunteered myself eventually." I sighed. "I just hate giving Yeva one more reason to think she controls the fate of the universe."

He chuckled. "If you plan on being a part of this family, then you'd better get used to it."

Dimitri and I had no hangover effects to deal with, fortunately, but neither of us was too thrilled when Henry showed up at the crack of dawn so that we could "get down to business." Like the other Alchemists I'd met, Henry wasn't the type to get his hands dirty. He had no intention of going with us to take on this Blood King. Also like other Alchemists, Henry was swimming in paperwork and plans.

He brought us tons of maps and diagrams of the cavernous area the Blood King inhabited, as well as every report the Alchemists had about sightings and attacks. Alchemists loved reports. Olena made us all some extremely strong coffee that tasted only slightly less toxic than the regional vodka, but the coffee's caffeine buzz went a long way to help us wake up and strategize.

"It's not that big a region," remarked Henry, tapping one of the maps. "I don't understand why no one can ever find him in daylight. This area's small enough that someone could search out every single cave within a day. Yet, they all still end up trapped there at night and get killed."

My mind spun back to another set of caves, halfway around the world. "The caves are connected," I said slowly, tracing the dots that one map used to mark the entrances. "You can search all day and never find him because he moves around underground."

"Brilliant, Roza," murmured Dimitri in approval.

Henry looked startled. "How do you know?"

I shrugged. "It's the only thing that makes sense." I flipped through the pieces of paper. "Do you have an underground map? Did anyone ever do a ... I don't know ... a geological survey or something?" It seemed like every other representation of the area was there: satellite images, topographical drawings, analyses of the minerals ... everything but a glimpse of what was happening below the surface. Henry confirmed as much.

"No," he admitted sheepishly. "I don't have anything like that." Then, as though to save face for Alchemists and their usually meticulous style, he added, "Probably because no one ever actually made one. If it existed, we'd have it."

"That's going to be a disadvantage," I mused.

"Not so much," said Dimitri, finishing off the last of his coffee. "I have an idea. I don't think we need to go underground at all. Especially with Mark."

I met his eyes and felt a jolt of electricity jump between us. Part of what drew us together was a mutual love of excitement and danger. It wasn't that we sought it out, exactly, but when there was a need to respond, we were both always ready to take on whatever was necessary. I felt that spark kindling between us now as this task loomed closer, and suddenly had a good idea of what his plan was.

"Bold move, comrade," I teased.

"Not by your standards," he returned.

Henry glanced back and forth between us, totally lost. "What are you two talking about?"

Dimitri and I just grinned.

Of course, there weren't many smiles when we set out before dawn the next day. Dimitri's family displayed a conflicting mix of confidence and nervousness. Ostensibly, Yeva's proclamation that Dimitri would triumph guaranteed victory. Yet neither his sisters nor his mother were totally carefree about sending him off to face an old and powerful Strigoi with a long history of kills. The women showered him with hugs and well wishes, and all the while, Yeva looked on in her smug, knowing manner.

Mark was with us, looking tough and battle ready. Henry had said the Baia dhampirs were "local" to the Blood King, but that was kind of a relative term, as the caverns were still about a six-hour drive away. We were simply the closest, since the caves lay in a remote area with little surrounding civilization. In fact, part of the drive's length was a result of the roads in that region being so poorly maintained.

We reached the caverns around midday, which was all according to plan. It was a desolate place and really only a small blip as far as elevation went, hardly able to compete with much grander ranges like the Ural Mountains far to the east. Still, it was higher and steeper than most of the surrounding lowlands, with rock-faced cliffsides that were going to require some sure footing. None of the caves were visible from where we parked the car, but a small, worn footpath meandered off between some of the cliffs. From what we'd seen of Henry's map, this led into the heart of the complex.

"Nothing like a little rock climbing," I said cheerfully, hoisting my backpack over my shoulder. "This could almost be a vacation, if not for the, you know, potentially dying part."

Mark held up a hand to shield his eyes from the sun as he regarded Dimitri and me. "Something tells me you're the kind of people whose vacations always end up that way."

"True," said Dimitri, heading out toward the path. "Besides, we're safe today. We have my grandmother's guarantee, remember?"

I rolled my eyes at the teasing in his voice. Dimitri might love and revere Yeva, but I knew he wouldn't count on any vague prophecy to get this task done. His faith was in the silver stake he carried at his belt.

The path started out easy but soon became a challenge as the elevation rose and more obstacles appeared in our way. We had to climb around boulders and manage some tricky parts where the path all but disappeared, forcing us to cling to the rocky sides. When we reached what was apparently the center of the complex, I was surprised to see how level it was. Cliff faces rose up all around us, like we were in some kind of fortress, but this area provided a small measure of tranquility. I wasn't tired-dhampirs are hardy, after all-but was glad we had reached our destination.

And that was where ... we stopped.

We settled down on the ground, sorting out the contents of our backpacks, and proceeded to pretty much lounge around for the rest of the day. Despite the wind blowing up here, the temperature was still summer-warm, and this would've almost made a perfect picnic scene. True, the weathered rock and scattered vegetation were hardly idyllic, but we spread out a blanket and ate a lunch consisting of Olena's fabulous cooking. When we were finished, I lay down next to Dimitri while Mark began whittling a piece of wood.

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