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"You have to help yourself first," I told her fiercely. "I don't want you getting hurt again. I won't let you."

"I know. Christian says the same thing." She got that dopey smile she always did when she thought about him. If I'd known what idiots being in love would make them, I might not have been so keen to get them back together. "And I guess you guys are right. Better to want the magic and be sane than to have it and be a lunatic. There's no middle ground."

"No," I agreed. "Not with this."

Then, out of nowhere, a thought smacked me in the head. There was a middle ground. Natalie's words reminded me of it. It's worth it, worth giving up the sun and the magic.

The magic.

Ms. Karp hadn't become Strigoi simply because she'd gone crazy. She'd become Strigoi to stay sane. Becoming Strigoi cut a person completely off from magic. In doing that, she couldn't use it. She couldn't feel it. She wouldn't want it anymore. Staring at Lissa, I felt a knot of worry coil within me.

What if she figured that out? Would she want to do it too? No, I quickly decided. Lissa would never do that. She was too strong a person, too moral. And so long as she stayed on the pills, her higher reasoning would keep her from doing something so drastic.

Still, the whole concept prodded me to find out one last thing. The following morning, I went to the chapel and waited in one of the pews until the priest showed up.

"Hello, Rosemarie," he said, clearly surprised. "Can I help you with something?"

I stood up. "I need to know more about St. Vladimir. I read that book you gave me and a couple others." Best not to tell him about stealing the ones in the attic. "But nobody told how he died. What happened? How did his life end? Was he, like, martyred?"

The priest's bushy eyebrows rose. "No. He died of old age. Peacefully."

"You're sure? He didn't become Strigoi or kill himself?"

"No, of course not. Why would you think that?"

"Well...he was holy and everything, but he was also kind of crazy, right? I read about it. I thought he might have, I don't know, given into that."

His face was serious. "It's true he fought demons - insanity - his whole life. It was a struggle, and he did want to die sometimes. But he overcame it. He didn't let it defeat him."

I stared in wonder. Vladimir wouldn't have had pills, and he'd clearly continued to use magic.

"How? How did he do that?"

"Willpower, I guess. Well..." He paused. "That and Anna."

"Shadow-kissed Anna," I murmured. "His guardian."

The priest nodded. "She stayed with him. When he grew weak, she was the one who held him up. She urged him to stay strong and to never give in to his madness."

I left the chapel in a daze. Anna had done it. Anna had let Vladimir walk that middle ground, helping him to work miracles in the world without meeting a horrible end. Ms. Karp hadn't been as lucky. She hadn't had a bound guardian. She hadn't had anyone to hold her up.

Lissa did.

Smiling, I cut across the quadrangle toward the commons. I felt better about life than I had in a very long time. We could do this, Lissa and me. We could do it together.

Just then, I saw a dark figure out of the corner of my eye. It swooped past me and landed on a nearby tree. I stopped walking. It was a raven, large and fierce-looking, with shining black feathers.

A moment later, I realized it wasn't just a raven; it was the raven. The one Lissa had healed. No other bird would land so close to a dhampir. And no other bird would be looking at me in such an intelligent, familiar way. I couldn't believe he was still around. A chill ran down my spine, and I started to back up. Then the truth hit me.

"You're bound to her too, aren't you?" I asked, fully aware that anyone who saw me would think I was crazy. "She brought you back. You're shadow-kissed."

That was actually pretty cool. I held out my arm to it, half hoping it'd come land on me in some sort of dramatic, movie-worthy gesture. All it did was look at me like I was an idiot, spread its wings, and fly off.

I glared as it flew off into the twilight. Then I turned around and headed off to find Lissa. From far away, I heard the sound of cawing, almost like laughter.

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