Here's the next chapter! I added length to this chapter and took out a few other bits that were in the original due to the new timeline of this story, but they'll be back (namely Adrian and Sydney)! Enjoy the chapter and leave a review with your thoughts!
Additionally to the guest review about the game: yes, it is kind of weird. The original version was essentially a giant silent game where you lost your heart if you spoke, but the original version also only had girls chasing the hearts (they were allowed to speak) and I couldn't figure out a way to make it fair for all genders to chase the hearts that also included queer people (i.e. if girls had x number of hours to get hearts and then boys had x number of hours get hearts, that would put people with same-sex attraction at a disadvantage and exclude them). Hope that kind of explains it!
Alberta released us in waves, in an effort to avoid a stampede.
"As a reminder, we are reconvening at midnight, which gives you seven hours to go out and conquer. Good luck." Alberta repeated the tail end of her speech to the remaining of us in the gym.
As I walked across the gym, I saw Dimitri walking towards Alberta out of the corner of my eye. I ignored him now but promised myself that I would circle back around. I knew that it was technically against the rules to "win" his heart, but that wasn't going to stop me.
I walked out the door to find people milling around across the quad and in and out of buildings. Classes were technically canceled today, but that didn't stop people who weren't participating from studying. I studied the people crossing in front of me, looking for the hearts.
My eyes locked on one around a Moroi boy's neck and I walked his way. He was leaning against the side of the gym, trying to sweet-talk a younger Moroi girl out of her heart.
"Hi, I'm Rose Hathaway," I said, forcing myself into the conversation.
The boy ignored me, but the girl shot me a grateful look and scampered away. My eyes narrowed as I turned back to the boy, who was watching her leave.
"It's not nice to ignore somebody," I said, waiting for his attention to come back to me before I continued. "It's also not nice to harass someone innocent into giving you her heart."
"Aren't you harassing me right now?" he said, glaring down at me.
I grinned. "The difference is that you're not innocent. And I'm a dhampir who could kick your ass."
He flinched and quickly pulled the heart necklace over his head. I smiled again, mockingly this time, and walked away. This was going to be easier than I thought. I was saving Dimitri for last, knowing that he was going to be the hardest and I needed to safeguard my spot in the competition first.
Lissa and Eddie were both counting on me to win because the privileges that the winner gets can be extended to a small group of friends and the extra privileges were no joke. We would get a later curfew, primary access to the best common room on campus (which was in Lissa's Moroi dorm), a day trip to Missoula (which Lissa could organize anyways but Eddie and Christian wouldn't be allowed to come), and the ability to get outside food deliver to campus for us.
The privileges were something that I was always interested in, especially since Spokane happened and spending time with my friends was one of the most important things to me. Protecting Lissa was the most important thing, always. It would be different winning this year since Mason wouldn't be there, but that just made me want to win even more. I needed to honor his memory because he would've been here rooting for me to win.
As I walked around campus, it continued to be easy to win hearts. Most gave it to me before I even said anything because they were either scared of me or didn't want to get tangled up with me. Being feared was nice but it did make me wish that things were a little harder. Thankfully, once I started encountering other dhampirs, things were a little harder because while I could still beat almost all of them in a fight, they were more willing to stand their ground.
The first five hours flew by and I had close to thirty hearts hanging around my neck. They mostly came from Moroi but there was a handful from fellow dhampirs. I felt confident enough that I had the most hearts since last year I won with twenty hearts, and there was nobody else walking around campus that had as many hearts as me.
I glanced around to see if Dimitri was walking around campus, and I started walking towards the dhampir dorm since that's also where all the guardians stayed. As I cut across the lawn, I ran into Jesse and Ralf. They were talking to each other but shut up the second I appeared. They both had their hearts still hanging around their necks and Jesse had a few more hearts hanging around his neck. Part of me desperately wanted to say something but I bit my tongue and moved to walk around them. I'd almost rather lose than get their hearts. I glanced covertly back at them ever so slightly and saw them both staring at me in open mouth shock. I grinned and slipped into the dorm.
Next target: Dimitri.
The gym was crowded when I walked through the door a little before five in the afternoon. I couldn't spot Rose through the crowd, and knowing her penchant of sleeping in, I wasn't expecting to see her until well after Petrov gave her speech.
This being my first year at St. Vladimir's meant that I hadn't known about this Valentine's Day competition until Rose mentioned it during training last week. She had been brushing her hair up into a high ponytail when she started talking about how excited she was the win again since it had been two years since she'd last been at the academy for the competition.
After our session ended, I went straight to Petrov to figure out what the hell Rose was talking about, surprised to find that it was a school-sanctioned event. It gave the students a way to have fun while in the middle of nowhere, as well as giving them a source of healthy competition for the Moroi and the dhampirs.
As Petrov took her place at the microphone that had been set up, I saw Rose and Lissa slip into the gym out of the corner of my eye. They separated once they reached the bleachers to sit in their appropriate sections, but Rose kept her eye on Lissa until she sat down next to Christian and Mia Rinaldi. Once Rose was sure Lissa was in her place, she continued her way up to the top of the bleachers and sat down next to Eddie.
Petrov's speech went by quickly, and she asked for participants to grab their hearts and I felt Rose's eyes on me as I grabbed one from the small table set aside for the guardians that were playing. I knew a few other guardians were giving me looks, but I ignored them in favor of watching Rose claim her own heart.
Her hair was loose around her shoulders and she looked as good as she always did. I could see that she had makeup on, something that I rarely saw on her or other dhampirs due to the line of work and I knew immediately that Lissa's the one who helped her.
Petrov started to release the students in waves, and I watched Rose head for the double doors out of the gym, while pretending not to notice the look that she sent my way as I walked towards Petrov.
"Belikov," she greeted. "I'm surprised that you're playing."
"Today's an off day for me," I said. "My training sessions with Hathaway were put on hold today for the competition, so I figured I'd might as well join."
"Good luck," she said and nodded before crossing the gym to speak to Alto.
I headed to the same doors that Rose left through and took a seat under a tree along the quad to watch the competition play out. Most students wandering around the quad were participating but a few students were studying in the quad or spending time with friends since classes had been canceled for the day.
A few hours passed and as students lost their hearts, they joined other groups on the quad or headed off into the libraries or dorms. I hadn't seen Rose since she left the gym, but I know that she was around somewhere, surely with tons of hearts around her neck. No other guardians approached while I sat, but most of those playing weren't actively doing so, so I wasn't surprised.
I finally stood up and decided to return to my room in the guardian dorm until Petrov called everyone back to the gym at midnight. I greeted the staff member sitting at the desk and head down the hall to my room.
I unlocked the door and shut it behind me to relock it. I was expecting Rose to come eventually, because I knew that she wouldn't give up this opportunity, especially not after I kissed her at our first practice back after her molnija mark ceremony.
I walked blindly to my closet, the room still dark, to hang my jacket before crossing to my bed where I flipped on the bedside lamp.