I walked around the Court, scouting places I'd never seen before. I had no real destination, but I kept moving in fear of having to confront anyone, and it was my plan to stay isolated while I licked my wounds. The Court was filled with more statues and fountains than I'd realized. Their beauty was lost on me, though, and my mind started to wander again to those frighteningly painful words Dimitri had spoken. I've given up on you. Love fades. Mine has.

After everything I'd sacrificed for him… all my efforts: worthless. Granted, he wasn't a Strigoi after me or anyone else that I loved, but I had done everything in my power to save him; to bring him back to me. That true, powerful love that we shared—the very thing that had kept me going all these month—was now lost to me, with no hope of ever being restored.

I suddenly became aware to the fact that I was leaning forward against a railing that surrounded one of the larger fountains, clutching the cool metal bar so tightly that my knuckles were white. I opened my tightly-shut eyes, and looked down at my reflection in the water, seeing a face that was contorted with pain looking back at me. I scowled down at it with a mirroring response, before angrily bending down, and swiping at the water, erasing the scowling, agonized face before turning and walking again.

A small nagging thought at the back of my head demanded to be considered, and it was constantly telling me that I couldn't stay here anymore. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was true. I couldn't bear to stay here anymore; not with Dimitri lurking about, anyway. I had lost all hope of ever becoming Lissa's guardian with all the wild, hare-brained expeditions and stunts I'd made. While I was an excellent guardian, I was a reckless expendable, not fit to guard the last Dragomir princess.

All of a sudden, my memory jogged to something Tatiana said to me during one of the Council Meetings, and no sooner had that thought crossed my mind, that the wheels started to turn with the beginnings of a plan formulating in my brain. Yes, I had to do it. I had a sense of duty that had to be fulfilled, and it wasn't going to be done in the basements of the Guardian Administrative buildings, behind a desk filing. No, but in order to carry out this duty, I had to talk with Queen Bitch herself.

I hadn't realized how fast I'd run till I burst through the doors and skidded to a stop, landing unceremoniously against the reception desk, trying to keep myself from falling flat on my ass while busting a lung to regain my breath. The Moroi woman that sat there looked at me strangely until I looked up with pleading eyes.

"I need to speak with Queen Tatiana… please. It's important," I gasped. She raised an eyebrow at me strangely, and looked at her computer.

"I'm sorry; she won't be able to see you at all this week, Guardian Hathaway. I'll try and schedule a meeting for you sometime next week," she began, but stopped when my fist slammed down on the desk in frustration.

"That's not good enough!" I exclaimed. "I have to see her now!" I emphasized impatiently, before hearing the sound of a door closing. Instantly, I turned my head to see where the noise came from, my senses on red alert. What I saw sent a wave of relief flooding over me. "Ambrose!" I called, running over to him. The second-most gorgeous male dhampir next to Dimitri Belikov flashed an easy smile at me.

"Hello, Rose!" he greeted. "Are you alright?" I waved the question off, a bit annoyed.

"Yeah, yeah. I'm fine. Listen, I really need to talk to Tatiana. Is there any chance you could get me in to speak with her… or at least take a message to her?" I added when I saw the hesitant look on his face.

Ambrose looked at me for a long moment, obviously unsure of what to do. Finally, he relented. "All right, I'll see what I can do, Rose. Wait here," he told her, before disappearing back through the door he had previously come through. Anxiously, I paced back and forth in the lobby, waiting impatiently for his return. My hopes suddenly soared when he returned who knew how long later, and quickly beckoned me to follow him. There was an awkward silence as I followed him down the hall. Ambrose finally stopped at a door, and knocked lightly.

"Come in," Tatiana's voice called lightly from the other side. My stomach squirmed and I made a face, trying to banish the mental image of whatever she and Ambrose had been doing prior to this meeting. I quickly shook it off, and managed to keep my features schooled into a calm mask as Ambrose quietly opened the door and let me inside. The room was dimly lit, having the appearance that the Queen was just about to go to bed. I entered hesitantly, looking back at Ambrose pleadingly, not wanting to go in there alone. Thankfully, he complied and went with me.

"What a pleasant surprise, Guardian Hathaway," Tatiana's voice snapped me to attention. "What is it that you need to see me so urgently for?" she asked coolly. I immediately felt foolish. Couldn't I have waited until later to see her? I swallowed hard.

"Erm…" I started, stupidly, before clearing my throat. "Your Majesty," I greeted, bowing slightly. "First off… Well… I'd like to apologize for my behavior in the Council Meetings earlier in the week. I was angry, and I lost a lot of self control, and I said some things that I shouldn't of. And… I'm sorry for calling you a 'sanctimonious bitch.' It was childish and uncalled for." As I spoke, I couldn't believe the words coming out of my mouth. Maybe Dimitri's Zen Life Lessons were starting to get through to me after all. Tatiana looked at me curiously for a long while, like she couldn't believe that I was actually owning up to be a whiny bitch herself. She suddenly gave me a half-smile.

"Well I'm impressed, Guardian Hathaway. Thank you. I accept your apology, however, your phrasing isn't lost on me. What do you need me to do for you?" she asked, her eyes watching me with a shrewd expression. Man, this woman was sharp! I had to give her that.

"I was thinking about your offer earlier… Going back to St. Vlad's? Anyway… I'd like to take you up on that one. If Guardians are graduating at sixteen now, they need all the help they can get, and I'd like to help them prepare," I explained, silently praying to whomever that she would give me leave to go and teach at the academy. "Please, Tat—your Majesty. I'm begging you to let me have this job," I pleaded.

Tatiana almost seemed taken aback by the plaintive note in my voice, and stared at me in surprise. "I have a feeling that there's more to the story than that, Rose," she told me sternly. I winced, not really wanting to bring Dimitri into the play here.

"I… I just need to get away for a while… Please, Tatiana. Please let me go," I begged her. I suddenly became aware that Ambrose was still standing behind me, silently assessing this conversation. I felt kind of bad for leaving him out, but I had to have an answer now. However, before she could answer, a quiet click of the lock suddenly had both mine and Ambrose's senses on red alert. We silently slipped into opposite corners of the room, signaling Tatiana to be quiet.

The door slipped open and someone suspicious crept in, looking around for danger, but seeing none as we were hidden from whoever it was. They wore all black, and had a hat and ski mask on, obscuring their features. The stranger obviously was trouble by the way they crept forward, and a sudden flash of silver caught my eye. It was a stake! I looked closer, and realized… that stake belonged to me, and this stranger was going to drive it through Tatiana's heart. When he pulled it out, preparing to strike, both Ambrose and I sprang into action, jumping out and attacking him, me wrestling the stake out of his grip while Ambrose angrily beat the shit out of him for even daring to come near his queen.

Wow, I thought. Ambrose must really care about her in order to pummel the stranger like that. Unfortunately, he managed to wriggle out of Ambrose's grasp and slip away from him and out the door before I could catch him or before we could catch a glimpse of his face… or her face. We weren't sure. Ambrose immediately went to a frantic Tatiana to comfort her, while I called and alerted her guardians to report what had just happened.

In a matter of seconds, the whole room and building was crawling with Guardians, investigating and asking us billions of questions about where we were at the time, why, and what did the attacker look like and other whatnot like that. I sighed audibly after a few interrogations, and dropped down onto a chair outside of the room. I had a feeling that this was going to be a very long night.