I also decided a fourth wasn't such a good idea, but I didn't want to get back in and let everyone know I was drunk. I headed off toward a side room I'd seen the waitress disappear into. I hoped maybe there was a secret stash of desserts somewhere, chocolate mousse instead of goose liver. As I walked, I paid special attention to the slippery floor, thinking that falling into one of the pools and cracking my skull would definitely cost me coolness points.
I was paying so much attention to my feet and trying not to stagger that I walked into someone. To my credit, it'd been his fault; he'd backed into me.
"Hey, watch it," I said, steadying myself.
But he wasn't paying attention to me. His eyes were on another guy, a guy with a bloody nose.
I'd walked right into the middle of a fight.
TWO GUYS I'D NEVER MET before were squaring off against each other. They looked to be in their twenties, and neither noticed me. The one who'd bumped into me shoved the other one hard, forcing him to stagger back considerably.
"You're afraid!" yelled the guy by me. He had on green swimming trunks, and his black hair was slicked back with water. "You're all afraid. You just want to hole up in your mansions and let the guardians do your dirty work. What are you going to do when they're all dead? Who'll protect you then?"
The other guy wiped the blood off his face with the back of his hand. I suddenly recognized him- thanks to his blond highlights. He was the royal who'd yelled at Tasha about wanting to lead Moroi to battle. She'd called him Andrew. He tried to land a hit and failed; his technique was all wrong. "This is the safest way. Listen to that Strigoi-lover, and we'll all be dead. She's trying to kill our whole race off!"
"She's trying to save us!"
"She's trying to get us to use black magic!"
The "Strigoi-lover" had to be Tasha. The non-royal guy was the first person outside of my little circle whom I'd ever heard speak in her favor. I wondered how many others out there shared his view. He punched Andrew again, and my base instincts- or maybe the punch- made me leap into action.
I sprang forward and wedged myself between them. I was still dizzy and a bit unsteady. If they hadn't been standing so close, I probably would have fallen over. They both hesitated, clearly caught off guard.
"Get out of here," snapped Andrew.
Being male and Moroi, they had greater height and weight than I, but I was probably stronger than either one alone. Hoping I could make the most of that, I grabbed each of them by the arm, pulled them toward me, and then shoved them away as hard as I could. They staggered, not having expected my strength. I staggered a little too.
The non-royal glared and took a step toward me. I was counting on the fact that he'd be old-fashioned and not hit a girl. "What are you doing?" he exclaimed. Several people had gathered and were watching excitedly.
I returned his glare. "I'm trying to stop you guys from being any more idiotic than you already are! You want to help? Stop fighting each other! Ripping each other's heads off isn't going to save the Moroi unless you're trying to thin stupidity out of the gene pool." I pointed at Andrew. "Tasha Ozera is not trying to kill everyone off. She's trying to get you to stop being a victim." I turned to the other guy. "And as for you, you've got a long ways to go if you think this is the way to get your point across. Magic- especially offensive magic- takes a lot of self-control, and so far, you aren't impressing me with yours. I have more than you do, and if you knew me at all, you'd know how crazy that is."
The two guys stared at me, stunned. I was apparently more effective than a taser. Well, at least for several seconds I was. Because once the shock of my words wore off, they went at each other again. I got caught in the crossfire and shoved away, nearly falling in the process. Suddenly, from behind me, Mason came to my defense. He punched the first guy he could- the non-royal.
The guy flew backward, falling into one of the pools with a splash. I yelped, remembering my earlier fear about skull-cracking, but a moment later, he found his feet and rubbed water out of his eyes.
I grabbed Mason's arm, trying to hold him back, but he shrugged me off and went after Andrew. He shoved Andrew hard, pushing him into several Moroi- andrew's friends, I suspected- who seemed to be trying to break up the fight. The guy in the pool climbed out, fury written all over his face, and made moves toward Andrew. This time, both Mason and I blocked his way. He glared at all of us.
"Don't," I warned him.
The guy clenched his fists and looked as though he might try to take us on. But we were intimidating, and he didn't appear to have an entourage of friends here like Andrew- who was shouting obscenities and being led away- did. With a few muttered threats, the non-royal backed off.
As soon as he was gone, I turned on Mason. "Are you out of your mind?"
"Huh?" he asked.
"Jumping into the middle of that!"
"You jumped in too," he said.
I started to argue, then realized he was right. "It's different," I grumbled.
He leaned forward. "Are you drunk?"
"No. Of course not. I'm just trying to keep you from doing something stupid. Just because you have delusions of being able to kill a Strigoi doesn't mean you have to take it out on everyone else."
"Delusions?" he asked stiffly.
I started to feel kind of nauseous just then. My head spinning, I continued toward the side room, hoping I didn't stumble.
But when I reached it, I saw that it wasn't some kind of dessert or drink room after all. Well, at least not in the way I'd been thinking. It was a feeder room. Several humans reclined on satin-covered chaise lounges with Moroi by their sides. Jasmine incense burned in the air. Stunned, I watched with an eerie fascination as a blond Moroi guy leaned forward and bit into the neck of a very pretty redhead. All of these feeders were exceptionally good-looking, I realized just then. Like actresses or models. Only the best for royalty.
The guy drank long and deep, and the girl closed her eyes and parted her lips, an expression of pure bliss on her face as Moroi endorphins flooded into her bloodstream. I shivered, taken back to when I too had experienced that same kind of euphoria. In my alcohol-hazed mind, the whole thing suddenly seemed startlingly erotic. In fact, I almost felt intrusive- like I was watching people have sex. When the Moroi finished and licked the last of the blood away, he brushed his lips against her cheek in a soft kiss.
"Want to volunteer?"
Light fingertips brushed my neck, and I jumped. I turned around and saw Adrian's green eyes and knowing smirk.