I couldn't really sleep under these conditions, but during the second day, I started nodding off now and then. Starvation and exhaustion will do that to you. At one point, I actually dreamed, surprising since I didn't really think I could fall into a deep slumber under such insane conditions.
In the dream- and I knew perfectly well that it was a dream- I stood on a beach. It took me a moment to recognize just which beach it was. It was along the Oregon coast- sandy and warm, with the Pacific unfolding in the distance. Lissa and I had traveled out here once when we lived in Portland. It had been a gorgeous day, but she couldn't handle being out in that much sun. We'd kept the visit short as a result, but I'd always wished I could have stayed longer and basked in all that. Now I had all the light and warmth I could want.
"Little dhampir," said a voice behind me. "It's about time."
I turned around in surprise and found Adrian Ivashkov watching me. He had on khakis and a loose shirt and- in a surprisingly casual style for him- wore no shoes. Wind ruffled his brown hair, and he kept his hands stuffed in his pockets as he regarded me with that trademark smirk of his.
"Still got your protection," he added.
Frowning, I thought for a moment he was staring at my chest. Then I realized his eyes were on my stomach. I had on jeans and a bikini top, and once again, the little blue eye pendant dangled from my belly-button. The chotki was on my wrist.
"And you're in the sun again," I said. "So I suppose it's your dream."
"It's our dream."
I wiggled my toes in the sand. "How can two people share a dream?"
"People share dreams all the time, Rose."
I looked up at him with a frown. "I need to know what you mean. About there being darkness around me. What does it mean?"
"Honestly, I don't know. Everyone has light around them, except for you. You have shadows. You take them from Lissa."
My confusion grew. "I don't understand."
"I can't get into it right now," he told me. "That's not why I'm here."
"You're here for a reason?" I asked, my eyes wandering to the blue-gray water. It was hypnotic. "You aren't just...here to be here?"
He stepped forward and caught my hand, forcing me to look up at him. All amusement was gone. He was dead serious. "Where are you?"
"Here," I said, puzzled. "Just like you."
Adrian shook his head. "No, that's not what I mean. In the real world. Where are you?"
The real world? Around us, the beach suddenly blurred, like a film going out of focus. Moments later, everything steadied itself. I racked my brain. The real world. Images came to me. Chairs. Guards. Flex-cuffs.
"In a basement ..." I said slowly. Alarm suddenly shattered the beauty of the moment as everything came back to me. "Oh God, Adrian. You've got to help Mia and Christian. I can't- "
Adrian's grip on my hand tightened. "Where?" The world shimmered again, and this time it didn't refocus. He swore. "Where are you, Rose?"
The world began to disintegrate. Adrian began to disintegrate.
"A basement. In a house. In- "
He was gone. I woke up. The sound of the room's door opening startled me back to reality.
Isaiah swept in with Elena in tow. I had to fight a sneer when I saw her. He was arrogant and mean and all-around evil. But he was that way because he was a leader. He had the strength and power to back up his cruelty- even if I didn't like it. But Elena? She was a lackey. She threatened us and made snide comments, but most of her ability to do so came from being his sidekick. She was a total suck-up.
"Hello, children," he said. "How are we doing today?"
Sullen glares answered him.
He strolled over to Mia and Christian, hands folded behind his back. "Any changes of heart since my last visit? You're taking an awfully long time, and it's upsetting Elena. She's very hungry, you see, but- I suspect- not as hungry as you two."
Christian narrowed his eyes. "Fuck off," he said through gritted teeth.
Elena snarled and lunged forward. "Don't you dare- "
Isaiah waved her off. "Leave him alone. It just means we wait a little longer, and really, it's an entertaining wait."
Elena's eyes shot daggers at Christian.
"Honestly," continued Isaiah, watching Christian, "I can't decide which I want more: to kill you or have you join us. Either option offers its own amusements."
"Don't you get tired of hearing yourself talk?" asked Christian.
Isaiah considered. "No. Not really. And I don't get tired of this, either."
He turned around and walked toward Eddie. Poor Eddie could barely sit upright in his chair anymore after all the feedings he'd gone through. Worse, Isaiah didn't even need to use compulsion. Eddie's face simply lit up with a stupid grin, eager for the next bite. He was as addicted as a feeder.
Anger and disgust flooded through me.
"Damn it!" I yelled. "Leave him alone!"
Isaiah glanced back at me. "Be silent, girl. I don't find you nearly as amusing as I do Mr. Ozera."
"Yeah?" I snarled. "If I piss you off so much, then use me to prove your stupid point. Bite me instead. Put me in my place, and show me what a badass you are."
"No!" exclaimed Mason. "Use me."
Isaiah rolled his eyes. "Good God. What a noble lot. You're all Spartacus, aren't you?"
He strolled away from Eddie and put a finger under Mason's chin, tilting his head up. "But you," Isaiah said, "don't really mean it. You only offer because of her." He released Mason and walked in front of me, staring down with those black, black eyes. "And you ... I didn't really believe you at first either. But now?" He knelt down so that he was at my height. I refused to look away from his eyes, even though I knew that put me at risk of compulsion. "I think you really mean it. And it's not all nobility, either. You do want it. You really have been bitten before." His voice was magical. Hypnotic. He wasn't using compulsion, exactly, but he definitely had an unnatural charisma surrounding him. Like Lissa and Adrian. I hung on his every word. "Lots of times, I'd guess," he added.
He leaned toward me, breath hot against my neck. Somewhere beyond him, I could hear Mason shouting something, but all of my focus was on how close Isaiah's teeth were to my skin. In the last few months, I'd only been bitten once- and that was when Lissa had had an emergency. Before then, she'd bitten me at least twice a week for two years, and I had only recently come to realize how addicted to that I'd been. There is nothing- nothing- in the world like a Moroi bite, like the flood of bliss it sends into you. Of course, by all accounts, Strigoi bites were even more powerful....