When I woke to the warmth of the morning sun on my back, I found Leila curled up against me. Her head was beside my chest, just under my chin, and she had an arm draped over my side; at some point in the early morning, I’d laid my arm around her, too. She looked so peaceful and comfortable that I couldn’t help but smile. She was still sound asleep, and I didn’t have the heart to wake her.
I moved my head slowly to gaze around the room. I couldn’t find anything that might tell the time, and I wondered if this world even tracked things like that. I did notice that somebody had opened the thicker curtains, leaving only the thin white ones covering the windows. And the door to Leila’s room was slightly open.
As I laid there, breathing in Leila’s scent and feeling the slight rise and fall of her body against mine, I realized that there were voices out in the main room.
“He must have a strong will to have gotten from my room to hers, one of the voices said.
I didn’t think it belonged to anyone I’d met the night before, but I also didn’t believe that my memory was entirely reliable just then.
“I don’t doubt that,” another voice replied. It had a sort of French accent, which I was certain matched with one of the men I’d met. “He is incredibly protective of her. He will be a good ally, once he comes to understand… eeuhh, everything, n’est-ce pas?”
“We shall see,” the first voice replied.
“Can we finally get to studying the ballad before she leaves again?” another voice chimed in, his more critical and urgent. If he’s the warrior meant to ride–“
“Shhhh,” the first voice soothed. “You’ll wake them if you get too excited.”
“Do you really think I care all that much? From what Jean-Marc says, she didn’t intend to come here last night, and I’m assuming she’ll probably just leave as soon as she awakens.”
“Calm yourself, Aubré. If you’re upset, she won’t want to be around you. Are you trying to give her a reason to leave?”
“Of course not, but this uncertainty of whether or not she’ll stay is intolerable!”
“We can’t trap her here; you know that.”
“Even if we could, I doubt that we’d have to. She seems to want to help us.”
I didn’t really like the way they talked about Leila as though she didn’t have much free will. It sounded to me like they expected her help, and that if she refused, they would just continue to try to convince her, and I worried how far they would go in that regard. Hadn’t they said something about their world falling apart– quite literally– if she didn’t– I don’t even know what she was supposed to do for them! I wanted to get out of the bed and go ask them all the questions on my mind, but I worried that I wouldn’t actually get any answers, and I would just end up making everybody upset. I was only staying where I was because I didn’t want to wake Leila up. She was starting to stir, and I wondered whether she could hear them talking, too.
She moved a little bit, and made a soft sound, something between a hum and a groan. Her head moved slightly, and I watched as her eyelids fluttered open. She turned to look up at me with her bright green eyes.
“Stefan…” she said sleepily.
I smiled when she said my name; I always like the way she said it. “Hey there,” I replied. “Did you sleep well?”
“Mmmm… Yeah,” she said, still very sleepy. “I had some really weird dreams though,” she added.
“Do you want to talk about them?” I asked her, speaking softly so as to not the give the impression that I expected her to.
“Well.. I’m not sure how much I can say. I really don’t remember much of them. There was a flock of owls, and then I think maybe they turned into ravens– or maybe the owls went to sleep and then I was watching a group of ravens? I don’t really know. Or maybe they were just separate dreams. Anyway, eventually I was following a group of bats.”
“Is that all you remember?” I asked her gently.
“Well.. I started to see a castle in the distance, but it was weird, because when I was further away, it looked okay, but then as I got closer to it, it seemed like it got older and more worn down. By the time I came up to it, parts of it had fallen off.
“Did you follow the bats to it?”
“I think so? I don’t remember if that was the same dream or not. Anyway, the castle was one of those old gothic types, the kind we would imagine vampires were in.”
“Were there vampires?” I asked.
She laughed softly. “I think there were actually,” she replied, “except… it was a long time ago. Stefan, it was all so weird. I went inside, but…”
“Go on,” I encouraged her when she hesitated.
“It looked like what you would imagine the inside of a vampire’s castle to look like; ornate frames, black chandeliers, ancient tapestries. But absolutely nobody was there. I kept looking all over the place, calling out as I stopped by different rooms. I went up the stairs, down all the halls…” Leila shook her head. “It was so strange how empty it was.”
“Well,” I replied, “maybe it was abandoned, and that’s why it was falling apart.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I mean, I guess that would make sense. I couldn’t stop searching the place, though, no matter how alone I felt there. And then… I guess it must have been a little bit before I woke up, I found some kind of– I don’t know, throne room.”
“Oh… Did it have a bunch of creepy coffins inside?”
“No,” she told me. “It.. there was one person in there, but I’m certain he’s not a vampire– and I didn’t get the feeling that he was in my dream, either.”
“What,” I said, “you think it was someone you know?”
“Someone we all know actually,” she replied. “In that throne room in my dream, Blackthorne was there… sitting on the throne.”
I felt my eyes go wide. I couldn’t help it. “Blackthorn?” I repeated. “The Blackthorne, from high school?”
“Yeah,” she said, “and he was dressed in just as much gothic style as he always did back then.”
“Did… Did he say anything to you?” I don’t know why it seemed like the most important thing for me to ask her.
“Yes,” she replied.
Well, that was kind of a surprise. I kept my eyes focused on her so that she knew I was still listening and wanted to know more.
“He still knew my name,” she said. “And he said, ‘please.'”