“Put on a steel mask and armor your heart; it’s the only way you’ll survive in this hellhole of a world.”
~ Hailee Greene
I turned my head around on my pillow in annoyance. What was this buzzing noise in my head?
“Hazel, where the hell are you? Are you sick or something? Is that even possible anymore? I don’t know. I’m no doctor.”
I groaned aloud when I realized that Hailee was bothering me with her telepathy at eight in the morning.
I thought the first thing on my mind loud and clear, “Wow, you’re annoying.”
“Finally. Where are you?”
I debated for the next few seconds on the reality I had to face. Should I tell her that the school is under suspicion?
I pictured the consequence of hiding it from her and immediately realized that I didn’t want her to die. After everything she went through, Hailee didn’t deserve death. Not like this. I quickly formulated a plausible story in my head.
“I overheard some people conversing at a café yesterday.”
“I think they were hunters. They were talking about our school and something about under suspicion. I think it’d be best to avoid going to school for a while. Maybe even dropping out, if it comes to that.”
Hailee went quiet after that. I was sure she was thinking about the validity of my information, but there was also the concept of better safe than sorry.
“I see. That does sound like the best option. If the hunters decide to pull out the school’s security cameras, it’d be super easy to find out that I don’t show up in any of them.”
I didn’t expect her to first make sense of my decision before doubting my information. She added, “You won’t appear suspicious for now, but you won’t show up in cameras eventually, right? I suggest for you, too, to hide out for a bit, using sickness as an excuse. When this whole thing blows over, you can go back.”
Hailee questioned me again when I didn’t respond. I decided to tell her what I thought. “I’m sorry. It’s just that, after what you’ve been through, I thought you’d have trouble trusting me.”
“I decided that it was unfair to mistreat you just because I have past wounds. Anyhow, I’ll find an excuse to get out of school today. I’ll bring Kass out, too. We can’t risk staying. I’ll contact you later.”
When Hailee snapped the connection, I no longer had a way of reaching her. I turned my head to my vase of roses on the end table. I had been busy over the weekend and didn’t take care of them. My muscles ached as I moved out of bed to tend to my precious flowers. Afterward, I headed to my bathroom.
After I blow-dried my hair and changed into clean clothes, Hailee’s voice rang in my head again.
“Alright, I just cleaned out my locker, and I’m on my way back to the base with Kass. I talked to Harv. He agrees with your decision. Nice one.”
She snapped the link again before I could reply. Looks like she merely wanted to tell me her situation. The moment Hailee left the school, I was sure she’d never be able to go back.
I fixed up my hair in the bathroom mirror. I thought that I looked decent today, unlike the sweating mess I was yesterday. I studied my reflection for the longest time, then grasped my phone and took a few pictures. I wouldn’t be able to show up in them in a few more days, after all.
I’d never have photo memories of prom or graduation. How did Hailee survive in our technologically advanced world without having any pictures of her taken?
I combed my hair slowly. Soon, my hair color may change completely. I might come to miss this dry and dull sandy blonde. If my hair color does alter, I’d have come up with an excuse to explain to everyone. It’d be much too bothersome to bleach and dye my hair back to blonde regularly.
As the sun reached its highest point in the sky, I heard the front door open. I assumed it was Arthur, probably coming to help with lunch. The only thing I knew how to cook was toast, so he came by often to help out.
I used to worry about my non-existent cooking skills, but that was not of any concern anymore. In about two more weeks, the only thing I could consume would be a particular red liquid.
“Hazel, dinner!” he called out after ten minutes. I raced downstairs. I particularly savored this meal, knowing I wouldn’t be able to taste this heavenly food for much longer.
“How are you holding up?” Arthur asked after I put down my fork in satisfaction and had some water. I suppose he assumed that I’d be sensitive to this topic since I always despised the mentioning of supernatural creatures. Fortunately for him, The Ones already gave me plenty of mental preparation.
“Much better.” I smiled wryly. “It’s kind of hard to believe, but I know I can trust you.”
Arthur’s stiff shoulders lowered. His lips curved into a kind and reassured smile.
I then inquired hesitantly, “Did you see my parents?”
“No, it’s the other Chief vampire hunter who was in charge of the investigation. Your father didn’t return to the headquarters for quite some time, so the higher-ups sent Henrietta when they located him. When she got there, the vampire attack already took place.”
I reacted to a name. Where have I heard ‘Henrietta’ before? I searched my memory, but nothing, in particular, told me why I had this sense of déjà vu.
“I arrived soon after I heard the news.” He shielded his eyes with his hand. “It was horrific. Blood splatters were everywhere, and your mother was nowhere to be found. The only obvious thing was the mess of footprints in the snow.”
I avoided visualizing the scene of death. The time I saw the corpse of the girl under Zach’s hands was traumatizing enough.
After Arthur left for work, I went upstairs and checked my laptop. In the saved folder, there was an article titled Chief Vampire Hunter Henrietta King Shares Story of Her Past.
I recalled right then. The day Zach first came here, I did some basic research on vampires and hunters. If Arthur was one of the Chief vampire hunters, Henrietta King must be the other. I clicked to see the familiar face of Henrietta that I had previously looked up.
She was the one who discovered my dad’s dead body. I saddened at the thought. Over the years, my memory of my parents had faded quite a bit. I wasn’t as shaken as I thought I’d be.
My heart clenched as I read the article and absorbed the information. Henrietta was only twelve years old when her school got raided by rogue vampires. She was able to mask her scent in the washroom, avoiding the invaders. After hours of tormenting wait, she quietly left the restroom and didn’t find a single living soul on the entire campus. Her friends, classmates, and teachers were all dead. At that young age, she saw a whole school worth of corpses.
I covered my eyes with my palms. Here I thought I had it bad, but Henrietta saw much more at the tender age of twelve. I inhaled deeply and continued reading.
She rushed home in tears, only to find that even more horror had descended upon her household. She discovered the desiccated corpses of her parents, her grandpa, and her little sister. They all had vampire bite marks on their necks or wrists. By autopsy at a later time, it was confirmed that one lone vampire committed the killings.
My eyes widened at the edit at the bottom of the page. The murderer of Henrietta’s family members was none other than the vampire now known as Dracul.
I let out a shaky breath. I guess this wasn’t a surprise. I’d always known that Zach was a lethal killing machine. I knew that from the day I saw him suck a teen girl dry of all her blood.
I shut my laptop and placed it on my desk. From then on, Henrietta must’ve loathed vampires with every fiber of her being, especially the one that killed her whole family. I had a montage flashback of every time Zach hinted that he went hunting for a meal.
I physically shuddered.
Many hours later, I arrived in the small patch of woods where Zach told me to meet him. It was five to eight. I couldn’t, for the life of me, find the hidden elevator. The Ones truly outdid themselves.
Some children ran along the small stream that coursed through the edge of the woods. They couldn’t see me from that far, but my enhanced vision could observe them flawlessly. When I was their age, I stayed cooped up in my room, waiting for my mommy to come and call me down to eat. Instead, Arthur softly knocked and brought me meals. It became more and more real that I no longer had my parents.
I rewinded to two years before that. My mom and dad took me to the playground all the time. I was no different than all the other five-year-olds.
While I stared at the chattering children, they eventually all got up when an adult called to them, telling them to go back. My second-grade homeroom teacher nearly believed that I was autistic because of the amount of time I spent staring at nothing.
I turned my head over when I heard the small noise. Zach stepped out of the elevator and nodded at me in greeting. I waved back out of habit. I made sure to mask whatever fear I had in me from reading the Henrietta article.
When the elevator doors shut closed, it appeared like any other tree again. We found a comfortable spot on the top of a hill. I sat against a tree while he laid down.
I rolled my shoulders while I waited for him to talk. My legs were still feeling the soreness from the weekend training.
“My past’s the same as everyone else’s. Info leaked, then the family got killed by hunters. I escaped. That’s basically it.”
I bit the inside of my lip. There must be something different about Zach that made someone like Ashton respect him. I didn’t know what to say until I remembered something he accidentally slipped out before. I asked quietly, “What about that sister of yours?”
Zach visibly frowned as he muttered, “She’s living among humans. Disgusting.”
I gulped. I had seen how well vampires could blend in with society. This sister of his could be any girl I just walked by.
Zach interrupted my thoughts. “Don’t be afraid. She lives off of minimal animal blood. She won’t attack you. She’s too weak for that.”
I wonder what his definition of “weak” is.
I stared at Zach until he caved. He was the one who made the bet; he might as well stay true to his words.
“Okay, fine. My father, sister and I managed to flee out the back door of the house. We lived in a big house. All of my relatives and my mother were annihilated on the spot. I was six.”
I didn’t say anything, but my heart felt for him. I was also six when I lost my family. At the very least, we weren’t all alone. He had his dad and sister; I had Arthur.
“The three of us lived in a small town,” Zach continued. “Like you, I was beginning to heal. I wanted to forgive and forget. What happened was in the past; it was history. But then, peace didn’t last long. Eight years later, my dad never came to pick us up from the library. Word travels fast in a town as small as the one we lived in. Very soon, people picked up pitchforks and torches and turned on us.
“My sister and I ran, again. We knew the hunters were coming after us. We sped out of the town and out of the city. We ran for hours at vampire speed.”
All I could do was whimper. Zach went through the same pain twice. I guess it was a lot harder to forgive when history repeated itself.
Thankfully, Zach didn’t mind my lack of response, but he hesitated to include further details. “We spent three months on the streets, in the woods, wherever we could survive. Animal blood was revolting. It was like twigs and fish guts spun together in a liquid form. I swear we were halfway through death’s door. But then, a woman walked up to us in the secluded areas of a park. She was the eldest daughter of a vampire family who lived among humans, the same way my dad did with us. They lived off of animal blood, and the two other children of the household went to school like ordinary people. They took us in.”
“Your sister followed the same path?” I asked when he paused. He nodded.
“I was homeschooled until that point. I began to question everything. Why did a lion have to force itself to live amongst a herd of sheep? The lifestyle during those two years was frighteningly similar to my dad’s idea of a good life. Vampires living like that would only invite more tragedy. Peace doesn’t exist for beings like us.”
With that, he got up at lightning speed and towered over me.
“No other creature on this planet can outrun me or fight me bare-handed. We were made to be killers. A killer has no business mixing in with a crowd of ordinary people. I left that house when I was sixteen.”
“And then Harvick found you?” I guessed. Zach shook his head no, then irritatedly laid down in the same spot again.
I tried to understand his mentality. Since his dad lived a peaceful lifestyle, he felt like the same tragic fate would occur if nothing changed.
Maybe... he’s afraid that his sister might be the next one to die?
“It’s not like that stupid girl is ever going to understand. She might as well go die,” Zach snarled under his breath, evidently referring to his sister.
Yeah, nope, I take that back.
“That’s all that happened. Is your nosy self satisfied now?”
“Not quite,” I mumbled, ignoring his comment, but also deciding that I shouldn’t push him too hard. I wouldn’t like it if someone wanted me to recollect all of my worst memories. Instead, I requested, “Can you bring me to see Harvick? I have a lot of questions.”
Zach frowned. “You ask me now? Roman teleported with him somewhere right before I left.”
“He’s a busy man.”
“What’s he busy with?”
“Now, now, that’s none of your concern yet.” He smirked at me and then swiftly changed the topic. “How are you finding the changes in yourself?”
“I’m getting better. It’s pretty cool to see cuts close in mere seconds.”
The other day, I tried to make myself a meal since I only had so much time left to do so, but I really was no good with a kitchen knife.
“The sunlight thing is annoying, though, isn’t it?” Zach added, prompting me to nod. “You just feel like a burnt sunny-side up egg after, what, five minutes?”
I laughed and heartily agreed. “Exactly! Sunscreen doesn’t work, and I have to search for shades constantly. It’s such a pain.”
Not too long after, I heard someone calling my name from afar. “Hazel? There you are!”
Alecx sprinted up from about fifteen meters away. I didn’t get a chance to stand up from my seated position until Alecx stopped in front of me. He was out of breath.
“Alecx? What’s wrong?” I asked as soon as I got up.
“It’s nine o’clock, and you left your phone and wallet at home, that’s what,” Alecx stated breathlessly, but he recovered in a few more seconds.
I chuckled a little in embarrassment. “Sorry for making you worry.”
It was then that Alecx seemed to finally notice that I wasn’t alone. Zach didn’t move from his position. Seeing this, I quickly introduced, “Alecx, this is my, uh, friend, Zach. Zach, this is my childhood friend, Alecx.”
I stuttered to call Zach my friend. It was strange to say out loud. Alecx gave him a nod down, and Zach returned a casual nod up, then got up.
“I’ll call Mr. Carrington to tell him you’re all right,” Alecx said, then went down the small hill. After Alecx was out of earshot, Zach asked without hesitation, “Is that the guy you wished was your boyfriend?”
Heat instantly rushed to my face, and I tossed him a hard glare. He burst out chuckling. I didn’t expect him to remember something so minor from our first meeting.
“He doesn’t seem like an ordinary human.” Zach’s comment frightened me. How did he pick up on that in those short seconds?!
“Hmm, forget it. I’m probably just paranoid,” Zach hummed, relieving me. “Be careful, though. Every time you get physically injured, your vampire eyes will show.”
He then sauntered away. He held up a hand and bid me goodbye, not bothering to glance back. He watched his pace, probably not wanting to risk being seen by Alecx.
I spun my head back when Alecx called out to me. We returned to my house. I smiled when Alecx expressed concern for me about the night of the grand reveal. He apologized over and over again, and I had to bonk him on the head for him to stop. His job was probably the only secret he had ever kept from me for more than two days.
“Kaydence is training alongside me,” Alecx brought up. “She is quite talented. Even I could see that.”
I’ll just keep the fact that I have vampire blood in me from them forever! How hard can that possibly be?
I didn’t know what to do. Again, I felt guilty for keeping the truth from my close ones, but I also didn’t want to betray The Ones after what they all went through. If Arthur had confessed to me two weeks ago, I would’ve admitted everything to him in a heartbeat.
Oh, a heartbeat, another thing I would shortly lose.
“You know what’s funny? There’s a vampire in the headquarters who’s an Elitist. That’s only two ranks below a Chief,” said Alecx.
I immediately thought of the vampire who previously betrayed The Ones. His impact was so tremendous that Hailee would stay in a bad mood for days just by getting a glance at him.
“How ironic,” I commented, which Alecx agreed with. “So, what made you want to become a vampire hunter?”
Alecx scratched his head as he answered, “I was eleven when Jaxson and I were going home from our sports club late at night. We encountered a low-class vampire. Jaxson swung his baseball bat at its head. That would’ve killed a person, and it made a dent in its skull, but it recovered within seconds like nothing. It honestly scared me. I was too afraid to fight back and stood rigidly like an idiot. Luckily, Mr. Carrington was heading home from extra time, and he saved us.”
Admiration shone in his eyes. “He wielded a sharp, silver scythe. He was so cool. The vampire vanished into dust once he pierced it through the chest. He revealed his identity to us, then. Jaxson was inspired, that’s why he became a hunter.”
“What about you?”
Unexpectedly, Alecx blushed. He pinched his hair as he mumbled, “I thought of you, Hazel. You were often alone, and if one attacked you, what could you do? You’re never one to work out, and self-defense wouldn’t work on these supernatural beings. What if it were you? No one would be there to protect you. Just thinking about it made me uneasy.”
A giddy and fuzzy feeling coursed through me knowing that in such an emergency situation, I was on his mind, and I was his inspiration to become what he was today. I beamed. “That’s so sweet of you, Alecx. Thanks.”
My heart swelled in content, and I focused my eyes on the ground. I glanced in Alecx’s direction, then noticed something on his hand. He wore the ring I gave him.
When we got home, Arthur was already there. He jumped up from the couch as soon as he saw me. “Jeez, you scared me. Don’t do that again, okay?”
“There’s no need to worry so much.”
I saw hesitation in his features. He grabbed his bag and took out a pendant. It was the same cross pendant that Alecx showed me a while ago, but of course, Arthur didn’t know that. He handed me the necklace and said, “Here, wear this. It’s made of pure silver solidified in a Pureblood’s blood. They harm vampires. Spin it, and it’ll morph into a sword. Even if you can’t wield it properly, you can at least scare them off if you act like a vampire hunter.”
Arthur demonstrated. As he twirled the small cross in his fingers, it grew into a sharp sword. I’d only seen a weapon that cool in movies. He spun it back and handed it to me.
“I think you should come with us to the training grounds tomorrow. Kaydence will be there, too,” Arthur suddenly suggested, surprising both me and Alecx.
“Why?” I asked. I didn’t have any plans tomorrow, but was that alright?
“I feel like you still think this whole vampire thing is surreal. I don’t blame you. It’s a big deal. Perhaps seeing the real thing would help.”
I supposed that in his memory there would always be bits and pieces of a broken and eerily silent six-year-old who couldn’t accept harsh reality.
Alecx stayed quiet, so I turned to him and asked for his opinion. He carefully contemplated before nodding, saying it’d be a good experience. Tomorrow was Tuesday, which was a safe day since my third week changes were due to begin on Wednesday if nothing out of the ordinary occurred.
I ended up agreeing to the tour. I walked the two of them out the front door, then prepared a late night snack for myself. The freshness of cold milk and sweetness of cinnamon cookies instantly put my mind at ease.
I wasn’t going to be a human for much longer; I’d better savor the last two weeks I had.