Blood on Roses

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Nest of the Hunters

“Never again will I allow my emotions to overpower my rational thinking.”
~ Loukianos (Harvick)

TWELVE

I sat in bed all night to read a book I thought I’d never had the time to finish. Arthur knocked on the door early in the morning and was surprised to see me fully dressed and ready to go.

We drove to a vast dome-like building that had a very modern design. From the outside, it seemed that it had four floors, each one smaller than the last due to the building structure. Four rows of floor-length windows covered the outside of the dome. It was rather aesthetically pleasing for its intended purpose.

Arthur drove up to the gates and held out his ID to the gatekeeper, who nodded down in respect, barely even looking at the ID. The spiky silver barricades then rose at his command.

I followed behind Arthur as we crossed the central hallway, heading to the elevators. There were glass windows in every room, much like the facility that I infiltrated a few days ago with Hailee.

The sound of a gunshot startled me. Three girls looking not much older than me were firing shots at moving targets. I watched, impressed that all of the bullets hit the mark. On the other side, two guys engaged in the most intense battle I’d ever seen with their swords.

In a more extensive gym in the center of the floor, hand-to-hand combat training was taking place. All of the participants looked relatively young, yet they were all quite strong. Fast, too.

“By the end of the first two years of training, trainees will get injected with a tiny amount of vampire blood to enhance their physique. Regular vampires can’t tell the difference between a person who’s had the injection and who hasn’t. I can’t say the same about Purebloods, though,” Arthur explained. “I got mine many years ago. Jaxson got his a while back, and Alecx will get it in a week. If Kaydence decides to continue down this path, she’ll eventually have one, as well.”

“I see.” Vampire hunters weren’t normal humans. Then it was no wonder they could fight monsters as horrifying as vampires.

In between the two installed elevators, there was what resembled a vending machine. I asked Arthur what that was.

“Performance enhancement pills. You need an ID and face scan to obtain one, and only one will generate within twelve hours since taking two at a time puts one’s life in danger.” He then opened his mouth and pointed to a spot on the back of his teeth. “See this? Every hunter ranked First Class and up keeps one at the back of their teeth for emergency use. We’re not allowed to carry a packet because the supplement also takes effect on vampires.”

We entered the elevator. I didn’t think Arthur should be telling me all this. Even if I was practically his daughter, I wasn’t a trained hunter, so I shouldn’t know such classified information.

Arthur, however, went on. “I’ve only ever taken two. One when I first got promoted to First Class, and I was reckless; another one two years ago when I fought Dracul.”

I nearly jolted at Zach’s nickname. I just couldn’t seem to shake off his presence no matter where I went.

I glanced up at Arthur in surprise. “Dracul? Did you see his face?”

He shook his head in pity. “I hate to admit it, but he was too fast. Even after enhancement effects, I could at best defend myself until backup arrived. Dracul is probably one of the most powerful vampires I’ve ever fought. I’m surprised you know about him.”

“Kaydence told me a lot about vampires, especially this one. He’s in the news a lot.”

Arthur nodded in approval. “Of course. Oh, here we are.”

The entire third floor was one big arena. Instantly, I spotted Kaydence fighting another girl. Kaydence couldn’t withstand the girl’s superior physical strength. She fell on the mat over and over again.

Alecx was sparring with another guy. He had a similar physique, though he wasn’t taking the practice as seriously as Alecx was.

Arthur led me around the mats toward them. I forced a smile and waved when I made eye contact with Alecx. Before I said anything, Alecx’s training partner turned his head and displayed a cheeky grin. He dropped the wooden sword he had and held out his hand.

“I’m Jeremy. You must be Hazel. I’m the guy who got you that jar of hazelnuts for your birthday! Do you like it?”

I loosely shook his hand and said yes, when in truth, I not once even touched that jar of hazelnuts. I didn’t like it when people made jokes out of my name.

“Alecx talks about you so much. I swear he’s in—Ow!”

Alecx knocked Jeremy on the head with his wooden sword. “That’s enough, Jer.”

I spotted Kaydence in the break room nearby and used her as an excuse to leave. I made a beeline toward Kaydence while the two boys argued behind me.

“Oh, hey! Alecx said you’d come.” Kaydence greeted with a towel on her head. She tossed me a bottle of water, which I caught.

“How are you doing? Dead tired yet?”

She pretended to be offended. “Excuse you. Three years ago, I ran five laps in the gym without stopping or walking!”

A Cheshire grin stretched on my lips as I asked again, “And how long did that take you?”

She hung her head. “Ten minutes. I was the slowest in the class.”

I laughed even though I wasn’t any better than her. While she chugged water down, I formulated another question. “So, you think you’re going to be a vampire hunter?”

Kaydence nearly spat the water out. “Out of everyone here, you were the last person I expected to hear that from.”

I shrugged. She averted her gaze to the ground. “I don’t know. With a gift like mine, I’d feel guilty for not putting it to proper use, but at the same time, I don’t want to see those vile creatures again.”

“Again?”

“Two years ago, I saw a vampire enjoying a meal. Fortunately, it was too focused on the victim to notice me. I ran away after two point five seconds,” Kaydence joked wryly. I instantly felt awful for making fun of her every time she mentioned vampires for the past year. She was genuinely distressed for my safety and tried to look out for me.

“I didn’t know the victim, but it could’ve easily been someone I knew,” Kaydence trailed off, then raised her head with newfound determination. “Forget what I said earlier. If I was given this ability to help rid the world of vampires, I’ll do it.”

Before I could respond, someone else from the entrance did, “Well said. Welcome to the team.”

I whirled around and recognized the owner of the voice as Henrietta King, the Chief vampire hunter with a tragic past. She was exactly as I imagined her to be: authoritative, tall, dependable, but bitter. She nodded at me in greeting, then focused her attention on Kaydence.

“I’m glad you feel that way. You will most certainly be a critical contributing member of our force,” Henrietta said. Her voice was firm, not letting a hint of weakness slip out.

Kaydence seemed startled by her appearance at first, but she eventually melted under Henrietta’s words. I quietly slipped out of the room while Henrietta fed Kaydence more propaganda.

Arthur introduced Henrietta to me while he coached Alecx and Jeremy. He kept it a secret from everyone that I was my father’s daughter so no one would bother me. I smiled at him gratefully. Arthur, Jaxson, Alecx, and Kaydence were the only people who knew of my entire past.

“If she asks, say you’re Kaydence’s best friend and unintentionally found out that she was training to be a vampire hunter. It’s not a big deal for friends and families to know your identity,” Arthur whispered to me. I giggled a little. I felt like two ten-year-olds making up dumb lies to hopefully trick their mother.

Kaydence ran out of the break room with a skip in her step up to me. She grabbed her jacket and asked me, “You want to go skating this Friday?”

“Sure,” I agreed without a thought. We were both averages at ice skating, but it was still fun, especially when we slip and fall on our butts.

“Henri’s taking me to her office. How exciting is that?” Kaydence squealed. She was already on a nickname basis with Henrietta. I bid her goodbye as she went into the elevator with Henrietta.

Not a minute later, I felt a hot pain on my chest. It was like a lit match pressed against my skin. I quickly asked Arthur for the washroom and dashed toward it. I locked the door and unzipped my jacket to reveal the tank top I wore underneath. The silver cross pendant that Arthur gave me was burning my skin.

As I recalled, I wasn’t supposed to feel burning from anti-vampire material until the third week, which started tomorrow, but I guess it hit before scheduled. My skin was new and fragile. According to Hailee, I’d soon adjust to it and grow more immune to the pain, like Zach. He could touch anti-vamp material and ignore the reddening.

I put the pendant over my tank top, then zipped up my jacket to hide it. I ran a hand through my hair, then exited the washroom.

“Henrietta came all this way as soon as she heard that Kaydence trained here. How courteous,” Arthur remarked.

There was a noticeable undertone in his sentence. Henrietta must’ve wanted to get on Kaydence’s good side because of her gift.

When Jeremy took a break, Alecx urged me to give the sword a try. I picked up the oddly heavy wooden sword, and I could barely hold it up straight without wobbling around. It weighed as much as a thick steel sword. The people around me didn’t bother to hide their amusement. Even Arthur’s shoulders shook in his desperate attempt to conceal his laughter and encouraged me.

I didn’t mind them since I didn’t receive a single minute of professional training. It’d be shocking if I were any good at this.

Alecx waited until I raised the sword to launch his first attack. I flinched and held up the sword horizontally to parry. Someone in the audience murmured that I had fast reflexes.

Well, that’s because I’m halfway to a vampire.

“Not bad at all,” Alecx commented. I grinned back. I was afraid of using real force since my vampire strength tended to spiral out of control. I looped his sword around to break free, but that didn’t faze him at all.

With one swift motion, Alecx made a fake to my left so I would shift my center of gravity to block him. He then swung his sword up to the right side of my neck. Unlike me, he was agile. I rolled my eyes playfully and nudged his sword away from my neck as the onlookers dispersed.

At the last moment, I swung my sword and hit his side. Alecx laughed at my effort. Embarrassed, I pouted and poked his stomach.

When Jeremy came out of the break room, Arthur called out to me, “Alright, that’s enough fooling around. Let’s get you back home.”

I was still feeling giddy on our car ride back. Midway, Arthur received a call on his Bluetooth headset. I didn’t think anything of it until the call ended and he said sternly, “We pinpointed the vampire in your school. Turns out, there were two.”

The smile on my face vanished.

His eyebrows stayed knitted, and his gaze fixed straight ahead. “I believe their names are Hailee Greene and Kassandra Chaplain. They must’ve somehow gotten information about our search because they both went missing two days ago.”

Arthur lightly hit his fist against the steering wheel upon a red light. I was glad that I decided to warn Hailee and Kass. For display purposes, I gulped loudly and shrunk in my seat, then mumbled, “Hailee was my classmate.”

“I know. I’ve met her before, too.” Arthur’s frown deepened. Just then, his eyes shot wide. “Does she know where you live?”

“No, she doesn’t,” I rejected firmly. I knew how protective Arthur could get, and if he had reasonable grounds to suspect that I could be in danger, he’d make me move to a new house. No, a new city.

Arthur fell silent. Just as I thought I was in the clear, he stated, “I’m renovating your house with all the latest vampire-proof technology. Window frames and doors will be switched to anti-vampire silver. And I’ll have emergency buttons installed in every room in case of an intruder.”

I opened my mouth, but he beat me to it. “This is not up for debate, Hazy. Please cooperate. I don’t want you at any risk.”

I knew there was no fighting it, so I gave up and agreed.

Although Arthur was overboard protective, I understood his point of view better than ever. I protested when he suggested to put up security cameras and alarms last year. His protectiveness, almost to the point of paranoia, proved just how much the death of his best friend affected him.

Arthur was efficient, and he had enough authority to get things done fast. He made another phone call right after, and by the time we drove to my house, several people and two trucks were already there.

I quickly searched my brain for anything personal I had that might expose me, and nothing came to mind. I doubt I left any evidence.

Arthur asked me to stay in the car as he went up to the renovators, who were probably hunters in disguise. I could tell by the way a person carried an entire couch by himself that he must’ve had the injection.

I got off the car anyway and peered into the moving truck; window frames and doors filled the trunk.

One of the movers walked past me, and I instantly scrunched up my nose in displeasure. He carried the strong smell of garlic, and I hated it. I had never minded the smell until now.

That evening, after I ate dinner with Arthur, the house was complete. Nothing felt different except the red buttons planted in hidden places in every room.

Arthur and I stood in the living room while the renovators cleaned up. In the midst of people walking around, Arthur asked, “So, what’d you think of the training grounds?”

“It was pretty cool. Felt like military training.”

“Any desire to be a vampire hunter yourself?” he asked carefully.

I shook my head. “I don’t have that kind of passion or determination. I’d probably shake in my boots at the sight of a vampire, not to mention fighting one.”

“I see.”

In Arthur’s point of view, it’d be the safest for me if I received proper training to defend myself against vampires, except he had no idea why that was impossible for me. It was times like this I felt glad that I was a good liar. If I wanted to, I could keep a secret from the rest of the world forever.

I watched the last renovator carry out an old door frame.

“Thank you for your hard work,” Arthur spoke to the movers while I examined the new front door. A layer of wood coated it, but the inside was made entirely of silver shaped in pure blood.

Soon after, Arthur also left. He had work to do.

I loved the modernized look that the windows had. I crashed onto my bed and rolled around in the bedsheets.

“I just saw two trucks pull out of your driveway. What the heck? Did you buy new furniture for the season?”

I sat up immediately. “Where are you?”

“Hiding. I was going back the base.”

“My uncle caught word about vampires at my school and panicked that you might know where I live. He almost made me move to a new house, but thankfully, he settled with renovating this one.”

Hailee went quiet again. I noticed that she’d been doing this more often. I didn’t know if my words had some shocking philosophical meaning to them that she required a few seconds to think all the time.

“How lucky you are,” Hailee finally stated after half a minute. I could feel the bittersweetness in her voice. I paused before humming back, “Yeah.”

“I just remembered. It’d be dangerous if you got into trouble and can’t contact any of us. Extremely sadly, I’m the only one who uses a mobile phone regularly. Text me ‘fish’ if you ever need help. That’ll be our code word.”

I punched in her number on my phone and held back my laughter. As young as they appeared, Zach and Roman were practically grandpas. Roman never needed technology to live, and Zach was a century old.

“Alright. Goodnight. You know, ever since you gave up sleeping, you stopped getting enormous bedheads in the morning.”

Hailee cut the connection before I could argue. She’d been strangely sensitive these past few days, so I almost forgot, but Hailee was the undesired pinch of dread in my high school years. And she didn’t gain such reputation from me for no reason.

‘OH MY GOD. HENRI’S OFFICE IS AMAZING.’

A grin broke out on my face at Kaydence’s report. Apparently, an entire bookshelf covered the wall behind Henrietta’s desk, and there was a mid-floor length window to the left that allowed the sunshine into the room. In front of the large bureau were glass walls that gave her a perfect view of the lower ranked hunters to keep an eye on them. Henrietta designed this office herself.

‘Impressive,’ I texted back. I had no other words.

‘From the window, you could see the garden at the base of the building! So cool!’

‘Yup. Mother nature is great.’

‘Did you just assume nature’s gender?!’

I burst out laughing. Leave it up to Kaydence to go from one topic to another in point five seconds. I sent her three rolling while laughing emojis.

‘I know, I know. I’m hilarious. Please hold the applause.’

‘More importantly, how was seeing your BAE sword fighting?’

I held back the urge to squeal in my pillow. I hadn’t ever seen that kind of fire and focus in Alecx’s eyes. How did he manage to be still that cute while sweating?

I cleared my throat as if Kaydence could hear my voice, then proceeded to gush about Alecx. Text after text, before I knew it, my text bubbles filled up the screen. After that, I revealed the story Alecx told me about how he went on the vampire hunter path.

‘Aww <3,’ Kaydence replied right away. ‘We all know you hold a special spot in his heart. Why don’t you give it a go? You never know. Maybe he feels the same way.’

‘I don’t know. I tried to confess the day I gave him the ring, but I chickened out last second.’

‘Can’t say I understand your nervousness, but I’ll be rooting for you!’

Kaydence never liked anyone. Not through elementary, junior high, or high school. After chatting with her for a while longer, she got tired and went to sleep. I bid her goodnight.

Now, I have an entire night and upcoming days to waste. Let me search the deepest corners of my book collection.

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