Blood on Roses

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The Real Truth

“If your love wasn’t enough for them, how could words matter?”
~ Ashlynne Nolan

FOURTEEN

“I love your new look, by the way,” Hailee choked out. I snorted. I patted her shoulder one more time before she calmed down and stood back up straight.

“I’m sorry. I’m being an emotional bitch.” Hailee cleared her throat and flipped her hair. “That guy isn’t worth crying this much for. I’m over it. I swear.”

“That’s the spirit.”

Hailee waved a finger up and down at my hair. “Did this just happen?”

“Yesterday afternoon. The roots darkened and then dyed everything else.”

From the way her eyes sparkled with interest, I knew suggestions that I didn’t ask for were going to hit me. I quickly said that she should go back to her room and rest. She announced that she would look up pictures of hot movie stars to convince herself that there were more fish in the sea. I speechlessly watched her hop up the stairs.

“You were right.” Zach’s voice suddenly rang behind me. I whipped around to find him and Roman standing there. Incredibly annoyed, Zach refused to look at me. Roman wordlessly reached out his hand to me.

“Why do I have to go?”

“You’re the only one that the damned machine can’t detect, dumbass. They’re all over the place, and since Roman doesn’t have a layout of the area, it’s too risky for him to teleport randomly.”

I clicked my tongue and reluctantly took Roman’s hand. We flipped to what appeared to be a high-security prison. Barbwires, probably made of prickly silver, covered the walls. We were in the middle of nowhere. The darkness veiled the tall structure with an eerie atmosphere.

“Hazel, don’t go near those lights. The security cameras can still catch you. Don’t touch the walls. You’ll bleed to death,” Zach instructed immediately. I guessed that he had been prison-breaking before.

Just then, we all heard it at the same time; a patrolling hunter strolled by the top edge of the dungeon with a rifle in hand. Before I knew it, Zach picked up a pebble and aimed it accurately at the guard’s arm.

I didn’t dare make a sound as much as I wanted to yell at him for alarming the enemy. Reality proved that I underestimated Zach’s confidence in his power. As soon as the guard hurried to aim the rifle, Zach caught his eye, and he was under his mind control.

Perfect. Now, all we have to do is get him to walk down here so Zach can read his memories. I planned in my head, expecting the two vampires beside me to think the same. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

With several steps, the controlled guard walked over the wires and dropped to his demise. His clouded mind didn’t allow a hint of hesitancy. As blood pooled out from his body, the red ring around his eyes faded away.

Roman teleported to the body while Zach ran up at vampire speed and kneeled down next to the bleeding body. I reacted a beat slower than the two. I cringed in guilt at the corpse. That was the second time I saw Zach directly cause someone’s death without pause.

After brushing his fingertips against the corpse, Zach stood back up with a slightly surprised expression and reported, “The truck transporting France is due to arrive at eight.”

I glanced at my wristwatch. “That’s ten minutes from now.”

“Just in time. Good job tipping us off, Hazel.”

I turned, shocked, at the sentence that just popped out of Roman’s mouth. One look at his giddy expression told me that this was now Ashton.

“Not the best time, Ash,” Zach warned. Ashton turned to the corpse and telekinetically moved it back up to the prison walls.

“Oh, come on. You guys need me. I can drag France right out of their grasp!” Ashton argued, which I silently agreed with. Telekinesis did seem more useful in our current situation.

“Fine, just make sure you can wake Roman when we need to teleport back,” Zach said what I thought out loud.

“No problem!”

This time, they heard it a couple of seconds before I did: a revving engine. We retreated to the area where the high-beam lights around the prison couldn’t reach, and let the night be our cover.

I stepped back. “Now that I’m useless, I’ll sit back here and stay out of your way.”

“No,” Ashton insisted. “Stay close. We’re getting out of here as soon as I get my hand on France.”

Ashton grasped my hand and told Zach to grab his shoulder when the time came. Ashton’s palm was icy cold, as expected, but there was something warm about his actions. When the truck got close enough to be in sight, we all crouched down.

Several people cautiously unloaded the truck. Two of them rolled a silvery white cage out of the trunk. There was someone inside, curled up and cramped, being very mindful not to touch the sharp bars of the cage.

As the group of people pushed the cage out of the truck, the main prison doors slowly opened. At that moment, Ashton flicked his wrist, and all of the people flew, tumbling into the trunk of the vehicle. He then closed his fist, and the truck doors slammed shut, trapping them inside.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” Ashton uttered as he zoomed up to the cage, taking me with him. He yelled at the man inside the cage, who had raised his head to the commotion, to grab hold of his arm. The man listened. Ashton’s arm squeezed through the thin openings of the bars. The sharp spikes lacerated his skin, and I could smell his flesh burning on the silver.

“Roman, teleport back to the base!” Zach shouted right after. Just as a group of reinforcements sprinted out of the building, we arrived back in the quiet mansion. Past the pain and confusion, Roman’s first instinct was to follow an order even if he had no idea what was happening.

The man we rescued came with us and left the small cage behind. Roman winced at the gash on his arm and mumbled, “I had a memory gap again.”

I glimpsed in his direction. No wonder everybody had been able to keep Roman’s split identity a secret from him for so long; he believed that he had partial memory loss.

Zach kept his gaze on the person we rescued. The first thing that the man did was spread out on the floor and stretch his limbs while vocalizing as if he was practicing yoga.

“Finally, I’m out of there.” He sat up and ruffled his dark hair. His sparkling hazel eyes smiled at us as he said, “I’m France. You probably already know that.”

He was a prisoner just like, two minutes ago, right?

“Heck yes, we do. We spent a lot of years looking for you,” Zach grumbled bluntly.

France didn’t seem to take Zach’s attitude too kindly. France narrowed his eyes and mumbled quietly, “Mind manipulation? What a useful ability. I wonder how many people have succumbed to your will.”

Before Zach could say anything, someone briskly descended the stairs, making all of us lift our heads in that direction. Harvick came down while still wearing that ridiculous cloak.

“What do you think you’re doing, France? Get off the floor.” As soon as his voice boomed across the room, France shot up and stood more properly than a trained soldier.

But a second later, a broad smile beamed on his face as he called out, “Father?”

“What the fuck?” Zach said my thought aloud once again.

Our eyes darted from Harvick to France, then back again. France must’ve recognized his voice. Zach, Roman, and I carefully scrutinized Harvick’s reaction. It was difficult since we couldn’t see his face.

“Don’t just blow my cover like that.” Harvick sighed. “Nevertheless, I’m glad you’re finally out of that hellhole. Are you alright?”

France folded up his sleeves. My hands darted up to my mouth when I saw the gashes all over his arms. Burn marks littered everywhere as if deliberately done. They were healing slowly, and the pain seemed excruciating.

“Overexposure to sunlight and burns were practically a daily occurrence,” France stated as if giving a weekly work report. “I got used to it in the first few years. The starving and dismembering were worse. Don’t worry, though. I never spilled a single word.”

Zach and Roman focused on France as he spoke. I, on the other hand, snuck glances at Harvick. I could only see his figure covered by the black cloak, but he seemed to be grimacing in agony with each word France spoke like he was the one who underwent torture.

I thought about it and confirmed that Arthur would have the same reaction if I were ever in torment. I couldn’t recall much about my parents, so whenever I needed to comprehend a parent’s thinking, I’d picture Arthur.

“Hazel, France, please come to my office with me,” Harvick started, then nodded his head upwards. “You, too, Zachary.”

Zach didn’t bother to hide his unwillingness. I bet that he was about to ask why he had to tag along in these messy affairs, but shut up when Harvick turned around and began going upstairs, indicating that there was no room for discussion. Roman shrugged, then disappeared again.

Harvick and France murmured amongst themselves as Zach and I followed behind them up the stairs and down the hall. For some reason, they didn’t pick up the pace at vampire speed, so it gave me plenty of awkward silent time with Zach.

I tried to ignore it when he glanced at me several times. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and turned to meet his eyes. “What is it?”

“You look pretty different,” he remarked. “Your hair is black and wavy. Your eyes are gleaming, and there’s a spring of confidence in you now.”

“How creepily descriptive.” I rubbed my arms to soothe the goosebumps. Not even Kaydence commented on that many changes. I didn’t like how ghastly pale I always appeared now. I loved my rosy and slightly tanned skin the way it was before.

“You’re actually very beautiful,” Zach added with a hum.

I whipped my head around at him with saucer eyes. I caught the same shock on his face before he hid it. He frowned and focused his gaze ahead as if also flabbergasted by what he just said.

I lowered my gaze. “You’re right. A pretty face is just what a vampire needs to lure an unknowing victim, exactly like how the prettiest mushrooms are always the deadliest ones.”

Zach didn’t reply for a couple of seconds. All I could hear was the murmuring from the two in front of us. I could already see the umber double doors of Harvick’s office.

“That’s not what I meant,” he murmured, his voice barely audible.

“What?” I asked.

Zach changed his sentence. “Killing isn’t all vampires do. Just because you know me, doesn’t mean you know all vampires.” He spoke a little louder, only enough for me to hear. I glanced at him and instantly regretted it.

His eyes carried a dangerous and impatient glow to them. He had never given me that look before. I wanted to apologize for my insensitive statement, but I couldn’t bring myself to speak while he glared like that.

Instead, I quickened my pace and headed into Harvick’s office along with France. I seated on the couch opposite of him while Harvick stood beside him. Zach situated himself in front of the door, leaning against it.

“First things first, none of you kids will take me seriously with this preposterous cloak on,” Harvick said.

At least he realized it.

He threw his hood back and tugged off the simple mask he wore underneath. He was a relatively young man, but with visible wisdom in his eyes and weariness in his features over the years.

I expected to see a wrinkled face that went with the moderately deep and raspy voice he had. I didn’t hide my surprise, and he smiled at me, then reminded, “I may not seem a day over thirty, but I’m over five centuries old.”

My jaw dropped. It never ceased to amaze me how young a great great great grandpa could look. Zach and France snickered at my reaction. I brushed my hair in embarrassment.

“Anyway, that’s not why we’re here today.” Harvick switched from friendly to serious in less than a second. He then gestured to France. “As you both know now, France is my son. He was captured in the raiding of our family mansion nearly a century ago. Only three vampires survived that attack. France, me, and my younger sister.”

When Harvick paused, Zach couldn’t help himself and interrupted, “Harv, can you please remind me why I’m here? Not that your past isn’t interesting, but I have better things to do.”

Not appearing upset at all, Harvick said sincerely, “Zachary, you’re the most powerful vampire here in The Ones. Offense, defense, intellect, you got it all. Although you can have a nasty attitude, you’re rational and loyal. I trust you. You’re here right now because I have a huge favor to ask you later.”

Harvick’s tone was humble and modest, but I knew right away that he wasn’t courteous since he didn’t ask for Zach’s opinion. What a scary person. The supposedly quiet person was always the last one you’d want to piss off.

As expected, Zach didn’t fight back and only nodded. Harvick slowly sat down on the armrest of the leather couch, then made eye contact with me again.

“My sister and I escaped the raid with major injuries. Before the hunters infiltrated the mansion, they tossed a gas bomb that significantly limited a vampire’s senses, so neither of us was able to use our power. We got separated in the mess. I didn’t recover for another day. I couldn’t do anything.

“I hid in small towns for many years, and I met a few vampires just like me along the way. It made me realize how much the vampires in this world needed a place to belong.

“Somewhere along the lines, I decided to form The Ones to look for France and my sister, Mihaela. One time, we moved to settle down in another town temporarily. Coincidentally, that town had just experienced a vampire assault. It was apparently a powerful serial-killing vampire.”

“That was me,” Zach muttered, but I could barely hear him over my heart pounding rapidly in fright of Harvick’s next words.

“Right, that was when I found Zachary. He, like Mihaela and I, lost everything and lived through hell. There was something that he wanted, so I recruited him. A few months later, Josephine and I found Hailee. That’s how The Ones gradually grew bigger.”

France patted his father’s arm in encouragement. It was his first time hearing this story, too.

My stomach twisted up. I still wasn’t sure how Harvick’s life story could ever relate to me, but I listened intently. I thought I wouldn’t be able to hear Harvick talk about himself for a long time, but here I was, learning it only after three weeks.

“I finally found Mihaela a bit more than two decades ago. I didn’t tell anyone, not even Zachary or Josephine. Mihaela survived among humans and time has taught her to forgive and recover. She claimed that she saw the good side of humanity. She spent her time going around areas of vampire assaults to find victims she was able to restore. She could revive anyone within twenty-four hours of their death.

“I tried to convince her not to go to a mass feeding spot since those were filled with high-ranked vampire hunters, but she wouldn’t listen and snuck out there. I’m not too sure what happened while she was there, but she kept going back after that day. A week after it began happening, I followed her, and I saw her conversing with a man in a white coat.” Harvick’s gaze hardened suddenly, and he gritted. “He was a vampire hunter.”

“What?” Zach and France said in unison. I couldn’t speak at all. I didn’t dare register the thought in my mind. I denied it with all my might.

“Well, Auntie Mihaela had always been compassionate,” France mumbled to himself.

“No, they met up almost every day after that in secret. It was plain as day that they were falling in love.”

Oh, no.

“I couldn’t intercept. I knew that hunter. He was worldly renowned for being the strongest vampire hunter this world had ever seen. Even with the ability to rapidly age or wear down anything I touched, I couldn’t risk agitating him and have my sister killed. I thought that it wouldn’t be too bad if that were all. I stopped following Mihaela after a few days.”

I felt Zach’s stare burn into the side of my head, but I didn’t dare meet his gaze. I didn’t dare even to think. I finally realized why Harvick was telling me all of this. My fingertips ran cold, and I balled my hands into fists.

“Half a year later, she told me she was leaving. She went to the city with him. They were together.” Harvick stared straight into my soul as he spoke. “This was supposed to be scientifically and biologically impossible, but three years later, Mihaela had his child.”

I was nauseous. I didn’t want to hear this. Let me escape for a little while longer. I didn’t need to know. I was living perfectly fine while believing that I was a regular human being!

France was just as shocked as I was. He glanced at me, probably starting to figure out my role in this story.

“The child was a girl. They were ecstatic about starting a family. Everything seemed to sail so smoothly, and their future appeared so bright; however, that only lasted for six short years.” Harvick’s voice grew bitter. “Six years later, they died. A vampire hunter murdered them both.”

“How could you be so sure of that?” I asked, my voice coming out shaking.

“Mihaela didn’t have an offensive ability, but she had absolutely no trouble defending herself against some ten vampires. That vampire hunter was also the best of the best; he held the world record of annihilating an army of vampires by himself within minutes. There is no other explanation but another armed hunter that he had trouble fighting against.”

I doubted myself again. Arthur said that he was sure my parents died of a vampire attack, yet Harvick had such clear reasoning as to why it should have been a vampire hunter.

“After Mihaela passed, I began to lose my mind and crazily recruited and allowed turnings of vampires. In that time, I was careless, and treachery occurred. The traitor slowed down my plans by a long shot, but after we moved locations and reinforced our rules, we recovered.

“I tracked down Mihaela’s child when she was ten years old. I was planning on taking her away, but when I saw how happy she was living with humans, I knew she was healing from the traumatic memory of her parents’ death. I couldn’t bring myself to tear her away from her life, so I made sure no harm went her way for the next eight years while I searched for my son.”

My breath finally hitched in my throat, and my eyes began to sting. I applauded myself for staying sane for so long. I lowered my head and knotted my fingers through my hair. My elbows jabbed into my thigh and propped my arms up. I shook my head. “Stop. I don’t want to hear any more.”

Harvick stopped for nearly half a minute, probably also thinking that I was at my limit.

“I’m sorry, Hazel. Please, lift your head. Look at me.”

I wanted to pull my hair out, but I sustained and raised my head. France stared at me in complete awe. Harvick tried his best to be considerate, but he had to continue. “I did extensive research on hybrids. There was such minimal documentation, but I ended up finding some useful information. I began to plan for the day Mihaela’s daughter turned eighteen. The least I could do was to ensure that my niece would survive in this world.”

Harvick observed my reaction very carefully as he concluded, “Hazel, you are the daughter of Mihaela, my sister, and a world-renowned ruthless vampire hunter.”

I unconsciously blinked, and tears dropped from my eyes. I didn’t even know why I was crying. All of a sudden, I had two blood-relatives. I thought no one else in this world had blood-relations with me, but here they were.

I still barely knew a thing about my father, but hearing the life of my mother broke my heart. She possessed the power of an angel, yet she met such a sorrowful end.

Perhaps the destiny of tragedy ran in our blood.

Parts of me wanted to deny Harvick’s story, but a stronger majority of me roared in deja vu, even though I had no recollection of anything.

My arms shook. I stayed stationary in the same position. I had only just decided to fight for my future, yet right now, all I wanted was someone to pat my head and tell me it’d be okay. Even if it wouldn’t be okay, a lie or not, I desperately needed something. Anything.

“Hazel...,” France whispered under his breath. I couldn’t read the emotion behind his voice.

I need water. I feel faint.

“And this is why I had you come, Zachary,” Harvick hesitantly began.

Suddenly, shimmering blackness began to close in in my vision. My head pounded like there was a second heart in my brain.

“As I said, I trust that you’re more capable than anyone else, and I know that this will be an enormous inconvenience for you, but can I ask you to protect Hazel?” This time, Harvick put himself down and genuinely asked.

I couldn’t hear Zach’s answer, or if he answered at all.

I fell out of consciousness.

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