Blood on Roses

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The Darkness Before Dawn

“What’s a vampire’s favorite holiday? Fangs-givings!”
~ Ashton Anderson

SIXTEEN

Wednesday marked the start of the fourth and last week of my transition days. I noted that my food tasted less flavorful than usual, and that scared me. I probably ate the most I ever did that day. I bought all my favorite cakes and sushi, then spent a fortune at fast food restaurants. I was officially broke for the rest of the month.

I jotted down these little details in my diary, phrasing them as food cravings instead of the truth. I poured out a lot of emotions in my diary since I had no one to talk to. I tucked the journal into the far corner of my drawer.

On Thursday, people at school visibly began to treat me differently. At first, they were still discreet about it, but now, it flat out looked like everyone was extra cautious to never piss me off.

On Friday, Arthur gave me a notice that Alecx’s and Kaydence’s graduation day was on Saturday. I didn’t prepare for it, so I found the dress I wore to the school dance two years ago and decided to go with that in matching heels.

Saturday was my day of embarrassment and possible humiliation. Attendees dressed ceremonially, but I was too formal. A simple everyday dress and flats would’ve been peachy. Now I couldn’t shake off the feeling that there were eyes on me.

“You made it!” Kaydence crashed into me, and Alecx gave me a light, friendly hug. I congratulated the two. I felt a bit sour inside, but more of me was proud of them for their achievement.

Upon graduating from training, they’d be Second Classes for the next six months and learn from an Elitist.

More than anything, I began to worry for Kaydence. She had an entire musical future planned for herself. This whole vampire hunter job seemed quite time-consuming, was she okay with that?

“Congratulations, Kaydence. You earned it.” I turned my head to Henrietta’s voice. Her presence always sent a tremor down my spine. Perhaps it was her intimidating aura from her bitter past. Henrietta practically spent the whole ceremony speaking to Kaydence.

I spent practically the whole ceremony enjoying the desserts.

Alecx went around with Arthur to meet his future superiors, so I was left alone. I finished a piece of coconut cake, then glanced around for the napkins. Someone handed some to me.

I saw that it was Jeremy, and I mumbled thanks while accepting his offer. I took a while to clean my mouth as he muttered, “After today, we’ll be official hunters. Do you think we’re cool? Saviors of humanity?”

He turned to me in a joking manner. I responded quietly, “I don’t know all that much about vampires and vampire hunters. I don’t have an opinion.”

“To be honest, me neither,” Jeremy said. “Humans once killed all the wolves in a forest because they were preying on the deer. But then, deer began to multiply rampantly, and there were no predators to control their numbers. Plants in the forest began to die and wither away as the food demand increased and increased. In the end, humans had to release wolves into the wild to achieve equilibrium in nature.”

Did he just compare wolves and deer to vampires and humans? I tried not to make a face as I nodded. “Interesting analogy.”

Jeremy pressed his lips into a thin line and turned his head toward the stage, where several members of the stage crew hustled around to prepare. I didn’t understand why he liked talking to me so much. I wasn’t a responsive person, and we barely knew each other.

“Do you think it’s possible for vampires and humans to coexist?” Jeremy asked suddenly.

“Perhaps,” I responded without hesitation, surprising him and myself. Since when did I think it’s possible to live with those monsters?

He chuckled a little. “You’re a special one, aren’t you?”

I sipped on my drink. I found Jeremy’s mindset unreadable. He was unlike the others I’d met. Vampire hunters have determined vampires as the vermin of the world, and vampires dedicated their lives to hating humans for everything they had done. What was Jeremy thinking?

“Oh, I should get going. The ceremony’s starting.” Jeremy slipped away. As the lights dimmed, I had no choice but to find a seat near the front row.

There’s a vampire with the mentality of a hunter, and a hunter with the mentality of a vampire. How interesting.

As expected, Kaydence pulled me in for tons of photos. After that, Arthur, Alecx, Kaydence, and I took one with all of us together in the frame. We had bright smiles on our faces.


On Monday afternoon, I thought walking home would be good for a change. Luckily, I could still taste, but when I felt my pulse, my heartbeat was very faint.

It’s happening. The final changes are happening.

I didn’t like weeping over things that were set in stone. There were only two choices for me. One, I accept this life and live it to the fullest. Two, I dislike this life and choose to end it.

I certainly wasn’t going to end my life, so I’d modify the life of a vampire. I could do it somehow.

In the midst of my thoughts, I forgot to take a turn and continued walking ahead. When I arrived in an unfamiliar place, I realized that I was lost. I glanced up at the darkened sky and then the rows of noisy restaurants.

If I wasn’t mistaken, the street I needed to go on was through this one. I hopped up the steps and went through the back of the buildings to get the shortcut.

I heard it before I saw it. The sound of a vampire hissing, and a hunter fighting them off with a weapon.

My first instinct was to take a peek, but I knew better and quickened my pace to get out of there. As I moved past an intersection, I got further away from the noise but bumped right into someone.

“Hazel, what are you doing here?” Alecx’s voice showed panic. I surveyed his attire. He had a thick vest on him. Padding was strapped to his upper arms and neck. The padding protected everywhere a vampire would aim for.

“I got lost on my way home. What’s going on here?” I asked innocently.

Once again, Alecx was a terrible liar. There was no way he could keep the truth from me, especially in such an emergency situation. He grabbed my shoulders and turned me around. I faced Jeremy, who wore the same garments. Alecx murmured, “An Elitist is fighting a vampire. We didn’t expect to find one here. It’s not a Pureblood or Elite, though, so this should be over soon.”

“Don’t worry. You won’t be harmed,” Jeremy added to reassure me.

“I’ll, I mean, we’ll keep you safe. Here, let’s go,” Alecx said while darting his eyes around. I caught a whiff of something that had me tune out Alecx’s words.

“Wait,” I said when I saw movement up ahead that I couldn’t have seen without enhanced night vision.

Just then, a vampire lunged at us. Her fangs sharp, and her eyes a bright shade of orange, she came straight at me. A short shriek left my mouth in fright. It was the first time someone attempted to attack me head-on.

Before I knew it, a long sword slashed at the vampire, lacerating her arms. She fell back and took time to heal. With crazily intense eyes that I hadn’t seen before this moment, Alecx turned to me with his bloodied sword.

“Are you alright? Are you hurt? Can you stand?”

I realized that I dropped onto my bottom. I shakily stood up and nodded. Dammit. No matter which side I was on, I’d always be a nuisance that required protection.

I glanced forward, catching sight of Alecx’s sword. The metal gradually absorbed the blood.

“It’s okay to be afraid, Hazel,” Jeremy consoled as he helped me stand still. He yelled, “Alecx, grab hold of Hazel. I’ll take care of this.”

Alecx wrapped his arm around my shoulders and the other squeezed my hand. Jeremy unsheathed his sword and charged toward the vampire, who had had enough time to heal the wounds on her arm.

How vile. I thought as I watched the fight. The vampire in front of me was so demented and disheveled. It was nothing like the elegant killings that I’d seen so far. I violently shook my head.

Killings? Elegant? What are you thinking?!

Alecx held me close to him as he mistook my quivering for fear. I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t realize he was embracing me firmly.

Due to his training, Jeremy was keeping up with the vampire quite well. The monster growled and glared at me.

“Hybrid!” she yelled all of a sudden, but Jeremy cut her off before she could continue. My heart leaped. She’s after me. She wants my blood.

Jeez. And I thought Zach was aggressive.

“This is the most psychotic one I’ve ever seen,” Alecx murmured to himself. “Jer, hurry up and get rid of it!”

“Relax, I got this,” Jeremy affirmed, then he made a big mistake.

He raised his sword well over his head to prepare for a hard strike down. He left his abdomen wide open. The vampire took advantage of that. Jeremy’s speed was no match for a vampire’s. Her sharp claws pierced through his stomach. The tip of her nails was visible from his back; she went through his torso.

“Jeremy!” Alecx and I screamed at the same time. The strong scent of blood hit me right after. I covered my nose and mouth. Afraid that my vampire irises would show, I ducked my head.

Alecx bolted toward the vampire and unsheathed his weapon. I nearly tumbled to the ground, but I went up to and kneeled down beside Jeremy. I didn’t know a single thing about first aid. I fumbled for my phone to call an ambulance.

“Don’t bother,” Jeremy choked out. “That vampire had venom in her nails. I’m dying, fast.”

“That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t call for help!” I argued back and found my phone. I couldn’t locate the home button, and then I realized that I was holding it upside down. I tried hard to focus and to chase out the panic in my mind, but my fingers wouldn’t stop trembling.

“After Graduation Day, didn’t you wonder why I asked you such a strange question?” Jeremy spoke calmly, very much unlike a man who was dying of blood loss.

“Stop talking. Don’t force it!” I finally dialed the emergency number.

Jeremy continued, “Well, I didn’t become a vampire hunter to kill vampires. I didn’t know how else I could help vampires and hunters coexist. I first wanted to know what the humans were doing.”

I demanded an ambulance. I could only give a rough address of street intersections since I didn’t know where we were. I anxiously waited.

“My half sister’s a weak vampire,” Jeremy finally revealed. “No matter how I look at it, she doesn’t deserve death. She feared even the sight of blood. We needed to put it in a juice box to convince her it’s juice.”

“Why are you telling me all of this?” I murmured. Alecx was still too busy fighting off the vampire to hear a word we were saying.

“Are you human?” Jeremy asked instead, looking directly into my soul.

I slowly shook my head.

“Yeah, your eyes are crimson red.” His voice gradually became more hushed.

“No, hang in there. I can hear the ambulance already!” I yelled. From a distance about only a minute away, I could hear the siren. “Come on; you need to live! For your sister, too, right?”

Jeremy chuckled wryly. “She passed away three months ago.”

Those were the last words he said.

I heard a thud in front of me. The vampire tossed Alecx against a wall, and he fell to the ground. She finally turned to me with a murderous expression.

Oh, man. I gulped. This is bad.

Everything happened in a flash. A man I didn’t know ran out from the alleyway that Alecx and Jeremy came from earlier. He held an oddly shaped machete, probably a customized weapon. Arthur told me a while ago that when a hunter reached Second Class rank, which was Alecx’s current rank, they get to request a customized weapon.

The vampire shrieked and burned away into thin air.

A few hours later, I sat in my room and twisted my hair. I hid my vampire eyes just in time, and the Elitist sent me home. Alecx and Jeremy were sent to a specialized clinic. Alecx had some minor cuts and wounds, but Jeremy, I doubt he’d make it.

No matter how hard I tugged at my hair and twisted it, none of the strands came off. All of them stuck to my scalp like superglue. My phone vibrated, catching my attention.

‘Take a day off school on Wednesday. It’s too risky to go on your last day.’

It was from Hailee. I almost forgot.

I sat on my chair in front of my desk. I opened the camera on my phone, then hesitantly switched it to selfie mode. All I could see was the backrest of my chair and the rest of my room. No Hazel Dawson.

“You had your chance to take your selfies.”

I yelped in fright. I glared at my window. Zach returned a Cheshire smile. Nonetheless, I cracked open the window, and he hopped in.

“Your scent is getting intoxicating,” Zach commented. “I could pick up on it from down the street.”

I rubbed my arms uncomfortably. Maybe that was why a vampire targeted me.

This is a weird question. Don’t ask it. Don’t ask it! I asked it, “Do I… smell… good?”

“Delicious,” Zach answered. He sat on my window sill and turned away. “You might find lots of trouble coming your way this week. For the time being, I’ll stay with you.”

Wut.

“Why?”

“I intend to protect you, remember? Or did you black out before you heard that part?”

I stammered. “Oh, I thought you’d refuse.”

Zach’s eyebrow twitched, and he added, “There was a catch.”

“You don’t need to say something like that just because you feel like I’m beginning to think you’re a nice guy,” I blurted out again.

Crap, I said that out loud. A tremor went down my spine when I recalled Zach’s reaction the last time he found out I tried to read his body language.

“Shut up. I’m the one who reads minds here, not you.” He scoffed, surprisingly dismissing it. “Well, technically, I can’t read minds. I can only read memories.”

“What’s the difference?”

Zach explained, “I can see events that occurred from your perspective, but I have no way of knowing what you were thinking. Speaking of that, I heard you fought a delirious girl in your school?”

Since when did I fight someone? I just took her by surprise. I clicked my tongue at how exaggerated stories got when they were passed on from person to person. I began to narrate the incident the same way I did the last three times. He interrupted me at the second sentence.

“I want visuals.” Zach seized my hand before I could react. “Recall the event vividly from the beginning. It might make it easier for me to see.”

I rolled my eyes and did as he asked. Zach had always been assertive and did whatever he wanted. He said he envied the fact that I had no limitations in my future, but I found it quite fascinating that he, and his sister, could live so freely and according to their own will in such a restricting world.

Zach and Ashlynne seemed to hold some form of mutual hatred. I wouldn’t meddle in that for now.

I could almost see the memory graphically, myself. I pushed at the guy’s chest until he was a safe distance away, then I caught the girl by surprise and choked her unconscious. I winced at the recollection. It ended when Zach erupted in laughter.

I stared at him. He doesn’t laugh often, but he sure is cute when he does. I waited until he calmed down to ask what was so funny.

“You’re an innocent kid. If I ran into a situation like that, assuming I’d care in the first place, I’d control the girl to slit his throat, then make her take her own life,” Zach leaned in as he said in his most serious voice.

“That’s terrible!” I exclaimed.

His eyes widened a fraction. “I didn’t expect your reaction. Perhaps Ashton was right when he said I had a chilling sense of humor.”

“You were joking?” I asked in relief.

“Of course. I have no business wasting my energy on something that doesn’t benefit me.”

“Your visualization was scary, though.”

“Maybe it’s because I’ve seen a hunter slit a vampire’s throat just for fun.”

I coughed at how dark this conversation had gotten. “If you don’t waste your energy on things that don’t benefit you, why’d you agree to be my temporary bodyguard?”

“I wasn’t kidding when I told you there was a catch.”

“You’re still not getting anywhere near my veins.”

Zach almost pouted. I would’ve screamed if that happened. He sighed. “Alright, imagine this. Two sets of the world’s best four-course meals are placed in front of you. You can smell the food, but you’re not allowed to eat the food. You’re only allowed to stare at it. How torturing is that?”

“As the food, I beg to differ.”

“You won’t die.”

“No.”

I was surprised that he was asking for consent at all. I’d known him for a month, and I still hadn’t the faintest idea of what his personality entailed. Just then, my stomach growled.

Zach made a deadpanned face at me and said, “See? How would you feel now if you’re not allowed to eat?”

“Shush.” I hushed him and made my way to the kitchen. He followed.

I found a lot of groceries in the fridge, and there was a bag of rice in a cabinet. Let’s see; maybe I could make fried rice. If I screw even that up, I might as well be celebrating that I wouldn’t need food for much longer.

“Want me to make you something?” Zach spoke unexpectedly.

I rose an eyebrow at him. “Can you?”

He gestured for me to step aside. A little while later, dishes that I didn’t even know the names of appeared one after another. Zach knew how to make from appetizers to desserts. He flipped and chopped like a master chef. By the time he turned off the stove, my jaw had hit the floor long ago.

“I lived among humans for years, you know. If you wanted to blend in, you had to learn what human food tasted like.”

I felt a tinge of empathy as I helped him set up the table. By setting up the table, I meant getting a fork, knife, and spoon for me. It wasn’t like he wanted to eat any of it.

“I’m sending my taste buds to retirement. I’ll never find anything as good as this,” I mumbled as I swam in food heaven. At the very least, one of my last meals was marvelous.

Zach brushed the tip of his nose while directing his gaze elsewhere. I filled my mouth with a spoonful of rice and Kung Pao Chicken to avoid laughing aloud. Alas, I couldn’t hide the noticeable grin on my face.

“Are you laughing at me, Hazel?” Zach asked with spikes in his voice. I shook my head, but my shoulders trembled, giving me away.

“You’ll regret that.” In the blink of an eye, he was behind me. My eyes flew wide open. My hair was up in a bun and gave him explicit access. I raised my hands to cover up my neck, but he beat me to it and caught my wrists mid-way.

I grunted when it became evident that I still wasn’t strong enough to pry him off. I could hear his voice directly behind my ear as he whispered, “How impertinent.”

“I thought I told you, don’t drink my blood!”

“I realized, why the hell do I need your consent? It’s not like you ask for a chicken’s consent before you eat them, do you? Besides, it’s only going to hurt for a few seconds.”

“What is with you people and weird analogies?” I muttered, remembering Jeremy’s comparison of wolf and deer.

“Want to hear one more?”

“Not really.”

“This one’s a quote. ‘Lions do not concern themselves with the opinions of sheep.’”

“Let go.” I squirmed around and turned my head; that was a big mistake. I always forgot that Zach’s mind control only required direct eye contact for a split second.

“Don’t move now.” When he spoke, he revealed his fangs, sharp as needles. I involuntarily turned my head sideways, exposing the side of my neck completely.

Someone unlocked the front door from the outside.

Right that instant, Zach reacted fast and zoomed to the counter. We both watched as Arthur came in with a plastic bag. He gaped at Zach.

“Oh, I didn’t know you had a friend over.”

Ugh, do I have to call Zach my friend a second time?

I introduced, “Zach, this is Arthur, my uncle. Arthur, this is Zachary, my friend. He made me dinner.”

They exchanged nods in acknowledgment. Arthur once said that he fought Dracul before, but he didn’t see his face. We should be safe.

“Wow, you made all of this?” Arthur was impressed. Usually, he would take off his coat and shoes, but he didn’t this time, which meant he mustn’t plan on staying for long.

“Yeah,” Zach responded. His posture was tenser than usual, and his arms crossed tightly. He must’ve thought that something was fishy, that is, other than the fish stew.

“Well, uh, Hazel, I’ll contact you later,” Arthur said, not disclosing what he came all this way to tell, then left. I let out a small breath of relief.

“Hazel?” Zach called out.

“Yes?” I turned around. As soon as I did, he forced my chair sideways and trapped me in it.

His eyes were interrogating, and he demanded, “How do you explain the fact that your uncle is a Chief vampire hunter?”

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