“People who are beneath you will try to bring you down with them. Stay above those pathetic pests. If you feel angry, pet a puppy. That always works for me.”
~ Ashlynne Nolan
There wasn’t a way out of this one. My only choice was to tell Ashlynne the truth. Of course, not the real truth. I said that I was friends with Zach, and I put two and two together when they spoke of each other.
“He talks about me?” Ashlynne repeated quizzically.
It was relieving that she was too shocked about that to focus on the fact that Zach would never willingly be friends with someone.
“He says I’m foolish and incomprehensible, doesn’t he?”
I recalled the time when Zach said he couldn’t understand me, then compared me to his “dumb sister.” I nodded. “He does, but he also says the same for me.”
“Oh, we’re at my house.” In the midst of our conversation, I didn’t notice that muscle memory brought me back.
“I guess I’ll be off now. I’ll consider what you said. See you around, Hazel.”
Ashlynne turned around as I opened the door. I was going to ask her to stay, but I couldn’t offer her a drink like I usually did with my human friends. In that second of hesitation, she headed off, walking quite briskly in her heeled ankle boots.
I kicked off my sneakers by the door, and it slammed shut on its own accord. Startled, I did a one-eighty.
My eyes met a pair of raging pale blues. His arm extended to the door, meaning that he had been hiding behind it and shut it behind me.
A brief tingle of concern ran down my spine. He heard Ashlynne’s voice from outside. What was he doing here? How’d he even get in?
“How do you know that moron?” Zach interrogated. “Why did you tell her to talk to me? I don’t want her anywhere near me. She’ll only drag me down.”
I scowled, matching his expression. “Just two days ago, I agreed to stop reading you on the condition that you’d be honest with yourself, yet here you are, spewing nonsense that you don’t mean.”
He glared at me coldly. “Quit acting as if you know me, Hazel, and stop meddling in my personal shit.”
I flinched, but I stood my ground. “You two clearly care about each other a lot, so why do things have to be like this? It’s not like anyone would be in danger if you just return to a normal sibling relationship.”
Zach’s glare visibly hardened. Then, at vampire speed, he seized me by the arm and pinned me to the door. I matched his glower and commanded, “Let go. This is a terrible habit of yours.”
Ignoring my words, he glared down at me and trapped me in between his arms while retaining a firm grip on my wrist. I once again received a close-up of his mesmerizing features.
Just then, his pale blue irises swirled into a dark and malevolent black and red. The red rings around his pupils glowed brighter in rage than ever before. As lethal as they were, they held a beautiful glint to them.
I oscillated between my love and hate for him.
“You’re opinionated, irritating, and surely the nosiest person I’ve ever met.” His fangs as sharp as a viper’s, he hissed, “Did you forget what I can do to you? Don’t mistake me for a weakling like Ashlynne. When I say I can break you, I mean every word.”
I listened to my fictitious heart that’d be pounding if it still existed. His threats, although menacing, no longer affected me.
We were back to square one. No, further than that. Even when we first met, he didn’t act as hostile as he was now.
When I didn’t react, Zach clicked his tongue and forced my head to one side, exposing my neck. He leaned down as he muttered, “It seems that you truly need a reminder.”
All of the alarms in my head went off. He’s going to suck the life out of you. He doesn’t care. He wants you to suffer. He’s going to hurt you. He’s going to bite you.
The tips of Zach’s fangs grazed the side of my neck. I raised my free hand midway in the air, then let it back down.
He won’t, my heart firmly told me, and I softly closed my eyes.
His sharp teeth lightly pressed against my flesh, not even enough to pierce through it. He then retracted and loosened his grip on my chin.
Bewildered and frustrated, Zach snarled. “Why aren’t you resisting?”
Knowing it was a rhetorical question, I gulped wordlessly. As the red rings in his eyes dimmed, I involuntarily recalled our time together these past few days. From when he always stayed with me to the moments we shared in the London Eye.
I recalled so vividly; I was sure that he saw.
Zach zipped away from me as if avoiding fire.
“You’re still thinking about that, huh?” His lips pressed into a thin line, and he raised his chin. “Listen up, woman. You read too much into things. The only reason why I agreed to be your babysitter is that Harv guaranteed me certain things.”
My determination wavered. Was I overanalyzing every little thing he did and said?
“I had some confused thoughts, but I combed them out these last couple of days, and I came here today to tell you exactly what I’m thinking. After all, that’s what you want, right?” Maintaining a safe distance, Zach crossed his arms. “Of course I’d be panicked when you disappeared, who knows what Harv would’ve done to me if his niece went missing under my watch. It would’ve been troublesome if you lost your mind and went on a vampire rampage, so I took you out. Every girl I’ve ever brought out thought they were special.”
His words lacerated my heart over and over again. I truly understood what it meant to have your heart torn into a thousand pieces.
“You’re lying,” I murmured.
Zach scoffed mercilessly. “You’re lying to yourself. Wake up. Stay away from me. After the mission on Monday night, we’ll never see each other again. You’re a nuisance. I want to live my life unencumbered. You need to be out of the picture.”
I slid down the door. All of this was too much. I tried to stay strong and prevent the tears from overflowing. I blinked rapidly, but it didn’t help much.
“And the kiss,” he began after a brief pause, whispering. “The kiss was just an accident.”
Before I knew it, Zach left through the living room window. I hugged my legs close and placed my head on my knees.
My shoulders shook; I hadn’t cried that hard in a long time.
Monday morning, I sluggishly got dressed and headed to school. Just the thought of the mission tonight discouraged me in life. I wore a plain white top and sweatpants to accommodate the warming weather.
I drove past a party store with leftover April Fool’s items displayed in the window. I spared a glance at the toilet toy that apparently squirted water at whoever opened the lid.
When I turned back to the road, I speedily braked at a yellow light crossing. An extensive line of primary schoolers crossed the street, and they didn’t bother to check the road before crossing. With their innocent Barbie and Spiderman backpacks, they paid no mind to the fact that I nearly didn’t stop on time.
My luck was horrible that day. I was stuck following a school bus for another part of the way, then ran into literally every single red light. I had to sprint after I parked my car in the school parking lot so I wouldn’t be late.
I dashed to the third floor to English. There was no time to stop at my locker. To make matters worse, once I rushed to my seat, I realized that the class was quiet, and Ms. Ashworth was handing out sheets of stapled papers.
There’s a test today?!
Contrary to my bad mood, Sophi was beaming. She showed me a million selfies she took with the celebrity that was apparently present at a party she went to yesterday night.
During lunch, someone ran up the stairs with their lunch container open. Needless to say, I was the victim.
I sighed loudly in the empty washroom while trying to clean my white top. I reached out to pump some soap from above the sink, but the dispenser was empty.
Could this day get any worse?
I ultimately wore my shirt inside out so the stain wouldn’t be as noticeable.
By the time school ended, I had driven home as if escaping from hell. I showered and changed into a black shirt and a pair of leggings. For tonight’s mission, I needed to blend in with the night and be in my best condition.
I briefly wondered why I was making such an effort for The Ones. Was it because of Zach? Now that he wants nothing to do with me was it for Harvick or even France, my last living relatives?
But if they were missing figures in my whole life, was it worth it?
I tied my wet hair up into a messy bun, then finished my math homework. I couldn’t get any more work done. I was filled to the brim with anxiety regarding tonight’s mission. Probably because it was the most important one so far, but I felt nauseous at just the thought of it.
At 6 o’clock, I finally couldn’t sit still anymore. I drove to the library, parked my car there and headed into that familiar patch of woods.
As the elevator doors opened to the designated floor, I saw vampires rushing about at super speed. Was this how busy it got around here whenever there was a big mission?
When I tried to join the traffic and head to Harvick’s office, I noticed too late that a passing figure was coming directly my way.
“Jeez, Hazel!” Ashton whined. He crashed right into me, and he rubbed his head from the impact. “Where are you heading?”
“Sorry about that. Um, I figured I’d go to Harvick’s office early.”
He appeared puzzled for a moment, then spoke in realization, “I see. You’re new, after all. Someone should’ve told you this. When there’s a large-scale mission like this, we assemble in the lobby. Harv will be there, too. Come with me. I was just heading there.”
Ashton pushed me back into the elevator and pressed the ground floor button.
“The front door is a portal that’ll connect to our destination,” Ashton explained thoroughly. “One of our members can generate a portal once a day. It’s a very efficient method for a big group.”
As I nodded in understanding, we exited the elevator to see the mass already gathered in the lobby noisily. Ashton greeted many cheerfully as we headed toward Harvick. I tried to make myself as small as possible.
“I didn’t drink in three days for this.” I glanced at the female vampire who licked her lips expectantly. She was probably part of Team One and anticipated a good meal out of this mission.
On the other side, a male vampire chattered with his friends. Everyone seemed to be in a chipper mood.
Even though I ducked my head, lots of glances came my way. I was addressed as “the hybrid.” I could’ve sworn that some of them watched me in hunger. My mixed blood of a Pureblood and a prominent vampire hunter attracted a significant amount of attention.
As if evading a virus, I hurried past the herd of vampires and caught Harvick’s eyes. He had the usual black cloak on.
“We move out in about three more hours,” Harvick said, striking up a conversation as I wanted. As long as I pretended to be asking the leader for the details of the mission, I’d have an excuse not to go near the mass.
“Will you be there?” I asked, having nothing else to say.
“No, I have to check up on something else.” He kept his answer unembellished. “Best of luck, Hazel. You’ll be fine.”
I accepted his kindness although I maintained our emotional distance.
To waste time, I went over the plan entirely once more with Harvick, and he patiently dealt with me.
“As soon as you free the members, leave through the spiral moonroof in the atrium. The rest of Team One should be there and have it open upon Hailee’s telepathy signal. The portal will be directly above that branch base. Use your time wisely as the portal closes two hours after activation.” As Harvick finished his last sentence, Hailee hooked her arm around my shoulders and brought me away.
“It was becoming blatantly obvious that you’re antisocial as hell,” Hailee teased and tugged me toward a ring of vampires. “It’s never a bad idea to get to know everyone.”
I froze from head to toe at the four piercing gazes of the vampires all dressed in pitch black. Kaydence also liked to introduce me to her friends without telling me ahead of time. It was a habit of hers that I greatly despised. I was too awkward to make small talk with strangers.
I recognized the girl with purple cornrows. She stopped leaning on the wall and held out a hand to me. “The name’s Celia. I’m an Elite.”
I shook her hand, and the other three proceeded to introduce themselves.
“See? That wasn’t so hard, now was it?”
“You’re right. I was only 2 seconds away from dying of awkwardness. No big deal.”
Hailee ignored me and laughed at something her friend said. I played along and giggled when I had no idea what they were talking about.
I made a mental note that I didn’t see Zach anywhere.
The torturing three hours finally passed, and it was time to commence.
I followed Hailee’s example and sprung right into the swirling black and white portal. I instantly felt weightlessness on the other side as the entrance was opened on the roof of the hunters’ base.
Team One immediately got down to the floor and acted like they were trying to barge in through the main entrance. Soon, some tens of hunters rushed out of the building to help, but of course, that didn’t mean the defense inside was entirely loose.
Team Two forcibly cranked the moonroof partially open. We still needed to rely on Team One to fully operate the roof and open it later. It would be Hailee’s job to signal them. She’d keep a connection with all of the members.
As instructed by Harvick, our team speedily separated into small groups of two or three on each floor and every direction. I was impressed by how immensely organized this operation was. No verbal communication whatsoever was needed.
Most jumped to lower floors to search. I went with my gut feeling and headed down the central hall to another row of cells. I glanced to my right and found Hailee there. She also looked nothing like her usual self. Her electric blue eyes darted around in high alert.
We passed by several branching tunnels that led elsewhere. I focused ahead and only then did I realize that in front of me was none other than Zach.
I convinced myself that this was a mission and that I must remain professional.
Once we got to a roundabout, Zach searched the left side, and I naturally went to the right. He zoomed past me and further down the hall. I busied myself with catching up.
Soon, we descended a few stairs and arrived at a large rounded room.
“Up there,” I said aloud. Zach followed my gaze and saw the row of specialized prison cells on the top floor of the massive room. Zach opened his mouth, but caught himself quickly and shut it again.
We prepared to sprint up the wall when the ground shook, and a strident machinery sound resonated throughout the entire structure. I stared, startled, at the massive gunpoint-like holes that unveiled on the ceiling of the room we were in.
I turned to make sure that Hailee was okay, but she was nowhere in sight; not even down the hall we came from. It wasn’t like her to run off so suddenly and quietly.
“Watch out!” Zach shouted to get my attention.
By the time I fixed my gaze back to the machine, a rain shower of sharp arrows were inches away from me. The cutting and shining tips confirmed that they were anti-vampire. If a few of these stabbed through my chest, the immortal life of a vampire would draw to an end.
It was far too late for me to dodge such dense firing of arrows.
The next thing I knew, Zach was all I saw in my vision, and I laid on the cold ground. It was when the scent of blood filled my nostrils that my eyes widened.
“Zach!” I yelled. He had pushed me down and shielded me from the shower of deadly arrows. From where I was, I could see three tips poking out from his stomach at odd angles and one stuck in his leg.
I was speechless. Many thoughts ran through my mind, all of them burning in worry.
Contrary to my reaction, Zach shot me a courageous smirk, despite the blood dripping from the corner of his mouth. This time, it was his own blood.
He whispered, “Live; that’s an order.”
“We’re both going to live! Can you move?” I tried to sit up, but he softly knocked his forehead against mine, forcing me to lay back down.
Zach shook his head. “The last arrow was pretty damn close to my chest. I can already feel the burning.” He scoffed. “I’m pathetic. I just told you off, and now here I am, unable to ignore you when you’re in danger.”
“Stop talking like that.” I matched his tone. I wanted to push him up, but I didn’t want to touch him and cause him more pain. “You’re not going to die, got it? We still have time.”
He firmly kept me in place and explained, “The prison I was kept in a while back was raided before. These machines have a system. The first round is a test. Once it senses movement, the second wave, a far deadlier one, will release, and it won’t stop until everything’s dead. All exits would shut down. Listen to me very carefully.”
I held my breath momentarily as Zach instructed in all seriousness, “The arrows have sensors. If I move, the second wave will activate. I’m going to need you to wiggle out of here slowly and avoid all of the arrows on the ground.”
I reflexively observed my surroundings. All of the arrows stuck into the ground. It wouldn’t be that hard to slither around them.
“Forget that! I’m not leaving you behind.”
“I’ll figure a way out, dumbass,” Zach said with his usual confident aura. “I didn’t live a damn century for nothing. Go back to the atrium. The others will be there. Get the fuck out of here. You still have to find the person who screwed up your childhood.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but his black and red irises locked with mine, ultimately forbidding me to speak. Under his command, I turned flat on my stomach and, using my forearms, I began to inch slowly to the entrance that we came in from.
I wanted so badly to turn around, to look at him, but my body wouldn’t listen.
Once I arrived at the shielded area, I regained control of my limbs. I scrambled to my feet and turned to Zach.
“Hey,” he voiced before I could say anything. “I’m sorry I have to break that promise of ours, but can I not stick a needle in my eye? I kind of already have five arrows in my torso.”
Tears finally blurred my eyes. His joking tone only made it worse. I can make it if I run. I prepared to dash back for him, but he saw my actions coming and locked eyes with me once again.
“I lied,” Zach shouted once more. “These arrows fire after a time limit even if they’re not moved. But if any arrows moved, all of them would explode immediately.”
He winced after saying that. While I was unable to move a single inch, he mumbled, “Three... two... one....”
Right then, I watched enflamed arrows engulf the room, bringing everything down, and Zach with them. The impact of the exploding arrows sent me flying backward. I could control my limbs again; I held up both of my arms in front of my face in reflex. A thousand-pound stone door fell and prevented any entering or exiting the room.
What just happened? I asked over and over again in my head even as I sprinted down the hallway at vampire speed.
No, he’s not dead! I ran as fast as I could. I’ll find Vivian. She’d be able to locate Zach. He’d make it out of there; he told me so. He was Zachary Nolan. He wouldn’t die like this.
I struggled to wipe my overflowing tears with my sleeve. I made it back to the designated area with the spiral moonroof, but it wasn’t open. Hailee was supposed to be the one to contact everyone, but she was missing.
“There they are!” I was forced into the middle of numerous highly skilled vampire hunters.
Just then, a shadow flashed from the opposite hall that I came from and lunged at one of the hunters, making him fall over. It was the very same girl that I saw in the gym often practicing instant attacks.
“Help me!” she yelled at me. I was snapped back to my senses, and I gave her a firm nod.
As we fought side by side, barely managing to keep ourselves alive, the moonroof suddenly smoothly spun open, but Team One was nowhere to be seen. They weren’t the ones who opened it.
The girl reacted fast and leaped with all of her power. With nothing to step on, she flew 20 meters up through the air and managed to grab the edge of the opening, then pulled herself up.
I instantly followed her example. I was confident that I could make the distance.
I froze at the familiar voice. The wide-open roof had let in pouring moonlight. My identity was clear as day, but who’d recognize me all the way out here?
In mid-air, I lost focus when I saw who called out to me.
Just then, I felt several punches in my abdomen, chest, legs, and shoulder. It was after I glanced down and saw the pouring blood that white-hot burning pain spread through my body.
So that’s why the spiral moonroof was opened. Hunters surrounded the outside ring and prepared arrows.
That was far more reinforcement than we ever estimated. The hunters saw this raid coming. The Ones fell right into their trap. I doubted the girl who leaped out before me made it back alive. The portal above had to be closed so that hunters wouldn’t find our headquarters.
I crashed, hard, back onto the floor, with some ten arrows through me.
I weakly looked up at the roof. Another wave of arrows was just fired.
A blizzard of razor arrows showered down at me. They zoomed in in my vision by the millisecond.
My eyelids dropped softly.
I wish there’s a way to fix things.