Blood on Roses

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Consideration

“That arrow was aiming right for your heart.”
~ Zachary Nolan

TWENTY-FOUR

My eyes snapped open. My pajamas were drenched in cold sweat. For a moment, I was suffocating. I could tell I nearly died from this overexertion of my power.

Eventually, my tense muscles loosened, and I recollected the events of the previous day. Or should I say, the day I relived?

I was reliving the day I relived.

I grabbed my phone, and the brilliant screen displayed 11:00 AM, indeed still Monday the 14th. I was sound asleep for so long. I might as well skip school since I already learned the classes today. Twice.

While I brushed my teeth, I pondered what went wrong the last time.

First, it wasn’t a good idea to propose to postpone the mission in front of everyone. Apparently, Celia hated my guts. And I had to give Harvick more time to think. Second, I’d talk to Hailee this time so she couldn’t have any chances to notice the tunnel. Third, since this was my last chance to live this day, I’d wear a black scarf to cover up my face. I couldn’t risk running into Arthur or Jaxson.

I pulled my hair up into a ponytail and set out to the headquarters.

Due to it being before noon, I caught Harvick at the entrance of his office, looking like he was about to head off somewhere.

“I need to talk to you about tonight’s mission right now,” I stated plainly but solidly.

He paused for a moment, then nodded and showed me inside.

I made a disclaimer that I would be telling nothing but the truth. Without other opinions to waver his rational thinking, Harvick took everything I said seriously.

I could tell the gears in his head were spinning rapidly by the time I spent twenty minutes explaining my experience in living this day twice. I wished two simple things for further proof.

Harvick always had his hood down whenever he faced me alone, probably to show that he had nothing to hide from me. He searched my eyes for any signs of dishonesty, and I returned an unblinking stare.

If Zach hadn’t tattled, Harvick shouldn’t have had any idea about my relationship with Arthur, Kaydence, Alecx, and Jaxson.

When my thoughts instinctively drifted to Zach, the space where my heart used to be clenched in agony. It was painful enough bringing my feelings for him to a cessation. Now that my head was filled with his smile and protectiveness, I had to close my eyes to force it away.

I was able to resist Zach’s natural charm when I first met him, but as time passed, I was merely another victim to his dashing audacity and incisiveness. Before I knew what hit me, he had me completely enamored.

“So... what do you have in mind?” Harvick finally voiced, yanking me out of my trance.

“You need to tell everybody that you’ve found out where the captured are kept. All eight of them are in the furthest southwest room. One of the cells is specialized with a palm-print lock and solid walls. Do you know if anyone can open it?”

Harvick nodded right away. “Celia has the power to crumble whatever she touches; the drawback is that her hand has the recovery speed of a human. I don’t know if you noticed her the other day. She’s the tall one with purple cornrows.”

Celia, again?

I suddenly thought of the first time I lived this day. Celia had shaken my hand.

“What happens if she touches another person?”

“A human would get severe burn wounds, but a vampire wouldn’t be affected.”

“I see.” I hid my relief. “We’ll need to retreat immediately after because of the amount of reinforcement that’s planted there. Also, a few people need to stand guard by the portal. In the past two times, the portal had to be shut for some reason.”

“I’ll check the details with Akechi. He’s the one who opens portals.” Harvick then carefully observed my expression. “Did you see something these past two days?”

“What do you mean?”

“Your temperament has altered quite a bit. It now belongs to someone who’s seen multiple brutal deaths.” Harvick’s brows flinched. “No, more like experienced death.”

“Both,” I affirmed, and his frown deepened.

“Certain wounds take longer to heal, especially emotional ones. Don’t do anything reckless.”

I smiled gratefully. “I won’t.”


Everything went according to plan. Due to the changes, half of the Team Two members all went down the same hallway, and the other half stayed in the atrium or along the way to defend. If anything were to get out of hand, Hailee kept teleconnections with every one of us.

As we neared the tunnel areas, I grabbed her wrist and gave it a challenging tug. I teased, “You’re too slow. Are you going to let me find the captured first?”

I knew I pushed the right button when Hailee flicked my hand away and huffed. “As if, you noob. Watch me.”

I kept my pace mild and stayed just beside or slightly behind her. Once we moved past the branch tunnels, my plan was complete: Hailee’s fate had changed.

“See? I arrived before you did!” Hailee cheered, blissfully unaware that I just saved her life.

I pouted in defeat. “One of these days, I’ll be faster than you.”

I merely smiled at whatever she had to say next. I didn’t give a damn that we were enemies in school, nor cared that we used to roll our eyes and glare at each other whenever we crossed paths.

Even though the cell bars were made of spiky pure silver, each of us managed to break them open one by one.

Hailee tapped my shoulder. “The people out there are seeing more and more hunters gathering. We need to hurry.”

I darted my head around and soon found Celia. She ran up the wall and put her hand on the solid door, but immediately retracted. “It’s made of silver! I can’t break silver!”

I closed my eyes for a brief moment while the others tried to come up with another solution. I felt pretty good. One small wish shouldn’t hurt.

I wish that door would crumble down to pieces.

“Oh, hey, it worked!” The crowd cheered and brought out the weak Pureblood, as worn out as I recalled. Celia was dumbfounded, but soon came back to her senses and helped out.

“Alright, let’s get the hell out of here!” Hailee yelled and jumped back down onto the ground floor. In that instant, the chilling sound of machinery echoed throughout the room.

“Go, go, go!” I cried out. Vampires reacted fast. I made sure that everyone escaped unscathed before the deadly arrows came piercing down. If I were half a second too late, a tip would’ve made its way into my leg.

I wondered why I hadn’t seen Zach all evening. After he died twice because of me, I wanted to see his face as reassurance.

As soon as I arrived in the atrium with many others, an intense smell of blood hit me so hard that I ceased to breathe for a moment.

“I’ve signaled Team One to open the moonroof,” Hailee confirmed before I could ask.

I focused my night vision a bit more on who Zach was fighting. I nearly choked again when I made out Arthur’s features in the dark area. He wore eye protection goggles and a metal neck protector, proving how dangerous this mission was.

Zach’s smile was that of one enjoying a battle with a powerful opponent, although his eyes emanated a defiant glow.

Every member of Team Two had spread out to fight the hunters. I was the only one standing here like a block of wood. I pulled my scarf further up so it would cover my nose and mouth. I strained my ears to hear their conversation.

“You’re a vampire,” Arthur gritted with hatred evident in his voice. “You’d better not have done anything to Hazel!”

Arthur’s anger seemed to cloud his judgment. He executed several uncareful swings that left his vital organs fully open. If Zach hadn’t been holding back, things would’ve gotten ugly much sooner.

“Relax, Carrington. She’s alive, isn’t she? Can’t say the same for her heart, though,” Zach taunted with a provoking smirk. I felt the same pang in my chest when I knew he meant both the way he told me off and the fact that I no longer had a heartbeat.

“You imbecile!” Arthur’s pent-up rage all released in one final swing.

For a moment, my nerves piled up in my throat. Both Arthur and Zach were dear to me. I didn’t want any of them hurt, or worse, dead.

Arthur’s silver scythe swung horizontally, pointed at Zach’s neck. Even though the performance enhancement injection already bettered Arthur’s movements, he still wasn’t as fast as Zach.

Zach ducked the swing at the last minute and zipped to Arthur’s wide-open side.

No! I inwardly shrieked at the top of my lungs, but no sound came out of my mouth.

Just as Zach raised his hand in the form of a blade, we made eye contact. My eyes were wide with worry, and they screamed, “don’t do it!”

He hesitated. Coincidentally, the moonroof spiraled open. Zach used the nearby wall as a stepping stone and shot out the roof, then right into the portal without a pause.

I briskly followed the other vampires into the portal. Before I leaped, I glanced back at Arthur. His features twisted in stress. All of the other hunters could also only stare as we made a perfect escape.

No doubt there were hunters and vampires sacrificed, but I could no longer restart the day. The last wish I made, I wished to relive this day only one more time. The language I used significantly affected my situation, but the limit helped to specify the wish, thereby lessening the toll it took on my body.

Besides, I’d probably actually die if I did this again.

As I landed, returning to the base, I thought about my power. Everything was becoming clearer. After experimenting several times, I began to feel the limitations and usability of my wishes.

Now, this was the true overwhelming ability that everyone was expecting from a hybrid.

If I were to try to prevent an oncoming speeding truck from hitting a child who wandered into the street, I’d have to word my wish quickly and accurately so that tragedy wouldn’t occur. If I wished that the truck would avoid the child, the vehicle would steer off into the opposite way’s traffic and cause a massive car crash.

If I wished that the truck would stop without specifying how, a utility pole would likely collapse onto the engine and put the driver’s life in jeopardy.

If I wished that the truck wouldn’t hit the child, the child could wander further down the road and end up getting hit by another vehicle.

If I wished that the child wouldn’t get hit, a passerby could save the child, but become a victim of the car accident themselves. The safest would probably be something along the lines of wishing the driver would step on the brake or wishing that the child would go back on the sidewalk safely.

I massaged my temples. What an oddly specific and annoying ability I had. I was going to lose ten thousand brain cells every time I made a wish.

I caught a glimpse of Zach as he hopped up the stairs, not bothering to wait for roll call as if he was confident that nobody would think he perished.

But he did; twice.

It wasn’t like I could tell him that. Even if I did, what was the use? They were things that didn’t technically happen.

He was a stubborn one, but I knew for sure that everything he said on Sunday morning was bullcrap.

I guess I should take the advice that I gave to Ashlynne: talk to him.


Tuesday was a day like any other.

My teachers were impressed that I did all the assigned homework, thinking that I checked the websites and asked my peers. Unfortunately, though, I had to redo my English test once again.

In the afternoon, Arthur phoned me and said that he’d be visiting on Friday. He was stuck in another city for the time being but warned me to stay away from Zach.

For the rest of the week, I was bombarded with last-minute presentations and tests to study for. I had no time to arrange a meeting with Zach. When it came to school, I was still a busy senior trying to maintain my grades.

On Thursday evening, I busied myself with reading genocide history articles to further prepare for a test that was tomorrow. I was halfway through the Rwandan Genocide when my phone rang loudly.

I picked it up and was surprised to see the caller.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Hazel,” Ashlynne’s hesitant voice replied. “Uh... well, I considered what you said to me the other day. A lot.”

The way she stumbled over her words wasn’t like the Ashlynne I knew. I could tell she was nervous, although I wasn’t sure about what.

“Yeah? Have you decided to talk after all the years?”

“Yes, but even so, I have no way of contacting him. Oh, and how’d you meet him? I can’t imagine how he could’ve made a friend no matter how much I wracked my brain.”

I knew this was going to come up. Dammit, Zach, why do you have to be so antisocial?

“Ah, you see, I was forced to join this organization that he belongs to...” I didn’t realize how badly I wanted someone to talk to. Once it hit me that it was only Ashlynne, I ended up spilling everything. She patiently and quietly listened as I rambled on for minutes.

“Zach’s too careless. He exposed his face in front of Arthur so easily,” I finished with a sigh.

Before I knew it, I moved to the bed and rolled around relentlessly. Ashlynne lightly chuckled when I said that.

“Hazel, be honest with me, do you like my brother?”

I immediately seized all movement and laid there like a log. If I expected anyone to be this straightforward, it’d be Ashlynne.

Do you like my brother? I reiterated her voice in my head. I knew she didn’t mean as a friend.

She didn’t mind my long silence as I drew a blank. However, as soon as I pictured Zach in my subconscious, even if it was just his back, there was no doubt left in my mind.

“Yeah.” I smiled and buried my face in my pillow.

Ashlynne breathed as if laughing soundlessly. My cheeks burned when I remembered that we were talking about her brother. I bit my lip to stop myself from grinning like an idiot.

“Jeez, at least you’re honest. Alright, I’ll stop teasing you.” Ashlynne cleared her throat. “Anyways, as I said, my problem is that I can’t reach him. You have his number, right?”

“Dude, your grandpa brother can’t figure a phone out.”

“The hell? How has he been living?”

“I can introduce you to this girl called Hailee. She has telepathy, and she can communicate with anyone. You want to meet up this weekend?”

“I’m volunteering at an animal shelter all weekend. How about tomorrow afternoon?”

I hummed in disapproval. “Can’t. Arthur’s coming to check on me.”

“We’re both busybodies, eh?”

I slapped my forehead. “We’re vampires, Ashlynne. We can jolly well meet up at 3 AM and still be as lively as a puppy!”

“Oh, yeah!” she exclaimed. She’d been living among humans for so long that she nearly forgot about her vampire advantages. “Okay. Text me whenever after nine on Friday, and I’ll be there.”

“Gotcha.” With that, I finally pulled my phone away and hung up.

I planned it all in my head. It should be rather simple.

After Arthur leaves on Friday evening, I’ll text Hailee to come over, then Ashlynne. If Zach doesn’t respond, which he very likely might not, Hailee will need to contact Vivian.

Ashlynne had decided to have a proper talk with Zach, and so did I. I at least wanted to find out why he insisted on being isolated. It was scary to be emotionally alone, especially for the rest of eternity.

I hoped that I meant more than nothing to him because he meant too much to me.

I tried not to think too hard. Afterward, I struggled to continue reading the material for my big test tomorrow. Everything was in one ear and out the other. Or rather, in one eye and out the other.

I quietly shut down my laptop and crashed into bed, then stared at the ceiling.

I felt a certain way that I hadn’t before around Zach. A longing feeling spread from my chest when I thought about his cold yet tender touch. Now that I recalled, this same feeling had existed since way before we shared that kiss in the London Eye.

I attempted to recollect the first time I felt warm emotions for the boy, but I couldn’t pinpoint a particular moment. It seemed that he gradually wormed into my heart without my realization.

When imagining Zach, it was hard not to see that maniacal grin he held when he fought an enjoyable battle. The one he had when we obliterated the vampire kidnappers was the same as when he fought Arthur.

It’d be pretty fucked up if he found pleasure in killing.

But, is that how his life shaped him? Growing up, he was stripped of his family and his home. More than that, for years, he endured inhumane torture every day.

My mind shifted to Henrietta King. From the backstory I got from Zach, she was the granddaughter of the hunter that annihilated Zach’s parents. She was also the one who legalized vampire experiments and secretly trafficked vamps through kidnappers.

If that old hunter hadn’t ruined his life, Zach would’ve stayed as his gentle self, remained as a vampire who fainted at the sight of blood. Then, Zach wouldn’t have wanted to brutally murder a whole family and leave Henrietta in a new round of hatred. Who knew what else this hatred had driven Henrietta to do?

I finally reached a final question: When are vampires and humans ever going to stop tormenting each other?

Zach told me himself; with only about a pint or two of blood, a vampire’s thirst would be quenched for at least a few days. That was far from taking a life.

When vampire hunters posed a threat to vampires, it drove them to kill humans. As vampires continued to commit such monstrosity, hunters had no choice but to up their game and exterminate vampires on a larger and larger scale.

It was one enormous, escalating cycle.

I empathized with both sides. Any ordinary person would label me as crazy for sympathizing with vampires. And an average vampire would never consider humans as anything more than food.

But then, I remembered Hailee, Kassandra, and Ashlynne, and the household of vampires who took her in. They weren’t killers.

An image of Zach during my first mission flashed into my head. He was stained with blood spots the way I was when I made my first kill.

I couldn’t begin to imagine what he went through his whole life. He went from fainting at the sight of blood to not batting an eyelid while drenched in blood.

This world forced him to be that way.

As a hybrid, I understood half of both sides. And as time went on, I learned more.

It was only natural for humans to fear for their lives and fight to maintain their spot at the top of the food web.

It was only natural for vampires to drink blood to survive. Any organism’s primary sense was to stay alive. It was a basic physiological need.

No one was in the wrong. There had to be a way to compromise.

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