Blood on Roses

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Time to Pay

“To a vampire, ‘forever’ holds a whole new meaning.”
~ Zachary Nolan

THIRTY-THREE

As I darted close, Zach detected me. His eyes flew wide, and his mouth fell ajar. Henrietta noticed me, too, and she briskly steered clear.

I spun the key between my left index and middle finger. In an instant, it morphed into the six-feet-long spear. The jewels embedded around the claws glowed a brighter crimson than ever before as if to match my irises.

I first swung it like a bat. Of course, Zach completely dodged it. When he tried to speak, I cut him off and whirled my weapon at a faster speed. He struggled to gather his thoughts and produce words when I fired such dense attacks, but he only evaded and blocked, never fighting back.

I grunted as I thrust the spear at him, the tip slanting right by just a fraction. As I predicted, he shifted his balance to the left to get out of the course of the blades. I quickly axed the crescent blade on the spear to the left, but he saw through such a simple tactic with ease and ducked speedily, avoiding the swing entirely.

It took him minutes into the fight to realize what I’d been doing this past week. The reason I disappeared wasn’t to think about my feelings at all.

“Hazel,” he mumbled in a voice that was barely audible. The last time I heard so much emotion laced in his tone was back when he brought me to the rose garden.

Back then, Zach’s voice alone stirred up so many complicated feelings within me. My body ached to speak to him, but I could ignore it now. I was stronger than before.

I levered my spear in Zach’s direction unexpectedly, and this time, he sustained a cut on his arm. It encouraged me.

I let out a battle cry that I didn’t know existed and charged. I swung; he leaped. I pierced; he parried. I whipped it like a baseball bat, and he performed a limbo.

“Calm down!” he finally yelled.

I yelled back, “I’m perfectly rational!”

He got momentarily disoriented by my attempted sweep at his feet. I took advantage of that and tightened my grip on the spear. I aimed for his chest. But the weight of the weapon suddenly got to me, and the spearhead punctured the bottom of his rib cage instead. Just as I shifted to land the finishing blow, my body was abruptly not mine to control.

I had completely forgotten to wear eye protection.

Zach and I both panted in mild exhaustion. His dark orbs locked firmly with my fire-engine ones. He glanced at my attire, then at the spear.

He scowled. He tried to convince himself otherwise, but it was clear as day that I had joined the hunters.

I was a traitor; didn’t he want to kill me now?

I glared at him unblinkingly. I felt both frustrated and nostalgic that I couldn’t read his expression one bit. He frowned and returned a hard stare.

“Listen.” He drew a breath. “There’s an idiotic reason behind all of my actions. I only realized why you tried to give me a second chance after Ashlynne told me everything.”

Zach was barely able to finish that sentence as he sensed, at the last second, a bullet coming his way.

I couldn’t turn my head to see, but by the growl of hatred that emitted from Zach’s throat, I guessed that Henrietta had thought I was in danger and fired a shot.

I wish I’d escape from his mind control!

While Zach was distracted by Henrietta’s bullet, I briskly accelerated the spear toward his chest, again. He noticed just as the point was an inch away from his flesh.

With both of his hands, he grasped the spearhead and cupped it in a way that didn’t fully lacerate his palms, but blood still dripped densely from the cuts.

I felt half of my stamina drain from me. I wasn’t powerful enough to escape a Pureblood’s power unscathed. I blinked hard to rid the stars bursting in my vision.

He took advantage of my momentary dizziness and stepped out of the way. There was suddenly no force supporting my balance. I fell forward a few steps.

“You’re coming with me.” I heard his mutter behind me.

No, I’m not.

Not bothering to aim, I pitched my spear backward, hoping the spike at the end could stab something. As soon as I felt pressure at the other end, I whirled around.

With the calmest expression ever, Zach held up his palm and allowed the spear tip to penetrate it. It scorched his flesh, but he fixed a tight grip on the weapon with both hands. His will was strong enough for him to endure the burning.

“You should’ve picked a different weapon. This one wasn’t designed to be agile,” Zach commented.

“Save your trash,” I spat harshly. I then realized how much emotion I released out of the dam that I’d tried so hard to solidify.

I attempted to reclaim my spear by jerking it back, but I should’ve known better. I’d seen and experienced Zach’s brutal strength first-hand.

“I know I’ve been a fucking asshole, and I don’t deserve it, but I need your attention for just a minute.”

“Shut up. You can jolly well continue your little voyage around the world.” I narrowed my eyes. “As a ghost.”

I spun around and used all of my strength to pull the spear away from him. It drew a line of blood on the grass, but I successfully freed my weapon.

“I wasn’t taking a vacation,” Zach clarified just as I repositioned myself for the next attack. “I traveled to all those places to assist with France’s investigation. We found out who killed your parents.”

This time, he didn’t need any power to freeze me. The wounds on his hands and lower rib cage slowly healed as I processed his words.

He’s lying. He always is.

I couldn’t seem to convince myself.

Zach opened his mouth, but nothing came out. A bullet zipped between us, and he was forced to back away to avoid getting shot.

“Goddammit, Hazel! Move!” Henrietta shouted, probably believing that Zach had me under mind control again.

“Catch!” Travis pulled his goggles off and threw them to me. Henrietta kept dense firing going on so Zach couldn’t intercept the throw.

I caught the shaded goggles and hurriedly put them on. These were supposed to reduce visibility to gain protection against psychological-based abilities, but with vampire advantages, I needn’t worry about the visibility issue.

When I regained my fighting stance, Henrietta stopped firing and reloaded. Travis tightened his grip on his sword and took rapid steps forward. As soon as I heard him, I called out, “Don’t come any closer. He could kill you.”

The firmness and certain coldness in my tone halted Travis. I never took my gaze off of my target. We were several feet apart.

Zach’s frown deepened. “Am I just a killing machine to you?”

“Congratulations. You’ve finally drilled it into my thick skull that you’re someone I should hate,” I remarked sarcastically. “Isn’t that what you wanted all along?”

“I made a lot of mistakes. I’m trying to––”

I ignored his excuses and charged, swinging the spear down, aiming at his shoulder. He evaded it and hopped the other way. I slashed the blade in his direction, but I wasn’t fast enough.

“Slow the fuck down, Hazel. I’m trying to apologize!”

“Is that the attitude of an apologetic person?!”

At this point, we were practically screaming at each other. The emotions I kept bottled up this past week burst out all at once. Zach had single-handedly broken my spell on myself. So many negative emotions clouded my mind at once.

No matter how fast I got, he was always a step ahead of me. Even if we were only blurs to the average human eye, he was still a faster blur than me. I gradually got more and more frustrated, and finally, I made a mistake.

I couldn’t draw up the weighty weapon in time, and one of the claws clashed loudly against the sidewalk pavement. Silver bent easily, even with the strengthening of pure blood. That bash left an ugly dent in the claw.

“See?” Zach mumbled. “Now stop trying to kill me for a minute.”

“Not a chance.” I glowered.

He stood back up straight. “You saw for yourself. That spear is too heavy. It was customized for your father, not you.”

I raised my chin and shot him a look full of disdain.

“Thanks for the advice.” I held out my spear sideways.

The rubies flashed, sending a red streak down every inch of the lance. The spearhead and crescent blades reshaped. The end morphed into the handle of a sword, and everything above where I held it transformed into a sharp blade.

My spear had just shifted into a gallant sword.

Embedded at the bottom of the blade was a red rose. It replaced the rubies. Its light dimmed as the transformation completed. The weapon was now much lighter. I moved to a new fighting stance using the sword.

Zach, Travis, and even Henrietta expressed great shock.

I had never known about the quality of shape-shifting in this weapon, but just now, the knowledge felt like second-nature. It felt as normal as brushing my teeth every night.

I hadn’t the time to think about my strange connection to this weapon.

I extended one foot and held up the blade, so it pointed threateningly at Zach. He appeared baffled even as I made my first strike. The sword swished in the air; it was much agiler than the spear with all the points, claws, hooks, and edges. Zach leaned back, but a small cut formed on his cheekbone.

He realized that I wasn’t going to stop anytime soon, so he tried to fit words in between dodging my attacks. He still wouldn’t fight back.

“I heard about your ability from Ashlynne,” he began, avoiding my pierce by a hair. “And about that time you relived the same day three times.”

That statement brought back unwanted memories. I desperately pushed down the images of Zach’s smile that threatened to pile up.

“Shut up!” I yelled desperately. At this point, the seal on my emotions had faltered entirely. The same sorrow and anger that I’d been avoiding this entire time flooded back and drowned out my senses.

I slashed upward, then struck diagonally down. My attacks were relentless, but Zach always seemed to dodge them immaculately.

Look carefully. Find an opening. I scrutinized Zach’s every move. He was bound to make an error somewhere down the line.

To gain a broader view, I flipped backward. I caught a glimpse of a crowd forming. Of course, civilians were evacuated long ago. More and more vampire hunters gathered in the area, including Arthur, Kaydence, and Alecx. I wasn’t sure when they arrived.

“I,” Zach started once more while evading my strikes. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think I could do it.”

“Do what?” I gritted.

“To love someone,” he finally uttered. He averted his gaze in the mentioning of the intimate term.

At last, I heard that word from him.

“I didn’t think someone who hadn’t felt love for so long could love someone else. I thought it could never work out. I already caused you so much pain. I’d just hurt you more in the future, so I thought a shorter pain would be better than a long-term one.” All at once, he spilled out so much that he hid.

“‘You thought,’ eh?” I sneered, ignoring the thump in my chest.

“You’re right. It was all one-sided and conceited.”

I got into an offensive stance again, but I couldn’t bring myself to move. For a little while, we just stared at each other wordlessly. The people around us held their breaths in anticipation, but no one dared to intercept.

All I heard was silence, but I saw the storm in Zach’s eyes.

“Hazel!” someone called out all of a sudden. I identified the voice as Grant.

Right after, a strong gust of wind blew toward Zach and me. I drove my sword into the grass and held onto it like a lifeline.

“I thought I told you to stay out of this!” I exclaimed. My cardigan fluttered everywhere. The goggles helped keep my eyes open, but there was no way I could fight freely like this.

I glanced at Zach. He lowered his center of gravity and rooted himself onto the ground, but he seemed distracted. He stared at nothingness. I didn’t have time to think about his actions as the wind intensified.

“Now’s not the time to be stubborn, Hazel,” Grant shot back. He kept his arms spread wide open as he closed in on Zach, gaze averted. He was careful with Zach’s mind control.

I let out an exasperated sigh. In one fluid motion, I pulled up my sword. The ruby shone in response to my will. The red streak beamed as the sword shifted into a pistol. Bright silver designs of roses and vines ran down the barrel and grip. The red jewel was now the front sight.

“For the last time,” I stated. “Dracul is mine.”

I leaped up, allowing the wind to thrash me into the bark of a tree. I aimed and fired. The bullet struck through Grant’s palm. In a panic, he retracted his hands and power.

Firing each bullet meant losing a piece of the weapon, and I’d eventually run out of rounds. Then there wouldn’t be enough material left to reconstruct a spear or sword. I morphed the gun back into a sword.

I glared at Grant with my crimson orbs, sending a bone-chilling warning.

My concentration was broken when a ring of laughter filled my ears. I stared, wide-eyed, at Zach as strings of chuckles escaped his lips.

My breath hitched in my throat. For a split second, all I could think about was how much I missed his laugh. I pushed that thought out of my head before it could escalate. I felt like a schoolgirl seeing her crush.

I forced my eyebrows to draw together and demanded, “What’s so funny?”

“The innocent little girl who was afraid of everything can now shoot someone without batting an eyelash,” Zach said with a dash of melancholy in his tone. “You reminded me of myself.”

That struck a nerve. “I’ll never become what you are.”

“Of course you won’t,” he murmured. I couldn’t read his tone.

“If everything you said is true, and they were your intentions in the first place, why did you lead me on? I do hope you remember that you were the one who kissed me?”

Zach scoffed in an almost childlike manner. “Blame your idiotic little crush for having one hell of a timing.”

I blinked several times in confusion. I stood dumbly for a while, recalling the day in London, then abruptly remembered. Alecx had sent me a text right after I tried to tuck my phone away. Right when I read aloud Alecx’s name, Zach seized my phone and stole my lips.

What a childish reason!

“Everyone I’ve ever loved suffered a tragic end,” he muttered when the stillness became too much to bear. “I came to my senses and pulled myself together. I thought you’d slap me, but you had a dreamy look in your eyes. It scared me. For the next couple of hours, all I could think about were the dangers of living as a vampire, especially when you went to school and had human friends.”

My heart clenched. His cousins, relatives, and parents were all annihilated. He assumed the role of a ruthless and unlikeable person so he wouldn’t get attached, and so no one would get attached to him.

“Well, maybe you should’ve thought of that before you turned her!” Kaydence yelled at the top of her lungs. Zach’s eyes widened as he glanced at Kaydence, then back at me. His expression asked a silent question: You didn’t tell them?

I shook my head. He didn’t press any further.

“Speaking of your origins, France disappeared the day we rescued him because Harv sent him to investigate,” said Zach.

“I don’t need this information from you,” I stubbornly insisted. “I can find out for myself.”

He rolled his eyes mercilessly. “Knowing your green self, you probably tried looking for tracks in the hunters’ database. Do you think the killer is stupid enough to leave such obvious clues?”

He hit the nail on the head. I promptly realized that I was getting too comfortable.

I raised my sword. “Enough of this light-hearted chit-chat. It’s not what I came here for. I thought I’d wait until I was stronger to confront you, but your actions left me with no other choice.”

“What did I do this time?”

“My friend. She got attacked this morning. The fang marks match yours.”

Zach frowned. “You might want to fact-check yourself. I haven’t fed in two days.”

Excuses.

I jumped off the ground and was once again a blur as I tried to land one fatal strike on him. I was much faster with a sword, but I still could only land cuts here and there.

“You’ll regret this,” he warned as his forearm raised to act as a shield against my blade. The sword wasn’t as heavy as the spear, so no limb amputation would take place.

“I live in the moment.” I put in more force. My sword absorbed the blood that splashed on it. The longer this battle went on, the stronger my weapon became. On the other hand, I grew weaker and weaker.

I didn’t have time to recover my energy after the wishes I made. The scent of Zach’s blood that was getting denser by the minute was also not helping.

“Listen, Hazel, I know you hate me right now, but could you kill me after you hear me out?”

I’m afraid that I would lose my resolve if I grant you access to my heart again.

I inhaled and exhaled deeply. I retracted my sword and backed up a few steps. I needed to get this off my chest. “I do hate you. Do you know why?”

Zach winced when I said “hate.” He never even flinched when I slashed him with my sword, but my words hurt him more?

I looked him dead in the eyes. “You make me feel things I thought only existed in books and movies. I’m attracted to your eyes, your voice, your audacity, your prudence, your arrogance, your everything. Whenever I let my guard down, all I can see is your gentle yet complicated smile. Why can’t you ever be honest with me? If you thought that hurting me was protecting me, you couldn’t have been more wrong.”

His expression gradually transitioned from soft to gloomy. I could tell he genuinely regretted what he did, but at the same time, I couldn’t forgive him so easily.

When he tried to come closer, I stepped backward. He sighed. “History would only repeat itself if I let things remain the same. I forced myself to change. I forced myself to keep my eyes wide open whenever a kill was made, whether by me or another. No one would want to approach a monster. It spares their and my heartache. I thought it worked with Ashlynne. I thought it would work with you; that was my biggest mistake.”

I shook my head lightly. “If someone decides they want to breathe underwater, will they just grow gills? If they decide they want to fly, will they grow wings? No. People don’t change themselves; they change the way they act. You convinced yourself that solitude was the only way to protect those you love, so you bent yourself until you could perfectly act like you didn’t care about anything and like you didn’t feel anything. But how could anyone honestly feel nothing? Even as I sealed away all of my emotions with my power, as soon as I saw you, they pushed to resurface.”

My speech wasn’t making sense, but I didn’t care. I dedicated every fiber of my being to prevent tears from rising to my eyes. I promised myself that I would never cry for him ever again. My lips quivered, but I glared at him through my lashes.

Zach’s arm began to tremble faintly. “What’s your point?”

When I didn’t answer, he tried to reach out. The sight of his hand reminded me of the times he ran his fingers through my hair.

Was it possible to love and hate someone at the same time?

My arm moved on its own and raised the sword, preventing him from getting any closer.

“My point is,” I muttered. I pointed the tip at his chest. “You’re a monster. You kill without mercy. Now, I’ll return the favor.”

I got too worked up. It was getting harder to blink back tears, and my attacks were getting sloppy. My tired arms and mind failed to coordinate. Zach only kept stepping out of the way with a complex expression that I couldn’t read.

To the average human’s eye, we were still blurry figures engaging in a speedy battle.

“Don’t humans do the same thing? Don’t vampire hunters kill us?” Zach finally questioned with a calm voice.

“They have to! Otherwise, humans will all die!” I screamed. I had never before lost control of my emotions this much in my life.

Suddenly, Zach evaded my weapon and grabbed my wrist, pulling me into him. He pulled the goggles off and forced me to look him in the eyes. “Then tell me, why do vampires kill humans?”

Two streams of tears flowed down my cheeks, and I slowly whispered, “Because otherwise, vampires will all die.”

I spent a lot of time thinking about how vampires and humans each had their reasons to detest the other. I mapped out ways for the two species to coexist once, and I weighed out the pros and cons. How did I forget it so easily?

Wishing my emotions away had been a bad call from the start. If I couldn’t feel for both sides, I lost sight of that goal. I only saw the revenge that was in front of me. Imani was a wake-up slap for the humane side of me that had yet to disappear.

How moronic was it that a death had to take place for me to clear my vision?

And it clouded again once I saw Zach.

Responding to my tranquility, my weapon returned to its original form.

I directed all of my anger and frustrations at Zach. At first, I thought I was justified in not wanting to listen, but a bit afterward, I began to fall into the wrong.

I opened my mouth to apologize, but Zach stopped me. “You don’t have to say anything. Yeah, you were bitchier than usual, but I was also an asshat. We’re even.”

I smiled at his unusual way to be considerate.

“I suppose you’ll finally listen now,” Zach said, lowering my arm. I held the spear loosely in my hand.

He showed me everything.

What he had been doing.

The investigation he and France had conducted.

He read the memories of the witnesses on the day my parents were found dead.

My anger began to boil again. Now that I knew who the culprit was, there was no way in hell I’d ever let that person get away with it.

The killer had been running free for twelve years.

I will end you.

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