Blood on Roses

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Recruitment

“Fight for what you want. It’s the only way you’ll get it.”
~ Hailee Greene

FIVE

“As if.” I stood my ground firmly. There was no way I’d let him anywhere near my veins.

Zach paid no attention to my protest and began to back me up into a corner. “I’ve never tasted a hybrid before.”

I dodged his arm and went around behind him, then tightened my grip on my phone. “Don’t come any closer.”

“Or else?” He sounded like he was having fun. I didn’t get to reply before he zoomed right in front of me and snatched my phone with ease. He grasped my wrist to prevent me from moving.

My stomach flipped at the sight of his mesmerizing features up close, this time, in person. Vampires were definitely physically attractive. Heat started to rush to my face, but I maintained firm eye contact.

“Let go!” I jerked my arm back, but his grip was iron tight. I twisted my wrist left and right to attempt to get it loose like I was taught in self-defense class, but none worked. I was trained to defend myself against humans, not supernatural beings!

“This might hurt a bit.” With an unkind smile, he leaned down further until his breath fanned my nape. As much as I tried, I wasn’t strong enough to withstand his strength. He wouldn’t budge no matter how hard I pushed him.

His movements froze when the sound of my ringer resonated loudly. I mentally thanked whoever had one hell of a good timing. He released my arm and turned my phone around in his palm to see the caller.

Surprisingly, he showed me my phone. He warned, “One word about us, and you’re done. I will personally see to it that everyone you know dies.”

I picked up as soon as I saw the display screen while keeping Zach’s threat in mind.

“Hazel, you called? Sorry, I was in the middle of work.” Alecx’s voice instantly made serenity course through me. “I’ll be leaving tomorrow evening, so can we meet up in the morning? I can go to your house at around ten after your class.”

“Yeah, sounds good,” I tensely replied while Zach watched me with careful eyes.

“What did you want to talk about?” Alecx inquired curiously.

I didn’t know what to say. I was going to tell Alecx this whole story, but now, I couldn’t.

“I’ll tell you tomorrow,” I said instead.

“Ooh, mysterious,” he remarked with a chuckle. “Alright, see ya.”

“Bye-bye.”

“Your boyfriend?” Zach asked after I hung up.

“I wish,” I mumbled, then realized who I was talking to. “I mean, it’s none of your business. And stop trying to bite me!”

I scooted away from him, and he scoffed, annoyed. “Fine. I’m not hungry, anyway.”

He was unexpectedly easy to convince. Did he have ulterior motives? I couldn’t figure him out. One second he was scary and forceful, the next he was as laid-back as an average teenager. But wait, he was probably not in his teen years at all.

“How old are you?” I blurted what was on my mind before I could register the question.

“A hundred,” he replied without hesitation. “Just turned a hundred a couple of months ago.”

I clapped my hands together and pointed them at him. “Can you please, start from the beginning, and explain my situation to me. You’ve been telling me bits and pieces that don’t make sense on their own.”

He glanced at my alarm clock again and rolled his eyes when he knew that he still had time to kill. He took a seat in my spinny chair and started, “I don’t know everything about you, what I’m about to say is purely stuff our leader told me. Plus, I was barely listening.”

There’s a leader now? Are they an organization?

“From what I was told, your mother was a vampire, and your father was a human. They were both exterminated. You’re a non-human humanoid hybrid. So, essentially, you live as an average human until around the age of sixteen. You’ve noticed changes when you were sixteen, right?”

I nodded briefly. And here I thought I got heightened senses because I grew up.

“Yes, but the actual transition to an Elite, well, more like gain power equivalent to that of an Elite doesn’t begin until you’re around eighteen. You already started experiencing things like sleeplessness. You’re starting to be able to identify people by the scent of their blood, but you have yet to develop a thirst for blood, nor do you have any of a vampire’s strengths or weaknesses. All those things will happen within the next thirty days. That’s why I said to enjoy human food while you still can. You won’t be able to taste anything but different flavors of blood in thirty more days. This change was bound to happen the moment you were born, and that’s why we would’ve recruited you even if you didn’t see me the other morning.”

Zach paused when I didn’t say anything, then raised his eyebrows. “I think I deserve a round of applause for that awesomely summarized explanation.”

I clapped my hands as slowly and sarcastically as possible.

I was so bewildered that I didn’t know what to think. Zach’s explanation made sense, but when I thought further, it didn’t. Was Arthur aware that my mother was a vampire? I lived my whole life believing my parents died in a car accident, but apparently that wasn’t the case anymore. What the hell was this organization? And how did they even know about me in the first place?

“I told you everything I know.” Zach shrugged, indicating that he couldn’t answer any more questions. “Harv didn’t say anything more. You’ll have to ask him yourself.”

I assumed that person was their leader. Silence descended upon us. I squirmed to find a filler for the quiet gaps. “Uh, what’s your family like?”

“Don’t have any. Parents died a long time ago,” he answered in a tone one would use to say what they had for breakfast. I felt a small sting in my chest that we were in the same situation, yet we had such different attitudes about it.

I shuffled my feet nervously and suddenly found the walls very interesting as he remained silent after that.

“Would you like me to explain my vampire ability to you, duckling?”

“Yes,” I blurted before I realized he just called me a baby duck.

“I invade dreams, that should be obvious. I can control people with only a second of direct eye contact, which is what you experienced earlier. I can snap the control anytime I want. I can also read and manipulate a person’s memory with physical contact, then share it with anyone I touch.”

“Mind control,” I summed.

“If you want to describe it in two words, sure.” He nodded. “It’s fun to mess around with it. I once erased someone’s memory completely and replaced it with randomly generated scenes. I think he’s still in the mental hospital today.”

My initial reaction to that was distaste, but since I was so used to analyzing text in my English and Literature courses, I couldn’t help but think about his words harder than I should.

Zach was a confident person, but he didn’t brag. Why did he specifically mention that he caused havoc to a random innocent person’s life? I’d always been pretty good at reading people, but Zach was giving me extra trouble. It felt like he was trying to prove something.

While I scrutinized him, I could tell he was trying to figure me out, too. I eventually turned away and rolled my eyes. What was I trying to do? Find his rhetorical purpose?

“Are we flying later?” Can’t believe I just asked that so casually.

Before he could answer, a dim light flashed beside him, and a person appeared out of thin air. He looked awfully familiar, but I was sure I’d never met him before. His dark brown hair was brushed up in a quiff, and his apathetic chocolate-colored eyes went from me to Zach.

The mysterious vampire explained, “I finished early. Harvick told me to come get you.”

When I heard his voice, I recognized him. He was the one I nearly hit with my car when I first got it on my birthday! So that was why he seemed to pop up out of nowhere; he must have the ability to teleport.

“This is Roman,” Zach introduced briefly, then draped his forearm over Roman’s shoulder.

I mirrored his actions and set my hand on Roman’s other shoulder. The next thing I knew, I was no longer in my bedroom. Both Roman and Zach went their separate ways without a single word, leaving me by myself.

“Guys!” I called out, but Roman disappeared, and Zach went up a flight of stairs in one jump and receded from my view.

Thanks, I grumbled. I didn’t dare try to move since I didn’t want to get lost.

I was in the foyer of what appeared to be a mansion with no windows. The double wooden doors behind me indicated the entrance. The porcelain tiles were so spotlessly clean you could roughly see your reflection. A dazzling chandelier hung from the ceiling above the double staircase, which led to two hallways going in separate directions, and two elevators in the middle. Patterned red woven carpets covered the regal wooden stairs. There were double doors that matched the color of the staircases in between, probably leading to another hall.

The space beside the right set of stairs seemed like a family room. A TV was on the wall with comfy-looking couches around it, and a clock hung on another side. In the area next to the left set of stairs was a dining hall that could probably fit fifty people, and from there, a glass door led to a kitchen.

As my gaze landed on the door, it opened. Hailee walked out of it with a juice box in her hand.

“Oh, hey. You made it,” she greeted, then stuck the straw in her juice box and sipped from it.

“Hi,” I reluctantly greeted back. “I thought vampires don’t taste anything but blood.”

“We don’t,” she said, then continued to drink.

“Then, why are you drinking fruit punch?”

Her lips drew up to a smirk, and she raised an eyebrow. “You think this is juice? How adorable.”

I instantly shut up. I didn’t expect vampires to carry jugs of blood in the form of a juice box. I guess that was what Hailee actually drank during lunch.

“Not all of us are as vicious as Zach. Most of the times we settle with this.” She shook the box.

“Vicious?” I questioned. He seemed forceful, but not vicious from the short hour I’d known him. I told her that, and she displayed astonishment.

“He talked to you? Wow, I’m jealous.” She chuckled bitterly. “It’s been a while since I had a legitimate conversation with that difficult guy.”

“But he seemed rather languid.”

Hailee tilted her head and wondered, “He was told to take it easy on newcomers so they could fit in quicker, but he always held the right degree of intimidation and distance so no one would approach him any more than necessary. Still, I’m surprised he went out of his way and conversed with you.”

I hummed in response. I’d rather Zach be distant and wordless like Roman instead of annoying the living hell out of me.

“Anyway!” she exclaimed and turned around. “I’ll show you to Harvick’s office. He’s the leader of The Ones.”

And the super creative organization name of the year goes to...!

I sincerely hoped that none of these vampires could read minds. My mind was the only place I could hide all of my sarcastic thoughts.

I followed Hailee up the stairs and down one of the hallways. All the doors were designed and decorated differently. Some had the knob on the right, some on the left. Some were white, and some were floral, some were colorful. On my way down, I saw an artless beige door with the letter ‘Z’ inked on it in black cursive.

“Would I have to live here, too?” I asked as I trailed behind Hailee.

“Nope. Most of our members don’t have a family or home, so they stay here.”

We then passed by a door with vine patterns hand-drawn on it. In the upper center was “Hailee” written in Adine Kirnberg font. My eyes lingered on that door for a second longer. No one in school knew that Hailee had no family.

“Just how big is this place?” I mumbled to myself when I thought of how many doors we’d passed and still weren’t arriving at our destination.

“It never seemed this big when I went down the hallway at vampire speed.” She glanced at me over her shoulder, as if blaming our turtle speed on my incompetence.

I do apologize for not being able to run 10x faster than a cheetah.

Eventually, we arrived in front of a set of umber-colored doors. Hailee knocked on it twice, waved me goodbye, then dashed down the hallway before I could ask what I was supposed to do. She was gone in a heartbeat. It really must’ve been snail speed for her when we walked down.

I held down the door handle and pushed it open. The first person I saw was Kassandra, the girl who bumped into me in school and told me she’d fix my watch strap that shattered in the process. She indeed was a vampire, too.

Kassandra seemed to be finishing her conversation with this leader figure. As she stood up, her eyes widened and twinkled when she saw me. She called out my name while shuffling through her purse. I guess I was more well-known around here than I imagined.

“Here!” Kassandra jogged over and handed me my good-as-new watch with both of her hands.

“Thanks.” I stuffed it in my pocket. She waved and apologized once more before leaving and closing the door behind her.

I took a seat on one of the couches on either side of the room. A wooden desk set directly across from the door, and someone sat there, completely engulfed in a black cloak.

What a cliché, I thought while not breaking my emotionless but slightly curious exterior. This person reminded me of a Disney villain.

Other than the person, the room felt like an office. Two large shelves full of knowledge covered each wall behind the couches and fluorescent lights were planted in the ceiling.

At least they have good lightbulbs.

It felt ironically cozy. I couldn’t stop myself from taking it in. Silence hung in the air for a few more seconds before the figure spoke, “Hazel....”

From the deep and moderately raspy voice, I assumed he was a male. I sensed his tone was strange, almost teary before he cleared his throat, then spoke again, this time, more stern and authoritative. “I’m glad you appreciate the interior design of my office. Now, I don’t believe Zach has told you much about us, has he?”

I shook my head slowly. He was trying to make the mood as light as possible, but failing since there wasn’t any humor in the situation.

He put his gloved hands on the table, and I caught a glimpse of the mask he was wearing under the hood. “The Ones is a group of powerful vampires. I am the founder and leader. You can call me Harvick.”

I couldn’t see his facial expression, his body language, or his eyes, and his tone of voice was mild and smooth as he explained; I had no way of analyzing his speech.

“Everyone has their reasons for being here. Either to protect, to search, or to survive. We’ve merely all come together so we can help each other achieve our goals. Of course, there are those who need friends in this world, such as Kassandra. We accept them and train them. This all probably still feels surreal to you, and I don’t blame you for it. However, you need to join us.”

My head slanted to the side as he finished. I had no idea where I found the courage in me, but I voiced, “So basically, you gather a bunch of vampires and attempt to use them for your goals? You take lost teens like Kassandra and turn her to one of you, making her think you did her a huge favor? And now, you’re threatening my loved ones’ lives?”

I could’ve sworn he flinched when I bore my glare into his eyes that I couldn’t see.

“...Yes.”

A scowl made itself on my face, and my lips pursed together into a thin line. “Why is this happening? Because I have a vampire parent?”

“Partially, yes,” Harvick clarified but did not elaborate. “Everything happens for a reason, Hazel. You can’t possibly know what it is, now, but you will someday. Give it some time.”

I nearly snapped at him for his vague answer, which was strangely just like Hailee’s and Zach’s previous so-called explanations. I kept reminding myself that this man before me could slaughter my friends and family any minute he wanted unless I joined this group.

“It’s your choice.”

I gritted my teeth. This is not called “my choice.” If it were up to me, I’d be at home right now being a couch potato and watching all the lamest TV shows while chugging down an entire ice cream pie!

“Besides, your body is changing.” Harvick’s voice hardened. “There’s no way you’d know how to deal with it on your own, and you would get killed straight away if a hunter found you out. We’re already giving you lots of freedom, Hazel. You’re not bound to this mansion; you’re free to live in your home, where you feel safe.”

“Not so safe anymore knowing that at least two of you can get into my room anytime they want,” I muttered. Roman simply appeared, and Zach didn’t even try to break in.

Harvick emanated impatience as he spread out his palm on the desk. “Anyhow, don’t expect that you can hide anything from us. We will find out instantly if you spill our secret to anyone, and I trust that you know we are more than capable of wiping out your entire school. All you have to do is join us and follow orders on missions.”

At the mention of their missions, I blinked twice to stop the stinging in my eyes from upcoming tears. I whispered, “You kill people on missions, don’t you?”

“Not always, but yes, sometimes.” He seemed to be watching my reaction.

I rejected the idea of biting someone until they were dry of blood. I didn’t want to be the cause of someone’s tragic demise or the grieving of his or her loved ones. If all Harvick threatened was my life, I wouldn’t have hesitated to refuse and maybe stab him in the eye before he killed me.

But these monsters had made it more than crystal clear that if I didn’t join their little vampire club, they’d slaughter everyone I knew.

I thought about Alecx, Arthur, Kaydence, Jaxson, Sophi, and even some classmates that I got along with.

“You can still live as a human for thirty days,” he added as if it made things so much better for me.

All fear that was formerly within me rapidly transformed into anger in the past five minutes. There was no way to escape. Hell, I had a better chance of finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow than escaping this vampire-filled mansion who were all ability-wielders.

What choice did I have?

“Fine,” I breathed a barely audible hiss while staring at him icily. Even underneath his cloak, I could see his shoulders rise and fall, as if sighing in utter relief.

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