Blood on Roses

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Preparation

“Sometimes I don’t understand why they want to live so badly. After all, vampires have been ostracized for centuries. What’s the point in persisting?”
~ Roman Anderson

SIX

A woman named Josephine led me down the hallway as she sorted through a folder. She pushed up her large framed glasses from time to time and brushed a strand of her messy black hair back into the bun it was in.

Harvick said this was his secretary? Left-hand woman?

“My room is this one if you ever need anything.” Josephine pointed her pen toward a plain fawn door.

“No decorations?”

She scoffed, as if a kindergartener just posed a stupid question, and replied, “There is no space left in my mind for creativity. It’s all occupied with planning murders.”

Alrighty. I bit my lip and mentally noted not to try to make small talk with Josephine.

“You’ve met Roman, right?” She turned around all of a sudden, making both of us stop in our tracks.

“Yeah, I have. What about him?”

Josephine closed her eyes for a second, then explained herself, “I’m checking if we’re within anyone’s earshot right now.”

My first reaction was finding that ability fascinating and wondered if I could do that someday until I mentally slapped myself.

“Roman is a twin. Well, was,” Josephine clarified. “His twin brother, Ashton, was killed by hunters when they were young, which was also the day Harvick found him. He recruited Roman, but of course, he didn’t struggle as much as you did.”

“So, where are you going with this?”

“He still hasn’t gotten over Ashton’s death. They were each other’s only company because the Andersons were notoriously quite a loveless family, so no one truly cared for them. The day their domain was attacked, Ashton died,” she explained without a trace of sympathy in her voice. “What I’m getting at is, don’t freak out if Roman suddenly turns into this lively and flirtatious character. That’s Ashton.”

My eyes widened in surprise. “You mean like a dissociative identity disorder?”

“Kind of. Ashton is aware of this while Roman is not, so don’t mention it to him. When he’s Ashton, he’ll have the ability of telekinesis. Not even Harvick can explain how this was achieved in one vampire body. Everyone’s accepted this as how it is for the past decade, so you’ll get used to it soon enough.”

I gulped. Having your twin brother murdered right in front of you? No wonder Roman has such dull and lifeless eyes.

I suddenly recalled Harvick saying that everyone in this organization was here for their reasons. I couldn’t help but stare at Josephine’s back as we continued down the hallway.

What’s her story? What’s Hailee’s story? What’s Zach’s story? What’s Kassandra’s story? Better yet, what’s Harvick’s own story?

I crossed the luxurious mansion with Josephine. We passed the double staircase and ventured further down the hallway until we stopped in front of another beige door with the letters “R” and “A” carved on it.

“The idiot Ashton made this.” Josephine gestured to the letters. “This way, Roman would think those were his initials, but it’s actually ‘Roman and Ashton.’”

I nearly chuckled. This quirky behavior of Ashton’s reminded me of Alecx when he was little.

Josephine handed me the folder she’d been playing around with and said, “This is the most important mission Harvick has tasked to most of us. Read it and make sure to hide it in a safe place.”

While I accepted the folder, she knocked on the door. Roman answered it in a galaxy T-shirt and faded jeans. Josephine pointed her thumb at me.

“Good night, Hazel, although I suggest you do not attempt to sleep.” She waved, then sped away. Roman held out his hand wordlessly. I hesitantly slid my fingers on his palm, and in the blink of an eye, the background flipped to the familiar wallpaper of my room.

“Stay safe,” he stated before vanishing.

I dropped face-first into my bed, then remembered the folder in my hand. Harvick already trusted me with one of these? I could turn this in right now and expose their plan. Whatever, they probably assumed I wouldn’t dare since my loved ones’ lives were still on the line.

I flipped myself over and held the folder over my head. All the events in the past few days suddenly sunk in, and I realized I was oddly accepting of them all.

I rejected the mentioning of supernatural beings my whole life, yet it was like my mind was waiting for this moment to come; waiting for my brain to realize I was born as one of those supernatural beings I despised so much; waiting for me to accept reality at last.

I recalled the mother figure in my head that I couldn’t place a face on. I finally understood. All my life, I had my parents, I had Arthur. Afterward, I had Alecx, Jaxson, and Kaydence.

During the darkest times of my life, I always had someone to confide in at home. Someone was forever there to assist me in walking out of any shadow. For the first time, I was completely alone and had no one.

The stressful tears that I’d been holding back for the past three days streamed down the side of my face, and my breathing soon became ragged. I had lived for eighteen years with this massive secret. Who knew what else people could be hiding from me?

However much I sighed and choked back my sobs, I gradually got over it. It was about time I faced my problems head-on by myself.

If this is going to be my destiny, I’ll fight it with all my might. I’m not a blood-thirsty killing machine, and I never will be.

At that thought, I wiped away the tears with my sleeve. I decided to switch from freaking out to fighting for my future. Just because I would apparently inevitably become a vampire, didn’t mean I had to live the way they did.

A few pieces of paper flapped onto my face when I opened the folder. I tossed the cover aside and grabbed one of them. It was a profile.

I read the information out loud. “Name, France. Rank, Pureblood. Chestnut brown hair and hazel eyes.”

There was no enclosed photo. Here it said hunters had held him captive for a long time, and we hadn’t the faintest idea of his whereabouts or if he was even alive.

I guess I should be grateful it didn’t directly involve killing. Finding a missing person shouldn’t include slaughter, but I was surprised no one had any idea where France was after all this time.

I tossed the folder aside without reading the other papers, then tried to think of a positive side to this whole mess. I felt a little excited at the thought that I could be sleepless and not worry about fatigue. Think of how much faster I could get work done and books I could read during all those wasted hours back when I needed sleep!

So that was exactly what I did to distract myself from my situation.

I followed Josephine’s advice and didn’t attempt to sleep. I finished my English and math homework overnight. By 7:00 AM, I felt wide awake and more alive than ever; way better than when I lied in bed for hours straight and ended up incredibly worn out.

I hadn’t written anything in my diary in a while. When I fished the journal from the depths of my drawer, I saw that the last entry was in February. I briefly jotted down how much I missed Alecx, then proceeded to complain about my new math teacher.

After I wrote March 15 on a new entry, my penpoint hovered above the paper and froze. What should I say?

I summed up my birthday party, and the gifts from Alecx, Jaxson, and Arthur. All was normal. A journal wasn’t the safest place to write down all of my experiences with vampires in the past few days. If anyone were to see this by chance, I’d be doomed.

Upon further consideration, I somehow summed up meeting Zach without the mentioning of any names or the word “vampire.” I finished off after half an hour.

Whatever the hell compelled me made me add in the end: His eyes were mesmerizing.

~ ~ ~

I headed out an hour later to the self-defense class Arthur had forced me to take every Saturday for the past two years. I had zero interest in martial arts, but being reasonably protective as he was, Arthur thought I might as well learn some tricks to defend myself.

Luckily, today was the last class of the season. My partner, Vanessa, held up two pads in a bored manner while I prepared to palm strike it. Weekly warm-ups were always like this. I aimed at the pad and used the same strength I ever did to hit it. My mind completely went blank when Vanessa fell back onto the mat from the impact.

“What the hell, Hazel?!” she yelled, catching the attention of our instructor and classmates.

The instructor assessed the situation quickly. I’d been learning under her for nearly two years; she knew I wasn’t a troublemaker. She picked up two pads from the sidelines and held them up to me, telling me to strike them.

With less force than last time, I threw a standard palm strike. She had to step back to regain her balance. Everyone was astonished at my sudden show of strength. I was also confused until I remembered Zach’s words from last night.

“I’m sorry,” I said, standing back up straight.

Within thirty days, I’d slowly transition from a human to the equivalent of an Elite vampire. That explained this burst of physical power. It was only the beginning, and I was already messing up. I thought Hailee or Josephine was supposed to warn me about these changes and help me adjust to them?

The rest of the class ended awkwardly. I practiced moves on my own since no one wanted to partner up with me because they assumed I was hurting people on purpose.

It was on my way home that I remembered that Alecx was coming over at 10 AM, thirty minutes from now. I panicked and quickened my pace. I hadn’t thought of what to tell him yet!

When I got home, an idea came to me. I had been working on a present for Alecx for his birthday in June, but now could also be the perfect opportunity since he was going back to school this evening.

Sadness crossed my heart when I realized that I wouldn’t be seeing Alecx for months again. I knew he was busy, and his breaks were brief, but I missed him. We hadn’t even gotten a chance to hang out like old times.

When Alecx opened the door at five to ten, I shot up from the living room couch and strode toward him.

“Hey, how was class?” He started off with a casual greeting and thoughtful approach, like always. I rocked on my heels a little with my hands behind my back.

“Pretty good,” I answered, then held out a box wrapped in green and blue paper, his two favorite colors.

“Is this what you wanted to give me?” Alecx asked with slight surprise. “As a parting gift? I’m not going to be gone forever. It’ll be summer break before you know it.”

It was when he opened the box that true bewilderment appeared on his features. Soon, a grin stretched onto his face as he examined the ring that I made for him.

“You had a huge ring obsession last year and wanted one with your name on it. But because of how weirdly it’s spelled, none of the stores we went to had it. I thought it’d be nice to make you one,” I explained while swallowing my nerves. This present was a bad idea. What if he already got over the ring phase?

“I love it! Thanks!”

All of my worries flew out the window when his eyes genuinely sparkled. I carved his name on the ring. It was worthwhile.

“I’m glad. Also, as the engraver, I reserve the right to put my signature on that,” I pointed out. He turned the ring to the other side and found my name there. I totally didn’t do that on purpose.

“Awesome. I’ll always have a reminder of you wherever I go,” he said as he put the ring on his index finger. It fit perfectly. However, he left a zoo load of feels in my stomach with his words.

“One more thing, Alecx, I...,” I started before I knew what I was saying. He gave me his undivided attention with his gorgeous dark brown eyes and dimpled smile that I adored.

I like you. Ever since we were thirteen, I’ve had a crush on you. Your humor always gets me, and you’re the funniest and sweetest guy I’ve ever known. So many times, your compassion moved me to the point of tears. There’s nothing I don’t know about you, and nothing you don’t know about me, except that I’ve held these feelings for you for years. But I’ve always held back because we’ve been friends our whole lives... I don’t want that relationship to end. I... am such a mess when I think about you romantically.

I beamed at him as my heart sank. “I hope you have a safe trip!”

“Thanks. I’ll call you the second I land,” Alecx replied in his innocent way. There was indeed no way he’d be able to figure out my feelings on his own. I’d have to tell him someday.

“In the meantime, we have four hours. I’ve already packed my bags, want to hang out?”

There was no reason for me to decline. After spending way too much time with Alecx in an arcade, Arthur drove the three of us to the airport to say our goodbyes. Jaxson and Alecx were both leaving.

“Bye, boys.” Arthur waved to both of them.

“See you soon!” I continued to wave even when I couldn’t see Alecx’s figure anymore past the security check. At least I got him a gift from me before he left.

On the drive home, I wordlessly stared out at the road and clutched my seatbelt. I felt a little empty after Alecx just left. At this rate, I’d remain a childhood friend forever. Maybe I should just settle for that.

“Where the heck are you?”

I yelped and sat up in my seat, startling Arthur.

“What’s wrong?” he asked frantically.

I quickly schooled my expression. “Sorry, I thought I saw a squirrel crossing the road for a second.”

“What do you want?” I thought loud and clear, so I knew Hailee would hear me.

“I’m in your room. I need to inform you about our mission tonight.”

“Tonight? About the missing person? No one told me this.”

“That’s why I’m here! Just hurry up. I also finally found the chart about your transition speed and patterns.”

With that, she snapped the connection so I couldn’t say anything back to her. What a useful ability of hers.

I inwardly sighed at the idea of my first mission. I suppose we’d be infiltrating places to see if France was kept there. They had at least a hundred members, couldn’t any of them locate this vampire? He must be a pretty significant person if everyone made such an effort to find him. I wondered if he had a super valuable ability.

A while later, Arthur pulled up in the driveway. “Goodnight, Hazy.”

“G’night,” I replied as I shut the door and waved while he backed out of the driveway.

As I reached my room, I found Hailee plopped down on my bed. She tossed me a folded piece of paper like a ninja star. Without thinking, my left hand flew up and caught it perfectly. I shuddered a little at the noticeable changes in my body.

“This feels great!” Hailee started creating snow angels on my bed. “I don’t have a bed in my room. It’s been ages since I laid down! Give or take five years?”

“How old are you, grandma?”

“How rude. You don’t just ask for a lady’s age. But for the record, I’m ninety-six.”

“Hope you form wrinkles soon,” I mumbled while I unfolded the paper.

“That ain’t happening for... oh, I don’t know, ever. Vampires don’t age or die.”

I scanned the chart printed on the document. It entailed the types of changes that’d occur to me each week until thirty days were up. The paper was thin and fragile. It must be ancient.

“Unless you’re killed,” I responded without a thought while my eyes made their way to the last week.

Out of nowhere, Hailee tore the paper out of my hands, instantly ripping it to pieces, and demanded, “How’d you know about the hunters? Who told you?”

My heart rate sped up in fright, but I quickly remembered the article I saw online the other day regarding a Chief vampire hunter. I replied calmly, “I did research the day Zach came by and saw articles about hunters.”

She seemed surprised. I didn’t know why she got so worked up. Did she suspect I got information from someone I knew? Technically, Alecx told me a lot of things. I should keep my mouth sealed from now on.

“Overreacting, much?” I forced out a small laugh so she wouldn’t feel at a loss.

“My bad,” she spoke briskly and held up the pieces. “Did you get to read it all?”

“All except the last week. I should be fine.”

“I’m sorry I got mega sensitive. Someone has betrayed us in the past,” Hailee explained, then grumbled. “Can you believe it? A vampire who is also a vampire hunter? Absurd. To think I was friends with that guy.”

I listened to her rambling. I saw where she was coming from. I was an unwilling member of The Ones. There was a higher chance than usual that I’d go for the same path.

“It was a mistake to put him in charge of digging info on the hunters.” She huffed once more before crossing her arms. “Anyways, we’ll leave in one more hour. You, me, Zach, and Roman are infiltrating a base. Lots of Elites and some Purebloods are held captive there by guards. We just need to scan the whole place without being spotted. I’ll be outside to keep in touch with all three of you in case the enemy comes.”

“What do you mean?!” I cried out. “You’re making me infiltrate a vampire captive base for my first damn mission?”

“I had the same question, but apparently Harv thinks you’ll be fine.” Hailee shrugged in a nonchalant manner and fell into the bed again. “I don’t know, girl, work your magic.”

“Don’t give me that!” I peered at her from the side. “I... I... what am I supposed to do? Do I follow someone? Are you going to give me directions?”

“I guess you could either tag along with Zach or Roman.” Hailee tapped her chin, pondering. “They’re definitely splitting up to search.”

Before I could respond, she sprung up energetically. “I heard you asked Zach about your origin? Wrong person, kid! If anyone, ask me, the one who paid some form of attention when Harv talked about you.”

Why didn’t I just ask Harvick more questions when I had the chance?

“As you know, your mother is a vampire, and your father is human,” Hailee began. “In all my life, you’re the only hybrid I’ve ever even heard of, so it’s not hard to infer that mixes between Pureblood and human are more than very rare. A mixie lives blissfully as an average human until the age of eighteen. It is then that they have exactly thirty days to shift into a full-fledged vampire as powerful as an Elite.

“But, that’s right! You don’t get to climb to the top rank that easily. To then obtain power equivalent to a Pureblood, which is a lot easier for a hybrid than a natural-born Elite, you’ll need to drink the blood of a powerful Pureblood, thus unlocking your full potential. On the bright side, an unleashed hybrid always has an overwhelmingly strong and never-seen-before ability. I think Harv said your mother had the power of revival. Imagine all of your potential from that! It’s more than very likely that you’d end up superior to a Pureblood!”

As I absorbed the information, more questions came to mind. My father couldn’t have been an ordinary human if he had the chance to meet and interact with a Pureblood as powerful as my mother. They even tried to settle down and had me. It must’ve been an unbreakable bond. But how could something like that be formed when humans were food to vampires? It was the same as a human being in a relationship with a talking potato!

For me, becoming an Elite was already inevitable, but was I going to strive for power superior to Purebloods? I couldn’t imagine myself drinking someone else’s blood, especially another vampire’s.

“Hello?” Hailee waved her perfectly manicured nails in front of my face. “I get that you’re in shock and all, but you can’t just keep ignoring me like that. Roman’s gonna arrive here with Zach any moment now.”

I swallowed. Whether I liked it or not, time wouldn’t wait for anyone. I didn’t have the luxury of time to think.

Hailee fell silent for a little while as if contemplating on something. Soon, she spoke, “You know I didn’t like you, right?”

Oh no, I’ve never noticed your snarky remarks every time we cross paths, and I never would’ve thought the way your eyes screamed defiant whenever we made eye contact meant that you disliked me! I mean, what could be friendlier than your not-so-subtle glares? Heavens, this is news to me, yes, I know you hate me as much as I hate you!

“Yeah?” I responded instead.

“It’s because,” she paused briefly, “You smell strange.”

“Okay?”

“You didn’t smell like a normal human, but not exactly like a vampire, either,” she clarified. “I’ve never known someone like you before in my life. You confused me, and I didn’t like that.”

“So, you decided to mentally torment me just a bit every single day because I’m a mystery to you?”

She tilted her head in thought, then crossed her arms. “Yup, that’s pretty much it.”

This girl...!

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