“What’s so different about vampires and humans? Both are willing to do anything for benefits and entertainment, including killing ones of their own.”
~ Zachary Nolan
“Miss me?” Zach breathed on my neck the second he appeared. I whipped around and scooted several steps back. I stared into his eyes with a frown as they swirled back to their original pale blue color. A strong scent of blood hit me immediately after.
I surveyed his attire; his jacket and shirt were stained with blood spots as if splashed onto him from a showerhead. What the hell did he do? Pull someone’s guts out and throw it in the air?
“You guys are late,” said Hailee.
“I was busy ripping people apart,” Zach refuted, raising his arm, showing the streak of blood dripping down his wrist. I could tell it wasn’t his. I smelled four different types of blood on him that all weren’t his. I cringed when he licked the dried blood there. My whole body shivered when he tossed me a glance.
“Let’s go already. You got the address down, don’t you, Roman?” Hailee asked and walked in between us toward Roman, paying no mind to Zach’s actions.
“Yeah, I know where it is,” Roman replied. His dark brown irises flashed to a medium gray, signaling us that he was ready.
“Roman can teleport anywhere as long as he knows the physical location and exactly where he’ll arrive,” Hailee explained as she placed her hand on Roman’s shoulder.
Apparently, physical contact was also required. I followed suit, and so did Zach. When I blinked again, we were in the middle of nowhere. All I saw was a vast field of dried grass and bare trees.
“Underground facility? Sweet.” Zach walked on ahead into the meadow. Even his walking speed outranked my running speed.
“Zachary, the entrance is the other way.” Roman followed at the same pace in his usual monotone.
“Wait, Hazel.” Hailee grabbed my arm before I could attempt to catch up to the two boys. She whispered, “Be more careful around Zach. I could be wrong, and I have no idea why, but I think he’s trying to get you to hate him.”
He would’ve succeeded if you hadn’t told me that. I swallowed. There was no way now that I wouldn’t over-analyze the situation.
Hailee’s words reignited my interests from when I first met Zach. It still felt like he was attempting to prove something. What was it? That he was a big bad vampire that I should stay away from? Why would he go the extra mile? I already shook in my boots every time he was around.
“Alright. Focus ahead, lean forward and move your legs. I don’t know, put your back into it. See if you can already run at vampire speed.” Hailee pointed in the direction Zach and Roman disappeared.
“It is supposed to happen in the first week, but it’s only been three days since my birthday,” I mumbled. Before I could question more, Hailee shoved me in the back, making me fall forward.
“Hey!” I took a few steps onward to regain my balance. When I turned back around to yell at her, she was already fifty meters behind me. I had stepped ahead in vampire speed.
“It’s no more than that.” She shrugged and shooed me away with a hand gesture. In a glance, she also raced past me, probably to meet up with the other two, leaving me here by myself.
“Just lean into it,” I told myself sarcastically. Surprisingly, it worked.
The faces of the three vampires speedily zoomed into view. It was like relocating from one place to another in extreme acceleration yet feeling as you hadn’t moved at all. When I came to a halt beside Hailee, Roman had already opened a tunnel with metal insides.
“You two remember to train Hazel during the thing. Don’t leave her alone. She’ll mess something up,” Hailee warned, which I irked at, but had nothing to say against.
Without a word, Roman hopped in, and Zach followed with an expectant expression on his face. There was a ladder built on the inside of the tunnel, but I guess they preferred jumping in. After all, it wasn’t like they could break their bones.
“It’s pitch dark down there,” I noted and twisted my fingers. The hole was at most two meters in diameter, who knew what was waiting for me.
“Perfect, train your night vision. Now hop in yourself, or I’ll push you in three... two...”
I jumped in. The feeling of gravity pulling me downward wasn’t the most pleasant. I squeezed my eyes shut and eventually landed softly on a hard paved floor. Zach and Roman both stood in front, scanning the area.
“I’ll go left,” Zach announced first. Roman nodded, naturally going right.
Who do I follow? I’d definitely trip over a wire or something if I went on my own.
Roman was safer and milder compared to Zach, but my curiosity for that infamous vampire drove me to chase after him. Curiosity did indeed kill the cat.
Zach clicked his tongue when he glanced back at me, but beyond his annoyed attitude, I believed he was somewhat puzzled. I kept my gaze down to avoid further eye contact.
Then, I saw that his left hand was balled into a loose fist. From when I first met him, I thought that he had various visible body languages that told his mood much more honestly than his words, and he did them subconsciously. I wonder what this one meant.
“Don’t make me babysit you too much. I’m not going to be your knight in shining armor if you’re in danger,” Zach clarified in a quiet voice. We walked past rows and rows of control panels locked behind glass. No one was there.
“Those are anti-vampire, don’t attempt to break them. It takes a unique ability to break those things without making noise, neither of us have it,” he explained when he saw my lingering stare at the fragile substance. I nodded in response. He was still doing what he’s supposed to and teaching me the basics despite his attitude. It’d suffice for now.
“Only look for rows that are labeled as ‘Pureblood,’ we’re not searching for an Elite.” He hurried past chains of branch hallways leading to metal doors one after another. I assumed vampires were held captive behind those doors. “Or, if we could find patrolling idiots; it’ll make this whole thing easier.”
How would that be easier?
We found only one row of Purebloods at the end of the hall. Two guards watched the area together, chatting amongst themselves as they did.
Silently and stealthily, Zach snuck me in and himself after, then slid the hall door closed behind us. I glanced down and saw that his hands were slightly red. He put up his index finger, signalling me to shut up even though I didn’t make a sound.
Zach strode toward them with no hesitation. The only thing I could do was match his pace behind him. The two guards turned around at the sound of our footsteps, but as soon as they saw Zach, a red ring locked around their pupils.
By then, I knew they were putty in Zach’s hands. He reached out and tapped them both on their shoulders. My mouth dropped as I witnessed first-hand how convenient his powers were; he just read memories upon physical contact.
He sighed but didn’t break the mind control he had on the guards and told me, “France isn’t here. Not in this entire facility. These fools don’t even know of his existence. They’re keeping the cap tight on him.”
“So, should we go and meet up with Roman?” I questioned dumbly since it was the sole thing I knew how to do. Come on; I was only able to see in the dark and barely run at vampire speed. Even if I wanted to help, I couldn’t.
“No, go up to Hailee. She’ll contact him,” Zach said and began backing up. He narrowed his eyes at the guards before sliding the hall door closed. He picked up his pace soon after. “I erased their memories of us ever being here. Move it.”
“What happened to your hand back there?” I quickly asked. He showed me the red spots on his hands that faded as soon as I saw them.
“Pretty sure the handlebars here are made of pure blood and silver. Pure silver itself doesn’t deal much damage, but the weapons made with the blood of a Pureblood are rather deadly to our kind since the only things that can harm us are others of our own.”
I nodded silently. What Zach told me matched up with what Alecx said. It made me wonder again how Alecx gained this kind of knowledge.
“Who is France? Why is everyone in charge of finding this one person?” I couldn’t help but ask. I was afraid he’d be irritated, and I was right.
“Rumors say he’s related to Harv. He didn’t admit it, though.”
“Do you know what his ability is?”
Zach let out a quiet grunt of impatience. Jeez, I’m sorry I’m this newbie who doesn’t know anything about the vampires whom I firmly believed were only fictional until a few days ago! Cut me some slack, dude!
I peered at his face for an answer. He spared half of his attention span and spoke, “He can get all physical stats from a person or vampire at a glance. One would feel completely transparent in front of him. He could break down a vampire’s ability and exploit their weaknesses easily. You wouldn’t want him on the opposing side.”
I got the feeling that Zach wouldn’t tell me details unless I initially asked. Since we were still far from the entrance and we needed to be careful so we couldn’t run, I continued, “How would that power help us fight hunters?”
“You already know about them? I underestimated your work efficiency.”
“Please, I’m always result-oriented,” I blurted out when I forgot for an instant that I was speaking to a creature who could end my life whenever he wanted to.
Zach didn’t respond for a few seconds. I caught a glimpse of his hand, and it was balled into an insecure fist again. He caught my eye when I peeked up and asked, “Why do you talk to me as if one would with an old friend? I thought I made it clear that I could wreck you anytime I liked. You might’ve developed a few vampiristic traits, but you’re still mostly human.”
“Ah, I get it. You ball your left hand into a fist when you’re puzzled. When you don’t understand something, and you’re trying to figure it out,” I mumbled out loud before I caught myself.
Alarmed, he instantly realized that I was right and stretched opened his palm.
The next thing I knew, he violently slammed me against the wall in between two doors, yet keeping the noise minimal so no one else heard. I quickly raised a leg in between his torso and mine to save that amount of distance. He could be easily agitated if one pushed the right buttons, but it seemed logic still came before all else in his mind.
“You’re trying to read me, aren’t you? What do you fucking want to achieve?” He growled in a hushed voice after lowering himself to align his fierce blue orbs to my unsettled hazel ones. My arms and legs were like clay to his strength, and I couldn’t force him away.
“I’m not trying to do anything! It’s just a habit for me to pick up on small gestures like that. Don’t get so worked up!” I hissed back.
After my parents passed away, I developed the tendency to sit by myself and watch others play. As time went on, I was able to predict the next actions of my peers more and more accurately. It stuck with me up to today.
“What an infuriating habit of yours. Stop reading me.” Never wavering his gaze, he gave my wrists one last squeeze in warning before pulling away. I stuck my tongue out at his back as he walked away. I rubbed my wrists while following behind him.
Oh, I’m so scared. You yelled profanity at me and slammed me against a wall to get your damn point across. Stop reading you? Yeah, right. Since your words are freaking confusing, the least I could do is place two and two together with your actions. I ranted in my head while glaring a hole into his broad back.
“Hurry up, woman,” he called out. He’d gotten ruder than before. I supposed he only saw me as an amusement item when we first met, but he now felt that I posed a threat to him.
Should I explain myself that I was only trying to read him by his body language because no truth spewed out of that mouth of his? Nah.
I fumed the rest of the way, and we didn’t say anything to each other.
A little while later, the four of us met in the woods beside the secret base. Their vampire irises were glowing. Roman’s were gray, Hailee’s were electric blue, and Zach’s were black with a red ring.
“Your eyes are so pretty, Hazel,” Hailee commented. Her eyes shaped into a half-moon in her grin. “Such a bright crimson. Reminds me of rubies.”
Cold sweat formed on my forehead when I recalled first seeing these fire-engine red irises in the mirror the night I first saw Zach. He was draining the life out of a girl. A wave of nostalgic fear washed over me at the memory of the way he licked the blood in the corner of his mouth. Yes, he instated fear into me from that very moment. I would never let my guard down around any of these vampires.
I kept in mind the chart Hailee had given to me before she ripped it into pieces by accident. My vampire eyes awoke the first time I smelled blood after I turned eighteen. Progressive changes would occur each week. During the second last week, my entire appearance could alter, matching the changes in my body. Hair color could be one of them.
At that thought, I tugged on a strand of my sandy blonde straight hair. I complained all my life about how dry it appeared, but now that I thought about it, I wouldn’t switch it for anything else. If such drastic changes would occur during the second last week, what was going to happen in the final week? I wish I had seen that part before Hailee tore it to shreds.
“Since it’s a no again, we should leave,” said Hailee.
“France may not be here, but it was fun!” I was startled when Roman exclaimed in a cheerful voice. At the same time, Hailee and Zach rolled their eyes.
“You must be Hazel.” His gray eyes locked on me as they examined me. “I’m Ashton.”
A lightbulb went off in my head. This must be what Josephine was going on about. Both Roman’s and Ashton’s mind inhabited in one body.
Zach’s eyes narrowed. “Go back to sleep, Ashton, we don’t need you right now. We need to teleport back to the base.”
“Aww, fine. This was a bad time.” He pouted like a sad puppy. I continued to gawk at him like he was an alien. He was way too different from Roman. He directed his gaze back to me. “I’ll talk to you soon, cutie. Don’t forget me!”
When he blinked again, those dim and emotionless eyes were back. Roman blinked in confusion at my stare. I darted my gaze to the tree behind him. I needed to act as if nothing happened. Roman wasn’t aware of the personality switches.
“Since Zach confirmed that France isn’t here, let’s go back to the base,” Hailee repeated with obvious disappointment in her voice as if no strange occurrence took place. They must be used to Ashton’s flips.
Same old same old, our surroundings shifted to the headquarters house as soon as we all put our hands on Roman’s shoulders. Right away after, Roman vanished again, probably back to his room. Zach stretched his arms out and crashed onto the living room couch to watch TV.
“Come with me. We’ll start your training.” Hailee led me to the kitchen, then put out six glass cups and instructed while pointing to the first one, “Pick it up and hold it for ten seconds.”
Though I didn’t understand the meaning behind it, I did as she said. Within three seconds, my grip strength mashed the glass into pieces.
“You’re progressing faster than expected. See? You already can’t control your growth of physical power.”
I must master the art of holding glasses before all six cups. And I did it... with the very last cup the kitchen had. I unintentionally broke the first twenty-nine. At least they still had martini glasses.
Hailee inhaled and exhaled deeply. “Seriously? Kass did it in five. You’re buying us new glasses tomorrow.”
“You mean Kassandra?” I asked, remembering the girl who was newly turned and taken away from her humanity.
“Yeah,” Hailee confirmed, then sped out of the kitchen and yelled, “Zach, get over here. I need you in strength training.”
Oh lord, please no.
“Sure thing,” he replied after a short moment of hesitance. Why would he agree?!
Hailee waltzed upstairs after waving at me sweetly. Zach replaced her in the kitchen. He chuckled out loud when he saw all the broken glass.
Oh, God. His laugh was so deep. I could almost feel the rumbling in his chest from here. He’d be in the popular jock group if he were in high school. Girls would throw themselves at his feet just for the way his side-cocked grin looked.
I shook my head slightly. This was no time to think about how physically attractive this jerk was. It was probably thanks to vampire genetics. Just like how the prettiest mushrooms were usually poisonous, vampires were conventionally attractive to lure unknowing victims.
“You reminded me of myself when I had my first growth spurt,” he commented casually. All I saw was his silhouette zooming around the kitchen as he collected the glass shards into a dustpan in mere seconds.
What is he planning? I thought he’d refrain from interacting with me, especially after what happened in the underground prison. My eyes never left him as he dumped the glass shards into a trash can.
“Follow me closely. I know a better training ground than this,” Zach said before speeding off. I made an effort to catch up, so I wasn’t paying attention to where we were going. I almost lost him two times around corners before he stopped. I had only ever gone that fast in a car; it felt quite amazing.
I snapped out of that feeling when Zach closed a door behind me and locked it. Crap, where am I?
I quickly took in what seemed to be Zach’s room. The walls were plain and books and papers littered the desk in a corner. There was another room on the far left, possibly the bathroom. A king-sized bed took up the most space, and the whole place was dark. Wait, why would he need a bed?
My hands began to shake uncontrollably when I caught on to the vibe of this room. I felt like a weak lamb at a wolf’s disposal again. I then sensed his burning gaze on the side of my head, as if observing my next reaction, or as if a predator waiting for the right moment to pounce on their prey and tear it apart with their claws.
“There are much better training methods than glass cups.” He finally spoke after a long period of silence, making me flinch more than I’d like to admit. “If you catch my drift. Your tolerance for pain is pretty low.”
He inched closer to me and whispered, “As a vampire, if you want to survive, you can’t start crying and screaming for help when you’re wounded.”
Cold air breezed past my exposed neck as he brushed my hair to the back. His actions felt like one slow-motion silhouette flashing after another. I could almost see flashes of color along with shaking memories.
Is he putting illusions into my mind? Could he do that? Right then, I saw an image of myself shrieking in pain. I could almost hear the vivid sound.
“That’s right. Be afraid. Have hatred. It’s the only way you can live on,” he murmured further, tracing his sharp fangs along my bare skin. He paused for a second. “Enjoy that pulse and heartbeat while you still can. Can’t say I remember having those.”
I blinked a couple of times. What did he just say? I took a step to the side, bringing myself out of his range. I fixated on the floorboard.
I get it now. I almost let terror overtake my rational thinking. I glanced up at him through my lashes. Zach studied me without a blink of an eye.
“Why are you trying so hard to get me to hate you?” I mustered up to ask the question that had been on my mind since Hailee pointed it out.
At first, Zach appeared to be downright dumbfounded. He growled irritatedly, then turned around and rubbed his temples as if that took effect on a creature like him. While still having his back turned to me, he muttered, “I can’t take this. Every time you speak, it’s almost like you want to understand me. I don’t like it one bit.”
I didn’t know how to react to his words. I didn’t realize I expressed concern in what I said to him. I was more curious than anything else. He had such a complex, yet straightforward personality. It screamed the signs of once having happiness torn away from him. I’m too nosy, aren’t I? Or am I relating so much that I don’t even notice?
“I don’t want to make any enemies since everyone belongs to the same organization, and we’re all looking out for one another.” He turned around. “But I also don’t want someone following me around every day claiming to be my ‘friend.’ I’ve always acted the same way. It works; people don’t approach me any more than necessary.”
Zach kept our relatively far distance. “But you, you’re utterly incomprehensible. It seems the harder I push you away, the more you bounce back. What the hell is wrong with you? Are you asking for pain? Do I have to fucking break you for you to understand?”
Somewhere, past the darkness of his rough exterior, I saw the genuine confusion of a child who just discovered something entirely new to him. I had always been pretty good at reading people, and I thought he was a tough nut to crack. I involuntarily smiled when I finally got my answer.
Zachary isn’t all that different deep down.
“Stupid woman,” he scoffed and retreated to the bathroom when I couldn’t answer. “You’re just like my dumb sister.”
Surprised, I turned to him, but then something else caught my eye. On the windowsill in front of his desk, there was a single porcelain vase. Several pure white roses stood proudly and healthily in it.