Blood on Roses

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Game

“Amongst a field of wildflowers, she is an elegant and spirited rose.”
~ Ashton Anderson

NINE

Hailee taught me a few things about vampirism via her telepathy while we ran through the city. I now knew how to speedily travel down the streets while keeping the possibility of being spotted at a bare minimum. Hailee’s ability was convenient for on-the-mission training since she could tell me everything without saying a word out loud.

“Pure silver that contains the blood of a Pureblood is burning and deadly to vampires. That’s why as much as they want to kill us all, the hunters still prefer to capture vampires first, analyze their blood, then keep them locked up if they’re a Pureblood. If not, well, either they’re kept for training purposes, or it’s off with the head.”

I tailed Hailee closely as we took long strides to the guest’s room. Since this was a public research facility, visitors were welcome as long as they followed a guide. Hailee tossed me a hat that identified me as a visitor.

“You’re on your own from here on out. At the entrance to the inside of the provision, there are scanners to make sure the guests are human. You’ll pass it since your vampire blood content isn’t high enough for the machines to detect. I’ll keep in touch, so tell me everything you see.” With that, Hailee hopped back outside to wait for me in the area.

“Now, just wait. More people will come for the 8 o’clock tour. When there are enough to form a small group, a tour guide will come.” I glanced at my wristwatch; it was twenty to eight. When I took a seat, a family of four arrived.

They smiled at me in greeting, and I returned it. The two kids jumped around in excitement, declaring that they’d be cool vampire hunters in the future.

By the time the clock struck eight, I had followed the group into the premise. As Hailee said, everyone had to walk through a security detector. Except this one was for detection of vampire blood.

I was at the end of the line. Others strolled through without a care in the world while I took baby steps toward it. I hesitated when it was my turn.

I was the first hybrid that The Ones has ever seen; therefore, it’s not proven that these detectors couldn’t catch me. What if it started beeping? Could I escape?

The tour guide lady got annoyed by how long I took and shoved me past it. I stumbled a bit. When I stood up straight, the woman went past me to the head of the crowd to lead us around. I glanced back at the silent detector while I trailed behind the group.

I observed each one of the working areas we passed by. The walls were made of glass, probably vampire-proof. I reported the tour guide’s statements word by word to Hailee as well as what I was seeing, which was some ten researchers in lab coats per area, either staring at test tubes and microscopes or furiously writing something in their notebooks.

What caught my interest was that each room had a tank of red substance at the back. Anyone could tell that it was blood. By what Hailee said to me, it must be the ultra useful and rare pure blood.

“To get that amount of blood, there must be a chamber in here somewhere that the researchers keep the Purebloods to analyze and take samples,” I thought concisely.

Hailee hummed in approval. We were approaching the end of the tour and vampires still weren’t anywhere in sight, which meant they didn’t plan on leaking such information to the public. For all we knew, behind closed doors, these researchers in white cloaks could be torturing the Purebloods.

The stone floor of the facility was clean and shiny enough to see my reflection, yet perhaps just a floor beneath my feet, beings were screaming in searing pain. Even if vampires weren’t humans, that would still be animal abuse.

I didn’t dare think that clear enough for Hailee to hear.

When the tour group passed by an elevator, someone asked where it led to. I relayed the guide’s explanation to Hailee.

“This leads underground to where the ruthless vampires are locked up and constrained so they can’t hurt anybody,” she said briefly, antagonizing the creatures with every chance she had. The visitors nodded in understanding, and then we moved on.

What is this? If the same description were used for tigers, wolves, or bears, which were all animals that could kill people, this place would’ve long been sued for animal cruelty ages ago.

I bit the inside of my lip when I realized that I was subconsciously defending vampires. What happened to despising them because they changed my life forever?

I brought back the memory of witnessing an innocent teen girl drop dead under Zach’s fangs. These creatures were nothing but killers. Plus, they were holding me hostage and forcing me to complete tasks for them.

I handed my visitor’s hat back to the smiling staff with a distraught expression. Hailee’s voice rang in my head again. “Is it almost done? I’m in the café beside the building. Meet me here.”

I slid into the seat across from her. She was sipping on a drink, and the same one was set in front of me. I drank it without a second thought.

Immediately, I stopped. Something tasted funny. At my scrunched up face, Hailee gestured to an empty sugar packet at the side of the table. “Carry some of these wherever you go, comes in real handy to make the tasteless drinks you humans adore so much drinkable for us. Get used to the taste. You won’t be able to live without it in a couple more weeks.”

She tossed several bags across the small table. I glared at her. “This is my thanks for practically risking my life just five minutes ago? Not even a drink that would’ve been delicious without your tacky sweetener?”

I was visibly angry, and Hailee wasn’t stupid. She tilted her head to the side and stared out the window. She pulled the straw away from her lips. “Sorry about that.”

She was going to continue, but her widened eyes interrupted her sentence. She shot up and headed to the restrooms. My eyes went after her, puzzled.

“You see that dumb brunette wearing a jacket? He’s sitting on a bench and facing the street.”

I searched for the described person, and sure enough, he sat there as if waiting for someone.

“That’s the vampire I told you about who betrayed us and became a hunter. I can’t believe he’s here. I don’t want to be seen by him. I’m getting Roman to come get us, however urgent his affairs may be.”

I didn’t argue with her. I could only see the back of his spiky hair. He raised his arm to check the time often. I had mixed feelings about the guy. I didn’t like people who betrayed their friends, yet at the same time, I held some form of admiration for him. He had no choice, but he pushed past that and constructed a second road for himself, going as far as becoming a vampire hunter while being a vampire.

Roman irritatedly teleported away again right after delivering us to the mansion, and Hailee stormed upstairs without a word.

Why is she so upset? I shook my head, then strolled into the kitchen. I didn’t know what I should do, so I practiced holding glass cups again like the other day.

During the time, many others came to grab a drink. I was grateful that they all nodded at me in acknowledgment but didn’t attempt to make small talk. I wasn’t trying to die of awkwardness anytime soon.

I was doing pretty good with the first glass I picked up. I focused immensely for the past ten minutes to control my strength. The way I held the cup was still unnatural. My hand looked like a frozen bird claw.

Though the second I tried to shift my grip, the glass shattered into pieces. This time, I accidentally gripped one of the shards. It sliced through my penetrable skin, making a stream of blood drip down my palm.

Before I could hiss in pain, someone seized my wrist to inspect my wound. My gaze trailed up to see Zach’s face. For a second, he looked concerned. But as soon as he saw the red substance that was beginning to flow down my arm, his expression grew rigid.

“Wait, Zach!” I realized what he was thinking and briskly tried to jerk my arm back. His grip involuntarily tightened. Like a starved person, he wordlessly leaned closer to my open wound as if compelled. I cringed in discomfort when he gingerly flicked his tongue on my wrist. Right away, his expression shifted to one of astonishment, and his grasp loosened.

I yanked my arm back and scooted away from him. “Don’t do that again. That was gross,” I said and went around him to the sink. I gently washed away the blood until the cut was visible. It was about two inches long. It stung.

I turned my head when I heard the refrigerator door open. Zach grabbed a juice box, or should I say, blood box, but instead of jabbing the straw in, he ripped the packaging and chugged it down in one go. My eyes widened at the thick red liquid pouring out of the box.

Zach tossed the empty box away when he finished, then mumbled, “I couldn’t have controlled myself otherwise.”

I shuffled uncomfortably. Once again, I felt like food being ogled by a hungry lion that was ready to pounce any second. If pizza had feelings, was this how it felt?

Having read the atmosphere, Zach crossed his arms and focused his gaze on something behind me. I figured this must be what he did when he was feeling awkward.

My stomach churned. Every time I felt determined that Zach was a complete monster, he ended up doing something adorable and human-like that wavered my decision.

“I’ve been thinking about how weird you are the past few days whenever I had free time,” Zach said all of a sudden.

“What a fantastic conversation starter,” I remarked without processing the thought.

“You see, there it is. One minute, you’re terrified of me, and another, you use the most casually sarcastic tone to speak to me. And, well, I didn’t want to say this, but I can’t read your memory.”

“Really?” I didn’t hide my surprise. The almighty Zachary’s power didn’t work on me? No, his mind control and dream manipulation both worked just fine. Still, I was glad he could stay out of my memory. I didn’t want him snooping around and seeing images of empty houses.

“I’m supposed to get a vision when I touched you, but there was nothing. Here I thought my power was the one thing I could rely on.” He cleaned up the broken glass in a second, then sat on the counter. “Anyway, I heard Hailee storm upstairs, what happened? Did she break a nail during the mission?”

I rolled my eyes and replied, “We saw this dude who apparently betrayed you guys a long time ago.”

Zach immediately raised his chin, understanding. “I never liked that guy. He always seemed fishy to me.”

I pushed myself up onto the counter beside him cautiously. He paused for a moment, then continued, “This one time, he set up his partner to get ambushed by hunters. He wanted him dead.” Zach scoffed. “Heck, he wants all vampires dead, including himself.”

“Don’t tell me he plans on killing himself after he kills everyone else?”

“Got it in one.”

“Is that why Hailee’s so upset?”

“No, she was practically in love with him. I think they dated for a while, too,” Zach responded nonchalantly.

I whipped around, showing him my raised eyebrows and open jaw. Having your friend betray you was one thing, but having your boyfriend stab you in the back? Yikes.

At my reasonable surprise, he elaborated a bit more, “Hailee was recruited not too long after I was, we used to depend on each other a lot since we had similar experiences.”

Zach stopped. He lifted a hand to the side of his mouth and rested the middle phalanx of his index and middle finger there in thought. My breath hitched in my throat at his actions. I turned my head forward to avoid looking at him. If I was this affected just by one of his everyday gestures, it was no wonder so many people fell victim to him.

He possessed a certain charm that just screamed: “come to me!”

All of a sudden, he moved in front of me and asked with a frown, “Your heartbeat is increasing. Do you have a fever? Or whatever it is that happens to you humans when you lie in bed all day?”

“I’m not, I’m not sick. Don’t worry about it. It happens to humans when they’re, uh, shocked,” I stuttered after leaning back. I scanned his features, and it didn’t seem like he was making fun of me. Thankfully, he was careless enough to let that go.

“How peculiar.” Zach sat back up and pulled his knee up, then draped his forearm on it. He continued, “I was thinking of how to word this. Basically, I went through a lot of shit and neglected her a lot. During that time, he was the only friend she had. So, yeah, I don’t know what happened in between. I just know that one day, Hailee was crying, and Harv anxiously called everyone to a meeting. After that, we had to switch the location of our headquarters.”

“I see,” I mumbled and swung my legs left and right. I glanced at Zach. He had the same gesture as before. This time, I couldn’t stop staring at him.

He grazed the nail of his thumb against the side of his index finger in thought. His other hand supported his weight and rested right beside mine. Strands of his slightly wavy dark hair that I hadn’t noticed before fell over his masculine eyebrows. His pale blue eyes always seemed like they held so many stories in them. His face never gave away what he was thinking, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that there were more layers to him than what he liked for me to see.

I realized how much Zach ignited my curiosity. I could tell he had similar feelings. The last time we spoke, we ended on such a sour note, but he approached me when he had all the chances in the world to avoid me.

We had the same aura of people who lost important things at young ages.

During those dark times of my childhood, I also coldly ignored anybody, children and adults alike, who tried to approach me. They eventually all gave up. I did want some friends like a normal person, but I despised the look of sympathy and pity in people’s eyes when they spoke to me softly, as if afraid I’d burst into tears any second.

Arthur was particularly anxious during that time. I didn’t cry when he told me my parents passed away in a car accident; I didn’t cry when a bully at school called me an unlovable orphan; I didn’t cry as I kept to myself quietly and sat in a corner, which was extremely worrying. I knew it was unreasonable to ask, but I sincerely hoped that back then, someone didn’t give up on me.

The truth was, I never wanted to be emotionally alone. I wanted a friend who could see just how broken I was feeling instead of the adults around me who praised me for being strong and for not crying while they try oh-so-hard to be as gentle and considerate as they could.

I wished I realized that it was okay to cry.

I was small and foolish; I thought there was no one else in the world who could possibly understand how I was feeling. Ashton’s and Hailee’s pasts opened my eyes.

Zach went through something that he had to pause to think several times to phrase it so that he wouldn’t say too much. Kassandra went through something that made her voluntarily cast aside humanity.

“What are you thinking about?” Zach suddenly met my eyes.

I didn’t look away. “Just about how foolish I am.”

“Tell me about it,” he agreed right away. “If you keep this up, someday, you won’t even know how you died.”

I smirked at his dark humor. “Can you help me make sure that doesn’t happen?”

He didn’t expect that and rose an eyebrow at me. “You sure you can handle it, miss?”

“Hit me with everything you’ve got, pretty boy.”

Alright, I might’ve been a little bit overconfident with myself. I nearly died at the first thing Zach threw at me: a 25-pound dumbbell. He tossed it to me with one hand, and my arms almost got dislocated from the sudden weight.

A picture of me should pop up when you search “define out of shape.”

Zach clicked his tongue, then commented, “You have a lot of work to do. The weekend’s ahead of us and vampires don’t need sleep.”

Cold sweat appeared on my forehead at his wicked smirk. Why do I always end up in one of his traps to torture me?

Over the next two days, my schedule was filled with nothing but the gym. Surprisingly, Zach was free the entire weekend and stayed with me the whole time.

On Sunday evening, Zach led me to a private combat room to test out the results of my training from hell.

“The room’s soundproof. Feel free to scream,” Zach announced while closing the door. I ignored the unsettling feeling in my chest and met his eyes in the mirror, then asked, “Oh yeah, how come you can see your reflections?”

“We show up in mirrors, just not on a camera screen or in a picture.”

“Ah, so that’s why there aren’t any wanted posters or anything.”

I tossed my jacket into a corner and said, “Hey, thanks for helping me train. Hailee’s been distraught, and Roman’s been busy with his work. I couldn’t have lasted this long without your ‘encouraging’ words.”

I thought he’d snicker like always, but he was silent. When I heard the sound of the door locking, I turned around, only to find Zach all up in my face again. His eyes held a malicious glint to them as he lifted my chin. I held my breath as I could feel his breathing when he spoke, “If I don’t do anything soon, you might mistake me for a nice guy. I can’t have that happening, now can I?”

My heart raced in fright, and my first instinct was to yank myself far away from him, but before I could slap his arm away, I paused. I nudged his arm away from my chin, then locked my orbs with his.

“Remember when you said you found me incomprehensible? That I would be terrified of you for one minute and crack jokes with you like old friends the next?”

He grew serious and nodded, his expression masking his thoughts.

“To me, you’re chilling and murderous for one minute, but then become this very much human-like character in the next minute. You make me have mixed feelings. I don’t know how to act around you. You make me curious, and I can’t stay away because of that.”

Zach scowled. “Haven’t you heard of the expression curiosity killed the cat?”

“Yes, but I’ve also heard that the cat has nine lives.”

“Well, you only have one.” He growled, then zipped back until he leaned against the door. “Alright, here’s the fun game of tag I planned for you. You have ten minutes to try to get ahold of me, as long as you even lay a finger on me, you win. You’re allowed to do anything within your power. If you win, I’ll tell you my story since you’re so damn interested. However, if you lose, let’s just say some excruciating pain will be in store.”

I gulped and shivered in discomfort. He apparently wanted to push me to the point where I’d try my very best. I told myself that it was for my own good even though I knew I was lying to myself.

“Fine,” I said, agreeing to his game in which I would obviously lose. There was no way I could catch up to his speed, much less tag him.

“Ready, set, go.”

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