“I’m the only one whose name stays exactly the same.”
~ Roman Anderson
Anderson led Zach and me out of her hideout and into a walkway. I asked, “So, for how long have you guys been doing this research?”
“Too many years,” Anderson huffed. “The fact that vampires don’t show up on film really drags out every experiment ever.”
Zach busied himself with studying our surroundings. I kept Anderson’s attention with more questions. “Where is Mihaela? Can I see her now?”
“She’s in the lab. Only researchers are allowed there. You’ll see her when she takes a break.”
We arrived at a solid silver door, and Anderson opened it for us. When she wasn’t swooning over Nœrlaide or Zach, she seemed like an ordinary, friendly woman. Her light brown hair and air bangs emanated a soft aura.
I stepped through the door to find a floor filled with office desks on one side and bunk beds on the other. I gasped a little, realizing that everyone here was human. Paying us no mind, they busied reading papers, staring at computer screens, and running across the room to check something with someone. Zach and I stepped forward. A few people glanced at us, saw Anderson, then went back to work. Scanning the room, I felt a slight thud in my chest. Who knew these many humans were willing to work with vampires toward coexistence?
I turned to Zach, who still held a frown on his tense features, and whispered, “You know what this means? Nœrlaide didn’t lie to us. Look at all these people here! They support the plan.”
Zach continued glancing around. “Something still feels fishy to me. I know it’s unlikely that these humans were hypnotized to be here, but still.”
“Yeah, compared to any vampire, humans are very inefficient workers. There’s no point in hypnotizing them to labour here, so they must be volunteers.” I moved closer to him to make eye contact. “I know you’re suspicious by nature. We can take some time to confirm everything.”
But in my heart, I’d already accepted all I saw as the truth. Because she was working on this top-secret project, my mom couldn’t visit me. All these years, she’d been taking practical steps toward coexistence. Maybe my dad’s death led her to believe that it was preventable if those vampires had no need to attack humans. Maybe she was concerned for my future as a vampire-human hybrid and wished to invent a “cure” that allowed me to live as a human.
“The chefs are making dinner right now,” Anderson suddenly chimed in. “Meet me in the dining hall in an hour. Take the elevator to the fifth floor. Until then, do whatever!”
She hopped around and sped back down the walkway. I briskly set the alarm on my phone. Then, for a few seconds, I admired the sight in front of me. As my gaze panned over to Zach, I saw a young girl staring at him. A mop in hand, her jaw hung open, muttering, “Second Majesty….”
I stepped in front of Zach and met her gaze. Immediately, her entire body tensed, cheeks suffusing with the color of a sunset. I grinned. “He really looks like Nœrlaide, doesn’t he?”
“Yes!” She laughed shyly. “I got excited for a second there. We don’t see him much.”
“You don’t?” I approached her.
Her fingers picked at the wooden handle of the mop. “Nope, he’s usually busy in the lab. He’s very hardworking.” She chuckled. “I’m sorry you saw me like that. I’m Emmy.”
“Hazel,” I returned.
She stared at me, lips parted as if waiting for something. Oh, probably for a family name. Only Purebloods are allowed here, after all.
“Uh, Ceallakánn. Hazel Ceallakánn,” I added the first name that came to mind.
Emmy’s hands shot to her mouth, letting the mop hit the ground. “Oh my gosh! A Ceallakánn!”
Oh no, I should’ve said a lower-ranked name. Feeling the burning gazes on my back, I quickly said, “Yeah, I just arrived here. Do you want to show me around?”
As Emmy led the way, I glanced at Zach. He was talking to one of the humans, as well. That was a good sign; I’d never seen him converse with a human for more than two seconds. I turned back around and caught up with Emmy in the elevator.
“Most people on this floor are researchers,” she said. “They’re focused on work, so they don’t usually talk to other people. I’m a caretaker. We clean their living and working areas.”
“You don’t do research?” I asked.
“Nah, I’m only sixteen. I don’t know enough. I’m lucky that the Majesties took me in.”
“You call all of them ‘Majesty’?”
“Yeah, because they’re so amazing!” She beamed. “If it weren’t for Second Majesty, I wouldn’t be alive right now.”
The elevator doors opened to the storey below the humans’ floor. In that instant, two figures flashed before my eyes.
“This is the vampires’ training floor.”
I blinked to adjust to vampire speed. Through a deep inhale, I confirmed that every vampire on this floor was a Pureblood. They practiced hand-to-hand combat only.
“They’re training to defend this base without their abilities since First Majesty nullifies all of them. This way, no one needs to worry about intruders’ unknown powers.”
I nodded, eyes following the rapid movements of the training vampires. They fought like I’d never seen before. Every single part of their bodies was useful in combat, ranging from a finger flick to a snake-like maneuver to soften a blow.
After a wave of awe, I was slapped with a nauseating sense of unease. I relied on my vampiric sixth sense to fight my battles. Up till now, I was lucky enough to scrape by using pure instincts and genetic advantages, but one look at these vampires told me that they could kill in under one second.
I even wondered if Zach, at his full power, could emerge victorious in a brawl with one of them. The elevator doors slid closed in front of my eyes, interrupting my thoughts. Concealing my shaken core, I smiled at Emmy.
The following floors were the bathrooms, dining hall, and meeting room. I strode out of the elevator, admiring the long oak table. In front of each seat was a removable tablet that probably coordinated with the projector screen in the back. I pulled out one of the chairs and sat. “The facilities here are pretty advanced.”
“Yup, we get all the latest upgrades. Except for furniture. Second Majesty has a thing for retro furniture.”
I chuckled. “You mention him so much. You must like him a lot.”
The sunset hue returned to Emmy’s cheeks. “I mean, he did save me.”
“What happened? I’m curious.”
Emmy started rocking side to side, but she seemed glad that I asked. “He killed my parents.”
“Foster parents,” she clarified, gulping. “My foster mom was about to watch my foster dad do whatever he wanted to me. My birth father was framed for a murder. It was a very public trial, and the whole world believed he was the culprit because one of the fake witnesses cried a river. Even after he was acquitted, people were dead set that it was a wrongful acquittal. My dad couldn’t find work anywhere. He even got attacked once in the streets. No one helped him.”
My fingers clutched on the back of my chair as I listened.
Emmy stood still. “He couldn’t take it. He jumped off of a building. And you know what people did? They celebrated. They celebrated someone’s suicide, Hazel, they were overjoyed. All of that broke my mom. She didn’t last long after.”
“Emmy, I’m so sorry. You don’t need to relive these terrible memories.”
“It’s okay. I’ve been waiting to tell someone,” Emmy insisted. “But yeah, none of my relatives wanted to take in the daughter of a murderer. ‘Blood is thicker than water’ my ass, right? So, I was passed around in the foster care system. I knew they didn’t want me. They looked at me differently. I tried to do more housework or get good grades to make them happy, but nothing worked. And, well, I already told you what happened in my last foster home. Humans are the worst.”
She sighed, then started rocking side to side again. “That was when I met Second Majesty. He looked at me like any other human. He didn’t care about my past. I knew right then that I would follow him to the ends of the Earth.”
Her tone swapped from extreme hatred to extreme adoration so fast. Even when mentioning her birth parents, she sounded so detached. Still sunken in her backstory, I couldn’t react to her sudden giddy mood.
“If you ask anyone else in the S.A., you’ll find that we all have solid reasons for being loyal to First and Second Majesty. They’re going to change this world, and we are the luckiest to be able to witness everything.”
Emmy’s smile began to resemble a creepy line stitched onto a doll’s face. Her emotions sounded genuine to me, but for some reason, her last few sentences launched chill after chill down my spine.
I yelped when a strident alarm noise rang throughout the floor. I fumbled out my phone and turned off the alarm. Chuckling nervously, I glanced up at Emmy. “I think it’s time for dinner.”
The entire elevator ride up, a calm grin etched on Emmy’s face. I wanted to ask what “S.A.” was. And what she meant by “they’re going to change this world.”
But we were only two floors away from the dining hall. I couldn’t muster up the courage.
“I’ll be on the top floor,” Emmy said, waving goodbye. I waved back until the elevator doors shut.
I quickly composed myself. Four large tables covered the floor, leaving the room in the back to be the kitchen. Several humans sat by the tables near the elevator, eating dinner. I saw Zach seated in the back and sprinted to him. As soon as I met his eyes, I saw the same unsettledness that mirrored mine.
“Are humans usually passionate about their own destruction?” Zach asked quietly.
“Not seriously, no.” I shuffled my seat a tad closer to him. “That girl I met, Emmy, she felt a bit off to me.”
“Yeah, I met a researcher. He kept rambling that humans needed a natural predator to keep them in line.”
“For a group of people working toward coexistence, they seem to hate humans a bit too much.”
Zach glanced up, then nudged my arm. Quickly shutting up, I turned to the elevator that just opened. A vampire with side-swept hair emerged, followed by Nœrlaide and Anderson. As soon as they appeared, the humans in the room instantly stood and cleaned up, leaving by elevator. But I barely noticed them.
My gaze glued on the man approaching me. Fixing his frosty stare ahead, he took his time to stride across the floor, seemingly carrying the wind. For someone with such a warm shade of caramel for eyes, he bore a perpetual aura of “glance at me? I’ll kill you.”
But, as soon as he sat across from us, a small smile tugged at his lips. For a split second, my face warmed. I didn’t know where to look. Nœrlaide and Anderson seated on either side of him. I noted that this man in the center must be Ceallakánn. He was the only being powerful enough for Anderson to willingly peel away from Nœrlaide.
At the same time, a few humans brought out several dishes from the kitchen, setting them on the table. I felt like I was at Crysanthė’s house.
“New friends. How fun,” Ceallakánn mumbled, glancing at the pocket watch in his hand.
Just then, it hit me. How could I forget? There was only one being in the entire world that had the absolute perfect combination of everything.
“I’ve seen you in my city before,” I said. When I went for desserts with Kaydence and Sophi, we saw him stroll down the street in all his glory. My ability didn’t work on him then because I was in his nullification range, and Kaydence didn’t sense him as a vampire, so we concluded that he was a gifted human. Turned out, I encountered the first vampire progenitor.
“Likely,” Ceallakánn responded, unfazed. “I travel often.”
I gulped. His presence made me strangely nervous. And was it just me or did he seem irritated?
“So this ‘cure’ that you spoke of,” Zach started. “What exactly does it do?”
“Ideally, a solution that lets vampires digest and gain energy from regular foods that humans consume, whether that be a pill, injection, or surgery,” Nœrlaide explained. “Part of the process includes changing a vampire’s taste buds, which has proven quite difficult. Burning them is not an option, as they simply regenerate immediately. Tongue transplants did not work, either, as the rest of the body attacked the foreign organ.”
Zach picked up two cupped puddings and set one of them in front of me.
“Our stomachs also aren’t designed to digest solid foods,” Anderson added.
The pudding tasted great.
“Precisely. We would also need to redesign stomach chambers and eliminate a vampire’s violent thirst for blood, replacing it with a human’s sense of hunger.”
There was a lot more to consider than I imagined. “Aren’t these solid foods?” Zach questioned, gesturing to the plates of pudding, cupcakes, brownies, and crackers.
Ceallakánn replied, “These are made of blood. They melt.”
Nœrlaide nodded, sipping on his tea. “Though in our research process, we have created compacted pills. One is enough to sustain the average vampire for about a week.”
I lit up. “That’s great! A lot of vamps would appreciate not needing to hunt.”
For a fraction of a second, Ceallakánn tossed a glance at me. I would’ve missed it if I blinked, but I saw it. The small, charming smile on his face vanished into a scornful glare of disdain as if I were a piece of dirt on the bottom of his shoe. I slowly sank into the chair. I heard Zach ask something, and Nœrlaide responded. I tried to listen, but nothing entered my brain. I looked at Ceallakánn again. This time, he met my timid eyes with his attractive half-lidded ones.
Perhaps I imagined that glare. Maybe my nerves were rattled by speaking to the most powerful vampire in the world. I gradually snipped my budding doubts.
“Interesting. Your theories are immaculate but almost impossible to execute.” Zach’s voice entered my ears at last. It seemed he developed a little more faith in the progenitors’ plan.
“I appreciate your suggestions,” replied Nœrlaide.
I rigidly bit a brownie, bringing back the nostalgic taste to calm myself down. The dessert melted into blood as it glided down my esophagus. It wasn’t real.