To Be True
“My head, my heart, my blood, my limbs. None of that is important without you.”
~ Ivy Anderson
We peeked through the window of the door. Some ten Purebloods filled the floor, all either strawberry blonde or ginger. Three of them sat in front of a giant monitor at the back of the room, which displayed a digitized world map and several floating windows of text. Many green and red dots littered the map. Scattered around the room, the other vampires all performed various tasks.
Zach softly tapped the window, pointing in a direction. I followed his gesture to see a ginger lift his hand and snap his fingers. The air beside him warped and swirled inward as if our dimension was being sucked into an invisible vacuum. A second later, an image of a grass field appeared on the whirl’s round, flat surface.
“A looking eye ability,” Zach concluded. “This floor isn’t nullified.”
Another realization punched me straight in the gut. “That means they were watching us all along. Anderson copied this ability. She’s had eyes on us ever since we were at Crysanthė’s house. I never had an inkling of a chance at an ambush.”
Zach frowned deeply. “And this floor isn’t higher than Anderson’s hideout, which tells us that Ceallakánn’s power is more flexible than we thought. He can bend and shape his nullification range at will. It’s not a strict radius.”
“Oh! If our abilities work here, we can leave!” I exclaimed. “I wish Zach and I can teleport to the surface.”
For a split second, my vision blurred, but in the very next, an invisible force threw us on the ground. I blinked. “What just happened?”
“Teleportation barrier,” Zach deduced. “It’s a rare support-type ability that produces a shield to prevent anyone from teleporting out of it.”
The door on the floor below us squeaked open. I jolted and reflexively opened this floor’s door. Zach and I bolted through, gathering the eyes of every vampire in the room. Glancing at their faces, I was briefly reminded of Hailee. These vampires must belong to the same family, Gersełna.
I wish I knew if there is an exit at the top.
Yes, there is.
We quickly found the door that led to another ascending staircase. Wasting no time, we burst into the next floor. This room was pitch dark and silent, contrasting the well-lit and prattling storey below it. Just as we sped across, my peripheral vision discovered something unbelievable.
I pulled on Zach’s shirt, eyes staring straight at the other side of the floor. A narrow walkway was left on this side. Most of the room was separated by bars into a huge cage. Fifty or so vampires, all Purebloods, were locked behind bars. Cheeks hollow and eyes dull, they scattered on the floor, staring at us like meat slabs. They all dressed in the same plain clothes.
“This is how vampires are treated?” I said, voice shaking. “The peaceful, advanced resting floor was just a front? Or just for a selected few?”
Zach sucked in a short breath. I knew that this sight reminded him of the time when vampire hunters imprisoned and tortured him. I slid my hand in his; he squeezed my hand tightly, then mumbled, “That’s Roman.”
I whipped my head toward Zach, eyes wide in horror, and followed his gaze. In the far back, sitting against the wall, was Roman. Eyes barely open, he gawked straight at me. Gone were his full brown hair and physique, replacing them were dark eye bags and a pallor, corpse-like complexion.
Zach and I shot to the cage door. Usually, it wasn’t too difficult for a Pureblood to break bars, even ones constructed with pure blood, but these vampires were obviously starved. They were fed just enough not to go berserk but little enough to gradually have less and less strength. To think that while Zach and I enjoyed ourselves here, Roman and the others had been mistreated to this extent just a few floors above us. Anderson lied; she brought Roman here. I should’ve known. She said she was ordered to abduct any Purebloods she came across.
Just as I raised my fist and prepared to punch the intricate locks, a knobby hand reached out through the bars’ narrow space. I lowered my head, only to barely recognize a familiar face: Ivy, the vampire I trained with a few days ago. When I saw her, she was a strong, built member of the fourth vampire family. Now, she was a hollow shell that used every last ounce of her strength to extend her arm to me.
Just then, footsteps stomped up the stairs from the level below us. I knew then that I never had any time to save any of these caged vampires. They couldn’t move on their own, and no one could teleport out of here.
I slid into a squat to face Ivy at her eye level. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. But I’ll get you all out of here once I figure out this mess, okay? You’ll leave this hellhole alive; I promise,” I choked out, loud enough to speak to both Roman and Ivy.
Ivy’s eyelids seemed to raise a quarter higher. Her hand lowered, and she laid down, silently saying that she trusted to wait for me.
“Vivian’s not here,” Zach suddenly stated.
We realized at the same time that that only meant one thing. Nœrlaide had said that the orders were to kill “subpars” on sight. I got lucky, but Vivian was an Elite with a tracking ability that they did not need. As dread finally sank into the deepest depths of my soul, the metal door behind me swung open.
“You’re not supposed to be here, are you, Hazel?” Emmy’s voice rang, an octave deeper than usual. Zach stepped up, shielding me, but even he wasn’t enough to distract Emmy from her rage.
“How dare you use First Majesty’s name when you are a lowly subpar?!” she shrieked. “How dare you even look into Second Majesty’s eyes?!”
I automatically tuned out the rest of her screaming and slowly stood up. I severely underestimated the progenitors’ twisted ideology and capacity for cruelty. Roman was captured because of me. Vivian died because of me. I led them to search for my mother. I led them directly into Anderson’s ploy. And now, I not only failed to save my mother but also led Zach into possible imprisonment and torture.
My shoulders were abruptly forcibly twisted to the side, moving my sight away from Roman and Ivy. Zach’s pale blues firmly gazed into mine. “You’re blaming yourself. I know you are. Stop it. We can take days to talk about everything later, but you need to toughen up your mental state right now. I suspect that Nœrlaide has a fucked up plan in store for us. Psychological-based abilities often depend on a victim’s mental strength, especially a power like hypnosis that probably has different levels of severity. The weaker you feel, the easier it’d be for hypnosis to completely rule your mind. I know how you’re feeling, but don’t let it get to you. If you’re gone, I’m gone. Don’t let Nœrlaide’s little tricks work. Don’t make it easy for him to control you, got it? Nod if you got it.”
He lectured so quickly that I dumbly gaped at him for a solid five seconds. I swallowed hard, then nodded. I exhaled deeply and tried to tune out the voices in my head.
“No matter what happens, I’ll be with you. My heart will always be right beside you, okay?” Zach assured me. “Stay strong, Hazel. For me, and for Mihaela and Roman and Ivy. We can’t lose here.”
“Okay,” I whispered. “You, too. Fight with everything you have.”
“How moving.” That familiar detached voice alerted me of a chilling presence. Zach and I turned to see Nœrlaide and Ceallakánn positioned at the doorway that led to the upper floor. “I really thought these two would be rational and run to the top floor.”
“Thus why you lose every bet, Ceallakánn,” Nœrlaide responded.
There it was. This hellhole was entirely for entertainment. We were given “clues” throughout our stay, so they could watch and analyze our reactions like a game. I was led to befriend Emmy and Ivy; it was all a part of their planned “character development” for me. Ultimately, I was supposed to be crushed upon realizing that I lived in a dreamy lie while others suffered because of me.
“But you weren’t fully right, either,” Ceallakánn retorted. “Their minds didn’t break.”
“Precisely. I would be rather disappointed if this simple plan truly deceived my descendant. Shall we enter phase two?”
“Do what you want, you sadist.”
Right as Ceallakánn spoke, the vampire guards in the stairway all bolted toward us. We were instantly cornered by some ten bulky Pureblood vampires who were expertly trained in physical combat.
I screamed as the vampire closest to me aimed his fist directly at my face. I ducked, fast, and still felt his arm graze my hair. In a deafening boom, his fist landed on the wall behind me, cracking and denting it inward.
To my side, an agile fighter leapt at Zach, maneuvering herself around like a snake. He reacted much faster than me and promptly grabbed her ankle, then hurled her to the other side of the room.
At the same time, my first attacker raised his right hand and chopped down at me. Using all of my self-defence knowledge, I raised my left arm to block and grab his wrist, bending his arm downward. My right arm then swooped to his underarm and used all my strength to pin his arm behind his back. I slithered around and palmed his left elbow to cushion the resistance and, in one swift motion, locked my left arm around his throat. I then immediately scooted back and stuck my back to the wall, using my attacker as a meat shield in front of me.
Well, the other vampires simply did not care. As soon as a white-eyed vampire formed her hand into a blade, I knew that I had to dodge. I slid out of my chokehold and zipped to the side. In the same millisecond, white-eye’s hand penetrated my first attacker’s chest. She didn’t hesitate in the least to strike him in the vital if it meant she could’ve stabbed me through him.
In that half of a second that I wasted, stunned, a large hand clawed my neck from behind. As nails began to sink into my flesh, I hurriedly twisted around and struck the vampire’s elbow with my left upper arm. As my left hand pulled their elbow down, my right fist flew at their jaw. I then tried to flip them by their arm, but I quickly found that this attacker didn’t budge an inch. I couldn’t launch them onto the ground, at all.
The moment I made a mistake, my immediate fate was sealed. The vampire’s other hand balled into a fist and aimed a brutal uppercut right at my chin. I projected into the air, nearly grazing the ceiling. Almost half of the bones in my face instantly shattered. My ears rang like a flatline, and my head pounded like there was a second heart in my brain. The second I rammed into the ground, someone grabbed my lower leg and smashed it over their knee. I wanted to yell. I wanted to let out a blood curdling screech, but my broken face had just started to repair itself. The vampires around me kicked and thrashed to slow my healing, destroying every non-vital part of my body. They immobilized me and depleted my energy but kept me alive.
Zach. Is he okay? I trembled as I hurriedly raised my head, searching for Zach. Suddenly, two shadows crashed into the bars. I held my breath as I saw that Zach was being overpowered. His left arm was a mangled mess of blood, flesh, and bones.
Exploiting his predicament, all of the soldier vampires darted to him, each seizing one body part to pin him to the ground. With his injuries, Zach didn’t stand a chance against ten Purebloods’ raw strength. My brain commanded my body to act, but I couldn’t even twitch my fingertips. My whole body burned so badly that I was paralyzed. The only things I could feel were parts of my face, neck, and torso. I was useless.
Without warning, the vampires that restrained Zach’s limbs dove and sank their teeth into his wrists, rapidly draining him.
I inwardly screamed bloody murder, but only faint murmurings escaped my lips. My last muscle wore out, letting my head drop back onto the ground.
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t help him.
All at once, the noises ceased. Silence encompassed the entire floor. A moment later, slow footsteps echoed off the walls. Nœrlaide appeared in my view, peering down at me.
“I am a little disappointed. You lost quite soon,” he remarked. “Your presence distracted him, as well. I believe I sense an interesting relationship between you two.”
I hadn’t the strength to react.
“Are you betrothed?” Nœrlaide mumbled, narrowing his eyes. “His pure bloodline must not be damaged by a subpar such as yourself. You must die.”
“Hey, hey, hey!” I recognized that voice as Anderson. “I didn’t waste energy lugging her here for you to kill her, Nolly! With her ability, we’d never need anything else, remember?”
Ceallakánn’s irritated growl crept to my ears from the other side of the floor. “So, we can’t even kill her. Do we lock her in the tower with the livestock?”
Nœrlaide adjusted his tailcoat briefly. My eyes, lifeless, fixed on him, wishing to glare him to death. After a short minute, Nœrlaide smiled. “No, let us place her in the empty tower with Zach.”
“Huh? Why?” Anderson questioned.
“I wish for them to escape together, with no memories, of course. I desire to test his true capabilities, but I also cannot help but be curious about their dynamic.”
“And you’ve already predicted that they wouldn’t actually escape.” Anderson giggled. “As expected of Nolly! Your galaxy intelligence always amazes me!”
Nœrlaide crouched down until his face hovered a few inches above mine, quietly stating, “The death of a loved one is extremely devastating, would you not agree? Zach has tremendous mental prowess, but I wonder if he could remain resilient if I killed you in front of him, especially after spending the last few days of your life forgetting who you were. What a fun bet, right?”
Ceallakánn’s laugh boomed through the room. He zipped up to Nœrlaide, eyes shining like those of a child on Christmas. “You fucking mastermind. I can’t wait.”
Nœrlaide displayed a cruel closed-eye smile. “Fret not, subpar. Fortunately, your ability is extraordinarily useful. Mihaela will simply secretly resurrect you, and then we will hold you in the livestock tower.”
“Without further ado, let’s move!” Anderson cheered.
A single teardrop finally flowed out of my eye.