“Humans don’t like living without meaning, so we assign an arbitrary purpose to our lives. Maybe you want to be rich, work a fulfilling job, have a happy family, buy a house, adopt a less fortunate child, or end world hunger. I don’t care about any of that. My life has only one purpose.”
My eyelids slowly lifted. Immediately, I licked my dry lips and squeezed my eyes several times to focus my vision. After spying a solid metal door with a small slidable window, I realized that I laid on my side in a jail cell.
Shuffling my limbs, I found that my wrists were bound behind me. At last, the coldness slapped me to my senses. I sat up and scanned myself. I was completely healed. If not for the patches of bloodstains on the ground, I almost thought my crushed bones were only parts of a vivid nightmare.
I then noticed why my stomach was growling. In the corner of the cell, Emmy curled up in a ball, hugging her knees to her chest. Her eyes pressed shut, and her hands shivered.
She yelped when I asked, “Why are you here?”
“Second Majesty said I’m a crucial part of the plan,” she stuttered. “You remained stubborn and difficult. I’m here to convince you to comply!”
In other words, my will was still too strong for Nœrlaide to reliably perform memory-wiping hypnotism without expending a needless amount of power.
“Where is Zach?” I demanded.
“I’m not going to tell you!” she yelled.
I squinted a little, watching her expression. She was terrified. She was only sixteen years old, a tenth grader. My vampire orbs possessed night vision, but she was enclosed in pitch darkness. There wasn’t a single light source here.
“How exactly are you persuading me?” I asked.
Emmy paused. “Well, um, if you witness that a human is willing to starve herself for days, you’ll eventually decide––”
I threw my head back. “No, Emmy. I just recovered from full-body injuries, including a lot of blood loss. That depleted all of my energy. I am famished now, do you understand?”
“I’m sure one of the workers will bring––”
“No,” I interrupted again. “You underestimate the extent of Nœrlaide’s inhumanity like I did. He figured that, as a former human, I can’t kill. And he’s right. I’ve never sucked blood directly out of someone before. I’ll break knowing that I murdered a person with my bare hands. In that moment of weakness, Nœrlaide’s hypnotism will easily control me.”
“What? That doesn’t make any sense. If you can’t kill, then you won’t kill me.”
“You seriously don’t know? Once vampires are starved to the brink of insanity, their brains shut down, and they act on nothing but instinct. And the only instinct a vampire would have then is drinking blood to survive. Do you understand, Emmy? You are here as food.”
She didn’t reply, so I continued, “When I return to my senses after sucking you dry, I’ll realize what I’d done. To hammer in the final nail, they’ll let your corpse rot here for an entire day to let me know that even Mihaela can’t bring you back to life.”
After what seemed like minutes, Emmy murmured, “That can’t be….”
My gaze lingered on her curled up figure. This was the first time I saw her in a T-shirt and shorts. Visible scars littered her arms and legs. I cursed Nœrlaide over and over. He knew. He coerced her into wearing that outfit to remind me of her trauma, knowing that it’d affect me. He lied to her, only for it to hit harder when I inevitably told her the truth. To him, she wasn’t a life. She was a small sacrificial pawn, a blood bank made of dead flesh.
“You’re wrong,” Emmy suddenly stated. “Second Majesty told me that my presence here will change your mind, and I believe him.”
I sighed. “Your presence here will break my mind because you will die. You’re either incredibly brainwashed, or Nœrlaide hypnotized you.”
“Insulting! I follow Second Majesty willingly,” she huffed. “The only hypnosis is the one where we’d kill ourselves if we had so much as a thought of betrayal.”
“What? All of you have that?”
“Everyone in the S.A., yup.” She almost sounded proud. “It’s how we pledge our eternal loyalty.”
As she spoke, my vision began to double. My throat grew dryer by the minute, and my nose greedily inhaled the scent of a human’s warm blood coursing beneath their skin.
“Oh, right. I was told to do this after you woke up.” Emmy fished a folding fruit knife out of her pocket.
“No!” I cried. In one swift motion, Emmy flicked out the knife and aimed it at her palm. I sprang toward her and seized the blade with my teeth. It was a regular stainless steel knife that did no harm to me but could lacerate her skin. With one burst of jaw strength, I bit through the blade, crushing it into pieces.
Her eyes wide open, Emmy’s fingers felt for the missing blade. I growled and headbutted her.
“I’ll instantly lose control if you draw blood! You’re begging for death!” I exclaimed.
“But I’ll get your attention! You’ll decide to comply faster, then.”
I stared at her, dumbfounded. There was no way this girl wasn’t hypnotized the shit out of her. I understood that Nœrlaide was charming and attractive, but this was insane. She was ignoring every logical fact presented in front of her to believe in him unconditionally. My brain drove me to think in her shoes. Because of how the world treated her and her parents, she despised humans from the depths of her soul. In a life of pitch darkness and despair, Nœrlaide swooped in and acted as her light, her savior. She’d been in the cold for so long that one thin beam of warmth was bright enough to illuminate her entire world.
She clung to him. She trusted him with more than her life. She perceived him as the one true God. My gaze lowered. Her bleak life distorted her decision-making to what it was today. What could I do for her? None of my words or actions could possibly overwrite Nœrlaide’s place in her heart.
“You don’t seem convinced.”
When I looked up, it was too late—Emmy bit through her thumb. Holding my breath, I zipped to the opposite corner of the room. The damage was done. I felt my fangs poke my bottom lip. I quickly bit through it, hoping to mask the scent of Emmy’s blood a little.
I dashed to the door and shouted, “Hey, I’ll stop fighting! I give up! I’ll let you erase my memories or whatever you want. Please, take Emmy away. Get her out of here!”
Of course, since Emmy’s purpose was never simply to convince me to surrender, no one cared. Cricketing silence responded to my pleas.
My lips healed, which only consumed more energy and worsened my hunger. I whirled around, glancing around the room. If I couldn’t prevent the inevitable, at least I could try to help myself. As fast as I could, I zipped to the back wall. Using my nails, I cut open my wrists and whipped them at the wall, creating blood spots of all sizes. I then slid down the wall and pressed my right index finger onto my left fingernail. A vampire’s nails were their knives, I remembered.
hazel, FIND zach
I wrote as coherently but as illegibly as possible. It had to blend in with the random blood splatters and smudges around it, so the progenitors couldn’t suspect anything and clean the wall. This way, at least I would know my name and goal. I could only hope that Zach wrote a similar message to himself, reminding him of his name or mine.
Just then, a familiar sharp pain stabbed through my stomach. I was near my absolute limit. When I glanced at Emmy, she resembled a full-course meal more and more. She only sat there, letting her thumb bleed onto her clothes.
In the blink of my eye, I was inches away from her face and an inch away from her neck. My knee pressed on her stomach, pinning her to the ground. My breath grew ragged, and my eyes zeroed in on her vein.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, a second before I completely lost my mind.
I barely heard it. And I barely saw her wide smile.
As my consciousness swam back to me, I slowly retracted my fangs. The sight before me resembled the first time I ran into Zach. I witnessed him desiccate a girl. I was disgusted and horrified. Ironically enough, I did the same to Emmy.
Once again, Nœrlaide played me through and through. Emmy’s act was nearly perfect. She pretended not to know Nœrlaide’s real plan, aiming to invoke maximum empathy from me as she announced that she trusted him unconditionally. But she smiled. In the face of inescapable death, she grinned at me. She understood Nœrlaide’s intentions from the start. But she was willing to serve as food anyway, just because he told her to. Maybe her slip up smile was intentional.
Because it utterly destroyed me.
Perhaps she was deeply in love with him on a level that I couldn’t hope to comprehend. Or maybe she was a victim of his eyes. Or, she wished to repay him for the debt of her life. Either way, I could never understand.
In the middle of a gloomy, cold dungeon, Emmy’s eyelids rested closed. The corners of her lips seemed to curve upward in serenity.
“May you be born into a loving family in your next life,” I murmured.
Like dead ashes, I kneeled beside her motionless body for a day until my cell door creaked open. “She’s dead. You did it. You got what you want.”
A string of chuckles rang. “It seems that you have seen through my little ploy.”
“Interestingly, Zach did not.”
I whipped around, glaring at Nœrlaide. “What did you do to him?”
“Ceallakánn unnullified his room, and I sent in a clone of you that Anderson created. He regained consciousness in your clone’s lap. I figured that his ability would be useless since clones possess identical properties as the original. However, he never once attempted to exercise his ability.”
A clone. Using Hëdvig’s power. Was Zach unable to discern that it wasn’t me?
“Well, he was rather literally drained. His senses were weaker than usual, and he trusted you too much. They only spent half a day together before we decapitated the clone.”
“To simulate the effect of killing you in front of him, essentially,” Nœrlaide said. “Let us simply say, the result was much, much more ideal than anticipated. His mental defence crumbled entirely.”
“You’re lying,” I stated, hiding the tremor in my voice.
“Whether you believe what I say has never mattered to me.”
I jumped to my feet and marched up to him. “Let me see him. Right now.”
His eyes widened before glazing over. “Do you believe that you have the means to negotiate with me, subpar?”
In my peripheral vision, I caught a glance of Ceallakánn’s blazing crimson orbs. But it was too late, Nœrlaide had trapped me under his black and red irises. Using my last fibres of control, I gritted, “I’m not a subpar, you fucker. Don’t compare me with the likes of you. I’m better.”
That was the last straw. Losing his patience, Nœrlaide crashed me into the wall by my neck. I plummeted into his tunnel of red rings.
I remembered everything now. So much happened in one short month. In the end, even with my memories wiped and a fresh start, I couldn’t change anything. I promised Ivy freedom, yet I killed her and her beloved with my own hands. Vivian and Emmy were in death’s door, and Roman was close.
My right eye blinked, focusing my vision. Zach was on his knees, panting in exhaustion. Ceallakánn still pinned me against the wall. I still couldn’t feel the left half of my face. Only a short second had passed in present time. Nœrlaide’s hand, which had been resting near my eye, traced my face down to my jaw, then tilted my chin upward.
“Yes, those are the eyes,” he whispered.
He was pleased to see my fire extinguish, but I could no longer control my expression. I didn’t want to wage war against these progenitors anymore. They were demons; they toyed with my every thought and emotion. While I was tormented over and over by the predicaments that they procured, they simply sat back and enjoyed the show. No matter what I attempted, I couldn’t catch up.
I failed Zach. I failed my mother. I failed Roman, Vivian, Emmy, and Ivy. I failed Harvick.
“Don’t cry, dummy.”
Before I could gasp, Zach’s hand clutched Nœrlaide’s shoulder and jerked him away from me, tearing his stoic tailcoat and exposing the skin underneath.
“How could you still move?” Ceallakánn’s grip loosened ever so slightly.
As if a match, Zach’s words instantly set my soul ablaze again. In less than a second, I wished for my injuries to heal and for Zach’s stamina to fully recover. Twisting my arm up, I chopped down on Ceallakánn’s elbow, forcing it to bend downward. My arm wrapped around his and speedily snaked up to his collar, grabbing it. At the same time, I kicked the back of his knees, forcing him to lean backward. With a coordinated shove, I pinned him on the ground by his throat. I punched his temple over and over with my free hand.
All within two seconds, Zach and I briefly overpowered Nœrlaide and Ceallakánn, creating a brief window of time to escape. We had to flee and regroup. Hoping he’d follow, I sprang toward the tunnel that led to the surface. I glanced back at Zach, only to see that Nœrlaide held him up in mid-air by his neck.
I clutched onto the lowest metal bar in the tunnel and swung my legs around to gain momentum, prepared to tackle Nœrlaide. Zach’s narrowed eyes met mine, then suddenly, I began flying up the tunnel with every last ounce of strength.
He mind-controlled me?!
Behind me echoed loud metal-clanking noises. Ceallakánn came to his senses and chased after me. Zach must’ve seen that. Ignoring my burning muscles, I sped up the passage even faster. I knew what to do.
The metal cover zoomed-in in my vision until it was an inch away from reach. I punched through the cover and darted into the air with a Superman pose, far from the teleportation barrier and before Ceallakánn’s nullification range could reach me.
I wish I could teleport to my room in my house.
Ceallakánn’s distorted facial features and nearing hand vanished. I dropped onto my soft bed in the same old room. Sunlight basked onto my desk through the large windows, and a light breeze danced in the air. I could hear chirping in the distance.
Still under Zach’s control, as my brain registered that I was now safe, I briskly bit through my right thumb. Using the drawn blood, my thumb smudged six letters onto my left arm.
Immediately after, my body was mine again. I tilted my arm toward the light out of habit. “Irinea.” It looked like a girl’s name. Why did Zach write this? Who was she?
My mind gradually regained its usual composure as I laid in silence for minutes. Then, it hit me. None of the progenitors were aware that, other than mind control, Zach could also read memories and invade dreams. He ripped Nœrlaide’s coat to rid the thick fabric that blocked his ability. He left me with nothing but one name, so he trusted me to figure out the rest.
I fished a pen and scribbled the name on paper several times to see if it looked familiar. Switching up my handwriting, I even stared at the paper from different angles to invoke some kind of deja vu. As I printed it in a typewriter way, I finally had a flashback. I’d seen “Irinea” in the book at Crysanthė’s house.
The only names in that history book were those of the ten progenitors.