“Peer deeply into these cursed eyes of mine. Do you see my world, or do you see your own reflection?”
~ Irinea (The Sixth)
I picked up the key for my spear at my house, but I had no idea when I lost my phone. I drove down the streets against the rising sun, hoping to find somebody. Arthur wasn’t home, and it was still too early to disturb Kaydence.
With no energy left, I nearly fainted in the woods before locating the tree that led to The Ones’ underground base. I stumbled about, only to discover that Harvick and Hailee’s rooms were empty. Where the heck was everyone?
I collapsed on the kitchen ground right after grabbing two juice boxes. As I drank, I reminded myself that Zach, Roman, Vivian, and I have vanished for nearly a month. Hailee likely tried to telecontact, but under Ceallakánn’s nullification, we couldn’t be reached. I just had to replenish enough power to wish for telepathy.
Just then, a gasp rang in my mind. “Hazel?! You’re alive!”
I slumped down completely. “Hailee…! Where is everyone? There’s an emergency.”
“We’ve been looking for you guys! Your uncle’s losing his mind searching for you!”
“Can you ask him where he is? I want to update him first.”
A few seconds later, I sprinted through the morning air toward Arthur. As soon as I landed before him, he hugged me with all his strength, pushing my head into his shoulder. I never knew he could tremble so much.
We sat on a nearby bench in an empty park, and I took my time to tell him everything. My mother was alive but apparently hypnotized. There was a whole underground base of people and vampires plotting a twisted ideology, working day and night to execute it. I caused another three lives to end and another two to be captured.
Arthur slouched, stiff as a rock, as I revealed the existence of vampire progenitors. I described Ceallakánn, Nœrlaide, Anderson, Hëdvig, Reįglii, and Crysanthė. I added, “And it just occurred to me that Kaydence didn’t sense Ceallakánn to be a vampire when she saw him. That could mean the ‘gift’ is actually a passive vampire ability affected by nullification.”
“...which would mean that gifted humans have vampire blood in their lineage.”
“My dad and Kaydence might not be completely human,” I hammered in.
After a few moments of encompassing silence, Arthur rose to his feet. “No use thinking about that now. Right now, we need to find this ‘Irinea’ character. I recall past exterminations of Irinea families, but I wouldn’t imagine the files to be more helpful than the Ceallakánn ones that we looked at together.”
“Good point. Anything noteworthy about the Irineas?”
We started strolling back to Arthur’s car. “There aren’t that many of them, I believe. Their signature is white hair and violet eyes. They stand out quite a bit, so very few try to live among humans. The most dangerous one I’ve encountered is a male who could fast-forward or slow time as he pleased.”
“Oh, wow! Time manipulation?”
“So it seemed. He would slow our movements and quicken his own. Very tough adversary.”
“How did you win?”
Arthur quietly clicked on his seatbelt and ignited the engine. “I don’t know. His ability suddenly stopped working. Without his power, he was defenceless. We eliminated him on the spot. Now that I’ve heard your experience, it appears that his ability was erased.”
“Ceallakánn,” I murmured.
“He’s been around for thousands of years. He could’ve done anything,” Arthur remarked.
As he turned onto the freeway, I spoke, “I still don’t completely understand their plan. I thought they were killing off all the non-Purebloods, but it looks like they don’t plan to let Purebloods live, either.”
“Maybe they want to make themselves more powerful and regain their rule. Didn’t you say they backed into the shadows to avoid vampire hunters?”
I gulped. “That’s what I was told. But to be honest, I don’t think hunters stand a chance against the progenitors. I’ve only met a few, and the average Pureblood feels like an ant compared to them.”
We drove in silence for ten minutes. Arthur’s grip on the wheel adjusted and tightened every so often. My mind involuntarily flashed back to the scene of Nœrlaide clutching Zach’s neck.
“What’s your next plan?” Arthur asked.
“I’m going to see some people. Kaydence, too. Can you drop me off at hers?”
“Sure.” We halted at a red light. “Listen, Hazy. I know you’re diving into a dangerous, alien world. Please try to update me on anything you need, okay? I’ll bring my best fighters. Even if we can’t do much against the progenitors, we’re the top choice to hold back any other group of vampires. I’ll make sure no one gets in your way.”
I smiled. “Of course. I’ll always count on you.”
“And I’ll have a new phone mailed to your place later today. Don’t lose it again.”
“Got it. Thanks.” Truthfully, I’d rather toss my life than involve Arthur in this messy situation. He was definitely strong, but I’d hate myself for the rest of my eternal life if anything happened to him.
I hopped off the car, seeing Hailee and Kaydence standing on the sidewalk. Hailee arrived and woke Kaydence as I asked. With eye bags the size of stones, Kaydence rushed up and threw her arms around me, sniffling. Hailee followed a second after. I was just relieved to find them alive and safe.
I briefly reiterated my story to them. By the time I finished, Hailee’s eyes had long fixed on the pavement. “You, Zach, Roman, and Vivian? All four of you had no chance against any of them?”
I nodded grimly. “Zach and I lost in a direct battle against the First and Second.”
“They sound like radical ideologists,” Kaydence muttered. “What do they want?”
“I still don’t completely know,” I said. “I’d have to go investigate.”
Hailee remained stiff. “I wish I could go with you, but I also clearly know that I’m not a good fighter.”
“I’d be even worse,” Kaydence whispered. “I can only be mental support.”
“That would be more than enough, guys,” I said quietly, rubbing my arms. I never wanted to feel full-body bone shatters ever again. Who knew if the other captured Purebloods experienced the same. I had to smarten up.
“Are you going to the Tenth now?” Hailee asked.
“Well, I should first…,” I cut myself off, glancing at Hailee. She’d been looking down this entire time. Something about her emotions felt a bit unnatural. No matter what situation, it wasn’t like Hailee to avoid eye contact.
All color drained from my face.
I gulped. “Uh, maybe. I’m still considering my next steps.”
“What’s your plan, then? Anything we can help with?” Kaydence pressed.
My orbs darted back and forth between Hailee and Kaydence. I was so physically and emotionally exhausted that the cogwheels in my brain refused to turn.
“If you’re still deciding, let’s go to the base,” Hailee spoke up. “Harv’s worried sick, too.”
I managed to react quickly enough to dodge her hand that tried to grab mine. That was it; I couldn’t trust her. I couldn’t trust anyone from The Ones. Kaydence, either. Nœrlaide had found The Ones through Zach, Roman, Vivian, or me. Everyone was under his control.
“You go ahead. I’m going…,” I muttered. Where was I going? I was usually better at lying than this. As I blinked, Hailee and Kaydence stared at me, wide-eyed. It was too late. They knew I was suspicious.
Just as Hailee stepped forward, I dashed off and disappeared down the street. I wanted to go home, drink five more boxes of blood, and pass out on my bed for a whole day. I had to completely replenish my energy, but it wasn’t safe to return to my house. I wove through the buildings, careful to avoid the burning sun. As I attempted to leap from a shadow to a patch of trees, my head clashed square on a shoulder.
“Jeez, watch where you’re going!”
“Sorry.” I reflexively rubbed my head and looked up, only to meet a pair of angry pale blues painted in a familiar shade of smokey eyeshadow. Those eyes bugged. “Hazel, you’re not dead!”
I stared at her like she had three heads. Could I trust her? Was she hypnotized? She reached out and tapped my head, eyes brimming with angry tears. “What happened to you? Are you okay? Is Zach with you? I haven’t heard from anyone in weeks!”
“Ashlynne,” I breathed out. Her unique, raging way of caring for someone couldn’t simply be mimicked. This time, I softly wrapped my arms around her.
“I’m okay now, but Zach isn’t. It’s a long story. As soon as I’m recovered, I’ll set out.”
“I’m coming with you,” she stated. “All these years, I was never there for him when he was in trouble. I can’t live with myself if I do nothing again.”
My chest clenched. “I understand that you’re worried, but if––”
I trailed off when I met her blazing pale blues that were almost as intense as Zach’s. But unlike Zach’s unyielding glare, she looked like she wanted to cry.
I spent the night at Ashlynne’s after speedily fishing a few blood boxes from my house. The next day, we arrived at Crysanthė’s manor deep in the northern forest. His jaw dropped a little when he saw me. I smiled bitterly. “I got away. My friends didn’t.”
He nodded slightly as he poured tea, suffusing the air with a rich yet gentle aroma. Ashlynne’s violet eyes practically glittered as she nibbled on the tea cakes on the coffee table. She murmured, “My dad would’ve killed to learn these recipes.”
I glanced at her side profile. Zach told me that their father worked as a chef for humans. It seemed that he would’ve loved to cook for his children, too. To avoid sinking into sadness, I quickly introduced, “Oh yeah. This is Crysanthė, the tenth progenitor I told you about. Crysanthė, this is my friend, Ashlynne.”
Crysanthė nodded down in greeting. “You are an Irinea, I presume?”
My hands froze in mid-air while Ashlynne corrected, “Nœrlaide. Zach’s my brother.”
Wait. I never noticed this. Nœrlaide declared that Zach was the purest Nœrlaide he had met in a thousand years. As Zach’s sister, Ashlynne shouldn’t be any different. But with half white hair and violet vampire orbs, she resembled the typical Irinea that Arthur described.
Crysanthė didn’t pry. He asked, “So, what brings you back here?”
“I’m looking for the Sixth. Not sure if you can help, since you physically can’t disclose anything about the progenitors. So, really, I’m just back to say hi and thanks.” I grinned.
Crysanthė chuckled in return. “That is true. Forgive me for not being much help.”
I scrutinized his features again. “I’m a little curious, though. Why are you helping us at all?”
He frowned and fidgeted his fingers, then carefully began, “A curious case, indeed. I was shown the plan. I was wanted aboard the project, but I refused. I was then hypnotized into forgetting the plan. We progenitors share harmonious relationships, so it’s rather unsettling to me that I declined their invitation to work together.”
“You hated the plan enough to turn it down,” Ashlynne gathered.
“It looks like only Ceallakánn, Nœrlaide, and Anderson are running this plan. That means every other progenitor also hated it,” I realized. “So you’re worried, aren’t you?”
Crysanthė nodded solemnly and unveiled, “Initially, not just them.”
My brain spun to comprehend his vague clues. I gasped so hard that I rose to my feet. “It makes sense now! I saw Ceallakánn last month not because he liked to travel, but because he was looking for Irinea. Anderson’s never at the research base because she’s out hunting for Irinea.”
“Irinea used to work with them, but she quit later?” said Ashlynne.
“Yes! That has to be it! Irinea is the only one who knows the master plan. The others are desperate to locate her because she’s not hypnotized and could spill their secrets. That’s why Zach used his last ounce of power to write her name on my arm. She’s the answer!”
“I see. But if the highest-ranked progenitors can’t find her, how will we? And even if we do, how can she help us defeat them?”
Ashlynne’s words splashed a bucket of ice water over my head. I sat back down. “Good point. I don’t know. I just think we need to start somewhere.”
“Um,” Crysanthė chimed. “I would help… to stop them.”
I turned to him, eyes gleaming. “If we could bring the others together, do you think they’d be willing, too?”
His next words set my heart ablaze.