“There is nothing more profound than ordinary. In the end, we are all creatures of flesh and blood, ordinary beings fighting for a desired life. That is the only truth.”
~ Crysanthė (The Tenth)
“It’s just us, right?” Ashlynne clarified. “The organization that Zach’s a part of, The Ones, can’t be trusted anymore?”
I nodded. “Nœrlaide might’ve gotten to them. We can’t risk it. Maybe while I was living a lie at the research base, maybe while Zach and I fought to escape with no memories; who knows? I keep feeling like they have eyes on me.”
She fidgeted with her teacup for a moment. “Is there a way for us to stay hidden? Like we don’t exist or something?”
“I wished for that. Not sure how effective it is, though,” I said.
“Sorry for the wait,” Crysanthė said, opening his eyes. “I’m ready.”
His bony hand rested over mine. I felt my energy double itself again and again. My blood ran excitedly through my veins, even more so than last time. My upper limit must’ve increased since the last time I was here.
“I stopped at fourfold last time since I felt that was your capacity, but it appears you can handle up to sevenfold, now.” Crysanthė lifted his fingers.
“One hundred to the exponent of seven,” Ashlynne mumbled.
“Exciting, isn’t it? Imagine being at a hundred trillion percent power.”
Crysanthė extended his hand to Ashlynne, who paused before raising her arm. Living as a human all her life, she reacted differently than other vampires to receiving ability enhancement. She seemed almost a bit afraid of herself.
“You can stop anyone’s sense of time for up to ten seconds,” Crysanthė said, surprised. “A mutation of time manipulation, though very underdeveloped.”
“Yeah, I haven’t trained my ability since a century ago.” Ashlynne bit her lip nervously.
A complicated frown crossed Crysanthė’s face. “Truly unfortunate. Your ability resembles the Irineas’ time-based ones, but it focuses on individual people’s minds rather than time itself. It looks like a mutation between mind and time control, but its power level is not much higher than that of a ten-year-old Pureblood.”
With his power, surely Crysanthė had seen thousands upon thousands of unique vampire abilities. His remarks must be spot-on. So then, how could Ashlynne have a mixed ability if she was a pure Nœrlaide like Zach?
I glanced at Ashlynne’s side profile. She stared at her wrist as Crysanthė enhanced her power by threefold, where she could freeze up to sixty individuals for up to twenty seconds at a time.
I focused my thoughts for a minute to make a series of wishes, formulating my words carefully to utilize as little energy as possible. I erased my and Ashlynne’s presence, deleted Anderson’s remaining copies of my ability, and searched for the Sixth. Some thirty random locations popped into my brain. “How could Irinea be at different places at the same time?”
“Clones? You said someone creates clones, I remember,” Ashlynne brought up.
“Hëdvig,” I mumbled. “So that the real Irinea would be impossible to pinpoint even with a tracking ability.”
“Would Hëdvig help if we paid him a visit?”
I touched my hair nervously. “I hope he forgives me for mind-controlling him in the spur of the moment.”
After replenishing my energy one more time with some delicious red macarons, we set out in the direction of Hëdvig and Reįglii’s underground castle.
“How sharp are your senses?” I asked. “My nose and ears suck. I’m hoping you can be our sensor.”
“That, you can count on me. Even in a high-tier Nœrlaide household, I was considered the most gifted kid. Can’t say the same for my ability, but my senses are heads above others.”
How powerful could Ashlynne have gotten if she trained or experienced what Zach did? Not that I’d ever wish years of self-blame, imprisonment, isolation, or torture on anyone. And I was sure power wasn’t what made her happy, anyway.
“Here’s good.” I halted on a thick branch a little ways away from the somewhat familiar plain. “We’re close enough for me to use little energy to teleport. Grab onto me.”
The scene in front of us turned into the flashy castle. It seemed they cleaned up the dirt and debris I left on the roofs and balconies the last time I was here.
“Whoa. You really weren’t kidding when you said castle,” Ashlynne said. “It’s bigger than any Pureblood estate I’ve seen.”
“Oh, not you again!” yelled a voice to my right.
I dodged the rock he threw at me and waved. “Hi, Hëdvig! I see you still remember me.”
The boy’s pale cheeks puffed. “That’s Seventh to you, brat.”
“That’s the Seventh? Did you mention he’s like, twelve?”
“You think twelve? I was thinking fourteen, fifteen.”
“I’m pretty sure fifteen-year-olds are taller. Then again, it’s been over a century since I was fifteen.”
Our little back-and-forth only angered Hëdvig more. “Look, I don’t know who you think you are. I’ll admit you got lucky for hypnotizing me and Reįglii that one time…”
As he went on, my gaze fell to the solid wall behind him. That was where Anderson escaped after she took Zach. Not escaped; rather, she lured us to pursue her. And a month’s worth of hell followed shortly after. I had lived life as an average human teenager until a few months ago; my mind was not at all prepared for what vampires had endured their entire lives.
“...but how dare you waltz in here whenever you feel like it? You didn’t break the ceiling this time, but I haven’t forgiven you for making me clean up the mess…”
The ceiling? I looked up, then around the premises for as far as I could see.
“Hey, brat! You better be listening!”
“You and Reįglii are trapped here, aren’t you?” I stated. That seemed to shut Hëdvig up. “Anderson comes and goes with her copied geokinesis, but the walls and ceiling look more like cement than dirt. If Anderson believed my friends and I couldn’t come in here, she wouldn’t have sealed the passage behind her last time. And if she believed we could come down here, she would’ve also assumed that we could get back out, so there was also no need to seal the passage. In other words, she never meant to stop us. She meant to trap you.”
Ashlynne nodded, adding, “It’s technically not difficult for two progenitors to bust through these walls, but then you’d make enemies with Nœrlaide, right?”
“You are precisely correct,” said Reįglii, suddenly appearing out of thin air. He turned to Ashlynne. “Reįglii, the Eighth. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Ashlynne Nolan. I mean, Nœrlaide.”
Brief surprise crossed Reįglii’s face before he recomposed. “It is as you suspect. Save, it is another substance that permeates these walls. Indeed, the Fourth enclosed us in argentum solidified in the First’s blood.”
“First of all, what the heck is argentum?” I inquired.
“Silver, you illiterate twat,” grumbled Hëdvig.
“Anti-vampire material?” Ashlynne gasped. “The two of you don’t have offensive abilities, and she took advantage to trap you in. But then, how did she move through?”
“Bogdån can control all elements found in nature,” Hëdvig explained, bringing up the Third. “Anderson’s greedy ass wouldn’t only copy earth manipulation.”
I frowned. “Metal, then? She controls metal, too?”
“A far cry from the Third’s Absolute Control, but a formidable power of its own might.”
“Oh, so Anderson can’t perfectly copy abilities.”
Hëdvig crossed his arms. “That’s why she’s infatuated with Nœrlaide. The one time she copied his power, she nearly broke her own mind. Serves her right. As if the world’s strongest psychological ability––”
He abruptly stopped speaking and crouched down, clutching his head. It took another second for him to crash to his knees and curl up.
Reįglii sighed but didn’t move to help. “My companion attempted to vocalize beyond his allowance. Fret not, the curse shall shortly become dormant again.”
“A curse…?” Ashlynne asked.
“Damn right, it’s a curse.” Hëdvig’s small form gradually stood back up. “Stops us from talking too much.”
“Nœrlaide’s hypnosis, huh?” I muttered.
Hëdvig scoffed. “Don’t talk like you know. It’s more painful than anything that kids like you have experienced in your whole lives.”
I smiled bitterly. If this were half a year ago, he would’ve been right about the Hazel who ignorantly sat in her ivory tower.
“Oh, shut the hell up!”
Startled, I turned to Ashlynne, whose fists shook in rage. “I’ve been tolerating you since we got here since we have a favour to ask, but you’re the one acting like a real brat here. What gives you the right to judge Hazel like that? You don’t know anything about her! You don’t know what she went through, dealing with those other progenitors!”
Hëdvig’s gaze lowered for the first time. Reįglii extended his umbrella in front of Hëdvig, saying, “Please forgive me; I should have informed you sooner. My companion and I do possess an idea of your predicament. The Fourth bid us steer you in her direction, as she, quote, ‘wanted new toys,’ unquote. And, I assure you, I am too acquainted with the Second’s modus operandi. The Fourth has fine intuition, and she appeared instantly attached to your friend, Zach. I presumed that he was the primary target for some form of mental torture.”
“Mental torture?” Ashlynne whispered. Her eyes that fiercely burned a moment ago now nearly welled up with tears. I sugarcoated my words as I relayed the story to her; I knew she’d react this way had I said “tormented.”
“I was with the Second for thousands of years before…,” Reįglii trailed off with a small grimace.
“I know,” I said. “I still don’t know Nœrlaide’s entire plan, but I experienced a part of it. And I know every other progenitor hated the plan so much that you were hypnotized and silenced like this. You, Hëdvig, and Crysanthė. Irinea even quit halfway and would rather be hunted than continue to work with them.”
Reįglii didn’t bother to school his shock this time. “Heavens, me. You managed to obtain such classified information. I was certain that none other than the ten progenitors was aware.” He then stroked his chin. “I recall that Miss Ashlynne spoke of a favour.”
Ashlynne and I exchanged a swift glance. I briskly checked with myself and decided that I could afford to expend a little energy to transfer parts of my memories to these two. I extended my hands to touch their shoulders. Being specific about the senses should be more efficient than saying “transfer my memories.” I wish for Hëdvig and Reįglii to hear what I heard, see what I saw, and feel what I felt from the second I woke up in Anderson’s hideout to the moment I left Crysanthė’s house this morning.
Immediately, Reįglii’s hands flew to clutch his chest, dropping his umbrella. The last inkling of his composure dissolved. Then, slowly, he lowered his derby hat and held it in front of his chest, showing his neatly combed dirty blonde hair. “Atrocious.”
“That’s what the plan has become?!” Hëdvig hollered. He picked up a nearby rock and hurled it at the castle so hard that it penetrated one of the entrance poles. Above the entrance, the small balcony lost its support and toppled over, smashing onto the ground in pieces. I stood in silence for a moment, waiting for everything to sink in for them.
I lifted my gaze to find Hëdvig muttering under his breath. “Pardon?”
“I’m sorry!” he repeated. “I didn’t know what you went through, but I talked like a child.”
I chuckled softly. “It’s okay. There was no way for you to know before now. I was rude to have never introduced myself to you guys, too. You only just learned my name through my memories.”
“Please accept my apologies, as well. I directed you toward that fate.”
“Yes, yes, you’re both very sorry,” I said quickly. “The important part is we need your help.”
Hëdvig and Reįglii looked at each other, silently confirming, then nodded. Hëdvig began, “My ability is cloning. I can make hundreds of clones of myself and control how my power is split among them, and my clones can also create clones. I can clone other people, too, like I did for Irinea. Clones have the exact same properties as the original, no matter how little life force is in each.”
That was why I couldn’t wish for the original’s location. Other than Irinea herself, no one in this world knew who wasn’t a clone.
“Please tell me you know where your clones are,” Ashlynne pleaded.
Hëdvig shook his head. “Unfortunately, even though I create them, clones of others have their original’s will. And I can’t track them. I can only make them disappear.”
Ashlynne draped her hands on my shoulders. “What if you kill all the clones at the same time as Hazel wishes for Irinea’s location?”
“Should the Fourth possess in her arsenal a method of pursuing the Sixth, she, too, would unearth the Sixth,” Reįglii interjected.
“What about telepathy?” I perked at Hëdvig’s suggestion. “If someone strong enough talks to all the Irineas at once, one of them’s bound to be the original. And if the real Irinea trusts us, she’ll tell us her location.”
I gulped. “It’s taxing enough for me to use my ability on one progenitor. How many clones are there?”
“I initially created seventy-nine. I don’t know if the number changed since clones can produce clones.”
“Strange number,” I remarked.
“Irinea has a lot of weird quirks. She wanted the ‘total population of Irinea’ to be exactly eighty,” Hëdvig explained, facepalming.
“Eighty is way too many. It’s too dangerous for Hazel to handle that much.” Ashlynne trembled slightly. “Does this mean we’re at an impasse again?”
Yet another dead end, huh?