“Oh, shut the hell up! Did you hear what she said, or is your head too full of your own bullshit to process anything else?”
~ Ashlynne Nolan (Achleides Nœrlaide)
“Things have worsened since I left,” Irinea mumbled.
My imaginary pulse seemed to beat out of my chest. I expected her reaction to be milder than Gersełna’s. But still, she sounded borderline monotone as if none of this was any of her business.
“It looks like they set a trap to lure your mother and father,” she suddenly added.
“What… do you mean?” I asked.
“The experiments heavily relied on me to rewind time whenever something went wrong. We would use one test subject hundreds of times instead of hundreds of test subjects once. When I left, they needed another convenient ability similar in function.”
I realized I was holding my breath. Gersełna blurted, “You mean they intended to capture Mihaela from the start? To use her revival ability?”
“You said Mihaela disappeared around twelve years ago, yes? That should be a few months after I escaped.”
I forced myself to sit still. I was familiar with the extent of Ceallakánn and Nœrlaide’s cold-bloodedness. Now was the valuable time to ask Irinea questions, not the time to cry. “From what I’ve experienced with Nœrlaide, I’m guessing that my father was killed as a means to destroy my mother’s mental strength? Just a quick tool to make it easy for Nœrlaide to control her?”
“I’m afraid so. The entire incident was no coincidence.” Irinea paused. “If what you’ve told me earlier is all true, it looks like I didn’t manage to slow them down nearly as much as I’d hoped.”
Gersełna urged, “What did you do?”
“The lowest floor was, or at least used to be the lab. Vampire abilities must be activated there to run experiments, so it was rarely under nullification. Right before I fled, I rewound the time in that room by eight hundred years.”
I heard Ashlynne gasp out loud.
“That erased all of the researchers’ memories and data stored in files and computers. I was careful to choose a time when Ceallakánn, Nœrlaide, and Anderson were elsewhere. I used the dwindling remainder of my power to go to Hëdvig, and here I am today.”
When none of us could react, Irinea continued, “Mihaela Ceallakánn is the perfect replacement. She isn’t an Irinea and can’t control time, so she doesn’t pose a threat. And her power is even more convenient than mine, as I cannot rewind death.”
My eyes popped open. Even the progenitor of time manipulation couldn’t cheat death. My mom was truly one-of-a-kind. I shook my head, sliding my eyelids shut. Enough reminiscence. “What is their plan?”
“... It’s senseless for you to know.”
I could feel a vein pop on my forehead. “What do you mean senseless? I need to know why and what they’re doing to stop them.”
Irinea didn’t bother to restrain a scoff. “Give it up, kiddo. Without our abilities, we’re nothing against them. Ceallakánn outranks any living being in physical combat; Nœrlaide outranks any living being in intellectual combat; Anderson has their backs like a mountain, and she possesses nearly every ability known to vampirekind. It’s impossible.”
I exhaled deeply. Okay, problematic. Crysanthė, Reįglii, Gersełna, and Hëdvig had all been so keen to stand on my side that I almost didn’t consider the possibility that Irinea would be uncooperative. Almost.
“None of the progenitors know this yet,” I started. “I didn’t make it all the way around the enemy’s den and out alive by sheer luck or by an inkling of my mother’s Ceallakánn blood. I said I’m half Ceallakánn, but the other half isn’t a vampire. My father is a human, the most prominent vampire hunter in humankind’s history, in fact.”
Three pairs of eyes in the room shot open and stared at me.
“...a hybrid.” I, at last, heard some emotion in Irinea’s voice.
I quickly used the shock factor to continue to hammer my point, “Which means I’ve been living as a human until age eighteen, which was less than five months ago. If anything, I’m not used to relying on my ability. I am, though, extremely used to watching people. Ceallakánn, Nœrlaide, and Anderson are damn powerful foes, but they’re not Gods. They definitely have a handful of weaknesses. I’ve managed to anger Nœrlaide to the point where he hypnotized me while my mental defence was still strong.” I swallowed hard to ease the stinging around my eyes. “You just need to talk to me. You’re the only one who knows everything. Please, I beg of you. I can’t stop here.”
My mother was under control and used as a tool. Zach was held captive there, or worse, hypnotized to join their ranks. Roman was behind bars, helplessly waiting for a miracle. And all those other Purebloods detained as soldiers and labourers. And all those humans.
I could not stop here.
For minutes and minutes, I waited, semi-impatiently, as Irinea contemplated in silence. I glanced up. Gersełna’s brows knitted tightly and eyes squeezed shut. She did her best to hide it, but her fatigue was growing conspicuous. We could only afford another ten minutes or so.
“No, I refuse.”
My heart completely sank.
“You are still young and naive, after all. I refuse to let you go get yourselves killed. Hazel, you have experienced the horrors first-hand. Whatever you did, they were always one step ahead of you! Don’t you understand that exploiting a small weakness or two wouldn’t get us anywhere? You were lucky to catch them by surprise that one time, but that means Nœrlaide is wary now. He wouldn’t let a single insect creep by. You want to be a hero, you want to create a flawless counter, but there is no such thing. Nœrlaide is not––”
“Oh, shut the hell up already!” Ashlynne yelled out loud, voice resonating throughout the cave and in our minds. “Nœrlaide this, Nœrlaide that. Why don’t you start calling him ‘Majesty’ like those cringe humans do? Were you even listening to what Hazel said this entire time, or is your brain too full of your own bullshit to process anything else? The vampire progenitors’ rankings were done as a brisk formality, which means no one has ever tried to seriously go at anyone with the intent to kill. Nœrlaide and Ceallakánn, and probably Anderson too, are massive psychos, but how are you already so sure that nobody has a chance to win against them when nobody has even tried? Besides, it literally looks like those three plan on murdering everybody on this damn planet. What exactly do we have to lose? And how could I live with the fact that after letting my little brother suffer alone for a century, I once again let him rot in despicable people’s hands while I sit back in my comfy air-conditioned house? How could you even live with yourself, knowing you fled alone and left hundreds of people to suffer there? You refuse, my ass! I refuse to acknowledge a coward like you to be my progenitor! For fuck’s sake, woman up!”
I couldn’t stop gawking at Ashlynne for as long as her speech extended. She must’ve been tolerating Irinea for ages for her temper to explode like this. I glanced around and smiled a little. Gersełna, Reįglii, Hëdvig all had the corners of their lips tugged up.
“I… did you… did you just…ah!” Irinea stuttered, her composure flying out the window. Perhaps Ashlynne’s angry forcefulness was just what we needed to slap some sense into Irinea.
Pausing, Ashlynne gently added, “You spent centuries watching their atrocities, so I get that you’re scared. Your fears are totally valid, but it doesn’t mean we can just give up. Our loved ones’ lives are at stake. If you run away from us, no one left in this world knows what’s going on, and their plan will come to fruition. Is that what you want? Are you really okay with that?”
For the next two seconds or so, Irinea’s mind became an unreadable, jumbled mess. But as expected of the Sixth, she promptly reconquered her thoughts. “I suppose… being alone for so long drove me into a corner.”
It worked?! Ashlynne’s gentle fists of rage worked!
“I used to be a lot like you, but you’re stronger. You’re compassionate; I was extreme. I can’t recall the last time I cherished someone enough to fight for them,” Irinea murmured. “You said you’re an Irinea? You really are?”
Ashlynne hiccuped. “Uh, I thought I was a pure Nœrlaide for a while. But at this point, I’m almost sure that I’m half Irinea.”
“Oh, I see. You racked my hopes up.”
“Has it been that long since you met a descendant?” Gersełna poked.
“Quite. Thirteen years ago, I decided to leave the project because I learned that they annihilated every last Irinea in the world, even the Elites.”
Before any of us had a quarter of a second to react to that, Gersełna began violently coughing.
“Shoot, Gersełna’s been linking for too long!” Irinea panicked. “West Siberian taiga. I’m constantly on the move, so I don’t know my exact coordinates. Contact me again once you get here. Get lots of rest first, Gersełna.”
Gersełna held on until Irinea finished her sentences, then immediately fell forward and crashed onto the ground. The mind links snapped like a stretched-out hair elastic.
“I’m so sorry we took so long,” Ashlynne rushed to Gersełna’s side. She reflexively pressed two fingers onto Gersełna’s wrist. “Let’s rest for a while.”
“Linking with the equivalent of ninety-seven progenitors for two hours, regardless that ninety-six are clones, has rendered the Ninth utterly depleted,” explained Reįglii. “She requires an urgent source of replenishment, yet, from where ought we to acquire such?”
“She’s super exhausted and needs blood, fast,” Hëdvig translated.
“Let me ask Crysanthė,” I said, wishing to telepathically connect with him.
“Is this Hazel speaking? You mustn’t come back here. The Fourth is suspicious of me and has left her clone here.”
I shook my head. “Anderson has copied Hëdvig’s ability and probably left clones all over the place to keep an eye on you guys.”
“Ergo, retreating to my and Hëdvig’s estate must not be a viable recourse, either.”
I bit my bottom lip. I felt like a hound was hot on my tail. Anderson could appear in front of me right now, for all I knew. Nœrlaide must’ve figured long ago that I was “collecting” the other progenitors to revolt. There was no time to waste. I silently teleported several juice boxes from The Ones’ fridge from here. It’d still take up to half an hour for a vampire to completely recover using human blood alone, but it was the best option. Ashlynne ripped open the boxes, giving Gersełna quick access. Within half a minute, she devoured three, color returning to her face.
Hëdvig said, “You’re feeling alright, Gersełna? Let’s get going, then.”
I let out a short chuckle. Funny for you to announce since I gotta teleport us all the way to Russia.
Gersełna hopped up like a bunny and zipped around, gathering a few belongings. I just then observed the place a little more. Small crystals of ice carved into detailed shapes hung around the walls like fairy lights in a girl’s dorm. A tall sheet of ice, smoothly polished, stood in the corner as a makeshift mirror. On the other side of the room, dozens of ice sculptures in all shapes and sizes littered the ground and spread on a flat-faced boulder. In the far back, five racks of clothes lined up against the wall, most of which resembled 90s fashion trend items. Beneath each rack were too many pairs of shoes for me to count.
“I’m ready! I brought essentials.” Gersełna walked up to us, a cute backpack in hand. She wore a cropped ivory sweater, pairing with high-waisted straight-leg jeans and white ankle boots. Living amid endless glaciers and snowstorms in a restricting cave didn’t seem to limit her at all.
She flung on her bag. “Let’s go!”