“Even if my house is a cave, I won’t let myself live miserably.”
~ Gersełna (The Ninth)
I moved the five of us to the middle of the West Siberian taiga. I hoped I wasn’t depleting too much energy, but it couldn’t be helped. Since I erased Gersełna’s presence, I likely utterly exposed my actions to Nœrlaide if he hadn’t figured it out already. It only took a hot minute for Gersełna to contact Irinea again.
Soon, from the foggy distance among thousands upon thousands of tall trees, a flashing figure dashed our way. The first thing I spotted was Irinea’s flowing hair, so snowy white that it looked like a wig. I then saw her brown bat sweater shaw that camouflaged with the nature around us. For a split second, I saw a white-haired Ice Queen dash through a mystic forest.
As she slowed near us, I gulped. For someone with such a calm and mature voice, her face was that of a porcelain doll.
“Hey, bestie!” Gersełna called out.
Irinea smiled. “Good to see you after so long.”
Wasting no time, we concealed ourselves in the dense trees. I kept everyone’s presence erased except Irinea’s. If Anderson or someone kept track of every Irinea clone, one disappearing would practically be waving a neon sign to tell them that I found the original.
Irinea stuffed her hair into the brown hood of her shaw and pulled it over her head. “Follow me and stay quiet.”
My imaginary heart pumped in anticipation as we crept into a cave behind a large waterfall. It was perfect for covering the noise of a party of people.
“I’ll get straight to the point,” Irinea said. “Nœrlaide devised a plan to purge all current vampires after creating a new, stronger Pureblood species.”
Ashlynne blinked dramatically. “Purge all vampires?”
“Indiscriminately?” Hëdvig asked.
“A new Pureblood species?!” Gersełna exclaimed.
They stole all my lines.
“Yes, let’s now start from the beginning.” Irinea sat on a boulder. “Several thousand years ago––I can’t remember how many––a flock of ancient vampire bats that had been feeding on humans for years morphed into humanoid forms. That was the ten of us. After years of experimenting, we unveiled our powers and abilities, and we called ourselves ‘vampires.’”
Gersełna cut in, “The first few years by ourselves were fun, but we didn’t know we were immortal yet and thought we should leave descendants.”
Was this story straying away from PG-13?
“We chose names for ourselves and each used our blood to mutate more bats under each name. The new humanoids became what are now known as the Pureblood families. Every vampire in existence was a Pureblood back then,” Gersełna explained.
Irinea continued, “And then we thought some sort of order should be established, so we had one-on-one matches that determined our ranks. Of course, we were all friends and didn’t attack anyone with lethal intent. Ceallakánn naturally ranked first since no one could touch him, but he always believed he and Nœrlaide should at least be tied.”
My jaw jarred a little. No wonder Ceallakánn often stood back and let Nœrlaide take the reins.
“Real-life battles aren’t structured like ours was,” Hëdvig added. “Ceallakánn is the type to charge head-first, and his power permits him to fight that way. But you could die under Nœrlaide’s eyes without ever knowing what happened.”
I knew that well.
“Stop interrupting, you two,” Irinea grumbled. “Now comes the problem. A few hundred years later, we began to see two major issues. First, we progenitors anticipated pure blood to pass down strongly through the inter-family generations, but that wasn’t the case. To this day, the progenitors are the most powerful vampires. We first grew concerned when subpars started appearing.”
“Subpar…?” Ashlynne inquired.
“The current term would be ‘Elites,’” Reįglii clarified. “Numerous vampires birthed in the families were, at best, half as powerful as a typical Pureblood.”
Irinea frowned. “Subpars were considered defects. They were slower and weaker and possessed incomplete abilities. We set an order to eliminate subpars and forbade them from inheriting their family name, but at that point, the families had grown rather large and were not as connected to the progenitors anymore. Several families had developed familial feelings for the subpars and, later, even human-turned vampires, allowing them to remain in the family. Several other families didn’t kill the subpars as ordered, rather banishing them into the human world, where they took new identities, started families together, or even started families with humans. Both major disobediences led to a massive decrease in the quality of vampires. Second, it was difficult for Purebloods to reproduce. We lived forever, but the most I’d seen from one mother was five children. But that wasn’t a real problem until humans began to retaliate.”
Gersełna and Hëdvig nodded, listening to the anecdote that they already knew.
“Death rates doubled, tripled. The lowered quality of vampires could not always fight like progenitors could. Besides, many of them were used to being at the top of the food chain; they were careless and arrogant. And as the human population grew, so did subpars birthed from subpars who mated with humans. As such, true Purebloods grew rarer and rarer.”
“But I didn’t think much of it!” Gersełna blurted. “I mean, some progenitors didn’t see it as a problem. We thought that as long as vampires lived on, it didn’t matter how pure their bloods were.”
“Yes, I’m getting to that.” Irinea glanced at the waterfall for a second. “The progenitors split into two factions: the ones outraged by the situation and the ones who went with the flow. Ceallakánn, Nœrlaide, Djehutimesu, and I belonged to the former. Anderson didn’t personally care, but she followed Nœrlaide.”
I hadn’t met Djehutimesu yet. I think he was the Fifth.
“Bogdån, Hëdvig, Reįglii, Crysanthė, and I belonged to the second one,” Gersełna highlighted.
“Nœrlaide proposed to find the arcane vampire bats, mutate them to eliminate all vampires’ weaknesses, and use every progenitors’ blood to evolve Purebloods and start over. This time, we progenitors would stay more connected to the families to better control them. Then, we’d use that absolute power to wipe out all subpars and redefine the power of the term ‘vampire.’ Djehutimesu and I agreed to the plan, but I should’ve known something was wrong. We spent months setting up the base and lab, but Djehutimesu vanished the day before we officially began operations.”
Every other vampire in the room frowned. Reįglii hummed. “Indeed, not a soul has heard from the Fifth for a rather long time.”
“I suspect that he heard something from the plants and decided to revolt against Nœrlaide’s plan.”
Ashlynne and I glanced at each other. Gersełna saw our confused gazes and explained, “Djehutimesu’s ability is whispering, which means he’s a medium to everything. He can talk to animals, plants, deads, alives, anything. He can also take any body part and turn it into a zombie, pretty much.”
“So cool,” I murmured.
“So yes, in retrospect, I suspect that Nœrlaide and Ceallakánn discussed the real plan near a plant or animal who then informed Djehutimesu. But I was too dull-witted to notice that warning sign. I believed it when Nœrlaide casually told me that Djehutimesu simply changed his mind and quit.”
“Wait, so, they never told you the real plan?” I asked. “Nœrlaide and Ceallakánn kept it to themselves?”
Irinea hummed. “I didn’t, though I believe Anderson knows the real plan. For Nœrlaide, she’s very easy to control and poses no risks while I held strong morals. I agreed to eliminate the subpars and turnees to purify the vampire race, but I never agreed to eradicate every vampire on the planet to replace with the new ones.”
I shuddered. Irinea’s own ideals were close to spiralling to levels as crazy as Nœrlaide and Ceallakánn’s. She wanted racial purification; that never ended well.
“Nœrlaide hypnotized Purebloods to work for us, I knew that, but I didn’t realize they were imprisoned and starved. I was always either in the lab or in the cafeteria. I had no chances to realize what else was happening.”
In her tone, I could tell that Irinea tried to justify her behaviour. That was understandable, but for someone directly involved, she detached herself from the atrocities too much as if nothing that happened was her fault at all.
“Oh my gosh,” Gersełna mumbled.
“Nœrlaide told our faction the plan, too. But, obviously, when none of us agreed to it, he hypnotized us to forget it,” said Hëdvig. “And to keep an eye on us, you saw what they did.”
Although they lived in a castle, Hëdvig and Reįglii were imprisoned. Crysanthė, too. Anderson sealed her route and came and went as she pleased. Gersełna had been mentally harassed and hunted for centuries after she escaped the gloomy house in which they confined her. And Djehutimesu and Bogdån, the Fifth and Third, had been missing for nearly a thousand years.
Irinea’s gaze cast downward. “Everything changed when I learned, by chance, that every Irinea descendant was killed. Ceallakánn used his power to secretly assist humans in annihilating the troublesome Irineas.”
My brain seemed to buzz, suddenly connecting this reveal to Arthur’s story of fighting a strong Irinea whose ability abruptly malfunctioned.
“I was forcefully reminded of the good times I had with my descendants. At that moment, I realized that the purity of their blood entirely did not matter, but that epiphany arrived too late.” Gersełna patted Irinea’s back, who concluded, “I thought the least I could do to salvage my mistake was slowing Nœrlaide’s plan since stopping it is impossible. That was when I set up my escape route and rewound the lab’s research by eight hundred years. I didn’t expect there to be a Ceallakánn descendant with a revival ability; otherwise, I would’ve hidden her, as well.”
Ashlynne looked at me worriedly while I sighed. There were two more things I had to know. I asked, “Was there a group of humans when you were there? Researchers and workers?”
“Oh, them. They call themselves the Syndicate of Antihumanists.”
I finally knew what S.A. was.
“Ceallakánn and Nœrlaide recruited them by either feeding their despair for humanity or directly brainwashing them. Many of them loyally offered their lives to destroy humanity, so who would reject free labour?”
I nodded. “Last question, what exactly is the research? If it’s just to find those bats, why is it taking this long?”
“The species of vampire bats that we evolved from are scarce. You can count on one hand how many groups of them exist, and they quickly went extinct when humans deemed them a burden and set fire to their habitats. A lot of time was spent searching for and extracting the fossilized DNA of these bats,” Irinea finished, glancing to the side again. I followed her gaze but only saw the pouring waterfall.
“Are you sensing something?” Ashlynne asked, noticing the same thing.
“No…, well, two of my clones disappeared, but this happens all the time. If Anderson finds me, but it’s a clone, she kills it to vent. I’m just a bit on edge, is all.” As she finished her last sentence, she shot to her feet. “What… what’s happening?!”
I immediately whipped my head around and looked at the waterfall, straining my ears, but the noise from the water was a double-edged sword. If it could cover our tracks and sounds, it could also veil intruders.
“What? Is someone coming?” Gersełna freaked.
“My clones are disappearing, fast. Half of them are gone already,” Irinea said. She grabbed Gersełna’s wrist and sped to me. “Reįglii, set a barrier over all of us. It’s useless for me to hide any longer.”
As soon as Reįglii did so, I murmured the word ‘button,’ plugging the stream of outflowing energy from hiding everyone and tuning out the voices in Gersełna’s head. Irinea uttered a coordinate, and I quickly teleported us. Every teleportation was more draining than the last.
We reappeared in a plain field. I had teleported four progenitors and two Purebloods across the world again. Even if Crysanthė boosted my power by sevenfold, I should conserve it more. Irinea dashed out and shuffled the grass.
“Wait, it was right here,” Irinea spoke anxiously. “The entrance to the research base. Where’d it go? Did they relocate?”
I could answer that. “The base tunnels or teleports underground. It moves every so often, so no one who left could easily find it. I guess this system was implemented after you left.”
Reįglii frowned. “Whose ability could tolerate such frequent teleportation of a massive facility? Wait, my barrier dispelled––”
“And that’s checkmate.”
A wave of familiar fear shook me to the core, freezing me. My blood ran cold; it was too acquainted with that velvety and sadistic voice.
Ceallakánn grumbled, “Fine, you win the bet. Again.”
I tugged Ashlynne’s arm, bringing her behind me, but I couldn’t delete my body’s memory of these two beings. Nœrlaide stood five meters away from me, same regal aura and neat tailcoat. Ceallakánn stood crossed-arms beside him, radiating irritation and raw power. They had no way of sensing us since Reįglii’s barrier erased our existence; Nœrlaide simply predicted that Irinea would bring us here. And that was it. Wherever Ceallakánn went, abilities were nullified. Nothing could protect us now.
While I quivered in shock, the progenitors beside me soundlessly devised a countermeasure. The Reįglii clone immediately pierced his chest, dispersing himself. I instantly figured that this would alert the original Reįglii, who would also alert the original Hëdvig. Irinea turned and zipped, at full speed, away from us. I assumed she was trying to escape Ceallakánn’s area of influence and activate her ability to rewind time.
I met Ashlynne’s wide eyes. She seemed puzzled, but I nodded down, telling her to trust them. Hëdvig’s replica created more clones and flew at Ceallakánn, hoping to hold him in place with Gersełna assisting them. I reacted as quickly as I could and blocked Nœrlaide as he began pursuing Irinea. He spun past me, only to meet Ashlynne’s blazing pale blues.
He hummed. “You must be his sister.”
I glanced behind me. Gersełna and Hëdvig both relied on agility. They could dodge Ceallakánn’s powerful strikes for a while, but once he found their attack pattern, they wouldn’t stand much of a chance. I knew how wide Ceallakánn’s ability range was. I must take care of Nœrlaide, fast, and help them stop Ceallakánn. If he began chasing Irinea, she couldn’t outrun him.
“I saw you in his memories. You two hate each other, hm?” Nœrlaide weaseled.
Ashlynne innocently trembled. “Is that how Zach remembers me?”
“Oh, don’t let him manipulate you! His power isn’t the same as Zach’s. He can’t read deep memories like emotions!” I yelled, snapping her out of it.
Nœrlaide glanced at me, eyes narrowed. “You.”
“Zach has forgotten you completely, yet you still pathetically fight for him.”
“Don’t make it easy for him to control you, got it?
If you’re gone, I’m gone.
My heart will always be right beside you.”
“You can’t get in my head, Nœrlaide. You couldn’t then; you can’t now,” I stated.
Nœrlaide smiled. “I see. Well, I tried.”
Oh, no. That was the same smile as when he concocted the wicked plan to erase my and Zach’s memories and lock us in the empty tower to test us.
“Hazel, watch out!” Gersełna screamed. Every puzzle piece seemed to crawl together in slow motion.