“And love prevails! Or whatever that cheesy saying is.”
~ Hazel Dawson
There always seemed to be something about the end of my adventures that was a bit anticlimactic. My reader’s soul inadvertently expected a highly dramatic ending such as a masterful boss fight, but of course, I was glad that things wrapped up without a huge mess.
“What do we do with this guy?” Ashlynne asked, gesturing to the quiet Nœrlaide.
Just then, the lab doors cracked open. Irinea peaked in, fully opening the door when she saw the situation. Gersełna, Hëdvig, Reįglii, and Crysanthė stood behind her, jaws dropped.
“I can’t believe it. I suspected you telecontacted me under hypnosis until we saw two dozen Purebloods escape,” said Irinea.
“It has been a while, Second, Fourth,” Reįglii greeted. Anderson remained motionless. Nœrlaide didn’t reply.
“What now?” Gersełna mumbled numbly. “It really came to this, huh? We can’t go back to the way things were.”
“As things were, vampirism faced extinction,” Nœrlaide spoke.
I raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t you help kill a lot of them?”
“Ceallakánn is the one who tipped the humans to create smoke bombs that confused vampires’ senses,” Irinea added. “How dare you play the hero now?”
“They would have been replaced,” Nœrlaide stubbornly insisted.
“He really does look like Nœrlaide,” Hëdvig lightheartedly interrupted, looking at Zach. All of a sudden, every pair of eyes shifted to evaluate Zach.
Gersełna nodded in fascination. “Exact same eyes.”
“Messier hair, though.”
“And he seems taller? I can’t quite tell.”
I could practically see the vein on Zach’s forehead pop and intercepted before he could yell at them. Hëdvig waved his hand in front of Anderson’s face, then glanced at Zach and me. “You two are really something, out here hypnotizing progenitors left and right.”
“Mind control,” Zach corrected. Hëdvig’s childlike cheeks puffed.
“So,” I said loudly. “What’s happening with these two? Nœrlaide and Anderson, I mean.”
“They’re dead, of course,” Zach voiced. His statement seemed to shake the other progenitors to their core. I glanced at Ashlynne, who was also clearly uncomfortable.
I knew Zach would undoubtedly want the two dead. It was his work habit to destroy everything down to its roots, ensuring no future issues. Briefly, I flashed back on what everyone went through because of Ceallakánn, Nœrlaide, and Anderson. The sickly, hollow faces collapsing every which way on the ground behind bars raced through my mind. I recalled my broken arms, legs, fingers, jaw, cheeks, eye. I thought about my father, a pallor corpse in the snow; Emmy, a knowing sacrifice; Ivy, a tossed-aside tool; Vivian, murdered in cold blood; Roman, imprisoned and starved for a month; and many, many more I didn’t know.
Reįglii was the first to utter, “Wait, must we resort to immediate execution?”
“They have to redeem themselves!” Gersełna followed.
“Hey, come in here.”
We turned to the voice in the corner. My mother stood by the doorframe of the backroom where she had disappeared earlier. She inputted a series of commands into a central control panel, then as she spoke, she pressed one last button. All eyes widened as the two metal cylinders by the wall, which I had assumed were pillars, slowly turned to reveal they were two containers. In each, a person was cuffed by their wrists, ankles, and neck to the pod’s wall, unconscious.
“Bogdån and Djehutimesu!” Irinea exclaimed. “They were here all along?”
In the left pod was a petite girl with long, silky black hair. In the right pod was a muscular, coco-skinned man with puffy hair. Soon, the glass that encased them spun open, and their cuffs retracted. Irinea, Reįglii, Crysanthė, and Gersełna rushed ahead to break their fall.
“What a reunion,” Ashlynne murmured before hurrying up to help.
“All the more reason to kill,” Zach remarked.
“I second that,” Mihaela said, orbs blazing a more alarming crimson than mine.
“No, no, let’s calm down. Help Bogdån and Djehutimesu, first.” Crysanthė put his hands on the two’s shoulders. “They’re both kept barely alive. They need food.”
Irinea rushed out, claiming there should be a fridge in the other room. She returned with an armful of blood bags. Zach, my mom, and I stood on the side as the others rushed to replenish the newfound Third and Fifth. Zach kept a watchful eye on Nœrlaide and Anderson, who both remained still.
Djehutimesu, the muscular man, opened his eyes first. He shot up. “Everyone! Do not trust Nœrlaide or Ceallakánn. They did not tell you the real plan!”
It took a good half a minute for him to observe his surroundings and grow quiet. Gersełna briskly explained that it’d been centuries since then.
“Her? Them?” The confused giant glanced at me and Zach, who extended his hand and tapped his shoulder, transferring his memories to him. This was much more convenient than the hours-long exposition I had in mind.
While Djehutimesu stared at the ground, Bogdån’s eyes also fluttered open. I patiently waited. Eventually, I asked them the same question. To my surprise, they both averted their gazes and stumbled over words. I glanced at Nœrlaide and Anderson. What kind of bond did these ten progenitors share that even after centuries of imprisonment, none were willing to say one bad word about them? What in the name of next-level Stockholm syndrome?
“I’m not dumb enough to ask for Ceallakánn to be revived, but,” Gersełna broke the silence, “I can’t imagine two more of us, like––I mean, we were together for a long time and…. They never killed any of us, you know, even though they could?”
“Because Anderson needed you alive to copy your powers,” mom interrupted harshly. “Don’t romanticize it. Had any of you been useless to them, you would’ve been killed at a blood drop.”
“Well, maybe it’d be more wholly beneficial for them to make up for what they did,” Djehutimesu suggested.
Irinea began to bite her nails. “But I understand that it’s risky.”
“Very risky since Nœrlaide still doesn’t have an ounce of remorse,” mom clarified.
“Stop,” Hëdvig said. “Let’s take a vote, right? All in favor of letting them atone?”
As the progenitors gradually raised their hands, Zach laughed. It was one of his mocking, bone-chilling ones, not one of his endearing ones. “I’m afraid you have it mixed up. You don’t get a say. I wasn’t asking for fucking permission when I said they’re dead. Atonement and redemption? Easy for you to say. None of you were physically mutilated, mentally tormented, used as a sacrifice, killed on the spot. You weren’t dropped into a prison tower with no memories for a game. Your father wasn’t murdered for an experiment.” His icy gaze scanned the room. “You shits don’t get a say.”
Before anyone could retort, rapid footsteps sped across the main lab room. By the door, I saw that the mind-controlled Anderson dashed for Nœrlaide’s defenseless chest. Ashlynne and Gersełna shrieked. A second before the finality, I blinked, and all was restored. Anderson stood silently in the corner again.
“Right, you rewind time,” Zach noted lazily.
“Just wait,” Irinea said breathily, desperate.
Ashlynne grabbed his arm. “Zach, stop. Hear them out.”
I heard the same rapid footsteps again. And with another blink, Irinea rewound time once more. Zach wasn’t listening to anyone. Ashlynne cast her distressed gaze at me. I looked at my mom instead, and she locked my gaze. Pure anguish flooded her expression, but I wasn’t sure if I mirrored it.
The footsteps and blinking repeated once more.
“My energy resets each time, but yours depletes each time,” Zach said coldly. “Or should I remove you, too?”
“Are you crazy?! You can’t take on seven progenitors at once, no matter who you are!”
My eyes lit up, and my hand moved to touch Zach’s arm. “I see. Can you give me a minute?”
He scowled a little but pocketed his hands. I turned to the seven watery-eyed progenitors. “You guys are lost. I mean, yes, you care a lot about your comrade-in-arms, but Nœrlaide is particularly special. I noticed that everything seemed to revolve around him. He was the leader, wasn’t he? Always told you guys what to think and what to do next, even if you didn’t always agree, but he was the benchmark. You don’t know how to live in a world where he doesn’t exist.”
Hëdvig’s lips parted to object, yet no words flowed.
“No one seems to care much that Ceallakánn died, even though the vampire who can revive him is standing right here. Instead, everyone put their efforts into convincing Zach not to kill Nœrlaide.”
I didn’t wait for my words to sink in, instead strolling outside, halting before Nœrlaide, who refused to acknowledge my presence. “How does it feel to sit here while we discuss whether you live or die? You went from the most powerful being to the most vulnerable being in the world. What do you want us to do?”
“If you believe I will beg for forgiveness, you are sorely mistaken,” he gritted.
“Oh no, I wouldn’t care in the slightest even if you did. I’m simply curious. What do you want?”
His nails dug into the armrests. I listened carefully. “Well?”
“Just kill me.”
I patted his head, which I was sure irritated him. “Good answer. I wish that if your mentality about vampirism and humanity changes from what it is right now, you’d implode and die.”
I heard a chorus of gasps behind me, but I knew Zach just smirked and rolled his eyes.
Nœrlaide finally raised his head in my direction, uttering, “Why?”
“I think you changed a little, so I propose a fun bet. You like those, don’t you?”
“Fun bet…,” he mumbled, then chuckled. “Fine, I lost. I accept this condition.”
Later, it took no effort for Nœrlaide to announce his decision to Anderson, who instantly complied with a cheery hop in the air. She indeed had no opinions of her own, at all. Nœrlaide stood, opening his unblinded tranquil pale blues. I smiled at him for the first and last time, saying, “Don’t worry them like this again.”
He glanced at the other progenitors, watching us nervously as if I’d swiftly change my mind and behead him. His gaze, clearer than before, returned to me unblinkingly. “That will be my promise to you, I suppose.”
By the time everyone filed out of the research base, it was a bit past dawn. After short goodbyes and promises to stay in touch, we saw off the nine progenitors. Two seconds before they disappeared down the horizon, my legs gave out, and I fell backward onto the soft snow. Three pairs of eyes kindly watched me from above.
“You can finally go home,” said Ashlynne.
I inhaled greedily, then breathed out, “Yeah, home. I miss everyone.”
“You didn’t actually bet that Nœrlaide changed his mind, right?” my mom asked.
I chuckled and sat up. “Of course not. I was reading his mind the entire time you guys argued about what to do with him. I still am a cautious overthinker at my core.”
“Can’t say I love your decision, but it seems to be for the best.”
“The doll,” I began. “The corpse doll that they made to disguise as Nœrlaide in the beginning. Ceallakánn controlled it, but Nœrlaide must’ve fed him lines. I think he intended to nudge me in the direction of taking the pill by subtly flattering me, what with saying I was different or whatever, brainwashing me into gambling that I’d survive because I was so special. But Nœrlaide couldn’t have thought of those words if he never thought them, you know? He was always too sure of himself that no such thought would even cross his mind, much less woven into a scheme.”
“You’re showing off at this rate,” Ashlynne teased.
“Ah, my point is,” I rose and brushed the snow off my arms, “I hadn’t considered he might have a change of heart until then.”
“Well, either way, I’m glad you did what you did,” Ashlynne said.
“I still prefer killing him,” Zach chipped in.
Ashlynne threw a snowball at him, which he dodged. “Kill, kill, kill. Why are you so violent?! Isn’t this a much better ending?”
As usual, they couldn’t remain civil around each other for longer than a minute.
Zach tossed a decoy snowball at Ashlynne, which she palmed, but immediately hurled a bigger one while the decoy clouded her vision, hitting her square in the face. “Ha, that’s revenge.”
“You are so dead.”
I watched them with interest while my mom stretched. “Louki and I were exactly like this.”
Zach and I both abruptly stopped. “Louki?”
“Loukianos, yeah. My brother? Your uncle?”
Ashlynne’s snowball hit the back of Zach’s head. This was the best reveal I could’ve asked for.