“I recall nothing but endless darkness when my own mother deemed me a burden.”
Josephine, Hailee, and I sat on the umber sofas in the living room, each of us a porcelain teacup in hand. “This tastes exquisite,” Josephine exclaimed. “I didn’t know some households had special ways of preparing blood.”
It wasn’t just the liquid. On the coffee table, plates of elegant-looking desserts created a line. The plate closest to me looked like some form of blood pudding, followed by what seemed to be brownies, red velvet cookies, scones, and more. Each cut to bite-size. I picked up a brownie.
“Oh my god, this almost tastes like the real thing,” I murmured.
“This is what cookies taste like?” Hailee asked, euphoric.
I tossed one in my mouth. “Not exactly, but damn close!”
A quiet chuckle from behind wallowed me in embarrassment. I turned to see the man who welcomed us into this manor. “I had hundreds of years to do nothing but cook and bake. I’m glad you enjoy my creations.”
“You could open a restaurant. A vampire restaurant.”
He giggled, then sat down on the couch across from us. He slid a thick, leather-covered book across the table. Hands clasped, he nervously adjusted his sitting posture several times. “You can call me Crysanthė. This is the biggest history book in my library.”
After we introduced ourselves, Josephine got down to business. Since she and Hailee occupied both sides of the book, I conversed with Crysanthė. “So, you live alone?”
“Yes. Over the years, my children moved out and such.”
“Your spouse and parents, too?”
His eyes darted around the room. “They died.”
“Oh no, I’m sorry for––”
“There’s nothing about the progenitors in here,” Josephine interrupted, frowning. “It only details the life of Purebloods, what Elites are, what powers are common in each, how humans started retaliating, and all that stuff we already know.”
“You’re looking for information on the progenitors?” Crysanthė questioned.
“Yes. Well, we’re actually looking for my mother, Mihaela Ceallakánn.”
He shot up. “You’re a Ceallakánn!”
“No, no, no, no. I’m only half. Calm down. What’s wrong?”
He twisted his fingers more and stuttered, “Nothing.”
My eyebrows knitted slightly. I had to know what he was thinking. I silently wished for his thoughts, only to feel my entire body scrunch inward in pain.
“Hazel?!” Hailee yelled when I leaned forward and doubled over on the floor. I coughed and coughed, and the dryness in my throat worsened until my own blood dripped out of my mouth. I was dangerously close to zero percent. This time, my body was protesting by literally throwing up blood instead of fainting.
“Sorry about your carpet. I can clean it after I’m recovered,” I said after a series of drinking and eating to replenish my life force.
“It’s quite alright,” he replied easily.
Teacup in hand, I stared him dead in the eyes. “You’re a progenitor, aren’t you? Only the ancestors drain me this quickly.”
Josephine and Hailee looked at me, then at Crysanthė, whose face grew even paler. “I… I am. I’m Crysanthė; the Tenth.”
As it turned out, after humans started effectively fighting back and the Pureblood population began decreasing, all vampire progenitors retreated into hiding to preserve their “sacred blood.” Crysanthė was the only one who stayed in his old manor. To protect the others, he was forced to burn all documents related to the progenitors.
“Why’d you call yourself tenth?” Hailee asked.
He smiled wryly. “You must be young. When we first appeared in this world and created families, we were ranked. The Pureblood families have a rank based on the strength of their abilities. And those rankings also connote the level of respect each family receives.”
And the Crysanthė family was at the bottom of the ten.
“Progenitors go by family names. We only gave ourselves one name, and our families took them as surnames.”
“Then, do you know where Nœrlaide is?”
The three of us looked at him expectantly, but Crysanthė only chewed on his lip. “I can’t say anything about the individuals. The Second hypnotized me. He made sure I physically cannot reveal any progenitors’ secrets or whereabouts.”
“Hypnotism? Kinda like Zach?”
If the progenitors’ ranking influenced the families, each family’s ability must mirror that of the progenitor at least a little.
I guessed, “Is Nœrlaide the Second?”
Through silence, I scrutinized Crysanthė’s features. He stared back. I glanced at my two companions, saying, “That’s a yes. Then, wow, Zach’s a part of the second most powerful family of all Purebloods.”
Hailee munched on a cupcake as she nodded. “What rank are the Gersełnas? Third? Fourth?”
“Ninth,” Josephine said. “I found the rank list in the appendix.”
“Are you kidding me?”
I stretched my neck to see the page. From First to Tenth, I read aloud the series of mostly unfamiliar names, “‘Ceallakánn, Nœrlaide, Bogdån, Anderson, Djehutimesu, Irinea, Hëdvig, Reįglii, Gersełna, Crysanthė.’”
Oh, hey. My family was ranked highest.
“We’re getting sidetracked,” Josephine stated, shutting the book. “Can you help us find the Second?”
Crysanthė insisted, “I don’t know where he is, and there’s no way for anybody to find the Second. I can’t tell you why, but trust me. Don’t waste any energy using vampire abilities to find him.”
Josephine paused, then spoke, “Then, what’s your power?”
“Enhancement. I double others’ abilities by up to tenfold. Depending on whom, I can even complete an Elite.”
My jaw dropped. He wasn’t useless at all. I quickly said, “I can grant my own wishes, but it drains my stamina. And wishing about anything related to progenitors instantly exhausts my life force. Can you make me stronger?”
“Yes, I can do that.” Smiling, he walked to my side and rested his palm on my upper back. Instantly, I felt my power double itself. Then again, and again, and again until I was at over six hundred percent.
Where is my mother? Where is Nœrlaide? I repeated, only to receive no answer. Something was preventing my power to work on that type of information. I had to try something more action-oriented, then. I said, “Crysanthė, I wish you’d tell me what’s stopping me from finding out anything related to my mother or the Second.”
Right away, his hand flew to his chest and gripped his shirt. A second later, I felt the same heartburn sensation. What did I just do? Was this a repercussion of attempting to break Nœrlaide’s hypnotism?
My body burned from head to toe, yet cold sweat seemed to cover my back and forehead. But I knew vampires didn’t sweat. I felt like I had a fever, then a cold, and then a severed limb. I silently curled up onto the sofa and hugged myself. I glanced up, guessing that Crysanthė experienced the same turmoil. The pain wasn’t intense enough for either of us to do anything except scrunching up in discomfort, but the off-putting feeling wasn’t abating but worsening.
“What’s going on? Are you two in pain?” Hailee’s voice rang. It seemed to bounce around in my skull before reaching my eardrums. How could I rid this annoying feverish state? I was too afraid of more side effects if I tried to wish it away.
I opened my mouth, but only croaks came out. At the same time, black shimmerings clouded my vision. No matter how hard I blinked, I couldn’t see anything. Just as I felt a panic attack coming, someone laid me down on the couch. My vision had blackened so much that I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed.
Just as my sense of time began deteriorating, I started feeling two hands cupping my head. Soon, I could move my arms and legs, and my vision cleared up. Zach’s glowing red rings blazed in front of my startled eyes.
“There you are,” he whispered. Upon a blink, his usual pale blues returned.
“Why are you here? What just happened?” I murmured, sitting up. Crysanthė stood by the end of the couch, twisting his fingers again.
“I told Zach about this place as soon as we got here,” Hailee explained. “In case anything happens, someone needs to know where we are.”
“You tried to break a progenitor’s hypnosis,” Zach explained, hand on my shoulder. “That’s a bad idea. The backlash of that power is no joke. I think anyone who messed with his power was meant to slowly suffer and die.” He glanced up at Crysanthė. “He’s probably okay because he’s also a progenitor, so backlashes aren’t enough to kill him.”
My head seemed to hover on my shoulders as I nodded. “Oh, okay. Wait, then, how am I not dead?”
“Because I’m amazing.” Zach shot me a grin before tossing me a juice box.
“You healed me?”
“I went around in your head and undid what my ancestor did. It’s like going around a maze and finding exactly where he planted the bomb. And then just write over it.”
“The First is stopping you!” Crysanthė suddenly yelled. “The Second is with the First, who nullifies all vampire abilities within a certain distance. Any question you ask that involves him in any way wouldn’t receive a response.” He clapped a hand over his mouth as soon as that burst out, then patted himself down as if surprised that he didn’t implode.
“Looks like your wish worked on him after almost killing yourself,” Zach remarked.
Josephine promptly urged, “Could you tell us anything else? Did they abduct Mihaela Ceallakánn?”
Crysanthė clammed up once more. It appeared that I nearly killed myself over one piece of information. I couldn’t imagine what would’ve happened had I wished to lift the hypnotism entirely.
“Zach, can you fix this guy, too?” Hailee asked, gesturing to the Tenth.
“No fucking way. Hazel was easy because she only took a progenitor’s backlash.” After meeting our confused gazes, Zach added, “She got the ‘what happens to anyone who tries to break the control’ bug. That one’s easy to find. But something that the second progenitor placed directly on the tenth progenitor… I can’t overwrite that.”
This was possibly the first time I’d ever heard Zach so openly admit a weakness. Heaving a small sigh, I ran my fingers through my hair, then stared at the bloody carpet that I still hadn’t cleaned up. What the hell. Imagine having an ability that cancelled all other abilities. It meant that I couldn’t wish for any information on the First, that Vivian couldn’t track him down, that Zach couldn’t read his memories, that any offensive attack would disperse, that any restraint would have zero effect, that any attempts to hide oneself would be useless.
We hit a deader-than-dead dead end.
Marella, who I hadn’t even noticed was here, spoke up, “Are you always here alone? Does anybody ever visit you?”
I turned my hopeful gaze to Crysanthė, who instantly blurted, “No.”
“That was a reflex,” Zach said.
“...not a response,” I finished. “You were told to say you’re always in complete isolation if anyone asked.”
Gradually, I rose from the couch and watched Crysanthė’s facial cues. I reiterated, “Does anybody ever visit you?”
“No,” he repeated, the same speed and intonation. “No, no.”
Hailee’s thin eyebrows knitted more. “No? Are we reading too much into things?”
“Three hours?” I inquired. “Three days?”
The slight relaxation of Crysanthė’s facial patterns just screamed the answer to me. I turned to the others with a confident smile. “Someone’s coming in three days. This person is important to us.”
Zach returned a proud smile. “Let’s stakeout.”
Five minutes later, we settled into a few of this manor’s many guestrooms. Crysanthė didn’t object when we asked if we could stay for a couple of days. We planned to rest for today and tomorrow, then hide in the forest where our scents could be much better masked. Since we couldn’t find out who was visiting, I couldn’t risk wishing our scents away only to run into the First.
After we all gathered in one room, Josephine caught Zach and Marella up on everything. Turned out, every household that Marella recalled from her childhood no longer existed. They zipped to us right after.
“So, will we just follow this person after they show up?” Hailee inquired.
“I suppose so. It’s the only clue we have,” said Josephine.
“If it’s not Ceallakánn or Nœrlaide, I’ll get their attention and control them,” Zach stated. “If we want to be careful, Josephine can make me invisible, and I’ll sneak up on them.”
Josephine pointed at herself. “Me? I can’t make others invisible.”
Zach explained, “Hazel said Crysanthė easily increased her power reserve to six hundred percent, and he could complete Elites. I don’t think it’s a stretch for him to enhance your ability and make invisible someone you touch. Like how Roman teleports everyone he’s in direct contact with.”
For a moment, I admired his serious side profile. His focused face was so cute. I flinched my gaze away when he caught me staring. No one else seemed to notice our brief eye contact. Zach added, “We also don’t know what any of the progenitors look like. When the mystery person shows up, Hailee will try to telecommunicate with me. If it works, I’ll know it’s not Ceallakánn. If it doesn’t work, our only option would be trying to follow him after he leaves. So, if I do anything, or if Hailee doesn’t tell you to do anything, none of us move. Got it?”
“You’re so demanding,” Hailee complained. “But, I got it.”
Marella and Josephine nodded, too, as if accustomed to Zach’s lack of effort to use a better tone.
Zach wasn’t done. “And since Hazel took a huge toll just by wishing for information on the progenitors, I wouldn’t imagine I’d have an easier time with my mind control. If I make a mistake or if I’m… defeated, teleport right away.” He looked at me. “Got it?”
I blinked. “I’ll teleport all of us away, right?”
“No, we don’t know what powers I could be exposed to. If it’s like Vivian, and they could track me back to wherever we go. Any tracking ability would be disastrous.”
“Or, we could ask Crysanthė to boost my power, as well. I could wish for a detailed count of their ability.” I met Zach’s thorny gaze with a smile.
But he said again, “So if you find out that person does have tracking abilities, you’d teleport away with and only with Marella, Josephine, and Hailee, correct?”
I gulped. I couldn’t win against him, after all. “Yes.”
“Good. Wait, actually, get Roman and Vivian over here. If all else fails, we can manually track them down. Hazel can’t keep teleporting everybody.”
“Alright, I’ll contact them,” Hailee said, hopping off the edge of the bed. “We still have time tomorrow. For now, we had a long ass day.”
“I’m going to the living room and reading that history book in case we missed anything crucial,” said Josephine, exiting right then.
As I shut the door behind Marella and Hailee, two arms snaked around my waist and a face buried in my shoulder. He mumbled, “I got scared.”
“You? Scared?” I teased.
“You looked like death the moment I ran in.”
I pressed my lips against the side of his head. “I’m sorry for being reckless. You always have to save me from some kind of danger.”
“That’s small compared to what you did.” He rose and met my lips with his own. “You saved me from myself.”
Grinning, I spun around, hugged him tightly, and tiptoed to kiss him. Feelings of pure rainbows and unicorns filled my heart to the brim. Zach had a rather domineering and commanding aura, like a spiky porcupine. But around me, he turned his thorns away and showed his gentle nature.
“You calm me down,” I whispered. “I love you.”
“You love yourself, too?”
He chuckled. “Yes. But I guess I love you, too.”
Just like that, Zach and I spent the night with cuddles and whispers and laughter.
Our last night.