The Dawn Before Darkness
“Then I knew… where I got my fabulous hair from.”
~ Hailee Greene (Hailee Gersełna)
“The Enhancement? No, it doesn’t wear off until you use it all up,” said Crysanthė.
I brightened up at the news. This meant we didn’t need to worry about a time limit. For a moment, I found myself very curious about what powers the other progenitors had. Crysanthė appeared to be a frail support type, but details about him and his power proved him worthy as a progenitor.
Crysanthė enveloped Vivan’s hand with his bony ones. “As an Elite, your natural weakness is that you forget faces very easily. Since your ability relies on tracking people from their faces, I think I’ll help you forever commit to memory the next foreign face you see.”
Vivian beamed. “Whoa, I can’t believe you can do that!”
I watched Crysanthė’s smiling face as he exerted himself again and again to enhance our powers. This was exactly it. He didn’t seem worn out or tired in the least. His natural stamina probably outranked mine by at least fivefold.
“And Josephine,” he said, turning to her. “You reappear when you touch something. Instead, I can make you and whatever you touch transferable.”
Transferable meant that Josephine could make others invisible upon physical contact, just like Roman could teleport those he touched.
I glanced at Zach, who stared at Crysanthė as intently as I was. He seemed to be a tad suspicious of him, too. It was too nice of Crysanthė to help us this much, considering that we were strange vampires seeking the Second.
“Hazel,” Crysanthė’s call snapped me out of my thoughts. “Your ability is the most useful and the most taxing. I think I’ll rest a few to recover my full power for you. In the meantime, could all of you gather me some supplies?”
“Of course, it’s the least we can do.”
He handed us a shopping list of items. After scanning it once, Zach ripped it into three sections. “Roman and Hailee, get the blood. Marella and Josephine, get the baking ingredients. Hazel and I will get the groceries. Vivian, stay here in case our mystery vamp shows up early. Commit that face to memory.”
Everyone took their positions after a couple of complaints again. Hailee routinely groaned about Zach’s authoritative tone but always while following the orders he barked. And I understood why.
“Excellent arrangement,” I said as we zipped southward to a farmers’ market that Crysanthė told us he frequented.
“Roman and Hailee are good friends. She feels at ease talking to him, and he’s the least likely to get annoyed by her chatters. Hailee can’t kill, so their only option is going to the base and grabbing juice boxes, which is convenient since Roman teleports. The chances of them getting caught doing what’s supposed to be a dangerous activity are practically zero.”
Zach’s lips curved upward. “And?”
“And now that Josephine is transferable, she can effortlessly obtain baking ingredients because whatever she touches becomes invisible with her. Even if anything goes wrong, Marella’s half-offensive, and she’s a descendant of the Third. She can bail them out.”
I felt incredibly proud of myself for reading Zach’s analytical mind before he chuckled. “I’m impressed so far. And?”
“And…,” I stuttered. “Well, it’s obvious why you put us together.”
“Is it now?”
Imaginary heat rushed to my face. “Don’t make me say it.”
“Alright, I’ll say it. All the baking ingredients on the list are in the forest that surrounded us.” Zach shot me a smirk. “But the groceries are at the farmers’ market, which is the farthest place from the manor. You and I are together for groceries because we’re the fastest.”
My cobwebbed brain eventually pieced it together. We were only a team because we could make it to and from the market more quickly than anyone else. It was a purely objective decision that I couldn’t infer because I didn’t read the full shopping list. The imaginary heat in my face intensified.
“But, certainly, that was exactly what you had in mind,” Zach teased, a fake kind smile plastered on his perfect-ass face.
“Yes! Of course, it is!” I yelped when he sped up, leaving me in his dust. “Zachary Nolan, get back here!”
He cackled under his breath for the next half hour until we reached the marketplace.
As he picked up a bag of apples, I started, “You left Vivian there to keep an eye on Crysanthė, too, right? Not just in case the mystery person arrives.”
“Yup,” Zach replied. “I barely trust that guy.”
“I get it. He’s helping a gang of strange vampires way too much. Against his own, no less. Still, though, I don’t sense any traces of dishonesty on him.”
“The geezer’s lived for thousands of years. Pretty sure he’d get good at lying.” Zach’s eyebrows rose slightly. “These cherry tomatoes are magnificent.”
“Are they?” I recalled my human days. Back when I had no idea how to cook and would have starved to death without Arthur. “It’s pretty bewildering that Crysanthė invented ways to prepare human dishes with blood, huh?”
“Remember when I cooked for you?” Zach suddenly brought up as he bought two baskets of strawberries.
“Yeah! You’re a great chef, unlike me. I still miss that amazing omelette you make.”
He grew quiet for a whole minute as he picked out carrots. “Wherever we moved, my father worked as an assistant chef.”
I almost dropped the basket that I was carrying. “Really? Cooking?” We were in public, so I couldn’t very well ask how a vampire with taste buds only for blood became a cook for humans.
“He liked it for some reason. Maybe it started as a way for animal blood to taste more bearable, then it developed into an actual hobby. I don’t know how he did it. But I saw him cook so often I picked up some of his recipes.” Zach tossed carrots and potatoes into my basket. His face was rigid as he told me the story. How did recalling a detail about his late father make him feel, I wonder?
Through my silence, Zach asked, “What else?”
I quickly glanced at the list. “A basket of blueberries and four peaches.”
When I raised my head, Zach stood an inch away, a genuine gentle smile on his face. He leaned in and pecked on my forehead. “Who knew I got to recreate those dishes for you.”
I gazed into his eyes, mirroring his blissful expression. “They were delicious. Thank you for sharing.”
“My father would’ve been ecstatic to hear that,” he whispered. Defenceless, Zach unmasked the traces of nostalgia for the past but optimism for the future in his eyes. “Let’s go buy some blueberries.”
“Yeah,” I whispered back. He stood up straight and passed his basket to his left hand. His right hand reached for my left, intertwining our fingers. I swang my basket back and forth in my right hand as we weaved through the crowd. He continued to open up to me whenever a thought crossed his mind. I hoped he knew that I was giving him my whole heart, too.
An hour later, we returned to Crysanthė’s manor. As we entered the huge, modern kitchen, everyone else was organizing the haul they brought back. Some ten plastic bags sat on the island.
Josephine saw us first. “You’re back. The fridge is over there.”
Zach and I trod to the fridge that was disguised as a floor-length cabinet. The upper shelf filled with juice boxes. Zach predicted correctly. Hailee and Roman grabbed blood boxes from The Ones’ base.
After that, it was at last my turn to be boosted. I bounced in my seat and stretched an arm out for Crysanthė, who set his fingers on my wrist. Then, the familiar feeling coursed through me. My power doubled itself, just like last time. Except this time, I started at a hundred percent. Crysanthė only had to double twice for me to reach an astounding one million percent. He stopped at a hundred million percent. It was enough for me to face any foe and come out unscathed.
“Thank you so much for everything. I don’t know how I could ever repay you,” I said.
“It’s quite alright. I haven’t seen another soul for nearly two thousand years.” Crysanthė walked us to the door. “There is a rather gratifying feeling in aiding another.”
I then had a sudden epiphany. Perhaps it was because the Crysanthės received minimal respect since they were ranked last. After sinking in feelings of impotence for thousands of years, he was simply content to be of use and be equal to vampires from the higher-ranked families. Or was I being overly pretentious for believing a progenitor would think anything of a halfie like me? Maybe he was impressed by Zach’s mastery of the Nœrlaide signature mind control. Perhaps he was happy to see descendants of the Third and the Fourth, Marella and Roman, doing well for themselves. Maybe it was the satisfaction of using his power to grant Elites the Pureblood-level prowess that they hadn’t experienced.
I snapped out of my daze. Zach and the others stood on the front lawn, facing me. “Coming. Bye, Crysanthė. I’ll see you again someday.”
“Yes, I’m sure we’ll meet again.” He waved one last time as I followed my friends into the veils of the forest. I quickly wished for our scents to clear up, just in case. Such a wish didn’t even poke a dent into my fortress of a lifeforce.
To make us less of an obvious target, we split up and surrounded the manor. Zach and I sat on either side of a tree and enclosed ourselves in leaves. Josephine sat in a clump of bushes farther ahead of us to our right. On the opposite side, Roman and Vivian perched in two trees close to each other, facing the main door of the manor. To our far left, Hailee hid in a tree. She kept a telepathy link with each of us. Marella sat in the tallest and farthest tree behind us. The six of us encircled the manor, waiting for the mystery guest.
“Care to analyze why we’re set up this way?” Zach spoke quietly. We had many hours of boredom ahead of us, so I entertained him.
“Vivian has a clear view of the front door obviously so she could see the mystery person’s face first. If she gets detected or anything, Roman can immediately teleport them both.” I tapped on my chin. “I think Josephine’s on the ground and closest to the house so she can turn invisible and head straight for the house. Her contact with anything else is minimized so she wouldn’t waste energy by touching more bushes and trees and turning those invisible. For Hailee, I’m guessing she’d be more focused and quiet if she were by herself. And she’s the most well-hidden because her telepathy is our only link with each other. Marella’s far from here to be near the river, where her hydrokinesis can shine. She can also erase her scent and throw off night vision with water, so she’s the safest lookout.”
Zach hummed in approval. “Full marks. Good job, you’re learning. I’m proud of you.”
“I’m still way behind you,” I said, “You only take a second to devise a fully comprehensive plan. I take minutes to figure out what you thought up in seconds, and I’m not even always on the dot.”
Since we sat back-to-back against the tree bark, I couldn’t see Zach. I added, “But maybe to be fair, you are a lot older than me. More life experience.”
“You missed something,” he suddenly started.
“You and me. Why are we stationed here?”
I chuckled. “If you need to sneak up, Josephine’s close. If our guest tries to escape through the back door, you and I are the fastest and most likely to catch up. If anything unexpected goes wrong, I have a hundred million percent in the bank.”
“Good, and what else?”
“And…?” I trailed off. I thought about our positions relative to the others and our strengths. What else could there possibly be? I admitted, “I’m not sure.”
In a flash, Zach darted to me and settled me on his lap while he leaned against the bark. “We’re here because I miss you.”
Twin smiles bloomed on our faces. I poked his cheek. “What do you mean? We’ve been together this whole time.”
“Doesn’t mean I can’t miss you.”
“True. I miss you, too.” I curled and leaned up against him. He wrapped his arms tightly around me. For a long time, we did nothing but sit like that together.
Hailee’s voice chimed in my head, shaking me wide awake and alert. Zach and I briskly jumped to our toes. I narrowed my eyes as I focused on the still image before me.
“They’re wearing a cloak,” Hailee said again. “Oh, they just leapt up and gave Crysanthė a big hug as soon as he opened the door.”
I knew what to do. I wish a gust of natural wind would blow the hood off of that person’s cloak.
I waited. Hailee was silent for nearly half a minute. Finally, she told us, “It’s a she. Vivian just carved her face to memory.”
“So, it’s not the First or the Second. We’re safe,” I replied, letting Hailee carry my thoughts to everyone else.
“Josephine says it’s likely another progenitor. We should still stay alert.”
I had another job. I wish I knew what her ability is. I almost gasped out loud when I received the answer.
“Guys, that woman can copy other abilities!” I quickly informed, then held back a cough. “And is definitely a progenitor.”
Everyone’s messy thoughts bounced from Hailee to the rest of us. Zach fell silent for a while. This progenitor’s ability was too unpredictable. It might be too risky to wait and track her down later. But was it dangerous enough for Zach to gamble rushing forward and attempting his mind control now?
“Roman asks what we should do now,” Hailee popped in.
Before any of us could respond, a fraction of a shadow zipped out the back door of the manor. Either the visit ended very soon, or the progenitor realized that others were around. Knowing that Vivian saw her face, none of us rushed to chase her. We gathered by the garden.
“Should we chase after her now?” Josephine asked.
Our gazes uniformly shifted to Zach, who for once looked unsure. Progenitors were a whole new area for all of us. After seeing first-hand what the Tenth could do, it was understandable to be more cautious before pursuing another progenitor. While he thought, I tried to wish for as much information as possible.
“She’s the Fourth,” I said.
“Anderson,” Roman noted. His ancestor.
I squeezed my eyes shut. “She can copy and store someone’s ability when it’s in use. And she can choose when to use stored abilities. She can store three at a time, and they each last ten minutes when she uses them.”
That was a lot of detail. I had to dig. My energy probably drained by a couple hundred. That was nothing to me now, though.
“I can’t find out where she’s going,” I muttered. “That means it must be related to the First.”
Zach squeezed my hand. “That was important information. Don’t wear yourself out too much. Let’s go after her.”
“Right now? No preparation?” Josephine questioned.
“No preparation for us also means none for them,” Zach stated. “Roman, teleport Hailee, Marella, and Josephine back to the base, then come back.”
It only took Roman three seconds to do that.
Vivian pressed her fingers against her temples. “She’s going at normal vampire speed. She probably thinks she lost us. We can catch up and follow her with ease.”
I couldn’t help the little twinge of hope that reignited in my heart.