“Oh, am I the villain now? How fun.”
~ Ceallakánn (The First)
Before me towered two vampires. Something deep within me, perhaps a base instinct, told me to shiver in their presence. I fought against the sense of impending doom that sank in my chest, but I wasn’t sure how well I schooled my expression.
“Still, what a gamble you took. If they left here, I would’ve killed you,” said the vampire on the left. His side-swept hair bounced a little every time he moved his head. He looked young despite his beard, but the chills and power that emanated from him assured me that he was a thousands-years-old vampire who had killed more people than I had seen alive.
“With their personalities, there is zero chance of escaping. There was no risk; thus, there was no gamble,” retorted the one on the right. Wearing a tailed tuxedo, he produced a regal, intelligent aura. His raven hair hovered over slightly less than half of his face, and his half-lidded pale blue eyes seemed to glare through any tricks or deception.
The two of them chatted amongst themselves like a couple of childhood best friends, entirely unpressured and in control of the situation. I glanced at Zach and met his eyes, as uncertain as mine. I reflexively scanned the room. All the other vampires piled at the back, blocking the only stairway. There was nothing else on the entire floor. No weapons to use, no chairs to smash over heads, no floorboards to manipulate. With its solid metal everything, this whole floor cautiously removed any inkling of an advantage for intruders. At this point, we may be forced to flee through the tunnel again.
“You’re the nullifier and hypnotist,” Zach suddenly stated.
My gaze fixed back on the two vampires in front of us. Their chat finally ceasing, they turned their frosty stares to Zach. The side-swept hair man mumbled, “Right, you don’t remember us. How sad. We had dinner together.”
I blurted, “You did this to us! You wiped our memories! Who the hell are you?”
In my vision, the man abruptly vanished. The millisecond I noticed, he reappeared in front of my face. The next thing I knew, I flew up in the air, and my jaw smashed into bits. It was then I realized that I sustained a brutal uppercut. My ears rang, and my neck burned in pain for a hot minute.
A pair of arms caught me in mid-air. My tired orbs shifted to see Zach, pressing me close to him. As he landed and stepped back, the shattered bones in my chin noisily rearranged themselves into place. The two vampires across the room watched me heal as if in a live show.
Zach’s throat emitted a low growl. I looked at him, eyes glimmering. “You know my name. Your memories recovered.”
He frowned. “No, I still don’t remember a thing. I don’t know how your name burst out like that.”
A string of slow applause snapped me back to our horrifying reality. Zach put me down. I raised my head to see the tuxedo man clap his gloved hands, a sinister smirk tugging at his lips.
“You never fail to amaze me.” He stared at Zach like a tiger at a piece of meat. “There is no room left for doubt; you are the purest Nœrlaide that I have encountered in a thousand years. Your blood is so untainted, my level two hypnotism can barely hold you even after demolishing your mental defense.”
Those unfamiliar words hit my buzzing brain all at once. I shakily touched my now intact jaw as I uttered, “What do you want?”
“Shut up,” boomed the man with the swept hair. “Only Purebloods speak here.”
My breath hitched, and I instinctively clapped my hands over my mouth. I wasn’t a Pureblood; that was why he struck me so aggressively. Every vampire we’d met on the way here were all Purebloods. So then, why was I kept alive at all? Why didn’t they kill me on the spot instead of troubling themselves with erasing my memories?
Zach stepped in front of me. “You locked us up to test us, right? See how long it’d take for us to break out but choose to come back.”
“Yes, Zach,” said the tuxedo man, acknowledging him by name. “Allow me to reintroduce ourselves. I am Nœrlaide, the second progenitor. This here is Ceallakánn, the first progenitor. But you will remember that once I lift your memory veil.”
I could only see Zach’s back, but I felt the scowl form on his face as he said, “And why would you be nice enough to dispel your own hypnosis?”
“As a formal invitation to join us, of course,” responded the man named Nœrlaide. “You passed our test with flying colors, and your power is incredibly useful. I am certain you will agree with our cause, as well.”
The gears in my brain spun rapidly; something wasn’t adding up. I glanced at the other man, Ceallakánn, who still looked at me as if dirt on the bottom of his shoe.
“What about Hazel? What are you going to do with her?” Zach asked the same inquiry I had.
Nœrlaide’s smile dropped, and he began to pace toward us. “My ability can be performed in five levels of intensity. The more powerful my opponent and the longer I want my hypnosis to last, the higher level I must use and the more draining it would be.”
What does that have anything to do with me? Why did he test me when his target is Zach?
“There are two components to one’s strength: mental and physical. I wish to preserve your physical power, so I could not damage that. Then all that remains is mental.” A wicked grin suddenly appeared on his face. “I am sure you have noticed by now that you two hold a special relationship.”
Before the words even processed in my mind, Zach spun toward me, yelling, “Run!”
By pure reflex, I pushed off of my feet and zipped to the tunnel that led up. Just then, I understood. These two psychopathic vampires kept me alive only to kill me right in front of Zach, so he’d bear mental damage and be easier to hypnotize. I was a tool for character development!
This time, I saw Ceallakánn’s incoming swat and jumped backward before it could land. Now he stood directly under the tunnel, cutting our only escape route.
Erasing Zach’s memories was to ensure he couldn’t somehow communicate with anyone or fight to search for me. It was to test his true abilities in such a situation. And Nœrlaide offered to lift the hypnosis only for it to hurt that much more when I die. But nothing explained why I was set up the same as Zach. Maybe that was for simple entertainment.
Ceallakánn’s caramel irises swirled crimson. If I had been scared before, I was petrified now. The last time I saw a change in vampire eye color was when Zach’s ability suddenly functioned. Did that mean Ceallakánn activated his power? But this floor was already nullified, so he had to be de-nullifying it!
“Zach! Mind control!” I yelled, just in time for him to blink out his red rings. Then, my gaze shifted toward Nœrlaide, who held the exact same orbs: black irises and a red band around the pupils. Both of them wielded psychological powers. Even though Zach was too late to mind control anyone, he had it as a last line of defence.
I was so focused on Zach and Nœrlaide that I forgot to watch out for my biggest problem. Once again, in less than a second, my skull slammed into the solid metal wall. Ceallakánn seized me by the side of my neck and immobilized me against the wall. The entire left side of my face, including my left eye, instantly lost connection with my nervous system. Blood trickled from my head down to my chin, dripping onto the ground.
Gritting my teeth, I clutched Ceallakánn’s claw to no avail and looked at the back of Zach’s head with my functioning right eye. He and Nœrlaide seemed to just stare at each other, but they were engaged in a fierce mental battle. I didn’t know what was going on between them. I could only hope that Zach was holding his own against a progenitor.
Half a minute later, the situation became a little easier to read. Nœrlaide’s demeanor hadn’t altered a bit. His hands languidly adjusted his jacket and hair while Zach couldn’t afford to move a muscle. Another minute later, Nœrlaide stepped forward, and Zach began to visibly tremble.
I couldn’t do anything. I already could barely breathe. Ceallakánn tightened his grip whenever I even showed signs of resisting. I bit back every scream and groan to avoid distracting Zach in any way.
My eye lost all light when Zach collapsed on his knees.
“That took forever,” Ceallakánn remarked. The mental battle was longer than expected, but he never doubted it’d result in anything but Nœrlaide’s victory.
“Precisely. He put up a decent fight,” Nœrlaide replied, smiling. His eyes then locked with my wide-open one. “You had excellent theories. Some were wrong, but I acknowledge your deductions. It is truly unfortunate that you are a subpar.”
My breath shook as Nœrlaide’s red rings neared. He intended to return my memories to thoroughly extinguish any chance of a peaceful death for me. I was to drown in an endless whirlpool of regret. I was to fade into ashes, aware that I never made a difference. I was to die knowing everything yet unable to save anything.
And that would hammer any snippet of hope out of Zach.
Nœrlaide propped open my eye with his fingers. In that instant, everything disappeared. All but two glowing red rings remained in my vision. Slowly, I drew in and breathed out calm, long breaths. The throbbing pain in my head vanished, and I could open my left eye. I knew it was all an illusion, but my whole body felt so light and free.
“You are Hazel Dawson.”
The red rings expanded and merged into one, then duplicated into a tunnel of rings that led nowhere. With a push from this universe, I effortlessly fell into it. As the red circles flashed past me down the tunnel, sticky cobwebs and dusty cloths lifted from the dormant images and sounds in my brain.
Oh, right. My name is Hazel Dawson. Arthur Carrington is my guardian, and Kaydence Samuels is my closest friend. My parents are… dead. I found out that I was a hybrid vampire. I met a lot of vampires that turned out to be good-natured, but I took a long time to accept vampirism. Growing fangs was painful, and I didn’t immediately know what my ability was. Zach helped me cope with my new identity, but he suddenly pushed me away. And then I…
Died? I died twice?
No! Zach died protecting me. I altered history with all of my power. But he broke my heart again. I erased my emotions and promised myself I’d never cry for him again. I did a lot of things that I regret. Zach knocked me back to my senses, and I found my parents’ murderer.
Wait a minute.
But then I found out that my mother was alive! I started hunting for clues like crazy. After linking evidence, I realized I had to seek the First and Second for the rest of the puzzle. But en route, Zach was captured by the Fourth. So, I tried to rescue him. I fell, hard, into the Fourth’s trap. She copied my ability and easily caught me. And then, Zach and I awakened in her hideout, locked in a cage.
That was nearly a month ago. Everything that occurred between then and now caused my current predicament. Zach and I were so close to unravelling the truth.
It all began twenty-four days ago.