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"Education as a Lifestyle"
My name is Alyssa. As Iwalked through the hallway of Devlin High-School to sixth hour, textbook and homework in-hand, I moved with a skip in my step. I was what some people would call a nerd. A seventh-grader, but a nerd nonetheless. Growing up and born as a Werewolf, I wasn’t given a whole lot of opportunities in life, but I did what I could to focus on my work. That way, maybe, just maybe, I could rise above my racial status in the world.
I wasn’t one to focus on life at home until I was out of school and had to return there; at home, though I felt moderately safe (which is still more than most have the luxury of), there was always a current problem. Whether it was that we were going to have to skip our meals for a day or have Mom go out again to get used for money. Those were the bad nights. The nights when I’d come home from school with my brother, a happy smile plastered to my face, “Mom, Dad, we’re home!” only to find that it was just Dad who was home. And with a grim shake of the head, no words were necessary.
I’m not sure who it hurt more—Dad, or us. The knowledge that his wife did what she did just to help put some food on the table had to hurt.
I stopped dead in my tracks.
Oh great…it’s her.
Sarah Sirpentine. The only freshman in the school that scared seniors and teachers alike, to the point where no one got on her case about assignments or dared to bully her, even if just to assert themselves. With her flowing cinnamon-brown hair and well-toned body, she was more than attractive, but at the start of the new school year she didn’t show up for almost a whole quarter straight, giving her a bad reputation. She had gone underground when her parents were murdered right in front of her over the summer. When the people responsible left her home, Sarah was, behind all of her sadness and fear, filled with an uncontrollable thirst for vengeance. Non-stop over the summer, she had worked out, trained herself in private with her weapon--Backstabber, until she was nothing but an empty shell--she probably still is. Trying to talk to her was a good excuse to get yourself maimed.
But the thing is—I didn’t even say anything to her, yet she still seemed to be coming straight. At. Me.
“Get a life, bitch.” she snarled.
Sarah shoved me and knocked all of my work and books out of my hands. She then elbowed me to the ground with enough force to have me seeing stars. But even the stars became blurry as tears formed in my eyes.
It just wasn’t enough to be hurt by people on a daily basis with their constant insults, like, “I saw your mom at the corner last night; is she as cheap as you are?” I could usually tolerate that one, but on bad days, I found myself weeping again. People just had to come at me with physical force. That feeling of power over something, even someone as “weak” as me was all that got them through the day.
I tried picking up my books and assignments only to have them stepped on and kicked aside by the laughing students passing by. I knew they were laughing because of me. Because I was worthless. Because I was poor, and it didn’t even matter I was in the top five-percent of my grade. As long as I was at the bottom of the chain, Hellions would hate me.
“Here,” Sarah returned a few of my books to me, expressionless. “Let me help.”
I stood to my feet with the rest of my crumpled mess of work as she held the rest of my things out to me. I couldn’t understand. I had expected her to just drop them as soon as I reached out for them…but no. Sarah gave back what she had picked up for me, nicely, without a fight.
With that, she left my side and continued on her way to class.
I awoke from my daze with a quick shake of my head. I stood up in the dark alley to try and get my bearings again; with a long sigh, I glared up at the sky. Every so often, my mind would drift back to when the little Alyssa first met Sarah. The weak one that couldn't defend herself from anyone. I remember that simple act of turning back around to help me being the start of our friendship. She and her friend Valen were both freshman, three years older than me, and yet they were the only ones who cared about me aside from a very select few teachers. It was Sarah’s friendship with me that kept me from being beaten often; at least until they left.
I graduated high-school without a problem, but after Sarah and Valen graduated, neither of them visited me. Of course, I didn’t have money for college as I think anyone who saw me now would quickly realize, and with my younger brother, Dad, and Mom dead from a disease of which we couldn’t get a cure for because we had no money-! I wasn’t left with much of an option but to live on the street. And by “the street”, I mean jumping between different alleys, forcing people to let me stay at their house for a night.
For nine years since graduating, I’ve been expecting that I would see her face again. And then my waiting slowly morphed into a bitter resentment towards her. She was no better than any of the other jerks that pushed me around in the hallways and beat me up just because.
Alyssa. She was so different from me. We had almost become different people in the span of a few years. She was a softie, which is why she always got pushed around at school; but if I had that mentality now I’d probably be dead.
Us Werewolves have always lived in the slums, most of us in the Capital of Hell—End City. A place where the rich thrived and whoever wasn’t cashing checks by snapping necks, yet fortunate enough to be here, were tossed aside like broken puppets. How ironic that Death’s bio was always, “Cut strings that turn you into a puppet.”
Rain, sleet, snow, I’d look up at the inverted pyramid made from mirror-glass that was Sky Tower, dreaming of a life more fortunate than mine. Only Board members, Death, or their relatives were allowed in there unless it was a serious emergency. Oh, I’d give anything just to see the inside.
Thinking of that gave me hope. And being a nomad meant I had to have a lot of that.
In my position…it may seem strange but Hellions that manage to look into alleys I’m occupying take one glance at me and would never believe that I’m a clean-freak. Obviously, I don’t get many chances to shower or even get food; I have to mooch off someone else. Heck, if it were up to me, I’d take two showers a day.
I’d love dearly to say that there’s a bright side, but there isn’t, unless you count learning how to fend for yourself a bright side.
I’d soon find that I didn’t even begin to know how to fight.
“Hold it!” I snappedas I stepped from the shadows of the alley, pointing my gun at a woman with groceries.
She took a step back in fear but otherwise stood stock-still. I don’t like being forceful but I don’t have much of a choice; this isn’t the mortal world where everyone’s all nice and happy-go-lucky. At least, that’s what I hear.
“Okay, okay.” The woman said gently, placing the groceries on the pavement.
“You got any hand-sanitizer I could have?” I asked.
“Uh…yes.” The woman reached into her purse and handed me a small bottle filled with clear liquid.
I graciously took it from her grasp and rubbed its contents into my hands while still aiming the gun at my victim. The expression on her face told me that she had partially expected me to drink it because of the alcohol content. Jeez, am I that bad? I’m not asking for your damn wallet.
“Anything I could eat that you don’t really need?”
The woman shook her head vigorously.
Man, I’m on a food dry-streak.
“You mind if I crash at your place for a night or two?”
She glanced around uncertainly, so I cocked my gun, snapping her out of it.
“Alright, you can stay. H-How long?”
I contemplated it. “One night should be good enough.”
I put the gun down and placed it into my back pocket along with the real one as the woman led me to her house, picking up her groceries on the way. I thank my dad everyday for the toy gun he gave me when I was a kid—totally indistinguishable from an actual one; I’ve used it to threaten people since I was thrown onto the street until I got a hold of a real one. It still made me feel better to point a toy at people though because it proved that fear was as powerful as a loaded gun.
“What race are you?” I asked, looking her over.
“Vampire.” she answered.
Great. Just what I need.
“You part of a royal ancestry at all?”
“No. Not for a few hundred years back at least.”
Oh good, never mind then.
“Sorry to do this by the way; I’m sure it’s inconvenient, but so is waking up one morning and realizing that you have to take care of yourself when no one else will. And yes, I know you didn’t ask for my life’s story.”
The Vampire groaned. “You one of those spell-casters that can read minds?”
“No, no,” I laughed, “I’m just used to it.” Used to being treated like a lesser being. “Do you have any children?”
The woman hesitated before answering, “Yes, I have a son named Darren.”
“You enjoying your life?”
“Yes, very much so.”
Hm. I hate to intrude on it, but I don’t have any legitimate means of controlling where I can live. I don’t fight people for their home because I stick to the Repercussion Law that we’ve had since there was first paper to document it on. The law stated that were a person murdered or hurt, in a manner that would limit the victim tremendously or cause grief, any surviving member of the immediate family has the right to take an eye-for-an-eye, or revenge. So…yeah.
“Here we are,” the woman finally announced.
“You want to introduce me to the family?” I muttered at the entrance.
She nodded uncomfortably and opened the door.
A boy the age of about nine came running to his mother for a hug but stopped dead when he saw me—his expression slowly forming one of confusion.
“Mom, who’s this?” he asked.
She gulped. “This is one of Mommy’s friends, Darren; she’s going to be staying with us for a night.
The boy was suddenly happy again. “Oh, cool, what’s your name?”
Me? Well, I usually give people a fake name when I stay somewhere, but I have another rule and that’s that I won’t lie to a kid. So…
“My name is Alyssa.” I said cheerily.
Darren returned to his room with a skip in his step, leaving me back with his mother. “What’s your name, anyway?”
“It’s Zoey,” she said, “Zoey Black.”
I nodded and left her side to take a good, long look at the house. Simple. Fair, with a few luxuries here and there, like the large flatscreen mounted on the wall in the living room.
“Where is your bathroom--I need a shower.”
Zoey’s shoulders fell, and she dropped her groceries to point to the left of where I was standing (I guess she finally realized that I wasn't going to hurt her), “Second door to the right.”
“Thanks.” I replied.
After taking a long, relaxing, well-needed shower, I threw on a bathrobe that hung on the door of the bathroom. However, when I opened the door to leave, a set of fresh clothes blocked me from opening it all the way. Maybe the the Black family wasn't so bad.
After a fairly awkward introduction to the father of the family, all four of us had dinner, and, my Death, I haven't eaten so well in years. Zoey could really cook! Steak was something my family had maybe been able to afford once or twice. It was a shame that I was only staying one night, or I would come here more often. My unhappiness must've shown up on my face because Brad (the father) asked me what the problem was. And now that the cat was out of the bag as far as lying to Darren about who I was, I came clean.
“It’s nothing really,” I lied, “It’s just that I’ve stayed at other families’ homes before, but no one’s been as...well, I don't know if ‘welcoming’ is the right word.”
I’m so uncomfortable right now.
“What other families have you stayed with?” Zoey asked.
“I don't want to put stereotypes on different races just based on...well their race, but most other Vampires haven’t been the nicest to me.”
“I see…” Brad muttered. “Well, if you’d like, you're more than welcome to stay longer.”
I was taken aback by him saying those words. Stay? No one ever wanted me around though. After all, what use could I be but another mouth to feed.
“Do you...mean that?” I said quietly.
Brad glanced over at his wife who then took a quick look back at her son, “Yes, I think it would be alright. You don’t seem to be that bad of a person at all. You were just doing what you needed to to get by, were you not?”
“Yes, that’s exactly it!” I exclaimed. “I had a series of rules that I stuck to so I never went too far.”
He nodded, “Well then, welcome to the family.”
At that moment, I could’ve gotten out of my chair and hugged every one of them, and I would have, had the entire situation not been blown apart by a window breaking and four words. An assailant wearing a black mercenary uniform and motorcycle helmet to conceal his identity had made his way from the living room into the house and was pointing both of his two guns individually at Brad and Zoey.
“V3 sends its regards.”
And with those few words, he fired two silenced shots point-blank right into their skulls.
I stood from my chair in a fit of rage and flung myself at the monster that’d just torn me away from my future, but he sidestepped away and scooped up Darren from his chair before he could run or scream. The assassin then broke through another window closest to us in the kitchen that led outside. The whole while I stayed right on his tail, the cool winter air stinging my eyes as I sprinted relentlessly.
If I didn’t catch him for myself, I had to at least get him to save Darren from wherever he was taking him.
I could catch him in no time if I transformed, I told myself. No. I don't know who this V3 group is yet, and I can’t make war with a group I know nothing about.
As the chase dragged on, he got more clever, trying to evade me by going through raves and bars, but the whole time I stayed on him until I was sure we had to be close to wherever his destination was. I hid in an alley to give him the idea that he’d lost me; he took the bait, continuing to his destination with the same speed as before. Finally, after racing through most of the city, the assassin stopped when he got to a point on the side of the mountain closest to the edge of End City. I hid behind a tree, glancing back every few seconds to see what was going on and to make sure that Darren was alright--he saw me but dared not say a word, and from the wild expression still stuck to his face, I knew that his mind had become a broken record of two words.
The assassin took another quick glance around to make certain that he was truly alone, then flipped up a hatch that he took his glove off to press his hand onto. Fingerprint scanner.
What am I getting myself into?
The sound of two doors sliding open piqued my curiosity, but I realized just before it was too late that it had indeed been the opening of doors; the outside appearance was a hologram. I acted out of pure instinct when I lunged out of hiding to get the upper hand on the assassin, reaching for my lethal gun mid-step as my heart stopped dead.
It had fallen out while chasing him.
In the blink of an eye, I corrected my action by reaching for the fake gun in the back of my waistband, letting out a sigh of relief in my mind when it proved it was still there.
I pointed the gun to the back of my enemy’s head with as much venom in my voice as I could muster given how fast my heart was pounding in my ears, “Let the boy go, and take me inside, or else the next thing he gets scarred for life by will be the blood spraying on him from your head when I plant a bullet in the back of it.”
He chuckled unhumorously and raised his hands up in a surrendering fashion releasing Darren for him to hide behind me, even under his helmet I knew he was smiling. “Alright-”
“Put your damn hands down,” I snapped, “and start moving, slowly.”
The assassin tilted his head, his hands dropping to his sides unceremoniously. “You know what you’re doing.”
I pushed him forward with my free hand and we were suddenly moving through the hologram and the steel doors. A blast of warmth hit me as we entered the building, into the hallway, of which was well lit by blue-flamed torches that hung on on both sides of the walls, illuminating our path.
“You know, I’m not sure what you’re trying to do, but you won’t get away with it.” my hostage said smugly.
“If you want to stay alive, you’ll make sure that I do.”
I felt Darren tug on my shirt, so I took a glance back behind me to see what it was that he needed. “Are we going to be okay?”
“Yes, you have my word that we will be fine.” I assured him.
Spoke just a little too soon.
The moment we came to a T in the hallway, three Hellions wearing the same black uniform as the assassin saw what I was doing from both sides and came sprinting to us with rifles and an abrupt, “Hey!”
“Shit…” I muttered.
The only way away from them is back to the entrance.
The assassin chuckled and turned around to face me, removing his helmet to show off his dark locks and smug grin with perfect white teeth. “Don’t say I didn’t tell you.”
I sighed and put my hands up in defeat to be quickly cuffed, disarmed, and pushed along to another room. After a couple minutes of forceful walking, we finally stopped inside of a large throne room, with a cobblestone floor, blue-flame chandeliers, and a red carpet that led to the chair itself; it was, quite frankly speaking, a little intimidating. Of course, in the chair, a man sat watching intently, with his leg over one of the arms, and hood over his face to conceal himself from what I had no idea.
“Identify yourself, reason for intrusion, and how you found this place.” the man said tiredly as if he dealt with this kind of thing every day.
Okay, be honest, you’ve done nothing wrong.
“My name is Alyssa Whitemane,” I began. “I live on the street but I came here because one of your cronies came into the house I was staying at and killed the family where I was staying, leaving only this boy,” I pointed to Darren. “which your man kidnapped! I chased him back here and here I am.”
The man stood from his chair, chortling quietly to himself as he came closer to me. I barely had time to register that the four men that brought me in now had their heads down in respect. He removed his hood and I gasped at just how young he was, twenty-two at the oldest--I was expecting grey hair for days, but instead, he surprised me with a handsome face and short black hair that draped over his right eye, leaving only his left crimson eye visible--and it pierced. My. Soul.
“Now it’s my turn,” he said with a smile. “My name is Clancy Carlaud, but to you, my dear, Alyssa, you will refer to me as Lord Carlaud. My men and I are part of the group known as V3--Variety’s of Vampiric Valor--of Vampires, by Vampires, for Vampires’ prosperity, and I am its leader. The reason Darren’s parents were...erased, is because they used to work here and recently left, planning to expose us-”
“-If they were planning to expose you that means you're hiding something.” I said quickly.
“My, my, a perceptive one. The only thing we’d be exposed for is cutting a hole inside of a mountain to make our home base-”
“-If it’s a home base then that means it’s the headquarters for starting something-”
“-I said it was our home, that doesn't mean we can't make it into more.”
I hadn't realized that while we were going back and forth, our faces were just inches away from one another.
“What is more...?” I muttered.
Clancy just smiled and said, “Follow me.”
He started off towards the door we came through, but I soon noticed that the men that brought me here were keeping the still-terrified Darren with them. “Wait, I’m not going unless you promise not to lay a finger on that boy-”
“Intimidation!” Lord Carlaud snapped.
In the blink of an eye, three assault-rifles and a handgun were pointed at me, followed by the faint clicking sound of the safety being turned off. True to his word, I froze dead in my tracks, more than intimidated by his display of control. If I had any thought whatsoever about trying to just run and get myself out of what I’d put us into, it was wiped clean off the table with Clancy’s next command.
Just as quickly, every gun shifted away from me to Darren’s head; tears swam in his eyes as four barrels were pressed firmly against his head--he was shaking so hard that I thought he was going to pass out.
“Okay!” I exclaimed. “Just please, please don't hurt him. I’ll do whatever you want.”
Carlaud gazed intently into my eyes, looking for any dishonesty in my pleading. When he didn’t find it, his lips curled into a deviant smirk. “I’m not into older women, but, for you, I’d make an exception,” I didn’t dare open my mouth to respond, too scared for Darren’s safety. Not sure if I feel the same way about you. “Guns down, boys. Take little Darren to the children’s room. Follow me, Miss Whitemane.”
All four men switched the safety on their guns back on and put them away; it was then that I felt he would be at least moderately safe, so I followed Clancy out of his throne room and down the hallway to the left of the entrance.
“You may speak now.” Lord Carlaud told me.
“Why haven’t you just had me killed me already?” I said after a minute of walking.
He held up three fingers. “Three reasons. You’re hot, homeless, and strong--you’re more than a pretty face and those are the kind of people I like to have on my staff.”
“Thanks, but I don’t think I’m too keen on the idea of being on your staff.”
He laughed. “Very funny, Miss Whitemane, but not quite what I meant. You are not a Vampire, which under our rules would mean that I should be having our janitorial workers cleaning your blood off the front of my throne-room door, then having you thrown into our dumpsters. But--you actually made it in here. In the eyes of Death and Cyrus with all his security monitors, V3 is a myth--an urban legend. Even though you chased one of my men here, you still found our base. And I don’t really want to kill you, imprison you, or have you tortured; and, given what you said about taking away your chance at a family, I’ve decided to let you stay.”
I let out a long sigh of relief at the word “stay”.
“But,” he continued, “you’re going to have to earn your keep by training with us. Since you’re not a Vampire you need to be at the top of our ranks; to do that, I’m setting you up with the best of our instructors in every field. We’ll have you registered in our system today and you’ll be put into our ranking system as well tomorrow after a brief evaluation of your skills--we try to make things a competition around here, it increases work morale and productivity. I am at the top of the combat ranking but if you’re not within the top seven in a year’s time…”
I glanced over at him when he stopped walking and talking to me at the same time. He pushed the button on the elevator beside us to go up, but he waited until we were both inside it and he’d pushed a room number to continue speaking.
“You have to either sleep with me, or do a dance for the top-ranking boys on the Friday after the anniversary of this day and for the entire week following it.”
Ugh. So degrading. He’s still giving me free training, food, and a warm bed to sleep in...that’s what I wanted wasn’t it? He could’ve killed me and by all means should’ve, but chose to make me a deal instead. Even if it was a deal where the outcome would result in me being brought down a significant social notch if I came out on the bad end. Fine.
“Alright. You’ve got yourself a deal.” I told him.
Clancy grinned. “This is going to be good.”
The elevator doors opened to a penthouse room with a view over all of End City. It had to be illegal to be nearly at the top level of Sky Tower where I was standing. The room gave off a warm, cozy sensation, probably due to the fireplace behind the bearskin rug. There was a piano in the room as well, which gave it a classical feel.
“What is this?” I asked.
I thought for sure that he was going to say it was his room and we were going to have to have another slightly sexual conversation that would end in me denying him again.
I was speechless. To rent this kind of room at a hotel for one night would’ve cost more than my family made in a year. It felt wrong to me.
“I can’t have this room.” I breathed.
“And why not?” Rich Boy raised an eyebrow.
Yeah, why not!? my subconscious snapped.
“It’s just...too nice for me,” was all my mind could think to say.
Clancy took my chin in his hand and brought my face to his, forcing me to gaze back into his eyes. “With what you’ve been through, nothing is too good for you. And don’t let anyone here or outside tell you otherwise.”
I opened my mouth to respond back, but he’d already gone back into the elevator and pressed a button for another level, leaving me alone in my new room. Inside of a mountain.
A Werewolf in a building swarming with proud Vampires. Clancy would keep my secret safe; I’m not sure if he knows what race I am exactly, but, if he did, I had the worst feeling of what would happen.
“You came here a year ago, yes?”
“Yes, I did.” I said, expressionless.
Due to me being here at the V3 headquarters for a year now, and my way of becoming an administrator after “sneaking in”, I’d attracted the attention of a few VIs--Vampiric Inquisitors over time. They’d figured out that I wasn’t a Vampire fairly soon after they started interrogating me a few months back, but they still didn’t know what I was exactly. They were close but that was more because they were just smart--I had made a few friends while here and while they knew my secret, neither they nor I had spoken a word of it to any of the Inquisitors. I'm getting tired of seeing this same, stupid, grey interrogation room too.
The only reason they were even around was to make sure that V3 and some of Hell’s establishments were completely run by Vampires. In other words, they were like extremely racist police officers in the mortal world, or detectives; there for the soul reason weeding out impurities. The reason they were getting on my case now more than ever was because, true to my word, I made it into third-place in V3’s combat-ranking system...but right under the V3 High Inquisitor, Victoria Silverhawk. You’d think they’d be a little nicer seeing that I take care of Darren in my room--I’m basically his big sister, and yet I’m treated like scum, even though they’re the ones who crushed the dreams of a nine-year-old boy.
At the age of twenty-four she has dirty-blond hair, porcelain-like skin, and an amber gaze that made most Vampires shrink beneath her. Not only did she hate me because she was harboring a twelve-year-old-girl crush on Clancy, who paid more attention to me than her, she also hated me because I was just ten points away from taking her spot on the ranks.
So naturally she wants any excuse to have me thrown out because, to her, the closer I got to Lord Carlaud on that monitor, the closer I got to his heart. Thing is, if she were to check my pockets right now, she would see that I have zero fucks to give about Clancy. I couldn’t care less how he feels about me, but I’m sure as heck not going to tell her that. I’m playing a dangerous game, I know, but for all the trouble she’s put me through, I think it’s only fitting that I make her think the two of us are lovers on the side. Just to piss her off.
“If you think I’m stupid then you've got another thing coming, Whitemane. I know you're not one of us, even if you've gotten this far on all our ranking systems, I can see right through you and you’re planning someth-”
“Well, clearly you’re seeing right through me; you've gotten no information on me that’s worthy of having me thrown out, yet you still continue to attack me as if you know something I don’t.” Victoria’s face flushed red in anger but I went on the offensive before she could speak up again. “Clancy likes me, why don't you?”
Rhetorical question that made me smile on the inside--that was exactly why she doesn't like me.
“I told you before!” she snapped. “You don't refer to our Lord Carlaud as anything but Lord Carlaud! You are not worthy of speaking his first name!”
I let out an unhumorous laugh. “Worthy? I would think I was because he likes me and because he didn’t expect me to be right under you in the ranks. By the way, how does it feel knowing that the only non-Vampire in the system is kicking all the other Vampires’ butts?”
“That’s because you’re practicing for something…” she sneered. “You’re trying to get rid of all of us, but it won’t work, I know what you’re doing--trying to get close to my Lord so you can kill him.”
I figured I’d be honest with her.
“I’m getting close to Clancy because I know it pisses you off.”
Victoria was close to blowing a gasket, so she made the smart decision of ordering me to, “Get. Out. Now.”
With a smirk, I stood from my chair and left through the sliding door behind me. I didn’t even have to hear through the door to know that she would be crying herself to sleep alone that night. It felt good.
The bullied had become the bully. In a building where nearly everyone would be against you, you have to be cold and often show no emotion.
“Here’s to Alyssa,”Clancy said, raising his champagne glass to the rest of the top fifteen at our meeting. “for making number two in the V3 combat-ranking system. She has worked arguably harder than many of our staff to get there in such a short time. I’d like to say just a few words regarding her work ethic and attitude toward others,” he flashed his typical smile at me, causing Victoria to hang her head down from across the table. “Alyssa, as you all know by now, came here after a family she was staying at briefly was taken care of during one of our missions I had assigned,” There were a few murmurs around the table. “I figured it not right to leave her back on the street after it was I that had her home taken from her, so I decided to let her stay and be a part of the family. She has proved to be a more than valuable member of V3 and it is for that reason that I plan on teaching her my ancestor’s most treasured secret.”
A collective gasp filled the room. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what it is he’s talking about--it must be a Vampire thing because every other man and woman in the room seemed to know what he was talking about.
“Secret?” I whispered.
“I can’t tell you now,can I? Otherwise it wouldn't be a secret.” he said playfully.
“How can you tell her!? She’s not even a Vampire!” Victoria exclaimed with fury.
The room suddenly erupted in a shouting contest of anger and shock, but Clancy very swiftly fixed the problem. “Silence!”
You could hear a pin drop with how quiet it became in a second. “Alyssa Whitemane is more of a Vampire than half the people in this organization. She has worked herself to death on multiple occasions training and doing missions, yet she has been harassed and wrongfully interrogated by VIs on a weekly basis--VIs like High-Inquisitor Silverhawk who continue to pretend I know nothing about the fact that Alyssa is not a Vampire. Only a few have been nice enough to be friends with her but many have been trying to break her down since she first showed her face here. The kind of...arse I have to put up with you people some days is absolutely unbelievable!
“You pretend to empathize with others but if you really cared about anyone but yourselves for less than a minute, you would see that the ones that need help are the ones that you spend ninety-percent of your time degrading, humiliating, and trying to bring down to your own level so that you can feel better about yourself,” Clancy strode around the room for a moment, examining the other thirteen Vampires. “Vampires. I thought you were all better than this...and you know who you are. I expect some changes to be in order in the days to come, and if not then you're going to be wishing you never hurt her or anyone else.” Clancy raised his glass once more as he came to stand at my side. “To Alyssa.”
The rest of the room followed suit. “To Alyssa.”
The fifteen of us drank then went on to conversing with each other. All of us but one.
“Excuse me for a minute.” I said to Clancy.
“Of course.” He dismissed me with a wave of the hand.
I moved on past all the people talking to the leader of the VIs sulking in the corner of the room.
“What’s up?” I said to her.
“I guess...I’ll be leaving you alone from now on. I didn’t know he knew you weren't a Vampire. I thought you were trying to trick him or...hurt him.”
“He knew from the beginning,” I added. “I try to see the best in people, and for the last few years until I came to the Black house, I only saw some of the worst. I didn’t tell you because I figured you’d get over things when you and I became friends. But it’s good to know that someone can set you straight,” I started off back to Clancy’s side but turned around to get in one last comment. “By the way, I was never into Clancy. I’ll get him to notice you if I can, but for all the time you've wasted interrogating me in the past, I can’t make any guarantees.”
Victoria blinked and shook my hand vigorously. “Oh my Death, thank you so much. I’m so sorry for what I’ve said and done to you before; if you do this for me, I will do anything you need, I swear.”
I raised an eyebrow then nodded. I did not expect her of all people to say that.
I returned to where Lord Carlaud stood talking to another male Vampire, but when he saw me, he quickly dismissed the man with a brief, “I’ll talk to you later.”
“What’s going on, Alyssa; was my speech pleasing?”
While it was an honest question, I couldn't help but be reminded of a child trying to impress their guardian or perhaps a crush. “I just wanted to ask you if there’s anyone you work with that you perhaps have feelings for?”
Clancy chuckled lightly and smiled. “And to think, you were the one who said you weren't really into younger guys. You're not, technically speaking, supposed to mix business with pleasure; makes for a bad work environment.”
The faint smile I was wearing twitched. “Flattered, but not me...again.”
His happiness drained in an instant. “Oh. Then who is it?”
“Technically I asked you the question, and you didn't answer.”
“Other than me.”
He shrugged. “You know, when you get in a position like mine, the leader of a large yet invisible business, you’ll understand the trouble of finding someone--because the only people you know are in your circle, but at the same time, they only like you, they're only nice to you--they only suck up to you because they hope you'll give them a promotion or a raise. My point is that it’s almost impossible to find someone that likes you for you when everyone else has dollar signs for eyes. That’s why I kind of like you--you're not a Vampire, you don't suck up, no pun intended, and I knew from the moment you showed the care you did for Darren that your heart was pure. That's not to mention the way you reacted when I first showed you your room; money was not something you really cared about having been without it so long. So if there’s someone you know that is decent, good with kids, and isn't just looking for money--call me.”
Woah. Clancy knows how to speak his mind. He also knows what he wants. It’s no wonder everyone follows him, with his unrelenting charisma.
“Silverhawk.” was all I said.
Clancy raised an eyebrow then glanced over my shoulder at her. “Are you serious? How long has that been going on?”
I rolled my eyes. “That’s, like, eighty-percent of the reason she’s been ‘interrogating’ me for the past half a year. Because she thought I was toying with you and trying to hurt you. Getting angry at me every time I would refer to you as Clancy instead of ‘Lord’. Your speech really put her in her place.”
His mouth formed into a simple, “Oh.”
“Seriously, just talk to her so that maybe we have a chance at being friends, and she’ll get off my case.”
Clancy held his hand out for me to shake, so I did. “Deal. Consider us even for a year ago.”
The year 2019-2020 was a much better year than its predecessor because ever since Silverhawk and Carlaud started going out together, the VIs had stopped harassing me entirely. I was officially off the hook. Which is great because now I can actually use my free time to go and use the rec room. Although, a large amount of my time was spent learning Carlaud’s secret of creating portals to move anything to anywhere I could see. It wasn’t hard to figure out why the knowledge was a secret--it was such an overpowered trick that gave me the most unfair of advantages in my future missions. It also made my job quite fun, whereas before it had been a serious matter; now I could throw people into infinite falling loops with just two portals and have a laugh.
The concentration used to create portals soon became as natural as breathing when I began using it wherever I was physically able to. It made me way too much of a cheater when it came to sports, but soo much fun. I became the instant MVP when it came to any sport using an object that needed to be moved from point A to point B (so basically all of them). It also helped me get my accuracy with them down to a science.
“Happy birthday, Darren!” I exclaimed with cheer as I presented him with his cake.
“Thanks, Alyssa.” he said with a smile.
He sat down at the table in the chair beside me and, after a minute with his eyes closed, he blew out the twelve candles in one shot. After removing the candles, I cut him a slice of red-velvet cake (that I had made especially for him), but even when he took the first bite, he still didn’t seem happy.
“It’s good.” he muttered. (Phew, it's not the cake.)
I felt sorry for him, he just wasn’t the same kid that I met after Zoey brought me into her house. He was such a happy-looking boy when I first met him. Then he had to see the worst of Hell. For exposing that to him at such a young age, I could never forgive V3. Mission or not, every time I see the Avery (the man who killed Zoey and Brad) in the hallways, I want to kill him. I’m sure Darren wants me to do the same, but at his age, I don’t really want him thinking things like that.
“Is everything alright, Darren?” I asked gently.
He sighed. “It’s not what I wished for this time, but you know what I would really like to happen.”
He wants his parents back.
I wrapped my arms around him to bring him into a much-needed hug, which he graciously accepted. “It’s going to be alright, Darren. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
He nodded and I let him go to eat his cake; however, after being silent for a few minutes, he spoke up again. “Alyssa, there’s something important that I need to tell you. I just found out yesterday when I overheard two agents talking about a mission that’s been in motion for around a year, but in the works since the organization started. It involves all the combat agents. I figured you knew about it already, but one of them was telling the other not to mention anything to you.”
I haven’t heard anything about this...there may in fact be something strange going on around here.
“What’d you hear?” I asked.
“It’s called Project Purity, and it involves…” He trailed off. “Just don’t get too freaked out when I tell you. We can still fix things. But Project Purity involves eliminating every Werewolf in Hell.”
I could feel the world spinning beneath me at these words. Every Werewolf? How is that possible? And why?
But I knew the answer to that one; it was because just as some mortals think the rich deserve bigger tax cuts, some Vampires think the lowest class should be removed entirely. And Werewolves have always been at the bottom. A lot of Vampires have always been a bit more racist than other races, but this is beyond anything I could've ever imagined. It’s also way too far.
“When did they say this was going to happen?” I said hastily, getting out of my chair and grabbing my weapons; two daggers, and three guns--two real and my lucky fake one.
Darren wore a solemn look when I re-entered the room. “Today.”
I raced down the hall holding Darren’s hand and forcing him as fast as he could go. I needed to get to the source of things if I wanted to deal with this, and that had to be Clancy.
I burst through the door of what was now his and Victoria’s throne room where they stood up at once, seeing how frantic I was.
“What’s the problem?” Lord Carlaud said.
“Clancy, what do you know about Project Purity?” I growled.
A look of genuine confusion spread across both of their faces. “Project Purity? Where did you hear that?”
“Darren told me about it a few minutes ago, he said that it was going to happen today.”
The leader of the VIs shook her head vigorously. “No, no, no,” she pressed. “That’s impossible.”
“Project Purity,” Clancy began, “was the main point of this organization, and the reason Darren’s parents left--to expose our plan to the rest of Hell. But a year later, just a few days after Victoria and I started seeing each other, she told me that you yourself were a Werewolf. With how well you were able to get along with friends here, even when constantly held up by VIs and bullied by other agents, I realized that Project Purity was an awful idea. I scrapped the project immediately. You deserved better.”
What? He really got rid of it? If that’s true then why were agents talking about doing this mission today!?
“Why are agents talking about doing it today then!?” I exclaimed.
“I can only imagine…” Clancy started. “that the majority of our agents joined V3 to be part of Project Purity. And leader or not, me telling them that the project is dead isn’t enough. As all four of us know, there are still racist agents here.”
So, in other words, he has no power to stop it.
“Then what do we do?” I muttered, feeling a sense of dread creep over me.
They both hung their heads down as though they both knew but really didn't want to do it.
“There’s really only one option we have.” Victoria said silently.
“Protocol Four?” Clancy groaned.
She nodded grimly with a sigh and agreed, “Protocol Four.”
“What is Protocol Four?” I asked.
“Protocol Four,” Carlaud said, “is we blow the base and let the mountain cave it in with any and all rogue agents inside,” Holy shit. “Vic, I want you to call Jeremy, get him to copy all our mission records and member names onto a flash-drive so we can get back to the families, afterwards, erase everything else--tell him to run a virus. Call me when the two of you are out of the mountain and out of the blast range. Alyssa, Darren, and I will set the timer for the charges at thirty-minutes and get as many good agents out as we can.”
Victoria nodded and ran out the door. The three of us followed her lead but we parted ways at the two hallways that I first got found out in when I came here. Clancy whipped out his phone and opened an app with a timer setting, which he set to forty minutes then had to enter three different passwords to submit. When he finished, he slipped the phone back into his pocket and continued on until we reached his room, where he armed himself and began making calls for friendly agents to evacuate.
Twenty minutes remaining.
Victoria called Clancy to tell him that the virus had started working and the tech-rooms were in total disarray.
“Good, you two have done your part, now get of there.” he said.
“Will do, but be careful you guys, I think a few agents are onto us and they'll likely be trying to block a few exits.” she replied over the speaker.
“Could’ve seen that coming. Keep me posted.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Clancy laughed to himself as the call ended. “She still calls me that sometimes,” His expression became stern as he dialed another number. “But she does it more often when she’s scared or nervous.”
Six calls later the timer pinged at ten minutes remaining.
“Alyssa, I’m scared.” Darren whispered, shaking.
“It’s going to be alright, I promise.” I assured him.
Victoria called back to tell us that she and a few others were out of the blast range, to which Clancy replied with, “Good, we’re on our way out now.” He hung up and slipped the phone back into his pocket, encouraging us on to break into a sprint, so I had to throw Darren over my shoulder. “Come on, Alyssa, can you hurry up?”
I rolled my eyes. “I could transform and have Darren ride on my back but I wouldn't dare transform this late in the game, when the place is about to blow and the building’s full of only rogue agents. I can only go so fast-”
I set Darren down as we were stopped dead in our tracks by five armed agents at the entrance to the mountain-base.
“Men, drop your guns, now!” Clancy commanded sharply.
All five of them raised their rifles at us as one of them yelled at us, “Purity for our brothers!”
I raised two portals just in the nick of time as they fired at us rapidly only for them to end up shooting themselves as the entrance portal was opened directly in front of us and the outlet portal was aimed at their side. I could only hope that Darren’s eyes were closed so he didn't have to see five bodies being shredded by an onslaught of bullets.
“Nice job, Alyssa. Now, come on, let’s go!” Clancy exclaimed.
I took Darren’s hand again to bring him along, but at one step, he cried out in pain and fell to his knees. When I glanced back, I nearly cried.
Darren had been shot twice in the stomach.
“Oh my Death, Darren, no!” I screamed.
His hand tightened around mine as tears fell from his eyes. “Please leave me so you can go.”
“Don't say that, dammit!” I cried.
I lifted him into my arms and bolted for the exit with Clancy, every step causing agonizing pain to the child. Once outside, Lord Carlaud called Victoria to tell her we were out, but we still weren't out of the woods yet; we had only a couple minutes to get out of range from the blast in case the mountain didn't stay intact on the outside.
“Hold on, Darren.” I pleaded.
I was lying to myself--the hospital was another five miles and the ambulance couldn't drive up the side of the mountain.
“Here it comes!” Clancy cried.
The sound of multiple explosions tore through the air and vibrated the very ground beneath us with the force of an earthquake that jarred my teeth as I ran.
“Alyssa...I’m not going...to make it.” Darren murmured.
“Yes, you will! Stop saying that!” I yelled. “Clancy, call the hospital!”
He dialed his phone furiously and spoke even faster when the line picked up. “I need an ambulance now! A boy has been shot; we’re near the outskirts of End City, just before the trail to the mountain!”
I set the child down onto the grass as gently as I could and brushed a few strands of hair from his face. “You’re going to be okay,” I pressed. “You’ll be fine.”
“I’m f-freezing...it h-hurts…” he whimpered.
Tears poured down my eyes as I took his hand in mine, remembering his first words to me.
He didn't care that I was poor and roamed in from the street; he still welcomed me with open arms and a smile with enough infectious joy to make anyone happy.
I can’t let him down. I promised him.
“You’re going...you’re gonna live, okay, Darren?” I could barely manage to say from crying so hard.
Darren winced in pain but still managed to look up at me. “You know what I wished for today...Alyssa?”
I shook my head and sniffed.
Ambulance sirens could be heard in the distance.
“I wished...that you would live a long life...a-and f-find someone that c-cares...about you as much...as I do…”
I squeezed his hand tighter the weaker he would become, but at the end of his last sentence his hand went slack.
And the rest of his body relaxed.
The ambulance arrived, but I was hyperventilating, searching for his pulse in every way possible, yet, finding nothing. He’s not gone. He’s not dead! Not when I promised him he’d live!
The doctors lifted Darren onto a stretcher and into the ambulance, but they didn’t even get moving or close the doors before calling it. Clancy hung his head down, placing an arm around Victoria who’d recently showed up.
A simple, grim shake of the head from the female doctor, and I screamed at the sky.
I stared at the bricks on the wall opposite me in my alley as torrents of rain fell upon me, matting my hair against my face and drenching my clothes so much that I was certain I’d get pneumonia. I just didn’t care anymore. Clancy left me his phone yesterday with all his contacts as well as his own number in case I ever needed him again, but what I felt like I needed more than anything--food, water, or friends, was to be alone.
“I’m f-freezing...it h-hurts…”
The tears on my face were indistinguishable from the rain
“I know it hurts...but you feel all better now, don’t you?”
Thunder boomed in the distance as if answering me.
Sarah Sirpentine came to mind with my brimming anger--she would be what I go after next. I don't care if I die at this point, so if I die trying to harm her, it’ll be well worth it.
“Need a hand?” a voice at the entrance to the alley said.
I sighed. “Not from you,” He cleared his throat so I looked up and was shocked by what I found. “Death? Sir, I’m sorry.”
He wore a black business suit and tie along with his usual black face-mask with the faded white skull design. Not even an umbrella.
He held his hand out to me, and I graciously took it. “Come along, wouldn’t want to catch a cold, would we?”
Satan walked with me past a few buildings, down the sidewalk.
“What does it matter, people die every day. No one’s going to care about me when I die.”
“Well, aren’t you just a ray of sunshine?” Death said.
I didn’t even realize until we were right outside the doors that he had brought me to the entrance to Sky Tower.
“Why am I here?” I muttered.
This is the closest I've ever been to this place…
“Because you need a place to stay,” was his simple answer.
What kind of man just…?
He pointed to the elevator. “Room thirty-one’s all yours. Enjoy your stay.”
I opened my mouth to speak, but the little girl in me was so happy that she was actually inside here; so the only thing I could think to say was, “Thank you.”
“Your name is Luckshot Angelson.”
I shuddered in ecstasy at the sound of my title being called upon. Though it was short-lived as I glanced around the room to find blood splattered across the walls, pooling onto the floor from it as well as the source itself; five mortals laid across the steel floor, all of them dead, mauled by…
Death, it was me…
I stared down at my hands in dismay--they were warm, dripping with blood. A drop from higher up fell onto them.
From my mouth.
Oh my Death. Oh my Death. Oh my Death.
I was hyperventilating but Death put his arm over my shoulder to console me, to tell me it was “perfectly natural” to be this way on the inside. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't un-see them, beyond dead, broken, beaten, clawed, their necks torn apart by my teeth and bear-trap-like jaws--
Otherwise I’d lose myself again and hurt more.
Why do you care, just look at them. The moment they showed up in the room, they were dead. The moment they stepped foot into our world, their lives were over.
Yes. That’s true.
“Are you alright?” Death asked gently. “It’s alright to go feral sometimes. Once you sign the Horseman Contract, the real you comes out to play. This has happened to the other three Horsemen too. They all went berserk in this room. Because this is how we as Hellions, you as Horsemen, were meant to be.”
“Really?” The words escaped me as a whisper while I held onto him like a scared child.
“Yes, Luckshot-” A chill of pleasure ran down my spine. “-you were born this way.”
That’s more reassuring than I thought.
“Thank you, Death, Sir.” I said, pulling away from him.
Even under his mask I could tell he was smiling. “Please, just ‘Death’.”
I nodded and he walked me to the door out, and later to my room with nothing more than a simple, “Don't worry about the mess.”
“You okay, Alyssa?”
Marik’s arms were still around me in bed when I had woken in the middle of the night; another storm. Though the room was shrouded in darkness, I felt safer with him spooning with me.
“I’m...fine.” I managed.
“If you don’t mind me asking--who’s Darren?”
I furrowed my brow in distaste, the sound of gunfire in the hallway ringing in my head like the lyrics of a bad, but catchy song. “Why do you ask?”
“You were talking in your sleep,” Marik whispered. “Saying someone wasn’t going to die...you don’t have to tell me though, I’ll understand.”
The image of a boy bleeding out in the grass before going limp flashed in my mind, but I dismissed it before I got worked up again. That last wish of his had really come true.
“In the morning,” I muttered, nuzzling into Marik’s chest. “For now, just stay here with me, and don’t ever leave.”
He kissed my forehead. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
That night, not a single tear was shed thinking about that little boy that I cared for since he was nine, but nothing would ever eliminate the sadness I felt that I couldn't thank him personally for wishing, and giving me a reason to live, as it was indeed coming true.