Prologue

Silhouettes danced from tree to tree, casting an eerie, in human glow over the sodden forest floor. Wind whistled through the crisp night air and only the faint rustling of leaves could be heard. He made his way through the dense woodland, bare footsteps light against the earth as he walked. His black hair fell languidly over his stormy grey eyes, his face it’s usual expressionless mask. No, not until he reached his prey would he turn on the charm. He suddenly broke into a feeble run, his movements fast, but graceful all the same. He only slowed his pace as he came upon a street of a small town, where soon, a massacre would take place.

A lone woman walked down the barren pavement, hands sunk deep into her pockets. He advanced, the soft drumming his feet touching the ground lightly. He watched, his beautiful, dark eyes staring with lust at the woman, her dark vein popping up beneath her delicate skin. With a silent appearance, he managed to lure her into his trance, her eyes never leaving his features. She openly let him caress her face, his slender fingers passing over her thumping pulse. Then with a silver kiss, he injected his fangs into the nape of her neck, thick scarlet lines blossoming from the surface. The woman squirmed, but her attempts of freedom quickly became. After a long moment, he finally withdrew, a satisfied grin on his handsome features. Running his tongue over his dripping fangs, he let the woman’s body crumple to the Earth. The soft thud of her hitting the ground resonated across the empty street, overriding the sound of her final breath.

A thin line of blood trickled down the young man’s chin, dripping onto his fine black suit. In the afterlife, the woman would remember the color red.

Chapter 1

Laila brushed back her long silky dark brown hair behind her ear with one pale hand. The beautiful silence of the night was only broken by the faint sound of her black ballet shoes slapping quietly against the concrete. Although her movements were swift, they sometimes jerked, as if under extreme stress. The 5 hour ballet lesson had taken its toll on her already exhausted body and Laila could barely wait to slip under her comfy duvet. Of course, bed meant home, and home meant back to her widowed mother. Back to the dark house with its drawn shades and no lights. To the corner where her mother sat every night, staring out the tinted window at nothing, and where the only sound was the click-clacking of knitting needles as her mother made a scarf longer and longer.

The rustling of branches pulled Laila out of her tangle of thoughts. A breeze had picked up and was blowing against the trees. Laila glanced down at her watch and read the glowing letters 11:15 p.m. That meant she had 15 minutes left to take a little detour.

The night, it was her escape. Escape from the dark house she had to return to every night with suffering in her heart. Escape from the bustling people, all blinded by their own silly lives.

Walking through the evening, the cold air greeted her flushed skin, making her feel alive. Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness quickly, so used to the dim lighting. She’d come out here every night since she started ballet.

Laila darted behind a ripped fence, left there to slowly rot away. A second later, she was lightly walking down the hidden ally. Half of her serious face covered by the buildings towering shadow.

A sharp pain from the bottom of her foot made her groan. Her new black high-tops were rubbing against the blisters she’d carefully bandaged after dance today. She crouched down and cautiously slipped of her shoes and threw them over her free shoulder. The icy stone cooled her aching feet. With a sigh of contempt she walked on, skillfully avoiding a frenzy of multi-colored shards of glass and sharp silver pebbles glittering in the light of the moon. Her steps echoed in a chronic cycle, the light tap tap tap of bare feet on stone. The alleyway slowly doubled in width showing boarded up windows and doors. The night had cast its inky black cover over the world.

Suddenly, Laila had the itching sensation that she was being watched. She came to a halt and listened for a noise but all that greeted her was the deathly silence. After a few moments she saw a flash of grey at the edge of her vision. She flung herself around to see the questioning eyes of a cat. She let go of the strain in her body and smile. Just a small cat. The cat’s eyes were alert. Then with a startled meow it raced off.

“What was that all about?” Laila thought out loud, frowning. The air was still once again and Laila hummed a song of the distant past. Her dark eyes slowly drifted down to the bright screen of her watch. 11:21 p.m.  A thought was starting to form in her mind when it suddenly froze, and her blood ran cold. Laila’s eyes became narrow slits as a silhouette stepped out from the shadows and started towards her. Yet she found herself too entranced by the flowing movements of the figure to run away. Who was this?

Chapter 2

Laila watched as the figure grew closer, her mind wary. As the shadows that had concealed the boy’s face lifted away– Laila gasped. She felt a strange yearning rise up deep in her as she stared into those dreamy storm grey eyes. She managed to take a step towards him, her mouth dropping slightly open in awe at his perfectly formed figure. The black suit fitted his muscular, yet agile body well, and as he threw her a dazzling smile, all of Laila’s thoughts drifted away.

“Hello,” The boy breathed in her ear as he gracefully treaded around her in a tight circle, “what is such a pretty lady doing out all by herself tonight?” A chuckle rose from his throat as he delicately stroked one of Laila’s petit hands.

Laila opened her mouth to try and get out a response, but before her muddled mind could form a sentence the boy raised an almost translucent finger to her lips.

“Shush now,” he whispered, his touch sending warm shivers down Laila’s spine. He ran his eyes up and down Laila’s slim figure a few times, taking in the natural curves of her body. Laila didn’t feel exposed, she wanted him to see what she had to offer.

I love you, she whispered to him in her head.

As if hearing her thoughts the boy tilted his pale head upwards again to her face. Slowly, the edges of his lips curled upwards into a smile, revealing his pointed teeth.

“I’m Hanzi Marlow. It means Poison of the Steely Moon in your language.” He murmured, running one hand over her chest. Laila felt a strange tingling sensation as he said his name– as if it held great power, and as his hand crossed over her heart, she shivered.

Hanzi started to lean forward, his fangs bared in an enchanting smile, and his eyes locked onto her neck. Laila felt no fear; her dark eyes only held excitement, for she knew of the stories. If she lived his bite, then she would be able to be with him. Forever.

Just as Laila felt the tips of Hanzi’s fangs touch her neck a screech broke the silence. Hanzi’s angular, cat-like face jerked upwards. A few seconds later Laila felt a whoosh of air brush against her face as a bat swooped down on them. Hanzi muttered something ineligible under his breath, his features briefly contorted with annoyance, before he slipped back into his calm demeanor.

“I have to go now,” Hanzi sighed to her, drawing away from her neck. As cold air filled the space where he had been Laila felt herself struggle to hold back tears at the rush of emotions that swept over her. She couldn’t let him leave – she needed to be with him, to be by his side.

Hanzi caught sight of her pleading face and raised one hand to her forehead. Laying his palm flat against her skin he whispered, “I will be back for you. You are mine.” Then he turned, the moonlight briefly playing against his pale skin before he melted into the shadows. The bat swooped after, as if following him.

The frosty mist that had clouded Laila’s mind slowly slipped away. The wild emotions that had been bubbling up inside her fizzled into nothingness until all that remained was an empty surprise. Laila slumped over, suddenly breathless, her long dark hair brushed the smudged and dirty ground, her graceful fingers shaking.

W-what had happened? T-th-that boy! Laila thought to herself desperately trying to process the unbelievable events that had occurred just a second before. It all seemed like a dream. Her vision had been fogged over, like a trance, and she had felt like a dark presence had passed right through her being. It had left her weak, and exposed.

Laila balled her shaking hands into fists. With clenched jaw she forced her mind to react to her struggling. She closed her dark eyes and took a deep breath of the late evening air she knew so well. Years of dance had shaped her well and with great strength she pushed off the ground. Laila shielded her eyes from the gleam of the moon and in a flash pressed herself into the cracked wall of the towering building beside her. But Laila was still badly shaken up, her vision shifted in front of her, revealing a foggy image of the breathtaking features of the smiling boy. Hanzi Marlow, his fangs glinting in the light.

Laila cried out and smashed her fist against the wall. Get a grip on yourself Laila, she thought to herself as the warm, sticky blood dripped of her hand. The crimson liquid, now slowly pooling on the floor, looked black in the shadows of the buildings surrounding her. The throbbing pain in her knuckles quickly diminished any residue that the man had left on her, now her mind was crystal clear. The alley was completely silent now – as if nothing had ever happened, but Laila knew better than that. Slowly, her panting reduced to her normal, gentle breathing. Her heart was still hammering inside her chest but Laila knew she was herself again.

Laila looked upon her bruised hand, the delicate lines on her fingers were coated over with light blood. “Only a scrape,” she murmured to herself slowly flexing her fingers. For a moment, Laila leaned her head against the walls, looking up at the moon. It was such a clear night, and the round orb pulsated its silver glow like usual. How Laila wished it could give her answers. She’d just met a monster of extreme beauty, and unthinkable power. A monster who yearned the blood of humans. A vampire.

He captured me…just like that. He didn’t even have to work hard. Why couldn’t I resist? Why as I such a weakling? Laila growled at herself in her mind as Hanzi’s last words echoed in her subconscious, refusing to leave.

“I will be back for you. You are mine…”

A sudden gust of wind blew against Laila and she whipped around, her eyes falling upon a girl about the same age as her. The moon bathed the girl in its silver glow, adding to her stunning appearance. Her hair was as dark as a raven’s wing, and it rippled down her shoulders like a waterfall. Her pale face was fixed in a smile as she drew nearer, her dark chocolate eyes, similar to Laila’s, were full of courage and strength. Her clothes were plain and inexpensive upon anyone else, but on her they made her look like a goddess, fitting her curvy body perfectly. The most brilliant thing was the soul, anyone could tell that it was pure, happy, and whole; no arrogance in the midst of all the goodness. Her beautiful face, and unique mind made her who she was.

Yet despite all the outer looks, Laila felt as if something dark lurked behind all that beauty. A snatch of something musty and old under the wave of flowery perfume.

It was only when the girl was touching her arm that Laila realized she had slipped into a trance. She started to struggle against the calmness and soothing aura that surrounded the girl’s body, but she was weak and her will was slowly failing.

“This is for you.” The girl whispered, showing her fangs to Laila before pulling out an amulet. A bright red ruby shone in a golden case that was shaped like a heart and it looked incredibly heavy, but as the girl slipped it around Laila’s neck it felt as if it weighed nothing.

Immediately, the pressure on Laila’s mind vanished and fear rose in its place.

“What-what?” Laila croaked, stumbling backwards and away from the girl. The compulsion to follow the girl’s every word had abruptly disappeared.

“I’m Sophia Moretii,” The girl said, her words quick, as if she didn’t have much time, “I see you have already met Hanzi. I am not like him in any way. I’m here to help you. Do not ask questions. We will talk later.” The girl turned, suddenly motioning with her hand for Laila to follow, “Come.” She commanded, before walking away, her figure already starting to blur together with the shadows.

How can I trust a vampire after…Hanzi? Laila thought to herself, her mind and thoughts spinning out of control. Wait–vampires—why am I thinking like that..they can’t be real! Can they..? A sudden dizziness swept over Laila and her legs went numb. Before she could put out a hand to stop herself, her knees had buckled and she splayed across the ground. She tried to right her breathing by taking calm breaths but suddenly found that she couldn’t breathe. But I only had asthma when I was younger! She screamed to herself in her mind, for she could not find the strength to talk. Her dark eyes grew wide with fright as she desperately tried to get her ragged breathing under control, but her vision was already blurring. Just before she faded into blackness, she was faintly aware of cool, slender hands slipping around her waist and hoisting her into the air with unnatural ease.

The first thing Laila noticed was that she was crying. She didn’t know why, or when she had started, but she felt thick tears slowly rolling down her heated cheeks. Her heart was engulfed in a thick flame of sorrow, loss and sadness. There she was floating in limbo, stuck in time, letting go of the caged emotion she had buried deep within her. Her tears slowly dripped off her chin and fell into nothingness.

Finally, somebody materialized in front of her sobbing body. Laila looked up to a face blurred by her many tears, but she knew, by the calming feeling in her heart, who this was.

“Oh father…” she whispered slowly inching toward him, stretching out her trembling hand. His head hung low as anger welled up inside her. “Why did you leave us daddy? How could you? How could you do this to us?” Laila mumbled as she collapsed into a trembling heap. She looked up to his blurry face, memories flashing in front of her sight. Her mother holding her tight as she cried into the hem of her shirt. Kids snickering, pointing and whispering as a sad younger Laila trudged, alone, into the school house. Her running down a street calling out to a father who was not there. Her blank face as she ripped apart the pictures that included her dad. Her mother staring glassy eyed out into the distance.

Laila’s face was drenched by her constant flow of tears. Her father looked sadly upon her crestfallen face and slowly raised his hand out to her.

“I’m sorry honey. I’m so sorry,” he seemed to say. She reached out to him but suddenly found herself floating away from his outstretched hand; back into nothingness where there were no thoughts or feelings, only peace. But before she was totally sucked into the void, she saw the bright gleam of fangs in her father’s open mouth as he cried out her name.

Laila could feel somebody gracefully move around her. She kept her eyes shut and breath even so the mystery person would not suspect she was awake. She felt cool water slowly trickle down to her ear from a carefully placed towel that was soothing her pounding head. A soft blanket had been placed over her and she was laying on a light, springy bed. Have I been kidnapped? What happened? It took a moment before she remembered what had happened. The vampire – the girl! She exclaimed to herself, struggling to keep herself in check. She couldn’t be weak now. The person had now had quietly seated themselves in what sounded like a squeaky old rocking chair. Laila hoped that her beating heart wouldn’t give her away.

“I know you’re awake dear. You can stop pretending now. I won’t hurt you. I can understand that you wouldn’t trust me, but please give me a chance,” a soothing female voice said from the corner of the room. Her voice was as light as the chirp of a bird in the summer and it calmed Laila’s alert senses. Curiosity took over and Laila carefully opened her eyes awaiting blinding sunlight. It never came and her eyes fluttered open. The room was dim, no sunlight penetrated the huge drawn velvet curtains that decorated the windows. Laila’s eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness and her sight shifted to the back of a young woman who was filling up a small vial with a clear solution. Her mass of white blond hair fell in coils around her thin waist and she was wearing a plain grey dress which made her glowing hair stand out even more. Then she turned around and Laila gasped at her breathtaking beauty, lifting her hand to her neck where the amulet still hung from when it had been given to her by the vampire girl. What had she gotten herself into?

The woman cautiously took a step forward but when she noticed that Laila was trembling she shrank back against the baby blue paneling on the wall, into the shadows. Still, even though Laila could feel no fog in her mind she was mesmerized by the young woman’s face. Her pale, soft skin emitted a distant glow in the darkness and unusual magenta eyes glinted mysteriously out from the shadows. Her rather large bright red lips were turned up into a reassuring smile revealing the small white fangs. There was a deep sadness reflected in the lady’s eyes that made Laila want to hug her and sooth her sorrowful heart.

Steadily Laila’s nerves settled down and she forced herself to tear her gaze from the woman and scan the room for an exit. It was a small room, probably meant for a guest, all the furniture was made out of a variety of woods and no personal items littered the desk or shelves. Her feathery bed had covers of soft pink silk and Laila felt strangely comforted by this ordinary place. Then her eyes slowly drifted to the woman who stood staring intently at her from the corner of the room.

“What do you want from me?” Laila said with more courage than she actually had. She tried drawing in as much energy as she could to fight back the urge to bolt to the door and run away as fast as she could. She could not let weakness show. She didn’t know if she could trust these people and from now on she had to be watchful now that her mind was clear. She was speculating about why that was and reminded herself to ask about it later if she was not betrayed first.

The woman seemed to breath out, relieved. With light steps and hand held up in a way that suggested surrender, she slowly made her way to Laila. Laila was starting to get used to her beautiful face and didn’t feel so pulled in anymore but still went stiff when the woman stopped a few feet before her.

With the same musical voice she murmured, “I won’t hurt you. I want to help you. My name is Magnolia Valicity but you can call me Magie if you want. Once you feel a bit better and have gotten all washed up we can go to the lady of this house and she will explain everything to you. You can trust us though Laila. Here, nobody will let anything harm you.”

Chapter 3

Laila didn’t know how much time had passed as she lay on the soft bed, her strength slowly coming back to her. The first day she had tried to get up, but her legs had failed her and she had collapsed to the ground, feeling sick. Only with the help of the new vampire, Magie, was she able to get back onto the bed. She just wished she knew why she was feeling so weak.

Finally, Laila awoke from her twisted dreams, once again revolving around her father, his face, so perfect, so real, yet so fake. His words…meaning nothing to her broken and torn heart. A cold, slender hand as suddenly placed on her forehead and Laila jerked fully out of her thoughts, finding herself staring straight into the enchanting face of Magie. Despite her obvious willingness to not trust Magie, she couldn’t help but feel safe.

But why am I not affected by her beauty… Laila wondered. She knew that Magie was stunning, but the pull to please her had never been there like it had been with Hanzi.

“Magie?” She inquired, her voice sounding rough and cracked.

Magie shook her beautiful face, before holding a sweet smelling mixture in a small carved bowl to Laila’s lips.

“Drink.” Magie commanded softly, an enthralling smile curving up the edges of her lips as she watched her ‘patient’ finally let her be near without having the smell of fear and wariness around her.

Laila thought of refusing for a moment, talking back to that melodically-sounding voice, but she immediately brushed that thought aside. If she had the power to resist against vampires now, then it was best kept secret. She knew that Magie knew about her new-found power, but practicing not using it for everything would be good. Who knew what else could happen in her now unclear future?

Raising the bowl to her mouth, Laila sipped at the sweet liquid. As she swallowed, it coated her throat, soothing her aching mouth and rejuvenating her tired body. It was as if all her tiredness was swept away, and a new burst of energy replaced it. The fog of sickness that had clouded her mind lifted away and she suddenly felt everything around her with a strange sense of sharpness.

“What was that?” Laila asked, blinking her bright eyes. Slowly, she propped herself up on her elbows and shot a wary glance at Magie.

Magie paused, before tilting her head downwards so that her white hair fell in perfect ringlets around her face, concealing her features. She seemed to be concentrating, but after a few minutes she finally said softly, “Let me answer your earlier question before. I could sense it–” She paused, as if waiting for Laila to interject and insist, but when Laila remained silent she continued, “Your amulet protects you from our beauty, sadly that is one of the things that you didn’t get from being a relative of a vampire.”

Laila stiffened, her wandering eyes abruptly snapping back to Magie’s covered face. She sat there, paralyzed, staring at Magie with utter disbelief.  Slowly, as if waking up from a deep sleep, she shook her head, getting her untidy dark hair into her astounded face. Then the room slowly started to spin around, getting faster and faster, and Laila felt a wave of nausea overcome her. She started shaking and stared down at the now completely drained bowl.

“No. NO! You don’t know what you are talking about!” She exclaimed loudly, her voice growing harsher by the second, “Why…why do I feel so…what was in that bowl? Tell me!” Laila had started screaming by then. Her voice suddenly cracked as she felt pressure on her arms. In a flash Magie had pressed herself against Laila’s struggling body and pushed her hard against the bed. Her grip grew tighter as Laila bared her teeth at her. Such strength in such a beauty. Something flashed in Magie’s mouth, and Laila caught of glimpse of two white fangs. She truly was a vampire.

“Calm down. I’m sorry. I have said too much. It was too much for you to handle all at once.” Magie murmured. “Stop struggling and get a hold of yourself. The lady was supposed to tell you. Forgive me Laila for treating you so roughly but you were growing out of control. Maybe it was too much?” Warily, Magie shot a glance at the bowl that now lay on the ground. Laila noticed that even though Magie was right next to her face, she still couldn’t feel any sign of her breath against her cheek. Of course, vampires don’t breath.

Magie’s dazzling magenta eyes were downcast in shame, and her face was etched with such sadness. After a few moments of silence Magie slowly loosened her iron grip and climbed off the bed. Laila lay there, eyes wide, staring at the bare ceiling.

A relative of a…of …a vampire? She thought to herself blinking slowly. She barely heard as Magie whispered something about meeting the lady when she was ready and on light feet, padded out the door. Laila was left to herself, hands loosely hung of the bed. Eventually, she drifted off to sleep, the image of her father’s fangs fresh in her wary mind.

. . . .

Laila didn’t know how late it was when she slowly pushed herself off the bed and moved herself to the old-fashioned wash basin and pitcher. In a careful process she untangled her long brown hair until it fell in silky spirals down the arch of her slender back. Then she rubbed her tired face with the icy water, desperately wanting to wipe away the sad, pathetic look that she had seen in her reflection. This was not her. She was confused, alone. She worried about her mother. Her mother–Laila knew she needed to be strong for her.

Changing her gaze back up to her reflection, Laila’s face hardened. She glared at the pathetic girl she saw. She was stronger than this – she just had to find out what was going on. Overnight she had regained her strength and now she marched over to a small wardrobe. It was a grand thing despite its height. Carvings of flowers were spread across its sides, joining in one huge illustration of two roses intertwined in the front. Laila grabbed for the smooth handle and carefully opened the doors. Her eyes grew wide at the collection of satin dresses.

She ran her finger across the soft fabric and careful stitchery of the robes. They were so beautiful. She tried on a few and her eyes lit up in glee whenever she twirled around in front of the covered up mirror. She felt like a young girl playing dress up, happiness brimming up inside of her. Then her face slowly grew serious, more melancholy as it usually was as she remembered the past. Finally deciding, Laila reached out for a plain pale blue summer dress with careful stitching on its hemline and slipped it on. The fabric was comfortable and moved with her easier than the other dresses, something that she might be thankful for later. When somebody lightly knocked on the door a couple minutes later, she knew she was ready to speak to “the lady of the house”.

“Come in,” Laila called, trying to keep her voice from wavering as she clutched the nearby bedpost for balance. The sense of not belonging only grew as Sophia slipped in, her dark hair cascading over her shoulders and down to her waist.

“Hello,” Sophia greeted, blinking her chocolate eyes unnaturally slowly.

“What’s going on?” Laila demanded, her blue dress floating around her figure as she shifted her position, her eyes never leaving Sophia’s.

A soft sigh escaped through Sophia’s perfect lips and she tilted her head downwards, as if it was hard to think of the words to explain to Laila.

“I want to know. Or I’m leaving right now,” Laila growled, feeling strength rush through her as she took a step away from the bed. Hiding her doubt in herself she started to stride over to the door, her face set in a grim expression.

Immediately, Sophia’s elegant face snapped upwards and she swiftly moved to block Laila’s way. Despite her bared fangs Laila thought she could see faint fear glittering deep in the depths of her mysterious eyes.

“Yes?” Laila asked, carefully concealing her terror at those long sharp teeth. They were designed to sink into soft human flesh and suck out the warm blood that pumped through veins… She suppressed a shudder, but couldn’t stop herself from averting her gaze so she didn’t have to look into those horrible, beautiful eyes.

“You might be the chosen one. You must stay.” Sophia replied, a strange sense of calmness overtaking her features. Turning her back to Laila she fumbled with something out of Laila’s sight. A few seconds later Laila heard a sharp click and Sophia turned around, a key dangling from her hand. “Alright then, you may go.” She said, slipping the key around her neck before stepping back from the door, an amused smile on her face.

Warily, Laila inched passed the smiling vampire and placed her hand on the doorknob. Turning it the right she felt it shudder to a stop. Laila’s dark eyes narrowed in anger as she realized that Sophia hadn’t unlocked the door, but had locked it.

“I. Will. Get. Out!” Laila suddenly screamed her temper flying out of control. Hot blood coursed through her veins and lunging forwards she lifted her leg and smashing it into the door. With a scream Laila felt her leg surge forward, her body following afterwards. She barely had time to raise her arms to her face before her head hit the door with a thump.

Then it was over. Laila lay on the other side of the door, her head spinning as she stared through the hole she had made. Slowly, her eyes traveled away from the jagged hole and crept up the metal that coated the entire door.

“You are the one.” Came the sound of Sophia’s voice from the other side and soon the door swung open, revealing Sophia’s angelic body.

“Wha-what are you talking about?” Laila asked, climbing to her feet slowly, not hiding the tremor in her voice.

“No true human could have kicked through a steel coated door and lived. Let alone get by with barely a scratch.” Sophia’s eyes twinkled in the faint light in the wooden corridor as she motioned to Laila to check her body.

No true human… Sophia’s words echoed in Laila’s head as she felt along her body, not finding a single cut or scratch on her entire being. Tears grew in Laila’s eyes as she raised her head.

                   “What does this mean then?” Laila asked, her faint voice merely a whisper.

“It is proof—“ Sophia paused to place a hand on Laila’s shoulder, as if to comfort her, “proof that you are related to a vampire. And that I—am your cousin.”

Laila stared at Sophia’s beautiful face, unable to speak. Her face was poised in a fierce but serious mask. Suddenly, Laila pulled her pale hand into a fist and whispered, “That is not the truth. You don’t know what you are talking about. Related to a vampire…it can’t be. No!” Laila was fiercely shaking her head letting her dark hair whip through the air. No true human… Laila would not believe it. She couldn’t. It was all too much even for her. Sophie looked at Laila with gentle but calculating eyes.

“Laila. I understand how confused you must be feeling, but we needed to tell you. Just think, how could you have kicked through that door? Do you truly think a human could do that sort of damage. I wanted to take it slow with you Laila, tell you bit by bit, but we have finally found you and we need your help. Please Laila, please understand. Just calm down and I will tell you everything. I promise I will tell you everything.” Sophia was now gently touching Laila’s shoulders. Laila looked out into the distance, eyes glazed, thinking of the many disoriented dreams she had had.

Sophia suddenly turned her around so Laila was looking straight up into her beautiful features. The face of a true goddess. Sophia pulled her close and hugged her tightly, her compassion strengthening Laila. “I know you must be so tired. Tired of hearing all these things. Still, you have to be strong Laila, I have watched over you a long time and always knew you were the one. Your bravery even when life was at it’s lowest. I knew you were the one. The posterity of the great vampire Gwendolyn Mandra. You are probably the strongest human in the world Laila.” Sophia murmured.

Her voice tickled Laila’s ear but she was stunned. I… I am related to a vampire. After that dark vampire tried to suck the life out of me? Why is this happening to me? She thought to herself breathing in the soft, soapy aroma that Sophia was giving off. Even with the amulet on just thinking about Hanzi still made her weak in the knees. Everything about him was so perfect– so good, so pure. Laila squeezed her eyes shut tight, and forced an image of her limp body falling to the ground, two teethmarks pricked into her delicate neck out of her mind. No, she couldn’t trust any of them. Especially not Hanzi. For all she knew these vampires could be exactly like him. Laila shook her head and tried to pull away from Sophia, but Sophia still held her close, her grasp firm.

“Please Laila, just let me explain the situation. Just let me explain what is happening. At least hear me out. You will see that you can trust me. I will tell you everything. Please Laila, I know this must be so hard on you. Us taking you away from your home, showing you all these hidden secrets that only were ever told as tales. But it’s for the best, you have to understand we are doing this to protect the human race. We are not the malicious vampires who feed on humans. We help them. You have to understand that.” Her silky voice was pleading in Laila’s ear. Slowly, Sophia released her from the tight hug and pulled away.

Laila saw her understanding smile and closed her dark eyes. A moment later she nodded. “Ok, I will listen to you. But you cannot keep anything from me. I want you to know the truth, all of it.” Laila looked up at Sophia, her eyes determined. She knew she most likely wouldn’t escape this place if she said no. They would probably keep her here until she agreed. The best thing was to always be alert and get out as soon as possible. Of course, a little part of her, in the darkest corners of her mind, where she had not yet explored, was telling her to learn from these people. To learn from her ‘cousin’ if that’s who she truly was. She could gain so much power, and she could find her father and save her mother’s dying heart. Maybe she could learn to fight against the seducing effect of vampire’s and become more like one so that she could protect the world from vampire’s like Hanzi–but that would come with time. For now, she just had to make sure she could trust them. And so, with an almost hungry look in her eyes, she listened as Sophia told her what she needed to know.

. . . .

Laila stood at the top of cliff a brilliant smile on her face. Her long dark hair whipped around her face as the strong wind buffeted against her agile, strong frame.

“I am of vampire-blood!” She cried to the wind, pride filling her tone. Tugging at the harness that strapped her to the hand glider she let out a whoop of excitement; her dark eyes glinting with apprehension. Today began her training.

Sophia stood behind her an approving look on her face as she watched on, but behind the kindness that swam in her eyes a darker, undistinguishable emotion lurked. “Go!” Sophia suddenly shouted, raising her near-translucent arms to the night sky, a wild expression taking over her face as she felt the urge to feed. “Let yourself fly!” She screamed, her voice rising as the wind twisted around her thin frame.

Obediently, Laila leapt forward, hurdling herself off the cliff edge. There was a brief moment where she fell, an exhilarated scream bursting forth from her mouth, before the wind caught underneath the wings and she abruptly soared upwards, the harness digging into her skin. Joy surged through Laila as she dived lower, skimming over the tips of the frothing waves.

“See this!” She hollered at the sea, “See this? I’m flying! ” Laila felt herself bubble with electrifying elation as she banked hard left, trailing the edge of her wing’s tip through the rough water. She knew everything now. Her father’s sister was a vampire. Gweondolyn. The power in the name sent shivers down Laila’s spine, he truly must be powerful. Yet, despite Sophia’s explanation of her relation to vampires, Laila felt as if she was holding back something… A strange idea of what Sophia was hiding lurked at the back of Laila’s mind, giving off a peculiar vibe that it had something to do with her father.

Suddenly, Laila felt herself tilt precariously to the side, her tip submerging deeper into the water. Laila let out a yell of fright and desperately tried to tilt the other direction, but it was too late. The soaked wing-tip dragged the wing deeper into the surging waves until she had no hope of escape.

“I can’t fail my first training lesson!” Laila screamed at the air, but she knew it was too late. Panic surged through her and in a frantically she clawed at her harness, unhooking herself from its embrace. No sooner had she been freed then her hand glider plunged into the sea, and she followed afterwards.

The coldness of the sea surprised Laila as she entered, her body sliding between the waves perfectly. Blinking a few times in the murky water she flipped her body upwards, so that she could see the light above the waves. Yet she saw nothing except for blackness on all sides. Endless darkness. That’s when it struck her. It was night, and she had no clue where up was.

Desperately she opened her mouth to scream, but water surged into her mouth blocking of her airways. She clawed at the water, feeling a sense of complete and overpowering helplessness overtake her as she sunk deeper. A stream of bubbles erupted from her mouth as she blinked her stinging eyes.

No! She cried in her mind, feeling a few more precious air bubbles escape between her slightly parted lips. Her throat started to burn as the salt water she had accidently swallowed rubbed against her soft throat tissue. A loud thumping started in her ears as well as the loud sound of her blood rushing, but soon even that was drowned out by the crashing sound from above as waves collapsed again and again. Dread overtook her and she reached out blindly, kicking out with her feet. Her lungs barely held any air now, and they were ablaze with pain as she desperately searched for the surface, her tears mixing with the water around her.

She didn’t know which way to go anymore, which way was death and which was survival, and she had little time left. So precious time was. Then, finally, when she knew it was hopeless Laila quietly stopped struggling and accepted her fate. She opened her mouth and allowed the water to rushing into her throat and nose. But then, she felt something in her left hand. Air—no—wind. Her hand was out of the water, her struggling had brought her in the right direction! The cool breath of the wind revived her senses, jerking her already fading mind back to consciousness. With a final effort she struck out with her feet once again. A few, long, dreadful moments passed, before her head exploded out of the water, sending droplets flying.

Laila doubled over in the water coughing, spewing up sea water as she tried to stay afloat on the rough waves. “Help!” She cried, turning her head to see two figures on top of the distant cliff. Sophia, with her long dark hair, and then another vampire, who looked strangely familiar with black hair and strange, storm grey eyes that she could even see from so far awa—

A wave crashed over Laila’s head, plunging her back under the water before she could put two and two together. Immediately, she forgot about the familiar-looking boy and struck out with her hands, realizing that this was the one, important moment. If she got lost under the water again, she would have no energy left to get back to the surface.

By a brief stroke of luck, her hand brushed against the cliff edge. Unknowing to her, the strong waves had carried her there while she had been submerged.

Grasping one of the rocks that were jutting out, Laila heaved herself upwards onto the small ledge, tears rolling down her cheeks at the near-death experience.

“I’m coming Laila!” A worried voice sounded from above her. Soon Laila caught sight of Sophia climbing down the cliffside towards her. However, the man had gone.

. . . .

Laila shivered under the thick bedsheet, the night before only being a blur. Once again, darkness had overtaken the sky, and the stars were shining brightly.

A full day. A full day had passed since that dreadful night. Laila had been brought up to her room by Sophia, and immediately fallen asleep, tormented by the nightmares of endless waves pulling her under into nothingness… What was strange, was that Laila couldn’t get the image of two storm grey eyes out of her head. Whenever she closed her eyes there they danced before her, almost taunting her. Yet, no matter how much she tried she couldn’t remember who they belonged too. She didn’t even remember that she’d seen them only a night before…

                   “Laila?” A faint voice sounded through the new wooden door that had been attached to her door frame.

“Come in,” Laila called wearily, thinking that it would be Sophia. It was time to start her training again. Only, what would be next?

However, when the door slid open it wasn’t the majestic form of Sophia that gracefully glided through. Magie stepped into the room her beautiful white blond hair flying behind her with a tray of small decorated cakes and two beautiful embroidered china cups filled with herbal tea. Her mischievous magenta eyes twinkled at her but Laila didn’t miss the strain in her beautiful vibrant face. Something was bothering her. Laila cocked her head to the side with a questioning glance. Magie slowly made her way through to Laila and carefully placed the tray full of delicious assortment of cookies and cakes on the antique table.

“Hey, where’s Sophia? I thought I would get some more training from her today.” Laila asked as she twirled her veil of dark hair. Magie chuckled softly, her voice as light as small bells.

“Well she had some business to attend to and said you could rest. She has gone on a small trip and will be back in three days.” Magie explained.

Laila looked at her, astounded. Slowly, she shook her head as the world blurred around her. She could feel her own heartbeat in her ears. She couldn’t rest. She needed to train. She needed to get better! “But I’m ready. I have to start training right now. To protect all from the danger of vampires like Hanzi. I’m ready. I can’t wait and rest.” A fire was dancing in Laila’s dark eyes. Her fists were clenched and shaking. She had to be strong.

Magie was gazing into the distance with thoughtful eyes. A stream of light had sneaked its way in between the tightly drawn curtains making the sheets on the bed illuminate in the darkness.

Magie slowly drew her pale hand from the light and faced Laila with a warm smile. “I though you would say that. You always seemed like such a strong-willed person, Laila. But first you need to g some rest. How can you protect people if you are weak? To pass this kind of training you need strength from the heart but also physical strength. You do know that vampires have amazing abilities. Superhuman speed, strength and charm. They even have their own special abilities. Laila, you need to be ready and even though your dance class has shaped you up very well, becoming a vampire slayer needs more.” Magie looked straight at Laila, a certain power in her voice.

Laila sat there for a few moments before nodding. Magie offered her a fudge cake with steam still curling off it and the chocolate sauce dripping from its interior. She gratefully took it from Magie and breathed in the rich aroma of the chocolaty goodness. With careful bits she started eating it. Magie looked intently at her with thoughtful eyes.

“You know, Lady Sophia did say that I could train you while she is gone. As well as me teaching you the art of vampires, their history, their talents, their abilities. You need to become knowledgeable in all these areas of study. But Laila, are you truly up to it?” The sheets rustled as Laila turned to face her. It was so sudden and Sophia had not ever mentioned these changes in her training. Still though, curiosity sparked inside her. After the talk with Sophia she had felt so confident about becoming a vampire slayer. Her mind had been a bit fuzzy but she had to continue training.

“I am ready Magie. I will agree to your proposal. I know I can do it.” Laila said with new enthusiasm. Magie knowingly nodded and got up brushing down her crinkled dress.

“Well Laila, if you are ready. You know you have a long way to go and that it will be hard. I will make sure to answer any questions you may have. But from now on you are my student, so you have to really be sure Laila.” As Laila viciously nodded Magie smiled her unusual eyes glinting. “Well then Laila, I will get you right after you finish your tea.”

The moment Laila had put her cup of tea on the table, Magie swept into the room again, her eyes stern.

“First, I will teach you about vampire talents,” Magie said, wasting no time as she ushered Laila to her feet and out the door.

“Talents?” Laila asked, feeling strangely small and insignificant. There was so much to learn…

“Yes,” Magie’s voice was sharp, as if she sensed that Laila was feeling overwhelmed. Her voice softening she added, “Do you know the talent that all vampires have?”

Laila gave a quick nod. “Of course, at least…I think so.” She paused, unsure of herself, but catching Magie’s encouraging eye she continued, “um, that all vampires can lure their prey into–” She struggled for the right words, “into a trance with their beauty?”

Magie smiled kindly. “Very good,” she replied, “but there is one way to resist this, and that is if you are in any contact with ruby.”

Laila’s hand shot up to her necklace, and she fingered the red heart carefully. “Is this…real ruby?” She asked softly, blinking her wide eyes slowly.

“Yes,” Magie replied, a small smile on her face.

“But,” something occurred to Laila suddenly, “you said talents means more than one? Do you mean abilities too: like seeing in the dark?”

Magie shook her face, her hair spiraling around her figure as she did so. “No, I mean just talents; abilities are something different.”

“So,” Laila shuddered, “vampires have more than one talent?”

Magie placed a comforting hand on Laila’s shoulder and steered her through a door into the outside world. “Yes, each vampire has a special, unique talent. Of course, to every talent there is a weakness. However, in order to find that weakness, you have to find the vampires talent, and that is a very hard task.”

Laila nodded absent-mindedly, scanning her eyes over the rough terrain before her. Mountains rose tall in the distance, and she spotted the one in which she had jumped off of with the handglider.

Magie motioned to the right, where the ocean was, so calm and peaceful in the windless night. “Some vampires can breathe under water, but that is considered a lowly talent. There are many—many more dangerous ones.”

Laila snapped back to attention and licked her lips, feeling a brief flicker of excitement shoot through her. “For me it shouldn’t be too hard to find their talent, right? After all I’m a Gwendolyn.”

“No!” Magie’s sharp voice surprised Laila, and when she looked up, she saw the anger flaming in Magie’s normally calm eyes. “Do not underestimate your enemies! They are dangerous and are more powerful than you ever will be. You’ll need endless lessons and a clever, quick mind if you ever want to have a chance at defeating them. Your most likely chance is if you have something worth fighting for—or, if you use trickery.”

Laila took a step away from Magie, hurt showing in her dark eyes. “I share blood with vampires though!” She protested weakly.

Magie abruptly stepped forward, her delicate fingers rising to touch Laila’s amulet. “Would you like me to show you again what it feels like to be under my vampire spell?” She whispered silkily, starting to lift the amulet off Laila.

“Stop!” Laila cried desperately, unable to understand why Magie was being so horrible.

Magie immediately withdrew, her face growing serious. “Sorry Laila, but I have to be strict with you. There is no other way; I told you it was going to be hard.”

Laila was hurt that her friend would threaten her like that but gave a nod, bleakly understanding. If this was how Magie thought she should learn, then that was the right way.

“So,” Magie’s voice was softer now, and she had the gentle look back in her eye, “Do you remember Hanzi’s power now?”

Laila licked her lips and gave a nod, her curiosity starting to rise again. “It was…overwhelming—but the thing was…that I didn’t want to resist.” Just as Magie was opening her mouth to speak in Laila cut in quickly with a question, “What’s Hanzi’s power?”

Magie paused, staring at her student. After a long moment her reply came – soft and daunting.

“No one knows—and that is what you have to find out.”

Chapter 4

Laila was sitting in a big comfy armchair facing Magie. They had retreated into a circular room with a grand chandelier hanging gloriously from the cream ceilings and strange instruments littering the peculiarly soft rugs. Laila was poised for action, all the tension she had felt in her mind the past few days were but a hint of a memory. Her suspicion had arisen once again and so she was calmly scoping her surroundings. I have been acting like a fool. I was excited that I was related to a vampire but I’ve been acting without any common sense. Laila was deeply troubled at the change that had abruptly consumed her, but knew she could not show this.

“Now, your real history lesson begins now. You have to understand that all physical power in the world, fighting against a vampire would still prove useless without the right set of mind. To make you understand, I will teach you of the foundation of vampire history. I am amazed of how strong your mind already is, still there is a lot to be gained. You only have a few days to learn many things and it is a hard journey. We have to do it while the lady is gone. I believe you can do it but …….you will have to trust me Laila. Can you do all this?” Magie looked at her with deadly calm eyes, her beautiful red lips set in a thin line. Feelings bubbled up inside Laila but among everything else was the desire to save people from the evil vampire that had attacked her the night her life changed. She didn’t understand why she had forgotten her purpose, but she would train hard.

Their eyes met for a moment and Laila gave a grim nod. She swiftly pulled her dark hair into a messy bun and flicked the loose strands away from her face. Then she looked back at Magie’s face which was now hidden behind a sea of whitish hair, slightly stooped over in a polite manner. Laila’s persistent gaze softened as electric power raced through her body. With low but ready tone she announced, “I trust you Magie I trust you to train me and make me the best I can be.” Magie looked up, her magenta eyes gentle and happy but most of all relieved. “Very well, I warn you now Laila, this is my power… ”

A strange darkness flooded suddenly flooded around Laila and she let out a stifled scream. Her hair whipped around her as if controlled by a wild wind. A second passed of absolute silence before like melting butter the blackness slowly dripped away, revealing a whole different scene.

It was like watching through the screen of a bright plasma T.V.. The images were clear and focused, zooming in on even the tiniest of details… When the darkness was all gone, Laila realized she was in a small glade. Willows towered around it as if to preserve the scene forever in a perfect picture. The softly swaying blades of grass were tainted blue in the soft moonshine. Suddenly, the picture flicked. The setting remained the same but now the scene had changed. The moon was colored in a light shade of red. Small wax candles were melted to stubs and strange materials littered the ground. Then a hooded figure stepped through the shadows of the trees, candle light blending the edges of his eerie form with the shadows. He bent down and placed a pure white box in the grass. Some sort of crest was carved in it. What is this? Some sort of cult? Laila’s thought to herself from her subconscious. Suddenly, a voice erupted in her head, reverberating in her skull.

Vampires. Born from darkness and death on the rise of a blood-red moon. The man you see before you is the one who created the vampires. His name is Edgar  Marlow. Laila’s blood ran cold as the so familiar name echoed in her head. The voice continued in an indifferent tone. The world is filled with paranormal power. Paranormal power is what humans consider as magic, sorcery, and so on. It is when a soul or object is more sensitive to the in between world, in other words, ghost world or world of darkness. It has many names but nobody truly knows of it. It is a mystery, but the people who can sense it have the power to sometimes even manipulate things around them. Edgar Marlow was the strongest of them all, but there was a deep evil in him that awakened when he found out about his vast power.

Scenes flashed across the screen and finally settled back onto the glade. The hood that was gently wrapped around the man suddenly slipped off in a strong gust of wind fluttering into the trees.  Laila gasped. The man had the same silky long black hair, the same slim and beautiful face and pale complexion. He had more broad shoulders and slanted forehead but the similarity was undeniable. The only difference was the age and the eyes. This man’s eyes were blood red, dangerously glinting with dark joy. An unsettling feeling made Laila have the urge to run. This man had a sort of nightmarish aura. The same aura of Hanzi Marlow.

Edgar Marlow was consumed by his power. He began studying the dark arts and grew more powerful as the days went by. But even he reached his paranormal limit as he himself was still just human. So after years of research, Edgar did something that totally threw off the balance of nature. In a ceremony, at the rise of a blood-red moon, Edgar committed the greatest taboo of all. He ate a human heart and then drained all his blood.

In the scene the man now opened the white box and carefully, as if it were a child, cradled it in his hands. Laila’s insides doubled over and averted her eyes when she saw the crimson blood pooling in his hands. A shrill, maniac laughter filled her mind and she screamed, desperate to block it out, and darkness quickly filled her vision.

And so…. Edgar had finally gained access to the in between world. The world of the dead. Because of the process of draining his blood and being born from darkness, vampires are pale and are burnt in the light. But even for that vampires found a cure. Soon, more and more vampires were created. At first, not knowing of their power, they lived in peace with humans. But because their existence was born from a blood-red moon, and a human heart, vampires yearned for blood. Animal blood was barely satisfying enough and soon humans were being slaughtered left and right.

The images came again. Screaming villagers, men, women, children were running from a crowd of fiercely beautiful people. Monsters.

But because of this great imbalance in nature, it was soon found that vampires did have weakness like every great power. They all had their own abilities which they had gained from living a mixed life, half in the world of darkness and half in the real world. They could manipulate minds, seduce with their dark beauty like the night they were born from, and transform into particular animals of the night. But soon humans devised a plan to go against the vampires. There were a particular few who also had great paranormal power. They set out to find the vampire’s weakness. They found that certain objects had certain paranormal values. Rare gems, rocks, and materials like ruby had the ability to protect the one who wore it from the mind manipulation. The wood from a rare willow could pierce the strong skin of a vampire. So humans found more and more of these materials with certain paranormal power. They could make weapons out of them, and soon the hunters became the hunted.

The scenes showed bony people quickly molding together weapons out of ruby, some kind of steel, and a mysterious gleaming rock. Then the vision twisted to show the beautiful monsters, faces alert and frightened, running from bobbing lights in the distance.

A vampire named Gwendolyn Mandrake was disgusted by the intolerable violence. She was respected for she had power close to Edgar, and was kind to not only her species but also had made friends among the humans. She took a group of talented vampires who idolized her and created a group which called themselves the Pure Ones. They helped humans understand how to fight against vampires and didn’t feed on them. Soon many joined the pure ones as they were thriving, humans were willing to share their blood for protection. Soon Edgar realized he was losing, he went to fight Gwendolyn. His power was great and the battle epic, but Gwendolyn knew the only way to defeat him was to sacrifice herself – and that she did. Both vanished, some say into the in between world, others say they were merely vaporized. Either way, they were never seen again. So the feud between the two groups continued, each always searching for their beloved master.

The haunting images slowly floated away and Laila was left dangling in the darkness, a strange uneasy feeling rising inside her.

But the posterity of the two great vampires lived on. Edgar is the ancient ancestor of Hanzi, while Gwendolyn is yours Laila Mandrake. You cannot run away from your destiny Laila. Not anymore…

Laila shivered at the plain truth of the words. “I’ll never be strong enough,” she whispered sadly as she slowly regained her vision of the circular room

“Laila, you are the chosen one. You are among the Pure Ones. You will survive, we will guide you,” Magie’s voice whispered in her ear.

Laila emitted a weighty sigh and bowed her head, allowing her long black hair to tumble over her shoulders and cover her face.

“Gwendolyn,” Laila spoke aloud trying to comfort herself by the power that radiated from the name. After a few moments of hesitation she asked, “I will try my hardest Magie…but how will you ever test my mind?”

Blackness began to cover Laila’s vision once again, and despite the fear that it evoked in her, she tried not to resist. Soon Magie’s flickering form started to develop in front of Laila’s eyes in the darkness, a charming smile on her visage. “Look around you Laila,” she replied softly, her voice losing its reverberating quality.

Laila blinked and glanced around, not surprised that her eyes met only darkness. “So? It’s dark, I can’t see,” she replied.

Abruptly, the blackness melted away, revealing a large, open, rolling plain that stretched for miles into the distance. The only thing that disturbed the symmetrical picture of swaying trees and flowers was a faint figure of a person.

Laila watched with incredulous eyes as it grew closer. Slowly, she started to make out the shoulder-length black hair, the dark, chocolate brown eyes and the rest of the woman’s features.

With a jolt– Laila realized it was her own mother. Except, the wrinkles that had appeared when Laila’s father had disappeared were gone, along with the heavy bags that had been under her mother’s eyes and her permanently slouched back. This woman stood tall, a certain gleam of happiness dancing in her eyes as she neared on light feet. Yet, above everything else, Laila noticed that she had a smile on her face. Not the sad, watery one, but a real one, with all its beauty and intensity, like the old days.

“Mother,” Laila whispered, a lump forming in her throat. She was about to step forward when a cool hand landed on her shoulder.

“My power is to create illusions,” Magie’s voice murmured in her ear, and as her words faded away, so did the image of her mother coming towards her. Right before everything went black again, Laila almost thought she saw her mother raise her hand in farewell—almost. Then she was back in the never-ending darkness, her eyes unable to pick out anything except Magie’s glowing form that stood in front of her.

“Now do you understand?” Magie asked, but at Laila’s blank look and slightly hurt she explained further. “With my power, I can create illusions for you, but you must fight them with your mind. There will be levels. Each level will get harder or more challenging the last. We will stop when you are either too exhausted to go on or you’ve completed all the levels.” Magie paused briefly before adding, “You will be in no danger, but you will have all your five senses. If you get cut, then you will feel it. However, when you come out of the illusion all the pain or injuries that were created during it will disappear.”

Laila’s eyes widened yet she found herself nodding, pushing away her pain of seeing her mother as she used to be. Her destiny was clear now, no longer fogged by that strange excitable feeling that had been placed inside her.

“Very well then,” Magie’s form wavered unsteadily, her words already becoming fainter, “let the illusions begin.” Then she was gone, leaving Laila alone in the boundless world of shadows.

Laila glanced around warily, expecting a vampire to come creeping out of the gloom and attack. Edgy, Laila reached up to feel her amulet for comfort, but her fingers only scraped against her bare skin. Shocked, Laila glanced down, only to find that no amulet was laced around her neck.

What!?” She exclaimed angrily, “you didn’t tell me that I would have to do it without my protection!” As if her words had spurred Magie to make her first move the blackness around her started to drip away. Motion sickness rose up in Laila and she squeezed her eyes shut, letting out a low groan.

Laila felt the temperature drop around her, and an icy wind suddenly whipped through her clothes. Slowly, Laila opened her eyes, squinting as they met the brightness of a white hot sun, yet she felt no heat radiating from it. Shading her face from the dazzling light, Laila glanced around, discovering that she was surrounded by interlacing branches that were coated with white powder. As her eyes adjusted to the glare of the snow, Laila slowly shifted her gaze back towards the gap in the trees that framed the burning sun. Squinting slightly, Laila caught sight of a tranquil lake that stretched outwards into the distance, stopping only to be replaced by a line of snow-capped mountains.

“Where am I?” Laila asked aloud. Her voice resonated across the serene landscape and immediately a sound of rushing wing beats filled her ears. Two startled doves lifted into the pink-red sky, their wingtips brushing as they flew away.

A sudden sound of crunching snow sounded behind Laila and she spun around, coming face to face with Sophia. Instantaneously, Laila let out a relived sigh and smiled at her friend.

“Hey,” she called to Sophia, glancing at the ground so she wouldn’t have to look straight into Sophia’s enchanting brown eyes. She had no protection now, and without the amulet she felt vulnerable.

The sound of footsteps ceased, and Laila could found herself staring at a pair of glass slippers that encased pale, graceful, feet. Without meaning too, Laila’s eyes travelled upwards slowly, taking in the silky blue dress that fitted Sophia’s perfect frame.

“Sophia?” Laila questioned when Sophia didn’t reply.

“I have a friend I would like you to meet,” Sophia murmured softly, her melodious voice carrying easily across the snow covered branches that blocked their way to each other.

More crunching footsteps, and a pair of light bare feet appeared next to Sophia’s enclosed ones. They were light and delicate, sinking slightly into the powdery-snow.

Despite herself, Laila couldn’t resist to see the face of this mysterious person. First, her eyes traveled up a nicely toned body that was fitted into a slim black tuxedo, similar to Hanzi’s. Just when Laila thought it too dangerous to continue, her eyes met his—and she was captive by the mesmerizing qualities immediately. The boy’s eyes were stunningly clear and luminous, containing the same shade of a polished peridot.

“Wha-what’s your name?” Laila stammered, taking a step forward.

A fleeting smile crossed the boy’s face, “Nickolia,” He replied, his voice sweet and velvety, dragging a bubble of emotions out of Laila with each alluring syllable.

Laila took another step forward, only to catch her ankle on a branch. With a gasp she collapsed to the ground at the two vampire’s feet, pain lancing up her leg as she did so. Laila quickly scrambled to her feet, the throbbing bringing her back down to reality.

It’s an illusion, you idiot! Laila screamed at herself, trying to focus her blurred mind. Push past him. Now. With as much dignity as she could muster Laila raised her chin and brushed past the two vampires, breathing hard.

Just as she thought she had made it to safety, a hand enveloped hers. She froze, swallowing hard, her eyes locked straight in front of her at the snow-covered land beyond.

“I don’t even know your name.” A soft voice whispered in her ear. “Come on,” it persuaded, “come with me for a little bit. I’ll protect you.”

Laila shuddered as Nickolia’s strong arm turned her around to face his smiling face. He was so beautiful… Laila suddenly realized he was nearing, his perfect lips coming closer to her own by the second. One kiss won’t hurt… Laila thought, starting to tilt forward too, her eyes fluttering closed.

A sudden eruption of pain from her injured ankle made Laila jerk back, stumbling over another branch as she did so. Immediately, anger flared in her eyes. “You don’t control me!” She yelled, lashing out with her hand. Everything slowed down briefly. Nickolia’s handsome face barely had time to contort in shock before Laila’s hand made contact with his cheek. His neck snapped to the side as a loud crack rang through the air.

“You!” Nickolia growled, dropping the enchanting demeanor. His face twisted in rage and he lunged out for her with incredible speed—but his hand grasped only air.

Laila, feeling alive in the moment, had predicted his move and she had darted to the side with almost inhuman agility. Then she was off. Her feet sank into the freezing snow with each step but her exhilaration fueled her now. She ducked low, avoiding a low swinging branch, before leaping over a log that had sunk into the ground.

Without pausing to glance back, she broke through the remaining twigs baring her way and burst out into the sunshine. She heard the footsteps behind her falter momentarily and a snort of pain as the sun’s bright beams fell upon Nickolia’s face. There was no sign of Sophia anywhere.

“I can do this!” Laila growled to herself, before launching herself into the air, ready to dive into the lake that was sitting pleasantly in the light of the setting sun. Right before Laila plunged into the lake she thought she heard a voice say:

Well done. Level one, complete.

Then she was under the water.

Laila’s body was overwhelmed with paralysis as the realization of what she had done washed over her. Fear gripped her heart as the icy water seeped through her thin clothing and invisible forces tumbled her body into the darker waters below. Laila was helpless, colors blurring into one watery picture. Panic surged through Laila and disoriented she kicked against the current. She opened her mouth to scream but only water streamed in and drained down her throat. Her nose was burning and her body turning numb from cold. She was desperate for air now, her chest strained and tired, but Laila could not calm down.

A memory flashed in Laila’s mind. She was young and carefree. It had been those few early years of happiness when her father had still been with them. She was skipping up and down the wall next to the lane. Suddenly, she missed a step and with a loud splash sunk like a rock into the darkness. It was so cold… Now Laila knew what had been always lurking inside her. It was fear. Fear of the dark water and merciless cold.

Laila was ripped back to reality as she felt her heart skip a beat. It was slowing down. Her life was seeping away. There was a loud irritating buzz in her head now. Water was everywhere and slowly Laila let her arm fall to her side.

An image of her mother appeared in her mind. The same voice spoke in her head.

Are you just going to give up like that? Even in an illusion you are weak. Are you not the chosen one? The chosen one should be better than the average human. Show it! Fight.

Laila clenched her wrinkled fists as the water pressed around her and suddenly she realized what she needed to do. It was the fear. It was what had her paralyzed. If she conquered it she would be free of the water’s grip, she could succeed.

Closing her eyes tightly she exhaled all the air that was left in her lungs, allowing herself to sink a little lower in the water. When she opened her eyes again, everything was clear. She could see the air bubbles she had let out starting to float to the right. It became clear in her mind that she was on her side in the water. She just had to follow the air bubbles, they were heading towards the surface.

With the last of her energy, Laila pulled herself upwards, her legs kicking strongly at the water that surrounded her.

A second later she crashed through the surface, expecting to be greeted by the happy figure of Magie. But as she gulped down the fresh air wildly, she realized that she was in the middle of an endless ocean. Helplessness tempted her to give up, but Laila closed her eyes and thought of the image of her mother once again.

“Fight, Laila, fight.” She gasped, swimming in circles to keep afloat on the choppy waves, “This is just an illusion. Fight it.”

A storm was whipping up, the water churning beneath her legs. It wouldn’t be long before the waves engulfed her.

Fight it! She screamed in her mind. Her eyes were squeezed tightly shut now and she pushed away at her senses. She refused to feel the tumbling waves and creeping coldness in her bones. She beat out the smell of salt in the air and the wind against her face. With a last, desperate effort, she imagined everything around her being slammed behind a door leaving her in darkness.

Everything went quiet – then she heard a voice.

Well done. Level two, complete.

Laila’s eyes flew open– and landed on only blackness. She was once again in the endless darkness. Safe.

But now, before her very eyes, a new world started to create itself around her. She would get no break, even though she already was exhausted. How could she have ever wanted to do this? It was too painful.

Laila’s body started to rise on its own accord, a feeling of weightlessness overtaking her as she grew higher. The mud-caked ground beneath her bare feet was swept away by a mass of colors that spun and twisted, forming a new landscape with their delicate dance. A whoosh of cold air brushed against Laila and she felt her clothes tighten around her body. Shock showing on her face she glanced downwards—to find that a blue ballet suit had been fitted around her body. It was tight at the top, with long sapphire sleeves that had tiny diamond shaped holes in them. As it reached her waist it flowered out into long streams of blue that hung down, but never went below her knee.

“Wha-?” Laila questioned aloud, stepping forward on the wooden floor that had materialized beneath her. A sudden sound of rushing air filled her ears again and she was propelled backwards a few feet by an invisible force. She tottered for a few seconds before losing her balance and falling backwards—only to be caught by another unseen mass of energy.

It righted her in a fluid moment—paused—and then was gone, leaving Laila swaying on her feet that were now enclosed in tight black ballet shoes.

A thick, sinuous, red curtain had appeared in the place where she had been, billowing ever so gently in an unknown wind. Soon it settled though, and as it did Laila realized she was in a building of some kind.

“Where am I?” She wondered aloud, raising her eyebrows questioningly, it didn’t look like a scary place.

A round of applause jerked Laila from her thoughts. Laila’s eyes swept upwards quickly, to find that the red curtain had been lifted, and in its place an audience. Person after person sat in chair after chair, in rows that faded off into the distance. The air caught in Laila’ s throat and her hands immediately balled into white-knuckled fists.

“No,” She whispered, her voice barely audible over the din. Dizziness swept over her and she stumbled hastily back, feeling nausea rise in her throat.

Music started up, it’s alluring melody rising and falling. Laila knew she was supposed to dance, the audience had quieted now and were staring at her with intense expectation. A man caught Laila’s eye, and she stared at him. He held a clipboard in one hand, a pencil in the other. His thick, greasy, hair fell in front of his pale face which held a cold, calculating smile on it. Laila knew what he was – a judge.

Movement caught Laila’s eye and she turned sharply, all her elegance gone. Her mind was racing now, panic overtaking her.

A girl, about her age, was dancing out of the shadows, a stunning smile on her features. She twirled towards Laila, flashing her a momentary sneer before turning back to the audience with her fake grin.

“Vampire,” Laila growled, taking in the pale, flawless skin, and the perfect round eyes all at once.

In a surge of anger Laila leaped forward, twirling in the air as she did so. With a strange gracfulness she landed lightly on the tips of her toes, placing a phony smile on her face as she did so. All her nervousness was swept aside by sudden determination. She didn’t care about that stupid judge. She had a job to do—to get rid of the vampire.

The girl danced languidly past Laila, her blue costume twinkling in the burning lights the bore down on them. Laila followed after her, weaving a careful dance, but once she’d gotten close, the girl spun around gracefully, her arm slamming into Laila’s side.

Laila collapsed to the floor, the side of her face slamming into the ground with a tremendous force. The music paused, and stifled gasps rang throughout the crowd. The other girl continued to dance though, and soon the music had started again.

Laila scrambled hurriedly to her feet, her face burning red with embarrassment. She scanned the crowd, but no one seemed to have noticed that it was the girl’s fault. She managed to catch a few glances but they only held. Tears started to prick at the edges of Laila’s eyes but with sheer determination she pushed them away and started to dance again, slowly making her way towards the girl.

The girl turned to face her, sending a charming grin her way, but Laila’s fury deflected it without so much as a thought. “You’re going down,” Laila hissed, before completing a one-legged turn and leaping into the air. She landed lightly on her toes in front of the girl and the audience broke out into applause. The slight pause in movement allowed Laila to tip her leg backwards slightly and hook her foot around the girl’s leg. The girl gave a slight gasp, her alluring appeal slipping as she crashed heavily to the ground.

The audience gasped loudly, but Laila danced on, adrenaline pumping through her veins. Her breath was coming in sort gasps but as she swept a deep curtsy she felt a sense of accomplishment rush throughout her. She’s done it.

The ending note rang throughout the auditorium and Laila was raising her fisted hands above her head in triumph thinking she’d won. Then without warning, an inhuman amount of force slammed into Laila’s back and she collapsed to the ground, a loud crack ringing out as her nose bent sideways under the pressure. Laila let out a scream, agony shearing up and down her broken nose as the weight continued to get down heavier.

“I win,” A voice snarled in her ear, before Laila felt two tiny pricks on the skin in her neck.

Desperately, Laila tried to struggle, but the pain was coming in waves now and she was just so weak…

Everything blurred around her as the fangs sank deeper into her neck, sucking out her life force. The world swayed, black dots spurting across her vision and then—everything was gone.

Chapter 5

Laila blindly grasped a fistfull of soft linen sheets underneath her strained body. With a sharp breath she jerked up, beads of sweat dripping down her forehead and dampened hair. She opened her eyes, pupils dilated and bloodshot. A throbbing headache consumed her, and an ear-splitting pounding resonated in her ears. The world around her was dotted with black spots, dancing in and out of her hazed vision. Her breathing came in short, forced gasps as she sucked in the humid air.

Two cool hands suddenly grabbed her shoulders and out of reflex Laila threw her head back and heard the satisfying thump of her target being hit. Laila pulled her shoulders forward and will clammy hands threw a punch behind her. After a few seconds of struggle Laila was roughly pushed down into the springy mattress. Panic rose up in her as her power slowly drained out of her sore limbs.

“Laila, LAILA!” An urgent voice cried out above her. Laila suddenly stopped her fighting and slowly opened her eyes. A wave of magenta washed over her. Magie’s nearly luminescent eyes glowed brightly, the strange color of magenta highlighted by small flecks of lavender, plum and a hint of crimson. Her eyes drew Laila in and she felt strength return to her jerky body. “It’s ok Laila, you did well. Your fighting skills, as seen now, also have a good foundation. I know now that you will definitely be able to complete my trial in only a few days. Laila you have done well.” Magie’s iron hold grew softer and after Laila had settled down she withdrew back to the end of the bed once more. With a graceful gesture she reached for a small china cup, its delicate drawings carefully preserved under the shining layer of glass. Each color corresponding perfectly, constructing an exquisite and gentle picture.

“Here, have this to drink. You will be on your feet in no time once you have had this,” Magie insisted, slowly drawing the cup to Laila’s shaped lips. Laila hesitated, looking into the familiar red liquid sloshing around in the cup. Still, the sweet fragrance drew her in. It was strange, but she felt a deep longing stir inside her. Fighting it, Laila managed to pull away, lips curling in disgust. Magie’s persistent gaze softened and she uttered, “Laila, you need not worry. This is not human blood, for your body cannot stand it in its current state. It is only animal blood, but it will make you strong Laila. You can only protect the ones you love if you are strong of mind and heart. This involves going through with these new changes. Just remember, you are not a vampire, but you do have vampire blood in you and so will yearn for the taste of blood.”

Laila reluctantly let Magie put the cup to her lips and slowly tip it over. The thick but oddly refreshing liquid went down Laila’s parched throat. A fire stirred within her heart and again she felt a deep wanting. Her sips became greater and soon the small cup was empty, only a small red line across the lip of the cup remaining. Laila pushed down her urges and with a heavy sigh sank back into the pillows.

“Rest now Laila. Do not be disappointed. You have done exceptionally well. We will continue later. Until then, please explore the house if you wish. I can make you food later.” Magie announced as she slowly slipped out the door. With one last wave, Magie closed the door behind her.

. . . .

A little while later, Laila stood in front of the mirror, flicking dust off the ripped black jeans she found. They were securely held to her thin frame by a thick silver and black studded belt. She had also found a night blue tee decorated with small light gold jewels in a swirling pattern. To top it off she had put on a comfortable, worn out black jacket that fit Laila’s petite but muscled shoulders perfectly. The years of ballet had built her well. Then she splashed some water on her face from the basin and proceeded to comb out her long dark hair and carefully braid it to the side like her mother had used to long ago. With a serious face Laila turned and slowly walked to the door.

The house was quite old fashioned. Laila quickly found a room with a glossy grand piano and another with chestnut shelves filled with strange, ancient books. Of course, all the halls and room had great velvet curtains draped over the towering windows leaving everything in constant darkness except for the dim light from the flickering candles. Laila was used to this from her own home though and didn’t mind as seeing in the dark was like second nature. Laila felt, after such a long time, a happy and excited feeling rise up inside her. She finally remembered how much she had missed that.

Suddenly footsteps echoed in the hallway and a second later a group of people stepped into the room. Laila turned, surprised as she had not seen anyone else except Sophia and Magie. She gasped as her eyes flicked over their faces. They were beautiful, their soft skin the same unnatural but appealing pale white color. Their eyes glowing of intelligence and grace. Some were men and some women but Laila observed that there were a few children in the astounding group as well. She saw the powerful figures under the nearly matching combat gear everybody was wearing. Their presence was almost overpowering for Laila. They were speaking so fast that Laila’s overwhelmed mind couldn’t pick out the individual words, it was just too much. They held themselves in a graceful manner, slowly coming closer and closer to where Laila sat.

Suddenly, one of them looked at her and called out to the others. They all turned their intense gaze on her, and then the room fell silent. Laila returned it coolly, trying to remain calm. After a moment one of them spoke, “So this is the chosen one hmm? Well she does have quite the aurora. We have heard a lot about you Laila Mandrake.” Laila looked at them, eyebrows pulled together in thought. Then a strangely familiar voice spoke out amidst the vampire’s. “Well she does smell absolutely succulent. It’s a shame we cannot even try even a bit of blood.” Another voice spoke up as the familiar speaker of the voice stepped through the crowd. “Now, now. Stop teasing Nickolia.”

Laila’s blood had turned cold. The same smile played across the lips of the boy from her test. “You…” she snarled, her face twisted into a vicious mask. A second later Laila had reached Nickolia and twisted her legs up kicking him square in the stomach. Nickolia’s handsome features were raised in surprise as he crashed into a nearby lamp.

A moment later, with lightning fast speed, Laila landed a blow to Nickolia’s jaw. Her fist throbbed and grew numb with searing pain but Laila ignored it. The explanation came to her quickly, vampires must have iron-like skin as well. The other vampire’s stood in shock as Laila delivered punch after punch, each perfectly calculated and full of intense power. When Nickolia finally regained his senses, he started to block her punches with ease. Soon, he was overtaking her speed and was nothing but a blur. Too strong… Laila though as he pushed her closer and closer to the wall. His fighting was advanced and elegant in its unique way. It seemed to come naturally to him and soon he had pinned her to the amber walls.

“And what do you think you are doing little human,” he murmured in her ear. The sharp scent of mint rose off him and filled her nose with its delicious, strong scent. I cannot be drawn in. Laila thought as she continued pushing under his strength. He stared at her with a strange look on his face. “But you are quite powerful for someone who has never fought before.” Laila knew she was losing herself to his dazzling beauty. “No…” she cried weakly but it was no use. He was too strong.

“That’s enough Nickolia. I’m sorry you had to go through that. I forgot to tell her.” Magie’s familiar calm voice announced from the corner of the room. Nickolia suddenly turned slowly pulling away from Laila. In a flash, Magie had crossed the room and was now holding Laila. Her face was worried and apologetic, but her eyes still gleamed.

“I’m really sorry. This is all my fault. I forgot to tell you I used vampires from my memory to use in the tests. Nickolia was one of them. Let me introduce you to the pure ones. This is our elite group coming back from a mission. They are the ones who have been supporting human kind for over many years. They all have been looking for the chosen one for a long time. We all have been waiting a long time for you Laila.”

Laila managed to nod, but her mind was still focused on Nickolia’s handsome features.

“Laila!” Magie let out an exasperated sigh and stepped forward, her eyes scolding Laila with unsaid words. “I took the amulet away from you while you had your nap. I thought that you might have not needed it anymore, but I guess I was wrong,” Magie continued. For the first time, Laila saw disappointment wash over her friends features.

From her pocket, Magie took out the ruby heart amulet and handed it over to Laila with a delicate hand. When Laila didn’t move, Magie’s features creased momentarily in a glower. “I know it will be a mark of shame, but you need it,” She said firmly, stepping forward and delicately placing it around Laila’s neck.

Almost immediately, Laila felt her mind clear and the impact of Magie’s upset words hit her full on. A rush of heat overtook her cheeks and Laila lowered her head in shame, breaking the eye contact with Nickolia.

“Sorry,” she muttered, still wary of the boy even though Magie had promised he was good.

“Come now, cheer up!” Magie exclaimed, her attitude rising back to normal, “Nickolia will be your new teacher!”

Abruptly, Laila’s head snapped upwards, anger flaring in her eyes, “Him!?” She almost shouted, her fists clenching at her sides. It took a few moments for her to realize that everyone was now staring at her, and slowly she calmed herself, realizing her mistake. “I-i mean, what about you? Aren’t you my teacher?” She asked, correcting herself quickly.

Magie let out a brilliant smile and exchanged a knowing smile with Nickolia. “Oh yes, I’m your teacher,” she said, “but Nickolia will be your fighting teacher!”

“But why?” Laila protested, her dignity not allowing her to give in. There was no way she wanted to fight with a boy who had subdued her so easily!

Instead of answering, Magie gracefully dipped her head in Nickolia’s direction. “You may take her to the sparring ring immediately,” she stated softly. Then, raising one arm she motioned to the other vampire’s to follow each other. “We will assign each of you an area of teaching for Laila depending on your special talents,” she announced. Slowly, her voice faded away as she and the other vampire’s left, walking briskly down the hallway.

“Let’s go.” Nickolia’s face had turned serious and his green eyes were dark with the prospect of having to teach what seemed like a futile student.

Laila gave a sharp nod of her head, and waited for him to fully turn away before starting after him. In her mind she ran over the moves he had used, trying to figure out how he had managed to do it all so fast.

Laila followed Nickolia through countless hallways and adjacent rooms. She carefully observed where they went and created a small map in her head. After the twenty-second hallway she had given up. She felt drained from energy. The fight from before had eaten away on her stamina, he had never fought that way before. Laila felt as if it hadn’t been her, but something wild inside her had been released. She scowled at the back of Nickolia’s head curing that he had to be the one who was going to teach her how to fight. Geez, Magie, why was it him who had to be in the test. I feel the urge to rip off his head. Thank you very much. She thought to herself as they ducked through another maple doorway. Laila took a deep breath to calm her thumping heart but her muscles still felt sore and strained. Nickolia had said nothing to her yet and she just felt relieved. With determined heart she followed Nickolia with clenched fists.

Laila didn’t know how long they had been walking but she felt as if they were only going in circles. None of them had exchanged a word, nor had Nickolia even looked at her. Laila felt anger boil in her as she looked at his dark hair slowly sway back and forth in a steady rhythm. She wasn’t even the slightest bit pulled into his beauty anymore because malicious thoughts blinded her eyes. After what seemed like eternity she had begun to hate his back. Laila pressed her eyes shut so she didn’t have to look at him. It was no problem for her as it was much like walking in the darkness. She heard his graceful steps thud before her. By now Laila felt so tired she wanted to just collapse. How big is this house anyway? Where are we going? Why doesn’t he even acknowledge me? She thought to herself as they continued on. An image of her mother suddenly slipped in her mind. I wonder how she is doing… How can I protect her if this stupid vampire won’t even talk to me. I haven’t thought about home in a long time… Now that I think about it, I really miss my normal life…

Laila didn’t perceive that the echoed steps in front of her had stopped, and so she crashed into Nickolia’s back with a loud thud. “Aaack!” she exclaimed as she lost her footing and started falling backwards. Quick as a flash Nickolia had gathered her in his strong arms. Laila shivered as she felt his icy skin on her shoulder. Now she was staring straight into his glittering eyes. A smirk covered his beautiful face. “Are you really the chosen one? You seem a bit of a daydreamer. Is Magie sure you are the right one?” He said in a mocking tone.

Laila’s cheeks flushed red in anger and she pulled herself up pushing him away in the process. She forced herself to not lash out at him but brushed herself off and looked at him darkly. With a small chuckle he opened the door and walked through. A second later Laila was in the room that stretched out in front of her. The floors were filled with double padding and high status equipment for different fighting sports lined the walls. She saw a glass door leading into a gym and another leading into the baths and lockers. Everything looked expensive and in top shape. Nickolia had positioned himself in the middle of the rink and thrown his large black jacket aside. He was wearing a low neck cotton black shirt and combat pants. His white skin stood out even more. Laila gulped as she saw his toned body. His stance was perfectly composed and ready.

“I’m impressed with what you did before, but that was probably just your inner vampire. That will not save you every time you fight. Let’s just see what you really can do.” He said with a smile, an evil glint in his eyes. “Let us begin.”

Staring at Nickolia, Laila stepped forward onto the blue mat that coated the floor of the ring and tossed aside her own jacket.

Nickolia drew his upper lip back, revealing his fangs. They glinted white and pristine in the light of the room.

“Any rules on fighting?” Laila asked quietly, unsure what to do. Glancing around her nervously she tried to copy Nickolia’s stance. A few seconds passed before she tipped sideways, and unable to keep herself from falling she crashed to the floor. Oh God… She thought to herself as she pulled herself back to her feet. Embarrassment made her cheeks flush red and she refused to look at Nickolia.

“One of the rules would be not to defeat yourself.” Nickolia sneered aloud, stalking closer with a natural alert ease.

“Let’s just get this over with,” Laila mumbled under her breath, finally raising her dark eyes so that she could watch what he was doing.

“Very well.” Nickolia said, suddenly stopping. Very slowly he lowered himself back into his ready stance, a goading smile on his face.

Laila desperately searched for any ways to beat him, but her mind ran blank as his eyes locked onto hers.

“To chicken, are you?” Nickolia jeered, starting to move around her. Laila spun in a slow circle to keep him in sight.

“Am not.” She growled forcefully, but she kept her feet firmly on the mat.

Nickolia paused momentarily before saying, “Yes, you’re scared. You’re scared that you’ll turn out just like your mother.”

Laila’s mind froze, and she gaped at Nickolia. “How do you know of my mother!?” She demanded angrily.

“Tsk tsk,” Nickolia tutted under his breath, a smile on his face.

“Jerk!” Laila screamed, what did he know about her mother!? He knew nothing! Laila darted forwards with inhuman speed—but Nickolia, being full-vampire, was faster. Before Laila could so much as comprehend what he was doing, he darted to the side and had slammed a hand down on her back. She bit her tongue against the pain that shot up her spine and collapsed to the ground. Knowing that once she was down she didn’t stand much chance, Laila desperately tried to struggle back to her feet. She got to her knees when a sharp blow hit the side of her head, knocking her back down. The world blurred before her eyes momentarily and black dots laced her vision. Pain ricocheted up her back as Nickolia placed a delicate foot on top of her, but she barely felt it. A throbbing had started up in her head, blocking out any sound that was coming from the world. She could faintly see Nickolia’s mouth moving, his features set in a bored expression.

I hope that he kills me, at least then he might feel bad after. She thought bitterly. A few moments of blissful silence passed before she saw Nickolia leaning forward. His hand brushed against her cheek before traveling up to her temple. As soon as his light fingers touched her temple in which he had hit, a fresh wave of pain washed over Laila. She struggled against the agony but her will failed her and she slipped into darkness.

. . . .

A sharp stinging sensation ripped Laila out of her peaceful slumber. With a low moan she tried to pry her eyes open. A soft voice shushed her back onto the bed.

“Calm down Laila. It’s just me. It will sting for a bit, just try to relax and don’t open your eyes,” whispered a voice next to her right ear. Laila twitched and bit her cracked lips. She felt as Magie’s soft hands brushed against her cheek. Then slowly the stinging started to fade away as quickly as it had come. Laila carefully opened her eyes. At first the world was covered it black dots, but then suddenly Laila was looking into Magie’s deep magenta eyes. She let out a little gasp and her hand flew up to her chest, where it met the smooth gold of the encased ruby. Immediately, her body relaxed her fear of being left unprotected melting away as quickly as it had come.

“Are you strong enough to stand?” Magie asked quietly, pulling back so that Laila had more room to move around. The bed shifted as Magie got off and went to stand by the new door that had been placed in the room.

With a spinning head Laila slowly lifted her limp body from the bed. Every muscle in her body was on fire and Laila let out a little cry. Slowly Magie turned around and looked at her sad eyes. “I know it hurts dear, I know. Just a little more, okay? You can trust me.”

Laila gritted her teeth and dragged herself over to Magie, breathing hard and clenching her fists at her sides.

“All I can do is postpone any physical lessons for the rest of the day,” Magie said helplessly, “but I have to continue to teach you.” Her eyes were pleading with her to understand, “you are our only hope. You descend from the great Gwendolyn.”

“Then I’ll do mental exercises.” Laila forced out, her dark eyes flaring with determination. Her body was beaten and bruised, and she was struggling to walk, but her mind was alert.

Magie placed one hand on Laila’s shoulder, and the scent of fresh, comforting lavender swept over Laila, dulling the sensation of pain in her tired muscles. “Be strong,” Magie murmured, before her fingers trailed down to toy with the amulets chain. “Are you ready?” She asked, meeting Laila’s eyes.

Laila took a deep breath and nodded. She watched as Magie gently lifted off her protection that already felt as if it was a part of her. When cold air filled the space it had rested on her chest, Laila let her eyes drift to the floor where she didn’t have to look upon that torturous beautiful face.

“Laila.” Magie’s voice was so quiet that it seemed like a whisper of the wind. It had a slight, enticing lilt to it that invited Laila to look at who was speaking. Laila couldn’t help herself, she let her eyes snap up to Magie’s face.

It was almost heart-stopping how beautiful Magie was. With her skin as pale as snow, and her lips a full, rich red. Her fierce magenta eyes hiding a tint of crimson that Laila hadn’t noticed before. She had milky white cheeks and high cheekbones that gave her the appearance of a Greek Goddess.

Magie flashed Laila a smile, revealing two pearly white canines that were sharpened into tiny points.  The best part was the openness that Magie radiated. It gave Laila the feeling that she belonged, that she had always been missing half of herself, and now Magie filled that place.

Laila took a step toward this exquisite being and held out a hand, as if expecting to pass right through her. She was too beautiful to be real. Yet her hand met Magie’s cool arm and Laila realized that this was no dream.

Magie’s face suddenly crossed with annoyance and she lifted chin and turned away from Laila, letting her silvery hair block her face from view.

“Get a grip on yourself Laila.” Came her light voice, except it was ridden with frustration. “You know what I am. You know what I am capable of if I’m allowed. Don’t let me it.”

Laila found that she could fight of Magie’s voice when she was not staring straight at her, and although her eyes lingered more than normal on her teacher’s slim figure, she managed to get a grip on her mind.

“Let me try again.” She pleaded after a few moments, her voice shaking slightly. She was scared at how easily her mind had been ensnared, but she knew she had to keep trying. Hanzi wasn’t like Magie. He would kill her the first chance he got.

“Alright.” Magie turned back around slower this time, her eyes watching Laila through long, dark eyelashes.

“I-I uh,” Laila found herself at a loss of words, she knew she had been going to say something, but suddenly she couldn’t remember what it was. It was as if someone had erased her thoughts, feelings, and even her memories. And a human is only what their memories make them. Laila was nothing now. Her only memory of first meeting this being, this vampire. And her big, dark eyes… Yet, there was something in the back of her mind. Something itching to be remembered and noticed. It was calling out to her– it was something important. For some reason, Laila could not figure out what it was, she simply could not call to mind that desperate thought that was crying out to her…

“You would be dead again.” Magie sighed, holding out the amulet to Laila and pressing it against her forehead. Immediately, Laila felt a rush of thoughts and emotions flood her, as if they had been waiting behind a dam that had just broke. Angry with herself, Laila glared at the wall. Why couldn’t she remember? Why was it that every time she tried to protect herself, her mind was wiped clean like a whiteboard easily erased. Was her life so insignificant that it left no imprint on her?

“Laila, it’s not your fault.” Magie’s soft voice interrupted Laila’s furious thoughts, soothing her and restoring order to her chaotic brain. “Now let’s do it again.”

Laila didn’t have time to protest before Magie removed the amulet from contact with her skin, and she was alone in the midst of mental battle once again.

“Magie.” Laila managed to get out, but her voice held none of the anger she felt. A different sensation rushed through her this time. Solid, thick feelings that built a box around Laila and pushed her back, trapping her in a cage in the darkest corner of her mind. Laila tried to fight it, but it was no use. She could only watch as her hand moved forward again, stroking Magie’s smooth, pale skin. She could sense the other thoughts, the thoughts that filled her empty brain. Only a few minutes before she had felt those, and acted upon those thoughts that were based upon Magie’s beauty, but now she realized what they truly were. They were fake thoughts and feelings, implanted like a seed in her brain by her enemy– no, by Magie. Laila had to struggle to remember that Magie truly wasn’t trying to hurt her, just teach, but it was hard when anger and helplessness were mixing together forming a rage of emotions.

Laila suddenly was shoved back into her own body, her real mind swelling to fill the place of the imposter thoughts. Without thinking, Laila lashed out with one fist, aiming straight for Magie’s perfect face, but before it reached it an iron grip stopped her. One of Magie’s hands was clenched around her wrist, freezing her entire arm in place with seemingly no effort.

“I broke free?” Laila inquired, gasping loudly, trying to cool the fiery anger that had risen up from deep within her.

Magie inclined her head to her other hand, which was holding the amulet to Laila’s stomach.

“Oh, so it was the amulet.” Laila growled, feeling disappointment course through her.

“But I know why you punched me. Because this time you didn’t think the fake thoughts were your own. You could understand what was happening but could do nothing to fight it.” Magie murmured, her eyes gentle. “Now let’s just do it a few more times. You’re learning fast.” Laila looked at Magie’s amiable face and smiled, new confidence surging through her. Magie nodded and slowly removed the amulet from Laila’s stomach. Very quickly Laila felt the strange sensation that her mind was being pushed back by an icy darkness in her head. Laila struggled to contain herself, but noticed that she was starting to lose control. The strange mist fogged her mind once again and she felt as if she was seeing herself in a dream. I need to get a grip! Remember Laila, remember, Laila thought to herself as she was being pushed more forcefully into the edge of her consciousness. She felt so helpless, only able to float around as her body was being taken over. She felt as if she was falling into an endless pit, forever falling down into nothingness.

No…. I will not give up…. I will never…… Then suddenly she was snapped back into her body aware of everything around her. She looked down and saw that she was grasping Magie’s thin wrist. Laila looked up with questioning eyes. Magie gave her a small smile and Laila felt a surge of happiness for that small accomplishment. At least she had done something right. Then Magie turned serious once again, eyes darkening a little as she glanced at the amulet that she had placed into Laila’s palm. “Oh, right….” said Laila a little dejected. Magie then placed her cool hand on Laila’s forehead, wiping away the small droplets of sweat.

“Laila, you did that before I put your amulet there. Even though you might not have totally broken free, your body still reacted to you. That alone is an amazing feat,” she murmured, drawing back her hand. Laila clenched her fists, she didn’t like feeling so helpless.

“I want to try again. I want to do it until I can break free” whispered Laila. Magie slowly squeezed Laila’s shoulder. “Are you sure? Even though it is all a mental battle, it is as hard and maybe even harder than fighting with Nickolia. It may become too much for you to handle, but in the end it’s your choice.”

“I said I want to try again. I know I can do it.” Laila answered, she felt her heartbeat echo in her ears. I know I can do this. I will be able to break free, she thought as Magie took a step away from her. The pressure of the amulet on her arm was taken away and Laila knew she was vulnerable now. With a deep breath, Laila looked up, ready for the wave of confusion to pass through her. Their eyes met, and Laila suddenly stumbled to the side. Everything became fuzzy as her mind fought against the utter brilliance of Magie. Laila knew she was losing herself. Thoughts that weren’t hers crowded her mind. Desperately, Laila pushed against the mist. But Laila knew that there was no hope, she was too tired. Too weak…

Laughter reached Laila’s ears through the fog and she looked through her glassy eyes to see Nickolia, sneering down at her. He must have entered the room during this last attempt. She couldn’t hear anything but his laughter over and over in her head, but his mouth was forming other words. She didn’t need to hear his voice to know what he was saying. Weakling. Useless. Human…

A burst of rage shot through Laila, clearing her mind almost immediately. Everything snapped back into focus, and not even noticing how the light danced off his handsome face, Laila lunged forward and spun her leg upwards, slamming her foot straight into Nickolia’s stomach.

“What did you call me!?” She screamed, her hair swishing around her in tangled knots.

Nickolia groaned and cluthed his stomach, bending over at the waist.

Laila raised her arm, knowing that her inner vampire had been awoken. She felt powerful. Strong. Unbeatable. She wasn’t going to let this puny vampire insult her. He deserved to feel what pain felt like. She’d suffered so much already it was his turn to share in it. It was his turn to feel pain.

“Laila.” A soft voice jerked her out of her thoughts, and Laila spun around to face this other offender who she was just as ready to punch. She came face to face with Magie’s searching gaze. “You broke free. Strong emotions must help you.” She glanced down at Nickolia’s hunched figure. “Oh get up. Can’t take a kick?”

Nickolia’s eyes flashed crimson, and the heated scent of mint burst through the sweaty stench of the room. Magie took no notice and strode out of the room purposefully, calling over her shoulder. “Rest now Laila and if Nickolia doesn’t leave give me a shout.”

Laila regarded Nickolia warily, before making her way to her bed, almost collapsing on it with exhaustion. When she opened her eyes, she found that Nickolia was now on his feet, approaching her bed with stealthy silence, his face sent into a grim expression. Laila looked at him through skeptical eyes, and reached over to the desk by her bed, grabbing the ruby amulet that she had noticed Magie had put down on it. She clutched it tight, silent fury bubbling up inside of her, but she was too tired to do anything but glare. Her inner beast had sapped her of all the energy she had just a few mere seconds ago. Then, suddenly, his beautiful face was right in front of her.

“That was not a good idea.” he hissed and before Laila even knew what was happening she felt as something hit her hard across the face. Laila crumpled back onto the bed, pain ricocheting outwards from her left eye. But only when she heard the door slam shut behind Nickolia did she lift one hand to feel her throbbing eye. It felt warm and swollen to the touch, already seeming to pulse. She winced, even though her fingers had only lightly brushed the wound. She knew that would make a mark. Yet she didn’t want to call Magie. This was something she had to do on her own, she had to learn to protect herself. Although she might not tell anyone, that didn’t mean she wouldn’t get revenge. Anger boiled in her at the prospect of being hit by someone as lowly and filthy as Nickolia. Oh yes, she would get her revenge. All in good time…

Chapter 6

The last warm rays of the setting sun gently stroked Laila’s bloated cheek. It hadn’t taken long for it to transform into an angry purple bruise, a bruise that would evoke a deep and unforgettable wrath every time she could manage to look at herself in a mirror. An anger so great and powerful, she sometimes feared that it would swallow her whole. That it, the beast, residing deep inside her consciousness, would take over the weak and sentimental human being for good. But Laila had known that that would also mean giving up. Giving up to herself, to what she was really fighting for. Humanity, for all it was, including its strengths and many, many flaws. But even for Laila, who had always loved the sense of being wrapped up in the inky darkness of midnight, enjoyed times like these. Times where she could shed her wary and distrustful skin and open up to the world around her. Let the light envelope her huddled form. Let herself be swept away by light dreams, dreams of the distant past. A memory obscured by a dark, swirling form, far far away…..

Her eye snapped open as she sensed a small vibrations reverberating throughout old oak floorboards. Somebody was coming. That sense of peace was now long gone, replaced by the inevitable and persistent fear, that little voice speaking from within, warning her as the vibrations became stronger and stronger. Laila glanced at the one last time longingly through the stained glass panels of the ivory window frame. Then in one swift motion, she had gotten up to face the new, glossy wood door.

The doorknob turned slowly, tentatively, then the door swung open. Magie stood in the doorway, face pleasant until she registered Laila’s face.

“What the-!?”

Laila remained silent, casting her eyes downwards.

“When I see him again I swear I will –“ Magie’s visage was contorted in motherly rage. They both knew who she was talking about.

Laila reached out one hand and cupped Magie’s clenched fist. She smiled reassuringly as she spoke, wincing slightly at the fresh pain the movement caused.

“I don’t need you to beat him up for me Magie. I want you to teach me how to overpower him.”

Magie let out a long, slow exhale, eyes shut. When she opened them again, her face was composed. “Alright, get dressed.”

As Magie turned to leave the room Laila nodded her head in thanks. She knew Magie couldn’t see it, but it made her feel better all the same. She had to learn to control her emotions better, whether that was gratitude or anger. Otherwise, she was just an open book, and then her opponents would know all her weaknesses.

After a few minutes, Laila was standing front of the mirror. She was dressed in all-black clothes – it was best not to stand out in a place like this. Pleased with her appearance, except her swollen eye, she turned back to the door. Magie hadn’t told her what was going to happen now: was she supposed to go to bed? Train more? Surprisingly, Laila didn’t feel that tired. It seemed a waste to ignore her unusual energy and go to bed, so Laila approached her door and placed one hand on the cool doorknob. Once she was certain that no one was outside, she opened it a crack and looked around. The hallway was empty, the wood paneling leading down into darkness that even her special eyes could not penetrate. Self-consciously, Laila’s hand flicked up to her neck, checking to make sure the amulet was there. It was. Lying peacefully on her neck, radiating protection.

Gathering herself, Laila lifted her chin and stepped into the hallway. This was where she’d been training, she had a right to wander. So then why did it feel like she was doing something wrong?

Placing one hand on the wall, Laila began down the hallway. No vampire jumped out at her, no Nickolia’s fist curved out of the darkness, no Hanzi apparated from the shadows. The first thing Laila noticed was the scent of lavender, and when she turned to track the familiar scent, she found herself facing a deep chestnut-colored door. A tiny amount of light had escaped through the side of the door, and so Laila pressed her ear up against it.

“This isn’t good.” It was Magie’s voice, pure as ever, yet it held something Laila had not heard before. Fear.

“I know. He’s getting closer. Vampires are dying trying to keep him away.” A deep voice replied. Laila had not heard this voice before and was tempted to look to see who it was, but didn’t want to risk missing any of the conversation.

“And humans too. Anyone in his way…”

There was a brief silence before the man replied again. “Laila isn’t that old. She’s only 16, maybe we should not be putting her in this danger. Magie, think about this.”

“You know you are trying to convince yourself of the impossible. She needs to be trained as fast as possible, she’s our only hope.” Sadness tainted Magie’s words, but there was an iron determination that lined her tone.

“I know,” The man sighed, “I just wish we didn’t have to rush her into all of this. She could easily be so easily killed at the moment.” Silence ensued after that and Laila pulled back from the door. They’d be coming out any moment now. She had to leave. But her mind was spinning wildly, she couldn’t grasp what she had heard. She was in danger? But she’d felt so safe by these deadly vampires sides. She’d thought nothing could get by them. And all those lives, of vampires and bewildered, innocent humans, lost, all because Hanzi just wanted to get to her? What could Hanzi want with her?

Laila closed her eyes, hoping that they wouldn’t hear the rapid beating of her heart. Please don’t come this way. Please, please…….. she thought to herself as she leaned back against the cool wall. She held her breath as the door creaked open and two shadows emerged. There was a moment of tense silence, before she heard footsteps echo down the hallway in the opposite direction. Then everything was quiet, and Laila let out a sigh of relief.

“What do you think you are doing here?” A voice had appeared right next to Laila’s ear, causing her leap in surprise, arms flinging up into a defensive position. Magie was staring at her, eyebrows raised and perfect lips a straight line. Her expression was hard to read, but Laila thought that she could detect a little anger – ignoring it, she let out a sigh of relief.

“Oh Magie, you scared me!” Laila breathed, lowering her arms. In a flash, Magie had grabbed her chin and yanked her head upwards.

“Do you really have nothing better to do than eavesdrop? If you are that bored, then come with me,” she hissed. Once again the mothering Magie had disappeared, replaced with this seething pool of anger. It reminded Laila of how she sometimes felt on the inside, a beast of rage lurking just beneath the surface. Unable to stop herself from trembling, Laila swallowed slowly. After a terrifying moment had passed, Magie let go of Laila’s chin. Then the anger was gone, and in its place a downcast expression. “I’m sorry Laila, I’m not having a very good day.”

Laila didn’t reply, only stared at Magie, fear still lurking in the depths of her eyes. She watched as Magie turned away and started down the hall, and she forced herself to follow. Never had she been so frightened of Magie.

“It’s time for your lesson on outdoor survival.” Magie started talking as they walked down the dark hallway, as if nothing strange had occurred between them. “I must remind you though, do not disrespect your teacher, despite her looks.”

Laila eyed the door all the way at the back of hall that they were approaching, what would be waiting for her behind it? Was the teacher horribly disfigured? As they neared the exit, Laila found herself growing more frightened. Sometimes she forgot that Magie was still a vampire, with the ability to crush Laila at a moments notice.

“Laila, hurry up. I have a meeting to go to. Just follow the trail.” Magie was annoyed once again, Laila hadn’t even realized they’d reached the door. Nodding meekly, Laila made to open the door.

“Oh, and Laila…“ Laila looked back over her shoulder to meet Magie’s hard gaze. “Whatever you do – don’t stray from the path.”

With Magie’s words echoing in her head, Laila opened the door and stepped out.

Chapter 7

What lay behind the door was just like everything else Laila had already seen. Beautiful, stunning, exquisite. Laila closed the door behind her slowly, taking in the majestic forest that she had walked into. It was so unlike the bare rocky cliff that she had jumped off of with the handgilder. There was a slight humidity to the air that enveloped Laila in its sticky embrace, bringing with it the delicious, earthy smells of the world around her. Birds twittered in the tall redwood trees around her, ferns brushed against her ankles, and dying sunlight filtered from the sky above, the leaves making it scatter in an enchanting pattern across the dirt ground before her. A pathway had been cleared of foliage, so that one could see the moist, rich soil that nurtured the plants to life. Laila took a step forward on it tentatively. She tried to peer ahead to see where it led but it only showed a few meters before it swerved off to the side, disappearing from her view behind a blanket of leaves and bushes.

“Great,” Laila muttered, lifting one hand to touch a fuzzy green leaf that was dangling just above her head. It was delicate and pristine, holding a sense of inner glory that just made Laila feel happy on the inside, just like everything else. But Laila knew what this meant, and dread grew inside her. She was sure that just like vampires, this outer coating of artistry was only hiding something dark and dangerous within.

A rustle came from one of the bushes next to her, and Laila jumped. A second later a clicking started filling the air. Laila didn’t stall, she was almost certain that this forest was not what it seemed. She raced forwards, hurriedly making her way down the small path as quickly as possible. She needed to find her teacher, she’d keep her safe from whatever animals lurked within here.

Maggie’s words echoed in her ears as she stumbled over the gnarled roots that wound along the earth. Stay on the path. Stay on the path, Laila thought to herself as leaves whipped her from above, seeming to come out of nowhere. By now the clicking had become unbearably loud, ringing in her ears and driving her into insanity, but she kept on running. Her arms and legs had lost feeling but Laila’s senses had kicked in. The dirt she had kicked up while running stung her eyes and she started coughing. Her vision became a tunnel, but still she stumbled on, her body reacting on its own.

Laila staggered into a small meadow, daisies and honeysuckle speckled across the ivy green grass. She gasped, twisting around in circles ready for the attack, but it never came. The clicking noise had subsided and all she heard was the wind blowing over the meadow, making the grasses dance. Laila was frozen to the spot, eyes jerking from side to side, unsure of what had just happened. With slow cautious steps she made her way to the middle of the meadow, feeling finally coming back into her arms and legs. Laila’s eye had started to throb again and even though she saw no threat, she felt like something was wrong. Laila frowned – a faint smell of vanilla was carried on wind. She barely had time to wonder where it was coming from before a shadow leapt from behind one of the trees.

Instinctively, Laila flattened herself to the ground, and her opponent flew over her. They seemed rather small, but nimble, they had already begun turning in the air to face her. Scrambling back to her feet, Laila tried to remember how Nickolia fought. She had to be him in this moment – but now she could no longer see her attacker. They were gone.

Laila’s feet suddenly went flying out from beneath her. She toppled over, face slamming against the ground sending a sharp stab of pain through her swollen eye. A second later, Laila felt two legs straddle her from above. She had no chance now, her attacker’s breath was on the back of her neck, they had pinned her to the ground. An overwhelming odor of vanilla now filled Laila’s nose, and she gasped for breath, feeling like she was choking.

A tinkling laugh came from above. “A few good reactions – maybe you aren’t as bad as the rumors say. Gotta lot of work ahead of us though.” The voice was high-pitched, almost light a little girls. Realizing that this was her teacher, Laila let out a low grunt.

“Get off of me.”

Almost instantly the weight was lifted off of her back and Laila pushed herself to her feet, whipping around to face the other person as she did so. What greeted her eyes was not a woman, but a girl. Two sapphire eyes peered out at her from tangled locks of gold hair. The girl couldn’t be much older than 7.

You’re my teacher?” Laila’s eyebrows raised incredulously.  The girl didn’t even have shoes on, and her bare feet were splattered with mud.

A frown momentarily flashed across the girl’s face. “I’m older than 100 years,” she stated simply.

Laila gaped at her, trying to search her angelic face for a sign of a joke. Yet no, this girl with two blond ponytails, about 4 feet tall and in blue overalls was dead serious.

“Well, let’s get started,” the girl stated briskly, holding out one tiny hand in a professional manner. “I’m Elizabeth but I’ve had many different names in the past. Some of which are much older than my current one. A few of them were: Alice, Beatrice, Clara, Edith, Esther, Evelyn, one of my favorites, Florence, Hazel, June, Lillian, Mae, Doris, Ethel, and Bertha. Oh, but you can call me Eliza.”

“I-uh,” it was all Laila could do to reach out her own hand and clasp the girl’s smaller hand in her own. “I’m Laila…”

“Oh Laila.” The girl gave a heartbroken sigh, staring sadly up at her. “You just made your first mistake.” A smile creeped up her face, “You trusted a stranger.”

Before she knew what was happening, Eliza tugged hard on her arm and Laila felt her feet lift off of the ground. Instinctively, she curled her body into a tight ball as she flew through the air, a scream erupting from her mouth. With a loud thump, she hit the trunk of nearby tree and slid to the ground, her face alighting with pain once more from the impact.

“You’ll never survive in the wild if you accept things that merely look truthful.” Eliza giggled, her face radiating joy. “The first lesson is always the best!”

As Laila climbed unsteadily to her feet, she realized that the girl was smiling cheekily at her. “I guess that was your light throw, wasn’t it?” Laila groaned, finding herself laughing slightly at herself. It didn’t hurt too much now that she stood up, for she saw that Eliza had planned the trajectory exactly so that when she fell she would land in a natural heap of moss that had been placed there earlier.

“Oh, and another thing. Always pay attention to your surroundings. They can give you a clue as to what will happen.” The girl added devilishly, seeing Laila looking at the moss.

Laila rolled her eyes and pushed herself off the tree, taking a few steps towards the excited girl. Something about her just made Laila smile. It was like she had the personality of a tricky, devilish kid and a strict teacher all at once.

“Well I think it is about time to start the real lesson” Eliza said spinning around, pigtails flying. “Well come on then. We should not be wasting time.”

Laila shook her head baffled and followed Eliza into the woods. After a while, Eliza started humming to herself. What a strange vampire, so different from the others, Laila thought to herself as she looked around. What am I going to do anyway? I wonder what she will teach me. After a while Eliza stopped.   Laila had been so concentrated in diligently watching everything around her that she ran into her.

“What? Are we here?” Laila said confused. Eliza kept her back to Laila, not saying a word. “Hello? Is something wrong?” Without any warning, Eliza suddenly spun around and flew at Laila. Laila fell backwards and flaying her arms wildly. Just before Eliza’s hands closed around her neck, Eliza pulled back, retreating to her non-threatening, innocent stance that she’d been in a moment before.

“Didn’t I tell you Laila? You should always be ready and alert. You never know when somebody could attack you. Even if it is your teacher. In the world of vampires, everybody is your enemy.” Eliza said calmly, inspecting the back of her pale hand with interest. “Laila you have to understand this. Vampires are a very difficult and tricky race. Some of the more powerful ones can even control their own kind, so you always have to stay in your right mind.”

Laila nodded, her cheeks blushing crimson with shame. She should have known better than to let her guard down with Eliza.

“Come now, I want you to make a fire.” Eliza smiled at Laila and motioned at the damp ground beneath their feet.

“Yeah, sorry, I didn’t bring any matches.” Laila mumbled, wondering why Magie hadn’t warned her that she would need them. The sharp, joyful laughter of the girl jerked her out of her murky thoughts and she glanced up at Eliza in surprise.

“Not with matches!” The bright-eyed girl exclaimed with glee, her ponytails bobbing up and down as she giggled. “With the utensils at your disposal in this beautiful forest!”

Laila gazed astonished at the wet wood around her. “But it must have been raining earlier!” She protested. This was completely unfair. Never in her life before had she been asked to make a fire in the middle of a wet forest. How was she supposed to figure this out?
“Fine Laila, have it your way. We’ll start with the game first, you can learn on the way,” Eliza said, grinning cheekily. “I’m going to leave you now. You must make a fire, find edible food and shelter, all while avoiding me–” she let out a low chuckle, “who will be hunting you like I hunt my prey.”

“Wait, what!?” Laila exclaimed, astounded at the prospect of having to sneak around a forest she didn’t know and try and accomplish things she hadn’t tried before.

It was pointless though, her words fell on no ears, for Eliza had already disappeared behind the green foliage to the right, calling back only to say, “I’ll go to the left for 10 minutes. When that time is up I expect you to be long gone from here, for I’ll be back here first thing to track you down…”

When the last sounds of Eliza’s movement faded, Laila kicked at the ground angrily. How was she supposed to do this? Most likely she’d be dead by the time Eliza found her. This wasn’t funny. She just felt like screaming. Everyone expected so much from her, and now she knew that Hanzi was coming for her, he’d be here any day now and she wouldn’t have any power to help defeat him.

“Something always brings me back to you,” Laila murmured the line of song that she’d loved a few weeks ago. Its line was so true now. Everything always related back to Hanzi. Thinking of the song made the familiar beat start up in her head again. She’d thought of it and sung it so many times before all of this had happened. After ballet she’d normally sit by that rotting fence as sing softly a few lines, letting its melody wash over her and bring her strength that she needed. “It never takes too long. No matter what I say or do I’ll still feel you here ’til the moment I’m gone.” Laila started to walk forwards, drawing upon the memories that the song held for her. She could do this. She just needed to focus. “You hold me without a touch. You keep me without chains. I never wanted anything so much than to drown in your love and not feel your rain.”

Laila started to laugh as she picked up the pace, letting the leaves whip against her face as she ducked under branches and leaped over fallen trees. Hanzi would never feel love. That’s what was making her laugh. She couldn’t ever love someone like him, and that’s when she knew that the love she still felt for him was false. Her heart had told her it was false before, but her influenced mind had remained steadfast. Now though– now it was different. She, Laila Mandrake, was the ones with the feelings and the emotions, she was the one with true power. Hanzi would never feel love and would never cry, no doubt he considered those things a weakness, something for humans. But Laila knew that was what made her who she was. Her memories and her emotions. They made up her entire being.

“Set me free, leave me be. I don’t want to fall another moment into your gravity. Here I am and I stand so tall, just the way I’m supposed to be.” Laila’s soft voice slowly trailed off, as she came to another clearing. She wouldn’t let herself fall for Hanzi again, she was here and she was learning. This was who she was, and she wouldn’t let Hanzi or any other vampire manipulate her into thinking things she didn’t want to.

The clearing that Laila had stopped in was rather small and hidden by tall bushes. It only took her a second to realize that this was the perfect spot. There was even a wall of rocks on one side that was impenetrable. It was perfect, and even Eliza would have a hard time finding her there. That’s right, Eliza must be hunting me. I need to be careful. Laila reminded herself, taking a calming deep breath before starting forwards.

New strength flowed through her and Laila knew she was ready to overcome any obstacle that was put in front of her. She scanned the trees for the familiar shadow. But everything was still, only a few loose leaves fell twirling to the ground in a swirl of color. Well here I go, Laila thought, walking into the woods. She reminded herself to not stray too far away from her new camp since she didn’t want to get lost. She needed to know the area she was staying in. Let’s see. First I need to make a fire. Maybe I can find some berries or food on the way. But I also need to stay hidden, Eliza could be anywhere.

It took her around half an hour to gather all the supplies. With a satisfied nod she dropped the twigs she had gathered. She had hidden her hiding spot underneath a frenzy of colored leaves and padded the inside with the softest moss she had found.

“Now, it’s time for the fire!” Laila whispered to herself, grabbing for one of the larger branches. Slowly, she piled them up, creating a small neat stack. Laila thoughtfully scratched her nose. She closed her eyes and called forth a distant memory. It was the time before all her problems had started. A time when her dad had still been at home. She remembered how he had taken her into the woods.  She was just six at the time, but now it came to her as vivid as if it had happened yesterday. He had held two stones in front of her.

“Remember Laila, remember their shape, their size, their texture. One day Laila….. one day you might need to use the things I teach you now. Don’t forget it dear.”

Kneeling to the ground, Laila started feeling around on the ground for the perfect stone. There has to be one somewhere. If I look hard enough. She thought back and remember the rough texture of the rock. She closed her eyes and let her senses take over. Her mind completely blank, she felt each rock until finally she came across the two that her father had shown her all those years back. With a triumphant smile she strided back to her pile kneeling down and placing the rocks in front of her. She went to work, the sound of the rocks echoing through the silent forest. Abruptly Laila stopped, hands lowering, a frown on her face. Isn’t it common sense that when somebody is hunting you, you absolutely do not make a fire. The smoke…… Eliza definitely would see the smoke…. Laila snorted angrily and stomped her foot hard against the ground in a flash of temper. Eliza had tricked her once again.

Laila threw the rocks aside in annoyance and looked up at the now pinkish sky. She also noticed how cold it had gotten, the air nipping at her bare skin. She couldn’t waste any more time, the sun would be setting soon and it would be bad if she was still out by then.

A rustling in a bush nearby made Laila spin around, her hands raising in the imitation of a defense stance. Instead of Eliza coming jumping out at her though, a quivering pink nose appeared. Slowly, Laila lowered her arms as a rabbit hopped out, it’s dark eyes wide and frightened.

Something stirred deep inside Laila, and her pupils dilated, making everything seem too intense and bright. “Rabbit.” Laila whispered, although her voice sounded different. Rougher, deeper, more wild. Time stopped. Without meaning too, Laila leaped forward, an inhuman snarl erupting from her mouth. Saliva was pooling in her mouth, and she could hear her stomach rumbling. The rabbit, frightened out of its wits, darted away without a second glance at what it thought to be monster. Laila didn’t stop there, she was hungry. She could imagine that she could hear its fast pulse, the thumping of its weak heart, circulating precious, warm blood. Blood. The pounding of Laila’s running feet grew faster in rhythm as she thought about the crimson liquid. She could almost feel it now. The thick, sticky warmth of it, almost syrupy in texture flowing down her throat. She remembered her taste of it before, those two bowls that she had drank. Both given to her when she needed to recover. Suddenly, Laila knew without a doubt that this was what she needed. She was born with the blood of a vampire, and she was hurt. She needed blood to heal her wounded face, and revive her tired and sore muscles. If she could just catch this rabbit…

“Arg.” Laila let out a strangled cry as she stumbled through a thorn bush. Her own blood pooled on the skin of her arms, trickling in red rivulets down to her hands where they dripped off the tips of her fingers. Instead of stopping to nurse her wounded hands, Laila instead flung herself forwards again, pursuing the blur of white that seemed to be slowing down. Or was it just her imagination? Now, the smell of her own blood reached her, sickly sweet and so, so tempting. Laila only managed to bite her tongue just in time to stop herself from letting loose a wild cry. The smell of blood whipped her inner monster into a frenzy. Laila lunged forwards and soared further than any human ever could. The poor rabbit barely had time to react before Laila’s freezing hands closed tight around its neck.

Laila let out a low chuckle as she held the squirming animal before her. Despite its weak attempts at struggling it could not get free. Laila felt power, unlike anything she’d felt before surge through her, elevating her joy to a luminescent level.

“You are mine!” She crowed with joy, starting to tighten her grip even more. Just a minute more and it would be dead, strangled to death by her own hands. Something clicked in Laila’s head. The words, you are mine. She almost fell backwards as the memory hit her full on, enveloping her in the old, longing emotions that she’d felt at that time.

“I will be back for you. You are mine…”

Hanzi. His face, those stormy grey eyes and lanky black hair appeared before her vividly. His mouth formed the words, but like a badly dubbed movie the actual sounds came a few seconds after.

Laila let out a loud gasp and her fingers unfurled. The rabbit didn’t waste a second in contemplating at what had just happened, it just darted away as fast as its legs could carry it.

“I almost killed it.” Laila whispered, gulping hard. She gazed, stunned and disgusted at the blood that coated her shaking arms. She was glad that it was only her own. For a moment there she had been just like Hanzi. Killing only because she could. Causing death because she had the power to do so and because of an instinct. What would she have even done with the body? She had no fangs… would she just have ripped its head off like some savage?

Tears sprang to Laila’s eyes and she lowered head, her arms bracing her body against the ground beneath her. It was too much. The urge to kill the rabbit, it had come too fast and had overpowered her mind. Was she really becoming more like Hanzi? Was she going to turn into a mindless killing machine, only craving the sweet taste of blood, not caring how many people she killed in the process? Laila shivered at the thought. It was getting awfully chilly, and her stomach still felt so empty. Maybe she could just give up. Just freeze to death, close her eyes and never awaken again.

“No, I have to remember Magie.” Laila whispered to herself, “And the others, even Nickolia. They don’t mindlessly kill… and they are vampires too.” As she got to her feet her eyes flicked around the trees in which surrounded her. She needed to find another source of food. Some berries maybe, and mushrooms.

Laila suddenly heard a very familiar tittering sound. Eliza. She was near.

“Better run Laila, better hide. I can smell you…” Came her happy, high-pitched voice. No doubt she was jumping for tree to tree, eager to annihilate her ‘prey’. Laila couldn’t let Eliza catch her. She spun around and started sprinting away. She said she could smell me…… then maybe if I hide somewhere with a lot of flowers. Something that can cover up my scent….  Laila ran, eyes focused in front of her, the world whirling by her in a flash. Her whole body was tingling and even the pains she had felt earlier were slowly subsiding as she focused on throwing Eliza off her track.  Laila kicked up loose earth as she changed her direction once again, but she could hear Eliza flinging herself from tree to tree close by. She will not fall for these small tricks. There is no way I can lose her in this forest. I need to find something that has a strong odor. There has to be something.

After what seemed a lifetime of running, Laila felt a slowly increasing stitch. She took a deep breath, she could only smell the fresh air and vanilla…but suddenly she caught a whiff of something else. Laila strained herself to pick up the smell once again. Mint! I smell mint! It will defiantly cover up my scent. Laila closed her eyes for a second. She knew she had to do it if she wanted to survive what was to come. Slowly she let her senses take over. She let her inner vampire seep out. Suddenly, everything was in focus, as if a veil had been peeled away from the way she saw things. She could see every detail of every plant, tree and rock around her. She heard the knocking of a woodpecker in the distance and the light fragrance of the peppermint was now overwhelming. She knew exactly where it was coming from. Strength pulsated through her, bubbled up inside of her and she felt the world zip by her. The trees got thicker and everything around her darkened. But she knew she was close. Finally, she saw them. Rows upon rows of little green leaves, moist from the cool, damp air. Its sharp scent filled her nose, so strong that it brought tears to her eyes. Laila didn’t care, she dove into them pinching her nose shut in the process. She placed her head to the side, pressing herself close to the dirt, praying that Eliza wouldn’t find her. Her strong senses were slowly fading away, and Laila’s body was aching once again. She couldn’t hear anything but the chirping of a few birds. With a huge sigh, Laila’s body slacked, and she completely cleared her mind of any thoughts, just listening the the music of the forest around her. Her hand slowly relaxed, falling away from her nose. Her body flooded with the scent of mint, but it smelled less strong now. The sounds were flooding over her and for the first time in the last couple of days, Laila felt completely peaceful. She didn’t fight as her eyes fluttered shut, and her mind slipped away…

               Two eyes, as bright green as the first sprigs of grass in spring stared down at her. The musky scent of mint flowed around her, making her eyes tear-up.

               “Laila…” A voice called out to her. She reached out into the thick darkness towards the eyes but found they were too far to reach. She tried to ask who they were, but the smell of mint clogged her throat.

               “I know your secrets Laila Mandrak. I know your thoughts, your feelings…your emotions.” The low voice paused, “And I know how you feel about Hanzi.”

               Eyes watering, Laila groped at the air, but her fingers met nothing but air. “Who-who,” she let out a rough cough, her body doubling over from lack of oxygen. The smell of mint–it was too strong.

               “Do not tell anyone of this.” The scent of mint grew stronger, wrapping around Laila in almost visible coils. “I am here only to help, despite what appearances may be.”

               Tears were running down Laila’s cheeks down, her fists clenched in frustration and pain. She was on her knees and choking to death, but still she met those stunning eyes with defiance. “You do not control me!” She hissed.

               “Laila…Laila! I don’t want to control you!” A high, young voice pierced through the fog of her mind, slamming Laila back to reality.

Eliza was on top of her, pinning her arms on top of the crushed mint plants. No joy at having won was shown on her face, there was only confusion.

Laila blinked slowly, trying to orient herself. The world was swimming.

“Are you ok?” Eliza slowly back off, until she was standing a couple feet away, hands clasped in front of her.

Laila nodded, holding one hand to her throbbing head. It was dark now, and with the light gone, it seemed that all her energy was sapped from her. She was just a shell now.

“I think we’d better get you back to your room,” Eliza commented softly, stepping forward to place one of Laila’s arms around her shoulder. “Here,” she added, “just lean on me. I’ll take us back.”

Laila could barely whisper out a reply. She was utterly empty: her stomach, her body, her mind. The vision had taken the rest of her – and now she was just a part of space. As she focused on just breathing, Laila wasn’t sure if she’d every return to herself again. Something had changed.

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