“Ahem! Pay attention as I explain how genetic mutation occurs and affects the carrier.” It’s only been three weeks and already school is proving to be the worst part of my life next to the fact that I’m barely a normal human being. Mrs. Dumbleberg just goes on and on about genetics and other science stuff I already know, that she’s putting me to sleep. I wonder if she’d notice if I slipped off for a bit… “MR. RYUU, HOW MANY TIMES MUST I INFORM YOU THAT SLEEPING IS NOT LEARNING?!” Mrs. Dumbleberg slapped her hand on my desk so hard, the whole school could’ve heard it. Apparently she noticed.
“Approximately six times ma’am, but I already know science and I feel that it’s insensible for me to endure this.” I never spared even a second to glance at others around me, but the burning gaze of being watched sizzled atop my skin. The new kid, with the sea foam hair stared blankly at me from the back corner of the classroom.
“Well if you think you’re so smart, then name three cases of genetic mutation or change, Okami.” The teacher spat out my nickname with legitimate hatred, something that never seemed to bother me.
“Ok, hereditary, somatic and polymorphisms.” I announced with pride. I remember reading an article on this before--the internet never lies. Mrs. Dumbleberg was about to explode into a million words, but class was over and she retired to her chair. I felt her snake eyes on the back of my neck as class filed out the door. It almost felt like stumbling across a sacred treasure just walking out of there, but I remembered that this is real life and, most likely, nobody cared.
“Come on Kai, we have lunch right after science!” Ross bolted towards the cafeteria chasing his stomach. “Hurry up!” He called from far ahead.
The lunchroom was huge, probably the largest room in the whole school. Everyone knew where to sit, who to sit with and what to eat. “Hey, have you seen the new kid?” Ross glanced around and smiled at me. We turned towards the Haunted Table. Nobody dared to even sit near it ever since little Gregory’s brother choked and almost died. Its surface hasn’t been eaten upon in years and now the new kid sits alone at the foreboding table.
“Something about him isn’t right.” I whispered with narrowed eyes. Ross looked like he was going to say something, but Ali quickly cut in.
“What are you guys talking about?” She searched our faces carefully.
“Nothing, just boring guy stuff.” I didn’t feel like talking about the sea foam-haired boy under the flickering light, but Ross decided to just blurt out our private conversation to the world.
“Oh, we were just talking about the new guy over there.” Ross even pointed at him and to my relief, he didn’t notice.
“Strange kid, eh?” Ali carefully examined him from a distance, something she picked up from living on the streets as a pickpocket. Somehow she managed to make slumping down next to Ross seem graceful in a way. I always wondered what she did before I fell out of the sky onto her little cobble backstreet. Did she get good grades at that Hogwarts place? Maybe she trained in magic? Does she prefer brains or brawn in a man? I got so caught up in my own thoughts, I didn’t realize I was staring into her sea blue eyes so dreamily. “Ahem, I would appreciate it if I could eat my lunch without any unnecessary attention.” Ali raised an eyebrow and tilted her head towards a shoulder. I hastily sat up in my seat and removed my hand from my cheek, turning bright red again.
“Oooooh, Kai’s love-struck!” Ross cracked up at his own words.
“Nrgh, no I’m not!” My voice sounded way too whiney for a fifteen-year-old and I glanced around in case anybody heard. I wanted to get up and push Ross over, but Ali beat me to it. Satisfied, she returned to poking around in some kind of soupy mush.
“You know, sometimes I feel like I’m the only one with any common sense around here. I mean, come on, does one really have to point out every flaw in their classmates?!” Ali flung her hands into the air for extra emphasis. “Oh Kai, my friends were checking you out today . . . again.” Ali seemed disappointed.
“Flattering.” I grumbled while turning my head to look over my shoulder. Jessica, McKenzie, Olivia and the Gemini sisters, Lia and Kaley, were already turned towards me and giggling like the little schoolgirls they were. All of them except McKenzie, but she’s a little quiet. I smiled at her, guessing that’s enough reward for not fantasizing over me. She gave me a shy smile back and I twisted around to face my friends again. “Remind me to lock the door at night.” Ross made a little note in his head, I could tell by his concentration face. Brr . . . The cafeteria was really cold today and I kept shivering, but, nonetheless, I still felt the flames that forever linger inside of me.
“I can’t wait to get back home, I love talking to the villagers!” Ali had been looking forward to this weekend forever.
“It’s kind of strange sleeping at school during the week, don’t you think?” Ross questioned Ali and me. “Well, maybe not for you two. You guys finally get a chance to sneak out at night. Mrs. Ryuu would be all over you guys if you did that back in the castle.” Ross pretended to kiss his hand. “That never happened!” Ali smacked him in the back of the head. I wish I could agree, but there was that one incident two years ago . . . it doesn’t count if I never agreed to it right? I shook the memory from my head, despite arguing with myself that I never declined her offer and didn’t fight back when she leaned in . . . The loud bellow of the lunch lady thundered threw the room and interrupted every conversation.
“Get outta here, worms!” She held her ladle in the air and wagged it at everyone like a machete. Students immediately ran out the doors, fearing that they might get turned into next week’s mystery meat.
“Suppose we should head out ourselves.” Ross got up from the table with a grunt and walked outside with Ali trailing behind him. I was busy washing the mess off the seating areas, when the sea foam-haired kid walked up to me. He was shorter than I expected, but he took each step with rising elegance.
“You, tall Asian one, are you ever intrigued by the fantastical dragons of myth?” I was shocked by his question, but what shocked me the most was that I was the only person he has at least attempted to communicate with ever since the morning bell rung. Before I could answer, he jerked his head to his left. “Your friends are waiting, I’m Gehl by the way. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” I shook his hand and, rather quickly, walked out the door.
“Hey, what was that all about?” Ross instantly stuck to my side. I’m positive there’s a magnet in us somewhere.
“Nothing, just small talk.” I kept pondering Gehl’s question. He looked at me with narrowed eyes and slight hostility, but his voice was calm, sort of like deep velvet. Like a pool of blood.
I didn’t sleep that night. My golden eyes stared into the ceiling as if I could see the stars above. I don’t know what’s worse, sleeping in a cold castle or in a room with Ross and his disgusting feet. The hard mat I slept on felt like the rock underneath. Sighing, probably, the deepest sigh in history, I got up and brushed pass the punching bag that hung from a steel stand. The darkness felt good on my bare skin, like a comforting hug from somebody you’ve known your whole life. I decided to relax a bit, just breathe and enjoy the still black corridors. A small gust blew through my black hair as I stepped onto the deck of the northernmost tower. The stars shone bright tonight, complementing the lunar lighting. I could see the whole town beneath me, the barren wastelands that surround our establishment and the windy peaks of mountains that I scaled with my bare hands a few years ago. Dark. Lonely. Quiet. Perfect. I’d love to just close my eyes and fall for eternity in these conditions, but I can’t cut myself off from the world yet. No, there’s a few things I have to do first. I turned and silently returned to the depths of the castle, stopping at both Ali and Ross’s rooms. You can never be so sure of your friend’s safety these days. I’d take a bullet for them, but then we’d all die because they’d take a bullet for me as well. With the night drawing to a close, I hauled myself back to my room. Nudging the decayed wooden door open with the sharp edges of my shoulder blades, I mindlessly wandered into my acrid dwelling.
“Nrgh, uh.” I woke up stiff and aching, rubbing my head and back inefficiently. The pale dawn created the illusion of a glistening castle, but look closely and you can still see the blood stains on the floor, the wall, even the tapestries.
“Hey Kai, Ali and I were going to go down to the stables and help the serfs and farmhands. Want to come?”
“No, I-I have some . . . training to do, and stuff.” My friends seemed a little heartbroken, but they quickly recovered.
“Hah, I’ll tell you all about how Ross cried like a babe over manual labor.” Ali shot Ross a smirk and he came back with:
“Hey now, no need for rivalry. Competition isn’t the best motive for this situation.” Pained, I watched my friends walk off playfully shoving each other into the stone corridors. I sighed and positioned myself in front of a training dummy, raising my fists. The dummy wobbled violently to the left and the right.
“Hrrraah!” A swift kick to the rib area missed and hit a rack of weapons I primarily use as decoration. The whole thing came crashing down and it resonated throughout the castle.
“Kai, no smashing holes in the walls!” My mom yelled from her studies. Ever since we took the kingdom from my Aunt, my mom has been studying the books she left behind. I barely ever see anybody these days. My friends are busy helping the townsfolk, school doesn’t do anything but pay sad excuses for qualified human beings, my mom always has her face buried in some dusty old book and I still have no idea where my crazy aunt or my deadbeat dad is. The weight of these words were starting to tire me. I let them push me to the ground, holding me there in the fetal position. My eyelids closed and for a brisk moment, the world was beautiful. I listened to the wind, the trees, the grass, solitary company they were. The earth tickled my feet and the leaves playfully drifted into my hair. For once, I felt connected to life. For once, my sorrows had bled away, but I suddenly jolted awake and was hit with a bleak reminder as I stared into the dim room around me: This world is cruel.
Small murmurs rose from the table every now and then, thus rendering the dinner hall fairly quiet. We all pretended to eat our more-or-less decent dinner on one end of the large banquet table. The candles from the chandelier flickered high above. I could smell the citrus juice from Ali’s fish, her gaze staring into the breaded white meat. Ross had the worst table manners out of all of us, slurping his ramen like a madman, before spitting it out again. My mom tapped her furry, wolf-like feet against the floor, occasionally brushing my toes with her soft fur. Of course, it was only overgrown hair, but I loved it anyways. I grew up in it to be honest.
“Milady, a formal invitation has been issued to Your Majesty.” A man ran into the room. He was one of our messengers, intended for our peaceful kingdom only and not scouting out enemy activity. I believe his name was Hermathius, after the god Hermes and he was somewhere in his forties. “Please, no more formalities Herman, hand it over.” I watched my mother pluck the letter from the kneeling man’s hands.
“Well, what’s it say?” Ross yelled through a mouthful of noodles.
“Ahem, the letter reads:
Dearest Kingdom of Atrapax, we humbly invite you to partake in signing a treaty between our kingdoms. Afterwards, you are welcome to join us in a feast, honoring the peace the treaty shall bring forth.
Thank you for your valuable time,
The Royal Vampiric Family.”
“A treaty?” I asked, skepticism curling my tongue.
“Free food! I’m in!” Ross sat back in his chair, almost falling over. He quickly regained the little bit of regality he held in his possession.
“Vampires? Heck yeah!” Ali through her fists into the air. I growled quietly under my breath.
“Ross go take a shower and comb your hair, the rest of us will dress our finest and ready ourselves for King Bloodharow.” I got up, watching my mom jot down a response to the invitation and hand it to Hermathius.
It was dusk by the time we arrived. The great spiked city gates slowly creaked open and the four of us rode through them silently. The city was quite busy during this odd hour. Vampires of all different shapes and sizes ran through the market. A local band played by the giant fountain in the middle of the circuit. Children played among the rims, a few daring to splash inside. The water glowed an eerie orange from the setting sun. Our small troop paused briefly for a quick chat with the castle gate guard.
“Ah, you must be Atrapax royalty. I can see it in your eyes. You’re here for the great feast aren’t you? Right this way, if you please.” The guard bowed and gestured towards the opening gate. As I rode by, he stopped me behind Ross, Ali and my mom. “This whole thing was the king’s son’s idea. He’s quite fond of you, you know.” The gate guard gave me a sly look, which made me usher my horse into a canter to catch up with my friends and mother. Approaching the castle doors, we dismounted and tied the equestrians up in the stables. Taking the steps two at a time, we reached the door in under a minute. The doors swung open and there standing in the entrance, in all his regal glory, was Prince Bloodharow. Gehl Bloodharow.
“Good evening, friends.” He bowed, “Ross, you look well.”
“Hah, you too!” Ross smiled from ear to ear. Dropping to his knee, the vampire took Ali by the hand. “Allison.” Gehl gingerly kissed her wrist and shot me a glowing purple glance as he rose.
“Sup, Gehl. Nice to meet finally meet ‘ya” Ali seemed bursting with excitement, in spite of her cool exterior.
“And of course, Mistress Faoiltiama.” My mother curtseyed, her false tail swaying slowly. I watched as the Vampiric prince led the way into his fancy, snooty rich-kid domain, with a glare right into me. I pushed back with my own intimidating glare and he turned sharply on his skinny heels. The whole castle was dimly lit, like ours, but the entire place was decorated completely. Statues, busts, chandeliers, candelabras, expensive fabrics--everywhere I look I was surrounded by décor just screaming ‘I’m better than you’. “Welcome to the throne room.” Halfheartedly explaining each room, Gehl finally stopped us in a long room with a huge throne in the back. King Bloodharow took a small bell from the folds of his regal cape and rang it. Gehl instantly popped up beside the giant bedazzled chair.
“Recite the thing, boy.” The disgusting, ragged voice of the Vampiric king whispered to his tiny son.
“Yes father, ahem, The Royal King of all that the Night Touches wishes to propose a treaty to the Kingdom of Atrapax, allying our nations for millennia. If you will be so kind to join the Vampiric Family for a late dinner to discuss the details, we shall welcome you with open arms.” Gehl finished by carefully rolling the scroll he was reading.
“I believe my forgetful, no-good son has yet to mention an engagement ceremony involving your female Syren.” The king looked down his nose at Gehl.
“Err, F-father, that wasn’t part of the treaty!”
“Hush boy, it will unite our kingdoms even more.” The king barked at his son and rang the glistening silver bell.
“That won’t be necessary, Dark Lord of All.” I rolled my eyes. “Our ‘female Syren’ isn’t interested and surely can find a better match.” I growled out my Rs. Ali was surprised by my aggressive reaction. What’s gotten into him? She thought. No, it can’t possibly be that!
“It’s quite late, and the kids have school tomorrow. I’ve decided to stay and discuss the treaty over dinner and send the children home.” My mother announced, already pushing us out of the room rather quickly. We began making our way back to the stables, but night had fallen and it was difficult to see. I groped around in the darkness, until I felt wood and heard horses bickering with each other. “Hey girl, how’ve you been?” I ran my hand down the pinto mare’s flank and rubbed her neck. She jolted back, almost rearing. Strange, did I spook her? Can’t she smell me? I steadied her, untied the rope that keeps the mare from running off, and mounted, gently prodding her sides to leave for Castle Atrapax. The entire ride I wondered what my pinto was afraid of. She never gets spooked, not by predators, not by fire, nothing. In fact, she responded to my touch, my presence, it was haunting. I shook the thoughts from my mind, but they’d soon return. Very soon.