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All I could see around me was blue – blue topaz, tourmaline, Peridot, and ocean green. I was comfortable here in the water. As the sun hit the water just right, it turned sea green, its color shifting and changing to different hues.
“Maddie!” Ethan called from his spot on the concrete, his black hair flying around his face. “Get out of the water or you’ll catch pneumonia.” The twenty-five-year old got up from his spot on the concrete as I surfaced.
“Why do they want to see me?” I asked, treading water as I wrung my hair out the best I could in the water. My legs kicked rapidly underwater, feeling the water move between my toes, almost tickling them. It was the best sensation you could feel.
“Something important. I’m not even sure myself,” Ethan said, shoving his hands into his jean pockets and taking a step to walk away. “But they want to see you right away.” He flinched as I moved my arms as if I were to splash him. It was a game we played ever since we were kids. He would act like he actually cared and I would act like I would actually splash him. Just to keep him on his toes, often I had actually done it.
I rolled my eyes and swam over to the ladder, hauling myself up by my arms until I could feel the stainless steel steps under my feet. My legs and arms felt like Jell-O after swimming lap after lap in the pool. Fighting to move the limbs of lead, I paused and turned to Ethan.
“Can I get dressed first?” I asked sarcastically, eyes on the dressing room door with a block figure in a triangle dress nailed onto it.
“Hurry up, though, otherwise you’ll get yourself into even more trouble,” Ethan said as he hauled open the steel door and stepped out of the pool area of Ivory Tower.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I said, grabbing a towel from the stainless steel rack. “What are they going to do? Throw me out of town?”
“It’s a possibility!” he called, his voice echoing off the brick walls just as the door latched into place.
Sighing, I walked into the tile dressing room. I stripped myself of the sopping wet swimsuit and wrapped a plush white towel around my body. I searched through my locker to find my jeans and t-shirt. As I put on my clothes, I leaned against the painted brick wall, feeling the coolness of it on my bare skin.
“Ah!” I cried as my foot slipped on the gray cement floor. I felt my tailbone absorb all the force from my fall, pain imploding in my spine. “Dammit.” I bit my lip as I stood and finished dressing as quickly as possible. I rubbed the dull ache in my palm, massaging the pain out of it enough for me to walk.
I walked out of the dressing room and yanked open the door to the courtyard. The trees had died in last month’s frost, their leaves piles around them like shreds of fabric that had once been their fashionable clothes.
The cold bit through my Oregon State sweatshirt like a hungry vampire. I longed to be the people sitting on the stone benches in their thick, black wool coats and Shakespeare classics.
Two girls with black hair and similar gray, wool coats glanced up at me quickly before averting their gaze back to Little Women. One bit down on her lower lip nervously and held her breath as I passed. I recognized the girls as Margot and Marguerite Franz
Why are they so afraid of me? I thought as I glanced at the nervous twins.
The Franz Twins and I had always gotten alone but now everyone had caught anxious glimpses of me before avoiding me entirely. Walking into the main building, I wiped my face with the back of my hand and fluffed my hair to keep it from freezing. Just before the door closed, I caught a look of all the people in the courtyard. Everyone’s eyes were plastered on my face, their stares burning into my flesh like a firestorm
“They’re waiting for you,” the receptionist said as she glanced at me from the corner of her eyes. She looked at me as she typed swiftly, pity and fear creating craters in her eyes.
“Thanks,” I said a little too brightly. God knows what they want from me, I thought. I don’t think I did anything wrong. Lately, at least.
Ethan stood at the door, hands clasped behind him. His face was hard, like stone, as were his steel-gray eyes. They were empty and hollow. Everything about him emptied even more when he saw me.
“Maddie,” he choked out, his voice hoarse and raspy, as if he was about to cry. “I’m so sorry.” His jaw muscles tightened the more he spoke.
“What?” I asked, my brow automatically furrowing. “What happened?”
“Just go i-i-in,” he whispered, his voice barely audible. “I can’t believe this…” He pushed open the door and ushered me inside without another word.
All seven of the Altors of Ivory Tower looked grave and gaunt. They sat at three wooden tables, three sitting on each side and the head in the middle table alone.
“Madeline Jane Whittaker,” Altor Monahan said, his voice echoing off the stone walls. “Have a seat.” He gestured to a high-backed chair in the middle of room, his eyes barely able to hold my gaze.
“What?” I asked again, my heart beginning to race and my skin beginning to prick with goose bumps as I sat on the chair’s edge. “What’s wrong?”
“We’re not sure how to tell you this,” Monahan said, his voice gravelly and indifferent, “and I hate to be the barer of bad news but….”
“Oh, for heaven sake, will you please just tell me already?” I almost shouted, tears all but streaming down my face. My eyes burned from the salt in my tears and my vision blurred to smudges instead of people.
“Like I said, I’m sorry to tell you this but…” He paused dramatically and looked at a stack of papers on his desk before going on, “your mother has been seriously injured in the field.” Monahan looked over at the identical women to the left of him.
“That’s not true! She’s in Hungary right now and-” but one of the women on the right stopped me in my tracks.
“Madeline,” one woman said, her eyes almost caring but I knew better than that, “Carina is being transported from Hungary to Ivory Tower. Would you like to see her when she arrives later tonight?”
“Yes, but what about her Noble or my younger sister?” I struggled against the urge to stand and scream. “What about my little sister? And Lady and Sir Kaisley? Dammit, tell me what happened now!” I hated that my impatience was getting the best of me.
“Arianna’s alright – just a few cuts and bruises – but your mother’s Nobles was killed during the attack.”
“The attack? Attacked by what? A vampire?” I said loudly, feeling frustrated tears rolling down my cheeks and grouping at my chin before dripping down to my sweatshirt, turning the Ducks’ green an even darker shade.
“We’re not authorized to reveal that information,” the other woman said with the same monotone voice that her partner had. “Take as many days as you want to take off from your studies – as long as it’s reasonable. Your mother will be here around midnight tonight. Now, Altor Strakhov and Altor Thorne, will you please take Ms. Whittaker to her dormitory?”
Hysteria consumed me from the inside out, the empty feeling in my stomach made me gag.
“My mother has been injured by a vampire – but Hybrids are so much stronger than vampires. How could that be possible? This is why there should be more than one! More than one! I can train – let me train – I can train!” I shouted to no one as two strong hands grabbed my arms and led me gently out of the room, out into the barren courtyard and to the northwestern wing of Ivory Tower.
I knew we were in my dormitory because I suddenly got warmer but I couldn’t see through my tears.
“I-I-I…what about my mom? Mom? Ari?” My voice cracked and fragile, as if it would be lost any moment.
“I’ll stay with her, Ethan,” a girl’s voice said, her voice light and breezy, almost like wind chimes in a windstorm. “Go wait in the infirmary for Carina and Arianna.”
“But, Vai-” Ethan argued but the girl’s voice cut him off too quickly for him to get more than one syllable out.
My good old Ethan, I thought, sensing the same feeling I felt in the water – adrenaline mixed with fear.
“She’s in good hands,” the girl named Vai said quickly. “I’ll radio you when she wakes up or calms down – whichever comes first.”
Ethan must’ve nodded because I didn’t hear his reply.
“Go to the infirmary and wait. You’re a patient person,” Vai said, her voice lowering.
“Okay,” Ethan said, “but if you hear her speaking in her sleep, you might want to talk back. It’s kind of fun.” His futile attempt at a joke was more cute than funny.
After an awkward moment of silence, I heard the door close and the stretching of leather as the girl named Vai sank down in the leather chair next to bathroom door to wait out my hysterical sleep.
An owl hooted somewhere, its call the only sound in the night. I squeezed my eyes shut, the headache pounding in my skull.
Groaning, I sat up in my bed. Hearing a snore, I glanced around the room and saw a snoring Vai. With a confused expression on my face, I pushed the heavy covers down to the foot of my bed and swung my legs over the edge, flinching at the cold wood floor.
I walked into the bathroom and turned on light, the cruel florescent fixtures glaring down at the small room. Moaning at my appearance, I turned on the faucet, bent down and took mouthful of lukewarm water into my mouth. Before twisting the off knob, I splashed the warm water on my face to fully wake me up.
Cold water would do the trick better, I thought as I turned the stream of water off. But a shower would be much better than this. Walking over to the walk-in shower, I turned on the water and stripped down.
The cold shower sent my teeth to chattering and my knees to knocking, but it had awakened me. After rinsing my hair once more before I got out, I twisted the knob until the water ceased and wrapped a plush, white towel around my body.
I wrung my curls into a towel until they were semi-dry before returning to my “bedroom” and beginning to search through my closet for something to wear. Settling on jeans and a button-down plaid shirt, I trudged back to the bathroom and dressed as quietly as I could.
“ Are you ready to go to the infirmary?” Vai asked as I walked into the bedroom.
“About as ready as possible,” I said, attempting to control my breathing.
Vai opened the door into the hall and walked down hallway, her hand resting on my shoulder as we walked quickly. The white-washed walls reflected the harsh florescent lightning, still lit at one in the morning.
Our footfalls hallowed against the neutral gray carpeting in the hall. I felt each of my steps suppress the carpet, my senses all but preparing me for my encounter with my worst nightmare.
A nurse in scrubs ushered us inside the overly-sanitary hospital wing, her face grave as she led us to my mother – or what was supposed to look like my mother – all that I could see were her jade-green eyes and her auburn hair that was not unlike mine. Sitting beside her was my younger sister who looked distraught and estranged. It looked weird to see my confident, beautiful sister so small and helpless.
“Hey,” she said without looking up from Mom.
“What happened?” I asked, kneeling down next to my mother bed. She glanced at me and I thought I saw her eyes light up a little bit.
“Something hit our car and Mom couldn’t control the spin. When we crashed, we hit a tree – turned our Audi into a pretzel – and when the…he caught up to us, it was as if the whole world turned upside down. It immediately tore open the Noble and practically ate him and when Mom tried to stop him…well, he did this to her. The boy hit her so hard in the face that he broke her jaw and when he slammed her up against the rock, it fractured her skull.” Ari looked up from Mom for a brief moment, tears in her jade eyes.
“But that doesn’t make sense. Why would he go after Mom like this and not you?” I asked as I furrowed my brow, confused.
But Ari ignored my question, moving on with her gruesome tale. “It was so horrible and when he turned to me…it was like he froze – deer in headlights look, you know?– he just kept staring at me with that sinister look. And those bright green eyes. I’ll never forget those damned eyes.” Ari’s eye twitched at the memory.
“How do you know it was a ‘he’?” I asked as I touched Mom’s pale hand lightly, almost as if she was a doll that I would break.
“Because when he smiled, it was like nothing I had seen before. It was beautiful – mesmerizing, tantalizing almost. He laughed at me and said ‘You’re a beautiful Half-Breed.’” Arianna furrowed her brow as she continued to gaze at our broken mother. “What did he mean by that, Maddie?”
“Perhaps I can explain it better?” Vai’s soft, wind-chime voice offered, violet eyes turning a deeper shade of purple and the scar above her left eye became more prominent as her fangs slid from her gums.