Her blue eyes became darker and intense when she focused her attention on the closest blood-bonded human. "Don't you?" She advanced upon the cowering half-breed, the only one left in the bloodstained social. "Personally, this is why I chose this particular blade. It's shinier than all my other ones and it's my favorite."
She leaned in close enough to his face that she could either kiss him or kill him. "I feel in the need for a guillotine tonight." She displayed her sword for the half-leech to gawk at.
Blaze's chattering with the blood-bonded human ended and so did his life.
It was well past eleven when Blaze finally sneaked furtively inside her house. The porch light and even her bedroom light had been turned off. Unless Aimee was using the moon as her source of light, she was probably asleep.
Blaze locked the door behind her and sauntered up the stairs, making hardly a sound. She opened her mother and father's bedroom door to check if any of the two were home yet.
Her mother, Leda, slept soundly. Blaze knew, however, that the slightest sound could disturb Leda from her sleep. That slightest sound could belong to anyone and everything: a mouse, an intruder, or a vampire. That was why vampire hunters rarely slept. Their lives were in too much peril to not stay awake and guarded.
That meant her father, James, was still in Yorkshire, England, searching for a potentially threatening vampire. He was on the assignment with a fellow vampire hunter, Marcus Aden, Lyon's father.
They had been away for nearly three months. Vampire hunters were usually traveling anyway. It was nearly pointless to buy a home, seeing that they spent little time actually living in it.
Blaze could tell from the heaviness of Leda's sleep that she was exhausted. Blaze closed the door and walked to the room she shared with Aimee.
Aimee was nestled comfortably under her blankets. She had a smile on her face. Blaze wondered where it had come from.
Maybe she's dreaming about that guy with the weird colored eyes again, Blaze thought with a smile of her own.
She envied Aimee for her beauty.
Granted, Blaze had her own beauty, but it was darker, tainted with the violence and bloodshed that had been part of her life from the moment she took her first breath.
Blaze Spiral had been born during a battle. Leda had been fighting a leech when she went into labor. Already, Leda had been bleeding, but Blaze only added to her hemorrhaging wounds.
She had been fighting a vampire, one on one, inside of a burning house way back in Kolasi. Blaze had been born in that house, amongst the flames. The bleeding mother and the newborn had been rescued, but by whom, Blaze's mother had always kept that identity hidden from her.
Aimee seemed to be full of goodness and righteousness. Her beauty came from the loveliness of her soul.
Blaze sometimes found herself wondering if she even had a soul. And if she did, it must have been filled with blackness.
Blaze turned to slither into her bedclothes when a sudden chill whipped past her. She darted around, her eyes searching the darkness for the slightest hint of movement.
The window between the two beds was fully opened. The thin white curtains pushed to the sides beat against the wall. Blaze wondered why Aimee had left it open. It was a cold night and Aimee found warmth under her thick blankets.
At that moment, another thought occurred to Blaze. It was very possible that Aimee had not opened the window at all.
Blaze went to close and lock the window, and then she carried out a full examination of her house, investigating it twice, just in case she had missed something the first time.
It was midnight when she finally crawled under her blankets. She looked over at Aimee's sleeping face and murmured, "Good night, Aimee."
A yawn kept her from saying more and an overwhelming need for sleep kept her occupied until sunrise.
As she fled to her first class of the morning, Aimee replayed the lines over and over again in her head, drilling it into her memory until she could sit down with a pencil and paper to write it down.
The inspiration for the poem had come while she was walking through the hallways. She grumbled a complaint under her breath, wishing that the Muses would find a more convenient time to visit her.
Aimee dashed through the hallway, darting kids who dared to get in her way. She was determined to get inside her classroom, more determined than she wanted to be, and nothing would stop her.
Even the sound of her pseudonym being shouted out from behind her didn't stop her. It had taken her a little bit to recognize the sound of her new name and to respond to it, but she deliberately ignored whatever male was calling for her from behind.
Not even remotely out of breath, Aimee sunk into her chair, ripped open her messenger bag, tore out her notebook and rummaged for a pencil.
There was success at last when she felt the sharpened lead and eraser. She yanked it out from the mess of papers and slammed her notebook on her desk.
Quickly, fully concentrated on the words flowing through her, Aimee wrote down the first few lines for a new poem:
"Angel in the darkness
Come bring me to light
Listen to my prayer
In the dim of night."
She was in a frenzy to jot the first verse down. And because of the silence, she also realized that she was the only student in the room.
"Ivy," Mrs. Gertrude greeted.
Now that Aimee had completed all she had in her mind, she broke from her concentration and looked at her teacher.
"Good morning, Mrs. Gertrude," Aimee replied.
The trim young teacher took a seat on a stool in front of Aimee. "What are you doing here so early in the morning?" she glanced at her watch. "You still have ten minutes before the bell rings."
Aimee lifted her notebook and waved it in front of her. "I had a bolt of inspiration that just had to strike me when I had no paper or pencil or flat surface to write on." She smiled to add onto the humor.
"So you write poems?"
Aimee nodded in reply.
Mrs. Gertrude gestured at the notebook. "May I?"
Aimee slapped the notebook and shielded it with her hands. "No!"
Mrs. Gertrude retracted her hands, stunned by Aimee's disapproval.
Aimee explained, "I never let anyone read a poem until it's finished. No offense or anything, Mrs. Gertrude, but it's a rule I don't dare to break. If I do, I'm worried that I'll lose inspiration."
Mrs. Gertrude smiled, letting out relief. "Oh, alright then. I'll let you finish your poem, but you have to let me read it first once you're done," she requested, already heading towards her desk and the pile of corrected papers that needed scores entered onto the computer.
"Consider it a deal," Aimee agreed.
Halfway through the class and Aimee still had not completed her poem. She wouldn't rush through it; she would wait until the right words flowed into her mind, otherwise the poem would end up being meaningless fluff. She hated when her poems turned out that way.
Mrs. Gertrude gave the class an assignment to label a map of Europe, using the knowledge on the top of your head, and color it in.
They had been given thirty minutes to do it, but Aimee could label and color it in a matter of twenty. She knew her geography. She had been to Europe several times.
Finally, her poem was completed. She handed it to Mrs. Gertrude to read, eight minutes before the bell rang. She was proud of this poem. It reflected how she truly felt inside. All her poems expressed a true emotion that she was feeling at the moment. She could never take the persona of some fictional character and write about their feelings; it had to come from her solely.
Mrs. Gertrude handed the notebook back and smiled widely at Aimee. "That's a very beautiful poem, Ivy," she complimented.
Aimee took back the notebook. "Thank you. All that's left is a title and I think I have a good idea."
"What is it?"
"Angel in the Darkness," Aimee retorted.
"That's an interesting title. Sure gets my attention."
Aimee returned to her seat, saying, "Thank you."
She labeled every single country on her Europe map, colored it quickly, and still managed to make it look like she put an excruciating amount of effort into it.
Blaze entered the women's locker rooms moments before Aimee did. She smelled the thick air around her. The perfumes, deodorant and body lotions were strong, too strong for her tolerance level.
Suffocation of the worst kind . . . Blaze thought . . . by perfume.
Her nose cringed at the scents. How and why do people spray these things on?
Blaze darted around to see where the voice had come from. It was the girl she had met yesterday during lunch. She remembered her face: dark brown eyes and shoulder-length dirty blond hair. She couldn't quite remember her name . . . Didn't it start with an S?
"Sandra, remember?" she stated when Blaze didn't reply. She looked hurt. "You made that stupid football player give me back my diary."
Blaze nodded now, the confusion leaving her. "Yeah, I remember. You have this PE class right now?"
"No. I just got out. I had this last period," Sandra explained. "We're playing volleyball today."
Blaze opened her lock. "Tremendous," she hissed under her breath.
"I know, really, I have no skill in my upper body . . ." She reconsidered her statement. "Or any part of my body in that case."
Blaze couldn't say she agreed. That would be a lie. Witch vampire-hunters like her and Aimee were naturally athletic. Strength was necessary for their survival.
"Well, I gotta go, don't wanna be late for Mr. Myers' class," Sandra said.
"I just came from there. Be prepared for your first book report," Blaze offered.
Sandra's face fell. "Book report? Damn. Well, I'll see you later." She turned around to leave and nearly collided with Aimee, who was just coming out of the restrooms. "Oh, sorry," she immediately apologized, keeping her eyes down.
"No problem," Aimee shrugged, heading for the locker next to Blaze's.
Their PE teacher, Miss Betty, was a slender blond who did not look the age she had just turned last Friday. She was supposedly thirty-one, but she had the appearance of a twenty-eight-year-old, with her finely sculpted facial features and energy.
She had instructed the class to sit down inside the gymnasium. She stood in front of them now, pacing back and forth in front of her students, hugging a volleyball to her chest.
"Today, you guys are going to be playing volleyball," she announced.
Cheers and moans came from the students sitting down.
"I'll take a few minutes to go over the rules with you, then I'm going to tell you who your teams are, and we'll start our first game," Miss Betty planned.
Just as she had promised, within five minutes, the game had started.
By some chance of fate, Blaze and Aimee were placed on opposite teams that were going against each other for their first volleyball game. They had also chosen to be in the competitive league once again.
One team needed ten points to win the game. Once a team came out victorious, they were to report their score to Miss Betty, who would record it and send them to another game with another team.
It became a rather cutthroat battle between Aimee and Blaze's team. Both teams fought aggressively against one another for possession of the ball and the final winning points.
Whenever Blaze and Aimee served, they tended to punch the ball to one another, although it was done most unintentionally.
Nevertheless, they played hard and fierce, more competitive than any other individual on their team, males included.
The two teams had tied many times. The period was almost over and it had taken up all the time playing this one game because both teams were matched in skill, especially with vampire hunters on their sides.
They were tied once again, with nine to nine and Aimee's team had possession of the ball.
It was Aimee's turn to serve. She stood at the very last row, at the corner, poised with the ball in one hand and her other hand gearing up to hit it. In one fluid movement, as graceful as a ballet dancer, Aimee knocked the ball over the net and to the other side. It flung back and it looked like it was going to come out of the boundaries, but Blaze—who crouched waiting for the ball in the back row—calculated beforehand that the ball would land inside the bounds if no one hit it.
Blaze ran up to the ball and spiked it back onto Aimee's side. It came towards the first row, the people standing closest to the net.
Unprepared for the spike and already celebrating their victory with Aimee's serve, the team missed the ball.
Blaze's team cheered. Now they had the opportunity to win the game.
It was now her turn. She got the ball and served it beautifully over the net. There was an ongoing rally between the two teams for about two minutes. Aimee went to slam the ball back to the other side and Blaze, just as artfully, returned it.
Aimee dove to hit the ball, missing only by half of an inch, but allowing Blaze's team to win by one point.
Her team whooped and hollered while Aimee's team composed their dignity and lined up to give the victorious team high five's.
Blaze and Aimee met up and they slapped each other palms, but also tightened their grips. They gazed into each other's eyes and they knew that both of them were winners.
Blaze and Aimee were surprised to find Lyon Aden in the cafeteria. She came and sat down next to them.
"Hey!" Lyon chirped.
"Lyon, it's nice to see you again," Aimee retorted. "So what's going on?"
Lyon shrugged. The question made her feel uncomfortable. "Nothing much. I've been pretty excited about the Tournament of Goddess Warriors."
"That isn't until Summer Solstice," Aimee reminded.
"I know, but I've been training really hard to compete this season," Lyon informed them. "I haven't done it before, but I think I'm ready this season. Are you guys going to enter the competition?"
On Summer Solstice, June 21, there was a tournament for the final ten vampire hunters who had survived the preliminary rounds that started a month prior to Summer Solstice.
There was a maximum limit of one hundred, twelve vampire hunters who were allowed to sign up for the Tournament of Goddess Warriors. The age bracket was between thirteen to thirty-five.
For the next thirty days, four vampire hunters would compete against each other in a single battle and from the four, two would be chosen to fight each other. The one who won advanced to the next round.
On the Eve of Summer Solstice, there would be a total of thirty vampire hunters and only ten would continue to the final round on Summer Solstice for the championship title of Supreme Goddess Warrior.
On the day of Summer Solstice, starting at dawn, there would be festivities and entertainment, food and games, gifts and magick, until the afternoon when the vampire hunters got ready to compete.
The allotted time for one vampire hunter battle was thirty minutes. If no one had drawn blood seven times from the other hunter, the one with the least cuts would be declared the winner. They sat down and waited for their turn to fight while watching the next pair of vampire hunters battle it out.
The first vampire hunters that went up always had it the hardest. They did not have time to study their competition, their enemy, unless they showed up for the preliminary rounds, which most of them did, to gain the upper advantage in knowing their nemesis.
But the remaining vampire hunter in the final Summer Solstice Tournament was placed in one last kind of competition before he or she could claim the title.
The hunter was put through a test; a different one was made every year but it still tried the three main skills of the hunter: cunning, strength, and skill.
Blaze and Aimee had signed up for the Tournament five years in a row. For the first four seasons, Blaze had come into second place and Aimee would come either fourth, fifth, sixth or eighth. The undefeated champion was Glory Rath. She had signed up when she was fourteen and won for the next four years, earning the respect of every vampire hunter.
But last year, Blaze had beaten Glory Rath and she had come in first place and received her awards. She was given a crown made out of herbs like lavender, daisies, lilies, and roses. It was also decorated with seashells, summer flowers, potpourri, and incense appropriate for the Summer Solstice.
Her trophy was a grand sword, jewel-encrusted and heavier than half of her body weight. Gold, silver, diamonds, garnets, sapphires, and emeralds sparkled on the hilt of the sword, with the design of a dragon scaling up the sides of the sword, pointing outward from the side handles.
On the glassy blade, there was an inscription carved onto it that read and included the year of the Summer Solstice: "Ultimate Goddess Warrior. You have outlasted the other warriors in this fierce competition of cunning, strength, and skill. Blessed be. The Goddess is with you."
It was unbelievably heavy, an object designed to appear utilized, but it was nothing more than eye candy.
What could be utilized more sufficiently, however, was the magick the champions would receive.
Only the ones who were in the top five could be eligible to receive a "magickal boost". More powers were given to the witch vampire-hunters; powers were also increased.
Glory was one of the vampire hunters who had unlimited power, or so it seemed.
The methods vampire hunters used in battle described their characters.
Glory's method of fighting was controlled and planned out. She had a leveled head on her shoulders, knowing where her weak and strong points were, focusing on both to balance them out until she was virtually without flaw. She had a very logical way of thinking. She studied her enemies and their faults and strengths and played them to her advantage. She contemplated her moves before she made them. That gave her the advantage of being able to predict nearly every situation and her keen eyesight allowed her to react properly to her enemy's move.
Aimee's techniques were diplomatic and graceful, similar to that of a ballet dancer. She was flexible, capable of bending any situation to her advantage. She fought elegantly and her marvelous strikes and potent kicks were spoken as beautiful, simply beautiful.
Blaze, on the other hand, was wild and unpredictable. No one could ever anticipate her moves because she never strategize and planned out which strike she would make next. Everything she did was on the spur-of-the-moment. That was why when she had entered the Tournament last season, she had developed a new style to surprise Glory. Her style was pure anarchy. Glory was unprepared and therefore, she could not make the proper reactions or the necessary moves.
The way a vampire hunter held her sword said a lot about that vampire hunter.
Aimee held her sword close to her body; always checking to make sure it was with her. It showed that she was cautious and unwilling to take any chances that placed her life or others in peril.
Glory always had a firm grip on her sword and she kept it at an arm's length when she protracted it. It showed that she too was also cautious, but even more so, Glory was willing to take chances if she had enough confidence that the end result would be beneficial. She had an analytical thought process.
In contrast to Aimee and Glory, Blaze was often called a psycho sword-wielding vampire hunter. She caught her opponents off guard with her absolutely unexpected strikes.
The best friends mulled over Lyon's question.
Glory's method is divide and conquer. Me? My method is to kill them all, all at once. Why wait and savor the moment when you can relish in the destruction of all those leeches, Blaze considered, a smirk spreading to her lips.
"Aimee? Blaze?" Lyon interrupted their thoughts, and from the looks of it, they seemed to have been lost in their thoughts as well.
Aimee shook her head, like she had just been wakened from a drifting zone. She looked disorientated and had the distinct expression that she wanted to be elsewhere.
"Huh? Oh, the Tournament? Yeah, I'm going to sign up when the time comes," Aimee announced.
Lyon seemed pleased. "Cool. Then I get to go up against you, guaranteed."
Aimee looked at Blaze. "What about you, Holly?" Aimee sneered, loving the ability to rub in the pseudonym in her face.
"Probably not," she answered.
Lyon appeared disappointed. "Why not? You won last year. You're the defending champion. You need to keep that title. I bet Glory wants to take that trophy."
Blaze shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. "I would like to retire from the Tournament as an undefeated champion. Looking your best is the best way to go down."
"Nice philosophy," Aimee applauded with a polite smile.
Aimee kept her reflexes in check. Whenever anyone called out her name, be it pseudonym or birth, she darted around quickly. But she was disguising herself as a human, an average teenager, which meant she would have to curb any impulses to turn around too quickly.
The young man standing in front of Aimee was about an inch taller than she was, making him a dwarf compared to Blaze's height. He had thick, spiked blond hair and stormy gray eyes with a pinch of light tanned freckles on his cheek. He wore a long-sleeved buttoned white shirt and black jeans to go along with it. A black tie embellished the handsome gentleman outfit furthermore, enhancing his guilelessness and naiveté.
Aimee had to admit that she liked the look, a boy young and innocent, unaware of the dangers she faced every waking moment of her existence. It was a delightful escape from the perils of being a vampire hunter. She breathed in the Old Spice cologne she recognized he was wearing.
"Yeah, hi," Aimee returned, trying to place the name with the face. He looked vaguely familiar and his voice sounded like she had heard it before.
Blaze and Lyon stepped off to the side, but they remained in a close enough distance to still hear their conversation without making it appear as if they were utterly eavesdropping—which they were.
He must have sensed Aimee's present name difficulty, because the next words that came out of his mouth were exactly what Aimee needed to hear: "Evan Scott."
Relief flooded Aimee. Now she could place the name with the face. "Oh right, sorry," she apologized.
"Yeah, I sit behind you in English, and we have calculus, chemistry, and choir together," Evan explained.
Aimee remembered seeing his face, but had no memory of any significant conversation with him.
"I tried calling out for you yesterday morning, but you didn't hear me, I guess." His face collapsed. He seemed hurt and wounded. "But it looked like you were pretty busy too." He smiled, trying to redeem the sadness that had fallen over him a moment ago.
Aimee rewound to the day before. In the morning, when she had been scrambling to get to American History to write down her poem, she had heard someone call out for her. She just chose not to reply to it.
"I'm really, sorry, Evan," Aimee quickly apologized. She liked the sound of his name on her lips. "I was in a rush."
Evan countered, "I could tell."
"I'm really sorry," Aimee repeated.
Evan held up his hands as if to refuse her apology. "No, there's no reason for you to be sorry," he insisted. "I just wanted to talk to you. I was going to talk to you, in English, but that one girl really freaks me out. I mean, I know she's your friend and all but—"
Aimee immediately realized her mistake and corrected it. "I mean, Holly?"
"Yeah, I think it's Holly, but she definitely doesn't look like a Holly," Evan commented.
Aimee regretted giving Blaze the pseudonym. She knew that it was absolutely out of Blaze's character, but Blaze had named her "Ivy Spike", and there was no better way than to counter back with a mismatching name of her own.
"She just kind of scares me a little bit," Evan fearfully admitted. Aimee saw the genuine terror in his eyes. She knew that Blaze had that effect on people, living or otherwise.
"I understand," she returned.
Evan looked stunned. "Really?"
"She's my friend and all, but I know that people think she's a little bit scary," Aimee laughed.
"Well, I don't like to talk negatively of people," he brought up.
It was Aimee's turn to be stunned. Not wanting to talk about people even when they weren't around was a quality that she admired. "That's a very good dislike to have," she noted.
"I'm sure if I got to know her, she'd be a really cool person," he continued.
"You look for the best in people and expect goodness at the core of their heart," Aimee observed.
Evan smiled, unveiling two rows of perfectly shaped Colgate teeth. He was adorable and Aimee could tell from the glint in his eyes that he had a crush on her. She was beginning to like him too.
"I guess you could say that," he replied sheepishly.
"And modest," Aimee stated. She liked him already.
Beneath his fine tanned skin, she could see roses blossoming.
How cute, she mused. Then she looked at him again. The glimmer in his eyes told her that he was about to ask her something.
"I just wanted to ask if you'd be interested in coming with me to this really cool poetry café Friday night," Evan requested, confirming Aimee's suspicions.
"Friday is tomorrow, isn't it?"
Evan already looked disappointed. To Evan Scott, Aimee asking him what day was Friday was the equivalence of a "no". Regardless, he glanced at his digital watch. "Yeah, today's Thursday so tomorrow's Friday," he assured her.
"And where's the poetry café?" Aimee inquired, hoping that she didn't come off as overly interrogative.
"It's on the corner of 182 Avenue," he retorted. "It's open from five PM to eleven. It's a really cool place, small and cozy. People go up there to read their poetry or to sing songs that they wrote."
Aimee liked the sound of that, although she wondered if Evan would pressure her to go up and sing. In spite of the fact that she knew she had a too-die-for voice, she was still nervous about performing in front of people.
For one Winter Solstice, she was asked to sing in front of the vampire hunters during a celebration.
Apprehensive, Aimee still took the stage and astonished the crowd of hard-faced hunters with a dynamic and charismatic performance of a song she had written entitled "Empty, Miserable Girl". The lyrics were a reflection of the feelings she had been having during that specific time about being a vampire hunter.
The audience was stirred in a special way that could not have happened if Aimee had read the poem instead. Even if the emotion had been there in her voice, it wouldn't have been the same. To Aimee, where words failed, music was the language she spoke. She had received a standing ovation, even from the normally callous Supreme Council of Goddess Warriors.
Despite all her experiences with performing, it still unnerved her.
When Aimee did not reply, Evan went on. "I'm going to be performing a song that I wrote about two weeks ago."
Aimee arched a brow, surprised that he was not shy about his voice. She had not heard him sing yet in her choir class but she had only been there for two days. Most men, though they had amazing voices, preferred to stay in the background and hide their talent. Aimee respected the fact that Evan didn't seem as fearful of the spotlight.
"I'd really like it if you could come and listen to my horrible caterwauling," Evan chuckled.
Aimee could sense his attempt to lighten the mood. She enjoyed the humor. She ceased her laughter and eyed him soberly. "So, would this be a date?" she asked in a hush-hush tone.
Evan was quick to respond. "No! No," he seemed shocked by the idea but Aimee was smart enough to know otherwise. "Just a little friendly gathering. Nothing formal. I thought you might be interested in exploring more of Sundry. There's not a lot of cool places here, but the ones that are go beyond cool."
"I would love to go," Aimee finally inclined.
"Cool," Evan chirped subtly so that Aimee would not notice. "So what time can I pick you up?"
"Seven would be good," Aimee replied.
"Great, then." Evan turned to leave. He made it about two yards when he suddenly dashed back to her. "Oh, I forgot to ask, what's your address?"
Aimee laughed and proceeded with telling him her address. After he had written it down on his hand with a blue ink pen, he took his exit for the second time.
Once it was clear, Lyon and Blaze moved towards Aimee.
"What was that all about?" Lyon questioned first.
"He just asked me to go with him to this poetry café tomorrow night," she explained and then turned to Blaze. "We weren't planning on hitting up a social or anything, were we?"
Blaze shook her head. "No, not at all. You should have some fun instead. It'd be a Friday night after all."
"What about you?" Aimee pondered.
Blaze's answer was typical. Aimee and Lyon both anticipated it.
"Fun for me is killing those leeches. Nothing gives me a greater joy than that."