Chapter twelve – Raven
‘Who are you? What do you want from me?’
I was lying. I knew exactly who he was. But from the second I saw his face, a sudden feeling of dread had come over me, like an ice cold hand creeping up my spine. I immediately realized that I did not want him here. Not Hao. He wasn’t supposed to be here. Not like this.
‘My name is Hao,’ the man said softly. ‘You don’t know me, but I was a friend of your mother.’
‘What do you want?’
‘We should really discuss this inside,’ Hao replied. He got up from the bench, gesturing to the house. My house. I should have been thinking about how weird it was to be invited into my own home by a stranger, but I’d gone into brain-lock. So I merely nodded. He preceded me to the front door, where Hao waited for me to let him in.
There wasn’t anyone else home at this time of day. We would be alone. The living room was still dark. I didn’t bother turning on the lights, guiding Hao towards the nearest place that he could sit down at. He chose the couch, lowering himself with a weary sigh. He took a few seconds to collect himself, before he began to talk.
‘I am terribly sorry to bring you into the subject like this, but I have to be sure. Do you know who your birthmother is, Chase?’
‘I do,’ I answered, giving a single nod. ‘I’ve read the letters.’
‘Good. That… makes this explanation a lot simpler. I don’t know if your mother included this in her letters, but she used to work in the military.’
‘She was the leader of a squadron,’ I replied. ‘You were her underlings. All four of you.’
‘We were, yes. It was top-secret back in the day, but we were vampire hunters. We did good work. Protected people, killed monsters- the sort of thing you might have read in storybooks when you were smaller. Only this was real. We did what we believed was right… until about twenty years ago.’
I knew what he was talking about. The memory came to me of two small children, with glowing eyes and fanged teeth. Vampires… but also not. Innocent. Like her siblings were. My mother betrayed everyone in the military to keep those two safe.
‘After that… they couldn’t stay anymore. I remained in the military to provide the three of them with cover while they smuggled the mother and children out of the country. I am currently the only person in the world that knows they didn’t die all those years ago… besides you, that is.’
I nodded. I wasn’t entirely sure where he was trying to go with this.
‘If it’s all right with you, Chase… I’d like to tell you about what happened to your parents over the last twenty years.’
‘Why?’ I answered, with a furrowed brow. Hao seemed to be having trouble looking me in the eyes. I didn’t like any of this.
‘Just let me finish. I’ll answer any questions you have at the end, I promise. All right?’
As he sighed, I took a good look at the man in front of me. He had aged. Not that I had actually seen him in person before this, but I remembered him with less wrinkles. Or maybe he was just frowning more.
‘After bringing you here, Raven and the others traveled far away from Appaloosa Plains. As far as possible. Derek and Yurick came along as well, and the four of them hunted down vampires for a long time after that. It all worked out, somehow. I’d secretly provide them with the information they needed. They’d take care of the monsters behind the scenes. When I came under suspicion from the military and couldn’t provide them with more information, they sought them out by themselves. Your mother in particular had a knack for finding more of them. Or maybe they found her. I don’t know the details. She’d get in touch with me every few months or so, to let me know how they were doing. Send me a message. Asked me to check in with you. I did, and you seemed fine. I don’t think you’ve ever seen me when you were growing up.
And then, one day… the messages stopped coming.’
That same feeling of dread from before spread through my body a second time. As if a cold hand had wormed its way into my chest and clasped onto my heart. I wanted him to stop talking. But my lips were paralyzed, and sound wouldn’t come out. Hao kept talking, looking me straight in the eyes.
‘They would leave clues about their future whereabouts, so you could find them in the future. If you wanted to. They’d tell me where to find those, in order to be able to set you on your path. When I stopped hearing from her… I sought the clues out for myself and followed them. It took me a few weeks to piece everything together.’
He sighed. His next words drowned out all other sounds in the room.
‘There was… an ambush. By the time I found them, there was nothing left I could do.’
‘I’m sorry, Chase. Your parents are gone.’
Irony was a cruel thing.
I didn’t reply. My head was in a daze. Slowly, I could feel that daze taking over the rest of my body. My chest. My arms. My legs. Any sense of feeling left my body.
‘They would have wanted you to know they loved you,’ Hao said. He kept talking after that, but I stopped listening. Slowly, my body rose up from its seat. I turned to face the front door, walking forward. Reached the door. Turned the knob, and walked outside. Hao didn’t follow me.
I didn’t bother to look back. My chest was feeling strangely numb. My body carried me out of the garden on its own, without any input from me. Dark clouds had gathered above us since I’d let Hao in. They broke open, letting a small drizzle come down. Then rain. Heavy rain, which turned into a downpour. I barely registered it as I walked.
Finally, my legs stopped moving. I didn’t know for how long I’d been walking. It could have been a minute, or an hour. I did know that I was far, far away from my house. it had gotten completely dark around me. So dark that it took me a while to realize where I was. After a few moments I finally recognized my surroundings. In a way, it was fitting.
My legs had carried me to the graveyard.
There, my body automatically steered towards the nearest bench. I sunk down, burying my head in my hands. The rest of my limbs were strangely numb, but my head was pounding. The whole walk here, the voice of Hao had been echoing through my mind. Stinging. Burning. Repeating that last sentence over and over again.
And they had been waiting for me. All this time. They’d left clues, and messages, and instructions for when I’d finally come find them. Not if. When. They didn’t have a single doubt. They believed that I would come. They’d been patiently waiting for me, for the day I was ready. They’d been waiting for years.
But I took too long. I screwed up. Why didn’t I go after them sooner? I should have read those letters as a teenager, after all. Maybe then I’d have been ready before… before it was too late. Maybe I could have made a difference. Helped them with making it out alive somehow.
So many years of training. Preparing. Pushing my limits. And for what?
I’d failed them before I could even start.
From the far distance, I could hear the sound of approaching footsteps. I didn’t look up to see who it was. I merely pulled up my legs underneath me, placing my head in my hands again. Numbness had overtaken my entire body, drowning out all of my senses. It almost kept me from recognizing the voice that called out.
‘Are you daft? You’ll catch a cold like that, pup.’
I barely registered the words being spoken. My eyes were closed, Hao’s words still resounding iny my head. Curled up into a ball, I remained motionless on the bench. The footsteps resounded against the dirt again. They passed me by. They vanished. I was alone again.
The next second, I could feel a warm hand on my shoulder.
‘Chase. It’s me.’
‘Go away,’ I mumbled.
I didn’t have the strength to say anything else. And Nailah didn’t go away. Another hand touched my back, and I could feel her slowly turn me around. Her grey eyes met mine. For a moment, they seemed to look right through me. Read everything that had happened in the past few hours out of me, like you’d read it out of an open book. Then her gaze softened, and her look turned to one of heartfelt sympathy.
She pulled me into a hug. I’d never been that close to her before. Nailah wrapped her arms around me, cradling my head between her neck and shoulder. I could feel her heartbeat, inches from my chest.
‘I’m so sorry, Chase.’
That was more than I could handle. The warmth of her voice broke through my numbness. Easily, effortlessly. I couldn’t hold back anymore. New tears started to flow, dripping down my cheeks and onto her shirt. My shoulders were shaking. I clutched onto her tightly. Nailah didn’t break away, comforting me silently as I cried.