The three of them exited Maria’s room; the soldiers gave them appraising looks. “I can definitely see the three of you becoming idols in Japan,” Matthew muttered.
Roger nudged him with a chuckle. “You are a fan of manga! Knew you had a sharp eye for a reason.” The rest of the squad chuckled as Rachel heard Julia rushing back down the halls.
Richard cleared his throat; he was studying them with a deep frown. “I don’t want to dampen your moods—but, I’ve been giving it some thought, and I’d like to have a private session with each of you. Well—I doubt it will be private; each of you seems to have incredible senses, but I think I need to have a chat with each of you, nonetheless.”
“Why’s that?” Maria asked bluntly. “Privately, eh, think there’s something wrong with us?” The soldier’s muscles shifted to a more serious stance at her words, cheer diminishing a bit.
His eyes didn’t leave Scarlet as he carefully chose his words. “Frankly—I think there are some issues that each of you have; it’s to be expected with your sudden change. I want to be transparent with each of you—I doubt skirting the truth will do much good with the abilities each of you possess. Therefore, I would like to be as clear as possible.”
“I don’t need a loquero!” Maria sniffed.
Richard chuckled, but his eyes were serious. “Maria, I believe your change has actually helped you for the better; there may be some things hidden deeper, but you’ve mellowed out a considerable amount since coming here. Scarlet and Rachel on the other hand—I’m deeply concerned.” He was bound to get to this eventually, especially with my recent outburst. I’ll need to consider my response carefully.
Rachel left her features passive. “I think that would be beneficial; I know I have changed in some ways—just my advanced hearing has changed my outlook on situations.”
She could hear his muscles shift in an agitated manner, but his face remained calm. “I find your composure and ability to control your demeanor most concerning as a Psychiatrist; it’s not easy to detect, but there’s something you’re trying to hide—why you choose to hide it is what is most concerning. I’d like to discuss your relationship with your family; your outburst earlier is concerning, especially with the kind of strength you possess.” He’s not wrong, and it’s natural to determine all of our stability. I assume the government chose him for this reason.
“Humph,” Maria folded her arms. “Her business is her own.”
Scarlet took a deep breath. “Thank you, Richard.” Everyone went silent as Scarlet’s cheer dampened slightly and a sad smile moved her lips. “Really, thank you, Richard, but it won’t help me—it will only terrify you.” Richard’s soft swallow caught Rachel’s attention. That’s an interesting answer; she didn’t sugarcoat it in the least, and it makes him extremely nervous. Why would having a counseling session terrify him? Does he know something about her that I don’t?
He took a deep breath as Maria smirked, appraising Scarlet with respect. “Be that as it may be,” Richard said, closing his eyes for a moment. “I need to know how you’ve changed; including what parts of your humanity are intact, as harsh a statement that is.”
Scarlet laughed softly, holding her right arm as she looked at the floor. “I know very clearly that I have changed, and I’m concerned about my humanity as well—however, there’s nothing you can do to fix what’s broken—infused inside me. People will hate me for what I am, I’m trying to accept that.”
Rachel’s skin tingled. Wow, what kind of internal struggle is she having? I’ve felt a stronger drive push me to succeed, but what about her? I can’t really tell anything from her body; it’s so different from how human biology sounds.
“About my psyche?” Scarlet asked. The atmosphere grew more tense; no one willing to interrupt her. “Yes, as you should be—I mean, I’m concerned; I’m not shy about it.” Rachel heard the hurt and hesitation hidden beneath her calm voice. “I was standing in a nightmare—with a storm of emotion raining down—my insides screaming … I was utterly alone—with that demon—the only person that came hunted me. A burning emotional storm was all I experienced … it was all I could do to struggle to keep myself afloat in that—that harrowing flood that threatened to strip my sanity.”
Swallowing, she smiled. “Talking about it is a little hard and not helpful—peeling back those layers to look into my core; the real issue … if it scares me to dive into that ocean, then it will horrify you. I’d rather let The Reaper sleep…”
“Alone with that demon—The Reaper…” Richard muttered darkly; the soldier’s shifting uncomfortably at Scarlet’s words.
He trailed off as Julia rushed into the room. “Oh, my … you’re all absolutely stunning! What’s with all the tense faces? I miss something?”
Scarlet’s features brightened in an instant. “Not at all! Richard was just asking to have some personal time with us after the photo shoot—honestly, I’m a little nervous. I’ve never been a model before—I’m a bit gothic looking too; not your average bright model.”
“Ahh, okay. You’ll do wonderful, Scarlet!” Julia said with a thumbs up. “You three defy logic, beyond natural beauty!”
“Thank you,” Scarlet giggled.
Richard fell silent as he studied Scarlet, Rachel could hear how tightly his muscles were wound. “Very well, you go on ahead … I’ll think on your words, Scarlet.” His eyes shifted to Rachel, “I still would like to speak to you first, if that’s alright, Ms. Park.”
Rachel smiled innocently. “Of course.”
Maria rolled her eyes. “Let’s get on with this.”
“Yes!” Julia clapped. “They’re getting a small space set up. Let me take your clothes to get washed—are they in your rooms?” She hurriedly moved to get them when they nodded.
Turning to Rachel, Maria said, “Lead the way, liebre blanca.”
Rachel turned to leave; the Green Berets fell in line, sharp eyes looking for trouble as they escorted them. Julia quickly caught up with a bright expression, leaving Richard alone.
Rachel frowned slightly as Richard began to speak to the empty room. “Rachel, I assume you can hear me. From what information I’ve been given on your background, you’re a very diligent girl. You’ve done excellent in school and have practiced Muay Thai for some time. All of this while holding down a job since the age of fourteen as shown from tax records. I’ve also read the report on your activities during the ride over to the hospital and the kidnapping incident; you have a moral compass from what I can tell. Just from the short time I’ve known you, I can clearly see diligence, but to what aim, I’m still unsure. I need to know your goal, what is pushing that drive? That is what I need to talk to you about, think on my words.” He fell silent.
She took a deep breath. Right, my drive. I can clearly see my drive; I’ve always been in competition with Nam. I want my parents’ approval and love, which they measure by achievement. I know that it’s a hard road, but that’s never scared me—I was scared they’d hate what I’ve become, but that doesn’t seem like the case. It’s still about achievement; I am a representative of the family name. If that translates into saving lives now, then I’ll compete; I’ve never backed down from a challenge. I’ve just had to adapt to this new competition. There’s also Alexa … another obstacle standing in my path.
Features pacifying, Rachel found what she’d been scanning for. Good, a medical sanitation facility. Scarlet doesn’t seem scared to fight. Whatever Reaper she’s talking about must not be connected to blood packs. Perhaps she would change when drinking live blood, but that shouldn’t be a problem with how much blood is at the facility. Would Richard think this competitive urge to compete with my brother is healthy? Probably not, it probably isn’t, but I don’t care; I want my parents’ respect, and this is how they measure it. It’s interesting how I can think like this now; I’ve definitely changed.
Her ears tracked Carter skulking by the photo shoot. She whispered, “Scarlet, look through the floors to our left. See anyone of interest?”
“Hmm?” Scarlet’s eyes darkened as her glowing halo-like red irises appeared. She grimaced. “Seriously…”
Roger noticed Scarlet’s reaction. “Something wrong?”
“Probably nothing,” Rachel said with a smile.
“Really?” Scarlet muttered. “He shot me in the back with a shotgun…”
“For real?” Maria growled with contempt. “Le vamos a partir la madre!”
The soldiers were looking at them with deep frowns; trying to piece together their conversation, but they weren’t able to hear their whispers past the loud halls.
“I’ll handle it.” She looked up as they exited the building to get to the photo shoot area. The moon was just poking above a short building; energy filled her instantly, and she paused. There we go. She flexed her fingers with a slight grin. I could get used to this feeling; I’m weightless and filled with tremendous strength … it’s like I could jump all the way to the moon.
Julia hummed. “Why … oh, the moon! How do you feel?”
Maria grinned as she looked at her and Scarlet smiled. “You’re glowing again,” Scarlet noted, eyes returning to normal.
Eyes sparkling, Julia took out her phone and started taking pictures. “So brilliant! You look … what’s a proper word … majestic!”
Smiling, Rachel looked up at the moon. “The moon certainly is majestic; I see her through new eyes, literally. I can feel her protection and power infusing me; this feeling—it makes me feel like I can do anything under her light.”
“Good,” Maria smirked. “Let’s get going. We have a tight schedule.”
Face straight, Rachel nodded. “Let’s go.”
They made it to the designated area quickly, and the soldiers posted up around the room. Huckly swallowed nervously as they appeared. “Wow—you two certainly give a different vibe in new clothes, and … you’re glowing a bit more than yesterday, Rachel.”
“Is that right?” Rachel asked.
Julia cut in. “I think it’s because it’s nearing a waxing gibbous moon—just a few more days!”
Huckly’s eyes moved to Scarlet. “So, this is the other Mythickin…”
Rachel cut in. “That’s right, now, where do we sign to seal the contract?”
He frowned as he studied Scarlet’s cheerful face. “Umm, here…” He pulled out a piece of paper from a briefcase and handed them a pen.
They both signed, and Scarlet looked past Huckly at the cameras. “I am a little nervous. Do you really think people will want to see pictures of me—I mean, you’ll post what kind of Mythickin we are … right?”
Clearing his throat, Huckly shifted nervously as he looked Scarlet over. “You don’t seem that scary or intimidating—wait, are those fangs in your mouth?”
Scarlet’s smile was bright as she showed them off. “I guess Rachel didn’t tell you I’m a Vampire.” She said with a sad chuckle.
Rachel heard his muscles tighten as he glanced at her before returning to Scarlet. “Vampire—you’re a Vampire? Like the Seattle Vampire?”
“No,” Julia cut in. “She’s not the same type of Vampire as the Seattle one. From what we’ve been able to observe, she cannot control people.”
“I’m afraid that’s classified as of now,” Julia stated.
“Right … so, do you have any kind of—transformation, or anything to—enhance the photos?” He stumbled through his words.
Scarlet hummed with concern. “Do you really want to see? Wouldn’t it look better for you to not post anything scary? It could also improve the Vampire image that the Seattle Vampire ruined for us.”
Swallowing, he cleared his throat again. “I guess—you’re right. Next to Rachel and Maria … it would be good to keep their theme.”
Julia nodded. “Wonderful. Alright, who would you like to…”
“Why don’t you start with Maria,” Rachel said. “I have someone I need to talk to.”
“That’s fine,” Huckly said, motioning to Maria.
She was looking around with serious eyes but nodded with a deep breath. “Alright, liebre blanca. Don’t take too long though.”
Julia seemed confused as Maria went with Huckly toward the brightly lit area they’d set up. “Who are you going to meet?”
“It shouldn’t take long,” Rachel said with a confident smile. “Why don’t you stay with Scarlet; I’ll be back soon.”
“Okay…” She trailed off as Rachel moved off.
She walked toward the back of the room by an emergency exit where several National Guard were huddled on break; all of them were with Carter, hiding him from view. The Green Beret’s followed her movement, their muscular motion signaled that they’d realized why she was moving toward them. Cameron radioed in. “Carter identified in the photo shoot area; seems he has National Guard with him—Rachel engaging. Orders?”
“Observe for now,” Mateo stated. “Clear civilians in the line of fire and be ready for action.” She heard their grip tighten on their rifles.
The National Guard soldiers shifted nervously as she approached and they huddled around Carter. She stood face to face with one of the soldiers; she could smell his fear and hear the tightening of his muscles. Her passive pinkish-red eyes stared into his brown. “Move aside, Carlos.”
Carlos’ fingers began to tremble in his pockets. “How do you know…”
Carter sighed. “Carlos, let her in.”
Clearing his throat before swallowing, he shifted to let her by. Carter appraised her warily as he nodded for her to sit across from him; a man rising to let her take the chair. Accepting it, she crossed her legs, sitting straight, hands across her lap.
“How are you tracking my movements?” He asked darkly.
A smile touched her lips. “I know all about your childish game; I know about Carlos, Ivania, Jose, Farid, Aldo, John, Ronny … should I go on?” All the men’s faces grew pale as she continued. “The breakers you plan to flip to cause a distraction to target Scarlet, which would only kill all of your friends. The smoke bombs you have around the area to cause a panic in the Green Berets for public safety—aren’t you acting like terrorists?”
“That’s only the tip of the iceberg,” Rachel smiled innocently. “Sangita slipped you fentanyl from the Miami Zoo; certainly elephant tranquilizers would work on a Vampire, right? That’s a felony for poor Sangita; there’s plenty of evidence to link her to your little group. What about George, slipping you the security detail of the hospital electrical room? Henry, right next to you,” Henry’s eyes widened, muscles tense. “Did you know about his morphine addiction? He could get Gloria fired for using her credentials to get into the medical…”
“What are you?” Henry’s nose was twisted with rage. “That’s a lie.” Carter shifted a little to ease his tension as he held up a hand, but Henry shook his head. “No, this…”
“Hiding it in the fold of your military jacket; a hidden pocket near your right breast.”
Henry took a step back, eyes wide. “How the…”
“Why are you protecting her—or are you after something else?”
Rachel went silent for a moment. Why am I protecting Scarlet? I guess it’s because she’s a goal … she isn’t connected to my parents though. Is it just the competition? I want to match up to her … I guess that’s it. These people won’t take away someone I view as a rival.
“I want to be perfectly clear, Carter.” Rachel’s tone was neutral. “Think of your options. I could expose every person that has helped you plan a terrorist operation with evidence to paint a pretty nasty picture; I know every single person’s name, no matter how small their contribution was. Think about the implications during Martial Law.
“That’s option one—option two … I could rip every one of your men to pieces in less than three seconds; literally, I could tear every one of them apart, limb from limb. You’ve already been suspected of terrorist activity; no one would blink an eye. All I need to do is wait for you to act—cut the power, blow the smoke bombs, and you’re all dead, labeled as terrorists with the U.S. Army backing me up. You cannot beat me, period. Understand?”
Carter worked around his jaw. “You’re as evil as she is … Mythickin…”
She chuckled. “How narrow-minded. You never wanted it to be like this, right? You think I want to kill you? No, but I’m a lot colder than I was yesterday; perhaps that has something to do with my change. I didn’t want to give you these options, but you forced my hand. You view Scarlet as a monster, I don’t. It’s as simple as that; is your life worth that hatred inside you? Leave, and don’t come back into our lives. I honestly hope you don’t test me.”
She gripped the lip of the steel chair she sat on and tore a piece off with ease, causing the men to jump. They stared at the metal with wide eyes as she formed it into a ball with one hand. “I haven’t measured how fast I can throw things. That would be an interesting test, don’t you think?” Rising, the men scattered, giving her a wide berth as she dropped the metal ball on the ground.
Henry huffed. “You think you can intimidate us?”
He flinched as Rachel’s eyes slid to him. “You think I’m lying? Isn’t it natural to have your hand on a blade when a snake bites?” Her tone darkened. “Forget about revenge; it’s impossible.” Carter rose, taking a deep breath, nose flaring, but Rachel cut him off. “Don’t turn this into a boxing match … walk left, right out of my sight.” She flexed her fingers; cracking her neck, hair shifting with her movements.
“Let’s go,” Carter growled. He paused for a moment as they glared at each other.
“I’ll always be prepared,” Rachel stated. “I won’t warn you next time; for your family’s sanity, I hope you don’t throw your life away. Think of your son.” Rachel stated. A few of his men spat on the ground as they glared at her before exiting the building. If he seeks Scarlet’s or my life, then I don’t feel bad. He made his choice to raise the sword. If they start it, I don’t feel bad about finishing it. Perhaps this is what Richard is sensing within me that’s giving him unease—this cold intent.