Rachel was a little taken aback by Scarlet’s response. “What—you don’t remember?”
Scarlet’s eyes seemed to lose focus. “No—I … I don’t—what happened?”
“Eh?” Maria’s brow furrowed as her luminescent horn faded. “You were corrupted by the expired blood; you didn’t seem all that abnormal though…”
“Corrupted?” Scarlet began to hyperventilate. “No, no, no…” She shook her head, arms starting to shake as she hugged her shoulders. “I can’t,” her vision shifted to the corpses. “I don’t kill … no!” She screamed, bloody tears sliding down her cheeks.
Coral seemed horrified by Scarlet’s change; she closed her eyes, trembling while gripping her shoulders at Scarlet’s outburst. “Scarlet?” Rachel pressed a hand against her back, “It’s okay…”
She flinched, shrinking back. “No, no—it’s not okay!” Her focus shifted between the confused expressions of Maria and Rachel. “I’m not okay!” She looked toward the wall, eyes turning Vampiric, she vanished in shadows.
“Hey—what’s up with her?” Maria folded her arms, staring at the spot she’d left.
Rachel heard Scarlet appear further inside the building; she was huddling in a janitor’s closet, crying. “I didn’t kill anyone—I didn’t kill anyone…”
“Hey, liebre blanca—did she not know what she was doing the entire time?”
Continuing to listen to Scarlet’s mutters, Rachel shook her head. “From what she said—it was all a dream or nightmare to her. She’s hiding in a closet muttering that she’s never killed anyone … I think we might have messed up.”
Maria’s brow creased. “Messed up how? How were we supposed to know she didn’t know anything? When she was corrupted, she said that she was Scarlet, but just her darker self … it was her.”
Rachel ran her hand through her hair, scratching the base of her left ear. “I don’t know … I mean, what do we really know about her? She was running away last night, scared and hunted; we just met her—you just met me. I think Scarlet has some scars that she’s not showing us—it probably has to do with the Reaper of Blood—obviously, she didn’t want to kill anyone.”
“No, she did … now she doesn’t,” Maria huffed.
“What?” Rachel turned to face Maria. “What do you mean?”
Maria shifted her weight, pursing her lips before glaring at the wall. “I can tell when someone’s lying. Scarlet was perfectly fine killing these guys, but once uncorrupted, she didn’t want to kill them. That’s what’s confusing me.”
“She did—now she hates that she did?” Rachel sat in a chair, cradling her head. “What do we do then?
Shrugging, Maria sat in one of the armchairs. “How should I know—the girl’s an emotional wreck—it must be a Vampire thing.”
Rachel breathed out a heavy sigh. “So—is it like, her darker Vampire nature that pushed her to kill, but once her human consciousness returned, it pushed her to hate and despise that part of her?”
“I guess,” Maria rubbed between her eyes. “We all recognized that we’ve changed … what was it the Corrupted Scarlet said? Scarlet most wants control and also wants to connect with someone?”
“Crap,” Rachel leaned back. “I think I get it. We never discussed anything about killing anyone when Scarlet was uncorrupted. Scarlet thought this was only going to be a rescue mission … it’s like we’ve betrayed her. She asked us to help her if her personality ever went crazy, and we just let her run wild…”
“Seriously?” Maria sat back to stare at the ceiling. “I don’t remember her asking us that?”
“It was kind of indirectly … we were talking about her drinking blood of an exhibitionist, and she didn’t want to act like that. She was hoping that we’d keep her in check if she went crazy.”
“I didn’t get anything like that?” Maria frowned. “I just thought she didn’t want to strip in front of people.”
“Exc—excuse me…” Coral stammered.
Maria and Rachel turned to face her. “What’s up?” Maria locked her fingers behind her head.
“What are you—what’s going to happen to me? I don’t want—I know you’re talking about your friend, but—I just—is there any way I can leave Miami Beach?”
“That’s one of the problems,” Rachel sighed, scratching her forehead. “Scarlet has the best ability to transport people, and she’s pretty upset right now—what about you, Maria? You said you could teleport.”
“Tsk,” Maria stretched her arms before shaking her head. “Nope … apparently I need more sunlight to do something like that—purifying Scarlet took quite a bit of energy as it is. I feel like Teleporting would be really costly; I don’t think I could even heal anyone if I teleport.”
“I see…” Coral muttered. She glanced down at the floor, fingers gripped. “I’m sorry for interrupting you.”
Rachel rested her head against the back of her chair. “No—it’s okay. You’ve been through a lot too. I think I should go talk to Scarlet … she seems to be in a delicate state right now, and she’s the only person that can transport everyone to safety.”
Maria stretched with a short yawn. “Want me to join you?”
“No, I think you should stay with Coral; I don’t think she’ll want to be left alone.” She noticed Coral’s muscular movement shift in a relieved manner before she nodded.
“Sorry for causing trouble…”
Huffing, Maria shifted to look at her. “You got nothing to say sorry for, but Marcus will be sorry when we’re done with him.” She nodded, muscles tightening up at Maria’s sharp tone.
“Well,” Rachel breathed a long breath, “I’ll be back.” Getting to her feet, she walked down the main entrance, branching at a hallway to her right. Reaching a janitor’s closet at the opposite side of the building, Rachel stopped outside the door. “Scarlet?” She didn’t answer. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Leave me alone,” Her voice cracked. “I…” She pressed herself further into the corner.
“I’m sorry.” Rachel sighed, leaning against the wall; she slid down to her butt, tail pressing against the door as her hair bunching against the marble floor. “We didn’t really consider how you’d feel … sorry.”
The silence stretched for a full minute as Rachel followed Marcus fuming over Felix’s disappearance; many of his gang members were scouring the immediate area for clues. Daran was talking to a few of his men through radios, expanding the search.
“I hate it…” Scarlet whispered.
“Hate being a Vampire?”
“Everything … the thirst—emotion—Scarlet—my own feelings—my parents … everything. I just—why is everything so dark? Why do I have to deal with this? It’s not fair … I just want my family back … my Vampire role playing mom and dad. Why did everything change?” Her voice broke as she sobbed.
Rachel let her head fall back against the door. “I don’t know … I’m scared too.”
“You’re always so confident though? It’s like everything’s normal to you.” Scarlet sniffed.
“Maybe on the outside … you can smell my emotions, can’t you?”
Scarlet was silent for a moment. “Yeah—I sense them, which is confusing.”
“Confusing—why?” Rachel shifted, ears twitching.
“Because you’re angry—outraged; you’re also sad and scared, but you’re so confident. I don’t know how you can be scared and confident. I’m scared, really scared, but no one can tell … everyone thinks I’m just a monster or some basket case. I’m scared—I hate myself—I’m scared of myself—terrified. I don’t want to be a horrible monster … I want to be a girl … a normal human girl. I want my family back—I want my life back…”
Rachel’s muscles sagged. “You don’t feel in control?”
“I get that—that confidence you sense … I don’t know if that’s me either. It’s super confusing, and I bet Maria feels a bit of the same way, but she has to be strong … she’s gotta be the big sister and the person that helps everyone; she can’t even lie anymore, and that must be strange … forced to always tell the truth.” Rachel was momentarily distracted as she heard the Fairy finally get free of her cage, but returned her focus back to Scarlet as she spoke.
“You’re scared of yourself?”
“No…” Rachel muttered, hugging her knees against her chest. “That scares me a bit in itself. I’m not scared of who I’ve become, and that’s scary, but I don’t feel that scared—it’s a little confusing. I’m scared that my parents will reject me … that’s one reason why I want to save people—to throw it in my brother’s face. Not very heroic, right?”
Scarlet swallowed, shifting a bit behind the door. “You don’t get along with your family?”
“I—it’s complicated. My brother’s the golden child and I—it’s just like, there’s not enough love for both of us … if he does something good, then he’s loved, and if I do something good, I’m loved. I know it doesn’t sound ideal or healthy or I don’t know—but that’s life for me … I need to make my parents proud. This is how I do that…”
Scarlet sniffed before huffing. “Sound like crappy parents. You’re amazing—at least, I think you are…”
Rachel was a little taken aback. “Are you serious? You’re the amazing one—I guess what I admire about you is something you hate…”
“What do you mean—you admire me? I’m a mess…”
Laughing a little, Rachel slid down to her back, brushing her hair out of the way to rest across her chest. “You sure are … a hot mess that can succeed at anything she does … everything I’ve seen you do, you dominate. If I was like that—I can’t help but think my parents would love me more.”
“That’s stupid…” Scarlet stated.
“Kind of is—isn’t it…” Rachel muttered.
“You’re super outgoing and take charge … you take responsibility and try to help people … don’t let your parents’ expectations define your good stuff! It wasn’t your parents that forced you to take care of me when Carter wanted to cut me into pieces … you did that, no one else.”
“I forgot you heard that part…” Rachel sighed, hands resting behind her head to finger her ponytail.
“See—you’re a good person … I’m a monster to be cut into pieces…”
“Hey,” Rachel frowned. “What’s up with that twisted logic? The monster was Carter, and if he wasn’t the monster, then I’m the monster that helped another monster. Maybe we’re just new monsters figuring everything out … do you remember the stuff you did when you were corrupted?”
Scarlet was silent for several seconds. “Kind of … I’m trying not to think about it…”
“Do you remember Coral?”
“The Bunny Beastkin? Yeah…”
“Who saved her?”
“How did Maria heal her?”
“… because I teleported her here…”
“Yeah, you did. You saved that woman, and do you know how?”
“Because I’m a monster…”
“Because you’re a good person. You remember what you told us when you were corrupted?”
“I said a lot of things…” Scarlet muttered.
“You said that your corrupted state was the darker emotions in your heart, and what did you say when you saw Coral in that condition?” When she didn’t respond, Rachel continued. “You said, how sad … compassion, in your most terrible state, you had compassion. How many families do you think those two men broke apart and destroyed? And who’s the monster?”
“It doesn’t matter—I killed them … I did it—not Scarlet…” she whispered.
“Yes, you did, but I would have no problem doing that myself. If that makes me a monster, so be it. They killed a lot of people, and now, for their lives, you have the chance of saving hundreds. Is that morally right? I don’t know, but I can live with that trade—I’m sure my change has a part in that, but I’m not hung up over it. There are people that can use your help, Scarlet, right now.”
Scarlet took a deep breath before appearing across the hall from her; her cheeks were blood-stained as she left the shadows but it quickly sank into her skin. “How can you think like that? I—I don’t want to trade life for life … heroes don’t do that…”
Rachel sat up against the door with a depressed sigh before scratching behind her right ear. “Who said we were heroes? I don’t think of myself as a hero. I’m just a girl that got changed into a monster; some bad men were in front of me and could be used to protect some decent people. Is everyone upstairs good? Probably not, but I’d say they’re at least more decent than the men used to save them?
“We’re not heroes?” Scarlet looked down at the floor mournfully. “What does that make us then?”
A sad smile lit Rachel’s cheeks. “I was about to say human, but I guess that doesn’t apply to us anymore … I guess, we’re living in reality. Reality’s ugly—this really has opened my eyes to that. Would I have just killed them if there was no gain? I don’t think so; I wouldn’t kill indiscriminately, but something in me has flipped since changing, and I’m not so hung up about killing. If someone pointed a gun at me, I have no doubt that I could kill them without hesitation; no remorse.”
Scarlet’s black eyes turned back to blue. “You’re okay with that?”
“Okay with that?” Rachel scratched her left ear, shaking her head. “No, well, it’s complicated … it bugs me, sure, but I have other priorities right now. Right now, my concern is you; is that connected to a ton of other goals and objectives … yeah, yeah it is, but I still don’t think you’re a monster.”
“How can you not think I’m a monster?” Scarlet’s brow creased as she glared at the floor.
“Because you cry; you feel scared about what you’ve become; you’re caring; you’re self-reflective; you have reservations. Frankly, I feel like you’re more human than I am … you could ask Maria to see if I’m lying.” Rachel chuckled.
Scarlet hugged her knees together. “I just don’t know what to do with myself…”
“Clarify something for me,” Rachel smirked. “What are friends for? I’ve heard a ton of things through different media and stuff, but what do you think?”
“To be there for one another?” Scarlet asked.
Rachel shrugged. “I guess—I have no idea. I don’t think we’re quite friends; I mean, we just met, but like I said, I’m willing to give it a shot. I don’t think I’d take a bullet for you, but I’m willing to help you out—is that where we start?”
A sad smile curved Scarlet’s features. “I guess that’s a start. I’m still a bit upset … I know they weren’t good guys, but I’m—I’m processing all the memories of when I was corrupted. It’s like it was me—but it wasn’t me … it’s just confusing.”
Rachel nodded. “I’m here, and if you ever want to hear an absolutely one-hundred percent honest opinion, just hit up Maria.” She giggled. “Do you remember how she reacted to your blood portal?”
A smile finally touched Scarlet’s lips. “Yeah—I’d have to agree with her … it does feel strange, but I guess not nearly as bad since it’s my own blood. It’s like jumping into a pool of dense water—I don’t experience the touching part.”
“So, you think we can help all these people?”
Scarlet’s black eyes returned with her glowing red irises as she stared up at the ceiling. “I feel super powerful … after drinking their blood.” She seemed conflicted for a moment before nodding. “I think I can help them.”
Rachel rose to her feet. “I’ve been wondering something.”
“Why aren’t you being affected by those murderers’ blood? Shouldn’t their personality affect you?”
Scarlet’s eyes widened. “Now that you mention it … you’re right? I feel completely normal … could it be Maria purifying me?”
“That’s a good suggestion,” Rachel nodded. “Maybe she can purify the emotions that latch onto your personality?”
“Maybe…” Scarlet muttered, looking down at the floor. “I think it was something different though.”
Brow furrowed, Rachel stretched out a bit. “Oh? Why’s that?”
“It’s—there was something that I heard the Reaper of Blood mutter when I was sleeping … I think the purpose of the emotion is to be converted. I was letting it float around inside me, but it can be converted into energy. I think the corrupted me did that, and that’s one of the reasons why my corruption was so strong … I absorbed the personalities inside the old blood bags.”
“I see,” Rachel, cupped her chin as she thought. “So, you can increase the energy gained by absorbing the emotion and personalities. The expired blood bags caused you to become corrupted, but by absorbing live blood, it neutralized a lot of that corruption, allowing Maria to purify the rest.”
Scarlet nodded. “Pretty crazy, but I think that’s what happened.”
“Huh,” Rachel smiled as she looked down at Scarlet. “Anyways, I’m glad you’re back to normal, and I get to meet the real Scarlet. I think we kind of know what to do if you get corrupted again.”
Her eyes widened. “What? Please, don’t make me drink live blood just to uncorrupt myself!”
“No, no, no,” Rachel chuckled. “You should be able to do the same with normal blood bags, right? It may not be nearly as powerful as live blood, but it could help mitigate the effects if you absorbed the personalities and emotion within them.”
“Oh,” Scarlet breathed a sigh of relief. “Okay, I see.” She rested her head against the wall, staring up at the ceiling. “Hey, Rachel.”
“I feel—I think I understand that I may need to kill at times, but—but I don’t want to just do it for a stupid reason. I don’t want to be entertained doing it or feel happy … that’s the part that scares me.”
“I get that,” Rachel hummed lowly. “So, killing isn’t really the issue, but how you feel when doing it. I’m guessing it has something to do with the emotions you talked about when corrupted?”
Scarlet nodded gravely. “I feel—I hate that I do feel pleasure when people have negative emotions. I hate it, my brain hates it, but my body loves it—I just … I don’t know how I can make that stop.”
“Well,” Rachel rubbed her left shoulder, leaning up against the wall. “I think we have a lot of things we need to talk about after all this mess is done … I don’t think anyone else could really understand but us, right? I mean, we’re a lot different than everyone else, and we’ve actually, really changed—a lot. I mean, Maria can’t even lie anymore; I feel drawn to stressful situations and I’m completely comfortable with that; you feel joy in negative emotion … we all seem to have our problems. I’d like to sit down and talk that out with everyone … maybe it would be good to include the Fairy Mythickin in that too.” She chuckled. “Something like an AA meeting, I guess.”
Pausing for a moment, she listened in on the Fairy. “Hey! What’s up with you guys? I just want to find my friend!”
“Rats … woah, trying to bite me? Hey!” She heard a squeak as he slammed his foot down.
“Hey … Rat Four…” Her voice cracked.
“The Fairy is going through a rough time right now … it seems like she’s out of energy and got caught again.”
Scarlet took a deep breath. “I guess we all do have our problems … I’d like that—sitting down and talking about it. I don’t think Richard would understand, but I feel like you would … maybe I’m more of a mess than I thought, and that’s scaring me…”
Rachel moved to help her up, holding out a hand. Scarlet looked at her hand with a furrowed brow, taking a second before grasping it. “Alright, let’s give Maria and Coral a heads up; quickly save that Mythickin Fairy, and then we can transport everyone we can to safety. Sound like a plan?”
Scarlet rose to her feet with Rachel’s aid. “Thanks, Rachel … really, thank you. I couldn’t imagine going through all of this alone.”