Chapter 16: Taking Sides

I jumped out of the car, holding it to a safer side. Ataru held on tightly when he felt there was something wrong, good for him. Or else, he would have a concussion or worse as I swung the car carelessly just to keep us safe.

Creep also screeched to a halt a little bit behind us. Everyone rapidly got out of the two cars when another lightning hit another huge tree. Haunter embraced me, and we rolled over before another tree could strike us down.

“Show yourself, you coward!” Sephora screamed, her eyes turning luminous violet and leaves were hovering over her head. She looked ominous.

I took Akantha’s sword when another tree was struck down by the lightning, which was adjacent to the last one. It was a bluff because the lightning was now targeting us. Fortunately, we were able to escape from being fried.

“He’s just over there,” Creep tapped my mind. Before I could say anything, he was already transformed into his original self and was gone in an instant. “He’s got company!” he reported in an urgent tone.

“Creep?” I called him out but he didn’t respond.

I went after him in a split second and found where he was. For a long time that we’ve been together, it was the first time I found my familiar unconscious. My heart seemed twisted inside my chest. I didn’t expect him to be like this, unmoving.

I looked up and found Bacan standing there threateningly. I swallowed the lump in my throat, holding my emotions at bay. He wasn’t alone, of course. He was with three more people, or rather a user and a couple of vampires who I’d never seen before.

I gripped the scabbard and took out the sword before he could do anything more to hurt my familiar. The lightning user was merely a teenager who was trying his best to hit me. I ducked before lightning strikes me. It hit a nearby tree and it fell with a loud thud. I had to admit that he was quite powerful even though it wasn’t cloudy or raining, he was still able to use his powers. It was another mystery that I should dig in to know the reason why, I noted to myself.

Just when I thought I sliced Bacan good, it was merely a delusion on my part, I realized. Oh, I so hated him right now for playing me like this. In a few moments more, Haunter and the others arrived. Crina shielded Creep when he was about to be struck by lightning. She collapsed over the still unconscious Creep, while Ataru and Sephora faced the other two vampires.

Haunter, on the other hand, attacked the lightning user. It seemed that he didn’t merely rely on his powers at all because he was able to keep up with the alpha wolf in a hand-to-hand combat. It then left me to face Bacan again.

There were no words between us now. There was no use for them anyway. It was very clear that we won’t be able to go back to the way we were before. He wasn’t a friend or a brother to me anymore. We were foes. It was because of Dena. And today, one of us will die.

Bacan used his delusion to confuse me by showing me two more of him, then three, four, five, and six, completely surrounding me. I couldn’t tell which one of those was the real one. He kept laughing as I sliced him. But in reality, I hadn’t and his duplicates vanished into thin air everytime. There was a thin line between delusion and illusion as I began to understand. Bacan being a delusionist made me think it was all real just to find out it wasn’t.

Then I found the others already lying down with critical wounds. I didn’t notice right away until now how Haunter and the others were holding up while I was busy fighting against the delusionist vampire. I screamed at the laughing Bacan as tears threatened to fall down my cheeks. While I fought with him, I wasn’t sure anymore if what I saw was real or not. But right now, I sure hoped that my companions were fine and I was just seeing Bacan’s delusions he fed me, which were meant for me—to weaken me.

But he was wrong. That scene made me angrier, which somehow became my weapon to see right through him. I noticed that the real one, himself, was just behind me all this time. I raised my sword and I thrust it backward, which hit him in the midsection. His powers weakened and reality showed up. He gurgled some blood and stepped back from the blade. I thrust it again, in his chest this time. I knew it won’t kill him yet even though his heart was skewered as well. But I wanted him to feel pain. His groan made me feel and think somehow that I was able to avenge Creep.

I got distracted though when Haunter was hit by lightning, and Bacan took the opportunity to run away. Just before the user could hit Haunter again, I already cut off his head with my sword.

“Haunter!” I anxiously kneeled down to check on my boyfriend. His shirt was burnt and torn. As I examined him, the burn on his chest healed before my eyes. He smiled weakly as he looked up to me.

“That sword is quite handy,” he observed and stood up with my help.

It was good to see that Ataru and Sephora were able to hold their ground successfully. The vampires were already in ashes. Ataru’s game cards were as powerful as any other weapon. And to think that leaves could be weapons used by a half-succubus, it was even more interesting than I could imagine.

When I thought of still being under Dena’s protective wings, I never thought I’d see something like this in my entire existence. Until now, however, Akantha’s words didn’t disappear from my mind. I still wanted to know why my maker did this to me. I wanted to understand why. I wanted to ask her so many questions why I became like this and what she truly intended to do with me in the first place, after turning me into a vampire like her.

The users now helped Creep and Crina back in the car as they were still conscious, while Haunter and I followed. We were all cramped up together in the undamaged hatchback a few moments later. Haunter drove it while Creep rested to regain more energy.

Vesh called Haunter again to deliver a report regarding the Dark Empress’ location. He was told that we were going to be delayed because of some inevitable sticky situation. Thus, the other wolf promised to keep tailing the group while taking care of Ji-Yun. And it seemed that Ji-Yun was getting used to the idea of being protected by a wolf and a user. I didn’t hear her complain when I talked to her. In fact, she enjoyed her being an “apprentice” of both powerful men.

Well, I was really glad for her.

We arrived in Rome a few hours later without any more events designed by our enemies. We met Vesh and the rest in a café. The three of them were already eating some ice cream when we arrived.

Sephora took the seat next to Zurko and even took his bowl of ice cream. I noticed Ji-Yun smirk and shifted her gaze to me when I sat next to her. Vesh, on the other hand, got up to talk to Haunter privately a few paces away—it didn’t make any difference though because we could all hear quite well, even the users. Ataru took Vesh’s vacated seat, which was in the middle of Ji-Yun’s and Zurko’s, whereas Crina and Creep settled at another table and ordered something that Crina could eat in the meantime.

“You look quite cute,” I noticed Ji-Yun’s new clothes, which was a spaghetti tank top and a mini-skirt, paired with sneakers.

To my astonishment, she snorted and looked at Zurko with those sharp and intelligent eyes.

“He deliberately threw my clothes in the fire and bought me these shits!

I laughed hard. Then I got serious. “Hey! Watch that language, young lady.” I turned my gaze to Zurko who was looking at her with amused eyes.

“And you call yourself a young lady? You’re very foxy indeed. Who said I threw those clothes deliberately? It was an accident.” He snorted as well. Then he turned to look at me. “Don’t believe everything she says. I have integrity more than she does.

I sighed. This was a nonsense talk. They were two teenagers who were hiding their feelings from each other. Yeah, at least I could read it clearly. It was so “obvy.” I just shook my head.

“Hey, I noticed that sword. Where’d you get that?” Ji-Yun changed the topic.

Well done, I must say! I smiled.

“She inherited it from an elder,” Sephora chimed in before I could speak.

I looked at Sephora with a raised eyebrow. She didn’t reveal that I actually executed the owner of this sword. She gave me a tight smile when her eyes met mine.

“Wow! Really? I think it’s cool!” Ji-Yun almost bellowed and moved closer to me to check it out. She was quite taken with the sword that was placed on my lap.

“You can have it,” I told her and handed it to her.

Her eyes rounded with the prospect of having the beautiful sword. Its scabbard had an ancient design, and the sword was really sharp that it was even shiny when inspected under the sun. Sephora looked at the Asian girl with bored expression, her eyes were blank.

“Yeah, you should have it at least to protect yourself from Zurko,” Sephora said though with a teasing tone. Ataru sniggered upon hearing it.

Ji-Yun gave Sephora a sharp and warning look, while Zurko gave her a chuckle. The half-succubus just shrugged and finished the ice cream she stole from her fellow user.

I smiled at them and I froze suddenly. I felt that powerful galvanizing effect in the air. Just a few paces away, opposite to where Haunter and Vesh stood, was Natassa. Behind her were Semele and a couple of Medjays.

I quickly stood up and the others followed me with their gaze. I stopped right in front of the elder but I didn’t greet her.

“Are you here with the Dark Empress?” I inquired instead, looking farther than their backs. There were a couple of cars—one white, one black—which were obviously waiting for them.

“Not right now,” Natassa replied coolly in her hoarse voice. “I thought that you agreed not being near the Dark Empress, Saber.

I wasn’t able to reply right away.

“She’s not. We just happened to be here,” Haunter butted in to defend me and put his arm on my shoulder.

Natassa weighed it, if he was telling the truth or not, but let it go. I knew she didn’t buy it though. She turned to look at me then, from head to foot. I should be conscious about my appearance after our small ordeal, but I wasn’t in the least.

“You seem to be wearing the same rags, Saber. You should change if you want to come to the Dark Empress’ party tonight.

My jaw dropped. I was quite shocked to hear that. I never heard that the Dark Empress held parties. Well, what was new? I seemed to be an uneducated vampire since I was still with Dena. Everything was new to me now that I was separated from her. It appeared I had to be used to get culture shocked from time to time, from now on. However, I was confused why Natassa approached me like this when I was not supposed to get close to the Dark Empress. Maybe I’d learn about it when I met the Dark Empress herself.

“Where is this party?” I inquired instead, hiding my excitement. I felt Haunter’s hand gently squeezed my shoulder. He knew how I felt. “Why am I invited if the Dark Empress doesn’t want me around?

“Well, beats me!” she coldly said and turned on her heels. She walked away, elegant as ever.

“Can my friends tag along?” I asked her, yelling, but she just waved a hand and Semele just smiled. They all got into the car.

I followed the cars with my eyes before I looked at Haunter with confusion. But he just smiled and turned me to face him fully.

“Looks like we need to go shopping.” He beamed good-naturedly.

Vesh brought around the van and we went to the nearest department store to buy something to wear for tonight. The users and Ji-Yun enjoyed trying on clothes. Vesh, Creep, and Crina did the choosing as well for themselves.

Haunter and I watched the others. Then he dragged me to another shop. He delicately did the choosing for me. The color of the halter dress was red with a deep V neckline in which the use of a bra would defeat the design. It was mid-thigh and I knew if I’d bend over, my ass would show off. My jaw dropped at his choice of clothing, and he earned a glare from me.

“Are you out of your mind? I don’t even like red!

He shrugged and took it from me to check what shoes to wear with it. “I think it’ll just make your enemies get distracted. Who says that a dress cannot be worn as a weapon?” he calmly answered and chuckled.

I shook my head in disbelief. “What’s with men and the red color?” I let out an exasperated sigh.

He just ignored me. Instead, he picked up a pair of gold-colored cigarette high-heeled shoes and chose a pair of dangling earrings and matching bracelets.

After that, he pushed me into the dressing room to try them on, and I check myself in the mirror. I was quite amazed by myself when I saw a beautiful woman in the mirror. It was like it wasn’t me at all. I was never used to dressing to parties. I always wore clothes that I am very comfortable in—tank tops, leather pants, and jackets paired with comfortable boots.

“You done?” Haunter asked me from the outside the dressing room.

But I couldn’t answer him. He then decided to come inside and the wolf’s jaw literally dropped upon seeing me. I slowly smiled at him in the mirror. His shocked face was quite priceless! His eyes slowly traveled down my body that I felt myself blushing. It was like I was the most attractive being he’d ever seen at the moment that my heart was like jumping happily and did an endless pirouette.

“Ravishing! I want to take that dress off of you now.” He grinned, pulling me by the waist to feel his arousal. He ground his hips against mine that I gasped. Heat pooled within my lower abdomen. I closed my eyes as he bent his head to give me a passionate kiss.

I moaned as I met his tongue in my mouth. His hand kneaded my buttocks after pushing the hem up to my waist.

“Oh, Haunter,” I breathed out with a moan.

He easily pulled me up against him with my legs wrapped around his waist and my arms around his neck. My damp center was rubbing against his center, with my panties and his jeans on. We both moaned, and his kisses went down to my jaw and the side of my neck. He was about to kiss the valley of breasts when I pushed his head gently. His hooded eyes filled with desire asked me silently. I never wanted to do anything else but to get drowned into those beautiful sky blue pools of his eyes right now.

“The others must be waiting for us now.” I caressed his face and gave him a soft kiss on the lips.

He sighed. “Alright. You’re right. You can change now,” he said and slowly put me back down. When my feet were back on the floor, he gave me the privacy. I did regret to let him go like that but I smiled to myself in the mirror.

Haunter paid for all of it, including his own choices to wear, and we went outside. The others were already waiting for us in the van. He put the shopping bags below the gloves compartment and drove off. We went to a hotel to check in where we could all get ready for the evening.

We chose the penthouse so that we could all get there together and not separate. It was dangerous times as we know it. Therefore, it would be better that we’d stick together no matter what.

I was grateful that I had the likes of these different kinds of people to be with me even though I dragged them to my doomsday. With them, I felt safe and loved and cared, which I never felt before when I still belonged to Dena’s clan… well, except when I was together with Ornace, Bacan, and Creep. I sighed. Well, those were the times. But now, it was different and it was kind of a feeling of rightness and peace as well as contentment on my part—minus Dena and the assassins in my life. I wanted to treasure every moment with these people I cared about, especially Haunter who is my one and only greatest love.

We both took our bath together in the tub while the others took a nap, ate, or something to revitalize. Haunter leaned against the tub, sitting, while he gathered me into his embrace, my back comfortably leaning against him. The bubbled water was warm and relaxing against my cold naked body. His warmth and naked body was comforting. He wrapped his arms around me securely, with his cheek resting on my head.

“I wish that we could be like this always,” I whispered to him.

I felt his smile. His cheek touched mine. “Me, too.

“By the way, I’m wondering why I cannot smell you,” I told him and turned my face to look at him in the eyes.

He grinned. “I thought you’d never ask that.

“You wolf! What’s your secret? Or have you any secrets?” I asked curiously.

His hands caressed arms while still embracing me. “Hmm… let’s see,” he said thoughtfully and jokingly at the same time.

I smirked at him before I kissed his cheek. “I’m not sure now if I’d ever get attracted to you if you smelled… you know…”

“A dog? Unbathed dog?” He finished for me and pinched my nose playfully, which made me giggle.

“Well?” I prompted.

“Uh, well… I actually smelled like a dog for some centuries until about two hundred years ago,” he admitted and I wrinkled my nose. He kissed the tip of my nose, and I smiled at him. “But then I met this exotic-looking woman.

I raised an eyebrow at him, and he grinned wider.

“It wasn’t like that. We were never in that kind of relationship. I told you, I’d never been…” he trailed off.

“What do you mean? You never what?” I got confused.

“Well… to be honest, you’re my first.” He said and looked up at the ceiling as he confessed.

“What? Are you kidding me?” I was shocked. “For five hundred years?

“Well, you could say that I was never attracted to anyone but you. And I’m a wolf. I mate for lifetime!” he reasoned.

I was speechless by this turn of event, or rather the twist of some truth. I processed this whole thing in my brain. I could feel my heart doing numerous cartwheels. It was exhilarating and something else. Maybe a boost to my ego that I was the only one in his life. I had no idea exactly what to feel right now. But I was more than glad that I’m the only one in his life.

“So, I met her,” he continued to tell the story. “She was a witch from the Island of Fire…”

My head reeled at the sound of the island’s name. I looked at him with astonishment.

“What do you mean? You’ve been there in Siquijor?

He stared into my eyes and slowly nodded but questioned mine. “I was there one time. And that was where I met the witch that gave me a spell.

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