I swear these two would kill me first before any other creature could.
Napaluhod ako nang makarating kami sa camp site na ginawa namin kanina habang hinahabol ang hininga. Irus’ shadow step, that was what he called it a while ago, was more nauseating and awful than Kei’s night travel. I could see everything in flashing lines and it felt like I’d fall off if I relaxed even for a second. The wind was cutting through my skin, too.
Halos pagapang na akong lumapit sa kanila.
Irus lay Kei’s unconscious body near the fire. There were still small blotches on his arms but he looked better compared before. I drew a shaky breath as I leaned against the trunk of a fallen tree.
“He’ll be okay,” Irus assured in a muffled tone.
Napatingin ako sa dibdib niya. I grimaced when I saw the hole made by the Katteri earlier. However, unlike normal people, the blood gushing out had already clotted and the droplets were as thick as sap.
“I’m okay, too,” sabi niya at kumunot agad ang noo ko.
“Okay?” I intoned. “You have a freaking hole in your chest. How are you okay?”
“It will heal after a few days,” he replied as if it was just a scratch. “See? It’s slowly closing off. Don’t worry too much, Lady.”
Muli kong tinitigan ang dibdib niya at napaawang ang bibig ko nang makita ko ang sinasabi niya. The skin and flesh around the wound were slowly regenerating, though they looked gross since they were moving and wiggling.
Inilabas ko naman ang vials at isa na lang ro’n ang may laman. We used the rest for Kei’s blotches. Ang hirap pa naman kapag mayroong emergencies tulad na lang ng nangyari.
Several questions lingered in my head after that confrontation with the Katteri. I remembered how it almost became crazy upon smelling my blood. Agad akong napalingon kay Irus.
“So, Katteris can drink higher clan’s blood. How about you?” I asked, breaking the silence. His gray eyes looked aflame because of the fire in front of us. “We can’t.”
I knew it. They could have my blood when they needed it but they didn’t. Kinailangan pa nilang maghanap ng human blood as a source of food.
Irus and Kei had been telling me about the higher vampire clans and I seemed to be one of them, though they wouldn’t tell me any details.
“So, you can only drink human blood?” dagdag ko at tumango siya. “Pati si Kei—I mean, Khmer?” Muli siyang tumango. “Trackers, assassins and mages can only drink human blood. Other vampire subspecies can either drink human or higher clan blood.”
Agad akong napaatras dahil naging seryoso ang tingin niya. I also felt the temperature dropped several degrees to the point that the fire suddenly didn’t feel hot anymore.
I forgot he was an assassin. Damn, he’s scary.
“Blood curse,” he murmured.
My eyebrows knitted. Blood curse?
“What do you mean—”
“So . . .”
Our attention suddenly shifted to Kei who had just woken up. He sat right next to the fire and stared at us with a smile on his face. The blotches on his arms were fading and his face was already back to normal.
“You’re finally awake,” I commented as I sighed in relief.
He rested his chin on his palm and looked at me. “Thanks to you two.”
A smile escaped my lips when I heard that from him. I told him earlier that he should thank us when we succeeded. I guess he could also be true to his words.
“Thanks to you two I had to use my remaining stamina to save your asses. I almost died.”
Napanganga na lang ako nang marinig ko iyon. I thought he was thanking us because we saved him! This freaking undead.
“I knew you two would just get in trouble.” He smirked at me and Irus. “What did you say earlier? Ah. You could also do things without my help.”
Bigla namang napatayo si Irus kaya nagulat ako. He unsheathed his rapier and I thought he would stab Kei but I was stunned when he pierced his arm.
“Training! Stronger!” he exclaimed as he disappeared from my sight.
I was left dumbfounded for a few seconds until Kei chuckled.
“W-what was that?” tanong ko.
He waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t mind him. That’s his way of reflecting and apologizing.”
Hindi na ma-process ng utak ko ang nangyayari kaya tumango na lang ako. Napasandal naman ako sa nakatumbang puno at napatingin sa kamay ko. The wound I got earlier almost cost us our lives. I didn’t know my blood would be this harmful for us.
“Hey,” I called while still staring at my hand.
“What’s the blood curse Irus was talking about?”
I turned to his direction but I flinched when I saw his expression darkened. Kei might be a tracker but when he looked like this, he was much more frightening than Irus, who was an assassin.
“N-nevermind,” I muttered.
Bigla naman siyang tumayo at inayos niya ang mga gamit na dala namin. Most were just extra clothes we got (stolen) from some stalls and cash.
“Let’s go,” he said.
Kumunot naman ang noo ko. We were leaving already? Akala ko ay dito kami magpapalipas ng gabi.
“We need to move at night,” he explained. “Besides, the Katteris might come back.”
That was the cue for me to stand. I would never want to meet another Katteri again. Pagkatapos ng mga nangyari, mas gugustuhin ko pang bloodsuckers na lang ang makasalubong namin. At least, they could be killed easily.
He put out the fire and slung the bag on his shoulders. I tied his scarf around my head and neck and tightened the cloth covering my wound.
“Let’s go,” he repeated and I quietly followed him.
I knew we were creatures of the night and I already walked through the forest before, but I realized how frightening it was again this time. The occasional hooting and rustling around made me restless. It felt like a bunch of bloodsuckers and Katteris would just jump out. One time, Irus appeared right beside me and I screamed at the top of my lungs. I swear I saw the side of his eyes crinkled, as if smirking in amusement.
Nagulat naman ako nang bigla silang huminto sa paglalakad. Kei bent down and took out a plant with small berry-like fruits.
“What’s that?” tanong ko.
“Hawthorn,” Kei replied while inspecting the plant.
Agad naman niya iyong nilagay sa isang pouch at ganoon din ang ginawa ni Irus. Pagkatapos no’n ay pinagpatuloy namin ang paglalakad.
I started walking beside Kei. “Para saan ‘yon?”
“Ah,” he smiled. “Just for precaution.”
“Precaution for what?”
I was about to ask another question when Irus waved at us from a distance. Agad kaming tumakbo ro’n at muli na naman silang pumitas ng halaman. This time, it was a pinkish flower plant. Wild roses, Kei said. Tumulong na lang akong pumitas kahit wala na silang sinabi pang iba tungkol doon.
My body was getting tired but I almost gasped when I saw the forest thinning out. Then there it was, the open sea. Despite the southern part of Hallim being surrounded by water, I had never gotten to see the sea because my . . . grandparents never allowed me to travel far.
“Whoa,” I blurted out as I stared at the sea reflecting the moon.
“Oh, if I were you, I wouldn’t admire a mermaid-infested water.”
Napataas ang kilay ko nang marinig ko iyon. Did I even hear that right? Mermaids?
“M-mermaids? They are also real?”
He looked at me as if I should have already known that. “They are, and they are real nasty.”
Before I could ask what he meant, he had already pulled my waist toward him and Irus was holding onto his shoulders. Wait, don’t tell me . . .
“W-wait, are you . . .”
He smirked in return. “Night travel it is.”
That night, a shrilling scream disturbed the quiet sea and I hope the mermaids didn’t put me in their wanted list.
I glared at him the moment we stepped into the land. My knees buckled as he let go of me and I could hear him suppressing his snicker.
“Lady, I thought you have already gotten used to it?” he teased with an impish smile on his face.
I rolled my eyes in return and tried getting up without showing my knees trembling. Meanwhile, Irus had disappeared in the shadows since the day was already breaking.
We were in the outskirts again but this time, it was much more developed than the ones in Batara. The houses were a series of bungalows and trees were lined up at the side of the paved roads.
“We need to be careful,” Kei whispered so I stayed close to him.
“Why? More creatures?”
He shook his head. “Kariota is a safe country compared to the ones surrounding it,” he started explaining. “However, most of the population are elders. It would be hard to find a source of blood.”
Doon ko lang na-realize ang ibig niyang sabihin. Kariota was one of the developed countries and most of the people are career-oriented so they wouldn’t start families until they retire so their birth rate was rather low compared to the surrounding countries.
Isa na lang din ang vial of blood namin. Tsk. Dapat pala ay nag-collect pa kami noong nasa Batara pa kami. This was that Katteri’s fault.
Naghanap kami ng inn na pwede naming pagpahingahan at mayroon naman kaming agad na nakita. We rented a small room and Irus immediately appeared when it was dark enough for him to stay. Nag-shower din ako at nagpalit ng dress. The previous white dress I wore had already turned brown because of mud, dirt, and blood.
Napahiga na lang din ako sa mattress sa tabi ni Irus. Maybe it was because I wasn’t still used to being undead but I felt so tired and sleepy and hungry.