Yes, I know, I'm a terrible person. But it's not just you guys. I haven't done any work on anything for, like, a month. I'm trying really hard to get caught up, and I promise not to get so far behind from now on. (Although no guarantees that I'll be able to successfully keep this promise.) So, here's Chapter Four. Chapter Five is close behind, though!


Chapter Four
Learning

Katriana put a hand over her mouth to hide the fact that it had fallen open, and also to help stifle the gasp that almost escaped. All this time, Lorenzo could read her mind? Did that mean he knew about what happened last—?

She broke off her thought before she could finish it in case he didn't know. For all she knew, Lorenzo could be reading her mind right now. And who's to say he could only read her thoughts? Maybe he could go all the way in and rummage through thoughts that had been thought, sights that had been seen...

Things that had been felt.

"Katriana," Lorenzo sang. "Or shall I call you 'KitKat'?"

Katriana's hands balled up into fists and she pulled her upper lip up over her teeth. "That's private!" she shouted. Lorenzo smiled crookedly.

"If you don't cooperate, nothing will be," he warned. "I can use every happy thought you've ever had against you. We can get rid of that fool, James. We don't really need him. He's just my apprentice. The three of you will do just fine."

"You're lying!" Katriana shouted.

"I almost killed him once. But that was before we found you, Alex, and that stubborn boy. Back then, I really didn't want to kill him off. He was only a child. But now, he's really useless."

"What do you mean?" she asked. "How did you almost kill him?"

"Oh! You mean he never told you? Well, well, well!" Lorenzo said with mocking surprise. "Technically, I suppose I did kill him. You see, Katriana, I made your James a vampire."

Katriana gasped loudly and put her hands over her ears. "I don't believe you!" she wailed, closing her eyes tightly and shaking her head, as if that would make all of this go away.

"You should, Katriana, because it's true. Your beloved James is a monster just like me!" Lorenzo licked his lips as if to enforce his animal-like nature.

"Why did you do it?" Katriana sobbed. Her hands had moved from her ears to her eyes.

"Why don't I just tell you the whole story? Maybe then you'll understand why you're little James stuck around so long..."

It had been a cold day. The thirteenth Day after the second month, 1005 Years A.E. Snow fell and coated the ground. A dark figure lurked in the trees surrounding the lake. He waited patiently for prey to come within grasp. Lorenzo was his name. Few people walked near the lake at this time of night. But there were a few people who remained: An old woman, probably enjoying one of her last nights, but she was of no interest to Lorenzo. He preferred a much younger crowd. There was a middle-aged man, but he was far too far away from the safety of the trees for Lorenzo to grab. He'd be caught, no doubt.

And then there was a small child. He was chasing after a rather ugly, oversized rodent that he wished to take home to be a pet. Easy target, Lorenzo thought, too intoxicated by blood to notice or care the nature of his prey. He was a child. Lorenzo preferred not to feed on children on most days. But he was less than ten yards away from the forest's edge, inching closer every moment. Just a little closer, a little closer...there! He was close enough for Lorenzo to snag. He reached out of the foliage and grabbed the child around the waist, placing his other hand over his mouth. The child began screaming and thrashing about.

"No, no, no," Lorenzo whispered in the child's ear. "You mustn't yell. You will attract attention, and then I won't be able to have you for my supper."

The child's resistance stopped immediately. Mind control made feeding off the unwilling much easier. Lorenzo brought his cold, deadly lips down and pressed them against the child's neck. His fangs extended and pierced two little holes, allowing the warm, sweet blood to flow into Lorenzo's mouth. Slowly, the child began to lose consciousness.

"James?" someone called from outside the forest. Lorenzo tried to ignore it. "James? Where are you?"

The woman's voice slowly brought Lorenzo out of his blood-intoxication haze. He removed his fangs from the child and looked him over. It was indeed a child, of no more than about six.

"James Hawk, get out here this instant!"

Lorenzo dropped the child, and he collapsed to the ground. He was attacking a small child. It went against his single moral. He was never to drink from a child. But, of course, it wasn't just a moral. It was vampire law. You could not kill a child, for if you did, you were bound to him for eternity. If you allowed the child to die from blood loss, you died, as well. That included death by change.

This far in, Lorenzo had no choice. He had to change the child.

He took a sharp stick off the ground, and, with a moment's hesitation, slashed the end through his arm. He brought the bleeding wound to the child's mouth.

"Come on, drink!" Lorenzo urged in a hushed voice. He listened to the child's heart beating faster and faster. The child was semi-conscious again. Lorenzo slipped a vial out of his pocket and put it in the child's hand. He began sending thoughts into the child's head.

Add one drop of this to any liquid every night at midnight. Do not step into direct sunlight if you haven't had your drop. Change your age every year on your birthday, or people will get suspicious. Drink the blood of a living creature every day. Don't tell anyone who doesn't need to know what you are.

If you have any questions, just holler.

Lorenzo dragged the boy out of the forest. There was a loud scream. A woman's scream. Right behind him. Lorenzo turned to see a petite, pale woman standing there, one hand extended, pointing at Lorenzo, one hand pulled up to the side of her face. It was the woman who had been calling for James while Lorenzo had been drinking his blood. She knew what had happened now, and she could not be allowed to live. Lorenzo latched on to her throat instantly and drank her dry faster than he had ever drunken before. Then he lifted her up and threw her in the lake.

A small girl was entering the park. Lorenzo didn't want to have to deal with anymore murders, so he returned to the safety of the forest. The girl was pulling an empty sled through the snow and was heading in James's direction. She didn't seem to notice James until she was all but standing right on top of him. When she did see him, though, she gasped and rolled him onto her sled. He awoke as she did so.

"Please," he said dryly. "I'm so thirsty."

"Are you a vampire?" she asked. James looked at her.

"Why would you ask that?" he said.

"Because I had a dream that I found a little boy in the snow, and that he would tell me he was thirsty and I gave him my blood to drink."

"I—I don't—"

Before James could finish, the little girl cut the pad of her thumb with her long, sharp fingernail and held it out for James.

"Try it," she said. And he did. He put the bleeding finger in his mouth and then drank greedily. Whether she realized it or not, the girl was very smart. She'd given him a small wound on a minor vein, therefore not putting her life in danger.

"I think Father has more at home," the little girl said finally, pulling her finger away from James. "Can you walk?"

James tried to stand, but fell again. The little girl smiled.

"That's okay. I'll pull you home on my sled. By the way, my name's Katriana Swan." She helped him to get on and then put the rope around her waist, pulling James back to her home.

"And that's why you're little James follows you around like a puppy," Lorenzo concluded. By the time he finished, the car stopped again and the chauffeur stepped out to open another door.

"Where are we?" Katriana asked, as though she hadn't been listening to the story at all. Lorenzo looked frustrated that his story hadn't shaken her. Before he could answer, the door to Katriana's right opened and someone was stepping inside.

James.

"Ah, Master Hawk, we were just talking about you," Lorenzo said charmingly. The door closed. The trunk opened and closed again as James's bags were thrown inside.

"How interesting," James said. He sat down straight across from Katriana, when he finally noticed that she was in the car with them.

"Hello, James," she said coldly.

"Katriana!" he gasped.

"Yeah, hi," she said, giving a weak wave. James watched her, evaluating her reaction, then turned swiftly to look at Lorenzo.

"What did you tell her?" James barked. It was obviously an accusation.

"Oh, just something you've neglected to tell me for...let's see, about ten years!" Katriana burst out. "I don't know if it's only me, but it seems like a pretty important detail!"

"Lorenzo, you swore!" James said.

"I lied," Lorenzo said carelessly, shrugging.

"Why didn't you just tell me?" Katriana asked with tears in her eyes.

"I still couldn't believe you forgot!" James said. "You saved my life and you just forgot about it?"

"I don't know!" Katriana wailed. "I don't know what's happening to me anymore! I'm a Chosen One, I'm a life-saver, I'm a foolish girl, I don't know!" She fell forward and caught her forehead in her hands. "Why does everyone keep hiding things from me?" she murmured.

"I didn't mean to hide anything from you," James said soothingly. "I just...wanted to keep us safe."

"Well, now we're in the hands of a psychotic vampire and we're going to die, so I guess you didn't do a very good job of that, did you?"

"I resent that," Lorenzo put in. "I don't think I'm a 'psychotic vampire'. A little sadistic, maybe, but not psychotic."

"Does it really matter?" Katriana asked tiredly.

The car was silent again for a while. Katriana held her head in her hands, trying to reduce the tears that flowed from her eyes. James kept his fingers pressed to his temples, like he had a very bad headache. Lorenzo just looked out the window silently, but showed no reflection of the misery that the other two felt. The only time anyone spoke again was when the car stopped after another hour or so.

"Ah, this must be the home of young Alex," Lorenzo said. Katriana moved her hands from her forehead to her chin.

"Are you going to make him miserable, too? Or did you just save that for us?" she said coldly. Lorenzo winked at her.

"Only for you, my dear," he said. James's hands balled into fist again.

"I disagree," he said through his teeth. "I'd say that between killing me and pulling the girl I love away from me, you've made my life pretty terrible, too."

The door opened and another boy climbed—no, more like stumbled—into the car. For the first time, Katriana saw the face of the chauffeur as he helped the boy into the car. He was young, clean cut, and had a very round face and light brown hair. His eyes were wide with youth and were a very light brown.

Katriana wondered why the boy seemed so clumsy, then she saw his eyes. They were light grey and seemed very blank. Like he wasn't actually taking in anything he saw. But that was because he wasn't taking in anything. He didn't see anything. He was blind.

"Katriana, James, this is Alex Crow," Lorenzo said. "Alex, this is Katriana Swan and James Hawk."

Katriana nodded, then remembered that nodding was useless. She put a hand to her forehead to make sure she recognized her stupidity, then she said, too loudly, "It's a pleasure to meet you."

"I'm blind, not deaf. And I don't need my eyes to hear," Alex said. "Unless you speak this way to everyone, I would appreciate it if you would just treat me like I'm human, if you're willing to stray so far from the rest of the world."

Katriana blushed. "I—I'm sorry. I didn't mean to insult you."

"Good to hear," Alex said, though he sounded cold. "Now if you don't mind, I'd rather just keep to myself until it's necessary to do otherwise." Alex leaned back in his chair and put his hands behind his head.

"Goddess I feel like an idiot," Katriana mumbled almost completely inaudibly.

"It's okay, Katriana," James whispered, putting his hand on top of hers.

"Yeah. It's not every day you meet a blind person nowadays," Alex said. He was incredibly rude, cutting into conversations and mocking people, even when they were trying to be nice.

"What do you mean?" James dared to ask.

"It's just, with all the medical intelligence we've got, most blind people don't stay blind long. They get their eyes fixed up with laser eye surgery and what not. But I'm one of the only people, after the Earth exploded, who they couldn't fix."

"You're saying they tried to fix your eyes, but they couldn't?" Katriana clarified, trying to use a normal tone.

"I think what you just did there was called 'paraphrasing'," Alex said smugly.

"Well, I can see you two are going to get along swimmingly," Lorenzo said sarcastically while Alex and Katriana glared each other down. At least, Katriana glared at Alex and Alex glared out the back window. Lorenzo murmured so quietly you'd have to be a...well, vampire, to hear it, "He's not going to like that."

James was still holding Katriana's hand. But now it was sandwiched between both of his. He rubbed the top of it with his right hand thoughtlessly. Katriana appreciated it, because she was absolutely terrified. She was in a small car with a sadistic, psychotic vampire, a blind boy who hated her, and a vampire she never knew was a vampire and she was in love with.

And the car was taking to her inevitable death.

Katriana rested her head against the door. She looked out the window to see what time it was around. But she couldn't tell day from night looking through them they were so darkly tinted. She figured it was probably late evening, though, because she felt very tired. The cool of the glass was very relaxing. She found herself drifting off to sleep almost instantly.

When Katriana woke up, she wasn't in the car anymore. It was far roomier. And she was sitting on something very soft. Very...warm as well. She was clinging onto this very soft warm thing. She struggled to open her eyes so she could see where she was.

It was a train. A very nice train, at that. She was sitting on James's lap, and her arms were wrapped carelessly around his neck. She stretched her body upward and nuzzled into his neck. A soft moan escaped his lips, whether it was intentional or not. James rested his chin on Katriana's head and let her nuzzle deeper and deeper until her strength gave out and her neck drooped down into James's chest. James lifted a hand to hold Katriana's head up by her chin.

"I thought you would never wake up," he teased. He kissed her on the forehead gently and then pulled back just to look at her. To him, she was beautiful, even with the dark bags under her eyes and her hair flying this way and that, matted to her head. "Did you sleep well?"

"Well, that all depends," Katriana said sleepily. "How long was I asleep?"

"Well, you fell asleep at around eight yesterday, and it's about midday now—"

"I slept for sixteen hours?" Katriana shouted. Now that she had her eyes opened, she could see the layout of the train car. There were two benches facing each other, covered in a soft red fabric. They could probably seat two adults or three children. The walls were paneled with wood. Alex was sitting—actually, it was really more like lounging—across from them, leaning against the large window and stretching his feet out on the bench.

"I can't imagine you got a very good rest the other night," James said. He stroked her hair. Katriana felt her stomach lurch just thinking about it.

"Yes," she agreed in little more than a whisper. "Yes, that was a pretty restless night."

"How come?" Alex asked suspiciously. He was knotting a long length of string around his fingers in something he called a 'cat's cradle'.

"She was very sick," James said through his teeth, glaring at Alex. He'd obviously picked up on an innuendo that wasn't meant to be there. Alex clicked his tongue in disapproval.

"Just when I thought you might actually be interesting," he said. Lorenzo's head popped up over Alex's seat.

"Now, now, I won't stand for any fighting," he said. He looked at Alex. "As for you, Katriana and James can do whatever they want to each other, just so long as it doesn't interfere with their training. So stay out of business that isn't yours to be into."

Lorenzo disappeared behind the seat again.

"That guy's a freak," Katriana murmured.

"I'm just going to assume that he's not sitting beside me anymore," Alex said. If it weren't for the fact that she and he were natural enemies, she might have laughed.

"No, he's not," James confirmed. He actually was laughing a little. He sobered a bit and asked, "So, what are you in for?"

"I can see with vibrations," Alex answered nonchalantly. "You?"

"I'm not…actually one of you." James glared over the seat. "I'm bound to him for eternity, so naturally I got dragged along."

"Understandable," Alex said, nodding his approval. "How's about you, little lady?"

"I...I don't know," Katriana said. "From what I heard of Lorenzo's story, maybe I can see the future...But I don't really know."

"Am I the only one who actually bothered to find out what I can do?" Alex demanded, throwing his arms up in exasperation.

"I know what I do!" James protested. "It just doesn't really affect this whole situation. And it's not Katriana's fault. She just found out about the secret circle twelve Days ago. She hasn't had a chance to find out what she does."

"Alright, whatever," Alex said, returning to his cat's cradle. Katriana watched him with fascination.

"How is it that you know so much about the human race before the end of the world?" she asked finally.

"My family keeps all the records of human society. I've spent most of my life studying it so that I can take over the tradition when I'm older," Alex explained. "I can tell you almost anything about Earth. Go ahead and ask."

"Okay..." Katriana said. She paused to think of a question worthy of the Crow heir. "How about this: Officially, how did the world explode and how did we get here?"

"That's two questions," Alex pointed out. "But fine. It's kind of impressive, so listen careful..."

The skies of Earth, yellow with pollution, were covered in dark, swirling clouds. There were about two million people on Earth. Population had begun to dwindle after around the 31st century. Pollution had gotten so bad that people wore gas masks just to go outside. But today was the end of the world.

It wasn't just the clouds that were a sign. Earthquakes were everywhere, and they were massive. Volcanoes, both dormant and active, were erupting all over the place. Waves more than a hundred yards in height were taking out the shoreline.

But the world had already prepared for this day. They had the ships ready. There was enough space to fit every person on Earth inside. All the Earth people were put into a state of hibernation, so that they could survive the trip to the new world. They had searched for it for years so that when the end of the world came they would have somewhere safe to go. They herded everyone onto the ships and put their bodies into hibernation. The ships were programmed to fly to the planet, so that the no humans were needed to fly the ships.

It took hundreds, or maybe thousands of years to reach this 'new Earth' as it were. Nobody really knows exactly how long it took, because everyone was asleep. But when they woke up, they were on a planet like none of them had seen before. There was grass and trees, things they'd only seen in books. The sky was a beautiful blue like none of them had ever even dared to imagine. There were little creatures running around in the trees and across the ground. Things like these had died off on Earth many years ago because they couldn't take the pollution.

So all of the people built homes and started families. But they were very careful not to make the same mistakes they and their ancestors had made which led to the destruction of their planet. They vowed to care for this new Earth and teach their young to do the same.