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    C. Henderson
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Sacrum - 18. Chapter 18

THE SPECIALS SUMMIT

Part 1

“I’m just so…painfully average,” I remembered complaining to Vinicius once upon a time. It was one of those days where everything I was doing seemed to be going wrong and I thought that maybe he had made a mistake in creating me, and that I’d never live up to all of my potential.

“And you believe those who do great things should be…special?” He asked looking up at me, as he carefully watered one of his indoor plants. His kind voice was curious about my reasoning.

“It is called the Specials Program, isn’t it?” I replied cheekily, and he chuckled pleasantly as he put down his green watering can.

“It’s only a name, Dani. Ordinary people do extraordinary things every day, without gifts or special powers,” he replied, still looking at me. I was still unconvinced, but he went on, “Usually, they do it in the name of love. A mother for her son, a brother for his sister and so on. I find love to be the greatest motivator, Dani. Much more effective than threats or fear, it seems,” he mused, then added, “On the other hand, there is a pathological kind of love as well. A blind type of love that can make us do some pretty unspeakable things. Love can go both ways,” he murmured, and I got the feeling he was talking more to himself than to me.

“How does that relate to me, Professor?” I asked, as politely as I could. He smiled yet again and got up, putting the watering can away on its shelf.

“You have a big heart, Dani, and a lot of room for love in it. That alone makes you anything but average.”

I remembered his words now, as I woke up on the morning of the Specials Summit. I hadn’t slept well during the night, and neither did my neighbor, who gave up on his usual counting and began screaming on and off throughout the night. What nightmares did Demetrius dream of that made him so terrified? I couldn’t even fathom. Nor did I have the mental capacity to do so that morning.

My thoughts of the handsome Russian were replaced by my own anxieties about what the night would bring. It was finally here—the event that I was so dreading. No more waiting around or wondering what would happen. Our anticipation and all our fears would be over with by the end of the night, and we would either pass the Summit, or fail miserably. I didn’t have to wonder too hard to know which category I’d most likely end up in.

Although I had to admit that I did have a newfound sense of confidence within me. At least more than before. Since the day Demetrius showed me how to properly channel my gift, I had been practicing as much as I could. But I still didn’t have firm control or knowledge of the extent of my abilities, and I couldn’t hide the fact that I was years behind the other Specials. And some part of me felt…stifled. Almost as if something internally was blocking me from fully being able to utilize my particular skill. Still, I felt better knowing that I could show them at least a glimpse of something.

I met Maurizia, Antoine, and Luciana in the cafeteria. Everyone seemed to be in a pensive mood, unconsciously going through a million different scenarios in their heads on what might await us at the Summit. Demetrius was missing in action.

“So, who’s nervous?” Antoine asked, playing around with his blood juice. Maurizia was staring off into space. Her tiny hands playing with her hair.

“What’s there to be nervous about? We all know what we’re doing,” Luciana stated confidently.

“Right, I guess it’s just the surprise element,” Antoine replied, trying to sound more self-assured.

“I’m gonna go look for the Russian,” Luciana said, and I felt irked right away. Then I scolded myself internally. I had no claim over Demetrius, nor any reason to feel annoyed by someone else liking him.

“Are you okay?” I asked Maurizia, who seemed a little off.

“Oh yes, thank you Dani. I just worry that tonight’s task might be a lot for me to handle. My gift really takes it out of me,” she stated. I remembered Vincent telling me that Maurizia’s and my gifts were the most difficult. “I’m also sad it’s our last day together for a while. I’ve grown attached to all of you,” she confessed, and I felt touched.

“Why don’t we have a little get together after it’s all over?” Antoine suggested out of the blue. I nodded.

“Good idea,” I agreed.

“Alright guys, I’m going to go to my room and practice a little bit more,” he said.

“Do you want me to stay with you?” I asked Maurizia after he left. Her eyes widened in surprise.

“Oh, I’ll be okay Dani. You’re so sweet for asking. Go ahead and practice some more, I’ll try to go and get some more rest before tonight.” I nodded.

I didn’t want to practice; I was too nervous. Plus, my head was too busy with all the possibilities. I wouldn’t be able to focus on anything else. I decided to go see if I could find Demetrius and Luciana.

“We’re thinking of having a goodbye party after, since you guys are all leaving tomorrow morning. We probably won’t get to see each other until after we graduate and turn 18,” I told him when I found him shooting hoops by the auditorium. Luciana was watching him from the stands. He seemed to be in no mood to speak to anyone. I handed him his blood juice, since he had skipped breakfast. I figured the least I could do for the vampire who taught me how to survive the Summit was to bring him some sustenance before the big showdown.

He scowled at the idea of a goodbye party.

“Count me out. I don’t like goodbyes. They’re overly sentimental,” he replied, grabbing the juice from my hand.

It wasn’t the answer I was hoping for. I didn’t want to wait until the end of the school year to see Demetrius again. I was strangely accustomed to him now, and his stoic presence made me feel comfortable and at ease.

He must have seen the disappointment in my face, because after a while he added. “We’re not too far. I might see you sooner than you think.”

“Where do you live anyway?” I asked, realizing that I had no idea.

“Maratoni has a training compound. That’s where I stay. Once we turn 18, we will live in State housing.” I grimaced at the thought. More and more it felt like there was an invisible noose tightening around my throat. As if I had no say in my existence at all and my life had already been planned out for me. Something in me rebelled against the idea.

“Hopefully we’ll be close by,” Luciana chimed in, and I raised an eyebrow. Demetrius made no comment.

“Maybe I can write you?” I asked, hopeful.

“That’s probably not a good idea. All letters going in and out of here get scanned,” he replied. I should have known, of course. After all, my letter from Eric Van Sant was very obviously opened for “security reasons” as Trusting claimed.

The conversation was unsatisfactory, especially with Luciana hanging nearby, but I could tell Demetrius was already on edge and I didn’t want to push him any further, so I decided to drop it. I left him alone with his groupie and went back to my room to change.

Then I started going over my notes, once again. I had a lot of new information to work with. I now knew what rebirth was, and why it was such a terrifying idea to so many vampires. They looked down on it, scared that they could be turned into ‘weak’ human beings. Frankly, if I was being honest with myself, I didn’t understand why Vinicius would concern himself with making a ‘cure’ and put his life at such a risk for the idea. At the same time, I grew up as a vampire. I didn’t know anything else. Those who were turned against their will might have felt differently. I pondered how Vinicius was involved in the ‘rebirth movement’ and what role Eric Van Sant played. And most importantly, who felt angry enough to leave me that message? Demetrius felt that it was a warning not to go digging further, but if I was to ever discover what really happened to Vinicius I would certainly need to explore this more.

I needed to start forming a plan for how I was going to accomplish all this after turning 18. Would I be able to do it all on my own? I couldn’t involve anyone else and risk their lives, but it would be a hard journey to embark on by myself. I kept tossing and turning while reading over my own scribbles as the minutes ticked by.

Later that day I heard the ringing of a bell, and I knew its significance right away. The Specials Summit was about to begin.

I slowly made my way over to the auditorium, dreading whatever was about to come. The other Specials were already there, sitting in the front row. Strangely, there was nobody else in the room. Nervous to the core, I took a seat next to Demetrius.

“Why does it feel like we’re going to our execution?” I whispered into his ear. But he wasn’t in a joking mood. He sat next to me as firm and as unmovable as a statue.

“My dear Specials!” Trusting greeted us with enthusiasm, suddenly appearing on the stage in front of us. She was wearing a spectacular navy gown and suddenly we all seemed underdressed in comparison wearing our basic school uniforms. “It’s finally here, the day we have been waiting for!” I grimaced. Luciana seemed ready to show off her powers, smiling at Trusting’s words. Maurizia and Antoine seemed excited, meanwhile Demetrius remained stone-faced.

Nervous and uncertain about what was to come I continued to pull on my fingers. “Tonight, you will present your unique gift to a panel of handpicked judges, including myself, to give us an idea of how far you’ve progressed in wielding your special power. Your Mentors will meet you here momentarily, and then you will proceed into the panic room downstairs where the Specials Summit will commence,” she announced, and added, “Good luck!” My brain was twisting itself into fifty different directions. For one, what the hell was a panic room? I had no idea there was anything located underneath the auditorium. Thankfully Antoine asked the question for me.

“What exactly is a panic room?” Demetrius answered automatically, without looking at any of us.

“It’s a secure bunker like space underground built in the case of an emergency. An underground shelter of sorts. If Baritone High School is under attack, students and faculty can hide there for a prolonged period of time,” he explained. Somehow it made the whole Summit even more ominous.

Suddenly the door to the auditorium opened and our Mentors all came in, including Sebastiano Maratoni who hadn’t bothered to train me or even check in with me before the Summit. I felt an ache inside of me, thinking about how much better off I would be if Vinicius were here.

Demetrius, Maratoni, and I stood around awkwardly, like distant cousins at a forced family reunion, while the other Specials hugged their mentors and excitedly filled them in on what they’ve been up to in the last couple days.

Maratoni looked at his prized Special with a hint of apprehension.

“Don’t do anything crazy out there tonight,” he warned in a whisper. Demetrius remained unphased while replying.

“Crazy as in ‘accidentally’ hit the wrong party with my power and make them feel excruciating pain all because I haven’t gotten any sleep for days?” He asked, and Maratoni looked positively outraged and scared at the same time. “I’ll try not to,” he added.

“And you,” Maratoni said, turning his anger on the one person in the vicinity he felt couldn’t stand up to him, “You just keep doing what you’ve been doing…nothing,” he said in a mocking tone.

Before I could reply, I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder. It was an older vampire with large green eyes.

“Daniele, I’m Rebecca De Rossi, Maurizia’s Mentor,” she introduced herself.

“Oh, what a pleasure to meet you,” I replied surprised, shaking her hand. She nodded towards Maratoni who looked a little taken aback by the sudden intrusion, but simply nodded back.

“I just wanted to let you know how sorry I am about your loss. Really, it’s been a huge blow to the entire community, but particularly you. You and Vinicius were so close, I cannot even imagine how hard it’s been. I want you to know that you have our unwavering support. Should you ever need anything, you have only but to reach out to us and we will be there,” she said in a calm and assuring voice. Maratoni cleared his throat.

“How are you Sebastiano?” De Rossi asked politely.

“Fine. I think it’s best for us to let the Specials focus on the task at hand without dredging up sentimental memories of the past right now, don’t you?” He asked in his usually unpleasant tone of voice. But before she could answer, another female vampire had approached us.

“Daniele!” she said, making my name sound quite fancy with her French accent. Right away I knew she was Francesca Normani, Antoine’s Mentor from France. She had straight long brown hair and a stunning black velvet robe on. “Quel beau garçon tu es! Petit ange blond.” She exclaimed, and Demetrius tried very hard to hide his smirk. My French wasn’t good enough to decipher what she meant, but I took it as a compliment and nodded my head while saying thank you. Maratoni rolled his eyes in exasperation. Francesca continued. “We all miss Vinicius terribly. His death…I still wake up forgetting that he’s gone,” she said. “C'est une tragédie absolue.

“Thank you,” I said again, sounding like a broken record.

“You have all our support, my angel. Of course, I fought hard to have you transferred over to Grande Académie so that you could study with me and Antoine, but those in power decided it would be easier to transfer you to another American mentor,” she said, casting a nasty glance towards Maratoni that almost made me laugh. “I don’t know why, a language barrier is nothing that can’t be overcome. Plus my English est super, no?”

Maratoni cleared his throat yet again. We could all detect his apparent displeasure for what was going on.

“Francesca, there’s no point in arguing about this yet again. The State already decided what was best for the Special.”

Reptile odieux,” I heard Francesca mutter under her breath while smiling at me, and this time I understood perfectly. ‘Abhorrent reptile’ was exactly how I’d describe Maratoni as well. I smiled back.

“That’s enough! I need time with my Specials,” he demanded. The two female Mentors gave each other a knowing glance, as if they were used to Maratoni’s bad temper.

“Remember, if you need us, all you have to do is reach out dear,” De Rossi told me once again. Then they made their way back to their own Specials.

“It’s time!” Aurori Altieri called out almost immediately after while glancing at his watch. He was a middle-aged vampire with sharp eyes. Luciana stood next to him; picture perfect of confidence. I was envious of how easily she seemed to deal with the pressure of this whole entire process. It didn’t take a great toll on her like it had on some of us, and she seemed to know exactly what she was doing every step of the way.

“Let’s go,” Maratoni barked out at us, then turned on his heel and walked until he reached a large elevator on the side of the stage. Everyone got inside, and I was suddenly overwhelmed by all the various energies surrounding me. I could sense nerves, anxiety, excitement, anger, shame, and a million other emotions. I tried to block them out, remembering what Demetrius had told me. A Special that couldn’t control his emotions wouldn’t be able to utilize his gift. And this was not the time for losing control.

When the elevator door opened underground, we were greeted by a large amount of open space. The floor in the middle was pure dirt, but it was surrounded by concrete on each side. Straight ahead of us was a long table, with various vampires sitting and chatting to each other. They all fell silent upon seeing us. The only two faces I recognized were that of Boeriella Trusting and Arani Deadnus, who sat right in the middle. Deadnus was in all black, as if she was ready for someone’s funeral. There was a twinkle in her eye that night, and I didn’t like the look of it. It spelled bad news for me.

“Specials and Mentors, please take your seats,” Trusting instructed, pointing us to two benches on the other side. We piled onto the bottom one, while our Mentors sat behind us, a row higher.

“Now, let me introduce you to our very special panel,” she continued. “First, we have Chief Counsel Nathaniel Gold, the new leader of the Specials program,” she said, introducing a young-looking vampire with perfectly styled brown hair. I remembered reading about him previously while researching how I could get in touch with Eric Van Sant. I felt a dislike towards him right away, if only because he took over Vinicius’ role. It was Vinicius that was the head of the Specials program and who should have been here instead. Chief Gold locked his eyes on mine and smiled. I couldn’t bring myself to smile back.

“Next we have Arani Deadnus, the Commander of The American Protection League,” she said. Deadnus cast her glance upon all the Specials. I could detect some form of twisted satisfaction written all over her face.

“The vampire next to me hardly needs an introduction, but for the sake of formality, here is Arcadius Nomad,” she announced referring to an old but sharp-eyed vampire sitting in-between her and Deadnus.

“Who is he?” I whispered to Demetrius.

“Famous scientist,” he replied. The old vampire nodded as if he had heard our exchange.

“Next, we have Andrei Chirilov, President of the Governing Body.” The bald vampire made a swift wave.

“Next to him we have the formidable Aleksandra Lesieu, Superintendent of Vampire Instruction, aka my boss,” she said and the vampires at the table all chuckled. Aleksandra smiled a lovely and wide grin.

“Sitting on her left we have the Attorney General, Dominic Grant,” the red-headed vampire smiled and nodded.

“And last but certainly not least, we have Secretary of Defense, Lee Choi.” The serious vampire did not wave, but merely observed everything carefully.

“Baritone High School is honored to host such a talented panel of judges. And to finish up our formalities, let me introduce our wonderful Mentors and their Specials.”

“First we have the formidable Mrs. Francesca Normani, hailing all the way from France, and her Special Antoine Debesse, with the gift of psychokinesis.” Normani and Antoine got up and waved at the panel of judges.

“Then we have Miss Rebecca De Rossi from Italy, along with her Special Maurizia Tocci with the power to heal.” Maurizia and De Rossi stood up and smiled.

“Next we have the one and only Aurori Altieri, coming all the way from Austria. His Special is Luciana Elise, and her gift is the power to incinerate.” Altieri and Luciana simply nodded.

“And last but certainly not least, we have Baritone High School’s very own Sebastiano Maratoni. His Special is Demetrius Algano with the power of pain.” Maratoni smiled a tight smile, while Demetrius sat so stoically that you could actually mistake him for a handsome marble statue. “Professor Maratoni has also been gracious enough to take under his wing our last Special, Daniele Marchesi, with the power to transform energy,” she said, and I felt every single eye in the room watching me closely, “Formerly mentored by one of the greatest and most talented of our kind, Vinicius Valentini,” she said in a voice that almost cracked while looking straight at me. I could feel her admiration for Vinicius, and I appreciated her for being so brave and stating it so openly.

“Now Specials,” she went on, looking away. “Today we are ready to witness the progress of all your hard work throughout the years. You have practiced your gift relentlessly in order to serve the State, and now it’s your time to show off. Each one of you is going to be given a set of two tasks, one created by the scientific body, and one created by The American Protection League. I will present the first one, while Commander Arani Deadnus will present the second one. After you complete both tasks, each judge will decide whether you passed or failed. Do not fret, if any of you fail, it will simply be a signal for your mentor to work hard in the next few months to make sure you are up to speed when you turn 18,” she said, and I felt a weight lift off me. So I wasn’t going to be executed after all, Demetrius was right. It’s not like Maratoni would help me either way, but if I failed, I’d at least have more time to practice the gift on my own. “Now that you know what’s coming, let’s not waste any more time!”

“Antoine Debesse,” she called out, and Antoine got up. “Please come to the center of the room.” I bit my lip in anticipation, wondering what task they would give him. I was sure Antoine was up to any challenge, after having witnessed him practice his gift in the prior days. But it was still nerve-racking to watch him go up there.

“For your first task we’d like you to perform a telekinetic maneuver,” she announced, and Antoine nodded. I would have had no idea what that meant, except I remembered the phrase from an old comic book. It meant to change the course of an object. There was a large black door all the way on the other side of where we were sitting at. Suddenly, it opened, and a shiny red Porsche drove right through it, revving its powerful engine.

“In 5 seconds, this car will be driving at you full speed. Your first task is to alter its course,” Trusting announced. Antoine moved his head from right to left, as if cracking his neck, then slowly nodded to signal he was ready. Trusting gave a thumbs up and the red Porsche started speeding straight into him.

For a second, I forgot he was a vampire who possessed incredible speed and strength, and I was terrified that the car was going to kill him. I waited anxiously until suddenly there was a screeching noise and dirt and dust flying through the air as the car was forced to drive in reverse. Not breaking eye contact with the Porsche, he slowly forced the car all the way back into its starting position, making the Mentors and judges clap their hands.

Antoine made a quick bow, as if he were on Broadway and had successfully finished a stage play to the applause of the audience.

Then Deadnus stood up.

“Excellent start, Special,” she said as if he had no name. “Now, The American Protection League and the Defense Department are more concerned about your ability to either protect us from an attack, or harm our enemy,” she stated, and Antoine gave his mentor a worried glance. “For your second task, we are going to ask for something a bit more…advanced. Wound inducement,” she stated, as the elevator door opened and a shirtless middle-aged man walked in, escorted by a vampire from the Protection League. I didn’t understand what was going on.

He was human.

“Now, I’d like to remind everyone here that the human participants of the Specials Summit are all happy volunteers who are ready to help this great cause of ours, knowing it might serve to protect them as well one day,” she said. I was positively speechless. None of it made sense. Human volunteers? I hadn’t even realized that wound inducement was something those possessing the power of psychokinesis could do.

“For your second task, we ask that you cause a second-degree burn wound on this man’s arm,” she announced, and the man visibly shook in fear. The entire room fell silent for a long moment that felt like an eternity.

Oh mon Dieu,” I heard Francesca Normani whisper behind me. Antoine looked positively shocked, his eyes glancing between his Mentor, the human, and Deadnus. Trusting looked around at other judges in apprehension, as if she wasn’t sure what was going on. I couldn’t believe this was happening and nobody was doing anything about it. Volunteer or not, it wasn’t right.

I waited for somebody to step in and say something, but everyone remained silent.

“That’s outrageous,” someone finally said.

Then I realized, it was my own voice. Before I could stop myself, I was up on my feet, and everyone was looking at me. “Sit down,” I heard Maratoni hiss from behind me. I ignored him. There was only so much I could stand. They could make fun of me and my lackluster abilities all they wanted, but I wouldn’t let them torture a human being in front of me as some form of a test.

“We don’t experiment on humans, that’s sadistic,” I continued.

“Quiet!” Deadnus roared, staring me down. “How dare you interrupt the proceedings of the Summit with your childish morality,” she yelled. “Vampires far more intelligent than you have come up with the tests for tonight. Now sit down and behave yourself.”

I was positively outraged that nobody was doing anything about this. I felt Demetrius tug on my sleeve. “Sit down, Dani,” he whispered. Not knowing what else to do, I sat down.

“Special, please proceed with your task,” Deadnus announced, and I never felt that much hate for anyone before. She was absolutely repulsive.

Antoine looked frazzled. I noticed Maurizia put a hand over her eyes so that she wouldn’t have to see.

“I’m sorry,” Antoine seemed to whisper to the man. Then we heard a scream of pure pain, as the man’s arm suddenly developed a large angry red patch. Antoine stopped right away.

“Nurse Mildred,” Deadnus called, and I saw the leery figure emerge from behind the elevator doors. “Please verify that is a second-degree burn,” she said in the most pleasant tone of voice. As if we didn’t all just witness the torture of a human being. I felt sick to my very core.

Nurse Mildred examined the man’s arm. “No, it’s a first degree,” she called out and the man looked positively helpless. Whatever this was, I was sure Vinicius would not have allowed any of it to go on if he were alive. Antoine looked devastated. “Would you like to continue?” Deadnus asked in a seductive tone. I couldn’t believe my ears, but thankfully Antoine shook his head no.

“I’m sorry, that’s as far as I can go,” he admitted.

“Hmph,” Deadnus made a noise, “What a shame. That concludes the second task then. Judges, you have two minutes to decide whether the Special has passed or failed.”

Suddenly I heard Maurizia’s tiny voice. “Please, let me help,” she said, as she made her way into the middle of the stage and went face to face with the burned man. He looked surprised.

“Special, it is not your turn!” Deadnus roared once again. Maurizia ignored her. Before anyone could stop her, she grabbed the man’s arm and closed her eyes. In a quick moment, his burn completely disappeared.

“Thank you,” he cried, hugging the tiny vampire.

“Go back to your seat!” Deadnus demanded, and Maurizia waltzed back over to the bench. I smiled at her, and she winked back.

“I’m proud of you,” I heard Rebecca De Rossi whisper to her.

“Judges, the time is up. Let’s go around the table and reveal your scores. I will start with myself. Fail,” Deadnus said with satisfaction, looking into Antoine’s eyes. He seemed disheartened.

“Fail, but good effort,” Nathaniel Gold said.

“Pass,” Boeriella Trusting called out, she seemed as if she was still in shock from the entire incident.

Next to her was Arcadius Nomad. He waivered for a moment but then called out, “Pass!” I smiled, hoping with all my being that Antoine would pass. He did a tremendous job, and the second test was entirely unfair.

But Andrei Chirilov did not share my opinion. “Fail,” he called out, and Antoine shuffled his feet nervously.

“Pass,” Aleksandra Lesieu said, smiling.

“Fail,” Attorney General Dominic Grant called out. It was all down to Secretary of Defense, Lee Choi. If he said pass, it would be a tie, at which point I wasn’t sure what would happen. If he said the opposite, Antoine would fail the Specials Summit.

He didn’t make us wait long for his crushing decision.

“Fail,” he called out.

Trusting stood up. She looked shocked at the results. She took a note card from the table and read.

“Antoine Debesse, I am sorry to inform you that you did not pass the Specials Summit. We urge your mentor to continue working diligently with you until you realize your full potential. Thank you,” she finished. Then suddenly she got up and walked around the table and towards Antoine. She shook his hand.

“You did one hell of a job,” she told him.

He returned to the bench with his head hung in shame.

“Ne désespérez pas, vous avez été fantastique. Je suis fier de toi,” Normani whispered to him while rubbing his shoulders.

“Luciana Elise, you are next,” Trusting called out. Luciana confidently strutted to the middle of the stage. Her shoulder straight, her head held high. She knew exactly what she was doing and couldn’t wait to face the challenges that would be thrown at her.

“For your first task, we ask that you create a fire strong enough to encircle the room with,” Trusting said. It was a risky move, asking an underage Special to set an underground room full of vampires on fire. I wondered how much oxygen we had down here anyway, and whether it’d be enough for Luciana to create that type of fire. I noticed the water sprinklers on the ceilings, as well as vampires by the elevator waiting with fire extinguishers.

But there was no need for any of it, because without even blinking, Luciana expertly started a blaze, then with a swift move of her hand she turned it into a beautifully glowing ring that burned along the edges of the room until Trusting gave her a thumbs up and the fire slowly fizzled out.

“Spectacular, Special,” Deadnus commented, getting up. “Now, onto your second task,” she said, a sick type of glee filling her voice. Suddenly the elevator doors opened.

They rolled him out on a wooden cross, bound by heavy silver chains that burned into his pale skin. He was naked, and I held my mouth to stop myself from gasping. I heard a few horrified whispers from behind me.

With every move his skin sizzled like fresh fajitas, and he gasped out in pain.

“What in the world are they thinking,” I heard Rebecca De Rossi exclaim in outrage. This whole thing must have been a nightmare. There was no way that this could be taking place, I thought to myself.

Deadnus spoke again. “This vampire has been sentenced to die for crimes against the State. Today, you will help the State by becoming his executioner. Let’s see if the strength of your fire beats the speed of his healing,” she announced, and I stared frozen in absolute shock.

There was no way they just asked an underage vampire to murder another vampire in a room full of government officials. He had to be a mannequin or a fake doll. This could not be real.

Luciana looked over at Altieri, and he gave her a quick nod. Surely she didn’t plan on going through with it.

“No!” The criminal screamed out. But before anyone could do anything about it, she set the vampire on the cross on fire. All we heard for the next 15 minutes were screams of agony, the type of screams that no mannequin was capable of making, until everything went silent and there was nothing left. Not even ashes. Her fire had wiped out everything.

I sat glued to my seat like a prisoner, unable to make any movement. I had just witnessed my first murder, I thought. Because that’s what it was. Plain and simple murder.

Every judge uttered a verdict of “pass” and Luciana returned to the bench with a smirk on her face. Aurori Altieri sat behind her like a proud father.

I wasn’t sure how much more I could take. My stomach was turning. The atmosphere in the panic room was growing more and more tense by the minute.

“Demetrius Algano,” Trusting called out and my insides flipped, “Your turn.” Trusting seemed even more shaken than before, and I was starting to get the impression that the second tasks were kept a secret from people outside of the American Protection League. How much power did these sick vampires hold in our society? Weren’t they tasked with protecting us, instead of forcing us to witness tortures?

The stone-faced vampire briefly looked at me as if he wanted to say something but decided against it. He quickly shot up and reached the middle of the room in a couple long strides.

“For your first task we’d like you to inflect emotional pain on another vampire. Now, I have volunteered to be the subject of this task,” Trusting announced, and I felt everyone in the room still. “I want you to make me feel incredible, agonizing sadness,” she said. Demetrius nodded.

Boeriella stood in front of him. She seemed nervous but intent on going through with it. I admired her strength.

“Let me know when you’re ready,” I heard Demetrius say.

She looked at him, then slowly nodded. “I’m ready.”

In a split second she was down on her knees, clutching at her chest, until an agonizing cry escaped her beautifully shaped lips. “No, no, no, no, no!” She cried out in despair. “Oh God, no!” She continued to sob on the floor, until finally Demetrius closed his brown eyes. Then she took a little while to recover. He approached her, but she shook her head, still terrified of him. Arcadius Nomad stepped away from the table and helped her back to her seat.

“Excellent. Now onto your second task,” Deadnus announced, before Trusting could even regain her speaking powers. As if she couldn’t wait to inflict more pain on others. The elevator door opened again. Three humans were escorted out into the middle—two young women and one man.

“Again, these wonderful people have volunteered to be the subjects for today’s test,” Deadnus assured everyone in the room, even though the humans look terrified. “Special, we’d like you to induce pain until all subjects pass out,” she called out in a ruthless voice. The humans all shuddered but kept quiet.

I couldn’t keep quiet any longer.

“That’s barbaric!” I called out, standing up once again. “Is nobody going to stop this madness?” I asked, looking at the panel of judges.

Arcadius Nomad cut in, “Dani has a point. We were not aware of the severity of these tasks beforehand, Arani. They seem a little…medieval, don’t you think?”

Francesca Normani called out from behind us, “I agree! C'est dégoûtant!

“This is going too far,” Rebecca De Rossi chimed in. But Deadnus cut everyone off, focusing her hateful eyes only on me.

“Once again, Special, I ask you to sit down! You have no authority here. These matters have been decided by minds far smarter than yours. If anyone here has an issue with the tasks that The American Protection League has created for the Summit, they can make an official complaint afterwards. Now, let’s proceed,” she said in a scary tone.

Demetrius looked over at Maurizia, as if to ask her a question. Whatever it was, she quickly nodded her reply.

Maratoni grabbed my arm. “Sit down, I can’t see with you standing in the way,” he hissed. Heartbroken, I sat down and watched the horror unfold before me.

Demetrius focused his eyes on the three subjects, and like dominoes they fell to their knees one by one, screaming in agony. His gaze intensified, and so did their screams. One woman started grabbing fistfuls of her hair and trying to tear it out. Another scratched at her skin viciously. While the man just writhed on the floor in what appeared to be gruesome silent pain.

After what felt like forever, the two women passed out. The man continued writhing for a while longer, until his body stilled, and I worried he was actually dead.

“Bravo,” Deadnus commented, and I could feel her perverse excitement all the way in my seat. “Nurse Mildred, please check that the three are indeed passed out and not faking it.” After Mildred confirmed that they were, Maurizia was quick on her feet. Before Deadnus even noticed, she was attending to the first human. With her hand on the woman’s forehead, she made her slowly wake up.

“Nobody asked for your help, Special,” Deadnus chastised. But Maurizia was already moving to the second human. That one took a little longer, but she did it. However, I noticed her stumbling over as she approached the third body. I remembered her confessing how much her power took out of her. This would be the fourth person she was healing in the span of two hours. She put her hand over the man’s forehead, and while he came around, Maurizia passed out.

“Help!” Antoine yelled out. I got up but Maratoni held me by the back of my shirt. Rebecca De Rossi ran to her special.

“You’re not going to be able to do anything. Sit down,” Maratoni demanded. I was getting really sick of the way he spoke to me.

Nurse Mildred wheeled in a bed, and tiny Maurizia was taken into the elevator, and presumably to the medical wing, along with her mentor.

Down below, the Summit continued.

“Pass,” Lee Choi called out as the last vote, making Demetrius unanimously pass the test. The stone-faced vampire returned to his seat next to me, and for the first time ever, I couldn’t look at him.

“Since Maurizia Tocci decided to use her powers outside of the Summit’s guidelines, she has automatically failed,” Deadnus announced, and Trusting looked up outraged, as if that wasn’t in the rules. “That leaves us with only one more Special to go,” Deadnus continued in a sinister tone, her black eyes staring into my soul. “Daniele Marchesi.”

I looked back on the Mentors, and Normani gave me an encouraging pat on the back.

“Go now,” Maratoni hissed, pushing me out of my seat.

I slowly made my way towards the center feeling scared of what was to come.

Boeriella Trusting looked at me with empathy in her eyes. She stood up before Deadnus could say another word.

“Dani, for your first task we ask that you take the energy created by one of the other Specials and convert it,” she said. My brain was jumping all over the place, but I remembered Demetrius’ words and tried to calm down. I had to be in control of my emotions if I had any chance at succeeding. And that was a huge if, since this was far more advanced than what I could have anticipated.

“I volunteer,” Luciana called out, excited for the challenge. I stood frozen, remembering how she had burned a vampire to his eternal death right in front of my eyes not too long ago.

“Great,” Trusting replied. I felt Arani Deadnus’ eyes follow my every movement. Luciana stood across from me. I was certain that in seconds I would evaporate into nothingness, just like the previous vampire.

“Let me know when you’re ready,” she called out. I looked over at the bench and saw a creepy smile spread on Maratoni’s face. The one vampire in the building who was supposed to have my back and be my mentor. Then I thought of Vinicius and focused my mind on him. I imagined he was sitting on that bench, cheering me on with his gentle smile.

I focused on the pit of my stomach, and felt the energy slowly rise to my chest. It was now or never.

“I’m ready,” I called out, and Luciana sent a huge blaze of fire my way. I knew that I was going to die, there was no way I could survive the burn. I instinctively put out my arms, as if to defend myself, and the fire seemed to go straight through them and into my body. Just like with the rain in the woods, everything felt like it was happening in slow motion. I didn’t feel an ounce of pain. On the contrary, with each new flame entering my body, I felt fuller and stronger.

Once I had absorbed enough of the fire, I instinctively released it in the form of a warm summer rain, which gently splattered all over the room in tiny little droplets, making everyone gaze up with curious eyes.

“Bravo Dani!” Trusting was on her feet, clapping for me. Maratoni looked positively shocked, while the other Mentors clapped. I couldn’t believe it. Not only did I survive the first task, I actually managed to do what was asked of me. I still wasn’t exactly sure how, but it happened.

“Okay, okay, enough now, there’s still the second task at hand,” Deadnus announced, making the room go quiet. “We are going to test how well you can defend yourself from an attack,” she announced. I saw Trusting’s head turn so fast I worried she might have snapped her neck. She whispered something across the table, but Deadnus was unmoved by her apparent pleas.

“I’m sorry, what?” I asked. I must have misheard.

“We’re not looking to see you flip tables in the air or set things on fire. Vinicius gave you a gift much different from the others. So, let’s see what you can do to protect the State,” she announced. For the first time since I’ve heard her speak she sounded…happy about something. Or at least as happy as someone like her could get.

I looked over at the other Specials, and they all seemed just as surprised. Even the usually stone-faced Demetrius was taken aback. He swiftly patted his abdomen, to remind me where my power came from. I nodded, then turned away feeling positively terrified.

I didn’t practice any defensive powers. I didn’t even consider it a possibility. I figured they’d have me do something a bit more…simple.

“And what exactly will I be defending myself from?” I asked, horrified of the answer. It seemed like there was no low that Deadnus wouldn’t stoop to.

But she just pointed to the black door at the bottom of the stage, a cruel smile contorting her thin lips into a grimace of amusement.

Copyright © 2021 C. Henderson; All Rights Reserved.
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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Vinicius had his reasons for sheltering Dani. Too much power too quickly especially for a child can led to narcissistic behavior heading down a destructive path.

Dani is the one to stop Deadnus. Vinicius created him for that and other purposes likely, but he did not want Dani to be Deadnus 2.0 or worse.

I believe that Vinicius saw himself in Dani, so he created a near perfect weapon/entity with a conscience. If anything, Dani will likely be Vinicius 2.0 not Deadnus 2.0.

Energy is everywhere and is contained in all things, so energy manipulation especially at its zenith is near absolute. Imagine being able to harness the power of just one stellar black hole - tremendous power.

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16 minutes ago, J.El said:

Vinicius had his reasons for sheltering Dani. Too much power too quickly especially for a child can led to narcissistic behavior heading down a destructive path.

Dani is the one to stop Deadnus. Vinicius created him for that and other purposes likely, but he did not want Dani to be Deadnus 2.0 or worse.

I believe that Vinicius saw himself in Dani, so he created a near perfect weapon/entity with a conscience. If anything, Dani will likely be Vinicius 2.0 not Deadnus 2.0.

Energy is everywhere and is contained in all things, so energy manipulation especially at its zenith is near absolute. Imagine being able to harness the power of just one stellar black hole - tremendous power.

 Yes to all that you wrote 😊 👏🏼 

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Love your take on vampires with this story. One question when does the gay start? lol lol jk. Are there  other supernaturals in this world and will they play a part in the overthrow of the vampire govt ? 

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14 minutes ago, Rougeluv said:

Love your take on vampires with this story. One question when does the gay start? lol lol jk. Are there  other supernaturals in this world and will they play a part in the overthrow of the vampire govt ? 

Thank you! And you'll have to read and see 😏 

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8 hours ago, Nightlit said:

I agree with you! And what I'm saying is that fact? Is ultimately a failing on Vinicius' part. Because he COULD have had the confidence. Vinicius utterly failed to instill him with it.

Woah, there is a fine line between ultimate confidence and arrogance. That in itself breeds absolute power that absolutely corrupts.

Vinicius had foreseen much and had kept a very powerful Special more humble and perhaps more sensitive; which ultimately is the very qualities Vinicius seemed to be instilling in his conversations to coach Dani. Many of the conversations aired on the philosophical and an ethical higher thinking, independently at that, not of council consensus or concessions.

So the fact that this humble young vampire (unknowing nuclear weapon) stood among strangers of unknown alliances and unknown powers and defended human and vampire subjects of torture, equally, serves as strong testimonial to Vinicius’ methods of instilling values to a entity that could easily adopt savagely arrogant bullying.

These events all happen within a short period of his Godfather/creator Vinicius being a victim to a government cover-up murder and then the next most trusted individual murdered in another publicly and violent method to send a personal message to young Dani. All while the nurse screenings support the notion that Dani his been possibly drugged to suppress his powers. Again, without training and to the amazement of his new ‘mentor’ Dani did so develop his skill set, and with enough humbleness to win allies.

I think Vinicius was caught up in an attack that accelerated even his own forecasted timeframe to get prepared. But the methods have possibly prolonged Dani’s life and allowed him social skills and compassion to build alliances that will be necessary to answer the threats.

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So, there's a lot to respond to here.

4 hours ago, Philippe said:

Woah, there is a fine line between ultimate confidence and arrogance. That in itself breeds absolute power that absolutely corrupts.

Vinicius had foreseen much and had kept a very powerful Special more humble and perhaps more sensitive; which ultimately is the very qualities Vinicius seemed to be instilling in his conversations to coach Dani. Many of the conversations aired on the philosophical and an ethical higher thinking, independently at that, not of council consensus or concessions.

While it is true that arrogance is a problem in powerful individuals, a lack of self esteem can be equally bad, if not worse. Not only does it make a person malleable, and thus easy to use by others who might take advantage, people with low self esteem are easy to traumatize, and trauma causes people to react emotionally rather than rationally, which in the case of someone with the sort of power Dani might have, could be disastrous.

And confidence ISN'T arrogance. People say there is a fine line between them, but the truth is they are actually very different emotions. Confidence isn't thinking highly of yourself, confidence is accepting yourself as you are, both your strengths and your limitations. A truly confident person can say, "Yeah, I can't do that." And that's that.

4 hours ago, Philippe said:

So the fact that this humble young vampire (unknowing nuclear weapon) stood among strangers of unknown alliances and unknown powers and defended human and vampire subjects of torture, equally, serves as strong testimonial to Vinicius’ methods of instilling values to a entity that could easily adopt savagely arrogant bullying.

Bullying is not just something arrogant people do. People with low self esteem are just as likely to bully if not more likely to. Whether or not Dani was confident or not has no connection at all to whether he might take up bullying since, the simple truth is, ANYONE can take up bullying. But more to the point? There is a difference between humility and low self esteem. Like I was saying about confidence above? True confidence involves some level of humility. Some level of acceptance that you have limitations and weaknesses and there's nothing wrong with that. While one can be humble and have low self esteem? Similar to confidence and arrogance? They are different emotions/states of mind.

4 hours ago, Philippe said:

These events all happen within a short period of his Godfather/creator Vinicius being a victim to a government cover-up murder and then the next most trusted individual murdered in another publicly and violent method to send a personal message to young Dani. All while the nurse screenings support the notion that Dani his been possibly drugged to suppress his powers. Again, without training and to the amazement of his new ‘mentor’ Dani did so develop his skill set, and with enough humbleness to win allies.

I think Vinicius was caught up in an attack that accelerated even his own forecasted timeframe to get prepared. But the methods have possibly prolonged Dani’s life and allowed him social skills and compassion to build alliances that will be necessary to answer the threats.

I mean, yes. From Dani's perspective, he's just come from a tragedy, that's true. But, to be frank? Vinicius had ALREADY failed, and likely WOULD HAVE FAILED even had he not been murdered. Vinicius has had 17 - 18 YEARS to teach and instill the things he wanted to in Dani. And his time with Dani was almost up. While it's understandable that Dani would be traumatized by the death of his parental figure, outside of that trauma, Vinicius' death would have little impact on his ability to instill in Dani whatever values and feelings he might have wanted to, since he was only going to be with Dani for a few more months anyway.

As for building alliances and making friends? There is little indication that Vinicius had anything to do with that. In fact, we have evidence that Vinicius actively kept him away from others. He didn't just not allow Dani to visit the other specials, he ACTIVELY kept FROM Dani when he did so. And we never really saw Vinicius talk about friends or anything, so while we can tell that Dani does have some social skills, if awkward ones, they easily could be in SPITE of Vinicius rather than BECAUSE of him.

And there is every indication that Vinicius' death didn't kill Dani's self esteem. He's just as self conscious in the flashbacks, if not more so, indicating that his attitude and state of mind aren't the result of trauma, ergo, unless Vinicius was trying to make Dani nervous, indecisive and self conscious to the point that he lets other people walk all over him? Which I doubt is the case? He failed.

And here's the thing. There's nothing wrong with Vinicius failing. Vinicius was clearly flawed. I mean, someone managed to kill him by somehow tainting his magic sunblock, when he invented it. Also, Vinicius didn't prepare Dani for his own death, which either means he was shortsighted enough to be unaware of it, or was arrogant enough to assume that it would never happen to him.

But there is a darker truth to Vinicius' failure, and we have seen hints of it from the first chapter. Dani is a very emotional person and also very pliable to others. Vincent, for example, while we don't know for certain that he is actively manipulating Dani, there is no doubt that were he doing so? Dani was falling for it. And Dani immediately trusted the other specials, except Demetrius, who he distrusted for a similarly banal reason. In fact, had Demetrius' room not been right next to his? It's likely Dani would never have changed his views of him. And it's true that Dani being confident wouldn't necessarily make him immune to these things? But it's further proof that Vinicius was not amazingly effective at getting Dani to make good choices. From this we can also infer that he may have failed at many other things he was trying to accomplish, both with Dani, and beyond.

Edited by Nightlit
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11 hours ago, Philippe said:

Woah, there is a fine line between ultimate confidence and arrogance. That in itself breeds absolute power that absolutely corrupts.

Vinicius had foreseen much and had kept a very powerful Special more humble and perhaps more sensitive; which ultimately is the very qualities Vinicius seemed to be instilling in his conversations to coach Dani. Many of the conversations aired on the philosophical and an ethical higher thinking, independently at that, not of council consensus or concessions.

So the fact that this humble young vampire (unknowing nuclear weapon) stood among strangers of unknown alliances and unknown powers and defended human and vampire subjects of torture, equally, serves as strong testimonial to Vinicius’ methods of instilling values to a entity that could easily adopt savagely arrogant bullying.

These events all happen within a short period of his Godfather/creator Vinicius being a victim to a government cover-up murder and then the next most trusted individual murdered in another publicly and violent method to send a personal message to young Dani. All while the nurse screenings support the notion that Dani his been possibly drugged to suppress his powers. Again, without training and to the amazement of his new ‘mentor’ Dani did so develop his skill set, and with enough humbleness to win allies.

I think Vinicius was caught up in an attack that accelerated even his own forecasted timeframe to get prepared. But the methods have possibly prolonged Dani’s life and allowed him social skills and compassion to build alliances that will be necessary to answer the threats.

That was a beautiful way of putting it, thanks! I think it's easy for us to kind of forget that even though Dani isn't sitting around crying everyday, he is most certainly traumatized by all the tragic events that happened to him in such a short amount of time. He doesn't have any higher-up allies. He believes his current Mentor hates him and wants him to fail, he's not exactly sure where Trusting stands, and his Proxy is a human woman he doesn't know how to get in touch with. It is going to take him some time to find his footing in this new world. Once he does, we can hope that his stance and advocacy for humans and against the Deadnus' of the world will be much more stronger. 

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8 hours ago, Nightlit said:

So, there's a lot to respond to here.

While it is true that arrogance is a problem in powerful individuals, a lack of self esteem can be equally bad, if not worse. Not only does it make a person malleable, and thus easy to use by others who might take advantage, people with low self esteem are easy to traumatize, and trauma causes people to react emotionally rather than rationally, which in the case of someone with the sort of power Dani might have, could be disastrous.

And confidence ISN'T arrogance. People say there is a fine line between them, but the truth is they are actually very different emotions. Confidence isn't thinking highly of yourself, confidence is accepting yourself as you are, both your strengths and your limitations. A truly confident person can say, "Yeah, I can't do that." And that's that.

Bullying is not just something arrogant people do. People with low self esteem are just as likely to bully if not more likely to. Whether or not Dani was confident or not has no connection at all to whether he might take up bullying since, the simple truth is, ANYONE can take up bullying. But more to the point? There is a difference between humility and low self esteem. Like I was saying about confidence above? True confidence involves some level of humility. Some level of acceptance that you have limitations and weaknesses and there's nothing wrong with that. While one can be humble and have low self esteem? Similar to confidence and arrogance? They are different emotions/states of mind.

I mean, yes. From Dani's perspective, he's just come from a tragedy, that's true. But, to be frank? Vinicius had ALREADY failed, and likely WOULD HAVE FAILED even had he not been murdered. Vinicius has had 17 - 18 YEARS to teach and instill the things he wanted to in Dani. And his time with Dani was almost up. While it's understandable that Dani would be traumatized by the death of his parental figure, outside of that trauma, Vinicius' death would have little impact on his ability to instill in Dani whatever values and feelings he might have wanted to, since he was only going to be with Dani for a few more months anyway.

As for building alliances and making friends? There is little indication that Vinicius had anything to do with that. In fact, we have evidence that Vinicius actively kept him away from others. He didn't just not allow Dani to visit the other specials, he ACTIVELY kept FROM Dani when he did so. And we never really saw Vinicius talk about friends or anything, so while we can tell that Dani does have some social skills, if awkward ones, they easily could be in SPITE of Vinicius rather than BECAUSE of him.

And there is every indication that Vinicius' death didn't kill Dani's self esteem. He's just as self conscious in the flashbacks, if not more so, indicating that his attitude and state of mind aren't the result of trauma, ergo, unless Vinicius was trying to make Dani nervous, indecisive and self conscious to the point that he lets other people walk all over him? Which I doubt is the case? He failed.

And here's the thing. There's nothing wrong with Vinicius failing. Vinicius was clearly flawed. I mean, someone managed to kill him by somehow tainting his magic sunblock, when he invented it. Also, Vinicius didn't prepare Dani for his own death, which either means he was shortsighted enough to be unaware of it, or was arrogant enough to assume that it would never happen to him.

But there is a darker truth to Vinicius' failure, and we have seen hints of it from the first chapter. Dani is a very emotional person and also very pliable to others. Vincent, for example, while we don't know for certain that he is actively manipulating Dani, there is no doubt that were he doing so? Dani was falling for it. And Dani immediately trusted the other specials, except Demetrius, who he distrusted for a similarly banal reason. In fact, had Demetrius' room not been right next to his? It's likely Dani would never have changed his views of him. And it's true that Dani being confident wouldn't necessarily make him immune to these things? But it's further proof that Vinicius was not amazingly effective at getting Dani to make good choices. From this we can also infer that he may have failed at many other things he was trying to accomplish, both with Dani, and beyond.

To start with, I'm happy by all the conversation this chapter is stirring up! 😊  It's great to see everyone's different takes! It makes this all the more interesting. And I most certainly appreciate you for standing up for your view on Vinicius and Dani. 

I can see how you think that Vinicius has failed as a Mentor coming from where we are in the story right at this moment. Maybe you will still think that at the last chapter as well. But I think as we go on with the story, Vinicius' plan for Dani will become a bit more clear, and we will get a fuller picture of who Vinicius was and why he did certain things the way he did them.  

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1 hour ago, C. Henderson said:

To start with, I'm happy by all the conversation this chapter is stirring up! 😊  It's great to see everyone's different takes! It makes this all the more interesting. And I most certainly appreciate you for standing up for your view on Vinicius and Dani. 

I can see how you think that Vinicius has failed as a Mentor coming from where we are in the story right at this moment. Maybe you will still think that at the last chapter as well. But I think as we go on with the story, Vinicius' plan for Dani will become a bit more clear, and we will get a fuller picture of who Vinicius was and why he did certain things the way he did them.  

Perhaps, but I actually find it more interesting that Vinicius DID fail. Vinicius is the sort of character who has the potential to be a Mary Sue mentor. Him having clear flaws? Makes him a much more interesting character AND it makes Dani's story more compelling as well. The fact that Vinicius failed Dani? Makes Vinicius indirectly a conflict Dani has to overcome rather than an asset, helping Dani be the overall focus of the story. Rather than acting Vinicius' will out, Dani gets to make a choice between his flawed but optimistic mentor and the other forces pulling at him.

And maybe he still chooses Vinicius? But Vinicius not being perfect? Gives Dani the opportunity to make that choice, since if he was perfect and the obvious pick? Then Dani wouldn't really have any agency, Vinicius would just be another person pulling his strings.

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