Author's Note: Thanks for all the reviews on the previous chapter! You really helped me get typing! Questions will be answered in this chapter…finally. I hope all of you have had a good fall and a nice Thanksgiving. I'm looking forward the Christmas break. Unfortunately before break, the exams will have to be taken. I have one on Thursday that I'm not looking forward to, but I feel I'm prepared. Anyways…hope you enjoy and be sure to leave your thoughts.
Disclaimer: I do not own Rurouni Kenshin.
Excerpt from Chapter 3:
A slight woman with thick, long hair braided and slung over her shoulder sat on top of a grand piano, her lips curled in a contented smile. The happy sheen in her eyes lit up with pleased surprise as she eyed Kaoru, one of her black eyebrows rising in question. She wore a slinky black dress molded to the subtle curves of her body. To Kaoru she seemed exotic and unusual, a thin veil of tough fortitude cloaking her.
Two men were also in the room, one standing beside the small woman, and another across the room, leaning against the wall beside a window. The man beside the woman was elderly, wisdom and age covering his body like a badge, while his eyes were sharp with intuition and held a kind glint. The other man beside the window stood almost belligerently, tall and straight, his posture stiff and reticent. A cigarette hung limply between his lips, lighting up as he sucked the poisonous smoke into his lungs. Kaoru sincerely doubted it would harm him, though.
Turning silently to Kenshin, she crossed her arms over her chest and tilted her head, daring him to inform her of exactly where they were.
His violet eyes deepened with an unreadable emotion as he sucked in a shallow breath, spearing her with his perceptive gaze. "Welcome to Daaku Manor, home to the Gyoukou Clan."
Red River Raging
Daaku Manor? Sounded like the name of some freak show horror house in the middle of nowhere designed to snare fear-loving college students in a Halloween haunt fest. The immediate tone of the room set by the dismal interior decorating of the drearily colored space did nothing to deflect from that idea. The dark color of the walls and the scattered mismatch of shady colored furniture reflected the utter lack of brightness. Only the grand piano stood out.
Despite being black in color, the glossy instrument held a singular glow typical only of possessions well used and respected. The elder man left the room silently, nodding to Kaoru as he disappeared through the wooden door behind the piano. The man with the cigarette let out a smooth stream of smoke, his expression clouding with a slight sneer of disgust. Frowning he leaned against the wall and pretended Kaoru didn't exist. The young woman sitting on top, her narrow legs crossed and hands placed flat on either side of her body, cocked her head to the side, her eyes flashing brightly with curiosity. Leaning forward, her green gaze narrowed and her red lips curled into a languid smile.
"You must be Kaoru, I presume," she started in a smooth voice as she lightly tapped the tip of her fingernails against the piano surface.
"Who are you?" Kaoru asked peevishly, purposely ignoring the woman's question, her tolerance level reaching a breaking point as impatience settled uncomfortably in the pit of her stomach.
A grin split the woman's face as she gracefully hopped down from the top of the piano, slips of excitement creeping over her pale features. "I knew it," she exclaimed, her bare feet moving quickly across the polished floor. "This is so exciting." Before Kaoru could blink, the strange woman stopped in front of her to peer quizzically in her eyes. She seemed to mentally measure Kaoru for a moment, her clear green eyes analyzing her. Sighing, the woman stepped back, settled her hands on her hips and took a deep breath.
"I am Misao. Queen of the Underworld. Lady of Dragons. Mistress of Blood." she babbled, her eyes widening with untamed mirth as she motioned dramatically with her arms. A small dimple flashed on the left side of her mouth at Kaoru's blank expression. "Fine, fine. I'm just Misao. No underworld queen of dragons and blood. Though I do play a mean piano."
"Why am I here?" Kaoru asked impatiently.
"Have you ever tried to play the piano?"
"What am I doing here?"
"I've playing since I was three."
"Are you a vampire?"
"I like the dark pieces of music myself."
"Are all these people vampires?"
"I tried writing some music once."
"Are you even listening to me?"
"It didn't turn out so well."
Kaoru stopped, her eyes narrowed as she glared at the seemingly young woman as she prattled on obliviously, her eyes lost blearily in the fantasy of her wondrous piano. Ticking an annoyed glance at Kenshin who was leaning against the wall, peering up at the ceiling as he seemed to count the ceiling panels, she turned back to this Misao woman and crossed her arms over her chest.
"What is a River Soul?"
That seemed to stop her litany. As abruptly as she had started speaking, she stopped. Misao sighed and flipped her long braid over her shoulder, sending a knowing look over Kaoru's shoulder to the two men. Aoshi remained mute, while Kenshin shifted.
"They haven't told you, then?"
Kaoru raised an eyebrow. "No."
"Well, shame on them." Misao reached out and grabbed Kaoru's forearm, pulling her to the sad gray couch placed against the wall.
"We have a lot in common," Misao started as she sat down, tucking her slim legs beneath her.
"I doubt that," Kaoru retorted before she reluctantly sat down on the edge of one of the wool cushions.
Misao smirked as she relented a little. "Well, beside that fact that I'm almost 100 years old and you're in your twenties, we're pretty similar."
"You don't know me."
"I know you better than you think. Like, for instance, you dreamt of your mother last night. Of that time when she took you to the carnival and won you that pretty pink little lioness that you keep on top of your bookcase."
Kaoru clenched her jaw tightly, her hands reflexively curling into fists. "How do you know that?"
Misao smiled knowingly and nodded. "I'll explain. But to understand, I have to start from the beginning. The very beginning. Now keep an open mind and don't interrupt, okay? It completely throws off my rhythm. Just to clear the air though, you do believe that Kenshin is a vampire, right? You're not still in denial, doubt, lost in some hysterical hole deep in your mind?"
"Just explain, already!" Kaoru bit out, her blue gaze flashing with unrestrained anger.
Misao grinned impishly and nodded, apparently pleased with Kaoru's curt answer. "Seven hundred years ago, there was an awesome clash between the human race and the vampires. Unlike today where the mass population of the earth remains ignorant to our existence, back then, the people knew of us, welcomed us, and lived in coexistence with us. We respected them and in turn, they respected us. There was an unspoken pact between the daywalkers and the night worshippers and for many years, it was honored. But as time passed, dissention between the vampires started. Animal livestock blood became an insufficient food source for some, inadequate nutritionally and psychologically, making them turn to humans for sustenance. The more human blood they partook in, the higher the intensity of their bloodlust became making their zeal for blood insatiable to a point of almost insanity.
"Now, I'll admit, even among those who didn't kill humans, we are mostly narrow-minded and generally have terrible tempers. From my research, I've determined it mostly it's a side effect from drinking blood, though there are other cause, such as predisposition of course," Misao said with a small smile. "But some, like me have learned how to reign that mischief of madness, and stay, I guess, relatively stable.
"But anyways, as the killings became more widespread and the humans began to retaliate, a crack began to separate the vampire society into two sects. They are called the An'nya and the Gyoukou. The dissention between the two bodies widened into an unapproachable and insurmountable chasm of differences and divergence.
"Which is why the war between the sects began.
"Seven hundred years ago to this very month, the An'nya began openly attacking human caravans, namely gypsies and other nomads, and also small towns, completely obliterating them with the insatiable bloodlust that had begun to reign over their minds. In retaliation, the Gyoukou counterbalanced their efforts by making a deal with the humans. One thing that the An'nya loved more than their blood was the fear that they quaked in the heart of every human. They loved knowing that they were the cause of widespread panic and the reason that communities, and reigning powers were struggling weakly to keep the people in line. The fear heightened the richness of the blood, making it deep with thick flavor. The Gyoukou managed to convince the human leaders to erase the vampire name: make them seem like mythical villains; those who are feared, but do not exist. People were so hysterical with the idea of the killings, they welcomed the thoughts that vampires didn't exist, and that they are the creation of a fantastical mind. Mass hysteria flattened the truth about vampires. Eventually with time, the Gyoukou were able to draw the An'nya's attention from the humans to themselves, creating an inter-race war.
"The war did ultimately end, albeit weakly at a standstill with no negotiations or agreements to stop the behavior that caused it. That strife still trickles into this period of time, too. For a while, the An'nya seemed to have disappeared, but they were only recuperating. They were waiting for a sign, just as we were. A sign that would mean the end to one of the sects. The waiting was not in vain, for about a hundred and fifty years ago, the Oracle of Blood Tears proclaimed a sudden divination of the future, and how the downfall of one of the vampire sects could be reached.
"There would be four beings that determine the fate of the vampire society. Their complete role and power unknown, but their rudimentary purpose was quite clear as she spoke. I'm not aware of her actual words, because I was not there at the time, but she explained there would be four Souls born from the earth, of the earth that would determine who lived and who died among the vampires. They were named the Flame Soul, the Earth Soul, the Storm Soul, and the River Soul. She gave some descriptions and vague explanations of their whereabouts and time periods in which they would appear. Like for instance the night they would be born there would be a deep red circle about the moon, and some other nonsensical stuff. But after hearing all this, both sects went into a panic to find these people. The mind set was: whoever got the majority would prevail.
"Only one was alive at the time of the divination. She was found by the An'nya and remains with them today. The Flame Soul they call her. We were disappointed, but relieved. She was a fruitcake to put it nicely. The Earth Soul was the next to arrive about twenty years later. He was very hard to find. The chase was close, but the An'nya again prevailed, reaching him before we could and gaining his undivided and complete loyalty. Ten years after him, the Storm Soul came. She was found by the An'nya at birth, watched and groomed to be one of them. When she learned the truth of their existence, she remained with them for a while, but eventually they drove her almost mad causing her to abandon them and turn to the Gyoukou. And the final one, the River Soul…well, that's you. And you have yet to choose a side."
Kaoru sat silently through the explanation, unsure as to believe the impish creature before her or not. Logically, rationally, this story as impossible. But some things were irrational. Some things illogical, and Kaoru's head ached with the possibilities presented.
"How could you possibly know that I'm the River Soul?" she asked.
Misao placed a hand to her chest and pressed. Smiling quizzically as if she didn't understand it herself, she explained. "We feel in here. We don't know why, but we know inherently that you're one of us. One of the chosen ones."
"So they feel that as well?" Kaoru asked pointing to the two men on the other side of the room.
"They have an inkling. Regular vampires feel a weak vibe, something like a small, irritating hum in their ears, but others, not just the other souls, can feel it more deeply as if finding a kindred spirit. A acknowledgement of mind and spirit threads."
"So you…are one of the more sensitive ones?"
Misao smiled knowingly and nodded slowly. "Oh, yeah. I sure am. But not because we're kindred spirits and all that."
Kaoru raised an eyebrow.
"I'm the Storm Soul."
Megumi felt like her chest was going to burst by the time she reached the pathetic remains of the diner. She gasped for air as she stopped to a shocked halt in front of the shattered window that had once read the diner's name in bold, red lettering. Her purse fell to the ground as she stepped over the broken glass, her disbelieving gaze sweeping over the destructed interior that she'd left only hours ago. Moaning softly as the extent of the devastation hit her, she pressed her hands to her mouth and let her blurry gaze sweep over the diner of her family. A weak relief hit her as she found no evidence of her brother, sister or father. Her thoughts were completely obliterated when a sharp explosion just inside the diner burst through the air like a bomb, sweeping a rush of liquid hot air into Megumi's face as she crouched down protectively to cover her face.
The fire spread like wildfire, filling the interior of diner and licking the walls as it spread. The heat burned her face as she blinked and tried to see through the thick wall of sickening warmth. The roar of the fire drowned out all other noise. A dim haze filled her mind as firefighters pulled her back from the building, their faces urgent and body language tense. Her mind drowned out all the noise, her eyes letting the world cloud in a haze of interrupted movement. She seemed lost in the moment, hung between thoughts of despair, shock, and uncertainty. She wasn't a pessimistic person, nor a supremely optimistic person, but she knew there was a time and place for everything, and now, at this moment, Megumi knew she didn't have the time the fall into a weak puddle of nerves at the feet of the firemen as they risked their lives to find people inside.
Shuddering, Megumi sucked in a deep breath of the humid, thick air and straightened her spine.
Where are they? Where!
Blinking, she watched with blurred vision as a large shadowed form seemed to dance among the flickering hands of the fire in the diner. Gasping lightly as three forms bursts through the thick wall of flames, Megumi's eyes widened as she watched them move towards her, their dirty faces sharpening in clarity as they neared. Her heart leapt in her chest when she realized one of the figures was her baby brother, Yahiko. Without thinking, her feet carried her to the figures as they emerged from the building.
Yahiko stumbled, his hand tight on Tsubame's arm as he coughed, his lungs shuddering for fresh air. His face was blackened and grimy; his uniform was dark with dirt. Tsubame was clutching her stomach weakly as she ran beside Yahiko, her face reflecting her uneasiness and confusion. The third figure Megumi didn't recognize. He was at least 6 feet tall, his mouth curled into a cynical snarl as he watched Yahiko and Tsubame struggle. His clothes were slightly sullied, and his face only a little stained, but he seemed to be breathing easily as he stepped from the fiery fist if the flaming building. When his eyes lighted on hers, she felt her stomach clench as a small, knowing grin broke the stern line of his mouth, his eyes scanning her figure. She chose to ignore him as she rushed up to her brother, placing a hand on his chest as her nervous gaze searched his face.
"Are you okay, Yahiko? What happened?" she asked hurriedly. "Where's Kaoru?"
A haunted look passed through Yahiko's eyes as his troubled gaze met his sister's. "I don't know where she is?" he whispered. "They just took her."
Settling on the bed in the large bedroom that she had been assigned to, Kaoru ran her cold hands over her face as she sighed and mulled over her situation. Before she had gone to work this morning, she'd asked for something to happen to her, something that would change her life. Apparently the fates had misconstrued her weak request. Her life had definitely changed…but not in the way she had wanted.
What in the hell is happening to me, she thought moodily, glaring at the mundane wallpaper decorated with a dizzying whirl of navy flowers. I've landed in the middle of the Twilight Zone. Why can't something, or anything go right in my life? I must be cursed. Completely and utterly cursed. A normal life must be too much to ask for, she thought as she brushed her bangs from her eyes and studied the room. It resembled a room directly from an old turn of century manor in England, the four-poster bed taking up much of the space, while a mirrored vanity rested against one wall and a large wooden chest of drawers rested against the wall to the right of the bed. A sliding glass door opened to a low hanging balcony above the back courtyard, which was lit lightly by a few small lampposts dispersed unevenly throughout the flowered expanse of land.
The idea of vampires and the story that Misao had related had seemed so unreal, that it seemed real. Shaking her head at the crazy thought, Kaoru pressed the palms of her hands against her closed eyelids. She needed to be somewhere where she could collect her thoughts. This place was definitely not somewhere she wanted to get used to. She couldn't think here, surrounded by these people, these strangers. Her mind spun at the overload of information, the lack of credulity of it and the thought that she might actually be starting to believe it. Kaoru had an overwhelming urge to scream into one of the fluffy pillows presented prettily to her at the head of the bed. Grunting, she shook her head negatively. Right now, that would serve no relevant purpose.
Chewing her lip in thought, Kaoru frowned and stood up from the bed, her feet taking her to the door that lead to the balcony door. Placing her hands on the cool metal, she pulled slightly. Surprised to find it unlocked, she slid it open and stepped outside into the fresh air of the night. The soft hue of dawn's morning caress peaked over the horizon, bathing the landscape in weak light. Peering down, mentally she calculated just how far up her balcony was from the ground. Eyes darting around the courtyard and back to the bed, Kaoru felt her lips curl into a smooth smile.
Well, this should be interesting.
Not knowing whether she was safer with this Gyoukou clan or off by herself, Kaoru didn't care. She just needed to get away. Feeling stifled from the wrapped severity of their encompassing "protection", Kaoru's only thought was that of flight.
Hurrying over to the bed, she stripped the white sheets off the mattress and quickly tied the edges together in tight knots. She pulled the joined sheets over to the balcony. Running over to the door of the bedroom, she pressed her ear against the thick wood and listened.
Nothing. Complete silence.
Hopefully all of them were beginning their scheduled hibernation for the day. At least she had one advantage over them, Kaoru thought ruefully as she went back over to her sheets. Securing the edge of the sheet to one of the cement posts on the balcony, she threw the makeshift rope over the edge. Taking a deep, fortifying breath, she threw her leg over the balcony, and carefully flipped over the edge. Holding tight to the rope, she cautiously slid down the length, silently praying for the joined sheets to remain in one piece. The total length of the sheets was almost too short; they stopped three feet from the ground. Letting go, Kaoru dropped the small distance and landed with a hushed thud. Scanning her surroundings, she hurriedly stepped over to the wall of the manor and looked cautiously around the corner.
A small group of cars were parked in the long driveway at the north end. Kaoru knew for a fact that Kenshin had left the keys in the car that they had driven to the manor. She had watched as he slipped them into the visor on the passenger side. Slinking, or at least trying to slink, Kaoru hurried over to the dark car, and opened the thankfully unlocked driver side door. Slipping onto the seat, she reached up, grabbed the keys and jammed them into the ignition. Turning the key, she put the car into reverse, and darted out of the spot it was parked in. Flipping into drive, she went as fast as possible without excess noise as she drove down the shaded drive. Swallowing and casting a nervous glance out of the rear-view mirror, she kept one hand on the wheel while the other grabbed the seatbelt. She wouldn't be able to breathe easy until she got home.
Misao leaned against the doorjamb and watched as Kenshin pulled his shirt over his head and threw it into a dirty clothes pile. Reaching over, he grabbed a clean shirt from the hamper and turned his gaze to Misao's.
"You know she's leaving right now?"
He grunted noncommittally and pulled the new shirt over his head.
"We're letting her go?" she asked with a small smile.
"They won't come near her for a while. You know how they operate. For now, she's safe," he replied, brushing past her out of the laundry room and heading down the large hall.
"Where you going?"
"Sleep," he mumbled, disappearing into a room, closing the door behind him.
Misao stretched her arms over her head and pulled her cramped muscles, a pleased grin sliding over her features. "Well, this should be interesting," she said as she started down the hall in the opposite direction, her mouth widening with a large yawn.
Author's Note: So what do think? Make sure to leave a review. Sorry I couldn't reply individually to each review. My time is limited. I figured you'd like the new chapter with or without the reviewer responses. But don't let this deter you from reviewing. You wouldn't believe how proud I am that I have 99 reviews so far. I read them all, and enjoy them all.