33


Damn him.

Just when we were making progress, just when we were getting one step closer to rescuing Jun, he shows up. Things were getting somewhat better for us and then William shows up and hampers us again. He shows up at every inopportune moment to trap us and/or kill us.

This time though, it seems he succeeded.

He showed up in the gallery to say a few words to provoke me, but I can't solely blame him. I let my anger blind me.

I was surrounded by darkness, filled with nothing but regrets as I fall into oblivion.

I could only hope that Morrigan would succeed in rescuing Jun in my place.

Dammit!

I felt angry, not only at him, but at myself.

I survived many things this castle threw at me, many things that should have very well killed me.

But out of all the things that should have killed me, I fall for the most classic trap of them all. This truly was the lamest way to die.

Suddenly, something I don't expect happened.

Just when I thought the end would come, my descent slowed.

It didn't seem like I had been caught be someone or something flying, but I was slowly descending.

I soon landed softly, head first onto someone's lap. The rest of my body sets down on the ground.

Who is this?

I then realized that my eyes were closed; must've closed them when I accepted the fact that I was about to die. They felt strangely heavy and the strength to open them wasn't available to me.

"Daisuke"

I jerked at the whisper of my name. It was a woman.

"Wake up Daisuke…"

Was it Morrigan? No, the tone of her voice seemed very different. It didn't sound desperate, but rather calm and soothing. However, there was a sense of urgency behind it.

"I know that you are tired, but for your sake you need to wake up!"

I didn't know who the voice belonged to and so I mustered what little strength that I could and attempted to open my eyes. It was a struggle, but I finally force them open.

What I see isn't what I was expecting.

I was still surrounded by darkness, but was no longer plunging into it. Rather than that, I was more or less drifting in it. I soon come to realize that it isn't just blackness I'm in but as well as….

"Water?!"

I attempted to voice my thoughts, but only succeeded in make a low noises and letting a large amount of air bubbles escape from my mouth.

Turns out, I'm deep underwater.

I wasn't sure how far I sunk underwater, but I soon felt the need to breathe.

I swam desperately for the surface, but it didn't seem like I was getting any closer to the surface. Soon, I began feeling the pain of not breathing.

Is this what drowning feels like? I wondered.

Soon, my desperate swimming becomes desperate flailing.

It didn't seem like I was going to make it, but it didn't keep me from trying.

Finally broke the surface.

I gasped deeply, filling my longs with all the precious oxygen that I could.

Treading water, I looked around, trying to take in my surroundings. It was dark, but that meant nothing to my enhanced night vision.

It appeared that I was in some kind of sewer, but I soon realized that wasn't the case. I was breathing somewhat normally again and notice that the air wasn't foul like I had been expecting. It was more of an aqueduct more than a sewer so it was safe to assume that I wasn't treading in filth.

I spotted an elevated platform not far from me and began to swim towards it.

Suddenly, I feel something brush past my leg.

What was that?!

I ask mentally, but I didn't intend to stop swimming to find out. Investigating could wait until I got out of the water.

Or so I thought.

I was nearing the platform when a sharp pain rang throughout my leg. I was then suddenly snatched away from the platform and pulled underwater.

It didn't take long for me to identify my attacker.

It was big and I could see that its skin is rough. I look down to my leg to see my leg in its mouth and a beady red eye with a slit in the middle staring back at me.

A shark?!

And it's a pretty strange looking one too.

It flashes a grin and then pulls me down deeper.

In retaliation, I pull out the dagger and jam it into the assailant's side. Its eyes widen in surprise and it releases my leg and without missing a beat, I make a frantic swim for the surface.

Once I make it above water again, I swim for the elevated platform and I reach it pretty quick. However, I heard a loud splash to the left of me and when I look, I saw a large object flying towards me. My eyes widened in horror.

It's the large shark again, flying towards me with its mouth open wide.

Not like this…

Time appeared to slow as the shark descended. I recalled how my latent powers saved me when I was in a bind in the past and I was kind of hoping for the same miracle.

But suddenly, something happens.

The shark veered off target and crashes into the water next to me.

Sure it wasn't the kind of miracle I was hoping for, but I was counting my blessings. I used this chance to pull myself onto the platform and sit with my back against the wall, to catch my breath.

As I began to relax, the pain in my leg that the shark bit throbs for the first time.

There were holes in my pant leg from where I was bit, but amazingly it's mostly still intact. I rose my pant leg to check the damage. Besides the blood on my leg, but the bite marks are closing up.

I was aware of my fast healing around the time after I had my run-in with Bulleta, but this was the first time I was seeing it in action. I also remembered the words that Lilith said to me around that time. I didn't give it much thought then, but after seeing this….

If….when my powers fully awaken, will I still be me?

I became afraid of myself for the first time.

Other than the healing and the night vision, I didn't know the full extent of my powers. When they finally kick in, would they come complete with a personality change? Would I have change of diet?

I began to feel terrified.

Would I start feeding on…people?

Last I checked, people I cared about fell on that list.

I realized that I was agonizing over it and shake the thoughts from my mind. I had to focus on the current situation.

Suddenly, I heard splashing a few feet from me from further down by the platform and scrambled to my feet readying myself as something pulls itself out of the water and onto the platform.

As it stood up, I was able to see that it had a humanoid figure. Its green skin reminded me of a frog, but the thought of it being a giant frog were immediately dispelled when I notice the fins on both of its arms as well as the large golden fin tracing from its head and down its back.

I grimaced as it soon noticed me.

Okay, first sharks, now Swamp Thing?

I reach for the dagger when it started towards me only to learn that it was missing from its small sheath.

Crap.

It was probably still embedded in that shark's body. It looked like I'm going to have to fight this thing by hand.

Or so I thought.

Something slid towards me and I stop it with my right foot. My eyes widened in surprise.

It's the dagger that I lost earlier.

"That's yours is it not?"

Initially, I'm surprised that the creature just spoke to me, but I quickly shake it off.

These kinds of things just don't surprise me like they use to.

I look up at 'Swamp Thing' warily as I knelt down and picked up the dagger.

To my surprise, the creature raised its arms in defense.

"Wait, I'm not going to hurt you," it says.

Good.

That meant I wouldn't regret what I was about to do.

I sprinted towards the creature.

I apparently caught it off guard as it entered a defensive stance, but it was too late. I'm close enough to see the whites of its eyes as they widened in surprise.

I speared the creature with a hard tackle—

-as the large shark jumps out of the water and slams into the wall at where we were just standing.

I looked back in time to see the shark glare at me, before throwing itself back into the water and disappearing.

"That was close," I heard the creature say.

"Heh, no kidding."

The creature stands up and extended a hand towards me.

"I guess this makes us even now."

I eyed the creature quizzically as I took its hand.

"Even…?"

As he pulled me to my feet, a replay of what happened earlier suddenly plays in my mind.

When that shark missed me, I recalled seeing a shadow bouncing off of the shark earlier. At the time I thought I imagined it and gave it no extra thought, but now I realize that I was saved by this thing.

"I guess this does makes us even."

The creature smiles.

"Well now, if you don't mind, I kind of wish to leave here before that strange shark attacks again."

I nod in agreement. The water was pretty murky standing over it and I only saw the shark that time by chance. I didn't want to push our luck.


We found our way out of the sewer much quicker than I thought we would. The creature found a door which led us into a large dark and dank cavern. I suddenly remember what it had said.

"Hey," I said while catching my breath. "You thought that shark looked weird too?"

"Yes. I have never seen a shark like that before. I wonder what sorcery caused it to be that way."

I stared.

"You've never seen it before?"

The creature smiled.

"No. I've been all over the world and I haven't come across a shark that looks like that."

"Is that so?"

I sighed as I scratched the back of my head.

"And I assumed that you lived here."

Or more specifically, I thought that he was one of Demitri's pets, but of course I wasn't going to tell him that.

The creature shook its head.

"I've only arrived here recently."

"Same here."

So we were in the same boat, but what he said next floored me.

"But, where is 'here' exactly?"

I looked at him as though he had grown an extra head (though I might not be as surprised if he actually did).

"Y-You mean you don't know?"

"I thought that's what my question implied."

It apparently also had a sense of humor.

"You're in Castle Zeltzer—something."

Now I just felt embarrassed. I couldn't remember what the castle was named. Morrigan had only told me once and after all that happened so far, it wasn't surprising that I had forgotten.

The creature however seemed to know what I was talking about.

"You mean Castle Zeltzereich?!" he sounded surprised.

"I think so."

The look on the creature's face turned grim.

"So that vampire is still alive."

He then looked at me with scrutiny.

"You're human right?"

The question had caught me off guard.

"Uh, y-yeah….?"

For now at least, I mused, once again reminded of my circumstance.

The creature then seemed confused.

"Why are you wandering around in such a dangerous place?"

"Because I'm here to get my friend out of this dangerous place," I retorted.

He seemed taken aback by my response. I cast my eyes downward.

"And we had gotten pretty close too, before I fell into this trap."

"…I see. And what about your other friends?"

Immediately, my thoughts shifted toward Morrigan and Rose. Morrigan wasn't exactly at her best and Rose was the one on the inside helping me out, though I was certain that William knew about it.

Both of them were putting themselves in danger to help me out.

But I didn't feel too worried about them.

"I'm pretty sure they're okay."

But now I was curious. 'Swamp Thing' made it pretty clear that he didn't live here.

"Mind if I ask you what brings you here?"

The creature looked thoughtfully at me for a moment before answering.

"Well, I didn't come here intentionally like you did."

This part I could already guess since he didn't even know that he was in Demitri's castle, but I stayed silent waiting for him to continue.

"I was originally supposed to meet with someone in the forest outside."

I eyed him questioningly.

"A friend?"

"Not exactly," he responded, shaking his head. "I believe she said she was from the Ambrosia Research Committee. I was in the river by where we were supposed to meet and…well…I ended up here."

I stared at him quizzically and suspiciously. I didn't quite like how he worded that. Regardless of how questionable it might have sounded, it didn't seem like he was going to explain himself.

He didn't have to. That was his business.

What was really bothering me was what he said about the woman.

Ambrosia Research Committee….

Something about that name seemed to not sit well with me. Actually, I was getting some pretty bad vibes from it and the more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable it made me.

Then, it clicked.

"ARC?!" I yelled. "You were MEETING with someone from ARC?!"

"I-I take it you've heard of them?"

"Hell yeah! I almost died because of them!"

I then proceeded to tell him about my encounters with two of their members that happened a few months ago. I then told him pretty much everything Talbain told me about them.

After hearing me talk, the creature eyed me thoughtfully.

"It sounds like the Research Committee are a dangerous bunch. Now I wonder if it was that woman's intent that I ended up here."

I nodded in agreement. ARC was a force that moved in the dark and there was no way to know exactly what they were planning. The only thing we were able to do was react and adapt.

"By the way…"

The creature pulled me out of my thoughts.

"You said you were here to rescue your friend, did you not?"

"Yeah….?"

"How do you know that your friend is still alive?"

I grimaced.

He had asked the question that I had been too afraid of to consider. I had been clinging on to the hope that Jun was still alive. I didn't even want to think that these vampires had been merely toying with me and Jun was vampire food long before I even entered the castle.

That doppelganger I met in the ballroom might've even been the actual Jun turned into a vampire and me murdering her being a cruel joke.

"They tried to hide her from me when I first got here," I said. "Later I learned that she was sent to Demitri's quarters at the top of the castle and that he would wake at midnight to feed."

The creature didn't seem sold.

"Where did you get that information from?"

"I have an ally on the inside. She's a vampire, but she's able to resist Demitri's will as unbelievable as it sounds. She's been guiding us through the castle and she's even saved my life so I decided to trust her."

"And why midnight?"

I looked downward for a moment. I also that it was weird that Demitri, a vampire, would awaken as soon as it was dark. However, after learning that he had apparently survived being killed I had a theory.

"Demitri's still recovering," I said.

This seemed to take the creature by surprise, but he remained silent. I continued.

"He's still trying to recover his strength. It makes sense seeing how hard William's been trying to keep me from getting there."

"That is certainly a definite possibility," the creature said, appearing to be in thought.

It was purely speculation and there was the likelihood of me being wrong.

But it was all I got.

It was the only thing that kept me going, the only reason that I even made it this far.

I could only hope.

"Human…."

I shifted my gaze up towards the creature. He apparently had finished his thinking.

He now looked at me resolutely.

"…I've decided."

I eyed him quizzically.

"I will accompany you. I will help you rescue your friend."

I stared at the creature in disbelief.

"W-Wha?"

The creature grinned.

"Do you land-lovers have dirt in your ears? I said I will help you."

I was at a loss for words. A fish-man just told me that he was going to help me rescue my friend.

"But why? You don't—"

"I'm not exactly sure why….."

Now I was just confused.

"My instinct tells me that you are a good person. I find you very trustworthy."

Well it was pretty clear that my confusion wasn't going to clear up anytime soon, but I smiled nonetheless.

I guess I should be glad that I look like a guy who could be trusted….despite my oddly white hair.

"Hey, what should I call you?"

Surely this creature that just said it would help me had a name. The creature merely smiled.

"Call me Rikuo."

"I'm Daisuke."

Rikuo.

Not a name I had expected to call some creature from the black lagoon (another horror movie courtesy of Riku.), but I was grateful to have allies, no matter where they came from.

Besides, calling him 'Swamp Thing' was getting old.

"So Rikuo…how long have you been here?"

Earlier, I couldn't help but notice how he seemed familiar with the aqueduct. He also found this cave kind of easily.

"Long enough to explore most of this cave," he answered, confirming my speculations.

He looked down a pathway that led deeper into the cave.

"It was a couple hours before I made my way into the aqueduct and found you Daisuke."

"A couple hours huh?"

For a moment, I gave it no extra thought. However it dawned on me very soon enough.

Jun didn't have a couple of hours.

She maybe had 15 minutes, maybe even less than that.

I was probably wearing my musings on my face because it wasn't long before Rikuo noticed my distress.

"Is there something wrong?"

"Is there any part of the cave that you didn't explore yet?"

I didn't ask if he had found a way up into the castle because he probably would have already been up in the castle if he had.

"Um yes…?" he answered quizzically.

"Then let's go!"

"Huh? Hey wait!"

I took off running down the pathway deeper into the cave, ignoring Rikuo's verbal attempts at stopping me.

If this wasn't the most reckless thing I've ever done then I didn't know what was.


Maybe this wasn't such a great idea after all.

I had come to this realization as I slowed to a stop and found myself in the middle of a thick fog. I wondered where it came from. It had literally appeared out of nowhere.

It didn't feel natural.

If that was the case then what was causing it? Who was causing it? I was both looking forward and dreading the answer at the same time.

Just then, Rikuo finally caught up with me. As soon as he spotted me he stopped and leaned over to catch his breath.

"How…do you land-lovers…do it?" he asked in between breaths.

I then realize that Rikuo was a marine creature. Sure he could walk around on land, but he needed water. And I had forgotten that.

I turn around and look at him apologetically.

"Sorry about that. Are you okay?"

"I'll live."

I can't help but to smile at his response and resume trying to make out anything else in this fog. Hopefully, I'd find whatever's causing it…

…before whatever was causing it found us.

"Well now, what have we here?"

I grimaced.

Too late.

The voice belonged to a woman and it seemed to come from everywhere. Clearly, this had vampire written all over it. She soon answers her own question.

"…A white-haired human and a fish-man."

Rikuo griped in response.

"Heh. I'm a merman."

"Apologies. I'm not able to tell the difference."

"Well if this fog wasn't in the way you'd probably tell the difference!"

Around this time, I decided to try and provoke the vampire in dissipating the fog….okay provoking vampires might not seem to be one of my best ideas, but I like to see whatever may be trying to kill me.

I'm funny like that.

My remark was responded to with a laugh.

"Very well."

Suddenly, the fog began to recede and dissipate. I was soon able to see my surroundings again.

However, the first thing I see is a large body of water in front of me. Further than that, I see a silver haired woman sitting on what appears to be a throne planted on the bank across the lake.

"Welcome, to my domain."