As twilight dawned on the Fire Nation grounds, silence accompanied it by the insipid light of a full moon. After all, there was a stern curfew at such an hour of night for those who were not authority officials, and those who did break the restraints were easily dealt with. No man in the Fire Nation was exempt from the law, no matter how influential they were. Unless of course, they had the money to support their mouths. Speaking of influential men, the Firelord himself took a stroll about the city this particular night, well concealed by the veil of the night. He walked with a purpose, head held high with confidence as his elegant strides echoed softly in the abandoned streets. In any case, his mission determined the fate of his nation and possibly even his own, perhaps accounting for the motionless body that lay in his hands.
The chilly night winds rustled through the streets, but it did not affect Lord Ozai's pace, only prodding him to pull the hood of his cloak down. When he finally halted, he found himself in a vacant courtyard of the more common people's residence; a very odd place to find such a noteworthy member of nobility, indeed. Only a forsaken willow tree stood in the center of the quad, fenced in sloppily with stone. The translucent braches were oddly still for a breezy night, an unexplained oddity that infuriated Ozai. He would not be intimidated by a plant. The form in his arms stirred to his annoyance, emitting a soft groan. This meeting would have to be over quickly.
As though in correspondence to his thoughts, a subtle vibration hummed underneath his feet, followed by a resonating scrape sounding as though two boulders were being scuffed together. Right on cue, the ground before him altered, a section of paved road lowering to reveal a stairway into complete and utter darkness. The underground corridor did not faze the man even slightly, as he shifted the body within his arms and maneuvered a free hand in front of him to produce a small flame to light his way. He descended down one step at a time, a damp and musky odor invading his nostrils.
As he reached the bottom step the pathway shut instantly behind him, evoking his awareness of his own vulnerability. The flame in his palm tinged blue, lightening the cavern well enough. While the earthen walls were sturdy and well-formed, it did not remove the admittedly trivial claustrophobic sensation Ozai was enduring. Wispy footsteps made their way towards him, sounding from the narrow corridor ahead. The figure remained warily in the darkness.
"We have a contract." The velvety voice flowed like music in one's ears. "This is a grave violation, Ozai." The figure stepped into the soft glow of the flame as any ordinary man might. However, this was no ordinary man by any standards. His height rose to about six feet, his unnaturally thin build compensated by his fine robes. Ozai's attention was distracted by a pair of shady, amethyst eyes glaring through rogue strands of free-flowing onyx hair. Such features sharply contrasted the man's snow-white complexion, deathly pale skin complimenting a narrow face that looked deprived of its former youth by years and years of subversive residence. It would be an understatement by all means if one was to call this man 'appealing' or 'attractive.' No, he was beautiful. Beautiful in an exotic, alluring way.
When Ozai had recovered from the appearance of the man he had not seen for so long, he replied in a dangerous voice, "Forgive me, Lord Setsuya, for saying so, but I was under the impression that it was you who first disrupted the peace of our treaty."
The man sighed, his hair gently swaying with a shake of the head. "One can only keep a discontented civilization at bay for so long. You of all people should be able to relate to this." The pale lips split into a knowing smirk.
"There have been deaths," Ozai insisted, keeping his flare burning strongly. "Unaccounted for and with suspicious markings."
Setsuya took a deliberate step forward, eying the fire cautiously as he did so. "I can't help that." He didn't care to defend his people; Ozai would not listen, and would react somewhat adversely to knowing that there could be problems deeper than a few out-of-hand individuals.
"Can't you?" Ozai murmured, gesturing to the body in his arms with a nod.
As though just becoming aware of the presence of another, the ghostly man's eyes flickered wide open in surprise. Ignoring Ozai and the flame completely, he stepped towards the Firelord and examined the boy in his arms with great interest. He appeared to be around the tender age of fourteen, youthful in his features yet powerful. Dark hair that was once obviously tied up was cut loose, dangling midway down his pale, exposed neck. Setsuya put a finger to the teenager's face, tracing his cheek softly, almost affectionately. "Who is he?" He tried not to sound too interested.
"My son," the Firelord said shortly, eyes wavering to the unconscious young man. "Although you may think of him as a gift."
The other's head snapped upward, glowering at Ozai. "What do you mean?"
Ozai shrugged, an uncharacteristic gesture, a smile gracing his lips. "He is yours to keep, for whatever purpose. You once told me that my blood was unique, and in his veins runs that same blood."
Setsuya focused on the teen's scent, indeed catching a similar flavor to that of Ozai's. However, this one was different. He was obviously the offspring of two sacred bloodlines. It was sweeter than anything he had ever thought out to seek, making him moan quietly in anticipation. "You would part with your own son?" he murmured, putting a hand to the teen's cheek, making him shiver slightly. "What strange creatures you modern humans are. He's out cold. Is he damaged?"
"No, simply drugged." Ozai's smile turned malevolent. "Your prize is untouched by anyone," he added softly. "He is pure."
Setsuya's eyes fluttered dangerously, desire tainting them. He reached out another hand, stroking the boy's hair gently. "And what is it that you want?" He could not hide the craving in his voice, deeply inhibited with lust.
"Merely a peace offering," Ozai stated, nodding his head elegantly. "I expect to see far fewer deaths among my noble classes."
Setsuya nodded distractedly, still staring at the boy. "I'll see what I can do, Lord Ozai."
The Firelord smiled, achieving his goal far more quickly than he had planned. Even these savages were bound by their word. He held his arms steady as the other man scooped up the teen without effort. Ozai turned to the pathway to the upper world that had already opened for him. He started up the stairs swiftly, halting to address the man one last time. "Out of curiosity," he whispered, "how long does Zuko have to live?" Without waiting for the answer, he began the climb again.
"I don't know," the other replied, fading into the darkness. "I am reluctant to drink from one this precious." Soon after being placed into Setsuya's arms, the young man had begun to shiver violently, as though shoved under a cold stream. This one is different.
With a groan, amber eyes quivered open followed by a shudder. Zuko put a hand to his head, trying to stop the dizzy, chilly sensations running up and down his spine. Unable to find comfort, he turned onto his side, trembling into the blankets that surrounded him and snuggling into the yielding mattress he lay on. When he finally came to his senses, the teen frowned as he glanced around his room... or rather, the room that was not his.
Zuko jolted out from under the covers of the nicely made bed, which was not his bed, and staggered upright, staring at his surroundings in a daze. It was a large area, though depressingly empty. Apart from the comfortable mattress sitting atop a dark wooden frame, the only other furnishing was an oil chandelier, permitting limited light to illuminate the room. However, it was not the lack of essentials in the room that frightened the teenager. It was the fact that the windowless room was paved with stone upon earth walls, emitting a damp musky smell that made the young man feel queasy. His heart rate jolted as he stared straight at the door on the wall across from him. It looked like an ordinary door, not an entrance to another dimension or something impractical such as that.
He approached it with caution, as though it could swallow him at any moment. Zuko bit his lip, trying to remember the events before he had… passed out? He couldn't recall. He eyed the door trying to debate whether or not to open it. At least it would give him an idea of where he was. He took a step closer, only to spring back when it opened, attaining a defensive stance. His nerves reached their peak as adrenaline coursed through his veins. Darkness was the only possible spectacle. The door was only slightly adjacent as a small tray was pushed into the room, and the opening disappeared as discreetly as it had come.
A delicious aroma filled the room, and Zuko inched closer to the tray on the floor. He raised an eyebrow, noticing it was filled with food, and a lovely pair of chopsticks. Warm, flavorful food... He shook his head, trying to calm the ache in his stomach. When was the last time I ate anything? But he refused to touch the plate, instead turning his attention to the door ahead of him. With a tiny jerk of the handle, it was obvious that it was sealed from the outside. He sighed, leaning against the wall in distress, eying the steam enviously that was emitted from the... Was that rice? And soup? He really did love soup.
"Don't be stupid, Zuko," he scolded himself aloud. There was no telling what was in that food. He nudged the tray to the side and trudged dejectedly back to the bed. All he had to do was keep calm. He was evidently at the mercy of someone else. All he had to do was wait until the leader of this masquerade came looking for him. Then he would get his answers. And so, he leapt onto the bed with ease, leaning against the wall facing the door. He brought his knees to his chest, head resting on them lightly. He would be patient. Even if his heart was beating a million miles a minute. After all, he had never been a captive before.
A quarter of an hour passed by as the young teen stared at the entrance, playing with his unkempt hair absentmindedly. Finally a hushed click alerted him, and the door opened a second time. He bounded to his feet, eyes open wide, ready to fight his way to the very end. However, the man that stepped through the door stopped him dead in his tracks. He stifled a gasp in his chest, as the one known as Setsuya came into the light of the room. The man sustained an emotionless expression, though his eyes held obvious intrigue. Zuko unknowingly took a step forward, observing this entrancing man with wonder.
Setsuya held back a chuckle when he saw the teen's wide gaze and temptingly parted lips. He could only guess why the boy had taken a step closer to him as opposed to backing away, screaming as he went. He sniffed the air, cocking his head to the left where the untouched tray of food lay. "Does the cooking displease you?" he asked with a gentle voice, sounding fairly disappointed. He glanced at the boy, who simply stared.
Tha-that voice! It was like silk winding around his mind. Zuko broke his trance by closing his eyes, finding quick words to reply with. "I'm... not hungry." Had his voice always sounded so weak? An untimely rumble from his stomach contrasted his reply.
Violet eyes lit up, a small smirk gracing thin lips. "We're not trying to kill you off," Setsuya assured the boy in a matter-of-factly tone, taking a few steps closer to him. Surprisingly, the boy did not back down. "We have excellent cooks, and they hardly ever put their skills to use. They were rather excited to hear we had a human we could pamper." The man experimentally reached out a hand towards the teen's neck to receive a reaction. Zuko simply lowered his head suspiciously, golden eyes glazed with awe and confusion.
The young man completely ignored the implications of the phrase, diving into the main issues. "Who the hell are you?" He flinched, having meant to ask the question, Where am I? or Why am I here? but the words slipped from his mouth.
Fortunately, the older man knew precisely what questions were associated with his mentality. "You may call me Setsuya. You now reside within my dominion, beneath the grounds of the Fire Nation." Zuko breathed a sigh of slight relief to hear he was still within range of his home. Beneath...? "As of now, I am your caretaker." His hand rested on the teen's neck, forcing him to jolt backwards in surprise with a gasp. His touch was icy cold. Setsuya smiled apologetically, withdrawing his hand. "I'd forgotten. It has been a while since I have touched one whose blood still runs."
Finally, the words caught Zuko's attention. "Wh-what?" he choked out, trying to be as gracious as he could be with this stranger who could very well take his life at any moment. The man smiled chillingly as he took a step forward to rest his hands on the young teen's hips. Zuko shivered at the contact, feeling the unnerving frosty touch even through his clothes. He attempted to shrug off the contact, his panic mounting. What right did this man have to touch him? "Get your hands off of me!" he snapped, jolting backward and shooting the stranger a dirty look.
Setsuya's lips twitched into a smile. Finally, he could dig deeper into the boy. He only had to pry into his comfort zone. He leaned in to whisper in the teen's ear. "Have you ever been told tales about the Kyuuketsuki?" He could hear the heart of the teen begin to race, pumping the delicious blood that coursed through his veins. It was almost too much for his self-restraint.
"Of course I have." Zuko bit his lower lip, trying to sound unaffected. "Vampires. They were a common urban legend when I was growing up."
Setsuya chuckled and glided behind the teen's body with unnatural swiftness, wrapping his arms tightly around the young one's midsection. Zuko gasped as a frosty hand slipped under his shirt, caressing his stomach. The man sighed, thrilled by the perfect physique his lovely gift possessed. He leaned in, touching his cold lips to the boy's neck. "A legend? Is that what they call us now? How discourteous." He relished the sensation of the boy's pulse beat steadily against him. For the first time in many years, his deathly cold skin absorbed the warmth of another.
"Us?" The question was simple, yet held a certain dramatic essence that made Setsuya want to quiver with delight. He spun the teen around in his arms, holding him close with tender hands. His cold fingers ran up Zuko's back, finally cupping his face gently. The teen looked tense, now somewhat frightened. Setsuya opened his mouth to reveal a set of perfect, sharpened incisors that gleamed in the vague lighting.
Zuko's breath caught in his chest, eyes widening in awe. He wanted to back away, but found that his feet were frozen to the ground in his daze. The hands from his face had not lifted, causing a splitting numbness that penetrated his skin. "Why am I here?" His voice was dry and subdued, as though he'd just realized the severity of the situation. "What's your purpose with me?"
"Don't be afraid," countered Setsuya urgently, his playful tone reverting back to its seriousness. He didn't want the teenager to feel threatened. "You won't be harmed."
The raven-haired teen didn't know what to think, for his body had prepared him for 'fight or flight', but another sense told him he could put his faith in this man, this vampire. Henceforth, he acted on his natural instincts, which were utterly fascinated by the creature holding him close. Zuko regained his breath gradually, lifting a hand to Setsuya's face. He dared to touch the white skin, shivering, but refusing to pull away. He felt around the jaw of the man, outlining his slender lips carefully. The young man swallowed hard as the vampire's eyes flickered shut. He was in control now.
The gorgeous violet eyes widened in shock as Zuko leaned closer to inspect the razor-like incisors that jutted from the roof of his mouth. Setsuya pulled away, and whispered in warning, "Be careful. They're sharp, and if you cut yourself the blood will draw me in. I will not be able to control my actions."
The teen jerked away, the words smacking him to consciousness. "Erm, sorry," he said, only because it seemed to be the right thing to say. Zuko winced, not remembering why his deeds had been strange. "Wait! I don't have to apologize! I deserve an explanation before you deserve an apology! You're going to tell me why I'm here, and you're going to tell me now." Zuko found, much to his annoyance, that his words were ignored.
The vampire lord released the younger one, shaking his head. "I have to depart for now. Whatever you do, don't leave this room. Please, there are many here who sense your presence. While most of us can withstand bloodlust, some are not so blessed. I do not want you to get hurt. I will be back within the hour." Setsuya turned to walk away.
"Wait!" Zuko called, finding his voice once more. The other stopped, but did not revolve to face him. If demanding didn't help, perhaps a courteous request would. "Please, Setsuya." His voice became desperate. "You mentioned that you are my caretaker. How long do you plan on keeping me here? What do you want from me?"
"Why is it that you need to know?" the silken voice asked softly.
"I have a family and friends who are going to be looking for me! I have a life, and you can't keep me from it justly!"
"Zuko. That's your name?" Setsuya glanced back at him, no trace of any expression on his face. His eyes were clouded with solemnity. The teenager nodded. "You no longer have a life above ground. I am sorry for the pain this causes you, but you must trust me. You are better off without those people. Under these circumstances, you should never want to live among them again. Time will pass, and you will understand your place here." Without waiting for his response, the man slipped through the door and locked it firmly, leaving Zuko to stare in hopeless shock, despair filling his heart.
Ozai sat on his throne, eying the armed forces that stood before him, each man possessing nearly inaccessible qualifications for the common man. No, these men were of the elite, proudly trained with only one goal in mind: protection of the royal family. Within the elaborate halls of the palace stood these elite troops, awaiting orders for the patiently observant Firelord.
Lord Ozai's face turned sorrowful as he began his speech. "Faithful subjects- it is my great misfortune to inform you that my one and only son has been abducted by treacherous hands. There are no clues and no evidence to support any potential suspects at this point, as I am afraid a terrible fate may have already fallen upon him. To find a member of my own blood, there are no lengths to which I would not go. I hereby give you the liberty of searching every residence within the Fire Nation lands in a desperate attempt to recover my lost successor. Although the wellbeing of the royal family is your obligation as opposed to a pastime, I will be offering a substantial amount of gold to anyone who can bring Prince Zuko back to the palace alive. Limit your searching to the mainland, for the borders have already been closed off. If my son is not returned to me within two weeks of now, the ports must be reopened, making the investigation nearly impossible. As you might imagine, I am devastated by this tragedy. Let it be known that anyone who withholds any information concerning the whereabouts of my son will be executed on the spot for disloyalty, treachery, and treason. Commanding officers: station your troops. Report to me at any hour if you obtain information. All are dismissed."
The stony, stunned silence was replaced immediately with the sound of simultaneous footsteps towards the two exits of the main halls, accompanied by the commanders shouting orders. Ozai couldn't help but allow a smirk to travel across his face. There are many sacrifices that a leader has to make to keep order in his nation. One in a million conflicts have consequences of pure contentment.
Meanwhile, the brother of the Firelord stood over the balcony that extended above the great halls of the palace. Iroh's heart was breaking at the obvious smile on Ozai's face. That man didn't care for Zuko's wellbeing, not a bit. The former general had been the one to watch over the young man, ensuring his health, his happiness. Iroh sighed, hands trembling at his sides. Once again, he could only stand by and watch as a son was taken away from him.
"General Iroh?" a low voice asked him from behind. "Can I bring you something?"
He didn't have to turn around to see who it was addressing him. "No. Thank you, Lieutenant Jee. That won't be necessary."
A hand touched his shoulder as the taller man attempted to comfort him. "They'll find Prince Zuko in no time. Probably just a convict desiring a ransom. We'll catch him and put him to death immediately. I'd kill the man with my bare hands," he added with a growl, distressed by these unraveling events. Many men associated with Iroh knew of Zuko, deeply impressed by the contrast with his unforgiving sister, Azula. He was compassionate, often timid, and easy to take a liking to. Jee was never a social man, but found it easy to communicate with the young teen as he was mature for his age with an extreme dislike for politics similar to his own.
"Yes." Iroh shivered, thinking of all of the things that could have happened to Zuko within the time span of a mere night. "Yes. He will be found." But the words that drifted from his mouth were at a loss for confidence.
Setsuya groaned, burying his head in his hands and leaning sluggishly against the damp wall of his quarters in despair. Despite the complete darkness, he had no problem seeing even the smallest of cracks in the dusty walls, all of which seemed to mock his misery. How did the situation abscond from his control? One moment he has a shaking teen in his arms and the next, he's the one shivering like a little lost puppy while the other stroked him like a house pet! However, he could not deny that the boy's touches felt pleasant. In fact, they were criminally intoxicating. That was what scared him the most.
"Lord Setsuya?" a soft voice whispered from outside his door.
"Akane." The man composed himself. Only in the privacy of his residence could he let his weakness show. Otherwise, he was the calm, authoritative personal the name 'Setsuya' inferred.
"You called for me, Master?" the voice inquired timidly.
"Yes. See that our guest feels at home. Can I trust you to do so?" His voice was filled with uncharacteristic weariness.
"Of course, Master." Akane called, no doubt flattered by Setsuya's confidence in her.
"Thank you." His tone was considerably more kind, expressing heavy gratitude for her noble deeds. He knew it was particularly difficult for a newer vampire to resist the smell of blood, but Akane had a knack for self-control that he had never encountered before. She had a motherly, passive nature that radiated care.
Light, graceful footsteps disappeared down the corridor, allowing the man to slump against the wall once more. The power this boy had over him was frightening. But it wasn't only that. It was his intense attraction to Zuko, and not only to his blood.