It was nineteenth century, a time when vampires lived among humans.
Where the blood thirsting beasts bore the appearances identical to their prey, not only so cunningly well disguised, but much more, they inherit such beauty, charisma and elegance that it was believed, once you meet one, you too will be willing to offer up your blood to them….
Scarlet Fangs of a Goddess
Chapter One ~The Engagement~
The room was dark and wet, filled with the scent of heavy dampness in the air, grave as if it alone was able to make one sick.
Yagari Hotarubi's fingers on the whip by her waist tightened. Even with her eyes opened, all she could see was infinite darkness. Maybe because she was unable to see, her other senses intensified. She frowned the moment that uncomfortable mouldy odour entered through her nose, and the sound of repeated dripping of water from the ceiling onto the floor irritated her ear drums like a constant tapping by her ears.
Her skin reacted to the sudden change of the air flow around her. In one quick movement, her hand pulled the whip off her belt and attacked towards the source that caused the disturbance of normalities around her.
Yagari Hotarubi frowned once more when her whip missed the target and in the blink of an eye, the person was behind her. Without panic, she reached for the dagger inside her garment, and while her left shoulder dropped to dodge the attacker, with the circular momentum, she turned and swung her dagger behind her.
"Not bad," she heard the attacker remarked while he leaned back from the dagger at the same time kicked his leg towards her hand that was holding onto the weapon. As if she was already expecting that, Yagari Hotarubi calmly with a pull of her other hand, and as if the whip was alive, it swirled from behind and caught onto the attacker's leg like a snake.
Just when she thought she had the upper hand, the attacker smiled and flipped his fingers against her wrist, causing her fingers to let go of the whip uncontrollably. And it was not the end as the person pulled the dagger out of her other hand in a swift flowing movement.
"You lost." Holding both Hotarubi's weapons in his hand, the attacker smiled.
Removing the fabric that covered her eyes, Hotarubi looked up at the man in disappointment not knowing what to say.
"That was actually not bad," Coming from behind her, a person applauded. "With your eyes covered, you could still catch him."
Turning to the voice, Hotarubi's eyes lightened up in joy as she greeted the tall silver-haired youth. "Ichiru, how did your mission go?"
Smiling in response, the youth whose name appeared to be Ichiru, came up and teased. "Of course the mission was completed without fail. You think I will fail?"
"No, that's not what I meant." Hotarubi said quickly. Noticing Ichiru was alone, she asked again. "Where is Zero?"
With a sigh, Ichiru said. "And instead of asking how I was, you immediately inquired about Zero. Ah, do I feel unloved or what?"
"You twisted my words and intentions again!" Hotarubi puffed her cheeks in complaint. "You know what I mean..."
"Stop teasing her now, Ichiru." The man that was fighting Hotarubi came up as he returned both her weapons to her. "She might take it seriously."
"Still so protective of your little sister, shishoi?" With the same calm smile, Ichiru turned and gave the tall man a bow to greet. "You know, I am sure Hotarubi is well capable of dealing with real vampires by now."
"I agree!" Hotarubi stood next to the tall youth that spoke up for her. "I have had enough training as a vampire hunter! It's time I was assigned some real missions."
"When you are ready, you will be assigned." Unstirred, Hotarubi's elder brother, Yagari Touga replied.
It was a time where vampires lived among humans. In order to keep the balance, vampire hunters patrolled and protected the vulnerable human race from vampires. Within the vampire hunter community, there were two most powerful clans, the Yagari and Kiryuu Clans. As the head of the Yagari Clan, Yagari Touga trained three students. Hotarubi, his little sister, and the twin sons of the Kiryuu Clan, Zero and Ichiru.
Despite the fact Hotarubi had been trained for many years like the Kiryuu brothers, she was never given a real mission. Such treatment was of course looked upon by all as Touga's over-protectiveness of his little sister.
Knowing every time the conversation entered into this topic, it would go nowhere, Yagari Touga said, changing the subject. "Ichiru, give me a report on the mission."
Understanding too Yagari Touga changed the subject on purpose, Ichiru shrugged and replied. "The mission is accomplished. Zero and I have successfully cleaned out the vampires in Kurabi region." Turning to Hotarubi, Ichiru added in tease. "And if you were worried about Zero's wellbeing, he is just waiting outside because he believes it was rude to interrupt shishio's training session."
"I…Am…Not…Worried…About…Zero." Hotarubi objected Ichiru's tease as she put on a straight face.
"I am glad to hear that." Ichiru smiled and waved a wrapped present before Hotarubi. "Or else what I have here will go to waste."
"Oh wow, a present for me?" Hotarubi's beautiful delicate face shone with joy when her eyes followed the item Ichiru had in his hand.
"Only if you will pour me a cup of tea to go with it." Ichiru replied. "These are handmade chocolates from the most popular shop in Kurabi City."
"I certainly will." Smiling beautifully, Hotarubi nodded.
Coming out of the dark wet training block, Hotarubi's eyes narrowed a little adjusting to the warm beautiful sunlight. As her eyes gradually became accustomed, she saw another tall youth standing in the gardens, who shared the same coloured hair, same coloured eyes, a mirror image to the youth next to her.
"Hello Zero!" Hotarubi greeted immediately as both Ichiru and she walked up closer to him. "Want to join us for afternoon tea? Ichiru brought me some sweets to go with it."
Zero did not respond immediately as his eyes landed on the wrapped gift in Hotarubi's hand. Seeing the beautiful bright smile on her face Zero felt a prick in his heart. Not letting it show, Zero replied coldly. "No. I am fine. Besides, if you eat too much, you will gain weight."
"I am not going to eat it all!" Hotarubi blushed with Zero's warning. "Anyway, I am going to put up some afternoon tea in the lounge, come join us when you are in a better mood."
After Zero watched Hotarubi and Ichiru leave together, gently taking a wrapped present almost identical to the one he just saw in Hotarubi's hand, a sigh escaped his lips as he silently placed it back into the pocket of his coat.
"You could have just handed the present to her despite Ichiru got to her first."
Without a stir, Zero replied. "Who said the present was for her?" Passing the gift to Yagari Touga instead, he stated. "Souvenir from Kurabi."
"You are cute." Lifting his hand, Yagari Touga shuffled the silver haired youth's hair. "I will make sure she gets it."
"Shisho. Stop doing that with my hair." Zero threatened. "It's not like I am still a little boy."
"Really? To me, you still act like a little boy." Ignoring his beloved student's complaint Yagari Touga smiled. "But I guess, there really isn't anything you need to worry about. Hotarubi's future has already been set."
"…What do you mean?"
Instead of answering Zero's question, a serious look came onto Yagari Touga's face as he said. "There is a mission coming up. I am going to send Hotarubi on it."
"A mission?" Zero frowned immediately. "Is she ready for it? After all, she had only spent her years practicing at home, but battling a real vampire is dangerous."
"I know," Yagari Touga interrupted. "That is why I am sending you on the mission with her."
"Me? How about Ichiru?"
"It's only a small mission, there will be no need of three vampire hunters." The tall stern teacher explained. "Can I entrust her to you, Zero?"
"So what's it like when you actually hunt a vampire?" Hotarubi asked as she poured Ichiru a cup of tea as promised. "You know, the fact that they look like human beings, so wouldn't it be hard to actually, like, destroy one?"
Calmly taking a sip of the tea in his hand, Ichiru smiled. "It's not that hard. In fact, when we hunt them, they would have already turned into their beast form, so it doesn't make you feel guilty killing one."
"Yes, they were nothing but blood sucking beasts. Their eyes were red, the sharp fangs showing, the deadly claws." In patience Ichiru explained. "If you don't kill them, many more human beings would be dead."
Noticing the slight hesitance shown from Hotarubi's eyes, Ichiru comforted. "You will know what I mean when you actually meet one. Just remember, they are nothing but beasts. No sympathy is needed."
Yes, no sympathy is needed. Hotarubi grew up being educated so. Like Ichiru said, if they don't take up the responsibility of destroying them, many more human beings would be dead. Even if their hands were stained with blood, such act would be forgiven because, they were performing a greater deed, right?
Her whole life Hotarubi had waited for this day, an assignment appointed to her, a chance to prove to all that she too was a qualified vampire hunter. She did not work so hard in her trainings just so she could hit sandbags at home!
However all the excitement vanished when she found out it was merely a simple job of overseeing a party where the host just wanted to be extra cautious in case any vampires shows up at the door. In order to not alarm the guests, Hotarubi had to dress up too in a formal elegant dress which weighed like a few extra kilograms on her. Seriously, how was she able to attack vampires dressed like this? Not to mention she had no place of hiding her two favourite weapons.
"Can you fight dressed like that?"
Like an extra pinch to the bruise, Zero asked coldly as the two of them stood quietly in the glamorous party, trying to blend in unnoticed.
"I can, but I bet you can't." Hotarubi replied calmly with a smile trying to breathe normally because the tight corset she wore made her feel like a person was sitting on both her tummy and back at the same time. Secretly within, she already cursed the designer of this fashion a million times.
"Well, enjoy it while you can because it's not like you will ever get to look beautifully like this again." As if his tongue was a weapon with many sharp edges, Zero poked at Hotarubi again.
"Seriously, why are you on this mission too?" With a sigh Hotarubi asked. "It they needed someone to play the part of a partner, I would rather it be…"
"You would rather that it was Ichiru here?" Zero interrupted coldly before she could finish her sentence.
Hotarubi wanted to say yes because if it was Ichiru, he would be a gentleman instead of throwing sarcastic comments at her all the time. However, she noticed a hurtful expression showed through Zero's eyes when he said it.
"No, it's not that." Hotarubi looked away quickly. "I was trying to say that it would have been alright if I came alone." Stopping, with a sudden realisation, she asked as her eyes looked up at the handsome youth next to her. "Did you just say I looked 'beautiful'?"
To Hotarubi's surprise, Zero's forever emotionless face suddenly turned red with her question. In an attempt to hide his embarrassment, the stern youth muttered before he turned and walked away. "I will go take a look around to see if there is anyone suspicious."
Although Zero denied he ever said a word of praise to her, still, Hotarubi felt her heart slightly afloat. Before she came to the party, excited with her first mission of course, she too did work a tad on the appearance because, unlike her daily combat outfit, this was the first time she could adorn herself like any girls her age.
Unlike the many beautiful ladies with golden locks, Hotarubi's strands were dark black, a significant feature of the Yagari family like her brother. In contrast, her skin was fair, and the colour of her eyes deep blue like the ocean and clear like blue sapphire stones. Not sure if Zero noticed, but she did pick a dress that brought out the colours of her eyes. And if tonight she was not stunning, she believed she at least was a little beautiful.
Unfortunately, Zero made no remark when he saw her tonight. He looked at her as if she was like any other day. Just when she thought her efforts have gone to waste, that little slip of the tongue from Zero brought a genuine smile to her face.
"May I ask you for a dance, milady?"
Proven her beauty indeed did exist, a gentleman approached her as he asked politely. Although flattered, Hotarubi remembered she was actually here on a mission. With a smile of apology, she declined the request as she decided it was time that she too returned to work. Walking through the party crowd, Hotarubi was glad that everything seemed fine until a sudden thump of her heart caught her unaware.
"We, the Yagari Clan were vampire hunters for many centuries because in our blood, we can sense the presence of a vampire even if they looked the same as any human beings."
The words her brother said during training immediately entered her head. All these knowledge she had of vampires were theories until tonight, for the first time she sensed every drop of the blood within responding, causing her heartbeat to run wild.
Slowly lifting her head, her eyes immediately pin pointed to the source that caused such reaction in her body. Amongst the many guests present, Hotarubi saw a gentleman, dressed in a black tuxedo, his face stunningly beautiful, perfect, and the aura he carried immediately made him different from all those around him.
As if he noticed Hotarubi's focus on him, his hazel brown eyes too landed on her and although they were many steps apart, for a moment, Hotarubi felt it was only the two of them present in the room. There was such power, authority, sophistication shown from his eyes that Hotarubi discovered she was unable to look away. After a short moment of eye to eye, the gentleman responded first as he gave her a beautiful smile before he turned his focus away, returning her freedom to her.
After Hotarubi was finally able to recollect herself, her body became alert once again. Was that the enticing power of a vampire? Simply with a look, he was able to take away her soul? Irritated at how easily she became a prey to a vampire on her first mission, Hotarubi calmed herself as she looked up again challenging the vampire.
To her surprise, she saw the handsome vampire gave her another smile before he turned and left the room. In haste, Hotarubi immediately went after him because; it was her mission to protect the party guests from vampires!
"Is there a reason you have followed me all the way, milady?"
Finally the vampire stopped walking and asked while the two have entered the garden.
"My name is Yagari Hotarubi, this party is no place for you, vampire!" Secretly reaching for the thin pieces of weapon hid inside her gloves, Hotarubi stated.
"Yagari…The renown vampire hunter clan," Turning to face Hotarubi, the beautiful vampire smiled calmly, showing no fear. "Have you come to hunt me?"
"Of course I have." Hotarubi replied as she revealed the daggers from underneath her gloves. "That's the reason I am here tonight…?!" While she was still talking, the vampire was no longer before her, and before she could react, he was already behind her, his hands held onto her hands causing the daggers to drop from them.
"Let go!" In shock, Hotarubi called and attempted to pull her arms free with the combat skills she knew. To her horror, as if the vampire once again set a spell on her, she was unable to move as he gently turned her to face him, that smile of his still remained on his alluring face.
"Listen," Unlike her, the vampire whispered softly, like a soft breeze in the night. Gently holding her towards him he added. "If you close your eyes, you can still hear the music playing in the background…" Shockingly, as if her body was really controlled by him, slowly her eyes closed and her body moved together with him as the beautiful sound of music entered her ears.
As they danced together, Hotarubi felt her heartbeat gradually calmed down as it unison the steady heartbeat she heard from the man holding her. "So, vampires do have heartbeats too…"
Not expecting those words to come from the girl in his arms, the vampire chuckled in response. "Yes, we do, and believe it or not, we do have emotions too."
"…emotions…" Gently repeating the word, Hotarubi felt so calm forgetting that she was actually dancing with a vampire. A monster, a beast and nothing more.
"Hotarubi! Where are you?"
As if to remind her of her place, the sound of a familiar companion appeared in the night. Quickly opening her eyes, Hotarubi struggled once again to push herself away from him.
"Looks like time is up…" The vampire sighed as he finally let go of her. "Have a great evening, my beautiful lady."
"Who…who are you?" Hotarubi could not help but ask. From her knowledge and many tales she heard from Ichiru, vampires were nothing but blood sucking beasts, but this man before her, he was nothing like any vampires she had ever heard or read in books.
Responding with another gorgeous smile, the man did not answer as he turned and disappeared into the night. As if he had taken her soul away with him, Hotarubi found herself staring blankly towards the direction he had left not even noticing Zero ran up to her.
"Hotarubi, what are you doing here?" Irritated, Zero asked. After he left her there in the party to cool his head, he was terrified to find that she was no longer there when he returned.
"I, I thought I saw a vampire so I chased him into the garden…" Clearing her throat, Hotarubi said quickly.
"Vampire?" With the term, Zero frowned immediately. "Where is he now?"
"He, he got away…" In embarrassment Hotarubi replied sheepishly.
Instead of the condemning words she was expecting from Zero, Hotarubi saw him walked over and picked up the daggers she had dropped. Without saying a word, he returned them to her. With a soft 'thanks', Hotarubi asked in curiosity. "Just wondering, Zero. Have you ever, I mean like, met a vampire that could control you?"
"No." Zero replied simply. "If I get controlled by vampires, how do I become a vampire hunter?"
"Yes, of course…ha ha," With Zero's answer, Hotarubi laughed along. Does it mean that she really was still weak? Even after those years of training, she was only an amateur that was easily controlled by vampires? However, even with the harsh trainings she went through, not once was anyone able to suddenly move up behind her in such speed! At the same time something puzzled her. If the vampire she met tonight was so strong, why didn't he kill her?
"Now that we know there are vampires in this party, we must be extra careful…" Zero halted his sentence as his hand immediately reached for his weapon. At the same time, Hotarubi too felt the stirring within her body. However, this time, instead of the hard thumping of her heart, it was more an irritation, a discomfort to her senses causing her body to immediately become alert.
"Hotarubi, stay close." Zero stated as he moved up beside her. Nodding in acknowledgement, Hotarubi held the daggers tight in her hands.
With a hysterical laughter, an object leapt from the tree as it swung its sharp claw at them. With a lightning movement, Zero aimed the Bloody Rose iiat the vampire and pulled the trigger. Like magic, the vampire vanished like dust.
Unfortunately it was not the end when the two soon realised they were surrounded. Coming out one by one from the shadow of the night, Hotarubi saw, they were indeed as Ichiru had described, red-eyed beasts with deadly fangs and claws, hissing and growling.
"Are these really vampires…?" Hotarubi asked because they were like a total contrast to the beautiful charismatic gentleman she just met.
"Of course they are." Zero said coldly while he dodged one that just attacked him. "You are not getting cold feet now are you?"
"As if." Upon Zero's challenging tone, Hotarubi smiled as she too ducked aside from another one that tried to attack her. With a turn of her wrist, the daggers in her hand stabbed into the beast's heart. As if seeing their companions vanished in dust upset the rest, the remaining beasts howled and became even more aggressive in attacking the two hunters.
"This dress is really unpractical!" Hotarubi groaned as she picked up the hem of her dress. With a pull, she ripped the fabric to shorten the length for easier movement.
"What are you…?" Quickly turning his head away Zero called. "You better hope that no one else sees you like this!"
"How else do you expect me to fight in this dress? Besides, it's not like I am naked or anything, it's just a shorter skirt!" With the extra kilograms of fabric released from her, Hotarubi was able to move from one beast to another without them even being able to touch a string on her hair.
"So, I wasn't all that weak." Hotarubi stated after they have cleaned all the beasts up. Her years of training really did pay off, and despite it was her first mission, she handled it quite well. In that case, who was the first vampire she met tonight? It goes without saying, Hotarubi knew he was different.
While she was thinking, she sensed a warmth as Zero took off his coat and placed it over her. "Cover yourself up."
"Yes sir." Half-heartedly Hotarubi did as told but then could not help but wonder, whether this was actually an act of kindness from Zero?
"I think one got away." Zero frowned as he placed the Bloody Rose back onto his belt. "You return to the building and I will go after it."
"No, I will go with you! I am part of this mission too!" Hotarubi insisted.
"Do whatever you want." Finally giving in, Zero sighed.
Fleeing as quickly as it could, the beast leaped onto the roof feeling its throat thirsty for the taste of blood. To its luck, it saw a human being walking on the street below. With a smirk, the vampire prepared its pose to pounce on its prey in the night when suddenly, the presence of another frightened the beast.
"Has the hunger for blood turned you into a mindless animal?" In the silent of the night, the voice although soft, it presented forth such authority and power that caused the beast to immediately tremble in fear.
"I pity you, but it was the likes of you that twisted the image of a true vampire." A tall gentleman in a black tuxedo said as with the flash of the red gleam from his eyes, the beast howled and vanished into dust.
"Who are you??" Landing on the roof at the same time, Zero called in unfriendliness as he aimed his weapon at the tall gentleman. Like what Hotarubi sensed earlier, Zero felt the thumping of his heart at the presence of the gentleman before him. From years of hunting experience, Zero knew the vampire before him was at a different level.
"Ah..." Hotarubi's eyes widened in surprise as the moonlight shone to reveal the gentleman's perfect face. Moving her eyes onto the dust by his feet, Hotarubi looked up at him once again in bafflement as to why as a vampire, he had killed another of his kind. As if Zero was invisible, the beautiful vampire gave Hotarubi another smile before he leaped off the roof gracefully and vanished before they could go after him.
"If you ever meet that vampire again, do not fight him for he is not the kind you could take out on your own…"
"How did your first mission go?" At breakfast the next day, Yagari Touga asked.
"It was alright," Hotarubi squeezed out a smile. Yes the mission was successful, but the encounter with that vampire had bothered Hotarubi. Gently putting down her spoon she finally asked. "Onii-sama, are all the vampires bad?"
"Why do you ask?" Without looking up, the brother took a sip of the coffee in his cup.
"Well I, I was thinking, is it possible that vampires could just be like you and me? You know, just normal and not really there to hurt people?" The little sister asked for that was the feeling she got from the gentle vampire that danced with her, who smiled and told her that vampires have feelings too.
"Hotarubi," Touga calmly put down the cup as his sharp blue eyes browsed over to his little sister. "Don't forget, vampires are demons that drink human blood that is why we vampire hunters exist."
"I understand." Already expecting that answer, Hotarubi nodded and returned to her food.
"And since you have now proven yourself a qualified vampire hunter, there is something I need to tell you." Touga took a look at his sweet little sister. "You are aware that we, the Yagari Clan and Kiryuu Clan are the two most powerful vampire hunter families?"
Nodding again Hotarubi waited for her brother to continue.
"That is why, you have been betrothed to Zero."
"….eh?" Not expecting that, the spoon dropped from Hotarubi's hand.
She was betrothed to Zero?? All this was already decided before she even spoke her first word?? Walking back and forth in her room, Hotarubi felt her mind in a huge mess.
"Do you dislike Zero?"
Hotarubi remembered her brother asked.
No, she does not dislike him, they grew up together, did the trainings together, but not once has he ever said anything nice to her! It was obvious that she was the person being disliked in this relationship! Most of all, the hardest thing to adjust to is, the person who she thought was a friend, a companion had now become her future husband?? How was she ever going to look at him normally without all the awkwardness creeping in??
"I don't want to see anyone." Hotarubi called as she continued to walk back and forth in her room hoping to calm her mind, but only found it getting worse.
"Not even me?" From the other side of the door, a voice asked.
"Ichiru," Quickly opening the door, Hotarubi sighed. "Have, have you heard…?"
"Yes I have." With the usual smile, Ichiru replied. "Congratulations."
Exhaling deeply, Hotarubi went and sit down by her bed holding onto her head. "What am I going to do, why is this happening?"
Sitting down by her side, Ichiru asked. "Do you not want to marry Zero?"
Shaking her head, Hotarubi muttered. "I, I don't know. It's just too big a change. I mean, we all grew up together right? We are friends, we stood by each other all the time. But if I suddenly have to go beyond friendship with Zero, I don't know, I really don't know how I feel…"
"…would you still feel the same if it was me?"
"Eh?" Not sure whether she heard it wrong, Hotarubi looked up at Ichiru and found his beautiful purple eyes looking at her.
"You were betrothed to Zero and not me because he was older than me by a few minutes, is that ironic or not?" With a crude smile, the youth mocked.
"If you were going to marry a Kiryuu son, it might as well be me because at least we can still talk and smile like before, you know, as a friend I will make sure you won't feel any discomfort."
"Thank you Ichiru, you are kind." Hotarubi felt her heart warm to have known such a great friend. In tease, she smiled. "But look at it this way. At least you will be the only one out of us who will able to marry whoever you want. Aren't you glad I don't have another sister that you will be forced to marry?"
To her surprise, instead of laughing it off like how they usually would joke at each other, Ichiru did not laugh but instead, his hand gently caressed her cheek as he continued to look deeply at her. "I knew it already. From now on I will no longer be allowed to spend time with you like this, all these privileges belong to Zero now. He is the one that will own everything…" Standing up from where he was, Ichiru finally gave Hotarubi his usual smile as he suggested. "Maybe it would be best that you meet Zero face to face and figure out your feelings."
"Meet, meet him?" Hotarubi cringed immediately at the idea. She wasn't sure she could look at Zero's face right now.
"Well, you can't hide from each other forever." Ichiru chuckled. "How about this? I will arrange for a day out for the both of you. Just a time to have a good talk, and maybe you might discover another side of him that you never knew?"
"Yes, like how he actually was so in love with you that he was more than willing to lay down his life for you?" Laughing Ichiru joked.
"Stop teasing me already!" Blushing madly at Ichiru's tease, Hotarubi complained.
"Anyway, have a think about it. It's better to do something about it than sitting here rotting away in confusion."
Finally nodding, Hotarubi sighed. "I guess you're right. I will have a talk with him."
"Alright, I will see what I can do." Gently fondling Hotarubi's hair, Ichiru gave her a most kind and warm smile.
Okay…this is a bad idea.
Hotarubi suddenly regretted even agreeing into talking things out with Zero. It was not the first time they were alone, yes, even on her last mission, she went to it with Zero. However, with their new status, as they rode steadily on their horses along the snowy path, a track they have been many times since they were small, what existed between them was the awkward silence.
Say something damn it!
Hotarubi cursed within because they have been riding without saying a word to each other for the past twenty minutes. Secretly taking a peek at Zero, she found him looking afar, and as usual no emotions showed on his face. It bothered her that she could never tell what Zero was really thinking. Most of all, how does he feel about this whole engagement thing? Does he agree to it?
Sighing secretly within, Hotarubi decided that someone needed to break the ice. Moving her eyes to her surroundings, she noticed a beautiful stem of blue flowers blossoming. "Ah, Zero. Look!"
Responding to her call, Zero's eyes landed on the flower Hotarubi was pointing to.
"Isn't it amazing that in an icy cold winter, right in the middle of this snowy mountain, there actually was a flower blossoming!" In excitement Hotarubi called.
Unfortunately, opposite to her excitement, Zero gave a sigh of boredom. "Is there a need to fuss over something so small?"
Upon Zero's statement, Hotarubi felt anger whirled up within. What is his problem? I was only trying to make conversation!! In displease, Hotarubi puffed her cheeks and turned the other way. Fine, if Zero wanted to play it that way, let's just continue on in silence, and maybe for the rest of our lives, we could continue to live on in silence!
With the situation not improving at all, the two stopped to have lunch according to the schedule Ichiru had planned for them. Making sure she was at a distance away from Zero, Hotarubi sat facing the other way silently munching away on her lunch.
"I will be right back." Standing up from where he was, Zero suddenly said.
However before Hotarubi could ask further, Zero left without further explanation. In disbelief, Hotarubi stood up and felt her jaw dropped. Did, did Zero just ditched her here?? Wanting to take her whip out and let out her anger, Hotarubi discovered that because she came out on a 'date' with Zero, she did not bring any weapons with her.
"Do you think this is going badly?" With a sigh, Hotarubi fondled both the horses and sighed. It was more than clear to her that Zero felt nothing for her, and the reason he agreed to the whole engagement thing was because, he was a responsible vampire hunter, and he did what he thought was right.
However was she happy with the arrangement too? Was she ready to marry the man that does not love her? What if there was someone else, somewhere out there that was supposed to be the match of her life?
While all these questions popped up in her mind, along with it, the face of the handsome vampire she met that night also appeared in her head. "Wait, why is his face popping up??" In shock Hotarubi quickly shook her head hoping to shake the image off too. Unfortunately the more she forced herself to not think, the touch of his hand against her own that night, how he held her closely and danced with her. He treated her as a lady, he respected her, even if he knew she was there to kill him…
Luckily before Hotarubi sank deeper into the forbidden thoughts, she heard footsteps coming. Turning around quickly in alert, Hotarubi relaxed a little to find that it was only Zero that had returned. Immediately moving away, Hotarubi sat back down at where she was and avoided eye contact with him.
To her surprise though, she noticed instead of sitting far away from her, Zero approached her. In curiosity, she lifted her head as her deep blue eyes widened in surprise when she saw what Zero held in his hand as he reached it out to her.
"…Zero?" Not knowing what his intention was Hotarubi asked softly.
Moving his eyes away to avoid looking at her, Zero muttered, his face slightly red. "Take it. This is what you wanted right?"
For some reason, all the anger, disappointment vanished as Hotarubi gently reached out her hand and took the stem of blue flower from Zero's hand. Instead, an uncontrollable joy painted her soft face as she smiled from deep within, feeling her heart so warm. "Thank you, Zero…I didn't know that you…"
Zero felt his whole mind messed up when he saw that shy blissful smile on his fiancée's face. "It's no big deal…just a flower…"
"I know," With her head lowered, Hotarubi continued to smile as she whispered. "I still wanted to say thanks…"
Knowing he was never good with words, Zero felt it best that he said no more as he sat down next to Hotarubi enjoying the serene atmosphere that he managed to create with his little gift. He knew he was never going to be able to express it, but the moment he heard the news of his engagement with Hotarubi, he believed there was not one person in the world as happy as he was. However one thing troubled him. Growing up with Hotarubi, he had always thought that she liked Ichiru. Unlike him, Ichiru always made Hotarubi smile, and she too was only able to smile when she was with him.
"This engagement…" Zero finally took the initiative and brought up the topic. "Would you rather that it was Ichiru?"
A few minutes ago, Hotarubi would have answered yes. However, as she held the stem of flower in her hand, she discovered her heart may have changed. Softly playing the flower, with a shy smile Hotarubi replied. "Actually I think I might have only just found out…" Lifting her face to look up at Zero, she teased. "That Zero might be a better choice…"
Not expecting that from Hotarubi, Zero felt his heartbeat increased as he slowly raised his arm and placed his hand against her soft cheek. Although a little surprised with Zero's action, Hotarubi did not move away from his touch as she sensed him leaning closer, slowly closing his eyes. Like being hypnotised, Hotarubi too closed her eyes in response.
Just before the lips touched, both Zero and Hotarubi suddenly sensed the irritated aura penetrating their skins. In alert, the two immediately moved apart and saw, don't know when and how, they were surrounded by vampires.
"Damn it!" Zero cursed as he reached for his Bloody Rose. At the same time, Hotarubi also reached for the whip on her belt when she suddenly remembered, she brought no weapons with her!
"You didn't bring your weapons??" Zero asked when he noticed Hotarubi's bare hands.
"Well, I, I didn't expect that we needed to kill vampires on a date!"
"Fine, stay close to me." Zero said as he immediately stood before Hotarubi and fired a shot at one of the vampires leaping towards them. Like a chain reaction, the rest all howled and growled and ran up towards them.
Although he was able to shoot off the first few vampires that came towards them, but noticing the amount of vampires, and with Hotarubi unable to fight, Zero knew they would be in deep trouble if they remained there. The moment the thought to flee entered his mind, coming from behind, Zero heard the horses shrieked.
"The vampires are attacking our horses!" Hotarubi called in shock as she ran forward and kicked off the ones attacking the horses. Unfortunately, without special anti-vampire weapons, Hotarubi's attack could only do limited damage as the vampires jumped back up laughing hysterically.
"Hotarubi!" Zero cried as he ran up in haste. With another terrible sound, Zero felt his heart ached when he saw his horse became the food of the beasts that fed on it. In such a crucial moment like this, Zero suppressed his sadness for losing a long companion as he called out to Hotarubi. "Get onto your horse, now!"
Knowing too if they lose the last horse, they would be in huge trouble, Hotarubi nodded as she kicked a few more vampires off her horse and hopped onto it. Riding quickly towards Zero, Hotarubi called out as she reached out her arm. "Zero, hop onto the horse now!"
Taking another shot at the beast closest to him, reaching out his hand and with the pulling force from Hotarubi's hand, Zero successfully hopped onto the horse too. Unfortunately, the vampires were like crazy as they chased immediately after the two people.
"How come there was all of a sudden so many vampires in one place?!" Hotarubi called in shock as she took a look behind them.
"We need to get them off our back, let me control the horse!" Zero replied.
Nodding, Hotarubi allowed Zero to hold onto the bridle from behind her. For some reason, at a life and death situation like this, Hotarubi actually felt her heart pumping crazy when she could feel Zero breathing right by her ear as his arms came around her to hold onto the bridle.
Unfortunately Hotarubi did not have much of a time to have romantic thoughts when Zero said. "I am going to ride now towards a cliff, if we could make the leap between the mountains, we might be able to get rid of them."
"Eh??" Hotarubi thought she heard it wrong as she asked again. "You're, you're saying that you are going to try to jump from this mountain to that one?? It's impossible, there are the two of us, it's too heavy!"
"Trust me, I have done this before!"
Despite the fact Hotarubi wasn't ready for the jump, the vampires already caught up as one leaped forward and swung its claw at them. With one hand controlling the bridle, Zero used the other and shot the vampire.
"Alright, I get what you mean, but you said you have tried this before right?" Hotarubi asked again knowing they really have no choice.
"Yes, I have. But not with your horse."
Unfortunately Hotarubi had no chance of asking another question when she realised they have already reached the cliff and with a leap, they were off in the air. Hotarubi thought her heart had stopped beating as she felt them lifted in the air and at the same time, the sounds of vampires screaming as they failed to stop and fell off the cliff as Zero had planned.
Just when Hotarubi was going to rejoice, she suddenly heard her horse screeched as coming from nowhere, a dagger shot the horse. With the unexpected outcome, the horse failed the landing as Zero and Hotarubi fell together with the horse.
Without thinking, Zero grabbed Hotarubi as with all his strength pushed her forward towards land, at the same time, he himself received the force and fell faster. As a reflex, Hotarubi grabbed onto a tree branch by the side of the cliff as she immediately swung her belt and wrapped onto Zero's arm.
Unfortunately unable to hold the weight of two people, the tree branch bent drastically and could break anytime. Seeing this, Zero called out in alert. "Let go, Hotarubi, or else we will both fall!!"
"Don't be stupid and ask me to do something like that!" Feeling although her arms were about to rip too, Hotarubi insisted.
When he heard the tree branch started to make snapping sounds, without second thought, he took out his Bloody Rose. Seeing that, Hotarubi immediately knew what Zero was going to do as she screamed. "Don't, Zero! Stop it!!"
However almost at the same time of her scream, Zero pulled the trigger as the bullet cut the belt in half. In shock Hotarubi screamed as she saw, an image that she could never forget.
For the first time, Zero smiled at her…
"Zero…Zero…." Hotarubi wept bitterly as she clung onto the branch not even able to pull herself onto the ground. What had just happened? How come she was suddenly all alone? Wasn't she just smiling, or even fighting with Zero an while ago? What had gone wrong? Why had she lived? Unable to think clearly Hotarubi continued to weep bitterly feeling it better if she too had let go and joined Zero down there.
Her eyes snapped opened when she heard the voice of the person she thought was dead. Looking up towards the voice, she saw the silver haired youth holding out his arm as he reached for her. "Here, grab my arm and I will pull you up!"
However, as the tears rolled off her eyes and she could see clearly again, she knew, although it was the same face, same voice, he was not the person she had lost. "Ichiru…Zero is…Zero is…" Unable to speak properly, Hotarubi cried.
"I know, I understand…" With the gentlest voice, he reached out his hand and pulled Hotarubi onto safety. "He really gave his life to save you."
Although in a mess and most heartbroken, what Ichiru said suddenly made Hotarubi realised something. Moving away from Ichiru, she asked, hearing her voice tremble. "Ichiru…how come you are here?"
Instead of answering her question, Hotarubi felt her feet turning colder when she saw Ichiru smiled. "I followed you guys to check if the date went well."
Standing up, Hotarubi asked again. "Did you…did you shoot my horse?"
Standing onto his feet too, Ichiru continued to smile. "Why would I do that?"
Although his lips said those words, Hotarubi was not stupid and knew what the truth was. All the things Ichiru said suddenly became clear. He asked if she would be happy if it was him that she had to marry, and he suggested the day out, at the same time, her horse was attacked for no reason, all because—Ichiru knew Zero would sacrifice himself to save her.
Feeling her head spinning with the discovery, Hotarubi covered her face and wept even more. Zero was dead because of her, not only by saving her, but he was set up because she whined to Ichiru about the engagement.
"Ichiru," Finally drying her tears Hotarubi looked up at Ichiru as a most sad yet beautiful smile came onto her face. "Zero is dead because of me. So the only thing I could do is make sure that he wasn't alone down there…"
"Hotarubi??" Suddenly realising what the girl before him planned to do, Ichiru held out his hand to grab her but it was too late as Hotarubi leaned back and slowly closed her eyes. As the sound of gustily wind passed by her ears, Hotarubi felt her back hit a few branches along the way and with a loud impact, an indescribable pain struck her as blackness soon took over.
Before she completely lost all her senses, she felt a shadow over her and a voice sighed.
"I thought I have entered hell and yet, an angel has fallen out of the sky to rescue me…"
i Shisho is a term used to address one's teacher in Japanese
ii Bloody Rose is Zero's weapon in the form of a pistol