Disclaimer: Nothing to sue me for here. Fun only, no profit.


Chapter 7

"Waaaaaaaah~ I can't believe break is almost over!" Eri wailed in utter anguish as she buried her face in her arms on the table. The ice cream parlor ignored her. It had had its fair share of whining students in the past week or so. One more wouldn't make a difference. Actually, the business was rather welcome.

"It's ok, have a parfait." Sayumi consoled her in the most practical way possible: dessert. Eri's eyes lit up at the mention of the cold, sweet treat.

"Parfait? For me?" She squealed as the delicious dessert was pushed in front of her. "Yay!"

Sayumi watched her best friend tear into the parfait with a sweet smile playing on her lips, then tapped at her chin as she wondered aloud.

"But you're right, where did the whole month disappear off to? It's like, poof and it's here; but one blink and it's gone again..." The devil bunny sighed, stealthily stealing a spoonful of ice cream with her spoon from Eri at the same time. Eri spluttered and waved her spoon around like a baton, eyes wide and accusatory. There would be no leeway given in the war over dessert!

The ensuing tussle over the slowly melting pile of ice cream involved a lot of clinking, shoving, and smeared cheeks. Finally, it was resolved by a second double order of parfaits after the last of their prize had melted away during their scuffle. Lesson to be learned? Never get between girls and their ice cream. It could be deadly. Or profitable, if you happened to own an ice cream parlor.

"Mou...where's Gaki-san? She's taking so long..." Eri whined again. Sayumi delicately finished off her dessert, dabbing at her lips with the napkin.

"Oh, she sent a message earlier. Said something about having to drop something off at the post office so she would be late." Sayumi informed her somewhat airy friend. "Weren't you listening when I told you just now?"

"I was...but she still is taking too long..." Eri pouted, twisting her spoon around in her empty bowl. Sayumi grinned evilly as she thought of something else to distract (read: scar) her best friend with.

"So have you thought of what classes you're gonna be taking next semester?" Her grin was positively vicious as Eri groaned aloud at this unwanted reminder of school.

"Did you have to remind me?" Eri pouted harder, and Sayumi stuck her tongue out at the older girl. "Someone has to remind you or you'll forget to sign up for classes again."

"Meh, I have you and Gaki-san to remind me, and I don't forget anyway!" Eri pretended to look offended, then paused, a puzzled look on her face. "When do we have to do the registration again?"

Sayumi broke down laughing. Eri whined again, poking her childhood friend in the shoulder insistently. "Stop laughing at me!"

"Gosh, Eri...classes start in 2 weeks and you still haven't noticed?" Sayumi managed to compose herself after a while. "We have to pick our classes this week!"

"Oh." Eri frowned, then shrugged after a moment. "I'll figure something out."

"Really, you..." Sayumi shook her head. "Oh well, that's my Eririn." She smiled indulgently, hooking her fingers with Eri's and leaning on the older girl's shoulder. "I like you just the way you are~"

Eri grinned, absently playing with strands of Sayu's lustrous black hair. After a few minutes of blissful silence, Eri piped up again.

"So, what classes are you taking?" Sayumi arched one delicate eyebrow, but did not remove herself from Eri's shoulder.

"Mmhmm, I was thinking of taking this one class in applied mathematics..." She started off slowly, hiding her grin as Eri's eyes bulged in horror.

"Maths?" The turtle girl squeaked, giving a shocked look at the mass of dark hair to her left. Sayu tilted her face upwards, an impish grin on her lips.

"Well, I am doing Economics, you know. It's in the requirements." Eri was still cringing at the idea of mathematics in general as Sayumi went on.

"But I might still switch over to Business. I'll have to see first." She finished with a shrug even as Eri suppressed the last of her shudders at the dreaded mention of mathematics. Before she could comment any more though, a familiar voice cut in.

"What did you do to Kame again, Sayu? She's all pale and shaky." Risa grinned, having caught on to the tail end of the conversation as she swung into the seat on the opposite side of the table. "Been talking about classes?"

"Yeah. Mathematics~" Sayumi couldn't resist putting that in, and Eri whined again, covering her ears. "Bad word!"

Risa laughed at them. "Oh quit it Sayu, you know you don't have to traumatize her like that."

The youngest of the trio smirked and flashed a peace sign. "But it's so much fun!"

Eri scowled, or tried to. "It is not." She ended up looking cute instead. Sayumi giggled and sat up, snuggling closer to Eri while claiming sole possession of the latter's arm. Risa rolled her eyes at the display, absently taking up a menu and glancing at it.

"I'm taking a class on theater next semester." Risa offered while scanning the list. "It looks like fun. Kame, do you wanna join me?"

Eri brightened up. "Theater? Sounds cool!"

Risa looked up with a smile. "Yeah, we get to watch some pretty cool stuff. I checked out the lesson plans." She cocked her head to one side, thinking. "Plus it would go with some of the literature classes I'm taking, and it's a nice break from staring at a bunch of moldy old books." A wry grin. "So I guess you're in too?"

"Yeah, totally!" Eri cheered. "You can lend me your notes!"

Sayumi made eye contact with Risa, and simultaneously, they smacked their foreheads with their palms. Eri blinked, looking between her two best friends.

"What?" Sayu looked at her and sighed, her expression a combination of exasperation and affection.

"Nothing at all, Eri. Nothing at all..."

~*~*~

A crumpled aluminum can hit the far side of the brick wall, growing even more dented as it bounced and just barely rolled back to where it had first started. An irritated snarl, and the inoffensive can was crushed down to scrap metal.

Tanaka Reina was a ticked off vampire, and for good reason. Well, reasons that were good enough for her anyway.

"Damn you Seirei! Some kind of vampire you are!" A random crate splintered against the wall. "ONE WHOLE MONTH AND NOT EVEN A FUCKING CLUE!" The remains of an old cupboard smashed into that poor, abused wall. "What are you, some kind of coward?! Hiding just cos Reina is looking for you? Huh? Huh!"

Reina felt marginally better after she destroyed a few more inoffensive pieces of junk. She had snooped around, threatened various people, bribed them when necessary, and even went to the extent of following that creepy old bartender around, but all to no avail.

She did manage to find out about quite a few other interesting things that was going on in the city though. Just not what she was interested in.

"Argh." Reina slumped against the least grimy section of the wall, glancing down the very long and dark alley to check that she wasn't being observed. Once satisfied, she scuffed at the gravel surface with a boot, scowling to herself.

It was as if Seirei had vanished into thin air. Reina mentally went through all the tidbits of information she managed to gather. Many people knew of Seirei, but no one else seemed to know anything more about her. Her skill was almost legendary, as was her elusiveness. Only few could even remember anything about her appearance; that was what had mystified Reina. Surely more would have remembered such a striking character.

Even then, all they could appear to mention were her eyes. Those eyes. Reina shuddered, in fear or in excitement, she wasn't entirely certain. Shaking her head, Reina focused, trying to dredge up more concrete memories of Seirei's physical appearance. She came up mostly empty. Just the unforgettable instant of mysterious eyes.

Pale skin, lips curved in a smile that wasn't. Reina frowned. She had almost forgotten that. A melancholy that seemed to transcend all things. Very powerful, but very lonely.

Reina wondered why. And she fully intended to hunt down that elusive vampire and ask her about, well, everything.

"I will never give up!" The young vampire pounded her fist against the wall, sending a shower of sawdust spraying out from where she had struck. She wrinkled her nose and dusted herself off, stepping away from the less than clean surface.

A whisper of sound, too vague to be human, made her react instantly, fangs half-bared. There was no sense of a heartbeat or of breathing, so it could be no living thing that made that sound. Reina cocked her head to one side, listening. The main problem with facing another vampire was the lack of sound. Sight wasn't much better, what with their ability to blend into shadows. The lack of a heartbeat or breathing made things worse.

Still, there were ways. Reina kept her senses sharp, slowly moving her head around to scan the area. If that other thing out there moved, she should be able to catch sight of that movement.

She hated every single moment of this. It was like something out of a bad horror movie, and Reina hated horror movies.

Never mind that she could technically be the star of a horror movie given her current status in life now.

Another whisper of sound, heavier this time, followed by a very loud drip. Reina was moving before her mind even processed the information. As her brain caught up to her actions, it had to wonder at how clumsy her supernatural stalker was. No self-respecting vampire would make that much noise while trying to sneak up on someone else, much less someone with the exact same sensory capabilities.

Nevertheless, Reina wasn't about to kick a gift horse in the mouth. She did, however, kick the ass of the lousy stalker blended in at the turnoff into the next little alley in that backstreet maze. He, she, or it flew across the short intervening distance before making painful contact against the other side of the alley.

Without giving the rascal time to recover, Reina was already on him, hauling the poor sod to his feet and putting him into a stranglehold, ready to separate his head from the rest of his body should he try anything.

He was in a bad shape, that much Reina could register, and not all of it was a result of her own assault. For one thing, his skin was pale, paler than what was normal for a vampire, and felt oddly papery. He was also much lighter than someone of his size should have been. More significantly, his eyes were a solid red, fangs protruding unnaturally long in his mouth. When Reina shook him for a reaction, all she got was an animalistic snarl in return.

"Dude, what's your problem?" She was taken off-guard, however, when he swiped recklessly at her, sending her staggering back as she released her grip, seeing stars for a moment. She couldn't remember being hit quite that hard before! Wary now, she circled back around the other vampire cautiously.

He looks half-starved...maybe that's why he's like that... Reina didn't like the idea of a starving vampire running loose on her territory though. Too much risk of exposure, and Reina didn't think it was a good idea for humans to know that vampires existed. It would make her existence so much more inconvenient if humans started taking precautions against their kind.

"Hey, if you need blood, I can go grab someone for you..." Reina offered cautiously. She was a bit reckless sometimes, but after being backhanded like that, she felt that erring on the side of caution wouldn't be such a bad idea for once. Besides, it was rare enough that she came across a strong vampire, even if it was one that was just a little loopy from starvation.

Reina had only gotten really hungry once, and that had been bad enough. She didn't want to think how bad it would be like to get into the same situation as the poor sod in front of her. It must be difficult to even think coherently in that state, much less move around unseen like he sort of was earlier.

"Blood..." He grunted, a glimmer of intelligence coming back to those feral eyes. Reina backed up a little, not wanting to leave her back to a dead end, but blocking off the only exit to that alley. In case he wanted to run off, he was going to have to get past her first.

"Yeah, you look you could use some..." The two vampires were sizing each other up now, the stranger's eyes still glowing with that weird intensity, staring at a spot near her ear. Reina was suddenly uncomfortably aware of the fact that his blow earlier had opened a gash above her ear, and although it had sealed up almost immediately due to her rapid healing, the blood remained.

Reina hadn't so completely shed her humanity that she couldn't feel doubt and fear, and a knot of unease tangled her insides even further. She swallowed nervously, her fangs slipping out into view as she licked her suddenly parched lips.

The sight of her fangs seemed to spur some kind of adverse reaction from the other vampire, who growled angrily and narrowed his eyes to slits. Reina readied herself, wondering what she did wrong. If he wanted a fight, she would show him that Reina was no pushover.

"Are you with him?" He snarled, the sentience in his eyes fading back into a primal bestiality. Before Reina could even reply, he was attacking, swinging and kicking wildly like a rabid beast. Reina, taken aback by his ferocity, fell back at first, defending herself as she tried to figure out how to beat the guy.

Feinting quickly, Reina neatly dodged a double-fisted swing that might very well have decapitated her, the strike crashing into the concrete behind her. Running was not an option; given his crazed state she couldn't very well just leave him to run wild, and she was fairly sure he would catch up anyway even if she did run. After turning into a vampire, Reina felt that she might easily outrun a normal human, but against a rabid vampire out for her blood? Very unlikely.

So she would fight. In the split second it took for the hostile vampire to yank his fists out of the rubble that was once a perfectly good section of wall, Reina rounded on his back and struck at his spine. The snapping sound was clearly audible in the night, but it barely did anything against the enraged creature in front of her. Reina had to dodge another wild grab at her, bounding backwards to assess the situation.

Ok, so spinal damage doesn't kill us. Learning new things all the time... Reina thought grimly, ready for another attack. However, it seemed that even vampires were not entirely immune to such a move, because after that desperate grab at her, the stranger fell to his knees, then flat on his front. His legs did not seem to be responding, although his upper body was very much active. He was actually frothing at his mouth as he glared at her, unable to speak.

Finish it, leech. His mental voice was as clear as day, and Reina cringed at the pure hatred concentrated in those crimson orbs.

"Fine, whatever. R.I.P. and all that." Reina grumbled as she approached him. One swift blow, and his head was left in an awkward angle. For safety purposes, Reina borrowed the metal pipe she found lying nearby, and drove it into the heart with a wet thud. The corpse flinched with the impact, then seemed to contract in on itself.

Reina blinked in shock as the corpse seemed to relax, a kind of inaudible sigh coming from the final death, then disintegrating right before her eyes. As the ashes were blown away by the wind, Reina dropped the pipe and looked around nervously.

"I didn't do that..." Reina mumbled, backing out into the main street as fast as her legs would carry her. She had never seen a dead vampire do that before, at least not to the same extent. The first time she had killed a newly turned vampire, it had died right there like an ordinary human corpse, and she had had to dispose of it the regular way. Another time, the corpse had shriveled up and looked like the flesh had all but rotted off. Reina had to burn that one up, it looked so disgusting.

"Hmm..." Reina was so caught up in her thoughts, she almost completely missed a conversation being held by a group of obviously drunk young punks with hair in shades of wild color. Normally, she probably wouldn't have bothered with the likes of them, but a certain keyword made her perk up her ears almost instantly.

"...wildest party this month! They even got Seirei to come down! How cool is that?" One punk, his blond mohawk adding a good 3 inches to his height, was gesturing at his friends, sloshing beer from his can everywhere. Intending to take a drink after his oration, he brought the can down with every intention of putting it to his lips, only to find that it was no longer in his hand. Startled, he turned around, only to see a smiling girl holding the article in her hand.

"Now why don't you tell me all about that party, hmm?" Reina's grin was positively vicious as she slowly but deliberately crushed the can into nothing more than a very squashed ball of scrap metal. With a predatory smirk, she tossed the remains of the can aside.

"Shall we begin, or do I have to make you talk?"

The results, as anyone with two nickels to rub together can guess, was fairly predictable. Reina smiled benignly as she dusted off her hands and walked off, leaving a groaning pile of young men who now vowed to never EVER cross cute girls like that again.

Reina whistled as she went on her merry way. This night was turning out to be just fine after all.

~*~*~

"Akito is dead."

The announcement was heavy, but held no further emotion otherwise. As if the loss of a life was yet another number to be taken note of. The tatami room seemed very cold and formal in that instant, the evening breeze lending an appropriate chill to the atmosphere.

The elder sat ramrod straight in the traditional position, his expression inscrutable as he studied the reaction of his youngest grandchild. His only grandchild, after this most recent bereavement. The child, no longer fit for that term, he corrected mentally, looked at him with the eyes of one who had seen too much, too young.

"Did he die well?" Her face was pale, her teeth stubbornly holding her lower lip in place as she returned his gaze, chin up and not betraying her still tender years. A faint discoloration that was slashed across one eye was visible for an instant when she blinked, determined not to show emotion before the head of her family.

"His...remains...have been cremated and placed in the family shrine." The clear implication being that Akito had been in no condition for a public funeral by the time he had been returned to his homeland. The girl gritted her teeth, her jaw rippling with a clear anger that was barely controlled after a moment.

"The family shares your loss." The old patriarch acknowledged, a note of pain briefly underlying his tone. The loss of one of their most promising children was a bitter blow to bear for their diminishing family. Now all that was left for the new generation was this young child kneeling before him, still too young to even undergo the ceremony.

That would soon change. He straightened almost imperceptibly, watching with some approval as she composed herself in the way befitting one of their family. She would do, she had to. Their duty brooked no other choice.

"We have recalled you back from your duties for more than just your brother's death." Here he paused, giving her a moment to digest it. His granddaughter was a smart one, even brighter than Akito himself had been, and her eyes narrowed as she obviously reached some conclusions herself.

"You are the only one of your generation left in our direct descent, and the other branch families send their condolences." Pausing again to gather his thoughts, he continued.

"It is unprecedented, but the other elders agree that it is time for you to undertake the ritual. We are short-handed as it is, and we cannot afford to leave our region unprotected." He let that sink in, watching as the young girl's eyes widened fractionally, but nodding in acceptance without any hesitation.

"You must understand the risks of the ritual. There is no turning back after it, and it is a coming-of-age ceremony for our clan." The girl nodded again, her eyes downcast.

"Yes, Grandfather. I understand and accept."

The aged patriarch spared some pity in his glance for his grandchild, sorry that the full weight of the family's duty had to fall on such young shoulders. However, she had been raised well, and if she lived long enough, she would be a menace to the darkness they fought generation after generation.

"One more thing." He waited as she looked up to meet his gaze again. "The clan has decided also to pull you off active duty for a while after your ceremony has taken place. You know it is custom that we normally give the newly initiated at least 3 months of recovery time." She nodded, aware of the tradition. Satisfied with her knowledge, he continued.

"Due to certain circumstances though, we are unable to give you that same time for recovery." At her sudden stiffening, he quickly added.

"No, we will not send you on active duty immediately. To do that so soon after the ceremony is suicide. We do not intend to lose you as well." The girl relaxed, waiting attentively as curiosity burned in her eyes.

"One of our branch families have requested aid in locating one of the wayward members of their line." The old man watched as the girl's lips twitched, as if about to say something. "You may speak freely."

"Grandfather, would that be the same case as the one I read in our archives? The eloped couple?"

The old man nodded approvingly at her quick deduction. "Yes, the very same. Our relatives have been devoting what little resources they can spare towards recovering their lost son, and they have made little progress in all these years. Recently, however, they have uncovered some clues that prove to be very interesting."

"They have had children?" She guessed quickly, and her grandfather actually smiled at her deduction.

"A child. To be precise, one of those." The girl's eyes widened in surprise. The elder nodded.

"Yes, as you can see, we are interested in recovering that offspring. It's far too rare for us to merely ignore." He reached for the cup of tea, sipping elegantly from it.

"However, the training for your distant cousin has been sorely delayed thanks to the willfulness of the father, and so we charge you with not only the recovery, but also the mentoring duties for your cousin." The girl blinked, about to say something but clamping her mouth shut at the last moment.

The elder raised an eyebrow. "Is there a problem?"

"Um, with all due respect, Grandfather..." She sounded a little hesitant. "Why me?"

He actually smirked. "Because we cannot spare anyone else, and you're free for at least 3 months after the ceremony. What better than to put you to this task?" His expression grew warmer as he perceived the subtle frown creasing his granddaughter's face.

"Frankly, child, you're one of the smartest ones of the whole generation that our clan has produced. If there is anyone capable of tracking our wayward relatives down, there is no other that I would trust more. Your brother would have said the same." He added for emphasis, noticing that she straightened with a determined look in her eye at the mention of her brother.

"I understand, Grandfather. I will not fail the clan." She bowed to him respectfully, then asked.

"When will the ceremony be held? I must make ready for it." He nodded, pleased by her decorum.

"At the next full moon. Until then, rest well and prepare yourself for it." She bowed again, before humbly taking her leave.

He watched her go with sad eyes, sorrowing that he had to deliver such burdens to her so young. Absently, he patted his one good leg, before awkwardly touching his other limb. The prosthetic leg always felt so unnatural, but at least it enabled him to walk with only the aid of a crutch rather than being confined to a wheelchair.

Such was the price of following their duty. Death or dismemberment. He sighed, picking up his tea again as he gazed at the waxing moon in the distance.

Akito...watch over your sister. Watch over Aika...

~*~*~

The moon was hiding shyly behind noxious clouds, but the distant flickering of artificial light provided some scant illumination in the night. The wind whistled in its passage, stirring up dirt, dust, and other unidentified particles.

A shadow moved, a darker patch against a black canvas, barely noticeable to anyone of normal eyesight. A stray cat, rummaging in an overturned trash bin, froze in place as the ominous shadow passed, giving vent to a screeching yowl as its hair stood literally on end, tail upright. Then it did what any intelligent animal would do: run like hell.

Patent leather shoes seemed almost loath to step into the dingy little back alley, but the resulting crunch of the step taken announced that necessity overcame an aversion to grime. Still, there was barely any noise other than that first step, the figure pretty much ghosting along into a very familiar looking little alley.

A polished wooden cane snapped down sharply next to an abandoned metal pipe. At one glance, the pipe looked rusted at one end...or perhaps not. The figure did not bend to check though, at least not for the pipe. He was far more interested in the ground next to the pipe.

"Interesting..." The voice that slithered out was oily, with a distinctly aristocratic ring to it. He eyed the destroyed wall, then back at the ground. His face split into a very pointed smirk, touching a gloved hand to his chin.

"Very interesting..."