A/N: I know this is long overdue. I'm so sorry, but I've been extremely busy. Life dramas happened, too. Anyway, happy new year, everyone!
CHAPTER 28: Black II
Arden Huxley absentmindedly stared down at the tenth vodka shot at her fingertips. She was alone at the counter.
Arms across his chest, the bartender stood at another corner, watching a game show rerunning on the TV affixed above.
It was one of the less busy nights in Detroit. She was hanging around at a nearly empty, stingy bar after a meeting with the remaining members of Suzushiro Kenta's faction. The news of Hideaki's death shocked all of them, and even though some may have had less-than-cordial history with him, they all stood in silence, devoting a moment to him. An era had come to an end, and the new phrase had begun. For long years, they had never expected to live to see the transition themselves. One of the most ancient elders like Kernel Krawczyk passed. One brilliant father of science like Kuga Hideaki passed. In all honesty, the Lycans weren't so sure what to do now when they suddenly found themselves at a historical turning point, not knowing which side to choose, or how to survive. Conflicts had already erupted among the immortals, divided in ideas and beliefs. Wars were expected to follow, and now it was just the calm before the storm.
To Arden's relief, it had been reported that Natsuki somehow survived the battle at the Searrs' Fuuka headquarters.
It had been a long while since Arden had dared to think of the stubborn, beautiful Lycan, unsure of her self-control over the matter of her heart. Those green eyes and the raven, silky tresses. They had been lovers, but their relationship had been restricted within the confinement of their bedrooms, or motel rooms, wherever at their conveniences, and it had never gone beyond that. Or, that was the case for Natsuki. With new leads on the myth appearing, Natsuki had focused on the hunt again, and Arden had then decided to gradually resign herself from their sporadic meetings. While Natsuki hadn't seemed to mind losing touch with each other, Arden had thought that she was saved from the only business deal that she was certain to bomb: love.
When the news of the fall of Fuuka headquarters had reached Arden, first there was the immense thrill to learn that Krawczyk had ultimately failed. Even though they had been business partners for years, their kinds were never truly friendly, and the line that separated them never really disappeared. But, then, something else had struck her. Something far deeper. Something she had tried not to think about—someone.
Hideaki's death had left Arden in tears. To make matters worse, she had been wrecked in fright that the Origin truly existed and had Natsuki enslaved. There had been no words to describe what she had felt. The mother of all vampires was no longer a mundane, bedtime story to scare a child to sleep. With stories of Kazuya walking in the sun had spread like wildfire, one could only imagine what the Origin would do with this particular slave's powers. Arden had to admit that she was more than ecstatic to learn of the Origin's existence, and had sworn to witness it with her own eyes. However, she had detested the idea of Natsuki being bound. Kuga Natsuki had always been her own master—the master of her own heart and destiny, but now she was rendered into a vampire's reward. Arden had harbored nothing but scorn towards the vampire, and it had burned in her chest as she drowned herself deeper and deeper into the night.
At precisely two o'clock in the morning, Arden felt ready to head back to the motel. She had had a long week since Hideaki's death, trying to find her little stance and allies in this big, wild world. After rewarding a handsome tip upon the counter, she got up from the stool, but lightly yelped in alarm when a hand had grabbed her shoulder and effortlessly drove her back down on the seat.
Arden sharply turned to look at the intruder, coldness spreading from the grasp on her shoulder. It was a vampire of small stature. Short black hair with two braids. A pair of wide, amber eyes. With all the innocent features, it undeniably appeared to be a vampire elder, that much Arden was sure, judging from the powerful grip on her. Considering the black uniform the stranger was wearing, it suggested her involvement with Uriah. A high-ranked one, too.
Arden wasn't anyone important enough to lure a vampire elder to stalk her, however, with news of Hideaki's death and the emergence of the Origin, the immortal world had suddenly become a crazier place to live in. One should expect to find themselves a funny friend or an unlikely foe.
"Arden Huxley, I have heard much about you." The vampire looked to be in her teen, or she never made it beyond her teen in her mortal life. The fact that such a young victim had managed it through centuries of cruelties showed Arden that this was a vampire to be reckoned with.
Arden cleared her throat a little when the vampire finally removed the hand from her shoulder. "That would be me. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?" She signaled the bartender for another shot of vodka. It wasn't her first contact with Uriah, but they had been low-ranked vampires and their silly businesses. An Uriahn elder's visit was totally unexpected. Perhaps, Uriah was on fire as well at the news of the Origin. Oh, yes, it has to be it.
The bartender served another shot for Arden, and collected his tip from the counter. He turned slightly to the new customer. "Anything for you?"
Arden noted how the vampire eyed the veins along the bartender's thick neck, and she quickly tipped him again. He collected the bill, this time taking it as a sign to leave them alone.
"You were a member of Kuga Hideaki's lair," the vampire stated, her amber eyes still watching the bartender's back. She was hungry. Thirsty. The look in those eyes said it all, and Arden did fear for the man's life. Although she had known this guy for some years now, she wasn't about to butt in if the vampire elder really chose to attack him. She was never one to stick her neck out for nobody.
"Yeah, I was his kid. One of them." Arden easily nodded. It wasn't a secret by all means. She never hid the fact, and she was rather proud of her 'father'. Letting the world know of her association with Hideaki had brought in more connections and deals in the past, too. In business, everybody needed to be a friend to somebody.
To the bartender's luck, the vampire elder turned her whole attention back to Arden. "I am most certain that you have heard of his death, and his daughter's new master." The vampire was direct. Someone was eager to meet the Origin. Badly.
Arden washed down her drink, nodding to the bartender, and he scurried to deliver her another shot. "Who are you? Who sent you?" she asked quietly.
The vampire offered a smile. "Minagi Mikoto, or that's the name I remember."
Typical. Arden inwardly scoffed. Vampire elders lived for far too long, and they became useless in the end, forever clinging on to vanity. But then Arden wasn't sure if she herself would end up just like them if she had lived for as long as they had. It was why she liked being herself now, almost greedily hanging on to it as well. She didn't want to lose it, or she tried her best to prolong the inevitable.
"They say that you are a dealer. That you worked for both Hideaki and Searrs. But I find it hard to believe… No, Ms. Huxley. Which side are you on?"
"Frankly, there's no such thing as an alliance, just how much you could afford."
Mikoto glanced sideway at her, a studious gaze. "They say that the natural born Lycan, Kuga Natsuki, saved the Black Monster."
Arden glared down at the freshly served shot of vodka in front of her. "Yes. Apparently, Natsuki did save it." Arden loathed it. Natsuki should have let the myth remain a myth, letting it disappear at dawn. It was the way it was supposed to be, but Natsuki just couldn't keep it simple. And now the whole immortal world was set ablaze by the rebirth of the legend.
"I want you to go back to Japan. Find Kuga Natsuki and her master."
Arden dryly shook her head at the request. "I'd be lucky enough if the Lycans wouldn't tear me into pieces upon seeing me at the lair now. It's chaos there. It always has been, and now it's even worse without Hideaki."
"His legacy is becoming fast a bedtime story. Many Lycans have fled. But, his daughter would have no choice but to go back to the lair. She would need all the helps she could get."
"Natsuki wouldn't receive me. Trust me, she wouldn't. We haven't talked in a while, and I don't think she cares," Arden muttered. She believed that it was the thing that had always come between Natsuki and reality: the legend. And, now that it was more than a story. A real bond had been forged. A real connection no one else would understand but them. Seeing Natsuki again wasn't exactly an entertaining idea to Arden now. She didn't trust her façade. She wouldn't know how to make her face.
Mikoto appeared unperturbed. "She would need all the helps she could get," she repeated.
Arden took a brief glance at the vampire. "What's going to happen?"
"It is our most favorable time to take actions. The lair will be annihilated once and for all."
"I doubt that is why you want me back at the lair to help Natsuki." Arden scoffed.
Mikoto lightly smiled. "No one wishes for the Black Monster. It should have remained a legend forever. Do you not agree, Huxley?"
For a moment, Arden frowned at the Uriahn elder, studying the innocent face. "This isn't about Uriah, is it? No… this is personal… to you." She now felt that, perhaps, Mikoto had come to the right person. At least, they shared the matter on a personal level, not some mission that needed to be carried out halfheartedly.
Mikoto shifted a little in her seat, pale hands clasped together on the counter. "I do have an unfinished business with her."
"You knew it?" Arden laughed aloud, disbelief in her eyes. "H—how old are you? Wow, I can't believe this! This is fucking amazing!"
Mikoto's tone remained calm as she said, "Well, she is able to walk in the sun now, and my powers are limited compared to hers. I need an eye to look out for me."
Arden paused. "What… but, I—" It sounded like a normal job, but once the matter involved the Origin, she wasn't sure if she could get a mercenary or two on the mission. No one had details concerning the ancient creature. The notion that a mythical vampire who could walk and fly in the sun would have scared off any contacts Arden had. She wasn't even sure if her faction would want to get involved with the brewing war in the eastern part of the world. They were only a handful of Lycans loving business more than blood and glory.
Arden let out a heavy sigh. "It's going to cost a lot. I mean, I can't think of anyone who would want to take on this job. We don't really know what it is, or what it does."
"It is a difficult task after all," Mikoto remarked solemnly.
"Gimme some times. I have to look. It might take a while."
"It is to be expected." Mikoto nodded in understanding, and stood up. "I will give you two weeks to consider the proposal. I hope to hear good news from you."
At the sound of the front-door bell ringing behind the vampire, Arden let out a big sigh. She had been unnerved by the meeting, however short it had been. She could still feel the chill running down her spine. She had met with a few Uriahn vampires in the past, but they were not in the same league, not nearly half of Mikoto's age. Mikoto had to be the few ancient ones still alive from the time of the Origin. Perhaps, she was as old as the Uriahn queen. Arden visibly shuddered that she had been found by such a dangerous-nemesis-soon-to-be-employer. The vampire could kill her within a matter of seconds.
Deep in thoughts, Arden bit down her dry lip as she tried to come up with a solution. She took another shot of the drink, but grumbled when her cell phone rang in her pocket. She fished the phone out and put it to her ear.
"It's two thirty in the morning, John," Arden said heatedly.
"But the night is still young," Smith claimed. "You do not miss me?"
"Believe it or not, immortals do need to rest. We're not machines after all. Not yet anyway."
"What happened to you? Where has your amiable, optimistic assessment gone? This isn't about Hideaki, is it?"
Arden rolled her eyes. Smith knew very well what was going inside her head. "Make it short."
There was a silence before Smith said, "Our baby, Number 4, she's gone missing."
Upon hearing the news, Arden paused for a moment before closing her eyes in exhaustion.
"The other three subjects were destroyed. This is unacceptable. We've invested so much. We've spent decades over the project. Might I add that the headquarters was vastly destroyed by your former master and his men? I should probably bill you instead. Considering the damages, you'd need a century to raise the money and pay us back."
"The winner takes all, John." Arden tiredly rubbed her face, knowing just what was coming to her. She was suddenly popular tonight, but somehow she wasn't thrilled by it at all. "I'll see to it. Number 4 is unique. I know what she means to Searrs," she promised. Her instinct was almost a science, and she had rarely ever been wrong. A powerful test subject with inhuman strength would not stay unnoticed for long. She just hoped to be fast enough to find it before anyone else.
"I know that I can always count on you. Good night," Smith said.
The line was cut, and Arden stuffed the phone back into her pocket. Her hand automatically reached out, but found an empty shot glass instead. Frowning, she looked up and saw that the bartender had sunk to the floor on the other side of the counter, flopped against the mirrored wall. Fresh trails of blood ran down his neck, pooling over his fit, black t-shirt.
Arden spun on the stool to get up, but a hand snatched her collar and threw her up onto the counter. Mikoto bent over her, hissing as her fangs jutted out. The vampire's presence had gone undetected as the murder of the bartender had happened so swiftly and quietly. It was all happening so fast that Arden hadn't a moment to respond. The fangs sank deep into her neck, and her body convulsed, her feet kicking the glasses and bottles off the counter. The agonizing sounds of shattering glass pierced into her ears as her heart pumped so hard against her ribs. Blood shooting up to her head, her vision blurred, and she lost her strength in a matter of seconds. She tried to breathe, but it came labored.
Arden managed a blink as she stared vacantly at the ceiling. She knew that she was going to die tonight. But just before her eyes would shut completely, Mikoto retracted her fangs and straightened up. The vampire stared down at her, the innocent look gone. The wide, amber eyes were now glowing in blood color. Crimson trails dripped down the corner of her thin lips.
"The only cost of this mission is your life," Mikoto said. The vampire then bit her own wrist. Carefully, she put her fresh wound over Arden's mouth, letting her blood trickle down.
What… is going on…? Her mind was hazy. Arden couldn't move a muscle. Her throat began to burn the moment the vampire's blood entered her body. She heaved for more air in her already squeezed lungs. Choking, she thrashed and fell to the floor, the pain consuming her, gnawing into her bones. Her legs bent. Her skin sizzled. Her heart pounded so painfully that she wished to die at that moment.
Then amber calmly replaced the color of Mikoto's eyes again. She put her cold hand over Arden's forehead, muttering soothing words in a language Arden did not know. Mercifully, the pain was caged in, and all that Arden felt was the heavy numbness along her limbs. Darkness soon claimed her, and only days later that she woke again to find herself a new life she had not wished for.
After taking a full day of rest, Haruka now decided that she needed to come out of her room and faced the pack again. Yes, she was humiliated by the defeat by Natsuki in front of the whole pack. She was heartbroken in realizing that she had somehow learned to cherish her bond with a vampire, however short their time was. But, she also knew that she had no time to waste or regret. Hideaki was gone, and with the lair in disarray, Natsuki alone was no match to the pending threats from Searrs or Uriah. Haruka knew what she was doing. She wasn't doing it for Natsuki, but for her lair—her people.
Haruka nodded back as a few Lycans walked past her along the first barrier down the road. Her squad had taken the evening shift, letting Tristan and his team to take some rest. Otieno and his team were nearby, busying with polishing the rifles to kill time.
Haruka gazed up and noted the darkening sky. This was the worst time of day as the lair was open to attack by both Searrs and Uriah. Hopefully, Searrs had a better and friendlier idea in mind. One less enemy was all they hoped for.
A few hundred Lycans gathered around Haruka's unit, fresh from day rest. Some were equipped with guns, swords, spears, or whatever weapons they could find, while many were not armed at all. The lair's armory was broken after Hideaki's death, and many weapons were lost. Few had returned to the lair with the stolen armaments.
Haruka studied her peers, gripping the pyro rifle in her hands. On a positive note, the Lycans all seemed to be enjoying the evening, drinking and chatting with one another. Somehow they made it seem like a picnic in the woods rather than stationing at the deadly frontier. She, then, glanced down the dark road. Perhaps, it was better this way. Lycans did not take well of negativity. Most of them had not bothered to learn to calm their psyche; they would instantly push and kill if something disturbed them.
Haruka turned to where the voice came from. It was Yuuichi several feet away. Yuuichi and Takeda were gathering at corner of the blockades. The two men seemed to cozy up, a rare sight to behold as one of them was a Lycan, the other a former Searrs agent. Months ago, Haruka would have rioted at the communion, but she hardly felt anything but a small moment peace now. If only she could have this peace with Yukino—
Damn you, Suzushiro. Stop thinking back. Haruka silently growled at herself.
"Good to see you, Tate-kun." Haruka kept her voice low, and quickly looked away. She didn't want to prolong the conversation as she could feel his searching gaze upon her. He had seen how she had changed, but she didn't particular want to discuss it.
Haruka looked around in the dark, watchful. It was their second night guarding the road. Everything had seemed calm so far, but she wouldn't trust it just yet. Several concrete blocks were lining up down the hill in front of her. They were heavy and steady, their cold state completely crashing against her feverish mind. She just hoped that it was another peaceful night passing by.
Then the sound of engines humming erupted from the distance.
Haruka threw herself down, aiming her pyro rifle down the road. Many Lycans followed her move. They all stifled, and only the sound of engines was audible through the woods. The hums grew louder and louder each second past. The sound seemed so far away, yet menacing enough to make the Lycans crawl inside with terror. Something was approaching them. It certainly was not going to be a quiet night now.
The sound had grown so loud now. Haruka squinted at the road ahead. Nothing happened. Nothing moved but her imagination in the dark. Where was it? What was it? She couldn't have been hearing it in her head as her peers were aiming down the road as well.
Haruka gripped her rifle so tightly, her arms trembling, her gaze searching. Show yourself. Come on. Come on. Come on… It was all too still in the woods, but, then, a thought hit her. She gazed up at the starry sky, watching as thousands of black shadows, their shapes reminiscent of giant birds, flying down towards the lair.
Arden listened to her own ragged breathing in the dark. For a brief moment, it felt like the same heavy darkness she had felt when she was enslaved by Mikoto. It felt like she had been pushed into a terrifying, unknown territory; cold, guideless and uncertain. She coughed at the heavy dust around her, but eventually calmed down, her breathing normal again.
"…tsuki… Natsuki!" Arden called out. "Natsuki, can you hear me!?" She pulled out her cell phone from the pocket of her jeans and flashed the light ahead. Some parts of the walls along with the ceiling had collapsed, debris blocking the passage to the infirmary. Now that the quake had stopped, Arden tried calling out for Natsuki again, but there was no response.
Arden hurried to the rocky barrier in front of her. "Natsu—" Her body suddenly stiffened, her mind blanked out. All she heard was the call of her own name. A command that she could not ignore. She could feel it in every fiber of her being. It crept along her skin. It beat in her heart.
Her master was near. Her master was calling for her.
Shizuru kicked the kitchen door open, carrying an unconscious Nao over her shoulder. Fresh blood soaked over her jacket's right shoulder and sleeve. Bombings continued to resonate through the area. At this rate, Shizuru expected the worst.
Uriah. They're here. Shizuru thought grimly.
After thousands of years, Shizuru had always known that 'tonight' would happen. She had tried to ready herself for it. But seeing how the night had started off, already losing track of Natsuki, it all only served to frustrate her even more. She had let her guard down. Over the past months, she had gotten too comfortable with the outside world, leaving her usual paranoia locked in the basement somewhere along with the memories of Ahn. She had gotten too excited with the new world of need, trust and love. And, now, it left her exposed and vulnerable. It threatened her in losing the thing she cared for the most.
… Natsuki, I have to get back to her. Shizuru breathed.
Shizuru gently laid Nao down on the kitchen floor. She swung the fridge door open and rummaged for the bags of donated blood. She bit open the plastic container and put the outlet at Nao's mouth, carefully letting the liquid drip past Nao's lips. However, Nao was unresponsive, and the blood began to flood, rising back up her throat. It eventually spilled out, streaming down her cheeks to her neck.
This is bad. Shizuru grabbed Nao's shoulder, pulling at her in violent shakes. "Nao…! Nao, you have to wake up now…! Nao! Wake up…! Wake up! Now!"
But Nao hadn't responded at all. Her skin was graying fast, blackened veins growing under.
She's dying. That much, Shizuru was certain. She stared down at her friend, her mind racing for a solution. Her breath warmed. Her body heated in anticipation. She dove to bite Nao's neck. Her fangs pierced into hardened flesh. Slimy and cold. It felt disgusting, liking biting into rotten, raw fish. She wasn't drinking from her wounded friend. A vampire's blood was too cold for another vampire's taste anyway. But, a vampire's bite always stirred the prey. Blood would boil. The bite either ignited or killed life. It always awakened and aroused the prey in its brief, unfortunate moment before its death.
Shizuru immediately retracted her fangs from Nao's neck when she felt a weak jerk below her. Sprays of crimson dots splattered across Shizuru's chest; Nao had choked on the blood clogged in her throat.
Green eyes snapped open, and Nao's hands shot up, gripping Shizuru's arms. She groaned in pain, her body shuddering.
Shizuru quickly held up the blood bag to Nao's lips again. To her relief, Nao was now drinking, sucking to the last drop. Nao was staring up at her, somehow making her feel uneasy at their closeness. It was pure hunger in the intense, green gaze.
"More," Nao demanded, her cheeks stained by wet crimson.
Shizuru opened the second bag. Then, the third and the forth. She watched as her bite mark on Nao's neck healed, completely disappearing. For a moment, she secretly marveled at her own creation, her bloodline. What creature they were, blessed and cursed. How little they had evolved through the millennia, but still managed to withstand the test of time.
When the redhead began to slow down, her breathing normal again, Shizuru brushed the sticky strands of hair from Nao's cheeks and eyes. She sighed in relief. "You had me worried there."
"You… bit me…" Nao muttered, a hand clinging at the area of vanished bite mark.
"Don't worry. I didn't drink your blood. Even if I did taste it, it wasn't enough to read your memories anyway. Your secrets are still safe." Shizuru quickly moved to the row of windows. The shootings continued, and she could see the menacing shadows ravaging high in the night sky. "It's Uriah. They've come in thousands as far as I can see. You have to leave now, or you can still go back to them."
Nao got up. She rushed to the window and gazing out with wide eyes. "What about you?"
Shizuru studied the chaotic scene outside. Balls of fire shot out of the rifles. Bodies burned, or impaled. The forest was set ablaze, scorching this cold, quiet night into a sea of flame. From the look of it, it was going to be a long night. Her thoughts heavy, she turned to the redhead. "What happened down there, Nao? Why did… they attack you?" She didn't want to name Natsuki aloud, not believing that Natsuki had any reasons to harm Nao, but Nao's silence wasn't helping any. "What's going on? Tell me." Her voice grew slightly edgy as the gunshots continued to blast through the night, and the yells and screams grew louder each moment past.
Nao eventually turned and stared up into the curious, troubled, crimson eyes. "She didn't do it. It was that Huxley woman."
"Oh." Shizuru involuntarily let out a small sigh of relief. "But why did Huxley try to kill you? What did she want?"
"Beats me. Who knows which side she's on," Nao grumbled.
Which side are we on…? Shizuru grimaced. What Huxley just pulled at Nao had proven that none of them was ready for peace just yet. The lair itself hadn't the proper time to recover from Hideaki's passing. It still couldn't differentiate its friends or foes.
Shizuru's gaze flickered as she watched the attack outside. Uriah came in great number. It had been centuries since she had witnessed Uriah's open attack such as this. Last time Uriah had risked its existence exposed in public was when the Kyoto Coven was annihilated. Three hundred years later, Shizuru still found herself in the same predicament, cowering in fears and uncertainties. Only now she had someone most precious to her that she would risk anything to keep safe.
"What are you going to do now?" Nao sounded impatient.
Shizuru took in a deep breath as she started to turn away towards the doorway. "I have to find Natsuki." But she stopped at the redhead's hand on her arm. She turned to her friend, slightly puzzled.
"I'll go with you."
"I think it's stupid to try to get to her now. But you probably wouldn't listen anyway. So I'm going with you."
"Nao, you can't—"
"You saved me. I can't just leave you here. You'll need all the help you can get." Nao stepped up closer.
Shizuru studied her friend. Green gaze appeared defiant, but Nao was starting to tremble. Then it became clear to her; Nao was in fear. Shizuru couldn't help but sigh. "This isn't your fight. You shouldn't have to risk your life for the Lycans," she said, her voice calm.
"It isn't yours either. But we both decided to come here. We have to stick to it to the end."
Shizuru gestured out the window. "It looks worse than I'd expected. Uriah wants to annihilate the lair tonight. No negotiation. Nothing but death. You've got twelve hours from now to find another shelter."
All of a sudden, a blast hit near the outside of the kitchen wall. The ground shook, and gravels showered down the ceiling.
"Ah…!" Coughing in the dust, Shizuru opened her eyes again, realizing that she had been on all fours, pushed down and covered by the redhead. She instantly straightened up, pulling Nao up with her, and was relieved that Nao seemed unhurt by the impact.
Nao brushed the dust off her face and shoulders. "Twelve hours. Ten. Five. I don't care. Look, I have nowhere else to go. That's why I'm here in the Lycans' fucking lair! It doesn't matter if I find a shelter in the next twelve hours. It doesn't matter, because I would be totally alone, and it's not a life to begin with."
Shizuru let the words sink in. It was unwelcomed. It reminded her of ugly things. Nao's attachment to the outside world—to the social circle had mirrored her own. Possibly, it had started at Searrs headquarters. They had been thrown into a crowded place, an organization of tens of thousands. Somehow, they had learned to cherish human contact, when Ahn's basement (in Shizuru's case) and the First District Library (in Nao's case) had been a detached and lonely life. Maybe Nao understood her more than she had given her credits for.
Without another word, Shizuru stalked out of the kitchen, Nao behind her. They carefully sneaked through the hallways of the mansion. Furniture was knocked down. Broken glass and shards of wood scattered all over the floor. Shizuru neared one of the windows and peaked out. Thousands of vampires zoomed through the sky, screeching in blood thirst. There was angry fire everywhere. The sounds of gunshots warred against agonized screams. Bodies littered around the yard in front of the mansion, more scattered down the road leading to the barriers.
"Watch out!" Nao pulled Shizuru from the window before a body was crashed through the glass, tumbling into the foyer.
Shizuru stared at the body by her feet, momentarily stunned. Sparks of fire from outside flashed against her face, lending her a slightly clearer view in the dark foyer.
The wounded vampire in black uniform slumped on the floor, crying out in pain. Blond-haired, he looked to be in his mid-teen, his limbs long and lanky.
Too young. He was too young. The thought hit Shizuru hard. He must have been only fifteen when he was turned. Although he wasn't much younger than when Shizuru became The Origin, she had always felt older than most people she had known. It was the way her frail body responded to her. It was the way her loneliness talked to her. And, in particular, this vampire's youth somehow reminded Shizuru of someone she once knew. An old friend of hers. A faint memory from long ago that she felt as though it was another life altogether.
Melina… The name echoed in Shizuru's mind.
Three thousand years ago, amidst the chaos that had erupted on the Isle of Uriah, her friend had been lost to the savage army. Melina was turned, but their paths had never crossed again. Sometimes, she dreamt of Melina. Sometimes, she wanted to forget all of what they had.
The black rectangle with gold rim on the vampire's left sleeve was the emblem of Uriah. He was bleeding badly from the nasty wounds on his back and both legs. It appeared that his chunks of flesh had fallen off by vicious bites. Although Lycans were slower than vampires, their fangs not as sharp, their powerful jaws had been proven fatal if one was caught at full impact. The vampire had either been unfortunate or reckless. His healing ability wouldn't be much of help at such a severe loss of blood. Definitely, he was going to die.
Shizuru freed herself from Nao's grip, and dropped to one knee. Her large, black wings spread out, folding into a pair of thick, deadly spears. The left, pointy tip dove down and plunged through the Uriahn's chest, claiming his heart. His body twisted and turned, agonizingly swirling into a fume of dust. She watched as he disappeared with the wind, nameless and forgotten.
Perhaps, she would be like that, too. Forgotten.
Shizuru looked up to see a group of Lycans emerging by the entrance of the foyer. It was expected. They must have followed the Uriahn vampire here. Panting, they stood and watched as the dust on the floor began to disperse. Blood on their faces, they were holding pyro rifles. And a minute seemed like forever then. Should they prepare for a fight? Should they, to put it bluntly, talk truce first? But, without another word, the Lycan leader threw a rifle at Shizuru, and she caught it.
Holding the weapon, Shizuru watched as the Lycans gradually left the foyer, and only let out a sigh in relief when they were out of sight. The last thing she needed was the Lycans turning against her, too. She looked up when she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. It was Nao, with a small smile of relief as well.
"I was expecting them to start shooting at us. But, wow, you even got a rifle from them. Should we start burning vampires now?"
Shizuru raised her brows. "We'll see."
Nao laughed. She gave a soft punch at the taller woman's shoulder.
Then Shizuru closed her eyes, letting a moment past. Her mind absent. Her body light. Soon, all the sounds of shooting and screaming escaped her, blocked away. She couldn't hear—feel Nao's presence now. She couldn't even hear her own breathing. Deep into the darkness around her, she tried to find the one thing—the link that would lead her to her slave. In the dark, she swam against the current—against the stars to search for the fragile bond she had unknowingly forged and had tried to ignore until now.
She needed it now.
It was tonight that she needed to be freed of all fears. It was tonight that she had to do it right. Her eyes opened again, but all she saw was a ball of hot, blinding light.
Natsuki, come to me.
Natsuki's head shot up.
But darkness was all she saw. The air was heavy and cold, but she could hear the voice so clearly that she had thought that the vampire had come for her—that she was right next to her. When her mind registered the surroundings, she realized that she was all alone—that it was a master's calling. It was the first time Shizuru had been able to initiate contact through their bond. She knew that Shizuru had been reluctant to indulge in their bond, consequently the call must be urgent and desperate. What was it? Was she hurt?
At the dark thoughts, Natsuki crawled faster through the dark tunnel, trying to find her way out. Some of the debris had fallen, hitting her, and momentarily putting her out of consciousness. At the continuous sound of bombings echoing above, there wasn't any doubt that the lair was under attack. She could feel her blood trickling down her forehead, but she concentrated, trying to find her master's voice again in the back of her mind. If Shizuru needed her power to heal or fight, she would gladly give it. But a feeling of dread began to flood her chest as she found or heard nothing. Shizuru's presence had disappeared, empty as usual. At this very moment, she had no idea at all if her master was even alive.
God, Shizuru, please, be all right. You have to be. Natsuki looked around, her heart beating fast. Her great vision started to regain its ability. The corridor leading to the infirmary was still intact, seemingly still undisturbed by the bomb. Mother…
At the thought, Natsuki pushed herself up from the floor, rushing towards the room. She pushed the doors open, coughing at the dust the action produced. When the dust settled, she found Saeko curling up on the bed. The woman's eyes were wide in fright, her hands clutching the blanket up to her neck.
Natsuki rushed to her mother's side. "Mom! Are you all right!?"
Saeko paused for a moment before she pushed the blanket down from her face. "Na… Natsuki?"
"It's all right. It's all right now. We're going to be ok." Natsuki embraced her mother with both arms, holding her close. She hunched a little as the ceiling crumbled again, the walls screaming at the impact. More showers of gravels rained from the ceiling, and Natsuki knew that it wouldn't be long now. She just couldn't, or wouldn't want to imagine how bad it was up there. It had to be bad enough that Shizuru was calling out for her. Her thoughts were dire. Here, she was, watching the fall of her father's legacy.
'Come to me… Natsuki, please...'
Natsuki froze. It happened again, and even though Natsuki was glad to hear Shizuru, her heart clenched at the desperation in her lover's voice. It touched her that Shizuru had opened up and was finally able to connect, delving deeper into their bond, reaching out for her. She wanted badly to call out—to respond to the call. But, here she was, embracing Saeko tighter than ever as if to stop herself from running to her master. She was embracing the past and the future all at once. It was as real as the voice in her head. It was as real as it ever going to get.
She was with her mother.
"All right." Natsuki straightened up, dragging Saeko up in her arms. She could already feel Shizuru's voice slipping, their bond veiled behind the tons of blockades around her. But, she knew what she had to do. "I'm with you now, mother. I'm gonna get you out of here."
Arden coughed as she pushed her way through the debris. Her feet hurt. Her legs were sore. She had no idea how long she had been crawling, staggering up the dark staircase. She had wanted to stay down there to find Natsuki, but her master had called for her.
God, I'm so weak… weak…
Arden cursed under her breath. Powerless under this torturous bond. It had made her do things. It had made her speak what she didn't want to. She had negotiated death deals under its commands. All was against her will. And now she wondered if Natsuki had been subjected to the same treatment of a slave. However, as much as she hated to admit, Natsuki had seemed positive over the bond. It was both surprising and terrifying to Arden, and she didn't know what words that came to her mind now. It rang the deepest tremble of jealousy in her heart.
Eventually, Arden reached ground level. She stopped by the opened passageway to the living room, breathing hard to take fresher air in. The shootings thundered outside. Screams and yells in madness. Pieces of broken furniture. Litters everywhere. Smashed doors and windows. The Uriahns had come as planned. The attack was happening now. It was going to end tonight, and she only hoped that she would be on the right side by dawn.
Master… Must find Master. Arden was about to move out of the living room, but halted when she heard approaching footsteps.
"Hurry!" A familiar voice whispered.
A sound of quick footsteps followed. "I like this pyro-gun. Really cool."
"I'm glad you still have your humor, Nao."
"I can't believe you let me have it. I'm starting to like this protective side of you. Now, I get where Kuga is coming from."
A pause. "Please." It was a small word, but a strain in her voice was evident.
Arden frowned. From the sound of footsteps, she was confident that there was only one person approaching, but it seemed that two people were talking. She was puzzled that she couldn't catch the other presence. Then, slowly, the two emerged by the passageway that passed the entrance of the living room.
There it was. The tall frame with rich, chestnut hair and pale, luminous skin. The creature could have passed as an ordinary, teenage girl, but looks often deceived. Secrets. Everyone had something to hide.
Shizuru looked up, their gazes met. She paused in her tracks, but her expression remained neutral. Her posture graceful and light. The crimson gaze was void of all emotions. It was as if she was just looking into a mirror.
Arden stared back.
There it was. The problem to all things. The only problem that should be rid of.