Blood Letting

Part Three

Notes: Here's some start-of-the-weekend reading for you guys. It feels good to get back to more serious writing after doing that fluffy new story. It suits my style better, I think. Not that I'll withhold fluff from the fandom, of course. :)

Disclaimer: Usual nonsense - I don't own the borrowed characters contained within this work of fiction, etc, etc.

They had travelled miles and Shizuru had yet to utter a single word. They'd left behind the choking city and were now moving through a wooded area. They had passed a myriad of fields and small estates but she hadn't paid them much heed, one dark patch of grass looked just like any other. Her focus fell mostly upon the leather clad vampire who surged through the trees ahead of her. While Natsuki preferred to traverse forests on the ground, it seemed the vampire enjoyed the safety of the trees' branches. When Shizuru had taken to leaping from one to another, Natsuki had ended up copying her since it was hard to keep track of the flitting image from the ground with how fast she moved.

Suddenly, Shizuru came to stop and she crouched down on one branch, the silhouette of her blade hanging just below the wood that supported her weight. Natsuki wondered what had caused her to halt her momentum. Leaping from the tree she currently stood upon, the Lycan landed on a limb just above Shizuru. Dark crimson surveyed the horizon but Natsuki had no idea what she was looking for. She settled upon her branch, swinging her legs over the edge of it so she could sit.

"This jumping from tree to tree thing is a bit dramatic," Natsuki commented, keeping her voice hushed.

Shizuru glanced at her, an eyebrow raised. Her attention soon returned to the landscape though. "It is for caution's sake," she replied simply.

"Since when do Searrs or vampires track by scent?" She had realised what Shizuru had meant even though she hadn't mentioned it specifically.

"They do not."

"Then..?" Her mind sped over the possibilities and she could only come to one conclusion. Shizuru was worried about werewolves tracking them. "You think my pack would come after us?"

Shizuru nodded. "Why wouldn't they? They will notice you're gone and I'm sure they won't act favourably towards me."

The Lycan frowned. Of course the vampire wouldn't know anything about her pack dynamics. "I don't think we have to worry about that." Crimson eyes peered at her questioningly. "I live out there by myself for a reason, you know."

The elder cocked her head to one side. "Ara, Natsuki is truly a lone wolf then?"

Natsuki rolled her eyes at the suggestion. "I just don't do team very well. I'm sure they won't miss me. Not until the next hunt, anyway."

Shizuru studied her for several moments and she expected her to comment on that but she merely went back to scanning the area around them. What was she looking for anyway? As if she had heard her thought, the vampire spoke softly. "We are close."

"To where?"

A pleasant smile adorning her features, Shizuru answered simply. "To our objective."

Natsuki let out a frustrated breath. "Which would be..? Oh, and while we're talking, didn't you owe me an explanation?"

"Ah yes..." Shizuru's smile faded at her words. "...that."

Natsuki hopped onto the branch next to the vampire so she could get a better look at her face. "So who was on the other side of that phone? Was it someone from Searrs?"

A voice drifted up to them, causing Natsuki to freeze. "That would be Alexander Searrs, I suspect." Emerald eyes shot down to where the voice's owner stood, peering up at them.

A silver haired girl stood staring up at them, her face completely void of emotion. Her posture was rigid and there was something off about her. She was wrapped in a heavy coat and she appeared to be carrying a long pole in her left hand. Natsuki sniffed the air, picking up Shizuru's scent, the faint odour of some unidentified vampire and something completely unnatural. "Shit," she spat as she jumped down from the tree, pulling one of her pistols free of its holster as she landed with barely a sound.

She knew what the thing standing in front of her was. There had been many stories of an android created by Searrs that would decimate vampires and werewolves alike. It had rarely been seen, due to the low survivability chances of the viewer, but stories had started to filter back to the pack. Then suddenly one day it had moved on to another city, leaving a hurt if relieved werewolf population. Her muscles tensed as she watched for the slightest movement.

The android just stared back at her with no sign of it wanting to attack. "Alexander Searrs being the CEO of Searrs, of course," it continued.

Natsuki was about to retort when she noticed movement from just behind the android. Intense blonde hair peeked out from behind its leg, followed closely by a small face. She found wide blue eyes staring curiously at her and it hit her that the vampire she had smelt just a moment before had been this small girl. A vampire killer and a vampire together? What the hell is going on?

"Miyu..." Shizuru's familiar tone reached her ears and the elder soon came into view as she dropped down in front of Natsuki. "What are you doing here?" She seemed to be speaking to the android, which only added to the werewolf's confusion.

"Word reached us," was the only answer the android offered.

"Shizuru!" Natsuki snapped, feeling completely ignored at her place behind the elder. Was she ever going to get an explanation?

Shizuru glanced over her shoulder at the werewolf and Natsuki noticed the blonde vampire's widen further. "Lycan..." she whispered but Natsuki could pick it up easily.

"This is unusual," Miyu stated flatly.

The sound of Shizuru chuckling seemed to bring out the confusion in everyone. "Ara, it seems as though I have a bit of explaining to do."

Natsuki leant against the tree behind her, keeping her pistol aimed in the direction of the android. "Might be a start," she huffed.

Shizuru turned towards Natsuki and gestured to the silver haired girl. "Miyu..." She then knelt down in front of the android and patted the top of wild blonde hair with one hand. "...and Alyssa have come all the way from Kyoto." She looked pointedly at Natsuki now. "I'd appreciate it if you were a little more welcoming."

"Kyoto?" Natsuki echoed as she watched the small vampire close her eyes happily at Shizuru's pats. "But that thing is an android." She motioned towards Miyu with her weapon.

The elder quirked an eyebrow at her before standing and placing herself in between Miyu and Natsuki, much to the werewolf's surprise. "Your nose is impressive as always. But, I assure you, she is not our enemy." The honesty in Shizuru's eyes made Natsuki's arm waver. Eventually she dropped it to her side but she didn't holster it.

"Mind explaining why you think a vampire killer isn't your enemy?"

Shizuru smiled at her. "Her main concern is little Alyssa."

Flicking a few strands of dark hair over her shoulder, Natsuki eyed Shizuru sceptically. "That doesn't really explain anything."

The android took it upon herself to step forward now. "I am Miyu, an artificial unit designed by Alexander Searrs to hunt and exterminate supernatural threats to humanity." It paused and looked at the small girl behind her. "When Alexander Searrs' daughter gave birth to a child, I was given the secondary objective of providing close personal protection to his granddaughter."

"Then why aren't you off being Searrs' lapdog still?" she asked with a scowl.

"The connection with Alexander Searrs was severed when Alyssa Searrs became a vampire."

Natsuki's eyes widened. This small girl was Alexander Searrs grandchild? As that information sunk in, the events from earlier began to fit into place and her eyes shot to Shizuru. "Y-you turned her?" she asked incredulously.

Shizuru's crimson gaze faltered for a split second but Natsuki picked up on it. "It was necessary," was all she said, her tone cold.

"Bullshit, you killed an innocent girl to save your own ass!" she growled angrily. She knew elders could be ruthless, she had seen it with her own eyes, but she couldn't even fathom the complete lack of conscience one needed to be able to do such an act.

A squeak came from the direction of Alyssa and Natsuki's gaze slid over to her. She was hiding behind Miyu again, one hand clinging to the dark fabric of the android's coat. She edged her head out from her hiding place for a moment, one blue eye peering at her. "Mean doggy!" she shouted before returning to her hiding place.

Natsuki gaped at the comment. "I... am not!" she objected.

Miyu lifted the pole in her hand and she thought she might try to attack her with it but the android quickly held it out towards Shizuru. The elder retrieved it from the outstretched hand and allowed the weight of the wood to rest in her palm for a moment. She then lowered it and brought her blood-red blade up to the tip of it, slotting one into the other. She twisted the pole until it was firmly in place before adjusting her grip. While Natsuki had noticed that it seemed something could slot into the end of Shizuru's weapon, she hadn't imagined it could be turned into a completely different type altogether.

"Thank you, Miyu," Shizuru murmured quietly as she hoisted the pole arm over her shoulder. She carried it with such ease Natsuki found herself wondering what the metal was made from to make it appear so light.

"This conversation isn't over," Natsuki warned.

Shizuru turned to face her, her expression unreadable. "What does Natsuki wish to know?"

"How about telling me how you can do such a thing when you spout crap about being tired of the bloodshed!" Her words were harsh but Natsuki was fed up.

Shizuru's brow furrowed as she pulled her lips into a thin line, the werewolf's words hitting a nerve. But then she stepped closer to Natsuki, lowering her weapon to her side as she walked. Crimson eyes narrowed as she spoke. "I do what I must to protect those dearest to me."

The weight of those words tightened the muscles in Natsuki's throat and she swallowed the lump down that had formed there. There was such ice in the vampire's tone and determination in her eyes that the Lycan couldn't find a reply. Shizuru then turned, her chestnut hair fanning out behind her, and walked over to Miyu.

"You came alone?"

"Yes, it would not have been wise to involve the others without further information." Miyu nodded once.

"I see," Shizuru replied. "I suppose it can't be helped now."

"What is the Lycan's role in this?" Miyu asked as if Natsuki wasn't even present.

Shizuru glanced behind her before answering. "She is under my protection." Her tone was final and it was clear she wasn't going to give any further information out.

"Very well."

"Bah!" Natsuki grunted as she pushed herself off the tree and stomped off through the trees. She was tired of feeling out of the loop and everyone seemed intent on keeping it that way. If they were going to treat her that way then she'd be better off on her own. As it had always been. She slipped her pistol back into its holster and continued her march.

She heard a soft 'thunk' from behind her but didn't turn back. It sounded vaguely like metal on soft ground. The almost inaudible patter of footsteps neared and she realised someone was coming after her. She hurried her pace but didn't break into a run. She wouldn't be seen running from any vampire. It wasn't until strong arms encircled her waist did she realise it was Shizuru who had followed. She felt herself being pulled back against the elder's cool body and the soft creak of leather reached her ears.

She let out a gasp as Shizuru's grip tightened on her and chilled lips brushed her ear, causing a shudder to shoot down her spine. Strands of chestnut fell into her peripheral vision momentarily. "You shouldn't go that way," she murmured.

Suddenly remembering how irritated she'd been before, Natsuki snorted. "Are you going to stop me?"

"Hm, I might," Shizuru whispered, a palm sliding upwards across the werewolf's stomach. "But I'd be more concerned about the estate of vampires a mile in that direction."

Her mind considerably distracted by the vampire's touch, it took Natsuki a few moments to register the second half of her sentence. When she did her eyes widened. "You want to attack the Fuuka Cadre?" she asked incredulously.

Shizuru chuckled lightly. "Attack is a strong word. I only intend to infiltrate." Her hand slipped down again with those words, fingertips dipping just under the waistband of Natsuki's jeans.

Natsuki's stomach fluttered dangerously at the contact and she jerked herself out of the elder's grip, whirling around. Her heart thudded loudly in her chest. "Shizuru! What do you think you're doing?" Her face must have been flushed but she hoped she could pass that off as anger.

The vampire smiled mischievously at her as she brought the same hand to her lips. "My apologies. I get carried away sometimes."

Natsuki balked at Shizuru as the elder turned and sauntered back towards Miyu and Alyssa. The werewolf crossed her arms over her chest, refusing to follow her. The cheek of her! She's so damn... damn... Shizuru! Gah. She didn't know if she'd ever find a word to sum the woman up. Natsuki gazed off in the direction she had intended to go. If the Kanzaki Estate was, indeed, that way then she'd be walking right into her pursuer's hands. Yet again, Shizuru had provided her with the only path she could take.

Still, it wasn't one she was unwilling to travel. She was intrigued by the vampire, even drawn to her, but learning of what she had done to that Alyssa girl had thrown her. She didn't know the full circumstances, of course, so perhaps she should give Shizuru the benefit of the doubt. If she said it was necessary, then perhaps it was. Either way, she needed the allies at present. Even if they were vampires and an android.

The outer reaches of the Kanzaki Estate were suitably dark and didn't afford outsiders a decent view of the manor itself. Natsuki suspected it had been designed that way on purpose. Small groups of trees and bushes would give them a little cover but not much, she noted. A tall metal fence rimmed the entire estate and Natsuki suspected there would be armed patrols at key points as well. She wondered what Shizuru hoped to accomplish by coming here; it seemed more of an unnecessary risk than anything.

Her companions stood off somewhere behind her as she surveyed for them, her night vision being a little better than theirs. Of course, she would need to shift into the beast in order to have the full use of her night eyes. She would hold off until they'd decided what the plan was though. She made her way quietly back to the others, finding the three cadre members sitting behind a row of trees. Shizuru was crouched with her back to one as Miyu knelt on the ground with Alyssa in her lap.

What a strange group we are. Shizuru glanced up at her, the base of the pole arm, or naginata as she'd been informed, resting against the ground and its shaft against the vampire's shoulder. Crimson eyes peered at her expectantly and Natsuki strolled over towards the elder.

"I can't see a safe way of getting over the fence and into the grounds without being spotted," she informed Shizuru.

"I see," Shizuru murmured.

"Don't you know of any other ways in? You've been here before, right?" Natsuki asked.

The elder smiled at her. "I've always used the front door. I've never had a reason to sneak in before."

Natsuki let out an embarrassed laugh. "Right, of course. Silly question then."

"I suggest we split up," came Miyu's monotone voice.

Natsuki eyed the silver-haired android. "That's not the wisest of choices. Sure, we might be harder to spot but what if we come up against resistance?"

Shizuru stood at that moment, drawing the werewolf's attention again. "Ara, Natsuki might be a lone wolf but she still thinks like a pack member at times." At Natsuki's mildly bemused look, Shizuru continued. "I believe Miyu means to create a distraction for me."

"Oh..." Natsuki glanced at the android to find it nodding once. "What kind of distraction?"

She would have sworn the android smiled then but she put it down to the gloomy lighting. Androids can't smile, right? "I will leave it in Miyu's capable hands," Shizuru cut in before any explanation could be offered.

"Hey, wait. I'd still like to know what's going to happen before we go in there!" she insisted.

Shizuru paused and eyed the werewolf for a moment, as if contemplating something. She took a few steps closer to Natsuki before speaking. "I would prefer it if Natsuki remained here."

Narrowing her eyes, Natsuki could feel her pride swelling up to defend itself. "Why? I'm not some young pup who can't look after herself! I've fought hundreds of vampires; I'm more than capable of watching my own back. And yours too, for that matter!"

A curved eyebrow arched upwards at her words. "I do not doubt your abilities in the slightest. I apologise, Natsuki. It was for my own selfish reasons. You will accompany me then." Shizuru's words seemed final, as if that was the last word on the matter but Natsuki wanted to question her more on them. It seemed the elder was a little too used to being in control. Did she think of her as a subordinate too?

Nevertheless, she left the questions for later. They were on the edge of enemy territory and it wouldn't be wise to hang around and wait to be ambushed. Shizuru nodded once to the android and both she and Alyssa moved off to the eastern side of the estate. Natsuki wondered what help the small girl could possibly be but she couldn't say she'd be useless either; she was still a vampire after all. What a weird pair. Shizuru looked back at her and then up at the high fence.

"Are you ready?" she asked.

Natsuki grunted in affirmation and eyed the barrier, trying to ascertain the best way to get over it. Both she and Shizuru had the ability to jump quite high but neither of them would be able to clear its height. Plus there was the added challenge of the barbed wire that was coiled around the tip of the fence and Natsuki wouldn't be surprised if that was electrified for added protection. Vampires could be smug bastards, but their long lives had made them paranoid. With good reason too.

"The gate lies that way," Shizuru broke into her musings and pointed towards the west. "There is a small entrance used by the guards nearby, I would appreciate it if Natsuki could open it for me."

The werewolf gave her a sceptical look. "And how am I meant to do that from here?"

Shizuru shifted her naginata and held the blade out near the ground. "I'm going to give you a lift," she said with a widening smile.

Natsuki's eyebrows shot upwards. "No way! You're not throwing me over that fence!"

The moonlight danced in Shizuru's mischievous eyes. "I shall be gentle."

She opened her mouth to object again but she knew there wasn't an easier method of getting to the other side without announcing their presence. But, still, did it have to be such an undignified entrance? The elder changed her stance so she'd be able to give the swing better leverage and looked pointedly at Natsuki. The werewolf sighed and resigned herself to yet another thing she didn't want to do. She took a few steps back and readied herself.

Natsuki took in several deep breaths, feeling the adrenaline starting to course through her veins in preparation. She tensed her muscles before launching into a run. As she did so, Shizuru began to swing her blade towards the fence and Natsuki hopped into the air to land one foot on the red metal. The momentum of the swing carried her upwards and she used her own power to project herself towards the top of the fence. Whoa, she's strong, she found herself thinking as she sped through the air. As she reached the apex of her jump, she tucked her legs into her body and tumbled through the air, easily clearing the unwelcoming barbs. Natsuki landed on her feet, gravity forcing her down into a crouch on the soft grass. She glanced through the fence's bars at Shizuru, a victorious grin on her face.

The elder seemed to be amused by her expression but she didn't say anything. Instead she headed in the direction of the gate, her dark coat and hair floating behind her as she ran. Natsuki mirrored her actions and moved towards the west as well, but with more caution than the vampire. She could easily come across a patrol and she didn't want any unnecessary confrontations. Keeping low, she hurried along the length of the fence, her senses bristling. There wasn't much cover so close to the fence either and she wondered if she should move further into the estate just for safety's sake. But that would likely mean more chances of patrols as well.

The light of the moon lay out a path before her and she could just make out a guard station up ahead. It consisted of a small hut and there was a break in the design of the fence that could possibly mean an exit of some kind. Was this what Shizuru had meant for her to look for? Movement caught her attention and she felt suddenly exposed. From her position she could see a single guard with some form of semi-automatic rifle. Crap. She caught the scent of a dog as well. There's no way I'll get close without alerting the damn dog. She cursed her luck and wished she'd thought to obtain silencers for her pistols. Not that she knew she'd be running for her life at this moment.

Knowing that speed would be her only ally, Natsuki's gaze went up to the waxing moon. You get your wish. She had a habit of talking to the beast when she'd spent long periods of times alone. She'd become well acquainted with it, even. Now that she'd made the decision, it fought to get out and part of her wanted to stop it, scared to relinquish control but she needed it. The pain of the transformation wracked her body now and she doubled over as bone and sinew cracked and reformed within her. Her skin itched and burned as fur burst through it. She dug her fingers into the earth as she clamped her mouth shut, keeping herself from screaming out, and the grass tore as her nails hardened into claws. She squeezed her eyes shut, the pounding of her blood in her ears the only sound she could hear now.

When she opened them again, she saw the world anew. The pain gradually faded from her joints as she settled into her new form. She sniffed at the air, taking in the positions of the guard and dog easily now. She could almost see the trails of scents that filled the air. She couldn't pick up Shizuru's trail so perhaps she hadn't closed in on the guard post yet. That was good, the dog would likely pick her up almost as easily as she could. Her eyes flitted from the hound that trotted back and forth beside the guard house and the actual guard. The man appeared the bigger threat so he would be her first prey.

She slowly made her way towards her targets, keeping low to the ground. Her muscles contracted as she readied herself to pounce, the dog having sensed something was amiss now. She rocked backwards slightly before releasing the taut power in her legs and surging forwards, a growl piercing the air as she sped towards the unaware guard. His eyes widened as he noticed the blur of movement coming towards him. She could smell the fear on him as her front paws connected with his chest, the claws tearing the dark uniform her wore. He piled backwards into the hut, the splintering of wood filling her ears as the table behind him gave way under the force of the impact.

She clamped her jaws down on his neck, her teeth sinking easily into his flesh. She held him tightly in that grip until the gurgling in his throat died and he flopped lifelessly to the ground. As she released her hold on him, the metallic taste of his blood coated her tongue. Human? The vampires had hired humans to be their guards? She snarled and leapt out of the hut, finding the dog outside, his posture aggressive. She tilted her head at him as he bared his fangs. She mirrored the gesture, letting out a deep growl for added measure and that was enough to send the mutt running in the opposite direction. The beast within her wanted to follow him, wanted to feel the thrill of the chase, but she knew she had a goal to accomplish.

She trotted back into the hut and hopped up onto the only remaining surface, a desk that held several control panels. What they were for, she didn't know, and it would be impossible to try different combinations of buttons out in her current form. She scanned the console and spotted a button marked as the guards' entrance release. She pressed it down with a claw before slipping back onto the floor. She hoped that would be enough and that no alarms had been triggered.

When she padded out of the hut again, she was greeted by the imposing form of Shizuru. Natsuki looked up at the vampire, surprised to see an amused smile on her face. She reached down and gently patted the wolf on the head.

"Good girl," she cooed, earning a disapproving growl from Natsuki. Shizuru chuckled and her gaze scanned the inside of the hut. "Natsuki certainly is a keen predator."

The wolf stalked past Shizuru, ignoring her comments since she couldn't verbally respond. Not that it would do her much good even if she could as the elder was sure to find some way of twisting her words back on her. She sniffed at the air again, ensuring that there were no patrols or surprises lurking nearby. The only presence she could pick up was Shizuru's and it reminded her of the last time she'd smelt her like this. They'd been in that sewer and then the vampire had reluctantly said goodbye to her. Natsuki had thought she'd never see Shizuru again and it had been the most conflicted, confusing moment in her life.

The beast wouldn't allow her to muse on the past, however, and her senses perked up as Shizuru moved behind her. She focused on the sprawling estate, mapping out the terrain with her eyes, nose and ears. The vampire walked around her and moved with purpose towards a patch of grass some meters away. Natsuki padded after her and noted the elder's attention had been drawn to the torn clothes discarded in a pile. Shizuru picked them and the pistols up, the wolf watching her with large, curious green eyes.

The vampire turned to Natsuki. "These won't be much use anymore," she commented and then carried them with her as she walked further into the estate. Following her, Natsuki wondered, if they were so useless, why Shizuru was hanging onto them. Answering her silent question, Shizuru knelt down by a row of bushes and pushed the garments into it. "You didn't think I was keeping them as a memento, did you?" she asked with a smirk.

Natsuki let out an indignant snort, glad she wasn't in her humanoid form and that wolves couldn't blush. She stalked off in the direction of the manor, intent on the goal at hand. She was able to move swiftly and quietly in this form and she covered a good amount of ground without even encountering anyone. She didn't look back to see if Shizuru was close by, she trusted that the vampire knew how to move stealthily and speedily. She slowed her pace as she noticed the outline of the manor popping into view.

The wolf wasn't sure what she had expected from the Kanzaki Estate; perhaps some sprawling gothic mansion with towering turrets and snarling gargoyles staring down at her. However, it just seemed like a normal country manor. Not that she was the expert on rural buildings, but it just seemed so terribly boring and normal. The light coloured walls and slate roof were almost understated and not something she would expect from a group of vampires. As she neared, she could make out trellises lining the stonework, vines climbing and entangling the dark wood. The gravel at the front of the house encircled a circular flower bed and was used as a driveway by the looks of it.

She could make out two men sitting outside the intricately carved wooden doors that appeared to be the main entrance into the manor. She could pick up the scents of several other individuals in the area as well and guessed they belonged to patrols. Their odour reeked of something somewhere between human and vampire. Perhaps they were human guards, like the one she had killed, but had been around vampires often. The patrols seemed to be fairly spread out too, which would leave any attacker open to long distance attacks if they were discovered. Considering the guards had rifles, that could mean problems for them.

Natsuki heard Shizuru approach from behind her, the soft footsteps becoming a familiar sound to the werewolf now. Familiarity wasn't something she was used to though and she wondered what other things she'd start to recognise. She already knew Shizuru's scent and her voice was always recognisable. The vampire knelt down next to her and Natsuki jutted her nose in the direction of one of the patrols. She couldn't tell where the others were. Shizuru nodded, seemingly knowing what the wolf meant with that motion.

"I can see this won't be easy," the vampire whispered, only loud enough for the werewolf's acute hearing to pick up the words. Natsuki let out a quiet whimper and moved over to where shrubbery would hide her form completely. Shizuru joined her. "I suggest we wait for Miyu's signal."

Natsuki wondered what that signal would be but she assumed Shizuru would know it when it came. She rested on her haunches, briefly considering forcing the beast back into its box, but she wasn't about to leave herself naked in front of her enemies, let alone Shizuru. She wasn't sure who was more likely to take advantage of her vulnerable state. It was when the elder placed the werewolf's holster and pistols on the ground that Natsuki noticed Shizuru had been carrying them over one shoulder.

"I'd better make these more manageable to carry," Shizuru muttered. She slipped her long coat off, revealing the black silk of her shirt that disappeared under a tightly fastened leather corset. Natsuki watched in fascination as the delicate material of Shizuru's shirt settled and she found herself wondering what that silk would feel like sliding against her skin. She felt the growl rising up at the back of her throat before she heard it and the vampire gave her a quizzical look. There was that same raw urge Natsuki had felt when she'd released the beast in the sewers and she'd picked up Shizuru's scent. What did it mean?

"Don't worry," Shizuru soothed. "I'll take good care of them." With that said, she picked up the holsters and slipped her arms through the loops, shrugging the material into place on her shoulders. She then replaced her leather coat and ran her hands over the front of it, smoothing the fabric. Natsuki found the action odd since she was sure the leather wouldn't wrinkle. Perhaps it was just a habit.

The vampire settled into a kneeling position and surveyed the scene on the other side of the shrubbery, her crimson eyes taking in every last detail. Natsuki wondered if vampires saw things differently to werewolves, or even humans for that matter. Why am I so interested in what vampires do or think? Perhaps she wanted to understand Shizuru but she didn't even know if that was possible. She was starting to get fidgety from sitting around doing nothing so Natsuki stood on all fours and poked her head around the side of the bush they were hidden behind. She spotted a second patrol coming into view from around the corner of the manor and it seemed to be made up of two armed guards. There were no dogs in sight though, which was a small blessing.

A pressure on her spine caused her to duck behind the bush once more and she looked over her shoulder to see Shizuru smiling at her. The vampire was now stroking the blue-black fur on the werewolf's back, bringing about a comforting warm feeling just under Natsuki's skin. Damn you, body, stop enjoying that! She turned and nudged Shizuru's hand away with her nose. I am not some pet, she inwardly huffed, wishing she could say the words. The vampire's eyes glinted in amusement.

"Natsuki seems restless," Shizuru whispered, leaning forward slightly. With the elder kneeling, Natsuki's head was level with Shizuru's neck. She wasn't the largest wolf of her pack but she was certainly a sizable example of her kind.

The werewolf let a disgruntled sound roll past her jaws and pawed at the ground, her claws leaving small ruts in the earth. Shizuru cocked her head to one side, attempting to discern what her companion meant. Natsuki did not like waiting around, not in the slightest. She would much rather take the risk and rush at her enemy than sit and hope for a distraction to come along. That's what the beast told her, at least. The rational part of her psyche was the only thing keeping her from bursting out from behind the shrubbery.

The closer Shizuru leaned in the more restless Natsuki seemed to get. The vampire smiled at her. "You have beautiful eyes," she breathed.

Was she purposely saying these things because Natsuki couldn't object? She was, again, glad for the fact that her body wasn't able to blush, although she could feel a heat prickling under her skin. She wasn't given the opportunity to react, however, as a deafening sound roared out across the estate. Natsuki winced as the explosive din echoed in her sensitive ears. Shizuru straightened and the werewolf followed her gaze to the source of the noise. Flames roared on the eastern side of the manor and a large hut was now billowing smoke.

Shizuru lifted her naginata and was up on her feet in seconds. Miyu's signal? The patrols recovered from their stunned shock and rushed past their position towards the fire. The men at the front entrance also abandoned their post to aid the patrols. Shizuru glanced down at Natsuki.

"I will be heading for one room when we get inside. Stay close," she explained and then she was gone.

Natsuki ran after the vampire, easily catching up with Shizuru with her enhanced speed. The elder didn't head for the double doors, however and moved towards the western side of the building. Natsuki wondered if there was a side entrance. As she turned the corner of the manor, Natsuki's question was answered and she spied a small door that most likely led to a kitchen. Shizuru headed straight for it, her pace not lessening in the slightest.

The vampire threw open the door and disappeared inside the manor, much to Natsuki's surprise. She expected Shizuru to be more cautious, there could have been any number of guards or other vampires inside. She bolted through the doorway as well, not wanting to lose sight of the elder and she just caught sight of her veering off to the left and past a particularly expansive cooking range. A quick scan of the room told Natsuki that, thankfully, no one else was here but she knew their luck wouldn't hold out for long. How many vampires lived under this roof anyway?

She was vaguely aware of the sound of her claws skittering across the tiled floor as she ran to keep up with the charging elder. Shizuru burst through another door and out into what appeared to be a narrow corridor. Natsuki paused when she reached the doorway, her head snapping one way and then the other. Shizuru was headed for a staircase at one end of the corridor but there was movement from the opposite end. Had Shizuru not even thought to look? What had her being so careless?

A surprised vampire stared after the elder and he hesitated, caught between running after her or going for help. Natsuki waited to see what he would do as he hadn't noticed her yet. She hoped he was take up the chase as they would bring him right past her waiting jaws but she was not so lucky. He chose to back up the way he'd come and would likely call for assistance. Natsuki snarled in disappointment. So much for sneaking in unnoticed. She then launched herself into a run again, bounding down the stairs at the end of the hall. What was down there anyway?

The light level dimmed the further down she got but she didn't slow her pace. She caught a flash of black leather ahead and was relieved that she'd caught up to the elder, who had apparently slowed her pace in the gloom. Natsuki slowed herself to walk so she could hang back a little. They came to a landing that seemed to lead off to a single door but it was hard to make out in the darkness. The staircase continued to spiral downwards and Shizuru followed it.

Out of the corner of her eye, Natsuki spotted movement coming from the landing. She bared her teeth as the lurking vampire crept towards Shizuru. He seemed stronger and more muscled than the vampires she usually came across. His movement showed he'd had experience with combat or hunting and Natsuki knew she'd need to be careful with him. Shizuru had paused on the stairs now. Had she sensed his presence?

Natsuki took that as her opportunity to pounce and she flexed her rear legs, using the height of the staircase to her advantage. She came down on the surprised vampire with blinding speed, the both of them tumbling across the landing. She was thrown clear of her target and slid to a stop against a wall. She was back on her paws in an instant, ready to defend herself if need be. The vampire was picking himself up and he gave her a menacing look. He reached behind his back and pulled out a pistol. The sight of it raised Natsuki's hackles and she knew it would be loaded with silver nitrate ammunition.

She leapt to her left as a shot rang out and dust floated down to her right from where the bullet had lodged itself in the wall. Natsuki growled, feeling completely trapped. Another shot filled the air and the werewolf tensed but she felt nothing hit her or ricochet off the walls nearby. Her eyes went to the vampire in front of her and his mouth was agape in a silent exclamation of shock. The pistol fell from his hand and clattered to the floor as he fell to his knees. Small convulsions passed through him and Natsuki watched as his veins bulged beneath his skin, the usual effect of UV ammunition flooding his body and destroying him from within. A subtle mist rose from his body as he collapsed into a heap, his limbs twitching from time to time. The disturbing scent of singed flesh filled her nose and Natsuki looked beyond the body to see Shizuru standing there, one of the werewolf's pistols in her hand.

"I'm sorry," she said quietly as she stared at her fallen kin. "That was careless of me." Natsuki bounded over the corpse and paused at the edge of the landing. Shizuru stopped slipped the pistol back into its holster before stepping past Natsuki. She closed one hand around the handle of the single door set into the back wall and turned. It opened with a soft click and the elder peeked inside, finally withdrawing to where Natsuki was stood when she was satisfied there were no foes beyond it.

She lowered herself onto one knee beside the wolf and whispered in a low voice. "Can Natsuki stay on this level? I must go below alone." At Natsuki's snarl of disagreement, the vampire smiled softly. "I need you to keep yourself hidden for now. If we are caught together then we have little chance of getting out of here alive."

Shizuru's explanation made a lot of sense but Natsuki still didn't like it. She wanted to ask what was down there but she realised she was going to have to trust the vampire. She hesitated, her gaze flitting between the door lying ajar and the elder beside her. As Shizuru stood, Natsuki reached out with her snout, nuzzling the vampire's hand. The elder looked down at her with surprise, her gaze eventually softening as the wolf continued to nudge her fingers gently.

"I'll be careful," Shizuru reassured Natsuki, obviously getting the message she was trying to send. The werewolf nodded once before turning and padding over to the door, giving the body of the vampire a wide berth. She listened as Shizuru began to the descend the stairs and she waited until her footfalls echoed up to the landing no longer.

She was suddenly filled with trepidation as she pushed open the door a little further with her forehead. She slipped through the space and nudged the door shut again. Her gaze slid across the reflective marble floor and up along the beautifully carved pillars that lined the wall she was closest to. She was on what appeared to be a balcony of some sort. The extravagant room was a myriad of creams and yellows, lined with browns and tan colours. The room below must have been fairly expansive as her view of the ceiling, which was ornamented with a delicate series of murals, arched out of view to the other side of the room.

Natsuki crept to the edge of the balcony, the railing not preventing her from looking down onto the main floor of the room. The ground below was also made of marble but it was deep red in colour, contrasting starkly with the rest of the decor. Brown curtains fell down from the edge of the balconies that lined the upper parts of each side of the room and an elevated platform sat at the back wall. On it were four chairs and there were stone blocks tucked into the corners. There seemed to be something carved into them but Natsuki couldn't make them out from where she was.

Her eyes snapped to movement by the platform and she noted three very different figures standing there. One belonged to the male vampire she had met in the sewer system. Shizuru called him Reito, I think. He was turned away from Natsuki slightly, facing what appeared to be a young girl who was sitting in one of the four seats. She had light purple, almost lilac hair and she looked particularly frail. Natsuki had the feeling she was neither young nor frail though. Beside her stood a woman garbed in a long flowing dress, her pink hair cut into a bob. Why do vampires have to go for unusual hair colours? There was a tension in the air that set Natsuki on edge. She could sense these vampires, she could almost taste the power that surrounded them.

More elders? Her blood ran cold as she realised what Shizuru was going to walk into.

The sound of doors opening echoed throughout the hall and Natsuki knew it was too late to stop what would be set in motion now. The sound of confident footsteps reached her ears now and she peered down to watch Shizuru stride into the room, her eyes never leaving the vampires in front of her.

"Shizuru," came Reito's voice. He didn't sound surprised to see her.

The Kyoto elder stopped in the centre of the vast floor. "You've gathered the council, I see." Shizuru's voice was even but Natsuki could hear the strain in her voice. Was she holding back her anger?

"Mashiro and Fumi graciously accepted my invitation. We have pressing matters to discuss." Reito turned to face her fully now.

"It is unfortunate that we couldn't come together under more pleasant circumstances," the pink-haired elder said, her words seeming genuine.

"Why? Why did you do it, Reito?" Shizuru ignored the other vampire's pleasantries and continued to stare down Reito.

"Do what?"

Shizuru didn't answer. At least not verbally. Instead, she lurched forwards, closing the distance between her and the other elders as she swung her naginata down towards Reito. A crack filled the air as her blade met with the solid floor and Natsuki's eyes narrowed as she noticed Reito had side-stepped her attack. Shizuru slung the weapon over her shoulder to rest there once more. From her relaxed posture, she clearly hadn't intended to hurt him, but merely rattle him.

"Have you gone completely insane?" he demanded, his voice betraying his shock.

"Answer me," Shizuru said coldly.

"It seems Reito was correct, you're no longer fit to lead your cadre." The girl spoke now, not moving from her seated position. She may have had the voice of a child but Natsuki could hear the experience in the way she spoke. "It is a great shame, you are the oldest of us, and your wisdom will be missed."

Shizuru looked at the girl now. "What are you planning?"

The smallest elder merely smiled, the expression a disconcerting one. Natsuki edged her way further along the balcony, her eyes searching for a safe way down, one that might afford her a modicum of surprise. As she moved, she picked up the pounding sound of multiple pairs of boots rushing towards them. Soon after, a group of armed vampires burst into the hall.

Reito held up a hand to stop them from opening fire on the intruding elder. "Shizuru, you must submit yourself to the judgement of this council. You will enter the deep sleep until we have found the source of your corruption. Your lineage will not be wasted unless there is no alternative." Reito's gaze hardened as he spoke.

"And if I do not submit?" Shizuru questioned, bringing her naginata back down to rest at her side.

The young girl spoke up again. "Then the Kyoto cadre will be considered an impure line and will be purged."