I sat with my hands on the keyboard for five minutes here, unsure of how to "open the book" as it were. I feel almost disgraced at my sudden dropping of this hard work. Even ashamed that I never attempted to summarily finish. Winowyll was patient though, and now over a year and a half later, I've awoken from my...rest. Your patience is appreciated, and hopefully with the continuance of this, more questions will be answered.

Thicker Than Mud

Ch. 7

Power is Objective

Tsukune tenderly took his fingertip to the ancient ink picture on the page, dragging it along the swirling lines forlornly. The only discernible shape on the page really was a circle that made up the median of the pattern. As he continued to move with the shapes he slowly realized it had been pressed before inked. Someone had taken something with a hard shape in the form of the ritual circle and pressed to the back of the page before filling the parts with ink. It left the drawing emboldened.

What use could the Headmaster have of this ritual?

Tsukune wracked his brain for a solid answer for an insurmountable time.

Could this be a fail-safe for students like Moka? For personal gain? Did the Headmaster have something planned for the upcoming meeting?...What about me?

Tsukune quickly stood and began searching the room. His hands pushed dust from the wall, his eyes scrutinized the floors, and he even cast an eye on the ceiling...nothing.

Before he could continue down that line of thought, he was interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Tsukune, I'm about to come in. You're dressed right?" He heard Ruby's voice drift through the crack as if she were leaning her head against the door to listen for a response.

Scrambling he closed the diary and shoved it in his pillow case. Trying to not seem suspicious he laid down and threw the covers over himself. Later he would consider himself lucky that they were still trying to keep up the image of him as a guest rather than prisoner.

"Yea, come on in. I don't seem to be able to sleep anyway." He tried desperately to make his voice sound even, though it tried to crack at his worry over the diary on top of everything else that had recently gone on.

The door creaked open and Ruby calmly walked in, waving a hand for him to lay back down as she drifted to the table with a tray of what he knew was tea not only by smell but by the obvious cups and kettle. Ruby's back was turned to him then and as she busied herself with pouring the tea into the cups he cast a casual eye over her for what seemed to be the tenth time since he arrived. Had she not aged a day at all?

Ruby turned her head and asked. "Is there any particular way you like your tea?" A sweet smell pounced on his senses, and then just as briefly disappeared. In that moment he was reminded of when Moka had tried to make him tea a few times before, and any approval of Ruby's physical assets were replaced with a sudden urge to vomit and cry. That wouldn't do at all.

"I don't really feel like tea." Tsukune replied, looking around the room tiredly.

Ruby tilted her turned head just the slightest at him before going back to her stirring and mixing. With the soft ringing of a spoon she appeared to be done. She moved to the bed and sat at the edge beside him.

"Try this. It's a good blend, I promise." She said, smile turning up the corner of her eyes.

As much as he felt sick, he couldn't deny one of his oldest friends at that moment. He accepted the glass, after sitting up, and nodded in thanks, not noticing the bit of a flush that dusted Ruby's cheeks at his bare chest.

Tsukune took a light sip of the warm tea, and almost instantly felt a little better. A deeper gulp and he felt slightly euphoric. Examining the tea with a critical eye he glanced at Ruby who was daintily drinking her own. After staring for a few seconds she made eye contact with him.

"What?" she asked covering a smile.

"Ketamine?" he asked with his own smile.

She laughed softly then, "No, just a special recipe the Headmaster recommended I try for you."

At the Headmaster comment Tsukune froze mid sip. Gulping painfully he asked, "Oh, What's in it?"

She ticked off her fingers counting out the different blends of tea leaves and various ingredients. Nothing suspicious was among them.

I'm getting paranoid.

"The Headmaster says that you're fine to leave the room as long as I escort you. If you run Tsukune, I'll be forced to detain you, so please don't." Ruby's face seemed both serious and casual as if the idea was an everyday concept for her.

"What changed his mind suddenly?" Tsukune asked.

"I might have suggested that temporary insanity seemed more likely if you were locked down here with no idea of time too often." She smiled impishly, showing a bit of a dimple he hadn't noticed before. She continued, "I'm actually believing that more as I sit here with you. Why would you attempt to sleep at noon?"

Tsukune felt her lightly prying with the question but just waved it off, "There isn't much to do anyway, and as you said I have no idea of the time down here. What am I allowed to do anyway?"

Ruby stood setting the two empty cups down on the table before turning to him, hands lightly clasped in front of her. "I was thinking we could visit a few of the classrooms."

At that Tsukune groaned softly, "And why would that be any better than this?" He instantly knew it was better by default of fresh air and less boring circumstance, but resisted for the sake of not seeming desperate.

"The school has changed a lot recently, Tsukune. I think you'd be surprised at some of the differences." She muttered softly.

Tsukune sighed. Anything to take my mind off of her I suppose. An invisible hand grasped tight at his heart again. The pull was less than before, but his eyes blurred with moisture irregardless. Why do I have to be so weak? Before he could continue into more decadent thoughts two pale fingers gently brushed away his tears. He looked up into the face of Ruby who was muttering to herself while rolling the liquid around her hands.

"I cried a lot too you know. We all did. It's not right for you to be crying now." Her violet eyes simmered slightly with foreign power as she spoke to herself and him. Then, catching herself she smiled brightly again, "But the past is the past right? You've always gotta move forward."

Tsukune nodded, just ready to get out of his "cell". He wouldn't try to debate the truth of that philosophy while he felt so weak emotionally. Standing and stretching flexed a few stiff muscles from his earlier reading out and he couldn't hold back the satisfactory groan that escaped as he popped his neck.

Ruby still maintained her hand to mouth motion smiling all the while, sending a shiver down his back as he felt he had seen someone else do that pose, before commenting. "Though I think we should get you a shirt."

Tsukune walked to the bathroom pulling out the shirt he had worn the other day. After throwing it and the matching slacks back on he folded the Headmaster's "borrowed" pants and set them on the bed. Ruby commented on them from the doorway, "Where'd you get those?"

"The Headmaster loaned them to me," he said shrugging. Ruby's lips pursed slightly.

"I've never seen him wear something like that." Tsukune shrugged before putting his shoes back on. The fact that he changed in front of her didn't even register with the recent hurt and clinical circumstances.

Ruby lead him out past his two guards who he was sure now were either lizards or snakes judging by the smell. After going up two sets of stairs and through a bolt locked doorway Tsukune saw the sun for the first time in two days. Albeit through a window across from a janitor's closet that doubled as a prison cell, Tsukune didn't care.

The air had never tasted fresher and with a deep inhale, he caught the scents of the populace. Cat girls, werewolves, lizards, snakes, and even the odd smell of fish invaded his nose. At the recognition of werewolf his nose twitched twice, zoning for a particular smell. Nothing. That brought back the night. Consequently reminding himself of Moka. "I can't dwell" Was the mantra that repeated through his head for a few seconds.

Ruby concerned, reached out to touch his shoulder. "You alright?"

Tsukune flinched at the contact slightly, before shirking away. "Yea. I'm fine. Just a lot of memories here."

Ruby shook her head. "There's nowhere you can go that there won't be. You've just gotta push past it Tsukune. Trust me, I've had my own heartbreak." Her raven locks flew side to side with the movement, and seeing her expression Tsukune was abashed.

"I'm sorry things didn't work out better Ruby." the apology felt as dead as it sounded, and for a second he understood her philosophy of "nothing you can do about it" before the dread settled back in. "I wish things could be as they were back then."

"We all made our choices, and we all eventually moved on. That's life Tsukune. Considering you're timeless, you'd better get used to it."

Tsukune only shook his head.

Some things had definitely changed though. The school was twice as populated as it was not so long ago when he was here. Gaggles of girls ran to and fro, boys smiled charmingly at them, and the "nerds" of Youkai Academy seemed to huddle and disperse and random intervals talking about this and that that Tsukune could hardly understand.

A few girls giggled as he walked by, following Ruby closely like a child at his mother's skirt. The noise hurt him a little and when he glanced at them over his shoulder, one blew a kiss. Ruby just rolled her eyes, "Some things never change."

When they arrived at his assumed destination Ruby had him grab a chair at a bench near the drink machine that Moka had originally used most often to get tomato juice. That made his gut twinge, but he ignored it sure that there was some purpose Ruby would rub salt in the wound.

"Do you know why I brought you here Tsukune?" She asked then, sitting close enough that her thighs just slightly touched his.

Looking around he asked, "You didn't get enough tea?"

Her hand reached across then and her nails dug into the slacks on his thighs. "Just because you're hurt does not mean I will allow you to be sarcastic with me. I brought you here so you could see the next generation."

"And what good does that do me? How does me sitting here watching these kids help me?" He asked defensively.

"Life...just...goes on Tsukune. I can see you're hurting. I can see you're stressed. I can see you're tired. You're worn down and broken. I get that. But it's doing you no good. Nothing like the Tsukune I used to know." Her face at that moment was more serious than any he'd ever seen her with. Her thin eyebrows were bunched together and a cold hallowed look appeared on her face.

His own eyebrows drew together in thought, "I'm not sure I'm the same Tsukune either Ruby."

She smiled suddenly, "I feel like that's the first bit of honest expression I've heard from you today." Her nails had long since released their death grip in his thigh but her hand still lingered, and her legs were crossed leading to one now forcibly pressed to his.

He looked at the rest of the seven foot bench and then back to her before asking, "You don't have to sit this close to me you know?"

"I know." Somehow his chest felt lighter.

His eyes drifted of their own volition to her skirt. The black lace around the edges did have a certain enticement to it and as she had sat, she'd pulled it up to where it lay at her knees, allowing him a only half wanted view of panty-hose clad legs. The arousal that flashed through him stabbed him internally and left him elated. His body was not as eternally exclusive as he'd originally hoped. Though now, that hardly mattered, as his emotions felt wounded.

Shaking his head from those thoughts he cast his eyes up towards her face. Mischievous pink-violet eyes met his own and the sort of impish grin he'd begun to get used to crept back up on her face, but she said nothing. Her hand firmly squeezed his thigh twice before she stood allowing the skirt to stretch out fully again.

She turned and held out a hand to him. The gesture seemed odd considering he was sitting and certainly didn't need help. With only slight pause he reached out and grasped it. Ruby pulled him to his feet and gave him a hug that under other less comforting based circumstances would have been considered intimate. Pulling away she smiled again and began to lead him back towards the direction they had come.

The lizard/snake guards were sitting down outside the door waiting for him when he got there, and when they saw that he didn't seem to be breaking student's bones as a casual hobby, relaxed if only slightly. When Ruby cleared her throat loudly, they snapped back to attention, arms crossed at the door's two sides.

After Tsukune and Ruby entered his "suite" the door was quickly shut and barred from the other side. Not that it would do any good without the Headmaster's magic to support it.

"You want me to get those washed? You'll begin to smell something awful if you keep reusing clothes." Ruby asked.

"I'd like that, but I don't have anything else to wear..." Tsukune trailed off. He entertained the thought of putting back on his "borrowed" pants, but decided they were a little too fancy to be wearing constantly.

"That's fine. You just go take a shower, and I'll have them in the wash by the time you get out at least. I'll have a robe sent down to you until they're done." She made shooing motions with her hands, pushing him towards the bathroom.

Walking inside and shutting the door, Tsukune quickly stripped down, checking that there was another towel and after wrapping that one around his waist and tying it securely in place, he opened the door. Ruby made an obvious show of covering her eyes and pretending to peek as she took his clothes from him. Her antics had worked to cheer him up a little more.

She turned away and walked to the door knocking loudly. The grate opened and after confirmation from Ruby the door did. She stood in the doorway about to walk away when Tsukune remembered something suddenly.

"Hey Ruby?" he called from the open bathroom door still clad in only a white towel.

"Yes?"

"Have you ever heard of a Janos Vitez?"

Ruby's eyes narrowed so slightly his vampiric eye sight almost didn't notice, almost being key. "What about Vitez?"

Tsukune's expression grew perplexed at her sudden defensiveness. "A catholic friend of mine back at the company mentioned some of the great things he did...I was wondering if he was a magic user like you or Yukari. He did a lot of amazing things evidently."

Ruby's expression remained passive for a few seconds before she spoke. "Janos Vitez was one of the strongest youkai to ever live."

Tsukune's expression must have been of surprise. "How did he die?"

Ruby shook her head side to side, "He killed himself after growing tired of living."

Tsukune understood.

"Are you gonna stand there and let these guards ogle you all day Tsukune?" She asked, tapping her foot and hooking her thumb at the thugs who were trying to look straight ahead and not at Tsukune.

Tsukune laughed, and shook his head before turning, dropping his towel and closing the bathroom door. What he didn't pay attention to was the fact of the order of his actions. Nor did he notice Ruby bite her lip and groan before walking away stiffly. The guards just shrugged, and relocked the doors.

Tsukune now alone under the scalding shower water began to recount the day in his head, taking into thought the diary findings and information from Ruby. How long had Janos lived before he killed himself? Why had he killed himself really? What about that vampire made him so strong?

Doesn't matter now I suppose, but why does the Headmaster seem to be reading this?

Tsukune continued to stand in the shower letting the water roll down his body for a while taking a sort of masochistic pleasure in the pain. A thought worthy of Ruby.

Realizing where his thoughts were roaming, Tsukune clenched his fists against the wall. I will not be like Moka. Just the mental thought of her name made him clench his teeth. I will not be petty and childish. His hand banged against the tile wall a little hard then, causing spiderweb cracks to form. I will not-his reverie was startled then when youki raced up his right arm to the point of contact with the wall. A bolt of corresponding electricity hit then. The pain was intense but Tsukune held still. A second after the energy died down, the electricity stopped.

That's...interesting.

Tsukune pulled from the well of vampiric strength in his body and willed it to the surface just under his very...human skin. Lightning began to arc from piece to piece, stinging but not damaging him wholesomely. Seems I've managed to elude one of vampires' greatest weaknesses.

Just to be sure, he pushed a strong amount of youki, as if he were to punch someone into just his pointer finger. The resounding bolt paralyzed his arm and made him cry out in pain. The gasp that burst from his mouth splattered bits of blood against the wall which were washed away just as fast. That seemed to break the dam though. A second later and he coughed again, more blood. Then again. Again. And soon he was wheezing harshly barely getting the oxygen to breath from his fit, and blood was becoming more copious. A pink hue dotted the shower floor, and his lungs burned like fire. The youki that lay dormant in his body moved then as if of it's own volition towards the surface.

Tsukune knew what was to come. First ions began to raise the very roots of his hair all over his body, a sort of static that went perfect with the slow changing of his hair color to his vampiric state. The light show had begun it seemed.

Lightning danced from limb to limb, burning him, causing spasmodic seizures. His lungs collapsed, his windpipe constricted, and before he hit the floor and curled in the fetal position, he literally felt his heart stop. There, on the floor, Tsukune lay panicked at the absence of his internal time-clock of life. As darkness began to cloud his vision he felt two arms heft him back under the water, where the electricity continued it's deadly dance. A blast to the chest and his heart began to beat again. Another and his lungs took air. Then, it just seemed to stop. The pain didn't.

Bleary eyes looked upwards to see who had attempted to kill or save him. Glowing orbs of white light met his own from under the exorcist's cowl. "Headmaster?"

The esteemed headmaster just acquiesced his head in a sort of nod before throwing the discarded towel over Tsukune's now very visible unmentionables. Water continued to beat down on the now covered Tsukune and Tsukune couldn't help but ask, "What's wrong with me?"

The Exorcist just sat down on the closed toilet nearby and leaned back in apparent thought before speaking. "Nothing, now."

Tsukune did not understand. "What do you mean?"

Eyes of someone older than a lifetime looked at Tsukune from under the cowl. "Your body was acclimating to a new state of being. Shedding the last of the human blood in your body. I imagine that though you were practically a vampire in every way, you yearned for some part of you to stay as you were to connect yourself to your past. The ghoul however seems to have given up on this sentiment."

"What makes you think that?" Tsukune's breathing had slowed.

"I had a friend a long time ago. A close friend who went through something very similar. To change from one being to another is a very...delicate...process. Even more so when unrestrained. That is why I gave you the holy lock originally." The youngest Dark Lord spoke somberly, reliving a memory of some past.

"Will this happen again?" Tsukune asked still crumpled up in the shower afraid to move.

"Most likely," was the response, but then the Headmaster continued, "But I've done my part. And hopefully you'll keep from powering all the runes in my building from now on. The guards panicked and assumed you were going to go on a killing spree. Pft. Teenagers."

The Exorcist opened the bathroom door and began to leave, but then stopped to say, "I'll be having Ruby set up a bed in the room until you leave. It's better if she were to stop her current projects and keep an eye on you with your current condition. Do you find this...acceptable?" This was obviously not a question.

Tsukune just grunted from the shower. However, before the Exorcist could shut the door Tsukune called out, "Headmaster, you said you had a friend who did something like I did. What was his name?"

The Exorcist paused, sighed and with a show of struggling will said, "It was a She, and her name was Akasha."