Those Who Love Monsters...
Author's Notes: For those of you wondering just why the heck I'm not working on In Flight right now, go ahead and skip to the end for the extra author's notes. For those of you actually reading the story, feel free to continue.
I woke up alone. For a few brief moments, I could do nothing but blink my eyes, trying to focus them past the bleariness which always seemed present whenever I stopped sleeping. It was only after I had cleared my eyes enough to make out the room that I realized that it was dark out.
I woke up alone, in the dark, and I couldn't even tell that there was no light until I had the chance to really think about it. I suppose that said more about my present state then I really wanted to think about.
It was only after I had a few moments to really concentrate that the aching in my skull made itself known. I don't know who was responsible for the pounding in my head, but whoever it was really had gone all out to make it the most uncomfortable process possible. They must have spent decades in some twisted mad scientist lab developing microscopic midgets that could be inserted into sleeping people's ears, and probably twice as long to equip them with jack hammers, but the end results spoke for themselves. I felt like my brain was being torn apart with all the efficiency of a wrecking crew.
When I tried to move my arm to press it to my pounding forehead I quickly realized that the state the rest of my body was in made my head look like it was untouched.
God. What the hell had happened to me?
It was the process of nearly five minutes before I managed to recall the events leading to me waking up in my present state of agony, in what appeared to be the school infirmary, but once I recalled the facts I didn't even bother to suppress the sigh.
Oh yeah. Medaka was what had happened to me. I guess that explained why everything hurt.
"Well, Zenkichi," a voice to my side finally alerted me to the fact that I wasn't alone. "Look whose up! How you feeling, sleeping beauty?"
Despite the teasing tone and rude phrasing, I let myself relax at the familiar presence. Managing to move my head enough I was able to take in my bedside visitor's shape: short hair with a curling bang, bright red cheeks like something found in a kid's anime, a body that looked like it belonged in a preschool rather than a high school, and what appeared to be a half empty bucket of fried chicken. Even as I managed to focus on her, she was in the process of tossing a picked clean bone over her shoulder with one hand as the other one reached in for a new piece.
My eyes traced the discarded bone as it flew through the air, traveling nearly twenty feet before it landed perfectly dead center on top of a pile of similar bones nearly two and a half feet high. The black plastic rim peeking out at points from midway up the pile revealed that at one point the pile had most likely been contained within a standard garbage can, the kind that can be found in offices all over the world, much less the school. Unfortunately the can hadn't been big enough to fully contain the sheer mass of discarded food which now surrounded it. Perched beside it was a tower reaching nearly halfway up to the ceiling formed of discarded buckets identical to the one the girl was eating out of at the moment.
"Geez, Shiranui," I muttered, taking in the signs of the truly massive amounts of evidence to the binge eating the pixie like girl in front of me had indulged in. "How long have I been out?"
"Well," my best friend, Shiranui Hasode, began, drawling out the words in between savage bites of the chicken leg she was gnawing on. "I've had enough time for about thirty eight of these jumbo KFC buckets, if that tells you anything." Despite her childish appearance, the grin on Shiranui's face better qualified as that of a leer, an expression that looked distinctly out of place on someone with such an innocent looking body.
"So, what, about two hours?" my guess came out dry. Shiranui had once boasted that she liked to go through two liters of ramen a day. Despite the absurd nature of her claim it fell short of her actual capabilities when it came to her ability to pack away the dish: her record was literally five gallons in seventy two minutes.
I had even measured the meals and timed her while she ate just to make sure what I was seeing was real.
"Heheh," Shiranui chuckled, the voice sounding vaguely ominous as I began to overcome the pain coursing through my body. Now that I was awake it was already beginning to diminish enough for me to move around, so I started the harsh process of propping myself up on my elbows. Eventually, I hoped to even regain ambulatory status. "Well, to be fair, I only showed up after all your well wishers and hanger-on's had already cleared out. They seemed to think that you'd be awake earlier, but since the sun was still up I figured I had enough time."
"Time for what?" I asked, before glancing down at my body and pausing. "You built me a coffin?" I demanded, needing to be absolutely certain of what I was seeing before I reacted properly.
Though my back rested on the semi softness of an infirmary bed and was covered by clean white linen, at some point while I was unconscious it looked as though Shiranui had managed somehow nail together enough random planks of wood over my unconscious body to cover me from the waist down and circle the rest of me. With the distinctly angular shape of the construction, the end result was as though I were a corpse being displayed at a wake.
"Yup!" Shiranui confirmed, beaming an innocent smile at me before opening her mouth and sinking her too white teeth down on yet another piece of chicken meat. Grinding down, she yanked the breast piece she was currently devouring away, sending flakes of meat and skin spraying away from her. "I just couldn't resist!"
I sighed, letting myself fall backwards onto the bed and accidently bumping my head on the rim of my apparent resting place. "You have to be the worst best friend in the history of best friends. Ever," I told her, shaking my head as I did so. "Where the hell did you even find enough plywood to put this together?"
"Oh! Praise me! Praise me more!" Shiranui chirped, wiggling happily in her chair. She kicked her feet like a kid, an image which was only enhanced due to the fact that there was nearly half a foot between her shoes and the floor. Even as she giggled, her eating never stopped. It was almost relaxing, actually. At some point in the past I had just grown so used to the sound of Shiranui glutting herself that it was like listening to waves at the ocean; a soothing repetitive sound which just lulled the listener into a relaxed state.
"So seriously," I began, deciding to ignore the eccentricities of my unusual friend. "How long was I out? The last thing I remember is…" I trailed off, and just like that the light mood I had found myself in deserted me.
The last thing I remember was Medaka, walking away, right after she had put me half way through a wall. Medaka Kurokami, the student council president, the only friend I had who had seniority over the one beside me. Medaka Kurokami, the girl who was never wrong, who never failed, who always succeeded. Medaka Kurokami, who I had known for thirteen years, who I had always been with, who I had always supported, albeit grudgingly.
Medaka Kurokami, the girl I loved.
Medaka Kurokami, the girl who had today decided that none of our history mattered and had tossed me aside. The only second thought she had was after I had confronted her about it, and even then the thought was to reclassify me as an enemy.
The Medaka Kurokami who had then beat me, and decided I wasn't even worth being thought of as a foe.
"Well," Shiranui drawled, her teeth white in the dark, bits of flesh showing black as she chewed. "Looks like you remembered how you got here."
"Oh?" I choked out, gritting my teeth as I recalled the circumstances behind my latest enforced bed rest. "What gave it away?"
"Your eyes," Shiranui said simply, her smile vanishing, her gaze intent. "They just turned red."
"How can you tell?" I asked, as I recalled how it was that I came to be in my current predicament. "It's pitch black in here." Despite how well I could see, I was still able to tell what the conditions were. There were no lights on, it was well after sundown, and the curtains were drawn. Not even starlight could get into the sealed room now. There wasn't even light coming from beneath the cracks in the door frame. Despite that, I could see perfectly.
In retrospect, it made the unnervingly accurate throws Shiranui was using to dispose of the bones even more impressive.
"Well," my best friend began, leaning back in her chair, the picture of ease. "The glowing was a dead giveaway."
"I thought I had gotten that under control," I muttered. I shifted again, more a test to see how much it still hurt to move, and found the pain greatly reduced. I could feel bandages over a great deal of my body, bandages which once no doubt held closed what must have been the truly grievous wounds that Medaka had bestowed upon me. I wondered just how'd they look underneath if I took them off now. Would there be nothing underneath the blood stained linen besides undamaged flesh, or would there still be lingering signs of the injuries I once had?
There had been a time when I wouldn't be so sure that my wounds would be gone. A time when I hadn't been able to see as well in the dark as I did in the light. A time when my eyes didn't turn red and glow whenever I was angry.
That time was nearly two and a half years ago by now. It was a time before I had been walking alone in a park. It was the time before I had come face to face with a beautiful monster.
Today had started off so normally too. I had come to school, gone to classes, and then gone to participate in Student Council business. It had been months since the Student Council had stopped the Flask Plan, the shady medical research that was being performed here in the name of creating the perfect human. It had been weeks since the council had finally nullified the threat of the class Minus Thirteen. Today was supposed to be nothing more than a training exercise that Medaka had come up with as a means to help her train her successors in an attempt to stop the Not Equal, the group responsible for the experimentation being done here, from being able to simply wait us out before they reinitialized their unethical experiments.
And then it had all gone to hell because I couldn't figure out a stupid riddle that Medaka had come up with.
That was it: a riddle. While the others had gone on ahead, I had been determined to figure it out on my own merits. I had been at it for hours, and even by the time the others had already finished the exercise in general, I still couldn't make heads or tails of the stupid thing.
And because I couldn't figure it out, despite thirteen years of companionship, my oldest friend had written me off completely. It was after that while I had been sitting there, trying to figure out just what had happened, just why I was suddenly being discarded, that Najimi Ajimu, the one known as Anshin'in, the 'Relief Attendent', the leader of Not Equal, swept in to offer me a deal with the devil.
And so far as just about everyone thinks at this point, I had accepted. The truth, though, was a little more complicated than that.
"She didn't even try to stop me," I murmured, recalling the confrontation between Medaka and I. The final scene ran through my head, blurry and skipping at spots like an old movie being displayed on a broken projector. I had told Anshin'in that I would become Medaka's enemy, and then had gone to confront my oldest friend. I don't know why I did something so idiotic.
No. Maybe I did know why. I had hoped she would stop me, that Medaka would try to keep me from going. She had did just that once before, when Naze-sempai had been about to join the Minus 13. I had done the same for her once for that matter. During the time when we invaded the Flask plan and Medaka had been brain washed into being Medaka II by Miyakonojou I had done everything I could, however hopeless it looked, to try and help her.
And instead of doing the same for me, she had smiled. She had actually smiled! She had been excited. She had actually praised me, told me that she had always hoped I would someday be her enemy.
Anshin'in had been right when she told me that Medaka preferred her enemies to her allies. I hadn't been as important to Medaka as Naze, who was her sister and former foe.
I hadn't been as important to Medaka as she had been to me.
"Wow!" Shiranui chirped, somehow whistling despite the fact that both her cheeks were bulging like a chipmunk's with all the food she had crammed into them. "You're really lighting up now!"
"Sorry," I muttered, screwing my eyes shut and trying to regain my calm. I didn't know just what I was feeling now. Was it disappointment? Anger? Despair? Just how should I feel after realizing that the person I had spent nearly my entire life with, who I had fought beside, cried beside, laughed beside, dreamed beside, whom I had done everything with, didn't care for me the same way I did for her?
It was only after a few deep breaths that I realized Shiranui was up to something again. Opening my eyes I looked down, and once more had to pause and take a deep breath to give myself time to react.
"Shiranui," I began. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
"Well there's no point in you being in a coffin if you don't have your arms right!" the tiny high schooler crowed as she shifted my other arm until they were crossed over my chest like the way some corpses were displayed during wakes. With a long suffering growl I uncrossed my arms and took a quick swing at the little imp. Laughing, Shiranui dodged the halfhearted attack easily, pirouetting out of the way while cradling the now mostly empty bucket of chicken in her arms like a baby.
"Do you ever give it a rest?" I demanded of her peevishly. Despite my tone I couldn't keep a small grin from forming at out interaction. No matter what the circumstances, no matter what madness might come, Shiranui was always Shiranui; childish, impetuous, carelessly cruel, and indifferently callous.
And somehow despite all that, she was still my best friend.
"Nope!" Shiranui sang as she continued to spin before bumping into the chair she had been sitting on accidently. Even if she was somehow managing to figure out where things in the room were, it was still pitch black in the nurse's office. Serves her right for the cheap pranks.
As she stumbled and fell onto her backside, I began to work my way out of the makeshift coffin she had put me in. Even if my body had been in agony only a few minutes ago, I could already feel the pain receding as I began to heal. From long experience I could already imagine the slightly red haze forming around the wounds as the blood that was leaking out dissolved slowly into the air, reappearing within my body as though it had never left. It wasn't the normal way that people healed, but I hadn't been normal for a long time now, so after making sure that the phenomenon wasn't exposed I ignored it and simply let it do its work.
"Did anything happen while I was unconscious?" I asked my friend as she righted herself. It only took me a few seconds to kick the top of the prank casket off.
"Well," Shiranui drawled again, not even bothering to get up from the floor and instead just crossing her legs and getting comfortable as she took the last piece of chicken and tore a chunk of it out. "There was someone sitting here for a while, a representative from Anshin'in named Kamome Tsurubami who was supposed to start your training when you woke up, but when you just kept sleeping he eventually left."
"It's not my fault," I grumbled defensively as I made excuses for how long I was out. "You know how hard it is for me to get up when the sun is still up." Even if I could bear the light, it still made me nervous to be outside during the day. Not to mention that I still had faint nocturnal impulses leftover from before which just made me naturally more active at night. "And who is this Tsurubami guy? I've never heard of him before."
"Just another one of the Flask Plan's failures," Shiranui shrugged, tossing the empty bucket behind her so that it landed perfectly on the tower she had already built. "It was probably just Anshin'in trying to take advantage of your recent beating to start her experimenting."
"You know anything about him?" I asked, finally regaining my feet and stretching as I did so. Judging from the way Shiranui shifted she realized I was finally standing, though she apparently couldn't tell for sure. I made my way across the room to flick on the light switch as I spoke. "Like why Anshin'in sent him?"
"I know plenty about that wannabe 'Main Character'," Shiranui puffed her grade school chest up proudly, blinking as the lights came on. "But if Anshin'in was hoping that he'd be enough to push you up to the standards of the 'Monster Princess' then she was probably just toying with you in the first place."
'Monster Princess' was Shiranui's favorite nickname for Medaka Kurokami. Normally when she used it, it was with a tone of humor. This time though, Shiranui spoke in a more condescending tone.
"Of course," she continued, her tone still sounding sly, but this time touched with a more serious note that she rarely used with anyone but me. "If she thought that you were actually going to be using the Flask Plan, then I suppose that says something about just how all knowing she really is."
For a moment, I was silent, settling myself so I could sit on the corner of the nurse's desk. Absentmindedly, I began to unroll the now clean bandages from around my head and arms. Even the dried blood which had once stained them was gone now.
"She didn't know," I finally murmured. "I had thought she was just being sly, or maybe trying to save it for blackmail. But the truth was Anshin'in really just didn't know."
It should have been something outrageous, for a ridiculous entity like Anshin'in to not know the secret I had kept for two and a half years. Then again, it wasn't like anyone else ever knew. Even Medaka, who had been with me right before the incident and was with me again right afterwards, had never once even suspected what had happened to me. There were only three people, all of them in this room at this very moment for that matter, in the city who knew the truth:
That two and half years ago, during the summer break between my first and second year of middle school, I had come across a beautiful monster in a dark park, and she had eaten me alive.
"Well now," Shiranui smirked though her voice was serious. "That changes things quite a bit, doesn't it?"
I made no reply to the leading question, though she looked like she was honestly expecting me to make some kind of response. The implications that I really had escaped all notice, that despite the scrutiny, the injuries, and all the outrageous feats I had performed since I had come to Hakoniwa Academy and been swept up into the dark underbelly of human experimentation that was going on within it, was staggering.
Was I really that unnoticeable? It wasn't like I had even tried very hard to cover it up. I had been stabbed a half a dozen times, been injected with enough snake venom to kill a herd of horses, had so many of my bones broken time and time again, been cut in just about every way conceivable and still there was no one here who considered me anything more than just a relatively interesting 'normal'.
The only value I held to anyone here at the academy was how I related to Medaka.
"So what are you going to do, Zenkichi Hitoyoshi?" Shiranui asked, her eyes fixed on me, her gaze hungry. It was easy to forget due to her childish appearance, but deep down inside, well, maybe not that deep at all, Shiranui Hansode was a very frightening person.
"About what?" I asked, my gaze fixed on the floor in front of me. I already knew what she was referring to, and said it more to rile the girl up then because I needed clarification. Shiranui grinned at my facetiousness.
"About Medaka, Anshin'in, and the whole mess you've managed to get yourself into," she elaborated, letting my teasing slide with surprising generosity.
"About Medaka and this mess?" I repeated, letting loose a sigh as I did so. "I have no idea." I really didn't. It was too soon, too many revelations too quickly. I wasn't a superhuman like so many of the rest of my friends. I wasn't a 'special', a person whose abilities bordered on the superhuman, or an 'abnormality', a person who apparently took a running jump right over the same border. I wasn't even a 'minus', a person so twisted that they might as well be 'abnormal' themselves. Most of those would have been able to instantly take in all the new information and come to a quick and meaningful conclusion.
Me, I needed some time to sort my thoughts out first.
"And about Anshin'in?" Shiranui, pressed, appearing in my vision as she tucked her head directly into my line of sight without a second thought. My eyes narrowed.
"Regardless of how it all turned out, this situation is all her fault," I growled, my teeth gritting. "She was the one who arranged it, who destroyed my life without a second thought, and then tried to bend me to her will in order to complete her sick experiments." I had little doubt that my eyes were red again, even if I hadn't been able to see them reflecting off of Shiranui's eager gaze. "She, above all else, is now my enemy."
I straightened, meeting Shiranui's expectant leer with a tight pressed smile.
"I'm going to destroy her, of course."
I didn't go home that night. I didn't want to worry my mother. I had enough distrubing experiences for one day after all.
Sometimes people told me that if my mother looked so young at her age, it was a good thing for me. After all, I'd probably still look that youthful even when I was older. Frankly, I think they had no idea what they were talking about. Not only did my mom look just about as young as Shiranui did, despite being forty two, but my mother also acted about the same age as she looked.
Especially when waking me up. I'm pretty sure taking a running jump from the door, landing on my sleeping body feet first, and then pounding me with the pillow stolen from under my head until I had to wake up to fight her off was the kind of thing a bratty younger sister would do, not a mother.
Of course, considering how hard it was for me to wake up sometimes it was probably the only process she had found over the years guaranteed to get me up in time for me to make it to school.
Whatever the case was, I didn't want the kind of atmosphere that was waiting for me at my actual house. The school had most likely already called her to inform her that I was injured, and how I was injured as well. My mother adored Medaka like a second child, and the interrogation I would receive over why we were fighting wasn't the kind of thing I felt I could bear at the moment.
Instead, I went to a place which at times felt even more like my real home then the place where my family lived.
It was a wreck of a building that at one point or another had been a cram school. There was a story behind it being abandoned, something about how a more popular and efficient school had forced this old one out of business, but I had never really cared to look up the details. At four stories high, this wreck looked as though a stiff breeze would knock it over. It was so old that vegetation had grown throughout it, a twisted and gnarled tree having somehow managed to grow out of the top floor and through the wrecked roof to peek its stubby vegetation through the top. Abandoned construction equipment littered the outside, stairways within had collapsed, and walls had crumbled.
Despite that, the moment I stepped into the labyrinth that wreckage had made the inside, I felt like I had come home. This was the place where I had made my headquarters for the last year and a half as I had worked my somewhat irregular part time job. It was the place where before I had worked off my debt to my savior. And before that, it was the place where I had been reborn as I was now.
Dark halls, filled with the scent of must and rot, where broken concrete and rusted rebar cluttered, this was a place where blood washed away blood, and where blood would always tell.
This was a place for spoiled goods.
My trip to the fourth floor was quiet except for the sounds where my movements disturbed some of the rubble. I had long since learned the secret pathways to move around in here, the ways which were open and which were blocked and couldn't be taken. It wasn't until I had nearly reached my destination that a voice penetrated my mind, a voice which wasn't a noise properly but simply words which formed directly into my thoughts.
Verily, my servant. Thy heart is in great turmoil.
"Yeah," I muttered, keeping my answer brief. I never felt any need to go into detail when answering the speaker. I didn't need to. More so then Medaka, who had known me for thirteen years, or even Shiranui, who I could unreservedly claim as my best friend, this speaker was the one who truly knew me best in all the world.
"Wouldst thou care to speak with me, servant?" the voice continued, and this time it was a physical thing. I didn't need to look behind me to know what I would see.
Rising from the shadow cast behind me by a moonlit window like a swimmer from a pool ascended a girl. She looked no more than eight years old, wearing a simple dress and flight cap perched jauntily on her head, with long blond hair flowing behind her. She looked small and fragile, and despite her formal and archaic speaking method her voice was well suited to her appearance. She spoke easily, her tone and volume conversational despite the silence she had interrupted or the oppressive darkness of the surroundings.
Her name now is Shinobu Oshino, but it hadn't always been that way. Once, before she had met me she had another name: The Iron-blooded, Hot-blooded, Cold-blooded vampire. The Kai Killer.
Kiss Shot Acerola Orion Heart Under Blade.
Once a five hundred year old vampire, a woman so beautiful she could turn the head of any man and a creature so powerful that none could stand against her face to face.
She was the monster who had killed me.
Now she was just a shadow of her former self, merely a fragment of what she once had been.
The ruins of a wondrous monster. The pomace of a beautiful demon.
"She called me her enemy, Shinobu," I told her, not needing to elaborate any more than that. I collapsed backwards, letting myself fall bonelessly onto the collection of desks arranged in the corner to make a makeshift bed. I had spent many nights here, and had adopted the habit of the one who had helped introduce me into the world of the Kai years ago.
The Kai: the oddities, creatures of spirit and myth, legends and rumors. Two and a half years ago I had met my first one in the then Kiss Shot Acerola Orion Heart Under Blade, a vampire. It had been the opening act of the hellish spring break between my first and second year of middle school, a time marked with bloodshed and battle, hope and heartbreak, and then ended with all encompassing unhappiness for everyone involved. Even after that I had found myself entrenched in a world of spirits and demons; to be touched even once by the Kai was to be marked by them. Most people could go their entire lives never meeting one, but once they had then the oddities would continuously find them.
It might have been rough at the start, but as time passed and I encountered more and more of the creatures which inspired countless myths and legends I had grown familiar enough with them to be able to deal with most encounters I might make. I had really thought I was gaining back control of my life, that I was learning how to deal with strange happenings while still fitting into normal life.
Then I started attending Hakoniwa Academy and even the normality I had found with other humans was denied me.
"Hmm," Shinobu muttered, putting both hands on her hip as she chewed delicately on her bottom lip. "I have warned thee in the past, my subordinate. That child wouldst cause thee naught but trouble as a substitute master."
"I'd always known that," I muttered, closing my eyes as I sighed. Really, being with Medaka had always been a source of conflict for me. Before learning about abnormalities and specials, before I learned that humanity wasn't as simple as I had always assumed, I had suspected Medaka to be influenced by the Kai due to the sheer number of irregularities that surrounded her. Impossibly intelligent, unnaturally fit, and possessing a personality which could cause even the most contrary of people to admire her, Medaka had always had an inhuman quality to her.
"Then why doest this time trouble thee so?" Shinobu asked, her voice open and curious. A stirring noise caused me to open one eye so I could see what it was the young looking vampire was doing.
Mindless of the rubble around her despite her barefoot appearance Shinobu crossed the room before planting her hands on the desks I was laying on. The edge of the desk came up to about shoulder height on the small girl, but despite the height difference she pushed herself up easily, see-sawing until she could get her feet up on the top. She resumed a standing position, hands once more on her hips as she looked down at me imperiously. On her old form, her adult form, her expression could have been called 'stern' or even 'imposing'. On the childish body, beneath that ridiculous flight cap, it came off only as 'petulant', though it might even reach as far as 'precocious'.
"She was so happy," I murmured, closing my eyes again and letting the familiar presence of the once vampire sooth me. "Happy. That I would be opposing her."
"Indeed," I could imagine even with my eyes closed the imperious nod that Shinobu would be giving me. I heard her shift and felt her small foot brush against my stomach as she stepped over me without a second thought. Now straddling me, I could even imagine the way her head would tilt to the side in curiosity. "Should thou not be satisfied? Is it not a fitting thing for a subordinate to be proud of having pleased her master?"
It was moments like these that helped drive in the difference between the appearance of the thing standing above me and the truth of its nature. Shinobu did not think in terms of friends or comrades. She thought instead in terms of subordination, perceiving only the interaction between what she recognized as superior/inferior relationships.
"Now if only thou wouldst give me the same respect," she continued, the petulant mutter the only warning that came before she promptly sat down hard on my stomach, forcing a startled cough out of me. I took that as a sign of dissatisfaction; even if Shinobu thought of the relationship between Medaka and I as master and subordinate, that didn't mean she liked Medaka. In Shinobu's eyes the only master I should have was herself.
I couldn't help but wonder if I should be worried that two out of the three most important women in my life couldn't stand the third. Or that two of them seemed to think of themselves firmly as the 'master' in their relationship with me. Well, at least in Shinobu's case there was a logical reason for it.
"Thirteen years," I muttered after I got my wind back from Shinobu's punitive seating. "Thirteen years I stood beside her, helped her, and supported her. Thirteen years I was her friend. And in the end, it didn't matter to her at all." It was just as Anshin'in had said: in the end, given a choice Medaka would treasure her enemies more than her allies.
"Ah," Shinobu murmured, shifting where she sat on my stomach before apparently finding a more comfortable position. "Upon reflection I have come to understand thy discomfort," she announced. "In thy eyes, such joy is naught but betrayal, is it not?"
It said something that Shinobu, a five hundred year old vampire whom had long since completely divorced herself from the logic of humanity, was able to figure out why this situation was troubling me whereas Medaka, a member of the human race nearly the exact same age as me, could not.
I nodded, not able to speak after having heard my situation summed up so briefly. I kept my eyes closed, forcing the lids shut tight. I wasn't an abnormal, or a special. I didn't have any immense talent or superior ability. I was a normal human, or I was until I had met Shinobu and even then I had managed to regain enough of my humanity to apparently fool a two hundred year old manipulator like Anshin'in. I got discouraged like a normal human, got hurt like a normal human, gave up like a normal human.
Unfortunately though, I didn't cry like a normal human. The fluid welling up in my eyes wasn't tears; it was blood.
Yet another sign, I suppose, of the legacy that Shinobu had left me.
The girl sitting on me was silent for a moment, no doubt taking in the trails of blood I was desperately trying to suppress. Finally, I felt her shift as she lay down on top of me, sprawling over me like a cat would. I shifted, suppressing a grunt of surprise as I felt her breath on my throat, one of her tiny hands pulling back on the collar of my student council member uniform. A moment later I felt her fangs, two tiny pinpricks as they sank into my neck and found my veins.
After the thing above me had turned me into a vampire, during the course of me trying to regain my humanity, I had left her greatly diminished. Having lost most of her power, her form, and much of her personality during the process of returning me from vampire back to human, there had been a time when Shinobu was barely capable of moving. It was months before she could speak, though it had been even more months before she would speak to me directly. She had been a shadowed existence, a piteous fragment capable only of sustaining her continued pseudo-life by drinking my blood.
Before she would have to wait here in this broken down building, huddled in a corner waiting for me to come visit her so she could take the necessary sustenance to survive another day. It was a duty I had performed devoutly, never once letting myself miss a day. It was my fault, after all, that she had found herself in that condition. It was my responsibility to make sure that she could survive.
I had made her a promise then: If tomorrow you die my life will last till tomorrow; if today you live, then I too will live on. It was an oath I intended to keep.
That had changed, over time. Eventually she had regained enough of her presence to regain some of her powers. She had instead taken to living in my shadow instead, submerging herself within the shade I cast on the ground. It was a more intimate, deeper connection then even drinking my blood had provided. While in my shadow my very presence was enough to sustain her, and she could feel my thoughts, senses, and emotions, and even let me feel some of hers. It was the way she had communicated with me before she had come out of my shadow earlier.
Despite that that new connection, there were still times when Shinobu drank from me directly. Times when I needed more of the vampiric legacy she had left me, access to the power that had been present in my undead frame. The more she drank from me, the less human I was, though unless she drained me dry completely I would always return to my pseudo human state. There had been more than a few encounters with other kais where this method was the only way to boost my healing enough for me to survive the encounter. Lately, there had been instances where it was other humans who had left me needing higher levels of regeneration then were normally present in my mostly human state.
The only other times when Shinobu bit me were the times when she was trying to comfort me. Perhaps it was a legacy of the time when I knew that my blood was the only thing allowing the frail looking girl-thing clinging to me to survive. Times when whatever else was going on in my life, I knew that I was doing at least this one thing which was worthwhile.
Maybe I was just a sick freak, but the feeling of my blood being pulled from my veins via direct oral suction was comforting to me.
With a satisfied sound Shinobu pulled her teeth out of me, letting loose a distinctly unfeminine belch as she did so. She hadn't taken much, only enough to push me to about fifteen percent vampire, but even that much left a noticeable change in me. The lingering aches from my beating earlier today began to vanish with measurable speed, the pain literally draining away from me.
"So what shall thou do now, my subordinate?" Shinobu asked, breaking the silence that had settled in the ruined classroom during her feeding as she nestled down, laying down on top of me with a graceless inelegance that I would expect out of a child the actual age of her appearance.
"I don't know," I admitted, unashamed to acknowledge my indecisiveness in front of the tiny vampire lying on top of me. I never felt like I had to have a plan, or like I couldn't show weakness to Shinobu. No, it was more like when I was with her things that other would see as weakness were simply not acknowledged by her.
"Hmph," she grunted, and I opened my eyes to see her giving me a lidded glare. "I was not speaking of thy difficulties with that imposter," she scolded me, pouting in a style that would have looked a great deal more intimidating on an older body. "I was speaking of thy conflict with thou other foe; the presumptuous one whom so arrogantly declares herself to be above her station."
"Anshin'in," I supplied the name, my body tensing as I did so. Even more so then with Medaka, I could tell the immense distaste, even active hostility that Shinobu felt for the supposed 'non-human'. It was in fact a distaste I shared, even before the self absorbed twit had managed to manipulate me and earned my active anger.
Really. To tell everyone that she was apparently so powerful that she no longer even considered herself human. To make such a claim to ME of all people, boasting of how her supposed quadrillion skills and special abilities somehow elevated her to a position of near godhood.
I had met gods before. I had even killed a few of them when they got out of hand. As I had to do a few times with some spirits, more than a few ghosts, and enough demons to probably qualify me as a master exorcist.
Apparently common sense was no requirement for having that many abilities. Or if it was, survival instincts apparently weren't rated high enough to be included.
There was a time in the past when I might have been willing to let the insult go. Sure, she had basically destroyed my life, inserting her peons skillfully into a position to dispose of me in the eyes of my oldest friend. Yeah, she had shown up at just the right time to take advantage of my state of mine and goad me into confronting Medaka. Hell, it was probably my fault that the confrontation had ended the way it did. If I had waited a bit more to compose myself, if I had spoken my true feelings to my oldest friend, if I had been more careful then perhaps Medaka wouldn't have gleefully leapt on the provided excuse to claim me as her enemy.
There was a time in my life when I would have been more forgiving, more willing to take the high road and simply move on, ignoring the insult and injury alike and been the better person.
Unfortunately that time had passed, probably no more than just a few months ago.
"I'm going to kill her," I said bluntly, answering Shinobu's intent gaze. The childish looking vampire gave me a searching look, and then broke out into a beaming smile that looked more suited on a girl her apparent age at a birthday party after having received the pony she always wanted.
"Excellent, my subordinate," she crowded, actually wiggling in happiness at my declaration. "Indeed, there is only so much insult that thou may allow slip before thy enemies shall begin to gather en masse. Make certain that thou use such a chance to give forth a stern chastisement!"
Two and a half years ago, I would never have expected that I would ever deliberately plot another's death. It would have seemed like a direct contradiction to my desperate hope to regain my lost humanity.
Now though, after so many battles, my definition of acceptable violence within human parameters had been rather forcefully rewritten.
It wasn't until three days later that I returned to Hakoniwa Academy. I hadn't meant to make a big deal of it, but the moment I crossed the academy gates a number of students made surprised noises, and more than a few of them just ran off. I paused, trying to make sense of the peculiar reaction, before I realized that the last time I had been at school my confrontation with Medaka had probably ended up being pretty well known.
I sighed, and committed myself to having to be the center of attention for what came next. I had honestly intended it to take place somewhere a little less public.
Sure enough, already gathered at the gate were a number of the more noticeable students of Hakoniwa Academy. I caught sight of Myouri Unzen, the head of the Public Morals Committee through a window on the third story. Though only ten years old, he had already proven himself to be a ruthless misanthrope and violently committed to enforcing the Academy rules. It would make sense that he would have decided to keep an eye on what promised to be a violent confrontation.
A floor below I could make out Nekomi Nabeshima, the Queen of Fouls herself. Even if she wasn't interested in getting involved with the crazy shenanigans that tended to happen at Hakoniwa herself she still tended to keep an eye on the noticeable events if for no other reason than to amuse herself.
Outside, hanging around the corner of the main building were two faces which I had been in conflict with before: Gagamaru Chougasaki and Shibuki Shibushi, the two head enforcers of Class Minus Thirteen. If they were here then the minus faction of Hakoniwa would no doubt be behind them as well.
All around in various out of the way places I could make out other important faces: members of various committees, participants in the Flask Plan, people who have in the past made use of the School council to help solve their problems.
At the very front of the building two noticeable groups had formed.
The first was none other than the Student Council itself. Medaka Kurokami, the President, looked almost eager to see me, her eyes wide with an expression I could easily identify as anticipation. Flanked on either side of her were Misogi Kumagawa, the former head of Class Minus Thirteen and current Vice-President, and Kouki Akune, the former Prince of the Judo Club and current Secretary. Standing with them but a little to the side was Mogana Kikaijima, former ace of the Swim Club and current Treasurer. Though Kumagawa was smiling in the same eerie way he always did, Akune looked much more serious than he normally did, and Kikaijima looked downright unhappy with the way things had turned out.
Standing opposite them was a collection of people every bit as diverse but not bearing any convenient group classification. The first was Youka Naze, formerly Kujira Kurokami, Medaka's older sister and former member of the Flask Plan. Next was Kei Munakata, another former member of the Flask, reformed pseudo-impulsive killer, and a person I considered one of my friends. After that was Maguro Kurokami, the last of the Kurokami siblings, the eldest brother, and an abnormal known both for his amazing ability to shape people and his amazing perversity. The penultimate member of the group was Mukae Emukae, a reformed minus and reformed yandere of previously epic proportions with a crush on me that was downright unnerving at times. The final person present, standing far closer to the door and a little separate from the rest of the group was none other than Shiranui, busy munching on what was no doubt the seventh or eighth breakfast she had today.
Those were the ones who would no doubt be the core of my supporters in a confrontation between myself and Medaka.
I wasn't certain whether I found the show of support or interest from so many in the school to be comforting or unnerving.
"At last!" Medaka proclaimed, nearly fidgeting with excitement as I approached the group. "I was beginning to worry when you didn't show up, Zenkichi. I hope whatever secret training you went through these last few days was enough!"
"Now, now, Medaka-chan," Maguro cut in, his voice soothing as he ran a practiced eye over me. Maguro had made a fortune as a professional trainer, a person whose ability to develop the abilities of his clients was internationally famous. He had helped me several times in the past to get ready for various conflicts. "I'm sure there will be time for that later." His eyes flicked almost absentmindedly to his youngest sister, before it focused on me once more. "Zenkichi-kun," he began, narrowing his eyes as he studied me. "Where have you been?"
I wasn't certain what he was looking for, or what it was he found, but his expression straddled the line between confused and worried.
"Nowhere in particular," I assured him nonchalantly. "Medaka-chan," I began, turning to face my oldest friend. "There's something I need to say to you."
"Yes," Medaka grinned, her body pose firm though her facial expression was like a mix of bloodlust and exaltation. It was a look reminiscent of the time she had her final confrontation with Kumagawa, where she had declared that her anticipation for their final battle had felt like three hundred million years.
She was no doubt expecting an exclamation of war, a declaration of intent.
Instead, I bowed deeply, keeping my back straight as I did so. "I, Zenkichi Hitoyoshi, apologize deeply for the words I spoke when last we met," I intoned formally. "My actions were hasty, and upon further reflection I retract them."
I straightened to meet the stunned stares of everyone present. They were receiving their declaration of intent, but it wasn't the one they were expecting at all. This was one of absolute surrender.
"In order to atone for my ill thought of actions," I continued, "I will be formally distancing myself from the Flask Plan directly, and from Anshin'in-san indirectly. I assure you I will make no other move against you. In order to properly apologize, I will also formally announce my retirement from the Student Council, and will return these immediately."
I stretched out my hand, indicating the black student council uniform that I had carefully pressed, topped by the armband announcing the position of General Affairs Manager. For the first time I saw many eyes flick down to take in normal white uniform that students not affiliated with any of the committees wore. When no one moved for a few long seconds, I held it out closer to Medaka. Almost like a reflex, she held her own hands out to accept it, though her movements were rather stiff.
"What is this, Zenkichi?" she asked, her voice wavering between confused and angry.
"It's just what it looks like, Medaka-chan," I told her. "You were right. Let's forget about our fight. It really is more fitting for me to be under your protection."
With that, I took a step back, bowed politely, and then went in through the door to the school proper.
I made it only a few steps before what could most accurately be called pandemonium broke out behind me. Voices echoing with surprise, shock, disappointment, and more than a few with anger in them erupted behind me. Ignoring them, I headed towards my first class of the day.
"Well," a much calmer voice spoke up from beside me as I made my way through the mostly empty hallway, "That was an interesting first move."
I glanced down, and discovered that to my surprise Shiranui had made use of the same distraction I had to escape the notice of my group of supporters and keep pace beside me.
"When the hell did you get here?" I asked, my tone more bemused than anything else as I watched her rip open the wrapper of a packaged egg sandwich with her teeth, before spitting the plastic to the side and tearing into the food itself with an almost animalistic motion. "And what did you mean by 'first move'?"
"Oh? Trying to be sly with me, Zenkichi?" Shiranui narrowed her eyes, pulling herself upright as much as her tiny stature could allow so she could glare down her nose at me. Well, she had to tilt her head back to meet my eyes, but the motion definitely gave the impression of 'down the nose' when she did it. "You can't expect me to believe that you're really giving up, just like that? That you're really going to let Anshin'in and the Monster Princess get the better of you, that you're just going to prostrate yourself on their good nature?" She tsked, shaking her head with mock disappointment. "I know you much better than that, Zenkichi."
"No," I acknowledged, shaking my head agreeably. "There's no way in hell I would do that. But Shiranui, you're mistaken about something. That wasn't the first move at all. That was the last move."
Shiranui actually paused mid bite at my declaration, her steps faltering as well. It only lasted for a moment, before she resumed her walking and doubled the intensity of her eating. Pausing only long enough to gulp, she asked me in a low tone, "You mean…."
"Yes," I nodded. "Anshin'in is dead. I killed her myself, last night."
For a second Shiranui only watched me, her eyes focused intently on my own, and then they darted to the side, and I followed where her gaze landed.
On the wall beside the two of us, caught in odd angles between the florescent lights which lit the school corridor, our shadows followed our movements. It might have only been a trick of the light, some phenomenon made when we moved between the spaced fixtures, but while Shiranui's shadow remained mostly constant in shade, mine seemed to shift. At times it was oddly faded, almost invisible, whereas at other times it was far darker than it should have been considering how well lit the hallway was.
"Heheh," Shiranui began to chuckle, her lips parting back in a grin which resembled a shark's right before it took a bite out of an innocent swimmer. Throwing her head back she began to laugh out loud, her guffaws echoing through the mostly empty hallway.
My own smile was much more reserved, but that did nothing to diminish the satisfaction I felt.
Extra Author's Notes:
Yo! For those of you wondering just what I'm doing writing a Bakemonogatari X Medaka Box Crossover, and not working on your rightfully deserved In Flight, well, it's a bit of a story.
I mentioned before that chapters for In Flight were going to be delayed, even sporadic due to an internship in Japan. Well, after I finished the internship I ended in a position where I was finishing my report, graduating, trying to find a subleaser, dealing with a computer failure, dealing with fixing said computer, then dealing with somehow having managed to contract a genuinely malicious keystroke logger virus that raided every bit of my financial and personal data I had, then dealing with changing all said data, then dealing with moving, then dealing with etc. etc.
You get the picture.
Besides all that, I have another brief confession to make, one which doesn't push my lack of productivity onto random acts of a malicious god:
I just didn't feel like writing for a bit is all.
I had spent roughly the same amount of time getting In Flight to that level as I did with writing all of Hill Of Swords. It might seem like a 'starving pretentious writer' thing to claim, but I just have ups and downs in my creativity. After Hill of Swords I took several months off to just relax and let the next story percolate in my mind.
This feels like much the same kind of break to me.
I still have the plot for In Flight firmly in my head, and still am going to finish it. Heck, with the loss of my computer I'm going to have to refind and replay the original Fate/Stay Night soon in order to help get the details back in my head, and that combined with the release of Fate/Zero is probably going to send me into a feverish inferno of Nasuverse fervor, an event which will no doubt fill me with horror afterwards. Combined with the chance for Sekirei to put some new chapters out and help refill my creative gauge on that account, I should be back up and in proper form pumping out chapters of ridiculous length in no time.
That aside, for those actually interested in why I'm doing this new story, it's as much a chance to get back in the writing habit as it is to push one of the numerous ideas that have been floating about for a bit.
I was doing some surfing and managed to discover the translation of 'Kizumonogatori', the prequel of Bakemonogatari which detailed Koyomi's first encounter with Shinobu, and loved it. After that I did some more surfing and discovered that the same writer who did Bakemonogatari also was doing a comic called 'Medaka Box'. Naturally curious, I started following it.
I'm honestly not sure how to describe Medaka Box. So far its had two genre shifts so massive its almost like reading completely different stories. It's managed to include one of the most interesting villains I've seen in a long time (Kumagawa) and the latest story arch is so rich in genre savvyness that it's almost as though there is no fourth wall at all. I hear they're going to make an anime adaption in 2012, so I'm probably not gonna be able to stop myself from following that either.
Well, whatever the case, I needed something to get myself back on the horse. This story should only run about four or five chapters total, and at the speed I'm putting it down it shouldn't take that long to finish. Just think of it as primer to start the pump.
And if you don't like the two stories I'm using, I feel obliged to mention that this was almost a Tasogare OtomeXAmnesia X Boku Wa Tomodachi Ga Sukanai crossover.
Yeah. If you know those two series I'm sure you're already tilting your heads and wondering 'WTF mate?'