Chapter Nine

Tiffany stifled a yawn and flicked through the channels without caring much. She was honestly tired of going out and drinking, having to periodically check in to report to Vladimir the details about the week. She crossed her legs and relaxed into the black couch, letting the massive plasma screen play infomercial after infomercial. If she didn't find something fun to do soon, she'd probably die where she sat. Maybe she needed more sex. As her thoughts escaped her and shot to memories of Onyx's buff naked body, the television changed on its own, revealing a newscast in Times Square.

"So that's where you've been," she mused, while massive chaos and fires broke out on the television, the sound system so expensive that the screaming people appeared to be running right on either side of her. She watched a propane truck explode and several vampires go to ash before her eyes. Her eyes glittered with mischief when she observed the police force moving in, doing perhaps too good of a job with mopping up vampires that were there solely for Blade. She tried scanning for either he or Onyx in the massive crowds, but neither of them came on screen. Instead, though only for a moment, the reporter touched on the giant mech that had zoomed down the streets, doing an impressive job of eradicating creatures of the night. This meant that SPECS was getting more and more advanced in the technology department, but it was also perfect for Vladimir's plan. When SPECS attained enough military strength, the foundation would be pulled straight from beneath them, and Anubis would rise to take control of the entire Nexus in Vladimir's stead.

Tiffany walked into the kitchen to blend herself a peaches and cream smoothie, which she absolutely loved even more than alcohol. Her emerald eyes lit with pleasure as she downed a towering glass of the beautiful concoction, returning to the couch in the process. When she sat down, a tall, Indian man began rattling off the details of a new battle, which took place at several different locations, mysterious power outages striking the city. When she heard that not only chargeable lights, but also battery-powered devices were refusing to work, Tiffany knew it must be Salazar's doing. His control over darkness could easily put the entire city into a blackout if he wished, but he must have been concentrating on one of his targets. She flipped back her short red hair, which she'd recently dyed herself. She really needed a hobby. At this point, even going to hang out with Aisha and potentially Lucia wasn't beneath her. It could be fun, a vampire girl's night out of sorts. Tiffany then realized that it would only lead straight back to alcohol, and she was already tired of drinking so much. She grumbled, trudging through the carpet barefoot to the recliner chair that cradled her figure like a mother. Once relaxed in the warm embrace, she nodded off to sleep, dreaming of a life where there were no chains of command and no vampires.

"You're old." Kyle spoke to no one in particular. Even though he'd disarmed Salazar, the vampire was blocking Kyle's sword with only the palm of his hand. He was swinging with all his might, but was also being parried far too easily. At the moment, the vampire wasn't even bothering trying to counter; he was going to let Kyle wear himself out. Kyle knew he'd have to change tactics. No sooner than the thought entered his brain, the vampire's face ceased suppressing a condescending grin.

"You are but a mere child. Your death was assured the moment I entered your store." Salazar finished on an eerie cackle, vanishing from view, and then lifting Kyle into the air by his neck. Wind whooshed around the ninja, and then left his body as Salazar broke a bus stop bench with a fearsome choke slam. Before he could move, Salazar picked him up again, launching him so forcefully that the protective glass around the bench shattered, sending the ninja sprawling a ways down the road. Salazar's cocky smirk returned. He didn't need his sickle to finish the pathetic human.

Kyle's orange eyes opened, but couldn't take in anything. Again, nothing but complete darkness surrounded him, and aside from the asphalt, he couldn't tell where anything was. This time, the vampire wasn't making sound to aid him; the very air he breathed seemed suffocating, causing both paranoia and claustrophobia to magically affect him. Anyone else would be disappointed from having their best advantage in a fight taken from them, but Kyle's training had amply prepared him for this. He'd have to adapt, and he had just the technique to do so.

"Very nice!" Salazar nodded with appreciation. Kyle's elbow slammed into Salazar's palm, mere inches away from crushing his jawbone. Salazar resumed the fight with a sneaky counter. He pushed Kyle forward, and then turned his fingers into razor-sharp claws, flying forward at light speed to pierce the man's heart through his back. Victory was assured. It was a good run for the ninja, but even track stars lost their luster when a vital organ was in peril.

A blinding white light obliterated Salazar's vision, which was a first. He scratched desperately through the air, unsatisfied when flesh didn't meet his claws. The blinding sensation sent him into a small panic, because his darkness technique wasn't working as quickly as he'd liked. This light refused to be so easily consumed.

"Secret Technique, Seven Swords." Salazar fled backward to avoid whatever Kyle had in store for him, but it didn't do any good at all. When his feet touched the pavement again, a gigantic laceration opened from his left shoulder down to his knee, shooting blood from his body. He threw darkness in Kyle's direction, hoping to stop the pain. His shaggy ink-black hair shook wildly and he screamed as the second, third, and fourth lacerations opened his skin so deeply that he couldn't stand it.

He held up his hands to block the rest, but the fifth and sixth strikes ripped through his arms, exposing the gaping lines of blood in his chest again. The last strike ripped through his sternum, cracking it and three supporting ribs. Salazar spun around in a circle, struggling to stand on crippled limbs. He hadn't lost the steely look in his eye though. Salazar took note when Kyle initiated the technique again, but was helpless to stop it, no matter what he tried. Seven more lacerations slashed into him with overwhelming intensity each growing in fortitude. Salazar's thick animal skin coat fell from his shoulders revealing simple hakama pants fastened to his waist by a red silk sash. Salazar's bare chest was coated on every inch by freshly colored tattoos. Kyle wasn't worried about them at all, but when Salazar pulled another Reese Weiland out of the darkness before him, Kyle got the feeling that any chance of escaping the fight was now over. Salazar wouldn't stop until his blood lined the streets and his heart had stopped beating. However, that was fine with him. Kyle bit down on the tip of his tongue until a small stream of blood filled his mouth. His eyes glowed with an even brighter luminescence, and his muscles bulged. His vision also pierced the darkness and locked onto the vampire, who appraised the transformation silently. It was on.

Lucia took another crazy swig of her red berry Ciroc. It was a concoction she'd amended with her own flavor, just to be fancy. She only drank it when she wanted her blood to boil, and it was having that effect now, spreading hot threads of alcoholic warmth from the center of her chest throughout her body. After a satisfied gasp, she stood to her feet. It was no surprise to her that the halter topped assassin entered moments later, grinning wildly. She popped a wad of pink bubble gum, and resumed chewing as if she hadn't eradicated twenty of Lucia's men on her way there.

"Shura." Lucia whispered, pulling some black hair from out of her eyes, which were pulsing scarlet. The assassin nodded, placing a hand on her hip. She wore a pair of tight-fitting leggings that were torn short on her left leg and stretched long on her right. Shura's hands were sheathed in fingerless gloves, whose midnight sheen matched the coating on her fingernails. Her top was black as well, with two ridiculous collars forming a large V, which made no effort at all to hide her cream-colored breasts. Her defining features other than the thin chastity belt at her waist were the pilot's cap she wore on her head and the long tail that came from her backside, resembling a hissing copperhead. While two spiky pigtails erupted from either side of her head, it was impossible to miss the many scars covering her bare belly, marring her otherwise beautiful skin. Shura was somewhat of a funny one though, for the key to the belt she wore around her waist hung around her neck, dangling only slightly above the line of sexy cleavage she had no shame in displaying.

"You done the appraisal, you rich piece of filth?" Shura asked, pulling out a curved knife from her back pocket. When she unsheathed it from an amethyst encrusted scabbard, the short weapon gleamed in the light, still coated with wet blood. Shura's tail made an echoing hissing noise, and then began staring at Lucia as well.

"I would suspect that it was a mistake requesting your services two years ago." Lucia declared with authority. She was dressed down in a tan semi-formal outfit, for once opting out of wearing a dress. Nevertheless, her point carried across, even though Shura's laugh was the only response it warranted.

"What can I say; I go where the most money is. Now shut up and die." Shura sprang forward with the knife gripped tightly in her left hand. She never reached Lucia though, because the floor instantly opened up beneath her, sending her spiraling down three levels into a room below. She was able to break her fall though, making sure to land upright, less Lucia spring up to attack while she was vulnerable.

"Perhaps you should be careful who you take contracts against, because you'll never be able to assassinate me."

Shura searched around for the voice, noting that the new flooring had become a monotonous gray concrete. Four different vampires surrounded her; each dressed the exact same brown outfit, speaking in perfect harmony with the others.

"I know about your illusions, you crazy bitch. Good luck hurting me with these!" Shura yelled, scanning for the real Lucia. She had to be somewhere, projecting clones of herself to confuse her. Shura would soon be disappointed, her arrogance draining away in the dirt.

"Your judgment is flawed." A Lucia lookalike ostracized her, knocking her away with a back slap so hard that it almost broke her neck. Shura spun her body midair, piercing one of the Lucias behind her directly in the heart, nothing happened. The two tumbled to the ground, but Shura managed to take the dominant position. The clone simply dematerialized.

Shura rocketed into a quick flip, evading three deadly javelins that stabbed through the concrete behind her. Several strands of her hair tore from the roots. The pain was quick and sharp, but it made her furious. She shouted her frustration, and the room went black, whooshing winds erupting from nowhere. Within three minutes, she was freezing cold.

"Dig, bitch." Lucia cocked the hammer back on a long barreled Smith and Wesson Schofield revolver. She rammed it in the back of Shura's head and commanded her again. An evil grin spread across her face as she observed her opponent's entire body flinch, and then tremble with trepidation.

Shura couldn't speak. The back of her throat had gone desert dry, and she couldn't feel her tongue. Her first reaction was to turn around and attack, but whenever the thought entered her mind, a feeling akin to being smacked by a bullwhip would slash the back of her legs, putting her in danger of falling. The assassin hadn't realized the shovel in her hand until she used her bare and bleeding foot to plunge it into the earth. The rusted metal was unforgiving, tearing open her foot with each new pile of dirt she moved to the side. Shura started crying and was unaware of it. As the smoky mist around her dissolved, a cemetery unfolded before her. Whose body was Lucia forcing her to dig up?

"Now jump in." Lucia's voice was so calm it was fearsome. Against her will, Shura flung herself into the six-foot deep hole, realizing only at the last moment, while falling midair, that a headstone engraved with her name loomed over her recent creation. While gazing up in horror, still unable to move, Shura watched Lucia drop a beautiful white lily into her grave, and then choked on over ten liters of soil.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" Shura screamed, banging her head against the back of her chair. Her hands were chained down, and mounted television screens surrounded her, flashing on and off only allowing her to view a blizzard of static from every direction. Her legs, tied together, struggled futilely against the tight leather straps that restrained her. She had been this way for hours now, listening to Lucia's voice resound inside her skull. Each chant grated her eardrums and made her sick.

"Do it. Do it."

Lucia kicked the chair over from the back, and Shura fell helplessly to the floor, her forehead now bruised by the hard dirty tile below. She then picked Shura back up, her thick heels clattering against the tiles creating an additional symphony for Shura's ears.

"Do it. Do it." Lucia kicked over Shura's chair again. This time, a sharp piece of glass lodged itself in her cheek, producing a scarlet gash that was frighteningly deep. Since she was human, Shura's blood flowed brilliantly scarlet against her face, pooling at the floor. Lucia had known control over the blood thirst for years, and wasn't tempted. She hoisted up Shura's chair again, and she shook her head wildly, blinded by the flashing screens, growing more insane by the second. After five more times of violently knocking Shura's helpless body over, Lucia unbound her left hand, which had to recirculate blood into it. The blaring red ring created by Lucia's binding puffed up, and Shura started to hyperventilate, flexing her hand repeatedly to regain some kind of feeling within it.

"Should I remove your fingers for you?" Lucia asked sweetly, stabbing a thick knife into the arm of Shura's chair. Moments before, Shura had moved it, but she was scared to death nonetheless. Unable to work her mouth correctly, she shook her head over and over again, her black hair disheveled and messy. A new wave of tears burned her cheeks with a salty trail of regret. What the hell had she gotten herself into?

Lucia plucked the knife from the arm of the chair easily, and then sat it on Shura's lap. She floated through the air in a perfect circle, landing behind the frightened girl. Shura's fingers tested the knife's weight and soon it became all too clear for her. This was hers.

The screens boomed each time they turned back on, drowning out Shura's hearing. The room was too dark to find anything else to look at, throwing her brain into a sensory panic. Aside from her left hand, she couldn't feel anything, even the cuts and bruises along her face and arms didn't produce any sensation.

"Do it." Lucia spoke one final time, before Shura lodged her weapon into her own throat.

In real world time, it took a whopping twenty-three minutes for Lucia to successfully drive Shura away, but she'd also learned a few things. Shura had an innate ability to heal herself, and that in itself was a direct link to the person who'd hired her. Genetic mutations definitely weren't common in an age of vampires, and some serious cash would have to be thrown in the right direction for a mutation of that magnitude. Lucia didn't know who it was, but someone of the upper class definitely had it out for her. She knew that Shura would return to attempt to fulfill her contract one day, with or without help, yet wasn't worried at all. She walked through her outdoor garden, bending over to luxuriate in the scent of fresh magnolias, which were very rare in the Nexus. Lucia was probably the only one who owned and appreciated them. She sighed when she realized that she'd have to hire better help, because her manor had been infiltrated, her guards slain and again merely a single perpetrator had completed the task.

She stumbled into a thorny bush, and laughed even when she hit the ground hard. The alcohol had its claws in her deep, but she refused to stop being merry. When she looked up, the stars in the sky were alight with a brilliance she had never seen before. Even though the moon was nowhere to be found, she smiled, in spite of the fact that the cosmos were spinning above her, and the beginnings of a pounding headache were beginning to manifest.

"I hope you're ready Aisha." Lucia spoke softly to the stars. A sincere kindness stretched from her form to wherever the katana wielding woman was. Lucia's face grew warm, and she couldn't help but remember taking care of her for a few hours after the fiasco with Minerva mentioning Akane. Lucia was wondering how much information about Aisha's mother she'd actually give up, but her head soon pounded louder than her thoughts could.

"I wish I had kickass insurance like you man." The doctor laughed, and Blade shook his head. The air inside the hospital was musty, and the fluorescent lights above made him feel as if he were in a laboratory. He flexed his chest muscles, and wasn't shocked to feel them still throbbing with the weight of their injuries. Having two bullets extracted was a small hell, but he also had patches on his arms from the bloody bruises there, and several bandages going down the length of his back. Blade looked a couple beds away to see a white man singing along with a church choir on the small television in the corner of the room. His leg was held up in a sling, but his face was boyish, yet radiant. He was entirely engulfed in the television, clapping along as well.

"Who's that nutcase?" Blade asked, just before a nurse slid a curtain in between them, blocking the man from Blade's view. The incessant singing act continued however, gloriously mediocre. The doctor responded kindly.

"Daniel Rosewood, cop, spiral leg fracture. Ah, you have a visitor, I'll return shortly with some antibiotics." The doctor moved aside so that Onyx could replace him, taking a seat in one of the uncomfortable chairs next to the hospital bed Blade laid in. He dapped Blade up the first opportunity he had.

"Glad to see you didn't need a call to come." Blade joked, ending on an uncomfortable cough. While silver bullets surely wouldn't kill him, Blade had the feeling that he was being constricted in more ways than just chest pains. It felt like an otherworldly force was both limiting him and slowing his body down. Untraceable pains made it so that he couldn't unleash his body's full potential, knowing that alone made Blade a little anxious.

"How long they say you're in for? Shit was crazy out there man." Onyx's face filled with animation as the recent memories filled him. Blade made sure to turn away as certain paternal instincts overcame him. Onyx's well-being shouldn't concern him. He was not the man's father. They were only partners, nothing more.

"They say two weeks with proper rest, but more than likely I'll be out by tomorrow." Blade winked slyly and Onyx laughed. The mirth vanished soon after though, and Onyx looked down into his lap, for some reason tugging at his baggy jeans. He pulled out a brush and adjusted the waves in his hair accordingly, though it was only to distract himself. Blade read him in an instant. Onyx was nervous.

"Come on man, how long have I been your mentor? What do you want to say?" Blade remained focused on James, who grew a little more apprehensive. He cursed under his breath as the man a few beds down tried to hold a high note that Mariah Carey would have done with ease. He wasn't Mariah Carey. The result was a terrible wail. Blade was starting to hate the man and his repulsive singing, but that wasn't his pressing concern. Something told him that Onyx had something important to relay to him.

"Well...Tiffany," Onyx began, somehow still managing to look bashful, even as a grown man.

"Ain't what you thought she was?" Blade finished for him, taking Onyx aback. He tried to defend himself with a cover-up, but Blade shut him down. "There's someone else huh?" Blade asked, needing no answer from Onyx to confirm it. His demeanor may have been stoic and serious, but it was easy to see the truth in his deep brown eyes. Whether he wanted to or not, James uttered his agreement. Blade's assessment was dead on the mark.

"I'm just not trying to commit right now, ya feel me? I may not be the youngest guy, but I've still got a life to live, women to sample, places to be, you know right?" Blade listened to his every word. It made him think back years ago, to the love interests he'd fostered throughout his time as a vampire hunter. What had started as a life of revenge against Deacon Frost had certainly developed more and more depth, and that depth added to his story had produced an interesting amount of side stories. There were quite a few relationships that always came to his mind, and he could perfectly understand what Onyx was feeling. Though in his case, death always followed love; there wasn't a passion in existence that had survived the intense gavel the morning sun brought down upon it. As a day-walker, it was far too dangerous to attempt to share his blood with anyone, let alone a female. Thus, when the sun burned everything to ash, he was always the only one left standing. Blade felt words spill out of his lips before he could stop them.

"Look Onyx. There will come a day when your needs transcend sex. Someday it'll become less about the booty and more about the beauty, more about the inside and less on the outside. I sure as hell ain't sayin' to stop playing the field to find the person you want to settle down with, but be mindful that when looking, not everyone will be there for you as a person, no matter how good you lay it down."

Onyx nodded his head, shocked beyond words at what Blade was saying. He'd always viewed his mentor as a smooth operator that could have panties dropping with the snap of a finger. What he was hearing now almost sounded like, well, like love.

"What's it like?" Onyx inquired, leaning forward. He'd taken off his heavy jacket and now wore a short sleeve Polo shirt embossed with an image of Tupac. When Blade looked at him bewildered, he clarified. "Finding the woman worth settling down with. What's it like?" Blade opened his mouth to speak, when the television nearest him flashed to the news, which showed a massive power outage in 40 percent of the Nexus. There were several blurry and awkward camera angles before he saw it.

On the television, a street camera had captured an accident in real time, which was rare. Across the board, there were reported failings of Trak-Automatic, and maintenance vehicles were being dispatched everywhere. That wasn't relevant though. What drew Blade's concern on the television was a brief flash of white light. Two figures shone, one that he knew without a doubt was Kyle the weapon smith. Across from him was a seasoned vampire, and Blade knew that he had to be the culprit behind Squeaks's murder, not Vici. Someone was purposely targeting those with a connection to him. Someone had leaked Blade's personal information, and was trying to draw him out of hiding. He'd give them just that. Without a word, he sprang out of bed, grabbed his trench coat and retrieved his weapons from a footlocker on the lowest level of the hospital. Nobody's cries behind him could stop him from getting to that fight.

When Blade arrived on the scene, it was too late. As he sprinted toward the flickering lights, he watched Kyle battle a huge, Chinese vampire tooth and nail, but the end was nigh. As weapons clashed and teeth gnashed, Blade could see Kyle's fatigue slowing him down. While not enough to significantly hinder him, he wouldn't be able to defeat the vampire he faced in mortal combat.

"Secret Technique: Manji Blood Dance!" Kyle's wooden sword metamorphosed into one of the longest broadswords that Blade had ever seen. Kyle stabbed the glowing weapon through his own stomach, impaling the vampire behind him so maliciously that both of his foes weapons dropped to the ground, while the vampire struggled to move. Kyle lurched, with each gyration; he cut further into the vampire's innards, tearing through the vampire's skin at a personal price. Not only was the enormous wound in Kyle's stomach enough to kill him, he was coughing up blood as well, voice growing hoarser after each exertion.

Salazar screamed as the cutting continued. He already knew that the massive wound in his stomach would never heal, but he'd had no idea that the ninja's wooden sword was half as capable a weapon as one of his darkness sickles. He'd avoided silver ninja stars, crystallized silver meant to blind him, and a hidden arm blade, but could do nothing about the huge sword now sticking through his entire body. Through painstaking screams, his fangs grew larger. If he was too close to rip this man's head from his shoulders, then he'd drain his blood to reenergize.

"It's about damn time you showed up." Kyle spoke, his voice so strained by anguish that it was hard to make out his words. He gave Blade a nod of appreciation. "Scatter my ashes to the four winds alright?" He coughed again and an ungodly amount of blood and bile splattered onto the pavement. Kyle jerked, and Salazar screeched again, momentarily paralyzed. Blade came within reach, but Salazar's mouth went toward Kyle's throat instead. Kyle sensed this, and tore the magnificent blade through his body in a zigzag, falling forward and hitting the ground in death. Blade didn't know how, but his attire had changed from the newscast he'd observed in the hospital. Kyle was now wearing a pure white robe, with matching hakama pants. Blood stained the white, but Kyle's face was peaceful, even as the last wisps of life exited his frame. Meanwhile, Salazar tore the offending weapon away, and launched it far away, licking his lips as he spotted Blade.

"Finally I've found you day-walker." As Salazar stood to his full height once again, all of the lights around them came on, illuminating the street as brightly as a football stadium. "My name is Salazar, and I'm only here to collect something of mine that you have in your possession. They call it Defender." The vampire swept into a deep bow, glittering eyes never moving away from him.

"What the fuck would you need a shield for?" Blade cursed darkly. His eyes darted between Kyle's lifeless body and the tall vampire opposite him with a gaping hole in its stomach. As he did so, anger injected itself into his bloodstream, making his fists shake as he extracted his namesake weapon from its sheath on his back.

"You don't need to know that, nor do you need to know who sent me, but I will share with you this." Salazar tilted his head back, letting his coarse black hair fall away, revealing a fresh scar that went down his right cheek. He waved his hand, and a new sickle filled it. He turned the knife up and dashed at Kyle's corpse, ready to put a hole in the back of his head.

"Don't touch him!" Blade's eyes changed color, and he zoomed to intercept the vampire, battering him away with hate-filled slashes. Two people were dead because of their desire to help him, and though the same situation had happened countless times before, there was never something as disrespectful as placing holes in the skulls of the deceased being done. Blade's anger consumed him, and so did his inner vampire. "I will fucking murder you where you stand!" He boomed, charging forward.

Salazar annihilated Blade's vision, but he kept coming. He would shield himself with thick bars of darkness, but Blade's infernal weapon would smash through them. The few times he had an opening, Salazar couldn't attack without sacrificing himself in the process. Blade's strikes were all lethal, and his wide, sweeping motions were fluid and coalesced into one another. No motion was without purpose, and his balance was critically perfect. Salazar was dancing the dance of death with Blade, but could only match him. Blade exceeded his abilities in every parameter.

"From where do you draw your tenacity?" Salazar asked him, quickly evading a slash that would have robbed him of a leg. He was forced to move again, because Blade had struck again for his chest without a lapse in time. The cut sliced open Salazar's collarbone, but it was a thin wound. The lights around them went out one by one, but a horrid realization opened Salazar's eyes as wide as dinner plates. Blade was injured, and not only that, he'd been fighting in an injured state this entire time. The epiphany made him recalculate the difference in their skills, and made him reevaluate his entire strategy. Minerva had told him to reclaim Defender and to take Kyle's life, while Tiffany had told him to destroy Blade's lines of outside help. He could please them both without Defender, at the moment it was all about self-preservation. Knowing when to flee was a crucial part of survival instinct.

Salazar turned tail and was going to run away, when he saw the opening he wasn't expecting. One of Blade's lunges turned into a nasty spill when he tripped over a bar of solid darkness. He crashed into the ground, and on his recovery, Salazar turned around and struck. It was his lucky night.

Blade had been waiting for this. His enemy was so deep in the shadows that he couldn't see the chi radiating off his body. Before Salazar could adjust his decision to attack, he was dead.

Salazar cleaved right through Blade's neck, but there was no blood, no sense of achievement, and no cry of despair. Instead, a brilliant white light divided his body into two equal pieces, and then he split apart, flames licking up his skin. As he died, Salazar couldn't help but think of how powerful Blade would be if he hadn't just come from a medical facility. At least he didn't have to worry about Vladimir's wrath.

"Deadly Sword Technique, Residual Moon." Blade whispered, the blue flames returning to the inside of his body. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed the number of someone he trusted. His eyes returned to their normal color, and straining, he limped over to Kyle's body but didn't disturb him. He still appeared incredibly at ease, and his massive injury was hidden beneath his robe. Tranquil was to be the best was Blade could describe him. After a feat like that, Blade was sure that Kyle had to be in a better place. True to his final words, Blade would burn his body and scatter his ashes, even if he had to climb a mountain in the Himalayas to do it.

Another butler with a steady hand held up the phone to her ear. She'd gone through seven more since Jason, and hadn't batted an eye at any of their deaths. Down the hall, Shura was being lashed for her failure, even though she would still have to work for her. Minerva's contracts were always binding for life, and no matter how much money it took, it remained true no matter who the clientele was. You either worked until you completed your mission, died in the process, or fled for your life. The final option being the least wise of them all.

"So my statements for Kyle?" Minerva chimed.

"His accounts have been drained and added to yours. There is the question of the shop he owned though. Were you interested in archaic weaponry?" This agent was much more confident, and thus intrigued her. At the very least, she wouldn't have him fired.

"I have no interest in such things. Burn the place for all I care. And I do care." Minerva added pointedly, to which Henry assented. There were no hidden implications. She wanted the place razed.

"There will be nothing left to remember him by." Henry stated monotonously, receiving a dismissal from Minerva.

The vampire smacked her butler across the jaw, sending him flying into a wall. It was true that he was hurt, but he was far from dying. Frustration was making adrenaline course through her. She needed to get rid of her competition in the gladiator's tournament. Lucia had to die. She crossed the room to a small writer's desk, and pressed a button, which prompted a secretary to ask her wish. "End her castigation, and bring Shura directly to me. I would like to speak with her face to face." The secretary answered politely, though she didn't have a choice. If Shura didn't straighten up, then soon she wouldn't be alive to even consider the possibility of getting rich as an assassin.

"Project Kappa Psi Lambda Epsilon has been terminated." The worker looked up at a larger series of monitors that took up an entire wall, observing a red dot appearing in the northeastern US. "Killed in action." He continued, adjusting his glasses. Behind him, Yuki Naga grumbled, which was not a good sign. As the CEO of SPECS International, he was a short, silent Japanese man with a commanding posture. When he spoke, things happened, some terrible, some life changing. Rob hated to be the one to break the news to him, but who else would have done it?

"Do we have any other genetic experiments in the area? I believe there was a Tau experiment in the area with a reasonable amount of skill." Immediately after speaking, the room silenced, and 200 sets of fingers began blasting away at keyboards. Nevertheless, since he had started the conversation, unless Yuki initiated, no one else but Rob was allowed to speak.

"There is Tau Rho Iota Gamma Gamma Epsilon Rho," Rob began, when Yuki viciously explained to him that there was no need to maintain the Greek experiment names. Rob coughed again, adjusting his button up shirt. Even though the air conditioning kept the building constantly chilled, he was burning up, sweating a mile a minute. "Trigger sir. The expert shooter whose DNA is infused with reaction time and sight enhancing agents. He is within the same city Kyle was terminated in to be exact." Yuki nodded at this, watching the conjoined map over the fifty monitor screens combine into one of the Nexus. While he couldn't pin down Trigger's exact location, he had a good idea of whom he had to contact with to get such information.

"That is Syfy's district, is it not?" Yuki asked as if testing Rob's knowledge. There was no way in the world that Yuki wouldn't possess that data.

"It is Yuki kakka1." Rob addressed. "Should we activate him now?" Yuki's reply was a silent no.

"Let's keep an eye on the marksman for now. If we need him, we'll use him. Such a shame we lost Kyle though, he was trained in far more than manipulating fireballs. There must be another power at play in the Nexus if such a proficient experiment was targeted and destroyed successfully." He adjusted his tie, bowing at Rob in a muted adjournment.

"Mr. Nico Nerudamus from America is here to see you." Yuki's secretary patched in.

"Send him to the third floor conference room. Notify him of my pending presence to the meeting." Yuki began a fast walk toward the elevators. How coincidental it was that an insider from Syfy's branch in the Nexus had scheduled to meet with him today. It was going to be a meeting all about nanomachines. Yuki smiled. The thought excited him. The future of SPECS was indeed about to change, if Nico had the correct configurations, then the vampire to human ratio on the planet could very well be tipped extremely far in their direction. In his direction.

He pulled out a PDA and scanned the list of experiments from 15 years ago. Trigger's name was the 50th on the list. A light bulb turned on in Yuki's head as soon as his face popped onto the screen. He tapped the amoled display twice with a stylus just to confirm what he remembered. Trigger had been the one experiment he was willing to elevate over the entire United States branches of SPECS. Born in El Paso, Texas, Trigger's military credentials made him overqualified for the position; however, his actions on the battlefield made Yuki deactivate, and in turn discharge him from the organization. Trigger had almost uncovered the experimental conspiracy that Yuki led, and thus, would have ruined everything. He had no choice but to discharge him with bullshit charges and redirect his anger by promoting Syfy over him. Yuki turned off the PDA. It was time to prepare for the meeting.

Mr. N sat down at a comfortable chair and waited. He chose a safe seat in the center of the enormous oval table, because it would have been foolish to assume he could sit at the seats at either end. He'd flown all the way to Japan just to see Yuki, and anything that might incur disrespect was nothing short of brainless. He opened his Acer laptop, setting a steel briefcase down on the floor. He'd have been lying if he said he wasn't a little nervous. Yuki was the head of every SPECS around the world, which made over 128 corporations, including the one he worked for at the Nexus. There were only two ways this meeting could go. Either he'd unleash a breakthrough important enough to grant him or his branch some respect and please Yuki, or the opposite, which he refused to think about.

Yuki entered, a tangible pressure expanding into the atmosphere as he did so. Two men blocked the door on both sides, one of them pulling out the executive's chair for him before returning to his post. At once, Yuki's coldly calculating eyes rested on him, prompting him to move without words. Nico stood and went into a deep bow. Yuki acknowledged him, and bid him to move along with the presentation.

Nico did a quick comb through his pointy silver hair, setting up the projector easily. At once, various blueprints, charts, and graphs opened, while he gestured with a precise laser pointer. "Observing the combat data I sent you beforehand revealed several key flaws in the current nanosuit, the version one if you will," Nico began, playing a short clip of Oberon's run in with Blade. "On the three prototypes I am presenting to you today, not only has the motion efficiency increased by 112% to correct these mistakes, the legs now have augmentations as well to prevent excess damage. Soon, as with the arms, they will also be able to freely change shape to adapt to any situation." Nico waited for a reply. Yuki appeared to be pleased.

"Well done. These improvements are stellar. I've observed some of the lab tests on the new models, and I must say the weaknesses were addressed properly." Yuki nodded, but didn't permit Nico to speak just yet. "What have you done about its massive power usage and uptime? Has your version one pilot recovered fully from the physical and mental damage of the confrontation with Blade? Lastly, how many years do the nanomachines shave off the average human life? I had heard of some gauntlets you made a few years back, which shorten the lifespan by twenty years. Please tell me you've improved the host's life expectancy?" Yuki tapped the table impatiently with his fingers. Just like that, Nico had gone from confident to on edge, Yuki proving once again that he could effortlessly adjust the atmosphere and tweak the tension of any room.

"Ah, my failure of a project. I am almost happy that rogue stole it. Rest be assured Mr. Naga, version one had decreased the lifespan shortage by five years, and we've incorporated the same technology into the three prototypes I am hoping you will use to the best of your ability." His apprehension was beginning to show, but he tried his best to keep his voice focused and upbeat. Nico would be verbally slaughtered if Yuki Naga stayed on the topic of his first nanomachine project, a pair of golden panther gauntlets that bonded with their host's DNA. In addition, the project was compromised, and the gauntlets stolen during the most crucial time of the Vampire Human War. Nico sent up a silent prayer that Yuki wouldn't dwell on his past mistakes.

"What about its energy consumption?" Yuki continued instead. Nico breathed a deep sigh of relief.

"That is our only challenge sir. We at SPECS Nexus were hoping for some additional funding, not only for our security, but also for the improvement of these suits. As you saw on the news recently, what little footage was captured of Oberon, the suit is incredibly intelligent and adaptive, able to single out vampires while minimizing civilian casualties all on the fly. Of course, not to embellish ourselves Mr. Naga, that is why I want to present you with three of the latest models."

Yuki rose with a smile. "Request granted. Draw up the papers, transfer the models and let us catapult into a bright new future!" The men along the door sprinted into action, and Nico couldn't hide the shock on his face when Yuki walked directly up to him, and have him a genuine business hug, the likes of which never occurred before.

"Thank you so much!" Nico spoke, already on the phone to give Syfy the good news.

Blade ducked into Vizuela to find an average size house filled with laughter and music. He scanned the expansive bar on the first floor, but didn't see Joe, so he trudged up the wooden stairs that hugged the walls of the establishment as it vainly attempted to spiral into the sky. When he got to the top, he signaled the bulky Scotsman over.

"Let me just check your records to calculate your income." Joe boomed, wearing his trademark glistening smile. He reached out his arm to grasp Blade's in a warrior's handshake, and Blade extended it longer than normal.

"I'm not here for the income this time. I need some intel."

"On who?"

"Lucia Noblesse, do you know where she might be?" Blade inquired, taking a seat at one of the comfortable bar stools. Out of curiosity, he glanced at the top 50 list of bounty hunters. He wasn't too surprised, in fact, the list remained mostly unchanged. In a dark, fancy font, his name had moved up from fifteen to twelve, two slots behind Aisha. Other than that, the only change was Vici, who had moved exceedingly further up the list in the past few weeks. As a team, they were rising in the ranks fast, and were close to the top 20 for the district.

Joe was looking stunned and rooted to the spot behind the counter. He stared into the ceiling for a moment, as if the old-fashioned fans would blow the answer into his head. After a few long seconds, the light bulb clicked, and he smirked at Blade. "About time you went for top game in the sack eh Blade? Hear she's a great woman but a heartbreaker afterward." Blade's jaw dropped.

"She has data that's crucial to my current mission Joe. Besides, the rich and conceited were my childish conquests. I've long since outgrown them." Blade spoke firmly, though he knew he was lying. If nothing else, vampire or not, he did feel an attraction to Lucia, but his sex life was hardly his reason for visiting Vizuela. In truth, he was looking for both Lucia and Vici, hoping he could kill two birds with one stone. He knew that their squad would be stopping in to see if his battle royale had rewarded them with any quarries, but they were nowhere in sight.

"Oh." Joe stammered, clearly disappointed. "She has a mansion up on Dogenzaka Hill in Westside. Getting there is easy. Getting inside, is not." He continued, though not dissuading Blade at all. A tinkling glass made them turn their heads. A black man with a shaggy beard had climbed atop his table, startling those around him. He wasn't drunk, but was sloshing a cloudy alcohol onto his boots while he balanced precariously on the edge of his table. The man was fond of buckles that was for sure. Blade counted three on each boot and two crossing his abs in an X.

"Fuck it. Hear ye hear ye!" The man shouted, loud enough for everyone on the second floor to hear him. The band entitled Magberry stopped playing to stare in awe, which was a blessing for everyone's ears. "All drinks tonight are on me!" Patrons stared at each other wondering if this was some sort of hoax.

"Is he good for it Joe?" Someone in the back called.

"You damn right the barry lad is! He isna guttered, this ain't a joke!" Joe called back, and the entire establishment erupted in a loud cheer. Though his Scottish accent had slipped out, he wasn't embarrassed at all.

"Be right back." Blade spoke, making his way to the table where the patron saint of the bar for the night was taking his seat. Blade purposely dodged the other customers, and soon found himself being stared down. He took his seat without fear, and waved over a host.

"What's that you're drinking?" Blade hesitated long enough so that the man opposite him responded both to the spoken and unspoken questions.

"Keiji Igasho and it's called Destiny." The man spoke crisply, adjusting his glasses that were as sharp as his piercing gaze was. Blade ordered the same, intrigued by the misty graying contents inside.

"So what's your story? Why the sudden generosity?" Blade inquired. This prompted Keiji to laugh, forcing the unwelcome scent of alcohol into Blade's nostrils. Keiji pulled out a cigar ready for smoking, and lit it with a flick of a stylish lighter that had a wolf's head as the top. After a few puffs, he tapped some ashes into the convenient ashtray in the center of their table.

"Just drinking the night away my friend. What better company for misery to have than a bar full of false companions?" When Blade didn't reply, he let out a huge sigh, returning to his glass for a healthy sip of Destiny. "Wife left me a few days back. It hasn't exactly been easy since then to cope."

Blade's drink arrived, and on the first sip, he was hooked. The taste was definitively exotic, with a hint of a spice he couldn't name offhand. The burning hit his chest no sooner than he decided to gulp the misty contents, but the effect was satisfying overall. Destiny was a very good drink indeed. "What was her name?"

Keiji flinched, as if the question tangibly pricked him. At once, the happy man he had seen dancing around on his table disappeared. What was left was a mere shell, unable to show anything but numbness or depression, whichever gripped him the most in the moment. "Chelsea." He finally choked out, adjusting his glasses so that he could wipe away a tear before it emerged. He was wearing a sleeveless black shirt that would have exposed bulging muscles if it weren't for a sleek, jet colored fabric that ran from his elbow to his hand, ending in a point. If Blade didn't know any better, he would swear that the fabric could be used as a very dangerous weapon.

"She was my everything...but with the job, and the pack...well, life is about as hard as it gets right now."

"What do you do for a living?" Blade asked, more fire igniting in his stomach. He didn't know what pressed him to gain all the information he could about Keiji, but Blade had a strong feeling that he was important.

"Look over there," Keiji gestured, pointing with one hand, while crushing his cigar remains with the other. Blade followed his arm to the top 50 bounty hunters and saw Keiji's picture plastered at the lowest spot on the board. He looked at the dollar amount associated with his kills and had to do a double take. While Keiji was listed as mid-tier class-C, the dollar amount associated with his bounties crossed even his own, which would probably place him as highest tier class-B or lowest tier class-A.

"It's always been that way," Keiji spoke, appearing sobered. "I am the only one on the list whose dollar amount has nothing to do with rank. It's by choice. The higher on the ladder you climb, the higher a bounty on your head others will place. I did it for my family, as well as my own safety."

Blade looked back at the African American male with a new level of respect. While obviously he had to possess some kind of amazing abilities to achieve that much value, he was humbling himself, even going so far as to by drinks at the bar for everyone while having a silent pity party. This man was noble, yet he had his flaws. When Blade looked up, three more glasses of Destiny had been emptied, yet Keiji's gaze was more focused than it had ever been.

"If you really want to know what the fuck I do, I clean up after you bitches. I'm a tracker. I work for Vizuela to verify the kills you make. I'm the best nose in this goddamn city and do a goddamn good job at finding ashes and who smoked who." Keiji gulped another swig of Destiny, but didn't stagger at all, or slur his words. If anything, the alcohol seemed to be empowering him.

"It's something I suppose. Rich as shit but I never have privacy and now my wife up and leaves? God must have the cruelest sense of humor imaginable." Blade looked at him as if Keiji were an atheist, and the shaggy man laughed. "I'm not happy about anything." He finished, rubbing his temples with closed eyes. For a second, Blade could swear the man was talking quietly to someone else.

"Do you struggle with it Blade? The vampirism I mean. How do you deal with the transformation?"

Blade was prepared to shut him down, not wanting to give out too much information, also wondering where Keiji had gotten that information. Nevertheless, he concluded that a smart man would be able to ascertain that a day-walker was still part vampire, and that things were never as black and white as they seemed. In addition, Blade caught a note of mutual understanding in Keiji's tone, as if he was going through a similar situation. Was Keiji a day-walker as well? "It's a battle I fight every day. I fight the darkness outside, and I fight the darkness within. Humanity is always my prime concern, as a whole, and within."

Keiji nodded his head, taking another swig of his drink. "That's the kind of answer I'd expect the Alpha to give." Keiji bust out in hysterical laughter, before returning his focus to Blade. He scowled when Magberry began playing again. Their horrid playing made him want to howl.

"The Alpha?" Blade questioned, but Keiji brushed off the question easily. His sorrowful demeanor returned without warning. In his mind, Kaiser chastised him viciously, which crushed his morale. Point taken, he needed to shut up about anything related to the Pack, including subtle hints.

"May I ask something of you Blade?" The question floated to him and hang in the air. Keiji was looking down into his newest glass, searching for the correct words.

"What is it?"

"One day, someday, if this craziness in the Nexus dies down a little, let this dog of a man team up with you for a hunting. Man to man, hand-to-hand." Keiji's brown eyes were blazing with so much passion, Blade found him hard to refuse.

"Sure thing." Blade replied, tapping his glass to Keiji's. One Destiny later, he was leaving Vizuela, headed straight to Dogenzaka Hill. Lucia had to know something about Vladimir, and he was going to find out what.

"My first day of training involves a trip to Six Senses?" Aisha could hardly believe herself as she scampered behind Amara through a set of automatic glass doors. The interior of the spa retreat was coated with pure white paint, and fluffy clouds were painted on the ceiling so detailed that they could have been outside. Aisha acted as if she were a tourist, trying to take it all in at once. There were several rooms with huge, square Jacuzzis filled with bubbling water, massage chairs, tables and booths, and indoor fountains that made her heart squeeze they were so adorable. She had to tear her eyes away from an adorable baby Cupid's butt when Amara called her name. Aisha blushed, for she'd inadvertently wandered off. Aisha winced at the board containing all of Six Senses's services, noting that there was nothing on it that was less than four hundred dollars. This was why she didn't do things like this.

"Go easy on her, it's her first time." Amara giggled, in a lively conversation with the woman at the front desk. The woman gave Amara a huge, unprofessional hug, and then nodded, typing several things into the computer.

"Geez Amara, you've gotta stop with these last minute decisions." The blonde joked. She had the proportions of a cheerleader, yet the clothes of a modest businesswoman. Aisha's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates as she watched the subtotal rise above one grand. She couldn't do this; there was no way she could pay even half of that at the moment.

"Well you know me." Amara responded, grabbing a towel and heading to the locker room. Aisha had to be prompted by the attendant to follow. When she did, she quickly assessed that this spa was for females only. Women draped only in towels wrapped snugly over them, passed them every ten seconds.

"Just call it a gift before the hell I'm going to put you through." Amara smiled finally addressing her earlier question. Aisha didn't know why, but after that, it became loads easier to strip in front of her. She wasn't one that opened up to people easily, but with Amara, it was quite hard to stay silent. Her bubbly attitude and never-ending optimism made Aisha infectiously giddy. Aisha chose a midnight blue towel instead of the default white. Amara clucked at her as if she knew Aisha would choose it. Amara's towel was blue as well. Without clothes, she was a lot more muscular than Aisha could remember.

"To the massage tables!" Amara declared, marching away. Aisha dashed to catch up, not even getting a word in for herself. Within five minutes, they were lying next to each other masseuses chopping steady rhythms into their naked backs.

"So this training's going to be hell huh? I don't think you know me." Aisha quipped, confidently. Amara was unfazed.

"We're only here until ten, you will be working until dawn, vampire." Amara retorted.

Aisha quickly glanced around to make sure that no one had heard the comment, but even her masseuse remained calm and nonchalant. And damn did her hands feel good.

"Relax Aisha, while you still can." Amara commanded. She then rolled over, placing her hands on either side of her stomach. Amara's masseuse was a shorter, Indian woman with hair that almost touched the floor. She began kneading Amara's feet, which had to be at least a size 11 in men's. Amara lay back, closing her eyes, and then she popped up, as an idea filled her head. "What's it like working with Blade?" She asked. Aisha's breathing stopped.

"Blade? You mean the day-walker? Why would you think we're connected in any sort of way?" Aisha stammered, unable to conceal the humongous blush that appeared on her face. She wanted to sink right through the massage table and melt into the floor. How could she have been baited into a question like that? Why in the world would Amara ask that?

"Oh? You like him as well?" Amara asked, further flustering her. The two masseuses smiled at each other in unison. Aisha hadn't even begun her hellish training yet, but she felt like this would be a reasonable substitute. She was already ready to quit.

"Back home in Brazil, my tribe would tell stories of his exploits while revealing our deepest fantasies about him. Care to tell me yours?" Amara pressed on, without missing a beat. Aisha was dumbstruck for a second. She couldn't tell if Amara was toying with her, or if she was completely serious. Aisha opted for evasion.

"Since you're an Amazonian, is your tribe really all women? How do you stay alive?"

"Aisha, why do you evade me so?" Amara began, standing to her feet and rolling her neck. The masseuse bowed to her and then scurried off to a new table where another woman was already splayed on her back naked. "It's complicated for me and the other Nzinga warriors. Long story dramatically shortened, we collaborate with surrounding tribes to copulate, and if the child is a male, he stays with the other family. If the child is female, she is adopted into our tribe and raised accordingly." Amara raised up her hand to silence any further questions Aisha could devise. "What's it like working side by side with the legendary vampire hunter? Do you ever have your doubts about him?"

The pair settled into dual massage chairs, receiving pedicures on the fly without breaking their conversation. The room they were now in provided a wonderful overhead view of the city, yet smelled like a spring breeze over a natural meadow of rich flowers. Aisha couldn't remember the last time she'd smelled anything like it. Her body calmed down on its own volition, and each breath she took seemed to rejuvenate her. Aromatherapy was something she'd absolutely have to check into later on.

"His swordplay is among the most masterful I've ever encountered. His fighting style is precisely attuned to his amazing body and the deep timbre of his voice..." Aisha trailed off and then gasped, bringing her fingers to her lips. Her attendant made a noise between an agitated grunt and a squeal and she apologized. It was far too easy to talk about him.

"I'd imagine so; those rippling muscles, toned abs, and his eyes...Lord have mercy!" Everyone in the room laughed, including several strangers who were conversing in a hot tub in the corner. "What I would give to spend one night alone with that devilishly handsome king." Amara continued, a few of the other girls nodding toward her.

Aisha felt strange. She knew inside that she was jealous, but she wanted to keep talking about him. She wanted to one up Amara on this. For fifteen seconds, she gripped her hands tightly together, but then she burst. Her mouth wouldn't have stayed shut if she glued her lips together. Not about this.

"Imagine his bare chest glistening with sweat after an afternoon spar..."

This sent the girls into a frenzy, women of all shapes and sizes crowding around her asking for more details. Even Amara looked impressed, conceding the verbal competition and watching Aisha reminisce. She was glad that Aisha was happy, and even happier that she'd chosen to come to the States when she had. Armband or not, Amara felt that Aisha would do a fantastic job as her successor, yet knew that she never would agree to lead a tribe of Amazonian warriors.

"Do they have acupuncture here?" Aisha asked, walking to their own private hot tub. This one was in the center of the room, and a chandelier illuminated it. It was completely empty, and rather romantic, but Aisha didn't pick up any suggestive undertones. The spa had closed officially at eight, and yet, there they were.

"Of course Aisha, we'll go right after this." She smirked, sighing deeply as the water coated her slim bronzed back. She'd imagined Aisha as the type to never get naked in front of a woman, the type to refuse to be pampered by anyone else, the type too afraid to try things outside of their comfort zone. Amara couldn't have been more wrong. Aisha had spent 70% of the day even without her midnight towel, and had gotten several things done, from facials to a bikini wax, and even a Japanese Shiatsu massage. Purifying rituals had excited her as much as the many different moisturizers available. However, by far, Amara was sure the detoxifying shower was Aisha's favorite. Her face was brighter than Amara had ever seen it, and as innocent and pure as a child's. She found that if she didn't put herself in check soon, Amara would develop maternal instincts.

"What are you thinking?" Aisha made a display of swimming the short distance across the tub, so that she could sit directly next to her. She pulled back loose black strands of wet hair behind her ears and stared at the older woman, willing her to answer.

"You don't have to compel me." Amara admitted, placing her hand over Aisha's and feeling a warmth beyond what the hot tub had to offer. "I was thinking about Blade's mother. I knew her you know."

Aisha backed away, stunned. Amara looked as if she wasn't a day over 21, yet she was making such wild accusations?

"You lie."

"Her name was Tara Brooks, and she worked in a brothel in Soho." Amara responded, pleased with Aisha's silence.

"Forgive me." Aisha was quick and sincere. Once again, someone else had more knowledge than she did, and she silently craved it. Though she'd allied with him for years, she'd never heard his story until then and what a long one it was.

"Prepare yourself." Amara admonished, as they drove outside of the Nexus. "This next part is going to test your limits."

Tiffany cringed away from him. She could not avoid his onslaught, and knew it was pointless to block him. Arousing any further anger in him would only prolong her agonizing torture, and she didn't want any more of her bones broken. She was trembling as is, struggling to breathe on the rocky ground.

"He was not supposed to kill Salazar that was not in the agenda!" Vladimir screamed, throwing Tiffany so hard away from him that a bleeding gash appeared on her head where she struck the wall. A gruesome stain remained, marking her presence. Before she could move, Vladimir was already standing over her, stomping down terribly hard over her chest. She couldn't breathe.

"Now, when I send in Marcus to create the vampire legion, he won't be under the complete cover of darkness! Blade will know of his exploits within the first one hundred turns!" His anger wasn't going to subside. Tiffany watched his terrifying mouth split into three sections, full of sharp teeth as he screeched a sound so vile it made her teeth grind together. Because she could hardly feel anything but pain, she didn't realize her ears were bleeding until Vladimir dragged her to her feet, only to knock her down again with a chop to the neck. It almost broke.

"Your fuckup has cost you all of your allegiance with me. Were it not for the fact that you are the only piece capable of luring Blade and his friends here to Amaurot, you would cease to exist where you lie, you pitiful little wench." He raised a clawed hand, which became as hard as granite. Vladimir's next blow would have killed Tiffany instantly, but a softer hand somehow managed to hold back his fierce attack. If only for a second, Tiffany was grateful for the mercy.

"Akane, what are you doing here?" He asked, his tone slightly irritable. Vladimir stood to his feet, his jaw correcting itself so that he looked human. Though his eyes would not change from being brilliantly yellow, the rest of him merely looked like a common bodybuilder wearing modern day attire. "Do you seek to provoke my wrath as well?" The question came out as a hiss, making the beautiful woman opposite him take a step backward, though it wasn't in fear, only respect.

"I sense an animosity towards my daughter in this one, master. Allow me to handle this trash so as not to dirty your hands." Akane swept into a deep Japanese style bow, which defused the heaviest part of Vladimir's anger.

"Deal with her." Vladimir commanded, sweeping out of the room.

"Ah yes, how does one deal with a traitor?" Akane mused, walking a slow, but threatening circle around Tiffany, who could do nothing more than choke while trying to breathe and cringe to prepare for the next blow.

"Now listen here." Akane began, becoming liquid motion. In the next three seconds, Tiffany's head was slammed against a tall stone pillar made of thick bricks. Akane was only slightly taller than Tiffany, but had her lifted three inches off the ground by her neck. While Akane's body pulsed with a sinister red aura, Tiffany's brain exploded with millions of pain signals. She scrabbled at Akane's hands with thick claws, but the vice-grip didn't ease up, even when she drew several lines of blood on Akane's hands. Akane simply smiled, watching Tiffany struggle. Asphyxiation alone wouldn't kill a vampire; it would just severely maim them for a time slightly exceeding half an hour. But Akane did not intend to let Tiffany lose consciousness.

Tiffany's eyes widened and blood spilled from her sides, Akane's claws stabbing clean wounds deep into her stomach. Her body began to spasm, and her eyelids blinked rapidly. She was no longer attempting to breathe, but flailing any limb she could to escape Akane's hold. The Japanese vampire laughed haughtily, her skin once again flawless, having healed the minor scratches that Tiffany had given it. She shifted in her black kimono, the decorative skulls woven into the fabric mystically moving throughout the adornment. Tiffany fell to the floor, but couldn't see anything else. Bright red lashed out and shackled itself to her hands and feet, producing electric shocks throughout her body.

"How dare you say those things to my daughter!" Akane roared, her voice magnified over twenty times. Though she could only read the surface of Tiffany's thoughts, she also had the ability to shift Tiffany's mind away from the pain. While pondering the accusation and being prepared to protest to try to save herself, Tiffany had fallen for Akane's trap, and Akane's glittering red eyes bored straight into her soul.

"Ah, too bad I couldn't have witnessed the sparring match between you two. You deserved every hit you received. However, whether you deserve it or not, in the next few days you're going to wish that I was Aisha, and not her diabolical mother hell-bent on torturing you." Akane closed her eyes, and purple beads shot from her kimono's sleeve, binding tightly to her right arm. "Shini, shini, koroshi...2" Akane began, before reciting a Japanese death poem that she'd written over fifty years ago. The white skulls that moved across the kimono's surface leapt to life, floating around her and glowing with small flames inside the eyes, nose and ear sockets.

"Wait!" Tiffany screamed, using the last of her breath.

The skulls couldn't hear her.

"Yo, war room in five!" Panther burst in, interrupting Aiden's meditation. He scowled back, and with unintentional force, summarily told Panther which part of his body he could shove that comment in. Looking slightly taken aback, Aiden's leader adjusted the collar on his shirt, shrugged, and then closed the door. It didn't take any special ability for Aiden to realize how angry he'd just made Panther, but now was not the right time. Not for Panther, not for Vici, not for anything. Kokei climbed up a set of pull up bars in his room, and started to swing upside down on one of them, using the backs of his knees for support. The long sash covering his eyes unbound, and fell to the floor and he opened his eyes.

At first, he didn't see anything, just the normal darkness that anyone would see if they closed their eyes, akin to the back of the head. With a few deep breaths, Kokei centered himself, and the visions came pouring in. The first was of Aisha's 7th birthday, when Akane had decided that once she became of age, she would grant her the Koga family's sacred sword, Makugane. From that celebratory feast onwards, Aisha had never stopped using her wooden sword. She even slept with one.

Kokei would have laughed at the vivid memory, but doing so would break his perfect concentration. For next, huge pillars of flame appeared behind his eyes, his mother being torn away from him by bandits with eyes as scarlet as the rising moon. He remembered fleeing for his life, slashing his arm so deeply while falling down the stairs to get to Aisha, who was in the connected Kendo dojo. The scar still remained today, just as some of the more severe burns on his back did.

He'd seen her, small and innocent, yet too adorable for words. She had very long hair even at a young age, and she refused to wear it in any other fashion but straight down her back. The only exceptions were two locks of slick black hair that framed her face, held in place by small heart-shaped barrettes. Run! Take the ferry to America! America! Aiden had screamed, forced to detour around a huge section of the house, which had collapsed perfectly between them. He and Aisha always had the boat tickets on hand, with the destination highlighted in red. No matter what situation arose, the tickets could be used, no cash required. Their clan was always prepared for disaster. That is how it was in Japan at the time; vampires were everywhere.

Kokei recollected the burning in his lungs as he fled to the docks and the first feeling of fresh despair and fear that was born from a rope securing snugly around his midsection. He was only twelve then, and had no chance fighting the four fully-grown men that approached him with weapons unlike any he'd ever seen. To the entire Koga clan! We of the noble Yamakita bloodline will never accept this union! Four years it has taken for this moment to come, now watch as we blind this child, and in doing so blind you all from your future! May darkness ensnare your cursed family forever! Kokei would never forget the words. He was lifted from the ground and tied to a post high in the air. It was ironic that the last thing he'd ever seen had been the most beautiful sight of Japan he'd had in his young life. A knife ended his vision, and sent his cries echoing louder than the flames of their burned down house. He knew Aisha was watching him somewhere. With the last bit of hope inside his heart, he screamed for her to get on the ferry before it was too late. He could hear the boat departing, but would never see it or Aisha again.

Kokei reached down and grabbed the handmade sash, tying it intricately back around his blind eyes. Today was the anniversary of that fire, his blinding, and his separation from both the Yamakita and the Koga clans. He paid his respects, lighting four sticks of incense representing the deaths that had occurred that day. While the smell of deep sage and lavender coated the room, he resigned himself to attend the meeting, unsure of how long he'd been in his meditative state.

"Glad you could join us Kokei." Angela nodded, waiting for him to take his seat. Within minutes, Kokei was caught up on their latest plan, which was to gather information on the nanosuit that had attacked Blade in Times Square. That kind of technology was big, and if SPECS had the one up, it was only right for Vici to up its game as well collectively.

"As you can see from this newscast," Angela began, cracking up. "The President and Vice President of SPECS are on a date, and half of the employees of the company are taking vacations themselves. I was able to hack the security room time card reader, and guess who just clocked out?"

"The tape viewer." Trigger said, a big grin across his face. He liked the sound of this infiltration, and was ready to spring into action.

Angela pointed to him and acknowledged his correct response. She waved her hands on both sides of her waist. "Making the best time to get the information..."

"Right now." Everyone but Angela said in unison. After a quick debriefing, studying of the layout, and some last minute weapon decisions, the team was out, making sure to park their vehicle exactly a mile outside of SPECS HQ. There were two gates to get by, and those would require intense effort. They had no intention on killing anyone however, for all of their arsenals contained stunning rounds. The worst they could do would be to incapacitate individuals for hours on end with forceful shots to the head and chest.

The reduction in staff made sneaking in and splitting up very easy. Angela was constantly tapping buttons on her PDA to alter door locks, blank computer screens and redirect sneaky cameras. Everything was going well, until Panther spoke over their four-way mic.

"Guys, I'm there, fourth basement floor, second door!" His transmission ended on an outcry, and Angela's heart sped up, slamming against her chest. She was sure that the others were just as highly alert. Any second now, an alarm would be blaring, which would lock down the building. Dozens of officers, trained tacticians, and even janitors would be armed and homing in on their exact locations, most likely to capture them and send them to prison for the affront. Or so she thought. Angela had no clue what the punishment was for breaking into an internationally recognized establishment, one that the Nexus's government was very much invested into. Scratch that. We're fucked.

Sweat dripped uncomfortably down her sides, while she hid in the ladies bathroom, squatting atop a stall so that no one entering would see her feet. She needed every precaution possible. Her PDA showed Panther's position just as well as the rest of the teams'. She was the only one that wasn't on the correct floor; she couldn't believe it. Thankfully, there was no alarm, so Panther hadn't alerted anyone. Her heart could be at ease knowing that he wasn't in any danger, at least other than being spotted and immediately executed by a highly trained riot officer... She made up her mind that instant. The stairs were nearby, so she'd take them in waves, jumping down every level. She let her Nike's grace the bathroom floor, and opened the stall door, which she had shut and locked before.

"It's about time they hooked up. That handsome bastard needs some stability in his life." Two women entered the bathroom, headed straight to the sinks. Angela quickly reentered the stall, locking it again as quietly as possible, seconds away from being spotted.

"Well it's sad really. I heard Jonathan used to have a fiancée back in his younger days, but vampires got to her. He hasn't been the same since." The woman who was speaking looked up in the mirror, seeing only blue stall doors behind her. She continued applying way too much makeup to her face.

"Dr. Rashidli is so fucking lucky she's a model. I'd hop on that dick any day for a man as devoted and handsome as that. Moreover, have you seen him shoot? He's just too sexy." The woman laughed with her cohort. "One second, watch my purse." She added, turning toward the stalls. "I talk about him, and suddenly my vagina goes crazy." The dark-haired woman snorted. In the background, the makeup fanatic simply shook her head. The brunette opened the stall door, and the ceiling light in the bathroom went out.

"What the fuck?" Angela heard them both curse. She was long gone, dashing down the stairwells and praying that no one would use them over the convenience of the elevators. That was too close. She chastised herself. Thank God she had quick enough fingers to perform the electrical override. Normally, that sort of thing would be a bitch to do, especially when it had to be confined to only one room.

She reached Panther's location almost slamming into the other two members of her team.

"Where is he?" She asked, albeit breathless because of her journey from three floors above. She received no response, instead, the men both pointed down through bulletproof glass and a locked door reminiscent of a bank vault. She read the bright yellow caution sign above it, Caution: Danger Room Ahead.

1Kakka is used in Japanese as an honorific, refers to someone of very high national importance

242-42-564 or Die, die, kill (in Japanese)