Eternal Darkness

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http://vampireknight.wikia.com/wiki/vampire_knight_wiki

Introduction




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"The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness." - Victor Hugo





Nine hundred years ago, The Reckoning began.

It started as a war of attrition, a mutual, escalating series of revenges between the vampires and the hunters. In time, it grew into a full-fledged war, and it became clear that the future of humanity itself was at stake. All chance of neutrality disappeared as, one by one, the people and places that stood for peace were obliterated by armies from both sides. The choice was sharpened, made clear as it could ever be: you were in the war for humanity, or you were in it for the vampires. There was no third option.

The vampires were stronger as individuals. Gifted with extraordinary powers and supernatural capabilities that humans could not hope to match, they were devastating forces in the battlefield, especially the strongest of them, the purebloods. Even one of these rare beings, their lineage untainted by human weakness, was enough to render scores of human beings or weaker vampires utterly helpless. The noble vampires were almost as potent in many cases, and even the commons, the footsoldiers of the vampiric army, were stronger than any human had a right to be.

The humans fought back with numbers, weaponry, and the hunters: humans carrying vampiric blood in their veins, in some cases gifted with capabilities akin to what vampires could do. Because of these advantages, the war raged for many centuries, wreaking heavy tolls and massive destruction on both sides. So much blood was spilled that the earth itself began to grow fallow, its once vast resources gradually shrinking as its forests died off, its rivers dried up and polluted, and its farmland went to seed.

In the last years of The Reckoning, an ambitious pureblood vampire, seeking to rule his kind and subjugate their natural prey, sought out a being spoken of only in myth: a devil. What he found was the world-maker, the watcher, and the judge of souls. The King, Hajime Tsuji, struck a bargain with this being, offering up his very soul in exchange for power the likes of which even the others of his kind could only imagine. Power enough to crush humanity beneath his heel, and bring his own kind into line beneath him. This power, he exercised, and within another decade, the earth itself was his. Or rather, what was left of it.

The population had been devastated, leaving no more than a few thousand vampires in total, most of those the commons, and perhaps ten thousand humans. In order to tighten his control, the King had built an enormous castle-city, and in it, he housed every one of the living humanoid beings left in the world. In the large fortress at the center, he sheltered his court and all the servants required to staff them, and outside dwelled craftsmen, laborers, and those tasked with working the fallow earth for the sustenance that humans required. A strict caste system was put in place, where human beings were little more than cattle, to be bought, sold, and killed at the discretion of whomever owned them. The practice of vampires feeding upon one another became supplementary, as there was now a consistent supply of servants from whom blood could be taken at leisure. The lowest of the low vampires, the mad ones, were executed on sight, and the Level D’s occupied primarily tradesman’s roles. The commons, Level C’s, were low-level officials, responsible for overseeing the daily maintenance of the Castle City. Nobles made up most of the Court and the Guard. Purebloods were the highest of the high, able to act outside most of the restrictions of the law, and answerable only to the King himself, who was the law.

It is now many years after the end of The Reckoning, but the danger is not over. Unbeknownst to most, the devil moves amongst the vampires. He watches, and he judges, and he waits. For the time grows nigh when his power will wax to completion, granting him the ability to perform a miracle on the world he made. He has seen what the planet has become, and his intent is the darkest of them all: he means to destroy what he once brought forth. Even around the unrealized end of days, however, life goes on. Politicians maneuver, a Prince struggles with his heritage. A Queen confronts her father’s evil and questions her loyalty. A Vigilante stalks the castle at night, preying upon those accustomed to being the predators. A Guard keeps a silence that slowly destroys him. A Human girl fights for her kind. An unwanted Daughter finds herself in an unwelcome bind. The perfect Servant begins to wonder what her strange abilities really mean. And the Devil himself waits for the moment when he can bring an end to everything.




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Haruka Tsuji | Dhampir | Played by | Nephilim

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Mika Sakuragi | Dhampir | Played by | Dynamite

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Aurelia Rodanthe | Human; Nero's Ward | Played by | Dynamite

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Rivka Atol | The Queen | Played by | Naga's Shadow
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Vasilios Nero | The World-maker; The Devil | Played by | Dynamite

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Kiyoshi Tsuji | Vampire; Pure-blood - Crown Prince | Played by | Nephilim

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Haruki Blake | Vampire; Pure-blood - Vigilante | Played by | Naga's Shadow

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Rikichi Sakuragi | Vampire; Pure-Blood | Captain of the Guard | Played by | Dynamite

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Raamah Atol | Vampire; Pure-blood - King's Guard | Played by | Naga's Shadow



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The Story So Far... Write a Post » as written by 5 authors

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Tsuji Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Haruki Blake

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#, as written by Mihael
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Kiyoshi stared at the papers in front of him, allowing a sigh to pass through his lips as he leaned back in his chair. Another law to be passed, this one small and simple, yet powerful in its own right if it were to be passed. Control of lands was not something a Noble should possess, whether or not they were pure-blooded or not. Technically, the King still controlled all lands, however; because it was a vast territory, more of the more prominent pure-bloods were given governance over the territories to ensure that each one remain loyal to the King. He would put that one at the very bottom of the stack.

He glanced out the window, watching as the last remaining hours of sunlight disappeared into the distance. He turned his silvery gaze to his guard, and pursed his lips together silently. Haruka's words rang through him, and for once, he had tried to heed them. He had stopped pestering Mika into calling him other than your Highness and had left the woman to her own, however; he did not stop from trying to make her feel comfortable enough around him to make her at least smile. He glanced away from Mika and back towards the new set of papers in his hand. Perhaps he should pay a visit to his father's adviser. The man, Haruki, would one day be his adviser; it was time they had a little talk.

"Will you inform Mr. Blake that I wish to see him?" he stated, turning towards Mika. It would be easier to have the Blake pure-blood come to him rather than Kiyoshi going to find the Blake pure-blood. Not that he couldn't have, it was simply a matter of preference. For one, any conversation held between the two would be kept private. No one would speak of their meeting, and Kiyoshi would speak nothing of it. It, after all, was just a simple meeting between future partners if he had to look at it one way.


Mika did not enjoy leaving him to his own devices even for short periods of time, but this was sometimes necessary. At the very least, she was uniquely-suited to doing it. A glance down the fabric of fate with her eyes informed her that he would be safe if she left him, and she’d keep them active until she returned anyway. Once she formed the intention to go find Haruki Blake, they also showed her meeting the man in his office. “Yes, Your Highness,” she told him simply, dipping into a bow so as to turn and take her leave. There was always a guard posted at the door here when Kiyoshi was in, and unlike her, he could not simply leave. She gave him a look as she passed, one that caused him to straighten his already very neat posture and snap her a salute. The implication was obvious: if anything happens to him, your life is forfeit.

That was just a simple truth of their jobs, but in Mika’s case, it carried a personal touch as well. She had not worked this hard for this long to protect him only to have him die. Especially not because some other guard didn’t do his job properly. She may not have been his friend, not as he seemed to wish, but Mika was, when he was not looking, incredibly protective of him, beyond, perhaps, what a Guard was required to be. All of them must be willing to give their lives in service. What she was willing to give was much more than that.

Not even she knew how far she’d go, but that thought didn’t bother her. Not in the slightest.

She made her way to Lord Blake’s more public office, and though the guard recognized her at once and let her through, she had a bit more trouble with the staff. It took them a little while to figure out that yes, this particular dhampir was authorized to convey the will and requests of the Prince, and so they had dame well better let her through, else it was really him they were presuming to delay. When she finally was admitted, she fell automatically into another bow, then straighten and spoke briskly. “Lord Blake, His Highness the Prince wishes to see you, at your earliest convenience.” A flicker in the colors of her eyes. “I will remain and escort you at such time as you deem appropriate.”

She already knew when that was going to be, after all.


Haruki had been aware of when Mika had entered his office, forcing himself not to roll his eyes as his staff gave the woman grief over her status. Honestly, could they not see the uniform? He really did not enjoy keeping most of the people around, but he had to in order to keep up appearances. As the last of the Blake family, he had an image to maintain. He glanced up as Mika entered, the pen never stopping as he scratched away while she spoke. He was not surprised to hear the summons; it was high time he'd had a conversation with the Prince anyhow, for varying reasons. He waited a full two minutes before actually replying to her, standing up as he did so. "Of course, Lieutenant Sakuragi." He pulled on a jacket, and then without a word to any of the other servants, he left with her, Xeno by their side.




Haruki sat down across from Kiyoshi, thinking not for the first time just how much the boy looked like his mother. His coloration came from his father, of course, but his facial structure was undoubtedly Rivka's. He raised his scarlet eyes, a smile not unlike the one he wore around the king plastered to his face. "You wished to see me, Your Highness?"


Kiyoshi stared at the papers in his hand still, debating with himself whether or not to place them at the bottom as well. Most of the proposals were absurd, granting more power to the Nobles and leaving little to no room for the humans or dhampirs. If things continued this way, there would be no power for the humans or dhampirs. What little power they had would be stripped from them and they would be nothing more than slaves. Not that Hajime would complain, his father would probably enjoy that. Kiyoshi sighed a little harshly than he had intended to, glancing away from his hands to spot the door opening. Haruki walked in and the door was shut behind him, Kiyoshi offering a small smile. "Yes, I did," he responded, turning so that the Blake pure-blood had his full attention.

"You may call me Kiyoshi, Haruki. We are speaking as one friend to another. There is no need for formality here," he really didn't like being called that. If he could convince at least one other person, who wasn't his sister or mother, to call him Kiyoshi, he'd consider it a small victory. "Tell me something, Haruki," he began, lacing his fingers together as he leaned his chin upon them. "What do you think of the King's current constitution? You are free to speak freely. I assure you, what is said here will never be repeated out of this room," whether or not Haruki would believe him would be up to the Blake vampire. But Kiyoshi meant his word. Whatever Haruki had to speak, it would be safe within these walls. He would not fault the vampire for speaking ill of his father; less than half of the vampires, or general people, had less than pleasant things to say about Hajime.


Haruki's eyebrows raised. It had been a very long time since anyone had called him by his first name. A small smirk appeared on his face though, at the Prince's comment. Free to speak? No, not even here. Haruki of all people knew that even the walls had ears; he was the one who put those ears there. But, he wasn't going to let Kiyoshi know that.

"And what would you say, Kiyoshi, if I told you that the man was a sadistic sociopath and that the Vigilante had the right of things? Would you believe me if I told you I knew who the Vigilante was?" He was interested in what he would say. He would never let on that he himself was the Vigilante, but...it would be interesting to say the least what Mika would do with the supposed information, let alone the Prince.


"I would have to say that I agree," were the first words to ring from Kiyoshi. He closed his eyes briefly, allowing a moment of silence to come between them before continuing to speak. Kiyoshi was no fool, he knew what type of person his father was, however; his father was still King. "As for whether or not I believe you into knowing the identity of the Vigilante, that is a question I could ask of you. Would you believe me if I told you I did? Even if you did know, you would not give up the information so easily, nor would you have even mentioned it without prior reasons. I believe you, though, regardless," Kiyoshi spoke, keeping his eyes closed in the process. Kiyoshi believed Haruki. He believed the man knew who the Vigilante was, however; it would be wise not to mention it in the halls.

"I am completely aware of how my father is, what he is capable, and the multiple crimes he has committed against the kingdom. I am aware that the Vigilante is in the right for doing what he does, I just wish there was more that I could do to help in those efforts. I'm afraid I'd only make it worse if I were to be involved, but," he spoke, cracking his eyes open, meeting Haruki's rubied ones. If he could, he would have helped in the efforts of the Vigilante, however; the moment he became involved, his father would know. That man was like a shark, smelling blood the moment it tapped the water's surface, and Kiyoshi would only make things worse than they already are. Let alone, he might actually get the Vigilante caught. That was not a thought he wished to entertain.

He's eyes flickered briefly towards Mika, a thought crossing his mind. If he couldn't help directly, perhaps he could help indirectly. Of course, this would require consent from her as he did not wish to put her into anything uncomfortable. "Perhaps there can be a way for me to assist in other ways," he stated, removing his gaze from Mika and returning it to Haruki.


If Mika understood the implications of what was being discussed, and it was fair to suppose that she did, she made no comment, nor indeed did she so much as look directly at either of them. The amount of treason being slung around in this single conversation made her nervous, but not because they were being watched. She knew that, for now at least, they were not—her truesight was a useful talent that way. That said… if it was so easy to speak of here, there was always the chance of a slip-up elsewhere, and she did not trust Haruki Blake, regardless of whether his claim to know the identity of the vigilante was true. One could keep that kind of secret for any number of reasons, and not all of them were in keeping with the Vigilante’s own stated goals, even.

But it was not her place to speak here, and so she did not. Her fate was decided beside that of His Highness—if his father ever decided that his indiscretions were too much, she would die defending him. If he ever ascended the throne, she would guard him from behind it and to the right, as the king was guarded now. Whatever came in between would come to the both of them at once, as well. She accepted that her end was not hers to choose, but his, whether he fully realized that or not. The people who got to make their own choices did not often recognize that others were not so burdened, after all.


Haruki's smile only inched wider, and Xeno raised an eyebrow at him. He was aware of what his master was thinking, and the wolf sighed. "It really is a wonder how you have not been caught before now, Haruki." Even as the wolf spoke, the man sitting across from the Prince was changing. Turqoise hair became as black as the sky they walked under, and the gemstones emblazoned on his cheek vanished. Only his eyes remained the same.

Haruki leaned his head in his hand with an almost bored expression. "And your reaction if I told you I am the Vigilante? Though I prefer to be called Einar. Congratulations, the two of you are the first to actually know just who I am. I suppose the question is now, what do you plan to do with the information?"

His eyes flickered to the side to the direction of Mika. "You can draw all the steel you want to, my dear, but slaying me will do little good. I'm not so stupid that I would come here as myself. Cloning is simply just another tool at my disposal. I honestly cannot tell you when the last time my actual self attended a meeting or Court function." He smiled wryly, his gaze returning to Kiyoshi. "Besides, what on earth would I possibly gain by harming the Prince? He is not my target, he never has been."

Xeno shook himself slightly. "You could have at least warned them, idiot. Clone or not, that wasn't very smart."


In point of fact, Mika had drawn steel the moment he started changing, unaware of what was going on, her lips pursed in displeasure. Even when he spoke, she made her point most eloquently by throwing the dagger she’d withdrawn from her sleeve, catching half an inch of raven colored hair and nothing else before it thunked into the opposite wall. Her eyes changed colors so that they were bright and luminous, and she could see that his claim about his own unreality, his cloning was true, now that she knew what to look for. “That fact is irrelevant,” she said simply. “It is not death specifically that I desire. This clone is the thing that could pose a threat to His Highness, as such, it is my immediate concern. Well… it and the familiar, but he at least seems to possess the unfortunately-rare trait of common sense.”

Her eyes narrowed, but whatever she saw by glancing down the lines of possible future seemed to appease her, because her posture eased slightly. “Lucky you,” she said dryly, referring to the fact that he’d not attended a Court function in person for that long. They had to go to all of them as themselves.

Frankly, she trusted him no more now that he revealed himself than she had before… well, perhaps a little more. They could ruin him if they spoke of what they had seen. She was rather surprised he trusted them that much, but then… trusting His Highness was not so hard. She was generally beneath notice, and even were she not, it was obvious enough that her loyalty was only to the Prince, not the King. It was about as safe as such a bet could become. His argument regarding his gains, however, she dismissed. There were plenty of reasons to harm the Prince—she would know that better even than His Highness himself, because she had to be prepared for all of them.

Still, now that the potential threat was not an actual one, she took a step backwards and resumed her post at the heir’s shoulder, or rather somewhat behind and to the right of it.


Well, that was certainly unexpected. Kiyoshi had not anticipated Haruki's movement, and was left in awe to stare at the transformation in front of him. His hands retreated to his lap, watching as Haruki's sea foam colored hair took on an inky appearance. The jewels upon his face disappeared, and his eyes remained the same. He blinked slowly at Mika, who had thrown a dagger towards the other male, causing Kiyoshi to frown lightly. He couldn't blame her, really. Haruki had just transformed in front of them, claiming to be the vigilante. She had every right to be defensive about it, however; there was no need for the dagger. He remained quiet, listening to the banter between Mika and Haruki until it quieted down.

"Trust is a rare thing these days," he finally spoke, releasing a deep breath as he leaned back in his chair. "Though curiously, all the same, I do not blame you for not attending the meetings yourself. They can be a little, boring," Kiyoshi continued as he glanced up at the ceiling. It was odd that Haruki would reveal himself as the Vigilante, however; who was to say that he wasn't? A nifty trick to change his hair and appearance, but who was to say that he was truly the Vigilante? Regardless, Kiyoshi was going to stand behind his words. "Then tell me, Einar, how can the prince be of service to you?"


Einar only smiled before shifting back to his original appearance. "For now, Kiyoshi, I'm simply going to ask you to keep this between us, for reasons I'm sure you can understand. If something comes up, however...you can always contact me. Just leave me a note, and I'll find it. I have no preferences to those that I help; you need only ask."

He stood up then, smiling at the two of them before dropping his head slightly. "Your Highness. I wish you a good day." He and Xeno left then, a small smile on his face. This was getting so very interesting.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aurelia Rodanthe

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#, as written by Asilian
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While she hadn’t really thought she would ever need to follow Lord Blake’s advice, it was perhaps not more than two weeks after she’d received it that she was on her way to see Miss Rhi, turning down one of the many empty corridors in this part of the Castle-City, basket looped over one arm and a quiet tune humming away just beneath her breath. She inhaled, and the song died in her throat. She smelled death, and she knew what that meant. But what on earth was the creature doing here? The only person she knew of that lived even remotely close to here was—oh no.

She couldn’t let him anywhere near Miss Rhi. Aurelia had no idea why, and honestly, she’d never bothered to ask, but her friend was obviously in hiding for some reason, and that meant she couldn’t be found. So, unfortunately, she wasn’t exactly able to follow Haruki’s advice to the letter, because turning away from the smell would mean getting closer to Miss Rhi, and if she could smell Thanatos, he could definitely smell her. Not everyone smelled like honey and roses, but she’d been told she did, and strongly at that. There was no way she’d gone unnoticed. But she could pretend he had, and switch her destination to nowhere important at all.

Her best option was a third one—neither directly toward nor directly away from the smell, and so without even once breaking stride, she turned down a random hallway. She was lucky she knew the place so well, it turned out. Perhaps all her childhood meanderings hadn’t been for naught. She even picked the tune back up, because if nothing else, it would calm her nerves a little and make it seem more like nothing had changed.

She couldn’t help but wonder what she’d managed to get herself into this time.


Thanatos had been stalking the farther reaches of the abandoned western reaches of the Castle-City, sniffing out lurkers, as it were. He'd begun to pick up a faint trace of a scent that somehow seemed almost familiar to him in some way when something else caught his attention. He smelled her before he heard her, but both the scent of roses and honey along with the tune she was humming reached him, and if the skeletal creature could smile, he would have. As it were, bones did not move in such ways.

Aurelia Rodanthe would make more interesting prey than whatever rat he'd been trailing, so instead, he decided to follow the human instead. His paws made a distinctive clicking sound as he moved, his bones rattling. He ducked down a side passage, and circled around her, his skeletal form sliding through the shadows, his large, pink tongue -the only muscle still left on his body, actually- rolling out between rows of jagged and broken fanged teeth.

"So what is the little flower-girl doing way out here? Shouldn't you be off with your little human friends?" his voice was harsh and grating to the ears, and the eyeless sockets that stared at her, black holes with nothing in them, were unnerving. "You should know better than to be wandering where you don't belong. You just might get hurt." While no threat was spoken, the implication was more than obvious as he continued to close in on her, all the while circling her, like a wolf around a wounded animal.


For a moment, she entertained the thought of screaming bloody murder. Perhaps anyone that came would have chased away the creature before they realized it was a useless human they were saving. The thought was immediately discarded, however—these passages were abandoned. The only person who could possibly hear her would be Miss Rhi, and contact between those two was exactly what she was trying to avoid. So… she’d have to talk her way out of this somehow, because she knew not the first thing about fighting, really, beyond the fact that Thanatos was obviously going to be better at it than her.

So she schooled her expression into the same slightly-disdainful neutrality she usually wore in the presence of people she didn’t like, continuing to turn in slow circles so as to not present him with her back at any point. Between the basket, the houndlike creature and the predatory stance he was assuming, she was reminded of a very, very old fable she’d read once. Though Miss Rhi was assuredly not anyone’s grandmother, of that she was certain.

Lia had never favored relying heavily on the fear of her warden to get her out of things, but this was no political predicament, and it had nothing to do with the risks she voluntarily assumed as Einar’s partner, either, and so if it was ever justified to hide behind Vasil, now was the time. “I might,” she admitted, her voice steady, her demeanor wary but not afraid. “And the person or people responsible for any harm I came to might have to deal with Vasilios Nero if I did. I’m sure you know what happened to the last person who made the attempt.” She hadn’t seen it—for whatever reason, he’d forbidden her to come to the duel, and he so infrequently made demands of her that she had accepted that one readily enough. The stories were frightening enough, besides.


Something sounding like nails on a chalkboard sounded through the air, and it was the sound of Thanatos's laughter. He did not pause in his circling, but continued to go round, amused as she followed him. This one was smart, and did not let fear paralyze her. She would be fun to take down. "You think hiding behind name will save you? Nero is not here now...I care not what happens after this moment, girl."

He was so absorbed in her that he did not catch the other scent entering the premises. But Aurelia could see him, the white-furred wolf with blazing yellow eyes slinking out of the darkness. She was facing him; Thanatos was not. Xeno didn't even bother to say anything, he simply slammed bodily into the skeletal beast. Thanatos snarled as he rolled, quickly regaining his feet as Xeno placed himself between him and Aurelia.

"Perhaps he isn't, but I am. Now begone, you cretin." Thanatos growled at that, and against his better judgement, he charged, the two familiars clashing when they met. It was brutal and quick, and in the end, Thanatos was indeed, slinking away. Xeno watched him leave, the fur on his shoulders bristling. A trickle of blood ran down the side of his snout, but other than that, he was unharmed. He shifted his stance to a less aggressive one as he turned to Aurelia. "Are you alright, Little One?"


“Xeno,” she breathed, relieved. Of course, then she spotted the crimson stain on the side of his muzzle and immediately dropped to her knees, digging in a pocket for a clan handkerchief, which she dabbed on the wound. “I’m fine,” she said quietly, bracing her other hand on his ruff as she gently cleaned off the blood near his nose. The wound was still bleeding though, and she frowned for a moment.

“This… might seem a little weird, but bear with me, please.” Leaning a bit closer, she breathed on the injury, just a gentle gust of warm air. The effect, however, was immediate, and the small wound closed, allowing her to daub away the rest of the blood without worrying about it. She was cautioned against making that little trick known to anyone, lest they wonder what else she could do—and there was quite a bit—but Xeno had quite possibly just saved her life, so she figured he kind of deserved the help. She certainly wasn’t going to let him bleed for it when she could stop the pain, however slight he might find it.

As soon as the injury was healed and cleaned, she folded the handkerchief over and tucked it back in the pocket, then wrapped both arms around the wolf’s neck and hugged. She hadn’t been, before, but as realization settled in, she started shaking. It had been a very close call, in the end, and if he hadn’t happened to be here… she didn’t want to think about it. “Thank you,” she murmured, muffled a bit by his fur. “Thank you so much.”


At first, Xeno cocked his head to the side, slightly surprised when she began to try and clear his wound; it was hardly of any consequence to him, but he allowed her to do as she pleased. He was very surprised, however, when she closed the wound with her breath. Now that was interesting. The last he checked, she was a human, and humans could not do such things. He refrained from mentioning it, however. He could feel her shaking against him.

He was not all that surprised, Thanatos was not a pleasant being. "No thanks is necessary, I'm just glad that you are alright. It seems I was in the right place at the right time. What were you doing out here, Lia?"


Lia loosened her hold with an air of reluctance, sitting back on her legs and glancing over at the basket. “I have… a friend. She lives out here, you see. Nobody can visit her but me, so I try to come a couple of times a week, just to spend time with her, make sure she’s okay, that kind of thing. She’s… actually back the other way a bit but… I didn’t want him to know that.” She was worried he might come sniffing back around here anyway, though. Maybe she should tell Miss Rhi to be careful, just in case. She also needed to ask if the woman wanted to meet Haruka, should the latter decide it was something she wanted as well. Lia thought they’d get along well—there were certain similarities in their personalities that would mesh well, perhaps.

She trailed a hand absently from his head to the spot underneath his ear as she contemplated it, scratching there for a bit. “I probably shouldn’t have even told you that, to be honest. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to keep it between us, would you?”


The wolf had listened as she spoke, and he cocked his head slightly. It was not surprising, to hear of someone living alone this far out, honestly. He himself gave it little thought, but it did not bode well for the girl. Thanatos was ever a creature of torture, and he was sure to come sniffing around, especially if Aurelia was going to continue to visit, and he was certain she would.

His eyes slipped half-way closed as she scratched beneath his ear, but they opened again when she spoke. He smiled quite wolfishly at her before speaking. "I will not breathe a word, however, I shall only not do so on one condition. You will allow me to escort you to and from this person. I do not have to meet her, nor will I ask. But you should not go alone. Not with Thanatos stalking around, and I am sure he will try again."


Her smile was relieved, and she nodded. “You have yourself a deal, Xeno,” she said simply, then rose to her feet, taking the basket with her. “Let me show you the way.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rikichi Sakuragi Character Portrait: Rivka Atol

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Rikichi had ended his practice session with Mika a little early that morning, as he tended to do exactly once a year, always on the same date. She knew to what this date corresponded, and understood well enough that it may require a bit more preparation than a typical day. On her charge’s anniversary of birth, after all, he was often accosted with gifts and less-than-subtle reminders of his unmarried status. It was a headache. She took it that the Queen was not overmuch harassed, but there could be a dozen other necessary accommodations to be made.

She didn’t question it, and for that he was grateful. Rikichi didn’t know if he would explain things to Mika, if she ever asked him, but he didn’t really want to know, either. Secrets were best kept between as few people as possible, and he did not want to burden her with his treason. Because it was not to prepare for extra guard duty that Rikichi always took his leave early on this day, Rivka’s birthday—it was because the only person to offer her gifts, aside of course from her son, had been doing so for five hundred years, anonymously but faithfully. He used the extra hour to select flowers from a wide range of gardens, including his own, Nero’s, and the public ones, bundle them, and sneak them into a vase in her sitting room.

It was never a problem to get past the day guard and do it, either, which was both a relief and an alarming disappointment. Still, there were few people who could do it, and he knew the majority of them personally. The centerpiece of the floral arrangement was always a single rose, in exactly the shade of her hair, but the rest varied from year to year. He sighed slightly as he deposited them in the vase, filled already with water, moving a callused thumb over a lily petal and shaking his head at his own foolishness. He was lucky it was his job to inspect everything the Queen was given, else perhaps the fact that they smelled faintly of him would be problematic. Then again, the entire room smelled faintly of him, because he was always in it. That alone deflected suspicion. Nevertheless he was being a sentimental fool and taking a needless risk. He knew that. But it was the five-hundred-and-fourteenth time he’d taken this risk, and it took far fewer than that to make a habit.

Sneaking back out, Rikichi made it back to his own estate, dressed in uniform, and headed back out, this time along the more public route to the Royal Quarter, the same as he did every evening. To all observing eyes, absolutely nothing was different about this day than any other, and that was the way he intended for it to appear. He relieved the day guard, who saluted him and departed, before stepping into the sitting room, inspecting the flowers, and finally knocking on Rivka’s door. “My Queen,” he said, identifying himself for the sake of security, though she would know it was him. It always was, and besides that, there were precious few minds closed to her, and his was one of them. This amused the King, who liked to think that if Rikichi were ever ordered to act in a way she did not like, she would not know until it was too late.

Rikichi allowed the King to keep his delusions.


After five hundred and fourteen years, Rivka probably should not have been surprised to find a fresh vase of flowers in her sitting room, centered around a single rose. But then, had it not been for those flowers, she probably would not have even remembered that the day was her birthday, either. The day of her birth had never been one for much celebration, even before she'd become Queen. Her mother had been the only one to acknowledge it before, and after she had died, no one had. Except, she'd always received a fire lily. Even now, she still did. There was one waiting for her on her balcony.

There was never any note, nor a name, nothing. She couldn't even pick up a scent from it. She picked it up with a slight smile, setting in on her bedside table. She'd gotten one of those for almost six hundred years now. The vase of flowers had only begun since she'd married the king. At first, she'd thought it had been Hajime, though that idea had quickly been banished. The man was not one to do such a thing, even for appearance's sake. She supposed that there were a great many suitors, however unwise they may be, and surely someone knew of her birthday...she sighed slightly, shaking her head. There was no sense in musing over it.

She was smiling as she emerged from her bedroom. She delicately traced the outline of the bouquet, a soft, fond smile on her face as she did so. "Good Evening, Captian." She sat down before continuing. This was perhaps the one day that she had little to actually do, yet there were still some matters of importance to attend to, just simply not as many. "You trained her well." she said simply, knowing that he would know exactly to whom she was referring.


It was perhaps not improper at all for him to prepare her tea, however, and so while usually a servant took care of that, and her breakfast besides, Rikichi always did both on this particular day. He never said why, but he suspected she knew. He was far too observant to have been at her side this long and not figured out what day it was, and perhaps a bit too decent not to find some small way to acknowledge it. So he chose to give her privacy for a bit longer than she usually had it. He couldn’t remove himself from the vicinity, but he could at least keep everything else at bay for a bit longer.

The comment came as he was setting down a small tray of delicate pastries. Having no need to eat, vampires tended to prefer small things in abundant flavor over large quantities of anything. He considered his response as he poured the tea and took his seat, as per the usual bargain regarding such things. “I have done what a father and a mentor may, but Mika’s merit is her own,” he said quietly, his eyes softening as he thought of his daughter. “But I should think that to be something My Queen understands very well, given His Highness’s abundant honor.” It certainly wasn’t from Hajime that Kiyoshi had gained his gentleness and good nature, but it could not all be laid at his mother’s feet, either. At a certain point, a child had to decide for themselves what they wanted, what they valued and cared about. And they made their lives for themselves not alone, perhaps, but of their own will and their own ability.

The Captain leaned his bokken up against the chair he sat in, though his flute remained in the leather loop at his belt, being shorter and unlikely to harm the furniture. “Your obligations are rather few today,” he told her as a matter of routine, folding his hands beneath his chest and leaning back slightly. “There is a meeting of the Council at midnight, should you desire to sit in, but other than that, there are some administrative matters to take care of at any time today, and one short visitation with His Highness, scheduled for three.” That would simply be the two of them talking and Kiyoshi presenting his mother with whatever gift he’d deemed appropriate, of course.

Beyond that, she was free to do as she liked. Or at least, as free as anyone ever got in this city.


Rivka smiled softly. Perhaps she did, though while Kiyoshi had become an honorable man, she was not so sure that she could equate herself with being a good mother. But perhaps all parents felt inadequate at times. She sighed delicately through her nose. Just once she would like to go one day without having any political affairs to attend to. It was simply something she had to put up with, nonetheless. She was looking forward to seeing her son, if only because of the fact that she rarely got to see him besides.

Her eyes were currently a deep shade of lavender, a sure sign that she was happy. She found her mind wandering; in truth, she had little, if any, desire to attend the Council meeting. Natara regarded Rikichi with bright silver eyes for a few seconds before returning her gaze to her master. "My Lady has been neglectful of late." Rivka smiled at her familiar. "I have, indeed, Natara. You shall help me remedy that. But first, I do believe we have a Lord to appease."

Thanks to the Vigilante's latest scheme, many of the King's prisoners had been set free, and rounding them up was rather slow. While most of them, if not all, were innocent, that did not stop the nobles from raising fusses and false accusations. "Captain, what is the status on the relocation of the escapees?" She would not name them criminals or prisoners.


That was a delicate question. Truth be told, Rikichi was only devoting exactly the minimum number of resources he could to the effort without looking suspicious. It was still a lot, but his strategy was also intentionally flawed, though outwardly he was certain it looked quite sound. He was having his Guardsmen check in with those people’s former family members and known associates, as well as ordering extra patrols on the less-savory parts of the city and the known abandoned passages. Aurelia, he knew for a fact, was much more familiar with the backways and deserted portions of the massive Castle-City than any of his guards, perhaps more than anyone else at all. She would not have picked a place anyone was going to look. Anywhere he was going to look. It was a small, invisible gesture of his support, but it was all the Captain of the Guard could give.

Not for the first time, though for different reasons than usual, he considered himself fortunate that his mind could not be read. His face did not change when he replied—he would not deceive her by allowing himself to appear frustrated when he was not, but he couldn’t afford to make his complacence in this matter entirely clear, either. She was still the Queen, and she took her duty seriously.

“We have not captured any, My Queen. The Guard continues to question anyone who may give a lead as to where they went to ground, but the Vigilante has been most thorough in hiding them, and I fear the City is simply too big to search from top to bottom, especially when His Majesty requires the continued implementation of curfew patrols.” There simply were not enough Guards for that, and perhaps at some point, the King would have to choose between enforcement of his martial law and the tracking of the disappeared prisoners. This was cleverly-planned, because giving up on either of those things would expose a weakness in Hajime’s authority, and trying to do both at once might just be the worst option of all. It put Rikichi himself in a delicate position, but nothing he had said to her was untrue. This was a situation in which the King simply could not have everything he wanted, and the Captain was playing it as much to his advantage as possible, without the faintest hint that he was playing anything at all.


This time Rivka did sigh, though it was not because she found Rikichi lacking; far from it, actually. "Lord Adworth will not be pleased. One can only wonder what means of compensation he'll ask for this time." she murmured. The man was honestly a snake, and liked to writhe and squirm and grasp at as many lavish promises as he could get away with; the fact that it was his granddaughters who were being proposed as candidates for Kiyoshi's bride had only swelled his ego.

She stood up then, glancing once more at the vase of flowers. For the fifth-hundred and fourteenth time, she promised herself that she would find out who sent them, and thank them. "I shall deal with him first. I would rather not wade through the mire later on in the night." She had made her way to the door before she paused once more, turning back to look at Rikichi, who had stood up. "And Rikichi," she smiled at him. "Thank you."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rikichi Sakuragi Character Portrait: Haruki Blake Character Portrait: Rivka Atol

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#, as written by Asilian
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"I'm afraid neither of the women are the most...pleasurable of company, Your Majesty." Haruki glanced at the queen over the rim of his teacup, smiling slightly when she scowled. He knew that look, and it was not because of what he'd told her. He could almost quote her next sentence.

"Haruki, stop calling me that."

He chuckled lightly. "Not many people approve of that, you know, Rivka."

Rivka's lips curled up into a slight smile. "And when have you known me to care about such matters?"

"True. But as to the matter at hand...it will not be a good situation. I'm still digging, but...something just seems off. But then, it's the King. Something is always off. I'll let you know when I have something more substantial."

The Queen nodded. The matter of finding her son a bride was still not sitting well with her. It went against her very nature to do what she'd done but...this was her son. There was also another matter she wished to speak to Haruki about. "I thank you for that. One other thing, though. How much do you know about the Vigilante? That man is causing problems, and it is not something I appreciate."

Haruki set the cup down, not at all surprised to hear the question. He looked thoughtful before speaking, choosing his words carefully. "Honestly? Very little, I'm afraid. I can confirm that he is at least, a vampire." While that had always been assumed, it had never actually been confirmed. "I can hazard a few guesses, and that is he is either incredibly smart and crafty, or incredibly lucky. As I am not one to believe in luck, then I will go with my other conclusion."

"I want to speak with him." That caused Haruki's eyebrows to raise. That...was entirely unexpected. "And what do you wish to speak with him about, Rivka? Why...you do realize what would happen if anyone found out about that?"

Her eyes narrowed at her friend. "I do, and that is why no one will find out. You know the girl who is the Vigilante's contact. You can set this up for me, and you're the only one who can with the necessary amount of discretion."

Haruki sighed through his nose, looking as if he wanted to object. Truth be told, he really did want to object. There were very few people he actually cared about, and Rivka was one of those few. But...maybe he could still make this work. It simply had to be very delicately handled. "Is that an order, Your Grace?"

"Yes, Lord Blake."

Haruki closed his eyes for a second, standing up. He bowed slightly, murmuring, "Of course, Your Grace." When he straightened, his eyes met hers. "I hope you know what you're doing, Rivka. Please, be careful." He didn't give her a chance to respond before he left. Rivka sighed, wondering if she did know what she was doing. She wasn't so sure anymore.


Rikichi was not well-pleased by this development, and not for the reasons his employer would have expected of him. The Queen was committing blatant treason, and Lord Blake was in on it. He was quite lucky he was truesighted, otherwise he would have thought both of them even more foolish than they were currently being. It was not precisely his place to speak, but considering what he’d just heard, she wasn’t giving him a choice. Waiting until Lord Blake was well out of earshot, he cleared away the remainders of the man’s tea, setting them on a tray for a servant to take away later. None were around now, as well they shouldn’t be. The Queen did not as a rule like her meetings with friends interrupted, and Lord Blake had been a friend for a long time, even if that wasn’t the word he’d use for it. Occasionally, distance allowed for the clearest vision. It was certainly the principle Nero operated on.

And it was giving him some perspective on this as well. “An interesting thing to say, in front of an agent of the Crown,” he said, his voice betraying nothing. Had she not the faintest idea of the position she was putting him in? Either he committed treason himself by remaining silent, or he reported her, and condemned the woman he loved to death. The king had executed people for less, even people of status. Even people he was supposed to care for, if not love.

Rikichi had given her no reason to think that he was anything other than loyal to the King, not in five hundred years. He supposed she could easily believe that he was loyal to her as well, and that was fair enough. As a guard, he should be. But even so, there was no basis for believing that he would not report this. He should report it. It was precisely his job to thwart all such efforts against the Crown. Unfortunately, the crown in question as not the one on her head, either. So why on earth had she decided to do this with him standing right there? He finished organizing the china and then turned to face her, a slight tilt to an eyebrow inviting explanation. He wasn’t going to say anymore than he needed to.


"You are free to report this if you must. I would be slightly surprised if you didn't, Captain." Haruki had gotten the subtle indication. Now it was Rikichi's turn. She did not seem inclined to offer any other explanation, if for no other reason than she didn't want to involve him any further. The Vigilante was not her target, at all. She was actually impressed with the man and what he had accomplished. It was her father she was after, and any mention of the Vigilante would have him running.

She really hadn't the faintest idea. Not how much anguish this was causing him, not how badly he wanted to grab her by the shoulders and make her understand just how terrible this idea was. Of course, if it came right down to it and he ever grew so bold, there was something else he’d rather make her understand, and anger had nothing to do with it. But he wasn’t that kind of man, thankfully, for such impulsiveness as belonged to his human self would have killed this new identity long ago. Maybe she was killing him all the same. Shaking his head faintly, Rikichi sighed just softly, folding his arms over his chest. It was not in the same way, but perhaps he would still be surprising her today, after all.

“My duty is to preserve your life, not ensure that it is taken.” He’d be doing the latter if he did report her, and that was simply the ugly truth of it. He paused for a moment, tilting his head to one side and regarding his charge with something unreadable in his eyes. It wasn’t the nothing that was usually there, but it was indistinct, impossible to place. It could have been nothing, but it wasn’t. Thankfully, that much was his alone to know. “I hope you understand that I will be going with you, My Queen.” There was exactly zero chance he was going to let her meet with the Vigilante by herself. Not because he assumed the man would mean her harm—because he had learned to assume nothing—but because with him there, her risk of discovery drastically dropped, and the possible cover stories grew in both number and plausibility, as well as credibility. Those were protections he was unwilling to allow her to go without.


"Of course, Captain."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Haruka Tsuji Character Portrait: Rikichi Sakuragi

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#, as written by Mihael
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It had been a few weeks since Haruka last saw Rikichi and Mika. In all honesty, she missed them. They were the closest thing she had to an actual family, Kiyoshi aside. It was Rikichi who had practically raised her, and it was Rikichi who had taught her what she knows today. If he had not taught her, she would probably have been killed one way or another. Perhaps it was that feeling that had led her to leave Nero's residence, and travel back towards the city where Rikichi took residence. It would only be for a few hours, and if she was careful enough, she could avoid being detected by her father. How she detested the man. He could choke on the blood he drank for all she cared. Actually, it was preferred if he did. Then she, nor anyone else, would have to deal with him.

The road to Rikichi's home was long, tiring, and boring. People, humans mainly, were out and about, ushering their children to the safe havens of their homes and were trying to close their shops as quickly as they could. Why would they ever want to stay out past sundown? It was when they came out, like monsters from the horror stories that were sung in the taverns. She would know, she was one of those monsters. Her eyes hardened, barely, as she continued walking through the streets. The different scents of people filled her nostrils, allowing them to flare slightly as she pulled her lips back in a frown. There were so many scents, many of them almost identical to the last, however; there were a few distinctive ones. She ignored them as she arrived at her destination.

She rapped her knuckles against the door before pushing it open. Head of the guard, and he left his doors unlocked. She shook her head faintly, a small smile pulling at her lips as she inspected the home. It had not changed much since the last time she'd seen it. It was still plain, but not so that one would mistake it for a commoner's home. Rikichi, from what she could tell, was not one to lavish his home with things like most of the upper Nobles had, and like her father had. He was a simple man, but who had the right head on his shoulders. She'd respect him for that, always. Her eyes drifted upwards, and the smile turned fully into one as she spotted Rikichi.

"Rikichi," she greeted, bowing lightly before straightening her posture back out. "It has been a while," she continued. She had all the intention of visiting the man, and perhaps getting a bit of training in as well. Mika was a formidable opponent, however; it was Rikichi who taught them both, and the student could still learn much from the teacher.

There was little point in locking one’s door when one was Captain of the Guard. Everyone who would be stopped by the lock would be stopped by his reputation first, and anyone stupid enough to break and enter his home probably at least knew how to get past a lock, so there was really no reason to have one. There wasn’t honestly a lot to steal in his home, either, as he kept it rather spartan. He and Mika preferred things that way, regardless of what was fashionable in Court. He had no need to cater to the expectations of anyone there—his position was kept based on his loyalty and his strength, not how well he could play nice with nobility. Fortunate for him, since despite his manners, he did not enjoy slogging through the bullshit of politics.

His truesight alerted him to her presence long before anything else, including the knock, and Rikichi was already putting away his sketchbook when she entered his modest study. He certainly did not have Nero’s collection of books, though there were quite a few, some of them rare and many by human authors he remembered enjoying as a different man, a long time ago now. He smiled when the young woman—so young, they both seemed so young to him, his daughters—entered, returning the polite gesture with one of his own.

“Haruka,” he said, pleased to see her. It had been a while since her last visit, which was understandable given her new circumstances. He also hadn’t been by to see Nero and Lia in a while, something he really should rectify as soon as he could. He enjoyed their company, and Nero was the only person in the world with whom he could speak completely freely. There were things even Mika and Haruka could not know, after all. “So it has. It’s good to see you. How have you been?” He gestured invitingly for her to take a seat, and resumed his own. Neither of them were particularly talkative in general, nor was Mika, but they certainly spoke more around each other than basically anyone else.

"Nothing has changed," was her quick reply as she took a seat. "Things are still a bit...different than what I am used to, but then again I suppose it is to be expected. Nero's household is quite odd. I find it strange that he holds that much power and yet, he does nothing and cares very little to what the people in his care do. I suppose one such as he has no reason to," she answered his question, leaning back into the chair as her posture declined. She still was not used to going about her own business at Nero's. She was used to being watched carefully, making sure she did not fuck up for the sake of the King. Not that she cared, the world could know about his bastard child, and they still would not believe her to be his child.

She looked nothing like him, to begin with, save for the eyes. But then again, there were plenty of people who shared the sapphire color, and if anything, it was Kiyoshi who inherited their father's silver-esque eyes. "What of you, how have you fared? Mika is as she ever was, complaining about Yoshi," she continued, allowing a small smirk to cover her features before it disappeared. She wondered briefly, if he had taken her advice, and stopped pestering the dhampir woman. It would prove to be beneficial for both of them, or at least for Mika's sake. It would end the pestering and she'd be able to finally breathe. It wasn't a pleasant thing, being smothered and suffocated.

A strange smile settled on Rikichi’s face as he listened to her talk, observing her posture, her occasional gesture, the way she pronounced her words in that tone of hers. At the mention of Mika, he shook his head a little. His daughter was very pragmatic, where perhaps Kiyoshi was a little more idealistic. They were bound to have personality clashes from time to time. “I do hope she doesn’t complain too much, but it’s only natural, with the way they work as a unit,” he said, raising a brow. And they were a unit, because that was the most effective way to be a guard for someone—to know them in some ways better than they knew themselves, and to be known. There were few secrets he kept from Rivka, either.

Few, but mighty.

“As for Nero, I think that in some sense you are correct, but… I think you’d be mistaken to assert that he does nothing. His decisive actions are not many, that is true, but it isn’t because he lacks the ability to decide. It’s more like every time he does make a decision, it… changes the world a little bit.” He hadn’t understood his employer’s neutrality either, at first. How could someone with the ability to save the world, to stop all the injustice, refuse to do that? The answer had been surprisingly simple, once he’d figured it out.

“But you’re right; it is odd. I’ve never quite understood why he chose to allow the King to do what he did…” Rikichi, usually so careful with his words, realized then that he might have said something he should not, though he couldn’t be sure. Pursing his lips, he fell silent. In some way, he was rather hoping there might be someone to speak with about this, someone else who knew what Nero was really capable of, the nature of the choice he would be making, because the revelation was disturbing. But if she didn’t already understand, he probably shouldn’t have brought it up, not even peripherally.

"Mika does not complain about Kiyoshi, really. Though my brother does need to stop smothering her about the whole idea of friendship. Mika is obviously uncomfortable with it," she stated, chuckling lightly at Rikichi's response, but he was right. Mika and Kiyoshi were a unit, and if anything, Mika was an exceptional guard, just like her father is, and perhaps in due time, she'll consider Kiyoshi's request. Haruka was not going to hold her breath, though, for that moment. It would be a long while, perhaps a few centuries, if that's what it took. It was Haruka's turn to raise a brow. Nero's decisions changed the world a little? That sounded odd, and how was that even possible? The man had power, that was obvious, but just exactly what kind of power he had, had always remained somewhat of a mystery.

"Nero chose to allow my father to do what he did? How can anyone allow the man to do what he did? Are you saying that Nero had the power to stop Hajime, and chose not to? Are you saying that he is stronger than my father?" she questioned, her tone remaining low and neutral. She wasn't angry, more-so, she was curious. How was it that Nero had the ability to stop Hajime, and choose not to? She leaned to the side a bit, her hand resting against her cheek as she propped her elbow against the arm of the chair. This was a rather interesting revelation, perhaps she should have a word with Nero, however; in the mean time, she wanted to know more about what her father had to say about it.

"You do not have to tell me anything, Rikichi, but it would be a little insightful to know a bit about the man whose care I am under," she stated, locking eyes with the man who raised her. He had no obligation to tell her anything really, and she wouldn't hold it against him. There were other sources she could go to if need be, and if it put Rikichi on the line if he spoke to her, then she had no desire to have that. Rikichi is the closest thing she has to an actual father, and she has no desire to see that end. Their relationship was more important to her than some insight as to what Nero was truly capable of.

Rikichi did wonder if he might be crossing a line, but something she’d said hit him a bit hard, and he knew she was right about it. She did deserve to understand as much as possible about her situation, but there were things he simply wasn't allowed to say. Still, if he could point her in the right direction, well… Haruka was smarter than she let on most of the time; she would probably be able to figure it out, especially since Nero didn’t keep it secret as such. He just made it hard for the feebleminded or the easily-dissuaded to figure out. Haruka was neither of those things, not by a long shot. Sighing through his nose, Rikichi leaned forwards slightly, bracing both arms on his desk and meeting Haruka’s eyes.

“I’m definitely saying he’s stronger than Hajime,” he said without the faintest hint of reservation or doubt. “But that doesn’t mean he can kill him simply because he wants to. Frankly, I’m not sure he does. Nero… he doesn’t care about things the way other people do. I wasn’t sure he was even capable of it, until Lia happened.” He paused, contemplating what he could say. “You have nothing to fear from him, assuming you don’t intentionally provoke him. Nero operates in contract structures; he prefers to act only within the confines of a deal from which he is also benefiting, and he doesn’t tend to refuse such bargains to anyone who knows the right offer to make. But… there aren’t many who would be willing to pay so steep a price as what he demands. The King… was. And the terms of that contract stipulate that Nero doesn't kill him, among other things. I’m sorry; I can’t say more than that.” He smiled ruefully. “Hajime isn’t the only one who made a deal with him, after all.”

That really was all he could say though, so with a resigned sort of humming noise in the back of his throat, he stood. “So… still willing to get the snot beaten out of you by your teacher, brat?” The question was asked with a light hint of playfulness; when he’d first met her, Haruka was… a handful, to say the least, and Rikichi was not one to sugar-coat things if he could avoid doing so, and so he’d called her as he saw her. It persisted on occasion, but with affection rather than exasperation, now.

Deals? Odd, she never thought a vampire could make such things, but then again, there was a lot that she didn't know. His contract with Hajime, however, caused Haruka to raise a brow. Now that was interesting. Hajime obviously had things planned out to make a term such as that. But the price...what exactly was that? Perhaps it was for another time, as a smirk pulled against Haruka's face, and she too rose from her seat. It has been a while since she last sparred with Rikichi, and there was a light itch underneath her skin at the challenge. Brat? She scoffed lightly at his statement, rolling her shoulders and popping her knuckles.

"That depends, old man," she retorted, the smirk pulling further against her lips. Old, perhaps, but he could still wipe the floor with her, that much she was certain of.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Haruka Tsuji Character Portrait: Aurelia Rodanthe

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Haruka sat in the empty study, the only sound filling the room was the occasional turn of the page, or the light creak of the chair. Her spar with Rikichi, the one that happened about four days ago, had left more than just a mark upon her. It had sparked a curiosity within her, one that she wanted to get rid of because it involved him. There had to be more information on these deals that Nero made. If Hajime was not the only one, surely someone, somewhere, might have mentioned something about it, or perhaps mentioned something strange. Or perhaps there was more to it than what Rikichi had stated. She rolled out her shoulders, feeling the ache in her muscles still, even if her injuries had long healed. She turned another page, and sighed heavily through her nose.

"This is getting me nowhere," she stated, closing the book softly as she leaned back in her chair. She closed her eyes briefly, pinching the bridge of her nose as she released a slow breath. So far, she had found absolutely nothing regarding the deals Nero made, or any information on who these other people could be. She had originally planned on going to Nero himself and asking about them, but he might have taken it the wrong way and might have diverted her attention to something else. She had no intentions of being dissuaded, and she had no intentions of going to him unprepared. Plus, she wanted to know exactly what she'd be getting herself into if she did go straight to the man.

She stood from her spot, listening to the chair scrape against the floor before picking up the book. She placed it back on its spot on the shelf, and grabbed another one, taking a moment to glance out of the door before making her way back to the desk. "Perhaps, I am not looking at the right things," she mused quietly to herself. Maybe she wasn't reading the right materials, or perhaps she wasn't looking in the right direction. She let an irritated sigh escape her.

Lia had spent the majority of the evening in her room, trying to catch up on some sleep. Running around with Einar seemed to take a lot out of her. Since the prison break, she’d helped him with two break-ins and a supply run, her suggestion, to the outlying towns. They’d provided mostly coin, easy to hide and most versatile in procuring whatever was needed at the time. If they were smart with how they spent it, it would last a while, and nobody would ever know it had come from anywhere but their pitifully-paying jobs. It brought her satisfaction, the work, and she could see why Einar did it. But she wasn’t a vampire like him, and her human body could only take so much before she was dead-dog tired. So it was several hours after nightfall that she finally rolled out of bed, throwing her hair into a messy ponytail and sliding into a very casual dress. It wasn’t like she planned on going anywhere tonight. The Council was in recess, and there were no illegal shenanigans planned on her end for a good week. Apparently, Einar had something else to be doing, though he was as vague with the details as ever.

It was weird, but she trusted him, so she didn’t ask too many questions. Yawning, Aurelia padded down the hall, in search of breakfast, before stopping at the library when she heard someone moving around inside. She was pretty sure Nero said he’d be out all night, so that left only one person it could really be, barring a very weird intruder who liked to read. Still, if her month with the Vigilante had taught her anything, it was that even the strange possibilities were still possible, and therefore had to be accounted for.

Thankfully, she heard Haruka’s voice immediately thereafter, so she smiled and opened the door to the room, finding her neighbor engrossed in some books, surrounded by a rather impressive stack of them. She had an air of frustration about her, suggesting that she searched for something she had not found yet. Well, Lia had been reading in this library for years, so maybe she could help. “Well, what are you looking for?” she asked, leaning a shoulder against the doorway and crossing her arms loosely. She tilted her head to the side. “Maybe I can help.”

Haruka rose a brow when she heard Aurelia, glancing over towards Nero's ward. "Maybe," she stated as she picked herself back up, yawning before making space for Aurelia. "There has been some interesting information that came to light about your, ah, keeper," Haruka began explaining. It was rather interesting information, and knowing Aurelia, she might have more information on it, so perhaps she could point her in the right direction. She motioned for Aurelia to come and sit next to her, moving so that there was enough room for both of them to sit comfortably by the table.

"A friend of mine spoke of Nero and an ability of his, or rather, deals that he makes. I am uncertain exactly of what this means, however; it appears that my father has formed a contract with Nero, and I am curious as to what it entails. I can't seem to find anything on the matter, and that is my dilemma," she continued, sighing heavily as she leaned back into her chair. It really was starting to grate her nerves that she couldn't find anything about it. "And I'd rather wait and put off asking Nero directly about it."

Aurelia settled into the spot vacated by Haruka, listening intently as the other woman explained her problem. She wanted more information on Nero, and the deals he might have made? Lia supposed she was right to be curious; she’d entertained many of the same questions herself for a very long time. She thought about it for a little while, then decided it couldn’t hurt to share what she knew. Perhaps between them, they would be able to come to some of the answers that had eluded her alone since she’d been old enough to know the questions in the first place. “I don’t know of any bargain with the King,” she said slowly, “but I do know that Vasil’s interference does tend to… change things. I’m not exactly sure what happened when he saved my life or how he did it, but I know it… changed me. I’m still just a human being, but I can do things that other humans can’t. My blood has certain properties, for one—I can heal people, for instance.” Obviously, it wasn’t commonly known, because she didn’t need to give anyone else a reason to try dining on her.

“So at the very least, he can do something that gives people powers, I guess, though I don’t know if it’s always like mine or if it can be different. The King doesn’t seem like the kind of person who cares much about healing people.” she made a face, then pulled another one of the books towards herself, flipping through it, then setting it aside with a shake of her head.

“If you want my advice? Don’t just read his books. Look for the ones he’s written notes in. I’ve seen some of them—he’ll correct history books, for one, like… really ancient history. Not just before the apocalypse, but… way before, like ancient Egypt and such. I don’t know if he’s really that old or if he just knows a lot, but… we’re most likely to get clues from the things he says himself, not the things he reads.” If he really was that old, he may know more about some of these things than any author could ever hope to.

"That explains the chicken scratch," Haruka replied nonchalantly, turning another page in a book. Though, the chicken scratch was a bit more than that. It was neatly written, the notes, and legible for the most part. She had seen a few notes on the side of some of the books she read, however; she didn't pay them much mind. She thought they were just little side notes, things to come back to later on and read again, or something. Kiyoshi did that sometimes, but apparently she should have paid a little more attention to it. She rose a brow, however, at Aurelia's earlier statement. Human, but different? She turned her attention fully to Aurelia. There were certain aspects of blood, vampire blood, that could heal as well, but perhaps this was different.

"You're right about Hajime, he's not the type to heal others, but I can assure you, his blood does not contain the same properties. There are, perhaps, a few vampires who have healing blood, but for you, a human, to have such a thing," she paused, leaning forward so that her chin rested against her hands. "Perhaps you are right. If Nero is as old as you believe him to be, there might be something in all of his chicken scratch," she concluded, pulling back and grabbing another book. She opened it, turned a few pages to find notes here and there. Most of the ones she found were corrections it seemed, and she sighed softly to herself. The next book she grabbed proved rather un-eventful, as did the next.

"He didn't seem to give Hajime very many powers. It was also mentioned that there was a price to pay, to Nero. I do not know what it is either, but it must be a steep price to pay if one wants power. I wonder, what did my father give up to attain what he has now," she scoffed as she picked up another book. "Though I am curious as to what happened to you," she stated, glancing up from her book as she stared at Aurelia. "You said that Nero saved you, somehow, and you obtained a gift in the process."

Aurelia had chosen to spend her time going very carefully through a book on documented vampire bloodlines, apparently a subject in which Nero was clearly an expert. His notations seemed to follow the progress of various powers through different families, and occasionally a name was circled, with additional notes to the side about power mutations, or occasionally something like telepathy—usual bargain or side effect: pyrokinetic children—volatile. It was at once fascinating and a little scary. If what this seemed to imply was true, then Nero had made about a dozen of these bargains in history, and every time, they had significantly changed the fortunes of the family involved, sometimes for the better and sometimes worse. The family with the volatile pyrokinetic children had vanished from existence, after another generation. The book didn’t say why, but it wasn’t too hard to guess, all things considered.

Interestingly, one line started fairly late, and the first person in it was marked as atypical bargain: servitude—contractor of merit. The name beneath it was Sakuragi, Rikichi. “Look at this!” She told Haruka, pointing to the entry. “It looks like whatever he does, he made a bargain with Rikichi, and the price was servitude of some kind. It says atypical though… and there’s no way that’s what he asked the King for. Vasil isn’t always kind, but he’s not deliberately cruel like that, either.” There was just no way he was the one making the King do the horrible things he did. No way at all. The note about Rikichi was intriguing though; she’d seen them together before, and they did not act the way a master and a servant did—Nero professed disdain for keeping servants generally, even. So why have one? Was the normal price so bad that servitude was somehow a better alternative?

Haruka’s statements drew her out of her thoughts, and she smiled slightly, a bit of melancholy at the edges. “I never knew my parents,” she said softly. “Who they were or what they did, even where they came from. When Vasil found me, I was dying. I wasn’t more than three, maybe, and I’d been attacked. He could have left me there, but he didn’t.” She paused a moment, pursing her lips and lapsing into thought before she continued. “With me, there was no bargain. I’ve never had to give him anything—and he’s been very clear about that. He doesn’t seem to want me to feel obligated. It’s nice in one way, because I’ve always been free to do as I like, but… sometimes, I wish he was a little more… I wish he would show me that he cared what happened to me.” She snorted, shaking her head at herself.

“I know he does, but he’s not… he doesn’t express things well, I think. It must be harder for him to feel, than for other people. It makes him seem colder than he really is. I don't know why he makes these bargains or what he gets out of them, but… but I don’t think he’d be upset with you if you just asked. He might even tell you what your father got, and what he paid.” She hoped Haruka wasn’t thinking of trying to make one, or if she did, that she at least knew what she was doing. Vasil might not be cruel, but he was very clever, and had no issues using that capacity when he desired to.

Haruka glanced up from her book when Aurelia found something. Rikichi...made a deal? That explained how he knew about it, but his price was servitude? She didn't take Rikichi as a servant type, and from what she remembered, she didn't recall Nero ever having a need for servants. Perhaps their deal was a little different. She should ask him about that, thought it would be best to go to the source. She blinked slowly when Aurelia began describing parts of her childhood. From what she saw, and the way he responded when she first came to him, Nero did care a deal about Aurelia. He might have cared about what happened to her as well, however; she couldn't say for sure if he did. She sighed softly, leaning back in her chair as she regarded Aurelia.

"I am sure it affects him in some way. Some people are not very good at expressing themselves, but I do believe he does care, in some odd way, about what happened to you. It is why he protects you," she replied, shifting her gaze towards the door. Perhaps she would take Aurelia's advice though. She could go ask Nero herself, and now that she had enough info, or so she'd like to believe, it wouldn't be so awkward. "It would be interesting to know what Hajime received. One of the terms on the contract they formed was that Nero couldn't kill him, or something of that nature. And Nero could, apparently, kill Hajime. Shame really, he'd be doing the world a favor," she stated, sighing a bit harshly.

"Thank you, Lia, for helping. I have found some information about these deals Nero makes. I think I may go have a talk with him, soon," she spoke, a soft smile gracing her lips before it turned into a smirk. "So, what treason has Lia planned as of late?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Haruka Tsuji Character Portrait: Vasilios Nero

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#, as written by Mihael
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Nero was, as it turned out, gone for the rest of that night and much of the day after, but the subsequent evening found him out in his gardens, a dark cloak draped around his shoulders, the red and black of his silhouette a marked contrast to the blossoming moonflowers that occupied this terrace, part of his property holdings within the Castle-City. Generally speaking, only pure-bloods and highest nobility had outdoor property like this, and few sets of rooms actually opened up into a garden the way his did. He found some merit in the arrangement of these ones, the work of Aurelia, of course, though he contributed in his subtle way, the trailing flickers of golden light settling over the blooms like some kind of delicate mist and seeming to lend them a supernatural air themselves, charging the atmosphere with something invigorating.

He took no particular path through the environment, instead simply wandering where he would, coming to a stop in front of the small stream-fed lake created by a dam at the other end. There were large koi fish in the clear waters, and he could see them swimming about, orange and white and grey, the luminance of the moon casting off their scales. Once, the whole world had been like this. His whole world. His very first miracle. He wondered if perhaps he should not have left it so, instead of giving it residents. If he had, all of it would look like this still.

He made a small gesture with his hand, and the boughs of a nearby willow tree formed into a new shape, twining ‘round one another as the roots emerged from the ground, the entire thing forming into a thronelike chair. Crossing to it, Nero sat, leaning back against the pliant strands of branches, the fresh smell of the plant close to hand. He felt a small shudder in the tree when his fingers first brushed the living wood, but this was not unusual. Things with life tended to have peculiar reactions to his presence, at least those things wise enough to remember what he was, as anything could remember, were they to try hard enough. Even a fool like Hajime had remembered, though that had taken a bit of reminding.

Crossing one leg over the other, Nero propped his elbows on the armrests of the chair, folding his hands in front of his mouth. She would come, tonight. He supposed they thought they were surreptitious in their perusal of his library, but the signs of disturbance were there for those who knew how too look. And if there was one thing that Vasilios Nero could do, it was see. He glanced up for a moment, the gold star-patterns around his pupils catching the light and flashing brightly against the backdrop of crimson. He wondered what she would choose, when confronted with the information she sought.

She had never felt...uncertain about anything before. It wasn't something she felt was necessary. It was either do or stay put. There was no need for hesitance, however; for the last day and a half, she had felt hesitant about speaking with Nero. She wanted to know, needed to know, what her father asked for. Perhaps if she knew, it would explain how he came to the power he held now, as King. She walked through the home, searching for Nero as she crossed through the halls. She made it out of the home and searched through the gardens, glancing up every so often to stare at the bright lights above. It seemed odd to her, how peaceful the stars always looked, and she wondered if that was how it could be if Hajime was never allowed to rule. If things had been different, perhaps she would have never been born and allowed to live in this cursed place.

Or perhaps she might have been born to a pair of parents who would have loved each other. But then again, what was love? For all she could see, love was a temporary chain to bind two people together before it became something more for a political advancement. She cared little to nothing about the concept of love. Perhaps that is why she sought out her keeper. If she could find out more of this price to pay on these deals, perhaps she'd strike one of her own. Even if the price was steep, if the reward was power, she could use it to finally bring an end to her father. Granted if she even struck the deal to begin with. Engrossed in her thoughts, Haruka's legs carried her towards the person she searched for, finding him sitting on a plant-like throne.

"For one who desires no throne, you seem comfortable sitting in that chair," she spoke, her eyes roaming over the chair. She blinked slowly before sighing through her nose. "And for all that you are, I am sure you are aware of why I am here," she continued, folding her arms across her chest as she stared at Nero, studying him and watching. She raised a delicate brow before continuing. "If I may be so bold, what exactly is it that my father asked for, when he made his deal with you?"

The eyes landed on Haruka, still strangely-lit, and for a moment, Nero looked every inch the king Hajime wished he was—the force of that gaze was like a perceptible weight, and he saw everything. Peered right into her soul, her future, saw all the choices she could make, some that she might, some that she almost certainly would. Strangely, there were too many still open for him to have a real sense of what would be, only what could. Even more unusually, some of those possibilities, the most unlikely of all, surprised him, in a way that very little ever did. But then the light in those stars, the ones set into the ruby irises, dimmed, and he looked just another man again. At least, insofar as he ever seemed to be just another man. It was no more than an instant, all told, quick enough that one could easily have missed it.

“Not everyone who sits a throne particularly desires it,” he said simply, lifting his shoulders in something like the echo of a shrug. “And this is hardly one in truth. What would it make me? King of the garden?” There was a note of sardonic amusement in the question, and as if to prove his point, he stood smoothly, and the chair returned to what it had been, the roots finding home once more in the earth and the branches unweaving to hang as loosely as if they had never been bound at all. They released more of the glimmers of light, which seemed to hang suspended around them, gently echoing the light of the stars. One had come before the other—he no longer remembered which.

“For all that I am?” he repeated, one corner of his mouth inching upwards a fraction. “You may ask, and I may answer, though you perhaps will not like the reply. But the price is this: pray tell, exactly what is it that you believe I am?” He was curious, what she would say. Perhaps she had an inkling that he was not as he appeared, but most people lacked the concepts to even understand what he really was. They just didn’t believe the things they would need to believe to draw the right conclusions, and even if they did, the evidence was sparse—it would be a bit of a logical leap to make at all.

King of the Garden? Haruka released a snort at the statement. "Not all thrones are made from gold and silver, your Highness," she replied, a hint of amusement laced in her voice as she gave a mock bow. "And I never said you desired it," she added with a light shake of her head. She watched as he stood, tilting her head to the left slightly as his statements fluttered through her ears. He was many things, but most of all, he was not a vampire. That much, Haruka had managed to pick up on. Though they interacted little, it was the small things that she noticed that had formed her conclusion. She wasn't certain what he was, and she had cared very little, if at all, what he truly was. That was his own business, and she wasn't going to pry, but if he wanted to know what she thought, she would oblige.

"I could not tell you what I think you are, for I do not know what you are. Vampire, most certainly not, and I would be a fool to think you as Mika and myself are," she began, folding her arms further around her. "One with abilities such as yourself could not possibly be a dhampir. So there is your answer. I do not know what you are, but what I do know is that you are neither of what you have others believing you to be," she concluded, releasing her arms and letting them fall to her side. She didn't care what he was, he could be a strange human for all she knew. If she had cared, it might have given her more sense to actually be somewhat frightful of what he could be.

But she was not one to be frightful of many things. "And there is always the possibility of an answer not being to one's liking. It is simply a chance we have to take when looking for answers," she added with a light shrug of her shoulders. There were many things she disliked, and even fewer things she liked. She had come seeking answers, and whether or not she would like them, was of little consequence to her.

Nero tilted his head to the side slightly, inclining his head just slightly. Whether this was in acknowledgement of her correctness or only of the fact that she’d fulfilled her end of their little bargain was hard to say. He didn’t clarify, as that was not the question she’d asked. “Your father asked of me three things: the power to end a war, the power to keep a throne, and my restraint from interfering with his rule. The specifics are more detailed, of course, but that is the gist of it. He discovered my existence through a certain feature of his bloodline and a lot of research. By the time he found me, what your kind and others call the apocalypse had come, and the war seemed without end. Per our agreement, I ended it.” He turned slightly, tipping his head up to take in the stars.

“He was not soon enough to save the resources of this planet, beyond what I carved out for him to build his Castle-City upon, but I suppose that mattered little to him.” Perhaps he sat on a throne of living wood, but the kingdom to which it belonged was destroyed, now—he ruled little but the ashes of what once had been. It tinged his tone with a rare hint of something, something besides his perfect apathetic neutrality. Even he could feel, he just rarely did. Once, he had felt quite a lot more, been a creature of great passion and temper, but also great love and concern for that which he had made with his own power. That part of him may well have died when his creation had been rent and burned and torn, reduced to ash and fallow earth.

“And you, Haruka? What would you ask of me, if you knew I could give you anything you could possibly pay for?” he glanced over at her from he corner of his eye. Everyone wanted something. Everyone had a price, and some of them were willing to pay dearly for what they desired most of all. Most of the time, he could look at a person and see it, coloring their soul with one hue or another. He could see hers, too, but the wanting and the asking were two very different things.

Power. It was always power, and she should have known better than to have thought differently. For a second, Haruka's gaze faltered, something seeping past the sapphire color of her eyes, before it flickered and died. He had wanted the power to end the war, to keep his throne, and for no interference from Nero. And look what that had reaped. What was sown, was not given the chance to properly grow, and for that, this was the world they lived in. The apocalypse, she recalled it. She remembered what the history books told of it, how the war waged for countless years, but never how it truly ended. But, she supposed at the time there was little importance to know how it ended. As long as it was no longer a problem, why should anyone seek further?

His question, however, caused her to glance back towards him, her eyes set in a monotonous tone. "What I desire is what anyone else desires. The means to an end of a tyrannical ruler. For that, I would pay gladly for it, even if it means the end of my own life for it. My meaningless life would have at least accomplished a first step towards a possibility of peace, for the world to have a chance to regrow, however; even if that is accomplished, there is no guarantee that the next person who stepped up to take the throne would not turn out as Hajime is. Kiyoshi, I know would not be like our father, however; he is also very weak and prone to influence," she answered, her posture regaining some of its correctness.

She was not a sentimental person, and why she cared for a world that cared nothing for her, was still a mystery to herself. Perhaps because it housed people she cared about, like Mika, and her brother. Perhaps she wanted to exact a personal vendetta against her father. Regardless, she had spoken the truth. What she desired, was what anyone else desired: power. Perhaps for a different reason than most, but it was still the same altogether. "That, is what I would ask of you. A chance is all one needs, and perhaps, if things turned out differently, others would not have to suffer for a choice poorly made. People such as Aurelia, my mother, and the humans that were executed that night," she spoke with a little more resolve that even surprised her for a second.

"Perhaps it is a selfish desire, but it is there nonetheless."

“All desires are selfish in the end,” Nero replied simply, his tone receding to the usual monotone. “Even if there were something wrong with that, I would not care to stop it. People should make their own decisions, and if this chance is what you want, I will grant it.” There was no point in keeping the world if it became only a reflection of himself, if he controlled everything in it and gave no one else the opportunity to influence it. Some of his brethren had created realms of paradise, much more beautiful than his, but they remained that way because everything in them was beholden to its creator. There was no room for chaos, not even the smallest fragment of change. Time was unchanging in those world, reality unbending for anyone. Though aesthetically and perhaps even morally perfect, such worlds held no beauty to him.

It was paradoxical, that the beauty of his world had rendered it so ugly. Perhaps he’d been in the wrong after all. Perhaps he would have been better off with another Shangri-La, another place with no change and no will, only perfection. Perhaps, in the end, he would destroy this place he had made because it was too terrible to look at any longer. It seemed more and more likely as time went on. But perhaps there was yet a chance for them both. As she selfishly wanted the chance to make it better, he selfishly wanted the chance to save it. Her wish was easy to grant, his the hardest thing he had ever encountered. But there was still something akin in them.

“The price for that chance is not your life. It is your soul.”

All desires were selfish. That was true, perhaps she should have worded it better. She raised a curious brow, though, at the price. Her soul, was it? Was it not the same as death? A being with no soul was nothing more than an empty husk, just walking, wandering with no place to go once they died. Would it be the same for her father, for Rikichi, when they died? The thoughts dispersed as quickly as they came as she continued to stare at Nero. If it was her soul, then he could have it. What need did she have of a soul anyway? Her kind were perhaps better off without souls. Though, a curious thought fluttered through her mind. Everyone desired something, wished for something.

"Then my soul it shall be, though I do have a question for you," she stated. He could take her soul, she would not care, but the curiosity swelling inside was something she could not ignore for the moment. "If someone could return that favor for you, would you take the chance to save a dying world? An answer is not needed, for you shall have my soul regardless. I have no need for it, and what should it matter if I fail anyway?" she spoke, walking until she was about three feet away from him. He did not have to answer, and even though he would grant her, her wish, who was to say that it would be enough? It was a chance she was willing to take.

“Perhaps,” he replied. “But whether this world is saved or not isn’t for me a matter of the power. I have it—I could save it if is wished.” He turned to face her, laying the tips of his first two fingers on her cheekbone, just beneath the eye her father had once nearly destroyed. “Rather… what would be required is something no one person can give. Can a world like this be worth the saving? A world where a father with enough strength to be kind chooses instead to be cruel? Where those who could use their power to lift others choose instead to crush them? I wonder…” His expression did not waver in its neutrality, but the path his fingertips took, circling up and around her eye to the very center of her forehead, was traced with a gentleness strangely natural on him.

“This will hurt,” he warned quietly, but the deal was struck, and she would simply have to endure it. Something in the air shifted, gravity growing weaker and lifting the hem of his cloak and the ends of his hair as though he floated in water. The same was true of her, and for a moment, they hung there, half-grounded and half-adrift, as his essence connected to hers. From those few who had deigned explain this to him, he knew that this part of the process was almost pure bliss and deep warmth, like being enveloped in something warm and safe. This was the feeling of him giving something to her, in this case, the ability required to reach through the immortality, perfect as it was, that he had granted Hajime. The King had stipulated that the deathlessness must be perfect—and it had been, when it was granted. Now, there were two who might be able to break through it, and one was unaware.

Peaceful as it was, it did not remain that way. The extraction of a soul was not a painless process by a long shot, and it had been described as utter and complete agony—the most horrendous thing the subject had ever endured and ever would endure. Still, at least it was short, and when it was done, Nero stepped back, turning his hand over so that his palm faced upwards. A small sphere floated above the hand, a white flame with a flicker of purple and blue running through it intermittently. “I usually eat these, if you were curious,” he said nonchalantly, as though he hadn’t just introduced her to heaven and hell in the same experience. At least, as close as existed to those things in reality. He closed his fingers over the soul, however, and it disappeared. Perhaps he would change his mind later, but he did not particularly feel like returning this one back to himself yet. “They were all part of me, once, but they have changed.”

She did not see it that way, and perhaps if she had, she would have had a better understanding of things. As it were, she did not, and could not. She stared at him, her gaze steady even as his finger tips touched her cheekbone and circled to the center of her forehead. He spoke of something being painful, and she could only assume it was the extraction of her soul. Pain held little concern for her. For the price of power, it was something she would have to pay. And the pain, after the strange sense of warmness, was excruciating. She could not move, did not move, as he took from her what she had given him. If he could have saved the world as it was now, why did he not? Why not save a world that could be so much more if given the right care and circumstances? There was more to it, than she could understand, but it mattered very little to her now.

Even though it was still painful, what she had gained, she hoped, would be worth it. A chance to give people who deserved it, by ridding the world of a king who did not deserve to live. "It is a heavy price we pay for free will. Where we have the ability to be kind, and instead choose to be cruel. Where we have the freedom to aid and help others, lift them as you say, we choose instead to enslave them, to destroy what little hopes and dreams they have. Free will is a gift, and it is a curse," she retorted, regaining a bit of her posture as the pain dulled. Souls had been a part of him once, and yet they have changed.

"Change is the only thing guaranteed. Whether it's for good or for worse, we only know when it happens. Perhaps a world like this is not worth saving, but what if it is? There must be something left in this pathetic world worth saving," she stated, standing back to her full height glancing up for a moment to regard the stars. "I am afraid you'd find that soul a little...plain and spicy, unless you enjoy those kind of things," she stated, her lips twitching momentarily. Now, only time would tell if the decision she made would be worth the cost of her soul.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rikichi Sakuragi Character Portrait: Haruki Blake Character Portrait: Rivka Atol

0.00 INK

#, as written by Asilian
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A part of Rivka wanted to start pacing. It was something she always did whenever she was nervous or upset. While she wasn't technically upset or nervous, she was...anxious, if one had to put an actual word. It had been three days since she recieved the note, one that had only said one thing.

I will come in three days time.


Some might have taken that as a threat, all things considering, especially because she was Queen, but she did not. It was the mere fact that it had not been there when she had fallen asleep, and then it was waiting for her when she woke up, on her bedside table, of all places, with a cherry blossom. That had meant that whoever had wrote it had been the one to leave it, meaning that the person had somehow gotten through every defense she had, and had stood over her as she slept in order to leave it.

Had it been an actual attempt on her life, they would have killed her then. It was the reason that she was alive that she came, because she knew who had left it. It had to be the Vigilante, as there was no other explanation. She sighed gently through her nose, her lavender eyes scanning the abandoned corridor in front of her. They stopped when her mind caught something on the very edge of its reach. It wasn't very often that she used her abilities, but this was an unusual situation.

"He's here." she said softly.

"Very good, my Queen. It would seem your powers are exactly what the people believe them to be, even if you don't use them. Is that a sign that you don't trust me? Funny, if I recall, it was you who summoned me, was it not? But then, I suppose that means little. So what exactly does my Queen wish of me?"

Rivka's eyes narrowed slightly. She already had her suspicions, and this...was very much like someone she knew well, this banter. "I would mind your tongue, if I were you. Bold, to be calling yourself my subject when every move you make is to undermine the rule of my husband." She was staring straight ahead, but the man was nowhere in sight. She couldn't even pinpoint him with her mind, which was unnerving. She could only hear him.

"The key there being the rule of your husband, not you."

"But my husband nonetheless. When you threaten him, you threaten me, and I do not take that lightly." Natara shifted restlessly beside her, uncomfortable. She too, could not pinpoint the man's location. A chuckle answered her. "The dog has nothing to say on the matter? Surely you have two cents to put in. Oh, wait, that isn't your job, is it? But isn't a knight supposed to uphold the people? Not blindly follow his King? Or his Queen, in this case?"


Rikichi frowned slightly. His truesight afforded him many things, and one of those things was that no concealment, no disguise, could hide someone’s true nature from him. He could not say that he particularly enjoyed being taunted so, especially by someone who didn’t understand his position, but all the same, he did not rise to the bait as such, merely fixing his eyes on the exact spot that the Vigilante—or rather, Lord Blake—occupied. He wasn’t sure what the man was playing at right now, but he wasn’t going to let on that he knew his identity. Not for the sake of having something to hold over anyone, but because he was not sure the man would want the Queen to know. This would just be more treason on her head if she knew and did not tell, and he was not going to be the one to put it there.

“If I blindly followed, you would not still be standing there talking,” he said quietly, simply. A man of the King would have attacked and arrested or killed the Vigilante by now. A man of the Queen alone might well have at least forced him to reveal himself, or pinned him so that he did not move freely where she could not see. Rikichi had done neither, and in fact, his hands were folded behind his back still, the knowing dark gaze unmoving from the exact spot that the man—or rather, the facsimile of the man—occupied.


Another chuckle answered the comment, and Haruki allowed himself to appear. "It's no fun when you bring a dog who has that particular ability. But then, he's the only one you trust, right?" He appeared as the Vigilante always did, with raven-dark hair and the same crimson eyes as his actual appearance had, the dark clothing and mask adorning his face and body. But Rivka saw none of that.

It was his eyes, and she knew. There were many things that Haruki could hide from her, but it was those eyes, those piercing crimson orbs that always saw through to her core, that knew her thoughts better than she did herself. She reacted, her sword passing through him without leaving a mark. He'd not been surprised, but he wasn't quite expecting to be slapped. But then, this was Rivka, so he probably should have been expecting it.

"Haruki Blake, you...you....insolent bastard!"

Haruki blinked at her, surprise showing in his eyes momentarily before flickering back into stoicism. "Now, really, you've known me for all these years and that's the best insult you can come up with?" He sighed then, allowing the guise to fall and pulling the mask down. The gemstones glittered on his cheek as the reappeared. "This is exactly why I was against this. I knew I wouldn't be able to hide from you, Rivka."

He almost winced at the hurt look on her face. Almost. He had more composure than that, luckily. "All these years it was you? I trusted you!"

"Yes, you did, and not at the behest of me. If you recall, I told you to leave me be after you told me of the arrangement with Hajime. You did not, so this is your own doing." he snapped at her, but regretted it after when she flinched. He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. The facade was falling apart, it would seem. Where no one knew before, now four knew exactly who he was. But then, that was his own doing, so he had no right to complain.

"I suggest you leave this be, and keep your nose out what will get you killed. You're deep enough as it is, and I will not guarantee your safety should you choose to pursue this path. You were and are my friend, but I am no friend to you, not in the way you would wish."


Rikichi sighed softly. It was all really rather unsurprising, considering. He may not have been a friend to Lord Blake, but he was more observant than the average man, and as the Queen considered herself his friend, he saw quite a bit of him. The Queen, he knew extraordinarily well, able to predict even the smallest and most minute reactions from her before they happened. So it was no shock to him when she struck the man after realizing who he was, and indeed, he did not expect him to retaliate, and as such, left his arms folded behind his back. He was right about that, too.

“You’re too reckless,” he told Haruki, still as level as his tone had been to start with. “It’s going to burn you some day, and for your sake, I hope you’re the only one it burns.” He raised an eyebrow slightly. It wasn’t a threat in the slightest, merely a statement of fact. The people this man associated with… well, Rikichi only knew of two, but if something untoward happened to Lia, the consequences would be more dire than he dared think about. Nero might not act it, but he cared about that girl, and he was not averse to using violence for her sake. He’d proved that much most eloquently already. The other was the Queen, and while Rikichi could not act with Nero’s impunity, he still would not hesitate, traitor though it might make him. He was already a traitor in his heart—it was only natural that the rest of him would follow, if it came down to it.

One wrong move, and Haruki Blake could expose an entire network of people working against the King, and damn them all to the same fate. It would certainly not help him achieve his goals.


Haruki allowed his gaze to slide from Rivka to Rikichi, something unnameable glimmering in his eyes. For several seconds, he said nothing, and then,

"The man I am after is not the King. Whatever I might say or do as the Vigilante, and however atrocious the King may be, " he held up his hand, and Rivka fell silent, the outburst that had been on the tip of her tongue gone. "I care very little about the state of the kingdom or whether the king falls or stays where he is. My path is one where it will more than likely kill me along with it. I have long ago accepted this." His eyes cut back to Rivka, and she winced. She knew that look.

Nothing she said or did could dissuade him. But who was he after, if not her husband? She could think of no one whom he would want to kill so badly that he'd forsake his own life. She pursed her lips together, trying to decide what to do. All of her life, no matter what she had wanted, she always did what she was expected to do.

Now was no different, and she hated herself for it.

The mask slipped back into place, and she turned on her heel. "Very well. My suspicion was for naught, and in the end I found nothing. Come, Captain." Haruki watched her walk away, his face unreadable. It was for the best, honestly. It would have been better if she'd not known at all. He too, turned on his heel, but he did not walk away. "Goodbye, Rivka." he muttered softly before the clone simply vanished.

The only indication that she had heard him was the tightening of her jaw.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Rikichi Sakuragi Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Haruki Blake

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Rikichi resisted the urge to run a hand down his face. This was the fourth week in a row the King had had them out on double patrols, looking still for the Vigilante. Many of his guards were getting tired, and even he was beginning to feel the lack of sleep a bit. Their kind did not require much, but he’d been getting next to none, between his nights guarding the Queen and his days on these damned extra rounds. Mika was in the same situation, as was Raamah, but everyone else, he’d been rotating a bit more, so that they could sleep at least once every two days or so. Things were especially tense this evening, as Aurelia had announced today in a Council meeting that Einar was going to hit something else tonight, though she’d not specified what. It left Rikichi in a rather awkward position, all things considered.

He didn’t want to arrest Haruki, because to do so would stop not only his progress, but possibly reveal the Queen’s complicity in the whole thing, It was certainly well-enough known that they were friends to cast suspicion of some kind on her, and Rikichi wasn’t having that if he could avoid it. What happened to him was of little consequence; she, however, was incredibly important. So he’d kept the most competent guards, as well as the most loyal to Hajime, with him, in hopes of explicitly not running into Lord Blake that day. With luck, he’d be able to get by any of the other patrols with a little thinking and stealth, both of which he seemed to be quite capable of.

His daughter walked beside him, seemingly lost in her own thoughts, though he knew that looks could be deceiving in regards to that—Mika was always paying attention to her surroundings, even when she didn’t look it. He’d have asked for her help, if he wasn’t against bringing her in on the treason as well. Her eyes would make it difficult to accidentally run into the man, but that was an advantage he would simply have to go without. The range of his truesight would be enough… if he could get through the night without any of the men getting overzealous.


Contrary to popular belief, or what would be was it well known that Haruki could produce copies of himself, he had actually run out of them. He could only produce seven at a time, and those seven were out on their own agendas that he'd set them on, each with a different disguise that were nothing like Haruki Blake or Einar. So, unlike any other run he would normally make as the Vigilante, he was, in fact, himself.

That alone was enough to put him more on edge than normal. But, he had a goal, and that was what drove him forward. Regardless of what he'd told Rikichi and Rivka, he did quite enjoy taking from Hajime, and what better to take from him than his lovely prisoners, specifically the ones who had the ability to fight.

The patrols were heavy, which was truly unsurprising, all things considered. Hajime wanted him dead, after all. But then, he hadn't remained on the loose for two-hundred years by sheer luck alone, either. It took him no time at all to duck around most of the patrols, and this time, he didn't bother staying out of Rikichi and Mika's range, either. He knew of their little gifts, but seeing as the both of them knew his actual identity, it was one less obstacle for him to avoid.

But he had overlooked something this time. It was unlike him, honestly. Had he not given Aurelia the advice to turn in the opposite direction when she smelled death? But perhaps it was because of his preoccupation with his thoughts. All he was aware of was that he had not smelled Thanatos before he'd been spotted, and the familiar was faster than he had any right to be.

Einar dodged, and only barely. The problem was, Thanatos would alert Raamah to his find, and that was a fight that Haruki was not prepared for. So, he ran, but not before the familiar had managed to draw blood from his forearm. That was another bad situation, the creature knew what he tasted like now. Einar cursed under his breath, ducking down an empty corridor before melding into the shadows. At least there, not even Thanatos's nose could follow him. But it didn't make his escape any easier.

He was slowly being cornered.

He had to scoff. Rikichi was right, he'd been a bit too reckless this time.


Unfortunately for all involved, just before he merged with the shadows, Einar made a small noise. A noise that was heard not only by Rikichi and Mika, who both knew who it was and would rather have pretended they didn’t hear, but also by the other guards with them, particularly zealous individuals eager to deal out the King’s justice. In all the Guard, there were only three of these, not counting Raamah Atol who was in things for himself as always, and all three of them were on this patrol. “Sir!” one of them said sharply, turning with his fellows in the direction of the sound, and Rikichi had no choice but to nod. Get out of there, Lord Blake, he thought to himself as the three took off running, he and Mika not far behind.

The smell of blood would occasionally hit the air, and when it did, the shadows seemed to wobble, making Einar’s progress easy to track, something his men took to with great enthusiasm, like hounds that had scented the fox and were now baying on the trail…. And it wouldn't be too long before he was treed, if the amount of blood finding its way onto stone floors was enough to go by.

The patrol turned a corner when it happened—Einar simply fell out of the shadows, right into Mika, who reacted immediately, catching him before he fell, murmuring something into his ear so quietly Rikichi had to read her lips to know what it was—don’t fight me. He immediately had to wonder if his daughter could see the truth just by looking; perhaps some possible future had Einar losing his disguise? There was also the possibility that she’d known beforehand, but he had no idea how that could have come about. If Mika knew, it was likely because Kiyoshi knew, and if so… that had implications that ran deep. But there was no time to think about all that now. One of his guards was raising his sword to strike the Vigilante, and Rikichi intervened, stopping the blade with the fingers of his left hand.

“Sir, what are you doing? This man is a traitor to the King!” The guard, Jardin, protested, and Rikichi’s eyes narrowed.

“No,” he corrected, “he is suspected of being a traitor to the Crown, and will stand trial for that, after evidence is gathered. He has not earned an execution now, of all times, and you will remember that, Sargeant.” Jardin looked peeved, but also appropriately chastised, and lowered his blade. “Now, we will be escorting him to the prison, so let’s go.”. They’d also be trying to heal that wound, though why it was not simply mending itself was unclear. There were few beings capable of dealing such a blow as that, and Rikichi thought he might know which one was responsible.

Reckless.

The patrol reached the prison, Mika half-carrying the still-bleeding Einar, though she went to lengths to avoid looking like she was supporting him in any way. “Lieutenant—bandage the wound as well as you can. Sargeant, fill out the arrest paperwork. Corporals Kaiser and Hofstadr, guard the cell. I’m returning to the scene to begin documentation.” Putting himself in charge of evidence collection was the best way he knew to make sure this didn’t link back to the actual culprit, but Mika would have to get him out of there. What looked like a fatherly hand on her shoulder was actually his opportunity to slide a small skeleton key under the collar of her uniform, and he exchanged a look with her that she clearly read, because she gave a minute nod, setting the prisoner down on the cot in the cell.

With a clinical eye, she turned the wound over, activating her eyes as though to examine it with them. What she was actually doing was looking for possible ways to get him out of this alive, futures in which he survived and she didn’t lose her head for helping him. “Looks like you’re in a bit over your head, Vigilante,” she said, raising a brow. It was an invitation to speak, to try and communicate without making it obvious to the other two guards what they were doing.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Rikichi Sakuragi Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi Character Portrait: Haruki Blake

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Einar grit his teeth, pain lancing through his arm as Mika looked the wound over. It had been a wonder he hadn't passed out, honestly. Mika had not needed to tell him not to fight her, he wouldn't have been able to even if he'd wanted to. He watched her with a wary look in his eye.

"You'd know all about that, wouldn't you, Sakuragi?" There was a bite to his voice, but it was more from pain than anything else. Though, the other guards interpreted it the way he'd meant them to; appearances were everything, and someone like the Vigilante would be against the guard to the bitter end, especially someone who was half-human, regardless of her actual intentions.

Wounded though he was, he'd not missed the interaction between father and daughter, and that peaked his interest. In his condition, he'd be in no shape to go anywhere, Thanatos's abilities would make sure of that. A spasm ran through his arm, and he somehow managed to keep his head, and his disguise. The problem was, he wasn't sure how long he'd be able to keep it. Damned familiar...


“Would I?” Mika replied coolly. “No, I think not—I know how to pick my battles, and this is a fool’s errand if ever there was one. Freeing the King’s prisoners is not a very smart idea.” The emphasis on the words was incredibly slight, but it should be enough for someone like him to pick up on. It was her way of saying that she intended to free him, or at least, help him free himself. She examined the wound without so much as blinking, then took the bandages one of the other guards grudgingly handed her, wrapping them tightly around the wound. It wasn’t going to stop the bleeding, not if this was what she thought it was, but it would at least slow it down. She didn’t have any talent for healing others, nor did her father. She hoped he had somewhere else he could go for that, else their efforts would mean very little in the end.

“For your trouble, you’ll be first getting a cell like this one, always guarded by two, until your trial, and then I expect they’ll execute you. The King doesn’t much go in for mercy to traitors, you know. There’s nowhere to hide.” She met his eyes, then flickered hers to the blonder of the two guards, indicating that he’d be the one she would take out first, and that the second, he’d have to deal with as soon as she had. Fortunately, they shared an ability to travel in shadow, so as long as Hofstadr saw his friend go down before he felt any damage, she could hide as Haruki dealt him a blow and got himself out.

“That makes sense, I hope?” She said, speaking not of her words, but of the plan she’d hidden within them.


Einar smirked slightly. "I'm impressed that I'm that important. It's such a good feeling to be in the King's good graces." He rolled out the shoulder she'd bandaged, closing his eyes as she did so. This would be heavily touch-and-go, as the amount of blood he'd lost was nearing the level of being rather dangerous. Luckily, she'd done an excellent patch job, and she was also going to provide him with a replenishment source.

The actual passing of the key was easily a sleight-of-hand as she pretended to recheck the bandages, and from there he simply waited. Shadow-travel could be a useful tool, when one's opponents had no way to counter-act it. He tested his reflexes, pleased to find that while they had slowed somewhat, they were still a notch and a half above the two gurading the cell.

Another handy thing about shadow-travel was that those who had the ability could sense others when they used it, making for very organized coordination, such as was the current case. So when Mika took out the first one, he didn't hesitate to cover the other's guard's mouth before sinking his fangs into his neck from behind. The taste was vile, but he would have to deal; he needed blood to replace what he'd lost, and this was his only viable source.

He regarded Mika silently for half a second. "Not smart, indeed, Sakuragi. But I thank you nonetheless."


Kaiser and Hofstadr both saw her leave, and then both fell to someone slinking through shadows. None of them would have any reason to suspect her, and though Hofstadr was now dead, apparently, Kaiser would be able to testify that the Vigilante was responsible for the jailbreak. “Don’t mention it, Blake. And I really mean that—don’t mention this ever again, not even to His Highness. That’s all the thanks I need.” The less he was involved in business like this, the better. She got her hands dirty so that his stayed clean—that was how this worked. He could organize all the food shipments out to the humans that he wanted. When it came time to do something morally dubious like this, she fully intended to keep him as out of the loop as possible, and her father, too.

“You’re still going to need someone to get that looked at though—I can’t help you there, and if it keeps bleeding, Hofstadr’s blood won’t make a difference.” She turned to leave, then paused. “That’s a skeleton key—it works on pretty much any door in this place. It’s a copy of my father’s, one that shouldn’t exist. Don’t lose it. Watch yourself, Blake. If it had been anyone but us, you’d be dead right now.” She inclined her head slightly, then vanished back into her shadows, heading for the scene of the capture to inform her father of what had happened before someone else discovered the bodies… or Kaiser woke up.


Einari shook his head slightly, a smile on his face as he, too, melted into the shadows. It was amusing, how father and daughter were so very alike in personality. Though, he supposed that was because they were related. Or at least, Rikichi had raised her. But she was right, he did need to get this wound fixed. Hofstadr would be enough to get him through the night along with her patch job, but no further. He needed actual healing, and he wasn't sure--

His brain ground to a halt then, remembering certain information that Xeno had relayed to him of a common accquaintance that they shared. His smile inched wider. Well, she certainly wouldn't be happy to see him.

So it was with an award-winning smile and a flourish that Einar knocked on Aurelia Rodanthe's door.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aurelia Rodanthe Character Portrait: Haruki Blake

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It was late afternoon when the knock came on her door, meaning that Nero’s household was asleep—well, possibly with the exception of Nero himself; one never knew with that man. Aurelia, however, had been sleeping soundly, though she was instantly awake when the knock came. What could anyone want of her at this hour? Perhaps an emergency Council meeting was being called soon? They never did such things until after dark, but… that would only be a few hours from now, maybe. Whatever the case, the girl rolled out of bed, golden eyes slightly bleary and rose-colored hair tousled, out of its pins and thus falling to her waist in waves. Her nightgown was white, reaching her knees and floating gently away from her person, so she wasn’t exactly indecent, but it certainly wasn’t overly modest, either.

When she opened the door to find Einar behind it, a winning smile on his face, she nearly shut it again and went back to bed or made a smart quip about mail carriers, save for the fact that she noticed his bandages, and the fact that they were soaked through, to the point that his blood was slowly dripping onto the floor beneath him. So instead of going back to sleep, she shook her head, telling herself that smacking an injured person was not good policy, and trying to ignore the flare of genuine worry that seemed to be taking up residence in her guts.

As if to convince herself that it was not there, she stepped aside and spoke primly, shutting the door behind him. “Don’t bleed on my rug,” she told him, pointing to a chair in hopes of getting him to sit in it. “How did you get that wound? Why hasn’t it healed yet? And why are you here of all places?” It was true that she could perhaps help him, but it was unclear to her how exactly he would know that. Didn’t he have other arrangements in place in case of injury? She found it hard to believe he’d never been hurt on a job before. To hear people tell it, he’d been at this for two hundred years.


Einar smiled slightly, not missing the hesitance in her body language. Had she not seen the wound, she probably would have simply left him there, but as he'd known, she wasn't able to turn away an injured party. He shrugged lightly with his good shoulder. "Being a vampire does have its perks, Little Bird. I've never needed help before now, and this was the closest place. Frankly I doubt I could have made it any further than this." He grimaced, wondering exactly how she expected him to not bleed on her precious floor covering before continuing.

"As for how I was wounded in the first place, you can thank Atol's pet for that." He spat the name with contempt. "It seems that the beast can negate one's natural healing process, and considering I've already lost most of my blood twice now, this needs fixed quite soon, if you have any suggestions." There was no let on whatsoever that he knew of her healing abilities, becuase in any reality, he shouldn't know about them. Enough people knew who he truly was; it was bad enough that she was involved with him in the first place, he wasn't about to put her in any more danger. She could do that on her own.

It startled him somewhat, realizing that he cared at all.


Fortunately, this chair was on the hardwood floor, and not her rug. She actually had a practical reason for her seemingly-ridiculous demand—it was much easier to clean blood off a smooth surface, as she would need to do when he was gone, to remove the evidence of his presence here. Not that she cared if anyone knew, but there was a chance that this would tell someone looking for him something they didn't know, and she wasn’t going to be responsible for that.

She hadn’t known Thanatos could do that, and her mouth dropped into a frown. She sighed softly, taking a seat on the arm of the chair and studying him for a moment—he did look a bit wan, considering. Gold met red, and Lia shook her head. There was really no other choice for it. “Lucky for you, being me has its perks too,” she admitted, tilting her head to the side and exposing her neck. “My blood’s… well, it will fix your problem, at any rate.” Reaching back with both hands, she pulled her mass of her hair over the opposite shoulder, so it wouldn’t be in the way.


It felt like something had simply dropped out his stomach at that point. As a rule, Haruki detested feeding, and did so only when absolutely necessary, but there was simply something about this that utterly revolted him. A part of it was the fact that he cared so much, and the other was that she so freely offered.

His mouth pursed into a thin line and he narrowed his eyes at her. "No." The syllable was clipped and short. "That is one thing I will not do, under any circumstance. I have tainted you far enough already."


Lia huffed, he frown becoming something between an irritated pout and a full-blown scowl. “Don’t be stupid,” she snapped, her hands going to her hips, her glare snapping like pyrotechnics. “I’m volunteering, moron. And frankly, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Nothing about me is any more tainted than it was before I knew you, and you think an awful lot of yourself if you disagree.” Her eyes narrowed. She was half-tempted to find the nearest sharp object and cut herself with it, to give him no choice in the matter, but she wasn’t exactly sure what the consequences would be if she took him by surprise like that. His species was still predatory on hers, even if she did think that it was possible for them to coexist peacefully. Part of being able to do that was not provoking a vampire without a reason, and she’d been warned about how she smelled to them.

“You’re not going to change me, if that’s your concern,” she added, and for a moment, something in her eyes went dark, before she shook it off and returned to looking daggers at him. “I don’t know why it works that way, but it does.” Her glance flickered to his arm. Stupid—he needed to heal that. Why was he being so stubborn about this? He couldn’t possibly be willing to die instead of taking something freely-offered, could he? Then again, she had just reminded him of how stupid he was being, so… perhaps he could.


His eyebrows ticked up a fraction. She couldn't be turned? That was...highly unexpected. Still, that didn't change the fact that he had no desire to feed off of her, whether his life was in danger or not.

Or rather, it was because of that desire that burned with in him that he would not give in to.

He was not blind, nor immune to her scent, any more than his brethren. The difference was he had more self-control, whereas most simply feared Nero, and rightly so. He'd tempered himself long enough that he was not willing to risk unleashing that predatory side of him that he wasn't sure he would be able to stave off. He wouldn't take that risk, not with her.

"No." he said once more. "Freely offered or not, that is not something I will take."


Damn fool.

Aurelia’s jaw tightened, and her scowl only deepened. He was being ridiculous about this, and she realized that it was actually causing her to panic a little. She didn’t want him to die, for the love of all things good, and here it seemed he wasn’t giving himself a choice! She dropped her hands from her hips, curling them into fists, though for what purpose, it was hard to tell. She wanted to hit something, most likely him for his damn stubbornness, but that wouldn’t help anything, all things considered, and she knew better than to do it with the state he was in. He was doing a good job not acting like it, but she could only imagine that a bite fro Thanatos hurt terribly, and there was all that blood he was losing…

There was really only one thing for it, wasn’t there? Fixing him with her sharpest glare yet, she spoke. “For the record, you’re leaving me no other choice.” She wasn’t even sure it would work—she knew it would in theory, but in practice, she’d never tried it, and it kind of ticked her off that he was forcing her to. But, well… as far as such things went, it was a small sacrifice to make, right? Aurelia was a pragmatic person, so she shouldn’t really care too much about something so frivolous, but part of her couldn’t help it. “Thief,” she called him, placing a hand on either side of his face.

Taking a deep breath, she surged forward before she lost her nerve, catching his lips with hers. She was really hoping he was at least a little quick on the uptake, because this was either going to require his participation or be awkward as anything she could possibly imagine. Actually, strike that—it was already that awkward. She could feel her ears turning pink, and the flush was spreading to her cheeks as well.

Just why did her powers have to work this way, anyhow?


Haruki was not a man who was usually caught off-guard, but seeing as he'd already been caught off-guard by Thanatos and then actually caught, perhaps it was only natural that they make it three times. Or perhaps the universe was laughing at him. Aurelia kissing him was the last thing he expected. He did, however, catch on to what exactly she was doing, because the pain in his shoulder was already easing.

He reached up, his hands catching either side of her face as he returned the kiss, which was certainly not chaste, but it wasn't overly heated, either, though he himself was sorely tempted. He was a man, with everything that came with being so. But at the same time, he was also respectful of the situation, in more ways than one.

It was tinged with some reluctance when he pulled away from her, but he hid that with that ridiculous smile of his, saying softly as he ran a thumb over her cheek, "Not quite, Little Bird. A true thief would have taken much more than that." He straightened slightly before pressing his lips softly to her forehead.

He lifted her as he stood, placing her back on her feet and putting some distance between them. He was well aware of how awkward this was for her; to some extent, it was awkward for him, too, though not as much, he suspected. A little smirk appeared on his face before he spoke again.

"I do believe I should take my leave. I thank you, Aurelia."

As he spoke, his appearance shifted, his hair lengthening to almost shoulder-level, turning a bright orange in color, with a scar across his left cheek. His eyes stayed the same crimson, but his physique became much more muscled, with thick upper arms and broad shoulders, the muscles of his chest stretching the already skin-tight material of his shirt. "I'm afraid I'll have to lay low for a while, but you are still free to contact me should you have the need."

And it was with those words that he simply vanished.


Lia was still as pink as her hair, but she managed to remain standing until he left, at which point she promptly sank onto the foot of her bed, pressing her hands to the sides of her face and swallowing thickly. That… had not been what she expected. Not that she’d had any idea what to expect—she’d never kissed anybody before, after all. She wasn’t at all prepared for the way her guts flipped around like that, and she’d been so floored by her own reaction that she’d barely even registered that he changed his appearance. He could be anyone—even someone she knew otherwise.

Between that and her flustered state, she wasn’t quite sure what to do with herself. Groaning, she flopped back on the bed and shook her head. “Stupid…”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Haruka Tsuji Character Portrait: Aurelia Rodanthe Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi

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#, as written by Mihael
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Mika leaned back into the grass, folding her hands behind her head and one leg over the other. The night was a warmer one, as far as they went, and the moon was almost full, granting them plenty of illumination. It was one of her few days off, today, and so as usual, she was spending it with Haruka, since her father was still on duty. She was fortunate that she’d already known the kind of hours that were required of a guard when she’d signed on for the training—a lot of the noblemen’s sons who took up the job didn’t realize that their shifts were rarely shorter than a full twelve hours if they were working personal security. Worse if you happened to be guarding someone as important as the Prince. It wasn’t uncommon for her shifts to be sixteen or even eighteen hours long. She just… followed him around, lived out the day as he did, albeit with less talking and more guarding.

So the occasional off day, something her father had mandated for everyone but himself—naturally—was something to be savored. Not because she disliked what she did, but because she rarely had any time for herself. Her off hours were a mix of training and resting, and Mika knew she was lucky that four hours of sleep a day was plenty for her. She was also lucky that the sun didn’t hurt her any; it was one of the requisites for guarding anyone pureblooded, because their business could and did sometimes extend into the daylight hours. In most cases, it wouldn’t be an issue, just because of the protection the Castle-City offered from the sun, but if someone had a meeting in the gardens, for example, well, the extra protection a noble would have needed was not permitted to a guard.

She and Haruka had trained a bit, and now they were just sitting in the grass and enjoying one another’s company, or at least they had been, until Mika scented someone else approaching. Roses and honey—she had to admit, it was a very potent smell. She knew just enough to understand who it belonged to, as well. Sitting up, Mika peered down the garden pathway. A head of pinkish hair confirmed her hypothesis, and she blinked dark eyes as the girl approached. She could smell something else too—cookies?

“Hello,” Aurelia said cheerfully, nodding to both Mika and Haruka. “I had leftovers from my visit with Miss Rhi today, so I thought the two of you might like some? Vasil’s not around, and I don’t want to accidentally eat all of them myself.” Mika blinked again, this time in mild surprise, before turning to her friend, as if to ask if this was an ordinary occurrence.

Haruka was still unused to feeling the way she did, as if she were impenetrable, invincible. It was foreign to her, and she wasn't entirely sure if she would get used to it. She wasn't even sure if she had made the right decision, to give up her soul for something such as power. What was a soul when power was given in return? She was no fool, she knew she wasn't invincible, and neither was her father, however; the feeling, she didn't like it. Instead, she had spent most of her time training either in solitude, with Mika, or occasionally her familiar. Bibi wasn't a creature, oddly, of violence nor combat, but he was still his master's creation. He could be what she needed him to be. It was a way to work out the knots that seemed to form as well as an opportunity to test out her new limits.

She would never do that with Mika though. If she couldn't control her gift, she didn't want to be responsible for hurting her friend. And she didn't want that on her conscience either. She and Mika currently sat in the gardens, enjoying the silence between them when a familiar scent captured Haruka's attention. It seemed to do the same to Mika, as the dhampir sat up and turned towards the spot where a tuff of pink hair could be vaguely seen. A small, half smile crossed Haruka's lips as she too, rose from her spot, watching the human girl with a bit of curiousness. The smile blossomed on Haruka's face when Aurelia spoke, and raised a brow in slight amusement.

"Good evening, Lia. And you speak of it as if it is a bad thing to eat it all yourself," Haruka replied, her smile faltering mildly into a light smirk. "Though, I will say, if you cannot find Val, he will be missing out," she added, shrugging her shoulders while rolling her eyes. She had honestly began to fancy Aurelia's cooking, and could see why Nero had enjoyed it (even if he rarely showed it). It was something she had come to appreciate about the human girl whom she shared a home with. "What have you brought us today?"

Lia grinned. “Val? I’d pay to see his face when you call him that.” The question recalled her attention to the basket in her arms, however, and she glanced down at it. “Let’s see… there’s cookies, and raspberry strudel, and… oh! Blueberry muffins.” Setting the basket down, she knelt beside it and started rummaging through, pulling out plates of the aforementioned items and laying them out on a short patch of grass.

“Did you make anything that wasn’t a sweet?” Mika asked, slightly disbelieving at the variety of confections the girl was producing from the basket. She made all of these to visit one person? No wonder there were leftovers. At that, Lia looked up and smiled sheepishly, shrugging as if to say she wasn’t all that sure. She appeared to remember something, though, and stuck her hand out.

“You must be Mika! I’m Aurelia, but please feel free to call me Lia. Lots of people do.” Mika looked down at the girl’s hand for just a moment, somewhat surprised. It was not just anyone who would voluntarily spend time with a dhampir, let alone two. People tended to view them as abominations on both sides. Apparently, this young woman meant what she said in the Council meetings, about everyone being of equal worth. It managed to startle her more cynical side, and she cautiously reached to shake the proffered hand. Lai didn’t seem to notice her hesitation, and simply smiled all the brighter.

“I’m glad I ran across you though—I was looking, but I don’t have a very good nose or anything like that.” She tapped hers as if to emphasize the point, rolling golden eyes at herself. She really did have an unusual coloration, this girl. It bordered on unnatural. The strangest vampires ever got was the trademark blue hair of the Blake family, but even they had normal enough eye color. She’d never seen pink hair before. “I was hoping I might be able to ask a favor of you, Haruka. If you don’t mind, that is.”

Haruka laughed in amusement as she watched Aurelia and Mika interact. Haruka was used to it by now, having lived with the girl for a few months now, she couldn't keep track of time really, and she had never been one to care to begin with. People were free to think what they wanted of her, so long as they didn't actually bother her. She usually would let people say what they will, however; that didn't always mean she held her tongue back if they said something a little...uncalled for. Haruka raised a curious brow at Aurelia's next statement though.

"A favor? Of me?" what could Aurelia possibly need her for? It was a little odd, and caught Haruka completely off guard. She remained quiet, rolling the inquery around a few times before blinking slowly. "What assistance can I be of?" she finally stated. She wasn't entirely sure she could assist Aurelia in anything really, but if the pink-haired girl needed her help, then she would give it. "I do not guarantee, however, that I will be successful in helping you," she added, as an after thought. If Aurelia still wanted her assistance, who was she to say no?

“Actually…” Aurelia fidgeted a bit nervously, chewing on her lower lip. How was she supposed to explain this? It seemed to be against her very nature, but she was swiftly realizing that she was going to need the help, or else she might not last long enough to do what she was supposed to accomplish with this life. This one chance, however short, she had to make things better. “I was hoping that you could teach me how to fight.” A pause. “I’ve seen you practicing with your tessen. I might not be a fighter myself, but I know what it looks like—that’s not just dancing. I know it would be really obvious if I started wearing a sword or something. But a fan? Nobody would know, and… I’d feel a little safer.”

Maybe it was something about the fact that even Einar had been injured in the work that they did that led her to believe she would need to know. She knew she’d never be strong or fast compared to a vampire or a dhampir like Haruka, but she didn't have to be the strongest or the fastest. She just had to know enough to give her a fighting chance at getting away of the worst happened. She knew that Nero protected her, but she didn’t want to make that any harder for him than it had to be, and even he couldn’t be everywhere at the same time. She wouldn’t want him to be, either—he deserved to live his life the way he pleased, and not have to chase after her every time she was at risk for a mishap.

Fight? She wanted to learn how to fight? Haruka allowed the genuine look of surprise to cross her features, and she didn't bother to cover it up. Why would she want to learn how to fight? She was protected by Nero, regardless of what she did. Or at least she was certain that no harm would befall Aurelia unless someone wanted to deal with Nero. She blinked slowly, allowing the rest of the information to settle in before she glanced towards Mika. The only reason Haruka knew how to fight was because of Mika and Rikichi. They had both taught her, though she wasn't much younger than Mika. Still, that did not change the fact that Aurelia wanted to learn to at least protect herself, something Haruka could respect. Standing from her spot, she dusted her clothes off before turning towards the pink-haired girl.

"You are correct that no one would assume a fan could be a weapon," she stated, bringing forth her own tessen and tossing it towards Aurelia. "Dancing and fighting are one and the same. If you can dance, you can fight," she continued, ushering for the girl to stand. She then glanced towards Mika. "Care to help in this process?" she asked, grinning at her friend. It would, perhaps, be better if there were two people to show Aurelia rather than one to try and teach. Learning was not something that could be done overnight, and without doubt, Haruka knew it would take some time, however; Aurelia was bright. She would catch on quickly.

Mika raised an eyebrow as Aurelia hurried to stand, gripping the tessen all wrong. Bright she may be, but it was till going to take some work to train her. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt,” she said mildly. “Someone has to stop you from teaching her all your bad habits, after all.” the oldest of the women smiled slyly, only teasing her friend, and withdrew a similar object from her own sleeve.

“Let’s get started.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Aurelia Rodanthe Character Portrait: Rivka Atol

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#, as written by Asilian
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Lia sat back on her legs, swiping a gloved hand across her brow. The new line of flower bulbs was looking neat and orderly, spaced at regular intervals. She was hoping the new lilac bushes would add something to this empty garden space, but it was going to take a little while for them to grow. For now, she watered them for the first time, then checked on the herb sprigs growing in the bed next to them. The mint was coming along nicely, but the rosemary might need a bit of extra watching for a few weeks—it had been unusually sunny of late, and they seemed to be wilting a little. Maybe she could put up an awning, just until the rains came again… whenever that would be. The climate of this world was not the most regular—even seasons seemed to be erratic sometimes. She supposed it was just one more thing that Armageddon had destabilized. Nero had declined to comment, and she hadn’t asked him.

She wondered for a moment what Haruka had done with the information they discovered, about his deals. At first, the revelation that he had been the one who gave the king his power rankled her, and made her question a lot of her fundamental assumptions about him. But in the end, she decided that all he had really done was given Hajime a choice. It was that man himself who’d made the wrong one. And now humanity was paying for it. Maybe one day, she’d ask Vasil why he’d done it—surely, he’d known what kind of person the vampire was when he’d made the deal. So why make it? Did he just give power to anyone who asked for it? Or was there some other factor? She doubted she’d truly understand the answer, but… maybe the question was worth putting to him anyway.

In the meantime, though, she’d just keep doing what she was doing and work for the best. Picking up a little tune, she hummed to herself as she went back to her work, recalling the way her warden had used to sing her to sleep at night when she was but a small child. She suspected he thought she’d forgotten, and she never brought it up, but she did recall the instances, and they were some of her fondest memories, both for the music itself, which was simply sublime, and for the tenderness he’d shown her, tenderness she knew he was reluctant to show to anyone. But she knew, she saw. Deep down underneath his exterior of apathy, Vasil cared, even if he didn’t want to. She cared, too, but had none of his reservations about that, and wore her heart on her sleeve.


"My Lady."

Rivka snapped back to reality at her familiar's voice. She blinked, realizing that she'd somehow managed to wander into the western end of the gardens; it was more of a comon area for the people to use as their own. As such, it was usually not smart for those of importance, especially one such as herself, to be there. Rikichi was off-duty today, as well. Rivka sighed. So much occupied her thoughts of late that she had lost her ability to focus.

A scent caught her nose, one tinged with roses. Odd, as there were no rose bushes in this part of the garden, but then she recognized it as Aurelia Rodanthe's. Her lips pursed instantly. She wondered if the girl knew about the man she spoke for. Surely not, if her interactions with the Lord Blake in the courtroom were anything to go by. She watched the girl as she bent over the flowers and plants.

Rivka truly envied her. For her entire life, she'd been told what to do, how to act, and everything had been done for her rather than she did it herself. Had she gone out and done what the pink-haired girl was doing now she'd have been berated.

"I do hope you'll pardon the intrusion, Miss Rodanthe, but I must profess to some admiration of what you've done here."


Lia was no vampire, to be able to hear or smell someone coming from very far away, but she’d had the sense that she was no longer alone, and so the voice didn’t surprise her. The woman it belonged to, however, really did. She glanced up into the violet eyes of the Queen herself, and her own golden ones widened a fraction. She almost never found herself in the Queen’s presence, and certainly not without the King being there as well. At first, she wasn’t exactly sure how to react—she had very little idea what the woman was like. On the one hand, she was Hajime’s wife, but… she was also Kiyo’s mother, and Rikichi was obviously very loyal to her. Speaking of Rikichi… her eyes slid behind the woman, only to find a different guard there. So much for getting some hint from him.

She was being silly though. She’d just do what she always did: treat this person as well as she could and then let her own behavior decide how it was best to react. She hadn’t known Kiyo was the prince when she met him all those years ago. That had turned out really well. She wasn’t going to assume anything about the Queen until she was forced to. So instead of freaking out or scrambling to her feet to bow or anything worse, she simply beamed up at the woman. “Thank you,” she said brightly. “Gardening happens to be my hobby, and I try to do something about these untended ones when I have the time.” Not that she really had a lot of time anymore. Being on the Council was a full-time job, and though she was given no official office of her own, she used the one that had been designated for her warden. She had no staff, however, because they all refused to serve a human. Well, it meant a little more work for her, but she did it gladly. Add her more extracurricular activities as a Vigilante’s assistant, and it was a wonder she slept enough.

But that work had been a bit slower lately—she actually hadn’t seen nor heard from Einar in the week or two since his injury. It was a bit troubling, but she didn’t want to go looking in case she accidentally led someone right to him. “Pardon me for saying so,” she added thoughtfully, tilting her head to the side, “but it seems a bit unusual for someone as important as you to be all the way out here. It’s a bit dangerous, isn’t it?” she blinked innocently up at the woman, and then the implication of the statement sank in. “Er… not that I’d be planning anything like that personally, just… um. I’m sure you can look out for yourself; sorry for presuming.”


Rivka almost laughed out loud at what Aurelia had said to her, and had it been Rikichi at her side, she probably would have. She was no one important, she was merely a figurehead, a decorative item. However, with one of the more loyal guards at her side, she had to be much more careful with what she said. She smiled gently. "Many people presume many things about me, and not one of them are ever very good. Yours in comparison was quite tame, I take no offense by it."

Rivka watched the girl as she spoke; it was rather refreshing to be spoken to with such a directness. There was only one other person who spoke to her that way, and she currently found herself at odds with him. That knowledge pained her, to lose someone whom she had considered a friend up until now. But each had made their choice, and she would not begrudge him that. "Either way, it is good to know that someone is taking care of the neglected ones; I do hate to see living things suffer." There was a sadness in her eyes as she spoke that, enough that it was more clear that it was not only flowers she was speaking of.


Aurelia sat back on her legs for a moment, looking up at the Queen with something approaching sympathy. “Then the little that we can do, we must do,” she said gently. “So that others will know that good people, too, can be strong.” She didn’t presume to change everything by herself, only to do her part to show other people that even one person could make a difference if they tried hard enough. She had to believe that if everyone knew that, then at least some of them would be brave enough to act on their own, and eventually those who did the harm would find themselves facing down too many people to intimidate back into silence. It was a fragile hope, a tenuous thing, but she needed to believe it. It drove her forward when nothing else would.

She glanced back at the guard, and sighed slightly. It would have been so much easier to speak freely if Rikichi were here. She, of course, didn’t care what she was heard to say, but… she could appreciate that even the Queen—perhaps especially the Queen—had to be careful. And she found she did want to speak to this woman. She’d always wondered about her. Silent enough at the King’s side to be a shadow, and yet radiant enough to outshine him. The Queen was never heard to speak on political matters, and yet there was no doubt in Lia’s mind that she had to have them—perhaps what she had already said was hint enough for now.

So, in an effort to excusably prolong the conversation, she turned it in a new direction. “Do you have a favorite flower? There’s another bed over there with nothing in it; I was having trouble deciding what to plant.” She offered a smile, perhaps the only thing she could give under the circumstances.


She truly was such a bright child, and so full of life. Her mere presence made Rivka smile, and her penchant for speaking her mind was something the Queen was grateful for. Perhaps this child truly could make a difference in this world; she certainly had the preserverence for it, if nothing else.

Rivka cocked her head to the side at the question asked, thinking for a moment. Tiger lilies were actually her favorite, but then...something stopped her from giving that answer. Instead, the name that came from her mouth surprised even her, for a second. "Roses. While they are not my absolute favorite, there are not enough of them, in my opinion." She sat down on the bench then, the guard behind her shifting slightly, but he did not voice his discomfort. Natara sat next to her master, her crystal blue eyes resting on Aurelia for a few seconds before laying her lupine head on her paws, her wings resettling themselves.


Aurelia’s smile inched wider. Though she was named for the roses she smelled like, they weren’t her favorites, either. “Mine are irises. They bloom most beautifully in adverse conditions, you know—when it’s too dark and rainy for other flowers to grow properly. But you’re right about needing more roses here…” She trailed off for a moment, tilting her head slightly to the side as she seemed to consider the Queen for a moment. “You know… a little red might not be bad at all. There’s actually a species of rose that blooms exactly the color of your hair. They were specially cultivated by a friend of mine, and they only grow in one place in the whole city. Maybe I’ll ask him if I can have some seeds…”

Standing, she brushed off the front of her plain, but serviceable dress, freeing a bit of dirt that had collected on the dark green fabric right around where her knees were. It was therefore possible to tell that she was quite barefoot, her legs bare to just below the knee. Her hair, too, was free of its usual pinnings, and simply collected in a ponytail atop her head. Clearly, she had meant to spend a substantial amount of time dong manual work of this sort. “But I’m guessing you probably know about that? I never knew that was the color they were based on, but I’m guessing so, seeing it now.” She thought it was interesting—but the color really was nice. A little less like fire than Nero’s red, more like a jewel. A carbuncle, maybe, or a ruby.


That statement caught Rivka off-guard. She'd known, of course, seeing as she recieved a bouquet of them every year on her birthday, but...it was a surprise to learn that this girl knew the person who grew them. Perhaps they were the same person who sent them to her? She pursed her lips slightly before smiling once more.

"I do, in fact, as I have recieved a bouquet of them every year on my birthday for...oh dear, six-hundred years? Perhaps longer, sometimes it is very hard to remember that far back." Her purple eyes regarded Lia for a few moments. "If you don't mind my asking, whose garden is it, where you have seen them?"


Lia tilted her head curiously. She really didn’t know whose garden it was? That seemed strange. Especially when the gardener himself had told her that the Queen’s hair was the inspiration for the shade. She’d thought it a sweet gesture, though the nature of it was hard to pin down. He was a very devoted person, but devotion came in different forms. Perhaps, had she believed differently, she might not have said, for fear that what she was saying was something the Queen should not necessarily know. She might have considered that he had declined to tell her for a reason. But in just that moment, she was too happy to share the news, to let Rivka know that someone out there had been thoughtful enough to do such a thing for her, to puzzle overmuch about what it might really mean.

“Why, the only rosebush with roses that color is on the Sakuragi estate, of course. Rikichi crossbred the flowers himself. It’s just like him, really—you’d never think it to look at him, but he has the artist’s eye for detail, as they call it.” She’d seen him draw, too, and his sketches were amazingly lifelike. She wondered if he painted. Shrugging, Aurelia smiled again, then curtsied.

“It was very nice meeting you, Rivka. If you don’t mind, though, I should probably be heading back home. There’s a Council meeting tomorrow, and I need to put some documentation together beforehand. I hope… I hope that things work out for you.”


Even after Aurelia left, Rivka sat there for a long time, one hand clutched to her chest as she tried to fit the pieces together. Her brows furrowed and her mouth became a line. Surely it didn't mean anything. Her hair color was simply a different color, who wouldn't want to capture it in a flower? The fact that it was Rikichi...well, he was the one who was around her most. It couldn't mean much, if anything at all.

She shook her head. No, it meant nothing. If it truly was he who gave her the flowers for her birthday, it was merely a gesture of unspoken friendship, at most. It had to be only that, because to contemplate anything else was sheer madness. She stood up, Natara standing with her. She was unsettled with how much her heart fluttered at the thought of the Guard Captain.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Tsuji Character Portrait: Vasilios Nero Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi

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Nero raised a perfectly-arched brow, giving the message in his hand another perfunctory reading. Well. This, he was quite certain, was highly irregular, which really only served to make it interesting. He was not in the habit of answering summonses, nor making social calls, but he decided to put those general policies aside in the interest of, well… interest. Folding the short message in half, he tucked it in the inside pocket of his pristine white suit jacket, then eyed the messenger who’d brought it to him. Red eyes met deep black ones, and though most people did not or could not hold his for long, Mika seemed unperturbed. The girl Rikichi had raised was a most peculiar case indeed, though he doubted very much that anyone save he knew quite why.

“I believed you were the Prince’s bodyguard, not his messenger. Do you often make deliveries?” There was something loaded into the question, though his tone betrayed nothing but idle curiosity. Mika continued to stare flatly back at him.

“Only the important ones.” The reply was so blunt and utterly devoid of emotion it could almost have come from him. The corner of Nero’s mouth ticked upwards by the tiniest fraction, and he stood in a flowing, graceful motion, reaching for the cloak on the coat rack in the corner of his study. He’d perhaps have asked if she were concerned about leaving her charge behind, but he knew something very few people did: what her eyes could really see. If she was here, the Prince was in no danger for the time being. It had been wise, he thought, to put the girl with Rikichi then. It kept her near Kiyoshi now, and it was about the best place for her, though neither of them knew it at this moment.

“I’m flattered.”

“Don’t be. It’s important because of what it’s about, not who it’s to.” Honestly, most other noblemen probably would have snapped at her for that, or reminded her of her place, but she knew through Haruka that this man would do no such thing. It perhaps made her tongue a little too loose, but Mika wasn’t one to pull punches unless she had to. Besides, something about him unnerved her. Deeply, like something about his presence pulled and tugged at something beneath her skin, something she could not name. Her Eyes were clearer when he was near, but her mind felt somehow more befuddled, like her emotions got closer to the surface, and that was dangerous, even if she was only imagining it.

With Mika in the lead, the two made their way back to the Prince’s office, whereupon she knocked sharply and opened the door to admit Nero, who stood slightly behind the chairs arrayed in front of the man’s desk. He did not bow—he bowed exactly once a year, and not to this particular member of the family—but he did incline his head ever-so-slightly in greeting. “I must admit, an invitation to visit was not what I expected when you sent the little wolf to my doorstep, but… here I am. What would you ask of me, Your Highness?” The title was inflected not with deference, but with the faintest touch of humor, as though he found something about the situation to be subtly amusing to him. What it was, he did not care to explain.

Kiyoshi sat, staring at the stack of papers that seemed to be growing. His eyes were half-lidded, and his focus going in and out. He was a little pale, more-so than usual, and he yawned. He had not realized the decrease in energy he had was due to a little detail he had neglected to see. Haruka had been taking a lot more blood than she normally had. It was odd to him, because there had never been a time where she would intake so much. For a brief moment, a thought that actually frightened him, he thought that she was with child. A vampire would only take more blood than necessary when they were with child, however; he was quickly able to deduce that that was not the case. He knew it couldn't be anything else. She hadn't increased any activities, though she had been acting a bit strangely.

There was, perhaps, only one person who could possibly know what ailed his sister, and it was why he had sent Mika to ask the man to come. Whether or not he accepted the invitation, Kiyoshi would not put it past the man. As far as he knew, they were both busy people, though he knew not what exactly Nero did. The man was connected to his father, that much Kiyoshi knew, and Nero now housed his sister in his residence. In a way, that was their connection. He shoved the thoughts away, trying to focus his attention back on his paper work. He didn't need to fall further behind, however; the sharp knock on his door, and Mika and Nero's entrance, caused him to turn his attention to them.

"And one you need not have answered," Kiyoshi replied, a tired look flashing across his face before it smoothed back out. He glanced towards Mika briefly before turning back to Nero. "Apologies, I am afraid my fatigue has affected my manners," he stated, leaning back a bit further into his chair. For a moment, he forgot what he was going to ask the vampire. The sudden closing of his eyes, however, reminded him, and he opened them back up.

"Has anything changed about Haruka? I am afraid you are the only one who has been near enough to her that I assume you might know. She's...been taking a lot more than usual," he finally stated. And it was slightly true. Mika had visited Haruka occasionally, and he wasn't exactly sure how much time Haruka spent with Aurelia. Plus, he wasn't going to ask the pink-haired girl about it without first consulting Nero. He didn't want to step on any boundaries, and he respected the man to an extent.

Well, she was sustaining a number of newly-enhanced capacities now—it was perhaps to be expected that her need for the energy to do that was increasing. Nero studied the prince for a moment, taking in the clear signs of fatigue. Clearly, the boy was her only source of intake, and at this rate, she’d probably kill him eventually. This was simply what happened because she had the new set of circumstances. If she actually took to using the power she’d been granted, it would grow worse. This was one of the side effects of the deal—such power was not meant for creatures such as she. It would continue to overtax her. Whether she would survive that or not was something he neither knew nor cared about, and she had made it clear that she did not either.

But it would seem that her half-brother did. Lifting a brow, Nero crossed his arms over his chest, not defensively, but simply as a matter of habit. “A rather nonspecific question. The answer to it happens to be yes.” He did not elaborate, however, and for a moment, there was silence.

“Yes how?” Mika said, a little too sharply. Normally, she wouldn’t have interfered at all, but this was her best friend they were talking about. And besides that, the new circumstances were taking a serious toll on the Prince as well. Every time she used her Eyes, it seemed like there were more possible situations in which bad things happened to him—either because he was overtaxed or because he was caught somewhere weakened and without her. She’d stopped taking days off in recent weeks, though she hadn’t mentioned it, acting as though it were perfectly ordinary for her to be around seven days a week, nearly eighteen hours a day. She might be losing a little sleep, but not as much as she would be if she kept seeing him maybe getting killed when she wasn’t there.

His condition was therefore of paramount concern to her, and she wasn’t going to mince words in getting to the root of it. Haruka may not have even noticed what she was doing to him, because she didn’t see him so often, and he put on a show of being hale and whole when she did. But Mika knew better, and this could not continue as it was.

Nero flicked his glance to her for a moment. “That is not for me to say. Is there something else you would like to ask me, or are we done here?”

Kiyoshi shook his head faintly. Well, Nero had answered the question, albeit not entirely fully. But Kiyoshi would not say anything further about it. It would, however, leave him curious as to how his sister had changed. Perhaps he would consult with her about it, at least now that he knew. His eyes flickered to Mika when she spoke, and he pursed his lips together. She was worried, that much he could tell. Whether she was worried about him, or his sister, however, was something he could not tell.

"Mika," he started, however; he returned his attention back to Nero. "I will not ask more of you, or take more of your time, however; I do have a request. I do not know what has changed about my sister, and I know you will not say. I will ask her, eventually, but," he paused, trying to find the words to speak without them coming out jumbled and confusing. He'd done that in the early morning when he was addressing a noble. He hadn't realized how tired he was then. As much as he didn't want to, he needed the help. He wasn't certain how Nero could help, but something spoke to him, telling him that he could.

"I do not know how, but if it at all possible, is there a way to help get her thirst under control? It...would be pleasant if she could, however; I do not expect anything more. Thank you Nero, if you wish to leave you are free to do so," he continued. Nero was not obligated to come, and he wasn't obligated to stay. Kiyoshi had been glad, however, that he chose to come, and now he had a bit more information on what was going on. If Nero couldn't help, then he would simply have to find another means of keeping his sister from attacking someone. He didn't want that for either of them, really.

Nero’s head tilted faintly to the side, and he considered the request for a moment. The man’s politeness didn’t really affect his consideration; he had the tendency to mind neither manners nor rudeness in address, really. Better rude than stupid, in all truth. “There are two solutions to the problem,” he said flatly, then blinked, the tiniest of motions quirking the corner of his mouth upwards. “One of which I believe she would refuse to consider.” That, of course, would be the taking of his blood, as it would keep the hunger at bay for significantly longer with less. Of course, he wasn’t inclined to give it away regardless.

The other option was entirely impersonal, which he had a feeling she would prefer. It did not, however, have the most pleasant taste. “As it happens, the other would be quite feasible. I am not, however, in the habit of doing things for free.” His eyes flickered to Mika for a brief moment, and she might have been imagining it, but she thought she saw the gold in them light up somewhat, as hers did when she was using her powers. It was gone in just an instant, though. “My price for this is simple: when the time comes, do not hesitate.” A pause. “Cryptic as it sounds now, you’ll know what I’m talking about when you need to. When you do, don’t second-guess yourself. Act with your first instinct. That is the bargain.”

Kiyoshi blinked. A bargain? He listened as Nero continued to explain, and in a way, he could understand. Why give away something for free when one can obtain more? Still, whatever it was Nero wanted, Kiyoshi would make it so. There were two things to help his sister, though he did not know what they were, Nero made it clear that whatever one of them was, Haruka would not take it. He could only assume that it meant the intake of another source, and Nero would be correct about it. She wouldn't take another source, and she had voiced that plenty of times before.

"I do not expect anything to be without price. It is how things are now a days," he stated. "Then I give you my word. When the day comes, I will not," he continued. It did not sound like much of a price to be asking for, however; Kiyoshi knew that there would be more to it than a simple promise. He could not see the future, but he was not ignorant to the challenges that each day brought, and would continue to bring for the rest of his years alive.

“So shall it be,” Nero replied, and there was something very final in the way he said it. The fulfillment of that promise would involve no small amount of risk to the prince—he was curious to see what the man was made of. Especially considering whom his father was. If he did not keep his end of the bargain, well… it would just be one more thread in the weave this world had become, meritless and obscene. Inclining his head a second time, Vasilios turned to depart, pausing only momentarily t turn back over his shoulder.

“You may want to consider finding another source of sustenance, yourself. It does not do to bleed in front of sharks.” The metaphor was clear enough—any weakness in front of the Council would be seen as a prime opportunity to be rid of him, either politically or in a more permanent sense. That one piece of advice, he was willing to give for free.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Haruki Blake Character Portrait: Lia Rodanthe

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Lia sighed, leaning back against her desk chair and combing her fingers through her rose-colored locks. She was finding it difficult to concentrate lately, and if she were being completely honest with herself—something she tried to do—she knew exactly why.

She’d seen neither hide nor hair of Einar for months. Two of them, to be exact. And he hadn’t been doing anything on his own, either, if the gossip mill was to be believed. She was starting to catch flak for it in court, actually, her enemies keen to insinuate that her invisible ally had abandoned her or died. She was quick to leap to his defense, every single time, but even she was beginning to wonder. What if he’d been caught again? No… surely they would have rubbed that in her face. But caught in disguise? They would never know they had the right person. Maybe one of his clones could get him out though…

Sighing again, she decided there was no way she was going to get anything else useful done today, and so she slid on a pair of slippers and headed for the exit, throwing a light cloak over her shoulders. The weather was starting to grow chill again, and she was more sensitive to it than the average vampire, after all. She knew she shouldn’t wander by herself where Thanatos could find her alone, so she stuck to the more populated portions of the Castle-City for now. She didn’t really pay much attention to where she was going, and as a result, was somewhat surprised when she looked up a while later to find herself in front of an office complex. She’d never been to this one before, and didn’t know whom it belonged to. She could have sworn she caught a flash of white out of the corner of her eye, but when she turned, it was gone.

“Hm,” she hummed softly, then shook her head. She should probably get back out into the main market area. It wasn’t deserted here by any means, and she had no idea whose part of the city she was presently in. If it was Schrodinger’s, life could get very unpleasant for her very quickly. Turning away from the door, Aurelia made to leave.


He knew she was coming. A scent as unique and intoxicating as hers was, you tended to notice when she approached. He doubted that she had any idea where she was, as as far as he knew -and he did, indeed, know- she had never been here. It also helped, of course, that he had Eadwyn on look-out. He was bent over his desk, his long, sinewy frame hunched and shrouded in shadows cast by the dim lighting.

"The Lady Aurelia approaches, Master." The puppet that resembled his father rasped at him, eyes aglow with rage and spite. It sometimes made Haruki smile; at other times, he simply pitied the man. It had been sheer luck for him to pull his father's soul back over from the other side. He had been searching for Rhiannon, his sister, but he had no choosing in the soul that came forth. When he'd found Eadwyn Blake...

It had simply been too sweet an oportunity. As such, his late father had become little more than his slave. Eadwyn had made it rather clear that he resented his son, not only for ending his life, but for then enslaving him, and Haruki had made it clear that he didn't care what his father thought, dead or alive.

"The Lady still does not know, does she?"

Haruki frowned, and snapped, "Be silent! Show her in, I would speak with her. And not a word about anything from you." He was not afraid of Eadwyn not heeding the comand, as the puppet was bound to that promise; it didn't matter what Haruki asked of him, he had no choice but to follow the orders he was given. Eadwyn nodded, turning and walking out to the entrance, appearing just as Aurelia turned.

"Miss Rodanthe, if you would please follow me. Master Blake would like to speak with you." He bowed as he spoke, silently waiting for her to respond.


At the sound of a voice over her shoulder, Aurelia stopped. It was unfamiliar, and so she immediately turned to face it, finding herself looking at a blond man with red eyes, the shade of which was somehow familiar. He spoke of Lord Blake, though, and she supposed that might be the reason. Perhaps they were related somehow—it was not especially uncommon for the less-prominent members of vampire clans, or those with some amount of noble blood, to act as stewards for the heads of those families. She’d had to know all kinds of things about vampiric politics to survive this world, after all.

It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him that she didn’t just answer summons from anyone at any time of day, and if Lord Blake wanted to talk to her, he could make an appointment like anyone else thank you very much, but she was stayed by what she remembered of the last time they had spoken. She might not mind being rude to people who perfectly well deserved it, but considering what he’d confessed to her that time bout Atol and his sister, and how much that advice had later come to help her out—in a way—it seemed a little too gauche to just refuse the summons without a good reason in hand. Though even this did not stop the slight feeling of nervousness from entering her stomach and fluttering around in there, like something important was going to happen soon and she wasn't going to like it much.

She took a deep breath, looked down, smoothing her dark blue gown, then looked back up, meeting the steward’s eyes and nodding slightly. “Very well then. Thank you, Mr…?” Servant or not, she believed in using people’s actual names when talking to them. This man, whomever he was, was worth no less than the lord he served just because some titles got in the way, after all. She allowed herself to be led to Lord Blake’s office, as he was apparently the one that owned this section of the city, a fact she had never known before now.


The puppet cocked his head to the side, regarding her. He wasn't entirely sure how to answer, to be completely honest. So, he simply said, "You can call me Eadwyn, Miss Rodanthe. This way, please." The blonde man turned and then silently led her to his Master's office, where Haruki was leaning back in his chair, absent-mindedly reading through a report on the cost of the King's latest party. He sighed through his nose. There were some parts of his job that he truly hated. His crimson eyes glanced up when they entered. He set down the paper and steeped his fingers todether. He nodded to them, glancing in the direction of his father.

"Thank you, Eadwyn. You may leave."

The man nodded, and then took up residence in the corner by the door, going utterly still. Haruki sighed through his nose. "That was not what I meant, but I suppose it will do." He sounded slightly exasparated, and then turned to Aurelia.

"I must say, Miss Rodanthe, I'm slightly surprised you answered my summons. I'd known you were coming, and figured you were not aware of your surroundings, so I figured I'd extend my hospitalities. I'm afraid you're a bit close to a certain snake's quarters. The downside of being so close to the King, I'm afraid. I must stay close to him, and therefore close to Atol. But so long as I or one of my own are near you, Thanatos won't bother you. I'm afraid you've managed to attract the beast's unwanted attention."


It was still halfway in her to ask why he cared, but then she knew the answer to that well enough. It wasn’t her he cared about, or at least not her specifically. It was the fact that it was Thanatos, and Thanatos was the familiar of the man who’d killed his sister. She could not blame him for that resentment, and she would not deny that it did her good to have someone looking out for her in respect to this, regardless of their motives for doing so. Really, there were a lot more dangerous things she had to take on faith, and she did that often enough.

“Should I ask you to draw me a map of all the places I might run into him, or would you just be giving me a picture of the whole city?” she asked dryly, raising an eyebrow. She wasn’t upset with him, she just felt… frustrated. At the fact that her frailty was preventing her from being able to simply wander around and not fear danger. Shouldn’t that be something everyone had a right to? Whether they be human or vampire or somewhere in between?

Nevertheless, there was little point in asking such questions of him. He was, after all, so notorious for being the king’s advisor, facilitating the king’s ridiculous policies, and though she somehow sensed more depth to him than that, she could not say why, nor even what it meant. Even so, it wasn’t like her to remain silent. “You know, you wouldn’t have to go to all that trouble if there were just actual, enforceable laws against harming humans. Then if he tried anything, he wouldn’t be able to do it a second time.“

Then she paused, something clicking into place in her mind. “You… just how do you know about that? Only one person knows about that incident, and you’re not…” She narrowed her eyes, not even needing him to confirm the conclusion for her. “I don’t suppose your familiar is a giant white wolf with wings, is he? Calls himself Xeno?”


Rare as it was, even Haruki had not seen his slip until she pointed it out to him. Still, it was a small matter, to let her know he had a familiar. So intead of revealing the small frustration, he smiled instead, revealing stark white teeth. "I'm a little surprised it took you so long to figure that out. Yes, Xeno is my familiar, and has been keeping an eye on you. Not, however, at my specific request. He seems to have taken quite the shine to you. You seem to do that to many of those you meet." It was then that the familiar in question stepped from the shadows, blue-tinted white fur seemingly aglow. He nodded in Aurelia's direction. "Good evening, Lia."

Haruki raised a brow. "Now that seems a little unfair. You're on a nickname basis with her? You never told me that."

Xeno cocked his head. [coor=#32199]"You never asked."[/color] Haruki then shrugged, seemingly indifferent, and then returned to Aurelia's other questions. "You know what kind of man the King is, just as I do. A law like that would never pass into judgement, no matter how shrouded and cunning I myself can be. There are too many people like Atol who would fight against it, finding something to remove me from my power. I will do no one any good behind bars, or dead. I prefer to work in shadow, where even my fellow vampires cannot see me."


Took her so long to figure it out? Why on earth would she ever have suspected that Xeno was connected to Haruki Blake? The man had nothing to do with her except for when he stood across the debate hall from her with a smug smile on his face, watching her argue her heart out, throw her tender feelings at the Council under the guise of sharp, flawlessly logical words, and fail, every time, to move them in any way at all. They were all so absorbed in the benefits of their own false superiority—of course they would not hear her. But that did not give her the right to stop trying,

She laid a hand comfortably on Xeno’s head, though, moving to scratch behind his ears, something that she didn’t think offended him, if his usual reaction to it was anything to go by. The funny thing was, she had strongly suspected him of being Einar’s familiar… and then it all clicked into place, before he even mentioned shadows, and it was because, when she looked back up at him again, she knew his eyes. That was, somehow, what Eadwyn had reminded her of. The way Einar’s eyes had not changed even when the rest of them did, still bright and red, the color of a ruby lit by the sun. They were his eyes. Einar’s. Lord Blake’s. The two were the same.

“I see you.” The words left her lips before she’d had any chance to consider them, a habit that was not especially uncommon to her, but one she usually managed to clamp down on in delicate situations. Not so now. Well… she’d said it, so she was committed to its truth. Lia did not backpedal, not unless she believed herself to be truly in the wrong. And she didn’t. She saw him—more fully now than, without arrogance, she believed anyone else did at the moment. She saw Haruki Blake, and Einar, and a man who had lost someone dear, who still had not recovered from that loss. Someone who wanted something that convention told him he should not want, and who was forced to pursue that thing from behind the veil of a disguise. Someone strong, but also at times startlingly vulnerable. She saw, and she might just have understood. Her eyes did not leave his, even as her fingers twined themselves in Xeno’s ruff.

She knew the knowledge should have stunned her. Perhaps she should have been angry, that he had been deceiving her with this duplicity, withheld information from her that could prove crucial. Mostly, though, she was just upset with him for not contacting her sooner after his recovery as Einar, and letting her know he was okay. “So don’t… don’t hide from me. I’m with you, until that world is achieved. But it doesn’t so us a lot of good if you’re keeping secrets from me, you know.”


Haruki Blake had promised himself a long time ago to not become attatched, in any way, to another person after his sister had died. For nigh on three hundred years he had kept that promise to himself, until she had come into the picture. He cursed himself for caring, and cursed her for making him care. It was bad enough that she was associated with his other self, but for her to know...he sighed gently through his nose.

"Honestly I had never intended that you find out, Little Bird. Keeping secrets and hiding is what I do best. But I made a mistake, one that almost cost me my life. You gave that life back. Our association was dangerous enough, I couldn't risk dragging you deeper into the whole mess." he paused, his eyebrows raising in slight amusement, nodding to Xeno, "You seem to come by enough on your own, without my help. But as it seems that, according to you, I'm stuck with you, so I suppose we have some work ahead of us. As for keeping secrets, I don't keep them. I simply do not divulge information that one does not ask for, Little Bird."


Lia pursed her lips, then shook her head slightly. “Well then, consider this a standing request to tell me whatever is pertinent to our work together.” She paused, then smiled slightly. “Let’s start with how you came up with this absurd idea of yours to play Robin of Sherwood, like from the old stories.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kiyoshi Tsuji Character Portrait: Aurelia Rodanthe Character Portrait: Mika Sakuragi

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Aurelia trailed after Mika, a look of slight perplexity written over her face. It was true that she’d met Kiyo before, and found him to be an astoundingly-kind person, especially considering what his father was like, but then, she could make more sense of it now that she’d met the queen as well. None of that quite explained, though, why he wanted to see her. They might get along just fine, but the prince was a very busy person, and she had her fair share of other engagements as well most of the time, and those lines usually only crossed at meetings and more official functions. Still, he’d sent Mika all the way to Nero’s quarters to retrieve her, so she would certainly oblige.

At first, she’d been surprised to see Mika without Haruka, and she wondered if maybe she’d forgotten a scheduled lesson or something. But the other woman was wearing the black and white of the official Guard uniform, and so she swiftly deduced that Rikichi’s daughter was visiting her on business, something which turned out to be correct. She glanced at Mika’s back, tilting her head slightly to the side. She always used a minimum of words, and even her body language was guarded. Right now, her posture was upright and perfect, but she still managed to move with the predatory grace of something feline. She was a bit of an enigma, really—no amount of observation seemed inclined to reveal what made her tick. Perhaps seeing her in this context, at her job, would reveal something she did not otherwise display.

They bypassed many members of the Prince’s administrative and support staff on their way through his offices, and Aurelia knew she got a few dirty looks, but most of the concentrated disdain seemed to be focused on Mika, who either did not notice it or was completely impervious. Lia was betting on the latter—there was no way one didn’t notice that many people glaring at you. Still, not all of them did, and everyone got out of her way when she walked past, respectful of her position if not of the one who occupied it.

“We’re here.” Mika said suddenly, pulling to a stop. Aurelia did the same behind her, and Mika knocked on the door sharply in a distinctive pattern. “Your Highness, I’ve brought Lady Rodanthe.” She pulled open the door, nodding for Lia to enter before her, which she did, smoothing down the lines of her white dress.

Lia chose not to curtsey, instead offering a small nod and a big smile. “Kiyo. It’s been a long time.” Perhaps not for him, but it had been almost two years ago that they met for the first time, and after that, their interactions had been sparse at best. “How have you been?” She seemed genuinely interested in the answer, more than basic courtesy demanded she be.

Mika, for her part, closed the door and retook her place standing behind the Prince’s chair, and to the left.

Things were getting worse. People were starving in the lesser parts of the Castle-City, and Kiyoshi was worried. Though he chose not to display those emotions, for what they might cause within the staff. If they knew exactly what the Prince was going to do, he knew for certain he would not leave unpunished for it. That is why he chose her. He had to trust someone who was not also his guard and protector, nor his flesh and blood. If he could make this work, in some fashion, then it would benefit not only those who were currently suffering because of his father, but also it would benefit them. His thoughts were interrupted by a familiar knock at his door, and Kiyoshi allowed a small smile to grace his features. "It has," he responded, glancing subtly towards Mika before giving his attention back to Aurelia.

"I have been as I always have; busy," he stated, but the slight quirk of his lips wasn't too hard to notice. He folded his hands in front of him, blinking slowly before releasing a deep sigh. "I hope things have been well with Haruka. She speaks fondly of you, you know," which was saying a lot compared to the things his sister usually said about most people. Still, this was not the reason as to why he brought her here, and he had very little precious time to convey his message. He motioned for her to sit, and waited untill she did before continuing. "I know it seems a bit odd for me to summon you here," he began, closing his eyes in the process.

"I have a favor, actually, to ask of you. If you should so be inclined to do so, though, it would be...," he trailed off, searching for the proper word to say what he wanted to. "It would beneficial to all who were involved," he finally stated, opening his eyes to hold Aurelia's gaze. Of course, should she decline, it would be of no consequence to anyone, and he would simply have to figure out a way to do it himself without being caught.

"But I shall leave the decision up to you should you wish to hear what I am proposing."

Aurelia studied him for a moment. The way he danced around the actual topic, she supposed it would likely involve some level of danger, either for herself, or possibly for Einar. Lord Blake—she was still having trouble getting used to the fact that they were the same person—had told her that Kiyo and Mika both knew of his dual identity, and so she was left to assume that he was going through her as an intermediary because it would look very strange for him to meet with his father’s adviser and not make any progress on those awful arranged marriages that rumor had it was in the works for him. Plus, it was better in general if Haruki didn’t look too close to the prince, who was known to be a bit softer than the average pureblood on humans, to say the least. Nobody had forgotten his doomed love affair with that woman, after all.

Her, though, well. She could be talking about anything with him, and if the suspicion fell that something was going on, it would be easy enough to believe that it was all her doing rather than his. Scapegoat was a role she’d been playing most of her time in court, and she was certainly willing to continue to play it if the results were something good. Kiyo had a good heart—she fully believed that. But he also needed to maintain his position as well as he could, not only for himself, but for the cause. She was much more expendable in that sense.

Nodding once, solemnly, she spoke. “I want to hear it. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, but potential danger isn’t usually a deterrent for me.” She caught the faintest flicker of something on Mika’s face, just a barely-there upward tilt to her lips, but then it disappeared.

Unlike the barest flicker across Mika's face, the one across Kiyoshi's was much more noticeable. The frown, however, had also flickered across his face. "Be that as it may, I wish it were for you," he spoke honestly. Brave, he'll give her that. She had more spirit in her than any other human he had met, and he wasn't entirely sure if that was a good thing, or if it were something that should raise concern. It was a known fact that his father was not particularly fond of spirited humans. If Haruka's mother was anything to go by, and what he had did to her. It wasn't a fond memory, nor was it one that he wished to repeat upon anyone else, least of all to Aurelia. He knew, somehow, that Nero wouldn't allow it, though, so at least she would be spared for the time being.

"I am aware of your connection to Einar, and the purpose and drive he has. I wish to help," he began, pausing only to pull back and lean in his chair. "We have supplies, food that we vampires do not need," that much was obvious. Though they could still dine on such things, it wasn't necessary. Food wasn't something they needed, and it was a simple fact. "I have managed to arrange a convoy for him to distribute amongst the people in the lower parts of the Castle-City. But in order to do so," he paused again, keeping Aurelia's gaze to ensure she understood what he was asking of her.

"I need your help in doing so. It won't be easy, and there is a chance that you will be caught, however; should you be caught, say nothing. I will take full responsibility of whatever happens. I am asking a lot of you, Aurelia, however; I do believe you are the best person for this job," because he had to have faith in her and her own abilities as a human.

Food. Such a basic thing, but one that oftentimes, those living outside the City had to do without. It forced them to sell each other to the vampires, just to eat, perpetuating the cycle of slavery and giving it a sense of legitimacy that was only an illusion. Whatever the reason, nobody had the right to own anyone else—this was as obvious to her as the fact that the lived and breathed. She glanced from Kiyo to the more stoic and unreadable Mika, but even so, she felt she understood the other woman more now. Someone like this, who occupied such a position that it should be impossible for him to see the suffering of those his world told him were beneath him… that was exactly the kind of person worth devoting oneself to.

Haruki was like that, she realized suddenly. She’d known, of course, that in the abstract, Einar was a decent person, but she’d not realized until just recently how high a position he occupied. To be able to look past that and see how people suffered for the same system that gave them both so much power… she was grateful there were people like that in the world. “Nonsense,” she replied quietly, smiling again. There was something serious about her demeanor all the same, though—she was most certainly not joking around. “I will always take the responsibility for my own actions. If I don’t do that, then they don’t mean anything. As good as it is to have allies who understand us and care about us, we humans have to play our part in our own freedom as well. And if that means that I have to get hurt a bit well… better me than someone else.” At the very least, she could lean on Nero and her friends to protect her from the very worst.

But she would never let them take the blame for her, even if they kept her alive afterwards. “I’ll do it. Just tell me what you want Einar to know and what I’m to do, and I’ll take care of the rest.” She paused for a moment, folding her hands in her lap. “And Kiyo? Thank you. For caring. It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that we’re not in this fight alone.”

Kiyoshi allowed a brighter smile to cross his face, shaking his head softly in the process. Of course she would say as much. "You will never be alone as long as you know where to look," he spoke simply, and he would make sure of it. They would never be alone. He would help as much as he could from the shadows, away from the prying eyes of his court, so that no one need suffer any longer. He only wished his father would open his own eyes and see. But to make such a wish as that was asking for a miracle.... and miracles did not happen quite often.

"You are quite welcome, Aurelia," he added. He bequeathed the information to her, telling her what she needed to know, where to be, and at what time. Once everything was arranged, he dismissed her, sending her back on her way under the eye of Mika. He sighed softly, leaning against his chair as he glanced out the only window to his room. The sky seemed to be a brighter shade of gray than he remembered it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Raamah Atol

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There was a steady click issuing from the clock on the wall behind him, his face marred with a frown as he bent over his desk. A lock of flaming red hair fell forward in front of his eyes, long enough to skim over the surface of the paper in front of him; he brushed it away with a flick of his hand, the motion angry and irritated. This was normal for him, after all. He had an image to uphold, and part of that was looking angry. People feared anger, and they could be controlled by that fear.

That was something that Raamah knew well, and he wielded that fear better than a sword. It was how he manipulated his daughter, and his wife before her, until the woman had finally defied him by taking her own life. More often than not, after a sword was swung, a pawn was dead, and pawns were no more use to him that way. As such, he chose to sling fear around, and it usually got him what he wanted. Usually.

There was a certain someone who had, for over two centuries now, evaded his grasp. He had had him once, it was so close, yet somehow the man had escaped. Thanatos had even bitten him, that alone should have ensured his death, but no body had been found. There had been no sightings or reports of the Vigilante since his masterful escape, but Raamah knew better than to truly believe he was dead. He could willingly stake his fortune that Einar was simply biding his time, laying low.

He sighed, setting the report on patrols to the side. It was a tedious task, to be sure, but one expected of his station. He may be personal guard of the King himself, but at the end of the day, he still answered to Rikichi Sakuragi. The man's name alone made him seethe with a rigid anger. There was no reason -none- that he should have to answer to anyone aside from Hajime. Sakuragi was too much of a bleeding heart, too soft for this type of work. It was because of that -or perhaps simply because of Raamah's unmatched thirst, both literal and figurative, for blood- that Hajime had named Raamah the Royal Executioner. He knew that Raamah would not flinch away from any task, no matter how bloody.

It was the bloodier, the better, in point of fact.

A terrible smell filled the small office, causing the Pureblood to wrinkle his nose in disgust. Even he could not abide his familiar's presence for an extended amount of time. But Thanatos had a good effect on the general population, and got Raamah's point across, even if Raamah himself -though he would never admit it- was afraid of Thanatos.

But Thanatos knew.

Preceded by the clacking of bone on wood, the large skeletal beast slipping from the dark shadows in the room, patches of flesh and fur clinging to pale, dirty, and stained bone. His long, red tongue drooped from stained jawbones, the stench of death and rot rolling from him. His voice was grating, even to Raamah's ears.

"I think I might have some information you'll find useful, Raamah...it centers around the activities of a lovely little bird..."






A king, too, had his duties, and Hajime had to admit, the foolish younger vampire that he had once been had not expected that. Most of it, he was successfully able to delegate, either to his son or his Council, but there were some things that even someone of his might and rule had to do himself. Actually, it was because he was in charge that he had to do them. So he was reading over the text of a new law on trade, mind-numbingly boring if he were honest for once, in preparation for signing it into official use. He wrinkled his nose a little at a small provision allowing for humans to seek legal recourse when they felt that had been systematically cheated or gouged, supposing that it was probably the work of his son or that annoyingly-thorny rose of Nero’s. She could be persuasive at times, and though there were people she would never convince, there were others on the Council—nobles, mostly—who could occasionally be swayed to her side on some issues.

Still, overall it was nothing damning, because there were no laws on which to base a legal challenge of this sort. Humans didn’t have rights, and that was as it should be. No doubt they viewed it as a small step in a larger process, but it meant nothing if he never allowed the larger process to go anywhere. Still, Kiyoshi was getting more and more out of hand as time went on… he wondered if he might not have to pull his son back into line sooner and more harshly than he had initially believed.

There was a knock on his door, and his personal steward spoke through the wooden portal. “Your Majesty. Lord Atol requests an audience.” The king blinked, glancing at his substitute guard for the day, given that it was Raamah’s one day of the week entirely to himself, then shrugged.

“Granted. See him in.” When Lord Atol entered, followed by his stinking familiar, Hajime did not bother to suppress his disdain for the odor. While many a vampire had cause to fear the creature, Hajime did not, and never would. He supposed he had Nero to thank for that, much as it rankled him to admit it. “Raamah. I do not often see you on Sevenday. There is something you wish to bring to my attention?”


Raamah entered, Thanatos clicking in behind him, his skeletal form looming behind his master. His tongue lolled, the thing seemed like it never stayed in his mouth. But when your mouth was nothing but bone, one would suppose it would be impossible to keep it contained. Raamah bowed his head and then stood for a second while the King spoke. His emerald eyes swept the room, straying to the guard for a brief second before returning to rest on the King.

"Your Grace, I am afraid I bear news that you will not like. But, used correctly, I believe we can use it to our advantage..." He paused, glancing at Thanatos, who laughed his grating, harsh laugh through his teeth.

"The little king has friendships in low places, one of them being with the rose girl. And we all know the little bird is in league with a shadow. So what does that tell you? On top of that, the food rations were stolen not long ago, and there were certain things that seemed to line up. If you get my line of thought, you'll see that this is indeed not looking good for the little princeling."

Raamah fought not to roll his eyes. Just once he would prefer his familiar to at least not speak in riddles to the king himself. But the creature was of his own mind, and Raamah knew better than to press otherwise.


Whatever else was true of Hajime Tsuji, he was crafty. It was not anyone who could locate an ancient demon world-maker and construct a deal with him that would allow for the building of all of this, an entire empire over which he was sole sovereign. So it didn’t take much for him to understand Thanatos’s meaning, and to say that he was angry would be an understatement. He was livid, and to some extent, his anger blinded him to the foolishness he was about to suggest. Foolishness that neither other party in the room would be able to recognize as such.

“I see. I suppose it is time the boy learned his lessons, then. We will proceed at a rapid rate with his engagement, and in the meantime, we will dismantle his fledgling little alliance. I will have that Vigilante’s half-living corpse mounted in the central market square while he slowly dies, and then I will have his ashes presented to that pretentious human brat as a gift.” His teeth clenched together, and his eyes flashed. No son of his would be able to consort with bleeding-heart rebels and get away with it. Nero be damned, he was going to punish that little bitch for her slights against his throne, and he was going to kill Einar as slowly as he knew how, which was extremely slowly indeed.

Apparently, earlier lessons in the fate of those who defied him had not been sufficiently impactful to correct the behavior. That would change—even if he had to chain his own blood son to do it. “Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention, Raamah. I do believe it should go hand in hand with punishment that those who do well by this authority are rewarded.” His tone was significantly calmer now. “Name your reward, and you shall have it.”


There was very little that actually made Raamah Atol happy, but anger, visible, palpable anger was one of those few things. So as the King got more and more angry, Raamah's smile grew wider. It was a twisted and cruel thing, and it was definitely not pretty. It faltered slightly, when he was asked what reward he wanted, though. It soon returned, and this one seemed more cruel than the first, if that was even possible.

"It would honor me if I were the one to kill the Vigilante. But in true terms of reward..." He paused as his familiar hissed in an unpleasant way. He knew his master's train of thought, and approved. "I want the girl. Such a rose should not do to be marred so in public." There was a gleam in his eye. Aurelia Rodanthe would make a fine puppet, indeed.


The King could appreciate the neatness of the solution. Such a method would not kill the girl, and if Nero still found some way to be offended, well… Hajime was happy to allow that to fall on Atol and not himself, if he were being completely honest.

“Very well. Then when the time comes, she will be yours.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rivka Atol Character Portrait: Lord Rikichi Sakuragi

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#, as written by Asilian
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Rivka was pacing.

It was something she did when she was nervous.

Rivka was certainly nervous.

She sighed, sitting down, and then stand up and crossing the room again. Her mind was a whirl, and she was arguing with herself. There were so many things she had discovered of late that disturbed, confused, and hurt her, she was no longer sure that she wanted to dig in to anything or anyone else. But it was something that she had started, so at this point, there was little she could say any longer.

It was simply that she was afraid. She hated to admit it, but Rivka feared her father. There was something wrong with the man, and she intended to root it out. Her hand rested on the hilt of her sword, steeling her nerves. It was rare that she wore it, as Rikichi was enough to ensure that she lived, but it was her solace in times like these. It let her feel in control.

"Natara. Tell Rikichi we are leaving. It is past time I discovered what Lord Atol has been up to." She paused, knowing how much the Captain would be against the idea.

"Make sure he knows that it is an order."






Rikichi was standing just outside Rivka’s private chambers, his usual post when she went within. He respected her need for her own space, and his truesight was ample warning if someone should try to enter through the window. The only time he ever actually shut it off was when she was in any state of undress, because in the end, he was more than base desire and instinct, and he respected her enough that he never even considered doing otherwise. Regardless, he did notice her pacing, and guessed easily enough what it related to, but she had not requested his assistance or his opinion, so there was little he could do. They did not have the kind of relationship where he could simply give these things to her outside of the parameters of his job, though he often wished they did. Not aloud, of course.

When Natara exited the room, his dark indigo eyes felt to her, and he nodded slightly. “Good evening, Lady Natara. Does her Majesty require something of me?” The little half-smile on his face gave away the fact that he was actually teasing her, albeit gently.

By the time the order was fully relayed, Rikichi had a decidedly-grim scowl on his face. It was one he dare not show the Queen herself, but he and her familiar were on somewhat different terms. Namely, they had a mutual understanding of the fact that Rivka’s recklessness often made their shared task of protecting her exceedingly difficult. He sighed through his nose, pitching his voice such that it would be audible only to the familiar. “And she will not be swayed, or perhaps allow one of us to handle the matter on our own?”


Natara cast a sharp glance at the man, her fur bristling slightly at the mention of lady. She was no lady, she was an animal. She knew what she was, and so did anyone who dared to get too close to Rivka. Still, she also knew that Rikichi did not actually mean it. The two of them had an unspoken understanding.

And Natara understood more than she let on.

So instead of berating him, she shook out her fur before sitting back on her haunches. "When have you ever known Rivka to be dissuaded from anything?" The familiar sighed. "This is something she must see for herself, and nothing either of us say will change her mind. This is a matter of family, and she will not be one to sit on the side for this. No matter how hurtful the truth turns out to be."


He’d known it, of course. He’d known her for six hundred years—more, really. There was no way she would allow someone else to do this work for her, however dirty it would become. But Rikichi knew a little better than she did what it was really like, to have dirty hands, and it wasn’t a feeling he ever wanted her to experience first hand. So he resolved, if only to himself, that if it came to that, he would spill the blood or commit the crime. Because doing so was infinitely preferable to putting her in the danger that would come of doing such things. Still unsmiling, but forcing his face into the neutral cast it wore so well, he nodded. “Very well then.” Turning, he knocked politely on Rivka’s door.

“My Queen, I await your discretion.” Whenever she was ready to leave, he would be as well.


Rivka almost jumped at the knock, but she took a deep breath and shut her eyes. She had determined to do this, and she would be damned before she backed out of her own resolution. She stood up, and left the room, Natara and Rikichi in her wake.

Even so, she could not keep the feeling away that she did not want to open this door. She didn't want to know what she sought.

But she had to do it.

Perhaps it was only for a distraction, but she found herself speaking before she thought things through. "Aurelia gave me an interesting bit of information about a certain flower in your garden, Captain."


It took basically every lesson Rikichi had ever learned about self-control to successfully keep on walking as though the question did not perturb him at all. For a strange, tilting moment, he really really wished he’d never answered Lia’s questions about his garden. It had been a moment of weakness to admit what little he had, and clearly, karma was punishing him for it now. He should bear it as stoically as he could, but there were certain things that were just difficult to take on the nose, no matter what you did. To his credit, his voice remained neutral when he answered, if a little softer than usual.

“Did she?” he replied, his eyes reflexively scanning the area. Nothing—it would likely be a clear walk to Atol’s home at this time of day. Not many were out and about—most slept quite soon after this hour. “She is an enthusiast. Her knowledge of plants is very impressive, for one so young.” He just wished she were a little less inclined to share it.


Rivka was slightly surprised to hear his answer. If she didn't know any better, she'd have sworn he was dodging the subject. So she tried again. "She did, and she is, indeed. She was quite impressed with how close in comparison the color of the roses were to the color of my hair. Just like the ones I recieve on my name day each year..."

Rikichi sighed, shaking his head slightly before blinking over at her, something resigned creeping into his expression. “What do you wish me to say, My Queen? If desiring to alleviate the feeling of being unrecognized on your day of birth is a sin, then I am afraid I have been transgressing for centuries. I bred the roses, and I it I who leaves the arrangement in your room every year. I simply…” He did not let himself finish the sentence, instead trailing off. He could not say why he did it beyond the simple desire to recognize the occasion in some way, because if he told her the truth, six hundred years of carefully-constructed boundaries and deception by omission would crumble into dust at his feet, and everything would be ruined. He knew he was capable of doing his job just as well even though he loved her, but things would be different if that was known. He could not say that he did it because her smile lit up his entire world in a way that nothing else did. He could not say that he reviled her husband for not recognizing how very worthy and wonderful she was as a person, how he was madly jealous of Hajime for having such a woman—no, not such a woman, just her—for a wife, and found him beyond stupid for failing to recognize what a blessing she was.

He definitely couldn’t tell her how badly he wanted to hurt Schrodinger every time the man looked at her like she was just another thing to be coveted and owned, rather than a strong, intelligent, extraordinary person who deserved more than this forsaken world could provide for her. So he settled, as he was so often forced to, on a half-truth. “I told you, did I not, that I believed you needed a friend to confide in? It so happens that a friend would also celebrate such an occasion with you. I… cannot be that friend; station does not permit it. But… it seemed a shame, for you to be entirely without one, and so I did what I did without claiming credit for it. If you find it terribly inappropriate, I apologize, and will amend my behavior accordingly. I only ask you to understand that nothing ill was meant.” Nothing ill, certainly, but plenty that was not appropriate.


No, station did not permit it, and that was the true shame. For a second, her heart fluttered. It was absurd, the thought she had. It was always outlandish, just as the last time. Yet there it was. Still, she smiled. "Perhaps some might deem it inappropriate. I do not. I am simply glad to know, for now I can finally thank you truly."

She stopped then, because it was her father's door that stood before them. Her eyes rested there, but it was not the door she was seeing. Her mind was elsewhere.

She was shaking. It took her a few seconds to find her voice. "Lord Atol is not here, but there are people here. Over a hundred...and most of them are human."

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