After Kagura-chan’s fallen sound asleep, I leave the ‘house’. The air tonight is clear but a little chilly, and the half-moon illuminates the abandoned building around me. Normally this place feels cold and lonely, but not tonight… or actually, it hasn’t felt that way for the past month or so.
The reason’s obvious. Kagura-chan’s here. Just thinking about what I want to do with her tomorrow is enough to put a smile on my face. Honestly, I don’t remember ever being so happy. I chuckle.
She always talks kind of passive aggressively and she pretends to be a major narcissist, but she’s really just a shy, rabbit-loving young girl who blushes more than she’ll ever admit. Just like a doll, she doesn’t show her emotions on her face very often so sometimes it’s hard to tell, but as soon as her cheeks go bright red everything’s out on the table. I just can’t get enough of it!
I’d love to sneak into her bed tonight, because when I imagine what her reaction will be like in the morning–
Something just entered the building, something that feels sticky and unpleasant even from here. My imaginings instantly dissipate as I peek out the window and into the abandoned lot out back.
A jet-black sedan is parked there, and I can spot two men. One takes a wheelchair out of the trunk with practiced motions, after which the second slides from the passenger seat into it. Then the second man looks up at me, making eye contact as if expecting to see me there. He gestures for me to come down. There’s nobody else here, so I guess he really must be referring to me. More importantly, though, the flow of mana in the air has changed completely. He must’ve put up a barrier. I guess I am the one he’s after…
I consider running away, but only for a moment. The barrier’s a simple Sae-no-Kami style, meant to ward off evil spirits and the like by preventing the flow of mana into it. It doesn’t keep things inside it in, just things outside it out. If I need to, I can just walk out of it without a problem, so I guess there’s nothing to worry about. At least, not yet.
After making sure the ‘front door’ is fully shut, I take a deep breath and jump down to meet the two men. It’s only seven stories, which might be a crazy thing for a human to do but isn’t really a problem for me.
“Hello, stray– or no, Suzune, was it? Taking good care of our little Puppetmaster, are you?”
The bearded man in the wheelchair, who doesn’t even look middle-aged yet, calls out to me. He’s large and well-muscled with sharp eyes, and from his black three-piece suit and the way he carries himself I can tell he’s not a garden-variety human. The most striking thing about him, though, is the pressure of his aura; my legs feel weak just looking at him. The lanky man standing behind him is also clearly plenty powerful, but I can barely even feel his aura behind the bearded man’s.
“Who are you guys…?”
I try to suppress my unease, but a bit of my nervousness comes out in my voice.
“I’m Kazumasa Sakagami, Kagura’s… Well, I suppose I’m technically her uncle by blood.”
I gulp hard. Yeah, that sounds about right; only a powerful fiendslayer could have such an oppressing gaze and such a ridiculous volume of mana. I remember Kagura mentioning her only family by blood was her uncle, a pureblooded Sakagami. I guess that makes him the current head of the Sakagami Family.
“…You’re here for Kagura-chan, aren’t you?”
Fighting them would be suicidal. In that case, I need to focus on how to keep Kagura out of their filthy hands. Fortunately, my power’s perfectly suited just that. I could teleport her halfway across the country in a heartbeat.
“Keke, stop trembling. I’m not going to bother killing a small fry like you, nor am I going to take her back.”
“Why’re you here, then?”
“Hm, how should I put this… Saeki, any ideas?”
“I’m afraid I haven’t a clue.”
“You really are dull, aren’t you? I hope you get a sense of humour in your next life.”
“I’m expected to serve you in my next life as well, am I? What an honour.”
The lanky man’s tone is emotionless. I don’t know if they’re joking around or what, but this is really unsettling…
“Um, if you don’t have anything to say, can you leave?”
I try to put the conversation back on track, and hopefully send these two on their way. I just can’t calm down around people so powerful.
Kazumasa takes a case of cigars out of an inner pocket of his suit and the man behind him lights one.
“Kekeke, don’t rush me, now. I guess you could say I’m just here to take a peek backstage.”
“Where the puppeteers are positioned, the flow of the play, what the ending might be… What better place to get those answers than here?”
“…I don’t get it.”
“You don’t need to. You asked, so I answered.”
This guy’s mocking me, isn’t he?
“You know,” he continues, “I’ve been watching the two of you for a while now. Tell that idiot niece of mine that if she really wants to disappear, she should disable the GPS on her cellphone.”
“…Wait, why are you telling me this?”
“I just wanted to congratulate you. You’re exceptional at passing as a human, and that girl… kekeke, her disguise was almost too good. You’re avoiding suspicion perfectly, the both of you.”
He puffs on his cigar intently for a moment before exhaling a cloud of fumes and continuing.
“But the girl is a fiendslayer. Even if she knew I could track her through her phone, she wouldn’t throw it away. You know what I’m getting at, right?”
My gaze drops slightly. Yeah, I get it.
“So you understand. Good. So why do you continue to harbor the girl? I can’t imagine you honestly enjoy her company.”
“If you can’t see her charms, then you must be blind — and anyone could tell she has a serious problem trusting humans. She must’ve been treated pretty badly, huh?”
“Don’t talk about it as if you know everything. The brat’s own mother tried to strangle her to death, and when she thought she’d succeeded she strung herself up from the ceiling.”
“She didn’t tell you? No, I guess she wouldn’t. That thing is my dispossessed younger sister’s bastard child. Father dragged her in one day, covered in bruises and with those ugly marks on her neck. It was all anyone could talk about for days… kekeke. Apparently the stupid girl can’t even wear a scarf now.”
He seems to almost enjoy talking about this.
“…Kagura was right. You really are the worst.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment — especially coming from a stray mutt like you. If you’re that angry, then why not take it out on me? You’re not just barking because you know you’d lose in a fight, are you?”
If nothing else, he’s really good at rubbing people the wrong way, and I really hate the fact that he’s right.
With a grin, he exhales another cloud of smoke.
“Don’t you think it’s miraculous that a brat like that who doesn’t even know her own birthday can dress and even talk like a human being? And you expect more from her, do you?”
He must be taking my silence as encouragement.
“No, maybe that’s exactly what you want.”
Flowing from one thing to another, as if we were adrift in his stream of consciousness.
“You want a helpless little chick, don’t you?”
“What are you…!?”
“I suppose even a fiend would want a mate. If you think of it like that, the girl’s perfect. Treat her with a little kindness and she’s putty in your hands, isn’t she?”
My heart jumps, almost as if to prove it’s there.
“You know she’s a fiendslayer, but you can’t bring yourself to let her go, can you? She’s like a little duckling, after all; once she’s imprinted on someone she’ll follow them mindlessly to the very end. I’m simply disgusted by her, but I suppose if you look at her in that light, she’d make a charming pet.”
“That’s… That’s not what…”
“Keke, where’d all your energy go? Did I hit the bullseye?”
“Stop talking nonsense! I don’t–”
I don’t think of her like that, I want to say, but before I can say so he cuts in.
“I’m not trying to blame you. My feelings as a fiendslayer aside, I admire such a self-serving mindset. You sure you’re not a human?”
No, I guess I can’t say that. My train of thought’s in a mess. All I can do is weakly shake my head and try to make an excuse.
“…I’m almost impressed you can say that. You really have no shame, huh?”
“What, you’re blaming me for telling the truth? I’ll have you know I hate lies.”
“Ah, and another thing. If you’re planning on making that brat your thrall, I’d recommend doing it in her sleep. Otherwise she’ll abandon you sooner or later.”
“…You really think I’d do something like that?”
“Who knows? Feelings are self-centered little monsters.”
He laughs again. Anger wells up in me from who knows where, but I know I’m too weak to do anything about it. I end up just biting my lip in frustration.
“…But it seems as though you’re the key after all. I think I see now.”
“Yes, the key to this script’s little mystery.”
“I’m sorry, what are you talking about?”
“What’ve you been doing lately?”
“Before meeting Kagura, I mean. Where did you live? What kind of life did you lead?”
I think for a moment, but come up empty. Wait, didn’t Kagura ask me the same question the other day? Before getting attacked by that werewolf, and after that, before reuniting with Kagura, just what was I doing? I remember running from werewolves and wanting to disappear, and… why the werewolves? Why was I feeling that way? Just when did this all start…?
“…Looks like I’m right again. It’s the Kuzuhas after all, and it looks like they’ve been cooking this scheme for longer than just this past month or so. Saeki, as soon as we get back we’re going over it all again. ”
With that, Kazumasa is wheeled back towards the sedan.
“Wait! Just how much do you know…?”
“Almost everything. I know the general plot, your role, where that brat stands in all of this, and how all that fits together. I suppose I have you to thank for that.”
Nothing he’s saying makes any sense. I glare at him in irritation, but he only laughs.
“Well, then, that’s the hard part out of the way. The rest will be easy.”
“I already told you why I’m here, didn’t I? Don’t make me repeat myself.
“You know that’s not what I’m asking.”
“Keke, don’t get too angry at a little joke like that. What am I supposed to do if you take it so seriously?” He chuckles, opening his mouth again after a short pause. “You know that brat’s hunting another vampire, right?”
“When you find that vampire’s lair, come out here alone after that brat’s asleep, just like you did today.”
“Yes, alone. I have my reasons.”
With a knowing smile, Kazumasa slips back into the car, and the lanky man stows the wheelchair with the same ease as he took it out. After giving me a short bow, he sits in the driver’s seat. A moment later the sedan leaves the lot, leaving only the smell of car exhaust and cigar smoke.
I get the feeling that just on the other side of the black-tinted glass, that man is still smirking.
How long has it been since I returned to the bedroom? It might’ve been an hour already, but I was so out of it I didn’t notice. All my senses are wide awake, however. The room is dead silent except for Kagura-chan; the rhythmic beating of her heart, the gentle rise and fall of her breath, the flowing of blood through her veins…
The first thing I notice when I fully come to is the sight of her lying on the bed. I sit down beside her, the ivory hue of her neck attracting my full attention. Just like snow, I think with an aesthetic I didn’t know I had. I giggle. She’s almost too pretty, as if she weren’t a living, breathing thing but just a doll. The sounds of her life fill my ears, however, teaching me the truth.
She lets out a faint sigh. The way she sleeps curled up with Shiro is absolutely adorable, and the calm, mature air that usually surrounds her is gone. She’s not even facing me. There’s clearly not a doubt in her mind that this is a safe place for her. Part of me is filled with the desire to protect her and watch over her.
Another part of me craves her. Never before have I wanted to ‘own’ someone so badly.
Ah, and another thing. If you’re planning on making that brat your thrall, I’d recommend doing it in her sleep. Otherwise she’ll abandon you sooner or later.
Before I realize it, my breathing has grown rougher and my heart starts pounding in my chest. All I have to do is plunge my fangs into that porcelain neck of hers and she’ll be mine forever. I swallow hard. I’m not hungry for blood. I just can’t seem to resist the urge to bite into her neck.
It’s because of her that these past days have been so full of happiness and joy. What does it matter why or how she’s with me? Anything to avoid being left alone again. Anything to be with her even a minute longer. When I think that she might really leave after this whole ordeal is over, I’m terrified. If there’s a way to prevent that from happening, then what reason do I have to not do it?
Just like that man said.
I brush aside a few stray strands of her golden hair, and slowly I bring my lips closer to her flesh. Now I just break the skin, let that red, red blood flow out, and pour my own desire into her. My heart feels ready to burst, my throat painfully dry, longing for the taste of her–
You know she’s a fiendslayer, but you can’t bring yourself to let her go, can you? She’s like a little duckling, after all; once she’s imprinted on someone she’ll follow them mindlessly to the very end. I’m simply disgusted by her, but I suppose if you look at her in that light, she’d make a charming pet.
A split second after my lips graze her neck, I sharply pull away. What on earth came over me?
Kagura-chan moans a little, turning over in her sleep. Her fingers brush my cheek. She opens her sleepy blue eyes, and I see myself reflected in their depths.
Before I can even think of an excuse, I feel her warm fingers wrap around mine. She softly, gently squeezes them. Her grasp is so faint, so weak, yet so determined.
“You can’t stay up late like this.”
I let out an inward sigh of relief. She didn’t realize what I nearly did to her, then. Finally, I come to my senses and recompose myself.
“I’m technically nocturnal, so…”
“No. You need to sleep when I sleep.”
Judging from how slowly she’s speaking, she can’t be fully awake. She’d never say anything like that if she were. In her tone, however, there’s a clear sense of no-ifs-ands-or-buts.
“Um, I think you’re still half asleep…”
“Am not. You need to sleep now.”
She screws her face up unhappily, and her grip tightens. I guess the only way I can get out of this is by going to sleep. With that, I try to head to the sofa to sleep, just as she asked… but she doesn’t let go. I turn around to find her still looking at me.
“You need to sleep now.”
After she repeats herself, I finally get what she means and slip under the covers beside her. Her expression then relaxes somewhat, and she closes her eyes. She wraps an arm around my back, and in moments she’s fallen asleep again. I find myself caught between comfort and discomfort, unable to really calm down. After looking at her sleeping face for a long moment, I sigh and close my eyes.
I must’ve lost my mind for a moment there. At the very least I had a lapse in judgement. My pulse slows, and finally I can relax a little. What was I doing? Another unease shiver runs down my spine and I wrap my arms around Kagura. My anxiety dissipates a little, and I squeeze my eyes shut. What face was I making back then, back when I nearly dominated her?
Just thinking about it terrifies me. The longer I keep my eyes shut, the more I can relax, and at some point, I drift off to sleep.
The city is the same as it’s always been; noisy, and full of vehicles. There’s nothing amiss about that. The only aspect of this scene that is decidedly unusual is Suzune.
“You seem awfully quiet today.”
Normally she would start talking about something or other as if she would die if she remained silent for so much as a minute, but she’s scarcely said a word to me all day. She must have been deep in thought, as she seemed shocked to hear the sound of my voice. She then looks around, as if noticing where we are for the first time. I let out a heavy sigh.
“Yes, I was talking to you. Normally you’d be chirping away like an irritating little bird, but you hardly seem yourself today. If you’re feeling unwell–”
“Ah, no, nothing like that! I was just thinking about last night. Fufu, you were so cute when you told me I had to sleep with you.”
“……You must’ve been hallucinating. I certainly have no memory of that.”
“Huh, funny how you have such big gaps in your memory. I wish my brain worked like that.”
“Are you implying I’m lying?”
“Are you implying that’s what I’m implying?”
We glare at each other for a moment. I break my gaze first. The heavy, unavoidable truth of the matter is that we did in fact sleep together last night, and that I did in fact hug her much as I would Shiro. No amount of sophistry could overcome that.
“I was planning to sleep on the sofa, really, but you grabbed my hand, and–”
“We did share a bed last night, yes, but you can hardly make a ridiculous claim such as that without so much as a single witness. I don’t know about the common masses, but there’s no way a pretty young thing such as myself would ever stoop to such a deed.”
“Your being pretty has nothing to do with it, and you may as well just admit it. Ah, couldn’t it be a character statement or something? Even without witnesses it could be pretty telling.”
“I doubt that the court would find it relevant in any case.”
“No, I think that the question of whether you’re the victim or the perpetrator is actually pretty important, and if you’re the perpetrator then a statement like that could determine whether the deed was premeditated or spontaneous. It could determine the outcome of the whole case. Or at least, that’s my take on it.”
“The more you talk, the more annoying you become. I should have left you to think in peace.”
“Hindsight is twenty-twenty, no point crying over spilt milk, all that stuff. Y’know?”
She gives me a cheerful smile.
“…Honestly, I would scarcely believe you to be an expert in such matters.”
Dealing with her in this manner is incredibly annoying, but it’s certainly an improvement to silence and a furrowed brow. As a pretty puppeteer who fights for love and justice, seeing her discontentment hardly sits well with me, and I can’t help but want to put their worries to rest. Why, I’m so kind and benevolent I might just fall in love with myself.
This case specifically, however, leaves me with a share of discontent. Should Suzune’s worries be absolved, then I should be loath to waste further time and energy on her. To have the occasional unpleasant thought or experience is only natural, of course, and I couldn’t possibly care less about her on a purely personal basis. As I am widely considered to be a living treasure, however, I can hardly handle such affairs on my emotions alone. I suppose I have fair reason, no, an obligation to lend an ear to the woes of the common folk.
I think long and hard, taking several furtive glances at her out of the corner of my eye. I’ll have to ask naturally and inconspicuously, so as to loosen her lips and win her trust.
“Um… T-There wouldn’t happen to be anything troubling you, is there?”
There, perfect… and yet several long seconds pass without reply. I turn to find her with a barely-repressed smirk on her face, evidently in an attempt to keep from laughing.
“N-No, it’s just, you’re way too cute.”
“I suppose that in this context, I should interpret that as an insult.”
“Nonono, that’s not what I meant. You were just so straightforward, and the way you blushed like that…”
“…As I thought, you are insulting me.”
I glare at her, but Suzune simply shakes her head, still grinning.
“Not at all! I guess you were right about me being troubled, though. You’re so precious I just don’t know what I’m going to do with you.”
“There you go again, thinking such… such…!”
Before I can finish that thought, however, a ‘ripple’ hits me. Magic, and not too far from where we stand now. I instantly shift my focus to pinpointing the source. It’s too early to tell for certain, yet it certainly didn’t feel like a fiendslayer’s magic. It must be a fiend, then, and the number of fiends within a vampire’s territory are typically restricted to the vampire herself and her thralls.
This is almost definitely my mark.
“…The sun has begun to set, I suppose.”
The sky has begun to dye itself in twilight, and as such one would expect fiends to begin their prowl. Such a time is the intersection betwixt night and day, dreams and reality. No time is better suited for spatial magics — like, say, the opening and closing of the passage to a lair.
“So her lair is here after all…”
This is the very heart of the city, a thriving shopping district. Naturally, the number of fiendslayers here is also quite high, making this easy the worst possible place for a lair. Not only that, but the Sakagami Estate is but a stone’s throw away. Never did I once imagine this to be the place I’d sought after for so long.
“The Kuzuha and Azelia…”
If they are in cahoots, however, no place could be better. I take a look about the street to find, as I had suspected, the Kuzuha Estate not even a block away. The fiendslayers in charge of patrolling this area are also naturally the Kuzuha. They must have been collaborating with her since she first came to this city.
“Well, that was rather easy.”
Never did I dare imagine I would find it so soon, not after months of fruitless searching. As they say, it’s always darkest beneath the lamppost.
And yet, I find myself not nearly as pleased as I thought I would’ve been. How much time and effort had I spent to reach this point? I had searched to the point of breaking both my body and mind, and yet I can’t even feel the slightest relief. No, this is a different emotion altogether. How could that be? I shake my head, let out a small sigh, and cast my gaze at Suzune. I stare at her for a long moment before opening my mouth half out of obligation.
“The red light district is in that direction, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“We’re going to get a little closer. Alright?”
I look away from her, and I quicken my pace so as to leave her out of my field of vision. My heart is pounding for some reason, as though I were an utter novice. How could that be? I wonder again. I simply shake my head, however, and proceed forwards. My duty is clear. There’s no point in getting distracted.
So why am I so ill at ease?
“…We’re only going to take a look.”
Again, the words are more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. That, at least, I can do without worry or hesitation.
The distance between where I detected the mana signature turns out to be not even a kilometer. After threading through a number of streets and alleyways, we find ourselves in the heart of the red light district. A multipurpose building in its center is the source of the ‘ripple’ — in other words, the entrance to Azelia’s lair. We climb to the roof of an old nearby apartment nearby to get a better grasp of its surroundings.
It truly is an ideal place for a lair, the obvious drawbacks excluded. Not only does it have easy access to the back alleyways, but even the main street branches off into countless smaller streets, enabling easy access to potential ‘food sources’. If the nearby residents were turned into thralls or hypnotized – or for that matter, killed outright – then there should scarcely be a better place for a hideout in the whole city.
About an hour after the start of our stakeout, five men emerge from the building. Each of the five has a decidedly bestial look in his eyes; likely werewolves in disguise.
“Well, looks like that’s it.”
“Yes… Yes, I suppose it is.”
“So what’s the plan?”
I cast a sidelong glance at her. There’s not a shred of emotion on Suzune’s face, or at least nothing I can discern. I think for a moment before replying.
“As I said before, today we do nothing. I’d like to take tomorrow… no, several days to observe. I would like to aim for when the werewolves have left the lair, if possible.”
“Okay, makes sense. So, uh… I guess I shouldn’t be here on stakeout with you, huh?”
“…I suppose not. There’s a chance a fight might break out, after all, and I would likely attract less attention alone.”
Watching for three days or so should enable me to determine when the most werewolves are away and how much time I would have before they return. While my accuracy should increase the more time I spend on stakeout, it would be best to act with some urgency, as I am still being hunted and I can spot a number of fiendslayers in the vicinity. Naturally, they must know of the lair, as they couldn’t not notice at such a distance. They are almost definitely Kuzuha puppeteers, on guard against me, most likely. While I can’t imagine the entire Kuzuha Branch Family is dealing with Azelia, these men most definitely are. I’ll have to factor them into my plan of assault.
With so many fiendslayers about, it would be simply too dangerous to bring Suzune here. I would have much more flexibility alone, and at this point it would be simply foolish to slip up in such an elementary manner.
“Okay… I guess I’ll just wait for you at home, then.”
“Yes, that would be for the best. Shall we return for today?”
I turn and move to descend from the rooftop, but I notice Suzune doesn’t seem to be following. I turn to find her standing there, staring at the ground.
“Um… Can I say something?”
I nod wordlessly, and she smiles sadly.
“So, uh, after you slay Azelia, you’ll be going back with the other fiendslayers, right?”
“Fufufu, sorry… I mean, of course you’re leaving. Forget I said anything.”
Her words are dreadfully out of sync with her expression, her carefree smile nowhere to be seen.
“Is that what you’re so worried about?”
“Yeah… It’s just been so, so fun being with you, so I just… I don’t know.” Her expression only turns more discontent. “I know I’ll never meet anyone like you ever again, and when I think about that… I mean, just thinking I’ll be alone again is…”
And I should be used to it by now, she laughs. Her eyes are still fixed on her feet. I almost tease her as always, but instead I simply shut my mouth and look to the heavens, thinking hard.
“…Staying with you would mean betraying the fiendslayers.”
I feel like kicking myself. Why can I only give such a pitiful excuse?
“Yeah, but… you’re not going to even consider it?”
Sorry, I shouldn’t have put it like that she continues before smiling, as if in pain.
I close my eyes. Of course I shouldn’t even consider such a thing. First she keeps a beautiful young genius like myself hostage, and then she has the nerve to ask such a thing? She must be insane. A thousand things come to mind and with every one I open my mouth to voice them, as always. But this time, I simply shake my head. There’s no logic nor emotion that could possibly allow such harsh words, not here, not now.
Ah, I hate this. I sigh, then reconsider what she told me. Before now there’s only been one person to talk to me in such a manner. To be honest, I’m happy to hear those words. And yet I can feel guilt well up from within me, wrapping around my mind like a thick fog.
“Being a puppeteer is hard, Kagura, especially for someone as talented as you. You can choose the life of an ordinary girl, and should you do so I’ll devote everything I have to that end. All I want for you is to be happy.”
And yet I still wish to follow in your footsteps.
How long has it been since that conversation with Sensei, with Grandfather? Didn’t I make my choice then? Is my resolve truly so weak as to be shaken by such words? I can only imagine how sad Sensei would be if he saw me now.
He never forced me to become a puppeteer, nor did he even ask me to, not once. I was the one who chose that path, of all those he had given me.
“…Could you perhaps let me think it over?”
I’ve all but made my decision, and yet I would like even a little more time with her. I wrap my arms around myself, as if hugging an invisible Shiro to myself.
I nod, and her face lights up like a bulb. The very sight makes me happy, but my chest burns with guilt.
“I’ll have an answer for you by the time I’ve slain Azelia. You have my word.”
Putting it as a fiendslayer would helps to relieve the pain, if only a little.
“Okay. But after this whole mess is cleaned up, um… no matter what you decide, I’d like to go out on another date with you. Just more time is all I ask. Fufu, sorry, I guess that sounds a little weird…”
I nod again, and she grins like a flower coming into bloom. A small smile manages to creep its way onto my own face. Feeling a little better, I decide to lighten the mood.
“I have one condition, however. You must treat me to another crepe when that time comes.”
“It’s a promise!”
She laughs, this time with only the slightest tinge of loneliness. As if to match her, as if strung along by her, I smile faintly in return.
I have enough mana to maintain my body, so at least physically, I can’t be craving blood. I guess that must mean this is more of a mental thirst.
I take another sip of my long-cold black tea as I stare blankly across the room at her sleeping form. Today was the third day of observation. She said she’ll make her assault on Azelia’s lair tomorrow. I feel the exact same kind of unease now as I felt when Kagura-chan had first found the lair.
Just what will her decision be? We barely talked at all these past few days. Is she just trying to avoid the subject? Or is she really still thinking about it?
She can’t possibly hear my whisper, but I don’t expect a response. Just saying her name fills me with warmth — but the more warmth wells up, the more I remember the past, and the more my heart hurts.
After first waking up in the mountains, I’d wandered through a good number of villages before realizing I wasn’t human. I looked like them, acted like them, but the thing at my core was fundamentally different — awe, reverence, maybe just plain fear. I was more beautiful than any human, but behind that appearance was inhuman power, something they taught me full well. Even if I lied that I was the incarnation of a god, I could never live among them. Humans and humans alone for human society, I guess. No matter the culture, there are always lines never to be crossed, always taboos, and I was one of them. That’s the way all fiends are, but in my case I’m closer to a spirit than a fiend, but too impure to be a real spirit. Impure to the point the humans feared me.
Fiends and spirits alike are born from humans. Fear of the dead returning to life or of the unknown is enough to birth a vampire, and awe, reverence, or the worship of nature is enough to birth a spirit. It all comes down to what the humans believe.
Fiends are fiends because humans imagined the shape of misfortune.
Spirits are spirits because humans imagined the shape of fortune.
Some spirits lose their worship and their homes, and some fiends are compelled by lingering resentment to take root in an area and become worshipped as a deity of misfortune. My case was pretty much the latter, I think. If only I didn’t have a heart, I might not have suffered so much, but by some cruel twist of fate my heart is the most normal part of me. I can’t count the times I’d fall asleep hating the world, and every morning I’d wake up in despair, knowing that another day of aimless wandering awaited me.
I’m thirsting for companionship, not blood.
I sigh, fixing my gaze on the bed yet again. She’s sleeping there as defenselessly as always, rabbit snuggled in her arms. It’d be too easy to dominate her, make her my own. If society won’t give me a place to belong, I’ll make for myself. One little girl might lose her life, but I’ll live every day full of happiness for decades to come.
I’ll finally be happy.
“N-No… This isn’t…”
My heart pounds in my chest, arousal and carnal lust pulsing through my veins. I can practically hear the whispers of my heart, begging me to pounce on her, pierce her neck, pour my desire into her. A filthy, dark drive from deep inside me. She probably wouldn’t resist, even if she were awake. If she really hasn’t decided yet, then surely she’ll accept any decision I make for her. Then, the scales fallen from her eyes, she’ll look at me in disappointment…
I’ll have betrayed her, her purity, her everything.
That’s fine, the details don’t matter, I think half-seriously. Terror fills my mind to the point of bursting.
No, not again. I won’t mess up again, now that I finally found a new place to belong. Even if things don’t go the way I want them to, I’ll have my feelings for her. She can’t take those from me.
I leave my tea half-finished on the side table and head for the door. I need a breath of fresh air.
When you find that vampire’s lair, come out here alone after that brat’s asleep, just like you did today.
I guess I can’t say that’s the only thing I’m going for, though.
A useless, unused building. A ‘place’ that doesn’t need me anymore. I lean out over the handrail on the roof, looking out and the twinkling city lights. Something about this place is just so calming. From here, I can see the line between humans and fiends with my own eyes. When all else fails, I can count on this place to put things into perspective. Here, I can turn my back on that all-too-bright world whenever I feel like it. The sight of the city always fills me with yearning and envy. It’s too inconvenient to try to attack anyone here, not that humans even come to a spooky place like this. Anyone who does come here is probably an aimless wanderer, just like me.
Come to think of it, I reunited with Kagura here. I didn’t save her out of goodwill or anything like that, though. After all, when I saw her hunted and suffering, barely propping herself against the wall, my heart was filled with happiness to the point of bursting.
You want a helpless little chick, don’t you?
What that man said, everything he said, was probably true. Even if I manage to deceive others, I’m nowhere near talented enough to deceive myself.
“I guess I really am evil at heart.”
“Evil or not, you’re certainly easy to manipulate.”
I recognize that voice, but before I can put a face to it–
I suddenly lose consciousness.
I’m sitting alone in my cell-like room, like always, playing with Shiro. I connect my thread to him, and he in turn connects to the other bunnies.
There’s a limit to how heavy a load the human brain can handle. The most bunnies I can practically control just on my own is about five. If I want to control more, then, I just need to make the rabbits more independent by giving them some basic logic. In this situation, they do that. If I’m shot at then the shield rabbits intercept, if there’s an opening then the hatchet rabbits pounce, and so on and so forth. I got the idea while playing house with them, since it was a pain to move them all individually. I never thought it’d be so easy to do in combat, though.
“…Is something the matter, Sensei?”
Noticing someone has entered the room, I retrieve all my rabbits save Shiro, and I clutch him to my chest. It’s a little embarrassing to treat a stuffed animal like this at my age, yet without Shiro, I just can’t even seem to look people in the eye. It’s supposedly a self-preservation instinct, according to a psychologist I met. I could surely break the habit if I needed to, but it does wonders for my nerves. I don’t do it much in public as people tend to mock me as childish, but Sensei’s nice. He would never do that. I love that about him.
“Just came to check on you, that’s all.”
“Hehe, just checking on me again? You see me every day. Do you have any work for me today, perchance?”
For some reason, he makes a down face, and the sight of it causes my chest to hurt. He doesn’t seem to like it when I work as a fiendslayer. This is the only way I know of to repay his kindness, however. I maintain my cheerful smile.
“…Won’t you quit, Kagura? You don’t need to force yourself like this.”
“Oh, Sensei, I’m not forcing myself. I’m doing this because I enjoy it.”
“…You had so many roads before you, so many possibilities in your future. When I saw your talent, I couldn’t help myself, and… it’s my fault you can’t live a normal, happy life now.”
“I’m perfectly happy the way things are now. You saved me, raised me, and gave my life purpose. Look, I’m even being a good master to my rabbits.”
I give Shiro an affectionate pat. He narrows his eyes blissfully, drops his eyes, and quivers sweetly. At this point, there’s no real difference between him and a real rabbit.
“You’re not a puppet, Kagura, you’re a human girl — my beloved granddaughter, no matter what they say.”
“What difference does it make, puppet or human? Even if I was totally free to choose for myself, I wouldn’t have the faintest notion of what I should do. To me, working for you is the greatest happiness.”
“Open your eyes, Kagura. You can’t go through life blind.”
“I’ve seen enough of humans, Sensei.”
Disgusting people. Unsympathetic people. Hateful people. Not one of them showed me love like Grandfather has. They all taught me my blood is impure, I have no heart, I’m a puppet. I suppose they might be right. I don’t even know how to be liked, how I came to be hated. Surely, no human could be so ignorant.
“I couldn’t possibly become one of them. I can’t help that I’m simply missing a few pieces that every human should have. That’s surely why things have turned out as they have.”
At some point I’d developed a talent for being hated, and I learned that if I made use of that talent I could make them do what I wanted. With every step I took, I became further from a ‘real’ human. Only he is still here by my side.
“You didn’t do a single thing wrong, Sensei. If anything, I’m the one to blame. If I wasn’t such a failure of a human, maybe things might have been different. But even so–”
—I’m happy being treasured by you and you alone, I continue with a laugh, jumping into his arms. He pats my head, and at that pleasantly ticklish sensation I wrap my arms around him. There’s no greater happiness in the world.
“I’ll keep on working for you until the day I die. Just being able to do that is the greatest happiness I could know. Please, don’t you ever tell me you don’t need me.”
HIs body is so warm. He’s the only person who would ever allow me to do this. It’s only at times like this that I can feel like a normal, happy human girl. He wraps his arms around me, accepts me. I don’t think he’ll ever know how much that means to me.
“…Kagura. I won’t be alive for too much longer.”
“I’ll follow you into the afterlife, then.”
I squeeze him tightly. Shiro, sandwiched between us, squirms in discomfort. I offer him a silent apology before training my ears to Sensei’s words.
“I’m happy you think so highly of me, but… could you listen to my last request?”
“Of course, with all my heart.”
“…Thank you. I’m truly blessed to have a granddaughter like you. I’ll love you forever and for always.”
He takes a deep breath before continuing in a quiet, peaceful voice.
“All I want for you, Kagura, is–”