"Lost in Translation"
Ignoring Ran's half-hearted arguments, Ken left the Jackal with Aya and her brother, and returned to the Vampire caves. The redhead seemed a little more willing to forgive and forget now that the Irishman's sister was nothing more than a pile of innards and ragged pieces of flesh.
Rinata pounced on Ken the minute he returned, her fangs bared in anger. "Where are your bodyguards?" she snapped.
Ken blinked at her, holding up his hands in defense. "What? You mean the Jackal? He's with the others..."
"And Himeno?" Rinata gestured behind her in a vague indication of the caves. "I've been trying to contact you all morning. Malachi is back!"
"What?" Ken's arms dropped, and he looked around reflexively. "Where is he?"
"Preaching to the other Purebloods in Farfarello's own throne room, if you can believe it," Rinata snorted. "The man has balls of steel."
"Not for long," Ken growled, shoving past. "Bring the others to the throne room," he snapped over his shoulder. "I want them appearing in force."
"What are you going to do?" Rinata called angrily after him. "You can't go in there alone! They could tear you apart!"
"Just do it," Ken shouted impatiently, turning a corner.
He stormed through the tunnels, and those few he encountered shied back, watching him knowingly. Some looked vaguely amused, others even wary. Most of them just looked curious. What did Farfarello-sama's human pet plan to do when faced with a crowd of mutinous Purebloods?
Himeno appeared from a side passage as if from thin air and fell into step with Ken easily, looking calm as usual. "I see you heard."
Ken glanced at her sideways, jaw set firmly. "Why wasn't this taken care of?" he demanded angrily. "You all just decided to wait for me to show up before doing anything?"
Himeno gave a fluid shrug. "Rinata's authority isn't much to speak of, and most of the others weren't sure what to do. Malachi is the strongest down here now that Farfarello-sama is gone. And you are technically in charge during his absence."
Ken drew in a slow breath in an attempt to calm his warring apprehension and anger, turning another corner sharply. "All of the Purebloods are in the throne room?"
"With the exception of three," Himeno answered calmly, digging through her purse as she walked. "They prefer to sit this out, I think, and see which way this power struggle sways." She brought out her lipstick and applied it with a few quick swipes.
Ken made a noise of disgust, and gave his wrists a practiced twist. His bugnuks slid out of their hidden sheathes beneath his jacket sleeves, the curved blades wickedly sharp. He'd long ago had them plated with silver, and could use them effectively against Vampires if cornered.
He could feel them before he heard them; the faint throb of his scars and the Gift inside him gave him warning the closer he got. Always he could feel the presence of the dead and undead with his necromancy, but the Purebloods were the only ones nowadays to set his bitemarks aching. He wasn't sure why, but it was useful. He realized belatedly that he had never noticed if Himeno's presence had caused his old wounds pain. Was it because he was used to ignoring it, or was she just an ordinary Turned Vampire?
Shrugging off those thoughts, he drew himself up straight, fingers brushing the leather collar around his neck in a brief carress; an unconscious prayer for strength. Himeno's eyes flicked towards him, her blood-red lips twisting in a sardonic smile, but she said nothing.
They halted just inside the throne room's main entrance, their gazes drawn immediately to the figure standing boldly on the dias, addressing the score or so of Purebloods on the floor before him. No one had noticed them just yet, and Ken's fingernails dug into his palms as Malachi's rich voice rebounded off the walls, mocking and arrogant.
"And since when do Vampires listen to a human?" the Pureblood was demanding, sultry lips curling in a sneer. "He is a mere pet for the Traitorous Turned who dares to claim Lordship over us. What he says makes no difference to us."
"What if Farfarello is alive?" called someone from the crowd. "He is protective of his Feeder."
Malachi gave a bark of haughty laughter. "I do not fear that child," he proclaimed boldly, his crimson eyes flashing. "He is no Pureblood. His defeat of that fool Agammedo was pure luck. We all know Agammedo was not truly as strong as he claimed to be."
"Says you," someone snarled. "You were never punished by him."
Malachi's eyes shifted towards the voice, his face a beautiful mask of disgust. "Never mind that idiot. The only problem now is that Irish dog and his cringing little pet. The Vampires of Japan are meant to be led by a Pureblood, and a native of this land-- not some foreign, insane whelp who has the gall to refuse us our kills!"
There were mutters of agreement.
Ken had heard enough. Taking a deep breath, he strode into the room, Himeno on his heels. The crowd began to part as they realized he was there, and whispers broke out. He ignored them, staring straight ahead grimly, swallowing his fear. Malachi fell silent, spotting him, and watched him come with an arrogant look on his pale, handsome face.
The room had fallen silent by the time he reached the dias. With a lithe bound that betrayed his assassin training, he was up on the three-foot tall platform, facing his enemy. Himeno remained on the main floor, ready to attack any around her who made any threatening moves.
Malachi did not retreat to reclaim his personal space, but held his ground, sneering down at the shorter boy. "So, Farfarello's whore comes to speak. Well, Feeder? Did you have something to say to me?" he challenged.
Ken's eyes narrowed as he faced off the tall undead. Internally, he strove to contain his fear and his temper.
Malachi was tall for a Japanese man, and towered over most of the Vampires in the caves at nearly six seven. His ebony hair was stylishly messy, and shoulder length, but his eyes were the vermilion hue that most Purebloods attained after a certain age. His height hinted at an American ancestor somewhere down the line, but he was from a prestigious Pureblood family from the southern end of Japan. Shortly after Agammedo's demise, he had appeared and pledged a loyalty to Farfarello that had sounded faintly mocking even then. Farfarello had not trusted him, but Rinata had managed to convice the Berserker that having so powerful a Pureblood under his command could be rewarding.
Now Ken cursed the advisor for her foolish amibition and himself for not speaking up against her and convincing Farfarello to follow his instincts. What the hell was he supposed to do by himself against this man? Malachi had never seemed afraid of Farfarello, and he sure as hell wasn't intimidated by Ken.
"Moving up in the world, I see." Ken was secretly grateful when his voice came out cool and quiet, with no tremor to betray his inward struggle. He gestured to the dias they stood on. "Already claiming your new territory, Malachi?"
The Vampire's eyes narrowed slightly in suspicion at Ken's calm attitude, though his lips were still frozen in a sneer. "You were not invited to this meeting," he said dismissively.
Ken mentally seized his explosive temper and stomped on it. Getting into a fistfight with a man who could probably toss an elephant wasn't the best of ideas. His clenched fists shook with the urge to deck the man before him, and his voice was biting to his own ears. "Don't presume to dismiss me from this cavern, Malachi. While Farfarello is absent, I am temporarily in charge, with Rinata's guidance. And somehow I doubt she was stupid enough to give you permission to rally a mutiny in Farfarello's own throne room."
Anger lit briefly in Malachi's crimson eyes, his mouth twisting in a fierce smile that showed a hint of fang. His voice was low and threatening. "You presume to command me, human?"
Out of the corner of his eye Ken spotted movement in the alternate exit; the Vampires he'd told Rinata to bring were crowding menacingly in the tunnel, blocking the way out. He knew instinctively that the remaining Vampires would be in the main entrance behind him. Malachi's eyes narrowed further.
Ken crossed his arms over his chest and arched a brow tauntingly at Malachi. He cocked his hips slightly, standing casually in a gesture that proclaimed a lack of fear and respect. "So," he said in mock cheerfulness, "you want to get off your high horse, or am I going to have to have you thrown off it?"
Malachi's fangs flashed in a furious snarl, and he brought his face close to Ken's. "This isn't over, Feeder," he growled quietly. Ken held his ground, heart thundering in his chest, and glared right back.
Rinata's voice rang out sharply. "Get off the Vampire Lord's throne, Malachi. You're outnumbered and you know it. You have no place to contest as Lord when Farfarello is not here to fight for the right."
Malachi made a noise of disgust and drew back from Ken abruptly. Glaring over the assassin's head at the woman, he turned slowly and stepped onto the main floor, into the midst of the nervous Purebloods.
Ken let out a silent breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. If Rinata hadn't shown up just then... Shrugging it off quickly, he turned to face the assembled Vampires, glaring around at them sternly.
"Farfarello is still alive," he shouted out for them all to hear. "I'm his Feeder- I would know if he died. He will be returning to reclaim his place as Vampire Lord, so don't get any stupid ideas, or there's going to be hell to pay when he gets back." He let that sink in for a moment. "In the meantime, I want the head of whoever took him." He pointed at the ground by his feet. "Find the ones who betrayed us, and bring their heads here for all to see. Going against your Lord is going against the rest of us. If anyone has any information they've withheld until now, this is the time to step forward."
Several of the Purebloods shifted uneasily, shooting angry looks at each other, but no one spoke up. Ken took a deep breath. "So be it. But let it be known that if there is a traitor here, there will be no place on earth he can run." He leapt down from the dias, and strode through the parting crowd with Himeno behind him to join Rinata and the others at the main entrance. Pushing past the advisor before she could speak, he marched through the packed Turned waiting in the tunnel, and almost ran into a small female that was crouching nervously by the wall.
He hesitated, staring at her in vague recognition.
Rinata had followed him. "Get up, Elsie," she said a little sharply. "They won't hurt you."
Elsie-- Now he knew why she looked familiar. It was the American's human Feeder; she had escaped with the Jackal and himself when they'd fled the ambush. Before he could think better of it, he reached out and seized her arm in a careful but firm grip and pulled her upright. She gave a little noise of surprise that he ignored, and practically dragged her after him as he continued down the tunnels in long strides.
Once they were away from the majority of the Vampires and heading towards Farfarello's chambers, he relaxed his grip slightly and turned his head to look at her as they walked.
She was a small, scruffy-looking thing, with mousy chestnut hair and big brown eyes. Rinata had given her new clothes, but she still looked disheveled; a little dirty from the tunnels, and bruised from her panicked flight the other night. She looked helpless and scared; the perfect Vampire target. Ken glanced over his shoulder at Rinata and raised an eyebrow.
"I've been keeping an eye on her," the advisor said, reading his look. "The others know better than to touch her."
"Do they?" Ken came to a sudden stop; Elsie ran into him with a squeak of surprise, but the two Vampires stopped in time with typical cat-like reflexes. He pulled the small girl closer and examined the arm he was holding. He reached out with his free hand for her other arm, but she hid it behind her back, eyes wide in confusion and fear. She darted a frantic look towards Rinata and jabbered something in a foreign tongue.
"I'm just checking you for marks," Ken said as gently as he could. He realized belatedly his bugnuks were still out, and with an embarrassed wince, slid them back into their sheathes with a twist of the wrists. "Have any of the Vampires here bothered you?"
She stared up at him silently, then looked towards Rinata again helplessly.
"She doesn't speak Japanese," Rinata murmured, then translated in English for the girl.
Elsie looked a little relieved, but kept the other arm tightly behind her back.
"Why won't she let me look?" Ken demanded.
"You're scaring her," Rinata said with a brow arched coolly. Himeno gave a slight smile of amusement. "I've been watching her," Rinata assured the assassin. "No one has touched her."
"You can't have been watching her every second," Ken retorted. "She wasn't with you when you came to greet me, and she was in the back while I was talking to Malachi. Tell her to show me her other arm."
Rinata's eyes narrowed slightly at his accusations, but she said something short in English.
Reluctantly Elsie held out her other freckled arm for inspection. Ken checked it quickly, then her throat, but could find nothing.
"Satisfied?" Rinata demanded, still looking huffy.
Ken ignored her and released the silent American, offering her a weary smile. "Tell her I'm sorry for scaring her, but I'm not her enemy. Tell her to come straight to me if anybody bothers her."
Rinata sighed, but translated. Himeno watched it all with a slight smirk tugging at her mouth. When she was done, Rinata took Elsie by the hand, said something about a bath, and led the timid girl away.
Ken turned to glare irritably at his bodyguard. "Mind telling me what's so funny?" he snapped.
Himeno's lazy grin only broadened. "Rinata's English is terrible," she said, a throaty laugh hidden under the words.
Ken rolled his eyes.
"And," Himeno continued calmly, pulling a mirror from her purse to check her face for dirt, "she didn't translate everything you said."
"What?" Ken stared at her for a moment before it clicked. "You understand English?"
"Of course." The Vampire finished checking her flawless complexion and dropped the mirror back into her bag. "When you're as old as I am, you learn to pick up a few things."
"If she didn't translate what I told her to, what did she tell Elsie?" Ken demanded.
"When you tried to see her arm, Elsie asked if you'd found out about Sam." Himeno shrugged. "Rinata said you hadn't, and that you weren't mad at her."
Ken frowned, baffled. "Sam? Who the hell is Sam?" The strange name rolled off his tongue clumsily.
"I wouldn't know." Himeno gave a delicate shrug. She crossed her arms over her stomach and cocked a hip, glancing around. "So are we going to stand about all day? Or are you going to go to your lover's room so I can go find myself something to eat?"
Ken hesitated, then shook his head, rubbing his temples. It had been a long day. "Fine, go eat," he sighed. "I don't need you to babysit me." He hesitated, then added, "And let me know if you find anything out about this 'Sam'. Don't let either of those two know you're asking about it, though."
"So now I'm your Girl Friday as well?" Himeno asked with a quirked brow. Giving a condescending laugh, she sauntered off with a flick of painted fingernails over her shoulder in a vague wave of farewell.
Ken watched her go, still frowning and puzzling.
Who was Sam? Why hadn't Rinata mentioned him to Ken? Was it unimportant?
Or was she hiding something?
It was late in the evening by the time Ran shut the back door- with some amount of relief -behind his departing comrades.
Manx had come over, and they had filled her in. She had listened in grim silence, before agreeing that they should watch their backs and try to gather as much information as possible before jumping in the middle of a Vampire political issue. She would get as much info as she could from her own resources in Kritiker. She had listened to Schuldich and Crawford's ideas about Rosenkreuz, and seemed morbidly eager to discover if her once-partner Birman was still alive.
Finally they had all drifted off to their respective homes to lock their doors, brood, and puzzle things out as best they could.
Even Crawford had left.
Ran paused, resting his forehead on the cool glass of the back door, and gave a slight frown. For once Crawford had left without any teasing or an excuse to linger or stay the night. In fact, he'd mostly ignored and avoided Ran ever since they'd left Schuldich's house on discovering Yohji's disappearance.
Was it because of what he'd said then? But that couldn't be it- he'd told the American often enough that he didn't appreciate his advances. Had he finally given up?
Well, good, he told himself firmly, straightening up and turning away from the door resolutely. At least that was one less headache. Without Crawford hounding him and stealing kisses every time he turned around, Ran could concentrate on the real problems. Like getting Yohji back, and pounding their new enemies into the dirt...whoever they were.
"Oniisan?" Aya was standing in the doorway in her pajamas, looking tired but concerned. Ran's eyes flicked unconsciously towards the doorway that led to the flowershop. Downstairs, the Jackal was sleeping on the couch. He still wasn't sure how to feel about the man, but seeing that he'd just lost his sister in a rather gruesome way, he was willing to lay off a little for now. But just a little. The Irishman was still unaware that those disgusting remains had been his sister's.
"What are you doing up, Aya-chan?" Ran asked quietly, tying on an apron so that he could finish washing the dishes. "It's late."
Aya's gaze moved towards the back door, her mouth pulled in an adorable frown of confusion. "Did Crawford-san leave, too?"
"Aa." Ran turned on the hot water, testing it before twisting the cold knob a little to make the water lukewarm. He reached for a nearby stack of plates left over from dinner. "Everyone went home."
"Demo..." She blinked owlishly, still frowning, then changed the subject. "Do you want help with those, 'niisan?"
"Iie. I'll do them. You go to sleep," he said with a slight shake of his head, putting one plate under the water. He watched the crumbs and gravy slide off under the deluge and disappear down the drain. Washing the dishes would busy his hands and leave his mind free to think. There were too many missing pieces to this new puzzle. On the same note, there were also too many slight clues in all that had transpired and all that had been said. He felt like he was missing something. Something important. Maybe something that would shed some light on this whole mess. "You need to get up early for school."
"You'll let me go to school tomorrow?" She sounded a little surprised.
Ran scowled slightly as he reached for the scrub brush. He would much prefer to keep her home, safe, but that would only make her restless. Besides, her grades might slip. He had decided after much internal debate to allow her to go. "Omi will be there to watch you, and the Jackal will be nearby. I'll come pick you up in the afternoon."
"OK." She came over to give him a peck on the cheek. "Oyasumi," she murmured sleepily, before hurrying upstairs.
"Oyasumi," Ran murmured to the empty room. He held his hands under the warm water, watching with dead eyes as the gravy and soap ran down his fingers onto the plate at the bottom of the sink.
Was Crawford angry at him?
He gave himself a mental slap, partly horrified, partly angry that his thoughts had drifted back to the American. He seized the scrub brush, squirted on some dishwashing soap, and began scrubbing the plate vigorously. This was no time to think about that idiot psychic. He had to concentrate on their new mission. If he didn't stay on his toes, someone else could get hurt. Next time it might be Aya-chan.
He rinsed the plate off and set it on the counter, reaching for a cup dotted with greasy fingerprints. Schuldich had said that if it was Rosenkreuz, they could have warped Ken's memories of the ambush. But Omi was right-- why would they bother to do such a thing? Why not just kill him outright? The involvement of Rosenkreuz was just a theory- both the Jackal and Ken had seen Vampires there. Ken had said he recognized some of the Purebloods. So some of the Japanese Vampires were turning on their leader. Why?
That was the biggest missing piece of the puzzle: Why?
There had to be a reason for all of this. Why ambush a meeting between three Vampire Lords, only to kill two and capture one? That was too great a risk. The Vampires could have seized Farfarello at a safer time, when he was alone with Ken at some point. Why risk the strength and wrath of three Vampire Lords, just for one? And then- maybe -warp Ken's memories of it?
No- no- Stick to the facts, he told himself sternly. He put the clean cup aside and reached for another plate.
A group- consisting of Japanese Purebloods -ambushed a meeting between three powerful Vampire Lords. The Jackal, Ken, and the other Feeder escaped. The Irish Lord- Lady? -was killed. Farfarello was taken captive. The American was killed...
Ran's eyes unfocused, hands stilling in his work as he rooted quickly through the jumbled conversations of the day.
Ken remembered seeing the American Vampire Lord about to be brought down by Vampires. The Jackal had said he remembered glimpsing the American surrounded by Vampires just before he'd saved Ken.
But neither of them had seen the man actually killed.
Ran's eyes lifted to gaze unseeing at the small window above the sink, his heart speeding up a notch. What if the man hadn't been killed? What if those Vampires had ambushed the meeting because they weren't only after Farfarello? What if they'd also been after America's Vampire ruler?
END PART I: VELVET UNDERWORLD
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