They’d stopped to gather information more than anything else, the search for Alluka’s whereabouts only slightly eased by Gon’s wealth of inhuman connections. The latest lead had them traveling east, straight through the deepest portion of a forest riddled with corrupted beasts. Most humans wouldn’t dare to brave the dank underbelly of an oak ridge, especially this far to the south. The twisted monsters created by the beast blood often escaped into these thick swathes of rich green underbrush, darkening the whole wood with their poisonous presence.
But a pair of Sanguisugae had no trouble. Beast blood victims were inhuman and sought to kill their human prey, true, but with their lack of intelligence came the uncanny ability to recognize a higher order of dark creature. And so while the beasts of the dark ridge did pursue the duo for a while, shadowing them through the underbrush, there was no aggression. Only a strange, watchful kind of kinship and caution churned into a dark sludge lurking beneath the spread, shadowed boughs.
So they’d cut through the deep forest, safely ensconced by the thick bramble and reaching stench of monstrous fear. It had been Killua’s gruff idea, more an order than a suggestion, and he’d turned, ducking deep into the velvet gloom beneath the tangled vines and creepers choking the life from branches like granite overhead. Gon had followed with a laugh and a yelp. It had taken them two days to traverse the thicket, but the shortcut had been well worth the effort.
They had emerged from the tree line to see a tiny hamlet of a village some distance away, nestled at the base of a series of high, mossed cliffs, the faint misted line of a river further away across the rolling plains of long grass and low shrubbery. A worn path cut through green-carpeted hillocks, a brown snake undulating across the landscape, scaled by grey pebbles. And they’d followed the road, the soles of their boots clicking against the occasional rock.
Then they’d been drawn in. The village, though little more than a blip with a ramshackle church, had been bustling with activity, some kind of celebratory festival obviously underway, and children had been running amuck in the streets, bare feet sending smoke across the baked dirt roads. Everyone had been so welcoming, an old woman with a bent back and the milky eyes of near-blindness reaching uncertainly for Gon’s ungloved hands. Killua had followed, the heavily-armed, dark figure he cut remarkably unintimidating. It had surprised him to some extent. Monster Hunters were always looked at with some degree of reverence and caution, especially those few Starred Hunters certified to bear the crest of the Zoldycks on a coat corner – the crest he hadn’t the heart to yet cut off. But perhaps, in all the chaos, nobody had noticed.
That wouldn’t have surprised him. Gon had been bouncing around, eyes glinting like liquid gold, dancing with young ladies and gentlemen alike as they’d wound into the central square of the town. Humans had spun and whirled about in drab colors, the faint strains of violin music and a jaunty drumbeat making for lively background noise. The crowd had grown thick, fat like a vein swelling and bursting as it was severed.
And then he’d seen Gotoh, waving tiredly on a small platform by the church, bandages splinting one arm tightly, another strip of greying but clean fabric wound round his high forehead thrice. His Hunter attire had been ripped, claw marks rent through the short cape. But he had looked proud. Accomplished. And that was when the simple stop to gather information had turned dangerous.
And had gone horribly wrong.
Now they were stuck.
“So, who is your hunting partner this time, young Master Killua?”
Gotoh had invited them closer – a lucky mistake on his part, given that he’d been on church grounds – and now they were sitting uncomfortably in chairs on that small platform next to him and the mayor of the large village they’d stumbled across. Even with the invitation, the mere sensation of sitting on holy ground was uncomfortable, like needles were just pricking over bare skin. Killua shifted, thoroughly disliking the tingling discomfort and his exposed state. Gon glanced at him, then lowered his hood, revealing a happy grin.
“I’m Gon!” he chirped, still the cheerful bastard he’d always been. Gotoh blinked, dark eyes locking on the perfect tan of Gon’s bronze skin. The thin lips crinkled somewhat, just in the corner of the horselike face. It was enough. Gotoh’s approval sent some current of relief down Killua’s spine, easing the tension pooling between each vertebra.
“I see. Young Master, what brings you and Gon here? I, after some struggle, managed to dispose of the beast blood victim plaguing this village at night, so if you came to eliminate that creature, I’m sorry to say that I’ve already taken care of the issue.”
Killua gazed into Gotoh’s eyes for several long minutes, noticing the flecks of grey in his iris and the minute wrinkles forming crows’ feet that he’d never be able to see before. A deep, yawning grief suddenly shattered his concentration, anger staining him like wine on a white cloth. He curled inward, tucking his fingers under the fringing of his half-cloak, just in case. Gotoh would age and die, and he would endure, twenty-four until forever. He would have to.
“…I’m looking for Alluka,” he murmured softly, knowing his voice would be heard by Gon, at least. “I won’t stop until I find her. I heard there might be a lead here.”
Gotoh was quiet for a long time. The music of the fiddler and the drummer in the background began to fade into something less upbeat, something sweet and slow. The liquid melody hung like honey in the air, scarlet honey under pale or gold or mocha skin. Killua swallowed. He knew Gon had too. It had been over three weeks since either of them had last eaten more than the occasional mouthful of animal blood – long enough for the pulse humming in Gotoh’s throat to beckon appetizingly, the scent of human flesh sizzling like a roast slow-cooking over an open flame.
The balding man didn’t seem to notice the fixation, because his eyes closed and he leaned back in his chair, the greyed-out rags tied over his head wound shifting slightly. But Killua could tell that his old mentor was concerned by the way the wood of the chair creaked, spider-pale fingers warping the armrests little by little.
“From the sound of things, Miss Alluka was here over a year ago,” Gotoh sighed finally, glancing at the mayor as the haggard man gave a small nod, the creases of his face lit in orange by the setting sun. Killua felt a bit sorry for the man – now there were not one, but two monster hunters with the Zoldyck crest in his speck-size village. At least the crests were small enough that the difference between a Starred Hunter’s crest and the official Zoldyck seal were barely noticeable. Otherwise the poor man’s strained heart would have given out, the thick scent of clotting a taint of poison over his skin, a telltale sign of a sick heart.
“What was she doing?” Killua leaned forward through the prickling aura of the holy ground, digging his elbows into his knees. His pulse, a distant purr so different from human thunder, seared in his fingertips. His fingertips pinched tightly under his gauntlets, hands sharpening dangerously against the metal and leather protectors. Gon shot him a warning glare, bullion-umber gaze locking onto his pale face. Killua took a shuddering breath. A succulent fog from the north had rolled in, the damp odor of moss and cracked stone and decayed wood a comforting familiarity. He tried not to instinctively relax at that smell, tried not to think about the thick liquid rolling in the villagers’ bodies.
Gotoh tensed when he caught the scent, as did the mayor, both staring hard at the distant smudge of the trees to the north. The forest Killua and Gon had cut through on the way to this place was extensive, and curved far away like the scar beneath Killua’s right eye. But it was no less riddled with beast-blood victims to the north than it was to the west, the damp and gloomy undergrowth and towering, fog-laced tree trunks a universal safe-haven for foul monsters. And a wind from the north at this time would be rare for this part of the world – it would likely be taken as a bad omen, or a sign of a monster strong in magic approaching, hiding their scent with a strange breeze.
“…She was searching for something, though Lady Zoldyck wouldn’t say what,” the mayor stuttered out after a long minute, his lower lip wobbling nervously. “She slayed three recent beast-blood victims in as many nights, then left to the north one morning, traveling back the way she came.”
The dank breeze snapped into Killua’s nostrils. This time the traces of quiet power laced through the gusting breeze caught, the sweet nectar of unnatural enchantment permeating his mind. Something pulled at the purring thrum of his pulse, gentle pounding glazing his vision in a shade of soft kaleidoscope. He felt his hunger cramp at his stomach with sudden vigor, and he tried to not-so subtly press on his abdomen to alleviate the ache. Gon caught the movement. He always did. Every single time, he caught the panicked twinge of red, or the fangs slipping out, or the claws rearing through pale, scarred skin. He watched, round, gold gaze fixed on Killua’s face. The bronzed vampire inhaled quietly, trying to see what had set off the younger Sanguisuga’s still-volatile instincts.
Gotoh was just getting ready to speak again when the older Sanguisuga twitched violently, lunging to his feet in a movement so swift it was barely within the bounds of human limits. He’d felt it too.
“…Killua,” The rumble of Gon’s voice was deep, steadying. It sank into him, like fangs into a throat all those months ago. Killua tried to ground himself. He knew the tinge of fear that had crept on padded paws into his companion’s demeanor had invaded his expression as well.
He prayed his eyes were still blue.
“I know,” he replied, fighting to keep the instincts quelled. Years of ironclad self-control and suppression helped, but he hadn’t the experience Gon did – for obvious reasons. “What…what is…?”
“Different type, and way older. Definitely stronger, and it knows it,” Gon said tersely, curling his fists into his palms. “Curious about us, most likely. We need to leave. Now. Otherwise it’s going to come here and-”
“Then we’re leaving,”
The sound was guttural – grinding and raw like bones creaking under the pressure of clawed hands – and it took a moment to realize the low snarl had come out of his mouth. The arcane scent blew again, the northern wind laced with reaching tendrils of shadow, a murk so familiar that he felt the hair on the back of his neck stiffen, skin tingling with static. Killua saw Gon lurch even as he tried and failed to stand, golden umber gaze blown dark with dilated pupils, the faint rosé of fright flashing over the thin bright color of his eyes.
Rose-gold or pure red – the result was the same.
Gotoh stiffened, rising fluidly to his feet as Gon growled in furious dread, the sound distinctly inhuman. Slowly, the dancing villagers started to notice the slight commotion on the small dais where their mayor and savior sat with the two Hunters. Surprise and mutters of vivid confusion rippled in worming shadows through the assembled group. The low, sweet melody screeched awfully and petered thinly out into the night air. Gotoh put a hand on Killua’s shoulder, stepping between him and Gon, whose low rumbling snarls hadn’t quite faded. Killua bit his lip, then winced, fangs catching on the soft flesh and piercing it.
“Young Master Killua…where did you find your partner exactly?” he asked, tone low. Killua felt electricity crackle down his spine, inhuman strength surging in his limbs as he went rigid. Gotoh shook him slightly, peering over the top of his glasses in consternation. He’d seen the flash of tainted rose in Gon’s eyes. The Zoldyck heir breathed, the warmth and slow thunder of Gotoh’s human heartbeat wetting his mouth. He didn’t answer.
“Killua, it’s an Upyr, and it’s after us,” Gon growled out, ignoring Gotoh as the Hunter drew a silver-tipped dagger. “We have to go, now. If Alluka went north, we’ll go north, but we can’t stay. If we do, everyone here is in danger.”
“…to the north, then.”
The guttural taint hadn’t left his voice, and he felt Gotoh’s hand on his shoulder tighten shakily, the splint binding that arm indication enough of the pain the man must be feeling.
“…Get away from me, Gotoh,” he snarled, the pangs of hunger and the taint of Upyr magic igniting a feral flame in his chest. He pushed his old mentor away, careful to be gentle on the fragile human body. Gon yelped in warning – he guessed his eyes had started to turn lavender with building stress. The prickling of the holy ground grew worse, the needling sharper and deeper. “Gon, how long?”
“Seven minutes – the sun’s barely above the horizon now, and it’s the only thing keeping it away,” Gon rasped. Killua struggled to his feet through the magic-induced haze of cloying bloodlust, trying desperately to keep his human appearance before the Upyr’s thick aura drew his vampiric instinct out. The creaking of the wooden planks beneath his feet screeched worse than steel on stone. His head split. Walking at a subdued pace felt like running in slow motion, muscles aching from the overexaggerated slowness. Gon bounded off the platform, raising his hood and face-mask again. His experience was showing – he could still move normally. Killua struggled toward him, trying not to snarl, the threat of a more powerful vampire sending chills of terror down his spine like dancing spiders.
“Young Master Killua, he’s-”
The voice, the fear in it, sweet and musical and oh-so-simple to silence – he snapped, heel striking stone and dirt and whirling in hissing feral rage.
“Hunger...and easy prey, so close, so trusting – easy strength for the danger…”
He’d moved, but only barely. Gon’s solid body crashed into him like a boulder, a powerful grip locking around his chest, crushing his ribcage, the world turning sideways. He howled as his face scraped against loose stone and earth, fangs clacking sharply on rock. He convulsed with all his unnatural strength, bloodlust surging through him like cracking lightning, boiling, a crescendo of power racing through him. He bit his tongue on the manic laugh clawing at his vocal chords with shredding gravel – blood welled in his mouth. Gon’s hands on him tightened, nails piercing through clothing to hit steel and leather armor, and even to prick his icy skin.
“Relax,” the older Sanguisuga’s voice was soft, though Killua would die before admitting that the low tone was helping. Then Gon’s tone dropped even lower, below the range of human ears. “…I think they just know about me, so keep a lid on it until we get out of here.”
The increasing pressure of the Upyr’s growing breeze and the arcane traces of magic on it was hard to ignore, but he wasn’t a Zoldyck for nothing – and there was no way in this hell of a life that he’d be the monster he’d been turned into. He went rigid, squeezing his eyes shut, mouth closed, teeth grinding against each other.
“Get off of Master Killua, monster.”
Gotoh’s icy command was furious, rage evident in every aching, aging crack in his voice. Surging sweat-scent and musky fear clouded enough of the tainted arcane wind that Killua could feel control seeping back into his limbs, percolating slowly through the fading hunger pangs. Gon held him still, breathing into the shell of his ear. Slowly, Killua forced the tension to leave his limbs, forced self-control glazing over his foremost thoughts. Gon gradually started to ease the pressure on his arms and chest. Too slowly.
The thunk of heavy boots grinding on stone rustled loudly.
“I told you to get off.”
The sharp whistle of a thrown blade was the only warning. Gon inhaled, rolling forward towards the sound of Gotoh’s voice, his shoulders tensing, and split-second calculation bolted through Killua’s mind.
Blade whistle. Gotoh. Silver edged. Forward roll. Gon. No armor. Stupid protective moron.
He threw himself up on reflex, smacking the top of his head against Gon’s chin, hands barely managing to break free of the older vampire’s grip for long enough to push against the dirt. Gon – the idiot who had rolled forward to take the knife – was flung back, vampiric strength sending him a full yard away. Killua shot a flaring glance at the blade Gotoh had thrown, tracking the trajectory with the enhanced vision he’d unwillingly received. Gon’s cry of shock and horror went unheard.
He made eye contact with Gotoh for long enough to realize that his gaze still burned crimson.
Then silver bit through a chink in leather armor and sunk into scarred flesh, and fire blazed through his side. Instantly his limbs went weak and frail and lifeless, pain whiting the world into a crackle of viscous static. Gon’s howl of his name barely cut through the sudden searing agony that ripped across his torso, Gotoh’s soft wail of despair a faded note through the high, inhuman screaming tearing through his vocal chords. Dim sunset bled into darkness overhead, droplets of gold sliding into the falling dark even as cracks split reality apart.
Then blazing crimson eyes were staring into his, a pale hand that wasn’t Gon’s calloused palm cupping his face as he writhed on the ground, a bloody jaw and vicious frown of wrath looming above him. The soft clink of metal creaked like thunder in his ears. He gasped for breath, silver poison flooding the sky.
“Don’t move so much. You’ll drive the blade deeper,” the voice was unfamiliar and layered, almost musical. The face disappeared, words lingering in the haze behind it. “I’ll take care of these pathetic rats.”
Gon’s voice split the air, a howling cry of protest and despair cut short by a soft thunk, and Killua tried to force his limbs to obey, cold creeping into his chest, the silver blade buried in his side sapping his inhuman strength to that of a newborn. But the world rolled, Gotoh’s desperate yell cut off in a strangled scream that shattered into dozens. Something ran red, thick and sweet, splashing in beautiful fountains onto the dirt streets. Disgust and desire swelled his tongue, choking in his throat. He managed to force a hand to the knife. Fire ran through him again, silver searing his nerves with the embers of fractured-china agony. The sky was dark and white in alternating flashes.
Then the scarlet eyes were above him again, softer but still glowing beautifully, iridescent in the night.
“…Gon?” he coughed out, trying to see past the haze of cursed silver. The glow blinked. Sharp pinpricks and winding fingers wrapped around his neck, digging into the hum of his heart. Not Gon. He twitched, gauntlets scraping through dust, but he was already weak.
Something was shoved between his lips, a sharp push to his jaw forcing his fangs to bite, his mouth to snap closed, and warmth trickled down his throat, like candy on his tongue. He bucked, instinct flooding him, and fanged teeth cracked bone, sucking greedily on whatever nectar slid into his stomach. The scarlet stare bored through his skull, piercing as he drank.
As the pangs of hunger began to fade into nothing, he gradually became more and more aware of the flaring agony every time he drew breath, of the unabated torment of silver buried in his side. It wasn’t healing. The knife was still there. But even so, it wasn’t healing even slightly. The red eyes above him flashed. Then there was a clawed hand over his gaze, turning the flickering sky completely black. He struggled weakly, feeble despite the mouthfuls he was swallowing, but the unknown creature was incredibly strong, and magic tingled over its pale skin.
The command was almost kind. Then snapping light exploded across the inside of his eyelids, his temple radiating pain. Thunder cracked in his skull. And the world went silent.
Stone bricks supported by dark, half-rotted wood spiderwebbed overhead, the damp slate tile pattered by the trickling freshness of rain. Candlelight cast flickering shadows on the far wall and ceiling, a wriggling mass of tangled serpents shading the inside of the high, peaked turret. Killua shifted sleepily, watching the writhing shades with dull, bleary eyes. A flare of pain twinged down his side as he moved, and a weak gasp of surprise left him. He stilled, the flash of fire clearing his head of the blur of forced sleep and turned his head.
The softness of a pillow, even one worn down by long years, was an unfamiliar spot of comfort, the packed firmness of a straw mattress beneath his back and a quilt of faded violet tucked around his body. He lay in a bed he didn’t recognize, most of his weapons and clothes missing, stripped to the waist – to the padded layer he wore beneath his armor. White bandaging had been tied tightly around his middle, where Gotoh’s dagger had bit deep. And he was isolated in a tower room with a single wooden door, narrow windows set high in the walls and shuttered tightly. The candelabra on the small table at his bedside was black and glossy, three candles of scented red wax lit on its prongs.
Suddenly, a large black bat fluttered down from the rafters, an upturned snout revealing long, pointed teeth and beady red eyes. Killua felt his throat constrict tightly, and he put a hand on the mattress, pushing himself up with a low growl. But a searing line of white flame dug into his lower ribs, and he yelped, falling ungracefully back onto the pillow. Hadn’t he healed yet?
The bat’s wings flapped noisily, and then it dropped to the ground, blackened ash and smoke billowing around it as it touched the dark floorboards and rising up in a thick column. When it cleared, a slender blonde man with long, pointed ears stood in its place, eyes searing with vivid red, fangs hooked over a small frown, dark shadows beneath the glittering ruby gaze.
“You’re something of an idiot, aren’t you?” the blonde Upyr grumbled scathingly, but there was an unmistakable fondness in the exasperated tone that seemed highly out of place. “For hell’s sake, stay down. You’re still injured.”
Killua couldn’t help the acceleration of his undead heart, or the way his gaze burned red in anxious terror. This had been the creature who had pursued them into the human village. Why was he helping? Upyri were dangerous beyond what many other monsters were, but they were limited to the cover of night and rarely left their chosen abodes. The Upyr’s frown shrank somewhat, a slight glance of pity on his face.
“Gon is downstairs, eating, if he’s what you’re worried about,” the Upyr sighed, moving towards a black wood dresser set against the far curve of the turret room. A crystal pitcher with a jeweled stopper plugging the narrow neck sat on the wood, the inside stained crimson. “I’d let you join him, but wounds made by silver weapons heal slowly, especially for a Sanguisuga as young as you are. It’s probably better that you stay put for a day or two.”
“Deer’s blood. He was adamant, despite the fresh hunt last night,” the Upyr seemed vaguely confused by the concept, but shook his head, the blond bob brushed impatiently away from the still-glowing gaze. He picked up the crystal pitcher, the ruby stopper popping loudly out, and began pouring thick scarlet liquid into a fluted glass. “I’d assume you’ll ask for the same, given that Gon told me you’re a very young Sanguisuga and the Zoldyck seal I saw on your clothing, but you’re not getting it while you’ve got a wound like that, and I’m not above force-feeding you.”
Killua gaped at the unamused Upyr standing by the dresser, a crystalline glass of sweet-scented blood in a clawed hand, completely unsure of his next move or sentence. Then Gon burst in, the door slamming and splintering against the stone wall.
“Killua, you’re awake!” Gon burst out, relief flowing from his every stupid pore. The Zoldyck heir took a shuddering breath.
“No shit I’m awake,” he snapped, chest clenching tightly as Gon’s smile stayed fixed firmly in place, blinding as ever. “Where in the hell are we, and why- why is an Upyr helping us?”
Gon bounced over to the blonde Upyr, grinning widely enough that his sharp fangs glinted fully in the flickering candlelight, his skin glinting healthy and pure bronze. The Upyr shot him an exasperated glare, then chuckled slightly and pressed the fluted glass into Gon’s strong hands, murmuring something inaudible even to Killua’s insane hearing. The Hunter growled in irritation, planting his hands again. This time he was prepared for the flare of flame down his side as he sat up, and he bared sharp teeth against the pain.
“Hey, Gon!” he demanded, only to be further incensed as the Upyr shot over to him, silvered steel chains clinking softly on one hand, and shoved him onto his back again.
“I am not asking you to stay down, I’m telling you to stay down, and this is the last time I’ll say it,” the older vampire bit out irritably, groaning. “Do not make me chain you up.”
Killua glowered up at the pale vampire above him, hostility oozing onto the sheets he lay on. Then he found himself yet again distracted by his bubbly traveling companion and the chiseled jawline looming over him, the glass pressed suddenly to his lips. Blood lapped at his upper lip, the rich, sweetmeat scent enticing, and before he knew entirely what he was doing, reflex kicked his jaw apart. He drank greedily, a faint trail of warmth trickling down the side of his face, and as he did the pain in his side started to dull from blazing fire into a slow-burn throbbing.
Gon held the fluted glass steady until he’d drained it, then wiped the spilled droplets from his pale chin and set the glass below the scented candelabra, gold glinting in those round eyes.
“This is Kurapika,” the bronze-skinned Sanguisuga introduced after a moment, gesturing at the far-older vampire. “He said he’d noticed us when we’d crossed over the dark wood and had followed us from the shadows for a while, just watching. He only got concerned when we went into the village, since he knew a strong Starred Hunter was there, so he hung around until nightfall and ended up carrying us both back here, to his home.”
That answered one of Killua’s questions, but he narrowed steely blue eyes, trying to discern any additional information from Gon’s flippant remarks. There was nothing. Gon was as honest as any human, though not for lack of trying to spin lies. So he turned his head, grinding his teeth in irritation at being ordered to stay in bed like some washed-up apprentice Hunter.
“Kurapika, hm?” The vicious bite in his tone couldn’t be helped, but the blonde Upyr didn’t seem bothered by his obvious hostility. Honestly, Killua could understand. Even if he hadn’t been weakened by a silver knife-wound, fighting an Upyr was almost always a fatal endeavor. Even with the eerie Sanguisuga strength and speed he now possessed, an Upyr’s grasp of magic and darkness was complete in ways that sun-dwelling vampires like Sanguisugae only rarely achieved. Even a Sanguisuga trained in the ways of the Zoldyck Hunters would be hard-pressed to kill or incapacitate an Upyr.
“Kurapika Kurta,” the slender blonde replied coolly, and the Zoldyck heir stiffened at the sound of the vampiric clan name. He stared.
“I thought the Kurta clan had been wiped out by Chrollo Lucifer and his followers,” Killua said evenly, remembering the day that the Phantom Troupe had split so effortlessly from the Zoldyck teachings and bounded off as a pack to hunt targets too difficult for even Starred Hunters and, more importantly, to loot ravaged cities and castles. Kurapika’s scarlet glare burned with sudden fire at the mention of the renegade band of Hunters.
Gon pinched Killua’s pale shoulder blade in silent reproach.
“…Yes, it was. I’m the last Kurta,” Kurapika snarled, upper lip curling back to reveal bloodied gums and reddened teeth. “Filthy human rats missed me by two days. But I’ll get them back. And they’ll scream just as loud as my family did.”
Killua felt anger rush through him, indignation burning.
“You were preying on innocent people, Upyr,” he spat, eyes narrowing to thin slits of sapphire. Gon gave him a sharp look, red flaring over the gold bullion irises.
“Killua, stop it.”
“What were we supposed to do? Die? At least when we killed, it was for food and survival.” Kurapika growled back, ruby shining brightly in his permanently scarlet glare. The shadows in the room suddenly surged, chains of dark, silvery smoke glittering in the musted air surrounding the older vampire’s lean body. “But the Phantom Troupe slaughtered my entire clan, even the children, all out of fear. Even my best friend, who drank only animal blood on principle and was weak and sickly his whole life because of it. Even his baby sister, barely teething with her first fangs. And I found the bodies in pieces, eyes torn out.”
Killua closed his mouth, unsure of how to respond to such vehement anger from a creature who, for all intents and purposes, preyed solely upon humans. Gon stood silently to his right, gaze downcast. Confused and upset because of that confusion, Killua surged upright again, fingers prickling as his hands sharpened to fierce blades, lips pulling back. The pain was faint compared to the hot rage pulsing in his veins.
“What were we supposed to do? Let you keep killing innocent humans?” Killua spat furiously. “You drained every one of your victims until they were dried husks!”
Kurapika growled, and suddenly the chains of deep smoky silver clattered around the room, and Killua cried out as the cold links snapped across his chest, snapping his torso back down to the straw mattress. The sudden force ached. The Upyr’s fangs dripped scarlet and hissing poison.
“Let me ask you this, Zoldyck,” the older vampire hissed, and Killua stiffened at the sound of his surname. “You seem so certain that you’ll put human survival over your own, and as a Zoldyck, I could believe that you probably would do something that foolish. But no human would dare put your survival over their own. No human would give their blood to you to prevent your starvation, even if you’d starve yourself to spare them. My clan killed for survival, because we vampires prey on humans the same way humans prey on lesser species. And somehow we’re inherently evil for trying to survive – we’re monsters. And yet humans ripped my clan apart into fragmented corpses even though simple hawthorn stakes through their hearts would have been an instant, painless death.”
Kurapika made a yanking motion with one hand, and the chain wound around Killua’s chest tightened. Bone creaked in protest. The young Sanguisuga wheezed, struggling against the chains. Gon gripped the smoky links and pulled, claws screeching orange sparks against the arcane magic.
“So tell me – who are the real monsters? Greedy, fearful humans who kill and cause pain because they can’t understand, or beasts like us who kill only because they don’t want to die?”
Killua choked, the bandaging around his side seeping with warmth, and Gon yelled some wordless alarm, lunging for the white material and pressing. Silver fire cauterized the nerve endings instantly, melting the pain into a thin sheen of agony that slipped between his ribs.
“Kurapika, you’re hurting him!”
The cry was panicked, and it seemed to be that cry of dismay that bled the wrath from the Kurta’s pallid face and sunken eye sockets. The smoky chains loosed, the hold gentling, and the Upyr ghosted over to see the damage he’d done. Killua panted, gasping for breath now, the wriggling shadows in the peaked roof spinning in soft circles. Kurapika’s expression had softened, sorrow lining his ageless features, and his clawed hands moved Gon’s aside, gently probing the bandaging.
“I will not apologize for something I can’t help,” Kurapika’s tone was much kinder as he began to redo to the bandaging around the silver knife wound, the chains tying Killua down firm but no longer crushing. “But you’re young, and one of the legendary Zoldycks to boot. This will be difficult for you come to terms with – that not all monsters delight in human death. Most hunt only out of necessity, and nothing more. Beast blood victims alone retain a human urge to kill for sport.”
Killua snorted in disbelief, hissing as the bandages were pulled away from his skin to expose a stitched slit leaking thin trails of blood on his right side. Kurapika opened the drawer on the nightstand, pulling out medical supplies, and gently started to rub a foul-scented ointment onto the stitched wound. The burn it caused felt icy cold, like mint acid eating away at the raw edges of the injury with tiny rows of wyrmlike teeth. Gon reached out as every muscle in his body locked against the silver burn, pressing the backs of his knees into the straw-stuffed bed in an effort to force him to relax.
“…You’re a liar,” he forced out between clenched teeth. “You’re a liar.”
Kurapika’s expression stiffened again, but the touch of his clawed hands on Killua’s scar-torn, wounded side was light, careful of the deep, still-healing stab mark.
“Maybe,” he said quietly. He lifted his gaze to meet Killua’s stare, the rage burning unceasingly in those scarlet eyes like hellfire, but directed at something far beyond the two Sanguisugae in front of him. “But I’m not like most monsters. Humans slaughtered my entire family, you see. So I do the same.”
Killua felt Gon’s grip on his legs tighten suddenly, his nails sharpening.
“…Kurapika, what happened to the villagers you got us away from?”
The sudden shadow that fell over Killua’s heart was cold, and for a moment he felt breathless. Gotoh. He’d heard Gotoh cry out and then- nothing.
Kurapika was silent for a long minute. Then he scowled, pressing a gauzy pad over Killua’s injury and wrapping it tightly with white bandages again.
“I was hungry. And they hurt two young Sanguisugae that had done absolutely nothing to them,” Kurapika’s voice was quiet, but remorseless. “I let only their children go unharmed.”
It felt like he’d been stabbed again. Gotoh had been strong. Strong enough that Silva and Kikyo Zoldyck had entrusted their heir to his tutelage from the ages of three to seven. He’d respected Gotoh – the man had even allowed Alluka to spar before Killua had begun her training. And now he was dead. Monster food. It…hurt. He hadn’t expected it to be quite so painful, to realize that a Hunter he’d known well, respected, and valued highly was gone forever, and that his last sight would have been Killua’s eyes burning red and inhuman, a silver blade sunk into his undead flesh. He choked slightly.
It was different from when Alluka had gone missing. More final. Less terrifying. More suffocating. Less…less real. Alluka’s disappearance had shattered something deep in his soul. This just felt like something had gone missing, leaving a void in his chest where air should be.
Gon reached out, pressing down on one of Killua’s shoulders, nails pricking over soft, scarred skin. A soft, hitched breath was enough to tell him that the older Sanguisuga was tearing up, his soft heart still too fragile to handle the inevitable death of someone he knew, even after all the years he’d endured. It seemed impossible, that Gon could feel sorrow over someone he’d just met – that he’d even want to show such weakness. But he was tearing up nonetheless, the trembling and faint pinpricks of his claws a telltale sign of his grief.
And the void inside Killua’s chest eased, the pressure easing slightly. He let out a shallow breath, relief washing gently through him. He closed his eyes.
Gotoh had someone willing to cry for him.
And somehow, that helped.