“I want you to believe... to believe in things that you cannot.”
― Bram Stoker, Dracula
On a rainy Monday at midnight, two figures sit on a coffee shop balcony.
A gloom preys upon the city, a ghost of consequence that traps all homes in foreboding darkness. Fingers of lightning rewrite the language of terror, resurrecting each monster under the bed as the protagonist of this brave new world; they run rampant in the shadows, thriving in their nefarious ambitions. They hold their chins high as images of complete social disintegration, relishing as vessels of grandeur and obscurity.
The storm washes color away, leaving behind the murky stench of garbage and the flesh of war – body parts cast into storm drains and shoved into dumpsters, nameless faces of the old and young. They are bodies of humanity as well as those of the supernatural, all of which who slaughtered blindly, though their blood moves the same.
A rose petal tumbles in the wind and a hand darts out faster than eyes can follow. The figure pinches it between two fingers with painted black nails, his rings stacked up to the knuckles – none of his jewelry is plated in tungsten, much less iron; even gold warms his fingers to a dangerous burn. Steel is the only metal that graces his chains, one of which proudly displays a tiger’s head with pearls for eyes.
Rin rubs the rose petal between his forefinger and thumb, his eyes half-lidded with laziness as he gives an unimpressed sweep at the aesthetic limits of the modern architecture around them. His companion is still as death, though his blue-fire eyes dart to every billowing canopy and tumbling newspaper on the road.
Rin’s nostrils flare to take in the humid aroma of the city. He tastes smoke on his tongue, not the fire of man or even of this world. Fires of the devil always have a certain perfume to them, an alluring hint of sweetness stolen from the forbidden fruit itself.
Rin and his comrade regard the club across the street. The neon sign burns like hot coals even in the rain; the cursive scrawl is misleadingly coy with its playful, swooping lines that read The Ninth Circle.
Rin rolls his eyes to his friend who drips rain like a forgotten graveyard statue, his head bowed just the same. “Ready, Haru?”
Haru nods and Rin rolls his tongue over his fangs with a smirk. They launch themselves over the balcony and Rin’s dead heart shoots up his throat. Jumping – or falling, rather – is a philosophical experience for him. Rin remembers his humanity in moments like these, but only with the invigorating realization that no fall can ever break him.
He hits the ground like an explosion, boots slamming down with enough force to cave in the pavement. Haru lands in a graceful crouch, cold and calculated as ever. They stalk toward the club, two tall silhouettes that exude a taunting amount of confidence, and their bodies do not bow to the weather as Rin knocks on the door.
The tiny window slides open and a face scrutinizes them with a long once-over. The demon’s eyes have no iris, no white to them – they glitter in their blackness before flaring wide with a curse like talking backwards.
Rin leans in, pressing himself against the door with the closeness of a lover. The demon cranes back before his expression hardens. “Password?”
Oh, Rin could just purr. “My password is that I’ve got an angel at my beck and call and I won’t hesitate to tell him where this cute little titty-bar is.” He makes a face at the burning outdoor sign. “Ain’t the Ninth Level of Hell supposed to be made of ice? You dickbites have no creativity. Way to play into your own stereotype.”
The demon’s brows furrow in rage before someone yanks him back with a hiss. “He’s the vampire prince!”
Rin’s grinning from ear to ear when the door opens. These demons are wearing their human skins tonight, though they’re not very pretty or impressive. Rin smiles with snake-oil charm. “Haven’t you heard that vampires have to be invited in?”
The demons scowl in varying degrees of disgust, but they step aside. “Come in,” one says gruffly, like he’d rather swallow his own tongue than speak such words.
Rin bypasses them without another thought. Haru glares in warning at the pair, his presence firm and protective at Rin’s back.
The bar is long and narrow with walls of embroidered velvet, the tiles black and white at their feet. Chandeliers light a gloomy path through the space, leading past counters of whiskey, blood, cocktails of venom and black potions like tar. The bass purrs like a sex growl, booming through Rin with such intensity that it’s as if he has a heartbeat again.
Glares make ice claw down Rin’s back. Vampires are not welcome in an establishment of demons; vampires are considered a knock-off version of damned when in the presence of hell incarnate. That’s what makes demons so much fun to fuck with, in Rin’s book.
Demons of all kinds lounge on the tufted settees: women in evening gowns with animal skulls for heads; men with their muscled pecs swelling over their unbuttoned shirts as they sip on bourbon with their skeleton fingers. Rin saunters up to an entourage, pinpointing a demon who has a gorgeous tan and fire for hair. He perks up from his slouch when he notices the vampire, thighs spread confidently as Rin steps between them to coo, “Hi, Sei~”
“Well,” Seijuro smirks, his voice always bouncing with some sort of chuckle. “If it ain’t the local undead royal.” His eyes sweep Rin from head to toe. “In all his sublime grandeur. What brings you all the way here, to me? You still nostalgic for the lost era of romance? Wanna fool around and pretend it’s a ritual again?”
“Was I that special to you?” Rin lifts a pierced brow with a mocking grin. “Is your bed so fucking dry that you still remember me after millennia?”
“You’re unforgettable,” Seijuro promises, voice warm with a fondness that could almost be considered kind. Haru rolls his eyes impatiently. “You know it’d break my heart if you were here for business instead of pleasure.”
“Afraid I am,” Rin sighs with a deceiving pout.
“Ah.” Seijuro snaps his fingers to sprout a flame from his thumb and light a cigar. He hisses the smoke out through his teeth, throwing his burly arms over the settee to show off his chest, but Rin’s starting to get impatient with playing into his antics. “What of it then, love? Your daddy too burdened with authority to come say hi?”
Defensiveness bristles through him but Rin’s expression remains composed. He sprawls out on Seijuro’s lounge, ignoring the protesting glares of his entourage as he steals a shot of ogre’s draught from the table. It tastes earthy, like wheat and rain. Seijuro lets Rin cuddle right up to him like the fool he is, and Rin’s voice lowers in a coy murmur. “Rumor has it that you had another visitor here today.”
Seijuro’s features harden, barking, “Rumor?” He blinks in realization and fumes. “Isuzu.”
“Mm, not the point. Who came here?”
Seijuro curls an indulgent smirk, scratching at one of his stubby horns and not saying a damn word. Haru grits his jaw, gloved fingers twitching toward the blade in his pocket.
Rin gives his own smile as he throws one leg over the other; the muscled meat of his thigh curves into the new position and Seijuro’s gaze tracks the motion with hunger. Under his stare, Rin rolls his ankle just so, and silver flashes from the tongue of his boot. Seijuro’s a fool that thinks with his cock but he’s just smart enough to know that Rin’s blade is soaked in holy water. The demon pouts, looking heartbroken. “Is that really necessary?”
“No,” Rin simpers. “Not if you tell me what I need to know.”
Seijuro’s gaze flickers to Haru, who arches a daring brow. The demon rolls his gaze back to Rin with an endeared smile. “I can appreciate someone brave enough to play dirty.” Rin doesn’t move as Seijuro sweeps the back of his hand across the vampire’s cheek. “But you’re out of your league, little bat. I’d fly away if I were you.” He looms closer, bringing his scent of ash and apples with him, and he brushes a whisper against Rin’s ear. “Fuck. You.”
Quicker than the next breath, Rin slams his forearm across Seijuro’s throat like a cinderblock. Rin straddles him and the other demons surge into action, one of them built like a mountain and clenching his hand into a fist of screaming flames. With one flick of his wrist, Haru shoots a dagger through the demon’s wrist to pin it against the table. The demon breathes fire, roaring, “You filthy fucking –”
“Shut up, Hoshikawa,” Seijuro sighs, looking utterly bored from where Rin’s got him pinned. “That ‘filthy fucking’ leech is older than God Himself. Have some respect.”
Haru’s nostrils flare on an infuriated breath until Rin gives him a sharp look to remain calm. Hoshikawa rears up but the entire club freezes to the bone when Haru bears his fangs in a hiss so sharp and loud that Rin’s ears ring.
Seijuro shifts and Rin takes his blade out with a gloved hand. The blessed dagger hisses to life, quivering at the close proximity of a demon. Seijuro’s head snaps away, feet scrambling uselessly under Rin’s weight. Rin looms closer, ducking into Seijuro’s neck with fangs poised to strike. “Did you know that the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear?” He brings his head up slowly as his eyes surge redder. “You’re more human than you first assumed, Sei. I taste your fear.” The demon startles when Rin points the blade at his crotch. “Pray fucking tell, are you more afraid of those who showed up earlier, or are you more afraid of me?”
Seijuro’s skin blazes under Rin’s forearm; catching on fire is one of a demon’s defense mechanisms, but Rin hasn’t even felt warm since he died, so it’s useless against him. Seijuro pulls Rin’s forearm away from his throat just enough to rasp, “Werewolves showed up earlier today.”
Haru snaps, “What’d they want?”
The demon snorts. “Same thing that you want. They asked if we could confirm rumors about the humans uprising.”
“Aw.” Rin purses his lips mockingly. “Did they scare you like we did?”
“Not half as much, dear one,” Seijuro goads.
Haru’s shaking with pent-up aggression, so Rin takes that as a sign to cut to the chase. “Well?”
“Of course it’s true,” the demon scoffs. “You think people would be attacking werewolf pups at daycares if they had any fuckin’ humanity left in them?”
“Interesting of you to say,” Rin muses.
Seijuro is steadfast in his earnestness. “I have no business around innocent souls. Children don’t belong in hell.”
The vampire cranes back at that before refocusing. “Which wolves came to see you?”
“They’re a new pack to the city, just migrated here a few years ago. Their alpha – Sousuke – and his big ass shadow, Makoto –”
“ – there was another wolf, a redhead –”
“Shiina Asahi,” one demoness snarls, her tiny goat-skull head disproportioned with her voluptuous curves. Rin might be a vampire but he never liked hearing skulls talk. “That mutt is mated to a seelie, I could smell it all over him. Such a union is a disgrace to both of their kinds.”
“Satomi was here, too, Sousuke’s sister,” Hoshikawa hisses, his limp hand twitching disturbingly under the knife that pierces it. “Now get this goddamn thing out of me.”
“No,” Haru smiles. It’s terrifying.
Rin saunters backward to the door, spinning his blessed knife between his fingers just to make sure their onlookers don’t fuck with them. “Thanks,” he winks at Seijuro.
The frazzled demon rubs his throat, which is flushed from being so close to a holy object. He calls, “Do you really think that you can stop this uprising when you’re more worried about the werewolves than protecting your own people?” He scoffs a laugh. “You’re just like your father.”
Anger flares through him, eyes narrowing with tunnel vision before Haru wrenches him away by the arm. “Ignore him, let’s go.”
They step out into the rain and someone slams the door behind them. Rin whips around, dagger carving the air in two on its path through the door window. The glass shatters and he hears demons scampering away from the knife with frightened crowing that make his chest swell with pride. Haru gives him a flat look but Rin just flips his hair and smirks over his shoulder. “You coming?”
“You shouldn’t have taunted Seijuro,” Haru says, fists clenching with bristled shoulders. “It wasn’t necessary, it wasted time, and you’re lucky he didn’t put a curse on you.”
Rin rolls his eyes, cinching his black trench tighter around his waist as the wind picks up. “He’s far too sweet on me to –”
“You could have been hurt.” Haru’s never as expressional as he is when he’s tormented, and Rin hates himself for making his friend wear such a look. Haru’s voice is exhausted from giving this speech year after year, century after century. “Do you ever think about what it would look like if I went home empty-handed, telling your mother and father that something happened to you?”
Rin sobers up, features softening. His voice falls quiet. “I’m sorry, Haru.” He might be Queen Miyako’s guard, but Haru is also Rin’s friend, and that’s never as clear as it is in the heat of battle.
Haru fumes a sigh, raking his drenched hair back as rain pelts their faces. “Whatever, let’s –” He flusters. “Let’s just go.” He shoulders by Rin with a grumble. “You’re never careful, I swear.”
Rin grins and jogs ahead of him, rounding to face Haru as he pulls his shirt collar down to show the crest inked into his chest. He throws out an arm in grand display. “I’m the vampire prince, ain’t I?”
“And an idiot,” Haru snorts, sticking his nose up as he passes Rin, who is frozen in disbelief. Haru tips his head back at him impatiently. “Come on.”
They make their way to one of the only restaurants open at this hour called The Meadow Pig – it has a black star painted above the door. The symbol means that the diner is a safe haven for all mystical species. Very few establishments brandish such a sign; most places have clear indicators that mystics are not welcome or will even be shot on sight.
A little bell rings over the door as they enter the bleak diner. Static-laced noir music slinks from the overhead speakers and Rin makes a face at how stale the air is, thick from the day’s lingering oven smoke. Paper banners hang faded and depleted from the ceiling, their color faded with age. There’s a waiter nodding off at the host stand, so unfortunately, there’s no one around to scare.
Miniature pig trinkets watch Rin and Haru walk down the aisles of tables to a booth with peeling fabric. A boy sitting at the booth has his back to them, facing the wall with his small hands wrapped around a cup of warm milk with honey on the side. His skin is flawless as a marble statue, hands free of blemishes or even palm-lines – no thumb prints.
The boy’s tiny shoulders hunch at sensing their presence and Ai turns with an exhale of relief. “Thank God you’re all right.”
“Of course we are,” Rin scoffs as he and Haru slide into the booth.
They shrug off their drenched coats and Rin ties his wet hair back before Ai tenses in dread. He pulls his white cardigan tighter around his middle to brace himself. “So, is it true?”
“Yeah,” Haru sighs, crossing his arms in irritation. “The humans are planning an uprising.”
“That could mean anything though,” Ai lunges, his hair flaring brighter in distress. Rin and Haru throw hands over their eyes at the flash and Ai frantically apologizes, running his hands over his hair to dim the strands’ glow. Glitter billows off his hair and when it falls on the booth, the fabric re-sows itself up. Angel dust has healing properties for all things – sentient or otherwise. Ai says, “The uprising – is it just a few vigilantes, or…?”
“I think it might be bigger than that,” Rin mutters, tapping a nail against the table. “Seijuro told us that the wolves had been by The Ninth Circle earlier today.”
Ai worries his lip. “Maybe the uprising is focusing on the werewolves, then. Wasn’t it their pups that were targeted at that daycare a few weeks ago?”
“Seijuro insinuated that the uprising was bigger than just an attack on the wolves.” Haru glances over the ketchup-sticky menu and Rin rolls his eyes because he always gets the same thing here. “He threated Rin by saying he wouldn’t be able to protect his own people.”
Ai closes his eyes, crestfallen. His laugh is faint and bitter. “Demons always know when something bad is about to happen; angels know when good things are upon us, but I haven’t sensed any forth-coming joy in so long.” He bows his head at Rin. “I’m sorry I’ve been so useless.”
Rin surges to grab his hand, but his fingers hover over the angel’s arm – religious objects (including religious mystics) cannot harm Rin by presence alone, but he’s superstitious to a fault. That’s why he wore gloves handling the blessed knife and made Haru do the same. Instead of touching him, Rin offers Ai a warm smile. “You’re not useless, Ai. You being able to sense that nothing good is approaching is a tool in itself. Promise.”
Ai beams in a way that tells Rin his words meant the world. Fallen angels are often kidnapped by corrupted religious cults and that was Ai’s unfortunate greeting upon being hurdled through space and crash-landing to the earth. Fallen angels, much like vampires, are considered a knock-off version of damned according to demons, therefore vampires have a soft spot for angels and often take them in to protect them. And how could Rin not, when Ai was his guardian angel before he hurdled to the earth?
The sleepy waiter shuffles over from the host stand, taking his notepad out with a yawn. He squints at the them, gaze lazing from one glowing boy to the duo with fangs peeking between their lips, and the waiter’s spine snaps straight. Horror flares off him so powerfully that Rin tastes it and the boy’s fingers tremble as he scribbles down their order, but at least he wasn’t rude. Rin gives him props for that.
Haru gets grilled mackerel, which fucking reeks, but he eats it with his eyes closed in nostalgia. Vampires can taste what they’re eating, though they don’t really have a need for food and it isn’t a substitute for blood. Rin thinks mackerel reminds Haru of his human days; he doesn’t understand why any vampire would want to remember such a time, but Haru’s his closest friend, so he doesn’t judge. Rin gets a sundae just to play with the cherry stem with his tongue, and Ai gets another round of milk and honey.
After the meal, they slink out into the abandoned streets, which are foggy from the storm’s humidity, but at least the rain passed.
Rin casts a worried glance at the horizon and the trio proceeds onto the route toward home. Darkness is a natural comfort to vampires, but Rin doesn’t feel comfortable for some reason. He flexes his ears but only hears the distant wail of banshees that drift through grocery store aisles in the night. They pass by an apartment complex and Rin zeroes in on the nearest window – there’s two heartbeats lulled slow in slumber, one of them just a bit faster, which distinguishes that it’s a sleeping woman with a man. He picks up on another muffled pulse and realizes that the woman is pregnant.
Everything is normal. Then why does it feel like –
Haru’s arm flies out to shield Rin and the trio tenses as one. Rin yanks Ai behind him and pulls a fresh blade from his thigh holster, aiming it at the shadows nearby alley way. Haru’s glare pierces the darkness and they wait, suspended in pause, until footsteps come from overhead.
A chuckle has them slowly lifting their heads to the powerlines. A silhouette saunters across the nearest line, their horned wings draping the trio in shadow. “Demon,” Ai whimpers, scampering closer to Rin.
“No shit,” the figure cackles, and Rin deflates as he recognizes the voice.
He sheathes his dagger and crosses his arms, canting his hip. Rin calls, “Have you nothing better to do, Isuzu?”
“Yeah, your sister.” Isuzu hops from the line, wings billowing out in a mighty lurch. Wind blasts Rin with each mighty push of her wings and she hovers a few feet above them. Her hair and eyes blaze with hellfire, her teeth a white-hot flash between her grinning lips. “You owe me for telling you about Nii-chan and the uprising. You don’t wanna stay in a demon’s debt too long~”
Rin huffs, blowing his bangs out of his face. “Fine, what do you want?”
Isuzu folds her hands over the straps of her grimy overalls. “Listen, I know your dad’s a tiny bit prejudice against my kind even though I’m a delight, so you distract your parents. I wanna see Gou.”
“Maybe she doesn’t want to see you,” Rin suggests, not because it’s true but because he’s lazy about things like this.
Ai’s head peeks over Rin’s shoulder with a frown. “She talks about Isuzu all the time –”
“Ha.” The demoness shoots him with a finger gun. “Knew it.”
Rin groans, dragging a hand down his face. “Fine.” He bristles with a thought. “Wait.” Isuzu pauses in the middle of her victorious fist pump, and Rin levels their gazes. “What do you know about Sousuke?”
“Ah, which one? It’s been kind of a common name since, yanno, literally forever ago.”
“Don’t even, I’m older than you,” Rin pouts.
Haru pinches the bridge of his nose and snaps, “Sousuke, he’s the alpha of that werewolf pack that’s been targeted recently.”
“Oh,” Isuzu breathes, perking up and fluttering a bit higher. She tips her head, canting her antlers. “Yeah, his pack is new to this territory but he’s got a vicious reputation.” Her eyes light up with manic glee. “I’ll tell ya even more if you can distract your parents for the whole day.”
“… vampires sleep during the day, Isuzu.” Christ, why is Rin’s sister in love with such a blockhead? Must run in the Mikoshibas.
Isuzu says, “Well, I heard that the uprising is just because Sousuke’s planning on eating all those humans that hurt those pups.”
Rin and Haru share a look and the latter muses, “So it is just about the werewolves.”
Ai quivers between them. “Will he really eat all those people?”
“No Ai, she’s just trying to scare you –”
“Not trying, achieving,” Isuzu winks. Ai cowers. Haru stares down at his own dagger like he’s thinking about ending it all.
Rin calls up to Isuzu, “Find out where this ‘uprising’ is supposed to take place and I’ll help you sneak into the castle for the rest of the week.”
The demoness crows and twirls in victory just as Haru’s head snaps to Rin. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“It’s just to be sure,” the prince says, flittering a hand through his hair.
Haru’s eyes fall flat. “Rin, we can’t risk something like that just because you want a little drama.”
“Ah,” Rin hisses through his fangs with a hand over his heart. “You wound me, Haru.”
“No, I know you.”
Isuzu flaps her wings impatiently. “I don’t care what you do with the information, now let’s go.” She starts toward the castle and the trio follows her from below.
Haru gives Rin another firm look. “We are not interfering with the wolves.”
“You might not.” The prince grins with all his teeth. “But I am.”