Actions

Work Header

Hunger

Chapter Text

The halls of the abandoned mansion rang with drops from countless leaks in the roof. Furniture was broken and scattered through out, wallpaper and tapestries torn. Light from a halfmoon streamed in through a collapsed part of the front room lobby. Seated in a pale moonbeam at the foot of the dilapidated stairway was a black haired woman. Short, straight black hair framed a blank expression. Blue eyes stared ahead at nothing, ears filled with the sound of pouring rain. A fat droplet of water fell onto the shoulder of her white double breasted vest, under which a blue cravat was tied, covering the pair of holes at the base of her neck. Absently she thumbed away the flecks of water that landed on her cheek.

She smoothed a wrinkle from her faded black pants, and ran a finger around where they tucked into leather boots. She was hungry, and the rain wasn't letting up any time soon. Not that it would affect her. Old human habits, she surmised.

The rain left the forest ground soft and muddy under the blanket of soaked leaves. Satsuki's footsteps were silent, her ears practically deafened by the rain. She had set out from the mansion following the road, but quickly stole into the thicket of trees. A lone woman traveling at night in heavy rains would bring up questions she wasn't keen on answering.

So that lone woman, a pale ghost in the woods, walked on. The wind shifted, now blowing in her face. With what should have been a bone chilling gust brought the smell of humans to Satsuki's nose. A sniff to confirm, and an upward twitch of the corners of her mouth. Lightning flashed and thunder roared.

The hastily constructed camp consisted of two open face, makeshift tents constructed from branches and blankets. Hardly better than sleeping without. The soggy remnants of a cookfire long dead were in front of the side by side tents. As Satsuki approached, she saw that three men slept in a tangle in one tent, and one girl in the other. Her eyes flicked back and forth between them, contemplating. After a few seconds, she decided on the girl's tent. Without a sound, she stepped into the relative shelter, easily making her way through the gloom. Satsuki stepped around her curled and blanketed form, squatting next to her head. Gently she adjusted her blanket to expose the pink haired woman's neck. Satsuki drew her hand back and froze as the girl murmured in her sleep and rolled over.

"Get out of my tent," she said.

For the first time since turning, a chill ran through Satsuki. The fear turned to confusion when a response came from the other tent.

"Sleep, Nonon. We're all here."

Another crash of lightning and thunder. Nonon grumbled, rolled onto her back, and opened her eyes, also pink Satsuki noted. She blinked up at Satsuki. Another blink. Satsuki's hand clamped over Nonon's mouth, and she leaned down to whisper in her ear.

"Make a noise, your companions die," After speaking, Satsuki was sure to bare her fangs, running her tongue along them. "Understand?"

Satsuki waited for a few seconds, and was about to repeat herself when she felt warmth in her hand over Nonon's mouth. She could do nothing but stare into Nonon's pink eyes as her hand was licked mercilessly. She lifted her hand, expression stern.

"Who are you?" Nonon asked immediately in a casual tone.

Satsuki put her hand over Nonon's mouth again, but it was too late. The men in the other tent were already stirring. From the sounds of their curses, they didn't sound happy. Satsuki darted from the tent as three burly men emerged from the other.

"She's a vampire," Nonon announced, standing in the entrance of her tent
.
The trio of men exchanged looks, then turned to look at Nonon.

"Which means she's valuable," she continued.

"Explain how."

"Vampires can be exchanged for money and valuables," Nonon crossed her arms, clearly losing her patience. "Now hurry up and grab her."

During the exchange, Satsuki had been sizing up and examining the three in front of her. They were practically identical: muscular builds, broad shoulders, and plain faces. One had a beard. One stepped forward first. Lightning crashed. Satsuki's fist cracked the man's nose in a single swift motion, sending him stumbling back. He landed on his backside in the mud. His companions attacked as one, swinging together at Satsuki. Clumsy and slow where Satsuki was surefooted and fast. She ducked both of their swings, grabbed their faces and slammed both men to the ground. By now the first of the three had stood again, with renewed vigor despite the blood streaming down his face faster than the rain could wash it away. Satsuki caught his kick between her arm and torso. Her fist raised high. Lightning crashed. With the man howling in pain and clutching his shattered knee, Satsuki turned back to Nonon, a menacing figure. Nonon's expression was one of equal parts amazement and fear.

"Yep, mmhm. Definitely the real deal," she forced herself to laugh as Satsuki towered over her. "You're amazi-"

Satsuki's palm striking her stomach cut off Nonon's words, and she collapsed forward into Satsuki's waiting arms. Lightning crashed, and the women were gone.

Chapter Text

Satsuki set Nonon on a large bed, staring at her face for a few seconds. The rain had lightened to a steady drizzle. A shiver ran through Nonon's soaked form. A frown crossed her features, and Satsuki cast a searching look around the room. Thankfully, whoever the previous tenants had been had left behind enough kindling and wood for a fire. Satsuki set a fire in the fire place, drawing her hands back quickly, flinching at the wave of heat. The vampire dragged an armchair from the room's ruined desk, set it by the flames, and moved Nonon to the chair. She took her place on the bed, across the room from the uncomfortable flames.

She sat with her ankles crossed, hands clasped in her lap. Nonon shifted in her sleep, causing a shift in her collar that revealed two fresh puncture wounds in her neck. Satsuki stared at the two dark holes. When they seemed to stare back, she averted her eyes. What had driven her to bring this girl back? Why hadn't she simply left her behind? Some part of her still remained human, she supposed. That was reassuring.

"-ing to you!"

Satsuki looked up in surprise, unaware of how long Nonon had been speaking.

"What?" her expression blanked as she spoke.

Nonon rolled her eyes and stood. Satsuki's fist tensed as Nonon paced back and forth.

"So you're a vampire. Sorry for trying to sell you. Hunters pay a fine price, you know."

"I'm aware."

"So since you've captured me, what are you planning to do with me?" Nonon stopped her pacing, standing with her back to the fire, hands behind her back.

Satsuki shrugged, "I hadn't thought that far ahead."

Nonon stared. And stared. And stared. "You're the worst vampire I've ever seen."

"Well I haven't exactly had a lot of practice," Satsuki said through clenched teeth.

"Then I'll advise you! I'll be by your side day and night. Or just night? How does that work?"

Satsuki arched an eyebrow, and shook her head. "That won't be necessary."

"No no, I insist Miss...?"

"Satsuki. No."

"It's fine."

"Nonon."

"It's fine, it's fine."

"No."

"It's fine it's fine it's fine."

"...Nonon."

"IT'S FINE."

Satsuki pinched the bridge of her nose, and heaved a sigh. "Fine."

"First and foremost, your decor is fucking awful."

Another sigh from Satsuki and a darkly murmured, "Don't make me regret this."

"IT'S FINE."

Chapter Text

"Unacceptable."

Satsuki looked away from the the sconce she was halfway finished with installing, down at Nonon. Gravity for her was apparently an option, as the young vampire floated off of the ground while working.

"You're an advisor."

"And my advice is that that is unacceptable."

"That's not advice."

"It should be more vampire-y. Happy?"

Satsuki drifted down to Nonon, landing lightly at the bottom of the stairs. She set her tools down on the wooden floor. Nonon was several steps up, so the two were at eye level. "How is that helpful?"

"You're the vampire," Nonon shrugged, "You decide."

Satsuki tongued a fang. "So my 'advisor' has no idea how to advise. Remind me why I keep you here?"

"My good looks and charm, obviously."

"Obviously," Satsuki stepped past the short woman, ascending the staircase without a second glance.

Predictably, Nonon was right at her heels. She'd been Satsuki's diminuitive pink shadow for the past two weeks. A demanding, loud mouthed shadow that she'd been tempted more than once to body slam through the second story balcony. Satsuki had to admit, though, Nonon's suggestion to clean up the mansion had been a good one. The leaks had been patched just in time for the rainy spring to end. Broken furniture was discarded in a growing heap behind the mansion, and any they could still use was cleaned and arranged as needed. Satsuki handled any of the heavy lifting, while Nonon was surprisingly helpful with cleaning and dusting. She also turned out to be surprisingly charming when she wasn't 'advising'. Aside from the gaping hole in one of the ceiling corners, the entry room was almost respectable. Still, there was the entire west wing of the building that remained untouched.

"Haven't you got any plans?" Nonon asked Satsuki as she led the way to the west wing.

"About?" came the flat reply. Satsuki stopped so suddenly that Nonon nearly bumped into her.

"What to do with your vampire powers?"

Satsuki turned her head to look at Nonon, finding her eyes. She blinked then shut her eyes.

"I hadn't given it much thought, no."

"You're lying."

Satsuki bared her fangs, bristling at the accusation and fixing Nonon with a glare. She took a threatening step forward, towering over Nonon. Nonon was unimpressed, blowing an errant lock of pink hair into place.

"You're a lot easier to read than you think, Satsuki," Nonon smiled up at her, then shrugged. "And you talk in your sleep."

If Satsuki were physically capable of blushing, she would have. Instead, she took a step backwards, clasping her hands behind her.

"So who's Ragyo?"

"My mother."

"And you want to, 'watch her burn' for..." Nonon prompted.

Satsuki's hands fell loosely to her side, hands clenching and unclenching.

"Making me what I am. I didn't want this life. She cursed me, took me from my home, and I woke up here. I'll find her. And I'll kill her, slowly. She took everything from me. Ragyo-"

Nonon placed her hands on Satsuki's cheeks, frowning and shaking her head.

"That's enough. That's all I need to hear."

"What?" Satsuki was stunned. It was all she could do to stammer out the single word.

Another smile, this one full of warmth Satsuki didn't flinch away from. "I said I'd be by your side, day and night, didn't I? You've got a mission, and I'm gonna help you." Nonon took one of Satsuki's hands in her small hands. "I'm going to hold your hand until I can't hold it any longer."

Nonon waited patiently as Satsuki took it all in, the tall vampire's eyes downcast to search the floor for her answer. Finding none, she looked back to Nonon's waiting eyes, nodded almost imperceptibly with a ghost of a smile. Satsuki stepped to Nonon's side as she adjusted her hand, fingers interlacing with Nonon's. The human's free hand rubbed at her nose as she looked down, suddenly bashful.

"Your decor is still terrible," Nonon muttered.

"Blame my advisor."

Chapter Text

"Satsukiiii? Why is this door locked?" Nonon called through the house, voice echoing along with the door she continued to rattle.

Satsuki came floating from across the landing from the east side of the house. On her way, she glanced at the evening sky through the whole in the front upper corner.

"I've never had a reason to open it," she shrugged upon landing at Nonon's side.

"Is me asking you to open it reason enough?"

"It is."

A long silence passed between the two as they stared at each other.

"Are you going to open it?"

"Well you haven't asked me to," Satsuki teased, eliciting a grumble from Nonon.

"Oh great and powerful Satsuki, please open this door."

Satsuki complied without looking away from Nonon. Her bare foot crashed through the rotted wood of the door, removing the handle, lock, and splintering the frame. Nonon rolled her eyes as the door swung open, revealing a parlor. When they stepped inside, both their noses wrinkled at the thick musty smell. Nonon sneezed, sending a flurry of dust.

The furniture in this room was in decent condition. Coated in dust, but still usable. A floral sofa was situated against the right wall, in front of wooden table. Across from the door was a three faceted bay window. Through the moth eaten holes, Satsuki saw the forest to the west of the mansion. A road cut through the trees, leading to the nearest town five miles away.

Nonon didn't see any of that. She had gasped as soon as she noticed the black piano directly across the room from the sofa. A short stool was in front of the black piano. Satsuki crossed her arms, leaning against the doorframe she was sure needed replacing. She watched Nonon with a faint smile, which grew as the pink haired girl lifted the keys' cover. Despite the dusty appearance, the wood slid into place smoothly.

"Can you play?" Satsuki asked as Nonon ran a finger along a key. The cover had done its job; the keys were nearly clean.

Nonon scoffed, "Can I?"

There was a pause.

"Can y-"

"Of course I can!"

"Will you play for me? It's been a long time since I've heard music."

Nonon nodded simply, and sat on the stool. "It's been a long time since I've played, actually, so don't laugh. Alright?" she spoke sternly, tone preemptively defensive.

"I promise not to laugh, advisor," Satsuki said solemnly.

Nonon took a breath, and began to play. It was a jaunty tune, fast in pace and high in pitch. Nonon's small hands danced across the keys with a mastery Satsuki hadn't expected. A little ditty, perhaps. Maybe a simple song by a famed composer. Either of those wouldn't have left her in the stunned silence she was currently in. The girl had serious talent. Satsuki wrenched her eyes away from Nonon's hands, focusing on her face. Nonon's eyes were closed, lips parted with a satisfied smile. She swayed in time with the music. Her motions became more emphatic as the song rose in intensity. It rose, and rose and rose, and Satsuki knew her heart would have been pounding in anticipation of...silence.

Nonon had stopped so suddenly that Satsuki found herself annoyed. She frowned.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know the next part. It's supposed to be a duet," she explained, eyes on the keys.

"I see," Satsuki murmured.

"Aren't you going to tell me what you thought?" Nonon asked, looking up at the ceiling.

Satsuki's lips parted, distracted momentarily by Nonon's very exposed neck. "Beautiful."

Nonon glanced at her grinned, and stood.

"I meant the song. I know I'm beautiful."

Satsuki stepped forward in a blurred rush, suddenly behind Nonon. One arm wrapped around her waist to lift Nonon from the ground. Her other hand was under Nonon's chin, directing the girl's gaze upward. Her own eyes were on Nonon's slender neck.

"You could just ask if you're hungry. Or thirsty? How does that work?" she made a valiant effort, but Nonon wasn't able to keep the tremble from her voice. She may have been safe in Satsuki's arms, but that did little to stop her heart from pounding like a wardrum.

"Both," Satsuki whispered in Nonon's ear.

A whimper escaped Nonon when Satsuki's fangs reopened the usual holes. She shivered at the feeling of Satsuki's tongue poking at the puncture wounds. Lukewarm saliva mixed with her own warm blood. Something in Satsuki's saliva made the blood flow easily, so she was careful to only suck a few times. That same agent, as soon as it made contact with the air, dramatically increased the speed of clotting so Nonon wouldn't continue to bleed when Satsuki had her fill. She sank into a sleepy state after a few seconds, going limp in Satsuki's grip.

Satsuki finished with a few more licks of Nonon's wounds to ensure they sealed properly. She shifted her grip on Nonon, carrying her like a child in her arms. Nonon blinked up at the vampire, in a lightheaded daze. Blood was trickling down Satsuki's chin. Speaking was too much of a chore, so Nonon reached up to wipe the droplet from Satsuki's face before it could drip. They locked eyes, Nonon's hand remaining on her cheek. Neither blinked. Nonon's heart pounded. As a bit of strength returned to her limbs, she put her hand behind Satsuki's neck to pull herself up. A moment of hesitation. Satsuki licked the last of the blood from her lips, and met Nonon's.

Nonon tasted what was left of her own blood in Satsuki's mouth. She found the taste, mixed with whatever was in Satsuki's saliva, to be oddly satisfying. She wanted more. Before the kiss could go any further, Satsuki broke it off.

"Sorry," Nonon mumbled, looking down and laying her head against Satsuki's shoulder.

Satsuki pressed her lips to Nonon's forehead, gently, and carried her to the bedroom. "Get some rest."

Chapter Text

Satsuki stepped effortlessly through the forest, boots crunching over leaves. It was a warm afternoon, she noticed, uncomfortably aware of any ray of sunlight that broke through the trees to touch her. The deer carcass she carried over her back provided some cover, thankfully. Satsuki adjusted her grip on the deer's legs, and continued walking towards the mansion. With only one other mouth to feed, she was sure most of the meat would spoil. She made a mental note to send Nonon into town for salt, and other things.

The sound of fighting nearby shook Satsuki from her thoughts. She set the carcass down, and continued towards the conflict hovering just above the ground. A heavy twang of a crossbow, a pained screech, and triumphant female laugh. Satsuki saw a half dozen figures darting to and fro through the gaps in the trees. Before long, she had an unobstructed view of the grassy clearing. A lone woman, a huntress judging by the a crimson repeating crossbow in her hands, battled against five feral vampires. Vampires that had been driven mad by their thirst, or simply succumbed to the change without a chance. Their eyes pulsed in reds and oranges. One had a wooden bolt through her shoulder, pinning her to a tree.

Satsuki watched in quiet respect. She had heard the rumors of increased feral activity and an influx of hunters in the area. This was the first she'd seen firsthand, though. The woman wore a black hooded cloak, so Satsuki couldn't see her features. Her armor was dark grey leather over silver chainmail. Her crossbow was unique in its scarlet color.

The feral vampires formed a ragged circle around her, the pinned one struggling fruitlessly. Knowing her disadvantage, the huntress acted first. She dashed at the nearest feral, a scrawny man with a mess of dirty blond hair. The butt of her crossbow was bladed, and opened the feral's throat. No blood poured forth from the black gash, though he and the others were stunned into inaction by the sudden aggression. She swept the vampire's legs from under him with a kick, and thrust the blade into the vampire's mouth. He fell silent with a last gurgle. The pinned feral wrenched herself free, loosing a shriek of rage and bloodlust. The huntress loosed a single into the vampire's mouth, and she fell dead instantly, the steel tip protruding from the back of her neck. At last, the remaining three vampires spurred into action. Their wild assault proved completely ineffective. The huntress dropped her crossbow in favor of two daggers, which immediately found themselves shoved into the left and right and vampires' mouths, through their necks. She had raised her knee as she lunged, catching the short, middle vampire in the stomach. As it doubled over and the other two fell dead, the huntress wrapped her arm around its neck and jerked up sharply. The pop of its neck was muffled by flesh. Another twist was required, as the vampire continued to struggle in her grip.

The huntress pulled back her hood, revealing black hair with a single streak of red. She sheathed her daggers, and slung the crossbow over her shoulder. She stopped in the middle of running a gloved hand through her hair, eyes darting to the floating Satsuki just outside of the clearing.

"Another leech?" she complained, "Whatever. Saves me the trouble of tracking you down."

Satsuki landed without a word, her face a steely mask. Her eyes kept darting from the huntress' face and the red crossbow. A fascinating weapon.

"One of you," the huntress grunted as she hefted her crosssbow again, aiming for Satsuki's throat, "ripped my dad to pieces. His crossbow sure seems to have caught your attention." The crossbow twanged, loosing a bolt which buried itself in the tree to Satsuki's left. The huntress' expression was one of utter contempt.

"Recognize it?"

Satsuki was silent, her expression blank as she shrugged.

"I asked you a question, leech!"

The huntress fired another bolt, this one aimed at Satsuki's shoulder. Deftly, the vampire snatched the bolt out of the air. She shook her head and snapped the bolt.

"No. Should I?"

The huntress' eyes narrowed, searching Satsuki's stern expression. "It was my father's, and one of your kind killed him!"

"They aren't -my- kind," Satsuki bristled.

"You suck blood, they suck blood. That's a good enough reason for me."

Before her next bolt could fly, Satsuki moved. Her form blurred as she darted forward. It was all the huntress could do to gasp. Satsuki had one hand on the crossbow stock, directing the weapon down and away from herself. Her other hand gripped a fistful of the huntress' hair in a steel grip.

"Do not think to presume about what, or who I am," the shadows of the forest crept out to join with Satsuki's, and the clearing seemed to darken. "These feral creatures are nothing like me. Pigs in a vampire's skin. Not. My. Kind." Satsuki bared her teeth, hissing. The shadows gathered around her, darkening the clearing further and seeming to drive the temperature down. "Would you compare the flight of a sparrow to an eagle? No. Then don't make idiotic comparisons regarding myself and this filth." Satsuki gave the huntress a shove, letting her go. "Am I understood?"

"Perfectly," the huntress grumbled, running a hand through her hair.

The two stared at one another from across the clearing, eyes locked. Satsuki exhaled heavily, and the clearing returned to its former state;bright and sunny.

"Come with me, huntress. I think we can help each other," Satsuki floated back into the forest to retrieve the deer carcass, then returned to the clearing. She noticed the huntress' arched eyebrow. "I have a...person... to feed. You can have some."

"Ryuko," the huntress huffed, "I'm not gonna sit around while you call me 'You', alright?"

"Ryuko," Satsuki nodded. "Come with me."

Chapter Text

"Run that by me again," Ryuko rubbed at her ear, and flicked something from her finger.

"Are you that dense?" Nonon demanded of the huntress.

Ryuko shot a glare at the reclining Nonon from her seat in the piano room. Satsuki herself was seated on the stool in front of the piano, across from the sofa where Nonon was laying.

"My mother turned me against my will. I'm going to destroy her. I'm convinced she has something to do with the feral activity in the area. You're a hunter. Help me hunt her."

"Is that simple enough for you?" Nonon asked.

"I'm gonna shoot her," Ryuko said, looking at Satsuki as she stood

"Do not shoot my companion. Will you help me or won't you?"

Ryuko chewed her bottom lip, shifting from foot to foot. She sat down, tapped her foot rapidly, arms crossed. She stood again, and nodded.

"This mother of yours, this..."

"Kiryuin. Ragyo."

"Rags, got it. Same Kiryuin as..."

"The Kiryuins, yes. Those."

"So you're telling me-"

"Yes."

"...Right."

Ryuko glanced over her shoulder. Satsuki noticed, and asked "Looking for something?"

"What? No. Just thinking of my-"

A female voice rang through the mansion halls with the shout of "Ryuuuuuko!" Satsuki and Nonon stared at Ryuko, awaiting explanation.

"-partner."

Satsuki muttered darkly as she left the room, Ryuko and Nonon at her heels. They found the new girl, another huntress by the look of her, marveling at the entrance of the mansion. The ruined walls apparently weren't a bad thing in her eyes. Satsuki, Ryuko, and Nonon stood at the top of the stairs, watching until Ryuko addressed her brown haired partner.

"Mako. C'mere."

Mako looked up, first with a smile, then a mixture of confusion and shock.

"Ryuko I'll save you!" she yelled, running towards the group.

"Where did that come from?" Nonon asked drily, referring to the silver studded club Mako was suddenly brandishing.

"No idea," Satsuki replied.

Ryuko met Mako halfway down the stairs, hands on her shoulders and a smile on her face.

"Hey hey, calm down, alright? I don't need saving."

"But Ryuko, can't you see that's a-"

"Vampire, I know. I don't like her but-"

"I can hear you."

"But she might be able to help me figure out who killed my dad," Ryuko continued, ignoring Satsuki.

Mako frowned, staring hard at Satsuki, who met the passionate gaze with a blank stare. Suddenly, Mako smiled, and giggled.

"Okay!"

"She's even dumber than the first one..." Nonon said, amazed.

"Maybe, but they'll be useful," Satsuki said as she put her arm around Nonon's shoulder. She leaned down to place an affectionate kiss on the top of her head.

She initially resisted, halfheartedly pulling away, but Nonon was happy to put her own arms around Satsuki's waist.

"Oy. Satsuki," Ryuko waved to catch Satsuki's attention. Her other arm was around Mako's shoulder. "If that's all, we'll be going now. Anything we find on Ragyo, we'll pass along. Anything else?"

Satsuki nodded, "That'll be all." She glanced down at Nonon. "Actually."

"Oh boy."

Satsuki ignored Ryuko's exasperation.

"Would you mind bringing back some salt?"

"...Fine."

Chapter Text

Satsuki stared at the cart of supplies Ryuko and Mako had brought from town.

"I asked for salt," she said plainly, looking at the red streaked huntress.

Ryuko shrugged, "And I barely even wanted to get that. Mako's folks insisted."

"I see. Send them my thanks, please."

Mako turned from the horse she was feeding out of her hand, raising her other in a thumbs up.

"Will do, Lady Satsuki!"

"...Lady?" the vampire arched an eyebrow.

"You live in a mansion. That means you're noble!" Mako explained, patting the horse affectionately before walking to Ryuko's side.

"I'm not calling you that," Ryuko and Nonon, approaching from said mansion, said simultaneously.

"Nor do I expect you to," Satsuki insisted.

The two pairs let a sudden silence fall, only one of whom appearing oblivious. Ryuko moved first, clearing her throat and walking to the back of the wooden cart to start unloading. Satsuki followed suit, sniffing at the boxes she stacked. Fruits and vegetables, by their scent. Satsuki flashed a small smile at Nonon as she hovered by.

"Set them anywhere, Ryuko," she called ahead.

And so Nonon and Mako were left alone with a wooden cart, a fidgeting horse, and a setting sun.

"Going to head back to town in the dark?" Nonon asked, gesturing vaguely as the sun dipped behind the horizon.

"No?" Mako tilted her head and laughed. "Why would we do that? Guts might twist an ankle!"

"...So you're spending the night in the forest? Why?"

"You're funny!" Mako declared, then addressed the horse, "Guts, stay!"

The horse whinnied and snorted, stamping his feet. Mako frowned, and stepped over to Guts again. She tugged the glove from one hand with her teeth and stroked his cheek. Nonon didn't hear what she whispered, but could immediately see the alarm on Mako's face.

"I think you should go back inside, Miss Nonon."

Nonon looked away from Mako long enough to scan the treeline.

"Why?" she asked, not seeing anything out of the ordinary.

She blinked when she looked back at Mako, who was once again wielding a silver studded club. Before, Nonon hadn't noticed the steel spike driven through the top of the club, giving it more of a pickaxe appearance. Despite her misgivings at following the advice of someone whose intelligence she wasn't quite convinced of, Nonon started making her way back to the mansion. She froze in her tracks with one foot on the stairs after making the mistake of glancing over her shoulder. Dozens of pairs of eyes glowed in the forest, shadowed figures advancing. A pack of feral vampires. A pack of feral vampires with no one between them and herself except for Mako.

The brown haired huntress positioned herself halfway between the treeline and the mansion, brandishing her spiked club. As the first group of ferals pounced, Nonon stumbled inside. She watched through a crack in the door as she called for Satsuki and Ryuko.

Mako's first victim was a black haired female. The spike on her club took her in the temple, removing a chunk of her face when Mako wrenched the weapon free. The second that reached the huntress had the glistening black spike driven up through his jaw, which was promptly torn free. Mako's next motion was a spin around the screeching vampire to plant the spike, and nail the vampire's jaw, into the back of its neck. As the feral vampire fell and more stalked from the treeline, Mako let go of her club. With a grin, she rearmed herself with two bladed knuckles. The weapons were worn like brass knuckles, with four inch blades jutting downward. The knuckles themselves were sharpened spikes.

Mako didn't wait for the feral vampires to overwhelm her with superior numbers. She took the fight straight to the shrieking feral nearest to her. Her first swing, a devastating hook, knocked the vampire's lower jaw clean off. She practically danced a circle around him, stabbing him in back of the neck and tossing him bodily into the throng. Mako turned around to face two more vampires, mere feet from her. Snarls accompanied their tandem, wild charge. Her fists caught both of them in the chest. The force of her strikes combined with their forward momentum sent the vampires horizontal. Aiding gravity, Mako shattered their skulls with downward punches.

As the nearly black blood dripped from her knuckles, Mako turned to face her remaining enemies. The pack of feral vampires was shifting uneasily, stepping back towards the treeline. Mako glanced into the trees, where the shadows seemed to darken and pulse, beckoning. She sidled back towards the mansion, keeping a watchful eye on the ferals. Behind her, Satsuki and Ryuko finally exited the mansion.

"Hey!" she spoke cheerfully, despite the situation.

"Sorry about that, Mako. We were...ah..."

"Talking," Satsuki said flatly.

Before any of them could speak, a woman dressed in white emerged from the forest. She stepped through the pack of feral vampires, practically causing them to fall over each other making way for her. Her garb was dramatically cut, leaving little and less to the imagination. Her platinum hair flared up, revealing a spectrum of colored dye. The woman seemed to emanate power in a palpable aura manifesting itself in a sudden pressure on Satsuki's shoulders. Satsuki's skin crawled as the woman came nearer. She bared her teeth, hissing as her fist clenched. Ryuko noticed the change.

"Oy, Satsuki. Who's this?"

"My mother."

Chapter Text

"Why are you here?" Satsuki called to Ragyo, her voice even but firm.

"Can't a mother visit her daughter? Is that so wrong, Satsuki dear?"

"The daughter whose life you stole?"

"Details, details," Ragyo waved a hand dismissively.

"What are you doing here?" Satsuki repeated her question.

"Checking up on you. I see you've taken yourself some thralls. You are your mother's daughter, after all," Ragyo gestured at the huntresses flanking Ryuko.

Satsuki shook her head, "No. Allies."

"Ah yes, allies, allies," Ragyo nodded with a false smile, unconvinced.

"Enough talk," Ryuko growled, aiming her crossbow at Ragyo and firing a triplet of bolts.

Ragyo didn't so much as flinch as the bolts flew. When the steel tips reached her, her body dissipated into shadows. The bolts passed through her harmlessly. A shiver passed through Ryuko when Ragyo set her crimson eyes on her. The huntress seemed to shrink under the vampire's full attention. Her piercing gaze. Her clinging aura. Ragyo's eyes flicked to the crossbow, an eyebrow raising as her lips parted.

"Oh? What an interesting weapon you have there."

"You know something?!"

Ragyo threw her head back and laughed. "Oh, child. You must be more specific. Do I know what a crossbow is? Do I know you?" She took a step forward. Ryuko loosed another bolt, which phased through Ragyo again. "Do I know your father?" Ragyo vanished at the last word, letting it hang in the air. The tattered shadows she morphed into collected behind Ryuko, carressing her cheek before a hand formed at her throat. Ragyo whispered in her ear. "Do I know which of my flock tore his throat out?"

Her words hung in the air, heavier than any aura. Ryuko's knuckles whitened as her grip tightened. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears, the edges of her vision reddening with fury. She spun, swinging the blade on her crossbow at Ragyo's neck. With a piercing laugh Ragyo let her form fade into shadows again, Ryuko's blade passing through and parting the shadows harmlessly. She drifted backwards, landing gracefully as her form once again coalesced.

"TELL ME!" Ryuko shouted, charging and slashing repeatedly. She repeated her cry with each slash, met only by Ragyo's laughter.

Satsuki and Mako watched helplessly, unsure of what to do. Ryuko continued her fruitless charge. At some point between the slashes, Ragyo stopped her sadistic laughter with a final jeer. Sparks flew when she caught Ryuko's blade, effortlessly, in one hand.

"Enough." Ragyo pulled on the crossbow, wresting it from Ryuko's grasp and pulling her off balance. She grabbed Ryuko by her face, hand closing around the huntress' mouth. Ragyo lifted the struggling woman with minimal effort, not seeming to notice, or care about, her struggling. Ryuko's teeth clamped down on Ragyo's hand, gnashing back and forth with no effect. That seemed to amuse Ragyo.

"Nui Harime. That's who you want. I sent her to kill your fool of a father!" Ragyo threw Ryuko at the mansion, sending her crashing through the front wall. She landed in a crumpled heap at the foot of the stairs.

"Ryuko!" Mako shouted. She made to move, but Satsuki held her back.

Nonon peered through the new hole, wide eyed. Ragyo looked from Nonon to Satsuki, and back again with a growing smile of cruel anticipation.

"Oh, Satsuki you have been naughty," Ragyo said, stepping towards Nonon.

In a heartbeat, Satsuki moved between Nonon and Ragyo, facing down her mother. She readied herself to fight, her shadow darkening as a chill crept into the air around her. Ragyo stared down at her, unimpressed, but amused. Behind Satsuki, Mako ran to Ryuko's side.

"You would raise a hand to your mother for a pet?"

"Enough. Leave this place, mother. You've caused enough harm."

"You presume to tell me what to do? To think I raised such an insolent child!"

Ragyo moved to strike, fingers pressed together like a blade aimed for Satsuki's heart. Satsuki's hand closed around Ragyo's wrist as she side stepped, holding her mother with an iron grip. She brought Ragyo's arm down and her own knee up, snapping the limb at the elbow. Ragyo backstepped, laughing again.

"Oh Satsuki. You have already lost."

As she spoke, Ragyo held out her broken arm. Shadows rose from around her feet, surrounding Ragyo's arm in a dark cocoon. In seconds, her arm was healed, and she gestured at Satsuki's shadow. Satsuki glanced down to see her own shadow shift ominously. Ragyo's had lengthened, seeming to absorb hers. In a blink, a dozens of black spikes impaled and wrapped around Satsuki's limbs and neck. She clenched her teeth, refusing to cry out as her blood began to seep out. Ragyo laughed again, approaching Satsuki. She patted her daughter's cheek with sadistic pleasure. After a gentle caress, she slapped Satsuki across the face.

"Pathetic."

Ragyo turned her attention back to Nonon, staring and paralyzed in fear.

"Now, now," she cooed, her body forming into shadows again. Her form flowed around Nonon, her body emerging behind the short human.

She hunched over and spoke into her ear. "What a pretty girl." Ragyo's shadows lifted Nonon to her eye level. "What a useless girl." The vampire raised her wrist to her mouth, opening the skin. A few dark droplets fell as she slowly moved her wrist towards Nonon's mouth. "But you don't have to be. Drink, girl."

Nonon turned her head, resisting at first. Ragyo's shadow tendril forced Nonon to press her lips to her bleeding wrist.

"Drink."

Satsuki's eyes widened as she saw Nonon's lips part around Ragyo's wrist. "No..." she breathed. An eternity passed. Nonon swallowed once. Once again. A final time. Ragyo pulled her wrist away, and dropped Nonon. As she fell, the shadows pinioning Satsuki faded. The pain remained, irrelevant as she rushed to catch Nonon before she fell to the hard wood floor. Ragyo laughed at her as Nonon's eyes began to roll and her body shook.

"Ragyo," she murmured.

Ragyo had begun to turn away, still smiling. "Something to say, Satsuki?"

"You've sealed your fate. I promise, you will burn."

"I'll let you amuse me with trying to deliver on that."

Ragyo sank into her shadow, vanishing. Satsuki and Mako were left nursing the one's they cared for, with no other option than to wait.

Chapter Text

Satsuki sat with Nonon's head in her lap as night fell and a half moon rose. Satsuki had told Mako to take Ryuko to a guest bedroom to tend to her, declining to move Nonon. Moving Nonon might disturb her, she'd said. She neglected to add that this was pure conjecture. Thankfully, Mako had taken her words with a brave smile with hardly a waver.

Her gaze fell on Nonon's face. She seemed peaceful enough. The initial shock to her body had passed, and with it her convulsing. From time to time a finger would twitch, or her lips would move. Minute ticks that would have gone unnoticed by anyone but Satsuki. Each sent the same thrill through her, then disappointment. Was she waking up? No.

So Satsuki simply waited, and watched over Nonon. Mako made a few periodic trips to and from the pantry. In a way, Satsuki envied her. At least she had a way to help Ryuko recuperate. As if on some cosmic cue to interrupt her inevitably self destructive musing, the sound of Mako's light steps met her ears. She looked up at the cheerful huntress, raising a finger to her lips. Mako, carrying a plate of half finished food, nodded. She sat the plate down next to Satsuki and sat crosslegged near Nonon's feet.

"How's Ryuko?" Satsuki whispered.

"She's fine. I uhm. Tied her to the bed." Satsuki simply stared as Mako picked apart the chicken breast with her fingers. It wasn't until Mako had eaten through half of the morsel before looking up. "She'd run off on her own if I didn't."

"She is rather headstrong."

"Mhmm. Fiesty, stubborn, reckless. Mom says I'm a good influence on her," Mako smiled fondly and nudged the plate towards Satsuki.

She glanced down at the plate with a wan smile. Diced potatoes and chicken breast.

"Food doesn't sustain me anymore, Mako." Satsuki bared and licked a fang as nonthreateningly as possible. "Remember?"

"Of course I remember," Mako huffed and pouted, "You can still taste, can't you?"

Satsuki cracked another smile, and popped a potato into her mouth. She chewed slowly, careful not to catch the inside of her lip on her fangs. She'd drawn her own blood more times than she cared to count.

"Thank you, Mako."

"Anytime, Lady Satsuki."

They enjoyed a comfortable silence, picking at the plate between them. Before long, Mako was snoring gently. Satsuki smiled. Somehow the huntress managed to keep from falling over.

Nonon stirred, her lips parting and a soft groan escaping her lips. Satsuki looked down at her just in time to lock eyes with Nonon. They stared at each for a long time. How many minutes passed before Nonon raised a trembling hand to her mouth, neither of them knew. Satsuki took Nonon's hand gently, and bent down to kiss her forehead.

"Good morning," she managed to say.

Nonon merely groaned, louder this time, as she pushed herself into a sitting position. When she finally spoke, her voice was rough as if she'd been shouting for hours.

"So that was in fact not a dream."

At the word dream Mako mumbled in her sleep. "No Guts. You can't operate on any...patients...Horse...Hoarse...heh..."

"Right..." Nonon scratched at her throat with her free hand. "Not that I needed it, but now I've got another reason to stay by your side." She didn't look at Satsuki, but her grip on Satsuki's hand tightened.

"I'm sorry for getting you involved. I shouldn't have kept you here." Satsuki's other hand balled into a fist.

Nonon adjusted herself into a kneeling position mirroring Satsuki's. She took her other hand, wriggling her fingers into Satsuki's to undo the fist. "Enough of that. You took me here. I decided to stay. Leaving never crossed my mind. Maybe once or twice, early on, but I never did."

Satsuki stared down at their clasped hands. Nonon pressed her forehead to Satsuki, nudging her gaze upward. When Satsuki met her eyes, Nonon continued "I said I'd hold your hand until I couldn't hold it any longer, right? I meant it. Now I'll be able to do more than just advise you on your terrible decor."

Satsuki managed a chuckle, then nodded. She locked her fingers with Nonon's. "It's your decor too. Make it vampirey."

"Yeah, yeah." Nonon pressed her lips to Satsuki's. Before their kiss could deepen, however, Nonon pulled away in a coughing fit,turning away. She reclaimed her hands to cover the worsening cough. Satsuki reached out tentatively to rub at Nonon's back, but she recoiled.

"Need...to drink..." she coughed and hacked.

Satsuki turned to the sleeping huntress and shook her awake. "Mako!"

"Lady Satsuki!" Mako blinked at Satsuki's sudden proximity to her face, then at Nonon. Thankfully, she wasn't groggy in the least and immediately caught onto what was going on. "Not too much, okay? People die when they die from blood loss, you know?"

"And she's..." Nonon coughed as she crawled over to Mako, "Still dense."

"Stay still," Satsuki advised as she crouched behind Mako. She pointed to the base of her neck, "There, Nonon."

"You really think I don't know...where you bite-"

Ryuko's shout cut her off, "Shut up and drink before you die, idiot!"

The three of them looked towards the guest room Ryuko was supposed to be tied to a bed in. The grumpy huntress was swaddled in torn sheets, shouting from the doorway.

"Go on, Miss Nonon," Mako said.

Nonon brought herself to a crouch in front of Mako, leaned forward, and sank her fangs into the soft flesh of her neck. The moment Mako's blood filled her mouth, Nonon understood just what Satsuki had meant when she told her it was almost sensual. It was certainly sweet, and there was a strong tinge of iron. She felt as though she would be able to tell Mako's blood from anyone else's. She swallowed when her mouth was full. The immediate burn in her throat subsided, but she found herself wanting more. Another swallow. Another. That was enough, right? She felt full. Why couldn't she stop? Nonon began to panic. Her body wouldn't obey. Another. Another. Another.

"Stop her!" she heard someone shout from faraway, distorted as if she were under water. Satsuki? No. Ryuko.

Nonon found herself pulled away with Satsuki's arms around her waist. She stared in wide eyed shock at what she'd done to Mako. She was deathly pale, and blood was flowing freely from the holes in her neck. Satsuki put her down and stepped quickly to Mako's side. Ryuko was shouting at her, incomprehensible in her stunned state. She could do nothing but watch as Satsuki carefully ran her tongue over Mako's wounds. Once to clear the bloodflow and once more to ensure her saliva was working to close the punctures.

"Enough, Ryuko," Satsuki spoke calmly as she lifted Mako.

"Enough?!" Ryuko asked incredulously, "I should put her down right now! Give me one good reason why I shouldn't!"

Satsuki's eyes narrowed. Her darkening shadow forced the temperature down as before.

"Mako is going to be fine. If you would prefer her to not be fine and you yourself cease to be fine, then by all means. Raise a hand to Nonon."

Her threat hung in the grey morning air. She stared Ryuko down until the huntress backed off, muttering darkly as she stomped back to the guest room. Satsuki calmed herself and followed, setting Mako carefully on top of the sheets Ryuko had made a ruin of. Ryuko was standing in the corner, arms crossed and staring daggers at Satsuki. Before any of them could say anything, Nonon spoke from the doorway.

"I'm sorry," she said. Her voice was nearly back to normal, with only a hint of its previous rasp. "Really. I don't know what happened."

"You lost control, leech. Fuck off." Ryuko didn't look at Nonon, eyes boring a hole in the side of Satsuki's head.

"What do you know about control?"

Satsuki moved herself between them, standing in front of and to the left of Nonon. Ryuko moved her gaze to Nonon, raising an eyebrow.

"Trust me. I know."

"So when Ragyo mentioned your dad, that was control?" Nonon tried to no avail to push past Satsuki's arm barring her path.

"Watch it leech. I know more than you think," Ryuko's voice was decidedly calm, but there was no mistaking the menacing undertone.

"You don't!" Nonon fired back, stepping forward, blocked by Satsuki's outstretched arm. "You can't know what it was like."

Ryuko stomped across the room, stopped by Satsuki's palm on her shoulder.

"I can't, can I?" Her lips, normally close together, parted. Nonon gasped. Satsuki's eyebrows rose. The short pointed teeth might pass for human at a glance, under close examination there was no mistaking a vampire's fangs.

Chapter Text

When Ryuko's secret was revealed, Satsuki and Nonon had backed off, leaving her with Mako in the guest room. Sleep came easily for Nonon, exhausted from her own ordeal. Satsuki had no such luxury. She laid in bed next to Nonon for a while, trying fruitlessly for some rest. The vampire ceded defeat eventually, standing to pace the bedroom barefoot. No longer 'the' vampire, she mused with a humorless chuckle.

Satsuki left the room, shutting the door as quietly as possible. It wasn't likely the click of the door would wake Nonon in her condition, but Satsuki still decided to err on the side of caution. She considered checking on Ryuko and Mako, but decided against it. Instead, she drifted across the house to the piano room.

Nonon had taken extra care in the maintenance of this particular room. The piano was immaculate aside from a few light scratches. The furnishings were the least dilapidated here, with good reason: it was where Nonon spent most of her time. The corners of Satsuki's mouth tugged upwards in a fond smile at the thought of Nonon's playing. She hooked a finger under the wooden cover, and slid it back. The key she pressed down rang out clear and sharp. She pressed a few more keys with her index finger, other hand behind her back. Satsuki smiled fully, and started playing a simple tune she had observed Nonon playing. It seemed nothing more than a warmup, but Satsuki enjoyed playing the tune with her index fingers. Surely child's play for a practiced musician like Nonon. With nothing else to play, Satsuki simply repeated the tune a few times.

Partway through the third repetition, she heard someone approaching. Fast, heavy footfalls. Certainly Ryuko. Satsuki straightened her back and stood facing the doorway.

"Mako's trying to sleep. Haven't you done enough harm, leech?" Ryuko said before entering the room. When she saw that it was Satsuki occupying the room, she spoke again quickly. "Thought it was the other one. Mako can't sleep with the piano. You're right above us."

"Forgive me," Satsuki nodded once. As Ryuko turned to leave, she spoke again. "Ryuko. Wait. Let's talk."

Ryuko's eyes narrowed, but she remained where she stood. Her hands crossed over her chest defensively. "Alright."

Satsuki gestured hopefully to the sofa, seating herself on the piano's wooden bench. Ryuko sat, arms still crossed. She propped her ankle up on the knee of her other leg.

"Well?" she prompted. "Yes, I'm a vampire, alright? A vampire hunting vampires. What a hypocrite I am, right?"

"I didn't say any of that. I am curious about why, though." Satsuki sat with cool poise where Ryuko's posture was closed off, heated aggression.

"Why should I tell you anything?"

"Because regardless of recent events, our goals still align. We can't hope to work together without at least this level of trust."

"I'm not after your mom. Nui Harime. That's who she said did it."

"And what do you know about Nui? Who she is? Her role in Ragyo's scheme?"

Ryuko didn't have an answer, so she resigned herself to an annoyed grumble.

"As I thought," Satsuki continued, "So tell me your story, huntress, and you will know Ragyo's."

Ryuko spoke after a long, smoldering glare.

"Fine. My dad was an inventor. Made all kinds of weapons to fight vampires and everything else out there," Ryuko gestured towards the window with 'everything else', "He had me test some things. Help him out in the workshop, whatever. He said I had a natural talent for violence. Take that how you want. Becoming a huntress was the natural choice, considering what he did to put food on the table. Met Mako. Teamed up. Fell for the airhead, and moved in with her family. I was seventeen by then, six years ago." Ryuko's posture changed, both feet on the ground, knees together, hunched forward. Like she wanted to disappear. Satsuki waited patiently for her to continue.

"Two years ago, everything is...blurry. I can only remember a couple broken images. Nothing's clear at all, until a few months ago."

Satsuki glanced at the doorway. Ryuko followed the movement of her eyes, and stood quickly. In the doorway stood Mako, still pale but not dangerously. Even so, Satsuki was surprised to see her on her feet. This one was full of surprises, her constitution simply the most recent.

"Mako!" Ryuko crossed the room, supporting Mako.

"I'm fine Ryuko. Just sleepy. I couldn't go back to sleep, so I came up. I only fell once!"

"That's once too many, you idiot," Ryuko chided her gingerly, helping Mako onto the sofa.

She took her own seat beside Mako, and was immediately wrapped in her embrace. Satsuki couldn't help but smile as Ryuko was left with no choice but to lay down with Mako comfortable on top of her.

"As you were saying?" Satsuki prompted. "A few months ago?"

Mako answered before Ryuko could. Her voice was as cheerful as ever, but noticeably weaker.

"I found her! After two whole years, I found her. She was feral, but I saved her."

Satsuki arched a thick brow, shaking her head. "Impossible."

"Impossible's kinda my thing," Ryuko shrugged the shoulder Mako's face wasn't buried in.

"How?"

Satsuki and Ryuko waited for Mako's answer, which was not forthcoming as the huntress had dozed off and was snoring lightly. Ryuko chuckled, then cleared her throat.

"Apparently, she tied me to a tree and talked to me for a few days. When that didn't work-"

"Crossbow!" Mako blurted in her sleep, picking up her head to do so. She unceremoniously dropped her head to fall back asleep, eliciting an 'Oof!' from Ryuko.

"She went to my dad's workshop to ask him for help. My crossbow is something he'd been working on for years. I helped him with the prototyping and stuff. I guess that was enough to jog my memory."

"Buncha scars..." Mako mumbled, not lifting her head this time to Ryuko's relief.

Ryuko nodded, ashamed. "Yeah...Mako's got a lot of scars from back then. Guess I tore her up pretty badly before she got me tied up."

Satsuki looked at Mako with a newfound sense of respect. Full of surprises indeed. "I see," she murmured.

"Make sure that lee-" Ryuko cut herself off with no small effort, then tried again. "... Make sure Nonon knows not to ever question my control again, alright?" Ryuko said, looking straight at the ceiling instead of at Satsuki. She idly stroked Mako's hair.

"I will."

"Six months, and not the faintest itch," Ryuko added, then as an afterthought, "Right...?" She gently shook the shoulder Mako was resting on. "Hey, six months, right?"

"Six months, four days," Mako announced from half-sleep.

"Six months, four days, " Ryuko repeated fondly.

The silence that fell was shortlived.

"So? You owe me some information now, yeah?"

"That I do. As you're doubtlessly aware, the Kiryuin name is well regarded among hunting circles. We and our associates, boast some of the most high profile hunting contracts of the past half century."

"And the head of the family is Ragyo, a vampire cunt," Ryuko offered with a scowl. "Tell me about Nui."

Satsuki blinked, then nodded. "Anyway. Ragyo has begun to dabble in dark arts, the kinds of which haven't been seen for thousands of years. According to the stories, the second vampire devised a way to plunge the world into complete darkness. Ragyo plans to do the same, and rule the world with ancient power." Satsuki could almost hear Ryuko's eyes glazing over, and sighed. "Ragyo wants to take over the world, but can't do it yet because she has to find a tomb and drink some preserved blood. Nui is her right hand, a powerful vampire. She has been searching for the tomb."

"Hell of a drink," Ryuko commented.

"...That's what you're choosing to focus on here?"

"Well yeah. It's kind of the most important part. Weren't you paying attention?"

Satsuki heaved a sigh. "Right." She blinked after a short pause.

"So you and Nonon. Are you going to be able to be civil?"

Now it was Ryuko's turn to sigh. It took a full minute, but she finally answered.

"Yeah. I was just scared, you know? Mako's already lost me once, and I can't imagine what that was like for her. I don't want to know." Her voice was quiet, eyes locked on Mako, sleeping peacefully. Or so she thought. With her eyes still closed, Mako turned her face towards Ryuko and spoke. "Can't lose someone in your heart, silly."

Ryuko pressed her lips to Mako's forehead, then her cheek, then her lips. "Love you, coconut."

When Satsuki laughed as she stood, Ryuko looked at her as if she'd forgotten she was still there. She didn't even bother trying to toughen her expression, opting instead to chuckle. Satsuki left the room, closing the door behind her as well as she could with the frame she'd broken to unlock it. The last thing she heard from the piano room was clothing hitting the floor.

Chapter Text

Nonon woke up the following morning. She tossed off the heavy blanket, forgetting it as soon as she was free of the offending linen. She rubbed at her throat, grumbling about the itch. It wasn't the fire that threatened to burn her inside and out from before. Nonon stood, walked to the door. When her hand closed around the wooden handle, the sound of crushing wood met her ears, and she pulled her hand away with a fist full of splinters. She stared at her hand with a blank expression, then wiped it on the long pink shirt she'd been changed into while she slept. Satsuki's doing.

"...It was an ugly handle anyway," she sighed as she pushed the door open, gently.

When she stepped out of the room, she flinched immediately at the sound of someone apparently bashing her piano to splinters. She didn't remember running, but Nonon found herself outside with wispy shadows trailing behind her. The new vampire nearly shattered the door when she opened it to find...Mako, sitting in front of the piano.

The vampire and her recent victim stared at each other, Mako a little apprehensive and Nonon considerably more surprised.

"Uhm. Hey," Nonon broke the silence with half a shrug. "You're looking better."

"Hi! You too, Miss Nonon." Mako made to stand when Nonon entered the room.

"Nah, don't get up, you're fine."

Nonon took a seat on the sofa, rubbing at her throat idly. Mako turned to face her with a smile. Their silence dragged the few seconds it lasted until they felt like minutes.

"So." Mako drummed at her lap idly.

"Yeah uhm. I'm sorry, Mako. For what I did. I felt like I was dying, and then you were the only thing I could uhm...use to keep myself from burning up. I couldn't control it, you know?"

"Yep!"

"...Yep?"

"Yeah! I'm okay now. A little weak, sure, but I haven't fallen down today, so I'm okay, really!"

"And...we... are okay now?"

"Well I don't know if you're okay, but I'm okay. Are you okay?"

Nonon blinked, tilted her head. "Not really, no."

A frown from Mako, and she scooted to one end of the piano's bench. She patted the space she made invitingly. Nonon stood. She took a faltering step forward, then another. Her perch on the edge of the bench left nearly a foot between herself and Mako.

"So?" Mako prompted her.

Nonon glanced at the door, then back to Nonon. "Where are Satsuki and Ryuko?"

"Town? Something about looking for friends. Anyway. What's the matter?"

Nonon wrung her fingers, fidgeting. "I'm uhm. Scared."

"Of what?"

She shot a glance at Mako. "I don't wanna lose control again."

"Hm? I can't hear you from so far away, Miss Nonon."

Nonon sighed and scooted a few inches closer to Mako, and repeated herself. After a few, thankfully, short seconds, Mako leaned over, laying her head on top of Nonon's.

"Mako. What are you doing?"

"Well, Ryuko's taller than you, so normally her shoulder would be there." Mako giggled.

Nonon had to chuckle. "Pick your head up, idiot." When she did, Nonon scooted closer and placed her head on Mako's shoulder. "That's better."

At last, their silence was comfortable. Nonon scratched at her throat again, and coughed. Mako glanced down at her with concern.

"Are you..."

"I'm fine," Nonon Insisted. "I can control myself." Who she was really trying to reassure was clear from her tone.

"If you're sure, then have a drink, I don't mind."

Again, Nonon didn't remember moving, but found herself standing with her back to the wall across from Mako, shadows trailing behind her before dissipating like wispy clouds. She shook her head, eyes locked on Mako's. There was fear in her wide pink eyes.

"I'm fine," Nonon's voice was a rasping whisper that betrayed the rapidly drying state of her throat.

"And my dad's a real doctor," Mako smiled as she stood. A step cut their distance in half, "He's not. At all."

"I'll lock myself up until Ryuko and Satsuki are back," Nonon was grasping at straws. Anything to keep herself from possibly killing Mako. She blinked, and made the mistake of looking at Mako's neck. Shorter than Ryuko or Satsuki, Mako's neck was shorter and slightly broader. Her muscles were noticeably more defined than Ryuko's, due to her lacking any sort of vampiric strength. Nonon's lips parted, and Mako took another step. With the huntress right in front of her, Nonon could smell her breath, and taste her scent. Mako placed her hands on Nonon's shoulders, and whispered.

"You said you wouldn't lose control again, right?"

"R-right."

"Then I trust you. Just...less than you normally would take, alright? I'm still-" She was cut off by Nonon pulling her down to sink her fangs into her neck, "Ah..."

As she drank, Nonon ignored everything except for Mako. The taste in her mouth was nothing compared to the heartbeat pulsing between her lips. Mako's scent in her nostrils was white noise compared to her grip on Nonon's shoulders. When the heartbeat slowed, the grip slacked. With all of her willpower, Nonon made her next swallow the last. Her tongue ran over Mako's wounds, sealing them. Nonon lifted the already sleeping Mako easily, carrying her to the sofa.

"Thanks, Mako," Nonon ruffled her hair and patted Mako's cheek.

"Hungry," Mako mumbled in her half-sleep, taking Nonon's hand in a gentle grip.

"I'll... bring something up for you."

"Guts...These are my jellies, get your own."

"Are you...awake?"

"Horses can't ride people, it'd...be chaos..."

Nonon covered her laugh with her free hand, gently taking the other from Mako's grip. Nonon left her snoring. When she did wake, Mako would find a plate of food waiting for her on the table, protected from the elements by another plate.

Outside the window, two vampires watched, one annoyed with being carried by the other.

"Satisfied?" Satsuki asked, floating down to ground level, where Ryuko looked relieved to be back on her own legs.

Ryuko nodded with a gruff noise of assent before speaking, "Yeah, yeah. We can go now."

Chapter Text

It was mid-afternoon when Satsuki and Ryuko laid eyes on the town. A thirty foot wooden wall circled Honnouji. It was a tightly packed town, the buildings of which practically brushed against one another. Many rooftops connected. The wood and stone sprawl centered around the largest building in the town, the Hunters Hall. As the name implied, it was where hunters and huntresses gathered. There they could accept jobs from the board, resupply, and rest. The upper levels of the Hall were filled with rooms where any hunter or huntress could stay at no charge.

Satsuki was apprehensive as they drew nearer to the wall, a concern she voiced as she stopped in her tracks. Ryuko looked over her shoulder to speak.

"Just don't open your mouth so wide when you talk, and you'll be fine. Obviously, don't worry about that when we go to Mako's place. They know all about it."

Satsuki huffed. "It being?"

"The two of us being vampires...?"

"My mother."

"Yeah, what about her?"

"Ryuko."

"Satsuki."

Satsuki heaved a pointed sigh, and Ryuko continued in a more serious tone, "No, I didn't go spreading your last name around. It's kind of a big deal."

"Thank you. Lead the way, then."

The two vampires made their way into the town. They passed through the open gate uncontested by the pair of guards standing watch. Satsuki's nose wrinkled at the smell of the town. She'd forgotten just how many conflicting scents were collected here, and had never experienced them with heightened senses.

"It smells better at the Hunter's Hall, I promise."

"Is that really the best place for me to go?" Satsuki asked drily past the hand she'd raised to cover her nose.

"I can't hear you with your hand in front of your face. I'm just gonna assume you said 'Yes Ryuko, that is the best place for me to go.'" Ryuko teased, making to elbow Satsuki's arm, but rethinking it at the freezing glare Satsuki fixed her with. "Uh. Right. Yeah, I'm sure. Just remember what I told you before."

As Ryuko led her further into the town, Satsuki adjusted to the smell and lowered her hand. She didn't trust the twisting roads and alleys Ryuko seemed to be fond of using, but chose to give her companion the benefit of the doubt. The buildings appeared taller than they were when only a small strip of sky was visible between them due to proximity.

"Oh," she said, blinking in surprise moments before she would have voiced her discomfort. The serpentine alley deposited them at the edge of the circular town center. Before them the Hall stood, a sturdy wooden structure four stories high. "I thought we were going to the Mankanshoku's?"

"Huh? Oh. They live there. They run the Hall."

"...Ah."

Immediately across the threshold, the Hall was bustling. There was a mismatched assortment of tables around the Hall's main room, which was as lively as any tavern and its patrons were just as diverse. Ryuko led Satsuki to the bar, next to which was a pockmarked wooden bulletin board. Ryuko greeted a few familiar hunters on their way, but didn't stop until Satsuki was seated at the end of the bar, taking the stool next to her.

"Welcome back Ryuko!" the cheerful woman behind the bar said with a familiar smile as she approached the two vampires.

"Good to be back, Auntie. This is Satsuki, the one I told you about."

After forcing Ryuko to endure a good natured pinch on the cheek, Mako's mother looked at Satsuki.

"Sukuyo Mankanshoku, at your service Lady Satsuki," she spoke with a half bow.

Satsuki raised a hand and shook her head, "Ah. Just Satsuki is fine, ma'am. Thank you for all the supplies you've sent us."

Now it was Sukuyo's turn to wave a hand in dismissal and shake her head. "Nonsense! They were just piling up anyway. What-" someone across the bar shouted something about a thief, and Sukuyo's smile vanished. "One moment."

Satsuki blinked, and the woman was standing on the bar, holding one of her shoes. "Mataro!" she shouted, voice easily drowning out the general din of the Hall. The patrons ducked their heads before Sukuyo let her projectile fly, the shoe striking a brown haired teen squarely in the head. The scoundrel fell flat on his face next to the door. "Hmph!" She flexed and patted her throwing arm with a look of pride and the sound of applause. Applause that fell silent at her gesture. The mismatched sounds of Sukuyo's shoe and her bare foot hitting the wood floor were the only sound in the Hall. Expertly she rifled through the thief's pockets to collect the stolen wallets. She easily hefted Mataro, carrying him over her shoulder as she returned the wallets to their rightful owners. The proprietress put an end to Mataro's squirming with a smack from her shoe. After returning to her place behind the bar, Sukuyo unceremoniously dropped Mataro, glaring imperiously down at him. "One hour," she said with an air of finality. With apparent ease she set a barrel on Mataro's back, and sat down near Ryuko and Satsuki.

"So where was I?" she asked sweetly, deliberately ignoring the pained murmurs of 'cracked skull' and 'crushed lung' from below her.

Ryuko had watched Satsuki watch the entire episode with a look of mild shock that she couldn't help but laugh at.

"Welcome to the Honnouji Hunter's Hall, Satsuki." She clapped Satsuki's shoulder to shake her out of the daze.

Satsuki cleared her throat, and spoke. "The last thing you said was 'What' before you were, ah, interrupted." Ryuko picked up on the formality in her tone, and kicked Satsuki's stool.

"Relax, Satsuki. Just don't steal anything and you won't have to fear the barrel."

"What brings you here!" Sukuyo laughed artificially, then spoke to Mataro without looking away from Satsuki or breaking her smile. "Mataro if you move again, I get the rock."

"I... That is to say we, were hoping you could point us towards some potential allies."

"Can you get us the other contracts, Auntie?" Ryuko asked.

Sukuyo frowned suddenly, but nodded. She leaned over in her seat, pulling a hidden drawer open beneath the counter. From it she pulled three folders, each marked with a black tag. She placed them on the counter in front of Satsuki.

"There are three here. The most dangerous contracts we have at the moment. No one's ever come back from one of these. And you want them as..."

"Allies yes," Satsuki answered.

"Just what is it you're planning, Miss Satsuki?" Sukuyo kept her hand on the three folders to keep Satsuki from simply grabbing them.

"I have a vendetta."

"And I have a delinquent son. Please, answer me."

Satsuki bit the inside of her lip in thought. Ryuko watched in silence, eyes flicking back and forth.

"The woman I need dead is stronger than I could be alone," her fists clenched on the counter, and she had to make a visible effort to keep her shadow from affecting the surrounding area. "She's a threat to every one, and every thing. If I'm going to stop her, I need the strongest people on my side."

"You've already got the strongest sitting right next to you, Miss Satsuki," Sukuyo laughed a familiar laugh, incling her head towards Ryuko.

Satsuki and Ryuko's eyes met, and they chuckled. Satsuki spoke, eyes still on the huntress. "I'm sure she was holding back when we fought."

"It wasn't a fight. You surprised me." Ryuko scowled.

"You and I know the truth, Ryuko," Satsuki smiled, then turned her attention back to Sukuyo.

Sukuyo placed a soft hand on Satsuki's hand, which had relaxed without her realizing it. "If I give you these, you need to promise me something Miss Satsuki." Her golden brown eyes were stern, with a glimmer of sadness. "Protect my girls. Can you do that for me?"

"Yes ma'am," Satsuki answered without hesitation.

Sukuyo's smile was a little forced as she patted Satsuki's hand and gave it an affectionate squeeze. She handed the folders to Satsuki.

"Thank you, ma'am." Satsuki bowed her head.

"Thank me when your, vendetta is settled, Miss Kiryuin." Sukuyo laughed lightly.

Satsuki stared at the proprietress, mouth agape until Sukuyo reached across the bar to tap her chin with an index finger.

"Well I didn't tell her!" Ryuko insisted as they took their leave.

Chapter Text

"Maybe it was your eyebrows?" Ryuko suggested. "Hear me out!" she hastily said, scooting her chair back under Satsuki's glare.

Satsuki's gaze flicked upward, as she ran a thumb along her thick eyebrows. "I suppose they are rather distinct," she sighed, fiddling with the spoon on the table between them. Ryuko had insisted on buying Satsuki lunch as a sign of good faith. "Is there anything you else you need to do while we're in town?"

Ryuko shook her head, "Nah, let's go."

Ryuko stood to walk away, yawning. As Satsuki stood Ryuko left a few bills on the table. They left the building and vanished into the throng outside. It wasn't until a few minutes away from the cafe, and foot traffic had cleared, that Satsuki frowned at Ryuko.

"What?" she asked, brow furrowing.

"Why did we eat? That was a waste of money, Ryuko."

Ryuko heaved an exasperated sigh, and rolled her eyes. "C'mon, Satsuki. You can still taste, right?"

"Yes, but-"

"Stop right there. No buts. You gotta live a little. Laugh a lot. Fuck knows you could use some more laughs. We might have some extra time here compared to," Ryuko gestured vaguely around at the buildings, "You know. Everyone else. But what's the point if you don't enjoy it?"

Satsuki sniffed and huffed. "This isn't the life I wanted. You know that."

"So you're gonna, what, not live it? Shit happens, Sats,"

"Sats?"

"Wipe yourself and get on with it," Ryuko ignored the interruption.

Satsuki frowned again, then laughed shortly. "Crude, but you may be right."

"I know I'm right," Ryuko grinned, gently bumping into Satsuki's shoulder.

The rest of their walk to the town exit passed in comfortable silence. When they were back on the dirt road with the town shrinking in the distance, Satsuki began looking over the three files Sukuyo had given them.

"Uzu Sanageyama, Ira Gamagoori, and Houka Inumuta," she murmured, walking as she read.

"Who're they?" Ryuko, a few yards ahead, spoke over her shoulder.

"The contracts from Mako's mother. According to this, a dozen hunters have gone missing just going after this Houka. The other tolls aren't listed. Think that's a good thing or a bad thing?"

Ryuko raised an eyebrow as she answered. "Uh. I think it's whatever it is. We're going after all of them, right?"

"Right."

"So what does it matter?"

"Always be prepared, Ryuko," Satsuki glanced up at Ryuko. Her shadow darkened, a tendril darting forward to coil around Ryuko's ankle. She continued speaking as Ryuko fell, "You can't just walk blindly."

Ryuko jumped to her feet, swearing as Satsuki passed her. Her retaliatory kick aimed for Satsuki's back hit nothing but air, and nearly sent her sprawling through the wispy shadows Satsuki vanished into. She stood, and crossed her arms, waiting for Satsuki to reappear a few feet down the road.

"Coming?" Satsuki asked with a small grin.

Ryuko grumbled darkly, but continued walking at Satsuki's side. The rest of their journey passed in uneventful silence, aside from a few offhand comments from Ryuko. When the mansion came into sight, Ryuko cleared her throat.

"Satsuki?"

"What is it?" Satsuki stopped, noting the concern in Ryuko's voice.

"I wasn't going to tell you because I was hoping it'd bite you, but there's been a spider on your back for the last hour."

"...Why?" Satsuki sighed, reaching to her back and brushing blindly. "Did I get it?"

Ryuko looked at the coin sized black spider between Satsuki's shoulderblades and nodded. "Mhmm." The pair continued on.

As always when seeing the hole in the front wall, Satsuki pursed her lips. Just another thing Ragyo would have to pay for.

"We're back!" Ryuko called as she stepped through the hole she'd made with her body.

Satsuki followed, pausing in the opening to look over her shoulder. A chill ran down the vampire's spine, quickly shaken off. Ryuko met Mako halfway up the stairs, lifting the huntress easily and kissing her cheek. Satsuki smiled up at Nonon, who was at the top of the stairs. Leaving the folders from Sukuyo on the bottom stair, she floated over the huntresses, who were now a tangle of limbs cuddling and catching up on the stairs, landing gently in front of Nonon.

"Welcome back," Nonon stood on her toes, aiming to kiss Satsuki's chin. The diminuitive vampire's stature betrayed her, as she was only able to bring her lips high enough to brush Satsuki's neck before stumbling forward. With one arm, Satsuki caught Nonon, interrupting her pout with a kiss she had to lean down to deliver.

"Wait, what?!" Ryuko exclaimed from the stairs, blinking at Mako.

Satsuki turned to look down at Mako curiously, while Nonon put her arm at Satsuki's waist. It was the highest she could comfortably reach. Mako glanced up at Nonon, shrugged, and began.

"Well. It started when Nonon needed a drink. I was feeling way better, so I let her, and then I slept. And when I woke up, there was food waiting for me. Miss Nonon makes great food, by the way. Aaannyways. Nonon was playing the piano while I ate, and I enjoyed the food and the music and maybe, definitely, enjoyed having her drink. More than I uhm. Should have. One thing led to another and the sheets in the big bedroom are still drying." Mako spoke rapid fire, somehow managing all of that in one breath. Her normally upbeat tone shrank when she met Satsuki's eyes. She murmured, "And now you're both mad at us, huh?"

Satsuki looked down at Nonon, whose eyes were downcast. Satsuki caught her glancing up at her and smiled. "With lives like ours, it'd be absurd not to enjoy ourselves while we can. I'm not angry," she paused to lean down and kiss the top of Nonon's head. "Ryuko?"

Ryuko looked at each of them in turn, finally chuckling and kissing Mako's cheek. "I'm fine with it. Up, coconut." She tapped Mako's legs, and the huntress got out of her lap so Ryuko could stand.

She walked up the stairs quickly, grabbed Satsuki by the cravat, and pulled her down into a rough, greedy kiss. When Ryuko pulled away, Satsuki was briefly stunned.

"I want to kiss Satsuki," Mako pouted, standing as Ryuko fixed Satsuki's cravat. Her statement was enough to shake Satsuki out of the sudden shock with a short laugh.

"Nonon?" Satsuki said as Mako joined them at the top of the stairs. "Are you alright with this? You've been rather quiet."

"What? Yeah, I'm fine with this love square. I've been waiting to tell you that there is a huge fucking spider on your back."

Satsuki fixed Ryuko with her usual glare.

"Must be a different spider," Ryuko mumbled, averting her gaze.

Nonon brushed the spider into her hand, crushing it as Mako insisted too late that it be taken outside. They all watched as, instead of a carcass in Nonon's hand, wisps of blue swirled around her fingers before dissipating. She looked at her hand, clenching and unclenching a few times before shrugging.

"Weird," she said, leaning into Satsuki as Mako snuck in a kiss on Satsuki's cheek.

"And we haven't even started," Satsuki's eyes were locked on the stack of folders.

Chapter Text

Satsuki kicked a rock down into the pit the four were arranged around. No sound came back to indicate the depth.

"Bottomless pit. Charming," she murmured.

"We're going in there?" Mako asked, peering down with a look of apprehension.

"This is where Inumuta was last seen, so this is where our search begins."

"Let's just go," Ryuko said, looking around at the trees as she spoke. "I don't like this forest."

"And the dark hole is looking better?" Nonon asked.

Satsuki tuned out the ensuing argument, opting instead to crouch, gripping the edge of the five meter hole. A tendril of shadow snaked down her arm, probing the depths. Her eyes shut as she focused on the shadow, sensing through it. The hole widened about ten meters down, opening up into what she thought was a large hollow. Another fifty meters down was solid ground. Satsuki felt a sudden sting, and recoiled, wincing as her shadow retreated. The others looked to her in alarm, Mako voicing concern first.

"What happened?"

She stood with a frown, rubbing her thumb and index finger together, "Something didn't like me poking around down there."

"So of course that's exactly what we're going to do, right?" Ryuko asked impatiently.

"Of course. I'll go down first, Nonon you come after me. Ryuko, carry Mako down. I'll break your fall."

Before any of them could protest, Satsuki stepped into the pit, vanishing. When the mouth of the hole opened into the cavernous hollow she'd sensed, Satsuki blinked in surprise. Where she had expected darkness, was ample blue light. The floor, walls and stone columns were streaked with a glowing substance. A closer look could come later, as the ground was rapidly approaching. Satsuki wove the shadows around her into a wispy, shifting bubble under her. The cushion took her weight, slowing her descent enough to allow her to hop onto firm ground. She turned to look up at the entrance, catching Nonon then Ryuko and Mako in similar fashion.

"Gross," Ryuko said, stepping from the shadow platform into one of the blue streaks providing light.

"How rude," a husky voice filled the cavern.

Ryuko's attention snapped from her boots to Satsuki, the entire group on alert.

"Wasn't me," Nonon muttered.

"Eyes sharp. Watch every angle," Satsuki took control of the situation, voice even but firm.

They moved through the cavern with their backs to one another, following Satsuki's lead and keeping eyes in every direction. Satsuki scoured the path ahead with tendrils of shadow. After making a circuit around the cavern and finding nothing, Satsuki scanned the dimly lit ceiling.

"Close, very close," the voice came again.

"Show yourself!" Satsuki's voice echoed, "We have no wish to fight you."

A throaty laugh chased away the echo of Satsuki's declaration. "Oh? Normally they wait until after being beaten to make that statement."

"They?" Mako asked, eyes flitting around uncertainly.

A wet crack resounded through the cavern, followed by the heavy thud of a corpse falling a few feet from Satsuki.

"Hunters," the voice made the word into a vile curse.

"We aren't here to hunt you, Inumuta. Only to talk," Satsuki stared into the gloom overhead.

Another laugh, "Oh you know my name? Then I suppose I should share what I know of you four, hm? Lying doesn't suit you Miss Kiryuin. The truth, or agony will be your only prize from this fool's venture."

Ryuko, Nonon, and Mako all looked to Satsuki, all wondering the same thing. Ryuko gave voice to their thoughts, "How's he know you?"

"I'm wondering that myself," Satsuki answered, her frown deepening. She cleared her throat, then continued. "I have blood to spill. I want you on my side."

A faint skittering sound came, increasing volume gradually. "Is that all?" the voice seemed amused as it spoke, "I did say the truth, did I not? A lie by omission is still a lie."

Satsuki's nostrils flared, her jaw clenching. "I am a vampire against my will, and I aim to rip the heart from the mother that stole my life from me."

"Hmm. Better, but still far from the truth," the skittering increased in volume, accompanied by what sounded like screeches of anticipation.

"I don't like the sound of that, Satsuki," Ryuko hefted her crossbow.

"Neither do I."

"Well, that's some truth out of you at least. Come now, Miss Kiryuin. Out with it. What are you doing here? Why are you here?"

"I've answered you twice already," Satsuki snapped, clenching her fist. The temperature around her dropped as her temper flared.

"Then why am I left desiring an answer? Quickly now, I can't keep the children waiting forever."

Satsuki looked at each of her companions, chewing her lower lip in thought. With a sigh, she turned her face back to the ceiling.

She had to shout to make herself heard over the bodiless but intensifying frenzy of skittering, "I am afraid that without your talents, and the talents of two others my goal is out of reach."

The skittering stopped, the silence left in its wake was deafening. The laugh came again, less mocking this time. A figure descended from the shadows, supported by the glowing web in its hand. As Inumuta came into view, their form became clearer. Humanoid, with spindly limbs, hands ending in claws, and two toed feet. A silvery blue carapace covered their legs, and torso, leaving the slightly lighter shade of skin visible. From Inumuta's back sprouted four folded appendages, two on each side, one above and below each shoulder blade.

"If you're all done staring," Inumuta sighed.

When they spoke, their lower jaw split slightly, and revealed several rows of sharp teeth behind two long fangs. Solid blue eyes gleamed.

"Was that the truth you were looking for, ah...Miss? Inumuta?" Even Satsuki couldn't speak without revealing her confusion. There was no obvious way to tell whether Inumuta was male or female.

"Yes. And miss, or sir, it's irrelevant to me." As Inumuta spoke a spider crawled onto their shoulder. Gently coaxing the spider into her hand, Inumuta continued. "I know your mother, Miss Kiryuin. Her plans endanger us all. I will help you."

Nonon screamed suddenly, raising her foot to stomp on the spider that had just crawled over her foot. Inumuta darted forward catching Nonon's foot before it fell and flipping her backwards. Nonon landed in a crouch, and shuddered as Inumuta took the rat sized spider into their other hand.

"Assuming your companions aren't going to murder my children in front of me," their pulsing blue eyes narrowed on Nonon, voice threatening.

Inumuta turned back to Satsuki, extending a clawed hand. Satsuki grasped and shook firmly.

"Call me Satsuki."

"And you may call me Houka."

Chapter Text

With Houka's leave, Satsuki carried the others on a platform spun from her shadow. Satsuki didn't doubt that she would have been able to subdue them, but gaining an ally was preferable to more bloodshed. With the four of them clear of the pit, Ryuko shuddered.

"I changed my mind. I like this forest now."

"Better than a pit full of spiders," Nonon said, starting on the path from which they came.

"You are a rude one," Houka's raspy laugh emerged from the pit before they did, climbing the wall with apparent ease.

"You'll have to excuse me if your children put me a little on edge. I don't like the idea of being chewed to death," Nonon crossed her arms as she spoke, turning up her nose indignantly.

"You wouldn't feel a thing, Nonon. Regardless," their voice dropped to an ominous whisper. "It's the insides they prefer."

"Houka," Satsuki cut in before Nonon could be riled up any further. "I must ask you not to antagonize my companions." Her tone left no room for Houka to negotiate the request.

"If you insist, Lady Satsuki."

"I do," she turned to lead the way back, followed by the others.

Ryuko and Nonon were apprehensive of Houka, and kept their distance. Mako showed no such reservations, walking right beside them.

"So, what are you?" she asked, stepping carefully over some exposed roots.

"Why?"

"Because I wanna know! Spider thing isn't a very nice term. I'm human, they're vampires," Mako gestured to Satsuki, Ryuko, and Nonon, "So what are you?"

"Truthfully, I've never met another like me. I don't know."

"Perfect!" Mako exclaimed with a wide smile.

The chitin ridge above Houka's eyes raised like eyebrows, "How so?"

"Now you get to name yourself. You can make it what you want! Sometimes I think human sounds a little boring. Hu-man. Human. See?"

Houka chuckled. A frown crossed their features suddenly, blue eyes turning to Satsuki. "Satsuki. Hunters ahead. Ten of them after me."

The group stopped, the three vampires looking at Houka doubtfully. "I don't hear anything," Ryuko said.

Satsuki and Nonon nodded their agreement. The still wind didn't carry a scent either.

"My children never lie, and they're never wrong."

Without further discussion Houka took the lead with confident strides. The other exchanged glances and shrugs before following. The arachnid appendages extending from Houka's back twitched as they pressed on. When the hunters clumsily stomping through the forest came into earshot, Houka stopped suddenly.

"Shall we take them, Lady Satsuki? It would be effortless for all of us to ambush them," they asked without turning to look at her.

Satsuki was about to agree, but changed her mind before speaking. "No. These are yours. Show us what you can do."

Houka nodded, and leaped up. Silently they traveled the treeline towards the hunters. Satsuki led Mako, Ryuko and Nonon as stealthily as possible. Before long, the hunters were in sight. Ten, just as Houka as said, taking a short break. Satsuki scanned the trees, finding Houka perched above the group of hunters. Despite the distance, she could see Houka's jaw completely split, revealing their full complement of teeth. There was no more time to observe, as the new companion dove into action.

Houka was a blue blur as they tackled an isolated hunter, wrapped his head in viscous web spun from their back appendages. When the man was silenced Houka impaled him with a spike that immediately retracted back into their forearm when its work was done. Houka carried the hunter over her shoulder, returning to the branches overhead. The entire action went unnoticed by the rest of the hunters until Houka dropped the now bloated corpse in the middle of them. When the hunter's body hit the ground, his torso burst, releasing a swarm of spiders accompanied by two that were roughly the size of cats. The two leaping spiders went unassailed in the chaos caused by the innumerable swarm of aggressive arachnids. Their venom caused immediate paralysis, followed by simultaneous cardiac and respiratory arrest.

Houka watched with a smile as their children tore into the hunters, leaping from any bit of exposed flesh they could find to the next. One hunter managed to flee from the initial ambush, running towards Satsuki and the others. Houka's smile vanished, and they dropped down to chase down the prey. When the hunter was a few yards from the group, Houka's clawed hands wrapped around his throat and stomach. The hunter being split nearly in half splattered the area with blood.

Ryuko, who had watched with open mouthed disgust, was unfortunate enough to catch a mouthful. The six bloodless months broke with the small amount she couldn't spit out. Her ensuing coughing fit was violent enough to force her to one knee, clutching at her stomach.

"Fucking fuck, that burns," she growled, spitting again.

Mako rushed to her side, rubbing her back as she shot a glare at Houka, "Watch it!"

"I'm fine, Mako," Ryuko coughed again, then stood slowly. "So my stomach's on fire, maybe got a little in my lungs. I don't need to breathe anyway."

Ryuko smiled, gritting her teeth. Satsuki's frown made her doubts clear.

"Ryuko," she said.

"What?"

"You're sweating."

Ryuko wiped at her forehead with the back of her hand, looking at the sweat with confusion. Mako put her hands on her cheeks.

"You're burning up," she announced, concern breaking her voice.

Ryuko waved her hand in a feeble dismissal, "I'm fine," her voice was frail, her discomfort obvious.

"A vampire with a blood allergy?" Houka asked.

Satsuki's glare was accompanied by a writhing shadow and the temperature dropping, "Quiet. Now."

Houka backed down, raising their bloodied hands in surrender. Satsuki looked at Ryuko again, as her temper calmed. She glanced down, sensing heat emanating from Ryuko where their shadows met. Satsuki raised her hand, sending a gentle tendril towards Ryuko. When it came within a few feet, she met resistance. With some effort, Satsuki pushed through whatever force had slowed her. She recoiled when the shadow made contact with Ryuko, feeling as if she'd been burned.

"Give me your hand, Ryuko," Satsuki said, holding hers out.

"Is now really the time for hand holding?" Ryuko grinned, but complied.

Satsuki breathed a sigh of relief when Ryuko's touch didn't harm her. She relayed as much to the group, including the pain of her shadow touching Ryuko.

"Oh how helpful, a shield from Satsuki," Nonon spoke up finally, previously unable to look away from Houka's spiderlings.

"Regardless, the implications are interesting," Satsuki spoke slowly, looking at Ryuko.

"What do you mean?" Mako asked.

"If I may," Houka interjected from a fair distance away in case Satsuki's order was still in effect.
 
"If you know something, spill it," Ryuko snapped. As the initial shock wore off, her temper returned.

"I know a lot of things, you'll have to be-" Houka stopped themself when they caught Satsuki's chilling glare, "I've learned a lot about your kind in my time. My children hear many stories. Vampires, if the claims are true, draw power from the blood they consume. In the cases of vampires such as yourselves, naturally powerful ones, that is, unique abilities manifest. Lady Satsuki with her manipulation of shadows. Nonon with her near teleportation. And now you, with an apparent barrier."

"How the hell did you know about that?" Nonon demanded.

Houka raised chitin brows, "I've had your home under observation since you recieved those reports from Mako's mother. My webs aren't all glowing and blue."

"That was your spider then, that Ryuko neglected to remove," Satsuki stared pointedly at Ryuko.

Houka laughed, "Oh, yes. I very nearly had no chance to know you were coming or overhear so many little secrets,"

"Stop talking," Satsuki warned, turning her attention back to Houka.

"But you're all so amusing," Houka continued, licking blood from their claws.

No one saw her move, but in a small puff of smoke and light kick of dirt, Nonon was standing in front of Houka. Her suddene appearance was enough to quiet Houka.

"Lady Satsuki gave you an order," Nonon spoke flatly.

"And I intend to follow it. But what, my diminutive-" Houka began.

Nonon sank a quick jab into Houka's stomach, causing them to double over. Before they could recover Nonon grabbed their head, palms at their temples.

"Were you going to ask what happens when you decide not to follow them anymore? I split your face to match your gross jaw."

Nonon shoved Houka back, shrugging a shoulder in response to the stares from Satsuki, Ryuko, and Mako. Houka laughed once more, and knelt.

"Consider me your creature from this point, then. I value my life quite highly, and opposing you or your companions likely leads to a grisly end for me. The right to a pleasantly unsplit face is a powerful bargaining chip."

"Please stop talking," Nonon grumbled, returning to Satsuki's side. "Can we go now?"

Satsuki nodded, stepping past the genuflecting Houka to lead the way home.

Chapter Text

A tense silence had fallen over the group on their trek back to the manor. Satsuki lead the way, followed by Houka and Nonon. A short distance behind them, Mako fussed over Ryuko.

“Promise me you’re okay!”

Ryuko’s voice was hoarse when she spoke, “Promise, promise, promise. How many times is that now?”

“37,” Nonon grumbled.

“38,” Houka corrected.

“Who asked you?” she shot back hotly.

Houka glanced over their shoulder, first at Nonon then Mako. “She did. Weren’t you listening? Or is spouting incorrect numbers a hobby of yours?”

“Satsuki do we really need them?”

“Enough, both of you.” As usual Satsuki’s voice was even and firm, silencing them immediately.

Houka couldn’t resist one final jab, raising a hand to whisper in Nonon’s direction.

“I’ll try to keep my little one’s away from you. No promises, though.”

With a sound like a whipcrack, Satsuki’s shadow lashed out. Before any could react Houka was dangling upside down, constricted by the tightening shadow.

“Perhaps I wasn’t clear when I ordered you not to antagonize my companions. Tell me, was I clear?” As Satsuki spoke a dozen spikes rose from her shadow to arrange themselves at Houka’s throat.

Houka chittered nervously, averting their eyes under Satsuki’s steel gaze.

“Your talents can be of use to me as long as I will it and not a moment longer. You’re smart enough to know what happens when I no longer will it.”

To underline her point, Satsuki pressed her shadow enough to draw Houka’s bright blue blood. She let her shadows dissipate, and Houka fell hard. Their expression was one of fearful respect, and they nodded quickly.

“Again, my apologies Lady Satsuki.”

Wordlessly Satsuki continued on.

“No,” Houka murmured, standing quickly once the others had passed. “Lady Satsuki!” they called, rushing towards her.

In their haste, Houka didn’t see Nonon’s outstretched leg and fell once again. Satsuki turned, waiting for them to speak.

“You have an intruder. She killed my children.”

“And you waited until now to tell us?” Ryuko growled.

“She arrived seconds ago. I can’t tell the future, but I can tell you who I think is there.”

Satsuki and Ryuko exchanged a glance as Houka stood carefully.

“The one you’ve been looking for,” they nodded towards Ryuko. “Nui Harime.”

“How do you know?” Ryuko’s voice was uncharacteristically calm, almost flat.

Knowing is the talent of mine Lady Satsuki has use of. Would you like proof?”

Houka didn’t wait for an answer, instead squatting over a clear patch of ground. They flexed their hands, sprouting a pair of spinnerets from each wrist.

“I’m no artist, mind you,” they said as they began working. Strands of web flew from each wrist, first forming a square frame, then a vaguely human shape. Satsuki spoke when the details became clear enough for her.

“Enough. It’s her.”

Houka stood, offering a short bow. Ryuko stared at the webs, clenching her fists. Mako preemptively wrapped her arms around Ryuko’s waist.

“You are not going alone.”

Ryuko struggled half heartedly. “Doesn’t mean I’m not gonna kill her.” Satsuki fixed her with a look and she sighed. “I’ll let you talk to her before I rip her guts out, alright? Find out whatever ya need.” She met Satsuki’s gaze with a look of fierce determination. “She’s mine to put down and you know it.”

Satsuki considered for a moment, looking at each of them in turn.

“Nui is extremely dangerous. You will have your chance, Ryuko, but the moment you need us-”

“Yeah yeah, whatever. I’ll be careful. Can Mako let me go now?”

Satsuki looked at Ryuko’s captor with a gentle smile and a shrug. “That’s up to her.”

Mako’s grip tightened before she let go. When Ryuko turned to look at her, she was immediately in her arms again. “Be careful.” Mako looked up at her with a brave smile, but even she couldn’t mask her fear.

Ryuko kissed Mako’s forehead and gently undid her grip. “Always.”

“We’re right behind you,” Satsuki said. Ryuko nodded, then took the lead.

_

Ryuko approached the manor slowly, looking for Nui from the shelter of the treeline. There was no one outside the manor as far as she could tell, having circled it twice. There was nothing left but to look inside. She took a breath to steel her nerves, and made her way towards the entrance.

“Looking for someone?” an effeminate voice spoke from behind her, and Ryuko nearly jumped out of her skin.

She dove forward, landing in a practiced crouch aiming her crossbow at the voice.

“Show yourself,” she barked.

“Oooh, you’re so forward. We only just met Miss Ryuko,” the disembodied voice giggled, a chilling sound.

“Come out!”

“Oh fine, but only because you asked so nicely.”

A misty shadow crept out of the treeline, quickly forming a dark human shape. Ryuko clenched her teeth when Nui fully formed, a petite blonde woman in a frilly pink dress. The shape of her hair was unmistakable from Houka’s rendition; two enormous corkscrew pigtails. Her purple eyes gleamed with malice.

“Hiya Ryuko! I heard you wanted to meet me. I know I’ve just been dying to meet you.”

Ryuko fired a pair of bolts instead of answering. Nui pouted, deftly snatching them both out of the air. She twirled one between her fingers as she spoke, discarding the other.

“You’re just as rude as your daddy was!”

“Shut it.”

“He was a lot of fun to play with ya know?” Nui continued, walking leisurely around Ryuko. “Well, until his throat ended up on the floor. Not sure how that happened.” She tapped her chin with the crossbow bolt, pretending to think. “Ah! Right! He was weak, so I ripped him up!” She ran her tongue up the length of the bolt before snapping it. “At least he tasted alright.”

“I said shut it!” Ryuko shouted, firing another ineffectual bolt.

“Come on,” Nui giggled, vanishing into shadow and reappearing behind Ryuko, resting her head on her shoulder, “Play with me for real.”

Ryuko spun, slashing at air with rage in her eyes. She dropped her crossbow, pulling a pair of daggers from her boots.

“Much better!” Nui laughed, dodging each of Ryuko’s attacks with ease. “But not good enough!”

Nui sidestepped a thrust, and knocked Ryuko back with a punch. Before she could recover, Nui vanished, appearing behind Ryuko to trip the already off balance huntress. Humming a dainty tune, Nui straddled Ryuko’s stomach, her knees pinning Ryuko’s arms.

“Hey Ryuko?” she asked, leaning close, her voice mocking a lover’s whisper.

Ryuko spat in Nui’s face, seething.

“I guess that means you’re listening?” a shadow tendril wiped the spittle from her cheek. “Anyway, why are you so weak? Have you been feeding properly? You fight like a human!”

“Six months,” Ryuko said through clenched teeth.

Nui gasped, covering her mouth.

“What a diet! It’s done wonders for your figure, but at what cost Miss Ryuko? Don’t you know how the whole vampire thing works? You spent too much time feral, huh?”

“How the hell do you know about that?” Ryuko managed to tear her arm free and shoved Nui off of her. She scrambled to her feet, panting as Nui laughed heartily.

“Oopsie! Do me a favor and pretend I didn’t say that.”

“Like hell!” Ryuko charged again, forgoing her blades in favor of bare hands.

Nui grabbed her wrist on Ryuko’s first swing, pulled her forward and raised her knee into her stomach. Ryuko fell coughing to her knees, helpless as Nui stepped behind her. She grabbed Ryuko wrist again, pulling her arm behind her with one foot on her back. She started humming again, pulling until Ryuko cried out. She whispered again.

“Now, scream for daddy or this arm is mine.”

“Fuck off,” Ryuko grunted.

Nui twisted, forcing another cry of pain. “That didn’t sound quite right. Try again?”

“Ryuuuuuukooooo!” Mako led the charge out of the woods, throwing her spiked club at Nui.

“Eh?” Nui looked towards the interruption and caught the spike through the side of her eye.

While she shrieked in pain, Ryuko stood, moving towards the others.

“You bitch, you bitch, you bitch, you BITCH,” Nui screamed at Mako, the club still dangling from her head. “I’m starting with you next time,” she pointed at the huntress, who simply raised her bladed knuckles in reply.

Before any of them could say more, Nui vanished, dissipating into shadows. Mako’s bloody club clattered to the ground, leaving silence.

Chapter Text

Ryuko rubbed at her shoulder, staring where Nui had been. The others stood around her, tense and unsure of how to break the silence.

“Bitch, that hurt,” Ryuko grumbled as she popped her shoulder back into place.

“Should have taken her together,” Nonon sighed, first to drop her guard.

“No,” Satsuki said, starting towards the mansion. “That was a glimpse of her power, Ryuko. I hope you’re not rethinking your revenge.”

“Like hell! You know where she went don’t you? Tell me!” she stomped after her, collecting her crossbow on the way.

Satsuki stopped at the top of the stairs, looking down at Ryuko.

“Why?”

“You think we’re not going after her?”

“So you can get yourself killed? We’re going to continue our plan.”

“Then let’s go ,” Ryuko insisted, grabbing Satsuki’s wrist.

Satsuki flinched at the sudden burning, snatching her wrist away. In her haste she stumbled back and ended up seated at the top stair. She stared at the slowly healing burn Ryuko’s hand had left, then up at her in shock. Nonon was at her side in an instant, a fierce glare fixed on Ryuko.

“What’d you do?” Satsuki asked flatly, standing. She tugged her sleeve down.

Ryuko looked from her hands to Satsuki’s face with wide eyes. “Hell if I know. More vampire nonsense, whatever, let’s get going.”

Satsuki held her hand out towards her wordlessly, her intent clear. Ryuko took a moment to sigh emphatically before grabbing Satsuki’s hand.

“Huh,” Satsuki murmured, taking her unburned hand back.

“If I may chime in?” Houka had approached with Mako, unnoticed in the brief commotion.

“Go on,” Satsuki nodded.

“When your shadow powers began to appear, what did you do?”

           Satsuki shrugged, “I never gave it much consideration. I don't so much control my shadow as I do will it. It responds how I need it to, like another limb.”

           “It comes naturally then?” Houka tapped their chin with a thumb. They were quiet for a moment before looking at Nonon expectantly.

           “It’s the same for me. Not the same power obviously, but-” Nonon vanished into wispy shadows, appearing a short distance away before returning with a shrug, “-I just kinda do it, ya know?”

           “So, what, I can't touch people without burnin’ em?” Ryuko said. Mako held her hand pressing it against various things to test. So far, no results.

           “Try it once more,” Satsuki held her hand towards Ryuko. “That's a powerful ability if you can master it.”

           After reclaiming her hand and a moment's pause Ryuko did, with no effect.

           “The hell?!” she swore, clenching and unclenching her free hand. “I mean, I'm glad this isn't burning your hand off and all, but what gives?”

           “There are any number of factors at work here. Perhaps you simply need more blood for your powers to awaken. Or a reason to use them. You were rather fired up before, right?” Houka shrugged, “There isn't much research on the subject I'm afraid.”

           “Still you've given us more to work with than before. Thank you, Houka,” Satsuki nodded her approval. Houka gave a short bow as Satsuki continued. “Are you going to have a problem drinking blood, Ryuko?”

           “Bit late to worry about that now, you think? If it means getting stronger, I'll do it.” She looked at Mako, who was rubbing at her neck in slight discomfort. “We can't all keep snacking on Mako, though.”

           “I'll be fine!” the huntress protested.

“No way! I’ve seen you knock the heads off a dozen vampires with a throw like that one before. You’re weaker right now, but we’re all gonna need to be at our best from now on.” Ryuko’s tone softened as she put her hands on Mako’s cheeks, “We all know how tough ya are, no need to push it.”

Instead of answering Mako gently headbutted Ryuko’s chest, laying her head there and sighing.

“For now, we should rest. Tomorrow we'll track down our next ally,” Satsuki said, turning to enter the mansion.

           As always, Satsuki felt a bitter humor at closing the front door with two gaping holes leading to the front room. She gestured vaguely and spoke again.

           “Make yourself at home Houka.” She briefly considered her words when she saw Nonon’s frown. “And try to keep your, ah,” Satsuki waved her hand again, hoping a polite phrase would come to her.

           “Keep your gross spider nonsense to your room,” Nonon cut in.

           Satsuki pinched the bridge of her nose as Houka laughed dryly.

           “Seconded,” Ryuko called over her shoulder, already halfway up the stairs.

           Satsuki sighed, but nodded her agreement when Houka looked at her.

           “That is basically what I was getting at, yes. I mainly didn't want your glowing webs everywhere , but,” she shrugged, letting the sentence trail off.

           Houka rolled their glowing blue eyes, “As you wish, Lady Satsuki.”

           Nonon made her way up the stairs as well, following Ryuko and Mako to the piano room. Moments later, a gentle tune could be heard. Satsuki gently touched Houka’s arm, stopping them as they turned to find a room.

           “I would be willing to give you as much space as your comfort requires, but I'm not sure how much our other two hopefuls will need,” she offered an apologetic smile, “But you're one of us now. I take good care of the ones loyal to me. Rest assured.”

           Houka was taken aback, surprised by the sudden display of warmth. With a raspy cough, they recovered their composure.

           “I look forward to proving that loyalty, Lady Satsuki.” Houka’s smile shifted into a grin when they continued, “And hoping for some excitement along the way. Truth be told it was dreadfully boring in that cavern, waiting for hunters to come calling. Thank you for the opportunity.”

           “There will be no lack of excitement with this group, I can promise you that as well,” Satsuki said with a light laugh.

           As if on cue, there was a crash and a shout from the piano room, followed by Mako’s triumphant shout of, “I told you I could do it!” and Nonon’s piercing laugh.

           “I wonder what they've broken now,” Satsuki muttered, moving to investigate.

           She blinked at the scene before her, taking it all in. Houka peered in over her shoulder with a bemused expression. Nonon was laying on the couch, gales of laughter only now beginning to subside. Mako stood over a roughly Ryuko sized hole in the floor, glaring fiercely down it.

           “What.” It was all Satsuki could get  out.

           “Guess who got suplexed through the floor!” Ryuko’s voice came from below.

           Covered in dust and wood splinters, Ryuko hauled herself up. When she emerged she sat on the floor, arms crossed and pouting.

           “Well?” Mako demanded, and reached down to flick Ryuko’s forehead.

           “Ow! I'm sorry!”

           “You were home for all of one minute,” Satsuki sighed as she peered through the hole into the room Ryuko and Mako typically shared.

           “Record time for Ryuko shoving her foot in her mouth you think?” Nonon finally collected herself enough to ask.

           Satsuki joined in the laughter, then looked at Houka. “Welcome aboard. I suggest you get used to,” she gestured to the room, smiling affectionately at all of them, “This.”

Mako, already forgiving whatever Ryuko had said, sat on the ground behind her with her arms around Ryuko. Her chin rested on Ryuko’s shoulder.

“Thanks,” she said quietly.

Ryuko tilted her cheek to let Mako kiss her, and nodded.

“Don’t mention it.” She looked up at Satsuki, leaning back into Mako. “So, that’s settled. What do we do about blood now?”

Mako answered herself before Satsuki could, “I might be able to help!”

“Didn’t we just say you don’t have to anymore?” Nonon asked.

“No no, not my blood! Honnouji’s!”

Satsuki shook her head, “No, I won’t sneak around and attack strangers in the night. Neither will either of you,” she fixed Nonon and Ryuko with severe looks in turn.

“Hey, I didn’t want to anyway,” Nonon waved her hand, dismissing the notion.

“Not what she had in mind,” Ryuko laughed, having figured out what Mako was getting at. “Trust her,” she added after turning to kiss Mako’s cheek.

Chapter Text

Mako sat atop Guts, humming as they trotted to Honnouji. That morning the others had set out to find their next hopeful recruit, while she was on her way to solve their blood problem. She scratched her neck idly, and glanced at the grey sky. Guts knew the way, so Mako let her mind wander. A mile passed quietly, until Mako suddenly felt uneasy. Her instincts screamed danger, despite there being nothing in sight. Mako armed herself, spiked club offering a comfort in its familiar weight. Guts stopped suddenly, refusing to continue and rearing up when Mako tried to press him onward.

“Easy!” Mako exclaimed, and dismounted. She patted Guts’ nose when she was on her own feet. Some distance behind them was an abandoned farmhouse. It was falling apart; only one wall stood whole and the roof had caved in. Mako gestured for Guts to go back, giving him a light smack on the behind to hurry him along. Her companion away from harm, she hoped, Mako continued towards the unseen danger.

As she made her way down the road the unease worsened. It was easy enough for her to understand Guts’ fear. A moment later Mako felt the temperature plummet, and immediately assumed a fighting stance. The air around her seemed to darken as a shadow rose from the middle of the road. Mako tightened her grip as the vampire's form solidified. She had dark skin, with white dreadlocks in stark contrast. She wore a simple, but pristine, white suit.

“Who are you?” Mako asked, taking a step back.

The vampire fixed her with an amber gaze, unblinking.

“I said-”

“You are Mako Mankanshoku?” the vampire cut her off with a sharply raised hand.

Mako nodded.

“I am Rei Hououmaru,” she said, looking Mako up and down. “Lady Ragyo asked me to test you. Please, attack me when you're ready.”

Mako blinked. “Huh?”

“She wants to know how strong you are.”

Mako frowned as she spoke, “That didn't really clear anything up you know.”

“Lady Ragyo’s mission will be carried out. This is a simple truth. Satsuki and the rest of you don't stand a chance of stopping her. Another simple truth. Lady Ragyo wants to know what you're capable of.”

“You think some talk like that is gonna stop us?” Mako’s temper flared.

“Hm? Oh, of course not. It did serve as a distraction while my feral thralls surrounded you, however. Intelligence score, F.”

Mako looked around in dismay. Sure enough, at least a dozen feral vampires were forming a loose half circle around her. With Rei in front of her and the pack behind, Mako knew there was no chance of escaping without a fight.

“Let's make it quick then,” Mako muttered.

Before Rei could speak again, Mako spun and threw her club at the vampire. As soon as she did, Mako turned to the ferals. She charged with her bladed knuckles while Rei watched, having easily caught the club. The vampire winced, her hand burning where she touched the weapon. With a furrowed brow Rei dropped the club, looking at her now blistered palm.

“What in the world?” she murmured, watching Mako carefully.

The huntress was something of a terror to watch, fighting with a strength Rei had never seen in a human. More than that, she fought without fear. Her every strike was made with no chance of reprisal, as each one felled its target almost instantly. Rei arched an eyebrow as Mako dispatched the feral pack with brutal efficiency. When the last fell, Mako turned to Rei with blood dripping from her knuckles.

“Battle score, A, I must admit Mankanshoku. It seems there may be more to you than we thought,” Rei said. She looked again at her palm. “Certainly, as a matter of fact. I think I've seen enough. We'll meet again.”

“Wait!” Mako stepped forward but it was too late; Rei had already turned to shadow and vanished. Ice ran through her veins as a dark hand caressed her throat then pinched sharply.

“Dead. Test failed. Work on that potential, huntress. That hidden power just might entertain Lady Ragyo,” Rei vanished again, laughter mocking Mako as she turned to strike at air.

Mako stared in shock where Rei had been, heart racing. She sighed and turned to the feral corpses. It didn't take her long to drag them out of the road and pile them up. When she got to Honnouji, she'd send a group from the hall to handle their disposal. After retrieving Guts, the rest of the trip took place withour incident. As the afternoon sun broke through the clouds, Mako came to Honnouji’s gate. Her heart still pounded in her throat.

“Welcome back Mako!” the guard greeted her with a smile she returned half heartedly.

“Always good to be back. I fought a pack of feral vampires on my way here. Could you get a disposal team together for me?” she petted Guts as she spoke, a gesture for her own comfort more than anything else.

“At once ma'am,” the guard saluted, and Mako waved her hands quickly in front of her.

“Hey now no need for all that. It's just me.”

He shrugged with a laugh, “Maybe, but you hunters are a cut above us town guards. Sure we can all fight when the time comes, but everyone knows who the real protectors of Honnouji are.”

“There wouldn't be a town to protect without all of you!” Mako protested. Guts stamped his foot, as Mako would have.

The guard chuckled, and waved Mako along. “Go on now, Mako. Your mom's been waiting to hear from you.”

After dropping Guts off at the hunter's stable, Mako made her way to hall at the center of town. She couldn't help but smile when she saw the sturdy building she had called home her whole life. When she entered the usual hustle and bustle stopped, the eyes of the hall falling on her.

“Hey!” she broke the silence with a cheerful greeting, returned by dozens of hunters.

She made her way up and down the rows of long tables greeting the familiar faces affectionately, and introducing herself quickly when needed. It had been awhile since she'd been back, but Mako hadn't realized just how sorely missed she'd been. Mako finally reached the bar counter, behind which her mother was beaming.

“Welcome back,” Sukuyo stood to lean over the counter and pull Mako into a hug.

As she was pulled, Mako noticed what Sukuyo had been sitting on; a barrel on top of a face down Mataro.

“Hi mom!” Mako said when she was let go. As she sat down she pointed with her chin at Mataro. “What’d he do this time?”

“Nothing!” Mataro cried out indignantly.

Faster than Mako could see, Sukuyo took off a sandal and swatted Mataro’s head.

“An extra hour for lying!” her expression softened when she addressed Mako again. “His usual thievery. From your dad’s patients! As if his rates weren't robbery already.”

“That’s kind of why I’m here, actually. Is dad around?”

“He’s upstairs. Not sticking around then, huh?”

Mako shook her head with an apologetic smile, “Sorry, not this time.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice, “The others need food.”

Sukuyo smiled her understanding, squeezing Mako’s hand briefly before she stepped away from the bar. She made her way quickly up the stairs, and down a long hallway. Most of the doors she passed were closed, occupied by resting or injured hunters. Every few doors hung crudely drawn posters of Mataro, each saying something different to the effect of “Banned. Known thief. Apprehend on sight.” The door at the end of the hall was ajar. She pushed on it lightly, and stuck her head in with a bright smile.

The room was a mess. Papers were strewn about the floor, books lay open, and a growing stack of plates perched precariously on the windowsill. Barazo sat behind the desk working intently on another anti-Mataro poster.

“Hey!” Mako said as she stepped in.

Barazo looked up in surprise, blinked, then stood so quickly his chair fell back into the bookcase behind him and an empty cup fell from the desk.

“Mako!” he crossed the room with surprising speed considering his size, and pulled Mako into a tight hug. “It’s good to see you daughter! Is Ryuko with you?”

“Nah, she and the others are heading after one of the special contracts today,” Mako shook her head. “Can you spare something for them? Some things happened and Ryuko needs blood again. I can’t keep up with feeding three vampires, it makes me too weak ya know?”

Barazo nodded, scratching at his stubble as he walked back to the bookcase. “Let’s see here,” he murmured, running his finger along the rows. After a moment of searching, he pressed on one of the books and took a step back. With the sound of wood sliding against wood, the bookcase receded into the wall and slid out of the way. Mako looked into the hidden room and laughed once.

“So you’ve got a little to spare then?”

The narrow room was lined on either side with shelves full of dozens of bottles of blood, ceiling to floor all the way to the back. Barazo flashed a fanged grin.

“I’ve got more than I know what to do with and no shortage of hunters payin’ for my services. Take as much as you need. Anything else? These posters aren’t going to make themselves, you know.”

Mako nodded, smile fading as she thought back to her earlier fight.

“I fought one of Ragyo’s vampires on my way here. She seemed to figure something out about me, and I’m not sure what it is. Something about some hidden power I have? I was born before you became a vampire, so that’s got nothing to do with it right? Is there anything I need to know?” her words tumbled out in a breathless rush. Mako looked hopefully at her father, searching for an answer in his eyes.

Barazo heaved a slow sigh. “Yes is the short answer. I don’t have all the answers, though.”

“What can you tell me then?”

Barazo spoke after another short pause, “It’s something you get from your mom. Some power passed from mother to daughter in her family,” he laughed meekly, “Tell you the truth, I don’t really get it, I just know she can kill me with her little finger.”

“Well, who can’t?” Mako jabbed playfully at Barazo’s belly.

“She has a point,” Sukuyo spoke from the doorway with a smile, startling both of them with her sudden appearance.

“Hey, no complaints from me. I love a woman that can kick my ass,” Barazo said with another grin as Sukuyo walked to his side.

“So what’s this power?” Mako asked.

“Ah ah, it’s not something I can explain here,” Sukuyo looked up at Barazo and patted his stomach. “Can you watch the hall honey?”

Barazo made a playful salute before pulling both of them into another hug and planting kisses on top of their heads. “Leave it to me!”

Sukuyo called after him when he left the room, “And don’t take that rock off Mataro!” She turned back to Mako with a wan smile. “You’ve got a long day ahead of you dear.”

Chapter Text

Satsuki, Nonon, Ryuko and Houka had an uneventful trip to the neighboring town. Village was more apt; it was a fraction of Honnouji’s size with only a few buildings over one story. They stood on the dirt road, just outside row of sharpened stakes serving as a wall.

“Is this a joke?” Nonon pointed at the sign distastefully.

“Lair of the Emerald Beast, hunters beware,” Ryuko read aloud the sign aloud. There was a crude drawing of several dead hunters below the warning. Emerald had been spelled correctly, and crossed out in favor of ‘Emerold’.

“It's my understanding,” Houka began, gently petting a spider on their shoulder as they spoke, “That this Beast is something of a guardian to these people. He keeps less amicable sorts away, they let him live here without forming a pitchfork mob. So the rumors say.”

“‘So the rumors say,’” Nonon mocked them in a haughty tone. “You can tell us when you're not sure of something instead of tacking on a lame phrase like that.”

Houka gave a chittering laugh, “Call it a habit.”

“Why would someone put a contract on their guardian?” Ryuko asked. “The request came from here didn't it?”

Satsuki nodded. “We won't find learn more about the Beast standing here. Let's ask around and figure out what's going on here.”

“No need for that, vampire!” a male voice called from behind them. They spun in unison, all on guard. The man before them had shoulder length. His faded and half buttoned shirt probably used to be green. Threadbare grey pants matched the well worn shirt. 

“No need for that either,” Uzu growled.

“We've come to talk, Uzu Sanageyama,” Satsuki took a more neutral posture as she spoke, gesturing for the others to do the same.

“So you've got business with the Beast. Walk with me, vampire,” he jutted his chin at Satsuki and started walking away. Satsuki shrugged at the others, and jogged to catch up.

“Rest of ya stay there! Folks around here don't much like outsiders if you get me,” he called over his shoulder.

Satsuki fell in step next to Uzu.

“So you know me. Who’re you?”

“Satsuki Kiryuin.”

Uzu let out a long whistle before speaking, “Wow, they went to the mighty Kiryuins to knock my block off?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Who?”

He jerked a thumb over his shoulder, towards the town. Satsuki glanced back, shaking her head when she saw the others gesturing too passionately for it to be anything but a brewing argument.

“Why? Don't you protect them?”

“Don't get ahead of yourself. I'm not about to spill everything to a vampire hunter here to put me down.” He stopped suddenly, brow furrowing in deep thought. “Vampire hunter, hunter vampire? How's that even work? What’s your deal?”

“I'm not here for a fight,” Satsuki turned as she spoke, having taken a few steps after Uzu stopped.

“Then start talkin’. What do you want with me?”

“I have someone powerful I want dead. I was hoping to get you on my side.”

“Pass,” Uzu huffed then made a shooing motion.

“Excuse me?” Satsuki was taken aback at the sudden dismissal.

“I'm not interested in your petty fight. So I'll pass.”

“Do you care about this world?”

Uzu shoved his hands in his pockets, sniffing. “What kinda question is that? I live in it don't I?”

“Then you'll join me to protect it. I have my personal reasons, I admit, but there is more at stake than petty revenge.”

Uzu clicked his tongue and spat. “I'm listenin’, go on.”

“Ragyo Kiryuin. You know the name, I assume?”

He barked a laugh, “Yeah, who doesn't? You don't run the strongest group of hunters and not make a few waves in circles like ours.”

“She's my mother, and a vampire with power beyond anything I've seen. Her plan endangers us all, human or otherwise.”

Uzu arched an eyebrow, and clasped his hands behind his head as he walked towards Satsuki. “Fate of the world huh? That's heavy. Got any proof?”

Satsuki tensed as he approached. “For now, take me at my word.”

Uzu stopped a few feet from her, meeting her intense blue stare with his own green ferocity. “I'm not gonna take orders like that from anyone weaker than me, got that?”

Satsuki nodded, his meaning and intent clear enough. He threw a punch suddenly, aiming for Satsuki’s face. Rather than dodge, Satsuki raised an open hand to catch Uzu’s fist. The impact had enough force to blow her hair back. Dozens of nearby birds took flight, indignant cawing filling the silence between them. Her hand shook as Uzu pushed against it, nearly brushing her chin before she pushed back.

“Satisfied?” Satsuki asked, smoothing her hair back down.

“Solid block, I'll give you that,” Uzu admitted as he shook his hand, swearing internally. “Let's see how you keep up with the Beast, now.” He grinned, a savage glint in his eyes as he backed away.

Satsuki’s shadow tendrils rose behind her as a precaution, poised to strike or defend. “If you're going to come at me it had better be full force. I won't tolerate any weak allies.”

Uzu dropped to all fours and was engulfed in a swirling green aura. There were muffled pops and sharp reports as his body morphed before Satsuki’s eyes. His nose and mouth lengthened into a snout, claws sprouted from hands growing by the second. Green streaked grey fur grew to cover him as his clothes fell to shreds. There was a series of painful sounding pops, each one causing Uzu to shake. Before long his transformation was complete, and Uzu loosed a piercing howl. He stood again, now towering over Satsuki and panting. She remained nonplussed, expression stoic.

“Well?” she prompted.

Uzu bared his teeth and charged on all fours, claws scoring the earth with each bound. He lunged, time seeming to slow down while he slashed at Satsuki. When her shadow rose to block, forming a spiked wall between them, he vanished in an instant to reappear behind Satsuki, both claws raised to strike at her exposed back. Satsuki was already looking over her shoulder up at him without flinching, with such poised strength it gave Uzu a fatal moment of pause. She stepped back to sink a crushing elbow to his solar plexus, perfectly in her reach. The Beast froze, utterly stunned for several long seconds. Then, he crumpled all at once, falling hard onto his back.

“Satisfied now?” Satsuki asked again, then blinked. “Wait can you talk like that?”

Uzu grunted what she assumed was a yes, struggling to sit upright for a moment before giving up and laying back down.

He was surrounded by a much calmer green aura, and the transformation back reflected that. Before the fur faded Satsuki had the presence of mind to retrieve his ruined clothes and cover his crotch.

“So, you'll be following me then?”

Uzu had a minor coughing fit, and managed to win his battle to sit up this time. He swore when he looked down at himself.

“Dammit, you got me so fired up I forgot to undress first,” Uzu gestured at his near nakedness shamelessly. “Anyway, yeah. No point in sticking around here.”

“That's hardly my fault. There's probably something in your size at the mansion.”

Uzu leaned over, waving at the others that had come running to the sounds of their brief battle. Satsuki turned to greet them. Their expressions were various mixtures of shock and confusion at the scene they were approaching.

“Why the hell are you naked?” Nonon asked, looking from Uzu to Satsuki and back.

“Yeah what uh... What?” Ryuko followed up eloquently, averting her eyes when the initial shock wore off.

“My clothes exploded on account of my muscles bein’ too big,” Uzu stood, letting the scraps of said clothing fall.

They looked at Satsuki, hoping for an actual explanation. She shrugged with a wry smile.

“He's not technically wrong.”

“I could probably weave something together you can keep on when you transform,” Houka tapped at their cheek thoughtfully.

“Doesn't do much for me now,” Uzu said, almost pouting.

“We're not taking a naked wolfman home are we?” Nonon spoke with her arms crossed, looking at Uzu doubtfully.

“Nah, I'll catch up when I finish here. Loose ends and all that,” Uzu clasped his hands behind his head again, starting back towards the village. He stopped suddenly when he reached Satsuki, dropping to one knee. “Hand?”

She glanced at the others, shrugging before holding her hand towards him. He took a few short sniffs, followed by one much longer.

“Now there's an easy scent to follow,” he murmured, and looked up at her, “I will follow you, Lady Satsuki.”

She sighed, impatient, “How many people do I have to tell just Satsuki is fine?”

He laughed lightly as he stood, looking at her with a newfound respect in his green eyes. “After knocking me flat on my ass like that, gonna have to insist. You’re something special, like it or not.”

Satsuki raised a thick eyebrow, but accepted the compliment with a nod. “We'll be on our way then. It isn't too long of a trip back, but take care. We have powerful enemies, standing against Ragyo.”

He clicked his tongue before speaking, more than a little indignantly, “I've got more tricks up my sleeve than you saw. Caught me off guard is all.”

Satsuki shot a sly look at Ryuko, “Sounds familiar. At any rate,” Satsuki extended her hand towards Uzu again, which he shook firmly, “Welcome.”

Chapter Text

“Huh?” Mako tilted her head.

She and Sukuyo sat across from each other, crosslegged on Barazo’s office floor. Some of the trash had been pushed aside to make room for them.

“Mmm, I didn’t get it either at first,” Sukuyo said, smiling sympathetically as she reached over to hold Mako’s hand.

“Just start again! I’ll pay extra attention this time,” Mako’s earnest enthusiasm and passionate cheek slaps got a giggle out of Sukuyo.

“Promise?” Sukuyo wagged a finger, a teasing admonishment.

Mako nodded, and traced an X over her heart, “Cross my heart and hope to-”

Sukuyo’s grip on Mako’s hand turned to steel for an instant, halting the words before they came. Mako bit her lower lip as both of their gazes turned down.

“Please don’t say it,” Sukuyo murmured.

“Mom?” Mako patted Sukuyo’s hand, putting on a brave smile, “It’ll be fine! As long as I’m with Ryuko and the others, everything’ll work out just fine!”

Sukuyo took a moment to heave a sigh before turning her golden brown eyes upwards again. It might have been a trick of the light, but Mako could have sworn Sukuyo’s eyes were brighter than normal.

“From the beginning then-” Sukuyo began, stopping when she saw Mako’s head already starting to droop. She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “It… would be easier to show you, I suppose. Like mother like daughter!” Sukuyo laughed warmly.

“I’m sorry!”

Sukuyo waved her hand, shaking her head with a smile, “Oh, no not at all dear! This is how I learned, and my mother too. If anything, it’s a good sign. You’re a Mankanshoku after all! Now, close your eyes, hold your hands like this.”

Sukuyo rested her hands on her knees, palms facing up, a pose Mako copied before closing her eyes. She clasped her hands together, a golden light radiating from them and filling the room. Eyes shut, Sukuyo separated her hands, golden orbs hovering just below them. She set them in Mako’s waiting hands, where the orbs sat a moment before sinking. The glow faded slowly, soon leaving Sukuyo in front of Mako. She was breathing peacefully, and appeared to be sleeping. Sukuyo knew full well the trial Mako was about to face, despite the peaceful expression.

“Good luck, dear.”

Mako awoke with a gasp, sitting bolt upright and panting.She looked around as she caught her breath, eyes wide. She found herself in what was once a pristinely kept stone garden, extending as far as she could see. The colors were subdued, as if a grey sheet hung in front of Mako’s eyes. She stood, looking at the stone structures overwhelmed by nature. Above, the sky was ashen grey.

“What in the world…” she murmured, and started walking.

She made her way across the massive garden, passing ruined fountains and various collapsed stone buildings. There were brightly colored flowers scattered around, their vibrance undisturbed by whatever muted the rest of the world’s color. She hoisted herself onto a large rectangular slab, casting an elevated eye around once more. It was the same as far as she could see. Stone ruins, reclaimed by nature, with vivid flowers punctuating the ashen landscape. Her eyes were suddenly drawn to a column of light, one she was sure wasn’t in the place she’d just been looking. It pierced the clouds above, its base a large dome. Mako made it her destination, hopping down with a gentle “Hup!”

As the dome came into focus, she saw that it was covered in images. Pristinely kept portraits of huntresses, paintings of them at rest or in action. They were all wreathed in a golden aura, from which the monsters they faced cowered. She circled the dome, finding more of the same. Halfway through her circuit, the images began to change, progressing through the battles they depicted. In each, the huntresses were victorious, their foes banished or beaten. Mako froze when she reached her starting place and saw the portrait smiling down at her. It was her mother. She looked younger, and wore set of light armor, but there was no mistaking her.

“Welcome, young Mankanshoku,” came a male voice suddenly, seeming to emanate from the dome and fill the land.

Mako took an instinctive step back, on edge and reaching for a weapon. Finding none of her usual arsenal, she raised her fists and demanded, “Who’s there?”

The voice sighed, “One of these days, one of you will understand before you come here…”

Mako lowered her fists, noticing the column of light pulsed and dimmed with each word.

“Ah, yes, you’ve noticed me.”

“You’ve got no body!” she declared, pointing up at the light. “People with no bodies can’t talk!”

“I… What? Just listen, young Mankanshoku. I am what Sukuyo tried explaining. She, like her mother, and her mother, and her mother, and so on, has left the work to me. No matter, like mother like daughter, as they say hm?”

Mako simply stared. “What are you?”

“A relic of a forgotten age, when magic and sorcery ruled the land. I was torn from my home by your ancestor, young Mankan- Ah, don’t make that face, she explained her reasons and I chose to stay.”

Mako’s frown shrank, but just a little. “So you’re some kind of spirit passed down in my family?”

“That is correct.”

“And you can give me power?”

“Correct. Ah, well, somewhat. There are terms, certain conditions, a contract to cover, a kind of ah… payment plan? Rather than money for a house, I’ll steadily give you more and more-”

“Forget that!” Mako interrupted, swiping a hand through the air sharply.

“Oh?”

“I’ve gotta get strong now . Ryuko, and Satsuki, and Nonon, they all need me. They’re going to be fighting some of the strongest people in the world and I can’t,” Mako paused, clenching her fist, “I can’t get left behind, I won’t . They’re too important to me.” She pointed at the light again, tears welling in her eyes, “So stuff your contract, Mr. Spirit, I’ll be taking your power!”

There was a long silence, and Mako felt the light regarding her. It laughed suddenly and heartily.

“Good, good! You Mankanshokus are a ceaseless wonder. I didn’t even need to tell you that was an option, and you were going to do it anyway, hm?”

Mako lowered her hand, and tilted her head, “Huh?”

“Cover your eyes.”

Mako obeyed as the light flashed brilliantly. She felt its intense heat, lowering her arm as it faded. Before her stood a golden suit of armor inhabited by what seemed to be a twisting mass of energy. It stood at six feet a short distance away. Its gauntleted hands rested on either side of the zweihander stabbed partially into the ground before it.

“Your instinct was correct, young Mankanshoku, no, Mako. You can attempt to take my power if that is your wish. All of my power.”

“Attempt?” Mako frowned.

The armor nodded, and continued. “I will test you in combat. Your body may be unable to handle all of my power at once. One of your ancestors nearly died, so I’ve since used this trial to ensure that will not happen again. If you are successful, my power is yours.”

“And if I’m not?”

“Truthfully, you may die. My power may overwhelm you completely, burning you from the inside out.”

Mako gulped.

“I see your resolve hasn’t wavered. Good. Shall we proceed?”

“Yes,” Mako sank into a loose stance, ready to attack or defend. She flexed her hands in preparation, knuckles cracking.

The armor hefted the sword, leveling it towards the huntress. “I ask once more, young Mako. This is your final chance to back down. I will think no less of you.”

Mako shook her head, resolute. “I’m doing this. For Ryuko, Satsuki, and Nonon, and everyone else in the whole world. I could never face them if I backed down from this,” she made to point again, golden light following her hand and coalescing into a sword. She looked at the hovering blade of light for a moment before grasping the handle. Power surged up her arm, coursing through her body. Gold shone behind her brown eyes.

The armor nodded, and assumed its stance, “Fight well, Mako.”

With that, their battle was joined, the armor streaking towards Mako with blistering speed. She blocked its overhand swing, free hand against the flat of her blade. A golden shockwave radiated from the impact. Her knees shook under the weight, but she didn’t buckle. She gritted her teeth, and shoved back.

“Good, good!” the armor’s voice boomed as Mako took the opening in its guard to score its breastplate twice before retreating.

It charged again, with the same burst of speed closing the distance in half a breath. Mako ducked under its swing, springing up and spinning to deliver a kick. Her hasty aim proved true, her boot striking the back of its armored fist and driving the sword into the ground. She thrusted at a chink in the armor, driving the blade home through the mass of light at the elbow. The armor’s sluggish backhand was easy to avoid, and Mako relentlessly seized the additional opening. She lunged for the armor’s head, pulling herself up it’s torso with one hand. Her fist sent the helmet flying, and she clambered up to its shoulders.

“Give it up, dammit!” she shouted, pulling her hand back.

She plunged her hand into the spirit’s body, wrapping her hand around a solid orb. It burned at first, the writhing mass of energy attempting to push her back. She was resolute, not flinching as golden tendrils sprouted from every opening in the armor to attempt to pull her off. They lashed at her back, wrapped around her limbs and pulled with all their might, but Mako would not be deterred.

“This…” she gritted her teeth, “Is nothing.”

The tendrils didn’t rip through her clothing as she thought, but she felt them searing her skin, and the smell of cooked blood met her nostrils. With a final shout and a titanic effort, she ripped the apparent core from the armor. Immediately, the tendrils withered, the light dissipating from the armor as the suit itself fell to its knees, lifeless. Mako fell onto her back, panting with her prize burning in her right hand. She lifted it to stare at the golden orb, a sun in the palm of her hand. It pulsed as it spoke.

“Admirably done, dear Mako. You have passed, and my power is yours.”

Before her eyes, the orb began to dissolve into motes of light. They swirled around Mako’s arm, and lifted her to her feet gently. The spiraled around her quickly, a veritable tornado of light. As it spun higher and higher, the voice spoke.

“I know some of what you will face, dear Mako. Face the future with the resolve you displayed here, and you will have no reason to fear. For I, Junketsu, am at your side. Close your eyes, Mako.”

Mako smiled, and did so. In front of her, the light coalesced into a human figure roughly her size. It stepped forward, vanishing when it met Mako’s body with its radiant light.

She opened her eyes, and found herself sitting on her father’s office floor, her mother sitting across from her. Sukuyo’s brown eyes lit up at the gold shining in Mako’s, and she threw her arms around her daughter.

“That’s my girl! And so fast! Junketsu didn’t give you any trouble did he?”  

“Tell her I never give anyone trouble they don’t deserve,” Junketsu’s voice filled Mako’s mind.

Sukuyo saw the shock on Mako’s face, and tut-tutted . “Ah, yes, you’ll get used to that.”

Mako stared down at her hands for a moment, clenching and unclenching them a few times. She could already feel whatever power Junketsu gave her coursing through her limbs. She looked at her mother with a broad smile, and shook her head.

“No trouble at all! If it’s to protect the ones I love, nothing’s gonna stop me!”

“A good answer,” Junketsu laughed lightly.

“That’s my girl,” Sukuyo gave a happy sigh. “Let me make you something to eat, you must be tired after that.”

As soon as she said the words, Mako felt the ordeal catch up to her, draining her completely. She pitched over, curled into a ball, and fell asleep. Sukuyo covered her mouth to laugh, and left her daughter to rest. She had earned it.