Chapter 1: Homecoming
The nice thing about having a ridiculously high paying job is the ability to do things like book a private jet. Especially convenient when your flight is eleven hours directly into the direction of the rising sun and you happen to have a mildly inconvenient aversion to sunlight. Even nicer when you're spending your flight pinned to a couch by your boss. One hand gripped the edge of the couch as Shiki’s hand slid up his back to grip the back of his neck, pressing him down against the couch.
“I’ve never been fucked in a private jet.” The raven purred, making a pleased noise as Shiki’s grip on his hip tightened. Shiki pressed in and Izaya shuddered at the feeling, panting at the initial discomfort. Once he’d sunk his cock balls deep in the raven, Shiki paused to watch Izaya tremble beneath him.
“You’ve been fucked on a regular flight?” Shiki replied with amusement as he began to move, his thrusts slow but rough. Izaya closed his eyes, panting at the feeling.
“Well no…” He replied as he shifted back against Shiki impatiently which did nothing to encourage the executive to pick up his pace. Shiki continued at his own pace, dragging his nails across the pale expanse of Izaya’s back, watching the red lines vanish as fast as they appeared. Izaya shivered at the feeling, muffling a moan at the teasing sensation, enough to spark the hint of pain but no more. “Harder.”
Shiki responded by increasing the speed of his thrusts, drawing a grunt from Izaya. "I wonder if immortality will teach you patience." He replied with amusement as he slid a hand up along Izaya's chest, pulling the raven up. The other hand slid down to grip the raven’s cock, drawing out a groan as he began to stroke it slowly.
“I’m not- Ahhh-” Izaya was forced to pause his words as Shiki bit his shoulder. “ Impatient. You’re just a sadist.”
“I don’t think taking my time qualifies as sadistic ,” Shiki replied, watching the bite mark also begin to fade. “It’s a shame we don’t have more time…” He mused as Izaya groaned.
“ Haruya! ” Izaya slid his hand over the one pressed against his chest, lacing his fingers between the executive’s.
“You really do heal fast.” Shiki continued, smirking at Izaya’s whine of complaint. “If I had more time, I could explore just what it would take to mark you up.”
Far too tempting a thought, as if Izaya wasn’t being teased enough by Shiki’s firm grip and slow thrusts. He drew Shiki’s hand up, pressing his lips to the palm of the other’s hand. “Let me give you something else instead.” He murmured.
Shiki let his thumb trace over Izaya’s lips then pulled away. “Hoping your bite will motivate me to give you what you want?” He asked as he turned the raven to the side, leaning over him.
Izaya lifted his legs as Shiki once again pressed inside him, the change in angle drawing Shiki’s forceful thrusts over his prostate. He slid his arms around Shiki’s neck as the other’s hands slid up his thighs, pressing them apart. “Didn’t it feel good?” He purred, gazing up at Shiki with desire.
“Too good.” He watched Izaya’s lips part, soft moans escaping as he continued to thrust up against that spot. “I don’t need a mystical aphrodisiac to enjoy fucking you, Izaya.”
“But I want to…” The raven whined. “ Please , Haruya…”
Shiki couldn’t help but be a bit amused at the raven at that moment. Izaya could easily overpower him, could easily bite him if he wanted to. Or use that odd bewitching power. Yet he didn’t; he asked and he waited and he respected Shiki’s choice. “So needy.” He teased the raven, leaning in to give Izaya access to his neck. “Go ahead.”
Izaya smirked, his grip on Shiki tightening as he leaned into the offered line of flesh, biting down without hesitation. Once again Shiki felt only the briefest moment of sharp pain before his body was flooded with pleasure. He began to thrust faster, hand sliding up over Izaya’s cock again as the raven lifted his hips in response.
"Ahhh Haruya! ” Izaya moaned, breaking away from the other’s neck. He let his head fall back against the couch, moaning as Shiki drove him toward release with rough thrusts and persistent strokes. Shiki could still feel the effects of the bite in him even after Izaya had drawn back, a feeling of hypersensitivity to the pleasure, making each thrust into Izaya’s tightness that much more intense. It definitely made it harder to hold back as Izaya grew closer to his release, muscles tightening even more. The raven let out a shudder and a cry as he came, hips jerking as Shiki’s rough thrusts continued to punish his insides, the executive quickening his pace in response. It wasn’t long before Shiki was also shuddering through an intense release, pressed deep inside the raven, panting softly.
As the immediate rush wore off, Shiki drew back, the feel of something warm and wet running down his neck drawing his attention. His fingers came away red and he pressed them to Izaya’s lips. The raven opened his eyes as he sucked on Shiki’s fingers, eyeing the executive with amusement. “Mmm.” He leaned in to draw his tongue along the trail of blood and over the wound he had made. “Sorry.”
Shiki snorted at the sated raven, pulling back to settle on the couch beside him. “Go clean up. We land in about an hour.”
“Yes sir,” Izaya replied with a mocking smirk as he lazily forced himself off the couch, collecting his clothes and disappearing into the bathroom. Once he was finished, Shiki did the same and soon enough the plane was descending into Narita Airport. Izaya stared out the window at the bright lights of Tokyo, smiling fondly at his home. “Hello, Tokyo. I’ve missed you.” He murmured, earning an amused look from Shiki.
“I don’t think she missed you.”
“Ouch.” Izaya retorted with a laugh.
As they made their way from the gates to the exit they were intercepted by a young man holding a sign with Orihara on it. Shiki and Izaya exchanged a look then Izaya turned to the young man with a false smile. “My apologies but we’ve made other arrangements for transportation.” He told the young man before continuing past.
The young man grabbed for his arm but Izaya dodged it easily, turning to stare coldly. “Please, Orihara-san, my employer was most insistent.”
“Unfortunate for your employer. He can make an appointment.” Izaya replied.
“It’s very important that he talk to you before you return to Shinjuku.”
Shiki arched a brow. “Who is your employer?”
“Yodogiri Jinnai.” The young man replied. Shiki and Izaya exchanged another look.
"Ahhh, right, lead the way.” They followed the young man out to a black sedan-style limo. “Spare no expense?” Izaya commented as the young man opened the door for them. Izaya peered inside to see that there were two people in the car already, arching a brow as he slid in. Shiki followed and the young man closed the door then moved around to the driver’s seat.
An older man, looking to be in his forties and a young brunette woman with glasses and an apathetic expression sat across from them. Izaya’s gaze shifted between the two, narrowing as he smirked at them.
“Yodogiri Jinnai. How nice to finally meet you in person.” He spoke with false sincerity, addressing the older man while keeping his eyes on the woman. “It’s always nice to meet a rival. Though I suppose in my absence, you’ve snatched up my clients?”
“Indeed, your absence from Tokyo has been very profitable for me.” Jinnai agreed. “This is my secretary, Kujiragi Kasane.”
“Yes, I know who she is,” Izaya replied. “If you’re concerned that I’m returning, I assure you this is merely a vacation.”
“Your return is not a concern to the business, Orihara,” Kasane answered and Izaya smirked. “Rather, your return is going to cause different problems for me.”
“Indeed. Word travels very fast it seems. I haven’t had time to do in-depth research but, as I understand it, Kujiragi, you’re too human to be representative of your kind.”
“I don’t represent the Kuei-jin. Only my own interests. It’s in my best interests for you to get back on your plane and go back to L.A. before they find out about you. Why did you do it?”
“Do what, exactly?” Izaya replied with a smirk. “Become a god?” He noticed the side eye Shiki was giving him at that claim but that just amused him even more.
“Release a god,” Kasane replied, giving Izaya an irritated look. “I couldn’t care less that you’ve traded your soul for immortality.”
“Release a god?” Izaya gave Kasane a confused look. “Not sure what you’re referring to, if not my recent transformation.”
“Playing ignorant does not work in your favour, Orihara. There are powerful people who know what you did, avatar of Mikaboshi.”
"Avatar?" Izaya's brows arched up and his grin was pure amusement. "Of the God of primordial chaos? Me?" He smirked at Kasane. "You must be mistaken. Do I seem particularly religious? Or holy?"
"It doesn't matter what you think, Orihara. Your actions set this in motion and it's interfering with my personal plans."
"And leaving Tokyo will solve your problem?"
"If you aren't here, you can't be used as a pawn." She answered matter-of-factly.
Izaya's eyes narrowed dangerously. "I am no one's pawn, dhampir. Not of gods, or Kindred, or fairies, or any other thing that might try to manipulate me." There was ice in his tone as he sneered at Kasane.
Shiki shifted slightly at Izaya's surprising show of emotion, leaning into the raven. "Kujiragi-san, perhaps a bit more information is in order if you wish us to understand the situation." He interrupted smoothly, drawing the woman's attention away from Izaya.
"Mikaboshi's imprisonment wasn't accomplished by those Kindred vampires. It was accomplished by-”
“The fae. I know.” Izaya interrupted Kasane, dropping all pretense of ignorance. “Those Kindred merely meddled with something they shouldn’t have. With the help of some new friends, I also learned that the fae who did the binding weren’t locals. Three yosei from Japan were sent to help contain the chaos that had been unleashed on Los Angeles.”
“You know more than I thought. I was under the impression that the fae avoid your kind.”
“They do,” Izaya replied with a smirk. “I happen to be very good at making friends.”
“Very well,” Kasane replied, brows arched together in a frown. “I will provide some information I know you don’t have. This isn’t the first time Mikaboshi has been imprisoned. In fact, he was imprisoned when those vampires in Los Angeles tried to summon him. There is an organization whose goal is to bring harmony to the world and it was they who imprisoned the god some centuries ago in order to diminish his influence on the world.”
“So, why don’t they just attempt to imprison him again?” Izaya replied with a shrug. “I’m not going to stand in their way if that’s what you think.”
“They need you in order to do that. As the god’s avatar.”
“I’m not his avatar. I don’t know why you seem to think that.” He replied with a frown. “Or why you would warn me of this group. Wouldn’t it benefit you to simply sell me to them?”
“I did receive an offer along those lines from them.” She replied with a slight nod of her head. “However, knowing what I do about them, it is not in my best interests to help them as their organization is quite opposed to my business and my existence. They are not currently aware of my nature but working with them would be more risk than I’m willing to engage.”
“Well, I appreciate the warning, as self-motivated as it is,” Izaya replied with a smirk. “Does this organization have a name?”
“They call themselves the Wu Lung. They are not many but they are powerful. The Kuei-jin do not like dealing with them, though I don’t advise you look for help in that arena. They do not like dealing with your kind either.”
“I see. And you think me leaving Tokyo is the solution to this problem?”
“Certainly the fastest and least likely to affect me,” Kasane replied as the car pulled to a stop. Izaya glanced out the window to see his Shinjuku apartment building. He couldn’t help but to smile. “If I thought killing you would be more expedient, I would have arranged it.” The dhampir added and Izaya knew she wasn’t lying. “However, accounting for both the effort to arrange your death and the attention it would draw from other supernatural elements, I am forced to admit that you are less costly to me alive.”
"Well. You’ve given me something to think about, Kujiragi-chan.” Izaya replied as he opened the car door. “I can’t return to Los Angeles yet but I’ll do my best to keep out of your way while I’m here. As repayment for the warning.” She gave him a nod as he got out of the car and Shiki followed. As soon as they’d collected their luggage from the trunk, the car pulled away, leaving Izaya staring up at the building fondly.
“Let’s hope your secretary did the dusting,” Shiki observed, walking toward the entrance.
Izaya laughed at that. “Doubtful. This is Namie we’re talking about. I’ll consider myself lucky if she’s even checked on the place once.”
“Remind me why you keep employing her?”
“Because it’s amusing. I’m waiting for the day she finally just gives up all pretense of working for me and tries to betray me to someone.”
Shiki arched a brow. “Charming rational.”
“She also makes a very good pot of curry,” Izaya added as an afterthought. “And her scientific expertise is occasionally useful.”
“And yet she never poisoned you. Surprising.”
“She is dependent on her paycheque. Getting other work but still being able to stay close to her brother would be difficult for her. The dead can’t sign paycheques.”
“They can now.” Shiki pointed out and Izaya snickered.
“No need to let her know that.” The door swung open on his spacious apartment, the city light from his floor to ceiling windows giving it an eerie illumination. Dust covers had been placed on the furniture and many of his bookshelves lay bare since he’d put the files in storage for safe keeping. He turned on the lights and the abandoned feel of his once-favourite apartment was that much more apparent. “Hmm. Maybe I should have gone home with you.” He gave Shiki a grin as he traded his shoes for slippers, leaving the suitcase in the entryway.
“Yes, I’m sure that would have gone over well,” Shiki replied with a snort. “What are you going to do about the windows?”
“Call someone and get shudders installed, I suppose,” Izaya replied as he carefully pulled the dust covers off the furniture. “Can you lend me an errand boy for day work?”
“I’ll see who I can trust to send over once I’ve visited the office,” Shiki replied as he also traded his shoes for slippers, contemplating Izaya’s ridiculous choice in guest slippers. “It might be a couple of days though.”
“It’s fine, I’ll just have to limit my day-work to my room until the shudders are installed. What do you think of what Kujiragi had to say?”
Shiki had taken a clean dishcloth from a kitchen drawer and wet it, wiping down the counters. “What’s a dhampir?” He answered with a question as he continued to clean up the layer of dust that turned out to be lighter than he expected. Someone had been keeping the place at least somewhat clean.
“Weeeell.” Izaya flopped on the uncovered leather couch, staring up at the ceiling. “I don’t know a lot, to be honest. I was bluffing a bit in the car. What I did manage to learn was that there is a different type of vampire from the Kindred. They call themselves the Kuei-jin and instead of being granted immortal life and bloodlust from a sire they are souls who were condemned to some sort of hell and had to claw their way back to their bodies.”
“And these are the vampires that exist in Japan?” Shiki left the towel on the counter and moved to join Izaya in the living room.
“Yep. I know they have a court-like organization but how it works, not a clue. They hate Kindred and have a general policy of killing them if the opportunity arises. So, these vampires don’t exactly drink blood like Kindred. They need chi - life energy - to survive and the easiest way to get that is through the blood. So the youngest among them drink blood but I’ve heard the older ones can steal it from a mortal’s breath. Since these vampires are physiologically different, they are capable of different things. One of which is having children.”
Izaya looked at him and grinned. “Indeed. Kujiragi is a dhampir. She had a vampire parent. I’d actually had suspicions about her before I left for Los Angeles but couldn’t quite put it together. Learning about the Kuei-jin, what little I was able to, anyway, helped the pieces fall together.”
“I see. Do dhampirs drink blood as well?”
“I’m not entirely sure. There isn’t a lot known about them even in the east. Their existence is treated as either a risk or monstrous depending on the sources. Which would explain why Kujiragi doesn’t associate with the Kuei-jin.”
“Makes sense. I neither doubt her motives or her willingness to try to kill you should you become a problem to her. The rest is all in the realm of things I don’t entirely understand. What is apparent, though, is that there are people who know more about this god who touched you and that is what you came for. And if there are unfriendly people with that knowledge, it stands to reason there will be a faction of some sort who are their enemies.”
“Yes, that’s what I was thinking as well. What do you think of these Wu Lung? Chinese in Tokyo? Powerful enough that Kujiragi is concerned by them? I’ve never even heard of them.”
“The name doesn’t mean anything to me, either. I would suspect syndicate but with her description of their desire to create order, it doesn’t fit.”
“Yes, I suspect I’ll need to look at it from a religious angle instead. Maybe look into Buddhist organizations.”
“No, my understanding of Shinto makes it highly unlikely for a Shinto order to try to imprison any kami much less one as theoretically important to the balance as the god of primordial chaos. Shinto has never been about right or wrong, only about the natural order of things, and Mikaboshi is necessary.”
“Then perhaps that might be where you could look for allies.”
“It’s a thought, yes. The other thing I need to do is get in contact with a couple of local Kindred. It took me a couple of favours, but I managed to find out that there are Kindred here, though they lay very low to survive.”
“Are you going to be capable of laying low?” Shiki responded, giving the raven an amused look.
“I don’t really have a choice,” Izaya replied with a shrug. “I managed to keep my head down in Los Angeles.”
“Is that what you call fighting a giant monster vampire in the streets?”
“Hey!” Izaya protested, sitting up to look at Shiki. “That wasn’t my fault.”
Shiki just gave Izaya an amused smile. “And the hotel?”
“Still not my fault. Blame Heiwajima for that whole mess. Besides, I don’t think you have any right to criticize me. You burned down a nightclub.”
“I’m not the one who has to lay low. Izaya, are you sure you aren’t going to need more help with this? If what Kujiragi implied is true, it’s just you against a bunch of supernaturals.”
Izaya gave Shiki a delighted grin. “Ah, but isn’t that how it’s always been?” He replied with a shrug. “But now, I have a few more tricks and a lot more knowledge.”
“As fearless as ever,” Shiki replied with a shake of his head. “I’ll do what I can to support you but I have limits to what I can do while we’re here.”
“I know, you’ll actually have to deal with Mikiya. I can also call on Shinra and Celty so I’m not completely alone.”
“True. I’ll send some people to watch your apartment. If Kujiragi knows you’re back, I’m sure it won’t be long before you have more visitors.”
Izaya frowned at this but it was clear in Shiki’s expression that he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. “Just the apartment.”
“Just the apartment.” Shiki agreed. “If you need a driver, you can use one of them.”
Izaya nodded, turning his eyes to the skyline. “Not exactly the homecoming I was expecting.”
“Not at all.”
Chapter 2: Santa Monica
Sorry to have ignored this one for so long. Shadow and Light kind of took my muse hostage... But I'm going to try to be a bit more regular with updates here going forward.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
~Santa Monica - Awakusu Kai HQ~
Akabayashi sat at his desk, eyeing the stack of paperwork with disgust. He'd much rather be dealing with Mikiya than working his way through real estate contracts and profit statements. He had to admit, though, that Izaya's acquisition gave the Awakusu a significant boost in profit and power. With Santa Monica under their control, they had completely entrenched themselves in L.A.'s underworld.
There were pros to living in LA over Tokyo. Originally, there had been less freaky shit - at least until Orihara decided to dig up the dead. It was a lot easier to get away with beating the shit out of people, among other crimes, for example. He'd been enjoying the impromptu vacation, not that he wasn't aware of the cons. They were pretty big ones, after all. Drugs were everywhere . That the Awakusu didn't deal in drugs was considered strange here. Guns were another problem. Guns were great when you were the one holding one but here everyone had a gun and when the guns come out at negotiations, people die. Maybe watching Izaya get stabbed and healing it up like it was nothing was too much of a reminder of his own mortality. Maybe he was getting old.
The biggest con of living in L.A. was the damn heat. He'd rather face down a whole gang armed with guns than wear a suit in this god damned weather. Which was why he was currently wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts as he procrastinated on the paperwork in front of him. If Shiki was there to see it, he'd have been sitting through a lecture right now but Shiki was busy babysitting his informant-turned-vampire so Akabayashi had free reign of the office.
"Hey Akabayashi, where's the coffee creamer?" Well, almost free reign.
"Do I look like a secretary?" Akabayashi responded to Aozaki, arching a brow at the other executive. "Ask Rin-chan."
"She's uh…" Aozaki looked uncomfortable. "She's upset about something."
"So I asked her if we had any creamer and she proceeded to burst into tears and throw a stapler at me."
"And you just left her to cry so you could ask me about the creamer?"
Aozaki looked more uncomfortable. "She was crying. I never know what to do when girls cry."
"No wonder you still don't have a wife," Akabayashi commented with a shake of his head. He got up and headed to the front desk where Rin was sitting, sniffling quietly. Aozaki followed behind. "Rin-chan, what's wrong?"
As soon as Akabayashi spoke, Rin burst into tears again. "It's that stupid Izaya's fault!" The two executives exchanged a look.
"What'd that little shit do now?" Aozaki demanded. "Do I need to kick his scrawny ass for you?"
"He- he- He went to Tokyooooo!" She wailed.
"OK, yeah, but he'll be back in a month or two…" Akabayashi attempted to console her, rubbing her back gently.
"That's not the point!" She insisted. "If he hadn't run off and left me here, I wouldn't have asked my fiance to watch over him."
"What does your fiance have to do with this…?" Aozaki asked, confused.
"This sounds convoluted." Akabayashi sighed and pulled up a chair. "All right, sweetie. Start from the beginning."
Rin sniffled a bit, wiping her eyes with a tissue. "I wanted to go back to Tokyo with Izaya but he told me to stay here and make sure the office doesn't fall apart while he and Shiki are gone."
"So much faith in us." Akabayashi snorted.
"I was worried about him. His interaction with Mikaboshi marked him and other supernaturals will see it. And he's still in denial about what happened with Abdiel. I called my fiance and asked him to watch over Izaya while he's in Tokyo."
"But he wanted to know why so I had to tell him the whole story. And then- then he-" She began to get choked up again. "He yelled at meeee!" A fresh round of tears followed and though he felt badly for Rin, he was somewhat amused that this girl who had faced down all sorts of shady and threatening men as their secretary, many of which had yelled at her, was sobbing because her fiance, a bookish scholar who worked at a University in Tokyo, had yelled at her. He continued to rub her back gently as she fought through another round of tears.
"Why did he yell at you, Rin?" He encouraged once she'd managed to get her tears under control.
"He said I had no business helping a vampire and- and that it was an embarrassment to our clan. He refused to have anything to do with Izaya and he told me that I should apologize to Inoue-san for involving him. And after lecturing me he told me that I should come home and stop associating with you all because clearly you’d just drag me into trouble."
"I see." Akabayashi frowned. "Well, I can see why you'd be upset, Rin."
"That's not the worst part." She said quietly. "I told him no. I told him that I liked you all and that I was staying and that if he didn't like it, he could go fuck himself."
Akabayashi and Aozaki exchanged a glance. That sounded more like their secretary. "And what did he say?" Akabayashi asked.
"I don't know… I hung up on him…" She admitted. "But he hasn't called me back! What if he doesn't want me anymore because I chose to work with all of you?"
"Maybe he just needs time to think about it, Rin. He's probably just scared for your safety. I don't think he's going to just abandon you over this."
"But if he does, I'll pay him a personal visit," Aozaki added, cracking his knuckles.
Aozaki's threat drew a small smile to Rin's lips. "Aozaki-san, he's a kitsune like me." She pointed out.
"So?" He replied, either missing the warning or ignoring it. "Doesn't mean he can break your heart and get away with it."
"Give him some time, Rin. If he doesn't call in a day or two then call him back." Akabayashi advised.
"Yeah… OK." She replied with a nod. "Aozaki-san… I'm sorry but I forgot to pick up creamer." She admitted. "I'll go get some now."
"No need to worry about it, Rin," Aozaki assured her.
"It's fine. I need to focus on work. I shouldn't be letting this distract me. I'll just go freshen up." She rose and disappeared into the washroom.
"I wonder why all these supernaturals don't like each other." Akabayashi mused.
"Supernatural racism?" Aozaki replied with a shrug.
"A surprisingly intelligent suggestion."
"Surprisingly?" Aozaki grumbled. " I’m surprised you didn’t think of it yourself, smartass.”
“Is there anything I can get for you while I’m out?” Rin asked, returning from the bathroom after having washed her face and fixed her makeup.
“Can you grab me some lunch on your way back?” Akabayashi asked with a grin.
“I’m good, thanks,” Aozaki replied.
Rin nodded to them then headed out the door to run her errands.
~Long Beach - Fred's Diner~
Fred’s Diner was exactly the sort of place that you would expect a diner to look like if your only experience with diners happened to be Hollywood movies. It was an intentional choice on the part of the owner’s, an obvious tourist trap. Everything about the place was mediocre with the exception of the pie. The pie was phenomenal, or so every tourist magazine liked to say. The thing about pie, though, is that as long as you make it right, there’s really no such thing as bad pie. The trick was that Fred’s didn’t serve pies that had been sitting in a little glass case all day. Their pies were always baked fresh to order. So what came to your table once you’d finished shovelling mediocre burgers and fries into your mouth, was a slice of fresh out of the oven, spice-scented, mouth-watering fruit pie.
“Shizzy.” Isabelle’s bubbly valley girl voice interrupted his thoughts. “That’s your third piece of pie.”
“It’s good pie.” He responded, sinking his fork into the flaky crust and taking a bite of the strawberry rhubarb pie with a smile.
“Sure but three pieces? You’re like a teen girl who just got dumped.”
Shizuo’s face fell at the comparison and Isabelle raised a brow.
“Oh god you’re not actually feeling that way, are you?”
“No.” He denied immediately but Shizuo really wasn’t a very good liar.
“Oh Shizzy, you went and got attached, didn’t you?” She shook her head in disappointment. “Didn’t I tell you not to get attached?”
“No?” Shizuo replied, confused. “In fact, you’re the one who told me to work with him.”
“I didn’t mean this situation in specific. Back when we first met. I told you that, in our world, attachments are dangerous and that if you wanted to protect yourself, you needed to guard your heart.”
“What does that have to do with this?” He asked with a frown.
“He’s one of us, too. When I suggested you work with him, I just thought maybe you’d find a middle ground. Maybe relieve some of that pent up aggression in the bedroom instead of the streets. I didn’t think you’d actually fall for him.”
“I didn’t!” Shizuo protested with a growl. “I just wanted to protect him but he threw it back in my face.”
“Shizzy, darling, Izzy’s a big boy. He was probably offended that you thought he needed protecting. Especially since you were the one who rescued him from his sire. He’s kind of proud, you know? And his pride’s probably hurting right now. To have his archnemesis offer to protect him? That’s just rubbing salt in his psychological wounds.”
“What’s wrong with needing help? Everyone needs help sometimes. He didn’t have to be such an ass about it.”
Isabelle snorted. “Yes, because knowing you, I’m sure you were sooo diplomatic about it.”
“Well, I…” Shizuo sighed. “I don’t know. I guess not but I thought maybe…”
“Well, maybe things had changed between us.”
“Because you managed to work together over the last few months?”
“Well yeah… and we… uh…” Shizuo’s cheeks reddened and Isabelle smirked at him.
“You what?” She teased, though her expression clearly said she knew what he was too embarrassed to give voice to.
“You know what.” He grumbled then shoved another piece of pie in his mouth.
“So you fucked, so what?” Isabelle shook her head again. “I don’t know if you picked up on it, but Izzy kind of just drips sex appeal. But Shizzy, he uses it as a weapon. I don’t think he ascribes the same value to it that you do.”
Shizuo’s brows came together in a frown as he thought about it. “Are you saying Izaya’s a slut?”
“Shizzy don’t be mean.” Isabelle chided him. “I’m saying he separates sexual needs or pleasure from emotional needs and attachments.”
“Oh,” Shizuo replied, still frowning. He hadn’t said it to be mean, it was just the word that came to mind.
“You don’t understand,” Isabelle said with a sigh.
“Not really. How do you not feel emotional when you’re sleeping with someone? I mean, even if you’re not in love, you’d have to like the person.”
Isabelle laughed. “Oh Shizzy, you really are a romantic. Sometimes it’s just about physical pleasure. I don’t think Izaya hates you, just that he’s not attaching more to whatever freaky sex you had than just pleasure.”
“I guess. I mean, he had been sleeping with Shiki and his sire when we slept together.”
“Shiki? Which one of Izzy’s cute mobsters was he?” Isabelle asked, thinking about the yakuza she’d met at the hotel incident.
“White suit.” Shizuo reminded her.
“Ohhhhh that one.” Isabelle’s eyes widened slightly. “I’d let that yakuza daddy bend me over anytime.” Shizuo stared at her for a long moment. Isabelle just grinned back. “I bet he’s positively wicked.”
“Uh… yeah.” Shizuo replied, remembering the night he’d overheard Izaya and Shiki. “I’d rather not think about his sex life, thanks.”
“I would…” Isabelle continued in a teasing tone. “Listen Shizzy, you’re the kind of person who reacts with emotions first. Izaya’s the kind of person who reacts rationally. I don’t want to speak for him, but if I were to make a guess based on what I’ve seen, I’d say it didn’t mean much to him so I think you should treat it that way too. You had fun and you’re not trying to kill each other anymore. Just take it at face value for now. Don’t read too much into it.”
Shizuo sighed again. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m still worried he’s gonna get himself into trouble in Tokyo though.”
“I’m disappointed I won’t be there to see it.” She replied with a chuckle.
Shizuo chuckled as well. “Yeah… When it happens, it’s always a fucking show with him.”
“See? The real problem here is that you’re disappointed you won’t be involved.”
“Oh no, I don’t want to be anywhere near the kind of trouble Izaya stirs up.” Shizuo denied but Isabelle tsked at him.
“No lying Shizzy. You had fun with him, fighting against those Sabbat.”
“Maybe.” Shizuo reluctantly admitted. “But that was the Sabbat and technically not trouble Izaya stirred up.”
“Not originally but you can’t deny that he definitely upped the stakes when he started investigating. I mean, thanks to him, you ended up successfully overthrowing the Prince.”
“That was just a lucky side effect.”
“Was it? I’m not so sure. Izaya’s already playing a long game. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had planned for your confrontation with Remy.”
Shizuo wanted to protest but Isabelle had a point. If anyone here knew just how volatile his temper was, it was Izaya. Had the flea actually expected him to lose it on Remy? Planned for it? It was actually pretty likely. He sighed. “Maybe.” He admitted. “He’s certainly been steps ahead of most of us since he joined the game.”
Isabelle laughed at Shizuo’s observation. “Oh yes, and I have no doubt he will continue to be. If he can come to terms with his issues, that is.”
“Issues? You mean all that shit with his sire?”
“Yeah. Never thought I’d see someone get the better of him the way that piece of shit did. If he comes back…”
“Don’t start a war Shizzy…” Isabelle warned with a laugh.
~Santa Monica - Awakusu Kai HQ~
Rin was on her way back to the office with Akabayashi’s lunch and a bag of assorted office supplies when she was ambushed by Boreus and Zephyrus, Izaya’s newest fans. The twin faeries came up on either side of her, linking her arms with theirs.
“Hello, foxy lady.”
“Hello, lady fox.”
The eerie way they echoed each other was hard to get used to. “Hello Boreus, Zephyrus.” She replied with a slight smile. “What brings you to Santa Monica?”
They spoke at the same time and Rin chuckled.
“Lady fox those are our other names.”
“For the other places.”
“Here you should call us by our mortal names.”
“The names we give the mortals.”
“Oh… my apologies, I didn’t realize you had other names.” She replied. “What shall I call you, then?” The twins beamed delightedly at her.
“I am Adam.” The sister said.
“I am Eve.” The brother added.
They both looked at her expectantly. “Adam and Eve? That’s very clever.” She replied as expected, though she only vaguely understood the reference. Christianity wasn’t really something she knew much about but she was sure Izaya would have laughed in delight at the reference. “I’m sure Izaya would be delighted to hear your mortal names.”
“Is he in Tokyo now?”
“Will he be back soon?”
“I’m not sure. He needs to do research there. He said at least a month, maybe longer.” Both their faces fell. “Don’t worry, he’ll be back as soon as he can be.” She reassured them, amused. “Now why are you needing to see me and the Awakusu.”
We would like to ask for help.”
“But Izaya isn’t here.”
“So we thought we’d ask his friends.”
“They seem like they would like to help.”
“Well… You’re Izaya’s friends so I’m sure they’ll hear you out but…” She frowned, trying to think of how to explain to the seemingly innocent fae that the Awakusu wouldn’t do it for free.
“We will reward them.” They replied in unison.
“We know they prefer to work for rewards.”
“We’ve worked with humans before.”
"Of course.” She didn’t know why she thought they were innocent. No fae she’d ever seen was innocent but the bubbly way they seemed to talk about everything, like children discovering things for the first time, threw her off. “Well, Kazamoto-san is out of the office today but both Aozaki-san and Akabayashi-san are in so you can talk to them.”
“Yaaaay!” They cheered in unison, skipping toward the office and dragging Rin along, trapped between them as she was. Honestly, Izaya attracted the strangest people sometimes, she thought wryly.
As Rin showed the twin faeries into Akabayashi’s office, the redhead looked up, arching a brow. He remembered them from the hotel and later, Izaya’s rescue.
“Good afternoon. You’re Izaya’s fae contacts, yes?”
They giggled in unison. “Friends.”
“I am Adam.”
“And I am Eve.”
They repeated their introduction to Akabayashi but the reference flew over his head. “Nice to meet you.” He replied casually as Rin set his lunch on the desk. “Sorry to tell you, but Izaya’s away right now.”
“They know,” Rin explained. “They were hoping to talk to you.”
“We have a quest for you.”
“A grave quest with a great reward.”
“A job.” Rin translated with a hint of a smile.
“I figured,” Akabayashi replied with a chuckle. “Well, what’s the problem you need to come to the yakuza to solve? Need someone beaten up? Or some smuggling to be done? The Awakusu don’t deal in drugs, so you’re aware.”
“No, no. Nothing like that.”
“Well, maybe a little.”
“It’s our cafe you see.”
“We have an uninvited guest that we cannot get rid of.”
“Not human? I don’t know if we’re really equipped to deal with nonhuman problems.” Akabayashi pointed out.
“Please, one-eyed warrior?”
“We don’t have anyone else we can ask.”
Rin let out a small snicker at the nickname they gave Akabayashi.
“What kind of not human is this uninvited guest?” Akabayashi asked with a sigh.
“But not vampire.”
“Not alive but not vampire? So what, a ghost?”
“Not a ghost.”
“Zombie.” Akabayashi fell silent at this, trying to process the idea that there were also zombies. “I don’t know anything about zombies.”
“Neither do we.”
“Except that some vampires can raise them.”
“So there’s a vampire behind this zombie?” Akabayashi’s frown deepened.
“We haven’t seen one.”
“I can see why you couldn’t just call the police but why come to us?”
“Because you’re Izaya’s friends.”
“And he would know what to do.”
“Izaya might but the rest of us are just humans. We really only know what Izaya’s told us. I don’t remember him talking about vampires who raise zombies.” Akabayashi replied with a sigh. “Let me talk to him then I’ll come by your cafe and see for myself.”
The twins grinned happily at him. “Thank you, one-eyed-warrior! We promise to reward you well!” They bounced out of the office as if Akabayashi had already accepted and he sighed.
“Why do I get the feeling I don’t actually want whatever reward they might offer?” He muttered.
“Because you’re smart enough to be wary of faerie promises, One-Eyed-Warrior-san.” Rin replied with a grin.
“Don’t you start.”
“What? It has a nice ring to it.” She replied with a laugh. “If it makes you feel better, they rarely use anyone’s real names.”
“Can’t wait to hear what nickname they give to Aozaki, then.”
“You really think this is going to work?” Saul Marquette sat across from the large Italian, fingers tapping on the table. “The Awakusu are not idiots and with Izaya’s guidance that redhead took out two vampires on his own.”
“They were babies.” Matteo Giovanni replied. “Besides, we’ve been watching them since they moved into the new office. I’ve got a better idea of what they’re capable of than Jaromir. Abdiel wants me to attack his base of power, so that’s what I’m gonna do. Starting by removing his allies while he’s away and unable to save them.”
“But using zombies? In public? I think that’s too risky. If the Cammies notice-”
“This isn’t Hollywood.” Matteo cut him off. “Santa Monica has always been Independent territory and if they start sniffing around us, we’ll make sure they know they’re not welcome.”
“We don't want a war, Matteo," Saul warned.
"Your little runaway is a Setite, Saul. The Cammies won't go to war over him. Doesn't matter how useful he was. They'll cast him aside like they do anyone who doesn't buy into their pyramid scheme."
"Don't tempt fate. The Sheriff likes him, I've heard."
"So he's a Toreador. They get sentimental. If you're not careful, he'll dive into a fight even if it's politically unsound. He’s got quite the temper, they say.”
“Then we should make sure we take care of this before Abdiel’s childe returns, shouldn’t we?”
Saul sighed and shrugged. He was in disfavour with Abdiel, who had chosen to rely on their Giovanni allies instead of him, so there was nothing more he could do. If the Giovanni drew the ire of the Camarilla down on Santa Monica, he had an escape plan already in place.
~Los Angeles - Tower Theatre~
Louis took his seat at the head of the table, as much as a round table had a head. Rather, it was the chair he sat in that marked his status, a crimson velvet and ermine-trimmed cloak draped across it to signify the Prince’s seat. The seat to his left, for his Seneschal, remained empty as he had not chosen one yet. The seat to his right would normally have been occupied by his Sheriff, but for this meeting, it was only him, and the Primogen - the respective leaders of the clans. This was a political meeting and he knew Shizuo’s attention span when it came to such things. He gazed at the assembled vampires, acknowledging each one with a nod as his eyes swept around the table:
Marion Dumont, Clan Toreador.
Jonathan Evans, Clan Ventrue.
Santiago, Clan Nosferatu.
Jynx, Clan Brujah.
Cyrus, Clan Malkavian.
Cicero, Clan Tremere.
Cristen Ovesen, Clan Gangrel.
These seven had been chosen to represent their clans at the Prince’s table after Louis had declared praxis. Though a Prince's rule was said to be absolute among Kindred, the truth was that any Prince could be overthrown if enough people opposed him. Not every Prince had a Primogen Council but in Louis' experience, it was better to give the clans a voice. If they felt that their views were being considered, they were less likely to rebel, even if they didn't get their way. Allowing the clans to argue with each other over the table was also a good way to keep them focused on each other and not the throne.
"The purpose of this first meeting is to establish the groundwork for the city's new administration," Louis spoke, breaking the silence that had settled over the table when he sat down. "I am glad to see that all the pillar Clans have sent a representative. The positions of Sheriff and Scourge have been determined already, as you all know, but there are several empty seats that I wish to see filled. For starters, Shizuo is in need of deputies. Anyone interested in assisting him should contact him directly."
"Before we start into empty positions, can we talk about Scourge?" Santiago asked with a frown. "Giving this position over to the Anarchs is a bad idea."
"The Anarchs have always been a part of the city. They have always served it well in their own way. They were integral in defeating Jaromir's attack. This is a show of good faith from us. Should they be unable to do the job, they will be replaced."
"I got some people," Jynx spoke up. "For Shizuo to consider."
"Very good, I'll let him know. As well, we have need of a Keeper of Elysium and a Seneschal. I would like to open it up to you, as the representatives of your clans, to put forward candidates for the positions. Please confer with your Clan and have your candidate suggestions ready for the next meeting. The last position I wish to discuss today is Emissary." Louis paused to gauge the reactions. None were surprised though some were clearly in disapproval.
"The Independent Alliance cannot be trusted," Jynx spoke harshly. "Setite and Giovanni getting a say in how we run our city? They're Independent for a reason."
"Because they chose to be." Marion pointed out. "The Followers of Set were once offered a place in the Camarilla and chose not to take it. That does not mean they are our enemies, though."
"There's been a recent influx of corpsefuckers into Santa Monica," Cristen observed. "That doesn't seem like a friendly sign."
"If we had an Emissary, we might already know why those Giovanni have come to town." Jonathan pointed out.
"Whether we trust them or not, it would be better to have an Emissary than to continue to keep them at arm's length. Remy's arrogance in this matter cost us potential allies and information." Louis replied to the various concerns. "And I wish to appoint the new Setite, Izaya, to the position."
"That child?!" Santiago protested. "How can he represent the Independent Alliance when he's only been Kindred for a few months?"
"Because he's extremely intelligent and understands the politics of the situation very well." Louis replied.
"You're just sore that he got the best of you in that mafia scandal." Jynx pointed out with a smirk. "Played by a child, influence stolen from under your nose."
"Besides, would you rather have Abdiel or Matteo sitting at this table?" Marion pointed out. "Izaya seems to at least be favourable toward working with the Camarilla whereas we know Abdiel would only be here to try to play games with us and Matteo's only interest is profit."
"I do not feel that he would be a beneficial presence in our court." Santiago insisted. "He has no respect for the hierarchy of the elders."
"Most of the young ones don't." Cyrus' voice echoed from behind his mask. The Malkavian rarely spoke at these meetings so everyone’s attention shifted to him. "But Izaya is of the seventh generation and learning fast. He may not be old but he is powerful. I would prefer to make him an ally than an enemy."
"I think…" Cristen added with a toothy grin. "That Santiago doesn't want competition. He missed his shot at siring the information broker and now Izaya's in a position to offer the same services his clan does."
"How dare you even imply that some freshly sired snake could possibly have the reach of my entire clan!" Santiago slammed his hands on the table, standing up.
"Decorum." Louis snapped and Santiago sat down reluctantly. "Izaya is the best candidate. He has already proven that he can work with us. Unless you can present another Independent, I think this discussion is closed."
"I wish to make a suggestion regarding Keeper of Elysium," Cyrus spoke once again. "As it is in the best interests of all of us to protect our Elysiums, I would suggest that every clan should put forward a member who will be responsible for helping to keep the Elysiums safe."
Louis gazed at Cyrus as the masked man spoke, nodding. Cyrus had made the same suggestion to Remy years ago but it had been dismissed as untraditional. "I think that is actually an excellent suggestion, however as our traditions dictate, only one may hold the status of the position. If you are willing to discuss with the Harpy some alternative that the position might be shared in a group, then I will consider implementing it." Cyrus nodded his assent, leaning back in his chair. "Then, if no one has any pressing issues?" The primogen were silent. "I shall call this meeting here. Please be prepared to make your reports in a month's time."
Quick reminder lexicon for those who need it:
Camarilla: the largest sect of vampires, members of the Camarilla follow six Traditions, and structure themselves much like feudal monarchies.
Sabbat: a sect of vampires that revere the mythological first vampire, Caine, and revel in their inhuman and monstrous natures; also known as the “Sword of Caine” and the “Church of the Dark Father”.
Anarch Movement: a sect of vampires who reject the social structures of the Camarilla and Sabbat. They are technically part of Camarilla society, but bound to only one Tradition: that of the Masquerade.
The Independent Alliance: a recently formed alliance between the Setites and the Giovanni, small but growing more powerful. In some cities, this Alliance may also extend to other independent clans such as the Ravnos or Assamites.
Camarilla Court Positions:
Prince: The leader of a Camarilla city or small territory
Seneschal is traditionally the Prince’s most trusted assistant, and she speaks for the Prince in her absence.
Primogen speak for their clans during Primogen meetings and at formal court. In modern nights, the Primogen Council acts as an advisory council to the Prince. Traditionally, the Primogen Council is drawn from the most influential member of each pillar clan of the Camarilla.
Harpies are the opinion leaders and the trendsetters to whom other Kindred look when it comes to matters of taste, style, philosophy, or politics. A Harpy’s word influences the domain’s attitudes and can be a powerful supporter of the status quo or a force for insidious change.
The Keeper of Elysium assures that the customs of Elysium are observed, and is a caretaker of sites declared Elysium by a Prince.
The Sheriff is the Prince’s right-hand Kindred, responsible for the physical enforcement of Princely decree.
The Scourge is charged with culling the city of undesirable vampires, specifically those created without the Prince’s permission; often these undesirables include Caitiff and other thin-blooded vampires.
Emissary to the Camarilla: Not everyone at a Camarilla gathering is a member of the sect. Emissaries understand the rules of the Ivory Tower’s political game, use them to best advantage. Perhaps a Giovanni liaison, or a local Setite priest, eager to assist the Camarilla…and capitalize on its internal struggles. (In this case a baby Setite :3)
Elysium: a revered location, usually with great historical or artistic worth, formally designated as a place where vampires can gather in peace. Considered to be neutral territory where no violence is permitted.
A brief note on generation:
The Kindred believe Cain to be the first vampire and all other vampires were sired by him. Each generation of vampires is counted in steps away from Cain. There are thirteen generations. Those sired by a thirteenth generation vampire (the 14th generation) are called thin-bloods and often do not have much, if any vampiric power, as they are too far away from the source. Thin-bloods are often killed for simply existing and generally looked down upon by all other vampires. Izaya is of the seventh generation, which is still quite powerful and considered to be an elder, though having only been sired recently, those vampires who are older, view him as a child regardless of his potential because it takes time to learn the powers of the blood.
Chapter 3: Groundwork
~Shibuya - Meiji Jingu~
Izaya sat on a stone bench beneath the roof of the shrine, making notes on his phone. This was the fifth shrine he’d visited in as many days and none of them could provide him with the information he was seeking on Amatsu Mikaboshi. He was a kami that no one spoke of, no one worshipped. Izaya knew that couldn’t be true, of course. Human nature was such that the kami had to have worshippers but wherever they were hiding, the other shrines either knew nothing or were hiding their existence.
“Orihara-san?” One of the shrine maidens approached him, carrying a small basket.
He raised his eyes, studying the girl silently for a moment before addressing her with a smirk. “Do all miko work at multiple shrines or have I gained myself a stalker?”
She looked down at the basket in her hand in embarrassment. “You ask questions that unsettle the priests. What you seek is not something anyone should seek. If you were of the living, perhaps they would have been less fearful of your motives.”
“Your priests can tell such things at a single glance?” Izaya asked with curiosity, not bothering to deny his nature.
“Excuse me, Orihara-san, but your eyes give you away.”
“My eyes? The colour, you mean?”
“The colour and the way they seem to almost glow when you focus on something.” She nodded then hesitantly moved to sit on the bench beside him. “Why do you seek the god of primordial chaos?”
“I’m looking for answers.”
“Answers the other kami cannot answer?”
“Few still remember Mikaboshi. Those that do, do not remember that there is more to him than death and destruction. How do you know so much?”
Izaya gave the girl an amused look. “Mythology is a hobby of mine.”
“A hobby? I know scholars who study mythology as a career that do not know as much about Mikaboshi as you.” The disbelief in her voice made Izaya laugh.
“They say those who pursue a thing out of passion know far more than those who study it out of necessity ever will. I also studied mythology and folklore in university.”
The shrine maiden studied him quietly for a long moment of silence. Izaya merely gazed back at her passively, waiting for her to continue. “Take this to the Tenso Jinja in Ikebukuro.” She offered him the basket. “Leave it as an offering then wait. The priest will come to you. I hope you find the answers you are seeking, avatar.”
Izaya took the basket and watched the girl walk away, frowning slightly at the title. Whatever the god had done to him that night in the hotel, it was something others could see that he could not and it was unsettling, to say the least. “Tenso Jinja in Ikebukuro… Unsurprising that a shrine to the god of chaos would be hidden in Ikebukuro…” He mused with a quiet chuckle as he left the shrine. “Perhaps I should have started there to begin with.”
~Ikebukuro - Awakusu HQ~
“My apologies Shiki-san but I don’t understand the purpose of this assignment.” The young man standing in front of his desk, Jin Sugawara, was impeccably dressed and perfectly polite. He managed Shiki’s businesses in Tokyo while the executive was working in Los Angeles.
“Orihara needs an assistant who can be discreet,” Shiki replied. “You happen to be the best fit. It is a temporary assignment.”
“Of course sir,” Sugawara replied, though he was still frowning behind his glasses. “But sir, if I may ask, what exactly am I supposed to do for Orihara-san? I am not sure how to apply my skills to this assignment.”
“Orihara will let you know what he needs from you,” Shiki replied with a shrug. The range of tasks Sugawara may find himself doing under the informant was simply too wide to explain to the young man.
“Very well, sir.” Sugawara accepted reluctantly. “I will introduce myself to Orihara-san tomorrow morning.”
“Introduce yourself to him tonight. Orihara isn’t a… morning person.” Shiki replied with a hint of amusement. “Expect to be working evenings for this assignment.”
“Yes, sir.” Sugawara bowed, confusion at the odd assignment quite apparent on his face as he left Shiki’s office.
“You giving Orihara one of our people?” Mikiya asked gruffly as he entered Shiki’s office.
“Yes," Shiki replied flatly. Mikiya was undoubtedly expecting him to provide an explanation but he felt no need to give one. Izaya was his direct subordinate, not Mikiya's and the Awakusu heir had a bad habit of sticking his nose into everything.
"The acquisitions in Santa Monica were quite impressive. How did your informant manage to facilitate such a large acquisition for such a low price?"
"Orihara excels in making the right connections." Shiki offered with a shrug. He was hardly going to tell Mikiya that Izaya swindled a bunch of vampires. "He gained leverage on the businessman who owned the land and bribed the officials to look the other way."
"Guess taking him in paid off after all," Mikiya admitted grudgingly. He'd never liked Izaya and had always been suspicious of him. Not that Shiki could blame him; Izaya shouldn't be trusted. The same could be said for anyone in the organization, though, and Izaya was extremely useful when he was working for your interests and not against them.
"Indeed," Shiki replied, voice neutral.
"We aren't expanding here in Tokyo. I think your informant would be more useful here at the moment."
"Expanding in Tokyo?" Shiki arched a brow. "That wasn't a goal, last I'd heard."
"Seeing what you're doing in L.A. made me look into the potential here and I think we could grow our territory. If Orihara could manipulate things over there, he can do the same thing here."
Shiki rested his hands on his desk, fingers interlaced as he stared at his boss. "Orihara was working under very different circumstances, sir. I do not think he can replicate those circumstances here. The Americans underestimated him and that is not something that will happen here."
"You don't think he can do the same thing here?"
"I know he can't," Shiki replied with absolute certainty. "Orihara is skilled but circumstances are a factor and they don't favour that kind of move here."
Mikiya frowned. "I'll have to think about this more. I still want you two to stay in Tokyo. Akabayashi can handle L.A."
Shiki frowned at Mikiya's order but could offer no argument that wasn't too revealing of Izaya's secret. He gave Mikiya a nod; he would find a way to get Izaya back to L.A. when the time came.
"I bet you're glad to be back, though, eh?" Mikiya continued with a grin. "Getting to see your wife again. Bet she's been lonely without you around."
Shiki arched a brow. It was common knowledge that the marriage had been political, not romantic. While Shiki didn’t dislike his wife, they were very different people with very little in common save their mutual connection to the yakuza. That Mikiya would bring her up at all made him immediately suspicious. “I believe she’s quite happy to have the house to herself,” Shiki replied with a shrug, refusing to rise to the bait.
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
“Why should it? Does it bother you, Mikiya?”
“Looks bad on a man if his wife isn’t happy with him, don’t you think?”
“Strange thing for you to be worried about. Especially when you were involved in the whole arrangement.”
“If she leaves because she isn’t happy, her father will withdraw his support.” Mikiya pointed out and Shiki snorted at Mikiya’s true concern.
“I assure you, she is content with our arrangement. Is there some reason you have to believe her father intends to withdraw?”
Mikiya gave Shiki a frown then shrugged. “Nothing concrete but there’s talk around the office.”
“About my wife? I recommend you nip that in the bud. If she even thinks your people are spreading rumours about her she’ll come for you and I’d be more concerned about her than her father.”
Mikiya was taken aback by Shiki’s observation. “You really think she’d find out about office gossip?” He asked nervously.
Shiki smirked a bit. “I wouldn’t put it past her.”
Mikiya sighed. “I think we greatly underestimated how this deal would play out.”
“Yes, I’d say so. It would have been nice of you to figure that out before the marriage was arranged.”
“Well, at least she’s pretty,” Mikiya replied, earning a flat stare from Shiki. “If you think everything’s fine, then I’ll make sure the men aren’t talking.”
“Very good, sir. If that’s all, I have quite a bit of work to review.”
“Yeah, that’s all,” Mikiya replied, retreating. Shiki couldn’t help but to smile a bit at the man’s reluctance to deal with his wife. It was a good thing Mikiya had been married when the deal was made. If he’d been the one to marry her, things would not have gone well for the Awakusu.
~Shinjuku - Izaya’s Apartment~
“Akabayashi calling me for help? This must be a first.” Izaya teased the redhead over the phone.
“I’m not calling for help, brat. Since you’re not here, your friends came to me. Really, you owe me for helping them.”
“Friends? I have friends?” Izaya replied with a snicker.
“Those odd twins. Faeries or whatever.”
“Ah, them. What did they need?”
“They have a zombie problem.”
“A what?” Izaya replied in surprise. “That’s rather odd.”
“Why do you sound more surprised that they have a problem than that there are zombies?”
“Well the fae are not generally associated with dead things or dead magic,” Izaya replied matter-of-factly. “So it would be odd for them to have problems with something as clearly dead as a zombie.”
“They think a vampire is behind it.”
“Well that makes more sense but why would a Giovanni be bothering them?”
“Giovanni… Is that some kind of Italian vampire?”
“Well, yes, sort of. The Giovanni are a clan but also a family, like the Italian mob type of family.”
“Italian mob vampires?” There was disbelief in Akabayashi’s voice. “Your life sounds like a bad movie, Izaya.”
“I do believe it’s your life too, Akabaka,” Izaya replied sweetly.
“Well, you’re a vampire so I can only assume that a Giovanni going after your faerie friends has something to do with you.”
Izaya fell silent at the suggestion, thinking back to his time with Abdiel. There had been a man, a Giovanni who would come discuss things with Abdiel but he’d been so drugged he couldn’t remember anything beyond the man’s presence. He’d known it had been important, talk of the Independent Alliance and Santa Monica. He’d tried to piece it together later but his memory had been too hazy.
“Izaya?” Akabayashi prompted, bringing him back to the conversation.
"I don’t remember much.” He admitted with bitterness in his voice. “The head of the Giovanni in Los Angeles is Matteo Giovanni and he takes orders from Abdiel. I remember that they were discussing Santa Monica. The Independent Alliance has always had a presence there but Remy wasn’t a fan of the Independents so they kept their heads down. With the change in power, I think they were going to grow their presence but I wasn’t privy to most of their discussions. If Matteo is targeting the twins, it’s quite likely that he is targeting my power base as he perceives it. Which means he will eventually target the Awakusu as well. Convenient timing on his part.”
“Well, we knew Abdiel was going to come for you eventually. I think that weasel is back in town, by the way. We’ve been watching his gallery.”
“Saul? Interesting. I really don’t know much about how the Giovanni do what they do. As I understand it, there are three unique things they do involving the dead. They can bind ghosts, raise zombies and travel to something called the Deadlands, a realm outside our own where lost souls wander. I really haven’t had a chance to look into them too much. Abdiel had me learn the basics since they are considered our allies or business partners or whatever the Alliance is supposed to be. As I understand it, zombies are pretty easy to kill, you just have to chop them up, but they don’t tend to summon just one zombie.”
“So why would he send a single zombie into a cafe?” Akabayashi asked. “Bait?”
“I would assume so. Though sending a zombie into a cafe in the middle of the day is pretty risky. The Independent Alliance is still beholden to uphold the Masquerade and that could be considered a breach.”
“What would that mean for them?”
“I’m not sure. Since Santa Monica is outside of their territory they can’t enforce their own punishments but they could deny the Independents access to L.A. and a voice at Court.”
“I don’t really know how this Court thing works but my gut tells me they don’t care much about this Camarilla stuff.”
“Your gut would be right. They only obey as much as they need to when they need to.”
“So if this is bait for you, why do it during the day?”
“He’s fishing. He wants to see what value I attribute to the faeries and he wants to see what kind of influence I have during the day.”
“So if I dispose of this zombie, he’ll just send another?”
“Likely. Do you remember Isabelle?”
“How could I forget her?” Akabayashi replied and there was admiration in his voice. “The girl took a grenade for us.”
Izaya chuckled at Akabayashi’s response. “Pay her a visit. She hangs out in Long Beach. Ask her if she knows of a way to keep the zombies away.”
“You think she’ll know?”
“Not sure but until I can do some research, I think she’s your best bet at a solution. We can’t really afford to let Matteo harm the twins. It would make us look weak.”
“Us?” Akabayashi replied doubtfully. “It would make you look weak.”
“Well, yes. Matteo won’t see you as a threat on your own. That’s part of the blindness of most of these Kindred. They don’t see mortals as threats unless those mortals are being directed by a vampire. Since I’m part of the Awakusu, they view you as my property.”
“Isn’t it? It’s actually fascinating just how detached they try to be from their humanity. A coping method, I suspect, for coming to terms with their predatory nature.”
Akabayashi snorted. “So you’re saying they treat humans as property to make themselves feel better about the fact that they kill them to live?”
“Yep. It’s no different than the psychology behind human racism, honestly. Which makes their behaviour ridiculously human even as they give up other inherent human traits.”
“I’ll leave the psychological analysis of vampires to you. Also, if this little problem costs me anything, I’m charging it to your accounts.”
“I thought we were family!” Izaya protested though there was amusement in his voice.
“You can afford it.” Akabayashi hung up and Izaya sighed.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have left so soon…” He spoke into the silence of his apartment. A buzz of the door drew his attention and he turned to look at the camera. A young man in a suit stood at the door, waiting patiently for his response. “Moshi Moshi,” Izaya spoke into the intercom.
“Orihara-san, my name is Sugawara Jin. Shiki-san sent me to assist you.”
“Ahhh of course. Come up.” He buzzed the man into the building then moved to unlock the door.
Jin appeared to be the perfect image of a proper young businessman, just the sort of man he could see Shiki hiring. He removed his shoes, donning the ridiculous guest slippers without even batting an eye and moved to Izaya’s desk, bowing to the raven.
“My apologies for coming so late. Shiki-san informed me that you prefer to work nights?”
“Yes, I do. No apologies are necessary. Please, sit. What do you do for the Awakusu, Sugawara-san?” He already knew, of course, as Shiki had sent him the relevant details but asking allowed him the opportunity to read the young man as he spoke.
“I manage Shiki-san’s galleries,” Jin replied as he took a seat. I have a business management degree, sir.”
“I see. Well, I hope you’re adaptable. I’m not sure I’ll need your business management skills at this time. Are you particularly good at research?”
“Well, sir, I do run several art galleries. Research is part of the job.”
“Excellent. I need you to pay a visit to the Fukagawa Library tomorrow. I’ve called ahead so all you’ll need to do is ask for my books.”
“Yes, for research you will be assisting me in. Bring them back here. I will be available around three.”
“Of course, sir. May I ask what I will be researching?”
“Chinese Buddhist sects in Japan. Specifically the history of the Tendai and where they still have temples. Specifically, I need you to look into an organization within the Tendai sect called the Wu Lung.”
“Tendai Buddhism. Wu Lung. Is your intention to contact this organization?”
“No. Very much the opposite. They intend to oppose my research. I need to ensure they do not interfere.”
“I will be sure to be discreet then.” Jin rose and bowed to Izaya.
“Please do away with the formality,” Izaya commented with a smirk. “I’m not the stickler Shiki is on manners.”
“Very well. Is there anything else you need from me?”
“Not tonight, unless you want to be my dinner,” Izaya replied with a snicker.
“Ah… Pardon me?” Jin asked, confused by the comment.
“Nevermind. A bad joke.” Izaya replied. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes, sir.” Jin left, confusion quite apparent in his expression. Izaya couldn’t help but to chuckle at the young man. He knew Jin was capable, Shiki would never hire someone who wasn’t, but whether or not he could handle Izaya’s oddities was a different question altogether.
~Shinjuku - Boul'ange Shinjuku~
“Thank you for meeting with me, Godwin-san. I must admit, I was surprised that you were willing at all.”
The woman sitting across from him at the table had an unmistakable regal bearing to her. She appeared to be in her mid-thirties, British by name and accent, yet her eyes held a cold detachment that Izaya had begun to recognize in elder vampires. “Your letter intrigued me, Orihara-san. A native of Japan, claiming to be Kindred and, of all clans, a Setite. Quite an oddity. Your etiquette in requesting a meeting with me was flawless, as well, something I would not expect from one so young.”
Izaya poured tea for her as he spoke. “I’ve been told that I’m a quick learner but courtesy is something we Japanese learn from a very young age.”
“Something I’ve come to appreciate in my time here,” Godwin responded with a hint of a smile. “Louis sent word of your arrival and of your experience in Los Angeles. He has asked that I consider aiding you as much as I am able and I am intrigued enough to agree if you are willing to share your discoveries in regard to this god you are investigating.”
Izaya studied the elder vampire in front of him, considering the offer. Being personally invested in the mystery, he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to share any discoveries but the curiosity of a vampire who had seen centuries pass was interesting on its own. This woman, who had seen cities rise and fall, was interested in his mystery and that gave him a potential advantage. “Certainly a fair price,” Izaya replied with a nod.
Godwin gave him an amused smile. “More than fair, I would think. I understand you are being targeted by the Wu Lung. There is an organization that directly opposes them called the Wu Keng. They are… not the kind of people I would recommend you get involved with but in this situation, their rivalry with the Wu Lung may be useful to you. One of them owns a shop in Harajuku.” She slid a business card across the table. He glanced at it, recognizing the shop name.
“Interesting. I will be sure to look into them. Godwin-san, have you made contact with the Kuei-jin at all?”
“Only once, when I first arrived here. I brokered a deal with them to remain and since then, they have not contacted me. Seeking them out without good reason would be a death sentence.”
“So I have heard. So it’s best to avoid involving them in any way?”
“It would be best to keep both your presence and your research as quiet as possible. They tend to keep to themselves but I wouldn’t risk drawing their attention if I were you.”
Izaya nodded, placing the card in his pocket. “Thank you for this lead. I will have my research sent over. It isn’t much yet, but it documents what I learned in Los Angeles.”
“Very good. I look forward to working with you, Orihara-san.”
“And I, you, Godwin-san.”
Chapter 4: The Many Faces of the Dead
~Long Beach - Fred’s Diner~
The diner was surprisingly busy considering the late hour. Then again, it serviced the tourists who came to Long Beach and seemed to be a meeting place for the Ravnos, so perhaps Akabayashi shouldn't have been that surprised.
"How're we supposed to find a seat? The place is packed." Aozaki observed.
"Just ask for her, I guess." Akabayashi shrugged and approached the hostess stand. "Hey, we're here to see Isabelle." He told the girl and she nodded, grabbing menus and guiding them to a table at the back where the pretty raven-haired gypsy sat, a deck of cards in front of her. She looked up at them with a genuine smile.
"Have a seat, gentlemen." She greeted, waving them to sit down. "I was surprised to get a call from you and not Izzy."
"Izzy?" Aozaki snorted in amusement at the nickname.
"Izzy's still in Tokyo," Akabayashi replied, also amused by the nickname. "Which is why we're here. We need to know how to get rid of zombies."
"Straight to the point, I see. You could at least buy a girl a drink first." Isabelle replied with a smirk.
"I'm under the impression you don't favour the sort of drinks I'd normally offer, Miss Lopez," Akabayashi replied with a smirk of his own.
Isabelle laughed. "Call me Isabelle. Miss Lopez is too formal. I figured the Giovanni might target you while Izzy is gone but sending zombies seems careless for them."
"Just one so far and it ain't doing nothing but sitting around looking creepy." Aozaki filled in. "Problem is, it's presence is keeping honest folk from doing business."
"I'm not sure I'd call the fae honest but I see your point. Unfortunately, we Ravnos don't deal with the dead specifically but I do know a ritual that will at least prevent them from being able to enter the building. If the Giovanni are targeting Izaya's assets, that probably won't be enough though."
"We're looking into their holdings. Izaya mentioned that they're businessmen so we're going to make sure they know messing with us won't be profitable."
"I'll come by and ward your buildings for you but tell Izzy he owes me for this."
"How much?" Aozaki asked and Isabelle smiled.
"Tell him a minor boon."
"He'll understand. It's how Kindred do business. Sometimes a favour is worth far more than money."
"Oh, a favour. Shoulda just said that from the start." Aozaki replied.
Akabayashi chuckled. "We'll let him know. Thanks, Isabelle."
"If you really want to thank me, come back after the diner's closed and offer me that drink." She teased with a seductive smile.
Akabayashi chuckled. "I like you. Come by the hotel and I'll make sure all drinks are on the house."
"How generous of you." She replied.
"Have a good night, Miss Isabelle," Aozaki spoke as he rose. Akabayashi followed the larger man to the exit. "Do you gotta hit on every woman you meet?"
"She hit on me. You jealous? Tell you what, you can buy her drinks and see what happens."
"Save your pity," Aozaki replied. "I don't need your help."
"Yeah, she's probably not your type anyway."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Aozaki grunted in irritation.
"You always did prefer the shy types. Quiet types who don't mind taking orders. Isabelle's obviously not that type."
"What's wrong with a quiet girl? At least I don't go for crazy."
"I don't go for crazy. I just like girls with spirit."
"Careful. Isabelle looks like a biter." Aozaki responded with a grin.
"I bet she is." Akabayashi grinned back.
~ Los Angeles - Aratani Theatre ~
"Yo Shizuo!" Jynx hollered as she walked into the theatre. The actors who had been rehearsing paused to stare at her. Kasuka appeared from offstage, walking toward her.
"Brother is upstairs." He informed her, leading her out of the theatre and over to a stairway that led up to the offices.
"Sorry, kid. Didn't mean to interrupt your rehearsal." Jynx replied with a sheepish grin as she followed him up the stairs.
"It's no problem. Shizuo, Jynx is here to see you."
Shizuo looked up with an irritated frown, tossing the report he had been reading onto the desk. "How the fuck do they expect me to deal with shit like this?" He growled. "Every petty complaint against each other, like I'm supposed to play peacekeeper or something? I'm supposed to be protecting this city from Sabbat and shit, not listening to a bunch of whiners."
Jynx laughed at Shizuo's distress. "Tell them to take a hike if it ain't a threat to the city. They're just trying to use you cause you're young and inexperienced."
"Yeah, but how do I figure out which of these complaints is serious?"
"That's why you need deputies. Which is why I'm here." She grabbed a chair and spun it around, sitting on it backwards. "I got a couple guys for you. I hear you got Lucas working for you too. So you got information and you got muscle. Now you just need someone with influence. Ventrue or Toreador maybe. I guess you can call on your little bro."
"Augustus kept everything in clan."
"Yeah well, the Tremere are fuckwads that way. Think they're a fucking gift from God or something. No offense, Shizuo, but your clan ain't exactly equipped for this kind of work but since you got the status and the Prince's support you'll be able to recruit whoever you need. Just reward 'em with status and you'll be fine."
"Why didn't you put in a bid for it?"
"Sheriff? Cause I got other things I'd rather be doing. You give me a call when there's shit to fight and I'll come running but I ain't got patience for the bureaucracy."
"You think I do?" Shizuo arched a brow.
"Nope. But you accepted the position." Jynx grinned at him.
Shizuo sighed. "I couldn't really say no."
"Could be worse ya know."
Jynx cackled. "They coulda made you Prince."
"Fuck that." He replied, shaking his head. "I wish the damn flea hadn't run off. He'd be able to figure this out in no time."
"The flea?" Jynx gave him a quizzical look.
"Uh… The new Setite." Shizuo explained.
"Oh, yeah, I heard he helped you with the Black Bones pack. That kid lit a fire under Santiago…" Jynx started chuckling. "Never seen that old bastard so upset about anything before." She grew serious for a moment. "Listen, Shizuo, I'm not one to judge based on clan stereotypes but others are so if you're gonna keep working with him, I gotta suggest you do it quiet-like."
"Yeah, I know. He's still Independent."
"He's won a lot of people over with his cleverness but that also makes them wary."
"He's a snake through and through but if you're paying him, he'll do the job."
"Good to know. I don't mind a bit of chaos. Always fun to watch the elders squirm cause of a neonate."
Shizuo chuckled. "Yeah, it is pretty entertaining."
~ Santa Monica - Pascual Marquez Cemetery ~
Tap. Tap tap. Tap tap tap.
Cyrus looked up from his work with a frown. The mausoleum was directly above him so he was used to the sound of footsteps coming and going in the early parts of the evening but it was far too late for mortal guests. He moved away from his work table, leaving his current research to access the surveillance cameras. Two Giovanni neonates came into focus, moving around the mausoleum, examining the crypts. Cyrus switched on the audio.
“There’s nothing here. Why are we wasting our time?” The first spoke in a heavy Italian accent, revealing to Cyrus that he was one of the newer Giovanni who had come to the city.
“Cause those were our orders.” The second replied with a shrug. “Scour every graveyard In Santa Monica for wraiths. If we don’t find any, we’ll move on. Let’s check the next mausoleum.”
"It'd be easier to make them." The first Giovanni grumbled.
“I’m sure that’ll be our next job.” The second replied as they moved toward the entrance.
Of course, they wouldn’t find any wraiths. This was Cyrus’ haven after all and had been for many years now. He had long since sent any lingering dead on to the next life or made deals with them for their services. It was concerning that the Giovanni were actively hunting for wraiths though.
Cyrus sat down, staring thoughtfully at the monitors as the Giovanni continued to wander around the graveyard. He had hoped to avoid conflict with the Giovanni, wanting to simply do his research in peace but if the Giovanni were hunting for wraiths, he would inevitably cross paths with them. That would be problematic for him, especially since his presence in Santa Monica had never been approved by the Independents. Further, the purpose of such an endeavour was concerning. He would have to bring this information to the Prince.
~ Santa Monica - The Georgian Hotel ~
Akabayashi watched Isabelle sashay over to him, jewelry jingling with every step, drink in hand. She put on a good show. Con artist through and through.
"Tell me, Mr. Akabayashi, did you ever think you'd be working with monsters?" She asked as she straddled him, wrapping arms around his neck.
"Miss Isabelle, I'm yakuza. I work with monsters every day." He pointed out with a grin. "Whether they also happen to have fangs or not is a minor development."
"Ooo scary," Isabelle replied with a laugh. "Why do none of you seem surprised or scared by any of this? Even big scary mobsters cower in fear when they see a monster like Jaromir yet none of you even flinched."
"Do you know much about Tokyo?" Akabayashi asked in return.
"Well, the Awakusu work out of a place called Ikebukuro which is part of the greater Tokyo area. A lot of strange things happen there."
"Do supernaturals not hide what they are in Japan?"
"I think the greater number of them probably do but some don't?" Akabayashi shrugged. "I've never really looked into it. I guess we're just more accepting of the idea that more things than humans exist in the world."
"I suppose Japan has never faced anything like the Inquisition."
"Church-sanctioned vampire hunters. Hunters were a big part of why vampires formed the Camarilla and decided to hide their existence."
"The smart ones were doing it before the Camarilla existed." A new voice, full of authority, joined the conversation. Isabelle and Akabayashi both turned their heads to look at the imposing figure that had entered the hotel bar.
“Louis!” Isabelle greeted the newcomer with a laugh. “What brings his royal majesty to Santa Monica? Slumming it?”
“Miss Lopez. I came to speak with the Setite's allies. I understand they are facing some difficulty in his absence?"
"He has a name, Louis," Isabelle replied with a hint of exasperation.
"Just a minor zombie infestation," Akabayashi replied, shifting Isabelle off his lap. "Which I believe we have handled at the moment. I presume it's an honour to have the Prince of Los Angeles coming to check in on us?"
Louis raised a brow at Akabayashi's response. "For better or worse, Izaya is part of my coterie. It is in our best interests to look out for each other. Izaya's position within the Independents is unsure and many in the Court see him as weak. I cannot ensure his position if he cannot hold his own out here.”
“Not sure how you expect him to hold his own when he’s one person against a zombie-raising vampire mafia,” Akabayashi replied with a hint of a sneer.
“He isn’t alone in this but our politics handicap us. What did you do to deal with this zombie problem?”
“I warded his buildings,” Isabelle supplied the answer.
“Will that be enough?”
“Who knows? It’s not like we have an insider to tell us what the Giovanni are planning. Izaya’s mobsters are looking into the Giovanni’s business assets in Santa Monica.”
“It came to my attention this evening that the Giovanni appear to be building a wraith army. So far they have kept to hunting for existing wraiths but I've been warned that they are likely to make wraiths to bolster their numbers."
"Make wraiths?" Akabayashi frowned. "Wraiths are ghosts, yes? So to make a wraith, they have to kill people?"
"Wraiths specifically have unfinished business that is keeping them trapped. They are bound to the physical world by fetters, items that had meaning to them in life." Isabelle clarified. "Most people don't turn into wraiths when they die. Their death would have to be gruesome. Or possibly ritualistic."
"So if suspicious murders start happening in Santa Monica, blame the Giovanni?" Akabayashi eyed Louis. "I'm not sure what you expect me to do with this information. The Awakusu don't really have a vested interest in your vampire politics, only in keeping our informant alive."
"The Giovanni are allied with Abdiel who we both know is a direct threat to your informant." Louis pointed out practically. "Neither of us benefits from Izaya being under his control again. Whatever the Giovanni are planning, as Izaya's… employers, you will be targeted."
“So you’ll come pay us a visit and drop some info but you won’t actually lift a finger to help us,” Akabayashi observed.
“I can’t. First of all, Izaya chose to remain Independent. Second of all, he’s not even here. You’re all pretty resourceful mortals but that’s all you are. In the eyes of the Kindred, you’re no different than Izaya’s monetary assets or influences. If I were to step in to defend Izaya’s property, it would make him look weak and it would be interpreted as interfering in Independent business.”
“Assets?” Akabayashi smirked. “Not to worry, Prince Marchand. Izaya’s property is capable of taking care of ourselves.”
“Yes, I remember,” Louis replied with respect in his voice. “Managed to handle Jaromir’s Toreador girls quite well. However, the Giovanni aren’t likely to come at you in the same way. Wraiths are extremely difficult to fight, even for Kindred. There is a member of my court who understands a great deal about the necromantic arts that the Giovanni use. He is interested in working with you but only if you will swear absolute discretion in the matter. The Giovanni covet their magic and do not like outsiders who possess it.”
“So you have a guy who isn’t Giovanni but knows how to do the same thing as the Giovanni and he’s willing to help us but only if we keep his secret?”
“That sums it up, yes.” Louis gave a chuckle. “If you agree, I’ll let him know to contact you.”
“The Giovanni have already decided to make us their enemy. I’ll keep this guy’s secret if he can help us deal with this ghosts and zombies shit.”
“Very good. I’ll leave you to your business, then.” They watched as Louis left the bar.
“Always business with him,” Isabelle critiqued the Prince with a wicked smile. “He could have stayed for a drink at least.”
“I bet he and Shiki will get along famously,” Akabayashi replied with a smirk. “I’d rather be drinking with you.”
“In that case, I seem to be in need of another.”
“We can’t have that, can we?”
~Shibuya - Raven Princes~
“Is this a shopping trip, sir?” Jin inquired as he smoothly navigated through the late afternoon traffic toward their destination in Shibuya.
“Not as such, no,” Izaya replied, idly staring out the heavily tinted windows. The sun was still up, making his travel a risk but if he waited for sunset it was likely that he would miss his opportunity. He’d tried setting up a meeting with the owner of the fashion outlet in Harajuku but they had not responded to any of his calls. “Do you think Shiki trusts you, Jin?”
“I believe so. I don’t imagine he would have assigned me to assist you if he didn’t.”
“True. Tell me what you’ve learned of the Tendai and the Wu Lung.”
“I forwarded you the files, sir.” Jin pointed out.
“Very well. The Tendai are derivative of Chinese Buddhist influence. They are not popular in Japan due to their extreme asceticism. The strictness of their prohibitions is not appealing to most people. Those who do join their sect tend to be fanatic in their devotion, however. As for the Wu Lung, information on them is non-existent. I found perhaps a handful of references to the name but nothing explaining what they are or what their specific tenets of Buddhism are. I also found reference to something called the Akashic Brotherhood, another group that is Chinese by origin but seems to be more about mysticism than Buddhism.”
“Akashic Brotherhood… I think it would be safe to assume that they are somehow related to the concept of the Akashic Record but that is a very modern interpretation of loose Buddhist concepts. Rather, I should say it comes from western interpretation of eastern philosophy and theology.”
“I see. So this Akashic Brotherhood is not what you’re looking for?”
“No, I don’t think so. It also seems safe to assume that while Tendai is a known body of religion, the Wu Lung do not wish their existence to be known to common people. That makes them much harder to avoid when I can’t actually identify them.”
“If I may, sir, it seems to me that while you do not know who they are you seem to know what they want? If you know what they want but wish to avoid them, could you not simply avoid whatever it is they are after?”
Izaya’s gaze shifted to Jin and he smirked. The young yakuza was observant, as expected of someone Shiki had brought on. “What they want may be directly opposed to what I want.”
“I see. And this Yamasaki person is also related to what you want?"
"So I have been told. He is a member of a cult of demon worshippers called the Wu Keng."
"Demon worshippers, sir?" Jin asked.
"They also crossdress."
Izaya smiled at Jin's matter-of-fact response. Not quite as stoic as Shiki but definitely an Ikebukuro native with such a blasé response to such a bizarre description. "What would you do if I asked you to go undercover as a crossdresser, Jin?"
"I would explain to you that undercover work as a crossdressing demon worshipper is outside my experience and that I would have a high chance of failure."
"How blunt." Izaya purred in amusement.
"It serves neither of us for you to assign me duties I cannot complete. I would prefer not to waste either of our time."
"And practical." Izaya hummed. "I can see why Shiki would hire you. What do you think of vampires, Jin?"
"I think we have arrived at the atelier, sir," Jin replied as he pulled up to the curb. Izaya arched a brow.
"I expect an answer when I get back."
"Of course, sir. Street parking has a two-hour limit."
"I don't think this will take that long. If you need to, circle but I need you close." Izaya took a deep breath, pulling the hood of his jacket up as he opened the door and dashed across the short distance between car and storefront. Jin watched this odd behaviour with a frown.
Once inside and safely away from the sun, Izaya pushed back the hood but left the sunglasses on. He had found that since his change, his eyes had become extremely sensitive to light and the fluorescent store lights made him flinch even with sunglasses on.
"Irasshaimase!" A young woman announced at his entry, giving him a polite bow. "Welcome to Atelier Raven Princes. How may I help you today?"
Izaya smiled at the overly-polite attendant, so different from the way American store clerks behaved. “Yes, I’d like to speak with Yamasaki-san, please.”
She bowed politely and moved toward the backroom. While Izaya waited, he browsed the racks of clothing, finding that they were in line with his usual street fashion. He pulled out a pair of slim-fit pants in a red plaid pattern, holding them against himself and glancing in a nearby mirror.
“Who knew the Informant of Shinjuku would be interested in fashion.” The voice was spoken in the soft falsetto that many crossdressers affected. Izaya turned his gaze to the speaker, taking in the object of his recent pursuit.
Yamasaki Rei was shorter than Izaya with a face that was suspiciously ageless in its beauty. The makeup he wore served the very specific purpose of subtly drawing out feminine features. He was dressed in what Izaya presumed was his own label’s clothing, an accented punk style button-up shirt and short girl’s tie with matching plaid skirt. His long black hair had been streaked with pink and pulled back into a high ponytail that reminded him of a trend in the US started by a pop star there. Harajuku stylish was definitely the image Rei was portraying.
“I suppose you aren’t really the Informant of Shinjuku anymore, though, are you?” Rei continued. “What can I do for you, Orihara-san?”
The observation that he may have lost his title in Tokyo rankled a bit but Izaya pushed the feeling aside. “You can agree to meet me somewhere more private for drinks and conversation,” Izaya replied with a smirk as he put the pants back on the rack. “As much as I do enjoy unique Harajuku fashion, I’m more interested in what you do when you aren’t working.”
Rei smiled at Izaya’s invitation. He reached up and plucked Izaya's sunglasses off his face. Izaya blinked against the bright fluorescent of the shop lights, keeping his red-eyed gaze on the mage. "Your eyes are the colour of blood. Beautiful." Izaya arched a brow. "I want to dress you, Serpent. If you let me choose your outfit, I will meet you tonight… For drinks." There was amusement in his tone.
Izaya shrugged. "Small price to pay for the opportunity."
"Excellent!" Rei clapped his hands together. He pulled out a tape measure. "I've never dressed the avatar of a god before."
~Ikebukuro - Cest Jolie Apartments~
"Where are you going?"
Shiki turned from the mirror in the walk-in closet to look at his wife. "I have a meeting."
"Dressed like that?" Junko asked with a snort, taking in his black jeans and t-shirt combo. It was about as casual as she'd ever seen him dress. "I didn't think you even owned casual wear."
Shiki arched a brow. "You've had unlimited access to my closet for two years. You can't expect me to believe you didn't snoop."
Junko laughed and shrugged, crossing the distance between them. "Much to my disappointment, I didn't find any hidden weapons or drugs. Are you going to visit your informant?"
The tone in her voice caused Shiki to pause, studying her expression for a long, silent moment. She met his gaze boldly. "Yes, but not for the reasons you're implying."
Junko tried pouting but abandoned the tactic, reminded by his cool gaze that it had no effect on her husband. "You've been a ghost for two years."
"Which you were quite happy about. You wanted your freedom, after all. So what is this all about, then?"
Junko chuckled. "Always so straightforward."
"I told you from the start, Junko. I'm not going to play games with you."
"Yes, you've always been honest with me, Haruya."
"So? What do you want?"
"There's this social event coming up. I want you to come with me. If you weren't in town I'd happily go alone but since you're here, it would look…"
"Strange if I didn't attend with you?" Junko nodded. "Send me the details and I'll make sure to attend."
"You're not going to like it," Junko confessed. "It's an art show for a local artist who is absolutely terrible but very popular."
"I'll survive," Shiki replied with amusement. "Is that all?"
"Do you have to keep visiting that snake?"
Shiki arched a brow. "That's a new one."
"Well, he is. Do you have any idea how many rumours follow in his wake? Ikebukuro has been quiet since he left but the moment he comes back, everyone is talking about it."
“Well, everyone in our circle.”
“Yakuza in general or just our families?”
“Our families…” She trailed off with a sigh.
“So you’re not the focus of everyone’s attention at the moment,” Shiki surmised. “He isn’t staying in Tokyo. You’ll regain your spotlight soon enough. Consider it a vacation.”
“I don’t like the way they talk about him. Mikiya was talking about keeping you both here. Is it true you took control of an entire city?”
Shiki gazed at his wife sternly. “You are supposed to keep your nose out of the business.”
“I’m not doing anything, am I? But you can’t expect me to not keep up with current events. Is it true?”
“I wouldn’t put it that way. We acquired a large amount of property in Santa Monica, thanks largely to Orihara. It gives us a significant advantage but we don’t control the city. As for Mikiya, he has the misguided notion that Izaya could replicate his success here.”
“Acquiring a large amount of property in Tokyo?” Junko scoffed at the idea. “This isn’t the 80s.”
“Maybe you should have married Mikiya. The clan would have been much better off with you in charge, I think.” Shiki gave Junko a rare smile.
Junko glared at him. “As appealing as the ‘Junko in charge’ part of that suggestion sounds, the idea of actually marrying Mikiya is revolting.”
“I suppose I should be flattered that you agreed to marry me, then,” Shiki replied and Junko gave him a vicious grin.
“I don’t think being the best of the worst is a compliment, Haruya.”
“About as complimentary as taking the hellcat of the Asuki as a wife.”
“I see your tongue is as sharp as it was when we first met.”
“Did you think I’d grow soft while I was in L.A.?”
“Isn’t marriage supposed to mellow a man?” Shiki just arched a brow at her and Junko laughed. “No, I can’t imagine you ever growing soft.” She reached up and traced the hard line of his cheekbone with her thumb.
“I don’t imagine a soft man would have satisfied you.”
“True, although a soft man would have been easier to manipulate.”
“Didn’t you get what you wanted from this?”
Junko pursed her lips thoughtfully. “I don’t know.”
“Having second thoughts?”
“Not exactly. I know I agreed to keep out of the business, Haruya, but honestly, I could do so much better than some of these idiots. I think you actually took the Awakusu’s best with you when you went to L.A.”
“I did. Are the new executives not up to your exacting standards?”
“You’ve met them.”
Shiki grimaced. “Mikiya’s lackeys. You know they won’t allow you any involvement, Junko. Your own father married you off in the hopes that it would ‘tame’ you.”
Junko scowled at the mention of her father. “If you stayed in Tokyo, you could help me.”
“Help you what? Become an executive? As much influence as my voice might have with Dougen, it’s Mikiya who is making those decisions now and he’s as old-fashioned as they come.”
“What if…” Junko gave Shiki an ambitious grin. “Mikiya wasn’t a problem anymore?”
Shiki reached out and gripped her wrist tightly. “Those are very dangerous words, Junko. Be very careful of what you say next.”
“You’ve never thought about it? Oyabun?”
“What I gain within my family I do through loyalty and hard work, not through betrayal. And if the daughter of the Asuki oyabun is caught talking against the Awakusu heir, things will go very badly for both of us. Do not think that I will hesitate to cut you loose.” His tone was cold and absolute in its authority.
Junko’s lips thinned in disapproval. “Do you have no ambitions?”
“I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t but betrayal does not build a strong family.”
Junko sighed in disappointment. “Fine. But you can’t tell me the Awakusu would be better off with a different heir.”
“Whether that is true or not doesn’t change my position. I hope you haven’t talked about this kind of thing to anyone else.”
“Of course not. I’m not a fool. I just thought-”
Shiki cut her off. “That I could be a stepping stone for your own ambitions.”
“It would benefit us both.” She pointed out with an arched brow. “I wasn’t just considering myself.”
“I don’t want it, Junko,” Shiki replied firmly, letting go of her wrist. “There’s more opportunity for me in L.A. that doesn’t make me a traitor and paint a giant target on my back.”
“And will you show me your little empire one day? In this Santa Monica?”
“I thought you didn’t want to move to the U.S.”
“When you left it was a long-shot. No one was sure if it would be successful or not.”
“Ah, so she changes her tune when profit appears.” Junko smiled and shrugged. “Maybe. If you don’t start any trouble here. Spend some time brushing up on your English.”
"Don't be condescending, Haruya. If you have no intention of bringing me to Santa Monica just say so."
"I don't know when we'll be heading back. I'm not saying no, Junko but the situation there is a bit complicated at the moment and it may not be safe for you."
"Is it because of the informant?"
Shiki chuckled. "Always. But once again, not for the reasons you're assuming. Though I'd rather not have to listen to you snipe at each other, either."
"He can be. So can you. And when you're in the same room it always turns into a catfight." Shiki paused, growing thoughtful. There was no question that Izaya would use his new powers on Junko if given a chance. Where Junko was practical about their situation, Izaya tended toward jealousy despite the casual nature of their relationship. "Anyway, I need to go or I'll be late. We can talk about Santa Monica later."
"Fine, go play with your boy toy," Junko replied with a dismissive wave. "Your dutiful wife shall console herself by going shopping with her best friend."
Shiki snorted. "Tell Kiho I said hello."
~Shibuya - Harlem Night Club~
Unlike Ikebukuro, Shibuya was a tourist trap. During the day it was shopping central and at night it was bars and dance clubs. Not quite as lively as Shinjuku after dark, of course, but it looked cleaner, more polished and generally safer for wandering travellers. Shibuya’s police tended to be more on guard for misbehaviour and harder to bribe. No one wanted the poor tourists to see the darker side of Tokyo, especially the politicians.
Izaya stood outside the Harlem Night Club, waiting for Shiki to arrive. Rei had agreed to meet him here for drinks and private conversation so of course Izaya had invited Shiki to join him. He wanted someone who would have his back if things went sideways and Shiki was currently the only person in Tokyo who fit the bill. He glanced at his phone with an irritated sigh, noting that the executive was uncharacteristically late.
A black sedan pulled up in front of the club and the tardy executive got out, waving off his driver. His gaze settled on Izaya and both eyebrows arched in surprise. “What are you wearing?”
Izaya grinned and lifted his arms, spinning to show off the outfit he had paid far too much for. “The latest in Harajuku style.”
Shiki took in the outfit that looked like it belonged to a visual kei artist. Black leather pants that clung to every curve, red laces running up the sides. The black belt that circled his hips had a gold buckle and a winding gold snake embossed into the leather. He was wearing layered tops, both cut at angles, one red and the other black. The red one had long sleeves with more snake patterns winding down his arms while the black one was a tank top with stylized tears in the fabric to reveal the red underneath. A gothic-looking cross hung from a chain around his neck and his usual plain silver rings had been replaced with stylized gold serpent rings. “Nice motif. Taking this whole snake thing to the next level?”
Izaya wrinkled his nose. “I didn’t actually pick it out. The person we’re here to meet did. Only way he would agree to meet me privately. I had to corner him in his shop during the day to even talk to him.”
“You just give everyone the impression that you’re a snake, don't you?” Shiki replied. “Sorry I’m late, I had to deal with something at home before I came.”
“Yes, how is the bi-” Shiki smacked Izaya upside the head before he could finish the sentence. Izaya flinched and scowled. “Wife.” He corrected with a smile that was anything but friendly.
“Childish. Don’t bother asking questions you don’t want the answer to. I didn’t come here to listen to you hiss about her.”
Izaya’s lips curved down into a sulk at Shiki’s admonishment, all the more irritating for its accuracy. “Fine. His name is Rei and he’s a cross-dressing mage who worships a demon. His order opposes those mages Kujiragi was talking about.”
“Enemy of my enemy?” Shiki asked and Izaya nodded. “Sounds high risk. Worshipping a demon?”
Izaya shrugged. “I don’t plan on selling my soul. Do you?”
“Depends on what the demon is offering,” Shiki replied, deadpan. Izaya stared at him with surprise. “I might trade my soul for a decent night’s sleep.”
Izaya snickered. “You’re not funny.” He replied, turning to the door. “There’s apparently a private area on the third floor. That’s where we’re supposed to meet him.”
“Lead the way.”
As commanded, Izaya led the way through the club. The first floor served mostly as an entry point with a coat check and waiting area. Izaya dropped a card at the ID station and the employee waved them through without a word. The second floor opened onto the main dance floor, greeting them with heavy bass and crowds. Izaya wrinkled his nose in irritation as they tried to move toward the staircase that would take them up to the private floor then grinned and let his Presence flare to life. Everyone nearby was suddenly turning to stare at him, quickly moving out of his way as he progressed through the club. Shiki felt the strange pull of Izaya’s vampiric power and gritted his teeth against the sudden urge he also had to stare at the raven. Once they were through the crowd and onto the last set of stairs, the feeling faded.
“What happened to laying low?” Shiki asked as they made their way up.
“That was nothing,” Izaya replied dismissively.
“Making everyone in the club stare at you is nothing?"
"It's a club full of people drinking and looking for hookups. Staring at a sexy newcomer wouldn't be that strange."
"You don't think it would be noticeable to the kind of non-human you're trying to avoid?"
"Might be but those people won't be here. It seems the one thing that all supernatural creatures seem to have an aversion to is demon-worshippers. Infernalists, as they're called by the Kindred."
"So you're trying to make friends with the one group that is universally hated."
"Given that my clan seems to also be universally hated and misunderstood, I feel a kinship for them," Izaya joked.
"Yes, of course. Because empathy is definitely your driving motive," Shiki replied dryly as they entered the top floor. It was much quieter than the second floor, music playing at background level instead of drowning everything out. There weren't very many people on this floor, a few small groups scattered about. The tables here were designed for privacy and the dance floor was smaller. As Izaya led them to his target, Shiki studied the other groups of people as they passed.
"Orihara-san, welcome to Harlem." Rei greeted him with a smile. "Please join me." As he spoke, the two people who had been sitting with him left the table, making room for Izaya and Shiki.
Izaya slid into a chair with a smirk. “Yamasaki-san, this is Shiki-san.”
Shiki gave a polite nod of his head as he also took a seat. “Nice to meet you.”
"I am pleased to see you are still wearing the outfit I picked."
"It's growing on me." Izaya grinned.
"If I'd known you were going to bring a friend, I'd have asked to dress him, too," Rei continued, eyeing Shiki's plain outfit critically.
Izaya laughed. "I don't think Shiki-san would have agreed. He's very particular about his wardrobe."
"Yes, I've heard you favour white suits as your statement."
"I wouldn't call it a statement," Shiki replied with a shrug. Rei and Izaya exchanged an amused look.
"If you're feeling adventurous, perhaps I could make you a custom suit. Something that stands out a bit more?" Shiki gave another shrug, neither refusing or accepting the offer. "Well, you didn't come here to talk about fashion. Where shall we start, Orihara-san?"
"How is it that everyone in this city seems to know who I am and what happened in L.A.?"
Rei chuckled at the question. "You are the Information Broker of Shinjuku. Infamous for digging up secrets you shouldn't. Especially when it comes to monsters, yes? Of course the supernatural of Tokyo would be watching you. Though I admit not so much when you left Japan. In comparison to the world at large, we supernatural types, whether we are mages, vampires, faeries, shapeshifters, or some other strange creature, are a small community. Or several small communities I suppose. When strange things happen, word travels quickly. Normally no one here would care about a single Kindred. As meddlesome as they can be, they're generally too focused on their quests for personal power to care about the greater world. But you? You released an imprisoned god. How could that go unnoticed?”
“As it happened in Los Angeles, I would think very easily.”
“Perhaps to those who weren’t involved or invested in the god’s imprisonment.”
“Fair enough. So the Wu Lung, the yosei and your organization?”
“Those are the main groups, yes. The Kuei Jin don’t seem particularly interested in you yet.”
“So why were you avoiding me?”
“We were curious to see how far you would go to meet me. Coming out during the day was impressive, I must admit. We expected you would attempt to strong-arm or kidnap or something along those lines.”
Izaya gave a genuine laugh at the violent assumptions. “Because I’m Kindred or because I’m yakuza?”
“Either one, really.”
“You do know that most families don’t do business that way anymore,” Shiki added with a hint of a smirk.
“I know that many yakuza families want others to believe that.”
“I try very hard not to threaten or kidnap people I see as viable allies.” Izaya shrugged.
“Ah, yes, now we come closer to the point of your visit. We assume that you live up to your reputation so we will not insult your intelligence by assuming you do not know that allying with us would be problematic.”
“Orihara likes making problematic friends.”
Izaya gave Shiki a toothy grin. “Does that include you, Shiki? I’m not worried about my association with you somehow ruining my reputation or getting me in trouble with other Kindred. They have no presence in Japan. My more pressing concern is the Wu Lung and their desire to imprison Mikaboshi.”
“I have questions for him.”
“You’re his avatar and you cannot ask him questions?”
“Why do you think I am his avatar?”
Izaya leaned back at this simple statement, regarding Rei with a thoughtful expression. “I see. What do you see?”
“Stars. Your aura is black and full of stars. It is not normal, even for one of your kind. Your aura should shift but it doesn’t. Just blackness and stars.”
“Aura?” Shiki asked, curious.
“Some supernaturals have the ability to see the flow of energy around people. It isn’t something I’ve learned to do yet. Normal auras tend to shift colour with a person’s mood or state of being. Kindred auras are, as I understand it, paler than the auras of living creatures but they still have colour and shift.” Shiki nodded at Izaya’s explanation, linking this difference with that moment when the god had touched him in the hotel. He suspected there was more to this aura thing and made note to ask Izaya about it later.
“You know the Wu Keng have nothing to do with your Shinto kami. Why would you think we would be interested in helping you or your Dread Star of Heaven?”
“As I understand it, where the Wu Lung represent order, you represent chaos. It serves your organization to see the kami of primordial chaos remain free, especially when it destabilizes your rivals.”
“On the surface, it may seem that way but the one thing that binds us together is that we both believe in the balance of all things. Order and chaos are two sides of the same coin. The world turns in a cycle, as it has for thousands of years.”
“Samsara,” Shiki offered and Rei nodded.
“Very similar to samara but on a much grander scale. Samsara, after all, only details the path of a single person’s soul. The Wheel of Ages speaks to the whole of the earth’s existence. Six stages that the world must go through, from heavenly perfection to hell on earth.”
“I would think imprisoning a kami would be antithesis to maintaining balance,” Shiki observed.
“It would be. The Wu Lung have drifted away from their purpose. They seek to force the Wheel to halt. To inflict perfect order on everyone. They believe that breaking the cycle will bring eternal happiness and peace. No more war or suffering.”
Izaya snorted “That is clearly an impossible task.”
“I would agree yet they pursue their goal with rabid persistence. Mikaboshi’s grasp on this world is tenuous. He is part of the cycle yet apart from it, larger than the small and inconsequential whims of a tiny group of mages. He does not have worshippers or servants, no places of power dedicated to his name. He has immense power yet no reach. It wasn’t particularly hard for them to force him back to the stars for that is his home. Yet, in the end, they couldn’t bar the doors, could they? Such a highly unlikely sequence of events, no single event enough to free him, a chain of complete chaos.”
“Culminating in my accidental involvement, yes.”
“Accidental? You really believe that?” Rei laughed. “I’m not one to ascribe things to immutable fate, Orihara-san, but I don’t think your role in Mikaboshi’s release was accidental.”
“Perhaps not but I don’t believe it was intentional maneuvering by Mikaboshi, either.”
“It would have been safer for you to stay in America yet you followed Mikaboshi back to Japan just to have him answer a few questions?”
“I’m a curious person with an unending thirst for knowledge.”
“I suggest a trade. Tell me what happened with Mikaboshi in Los Angeles and I will tell you where to find the Wu Lung.”
“And will your Wu Keng oppose them when they inevitably try to imprison Mikaboshi again?”
“You mean, will we help you when they come for you as a physical link to him?”
Izaya shrugged. “It’s the same thing, isn’t it? They need me to bind him now.”
“That I cannot answer. I do not speak for all the Wu Keng here. We will not oppose you in whatever it is you’re trying to do, but aid is not something we give without a price.”
“Neither would I,” Izaya admitted with a grin. “Very well. I will share what I know of Mikaboshi and what happened in L.A. in exchange for information on the Wu Lung. Not just their location, though. Whatever you can provide me with, names of individuals, history, capabilities…”
“You’re asking a lot for a story,” Rei noted with amusement.
Izaya grinned and gave him a wink as his Presence flared to life once again, directed solely at Rei. “It’s a very good story.”
Shiki watched Izaya with a sigh, resisting the urge to roll his eyes at his tricks. He couldn’t deny the usefulness of Izaya’s vampiric powers but it was a bit concerning to him that the raven seemed to enjoy them a bit too much.
Rei paused at the soft pull of vampiric power then leaned toward Izaya as if drawn to him. “I can’t wait to hear it.”
Clan disadvantages: Where each clan in Vampire the Masquerade has some unique advantage, so too do they have a flaw. In the case of Setites, it is that they become very sensitive to light. Bright light bothers them and sudden changes from dim to bright lighting can hurt them. I couldn't remember if I ever talked about this in the first story so I decided to make note of it here, just in case.
I've mentioned before that Vampire: The Masquerade is not the only game nor are vampires the only supernatural creatures. In this story, I have begun to touch on Mages - mortals who have Awakened to the potential of magic in the world. I'm not going to get into the mechanics too much since, at heart, I'm writing a vampire story, but they are antagonists here so I will try to remember to talk about them a bit, especially if readers have questions.
The Wu Lung and the Wu Keng are two orders of Mages that exist only in the east and are tied heavily to the various eastern mythologies. The Wu Lung pursues Order above all else and abhors anything that resembles chaos. The Wu Keng were once shaman-types but found themselves persecuted and turned to demonic Princes to help them. These demons gave them power in exchange for servitude in life and their souls in death.
I wasn't entirely sure how to tackle the Wu Keng when writing Rei because they are all men, recruited when they are children, but they are raised as if they were women. They aren't transgender, nor do they wish to be. They dress and act like women because it is what the Demon Princes want and self-sacrifice is a way of life for them. This is why I decided to continue to address Rei with male pronouns even though he dresses and acts like a woman.