Actions

Work Header

Wolf & Dragon

Chapter Text

Chapter 1.1

“Papa, papa, I want to go to school.”

“I’m sorry, but you’re not ready yet.”

“Huh, why not?”

“It’s because of your blood. The world outside is far too dangerous for you, Ai.”

OOOOO

“Fang, huh?” Ai said as she looked over the maps and photos spread across the table. “I guess this means were hitting the big leagues.” She had grown well for a young woman, her tall and athletic build complimenting her brown hair.

“Honestly, Fang isn’t as bad as some of our other targets.” Furumori, her father said. He was a tall man with gentle features and a love spot in the corner of each eye. “They’re honest about their greed, never hiding behind bluster about science and the good of humanity.”

It was true. Even Fang’s legitimate fronts focused on selling to the highest bidder. The core organization was nothing more than thieves and black market auctioneers with a special eye for the haunted artifacts called Preciouses.

“But they are dangerous.” Ai said. “An organization like that, there will be more guards than I’ve dealt with before. All of them will be armed, and I have to assume a few will Preciouses.” Both facts marked the difference between a criminal syndicate and the private collectors Ai had dealt with before.

“Don’t worry.” Furumori rubbed Ai’s head, and she blushed lightly. “You’re a match for a hundred Preciouses.” Ai slid out from under his hand and moved to the other side of the table.

“I think I know my plan of attack.” Ai said. She pointed to a wall of shipping containers on an aerial photo of a dock. “They’ll plan for attacks by humans, have the ground roots locked tight. These positions,” she moved from the wall, to a crane, to an elevated watchhouse. “Will have only one or two guards each. Enough to keep watch, but not to intercept a serious attack. From one of those places I can wait for a moment of weakness and strike.”

“They can’t block the main road.” Furumori said. “You could drive in, ambush the actual exchange, and be back in the city within a few minutes. It would be easy to lose them there.” Ai chuckled.

“Only an idiot would come in the front.” she said.

“And your too good for that.” her father said. “Stay safe, Ai. This job is important, but if you need to run then run. I couldn’t live with myself if you got hurt.” Ai walked back around the table and hugged her father.

“It’s okay.” she said. “A couple of gangsters are no match for me.”

OOOOO

The dual scents of salt and rust assaulted Ai’s nose as she approached the docks. A cold night breeze raised goosebumps along Ai’s bare arms and she barely suppressed a sneeze before slipping a black mask over the bottom half of her face. She had wanted to wait until she was a little closer, but it’d be embarrassing to be caught because she was chilly.

Ai closed her eyes and concentrated, feeling her blood stir. The birthmark on her right shoulder burned as it turned into a dark red pattern. Ai’s long arms transformed into furry claws, pointy ears emerged from her hair, and a fluffy tail grew from her back, balancing her as she leaned forward. In her right eye she felt a twitch as the pupil turned from a matching blue to a mismatched yellow. These were the signs of her true heritage as a half-wolf. They kept her apart from the rest of humanity, but also gave her the strength to carry out her mission..

Ai ran forward, leaning so far forward her arms could almost touch the beach. She weaved across the sand as she made her approach, keeping her movement flexible. As she reached the dock’s fence she paused to bend her legs then sprung up, leaping clear over the fence and landing on the other side with barely a whisper.

She crawled across the ground as she navigated through amaze of metal containers piled up haphazardly at the far end of the docks. She pressed herself flat against a container as she heard footsteps coming from around the corner. She saw a European man walk past, a flashlight in his hand and the tell-tale bulge of gun visible underneath his suit. The dock’s real guards were probably bribed to take a break for the night.

Once the man moved past another container Ai slid around the corner and continued crawling towards the wall of shipping containers she had noticed before. She didn’t find another guard until she was halfway up the wall, where she heard someone muttering up above. Ai slowed her ascent and moved even more carefully, taking time to slowly shift her weight onto each new handhold. She peeked over the edge and saw a man wearing a black suit and white gloves absentmindedly yo-yoing as he looked down at the center of the docks.

“I swear I’m the only one who does any work around here, if I ever get my hands on the boss I’m gonna-” the man’s rant was cut off as Ai put him into a headlock from behind. The man went slack instantly, confusing Ai until she heard the sound of steel being shorn apart. She let go and leapt back as the man’s yo-yo cut through the top of the container and circled through the space she had been standing seconds before.

Ai snarled as she crouched into a defensive stance. It seemed this guard was using a Precious, and a dangerous one at that.

“Finally, a little fun.” the man said. He spun the yo-yo in circles and he straightened his posture, putting his other hand in his pocket as he turned to face Ai. Every time the yo-yo reached the roof of the container it cut through, creating another shrill rasp. “Wolf ears, wolf tail, and a yellow pupil. You must be Odd Eye. As for me, I like the name ‘Rasoir’.”

Ai feinted right, then swayed back as the yo-yo shot through that space before pulling back to circle around Rasoir’s hand. He started advancing and flinging the yo-yo forward again and again, forcing Ai back until her feet reached the edge of the container.

“And now for a little off the top.” Rasoir swung the yo-yo over his head and whipped it forward. Ai smirked and crouched down on one leg, then she swung her other leg out, sweeping Rasoir’s feet out from under him. He yelped as his head hit the roof of the container, then Ai was on top of him, wrapping him into a triangle choke. His hand started to tighten on the yo-yo’s string, but Ai flick his wrist with her tail, forcing him to drop it. A few minutes later Rasoir was unconscious, his arms bound with a zip tie. Ai took a chance to examine the yo-yo before she stashed it. It gave off a wave of mirth when she held it, and Ai frowned. Child-like joy in a deadly weapon. She thought. A twisted soul must have birthed this Precious.

Ai stashed the yo-yo and turned her attention to her original target. Down in the center of the docks she saw a whole crowd of men in black suits surrounding a giant metal case. If her father hadn’t assured her they were transporting a Precious, she would assume it was a body or an exotic animal. Ai’s wolf ears were sensitive enough to hear the general noise of the ,men’s less than quiet conversation, but she couldn’t make out any details. In the water she could see the cargo ship that must have brought the case, and behind the goons were several black cars they’d use to leave. They were in the middle of the hand-off so she’d have to-

A red SUV came squealing into the dock, cleanly drifting around the last corner.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Ai said.

The driver side door popped open and a woman climbed out, brandishing something that Ai thought might be a stage wand. The next minute a shrill cloud of glowing butterflies swarmed from the wand over to the men in suits, and when the swarm dissipated the men were all on the ground clutching their ears. A boy climbed out of the passenger side and together the two interlopers started moving the metal case to the back of the truck. Ai snarled. She was not going to let a pair of idiots from the Society screw this job up. Ai turned and gave herself a running start towards the dock entrance, knowing she’d only have one good chance to cut them off.

Ai saw two black cars chase after the SUV as she ran and leapt across the piles of shipping containers. Men in suits were leaning out car windows and firing warning shots, but no one returned fire from the SUV. One of the black cars missed a turn and crashed into a container, but the other one kept on the SUV. It looked like Ai was going to have to deal with everything else.

Ai leapt down to a lower container and then timed her jump for when the SUV was in front of her. She leapt down, landing on the roof of the last black car. The shock alone was enough to send the car spinning. For an instant Ai saw the back of the SUV, its trunk open with a boy desperately holding onto both the SUV and the metal case. Then Ai leapt forward onto the roof of the SUV.

The SUV swerved wildly as she clung to the roof, and Ai was surprised that driver didn’t crash while driving so badly. Ai crawled to the edge of the roof and punched through the passenger side window, before pulling her whole body into the seat. The broken safety glass hurt, but Ai could deal with it.

“Oy, you’re gonna have to pay for that.” The woman in the driver seat didn’t even look at the road as she aimed a stage wand at Ai. Ai was faster, sending the woman reeling with one quick jab. Ai grabbed the wheel and stretched her leg to reach the brake. She stomped down and forced the car to a stop before distangling herself and turning to look at the back. The boy was already out of the car, slowly dragging the metal case behind him. Ai crawled over the car seats and emerged from the back of the SUV, starting to feel a little annoyed.

The boy stumbled and let go of the case as he saw Ai walking up to him.

“Take it, take it! This wasn’t even my idea.” the boy looked to be a middle schooler, or possibly a young high schooler, and was devoid of a single memorable feature. He put his arms in the air and stepped aside as Ai crouched down and opened the case, but his ranting continued. “It’s probably another one of those stupid Preciouses that turns you green or hypnotizes you. I don’t have a single clue why my parents were so obsessed with me getting… this…”

Inside the case was blonde girl wearing a white dress and a golden collar. She looked to be close in age to the boy, but without the ordinary scars and imperfections that usually came with age. Even after all the noise and ruckus that had gone on around her, she was still gently sleeping.

Ai snarled. Then an arm wrapped around her throat from behind.

“Get away from her!” the boy was bellowing in her ear, and his arms were squeezing so hard Ai had to hold her breath. His technique was sloppy, but he was stronger than he looked. Ai was actually angry now. She reached over her head, grabbed the boy’s arm, and pulled, bending over to add her whole body’s strength to the throw. The boy had a second to gasp before he arced over her head and hit the ground with his back.

“Ryuji!” The woman was climbing out of the SUV, aiming her stage wand again. Ai leapt into the air as a swarm of glowing butterflies emerged from the wand, and aimed her legs to land straight in the woman’s gut. The woman went down easily, her wand clattering out of her hand when she fell. Without taking another chance Ai pulled the woman’s arms off the ground and bound them with another zip tie. Then Ai turned her attention back to the metal case and its disturbing contents.

The boy had flipped onto his belly, moaning as he tried to drag himself towards the case. Ai ignored him as she walked over and carefully lifted the blonde girl out of the case. She didn’t know exactly what was going on, but she couldn’t accept a human being traded like an object.

“Please…” the boy moaned. “Please don’t…”

Ai breathed deep, slowly let the air out, then said what she had to.

“Do you know this girl?” she asked. The boys face twisted and contorted as he examined the girl in Ai’s arms, only to slump down to the ground. “Then don’t worry. She’ll be safest with me.” her job done, Ai leapt onto a nearby shipping container, then started making her way back to her father.

OOOOO

“A girl?” Furumori asked as Ai landed on the hotel balcony carrying her strange cargo.

“Unless I missed something. A pair of idiots from the Society were also there, but they weren’t a big hassle.” she said.

“Kidnapping?” Furumori asked. “Even for the Society-”

“I don’t think they knew.” Ai shook her head. “They didn’t look like professionals. I think one of them was still in middle school.” Her father stroked his chin.

“Are you sure sure the girl was the center of this?” he asked. “That collar looks special.”

“I checked. It’s not a real Precious, just enchanted by one.” Ai said. “Probably a security measure we’ll need to deal with. The girl herself smelled… strange. As much like a Precious as a normal human, but not quite either.”

“Be careful with her.” Furumori said as Ai set the girl down on one of the hotel’s beds. Ai herself sunk into an armchair, her wolfen features shrinking away as she finally relaxed. Her father smiled as he watched her. “You should get some rest. You’ve done enough for one night. I can watch over this girl, and we can find her somewhere safe in the morning” Ai nodded and slowly made her way to the hotel bath while her father returned to the girl’s bedside. He carefully lifted her left hand, turning it over to examine the flower-like pattern of red scales on the back.

“Just like that man.”

Ai heard her father muttering those words as she fell into her own bed and quickly fell asleep.

 

Chapter 1.2

“Hey, can you hear it?”

Nothing

“My voice?”

“Your… your beautiful.”

“Hey, what’s your name?”

“I- I’m sorry. My name is Ryuji.”

“Really? I’m-”

Distant, muffled sirens woke the young blonde girl. She stirred and twisted around on the all-too soft nest of cotton that surrounded her. Then she threw the covers off and watched them drift onto a floor almost as soft. The girl swiveled her head left and right, examining the area where she had awoken. The area was dark and enclosed, but not as dark and enclosed as the girl was used to. To her left a young woman was sprawled and wrapped in another nest of cotton. Her snores echoed through the room, and she twisted and turned in her sleep. To her right a man was seated in a soft red throne, his eyes closed as he slept with perfect stillness.

“Ryu… ji?” the girl said the name out loud. She tilted her head as she looked at the man, then shook her head. She turned her attention to other things in the room.

Near her was an object made from cloth, glass, metal, and burnt clay standing tall on a block of carved wood. The girl poked it, watched it wobble, then turned away. Against the opposite wall was a large, shiny object made from glass with a metal rim. Unfamiliar runes were carved along the bottom of the rim. The girl walked over and trailed her finger across the runes. Then she started poking and prodding around the rim. Her finger pressed in a raised piece of metal and she was assaulted by waves of light and sound.

The girl leapt back onto the cotton nest where she had awoken, studying the object. Across the glass illustrations of people were leaping and bounding around, throwing fire and lightning around. Sounds echoed from the object to match the illustrations, crackles of fire and words in an unfamiliar language. The girl relaxed and continued to watch as the illustrated people stopped leaping around and fell to the ground, one on top of the other. The two people, a man and a woman, looked into each others eyes. The woman whispered words filled with love. The man started shouting and running away. The girl leaned forward and continued to watch the illustrations.

OOOOO

“Ugh, shut off the TV, papa.” Ai rubbed her eyes as she began disentangling herself from the bed’s blankets. Her ears were being assaulted by fake laughter and cringe-inducing catch-phrases. She turned towards the hotel TV, then scanned the room to figure out where her father was watching from. “Seriously, my ears-” Furumori rested his hand on her shoulder.

Ai looked up to see him motioning for her to be quiet and pointing to the other bed, where the blonde girl was wide awake and watching the TV intently.

“What’s she doing?” Ai whispered.

“Learning.” her father said. “I think.”

Ai brushed away her grogginess and focused on the girl’s mouth as it moved silently, mimicking the words being spoken on the screen. Ai looked back at the TV. She really hoped the girl wasn’t taking too many lessons from a variety show about c-list celebrities. Her father tapped her shoulder.

“Could you get food?” he asked. “I think we’re all a little hungry.”

Half an hour later Ai returned from the hotel restaurant balancing two plates filled with meat, eggs, and pancakes. She froze when the blonde haired girl broke her trance with the TV to stare at her, but Ai forced her muscles to relax. The girl climbed out of the bed, took the plates from Ai’s and set them down on a nearby desk. Ai smiled at the gesture. Then the girl leaned over and started shoveling food into her mouth with her bare hands. Ai’s jaw went slack. As the last sausage from the first plate disappeared, the girl turned her attention to the second plate. Ai took a careful step backward and glanced over at her father.

Get more. He whispered. Ai nodded and quickly backpedaled out of the room.

An hour later the girl had finally stopped eating, leaving Ai and Furumori room to nibble on bowls of fruit salad. Thankfully for their own appetites, the girl did have preferences. The girl stepped away from the desk covered in dirty dishes and flopped backwards onto the bed behind her.

“Ryuji.” the girl said. Ai couldn’t help but flinch. The girl leaned her head back to look at Ai and her father. “Ryuji?” Ai bit her tongue. It wasn’t the rarest of names, but it only tickled her mind.

“I’m sorry, we don’t know anyone by that name.” Furumorir said. “May I ask what your name is?”

The girl rolled her head back and forth. Ai pointed to herself.

“My name is Ai. Ai.” she said. The girl smiled and rolled over so she was on her belly.

“Rose.” she said. “Rooooose.” Furumori started to ask another question, only to be interrupted by knocking at the door.

“Excuse me, I’m trying to find something.”

Furumori answered the door, finding a man in a black suit and white gloves.

“Sorry for the bother.” the Rasoir said. “But I lost my yo-yo.”

“Duck!” Ai yelled. Both men moved, barely avoiding the lamp that went sailing over their heads. “Get back.” Ai leapt across the room, wolfen features emerging in mid-air, and landed on Rasoir, knocking him to the ground. Ai and Rasoir’s arms pushed against each other as they struggled on the ground, while Rose and her father retreated to the back of the room.

“So, you really were here, Odd Eye,” Rasoir said through gritted teeth. He was resisting, but Ai’s arms were already pushing his to the ground. If Ai rushed she could have broken Rasoir’s bones in seconds, but she preferred to avoid such things. “The boss was too busy chewing me out to listen, but I’m going to love seeing him eat his words.”

Ai lifted her head and slammed her forehead into his face. The minute she made contact an electric shock flowed through her head and sent her entire body spasming. Rasoir pushed her away and stood up, sliding a knife out of his pocket.

“Glad I borrowed that necklace before I came here.” Rasoir said, patting his chest. “Useless against guns, but you don’t seem to be the thorough type. Now, you.” Rasoir pointed his knife at Rose. “Girly. You’re coming with me. I really need to get back in the boss’ good grace.”

“Who?” Rose tilted her head. Furumori slowly grabbed the edge of his sleeve, while Ai started pulling herself up the door frame.

“The boss.” Rasoir said, flicking his knife. “He’s got strange tastes, but what Mr. Onyx says-”

CRACK

Rose slammed her fist into her palm, silencing the whole room. Her mouth twisted into a snarl and her pupils narrowed, her blue eyes gaining a bestial appearance.

“No.” she said.

“Be careful now.” Rasoir said. He pointed his knife back at Ai as she leaned against the door frame. “You wouldn’t want anyone getting hurt, would you?”

“No.” Rose said. She started to slam her fist into her palm again and again. “No, no, no.”

“You asked for it.” Rasoir said. He took a step towards Ai, lifting the blade of his knife.

“NO.” Rose screamed. She flung her right arm forward and a jet of flame emerged from the back of her hand, igniting Rasoir’s sleeve. He screamed and cursed as he waved his burning arm. A second later Ai grabbed Rasoir’s shoulder and pulled him down, kneeing him in the gut before letting him fall to the ground. Her father ran up and smothered the fire with a blanket, giving Ai time to catch her breath and tie Rasoir up. She looked over to Rose, who was still glaring at the attacker but seemed to have calmed down.

“What… what are you?” Ai asked. Rose tilted her head.

“Rose?” she patted her chest. “Rose is… a dragon? What else?”

OOOOO

“So… you’re a dragon.” Ai said. She and Rose were at an outdoor market, dressed in large sun hats and slowly licking ice cream cones. Her father had asked for them to leave while he interrogated Rasoir. Ai knew her father wasn’t a torturer, but it still wouldn’t have been pleasant to watch.

“Yep. Red dragon.” Rose said as she rocked back and forth. She was wearing a loose pair of white gloves to conceal the scales on the back of her hand, and a light scarf that hid her golden collar from eyes and other senses. “And you are human.” Ai hung her head. It seemed even dragons weren’t familiar with wolf-folk.

“Is it hard? Being a dragon?” Ai asked.

“Don’t know.” Rose said. She started staring at her ice cream even as she continued to rock back and forth. “I was sleeping for a long time. A very long time. Like, like…”

“Sleeping beauty?” Ai asked.

“Who?” Rose looked at Ai, then shook her head. “No. no. I was asleep for a long time. Then someone… Onyx. The shining black stone. Onyx woke me up. Then his servants chained me and made me sleep again.” Rose tapped the golden collar beneath her scarf. Ai and her father had tried to remove the collar, but nothing had made its clasp even budge. In the end Ai and Furumoti had chosen to simply cover it with a scarf enchanted by the same shrouding Precious Ai often used. Rose suddenly lifted her head and moved closer. “What about Ryuji? Do you know Ryuji?”

“Who?” Ai asked. Once again the name tickled her mind, but she could think of a dozen sources of the top of her head.

“Ryuji.” Rose said again. “Ryuji… er… Ryuji!”

“This guy, Ryuji, do you know what he looks like?” Ai asked. She felt a little cruel to be prying information out of Rose, but Ai didn’t want to be left in the dark about anything to do with the strange girl’s mindset.

“Like you.” Rose said. “But shorter. Darker hair. Male.”

“So… an asian male.” Ai said. She waved her arm at the citizens around her. “Like basically every man around us.”

“Younger. Like me.” Rose said. Ai shook her head.

“Sorry I don’t know anyone like- Oh. Ooooh.” Ai was struck by a memory of an astonishingly generic asian boy. The one she had fought last night. What had the woman called him? Ryuji.

“What?” Rose asked.

“Nothing. Nothing.” Ai replied quickly, before taking a large bite out of her ice cream. She regretted the brain freeze, but it was better than revealing to Rose what happened last night. The ‘Ryuji’ she fought could be unrelated, but that seemed like even longer odds than if he was the boy Rose seemed obsessed with. Thankfully Rose seemed to have returned her attention to her ice cream, sparing Ai any awkward inquiries. A few minutes later Ai’s cell phone buzzed and she picked it up.

“Yes papa?” Ai said. Her father spoke on the other end of the line

“The thug doesn’t know anything about ‘dragons’, he thought the operation was a normal border crossing. His boss is personally interested in the girl, some kind of relative I assume, and the boss is currently… well, let’s just say we won’t have to worry about the Society for a little while.”

OOOOO

“So… how are you feeling, Ryuji?” Eriko asked as she exited the Society’s medical office. She had been looking forward to seeing her cousin again after graduating from college, but for their first job together to go so wrong…

Ryuji himself didn’t reply to her. He was sitting on a bench staring down into his hands. Eriko moved closer, then hurriedly stepped back as she saw Ryuji’s shoulder twitch.

“Look. I’m really, really sorry.” Eriko said. Ryuji wasn’t reacting. “I know you were complaining the whole way there, and I really should have explained things better. Your parents really wanted you to be there, but-”

“But this is the exact reason I hate this crap.” Ryuji shouted. “Every single time you all act surprised when something goes wrong, even though it happens every single time.” Eriko chuckled weekly.

“I’ll admit, Odd Eye did catch me by surprise.” she said.

“Like those fairies in Germany were a surprise. Or the exploding monkeys puppets in Istanbul. Or the evil mask. In the antique shop. Specifically rumored to be cursed.” Ryuji glared at Eriko as he listed the last example. Eriko gulped and hung her head.

“I’m… I’m sorry.” she said.

“I swear, I never want to hear from any of you ever again.” Ryuji stood up as he continued to rant. “Some poor girl was kidnapped and it is all. Your. Fault.” He pointed at Eriko.

“Hold on-” she said.

“I never want to hear another word about a Precious ever-”

Professor Tokura, a man with frizzy hair and a white lab coat walked into the room.

“Ah, young Kisiragi, good to see you. Your parents left a Precious for you and we need you to sign off some paperwork.” Tokura said. Ryuji slowly turned to look at him. “Is now a bad time? You can come back tomorrow if you want, but we’d really prefer you sign off sooner rather than later. The Precious has been stored for some time now and its memory pattern is starting to get restless, so it would be a great help if a level 10 Breaker like you could at least make temporary contact. Wouldn’t expect you to remove it from laboratory conditions of course..” Tokura laughed with obvious nervousness.

Ever since he was young Ryuji’s incredibly high Human-Precious Synchronization Rate had garnered him massive attention from the Society, even earning him a license as an official ‘Breaker’ when he was only 5. From Ryuji’s perspective being a level 10 Breaker had meant years listening to angry and depressed souls, so much that his parents had to teach him that most humans couldn’t understand magic artifacts the way he could. As he grew older, Ryuji had become increasingly envious of the people who lived normal lives. Ryuji sighed and then addressed the man.

“I will never-”

BOOM

An explosion interrupted whatever Ryuji was about to say. Alarms started blaring throughout the entire complex

“Intruder Alert, Intruder Alert.” a voice said over the intercom. “Intruder is an adult Caucasian male with black hair and black wings. Intruder is armed with an unknown multi-use Precious suspected to have S-class power output.”

“Now? Really?” Eriko asked.

“Intruder is demanding the location of a young Caucasian female, a young Asian male, and a mixed race female who owns a red SUV.”

“Oh.” Eriko said. “Should we tell him we don’t have the girl?” Ryuji ignored her as he reached up and grabbed Tokura’s shoulder.

“That Precious you mentioned, is it a weapon?” Ryuji asked.

“Well yes,” Tokura said. “But is now really the time to-”

“Take me.” Ryuji said. “You have to take me.”

OOOOO

Eriko stumbled as she followed Ryuji and Professor Tokura through the door. Behind her several layers of steel shutters closed over each other.

“Will we be safe here?” she asked. Ryuji’s sudden shift in attitude had caught her by surprise, and she was still trying to adjust.

“S class storage is the safest room in the facility.” Tokura said. “Besides, the security team and several Breakers are already moving to intercept, he probably won’t even reach us.” he chuckled nervously again.

“Where is it?” Ryuji asked.

“In the back.” Tokura said. He guided Ryuji and Eriko through the room of steel pillars. Each pillar had digital screens displaying constantly shifting information, from air pressure and temperature to music volume and movies being played. “Here.” he tapped the screen of a pillar with several warning labels attached, shifting the display to show a handprint. “Biometrics are enough for an emergency situation.”

Ryuji placed his hand on the screen and watched as it was scanned. Green letters printed out on the screen: Biometrics confirmed. Access Granted. Precious codename: Slash Breath.

Ryuji let out a sigh of relief.

We love you Ryuji.

Ryuji stumbled back as he saw the text, but it was gone a second later. Information started scrolling on the screen as the top and bottom of the pillar slid open, revealing a pedestal inside that supported a curved dagger with a golden hilt. Ryuji started to reach for the handle and hesitated.

Metal shrieked and several metal doors went flying into the room. A man in a black suit with shoulder length hair and black wings walked in through the doorway, his hands in his pockets.

“Now listen here ants.” he said. “You managed to steal something from me, and I will continue to squash you until she is returned.” Eriko pulled out her stage wand and pointed it at the man.

“She’s a human being you sick-” Eriko was yelling angrily, but the man’s wings twitched and a wave of darkness flew forward, slamming into Eriko and hurling her against the back wall.

“Now then, if the rest of you want to live, I suggest you try listening.” the man said. Eriko coughed.

“Not… dead…”

The man frowned.

“Really?” he said. “Now I’ll have to double check every body on my way out. Tch. Anyways, as I was saying-”

Ryuji snatched Slash Breath from the pedestal. The instant his hand touched it he could feel the dagger’s soul pouring into him. Emotions, thoughts, memories. All of them flowed through Ryuji’s mind, but one thought shone clearly: an image of a dark skinned woman holding Slash Breath in her hand and speaking to Ryuji.

Swing high.

Ryuji swung the dagger over his head, releasing a shockwave throughout the room. The winged man chuckled.

“Did you just miss?” he asked.

A second later the pillars throughout the room split open, sliding apart. Ryuji screamed and charged forward as artifacts, metal pillars, and chunks of the roof itself rained down around him.

How dare you try to take her. Ryuji thought. He felt a command from the dagger and held it low. I’m going to show you what a monster can do.

The man’s wings twitched and another wave of darkness emerged. Ryuji heard a signal from Slash Breath and swung up, watching as the darkness parted before the dagger’s blade and was reduced to a mere cloud of black sand. Ryuji flipped the blade and swung down, only to hit the man’s wings.

“Your blade may be sharp, but it is not absolute.” he said. “In all the world, nothing can cut my scales.”

Ryuji stepped back and yelled as he swung as hard as possible, ignoring Slash Breath’s warning. The man stepped to the side and held out his leg, watching as Ryuji hit the leg and toppled over. Then the man planted his foot on Ryuji’s back.

“Nice trick, but an ant with a knife is still an ant.” the man said. “Now then…” he leaned forward. Ryuji felt unimaginable pressure on his back, more than a human should be able to muster. “Give. her-”

“Odd Eye!” Eriko shouted. The man stopped, relaxing enough so Ryuji could breath. Ryujiturned to see Eriko slowly standing up, hands in the air. She coughed and then continued speaking. “Odd Eye attacked us, took the girl. I’m sorry, I didn’t know she was a relative.” the man took his foot of Ryuji’s back.

“And that is how an ant avoids death. By not being a nuisance. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have something to deal with.” The man turned and started walking back to the room’s shattered doorway. He glanced back at Ryuji and Eriko. “Oh. My name is Onyx by the way, and I will be back to kill you eventually. You did harm my fiance after all.” With those parting words Onyx left the room as Ryuji lifted his fist and slammed it into the ground.

“I can’t believe it.” Tokura muttered. Eriko glanced over at where he had been hiding behind Slash Breath’s pedestal. “Those wings. A breath of black sand. And on the back of his hand, I saw them: a pattern of black scales. A dragon.”

“Dragons?” Eriko asked.

“There’s always been theories.” Tokura said as he carefully stood up. “Just enough stories, just enough memories glimpsed to catch the Society’s attention, but we never had proof. But they’re all true. Living beings with power like a Precious. Dragons are real.” Eriko frowned. Somehow, Tokura was grinning.

 

Chapter 1.3

“Did… did anyone die?” Ai asked. She was in the back of a stylish car with Rose, and her father in the driver’s seat had just gotten off the phone with his contacts in the Society. She had heard enough to confirm that the mysterious “Onyx” had attacked the Society’s headquarters.

“No, oddly enough.” Furumori said. “A lot of broken bones, but it seems Onyx was in a hurry.”

Ai glanced over at Rose, who was concentrating intently on the crepe she was eating. Rose wasn’t as ravenous as when she had first woken up. But Ai hadn’t actually seen her turn down food yet.

“He found out about us, didn’t he?” Ai asked.

“Yes, and the Society is also talking about finding us. Apparently the leaders think we are a lower priority than Onyx.” Furumori said. Ai glanced out the window, watching the suburban neighborhood fade into something resembling a forest.

“Will you take the help?” Ai asked. “Fang raided the Society and-”

“Onyx raided the society.” her father replied. “Just Onyx. Trashed the conventional security and defeated several Breakers, including a level 7 and a level 10.” Ai frowned.

“A level 10 Breaker? I didn’t think any were in Japan?” she asked.

“There weren’t, technically.” her father replied. “Someone with level 10 potential was here, but he had retired so he wasn’t being actively tracked. Then the attack happened and he reactivated his license.”

“What’s his n-”

“Oh, look, we’re almost home.” Furumori said. Rose looked up from licking her fingers as the car pulled onto a long driveway. At the end was a large, western-style house surrounded by trees on all sides. “Take a good look, Rose. We’ll be lying low here until Onyx stops searching.”

“He won’t.” Rose said. Furumori parked the car in front of the house and looked back. “His voice… his voice does not know defeat.”

“Well, bad luck for him.” Furumori said. He reached back and patted Rose on the head, she flinched at first, but then started to smile. “I don’t like to lose either. Especially not when someone threatens my family.”

OOOOO

“... and here is the library.” Furumori said. Rose smiled as he looked around at the tall shelves of books dyed in the colors of the setting sun. At the back of the library was tall windows and displays of some of the Preciouses Ai and Furumori had acquired over the years. Generally they were ones which could be unstable or less than useful. “Feel free to read whatever you like, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t break anything.” Rose nodded.

“Where’s the TV?” she asked. Furumori frowned.

“I don’t own one. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve never been a fan of them.” he said. Rose scratched her head.

“A radio-wave… sound-playing… thingy?” Rose mimicked a box as she stumbled through her explanation.

“You mean a radio?” Ai said as she entered holding a plate of sandwiches. “Sorry, but no. Papa prefers his records over modern music.”

“Alright.” Rose said glumly.

“Why don’t you stay here for a little bit?” Furumori suggested. “Me and Ai have some things to talk about.” Rose nodded and started examining the spines of the books. Ai set the plate down on a reading table and followed her father through the door and to the house’s living room.

“So, what’s it like having a sister?” Furumori asked. Ai paused, blushed, and started scratching her cheek.

“I mean, I wouldn’t mind, but it’s only been a day.” Ai said. Her father smiled.

“It’s just good to see you two getting along.” he said. “I know it’s been hard for you.” Ai nodded and sank back in a chair, and Furumori sat down across from her. She breathed deeply and looked up at the ceiling. “A dragon… what do you think Rose meant by that?”

“I think she was being literal.” her father said. Ai nodded. Rose hadn’t exactly been keen on metaphors so far. “There are stories, old but noteworthy stories of monsters in human form. The Society keeps records of the so called ‘dragon theory’, and one of the specific signs is said to be a collection of scales on the back of the dragon’s human hand.”

“You said you met someone like that before?” Ai asked, leaning forward. Furumori blinked in confusion. “Last night. Someone with scales on their hand.”

“Oh right. I ran into someone like that on a business trip once. I guess I met a dragon without even realizing it.” he said. He chuckled at his own words.

“I see.” Ai said. She leaned back again and smiled. It was good to know what her father was thinking. “What happens now? Fang is looking for us; we can’t just run jobs carelessly.”

“I know.” Furumori said. “I can’t put you at risk like that and unfortunately that thug saw our faces, so we’ll need to keep a low profile if we go out.”

“We can’t let Onyx find her.” Ai said.

“Yes.” Furumori said.

“The way she talks about him… he scares her.” Ai continued. “Scares her so bad she never wants to see him again.”

“Yes.” Furumori said again.

“But Ryuji… it’s like she has a crush on him.” Ai said. “I don’t know how they met or if he really is the boyI met last night, but that’s the only way to describe how she talks about him.”

“Ryuji Kisaragi.” Her father said. “That’s the boy you met last night, along with his cousin Eriko. He’s 15 years old and a level 10 Breaker, son of the famous Kisaragi couple. Became famous himself for solving the German ‘Fairy Incident’ when he was seven, but disappeared a few years ago. He has a Society file, but naturally its private. And if he has any kind of history with Rose his file might explain why he was there.”

“He didn’t recognize Rose.” Ai said. Well, the boy hadn’t actually responded to her question, but Ai would be happier if Rose didn’t have any attachments to struggle with. “If he just got his license back today, he might have just been trying to get back into the game.”

“We can’t keep making guesses.” her father said. “We need his file.”

OOOOO

Naturally, the society headquarters was on high alert after Onyx’s attack. From the perimeter she could see both police and the Society’s own guards, plus a couple of people in plain clothes who were probably Breakers. The building itself was a wreck, the outdoor security gate torn to shreds and the front doors all shattered and twisted. Luckily the security was keeping an eye out for another frontal attack. None of them saw a wolfen woman climbing up the side of a wall and through a fourth story window.

Inside the building was quiet. Presumably, the staff were discouraged from staying longer than necessary today. Ai was familiar with the facility, both from maps and from visits disguised as an ordinary collector’s daughter, but she had never infiltrated it before. Not only was the security here better than even most collectors could afford, but the attention robbing the Society’s own headquarters would bring was not worth the effort.

There were cameras in every hall, carefully placed to cover each others’ blind spots. A normal human couldn’t get past, but Ai’s clawed hands let her cling to the ceiling. Some of the choke points had webs of laser sensors, but Ai expertly wove through them and continued on her way. Luckily she was after conventional information, a section the Society would only guard with conventional technology. She shuddered to think about what might protect the S-class Precious vault she had heard rumors about.

Ai reached the personal file storage center, swiped a spoofed key card over the electronic lock, and slipped in. She examined the shelves of files, checking for the section where “Kisaragi, Ryuji” would be stored. Then she saw a glimmer of light. Ai flattened against a shelf and peaked around to see the source. At a table a young boy was studying a file underneath a lone lamp. Ai squinted and then grimaced. Because her week obviously needed to be worse, Ryuji Kisaragi was in the file room reading his own file at the exact same time Aiwas trying to steal it.

Ai waited. She could attack Ryuji, take the file, and be gone before he raised the alarm, but that wasn’t worth the attention. Ai frowned. Also, he technically hadn’t done anything to deserve it. Ryuji glanced down to his side, then over towards where Ai was hiding. He slowly set down the file, pulled out a curved dagger and started walking towards her. The minute he entered the shelves Ai slid around to the other end, listening to Ryuji’s footsteps as she circled around to grab the file. Ai reached the table and glanced over to confirm that Ryuji was still walking down shelves. He was, but his head was turned to look behind him. Her eyes met his. Ai considered her options against a level 10 Breaker holding what looked like a very dangerous Precious. Then she considered her options against a middle schooler who looked surprisingly nervous for someone with the upper hand.

“Did your Precious tell you to do all that?” Ai asked. Ryuji blushed.

“... Did not.” he muttered. Ai leaned towards the table. “Don’t move.” Ryuji said, flicking his blade. Ai watched as a shockwave traveled through the air and cut off a corner of the table. “Crap. You didn’t see that, alright?”

“Nope.” Ai said. “I’m snitching on you the moment I get questioned.” She usually preferred to stay quiet during a job, but her words seemed to have more power than her physical abilities at the moment.

“Seriously, I just wanted to figure out… never mind. Now shut up and stand still.” Ryuji said. “I’ve got a combat Precious, you’ve got cosplay. Do what I say and you don’t get hurt.” Ai snarled.

“What did you call me?” she asked. She couldn’t believe what he had just said about her wolf blood.

“The ears, the tail? It’s cosplay.” Ryuji said. “It’s not even that niche. MIght as well be dressed like a french m-” Ai grabbed the edge of the table and hurled it at him, sending the file flying. Ryuji yelped and leaned back, watching as the table flew centimeters over his chest before smashing against the floor. By the time he got back up Ai and the file were gone.

As much as she wanted to fight, Ai ignored Ryuji and simply left the room. Her blood was boiling, the hair on her arm was growing thick and her claws were growing long. How dare he, How dare he, How dare he insult her like that. Still, she had the file tucked in her mouth, and leaving the facility would be easy. That would have to be revenge enough.

OOOOO

When Ai got home her anger had burnt out and she was left with the normal aches and fatigue of a long day. She handed her father her file and headed to her room, flopping down on her bed without bothering to change. Just as she started to drift off to sleep she heard rapid footsteps and then something hit the bed and shook the whole thing. Ai opened her eyes to see Rose lying next to her, smiling.

“Welcome home.” Rose said. Even at night she was keeping the light scarf wrapped around the golden collar on her neck.

“Yes, I am home.” Ai said wearily.

“Where were you?” Rose asked, moving closer. “I was lonely.”

“I was, uh, working.” Ai said. Explaining to Rose would be tiring. She reached over and poked Rose’s cheek. “Shouldn’t you be asleep?”

“I was lonely.” Rose repeated. She said it a little slower and a little quieter. “I don’t like sleeping. I don’t like being alone.”

“Sorry, but I need to sleep.” Ai said. She turned over and closed her eyes, hoping Rose would get the idea. A small hand touched her back.

“Please don’t leave me.” Rose whispered. Ai blinked. Those words were too familiar. Ai wondered if this too was part of being a sister.

“It’s okay.” Ai said. “I’ll only sleep until morning.”

OOOOO

“Okay, I let you stay there for your sake, but I’ve got to be the adult in the room now.” Eriko said.

“That’s new.” Ryuji muttered. He and Eriko were in a cramped apartment half the size of where Ryuji lived, seated around a table set with two bags of convenience store curry bread as the sun rose outside. Luckily the Society had already arranged time off for him from school.

“Shut it. Things are bad enough with a real live dragon promising to kill us, and now you’ve somehow personally angered Odd Eye.” Eriko said. “We are not leaving this safe house until both of them are locked up.” Eriko glanced over at the security guard captain in the corner of the room.

“I mean, that’s not really your choice, but go ahead.” he said. “I’d rather not get into anymore fights.”

“Thank you.” Eriko said with a nod of her head. “Now, why the heck did Odd Eye steal your personal file?”

“Blackmail?” the guard captain said. Both Eriko and Ryuji glared at him. “Sorry.”

“I think…” Ryuji said. “I think she was after the same thing I was. The girl she kidnapped, I swear I remember her but I don’t know from where. I was hoping she’d pop up in my file.”

“Old flame?” Eriko suggested.

“Heck no.” Ryuji said. He slumped into his chair. He actually had an idea but he didn’t want to think about it. If he thought about it again, it would mean accepting too many other bad memories.

“Should we call your-”

“No.” Ryuji cut Eriko off immediately. “That George guy is closer. We don’t need my parents.”

“You could at least ask them-”

“They won’t know.” Ryuji said. “They never know anything about me, they never even thought about what I wanted, they, they…” Eriko shrank back as Ryuji ranted.

“Miss Nanao, you said the Kisaragi’s pointed you to the shipment in the first place, right?” the guard captain asked. Eriko nodded.

“And they had to have gotten the information from somewhere. If they knew for sure it was human trafficking they wouldn’t have sent just us, so they must have been tracking something else, maybe a different person or location of interest…” Eriko scratched her chin. “I know the ship the girl came in on was from Europe-”

“Albania, to be specific.” the guard captain said. He shuffled his feet as Ryuji and Eriko turned to stare at him. “I… might have double checked before I came here.”

“Albania?” Eriko looked over at Ryuji. “Didn’t you all go exploring there when you… were…” Ryuji head was in his hands.

“That’s right.” he spoke slowly and quietly, each word given extreme care. “I was four. Because it’s normal to take toddlers mountain climbing. I got lost. I tripped. I got hurt. And… I talked to a girl. I think she was my age. Blonde. We only talked for a few seconds but…” Ryuji paused. Eriko nodded. Ryuji blushed. “I got obsessed with her. In a childish way. When my parents found me I kept talking about her, and when I got home I kept drawing pictures of her. This only lasted a couple months of course. When the thing with the fairies happened I pretty much forgot all about her, and as I got older I started assuming she had been a vivid dream. And when…” Ryuji stopped and shook his head. He straightened his back and looked Eriko in the eyes. “But the girl we saw, I swear it’s her. Rose…”

“Rose, huh? I guess your parents had their own suspicions about what happened to you, Kept tabs on that part of Albania, and noticed Fang doing an operation there.” Eriko said. She also had a suspicion about what Ryuji had kept hidden, but she would never dare to ask. “So what now then?”

“I’m taking her back.” Ryuji said. “I’ll find Odd Eye, I’ll beat Onyx.” His hands were clenched so hard his knuckles were turning white. “And I won’t let her cry. Never again.”

 

Chapter 1.4

“Ryuji, the person your looking for, what is he like?” Ai set down a cup of tea. She had woken up later than normal, scared to see Rose staring at her intently, but nothing had come of it. Now they were sitting down for breakfast, sipping earl grey tea as Furumori prepared the food.

“Dunno.” Rose said. It was an odd thing to admit, but Rose didn’t seemed disturbed by it.

“What do you think about him?” Ai asked

“I love him.” Rose said. Her smile broadened and she took another sip of tea.

“I know your still young but, do you mean you ‘love’ him or you ‘love’ him.” Ai asked. It sounded like a crush, but Ai didn’t want to make any assumptions. Rose tilted her head.

“Which is better?” she asked. Ai rested her head in her hand and groaned.

“It’s not like one’s better than the other. They’re just, you know, different.” Rose tilted her head the other way. “Nevermind.” Ai was saved further love talk when her father served a traditional Japanese breakfast.

“How did you two meet?” her father asked. “It must have been quite the memorable encounter.”

“My first.” Rose said. “I had been sleeping a long, long time, and Ryuji found me. We talked, and then he left. I’ve always, always wanted to talk again.”

“I see.” Furumori said. He took a seat at the table and started eating from his breakfast. “And what about being a dragon, what’s that like?”

“Like? It’s what I am.” Rose said. “Like you are humans.” Ai scratched her cheek awkwardly. She never had explained to Rose that she was a half-wolf. Rose placed her left hand flat on the table, showing the red scales on the back of her hand. “I think our bodies are a little different, and only humans on TV had breaths or wings. And those were just drawings.”

“Late night anime, huh?” Ai said, vaguely remembering Ryuji’s insults from last night. “Sorry you had to see that.”

“It was cool.” Rose shouted and pumped her arm. “The people were flying about and using breaths like Boom and Kapow. And then the boy tripped and landed on top of the girl and she was lovey-dovey and he started running away and-”

“I get the idea.” Ai said. No accounting for a dragon’s taste, apparently.

“What about Onyx?” Furumori asked. “He’s a dragon too right?” Rose’s mood immediately fell.

“Yes.” she said. “A powerful one. I heard his call, but I’ve never seen him.”

“The good news is that he is not a subtle dragon. The Society traced him to a penthouse in that new spire downtown.” Furumori said. “They’re waiting for a professional fighter to arrive before trying to capture him, but if we move quickly we might be able to secure a bargaining chip.”

“Don’t go.” Rose yelled and slammed her hands on the table, rattling the dishes and making Ai flinch. Ai was surprised that her father managed to keep his composure. “You’ll lose.” Rose said. “They’ll lose. I’ll lose. He’s too strong.”

“Don’t worry.” Ai said. She reached over and squeezed Rose’s hand. “We’re not planning to fight. I’ll sneak in and find something to use as leverage. Something that will keep him away from us. It’s the kind of thing I do all the time, and I’ve never been caught.”

“Really?” Rose asked. Ai considered a thousand ways the job could go wrong. Ai didn’t even know if there was anything that would stop Onyx from pursuing them. But she concentrated on the look of fear on Rose’s face.

“I promise.” Ai said with a smile. As Rose moved her focus to finishing her breakfast Ai pulled her father aside to another room. “Papa, I think we should let her meet Ryuji.” Ai whispered. The first thing Furumori had told her in the morning was that he had found a connection between Ryuji and Rose in his file, specifically a trip to Albania eleven years ago. Albania was the same country Fang had taken Rose from, making it was as good a proof as they could expect.

“Absolutely not.” Furumori said. “The Society will cart her off to a lab the second she’s in reach.”

“At least let them talk over the phone.” Ai said. “She’s desperate to meet him and-”

“What did you think of him?” Furumori asked. “You’ve met him twice now.”

“He’s an idiot.” Ai said. “And kind of an ass. But this is about Rose, not him.”

“Read his file.” Furumori said. “Especially the last entry before he retired. I think you’ll understand my opinion a little better then. Besides, he’s a human and Rose is a dragon with confused memories. It’s better that she’s never disappointed by reality.” Ai let out a sigh.

“I’m sorry, you’re right.” Ai said. It was the same lesson she had to learn over the years. Humans wouldn’t trust non-humans like herself. Any sign of difference would be ruthlessly attacked. Her father was the only exception.

“Take your time preparing.” Furumori said. “And be careful. My contacts mistook Onyx’s power for an S class Precious. Rose is right that you can’t fight him. Just find what you can and run away.”

“Do you have any ideas?” Ai asked. “He attacked the Society’s headquarters on his own, he seems pretty desperate for Rose.” Furumori scratched his chin.

“An earring.” he said. “An amber stone in a tear-drop shape. The match for the one we stole back in America.”

“Onyx has it?” Ai asked, scrunching her face in confusion. “You said someone stole it from you.”

“It took me a while, but I just realized that Onyx’s description matches the man who mugged me. He didn’t have giant wings that time, of course.” Furumori said. He grinned and tapped the side of his head. “Sorry, old man’s memory.”

“Ah, sorry.” Ai said with a smile. “I was just a little confused.”

“Well then,” Furumori said. “Happy hunting.”

OOOOO

As she walked to the center of the park, Ai couldn’t help but mull over a dozen things in her head. Onyx’s desires, Rose’s fears, and Ryuji’s past. Ai frowned. Ryuji hadn’t come off as the most amazing boy she had ever seen at first, but after what she had read Ai understood why he shouldn’t meet Rose. It seemed her father was right as always.

Compare to the Society’s headquarters, the spire was laughably easy to infiltrate. It was broad daylight but only a few guards were wandering around the site. Ai simply slipped past a guard who was dozing off and continued on to the central elevator shafts. Inside the spire was almost entirely empty. It seemed that construction had been halted for reasons possibly related to the crime boss staying in the spire’s penthouse. Ai expressed her wolfen traits once she climbed on top of an elevator. Actually taking an elevator would be too loud. It wasn’t the farthest she had ever had to climb, but the experience was never pleasant.

When Ai reached the top floors she started seeing actual security: men with black suits and guns haphazardly patrolling the corridors. Luckily for Ai people still never looked up. From her position clinging to the ceiling it was easy to follow the thug’s’ paths to the more heavily guarded areas, including the penthouse. Unfortunately the doors had two guards flanking them, an obstacle that would usually force Ai to get her hands dirty. But with Onyx on the other side she knew that wasn’t an option.

She quickly glanced around at the ventilation, but it was normal-sized. If she was younger she might have squeezed through, but she had grown too much too fast to pull of that trick anymore. Grumbling to herself, Ai crawled into a dark corner and waited. Sometimes thievery was just boring. Minutes passed. Ai sang Bach in her head. She eavesdropped on thugs talking about their girlfriends and gambling woes. She heard more speculation about Onyx’s personal life than she ever really wanted to know. A wolf’s hearing could be both a blessing and a curse.

Finally she heard footsteps and raised voices coming from beyond the penthouse door. The guards jumped back as the doors flew open and a man with long black hair walked out. Ai recognized his description, even if his wings were missing. A man with shoulder length hair and a black suit. Onyx.

“Ants, I am both bored and angry.” Onyx said. The guards immediately straightened their backs and faced Onyx. “Since the Society and your co-workers seem to be taking their time, I will be personally searching for my fiance. Try not to break anything while I’m gone.” Onyx continued walking, making his way to the elevator. By the time the doors closed behind him Ai was already inside the penthouse.

Ai wasn’t surprised by what she found inside. High priced art, silk curtains, and a general taste for older fashions. Onyx fit the same mold as any number of rich collectors she had robbed in the past. Unfortunately that made it hard to identify anything he truly valued. And as she carefully investigated the various rooms of the penthouse she couldn’t find any sign of the earring her father had suggested. She heard talking and started moving towards the source, hoping for some hint.

“Just do what Mr. Onyx says. He’s simply dealing with some frustrations right now.” Ai crept found the source, a professional woman talking on a phone in an office. On the desk Ai saw a glass box containing the amber earring. Ai made a small smile. It was something at least. “Presumably whoever this ‘Odd Eye’ is they’ve already gone into hiding.” The woman continued her conversation. “Don’t worry. If we don’t find anything today Mr. Onyx will simply head to the mainland. Something like this is sure to be a long-term operation.”

The woman ended her call and left the office, leaving the door open behind her. Ai waited for the woman’s footsteps to fade and then slipped into the office. She carefully sniffed the desk before grabbing the earrings. It wouldn’t do to be caught by a hidden trap. She pocketed the earring and started checking the paperwork on the desk, hoping to find some sort of weakness. All she saw was ledgers dense with numbers and fake corporate names. Thankfully it seemed Onyx was less obsessed with Rose than he had seemed.

Frustrated that she had only gained a little information, Ai started making her way to the Penthouses balcony. Climbing down the outside of the spire wasn’t exactly subtle, but there was less risk of gunfire than going back through the front door. Ai let out a breath of relief as she found the balcony to be empty as she exited.

“You also need to look up more, Odd Eye.” Ai stiffened as she heard high heeled shoes softly land on the ground. “I’m glad you made this all worth our while.” Ai carefully turned around to see the woman standing behind her, holding a black disk under one arm. “I’ll warn you now, there was definitely some misinformation involved maneuvering you here. Mr. Onyx will not be returning to the mainland anytime soon.” Ai started backing up.

“I’m sorry,” Ai said. “But wasn’t that a little too elaborate?”

“I wanted to negotiate, Odd Eye, not chase you off.” the woman said. “My name is Kai, and I represent Mr. Onyx during his business dealings.”

“This isn’t a business matter.” Ai said.

“It’s not that different from my perspective.” Kai said. “You both want something and have to trade to get it. Mr. Onyx wants Miss Rose, his partner-to-be, who you kidnapped. You want your life, something Mr. Onyx could end rather easily.”

“His ‘partner’? How old is Onyx again?” Ai asked. Kai waved her hand.

“Not like that, theatrics asides.” Kai said. “It’s a draconic matter, a ritual called the ‘Engage” that Mr. Onyx wants to conduct that requires a second dragon. He believes that ‘Engaging” with Rose will enhance his abilities enough to defend against any other dragons. This ritual requires Rose’s cooperation, so I assure you she’ll be well taken care of. Besides she’ll be happier living with other dragons.”

“She’s happy as she is.” Ai said. She was surprised how little force she could put into the words. Kai shrugged her shoulders.

“I’m simply stating facts.” Kai said. “Afterall, you know very little about draconic physiology or culture.”

“How can I trust you?” Ai asked. “I saw what Onyx did to the Society.”

“Keep that earring we left for you.” Kai said. “Onyx was fond of it, but he agreed your master could have it back as a sign of our good faith. Afterall it is a mere object, not like miss Rose.” Ai blinked. They had connected her with Furumori already, and remembered robbing him.

“I’ve got to go.” Ai said. Her shoulders slumped as she turned Kai’s offer over in her head.

“Naturally.” Kai said. “We are both merely representatives. If your master accepts our offer simply bring Rose here before midnight. Once we have her back we will make preparations to leave the country. That should be enough to put you at ease, I assume.”

Ai didn’t respond. She simply turned and flipped over the balcony’s railing, starting her journey back to the ground.

OOOOO

“Ai!” the moment Ai walked in Rose ran over and squeezed her in a tight hug. “I was so scared.”

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” Ai said, stroking Rose’s head. Ai smiled. It had been a long time since someone had hugged her. Rose dug her face into Ai and mumbled something. “What?” Rose pulled away.

“Why?” Rose asked. “Why does he make you do this?” Ai broke away from Rose’s hold.

“He’s not making me do anything.” Ai said. She was as shocked by Rose’s words as by how sudden her mood had changed. “Don’t talk about papa like that.”

“But stealings wrong.” Rose said. “Everything says that. And all he makes you do is steal things. Like today, and last night.” Ai didn’t remember telling Rose about exactly what she had done the night before. Had she overheard something. Ai gulped as her mind spun. Did Rose hear her and Furumori talk about Ryuji?

“He’s not making me do anything.” Ai said. She kept her voice steady, but it felt physically difficult to do. “I chose to do this. I’m helping papa. We’re trying to make the world a better place.”

“How?” Rose asked.

“The Society, Fang, all those people hoard Preciouses and don’t do anything to help people.” Ai’s voice started to rise despite herself. “Papa’s wants to free those Preciouses, and I chose to help him.”

“What does he do with them?” Rose asked. “I looked in the library, its filled with those shiny things.”

“Just be quiet.” Ai said, lowering her voice. “And stop talking about papa like that.” Ai shook her head and stormed away, making a beeline to her room. Why? She thought. Why was Rose being so hostile so suddenly? Why couldn’t she understand Ai? Ai slammed her bedroom door closed behind herself and collapsed back on her bed. Rose should talk to papa. He can explain it better.

Ai pulled out the earring she had taken and held it up, watching light dance across the spinning amber. Jewelry was supposed to cheer girls up, wasn’t it. Ai didn’t know if that included magic jewelry, but it was worth a try. Ai stood up and walked over to her dresser, where she kept the other earring. As she grabbed the earring she felt a wave of emotions cycle between the two earrings. Fear and hate.

From what she had heard the earrings belonged to a woman who killed herself after learning that her lover had been cheating on her for years, and now the earrings would in turn let a woman see through men’s lies. Pretty jewelry with ugly feelings attached. It wasn’t the exact same situation, but Ai felt like she understood the earrings a little better now. It would be nice to know what Rose was thinking.

Ai moved to her mirror and slipped the earrings on. It reminded her of when she first got her ears pierced in France, and Ai smiled a little. It was a present for her twelfth birthday, a moment of peace in her and her father’s hectic life.

There was a knock at the door.

“Ai? Are you okay?” Furumori called in. “I saw Rose sulking in the library.”

“I’m fine.” Ai said as she reached up to remove the earrings and stopped. What was the worst that could happen? Was she scared he own father, the one who took her in as a baby, was lying to her? Was she scared Rose was right? Ai frowned. She had enough experience to know that the earrings’ thoughts were interfering with her own, but she also knew the earrings could only respond to her own thoughts. Should she at least try to test her father?

Ai shook her head. No. she refused to treat her father like that. She quickly unhooked the earrings and set them aside.

“Come in.” she said. Furumori slowly opened the door.

“Welcome home.” he said. “I’m glad to see your safe. Did you find anything?”

“They found me.” Ai frowned and leaned back on her dresser. “They were waiting for me, actually. Onyx’s secretary or something.” Ai described her argument with Rose and the encounter on the spire beforehand. She explained the deal that had been offered, watching as her father’s frown deepened with every addition.

“I refuse.” Furumori said. “I won’t hand Rose over.”

“What she said about living as a dragon, do you think she’s right?” Ai asked.

“Onyx is just treating Rose like an object. I doubt he really cares about anything.” he replied. “But it is true. Humans and dragons, humans and wolves, even humans and other humans. They never understand each other. But that’s why we need to protect Rose. To keep her safe from everyone else.” Ai smiled and nodded. Rose might not understand it, but Ai was thankful for everything her father had done to protect her. Her own family had abandoned her, but Furumori had accepted her and raised her as his own.

“Including Ryuji.” Ai said. After what she had learned, she couldn’t stomach letting him meet Rose.

“And the rest of the Society.” Furumori said.

“What about Rose herself?” Ai asked.

“Don’t worry about it, these things happen in a family.” Furumori said. “You got restless when you were younger, but you calmed down after you had time to think.” Ai nodded. He glanced at the earrings on the table, smiled, and patted Ai on the head. “Good work, Ai. We can make our plans once you’ve had a chance to rest. I’ll try to talk to Rose.”

OOOOO

Rose looked up as she heard Furumori enter the library. Her heart was still hurting as she sat on the steps of a staircase. How could Ai respond like that? Why did questions make her so angry? Why did Ai leave her?

“Rose, are you alright?” Furumori asked. Rose mumbled nonsense, unsure of how to respond. Furumori sat down next to her. “I heard you were confused by what we do.”

“You steal.” Rose said. “Stealing’s wrong.” At least, that is what she had learned from second hand sources. With Onyx’s servants, and then with Ai and Furumori, she hadn’t had many chances to learn about society in person. She did remember watching Ai exchange coins for ice cream and crepes, and Rose could infer that Ai wouldn’t have tried to steal food instead of paying for it.

“It is.” Furumori said. He reached towards Rose’s shoulder but she leaned away. “And when someone refuses to share what they have with others, that too is a form of theft. Preciouses were born from the souls of those who died while filled with regret. In a sense, they represent people’s desire to overturn the injustice of the universe’s laws.”

“But you-” Rose was confused by what Furumori said. The things he said didn’t seem to connect like they should.

“Humans make laws for the sake of human happiness.” Furumori said. “If those laws get in the way of happiness, then the laws themselves are wrong. That is why thieves like Robin Hood can become legends: Because they chose justice over the law.” Rose scrunched her body up tighter.

“Where’s Ryuji.” she asked. Rose had heard Furumori and Ai talk about him when they thought she couldn’t hear. Furumori frowned and stood up.

“I don’t think Ryuji was a good person, Rose.” he said. “How long did you even know him? A few minutes? a few seconds?”

“He was lonely.” Rose said. She remembered that much. She had spent years thinking about that one conversation as she slept. She remembered Ryuji perfectly. “He wanted to talk but no one ever listened. His heart was hurting.”

“Forget about him.” Furumori said, raising his voice. “You don’t know what he’s done.. He’s just another liar, another tool of the Society, just someone else trying to take you.”

Rose flinched.

“Go away.” she said.

“Rose, you need to listen to me.” Furumori said. He reached down to her.

“Go. Away.” Rose looked up at Furumori, her blue eyes gaining a bestial look. Furumori shook his head and started leaving.

“Such a troublesome girl.” he said.

OOOOO

Dusk was falling. Rose and Ai were quietly eating their dinner, neither willing to look at each other. Furumori concentrated on the setting sun as he sipped his tea. If he had to be honest with himself, he might have underestimated Onyx. Onyx had become a sword hanging over the head of not just Furumori but the entire Japanese branch of the Society. Such a major crisis caused by just a little misinformation. He didn’t know what exactly had led Ryuji and the Society to the docks that night, but in Furumori’s case if he knew how precious a cargo was really being transported he would have certainly taken a different approach.

If Fang could have found Rose on its own a deal would never have been made, but after a face to face encounter Furumori couldn’t rule out the possibility that Fang had tracked Ai back to his home. And they were only willing to wait until midnight. On top of that Rose was growing restless, starting to push against the boundaries Furumori had established. And she still, still, still was obsessing over that boy she met at random years ago.

Furumori sighed. He couldn’t let Rose just leave. He only had two choices. The first was to leave the country, disguise his daughters, and let the Society take Onyx’s wrath. But that still relied on the hope that the dragon would lose interest within Furumori’s remaining lifetime, which seemed increasingly unlikely. That left only the second choice: killing Onyx. Furumori smiled. Luckily he hadn’t been entirely inactive while Ai worked.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2.1

“Rose! Rose!” Ai shouted as she shook the sleeping Rose. “Where’s papa? Where is he?”

“Eh.” Rose mumbled and waved her arms as she turned over, throwing out a small jet of fire. Ai jumped back but continued shouting.

“Wake up, papa’s missing.” Ai said.

“What?” Rose rubbed her eyes as she sat up. “What?”

“I can’t find papa.” Ai said. “We were waiting for the deadline together, he sent me to check something, and when I got back he was gone.”

“What deadline?” Rose asked.

“To meet with Onyx.” Ai said. “He said we should, should…” Ai stopped as she saw Rose’s expression go from half-asleep to awake and serious. Her hands clasped together.

“About me?” Rose asked. Ai nodded. “Was he threatening you?” Ai nodded again.

“Did he… did papago on his own?” Ai asked. Logically she knew Rose wouldn’t know the answer, but Ai was desperate for an answer. “He’s not a real Breaker, he’s not even that athletic. That’s suicide.” Ai said.

“For you? For both of us? Even if he’s thief…” Rose stared at her hands. “This is all my fault.” Rose and Ai looked at each other. Seconds ticked away. They both spoke at the same time.

“We need to go.”

OOOOO

Onyx watched as his bodyguards patted Furumori down, only pulling out a wallet and car keys from his pockets.

“As you can see I’m unarmed.” Furumori said. The guards let Furumori into the penthouse proper, and he observed the wealth and artistry on display around Onyx. Behind Onyx the secretary, Kai consulted with a pocket watch.

“I also see you don’t have my fiance with you.” Onyx said.

“Rose is safe.” Furumori said. He tucked his hands into his pockets. “I’m simply here to complete negotiations.”

“There were never negotiations in the first place.” Onyx said. “Kai simply said what ants should do if they wanted to avoid being stepped on.”

“Rather, I would advise you to stop threatening my daughters if you want to live.” Furumori said. He smiled.

“Daughters, other than that wolf-girl who runs errands for you?” Onyx asked.

“Sorry, excuse my turn of phrase.” Furumori said. “I’ve just been growing fond of Rose.” Onyx narrowed his eyes and took a step forward, black wings spreading from his back.

“Take those words back, filthy cur.” he said. “The likes of you can never come close to the bloodline of a dragon.”

“Don’t act like you care about her.” Furumori said. “I’ve had the suspicion since we first met. Rose confused me a little, but seeing you again has made up my mind. It’s not a dragon thing, it’s just you.” Furumori pulled his hands out and spread them out. “You don’t feel love, do you? Even animal lust would be too human for you. You don’t care about anything other than money and power.”

Onyx pointed his left hand forward.

“Bold words from a petty thief,” he said. “I’ve studied your work, and I’m not impressed. You’re just wildly lashing out at everything, aren’t you? I think you haven’t even touched half the Preciouses you’ve stolen.”

“I act because of love.” Furumori said. “And it is love that drives me to seek justice. Someone like you could never understand me.”

“I don’t need to understand an ant.” Onyx snapped his fingers, and a stream of darkness poured forth. Furumori swiped his hand and the air shrieked as the stream of darkness curved, flowing past Furumori’s face and piercing a wall behind them. A second later Furumori’s sleeve split open, revealing an arm covered by a green tattoo. Onyx tilted his head and smiled.

“I see.” he said. “Last time I thought your Preciouses were just hidden jewelry, but I get it now. Those tattoos… you fused a Precious with your flesh, didn’t you? And that wolf girl, she has a tattoo as well. A prototype?”

“The successful one.” Furumori said. The guards behind him raised their weapons. For a second Furumori started to worry.

OOOOO

“Papa!” Ai roared as she threw open the doors to Onyx’s penthouse, her wolfen traits fully expressed.

“Onyx!” Rose followed behind Ai, her scarf left behind to show her golden collar. Behind both of them guards were scattered around on the floor, covered in bruises and burnt clothes.

The bodyguards turned as Ai entered and she leapt, kicking off one guard and then the other and knocking both to the groundRose ran through the door as Ai landed on the ground.

“Rose, how good to finally meet you.” Onyx relaxed and spread his arms wide. Rose roared and Onyx smirked even as he leaned back.

“You want me.” Rose said, pointing at herself for emphasis. “Leave them alone.”

“Don’t.” Furumori yelled at Rose. Onyx flicked his arm and threw out a wave of darkness. Ai leapt forward, pulling her father with her as she narrowly dodged Onyx’s attack. She held out an arm to stop herself against one wall, and pulled Furumori closer to soften the blow on him.

“This isn’t about you anymore.” Onyx said. He looked away from Furumori and move towards Rose. Ai’s knees bent. “This is a matter between dragons now.” Rose growled.

“Your development has been a little strange, I’ll admit.” Onyx said. “But once you’ve gotten to live as a proper dragon I’m sure you’ll come to understand things better. As a partner for Engaging, there are none superior to me.”

“I don’t want you.” Rose yelled. “I want Ryuji. Why is everyone hiding him from me?”

Onyx frowned. He pointed his arm at Rose.

“This ‘Ryuji’... is he a human?” he asked.

“Yes.” Rose said.

“Then forget him right now.” Onyx said. “Dragons and humans can’t live together. Trying will only bring you sadness.”

“I won’t.” Rose said. She stomped the ground, cracking the tiles below her. “I want Ryuji. I want to talk again.”

“Then I’ll have to make you see reason first.” Onyx said. He snapped his fingers and launched another stream of darkness forward. Rose swung up her hand and released tongues of flame, rocking back as her flames collided with Onyx’s darkness. The two dragons each took a step back as their magic continued to collide, releasing shockwaves throughout the room. Ai had to brace herself and Furumori against a wall, while she saw Kai retreating towards the balcony.

“Stop.” Rose yelled. “Stop it.” She moved her free hand to brace her outstretched arm.

“Do you feel your blood stirring? Do you feel the power flowing through you?” Onyx asked as he stepped forward, forcing Rose back as his darkness pushed against her flames. “You could kill that boy with a wave of your hand, that’s how different you are.”

“I don’t care.” Rose put one foot behind her, using the floor to support herself.

“Do you think you’re the first? Do you think your special?” Onyx said. “Don’t throw your life away for a human.”

“Go away.” Rose said. “Go away.”

Ai set Furumori down, giving him time to brace himself against the raging wind filling the room.

“Stay here.” she whispered.

“You can’t-”

“I just need to distract him. Then we’re getting out of here.” Ai patted her father’s shoulder. This was how things should be. It was a little selfish, but she liked the idea of being Rose’s beloved sister. And her father… couldn’t fight, despite the sounds she had overheard from behind the door. He only had the abilities of a level 3 Breaker, perfectly average as people went, and he only ever used the simplest Preciouses. Onyx must have missed. Her father must have bluffed. She hadn’t heard clearly anyways. Ai tried hard not to look at the green tattoo curling around Furumori’s exposed arm.

“Be careful.” Furumori said. Ai nodded then turned to look at the clash between Onyx’s and Rose’s magic. Onyx’s wings looked powerful and hard to damage, and he himself was standing casually despite the immense forces released from the collision of fire and darkness. But Ai was fast, and she only needed a small opening.

Ai kicked off the wall, sprinting towards Onyx. He flicked his wing and sent a small wave of darkness at Ai, giving her the opening she was waiting for. Ai kicked off the ground, leaping over the wave as it cut into the ground, and she flipped to plant her feet on the ceiling. Ai kicked off again, launching herself like a rocket towards Onyx. He pulled back his wing to defend his body, but it was not enough. Ai flew past his wing and grabbed onto his outstretched hand, pulling it with all the force and mass she had. Ai felt her arms strain as she came to a dead stop, Onyx’s arm barely shifting. But that shift was enough.

The stream of darkness Onyx was creating went wild as his arm shifted, gouging a line through the wall behind Rose. At the same time, Rose’s flames continued forward without interruption, washing over Onyx’s unprotected body. The instant she felt the heat of Rose’s flames Ai let go and ran to Rose. Rose yelped as Ai scooped her under one arm and leapt, springing over to Furumori in one jump. Ai ducked as a black disk flew over her head and cut through the wall. Kai caught the disk in one hand and pulled her arm back.

Ai grimaced, grabbed her father, and ran to the balcony. Kai flicked her arm and sent the black disk spinning through the air. Ai weaved right and left, barely avoiding the disk’s zig-zagging path as she ran past Kai and through the balcony door. Behind her Ai could hear Onyx laughing through the crackle of flames. Ai leapt onto the balcony’s rail and grunted as she started running down the side of the spire.

Ai knew she was going to crash. If she was alone, if she had one person, if she could just change Rose and Furumori’s position, she could use one hand to slow her fall. With just her feet open she was barely controlling her descent. The base of the spire was close, wind was slamming into Ai’s face. She closed her eyes and screamed.

The impact never came.

Ai felt wind rushing below her. She slowly opened her eyes to find herself hovering a meter above the base’s roof. Rose was staring at the roof with a blank expression. Her father’s arms were outstretched, both of them bare and covered in glowing green tattoos. His eyes met Ai’s. He relaxed his arms and the wind slowly subsided, giving all three a chance to gently land on their feet.

“What was that?” Ai asked. She shook her head. “I mean how did you-”

“I’m surprised myself.” Furumori said. He examined the tattoos on his arms. “I didn’t expect much from this, but it seems to have responded to my prayers. And by prayers I mean desperate screaming.” he chuckled and tucked his arms into his pockets. Ai nodded at the sensible answer. Logically, the power output and precision needed to slow the fall of three people would register as an A class Precious, and the control needed to pull off such a feat required the wielder to have a high Breaker level. Ai nodded again, confirming the information. The only possible explanation is that a miracle occured.

Ai’s wolf ears twitched as she heard elevators descending inside the spire.

“We need to leave.” she said. “Fast.”

OOOOO

“You sure Odd Eye is local?” Eriko asked. Ryuji was standing behind her, watching her scroll through pictures of Japanese Society members and associates on her laptop. “I mean, being related to the Society is an easy guess, but that’s too many people to search. But even if we narrow it down this much I don’t think it will help.” It was deep into the night, and empty coffee mugs littered the apartments table. The guard captain was sleeping in a chair, while another guard was consulting with a radio. Apparently something had prompted Onyx to leave the spire.

“You remember the reports from when she broke in to headquarters?” Ryuji asked. “No camera footage. No detectors tripped. She must have been familiar with the- wait go back.”

“Are you sure this time?” Eriko asked. She grumbled but still scrolled back to the previous picture. Ryuji pointed at the party scene being displayed.

“That girl, hiding behind the man.” Ryuji said. Eriko leaned in to take a closer look. “The hair, the build, it’s all the same. I’m sure this time. It has to be her.” Eriko looked back at Ryuji.

“Her ‘build’, huh?” she said. Ryuji wanted to be mad at Eriko for making jokes, but he was half asleep as it was. He couldn’t stop himself from blushing.

“I meant, like, her height and stuff.” he mumbled. Eriko sighed.

“I’ll check.” she said. Furumori moved through the Society’s member database, looking for the people listed as being in the photo. “No hits for the girl, checking the man she was with… Mr. Furumori.” Eriko said. She blinked. “I think I met him in America. Small time collector. Says here he has a daughter who’s not involved with the Society.” Ryuji gripped the back of her chair.

“Were there any thefts in America at the same time he was there?” he asked.

“None attributed to Odd Eye.” Eriko said. “I mean, there was that time someone beat me to some earrings I was investigating, but that’s… not…” she leaned forward and pulled up a listing of confirmed thefts by Odd Eye.

“What is it?” Ryuji asked.

“A woman with wolf features.” Eriko said. “Very flashy when she wants to be. But a youth doesn’t show up on a lot of the Society’s records. And would you look at that, Furumori reported being robbed whenever there’s been a dense spree. The perfect way to avoid suspicion.” she looked back. “The Furumori’s are definitely suspicious but I’m not sure-”

“Hey, wake up!” Ryuji was already shaking the guard captain.

“I take it we’re going.” Eriko said.

Chapter 2.2

“Once we get through this, we’re not stealing anything ever again.” Ai said. She leaned back in the seat of a car that was, ironically, stolen. Furumori’s car had already been surrounded by thugs by the time they were leaving. Ai’s wolfen features disappeared as she took the chance to relax while her father drove. Rose was seated next to Ai, contemplating her hands silently, increasing Ai’s discomfort. Rose had only mustered the smallest protests when Ai hot-wired the car, and seemed more focused on the spire than Ai or Furumori.

“Excuse me?” Furumori said. Ai bit her tongue. She had mostly meant it as a joke. Mostly.

“I mean, we at least need to keep or heads down after this.” Ai said. “I think we’ve made pretty much everyone our enemy at this point.”

“They were already our enemies.” Furumori said. Ai flinched. Why was he being so hostile? She hugged herself.

Calm down. She told herself. Don’t make papa angry.

“We’ll definitely need new identities.” Furumori said. “And I believe there are Russian collector groups that operate separately from the Society. If we’re lucky Fang will focus on punishing the Society for us.” Ai sucked in her breath.

“Yes, papa.” she said. Rose looked up from her hands.

“Thank you for understanding.” Furumori said. “I know it’s been hard on you.”

“Thank you, papa.” Ai whispered. Rose looked at Ai and scrunched her face.

“Is there anything you want to see in-”

“Stop it!” Rose yelled, loud enough that Ai involuntarily covered her ears. Furumori slammed on the brakes, bringing the car to a halt on the side of an unlit road. He turned to look at Rose.

“What did you say?” he asked. His tone sounded the same, but Ai shivered all the same.

“Stop hurting Ai.” Rose shouted. “She doesn’t want to go. Don’t you care about her?” Furumori glared at her.

“Rose, its okay,” Ai said gently, tugging Rose’s shoulder. “You don’t have to-”

“It’s not okay.” Rose said. She gestured between Ai and Furumori. “This is wrong. Families don’t act like this.”

“Rose, I already explained this to you.” Furumori said. “There’s a reason for what we do.”

“I don’t care.” Rose said. She stomped her foot on the car floor. “You’re hurting Ai. You keep hurting her.”

“It’s okay, Rose.” Ai said again. “I’m used to this.” Rose pushed Ai away.

“I don’t care.” Rose said again. Her eyes seemed to be pleading. “Please stop fighting. I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to be lonely again. I want the real you back.” Ai blinked.

What did Rose mean by that? She thought. Was that a metaphor? What does Rose think the ‘real me’ even is? Ai thought back on the times she and Rose had interacted, thinking about how Ai had tried to display herself. But this is always how things have been for me. Always.

“Rose, step out of the car.” Furumori said. Ai felt her hands twitch. Dozens of questions raced through her mind. He opened the driver side door. “We need to-”

“How am I a prototype?” Ai shouted. Now the question was in words. There was no going back. Furumori slowly turned to look at her. He smiled.

“A poor choice of words, I’ll admit.” he said. “I suppose ‘inspiration’ would have been better choice.” Any other time Ai might have accepted the excuse. But she couldn’t help but think of everything connected to the question.

“Then what the hell is a failed ‘inspiration’ supposed to be.” Ai shouted. Or rather, what made her the ‘successful’ one? She expressed her wolfen ears and grabbed at the red pattern that appeared on her shoulder. “If your so weak, how can you control the Precious that’s inside your body? Why did I have to be the one fighting if you could do that? And what about Onyx? He was the dragon you met, wasn’t he? You knew about him from the beginning, didn’t you?” Furumori frowned.

“I-”

“Stop lying to me!” Ai yelled. Tears were streaming from her eyes. “Stop it already.” Ai leaned forward, panting as she tried to catch her breath. Her life was over. Ai knew that her father was about to leave her, just like her real family had. But can I even be sure about that? Ai thought. Furumori let out a long sigh.

“Ai, do you remember all those times you said you trusted me?” he asked. “That you love me?”

“Yeah.” Ai said. I meant it all. That’s why this hurts so much.

“Why did you lie to me?” Furumori grabbed his seat and leaned forward. Ai flinched back.

“W-what?”

“Why did you lie to me?” Furumori asked again. “Why can’t you trust me? You wanted to use those earrings, didn’t you? I saw you had been wearing them.”

“I didn’t want to.” Ai said. “I wanted to believe you but-”

“But that was too hard,” he said. “You chose to be selfish instead.”

“No.” Ai said. She felt tears flowing from her eyes. “Please papa, just tell me the truth. I don’t want to lose you, I just want to know the-” Furumori pulled himself forward, making Ai shrink back.

“Truth?” he said. “Do you know what’s strange? That in a society that makes people wear false faces, only a mask can show your true face.” Ai watched as the love spots under Furumori’s eyes seemed to melt, rolling down his face until they looked like a pair of tear-drop tattoos. Furumori extended his arm towards Ai. She froze as she saw her father’s arm reaching towards her neck.

Then Rose grabbed Ai’s arm and pulled down. Ai yelped and scrambled, using Rose to pull herself away from Furumori.

“Stop it.” Ai squeezed past Rose and pressed herself flat against the car door. She stared in horror as her father slowly turned to look at her. Why won’t he listen to me? “Please.” she begged.

“You’re a liar.” Furumori said. His lips barely moved, and his face was turning pasty white. “Another liar I have to punish.” He reached towards Ai again.

Ai cried out, making Furumori flinch and Rose cover her ears. Ai rocked forward and kicked herself backwards as hard as possible, flinging the car door open so hard it snapped its hinges. Ai grabbed Rose and pulled her out of the car. Ai felt grass and dew clinging to her as she stood up and pulled Rose to her feet. Ai backed away from the car, hoping her father would take the chance to calm down.

Instead a spout of water tore the roof of the car off and Furumori stood up on the driver’s seat. One foot was placed on the top of the seat, showing the scraps of his footwear and a blue tattoo on the top of the foot. Furumori looked down on Ai and Rose with a face that looked like it was made from white plastic and painted with black teardrops.

Ai banished conscious thoughts from her mind. She pulled Rose into her arms and ran, only risking a single glance behind her. Ai watched her father step down from the car and begin walking behind her. Then Ai faced forward and continued to run.

OOOOO

Ai fell to one knee in front of her home, finally letting Rose down. Too much. Everything she had done in the past few days, then the fight at the spire, then running who knows how many kilometers home. She had simply done too much in one night. Ai closed her eyes as she caught her breath. When she opened them again she was lying on a couch with Rose standing over her. The lights were off and it was still nighttime, but the moonlight was enough for Ai to see with.

“Are you okay?” Rose asked. Ai pulled herself up.

“I’m fine. I’m fine.” Ai said. She rubbed her head. “How long was I out?” Rose frowned and mimed a small distance with her fingers. “Okay.” Ai covered her face with her hands. She breathed in and then out. “Okay. That wasn’t papa. That must have been a Precious talking. He has at least two… no, three including the thing with his face. He must have lost control to one.” Ai forced herself not to think about how her father would have connected with such a Precious to begin with. “We just need to get papa back.” Rose stared at her and frowned.

“Don’t. Don’t go.” Rose said. “He lied to you.” Ai nodded

“You’re right. You’re right.” Ai said. “We get papa back, then we talk to him.”

“What about Ryuji?” Rose asked. Ai sighed and placed her hands on her knees. She got off the couch and kneeled in front of Rose.

“Rose…” Ai started slow, giving herself time to frame the words. Rose backed away, shaking her head.

“You too?” she whispered. Ai shook her head.

“Forget Onyx, forget papa.” Ai said. She stood back up. “Yes, I have met Ryuji.” Rose hugged herself. “But I’ve also read his past, everything that happened after he met you. Ryuji is a bad person, Rose, do you understand?” Rose started shaking her head. Ai could see tears leaking from Rose’s eyes. “He might be as bad as Onyx. I can’t… I can’t let him hurt you.” Ai reached out to Rose.

“No!” Rose screamed and ran, leaving the room. A few seconds later Ai heard the front door open and close. Ai balled her outstretched hand into a fist and let it fall to her side. She pressed her fingernails into her palm as hard as possible. Food. Eat to live. Ai forced herself to take one step forward, then another, slowly shuffling to the kitchen. No time for cooking. Eat it raw. Ai grabbed a wedge of cheese from the refrigerator and half a loaf of bread off the counter, eating each a mouthful at a time. Ai concentrated hard on the process of chewing food. As the last of it slid down her throat she filled a pitcher of water and then guzzled it in one go, not caring when it spilled out of her mouth.

Ai set the pitcher down and fell back in a chair. Her stomach full, Ai forced her concentration to move onto her surroundings. Even though this was the same kitchen she had spent all her life growing up in, Ai let herself examine each detail anew. When a stray thought about being alone entered her mind Ai shook her head and stabbed her palm with her fingernails again. Ai opened her eyes again, and noticed a paper coffee cup sitting on the table. She didn’t drink coffee. Rose didn’t drink coffee. Her father rarely drank coffee, and never got it from a cafe.

Ai’s mind spun as she tried to discern the source of the cup. She stood up and began running through the house, looking for the intruder. She threw open the doors to the library and found a generic-looking middle school boy examining one of the Preciouses stored at the far end of the library. He spun around as he heard the doors open. Ai nearly bit her tongue. Of course it’s Ryuji. Why would my luck change? Ai felt a surge of anger and she grabbed at her shoulder, feeling the red pattern appear on her skin as the rest of her wolfen features grew. Was it a birthmark? Was it a tattoo? Ai didn’t know anymore.

“Odd Eye.” Ryuji stated. He slowly drew the blade sheathed at his hip and pointed it at Ai. “Or should I say Ai Furumori?”

“What do you want?” Ai asked. She felt her wolfen claws digging into her shoulder. She felt like she could rip out the red pattern at any second.

“I’m looking for Rose. You know, the girl you took?” Ryuji said. He took a step forward, keeping his eyes locked with Ai. Ai herself moved closer to a bookshelf, hoping to hide if Ryuji chose to swing his blade. “It’s one thing to steal Preciouses, but I can’t forgive you taking a living person.”

“Shut up.” Ai said. She crouched slightly and grabbed the edge of the book shelf with her free hand. Against a human she had an undeniable advantage in speed, and it wouldn’t take much to put a young boy like Ryuji down. “I’m not letting you have her.”

“That girl has suffered enough.” Ryuji said. He lifted the point of his blade up as he reached the end of the shelves, stepping over to keep as much of Ai in view as possible. “I need to-”

“You killed somebody!” Ai shouted. She refused to accept anything Ryuji was saying. Ryuji stumbled back when he heard her shout. “You killed somebody and got away with it because your parents are rich.” Ai felt good shouting out Ryuji’s crimes. No matter what her father had done, it didn’t change what kind of people ran the Society. It didn’t change what was right and wrong. Ryuji chuckled, then started laughing madly. “What’s so funny?” Ai shouted.

OOOOO

Rose was crying as she ran from the western house. Dew-soaked grass licked at her ankles as she approached the ring of trees. Rose covered her face as engines roared and dozens of lights flashed at her. When she uncovered her face she found herself surrounded by men with suits and guns. Rose flicked her head back and forth, trying to find some sign of comfort.

“Be careful.” one of the men said. “We don’t want to hurt her.”

“Ryuji.” Rose said the only thing on her mind. Everything else had fallen apart. “Where’s Ryuji?” One of the men glanced at a companion.

“Who’s Ryuji?”

A second later a swarm of glowing butterflies flowed over the men and circled around Rose. The phantasmal butterflies sung a discordant song as they flew around Rose, and she heard the men screaming and collapsing. Then the butterflies dispersed, leaving a woman with a stage wand standing over the collapsed men. Rose blinked. The woman slightly resembled Ai, but was taller and a little more feminine, even with a SMG hanging behind her on a shoulder sling.

“Who?” Rose asked.

“My name’s Eriko.” the woman said. She waved her hand and another crowd of men with guns ran out of the woods, restraining the collapsed men with handcuffs and zipties. Eriko and Rose watched from the side, far enough they couldn’t be heard. “So,” Eriko said. “You remember Ryuji.” Rose blinked and looked up at Eriko. In the distance she could hear sporadic gunfire and the occasional stranger noise. People were fighting all around Ai’s home.

“You know Ryuji?” Rose asked. Eriko scratched the back of her head.

“That’s why I’m here, honestly.” Eriko said.

“Can I meet him?” Rose asked. After everything she had gone through, she was shocked to find any kind of connection to her past.

“Funny story,” Eriko said. She chuckled dryly. “Ryuji’s already in the house. Rest of us got tangled up when Fang showed up.”

“Is…” Rose stopped. She wanted the world to be simple. She wanted to talk again. But…

“What?” Eriko asked.

“Is Ryuji… a bad person?” Rose asked. She didn’t believe that Ai would lie to her.

OOOOO

“You’re right.” Ryuji said. He lowered his blade as he laughed in a way that sounded a little too strained. Ai snarled from the opposite end of the row of bookshelves. Whats so funny about being a murder? “I found this weird mask, and the next thing I knew was finally trying to kill my stupid cousin. The store owner got caught up in the struggle and apparently…” Ryuji’s laughter faded, and he started to speak a little slower. “Apparently his heart couldn’t handle the shock. Anyone else would’ve been locked up, but my parents couldn’t let me embarrass them. Blamed it on the cursed Precious instead.”

“We both know that’s not how it works.” Ai said. “That kind of reaction, your mind has to be similar to the Precious’. You can’t just blame it on some mask.” Ryuji’s face went back to a neutral, almost emotionless expression.

“That’s right.” Ryuji said. He raised his blade again to point it at Ai. “And after that I didn’t want to see a Precious ever again, but I made an exception for Rose.”

“So what, you met when you were kids so you deserve to have her?” Ai asked. “You’re-”

“Of course not.” Ryuji said. Ai flinched. “I don’t know where she’ll go after this. Honestly It’ll be easier for me if she just finds some normal dragons to live with.”

Ai howled. Ryuji stumbled back and flicked his blade, launching a shockwave through the air. Ai leapt up, over the shockwave and above the bookshelves.

“You!” Ai shouted.

OOOOO

Eriko took a deep breath as she considered Rose’s question. Of all the things she expected from a young dragon, questions about Ryuji’s morality hadn’t even entered her mind. But now that it had been asked, Eriko knew she should have thought about it more.

“Ryuji isn’t…” Eriko started talking then shook her head. No excuses. You can’t pamper him too much. “Ryuji’s done some bad things.” Eriko said. “And he’s done something really bad.” She looked at Rose, who remained silent as she stared at Eriko. For a second, Rose’s eyes looked like those of a beast. “I’m sorry Rose. Ryuji lost control one day. Couldn’t hold it in anymore. Somebody got killed because of him. He…” Eriko paused. “He tried to kill me.” she whispered.

“Why?” Rose asked. She had learned that people would fight each other sometimes. She had done so herself. She hoped that Ryuji could possibly have some moral reason for attacking Eriko, a woman who looked so innocent.

“He always hated us. He hated following his parents, he hated being left with my family, he hated working with Preciouses.” Eriko said. She shook her head. “When that mask had him, he just kept calling me a liar. I think… I think that was the first time I saw the real him.” Eriko sighed. “You’ve been waiting for him for a long time, haven’t you? Must suck to learn what he’s really like.” Rose shook her head.

“I still want to meet him.” Rose said. “Take me.”

“Are you sure?” Eriko said.

“Yes.” Rose said. “Take me to Ryuji.”

OOOOO

Ai howled in pain and rage as her fist smashed apart the wooden floor of the library. Ryuji had leapt back at the last second, dodging her by mere centimeters. Ryuji swung his blade wildly and Ai leaned back, feeling the shockwave fly past her chin. Ai flung herself forward and slammed her fist into Ryuji’s chest. It was a glancing blow but it sent him tumbling across the floor until he hit the far end of the library.

“Why?” Ai said as she stood up straight. She took a step forward as Ryuji pulled himself up. “Why did Rose ever care about someone like you?” Ryuji swung his blade vertically. Ai tilted her head and let the shockwave fly past her. “Why did you bother coming back?” Ryuji swung horizontally and Ai backflipped away as the shockwave cut a gouge where she had been standing. “Why?” Ai shouted. She pulled on the wolf blood inside her as her rage climbed higher. She didn’t have anything left. Rose had left her for this pathetic rat. Her father had gone mad. Ai was finished being a half-wolf. She didn’t want to be human at all anymore.

Ai threw back her head and howled. Then she felt her blood stop. Her wolfen features disappeared all at once, the physical shock making Ai collapse to the ground. She felt like some part of her soul had split off, unable to connect with her anymore. Ai grabbed at her shoulder, where the red pattern should be. Now it felt like it was holding a second soul inside her body. Just like a Precious. A prototype. A Precious fused with human flesh. Her father had lied to her from her youngest days; she had never been a wolf. Maybe her parents had normal reasons for abandoning her. Maybe they never existed.

Ryuji charged. Ai’s arms trembled as she pushed herself up. Ryuji drew close, readying his blade. Ai placed one foot behind her and raise her arms. Ryuji swung his blade. Ai caught his arm with one hand, twisted it, and punched his gut once, twice, three times with her off hand. Ryuji gasped and collapsed on the ground. Ai looked down at him.

“How can you just throw someone away?” she asked. Ryuji put one hand on the ground to push himself up, coughed, and collapsed again. His eyes turned to look at Ai.

“I was…” his voice was slurred as he trailed off. Ai spit on him. She turned and left him behind, her mind racing with plans for living on her own. Everything she had ever done had been for nothing, and if her father couldn’t love her then Ai had no future. Just as Ai started to enter the kitchen again, a pillar of darkness tore through the ceiling and the entire house shook.

Chapter 2.3

Something had wrecked the house. The front half of the library had completely collapsed, transformed into a pile of rubble and books. Moonlight streamed in through the gash where walls and a roof should have been. Ryuji was lucky that his half of the library was still standing, albeit with shards of glass scattered on the ground. Ryuji closed his eyes as he heard footsteps and shifting rubble. Eriko had told him Fang had attacked the house. If he was lucky Eriko or someone else from the Society might rescue him, but odds were Onyx was already attacking. Ryuji knew his odds of survival were slim. No point fighting any longer.

“Ryuji?”

Ryuji twitched. Was that a girl’s voice? He thought

“Ryuji.”

The voice was familiar, like a dream that had comforted Ryuji so many times in the past. His heart stung. He didn’t want to be disappointed anymore. Life was better without false hopes.

“Hey, Ryuji!”

A hard shoe kicked him in the stomach. Ryuji coughed and quickly opened his eyes. Standing above him was a beautiful young girl his age, with blonde hair and shining blue eyes. A golden collar wrapped around her neck, both adding and taking away from her image at the same time.

“Rose.” Ryuji whispered. Rose smiled as she looked at him.

“I knew we’d talk again.” she said. “You were the first person I ever talked to.”

And you were the only person I ever liked. Ryuji thought. Even at the time… Even that mask couldn’t make me hate you.

“Not worth it.” Ryuji said. He coughed and looked away from her. Her kind of enthusiasm was the same as the time they first met, and it made Ryuji feel ugly inside. “We only met by chance. It wasn’t anything special.” he said. Rose shook her head.

“I’m happy it was you.” Rose said. She knelt down beside Ryuji. “I’ve met so many people since then. We’ve talked and talked, but none of them were like you. I was lonely for so long, Ryuji. And you were lonely when I met you. And you’re still lonely now.”

“That’s my fault.” Ryuji said. He’d known it for a long time, but had never wanted to say it. “Odd Eye, I mean Ai… she was right. I’ve pushed away everyone who loved me.” His parents, his uncle, the cousin who had always stood behind him… He had always blamed them for everything. “I even killed a-” Ryuji lost his breath as Rose wrapped her arms around him. How long had it been since another person touched him?

“It’s okay, Ryuji.” Rose said. “I won’t let you push me away. We don’t have to be lonely ever again.” Ryuji coughed. He couldn’t stop the tears welling in his eyes. Rose knew all his sins and yet she was forgiving him. Ryuji started sobbing. For what seemed like forever he simply cried, not caring who heard his pathetic complaints.

“I’m sorry.” Ryuji finally said. “I’m so sorry.”

The house shook again. A cry of pain rang out. Rose gave Ryuji one last squeeze before letting go and standing up.

“I have to go.” Rose said. She turned to face the ruins of the central house. “Ai and Eriko are fighting Onyx. They can’t win.”

“Wait.” Ryuji said. He scrunched his face in pain as he pushed himself off the ground. He picked up Slash Breath from where it had fallen and ever so carefully pointed it at Rose. Ryuji sucked in his breath and carefully cut through the golden collar around Rose’s neck. They both watched as the collar fell, cracking and losing its shine before it even hit the ground. “I’m coming.” Ryuji said.

Rose smiled.

OOOOO

Ai tumbled away as a stream of darkness cut through the ground. She felt splinters and stones dig into her bare arms as she rolled across the ruins of her home.

“What’s wrong, ant?” Onyx called out to her from atop a mountain of rubble. “Lost your Precious? I thought it was part of you?” Onyx pointed his hand at her and started to summon another stream of darkness only for a cloud of glowing butterflies enveloped him. Ai desperately scrambled to her feet, backpedaling when she saw Onyx disintegrate the butterflies with a burst of darkness. Across from Ai she saw Eriko unsling an SMG from behind her and open fire. Onyx stretched a wing, blocking the hail of bullets without a scratch.

“Really?” Onyx said. He laughed as he flicked the wing and launched a wave of darkness that knocked Eriko down.

Ai charged. She wanted to run. She was tired, and angry, and scared, but she knew she couldn’t escape. And even if Eriko was an enemy, neither one could fight Onyx on their own. They were barely surviving as it was.

Ai crouched low and pulled at Onyx’s leg. Without her wolf blood… No, without her Precious she couldn’t even budge it. Onyx wasn’t even trying to resist and Ai couldn’t budge his leg from the ground. Onyx kicked his leg back and knocked Ai down with a single blow.

“Thank you for walking over.” Onyx said. He reached down and hoisted Ai up by her neck, gripping just tight enough that Ai could barely breathe. “You’re first on my list for punishment.” Ai gasped and flailed her limbs, grabbing at Onyx’s arm. “It’s you and your master’s fault that Rose’s head is filled with ridiculous notions.”

Onyx threw Ai away, watching as she hit the rubble. Ai coughed and grabbed her bruised neck. She knew Onyx could have killed her then and there. She looked over to see Onyx raising his hand again.

“Once I’ve dealt with all of you,” Onyx said. “I can make sure Rose learns how to be a proper dragon.” Darkness gathered around his hand. Ai grit her teeth and forced herself to stand. She might die alone, but at the very least she wanted to die standing. Onyx snapped his fingers. Ai flinched as she saw the darkness expanding.

Then tongues of flames filled Ai’s vision.

The flames mixed with the darkness and then they exploded, covering the rubble with a cloud of black sand.

“Rose?” Ai said. She watched as Rose ran in front of Ai, red-scaled hand aimed at Onyx.

“Oh, still playing around?” Onyx asked. “If you really want a pet you could ask me.” Rose roared and shot tongues of flame at Onyx. Onyx covered himself with his wings, chuckling as the flames splashed off his wing’s black scales. “Oh, you must be fond of her. If that’s the case you need to learn how to discipline your-”

A shockwave cut through the clouds of sand and hit Onyx square in the back. His eyes widened and he yelled, spreading his wings to blow away Rose’s flames and the sand clouds in an explosion of darkness. Ai found herself grabbing Rose’s shoulders just to stay standing. Onyx turned around, showing a line of black blood on his back, and past him Ai saw Ryuji and Eriko standing with their Preciouses at the ready. Ai grit her teeth.

“I’m sorry, Ai.” Rose whispered. Ai blinked in shock, unconsciously letting go of Rose. In front of them Onyx was defending against a bombardment of shockwaves and glowing butterflies. “Let’s talk. After this.” Rose glanced at Ai, but Ai couldn’t muster a response. Rose fixed her face into an expression of determination and then turned back to Onyx. Rose shot another tongue of flames, then she and Ai dodged in opposite directions as Onyx launched a stream of darkness through where they had been standing.

Ai circled around Onyx, watching as Rose did the same on the other side. Ryuji charged and swung his blade at point blank range, and Onyx rocked back even as one of his wings blocked the blow. Onyx swung his arm to swat Ryuji, but the boy managed to roll away towards Rose as she shot tongues of flame that forced Onyx to defend again.

Ai saw Eriko summon another swarm of butterflies, covering Onyx for a few precious seconds. At the moment, Ai realized she could run. Onyx was distracted, and Ai wasn’t going to be any help without the Precious she had always treated as her own body. As things were she wasn’t even sure Rose and Ryuji could win. But those seconds of hesitation were enough to kill her chance. Onyx spread his wings and released another explosion of darkness, disintegrating the butterflies and forcing everyone to brace themselves against the shockwaves.

“It’s useless.” Onyx yelled. “Just submit and let me kill your mistakes, Rose.”

Ai tried to keep her breathing quiet. Onyx was focused on where Rose and Ryuji were standing together, but he was keeping Eriko in the corner of his eye. Ai was safely behind him, but Ai knew she was the weakest link in the fight at the moment. No one attacked, simply observing each other as they all circled around Onyx.

“Onyx.” Rose said. “You want to Engage with me, right? Only that?” Onyx relaxed his stance slightly.

“Are you saying you can leave these ants behind?” Onyx asked. From behind, Ai thought he looked a little more subdued. Sad possibly, if Ai didn’t know Onyx better. “If you’re really attached to them, I can even let them die on their own time.”

“And what is ‘Engage’ really? Tell me.” Rose asked. She put herself in front of Ryuji. Ai saw Eriko tensing. Onyx nodded, straightening into a casual stance.

“It is a bond of trust.” Onyx said. “A bond showing the kind of mutual trust dragons only find once in a lifetime. And that bond lets the dragons share their power, going beyond their limits.” Rose smiled and nodded. “Does that mean you’ll abandon this foolish escapade?”

“Rose?” Ryuji was whispering. The battlefield was quiet enough that Ai could just barely hear him. She realized how much she had grown used to having a wolf’s senses. Rose glanced back at him.

“Do you believe in me, Ryuji?” she asked, loud enough for anyone to hear. Ai noticed Onyx’s arms tensing, readying to attack. She grit her teeth and crouched down. She wondered what Ryuji, what that murderer was going to say next. Would he throw Rose away to save his own skin? Would he make some selfish demand? Ryuji gulped.

“I want you to be happy.” he said. Onyx tilted his head. Ai wondered if she had misheard. “I want you to be happy!” Ryuji shouted. Rose turned around and seemed to leap back to Ryuji, wrapping her hands around the same hand he held Slash Breath with.

“You stupid brat.” Onyx yelled. Ai charged towards him as he raised his arm. She realized why she had fought so hard against Onyx already. Eriko summoned another swarm of glowing butterflies, forcing Onyx to avert his hand and blow it apart with a stream of darkness. Ai continued running, balancing all the love she was used to being given with what she had given in return. She saw Rose’s scales glowing, a blue circle glowing on Ryuji’s hand, and fire surrounding them. Ai wondered why she had to spend so long fearing her father would abandon her.

Onyx was gathering darkness around his hand, more than Ai had seen him gather for any other attack, and he returned his aim to Rose and Ryuji. Ai remembered all the times she had carried Rose, how light she had felt in her arms.

“Die.” Onyx shouted. “Die, die, die!”

Ai ducked under his wings and popped back up, pressing the top of Onyx’s arm with her shoulder and grabbing his wrist with her hand. Onyx’s arm stayed stiff as steel, and Ai couldn’t help but be thankful.

“I won’t,” Ai shouted, gathering all the strength left in her human body. Onyx averted his attention to Ai for less than a second. She saw Rose and Ryuji raising Slash Breath together, flames coating the blade. Then Ai bent forward and pulled Onyx’s arm with her. “Let you!” Ai roared as she lifted the rest of Onyx’s weight with her back.

He was heavier than he looked, but not even as heavy as some humans Ai had encountered. With barely any resistance Onyx lifted off the ground, his own strength turning his arm into a perfect lever for Ai to use.

Ai bent until she hit her own knee, feeling Onyx’s weight fade as he passed over her and hit the ground. Onyx tugged on Ai’s arm, twisting her knees as she was forced flat on the ground. Ai lashed out at Onyx’s face, but he batted her strike away with his free arm and then struck her in the face. Ai vision blurred from the blow’s shock, and she grabbed at her head, feeling like her brain would spill out. She watched Onyx clamber up and turn away from her, raising his arm to attack Rose again. Ai panicked. Had she bought enough time?

“Engage!”

Rose and Ryuji yelled as one, and Ai saw a flaming shockwave cut Onyx’s body in half. Blood trickled down her face, and Ai’s vision finally gave out.

OOOOO

“If we weren’t technically trying to keep this stuff secret, I’d try to enter that judo match of yours for a world record.” Eriko said. Ai’s vision was still blurry, and she couldn’t quite remember anything after Onyx’s death. Looking around Ai realized she was on the back of an ambulance with suspiciously generic markings. “Of course the part where you got a concussion was a little sloppy, but you did your best.” Ai grabbed at her head, feeling the bandages wrapped around it. Eriko slapped her hand away. “Don’t touch it. Your body needs time to heal itself.

Furumori had once said the same thing. Ai started laughing, and then she remembered what had happened with her father. She shifted her hand to her shoulder and sighed.

“At least Onyx is dead.” Ai said. “The rest of Fang shouldn’t bother us after that.”

“Yeah, about that…” Eriko said.

“What?” Ai asked. “I saw him get cut in half. Even a dragon couldn’t survive that.” Eriko sighed.

“I guess you don’t remember, then.” Eriko said. “Some secretary chick with a death frisbee swooped in and snagged the upper half. And I swear Onyx was glaring at us.” Ai hung her head. “Look on the bright side. The eggheads think he’ll be down for a while if he needed someone else to save him. And the next time he makes a move we’ll be ready for him.”

“What about Rose?” Ai asked. Around her she saw medics, security guards, and other personnel from the Society wandering the ruins of her home. Some of them were gathering injured people, some of them were forcing agents of Fang to a police truck, and some were digging up the Preciouses that Furumori had kept in the house. Ai herself wondered when the Society would start asking her about the other stashes her father had set up. “And, you know, Ryuji?”

“They’re off somewhere talking.” Eriko said. “Or rather, staring at each other awkwardly given how they were when I left. I guess it was easier to talk in the heat of the moment.” Ai grit her teeth. She couldn’t help but think about what Ryuji had done to his own cousin.

“Will Ryuji-” she asked. Eriko coughed and rubbed the back of her head.

“Ryuji will do his best.” Eriko said. “And I’ll try to help him.” Ai glared at her. “And keep an eye on him.”

“I know what he did.” Ai said.

“And I was there.” Eriko said. Ai squinted. Was Eriko really the same relative Ryuji was said to have attacked? And she was still willing to be in the same country as Ryuji? “Please, trust me.”

“Fine.” Ai grumbled. It was hard to argue after that. “What about me? I’m sure the Society can’t wait to figure out what papa- I mean, what Mr. Furumori did to me.”

“I blinded the first person to breathe a word about it.” Eriko said. Ai studied her face for signs of a joke, but Eriko looked dead serious. “Least I could do for saving us.” Ai smiled and nodded.

“Thank you.” Ai said. Eriko smiled back.

“Now get in the ambulance.” Eriko said. “You’ve done enough for one night.

OOOOO

The sun was rising by the time Furumori reached his home. He wasn’t surprised: He had been walking the whole way. His legs were tired, but his mind felt wide awake. Somehow, the fact that his daughters were liars was making him feel comfortable. It would make his next meeting with them much simpler. Furumori shook his head and started examining the rubble of his home. The tree line had been littered with bullet holes, the yard was covered in muddy tire tracks, and the house itself was essentially gone.

He walked among the rubble. From the damage, he could guess that Onyx and Rose had fought. From the pair of rapidly dissolving legs he found, he could guess that Rose somehow won. He kept walking, confirming that the Society had already looted all the treasure he had spent so long saving from their greedy hands. He had other safe houses, but now that Ai was a liar she was probably ready to turn them over to the Society. He’d have to be ready to abandon them.

Furumori dusted off a slab of roofing and sat down, taking the time to watch the sun rise. It reminded him of the last time he had lost everything, but he wasn’t going to cry. With the distractions gone, he could look forward to properly fulfilling his life.

OOOOO

“Ai, wait for me.” Rose yelled. Ai paused in the hospital door, looking behind her to see Rose hurrying over to her. Ai had covered the bandages on her head with a baseball cap, and had a backpack with a few meager possessions slung over her back. Most of its content had come from the hospital store, but Eriko had managed to return a few trinkets from Furumori’s house, including a yo-yo and a necklace. Rose herself was wearing a dress Ai didn’t recognize and had a full suitcase hanging from her shoulder. As Ai looked the younger girl over, she was surprised to see small scratches and blemishes dotting Rose’s arms and face.

“What do you need?” Ai asked. A half second later she remembered to smile.

“I want to talk.” Rose said. As she reached Ai she scooped up Ai’s hand in her own and started to lead her out of the hospital. “I promised, remember?” Ai chuckled.

“You did say that.” Ai said. “What about Ryuji? You just got to meet him.” Rose looked away from Ai and focused on the sidewalk in front of them.

“We can talk again later.” Rose said. She briefly glanced back at Ai. “He’s kinda shy.”

Not when I met him. Ai thought. “What do you want to talk about?”

“Where are you going?” Rose asked. “Eriko said-”

“Maybe later.” Ai said quick as possible. She shook Rose’s hands loose but continued to follow her. Eriko had made a generous offer of employment, tempting Ai with all the Society contacts she’d need to figure out the truth about herself and none of the usual obligations to the Society. It was the best choice for Ai logically, but Ai wasn’t emotionally ready to work with someone else again. Ai frowned. It was also mean working with Ryuji.

“Where do you want to go?” Rose asked. She started skipping from panel to panel of the sidewalk.

“First I need to see how much money I still have.” Ai said. The Society had leaked Furumori’s information to the mundane police, and Ai had the ugly suspicion that more of Furumori’s accounts were illegitimate than she had originally known. “Then I’ll need someplace to stay. I’ll need a job in the long run, but other than that…” Ai looked up at the sun. “Well, I’ve always kind of wanted to try out school life.”