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Blood Wars

Chapter Text

 

          The dawn of the new Meiji era of 1869, had brought about sudden and sweeping changes to Japan. The fractured politics, the expansion of foreign trade with the west and the general breakdown of Japanese society that had held for centuries, was now the norm. The rush to push the country in a direction of westernization, and to be viewed as a valid super power in the world, was the focus of the new government.

          The end of the Boshin war saw Edo renamed as Tokyo and the city was now the new seat of power for Emperor Meiji. The expulsion of foreigners had shifted instead, to a more welcomed approach, and laws were written forbidding violence against westerners. Emperor Meiji himself, had welcomed a visit from the Duke of Edinburg, who was stated, to the court, as an equal to the Emperor in rank and bloodlines.

          The samurai class was abolished, leaving the warriors to choose a path that included the opportunities to work for the new government or to create an entrepreneurial life, though there was dissention among the honored Samurai class, and those that did not agree with the new Imperial rule, had left many of them to suffer in poverty.  In 1889, the Meiji Constitution was enacted that laid out the framework for the new era in Japan, a framework that did not include the samurai.

 

 

          What was left behind in the dawn of this new era, was felt at the commoner’s level with the abolishment of the social classes, something that looked good on paper, but not so much for the actual citizens. The daimyo’s lost their lands and the samurai way of life was left barren of status and possessions, and government corruption was at an all time high. It was with this new life that Nakamura Taizo had agreed to be brought into the blood, due to his fellow samurai having perished in the war, and a deep-seated need for revenge. It had been a heavy loss for both Suzuki and Nakamura; Ogawa and Jin struck down in the streets of Kyoto during a skirmish with the shinsengumi forces.

          “I will avenge their deaths, if you will allow me to do so,” he asked Reo, “I will guarantee that their names and the samurai code of honor is upheld throughout my immortality.” Reo brought Nakamura into the blood in the year 1868, adding yet another warrior to his growing ranks, his numbers having swelled to twelve members.       

         

          The turn of the century brought major growth, but with that growth came a severe imbalance between wealth and poverty. The poor were scavengers, the rich were abusers, and the immortals were caught in the middle, neither wealthy nor impoverished, though some vampires found a great satisfaction from feeding off a wealthy pompous fool.

          While they were not immune to the changes in their surroundings, the immortals had more pressing issues to take care of; the increase of rogue and lost fledgling vampires were making themselves known in all parts of the country. There were weekly battles with the more dangerous rogues, those that were rife with viciousness and violence, most that were captured and brought to Reo, were non-verbal and could not or would not identify their maker.

          It was the lone fledglings that worried the clan leaders the most; brought into the blood and abandoned shortly after, some with no idea what had happened to them, repetitions of Akinori’s situation. There were a few who once they were convinced of what had happened to them, sadly committed suicide, these horrific deaths were a crushing blow to the clan leaders, and fueled their hate and anger towards Ryuichi and Yoshiki, convincing them all, that something would need to be done to stop the two sadistic immortals.

          There were two fledglings that had wandered into the capital city of Tokyo, after the start of the imperial rule, not being seen by any of Morrie’s clan, but once again, Isshi had sensed their arrival, a male and a female, newly brought into the blood. Isshi left the sanctuary of the Inari shrine, and walked into the woods that laid beyond, to have a look at the couple, and try to gather a sense of who they were.

          The male was tall and muscular, broad shouldered with long braided hair, walking with his arm protectively around the smaller female’s shoulder, she was almost childlike in size, reminding Isshi of Ayato. They were entering the small stone hut that formally housed Daisuke and his family, glancing around as they closed the door behind them.

          Isshi watched the hut for a few moments, wondering if the couple had already hunted that evening. Satisfied after twenty minutes, that the couple would be in for the day, Isshi returned to the shrine, his mind busy with questions about the new arrivals to the city, wondering how many more would make their way to Tokyo. The year was 1890.

Chapter Text

          The voices were buzzing in Sakurai Atsushi’s ears on a nightly basis, were a cause of worry for the ancient immortal. He had not experienced the frequency and intensity of the voices since the bygone days of his and Kai’s life in France, and it was cause for concern, something he did not expose to his small family. The change in government for the country had been trying enough for Clan Sakurai; the loss of a society that they had known for hundreds of years had been stressful for all of them.

          “Acchan?” Kai poked his head into his leader’s private room, “do you have a moment?”  Sakurai waved him in, “What can I do for you, Kai-kun?”

          Kai looked back down the hall before coming into the room, and closing the door quietly, walking over and sitting in a chair in front of Sakurai’s large desk, “I don’t want the others to hear this,” he paused a moment, “Acchan, I’ve been hearing whispered voices again, calling for someone named Sugizo.”

          Sakurai took a sharp breath, “If it wasn’t for that name, I wouldn’t have said anything, but I’ve been hearing the same name,” he grunted, “and I’ve also heard voices calling for Yoshiki and Mari.”

          “Mari?”

          Sakurai nodded, “I believe she is the maker of some of Morrie-san’s newest clan members, she was with Yoshiki when she was last seen. Have you been able to decipher any other names?”

          “No, not exactly. I hear snippets of names, but nothing clearly.” Kai leaned forward, “Should we contact Morrie and Reo? What of Inoran?”

          “I’ve been debating with myself on that actually, I don’t want to be an alarmist, but since it’s Yoshiki’s name we’re both hearing, I believe I will send a message to both Reo and Morrie.”

          “Could this be part of the issue with the rogue vampires that have been plaguing both Tokyo and Kyoto?” Kai ventured a guess.

          “No idea, I won’t discount anything anymore, though it does seem that the problems with rogue vampires, are on the increase.”

 

 

          In another part of Tokyo, Morrie was dealing with a different problem; contacting the two immortals that Isshi had seen the previous night, that were now in the same small stone hut that Daisuke’s family had used in the past.

          Isshi had gone to Morrie’s home to speak with the clan leader. “Would you like me to reach out to them?” Isshi offered. The response was not what he had expected.

          “No. I’m going to send Daisuke and Hiro to speak to them. It’s not that I distrust you, Isshi-san, rather I believe that they may feel safer with other immortals contacting them.” Isshi bowed to Morrie’s deference.

          “I’m going to send Daisuke and Hiro to speak to them tomorrow night, at that point, we will offer to meet with them if they so desire. If it’s possible could we use the temple again? It’s a fairly neutral environment and they may feel safer.”

          Isshi of course agreed, “Whatever you feel safe doing, Morrie-san. I wish nothing more than to offer my assistance when needed.” Thanking the onmyoji, Isshi returned to the shrine.

          “Is this safe?” Tatsu asked, “I’m concerned with sending in someone that has less blood life than others, we know nothing about these individuals.”

          Morrie shrugged, “I don’t believe that they’re aggressive, the way Isshi explained, they were more careful than hostile.” Reaching out to his lover, Morrie caressed Tatsu’s cheek, “Everything will be fine, I promise.”

         

          Daisuke knocked on the door to the hut, then stepped back several feet, “We just wish to speak to you, we mean you no harm,” he announced.

          “Who are you and why are you here?” a male voice came from the other side of the door.

          “My name is Daisuke, my friend here is Hiro. We are members of Clan Otsuka and we just wish to speak to you, nothing more.” They could hear whispered voices.

          “If you would please stand back a little further, I will open the door.” The man asked, Daisuke and Hiro stepping back further, and the door opened.

          An imposingly tall man filled the doorway, full chested and muscular arms, with long hair that had been put into braids. Just behind him was a tiny woman, no more than five feet tall, with long straight dark hair and a shy smile, they bowed low, and introduced themselves.

          “I am Ryo, and this is Aiko. We are both from Toyama, though we did not know each other before…” he closed his eyes and breathed deeply, “before we were turned into monsters.”

          Daisuke nodded, “I understand. My master would like to speak with you at some length. We can either go to our Clan house, or we can use the temple at the Inari Shrine, there is an onmyoji there that understands our special circumstances. It is entirely up to you, though…we do offer a family setting and more importantly, safety in numbers.”

          “When would this meeting take place?”

          “Any time you choose, tonight, after you’ve hunted of course.” Hiro inclined his head slightly. The woman stood on her tip toes and whispered in the man’s ear, he nodded, “If you can guarantee our safety, we will meet with your master tonight. Please just tell us where to be, we do need to hunt first.”

          Daisuke gave them directions to Morrie’s home, “We will be expecting you.” Walking down the hill back towards Morrie’s home, they were stopped near the shrine by Isshi, “I’m assuming everything went well? You detected no hostility?”

          “Not hostility, no, more like extreme caution. They did however, agree to meet at the house. I shall make sure to update you on the meeting.” With a short bow, Daisuke and Hiro made their way through the city streets.

         

          Clan Otsuka were present during the initial meeting between the clan and the unknown immortals, Ryo and Aiko. Once everyone was introduced, only Morrie, Miya and Daisuke remained in the room, Morrie did not want to overwhelm the newcomers by sheer numbers alone.

          Sadly, Aiko and Ryo’s stories mirrored so many others; seduction and then blood born, by Yoshiki and Mari. The two immortals had brought their newest children into the blood and left them with some instructions on how to live as vampires. The random attacks were separated by a few days, and a few miles. Ryo randomly coming across Aiko on the road east towards Tokyo.

          “We figured that Tokyo was a large enough city, that it would be easier to blend in and live, in Toyama that would not have worked.” Aiko said softly. “We could hear the voices, but we were too afraid to come forward.”

          This caught Morrie’s attention quickly, “Voices? What voices did you hear?”

          Ryo cocked his head, “Mostly names, nothing specifically was being said, but the names had some anger behind them.”

          The others exchanged worried glances, “What names were being said?”

          “Ryuichi and Sugizo.”

          “Are you sure it was Ryuichi?” If Morrie could have broken out in a cold sweat, he would have at that moment.

          Aiko nodded, “We both heard his name, but only Ryo had heard the other.”  Morrie leaned over and whispered something to Miya, who then quickly got up and left the room.

          “Is there a problem, Morrie-san?” Ryo watched the other immortal leave the room.

          “Well, Ryuichi is definitely a problem, the other person I’ve never heard of. Ryuichi is your…our Primogen…he is the father of all immortals, and he is ruthless and sadistic.”

          “Yes, Morrie-san?” Aoi bowed and came into the room. “I need you to go to see Sakurai-san right now, waste no time. Tell him we need to meet in the next few days, that I have been given some information on Ryuichi…go, now!” Aoi bowed again and without a word, ran down the hallway.

          Ryo was becoming uneasy, “May I ask, who is Sakurai-san?”

          “Of course, Sakurai Atsushi is an ancient, he is the oldest of the current clan leaders, being brought into the blood in 978, by Ryuichi.” Morrie was frowning, his thoughts battering about in his mind.

          “You mean… that makes him…” Aiko closed her eyes, “That can’t be! That means he’s over 900 years old!”

          Morrie chuckled, “Would you believe me if I told you I am almost 400 years old?” Aiko’s jaw dropped, “How many vampires are there in the world? I can’t… this means,” The woman became very distressed, the magnitude of what she was hearing, she could not process.

          “You called for me, Morrie-san?” You knocked on the door, “You-chan, could you take Aiko to the kitchen and get her some tea please?” You bowed her head, “Come with me Aiko-chan,” she held out her hand for the young woman, then led her out of the room.

          “I’m sorry, Ryo-san. I didn’t mean to tease her so, but this is something that as an immortal, you will have to learn to deal with. There are 5 ancients currently in the country, including Ryuichi who we understand was change din 817. Sakurai-san then the next oldest. Inoran was brought into the blood just two years after Sakurai, and lives in Fuji with his blood spouse, Yusuke. He is not terribly active in our little clan alliance, but he is important none the less. Then there is Clan Aichi, and Reo-san, I don’t remember the year he was blood born, but it was not long after Sakurai and Inoran. He holds control over Kyoto and has the largest clan in the alliance.”

          “This does not mean there are not other immortals out there, that we do not know of, and there are other individuals that are not part of any clan at this time. It’s unfortunate, but I believe you will also not be the last, therefore I sent for Sakurai, he needs to be made aware of what you have said.”

          The door opened again, and You returned with a much-relieved Aiko, “I apologize, Morrie-san. This is a little more than I expected to learn today.” She bowed low to Morrie.

          “Aiko-chan, this is a lot for anyone to hear, please make no apologies,” He had her sit back down with Ryo, “now what I’d like to do if possible, is offer you a place in Clan Otsuka. I do this selfishly in part, as there is safety in numbers, and because I know what it is like to be blood born by monsters. I can offer you a life that is some what normal, as normal as living for eternity can be. Please, you do not have to make a decision at this …”

          “Yes, we’d like to stay please,” Ryo blurted out before Morrie could finish, then bowed his head, “I’m sorry, but we have been nothing but frightened for over a year now. We have no home, no family to speak of, and it is a terrifying life that we have lived. So, yes…we accept your kind and generous offer of becoming members of your clan.” Both Ryo and Aiko bowed their heads low.

          Daisuke chuckled, “Welcome to the Clan, my brother and sister,” he turned to his clan leader, “shall I set them up in their own rooms, my lord?”

 

 

 

          “I want you to stay here, this is not a pleasure trip and if Ryuichi’s involved, you need to stay home, is that understood?” Sakurai had his small family gathered, informing them that he would be leaving within the hour for Tokyo.

          For once, Uta didn’t argue or pout. “Acchan, please be careful,” the young man whined, “please, for me?”

          “Are you sure you don’t want me to accompany you, my lord?” Uehara asked. “No Ue-chan, I need you here to protect the others. Between yourself and Kai, I believe you can keep the young ones safe. I will return before dawn,” he opened his arms for Naoto and Uta, “stay in the house, listen to what Kai and Uehara tell you, is that clear?” He kissed each of them on the head. They followed him out to the engawa, “I love you all, I’ll return before dawn.” Blowing a kiss to Uta, Sakurai Atsushi slowly rose into the air, and was gone in less than a heartbeat.  

Chapter Text

 

          Yusuke watched his blood spouse as the man walked through their garden, talking to the small dog that followed at his heels, “Chika, do you believe he hears me, or is he ignoring my calls?” Inoran walked over to the stone bench and sat down, patting his leg for the tiny dog to jump into his lap.

          “Does Chika have an answer, my love?” Yusuke walked into the garden, carrying a tray with two cups of tea, sitting next to his lover. Inoran smiled, “Unfortunately, I can not read the minds of animals, and Chika isn’t speaking to me.”

          Handing Inoran his cup of tea, Yusuke mused over the last year and his lover’s improvements just from using the herbal blend that Kai had created for him. The moments of unbridled anger had disappeared, replaced by a temperament that Yusuke could live with. The melancholy and constant watching of the night sky, had been replaced by nightly walks through their garden with Chika following behind him.

          Chika had been a surprise gift from Yusuke to Inoran, the younger man had found the puppy while he was in the countryside hunting. He had stumbled upon a house that was still smoldering, a possible random attack by bandits. Yusuke heard the whining and searched through the rubble, past the burned bodies of the home’s inhabitants, to find a small puppy under a shelf, that had been shielded from the fire.

          “Well, you’re a bit of a survivor, aren’t you?” Picking up the puppy, he placed him inside his yukata, “I’m sure he’s going to love you.” Making his way home, he entered the house and called out for Inoran, finding his lover in his private room.

          “I have a little gift for you, my love.” Yusuke tapped on the door. “A gift? For what reason?” Inoran put down his book, as Yusuke entered the room, holding his hands behind his back. “Close your eyes.”

          Inoran cocked an eyebrow, “Really?” He could smell something, but wasn’t sure what it was, there was an odd odor of smoke.

          “Yes, really. Please, for me?” Inoran closed his eyes with a smile.

          Carefully approaching Inoran, Yusuke took the puppy and placed it in his lap. “Open your eyes.”

          Inoran chuckled, “Well well…what’s this?” He picked up the puppy and held it in his hands, “you certainly don’t smell like a puppy, where did you find this tiny baby?”

          “I found her in a burned-out house, about fifteen kilometers from here, it was still smoldering and whomever lived there, were dead. I found her under a shelf, and thought you could use a tiny companion. Was I wrong?”

          Inoran held his arm open, “No, you were not wrong…she is adorable and I’m pleased you saved her tiny life. What shall we name her?” Yusuke leaned into the man, Inoran holding him around the waist. “I think I shall call you Chika, you’re just so tiny. How does that sound to you, Chika?” The puppy answered with a lick to Inoran’s nose.

          “He still has yet to answer me, I wonder if I should continue calling him.” Inoran stroked the puppy’s fur, carding through the small knots and tangles, “I believe Heath to be lost to us, Yusuke. Is he so far away or so destroyed that he can not hear me?” He looked up to his lover, “I don’t know, though you know how I feel about this so I can not honestly be unhappy about it.”

          Yusuke moved away from Inoran and sat in a chair, “I believe that he is ignoring you because he is angry with me for denying him my love. If that is true, then I say I’m happy that he has not answered your calls.”

          The frown that passed over Inoran’s face was not missed, “I’ve already explained to you several times now Yusuke; I am the leader in this family and if I so desire to have Heath next to me, then that is what will be. If I choose to bring another person into our small family, then I will do so with no interference from you or anyone else.”

          Inoran stood, placing the puppy in Yusuke’s lap, “Chika needs a bath, she smells of smoke and death,” is all he said before leaving the room.

 

 

          “He lied to me and played with my emotions, he just basically used me when Inoran would go missing.” Heath was sitting with Issay in the large living area of Sakurai’s abandoned estate in Hokkaido, having been surprised one evening when he was out hunting, seeing Heath walking towards him.

          Explaining to Issay the recent events with Inoran and his mental illness, Heath made no qualms about telling his side of the story, even as prejudice as it was. Issay identified easily with Heath, he felt the same way with his interactions with Reo and the entire Ayato episode.    

          “Well, he is Inoran’s blood spouse, what would you ultimately expect? The bond is too strong for it to be broken by something as base as sexual infidelity.”

          “To an extent, yes. But when Inoran became violent and threatened to kill both of us? I believed that pushed Yusuke over the edge, he promised he would leave Inoran, obviously it was a lie.” Heath justified.

          He knew it would be a sore topic, but Heath felt a need for a bit of payback, “You can say the same about Ayato. You don’t really expect Reo to let him remain with you after the incident with those rogues. You basically ran away and left the boy to die.”

          “Those rogues would have killed us both!” Issay snapped, “what good would it have done for me to try to fight them? It was two against one, it was a better idea to go and try to get help from the main house.”

          “Everything was perfect before those rogues showed up, then it all went to hell.” Issay’s shoulders sagged, the anger diminished. “Then the ultimate slap in the face, Reo agreeing to let that stupid boy go with Kyo, he had no right in that.”

          Now it was Heath’s turn to smirk, “Yes he did. Ayato is his child, he is the clan leader, he has every right to do what he did, it was in the best interest of the clan. Let’s just agree to disagree with each other’s transgressions, ne?”

          “Well, at least I have to admit my fault in my leaving Sakurai’s house, even though he’d never admit that Kai is just a peasant, I really shouldn’t have pushed him so hard into accepting me as his sole lover. I do regret that.” Issay truly did consider himself at fault for the event that led to him leaving Sakurai Atsushi’s house.

          “Sakurai has always seemed like a very amiable man, very even tempered, unless of course Uta is in harms way, but anyone would become unhinged if their blood spouse was in danger. Did you know about the immolation of that boy? I didn’t realize that the ancients have that power.” Heath had heard about the incident with Tangier, and it truly terrified him.

          Issay shuddered, “I’m not sure what I would do in that position. I of course knew about Imai and his relationship with Sakurai, but to set someone on fire because he attacked your blood spouse? I’m not sure it was justified, but all the clan leaders gave him pass on it.”

          The duo lived quietly in the north, while they didn’t consider themselves friends, they did understand each other’s positions and what had led them to this cold north island. Neither man had any plans on rejoining their clans, or changing the way they lived.

 

          The humidity is what struck him in the face first, as he left his stateroom on the ship after the sun had slipped behind the western mountains. Carefully walking down the gangplank that ran to the wharf, Raymond Watts set foot on Japanese soil for the first time, leaving the ship in Tokyo bay.

          The unexpected meeting with Yoshiki in 1852, had left the man unnerved. The questions about Imai, the situation with Sakurai Atsushi, had made Watts very shaken. He had left London that next year, hoping to leave Imai behind and find another hiding place from Yoshiki, though he knew that would be impossible.

          He had crossed the English Channel and landed in France, then made his way south to Spain, wanting the warmer climate to leech the English fog out of his bones. He found the city of Pamplona to be the perfect place to immerse himself in a small town, where he could blend into the night life, being viewed as an eccentric Englishman.  Raymond Watts had believed he’d found his final home and was living in peace, that was until he had a visitor in 1888.  

          Walking up the low hill to his small stone house, the moment he reached for the door, he knew he had a visitor. “Damn it.” he muttered. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door. “How did you find me this time?” Yoshiki noted the anger in his child’s voice.

          Yoshiki laughed, “What? You’re not pleased to see me, how rude of you,” the ancient’s tone changed, “how I found you is irrelevant, why I’m here is the issue. Why have you gone into hiding?”

          Watts stomach tightened, “Who said I was in hiding? I simply got tired of the dreary London weather, there are more days of rain than not. Is it a crime to want to live in a more temperate climate?” He handed Yoshiki a glass of wine. “If you’re looking for me, you’ve found me…what can I do for you?”

          “Who is Sugizo?”

          “I have no idea, I’ve never heard the name before, why?” This was unexpected.

          “Whomever he is, he won’t stop shouting my name, his voice is constantly in my ears, whining like a tiny child that wants candy.” Yoshiki sat down hard in a chair, “I’m tired of him crying for me, I want to know who he is and what the hell he wants with me.”

          “Can I suggest that perhaps you need to go back to Japan? It is not a name I’m familiar with, I’ve never heard of the man, so I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”

          “Where’s Imai?” the ancient snapped at him.

          “Again, I have no idea where that man is either. After your impromptu visit in London, I assumed you had found him and made your peace with him, it’s obvious that you didn’t.”

          “I spoke with him at length actually,” his voice dripping with venom, “we had an agreement and yet he decided not to keep up his part of the bargain, and now I’m looking to collect my part of the compensation.”

          This didn’t feel right, “And what bargain did you strike with the man?” Watts feared he would need to move yet again.

          “That’s of no concern to you. If you have not seen him then I will leave you to your life of luxury while the rest of us prepare.”

          “Prepare for what, pray tell?”

          “War.”

 

 

         

          Ryo and Aiko bowed low before Lord Sakurai, both quite nervous upon meeting the ancient, who had just arrived at Morrie’s home. “Please, there’s no need to fear me, I’m just old…not dangerous.” Sakurai attempted to lighten the mood. Morrie first introduced him to Daisuke and his friends, then to Ryo and Aiko.

          “Ryuichi… his name is being whispered, along with Yoshiki’s and Mari’s.” Sakurai explained, “Both Kai and I have heard their names being called and a new one as well, someone named Sugizo.” This information led Morrie to introduce Sakurai to the newest members of Clan Otsuka.

          “Can you tell me about the voices you’ve been hearing; how long and where were you?” Sakurai tried to calm his bristling nature, not wanting to frighten the young vampires.

          “On the road from Toyama, mostly,” Ryo offered, “Aiko heard Ryuichi’s name, I did as well, but only I heard the name Sugizo.”

          “Who are your makers?”

          Ryo frowned, “I don’t know mine, I was blindsided in an attack and left in the forest.” He looked at Aiko, “Her name was Mari.” They went through the events leading up to their being blood born, and how they met on the road. “We just started walking towards Tokyo, we figured it would be easier to live in a larger city.” Aiko explained.

          “How were the names being said? In a pleading voice or…?” Sakurai leaned forward, listening carefully. “I’d say anger, there was no pleading, it was angry, as if whomever it was, was demanding that Ryuichi answer them. It sounded to me like Sugizo was asking that Ryuichi contact him.” Sakurai thanked Ryo and Aiko, then asked to speak to Morrie privately.

          “We need to alert the others, this Sugizo person sounds like he could be a problem. I’ll send a message to Inoran, could you please contact Reo…and perhaps Isshi as well. I don’t want any of us taken by surprise.”

          “Consider it done. I’m going to keep my family at home for the time being, leaving only to feed and it will be done quickly. I’m sure you’d like to return to your young ones. Please, take care of yourself and let me know of any changes.” Morrie clapped his hand on Sakurai’s shoulder, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of this together.” Sakurai nodded then excused himself and stepped out into the garden, then rose quickly into the air.

          “He’s worried, isn’t he?” Tatsu wrapped his arms around Morrie’s waist, laying his head on his shoulder. “Yes, and I am as well. I don’t like this new unknown; it does not bode well for the alliance if there are additional unknown immortals that want to destroy what we have.”

 

         

          “I require a room, and I’d like one without a window if possible.”

Chapter Text

 

          “You don’t look very happy; I’m assuming it’s not good news?” Jyou was casually leaning against the wall, watching Reo’s face as he read the letter from Morrie. “Call a clan meeting, pull everyone from whatever their doing and bring them here.” Hesitating for a moment, Jyou nodded then pushed herself off the wall and left the room.

          Within the hour, the members of Clan Aichi were standing in Reo’s office, waiting for their clan leader to explain why they had all been summoned, with Arimatsu, Asanao and Jyou standing to the side of Reo’s desk.

          “I’ve received a letter from Morrie-san, which concerns us all. It seems that his two newest clan members, have brought word that they have heard names whispered, while traveling to Tokyo.  Ryuichi is one of the names, the other is what I am concerned about; Sugizo’s name was also heard.” Reita and Tora exchanged quick glances.

          “My lord, has he been blood born?” Nakamura asked.

          “He was not an immortal when he left the clan, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was brought into the blood, either Ryuichi or Yoshiki would be his maker, their tactics also fit the blind side attack on Ryo.” Reo closed his eyes, “We need to be watchful, all of us,” he looked at Akinori, “You, Mana and Ayato will stay at the house, you will have an escort, when you go out to hunt, and there is no argument to be had.”  Something in Reo’s voice, told them not to challenge his authority.

          Reo went on to discuss security measures that he wanted the people on the street to deal with, “Be aware of your surroundings, they are ancients and can paralyze you or set you ablaze in an instant.” He dismissed the others but held Reita, Tora and Arimatsu back.

          “I want you to go to Tokyo and speak with Morrie. You both know Sugizo better than I do, and he was under Arimatsu’s command while he was with the clan. Give Morrie and Sakurai both all the information you can possibly think of, I want you to leave tomorrow night, and I will have a letter ready for you at that time.”

           

          The incessant whispers from other immortals during the daylight hours, had left Raymond Watts more than just a little cranky. His fatigue was bad enough, that he almost fumbled while feeding, letting a passer-by see him bent over his victim in an alley. His quick thinking had saved him, “He was so drunk, the poor fellow, I just laid him down out of the road,” was the story he told the man who had seen him walk from the alley.

          “Ah, well I’m sure it wasn’t the drink entirely, the evil of opium is rampant in the city these days.” The gentleman doffed his hat with a light bow and went on his way.

           Watts made his own way back to the hotel, having a light dinner in the hotel’s modest restaurant, he then wearily returned to his room. He spent the next few hours, listening carefully to the whispers, and sending out his own call for Sakurai Atsushi, “You must hear me, I come to warn you.”  

          It was not Sakurai Atsushi who heard the calls, but Isshi the Onmyoji. He followed the whispered voice to the hotel where Watts was staying, listening carefully as he went up the stairs to the third floor, following the message to the hotel room door. Taking a breath, he reached out and knocked softly.

          “Who is it?” a low voice on the other side.

          “My name is Isshi, I’d like to speak to you about Sakurai Atsushi.”

           The door opened slowly, “Onmyoji, I am surprised that you speak English,” Watts opened the door, waving Isshi in, “I have heard your name thrown around lately, please, come in.” Isshi scanned the room before stepping over the threshold, “I am alone, please I mean you no harm.” Watts assured the man.

          “Thank you, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I decided to call on you, not all of your brethren are comfortable with me, and yes, my English is passable.” Isshi settled into a deep wingback chair. The two immortals studied each other for a moment, Watts eyes widened when he realized that Isshi was not a vampire.

          Isshi understood the questioning glance, “No, I am not a vampire, but I am an immortal. My master Abe no Seimei graced me with immortality before he died.”

          Raymond Watts was more than a little stunned, “Are there any other immortals such as yourself?”

          “None that I have ever heard of or come across, no. I believe my situation to be unique, at least in Japan.” He paused, “May I ask why you are calling for Sakurai Atsushi?”

          Watts stood, walking to a small sideboard, “Would you care to share some sake with me?” Isshi accepted, watching as the man poured two cups, handing one to Isshi.

          “I want to warn Sakurai,”

          “Warn him? Of what?”

          Pouring another cup of sake for each of them, Watts leaned forward, “Yoshiki is looking for him, and if I am to understand him correctly, there is some sort of war that is impending, though to what degree I don’t know.”

          “How did you come by this information?” Isshi remained calm, concealing his concern.

          “From Yoshiki himself, about four months ago. He sought me out…no, that’s not right. He hunted me down, he was angry with me for moving.” Watts went on to tell an abridged version of his life as an immortal, mentioning Imai and their connection, his life in London.

          “This will come as a shock to Sakurai-san. I gathered from what he has said, that Imai is not one of his favorite people.” Isshi smirked. “Do you believe an attack is imminent?”

          Watts sighed, “No, that’s the main problem, I don’t have any idea, but I wanted to warn Sakurai. He needs to know that Yoshiki and possibly Imai are coming for him at some point. I fear for anyone that gets caught in the cross fire, Yoshiki is beyond brutal and Ryuichi is insane.”  

          Isshi studied the man carefully, “I feel no malice from you, I do not believe you are attempting to deceive me, however,” he said, “I’d like to speak to the clan leader in the city, before allowing you access to Sakurai Atsushi. If you will wait an hour or so, I will return with an answer.”

          “I will agree to that, as it does seem prudent to speak to whomever is in power in the city, before asking to speak to an ancient.” Watts stood and showed Isshi to the door, the onmyoji bowed, “I will return before dawn.”

 

         

Chapter Text

          “What’s Morrie-san like?” Tora and Reita were questioning Arimatsu about what to expect when they reached Tokyo.

          “Mild-mannered really, I’ve yet to see him angry. I can’t say I really know the man, other than he was gracious enough to accept Miya, Shinya, Sato and Aoi into his clan, when Inoran refused to join the alliance. He also accepted four others that had been living in a small hut near the Inari Shrine.” Arimatsu was mentally preparing for the meeting with the Otsuka clan leader, trying to remember every detail he possibly could about Sugizo.

          “How many does he have in his clan? Reo said he has two new members,” Tora asked. Closing his eyes, Arimatsu counted the members, “Twelve, counting himself, so one less than Clan Aichi. Nobody really includes Isshi the Onmyoji, he is happy to live on his own.”

         

          Sitting in Morrie’s private room, the immortal listened as Isshi explained his meeting with Raymond Watts and the man’s desire to speak with the clan leader.

          “I detected no deceit in his words, quite the opposite, he is genuinely concerned with the messages he was receiving from Yoshiki. I believe it is pertinent that you accept his offer of a meeting, and I suggest you send for Sakurai.” Isshi didn’t want to sound like an alarmist, but they all knew that Ryuichi and Yoshiki were planning some sort of an attack on all immortals.  

          “Where is he staying?” Morrie asked.

          “The Hotel Yamato, he’s on the third floor in a central room.” Isshi realized that Morrie would want to have one of his members watch the hotel.

          “Tomorrow night, around eleven pm., that gives me time to send for Sakurai and to have my members advised. Please tell him not to be alarmed and that we mean him no harm. Does he speak Japanese?”

          Isshi smiled and shook his head, “No, but he does speak English and some French, if you’d like I can act as translator, as I speak some English as well.” With instructions for Watts, Isshi left the home of Clan Otsuka and returned to the Hotel Yamato.

          “Do you believe Isshi? Is this Watts person harmless?” Tatsu leaned over the back of Morrie’s chair, wrapping his arms around his lover’s neck, “I have to believe him, what other choice do I have? If the man has information about Yoshiki and Ryuichi’s plans for a war, I can’t ignore that.” Morrie patted Tatsu’s hand, “There will be no danger to anyone, Sakurai will most likely bring his entire clan, I can’t see Uta agreeing to be left alone again.”

 

          Morrie was correct in his assumption. Once Aoi had delivered his message and returned to the city, Uta started whining about being left behind, for a second time.

          “It’s not that dangerous, is it Acchan?” Uta was sitting on the bed, watching his lover pack a small bag. “I don’t know, it doesn’t appear that this Watts person is any threat, why do you ask?” He knew where Uta was going with the line of questions.

          “Can I go with you this time?” he wasn’t going to throw a tantrum, something that usually didn’t work with his blood spouse, though he was expecting rejection.

          “Yes.”

          He was shocked, “Really? Can everyone go? It wouldn’t be fair to leave Totchi and Naoto behind, would it?” Uta’s eyes shined brightly in anticipation.

          Sakurai walked over to the bed and bent down, cupping Uta’s face gently in his hands, “Yes, we will all be going,” he sweetly kissed his young lover. “Hurray! Naoto and I would really like to meet the new clan members, Aiko and You, there’s a severe shortage of female vampires, if you haven’t already noticed.”

          “What? No female vampires? Shocking!” Sakurai deadpanned. “You know what I mean,” Uta cocked his head, “Do you think that Ryuichi and Yoshiki choose men to bring into the blood over women, because of innate power? I mean, men are typically stronger than women, so it makes sense.”

          With a heavy sigh, Sakurai turned to look at Uta, “Baby, I don’t think that either of those monsters care who they bring into the blood. The rogue’s that attacked Ayato? One was a female and as strong as any man. I believe that they choose their victims on nothing more than a whim.”

          “Well, I think they’re choosing men specifically,” Uta declared, “maybe they choose women when they’re um…” Uta blushed, something that did not come naturally for the young man.

          Sakurai glanced over his shoulder, “When they are what?”

          “Um, never mind, it’s silly.”

          “I think you should finish what you were going to say, Uta.” Sakurai said calmly.

          Uta shifted uneasily, “Well, when they’re um, when they want to have sex.”

          “Rape is not sex, you know that. It’s about control, not primal urges.” Sakurai pointed out.

          Uta nodded, “I know, but what if they’re both so insane, they really don’t know the difference? Ryuichi seduced you, didn’t he?”

          Sitting down on the bed, Sakurai reached out for Uta, “Yes, he did, but that does not give him a pass on what he has done. Remember what he did to Naoto, the rape and the killing of her sisters in front of her, what the man has done to so many. He is evil, as is Yoshiki, and whether his attacks are vicious and violent, or they are rape, the fact remains that if there is pleasure in this for him, it’s sadistic. Now, get your cute little ass up, go tell the others we’ll be leaving soon.” Kissing Uta again, and smacking him on the ass, Sakurai watched as the boy left the room, “What can I do to protect all of you?”

          Within the hour, Clan Sakurai was on the road towards Tokyo, the horses sensing the nervous apprehension felt by their riders, Uta and Sakurai’s horses dancing a nervous trot on the dirt road. “They want to run, Acchan.” Uta groaned as he pulled Rai up once again, stopping the young horse from tearing away.

          “No, Uta. I can not take the chance that there is someone else on the road that wishes to harm you, you’re just going to have to keep that delinquent in check.” Sakurai said smartly.

           

 

          After hearing the thoughts of Arimatsu, Morrie had sent Miya to greet the travelers and usher them to Clan Otsuka’s house. Miya was waiting on the outskirts of the city, for the delegates from Clan Aichi, waiting to approach them, until they had each other in view. “Konbanwa, Arimatsu and…”

          “Konbanwa, Miya-san,” Arimatsu bowed, “this is Tora and Reita, they are new members to Clan Aichi.” Reita and Tora bowed.

           Miya returned the bow, “Let me lead you to the new clan house, it’s much larger than the estate, as you know our numbers are growing.”

          “The city has grown so large in such a short time,” Arimatsu observed. “Yes, especially now that it’s the capital, though we still have a few skirmishes with the holdovers of the shogunate.”

          Tora moved closer to Reita, “I’ve never seen so many people before,” He said softly to his companion, “I can guess that the hunting is much easier here.”

         “Yes, the hunting is easier,” Miya had heard the soft words, “but you must be careful with whom you choose as victims, the blood can be tainted from those that are from the west.” Walking up to the gate of the property, the members of Clan Aichi voiced their approval of the new clan house. “This is very grand, Miya-san!” Arimatsu spoke first.

          Just as they were to walk through the gate, the clatter of hooves sounded behind them, Miya and Arimatsu whipping around and into a fighting stance as they were faced with six horses with riders.

         “Miya-san,” Sakurai Atsushi called out, “I’m sorry to come upon you so suddenly, it was not my intention to alarm you.” Miya relaxed as he saw the members of Clan Sakurai ride up, “Arimatsu-san, this is unexpected, or is it really?” Sakurai chuckled.

         “No, Sakurai-san, it’s not unexpected, Reo-san received a letter from Morrie-san, and we were dispatched here to Tokyo,” Arimatsu bowed, “Futoshi-san, it looks as if immortality agrees with you…or is it Naoto-chan that has brought love into your life?”

         Naoto blushed, Uehara reaching out to hold her hand, “It is both, Arimatsu-san, though Naoto is truly my reason for happiness.”

        Sato had come out to unsaddle the horses, Uehara staying behind to help. Miya ushered them all into the house, and into the large living area, knowing that Sakurai wouldn’t want to waste any time in speaking to the clan leader.

         “Acchan, thank you for coming so quickly, we have much to discuss, we are just waiting for Isshi and this Watts person.” Morrie quickly introduced the newest members of the clan, You and Aiko sitting together with Shinya, both nervous about being around so many men.

          Shinya had gotten up to hug Uta, Naoto and Toshiya, taking them over to sit with You and Aiko, quietly introducing them to the women. “You must be on guard with this one,” Shinya patted Uta on the knee, “he’s very much a bratty young man.” Uta faked a pout, then giggled, “He’s right, just ask Acchan.” After that first night, Aiko and You had become close, the reality of being lone females in a house full of men, immortal or not, drew them together.

         With the return of Sato, and Futoshi, and Reita, Tora, and Arimatsu introduced, Morrie gave what information he had about the new immortal in town, and his desire to speak to Sakurai. “We are just waiting for Isshi to bring the man  to the house. He assured us that he felt no malice or hostility from Raymond Watts, and I will have to trust in that.”

         “Did Isshi seem concerned over the information Watts had given him?” Sakurai hoped that the onmyoji would be prompt in his delivering the immortal to them.

          Morrie nodded, “He was concerned enough to get involved, and to tell me that I should send for you, and I am anxious to hear what the man has to say.” The small talk continued until Hiro announced that Isshi had arrived, leaving Morrie to issue instructions,

         “Raymond Watts will be treated with respect. Miya, Sato and Aoi will be watching him closely, do nothing to antagonize the man.”

 

         Isshi walked into the room, bowed low, first to Morrie, then to Sakurai, “Sakurai-san, a pleasure to see you once again. I hope all is well with your family?”

         Sakurai inclined his head, “Yes, thank you, Isshi-san.”

         “This is Raymond Watts,” Isshi introduced the man, the proceeded to introduce Watts to the others, Watts on high alert due to the overwhelming presence of so many immortals in one room. “Mr. Watts speaks English, as well as French. I am acting as a translator only.”

         “Konbanwa, gentlemen, thank you for agreeing to meet with me.” Watts said in perfect Japanese, as he bowed. Isshi looked at the man in surprise. “I beg your pardon, Isshi-san, but I did not want to give away all my secrets on our  first meeting.”

         Isshi chuckled, “Very well then, I will make myself comfortable and leave you to your discussions.” Isshi took a seat against a wall.

         Morrie studied the man for a moment, “Mr. Watts, we typically start these meetings, with your recounting of how you came into the blood and whom your maker is. If you will, please.”

         Shinya offered Watts a cup of sake, “My maker is Ryuichi. I was living in the city of London, in the year 1588, working as a tailor. It was late at night, and the shop was closed.  I was finishing up a coat that was to be worn by someone at court.”

         “How old were you?” Morrie asked.

         “Twenty-seven, unmarried thankfully. I closed the shop and was on my way home, when I decided to stop at a local pub for a drink and a late dinner. I was sitting alone in a corner, minding my own business really, when Ryuichi walked in. I have to say that seeing a Japanese man in London at that time, was unusual. I noticed that he was wearing a very nicely tailored suit of clothes, and he must have heard my thoughts, as he invited himself to sit with me.”

          Sato snorted, “Sounds like something he’d do, pompous ass.” Morrie glared at Sato, “Please, go on Mr. Watts.”

          “There’s really not much left to say. I remember drinking with him, listening to him speak, though I believe he was speaking Japanese, but to my ears and senses, it sounded more like … how shall I put this…a hypnotic dulling of my mind. I had no awareness of my surroundings, and I could no longer hear the general noise in the pub,” he paused for a moment, “it was during that time that he told me his name, and that he was an immortal, that much I do remember.”

         Shinya had gotten up and refreshed everyone’s sake, it seemed that this story warranted more than one cup. Uta and the young one’s were captivated by Watts’ story, the uniqueness of listening to an Englishman speak Japanese, was alluring and exciting.

        “I vaguely remember leaving with Ryuichi and going back to my flat, but after that, I remember nothing, except waking to extreme pain, and the man sitting on the edge of my bed, laughing at me. When I asked him what he had done, he explained the basics; how I was to live for eternity, how to hunt and feed. Once my body had died, I tried to attack him, which of course, was futile. Ryuichi threw me to the ground and laughed, he told me ‘you are now part of the damned that will roam the earth forever, surviving off the blood of others, you will thank me for it later.’ He then walked out of my flat, and thankfully out of my life.”

        Morrie ordered a short break, allowing whomever needed, to go out and hunt, with an escort of Miya, Uehara, Aoi and Sato, Sakurai stayed with Morrie, Watts and Isshi. “Mr. Watts, would you like …” Watts held up his hand,                  “Please, Morrie-san, call me Raymond, I am hoping to become friendly with your group, at least as long as I stay in Japan.”

        “How long do you plan on staying?” Morrie had hoped for a lengthy friendship, the more immortals that were against Ryuichi and Yoshiki, the better their chances in any sort of conflict.

       “Truthfully, I haven’t thought about it. Yoshiki found me in Pamplona, Spain…though I’d like to wait until the other’s return before I get into that part of my story.” Morrie and Sakurai agreed, instead making sure that their guests had something to eat.

 

        Uta grinned, “He’s pretty cute, even with that stupid nose band, I wonder what happened to him?”

        “He was in a fight, and a shinsengumi hit him in the face,” Shinya said, “Arimatsu told me about it.”

        “Eww, I wonder how bad it is?” Uta made a rude noise. “What about Tora? He’s more manly than Reita, I wonder what his story is?”

        “Tora’s handsome, at least Aiko thinks so,” Shinya smiled, he had seen the young woman staring at the tall, dark-haired immortal, “But I don’t think Reita was too happy, he was giving Tora dirty looks.”

       “Oh, drama of the best kind!” Uta crowed. “We’d better get back, I’m sure Acchan is wondering where I am.”

 

        Gathered once again in the large living room, faces newly flushed with heat, Morrie asked Watts to continue with his story.

        “My life after being brought into the blood was fairly mundane. I continued at my shop, just changing my hours with some lame excuse that I no longer remember, keeping all my important customers. It wasn’t until one of those customers noticed, after ten years, that I hadn’t aged, making the comment that I must have found the fountain of youth.”

         This statement caused not a few to laugh softly, “If he only knew, ne?” Daisuke said. “Yes, that’s what I thought, Daisuke-san, and that’s what caused me to move from my home, and further into the city.”

          Raymond Watts went through the next one hundred years of his life, the constant moving about every twenty years or so, until he had found a flat near the theatre district in central London, somewhere he could hide in plain site. It was at the theatre, that he had met Yoshiki.

        “I don’t remember the play, but I remember quite vividly the essence of Yoshiki the moment he walked into the building, a feeling of superiority and sensuality. It immediately drew me to him, I got up in the middle of the performance and left my seat, something that shocked quite a few people.”

        “I followed his scent out of the theatre and back to my flat, I couldn’t believe when I opened the door that the man was sitting in a chair near the window, waiting as if he had lived there with me. I asked him his name, ‘Yoshiki, and I am your brother in all things,’. I asked him to explain and for the next several hours we talked. It wasn’t until dawn was about to break over the horizon, that he got into my bed, asking me to share it with him.”
          “From 1701 until 1810, we were lovers…though he didn’t always stay with me. There were times when he would disappear for ten or fifteen years, reappearing and worming his way back into my good graces, and my bed. But it was in 1810, when I told him I’d had enough. I had been out on the town, and when I arrived at home, he was there, sitting in that same chair by the window, drinking a glass of wine. I asked him where he had been the last few years, he just laughed and told me he had gone home to Japan, to wreak a little havoc.”

          Sakurai shifted in his chair, “Did he elaborate?”

          Watts snorted, “Unfortunately, he did. He told me of the rogue children he had created, that he had brought into the blood but abandoned them before their bodies had died, and the victims that he had killed outright. One specific tale was of a small family that had several young children, whom he tortured after he had killed the parents. ‘You should try a child, my love…the heated blood of their struggles is as good as sex, if not better, fucking one to death is just as pleasurable, taking their life as you orgasm’.”
          A sob was heard, everyone turning to see Naoto in Uehara’s arms, crying into his chest, “I’m going to take her to our room, if that’s acceptable Morrie-san?” Morrie waved Uehara away, “Of course, please do.”

          “I’m sorry, is it something I said?” Watts was confused, but Morrie assured him, “It was nothing you said directly, Naoto-chan’s family were killed by Ryuichi, and he… he raped her as her body was dying. This is just a sensitive subject for some, my apologies.”

          Raymond Watts looked genuinely horrified, “That beautiful young woman was…?”, he sighed and closed his eyes, “I will speak to her later if her spouse allows it.”

          Watts went through the timeline of meeting Imai in 1847, and the man’s obsession with contacting Yoshiki, and the two immortals avoiding each other in the same city. “It wasn’t until I had decided that I had had enough, when Yoshiki reappeared in my flat, in 1852.”

         “Once again, I asked him why he was there, and he wanted information on Imai, and why the man was calling for him. I explained what I knew in regards to what Imai had said about Sakurai-san and Uta-kun, when he stopped me, ‘He wants help with Sakurai? I do believe I will assist Imai in this farce, I do love to toy with Sakurai Atsushi, the man is just too proud for my tastes, elevating himself among his peers with his alliance of immortal clans.’

        “He left after that, with instructions on not telling Imai that I had spoken to him. I knew then that I needed to leave London, I wanted nothing to do with either of those insanely sadistic men, so I moved to Spain. I was happy there, a small village on the coast, a nice quiet house, and I was ready to live out my eternity in solitude. That was until on a fall evening in 1888, when I arrived home from hunting, and as I reached for the doorknob, I could sense him; Yoshiki had hunted me down and was sitting in my living room once again.”

       “He asked me why I was in hiding, I lied and told him I wasn’t. ‘Who is Sugizo?’ he asked me, and I told him I had never heard the name. I suggested that perhaps he needed to go back to Japan to look for the man. His next question was more hostile, he wanted to know where Imai was, and I told him I had no idea, and why was he so concerned with these two men.”

        “He explained that they had a falling out over some plan that had failed, and he was looking for Imai, so they could prepare. ‘Prepare for what?’ I asked him, he simply said, “War.”  I held my tongue, and without another word from him, he left my home.”

        A collected sigh was released as Watts finished his tale, “That is why I am in Japan, gentlemen, to warn you to be on your toes, something is coming and it’s going to be ugly. There will be numerous deaths of mortals and immortals,  young, old, you know as well as I do that neither Ryuichi or Yoshiki will spare anyone that gets in their way. We have a serious problem at hand, and I for one would like to avoid it at all costs.”          

Chapter Text

          In his mind, Heath envisioned a joyful reunion with Inoran and Yusuke, with all previous transgressions forgiven and being welcomed with open arms. He had been dreaming about such a reunion for some months, his tolerance of Issay was wearing thin. The immortal would not, or could not stop whining about his supposed ill treatment by Reo and Sakurai, the kidnapping (in his eyes) of Ayato and the overall rejection of his loyalty.

          “That bastard had no right to take Ayato,” Issay muttered for the thousandth time, “He brought that boy into the blood for me, not that midget Kyo.”

          “Why didn’t you speak up when you had the chance?” Heath knew he was provoking the man.

          “I did speak up! But what was I to do, go up against an ancient? It certainly shows how little you understand the intricacies of dealing with clan leaders.” Issay’s pompous attitude was about to get him in trouble.

          Heath pushed himself against Issay’s chest, “You were brought into the blood by Sakurai, I was blood born by Yoshiki, and I also lived with an ancient. Do not suppose to hold contempt for me, and do not assume I am uneducated or ill mannered.”

          It was these exchanges that Heath had grown weary of, it was the constant bickering attitude of his housemate, that had changed Heath’s mind about seeking a reunion with Inoran. The night that he announced that he was leaving, he asked Issay if he had any message for either Reo or Sakurai. “No, I have nothing to say to either one,” he said indifferently.  Without another word, Heath left the Hokkaido estate.  

          Whether Heath would stop to see Sakurai or Reo, was undecided for the moment, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be subjected to questions and concerns, that might cloud his mind and convince him not to be reunited with Inoran and Yusuke. This was what was on his mind as he made his way south to Fukushima, where he would cross the Seikan Straight.

          His other major concern was what to do about Yusuke, how would he approach the man that he had admittedly tried to lure away from his blood spouse. He had hoped that the political turmoil that had embattled the main island, had subsided enough for him to safely move about in any of the major cities, and to hunt, something he was looking forward to. He was single minded in his journey; to get back to Inoran and Yusuke.

 

 

          The meeting had ended for the night, leaving the guests to have rooms assigned to them. Tora, Reita and Arimatsu shared a large bedroom that held three futons and a chest of drawers, each then claiming a spot on the floor.  Normally, Tora and Reita would choose to sleep next to each other, Reita being more conscious about the choice, however tonight was different; Reita had chosen the futon against the wall.

          “She’s cute, like girl next door kind of cute, don’t you think?” Tora had started to gush over Aiko, hardly paying attention to what was being said in the meeting. “I wonder, is Ryo her mate or just a friend? I guess I could ask Shinya-san.”

          Arimatsu sighed, “I don’t believe Ryo is her mate, they met on the road and stayed together out of a sense of security.” He had seen the looks shared between Aiko and Tora, and the unseen looks from Reita; he knew jealousy when he saw it.

          “Let’s not worry about Aiko, ne? We need to be prepared for tomorrow night, so let’s just go to sleep.” Arimatsu reached for the light and turned it off. Tora sighed, “I guess I’ll try talking to her tomorrow night.”

 

          Slowly filtering back into Clan Otsuka’s home after the hunt, the collective group of immortals met in the large living room once again, though Raymond Watts and Isshi were no longer present. Sakurai joined Morrie at the front of the room. “Shall we?”

          Calling on Arimatsu, Reita and Tora, Morrie asked for the information they had on Sugizo, Arimatsu spoke first.

          “Sugizo was recruited by Clan Aichi as a human agent about fifteen years ago, he was a street kid, no parents and no family. He was quick witted and fearless, he adapted well to the way of the clan, and was usually well liked by his immortal peers. As time went by, he became a valuable human agent, I never had any trouble with the man.”

          “It wasn’t until our human agents were being cut down at an alarming rate during the Bakumatsu, that Reo decided to offer our human agents to be brought into the blood, that an alarm was raised by Tora and Reita.”

          “What caused you to second guess Sugizo?” Sakurai asked the two men, who stood, then bowed, “My lord, Sugizo was always talking about starting his own gang, but he never said if he wanted to be an immortal. He would brag that his gang would be more powerful than Clan Aichi. We went to Reo-san with our concerns, then we heard that he had disappeared.” Tora bowed. “My lords, if Sugizo has had a chance to be brought into the blood…well I would take great caution with him, he’s an angry man and vicious, I can’t imagine what havoc he could do as an immortal.” Reita bowed and returned to his seat.

          Arimatsu spoke again, “Morrie-san, Sakurai-san, I’m sure you understand the gravity of this issue. If Sugizo has been blood born, who was his maker? If it was Yoshiki or Ryuichi, we will be faced with a formidable immortal, that has the power of a first-born child. The fact that there are those who are hearing his name being called, and with some anger behind it, is of great concern.”

          “He never approached Reo after the offer had been made?” Morrie asked. Reita shook his head, “No, my lord. Tora and I went straight to Reo-san with our concerns, Sugizo disappeared after that, I’m sure he left the city.”

          The speculative conversation went on for another hour, only breaking when Shinya and Aiko brought in a light meal and sake. When Aiko came to pour for Tora, Reita and Arimatsu, Tora said something clever, causing the young woman to blush. As she walked away, Tora nudged Reita in the ribs, “Did you see that? She totally turned red…”

          “So? You made a girl blush; do you want an award?” Reita snapped, getting up from his chair and leaving the room, and a dumbfounded Tora. “What did I say?”

          It was Uta’s turn to nudge someone, as he had seen the exchange between the two friends, “Let’s go talk to Aiko,” he grabbed Naoto’s hand and dragged her into the kitchen.

          You and Aiko were busy putting away trays and bowls, quietly talking between themselves when a busybody Uta sprang on them, “Aikoooo,” he said in a singsong voice.

          “Yes Uta-kun?”

          “I saw you talking to Tora-san, he made you blush, what did he say?”

          Aiko blushed again, “Um, that I was too pretty to be a serving girl, I’m sure he was joking.”

          “Well you are very pretty, I’m sure you just caught his eye. Um, what do you think of him?” Uta was digging hard, standing behind Aiko, You was rolling her eyes.

          “He’s handsome, but so is Reita-san in his own way. But neither one is really my type, though…” her thought trailed off.

          You reached out, “What’s wrong?” Aiko shrugged, “I can’t be too choosy, if I want a mate, if someone finds me attractive, shouldn’t I just…”

          “NO!” Uta shouted, “no you shouldn’t just settle! That’s so wrong! You’re so pretty, and if you don’t already know, there is a shortage of female immortals! You can choose whomever you want.” Uta walked over and hugged Aiko, “You don’t have to settle, I bet there’s a lot of men who would love to have you as a mate.”

          “Uta’s right, Aiko. I have met 2 other female vampires, and they’re both standing in this room. Is there someone you like?” The young woman nodded. “Yes, but I don’t think he likes me…but I haven’t really spoken to him much.”

          Naoto cocked her head, “I know who it is,” Aiko’s head jerked up, “you do?”

          “Mmm, you like Sato-san, don’t you?”

          Aiko gasped, “How…?”  Naoto reached out and took Aiko’s hands, “You’ve been watching him since last night. I noticed it only because when Acchan and Morrie-san were talking with Isshi, I just happened to look over at you.”

          “Ohh, Sato-san is really manly and rugged, he has really pretty eyes…and a cute butt!” They all stared at Uta, “What? He has a nice butt! Damn, I’m a blood spouse, I’m not dead you know. I can appreciate someone else’s ass, can’t I?”

          “Whose ass are you appreciating, Uta-kun?” Sakurai walked up behind Uta and hugged him from behind.

          “Acchan! Um…nobodies, I was just saying,” Sakurai nuzzled Uta’s neck, causing the young man to squeal and wiggle out of his lover’s arms. “Alright, you lewd boy, we’re starting the meeting again, so come with me.”

           

 

          “Why are you being such an asshole, is it something I did or said?” Tora was trying to figure out why his best friend was giving him the cold shoulder, totally ignoring the man. Arimatsu reached over and took Tora by the arm, “Leave him be, we don’t have time for petty disagreements.”

          Tora looked over his shoulder at Reita as Arimatsu pulled him towards the other room, “Aren’t you coming?” He lost sight of the other man when they entered the living room. “Sit down, forget about him for the time being, you can talk later.” Arimatsu did not want to jeopardize the meeting by dealing with jealousy.

         

          Morrie wrapped up the meeting with the plans the had settled on, “I believe that’s all we can really do gentlemen, and ladies. We can only prepare for so much. I agree with Sakurai-san, we need to make sure that there are always two people together when hunting or attending to other business. Nobody travels alone, and that’s a solid command. I will be writing a letter to Inoran, as much as that will be effective, but he deserves to be alerted to what’s going on. Does anyone have anything else to offer?”

          “If I may?” Sakurai asked, “Arimatsu, would you please mention to Reo that I believe another clan meeting, that includes all members, is in order sometime in the next year? Morrie has some new members that have not met the others, and of course it’s always an excuse for our younger members to meet and cause a little trouble.” Sakurai looked over at Uta. “If there is nothing else, I believe we should retire for the day, I will be taking my family home tomorrow night.” As soon as they were dismissed, Reita quickly walked out and instead of going back to their room, headed outside to the barn.

          Watching Reita leave, then looking over to where Tora was chatting up Aiko, Arimatsu knew the situation needed to be dealt with before they left the next night or it would be a tense journey back to Kyoto.

          “Excuse me, Aiko-chan, but I need to borrow Tora for a moment please,” he bowed to the woman, taking Tora by the arm. “You need to go out to the barn and straighten this mess up with Reita, tonight. I don’t want to deal with your little domestic issue on the trip back to Kyoto.”

          “Reita? What do you mean?”

          “Just go out and talk to him, please Tora.” Arimatsu sighed, then walked away. Tora watched Arimatsu’s back. “Fine, whatever.”

          Reita was petting the horses, feeding them little treats of small pieces of apple, when the barn door slid open, “Hey,” Tora walked in, “um, do you want to tell me what all this shit is about?”

          Keeping his back towards Tora, Reita just shrugged, “You should go talk to Morrie-san about joining his clan.”

          “What? Why would I do that?” this stunned Tora, he walked over and tried to put his hand on Reita’s shoulder, the man slapping it away immediately.

          Tora stepped back, “Why are you being like this? What the hell have I done wrong? Why would you tell me to leave our clan…what about us?”

          “Us? Don’t fucking make me laugh. There’s no us…you’re interested in Aiko, so I’m sure Reo would let you change clans to be with her. It’s you and Aiko, not me and you.”

          “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Tora’s heart started to ache.

          Reita whipped around, an angry frown on his face, “It’s fucking obvious you don’t understand! You’re fucking clueless. This conversation is over. Just leave me alone, Tora, go and flirt with Aiko.” Reita shoved past his friend and stomped off towards the house, leaving a completely and utterly confused Tora standing alone in the barn.

Chapter Text

          Heath’s journey from Hokkaido to Fuji had been uneventful for the most part. He had at last had a decent meal, waylaying a lone traveler on the road near Sendai, his first taste of human blood in what seemed like centuries. He purposely avoided the city of Tokyo, having no intentions on stopping to speak to either Sakurai Atsushi or Otsuka Morrie. The last thing Heath needed was chastisement from any ancient on his actions in regards to Inoran. No, he just wanted to go home…if he had one.

          As Heath neared the small sleepy village of Fuji, he started to hear Inoran’s voice, his heart jumped and he shivered; how long had the ancient been calling for him and why hadn’t he heard it sooner? He would have left months ago, if he had only known that Inoran had wanted him to come home.

           Dawn was still a few hours away, safe enough for him to secure a bed at a ryokan for the day. Walking through the uncrowded streets of Fuji, he knew of a place that could offer him a central room with no windows.

          Heath lay in the darkness, comforted by the windowless room and half expecting to sleep undisturbed through the day. His last thoughts were of Inoran, pushing out the message that he’s coming home, that he wants to see the ancient vampire. He purposely did not think of Yusuke, not wanting to alert the man that he was interested in speaking to him at all. “Inoran, I want to come home.”

 

          Inoran had Yusuke cradled in his arms, Chika at the foot of the bed, he had just slipped into a light doze when he heard Heath’s voice.

          ‘If you can hear me, I want to come home please. I’m in Fuji at a ryokan, please agree to meet with me tomorrow night.’

          Looking at Yusuke, Inoran could see that his young spouse was fully asleep. Did he dare send out a message to Heath, hoping that Yusuke would not wake?

Yusuke stirred in his arms, Inoran pulling the man closer, “You will stay here, my love.” Closing his eyes, he let sleep claim him. “Yes

 

 

            There was no enjoyment to be had on the journey back to Kyoto for Arimatsu, Tora and Reita. The casual banter between the three men had been replaced by a forced silence from Reita, who did everything he could do, to avoid speaking at all, let alone saying anything to Tora. For Arimatsu it was an awkward situation; he knew Reita’s feelings for Tora, Jyou had warned him before they had left to go to Tokyo, “Reita’s in love with Tora, but the boy is clueless, just be careful.” Now, that love had been replaced by stony silence.

           As soon as they saw the outskirts of the city, without a word, Reita ran ahead of his companions, disappearing into the crowded streets. “What the fuck is wrong with him?” Tora snapped. Arimatsu stopped dead, “You really don’t know, do you? Reita is right, you are fucking clueless.”

          “What the hell? I haven’t done anything wrong and now I have you on my ass about it? Fill me in please, since you seem to know him better than I do.”

         “If you would have just asked him, he might have told you. But you were too busy flirting with Aiko, and generally making an ass of yourself. You need to re-think your relationship with your best friend, because as of right now, you’re very close to losing him altogether.” Arimatsu turned on his heel and walked into the city, leaving Tora standing in the road by himself.

 

         “Where are Arimatsu and Tora?” Jyou intercepted Reita as he made his way towards the clan house. “They’re behind me somewhere, I just needed to get away for a moment.” Reita said lamely.

         “You didn’t tell him, did you? And now it’s a problem. Am I right?”

         “Do you think Reo-san would mind if I found my own place to live, or maybe move to the main house instead?” Reita was looking at the ground, hiding the tears that were about to fall. Jyou reached out to Reita, tipping his face up with a finger, “You need to tell him how you feel, Reita-kun. If you don’t, you’re going to lose him.”

          “He doesn’t want me, he’s in love with Aiko, from Morrie’s clan. I’m sure he’s going to ask Reo-san to be allowed to join Clan Otsuka, so there’s no reason for me to say anything.” Reita bowed to Jyou and made his way inside, leaving her to wait for Arimatsu and Tora.

 

          “An Englishman? And who is his maker?”

          “Ryuichi, though he and Yoshiki were lovers off and on over the centuries. He also knows Imai, and has had dealings with him.” Arimatsu relayed the stories, the incidents with Yoshiki and Imai, and the concerns over Sugizo.

          “This Englishman has also heard of Sugizo?” Reo’s face was shadowed with concern.

          “No, not before Yoshiki confronted him with the man’s name, though by the way Yoshiki reacted, I’m going to have to guess that Sugizo has been brought into the blood, but by whom is still unknown.”

           Reita and Tora had remained quiet while Arimatsu gave Reo the information gathered at the meeting. Tora was sneaking side-glances at Reita who was looking anywhere but at the other man.

           “Tora-kun, I heard that two of Morrie’s newest clan members are women? How did you find them to be?” Reo knew about the problems from Jyou.

           “You-chan is beautiful, as is Aiko-chan. They were very cordial and polite, my lord.” Tora could see Reita’s face turn red, the strain from keeping quiet was evident. Then it hit him, “Oh…” he said softly.  “Thank you, Tora-kun. If there’s nothing else to report, you’re dismissed.”

          Once again, Reita quickly walked away from Tora, “Rei, wait a minute!” Tora reached out and grabbed his friend by the arm, “We need to talk,”

          Wrenching his arm away, “No, we don’t. There’s nothing to be said, now if you’ll let go of my arm, I’m leaving.”

          “Neither one of you are going anywhere,” a deep growl said, “you’re both staying in here until you straighten this out, that’s not a request, it’s an order.” Reo stood behind them, “Go talk this out, I will not have dissention in my ranks, is that clear?”

         Pushing past the two men, Arimatsu, Jyou and Reo left the room, Reo closing the door with some finality. “Fine, say what you need to say then let me go, I have other things to do before dawn.” Reita snapped.

         Tora sighed, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

        “Tell you what?”

         “That you’re in love with me.” Reita’s head snapped up, “What…I never…” he started turning red, “who told you that?”

        “Arimatsu said something first, then Jyou, because obviously I’m too damn stupid to realize it.” Tora chuckled. Reita couldn’t look at his best friend, instead he just scuffed his foot on the carpet.

         Reita shrugged, “I don’t expect you to understand or do anything about it. It’s obvious that you’re interested in … well women, and not men. That’s why I never said anything or acted on my feelings. But now you know, so I’m going to move back into the main house, I don’t want things to be awkward, then you can ask Reo if you can change clans. I’ve got things to do, I’ll see you later.” Reita turned and walked out of the room, leaving an even more confused Tora to sort through his feelings. “What the hell is wrong with everyone?”

 

 

         “You came home,” Inoran wasn’t sure what he was seeing was the truth, his mind still played tricks on him at times. “I did, I heard you last night, just before I went to sleep.” Heath’s voice was just above a whisper. “How is Yusuke?” he dared to ask.

         “Yusuke is the same,” Inoran chuckled, “he does not know I am here. If he had known, I’m sure he would have tried to stop me from meeting with you.”

         “I don’t want to cause a problem, Inoran. I can always live outside the city, if Yusuke doesn’t want me in the house.” This was his one fear, complete rejection from Yusuke.

         Inoran scoffed, “It is my house and my clan. We have had the discussion before. I’ve had to remind him who the clan leader is, and if I want you living with me under my roof, he will just have to adjust to it.”

         Heath stopped in the road, “I will not come between you and your blood spouse. It was wrong of me to accept his affections while you were…while you were ill. I come back to you with the promise that I will not interfere with your relationship with Yusuke.” He bowed low, holding the bow for quite some time.

          Inoran reached out and ran his hand through Heath’s long black hair, “My child, I don’t doubt your sincerity, I know that in the past that I treated you horribly, and Yusuke as well. I do not harbor any ill feelings toward either one of you for finding comfort in each others arms. I was a very sick man.”

         Standing up, Heath looked deeply into Inoran’s eyes, “I never meant to hurt you, and I regret the choices I made. But I can promise you now, that my feelings for Yusuke are no longer an issue.” Taking Heath by the hand, Inoran started walking again.

         “Oh, I have not told you, I now have a sweet little dog, Chika!” Inoran sought to defuse the seriousness of the conversation, wanting to avoid the darkness that had been their lives before Kai had found his cure. Telling Heath about the little dog seemed a likely conversation that would lift the man’s spirits.

         Within an hour, they were at the drive that led to Inoran’s home. Heath stopped just before crossing that imaginary line, “How do you want to do this? It’s really not fair for me just to enter the house with no warning.”

         “You will enter my home, on my arm, there is no warning needed.” Inoran emphasized the words ‘my home’. Linking his arm in Heath’s, Inoran made his way up the drive and towards the house. “You will defer to me if there is any sort of argument, you will stay quiet and let me deal with it,” he said firmly. Heath had to smile, this was the man he had grown to love, before the mental illness scrambled his mind.

         “Tadaima,” Inoran called out as they removed their shoes in the genkan.

         “Where the hell have…” Yusuke came around the corner from the kitchen, a small dog following at his heels.

         “Chika!” Inoran squatted down and opened his arms for his pet, who eagerly ran towards him. “This is Chika, isn’t she precious?” Heath reached out and rubbed the dog’s head, ignoring the glare coming from Yusuke.

         “This is what you left the house for, without telling me?” Inoran looked up from cuddling his tiny pet, “I am not required to tell you anything, let alone leaving my own home, and yes, this is why I left at nightfall.”

        “Hello, Yusuke. It’s good to see you again.” Heath bowed his head lightly.

         “Chika come,” Yusuke called for the small dog, “Let’s get you something to eat,” the man turned and walked away without saying a word to Heath.

        “Don’t worry too much about it, he’s going to be a petulant child for awhile.” Inoran patted Heath on the shoulder, “Your room is still as you left it, nothing has changed. Why don’t you go rest before we have something to eat?”

          The argument that ensued between Inoran and Yusuke was loud and somewhat violent; dishes were thrown and broken, shoji screens wrenched off the tracks and smashed, and finally a loud yelp from Chika, after she was stepped on.

          “Maybe I shouldn’t be here,” Heath cringed as he heard another plate being thrown against a wall. As he started to put his things away, the shoji to his room was yanked open, a furious Yusuke standing in the doorway.

          “This is your fault, you bastard! Why did you come back?” Yusuke started towards Heath, who was backing away, his hands up in front of him, “Yusuke, leave me alone. I’m not here to cause any trouble, I just wanted to come home.”

          Yusuke started towards Heath, when suddenly hands grabbed him around the waist, holding him back, “You will not harm him, Yusuke!” Inoran growled as he tightened his grip on his spouse. “I will release you, then you will leave and go to our room, is this clear?”

          “Get off me Inoran!” Yusuke struggled against his captor, “just let me go.”

          “Will you go quietly, or do I have to drag you by the hair?” Yusuke struggled for another minute, then finally stopped, “Let me go, I’ll leave you alone with him, it’s obvious that you prefer him over your own blood spouse.”

          Heath gasped, “That’s not true, Yusuke! I’m not here to gain anyone’s affection, I just wanted to come home to you both, please believe me.” Inoran released Yusuke.

          “I don’t care what you say, I’ll never trust you again, Heath. If you’re going to live here, just stay the fuck away from me and Inoran.” Yusuke spat, then turned and stomped off.

          At that moment, with those words, Heath knew unequivocally that Yusuke was lost to him.

 

 

          Rubbing his face roughly, Reo listened as Jyou explained the problem completely, to her clan leader, “It’s not going to end well, I’m just letting you know ahead of the fallout.”

          “What then can I expect? A physical fight where they have to be separated, or are we talking moon-eyed boys making everyone suffer?”

          Jyou snorted, “Reita believes that Tora is going to ask for permission to join Morrie’s clan, so he can court Aiko. If Tora does ask, you need to turn him down.”

          Reo looked up, “Why would I do that?”

          “Because Aiko has her eyes set on Sato-san, not Tora. Neither one of these boys want to hear that. Reita would rather suffer in silence, play the martyr, and Tora … well that boy is handsome, but he’s not very clever.”

          Reo closed his eyes, “Should I just lock Tora and Reita up together until they can figure this out for themselves?”

          “Hmm,” Jyou smiled, “that actually might not be such a bad idea, it would force them to work things out. But where would we house them? It’s not like they couldn’t break a door down to escape.”

          “They wouldn’t dare escape if I told them not to.” Reo huffed, disbelieving that any of his clan members would not obey a direct order, “I could always put Kyo on guard duty as well.”

          Kyo couldn’t believe what he had been directed to do, “Fucking babysitting a couple of brats,” he muttered to himself as he crossed the road to the smaller clan house. Without knocking, Kyo slammed the door open, “Hey, you,” he pointed at Reita, “come with me and no bitching.” Reita bowed quickly, “Yes, Kyo-san.”

          Following Kyo as they walked back to the main house, Kyo stopped just before he opened the door. “Listen to me carefully. Whatever instructions I give you are as if Reo was standing in front of you. There’s no arguments, do you understand?” Reita just nodded.

          Asanao and Arimatsu were standing together near a room towards the rear of the house, a room that looked like it had been unused for quite some time. “Ready?” Kyo muttered, the other two men nodded.

          Kyo turned back to Reita, “You are to remain in this room until you have come to your senses. You will be fed regularly, but there will be no hunting until everything is worked out, is that clear?”

          Arimatsu slid the door open and Kyo gently pushed Reita in, “Remember, no bloodshed, unless you’re fucking yourselves senseless.” Arimatsu then slammed the door shut.

          “What the fuck? What are you doing here?”  

Chapter Text

          “You should be thankful that Reo-san didn’t make Kyo come with us, Ayato. Stop being such a brat.” Mana scolded the young vampire, who had been complaining during their shopping trip, unchaperoned by any of the other clan members.

          Ayato groaned, “I am thankful, but Reo needs to quit being so restrictive with us, we can take care of ourselves just fine.” He was thankful that his lover had not been ordered to accompany Akinori, Mana and himself, as Kyo was always on guard and kept a tight leash on Ayato. “Nothing’s happened in forever, so I don’t understand why Reo always has to be so strict.” The trio were walking the busy main street in Kyoto, Reo agreeing that they could do some simple shopping, but set a curfew of only two hours.

          “Because he cares about all of us,” Akinori shoved Ayato in the shoulder, “if he didn’t care, we’d probably all be dead already. Think about it; if Reo was uncaring, where would Mana be? You’d both be dead already, and I would have died before meeting any of you.”  This was a sobering fact, that Ayato knew in his heart to be true.

          He hung his head, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be such a brat, I’m just tired of always being treated like I’m a child.”    

          “Ayato-kun, you are a child,” Mana laughed silently. “so is Akinori, both of you are still children, physically and even as immortals.”

          “Wait a minute, you’re not that much older than me physically and I’m older than you as an immortal, don’t forget that, missy.” Ayato teased back.

          Making their last purchase, the trio started the long walk back to the clan house, still teasing each other about age, and of course, their mates. They had just turned a corner, when Akinori stopped suddenly, Ayato bumping into the taller man’s back.

          “Aki, what the…?” Akinori held up his hand. Standing not one hundred feet in front of them was another immortal, one that they had never seen before. The man was small, almost the same height as Ayato, with a boyish face and deep piercing eyes.

          “Get behind me, Ayato.” Akinori snapped. They stared at each other for a moment, until the other immortal bowed to them, then he turned and walked down a side street.

          “We need to get back to the clan house now.”

 

          Hyde stared at the three young people at the other end of the street. He had sensed that there was a large connected group of immortals in Kyoto, at least as many as that resided in Tokyo, but without any knowledge of their intentions, Hyde chose not to approach them. Recalling back to the meeting that Isshi had set up with Morrie, he wondered if they were a part of the clan that had been mentioned, it was obvious that they were familiar with each other, the tallest of the group pushing the others behind him. He was certain that he would be approached that night, by whomever was in control of the city’s vampires.

 

          It took Nakamura and Suzuki less than an hour to find and contact Hyde, approaching the immortal as he exited a shop near the clan house. “Konbanwa, we mean you no harm, we’d just like to ask you a few questions.”

          Hyde bowed lightly, “I’m going to assume you’d like for me to speak to your clan leader? If so, let’s not waste time in mindless conversation, I have no desire to remain in Kyoto for over long.” Nakamura smiled, “That works, if you’d please follow us?”  

 

          “Welcome, I am Aichi Reo,” Reo stood and bowed to the diminutive immortal who was now standing in his office.

          “Thank you, my name is Hyde,” he bowed lightly, “I am just passing through Kyoto. As soon as this meeting is over, I will be leaving the city.”

          Reo now understood who the man was. “I am familiar with your name, sir. I am part of the same alliance that Morrie-san, and Sakurai-san are connected to. I understand you’re from the same area as some of Morrie’s clan members?”

          “Yes, I am from Wakayama originally.”

          “Who is your maker and what year were you brought into the blood?” Reo asked the standard questions.

          “My maker is Mari, and I was attacked in 1818. It was around the same time as Daisuke and the others.” Hyde understood the need for the questions.

          Reo tried to remain cordial, “May I ask what you are doing in Kyoto?”

          Hyde chuckled, “I had intended on looking for a new home, as I found Tokyo overly crowded, and with the new political government, I felt the need to move on. I am not fond of people from the west, their blood tastes as if spoiled. I’m sure you’ve heard from the others, that I am not interested in joining any clan, I prefer to live on my own terms.”  

          “Yes, I was told of your decisions, is there any particular reason you’re not interested? Are you not worried about what Yoshiki and Ryuichi have planned?”

          Hyde leaned back in his chair, “It is not that I am unworried, it is that I do not plan on being in this country when it happens. I want nothing to do with your problems with the ancients. It may seem selfish, but I was a selfish mortal man, and I will remain that way.”

          Reo knew that there would be no changing the man’s mind, but he had to at least offer the protection of a clan.

          “I understand completely. As I’m sure Morrie offered, I will do the same. If you feel the need to have safety in numbers, please reconsider and come to me, I will gladly accept you into Clan Aichi. I offer you the hospitality of my home while you are in Kyoto.”

          Joining the other clan members, Hyde sat with Reo and ate a late meal, watching with amused interest at the interactions of the members of Clan Aichi. He was particularly fascinated with the former samurai members.

          “I have not seen this before, to be honest, Reo-san. Why former samurai or ronin as clan members?”

          The clan leader laughed, “They are fierce fighters, loyal to a fault and protective of their family. I offered them the chance to avenge their masters, which they did, and in return they have become loyal members of the clan. You can’t argue that having a samurai in your family is a bad thing.”  

          Kyo had Ayato in his lap, his arm holding his mate protectively, eying Hyde as they ate, “Kyo, it’s hard for me to eat if you don’t let me reach the plate. It’s fine, the guy is like smaller than you, hell, even I could take him.”

          “Shut up.”

         

          There were two members of Clan Aichi that were pointedly ignoring each other, sitting on opposite sides of the room. Kyo had released Tora and Reita for the evening due to Hyde being an unknown and wanting all clan members present, in case there could be trouble. The only trouble that was to be had, was that Reita and Tora had not come to any conclusion in their situation.

          After the two friends had been shoved together into a room, Reita immediately retreated to a far wall, leaning against it with his arms crossed over his chest. “What do you want? I need to speak to Reo.”

          “First, I want to apologize, I never intended to hurt you. Secondly, you have to believe me when I say I had no clue you felt about me that way.” Tora sat on the floor, leaning against a wall.

          “Not like you go up to your obviously straight best friend and confess, Tora. It’s one sided, and it’s already over, you don’t have to worry about me or anything else. I’m sure Reo will let you leave the clan and go to Morrie’s.”

          Tora’s brow furrowed in frustration, “I don’t want to go to Morrie’s, why are you deciding that for me?”

          “Aiko’s there, she’s available, it just makes sense for you to want to go and have a normal life with someone, I’m not that heartless to deny you happiness, Tora.”

          Grabbing his head in frustration and raking his hands through his hair, Tora growled, “If I go to Morrie’s I lose my best friend, if I stay here…I still lose my best friend.”

          Pushing himself away from the wall and walking towards the door, he stopped next to where Tora was sitting, “I want you to be happy, so please…just go back to Tokyo.” He knocked on the door and spoke to Kyo, who let him out.

          “Did you settle things?” Kyo looked in at Tora. “No.” was the only answer he got.

 

         

          Aiko threw her head back in frustration, “He’s just so thick headed! Am I going to have to just back him up into a corner and force myself on him?”

          You laughed, “I’m pretty sure he’d get the message at that point.” Aiko and You had become close over the last few months, being the only two women in the clan. They were both very close with Shinya, but there was just something about bonding with another female, that couldn’t be replaced.

          “You could always have Tatsu talk to him, or maybe Ryo?” You suggested.

          “Mmm, I think I’d rather ambush him at some point, but I’m not sure how to set it up, do you have any ideas?”

          “How about you ask him to chaperone you? Tell him that you need to get something downtown, but don’t feel safe going by yourself, and that everyone else was busy.”

          Aiko liked this, “Hmm, maybe I could fall and twist my ankle? He’d have to carry me back to the house…” they both giggled. It felt good to have a best girlfriend, something neither woman thought they’d have, after becoming immortals.

 

          Little did Aiko and You realize that a similar conversation was taking place in the barn, between Aoi and Sato, with Aoi giving his friend advice…which wasn’t the greatest.

          “I can’t just walk up to her and kiss her! That’s just not done!” Sato started to walk away, Aoi grabbing his arm and turning him around.

          “I’m not saying attack her, but you’re going to have to do something…  you saw how Tora was watching her last week. If you’re not careful, he’s going to come and claim her as a mate.”

          Sato sighed, this was wearing on him, “But I’m not even sure she’s interested! How the hell do I find that out? ‘Excuse me, Aiko, do you want to be my mate?’, not like I can just ask her that.”

          “Talk to You, they’re best friends, maybe she can tell you.” Aoi patted his friend on the back, “Take a chance or you might end up losing her to Tora.”

 

 

          The depression that had settled in his heart, over the failed confession to his best friend, was choking Reita so badly, he wanted nothing more than to crawl into a hole and wait out eternity in the dark. Leaving the clan house, he knew he still had a few hours before dawn, deciding just to wander the streets of Kyoto and mull over his options.

          “Rei?”  He turned around, “Tora, we don’t really have anything else to say…I’m okay, I promise.” He continued walking towards the edge of the city.

          “But I’m not okay…” Tora said softly, standing in the middle of the street looking lost.

          He stopped, his shoulders drooped, “What do you want me to say, Tora? I’m not who or what you want and I accept that, so what else do you want me to say to you?”

          “That you won’t abandon me, that you’re still my best friend. I’d rather have you as my best friend for eternity, than lose you just to gain a mate.” His voice was shaking.

          This pissed Reita off. Turning and rushing at Tora, he threw the man to the ground, standing over him and grabbing him by the front of the shirt, “Don’t fuck with me Tora, don’t give me that simpering bullshit line. You think staying with me is going to make me happy? Having to ignore my feelings for you… no Tora, if you want to make me happy, then go to Tokyo. If you can’t commit to being in a relationship with me, then I don’t want you around.”  Letting go of Tora’s shirt, and without another look, Reita walked away, leaving Tora lying in the middle of the street to wonder, what the hell was going on in his life.

          Reita started to run, he just needed to get away from Tora, away from Clan Aichi and away from Kyoto. He needed to find a place to sleep, a place to hide from the pain. Once he was out of the city, he moved towards a remote area in the forest, where he new there was an abandoned burned out house.

          Surveying the area around the house, Reita senses no immortals or humans in the vicinity. Slowly walking through the burned-out building and searching for a place to sleep, he comes across a root cellar under the kitchen floor. Humiliated that his life has taken this turn, he resigned himself to sleeping in a dirt hole to escape the pain of Tora’s rejection.

          Pulling the door closed, he laid out a the few blankets that he had found while searching the house, wadding one up as a pillow. Pulling a blanket over him, Reita tried to get comfortable enough to sleep. Replaying Tora’s words, he knew he couldn’t go back to Kyoto; he would have to find a new clan to join. Maybe Sakurai’s or Inoran’s? Perhaps Hyde would like a companion while he traveled, he listed the options in his mind, until sleep finally claimed him.

Chapter Text

 

 

          “Aiko-chan, could I speak to you please?” Sato wiped his sweaty hands on his pants. It had taken him a full day to gather up the courage to approach Aiko, even with the promise from You that the woman was indeed, interested in him.

          “Just speak to her Sato-san, I promise you it will go smoothly.” You told the man. Aoi had also tried to convince his friend that Aiko would be receptive to his advances.

          “I’m fairly certain that she likes you, I saw her watching you during the gathering. She’s not interested in Tora, no matter how much she might blush.” Aoi insisted.        

          And now he had asked to speak to her.

          “Yes, Sato-san?” Aiko smiled demurely. “What can I do for you?”

          “I um, well …it’s like this. I was wondering if you’d…” Sato stumbled over his words as he stared at the ground.

          Taking pity on the man, Aiko didn’t want to make him suffer any longer than he had to.

          “Yes.”

          “Yes? But you don’t even know what…” Sato couldn’t believe that the woman knew what he was going to ask her.

          Standing close to the man, Aiko reached up and cupped Sato’s face in her hands,

          “I know what you’re going to ask, and the answer is yes.” Then without another word, Aiko stood on her toes, and kissed Sato softly. “I want to be your mate. I don’t want Tora or Reita or anyone else, it’s always been you since the moment we met.”

          Sato pulled Aiko close to his chest, “I think we need to speak to Morrie-san first, then you and I need to talk.”

          “Do we have to just talk? I would like to do a little more kissing before that.”

 

 

          Inoran frowned as he read the letter from Morrie, the information given was more than just concerning, it was frightening. With a resigned sigh, he folded the letter and slid it back into the envelope. Leaving his office, Chika trotting after him, Inoran made his way to the kitchen.

          “Yusuke love, I need to speak to both you and Heath,”

          “I have nothing to say to Heath, speak to him on your own.” Yusuke muttered angrily. Inoran had grown weary of the animosity between Yusuke and Heath, mostly on Yusuke’s part. Heath had established a routine, in order to avoid any contact with Yusuke, but there were times that it wasn’t possible.

          “No, you will put down what you’re doing and join me in my office,” Inoran said sternly.

          Yusuke turned to glare at his lover, and his clan leader. “If you have something to say, do it now. I will not be in that man’s presence…” Inoran suddenly reached out and slapped Yusuke.

          “Drop the shitty attitude Yusuke, I don’t have the time nor the patience to deal with it today. Now get your ass into my office, sit down and wait for me to get Heath.” Inoran turned on his heel and walked out of the kitchen, leaving a stunned lover behind.

          Yusuke stared at Inoran’s back, as the man went in search of Heath, “I can’t believe … you…” he sputtered. In all the time since Heath’s return, during all the arguments, Inoran had never been physical with Yusuke, had never struck him. Why now, what had changed?

          Turning the stove off, Yusuke wiped his hands and made his way to Inoran’s office, picking up a chair and moving it to the wall. He might have to be in the same room with Heath, but he didn’t have to sit near the man.

          “Are you sure I need to be there? I don’t want to cause another problem, Inoran.” Heath had heard the slap, even from the garden where he’d been hiding. The tension in the house due to Yusuke’s hostility towards him, was almost more than Heath could bear, to the point he was once again thinking of leaving his clan.

          “This is important, so yes, you do need to be there. Don’t pay any mind to Yusuke, at the moment he’s acting like a spoilt child.” Inoran held his hand out for Heath.  

          Taking his place behind his desk, Inoran took out the letter from Morrie. “We have been invited to another clan meeting, and we will be attending. There is no room for debate.”

          Heath looked at Yusuke, “Are you sure I need to attend?”

          “Clan Kiyonobu will be at the gathering, that means the three of us.” Inoran said with finality.

          “Where is the meeting being held?” Yusuke muttered.

          “There is no set date or location. I’m going to assume that it will be in Kyoto, as it is the half way point between the clans.”

          “Can you tell us the reason for the meeting?” Heath’s mind was churning.

          Inoran shook his head, “It was not mentioned, though I can feel the urgency in the message.” He looked at Yusuke, “There will be no violence or harsh words during the trip, is that clear?”

          “Whatever,” Yusuke looked away from Inoran. “Just keep him away from me, and from you.”

          “YUSUKE!” Inoran shouted before he stood up, “I’m tired of this. Stop your childish whining and petulance, now! You need to understand that Heath is part of MY clan, as you are, the only difference is that you are my blood spouse.”

          “If I am your blood spouse, why does my opinion not matter? Are we not partners in our relationship? I do not want HIM living with us!” Yusuke shouted back.

          “Please… stop.” Heath begged. “I don’t want you to fight over me. I’ll gladly move out and live in town, just please stop arguing.”

          “Leave then, leave this house and leave my blood spouse alone.” Yusuke growled. Heath stood up, “I will be out before dawn.” Walking towards the door, Heath turned to look at Yusuke, “I never wanted to come between you, I love you Yusuke, as I love Inoran.”

          This was for the good of their clan. Heath made his way to his room, grabbing his bag and began packing up what little possessions he had.

          “Heath, you will not be moving out of my home.” Inoran was leaning against the doorway.

          “It’s for the best that I leave, Inoran. You know that as well as I do.” Heath continued packing, not looking at his clan leader. “Yusuke will never be happy as long as I am living under your roof. I will still claim Clan Kiyonobu, but I will not live here any longer.”

          Lifting his bag onto his shoulder, Heath walked to the door, “I love you as my clan leader, and as my dear friend. I’m sorry that it has ended like this, but I am and always will be, loyal to no one, but you.”

          Inoran hugged Heath tightly, “I do not want you to leave, but I can not keep you here against your will.” He looked into the eyes of his friend, “You will still attend the clan gathering with Yusuke and I, there is no questioning that. Please let me know where you are staying, and do not be a stranger to me. I lost you once, I will not lose you again.”

          Making his way to the front door, Heath stopped by the kitchen, “I’m leaving Inoran’s home, but I will not be forced from his clan. Be happy Yusuke.”

          Without another look back, Heath left the home of Inoran, walking towards the small city of Fuji, hoping to find a peaceful place to live.  

 

 

          “Have you seen Reita?” Jyou asked Ayato and Akinori.

          Ayato shrugged, “Um, no. Not since last night at dinner, why?”  

          Jyou didn’t wait to explain, instead going straight to Reo. “Nobody has seen him,”

          “Shit. Get Tora and bring him to me.” Jyou left Reo’s office quickly. The fact that Reita was missing wasn’t noticed until early the next evening, Jyou waiting for the young immortal to come and speak to her about changing his living arrangements.

          Without a warning, Jyou grabbed Tora by the arm, dragging him from the kitchen area, where he had been speaking with Mana. “Reo-san wants to see you, right now.”

          Knocking once, Jyou pushed Tora in front of her, “Yes, Reo-san?” The young man was shaking slightly.

          “When was the last time you saw Reita, and where?” Reo snapped.

          “Um, last night, at the northern edge of the city.” Tora’s cheeks flamed red in shame. “I asked him about … well about our situation. He got angry with me, and left the city at a run.”

          Reo pinched the bridge of his nose, “Why didn’t you go after him, or at least tell one of us?”

          “It was a personal issue, Reo-san. I didn’t think I should involve anyone else. Why are you asking me? What’s happened to Rei?”

          “He’s missing, he didn’t come home last night and no one has seen him tonight,” Reo looked up at Tora, “do you know where he could have possibly gone?”

          “He’s…he’s missing?” Tora whined, “No, he just ran off into the woods,” He looked at Jyou, “why didn’t you tell me last night? I could have gone and looked for him.”

          “I want everyone except Ayato and Mana, out looking for Reita, go in pairs, and be careful please.” Even before Reo stopped speaking, Tora rushed out of the room.

          “Go after him and stay with him. Bring Reita to me as soon as you find him.”

 

          The humiliation burned hot in his gut. Sleeping in a root cellar, under a burned-out house, was not what Reita had envisioned when he became an immortal and part of Clan Aichi. But with Tora’s rejection, he believed this was what he deserved. What had he expected from Tora, open arms? “Stupid of me to even think of that.”

          Peeking up through the cellar door to make sure it was dark, Reita climbed out and into the kitchen area of the burned-out house. He was hungry, both for food and for blood, but this was not the place to try and hunt. He wanted to get as far away from Kyoto as quickly as possible.

          He had made up his mind to go to Tokyo, to seek out Sakurai and ask to join his clan. He was certain that the clan leader would accept him, especially if he told Sakurai why he was leaving Reo’s clan. “He can’t be that heartless as to turn me away…can he?”

          With his appetite sated with the blood of an older deer that wasn’t quick enough to elude Reita, the man made his way north, in the general direction of Tokyo.  He avoided the larger cities, knowing that a stranger would be a cause for alarm, instead staying to the less traveled dirt roads and hunter’s trails.

          With dawn approaching on the second night, Reita found himself without any decent shelter, finally having to dig himself a shallow hole, and opting to pull a rather large log over him, instead of dirt. This night, Reita cried himself to sleep.

 

          Reo had the members of Clan Aichi, standing in front of him in his office, “I’ll be sending a letter to Morrie, Sakurai and Inoran, letting them know that Reita may be trying to reach them and ask for acceptance into their clans.”

          Looking at the haggard faces of his family, Reo asked for more, “I want you to continue to search for him, I want no building, abandoned or not, to go unchecked. Hyde-san has also agreed to assist in our search, for which I am grateful.”

          Hyde bowed his head, “Of course, it would be selfish of me not to offer my help.”

          Reo smiled, “If any one of you finds Reita, do not question him, just bring him to me.” With a wave of his hand, the members of Clan Aichi dispersed.

          With a heavy sigh, Reo leaned back in his chair. “Reo-san? Is this a normal occurrence? Not the disappearance of a clan member, but for everyone to be so concerned?”

          “Yes, it is normal. We view our clans as our families. There are any number of immortals that were brought into the blood against their will, like yourself. Then there are the members that were saved, either from dying, or a life that would have been shortened by their circumstances.”

          “I see. Do you have members such as those?”

          Reo nodded, “Ayato is a prime example. He’s a beautiful boy, is he not?”

          “Almost cherubic, yes. What is his story?”

          “Long ago, the upstairs portion of this building was a geisha house, and Ayato was brought to me by the mama-san who ran the house. Ayato is the child of a geisha.” Reo didn’t need to explain any further, as Hyde understood the implications of Ayato’s birth.

          “Without going into detail, Ayato was brought into the blood, by me, to be given to one of my former employees. You know what would have happened to him, if we were to turn him out, death wouldn’t be far behind him. Or if he were made to service customers, he would have been abused regularly.”

          “You saved him from death, by bringing him into the blood. A noble cause I suppose.” Hyde wasn’t convinced.

          “Jyou had a similar situation, and Mana was dumped at the city walls, her tongue cut out, and she was left to die. The other clan leaders have similar stories from their members. I have never forced someone to be blood born, there are no random attacks, such as the one you and your friends experienced. Therefore, we have the alliance, to combat Yoshiki and Ryuichi, and what ever they have planned as far as this war that’s being planned.”  

          Hyde said nothing for a few moments, the seriousness of what Reo had just told him, now weighed heavy in his mind. “Thank you for giving me that information. I still can not say I would ever join a clan, but I will definitely keep it in mind if I have not yet left the country, and those two monsters decide to start their war.” With a stiff bow, Hyde left Reo’s office.

 

          Waking slowly, Reita breathed deeply, not looking forward to another long night of walking. Pushing the log from underneath, Reita got up and dusted off his clothes, “what shall I have for dinner tonight?” He knew the answer would be substandard animal blood, but he felt that he still couldn’t take the chance to go into a city to search for food.

          As he walked along a hunter’s trail, Reita felt weak, his body throbbing with hunger. So engrossed were his thoughts of food, that he failed to hear someone behind him until the last second when the person reached out and grabbed him.

          His eyes widened as he tried to back away, “Leave me alone…don’t.” he turned and started to run, but before he made it ten feet, he was dragged down. The man grabbed at him, slashing him across the face, trying to bite him on the neck. Reita fought with everything he had, he knew if the other immortal were to feed on him, he would die.

          The struggle continued for some time, Reita gaining ground and losing it, “LEAVE ME ALONE!” he screamed. With a hard kick to the other immortal’s head and stunning him, Reita finally scrambled away and started to run with preternatural speed, back towards Kyoto. He was bleeding, his wounds deep and fleshy. He kept running, not looking back to see if the other immortal was following him.

          Reita ran for what felt like hours, stumbling and falling, picking himself back up to run again, never looking back. He could see that dawn was approaching, he had less than two hours to find someplace to hide, to sleep so he could heal.

          Without realizing it, he had made it back to Kyoto, to the edge of the city, where the walls were in sight. Reita stumbled again, he reached up and wiped his face, feeling the deep wounds that were still open. “Reo…” he moaned, as he finally collapsed in the dirt on a back street.

          Hyde was in a full-blown argument with himself, worrying over the stories Reo had told him. “Stupid, I don’t need to be in a damned clan, I can watch out for myself, always have, always will…”

          He stopped for a moment, “What the hell?” he could hear someone moaning and calling out a name. Moving carefully towards the darkened side street, he heard the name whispered, “Reo...”

          “Shit.” Hyde knew it was Reita before even laying eyes on the man. Squatting down next to the injured immortal, Hyde was stunned to see that Reita’s wounds still seemed fresh and had not healed.

          “Reita-san, it’s Hyde.” He said before scooping the man up in his arms, “Hyde-san…Reo, please.” Reita whimpered.

          “I’ll get you to Reo, just hold on.” Picking Reita up, Hyde rushed back to the clan house, kicking the door in and rushing down the steps, “REO!” he yelled, as he made his way through the labyrinth of hallways to Reo’s office.

          “What the… Reita!” Reo had heard the commotion, and rushed to his door, flinging it open just as Hyde had started to kick it down. “I found him on a side street… his injuries!”

          “Reita-kun, look at me…that’s it. Let’s get you in a bed and see to your wounds,” Reita tried to sit up, “No, Reo…please, listen to me,”

          “Sshh, let me have Mana look after yo…” Reita reached up and grabbed Reo’s shirt.

          “NO, listen to me! It was Sugizo that did this, Sugizo attacked me, he’s an immortal!”

Chapter Text

 

          Before Reo spoke another word to Reita, a look over his shoulder to Arimatsu was all that was needed, the man leaving the room quickly. Turning his attention back to Reita, Reo tried to calm the young man. “Tell me what happened.”  

          “I, I was on my way to Tokyo, I had spent the day buried in the ground,” Reita’s face flushed in shame, “I didn’t have a chance to hunt, he caught me completely off guard, attacking me from behind.”

          Reita coughed as he struggled to sit up, “I’m sorry Reo-san, I didn’t want to bring dishonor to the clan, that’s why I left.”

          “That doesn’t matter right now, my child. You are home and you are safe,” Reo assured him. “Tell me what Sugizo said.”

          Reita shook his head, “He never said a word, it was like he was crazed. He slashed me in the face, I knew he was trying to kill me. I was able to kick him in the head hard enough to stun him, then I just ran without a thought.”

          Hyde cleared his throat, “I found him on a side street, he was calling your name, I just picked him up and brought him here.”

          “I am forever in your debt, Hyde-san, thank you.” Reo bowed his head.

          With a loud crash, the door was flung open, “REI!” Tora lurched over where Reita was laying, “Rei…shit you’re hurt! What happened, tell me please.” Tora was nearly in tears.

          “I’m okay Tora-kun.” He managed a small smile, “I’m sorry to make you worry, that was unfair of me.”

          “Tora-kun, move away please,” Jyou had came into the room, holding a bowl of rice, “Reita-kun needs to eat, and once he’s healed you can take him out to hunt.” The diminutive woman pushed her way past Tora, handing the bowl to Reita.

          “I think we need to let him rest.” the clan leader looked at the others, “I will speak to you again tomorrow night, please just rest and regain your strength.” With a soft kiss to the head, Reo and Jyou left the room.

 

          “This is going to be a problem. I assume you’ve already sent word to the other leaders?” Jyou and Reo stood just outside the door, “Yes, Arimatsu’s people are on their way. I proposed we have the clan meeting here, with all members in attendance. Do we have enough room?”

          “You probably didn’t know this, but you have gained control of two more houses, they were abandoned by some of the minor nobility.”

          Reo frowned, “Would you care to explain how this happened, without my knowledge or input?”

          “You were busy at the time, so Asanao and myself took charge of the project,” Jyou smiled, “we knew that any further meetings would stretch us thin in housing the other clans. The opportunity arose to obtain the houses, and I gave the order, so if you want to be angry with anyone, that would be me.”

          Sighing in resignation, Reo’s shoulders slumped, “Show me the houses.”

 

          The tension was palatable, neither one of the men wanted to speak first. Tora was sitting against the wall, his knees up, as he stared at the floor. Reita was finishing his bowl of rice, watching Tora. Setting the bowl down, Reita looked at his best friend, “It’s not your fault, so don’t blame yourself.”

          “How is it not my fault? You ran away because of me, so yah, this is my fault.”

          “Are we going to argue over this? Just stop Tora, none of this happened because of you. I’m the one who ran off because I can’t deal with rejection.”

          “I never rejected you, I just…I don’t know if I can…shit.” Tora sighed, leaning forward and resting his head on his knees. “I love you, you’re my best friend, ever since we were kids, I only want to be with you.”

          “But you being with me as a friend is not what I want, or at least it’s what I said,”

          Reita didn’t’ want to lose Tora, but he wasn’t sure he couldn’t go back to how they were living before, not after he had confessed.

          “What do we do now? Can’t we pretend all of this didn’t happen?”

          Reita shrugged, “I don’t know, I just know I don’t want to lose you. If that means denying my feelings, I will.”

          Tora got to his knees, and crawled over to where next to Reita. “I know this sounds stupid, but what if you just kiss me?”

          Reita was taken aback, “Yah, it’s stupid, you’re not interested in me like that, why would you force yourself?”

          “Rei, I love you, that’s my truth, and if kissing you changes my mind on what kind of love I feel for you, then who are you to deny me?”

          Reita sighed, “I’m just going to say, this is really stupid. One kiss won’t change your mind on loving a man.” He wanted this kiss; it may be the only one he would ever receive from the man he loved.

          “Let me be the judge of that.” Tora leaned in, brushing his lips softly on Reita’s. The instant spark felt by both men was surprising, Tora pulling away quickly. “Um…”

          “Yah, uh…can we try that again? That really wasn’t much of a kiss, Tora-kun.” Reita said breathlessly. This time Reita took control, reaching out and taking Tora by the shoulder, and pulling him into the kiss.

          It was a hesitant kiss at first, just lips softly brushing, after a few seconds, the tip of Reita’s tongue, slid over Tora’s lower lip, asking for more. Tora’s breath was heavy and rushed, he moaned Reita’s name, as the kiss deepen. Reita, emboldened by his response, pulled the man closer, sliding his other arm around Tora’s waist.

          The kissed lasted a few more seconds, before Reita reluctantly pulled away.

          “Well? Did that change your mind?” Reita was expecting the obvious disgust that he knew Tora was feeling. What he wasn’t ready for, was Tora’s real reaction.

          “Shut up and kiss me again.”

 

 

          “I urge you all to consider moving the clan gathering to two weeks from this day. There was an attack on one of my members, and the identity of the perpetrator is alarming. While I am not commanding that you all attend, I do believe you should bring all your family members, out of safety concerns. I am also extending the invitation through Morrie-san to ask Isshi if he would be available to attend, his input could be valuable. There are sufficient lodgings here in Kyoto.”

           

 

          With almost three dozen clan members, the logistics of housing the various clan members, was a task that was daunting for Reo, but who was grateful when Jyou pushed him out of his own office, “Leave this to me please, Reo. I will have every one housed and settled before dinner is served. Perhaps you’d like to go and speak with the other leaders?”

          “You don’t have to be so condescending, do you?” Reo huffed, “Fine, I’ll go speak to the others. Just make sure everyone is comfortable, please.” Jyou waved her clan leader away.

          Making his way to the large central room in the house, Reo heard the unmistakable giggling and whispers of Ayato and Uta. Stopping in front of Ayato’s door, he gently slid it open, “Are you two already plotting something?” he asked as he looked in.

          “No, Reo-san! I promise, Ayato and I are just gossiping, no plotting going on,” Uta laughed.

          “No plotting…yet.” Ayato said smugly. “Whatever plotting we’re doing, isn’t anything serious and it won’t hurt anyone, I promise Father.”

          “No match making, though I don’t know who’d be involved, everyone has a mate or loved one.” Reo scolded the boys gently.

          “Yes Reo-san,” Ayato promised. Reo nodded, then slid the door shut, Ayato and Uta waiting a few moments until they were sure he was gone.

          “Aoi doesn’t have anyone, does he? I know Sato and Aiko-san are now mated, but not by blood. Who else will be here that’s single?” Ayato leaned in and whispered to Uta.

          Ayato giggled, “Maybe we can set Aoi up with Isshi…”

          “What? Oh god, Aya…that’s not even fucking funny!” Uta chided his friend, “Isshi-san’s not even a vampire. No Aya, let’s not even think about that.”

 

 

          “It seems that Heath has returned to Inoran, they just entered the city.” Arimatsu reported to Reo. “Though it doesn’t seem that any of them are especially happy.” The news was unexpected, and with Arimatsu’s comment, Reo was now concerned.

          “Have Jyou speak to Inoran before assigning them any housing, I don’t need any conflicts between clan members.” Arimatsu bowed and left the room.

          “Do you expect any problems?” Asanao asked.

          “If Heath is with Inoran, it’s by Inoran’s choice. My concern is mostly with Yusuke, and his attitude towards Heath. I would like to know the circumstances of his return to the Clan, and I’m hoping it’s nothing alarming.”

 

          The journey to Kyoto had been tension filled, the hostility from Yusuke any time Heath got close to or spoke to Inoran, was blatant.

          “Yusuke, stop this instant!” Inoran shouted at his blood spouse after an extremely vulgar and heated exchange between the two men. Inoran stopped in the middle of the road. “You will either be civil, or remain silent. You will not speak to Heath in that manner, is that clear?” Yusuke didn’t answer but walked on instead, leaving the two men behind.

          “Inoran, I shouldn’t have come, this is not what I wanted.” Heath moaned. “I will make sure to stay in another house if possible, once we arrive in Kyoto.”

          Reaching out, Inoran caressed Heath’s cheek, “I love your loyalty and honesty. I’m sorry I can not sway Yusuke’s opinion of you, but that opinion is his, not mine. I want you by my side, Heath, and that’s where you shall stay until I say differently.” Inoran continued on his way, leaving a teary-eyed and grateful Heath standing in the road.

 

          “Is he dead?” Yusuke muttered, “Please tell me he’s dead. Tell me that you’ve sent him away and that I will forever have you by my side, alone.”

          “You’re an asshole, Yusuke,” Inoran snapped, “how quickly your tone has changed. You go from loving him, spending nights in his arms, letting him make love to you, to wishing for his death. What a hateful bitch you are.”

          “Is it hateful for me to want no outside interference in our relationship? If I am hateful for wanting him dead, and not have him as a threat to our love, then I will gladly accept that label.”

          Inoran shook his head, “What happened to that shy loving young man that I brought into the blood, to be my spouse for eternity? Where is that boy?”

          “That boy has grown. He knows that there are evil influences that are too close to home, for him to be that tender-hearted young man.” Inoran knew that there was nothing he could say or do, to change his lover’s opinion or heart.

          “At least be civil and cordial during the clan meeting. Do not speak ill of Heath to anyone. I am only warning you once and you do not want to anger, or go against me.”

 

         

          “He wants to speak to you, Morrie and Sakurai, before the meetings start.”

 

          “Heath-san, I’m happy to see you again, what can we do for you?” Reo had agreed to let the immortal speak to the other clan leaders, with the obvious exception of Inoran.

          “If you haven’t already noticed, there is certain amount of tension between Yusuke and myself. I am not at liberty to give you the details, but suffice it to say, we are no longer close. I am a member of Clan Kiyonobu, Inoran is my clan leader.”

          Reo sighed, “I’m sorry that the situation has come to that, but we will honor your requests for privacy. Is there something else?”

          “I know where Issay is.”

          “Where is he?” Sakurai asked eagerly.

          “Hokkaido, living at your estate. When I left Inoran, I made my way north. I wanted to disappear and live quietly. I hadn’t gotten very far into the city, when he stepped out into the road. We lived together, although we were not close. We tolerated each other, listened to each other’s complaints about our former clan leaders, and hunted together.”

          Heath looked at Sakurai, “He is remorseful for how he acted when he was still living with you, he said it was his greatest regret as an immortal. But he did not accept his part in the argument with Kai-san, he still views the man as lowly and unworthy of your affections.”

          “And what did he say about me?” Reo asked.

          “He blames you for losing Ayato-kun, that you had no right to give the boy to Kyo-san. He is unwilling to accept any responsibility for his actions in regards to the rogue vampires. I don’t see him ever trying to return to Clan Aichi.”

          Heath paused a moment, “I am dealing with the problems regarding Yusuke on my own. I have moved out of Inoran’s house and I now have a small home just outside of Fuji. I will still claim Clan Kiyonobu, and will do as my clan leader asks. I thought you should know all the circumstances in case there are any ugly incidents during the gathering.”

          Reo thanked the young man, and excused him, “What do you think?” he asked Sakurai and Morrie. “It’s obvious that the herbal treatments have brought Inoran back to his senses, but the animosity between Yusuke and Heath, that could be a problem.”

          “We stay out of it, as much as possible. It is not our place to tell a clan leader how to live with his family. I believe that we only step in if it’s the absolute last option.” Morrie asserted.

          “I’m going to agree with Morrie, let them work it out between themselves.” Sakurai was frowning.

          “You’re worried about Issay, correct?” Reo guessed.

          “Only in the sense that he may be biding his time, that he may be planning something later. I of course, hope I am dead wrong, but there’s never any sure way to tell with him, you know that as well as I do.”

          Reo snorted, “If he believes I wronged him, I doubt he’d come to you for advice or help, he will come straight to me. I’m not worried about that, we have much more pressing matters to discuss.”

Chapter Text

          Reo waited until the din of murmured voices ceased, before starting the meeting. He understood that the information he was about to divulge would be concerning and more than a little shocking. As he gazed around the room, he took note of how the clans were grouped, the small changes in each clan’s dynamics.

          Ayato and Uta were as always, sitting near each other, occasionally leaning over and whispering in each other’s ears. Their eyes were darting around the room, leaving Reo to assume that the friends were still involved with some sort of matchmaking plan.

          It pained Reo to see Heath sitting on the opposite side of the room, away from his clan leader, and most definitely, as far away from Yusuke as he could be. Inoran wore a worried expression, noticing that Yusuke’s entire being was consumed with hostility.  

          Isshi sat apart from the other immortals, something he routinely did, the onmyoji wanting to be present but not directly involved with the gathering, he understood that it was a courtesy for him to be invited.  

          “Thank you all for coming, I know it was short notice, but I believe the information that has been brought to me is of the utmost importance.” Reo paused, waiting for everyone’s undivided attention.  

          Reo looked at Reita, “Tell your story, Reita-kun.”

          Reita hesitated, then told a condensed version of his story, leaving out the specific reasons he was not in Kyoto. “I can say with confidence, that Sugizo was trying to kill me, and he came close.”

          “Did he say anything to you?” Sakurai asked.

          “Not a word, he attacked me from behind, but said nothing.” Reita returned to sitting with Tora, who leaned over and kissed him.

          “Morrie and I have spoken with an Englishman, Raymond Watts, who has recently traveled from Spain to Japan, with the sole purpose of warning me about Yoshiki. Evidently Sugizo is now of some interest to him, though we don’t know why.” Sakurai struggled to remember everything that Watts had told them.

          “Yoshiki’s also looking for Imai.” This drew a whimper from Uta, who leaned hard into Ayato and hid his face in his friend’s neck.

          “Do you trust what this Watts person has told you?” Inoran asked. Isshi looked to Morrie, who then nodded, “If I may?”

          “I felt no deception from Raymond Watts, quite the contrary, he was open and forthcoming with the information he provided. He did surprise us when he spoke fluent Japanese, but he believes that is a result of having been lovers with Yoshiki over the centuries. I trust what he has told us, and believe him.” Isshi bowed his head.

          “What’s wrong?” Yusuke noticed that Inoran was staring at his hands, “Are you ill?”

          “No, I’m fine.” He lied as he reaches over and covers Yusuke’s hand with his. This conversation had triggered something deep in Inoran’s mind, the name Sugizo was familiar, but he couldn’t be sure why. After centuries of life with Inoran, Yusuke could tell that the man was hiding something.

 

          It was just after midnight, when the meeting adjourned, everyone needing to go out and hunt, but first with a warning from Reo.

          “Please everyone, be hyper aware of your surroundings. I want the young ones to have an elder with them, and no hunting alone.”

          Sakurai allowed Uta to leave with Ayato and Kyo, knowing that the samurai would protect his young lover. “Listen to Kyo-san as if you were listening …no, wait. Just listen to Kyo-san please, and be careful.”

          “Pfft, like I’d do anything around Kyo-san, he’s worse than you are!” Uta huffed.

          “Worse than… how am I…” Sakurai sighed, “go hunt before I lock you in our room.” Uta laughed as he walked away, joining Ayato and Kyo.

          “Do you need to hunt?” Yusuke asked Inoran, “I’d like to go out with Mana and Akinori.”

          “Please go, enjoy yourself, I’ll be fine. I’m just going to have some tea.” Inoran reached out and caressed Yusuke’s cheek.

          Heath had been watching the interaction between Yusuke and Inoran, from the other side of the room, waiting for Yusuke to leave before approaching Inoran. “Are you unwell?” He carefully asked, “Is it something I’ve done?”

          “No love, it’s nothing. I’m just concerned with the information, please…go hunt.”

          Hesitating for a moment, Heath gently hugged Inoran, “If you need me, just ask.” Patting the man on the back, Heath left the room.

          None of this went unnoticed by the other clan leaders and Isshi, the worry showing on their faces.  Kai had forgone going out to hunt, wanting to speak to Inoran about his herbal remedy.

          “Inoran-san, how have you been doing with your herbs?” Kai smiled broadly, a smile that never failed to put someone at ease.

          “Kai-kun, I will admit to you that I haven’t felt this good in quite a long time. Your herbs have almost completely cured me of my illness. We have had no difficulty in obtaining the various plants in Fuji. I would recommend this treatment to anyone that has a similar illness. Thank you again for caring.” Inoran bowed low.

          The younger vampire blushed, “You are an important part of our small community, we must tend to those who are in need.”

          “Regardless Kai, I’ll forever be indebted to you. Thank you.”

 

          With no reports from those returning to the clan house, Reo waited until everyone was seated, before continuing the meeting. He asked Morrie to introduce the newest members of his clan.

          “This is Ryo and Aiko, who were brought into the blood by Yoshiki and Mari, they are from the same area in Ibaraki as Miya-san, in fact Miya knows of their families. It was an easy decision to ask them to join my family. It is also with great pleasure that I can announce that Aiko-chan and Sato-san are now mates.”

          Ayato and Uta both watched Aoi as the announcement was made, trying to gage his reaction to his best friend being mated. The man put up a stoic front, obviously happy for Sato, but there was a look of longing from the man.

          Uta nudged Ayato, “See, he’s lonely! We need to find someone for him!”

          “Uta!” Sakurai snapped, glaring at the two boys, knowing what their intent was. Uta bowed his head in an attempt, to look ashamed and contrite. 

          Morrie continued with Aiko and Ryo’s story; the fact that the couple had heard both Yoshiki and Sugizo’s named whispered, “Both names were said with some anger behind it, whomever is calling for them, is not pleased.”

          The moment the two names were spoken in conjunction with each other, Inoran visibly shuddered, though no one initially noticed. Morrie went on to describe the meeting with Sakurai, and receiving Reo’s sudden request for a clan meeting. Just as Reo had started to speak again, Inoran suddenly got up and left the room.

          “I’m sorry,” Yusuke bowed and hurriedly followed his lover. “Inoran! What’s wrong? Inoran stop!” Yusuke reached out and took the man by the arm, “You’re scaring me, what happened?”

          The dazed look on his blood spouse’s face alarmed Yusuke, “Yu…I’ve done something horrible, an…and I can’t take it back,” the man whispered.

          “What have you done? I don’t understand.”

          “I need to speak to the other clan leaders, please go and ask them to come to our room.”

 

          Twenty minutes later, Sakurai, Morrie, and Reo, were sitting in Inoran’s private room, waiting to hear what he had to say.

          “Would you please describe what this Sugizo person looks like, and when he left your clan?” Inoran’s gut told him it was the same person, his fear growing as Reo described the man’s appearance. Inoran started to shake his head, his shoulders slumped in weariness.

          “I only remembered this when I heard the two names mentioned together; Yoshiki and Sugizo. It was during one of my more manic periods, before I was taking Kai’s herbal remedy. I had left the house in anger, traveling where I pleased, feeding on whom I chose. I was outside some random small village, when I smelled a man on a horse in the vicinity.”

          “Inoran, when was this?” Sakurai asked carefully.

          “Probably thirty or so years ago, no more than that. I was using the cloud gift, but felt an urgent need to feed, something that I had not felt in centuries. I set down outside of some random town, I don’t know where. I smelled the traveler, a man on horseback, before I saw him. The attack was swift, and I had the man in my grasp when he did something that angered me; he called me Yoshiki.”

          Sakurai softly moaned, he now could predict where this was going, but decided to say nothing, to let Inoran finish his story.

          “Before I took him, he also named me Ryuichi, which angered me even more. I grabbed him and started to feed, the man struggled and begged me to bring him into the blood, he used those exact words. I asked him why and he said ‘revenge’, he wanted revenge over Reo. I had almost drained him, he was closer to death than any other I’ve ever changed, and yet I did it, I brought Sugizo into the blood.”

          A dark miasma filled the room with Inoran’s confession; he was Sugizo’s maker. The vampire that was now wreaking havoc, had been blood born of an ancient.

          Inoran continued, “He asked my name, and he called me Master. He begged me to go on his first hunt, I rejected him knowing that he had to have lived among other immortals, to be asked to be blood born. He disparaged you, Reo, claiming that you did not know how to run a successful gang. He said he had no room for a soft-hearted leader, that he wanted power and position, he wanted his foes to fear him.”

          Sakurai was the first to reach out to Inoran, “My friend, what’s done is done. We can not fault you for what you’ve done when you were ill, that serves no purpose. What we need to deal with now, is an immortal that is blood born of an ancient.”

          “Acchan’s right, Inoran, there is no place for blame in our situation. You have given us vital information, regarding Sugizo’s power. He is not first born, but he is born of an ancient, and that’s critical.”

          “We need to inform the others, if you do not wish to be present, please feel free to stay in your room.” Reo patted his friend on the shoulder.

          Leaving the room, Yusuke was leaning against a wall, “Can I go in?” he asked Reo.

          “I think he’s going to need you for awhile, I will have some food delivered before sunrise.”

          Reo called the meeting for the night to an end, promising to explain some new developments the next night, leaving everyone to wonder what was happening and how it would affect all of them.

 

          “Will you tell me what’s happened? Why do the other clan leaders look so serious?” Yusuke was sitting with Inoran, who was falling steadily into a deep depression.

          “I am Sugizo’s maker, that’s really all you need to know.” Inoran replied dully.

          Yusuke drew back from the man, “You? How did this happen? Why would you do such a thing?”

          Looking at his lover, his blood spouse, the man he cherished above all else in his immortal world, “I did not know what I was doing. It happened during one of my … when I was away from home. I did not realize it until I heard Yoshiki’s name joined with his, it triggered my memory of the incident.”

          Inoran’s lover felt some relief, “Then you can not truly be held responsible for this. You did not do this out of any ill intent; you were very ill at that time. The others will not hold this against you.”

          “It’s not the others I’m afraid of,” he reached out for Yusuke, “I brought that monster into the blood, who is now attacking other immortals with the intention to kill. He is searching for Yoshiki, just as the man is searching for him. What repercussions will we be facing in this supposed war? It is truly my duty now, to make sure Sugizo dies.”

          “NO! You will not put yourself in danger, let one of the others deal with him, please Inoran, don’t jeopardize your life for …” the look that Inoran was giving Yusuke, shut the younger man up quickly.

          “You will not dictate what I can do, please remember that. Sugizo is my responsibility, and I will deal with him when the time comes. Do you not trust me enough, and do you not believe that my strength is greater than his? This is my problem, Yusuke, and I will deal with it myself.” Inoran said with finality.

         

          Akinori could sense there was something that Reo wasn’t telling him. “Can you talk about it?” he asked.

          “No, I can’t, it will be discussed at tomorrow night’s meeting, don’t worry over it.” Reo pulled the young man into his arms, “Did you have fun going out with the others?” nuzzling Akinori’s neck, the other squirming and giggling. “Yes, but those two little boys are up to something, I just don’t know what. They had their heads together constantly and whispering.”

          Reo had a good idea what Uta and Ayato were planning, “I have a feeling that it’s nothing serious, just a little gossiping between them. Just make sure not to get involved in any of their shenanigans or you will have Sakurai-san scolding you.”

          “Yes father,” Akinori knew this would get a rise out of his lover, “Father? I don’t think so boy.” The young man enjoyed the ‘rise’ until dawn streaked across the sky.

 

         

          The meeting was held after the hunt that next night, Reo wanting everyone sated enough to pay attention to the information he was about to give. The couples had paired off, sitting with their respective clans; Heath and Aoi slightly apart but close to their clan leaders, and Isshi returning to his place against a wall.

          With a nod towards Inoran, Reo started the meeting with a simple statement; “We know who Sugizo’s maker is.” The eruption of concern voices rose rapidly, Reo clapping his hands to gain control once again.

          “Everyone, please. Let me finish the statement,” he waited for a few more seconds before continuing. “This is important, please don’t jump to any conclusions. It was brought to our attention that Inoran is in fact, Sugizo’s maker, though it was at a time when Inoran was still seriously ill. He did not remember the incident until last night, during our discussion about Yoshiki and Sugizo. The other leaders and myself, do not hold Inoran at fault, as it was not his intention.”

          Sakurai was next to speak, emphasizing the precautions that they would need to take, starting that very night. “We do not know where Sugizo is at this time. He attacked Reita-kun some fifty kilometers from Kyoto. We also have no idea what his relationship is with Yoshiki or Ryuichi for that matter. Is he traveling alone? Has he brought others into the blood? We don’t know. Morrie and Reo agree with me, that our members will now be going out in threes to hunt.”

          “With the possibility that Sugizo has started his own clan, I suggest that we actively seek new members for all clans, especially for Inoran-san. While he is an ancient, there are still only two members in his family.” Morrie looked at the depressed man, “Inoran, I don’t presume to tell you what to do, or how to govern your clan, but I believe you understand the need for more members.”

          Inoran nodded, “Absolutely, and it is something I will discuss with Yusuke and Heath at great length. It is obvious to me that Clan Kiyonobu needs new members.”

          Reo made the closing statement, “Clan Aichi, Clan Sakurai, Clan Otsuka and Clan Kiyonobu will be in constant communication from this night forward. Any sight of unknown immortals will be reported and correspondence will be exchanged. We can not allow ourselves to be caught unawares. There are at least four violent immortals wandering through out the country, and it is pertinent that we remain vigilant and watchful.”

Chapter Text

 

          “Are you serious? How will we go about this? Just grab random people off the street, and bring them into the blood?” Yusuke was incredulous at Inoran’s statement that his intention on adding members to Clan Kiyonobu.

          “Why do you always have to question me? What I do with my clan is my business. You heard Reita-kun’s story, an immortal that I have created is now wreaking havoc in the country. What would you have me do, Yusuke?” Inoran was quickly losing patience with his blood spouse.

          “I expect you to discuss this with me, as your blood spouse I believe I’m entitled to an opinion, am I not?”

          Inoran pulled up his horse abruptly, “Your status as my spouse does not automatically entitle you to anything, Yusuke. As leader of this clan, it is my choice alone on who I deem worthy of accepting and if I decide to add members, then I shall.”

          Heath was several yards behind the two men, listening intently and cringing. He knew that it would only be a matter of moments before his name would be brought into the argument.

          “Against my will I have given into your insecurities, Heath belongs in my home, yet he lives apart and that is your doing. This discussion is over.” Inoran gently nudged his horse forward, Yusuke throwing a hostile glance back at Heath, then moving on to follow Inoran.

          “You’ll never forgive me, will you?” Heath murmured under his breath. It was pointless to try to talk to Yusuke, there was nothing left to be said between them. All he could hope for was a peaceful existence and to stay by Inoran’s side, albeit not in the same house. “Better than being alone.”

 

          The season was changing from late fall into winter, with cold winds blowing off Mount Fuji, chilling even the living dead, to the bone. Inoran had decided to seek out a reliable ryokan for the day, not trusting the cloud darken sky to shield them from the sun.

          The ryokan he chose, was one that they had frequented in the past, it was a family run establishment, with decent food and most importantly, windowless interior rooms. Leaving the stable boy to tend to their horses, Inoran led them inside for a hearty meal before bedding for the day.

          Sitting in a corner, with their backs to a wall, Inoran waited for the elderly proprietor to approach. “Let us eat quickly, I do not wish to linger here any longer than necessary.”

          “Kiyonobu-san, a pleasant surprise. It has been some time since you’ve graced my humble inn.” The proprietor was a grandmotherly type, one that accepted customers at face value, not questioning their peculiarities. Inoran bowed his head, as did Heath and Yusuke, and they ordered their meal. Heath looked at anything other than Inoran or Yusuke, knowing that if he did catch Inoran’s eye, Yusuke’s anger was certain to flair.

          The elderly woman delivered their food, but hesitated a moment before returning to her kitchen, “Kiyonobu-san, I’d like to speak to you for a moment, before you retire for the day.”

          “What was that all about?” Yusuke whispered. “No idea, I’m sure it’s nothing important.” Inoran doubted the words as soon as he spoke. The woman had never asked to speak to him in all the years they had been staying at the establishment.

           They rushed through their meal, Inoran eager to get to bed and rest. Just as they were heading towards their room, the old lady stopped him in the hallway, wearing a serious expression.

          “Kiyonobu-san, could you spare a minute and speak with me, I have something to show you.” 

          Inoran shared a look with both Yusuke and Heath, then turned to follow the old woman into what appeared to be the family’s living quarters.  

          “Before you say anything, let me explain,” she looked at each of the men, “I’ve known what you are for some time now.”

          “Excuse me?” Inoran wasn’t sure he was understanding what the woman was implying.

          She reached out and took Inoran by the hand, “I understand how you live, and how you survive, though I’m not sure of your age, you’re a handsome man, Kiyonobu-san, but I’m guessing you’re very old.”

          “Madame, I’m not sure you do understand, would you please just say what’s on your mind?”

          The old woman smiled, then turned her head and called out, “Rin…could you come in here please?”

          Inoran looked towards a shogi door that slowly slid open, “Yes, Baba?” A slender girl, with waist length dark hair, entered the room. She went to her grandmother’s side, but gazed only at the floor. The girl was an immortal.

          “This is my granddaughter Rin, she’s 16 years old. Dear, say hello to Kiyonobu-san and his friends.”  The girl looked up and smiled, bowing low she greeted Inoran. “Konbanwa, Kiyonobu-san.”

          The immortal was stunned, “When did this happen, and who was …?”

          The old lady smiled sadly, “About six months ago, a young man came through the village and stayed here at the inn, asking for similar lodgings that you always request. His name was Sugizo, and he took an instant liking to my Rin-chan.  We had a lovely conversation while he ate, then he went to his room.  Sometime in the middle of the night, he snuck into Rin’s room, I heard her scream and when I found her…” the woman stifled a cry with her hand.

         “Rin, what did the man do to you? Tell me exactly please, it is important.” Inoran asked gently. The girl described the seduction and the attack, a story he knew all too well.

          “After he was done biting my neck, he made me drink the blood from his wrist, he told me I’d be young and beautiful forever,” the tears ran down Rin’s face.

          “The man was gone before I got to her, I found her writhing on the floor, screaming in pain. After a time, she stopped, and I believed her to be dead. When she sat up and looked at me, I could tell she was different.”  

          Heath held his hand out to Rin, “Have you hunted?”

          Yusuke took in a sharp breath, “Heath!” he snapped, “that’s not an appropriate question.”

          Rin shrank back, “No, Sir. I’ve only had some animal blood; I don’t know how to um…hunt as you say.”

          “Kiyonobu-san, I beg you from the depths of my heart, could you please take my Rin, and teach her your ways? She is miserable here in my home, her parents are both dead and I can not care for her properly as she lives now, she needs to be among her own kind. I’ve heard the rumors and stories, and it was perhaps ten or so years ago, when I realized that you and your friends are of the same, you are vampires, ne?”

          Inoran felt Yusuke’s body stiffen, he could feel the tension and anger flaring. Looking at Heath, he saw the man’s face filled with compassion. He reached out his hand to Rin, “Rin-chan, what do you want?”

          The young girl thought for a moment, then carefully answered, “I’m tired of feeling poorly, I’m always hungry and the animal blood is nasty because it’s mostly cold. I no longer have any friends, it’s just Baba and I, and even then, I’m alone at night while she’s sleeping.”

          Yusuke leaned over and whispered in Inoran’s ear, “This is not right.”

          Inoran shrugged his spouse off his shoulder, then turned to the old lady, “Madame, if Rin-chan agrees, I will take her and care for her as if she was my own child. I live in Fuji so it would not be such a great distance to bring her to visit. I’m sorry that you’re having to go through this, the way Rin was changed is unfortunately a common story, though not everyone was changed against their will.”

          “I’m sure Naoto would love to have a young lady close to her age as a friend,” Heath added, “We know of several young people that would love nothing more than to have another companion close to their age.”

          The only person in the room that was not in agreement was Yusuke. He did not voice his anger, instead he crossed his arms over his chest and sulked, much to Inoran’s displeasure.

          “Rin, we will be leaving at nightfall. If you will be ready to go just after sunset, you will be riding with Heath. Now as it is getting late, we all should be seeking our beds before dawn strikes.”

          With a low bow to the old woman, and a quick hug from Heath, Inoran and Yusuke made their way to their room, “Don’t worry about Yusuke, he’s pretty much an old man already.” Heath whispered to Rin as he left the room, leaving the girl to stifle a giggle.

          Terse words were exchanged between Yusuke and Inoran the moment they got to their room and shut the door. “Are you fucking insane?” Yusuke snapped.

          “Well, technically yes, I am. What’s your point, Yusuke?” Inoran deadpanned.

          “You’re taking a strange child into our home, without knowing anything about her? How do we know she’s of a stable mind? That monster Sugizo is her maker! She could be dangerous.” Yusuke was spitting his words; anger was blazing in his voice.

          “You really don’t believe that, do you Yusuke? She’s a 16-year-old little girl, she had a horrible experience, much like many of us. She’s of no danger to anyone.” Heath said.

          Yusuke spun around, “Shut your mouth Heath, you have no say in anything related to the clan, this is between MY spouse and clan leader.”

          “You are mistaken Yusuke, Inoran may be your spouse, but he is also MY clan leader. I have every right to speak, and I’m getting tired of your pissy attitude towards me. Inoran has final say, not you.” Heath had had enough of his former lover’s attitude.

          “Enough, both of you. Neither of you have any input on the matter. I’ve chosen to take Rin-chan in, she deserves to live eternity with her own kind. Her grandmother won’t live much longer. I want you both to think about how Rin feels, not how you feel about her. Quit being selfish and think of someone else other than yourselves for a moment.” Inoran snapped.

          Dropping down onto his futon, Inoran glared at them, “I don’t want to hear one cross word while we are on the way home. Heath, Rin will ride behind you, and I want you up close next to me. Yusuke, you will not say one negative thing to that child, is that clear?”

          Neither of the two men said anything, just a nod of agreement. Yusuke laid on the futon next to Inoran, but kept his distance from his lover. Heath moved towards the door, as far as he could get from Yusuke. Settling down, he thought to himself that he may finally have a companion, a young friend to spend time with…and protect.

 

          “Baba…are you sure you’re going to be alright? I don’t have to go with them, if you need me, I’d rather stay with you.” Rin sat on the floor next to her grandmother.

          “Rin-chan, I promised your parents I would take care of you. I failed them in keeping you safe from that man, but this…this is my way of honoring your parents wishes. You will go with Kiyonobu-san and his friends, and live the way you should with those that are like you. He has always been a very kind and gracious man; he is nothing like that monster that changed you. I don’t believe that all vampires are like Sugizo, if they were, we would have heard more about it. There will be other young people that you will grow close to, and in time, you may even find someone to love.”

           The old woman reached out and caressed the girls face, “Please Rin, do not worry about me, I will be fine. Once I am too old to run the inn, I will sell it and I will send you the money, it is the least I can do for my only grandchild.” 

           Rin nodded, “Yes Baba, thank you for caring for me and understanding. I’ll make sure to come and visit you as often as possible and I promise to write you letters. I’m sure Kiyonobu-san is a nice man, but…” the girl had seen Yusuke’s face when Inoran had agreed to take her in, “the other man, he didn’t seem happy.”

          The old woman had also seen Yusuke’s reaction, but had seen Heath’s as well, and this was where she needed to step in, “The young man with the long dark hair, he seemed genuinely pleased that you were joining their small family, he is the one you need to make friends with. The other will come to love you in time.”   

           The old lady looked out the front door of the small inn, noticing that dawn was starting to streak the sky in shades of rose, “Rin, you need to get to bed dear, you’ll need to pack up your things at dusk, you want to be ready to leave on time with Kiyonobu-san.”

          Rin leaned over and hugged her grandmother, kissing her soundly on the cheek, “Yes, Baba. Don’t worry, I’ll be ready on time.”

 

         

          “Are you ready, Rin-chan?” Inoran looked back at Heath, who had the girl sitting behind him on his horse, “Yes, Kiyonobu-san.”

          Inoran smirked, “Rin, you’re going to have to start calling me Inoran at the very least, or if you’re comfortable, you may  call me father.” Rin’s heart swelled; she buried her face in Heath’s back to stop the tears. Heath looked over his shoulder, “Are you okay?” Rin nodded; a muffled yes is all he heard. Rin’s chest fluttered in excitement, and in sadness. Looking down at her grandmother, she put on a brave face, “Baba, I’ll send you a letter as soon as I’m settled, and I’m sure Kiyono… I mean Inoran, will let me visit soon. I love you Baba!”

          Putting their heels to their horses, the group left the small ryokan at a slow canter, Rin looking over her shoulder as her grandmother stood in the road waving. Putting her arms comfortably around Heath’s waist, she leaned her head on his back.

          “How long will it take to get to Kiyo…I mean, Inoran’s home?”

          “We should be there well before dawn,” he patted her hands, “are you comfortable enough?”

          Rin laughed, “I’ve ridden a horse before, Niisan. I’m fine.”

          “Niisan?”

          “Well, aren’t you my brother? Or are you more of an ojisan?” Rin teased.

          “Let’s ask Inoran,” Heath kicked his horse up a bit and drew along side the man, “Rin wants to call me niisan, what do you think?” He looked straight at his clan leader, ignoring Yusuke’s glare.

          “I think he might be an ojisan though.” The teasing when back and forth, until Yusuke had his fill, pushing his horse into a gallop and taking the lead.

          “Tousan, does Yusuke-san not like me?” Her face was wrinkled with concern. Inoran went on to explain the issue of a blood spouse, and Yusuke’s possessiveness.

          “He is selfish and angers quickly if I show any interest in anyone other than him. It’s not you that he’s upset with, it’s me. Ignore him, he’ll eventually come around.” Inoran wasn’t sure this was the truth, but he did not want to cause the girl any anxiety.

 

          They rode in silence until they reached the outskirts of the town of Fuji, Heath pulling his horse up and looking at Inoran, “What do you want me to do?” he asked quietly, Rin had fallen asleep, leaning hard into his back.

          “You will come home with me, and help me get Rin settled. I would like for you to spend some time with us, she needs a friendly face for the next few days,” he saw the hesitation on Heath’s face, “I will deal with Yusuke myself, don’t worry.”

          Heath patted Rin’s hands, “Rin, we’re home.” The girl lifted her head, and rubbed her eyes, “Already?” Seeing the gates of Inoran’s small estate, Rin smiled, “It’s so cute! Do you have any animals?”

          Inoran winked, then let out a shrill whistle, “Chika!” he called. A small blur of color shot out from under the gate, barking wildly, “This is Chika,” Inoran swung down off his horse and scooped the small dog up, “I’ve missed you little one, and now I have someone new for you to love.” Heath had also dismounted from his horse, holding his arms out for Rin.

          “A puppy!” the girl squealed, “Can I hold him?” Inoran handed the wiggling furball to Rin, Chika immediately started licking her face. “Oh god, he’s so cute!” She buried her face in the dog’s soft fur.

          “Come, let us put the horses up and get you into the house.” Inoran handed the reins of his horse to Heath, who led them through the gates and into the barn, where Yusuke was untacking his horse. “I’ll prepare us a meal,” he said in a snarky voice.

          Rin lowered her eyes and bowed lightly, “Thank you, Yusuke-san.” Yusuke snorted and walked away.

          Bumping her in the shoulder, Heath smiled, “Don’t worry about him, he’s the real ojisan in this family.”

          “I heard that Heath!”

         

          With Chika at her heels, Rin walked through Inoran’s modest home. She had been given a choice of two rooms, one which looked out onto the garden, “Oh, I’d like this one please!”

          “My room is on the left, and Inoran and Yusuke’s is across the hall. I’ll be staying here for a few days to help you get settled in.” Heath was leaning against the door, watching Rin put her few belongings away.

          “What do you mean, staying here? Don’t you live here with Inoran?” Rin was bent over, putting her clothes in a trunk.

          “No, I have a small house just outside the city where I live,” he looked over his shoulder, “it’s a complicated situation, but it’s best that I do not stay here full time.”

          Sitting back on her heels, Rin didn’t need to ask any more questions, she was a bright girl and could feel the tension between the men.

          “Um, can I ask you something, Heath?” she started to blush, “When will I be taught to hunt?” Rin’s stomach growled as if on cue.

          “Let’s go speak to Inoran about that.” Heath held out his hand to his new little sister, leading her down to Inoran’s study. Knocking on the door, they waited for Inoran to answer.

          “What can I do for you?”

          Heath was blunt, “Rin needs to hunt. Who’s going to take her for her first time?” Inoran looked up from his paperwork. “Oh, yes of course. Rin, what would you like to do?”

          The girl shifted uneasily, “I don’t know, I’m a little scared. Could you both come with me?”

          The men shared glances, “I believe that would be the best solution, give me a few minutes to speak with Yusuke, then I will join you in the courtyard.”

          Finding Yusuke in the kitchen, Inoran hugged him from behind, “I’m taking Rin out for her first hunt, Heath will be going with us as a precaution.”

          “That’s fine. Please be careful, all of you.” Yusuke said in a non-committal tone, something that surprised his spouse.

          “I know you’re having a rough go with all of this, but please, think of the girl. She would have died had she stayed with her grandmother; you know that as well as I do. Rin is much better off with us. That is not to say she will always live with us; in time I suspect she will find a mate and eventually move out.”

          “I will do the best that I can, but I’m not promising anything, especially if he is constantly here. But I will try.” Yusuke turned in his lover’s arms, resting his forehead on Inoran’s, “go hunt, there will be food ready when you return.” A brief kiss, and Inoran left the kitchen.

          Yusuke watched as Inoran took Rin by the hand, leading her through the front gates. In his heart he knew he shouldn’t be taking his frustration and anger out on the girl; she was brought into the blood against her will like so many others. His anger with Heath had subsided somewhat to a low simmer, but he could not control his resentment towards the other immortal. Yusuke still felt threatened by Heath, that the man was going to somehow take Inoran from him.

          “Not a chance in hell.”

 

The year was 1890.

Chapter Text

 

          Rin had started noticing the tension building within Clan Kiyonobu, within the first few months of her living with the three men. The obvious hostility between Heath and Yusuke, and the reticence from Inoran to become involved, had started to weigh on Rin, so much so that she inserted herself between the three men as often as possible.

          “Niisan, will you tell me why Yusuke-san is always so angry with you?” She boldly asked Heath one evening as they were out for the hunt.

          “It is a long and boring story, there’s nothing for you to concern yourself with.” Heath didn’t want to involve the young woman he had grown to care for so quickly.

          Rin stopped in the middle of the road, crossing her arms over her chest, “That’s not an answer I will accept. I am part of your clan and I deserve the truth, so tell me what the problem is.”  

          Heath sighed. “Fine, let’s at least sit down.” He held his hand out to her and led her over to a spot under a tree. He began the story with the onset of Inoran’s illness, and how quickly it developed. “He was a loving and kind man for so long, the changed surprised us all.”

          Without delving into detail, Heath explained how Inoran’s change drove Yusuke into his arms, “It was wrong and we both regret it now.”

          “That doesn’t explain Yusuke’s hostility towards you, Niisan.”

 Heath chuckled, “No, it doesn’t.” Heath continued with his story, watching Rin’s face darken with concern for her new family.

          “Yusuke doesn’t want me anywhere near Inoran. That is the reason I have chosen not to live with him…that is until we found you.” Heath smiled sadly.

          Rin shook her head, “Well that was a stupid story.”

          “Stupid?”

          “Yes, stupid. Three grown men acting like teenage girls with hurt feelings. I thought I lived with mature immortals, now I’m not so sure.” Rin got up and started walking.

          Heath stared at the young woman’s back, “It’s not stupid,” he muttered under his breath, as he trotted to catch up with Rin.

          “You need to fix this, Niisan. I can’t have my loyalties divided. If I’m going to be in a clan, I need all of them living under the same roof.”

          “I can’t fix anything! Yusuke is the one that has the problem, not me.” Heath retorted.

          “What happens when you try to talk to him about it?”

          Heath scoffed, “He tells me to fuck off.”

          “And you do, don’t you? You just back down and walk away.” Rin snorted, “Not very aggressive for an immortal, Niisan.”

          Heath grabbed Rin roughly by the arm, turning her to face him, “Rin! You have no idea what you’re talking about. Would you rather have Yusuke attack me? Or Inoran, because I’ve gotten into an argument with Yusuke? I am doing the best that I can, and that is not living with them.”

          The young woman stared at her brother, “You’re not doing the best that you can, you’re taking the easy road instead of sitting down with Inoran and Yusuke, and talking things out. If you want to live by yourself forever, I can’t stop you.” Wrenching her arm away, Rin turned and started walking back to the house, leaving Heath standing in the middle of the road.

 

 

          “Where’s Rin?” Inoran asked Yusuke as the man was preparing a meal.

          “I think she’s out with him, hunting or something.” Yusuke always had a snarky remark whenever it concerned Heath.

          “When will you stop being so hateful? Heath is a part of our family, you really should try to make amends with him, if not for Rin’s sake, for mine. I hate having two of the people that mean the most to me in the world, at odds with each other.”

          If he was honest with himself, Yusuke would admit that he was growing tired of the riff with Heath, but there was always that hint that Heath would rather have Inoran to himself.

          “I’m allowing him to live here, aren’t I? Isn’t that enough?”

          “No, it’s not enough. It will never be enough, until you reconcile with him. The snarky comments and hostile looks continue, and I for one am tired of it.” Inoran snapped. “Heath is your brother in blood, not as my child but as a child of immortality. There are so few of us Yu-kun, we can not afford to be at odds with one another.”

          Before Yusuke could reply, Rin came barging into the house, “YOU!” she pointed at Yusuke, “We need to talk, Inoran you as well.” She stomped off towards the large dining area.

          “Um…” Yusuke looked at Inoran. Just as they moved to follow Rin, Heath entered the home, “She’s in a mood,” he mumbled.

          Yusuke frowned, “She just walked in, and ordered us to speak with her. What happened tonight?”

          “Don’t ask.” Heath muttered.

          “I’m waiting!” Rin shouted from the other room. With a collective sigh, the three immortals walked down to the dining area.

           “This is a family meeting, a clan gathering if you want to label it as such. The topic is the ridiculousness of the situation between you. This must stop.  I’m an impressionable young woman and what does it say when my own family is at odds with each other and unwilling to rectify the problem? You are now showing me that it is perfectly normal for fighting and violence within a clan. Is that how you want me to view immortality? If you want to continue to live like this, I’m going to have to find another clan.”

          Inoran’s eyes widened, “Find another… what are you saying child? That you would leave us?”

          “That’s exactly what I’m saying. I don’t want to live for eternity with three men who are squabbling over something that happened decades in the past. I’m giving you one week to come to terms with each other. If after one week you still can’t find it to forgive each other, then I will go to Kyoto and speak with Reo-san.” Rin looked at each man, then turned and left the room.

          Inoran smiled to himself, then looked at Yusuke and Heath, “Well gentlemen? How do we proceed?”

          “I’m willing to talk this out,” Heath looked at Yusuke, “that’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

          With Inoran on his left, and Heath on his right, Yusuke felt that he had been cornered, “Fine, but I’m only doing this for Rin.”

          Inoran leaned his head on Yusuke’s shoulder, “Thank you.” Heath thought about doing the same, instead just patting the man on the shoulder, “It took a little girl to bring us together again, let’s not disappoint her, ne?”  Shrugging Inoran’s head off his shoulder, Yusuke walked away, going back to the kitchen to finish preparing the meal.

          “Do you believe he will forgive me?” Heath asked Inoran.

          He put his arm around Heath’s shoulder, “Let us see what Rin has in mind. The simple fact that she saw right through the façade that Yusuke has put up, is quite insightful. She has been with us for just a few months, and yet she already has us all completely figured out.”

          Walking past the kitchen, Yusuke knew he would find Rin in the small garden off her room, where she usually sat on the engawa and watched the night sky. He leaned against the door frame, watching the girl and waiting for her to acknowledge him.

          “I don’t care if you’re angry with me, Yusuke-san.” She said softly.

          “Did I say I was angry?”

          Rin turned and looked at him, “No, but I can tell you’re not happy, but that’s really too bad. If you don’t reconcile with Heath, I’ll be forced to leave the clan and find a place I can live peacefully with those that love me.”

          Yusuke pushed away from the door, walking over to sit next to Rin. “Do you know the reasons behind my dislike of Heath?”

          “Yes, he explained the situation,” Rin paused, “though I don’t see why you can’t reconcile your feelings. Niisan has told you many times that he does not want to come between you and Inoran, is that not enough? Do you not believe him?”

          There it was, plain and simple.

          “It is too much for you to understand, you’re far too young to realize what you are asking.”

          Rin snorted, “I may be young, but I’m not stupid nor am I blind. Heath loves Inoran as his clan leader and as a savior of sorts. He loved you as a lover would, but he knew that it was temporary. Has he not proven himself to be loyal? Has he made advances on Inoran or you?”

          She had a point. Heath had been the soul of sincerity since he had been allowed to live at the house, always making sure he was never in the way or intruding on Yusuke’s time with Inoran.

          “No,” Yusuke said petulantly. “He leaves the room if I enter.”

          Rin decided to push the issue a little further, “Then why haven’t you spoken to him? Is it so hard to start the conversation?”

          “Why are you so pushy?” Yusuke snapped, “What possible benefit do you think you’ll get out of this?”

          Rin scooted over, “I want us to live as a family, that’s all. We are but four, from what I understand, the other clans have more members than we do. Shouldn’t that be enough? To have the love of my two brothers and a father is all I want.” She leaned against Yusuke, picking up his slender hand in hers. They sat like that for a time, watching the sky and listening to the sounds of the night creatures.

          “I will try, I’m not promising that I will ever be able to love Heath again, but at least I will try to reconcile with him.”

          Rin reached up and kissed Yusuke on the cheek, “That’s all I will ever ask.”

Chapter Text

 

         

          The lone man moved steadily through the dark, a simple rhythmic sway as he swept the large cobblestone courtyard of Himeji Castle. Performing his nightly menial tasks without complaint, Kaoru loved working in the stillness of the night, with only the moon to guide him through the pathways deep inside the castle’s keep. With no distractions from other staff, Kaoru could open is mind to his poetry, using the night for inspiration and a blessed solitude.

                   “You’re not hearing the voice of the kami, but of your master.” 

            “Master?” Kaoru looked over his shoulder, the whisper in his ear had startled him. It was near midnight and the courtyard was deserted, the castle was dark and quiet except for the chirping of crickets. Shaking his head and excusing the whisper as him being overly tired, he finished his job and made his way to the garden shed to put away his tools, unaware of the demon watching him from above.  

         

          His maker had questioned Yoshiki one evening, “You’ve become unbearable to be around, Yo-chan, you need a companion, lure him or her by seduction, then take them as your lover. Surely, you’re able to do this or has your desire for control, weakened?” He did not dignify his maker with an answer, instead choosing to leave his maker’s presence without another word.

          Now those words were burning in Yoshiki’s soul as he watched the man in the courtyard.  Had he lost his desire to create a companion? His relationship with Mari had soured since their last raid in Ibaraki, although she was never his lover. His first child had chosen to separate from her maker, even as he had believed she would have remained by his side for eternity, “I’m bored with what we are doing, you care for nothing but violence and revenge.” Without a goodbye, Mari left Yoshiki. That had been over seventy years ago, and Yoshiki had tired of being alone.

          Now Yoshiki was listening intently to the man’s thoughts, he knew that it would be of no matter to lure this man into his arms with a simple seduction. “Are you the one I have been searching for?” As if the man heard the immortal’s words, he paused for a moment, and looked to the sky, then shrugged and returned to his duties.

           

           

          As was his normal routine, Kaoru made his way inside the castle and to the small shrine at the top of the castle. This was his ultimate time of serenity, and it was always spent in that small room, that also afforded a magnificent view of the valley.

          Kneeling before the shrine, with his head bowed, a whisper of a cold chill crossed behind Kaoru, causing the man’s breath to hitch.

          “Hello boy,” a soft voice said in his ear.

          Kaoru whipped around, his eyes wildly searching the room; it was empty.

          Another rush of cold air moved to his left, “I’m your new master, Kaoru.” Yoshiki’s fingers brushed Kaoru’s cheek.

          “My…my new master?” Kaoru shuddered, quickly wiping his cheek. “Who are you?” he demanded in a quivering voice. A tall, slender man emerged from behind the altar, Kaoru immediately captivated by the beautiful man.

          Yoshiki bowed his head lightly to Kaoru, “My name is Yoshiki, and I’ve come to save you from an insipid life of mediocracy. I will offer you something that few people in the world will share; immortality.”

          Kaoru’s mind was screaming at him to run, to flee from this demon, “I…I don’t want that, please leave me alone,” he whimpered as he backed away from the vampire, even as his body betrayed him, arousal pooling in his groin. He knew that the moment Yoshiki touched him, he was powerless.

          The vampire reached out and caressed Kaoru’s cheek, the man leaning into the soft cool hand, “You want this, I can smell the heated passion in your blood, Kaoru.” The hand that caressed Kaoru’s cheek, slid slowly around, Yoshiki cupping the back of his head and pulling Kaoru close. “No, please…don’t…”

          He couldn’t help but moan as Yoshiki kissed him. “Yes love, this is what you will have for eternity,” the immortal whispered in Kaoru’s ear. Leading Kaoru to a small settee, Yoshiki laid the man back, and continued his seduction.

          “Why…why are you doing this?” Kaoru whined, “please don’t kill me.” There was no response from the immortal, and Kaoru closed his eyes and waited for death.

 

 

          It wasn’t death that greeted Kaoru. It was Yoshiki, helping him to sit up, tucking a loose strand of hair behind his ear. “How do you feel?”

          The pain from his mortal body’s death had subsided, though he was still shaken by the experience. “I…I don’t know,” Kaoru looked at his maker, “Why?”

          Going through his early life, Yoshiki told a dark story of how his life as an immortal had started, going through his relationship with Ryuichi and the other ancients. “My first blood born child was Mari, we met in France. I believed that she would stay by my side forever. It’s been over seventy years now since she left me.”

          “But why me? I’m nothing special, why would you do this to me against my will?” Kaoru couldn’t give Yoshiki a pass on what he had created.

          “I listened to your thoughts while you were working in the courtyard. Your serenity, the poetic words that formed…all of it, I was just drawn to you.” Reaching for Kaoru’s hand, Yoshiki sighed, “I’m lonely, Kaoru. I want someone to love, someone that could learn to love me.” He was astonished on how easy the lies left his lips, or were they truly lies?

          Kaoru’s heart was torn; part of him wanted to believe this beautiful creature, to be loved and cared for by him. The other part wanted to run, as fast and as far as possible.

          “How will I live my life now? Are you going to leave me to fend for myself?”

          Reaching out again, Yoshiki caressed Kaoru’s cheek, then cupped his chin and softly kissed him. “No, my child, you will stay with me. I will love and care for you as I have no other.”

          Abruptly standing up, Yoshiki straightened his clothes, “You need to hunt, I do not want you in any pain. Come now, let’s find you your first meal, then we will decide where to travel after that, ne?”

          Yoshiki took Kaoru in his arms and walked them towards the window, pushing it open, “Just hold on, I will not let you fall,’ before Kaoru could object, Yoshiki stepped out of the open window, only to float gently to the ground.

          Moving through the darken streets, peering into alleyways and dark corners, Yoshiki taught his new lover the intricacies of the hunt. “Kill them if you’d like, but you must not drink after the heart has stopped beating.”

          Kaoru was stunned, “Must I kill them, is there no other way?”

          The immortal chuckled, “There are no laws that say you must kill them, I just find it easier than having them wake up after I’m done.” Yoshiki emphasized his words by grabbing the prostitute he had up against a wall and tearing her throat out.

          Kaoru’s eyes widened as he gasped in horror as Yoshiki threw the body near a trash bin. “But…I thought you said…”

          “What I said and what I do is entirely two different things. I kill when the mood strikes me. Show some gratitude that I didn’t kill you.” Yoshiki snapped.

          Kaoru leaned away from his master, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to speak ill of you.” Just as quickly as he had snapped, Yoshiki’s face soften as he drew Kaoru close to him.

          “You’re not to question my motives or actions, ne Kaoru?” Yoshiki kissed Kaoru’s forehead, “let’s leave this city, I’ve grown tired of it already.” Sharing another passionate kiss with his new companion, Yoshiki held him tightly, and they rose swiftly into the air.

Chapter Text

 

          The clans had come to an agreement at the end of the last meeting, that no members of any clan, would go out to hunt alone. Reo’s announcement was met with some rumblings of protest, especially from Nakamura and Suzuki, “We can not risk another attack such as the one Reita experienced with Sugizo,” he sharply reminded them.

          Months later, with the letter from Inoran announcing Rin’s existence and the circumstances of her becoming blood born, it was obvious that the need for a heighten awareness had become necessary. It was now clear to the clan leaders, that Sugizo was becoming more brazen in his attacks.

          There was some level of concern with the fact that Hyde would continue on his journey, “I will not inconvenience you any further, I thank you for your wonderful hospitality. Please understand my reasons for rejecting your offers, it is not a reflection of my opinion of you and your friends. I simply prefer to remain alone.”

          Reo didn’t try and stop the diminutive immortal, though all the clan leaders offered the same, “You will always be welcomed as a member of any of the clans, Hyde-san, if you ever change your mind.”

 

         Much to everyone’s relief the year passed quietly, with Rin being the only known victim of Sugizo.

 

          For Clan Sakurai and the implementation of the new hunting practices, Uehara was always with Uta and Naoto, while Sakurai went with Kai and Toshiya, “Ue-chan can handle himself well enough to keep Naoto and Uta safe,” he rationalized.

          Naoto’s blood spouse took is new position seriously, “Don’t wander off too far, either one of you, we’re supposed to stay together.” Uehara cautioned Naoto and Uta, as they split up to hunt. “We’re only taking animals tonight, Acchan still does not trust enough to go into the city to hunt.”

          “I hate animal blood,” Uta muttered softly, “it tastes rank.”

          “I don’t like it either Uta, but you understand why Acchan is so careful, ne?” Naoto chastised her brother.

          Uta huffed a sigh, “Yes, I understand but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it,” he said over his shoulder as he moved further into the forest. Walking quietly, Uta peered around trees, and searched the small thickets, hoping to surprise a deer. He had just pushed a low-hanging tree branch aside when he stopped, “What the…?”

          Listening intently, he followed the sound of crying, but was confused that he saw no one. “Uta?” Naoto had seen the queer look on Uta’s face. “What’s wrong?”

          “I hear crying, but I can’t find where it’s coming from.” He stood still for a moment, “Hello?” The crying had stopped, “Weird…”

          Naoto approached a fallen log, that was partially hidden under a large evergreen bush, stopping to listen. As she sniffed the air, she turned to Uta and Uehara, put her fingers to her lips and pointed at the log.

          “Um, hello? You can come out; we won’t hurt you.”  Waving Uta and Uehara back, Naoto bent down and moved the heavy log with ease, surprised to find a young woman buried in a deep hole. The young woman was an immortal.

          “Please, don’t hurt me!” the girl whimpered, as she pushed herself as far away from Naoto as possible.

          “We won’t hurt you, come let me help you.” She reached down and put out her hand for the girl. “I’m an immortal, you can trust us, I promise.” The girl hesitated for a moment, then took Naoto’s hand.

          “My name is Naoto, and that’s my blood spouse Uehara and my brother Uta, and you are?” Naoto asked.

          “Um, my name is Yume.” She tried dusting off her clothes as best she could. Naoto could smell that Yume had not hunted in quite some time.

          “How long were you in that hole? Were you hiding from someone?”  Yume shook her head, “No, I mean he hasn’t been around in a long time. I was just so tired and …” she looked at the ground.

          Naoto looked at Uta and Uehara, “Why don’t you come with us? We can take you to our house, Kai-san can make you whatever you’d like to eat, and you can speak with Acchan.”

          “A…Acchan?”

          “Mm, he’s Uta’s blood spouse and our clan leader, Uta’s the little runty one.” Naoto pointed at Uta.

          “HEY! I’m not runty…thanks a lot nee-chan!” Uta stomped a foot.

          Naoto grinned, “Sure thing shorty,” Yume giggled and breathed a little easier, “I really don’t have any other choices, and I am hungry.”

         

          “Tadaima,” Uta ran into the house ahead of Uehara and Naoto, Yume walking timidly behind them. “They’re not back yet, but I bet Kai left some rice for us.” Uta ran to the kitchen, leaving Naoto to show Yume the house.

          “You’ll have your own bedroom, and we have a really nice hot bath behind the house. The only pest that might bother you is Totchi’s cat, Mau, he’s kind of a brat.”

          The young woman was overwhelmed, “Why are you doing this for me? I mean, I appreciate it and all, but why? I’m just some random person you found in a hole in the ground.”

          Naoto sighed, “Because I can guess that you were not blood born by choice, were you? I wasn’t, neither was Acchan, so we both know how you feel, and Acchan never turns anyone away that’s in need.”

          “Yume, come get something to eat!” Uta yelled from the other room. “Come on, let’s go sit with the others.” Naoto once again took Yume by the hand and led her to the dining room.  

         

          Sakurai Atsushi stared at Yume, not quite understanding who she was or why she was in his living room. “And you are?” He asked carefully.

          “Acchan! Don’t be so harsh.” Naoto growled at her clan leader, “This is Yume, we found her out in the woods tonight. Sit down and behave yourself.”

          Yume was taken aback by the way Naoto was ordering her clan leader around, “It’s okay Naoto-chan, I’ll leave right now.” Standing up, Yume bowed and brushed passed Sakurai, “YUME!” Naoto shouted, “You’re such an ass, Atsushi!” she snapped as she ran after Yume.

          “What did I do?” Sakurai looked at Uta and Uehara, both men giving him dirty looks.

          Naoto reached out and grabbed the woman’s arm, “Yume, wait…don’t go. He’s just surprised that you’re here, don’t let him scare you, he’s not that bad, really.”

          “He doesn’t want me here, it’s okay. Thank you for at least trying, Naoto-chan. I’ll be fine, really.” Yume stuttered through her tears.

          “Yume?” The two women turned around, “My name is Kai, please…come back to the house. Acchan doesn’t mean any harm, truly. Please…for me?” Kai gave the young woman one of his best smiles, something that few people could resist.

          The young woman looked at Naoto and Kai. She really wanted to believe that she was welcomed, but the look on Sakurai’s face, “Okay, but if he wants me to leave, I’ll go tonight.”

 

          Walking back into the house, the sound of agitated voices greeted the trio, “Uh oh, Uta…” Kai giggled.

          “… can’t believe you were so rude! Seriously…we found her in a hole in the ground and then you have to be so…so… you!” Uta had Sakurai pinned against a wall, shoving his finger into his lover’s chest, Toshiya with a hand on Uta’s shoulder.

          “Uta… it’s okay, look.” Toshiya whispered in his ear. “Yume!” Uta ran over and hugged the young woman, “Ignore my oaf of a spouse, he’s uncouth and rude. You can come and sit with Totchi and I.” Grabbing the woman by the hand, Uta led her over to the table, holding a chair for her.

          Sakurai smoothed his clothes and brushed his hair out of his eyes, “Yume-chan, I was merely startled that you were here, I meant you no harm.”

          The woman had her head bowed, “I understand um…?”

          “Sakurai Atsushi, but you may call me Acchan, as my family…” watching the young woman’s face pale, Sakurai reached out for her, “Are you ill child?”

          “You’re…Sakurai?” she whispered, as she pushed her chair back. “He hates you…he warned me about you…I need to go…”

          “Who hates me?”

          “Imai.”

 

          After the initial shock of hearing his ex-lover’s name had worn off, Sakurai and his family assured Yume, he was not the demon that Imai had portrayed him as.

          Kai had made tea for everyone, and the group moved to the larger living room to be more comfortable. Sakurai smiled softly at Yume, “Tell me, how did you meet Imai?”

          Yume’s story was familiar, “I was working at an izakaya in a small town in Nagano, and he came in early one evening and ordered food and drink.  He was handsome and very nice, but I could sense that there was something different about him, but I could not pinpoint it.”

          “He was alone then?” Sakurai asked. “Mm, he didn’t speak to anyone else in the inn, just me. He asked a few questions about the area, nothing that would cause me to worry about him.” Yume looked down, the shame clouding her features.

          “It’s okay,” Naoto reached out and held the young woman’s hand, “we all know how these things happen, there’s nothing to be ashamed about.” Yume nodded and smiled.

          “He was there for a few hours, just watching the other customers and drinking sake. Then he paid his bill and thanked me for the service, he just walked out like any other customer.”

          Sakurai leaned back, his finger tapping his chin, “What kind of questions was he asking? Anything that struck you as odd?”

          Yume shrugged, “Not really…though he did ask me if I was married.”

          “Married?” Sakurai looked at Kai. “Are…I mean, were you married?”

          The young woman blushed, “No sir, my parents thought I was too young.”

          “Wait a minute, how old are you Yume?” Uta leaned forward eagerly.

          “I was eighteen when Imai um… did this to me. Why?” Yume’s brow furrowed. Uta looked guiltily at Sakurai, “Um, just wondering…so you’re my age, or you were my age, but I’m older now, I mean…” With a glare from Sakurai, Uta stopped talking.

          “Did Imai attack you, or seduce you?”

          “ATSUSHI!” Naoto snapped as she reached over and smacked the Ancient in the arm, “That’s so disrespectful.” She turned to Yume, “You don’t have to answer that, it’s none of anyone’s business.”

          “I don’t know,” she said meekly, “I don’t remember anything between leaving work and waking up…” Yume was embarrassed, she didn’t want her new friends to think poorly of her. “I don’t think he um…you know.” She shifted uncomfortably in her seat.  Naoto frowned, “Yume, come with me please.” Getting up abruptly and taking Yume by the hand, Naoto led the girl out of the living room and down the long hall towards the back of the house.

          The four men looked at each other, “What did I say?” Sakurai whined.

          Kai rolled his eyes, “She’s obviously embarrassed over how she was blood born, Acchan, though I am more concerned with the fact that Imai is her maker. Is she the first since Tangier?”  Uta was uncharacteristically quiet, sitting silently and leaning hard on his blood spouse.

          “Uta love, what’s wrong?”

          “What if he comes here looking for Yume?”

 

          Leading Yume by the hand, the two women rejoined the others in the living room, Sakurai getting up and bowing low to Yume, “Please, Yume-chan, accept my deepest apologies for the insensitive way I’ve behaved, I truly meant no disrespect.”

          This startled the young woman. Based on the words from Imai that had filled her head for months, she was expecting the worst from Sakurai Atsushi. She now had to reevaluate her opinions about the man.

          “Sakurai-san,” Yume bowed, “thank you for your concern. It’s obvious to me now, that Imai was completely wrong about you and your family.” She looked up at the man, “I’d like to tell you the rest of my story, if it pleases you?”

          “I think we could use a bit of tea before you begin, ne?” Kai smiled.

         

          The story Yume told was not what was expected, considering she was talking about Imai. “I stayed with him for three months after I was blood born. He was kind at first, teaching me about the little drink and how to leave my victims comfortable. We traveled frequently, never staying more than a week in any town, we even went back to your estate in Hokkaido.”

          This caught Sakurai’s attention quickly, “Was Issay at the estate?”

          Yume shook her head, “There was no one there, but it had been lived in within the last few decades, or so that’s what Imai said. We only stayed there for two days, then we went to Gunma.”

          “It’s hard to believe that Imai was being kind, the man is an asshole.” Kai grunted.  

          “We were near Gunma when we started to hear the voices. The name Yoshiki was first, then your name and Uta’s.”

          Uta quivered, “Mine?”

          “Mm, the voices were always angry. After that, Imai started to change. He would leave me alone for several nights, and when we would hunt together, he was turned vicious and tore out the throats of his victims. I was terrified that it would happen to me.” The tears started to fall, Naoto once again reaching out to hold Yume’s hand.

          “The last night we were together, he was ranting about how Sakurai-san had murdered his lover, that he was a demon and would ruin anyone that he came in contact with.” She paused, looking up at Sakurai, “Then he told me to leave, to go to Tokyo and look for you and deliver a message.”

          Looking around the room, Yume could see the compassion on her new friends faces, she wanted desperately to be accepted into this family, but what she had to say next, may keep her from her wishes.

          “He said, ‘Tell Sakurai that since he took my lover, I’ll take his. Tell him I’m coming for Uta.’ That was the last time I saw him, and it’s been almost two months.”

          “Where were you when he left? I need an exact location Yume, this is extremely important.” Sakurai made sure he kept his voice soft and non-threatening.

          “We were in Chiyoda, that was um…six weeks ago. I made my way towards Tokyo, but was afraid to go into the city. I was just so tired, so I dug that hole and prayed for death to take me.” With the end of her story, Yume sighed with relief knowing that her new friends would keep her safe for the time being.

          “Acchan, what are we going to do now? Shouldn’t we contact the others?” Kai face was strained with concern.

          “Others?” Naoto leaned over, “There are more immortals than you think, I’ll tell you more later.”

          Uta was leaning over and whispering sharply to Sakurai, “Yume-chan, would you like to live here with us? I’d feel much better knowing that you were living somewhere safe,” he looked at Uta, “and my pushy lover wants you to stay as well. This is by no means a permanent arrangement, I just would prefer you to stay with us for the near future.”

          Squeezing Yume’s hand, she smiled at the young woman, “Please say you’ll stay, I could use a sister, it gets to be so bothersome with all these men around.”

          Uehara coughed, “Um, excuse me?”

Chapter Text

 

          Tatsurou watched the dance floor from the darkened window of the upstairs office, taking notice of what immortals where attending Club Nosferatu that Thursday night. With the staff on high alert, they could be certain that Yoshiki would be stopped if he attempted to enter the club, though the ancient could burn the club to the ground with a single thought, if it so pleased him.

          As he entered the office, Morrie saw his lover standing at the window watching the club below. Walking up to the man, he wrapped his arms around Tatsu’s waist, his lover leaning back into the embrace, “Everything okay?”

          “Pretty much, a few new kids,” He pointed at the dance floor, “that one…with the wild makeup? He’s with the tall boy with the long pink hair, I asked Sato about him, evidently, it’s their first time here. I’ve seen a lot of new faces tonight, though no new immortals, just the same old crowd of regulars.”

          “Cute boys, as long as they’re behaving themselves,” Morrie nuzzled Tatsu’s neck.

          “Early night?” Tatsu murmured.

          “Are you offering or asking?”

          “Both.”

          “Let me check with the others first, I’ll meet you downstairs in ten minutes.” With a quick kiss on the cheek, Morrie made his way downstairs.

          Weaving slowly through the crowded club, Morrie made sure to make eye contact with the known immortals who were regular customers, nodding to each one as he passed. Stepping up into the DJ booth, he leaned in, “How’s the crowd tonight?” he asked Miya.

          Removing his headphones, Miya gave a thumbs up, “Great actually. We have some new people that are mostly requesting old goth stuff from the 80s. Nice to be asked for the classics.”

          “Anyone that we need to watch?” Morrie scanned the crowd, the vantage point from the DJ booth offered a good view of the entire club.

          “No, Aoi’s been walking the floor all night, and he hasn’t reported anything.” Miya put his headphones back on as the song ended.

          Waving to Hiro and Yuu who were behind the bar, Morrie made his way to the employee entrance where Tatsu was waiting patiently. “Ready?” He held out his hand to Morrie.

          “Let’s go home.”

 

          “Thank you,” Aiko slid the claim ticket across the counter, “please enjoy yourselves.”

          “We will, thanks!” Pocketing the claim ticket, the two young men made their way into the club.

          “Seems like we have a lot of new kids,” Sato commented before leaning over the counter and stealing a kiss from his lover.

          “Mm, it does. Has You been advertising?” Aiko always blushed when Sato kissed her in public.

          “I don’t think so. It’s probably just word of mouth. We’re the new trendy club again, I’m guessing we’ll go back to normal in a year or so.” Kissing Aiko again, Sato returned to the front door, checking the ID’s of the next group of people.

 

          Club Nosferatu had been active in Tokyo since 1978, luring in young people who were frustrated with the strict cultural norms of the time. The theme of the club had always remained the same; Goths pretending to be Vampires.

          Nosferatu was instantly popular and profitable. The opening night saw people lined up in front of the venue starting in the afternoon, and by closing the bar had completely sold out of alcohol.

 

          It wasn’t until 1980, that the first immortal stepped foot in the club.

Chapter Text

          Hyde was more than just conflicted; he was now fully doubting himself and how he had planned on living as an immortal, this was an internal war that had been raging in his mind for two years. What he had experienced during his short stay with Reo and the other clans, had given him serious doubts and he was now rethinking his idea of remaining alone.

          The comradery between the clans, the care and concern for each other and the benevolence of the leaders towards their family’s well being, had changed Hyde’s attitude towards joining a clan.

          You don’t need to belong.

          “No, but they were all so happy and cared for.”

          Get too close…someone gets killed, then what?

          “That won’t happen, Reita wasn’t killed.”

          You’re too selfish and independent to join a clan.

          In his musings, Hyde had let his guard down, he had not sensed the other immortal, who now stood mere feet in front of him. The man was well dressed, a heavy overcoat and top hat in place, and wearing a smirk.

          He stopped abruptly, staring down the other man, “Who are you?” Hyde demanded.

          “My name is Kimura Keizo.”

           “What do you want from me?”

          The immortal chuckled, “Nothing actually, you’re not who I’m looking for.” 

          This was unnerving. “Who are you looking for?” Hyde asked carefully, not wanting to anger the obvious Ancient.

          “It’s not important.” The immortal then turned away from Hyde, but not before giving him some advice. “I suggest, young man, that you listen to your own arguments to join a clan,” the man looked over his shoulder, “chaos is eminent, and there is safety in numbers.” With a wave, the immortal walked away.

          Hyde watched as the immortal quickly rose into the clouds. “What the hell was that all about?” was his first thought. Shaking his head, Hyde wandered a little further down the path. “Wait…. shit!” Turning around, Hyde started to make his way back to Kyoto.

 

        Kimura Keizo stood silently in front of the closed gates of Sakurai’s estate, blocking his presence from the immortals inside. “You were not so difficult to find, Atsushi,” the Ancient mused, as he listened to the incessant chattering voices, “you have not changed in 600 years, you still care over much for your children.”

       The centuries had passed since Kimura first laid eyes on Sakurai Atsushi and his companion, in Paris. Centuries of regret for not approaching the beautiful immortal, regrets that he still harbored at that very moment. It was true that in 1278, Kimura was dealing with the psychotic killings that Ryuichi and Yoshiki were perpetrating as they rampaged across Europe.

       He could not have imagined that he would be forever linked to Ryuichi, at a level so deep there would only be one way to sever those ties.

       With a heavy sigh, Kimura knew it was not the right time. “Not yet, there are still others I must see before acting.” With a short bow, Kimura looked to the sky and rose quickly into the air, floating amongst the clouds to his next destination. Kyoto.

 

        The boisterous teasing between Uehara and Yume was at its peak level, as they threw gentle insults at each other during dinner, with Sakurai leaning back and enjoying the moment as he watched his family. It wasn’t until Kai had started to clear away the dishes, that Sakurai heard a slight buzz in his ears, a sound that didn’t quite make sense to the man. He leaned forward, his eyes growing distant as he strained to hear what was being said.

       “Acchan?” Yume noticed the look on his face, “Acchan, what is it?” Without an answer, Sakurai rose from the table and went out onto the engawa, searching beyond the darkness of the courtyard. “Acchan, what’s wrong?” Uta came up and grasped his wrist.

       Sakurai stepped down and walked towards the gates, “Atsushi, what is it?” Uehara’s sharp voice sounded next to him, “I’m not sure,” he turned and looked behind him, “Uta, go in the house, now.” Uta knew this voice, and did not hesitate or argue.

      “I heard something, a whisper, but I did not recognize the voice.” He slowly opened the gates, and peered around. “Let me, you should go back to the house.” Uehara pushed his way past his clan leader, “NO!” Sakurai roughly grabbed the man by the arm, “Stay here. You need to protect the others.”

      Carefully stepping through the gate, Sakurai surveyed the nearby area, listening for any telltale sounds of an intruder or worse… Ryuichi or Yoshiki. Nothing. Had he imagined the voice? Was he still so much on edge, waiting for an attack by Imai, that now he was hearing things?

      “Anything?” Uehara was standing just inside the gate. Sakurai shrugged, “No.”

      “What exactly did you hear? Imai or Sugizo?” Uehara knew better than to second guess his clan leader.

      He ran his hand through his hair, “I don’t know. I didn’t hear a name as such, and the voice was distant, as if whomever it was, were trying to shield their thoughts.” This unnerved Sakurai; if there was an unknown immortal, it was a definite threat to his family’s safety.

 

 

        Kimura walked into Kyoto knowing that there were more than a few vampires in the city, just from the constant chatter he could hear in his mind. He was astounded at the size of the city, and the mass population in the streets at such a late hour. Kyoto had been a city he remembered as barely even worth noting. This wasn’t the only obvious change in the city.  

      Strolling down the middle of the street, cloaking his presence again, he stopped suddenly, “Ronin?” This was an interesting discovery. Walking towards Kimura, were Kyo and Hazuki, out on their nightly rounds of policing the business interests that Clan Aichi held in Kyoto, passing Kimura in the street without noticing the immortal.

      Deciding to discretely follow the two men, Kimura held back for a moment, waiting as the men made their way further down the street. He observed the men entering various businesses, speaking with the proprietors, then moving on to the next building.

     For Kyo’s part, his hyperawareness was creeping up his spine, he threw glances over his shoulder, stopping and looking around ever few yards.

      After multiple stops, Hazuki finally asked, “What’s wrong with you tonight?”

      “Not sure, but we’re being followed.” Kyo replied gruffly. Hazuki took this to be true, he knew Kyo would never assume without proof.

     “It’s an immortal, an unknown.” Kyo hissed. “Let’s split up, I’ll go down to Hiro’s place, you take Seigi’s shop.” With a curt nod, Hazuki turned and walked the opposite direction from Kyo.

      Kimura knew he had been sensed enough to be wary, which drew a light chuckle from the man. “Perceptive, are you? A credit to your ability as a warrior.” Deciding to follow the diminutive immortal, Kimura kept his presence cloaked, toying with Kyo by sending small thoughts out to him.

      “Asshole, just show yourself.” Kyo muttered, as his eyes darted around, looking intently on anyone he may suspect.

         Letting his thoughts seek out the small man’s mind, Kimura whispered, “Listen to me carefully.” Kyo heard the voice and whipped around, scanning the crowd behind him. Nothing.

          “Damn it, show yourself coward!” he growled. Hazuki came up behind Kyo, “Have you found him?”

        Kyo snorted, “No, but he’s fucking with me, too much of a coward to show himself.”  Reaching out, Hazuki grabbed his friend’s shoulder, “Reo needs to know about this.”    Pushing Kyo back towards the clan house, the two men silently walked through the streets.

          Kimura followed them at a safe distance, waiting to see where they were leading him. “Interesting, this is your nest then?” he surmised when he saw the large house, and the amount of immortals that were contained inside.

          As Kyo reached for the door, both he and Hazuki gasped, a voice in their minds.

          “Tell your leader that chaos is imminent and there will be a war with countless deaths of both mortals and immortals. When the time comes, I will present myself.”

          “I will tell him.” Kyo said aloud, knowing that the unknown immortal must be close enough for him to hear. “You’d better hope you’re on the right side of this war, Vampire.”

 

          Kimura’s heart felt heavy, he wanted nothing more than to return to Kagoshima, return to his loved ones and a peaceful existence. With a silent nod, the immortal rose into the air, and was lost in the clouds.

 

 

          “Are you sure it wasn’t them? Could they have altered their voice somehow?” Reo was suspect enough to accept that there was a new unknown immortal, randomly making himself known to simple clan members.

          “There was no hostility, just concealment of his thoughts. I know the filthy minds of Ryuichi and Yoshiki, this was neither of them.” Kyo paused, “If anything, it felt to me that he may be another Ancient, the heaviness of his thoughts was much like yours or Sakurai’s.”

          This was a startling assumption. Reo hoped that the man was wrong, “He did not mention any others?”

          “No.”

          Leaning back in his chair, Reo closed his eyes, “I need to speak to Sakurai, Morrie and Inoran. I don’t want a clan meeting, it’s much too disruptive and the actions tonight could mean nothing.”

          “Reo, do you think that wise? If this man is threatening war, shouldn’t we let the others know about it?” Jyou wasn’t sure she agreed with her clan leader.

          Asanao stepped forward, “I’m going to have to agree with Jyou on this, Reo. At the very least send a letter, or a messenger.”

          “Let me think on this for a bit, I don’t want to rashly send a disturbing letter if there is no warrant for it.”

         

          It had only taken him a few nights to arrive in Kyoto. Sitting on a low wall next to a canal, Hyde knew he would have to wait to be approached, letting one of Reo’s people come to him. It wasn’t more than an hour when Arimatsu came to him. “Hyde-san? This is unexpected.”

          “Arimatsu,” Hyde bowed, “yes, it is. I need to speak to Reo immediately please, this is not a social call.”  Arimatsu could hear the tension in Hyde’s voice. “Right, follow me please.”

          Nodding to those he knew as they made their way through the clan house, Arimatsu knocked once and opened the door to Reo’s office. “Hyde?”

          “I apologize for coming unannounced or unwelcomed, but I needed to speak to you about an incident that happened to me a few nights ago, it could be important, no…that’s not even close.”

          “Alright, and please, don’t worry about being here unannounced, we’re friends, Hyde.” Reo smiled.

          “Thank you for that, Reo,” he took a breath, “two nights ago I was in Nagano. I was having a bit of an argument with myself, which left me totally vulnerable and obviously stupid.”

          “We all get that way sometimes, please continue.”

          “I hadn’t sensed him before he was standing in the path in front of me,” Hyde shook his head, “his name is Kimura Keizo, and if my senses were correct, he’s an Ancient. I asked him what he wanted with me, and he said nothing, I was not who he was looking for. When I asked who he was searching for, he told me that it wasn’t important.”

          Leaning back into his chair, Hyde passed his hand over his eyes, “I was so upset with myself that I didn’t think to ask him anything else. He told me to listen to my own argument and join a clan. He turned to walk away and then stopped, ‘chaos is imminent’ is what he said, then he just walked away.”

          “What did he look like?” Hyde hadn’t noticed that both Kyo and Hazuki entered the room.

          “Rather tall, long hair and a rather out of date mustache and beard. He was dressed in current fashion, but gives the appearance of wealth. His clothing was of fine quality.”

          Reo looked over at Kyo and Hazuki, “Think this is the same one from earlier? His message was similar, it’s too much of a coincidence.”

          “What’s this? You’ve seen him here in Kyoto? When?” Hyde leaned forward placing his hand to steady himself, on Reo’s desk.

          Kyo scoffed, “He was too much of a coward to show himself, but as Reo has said, it’s too much of a coincidence not to be the same man.”

          Hyde shook his head, “I was taken by surprise when he just appeared in front of me, I had no time to sense anything, though…”

          “Yes?” Reo asked.

          “I did not feel any hostility from him, there was no danger in being in his presence, quite the opposite actually. I got a feeling of more of a concerned warning than a threat.”

          Reo looked at each of his clan chiefs, “What do you think? I want your honest opinion.”

          “Send messages to Sakurai, Morrie and Inoran. Tonight, do not wait.” Jyou was the first to speak.

          “I’ll have to agree with her, Reo. Even if this Kimura person isn’t a threat, he is telling us to be ready.”

          “What did he tell you?” Hyde looked at Kyo.

          “Tell your leader that chaos is imminent and there will be a war with countless deaths of both mortals and immortals. When the time comes, I will present myself.”

          “He didn’t speak, he sent the message through his thoughts.” Kyo glanced at Reo,

          “What do you want us to do?”

 

 

          Kimura Keizo touched down just outside the gates to his modest home in Kagoshima, glad to be out of the sweltering crowds of Kyoto. Kagoshima was still rural enough to give him a sense of serenity and control. There were no other immortals in the area, there never had been, save for the rampage by Ryuichi some two centuries before.

          “Tadaima,” he called out softly as he removed his shoes in the genkan. “Okaeri,” a young voice greeted him, “we’re in the kitchen.” Removing his hat and coat and hanging it in the genkan, Kimura made his way to the back of the house, “Are you preparing a meal?” he leaned in the doorway.

          “No, just cleaning up, but I saved some rice if you’d like some.” A small young lady, petite and pretty, was standing at the large stone sink, next to another young girl. “Papa, how was your trip?”

          Kimura kissed the first young woman, “I missed you,” he said breathlessly. Turning his attention to the girl, “Rika, it was uneventful for the most part. I do have to say, that Kyoto has turned into a large metropolis, hundreds of people in the streets, even as late as midnight.”

          Rika shuddered visibly. “I don’t think I’d like that. How can you even think with that many people around? Wouldn’t it make it harder to hunt?”

          “I would be careful if I had to hunt in a large city, especially with all the foreigners from the west.” Yuko mused.

          “Where are the others?” Kimura sat with a small bowl of rice.

          “Hiroto and Yukke are out with the horses, Hana and Kaya are in their rooms reading. Nobody really felt like leaving the house while you were gone,” Yuko bestowed a rather serious kiss on her mate, “we’re just glad you’re home.”

 

          Later that evening as Kimura and Yuko laid in bed, she had to know, “Did you find who you were looking for?” She prayed the answer was no, it frightened her to know that her mate was actively searching for her maker.

          “Yes and no. I did not come across Ryuichi or Yoshiki, but I did find where Sakurai Atsushi was living,” he pulled Yuko closer, “it seems that the man has a family much like ours. He has a blood spouse and there are other couples living with him.”

          Yuko was relieved, “I’m not going to lie, Keizo, I’m glad you didn’t find the other two.”

          He nuzzled her hair, “I did come across a young immortal, alone. He was having quite the amusing argument with himself. I didn’t say much, just told him to choose a clan, and to be wary of the chaos that will be coming.”

          “A clan? What do you mean by that?”

          Kimura chuckled, “It seems that groups of immortals are creating clans…large groups of immortals, living together for safety, I assume. I found two ronin who were joined to together in one of these clans. I also gave them the message, to give to their leaders.”

          Yuko sat up on her elbow and stared at Kimura, “Ronin? You’re joking.”

          Kimura shook his head, “No, and it appears that they were not the only ronin or samurai in their clan. That does bode well for them, if Ryuichi and Yoshiki carry out what they have planned…” He kissed his mate, “Please love, do not worry so. Those monsters will die by my hand, and they will no longer harm any more innocents.”

          Snuggling hard into Kimura, Yuko sighed, “I just hope that there are no younger one’s brought into the blood, like ours were.” That’s exactly what Kimura had resolved to keep from happening.

 

         

          “Reo-san, do you have a moment? I’d like to ask for temporary shelter within your clan.”

 

 

Yagami Toll   I saw this picture and knew that this was Kimura Keizo. 

Chapter Text

          “Will you tell them?”

          Sakurai folded the letter and put it in the drawer of his desk. “I’m not sure. Part of me wants them to be informed, the other side wants to shelter them from knowing the possibilities.” He knew that the constant heightened awareness, was wearing on the younger members of his family.

          Kai understood Sakurai’s position, “You should at least tell Uehara, he is our main security force, and to leave him out of the loop is not wise.”

          The announcement of Kimura’s existence had shocked Sakurai Atsushi, simply due to the belief he had always held, that he was the oldest of the Ancients. Suddenly there was now another, who was a complete unknown. The information from Reo about the warning Kimura had given, gave him some hope that the Ancient would be an ally, and not a foe. He also knew that it was Kimura whom he had sensed that night, lurking outside the estate.

          “Reo says he believes that there is no threat at this time. It seems that Kimura will show himself once this insipid war begins, which leads me to believe that he has no intention on harming anyone.”

          Kai picked up on Sakurai’s thoughts, “If he is indeed older than you, what does that say about his power? Who is his maker, and are there yet other immortals that are even older still? Will you reach out to him?”

          Sakurai sighed wearily, resting his head in his hand, “Kai, I don’t have the answers. Yes, he could be more powerful than any of us, even Ryuichi. We don’t know how many immortals there are in the world, and I seriously doubt we are the only vampires in existence, that would be pompous and arrogant to believe.”

          “Would they be blood born by either Ryuichi or Yoshiki?” Kai asked, he did not like the unknown, “Acchan, could there be others that want to kill us? I’m worried that there will be immortals from other country’s that some how those monsters have either brought into the blood or recruited.”

          “KAI!” Sakurai snapped, “Kai-kun, please…do not fill your head with unknown possibilities,” he sighed, “that does nothing but cause problems, and the others could pick up on it. I’m sure that when the time comes, we will have some sort of plan in place to deal with whatever those two throw at us. We can only hope that Kimura will be against them as well.”

 

 

          For Inoran and his small family, the discovery of another Ancient was puzzling, Yusuke especially not understanding how Kimura’s existence had eluded them.

          He was not satisfied with the idea that the Ancient was of no threat, “Where has he been hiding all these centuries and who is his maker? How could you or Sakurai not know of this man?”

          Like Reo, Inoran was also confused, “I have no idea, my love. Perhaps he has been living outside the country? As for his age, we have no idea just how old he is.”

          “You’re taking this awfully well, Inoran.” Heath pointed out.

          “There is no reason to become alarmed. Reo states that the man is of no threat and I believe him, and that Kimura simply informed us that he will be present during whatever conflict Ryuichi and Yoshiki bring.”

          Rin had been sitting quietly up til then, not interrupting her elders, “Father, do you believe he means to help us, when the war comes?”

          Inoran spoke carefully, “I do, he has indicated that he will be present, that he will show himself. My concern is mostly on who his maker is, if he is an Ancient, that means it would be Ryuichi.”

          Heath face darkened, “Would that make Kimura, Ryuichi’s actual first born, and not Sakurai?”

          “Yes, and that would give him tremendous power, more than any of us have ever witnessed.”

          “That power…it could mean absolute devastation.” Heath turned and looked at Rin.

          “Is there a plan in place for the young ones? You know that those monsters would take great joy in killing them in front of us.” Heath reached over and took Rin’s hand in his. This was something Inoran had been thinking of, yet he had no answers.

          “Nothing as of yet, but I will be in contact with Reo and Sakurai within the month.”

 

 

           

          The next four years had gone by with no words or sightings of either Ryuichi or Yoshiki, although there had been rumors of Sugizo, they had been vague at best. This was an uneasy time for the four clans; wanting to believe that the two immortals had stopped their rampages, though it was more likely that Ryuichi and Yoshiki were creating an army of rogue vampires.

 

 

            In late 1897, a clan meeting had been organized and was to be hosted by Morrie, they had still not met either Rin or Yume, and it seemed appropriate for the introductions, and to have a more festive gathering.

          “I want no scheming or nonsense from you and Ayato, is that clear? I know it’s been a while since you’ve seen each other, but that does not give you a pass on creating a disturbance, so keep your shenanigans to a minimum, or I’ll let Kyo discipline you as well.” Sakurai had taken Uta aside, and spoken to him sternly, much to his blood spouse’s dismay.

          “We don’t really do anything harmful, Acchan. Aya and I just worry about those that don’t have mates, like Aoi-san.” Uta sulked.

          “Aoi is a grown ass man, who doesn’t need two teenage boys interfering in his love life, Uta. I don’t want you to embarrass us or yourselves, please baby, for me?”

          Uta smiled, “Fine, I promise Ayato and I will not cause you, or Reo any embarrassment during the meeting. Happy?”

 

 

          Reo had decided not to include Asanao, Suzuki or Nakamura, with them on the journey, “I need you to keep everything in order while we’re gone. I don’t trust that Sugizo won’t try to make an appearance.” The three men really had no qualms about staying behind, “It will be nice to have some peace and quiet, away from everyone, ne Asanao?” Suzuki treasured his clan members, but with most of them living in the same house, the noise of the evening was sometimes too much to bear.

          “If you mean Ayato and Akinori, yes…it will be nice to have the house to ourselves.” Asanao had no reason to go to Tokyo, there was no one there he wanted to see, and he felt more comfortable in the presence of as few immortals as possible.

          He assured Reo that he was fine being left behind, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to keep you apprised if anything is heard or seen, please just go and have a good time, give my regards to the others.”

         

 

          “Rin-chan, would you please stop! You can not take every single piece of clothing you own. Choose a few outfits and that will suffice,” Yusuke scolded his tiny clan mate, as the girl was throwing clothes on her bed, trying to decide what to take.

          “Niisan, you don’t understand! There’s going to be other girls there, close to my age that I’ve never met, I need to make a good first impression.” Rin said over her shoulder. “Besides, it’s not like you don’t take a lot of clothes, you’re just as bad as I am. I’ve seen your bag.”

          Heath leaned in, “Rin, take what you need, not what you want. Remember, you’re not carrying it, your horse is. Do you think that Niko would appreciate carrying a heavy load all the way to Tokyo?”

          “You don’t play fair, Heath.” Rin whined, “fine, I’ll only take what I need, but if they laugh at me for wearing the same thing for days, it’s your fault!”

          “Nobody is going to laugh at you,” Heath walked over and put his arms around Rin, “everyone is just going to be excited to meet you; they’re not going to care what you’re wearing.”

          The years since Rin had joined Inoran’s clan had been mostly pleasant, apart from the demands by the young girl, that Heath and Yusuke reconcile, which did not happen quickly nor smoothly. Inoran had vowed not to interfere while the two men he loved the most argued loudly the first week of working out their problems.

          “You came to my bed just as quick as I went to yours, I will not accept absolute responsibility for any of this, Yusuke.” Heath argued one evening, while sitting in the garden.

          Yusuke looked incredulous, “Yes, but the problem was YOU wanted to stay in my bed, regardless of my feelings for Inoran, that’s where it became your fault!”

          “That’s absurd, I wanted what was best for you, and at that time it was me. I’m sorry if you don’t see it that way.”

          Yusuke made a rude sound, “You were the best for me? No, Heath. Inoran was and has always been, what’s best for me.”

          “Both of you are idiots.” Neither men, saw Rin standing on the engawa, watching the argument. “Who cares who’s responsible for what? You both screwed up, had sex with each other and then broke up because Inoran’s illness was treated.” She stepped down and stood in front of the two men.

          Heath’s face flushed with embarrassment, “It’s not that…”

          “Yes, it is that simple, what part of ‘you had consensual sex with each other’, don’t you understand?” Rin shot back.

          Yusuke cleared his throat, “Rin-chan, you don’t understand adult relationships, it’s much more complicated than that.”

          She stepped down into the garden, “Oh? Well then explain to me Niisan, just what part of it don’t I understand? I’m sixteen…okay well I was sixteen, I’m not a child nor am I stupid, I do understand that the feelings between you and Heath were mixed and confused.”

          The two men exchanged looks. “She’s right you know,” Heath smirked, “I think she understands it better than we do…or did at the time.”

          Throwing his head back and groaning, Yusuke hated to admit that this tiny young girl, could see right through his protestations and arguments, and hit him right in the heart.

          Without warning, Yusuke grabbed Rin around the waist and started to tickle her,

          “You’re an annoying precocious child that is just too smart for your own good!” Rin was shrieking, calling for Heath to help her, which of course he ignored.

          Inoran heard the commotion, wondering why his daughter was screaming, “What’s all this?”

          The tickling stopped, Rin breathing hard with tears in her eyes, “Yusuke was just um…”

          “I was reminding her that she has a pert mouth and a sickening way of always being right.” Yusuke kissed the girl on the cheek, then let her stand.

          “Oh? Well I’m glad someone is taking this seriously.” Inoran’s heart swelled, it almost brought him to tears, to see his little family happy and living together in relative harmony.

           

 

          Slowly weaving his way through the crowded streets of Tokyo, Hyde was still amazed at the swelling population in the capital city. It was near midnight and the streets were still crowded with shoppers, theater patrons, and all means of vehicles. “Don’t you people sleep?” he muttered to himself.

          After the incident with Kimura, Hyde had taken shelter with Reo’s clan for some months, learning what it meant to live with a large group of immortals. It was trying at times; there was little time for privacy, the relationship antics between some of the couples, were amusing, but overall the experience was tiring. When he had finally had enough, he went to Reo with his decision.

          “While I greatly appreciate your invitation to join Clan Aichi, I feel that I must decline. It is nothing personal, but I believe I will return to Tokyo, and perhaps join Morrie’s clan, though I will not live at the estate.”

          Reo nodded, he had been expecting this, “Any particular reason you’re choosing to go to Tokyo?”

          “Yes, actually. There are members of Morrie’s clan that I am familiar with, we had spent time together and while we were not close, we were friendly, and I still feel a connection with Daisuke and You.”

          This was not surprising. Reo had noticed that Hyde was usually alone in the evening, taking his meals with the others, but then going off by himself to hunt or to walk the streets of Kyoto. “I understand, and I am not offended. My house can be rather loud and obnoxious, so much so that at times even I seek to be alone.”

 

          His acceptance into Clan Otsuka was not completely unexpected. Morrie greeted Hyde, “Welcome to the family.” He said before hearing Hyde’s other request.

          “I will however, decline living with you here at the estate. I feel that it is still in my nature to be a selfish man, and I do prefer to live alone. I’m sure that I will be able to find a suitable home within a few days, if I could beg for your hospitality until such time.”

          “Hyde, there is no need for such formality. I understand and agree with you, living with such a large family is not for everyone.” Unfortunately for Hyde, the clan gathering was the following week, giving him little time to find a suitable home.

          During an evening meal, Shinya approached Hyde, “Hyde-san? Do you have a moment?” Shinya explained that during his outings into the city, he had come across a few smaller homes that may be suitable for the diminutive vampire.

          “I believe the one closest to the Inari Shrine would be the more suitable one for you. It does have an interior room that can easily be darkened further for the day.” Hyde thanked Shinya, and made plans to tour the property the next evening.

          Walking through the small house, Hyde was struck by the simplicity of its design, almost as if it had been built for or by an immortal. It had more than one room, that could be used for sleeping, a kitchen that was set up well and even a small garden at the back of the property. “Who else has lived here?” Hyde wondered.

          Inquiring at the land office, Hyde was told that the house had been empty for decades, but kept in repair, “We were really just waiting for the right buyer, and it seems that you are just that person.” Signing the papers, Hyde was presented with a key and a congratulation as the new owner of the house.

          Returning to Morrie’s home, Hyde packed what few items he had, thanked his guest and made it a point to thank Shinya personally. “I will be forever in your debt, Shinya-kun, thank you.” With a deep bow, Hyde left the manor and made his way to his new home.

          “That was very nice of you,” Miya walked up behind his lover, sliding his arms around his waist. Shinya leaned his head back, sneaking a quick kiss in, “I understand how it is to want solitude and quiet,” he turned to face Miya, “there were times in my life that I wanted just that, so I understood Hyde’s needs.”

          “What about my needs?”

          “Why don’t you tell me about those specific needs.”

 

 

          Rin and Yume stared at each other for a moment, then with a tiny cry, Rin ran over and grabbed Yume in a tight hug, “I’m so glad you’re here!” she said in a teary voice. Yume slowly returned Rin’s hug, “I am too, now I don’t feel so alone.”

Chapter Text

 

          Morrie was stunned, “You’ve done all this in four years? I’m impressed.”

          “I’ve had to adapt. The business operations I’ve had in the past were no longer viable, so I’ve had to be clever and create new ways to make money. My clan has been labeled Yakuza and that’s not acceptable, however, it is somewhat accurate.” Reo grinned.

          The commonality of interests during the gathering, had centered on the topic of how the clans would continue to survive in the pre-dawn of a new century. The country was wrestling with the rapid encroachment from the west, which influenced every aspect of daily life for Japan’s population.

          Sakurai wasn’t convinced, “Why ryokans?”

          “Why not?” Reo countered.

          “I can think of a dozen reasons, most of them involving just how high risk this is. You’re exposing yourself and your clan members to being discovered as vampires.”

          Inoran shifted uncomfortably in his chair, “Gentlemen, we should not question each other’s professions. Simply stated, we can not continue to live as we have in the past. For Reo, that includes changing his business practices.”

          “Acchan, we have to be able to survive, as Inoran says. I was not wealthy before being brought into the blood, as you and Morrie were. I’ve had to scrape and fight my way into being a good provider for my clan. I have been wise with the money I’ve made, and have invested in different projects, but this was an opportunity to have a legitimate business that would benefit both immortals and mortals”

          Inoran cleared his throat, “Gentlemen, it is getting late and I’d like to see what Rin is up to, considering she is with your two delinquent young men,” he teased Sakurai and Reo. “We can pick up this discussion later, I have some of my own interesting news.”

 

 

          Covering her hand to stifle a sob, Yume was horrified as she listened to Rin and Naoto tell their stories on how they had been brought into the blood. Naoto held Rin’s hand, as the young girl cried, “He seemed so nice during dinner, he was no different than any other guest.”

          “That’s how they trap you, they make it seem like they’re interested in you, Ryuichi did the same to me at first.” Naoto sniffed. “But he raped me while my body died, he killed my sisters in front of me.”

          “Sugizo just left me, when Baba found me, she thought I had died,” Rin explained, “after she figured out what had happened, she told me about the vampires that she knew existed. I didn’t believe her at first, but after awhile I had to learn to live.”

          Yume reached out and took Rin’s other hand, “I’m not certain I was raped, but Imai could have. I don’t even remember leaving the ryokan, I just woke up like this.” Scooting closer, Naoto leaned into Rin, slipping her arm around the young girl’s waist, Yume doing the same. “You both can put that behind you, you’re safe now, the clan leaders will protect us,” she looked at Rin, “I’m sure Heath and Yusuke are over protective big brothers, ne?” she giggled.

          Rin snorted, “When they’re not trying to kill each other. They still have arguments about the past, but it’s getting better.”  Wiping the tears away, Rin looked at Naoto, “So tell me about Uta and Ayato, I heard Acchan warning Uta to behave, is he a problem?”

          Naoto groaned, “Those two boys are nothing but trouble when they are together, they’re always scheming and trying to find partners for anyone that’s unmated, he’s not really that bad, but don’t let his immortal age fool you, he’s still a rowdy teenage boy, so is Ayato.” Naoto smiled.

           “Ayato’s pretty…I don’t think I’ve ever seen a boy that beautiful before. What’s his story?” Rin blushed.

          Naoto explained the situation with Ayato, the fact that he was the child of a geisha, and how he came to be blood born and the regrettable incident with Issay, “Kyo looks scary, but he keeps Ayato in line though, and they’re cute together.”

         

 

          Sitting quietly at the end of the long table, Aoi watched as the others engaged in teasing and light hearted conversations. Sato and Aiko with their heads together, Kyo reprimanding Ayato for something, and Morrie and Tatsu sharing small kisses. Aoi was content, or so he frequently told himself. He had no need for a mate, nor was a blood spouse high on his priority list.

          “Aoi-san, what do you think of Yume and Rin?” Jyou had surreptitiously watched the young man throughout the evening meal, sitting across from the melancholic immortal.

          “She seems like a perfectly nice girl…a bit timid perhaps. Rin on the other hand, you can tell she’s been living with Yusuke and Heath,” he chuckled.

          “Oh, how’s that?” Jyou was interested in how the others were viewing the two newest members.

          “She has a sassy attitude with Yusuke,” Aoi leaned forward, “Heath is wrapped around her finger, but he doesn’t let her get away with anything, he calls her out when she’s being a brat. Inoran is hopelessly in love with all three of them. It’s nice to see them happy.”

          Jyou rested her chin in her hand, “And are you happy?”

          Aoi sat back, “What do you mean, am I happy?”

          “Just making conversation, nothing more.” She knew when to back off, “It seems that Ayato and Uta have been corralled,” looking over at the two young men, who were uncharacteristically quiet and sitting with their spouses.

          Aoi was indifferent to the antics of the two young men, “Are they usually a problem?”

          Did she tell him? “Well, they’ve been known to play matchmaker, or at least they try to. Kyo usually reins in Ayato, and Sakurai has his own methods to deal with Uta, I think we all tend to forget their ages when they were blood born.”

          Jyou looked around the room, “You’re still fairly young, both in your natural age, and your immortality, it’s been what? Less than one hundred years for you?”

          Aoi closed his eyes for a moment, “Seventy-seven years, and I was twenty-eight, Sato was twenty-six, thankfully we were both adults.” He looked at Jyou, “I honestly can’t imagine what Rin and Yume, or any of the other young ones have gone through being blood born when you’re basically still a child.”

          Aoi eyes narrowed warily, “Why are you telling me all this, Jyou? What are you hinting at, that perhaps I should consider either Rin or Yume as a potential mate? You just stated yourself, that they are children, regardless of how long they’ve been immortal. What is your point?” Aoi was becoming testy and irritated.

          Looking at the young man sitting across from her, Jyou could see and hear the pain of loneliness in Aoi’s voice. “No, I do not believe that either Rin or Yume would make a good mate for you. I guess I’m just telling you not to close yourself off to the prospect of finding a mate, someone to love. It does make immortality a bit more pleasant, believe me.” She looked over at Hazuki who was in deep conversation with Kai, waving his hands around as he spoke.

          He’d had enough, pushing back his chair and abruptly getting to his feet, “I don’t need to be reminded of that Jyou, it’s painfully obvious,” he looked at Sato and Aiko, who were holding hands and speaking with Miya and Shinya. With a short bow, Aoi left the room.

          “Is everything okay?” Hazuki had caught the end of the interaction between his mate and Aoi, “Yes, just putting a little seed in the man’s mind, before Ayato and Uta get to him.”

         

 

          After the hunt the next evening, Aiko and You approached the younger girls, and Uehara, “If it’s acceptable with Uehara-san, would you like to go shopping for some new clothes?”

          The giggles and shrieks were the only answer they needed, after asking their clan leaders for their blessings. Sakurai and Morrie waved them off, “Don’t spend too much, remember your horse has to carry your packages.” Inoran reminded Rin.  

          “Yume, why didn’t you tell me you needed new clothes?” Sakurai reached out and took the girl by the hand, “We could have gone shopping at any time.”

         “Sakurai-san? Don’t take this the wrong way, but girls don’t need to necessarily buy clothes when shopping, it’s enough for us to just go in and look,” Aiko took Yume by the hand, “It’s a girl thing, you wouldn’t understand.”

         The immortals grouped up, and with Kai and Uehara acting as escorts, they went into town for some evening entertainment.  “Shopping for clothes is now a girl thing?” Sakurai whispered to himself.

 

 

           “We need to go now, Kai…” Uehara hissed at his companion, he had felt the eyes of an unknown immortal, following the group as they shopped.

          Kai looked around, he also sensed the unknown immortal, “Carefully, I do not want to alarm them.”

          Wearing a cheerful smile, Kai went into the shop, “We need to get home, it’s getting late.” Without much complaining, Kai ushered the young immortals out of the shop, stopping to bow to the owner, “Thank you for your service.”

          Remaining as casual as possible, Uehara took up the rear position, with Kai leading the group, gaily talking to Yume about her purchases. As the group turned the corner that lead to the manor, they were hit with a blast of icy wind coming in from the west. Uta’s steps faltered, his breath hitched as he felt the gaze of something evil.

          “Uta, what’s wrong?” Ayato was clutching his package to his chest, turning when Uta was no longer next to him.

          Quickly covering his fear, Uta smiled at his friend, “Nothing,” he shivered, “that wind just hit me right in the face, it’s getting very cold, isn’t it?” Uta bumped shoulders with Ayato.

          Rin was whispering to Aiko, looking back at Ayato when her eyes suddenly went wide, her hand shot out and roughly grabbed the woman by the arm.

          “Rin?” Aiko winced.

          “INORAN!” the girl screamed, “HEATH… he’s here, don’t let him take me!” Tearing away from Aiko, Rin dropped her package, and ran towards the manor, leaving Kai and Uehara to frantically check their surroundings, anticipating an attack.

          Inoran was in the middle of a conversation with Yusuke, when he heard Rin’s voice in his head. “Rin?”

          “What’s…” Yusuke started to reach for Inoran, but the man was running towards the door, “Wait!”

          He wasn’t the only one that was running; Heath had distinctly heard Rin’s scream for help, bolting out of the barn where he had been visiting the horses, “Where are you…?” he sent out the thought, but heard nothing but scrambled static in his brain.  Just as he reached the gate, Rin came into view, screaming and running as she sees him, “Heath!” the girl ran into his arms. “He’s here!”

          “Rin,” Inoran was relieved to see his daughter in Heath’s arms, cupping her face, he looked into the girl’s eyes, “Who, Rin, who is here?”

          “Sugizo,” she whimpered. Before he could ask another question, Kai and Uehara came towards them, “It’s Sugizo, he’s in the city and he knows where we are,” Kai said sharply.

          The scene in the courtyard was chaotic. Rin in Heath’s arms, sobbing into the man’s neck, Sakurai, Reo and Morrie looking for their loved ones in the confusion. Kai went straight to Reo once they had closed the gates, “Sugizo’s somewhere in the city, both Uehara and I sensed him just as we were getting ready to return.”

          “Are you sure it was Sugizo?”

          “Based on Rin’s reaction, I can’t think of anyone else it would be.” Kai said grimly.  

          Herding everyone into the house, Reo held back the stronger of their group. “I want Kyo, Arimatsu, Hazuki and Miya, you will man the front gate,” he barked orders, “Aoi, Sato, Ryo and Uehara, cover the back. We still have some hours before dawn.” Without questions, the men left to cover the vulnerable sections of the estate, knowing that their loved ones were safe.

          In the living room, Rin was still in Heath’s arms, still crying as the man murmured soft words to her as they sat together in a large wingback chair.

          “Rin, tell us what happened.” Sakurai asked softly as he squatted down in front of the girl.

          Rin shook her head, “He knows where I am, he’s going to take me away.” Looking to Kai, Sakurai mouthed ‘what happened’.

          “Uehara and I both sensed someone, but it wasn’t until Rin’s reaction that we knew for sure it was Sugizo. We tried to keep quiet about it, but with Rin’s reaction, it was obvious that we were in danger.”

          “Did anyone see him?” Reo’s face was set in anger.

          Kai frowned, “No, we didn’t.” Sakurai swore under his breath.

          Morrie was trying to calm the frazzled nerves of everyone in the house, “Heath, take Rin upstairs, if you please, Naoto and Yume stay with her. Heath, I want you back down here if we need reinforcements.”

          Sakurai and Inoran joined Morrie, “…we don’t know yet for certain…” Morrie said, trying to answer all the questions that were being thrown at him. Inoran stepped in, much to Morrie’s relief.

          “Rin claims that Sugizo is in the city … I take her word on it, as he is her maker.” Inoran wearily sat down in the nearest chair.

          Morrie held up his hand to quiet the room, “Reo has secured the property for now. We have about three hours left until dawn, please take this time to eat a late meal, it may be a few nights before we can hunt.”

 

          Skirting the property looking for any potential weak spots, Reo sees Kyo and waves him over, “Do you believe he’s still in the city?”

          Kyo huffed, “No, if he is, the bastard’s gone to ground,” he looked around, “how’s the girl?”

          “Not quite hysterical, I’m sure Kai has made his special tea for her. The others are upset, for good reason, we just do not have a clue as to what to expect.”

           “I can tell you that I’ve heard the onmyoji reaching out to us. Not sure what to think, he didn’t sound frantic or frightened.” Reo gave Kyo a curt nod, “Alright, I’m returning to the house.”  With a quick stop to speak to Uehara, Reo was assured that there would be no invasion of Morrie’s estate by anyone, let alone Sugizo.

          Storming into the house, Reo yelled, “MORRIE!” walking into the large living room he finds the immortal. “We forgot about Isshi. Kyo reported hearing him calling for us, but also said Isshi doesn’t seem frightened.”

          Morrie rubbed his eyes; it was only two hours until dawn.

          Taking Reo by the arm, Morrie went out into the courtyard, “Do we send someone to the shrine to retrieve him? I’d feel much better if he was with us here.”  Reo struggled with an answer, “I don’t like it. If we send someone, they must be older… no one younger than two hundred years.”

          “I’ll go,” before Reo could object, Morrie lifted quickly into the air, disappearing in the clouds in seconds, “DAMN IT, Morrie!” Reo shouted at the sky.

         

          Stepping down lightly in an inner courtyard of the shrine, Morrie called out to Isshi loudly, “ISSHI!”

          A soft voice came from behind him, “Morrie-san, I’m so glad you heard my calls, there is someone…has he approached you?”

          “No, it was Rin who sensed him first, and it frightened her badly, Reo has put my home on lock down.”

           Morrie searched the onmyoji’s face, “It’s Sugizo, please Isshi come and stay at the house until we know Sugizo is no longer a threat, I’d feel much better knowing you were safe.” He knew it was futile, Isshi would not leave the shrine.

          “Thank you for your offer, Morrie, but I must respectfully decline. If Sugizo starts to wreak havoc in the city, I must stay to help those who will be injured in the attacks, and I must defend the shrine.”

          With a heavy sigh, Morrie nodded, “I understand, but please feel free to call again, and if you must leave the shrine, know that my home is open to you. I’d like to see you after Sugizo has left the city, as well.”   Isshi watched in amazement as Morrie rose into the air once again, “Beautiful…you truly are, a dark angel.”

 

          Greeting Morrie as he entered the house, Inoran knew without asking, “He said no, didn’t he?” He hadn’t put much faith in the onmyoji accepting Morrie’s hospitality.

          Morrie nodded, “He said no, he wants to be available to the citizens if there is an attack. I truly can’t blame him; his loyalty lays with the shrine first. How is Rin?” Morrie was concerned with the young girl.

           Inoran smiled, “Sleeping thankfully. Kai gave her some of his special tea, and she calmed down and dropped off quickly. I worry about what tomorrow evening will bring.” 

           Clapping the smaller man on the shoulder, Morrie started towards the stairs, “Let us seek our beds, we will need to be well rested if he brings trouble to my door.”

Chapter Text

           “Can we kill him?”

          “I’d rather that you didn’t, unless it is unavoidable.”

          “Well that takes the fun out of this.” Kyo grumbled. The day had passed peacefully, with no attack by Sugizo or anyone else. After the clans had hunted, (which they did in trios) Reo gathered Kyo, Hazuki and Uehara in the dining room, and assigned them a job.

          “Find him if you can, and question him. I want to know why he’s here and what he has planned.” Reo instructed the men. “Please Kyo, do not antagonize him, he is unpredictable and I’d rather not have a clan war in the middle of Tokyo.”

          “If he attacks first, I can kill him, right?” Kyo asked eagerly. Reo sighed, “Yes, if he attacks first, feel free to dispose of him, but do it discretely and out of the public eye.” With the possible opportunity to kill Sugizo, Kyo left the manor in high spirits.

 

          The day had thankfully passed without incident, leaving the clan leaders in better spirits now that they were rested. Heath checked on Rin, peeking into her room and seeing his little sister sitting in bed with Yume. “Everything alright?”

          “Yes, Nissan…I’m fine. You can stop mothering me now.” Rin giggled. Heath’s spirits were lifted when he heard Rin’s laugh, “Fine, if you need anything, I’ll be downstairs.”

          Yume blushed as she watched Heath close the door, Rin noticing immediately. “I love you Yume, but forget about Niisan. He isn’t interested in a mate, let alone a female mate.”

          “I can look! He’s handsome, I never said I wanted him as a mate, Rin. I’m too young anyways.”

          Rin fell over on the bed, “I think Aoi-san is the most handsome of the unmated men, his eyes are so dark and kind of sad.”

          “Mm, I saw him last night speaking with Jyou, whatever they were talking about, he seemed to get a little angry, and then left the room.” Yume said.

          Aoi wasn’t hiding per se, but he was making himself as scarce as possible, and his intentions were to avoid Jyou at all costs.  Going over what the woman had said to him, asking him if he was happy, Aoi knew she saw through his façade of strength. All he had to do was look at Sato and Aiko, and how anyone could miss that he was lonely, was beyond him. He never let Sato see that, the last thing he wanted was Sato feeling guilty for being happy.

          It wasn’t that it was easier to be alone, Aoi did not want to get into a relationship, just for the sake of being with someone. He figured that at some point, he may find someone that he would love enough to spend eternity with, but nobody had even come close to fulfilling his desires. 

 

          Senses heighten, Kyo and his companions made their way slowly towards the Inari Shrine, Reo ordering them to check on Isshi. “He won’t leave the shrine, but I want to make sure he’s safe. That bastard Sugizo would likely kill the man just to spite us.”

          For Kyo, the insured safety of the onmyoji had hit him deeply, “He never asked to be an immortal, at least he doesn’t have to live like we do. Offering our protection is the least we can do for the man.”

          This surprised Hazuki, “Wait, you’re going soft over Isshi? What’s wrong with you?”

          “Nothing’s wrong with me asshole,” Kyo snapped, “I just feel like we owe him some protection, is there something wrong with that?”

          Hazuki’s brow furrowed, “No, there’s nothing wrong with it, but you’re lying, there’s something else behind this, isn’t there?” He got no answer from Kyo.

          Climbing the stairs to the temple, the immortals were keenly aware that they were being watched, “It’s not Isshi…” Uehara whispered.

          “No, it’s not the fake immortal.” A voice loudly announced as they topped the staircase. Sugizo was standing in the center of the courtyard. “Konbanwa, gentlemen, so pleased to see you again.”  Taking a defensive stance, Kyo glared at Sugizo.

          “What the hell do you want, asshole? Why have you come to Tokyo?”

          Sugizo laughed, “What I want and why I’m here in the city, is none of your concern, I’m surprised that Reo let you come alone to face me, is he scared?”

          “Why don’t you come back with us to the estate, and we’ll see how just how scared Reo is, I’m sure he’d like to speak to you directly.” Uehara teased.

          Looking at the man, Sugizo sneered, “You must not be much of a warrior, if you let a hitokiri almost kill you. Those tattoos do nothing to prove your worthiness as a fighter.” Kyo took a step closer, “Don’t do it,” Uehara put his arm in front of his companion.

          “Where’s Isshi?” Hazuki demanded.

          “I’m assuming he’s hiding, he may be immortal, but he would not survive an attack by me. Who cares about some little backwater onmyoji? Is he that precious to you now?” Sugizo said arrogantly.

          Kyo shoved Uehara’s arm away, “Come on, let’s you and me play,” he takes a few steps forward.

          The other immortal smirked, “Think again little man, remember who my maker is,”

          Laughing, Kyo took a few more steps, “You’re not Inoran’s first born, you have the same power as I do, I was born of an Ancient as well, as was Hazuki. Oh, and did you know that we’re all ronin? You were never anything more than a street rat, a homeless kid that leeched on to Reo’s operations. Yes, Sugizo, we know all about your past.”

          Kyo’s comments seemed to trigger something in the other immortal, as he stepped forward, growling and looking to strike, “I don’t fucking think so…”
          “STOP THIS INSTANT!”  Inoran appeared suddenly and was standing between the two parties, “We will not defile this shrine with the violence of immortals.”

          Taking a step back, Sugizo hissed at his maker, “Why are you siding with them? I am your child; you are my maker…why?”

          “Did you really think I would greet you with open arms? You stalked my daughter last night, you frightened young ones that have nothing to do with any of this.”

          “So, you’ve adopted that little mistake of mine? I thought she had died; I was surprised when I caught her scent. Well it’s nice to know I have at least one minion that I can count on.”  It was a moment before Inoran fully came to grips with what Sugizo was thinking.

           Seeing Inoran’s face as he figured out what he was implying, amused Sugizo, “Give her to me, and I will leave, no harm done to anyone. Refuse me and it’s on your head what devastation I will bring down on this city.”

          The Ancient’s eyes glowed red, “You think you can threaten me?” Inoran took a step closer, his power building with every passing moment, “you have no idea what I’m capable of, Sugizo. Your creation was a mistake, you were never meant to be immortal. You have neither the fortitude or soul to live decently for eternity.”

          “YOU MADE ME LIKE THIS!” Sugizo screamed.

          Inoran chuckled, “I was mentally ill at the time, I had no idea who you were or what you had planned. If I had known that you were looking to be blood born strictly for revenge, and I was of sound mind, I would have killed you where you stood.”

          Sugizo growled again, “I told you why I wanted to be brought into the blood, and you agreed to do it. My eternity is on your shoulders, anything I do will be your fault, you are my maker and you can not escape that fact. I am Rin’s maker…she belongs with ME!”

          Taking one step closer, Inoran raised his hand, “If you come anywhere near me, my family or any of the other clans, I will burn you where you stand. I will set you ablaze and I will revel in your destruction.”

          Kyo stepped next to Inoran, “Leave Sugizo, and do not return. My master and the other leaders will not be so forgiving the next time you’re seen, and you will never have Rin as your own. I will lay down my life for that child.”

          “This is not over, Master. I will have that girl and you will gladly give her to me when the time comes. Mark my words, Inoran, this is not the end.” Sugizo glared at the other immortals then swiftly lifted into the sky.

          “Coward,” Kyo scoffed, turning to Inoran he gave him a look that Inoran couldn’t quite understand, “How did you know we found him?”

          Inoran shrugged, “He called to me. I heard his voice and he threatened violence against you, I had no idea what the situation was, so I just came.”

          Isshi walked up to the men, “I was worried for a moment that there would be bloodshed, I’m pleased that was avoided.” He turned to Inoran, “At least now I know that I will be able to recognize him if he returns.”

          Isshi’s eyes clouded over for a moment, then widened. “His mind is different,” he announced.

          “What do you mean?” Inoran asked.

          “He will come against you, and he will harm those you love. But he will not be destroyed by you, that task has been chosen for someone else.”  

         

 

          “That son of a bitch thinks he can threaten me and live?” Sugizo covered the miles from the city to the sea in a matter of minutes, setting down on the docks that crowded Tokyo Bay. Without hesitation or thought, Sugizo started randomly grabbing people from the docks, tearing their throats out and throwing the bodies into the sea, the screams cut short with a gurgle.

          “YOU WILL ASSIST ME NOW. IF NOT YOU I WANT RYUICHI! YOU WILL COME TO ME” his mind screamed his demands to Yoshiki, who he had no knowledge of his whereabouts. With the rampage of death ending, Sugizo once again lifted into the air and disappeared as quickly as a hawk.

 

          Kaoru kept his eyes closed; it was the only way he could pretend that Yoshiki wasn’t abusively fucking him. His cries of pain were heard as moans of pleasure by his Master, but the pain suddenly ended, Yoshiki cursing as he pushed Kaoru away.

          “Why is he screaming at me? What does this fool want now?” Grabbing the sides of his head, Yoshiki tried to block out the mental screaming from Sugizo. “Master? Are you ill?” Kaoru reached out and touched the man on the arm.

          Yoshiki quickly slapped the hand away, “No, I am not ill,” he said harshly, “but if this fool does not stop his demanding cries, I may have to leave and end his begging.” Getting off the bed, Yoshiki shuffled over to the large bay window.

          Kaoru follows his master’s movements with burning eyes. Fearful of a beating, he stays silent, waiting for Yoshiki’s next command, yet yearning for the immortal’s touch. Kaoru’s a captive, used and abused with sex, promised and lied to until he had no will power or sense of self, to resist his master’s demands.

          In his first year as an immortal, Kaoru had been lulled into believing that Yoshiki had loved him, cared for him and wanted him by his side as an equal, the man’s affectionate ministrations were heaped onto Kaoru, Yoshiki proclaiming his love every time they had sex.

        It all had come crumbling down one evening when Kaoru had botched a kill during a hunt. Kaoru was still uncertain of himself when he hunted, he did not kill his victims as Yoshiki often did. It was that proclivity of leaving his victims alive, that triggered the first night of abuse.

        Bending over his victim, the young woman looked into Kaoru’s eyes just as he bent to sink his fangs into her breast, “Please, don’t kill me… please…” she whimpered. Kaoru shushed the woman, “Close your eyes, it will be over in a moment,” he whispered to her.

         His whisper wasn’t quiet enough, Yoshiki overhearing Kaoru’s promise, “You must be joking?” Yoshiki walked up and grabbed Kaoru by the shoulder, throwing the man several feet into a wall. Kaoru struggled to sit up just as his master had the woman in his arms, “This is going to hurt,” he sneered at the woman, tearing her throat out before she could scream. Dropping the limp body, Yoshiki walked over to Kaoru, bending down and picking him up by the front of the shirt.

         Dragging Kaoru back to their room, the violence started that night, and ended with Yoshiki raping him. It wasn’t sex, or love…it was rape. “You think you can just take the little drink and leave them alive and happy? Perhaps I should give you to Sakurai or Inoran, they’re the types that are gentle and kind,” he looked at Kaoru, “and weak.”

        Begging his master not to send him away, Kaoru started hunting and feeding as his master did. There were no more little drinks, no more leaving the victims comfortable. It was pillage, it was desecration and the purge of humanity.

      The tale to be told of the future was realized by Kaoru after one especially brutal hunt.

      “This is exactly how we will end the human race.”

Chapter Text

          “Do you believe him…will he come for Rin?”

          “I think he may try.”

          “What are our options to prevent that from happening? We are isolated, it would take a significant amount of time for anyone to come to our aide.”

          “What are you suggesting?”

          “That we relocate to either Kyoto or Tokyo.”

          “Care to give me your reasons, other than the possibility of an attack by Sugizo, there’s more to this.”

          “Rin is my main concern, have you seen how happy she’s been with Yume and Naoto?”

          “Yes, I’m aware of that…what else?”

          Yusuke sighed, “I will admit that I have enjoyed our time here. I’ve grown close with Hiro and Yuu and I’d like to continue our friendship. That would be difficult considering where we live now.”

          This surprised Inoran, “Have you spoken to Heath about this?”

          “He knows and understands how I feel, he didn’t argue the suggestion. I’m sure whatever is in Rin’s best interest he would agree with.”

          “And Rin? She loves our home, are you sure she would be open to the change?”

          “If she could be closer to Yume, Naoto and Aiko, I doubt she would put up much of a fight.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~

          “We should ask them to stay, we could help them find a house…they would be safer here in Tokyo.”

          “I don’t disagree with that…”

          “Yusuke wants to move.”

          “Oh, he told you that specifically?”

          “When Inoran had left for the temple, Yusuke was stomping around muttering, ‘we should stay here, it’s not safe in Fuji’.”

          “He may choose Kyoto, after all there would be three clans in Tokyo.”

          “No, Yusuke wants to stay here, because of Rin.”

          “Rin?”

          “You’ve been too busy to notice, but the child is glowing, she’s so happy to have friends her own age…girl friends.”

          Morrie laughed, “True, I have heard a lot of giggling since she’s been here. Aiko and You adore Rin.”

          “With three clans in the city, it also gives us an advantage in whatever Yoshiki and Ryuichi have planned.”

          “When should we broach the subject?”

          Tatsu snuck a quick kiss in, “Tonight.”

         

~~~~~~~~~~

 

          “If you don’t, I will.”

          “I never said no,”

          “You’re dragging your feet. What part of this are you against?”

          “None of it actually. I agree with you, you have very valid concerns.”

          Jyou huffed, “Spit it out Reo, what’s the damned problem?”

          “I believe Tokyo would be a better fit than Kyoto, there’s no problem.”

          “Okay fine, Tokyo it is. When are you going to tell him?”

          “Probably on the trip home.”

          “No, tonight. The other leaders need to be in on this as well.”

          Reo narrowed his eyes, “Why are you being so pushy? Why is this so important?”

          “Rin.”

          “Rin?”

          “That girl needs as close as a normal life as possible and she can’t get that living with three men, so far away from her new friends that’s she’s made here.”

          “She’s not that much younger than Ayato or Uta…”

          Jyou growled, “You’re a man. You wouldn’t understand.”

          “Then explain it to me.”

          “Rin was raped at 16, she has no female family members. As she ages as an immortal, who will be there to help if she wants a mate? Simply put, she needs other women around her. Not to mention more protection from that maniac, Sugizo.”

          “Alright, tonight then.”

~~~~~~~~~~

 

          “Please, just say something to him…”

          “Like what? Move your family to Tokyo.”

          “Bluntly, yes.”

          “Has anyone bothered to ask Rin, Yusuke or Heath, what they want?”

          “How do you think Rin is going to react when they go home? There’s going to be a lot of crying…not just from Rin, but Naoto, Yume and Aiko, as well.”

          “Are we doing this for Rin, or for the safety of Inoran’s clan?”

          Kai smiled, “Yes.”

          “Be serious Kai,”

          “I am, Acchan. Rin’s going back to a lonely life, stuck out in the countryside with three men. She needs friends like Naoto and Yume. She will be much happier and they will all be safer in the city.”

          “Fine, I will speak to him.”

 

 

          Inoran broke down into tears, overwhelmed by the show of care and concern for he and his family’s well being, and the outpouring of love for Rin. He had been blindsided by the other leaders as they gathered for their final conversation before the clans were to leave Tokyo, having no idea that the others were considering the same option.

          “Gentlemen, I’m speechless. How did you meet to discuss this without my knowledge?” Inoran asked softly.

          “We didn’t meet,” Morrie smirked, “some of our pushier clan members brought it to our attention, that it may be in your best interest due to Sugizo’s threats.”

          Reo coughed, “Jyou painted a very bleak picture for Rin’s future.” This comment raised a few eyebrows.

          “How so?” Inoran asked.

          “The simple fact of living with three men and having no female companions, except during clan meetings. She argued that Rin may need some womanly guidance if she desires to take a mate in the future.”

          “Tatsu said the same thing, basically.” Morrie chimed in.

They all turned to Sakurai, who tried not to look smug, “Yes, Kai brought this to me as well, and honestly after listening to the other arguments, I have to agree wholeheartedly.”

          “Yusuke brought this to my attention just last evening, though at that time, I didn’t believe Rin would agree, as she loves our home. It did not come to my mind, that leaving her new friends might tear at her heart, and I couldn’t stand doing that to her.”

          Morrie pushed back from his desk, “Gentlemen, I believe we need to gather our children and have an open and frank discussion about this before the end of the night.”

 

          With the collective clan members gathered in the large living room, Morrie waited until everyone had settled down before speaking. Sakurai, Inoran and Reo were sitting at the front of the room, waiting patiently for the group to go quiet.

          “We have an announcement that will effectively change the way we see each other as clan members. There have been problems in the past with random vampires showing up in our cities, near our clan houses, and thankfully up until now, we’ve been able to handle it as single clans. The new threat posed by Sugizo changes all of that.”

          Reo stepped forward, “The other issue is the distance between the clans. It’s convenient for Morrie and Sakurai, but not so much for Clan Aichi or Inoran. The distance between us is too great, and there would be a substantial wait time before we could get to Inoran to assist him in any sort of attack.”

          “There are other issues at hand.” Morrie added, “This gathering was the first for some of our new members, and some that had been estranged but now have reconciled. The care and concern we have for the younger members have grown, and close bonds have been formed.”  Rin and Yume leaned into each other, understanding the comment had been directed at them.

          Finally, Inoran stood, Reo and Sakurai flanking him. “The ability to protect my family is compromised simply due to the fact that in Fuji, we are somewhat isolated.” He paused for a moment and looked down at Rin.

          “There are too many ‘what ifs’ that have burned in my mind since my recent confrontation with Sugizo, to allow me to ignore his threats any longer. I want you, Rin, to be happy and I don’t think Heath and Yusuke can do that on our own. You need to be with young people, and you need to have close friends. It is because of these, and other adult issues, that I have decided that Clan Kiyonobu will be moving to Tokyo, in the next month or so.”

          Rin could feel everyone in the room looking at her, waiting for a reaction. She was in shock; Inoran was moving to Tokyo for her? “Um, are you sure Father?” she looked up at Inoran, tears slowly sliding down her face, “Shouldn’t we discuss this as a family?”

          Yusuke looked over and nodded at Heath, “Rin-chan, I brought it up to Inoran, and I also discussed it with Heath. You need more in your life than just three old immortals to live with, ne?”

          “As much as I hate to admit it, Yusuke is right,” Heath teased, “you were only sixteen when you were blood born, you’re still very young even as an immortal. Wouldn’t you rather have Yume and Naoto in your life on a more regular basis, and not every five or so years between clan gatherings? We are doing this for you, and for ourselves.”

          The tears spilled over into small hiccupping sobs, Yume and Aiko throwing their arms around the young girl and crying with her, all tears of joy.

          Heath leaned over and whispered to Yusuke, “I think she’s happy.”

          “What about you? Are you happy with this decision?”

          He nodded, “Yah, I am. I know you’ve grown close with Hiro and Yuu, and it’s good to see you happy again, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.”  The small skip in Yusuke’s heart didn’t surprise him anymore, Heath had a way of getting to him, even after everything they’d been through.

         

         

          Kimura stirred in his sleep, the message that had cut through his slumber, had grown angrier and more volatile with each word. “Keizo, what’s wrong?” Yuko felt the shift in the bed as her lover rose and swung his legs over the side, grasping his head as if in pain.

          Reaching out for him, Yuko could see the distress in Keizo’s eyes, “What is it? Is it one of the children?” she was becoming alarmed.

          “No, the children are fine,” he mumbled, “someone is frantically calling for Yoshiki or Ryuichi to contact them, and whomever it is, is angry.”

          “Do you not recognize the person? It is an immortal, yes?” At the sound of the two Ancient’s names, Yuko shuddered.

          “I can’t be certain, but the disarray of his mind leads me to believe it’s Sugizo. The man has some sort of mental defect that was thrust upon him, when he was blood born, which is unusual.”

          “Didn’t you say Inoran had a mental illness, but that someone had supplied a treatment of sorts? How is this different?”

          “Inoran was mentally ill before he was blood born, but not in the true sense of the condition. He suffers from a type of melancholy or depression, and it seems that one of Sakurai’s people created a cure for it. No, Sugizo’s defect came after he was brought into the blood.”

          Kimura started to dress for the evening, “Let’s go check on the children, then we shall hunt together.”

 

          “Father,” Hiroto caught Kimura by the arm as the man was leaving the house, “I heard something this evening, just before I woke. Did you hear someone screaming?”

          His son had always been the perceptive one, having similar talents as his maker, but with a soft heart. “Yes love, I did. I believe it was Sugizo, though do not worry, he is no where close to our home. Please, Pon-chan, don’t speak of this to your sisters, we do not need to frighten them unnecessarily.”

         

          As they walked the dark fields towards the small village, Kimura gazed lovingly at his family, the young one’s he called his children, and his beautiful mate, Yuko. A family he created himself, choosing to care for the children created by Ryuichi, but thrown away as easily as garbage. His son’s Yukke and Hiroto, brothers found in a tiny wasteful village outside of Kagoshima, in 1647. The ancient had found them in a deep mud pit, struggling to lift their heads, brought into the blood and abandoned to die.

          Kimura picked them up out of the mud, and took them home to Yuko, “We must help these boys, I fear Ryuichi has done this to them, his putrid stench is on their clothes.” Tenderly they cared for the two brothers, cleaning them up and taking them out to hunt for the first time. The tale they told was all too familiar; the hit and run attack of the boys while they were away from their family’s small plot of farm land.

          “Our cow had wandered off in the dark, father sent us to find her.” Yukke explained. They had not known what had happened to them. Hiroto had been taken first, Yukke running away into the field, in a matter of moments, Ryuichi swooped down on the boy. “I don’t remember anything, other than being in pain and with Pon in the mud.”

          Once the boys were settled, Kimura went back to the small village to inspect it, only to find it burned to the ground with no survivors. “Must you always be so vile? How can you live like this?” he swore under his breath. Hiroto was just seventeen, Yukke nineteen.

          Yuko was no older than the boys, only seventeen when Ryuichi took her from her home in Kushikino, giving her a little more guidance on how to live as an immortal, staying with her for several hours. Kimura had found her hidden in a hollowed-out log, dirty and near starving. After assuring her he meant her no harm, he coaxed Yuko’s story from her.

          “He taught me how to live, but that was it. I can not do that to people, please just let me die,” she wailed. Her beauty stilled him, pulling at his heart, “If I taught you how to live comfortably, how to survive without killing anyone, would you come with me?” It took a great deal of convincing, before Yuko gave in, keeping Kimura at arms length for some time before accepting his request to be his mate. The year was 1487.

          “Don’t go too far,” Kimura sharply reminded Hiroto, who then gathered his brother and sisters around him, “We need to stay close,” he ordered the girls. Though the youngest boy, Hiroto seemed to have a quicker mind than the others, something Kimura had picked up on quickly. “I can hear him Father, Ryuichi, in my mind,” he said one evening as they sat on the engawa. “He’s always angry, but I can feel when he’s been um… abusing women.”

          Hiroto was overly protective of his three sisters, Rika, Hana and Kaya, much to their chagrin at times. The sisters had been attacked at their home, with much of the same ruse that Ryuichi had used on Naoto; a wealthy man looking for a bride. He had swiftly disposed of the girl’s parents, before attacking Rika first, she was the youngest at fourteen and put up the least amount of fight. Hana and Kaya tried to run, they thought the Ancient had killed Rika, so they left her behind.

          It was of course pointless to try and escape, Ryuichi swiftly overcoming them. Hana was barely sixteen and Kaya had just turned seventeen, the year was 1649.

          Yuko and Kimura had been traveling, looking for a larger home for the family, when they came onto the smothering ruins of the house. Yuko hid her face in Keizo’s chest, after seeing Rika, but Kimura shoved her away and ran to the girl, “She’s alive, quick Yuko take her!”

          “Keizo, there may be others, please…be careful!” she gathered Rika in her arms, “Child, do not fear, I will not harm you, just close your eyes.” She petted the girls long black hair and held her close as the girl sobbed.

          “Where are you?” Kimura waded through the deep brush, he could smell fresh blood, but could not see the victims. He came across the two girls, clutching each other and crying, next to a small pond. Upon seeing Kimura, both girls screamed and tried to get up, but with no strength after their mortal bodies had died, they collapsed into the water.

          “Listen to me carefully, I will not harm you. I know what has happened and I can help you. My mate has found your sister and she’s alive,” he held his hand out to the girls, “Please, come with me and I promise you, I will care for you as your parents did.”

          Kaya and Hana were shivering, “You promise you won’t hurt us anymore?” Kimura smiled sadly, “I do, I can explain what has happened to you. You can come and live with Yuko and I; you will have two brothers to torment as well. Please, take my hand.”

          Kaya held out her hand, as Hana cried, “No, Kaya…please, I want to go home to mama and papa…please…”

          The tears broke Kimura’s heart, “My love, I am sorry, but your parents are no longer among the living, please,” he begged, “come with me and I will explain everything.”

          “Hana, let’s go with him, that monster killed mama and papa, he is offering us a place to live, come on.” The girl reached out and grabbed her younger sister’s arm roughly, pulling her along.

          The girls followed the Ancient to where he had left Yuko, who was sitting with Rika in her lap. Once the girl’s sisters saw her, they ran up and fell at Yuko’s feet, hugging and crying over the girl.

          “We have to go with them, Yuko has told me what has happened and we need to go with Keizo, they’re going to be our parents now.” Rika said in a factual tone. “Come on, there’s nothing left here for us.” She stood up and brushed off her hakama, “We can try to see if there’s anything left in the…”

          “No, Rika, you will not go to the house. Until we can get you new clothes, you can share with Yuko, you’re all about the same size.” Kimura did not want the chance that the girls would see their parents desecrated and burned remains.

         

         

          “Come children, we’ve had enough. You still have chores to do before daybreak.” Yuko called out to the young ones. She had felt oddly, when the girls first called her mother, considering she was the same age as Kaya, and two years younger than Yukke, but her immortal age was far older. But she had a motherly instinct for all their children, and in return, the young one’s respected both Kimura and Yuko as they would their own parents.

          “Papa, when are you going on your next trip?” Hana slid her small hand into his as they walked back to the house, “I’m not sure, is there something you’d like me to get for you?”

          “Mm, maybe just a few new hair pins that I can share with Rika and Kaya, ours are getting a bit worn.”

          “Nothing more than hairpins? Are you sure?” Kimura teased; he knew that the girl wanted something else. “Well…if you could find any books, something newer that we haven’t read a hundred times, that would be nice.” His scholar, as he called Hana, always had her nose buried in a book.

          “I don’t have anything planned as of yet, but there may be something coming up that I will need to travel to Kyoto, and if so, I promise I will bring back a few new books for you and Kaya.” He bent down and kissed his daughter on the forehead.

          He hated lying about his travels, but he felt that the young ones did not need to know of the potential trouble that lie ahead of them. Kimura’s hope was that he could take care of the root problem, and keep the war from coming to fruition.

Chapter Text

                                                                                                June 10, 1907.

          Atsushi,

          Greetings from San Francisco. Yes, I have left my lovely Spanish home and have relocated to America. Why, you may ask? Simply put, there have been some disturbing events in recent years, events that I don’t believe that you or any other immortal can overlook.

          There have been sightings and rumors of Japanese vampires in Europe and in America, and not surprising, with these rumors came a visit from my maker, uninvited and not welcomed. Much like Yoshiki, he had already made himself comfortable in my home, while I was out hunting. When asked why he was there, he told me, “I wanted to see if you had changed, if you had become what I intended for you. Obviously, I’m very disappointed.”

          I carefully asked about the problems with the immortals that had seemed to spread over Europe and in America. “Oh, that’s a secret, it would spoil the fun if I told you.” He seemed to be amused by this. I decided to probe further, “What about Sugizo, have you bothered to contact him?”

          “I need to take care of that one, it’s annoying how he’s always demanding to see Yoshiki or myself.”

          “Have you asked him why he wants to see you?” I asked him cautiously.

          Ryuichi growled, “His mind is broken; he is a problem that needs to be dealt with.”

          I tell you this my friend, as a warning. Please take heed, where Sugizo is, there will be danger, either from Ryuichi or Yoshiki, or the man himself. If he is some how crazed, that would explain the number of rogue vampires that have been seen in Japan, and possibly the one’s that I have encountered in both Spain and now here in San Francisco.

          Please give my regards to the others, and if there are any further developments here in America, I will be sure to contact you promptly.

                   Regards;

                   Raymond Watts.

          “Acchan, this is serious.” Kai’s face was set hard, “If Sugizo’s enough of a problem that Ryuichi wants to destroy him, what does that mean for us, and for Rin?” He handed the letter back to Sakurai.

          “Vigilance, not hunting alone and of course, informing the others of what’s been reported. As for Rin, I’m sure she’s safe enough for the moment. It’s not as if she’s allowed to go anywhere alone.”  

Kai smirked, “Not with those two hovering over her.”   

          Since their move from Fuji to Tokyo, both Heath and Yusuke had become over protective, older brothers to Rin, making sure the girl never when anywhere alone, be it to the shops in town or to visit Yume or Aiko. “It’s still not safe Rin, we don’t know where Sugizo is.” Inoran scolded the girl frequently when she would complain.

          “What’s your opinion on the foreign vampires? Do you think they are the same as the one’s we heard when we were in France?” Kai wondered.

          Picking up the letter again, Sakurai quickly read through, “I’m not sure, Raymond doesn’t say anything about the nationality of these unknowns, it’s hard to guess who their maker or makers are.”

          “Where do we go from here?”

 

 

          Slamming the large ledger shut, Issay leaned back in his chair and rubbed the fatigue from his face. Accounting was a tedious job, but if he was to maintain his current lifestyle, it could not be avoided. Leaving his office and walking out to the engawa, he took a breath of the sharp fresh air of the evening, Issay sitting down with his nightly bottle of sake.

          The night birds were singing and the soothing sounds of the small waterfall from the koi pond, had lulled Issay into musing over his existence and where he was in this life of eternity. He was, in all sense of the term, a successful country gentleman, with a large estate in Hokkaido, complete with a small staff of retainers. He had long since foregone hiding from the public, it served him no purpose to be constantly on alert for intruders. No, it was far easier to live as his maker had on the same property for centuries before him, the property that he had gladly taken possession of. 

          In the years since Heath had left and had presumably gone back to Inoran, Issay controlled his feelings of loneliness with physical labor. In the beginning he wasn’t confident enough to go into town and hire workers to repair the main house, it was easier to fill his evenings with anything other than dwelling on the fact that he was alone.

          Once he had gotten the house into a reasonable living condition, Issay made his way to the village, which had grown in both population and businesses. The izakaya that he and Sakurai had frequented, was still there, albeit the building had been modernized. Introducing himself, he made it known that he was the new owner of the Sakurai Estate, and that he was accepting clients, “I am an accountant by profession, with a specialty in working for farmers.” This had been accepted excitedly, with several people that night approaching him to make appointments for consultations.

          “I must inform you, that I work only at night. I have a medical condition that prohibits me from being in sunlight. I’m sure that it would be of no consequence for myself or my clients, considering I have a well stocked larder of good sake.” The mention of the sake, had brought his first clients to the estate within a week.

 

          “Issay? Is there something wrong?” a young voice asked from the shadows.

          “No love, I’m just reminiscing about the past, come sit with me.” Issay patted the engawa. The boy slipped through the sliding door and quickly sat next to his blood spouse. Slender, with a pretty face and soft brown hair, Kona Eiji had been the cure for Issay’s loneliness.

          “What are you reminiscing about?” Eiji leaned his head on his Issay’s shoulder.

          “Hmm, let me see. How I came to be the master of this estate, and how I found the most beautiful boy to love. Should I be thinking of anything else?” He tickled the boy, causing him to giggle and squirm.

          “No, I suppose not. Are you finished with work tonight? Can we go hunt?” Eiji knew Issay would not deny him.

 

          Once Issay had finished repairing the house, he had nothing left to busy his mind. Work only took up so much of his time, and living alone was beginning to wear on him. He had brief thoughts of going back to Kyoto and kidnapping Ayato, but he knew in his heart, that the boy was lost to him, never mind the wrath by Kyo that would be brought down on him.

          Spending several years looking for someone he would consider worthy of becoming his blood spouse, it was in the late spring of 1903 that he had found the boy he knew he could love for eternity.

          With wanderlust and boredom churning in his veins, Issay had taken a short vacation to the capital city of Sapporo. He was at that point of beyond hope on finding someone worth the effort it took to become a blood spouse. He settled in a large hotel and in the evenings would sit on the patio, enjoying the local scenery and hospitality. It was that hospitality that brought a slender waifish young man to his hotel door, delivering a meal and drink.

          “Konbanwa sir, your dinner and beverage.” The boy bowed lightly, moving into the room to set the tray on the table. Issay was instantly captivated by the young man, “Boy, what is your name?” he asked.

          “Kona Eiji, Sir,” the boy blushed, Issay breathed deep, the excitement from the heat of Eiji’s blood flooded his senses.

          “Well, thank you Eiji-kun. I hope to see you again, perhaps join me for a late coffee, if that is allowed?” The young man looked up at Issay, “Yes sir, I um…I’m allowed other things as well.” He cast his eyes down, his heart was being rapidly, the way the man was looking at him was unnerving, but exciting.

          Issay wanted the boy, would take him right there if he could, “Hmm, well Eiji-kun, perhaps I shall meet you later tonight, let’s say at the café across the street, around midnight?” The young man nodded, “Yes sir…” he whispered.

          Four years had passed since that night, and Issay couldn’t be happier. It hadn’t taken much to convince Eiji to be blood born. His life was a story not so dissimilar to Ayato’s, working as a hotel maid and prostituted to the customers, this obviously left nothing for him to look forward to as he aged. Issay’s promise of eternity where he would be loved and cherished, struck a chord in Eiji’s heart, and even before Issay had explained the process, he accepted. “Yes!” he blurted out, “I mean, um…yes please.”

          Issay prepared Eiji much as Sakurai had done with him, making love to the boy the first night, “Now, you will leave me and think this over, this is not to be taken lightly. You will never see the sun again, nor any of your family. You will be feeding off the blood of others in order to survive, there is no going back.”

           “I have no family; there is no one that cares for me, there’s nothing but death as I live now. If you will love me and care for me, then I want to be with you.” Issay explained the pain and the ecstasy, the first night and the first hunt. He brought Eiji into the blood in Sapporo, as it would give him more choices for his first experiences as a newly fledged vampire.

           

          The hunt that night had been successful and gratifying, leaving the men’s appetites sated. Issay was lying in bed with Eiji in his arms, the tendrils of sleep comfortably drawing the two men into a deep slumber. The darkness had claimed Issay for but a moment, then the voice pierced his mind, jolting him awake.

          “You should seek your maker, for it will be in your interest if you wish to live.

          Laying quietly, Issay sent his thoughts out to whomever was speaking to him, “Why should I believe you?”

          “If you wish to be destroyed, then ignore my warning.” There was silence, the voice had gone.

Chapter Text

 

          “…it’s been good, overall. We’ve had no problems with the police nor any other merchants in the area.” Nakamura Taizo leaned back in his chair, resting it against a wall as he spoke with the night manager at the smallest of Reo’s ryokans. The manager was a human agent for Clan Aichi, who understood the delicate information regarding the owner of certain ryokan’s in Kyoto. It wasn’t yet common knowledge that there were immortals living among them, but in certain sectors of the society, it wasn’t information that was withheld.

          This night, it was Nakamura’s shift to act as security for the business, something that was tedious at best, but not unbearable. Reo had assigned various clan members for night shifts at the ryokans, more as a precaution than any real threat that may occur. It was just after midnight, and Nakamura and the manager were sitting and chatting about this and that, not really expecting any trouble. But you know what they say about that…

          “Do you suspect they know what you are? There must be some questionability by the elders in the city as to why Reo is still alive,” the manager asked.

          Nakamura chuckled, “They don’t dare question Reo, it’s obvious that he’s not human, but they choose to look the other…”

          A long drawn out scream from the back of the building, interrupted Nakamura’s comment, causing both the manager and Nakamura to lurch forward out of their chairs, “Stay here!” he snapped.

          Rushing down the long corridor, Nakamura found an open door on his left. Taking a moment to listen for the presence of the attacker, he peeked through a small hole in the shoji door, “Damn it.”

          What he found when he entered the room was a blood bath. A dead woman with her throat torn out, and tell-tale signs that the woman had been tortured before she had been killed. “Who wou…” another scream from the front of the ryokan, reached Nakamura, “Damn it!”

          Not recognizing the immortal that had the manager by the throat, holding him in the air, Nakamura wasted no time as he threw himself at the immortal. A struggle ensued, though it was evident to both, that the rogue vampire was far stronger than Nakamura, and with ease, he threw him out into the street.  Before Nakamura could recover, the other vampire held up his hand and instantly set the immortal ablaze.

          “NO!” Asanao had received Nakamura’s silent requests for help, only reaching the ryokan just as the had man started to burn. “SUGIZO!” he growled and ran towards the vampire, but as he was one step away, Sugizo quickly rose into the air, disappearing in the night sky, and without backup, Asanao knew it was pointless to follow.

          Looking at the smoldering ashes of what was left of Nakamura Taizo, Asanao squatted down, his head in his hands. “He saved me…” a quiet voice spoke behind him.

          “What?” Asanao mumbled.

          The manager was shaking, “Nakamura-san, he saved me from that…that other vampire. But…” he hesitated, “there is a dead woman in one of the back rooms.” Asanao rose to his feet, “Show me.”

          Returning to the front of the building, Asanao was met at the front by Reo, Jyou and Kyo, “What the hell happened and who is that in the street?”

          “Nakamura-san,” The manager said softly, “he saved me from that other vampire.”  Reo looked at Asanao, “It was Sugizo, he tore the throat out of a woman, then attacked Kintaro, Nakamura came to his aide, and Sugizo attacked and threw him into the street…”

          Jyou saw that Asanao was near tears, “Let’s go back to the house, come with me niisan,” she linked her arm with her clan chief and led him away.

          “Let me see the woman, Kyo stay here please.” Reo followed Kintaro the the back of the building. “There was no warning that he was here?” Kyo asked.

          “No sir, it was fairly quiet, we were just chatting when we heard the scream. It wasn’t but a few seconds between Nakamura running off, until the other vampire rushed me, he grabbed me by the throat. Nakamura must have heard the struggle, because it wasn’t but a moment before he was tackling the man. But then…”

          “Reo, the police are here.” Kyo murmured to his leader.

          Walking out to the street, Reo approached the lead officer, “This is an internal problem, that I will deal with. There is however, a woman in one of the back rooms that is dead. Please take care of that.” The officer said nothing, but bowed, then ordered his men into the building.

          “What the fuck are we doing about this, Reo? That son of a bitch came into our city and fucking killed a damn good warrior.” Kyo said hotly.

          Reo pinched the bridge of his nose, “Leave it for now, Kyo. We need to get back to the house and find Suzuki before anything else. I’m placing everyone on lockdown for the next few nights, no arguments.”  

          “I know where he is, I’ll go.”  

 

          Asanao was in rough shape by the time Reo had returned, “Where is he?”

          Jyou placed her hand on Reo’s arm, “In his room, please Reo, be gentle.” Reo patted Jyou’s hand, “Don’t worry.”

          Knocking softly on Asanao’s door, Reo let himself in, finding Asanao laying on his bed, facing the wall. “You can’t blame yourself,” Reo tried to reassure his friend.

          “I’m not blaming myself; I blame Sugizo,” Asanao turned over, and sat up. “How did he get into the city without our knowledge? He had the balls to go into one of your businesses’, and randomly kill someone on our turf, then kill one of our clan members. We need to respond, Reo, we can’t let this happen again, not to us nor any of the other clans.”  

         

          “You need to come and speak with Reo, don’t ask questions.” Kyo was being harsh with Suzuki, trying to keep his feelings undiscovered. “Why, what’s happened?” Suzuki had gotten to know Kyo well enough, he knew when the small man was hiding something.

          “It’s not my place to tell you anything, just go and speak with Reo.” In Kyo’s mind, this was the obvious start to the war that they had been predicting for centuries, and if this was the first shot, then he was more than ready to avenge the death of a clanmate.

          Walking into Reo’s office, Suzuki immediately knew that there was something terribly wrong, “Who was it?” he asked.

          “Nakamura.” Reo replied grimly.

          “How?”

          “There was an incident at one of the inns, a dead woman was found in a back room, and he went to investigate. Nakamura then heard the manager being attacked and went to his aide and found Sugizo attacking the man. A struggle ensued which spilled out into the streets, then Sugizo set him ablaze.” Suzuki growled and tried to leave the room, immediately stopped by Kyo and Asanao.

          “Stay where you are, there will be no retaliation tonight. I will not risk another member of my family; we have no idea where Sugizo is hiding.”

           Whipping around to stare at his clan leader, Suzuki had tears in the corner of his eyes, “Do you mean to do NOTHING?” he screamed.

          “YOU WILL BE SILENT!” Reo shouted back, then rubbed his face tiredly, pushing back his hair, “I understand your anger and the need to avenge your brother’s death, but we can not rush into this blindly and unprepared.”  Kyo and Asanao stepped away from the samurai.

           Suzuki stared hard at Reo, then bowed deeply, “My apologies, I let my emotions cloud my judgement. You are correct, we need some sort of plan before we go charging around the country.”

           Reo waved him off, “We will need to approach this carefully, now that we know he has the ability to immolate at will.” He sat down wearily at his desk.

          Jyou cleared her throat, “Is it starting? Should we be expecting more attacks, and will you be contacting the other leaders?”

          “I don’t believe Sugizo is in league with Ryuichi or Yoshiki, they would never act so rashly in the middle of the street. No, I believe this attack was on Clan Aichi only. I do not want any interference from the other clans, but yes, I will be informing them for their own protection, specifically Inoran.”

 

 

          With the knowledge he would now be on Reo’s hit list, it did not diminish the euphoria Sugizo was feeling at that moment, the thrill of a double kill had been orgasmic. He had taken a risk when he raised his hand to immolate Nakamura, unsure if he had the gift of fire, as he had never used it nor even tried. This gift would now be his primary weapon against all that decided to come against him, he had that ultimate power of destruction at his finger tips.

          “I warned you, if you would not contact me,” he mumbled, “you think you can ignore me now?” How could Yoshiki or Ryuichi deny him after this attack? He had just proven to be worthy of either or both of their attentions. owhow In his brash bravado and conceit, Sugizo now believed himself as a primary player in the upcoming wars, he had proven himself just now, that he had no hesitations in killing.

          There was a single problem that remained; how to get the two ancients to acknowledge him and his powers. They had forgone contacting him at the present, but with this act of revenge against Reo, they could no longer ignore him.

Chapter Text

 

          Rubbing the fatigue from his eyes, Reo carefully slipped out of bed, not wanting to wake Akinori just yet. He had spent a restless day, his mind mulling over the death of Nakamura and what the ramifications of another immortal that had no qualms using the fire gift, could be for his family and the other clans. “Hmmph, hardly a gift,” he muttered as he made his way to the kitchen area of the clan house.

          He had charged Asanao and Kyo in keeping close contact with Suzuki, making sure the man did not attempt to sneak out to hunt down Sugizo, and avenge his brother’s death. Not a pleasant job, but one that he had to make sure was done as he was resolutely determined not to lose another family member.

          “Konbanwa, father,” a soft voice greeted him as he opened the door to his office, “you’re up rather early, or did sleep not find you?” Jyou was sitting at Reo’s desk, shuffling papers and going over the various paperwork that came with running several businesses.

          “No, it avoided me. Any word from Asanao or Kyo?” Reo took a seat in front of the desk.

          “No, so I’m going to assume that he didn’t escape,” Jyou teased. “But while you were not sleeping, this came for you.” She slid an envelope across the desk.

          He frowned as he opened the letter, any correspondence from Sakurai Atsushi could not be waved off as a simple greeting. His face grew darker as he read. “Damn,” he murmured.

          “A problem?”

          Reo handed the letter to Jyou, “I need to speak with Arimatsu and Asanao, but I’d like to wait until they’ve either eaten or hunted, this is not something that we should discuss on an empty stomach.”

          Folding the letter, Jyou’s expression was tight with concern, “This isn’t good, and it also came a day too late.”

          “Yes, I know. But what’s done is done. All we can do now is prepare and make sure that it never happens again, to anyone. Come, let’s go find the others.”

          The leader of Clan Aichi stood at the head of the table, his collective family surrounding him. He held in his hands the letter from Sakurai Atsushi, and was struggling with how to explain the content of the letter without instilling overwhelming fear.

          “I received a letter from Sakurai, who had recently received a letter from Raymond Watts. According to his letter, Watts has left Spain, and moved to San Francisco, due to the issue of problematic vampires being seen in Europe.” A soft murmur went through the room.

          Reo held up his hands for silence, “Let me finish please. Watts also said he had been visited by Ryuichi at some point and the man made a comment about Sugizo, and that the man has a diseased mind, and in Ryuichi’s words, “…his mind is broken, he is a problem that needs to be dealt with.”

          “What does this all mean for us as a clan?” Kyo asked angrily, “Are we to stay on lock down in our own city, do we hide like some sort of frail human?”

       “It means that this situation is serious enough that Raymond Watts left his home and moved to another country. It means that we now must be more watchful and observant of our surroundings. If Ryuichi acts on his words, and he comes looking for Sugizo, I want my family safe.”

       “That didn’t answer my question.” Kyo growled. Reo stared hard at Kyo, who did not back down from his leader.

       “Nothing changes, you will all still hunt in threes, the businesses still need to be run, and money still needs to be collected and being aware of your surroundings and those that hunt with you. Clan Aichi will not cower in the shadows.”

 

          “What about Morrie’s businesses, will they remain open?” Asanao knew the importance of keeping a low profile, and the sudden closing of a popular business would cause questions.

            Reo had invited Asanao, Arimatsu and Jyou back to his office to discuss increasing security for the ryokan’s and for the clan house.

          “I have no idea, I’m going to assume that Sakurai has shared the contents of the letter with both Morrie and Inoran, what either one will do, I can’t say.” Reo guessed, “I’m sure that Morrie will add security to his businesses, and Inoran… well poor Rin won’t be able to move without one or all of them hovering over her.”

          It wasn’t until Arimatsu and Asanao had left the room, that Jyou noticed Reo was leaning on his desk, his head in his hands. “What’s wrong?”

          “Hmm? Oh, it’s nothing really.”

          Jyou scoffed, “Just tell me what you’re thinking.” Reo rolled his eyes at his daughter, “Fine, I’m worried about Issay.”

          “Issay?” Jyou said incredulously, “Why would you care about him?”

          Reo pursed his lips in a bit of a pout, “I don’t hate the man, Jyou. I don’t trust him, but don’t wish any harm or ill will towards him.”

          “He’s most likely still in Hokkaido, we haven’t heard anything about or from him, and he has no reason to leave.” Jyou assured him.

          “I hope for his sake, he remains in Hokkaido, and stays far away from the trouble that I fear is knocking at our door.”        

 

 

          Truth be told, Imai was lonely. It had been fifteen long years since he had created Yume, and sent her away, fifteen years of traveling across Europe, and he was tired of searching for someone he could spend eternity with. It’s not to say he didn’t try, but every fledgling he had created had been disappointments, with some refusing to live as an immortal, being disgusted with what they had become, they had committed suicide by sunlight.

           One chilly evening in 1902, while in the Netherlands, Imai was watching his latest fledgling writhe around on the ground while her body died, a whisper in his mind called to him. “We need to speak.” Without another glance at the young woman, Imai turned and walked away. With small whispers of guidance, Imai found Ryuichi standing in front of a window, in the Red-Light District in Amsterdam.

          Imai approached the ancient cautiously. “What do you want?” Ryuichi continued to watch the woman in the window. “What do you know about Sugizo?” his gaze never left the woman.

          “Only what I’ve heard, I’ve never met the man. Why do you ask?”

          Ryuichi turned, “He’s a problem, a serious problem. His mind is diseased, beyond what you would normally think of mentally ill. He is constantly whining and demanding that either Yoshiki or myself contact him.” It was obvious that Sugizo irritated the ancient.

          “And what does that have to do with me? If you haven’t noticed, we are not in Japan.

          The immortal grinned at Imai, “I want you to take care of the problem if you happen to cross paths with him. Burn him, decapitate him, I don’t care, just kill him. You are first born of an ancient, you have the power to do this.”

          Imai did not like being ordered to do anything, “Why should I do this for you? Shouldn’t you be the one to take care of such a thing? Tell Yoshiki to kill him, I’m not interested in being your errand boy.” Imai turned on his heel and started to walk away.

          “I’m not ordering you to do anything. Just a simple request if you happen to meet the man. He will become a bigger problem if he is not removed.”

          Imai said nothing, just waved his hand as he continued on his way. “I need to go home; this is getting ridiculous.” He left the Netherlands that night.

 

          Japan seemed foreign to Imai as he walked through the streets of Hiroshima. He had forgone settling in either Tokyo or Kyoto, knowing that Sakurai and Reo would not appreciate his presence in their cities, no sense in stirring up trouble when it wasn’t necessary.

          Hiroshima had moved into the new century not quite as a metropolis, but it had not remained the sleepy fishing village that Imai had remembered. The streets were filled with rickshaws and carts, with laughter spilling into the streets from the crowded cafés. It would be an easy hunt for the immortal, the seedier side of town always made for easy prey.

          Following his intended victim for the night, a lone geisha perched on her wobbly geta, Imai was seconds away from making his move, when a female immortal stepped out of the shadows.

          “What do you want Mari?” Imai said in exasperation, “I don’t have time to fuck with you.” Watching his victim disappear into a tea house, Imai was irked. “Damn,” he grunted.

          “Such a greeting, Imai? I hold no animosity towards you, why are you being testy?” The woman looked to the alley she had stepped from, and made a motion with her hand. A tall slender young man crept over to stand next to Mari.

          “This is Uruha, my mate,” she caressed the young man’s cheek, “this is Imai-san, an acquaintance of mine.” Uruha bowed, “My lord.”

          Imai admired Uruha, “Where did you get this one?”

          Mari made a rude noise, “I was with Ryuichi in Osaka earlier this year, we were hunting. He was blood born of Ryuichi, but as per his normal actions, he left the boy to fend for himself shortly after his body died. I was lonely and as such, I took him as my mate.”

          “How long ago was this?” If Ryuichi was in Japan again, he would have to be cautious.  Uruha was standing behind Mari, Imai could sense the fear in the young man.

          “Oh, about eight months ago or so. What are you doing here? I was to believe that you loved Europe, why come back to Japan now?”

          “Ryuichi contacted me last year while I was in Amsterdam. Asked me to take care of the problem of Sugizo, whom I’ve never met. He warned me about the man, saying that he has a diseased mind and if I were to cross paths with Sugizo, to kill him. I suddenly felt homesick and left that evening.”

          Mari knew about the atrocities that were being perpetrated by Sugizo, “A wise request. I’ve seen Sugizo in action and his deeds are reprehensible. He had the audacity to rape a girl of just sixteen, then he brought her into the blood, leaving her alone as her body died, He’s mimicking Ryuichi’s patterns. He also is making demands of Yoshiki, ordering both the ancients to contact him, that he has a special gift that will be useful during the war. A war I have no intention of being a part of.”

          Imai chuckled, “You may not have a choice in that…”

          Mari put her arm around Uruha, holding him closely. “I will kill whomever tries to go against me, I will protect what’s mine.”

         

 

          Imai had heard nothing else from Mari, or from Ryuichi, for the next twelve years, though Yoshiki’s presence was always lurking in his mind, he believed that the ancient was watching him, though never approaching him. The presence was there even as he watched Sakurai and his family, one warm summer evening, as the clan shopped.

          Anger, hurt, resentment and jealousy, emotions he had thought he had come to terms with, burned in Imai’s chest, as he gazed at his Master, interacting with his young blood spouse. “That should have been you, Poor Imai, gets dumped for a younger model,” was heard behind him.

          He didn’t even have to look, “What do you want Yoshiki and why have you been following me?”

          “Following you?” Yoshiki laughed, “I don’t need to follow you, Imai. I can feel your animosity every time you even think of Sakurai Atsushi. The anger you feel for the usurper, for his beautiful young blood spouse Uta, is quite refreshing.”

          Turning slowly to face the ancient, Imai sneered at him, “Shouldn’t you be searching for Sugizo? Your master wants him dead, go do your job.”

          Yoshiki’s eyes flashed angrily, “Why is it my responsibility to take care of Ryuichi’s problems? If he wants that monster dead, he can do the killing himself.”

          Imai sensed he had hit a sore spot in Yoshiki’s ego, “What about your precious war? Isn’t Ryuichi the general and you’re what…a captain?” he taunted.

          Yoshiki charged at Imai, throwing him roughly to the ground and standing over him, “Watch what you say, Imai, or you could be the first casualty of the war.”

          “I don’t think you mean that, I suggest you remember that I am an ally, not a threat. Now if you’d please let me get up, I’ll be on my way.” Imai slowly stood up, brushing the dirt from his clothes. With a growl, Yoshiki rose into the sky and disappeared, leaving Imai to return to the hunt.

Chapter Text

          “Who is he exactly?” Uruha asked Mari as they hurriedly made their way south from Hiroshima, after the chance meeting with Imai.

          “He’s Sakurai Atsushi’s first born, though they have been estranged for centuries.”

          This surprised the young man, “Is he so dangerous that his own maker wants nothing to do with him?”

          Mari reached out to caress Uruha’s cheek, “I don’t think it’s danger, but more so the way Imai had been living at the time. He was much like Ryuichi and Yoshiki, taking too much pleasure in killing their victims instead of taking the little drink.”

          “But…” he knew not to push the issue. Mari gave him a stern look; she knew what he was thinking.

          “I grew tired of that as well, isn’t that obvious? I chose to keep you by my side, as my mate, where I could have left you to die in the streets.”  Uruha face flushed with shame. “It’s not a problem, Uru, I understand why you would question me.”

          Uruha took Mari into his arms, “I’ll be forever grateful that you have kept me by your side. You have taught me how to live peacefully through eternity, and have made my life rich with your love and passion.”

          It was times like this, that Mari felt like a normal young woman, with a beautiful man who loved and desired her. “I love you…” she whispered as she leaned in for a kiss.

          After the unexpected run in with Imai, Mari felt that there may be danger in being in the same area as the unwelcomed immortal and the information on the impending war, had the woman on edge.

          “We need to leave Hiroshima; I do not care for the fact that Imai now knows where we live, I don’t trust him.”

          “But this is our home, why do we have to move? You’re at least as strong as Imai, do you truly fear him?”

          Mari sighed, “It is not Imai, I fear. I do not know what his relationship is with either Yoshiki or Ryuichi. If Imai reports to Yoshiki that I have stated I want nothing to do with this pointless war, it could bring danger to both of us. Yoshiki is wholly unpredictable, and it is he is who I fear.”

          The couple discussed various cities where they believed they could relocate without any difficulty. A good-sized population was crucial for hunting, but also a city where they may be able to blend in without attracting much notice. They traveled south to Kagoshima, with the idea that a port city would allow them the anonymity they desired.

 

          Much to Kimura’s chagrin and protestations, Yuko went into the city that night, to shop. It was much easier to shop when your husband wasn’t there to constantly shadow you, in the guise of protection. “I’m perfectly capable in defending myself, and since when have we ever seen another immortal in Kagoshima?” she argued.

          “That’s not the point, my love. I do not like you going into the city alone and unescorted. At least take Yukke or Hiroto with you, please?” Yuko went alone.  

          “Arigato gozaimasu, I’m sure the girls will love these choices,” with a light bow, Yuko left the bookstore, intent on making her way back home with no other distractions. She would scold herself later for being unobservant and not sensing the other immortals until they were standing ten feet in front of her. Mari gasped softly, automatically shoving Uruha behind her.

          Yuko kept her fear in check, bowing her head lightly, “Konbanwa, is there something I can help you with?” she asked politely.

          “We were under the assumption that there were no immortals living in Kagoshima, obviously that assumption was wrong.” Mari said carefully. They stared at each other for a moment, both trying to assess the situation.

          Yuko spoke first, “If you would like to speak to my husband, I will gladly have him meet with you tonight. If you will wait at Jiro’s izakaya, it is about three blocks down this street on the corner. He will return within the hour.” Mari nodded, then side stepped past Yuko, and taking Uruha’s hand, made their way to the izakaya.

          Yuko let out an explosive breath she had not realized she was holding, then quickly made her way home.

          “Do you trust her?” Uruha asked Mari, who had largely been silent during their walk to the assigned meeting place.

          “I felt no deception, though I did sense a hint of fear. I am surprised to see an immortal here, there have never been any reports of a population. Let’s wait to speak to her husband, before we decide on our next step.”

 

          “Keizo! Keizo, where are you?” Yuko shouted as she ran towards the house, “Please, Keizo!” Dropping the books in the genkan, Yuko roughly slid the shoji open.

          “Yuko? What’s wrong? Why are you shaking?” Keizo had heard the first cry and rushed to the door. “There were two immortals in town, I’ve never seen either one. The woman is not Japanese.”  

Keizo’s face darkened, “Are you hurt? Did they attack you?” Yuko shook her head.

          “They were polite, the woman said she had assumed that there were no immortals living in Kagoshima. She had a young man with her, he appeared to be her mate but he is not her blood spouse. I told them that you would meet them at Jiro’s.”

          “Stay here and lock the house. Yukke and Hiroto are in the barn, I will send them inside. Do not leave until I return.” Kimura said sharply. Yuko quickly hugged her husband, “Please, be careful.”

 

          With a million thoughts running through his mind, Keizo wasted no time in getting into town. “Who the hell are they?” he murmured as he slowed his pace and walked sedately towards the izakaya.          

          “Kimura-san, welcome, can I get you a bottle of sake?” Jiro greeted Kimura as he entered the izakaya, he was a frequent customer. “That would be lovely, thank you Jiro.” Kimura saw Mari and Uruha sitting in a darkened corner. “I will be joining my friends.”

          Uruha saw Kimura first and stiffened, “He’s here.” Mari patted him on the thigh in reassurance. “It will be fine; he wouldn’t dare do anything with all these witnesses.”

          Kimura made his way to the table, “Good evening, I will wait until we have been served.” Mari nodded. Taking in everything she sensed about Kimura, she was immediately stunned by the single biggest clue; Kimura was an ancient.

          With the sake poured, Kimura took a good look at Mari, “I’m afraid I don’t know you…?”

          “Mari, and this is my mate Uruha, and you are?” Mari’s tone was even and cordial.

          “Kimura Keizo, and my wife whom you met earlier is Yuko. Can I ask you what you are doing in Kagoshima?”

          “We are looking for a new home.”

          “What was wrong with your former home?” Kimura had an idea, but kept it to himself.

          “May I ask first, who your maker is?” Mari was sure it had to be Ryuichi.

          Kimura smiled softly, “I have no maker, but that is a story for another time. Your maker must either be Ryuichi or Yoshiki, am I correct?”

          “Yoshiki,” Mari spat the name out, “But I have had interactions with Ryuichi, something I wish to avoid in the future. It is because of them, that we now search for a new home. If you do not wish us to remain in the city, we will leave tomorrow night.”

          Kimura thought for a moment, “While I don’t believe you would be in any danger from Yoshiki, there is another that I have come across that worries me. Do you know of Sugizo?”

          Mari’s eyes widened, “Yes, and I know he has already become a pariah in our world. But more than that, Ryuichi has asked others to kill Sugizo on sight. Imai and I crossed paths recently, ergo the reason we are seeking a new home. I want nothing to do with this twisted war between immortals.”

          “You may not have that option, young lady. I feel that we will all be drawn in at some point, either going against Ryuichi or Yoshiki, or standing with the other immortals,” Kimura paused, “What year were you brought into the blood, and you’re not Japanese, can you explain that please?”

          “Yoshiki brought me into the blood in 1450, in France. He found me in a brothel, and claimed that he saved me from death, I assume my ability to speak Japanese is a result of  him being my maker. I was with him for several centuries, until I got tired of his method of hunting. I found it repulsive to continue to kill every time I needed to hunt.”

          Kimura smiled, “Fair enough, I’ve never understood their need to viciously kill their victims. I myself have been the savior for six of Ryuichi’s abandoned blood born children. My wife Yuko and five other young ones, all five between the ages of fourteen and nineteen, all left to die after they were changed.”

          Mari was impressed, “It seems then that you are in good company with the clan leaders of the north, themselves taking in abandoned young ones.”

          Uruha leaned over and whispered to Mari, “Kimura-san, where do you suggest we live? Do you have a recommendation?”

          Kimura’s face softened, “My dear, I do not. I would suggest you avoid the major cities, perhaps settle somewhere in the north. I fear though, that wherever you decide to live, that you never let your guard down. I believe that Ryuichi, Sugizo and Yoshiki will go to great lengths to have all of us involved in their ridiculous war.” Helping the couple to secure a room at a ryokan, Kimura bid them a safe journey, and returned to his home.

 

          Mari and Uruha used the cloud gift to skirt all the major cities, taking heed to Kimura’s warning. The last thing Mari wanted was to come face to face with her maker or Ryuichi, though she was certain she could handle Sugizo if needed. Uruha had been oddly quiet since the night in Kagoshima, worrying Mari.

          With her lover in her arms, Mari pleaded with Uruha, “Talk to me, tell me what the problem is please.”

          He had not wanted to upset Mari, she had enough on her mind without worrying over his little insecurities, “It’s nothing really, just something that Kimura said that struct me as odd.”

          “Oh, what was that?”

          “When you asked him who is maker was, he said he didn’t have one…how is that possible?” This had been burning in Uruha’s mind since that night.

          Mari had also questioned that, but had been so preoccupied on finding a safe home for her and Uruha, she didn’t really give it another thought. “I’m not quite sure, it is odd that he said what he did, but I also understood it as that was not open for discussion.”

          “Does that make him older than Ryuichi? I thought he was the primogen.” Uruha sat up, “Is he possibly Ryuichi’s maker, and Ryuichi is lying to us all?”

          This thought had crossed Mari’s mind, but she had heard tell that Isshi the Onmyoji had a first hand account from his master Abe no Seimei of Ryuichi’s being blood born. “I don’t have the answer, Uruha. I can only guess, as you are. It could be that due to his conceited and over inflated ideals of importance, that Ryuichi is in fact lying, but that would put into question Abe no Seimei’s accounts.”

          Uruha flopped back onto the bed, “Why does all this have to be so complicated? Why can’t we just live as we wish, and not be bothered by all these details?” he whined.

          “Would you truly be satisfied with a dull life? No drama or suspense?” Mari teased.

Uruha sniffed, “Yes, I would. I just want to live with you forever, have our own home in some small town. I don’t think I would like being in a clan, too many people around to bother me.”

          “What if we created our own clan? Would you like a brother or sister, I could arrange it…all I need to do is…”? She didn’t get to finish, her lover silencing her with a passionate kiss.

         

          With a chill wind coming off the sea, Mari and Uruha made their way through the streets of Sapporo, the choice of cities that looked to be uncrowded compared to Tokyo or Kyoto. The couple had found a small hotel in which to spend the day, and had just finished with their hunt, making their way back to their lodgings for the day.  

          Walking hand in hand, Mari leaned in, kissing Uruha softly on the cheek, “What do you think of Sapporo, my love? I’m certain we could find a small house to buy, do you believe this city would suit us?”

          Uruha sighed, “It’s as good as place as any other we’ve seen. I’m just tired of moving around. I want a real bed to sleep in and a place to call our own.” 

          In a repeat of Kagoshima, Mari and Uruha were suddenly faced with another immortal who was boldly walking towards them.

          “Oh look, it’s Yoshiki’s infamous French whore, Mari.” Sugizo sneered. Looking at Uruha, the immortal laughed, “Picking up Ryuichi’s leftovers now, are we?”

          “What do you want, Sugizo? We have no quarrel with you.” Mari glanced around, thankful for the late hour, leaving the streets almost deserted.

          “Where is Yoshiki?” Sugizo snapped, stopping about ten feet from the couple.

          “I have no idea where he is.”

          Sugizo snarled, moving a step closer, “He’s your master, where is he?”

          Uruha’s eyes narrowed, growling at Sugizo, he stepped in front of Mari, “Leave us be.” Mari grabbed Uruha’s hand, “Careful, my love.”  

          “When was the last time you saw either of them?” Sugizo demanded.

          “It’s been almost a year since I’ve seen Ryuichi, longer for Yoshiki. Are they still ignoring your pleas?” Mari asked spitefully, “They obviously think so highly of you,” the sarcasm dripping from Mari’s voice, had little effect on the man.

          Sugizo grunted, “That’s none of your business, though Issay has said the same.”

          “Issay?”

          “He lives in Hokkaido with his boy, at Sakurai’s old estate. He hasn’t seen anyone in decades.” Sugizo was quickly losing his patience.

          “Then you have your answer. It’s possible neither Ryuichi or Yoshiki are in the country, have you looked in Europe?”

          “I have no desire to travel to that cesspool of humanity. They will eventually return to Japan, and I’ll be waiting for them.” Without another word, the immortal rapidly rose into the air.

 

          There was no conversation between Mari and Uruha on the way back to their hotel. Mari deep in thought, Uruha waiting before voicing his concerns over the incident. For her part, Mari was done with it all. She was tired of the constant struggles in avoiding both Ryuichi and Yoshiki, and now the compounding problem of Sugizo.

          Entering their room and locking the door, Mari took Uruha by the hand and led him to the bed, “We are going home,” she said in a firm voice.

          “Home? I don’t understand.”

          Mari caressed Uruha’s cheek, “We’re going to France, I’m done with this country and the problematic immortals here.”

          Uruha’s face brightened, “When do we leave?”

 

          With her sleeping lover in her arms, Mari sent her thoughts out.

          “You should seek your maker, for it will be in your best interest if you wish to live. If you wish to be destroyed, then ignore my warning.”

 

           Eiji couldn’t ignore the negative emotions coming from Issay, a dark cloud hanging over the man’s head. Any time he asked, Issay would tell him, “It’s nothing to concern yourself over.” That was an obvious lie. The frustration Eiji felt came to a head one evening as they returned to the estate after a trip into town.

          “What are you hiding from me, and why?” Eiji and Issay were walking hand in hand.

          Issay sighed, “I’ve told you, it’s nothing for you to worry about, I am handling it.”

          The young man stopped in the road, dropping Issay’s hand, “I don’t care if it’s nothing for me to worry about, I’m sick of you avoiding my question every time I ask.”

          The immortal had continued to walk, “Drop the subject, love.”

          Eiji was suddenly in front of his lover, arms crossed over his chest, “Stop it, Issay. Just tell me what the problem is, and then I’ll drop it.”

          The stare down lasted a few moments, “Fine. Let’s go home first, then I promise, I’ll explain.” Satisfied for the moment, Eiji followed Issay as they made their way back to the estate.

 

          “Why didn’t you tell me? I don’t understand that part of this.” Eiji was both concerned and shocked in disbelief, “Who was it?” the couple was sitting together on the engawa.

          “That’s the problem, I don’t know who it was, just a voice warning me to go back to my maker, which really isn’t an option.” Issay replied wearily.

          “Do you fear him that much?”

          Issay hesitated before answering Eiji. “He is my maker, and he can destroy me with a thought. We separated under hostile terms and I’m fairly certain that I’m the last person Sakurai Atsushi wants to see or speak to.”

          “Are you going to ignore the message?” Eiji’s stomach was churning in fear, he knew of his lover’s past with Sakurai.

          “I don’t know, I haven’t made up my mind, but I’m leaning towards going to Tokyo and at least warn the man that there may be danger lurking near his door.”

Chapter Text

         The news of Nakamura’s death had shaken the members of the two Tokyo clans, and adding to the problem was the unknown factor of at what lengths Sugizo would go to in order to get what he wanted. After receiving Reo’s letter, now with his mind full of uncertainty, Sakurai had decided to go into the city to speak to Morrie, but he would be traveling alone. “I will be back tonight, please, try not to worry.”

          It was not wholly unexpected that Sakurai should show up on his doorstep, Morrie had also received a letter, and was anticipating his friend’s visit.

          Sequestering themselves in his office, Morrie and Sakurai discussed the problem at great length, though neither one coming up with any conclusive answers. “Power is my guess. He continues to call for Yoshiki and Ryuichi, but for whatever reason, those two have chosen to ignore Sugizo, and I believe that’s what’s behind this attack. He strikes me as a petty individual; in being ignored, he decided to strike out at the closest target, and with the maximum effect. I’m sure he believes that after killing Nakamura, there is no possibility that Ryuichi or Yoshiki can ignore him.”

          “I agree, and there is the fact that he had stated that he was seeking revenge against Reo, just before Inoran changed him, so it makes perfect sense that he would hit Reo where it would cause the most pain; killing one of his clan members.” Sakurai sighed heavily, this wasn’t what he had wanted to hear.

          “We really can’t implement any more strategies than what we have already done. Extra security at the theater, watchfulness and being diligent in paying attention to our surroundings, while we’re in the city,” Morrie pointed out, “I’m sure Reo is taking the same precautions.”

          “Will you then pull Aiko and You from working at the theater? Can you afford to do so without losing business?” The small theater that Morrie had bought some years ago, was a thriving business that offered silent films from the west.

          “Yes, even as I believe they can take care of themselves, I would rather have them at home.” Morrie was most protective of the two female members of his family.

          Sakurai growled in frustration, “I just don’t like having that maniac on the loose, as he has no qualms about using fire to destroy anyone who gets in his way.”

 

 

          Issay and Eiji’s journey from the estate in Hokkaido to Tokyo had been swift and uncomfortable, with Issay opting to use the cloud gift for the sake of time. Much as he had that first trip to France with Sakurai, Eiji also clung to his lover tightly, terrified of traveling soundlessly through the air. “You’re safe, don’t worry, just close your eyes,” he would murmur in his young lover’s ear throughout the journey.

          Issay had taken the silent message from the unknown immortal seriously, announcing to Eiji that they would travel to Tokyo, but only to inform Sakurai of the dire warning that had been delivered. “We will be there for just long enough for me to speak to Sakurai, and sleep, then we will come home.” Eiji had objections, mostly based out of fear, but he chose not to voice them, he truly feared for his lover’s safety when Issay would be face to face with his maker. With Eiji held tightly in his arms, the couple left at twilight, wanting to complete their mission in just two nights.

         

          Choosing a wooded area outside the city limits, Issay and Eiji spent the first hour hunting, deciding on animal blood instead of taking a chance inside Tokyo, Issay knowing that the smell of human blood spilling, would attract other immortals.

          Walking into the city Issay stopped near the Inari Shrine, he sent his thoughts out to someone who he knew would remain neutral. “Isshi, if you can please meet with me?”

          “Who is Isshi?” Eiji didn’t remember ever hearing the name before.

          “He’s an Onmyoji and an immortal. It’s along story and perhaps I’ll tell you when we go home.” Issay patted Eiji’s cheek lovingly.

          “Issay-san? This is a bit of an unexpected visit, what can I do for you tonight?” Isshi had heard the immortal’s thoughts, but did not recognize the voice, and was more than a little surprised to find who it was.  

          Issay bowed low, “Isshi-san, thank you for coming,” he turned and put his arm around Eiji’s waist, “This is my blood spouse, Eiji.”

          Isshi bowed, “Konbanwa, Eiji-kun. Issay, what has brought you to the city?”

          “It’s urgent that I speak with Sakurai tonight, if you would please contact him and have him meet us here?” Issay knew that the Onmyoji would be the peace keeper and would facilitate a civil meeting with his maker.  “Of course, if you would follow me, please?”

 

          Leaving Issay and Eiji with a light meal, Issay made his way to Morrie’s estate, hoping that Sakurai was still there. It was pure luck that he ran into Miya who was just leaving Morrie’s theater, Miya seeing the harried look on the onmyoji’s face, “Isshi-san? Is there something wrong?”

          Isshi bowed to the immortal, “Miya, if you could please take me to Morrie, I need to speak with Sakurai immediately.” Miya could see the concern on the onmyoji’s face, “Come with me.”

          Sakurai Atsushi wasn’t completely unaware of Issay’s presence, having heard the voice calling to Isshi, so much so that he was waiting at the front door of Morrie’s home.

          “What does he want, Isshi?” Sakurai asked cautiously, there could be no good reason for Issay to be in Tokyo.

          Isshi bowed to Sakurai and Morrie, “Just that he needs to speak to you over an urgent matter. He would like you to accompany me to the shrine, if you would please?”

          Morrie and Sakurai exchanged glances, “I’ll go alone, if anyone else is with me, he may see that as an act of aggression.”

          “Yes of course, but if it goes badly, please make sure to call us.” Morrie bowed in deference to the elder immortal.

         

          “I would like you present while we are speaking, if you please.” Sakurai asked Isshi, “I believe that it would be wise to have a neutral party involved.” Sakurai wasn’t worried about the meeting, but Isshi’s presence was warranted.  “Of course, I’m sure Issay would appreciate the gesture.” 

          Isshi led the way to the small temple, where he had left Issay and Eiji, “I pray that this goes well.”  

          The first emotion upon seeing his estranged child, surprised Sakurai. It wasn’t anger or pity, but sadness and regret. “Issay…”

          “Sakurai-san, thank you for…”

          He smiled at the man, “Issay, there’s no need for formality.” It had been fifty or so years, since Sakurai had seen Issay.       

          Issay instantly relaxed, “Thank you,” he put his arm around Eiji’s shoulder, “This is my blood spouse, Eiji.”

          The young man took a step forward and bowed deeply, “Sakurai-san, it’s a pleasure.”

          “Konbanwa, Eiji-kun,” Sakurai inclined his head, “now what can I do for you, Issay?”

          Issay went on to explain the circumstances of hearing the voice telling him to seek out his maker, “I don’t know who it was, but they made it clear that it was imperative that I return to my maker.”

          Sakurai was silent for a moment, “There would be no way of you knowing this, but a member of Clan Aichi, Nakamura Taizo, was immolated … by Sugizo.”

          “Immolated? But I thought only Ancients had that power, how could he…”

          Sakurai held his hand up, “Inoran is his maker, and though he’s not first born, I’m sure that holds some weight on what gifts he possesses. Have you had any contact with Sugizo?”

          Issay shook his head, “None, we have seen no other immortals since Heath left the estate, and I’m not sure where he is either.” 

          “He returned and reconciled with Inoran and Yusuke. There is also a new addition to that clan; Rin, a sixteen-year-old girl who was raped and blood born by Sugizo.” As the words left Sakurai’s mouth, Eiji gasped, “Raped?”

          Sakurai nodded, “Yes, and left to fend for herself after the change. It was only when Inoran was traveling back to Fuji, that they stopped at a ryokan, and Rin’s grandmother asked Inoran to take care of her. Evidently, the grandmother had come to understand that Inoran was a vampire so as such, the reason for her request. Rin is a delightful precocious and rather snarky teenager, and she has all three of them wrapped around her heart.”

          Eiji whispered something in Issay’s ear, leaving the man to his confession, “I feel that I need to inform you, that I have taken up residence at the estate. I have remodeled and repaired all the buildings and we are honestly quite happy there. If you see this as a problem, we will of course find another home.”

          While it was a surprise, Sakurai had no feelings of animosity, “It has always been your home Issay, I have no problem with you living there. If you and Eiji are happy, then I’m satisfied.”

         Did he dare? “Thank you, Acchan.”

          With a little more small talk, Sakurai thanked Issay for his warning, and gave one of his own to his child, “Please Issay, take care with Eiji and be aware of what’s going on in our world. I fear that this war that Ryuichi and Yoshiki are planning, will soon be upon us. Take care of yourself and your lover, and be happy.”

 

        Two hours later, Sakurai was walking into his home, the sounds of laughing and good-natured bickering greeting him as he opened the door, “Tadaima,”

        “Acchan!” Uta called out as he ran and threw himself into his lover’s arms, “I’m so glad you’re home, Kai has been such a bear lately.”

         “I’m a what? Utaaaa, you’d better run, boy!” Kai growled as he came into the room, “Welcome home, my lord,” he greeted Sakurai.

         “Kai-kun, I need to speak to you all, give me a moment to change out of these dusty clothes.” Sakurai detached Uta’s arms from his waist, and walked to his room.

         “Something’s wrong,” Uta murmured, “Kai?” he looked at the other man.

          “Not necessarily, he probably just wants to tell us about what’s going on with Morrie’s clan, let’s not jump to conclusions. Let’s go back to the living room.”

           It surprised the ancient what he had felt when he had wished Issay a happy life, a tinge of sadness for what could have been, though it was hard to ignore the incidents that had driven Issay away from both he and Reo. Now he had to tell the other members of his small family what had transpired that evening, and he was sure Uta and Kai would not be pleased with what he had to say.

 

          “The meeting with Morrie was not terribly productive. We just voiced our concerns to each other, and really came up with nothing more than what we are already doing at this point.” Sakurai paused, “However, just as I was readying to come home, Isshi came to the manor, and requested me to accompany him to the temple. Issay had asked to speak to me.” Uta whined, “Acchan…” Sakurai patted Uta’s hand in reassurance.

         “Issay? Whatever for, Acchan?” Kai was incredulous, “He’s nothing but trouble, and now he’s in Tokyo?”

         “He came to warn me. He had heard a voice telling him to return to his maker if he wished to live. He was concerned enough to travel from Hokkaido with his blood spouse, to Tokyo.”

        “Blood spouse? Hokkaido? What the hell, Acchan?” Kai jumped to his feet and raised his voice, startling everyone.

         Sakurai’s eyes flashed a warning, “Sit down, Kai,” he snapped, “if you will give me two seconds to speak, I will explain.”

         Kai’s face burned with shame, at the reprimand, “My apologies, please continue.” Toshiya took Kai’s hand and pulled him back into his seat.

        “It seems that Issay has been living at the estate for some time, and has taken a blood spouse, a young man by the name of Eiji, they look quite happy and contented. Issay said he had done repairs and modernized the house, he also offered to move if I asked him to. I told him that it was still his home and he was more than welcome to live there with Eiji.”

         Uehara coughed, “If I may, what was this warning about, can you be more specific?” This was his territory, having taken it upon himself from the moment he joined the family, he was their protector.

         “The voice was unknown to him, and it stated that if he wished to live to return to his maker, or he would be destroyed. He had no knowledge of what Sugizo has been up to, nor had he heard about Nakamura’s death. He and Eiji have been living quietly in Hokkaido, they have not encountered any other immortals.”

         “Are they planning on staying in Tokyo?” Uta asked in a timid voice, he was terrified that Issay may try to come and claim his rightful place with Sakurai.

         “No love, he’s not staying in the city. He and Eiji will be spending the day at the shrine and will leave tomorrow night.” Sakurai could read his young lover’s mind as clearly as if the boy had spoken aloud.

           Uta was visibly relieved, “What is his blood spouse like?” He was curious to know who could possibly love the reprehensible immortal. Kai snorted, “The boy has obviously been duped by Issay, the man is a snake.”

          The conflict in Sakurai’s heart was rising. The Issay he saw that night, was more the young man of their beginnings, than of the man that was driven from his home.

          “I do not believe that is the case, Kai-kun. Issay seems to genuinely love the boy, who, by the way, was respectful and polite, even as his heart was filled with fear.” Sakurai stressed the point.

          Kai stood up, glaring at his friend and clan leader, “I can not believe that you are actually defending Issay, claiming that he has changed. There is no way in hell, that there is one redeeming quality possessed by that man.” Without another word, Kai turned on his heel and left the room, leaving the rest of the family stunned.

          With a groan of frustration, Sakurai covered his face with his hands, leaning his head back on the chair.

         

 

          As the night grew long, Issay thanked Isshi for his hospitality and assistance before he and Eiji sought their beds for the day. With his lover securely in his arms, Issay was ready for the trip home, and back to a semi-normal life. Sleep had almost taken him, when Eiji nuzzled Issay’s neck, “Can I ask you about Sakurai-san?”

          This got Issay’s attention quickly, “What would you like to know?” Eiji pulled away from him, “He was very nice, what happened between you?”  Issay had known that this issue would eventually come up, and he had decided to tell Eiji the complete truth of his life with his maker, and the interruptions that came after he left Sakurai’s home.

          “Something in me changed, after Heath left the estate. I guess you could call it a reawakening of my common sense and the death of my self importance and vanity. It was through my own actions that I was alone in the world.”

          Eiji wiggled close to Issay, throwing his leg over the man’s hip, “You’ll never have to worry about being alone again, I love you and will be by your side for eternity.”  

Chapter Text

         

          “Louie!” Uruha called, “You’d better stay out of Mari’s flowers, she’ll skin you alive if you dig up another rose bush!” He strolled through the garden of the Mari’s home, with a sense of peace and relaxation. Upon their arrival in France, it took several days before Uruha stopped looking over his shoulder, in anticipation of an attack by another immortal.

          “Love, there are no immortals within a hundred miles of the house, please…just take a deep breath and calm yourself.” Mari gently chided. The first few nights at the manor had been consumed with making the main house livable. The property had been managed by the same family, each generation passing it on to the next, the house had been largely ignored, the family business of the vast vineyards, had been more important.

          Uruha whistled for the dog, “Louie?” the small Papillon had been a gift from Mari, but was still in his puppyhood and was prone to digging, much to Mari’s displeasure. The manor’s garden held mainly roses and other flowering plants, and it had proven to be a place of solitude and was Uruha’s favorite for his late-night walks.

          He had reached the far end of the garden, when he heard the cries of the small dog, “Louie?” Uruha called for the pup. No sooner had he heard the dog’s cries, Louie shot past him, as if running for his life, still whining. “What the…”

          “Konbanwa,” a soft voice came from behind him, “and who do we have here?” Whipping around, Uruha was faced with two immortals, standing just outside the short garden wall. “Who…who are you?” Uruha stammered, as he backed away.

          “Oh, I think you know the answer, now…take me to Mari,”

          “What do you want Yoshiki? Why are you here?” Mari had come out to the garden wanting to know why Louie had bolted into the house whimpering. Seeing Yoshiki was not what she had anticipated.

          Yoshiki and Kaoru walked into the garden, “That’s a rather surly tone to take with your maker, my dear. You should be happy and excited to see me.” Kaoru was behind his maker, watching Uruha carefully.

          “That’s not answering my question, why are you in France?” Mari had put her hand on Uruha’s arm, gently pushing him behind her.

          Yoshiki nodded his head towards Uruha, “You’ve taken a mate? Why not a blood spouse?”

          Mari glared at the immortal, “That’s really none of your business. One more time, what do you want?”

          “Where is Imai? Is he in France?” Yoshiki’s temper was flaring, he did not enjoy his own child challenging him.

          “I haven’t heard anything from or about Imai in decades, he’s none of my concern.” Mari snapped, “A bigger question is what are you doing about Sugizo? He seems to be wreaking a lot of havoc wherever he goes.”

          Yoshiki snorted, “He’s a nuisance, nothing more.” During the exchange, Uruha was watching Kaoru closely. The man was obviously frightened of his own mate, which lead Uruha to believe that Kaoru was not there of his own free will.

          “Ryuichi has said to kill him on sight, that leads me to believe he’s more than a nuisance.” Mari stiffened as Yoshiki’s attention turned to Uruha.

          “He’s one of Ryuichi’s, isn’t he? You’re picking up his trash… and now you have a mate, how sweet.” His voice dripping with sarcasm.

          Mari laughed, “And you took a mate by force, how typical of you and your ways, Master,” now it was her turn, she looked over Yoshiki’s shoulder, “Is he a cruel lover, boy?”

          Grabbing Kaoru roughly, Yoshiki said one last thing, “Tell Imai I’m looking for him, and it would be in his best interest to contact me, if he wishes to live.” With a glare and taking Kaoru into his arms, Yoshiki rose into the night sky and disappeared in seconds.

          “Bastard,” Mari growled, turning around to look at Uruha, “he did not harm you, did he?”

“No, but he’s hurting his lover…badly. He’s brutally hurting him, he pleaded with me to help him.” Uruha could hear Kaoru’s thoughts, “Yoshiki has ordered him to kill his victims when they hunt.”

          Mari sighed, “He did the same with me, one of the reasons I left his side, I could not continue to kill.” She reached out for Uruha, holding him tightly, “There is nothing we can do for Kaoru, unless he breaks away from his master, he is at Yoshiki’s whim.” Linking her arm with Uruha’s, they returned to the house.

 

          “Master, is Sugizo that dangerous? Is this something we need to be concerned over?” Kaoru wanted to be sure to understand the situation between Sugizo and the other immortals.

          “He’s only dangerous because he is insane, he has no more power than you, as he is blood born of another ancient, Inoran. If Ryuichi wants him dead, I suspect he will be in the very near future.”

 

 

          The following years were uncharacteristically silent. There had been periodic letters from Raymond Watts, informing the clans of the problems with immortals world wide, not just in Europe;

          “They creep about China Town, leaving death in their wake, they are without masters and there is no cooperation between them. I have heard similar happenings in Spain and Germany, leading me to wonder if Ryuichi is the true primogen…could there be others? This is greatly confusing.”

           Sakurai shared these letters with the other clan leaders, each taking away something different from the reports. Inoran had become interested in Watts possible theory that Ryuichi was not the primogen for all immortals, “…unless he traveled extensively before bringing Sakurai into the blood. He may be the oldest vampire in Japan, but it’s now highly questionable if he is in fact, the oldest in the world.”

            Inoran had spend most of the recent years doing scholarly research on vampire folklore in popular culture, believing that there was more to the claims that what had been originally understood, as well as separating fact from fiction…which was the most difficult. He had become interested in the topic after he had read some of the early vampire literature.

          “The ridiculous assumptions that these authors have claimed, it’s fantastical really.” He told Yusuke one evening, “Some of the information is correct, but for the most part it’s all fantasy.”

          “How would they know? Are you saying that there are humans that are accepting of us?” Yusuke was not convinced.

         “Bram Stoker is possibly the closest to the truth, though where he received his information, I can’t say. Perhaps he was following Polidori or Le Fanu, or he has studied the legends from earlier centuries. There have been folktales of creatures that essentially are vampires for centuries, but it seems the traits have been narrowed down to what Stoker wrote in Dracula. That seems to be the common consensus on exactly what vampires are.”

 

          The decade had also brough new innovations in technology to the country, much to the displeasure of some clan leaders, specifically Sakurai and Inoran. Uta had bullied his blood spouse in to having a telephone installed in their home, “Wouldn’t it just be so much easier to be able to call Reo, instead of sending a message? Come on, Acchan, don’t be an old man.” The many protestations by Uta had resulted in Sakurai giving into the whim of his young lover, having a telephone installed within a month. “Fine, but I do not need you to be randomly calling anyone just to talk, it is to be used in emergencies only.” Uta sulked for a few hours, then finally agreed.

          For Inoran, it was the the latest advancements in travel that had come to his clan; in 1913, Heath bought his first motorcycle. Touring around the country side at night, Heath felt an exhilaration that he had never experienced. The freedom to go and cover great distances at whim, had frequently left his small family minus a member.

        Inoran of course, forbade Rin from riding with Heath, “Absolutely not, there will be no more discussion. You will not be allowed to ride with Heath under any circumstance, is that clear?” he scolded both.

        “It’s not dangerous if I just go slow, she’d be perfectly safe, Inoran.” Heath retorted, Rin nodding emphatically behind him, “Please father? Just one time?”  Inoran finally relented, “Down the lane and back, no further, and no speeding and just this once!”

        Yusuke stood next to Inoran, as Rin climbed on behind Heath, sitting on a small leather seat. Heath turned his head, “Just hold on tight, put your feet on the pegs,” he instructed her, “Ready?” Rin nodded.

        “SLOWLY HEATH!” Inoran yelled as the motorcycle quickly pulled away, much faster than the immortal had asked. “Damn him, if she gets hurt…” Yusuke hugged his spouse, “She’ll be fine, do you really believe Heath would put her in danger?”

         Rin laughed as they sped down the dirt road, the wind whipping her long hair around as she clung tightly to Heath’s waist. The vibration of the bike sent chills down her spine, and the loudly roaring engine was something she’d never heard before. It was exciting and scary at the same time, but Rin knew Heath would keep her safe.

        He stopped the bike at the end of the dirt road, turning back to look at Rin, “Well? What do you think?” he smiled broadly at her.

       “Do you think Inoran would let me have a motorcycle?”

 

 

       “Are you saying I can’t?” Reita challenged his clan leader.

      “No, I am not saying that. I’m saying I’d prefer you to be on four wheels and not two.” Reo countered. It was a heated discussion between the two men, over Reita buying a motorcycle, he had become obsessed the moment he had seen Heath ride into Kyoto.

       “There is no legitimate reason I should not be allowed, with my own earnings, to buy a motorcycle. Your reasoning that you would rather I buy a car is irrelevant. If it is not tied to any sort of rule breaking within the clan, then I should be in the clear. Are you going to forbid me to do this?” Reita was adamant, staring Reo down.

      The immortal grinned, he knew the young man was right, “Reita-kun,” he said softly, “I just fear for the safety of my family members. While I understand that you can’t be killed in an accident, you could become injured.”

      He paused for a moment, then relented, “If buying a motorcycle will make you happy, and you’re correct in that there is nothing in our clan bylaws that prevent you from using your wage as you want, go ahead and buy your motorcycle.”

     Reita’s face lit up, he bowed deeply, “Thank you, Reo-sama. I promise that I will take care while riding.”

    Clan Aichi had probably changed the least, as Japan moved into the new century. The clan still offered the same services to the small businesses in Kyoto, much as they had for centuries, only changing when organized crime syndicates started to appear in the city. These organizations were violent in their extortion, often beating shop owners bloody, until they relented and promised to give them protection money. It was one of those bloody beatings that was brought to Reo’s attention.

      In the early evening of a warm summer night, Kyo and Hazuki had been making their routine visits to the various business, when the came upon a small clothing shop, which they found locked up. Hazuki peered into the window, finding the shop dark and with no apparent owner visible.

      “This is strange,” he murmured, he knocked on the door forcefully, “Kobayashi-san?” Kyo was walking around to the back of the building, trying the back door, which was unlocked. “Hey, what did you find?” Hazuki walked up.

        “It’s open, something’s wrong here.” Kyo knocked softly on the door before opening it. “Kobayashi-san?” Taking a step into the shop, Kyo reached for a light. What they found as the room was illuminated, alarmed them. The rear of the shop where the stock was kept, was in shambles, with merchandise torn and some of it had been burned.

        “Shit…” Kyo hissed. “I’m going upstairs.” Hazuki stood at the bottom, “Okay, I’ll watch the door. Kyo slowly climbed the stairs, again knocking on the door to the private apartment. “Kobayashi? It’s Kyo…”

        “KYO-SAN!” Kobayashi’s wife Haruko stepped into the room, “Please, Kyo-san…help us!” The woman was disheveled and frantic, “It’s Hito, please…” she grabbed Kyo and pulled him into a small room. What Kyo found, was a man who looked near death, his face swollen, bloody and bruised.

        “Haruko, what happened?” he kneeled down next to the bed, “Hito? It’s Kyo…” all the man could do was moan.

         “Some men that I’ve never seen before, they came to the store earlier today, and told us that we would be paying them every week, to ensure that our business was safe. When Hito refused, they beat him! Kyo-san, I wanted to go to Reo-san, but I um, it was daytime, and I knew you’d be asleep, and I’m afraid of leaving my husband for even a few minutes.” The woman was kneeling next to the bed, stroking her husband’s hair.

          Kyo was angry…this was a complete and utter disregard drawn lines, for an outside gang, to cross into Clan Aichi territory. “I’m going to post one of our agents inside your shop, day and night. I want you to open tomorrow as you normally would, if those men return, the agent will still be in the shop with you. Don’t worry, Clan Aichi will take care of this.”

          Hazuki knew not to speak to Kyo, seeing how the man stomped down the stairs and the look on his face, “We need to go back and speak to Reo, now.” Kyo growled, muttering obscenities as they made their way back to the house.

          Without knocking, Kyo burst into Reo’s office, “We have a huge fucking problem.” He ignored the fact that Arimatsu, Asanao and Jyou were in some sort of meeting with the clan leader, “Oh? And what problem would that be?”

          “This isn’t some bullshit issue Reo, someone beat the shit out of Kobayashi earlier today, left the man so bloodied and cut, he can’t get out of bed, his wife is near hysterical. She said that some men came in and demanded that they pay protection money to keep their business safe. When Kobayashi said no, they beat him almost to death.”

          “What did you tell her?” Reo said in a low threatening tone.

          Kyo walked over and leaned on the desk, getting in Reo’s face, “I told her that Clan Aichi would take care of it. I want to have one of our agents spend the day in that shop, I told her to open as she normally would and that we’d keep her safe day or night. This is bullshit, Reo and you know it!”

          The clan leader didn’t have to say a word, Arimatsu quickly left the room, “We will take care of it, Kyo. I need to know the names of these men and who their boss is. Get the word out tonight, and report back to me before you sleep.” Kyo nodded and walked out, leaving Hazuki behind. “Did you see Kobayashi?” Reo asked.

          “No, but the way Kyo looked when he came down from the apartment? I’m not sure I wanted to. It must have been bad, he cursed under his breath all the way back.” Hazuki sat down, “You know that there are gangs in our city…gangs that don’t think twice about doing this sort of thing. You’re going to have to confront them soon, Reo, before they end up killing someone.”

          Still upset, Kyo returned to his room, slamming the shoji shut roughly, startling Ayato, “What’s wrong?” Kyo didn’t answer, walking over and picking up Ayato and holding him tightly, “Nothing, I just missed you tonight,” he said before kissing the young man, “Please, just be careful when you go out at night, take at least Akinori with you and no hunting alone.”

          “I know this already, what happened tonight for you to…” Ayato couldn’t finish, Kyo’s grip on him tightened, “Okay, now you’re scaring me, tell me what’s wrong please?” Kyo sighed then explained the trip to Kobayashi’s store, “There are gangs out there, that are attacking the owners of the businesses, trying to extort money for them under the promise of protection. I just want you to be extra careful when you’re not with me, that’s all.”

          Ayato sighed, “You’re such a fake, you know that?” taking Kyo by the hand, he led him to the bed, “you pretend to be this rough tough samurai, and you’re really just a big ole soft grouchy bear.” Kyo raised an eyebrow, “soft grouchy bear?” Ayato knew just what to say, to trigger his lover.

         

          “Show them how serious we are, give them an example of what will happen if they refuse.”

 

          The two men who sat in front of Reo, were sweating profusely, though trying to remain defiant. The posturing was amusing for the immortal, he knew that they had seen one of their members die in front of them.

          “Gentlemen, my name is Aichi Reo, and you’ve been brought here today in response to what you have ordered your parasitic followers to do in my city.”

          The older of the two men, spoke first, “You have no right to dictate what we do in this city, we will carry on with our busin…”

          Reo stood quickly, banging his fists on the desk, “NO, you will not continue your business in MY city. You will cease all your activities in respect to strong arming merchants into paying protection money.”

          The younger man would not be cowed, “What power do you have here? Your member numbers are low, you have less power than we do, you should be paying us to protect your businesses,” the man sneered, “we can easily go to the city officials and expose you. You have no power during the day, what are you going to do? Wait until nightfall to attack us?”

          Reo looked at Asanao and nodded, “City officials? Please feel free to inform them, I’m sure they’d love to hear what you have to say.”

          Asanao returned to the room, with another man following him, “What can I do for you, Reo-san?” the man bowed to the clan leader.

          “Yamazaki-san, could you please inform these two men what your profession is,”

          The man glared at the two gang bosses, “I am the chief inspector of the police force here in Kyoto.”

          Reo grinned, “Are you familiar with these two gentlemen, and their followers?” The inspector walked over to stand next to Reo’s desk, “Yes, I am aware of these men. Is there something they need to inform me about?”

          The elder gang boss stands, gesturing wildly, “These … men are monsters that kill and drink blood! Aren’t you going to do something about them? They killed one of my members in front of me! How can you let them live in peace?”

          The inspector glanced at Reo, then turned to the two men, “Clan Aichi is of no threat to the citizens of Kyoto, unlike yourselves. I know what your men did to Kobayashi, they beat him near to death, and demanded protection money. No gentlemen, there is no threat from Clan Aichi, but you…you will be leaving this city within the next twenty-four hours, or I will arrest you and your members.”

          Kyo, Hazuki and Suzuki, rousted the two men out of their chairs and dragged them out of Reo’s office.

          “Thank you, Inspector, your assistance was appreciated.” Reo bowed to the official.

          “You’re more than welcome, Reo-san. We need to keep those types out of Kyoto at all costs. Please contact me if you need anything further.” With a deep bow, the Chief Inspector left Reo’s office.

          Pushing back from his desk, Reo sighed. The prospect of more organized crime coming into Kyoto was worrying. How long could he continue policing the city that had grown so large over the centuries. Gone were the days when they could do their business without interference. “You’re going to have to learn to adapt, old man,” he muttered to himself.

 

          The members of Clan Aichi were not the only one’s learning to adapt in the new century, Clan Otsuka was moving up in the business world. With the constant increase of people in Tokyo, Morrie had decided to purchase a larger building and moved his theater, adding one hundred more seats, taking the opportunity to benefit from the advances in cinematic productions, and appeasing the demands of his customers.

          With financial advice from both Reo and Sakurai, Morrie moved his theater to the larger building, and within two weeks was open and sold out for most showings of the few films that he could procure though some questionable contacts outside the country. With family members making up the bulk of the staff, the profits were seen immediately.

          Clan Otsuka was known to the city officials, and as such, Morrie’s family was always under some suspicion. Certain members of the government knew about the immortals, and were dealing with them in the same manner as they dealt with Isshi and the Inari Shrine; turning a blind eye to their existence unless interference was needed. The lone edict that was allowed for Clan Otsuka, was the killing of criminals, which was viewed as a benefit for the city.

 

          Isshi was no longer seen in the city streets, he felt that he could not leave the shrine unattended, and with the growth in population, the Onmyoji felt overwhelmed at times. He was still in contact with the clans, but kept to himself unless specifically asked to be present at any gathering. “You no longer need me, you have telephones and cars to get your messages to each other, though I will always be there for you when you call.”    

 

Chapter Text

         

         Walking towards Little Tokyo, Raymond Watts was looking forward to the intimate party he was attending that evening at the San Francisco Institute of Art, where he was a patron. Shortly after Watts had relocated to San Francisco, he had gained a reputation as a prolific collector of rare and original paintings, but also viewed as a bit of an eccentric for his hours of operations, “I prefer the night, its quiet peacefulness suits me more than the overwhelming din that one hears during daylight hours.” No one questioned this or his appearance, the lack of light leaving the man decidedly pale, or so they thought.

          Choosing a home near Little Tokyo made sense to Watts, he was comfortable with the culture after so many years with Yoshiki. His small dinner parties were always the topic the next day; the food, the drink and of course his lively tales of living in Japan. This night found him in formal dress for the party, with a bottle of good wine and the hopes of having a pleasant evening.

          Strolling through the various rooms of the Institute, he was startled by a single thought flashing in his mind, causing him to pause and study a large painting. His senses were on hyperdrive, the hairs on the back of his neck stiff in apprehension. Slowly moving away from the painting, Watts scanned the room. It took but seconds to see the immortal, but it wasn’t what he was expecting; it was a young woman.

          They stared at each other for a moment, before Watts approached her, and gave a brief nod, “Good evening, Madam. I must say I’m surprised to see you here.”

          The woman nodded back, “I, on the other hand, came here specifically to speak with you, Mr. Watts.”

          Watt’s raised an eyebrow, “And you would be?”

          “My name is Veronica Byrne, Mr. Watts, and I’ve been trying to speak with you for sometime now, though you seem to have your thoughts blocked more often than not.”

          Watts smiled, “Would you like to join me at a café? I’m sure it will be more a more pleasant atmosphere, than trying to keep our conversation to ourselves.”  With a hand on the small of the woman’s back, Watts led them out of the building, and crossing the street, they entered a small café.

          They studied each other for a second, “Why have you been looking for me, Miss. Byrne?  And you are correct in your assumptions in the blocking of my thoughts, no one can be sure who is listening.”

          The woman sipped her tea, glancing around she leaned in, “I’m in fear for my life, Mr. Watts. I know you are much older than I am, and have more power, while I’m not asking for you to protect me, I want you to know what’s been happening as of late.”

          “Miss Byrne, first let me ask you, who is your maker and what year were you brought into the blood?”

          “Of course. My maker was Alfred Sausen, and I was blood born in 1893, in New York City, and I was twenty six. I stayed with my master for seventeen years, and only separated from him, as I believe he has been killed or has died in some other manner.” The woman had a tear sliding down her cheek.

          Watts hands the woman a handkerchief, “Were you seduced or taken by force?”

          Miss. Byrne said nothing for a moment, “I believe seduced would be appropriate. Mr. Sausen was a frequent customer at the haberdashery where I was employed. After several months of meeting him, he asked me to dinner and I accepted.” The young woman went on to explain the relationship she had with her Master, emphasizing that she was not taken by force, but agreed to the change.

          “I stayed with him for seventeen years. I only left after my Master had gone out one night to hunt, and never returned. I waited for two years, and when he didn’t  reappear, I believed him to be dead, so I sold all of our possessions, and the house, and came to San Francisco. I’ve been here since 1910. I have a small house near Nob Hill and I live alone.”

          Before continuing to address the issue of why Miss. Byrne was looking for Watts, he gave her his story of being brought into the blood by Ryuichi.

          Upon hearing Ryuichi’s name, the woman gasped, “Ry…Ryuichi?”

          Watts was taken aback by her reaction, “Have you seen this man? You look frightened, has he approached you? Is he in America?” Watts shot rapid fire questions at the woman, “Wait, don’t answer that yet,” He held up his hands, then flagged down a server to get the bill, “Miss. Byrne, I would like to invite you to my home, where we can speak freely without worry. I can assure you that I am a gentleman, and you will come to no harm.”

 

          “Are you sure? He never mentioned who his maker was?” Watts handed the woman a small glass of sherry.

          The woman shook her head, “No, and I didn’t ask, though from the way he spoke, I believe he had to have been close to two hundred years old and, he had been brought into the blood in Germany and his accent was still rather heavy. I never thought to ask him how long he had been in America.” She paused, “I was quite the innocent, and I was happy not knowing these details, I loved my Master completely and I would not have left voluntarily.”

          Watts was pacing the room, “When did you first hear Ryuichi’s name spoken?” This was a critical question, “Take you time and make sure you remember correctly.”

          Pouring Veronica another glass of sherry, Watts watched her closely. “It had to have been when I was still in New York, but after my Master had disappeared. It wasn’t clear who was saying the name, I just found it odd…the name was obviously not English. After that, it all the voices I’ve heard have been here in San Francisco, and whomever it is filled with anger and hate.”

          Watts could tell by the look on her face, that she knew more than she was saying, but how much more, and to what degree?

          “That would most likely be Sugizo,” Watts gave a brief history of the rogue vampire. “Who will finally kill him, I wouldn’t venture to guess, as there are so many that hate the man.”

          “How many immortals have you met or seen since you’ve been here, Mr. Watts?”

          “You’re the first cultured immortal I’ve met, Miss. Byrne. I have however, come across more than a few that lacked any sort of true consciousness, killing freely and without care. They are rogues and tend to run in small packs, and keep themselves to China Town. I believe that there are others, like ourselves, but they have yet to make themselves known to me.”

          “Oh, Mr. Watts,” Veronica chuckled, “You are viewed by our local community as an exotic mysterious Ancient. You are not an American, and you can speak Japanese…you have confused our small circle of friends completely. They would never dream of approaching you without being introduced first, by a second party.”

          Raymond Watts was baffled, “How do they know I speak Japanese?” He couldn’t remember the last time he … “Wait, there was an immortal in Little Tokyo when I first arrived in the city. They kept themselves cloaked and hidden, they must have heard me speaking to a shop owner.”

          “You’re actually well known in the community, Mr. Watts, we have a larger population than you may know of.” Veronica informed him, “If you’d like I can introduce you to some of the elders,” she left the invitation open.

         

          The night grew late and biding Miss. Byrne good night, Raymond watched from his window, as the young woman faded into the darkness, leaving him with many questions unanswered. She had not elaborated on the exact number of immortals in the city, but he could easily tell that there were more than he initially had believed.

          Were these immortals American? Or had they immigrated from Europe, blood born of the same maker, how many were blood born of Ryuichi or Yoshiki? Seeking his bed for the day, Watts believed what he would be learning in the next few nights, may be of great importance to his friends in Japan. Were these immortals aware of the war that Ryuichi and Yoshiki were planning? Were the two ancients aware of immortals that were not of their creation?

          “Stop it, you’ll never get any rest if you’re over thinking this,” he scolded himself. All he need do is wait for Miss. Veronica Byrne to inform the other immortals of the city of San Francisco, that he was open for further discussions.

 

          “He was very pleasant, cordial and completely trustworthy. He had some disturbing information on a rogue vampire that is problematic in Japan, but you’ll never believe who is maker is…Ryuichi! Yes, I know, I need to contact Ricky and I’m sure he’ll be shocked. No, I haven’t said anything about Seiji, should I have? Giselle, honestly… let’s just wait until we can come together and have a proper meeting.”          

           

          “My dear Ricky, I’m just giving you what information that Mr. Watts gave me. I did not drill the man for anything further, I just wanted to inform him of what has been going on in the last few weeks.”

          Veronica Byrne had contacted an immortal by the name of Ricky Norris, who had the misfortune of being blood born by Ryuichi, during the gold rush era of the 1840s. Ricky had been but 19, in 1854, when Ryuichi entered a campground in the foothills of San Francisco. The young man was, like so many others before him, seduced by Ryuichi who lured him away from the campground with the promise of a undiscovered vein of gold, near a small stream.  In typical Ryuichi fashion, the seduction ended with Ricky writhing around on the dirt floor of a shack, his mortal body dying, and the Ancient standing over him and laughing. “Welcome to the family, boy,” was all that Ryuichi said before disappearing into the dark.

          “He’s not in the country is he?” Ricky asked flatly, “As long as that man isn’t in this country, I don’t care what this Watts person has to say, leave me out of this Veronica.”

          While not surprised, Veronica admitted that she was disappointed in Ricky, “Are you sure? He may have information regarding Ryuichi… do you not care?”

          “Here’s the short answer, Veronica. No, I don’t care.” Ricky effectively finished the conversation.

         

          There were five other immortals that Veronica knew would be interested in speaking to Raymond Watts, sooner than later. She sent them all short messages, with a promise to arrange a meeting as soon as she could. “I’m hoping that with Mr. Watts assistance, we can curtail the events that have been plaguing us for some time. If not completely, at least slowing them down to a manageable number.”

 

          Mr. Watts,

          “I have informed the persons of which we spoke of that evening, and they are all anxious to meet you and to delve into our particular life style, and the commonalities we share. I have proposed that we set the date for the Friday next, at 8:00pm. I will be serving a light dinner, and if you choose to do so, you may bring a bottle of wine or other spirits.”

                                      Yours sincerely,

                                                          Veronica Byrne.

Chapter Text

          “How much do we expose, Veronica? Do we tell Mr. Watts everything, or only what questions he asks?”

          Veronica’s brow furrowed, “I’m not sure, Giselle. I do trust Mr. Watts, as we have never seen nor heard him do anything that would warrant keeping him in the dark. Seiji, do you have any concerns?”

          “What about our makers, do we expose who they are?” Sasaki Seiji was apprehensive, but hopeful. “I am against exposing the others identities, without their knowledge, it wouldn’t be fair to them.”

          Estella had been sitting quietly until then, “You have a good point, Seiji dear, about exposing the others. I do believe however, that Mr. Watts has a right to know who are makers are, it could be critical information.”

 

          “Ladies, Sir.” Raymond Watts bowed lightly, being introduced to the three immortals, “Veronica, your home is beautiful, such an iconic view from your window.” Raymond Watts handed his hostess a bottle of wine, “This is an excellent vintage, it will compliment your meal quite nicely.”

          If he was honest with himself, Raymond Watts was nervous, meeting unknow immortals was not high on the list of activities he enjoyed, of course the last few immortals he had met, were at the very least, cultured and pleasant. Judging by the reception he was given; he was now more relaxed.

          “Mr. Watts, let me introduce to you, Miss. Giselle Dumont and Miss. Estella Cervantes, and our lone gentlemen guest for the night is Seiji Sasaki.”

          “Konbanwa, Watts-san.” Seiji bowed lightly, Watts returning the bow. “Please, call me Raymond. It’s a pleasure to meet you all, and I’m sure this will be an interesting evening.” The dinner conversation was light, none of the guests were eager to begin the serious discussions that would follow.

 

          “Since I was invited, I believe that I will tell my story first, if that is agreeable?” Watts and the others were sitting in Veronica’s parlor enjoying a glass of sherry.

          “I’m sure Veronica has informed you already, that Ryuichi is my maker. I was living in London at the time, and working as a tailor. The year was 1588.” Watts described the seduction and his change, “I’m sure you’ve experienced the way he leaves you, laughing and condemning you to this life.”  

          “I had a similar experience, Ryuichi is my maker as well, you describe him perfectly. I was blood born in 1850, here in the city. I owned a very discrete upscale brothel, and my cliental were of the upper class of the city.” Estella Cervantes was a robust woman in her mid-thirties, carrying herself with a no-nonsense attitude.

           “Both men entered my establishment, looking for some companionship for a few hours. Giselle was one of my best girls, and Yoshiki took a liking to her immediately.”

          “Yoshiki?” Watts was stunned.

          “Yes, he is Giselle’s maker. I was escorting the men up stairs, when I was overcome with what I can only explain as a hypnosis. I remember nothing after I knocked on Giselle’s door, and much like you say, when I regained consciousness, my body was dying.” A soft sob was heard from Giselle, as if embarrassed, Estella reaching out to hold the young woman’s hand.

          “Yoshiki had Giselle in his arms, holding her as she went through the change, Ryuichi on the other hand was laughing at our weakness. He explained what we were and how we would live for eternity, he told me, “you are now part of the damned that will roam the earth forever, surviving off the blood of others, you will thank me for it later.’”

          Watts nodded, “He said those same words to me,”

          “Did Yoshiki ask you to join him as a lover?” Watts asked Giselle, who looked surprised, “Yes…he did. I refused him and actually clawed him across the face, which angered him so much he threw me against the wall.”

          Giselle straightened her back, “There was no way I would follow that monster anywhere, either one of them.”

          “Were you the only two victims that night?” Watts was almost afraid to ask.

          Estella sighed, “No…we were not. It seems that after they left us, they killed…no, they butchered two other girls and one of my houseboys. They acted quickly; it was only a matter of minutes before I started to hear the screaming. I staggered downstairs to the front door, and called out for the police, but it was too late, they were gone by the time the police arrived.”

          “How long was it before you … before you took your first victim?” Watts asked delicately.

          Estella looked at the others, “Less than twenty-four hours,” she paused, “there are others that are older than I,  and once it was known what had happened, they approached us, and offered to guide us through those first months, and I am forever thankful for their assistance.”

          Seiji Sasaki was oddly quiet through the women telling their stories, something Watts noticed right away, “Seiji, what year were you blood born?”

          “1853. Yoshiki is my maker, but he did none of what Estella or Giselle went through, he actually stayed with me for a few hours after my change, though he did ask me to be his lover.”

          The young man’s story was much like any other, being seduced by the beautiful immortal, “I was living in the hills above the city, as a miner. He persuaded me to follow him from my camp, he said he knew where there was a vein of gold in a smalls stream.” Seiji had been living in a miner’s camp, attempting to find his wealth among the plentiful streams that crisscrossed the mountains.

          “I was attracted to him initially, because he spoke Japanese, and I had not heard the language spoken since I was a child. I’m sure he used his powers to persuade me to go with him, um…” Seiji looked down, his face flushed in shame, “he seduced me, he uh, made love to me but in the middle of um…you know, he bit me.”

          Watts smile softly, “He is beautiful, there’s no denying that, and you’re not to blame, Seiji. You said he stayed with you for some time?”

          “Yes, about two hours. He took me out for my first hunt and taught me how to live as an immortal. He told me that if I was ever to go to Japan, to ask for him, that he would assist me in anyway he could. Before he left, he gave me some money…” Seiji shook his head, “How could he be so evil towards Estella and Giselle… yet tender and caring to me? I don’t understand.”

          Veronica poured everyone another glass of sherry, “Raymond, what is the situation in Japan and Europe? Should we be concerned with any more activity than we’re already dealing with?”  

          Watts described in detail what he knew about the immortals in Japan, the fact that Ryuichi and Yoshiki had threatened a war, “Exactly what that means, none of us are sure. The clan leaders…”

          “Clan leaders? What do you mean?” Estella interrupted.

          “Sakurai Atsushi, Aichi Reo, Otsuka Morrie and Kiyonobu Inoran, are the leaders of the four clans in Japan at this time. Their families are made up of immortals that were forced into the blood, or were blood born because they were going to die.”

          “Who are these leader’s makers?” Giselle asked eagerly.

          “Hm, Sakurai, Reo and Inoran’s maker is Ryuichi, I believe Morrie’s maker is Yoshiki. Sakurai, Inoran and Morrie have blood spouses, Reo has a mate.”

          Seiji’s jaw dropped, “Blood spouse?” It was at that moment, that Watts understood how uninformed these immortals were. He went on to explain the difference between a mate and a blood spouse, then giving Uta as an example for what it means to be blood born as a spouse.

          “Wait, you’re saying that the immortals in Japan are civil to each other? There are no hostilities between these clans?” Giselle asked.

          “Between the clans, no…everyone is quite friendly, even with the other immortal in the country, that is not a vampire, he’s an Onmyoji.” Watts went on to explain Isshi’s existence, and his qualities as an immortal.

          “Let me ask you this, if Japan is such an anomaly, what are the relationships like here in the city? I haven’t been actively looking for any others, and was surprised when Veronica approached me that night at the gallery. Do you not have leaders or elders?”

          The others exchanged glances, Veronica shook her head, “No, we don’t. There are a few others that much like us, are civil and live decently, but we chose not to expose them or their names tonight, as they are not in the city at the moment.”

          “Can I ask the age of your oldest known member?”

          “That would be Edgar Slate, he was blood born some time in the mid 18th century, we don’t know exactly as he is a bit of a recluse. He has never told us who his maker is.”

          Looking at the time, Watts knew he needed to push his next question. “How many immortals are known in this country, or are they all so fractured and distant that there is no way to know? What has been the current issue with the rogues?”

          “As for the number of immortals in America? We’re not sure, some say hundreds, others claim thousands. Usually they all stay in their own small communities, this country being so large, unlike Japan. I really don’t know how much communication there is, to be honest.”

          “And the rogues?”

          Seiji cleared his throat, “There could be as many as fifty? They tend to stay around the wharfs, and in China Town, but we have no idea who their maker or makers are. It’s almost as if they aren’t even part human, they’re raving fiends. Some of the others in the city have been trying to kill them, but it’s not always a perfect situation.”

          The hour was growing late, and the small gathering was ending. Watts wanted to ask one more question, “With your permission only, I would like to inform my friends in Japan, about your existence, it will be beneficial to all of us. I will not divulge any of your personal information, instead just letting them know that yes…Yoshiki and Ryuichi have wreaked havoc in America. I believe for the sake of us all, that we exchange information as much as possible. If those two lunatics insist on going through with this supposed war, I want us all to be prepared.”  

           

                                                                                                April 26 1918.

 

          “My dear Atsushi,

          I have just returned from an intimate dinner party with four immortals; three women and a young man. Miss. Veronica Byrne approached me at an art show, and introduced herself, we spoke briefly before returning to my home to speak further. I was in utter amazement that she acknowledged she had known of me for some time, as had others in the community…yes, there is a small community of immortals living in San Francisco. But even more important, they are blood born of both Yoshiki and Ryuichi, in the last fifty or so years. The young man I met, is Japanese, though was not born there. His parents were immigrants. Yoshiki lured him away, by speaking the language.

          These gentle people are just that, gentle and unimposing, though two of the women were brought into the blood in the usual manner of Ryuichi and Yoshiki; changed, laughed at while their bodies die, then abandoned. My hostess, Miss. Byrne was blood born in 1893 in New York. Her Master had disappeared after seventeen years of being together, and she subsequently moved to San Francisco. I will not list the names of the others, in deference to their privacy.

          They are having some of the same issues as you are in Japan; rogue vampires, with no humanity, though they seemed to be limited to China Town and the wharfs. Their makers are unknown.

          I was informed that there are more immortals in the city, than just the four that I met, but they either wanted nothing to do with this meeting, or had prior commitments.

          Is there anything that you or the other leaders would like me to do, or say to my new friends? I felt it important to inform you about my discovery, if only to warn you that there may be more immortals outside of Japan than we had previously believed. I was told that there are no true communities, due to the size of the country, and they were amazed with the arrangement of the clans that you have.

          Please respond as soon as you are able, I will keep you informed if anything has changed.

                                                Sincerely

                                                          Raymond.

 

          “What will you have me do? How far have they gone, and what damage has been left  in their wake?”

Chapter Text

          Ryo smiled at the gentle teasing from Sato, “She’s not interested in me, she’s just being polite.” There was little possibility that a woman would be attracted to him, let alone a human woman.

          “Polite, really? Sato chuckled, “She’s always watching you; I’ve seen that look before, Ryo. The woman likes you. She attends how many shows a week? At least three.”

          In the twenty odd years since Ryo and Aiko had joined Clan Otsuka, Ryo’s memories of his human life had faded, replaced now by friendship and comradery with his fellow clan members…his family.

          He was satisfied knowing that Aiko was safe, and had found love with Sato, his greatest worry on the road was that they would forever be alone. In turn, Aiko had the same concerns, “I’m sure we’ll find you someone,” she told her friend.

          Working at the theater had given Ryo the opportunity for a semi-normal life, albeit in the darkness of night. He spoke to patrons, interacted with them as if he were still human, the shadows hiding the pallor of his skin. If this was to be eternity, his life would surely be fulfilled.

         

          “Give me five more minutes, I’ll be right behind you.” Ryo waved off his fellow clan members, as they closed up Morrie’s theater. He wanted to check the back side of the theater for what he thought were rats, that had made their way inside, and were chewing on some wires.

          “Where are you little fuckers getting in from?” Ryo looked up towards the roof of the building, “hmm, no holes but that means nothing.” Returning to the front of the building, he checked the doors. Satisfied that the theater was secure, he made his way back towards the estate.

          The popularity of Morrie’s theater was evident by the crowds that were attending every showing of the film of the week. With Ryo in the position of maintenance, Miya handling the mechanics of the film projector, and with Tatsu as the manager, the theater was turning a nice profit for Clan Otsuka. This night, Aoi and Sato were working as ushers, a position previously held by You and Aiko. With the death of Nakamura, Morrie had pulled both women out of the theater, “I don’t want you in harms way, although I know you’re perfectly capable of protecting yourselves.” Morrie didn’t outright tell You and Aiko that as women, he believed they may be in danger.

 

          The clans were experiencing relative quiet since the death of Nakamura Taizo, with only snippets of information or rumors of Sugizo, Yoshiki and Ryuichi. The only exception to the quiet was the rumors that Kimura Keizo was on the move, though he was never seen in either Tokyo or Kyoto.

          “I believe it’s just that, a rumor,” Morrie concluded, during a phone call with Reo, “we have neither spoken to, nor seen the man. Whether or not he’s spreading the rumor himself is unknown, but to what end I can’t imagine.”

          Inoran gave his opinion, “Perhaps he’s trying to instill some sort of fear, though I can’t see that a lone immortal would be much of a threat for Yoshiki or Ryuichi.”  

          “He has never shown himself, except to Hyde. He has only spoken with his mind to Kyo and Hazuki, I do not trust him completely though; he may have some hidden agenda that he has yet to expose.” Sakurai cautioned his fellow clan leaders, “We have enough in dealing with the rogues, to worry about whether or not Kimura will make himself known to us.”

          Sakurai was more concerned with Imai, and the violence he would wreak in revenge for the death of his lover. As with the others, there had been no sightings or rumors, much to his relief, but there was a nagging feeling in his mind, that Imai would show himself sooner, than later.

 

          “Where’s Ryo?” Morrie asked Miya, as they entered the house.

          “He should be coming; he was checking the backside of the theater for rats.”

          Morrie’s brow creased, “How long ago was that?”

 

          Ryo hummed as he was making his way back to the estate, thoughts of how he could get rid of the rat problem in the theater, was the only thing on his mind., “Food will lure them out…” He stopped short, an immortal stood in his path, “Who the fuck are you?” Ryo’s mind screamed for his clan leader.

          “Oh, I think you know exactly who I am, think about it, boy.”

          Drawing himself up in an attempt to look intimidating, Ryo took a step back, “I have no quarrel with you, just let me be on my way.” He stepped to the side, as if to pass.

          “No, I don’t think so. You’re going to be my messenger, and you won’t have to do a thing but stand there…”  Ryo had no chance to act, he just opened his mind to his clan members, telling them he loved them, then he burst into flames with a scream.

          Aiko entered Morrie’s office, “Here’s your…” Dropping the tray, Aiko screamed and grabbed the sides of her head, as she collapsed on the floor, “What the…” before Morrie could reach her, his mind shattered with the same scream, causing him to double over. “Ryo…”

          “What the fuck was that?” Miya ran into the room, “What’s happening?”

          “Ryo…he’s…” Aiko whimpered.

          “He’s what, Aiko?” Miya kneeled down next to her, rubbing her back gently.

          Morrie sat up, his face flushed with fear and anger, “It’s Sugizo…, go get Aoi and Sato. Tell the others to stay in the house.”

          Running down the narrow darken street towards the theater, Morrie prayed that what he had heard, no…what he had felt, was a mistake. There was no way that Ryo could…

          Stopping at an intersection near the theater, the group looked up and down the streets. “Where is he?” Miya growled as he glanced around rapidly, “Damn it!”

          “Each of you take a street, we need to find him now!” Morrie commanded. Splitting up, the men ran down their respective streets, each hoping that they were not the one to find what remained of their friend.  It took less than five minutes before Sato called out for the others. What they found was what Morrie had dreaded.

          “Who would do this to him?” Sato sat on his knees next to a pile of smoldering ashes, “he was so kind, he was never a threat to anyone.”  Tears filling his eyes, he looked up at Morrie, “Why?”

          Aoi grabbed his friend by the arm, helping him up, “There is no reason why…whomever did this is an animal.” Just as Sato had gotten to his feet, the men stiffened, as a mocking voice echoed in their minds;

         “I warned you, and you chose to ignore me. Now one of your precious clan members, a part of your family, has paid the ultimate price. Give me Rin and this will cease, ignore me again and you will suffer. I’m not waiting for Yoshiki or Ryuichi, I’m openly declaring war on the clans.”

 

          “Here they come,” Shinya whispered to the others as they waited by the gate for Morrie to return. It was clear to all what had happened to Ryo, Tatsu hearing Sugizo’s voice as he spoke to Morrie. “Give them space, no questions right now. He will explain what’s going on in due time.”

          The pain on the men’s faces was only masked by the murderous anger in their eyes, Sato pushing past his friends and going straight to his room, “Leave him be…he’s the one that found Ryo.” Miya said. “Everyone to the dining room please.”

         Morrie stood at the head of the table, Tatsu standing next to him. “I don’t have to tell you what happened tonight, but I can tell you it was Sugizo. Some of you may have heard his threat, for those that didn’t, he has declared war on the clans, and he said he’s not waiting on Yoshiki or Ryuichi. He also demanded that we return Rin to him.”

 

         Sakurai Atsushi had been reading quietly in his study, when Morrie’s voice rang in his ears, “You need to come to the manor, it’s Sugizo.”  Standing up abruptly, Sakurai was going to call out to Kai, when the man appeared in the doorway, “I heard Morrie-san’s voice, what happened?”

         “Where are the others?”

        “Toshiya and Uta are in with Yume and Naoto, Uehara is out on the property. Acchan, what do you think happened?” Kai was trembling, Morrie was not extending a social invitation.

        “I’m leaving right now, get the young ones and keep them in the house. I will call you if I need to stay.” Sakurai brushed past Kai. “Atsushi, what do I tell them?”

        “Tell them that Sugizo is somewhere in Tokyo, that’s all they need to know right now. Keep them safe, Kai-kun.”

 

          Morrie leaned heavily in the doorway of the manor, waiting for his friend to arrive, “I’ve called for Sakurai, he should be here shortly. How’s Aiko?” He had never felt older than at that moment, his centuries of life weighing on his shoulders. Tatsu held his lover’s hand, trying to offer what comfort he could, “She’s in with You and, Shinya’s making some of Kai-san’s sleeping tea. She’s heartbroken of course, as is Sato.”

         

          Traveling by car was always frustrating for Sakurai, he thought the cloud gift was faster, but with the increase in population in Tokyo, using it was almost impossible. As it were, he was breaking quite a few laws as he sped towards Clan Otsuka’s manor. The fact that Sugizo had attacked someone in Morrie’s clan, had him seething in anger. He did not want to guess who had been attacked, though he was sure it was not Tatsurou…Morrie would not have wasted time by asking him to come. Driving down the last road towards the manor, Sakurai steeled himself for what lay ahead, hoping that his own family would not be in harms way.

          Morrie heard the roar of Sakurai’s car, and stepped into the courtyard to greet his friend, as he pulled in.

          “Who was it?” Sakurai asked as he got out of the car.

          “Ryo, on his way home from the theater.”

          “How?”

          “Immolation.”

          Sakurai swore, “Was anyone else hurt?” He followed his friend into the house. “No, thankfully…though Sato was the one who found…Ryo’s ashes.” He noticed how worn and weary Morrie looked, the care of the world showing on his face.

          “He had a message,” Morrie showed Sakurai into his study. “He said,

           “I warned you, and you chose to ignore me. Now one of your precious clan members, a part of your family, has paid the ultimate price. Give me Rin and this will cease, ignore me again and you will suffer. I’m not waiting for Yoshiki or Ryuichi, I’m openly declaring war on the clans.” 

          “Rin? Does he really believe we’d give her up?” Sakurai was incredulous over the idea, “Kyo already threatened Sugizo over Rin, and there are so many others that will protect that girl with their lives. Why is he so intent on getting her back?”

          Morrie shook his head, “I don’t have a clue. He left her to die, when he attacked her, so I don’t understand the insistence. I do however believe that we need to get Rin here, and perhaps have her stay with you.”

          “Me? Why would Inoran allow that?”

          The immortal chuckled, “Because there is but three in their small family. The girl would be safer with you, and I’m sure Yume and Naoto would love to have her. Think about it, Acchan. If Sugizo goes in search of Rin, he’s going to destroy Inoran, Yusuke and Heath, with no hesitation. No, the girl is much safer with you.”

          “But can we convince Inoran of that?” Sakurai wasn’t sure.

          “If we approach it the right way, I’m sure he’ll not have a second thought.” Morrie opened his mouth to speak, when his eyes glassed over for a moment, Sakurai cocked his head, then the voice came to him as well.

          “I have collected Ryo’s ashes and they are safe here in the Temple, I await your call.”

          “He’s always watching us, isn’t he?” Sakurai smiled softly, “Anyone who believes that Isshi is a threat, does not know nor understand the man.” This statement eluded to the belief of Issay, that the Onmyoji was dangerous.

          “How long can you stay? Shall I call Inoran myself and arrange for a meeting tomorrow night?”

          “We should probably get Inoran here as soon as possible. I will leave that for you, while I will call Reo and let him know what has happened. We also need to think about what Sugizo’s actions may mean to both Yoshiki and Ryuichi. Will they see this as an act of defiance, or will they completely ignore the man?”

          “Excuse me, Morrie?” Hiro poked his head into the room, “Inoran is here.” Pushing past Hiro, Inoran’s face was tense with worry, “Who?” he asked.

          “Ryo...” Morrie said sadly.

          “This is Sugizo’s work, isn’t it?” the immortal made himself comfortable in a large wingback chair. “I heard Ryo’s screams, but I couldn’t tell who it was.”

          “I can only imagine that he was taken by surprise, without warning,” Morrie explained, “Sugizo made a demand afterwards. He demanded that we give him Rin, or he will start his own war. Rin is here, yes?”

          “Mm, she’s with Shinya and You. Yusuke and Heath are also here, I wasn’t about to leave them alone after what I heard.” Inoran’s thoughts turned to his daughter, how was he to keep her safe from her own maker?

          “Does Reo know yet?”

          Sakurai shook his head, “No, but he will by dawn.” He looked at Morrie, “We have a suggestion. I’d like to take Rin home with me, she would be safest in a larger family, at least for the time being.”

          Without a second of hesitation, “Thank you, Atsushi. I am so grateful for your concern and your generous offer.  I was prepared to ask if Rin could stay here with Morrie, or if you would take her into your home. This is not a time to be worried about the dynamics of a clan, it’s a time that we must act as a cohesive front, in facing Sugizo.”

          Sakurai grinned, “I’m sure she’ll be thrilled, and I know my young one’s will welcome her with open arms. I will however not promise to return her with the same attitude she has now…there’s no telling what Uta, Yume and Naoto may impress on her.”

 

          An hour later, Sakurai was on his way back to his estate, Rin sitting quietly next to him, nervous about living with the esteemed ancient. She was put off guard, when Inoran told her she would be living with Sakurai’s family, “You must do as I say, Rin. Sugizo has killed a member of Morrie’s family, and you’re not safe living with just Yusuke, Heath, and I.”  Rin had spoken to Shinya and You, she knew that Ryo had been burned to death, and it scared her. “Will he try to come after me? Am I next?”  

 

          Sakurai reached over and patted the girl on the knee, “You’ll be safe with us,” he assured her. “Inoran only thought of your safety, so please don’t be harsh with him the next time you speak.”

          “Sakurai-san? What will I do about clothes? Can I ask Heath to bring me a suitcase?” Rin had been taken straight from Morrie’s home, “I will ask Inoran to send Heath with clothing for you, in the mean time, you and Yume are about the same size…or you could steal something from Uta,” he teased.

          Rin giggled, “I’m sure Uta would love that.”

          Sakurai had phoned ahead, letting Kai know that they would be having a long-term guest. “Do not tell the others, I want to surprise them.”  

 

          “Tadaima,” looking at Rin, Sakurai put his fingers to his lip, he knew what was coming.

          “What took you so …. RIN!” Uta had stomped into the genkan, ready to scold his lover, when he saw his friend.

          “What are you doing here?” Uta hugged the girl tightly, then he looked at Sakurai, “What happened, and why is Rin here?”

          “If you’ll give me two seconds to get into the house, I will tell you. Go and get the others and meet us in the living room.”  

          “Come with me, let’s go tell the others.” Uta grabbed Rin by the hand, dragging her along and calling out for his siblings. Standing in the doorway to the kitchen, Kai looked worried, “Who?” he asked. “Ryo.” Patting Kai on the shoulder, they made their way to the living room.

          With only a few hours left until sunrise, Sakurai explained what had happened. “We thought it would be best for Rin to stay with our family, due to the eminent threat of Sugizo. She shall stay until we feel that there is no further danger.”

          “Acchan,” Uta asked quietly, “what about Ryuichi and Yoshiki…or Imai? Do we need to worry about them as well as Sugizo?” The idea that Imai could be in the area, frightened Uta, he knew the man wanted revenge.

          “We really don’t know. Morrie will call Reo, Inoran will be speaking with Isshi and Hyde. I am considering writing to Issay and Eiji, just as a warning.” Sakurai felt the burn of Kai’s stare, in his back. “We will take the necessary precautions, as we always have. Nothing in that manner will change.”

          With a heavy sigh, Sakurai ordered his family to their beds, “Yume, could Rin share your room? I would rather she not be alone during her first day. We will get a room ready for her tomorrow night. And if you will, I’d like you all to find some clothing that may fit Rin-chan, as she came to us with nothing.”

 

          “How is Aiko?” Uta snuggled down into the blankets, his arm slung over his lover’s chest. “She’s devastated, they all are. His ashes were collected by Isshi, and will be held until Morrie decides what to do.”

          Uta shoved his face into Atsushi’s neck, sniffing back a sob, “Will he come for Rin? You know he’s going to find out that she’s staying here,”

          Turning onto his side, he pulled Uta into his arms, “He may try, but he will fail. I will not hesitate to do the same, as what he did to Ryo. Reo, Inoran and Morrie are all on board with doing the exact same thing. No, I will not let him get to my family.”

 

          The faces surrounding him all wore a look of concern as they waited for their clan leader to explain why he had unexpectedly called them together.

          Arimatsu, and Asanao were flanking Reo, “There was an incident in Tokyo this evening, involving Sugizo. On his way home from Morrie’s theater, Ryo was attacked and immolated by Sugizo.” Reo paused for a moment, “He also issued a warning, that if Inoran would not turn Rin over to him, that he was declaring open war with the clans.”

          “That son of a bitch!” Kyo growled as he leapt to his feet and pushed his way past Arimatsu, who started to go after him, “Let him go,” Reo caught the man by the arm.

          “What does this mean for us…for Clan Aichi?” Hazuki asked. Jyou was leaning hard against her mate.

          Asanao stepped forward, “We double down on the security of our businesses, and we heed extra precaution when we hunt. Nothing has changed on that front.”

          Ayato slowly raised his hand, “What about Rin? If he’s demanding Inoran to return her, who’s watching out for her?”

          Reo’s face softened, “Rin is now living with Sakurai. Inoran knew that she would not be safe with them, and agreed to the arrangement.”

          “Sakurai better watch his back, if that bastard Sugizo gets anywhere near that girl…” Kyo stomped back into the room, grunting as he sat down and pulled Ayato into his lap, wrapping his arms protectively around his lover.

          “I’m not concerned with Sakurai, however,” Reo looked at Suzuki, Reita and Tora,  “I am concerned with Inoran, Heath and Yusuke. If needed, I would be willing to send one or two of you to stay with Inoran, as added protection. It would be on a volunteer basis only, I will not force any of you to go against your wishes.”

          Reo answered a few more questions, then dismissed the clan, “It’s late, we shall revisit this tomorrow.”

          There were more questions than answers that night, as the clan settled down for the day, each couple expressing their fears to their lovers. Reo was mindful to choose his words carefully, he did not want to frighten Akinori more than necessary.

          With an unusually subdued Ayato, Kyo watched him as they readied for bed, noting that the young man was close to tears. “What’s wrong?” he asked gently, holding Ayato in his arms, “I’m scared for Rin,” he turned his face up, “and for you.”

          “Why are you scared for me?” Kyo asked. Ayato sat up, “If Sugizo goes after Rin, you’ll go after him, right?”

          So this was the problem, “Yes, I would.” Ayato laid back down, nuzzling Kyo’s neck.

          “If I asked you, would you stay home? I don’t want to go against Reo, but I also don’t want you anywhere near Sugizo.”

          Kyo sighed, “I can’t answer that, love. If Rin is in danger, I want to protect her. The girl has gone through far too much in her short life, for me to ignore her.”

          Ayato nodded, “I understand.” Kyo held him tighter, “I love you.”

 

          He got more enjoyment out of setting Ryo ablaze, than he did when he killed Nakamura, purely on the fact that the immortal’s death would destroy Morrie. He slunk back to his hovel at the waterfront, but not before hunting, tearing the throats out of his victims, and kicking them off the pier and into the bay. “I warned them…they didn’t fucking listen to me. I TOLD YOU I WOULDN’T WAIT FOR YOU! SEE WHAT YOU’VE DONE!” he screamed into the night.

          “Your war will be nothing compared to the destruction I have planned. Watch yourselves gentlemen, you might be ancients, but I have enough power to destroy you as well.”

         

           

Chapter Text

         “Keizo? KEIZO!”

          “I’ve been calling your name for the last ten minutes, what has you so deep in thought that you didn’t hear me?”

           It was true, Kimura Keizo was far away in his thoughts, but it wasn’t anything Yuko needed to hear about.

          “I’m sorry, my love, I was just off in a cloud. Now, what can I do for you?”

          Knowing her husband as she did, Yuko didn’t buy the excuse, but also knew not to push the issue. “The girls are pestering me to take them into town, but I would like you to come with us. I don’t feel completely safe with the four of us alone, especially with all the unknowns that are starting to show themselves.”

          Keizo smiled softly, “Let’s get the children and hunt first.”

 

          Even at the late hour, the streets of Kagoshima were still crowded with people. The increasing population over all, was giving the immortals better hunting opportunities.  The busy seaport hosted both locals and foreigners, all seeming to be in a rush to finish their business and escape the darkness, desperate to ignore the danger lurking in the dimly lit alleys and wharfs.

          “Papa, can we stop at the bookstore please?” Hana asked, knowing her father would not deny her. “I don’t have anything new to read.”

          “Make it quick, I don’t want to linger any longer than we need to.” With a tiny squeal, Hana grabbed Yuko’s arm and dragged her into the shop, followed by Rika and Kaya, leaving the others to wait on the street. Leaning against the building, the immortal scanned the crowd, sending his thoughts out to anyone who might be near.

          “Father?” Hiroto nudged Keizo, “you heard the screams tonight, didn’t you?” The young man looked up at his father, “who was killed?”

          “I do not know who the man was, but it was Sugizo that immolated him. Please say nothing to the others, including your brother. They don’t need to hear about this…is that understood?” Keizo warned him sternly. “I will deal with telling the others when I believe the danger has passed, not before.” Yukke had gone into the book store to hurry Hana and Yuko to finish their shopping, knowing Keizo wanted to return home.  

          The girls walked a few feet in front of Keizo and Yuko, heads together whispering about the new books they had bought, one of which was a romance novel, Yukke and Hiroto trailing behind the family. Yuko was not ignorant to the problem of the three girls, and even her sons, what they faced if they ever wanted a mate or blood spouse. For this reason only, she allowed the racy novels to be read, letting the girls hope that they would not be alone for eternity.

          “When are you going to tell me?” without looking at him, Yuko slid her small hand into Keizo’s, “I know that whatever it is, it’s serious.” She felt Keizo sigh heavily, “Yes, love,” was all he said.

 

 

 

        It was the anguished screams he had heard that gave him pause to reverse his decision to go to Kyoto, and speak to the leaders in that city. Kimura Keizo had heard the death of Nakamura, though he did not know who the immortal was. 

         It was several nights later, while he was sitting quietly in his den, when the dying shriek from Ryo, for his loved ones, and his clan leader, came through, at the moment of death, a sharp pain struck Kimura in the head. Leaning forward, he held his head in his hands, tears falling for the loss of one that seemed so loved and was of no threat to anyone. 

        “Keizo? What’s wrong my love?” Yuko had also heard the scream, though she could not decipher exactly what it was that she had experienced. 

         Looking up with tears still falling, “Gather the children, Yuko.” 

 

         With his family seated around him, all wearing anxious expressions, Kimura looked at each of them, “I want you to listen carefully to what I have to explain.” 

        “Recently, there was an immortal killed in Kyoto, he was set ablaze by another. I heard his screams in my head, I felt it in my soul. I have no other information other than that.” He looked at Hiroto, “My perceptive one, had also heard the screams, and came to me with his concerns.” He paused for a moment, gathering in his mind, the way he would explain Ryo’s death. 

        “Tonight, an immortal in Tokyo was killed, and I suspect both deaths are at the hand of Sugizo. This immortal was a gentle and kind man, he was loved by his family, and did not provoke the attack, it was a purely random act of murder.” 

        Yuko gasped, “Sugizo? You can’t be serious!” 

        “Unfortunately, I’m very serious. In the past I have heard him screaming, no... demanding that both Yoshiki and Ryuichi come to him, he is desperate for their attention, for their approval. Tonight though...the man has come unhinged.”

         “What will you do, Father?” Hiroto asked. Kimura once again needed to tread lightly. “Initially my reaction was to travel to Kyoto and speak with the clan leader in the city.”

        “NO! Absolutely not! You will not go to Kyoto.” Yuko shouted. “If you go to Kyoto, you leave your family unprotected.” 

         “My love, if you would calm yourself, I will explain what I have decided.” Kimura gently scolded his lover. 

         “My thoughts were to send a letter to at least one of the leaders in the north and ask for a meeting. Whether they come down to Kagoshima, that is yet to be seen. If it’s not possible, then we will travel as a family.” 

         “All of us, Papa?” Hana was shocked. 

        “Yes, all of us. I would never leave you alone and unprotected.” 

         “Father, how would we get there? We don’t own a car, and none of us know how to drive.” Yukke knew his father could not carry them all using the cloud gift, though as they were all blood born of an ancient, they were all capable of using the gift individually.

        “We would travel by train; it is the most logical of course. I’m sure there is an overnight route, and we could settle in two sleeper cabins.”

        Rika and Kaya were whispering to each other, one nudging the other, until Kaya spoke, “Would we be allowed to do some shopping after the meeting? It would be a waste of a trip if we couldn’t.”

        Kimura laughed at his cheeky daughters, “You’re interested in shopping, when I’m trying to set up a meeting that is of great importance?” Rika and Kaya had the decency to be embarrassed. “I’m sorry Papa.” Rika apologized. 

       “I understand, Rika,” he smiled softly at his youngest daughter, “if we have time, I would be more than happy to take you all shopping.”

 

 

      “Master? What’s wrong?” Kaoru watched as Yoshiki paced their hotel room, muttering under his breath and clutching at his head. “Shut up,” he snapped. Kaoru did as he was told, sitting quietly in a chair in the corner. 

      After returning to Japan from France, Yoshiki’s mind had been filled with the screaming demands by Sugizo. The first demands coming after Sugizo had immolated Nakamura Taizo, the bravado and conceit obviously coming with the actual act of killing another vampire. 

      The night before, the demands became more intense, the threats more violent. It was the final statement that Sugizo had made that pushed Yoshiki into action, the threat of destroying both he and Ryuichi during the upcoming war. 

     “Stay here, I’ll be back before dawn.” Yoshiki swept out of the room, leaving a bewildered Kaoru behind. 

 

      Kicking another victim into the water, Sugizo wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Damn, that one was rotten,” he spat on the ground, his body still vibrated with the thrill of killing Ryo. “I warned you, if you would have given me Rin, this wouldn’t have happened.” Silently making his way back to the flop house he was staying in, he had just left the wharf, when he stopped short, “Really? It’s a little late isn’t it?” 

       Yoshiki sat on a large stack of crates, looking down at Sugizo, “Isn’t the saying, it’s better late than never?”

      “You’ve been ignoring my calls, why?” 

       The Ancient waved away his concern, “I’ve been busy, you know how it is; taking lives, creating an army, but I’m here now.”

       “What do you want, Yoshiki? It’s obvious that I don’t need you to assist me in my plans. I can manage things quite well without you.” Sugizo started to walk past the immortal. 

       “Come with me to my hotel, listen to what I have to say and I can guarantee that Ryuichi will listen to you.” 

       This stopped Sugizo in his tracks, “Oh? Why should I believe you now?” 

       Before he could blink, Yoshiki was standing mere inches from his face, “If you want to please our master, then I suggest you join me at my hotel.” 

      Sugizo weighed his options, “Fine, I will come with you.” 

 

     “Would you like something to drink?” Yoshiki opened the door to his room, “No thank you.” Sugizo looked at Kaoru, “Who’s that?” he snapped. 

      “Nobody of importance.” Yoshiki replied, pouring himself a glass of wine. 

        “So, tell me this grand plan of yours, to get Ryuichi to listen to what I have to say.” 

        Yoshiki sat on the small settee, crossed his legs and leaned back. “America.”

        “Excuse me?”

        “Go to America...go see what you can find, what havoc you can wreak.”

       Sugizo couldn’t believe what he was hearing, “You’re telling me, that Ryuichi would approve of me going to America, to cause a disturbance? What would that prove to him?”

       “If you want to make a good and lasting impression on Ryuichi, go to America and do some damage.”

      “What should I expect from Ryuichi if I do this? Will he take me as a mate, or a protege?” 

        Yoshiki knew at that moment that he had just solved their collective problem with Sugizo. “He will be overjoyed, and more than willing to reward you, I promise.” 



             

      “He’s staying at the Hotel de Castille, and it looks like he has his family with him.” Kyo reported. 

      “How many in his family?” Reo was tapping a pencil in annoyance.

      “Hmm, his mate, three young girls and 2 young men, none over twenty I’m guessing.” 

       Jyou grabbed the pencil from Reo, “What sense did you get from them, if anything?” 

      Kyo shrugged, “Nothing dangerous if that’s what you...Reo?”

 

      “Reo-san, I’d like to set up a meeting, please contact me at your earliest convenience.

     "I guess that answers your questions.” 

Chapter Text

 

       “I’ll be speaking with Kimura Keizo, yes, last night. He said nothing other than he wanted to set up a meeting with me. If you would please call Morrie and Inoran. Of course. Well that depends on how long the meeting lasts, but yes I will call you and give you the details.” 



     “You will remain here, I do not want anyone to leave the room until I return, no objections.” Kimura had his family gathered around him, “I do not know how long I will be, but it is important that you do not leave the hotel, is that understood?” A small chorus of ‘yes papa’, and a nod from Yuko, satisfied Kimura. Kissing each of his family members on the forehead, he left the room. 

    Riding down in the elevator, Kimura sent his thoughts out, “I will be standing in front of the hotel when you’re ready.” 




     Kyo and Hazuki had been waiting across the street, for the Ancient to appear. “This should be interesting,” Hazuki mused, “I’m not sure what to expect.” 

     “Hmph,” Kyo snorted, “He’s just another vampire, nothing special about him other than he likes to be sneaky.”

     Hazuki nudged Kyo’s shoulder, “There he is.” Kyo pushed himself away from the building, and crossed the street.
    “Kimura-san, I’m here to escort you to our clan house.” Kyo bowed lightly. “My name is Kyo, this is Hazuki.” 

    “Good evening gentlemen, I remember you from my last visit to Kyoto, it’s good to see familiar faces.” Kimura returned the bow.

     “If you would follow us please.” 



   

       Jyou watched her clan leader pace behind his desk, “Reo, sit down, you’re wearing out the carpet.” she gently scolded. “Kimura has no advantage as long as we’re here.”

    “It’s not the advantage I’m worried about. We know next to nothing about him, and I hate being unprepared.” Reo frowned. 

    “I would expect he is a civilized immortal; he would know better than to attack someone within the walls of their own home.” Jyou reasoned.

    Before Reo could answer, a knock at the door announced their visitor, Kyo and Hazuki ushering in Kimura.

    The man standing before him, had a strange aura of royalty, and a strong serious composure, but one that told Reo, this man was more than just an Ancient.

    “Kimura-san, welcome, I am Aichi Reo. Asanao is my clan chief, Arimatsu is head of security, and Jyou is my daughter.” Reo made the introductions. 

    “Please,” Reo waved at a chair. Turning to Kyo and Hazuki, he dismissed them, even though he knew they would be standing just outside the door. 

     “Thank you, Reo-san.” Kimura took a deep look at Reo, anticipating the questions the other immortal would ask, as Reo was doing the same. 

    “I have no maker, but that’s another story for a different time. I was born in 721, in Satsuma, Kagoshima, and I have a family of young ones, and they are all products of Ryuichi’s despicable acts, that I have taken into my home. Will that suffice for background information?” 

    Reo smiled, “My maker was Ryuichi, the year was 1029, and I suspect you already know about my family, my clan members.” 

    Kimura bowed his head, “Yes, I’m well aware of your family, and actually of Sakurai Atsushi, Otsuka Morrie and Kiyonobu Inoran’s clans as well. But it is you whom I believe that the information I’m to give, is of the most value.”

   Reo kept a neutral expression, “Alright, I’m listening.” Reo leaned back in his chair. 

    “I have had the misfortune of clearly hearing the killings of both Ryo and your man Nakamura, by Sugizo, and I also have heard the ranting and raving, in his demands for Ryuichi and Yoshiki to contact him. I believe that Sugizo is at least as dangerous, if not more so, than both Ryuichi and Yoshiki.” 

    Reo leaned forward, his elbows resting on his desk, “I’m aware of that. From what information we have gotten on Sugizo, the man is more than mentally disturbed, crazed and insane is a more accurate diagnosis.” He paused, “This is not new information, there must be something else?” 

    “Raymond Watts."

    “What about Watts?”

    “Watts and his associates in America, are in danger. I believe that Sugizo will be, or already has, left Japan and is making his way across the globe, and his mission is to destroy as many immortals as he can find.”

    Reo exchanged looks with his people, “How did you come by this information?” 

    “Without getting into specifics, I caught glimpses of a conversation between Yoshiki and Sugizo some nights ago. This is a ploy by Yoshiki to eliminate Sugizo, who wants nothing more than to be with Ryuichi, as a mate or protege.” 

    Kimura paused, waiting for any questions or comments, receiving none, he continued, “The vast number of immortals in Europe are increasing, and they are not the products of either Yoshiki or Ryuichi. There are others that are older than you have been told, much older.”

    “If they are not blood born of Yoshiki or Ryuichi, who are their makers? I believed that Ryuichi is the primogen of our species.” 

    Kimura smiled, “Ryuichi is the primogenitor of Japanese vampires, but he is not the only primogen, there are others, in each country around the globe.” This revelation stunned Reo, and those that were in the room. 

    “Have you been in contact with these other ancients?” 

    “In the past, yes. I spent a great many years in both France and England, though I have been in this country for centuries, my wanderlust subsided once I met my beautiful mate Yuko, and my children.” Kimura smiled as he mentioned his family.

    Arimatsu cleared his voice, then looked at Reo, who nodded, “If I may, Kimura-san? The immortals in Europe, do they live as we do, or are they soulless killers?”

    Kimura paused for a moment before answering, “Arimatsu-san, I believe that it’s split fairly evenly, and I do believe that the more violent, or rogue as you call them, immortals could possibly be products of Ryuichi and Yoshiki. They have both traveled quite extensively through Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries, not always together, but they were prolific in the creatures they brought into the blood.” 

    “I am assuming then; you were also in Europe during that time?” Reo asked. 

    “Yes, I was how do you say… putting out fires. I would find the pathetic creatures that would not have survived, and I killed them.” Kimura said this as if he was talking about picking flowers. 

          “Do you believe these other immortals will be part of the larger battle, that Ryuichi has planned?”

          “I can’t answer that for certainty, Reo-san. I would like to believe that they would not be so inclined as to participate in a fight, that they have no dog in. But with what Sugizo may be doing in America, there is a possibility that they will be drawn into the conflict.”

          “Are you aware of Isshi the Onmyoji?” Reo asked.

          “Very aware,” Kimura smiled, “he is too gentle of a soul to be caught up in these problems, though I understand his desire to assist you in any way he can. I have not formally been introduced, but I would like to meet with the man, sometime in the near future.”

          “I’m sure we can arrange that.”

          “I hate to call an end to this meeting, but I have left my family at the hotel, and I did promise one of my daughter’s that we could do some shopping before we return to Kagoshima. I will leave you with this; watch your young ones, and the gentle souls, carefully. They are at the greatest risk from Sugizo, and you already are aware of the tactics of Ryuichi and Yoshiki.” Kimura stood and bowed. 

      “Kimura-san,” Reo stopped the man, “if it is possible, would you agree to come to a gathering of the clans? I will be sharing this information with my peers, and I know that a meeting will be scheduled. You could bring your family, as we usually stay at one or the other’s manors, and they are quite large. It may be a bonus for your young ones to meet ours.”    

      The Ancient thought for a moment. “Yes, I would be more than happy to join your meeting, thank you for the invitation.” With a deep bow, Kimura was led back to the streets by Kyo and Hazuki, acting as an escort, they silently walked with Kimura, then he bowed lightly to the two immortals, and walked into the hotel.

 

      Once Kyo and Hazuki had returned, they met with the others in Reo’s office.

     “Opinions please.” He asked. Kyo was the first to answer, “Something feels off, or maybe just different, but I can’t pinpoint it…not yet.”

     Hazuki agreed, “I think he is something other than an Ancient, but like Kyo, I don’t really have a reason to suspect him.”

     “He’s a very handsome man, almost European in his demeanor.” Jyou smiled.

     “What makes you believe he is something other than an Ancient?” Reo had sensed something as well, but kept his thoughts to himself.

      “His scent,” Asanao offered, “and the fact that he is older, he did not make the distinction between being born and being blood born, which makes him older than even Ryuichi, if he was born in 721.”

     “Older?” Reo said, “How so?”

      “He said he had no maker, that in itself is cause for concern, and it means that Ryuichi is not his maker, and neither is Yoshiki.”

      “What he said about the European primogen,” Arimatsu added, “How old is the oldest, and what are they to us? Are they, or will they be involved in the war? He also said that Sugizo was on his way to America, did Yoshiki actually send him to go after Watts, or just to cause problems in general?”

      Reo sighed wearily, “I need to speak with Sakurai.”

 

     Dawn was approaching and Kyo was bone tired. The stress of dealing with an ancient of unknown origins, and his family, had been nagging at him throughout the night. Going back to his room, he wanted nothing more than to kiss Ayato and slide into bed. He might have wanted that, but that’s not what he got. “Tadaima,” sliding the shoji door open.

    “Well?”

    “Um, it’s good to see you too. Well what?”

     “What’s he like?”

    “Who?” Kyo knew where this was going.

     “Duh, that immortal you took to Reo, what’s he like?”

     “Wait, how did you know about that?”

     Ayato had the decency to blush, “Okay, maybe I saw you and Hazuki taking him to Reo’s office. Who is he?”

     Kyo changed out of his clothes, pulling on a robe, and getting into bed, “Kimura Keizo, an Ancient from Kagoshima. He asked for a meeting with Reo.”

     “Ancient? Is he older than Reo?”

     “Really not sure, he hasn’t explained his background, other than he has a mate and children.” Kyo pulled Ayato into bed.

     “Children? Like… I don’t understand.”

     “He said he has five children, that were blood born of Ryuichi, and that he has taken them in as his family.” Ayato snuggled in close to his mate.

     “Look, I’m very tired and all I want to do is sleep, can we leave this for tomorrow night, please?” Kyo asked.

     “Okay, I get it. But you will tell me everything, won’t you?” The only answer Ayato got was a soft snore.

 

     “Pleasant, articulate and well mannered, almost as if he were nobility. He did not discuss his maker, saying that it was a story for another time.” Reo gave the details of his meeting with Kimura to Sakurai who listened intently.

     “That’s rather suspicious isn’t it? He has no maker, how is that even possible?”

     “I don’t know, but to be honest, I’m more concerned with what he had to say about Sugizo’s presence in America, there is no way for us to sufficiently     warn Watts. And there was one other thing he said that concerned me.” Reo paused.

     “Kimura said to watch our young ones and gentle souls carefully, they are at the greatest risk.”

     Sakurai frowned, “Not exactly what I wanted to hear, but it will be dually noted.”

     With a clan meeting on the horizon, and the introduction to Isshi, Reo gave one last thought to Sakurai, “My biggest fear is that we will be caught unprepared for whatever it is that those two monsters are going to throw at us. I fear for your young ones, mine and Morrie’s. We must be vigilant in our preparations, Acchan. I have invited Kimura to our next clan gathering, and he accepted.”

    “Oh? That’s a bit surprising, don’t you think? To accept an invitation to a meeting where he will be surrounded by unknown immortals?” Sakurai was suspicious.

    “He said he knows of you, Morrie and Inoran. He was quite subtle, but I believe he has more than just a passing interest in you.” Reo explained, “He has a   family, Acchan, a mate and five children, all were blood born and abandoned by Ryuichi.”

      “Family?”

     “I believe he’s not so different than ourselves. We have taken in those that have been abandoned, you know that. He even cut short the meeting, he said he had promised one of his daughters to take her shopping before they returned home. If he has young ones, Acchan, wouldn’t you like to have more companions for Yume and Rin?

          “I’m not going to make a decision right now, Reo. I need to speak with Morrie and Inoran first. If we do have the clan gathering, will you be hosting?” he was unsure if he trusted Kimura.

          “Most likely, as Kyoto is the half way mark. I will also be purchasing a new home, and it will have sufficient space for everyone.”

 

          Sugizo carefully floated down and settled to the end of a long dock. The nauseating smell flooding his senses, “Pigs, filthy people,” he mumbled. Walking towards the shoreline, he scanned the immediate area for prey, it had been a long trip across the pacific to reach San Francisco and he needed to feed.

          “Good evening, sir… are you interested in some company tonight?” A Chinese prostitute walked suggestively towards him. Without a work, Sugizo grabbed the woman, and tore out her throat, feeding on the warm blood without a struggle. Throwing the body into the water, he made his way towards the small wharf side encampment, looking for his next victim.

Chapter Text

          “Let him at least sit down for a moment.” Yuko scolded her children, who peppered Kimura with questions as soon as he walked through the door. “I’m sure he’ll tell us everything we need to know,” she reached up for a kiss from her mate. Settling down in a chair, Kimura smiled at the eager faces of his children.

          “What would you like to know first?” he asked. The young ones exchanged glances, “What did you think of them, Father? Were they at least civilized?”

          “Very much so, I was treated with dignity and respect. They asked the usual questions, though I don’t believe they were satisfied with my answer. We did discuss the current situation regarding Sugizo. They were surprised to know that I heard the deaths of their clan mate, as well as Morrie’s clan member.”

          “What about their leader, Papa? Was he nice?” Rika had worried that Kimura might have been in danger, facing an unknown immortal.

          “Reo-san was pleasant, civil and rather humorous. I met his second and third in command, as well as his daughter, Jyou.”

          Yukke gasped, “His daughter? How is that possible?” Hiroto nudged his brother in the ribs, “Probably the same way we are Father’s children.”

          “I did get the impression that Jyou was indeed blood born of Reo, as were my escorts, Kyo and Hazuki. I believe they have a unique situation with their members.” Kimura indulged his family with a few more questions, then he stopped them.

          “We have been invited to the next meeting of the clans, all of us. Reo-san said that it may be nice for our young people to meet.” He knew this would create even more questions, and he wasn’t disappointed.

          Yuko was stunned, “What do you mean, young people? There are other child immortals in Kyoto?”

          “When I first arrived, there was a young man, probably no more than 17 or 18, that had watched as I was taken to Reo-san’s office. He is mated with Kyo-san, though not a blood spouse. Reo-san’s mate was also present in the house, though neither of the young men presented themselves.”

          Hana and Kaya were whispering, both wearing obviously excited grins, something that was not lost on Yuko. “When will this clan meeting take place, and where?”

          “I don’t think it has been thought through yet, I’m sure Reo-san was waiting for us to meet, before issuing the invitation. I’m sure he wants to speak to the other clan leaders, and I expect we will hear something in the next few months.”

          Kimura stood and reminded his daughters that a shopping trip was still in order, “We must hurry, I want to be in the hotel and in our beds well before dawn. We will be going home tomorrow.”

 

 

          “Will you please run this to the post box?” Sakurai handed Uehara a letter. “Of course, my lord.” Uehara knew exactly when propriety was warranted, and seeing his master’s face, after the phone call, it was obvious that something was amiss.

          “Kai-kun, gather the others please, and bring them to the living room.” Sakurai was weary after the call from Reo. The worrisome news that Sugizo was going to America, and perhaps specifically to cause problems for his friend, Raymond Watts, was weighing heavy on his mind.

          “Tonight, I spoke with Reo, regarding a meeting he had with Kimura Keizo. His basic message was to warn us about Sugizo, and what the man has planned.” Rin whimpered and leaned into Yume. Sakurai gave the young girl a warm smile, “It seems that Sugizo is on his way to America.” Rin’s expression instantly changed, “America? Why is he going there?”

          “From what Kimura said, he went on Yoshiki’s suggestion. It seems that he had somehow convinced Sugizo that by going to America and doing as much damage as possible, it would put him in a favorable light with Ryuichi.”

          “But, Acchan… isn’t Raymond Watts still in America?” Naoto asked.

          “Yes, I believe he is. If he had left or moved, I’m sure he would have already contacted me. That’s why I’ve sent a letter to him, as a warning. I just hope that he will receive it in time, or that perhaps, Sugizo will not stay in California.” Sakurai debated on telling his family about the information on the European vampires, choosing to wait until the clan meeting.

          “What was he like? Kimura… did Reo like him?” Yume asked. “Very much so. He said the man carries himself like nobility, and it seems Jyou thinks he’s very handsome.” He paused, “The other bit of information was that Kimura Keizo has a family, a mate and five children.”

          “Children?” Uta and Naoto said at the same time. “Yes, three daughter’s and two sons, all blood born and abandoned by Ryuichi, as was his mate Yuko. He found them all shortly after they’d been attacked and left to fend for themselves.”

          “Reo also invited Kimura and his family to the next clan meeting, though we’re not sure when it will take place, but it will be in Kyoto, as it is the half way mark between here and Kagoshima.” He waited for what he knew was coming next.

          “We’re all going, aren’t we? I haven’t seen Ayato in ages and if there are other…” Uta’s words fell from his lips almost faster than he could think, leaving Sakurai to cut him off, “Yes, yes, we will all be attending, and Isshi will also be invited, though I’m not sure he’s willing to leave the shrine.”

          Yume, Rin and Uta chatted excitedly about the prospects of meeting other young immortals, “There are two boys!” Yume whispered to Rin, who giggled. “We might not even like them, what if they’re like ugly or something?”

          Yume rolled her eyes, “Rin, seriously? Unless you want to be mated to someone old, we really can’t be that picky, can we?”

          This caught Sakurai’s attention, “There will be no speaking about mating with anyone, you’re much too young to think of such things.” He scolded Yume.

          “Really Acchan? Yume’s the same age I am, or was. It wasn’t MY fault it took you forever to seduce me… if Yume thinks one of Kimura’s son’s is cute, who are we to stand in their way?”

          “You, are a naughty boy!” Kai reached over and cuffed Uta in the back of the head, “We have no idea what this family is like, so keep your dirty thoughts to yourself.”

          “But I was just…” Uta shrank away from Kai, “I didn’t mean anything by it,” he said softly as he got up and left the room. “Good job, Kai…you’re an asshole.” Toshiya snapped at his lover, getting up and following Uta. With a sigh and a shake of his head, “I’m sorry, Acchan.”

          “Don’t worry, Kai-kun.” Sakurai tried to reassure his friend. “They are young and excitable. As for you young ladies, I suggest keeping the girl talk to yourselves, please.”

          Rin and Yume were contrite, “Yes, Acchan.”

          “We should all just calm down and go to bed.”

 

          “He sounds, I don’t know… safe? Trustworthy? It’s hard to tell based on one meeting, don’t you think?” Laying in Morrie’s arms, Tatsu listened as he recounted the earlier conversation with Sakurai.

          “I trust Reo’s intuition, and if he believes the man not to be a threat, I think we should accept that.” Morrie kissed Tatsu’s forehead, “What interests me is that the man has a family, that sounds much like how some of ours are structured. How many clan members are there that have been blood born then abandoned to figure out an immortal life on their own? It shows the man’s character, if he’s willing to take in no less than six people, and create a family, does it not?”

          “Mmm, yes it does. I wonder though, about his statement that he has no maker, that’s so odd. Is he saying that Ryuichi is not the primogenitor, or at least not his? It’s confusing, I can’t come up with any type of situation that fits his statement.”

          This too, had bothered Morrie. “I suppose he will tell us all in due time, but why he’s hiding it, I don’t have a clue. This next clan meeting will certainly be interesting.”

          Morrie had called Inoran after he’d spoken to Sakurai, filling the immortal in on what the results of the meeting were. “Sugizo’s in America? Are we certain of that?”

          “According to Kimura, yes. I fear for Watts though, if the letter from Sakurai does not arrive in time, there could be a lot of destruction. All we can hope for is that Sugizo either does not travel to San Francisco, or if he does, he does not come across any of Watt’s acquaintances.” Morrie explained, “If I were you, I would still allow Rin to stay with Sakurai, at least for the time being.”

          Inoran was resigned, “We miss her terribly, but I refuse to put her in any danger, she’s safer with Atsushi.”

          “I’m going to assume that the next clan gathering will be in Kyoto, as Kimura lives in Kagoshima, though I’m not sure where Reo will house all of us,” Reo speculated, “if I’m correct in my calculations, there will be forty-two immortals in one place.”

 

          “This brings up the next problem; we do not have the space to adequately house forty-two immortals. My solution is to purchase a large estate outside of the city. It will be a permanent residence and will be our clan headquarters.”

          “Clan headquarters? You’re surely not suggesting that we all live there, how are we going to oversee all the businesses?” Arimatsu was the first to object, followed by multiple questions from the other members. “If we are needed by any of the merchants, they’re going to have to come out to this new estate, to ask for assistance? That’s not going to work Reo.”

          Suzuki cleared his throat, “If I may. The only solution to what Arimatsu has suggested is that we retain use of the clan house here in the city, that way we can still have a presence.”

          “Who’s going to decide where any one of us lives? Akinori would obviously stay with you, but what about Ayato? Kyo’s needed on the streets, are you going to separate them?” Asanao pointed out.

          Looking at the faces of his clan…his family, Reo realized that moving to a larger home outside the city, was obviously not going to work. “I’d like some suggestions on how to remedy this. Having guests spread out at different ryokans is not an ideal situation.”

          Mana nudged Arimatsu, then looked to her clan leader, “There is a large ryokan that is rumored to be for sale, in Gion.”

          “Oh? Which one is that?” This piqued Reo’s interest.

          “Sumiya.”

          “I know the place; it’s been there since the early 1800s. It’s a rather large two-story building, and has been remodeled, to include private baths in most rooms.” Suzuki explained. “It’s large enough to accommodate the clans, if the meeting rooms are used during the day for sleeping quarters. I believe the only thing that would need to be done, is adding some sort of blackout window coverings.”

          “It has a beautiful garden, and a separate tea house.” Mana signed. The low buzz of voices discussing the ryokan and its possibilities, left Reo certain that it was what his family wanted; to stay together, in a central area of Kyoto.

          “Jyou, would you please look into the sale of the property, contact the agent that is dealing with the owners, and set up an appointment for a tour of the main building.”

         

          Reo walked through the front entrance, “This will be the first thing we change. I want a solid wall and an iron gate.” It had taken Jyou but three nights to arrange an appointment for Reo to inspect the Sumiya ryokan. When the agent of the property asked for the name of the prospective buyer, Jyou smiled, “Aichi Reo.”

          The agent paled a little, “Yes, of course, I’m sure we can come up with a later time for Reo-san. Would 8:30 work for your master?” The other request was that Reo could tour the property without the owner or the agent present. “You understand of course, he’s a busy man and does not like to draw attention to his activities.” The agent knew exactly what those activities involved, and while Clan Aichi was a positive presence in Kyoto, no one dare cross the immortal.

          “Let’s look at the tea house first.” Reo walked towards the separate building, casually looking at the gardens as they stepped onto the engawa, “Gardens seen to be in decent condition, though I’d like to expand the koi pond if possible.” Jyou was taking detailed notes as she followed her leader.

          The tea house was in good condition, with the addition of black out window coverings, it would be suitable to house at least five to six people. “This could be a good place for Kimura’s family, if they don’t feel comfortable in the main house, or even for Isshi if he chooses to attend the meeting.”

          It took Reo and Jyou several hours to complete the tour, stopping in each room and taking notes on what needed to be changed or added. “A larger more modern kitchen for sure, Mana and Akinori, and even Kai-kun will appreciate that.”

          “How will you deal with the choosing of rooms? I’m sure Akinori will have sway over your decisions, as will Ayato, with Kyo.” Jyou teased.

          Reo shrugged, “There are 23 rooms Jyou, I’m sure that it won’t be an issue. But if there is, I will go by seniority within the clan.”

          At the end of the tour, Reo stood at the front of the ryokan, and looked at the building, “What do you think, not as a clan member, but as my daughter, can we all be happy here?” In a rare show of emotions, Jyou slid her arm around her father’s waist, Reo putting his arm around her shoulders, “I believe so, as long as we are all together, we will always be happy and content.”

          Reo kissed the top of his daughter’s head, “Let’s put in an offer.”

 

          After a month of construction, Sumiya Ryokan, was now the new home of Clan Aichi, and eager members came to inspect the property.

          “Thank you, Reo-san, for the improvements on the kitchen, it will make cooking for everyone much more efficient.” Mana’s first thought was not of what room she and Arimatsu would choose, but to inspect the kitchen. Reo had told her that he had done some improvements, “I did them mainly because the clan gatherings have gotten rather large, and I’d like for you and Akinori to have enough space to allow Kai-kun to assist you with the meals. I hope you’re pleased with it.” Pleased was an understatement, Mana was ecstatic.

          Moving across town, was no small undertaking, Clan Aichi had lived in the home for decades, and with that time, came clutter. Reo had decided to donate anything that was still in good condition to a local charity, who helped families in need within the city. Clan Aichi had always been a patron of the charitable organizations, “We have so much, some have so little, and the fact that we have continued to be accepted and respected in this city for centuries, speaks volumes.”

          Though with the reduction of clutter, came pushback by some, “You don’t need all of them, choose a few and we’ll give the others to the charity,” Kyo was going through his personal belongings, while Ayato was whining about having to give some of his things up. “But what if I need a fancier yukata, or if Uta needs one, or even Rin, when they come to visit? Then what do I do?”

          Kyo looked over his shoulder, “You’re not serious, are you? Do you believe for one minute that either Inoran or Sakurai would let Rin go without? I’m sure between the two of them, they have spoiled both Rin and Yume. Put them in the pile.”

 

          Other surprises came only once the couples had moved into their rooms.

          “How nice is this going to be?” Tora stood in the private bath area of his shared room with Reita. “We can come home after a night of patrolling, and take a hot bath before bed.”

          Reita had other thoughts on the bath, “Is that all we’re going to use it for, Tora-kun?” he asked as he slid his arms around his lover’s waist, nipping at the back of his neck, “I can think of a few other things we could do in the bath.”

          “Rei… don’t tease me, we still have to work tonight,” Tora wiggled out of Reita’s grasp, turning to face him, “but I promise, before we go to bed, we’ll take a nice long bath.”

 

          It took less than two nights for the entire clan to move into the new much larger house, something that was not lost on the members. “There’s so much more room, I don’t feel like we’re all right next to each other.” Asanao commented as they had their first meal together. His comment struck a nerve for Jyou, considering the man asked and had been approved by Reo, to live in the tea house, alone. “I won’t have to listen to Hazuki’s snoring on one side, and Kyo’s um… personal pleasure on the other.”

          “Sorry, not sorry, brother.” Kyo laughed, “Why do you think I chose the room at the furthest end of the house?”

          “What? Is that why?” Ayato blushed, “We weren’t that noisy, were we?” Asanao who had been sitting next to Kyo, leaned over and whispered to Ayato, “I didn’t listen, so you’re good.”

          Jyou watched the interaction between Kyo and Asanao carefully. She worried about her older brother being alone, often bringing up the situation to Reo.

          “I refuse to bring someone into the blood just for Asanao, he’s a grown man and can decide for himself if he wants to take a mate or a blood spouse.”

          “You know perfectly well, that he won’t agree to either of those suggestions. He has resigned himself to being alone for eternity, and I don’t believe for one minute that he’s happy.”

          Reo sighed, resting his head on the back of his chair, “What do you want me to do, Jyou? What do you expect of me?”

          There in lies the problem, Jyou didn’t know what to do. She knew that she could not force Asanao into happiness, that was a ridiculous idea. But it pained her to think of the tall quiet man, living alone through the centuries.

          “All I’m saying is that we need to keep an eye on him, and also be aware of any female immortals that we may come across, I don’t want to give up on him, Father.” Jyou was well aware that anytime she addressed Reo as ‘Father’, it got his attention quicker.

          “Fine. I will keep that in mind, but I’m warning you; do not go out of your way to search for a mate for Asanao.”

         

          “She’s right you know. Asanao is not happy, why else would he go to live alone in the tea house?” Akinori had over heard the heated discussion between his mate and Jyou. “Don’t start with me, boy,” Reo snapped, “just leave this alone.” Akinori responded by turning his back on his mate.

          “Why are you all so stubborn?” he muttered.

          “I’m not being stubborn, love. If Asanao wants a companion, a mate or blood spouse, then he will come to me and ask. As I told Jyou, I’m not bringing someone into the blood randomly in hopes of the man or woman falling in love with Asanao.” The answer did not sit well with Akinori.

 

         Once the clan was fully moved in, Reo gathered his advisors to choose a date in which the clan gathering would be held, knowing that it took a little more planning in these modern times. Kyoto was not easily accessible by car, from Kagoshima, and he was sure that Kimura and his family would travel by train. The other clans would travel by car, as Tokyo was only a four-hour drive, though there would be multiple cars that would need to be parked somewhere near the new clan house. The solution came when Hazuki had spoken to the owner of a large vacant lot across from the new clan house. “Takashima said he’d rent the lot to you, at a decent price.”

        “Well, that takes care of that problem. Now we need to figure out a date.”

 

        Kimura held the letter in his hand, “So it begins.”

Chapter Text

 

 Raymond Watts read the letter carefully. Looking at the post mark, it had been over a month that Sakurai Atsushi had written him, warning him of the possibility that Sugizo was in his city. “So, you are the cause, not whom I believed it to be.” He wrestled with his conscious; should he tell the other immortals, his friends, this new information?

 His friends. He had become close to the immortals in the large city, coming to know them and their stories of being blood born, none straying too far from his own, and those of the immortals in Japan. It was by chance that he had met the elusive Edgar Slate, in passing as he walked home from another enjoyable evening with Miss Byrne. Feeling his presence before seeing him, Watts stopped and waited.

  Edgar Slate was unusually tall, even for an American. Smartly dressed in elegant evening clothes and carrying himself with an air of authority, Slate also stopped and stared at Watts. “Sir, I believe we have not been formally introduced, my name is Edgar Slate, and you are Raymond Watts, am I correct?”

 Watts bowed, “Yes, I am. A pleasure to meet you, regardless of the circumstance.” They said nothing for a few moments, but Watts could tell that the immortal did not wish to speak to him, at least for the time being.

  Watts bowed again, “Have a pleasant evening, Mr. Slate.” He sidestepped around Slate and continued on his way home. With his nerves tightly strung, he had to battle with himself to keep from turning around and questioning the immortal, but he knew that this was not the time, nor the place.

 

“I do believe a proper introduction is needed, Raymond, though I’m not for certain that Edgar will accept. All I can do is ask.” Veronica Byrne was intrigued with the happenstance meeting between Raymond Watts and Edgar Slate.

“He was polite, but reserved and, he was also blocking his thoughts.” Watts had contacted Veronica early the next evening, informing her of the accidental meeting with Slate.

Veronica chuckled, “That sounds very much like Edgar, he is not what you could call socially open-minded. He has not graced us with much of his background, other than he was blood born sometime in the mid-18th century.”

“Do you believe he will agree to meet with me? I would like to tell you all about some recent developments that has been brought to my attention by my friends in Japan, and it’s rather urgent.” Watts did not want to say anything more about the subject.

“As I’ve said before, all I can do is ask.”

 

Two nights later, a message was hand delivered to Watts;

 

My dearest Raymond;

          Much to my surprise, Edgar Slate has agreed to meet with you, though he wants the meeting to be on neutral ground, and without any of the others from our little group, and as such, I have offered my home. If you would please arrive tomorrow night at 8:30, Edgar will be more than happy to speak to you.”

                                        V.

 

 

The two immortals studied one another for a few moments, appraising the situation in the chance over who would have the upper hand in the conversation. Edgar Slate found that it was obvious that Raymond Watts was much older than he, and bowed to that. Veronica avoided the two men for those tense moments, busying herself with retrieving a bottle of wine.

“Edgar, be a dear and open this for me please.” Veronica handed the man the wine bottle and an opener, “I took care with choosing this, I’ll have you know,” she winked at Watts, “I believe both you gentlemen have unique tastes when it comes to certain vintages.”

“Thank you, Veronica.” Slate inclined his head.

“So, Mr. Watts, what would you like to know?” Edgar raised his glass to Watts.

“I shall ask the same of you, Sir. Would you like me to go through my history before we start with yours? I do have some information that I’d like to give you, after I hear your story.”

Watts went through a brief abridged version of his life as an immortal, Slate only stopping him when Watts revealed what year he had been blood born.

“1588. Other than Ryuichi and Yoshiki, you are the oldest immortal I’ve come across, though I don’t really find it that surprising. I tend to stay close to home, I have no desire to travel abroad, I’d like to live my eternity quietly.”

“I completely understand, though that may not be possible. Let us leave that until later this evening.” With another full glass of wine, Edgar Slate started his story.

 

“I will not go into detail about my youth, it was unimpressive and typical of the time period. As a young man I entered the Army, and worked my way up to the rank of Colonel, in the Continental Army. I was 54 at the time, and I was leading a brigade of soldiers during the Invasion of Quebec, where we were engaged in combat. It was December of 1775, and it was bitterly cold, the battlefield was covered in knee deep snow. If a man was wounded, he would surely freeze to death before a medic could come for him.” Veronica silently got up and poured them each another glass of wine.

“We were taking heavy casualties during the fighting, and if you were lucky, you were taken captive. I was one of the unlucky ones, as I was mortally wounded within the first eight hours of battle.”

“Did none of your subordinates see you fall?” Watts asked.

“I had been shot in the chest, and the impact of the bullet had thrown me backwards, into a ditch, and I did not have the life left in me to crawl out. Unseen by my troops, I was making peace with myself, when I felt a sharp stab in my neck. I started to struggle, but my body soon grew too heavy.”

Slate paused to finish his wine, looking to Veronica, “I believe I’d like something a little stronger, please my dear.” Slate waited to continue his story until Veronica had returned with two glasses of scotch.

“After the stabbing pain, a whisper sounded in my ear, “Do you wish to live?” I had enough strength to utter a weak ‘yes’. It was but seconds until my mouth was flooded with the sweetest ambrosia, warm and inviting, and as suddenly as it was there, it was gone. I struggled to open my eyes, and when my sight cleared, I beheld in front of me, a foreign angel with golden hair and chestnut eyes.”

Watts almost spit out his scotch, at the description of Yoshiki, “My apologies, Edgar. It is rare that any of us have looked at Yoshiki in that way, though I do understand how he would appear to you.”

Slate waved off Watts concern, “I can assure you, that vision did not remain in my eyes for long.”

Veronica cleared her throat, “Gentlemen, may I suggest a short break? I do have some rather nice desserts in the kitchen begging to be eaten.”

 

“I’m going to assume Yoshiki did nothing to comfort you while your body died, am I right?” Watts already knew the answer.

“No, he said nothing, no preparation for what I was to experience, which was as hellish as being shot and left to die. The pain was like nothing I’d ever felt before, and it seemed to last for hours. Once the pain dissipated, I tried to stand, I wanted to face the person that had done this to me. I asked him his name.

He told me, “You will, for eternity, remember my name… Yoshiki, and I am your maker and master. I have given you the gift of eternal life.” He did not speak these words, but they flooded my mind as if he had, words that I will never forget.”

“He was speaking English?” This was a surprise. Slate nodded, “His command of the language was near fluent, though it was heavily accented, but it was clearly English. Is this unusual?”

“I would say yes, it’s a bit of a reversal from others he has created, or spent any length of time with. I believe that because Ryuichi is my maker, and Yoshiki and I were lovers for decades, is the sole reason I can speak Japanese. Perhaps now it has turned around, which worries me.”

Slate continued, “When I questioned him about my life, he told me quite simply, “You are a blood drinker that will feast upon the blood of humans, you are an immortal, a vampire.” Watts sighed, Yoshiki had not changed all that much.

“Did he ask you to be his companion or lover?”

“He did, and I refused. He laughed and said, “You’ve decided your own fate. I will leave you with no instructions on how to survive.” He then just simply rose into the clouds and disappeared.”

Watts shook his head sadly, “That’s very typical of both he and Ryuichi. They strike, and if you do not consent to being a lover or follower, they leave you with no understanding of what it means, to be an immortal.”

“I did struggle to survive of course. Those first few weeks of being sustained by animal blood, were harder than anything I’d ever done before. I was fortunate not to have a family, as it left me free to move about the country.”

Slate went on to tell of his life before moving to San Francisco, “It was 1845, in the beginnings of the gold rush, when I finally decided enough was enough. Hunting was of course so very easy, though I was careful in choosing my victims, having gone through a bit of a rough spot, due to something someone had either eaten or drank.”

“Ah yes, I believe that we’ve all fallen to that at one time or another. One of my good friends in Japan, Sakurai Atsushi, brought his blood spouse into the blood, after the young man had eaten poisonous mushrooms. Uta, the boy, was dying when he found him in their garden, and without hesitation, sank his teeth in to Uta’s neck.” Slate gasped, “He obviously didn’t die, but did he suffer any ill effects?”

Watts shook his head, “Surprisingly, no, though one of his other children, forced him to feed on him, and Kai believes that’s what saved Sakurai, pure blood. They’ve been together now since the mid-16th century.”

Watts looked at Slate, “How were you able to survive here in the city? Veronica has told me that you live in a rather grand house.”

“Veronica talks too much,” he smirked, then winked at the woman, “I found a position as a night guard for one of the brothels that had opened. It was located in a rather rough area, and the drunken miners were always easy prey. “

Veronica interrupted, “Edgar was the single immortal that guided Giselle and Estella, that first night. If it were not for him…I’m not sure they would have survived.”

“I wish I would have sensed that Yoshiki was in the city, if I had known those two monster’s plans, I could have…” Edgar shook his head sadly.

“Edgar, you could not have known, please stop blaming yourself.” Veronica scolded the man.

With a sigh, Slate continued, “I now live in an old commanders house in the Presidio. I am not usually involved with the community, but felt that I should introduce myself after our chance meeting. I have a nagging feeling that somehow, we will need each other’s assistance sometime in the future. There is or has been a decidedly evil presence in the city for the last month or so, though all I’m seeing are glimpses of his mind, and it’s not pretty.”

Watts reached into his coat pocket and drew out the letter. “I received this last night. The information is from some of the clan leaders in Japan.” Watts read the letter aloud, Veronica stifling a cry with her hand.

“I assume then, this is who we’ve been hearing, and who is responsible for the killings in the city?” Slate asked.

“I believe so, yes. While Sugizo is blood born of an Ancient, he is not first born. His maker, Inoran, was mentally ill at the time, suffering from a type of manic melancholia. He was not in his right mind when he created Sugizo."

“There is one other thing that makes Sugizo dangerous. He has no qualms about immolating his victims, he has done it twice that we know of.”

“Immolation? Are we actually capable of that?” Slate was shocked.

“Initially it was thought that only the Ancients had that power, or at the very most, first born, but it seems that is no longer the case.” Watts hesitated for a moment. “You said I was the oldest immortal you have met,”

“Yes, you are. I believed myself to be the oldest in the city, though I can not say that for certain, why?”

“Sugizo seems to have more power than what you would normally think of a second born, yet he was only born in 1863. As far as we know, Sakurai Atsushi is the oldest, except for an Onmyoji that is not a vampire. Sakurai was born in 978, Inoran in 980, and Reo in 1049.”

Slate and Veronica shared looks of concern. “What are you getting at?”

Watts held up his hand, “Just this. Yoshiki is younger than even Reo, he was blood born in 1108, though he has the power of an immortal far older. His maker is Ryuichi, who is thought to be the primogenitor of Japanese vampires.”

Veronica cleared her throat, “Raymond, what exactly is an Onmyoji, and how are they immortal if not a vampire?”

Watts went through Isshi’s story, though it was difficult to explain Abe no Seimei accurately. “Isshi is a gentle man, who is a priest at the local Inari Shrine in Tokyo. He has assisted the clans in many ways over the years and is highly regarded by the clan leaders.”

Slate leaned forward in his chair, “Let’s get back to this Sugizo person. What do you believe he’s trying to accomplish exactly?”

Holding the letter up, “He’s going to wreak as much havoc and destruction as possible in America, for as long as it takes Ryuichi to acknowledge him, and I fear for this country if he is ignored. By both Ryuichi’s words and Yoshiki’s, if any immortal crosses paths with Sugizo, they are to annihilate him by any means possible.”

 

 

He was tired of the filth he had been feeding on for over a month. The rancid blood of drunks and drug addicts, had led Sugizo to hunt in the outskirts of the city, to the suburbs and away from the crowded streets of San Francisco. He could hear the low murmur of immortal voices, but was unable to decipher whose voices were speaking. Not knowing who these immortals were, Sugizo kept his thoughts to himself.

He continued to send his thoughts out to Ryuichi on a nightly basis, believing what Yoshiki had said; that his master would appreciate the devastation he could cause, but as it was in Japan, Ryuichi’s voice never answered.

In frustration for not being recognized, Sugizo had started lashing out, killing anyone who crossed his path, man, woman or child. The city was depraved enough; illiterate immigrants, prostitutes, and homeless children, that it made hunting easy, though the lack of reporting to the public of the killings, irked Sugizo greatly. He had left more than a few victims in the streets, in the open where they were sure to be found. “What do I have to do to get noticed in this town?”

 

Sugizo would have no fond memories for San Francisco. The blood of the people of the city was less than satisfactory, instead it was a gut churning bile that would rise in his throat any time he fed. While he could not pinpoint the exact reasons that his victims caused this reaction, he had had enough of the taste of tainted and spoiled blood.

He finally came to the decision to leave the city, and to make his way south, along the coast of California, to Mexico. There was no specific reason he chose the country, perhaps somewhere in his subconscious he chose to stay close to the ocean, in the chance he would need to flee the continent, and return to Japan.

His final victims were part of the marginal community that lived near the wharfs, barely surviving in squalor and poverty. He watched a lone woman with a small child, slowly make their way towards another shanty town, walking as if the world weighed on their shoulders. He didn’t view them as helpless wretches, he didn’t care about their situation or how they got to where they were, he only saw them as another meal, an opportunity to show Ryuichi how vicious he could be.

Striking quietly, Sugizo killed the woman first, quickly draining her life away, and dumping her body in the weeds that lined the path. Turning to look at the horrified child, he grinned, “Come here, love,” he beckoned the tiny girl, she stood frozen in place, not able to speak or move. He showed no mercy for the child, taking great pleasure in her struggles and her final breath. Throwing her down on top of her mother, Sugizo looked around, knowing that no one would believe the fantastical tale of a blood sucking creature that could fly.

Silently rising into the night sky, Sugizo had no fond farewells for San Francisco, “I’m through with this shit-hole.”

Chapter Text

                    After the unexpected visit by Yoshiki, Mari and Uruha had kept to themselves for months afterwards, afraid that the immortal may return, and not wanting to risk the chance of another encounter. In those months the couple had spoken at length about their precarious position in relation to the impending war.

          “I believe if we stay in France, we will be safe.” Mari tried to reassure her lover.

          “But Yoshiki knows were we live; he could return and who knows what he could do the next time.” Uruha pointed out.

          “I refuse to live in fear for eternity. I have the power of a first born, and I will not hesitate in killing that bastard, I will protect what’s dear to me.” Mari had thought about that possibility of having to face her maker, though kept her doubts to herself.

         

 

          In an attempt to live as normal as a life as possible, Mari had convinced Uruha that a short holiday in Paris was needed. “We can dine at some of the finer establishments, do some shopping and perhaps attend the opera.” She knew that the thought of shopping would entice her lover, and was not disappointed when Uruha readily agreed.

          “I have booked us passage on Le Train Blue; we leave tomorrow night.”

 

          Arriving in Paris late in the evening, Mari and Uruha departed the train station and took a private taxi straight to their hotel. “We will hunt tonight, have a light dinner then retire for the day. Tomorrow night we have tickets to the Palais Garnier to see Ciboulette.”  

          “Th…the Palais Garnier?” Uruha was stunned. “How did you manage to get tickets?”

          “I used my charming personality, of course,” Mari teased. Uruha knew that this meant she used her psychic abilities to coerce whomever she had spoken with.

          Uruha giggled, “That’s cheating isn’t it?”

          “Do you want to attend the opera or not? If you don’t, I can cancel everything and we can return home.” Mari snapped; the viciousness of her voice had Uruha taken aback.

          “I’m sorry,” he hung his head, “I was teasing. Yes, I’d like to attend the opera with you.”  Uruha started to walk out of the room, leaving Mari regretful for the harsh words.

          “Uruha,” she reached out, “Please, come here.” Uruha looked over his shoulder, trying to understand why Mari had snapped at him. “Please.” He stopped and looked at her, “Why are you so angry?” he asked.

          “I apologize for snapping at you,” she sighed, her brow furrowed with tension. “I have had so much on my mind as of late, that I’m very tired.” This was a new revelation for Uruha, “What has you so worried, that you disrespect me?”

          “It’s nothing important,” she lied. “Let us go hunt and have dinner. I’m tired and would love nothing more than to fall asleep in your arms.” She reached out and caressed Uruha’s face. “It’s nothing my love.” Uruha didn’t believe her, he knew better than to push for an explanation.

 

          Uruha was completely entranced by the performance, captivated at the action on the stage, and ignoring his surroundings. For Mari’s part, watching Uruha enjoying himself gave her more than enough satisfaction that she was correct in deciding on the short holiday. Her young lover would randomly lean over and whisper in her ear, “I love you,” and kiss her on the cheek.

          “I can’t believe the costumes, they’re so elaborate and look like something that you would find in a high-end shop!” Uruha was chatting on incessantly about the performance, during the first intermission. The lobby was crowded, people shoulder to shoulder, all trying to either go towards the entrance for a respite from the crowd, or to one of the many bars for refreshments.

          “Did you hear anything I said?” Uruha said suddenly, “Mari?” His lover was staring off across the crowded room, “What’s wrong?” Mari stiffened, then reached out and grabbed Uruha, digging her nails into his arm.

          “OW, what the hell…”

          “Let’s return to our seats,” Mari hissed, physically dragging a confused Uruha behind her, “Wait, what’s wrong?” As she pushed Uruha into the aisle, he continued to question her, “Will you please tell me what is happening?” Before Mari could explain, the orchestra started and the curtain went up for the opera to continue. It was during the second act, which Uruha was not watching, that he finally understood the problem.

          “Where?”

          “Balcony, second tier.”

          “How many?”

          “A couple, at least the one’s that I have seen, there are more,” Mari curses herself for not being more aware of her surroundings.

          “What do we do? We can’t just get up and walk out.”

          “We wait until the performance is over, after that I don’t know. I feel no hostility from any of them. We would not be in danger; they would never attack us in plain sight of mortals.”

          “But there’s another intermission.” Uruha whined. The people seated next to them, gave them a condescending look, as to quiet them. Mari nodded an apology and patted Uruha’s hand, signaling him to remain quiet and turn his attention to the stage. “Just stay still and watch the performance,” Mari warned Uruha. “If they approach us, we will return to the hotel, if there is any aggression, we leave tonight.”

 

          Without words, Uruha guided Mari towards the front doors of the opera house. They had left their seats quickly after what felt like an insanely long second act, relief flooding their senses as they reached the doors and started down the long stairway to the street. No more than half way down, a middle-aged man and woman appeared before the couple, causing Uruha to step in front of Mari protectively.  

          “Please,” the man bowed lightly, “we mean you no harm, just a chance to speak to you both.” The woman wore a gentle smile, “We will be at the café, at the end of the block, we would be pleased if you would join us.” They both bowed their heads and walked away.

          Uruha looked to Mari, “Surely you don’t plan on meeting with them, are you?” Mari took Uruha’s hand in hers, and kissed it softly, “Yes.” She started down the stairs, leaving her lover to gape at her. “This is a bad idea,” he mumbled to himself, shaking his head and following Mari.

 

 

           Issay:

          “The other leaders and myself wish to invite yourself and Eiji to the next clan gathering. It is of the utmost importance that you are aware of what is happening in our world. You will come to no harm, as neither Reo nor myself have any ill feelings towards you and certainly not for Eiji. While you are no longer part of a clan, the other leaders and myself feel it necessary to warn you of what may be coming. The meeting will be held in one month from now, at Reo’s new home.”

                   S.A.

 

          “Yes, I am sending a letter. It’s only fair to both Issay and his spouse to warn them of the potential for war, though I’m not completely confident that he will accept, just as I’m not sure Isshi would be willing to leave the shrine. Oh, I definitely assured Issay that no harm will come to him or Eiji, all I harbor are regrets, as I’m sure you do as well. Thank you, we will see you next month.”

 

          Leaning back in his chair, Sakurai once again revisited his feelings of sadness and regret over the failed relationship and subsequent divorce of Issay from his life. “Does no good to dwell…” his thoughts were interrupted by a distraught Uta barging into the room, “Acchan…Kai’s leaving!”

          “Leaving?” Rising from his desk, he followed Uta to Kai’s bedroom, where he found his friend violently shoving things into a bag, and Toshiya hovering nervously against a wall.

          “Kai-kun, whatever are you doing?” Sakurai asked.

          “I can’t trust you anymore…” Kai was shoving clothes in a bag, “you’re choosing Issay over me…I’m done.”

          “Issay? That’s absurd, I merely invited him to the clan gathering.” Kai swung around and stared angrily at Sakurai, “You’re allowing, no, encouraging that snake to attend…I can’t trust your judgement any longer, you have lost your senses.”

          Kai’s words shocked Sakurai, “Why is it wrong to warn someone of impending doom? Issay and Eiji deserve that warning, as do all immortals.”

          “Issay deserves death.” Kai growled.

          “Kai…” Toshiya whimpered. “Shut up Totchi, pack your bag or don’t, I’m not spending another hour in this house.”

          Uta reached out, “Kai, you can’t…”  

          “Don’t Uta, it’s obvious your blood spouse has lost all decency,” Kai shoved past the couple.

          “Kai, wait!” Toshiya screamed, as he grabbed his hastily packed bag. “I’m sorry Acchan,” he cried.

          Kai was waiting just outside the gates, staring at the ground, Uehara stood nearby, confused on what was happening. Once Toshiya reached the gate, Kai grabbed him tightly around the waist. He took one last look at Sakurai, who was standing with Uta on the engawa, then swiftly rose into the air.

         

         

          Uruha kept whispering to Mari, “This isn’t a good idea, we have no idea what they’re like!”

          “Hush, it’s fine.” Mari scolded her lover, “They pose no danger to either one of us, especially in a crowded restaurant.” As they approached the café, they could see the couple sitting at a corner table, just outside the door. “Just stay quiet, I’ll answer any of the questions.” Mari warned Uruha.

          The man rose from his seat as Mari walked up, bowing lightly, “Thank you for agreeing to join us. My name is Ronald Drury, and this is my wife, Constance.” He held a chair for Mari, who nodded. “My name is Mari, this is my mate, Uruha. He speaks very little French, so I will be translating for him.”

          “I have to say, we were delightfully surprised to see you tonight, a very pleasant surprise indeed.” Mrs. Drury commented.

          “My surprise is that you were blocking your thoughts until the first intermission,” Mari said.

          Mr. Drury coughed, “Yes, well we wanted you to enjoy the performance before making you aware of our presence.”

          Mari nodded, “How many others were there tonight?”

          Mr. Drury looked to his wife, “A few single gentlemen, and several couples, though most were in private boxes.”

          Mari leaned over and spoke to Uruha in Japanese, which surprised the other couple, as they watched the exchange.

          “Who is your maker and what year were you blood born.” Mari’s voice was tense.

          “A man named, Andre Roche, in 1652. He was a lower ranking courtier of Louis XIV.”

          The date surprised Mari, though she wasn’t certain why, “Both of you?”

          “Yes,” Mr. Drury smiled affectionally, reaching across the table to gently grasp his wife’s hand, “we were already married, he took both of us after one of the Sun King’s parties.”

          Mari was taken aback at the blasé attitude the Drury’s showed, “You have no anger towards your maker?”

          Mr. Drury cocked his head, “No, none. We were not the first nor the last. Our kind are typically not shunned if of a specific class.”

          Mari translated for Uruha, who then gasped, “What do they mean of a specific class?”

          “Wealthy I’m guessing, much like Reo and Sakurai. They’re ignored because of their wealth and control in the cities.” A waiter silently appeared and refilled their glasses with wine.

          Mari leaned forward, “Does your maker still live? How many children does he have?”

          “As far as we know, he still alive, though we have not seen nor heard from him in over a century. As for his children? That madame, I could not venture to guess. There are some here in our community that are blood born of Roche, but beyond those who live in Paris, we do not know.”

          Mrs. Drury took a small chance, and reached for Mari’s hand, “You seem surprised with this information, is your story so different?”

          Mari threw her head back and laughed, “Completely opposite of yours.” She gave the couple a brief version of her history, visibly shocking the Drury’s.

          “We know of these monsters, Yoshiki and Ryuichi. They carved a swath of destruction in France as far back as the 13th century. They are seen occasionally in other parts of the country, but have not returned to Paris in at least seventy years.”

          “Ryuichi is responsible for the only joy I have found,” Mari smiled, Uruha kissing her on the cheek, “He was blood born of Ryuichi, and thrown away like so many others. I was tired of the violence and unnecessary killing, and I was lonely.” She looks at Uruha, “He’s beautiful, and loves me as a normal woman, he is my entire world.”  Taking a few moments for a light snack, Mari continued with her questions.

          “I’m sorry if I’m bombarding you with questions, but we are sadly out of touch.” She apologized, Mr. Drury waving off her concern. “My dear, you’ve spent centuries in Japan, questions about your homeland are understandable.”

          “How many makers are there in Europe? Until tonight it was assumed that the primogenitor for all, was Ryuichi.”

          Mr. Drury chuckled, “If your Ryuichi was blood born in 817, he is but a child. The oldest maker known to us, would be from somewhere in the 5th century, from one of the Goth tribes that were at war with the Romans. Whether this was a man or a woman, is unknown.” Uruha gasped, understanding what had been said. He looked at Mari, who was in shock.

          Mr. Drury continued, “This is all speculation and hearsay at this point, as you know, legends and folklore often times cover the truth. What is known for certain, is the ultimate primogenitor in this part of the world, is no longer living, but that his or her children have been scattered across Europe, though some could have traveled further, we just don’t know.”

 

 

          The unexpected meeting with the two unknown immortals, had shifted Mari’s previous ideals askew. Were they now any safer in France, then they would be in Japan? The question of the clan leader’s acceptance of both Mari and Uruha as allies, was also of a great concern.

          “Come to bed love,” Mari pulled the covers back for Uruha, waiting for the young man to join her. “We need to talk,” she said as Uruha took her in his arms. “Talk about what?”

          “We need to decide what we shall do with this new information.”

          Uruha leaned on his elbow, looking down at Mari, “What do you mean decide?” Mari reached up and caressed Uruha’s cheek. “The decision whether to stay here in France, or travel back to Japan.”

          “Do what?” Uruha was caught off guard by the statement, “Why would we do that? What about Yoshiki and Ryuichi? Aren’t we putting ourselves in more danger if we move back to Japan?”

          “Are we any safer here? You heard Drury, there are immortals living in Europe, who are centuries older than both Ryuichi or Yoshiki, or even Sakurai. Who’s to say that they are civilized enough to stay out of the petty war those two monsters have planned, or if they will themselves, be dragged into it. At least in Japan, we have allies.”

          “Allies?” Uruha snorted, “Like who? Sakurai Atsushi? Aichi Reo? They look at us as the enemy, we are blood born of those who have no qualms about killing both immortals and mortals. What makes you so sure they’d welcome us with open arms? No, Mari, I do not wish to return to Japan, I’d rather take my chances here in France.” Uruha pulled away from his lover.

          The woman sat up in bed, “Do you not believe that Sakurai or Reo would welcome the information we now have on the status of other immortals in this part of the world? Do you see them rejecting us completely? Some of the immortals here may be interested in an alliance against Ryuichi and Yoshiki, have you thought of that?” Uruha got out of bed.

          “You’re wrong. They will not welcome us. They know who your maker is, who mine is, and who says that we will not be attacked at first sight?”

          Mari fell back onto her pillow, pinching the bridge of her nose, “Get back in bed,” she snapped. “Love, they know what kind of power I have, I doubt that they would engage me in their own home.”

          Uruha reluctantly rejoined Mari in bed. “It’s not that, I just don’t see us being invited to join any of the clans.”

          “Who said we had to join a clan? I mean to give them the information, and then be on our way, that is all. We can find a small home somewhere, but still have the ability to be warned if something happens. I don’t plan on attending any of their silly clan gatherings.”

          “Are you sure this is the only way? Must we move yet again?” Uruha sighed.
          “My love,” Mari reached him, “You heard what Mr. Drury said. It is possible that we would be attacked here, as much as if we were in Japan. At least at home, we have allies that would be able to warn us. I do believe that this is the only viable option for us.”

          He sighed, “Fine, but where will we live?”

 

 

          Pinning the note to the door, Isshi bowed and left the estate.

          “Morrie-san,

          Kai-san and Toshiya-kun suddenly arrived at the shrine last night. I asked no questions but I can feel Kai’s anger. Please inform Sakurai-san that he has asked for shelter at the shrine.”

                                       Isshi.

Chapter Text

 

          “Sakurai is the eldest, wouldn’t he be the obvious choice?” Uruha moved the table for the third time, trying to optimize their living space.

          “True, and he’s not as violently reactive as Reo. Kimura seems kind enough, but he lives so far south, it doesn’t make any sense to contact him.” Mari got up from the wing-backed chair, and moved the table back to its original place.

          It had been a month since the couple had left France, Mari having sold every thing in her large manor, to settle in a small coastal town in Chiba. Finding a modest home, wood weathered a deep brown, where the forest crowded the shoreline, and a narrow strip of beach, that was difficult to access. Mari chose the wooden cottage, as there were no other homes in the vacinity. Mari had made a tidy profit and now had more than enough money for them to live well, for the for seeable future.

          Comfortable overstuffed chairs and western style furniture, Mari bought the home, sight unseen, just on the information of the remote location. Not that it would stop Yoshiki or Ryuichi from finding them, but it did keep the prying eyes of humans, further from their door.

          The comfort of their small cottage, did not however calm Uruha’s fears, something he voiced to his lover frequently. The ‘what ifs’ had caused a waspish behavior in the woman, often to the point of driving either or both, out of the house.

          “You need to stop your negative thoughts. It does nothing except anger the both of us.” Mari told Uruha, as he held her, having made to her as an act of apology.

          “It’s difficult. I feel their eyes on us, and it worries me that I will not be able to protect you.”

          “Love, I’m not sure you could. I’m not even sure I could protect either of us. There is just too much power between the two of them.”

          “When do we contact Sakurai?”

          “How do you feel about a short holiday in Tokyo?”

 

          “Why are Kai and Toshiya at the shrine?” What happened?” Morrie was shocked by the note that Tatsurou found, pinned to the front door of the estate.

          “Do we speak to Isshi, or Sakurai first?” Tatsurou asked.

          “I’m calling Atsushi.”

          Tatsurou frowned, “Choose your words wisely, we don’t know the specifics.”

          Sakurai explained the argument of the previous night, his words saturated with regret. “He still see’s Issay as a threat, and now I have been disloyal to him, at this point. I don’t know what I can do to reconcile with him, I may have lost him forever.”

          Tatsurou hovered nervously, listening to the conversation as he paced behind Morrie’s desk, as Morrie offered encouraging words, and agreeing to Sakurai’s explanation.

          Morrie could hear the pain in his friend’s voice, “Don’t give up on him yet, I’m sure he’s just angry and he’ll be home within the week. As for Issay, I have no animosity towards the man at this point, he has given me no reason to suspect him of any wrong doings.”

 

          Kai and Toshiya had arrived and set down in the small garden behind the main temple of the Inari Shrine. Kai had sent out his thoughts to the monk, who was waiting for them.

          “Thank you for meeting with me. I’d like to beg for sanctuary within the temple. If you can not offer it, we will leave immediately.”

          “Kai!” Toshiya hissed, shocked at his lover’s rudeness. He was silenced by a sharp look from his spouse.

          Isshi smiled and bowed lightly, “Of course, I can have a room ready for you both, within in the hour. If you please wait here until I return.” Isshi bowed again and walked towards the temple.

          This gave Toshiya his chance, “Why are you doing this to us, to our family? I don’t understand. Acchan did nothing wrong.” Kai had his back turned away from Toshiya.

          “I refuse to live with someone who thinks so little of my feelings.” Kai said tersely.

          “Your feelings? What about mine, or Uta’s? You’re willing to throw away centuries of friendship and love over a stupid letter?”

          Kai rushed at Toshiya, choke slamming his blood spouse to the ground, standing over the young man, “If you don’t want to stay with me, I’m not stopping you from leaving. Go back to that traitor, I don’t fucking care,” Kai jumped up and left the garden.

          “Kai, wait!” Toshiya yelled, getting up and following the man.

         “Drop it, Totchi, I don’t want to talk about it. If you want to go back to the estate, I won’t stop you.”
          Toshiya’s jaw dropped, “What? Are you fucking serious? You don’t care enough about me that you’d send me away?”

          “If you want to stay with him, you’re free to go.” Kai turned his back on his blood spouse and left the room.

          “You’re going to regret this, Kai!” Toshiya shouted. Grabbing his small bag, he stomped off, headed towards the front of the shrine to find Isshi.

          He found the monk tending to the growing amounts of ema, “Isshi-san?”

          “You’re leaving then?” Isshi guessed, without looking up.

          “Yes, Kai’s being unreasonable in my eyes. I won’t be kept by someone so short sighted.” Toshiya bowed deeply, “Thank you for your care and concern, I will be stopping at Morrie-san’s to spend the day.”

          Looking at Toshiya, the monk smiled wistfully, “Do not give up on Kai, this is just a brief hurdle in your immortality.”

          “I can only hope that is the case.’ With another short bow, Toshiya left the shrine.

 

 

          “Sakurai-sama, I would like to meet with you to discuss some information I received while in France.”

          “Who is this?” a sharp voice answered.

          “My name is Mari, and my mate Uruha is with me.”

          “Stay where you are.”

          Traveling to Tokyo, Mari and Uruha had chosen a secluded park on the outskirts of the city. The park overlooked a secluded section of Tokyo Bay, a small stone bench that was surrounded by dense underbrush, made the location perfect for a meeting of immortals. Taking her time, Mari listened for the distinctive hum of immortal voices, that would buzz in her ears. Hearing none, she had carefully sent her message.

          “Well?” Uruha asked.

          “Nothing of importance.”

          “How long do you think it will be before he arrives and do you think he’ll be alone?” Uruha asked pensively. He wasn’t convinced that this was their best option, but he had to trust Mari.

          “Most likely, he will bring someone, though he is in no danger traveling alone.” Mari knew the power of the immortal was at the very least, equal to hers. “Fine, but you’re standing right next to me, I will not let him harm you.” Mari’s heart jumped, with the caring words. “My love, Sakurai will not attempt anything, I am just as powerful as he is, do not worry so.”

 

          The couple didn’t have to wait long. Walking out from the shadows, Sakurai Atsushi took stock of the situation before speaking. Mari, a first born with the power that goes with it, Uruha, an abandoned creation of Ryuichi’s, both were tense with uncertainty and apprehension.

          Sakurai Atsushi stood several feet away, taking a long look at Mari and Uruha, before speaking to them. “This is more than a surprise; you are possibly the last person I would ever guess to contact me.”

          Mari chuckled, “I understand. In the past we would not be so cordial, but I believe what I have to say is of great importance to all immortals in this country.”

          Uruha stiffened, sensing another immortal, and pulled Mari closer. Sakurai sensed the man’s discomfort, “Set you mind at ease, Futoshi-san is my chief of security. He complains when I try to go out alone.”

          A slender man with long braids and tattoos, stepped out of the shadows, “My lord…” Uehara protested, Sakurai waving off his concern.

          “May I ask what this information concerns?” Mari and Uruha exchanged a pointed glance.  “The population of Ancients in Europe.”

          To believe that Sakurai was taken aback would be a gross understatement, though he was instantly hostile in his response, “Ancients in Europe? You’re joking,” he snapped.

          Mari narrowed her eyes dangerously, “Do you believe I would randomly contact you, just to lie? I’m not so foolish as that. If you do not wish to hear what I have to say…”

          With Mari’s rebuke, Sakurai reigned back his anger, “My apologies.” he offered a light bow, “You must understand my hesitation on a blind acceptance of your claims.”

          Mari took a breath, “I do,” she conceded, “I was in disbelief myself when I was told, but rest assured, there are ancients in Europe.” There was a sudden stare-down between the two ancients, causing discomfort in each of their companions, Uruha standing even closer to Mari, Uehara moving to Sakurai’s side.

          “What is it that you want, Mari? This is not some random social call.”

          “There is so much more that needs to be discussed, but we will need an entire evening to talk. I want a meeting with whomever chooses to attend, tomorrow night. I want to tell this story once, then return to our quiet life.”

          Sakurai snorted, “A quiet life? You of all people, know what your maker is planning. There is no quiet life to be had, my dear.”

          Bristling in agitation, Mari stepped closer to Sakurai, “I no longer have any ties to Yoshiki. Now, do you want the information or not?” The annoyance in her voice was clearly evident.

          Sakurai resigned to the fact of having to deal with Yoshiki’s first born, thought carefully before speaking, “Tomorrow night, 10pm, at Morrie’s estate in the city. I will be inviting Inoran as well. Is this acceptable?”

 

 

          With a curt ‘thank you’, Mari and Uruha left Morrie’s home, the meeting over. A general sigh of relief was heard throughout the house. Morrie rejoined the other leaders, who had moved to the more relaxing atmosphere of the living room, where Tatsurou had refreshed everyone’s wine glasses.

          “Well that was more than I expected.” Morrie chuckled, “I guess the first question is, should we trust her?”

          “She took the chance and contacted me, why would she put herself and her mate in danger? For that matter, why would she request a meeting, if this was some sort of ploy?”  Sakurai offered.

          “She could have struck; she is first born. Her mate was obviously scared, and he is born of an ancient as well.” Tatsurou had not commented during the meeting, choosing instead to observe carefully. He looked over at Heath, “I think you unnerved the boy a little.”

          Heath looked down. Uruha’s beauty was so captivating, it took his breath away, his heart stirring with an intensity that rivaled his infatuation with Yusuke.

          “I tried to apologize before they left, but he pretty much ran out of the house before I could,” he murmured apologetically.

          Tatsurou patted his friend on the shoulder, “Don’t worry too much about it. You were not the only one staring,” he nodded his head towards Miya. Leaning over he whispered in Heath’s ear, “Miya was gawking at him too.”

          “But that wasn’t the only reason I was staring at him,” Heath continued, “what he said about Yoshiki’s lover, that’s alarming isn’t it?”

          Uruha had explained his experience when Yoshiki and Kaoru had surprised them in France, “He was begging me to help. Yoshiki is abusing him, and Kaoru is in fear for his life.”

          This revelation did indeed worry them, but who was to go against the immortal, in order to save his lover, was not an option they wanted to explore.

          “Do we believe her story about the French immortal, Drury?” Inoran was skeptical.

          “She had names and dates. What I found interesting, was what she about Yoshiki’s lover. That is concerning, he’s keeping someone bound to him by force.” Morrie added.

          Miya cleared his throat, “Mari also had no idea about Sugizo being in America. So, we can rule out her involvement with that monster.”

          The group went back and forth with the various thoughts and points of view for another hour, until Sakurai mentioned the time. “I really should collect Toshiya and return to the estate. Uta will pester me for gossip until dawn, and I’d much rather just sleep quietly.”

          “One last issue,” Morrie raised his hand, “Do we invite her to the clan meeting?”

 

 

          “Why are you shaking, my love?” Mari and Uruha were finally home and in bed, the woman noticing her lover’s distress since they left Morrie’s estate.

          “He wouldn’t stop staring at me.”

          “Who?”

          “Heath, he kept looking at me.” Uruha’s face was flushed in embarrassment.

          Mari laughed lightly, “You’re a very attractive man, Uru. You will always have those types that will stare. I’m sure he meant no harm.”

          “Do you think they believed what you told them?” Uruha sat up, looking down at Mari, “Do you trust them?”

          Mari didn’t hesitate, “More than Yoshiki or Ryuichi.” Pulling the blankets up, with Mari in his arms, Uruha had one last thought. “Do we go as far as joining one of their clans, or do we try to live quietly and hope for the best?”

          Mari didn’t answer.

 

 

          Kai listened politely to Isshi, the Onmyoji offering his thoughts on Kai’s situation.

          “Isshi-san, I respect you a great deal, but you don’t know the real Issay, the man is a snake, always coiled to strike. It’s just a matter of time before he hurts someone. No Isshi, I can’t forgive Sakurai for this.”  With a polite bow, Kai exited the temple.  Where to go, was Kai’s biggest problem that needed to be solved immediately. He could not stay at the shrine, imposing on the Onmyoji was not possible.

          Returning to his room to settle in for the day, Kai went over his options as he pulled his futon out.

          Reo? Closing his eyes, Kai counted the members of Clan Aichi. He knew he could work as a cook for the clan, helping Mana in the kitchen. The downside is that he would still come in contact with Sakurai’s family.

          Morrie’s was out of the question, due to the close proximity to the other immortal’s estate.

          Living by himself? He had money, Sakurai established an account for him centuries earlier, “Kai-kun, you are many things to me, but you were first an employee.” He handed Kai a passbook, when they first moved to Edo, “This can’t be right!” he blanched at the amount in the account. Sakurai scoffed, “You’ve been with me for how long? Of course, it’s right.” He brushed off Kai’s concerns.

          At some point, Kai knew he would have to return to the estate to collect his things. “I could hire someone…” and how would they manage that? “Stupid idea. Just go and do it myself.” With a groan, Kai pulled the covers over his head, but the moment he closed his eyes, he saw Toshiya’s face, twisted in anger and sadness as he left the shrine.

          How the hell could he be hurting the one that he loved the most, how could he be so selfish as to ignore Toshiya’s feelings? “It’s not my fault,” he muttered. But it was, and only he could repair the problem.

 

          “Totchi!” Uta ran to his friend, grabbing and hugging him tightly, “I’m so happy you’re home, where’s Kai?” Uta looked over Toshiya’s shoulder, expecting to see the man’s lover.

          “Let’s get inside, it’s late.” Sakurai put his arm over Toshiya’s shoulder.

          “But…” Uta stammered as he was left standing on the engawa, then quickly followed Sakurai. “Kai’s at the shrine, Uta. I don’t think he’s coming home.” Toshiya turned away from the two men and went to his own room.

          “Acchan, what’s happened? Why didn’t Kai come with you?”

          “Come to bed, and I’ll explain everything.”

         

          Uta couldn’t decide if he was angry or sad, “Kai’s being an asshole,” he said through hot tears, “isn’t Toshiya going to suffer, like physically in pain?”

          Sakurai shrugged, “Possibly, this separation is not voluntary, like one of my business trips. This was done in anger, so I don’t have an answer.”

          Uta snuggled under Sakurai’s arm, “What are we going to do about this? When are you going to see Kai?”

          “Baby, I’m not sure there is anything we can do about it. This is…” Uta jerked away from his lover, and sat up, “What? You’re not going to do anything? You have to go and get Kai and bring him home!” Uta dramatically flopped back down on the bed, “This is so stupid.”

        Rubbing his face tiredly, Sakurai rolled onto his side, “Can we talk about this tomorrow? It’s late and I’m exhausted.”

        Uta huffed and pulled the covers up, “You have to do something. Totchi can’t be alone forever.” Sleep was claiming Sakurai, even as Uta continued to grumble about Kai and Toshiya.

 

        He closed the door to his and Kai’s room, “My room now…” he said softly. He was at a stand still, not knowing what to do, or how to move on. He assumed he would now be alone for eternity, doubtful if the bond of being a blood spouse could be broken.

        Toshiya sat down on the side of his bed, looking at the floor. Even as a human, he had never felt this level of despair. At his human worst, he wished for death and he was comforted by the idea.

        But this? Living alone with the knowledge that Kai, the man he would be connected to for eternity, had left him, discarded him because of something as simple and so petty, as a letter. Changing into a yukata, and getting into bed, Toshiya closed his eyes, squeezing them tightly to stop the tears.

       “You lied to me. I thought you were perfect, that our love was forever. You lied to me, you left your master and best friend over a fucking letter. I’m not sure I can ever forgive you.”

Chapter Text

“You had no right telling him that, now it’s going to be a problem.” Ryuichi scolded Yoshiki half-heartedly, over the information that Sugizo was wandering through America, in a bid to gain his favor.

 “It was but a tiny lie, and it got him out of our hair. He is no longer a problem here, so why are you angry?”        

“No, but he will be a problem when he returns, and has expectations of being my mate or protégé.” Ryuichi huffed.

Yoshiki was surprised that his maker was upset over the problem of Sugizo, “You could just kill him and be done with it.”

The two Ancients were sitting in a small izakaya near the beach in Okinawa, having met up to discuss their next move in the impending war.

“What are your plans for the others?” Yoshiki diverting to the more important issue.

“How many do we have, and how many are loyal?” Ryuichi needed exact numbers, in the possibility that he would have to create more rogue vampires.

Yoshiki leaned back in his chair, “I’d say about twenty, with a few outliers that can be easily controlled.” He reached over and poured Ryuichi another cup of sake. “Do we start by picking them off individually, or wait for a mass attack?”

“We are in no rush, but if you find one alone, separated from the others, do what you like.” Ryuichi said in a bored tone. “What of Imai? Have you seen or spoken to him, and is he loyal?”

Yoshiki chuckled, “I haven’t seen him in decades, I believe he’s in hiding. In the past I’ve found him lurking, just outside of Sakurai’s estate, watching his maker like an abandoned pup. I wouldn’t count him as loyal at the moment, but the more he observes Sakurai, the more anger and resentment he’s holding.”

Ryuichi wasn’t amused, “Flush him out. Tell him he must remain loyal, or I will end his life personally.” Yoshiki nodded his head, “Of course.”

The ancient leaned forward across the table, ‘Why do you still have that sniveling monk with you? He’s not your blood spouse, just another one of your creations.”

“I like hearing him scream when I fuck him,” Yoshiki growled.

“You’re keeping him bound to you for sex? How romantic.” Ryuichi said snidely.

“What does it matter why I keep him, it’s none of your concern.”

 

 

 

Atsushi;

          I will forego the usual pleasantries, and get straight to the point. Whilst I dare to alarm you, reports have surfaced of Sugizo, and the damage he has left as he crossed the country.

In addition to the normal tactics of viciously killing his victims, it’s been told he is also killing other immortals, and it seems his method of destruction is immolation.

By the way of a very credible source, Sugizo wormed his way into the graces of a group of voodoo priests in Louisiana. He told these ‘priest’s’ that he could bring the dead back to life, choosing his victims that were spell bound, creating a rogue vampire that he would then turn loose on the community.

In the last reported incident, three voodoo priests were killed, and five humans, though one escaped. There were no further reports until last month.

New York is a vast metropolis, equal to Paris or London, and our kind have lived in society quietly for centuries. As it was in Louisiana, Sugizo had somehow wormed his way into acceptance in the elite class.

An acquaintance of Ms. Bryne’s, informed her that Sugizo had been living in a hotel, surviving off the money he’d stolen from his victims. After several weeks, the word finally reached the elders in New York, on who Sugizo was, and as a result he was brutally attacked, though he managed to escape.

Atsushi, we have no idea where this monster is, at this point. I don’t believe he would go to Europe, but I’m afraid he may be traveling back to Japan.

 Tell your clan leaders, keep your family members close, and if you see him, kill him.

Respectfully yours,

          Raymond.

 

The small hunter’s cabin deep in the woods, was unseen and had not been occupied in some years. Stumbling through the dense tree growth, Sugizo had worn himself ragged using the cloud gift, he had fallen from the sky, exhausted and in need of blood.

His most serious wound to his shoulder, was healing much slower than the other injuries. Cursing the immortals of New York, he knew he had been fortunate to escape with his life.

Now? He was a pathetic creature, recovering in a shitty wood cabin, living off the blood of animals. His immediate goal was to heal and get the hell out of the country that had treated him so badly, and go back to Japan. After that? “You lied to me, you said he would be pleased and accept me as his lover. Now he will pay with his life, and yours.”

 

 

The look in Kai’s eyes, was one of pain and regret. Sakurai was sitting across the large dining table, at Morrie’s home.

After some effort, Tatsurou had convinced Kai to meet with Sakurai, “He is your lord and master, you, at the very least, owe him a chance to speak.” Kai grudgingly agreed, set in this mind to resist Sakurai’s words.

The other clan leaders had known of the situation, word traveling faster with the use of telephones. As such, each clan leader questioned what their options would be, should Kai choose to leave Sakurai permanently.

“He could help Mana in the kitchen,” Asanao suggested. Reo had brought his senior advisors in for a discussion.

“But is that what we really want? To support his decision on leaving Toshiya and Sakurai?” Jyou pointed out.

“We will cross that bridge, if Kai knocks on our door,” were Reo’s final words.

 

Inoran posed the question to Yusuke and Heath, “I would accept him, if anything, to keep him safe.”

“Does this mean he has left Toshiya as a blood spouse? Is that physically possible?” Yusuke wasn’t clear on the issue.

“I can’t answer that,” Inoran said, “I have never come across this situation in all of my research.”

“I would assume it would be much the same as a divorce,” Heath mused, “though there would only ever be, one blood spouse.”

 

“You look tired.”

“The bed at the hotel isn’t very soft.”

Awkward silence.

“The house has been quiet, too quiet actually. Toshiya doesn’t leave your room, except to hunt. Rin, Yume and Naoto have spent most nights in the barn with the goats. Uta… well you know what a child he can be.”

More awkward silence.

“Kai-kun, please…come home. We are all lost without you.” Kai closed his eyes, shaking his head, “I don’t think I can at this point.”

Sakurai reached into his coat pocket and took out Raymond Watts’ letter, sliding it across the table to Kai, “This came yesterday.”

A shadow of fear clouded Kai’s face as he read the letter, occasionally glancing up at Sakurai, “Is this true? Has he been sighted?” Kai whispered.

“There have been no reports.”

Kai folded up the letter, handing it back to Sakurai.

“Kai-kun, this is just another reason you should come home. You’re living alone, you are vulnerable for an attack. You’ve seen what Sugizo is capable of, and I can’t bear the thought of losing you to that monster.”

At that moment, Kai did not doubt his creator’s love for him. Sakurai could sense Kai’s resolve wavering. “As an Ancient, my responsibilities are some times unfavorable. I do not want Issay anywhere near my family or my home. That being said, I do not wish death upon him or his innocent spouse.”

Kai did not respond, leaving Sakurai to believe that what he has said, had fallen on deaf ears. With a sigh, he rose from his chair, “You are welcomed home at any time.” Bowing lightly, he left the room.

“Atsushi…” Morrie reached out to his friend. “Thank you, I’ll be leaving now.” Sakurai closed the front door softly.

Waiting until the ancient had left, Tatsurou went in and sat down across from Kai, not hiding his disappointment, “You’re really going to let him leave?”

Kai sniffed, raising a tear stained face to look at Tatsurou, “I can’t just…”

“Can’t what? Trust him? Believe his words? You’re willing to leave Toshiya?” Tatsurou abruptly got up, “You’re an idiot, Kai.” Turning his back on the man, he stomped out of the room. “Yes, I’m an idiot.”

 

Making his way to Morrie’s office to thank the clan leader, Kai was stopped in the hallway by Shinya. “Before you leave, Kai-kun, come with me.”

Shinya led Kai outside to the old barn that was now just a storage building.

“I really need to leave, Shinya.” Kai was silenced by a sharp look from the gentle man.

Sliding the heavy door open with ease, Shinya carefully picked his way through stacks of boxes and old furniture, to a dark corner.

“We found out rather quickly that there was no mother.” Bending down, Shinya uncovered a small wooden box, and was greeted with a chorus of hungry cries.

Peering into the box, Kai gasped, as five tiny kittens, no more than two weeks old, squirmed around on their bellies, “These babes should not be alone.” Kai bent down to scoop up two of the kittens, “Where is the mother?”

“I am assuming she is dead, as I have never seen an adult cat in the yard. I found them about eight nights ago and brought them into the house to keep them warm. I decided to leave them where I found them hoping that the mother would return.” Shinya picked up a tiny black kitten, nuzzling its face to his.

Kai sat down and put three of the babies into his lap, gently checking each kitten for illness or injury. “They’re underweight, but otherwise, in good health.” He put the kittens back in the box, “What will you do with them?”

“I was hoping that you would take them with you, when you return to the estate. I’m not the best caretaker and I know how much Sakurai-san loves cats.” Shinya said without a hint of embarrassment.

Just as Kai was going to protest, a tiny orange kitten tried to crawl out of the box. Sighing in defeat, Kai picked up the tiny babe, “Could I trouble Morrie for a ride home?”

 

 

“You don’t look happy. Was it that disturbing of a conversation?” Jyou had entered Reo’s office just as he had finished his call with Sakurai.

“Disturbing is an understatement,” he looked up, “call the family in, I want everyone to hear the news.”  The seriousness in Reo’s voice curbed Jyou’s natural sarcasm, instead of a clever quip, she bowed and left the room.

 

Two hours later, the entirety of Clan Aichi had assembled in the largest room in the new clan house, waiting for their leader to speak. Flanked on both sides by his chiefs, Reo delivered the news.

“I received a call from Sakurai earlier this evening, in regards to a letter from Raymond Watts.” Reo went on to discuss the reported alarming news from America, of Sugizo’s whereabouts and the path of destruction left in his wake.

“While there is no certainty that he will return to Japan, I want everyone on high alert and prepared for that possibility.”

“Can we kill him on sight?” Kyo had Ayato on his lap, his arm protectively tight around his young lover’s waist.

“I can’t stop you from doing that, but I will remind you that he has no qualms in using immolation. Watt’s letter did say that is still his preferred manner of killing.”

More questions were asked than answered, with a general feel of uneasiness. Reo waited for silence before moving on.

“The next clan meeting will be held in…?” he looked at Jyou, who had confirmed a date. “Three weeks.”

“We have invited Isshi to attend,” he looked directly at Kyo, “and Sakurai has invited Issay and his blood spouse, Eiji.”

Kyo glared at his leader dangerously, but said nothing.

“Eiji is all of eighteen, Kyo. He is no different than the other young ones. Just because he’s Issay’s blood spouse, would you deny them the chance of gaining information that may protect them?”

“Stop it,” Ayato smacked Kyo across the chest, “Reo’s right, stop being an asshole.” Kyo kept his comments to himself.

Jyou cleared her throat, “We will have a full house, with an estimated forty-two immortals under one roof. Please, I implore you all, to be on your best behavior.” She looked over at Ayato, “Keep yours and Uta’s shenanigans to a minimum. Kimura’s children have never been exposed to younger immortals and don’t say you promise to behave.” Ayato had the decency to blush, then hid his face in Kyo’s neck, in embarrassment.

Reo continued, “Arimatsu will be in charge of the nightly hunts, with our human agents sweeping the various districts for any problems.”

Asanao stood next to Reo, “I will be working with Uehara and Miya, along with Kyo, Hazuki and Suzuki, on efforts regarding security. We can’t just worry about Sugizo. We don’t know the whereabouts of Ryuichi or Yoshiki, and there is always the issue of rogues.”

“Thank you, Asanao. Before I forget,” Reo had one last surprise announcement, “Mari and her mate Uruha have also been invited.” Reo expected a chorus of angry voices, but was surprised when no one initially objected.

“Mari had contacted Sakurai two weeks ago, and gave him new information that could be relevant, if this supposed war comes to light. What the information is…he didn’t elaborate.”

Kyo abruptly stood up, pushing Ayato off his lap, “First that asshole Issay, and now Yoshiki’s first born? Have you lost your fucking mind?” he snapped, “You’ve gone soft, I can’t…”

Before he could say any more, Hazuki rushed Kyo, grabbing him and slamming him against a wall, “Have you lost your fucking mind? You question our clan leader?” The two equally powerful vampires grappled with each other for a moment, before Arimatsu and Asanao broke them apart. “Get off me!” Kyo snapped at Asanao, wrenching himself away from the larger man.
          Ayato watched, horrified at his lover’s brashness, “It’s alright,” Jyou was at his side, concerned for all involved. Reo, on the other hand, looked bored, as if he was expecting the outburst. “Are you finished?” Hazuki turned red in embarrassment, Kyo was swearing under his breath.

“If you must know, Sakurai has given his word, as has Mari that there will be no trouble brough to the meeting.” Reo pointedly looked at Kyo, “You’re going to have to deal with it.” The samurai glared at his clan leader, wisely choosing not to answer.

“Do you have any idea why Mari has been invited?” Reita asked, struck by the violence between Kyo and Hazuki.

“Sakurai did not say, though I would assume that she has critical information about Yoshiki.”

“Isshi will also be invited, but I’m unsure if he would be willing to leave the shrine.”

 

 

“How is it that he has no maker? Is he possibly an Onmyoji?”

“No, I don’t believe that he is…”

After speaking with Sakurai, Morrie asked to see Isshi at the shrine.

“This is confusing, to say the least. I am the only immortal without a maker, or so I thought.” Isshi was genuinely confused.

“The reason I asked to speak with you is to offer an invitation to our next meeting of the clans. Kimura has expressed an interest in meeting you specifically.” Morrie explained.  This caught Isshi off guard, “Me? Whatever for?”

Morrie chuckled, “He said he knew of you and hoped that you would attend the meeting.” Isshi said nothing for several minutes.

“Is this enough to convince you to attend?” Morrie asked.

Isshi nodded, “Yes, I will attend your next meeting, though I will require transportation.”

 

“Are we going?” Eiji placed the meal on the table, Issay’s last client having left an hour earlier.

“I haven’t decided yet.” There were so many factors to consider before he could blindly accept the invitation for the clan meeting.

“I think we should go. What if they have new information? We live so far away from everyone, maybe they know something about Yoshiki or Ryuichi.” Eiji wasn’t only concerned for their safety, he secretly wanted to meet other immortals…that wouldn’t try to kill them.

Sakurai and Uta. Kyo and Ayato. Kai.

Issay had made his peace with Sakurai at Isshi’s shrine, but he knew that Kai still carried a great deal of animosity towards him, and for good reason. Uta was no longer an issue as well.

Before Eiji had become his blood spouse, seeing Ayato with Kyo would have triggered some negative feelings. But those feelings no longer existed. Eiji had brought serenity and joy to his life. Once Eiji was blood born, he no longer felt the resentment or jealousy that had ruled his life.  He did however, worry about any unexpected visits from Yoshiki or Ryuichi, that much was true. Any new information would indeed, keep them on their guard for a possible attack.

Chapter Text

 

          “They look really young, but the shorter blonde guy is super cute.” Ayato whispered, to Uta, both men peering around a corner of a room  just off the genkan, where they had been hiding and watching as Reo and Jyou escorted Kimura and his family to the tea house.

          “Maybe too young for Aoi? We don’t even know if he likes men or women.” Ayato pointed out. Uta frowned, “The older girl can’t be much older than us…” So engrossed with watching Kimura, neither man heard the footsteps behind them.

         

          “Ayato!” The younger man cringed at the angry voice, “What the hell are you two doing?” Uta and Ayato slowly turned around to face Kyo.

         

          “Nothing wrong, if that’s what you mean. We were just curious about Kimura,” Ayato explained, “we didn’t speak to them or anything.”

          Kyo raised an eyebrow, “Don’t either of you have something better to do than spy on people?”

          “Technically, no.” Uta said sheepishly. That was the wrong answer.

          “Guess what?” Kyo grinned, “I have something for you both to do, come with me.” Ayato glared at Uta, “That was stupid,” punching him in the arm. Reluctantly, they followed Kyo.

 

 

          “I’m sure you’ll be fine, if we can keep Uta and Ayato under control,” Naoto giggled.

          “Are they really that bad?” Kaya had felt the two hooligan’s presence when they were walking to the tea house, but now sitting with Naoto, she felt much more at ease.

          “They can be, they don’t mean any harm of course, but they’re a handful. Kyo and Atsushi usually keep them corralled when needed.”

          The meeting between Kimura’s children and the chosen female clan members went smoothly, Kimura’s three daughters asking a thousand questions, though Yukke and Hiroto just stared silently at You and Aiko.

          “Girls, I think that’s enough questions for now,” Yuko chided her daughters, thanking the women for their welcome.

          “We will be leaving you now to get settled.” Reo stood and bowed, “Dinner will be served in two hours, I will send Jyou to guide you to our dining room.”

 

 

          “Do you believe he will show?” Inoran asked. Reo had called the four clan leaders together for a brief meeting in his office.

          “I would hope so, but there is a significant level of animosity, and not just between myself and Issay.” Sakurai pointedly looked at Reo.

          “It’s true.” Reo admitted, “He left of his own free will, but I’m sure he still holds some thoughts of revenge in his heart.”

          “I don’t believe he harbors those thoughts,” Sakurai disagreed, “it seems he is content in his life with Eiji.”

          “We can only hope that is the case.” Inoran smiled, “Though I would not send Kyo or Hazuki to escort them to the clan house. There’s no need to throw gasoline onto the fire.”

 

 

          Issay and Eiji were in fact already in Kyoto, sitting in a quiet izakaya, waiting for their escort to the new clan house, the younger leaning into his lover.

          “Who are they sending?” Eiji asked, his voice quivering in fear and anxiety.

          “I really can’t say. I would assume anyone other than Kyo.” Issay patted Eiji’s hand, as he watched the door carefully.

          The journey from the estate in Hokkaido, had been long and arduous. Finding that using the cloud gift and carrying luggage wasn’t an option, the couple traveled in a more conventional manner; via a sleeping car on a train. Arriving in the early evening in Kyoto, Issay had stood on the platform for thirty minutes, assuming that Reo may have sent someone. Once it was obvious that it wasn’t the case, Issay led Eiji to the izakaya.

          Eiji was asking about the clan members, when he felt Issay stiffen, “What’s…” following his lover’s gaze, a tall imposing immortal was walking towards their table.

          “Asanao-san,” Issay stood and bowed, Eiji following suit. “This is Eiji, my blood spouse.”

          “Asanao-san,” the young immortal bowed deeply.

          Asanao smiled and bowed his head, “Issay, if you will follow me, I will take you to our new clan house.”

          Twenty minutes later, the couple stood in front of the four clan leaders, bowing deeply. “Thank you for the invitation, I’m anxious to hear what ever information that will be offered.” Issay tried to keep his voice from wavering, Eiji nervous under the gaze of the elders.

          “Jyou will show you to your room, dinner will be served in an hour.” Reo nodded to Jyou.  

           Leaving Issay and Eiji to relax in their room, Jyou went back to Reo’s office to speak with the leaders, specifically Sakurai, whom she faced with no fear.

           “His thoughts were of protecting Eiji, and apprehension over the meeting. I feel we have nothing to worry about.” Jyou reported.

           “And Eiji?” Reo asked.

           “Curiosity and a small amount of fear. However,” Jyou paused, “this is going to be an unpopular opinion, but other than keeping Kyo busy, I suggest that you introduce Eiji to the other young ones.”

            “Fuck no!” Sakurai stood quickly, slamming his fist on the table, and glaring angrily at Jyou, “I will not have Uta exposed to Issay under any terms.”

            “Sit down, Sakurai-san, and let me finish.” Jyou admonished the Ancient.

            “Let her speak, Atsushi.” Reo put his hand on the Ancient’s shoulder, “Are you suggesting that Ayato and Uta befriend the boy?”

            Sakurai’s face grew dark, “I’m going to have enough trouble with Kai, now you’re saying I should add Uta to the mix?”

           “I’m going to have to agree with Atsushi on this, Jyou. I’m not sure it’s a reasonable request.” Inoran interjected.

           Jyou looked irritated, frustrated that the men standing before her, who had no concept of what alienation could do to the meeting. “Let me explain this. We now have nine young people under one roof. If we keep Eiji from that group, and based on past incidents, how will Eiji and Issay perceive that?”

          The four leaders had the decency to look embarrassed. “If this is to be a fair exchange of information, everyone needs to be treated equally. Alienating Issay and Eiji is not what I’d call fair treatment.” Jyou huffed, then turned on her heel and left the room, slamming the shoji roughly.

          Inoran was the first to laugh, “She’s absolutely correct, gentlemen, unless we want to effectively write off Issay’s concerns, and deem him not worthy of the information, then we need to treat them equally. Atsushi will need to speak to Kai and Uta, Reo to Kyo and Ayato.”

        “We can’t force the young ones to accept Eiji,” Sakurai grunted.

        “No, you can’t,” Morrie added, “but if you explain the problem, I’m confident they will do the right thing.”

         

 

          Daring to use the cloud gift, Mari held Uruha tightly in her arms, as they drifted down from the clouds, settling in a small park on the edge of Kyoto. “Do we wait?” Uruha asked in a shaky voice. Mari nodded, then closed her eyes to concentrate on the message.

          “Sakurai-san, we are in the city, please have Reo send someone to escort us to the clan house.”

          Uruha, hearing Mari’s voice in his mind, shuddered, “Who will Reo send?”

          “I don’t know.” Mari admitted, though she secretly hoped that Sakurai would be their escort, something that Uruha had also hoped for. The Ancient had always been intimidating to him, but after their first encounter, he somewhat trusted the immortal. Hearing footsteps, they focused their attention to a slender dirt path.

          A tall man with long black hair, stepped out of the shadows, bowing first to the couple, “Mari-san, Uruha-san, my name is Tora and I will be escorting you to the clan house, if you’d follow me please?”

          “Thank you, Tora-san.” Mari took Uruha by the hand and followed Tora back down the dirt path, towards the city.

 

 

          The low murmurs and hushed whispers echoing in the large hall where the immortals gathered for the first meal, had been overwhelming for those that had never been exposed to the sheer numbers of their kind.

          Kimura’s children in particular were initially unnerved, with Yuko looking to her mate for comfort and security, and trying to keep her fears to herself as not to worry her children. “Mother, do you know anyone?” Rika leaned over and asked worriedly. Yuko looked around the room, “Only the woman with the red hair, and her mate, though we spoke only briefly.” For Kaya and Hana, seeing others close to their age, was a little more exciting.

          “Naoto’s husband looks scary,” Hana whispered to her older sister. “but you can tell he loves her; see how he’s looking at her? Just like Papa looks at Mother.” It was comforting to see another normal relationship between adults. Kaya had enjoyed her brief meeting with Naoto, and as such, it was easy to pick out the trouble makers, “Those two boys must be Ayato and Uta,” she nodded in the young men’s direction.

          Hana smiled shyly, “The one is so beautiful, his mate though…”. The whispered conversations went on throughout the meal, only ending with Reo asking for everyone’s attention, and Kimura rising from his seat to stand next to the clan leader. “Kimura-san, if you would please?”

          The Ancient bowed lightly, “Thank you Reo-san,” he paused for a moment, “My name is Kimura Keizo, this is my wife Yuko, and my children.” He looked lovingly at his family.

          “They were all blood born and abandoned by Ryuichi.” A murmur swept through the room. “Yuko was blood born in 1487,” Kimura then went on to list the dates for his children, and their experience with their maker.

          “Only Yuko received any sort of instruction on how to live, Ryuichi stayed with her for an hour or so, though my children were not so lucky.” Kimura continued his story, on how he rescued his young ones, establishing a loving family. Looking around the room, he then turned his attention to Sakurai, “You and I have much to discuss, Sakurai Atsushi.”

          Next was Mari and Uruha, “I’m please to see that you have survived, I’d hoped that you found somewhere to call home.” He paused again, his gaze falling on Hyde, “Hyde-san, I see you have finally chosen a clan, though you live alone, you are not so selfish as you believe.” It was obvious that Kimura Keizo knew more about the clans than previously believed.

          Looking across the room, he focused his attention on Isshi, “You and I are not so different, but we are brothers in immortality. I look forward to discussing our peculiar situation.” Kimura bowed to Reo and returned to sit next to Yuko.

          “Thank you, Kimura-san. Now, let’s mark this first meal as a night of introductions and hopefully creating more bonds with our newly found friends.” Reo effectively shutting down any question-and-answer fiasco.

 

          “If I hear just one complaint, I will cut you off for a month. So, I suggest you and Uta behave yourselves.” After returning to their room for the night, and fifteen non-stop minutes of Ayato blathering on about Kimura’s family; who was cute, how old and who could be matched up with the single immortals, Kyo had had enough.

          “A month? Please,” Ayato rolled his eyes as he fell back onto the bed, “like you could give up sex for a …”

          “AYATO!” Kyo shouted in a fierce voice, “You will do as I say. If I have to, I will restrict your movements to hunting and meals, even if I have to lock you in our room. Is that clear?”

          His lip quivering and tears threatening to spill, Ayato hung his head, “Yes.” Kyo rarely got angry with his lover, but Ayato always knew when he had pushed things too far.

          “Yes, I promise,” he replied in a small hurt voice, which always broke Kyo’s heart.

          “Baby, come here.” Kyo held out his hand, pulling Ayato off the bed and into his arms, “You understand why it’s important to leave things alone, right? We are the first immortals those kids have seen outside their own family. This is not the time for you and Uta to be playing match maker.”

          “I get it. I promise we won’t do anything.” Ayato said contritely.

 

          There was another conversation being had, in one of the guest rooms, Sakurai delivering a similar message. “If I catch even a hint of either you or Ayato causing problems, I swear you will not leave this room,” Sakurai threatened.

          “Okay,” Uta said blithely, predicting his lover wouldn’t act on his threat.

          “You’d better listen to him, Uta.” Naoto warned, “Leave those kids alone, they have enough to deal with, without you and Ayato pestering them.” Toshiya started to say something, but Uta turned on him and stared him down, “I said okay! Damn, I haven’t even spoken to them yet.” Uta huffed.

          “No, but at some point, you will, and that’s where the problem lies.” Kai scolded, “They are young, one of them was only fourteen when she was changed, leaving her in no position to become a potential mate for anyone.”

         

 

          Catching Heath just as he was leaving their shared room, Yusuke stopped his former lover, “You should really stop staring at Uruha.” he warned, “You’re making the boy uncomfortable, and do you really want to anger Mari?” Yusuke had surreptitiously watched Heath during the evening meal, as the man stared at Uruha.

          “Yes, he’s beautiful, but he’s also not available.” Yusuke added.

          Heath’s face turned red, “I know he’s not; I wasn’t staring that hard.”

          “Um, yes…you were, please be careful not to cause an incident with Mari, and take Uruha’s feelings into consideration, that’s all I’m asking.” Yusuke patted him on the shoulder and left the room. Heath completely understood the situation; there was someone that he thought he could love and care for, that was so far out of his reach, it was an impossible dream. It was at that point that he understood that he would be alone for eternity.

 

          “What should we tackle first? Mari’s information, or Kimura’s story?” Reo had assembled the other clan leaders after the meal, to discuss the next step.

          Inoran politely cleared his throat, “I suggest we let Mari give us her information first, to avoid any possible problems.”

          “Problems?” Sakurai asked.

          “Yes, well it seems that Heath is somewhat enamored with Uruha, not that I believe he would ever act on those feelings, but we don’t need Mari becoming angry and defensive.”

          “Have you spoken with Heath?” Reo grumbled, this was not what he had been expecting.

          “Yusuke has, and I will speak to him as well.”

          “I agree with Inoran,” Morrie announced, “She is a rather reluctant participant in all of this.”

          Sakurai dared to play devils advocate, “And if she argues to stay?”

          “Then I will be responsible for Heath’s actions.” Inoran said smartly, “I will not let one of my clan members derail these talks because of a cute boy.”

 

          “What are you so put out over? All you’ve done since the meal is frown and mutter under your breath.” Mari snapped at her lover.

          “Heath is still staring at me, and I’m tired of it.” Uruha snapped back.

          “I will speak to Inoran tomorrow, and tell him to control his clan member.”  Mari sighed as she dressed for bed. “Also, we can leave as soon as we give them the information that we have, I do not want to spend any more time here, than necessary.” A non-committal hum from Uruha was the only answer Mari received. “Come to bed, Uru.”

          Sleep evaded him for some time, the constant vision of Heath’s deep chocolate brown eyes, haunted Uruha’s slumber. If he was honest with himself, or even more, if Mari had not been his mate, Uruha would have welcomed the attention from the elder immortal. He could not deny Heath was attractive, and he could not ignore the twinges of arousal that flowed through his body, anytime he was in the same room with the man. With a last thought of Heath, Uruha turned on his side, and took Mari in his arms, and nuzzling her neck he whispered, “I love you.”

Chapter Text

 

 

            The beginning of the night’s meeting had been delayed due to the evening’s hunt taking more time than Reo had initially planned for. It was nearly two hours before the collected clan members had returned, leaving an anxious host pacing his office and muttering under his breath. There had been no known issues between clan members, specifically Issay and Kai, the latter avoiding and ignoring the former at all costs. Still, Reo worried about any outside influences, though Jyou reassured him that it would not be the case, “Between Asanao and Arimatsu, Hazuki and Kyo, all our human agents had swept our territory clean of any undesirables. As long as the young ones are with their clan leaders, they’ll be safe.”

           It had been Kimura’s concern over his naïve and unsophisticated children, and any possible interaction with the other younger clan members, that also had been dealt with.  Jyou’s suggestion of having the collected younger members meet separately, gave Kimura and his wife some comfort, with the reports back from that meeting having been overwhelmingly positive. “They seemed to enjoy each other’s company; you may have trouble keeping them apart.” Jyou joked with Yuko.

           “I welcome the opportunity for my children to have friends, real friends of their own age.” Yuko laughed.

            Kimura’s shy son, Yukke, had been the first to offer friendship to the obviously nervous, Eiji, introducing himself and his siblings to the others. This immediately put Eiji at ease.

            “Um, you’re the first younger immortals I’ve ever seen.” Eiji confessed. “Where we live in Hokkaido, the only people I ever see are Issay’s clients, and they’re all human. It’s pretty boring without anyone to talk to.”

            Gathering together in one of the larger private rooms, the initial few minutes of the meeting were awkward. Kimura’s children and Eiji on one side of a long table, Ayato, Uta, Naoto, Rin and Yume, on the other. The girls blushing, and the boys trying hard not to stare, all of them fidgeting on their cushions.

            “That’s okay,” Yukke smiled at the young man, “it’s the same for us. We’ve never really been out of Kagoshima, but once, and even then, we only left the hotel to do some shopping. It’s nice to know that we could have some friends our own age.”

            Hiroto snorted, “Our own age? Really Yukke?” He leaned forward across the table and looked over at Uta, “How old are you? I mean, how long have you been an immortal?” This question broke the ice between the young ones.

            Uta looked up, tapping his chin with a forefinger, “Um… almost 400 years.”

            “Well, it hasn’t even been 300 years for Yukke and myself. Our sisters are only two years younger than us.” Hiroto looked over at Eiji, “When were you blood born?”

            Eiji shifted uneasily, looking down at his hands in his lap, “Only since 1903.”

            “Oh wow! You’re just a baby!” Ayato pointed out the obvious, causing Eiji to blush furiously.

            “Ayato! That’s rude!” Naoto chastised the man, reaching over and smacking him in the shoulder, “Eiji-kun, don’t pay any attention to these two hooligans, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been an immortal, now you have friends your own age.”  Ayato had the decency to look embarrassed, and mumbled an apology to Eiji.

            That exchange had led to the discussion on the ages, each had of them had been when they were blood born, and under what circumstances, with Naoto, Uta, and Rin’s stories being the most heartbreaking. Naoto felt that she needed to explain her and Rin’s experiences further, and not wanting to go into detail in front of the boys, she decided to take Kimura’s daughters for some girl talk in a side room, with Rin and Yume, leaving the boys to their own mischief. But the two men went on to prove, that Naoto was wrong in her usual assumption that Ayato and Uta together, would somehow cause a ruckus.

            Both Ayato and Uta were surprised when Eiji opened up, and explained that Issay had been truthful about his past; his experience being blood born by Sakurai, his fight with Kai and subsequent banishment from Sakurai’s home. Eiji knew about Ayato, and what had transpired when the rogue vampires had taken him hostage. Issay had promised to never hide anything from his young lover. As such, Eiji was intrigued when he came face to face with Ayato, eager to hear the young man’s side of the story.

            “Um, so Issay told me what happened between you,” he said nervously, “I’m sorry that Issay disappointed you, when you were taken by those vampires.”

            For whatever reason, Eiji’s admission that he knew the story, somehow shocked Ayato. “He told you? Did he tell you everything?”

            Eiji nodded, “Yes, how he abandoned you, and that now you’re with Kyo-san. Issay told me right before he changed me, that he would always be truthful. He said that lying had brought him more trouble than was needed, if he had just told the truth.”

            “Did he tell you about Atsushi and Kai?” Uta leaned across the table eagerly.

            “Yes, he did. He said that he hated Sakurai-san for a long time, but now he has a great deal of respect for him. Kai-san… even though he says he’s gotten past the anger; I think he still hates… well, maybe just resents him.” Ayato and Uta shared glances.

            “He seems to love you though, right? You’re happy, aren’t you?” Yukke asked. This was an important question for Kimura’s son. All the talk about betrayal and anger, had shaken the gentle young man.

            Eiji smiled, a dreamy look on his face, “Very happy. If Issay-san had not brought me into the blood, I’d already be dead. Much like you, Uta, and you too Ayato, Issay loves me enough to save me.” This statement led to a longer, more specific discussion on each man’s life before immortality, with an odd bond shared between Ayato and Eiji. “It was more or less the same for me. A pretty boy, with no status as a child of a concubine. I asked to be blood born, I would have died if Reo had left me in the geisha house.” Ayato also told his story about being kidnapped by the rough looking man, on Miko’s orders.

            For Hiroto and Yukke, the lives that their new friends had lived, were shocking. It was almost impossible for them to understand what Ayato and Uta had gone through, before living as they were now.

            Kimura’s sons retold their stories in more detail; how Kimura and Yuko created their small family, and how they rescued the three girls who had witnessed their parents being killed just before being attacked themselves. “We’re lucky in a sense, we have both a mother and a father, even though Mother is younger than I am,” Yukke explained, “I think she’s just naturally a motherly type.”

            “I can admit, I’m a little jealous of your family, Hiroto. You have a very normal life…well as normal as being an immortal can be.” Uta said, shutting his eyes. “My family was murdered in the wars, during those times. I was the only one that lived.”

 

            Naoto and the other girls, rejoined the young men. Words of encouragement, hugs, and the promises of future visits, were all made. Kyo had come to the room and asked the young ones to return to the main meeting room for a late meal and the start of the next session of the clan gathering.

 

 

            “That should have been you.”

            The constant burn of those words that were seared into his brain, was the bane of Imai’s current existence. It made no difference, on how many decades that had passed since the incident with Yoshiki outside Sakurai’s estate, Imai’s fixation to punish his maker, by destroying Uta, was infuriating to the point of absurdity. After that night, and the accusations that Yoshiki had thrown at him, Imai had made the decision to quietly disappear. Tired of the run-ins with Yoshiki and Ryuichi, and avoiding any contact with Sugizo, Imai left Tokyo and traveled north towards Hokkaido.

            Having returned to Sakurai’s estate, Imai was disappointed, and frustrated to find Issay and Eiji living in relative domestic bliss. While he held no animosity towards Issay and as exasperating as the situation was, he knew he had to move on.  Crossing the narrow straight back to the mainland, Imai moved south along the western coast, in search of a new home.

 

            It was the need to hunt that caused Imai to stop in Kosaka, a mining town in the mountains of Akita. Silently weaving his way through the dense underbrush, Imai struck at the first opportunity, grabbing a man off a narrow forest trail, that led to town. It was an easy kill; the man was malnourished and weak. Draining his victim completely, Imai rummaged through the man’s pockets for anything valuable, before tossing the dead man into a ditch.  Imai was disappointed in the small amount of money the man was carrying in a small leather pouch, “It’s better than nothing.” Imai bowed to the dead body, “Thank you, Sir, for your contributions.”

 

            With the knowledge of the silver mines, and the remote location, Imai figured that Kosaka may be a satisfactory place to live.  Imai walked through the small town, he could appreciate how insanely easy the hunting would be, though he knew he would have to be cautious about how much alcohol or other substances, his prey may be consuming. The location of the town was isolated enough, but not so remote that it lacked in basic necessities, or businesses.

The mountains of Akita were dense with old growth trees, and heavy with brush, with the small clearings for the mining camps, and holes dug deep into the sides of the mountains. Combined with the location, and a transient population, Imai believed he could live in relative peace, something he’d been searching for, for far too long. How long he could hide from the coming clan wars, he couldn’t begin to predict.

            There was still time before dawn, to wander the hillside near the mining camps for someplace to live, hoping to find an old shack set back in the woods far enough to avoid anyone who may stumbled through the forest.

            Yes, the winters could be brutal in the lush, densely forested mountains of Akita, but no worse than he had experienced in Hokkaido while living with Sakurai. He could admit to being lonely, but not lonely enough to create another companion. He would be contented with living alone, if not happily, “No reason to have someone just for the sake of not being alone.”

            It took him just two nights to find the derelict building, that was really just four walls, a door and a roof. Imai pushed aside the tall weeds that were blocking the door, and he needed little strength to wrench it open. The interior of the hut contained one window, though the glass was intact, a few broken chairs, and a chewed-up futon, that lay in the corner, that looked like it had been a bed for perhaps a tanuki or a family of squirrels. Once he had laid claim to the hut, Imai had gone into town, and made his way to a general store, to purchase the tarp he would need to black out the one small window.

            The merchant was initially hesitant when Imai approached him, the man not knowing why he should be frightened of the customer, but he could not ignore the sense of dread when looking at the man. Imai purchased what he needed, paid for the items and left the store without ever having spoken to anyone, the merchant convincing himself that Imai was just another strange person from the mining camps.

           

            Imai’s life was quiet and as peaceful as it could be for a vampire. He made sure to travel to hunt, as he did not want to alert the authorities that dead bodies were starting to collect at an alarming rate. Any miner he would take, Imai made sure to collect any raw silver that the man would have. There were occasions that he lucked out and his victim would have gold. It was a shitty way to live, but Imai was a shitty person. He had no qualms of robbing the dead.

            He had been living in his small hut for two years, when he suddenly was struck by an overwhelming desire to see his maker. Through those two years, his mind was never far from thinking of Sakurai Atsushi. He would take the chance of possibly crossing paths with Yoshiki, Ryuichi or even Sugizo, just to see how Sakurai was living. “Maybe Uta’s dead…wouldn’t that be lovely?” He scoffed at himself; he knew Sakurai would never let anything or anyone harm his precious blood spouse, not even his first born.

            Using the cloud gift, Imai swiftly crossed the country in one night, traveling to Tokyo. He knew that Sakurai would sense him as soon as he set foot on land, leading him to cloak his thoughts more thoroughly than he had in the past, this was reason enough as he wanted no run-ins with the other Ancients.  Carefully opening his mind to other immortal voices, to his surprise, Imai found Tokyo devoid of both clans, and the Onmyoji, “Odd…”

            A thought struck him, “Clan gathering.” Should he travel to Kyoto? “Why bother? Not like I can go into the city.” No, it would be foolish for Imai to travel to Kyoto and risk a confrontation.  With no reason to linger in the city, Imai made the decision to go home to Kosaka. There would always be another day to watch his maker, another opportunity to return to Sakurai. It was delusional to have such thoughts, though he would never admit it to himself.

 

 

            “Do not make the boy uncomfortable, I beg you.” Inoran held Heath by the shoulders, talking to him softly but firmly. “We do not need any sort of incident. I know you’ve spoken with Yusuke, and I hope you understand our concerns. You have never shown any sort of interest in another immortal since...”

            Heath’s face was hot in embarrassment with his clan leader scolding him over his attraction to Uruha. “I promise I won’t even look at him. I apologize for giving you concern over my behavior.”

            “Thank you, Heath.”

            True to his word, Heath kept his gaze on anything or anyone else, other than Uruha, though he could still hear the man’s thoughts, sense his heart fluttering. He knew that Uruha shared the same feelings, but was unwilling to do anything. Why would he? Uruha had a beautiful mate, and that was something he would never walk away from voluntarily.

            “There’s no one for me.”

           

            Reo had spoken to the assembled clan members, announcing that Mari would be giving them information of great importance in relation to immortals in other countries. Asking for the members to hold their questions until Mari had finished her story, Reo gave her the attention of the group.

            Mari spoke of the alarming incident with Yoshiki, how she and Uruha had been living after the confrontation. Their discussions on the possible clan wars, and their involvement if they chose to do so. Looking at her mate lovingly, Mari explained how she came by the information; the reasons they were in Paris, to enjoy an evening at the opera. The uneventful journey from their small manor home in the country side, to the centrale station in Paris. “It was supposed to be a pleasant weekend.”

            “We were in the lobby during the first intermission, when I sensed that we were being watched, but whomever it was, were cloaking their thoughts. We returned to our seats for the second act, and at that moment, I could pinpoint exactly where the others were seated, and that they were not the only immortals in attendance that evening.”

            Going through their evening, Mari told of the meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Drury, at the café, “They were very nice, civilized and cultured. We exchanged the basic information, and it was at that point, that I understood that our lives here, are very different from those in Europe.”

            Elaborating on how the couple were blood born, the acts of the Drury’s maker, Andre Roche, versus the violence perpetrated by Yoshiki and Ryuichi, it was at the mention of their names, that the Drury’s attitude changed.

            “They know of Ryuichi and Yoshiki, from as far back as the 13th century. Mr. Drury called them ‘monsters’ and claimed they had wreaked destruction across much of western Europe, but as of this meeting, neither had been seen in Paris in seventy years.” Mari waited until the whispers calmed before continuing.

            “When I asked about other ancients in Europe, Mr. Drury asked what year Ryuichi was blood born. I told him 817, and he laughed, claiming,

            ‘“If your Ryuichi was blood born in 817, he is but a child. The oldest maker known to us, would be from some time in the 5th century, from one of the Goth tribes that were at war with the Romans. Whether this was a man or a woman, is unknown.” 

With these words, voices erupted in astonishment and disbelief, “Please, everyone… quiet yourselves and let Mari finish.” Reo warned.

          Mari continued, “As far as Mr. Drury knows, the maker is no longer living. He calls this person the ultimate primogenitor for Europe. We discussed other parts of the world, and he is of the opinion that there are other primogenitors, depending on which continent is being spoken of. Ryuichi is ours. He said, “the ultimate primogenitor in this part of the world, is no longer living, but that his or her children have been scattered across Europe, though some could have traveled further.”

            “Mr. Drury also said that folklore and legends often cover the truth. While I don’t believe that is the case for Japan, I also don’t think we can be certain.” Mari looked over at Reo and nodded, indicating that her story was complete.

            Reo rose from his seat, “I understand that we all have questions for Mari, but do not be disappointed if she has no answers.”

            Sakurai stood, “Mr. Drury stated that it was a custom, or at the very least, not unheard of, for royalty to be blood born, is that how you understood it?”

            Mari nodded, “I believe that the situation in Paris, at least, is much like it is here. You, Sakurai-san, Reo-san, and Morrie-san…are all held at a high esteem by the mortals, including the government. It is as if the elite class are ignored in their existence as long as there is no trouble, they live how they like.” Sakurai nodded in thanks, sitting down once again.

            “Mari-san,” Morrie was next to rise, “The Drury’s maker, Roche I believe it was? They do not know if he is living, or in fact how many children he has, correct?”

            Mari nodded, “Yes, they claim they have not seen nor heard from the man in over a century.”

            Morrie frowned, “Could it be that some of this man’s children, have immigrated to other parts of the world, and that they could be considered primogenitors?”

            “No, I don’t believe that is the case at all, considering that Sakurai-san had been in Paris much earlier than 1652.” Mari looked to Sakurai, “What year was it, that I was with Yoshiki, at Norte Dame?

“1489, Issay was with me.” Sakurai responded. “That was Imai’s first failed attempt at contacting me.”

            Reo cleared his throat, “I think that’s all for tonight, it’s getting late and we should all seek our beds.” With a few rumbles of disappointment, the clan leaders gathered their members and left the meeting hall, though Mari and Uruha held back to speak to Reo.

            “Reo-san, I have delivered all the information I have, and as such, Uruha and I will be leaving tonight. We are not what you would call welcomed guests, and I do not wish to have any stress put forth to your people, with our presence.” Mari was being polite, but Reo knew her choice could not be swayed.

            Reo bowed, “I understand completely. We have another that feels unwelcomed, though much like yourself and Uruha, that is not the truth from my side. Please know that if you are ever in need of help, all you must do is call, and we will answer.”

            “Thank you for the opportunity, if you will excuse us.” Mari and Uruha bowed low and left the room.

            As Reo was walking back to his office, Inoran stopped him in the hall, “They’re leaving, aren’t they? It’s not because of Heath is it?”

            Reo patted Inoran on the shoulder, “No, I don’t believe that’s the problem, more so that she doesn’t feel welcomed because she is Yoshiki’s child. I did however, offer our support if she needs it. I don’t believe she would return to Yoshiki’s side, she’s just as tired of his actions as the rest of us.”

            “Let’s hope so. As a first born, she has power that would be useful for our side.”

 

            Surveying the immediate area for any potential human witnesses, Mari gathered Uruha in her arms, and slowly rose into the rose-tinted morning sky, “It should not take long to return home, just rest your head, my love.” Uruha snuggled his head in his lover’s shoulder. Just as he was closing his eyes, he looked down, only to see Heath standing at the entrance of the Clan house, watching as the couple disappeared in the clouds.

            “I’m sorry, please forgive me…”

Chapter Text

 

          “I will leave it up to the discretion of each clan leader,” Kimura had asked to speak to Reo in his office ahead of the gathering, to voice his concerns about the content of his story, “It is not so much a bloody tale, as it is one of confusion. I myself, question my existence frequently.”

          “Do your children know the story?” Reo’s thoughts turned to the young ones. Kimura shook his head, “No, they do not, though I have told Yuko. If the other clan leaders choose to keep their younger or more sensitive members away from tonight’s meeting, then I will do the same. It would seem peculiar to them, if they were the only children in the room.”

          “I will speak to them.”

 

          “Did he give a reason? I find it strange that he would keep his history from his children.” Morrie asked.

          “No, he gave no reason. I suspect that he’s just being overly cautious and protective, he did say that Yuko knows his background.” Reo had called Sakurai, Inoran, and Morrie to his office, to explain the message from Kimura.

          “I have no problem with my family hearing the story, there could be information that they may need to know, and understand,” Sakurai acknowledged. Inoran nodded in agreement, “I think this is something that all members need to hear, including Rin.”

          Reo clapped his hands once, rising from his desk, “Good, I for one, am anxious to hear what he has to say.” 

 

          Jyou had taken charge of the preparations for the meeting, with care and concern in mind. Having Hazuki assist her, she installed a short platform at one end of the room, with a zaisu. “Visually this will keep everyone’s attention on Kimura.”

         Colorful cushions, and zaisu chairs were randomly placed throughout the tatami room. Jyou had opened the shoji doors, on the long side of the hall, the soothing sounds of a gentle waterfall from the pond, wafting through the room.

          Though the ryokan was modernized with electricity, Jyou found it more appropriate to add the soft glow of lanterns, placed throughout the room.

         One other suggestion she made to Reo involved Sakurai, “We need to keep Uta and Ayato further apart than usual. They need to give their full attention to Kimura, not on dreaming up some scheme or another.”  Both clan leaders  agreed.

          “We should place Kimura’s family in front of him, it’s just a smart choice as his children made need some reassurance once they hear his story.”

         

 

          Reo stood at the head of the room, “As we did with Mari, I’d like to keep the questions and comments until after Kimura-san is finished.”

          “Thank you, Reo-san.” Kimura paused for a moment before sitting down and looked at the faces of the assembled immortals, faces that held some apprehension, but mostly intrigued and curious.

          “I was born in 721, in Satsuma, Kagoshima, the only son of a family involved in the early silk trade. While we were undoubtedly wealthy, my father had always lived a modest life, he detested opulence and the show of material wealth. My father was a well-respected member of the community, had always been active in local politics and was generally thought to be a pillar of our small town.”

          “Being the only son, it was expected of me to continue with the family legacy and take control of the business once my father could no longer deal with the daily grind. My two sisters were younger than I by several years, and with my mother they handled the accounts for the business and also the daily chore of running the household. This was our life, and my life, laid out in detail from birth to death, and I accepted it without question.”

          “In 748, my father sent me to the capital city of Heijo-kyo, ostensibly to attempt to gain an audience with the royal palace, as my father was certain that Empress Genmei would be interested in our silk. “Try to gain favor within the palace, then when your son is of age, you will have no worries.”

          Kimura noticed some confused looks at the mention of a son, Yuko looking especially worried. “Yuko my love,” he said softly, “this is truly the only secret of my past, that I have never revealed, as it is one of pain, loss and sorrow.” Yuko smiled through her tears, and nodded.

          “Her name was Miori. Her father was a prominent member of our community and we had grown up together. It was almost a given by both families, that we would marry.” He looked at Yuko once more, “She was tiny and petite, but fierce. You always remind me of her, you’re so alike.”

          “We married in 740, and continued to live and work with my family’s business. Miori became pregnant in late 747, and needless to say both families were ecstatic. But when my father came to me with the idea of going to the capital, I was initially hesitant. Miori was pregnant and though we lived with my parents, I did not want to leave her. “You will have a growing family soon. You need to gain more contacts in the capital, in order to expand our business.” This was my father’s argument.”

           “Miori and I talked it over, and she agreed with my father, “I will be safe living here, the midwife is just a shout away. Please, don’t worry so much, Keizo.” At that point, I was stunned that Miori was so accepting of the idea. “But what if I’m needed, not just for business, but for you and our child?”

          “Neither my father nor Miori would listen to my protests, and as a result, I set out for the capital city, with five servants and a cart with a large quantity of our best silk fabric. We left Satsuma early in the morning, hoping to make it to the half way point at a large ryokan that serviced the main road. Unfortunately, that night I misjudged the distance and soon the silence of darkness was upon us. In a narrow section of the road, we were caught unawares, and attacked by bandits, as they struck us from behind.” Kimura paused and sighed sadly, “All five of my servants were slaughtered; they were not men of violence and had no chance against such a vicious attack. I can still hear their screams in my ears… the gurgling sounds of their last breaths.”

          “Though I fought with everything I had, I was mortally wounded as well, with a great gaping slash across my chest. As I lay dying, the bandits tore the silk from the cart, they went through my pockets and when they found little to nothing of worth, they fled into the dark.”

          “Laying in the dirt, my life’s blood seeping into the earth, my fading thoughts were of Miori and our unborn child. Drawing what I believed would be my final breath, a sharp blue light appeared at my feet. I struggled to open my eyes, to focus on the figure that was now leaning over me.”

          “A man, of an indeterminate age and not of this realm, his face was regal but with the air of a monk, hovered over me. He was dressed in iridescent green robes, and a sky-blue obi around his waist, a scene of dragons and mist, seeming to move on their own. I knew he was not of this earth, but I was unafraid.”

          “Wearing a benevolent smile, he kneeled next to my head, “Kimura Keizo,” reaching out he covered my most grievous of wounds with his hand. “You have much to accomplish before you seek happiness in the afterlife.” His voice was soft and comforting, I felt no fear as I looked up at him.”

          “I don’t understand. I am mortally wounded; I will not survive this night to see the sun rise.” I told him.

          “No, my son, you will never see another sunrise, that much is true.”

          “How will my life be sustained?”
          “In exchange for my gift of an eternal life, you shall need the blood of humans to survive, but kill not the innocents, instead take only what you need. You will now have the gift of flight, and the deadly gift of fire, if it is so warranted.”

          “As he spoke, I could feel my strength returning, the wound in my chest had stopped bleeding. “Why are you giving me these gifts?”

          “He sighed and closed his eyes. “Return to your home and wait for the one’s who will bring wrath and destruction to both the mortal and immortal world. You will guide others in this battle. Bide your time and seek those that are soulless, and mercifully dispose of them, for they live in neither world. Take the young ones into your heart, you will know them when you find them. Others will appear in time, though they will be frightened, they will believe they are alone in their immortality. You will live for eternity, or as long as you choose. Know that only sunlight and fire can end your life.”

          “In hindsight, we now understand that he was speaking of Ryuichi and Yoshiki, though how he knew they would appear is beyond my comprehension, as it was another sixty years or so, before Ryuichi was changed by his mother, and another 350 years before he brought Yoshiki into the blood.”

 

          Kimura was drained, the weariness showing on his face, and as such, Reo interrupted him, “Would you like to stop? I’m sure we can all wait until tomorrow evening for the remainder of your story.” A soft groan of disappointment was heard from the others in the room.

          Kimura nodded, “I believe this is a good stopping point for the night, as the telling of my story is rather long and complicated.” With great reluctance, Reo ordered them to their beds, “We will continue tomorrow night, after the hunt.”

 

          The day passed slowly for some, and the next evening’s hunt was rushed, everyone anxious for the return to Kimura’s story, with some of the older members forgoing it completely, “It will relieve the stress of having too many out at once, something I’m sure your human agents will appreciate.” Sakurai explained to Reo.

         With a few changes, most of the clan members returned to their same seats, though Kyo moved closer to the small dais, choosing to sit towards the front, and lean against the wall.  For Uta and Ayato, their spouses agreed to let them sit together, “As long as you remain quiet,” Kyo reprimanded the two young men, “I will not hesitate to banish you to our room.” Both Uta and Ayato contritely promised to only listen to the story.  Rin and Yume had both chosen to sit with Kimura’s daughter’s, to offer support, guessing that the next part of the story would be difficult to hear.

          With a quick kiss and a hug from Yuko, Kimura once again sat down and made himself comfortable.

          “I’m sure you all have the same question about the mysterious monk who bestowed the gift of immortality upon me. When I asked him his name, he just smiled at me, “That is not important my son, for I will fade from your memory in due time.”

          “I struggled to sit up, and as my vision cleared, I could see the mutilated bodies of my servants, cast around me, “Is there nothing you can do for them?” I asked hopefully.”

          The monk shook his head, “No, sadly they have passed on, though their souls were blessed.

          Kimura was quiet for a moment, the painful memories flooding his mind. With a deep sigh he continued.

          “I was unsure of how I would survive this gift, how I would be using blood to sustain me for eternity. “Master,” I asked, “will you be the one to instruct me how to live this life?” I had no idea why I addressed him that way, it just seemed appropriate.”

          “Then the monk’s face turned hard, telling me, “Seek shelter before the sun rises, if you wish to live. Delay your return to your home, as you will be unable to live as you have.”

          “But my wife is with child!” I protested.”

          “Walk the opposite direction from that life, it will only bring misery if you return.”

          “It took all I had to stand, but I was determined to return to my family, “They will understand, I will explain…

          “The monk glared at me, “Your new purpose is far more important to the world, than your mortal family.

          I cursed him of course, with the brashness of my youth. “My purpose will have no meaning if my family is not with me.”

          “Without warning the man before me changed form from a benevolent monk, to a fierce oni, “Foolish boy! You have two choices, do as I say and walk away from your former life, or die with your family and anger the gods.”

          “The gods be damned!” I shouted at him. Turning away from the monk, I stumbled off into the night, my only thoughts were returning to my family as quickly as possible, but sadly that wasn’t what happened. As I ran, I clearly heard his voice in my head, “You will live with regret for eternity.”

          “While it was obvious that I had been healed of my most grievous of wounds, I did not believe the monk’s tale of bestowing me with immortality, let alone having to drink blood to live. I found out quickly that it was no lie.”  Kimura searched for the faces that he knew had experienced a similar fate; being left with no instructions on how to live as a vampire.

          “Making my way back to the scene of the robbery, I found that not only was the monk gone, but so were the bodies of my servants. The only evidence that remained was the blood-soaked earth, and the overturned cart with the bolts of silk cloth.  At that point, I made the decision to salvage what silk I could, and continue on with my journey.

          “As I walked, towards the capital city, the first rosy shades of dawn broke from the east. In my haste, I had momentarily forgotten the monk’s warning, and when the sun broke the horizon, I felt my skin start to burn.  That was all it took for me to learn to hide during the day, and travel only at night. It was during those long nights, that I questioned myself. I questioned how I would tell my family, that I was now a monster.”

          Kimura glossed over some of the unimportant details of his journey to the capital, though he admitted to a blunder, that almost cost his first victim his life. “It was that single moment, when I considered suicide.”  

          Reo cleared his throat to interrupt Kimura, “Let’s pause here for a moment, and have some refreshments, I’m sure that your story still has much to be told.”

          “I would like to say just one thing more., before we end. This period of my life is one that I would like to erase from my memory, it is that painful. Rather than speak in full about my return to my family, I will leave you with this; My wife Miori and my son were both lost in childbirth, there had been serious complications with bleeding. My parents over the next year did not understand my need to only do business at night. To explain my immortality, I lied to my parents about a supposed illness that kept me out of sunlight.”

          “My sisters had been married to good families, and were living their own lives, and both of my parents died some twenty years after my return. I sold the business at a great profit, and with that final act, I left Satsuma and started my dark solitary life. The year was 768.

          Now, before I continue, let’s enjoy our refreshments.”