The Last Summer
Author note: Thanks to the people taking time to review this story. You are the ones inciting me to write more. As you have probably guessed if you know the manga, the Rosario+Vampire timeline has been thoroughly affected by Hotaru’s existence. The deepest change is a consequence of the battle described in the chapter 3 of this story. Moka was never sealed and therefore does not possess a double personality. This, of course, affected how things happened at Yokai Academy. At the beginning of this chapter (Summer 2012), Tsukune Aono spent/survived his first semester in Yokai Academy but the events were different, as some of it will be shown in this chapter. I’ll probably write this alternate Rosario+Vampire as a side story at some point. About portable vidphones: I chose to go with the style of the Global of Earth: Final Conflict
--- Apex Arcology, 7 August 2012
Elizabeth was sitting in the subway bringing them back to the Arcology, feeling tired but happy. She, Dawn, Celia and Kokoa had spent the day in Akihabara, overdosing on cuteness and spending some of their savings on various things. She had personally gone with more clothes, continuing in the trend Kokoa had set her up upon. She knew that standing for her sister would make her social circle at school implode. Changing her style would be one more way to tell people she wasn’t the same person anymore.
She looked once again at Kokoa. She had to admit that she liked the girl and they both intended to stay in touch after the end of the holidays. She had learnt that Kokoa was from an old and rich family. One would not really have guessed, seeing her in a rather simple plaid sundress with a red and white pattern and reading a manga with a slight smile on her lips. Since their first encounter two days ago, Elizabeth had been going towards a similar style, one that cared more about timeless elegance than ‘not being last year’. And Mom is actually approving, saying Kokoa has a ‘good influence’ on me… Well… Satan is probably busy buying ice skating equipment.
Joyce had left them to their own devices, saying she wanted to take a stroll to think about some things and would come back on her own. The teens had been happy to oblige her and promised to keep their portable vidphones connected.
“What are you thinking about?” asked the redhead.
“When I go back to Los Angeles… when the new school year starts, I will see who my real friends are.”
“School year start? Right, America, you start in September instead of April. Just call if you want to speak.”
“How come that…”
“We’re bonding so fast? I don’t have many friends outside of my family… and Ko-chan likes you.”
Buffy smiled, remembering her encounter with Kokoa’s pet bat. While this certainly wasn’t the most common choice for a pet, Elizabeth had just found the bat cute. A part of her had tried to make her admit that this was a certain proof she was joining her sister among the losers, but she had quashed it. She was somehow certain that Kokoa wasn’t a ‘fair-weather friend’. Once given, her friendship would endure… Elizabeth giggled discreetly.
“You want to share?” asked Kokoa.
“I’m just remembering a dream I had last night. We were both dressed as magical girls, like in the Sailor V game, and fighting side-by-side.”
Kokoa raised an eyebrow.
“Well… I would need to train you a lot before that could happen… and I don’t feel too keen about fighting is such a short skirt.”
For half a second, Elizabeth had the strangest of impressions. Kokoa had to joke, no? Yet, there was something in her tone that… sounded dead serious. A second later, Kokoa winked at her and both girls giggled happily.
They reached the Arcology station and separated as they took elevators to different sectors.
“You really like her,” said Dawn.
“Yeah, it’s… I don’t know, but… I would say that she feels real,” said Elizabeth. “I like to see her smile, because… I know it’s not faked.”
Dawn fought the urge to say something about her sister’s rather obvious crush on another girl. If she pointed it out, the risk of seeing Elizabeth backpedaling into her former bitchy self was too great. No… just let things play together and… well if she likes girls, that’s just all right. And I would rather see her with someone like Kokoa than the idiot jock who’s supposed to be her boyfriend.
Dawn remembered something Celia had told her about the way Kokoa was moving. Celia had practiced aikido since the age of four and she was pretty certain that Kokoa knew how to fight, and probably with a hard style like kempo or Muay Thai. For Dawn, there was also something else. Her talent had shown her a European castle and Kokoa training with a slightly older child with silver hair and strange red eyes.
“We’re home!” said Celia as they entered the family flat and removed their shoes in the entrance.
“Did you have a good day?” said Lolly as she came to meet them, folding the screen of her vidphone back in its handle.
The three teens nodded enthusiastically.
“Aunt Lolly?” asked Elizabeth. “Did Mom come back already?”
Lolly Takahashi looked at her niece. She clutched the vidphone in her hand and took a decision she had delayed for too long.
“She met some old friends and is spending the evening with them… Can you three come to the living room once you have put your bags away? We have to talk.”
She went back to the kitchen and started to make some tea while the teens went to Celia’s room. They would probably need it. I know that you want to protect them, anego… but this is a battle they will weather a lot better if they’re prepared, and ready to take your side against their father.
She took the tray with the kettle and the cups and went to the living room. One of the things she liked about living in the Arcology was that the standard flats were a lot less cramped than in the rest of Tokyo. Contrarily to the past years where the Summers had to go to a hotel, she had been able to have her sister and nieces stay with them, Elizabeth and Dawn sleeping on futons with their cousin and Joyce in the guest room. The fact that the prick didn’t even bother to come this time also helped.
Lolly sincerely hoped that she would never meet him again. She wasn’t sure she would be able to control herself. Hurting her big sister was a capital offense in her book, the kind of offense that made her think about her trusty Walther WA2000. She didn’t have the heart to destroy it when they had decided to retire. It was quietly waiting for her in a safe in Honolulu. Speaking of my old rifle… Ryo and Umibozu are in Tokyo… More than that: Ryo is the City Hunter.
She remembered hearing some stories about the City Hunter, stories that sounded like something out the old A-Team show. If you left a message starting with XYZ on the board of the Shinjuku train station, the invincible cleaner would contact you… provided you were pretty woman. And with the City Hunter being Ryo, I understand that last point a lot better.
Her nieces and daughter arrived and the all sat down on the cushions around the coffee table.
“Now that you are all here… first I must tell you that Joyce doesn’t know that I will tell you some things… and she probably wouldn’t agree. However, I think that we girls have to stick together in such situations.”
“It’s about Dad, right?” asked Dawn.
“Yes, Dawn-chan, it’s about Hank. What do you know?”
“I saw an invoice for a necklace that Mom never got. He could have bought it on behalf of one of his associates, so I didn’t say anything until I could have gathered more proof.”
Celia looked at her cousin. She had a very good idea on how Dawn knew and that by ‘proof’ she meant ‘proof that don’t rely on visions’. She remembered that Dawn told her that her talent to see the past was a pain sometimes, because when it kicked in, she wasn’t granted the comfort of lies. She only had the cold, hard truth.
“Dawn,” said Elizabeth, who looked very pale, “do you mean that… Dad is…”
“Your father has been cheating on your mother with his secretary for a while now, seven months actually,” said Lolly. “Joyce didn’t say anything for your sake but she can only take so much crap.”
Elizabeth wanted to pretend it wasn’t true, that Daddy couldn’t… but there were small things nagging her, like how her Dad didn’t really look at her Mom anymore. There was also this sadness she could feel in her mother, this feeling that her smiles were faked because something was eating her from the inside.
“Why did you decide to tell us this, auntie?” asked Dawn.
“I know it hurts, Dawn-chan. I know that you mother will be angry at me for telling you. I also know that once the anger has washed out, she will understand that I acted for the good of the family.”
“I… I don’t see how that can be good for our family.”
“I meant us Venturi girls, Elizabeth.”
Dawn fought the smile creeping on her lips. This was another secret her talent had revealed her, the day she had borrowed her Mom’s old silver cross. She had barely managed not to throw it away that day. The pure darkness, the malevolence surrounding the item was almost a living thing to her new senses, wanting to tell her forbidden secrets, urging her to take her place in the bloodline and carve for herself a path of death.
“What is important,” continued Lolly, “is for you to understand that Hank is the traitor here. He could have told your mother months ago that the spark wasn’t here anymore and that they needed to do something about it. Instead, he chose to hide it, because giving the illusion of a happy family is important for his career as a lawyer. Joyce discovered it and took upon herself, only confiding in me. As to why I did decide to tell you just now… it’s because I want you to understand exactly why your mother has every right to spend the evening with an old friend.”
Elizabeth looked at her aunt, hoping to see the hint of a bad joke. Instead… she had those eyes her Mom sometimes had when she was very angry. In those moments, Joyce didn’t shout. She spoke with a voice icier than Antarctica and had eyes that promised pain and misery to everything and everyone standing on her path.
“What… what will they do?” asked Buffy.
“I won’t lie to you, it will hurt. It already hurt your mother a lot. But your mother will probably ask for divorce in the near future… before she does something she may regret,” she said with a curious smile. “What I would like you to do is to support her…”
“Sorry, sis,” said Dawn, “but I stand with Mom on this. Dad likes you because you’re his little princess, the one he can actually show around. Me? I’m not really in his good book, just because some of his clients would leave if they knew he has a ‘mutant’ daughter. He probably loved us but now… we’re tools for him. Don’t fool yourself: he will discard you at once if you become a liability.”
Elizabeth looked at her sister. She couldn’t believe the cold, analytical tone she had just used, the completely cynical and jaded point of view used by… Kokoa… that’s what Kokoa said: betrayal and how you end up alone, only seeing the others like tools to use and discard.
“I refuse to become hollow,” she whispered as she hugged her sister.
Dawn hugged her back, feeling tears on her cheeks.
--- Saeba family flat, Shinjuku, 8 August 2012, 2:17 AM ---
Xiang-Ying was standing in the living room, hearing noises coming from her father’s room, noises that made her blush. She had heard them come back a quarter of an hour ago. They weren’t really drunk but rather… horny. Soon, the noises had started.
She knew perfectly well what they were doing and if the circumstances were different, she would probably have clubbed him with the certified 100 tons, anti-pervert hammer she inherited from Kaori the second he entered the flat. Instead, she had just stood in her room, giving them their privacy. This was different from her father’s usual flings. She listened to ‘her’ heartbeats, or rather the one of the heart that beat in her chest, the heart she inherited from Kaori and gave her a new life…
When she was fourteen and one of the most talented assassins of the Zheng Dao Hui under the codename of Glass Heart, she finally had a meltdown and committed suicide, impaling herself on an iron fence. The organization was not about to let one of their best elements die, so they stole a heart and transplanted it to her. Two problems soon arose. The first was that the heart was the one of Kaori Makimura, the late fiancée of Ryo Saeba, the City Hunter. The second, the one that not even Kaori knew about, was that it was the heart of a Yokai.
Her new heart had done wonderful things, like bonding fully with her, negating any need for immunosuppressors. It was also holding a shard of Kaori’s soul and started to share memories with her. It was the heart that guided her from Taiwan to Shinjuku and helped her find Ryo… who became her father as Kaori forced her to acknowledge her wish for a family. She had also inherited a little sister with Kurumu… and Xiang-Ying had to admit that she didn’t care at all that her little sister was not human. She felt warm and loved in her family.
She went back to her room and sit in front of her dressing table. She needed to ‘speak’ with her Mom, to put some orders in her feelings.
“Kaori-mama,” she said, addressing her reflection in the mirror. “I don’t know what to think…”
Her reflection in the mirror blurred, being replaced by the one of a thirty-something woman with short black hair.
“Ryo-papa is in bed with a woman… a woman who… she was like me, but she retired and became a wife and a mother. Now, her husband is cheating on her, treating her like dirt and…”
She listened to something intently.
“I know… it’s sad but it can happen. Do you think she and Ryo-Papa… they could be good for each other?”
She watched her mother’s face, deciphering her expressions.
“Yeah… the normal life she fought for will end if she does that. She will be sucked back in our world… but, does it really matter?”
She saw her mother’s thoughtful face. Kaori had a rather complicated story. An adopted child herself, she worked as a nurse before her brother’s murder. She then replaced him as Ryo Saeba’s partner and never regretted stepping out of a normal life into this world of shadows and demons. While things were definitely not what most people would call normal, there was love and happiness to be had in this world.
“You think she may try to cling on her normal life because of her daughters…” said Xiang-Ying. “Is it really worth it if they all end up miserable?”
The young woman rested her chin on her hands, musing over a family with the famous Kyrie as a stepmother and two more sisters… She soon fell asleep while, in the mirror, the image of Kaori smiled gently before fading into nothingness.
--- Takahashi family flat, Apex Arcology, 8 August 2012, 5:12 AM ---
Elizabeth was sitting on her aunt’s couch, trying to empty her mind completely. She didn’t sleep well and, rather than stirring and disturbing her cousin and sister, she had come here, in part to wait for her mother to come back. The sun had already risen for a while and she wasn’t back yet.
Not only had she learnt the day before that her Dad was cheating on her Mom, but now, her Mom had gone out for the whole night with ‘an old friend’: an old, male friend.
Intellectually, she had known that there was probably not much to salvage in her parents’ marriage. She had seen some of the signs. She had however hoped that it would pass and that her parents would find it in themselves to love each other again but now… Now, her Mom had spent the night with another man than her father. That probably meant that her mother had no intention to even try to repair anything. That probably meant that her aunt was right and that once they were back in Los Angeles there would be talks of divorce. What did auntie say? That if Mom didn’t divorce, she would probably reach her breaking point soon and then… then auntie had that scary, almost Joker-like smile… Yeah, like if Mom was Angelina Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
She tried to imagine her mother as an international, top-notch assassin. She just couldn’t wrap her mind around that thought. There was no way that an art major who took parenting advice in new age theories could… or could it just be an elaborate lie? A lie like the one Dad told us…
She had tried to call home, only to have to domestic computer telling her he hadn’t come home for three days. Another call to her Dad’s office, followed by some sweet-talking to an obviously newly-hired intern had taught her that her dad was on vacation, while he had pretexted having too much work to come with them. Deducing the rest was easy.
She took a paper tissue and blew her nose. Before that call, she had somehow still hoped that her aunt and sister were wrong. Now she felt angry at him and she could hear that voice in her mind whispering that her Mom was right to dump him and find affection where she could. What kind of old friend did she meet? Aunt Lolly said he was called Ryo Saeba, but didn’t say anything about his job, only that he lived in Shinjuku.
She forced herself to get up. This morning, Celia had to take them to a place where they could buy yukatas for the festival tonight. Her aunt had been adamant on them not changing that, that they all needed the distraction. Kokoa… Kokoa told me to meet her at the festival. Maybe I can speak with her, or at least have a nice evening away from all of this. Right now… Yes, I know. The public baths are opened round the clock since they are mostly manned by androids. Soaking in the rotenburo…
She gathered her bathing things and left a note on the flat’s domestic computer.
--- Saeba family flat, Shinjuku, 8 August 2012, 7:42 AM ---
Joyce woke up, feeling the arms of a man holding her. She basked in that sensation. It had been almost a year since she had felt it for the last time, a year since her husband had started to get colder towards her.
The man holding her knew that kind of loss very well, though not exactly in the same way. Four years ago, his fiancée, Kaori Makimura, had died while saving a child. He had found the strength to continue for his daughters, both the biological one and the adopted one. Xiang-Ying… another broken bird.
She didn’t want to delve too much on the kind of hellish childhood the teen had gone through. It reminded her too much of her own, of training made to turn her into a faithful attack hound and of an innocence ripped away from her soul far too soon. She just hoped that Xiang-Ying would find the strength to live somewhat normally. But what is normal in the end…
“Yes, Ky… Joyce?”
“Thank you for this night. I needed it.”
“You’re welcome, but…”
“I’m not expecting more than what you already gave, Ryo. It will be hard enough to explain to my daughters.”
“He cheated first, you know… Kaori would have beaten me to death with her hammer if I had…”
“By the way, how could she do that trick with the vanishing hammer Ban-ban told me about?” she asked, remembering some anecdotes traded with Ryo’s friend the evening before. “Was she… of that world?”
“She didn’t know, but probably.”
Joyce got up. As a child, she had learnt that two shadow worlds existed on Earth. One was the usual world of crime and other secret, but human, activities. The other was the world of magic and demons. She had also learnt that the frontier between the two was very blurry, that when people of the first reached a certain level, the inevitably peeked into the second. For her, it had been when she was taught to do things like honing her senses to feel killing intent, how to use her chi to reinforce her body or to negate her own aura. These were techniques that most people at her former level knew how to do, techniques that made feats normally reserved to action movies possible. Later, she had learnt why these techniques were known in the criminal world, as an organization bridging both worlds tried to recruit her and her sisters: the Order of Taraka. The mystical assassins had deliberately seeded that knowledge among the crime families, to breed candidates for their order. And it was one of the rare times I was glad for Father’s influence… If he hadn’t intervened, we would have been lured across the border and been swallowed for good.
She started to dress up, slowly. She felt Ryo’s gaze on her body and it was too damningly good to feel desired again. She could feel the darkness in her whispering things to her soul, telling her to dump her piece of trash of a husband in the most humiliating way possible, to destroy him completely. She also heard her rather sloshed conscience try to tell her to think about her daughters. She sighed.
“For years,” she said, “I buried a part of myself to become a proper little housewife. At one point, I even took medication to dull my combat reflexes and pretend to be… what society considers normal. Later, raising my daughters helped me to maintain the mask.”
“But now, you feel it cracking and this long buried part of yourself is awakening, because your ‘normal’ life is falling apart.”
“What should I do, Ryo? Should I bury it again?”
“I’m probably not the best person to give you advice, Joyce... I never left that world.”
“No, but you’re standing nearer to the frontier than you used to.”
He got up and came to hug her. His embrace felt warm and caring. The darkness was trying something different, whispering to her that this was a man that would accept her in her entirety, that he would allow her to be herself instead of that pathetic mask she had to don to marry Hank. Her conscience counter-attacked, asking her if she wanted to draw her daughters in that world. No or… no, I cannot do that to them. They deserve a chance to be normal.
“When the Kill Bill movie got out… it felt like a flashback to me. When Bill shot the Bride with the truth serum and asked her those things, it was like if I heard myself…”
“What did you do?”
“I drowned that feeling with tequila… not my most glorious moment.”
“Ryo-papa, are you up?” asked Xiang-Ying from the other side of the door. “Kurumu says that breakfast is ready.”
“I suppose that here go my chances to leave discreetly,” said Joyce.
“You never had one,” he said while putting on a t-shirt.
“I’ll give a call to my daughters and I’ll come join you.”
--- Takahashi family flat, Shinjuku, 8 August 2012, 8:02 AM ---
Dawn unfolded the screen of her vidphone and took the call.
“Hello, Mom,” she said, looking at the rather embarrassed face of her mother.
“Hello Dawn. Is Elizabeth here?”
“She went to the baths three hours ago and then messaged she was taking a stroll on the Arcology’s Outer Promenade. She has left her vidphone here but I can message her through the intranet if you wish.”
“This early? That’s unusual.”
“Mom… Aunt Lolly told us about Dad.”
On the screen, Joyce pinched the bridge of her nose, closing her eyes.
“I… I’ll have some words with my sister…”
“Mom… it’s better like this.”
“Maybe… but it’s the matter of her doing it without consulting me. I’ll be…”
“Mom, sorry to contradict you, but please, take your time. Have breakfast wherever you are so that you can cool down. We’ll discuss at length before lunch.”
Joyce shook her head and smiled at her daughter.
“How come you are always so reasonable?”
“You always told me that acting rashly was a bad idea...”
“True… I love you, daughter. I will be back soon.”
--- Saeba family flat, Shinjuku, 8 August 2012 8:13 AM ---
Joyce felt pretty awkward as she sat around the bar separating the kitchen and the living room with Ryo and his two daughters.
“Bon appétit,” said Kurumu with a big smile.
She sat and started to eat, finding the acceptance they had of the situation almost surreal.
“Hem… sorry to ask this,” said Joyce. “But… you…”
“Well… you’re different from the girls Ryo-papa tends to have a crush on… first you’re not a civilian, but Kyrie,” said Xiang-Ying. “It’s not like you cannot defend yourself. Second, Kaori-mama told me that you needed… that,” she finished with a blush.
Joyce felt rather conflicted. It was not only the fact that this teen seemed to consider her like… someone more ‘normal’ would for his favorite baseball player but also the fact Kaori was supposed to be dead. Could it be…
“When Kaori-mama died, I was transplanted her heart,” said Xiang-Ying. “Ryo-papa adopted me only later. Sometimes… I can speak with her.”
Joyce surprised a gaze between Kurumu and her father, who responded with a slight nod.
“What neechan is trying to say is that there is a shard of Kaori’s soul clinging to her heart,” said Kurumu. “It’s not a full possession, rather a kind of guardian angel.”
“Are you a witch, Kurumu-chan?”
The blue-haired teen shook her head with a smile while devilish wings sprung out of her back.
“I’m a succubus,” she said. Of course, a seducer like Ryo was bound to meet sex demons…
“Ryo… the love hotels in Kabuki-cho?”
“Some… mostly Succubae and Kitsune,” replied the City Hunter. “When Xiang-Ying came here four years ago, there was a power play between the leaders of the Zheng Dao Hui. The boss trying to do a coup had a very nasty surprise when he deployed soldiers in Kabuki-cho.”
They ate calmly for a while.
“Tonight, there is the festival at the Apex Arcology. Would you like to come with Kurumu and Xiang-Ying? I would like Elizabeth and Dawn to meet my old friend.”
“I would probably tell you something about bad ideas if we weren’t already going. Kurumu wants me to meet her friends from school.”
--- Apex Arcology, 8 August 2012, 10:24 AM ---
“You don’t need one, Cel-chan?” asked Dawn.
“Nope. I work as a miko for the Arcology’s shrine, so I’ll be in uniform tonight.”
Dawn nodded. A traditional festival had to be sponsored by the local shrine, particularly for an occasion that was, in the end, the anniversary of the founding of that town called the Sankakusu Arcology. That meant that her cousin would spend the evening being a priestess, a role that she had often said she was oddly comfortable with.
A few feet from here, Elizabeth was looking at herself in the mirror. She loved how the light blue kimono looked on her, with its motif of shells and rolling waves, while Dawn had gone for a garnet one with black dragons.
“Dawn-chan… It suits you but if Takayama-san sees you like this, she will probably try to exorcise you,” said Celia with a grin.
“She’s the head priestess at the shrine?”
“Yes. She was formed at the Hikawa Shrine… it’s very old, very respected and the family that used to cater to it was known for its shamans able to read the shrine’s sacred fire.”
“Used to?” asked Elizabeth. “What happened?”
“The last daughter of the family died in the eighties, leaving only her old grandfather. Another family had to step in, though Hino-san taught until his death. Takayama-san was one of his last students.”
--- Takahashi family flat, Apex Arcology, 8 January, 11:04 ---
They were once again all sitting around the living room table, but this time the gaze of the three teenagers were turned towards Joyce.
“So…” said finally Joyce, breaking the awkward silence. “I agree that last night was not my wisest decision but I do not regret it in the slightest.”
“Why?” asked Elizabeth. “By doing that…”
“You feel like if I’m no better than Hank, right? Buf…”
“Please,” said Elizabeth, with suddenly hard eyes. “I’m trying very hard to be angry at d… father.”
“Very well, Elizabeth, I will never call you by his nickname again. During the last months, I gave your father many hints and occasions to redeem himself or even to simply admit he was cheating on me. He took none of them, even when it was blatant. When we left for Japan, I knew there was a good chance he would take the opportunity to take a vacation of his own. When we left, the only thing missing to our separation was an official statement I refused to give him for your and your sister’s sake. Meeting some old friends just gave me the push I needed.”
“By friend… you mean an old boyfriend?” asked Dawn.
Joyce had a dreamy smile as her sight unfocused for an instant.
“Hem… I… I never thought I would talk about those kinds of things with you but Ryo is not a former boyfriend. I think you would call him… a friend with benefits.”
Elizabeth looked at her mother like if she had just declared she was a Venusian. The idea of her mother having sex was disturbing enough but… that? It was something she had thought reserved to shows like Sex and the City.
“Okay…” said Dawn. “While Lisa-chan is recuperating, when can we meet him?”
“Ryo will be here tonight with his daughters… and before you ask: he’s a widower and I never had… that kind of relations with him before last night. I don’t think things will ever go further with him... at least not until the divorce papers are signed.”
“So,” said Elizabeth, sniffing, “that’s it?”
“Yes, Lisa-chan, that’s it. Staying with Hank will only make me suffer. It would also make you suffer now that you know. Dawn…”
“What?” asked the green-haired teen with an innocent smile.
“I know that gaze. When your aunt Arlene had it, people were about to see hell. What are you planning?”
“Hem… a vendetta?”
“We’re Corsicans, not Italians, dear,” said Lolly. “Not that it changes much in that area, though.”
--- Apex Arcology, during the evening ---
Kokoa Shuzen looked at her new friend. She could feel that something was wrong, though she didn’t know exactly what. It wasn’t her relations with her sister as they seemed to be a lot better.
“Are you all right?”
“Sorry… I didn’t want to be such a party pooper.”
“You want to talk about it?”
Elizabeth nodded and Kokoa took her in a remote part of the park, away from the festival itself. They soon sat on a bench facing the sea.
“My parents… they’re about to divorce,” said Elizabeth, barely holding back her tears.
“D… my father has been cheating and lying to Mom for months. He also lied to us… when I tried to call him last night; he was on vacation when he was supposed to be too busy with work to come here with us.”
Kokoa quickly sorted out in her mind what she could actually tell to her friend. Akua had come to her with a dossier called Kyrie that concerned the past of Elizabeth’s mother. She had been impressed by the career of that woman and a human able to impress Akua had to be very, very scary.
“Where do you stand in all of that?”
“With Mom… At least, I’m sure she loves me even if… I don’t really know who she is anymore. With father… I know who he is. I know that to him I’m just a trophy to show around so that he can look good.”
“I… well my situation was different, but my parents divorced too. My mother betrayed our family. To her, we were only pawns in the clan politics. Father banished her and married Akasha-kaasama.”
“Kokoa… Isn’t Akasha Moka’s mother and…”
“Akasha-kaasama was my father’s official mistress… as you can guess, we’re a little old-fashioned.”
“Old as in Sengoku era old-fashioned?”
“Sometimes…” said Kokoa, holding Elizabeth’s hand. “Our family is old… the first Shuzen settled in Japan when Qin Shi Huangdi was busy unifying China. Father and Akasha-kaasama have rather strict ideas on honor.”
Kokoa looked at Elizabeth. She seemed so fragile now… yet she could feel vast reservoirs of untapped, inner strength, a strength that just lacked the proper nudge to rise at the surface. She also smelled wonderfully good and she was betting that her blood would be a pure delight. A pity she’s going back to America in only two days…
She leaned against her, putting her arm around her friend’s shoulder, struggling against the instinct that told her to taste her.
Elizabeth blushed as she felt Kokoa holding her. Her grip was strong, a lot stronger than Jeffrey’s and she had to admit that she felt at ease with the Japanese redhead. She relaxed as they leaned against each other. Soon, the first fireworks illuminated the bay in front of them.
In the shadows, Xiang-Ying and Akua looked at each other, before going back to the festival area.
“You see, no need to have fear, Glass Heart,” said Akua. “My little sister has manners.”
“You’re one to tell, Black Devil,” replied the Taiwanese girl.
The two former assassins smiled at each other, in a way that would probably have sent shivers down the spine of a shark.
--- Los Angeles, 4 September 2012 ---
The Slayer essence was busy settling into her new host, permeating her cells to enhance her capabilities. This host had a lot of potential and she would… the Slayer stopped. There was something unusual with this host.
Sometimes, she had hosts that had traces of demonic blood, but this was different. There was something attached to her host’s soul. The Slayer concentrated, forcing the materialization of the mindscape she would sometimes use to communicate with her host.
She blinked as the mindscape wasn’t the usual arid savannah, but a lush jungle with tall trees and mountains that pierced the canopy. Even more, there was a city made of graceful crystal and pink marble aeries built on the mountains. She was standing on large balcony, scratching her head, wondering what was powerful enough…
She knew. It could only be this. Below her stood a fountain and, floating above it, a complex red gold crystal.
“Shiny star… new host has shiny star seed in her soul.”
The Slayer essence bathed in the crystal’s light, feeling warm for the first time in millennia.
--- Los Angeles, 6 September 2012 ---
Elizabeth sat under a tree in the park near the flat she was now sharing with her Mom and her sister. Since they had come back from Japan, things had gone fast. Her mother had actually cornered Hank telling him they could have an agreement for the divorce: he renounced to his daughters’ guard and she let him keep the house and the money. Other than that, he could risk going before the judge, with all the potential damage it could do for his career. The fact Hank didn’t even try to fight for them had reduced in bitter ashes what little love Elizabeth still had for her father.
After that, they had quickly moved out, her Mom renting a comfortable flat for the three of them while she settled some things down. Her Mom didn’t seem really fazed by any money problem. She had heard her phone to people, speaking French with a curious accent. That reinforced more and more she and Dawn’s theory about her Mom being of… a certain kind of family. Dawn was thinking about the Unione Corse. And there are those nightmares about girls killed by monsters… At least they fight back, even if they lose. Not like me…
Dawn and her still attended the same school, but she wondered more and more if immigrating to Japan wouldn’t be a good idea. Jeffrey had dumped her at the same time as her so-called friends. She just felt that fighting for getting any of it back would… just not be worth it. At least, Dawn’s own nerdy social circle had welcomed her but…
Elizabeth raised her head, watching the small shape that was brushing against her legs. It was a white cat, with big blue eyes and a funny golden, crescent-shaped mark on his brow. She dried her tears.
“I don’t think I have anything for you, you know.”
The cat installed himself on her lap, purring with application.
“You look thin. You don’t have a home?”
The cat didn’t reply but she noticed an old collar around his neck. It seemed almost too small. Carefully, she removed it and thanked the fact the cat remained still during the whole operation.
There was a name on a rusty plate on the collar. She brushed it slightly, deciphering the characters.
She raised the cat before her eyes, verifying an impression she had since meeting the animal.
“Sorry, I just wanted to check,” she said as she put him back on her lap, where he curled comfortable, resuming his purring. “How come you were given a girl’s name? We should find you something else…”
The cat turned his head and she was almost sure there was intelligence in his eyes. It was like if he was saying to her: ‘I don’t care if a girl wore my name’.
“Okay… I’ll take that as a no, Artemis. You’re a fun one, you know…”
She stroked his fur. It felt oddly familiar, even though she never had a cat. Her father had been allergic. Just one more reason to take him home…
“At least you cats don’t have couple issues…”
The cat had a little cough, as if he had slightly choked on something.
“You have a hairball?”
Artemis just resumed his purring. Elizabeth got up, taking him in her arms. Taking care of a cat was just what she needed to change her mind. She got back to the flat, finding her Mom in the kitchen, reading the paper on her computer tablet.
“You found a stray?” asked Joyce.
“He’s called Artemis,” she said, giving the collar to her Mom. “May I… keep him?”
“If he had a collar, he probably… well, it’s old, probably several months from the corrosion. I don’t see why not. I’ll bring him to the vet tomorrow to make sure he has his shots.”
Elizabeth felt the cat shiver in her arms.
“Mom… you’re not going to…”
“No, I’m not going to have him fixed, as long as he behaves.”
The cat purred in the teen’s arms.
“It’s funny… it’s like if he understands everything we say.”
“Who knows… maybe he’s a magical cat. With that moon crescent, he sure looks a little witchy.”
--- Elsewhere in Los Angeles, at the same time ---
Merrick Jamison-Smythe got down from his cab. All the oracles were clear, the new Slayer had been called and she was in this neighborhood. She wasn’t one that the Council had raised but a normal teenager who had probably little to do with a destiny. I’m sorry to have to pull the wool from over your eyes, child… but there is no one else.
He looked at the newspaper’s first page announcing another victim from a serial killer who left his victims bloodless. He hoped he would have the time to train his new charge at least a little before trouble found her. Trouble always found the Slayer.