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RPG Shinigami Dance

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[center][color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][b]Ignorance [/b][/font][/size][/color][/center]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Adrian was still feeling irritated as he exited the massive gate and came down to land next to the portal personnel. Not only had he and Alex missed quite a few of those target nodes Nathan had set up, but once they had swept the city the blue Shinigami was nowhere to be found.

It wasn't like him to vanish in the middle of a training session, but lately it seemed like [i]everyone[/i] was giving him the run around, Gavrie, Karl, and now Nathan. He worked to suppress his irritation as Astera answered all of the questions in regards to their visit back home. It took a while but by the time they finally got to the information center, he had gotten it under control.

In many ways the building reminded him of the libraries that humans would build. Only instead of rows and rows of books or computers, it was filled with monitors that were access points for pulling up the information that had been recorded over the millennia.

There was a soft background murmur from the bustle of others who were either making use of one of the many terminals or talking together in groups over various subjects. Adrian had forgotten that it wasn't unusual for those who considered themselves scholars to spend quite a bit of time studying the records.

He hunted until he found some terminals that were closer to one of the open sections in the wall that overlooked part of the city. He smiled as he sat down. This was where the bond between him and Astera would come in handy. Both of them could search and read at the same time, covering things more efficiently.

Before he had been trained they wouldn't have done so, it would have been too distracting. But Gavrie and Karl were through when it came to training, leaving nothing that could teach them to survive better out. Including how to work together. So with that in mind, they decided who would read what sections on the Jian clan and got started.

In no time they found the information that Phaidra and Sarvel must have been talking about. The bit on how the clan had been wiped out. But that didn't necessarily mean that every single member had been dealt with. Though he imagined that they would have hunted to make sure no one had been missed.

They spent several hours checking any and every cross reference that they could find. But nothing indicated that any trace of the clan was ever found. When the information started veering too far away from stuff on the Jian clan, they moved back to that and started checking other entries.

[b][i]-This is like looking for a needle in a haystack.- [/i][/b]Adrian frowned.[b][i] -A very large one.-[/i][/b]

[b][i]-I know. I just found an entry on how they were using other races to further their studies of magic, but it's not giving any details.- [/i][/b]Astera looked up from the terminal she was at briefly.

[b][i]-Since Karl was saying if we read the history, we'd know why he knew more, I think it's safe to assume that werecats were one of the races the vampires used in their magical experiments.-[/i][/b]

[b][i]-Agreed.- [/i][/b]Adrian replied. [b][i]-Perhaps what we've been seeing is standard MO for the Jian clan and he recognizes it. I just wish he'd give us more than vague indications that we're idiots to think otherwise.-[/i][/b]

They searched for something that would explain more, but found nothing else on the subject. It had been close to six hours and even with the two of them working together they had more questions than answers. At this rate, they would have to come back another time so they could keep searching the records.

The next entry was about something called black blades. Adrian wondered if it was referring to the blades that Vampires used that were capable of actually killing them, the ones that they couldn't phase through.

[b][i]-I wonder how they learned to make those.-[/i][/b] He mused as they started reading.

It had to have been quite the shock when they first encountered them back during the war. At least he assumed they were from the war. Adrian hadn't recalled what it was that could kill a Shinigami until after he dealt with some vampires first hand, but he had known it was possible.

For some odd reason, Adrian was not surprised to learn that the Jian were responsible for the black steel. According to the records their clan was one of the most prominent and active in the war against the Shinigami. That would have required them to have some form of edge in battle since most races were completely incapable of even seeing a Reaper let alone harming them.

He was a little surprised by how detailed the section on it was since the one in regards to studying magic had been nothing more than a summary. Adrian continued reading and then stopped, stunned by what he had just read.

[b][i]-Adrian-[/i][/b] Astera started to say and stopped, equally as shocked as her partner.

[b][i]-I.. How..-[/i][/b] Adrian was at a loss for words. A cold feeling came over him and it felt like the world was shaking. It took him a moment to realize that the one shaking was himself.

[b][i]-Gods..-[/i][/b] He finally managed, still quaking.

[b][i]-Why didn't they tell us?- [/i][/b]Adrian grimaced as a wave of nausea made him shiver in revulsion. [b][i]-Did they think we already knew?-[/i][/b]

He leaned forward, pressing his hands to his temples as his mind reeled in confusion. No, they knew what was in the required learning for those who went to the other side. There was no mention of what the black blades were made from, just as there was no mention that vampires still existed.

Adrian was certain he would have remembered someone telling him that the black steel was made from the very essence of a Reaper. Something like that would be unforgettable.

[b][i]-We have to tell the others.-[/i][/b] Astera finally said. [b][i]-They need to know.-[/i][/b]

Adrian looked at the monitor again before reaching over and shutting it off in a fit of irritation. They were out of time. If they didn't leave soon, they would be late. Though now he wondered just what else no one had bothered to tell them.[/font][/size][/color]

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[CENTER][FONT="Arial"][B][U]Distance[/U][/B][/FONT]
[SIZE="4"][hidden track][/SIZE][/CENTER]

[font=calibri]The receptionist returned to the front desk alone, her face masking admirably the distress the waiting woman knew she felt. That alone was answer enough, but there was no harm in being thorough.

[B]â??Iâ??m sorry, maâ??am,â? [/B]the girl said, retaking her seat, [B]â??the applicant seems to be gone.â?[/B]

[B]â??Really?â?[/B] inquired the woman.

[B]â??Yes, maâ??am. Iâ??m not sure who let her leave; I certainly didnâ??t authoriseâ??â?[/B]

[B]â??Which room did you show her to, again?â?[/B] the woman interjected, cherry-polished fingernails drumming thoughtfully on the countertop.

[B]â??The private room across from the Silverwood conference hall, as the instructions indicated.â?[/B]

[B]â??And she made no indications she wanted to leave?â?[/B]

[B]â??She did call down to the desk once to ask how long the wait would be,â?[/B] the clerk replied, [B]â??but she didnâ??t make a sound since thenâ??and we didnâ??t think cameras in the room would be necessary,â?[/B] she added tentatively.

[B]â??Mmm.â?[/B]

[B]â??I am [I]terribly [/I]sorry, maâ??am,â? [/B]the receptionist offered earnestly. [B]â??I just donâ??t see howâ??â?[/B]

[B]â??Please donâ??t worry yourself over it,â?[/B] the woman reassured her, patting her shoulder. [B]â??There wasnâ??t a way for you to have known.â?[/B]

[B]â??Still....â?[/B]

[B]â??I know.â? [/B] The woman straightened and adjusted her blazer. [B]â??But there doesnâ??t seem to be anything for me to do any longer, so Iâ??ll let you get back about your business.â?[/B] She paused, then asked, [B]â??You wouldnâ??t happen to know any good restaurants nearby, would you?â?[/B]

The desk girl brightened visibly.

[B]â??Oh!â?[/B] she said. [B]â??Oh, yes, thereâ??s a nice little place just a few blocks from here. Here, let me get you directions.â?[/B]

[CENTER]--------------------------------[/CENTER][/font]

[CENTER][FONT="Arial"][B][U]Don't Think Just Move[/U][/B][/FONT][/CENTER]

[font=calibri][B]â??I know we didnâ??t do all that great, but why did you leave before we were finished?â?[/B]

Nathan busied himself with retying his shoelaces.

[B]â??I had a sudden death I had to oversee,â?[/B] he said. [B]â??A sudden infant death, actually, followed immediately by a sudden life-support system failure two floors above and a wing over.â? [/B] He grinned devilishly. [B]â??Thereâ??s a small part in the respirator that failed, and I think whoever designed it is going to wish he hadnâ??t, come Monday.â?[/B]

[B]â??You still could have left us a message or something,â? [/B]Nall grumbled.

[B]â??Ahh, yâ??all are big boys, you can take care of yourselves if no oneâ??s around to supervise.â? [/B]

Alex rolled his eyes. He liked Nathan, but lately he was starting to feel more and more like the man wasnâ??t telling them what they needed to know as much as he was telling them what he wanted them to know, and it was bothering him a little. He often wished he could get a straight answer out of the man once in a while.

[B]â??So why did you want to meet today?â? [/B]Alex tried again.

[B]â??That,â? [/B]said Nathan, straightening, [B]â??is because I didnâ??t get the chance to show you how I meant you to do this exercise last time, since I had to leave.

â??I intended it as a combination between speed, accuracy and reflex training, but it ended up looking more like an easter egg hunt. So this time Iâ??m going to demonstrate what I want you to do, and youâ??re going to try and keep up!â?[/B] The blue man grinned again, and almost immediately frowned. [B]â??Whereâ??s Adrian?â?[/B]

[B]â??Across the Gate,â?[/B] said Alex. [B]â??He said he had some stuff he wanted to look up over there, and that it might help us get better prepared for what weâ??re fighting.â?[/B]

Nathan considered this statement.

[B]â??Hunh,â? [/B]he decided. [B]â??Well, at least he took the initiative.â?[/B]

Chris joined them then, alighting on the corner of the rooftop with a small wave, which Alex and Nall returned and Nathan acknowledged.

[B]â??Iâ??ve scattered the stuff around like you said,â?[/B] she informed her brother. [B]â??I hope you enjoy it.â?[/B]

[B]â??I do believe I shall.â?[/B]

[B]â??So, um, about how many targets are out there?â?[/B] asked Alex, shifting a little. [B]â??Just, you know, so I can get a rough idea.â?[/B]

The twins looked at each other.

[B]â??Um,â? [/B]said Nathan, [B]â??probably something easy; about ninety or a hundred or something like that. Sound about right to you?â?[/B]

[B]â??I left you a hundred and fifty-eight,â?[/B] Chris clarified. She smirked. [B]â??Figured you might get bored if I went too few.â?[/B]

[B]â??Ah. Good call.â?[/B]

[B]â??So is that about how many we can expect to have to find?â?[/B] Alex asked again.

[B]â??For starters?!â? [/B] Nathan looked shocked. [B]â??Good grief, of course not! This is a simple speed-run for me. Iâ??ll be setting you guys about fifty each, and when you can hit all of them and get good times I might start increasing it.

â??Right now, just watch and learn.â?[/B]

As Nathan shot into the air, Alex gave Chris a sidelong glance.

[B]â??Our shoelaces donâ??t come untied,â? [/B]he told her, then followed his mentor.

Chris blinked.

[CENTER]--------------------------------[/CENTER]

Alex watched Nathan spin into a tight figure-skaterâ??s corkscrew, whirling faster and faster until he seemed to lose all distinctness, and just as Alex began to feel dizziness claim him, the blue man simply stopped, his arms sweeping a slow circle in the air.

[B]â??Donâ??t search with your eyes,â?[/B] he said, his own eyes lightly closed. [B]â??Locate and identify with your [I]ken[/I], use your eyes to confirm the target.â?[/B]

He rocketed down so fast that Alex almost lost track of him. The young reaper managed to catch up a bit as Nathanâ??s flight path curved and leveled out, but the veteran was extremely fast and seemed to know exactly where he was going, taking corners so hard that had Alex been much closer he would have missed every one of them.

When the first circle opened up, Nathanâ??s arm was already pointed at it, and a single dart leapt from his extended fingers and sailed into the circleâ??s center, the ring collapsing just as Alex sped by. When he looked back, Nathan had already fired at two more circles, and looked to be tracking a fourth that Alex couldnâ??t see; it appeared over a billboard to the right, and almost instantly another flaming dart hit home.

Target rings were appearing all around them now: some up high, others far below, still more cleverly hidden amongst the cityâ??s architecture. Nathan nailed them all, his body twisting and turning smoothly as he flew through the upper stories, his arms sweeping in smooth, seemingly random patterns. Down one street a circle opened right by Alexâ??s ear, and just as he realised it was there a burning bullet seared by him and shut it down.

So preoccupied with finding the myriad targets was he that he almost missed Nathan reverse direction, and a split second later the man tore by him, causing Alex to reel in his flight, barely making the course correction in time.

Up ahead, Nathan barely noticed his protégéâ??s struggle. He was in a zone, all of his senses trained on the trace spiritual fluxes left by dormant targets, the variations in those about to open seeming almost as loud as rifle reports. His mind darted from one target to the next. He couldnâ??t stop; each shot was reflex now, a part of the one before it, and the one before that; each shot was a release, the time between them an agonizing exhilaration.

He no longer knew where he was flying, only that he was flying fast and wild and free, dodging anything between him and his targets. A timed circle was opening nearby, and he pulled an arching loop backwards to the next street over straight into a hard left turn for one shot, and a tight Immelman to a chicane between office buildings. Some small part of his mind registered the halfway mark, but he paid it little heed, careening ever towards his next target.[/font] Edited by Allamorph

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[FONT="Tahoma"][CENTER][B]Startling Revelation[/B][/CENTER]
Phaidra hated dealing with suicides. She knew that humans were prone to despair and often easily influenced, but she still didn?t fully understand why they would give up on life. She knew it had to partially be on account of their inability to sense beyond what they perceived as death. It just pained her to see the look in their eyes when they realized the foolishness of what they had done.

It was no different with Mr. Cox, the husband of the woman she had sent on a short while ago. With the collapse of the catering business after her death he had fallen into a deep depression. A short while after the funeral he had taken his own life. Phaidra had been required to hold herself aloof from it. As a reaper it was her duty to avoid influencing the humans. But it didn?t keep her from being required to send him on his way, like she had for his wife.

She, and any other reaper, was allowed to work and interact with humans, but when it came to matters of the afterlife, she was forbidden to interfere aside from sending them on their way. For the first time she wished she could do more, even though she knew she could not. Phaidra couldn?t explain that killing himself would solve nothing. She couldn?t explain the problems such a move would cause.

Phaidra sighed softly, unaware that she had done so. The others would be arriving at her place soon. Adrian had requested a meeting as soon as possible. She was glad for it since it gave her something else to focus on, just as the lack of catering work now gave her more time for her own research.

Adrian was the first to arrive, but to her surprise he seemed agitated and annoyed. Instead of taking a seat when offered, he paced back and forth in the main room, clearly impatient for the others to arrive. Once they had, he didn?t hesitate. He barely gave the others a chance to take a seat before speaking up.

?[B]I found out how the Vampires make the black blades.[/B]? He declared bluntly. ?[B]Astera and I found a report on it when we were searching to see if traces of the Jian Clan were ever found.[/B]?

He didn?t give any of them a chance to respond, to ask how such a thing was possible. He simply told them what he had found.

?[B]They make them from the essence of a Shinigami.[/B]? He finally stopped pacing and faced them, as if daring them to challenge that statement.

Phaidra could no more get a question out, let alone challenge anything. It felt like the ground had opened up beneath her feet and swallowed her whole. She couldn?t imagine how such a thing was even possible. The only thing that seemed clear was that, as horrible as it sounded, it had to be true. There was nothing on Earth that a Reaper couldn?t simply phase through, other than perhaps another Reaper.

The others started bombarding him with questions, Phaidra still couldn?t think of what to say. She was still wondering how it was possible to turn their essence into blades that could be used to kill. The principle made sense, but the very idea seemed impossible. She couldn?t imagine how it could be done.

?[B]Did it tell you how they did it?[/B]? Phaidra finally interjected.

Adrian shook his head. ?[B]We didn?t have enough time to finish reading all of the records on it. As soon as we can, we?re going to return and read the rest.[/B]?

?[B]I wonder if that?s why some of the blades felt different.[/B]? Alex mused. Puzzled the others looked at him. ?[B]I mean I wonder if some of the reapers that were killed recently were turned into blades.[/B]?

He flushed a bit when it was obvious the others had no idea what he was talking about. ?[B]Sorry, I was just wondering if the reason one of the blades I encountered felt different was because it was newly made.[/B]?

?[B]What do you mean by different?[/B]? Lucia asked.

Alex shrugged, spreading his hands out, palms upward. ?[B]I don?t know how to explain it. I just know that some of them feel off. I gave the one I found like that to Nathan.[/B]?

Lucia frowned slightly. ?[B]I kept the dirks from the vampire Phaidra and I dealt with for research. Would you be able to tell if they felt different?[/B]?

?[B]I don?t know. I can stop by if you want me to.[/B]? Alex offered.

?[B]Yes. I do[/B].? Lucia stood up. ?[B]I want to talk to you later too, Adrian. For now though, I have to take care of some assignments.[/B]? She turned and took off. Karl, who had said nothing, followed along with Ruby.

?[B]I?ll see if my instructor knows anything about it when I return to the other side again.[/B]? Phaidra said. ?[B]If there is magic involved, he would know about it.[/B]?

?[B]You do that.[/B]? Adrian ran his right hand through his hair. ?[B]In the mean time, like Lucia I have to take care of work.[/B]?

?[B]I should get going too.[/B]? Alex stood up. ?[B]You missed Nathan?s explanation of what we were supposed to be doing the other day. If you don?t mind company, I could come along and fill you in.[/B]?

?[B]Fine by me.[/B]? Adrian replied.

Phaidra watched them leave and then turned to Sarvel who had been quiet the whole time. ?[B]What do you think?[/B]?

?[B]I wish I could have seen the blade that Alex said feels different.[/B]? Sarvel said. [/FONT]

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[center][font="Arial"][b][u]Prism[/u][/b][/font][/center]

[font="calibri"]They took their meal in silence, the woman savoring each portion of her food as much as the last and only pausing to discourse with the waitress, the man in stoic immovability, eating as though it were merely required of him. The woman's voice, when she did speak, was vibrant and enchanting, almost intoxicating, to listen to, and was interwoven with a thread of foreign dialect that, had one been paying attention, one would have thought to be possibly German.

She rarely looked at her companion, seeming content with the mere knowledge of his presenceâ??and on one of the rare occasions she did glance to him his gaze was lost in the ruby depths of his wine, and an amused, knowing smile flitted across her face.

Their dinner passed, as did dessertâ??a small parfait for the woman, the man abstaining save for a glass of brandyâ??and the evening's bill came, for which the man showed a spark of life and caught up lazily while the woman again attended to the waitress.

[b]â??I do hope you enjoyed yourselves tonight,"â?[/b] the brunette was saying.

[b]â??Oh of [i]course[/i],â?[/b] replied the woman. [b]â??It is a wonderful little place, and the music has been delightful.â?[/b] She smiled. [b]â??I admit I am not familiar with many quality restaurants with live music. Some of the music they have coming through the speakers can be absolutely dreadful,â?[/b] she added conspiratorially.

Tiffany grinned. [b]â??I think the boss told me about the same thing when we first started,â?[/b] she said. [b]â??He's a big supporter of the local talent.â?[/b]

[b]â??Then give him my thanks, please,â?[/b] the woman urged. [b]â??It's such a little change, live music instead of piped-in music, but it really made the evening. Especially that string ensemble with the young man on synthesizer.â?[/b]

[b]â??I'll be sure to do that, ma'am.â?[/b]

[b]â??And thank [i]you[/i] as well,â?[/b] continued the woman. [b]â??Such pleasant service andâ??oh!â?[/b]

The man's eyes snapped up. His companion had started sharply when she'd taken the hostess's hand, and her slight gasp had Tiffany in a controlled panic.

[b]â??Ma'am, are you okay?â?[/b] she pressed, leaning forward.

[b]â??No, I . . . I am sorry, my dear,â? [/b]the woman said, recovering herself adroitly. [b]â??It's just that your hands are so [i]cold[/i]. It surprised me, is all.â? [/b] Her eyes flitted down and sideways to the man, then back up to the waitress. [b]â??I apologise,â?[/b] she smiled, [b]â??it"s nothing.â?[/b]

[b]â??Okay,â?[/b] said Tiffany dubiously, as the woman released her hand. [b]â??As long as you're sure.â?[/b]

Clearing his throat, the man rose, withdrew a single bill from his wallet, placed it inside the bill folder, and pressed it into Tiffany's hands.

[b]â??Keep it,â?[/b] he murmured. Without waiting for reply, he moved around the table to take his companion's arm. Tiffany opened the book, breath caught in her throat.

[b]â??Butâ??but sir, are youâ??â?[/b]

[b]â??Keep it,â? [/b]he repeated firmly, no louder than before.

[center]--------------------------------[/center]

When the two were outside at the car, identical to the first sedan except for the forest-green color, the man paused and looked at his counterpart.

[b]â??It was him,â?[/b] she said. All the color had gone out of her face, and her lively eyes were slightly haunted. [b]â??I saw him. Lots of him. No mistake.â?[/b] She lowered herself into the car and leaned her head back. [b]â??I must rest.â?[/b]

The man nodded and drew a phone from the breast pocket of his coat.[/font] Edited by Allamorph

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[FONT="Lucida Sans Unicode"][COLOR="RoyalBlue"][CENTER][B]One of the Hunted[/B][/CENTER]
Lucia’s contact had been flabbergasted to learn that she had skipped out on her new work assignment. She had no way to properly explain it when she notified him that she couldn’t accept it after all. The best she had been able to offer was that the location was completely unworkable for her. Since he couldn’t possibly understand why, mainly because she could not explain, he had gotten the wrong impression entirely.

Her contact made some offhanded remark that lead her to believe he thought she didn’t like who she would be required to work with. Lucia knew she had what the humans considered rivals. She just didn’t care. Any other time she would have corrected him but since it served her purpose well enough, she didn’t bother to set him straight. It was better that way.

The only real setback was now she’d have to wait for him to find something else for her, unless she wanted to do her own job hunting. Lucia hated doing that. It was such a complete waste of time, spending hours and hours talking to different people and filling out form after form. She liked letting someone else handle that part. Lucia sighed and put it out of mind. He’d find her something soon enough.

She turned her mind back to other more important matters, the black blades. It had taken a couple of days, but Alex had finally found the time to stop by and check the dirks that Lucia had kept for testing. She had been deeply disappointed that they hadn’t seemed any different to him. Though after they had discussed it a bit and he had left, she put that feeling aside.

Upon reflection, she realized that it was irrelevant which one it was, at least not yet anyway. In order for her scans to be of any use, she would need data from both types to see if there was anything different. So for now she could work on analyzing what she had and perhaps find a way to identify traces of a reapers essence.

Lucia’s only regret was that Alex had handed the blade in question over to Nathan. She sent Nathan a message asking if he still had the blade, and if so, could she have it for testing. But she hadn’t heard back from him yet, and since he would have no reason that she knew of for keeping it, Lucia figured that Nathan had probably destroyed it. At least she assumed there was a way to destroy them.

“[B]I wish I could go back and check the records on the black blades.[/B]” She mused.

“[B]Why don’t you?[/B]” Karl asked.

Startled she turned in her seat till the computer screen was behind her. Lucia hadn’t even realized that she had spoken out loud until Karl answered her. He was so quiet when they weren’t training that it was easy to forget he was around, especially since he didn't hover around her when she was working.

She started to snap at him for eavesdropping when a glance at the clock on the wall showed her that she was late for the next training session. She flushed with embarrassment and quickly cut off the angry retort, biting her lower lip in consternation. Lucia had already learned that snapping at Karl when she was in the wrong, only led to another one of his lectures.

It irked her how he would, politely and calmly, point out that she was being an idiot. Before he could press the matter she quickly turned and started turning everything that didn’t need to run, off. She ignored Ruby’s look of amusement since she had probably reminded her about the training. It wouldn’t be the first time she had unintentionally tuned Ruby out.

“[B]I’m sorry,[/B]” Lucia said as calmly as she could manage. “[B]I wasn’t watching the time.[/B]” She turned back to face Karl once she was done. “[B]We’re still using the empty fairgrounds, right?[/B]”

Karl’s right eyebrow shot up and for a moment she wondered if he was going to remind her that she hadn’t answered his question. To her great relief he merely nodded. She didn’t give him a second chance. Lucia turned and made for the fairgrounds at top speed. The last thing she wanted was him asking her why any request for her to return to the other side was always denied.

[CENTER]*************************[/CENTER]
Lucia could feel sweat trickling down her back between her shoulder blades. She was certain her hair was damp as well since her scalp had started to itch. It didn’t seem to matter how much she improved, Karl never seemed tired at all, ever. The further they got into the training session, the more he moved with a flowing grace that she could only envy. It didn’t help that she was already developing a painful stitch in her side.

It was true that she was slowly getting better and lasting longer, but at the same time it was disheartening to see that he was unaffected by the increase in pace. At this rate it felt like it was going to take decades for her to even come close to matching him in a spar. Working with the humans had given her a false sense of security. No human could match a reaper. She had been a fool to think that it would be enough.

[I]Thwack! [/I]

It happened so quickly that Lucia barely saw the move before it connected with her ill guarded right side. The force of the blow sent her sprawling to land painfully on the ground. [I]Damnit![/I] She thought with exasperation. [I]That hurt![/I] She rolled onto her left side in order to get back up and then stopped, taking deep breathes instead when the stitch in her side worsened.

“[B]Pay attention.[/B]” Karl reprimanded her.

Lucia didn’t bother to respond. She could hear his footsteps as he approached where she had fallen. It wasn’t the first time he’d done that. Anytime she allowed her attention to wander, he’d take advantage of that to remind her of where it should be. He never hit hard enough to seriously injure her, but it still stung. With a groan she started to get back up, mindful of the pain in her side.

“[B]I need a moment to catch my breath.[/B]” She told Karl.

Karl merely nodded in response and extended a hand to help her up. Lucia accepted it and then let go the moment she was on her feet. She glanced over at Ruby, who was sitting on one of the fences. She had an odd expression on her face and she wasn’t even looking at Lucia. Puzzled she turned around to see what Ruby was looking at. To her surprise, Isen was casually strolling across the open fairgrounds.

“[B]You need more than a moment to catch your breath, Lucia,[/B]” Isen said without glancing in her direction. “[B]Go and have a seat for a while, I insist.[/B]” Her gaze never left Karl.

Puzzled, Lucia turned to Karl but his expression was unreadable. He looked in her direction to nod, indicating she should do as Isen directed, and then turned back to the other werecat. She wondered what Isen wanted, but part of her was too tired to care. Lucia walked over to the fence and sat down, leaning back against it. A moment later Ruby floated down and settled in her lap. [/COLOR][/FONT]

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[FONT="Tahoma"][CENTER][B]Just For Today[/B][/CENTER]
If someone were to ask her what her favorite thing about being a Shinigami was, Phaidra would have said, without hesitation, the lack of time constraints. How humans managed with their never ending need to finish things while they still could during this phase of their lives, was something she hoped she?d never have to understand.

It didn?t matter if her catering work was delayed, she could simply pick it up again when the time was right. The existence of vampires, though annoying, was something she could set aside for the time being. She didn?t even have to worry about the deadline for her next cookbook to be published. If she were to miss it, the opportunity would present itself again, if not now, then sometime in the future.

?[B]Is that what I think it is?[/B]? A warm voice, filled with barely concealed anticipation asked.

Phaidra smiled as she finished retrieving the sweet orange tea she had made earlier for her publisher from the fridge, knowing full well that the woman had a soft spot for the stuff.

?[B]Of course Sarah,[/B]? Phaidra replied as she turned around and began to set everything down on the small table in her kitchen. Then, once her guest had everything at her fingertips, she sat down and poured some for herself.

?[B]This is simply heavenly,[/B]? Her publisher closed her eyes briefly and sighed with pleasure before setting the half empty cup down. ?[B]One of these days I?m going to pry the recipe out of you.[/B]?

Sarah grinned, making her blue eyes seem to sparkle like the tiny hints of silver that were starting to show in her shoulder length blond hair. Though casually dressed in green pants, a white silk blouse and a smart green jacket, she looked as if she had just left a business meeting. ?[B]I?d tell you it?s not necessary to fix anything when I come, but I?m selfish enough to want it.[/B]?

Phaidra grinned back. ?[B]I would make it even if you told me not to.[/B]?

The two of them chatted about different recipes for a bit before Phaidra finally reached into her pocket and pulled out the disk with the remaining alterations for her latest book on it. ?[B]I included the recipe for the tea since it goes really well with a couple of the dishes in this edition.[/B]?

Her publisher took the disk and then carefully tucked it away in the small briefcase she had brought with her. ?[B]Excellent, I assume all of the alterations have been made?[/B]?

With yet another grin, Phaidra nodded. ?[B]I added a few more, like the tea, but those are in a separate folder should you choose to save them for the next book.[/B]?

?[B]I doubt that will be necessary.[/B]? She replied. ?[B]All that?s left is the final check before we send it out for printing.[/B]?

With obvious reluctance she finished the tea and stood up. ?[B]I?d better get going.[/B]? She bent over and picked up the briefcase. ?[B]As soon as the checks are complete I?ll let you know.[/B]?

She reached out and shook Phaidra?s hand firmly before turning to head for the stairs. ?[B]Once this one hits the shelves we can start planning your next release.[/B]? She said over her shoulder as she glanced back at Phaidra who was right behind her.

?[B]I look forward to hearing from you.[/B]? She replied before closing the door. Once it was secured, Phaidra headed back up to her kitchen to put everything away. [/FONT]

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[center][font=Arial][u][b][url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Bxst3UkW5w"]We Control[/url][/b][/u][/font][/center]


[font=Calibri]Isen saw the question forming in the werecatâ??s eyes and, maintaining her pace, released her grips on the wooden sticks sheâ??d hidden in each of her sleeves. The dowels, four feet long and two fingers thick, slid smoothly into her hands, and she raised them in preemptive answer. The slight flicker of uncertainty she caught in his eyes pleased her.

[b]â??I assume you have a reason for this,â?[/b] he remarked, his voice carefully hard.

[b]â??Curiosity,â?[/b] she returned, adding archly, [b]â??...unless youâ??ve forgotten.â?[/b]

Karl snorted his rebuttal. Drawing a thin leather band from a pocket on his coat, he tied back his hair, thrusting his Mark into sharp relief against his face. Isen frowned.

[b]â??This is not a contest of spirit,â?[/b] she said, breaking her forward stride to circle him. [b]â??This is a duel between kinsmen. Their rules are not our rules.â?[/b]

The younger feline nodded. [b]â??I remember.â?[/b]

[b]â??We do not use the air.â?[/b]

[b]â??I [i]remember[/i].â?[/b]

[b]â??We do not use the air,â?[/b] she repeated sternly, cutting off his protest. [b]â??The earth is our only ally, as it ever has been. Only the wood may be used besides. The third killing strike declares the winner.â?[/b]

He caught it with a deft spin of his fingers. [b]â??You donâ??t need to remindâ??â?[/b]

Isen would not let him finish. Her toss had masked her advancing step, and she spun on it hard, using her momentum to deliver a crushing backhand that forced Karl to defend mid-retreat. She thrust at his chest and he swept her weapon aside, the strikeâ??s direction easily deflected, but her first attack had driven him to a two-handed stance, and she parried down his return cut, making him withdraw once more.

To his credit, she thought as they stepped their dance, he wasnâ??t easily shaken. Though she was using a variety of blows designed to upset his rhythm, he didnâ??t flounder or try to reset himself. He knew when to yield; his retreats were balanced, one with his forms. A disrupted pattern was adapted into a new one, and he was even attempting an occasional confounding strike himself. Isen wouldnâ??t be affected, either, but it was clear to her that Karl knew his skills far too well to fall apart under sudden pressure, and she was giving as much ground as she took. But even though she respected his talent, this dance was too easy. She would have to up the tempo.

Lightly blocking a vertical slash, Isen met his advancing step and countered, knocking his hands high over his head and stepping through under his guard to plant her left palm solidly in the center of his chest. Karl shifted to avoid the obvious trip attack, but he misjudged the strength of the blow and stumbled backwards, the upward angle of her punch robbing him of his footing and sending him crashing onto his back.

His momentary shock amused her, but she showed none of it. Instead, she stared down at him with cold indifference.

[b]â??Get up,â?[/b] she told him. [b]â??Only a cub rolls in the dirt.â?[/b] She tossed her dowel disdainfully onto his stomach and, reaching behind her head and into her coat, drew a third wooden object from between her shoulders. The weapon was shaped like her own katana; she lowered it to her side, down and away, without another word.

Karlâ??s expression set. With a whirling kick, he recovered himself and leapt at her, bringing both weapons to bear with expert dexterity. Isenâ??s grip was now two-handed, but that was her swordâ??s designed purpose, and she fended off his furious flurry with tight, controlled cuts and slices.

She knew her remark had riled him. She had intended it to. Her obvious disregard for his competence would have stung anyone, and though he was still very much in control of himself, she could sense the touch of a pent-up frustration in his movements now. That was good; that was what she wanted. She needed him angered, his internal balance disrupted. It was the only reliable way to force a Marked past the breakpoint of stress that would send them into a rage and still control them. In dozens of trials, not one Marked had passed without cracking, and those who did pass always proved to be pure. Then, her people had used the method to test for a hidden Mark after the vampires learned their facial tattoos were too obvious. Now, that wasnâ??t necessary.

Now she was testing for his sanity.

Let him believe she was like all the others, condemning him for a traitor for a misfortune beyond his control, a misfortune which could have seen any one of them in his place. They could only assume. [i]She[/i] would know.

This part was delicate, though; a wrongly-timed barb could just as easily shut him down, and the opportunity ruined. Isen focused on forms only, always attacking and counter-attacking, but attempting to break his rhythms much less often. She needed him wounded, but also confident, sure that her accusation was specious and arrogant. He had to be comfortable.

And now he showed what she was looking for: a slightly exaggerated pattern of movement in the last two attacks, as if there were invisible weights attached to the butts of his hands. He was used to this style as much as she was to hers, but his weapons were incomplete, and he would pay for the detail before he had time to correct it.

His crossed dowels blocked and repelled her downward strike with a flick to either side, and when they parted she struck again. Karl twisted his pommels up as if to catch her blade with a phantom chain; he realised his error instantly, but it was an instant too late, and the wooden katana sliced through the opening and cracked against his collarbone.

[b]â??One,â?[/b] said Isen. [b]â??Remember your tools.â?[/b]

The werecat shook off the blow and attacked again with renewed vigor. He was very good, Isen acknowledged, as she dodged skilled kicks and that left little openings and parried seamless streams of assaults. More than once she was forced to abandon her two-handed defense for a brief burst of adroitness, or resort to unorthodox movements to keep his sticks at bay. A reverse-gripped block behind her back made her break eye contact, and a few steps later she had no choice but to spin away or take a knock.

Her jibe had again hit home. Karlâ??s attacks, while still as precise and controlled as before, were now much flashier, designed to distract the mind and deceive the blade. Isen knew it to be a conscious act, done out of further frustration at a juvenile mistakeâ??which was again what she wanted. Turmoil could be conquered, but not if it kept changing sources just before it was subdued.

The next timing wasnâ??t important, but Isen wasnâ??t sure when sheâ??d get an opportunity for it, or if sheâ??d have to create one herself. Karl was intensely focused on combat, and it was taking most of her concentration to stay ahead of him.

He fell into a whirling vertical barrage, and she had her answer.

She retreated with his advance until the third blow, and with a light leap for distance she crouched sideways on her left leg, her sword beside her as if sheathedâ??a [i]battōdō[/i] stance. Karl saw it, and as the backhand fourth strike cut through empty air he shortened his step to counter the striking draw he would have known was coming.

Isen lunged, and again she saw astonishment in his eyes as her empty right hand caught his wrist. Her sword was in her left, and she stepped through, smashing the wooden blade into his solar plexus.

[b]â??Two,â?[/b] she said coldly. She stepped away. [b]â??I thought the assassin would have trained you better. Is this how you show your worth as a lifesworn?â?[/b]

Now he was angry, but Isen gave him no chance to reply. If he paused for a retort he could regain some control, and she couldnâ??t allow that. She harried him, forcing him farther and farther back, ignoring the sudden passion that appeared in his swordplay, minute errors that hadnâ??t been present beforeâ??if he saw her exploit them he would be thinking, and she had to maintain the emotional distraction, however slight.

A feint and a fast parry struck her blow wrong, and her sword was torn from her grasp and sent high into the air. Karl seized the chance, shouting an exultant [b]â??One!,â?[/b] the dowel in his right hand whistling as it cut shoulder-to-ribs.

Isen had already dropped, whipping her leg around to sweep him from his feet, and the strike again cut empty air. Karl rolled as he fellâ??as she would have doneâ??and she sprang forward, driving her shoulder into his back.

He took the blow well and tumbled defensively, and Isen rolled another way. Leaping to her feet, she snatched her sword from the air mid-stride and reclosed the newly-opened gap, falling to one knee, her blade knifing down at Karlâ??s head.

Karl hurled himself away just in time.

Isen knelt there, examining her sword. The blade was buried three inches in the dirt. Again she had to give him credit; she had overextended herself and he had caught her doing it, and the past three seconds had been entirely instinct. She had come a hairâ??s breadth from killing him with a practice sword.

[b]â??You should know better,â?[/b] she said at length, [b]â??than to cry an unmade kill.â?[/b] A glance to Karl and she knew he believed the blow deliberate. In truth it almost had beenâ??but when snow falls on a hunt, you hunt in the snow. She had a task to complete.

Let the others assume. [i]She[/i] would know.

[b]â??I am uncertain what to think,â?[/b] she went on at her kinsmanâ??s silence. [b]â??The assassin commands a fair measure of my companionâ??s respect. I doubt that respect is undeserved.â?[/b] She yanked the sword from the earth and stood. [b]â??But neither do our people strive for less than perfection in our craft. So I am left to wonder.â?[/b] She paused. [b]â??Does the assassin shelter you?â?[/b]

[b]â??Whatâ??s your point,â?[/b] spat Karl.

[b]â??That if you take a lord,â?[/b] Isen sneered, [b]â??you should at least do him justice!â?[/b] Her last words rose into a snarl, and she threw herself at him.[/font] Edited by Allamorph

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[center][color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][b]Within the Walls[/b][/font][/size][/color][/center]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]It was more than a simple struggle to keep his frustration, anger and fear under control. Karl didnâ??t know what game Isen was playing and part of him wasnâ??t sure if he wanted anything to do with it. Yet at the same time, never had he wanted to score a hit more than he did now. To take that arrogant, crazy, smug, superior satisfaction on her face and crush it by proving she wasnâ??t any better.

If only it was that easy. It was clear that Isen knew her craft as well if not better than he did. He had tried, more than once, to break her pattern but she shifted forms as easily as he did, always one step ahead. He knew his frustration wasnâ??t helping, but it was hard to think clearly.

He was more concerned about keeping the crazy ***** from â??accidentallyâ?? killing him, let alone scoring a hit. Was that her game? To do him in and just tell Gavrie and Nathan â??sorryâ?? later on? If it was anyone else he would have ended the duel and walked away. Isen didnâ??t give him an opening to do so, she kept pressing him.

A flurry of forward cuts scattered his thoughts and forced him to backpedal furiously. Karl brought both dowels up to block a downward strike. The blow robbed him of his balance and another quick slash forced him to tumble backwards to avoid the hit. Intuitively he went with the roll; turning his dowels outward.

Karl shoved off the ground with both hands, and propelled himself up through the air to come down and land on his feet... [i]ohgodohgodohgod[/i]. She was too close; she would be on top of him before he could regain his footing, and he couldn't stop her. She was going to kill him.

A million things seemed to race through his mind. Moves he might make to save himself, however slight the chance. Butâ?¦ He couldnâ??t risk harming Isen. It was the one thing he had sworn long ago that he would [i]never [/i]do. As much as he hated it, she had just cause for suspecting him, for not trusting him. It wasnâ??t her fault he was in this position; it was the vampiresâ??.

Karl opened his hands and let the dowels drop, Gavrie would understand.

And then she hit, the force of the blow drove him backwards, slamming him into a tree, pinning him there. His head spun from the blow, making his vision swim-and that was all. There was no sword impaling him to the tree; only the heavy pressure from her forearm held him there. His vision cleared. Confused Karl could only stare back as her gaze met his for a long moment.

â??[b]I believe you.[/b]â? She finally said, easing up on the pressure pinning him to the tree.

In a flash, he understood. [i]...oh God. The Test. That was The Test.[/i] And he had just passed.

Isen tensed up again without warning and spoke, her lips not moving. â??[b]Donâ??t move or speak. Squeeze my arm once for yes, twice for no.[/b]â?

[i]What theâ?¦ [/i]And then he felt it; a vampire was approaching.

â??[b]Do you sense it?[/b]â? She asked.

Karl squeezed once.

â??[b]Are you up to dealing with it?[/b]â?

He indicated that he was.

â??[b]Take off as soon as I let go. Iâ??ll go the other way and circle about.[/b]â? She stepped back, lowering her arm.

Karl launched himself in the direction of the vampire without hesitation. He was across the fairgrounds and into the busy street when he spotted him a block away. Sporting a fairly expensive business suit, the vampire was standing still, his eyes taking in the crowd in his direction. Then they settled on Karl and widened slightly. The vampire watched him for another moment and then turned and fled.

Karl snarled inwardly as he took to the air, keeping the manâ??s back in view. With an effort of will he pushed to increase his speed, but the vampire vanished around the corner of a building before he could close the distance.

[i]Oh no you donâ??t! [/i]

He turned slightly and flew straight through the building instead of going around. Karl cleared the building in time to see the vampire land on the top of another building at the end of the street. But instead of immediately fleeing he turned to watch for a few seconds. He smirked as if something amused him and then took off.

In seconds Karl was at the building top but the vampire was already across it and out of sight. He made it across the roof in time to catch a flash of the vampireâ??s suit as he turned down an alleyway between several tall buildings.

Karl cut through the building once again. Movement caught his gaze as he cleared the structure. He threw himself sideways to avoid the punch. It grazed his shoulder and sent him into a controlled tumble. He rolled to his feet but the vampire had already fled around another corner.

Now it was Karlâ??s turn to smirk slightly as he came around the corner. It was a dead end and the surrounding buildings were too high for even the vampire to jump to the roof. A slight twist of power and his twin blades settled comfortably in his hands. Karl had taken no more than a few steps when the vampire pulled out a switchblade, the dull black color, unmistakable, even in the shadows caused by the buildings. Karl paused.

â??[b]Since when did the Shinigami use trash to do their work for them?[/b]â? He asked conversationally.

â??[b]Shut up.[/b]â? Karl snapped.

The vampire smiled slightly. â??[b]Property does not tell its masters what to do.[/b]â?

Karl started to retort when, from the shadows to the right, a katana blade flashed towards the vampire. The man flinched, freezing in place as the blade came to rest against his throat.[/font][/size][/color]

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[center][font=Arial][b][u]Shadowplay[/u][/b][/font][/center]

[font=Calibri]Isen stepped coolly through the wall, pacing around the vampire to stand between him and the young werecat, her swordâ??s level blade rolling from the vampireâ??s larynx around to his jugular.

[b]â??Filth should be more mindful of its surroundings,â?[/b] she observed icily. She draw back her arm, tracing a thin, scarlet line on his previously flawless skin, until the tip of the sword hung a mere hairâ??s breadth from the hollow of his neck. Her left hand grasped the hilt below her right; she poised there, ready to run him through. [b]â??State your business with us, if you do not wish your life to be a total waste.â?[/b]

The vampire dropped his weapon and slowly raised his hands, breaking into a humored smile. Isenâ??s eyes narrowed.

[b]â??My, this is a day of fortune indeed!â?[/b] he exclaimed happily. [b]â??I came here in search of a lowly shinigami strumpet. A trifling errand unworthy of my time, I thought. But instead, not only have I found a most interesting relic of my masterâ??s former empire,â?[/b] he sneered, [b]â??but it seems The Adjutant herself has come to greet me! Surely it is I who am unworthy.â?[/b]

[b]â??That is not my name,â?[/b] declared Isen.

[b]â??That is not your sword,â?[/b] the vampire retorted, the smile still on his face. [b]â??Yours was somewhat longer . . . and the color of fresh blood.â?[/b] He spread his upturned hands. [b]â??Am I wrong?â?[/b]

Isen tightened her grip. [b]â??If you do not answer my question,â?[/b] she said, carefully enunciating her words, [b]â??my sword will [i]taste[/i] your blood.â?[/b]

[b]â??Again,â?[/b] amended the vampire. He gave a dramatic sigh. [b]â??Very well. Since the atmosphere here is so foul, I will make myself brief.â?[/b] He began to bow, but Isenâ??s blade nicked his ear and he started, his pained surprise instantly covered by a rueful smile.

[b]â??My lord, Shou Jian,â?[/b] he began again, [b]â??of the glorious House Jianguo, and master of the Jian Empire, desires to hold a civil counsel of important matters with your master.â?[/b] the vampire placed a hint of stress on the final word; Isen bared her teeth.

[b]â??[/b][b]My lord does not require an answer immediately,â?[/b] he went on. [b]â??He will allow you four days to consider, and at the end of the fourth day he will send another messenger for your answer. However, he wishes you to know that he will repay any refusal in kind. He would also have me remind you that the Jian are swift and terrible in their vengeance, just as they were in his fatherâ??s time.â?[/b]

As he had been speaking, the vampire had gradually been straightening his posture, and when he finished his speech he abruptly fell backwards, arms outstretched. Snarling, Isen lunged and drove her sword at his gut, but she had moved a split second too late; his body struck the pavement and dissolved in a billowing puff of deep purple miasma.

Karl was in the air in a flash, ready to pursue the man, but Isen held up her hand.

[b]â??He is gone,â? [/b]she told him as she watched the vapor disperse. [b]â??It will take him some hours to reform his body, and by then he will be miles from here. We cannot track him.â?[/b] She sheathed her katana and it disappeared inside her coat. [b]â??I must tell my companion of this event.â?[/b][/font]

[center][font=Calibri]--------------------------------

[font=Arial][u][b]Supermassive Black Hole[/b][/u][/font][/font][/center]

[font=Calibri]Across town, a youngish man stood in the middle of the bustling sidewalk, staring up at the building before him. His attire, a black muscle-shirt under a black leather fashion jacket, and heavy black jeans hung with several steel chains, combined with his wild, neon-orange dyed hair, held down on the sides in dark-brown corn rows, and the numerous piercings on his ears, eyebrows, and lip kept the jostling mass curving around him, leaving him uninterrupted with his thoughts.

He was here to cause havoc. His favorite pastime; his mouth split into an expectant grin at the idea. It was what he did best, and he got paid to do it.

But where to start?

He had been given details about a specific kind of havoc, but he wasnâ??t supposed to indulge himself in it yet. Not yet. He knew he would spend some of the time until then planning ways to cause it, but just now he needed a small distraction. A warm-up. [i]Had[/i] to have a warm-up. Couldnâ??t just make havoc cold, it made you messy and wasteful.

He tugged idly at the cross hanging from his left ear lobe. Where to start? Where . . . to . . . .

The aura of a young shinigami brushed his sense gently, and he turned his head to follow it. He drew a deep, intoxicating breath.

Time to play.[/font] Edited by Allamorph

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[color="#4169E1"][font="Lucida Sans Unicode"][center][b]My Train of Thoughts[/b][/center]
For a long moment Lucia just stared in the general direction that Isen had taken. She had lost sight of her nearly immediately but yet she still kept looking, waiting. With a sigh she finally stood up and looked in the direction that Karl had taken. She shook her head, not that she had expected to see anything.

â??[b]Theyâ??re not coming back, are they[/b].â? Ruby observed.

â??[b]Iâ?¦ I donâ??t even know what that was about.[/b]â? Lucia said. â??[b]Iâ??m not sorry the training was cut short and yetâ?¦[/b]â? She sighed dejectedly before whirling about and heading for her lab.

â??[b]Lucia?[/b]â?

â??[b]Iâ??m wasting my time, Ruby.[/b]â? She replied sharply.

â??[b]No youâ??re not.[/b]â?

â??[b]Yes. I. Am. I canâ??t fight like they can.[/b]â?

â??[b]No, youâ??re [i]not[/i].[/b]â? Rubyâ??s growled. Startled, Lucia didn't reply.

â??[b]I know you want to go back to your lab and leave the fighting up to someone else but you canâ??t.[/b]â? She pressed on. â??[b]You didnâ??t get your lab built in one day did you?[/b]â?

Lucia looked away.

â??[b]If you keep doing what you can you [i]will[/i] get better.[/b]â?

Ruby sighed. â??[b]I wish you would stop being so hard on yourself and quit worrying about things you canâ??t change.[/b]â?

She fell silent, leaving Lucia to her thoughts. She was wondering if she should have said nothing when Lucia changed course and veered towards the restaurant they used to frequent.

â??[b]Uhâ?¦[/b]â? To her surprise, Lucia chuckled slightly.

â??[b]I havenâ??t forgotten what Karl said about you staying out of sight.[/b]â? She gave Ruby a rueful look. â??[b]But that doesnâ??t mean I canâ??t get something to go. We can have it out on the balcony.[/b]â?

Ruby nodded.

â??[b]Iâ??m not going give up you know,[/b]â? she said quietly. â??[b]Even if it feels like a waste of time.[/b]â?[/font][/color]

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[font="Tahoma"][center][b]In the City [/b][/center]
â??[b]Donâ??t you need to be leaving soon?[/b]â? Sarvel hopped up onto the desk and leaned over to look at the screen. â??[b]Unless your meeting is another day.[/b]â? She sat down and looked up at Phaidra.

â??[b]No, itâ??s today.[/b]â? The mage replied. She continued typing without taking her eyes from the screen of the laptop. â??[b]Iâ??m making a copy of the changes for my editor right now.[/b]â?

A short time later it was done and she retrieved the disk from the laptop, making sure to carefully label it before tucking it into a case and then into her pocket. Then she shut it down and closed it before standing up.

â??[b]Are you sure you donâ??t want to come along? Itâ??s a nice day out.[/b]â?

â??[b]Quite sure.[/b]â? Sarvel assured her. â??[b]I plan on spending some time in the forest. Youâ??re likely to be back long before I am.[/b]â?

Phaidra smiled. â??[b]Alright, Iâ??ll see you later then.[/b]â? She was halfway out the door when she remembered to grab a sweater. Phaidra didnâ??t need it but it would look odd if she didnâ??t have one. It only took a moment to put it on and then she was off.

The crisp autumn air, in spite of the haze from pollution, was rather pleasant and the larger city in the distance seemed to shimmer in the air from the heat rising up. If it were a little clearer, it would have been perfect for taking a picture. Maybe sheâ??d take a moment to look into those cameras that humans were so fond of using once her meeting was done.

Less than a mile out from the city proper her cell phone gave off a chime. She pulled it out and took a look. It was a call from Alex. Phaidra answered it.

â??[b]Hi Alex. Whatâ??s up?[/b]â?

â??[b]Hi Phaidra. Not much. I was wondering if I could come over for a bit. I wanted to ask you some questions about shielding.[/b]â?

â??[b]Iâ??m actually on my way to the city for a meeting with my publisher.[/b]â? She told him. â??[b]I could stop by when Iâ??m done.[/b]â?

â??[b]The one you mentioned before?[/b]â? He asked.

She murmured that it was.

â??[b]Would you care if I meet you there when youâ??re done instead?[/b]â?

â??[b]Uh, sure, if you want to. It shouldnâ??t be longer than an hour.[/b]â?

â??[b]Cool, see you then.[/b]â?

Phaidra closed the phone and put it back in her pocket. Once she was a block from the office where her publisher was located she landed on the sidewalk. If all went well this would be the last meeting required to finalize things for publishing the newest cookbook. She smiled at the thought as she walked towards the building.[/font]

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[center][size=3][color=#4B0082][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][b]Falling Down[/b][/font][/color][/size][/center]

[size=3][color=#4B0082][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][i]â??[b]I must tell my companion of this event.[/b]â?[/i]

[i]And I need to tell Gavrieâ?¦[/i] Karl thought as he stepped onto the pavement and let his weapons go. He was reaching into his pocket for the cell he carried with him when something made him look up.

Isen was taking to the air but she had looked back to fix him briefly with an intense stare. Startled, Karl hastily took off, following in her wake. He started to explain but she was already looking in the other direction. He pulled out the cell and began typing a short coded message to send to Gavrie.

â??[b]The assassin.[/b]â? Isen commented without turning around.

â??[b]Yes.[/b]â? Karl confirmed.

â??[b]Good.[/b]â? She replied firmly.

It didnâ??t take long for him to send the message. Karl put the cell back in his pocket and continued to follow Isen towards Nathanâ??s place. He opened his mouth to say something and then closed it, changing his mind. He didnâ??t know where to start.

Karl had known who she was before the vampire had said a word. Passing The Test didnâ??t make her any less intimidating. Especially when the vibe she was giving right now came across as if she were ready to rip the nearest vampire in half, with her bare hands no less.

So he followed along, saying nothing as they made straight for Nathanâ??s apartment. It didnâ??t matter which dwelling he was at while waiting for Gavrie to show up. They were almost there when Isen tensed slightly, a split second later Karl felt it too.

[i]What the hell is he doing here?[/i] He thought as they ghosted through the walls and into the main room.

Karl simply stayed back near the wall while Isen, her hand on the hilt of her Katana, strode over to where Nathan was engaged in a game of tri-dimensional chess with none other than the vampire, Victor.

Before either of them could say a word Isen came to a halt before Victor. â??[b]You.[/b]â? She spat.[/font][/color][/size]



[center][size=3][color=#4B0082][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][b]Science [/b][/font][/color][/size][/center]
[size=3][color=#4B0082][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Adrian had thought that returning to the other side and doing more research on the black steel would shed further light on the subject. But after nearly a full day of him and Astera reading through every record they could find on the Jian clan, they had found nothing more than what they read the first time they searched.

[i][b]-I donâ??t get it.-[/b][/i] He told Astera. [i][b]â??Karl said that if we had bothered to learn about the war we would understand. But these records are useless. They barely tell you anything. Hell, they donâ??t even mention that vampires werenâ??t wiped out.-[/b][/i]

He turned the terminal off in disgust.

[i][b]-I canâ??t believe we spent all this time only to learn nothing at all.- [/b][/i]

They had tried talking to some of the people who worked there, but all they had gotten were polite smiles and assurances that everything they needed was recorded there. His attempt to explain that vampires werenâ??t gone had been met with blank stares. They simply didnâ??t believe him.

[i][b]-Maybe itâ??s recorded elsewhere?- [/b][/i]Astera suggested.

Adrian sighed. [i][b]â??The Council might have their own records but even so, I seriously doubt theyâ??d let us look if we asked.-[/b][/i]

[i][b]-Lets go back and talk to the others then and see what they want to do.-[/b][/i]

He nodded in agreement. [i][b]â??Itâ??s a pity Lucia didnâ??t come with us. If there are separate records that we canâ??t access, she could probably get into them.-[/b][/i]

[i][b]-Adrian!-[/b][/i]

[i][b]-I know, I know. We canâ??t ask her to do something like that.- [/b][/i]

Breaking into the humans records was one thing, doing so here would land the reaper in question in a lot of trouble if they were caught. He put it out of mind and left the building to head back to Earth.[/font][/color][/size]

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[font="Trebuchet MS"][center][b][url="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cbUIUxvrU4"]Comprachicos[/url][/b][/center]
Alex ended up waiting nearly an extra hour for Phaidra. She had messaged him to let him know it was going to be longer but he didnâ??t bother to go back to his place. It was a pleasant day out and Nall was off visiting Ruby anyway. He felt her aura as she approached the bench he was sitting on and stood up.

â??[b]Sorry for keeping you waiting.[/b]â? She apologized.

Alex shrugged it aside. â??[b]I wouldnâ??t worry about it.[/b]â? He started walking in the general direction of his apartment.

â??[b]Iâ??m not keeping you from any assignments am I?[/b]â? He queried once she had fallen in step.

â??[b]No, I donâ??t have any today.[/b]â? She assured him. â??[b]So, what did you want to know about shielding?[/b]â?

â??[b]Well you know that Adrian and I have been doing exercises throughout the city, right?[/b]â?

She nodded.

â??[b]Right well you seeâ?¦[/b]â? He started explaining what he had in mind as they casually walked down several streets and along different alleyways between the buildings.

Alex was deep into the discussion when an odd sensation brushed at his mind. Puzzled he turned right instead of left down an alley way between two buildings. It wasnâ??t odd for an unknown shinigami to be in the city but the other aura, though recognizable as a vampire, was also unknown.

That alone wasnâ??t what puzzled him the most; it was that the two of them were so close to one another. He knew of ones like Victor but for the most part they tended to steer clear of one another. A moment later he had his answer though it made no sense and he halted in surprise, causing Phaidra to nearly run into him.

[i]What in the world?[/i]

A young, terrified, reaper was standing frozen in place less than five feet from the vampire, an odd individual in black with shocking neon orange hair, who was casually pointing a gun at the reapersâ?? head.

Black with sleek brownish orange panels on the handle with triangle shapes, the numbers and letters 1911 R1 was etched on the slide. That was almost buried in what looked like an abstract design in neon colors similar to the color of the vampiresâ?? hair, etched along the gun. Before either of them could wonder what was going on the vampire said something that they couldnâ??t quite make out and then pulled the trigger.

The shot echoed down the alleyway and faster than he could follow, the bullet ripped through the shinigamiâ??s head, tearing a hole in its wake. Alex heard Phaidraâ??s startled gasp as the reaperâ??s body collapsed, his aura vanishing as if it had never existed.

Alex took a shocked step backâ?¦ and then froze when the vampire turned and looked in their direction and smiled. [i]Oh Godâ?¦[/i] He shivered as the strangersâ?? cold, empty eyes met his. He sensed movement behind him and then whirled when he realized that Phaidra had taken to the air in a panic.

â??[b]Phaidra! No![/b]â? He went after her, catching her by the arm, pulling her over so they were on the roof of the three story building instead of in the vampireâ??s line ofâ?¦

Fear slammed into him at the sound of something landing on the roof behind him and Alex whirled frantically, calling his scythe forth. [i]Sh[color="#2F4F4F"]i[/color]t[/i] Since when did the vampires have guns? His scythe [i]should[/i] stop a bullet but would he see it in time to react? Would Phaidraâ??s shields stop one?

The stranger took a step towards them and the image of the unattached spikes on his scythe somehow spinning in a circle flashed through his mind. He felt a deep hum run through his weapon as the unattached points suddenly shifted so they were pointed towards the intruder. Energy poured out of him in a rush, making him dizzy as the spikes launched themselves through the air towards the vampire with deadly accuracy.

The dizziness intensified as one of the blades ripped through an air conditioning unit on the roof with a shockingly loud crash. Startled by the inadvertent destruction Alexâ??s thoughts scattered and the spikes, along with his scythe, vanished. He fell to his knees, exhausted.

â??[b]Alex! Down![/b]â? Phaidra screamed at him as she hastily tossed a shield between them and the advancing vampire before phasing through the roof of the building and down to the lowest level, with Alex right behind her.

â??[b]Are you alright?[/b]â? She asked him once he landed on the floor. He nodded.

â??[b]What just happened? What should we do?[/b]â? She started but he shook his head, cutting her questions off.

â??[b]I donâ??t know.[/b]â? He looked about for the vampire since he could still feel his aura but he couldnâ??t quite pin down where it was in relation to them or just how close it was.

â??[b]We need to get to Nathan.[/b]â? He finally said before heading for the side of the building that was closest to another structure.

â??[b]Why did you stop me then?[/b]â? Phaidra was looking about warily as she followed Alex closely.

â??[b]Can you outrun a bullet?[/b]â?

She didnâ??t answer for a moment. â??[b]Iâ?¦ I donâ??t know.[/b]â? She stammered.

â??[b]Neither do I.[/b]â? Alex answered grimly. â??[b]I think our scythes would stop a bullet but I donâ??t know if weâ??d see it in time or not. We donâ??t know if your shields would stop one either and I donâ??t want to find out the hard way.[/b]â?

â??[b]How are we going to get to Nathan then?[/b]â?

Alex could hear the edge of panic in her voice as he worked to suppress his own similar feelings. He took a deep breath to steady himself as best he could. â??[b]They canâ??t phase through buildings, weâ??ll use them as cover to shake him off.[/b]â?

It was a thought that turned out to be far easier said than done. Twice they were surprised to phase through a wall only to find the stranger waiting for them on the other side. Alex didnâ??t know how he was doing it but once the vampire was in the area it was extremely difficult to tell just where he was or what direction he was in.

He was beginning to wonder if they even could lose him when an underground run to another building further away resulted in the aura fading and then vanishing altogether. He made even more runs to other buildings to make sure they had truly lost the vampire and then, they made for Nathanâ??s at top speed.[/font]

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[center][size=4][font=Arial][b][u]Remain Calm[/u][/b][/font][/size][/center]


[left][font=Calibri][b]â??Me?â?[/b] said the indignant vampire, not even pausing to look up from the board. [b]â??Him!â?[/b] He jabbed an accusing finger at the slyly-smiling shinigami across from him. [b]â??He iss disgusting. Tsis is [i]not[/i] how you play chess!â?[/b]

[b]â??Itâ??s completely fair,â?[/b] smirked Nathan.

[b]â??It iss completely [i]un[/i]-fair, you tself-tsatissfied buffoon. Completely untsporting, betsides,â?[/b] the vampire groused. [b]â??I come here for pleassantries, not for a tournament!â?[/b]

[b]â??And with that attitude youâ??ll never get any better.â?[/b]

Victor threw up his hands, turning to the werecat for sympathy. [b]â??You tsee? He iss implacâ??â?[/b]

For a moment the room froze. Victor appeared openly stunned; Nathanâ??s eyes shifted up to his partner, but he moved no other muscle. Karl could see Nathanâ??s sister sitting half on the windowsill, a bottle of dark beverage arrested at her lips. Karl himself barely dared breathe.

When Isen spoke her voice was soft and frigid.

[b]â??You command the actions of all your kind in this region, do you not.â?[/b]

[b]â??â?¦yess,â?[/b] said Victor slowly.

[b]â??And nothing happens here without your knowledge?â?[/b]

The vampireâ??s brow knitted slightly. [b]â??Yes,â?[/b] he assented, a touch of wariness entering his voice.

[b]â??Then perhaps you can explain to me,â?[/b] said Isen,[b] â??why I and the Outcast were hunting a Jian [/b][b][i]yāoguài[/i] in the middle of the city.â?[/b]

The contempt in her words set Victor visibly back. He cast a fleeting glance of concern at his opponent and opened his mouth, searching for words.

[b]â??...a tservant of tse Jian wass here?â?[/b] he asked after a moment.

Isen growled. [b]â??You conspire with our enemy!â?[/b]

[b]â??Isen,â?[/b] warned the blue reaper.

[b]â??My lady, cat,â?[/b] the vampire soothed, [b]â??I honestly know notsing about possible Jian activity in tse city.â?[/b]

[b]â??Do not lie to me!â?[/b]

Victor made to stand. [b]â??I assure you, tsere iss notsing of tse ssortâ??â?[/b]

Isen lunged, tossing the vampireâ??s chair clear from her path as she grabbed his lapels to shove him backwards. Her body followed instantly, and as her forearm pinned him to the rear wall, her left hand swung up to pull her sword backwards from its sheathâ??but Nathan had reacted as soon as she had moved, spinning through the table to catch her hilt guard with his scythe. The three froze there again: the werecatâ??s arm across Victorâ??s throat, her draw blocked by her companionâ??s hooked blade, his free hand reaching across his body to press two fingers into her temple.

[B]â??Why was this envoy allowed into the city?!â?[/B] roared the werecat.

[B]â??My dear,â?[/B] the vampire managed raspily, [B]â??I do not tsink you are yoursself....â?[/B]

[b]â??Let him go,â?[/b] Nathan said. His companion didn't seem to hear.

[b]â??If you will not talk I will rip your [i]voice[/i] from your neckâ??â?[/b]

[b]â??Isen, [i]back the **** OFF!![/i]â?[/b]

The werecat finally acknowledged her partnerâ??s presence, fixing him with a cold glare over her shoulder. Nathan returned it in kind, holding his gun-fingers firmly in place; their wills fought in the suddenly-electrified space between them until, with a snarl, Isen withdrew, her sword clicking furiously back to rest as she stalked to the kitchenette.

Victor relaxed, breathing a sigh of relief. [b]â??Tsank you, my friend,â?[/b] he startedâ??and then paused again as Nathan swung the gun-hand to point at his nose.

[b]â??Now,â?[/b] said the reaper, [b]â??since weâ??re all [i]sane[/i] again, suppose we clear the air. Isen, I think you should relax. [i]You[/i],â?[/b] he said, staring at Victor, [b]â??can start by telling me why my lady friend is upset.â?[/b]

Victor sighed again and adjusted the lace around his cuffs.

[b]â??Altsough I confess I did detsire to tsave my own neck,â?[/b] he said, [b]â??I am telling you botss tse trutss. I am unaware of any Jian activity in tse area, nor have I tsanctioned any movements by otser groups intside or around my borders.â?[/b]

Nathan nodded and looked behind him. [b]â??Isen?â?[/b] he said, his voice inquiring but level.

The werecat shot him a look of pure disdain and turned away, closing the refrigerator.

[b]â??Of [i]course[/i] I am certain,â?[/b] she scorned, setting a glass quart of milk on the counter and opening another. [b]â??I know their scentâ??and even if I was mistaken, the wretch declared his allegiance as soon as he was cornered.â?[/b]

[b]â??You allowed him to [i]talk[/i]?â?[/b] The reaper lowered his arm and turned, genuinely surprised.

Isen rolled her eyes. [b]â??I am not unreasonable. Besides,â?[/b] she added, gesturing at Karl, [b]â??I wanted to know why he was watching them.â?[/b]

[b]â??And?â?[/b]

[b]â??Shou Jian wants to talk with you,â?[/b] mocked Isen, leaning on the counter. [b]â??He said we have four days to decide.â?[/b]

[b]â??â?¦[i]and?[/i]â?[/b]

[b]â??Not sure. The [i]yāoguài[/i] enjoys the sound of his voice. He only gave me vague sinister threats.â?[/b]

[b]â??Oh,â?[/b] said Nathan. [b]â??Well. In [i]that [/i]case.â?[/b]

Christine seemed to know where her brotherâ??s thoughts were going, for she slid off the windowsill and headed his way.

[b]â??I told you,â?[/b] she said. [b]â??Escalation.â?[/b]

[b]â??More like posturing,â?[/b] he retorted.

[b]â??Nathan, youâ??ve been slowly destroying their resources for a few years, now. [i]Please[/i] take this seriously; it certainly sounds like [i]theyâ??re[/i] starting to.â?[/b]

Nathan scoffed. [b]â??Why? For all I know they paid some peon to come try and scare us. Might not even be that old; might be a new recruit who thinks heâ??s invincible.â?[/b]

The empty milk quart clunked onto the counter, and Isen gave a heavy, pleased exhale and leaned over, into her forearms.

[b]â??He knew me,â?[/b] she said, her voice muffled by the bartop. [b]â??He knew my old name. He was not expecting to see me, and yet he knew me.â?[/b] She looked up over her forearms. [b]â??I said he is [i]yāoguài[/i]. Not an imitation. [i]Yāoguài[/i] [/b][i][b].â?[/b] [/i]Glancing to Karl, she indicated the second quart with her head and peered at him as if she thought he was dense.

And then Gavrie drifted down through the ceiling with a casual[b] â??Whatâ??d I miss?â?[/b] right as Alex and Phaidra tumbled, panting and white-faced, through the apartmentâ??s front door.

Isen belched.[/font][/left] Edited by Allamorph

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[font="Tahoma"][center][b]Pins and Needles [/b][/center]
â??[b]What if Nathan doesnâ??t know what to do?[/b]â? Phaidra asked Alex worriedly.

â??[b]He will.[/b]â? Alex answered without looking back or slowing down.

â??[b]Iâ??m serious Alex![/b]â?

â??[b]So am I.[/b]â? He shot back. â??[b]We finally lost him didnâ??t we?[/b]â?

â??[b]Well yesâ?¦ butâ?¦[/b]â?

â??[b]No buts.[/b]â? He replied firmly but Phaidra could hear the anxiety in his voice just the same. She shared it.

What good did it do to slip away if they couldnâ??t deal with the vampire? How were they supposed to go about their duties with someone like that about? He could be waiting for them around any corner at any time. Would Savel be able to better sense the vampiresâ?? location? Would she be able to create a shield that could block a bullet? Would she even see one coming in time to stop it?

Phaidra shivered.

She tried to put it out of mind but that laugh of his felt like it was still echoing about her; mocking her inability to determine where it and its owner were located. Her sense of unease rose as they approached Nathanâ??s place, intensifying as they slipped through the front doorâ?¦ [i]what the hell?[/i]

[i]A vampire![/i] Her mind screamed in panic as she brought her hands up. Flames started to dance around her fingers as she hastily created a fireball and launched it straight at the blonde haired intruder. The vampire did nothing as it approached, he didnâ??t even look alarmed. Then, to her utter shock, Nathan made a tiny gesture that resulted in the magic vanishing.

Alex grabbed her arm before she could react to Nathan stopping her attack. â??[b]No! Itâ??s alright! You donâ??t have to worry about him.[/b]â?

Taken aback, she stared at Alex for a moment. â??[b]Heâ??s a vampire![/b]â? She protested.

â??[b]I know butâ?¦[/b]â? Alex glanced at Nathan briefly and then back. â??[b]Victor is friends with Nathan.[/b]â? He explained.

â??[b]Are we done trying to destroy my apartment?[/b]â? He asked the pair.

Christine fixed Nathan with a stare before turning to Alex and Phaidra who were still clearly rattled.

â??[b]Whatâ??s wrong?[/b]â? She asked them gently.

Alex looked at Phaidra who nodded and then let go before answering Christine. â??[b]We ran into a vampire using what looked like a regular gun.[/b]â? Alex paused to take a deep breath before continuing. â??[b]He killed a reaper.[/b]â?

â??[b]With the gun?[/b]â? Christine pressed.

Alex nodded.

Nathan snorted. â??[b]Thatâ??s ridiculous.[/b]â?

â??[b]No itâ??s not![/b]â? Phaidra exclaimed.

â??[b]Yes it is.[/b]â?

â??[b]No, itâ??s [i]NOT![/i][/b]â? She repeated forcefully. â??[b]If they can make those blades we canâ??t phase through, whatâ??s to stop them from making bullets from the same material?[/b]â?

Phaidra took a deep breath and held her arms against her chest tightly as she fought the urge to shake. â??[b]You donâ??t understand,[/b]â? she continued softly. â??[b]Iâ?¦ I saw the hole the bullet made in his head. Iâ?¦ I felt him die.[/b]â? She shivered and looked away.

â??[b]Escalation, Nathan.[/b]â? Christine said firmly. â??[b]We canâ??t ignore this.[/b]â?

The siblings stared at each other for a long moment before an admonishing noise interrupted the silence.

Startled, Phaidra looked up at Victor who was shaking his head slightly at Nathan.

â??[b]Tso insensitive.[/b]â? He chided. He took one step towards Phaidra and then stopped, glancing over at Isen who was fixing him with a glare.

â??[b]Fine.[/b]â? Nathan turned to Alex. â??[b]What does this guy look like?[/b]â?

Alex told him and then started to explain how the vampiresâ?? aura was difficult to locate but Nathan brushed it off with a wave and a curt â??Iâ??ll deal with itâ?? before he whirled and took off.

Phaidra stared at the spot incredulously for a moment before taking a seat with a sigh.

â??[b]So, anything else I missed?[/b]â? Gavrie asked.

â??[b]Yes.[/b]â? Karl spoke up before either Phaidra or Alex could say a word.
[/font]

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[center][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][b][color=indigo]Story Time[/color][/b][color=indigo] [/color][/font][/size][/center]

[size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][color=indigo]Gavrie sighed inwardly. He looked from Karl to Victor, fixing the vampire with a long look. The fact that Karl spoke openly in front of him spoke volumes. Why in the world Nathan associated with him was beyond Gavrie, but now was not the time to find out.

â??[b]Iâ??m sure you have business of your own to take care of.[/b]â? He told Victor in a neutral tone of voice, his eyes narrowed slightly.

Victor gave Gavrie a long appraising stare, saying nothing. Then he glanced briefly at first Christine and then Isen before looking back at Gavrie who was still waiting. A small smile came to his face.

â??[b]Quite so.[/b]â? Victor replied before finally taking his leave.

Gavrie waited until Victorâ??s aura was long gone before finally turning to Karl. â??[b]That one,[/b]â? he indicated the direction Victor had taken with a displeased tilt of his head, â??[b]already knows and yet they do not.[/b]â? He glanced at Alex and Phaidra who were clearly puzzled.

Karl nodded.

â??[b]Explain.[/b]â?

He knew it was bad or else Karl would have never sent him the code he had. He shook his head slightly at the mention of the [b][i]yāoguài[/i][/b]. Then he turned to Christine and Isen, once Karl was done, his mind made up.

â??[b]I will be gathering all of them,[/b]â? he indicated Alex and Phaidra, â??[b]for a talk about this.[/b]â? He ignored the questioning look that Alex was giving him. â??[b]Itâ??s long overdue.[/b]â?

Christine nodded.

Gavrie pulled out his cell and quickly sent off a message to Adrian.

â??[b]Considering the [i]company[/i] that Nathan keeps, I think it best if we hold the discussion, elsewhere.[/b]â?

â??[b]We should use Luciaâ??s lab.[/b]â? Karl interjected.

Gavrie looked up from his cell. â??[b]Agreed.[/b]â? He turned back to Christine and Isen. â??[b]Weâ??ll head over there and as soon as I hear back from Adrian and have a time when everyone can be there, Iâ??ll send you a message.[/b]â?

â??[b]Okay.[/b]â? Christine replied.

Gavrie turned to the younger reapers, speaking before Alex could voice a word. â??[b]Letâ??s go collect your companions.[/b]â? He raised a hand, halting Alex who was about to speak. â??[b]I know you have a lot of questions. Save them for the meeting.[/b]â?

Alex stared at him for a long moment and then closed his mouth and nodded.

â??[b]Good, letâ??s get going.[/b]â?[/color][/font][/size]

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[center][color=#800080][size=3][font=lucida sans unicode,lucida grande,sans-serif][b]Blue Skies[/b][/font][/size][/color][/center]

[color=#800080][size=3][font=lucida sans unicode,lucida grande,sans-serif]Lucia figured that Karl would eventually return to her lab but what she didnâ??t expect was for nearly everyone else to show up as well. Gavrie and Karl seemed to be preoccupied with sending messages and talking to someone via their cell phones while Phaidra and Alex flooded her with tales of a Reaper being killed by a gun wielding vampire.

And what was this about Isen and Karl running into some messenger in the city who demanded a meeting with themâ?¦ [i]So thatâ??s where they wentâ?¦[/i] Lucia shook her head as she glanced at their familiars who had gathered and were chatting among themselves, speculating as to why Gavrie was calling a meeting. She looked back at the others.

â??[b]Could you show me where the reaper was shot?[/b]â?

â??[b]You donâ??t want to get anywhere near that vampire,[/b]â? Alex warned.

â??[b]Iâ??m not interested in that. I want to see if I can pick up anything in the area.[/b]â?

â??[b]Iâ??m serious, Lucia. Itâ??s dangerous.[/b]â?

â??[b]So? Weâ??re going to have to go out to tend to our duties. I might pick up some residual readings or even find the actual bullet that was used. It would be useful to verify that they have started making bullets with the same material.[/b]â?

â??[b]What about the meeting?[/b]â? Alex protested.

Lucia snorted. â??[b]I mean after weâ??re done of course.[/b]â?

She looked over at Gavrie who was being joined by Isen and Christine. â??[b]So just who all is coming to this meeting?[/b]â?

â??[b]This is it.[/b]â? Gavrie indicated the group who had gone silent.

â??[b]What about Nathan, Adrian and Astera?[/b]â?

â??[b]Nathan is busy and Iâ??ll update Adrian and Astera when they get back tomorrow.[/b]â?

Alex cleared his throat. â??[b]Itâ??s about those vampires that have taken the name of that old clan, isnâ??t it?[/b]â?

Gavrie nodded. â??[b]Actually, it is the old clan, though we canâ??t guarantee that it actually is them...[/b]â?

Isen made a little scoffing noise, interrupting Gavrie. â??[b]There is no doubt.[/b]â?

Gavrie stared at her. â??[b]Iâ??m not the one who thought it was a good idea to keep the kids in the dark.[/b]â? He started to say more and then nodded once in Isenâ??s direction before turning back.

â??[b]It [i]is [/i]the old clan, not some imposters and as youâ??ve heard, theyâ??re insisting on a meeting.[/b]â?

Lucia raised an eyebrow. â??[b]Why should we bother to meet with them? Our duty in regards to vampires is unchanged.[/b]â?

â??[b]You should, at the very least, take this seriously. The Jian are not to be trifled with.[/b]â? Gavrie answered her patiently. â??[b]So far youâ??ve operated under the assumption that it was a group trying to emulate them. Itâ??s not. Make no mistake, if they claim that they will take vengeance for not responding, they can and will.[/b]â?

â??[b]I thought they were wiped out though.[/b]â? Phaidra objected.

â??[b]And you thought vampires were gone too, yes?[/b]â?

She nodded cautiously. â??[b]But if theyâ??re not gone, what are we to do? Iâ??d rather not meet or talk to any of themâ?¦ especially if theyâ??re like that one Alex and I ran into earlierâ?¦[/b]â? She shivered.

â??[b]She makes a point,[/b]â? Alex frowned. â??[b]I wish Nathan hadnâ??t taken off like that. I donâ??t think this is something we can decide on without input from everyone.[/b]â?

â??[b]And you wonâ??t.[/b]â? Gavrie assured him. â??[b]Once Iâ??ve had a chance to fill Adrian and Astera in I think itâ??s best if we all meet up again. In the meantime you all need to be careful, even more so.[/b]â?

Alex nodded.

â??[b]I still want to get scans from the area where the [/b][b]Shinigami[/b][b] was killed.[/b]â? Lucia pointed out. â??[b]The sooner I get that the better.[/b]â?

Gavrie looked over at Karl who shrugged. â??[b]Fine, just stay in groups instead of going out alone, at least for the next couple of days.[/b]â?

â??[b]Now, before we wrap this up, did you have any questions?[/b]â? He asked.[/font][/size][/color]

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[center][size=3][font=trebuchet ms,helvetica,sans-serif][b]Velocity[/b][/font][/size][/center]

[size=3][font=trebuchet ms,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]Good grief, Alex.[/b]â? Lucia snapped when they left the apartment with Karl. â??[b]Donâ??t you think you could have waited on all the questions till [i]after[/i] I got my scans?[/b]â?

Alex took to the air, â??[b]No. I donâ??t. Iâ??m sure Iâ??ll have even more once Iâ??ve had a chance to think about all this.[/b]â?

Lucia sighed. â??[b]I just hope we didnâ??t miss out on anything by waiting so long to go and check it out.[/b]â?

â??[b]Does it really make that much of a difference?[/b]â?

â??[b]Yes. Iâ??ve been working with Phaidra on scanning different types of magic, among other things, so not only would I be looking for traces of the bullet; I might also pick up traces of stuff the vampire might have used to make his aura so hard to pinpoint.[/b]â?

â??[b]Oh.[/b]â? Alex frowned. â??[b]And magic tends to dissipate after a while[/b].â?

â??[b]Exactly. If they used a bullet though, traces of that will be around for quite some time, even if they removed the remains.[/b]â? Lucia explained. â??[b]Itâ??s a pity Phaidra and Sarvel didnâ??t want to come along though. They understand magic far better than I do and might have picked up on something I would miss.[/b]â?

â??[b]I didnâ??t want to come back either.[/b]â? Alex pointed out. â??[b]Youâ??re the one that insisted on this trip.[/b]â?

Lucia gave him a look that indicated he was being stupid. â??[b]Alex, like I said before, weâ??re still going to have to do our duties. We canâ??t hide and hope this vampire has gone away.[/b]â? She made a little snorting noise and continued so softly that Alex could barely hear what she said next.

â??[b]Besides, I donâ??t need yet another thing getting in the way of what I want to do.[/b]â?

â??[b]What do you mean [i]another[/i] thing?[/b]â?

â??[b]I didnâ??t mean anything.[/b]â? She replied, avoiding his questioning stare.

â??[b]I think you do.[/b]â? Alex stubbornly refused to drop it. â??[b]If something is bothering you, let us know about it. We might be able to help.[/b]â?

â??[b]Are we almost there?[/b]â? Lucia changed the subject.

Alex raised an eyebrow before answering, â??[b]Yes, itâ??s just down that street up ahead.[/b]â? He looked about. â??[b]I donâ??t feel anything in the area so itâ??s probably safe.[/b]â? He glanced over to Lucia to see that she already had her little device out.

â??[b]Donâ??t you find that a bit awkward if youâ??re in the middle of a fight?[/b]â?

â??[b]Hmmâ?¦? Oh, I guess? I just leave it in my pocket so my hands are free.[/b]â?

â??[b]You ever think about making something like those headsets that humans use?[/b]â?

Lucia blinked. â??[b]No. Thatâ??s not a bad idea though.[/b]â?

Lucia came to a stop, frowning. â??[b]You didnâ??t tell me that you ended up fighting with the vampire.[/b]â? She nodded towards the top of a building where an air conditioning unit was being worked on by some humans.

â??[b]Oh, that.[/b]â? Alex shrugged apologetically. â??[b]The detached blades on my scythe acted on their own. Iâ??m not sure what happened, to be honest. I was gonna ask Nathan about it but I forgot.[/b]â?

â??[b]Ask Gavrie about it. He can help you figure out what is going on.[/b]â? Karl explained when Alex looked in his direction.

He nodded. â??[b]Okay.[/b]â? He turned to show Lucia where the spot was only to see her heading straight for it.

â??[b]That one likes to avoid answering questions, doesnâ??t she?[/b]â? Karl observed.

Alex laughed a little, â??[b]Yeah. I keep asking though. Believe it or not, sheâ??s gotten a lot friendlier since I first met her.[/b]â?

Karl just snorted and followed her.

The pair waited patiently while Lucia seemed to examine a section of one of the buildings for several long minutes.

â??[b]Well?[/b]â? Alex asked.

â??[b]Thereâ??s no doubt about it. The traces of the bullet here are from the same type of material.[/b]â? She looked at the pair. â??[b]Nathan was wrong. They [i]are[/i] making bullets that can kill us.[/b]â?

Lucia toyed with her device for another minute before tucking it away. â??[b]I sent him and everyone else a message on that. I suggest you do the same for Gavrie. It doesnâ??t matter how fast you are, you wonâ??t outrun a bullet.[/b]â?

â??[b]Are you sure?[/b]â?

She sighed, â??[b]Depending on the type of weapon the vampire has, data posted on the net indicates that bullets travel anywhere from 400 to 4,000 feet per second. None of us can move that quickly, so yes, Iâ??m sure.[/b]â?

â??[b]Hell.[/b]â? Alex swore. â??[b]Can we shield or block it?[/b]â?

Lucia started heading back to her lab. â??[b]Not likely. The force with which something like this would hit would likely shatter any shield. A shield might slow it down but youâ??d be better off using a vest like the humans do. Your scythe might stop it, if you managed to get it in the way in time.[/b]â?

â??[b]What about magic?[/b]â?

â??[b]Iâ??m not sure but I doubt it. We could test it with regular bullets but theyâ??re not the same material so the test wouldnâ??t be very accurate.[/b]â?

â??[b]That and we donâ??t have any guns.[/b]â? Alex said.

â??[b]Thatâ??s not a problem.[/b]â? Lucia asserted.

â??[b]Since when did you have guns?[/b]â? Alex was surprised.

Lucia laughed. â??[b]I donâ??t. Iâ??ll just take one.[/b]â?

â??[b]Lucia! Weâ??re not supposed to do that![/b]â?

â??[b]And vampires arenâ??t supposed to be around either.[/b]â? She snorted. â??[b]I donâ??t care what we arenâ??t supposed to do; I donâ??t feel like dying over some stupid rule like that.[/b]â?[/font][/size]

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[center][color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][b]Planned Dissent [/b][/font][/size][/color][/center]

[i][color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]-[b]I wonder what Gavrie wanted.[/b]- [/font][/size][/color][/i]

[i][color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]-[b]Probably something to do with that message Lucia sent us about bullets.[/b]-[/font][/size][/color][/i]

[i][color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]-[b]But she sent that after Gavrie sent his[/b].- [/font][/size][/color][/i]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][i]-[b]I know but Iâ??m betting theyâ??re related somehow.[/b]- [/i]Adrian explained as they entered the city and made for Luciaâ??s place.[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][i]-[b]You think they would have told us if anyone was hurt orâ?¦[/b]- [/i]Astera didnâ??t finish.[/font][/size][/color]

[i][color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]-[b]Iâ??m sure theyâ??re fine.[/b]-[/font][/size][/color][/i]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Adrian frowned as they approached Luciaâ??s place. The only auras about were Lucia and Karl. [/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]Where are the others?[/b]â? He asked Karl moment they were through the wall, Lucia was too preoccupied with her computers to even bother to turn around and face them. â??[b]I thought Gavrie wanted a meeting[/b].â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]He already had the meeting.[/b]â? Karl replied. â??[b]Since heâ??s busy assisting Alex Iâ??m to fill you in on what happened.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Adrian resisted the urge to sigh. Being filled in by Karl was usually nothing more than a lecture on how he was an idiot. Though he couldnâ??t think of anything heâ??d done that warranted a lecture. [/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Karl just gave him a knowing smirk before telling him what had happened, cutting off any protests or questions he had telling him they could wait till after he was done.[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]The whole thing seemed a bit hard to swallow but Lucia had sent him the message about bullets being made of the same material as the blades. It didnâ??t take much thought to realize that it was a logical step for the vampires to move from blades to bullets. As for the vampires really being the old clanâ?¦[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]So why the hell didnâ??t you say anything about it being the old clan? I asked you and all you did was brush me off.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]You didnâ??t need to know.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]The hell I didnâ??t.[/b]â? Adrian snapped. â??[b]I even went back to the other side and tried to look things up and other than to find a bit of info on how the blades are madeâ?¦ I couldnâ??t find s[/b][/font][/size][/color][color=#000000][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][b]h[/b][/font][/size][/color][color=#4B0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif][b]it. Why did you bother to tell me that when the records are useless?[/b]â? [/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Karl just gave him a blank stare. â??[b]Iâ??ve never read the records.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Adrian paused, startled. â??[b]What?[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]I never said the information was in the library on the other side, I merely said if you had studied up on it youâ??d understand why I thought it was them.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]Well I donâ??t! Astera and I spent a lot of time hunting through the information and there wasnâ??t much to go on, at all. It was like a glorified summary of the war with no real details at all![/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]Do you know if the Council has their own records?[/b]â? Astera put in with a worried glance at her partner.[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]I imagine they do but Iâ??ve never been in there either.[/b]â? Karl told her. â??[b]Gavrie has but itâ??s not something that ever came up.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]Do you think we could look there?[/b]â? [/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Karl shook his head. â??[b]I do know that the Council building isnâ??t totally open to the public like the main library is, so I doubt it.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Adrian took a deep breath and let it out. â??[b]So basically you sent us on a wild goose chase. Thanks for nothing.[/b]â? He started to turn to leave and halted when Karl spoke up again.[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]That was not my intent.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Adrian turned back and snorted. â??[b]You could have fooled me. But then treating me like some second class citizen seems to come naturally to you.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]Adrian.[/b]â? Astera warned.[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]That wasnâ??t my intent either.[/b]â? Karl explained his expression carefully neutral. [/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Adrian sighed, â??[b]Then what was it?[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]To get you thinking so you wouldnâ??t end up dead.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]You still never told me why you thought it was them.[/b]â? Adrian pointed out after a lengthy pause.[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]Iâ??ve dealt with them before, back during the war.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]That still doesnâ??t explain anything.[/b]â? Adrian said as he sat down in one of Luciaâ??s mismatched chairs. â??[b]If there isnâ??t anything in the recordsâ?¦ I would have no way of picking up on stuff that they do.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]I know.[/b]â? Karl replied before taking a seat. â??[b]But keep in mind Iâ??m going on experience that dates back to the war.[/b]â? [/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]Itâ??s not like you couldnâ??t simply explain that you know.[/b]â? Adrian pointed out.[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Karl fixed him with a stare. â??[b]Whatâ??s done is done. You should worry more about how you intend to respond to their demand for a meeting.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]We should all get together again and discuss it; though it sounds like Nathan is being stubborn about it.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Karl snorted. â??[b]Thatâ??s an understatement.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]Then weâ??ll just have to give him no choice in the matter.[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]Karlâ??s eyebrow shot up. â??[b]How so?[/b]â?[/font][/size][/color]

[color=#4b0082][size=3][font=arial,helvetica,sans-serif]â??[b]Weâ??ll have to ask the others but I say we simply find a time to corner him in his apartment.[/b]â? [/font][/size][/color]

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Dna ts. Rednum or F. Raf

 

In the night above the city, the ancient reaper hung, arms crossed, suspended as if by a wire run to his back.  The night air was still save for the barest of currents, and the spirit drifted in it, silent and unmoving.

Closing his eyes, he extended his senses slowly outward, feeling the lifeforces of the city emerge and coalesce in a gradually expanding aura, a host of individual existences webbed to each other in patterns only his kind could sense.  He touched each one in turn—brushing it with his thoughts, noting its sameness and singularities, tracing its connections—and moved on, neither interested nor satisfied.  Ever outward he spread his ken, calm and yet restless, until his limits of perception were reached and the aura collapsed, fruitless once more.

Nathan stared peevishly at the pavement.

Three days he had been at this search, he thought, as he hovered near the roof of some office building or other.  It didn’t matter.  Though it was a sprawling city, his first flying sweeps hadn’t taken even half a day to cover all of it.  All his efforts since then had been monotonous variations of the same basic patterns: active sweeps, passive probes, roves; and he had yet to feel anything even remotely out of place.

It made no sense, and that made him uneasy.  And being uneasy made him irritable.

He could set aside the story about a shinigami-slaying firearm.  Preposterous as it was, it wasn’t the part that concerned him.  He had realised while the younglings were spilling their tale that if a Jian copycat had researched his source so thoroughly that they would create a vampire freak legitimate enough to con even a werecat’s nose, it was certainly possible that they knew of the Jian’s penchant for sending pairs of messagers to harry their targets. 

It was, for him, a well-known and well-crafted routine:  one of their lapdogs, usually expendable, was sent openly with the initial taunt to draw the target’s attention for a hunt, and a second loyal retainer came quietly into the background to set up the force of coercion, should it prove necessary.

Alex and Phaidra would have no way of knowing of the tactic; their inexperience gave their frightened account a somewhat stronger, if unwitting, merit, and the reaper felt he would be a fool to outright ignore it.  If anything, action now would serve a double purpose.  On the one hand, prove to the children that their fears were entirely unfounded, and on the other, preemptively eliminate a potential actual threat.

If only there was a threat at all.

Nathan’s teeth ground together.  If there was another foreign vampire in the city, Nathan should have felt him by now.  The man couldn’t be hiding in Victor’s establishment, either.  Victor would have known of an intruder or a stowaway almost immediately; his sense for imbalance was uncannily accurate, and despite his genteel exterior the vampire was unbelievably territorial.  A vampire of foreign allegiance inside his domain would have been rooted out and destroyed within a matter of hours, if one had even managed to infiltrate in the first place.

He felt movement at the edge of his field of vision: a mere junkie Nathan had noticed on his approach, using the roof as a haven to shoot up.  Ambitious, perhaps, but irrelevant—and the human barely registered to Nathan’s ken.  The incorporeal reaper ignored him.

Beyond that, though, both children’s description of the vampire mentioned an unusual aura; Nathan had almost chalked the young mage’s words up to frazzled nerves, but Alex had supported her, and if there was one thing that kid possessed it was a level head.  But from what they had told him, this mysterious vampire should have been noticeable from at least a half dozen blocks away without Nathan having to try to feel him, and in three days he hadn’t felt a single thing. 

To Nathan, this situation meant one of three things: that the freak had been blowing smoke the whole time, which was entirely likely; that the being the children had encountered wasn’t a vampire at all, which was somewhat less likely but still possible; or that the vampire really did exist and had already left, which was unusual as far as Jian tactics went but worrisome if true.  A Jian covert messenger only left when his job was done.  If that was the case, and this meeting offer was genuine, Nathan had only a day left to figure out what on earth the man had done before running into Alex and Phaidra.

More movement.  The junkie was waving his arm at some drug-induced vision.  Nathan hoped he didn’t overdose; he didn’t need the stupidity right now.

No, he thought, he was about ready to call this whole search thing quits.  He had started believing he was going to find nothing back in the middle of yesterday, but he had kept doggedly hunting for this vanished or nonexistent vampire out of a small respect for young M’ashala.  Respect had its limits, though, especially without any sort of real reputation to put behind it.  Nathan’s mood was fraying, as well, so to continue this exercise in futility would begin to skirt territory he would rather not tread.

He didn’t know what he would do about this supposed ultimatum, either.  He knew that, real or impersonated, the Jian only issued threats relevant to their targets, but how was that to be interpreted when the targets were individuals?  He had hoped to pry some information out of this annoying specter after pinning him down, but obviously that hadn’t worked out.  Right now, he was of half a mind to let this next gambit play itself out, and take things from there.

What he really needed was a Trance.  That and maybe some cobbler.  He wondered if he could hornswoggle Phaidra into making him some....

“Dude.  You look...like...so weird up there.”

Nathan glanced at the junkie—and turned slightly in puzzlement.  The red-headed punk’s eyes were fixed on his position, as if he could actually see the blue shinigami.

“You’re like, a little alien spaceship,” the man was saying as he lay sprawled against one of the rooftop air handlers.  “Just...floating around, all invisible, and...stuff.  Stick out your little radar antenna.  Beep,” he said, lifting a hand and waving in a dazed circle.  “Beep...beep...beep.”  He laughed, a short bark that turned into a helpless giggle.

Nathan’s brow furrowed.  He was invisible.  The man shouldn’t be able to see him in the first place, let alone feel his aura-sweep.  No human could, naturally; not even those shamans and psychics who claimed to contact the dead.  It could be just another hallucination, Nathan thought, but that was just uncanny.  He reached out, just to be sure.

Nothing.

“Whoa, quit that,” the man griped. “It’s weird.”

Nathan’s eyes widened.  Nothing.  That was it; there was nothing there.  The man simply didn’t register at all, as if it were Nathan hallucinating instead.

“That’s impossible,” he whispered, and he reached out again again, this time fully focused on the man’s being.

The junkie lurched to his feet, his clothes jingling.  He jabbed a finger at Nathan, wobbled, caught himself, and said indignantly, “Okay, seriously.  You are, like, all up in my personal business.  You are ruining my chill. Like ... quit.”

Now Nathan’s eyes narrowed.  There was something there, all right.  It was masked, hidden—he didn’t know how—but underneath the taint still lay. 

“Freakish cur,” he spat.  The man was a vampire.

Edited by Allamorph

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