Chapter 1: You'll die for me

"Sometimes...I feel like it's me against the world."

"Is that so?"

"Yeah."

"Interesting..."

Amma Aiko looked at the man talking to her; his red hair was slicked back, his legs widely spread out as usual. He was drinking a martini, holding it gracefully in his hand. He wasn't very attractive, with his pointed nose and high cheekbones. Sometimes he reminded her of a serpent even. But the way he did things was simply charismatic. He made sure of it, with his open shirt and his sleepy eyes.

"You would say that, wouldn't you? I guess vampires don't get as much controversy as we Coraku do."

Aiko uncrossed her legs, and instead chose to look at the other man slumped on the couch rather than talk with the red-head in front of her.

This man had been silent for the full three hours they had been sitting there. He was hunkered over a laptop screen, the light casting an eerie glow on his face. Unlike the redhead, he was quite handsome, though visibly younger than the two in the room. A scowl was knitted on his forehead, not in concentration, but in a burning hatred. For what, the vampire didn't know. She knew he was watching her, however, though he refused to show it in any manner. His glare, though not directed at her, seemed to burn into her skin. He continued typing in that fast way, the screen occasionally casting a new color on his tightly expressed face.

Aiko sighed, turning back to the other man. "No, we of the vampiric race receive as much harshness as you do. It's just you're more widely known, we're very few in numbers," she informed him, picking up her own wine glass. She took a small sip, and then set it down again. This is the only alcoholic drink she would touch.

"Hey Ace, what time does it say on that machine of yours," The redhead called out, more loudly than what was necessary. His cheeks were a bit red and shiny; his voice was thick with alcohol

The man at the computer stopped typing, and slowly raised his head. In a disgusted manner, he flipped the machine around on his knees, jabbing a finger at the edge of the screen.

"Zacklentre..." Aiko pleaded, as the redhead stood up. He wobbled a bit, but still was quite menacing as his huge muscles threatened to rip his rather tight shirt.

"Do I disgust you, Ace?" he said in a mocking voice. Ace flipped his computer back around and continued typing, simply undaunted by the matter. Zacklentre chuckled, rubbing his chest. "That's right, don't say anything...as usual."

He then yawned loudly, and turned to Aiko. "Well, I'm going to bed. I'll leave you two together for now," he said, winking. Aiko gave a weak smile. He was always making jokes like that. Zacklentre swept out of the room, leaving only his empty martini glass and the smell of his strong cologne behind. There was silence save for the clicking on the keys of the laptop.

Aiko pushed the toes of her boots together. This leaning motion caused her waist long black hair to fall over her bare shoulders. The black tube top she was wearing was not doing much good for her. The room was cold, and almost completely black, as it always was. It was kept that way especially for her. Even the smallest bit of light could send her reeling in agony. She had only experienced it three times since her life as a vampire.

"I wish you two could get along," she suddenly said, turning to look at Ace. She couldn't help but admire the way his brown hair fell into his eyes. She wondered if his back hurt from being hunched over for so long. It had to be bad for him. He sniggered.

"Don't expect two killers to be friends, Aiko, life just doesn't work that way," he informed in a low, quiet voice tinged with the usual streak of hatred. When he talked, his lips pulled upwards while his brows furrowed even further, giving the impression that talking pained him.

Aiko rubbed her arm. "Zacklentre and I get along," she mused. Ace didn't look up, but his words were annoyed this time.

"Zacklentre will get along well with anyone that's female."

"You and I get along...okay..."

She faded, realizing that she and Ace weren't exactly "best of friends". In fact, she hardly knew him, and he didn't really seem interested in learning anything about her. It had been that way for three years now, ever since he had come here.

Aiko leaned back in her chair again. The softness didn't give her any comfort at all; she was cold all the same. She noticed how much her dialogue changed when she was talking to different people. When she was speaking with Zacklentre, she took on a sophisticated voice, and answered all of his rude questions...well, maybe not all of them. When Ace talked, she chatted freely in his silence. It usually appeared he was not listening to her, and he didn't try and hide the fact that he found her absolutely boring. It made her upset sometimes, but she told herself not to get flustered because it didn't matter anyways.

Yet, despite all of this, perhaps because of it, Aiko had always wanted to open him up. She wondered what went through his head all the time, what gave him that scowl that danced around his eyes. She talked more to him, about surface things, like how long it had been since she had seen the sun, and how it seemed that the wine was not as good as it used to be. This went on for about an hour. Ace finally looked up at her again.

"Will you just shut up and leave?" he said in a bored voice. Aiko slowly stood up and bowed respectfully, even though the two were complete equals. His words stung a bit, but she internally shook it off. He sure had a knack for making her feel stupid.

"I am sorry to have bothered you so," she apologized, even though it was he who should have asked for her grace. Ace didn't say anything, so Aiko left him, shutting the door behind her. She leaned up against the wood frame and sighed, and then she began walking to her room. Ace and Zacklentre were both so different.

Zacklentre was from a hunted race, much like Aiko. He was what was called a Coraku, which was a monster in human form. With abnormal strength, Zacklentre often used his muscles first and asked questions later. Despite these actions, Zacklentre was still alive at 27, while most Coraku were killed in their teen years, when the effects started taking them (they only transformed after the age of 13). Aiko understood that Zacklentre was completely unpredictable, which was why he made such a good fighter.

Ace, on the other hand, was silent, cold, and was of the human race, yet hunted as much as the latter. His style of fighting was quite different. Ace wielded a sword that with the simple flick of his wrist could send him moving so fast you couldn't see him. It almost seemed as though he disappeared completely, sucked into a realm of light speed, only seen as the dust that trailed behind him. He specialized in quick swordsmanship and footing, and was probably the best assassin of the two because he could take out people quickly and noiselessly before they even had time to realize what was happening. A problem with Ace, however, is that his actions were sometimes rash and made many consequences. Aiko credited this to his age, a mere seventeen. He was also incapable of using magic of any kind, even in the simplest measures. He was the youngest partaker in the job lines such as this.

Aiko then moved on to herself, which surprisingly she had the most trouble describing. She knew she was of the vampiric race, and that she specialized in magic, but besides that...she felt like a shell. She couldn't even remember how old she was. She knew her body had stopped aging at 19, but the years that followed...Some described her as, "old as time itself," and that was nearly true. Her once well-lived days had stretched farther back than anyone could remember, and had since been swamped down in the tortures that followed like a pebble beneath the sea.

She soon came to her door and unlocked it gratefully. For a moment she simply stood inside and stared at the objects around her. Some of them had cost a great deal of money, money that Aiko did not want to think about. Her job was not for enjoyment; it was simply for escape. The battle-won trinkets around her were a sort of stronghold, or fort, that she had built around herself. She could distract herself with the recollections attached to them.

As the vampire walked through, she picked up a few things off the floor, throwing them into corners. Mounted on the wall was her lethal weapon, the scythe, with it's long curved blade and metal handle that reached the floor. A strange gothic beauty, passed down for many years, yet still in wonderful condition. That blade had cruelly taken many lives, two today, in fact. Aiko ran her fingers along it, purposely cutting herself. Blood and pain where normal to her, they just dimly gave her an awareness that she was still from this earth. Pain symbolized that some human was left, no matter what she did.

Her black, cold blood dripped on the gray carpet. She touched her face with it, as if it were nothing more than a cool splash of water. A cool splash of salt water. How much had those people bled, she wondered, how much had they bled when she pierced them with her scythe? How much had she bled, when...he...

Aiko hurriedly took her hand down and rushed into the bathroom, wrenching the sink on the counter on. She scrubbed her hands until the water turned from crimson to clear. "I wish it were so easy," she mumbled aloud, "that I could wash it off, just like this." She turned the sink off, and tried desperately to look at herself in the mirror. Nothing. She wondered how wretched she looked with her own blood smeared on her face and the dead dancing behind her eyes. It had been a while since she had seen herself, nearly a decade. What an old woman she was! She simply disgusted herself. All of this just to run. All of this just because you can't bear to kill yourself. These words pounded in her head, and she didn't try to whisk them away, instead she answered them:

"If I die, then who will stop him?"

"If you do not take your own life, than who will stop you?"

Aiko shook her head angrily. "He has done more than I have. These people's lives are just turns on the road to the right thing." At least, she tried to convince herself of that. It was a confusing matter, always pushed in the closet like a possession. It was sometimes dug up with dread, a painful wave of self-argument.

"You just tell yourself that," the inside of her hissed back, "But you know you are worse than he. You think you are doing the right thing, but you are just repeating a cycle. You have surpassed what he has done to you. You are alive. Those people are not, and they will never breathe again. You. Are. A. Coward."

Aiko hissed and swung her fist up, breaking the mirror into pieces. They scattered all over the bathroom, and tinkled around her boots. Undaunted, Aiko flipped her hair over her shoulder with her bloody hand and addressed the empty space to the wall.

"If I stop...then he will surely find me and do it again. I must kill him...I must..." She breathed hard, and added, "For...no one else can." She then left the bathroom, ignoring the messes she had made.

Making sure the door was securely locked, Aiko slid out of her fighting clothes and instead put on a black, loose gown. She combed her hair, but didn't bother wiping her face, and then went straight to bed. Sleep didn't come easy; it never had for her. The night was her playground, and going to sleep in it was not what her instincts told her to do. She heard someone giggle in the room next to her, and figured that Zacklentre had brought some other woman up to, "toy with."

It made Aiko's skin crawl that anyone would just hop in the bed with someone who was just going to make her leave the next day. It happened again and again, even to the same girls. Maybe it bothered her so simply because of past experience, and the indignity that it had caused her. Aiko desperately pulled the covers over her head, trying to block out the noise. There sure were a lot of stupid girls in this world. Instead she had herself concentrate on what Ace was doing, and wondered if he had gone to bed now or not. Knowing Ace, he was probably hearing all that was going on in that room as well. He always heard everything.

Aiko's room was in the middle. Ace's was on the left, Zacklentre's on the right. She often had to endure listening to Zacklentre, but she couldn't bear to tell him how she felt about that matter. She never heard anything coming from Ace's room, though she was sure that he heard her rants and screams at the mirror. She couldn't help herself. She did this quite often. It was her way of staying sane. She had tried to keep a diary once, but it only irritated her, so she threw it away. By raving at an inanimate object, she could let her feelings go wild. She also knew that she screamed in her sleep as well; she woke up quite often doing it.

Every night was filled with a new nightmare, some worse than others. Most of them including him. He seemed to follow her everywhere, even though physically she had escaped from him.

Perhaps not so physically, she thought, staring down at the inky black tattoo, the remains of an ancient curse that he had put on her long before. As long as that inky black tattoo that stained the side of her lower stomach remained, he would always be connected to her. She wondered if the dreams were a side effect of the twisted mark.

The mark. On the tattoo, a woman was falling into the center of a clock, shattering glass pouring around her bleeding body. Her face was twisted into a look of horror, and her eyes were turned to the sky. Symbols danced in the open air. It was the ancient language, very few new how to read it. But Aiko knew. Those words defined her very life:

"You will die for me."

They reminded her everyday of the sacrifice she was forced to make. He had taken her life force, the heartbeat of all living things that vampires don't necessarily need, yet have. However, if she were ever to somehow return to her normal state once more, she would not be able to live without it. That night, though it had been so long ago, still shook her very core to this day. Aiko even looked around, wondering if he was watching her this very moment, ready to take her again. But then she scolded herself for being so fearful.

SHE was an assassin, she could not fear the dark. A vampire does not fear what was in the shadows, a vampire is a child born of the shadows. But the thought of that night still shook her insides and made her feel so sick...so violated.

Here was such a hollow place. Aiko longed for strong arms, someone who could make her nightmares disappear. It was dreadfully cold. Dreadfully quiet. To share these things with someone could mean risking getting hurt again. Besides, she didn't even know anyone who would want to listen to her issues. She snuggled close into her pillow, and squeezed her eyes shut. A few times she turned fitfully, but eventually made it to sleep. Then the dreams came...

When Aiko stood up in a snowy blackness, she was slightly confused. She couldn't remember how she got there. The graceful ice danced on her burning face. She felt feverish and dizzy, and she had tunnel vision. The air seemed unnaturally thick and foreboding, as if the north wind was holding it's breath, waiting for something amazing to happen...or something terrible. Quite suddenly the black sky opened up, throwing light into the surrounding darkness. Aiko screeched and threw her hands before her face. But it did not burn. It only gave her a warm feeling. A feeling of...pleasure. Slowly and cautiously, she opened one eye, and then the other.

A flower field surrounded her, and the snow was gone. A soft, warm wind was blowing, throwing her hair around. An unexpected happiness dropped over her, and Aiko felt the water rush to her eyes as she thought, I'm free...from the dark...I'm free. But soon she noticed that the light was quickly fading at the corners and closing her in the dark again. She felt her breaths run cold and slow, and the light faded, replaced with the burning, feverish feeling. This is what if feels like...to be a vampire, she thought, and she heard something slide behind her.

Aiko hastily turned around, ready to meet the odds that had come for her. A blurry figure approached from the wretched darkness, cackling in a sinister manner.

"He wants you, he needs you," the figure taunted. Aiko violently shook her head, tears welling in her eyes, only this time with fear. She held her hand to her mouth, which was letting soft sobs escape. "He'll have you," the figure inquired, "he always gets what he wants."

"No..."

"He's going to break you."

"NO!" Aiko gave a muffled yell. She felt like she was suffocating, and her body was growing increasingly colder. "I w-won't let h-him," she sobbed, backing away from the figure. At this the creature laughed harder.

"You're cries make him want you more. He'll keep coming, because you feed him. He loves to see you cringe when he touches you. He loves to hear you scream when he-"

But Aiko didn't hear the rest, she was too busy running through the perpetual darkness that swirled around her, pulsing in tune with the drumming of her heart. She thought she was going to die with the dread that was holding her down, but it was nothing compared to when she slammed into a dark figure that seemed to appear out of nowhere. For a moment, she buried her head into the cloak of that mysterious figure, until she found out that they held no warmth, and only made her body freeze further. She looked up, teary eyed, at her supposed savior. He looked down on her, his eyes alight with a strange, dull fire.

Aiko screamed and desperately tried to back away, but he pulled her into his cloak, ripping her shirt at the same time. His gloved hands seemed claw-like as they gripped her bare flesh. She thrashed and pulled, kicked him and bit him, but to this man she was nothing more than a toy. A joke.

The aura of power that surrounded him was nearly breathtaking, as if he had control over every atom that made up this tiny dimension made just for her. As if with the flick of his wrist, he could have anything he wanted, anything he thought he needed. He chose Aiko.

He slid her shirt down farther, and ran his cold hands down her neck, kissing it as well, and whispering to her, "You'll die for me."

Aiko pulled at his coat and begged him not to hurt her anymore, but he only laughed. She screamed, and he kissed her lips. She thrashed and he but only pulled her in closer to his body. She screeched all the same, strange, vampiric screams that seemed to rock the very core of this strange world.

Unexpectedly, the man let go of her, causing Aiko to real backward, clutching her ripped shirt. She crawled away from him sobbing, her head rolling on her shoulders with an odd dizziness, and started to run. But the cloaked man turned around, and disappeared in a pool of seeping darkness, his dark cloak swooshing behind him. Aiko dropped to her knees. He had drained her again somehow. The struggle had exhausted her, and the world had become peaceful again, a bit of light was even trinkling through the air. She continued to pant, however, her hands not relaxing, even though he was long gone.

At was at this time that the nightmare faded, and Aiko slept soundly for the rest of the night.

Aiko opened her eyes to the cool darkness of her bedroom. The bed felt so soft that she really didn't have the will to get up. For a while she just laid there in the dark, occasionally stretching a muscle or two. She night had been good. The nightmares ended briefly, sometimes they did that, other times, however, they could stretch through the whole night, and Aiko would wake up feeling like she really had been running around and screaming. This morning, though, was one of those special ones.

She smiled, slipping her bare feet into slip-ons. Today was going to be good, she decided. She wasn't going to waste this happy mood. She slipped on her favorite robe, tying it tightly in the back. She then slipped out of the room and headed toward the kitchen.

The sight of Ace and Zacklentre, who were already up, greeted her. Also, the scent of coffee danced around her, making her feel welcome. She poured herself some, and then sat gently into a chair at the bar. Zacklentre came over to her, supporting his head with his hands as he leaned down on the bar top.

"You feel okay?" he asked, touching her head for a temperature. Aiko laughed, picking up a stack of papers from the chair next to her. She began to read these calmly, taking a sip or two from her coffee. Zacklentre shook his head, gulping down his own drink with a wince. "This is strong stuff, I warn you," He informed, rubbing his mouth. Aiko looked up at him.

"This paper says we have work to do today. One of us has to go down and beat up a new guy that's trying to take our place," she told him, squinting at one of the papers. It was custom in the "Shadow Realm," (the company that they worked for), to have three top assassins. Ace, Aiko, and Zacklentre currently held that position. However, their place could be taken at any time.

A person who was trying to become one of the top three had to go through a series of tests. The first test was to be able to kill hoards of people at one time under a set time limit. A huge stadium, or coliseum, more accurately, was held for this, and spectators were allowed to come and watch. This was one of the most gruesome deeds held by the Shadow Realm. This test not only tried your speed, but it also played with your mind. For the people in the stadium that you had to kill were not criminals, they were innocent villagers plucked from their homes. An assassin's job was a dirty one, and you cannot allow your feelings to get in the way. The Shadow Realm's presidents and CEOs and such realized this, and created the first test.

The second test was held in the stadium as well. It was branched out into a series of tests, where many fighters went on teams of three and fought for places in the finals. Most of the time the teams were made up of complete strangers who didn't even know each other.

The third test was simple. It was a one on one battle held in a maze off to the side of the stadium. This was the only event that spectators were not allowed to watch. Innocent people were put in this maze, along with another finalist. You were disqualified for killing an innocent, and you had to search for your enemy within the treacherous stone walls. Sometimes you were even pitted against one of the people you teamed up with in the last test. Some even died of starvation, for the task did not end until one killed the other, or if someone was disqualified.

The fourth test was the oddest. Normally only about four contestants were left by now, and they were one-on-one pitted against some huge monster, often one caught from the darker corners of the world. These monsters often towered above the poor fighters, and always had a taste for flesh. An assassin can also be hired for an extermination expedition. They had to be ready.

If anyone survived the fourth test, then they were put against the remaining contestants in a small war, including battlescapes and such. The winner of this challenge was forwarded to the final test: To fight one of the people already serving as the Shadow Realm's top three assassins. If they won, they would take their place there.

"Well, this guy must be pretty good. It's really been a while since anyone's made it this far," Zacklentre chuckled, tapping his fingers on the tabletop. Aiko nodded. She wondered how Zacklentre enjoyed his job so much. He was always laughing and making jokes about what they did. Aiko never felt happy. She just felt terrible, and only comforted herself by saying every now and again that it was the "only escape". Ace never seemed to enjoy it either...of course, Ace never seemed to enjoy anything.

"Well, the fans are waiting, who's gonna fight?" Zacklentre asked. Ace shrugged, leaning back in his chair with a glower. Aiko didn't feel like it was such a good day anymore. Couldn't they have just gone on an assassination where she could just snipe someone down and not have to fight them face-to-face? She felt cowardly, but it really wasn't fear of the person she may possible fight; it was fear of the person she would have to face if she didn't.

"Who did it last time?" Zacklentre asked.

"I do not know, it's been awhile," Ace replied.

"This is stupid, we're supposed to be more organized than this."

"I was expecting Aiko to write it down or something."

Even though Aiko did feel bad about her job, her companions always made her laugh. Even though this occupation held the utmost seriousness, something childish and unworthy of recognition almost always went wrong. Like that one time that Ace "accidentally" threw Zacklentre's vintage wine out the window after Zacklentre had flushed one of his cigarettes down the toilet. Ace hardly ever participated in these trivial matters, yet when he did it was always amusing.

"I'll go," Aiko suddenly said. Ace turned to look at her. Aiko hadn't noticed it, but he looked very tired. His eyelids were half closed, and his hair was slightly messy, considering it wasn't held in place by the previous gel. His shirt collar was open, and he was wearing white socks that stood out against the rest of his black attire. He was leaned over his chair, supporting his head with his hands. Aiko found him actually...sexy, this way.

She then inwardly shook her head. No! NO! NO!! She told herself. Off limits. He's waaaay too young for you. Though Aiko didn't really like Ace, she just thought he looked hot this morning. There was nothing wrong with that. At least...that's what she told herself. She wondered why she had never noticed it before in the previous three years that Ace had been at Shadow Realm…

"Oh wait!" Zacklentre said, suddenly interrupting her thoughts, "It's Ace's turn. I remember. Because I fought last time, and then the time before me, Aiko fought. I remember, cause that one guy kept shouting about how hot she was when she was fighting, and then when she came to watch me, that same guy was there!!" he exclaimed, practically jumping out of his seat. Aiko blushed at the thought of her crazed stalker. Ace got up slowly.

"Whatever," he said, walking out of the kitchen. Zacklentre turned to Aiko.

"Did I say something?"

"I don't think so."

"Okay. Well, he's always weird in the mornings, weirder than usual anyways. He's probably on his man-period. HA!""

"I think I'll go watch the fight. Do you want to join me?"

Zacklentre shook his head. "I've got a job. For once someone asked me to come alone. I can't skip out either, believe me, I've been putting this guy off forever," he apologized. Aiko nodded, drank the last bit of her coffee, and then walked out of the room. The floor that Aiko lived on, along with her other two companions, was composed mainly of hallways and doors. Every room had it's own door, to secure the privacy. It was easy to get lost, even after living there for so long. She found her door and stepped inside her room. She quickly took a shower, got dressed, brushed her teeth, fixed her hair, and then finally stuffed a small gun down the side of her boot, just in case.

She took the elevator down to the stadium, which was rather full. Everyone was here to cheer on either the underdog or the skilled assassin. Aiko took her seat at the top. The company kept that place just for her. She could see Ace below, standing solemnly at one end of the stadium. No sunlight reached this place. A huge, removable roof covered the entire area, blocking the sun's rays. This had been installed only just recently, as more and more vampiric fans came to cheer Aiko on. It made them more comfortable, not having to wear the cloaks and all.

She stared down, trying to focus in on the other fighter. She couldn't make out much about him, from these heights anyways. She didn't need to, however, since soon the huge screens around the stadium clicked on, showing close ups of Ace's, and the other man's, faces. The announcer proclaimed that the new fighter's name was Hadrey, and that he was an Elf from the far north. Aiko shook her head, and settled back in her chair. She knew that this man was done for. Ace never left his victims alive, and she knew that this Elf could in no way even hope to defeat Ace.

Her dark, brooding attitude was taking over again, as she thought about how killing seemed to be the only thing she was good at. She stared at her leathery gloves that covered her cut fingers, still sore from last night. She sighed. Last night felt like last year. It was a distant memory, almost. She couldn't remember exactly what had happened.

Aiko crossed her arms and fluttered her eyelashes. This would be a short fight, and she was suddenly wishing she had not come at all, since she was just going to have to climb into that murderous elevator again. She thought about how when she went back that she needed to clean up that mess she had left in the bathroom. The announcer's small commentary sent her thoughts into a spiral of memories and broodings.

"Oh, that was one hit! A fatality! ONE HIT! How wonderful! Let's get a replay, folks! Slow motion, please!"

It's too bad that life can't be replayed, Aiko thought, I think if mine could, I would take back all of this, I would end it earlier, while I had the chance.

"Ace looks peeved. Does he feel like he's out here for nothing? Was the fight not hard enough?"

The fight is always hard, Aiko insisted, no matter who you're fighting. At least to me, it's always worth the fight. That's why I do it, it's because there is still a chance that I can run.

Ace came up and brushed past her chair. Aiko got up quickly and followed him. In the elevator, Ace looked again and again at his shoes.

"Stained. I'll have to get new ones," he muttered, sounding annoyed. Aiko stared at him incredulously. He was brushing off that poor man's death and worrying only about his SHOES! She wanted to knock some sense into him.

Aiko wondered if he felt the same. She wondered if he simply got up and said, "Oh my, the floor, it has blood on it, we'll have to get that cleaned," after he had tortured her in the way he had. Aiko was boiling mad as she headed back to the kitchen. Not really at anyone in particular, well...maybe someone, but still. She poured herself some wine, like she normally did when she was in a mood like this. She knew it was partially because of her vampiric tendencies that she had felt so weird lately. The bloodlust was taking over, and she knew that in around three days, she would have to hunt again. The mere thought of it made her shiver.

Soon Ace was back, different clothes,and of course, different shoes. He had another stack of papers in his hand, and as soon as he sat down, he began sifting through it with fast fingers. His eyebrow raised. Clearly this was a strange mission if it made him give any other expression besides a glare. He gave a disgusted sigh, and then tossed the papers at Aiko, who caught them with grace. She was used to this behavior.

She looked at the papers, and the first thing she saw was the description of the mission. She read it.

The mission is going to take place at the Core Ball at the Greve're Palace. Dust Wing will take the main hall and keep a low profile while Candle takes the place of the announcer and entertainer. Candle will call a man names Mr. L. Joyce to the stage. Spades will stand by and make sure that nothing goes wrong. As soon as Mr. Joyce is at a position on the stage, Dust Wing must shoot him. How you go about doing the rest is up to you. I look forward to talking to you soon.

President Kai

The letters explaining their missions were always short and never detailed. None of them needed details. The rest of the papers, Aiko found, were all descriptions of Mr. Joyce and the floor plans of the Greve're Palace. The names, Candle, Dust Wing, and Spades were just code names. They changed quite often, but currently Aiko was Candle, Ace was Spades, And Zacklentre was Dust Wing. Before the change, Aiko had been "The marvelous maroon bunny", Zack the "Ginger kid", and Ace the "Shrewd coconut head". It was Zack himself who had finally insisted that they be less ridiculous.

"So I'm to be an entertainer?" Aiko scoffed, looking at Mr. Joyce's picture. He was an old man, probably in his sixties. Ace shrugged.

"If they think I'm wearing a tux, they're wrong," he said.

"I guess I'll need to find something to wear," Aiko thought aloud.

"Why does Zacklentre get to shoot? He doesn't even handle guns."

It was Aiko's turn to shrug. The only thing she could figure was that they needed her to do the announcing and stuff because she was usually the choice to handle any sniping.

"It says it's tonight," Ace suddenly said, "Zacklentre had better get his ass back here."

Aiko chuckled, but Ace just scowled harder. I'm going to go ahead and get ready," he announced, standing up. For a moment he stared down at her, as if trying to figure out was she was thinking. Aiko shivered, and he soon left.

A ball...Aiko thought, what in the world am I going to wear? That was a tough one. Normally she didn't care what she wore, but all of her outfits were a little on the dark side. She got up and prepared for a long search in her closet.

After thirty minutes of probing, she found something that was half okay. It was a white gown, sleeveless, and it clung to her hips. She couldn't even remember where she had gotten it, but that didn't seem that important. She went into the bathroom and sorted through her many hair dyes. She picked a blond one. Her coal black hair was going to be a hard color to change, but she had done it before. This blond was only a temporary color anyways, it would wash right out. Technology these days was great.

Next Aiko picked out some green contacts. She would look very suspicious if she went out in public without somehow masking her glowing red vampiric ones. She picked out some makeup, (mostly the colors blue and silver) and also some dark, fake eyelashes. Finally, she got out some dark brown foundation so she could hide her paper-white skin.

She put all of this on, and fixed her hair on top of her head in little braids and buns all over the place. Last but not least, she shoved the smallest handgun she could find down her long white boot, just in case Zacklentre messed up. She felt so fake in her eyelashes and painted skin, like some kind of life-sized doll. She tried to not scratch her arms. Finally she decided to just wash the foundation off of them, and instead to wear gloves. This was truly a more comfortable choice.

When Aiko went outside, she found that it was 7:00pm. They had one hour to get to this ball. Zacklentre suddenly stumbled out of his room, desperately trying to fix his tie. He scratched his head, and finally just tossed it away. "I can hardly move with this gun down my pant's leg," he groaned, stumbling towards her. Aiko daintily placed her hands on her hips.

"Are you ready?" she asked.

"As ready as I can be," he answered. At that moment, Ace came out of his room. Contrary to what he had said, he was wearing a tux, though the jacket wasn't closed, and there was no tie to be seen.

"Well," he said, "Are we taking my car?"

"No," Zacklentre said in an are-you-stupid-or-something voice," We're taking Aiko's horse." He rolled his eyes, and strolled down the hallway to the elevator. Aiko pranced up behind him, and Ace brought up the rear. If you were observing from a distance, you would have never known what they were going to do.