"Hey Kirin?" Arai asked hesitantly. "You feeling okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I heal faster than you give me credit for."
"Yeah Arai, what do you take your brother for, a human?" Brian asked jokingly. "You know he was tough before, and now the guy's indestructible. Close as anything gets, anyhow."
"Oh shut it, Brian," I said, bored with waiting for sunrise.
"Feels like we're waiting for the wrong thing to rise, doesn't it?" he asked, ignoring me.
"Kith and Connor don't seem to mind waiting," Saizen muttered. The pair hadn't left their room all night. "They've definitely bitten by now. And Arai, don't you say a word about not knowing they were that close or I'll smack you. Kirin, do you know how naïve your little brother is?"
"Hey!" Arai protested.
"Chill, Rai, it's no big deal," Cheryl told him. "Saizen's just in a bad mood because he didn't get to hunt tonight. Come to think of it, so's Kirin."
"But when is Kirin not, really?" said Blake. Of course.
"Blake, shutting up might be a good idea. Does he have to kick your sorry behind again?" Saizen asked, smirking. "Yeah, I heard about that little skirmish the other night." Blake flushed, the pale color showing up brightly on his white skin.
"I tripped!" he insisted.
"You fell after you lunged and missed me, idiot," I said, annoyed yes, but more bored. "And I don't even want to hear how you justify my fangs at your throat."
"Are you deaf, Blake? I said I didn't want to hear it." The younger vampire started muttering irritably under his breath, something about "cocky aluka."
"Blake, have you ever seen a mirror in your life? Pointless currently, but earlier, before you were changed and started acting like you think you're a god?" asked Saizen. He was joking about the mirrors—another flawed human myth.
"We practically are," Blake said, "and yes, you pompous—" Saizen growled warningly; Blake shut up, momentarily contrite. "We kinda are gods, right?" he asked after a pause of a few seconds. Saizen snorted.
"If you're a devil-worshiper. We're about as far from God as you can get, Blake, we're demons. You know, the 'bloodsucking man-killer' thing doesn't really sell it to your average God-loving human." He left it at that for a few minutes. "Hey, Kithara and Connor, you guys get out here! Sunrise!" I heard the doorknob turn, and the two vampires appeared. Connor looked like he'd been through a wind tunnel about six times and was covered in shallow, slowly healing scratches. Kithara didn't look much better.
"Already?" the male asked.
"Yes, dumbass, glad you decided to join us in your natural form. Jaguar, am I right?" Connor flushed. "And let me guess, Kith used lynx until you both just shifted back and bit each other repeatedly. I think we all figured that out. Except Arai." Saizen sounded matter-of-fact and a little bored, while my brother looked just a little resentful. Again, a hint of barely-visible pink tinged Connor's pale complexion. "It's written all over the inside of your head, Connor; I can go into as much detail as you want."
"I'd prefer that you not," Connor said through still-visible fangs.
"Drop it Saizen, we haven't even seen each other in weeks," Kithara defended.
"So you decided to stage the reunion by almost losing control and biting him in front of Baku. Yeah, great way to say hi, Kith. Come on, let's just take the elixir and go outside; sounds like fun, right?" asked Saizen. "Who wants to try it first? Baku left about ten minutes ago in case no one else noticed."
"If no one else minds, I'll try it out," I volunteered.
"Sure, just don't forget to tell us what it's like before we try it," Brian said. I lifted the glass container to my mouth. It barely tasted of anything, but for some reason, it made me think of everything I loved about the night: shadows and the moon and the stars and the ability to be what we were. I couldn't even help it; I hadn't even made a conscious decision, but I let out a short laugh.
"Wow, that good, huh?" Brian asked, sounding a bit stunned.
"Are...you okay?" Arai asked nervously. I guessed I hadn't laughed in a while; everyone seemed to think the apocalypse was coming because I had.
"Great, Arai. Let's not waste time, all right? Like Baku said, it's got to be more interesting than staying in here all day."
"Okay, but stop being happy. The serious side of you doesn't scare me. Or at least not this way," Brian said. "Seriously, the happy is just plain weird; if you're faking, cut it out." At that point, my uncharacteristic good mood wore off. I donned an indifferent, bored look that, oddly enough, almost exactly matched Saizen's. "Better." He took his own sip of the elixir, and his face broke into a wide grin. "Wow, Kirin, see what you meant!"
"Brian, control yourself," Cheryl said in a long-suffering voice. "I swear if you start trying to run up the walls again..."
"There was no 'try', I did, remember? Remember that, Kirin?" the chocolate-haired vampire asked me.
"Yes, Brian, I remember that. We had to explain to Baku why there were footprints all over the ceiling."
"Oh yeah! Come on guys, let's go out! I wanna see what the day's like!" he crowed happily.
"Cheryl, could you control your brother?" I asked. "I didn't think I could get migraines anymore, but he's pushing it."
"Gladly." Cheryl quickly smacked her sibling in the head. "Shut up Brian!" she yelled.
"Ow..." he complained.
We all trooped outside, careful to make sure we weren't too conspicuous; Helios knew the headquarters was in the general area, and the building we actually used was "deserted". If they—or anyone—saw us coming out of there, our element of surprise was lost instantly.
"Yikes, it's bright out here," Brian commented. "This is going to take some getting used to." Cheryl nodded, and then smacked him in the head again. "Jeez, PMS much?" her brother muttered almost undetectably—to human ears. Cheryl hit him again. "Ow! Stop it!"
"Fine, if you'll do us all a favor and shut up," she said. Shockingly, Brian obeyed, possibly just done getting hit. "You know that doesn't happen anymore, anyway," his twin muttered under her breath.
"I am not pairing up with you for the day," he asserted. "Can we just go it alone? Like minus partners and stuff?"
"Sure; sounds good to me," I said. We split up. This was something we had to discover, and explore, on our own.
"Rhea, everything's under control; there's really nothing you can do to help out around here. Why don't you go out for the day, have some fun?" one of the older Helios said.
"Saru put you up to this," I muttered. "I want to stick around; Saikin—"
"Will be fine. We'll contact you before his surgery starts, okay?" the man asked, handing me a black mobile phone. I stared at him for a minute.
"Is Saru really this desperate to get me out of the building for the day?" I asked incredulously. "Jeez, fine, I'll go." I walked out of the headquarters, secretly feeling glad to get away for a few hours, but guilty about leaving with Saikin in his condition.
I ran into Kyri just outside the door, startling us both.
"Ahh! Oh, Rhea, good morning," the older girl said, flustered. She ran a hand through her thick brown hair distractedly. "What's up?"
"I've been ejected for being too serious. They've sentenced me to go downtown to have fun," I fake-complained. "You?"
"Just going out for a while," she replied. "I can't stand the gloom in there; everyone's too serious, not just you. I mean, they have reason to be, and we have to be quite a bit of the time, doing what we do and all, but have they forgotten the definition of fun?" Kyri was once again being the cheery girl I'd met on my first day.
"Possibly," I said. "You're cheerful today."
"Am I? Oh, I guess I am. Sorry, is it bugging you?" she asked. I shook my head. "I just thought...things were looking up, you know? I mean, the doctor said Saikin would probably be able to fight again after the surgery, didn't he? He'll be okay again. Well, at least, as close to that definition as Saikin ever is."
"I know," I said, relieved. "That's the only reason I can get out of the place without feeling insanely guilty, I'm guessing."
"Yeah, probably. So where are you going to go?" Kyri inquired.
"I don't know; I haven't been into town in who knows how long. Maybe I'll go out for lunch or something. Like to join me?"
"No, sorry; I have something planned with another friend," she said. "Maybe next time."
"Sure." I shrugged and headed off toward the center of Arkari. Kyri left in a wholly other direction, so I assumed we wouldn't be meeting up again while I was in the city. Of course, I doubted that I myself would be out long; I had never enjoyed spending much time at once in cities, especially alone.
Splitting up had seemed like the best option, but now I wondered. Arai especially might get lost; even a place we'd seen a thousand times looked so different in the light.
Plus there was that tiny detail that Blake hadn't fed in a few days, was cranky, and had a three-years-running reputation of being the least likely vampire to even try to control himself around blood, even if it had a gun. The average people around here did not tend to carry deadly weapons, so we'd decided to send Kithara with Blake to stop him from forgetting that it was broad daylight and we couldn't afford to lose this advantage.
I'd kept my eyes half-shut all morning; the sun was driving me insane with how bright it was. Never having had to deal with it after the change, the brightest light I'd seen in seven years was when Blake had turned one on before he registered that he really didn't need it and all it would do was tick off Saizen, who had proceeded to break the younger vampire's lamp over his head.
"You okay?" one man on the street asked me. "You look a little pale, kid. Got circles under your eyes too. You get enough sleep?"
"No, not really; I'm dead on my feet, you could say," I replied, completely literally; I couldn't resist. "At least that's what people tell me."
"You look it; get some sleep, it might help," he advised.
Not an option. I looked around. As far as I could see, I was the only vampire in this area; otherwise it was human, human, human, human, human—you get the point. Wonder where the others ran off to. Saizen might be looking for a victim, if he wants to even bother, which he just might. I wasn't sure where the others might be. Saizen was the only one I had regular contact with; considering our shared ability, I didn't really have a choice in the matter. If he wanted to contact me, he could from almost anywhere in the city; his range was far greater than my own.
I was surprised by how many humans there were; the most I'd seen outside in a group since the change was less than fifteen Helios on the biggest hunt I'd ever been a part of. Even they had been spread out; these humans were packed shoulder to shoulder in some places.
How forgetful can you get? I berated myself silently. It's only been seven years; have you completely forgotten what it was like to be human? Of course there are humans out; they like the light, remember? I shook my head in disbelief. I remembered almost nothing about my human life anymore, and it had been such a short time ago! Of course we had our habits and instincts from our old lives: breathing for instance, as well as the effects of adrenaline that really did little or nothing. The effects of the chemical in a human's body—tensing muscles, heightening senses in preparation to fight or flee—were already in play for us. It was what really made us human—our memories, friends, and family—that were forgotten, left behind if they weren't a part of the new life.
I looked around, trying to see if there was anyone I recognized—so I could avoid them. That wouldn't be too hard; Arai and I had been in Arkari less than a week before the sickness—and then the change. I doubted that anyone would recognize me: "that kid who showed up and then disappeared a week later". Anyway, I had changed.
Becoming a vampire changed a lot about a person—much of it was attitude and mindset, but the physical changes were the most apparent. Any imperfection was smoothed out, even freckles or birthmarks; scars disappeared completely. The skin, of course, paled to an almost pure white tone. Plus the fact that we didn't age. At all. Add that to the jet-black to blood-red eyes—depending on how recently we'd fed—and we wouldn't be recognized as our old selves as easily as one might think.
Of course, none of this was a problem for Connor, Kithara, or Saizen due to the non-aging bit. It had been thirty-one years since Connor, the youngest, had been human; no one could possibly recognize them. For Blake, Brian, and Cheryl however, it might be an issue. Arai and I were relatively safe.
One of the humans caught my eye; the way she moved, warily, like a hunter, was completely divergent from anyone else on the street. I would have pegged her as one of us at first glance, but a second look revealed that her eyes were a light brown color, her skin was pale, but not white, and she had both a heat signature and a heartbeat. Figuring that into the problem, I assumed that she was either Helios or simply a wary civilian. The former was unlikely; from what I'd heard, Helios went out in light scarcely more than we did. It seemed ironic that an organization whose name meant "sun" so rarely saw it.
She turned and looked at me for a moment, and then she moved away. I didn't bother trying to follow where she was going; it didn't matter to me, and I doubted that she was of any importance.
I noticed that the sky was starting to darken; I'd been out nearly the entire day. I had just realized I could probably stay out all night as well when Saizen's message reached me: We have to get back to headquarters; Baku's got something important to say. Again. I cursed under my breath, annoyed.
Baku, this had better be good, I thought, changing course for our main meeting place.
"Baku, what now?" Saizen asked impatiently. "I was going to pull a twenty-four-hour run, but no, you have something important to—"
"Saizen, be patient," Baku had cut him off—an irritated snarl illustrated displeasure at that fact. "I assure you, this is crucial information. Come out; they are all here."
"Who on earth are you talking to?" Blake asked angrily.
"Us," an unfamiliar voice answered. Two vampires stepped into our vision, a male and a female. The female looked older—in human age, maybe twenty-nine or so. Her short red hair was ruffled; it was clear she had run here. The speaker, a male, looked about seventeen; his much darker hair reached his shoulders. The female's jet-black irises—devoid of even the thinnest red lining—proved that she had never even tasted blood—either that, or she hadn't fed in at least two years. Her counterpart, on the other hand, had bright red eyes—evidence that he'd fed recently.
I heard Saizen's surprised intake of breath as he glanced at the male vampire.
"You..." he growled softly. "I killed you."
"Not quite, Saizen, though you did give me the perfect way to escape without drawing attention," the newcomer said. "For that, thanks are in order." Saizen's face was a mixture of skepticism and shock.
"Baku, what is this?" he asked in disbelief.
"Quiet, Saizen, I will explain to everyone. Maya—" he indicated the female, "learned what I was a few weeks ago, and wanted to join us. I, of course, told her of the consequences, and she accepted. I have known her for some time; she can be trusted."
"And who are you?" I asked the other newcomer—he was not thinking of his name, so I could not see it. He didn't answer for a moment.
"Kaisei," he finally answered.