A thick layer of dust rests on the marble floor and pillars, as if no one has ventured here in months. The draperies covering the ceiling-high windows smell musky with neglect. The corridor in this part of HQ is also pitch black, the only light source coming from Arashi's lantern.
Mamoru walks close beside his alpha, staring at the shadows shrouding his already-grim face. "Sensei, where are we going?"
Arashi pauses, turning his gaze to Mamoru. Still silent, he looks behind him and lifts his chin, nostrils flaring as he carefully sniffs the air. Satisfied that they are alone, Arashi finally speaks. "The Divine One and her Original are here. The Queen requests your assistance."
"Assistance? What can I do?"
"She wants to appoint you as her guardian."
"What... Really? Me?" Mamoru stutters with surprise, but quickly silences himself at the faint sound of his alpha's growl. "Well, that's good… isn't it? Why do you look like I've been sentenced to death?"
"You will have a hundred times more enemies in your new role, Mamoru," Arashi says. "I will hate for something to happen to you."
"I understand now, Sensei. I'm sorry I said that. I'll do my best, and be careful."
"Let's go." Arashi turns on his heel, continuing the walk down the dark corridor. "We can't leave Her Majesty waiting."
The pair soon stops in front of a large, wooden door. It is splintered and brittle with age, but Mamoru can tell that it was once a grand piece that was carved by a very talented woodmaker. As Arashi slowly opens the door, a hard knot forms in Mamoru's throat. He has never been in the Queen's presence in such close quarters.
Though expecting a small, private chamber, Mamoru steps into a vast hall. Like the corridor, the cavernous room suffers from disrepair. Before him is a huge staircase flanked by statues so old and damaged, he can't tell what they used to depict. A large, iron chandelier hangs from the ceiling, but isn't lit; very likely because of its unstable nature. Instead, few lit lanterns are placed on the moldy, discolored carpet. In the center, the carpet is ripped out, exposing the stone floor and some sort of symbol draw on the surface.
Mamoru approaches the odd pattern, a curved triangle with extended corners ending in a spiral. His lips curved into a frown. There is an ominous odor coming from the symbol. "Sensei, is that drawn with blood?"
"It is." Octavian reveals himself from behind the staircase, his voice heard before his is seen. He steps on the edge of the symbol, opposite of Arashi and Mamoru. "I'm glad to finally meet you, Mamoru. Her Majesty spoke a lot about you."
Arashi grabs Mamoru by the shoulder before the latter can return the greeting. "What's the meaning of this?"
A feminine laugh echoes from the top the staircase. Almost simultaneously, the trio turns their gaze towards the laughter. From the shadows, Amate steps forward, her long, white hair and dress a stunning contrast to the shadows. "You're so protective, Arashi. Mamoru is very lucky to have an alpha like you."
Stifling a growl, Arashi gives a low bow. Mamoru follows suite. "Sensei," he whispers. "It's okay. Don't get in trouble on account of me."
"Your alpha is right to be concerned, Mamoru," Amate says as she descends the final steps. "Your new role will put you in more danger than you can possible imagine. Your foes will be powerful, even stronger than I."
Mamoru rises from bow. "But, that's not possible, Your Majesty."
"But it is, Mamoru. My power if finite. With blood alchemy, anyone may surpass me."
"Blood alchemy?" Arashi's frown deepens. "Is that the mysterious magic?"
"Blood is very powerful, Arashi," Octavian says. "It defines who you are, and it creates the strongest bonds. It's not just about relatives. If someone spilled their own blood for your sake, an instant bond is formed. Mamoru may not be your blood son, but I know you will spill your own to protect him."
Amate's smile quickly disappears, and her expression turns grave. "Imagine, someone with the ability to manipulate this bond for their own benefit. They can take what defines you and use it as their own."
"Remember," Octavian says. "This is alchemy, not magic. There is always a fee with these spells, and the currency is trust."
"But this guy wants to take your throne by force," Arashi says. "Where does trust come in?"
"It doesn't," Octavian answers. "By the laws of blood alchemy, the victim must pay with her life."
Immediately, Mamoru steps forward, standing in the center of the symbol. "I won't let that happen, Your Majesty."
The smile returns to Amate's face, the color of her eyes shifting to bright gold. "I already know, Mamoru. Where you stand, is the symbol for family. I need you to spill your blood for me, and let it pour on its center."
From behind his back, Octavian pulls out a large, crimson dagger. "I am not a blood alchemist, but a friend of mine—"
"A very close friend," Amate interrupts with a wink.
"Ahem…" Octavian clears his throat, the red hue on his cheek very evident. He hands the dagger to Amate. "A friend of mine who is a blood alchemist prepared this for me. With it, we can begin the ritual."
"Ritual?" Arashi asks, raising a questioning brow.
"Yes, Arashi." Octavian steps around the symbol, placing a hand on Arashi's shoulder. "Her Majesty needs some space with Mamoru."
Once Arashi and Octavian back away, Amate takes Mamoru by the hand. "Before we begin," she says. "Have you heard of 'D-jump'?"
"D… jump?" Mamoru looks back at Arashi, who simply shrugs his shoulders. Nervously, he brings his gaze back to Amate. "I haven't. I'm sorry, Your Majesty."
"That's okay. It seems that it's not important, now."
"Okay. Uh… but what am I— Ah!"
Without warning, Amate slices Mamoru's hand with the dagger. It's a very deep cut, and thick, fresh blood immediately pours from the wound. Recalling his instructions, Mamoru positions his hand to let the blood fall in the center of the triangular symbol.
Amate steps away as the symbol, and Mamoru's spilled blood begin to glow. "I trust that you will protect me, Mamoru. In exchange, I will give you my blood."
The glow becomes blinding, Amate's words didn't escape Mamoru. "What? Is this your bl—"
The dagger suddenly shatters in Amate's hand, and the glow explodes into a massive beam of light. An unseen force knocks Amate, Octavian, and Arashi off their feet. Mamoru's blood-curdling screams are heard from inside the beam.
Arashi lets out a let out a loud roar, grabbing Octavian by the collar and pulling him to his feet. "What the hell just happen!? Answer me! Or I'll—"
Arashi drops Octavian and whirls towards Mamoru's voice, the blinding light finally dimming. "Are you okay, Mamoru?"
Mamoru's tired gaze falls on Arashi. The color of his eyes shifting several times, before returning to its original emerald color. "I'm fine, Sensei."
Unknown Time and Place
The momentum feels like an invisible embrace. The vibrations are soothing, like a whispering voice as its owner's hand caresses gently. The soft, rhythmic bounce as the wheels jump from one rail to the next is like being lulled to sleep in a rocking chair. Indeed, the emperor loves a nice, long train ride. It gave the busy man the best slumber.
This time, however, even the train ride can't combat his recent bout of insomnia. The emperor's eyes flutter before he stirs from his restless nap. An unfinished game of chess is the first to meet his gaze.
"Are you okay, My Liege?" asks a familiar voice.
The emperor brings his gaze to the voice's owner, staring groggily at his life-long friend and commander. "I'm okay." Groaning, he pauses to rub his tired eyes. "I'm sorry. Did I fall asleep?"
The commander looks at the unfinished chess game, smiling coyly. "I was winning anyway."
The emperor returns a smile. It was rare for the pair to relax, even though they are in a cease-fire. If it isn't the war, there's trade, spies, the unstable spirit realm, and other issues that kept his mind occupied. The most trying problem the emperor has at the moment, however, has nothing to do with leading an empire.
The emperor looks at the chess board. He lost his queen and a rook. A bishop and a knight are the only pieces protecting his king. Indeed, he was losing terribly. "How about we call it a draw?"
"Sore loser." The commander grabs a box beneath the table and places the magnetic chess pieces inside. He stops and toys with the final piece, a white queen. "How was the meeting?"
"Ugh." The emperor tilts his head and rubs his temple. "Queenie and her pair of lap dogs were a no-show. I just wasted my time talking to the stupid elders. They said that if I don't turn you in in two years, the cease-fire will end. It doesn't matter. It will give me plenty of time to learn my new powers."
The commander drops the chess piece and lets it clatter loudly on the table. "What? We're going back to war for me!? What the hell!? I can't—"
The emperor flings the dropped chess piece at the commander, smacking him in the middle of his forehead.
"Ow! The hell…"
"Don't you start acting angsty! It wasn't your fault and we made sure that the one responsible got what he fucking deserved!"
"You keep saying that, and I want to believe you… really. It's the only way I can keep going. But if the Society thinks otherwise, then maybe—"
"No!" The emperor gets to his feet, slamming his palms onto the table. "Don't you get it? It's been 300 years! Your so-called crime is just a scapegoat! They don't want you dead because of that! They want you dead because they're afraid of you."
After a few ragged breaths, the emperor calms himself. Only the sound of the moving train can be heard as his commander waits patiently . A dark shroud covers the emperor's eyes and he bows his head. His hands ball into fists, and his shoulders begin to bob as if he just remembered something funny. Grinning, sharp rows of teeth are visible through on his shadows on face.
"You should of saw the look on the elders' faces when I threw that bastard's head on the table," he says. "They're scared of us. Our combined power took out someone that they've been spending centuries trying dispose."
"I'm certain anyone would have had the same reaction to a severed head," the commander drawls, playing with the white queen between his fingers. "Quite over-the-top, don't you think?"
"It proved that I killed him, and it sent the message. Two birds, one stone."
"I'm batshit crazy and don't fuck with me. What other message will a severed head deliver?"
"Dear lord, I don't even…" the commander buries his face into his hand, holding in a chuckle. "You have a fucked up sense of humor. Why am I laughing?"
"Great minds think alike, buddy."
The commander places the white queen in the box and close the wooden lid. "You can go back to sleep, if you want. I know you rarely have a moment to relax, My Liege."
"Not yet." The emperor gazes out the window. They are still in a rural area, with rolling hills in the distance and trees zipping by. Rows of lamps stand tall on its metallic poles, illuminating the way through the dark field. "There's too much on my mind."
Still staring at the window, the emperor shakes his head. "They're weren't premonitions. Just dreams."
"Oh? I thought you couldn't tell the difference."
The emperor shakes his head again, as if attempting to shoo away his thoughts rather than responding. He turns away from the window and leans on the table as he cups his head. "What I saw… I know for sure it will never happen. It was just a dream."
"You were very restless as you slept, My Liege," the commander says. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"I saw her." The emperor leans back on his seat, staring at the ceiling of the train. His lips begin to quiver, and tears flow down the sides of his face. "She looked different… more mature. But I will never mistake her in a million years. I saw Ophelia."
The commander grabs a handkerchief from his breast pocket. "I hate to see you like this." He hands the cloth to his emperor. "I'm sorry, Toru."
"Don't apologize, Kana." Toru takes the handkerchief and dabs away his tears. "I wasn't strong enough to protect you guys. If I had the power back then that I have now… Ugh. It was like I was in another timeline. She was beautiful and so perfect. Her tag even had the alpha emblem engraved. It was as if she never d—"
Toru stops his words, slamming his fist onto the table. "Damnit! That bastard is long dead, and I don't feel any better. That dream felt so damn real. I could smell the air and feel the ground beneath my feet. I tried to reach out to her." He extends his hand, reenacting his movement. "Before I woke up, I felt the strands of her hair between my fingers."
Kana doesn't respond, his eyes transfixed on Toru's extended hand.
"What is it?" Toru asks, following his commander's gaze. A huge knot forms in his throat, when his sees the source of Kana's shock.
In Emperor Toru's hand, are three long strands of raven hair.