"So that's how it is." Isuzu said, as he took a sip of his tea. "For now, treat him as a guest. He'll have his uses later."
On one knee, with one hand supporting me, I showed respect to the small child in front of me. After all, everything about his demeanor was not that of a child. I nodded my head. "As you wish."
The experiment was a success. Because of that, we could confirm that there was a way to successfully combine the blood of a human, with that of an Akatsu without the human losing control. The fact that the subject's personality slightly changed was of little concern as of now. The important thing was that he was able to control the Akatsu's Ki, without it overwhelming him. He didn't die.
He glanced at Tsuge who was behind me also on his knees, smiled and then looked at me again. "Zen, I heard that your friend there did more than he was asked to do."
Tsuge continued avoiding eye contact with us, as if it didn't concern him. I sighed. "Please forgive him, Isuzu-sama. As you know, he has his own circumstances."
"Hmm, it's fine. I understand his reasons." Isuzu put down his cup and stood up, with his hands behind him. "Zen, I know that my father has pressured you into looking after me and made you listen to my whims. He thinks that what I'm doing is nothing but a silly dream and that I'll wake up from it soon."
"Not at all. It's my own decision to stay by your side and do as you wish. I believe that with your ability and knowledge, you will change our fate."
Isuzu nodded his head. "For that, I'll need your strength more than ever from here on out. If we succeed we would no longer need to worry about closing the gate. After all, we'll be making use of the Akatsu. However, we still need to find the keys to make sure that no one seals the gate."
"I understand. I'll do my best."
Isuzu smiled, but anyone who saw this smile would realize that even though he was smiling, he eyes emanated coldness. "Mhm. Gather all the members in the garden tonight. We have to introduce our new member."
Human's evolution. This was what Isuzu dreamed of. By using the blood of the Akatsu, we could change human's fate and end this tragic cycle of losing those important to us. Forget about fearing the Akatsu, we wouldn't have to fear becoming ill or living a short life. But before we could reach that stage, we first need to get ahold of the keys to the gate. If the one who has all the keys were to seal it, then nothing would change.
Still…Isuzu was too naive. Even if we gain the blood of those demons, humans will eventually start to use it for their own greed. Our world would once again be drenched in the blood of those we care for. Nothing will change.
I stood up and left the greenhouse. Tsuge of course, followed behind me.
"Is it okay to leave it like this?" Tsuge asked me in a low tone.
I smiled. "It's fine. He still hasn't noticed. As long as we follow his orders, and continue to slowly do what we need, he'll not suspect anything. But…"
"Mana," Tsuge frowned, concern showing in his expression. "What do we do?"
I sighed. "It was my plan to get her involved. With her, I was sure the plan would go smoothly. However…" I sighed again. "Only if I had known earlier, I wouldn't have…"
"It's my fault. I didn't think it was her." Tsuge clenched his fists until a drop of blood seeped out.
"How could you have known with her disguised as a boy? Her true Ki was completely suppressed."
Before the party at the Kanzaki, we had planned on using the boy known The Samurai Assassin, the left hand of the Head of the Kanzaki Family, Kanzaki Reimei. Our plan was to have him join us and use him to get to Seimei. But then, Yuko realized something. The sword Reimei used. When Yuko told us Tsuge and I were at first filled with doubt…but then we were able to confirm her story when we saw Reimei's true form.
"You'll just have to protect her with your life." I continued.
Tsuge unclenched his fists and told me with a whisper. "From the day she was born, her fate was predetermined. There's nothing we can do to change that. I've already tried." I looked at him confused about what he meant, but he interrupted me and continued talking, leaving no room for me to ask. "Don't worry. Now that I've found her again, I'll never let anything or anyone hurt her."
In the end, even though I know about how Tsuge is related to Mana, there was still a lot of things he was hiding from me. For now, this was enough. Although he worked for me, he still had his own objectives, as I had mine.
I glanced at Tsuge, who had taken off his sunglasses. Behind his glasses, there was a scar on his left eye and green eyes that flickered and showed a gold color. His short red hair took on the appearance of a more orange-red color. Those eyes…that hair…are exactly the same as Mana. It was what connected the both of them.
"I'll bring Mana at midnight. Notify the others to come before then. Tell them to not be late." After saying this, Tsuge had already disappeared from my sight.
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"Where are we going?"
Zen answered my question, but refused to talk directly to me. "To meet the members of Cocytus."
When it seemed he had no attention to say anything else to me, I silently walked behind him. For some reason, his attitude towards me gave me an uncomfortable. My heart was thumping loud enough for my ears to hear, and my throat dried, becoming difficult to swallow. This feeling…I didn't like it.
We entered the greenhouse that he had showed me a few days before. But the atmosphere it gave off was different from then. There was barely any lights left on for us to walk through the area where flowers and plants of all kinds grew. When we made it across, this time Zen walked to a black door and opened it with a different key.
The inside was just as dark. A long hallway with no end in sight came into view. There were no turns or anything on the walls. A small number of dim lights that can be counted in one hand turned on as we walked. What amazed me was that the lights were on the middle of the floor, under our feet. At first I thought we were walking on concrete, but as the lights turned, I realized that it was glass.
Weird…it doesn't seem like glass.
After walking for about 20 minutes, another black door blocked our path. Zen opened the door and made room for me to enter first. After entering behind me, he closed and locked the door. The room was large enough to fit about 30 to 40 people and was luxurious. With a red, white and black theme, it gave off an elegant charm.
Even though there were no windows per se, the room was bright and made of glass. Like the glass floor, there were lights behind it. There were three picture frames on the wall. Two had pictures of a black and white tree, while the middle was a river with floating lights. Besides a long black, flat couch with white pillows there was a red/white and black/white round swivel chairs. A glass table sat in the middle of the room and small bookcase filled with books sat in the corner of the room. The room made my eyes twitch in annoyance.
Besides Isuzu, who sat in one of the chairs, there were also eight other people there. The twins Ai and Kai sat on the couch, Tsuge stood against the wall in a corner and Yuko who was playing with the twins were the people I was most familiar with and...Raiden, who avoided eye contact with me sat on a white single seat couch. Out of the three left, two were also someone who I was familiar with but I was surprised to see, while the last one was someone I didn't know at all.
Like Tsuge, I leaned against the wall, standing a little further than him. Zen stood next to Isuzu, with his hands held behind him. Isuzu nodded his head. "I'm sure you're familiar with most of the members here, but let's all do an introduction and give a brief detail of our background and abilities to better know each other. I'll then tell you about Cocytus and our aim."
"I'm Ai," one of the twins said and raised their hand. "I'm Kai," the other twin said, raising his hand. "We don't have parents so…" Kai said. "…Zen-sama is our savior." Ai continued. The twins dressed elegantly. Ai wore a black dress and a bow tied as rabbit ears, while Kai wore a white and black suit.
"This is our Ki." They both said, giving off a yellow-golden aura. "Our specialization is enhancement." Kai said. "We can enhance other people's Ki by up to 30% but we can't power up ourselves. We're only so-so in martial arts and because our ability drains our Ki, we can't move after using it." Ai continued.
Yuko, next to the twins looked at me and smiled but then she continued playing with Ai's hair. At that moment, however, I was thinking about how she survived. The last time I saw her was when she was half-dead from being tortured by me…I glanced at Zen and surprisingly, he was looking at me. He grinned and winked his eyes, as if knowing what I was thinking and telling that he'd explain later.
And then, without looking in my direction, Yuko explained her background and specialization. Known as Zen's little sister, she was the specialization of spying. She injects her Ki into small insects or animals and uses them to see and hear conversations. But there is a limit of 3 minutes in using this ability. Other than this, she wasn't good in using her Ki or martial arts, but has profound knowledge in the history of the seven families and the origin of Ki.
Isuzu glared at Raiden next, who had continued avoiding eye contact with me. But with a sigh, he turned around to look at me. "My Ki is a red color and I have the ability to control the element of fire…and I can use gravity." When saying the last part, he looked away from me again.
Gravity…he has two specializations…and he never told us about it. He really did…betray us. I bit my lower lip and scolded myself. What did that matter to me?
"I combine both abilities to use with my handguns." His guns are black and have a weird pattern on it. When he uses his guns, the lines turn red sometimes.
Tsuge next introduced himself, but it was a short one. Like me, he doesn't have a specialization and he uses a sword as his weapon. This new information startled me, as I have never saw him with a sword.
The next two people are Natsumi and Takeo. They were the ones who fought each other at the rank tournament. I guess that fight didn't count, since it seems they didn't go all out.
Natsumi has long red hair and brown eyes. With a height of 5'9, she was rather tall but had a beautiful appearance that many guys would fawn over. Her wavy hair reached all the way down to her back. She wore a beautiful white and blue dress that further complemented her looks. Her ability is controlling one of the elements, wind…at least that's what I thought.
"Natsumi-chan," Isuzu called out to her with a smile that reached his eyes. With his eyes closed he waited for her patiently to respond.
… "Why do I have to…?!" When she saw that he opened his eyes and glared at her, she shivered and after hesitating for a few seconds she responded. "Fine!" She pouted and then right before my eyes, that beauty disappeared and changed into a short girl, with short red hair, wearing short black pants, a white shirt and a red jacket with sleeves longer than her arms.
Everyone in the room was either smiling or laughing at my confused expression. Zen then decided to speak up and clear my confusion.
"Her specialization is creating illusions." Zen chuckled and winked at Natsumi when saying the last part. "She doesn't like her tomboy appearance and uses her ability to change into a beauty."
"Does not!" Natsumi yelled, clenching her fists while her cheeks turned red.
How unexpected. The tall, calm beauty who all the boy guards liked is actually a feisty tomboy, I thought to myself as I watched her go over and kick Zen's leg. That's when I thought of something. "Umm…then what about her ability to use wind?" I asked, blinking my eyes.
"Hmph," Snorted a deep voice that I had become familiar of. I turned around and watched as Takeo crossed his arms. "That was only an illusion." He looked at me and grinned. "Who would have thought that we would meet again in here?"
I ignored the last thing he said and asked him what he meant.
He looked disappointed but answered me anyways. "When we fought at that time during the ranking, it was all an illusion she created. While others saw us fighting, we were actually standing in the same place, looking at each other."
"You should already know, I'm Sakurai Takeo, from the Sakurai family. My specialization is different from what you think." He said with a frown.
I raised my eyebrows. As I thought, his familiar was different.
Takeo continued. "The Sakurai family are known for being able to tame familiars. This is a specialization passed through our bloodline. But my specialization turned out different. I'm not able to tame familiars."
"Then what about your familiar?"
"Shade?" Takeo smiled brightly while his mark shined and his familiar appeared on his shoulder, its tails whipping back and forth. "He isn't my familiar, he's my friend. Unlike how the Sakurai family tames familiars through force, Shade and I have an equality soul contract. This mark allows me to call for him, but it is his decision to come or not."
His familiar…or rather his friend looked at me. His eyes carried intelligence, which probably came from practicing Ki. Was it my imagination, or did he get bigger than from when I saw him last time?
"Waaa," A voiced yelled out. A 17 or 18 years old boy, who was sitting on the other round swivel chair, stood up and ran behind me as he screamed. "Take it away!"
"Shade is not an 'it'!" Takeo reprimanded.
The boy, with his short green hair and eyes, stuck his head out behind from me and said in a wimpy voice. "I-I don't like animals…" Both of his hands held tight on my shoulders as he shook in fright.
Why run behind me…? I don't even know you.
Takeo sighed…that's what I wanted to do…and a few seconds later Shade disappeared from his shoulders. When the boy saw that it was gone, he suddenly up straight and smiled brightly.
"Hello, pretty girl. It's very nice to meet you. I am known as Rhys by my friends." He said, taking my hand in his. His personality completely changed. What happened to that frightened boy who was trembling in fear? The weird thing was that he was wearing a short black veil that covered his face. But even with the veil, you could still clearly see his eyes and appearance. He wore a white and black suit and white gloves you would usually see princes wear. His short green hair that passed a little over his eyes covered his left eye. Behind him, there was a small part of his hair that was longer and reached his back. That small part was tied by what looked like a green stone.
When Rhys leaned down to kiss my hand, I quickly moved away. He looked disappointed but stood up straight and continued to smile. "I apologize for scaring you. I actually wanted to formally apologize for my behavior during our first meeting."
I looked at him confused and as if to answer my question, he walked to the chair he was sitting at and picked up a weapon. It was a green bow that looked as if it was made out of plants. "At that time when Ai and Kai came to visit you, they asked me to test your strength."
Ah! That's when I remembered a strong arrow that was infused with Ki and almost pierced through my heart. So it was this guy?
Rhys smiled. "I have the ability to manipulate plants. My weapon and arrows are both made from plants."
Isuzu clapped his hands twice to get out attention. "Now that we've all introduced ourselves, let's continue. Mana, why don't you tell them a little about you?"
"Wait a minute. You and Zen both still haven't said anything." Takeo interrupted.
"There's no need to. Isuzu-sama has already talked with her before and she'll learn more about me later on." Zen said, glaring at Takeo, signaling him to keep quiet.
"Tsk." He even though Takeo showed dissatisfaction, he no longer said anything.
"Now then, while everyone introduce themselves, there is something that some of them left out. Even though I gave them a chance to tell you, it seems that I'll have to do the honor." When Isuzu said that, Ai, Kai, Natsumi and Rhys all turned to look at Isuzu with wide eyes. But as if he didn't see their deathly glares, Isuzu continued talking. "The four here are all part of the families from one of the seven council members."
When all four wanted to attack Isuzu, Tsuge and Zen moved faster, and stood in front of the boy before they could reach him. Suddenly, a thick killing intent could be felt in the room. It was a suffocating intent that made all four take two steps back. After a minute of being unable to breathe, the killing intent disappeared and the boy who was the cause of it, looked as if nothing happened. "Since we are all working for the same goal, there is no need to keep secrets from each other," he said in a calm voice. It was unbelievable that a killing intent that as if he killed hundreds or even thousands of people came from such a small body.
"Now…where was I?" He turned to look at me and with an indifferent expression he started to explain. "The twins Ai and Kai are from the Shinonome family. Natsumi is the eldest daughter of the Amemiya family leader."
…Didn't the Amemiya family only have one daughter?
"And Rhys there, although mixed, is the youngest of the Mikazuchi family."
Mikazuchi...that family who wears to masks and rarely makes an appearance?
"They are all here for various reasons. I could tell you why…but I'll spare them and let them tell you when they are ready."
After Isuzu finished speaking, the four backed away and went back to where they were originally standing/sitting. Zen and Tsuge also moved back to where they were. When things had calmed down, Isuzu turned to look at me.
"Mana, why don't you tell them a little about you?"
I nodded my head, pretending as if I didn't learn something amazing, I introduce myself without leaving anything out. "I am Shimizu Mana. As you've guessed, I'm from the Shimizu family and the last surviving descendent from what I know."
Suddenly, a loud crash sounded throughout the room and all eyes turned to the source. Tsuge had knocked over an expensive looking vase. That brief silence after he broke the vase was very tense and awkward.
Clearing my throat, I continued. "I don't have a specialization and use my knowledge of martial arts and Ki to help me fight with my sword." I removed the invisibility ability from my sword and held it up. "This is my sword…or rather a katana from my family called Fuyuki."
Tsuge hissed out in pain as he cut himself on his hand, while picking up the broken pieces of the vase. This time, everyone showed confusion and doubt. What was going on with him? Tsuge, who was usually calm and barely showed any expressions was acting very strange.
Isuzu covered his mouth to try and stop himself from laughing, but couldn't hold out any longer. "Hahaha! How clumsy." At that moment he had actually looked like his age, making his killing intent from earlier seem like a dream. "Let's ignore the clumsy person over there." Isuzu moved his hand and stopped laughing. "Then, Mana-chan. We'll continue the rest another time…for now…since we've become familiar with each other…"
Everyone turned to look at me. Some with a smile, some while expressionless and one while worried. With Isuzu giving him their support, it made this group of different types, seem even more mysterious and breathtaking.
With his legs crossed and his hands clasped on his knees and a smile on his face and yet with his eyes that were cold and calculating, he welcomed me as a new comrade. However, what he didn't know was that because of this new addition, everything he planned for and everything he wished for, would end up becoming something that will startle everyone in the room.
Because at that moment, I was sure I had become an unpredictable factor in his goals.
"Welcome to Cocytus."
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I stood in the middle of the field of wild flowers. With my eyes closed, I cleared my head from unnecessary thoughts and listened to the different voices in the air. Even though it was night time, there were many different voices that I picked up on. Taking a deep breath, I calmed my erratic heart and in turn calmed my raging emotions.
"How long are you going to make me wait?" I asked the empty space in front of me in a low, calm tone. Even though I nearly spoke in a whisper, I was sure that he had heard me. After exactly 127 seconds passed, the presence that had hid away made itself known.
I slowly opened my eyes and the empty space in front of me was no longer empty. Although it was night and today was a new moon, my eyes had long gotten used to the darkness. I could clearly see the outline and appearance of the person in front of me.
"It seems as if we'll be working together starting from today," he replied back in an equally, calm voice. "I wanted to extend my welcome to you as well."
A small flame danced in the shadows of my eyes, my killing intent seeping out. Before he could detect it, I quickly suppressed it and calmed myself down again. "What do you mean?"
He smiled and lifted his hand, pointing behind me. I didn't need to turn around to see that someone was there. It was Natsumi, from the Amemiya family. It didn't take me long to figure out that there was a connection between them. "What is it that you want from me? Revenge for killing your brother?" I asked, letting my annoyance for this situation enter my voice.
Ukyo looked startled, but then came back to his sense and suddenly laughed. "Don't be mistaken. Although I did admire him, it can't be helped. In our line of business…or rather, in this world, dying means we weren't strong enough. Besides, he had long lost his will to live."
"I only wanted to introduce you to my disciple and pass down a message from your master…opps, former master I mean. A few days before you killed him, he came to look for me and asked me for a favor."
I widened my eyes is surprise and then took a deep breath to calm myself. When Ukyo saw that I had calmed down, he continued and told me what Ryuko's last words for me was. When he finished, I turned around and intended to leave, facing Natsumi's fake appearance.
"Wait." Ukyo called out behind me. When he saw that I stopped walking, he asked me something which surprised me but made Natsumi's fake appearance flicker. She was apparently shocked at what he said. "Why don't you become my student? I'm a much better master than my brother and I can promise that you'll become much stronger."
I shivered. Not in excitement as his proposal, but in fear as I remembered Ryuko's cruel training. His training wasn't to make you stronger, but to strip all of your emotions and to kill without hesitation. Without answering, I continued walking but not before hearing him sigh and say that he wouldn't give me up.
As I brushed by Natsumi, I smiled as I thought about her and the rest of the members of Cocytus. I softly chuckled next to her ears and whispered. "I'll look forward to working with you, Natsumi-chan."
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The next day early morning, I received notice from Elvy that Sayako wanted to see me. It was a request. Now that I was formally part of Cocytus there weren't many who could order me. Isuzu and Zen were the only two who could call for me. While Cocytus was a secret group created by Isuzu, with his authority I was given a higher rank. That's why when Elvy came to my room, she worded it in a different way.
There were also other benefits from being a subordinate of the Mikage family. First, I was aloud in and out of the Imperial House without asking for permission. Second, I no longer had to train with the others. Third, I was given special permission to access important data. The first two wasn't important, however, the last benefit was what I needed.
Standing in front of Saya's door, getting ready to knock, I was startled when it suddenly opened and Elvy stood in front of me.
"You can go now, Elvy." Said a voice from behind her. Elvy turned around and gave a short bow before leaving. Closing the door behind me, I walked inside. I was surprised that she told Elvy to leave. Then…was there something she wanted to tell me that she didn't want anyone else to hear?
"Sit." Saya said, pointing to the chair. After sitting down, she crossed her legs and looked at me for a while before saying anything. "I went to visit Kamito's family. I talked with them about how he had a girl he wanted to protect."
My eyes twitched, but as if it didn't bother me, my expression quickly changed back as I calmly looked at her to continue.
"I'm guessing you know about his family."
This time I couldn't contain my surprise from showing. Catching on, she continued. "It's not that surprising. I know all about the guardians here. The Imperial House is after all the one who brings stability to our country."
When she said that, I felt a shiver run through me and glared at her. Does this mean she knows about me?
"His family wanted me to give this to you. It was something he gave to his litter sister." She put a small blue box on her desk, in front of me. I didn't reach out to take it. She smiled, but didn't say anything more about it. "Also…take the folder beneath it with you."
I took a look to see what she was talking about, to find a red folder sitting beneath the box.
"That folder…should have information important to you in it. Make sure you don't let anyone else see it and properly dispose of it after memorizing the content."
I narrowed my eyes. "Why…give it to me?"
She continued to smile but didn't say anything. Seeing as how she wouldn't say anything more, I stood up, intending to leave. Before I opened the door, she said something. After hearing what she said I closed the door and left.
After walking a short distance, without knowing why, I found myself standing in front of Zen's private office and thought back to what Saya said to me.
"Kamito isn't the only person who wanted to protect you."
Standing in the courtyard beneath a cherry blossom tree that no longer bloomed, I let the cold wind caress my face as I played with a white cat in my arms. With different colored eyes, one blue and the other gold, it had the appearance of something not from this world. It perfectly reflected the two sides of who I am. Petting its soft fur and scratching it under his chin, I put my thoughts into words.
"A little more and I'll finally return to his side."
The cat looked at me as if worried, purring as I continued petting it. "Are you worried?" As if replying to my question, it rubbed its face against my hand. I smiled in response. "It'll be okay. Have you forgotten…who my master is?"
The cat jumped out of my arms, taking one last glance back at me, it turned around and ran off. Watching as it left, I took a deep breath and sighed as I turned around and looked at the all the papers spread around the floor in my room. Included in the papers was detailed information about the members of Cocytus, their reason for joining and also about the level 7 Akatsu. And most importantly…
Leaning down, I picked up one of the papers and scanned over it. One the paper was the picture and name of Kanzaki Seimei and information that could destroy the Kanzaki family.
"Now…" I whispered to myself. "What to do…"
Holding up a silver spinning, heart shaped sapphire pendant in front of my eyes, I watched as the name Kaya inscribed on the heart danced in circles. With a complicated expression, I put the necklace in my pocket.
After all, I didn't suit such a beautiful jewelry. For now, I could only hold on to it.
A/N: I'll be on hiatus until March 2017 and will start back up again. There will be a few changes to this book, like the title and also appearance and abilities of the characters. I'll also be extending past chapters and maybe split them into extra chapters. Thank you for reading up until now. In March, I will also be working on a new novel that will focus on friendship and romance.