Actions

Work Header

Down till You Fall

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

The Provisional Twenty-first Member

June 30th, 2017: Sanguinem

“Respected vampires of the Literature Committee,” Yuu said, his eyes slowly panning across the room. “I have come before you tonight in regard to the work of one Peter Paole, royal poet of the court of our glorious Queen Krul.”

***

“Wish me luck, Iulian-sensei,” Yuu said to Iulian precisely one hour before the start of his meeting. Despite the fact that they spoke in English, Yuu had worn him down to the address a few months ago; “Mr. Vladimirescu” was just too much of a mouthful to say every time. “You’ve been a real pal. I couldn’t have done it without you. And, uh, you’re the best for cancelling our session today, of course.”

For a moment, Iulian seemed to swing between wild desperation and frantic laughter before settling back into gloom. “I’m afraid the job is not yet done. It is sad, but…scientists in all manner of eras have found that their work means nothing if they cannot present it in a way that the ruling bodies will accept. So…I wish you the best in the trial ahead.”

With a solemn nod, Yuu pivoted on his heel and marched out the door.

***

“When examining the work of such an accomplished author, even an august group such as yours may miss some of the exquisite subtleties contained within.

In such a case, it would only be natural to welcome the advice of someone who is, without a doubt, an expert in the subject.”

“Without a doubt?” The severe voice of Kylian Royer, fifteenth progenitor, rang out into the room. “We will require some evidence to support your claim.”

Kylian was seated closest to Yuu on the right side of a large oval table, his clothing grander than those around him. Besides the table, the only other items of note in the conference room were an interactive white board and a podium, both of which Yuu declined to use for the moment. Each of the twenty members of the Literature Committee were in possession of an informational packet he had provided, some of them flipping through it while others had their eyes fixed on Yuu.

Thanks to Fionnuala’s scouting, Yuu knew that Kylian was the highest-ranking noble on the committee…well, the only one, besides Chess. She’d described him as “belligerent and difficult to get along with,” which Yuu had duly translated into “one of the biggest assholes you’ll ever meet.”

“Of course,” Yuu said. “I’ll go into it in as much detail as you would like.”

***

The first step in his plan had been to familiarize himself with Peter Paole’s oeuvre—that is, all thirteen of his previously published novels.

Obtaining them had been a trick and a half, considering the bustling state of the palace library, but he’d managed to get his hands on a complete set within only three days. Peter had provided a few of them himself, wholly ignorant to Yuu’s plans at this stage and rather flattered to find his student taking such an eager interest in his work.

***

“I can speak for the quality of his novels myself”—they were indeed very terrible—“and, as his student, I am familiar with him on an academic level as well. I have written several essays on their contents, two of which are published and a further three awaiting review. With those credentials, it is accurate to say that I am one of the foremost scholars of Peter Paole in existence.”

Yuu was mature enough to admit he wasn’t one of the greatest writers around. He was only twelve, after all. Therefore, he’d thought it prudent to do a bit of outsourcing…

“Mr. Hyakuya,” a placid voice interjected. “Am I to understand your coverage is quite thorough?”

The owner was Bahargül Ismailov, a vampire Yuu would place in her early forties. Despite her calm voice, Yuu found her eyebrows to be very expressive; a glint of indigo glimmered at her pointed ears, her long hair carefully arranged to show them off.

“My full literature review can be found on page eight of your packets,” Yuu said, “to peruse at your leisure.”

While Bahargül acknowledged his words with the slightest of nods, her daughter, Aýnabat, flipped open her packet. The description was quite literal, in this case: Aýnabat, sixteen in appearance, was Bahargül’s child from when she was human, just as her mother also happened to be her sire now that they were vampires.

“Now,” Yuu said, “I’ll move onto the main body of proof.”

***

When he’d first told Chizue and Michi of his plans in early May, the reactions had been mixed.

“You want—every single one I can think of?” Chizue asked, her voice a broken whimper.

“That’s right,” Yuu said. “I can’t risk leaving a single stone unturned.”

“I held back before,” Michi declared, “but I have to say it. I mean—Chizue-chan—you must know that some of them make reference to, uh, material of a—”

“The…the love scenes,” Chizue said. “He’s talking about…the love scenes…so, whenever two characters start…touching each other a lot…you should just skip those parts. Gloss over them as much as possible.”

“You’re talking about sex,” Yuu said. That took him a while to parse. Had they suddenly forgotten Japanese? “I always hate when authors waste time with that sort of junk, too. I mean, I get that most romances involve it, but it almost never adds to the characterization or the plot…just once, I want a girl to pull a dagger out from under her skirt and—”

***

“I am aware of one hundred and forty-five novels that engage with the relevant topic,” Yuu said. “Of that number, one hundred and ten are the property of the palace library. The other thirty-five are housed in private collections. This is documented on page thirty-two; I included the title, author, genre, and location for each.”

“A respectable list,” Prakash Ranganathan said, a smile playing at the edges of his lips. “Compiling such material and understanding it, however, are two different beasts, Mr. Hyakuya.”

Yuu could tell that Prakash looked down on him, but that didn’t mean it was necessarily impossible for Yuu to persuade him to his point of view. In any case, there was no need to respond disproportionately to such an obvious taunt.

“Naturally,” Yuu said. “Beginning on page thirty-eight, I’ve written summaries of the relevant portion of each work for your reference. You may, of course, look up the originals yourselves, but as you can see from the signatures included on the final page, I’ve had them verified for accuracy and objectivity.”

***

“Sorry, Chizue,” Yuu said. “I’ll get your signature on a backup document just in case, but…”

Chizue had already read several of the books relevant to his studies and her help had been invaluable for locating them in a timely fashion. What’s more, she had even assisted him with writing the summaries as well…and yet, he wasn’t able to give her credit for her hard work. With guilt front and center in his heart, he hoped he would be able to get his hands on something useful for pregnancies soon.

She brushed his concerns away with a wave of her hand. “No, it’s fine. I understand completely. It’s possible that someone might go out of their way and question which ‘respectable authority’ reviewed your content summaries, correct?”

***

“So, who exactly are these people?” asked Suzume Amano. She tilted her head, shifting a ponytail kept in place by a sky-blue scrunchie.

Trust a “free spirit” to get all pedantic about the details…fine! Just remember: you asked for it.

“I’m so glad you asked,” Yuu said.

***

Yuu was responsible, right? Totally organized and dependable? Alas, there comes a point in every capable person’s life…

“Putting it on hold, hm?”

…where one must acknowledge the truth: he had way too much on his plate right now.

“Yeah,” Yuu said with a sigh. “I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me so far, Dubois-sensei, but this new project has to take priority, at least for the next month or so.”

To be honest, he wasn’t one-hundred-percent caught up with the entries for his book project, so it would be convenient to have an excuse to halt the intake of new ones for now.

“I see,” Sylvianne said, holding her teacup with an artful tremble. “I suppose this current endeavor of yours has no need of a historian’s expertise.”

Yuu thought about it. “Well, it’s not like I’m thinking of making you do any work, but there is one way you could help me out. If you’re willing, that is.”

She puffed out her chest. “Leave it to me!”

“Uh, are you sure you don’t want to know what you have to do before you agree…?”

***

“First, there’s Sylvianne Dubois, royal historian,” Yuu said, spreading his arms out for emphasis. “Literature may not be her field, but there’s no one more passionate about documenting the facts, I assure you.”

His words were pure truth—when it came to history, anyway. Sylvianne evinced nothing but the most lukewarm of pretenses towards caring about his reading material, but she proclaimed that she trusted the quality of Yuu’s work, and in the case that some fault was found with it, her signature was—funnily enough—but a forgery.

“Sylvianne Dubois is one of your tutors, right?” said Kelia Collingwood. “You must be so close…I’m envious.”

Kelia was well-known for being something of a loner, even among vampires. And yet, she’d lived in Sanguinem since its founding, so city life must agree with her.

“I’m sorry?” Yuu said. “Are you truly maligning the work of one of the most honored historians here at court”—that turn of phrase had come straight from the mouth of Sylvianne herself—“based on a notion you’ve formed on…what evidence, exactly?”

“Did I say that?” said Kelia. “No, no. I just wanted to clarify.”

Clarify it for everyone here, you mean, Yuu thought sourly.

…Maybe he’d laid it on a bit too thick. Time for damage control.

“My apologies, Ms. Collingwood,” he said. “My great respect for Ms. Dubois lead me to speak more harshly than I would otherwise. I pray you can forgive me.”

“Already done,” Kelia said.

“In that case,” Yuu said, “I’ll move on.”

***

Once Yuu had burned through the material Chizue was familiar with, he felt a deep reluctance to continue.

He knew he had to, but it was just so boring. So dull, God, why was he doing this to himself…

And that’s when the idea came to him: screw doing it by himself. Why waste the time when he could bribe others to do it for him?

“I have a crap-ton of work to do already,” Yuu said, “before you get the idea that I’m pawning it all off on other people. I just really can’t bring myself to care about these dumbass summaries. So…”

Kimi tapped her chin. “Are you sure you want me to do it? I’m just a kid. If you were already going to ask someone, then surely you could find a person with more skill and experience?”

“I’ve read your writing. You’re fine,” Yuu said.

Across the room, Hotaru yawned, lounging on a pile of cushions Yuu had procured for them.

“Genius as always, Yuuichirou,” Hotaru said. “You haven’t realized the flaw in your master plan?”

Yuu wracked his brain. After a few moments, he scowled. “What flaw?”

“Kimi doesn’t know English,” she said. “You dip.”

“Oh,” Yuu said. “I totally forgot about that.”

“I figured,” said Hotaru. “But guess who does?”

***

Yuu, Chizue, and Hotaru had covered most of the summaries between the three of them. But Yuu thought it would be a good idea to have another vampire besides Sylvianne backing them up in order to achieve the maximum professional aura possible.

“Lia Fierro, lady seneschal, reviewed them as well,” Yuu said. And if his pleasure shined through, then he couldn’t be blamed; it had been a real coup.

“No way,” said Chinatsu Chabashira, leaning back against her chair.

Despite being an ordinary common vampire in most ways, Chinatsu did have one claim to fame: she had experienced the burn of the sun no less than twelve times. Yuu thought wistfully back to the days when he thought exposure to ultraviolet rays could kill a vampire. It turned out that was a popular misconception; in actuality, the rays activated a dormant toxin within vampire bodies, causing them to ignite into eternal flames, unable to die nor starve properly and transform into a demon. It was considered one of the worst tortures a vampire could experience.

“You have my assurances,” Yuu said, “and her signature, of course.”

***

When he had first raised the subject of involving another vampire to Fionnuala, she had gotten straight to the point.

“You need someone who isn’t your tutor,” she said. “Someone you don’t interact with much, but who would have reason to support your cause…and someone whose word can’t be doubted. It’s clear there’s a superior candidate who would fit the bill.”

“I agree,” Yuu said.

An expectant pause filled the air.

That was to say, Yuu waited expectantly for Fionnuala to provide the answer.

“You should ask the lady seneschal,” Fionnuala said at last.

“Oh,” Yuu said. “Her.”

“Yes, her,” said Fionnuala. “Accusing the right hand of the queen of partiality would be unthinkable—and yet, at the same time, there is a clear reason for her to be partial. An ideal situation.”

“A clear reason?” Yuu asked. “Wait, you know about those old rumors?”

“It’s not an unreasonable conclusion,” said Fionnuala, “from the available evidence, anyway. Besides, it’s only natural for a sire to indulge her child on occasion. With her power backing you, no one could possibly—”

Fionnuala stopped short, as if she just remembered something.

“What is it?” Yuu said.

“No, it’s nothing,” she said. “It doesn’t matter for the moment. More importantly, you should ask the lady seneschal as close to your deadline as possible, but before we put in the request for the meeting.”

“You mean that…you don’t want me to let her know what it’s for?”

“It will be revealed to her eventually; of that I have no doubt,” Fionnuala said. “But a little time-honored trickery never hurt anyone. She might even be impressed.”

“Okay, fine,” Yuu said. “I get why asking her is a good idea, but even without the full picture, why would she agree to verify their accuracy?”

“Oh, young master,” she said. “Trust me—she will.”

***

“Then I think there can be no further room for doubt,” Mitra Dawan said, “on the matter of the novel summaries.”

Yuu didn’t know what to make of their dark, cool eyes. He couldn’t get a read on what they were thinking at all.

“Well then,” Yuu said. “I’ll reveal the results of my qualitative analysis.”

Turning his back on his audience, Yuu walked over to the podium.

***

“Ms. Slaski?” Yuu said.

“Yes, Yuuichirou?” said Aneta, her hand stilling mid-equation.

“If it’s okay for me to ask an off-topic question,” Yuu said, “I was wondering if you could teach me to use one of those?”

“One of those?”

“The fancy white board,” Yuu said.

“Oh, that,” Aneta said. “W-well, it’s, it’s connected to the computer at my desk. It also has a c-clicker—see?”

She displayed a rectangular black device that fit into the palm of her hand.

“Neat,” Yuu said. “You know, I respect you a lot, Ms. Slaski. None of my other tutors have adapted to the twenty-first century as well as you.”

She lowered her eyes. “I…I would not dare claim that I, that I was above them in any way. Certainly not.”

“Good thing I was the one who said it!” Yuu said. “Anyway, I was hoping you’d be able to help me make a presentation…I’m really at a loss here, you see, and I just know there’s no one better I could ask…”

***

Grabbing the clicker from one of the podium’s inner shelves, Yuu turned on the interactive white board. Messing with a laptop also hidden there, he loaded up the presentation just as Aneta had showed him. The only price for her cooperation had been picking a math-related theme; Yuu hadn’t possessed the strength to refute Aneta’s quick hands and eager expression.

One vampire, Blanchard Rambeau, looked especially intrigued by Yuu’s deft handling of technology, but didn’t raise his voice. Yuu wasn’t surprised; he was rumored to be involved in Sanguinem’s black market, acquiring various electronic items from the surface. It wasn’t that such items were illegal, but rather that the queen kept those who were allowed to sell them on a tight leash.

Going quickly past the electric-blue pluses and minuses on the title card, Yuu got into the meat of his presentation.

“Every one of the books I read were deemed appropriate for consumption by vampire society here in Sanguinem,” said Yuu, “either by not appearing objectionable to anyone or by receiving approval from this very committee, as occurred in three cases. I thought it was important to understand what exactly was contained within those pages.

And so, I performed a qualitative analysis, with Iulian Vladimirescu as my supervisor.”

***

Iulian, of course, had been thrilled to be a part of Yuu’s undertaking.

“I…” he began. “I’m so…”

“I wanted to go about this in the most scientific way possible,” Yuu assured him. “I know we’ve gone over quite a few experiments by now, but we haven’t really covered research methods and design, so I was hoping you could look over the categories I came up with and tell me if everything looks alright. I’ll be conducting all the actual research myself, of course.”

“You’ll be doing all the coding yourself?” Iulian murmured. “No…before that…”

“I know it’s beyond the requirements of your duties,” Yuu said, “but I think it’ll be good for us. You’ll get to tell me all about research, and I’ll have a nice, shiny little study. It’ll be great.”

“You’re…you’re supposed to learn about biology!” Iulian said. It was the loudest Yuu had ever heard him speak. Yuu was very proud.

“I know, Iulian-sensei,” Yuu said. “I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned so much that one might say a break is warranted. Not a break from learning, but rather a break from biology, so that I may return to the topic with fresh eyes and invigoration.”

Iulian’s head dropped onto his desk, as if his neck had stopped supporting it.

“Alright,” Yuu said. “How should I begin?”

***

“The code glossary includes each code’s full name, abbreviation, definition, when it should be applied, and text examples.”

“What is a ‘code’ in this context?” asked one particularly bored-looking vampire.

Thomas “Tommi” Korhonen…his question was perfectly reasonable, but the air around him was flippant, as if he didn’t care what the answer would be. He seemed to be in his early thirties, with medium-toned brown hair and a matching beard.

“Coding is the process by which data is categorized,” Yuu said, “so a code can be considered a descriptive name for a particular piece of observable data.”

***

Despite the vast amounts of information his project was producing, Yuu still wondered if the raw material he had gathered would be enough.

“I think I found almost everything written in English and Japanese,” Yuu said, having explained it all to Xue. “I don’t think anything written in Latin is relevant? Anyway. What if someone pulls out some book written in Spanish and tries to invalidate my research?”

“Is that an earnest concern of yours?”

“You know a ton of languages, right?” Yuu said with a winning smile.

Xue stared at him, her gaze level.

“Mr. Hyakuya,” she said. “It is not necessary for any given study to find every example, though it can. For instance, someone may want to know the population of noble vampires in Sanguinem, while another might want a census containing all vampires.”

“I see,” Yuu said. “I guess it’s fine then.”

Xue sighed. “I won’t go out of my way, but if I ever hear of such a novel, I will let you know.”

“Really?” Yuu said. “Thank you so much!”

In the end, she did end up contributing one novel. Whether her French-to-English translation was accurate would have to remain a mystery.

***

“It’s really a lot more simple than it sounds,” Yuu said. “I won’t go over all of the results—they’re really just there to display my thoroughness and for your own interpretation—but I’ll point out a few examples…let’s see.”

The pause was just for dramatic effect. Yuu already prepared what he wanted to talk about in advance, of course.

“In the category of heterosexual romance,” Yuu said, “you can see that it was slightly more common for the vampire to be a man and the human to be a woman; a 55-45 ratio.”

“Interesting,” said Shinobu Hisamatsu. Their hair was unusually long, extending to just before their waist. “I wonder if human prejudice has anything to do with it.”

“The purpose of this research wasn’t to develop a theory,” said Yuu, “but rather to prove my expertise in the subject. So I couldn’t say.”

***

“Mr. Hyakuya!” Vinícius said as Yuu came into class one evening.

“Hello, Mr. Mata,” Yuu said, keeping his reluctance private.

“I hear that you are going to be presenting in front of the Literature Committee,” he said. “And in two weeks, no less!”

“How did you know that?” Yuu demanded. That was privileged information. He had been telling people it was for an assignment to impress his wonderful literature tutor.

“Captain Farkas related the news to me just last night,” he said.

Agi! Yuu hadn’t even thought to hold back when talking to her. He knew she was a gossip, of course, but he thought she knew the difference between secrets and juicy tidbits. But if she goes around telling Vinícius things, of all people, then Yuu needed to seriously reconsider her trustworthiness.

“Why would she do that?” Yuu said. “Has she told other people?”

Vinícius’ expression became miffed. “I imagine not.”

Yuu squinted at him, but he didn’t crack.

“I’ll believe you for now,” Yuu said generously. “…What were you going to say originally?”

***

“For how much longer are we required to listen to this farce?” Franc Kozel snarled.

Yuu kept his expression steady, although inwardly his mood could be described as not pleased.

“Now, now,” said Ken Kajitani. “There are charts and data. I think a comedian would run out of steam long before that point.”

Franc’s features were sharp, almost rat-like, while Yuu could best describe Ken as—bland. He was the kind of vampire you could pass in the street and never think twice about.

“This is ridiculous!” Franc said. “We don’t need an expert in—"

“You’ve agreed to hear me out,” Yuu said, cutting him off, “and I am afraid I am not done speaking. Will you sit down now, Mr. Kozel?”

***

“That’s right,” said Vinícius. “Two weeks! Where’s the draft of your speech? I’ve no doubt it’s dreadful.”

“Draft?” Yuu said blankly. “Do I really have to write something out for this? I was just going to explain my work.”

Vinícius appeared to be rather worked up. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he said, “Yes, it’s quite necessary. And not only the speech itself; you must be prepared for rebuttals, questions, and concerns of all kinds.”

He drew in a breath and stood firm.

“You are a student of the most accomplished etiquette master in court! And what’s more, I was charged to tutor you in the art of conversation,” he said. “Very well. I, Vinicius Mata, swear it: you shall not embarrass yourself, even if it’s the last thing I do!”

***

Even Vinícius Mata, Yuu hoped, would be able to say that he handled the sudden flare-up with grace.

Clicking to the next slide, Yuu continued his presentation from where he left off, as if he had never been interrupted. He admired the uniform gracefulness of the slide dissolving into tiny squares and reforming into something new.

Even as he opened his mouth to speak again, Yuu couldn’t help but sneak a glance at one vampire in particular. When Fionnuala said that someone on the committee used to be a samurai, well, who wouldn’t be interested?

However, Susumu Mishima didn’t stand out. His arms crossed, he had listened to Yuu so far in patient silence. Still, Yuu didn’t think it wouldn’t be wise to mess with him.

On a bloody battlefield, Susumu had been surrounded by corpses, but his body, barely clinging to life, had been abandoned by his comrades. A traveling vampire had happened by and saved him. That was his sire’s intention, anyway. Yuu wondered what kind of story he’d have to tell, if he asked him to contribute to his book project sometime…

Shaking himself out of his mental tangent, Yuu pressed on.

***

“Captain!” Yuu said, nearly pouncing on Agi.

“Yuuichirou!” Agi said. “Did I do it right?”

“Never mind that,” Yuu said. “Why’d you go and spill the beans to Vinícius Mata? I told you it was a deadly secret!”

“Viní?” Agi said. “I thought he was an exception, since he’s also in the know…you know? Besides, we go way back. He’s a good friend of mine!”

Yuu was still trying to process “Viní” when “good friend” knocked him out cold.

“There’s no way…” Yuu said. “It’s just…not possible…”

Agi, the very appearance of concern, waved her hands in front of Yuu’s face, but he didn’t say another word.

Someone buy him a coffin; Yuu wasn’t crawling out for a long, long time.

***

“That’s all I had to say on the topic of the study,” Yuu said. “Does anyone have any questions?”

As usual, vampire memory was the gift that kept on giving. Once Vinícius and Yuu had finalized the speech to their (mostly Vinícius’) satisfaction, all he had to do was read the page once and he couldn’t fail to remember it. It was like having invisible notecards floating in front of his face. Without that ability, Yuu was sure he wouldn’t have managed anything nearly so eloquent.

“I have one,” said Meheitav’el Pascal. Yuu thought her skin was extraordinarily smooth-looking, even for a vampire. She was also the eldest in present company, hovering somewhere around four-thousand years old. “Why did you choose only primary sources? Why not review any academic articles—in a literature review, perhaps?”

You mean, why didn’t I stick my neck out and spout my opinions?

There were several reasons. First, there really wasn’t a lot on the topic in academia. Second, if he were to formulate a thesis, that would be equivalent to taking an ideological and political stance; an inherently messy prospect to defend.

“Something like this has never been done before, to my knowledge,” Yuu said. “I didn’t want to bite off more than I can chew. Besides, there’s plenty of time to expand or build on this research in the future.”

***

“Apparently, the lady seneschal is only free on Wednesday around midnight,” Fionnuala reported.

Yuu frowned. “If I’m going to visit Krul’s library, I want to make the best of it…but I’ll miss Minami-sensei’s class.”

“This opportunity is essential,” Fionnuala said. “I will send a message saying you are indisposed. I’m sure he will be understanding.”

***

“Oh?” said Lisanne van Asch. “Do you plan to continue soon?”

Her wavy black hair fell to the middle of her back; her eyes were equal in color. She was a gambler known for her prodigious amount of luck, but no doubt there was a decent amount of skill to go with it. As expected for a vampire favored by chance, her voting pattern was just as capricious, yet landed her on the majority side more often than not.

“Not for a few years, most likely,” Yuu said. “I have a lot of other interests to pursue.”

“Such accomplishments at such a young age,” she said. “The future of Sanguinem’s intelligentsia seems bright indeed.”

“Not really,” Yuu demurred. Well, he couldn’t imagine sticking around long enough to make those kinds of waves anyway.

“We’ll just have to see, then,” Lisanne said. Lacing her hands together and placing them beneath her chin, Yuu saw that she was wearing several rings. One of them was matte black, with a red diamond etched into its face.

Concluding his interaction with her, Yuu asked, “Any more questions?”

***

Once more making the trek up to Krul’s private library, Yuu wondered how he could possibly get Lia to assist him. Fionnuala seemed confident, but Yuu was far less certain. Surely his scheme would be seen through? And if it was, what then?

He found Lia waiting for him at the entrance.

“Do what you like,” she said, her fingers tapping away on her phone.

“Well…before that,” Yuu said.

She glared down at him. “What?”

“I’m working on a project for literature,” Yuu began, “where I had to summarize a lot of novels. Over one hundred! But you see, I have to get someone to verify their accuracy—make sure they’re not biased, basically. I already got one vampire to sign, but I need one more.”

“And this vampire did the same amount of work?” Lia said. “Ridiculous.”

“Absolutely,” Yuu said. “So you wouldn’t have to go through that yourself! Unless you wanted to.”

“Who is the imbecile in question?” Lia sniffed.

“My history tutor, Sylvianne Dubois,” Yuu said.

Lia brightened, as if a switch had been flipped. “Ms. Dubois, hm? Naturally, I had no idea. I was very impressed with Vampiric Torture Methods and Executions Through the Ages. If she concluded your work was satisfactory, then I shall sign it.”

Now doubly determined not to cross Lia in the future, Yuu transferred his papers into her willing arms.

***

“No one else?” Yuu asked, chipper. “Well then. As you can see, there is no greater expert on vampire-human romance in all of Sanguinem. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.”

“I cannot believe that was real,” Abhijit Singha said immediately.

“It could have been a bet,” Joni Venäläinen said in a thoughtful tone.

“I have not yet set the timer!” Kylian said, gnashing his teeth. The fangs added an interesting dimension to the act, Yuu thought.

While Kylian left the room, Yuu considered the two vampires who had just weighed in. Abhijit was a vampire with a strong sense of fairness, apparently; he would cast his vote based on what he thought was right, no matter how unpopular the opinion was.

As for Joni, he lived an ordinary-enough life, but held himself at arm’s length from his peers. Most of the time, he took the “politically correct” path, rarely getting into extended arguments with the others.

In a flash, Kylian returned, placing an hourglass on the table with surprising restraint.

“If you would turn around,” he said, and so Yuu did. It wasn’t the end of the world; his ears still worked at full capacity.

“Ten minutes. No more, no less.” Yuu listened to the displacement of air and the thud as the hourglass was flipped over.

“That was the cutest thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life, guys,” said Suzume. “A bet? No way!”

“Then it is you who is naïve, I’m afraid,” said Bahargül.

“A product such as this is not produced without passion,” said Josefina Sala.

Although he wasn’t able to see her expression at the moment, Yuu knew that out of all the members of the Literature Committee, it was she who held the most interest in, well, literature itself. The amount of times she voted against an author were extremely rare.

“It would be foolish to deny that,” said Prakash. “But passion towards what end?”

“What are you implying?” said Blanchard.

“Forgive me, esteemed colleagues, but most children don’t dream of making their mark in academia,” he said.

“I find your line of thought quite leading, Mr. Ranganathan,” said Meheitav’el. “Objectivity has no value in this committee. Only two things are relevant for the current discussion: whether Yuuichirou Hyakuya is an expert, and whether his services are needed. I believe the first point has been answered to the majority’s satisfaction.”

Murmurs of assent swept across the room.

“It’s obvious he’s unnecessary,” said Franc. “There’s nothing about this case that we can’t handle ourselves.”

“That last part is the key,” said Kelia. “Come on. Think just a little bit harder about it…”

“That’s true enough,” said Chinatsu, “but don’t we also have to think of, um…our dignity?”

“We lost all pretensions of dignity back in 1701,” said Tommi. “Remember? The time when—"

“The Great Toothpaste Debacle!” Aýnabat said, accompanied by the slam of fist hitting table. “That was a trip. Good times.”

“Well, obviously we know that,” Chinatsu said. “But what about the rest of the city?”

“I think it’s possible to be dangerous and silly at the same time?” said Ken. “I mean, Lord Kylian—”

“What?” said Kylian.

“What are your thoughts on the matter?” asked Ken.

“I concur with Mr. Kozel,” said Kylian. “An expert is not needed in the case of Peter Paole.”

“We value your wisdom,” said Lisanne, “as much as always.”

A brief pause ensued. Yuu wished he could see the glances that were being traded around the room.

“If he were an adult, that would be one thing,” Abhijit said slowly, “but since he’s so young, it’s…probably fine.”

“I don’t think anyone would accuse a child of being—of doing—that,” said Josefina. “He’s clearly a bright and proper young mind, and industrious too.”

Yuu had no idea what they were talking about, but whatever conclusions lead them to take his side were the correct ones. If he failed here, after coming so far, what would he tell everyone who helped him out? Sorry, guys: I got an F on my assignment.

And then there was Fionnuala, Agi, and Vinícius, who actually knew what was going on. They’d hardly be eager to help him out again if he let them down.

No…he was panicking over nothing. He was in the same room with the people discussing his fate; he couldn’t afford to show weakness.

But passion towards what end? Prakash had said.

Yuu would show him, show all of them, when the time came—not a second earlier.

“Industrious, yes,” said Mitra, once more giving Yuu no idea of how they actually felt.

“Well,” a voice said, “I, for one, am all for it!”

The voice’s owner hadn’t spoken once all night, but Yuu was aware of who it belonged to nonetheless.

Seventeenth Progenitor Chess Belle clapped her hands. “We’ve gone through this process so many times, after all. It never hurts to have a fresh perspective in order to come to the best conclusion for our wonderful city. What do you all think?”

Yuu heard several intakes of breath, and then abrupt sighs.

“Time’s up,” Susumu said.

“Mr. Hyakuya,” Kylian called.

Yuu turned around.

“You may leave,” he said. “It’s time to vote.”

***

Somehow, once Yuu left the conference room and stepped out into the hallway, he could no longer decipher the voices within—could it be thanks to a ward of some kind? Regardless of the means, the result was that Yuu had no choice but to stand in place and wait for the results.

Likelier than not, it took less than five minutes for the door to reopen; still, it felt like an eternity to Yuu. He stood up straighter and tried to project confidence.

“The vote,” said Kylian, “was fourteen to six in your favor. Congratulations.”

That was what he said, but he completely failed to project any happiness. That was alright; Yuu would be happy enough for the both of them.

“I must give you a copy of the manuscript,” he said. A servant came running up to fulfill that purpose. Yuu accepted the servant’s burden with words of thanks.

“I already informed everyone else, but because of your acceptance the hearing has been pushed back.” As Kylian spoke, the members of the Literature Committee began filing out. Yuu tried to read their faces, but he didn’t get very far. “The date is set for October 31st at 10:00 PM—I trust you won’t be late.”

“I won’t,” Yuu said.

Kylian had begun to walk away as soon as he finished speaking, but it cost Yuu nothing to be polite.

Before he knew it, he was alone—well, almost.

“Hello!” said Chess, her hands clasped behind her back. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”

She looked the same as he remembered her. Lively energy radiated from her frame as she bounced on the balls of her feet.

Yuu hadn’t really thought about it before, but he wondered how much she knew about the disaster that caused him to flee from the party at Crowley’s mansion. Yuu should probably just assume she knew everything, but there was no reason to bring it up now—or ever—and so he refrained.

“It has,” Yuu said. “How have you been?”

“Well, thank you,” Chess said. “But this is no place to catch up. Would you accept an invitation for—let’s see—ten to midnight on Sunday?”

“That should be fine,” Yuu said. “I accept.”

“Excellent!” Chess said. “You haven’t forgotten the way, have you? I’ll see you then!”

She disappeared in the nick of time. Fionnuala rounded the corner, moving more quickly than usual.

“You want to hear all about it, right?” Yuu said smugly. “I won’t leave you in suspense. I got in, of course. I’m sure the essays you wrote on Paole’s work clinched it,” he added. No one could accuse Yuu of being bad at flattery.

She really had done a nice job on them, though. Yuu had been forced to copy everyone else’s work into his own handwriting, but Fionnuala had simply asked for a sample to look at it before mimicking it perfectly.

“I know,” Fionnuala said. “The confirmation, not the essays.”

“How did you know?” Yuu said, put out by her matter-of-fact tone.

“I think we would both be very frustrated otherwise,” she said. “But never mind that. A courier gave me this. Will you open it?”

She handed Yuu a white envelope. Apprehension stirring in his mind, he did as Fionnuala asked.

YOU ARE INVITED TO PERFORM A CONCERT FOR

Third Progenitor Krul Tepes, Queen of Japan

IN THE THRONE ROOM

SATURDAY, JULY 1st

11:30 P.M.

“That…that’s tomorrow…” Yuu said.

“What’s tomorrow?” Fionnuala said. “Read it to me!”

In lieu of following her order, he handed the invitation—or rather, the command—over to her.

If Fionnuala’s face could have paled any further, Yuu’s sure it would have. “I will track down Minami-san immediately. Are you…have you become quite proficient? No, more importantly, this is clearly a pretense…”

It had been over six months since Yuu had seen the vampire queen face to face.

In that time, Yuu had performed a dozen acts of rebellion that could have drawn her ire, but they had all been met with no reaction whatsoever. So this was the one she chose to respond to after all…

…he was almost looking forward to it.