Cadis Etrama Di Raizel sighed. "Why do you need to break the seal on your power, Frankenstein?"
"I'm going to kill that wolf next door," explained his servant. "Then he won't howl or bark in the middle of the night. It'll be good for the whole neighborhood."
Raizel looked less than impressed. "We've been over this, you know. You can't kill the neighbors just because they annoy you."
"He's not even a neighbor," argued Frankenstein. "He's just one of Crombel's new servants. No one'll even miss him."
The True Noblesse took a sip of tea before commenting, "I think his brother might."
Frankenstein became agitated, as though annoyed. "They're not brothers; they can't be. Werewolves and vampires are two completely different species."
Raizel's eyes were non-committal. "That doesn't mean they don't care for each other."
Frankenstein was irritated. "But—hang on, I think I see the children. We can continue this later."
Indeed, a few moments later, there was a pounding at the door, and Frankenstein went to answer it.
Soon, Cadis Etrama Di Raizel's living room was infested with humans.
There were only four of them, but as far as Frankenstein was concerned, his master's four friends formed an unholy tetrad of annoyance and disregard for common sense. Not that this was entirely a bad thing.
"Hi, Rai," said Suyi, "we brought food!"
There weren't many humans who would willingly share blood with a vampire.
Raizel shrugged. "You didn't have to."
"But it was fun!" Yuna said. "Suyi found a vampiric cookbook and we decided to try making 'le soup de sang'. Couldn't tell whether we made it right, 'cause we think it tastes gross either way." She handed over a container. "Let us know what you think."
Rai cracked the lid, dipped his finger in to the liquid and brought it to his mouth, tasting it. He tilted his head. "Good, for a first attempt," he said. "Not to encourage this, but you do know that blood already has salt in it? You do not have to add much as you would for normal cooking."
"Told you we put in too much," Yuna smacked Shinwoo over the head.
Rai handed the container off to his butler, Frankenstein. "My thanks," he said.
Ikhan waved off his words. "It's not like we don't come over here everyday and eat through half the food in your fridge—oh, hey, want to see something cool?" he asked.
After knowing these four for as long as he had, Raizel was nothing if not cautious. "Define 'cool'," he said.
Ikhan grinned. "I got a new video game today!"
Raizel was relieved. "Interesting." He took another sip of tea.
"It's only two player, though, so we'll have to make it into a tournament," Ikhan was saying.
"I get first round!" called Yuna.
It wasn't until three hours later that Rai and Frankenstein were able to speak again.
"Bye, Rai, Lee!"
"See you tomorrow!"
Frankenstein showed the four of them to the door, and master and servant were alone once again.
Frankenstein continued his previous line of reasoning: "The wolf has got to go."
"Personal vendettas rarely end well, you know." Rai had seen too many people die at Frankenstein's hands to consider giving him free reign now.
"There's a dead bird on the lawn!" Frankenstein was still distraught. "Just sitting there with its head torn off! He's taunting me; I know it."
"And you have no proof whatsoever?" Frankenstein thought 'proof' was something only experiments required.
The manservant shook his head in disgust. "He was just sitting there, grinning like—like the wolf that killed a songbird. If you had seen him, you'd have thought the same!"
Raizel was starting to worry that he meant it this time. "Frankenstein?"
"Calm down. Give it a few days. He'll probably get bored and move on to something else. The last thing we need is to be feuding with Crombel. Rumor has it, he has connections to the Slayers."
Frankenstein took a breath. "You're right," he said. "You're right. I'll try to deal with it."
The next day, the entire lawn was covered with decapitated birds.
When they found Frankenstein, he was standing over the dead body of a werewolf with a self-satisfied smirk on his face.
This was when Raizel walked over. He sent Frankenstein home and went to speak with Crombel. The werewolf's brother was nowhere to be seen, which was probably why Frankenstein had stopped destroying things. Rai just hoped that the brother was still alive.
Well, Crombel, the werewolf's employer, was surprisingly good-natured about the whole ordeal, and had asked only to be paid for the inconvenience of finding another servant: a fee of three hundred dollars. Though more than a little unnerved by his callousness, Raizel complied, not willing to risk the wrath of the Slayers over something that was clearly his household's fault.
Rai didn't see Frankenstein for the rest of the day.
The next morning, at breakfast, Frankenstein was there, as usual, and trying to pretend that nothing had happened. He looked to still be near his breaking point, and Raizel wasn't sure why. Much as he disapproved of murder, going on a rampage usually calmed Frankenstein down.
"Other than the murder, there were no lasting consequences from yesterday," Raizel informed his servant. "Dr. Crombel settled for a three hundred dollar damages-payment, and has agreed not to press the matter further."
This seemed to break Frankenstein's composure, which was worrying because Raizel had never seen him snap twice in twenty-four hours before.
"Three hundred dollars..." his servant said. After a moment, he seemed to settle into a terrifying calm. "You know... for murder, that's not a bad price. I think I'm going to go kill Crombel also."
Raizel was out of his depth. "What?"
Frankenstein had about him a mixed aura of regret and rage."It wasn't the werewolf," he explained, "dead or alive, he's been out of commission for the past day... and have you seen the front lawn?"
Raizel walked to the front room. A few minutes later, he returned. "More dead birds," he observed.
"It was Crombel," said Frankenstein, "had to have been. The vampire wouldn't have done it, and the human servants wouldn't have dared. Well, I killed the wrong person for that crime, it'd be a shame if I didn't at least get the culprit, too."
Raizel sighed. "If you must."
Two hours later, a heavily injured Frankenstein limped back to the house and began to treat his wounds.
"Well, Crombel's definitely a Slayer," observed Frankenstein. " And not just any Slayer, he's one of the elite."
Rai was concerned. "Are you all right?"
Frankenstein waved off his concerns. "I'll be fine, master, but so will Crombel. Unfortunately."
The noble took a moment to digest this. "It's alright," Rai said. "After all, things could always be worse."
Frankenstein sighed. "No, they couldn't."
Raizel took a bite of ramen. "What do you mean?"
"That silver bullet I used on the wolf after I strangled him?" said Frankenstein, "It missed his heart."
Rai's words were cut off by a howl coming from the house next door.
"Yes," said his servant, looking annoyed. "The wolf's still alive."
If you're curious, this chapter was inspired by the Arrogant Worms song "Kill the Dog Next Door."
The next week, the four of them were going with Suyi to the music awards. As usual, going anywhere with a celebrity required quite a bit of preparation and the five of them spent a good portion of the day in readying themselves for the coming night.
Suyi, having dyed her hair purple in honor of the occasion, was happily painting her nails to match her hair and lipstick.
Ikhan and Yuna were going to cross-dress, in keeping with Suyi's 'shock sensibility' persona. Yuna had done up her hair and hidden it under a top hat which matched her tux, and was currently helping Ikhan apply his makeup.
"I feel pretty," commented the computer nerd.
"Well, you look pretty," said Suyi. "Let's see Lee Young-In top two cross-dressers in her entourage!" Suyi's rivalry with the other celebrity was no secret, and it helped give them both some media attention.
Shinwoo was over by the vanity, putting in his red contacts, which he usually wore to draw attention away from Rai. Whenever people assumed that red eyes meant vampire, Shinwoo would step in and loudly proclaim that he was human and that they were racists. So far, this had done a good job of keeping suspicion away from Raizel.
"You should paint his nails," Shinwoo suggested. "It'd go well with his guy-liner."
Ikhan shrugged. "I'm game," he said.
The first few times they'd done things like this, they'd had a very hard time keeping straight faces. However, since Suyi had taken it upon herself to fill the 'shock-loving diva' niche, there wasn't a lot that could faze them anymore.
Indeed, ever since polyamory had become popular in the celebrity circles, things had gotten... complicated. People insisted on bringing more and more dates to events, and things got more exclusive... which was probably why Suyi had been invited to the music awards as a seat-filler: among the self-proclaimed polyamorous, she was one of the saner ones. She could be counted on to be constant and moderate with her four stable 'relationship partners,' and so was a favorite among event-planners.
In truth, very few of the celebrities who followed the currently fashionable orientation were actually polyamorous, and Suyi was no exception, but she would have been foolish to miss out on free publicity. She'd formed the habit of bringing her friends to events as dates and jumping on the latest celebrity bandwagon. Lying about her sexuality perhaps wasn't the most honest thing to do, but she didn't lose much sleep over it. Not when so many other people were doing the exact same thing.
Anyway, by six that evening, all of them were ready to go, and they piled into Suyi's limo for the ride over. Seeing as Suyi and Rai's houses were practically in Beverly Hills (Yes, Beverly Hills is in Korea), it didn't take long to get to the auditorium where the awards would be taking place. After leaving the limo in Frankenstein's hands, there was only the red carpet to be walked before they were safely inside.
"I think I'm going blind," murmured Ikhan, as what seemed like the fifteenth camera flash stung his eyes.
"I can still see," Yuna said, "I can see all these lovely stars that move about my head. I just can't see around them."
"After-images don't count," said Ikhan.
When they reached the door, they saw that the auditorium had hired a new bouncer.
Suyi smiled. This part was always fun.
"Good evening!" she greeted him.
"And to you," said the man with a nod. Then he looked up from his list at the five of them, and frowned as he saw Yuna and Ikhan's clothes... and Rai and Shinwoo's eyes. His eyebrows knitted and you could almost see the gears in his mind jamming as he tried to figure out how that relationship was supposed to work out. After a few seconds, he caught himself, and looked down at his list to confirm his suspicions. "Ms. Im and 'relationship partners'?" he asked.
"Yes, that's us," said Suyi.
The bouncer waved them past. "Enjoy the show."
"Thank you!" said Suyi.
"Thanks!" said Shinwoo.
"Have a nice evening!" said Yuna.
"Thanks!" echoed Ikhan.
Rai merely nodded, and then the five of them were inside.
Well, there were only two wardrobe malfunctions and one interruption of an awardee's speech, so, all in all, it was one of the calmer award ceremonies they'd been to. Suyi's friend, Hansu, had won the award for 'Best Music Video,' so an obligatory round of the after-parties was necessary on their part.
Now, the Hollywood advent of polyamory meant that most of the typical 'date-type' social activities were awkward by celebrity logic. A romantic dinner for five? A quiet stroll through the park with four other people? Most of it just didn't work out anymore.
Dancing, however, was not one of those things. Sure, slow-dancing was more or less out, but choreographers were making a lot more money now, because casual dancing had now become an opportunity to showboat and compete. It looked a lot cooler than duo-dancing, when done right, and a lot more ridiculous, when done wrong.
Fortunately, Suyi was one of those dancers who could dominate the scene nearly effortlessly, and Rai, Shinwoo, Ikhan, and Yuna normally didn't have to do more than shuffle back and forth in synchronization. Yuna was the only other one who genuinely enjoyed dancing, so they'd usually wind up doing some sort of 3-2 split.
Honestly, if Suyi weren't seeing it with her own eyes, she wouldn't have believed anything could have convinced Raizel to dance, even as minimally as he was doing.
But, then again, Rai wasn't really what you'd expect from a rich guy, or from a vampire. He had a lot of dignity, certainly, but he wasn't elitist. Whatever he did, he did it with his composure intact.
Suyi couldn't remember ever seeing him snap over anything. So she made it a point not to make fun of him for his lack of expression on the dance-floor.
Two hours later, they called it a night and went to find Frankenstein, who'd been hiding under a bridge after an encounter with the werewolf and vampire from Crombel's staff which he'd rather not recount.
"Hello, sir," said Ikhan. "What are you doing here?"
"Hello, Ikhan. I was just admiring the engineering of the lovely piece of architecture. I take it you're done for the night?"
"Yes," said Raizel, a note of suspicion in his voice. He could tell Frankenstein was hiding something, but he decided not to press the issue.
On the drive back, the five of them were still keyed up from the night, and were unable to sit in silence.
"Well," said Yuna, "that went well." Seeing as the four of them were emancipated minors, Suyi was the bread-winner of their little group, and when she had a 'good day at the office,' so to speak, it was good for all of them.
"I'll say," said Ikhan. "That director as good as offered you a song for the soundtrack of his next movie! Plus we got to upstage Lee Young-In. It's not often we can catch her off-guard."
Suyi's rival had brought a good ten people, but they were all dressed in designer clothes and hadn't attracted as much attention as Suyi's group.
"She'll up her game next time, though, so we'll have to come up with a theme, or something for the next major event." Suyi's expression was pensive as she drifted off in thought and the conversation continued around her.
There were celebrities out there who genuinely tried not to let their fame change them. They were purists who wanted to share their talents with the world while remaining humble about their accomplishments. However, these people were not Suyi. She was well-aware that she'd gotten famous on a fluke.
Her talents were average at best, but something about her persona and music had struck a chord in young girls and, all of a sudden, it was like she was the next Hannah Montana.
Suyi thought it would be two perhaps five years before she fell into obscurity again. However, she was stretching things out as long as she could by putting herself in the thick of the celebrity scene and following the latest trends.
And, while she was nothing but grateful for each extra day she got in the limelight, Suyi couldn't help but be a bit weary of her once lifetime-goal of being famous. Sure, when you're a kid, it sounds like nothing but fun, but sometimes, Suyi just wanted to go to school, she wanted to wear normal clothes, and she didn't want to have to smile for the stupid music videos.
Still, she thought, she had a job which she didn't altogether hate, and the four of them had a stockpile of money set aside for college. And she still had some time left in the spotlight.
She smiled. Things could definitely be worse.
Expect Arrogant Worms references to continue to be subtle. The first chapter is what inspired the whole thing. I imagined the scenario, then tried to recreate the world in which it occurred. Each character has a song or two that I'm planning on using in their subplots. One of Frankenstein's was 'Kill the Dog Next Door" and one of Suyi's was "The Mountie Song."
Anyone else remember how psychotic and evil M-21 and M-24 seemed when they were first introduced? Honestly, they might have been even worse than a certain blond pure-blood (Rael, people, not Draco Malfoy).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Despite what many of their adversaries would have you believe, M's 21 and 24 were anything but stupid.
Spiteful? Most certainly.
However, they, unlike many members of their species, were aware that the world we live in is one of consequences. This enabled them to, for the most part, swallow their pride and work their disgusting job as servants to a vastly inferior human.
Things hadn't always been like this. Once, vampires and werewolves had ruled this world, with humans living out their small and frightful lives along its periphery. Then, along came the industrial revolution and, suddenly, strength and power weren't enough anymore.
In a world where machines could very nearly think and the secrets of life itself were unraveled in laboratories, what real advantage did it give you to have an extra helping of speed or some secondary mind-control powers? In today's world, that would get you a menial job, at best. For anything real, you needed a 'college education', it seemed.
That was a good portion of the reason why the two of them antagonized Frankenstein on such a regular basis: he was, himself, human, yet he served a vampire, Cadis Etrama Di Raizel.
Today, however, they didn't have to put up with Crombel or his ridiculous demands, as it was their day off. M-21 and his brother, M-24, were instead off antagonizing one of their friends, a powerful 'young' vampire of the name Rael, who spent most of his time either at the vampiric court, or lounging around the house, feeding off his blood-slaves. The two brothers were trying to get him to stop keeping those things around, but since Rael rotated out his human prisoners every six months, anyway, they were less zealous about the issue than they might have been. Today, as always, Rael wanted a sympathetic ear to listen while he carried on about his love-life.
"...and then Seira got a restraining order against me," the blond vampire finished. "Now, the only time I'm only allowed to be within fifty feet of her is at court functions."
M-24 laughed unkindly. "What did you expect, kiddo? You come on as more than a bit strong, when you care about something."
"All I said was that she was beautiful and intriguing, and that we should get married," Rael defended. "How was I to know she'd take it the wrong way?"
M-24 shrugged. "Well, if I were you, I wouldn't have said it immediately after she screamed at you to 'go away'."
"Rael, you need to learn how to deal with people," commented M-21.
"I deal with you two, don't I?" asked Rael.
"That's different," said '21. "We're your friends. We don't care if you're a jerkwad. Things are different with girls."
"You should go to school," said '24. "If you could keep from killing the other students and the profs, it'd be a step towards being able to function outside the court-bubble."
"What's wrong with the vampiric court?" Rael wanted to know.
"Kid, that place is nothing like real life. Anywhere else, you wouldn't be respected half as much for your heritage, pure-blood or no," said '24.
"Inside the court, you're an alpha," supplied '21. "Outside, you're a lone wolf. You just don't realize it because you never go anywhere but Lukedonia. But Seira? She's been traversing the globe for Regis' coming-of-age ceremony, and she knows that there's more to life than you're willing to experience."
"Oh, like your lives are so great," said Rael. "What? You want I should grovel at the feet of humanity? Perhaps take up a servant's position like you two've done? No thanks..."
"Come on, Rael," said '21, "it's not as bad as all that. Sure, we may not have power or money or infamy, a house or good clothes or free blood or no enemies. Still... what we have is glorious."
"What do you have then?"
"Well, we've got kin and pride," Said M-21
"And Fridays off," Said M-24.
"And health and dental."
"And Fridays off."
"And Fridays off."
"Water?" Rael wanted to know.
"Utilities and such," said M-21. "We live in servants' quarters. They're likely not up to your majesty's standards, but they've got something you don't: running water."
"Who needs water when you've got blood?"
"Sane people, Rael: sane people and those who feel the need to bathe."
"Utilities mean living on the grid. I know you've been doing it for years, but I don't see how you can stand living off slaughterhouse blood, '24. It's disgusting."
"It's only disgusting for the first fifty years," said '24. "After that, you just don't care anymore."
"It's not like the humans will cut you any slack for it. You've got the face of an axe-murderer and the body of a thug."
M-21 thought that was funny. "He looks just like a killer," he chortled, "but he's too well fed."
M-24 laughed also.
"I'm serious, though," Rael frowned. "People won't think any better of you for your life choices. Whereas, someone who looks like me can blend among them without so much as lifting a finger. They don't know that I regularly drink the blood of their people, and they couldn't stop me if they wanted to."
M-21 sighed. "It's not a matter of what you can get away with, or even what you'll be recognized for," he said. "It's a reflection of the value of action more than anything else. Choice may be the compass of moral change, but action is the travel itself."
"I don't get it."
"Don't worry about it, kid. '21's just in a philosophic mood today."
The werewolf straightened up. "Well," he said. "What else is there to do? It's not like Rael can go stalk his girlfriend anymore."
"Actually—" began '24.
"It's not like Rael should stalk his girlfriend anymore," M-21 corrected. He thought for a moment, before his eyes sparked with an idea."Want to go challenge the northeast pack for territory expansion?" he suggested. "They've been creeping in these past few months, and I'm getting sick of it."
"A fight?" asked '24. "Heck, yeah! Haven't even managed to get a rematch out of that jerk next door since he killed '21. Seems his master's got him on a short leash. Haven't been in a good fight in days."
"Days without violence," said Rael. "Poor '24."
The three of them left the house after that, the only evidence of their activities the sparse howls which echoed occasionally through the night.
M-21: "Rocks and Trees", M-24: "Billy the Themepark Shark."
Don't know how high school works in Korea, so I'll ignore cultural differences and make their school like a moderately wealthy public American school. As for the thing about AP classes. 'AP' stands for 'Advanced Placement' for any of you unfamiliar with the term. As far as the whole 'taking four AP classes at once' thing goes... that's not fiction. I actually knew a kid who took those four classes simultaneously. I have no idea how she did it, but she's now my hero.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Things were coming to a close school-wise, as the semester was just ending. For Suyi, it meant doing the usual grovelling to keep the administration from holding her numerous absences against her. For his part, Rai didn't attend school, though he did enjoy trying to help them with their homework, as it helped him fill in gaps in his own education.
Certainly, he had more than ten centuries of experience, but people tended to be wary of correcting the misconceptions of a being who could kill them in a flash of annoyance. (As Yuna put it, "Raizel solves his problems with a blood-field... and he never has the same problem twice!")
For Shinwoo, Yuna, and Ikhan, however, school was a very big deal. The red-head had a tendency to ignore everything else in favor of practicing martial arts, and he always struggled in even the most basic of classes. Ikhan also struggled, but for different reasons. He was currently taking the unholy trinity of AP Chem, AP Bio, and AP Physics... in addition to AP Calc. Yuna was probably the best off, in terms of homework, as she was very bright but had contented herself with only AP Physics, so she'd have a class with Ikhan, and all the rest of her courses were regular.
It was Sunday afternoon, the week before the week before exams, and the four humans plus Rai were currently sprawled around Suyi's living room in various stages of stress and concentration.
Despite his mountain of homework, Ikhan was taking a break to try and teach Rai the basics of computer programming.
"You say this is a sought-after skill?" Rai was skeptical. "It's not much more than translating logic."
"Trust me, said Ikhan, "Not many people learn how to do it. Master this and people will worship the ground you walk on."
"The title of 'True Noblesse' does have quite a bit of status, you know. It wouldn't be anything new to me..."
"Yeah, but they'd be bowing not only out of fear of your power, but also out of awe at your problem-solving abilities. It helps me out quite a bit, I know, since without my nerd-ship, I've got nothing to go on. If I stay on track with these classes, I'll be richer than all the kids who looked down on me in high school by the time I'm twenty-five."
"And the geek shall inherit the earth," commented Suyi.
"Darn straight," said Ikhan.
Rai's eyes brightened for a moment in humor, before he went back to reading the textbook Ikhan had let him borrow. It really was nice, he thought, getting to know people outside Lukedonia. With all the centuries he'd had to put up with court-politics and the hyper-sensetive egos of the Clan Leaders, he couldn't believe he'd never done this before. Indeed, if it weren't for a turn of misfortune, he probably wouldn't have even met the four of them in the first place.
A year ago, while trying to avoid the slayers, he and Frankenstein had split apart and taken different routes to the secret airport needed to reach Lukedonia.
However, Rai hadn't been able to make it through on his route, as the slayers had set up a few nasty traps, leaving Raizel to look around for other paths to his goal. After some deliberation, he decided to try cutting through the heart of the city itself.
Now, after a half-hour's walk, he found himself in a rather seedy district, as was evidenced by the frequent clashes between poor humans and poorer vampires who were looking for a free source of blood. He'd first met the four humans when they were on their way back from school.
After living all their lives in competition with them, the four of them knew a vampire when they saw one, and they had all the telltale signs of those prepared to defend themselves: they always walked about in a group, they each had specialized team-roles (Shinwoo was the fighter, Ikhan was reconnaissance, etc); most obviously of all, however, was the fact that the four of them showed hardly any skin. Especially on their necks; a habit they kept even to this day.
So, it was surprising when they decided to speak to him.
"Hey," Yuna had said. "New around here?"
Raizel shook his head. "Merely passing through."
Raizel learned later that they'd spoken to him because he looked like a naïve rich guy who was just waiting to be mugged, and had felt sorry for him.
"Know how to get where you're going?" asked Yuna.
"Yes," said Raizel.
"We won't keep you, then. Just a word of advice, though: you've got a few people following you, so I wouldn't turn down any dark alleys. It might be a good idea to take a cab."
"Thank you for the information," Raizel said.
Yuna waved in departure, and the four of them walked on.
Sure enough, the three vampires tailing him tried to rob him five blocks later, and wound up wishing very much that they hadn't confronted the seemingly-harmless rich guy.
On the way back home, Raizel had made a point of stalking the four of them down again and doing something nice for them. That had been the beginning of their tentative friendship.
When Suyi's career had taken off, Rai had given her advice on dealing with people, as he was something of a celebrity himself among vampiric nobility.
When the four of them had had a falling out with their parents and emancipated themselves, Rai had been supportive, and had even offered to let them stay in his house. They hadn't accepted, but they were glad of his gesture.
Now, Raizel wasn't completely sure of the details of their dispute with their parents. He'd been assured that it had nothing to do with himself, but he couldn't help but think that the fact that the four of them were the kind of people who would offer help to a vampire, even after viewing his people with nothing but hatred and enmity for their entire lives, probably hadn't helped.
Rai was dragged out of his musing by a frustrated Shinwoo, who was sick of studying, and wanted someone to help him practice fighting. Raizel got up to follow him. He had to go back to Lukedonia for a court-function later that week, and it would do him some good to have a bit of fun before then. Goodness knew there wouldn't be much amusement once he got there.
The two of them went to Suyi's gym to practice, as sparring in the backyard had too often drawn the attention of Crombel.
Raizel worried that if the slayer saw his friend's abilities, he would try to recruit Shinwoo as part of the slayers. Much as Rai was loathe to admit it, the combination of Shinwoo's athletic ability and background would make him an especially deadly vampire slayer, should he ever decide to take that path. What with his strong stance of only using his abilities in self-defense, Rai was fairly certain Shinwoo wouldn't even be tempted to join... but one could never be too careful.
AN: Raizel: "Malcolm Solves His Problems with a Chainsaw" (thank you, AMVHell 5). Ikhan: "The Guy with Computer Know-How."
Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if Rael becomes a main character in the Manhwa. In the Noblesse universe, trying to kill the main characters seems to almost be a prerequisite for befriending them.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Rael wasn't a happy camper. He'd just been in another argument with M-24 about his choice of food, during which he had been able to offer precious few arguments in favor of drinking human blood. So, to nurse his injured pride, and get back at his friend for winning the argument, Rael was going out to capture some new blood-slaves.
As per usual, Rael avoided the innocent in favor of going after those who deserved some misfortune in their lives, combing through the darker parts of town in his search.
Eventually, he found himself at an illegal fighting ring, where a number of lowlifes and thugs gathered weekly, in a warehouse that supposedly stored furniture, to bet on the competitors and watch a good fight. It was a gathering-ground for the dregs and refuse of humanity. And, thought Rael as he sat down near the back of the audience, it was the perfect place to accomplish what he had in mind.
For a few rounds of matches, he did nothing but sit there in the darkened room with the rest of the audience, acclimating himself to the smell of various kinds of smoke and alcohol, trying to get a feel for who the top fighter was. Those in such positions of 'privilege' were usually good candidates for capture, as power corrupted humans to an alarming extent. And, after all, didn't they say that pride came before the fall?
Well, after watching a quite a few people get beat up, Rael had concluded that a red-haired teenager, of all people, was the top dog of this particular fighting circuit.
He was powerful, certainly, but what of his character? If he were some sort of 'hero of the downtrodden' or some other such thing, the second-best fighter would make a better candidate, as he was a man who didn't hesitate to use cheating and dishonest methods in his fights.
Fortunately, Rael didn't need to do much stalking to ascertain the type of person his quarry was, as immediately after his final fight, the red-headed champion stormed his way over to where a small-time drug-dealer and a rather weak-looking boy were arguing over... well, shall we say a 'lady of the night'? She was dressed a bit more conservatively than the average member of her profession, but, given her surroundings, Rael assumed that she really couldn't have been anything else.
They were standing as close to the fighting ring as they could get, though the fights were over, and the position did them no service now. She was a brunette, and not all that much to look at, but the two guys seemed to have become caught up in the competition of it, as much as anything else. Rael thought that was probably why the top fighter was heading towards the unofficial fight. He was drawn to scenes of conflict as a marble to the bottom of a bowl.
""C'mon, kid," the drug-dealer was saying. "There's dozens of other ladies to choose from. Do you really want to fight me over this one?"
The small human's face showed rage. Rael thought it was rage at being denied what he wanted. The younger human balled up his fists and was preparing to hit the drug-dealer, when the champion draped an arm around the girl's shoulders and turned to the two arguing figures. "I'm sorry," he told the both of them, not sounding sorry in the least, "but I'm afraid the young lady has already agreed to spend the evening with me."
The smaller, brown-haired human immediately backed off from his fight with the drug-dealer. To Rael, it appeared as though he'd realized this was a fight he couldn't win. The drug-dealer, left after exchanging a parting insult with the fighter.
Rael cursed himself for not acting before the drug-dealing human had left, as he'd lost him in the crowds by now. Still, three were better than none. Prostitution was a crime, after all. And these three were guilty of it. The males for soliciting, and the female for selling. In addition, the shortest human was an abject coward.
Quickly, before any of the other humans decided to leave, Rael took control of their minds, and instructed the three of them to meet him outside.
You see, Rael was a vampire gifted in the art of mental manipulation. He could influence people in ways both subtle and overt, making them ignore him, seek him out, or otherwise conform to his will. It was a skill that proved quite useful, especially considering many vampires weren't gifted with anything more than speed and strength.
Rael found his three prisoners waiting outside, and he led them back to his flat, instructing any humans they met to ignore the four of them.
When they arrived at his home, after some preliminary binding measures, he instructed them to go down to the basement with the other two blood-slaves, and that was that. Rael had some new blood in the house. It made him feel a bit better about losing the fight with M-24. Rael would do as he wished, and no one could stop him. That was all there was to it.
Suyi had had a very decent day at her music-video shoot (for a song called "Love Truly," whose lyrics, after so many repetitions, had thoroughly nauseated the young starlet).
It was roughly four in the morning when she got home, and the third thing she did, after showering and grabbing some 'breakfast' was check on the others. After all, she hadn't seen them since the previous day, and they hadn't exactly been going out for a stroll around the block.
Expecting to feel silly for worrying so much, Suyi was instead horrified to discover that her three friends were not in the house.
Still, there was no reason to panic, yet. They were probably sleeping over at Raizel's or something. She was going to kill them for not leaving so much as a note, of course, but she'd be incredibly relieved if things were as simple as that.
Knowing that Raizel did not sleep, Suyi felt very little guilt in inviting herself over to his house to check on the others. Hoping that she was simply overly paranoid, Suyi knocked on the door of her friend's mansion. It didn't take long to receive an answer.
"Suyi?" asked Rai as he opened the door. "Is everything all right?"
Suyi coughed in embarrassment. "I was just wondering whether Shinwoo, Ikhan, and Yuna were over here." she said.
Raizel's eyes widened ever so slightly in concern. "I'm afraid not. Aren't they at your house?"
"No, so I thought I'd check here. I just got in myself, and the three of them were making a visit back home today. It's not the safest of neighborhoods, and I'm worried they might not have made it back safely." Suyi was starting to realize that she had reason to worry about her friends.
Well, after staying the rest of the morning at Rai's place, and making numerous phone calls to all her old acquaintances to ask for news, it was discovered that their three friends hadn't been seen since the previous evening. Ikhan, Yuna and Shinwoo were gone.
Rael: "Carrot Juice is Murder"
Well, after spending the rest of the obligatory twenty-four hour wait combing through the neighborhoods of Suyi's old home-grounds, Rai, Suyi, and Frankenstein headed down to the police station to file three missing persons reports.
It wasn't until two days after that that the police had come up with any leads. After gathering Rai and Frankenstein, Suyi made the trip down to the station and they were ushered into the office of a mid-level detective.
"We were told you had found something concerning the whereabouts of our friends?" Suyi asked the officer.
"Yes," he replied. "We've managed to pinpoint their disappearance to sometime around midnight, right around when the fighting ended. That means they were most likely within the neighborhood when they were abducted."
Suyi's interest was piqued. "You're sure?" she asked. "They were within the bounds of the neighborhood?"
The officer shifted a few of the papers. "While it's impossible to be certain, it's very likely. Now, Ms. Im, I realize that a disappearance is never a good thing, but in this case—"
"If they were abducted within the neighborhood, it was probably just the scumbag," she said. "Thank God."
The officer looked surprised that she knew of the perpetrator. She was a well-known celebrity, after all. To know the nickname of the local vampire, she must have grown up near the neighborhoods in question. He didn't voice his surprise, though. Instead, he forged ahead with his information. "As I said, we cannot be certain, and so we shall continue all efforts towards locating the three of them. In the case that it was the usual suspect, they should reappear—" he checked his notes "The twenty-eighth of May."
Suyi nodded. "Thank you," she said.
The officer nodded. "We'll let you know if anything else comes to light."
Rai and Frankenstein were not looking satisfied in the least with the information given. Suyi, however dragged them out of the station, promising to explain things on the way home.
"What was all that about?" the True Noblesse wanted to know, as Frankenstein drove the two of them back to their neighborhood. "From the sound of things, Shinwoo, Ikhan, and Yuna were kidnapped by a vampire, and you don't even seem worried."
"I am worried," Suyi assured him. "It's just a different kind of worry. It's always possible that they really are in trouble somewhere, but it's a lot less likely now."
"And blood-slavery is a safer prospect?" Frankenstein's voice was serious.
"Normally, no," said Suyi, "But the scumbag has a long-standing relationship with the people of our neighborhood. He drives out any other vampires to enter the territory and, as tribute, he takes a few blood-slaves."
"How long has the arrangement been going on?"
"The last hundred-fifty years or so," Suyi shrugged. "He rotates out blood-slaves every six months. They never remember anything, of course. We're not even sure that he's a 'he'. But they never show any signs of physical or mental abuse."
"And you all just sit there and accept this?" Raizel was horrified.
"Considering the alternatives? It's not an awful way to live. The scumbag only seems to target those in the habit of breaking the law, and it's not like we'd be able to get rid of him, even if we tried."
Raizel's eyes darkened. He knew about the concept of blood-slavery, of course, it was one of the issues he'd been trying to solve for the last five-hundred years. Still, to have it happening to people he cared about; it was sickening. He didn't have to stand for this.
"I think I'll track down this 'scumbag' and pay him a little visit."
Suyi became concerned. "I wouldn't, if I were you."
Raizel eyed his friend in disbelief. "Why not? Don't you want to rescue the others?"
Suyi shrugged. "Of course I do, but we have to consider the big picture here. Sure, you can go in there and kill the scumbag with a blood-field and free his human prisoners, but what after that?
"Sure, scumbag may not have the purest of motives, but he does an excellent job of upholding his end of the bargain. Remember five years ago when that band of renegade nobles went on a raid though the city? Not one of the humans in the scumbag's territory was so much as injured.
"If you overthrow the present overlord, would you be willing to put in the effort he does towards protecting those people from other vampires? Keep in mind that it would be a full-time job."
Rai struggled to process this. "It would be difficult," he said, "But I would be willing to do it, if it meant freeing the others."
Suyi nodded. "All right, then. I've got another question for you. Let's say you were to take on the responsibilities of the scumbag, sacrificing your own happiness in the process and all that noble stuff. Would you be as good at it as he is?"
"What? I'm the True Noblesse. Surely I could match the achievements of another noble."
Suyi thought about it. "I don't know about that. You're an authority figure, and you've got the blood-field, certainly. Speed, strength, all that jazz, but how're your mind-control abilities?"
"I try not to use them."
"That's understandable. But, see, here's the thing: scumbag's an expert on mental superpowers. That's why no one's been able to catch him. He even seems to be able to use the ability on other vampires, from what we've seen. During times of danger, everyone feels an overwhelming urge to stay home and not leave the house. That's something that'd be hard to top, even with a blood-field. Especially considering all the property damage it would cause."
Raizel seemed slightly broken at her words.
"So, you're saying we should just wait and do nothing? By your own admission, this vampire is a 'scumbag'. You're saying we should just leave Shinwoo, Ikhan, and Yuna at his mercy?"
Suyi nodded grimly. "Yeah, I am. I mean, I know it sucks, but those three knew what they were risking when they went to that fight."
"I don't feel good about this."
"No one ever does, Rai, but we'll get through it."
Well, Rael, for the most part, kept his blood-slaves in the basement. He didn't need to lock them up, as he was in control of their minds, and merely the fact that they inhabited the same house as he did would prevent them from even thinking of escape.
Usually, he allowed his prisoners the freedom of their own thoughts, only preventing them from giving in to despair or of planning to leave.
The first thing Rael did was take a small amount of blood from each of them, strengthening his mental hold over his prisoners, and transferring some of his powers to them.
He wasn't worried about them using his own powers against him. Mental powers, unlike other abilities possessed by the nobles, were not something which a human could gain mastery over in the short lifespan allotted to them. Unless, as Rael had found during his years of doing this, he ordered them to do so. Humans under his influence would follow his orders unquestioningly, even if he were to send them to their death, or, less seriously, they were able to use his abilities if he ordered them to do so.
So, when Yuna, Shinwoo, and Ikhan were instructed to go to the basement, they did so. When they'd put some distance between themselves and the vampire, they found their thoughts were a bit freer, and were able to think around their current situation. The basement was finished and seemed to be divided into a great number of rooms.
They found themselves in a living-room type area with a few pieces of furniture, on which they sat down and began talking among themselves.
"Now," began Shinwoo, "correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe we just got nabbed by the scumbag."
"Seems like it," said Ikhan. "This sucks. Not only do we lose six months, looks like the rumors are true and we can't even plot an escape."
"Hey, do you hear someone in the other room?" asked Yuna.
The three of them were silent.
"I think—" began Shinwoo.
The door slammed open and two figures were visible through its frame. One was a delicate-looking man who had short brown hair and chipped black polish on his nails. The other was a stoic-faced soldier-type with reddish hair that was even longer than Yuna's.
"Told you I heard something!" crowed the shorter man. "Looks like lord blood-sucker's got himself some new captives." He held out his hand. "I'm Tao, and this is Takeo."
Ikhan sized the man up before taking his hand and replying. "Hello, I'm Ikhan."
"Nice to meet you," said Tao. "Though, I'm sure we won't know you again once we leave, that's no reason to be impolite now. Duke Suckington only feeds off us once a month and we only leave the house, perhaps, once a day. So, unless you're planning to do a whole lot of sleeping, we're the only things keeping each other from going insane. Well, that and the stuff we've got in the rec-room."
"What's in there?" Shinwoo wanted to know.
"Mainly things left behind from previous prisoners," Tao shrugged. "There's a TV, a PS-2, a stolen cable hookup, a shelf full of books, another one of board games, and some jigsaw puzzles."
"Sounds like fun," commented Yuna. Then she sighed. "How long have the two of you been here?"
"Three months," said Tao. "Three more to go and we're out of here."
"You say we get to leave the house?" Ikhan asked.
"Yeah, to shower, exercise, buy food and such. He's bitten you three, right?"
Shinwoo rubbed his neck. "Yeah."
Tao nodded grimly. "That means you've now got some of his powers. You can't use them on your own—believe me, I've tried—but, if he orders you to, you can keep other people from recognizing you, or from charging you at stores, the gymnasium, and other places. We've also got illegal connections to the water and electric lines, but we're not supposed to use those any more than necessary. As far as prisons go, this place really is first class... only problem is, it's still a prison."
Ikhan was curious about the two of them. "So, what are you in for?"
Takeo laughed. "It was all Tao's idea," he said, deflecting blame from himself. "I merely went along with it."
"Well," said Tao. "You know how his royal fangship looks like a rich spoiled brat?"
"Unless I'm mistaken," said Yuna, "He is a rich spoiled brat."
"Well, yeah," agreed Tao, "but he doesn't look like a noble, is what I'm getting at."
"Well, Takeo and I—"
"What was that, Tao?"
"Oh fine, I was giving the kid a hard time about the stupid-looking shirt he was wearing, and, next thing I know, he blows his top and decides we'd make good snacks... and here we are."
Ikhan nodded, digesting this. "The three of us were at that throw-down event they were having at the old warehouse and we got caught breaking the law. I'd guess that was his reasoning."
Takeo tilted his head to one side. "I don't mean to cut our conversation short," he said, "but I do believe young Kertia's friends are here. Anyone else up for eaves-dropping?"
Tao's eyes lit up, "Of course! It's even better than reality TV—it's reality!" He moved over and cracked the basement door open.
Ikhan raised an eyebrow at the two men with their ears pressed against the opening between door and wall. "Isn't that a little creepy?" he whispered.
Tao laughed. "This guy keeps people locked up in his basement, I don't feel like a creeper in the least."
"You take what entertainment you can get," shrugged Takeo.
The three adolescents exchanged a glance before moving over to listen as well.
Takeo made room for them, and began to bring them up to speed. "Right," he said. "Rael Kertia—the vampire who brought us here—has two close friends, a vampire and a werewolf. They're blood-brothers or something along those lines. The vampire—M-24—currently abstains from human blood, though he was once a monster of serious caliber. The werewolf—M-21—is what werewolves refer to as a 'lone wolf,' one without a pack of his own kind.
"The two of them work for some slayer as a day-job, and they've been trying to convert Kertia over to the 'civilized' diet for the last ten years. They also give Rael advice in matters of romance, as he frequently suffers due to his unrequited love for another vampire, named 'Seira'."
"You're yanking my chain," said Shinwoo.
"No," said Tao, "He's serious."
Yuna, who was listening to the escalating argument above them, gave a small chuckle. "You're right," she said. "This is better than reality TV."
"Right," said Ikhan, looking at the screen. "we've got a choice of which path to take here."
"I say go for the smaller one," said Shinwoo. "It'll probably dead-end, and then we can come back."
"Sounds like a plan", said Tao, making his character shoot a few arrows into the unexplored path. A computerized yelping came though the speakers, and the gigantic wolf Tao had blindly hit began attacking them.
"Ah—darn it, he killed me. Yuna, I'm dead," complained Shinwoo.
"One minute," said Yuna, taking one last smack at the wolf with her hammer before going over to cast 'Resurrection' on their fallen party-member.
The newly resurrected Shinwoo swung his sword about, attacking the air. "Come, my comrades! Let us make history!"
Takeo hung back with Ikhan. "History is made by stupid people," he said, in an aside to his fellow-archer.
Well, as Tao and Takeo had discovered, being trapped in a basement for months on end is much less boring when you've got gamers with you.
Up above them, on the main level, Rael was trying to avoid thinking about what he'd done.
In between events at the vampire court and visits from his friends, Rael was left with an awful lot of free time, and, occasionally, he indulged in spying on his prisoners, much as a bored billionaire might pass the time by watching his exotic fish swim back and forth in their tank.
Unlike a human, Rael didn't have to resort to anything so crude as listening at doors. His mental control over the five of them allowed him to eaves-drop on any of their conversations, indeed, on any of their thoughts—though that last one took more effort.
However, in the past two months, even though he'd been paying less attention to his prisoners than a normal person would pay to a cat, it was clear that he'd grossly misjudged the character of the three adolescents. Apparently, the trio of them were all friends, who'd gone together to participate in a one-time fight as a favor to someone who'd helped them once.
The three of them were not criminals, and they weren't even bad-natured. To make matters worse, the girl had once had a traumatizing experience as a blood-slave, and had scars all over her arms to prove it. And that meant that Rael Kertia, for the first time in a hundred-seventy years of keeping human captives, had made a mistake.
For some reason, this bothered him more than all the pathos-inducing speeches M-24 had ever made him sit through.
He was a noble. He was better than these humans, and much more powerful than they could ever be. It was his right to do as he wished, but, because of his own refinement, he refrained from causing them undue discomfort, and he chose only those who deserved it. These things made him better than other vampires who kept blood-slaves. Up until now, that is.
Admittedly, the fact that it was only his own mistake bothering him, and not the morality of the issue, reflected the self-centered nature of the noble, but Rael was not in the habit of lying to himself. He knew that, despite his arguments about 'superiority of the species' and 'a noble's rights', the fact remained that he kept human prisoners solely because he found great pleasure in drinking human blood, and he had the means to easily do so.
The obvious way to rid himself of this guilt would be to resolve to stop drinking human blood—but that didn't work for long. Rael had already tried it half a dozen times, over lesser issues than this one. Each time, his commitment lasted only as long as the guilt he felt, and each slide back into his old habits made him feel worse about his own abilities. No, decisions based on emotion were only as binding as the emotions they sprung from. Perhaps, for more empathetic individuals, that kind of thing would be enough, but Rael had never been one of those people.
Now, however, he was confronted with something more substantial: his own fallibility.
If he, as a pure-blooded noble, were so incompetent as to imprison those who didn't deserve it, then he had no right to enjoy the benefits of human blood.
It wasn't an argument based on logic, but, from what he could see of it thus far, it seemed to be reasoning he could base a change off of.
Rael didn't know whether he'd wake up in the morning and think all this scheming absurd, but, if he managed to hold onto this decision, the next thing to do would be to release the human prisoners in his basement.
As cleansing as the idea of going cold-turkey was, Rael was certain he wouldn't be able to do it. The best thing he could hope for was to avoid accumulating new prisoners once these were released, while trying to replace as much human blood as he could with blood from the slaughterhouses.
Rael almost wished—no, there was no 'almost' about it—Rael fervently wished that he hadn't come to this decision, because these next few months were going to be absolute hell.
The next month, after fogging their memories, Rael released the two adult prisoners, Tao and Takeo, as they'd just reached their sixth month of captivity.
Over the next few days, he had to stop himself ten or twelve times from going out and finding replacements for them. It felt wrong, knowing that he wasn't preparing for his hunger, but he fidgeted through it as best he could. He'd adamantly resolved not to tell '21 and '24 about his choice until he was certain he'd be able to stick with it. Now it was critical that he learn to stomach animal blood, as his remaining prisoners only had three more months remaining in Rael's self-imposed timeline.
The fact that these were the three that didn't deserve to be there helped Rael's resolve in downing glasses of pigs' blood, which he sometimes drank to excess.
You see, vampires need blood to survive, but they also really like it. Its effects on a vampire are similar to that of alcohol on a human. Meaning that the transition to non-human blood also carries with it a new sobriety to one's outlook on life. Rael was finding that he didn't much like sobriety.
Two months after that, Rael was certain he'd lost most of his sense of difference between human and animal blood. Certainly, he still preferred human blood, but, if he didn't look for it, he almost didn't notice the bitter aftertaste animal blood gave him. And, though there was still a month to go on the release date for the human prisoners, Rael was feeling good about life, and had reluctantly decided that, precisely because it was one of the harder things for him to do right now, he should let the humans go early.
Muttering to himself about how morality was stupid and inconvenient, Rael made his way down to the basement, instructing his mind-slaves to ready themselves for departure.
The three of them were compliant as ever, but even under all the layers of mind-control, the humans could sense a change in routine.
"Are we going somewhere?" asked the female—Yuna.
"Yes," said Rael. "Early release for good behavior."
"Seriously?" asked one of the males—Ikhan.
"Unfortunately," sighed Rael. "I'm really going to miss the taste of human blood."
Then, before they could say another word, Rael increased his control over their minds and fogged out their memories of the previous five months, leaving them in a dazed state.
He instructed them to walk themselves along a circuitous route through town, eventually arriving at the local police station, to use mind-control to make sure people ignored them, and to fog out their own memories of where they'd been previously every five minutes until they'd reached their destination. At that point, they would regain full control over their own minds.
After sending his former prisoners on their way, Rael sighed and began to get ready for one of the nobles' balls he'd be attending that night. He'd always prided himself on his palate when it came to blood, and blood-tasting was a trick he often pulled out at parties, but the Kertia Clan noble had a feeling he wouldn't be much good at that game anymore.
It was a shame, but it was also an honor.
Takeo: "History Is Made by Stupid People."
Well, while their three friends had been trapped in Rael's basement, Rai and Suyi had been getting along as best they could. The noble felt a great deal of guilt on account of the fact that he wasn't going to track the kidnapper down—because he most certainly had that capability—and Suyi worried constantly about what might happen to them. But, as broken as the two of them were by the disappearance of their comrades, they were taking the whole thing much better than Frankenstein.
Now, Rai's manservant didn't really care about the three of them (or at least he'd never admit it), but he could easily say that the three missing children were important to his master. They had included Raizel in their social circle when they had no idea of how important he was in the vampiric community. So, rather than the usual behind-kissers and social climbers who darkened Rai's doorstep, these three were something Raizel usually didn't have: genuine friends.
With Shinwoo, Yuna, and Ikhan out of the picture, however, Suyi was the only person in the entire neighborhood who would so much as give him or his master the time of day. The neighbors knew that Raizel was a vampire, of course, and, while they tolerated him (in a sort of snobbish way), they wouldn't sink so low as to socialize with him. With Suyi pulled back from the celebrity social scene as a kind of mourning, the three of them passed a lot of evenings watching old movies or playing chess, and this whole situation was a hard pill for Frankenstein to swallow.
He was a scientist, no doubt about the fact. He saw possibilities where others saw only chaos, and the strength he drew from his knowledge ensured that he would never again be in that loathed position of bowing to another's might. Well... any other except for his master. Knowing that the actions of this unnamed vampire were going unchallenged, and had been for many decades, was far too close to powerlessness for Frankenstein's taste. Frankenstein hated being powerless, that was why he had broken the laws of nature so many times.
Still, his master's word was law, and he'd forbidden Frankenstein from taking matters into his own hands. So, the frustrated man had been forced to find another outlet for his rage against his own humanity, and Frankenstein had chosen violence.
M-21 and M-24, the servants at the manor next door, were always looking for an opportunity to ruin Frankenstein's day and, more often than not, one thing would lead to another and all three parties would wind up with about a fifth of their body's blood on the ground and a few broken bones, which took nearly a day to fully heal.
Today was no exception. He had just been going out to get the mail, when a rock had caught him in the center of his forehead, much like the proverbial stone which felled Goliath.
Unlike the famed warrior, however, Frankenstein, rather than toppling over, merely became annoyed and attempted to stab out the eyes of his attackers with his pseudo soul-weapon.
M-21 countered by morphing into his animal form. Like most werewolves, he favored the half-wolf half-human form which left his intelligence and self-control intact. Though, the sickeningly sharp claws and enhanced strength weren't bad either.
M-24 hung back and tried to mind-hack his way past Frankenstein's mental defenses. Much like his friend Rael, M-24's powers revolved around mind-control, though he wasn't nearly so gifted as the younger noble (M-24 was older than Rael by almost a hundred years). M-24 was rarely successful at getting past Frankenstein's mental blockade, but keeping up the effort assured that the human's attention would be divided during his fight with M-21. Not that this made Frankenstein any easier to defeat. Indeed, Frankenstein was starting to get the upper hand on the werewolf when a voice called out from not too far away.
"Rai!" Suyi was saying. "The police station just called; they've found our friends!"
The impromptu fight broke up. Personal grudges aside, it just wasn't fitting to fight in front of their employers... or anyone who might report it to them.
M-21, who now looked nothing but human, slunk back into Crombel's house, followed by M-24, leaving Frankenstein to make his way over to the car, where he knew he would find Suyi and his master.
Seeing as their friends had been found a full month earlier than would have been expected had they been captured by the scumbag, the ride to the police station was a tense one. What if they'd been taken by someone else? They'd been told that the three of them were fine, yes, but a large part of both Rai and Suyi wouldn't trust any source but their own eyes.
Upon arriving at the station, they were told that Yuna, Ikhan and Shinwoo were still giving their statements and were instructed to wait in an office for a few minutes, until—
The two of them found themselves in the center of a group hug, and, for the next few minutes, there was nothing except happy shock as the five of them exulted in their reunion.
Then, though they hadn't really come to terms with the fact that they were really back home, the five of them and Frankenstein made their way back out to the car, conversation struck up about where they had been (or suspected they had been, as they possessed no memory of the previous five months) and what they'd missed in terms of world news, as well as speculation on why they'd been released a month earlier than the scumbag usually kept his prisoners. What might this mean for the agreement with the vampire?
Rai, however, was not listening to any of it. He was too busy being immensely relieved that no harm had come to the three of them in the past few months. Even though he'd accepted Suyi's words about this being a 'cultural thing, and not something he had to worry about', it was still a great relief to see his friends standing in front of him. Except, now that he looked closer...
Agreement between vampire and humans, his foot. That scumbag's head was going to roll.
"Yuna," Rai asked, "what happened to your arms?"
Frankenstein's theme song: "I Want to Look Like Arnold"
Yuna was caught off-guard by Rai's statement. Then, she looked down to see that she was wearing short sleeves today. She never wore those things, if she could help it.
Now, Yuna didn't remember it, but she had only chosen that outfit because she hadn't planned on leaving the basement that day, and the weather was humid. All she knew right now was that Rai was seeing something she didn't really want other people to see.
Yuna had always been self-conscious about showing skin, on account of the fact that her forearms had a dozen nasty-looking knife scars running down them. Having other people see those things made her uncomfortable, but Rai was her friend, so she chose the route of non-chalance.
"What? These old things?" she said, flippancy almost dripping off her voice. "Don't worry, Rai, I've had them for years."
Raizel was starting to get a grip on himself, as he'd realized how much talking about this was bothering Yuna. "Right," he said. "My apologies. I never noticed them before. Anyway, what were you saying?"
"Well, since we were released, the scumbag hasn't taken anymore prisoners," said Yuna. "And he released us a full month early. People are worried that he means to break off the agreement and go find less a bothersome food source."
"That would be... unfortunate?" Rai wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.
"Yeah, big time," agreed Yuna. "We've gotten used to our little haven of a neighborhood; there's going to be a lot of people who don't want to lose that. Especially those who were captured in recent years."
"No one ever gets captured twice. Even though we've lost five months of our lives, the three of us have now got all the benefits of the agreement, but we've already paid our dues, so to speak, and we can walk around in all security."
"That's good, I suppose," admitted Rai. "But you did miss rather a lot of school. Will you be able to make it up, do you think?"
Yuna shrugged. "It depends on whether we put any effort into keeping up while we were captured."
"I thought you wouldn't be able to remember anything?"
"We can't access memories, no, but some of the previous captives have found that they were able to recall skills learned during their time in captivity. At least, that's what we think they were doing. The things people gain the ability to do in there are too broad to be sprung from a single vampiric power."
Well, as it turned out, Ikhan and Yuna were still on top of most if not all their classes, but Shinwoo, while having made more progress than one would have expected from five months of inactivity, was seriously struggling to catch up with his work and avoid summer school.
Shinwoo understood that the agreement was an important security measure which protected people he cared about, and that he'd gotten off lucky by only having to endure five months of it instead of six, but still, part of him seriously resented the scumbag for throwing his life five months out of whack.
It was just so... inconvenient. He was supposed to be one of the victims here and he, because of what he'd been through, he was forced to take on a bunch of extra work and tedium. It was frustrating.
Rael, for his part, had finally gotten around to mentioning (casually, of course) that he was laying off human blood to M-24. The other vampire had understood Rael's attempt to downplay the issue and didn't comment on it. M-21, on the other hand, had taken the every opportunity to exult in the sweet scent of his and his brother's apparent victory of ideology over their friend.
It was infuriating.
Though, annoying as 21's reaction was, it was nothing compared to some of the things the humans were doing. Once it had become apparent that the 'scumbag', as they called him, has not taken in a new set of blood slaves, a great panic was raised as people jumped to the conclusion that he was calling off their oft-despised, but rarely protested 'longstanding agreement'.
Surprisingly, a great many of the humans were against this, and currently, Rael was watching TV, down in the basement where he formerly kept prisoners, and he had a hard time believing that what he saw on the news was actually happening.
There were five of them and they'd camped out in the neighborhood's only park. Their leader, a woman by the name of Olivia, was being interviewed by a local news station.
"So, then, Olivia, you and your group are volunteering yourselves as the next blood-slaves for our local vampiric overlord?"
Olivia nodded. "The agreement and contract we hold with him ensures the safety of ourselves and our loved ones. The five of us are more than willing to sacrifice half a year if it means keeping that agreement in effect."
They went on to talk about the politics of the issue, but Rael had stopped paying attention. Honestly, now that he wasn't openly breaking vampiric law by keeping blood-slaves, there was nothing to stop him from living in Lukedonia with his brother.
He would have better accommodations and servants, and he'd be accorded respect by all those he came into contact with, rather than being made fun of by his so-called 'friends'.
Strangely, though, he didn't feel like doing that just yet. All in all, court life could be very stifling, and, now that he was used to solitude, he wasn't sure he wanted to go back to living practically on top of the other nobles... even if it might mean an opportunity to get closer to Seira.
He was starting to see why his long-time love interest wouldn't return his feelings of affection. Truth be told, Rael was very self-centered, and empathy wasn't something he normally felt. Stoic as she normally was, Seira had a very soft heart, and she hated rude and inconsiderate people. Even though she had no idea Rael had kept blood-slaves, he'd never made much of an effort to hide his own selfishness when speaking with her.
Rael wasn't overly bothered by this realization, because his self-focused mentality was a strength for him as much as it was a weakness. He was very concerned with his own character, and whether his actions were befitting of the kind of person he wanted to be. That was why the humans he preyed off of had almost never tried to stake him and why he had stopped drinking human blood, in the first place.
And that was also why he wouldn't return to Lukedonia. Not for awhile, at least.
It took a full two weeks of camping out in the park before the Olivia and her band of disturbing humans decided to give up and go home. At this point, the local media were of two minds about the change in behavior of the vampiric scumbag. A few had guessed the truth, that the vampire had decided to quit drinking human blood. The majority, however, were of the opinion that the agreement was over and now there was naught to do but grab your stakes and torches and prepare for the apocalypse.
In accordance with the situation's gravity, Rael had put some serious thought into his next move. And so, when a gang of vampires tried to claim his neighborhood as part of their turf, he'd done something he didn't normally do.
Rather than manipulating the minds of the local humans so that they would ignore the situation and manipulating the minds of the vampires so they'd walk away and forget why they came there in the first place, Rael left the humans in the area in control of their own minds and then proceeded to hijack the minds of the vampires and walk them into walls whenever they tried to move.
After nearly an hour of trying to find the vampire responsible for their humiliation, the intruders had left, and the media had had a field day.
This was a game-changing revelation, after all. It showed that, though the local vampire was no longer taking in prisoners, he still considered the place his territory and feeding-grounds. No one was really sure what to think about this, but Rael wasn't much inclined to give them additional information. He never had in the past, and he wasn't about to start now. Besides, he still had his hands full with his own problems.
"You shouldn't eat helpless little animals, Rael," M-21 was saying. "It's barbaric." The werewolf had seen an animal-rights rally recently, and he was currently affecting extremism.
M-24 was shaking his head. "'21, shut up," he said, good-naturedly.
Rael's face showed a combination of annoyance and amusement. "Are you serious?"
"All those poor defenseless livestock at the slaughterhouse. What have they ever done to you? You should drink human blood instead, Rael. Humans are nasty and they deserve it."
Rael stared at him in disbelief. He'd hoped that when he'd switched food sources, he'd at least gain some respite from 21's constant jibes about his diet. Apparently not.
"He was the same way when I went off human blood," said M-24. "Just ignore him."
"Will he go away if I do?"
"No, but sometimes he'll get bored and stop," said M-24
"Really puts the 'suck' in 'success', doesn't it?"
Rael nodded. It was annoying, but it was also a little relieving. Though they didn't see each other very often, the three of them had a camaraderie that transcended whatever moral development any given one of them may have attained.
No matter what Rael did, M-21 would find a way to poke fun at it. The werewolf was glad that the noble had made this choice, of course, but he also thought that poking at Rael's decision was funny. That was the way their friendship worked.
The three of them had been part of his life back when Rael kept blood-slaves, and they would still be around if he relapsed in the future. They would remain friends if M-21 went feral or if M-24 went back to being the vampiric equivalent of an alcoholic. It wasn't necessarily admirable that this was so, but it was undeniable that, whether as friends or as enemies, the three of them would remain a part of each other's lives until the day they ceased to exist.
Over in the wealthier part of town, Ikhan, Shinwoo, Yuna, and Suyi had just finished with school finals. The four of them had been planning on going over to Rai's house to celebrate, but when they barged into his living room, they found the true noblesse in a more serious mood than normal... and that was saying something.
"I've been considering something," Rai told them.
The four of them remained standing, trying to figure out what had brought on this sudden bout of melancholy. Sure, Rai had been depressed for about a week after Ikhan, Yuna, and Shinwoo had gotten back, but they would have thought he'd be over it by now.
"Yes?" asked Ikhan.
"Would the four of you like to be more powerful?" Raizel asked them.
"Sure," said Shinwoo the martial artist. "Why?"
"Ikhan, Yuna, and Shinwoo could have easily died these past months." Rai's eyes were solemn. "I didn't consider it worth the risks before, but you know that if a vampire drinks blood 'from the source' as it were, you gain some of their powers?"
"Heard of it," commented Ikhan. "But I thought the nobility considered it obscene?"
"At this point?" Rai laughed without humor. "I'm not sure I care anymore."
"We're not blood-whores, you know," Yuna said. "We're fine with the way things are. Besides, doing something like that would hurt your reputation, wouldn't it?"
There were those in the human world who sought the vampiric powers. These people would sell their blood in exchange for supernatural abilities. That was why, when they'd donated blood to Rai, they'd always done so by putting it in a secondary dish of some sort. They wanted to make it clear that they weren't asking for anything in exchange.
"Not really," Rai answered them. "The nobles will eventually be able to tell that I'm not just selling power to the highest bidder. The interim shouldn't last too long."
The four of them just stared at him. They weren't about to turn down such a rare offer, but it did imply that Raizel was placing an awful lot of trust in them.
"You're sure about this?" Ikhan asked, disbelief etched into his voice.
Rai inclined his head. "It's as you said when I asked you about giving me your lifeblood. 'We're friends regardless, so why not help each other?'"
"You know," he mused, "I might be able to persuade Seira and Regis to participate. More than one vampire increases the power transferred."
"Who're they?" asked Yuna.
"The only members of the vampiric court I can stand to be around for extended periods," said Rai. "I'll have to invite them over next week."
The island of Lukedonia was impressive by any standards. Its buildings were all extravagant, and its people ostentatious. But, though they were once the undisputed lords of this world, vampires were now considered almost lower-class by the vast majority of humanity.
This wasn't something the nobles liked to admit, and so, thought Seira, in Lukedonia—the one place on Earth where vampires still ruled—technology had never been brought past the point where it was when nobles were at their most powerful.
For the life of her, the Loyard Clan leader couldn't see the justification for shutting themselves off from the humans' latest wave of progress. The clan leaders seemed to hold the mentality that strength and wealth were everything, and that ingenuity counted for nothing.
When she'd gone into the human world as part of her coming-of-age ceremony, she'd been amazed at all the marvels and wonders these short-lived people had come up with. Granted, she'd also been horrified by some of the weapons and tortures they'd made, but her experience in the human world (spent mostly at a university), had been enlightening and edifying.
She'd gone back to Lukedonia vowing to visit this strange place again at first opportunity—which came when her cousin Regis went out for his own ceremony. When she volunteered to be guardian to Regis Landegre, everyone had complimented her on her devotion to her cousin and praised her for the noble thing which she was doing. And Seira had sat there and accepted their words, because she didn't want to bring up the fact that she genuinely wanted to go.
Well, Seira, emboldened by her own year in the human world, had decided to take Regis on a tour of the world, and they'd spent the young Landegre clan noble's ceremony on four of the seven continents and in two of its oceans. Much as she would have liked to spend the whole time in the world of academia, Seira knew that Regis was no great lover of books, and that he would get more out of actually interacting with people and seeing things firsthand.
Now, it had only been seventeen years since Seira had been in the human world, so she was surprised to see a noticeable difference in the level of technology available to them. This hadn't presented overly many difficulties for them, as Seira's knowledge, while dated, was adequate to navigate them around the most disastrous pitfalls of human culture.
And so, their year outside Lukedonia had passed relatively pleasantly. In fact, when they finally did arrive back in Lukedonia, they were a bit disappointed to leave the world of internet and smart-phones.
In truth, the highlight of Regis' whole initiation to adulthood ceremony was getting to catch up with Cadis Etrama Di Raizel, the true noblesse, and vampire hermit.
Unlike most of the vampiric nobility, Raizel lived almost exclusively in the human world. That was part of his duties, as the nobles needed to have someone keep an eye on the humans, to make sure they didn't get too out of hand.
Their conversations with Rai had been full of personal anecdotes and jokes. In contrast, they didn't know most of the other nobles all that well, and most of the words exchanged with guests that day had been simple congratulations on making it through the tedious, but still traditional, year in the human world.
As soon as had been socially acceptable, Seira and Regis had left Lukedonia gone to his home to see him, and, though they they all three liked and respected one another, it hadn't taken long at all for them to start an argument.
"You're going to do what?" Regis' face showed shock and a bit of disgust.
Raizel took a sip of his tea. "The four humans you met earlier, you remember them, don't you? They make a mockery of the law of averages, and it's about time they received compensation for their suffering."
"So, they've been blood-slaves? Then give them money or something. Humans like money, don't they?" asked Regis.
"I would rather not cheapen their misfortune by suggesting it was something that could be so easily remedied," said Rai delicately.
"But Raizel," said Regis, with the air of a carnivore trying to convince his soft-hearted friend that, no, he couldn't adopt all the animals at the shelter, "giving away power like that... it's a lot of responsibility. Are you willing to make sure that these so-called 'friends' of yours don't do anything wrong with your powers... for the next seventy years? Granted humans don't live all that long, but that also means they have less sense of duty."
"I thank you for your concern, but I've made my decision, Regis."
That last remark was the final straw for Regis, and he dragged Seira out of the room, about to do something he wouldn't do under normal circumstances.
"Wait a second," said Rael, his voice quiet with horror, "are you saying that those three kids I kept as blood-slaves were the pets of the true noblesse?"
"That's right," said M-21, "He's Crombel's next-door neighbor, so we see them all the time."
"Why didn't you tell me this sooner?"
The werewolf gave a grin. "We didn't want you to stop keeping blood-slaves out of fear or self-preservation. We wanted you to do it because it was the right thing to do. And anyway, you've stopped now. You even let them go early."
"If he ever finds out it was me," said Rael, "Raizel will kill me. And you didn't say anything?"
"Ah, come on, kid, give us more credit than that. -24's not as crazy-good as you are with mind-screwing someone over, but he can tell things like intentions and get a general read on the situation. We would have let you know of they were going to come after you," said M-21.
M-24 nodded in agreement.
"Still feeling a breach of trust here," said Rael, a shell-shocked expression still all over his face.
"Guess that's fair. But I mean, it's not like we ever told you about any of the other people you took as blood-slaves, and some of them have been just as important."
"Remember the two who you kept at the same time as those kids?"
Listened to "Canada's Really Big" and "Happy Birthday Song" while writing this one.
They probably don't have frisbee-golf in South Korea, do they? Ah, well, I'm putting it in anyway. If Soul Eater can take place in America and have its characters eat out of bento-boxes and use honorifics, I can write the Noblesse ones doing stuff I'm familiar with.
They weren't 'stalking' anyone. Regis had been very adamant about that. He and Seira were simply going on a reconnaissance mission to see for themselves the character of Raizel's human 'friends'.
The quartet of Ikhan, Suyi, Yuna, and Shinwoo were spending the day in their old neighborhood, visiting their parents, of course—but also making sure to leave before the inevitable arguments started up. Now, they were hanging out by the river park near the local school. Regis, and a conscripted Seira, were spying on them from the treetops.
Raizel was not part of either party, as he had gone off with Frankenstein to do something that day.
The four humans were some distance away from the treeline, but for beings with enhanced senses, this presented no difficulty. Currently, the four of them were making their way through the Frisbee golf course. The red-haired male, Shinwoo, was by far the best of them, but there wasn't a great deal of fuss made over this. Golf, even in disc form, is as much an individual-achievement sport as it was a competitive one.
"So, what do you guys think of Regis and Seira?" asked Suyi, while they were walking from the 5th basket to the 6th tee.
Seira shot Regis a disapproving look from beside him on their perch of espionage.
The shorter noble returned her glare with a defensive glance, and shrugged his shoulders. It wasn't like he was the one who picked the topic of conversation.
"It's nice having someone around who doesn't tower over me," commented Ikhan.
"You would think so," laughed Suyi.
"I like them," said Yuna. "Seira's nice. According to Rai, she's the leader of her clan, but she doesn't act like she thinks she's better than we are," she paused, "even though she probably is," she said with a smile.
Shinwoo drove first, his disc landing mere feet from the basket. Yuna followed, hers was straight on, but lacked the distance Shinwoo's had had. Ikhan's smacked off of a tree and veered off course. Suyi's went a bit shorter than Yuna's.
Yuna looked at where the distance between where they stood and how far it was to their discs. "There's no one else around, right?"
"Don't see anyone," confirmed Ikhan.
"Hooray! because I think I"m going to roast if I keep wearing this thing." Yuna took off her sweater and tied it around her waist.
Regis stiffened. Now that the brown-haired girl, Yuna, was wearing short-sleeves, he could see a great number of scars running down her arms.
"Good idea," said Shinwoo. He was wearing a wife-beater under his coat, and he had a jagged scar running across his collarbone.
When Ikhan and Suyi followed suit, Regis saw that the other two humans weren't scarred, but the shorter boy, Ikhan had a great number of debtor-tattoos, and Suyi had the slayers' treachery brand on her shoulder.
This revelation, which for Regis and Seira was so sobering, had absolutely no effect on the atmosphere of the four disc-golfers, and they continued, unperturbed, to play their game.
The four of them went on on in amiable conversation for another two holes, when it became obvious that they were being gained on by another party of golfers. While they were still too far away to distinguish the other clearly, the four of them exchanged quiet words, and replaced their heavier clothing. After completing the next hole, they took a detour over to a water fountain while the other group played through.
The four of them had just started walking to the tee for the next hole, when a group of veteran disc players were making their way over to the first hole.
"Aw, look, it's some kids playing! Having fun on the course, guys?"
Shinwoo adopted a guileless expression and smiled, "Yep! You guys have fun, too!"
The other group laughed at his innocence and went on their way. Shinwoo's face turned away and adopted an annoyed scowl.
"Hate it when that happens," he muttered.
"Should have beat him up, Shinwoo," said Suyi, and she smiled because they all knew it was a joke.
Well, the four of them played through the rest of the back nine without incident, and they were almost back at Suyi's car when they saw something. There was a group of guys who'd ganged up on a scrawny-looking kid.
"What're you doing here, Vince? Didn't' we tell you the park was our turf?"
The four of them exchanged covert glances, while Suyi whispered, "Vince?"
Ikhan pushed his glasses to rest higher on the bridge of his nose and focused on the details of what he was seeing. "His book cover has 'property of Vince Keller' sharpied across it, and their uniforms are those of St. James Academy."
"Right," whispered Yuna. Then, she rearranged her features into those of surprised recognition. "Vince?" she asked in a carrying voice, "Vince Keller, is that really you?"
"Um..." the kid obviously didn't recognize them.
"Man, we haven't seen you in years!" said Shinwoo, "Where have you been?"
"Who're these guys, Vince?" asked one of his attackers.
"Oh, sorry," said Suyi, "I'm Claire Hawthorne. "Me and Vince used to date a few years back—Vince, it's really good to see you again!"
"How have you been, man?" asked Shinwoo, dragging him over to the four of them, away from his would-be attackers.
"...Good," said Vince, obviously catching onto the fact that he could get out of his bad situation through subterfuge.
"Hey, we were just about to go get something to eat," said Ikhan. "Want to come?"
"...Sure," said Vince.
With that, the four of them ushered him into Suyi's car and they took off.
Well, after they were at a fast-food joint a safe distance away from the park, Vince Keller confessed that he didn't remember them, thanked them for the ride, and took off without another word.
"Poor guy," said Suyi, "Hope we didn't freak him out too much."
"He probably prefers being freaked out to being beaten up," commented Ikhan, "Still, it would have been nice if he'd stuck around so we could tell him what was going on. Ah, well."
Seira and Regis, who had followed them to the restaurant via rooftop, were rather surprised at this development. They'd seen from their meeting with the four humans the other day that the quartet had shallow personas which they normally affected.
Most people who do this do so because their real personality is not something they want other people to see. The four of them couldn't seem to care less, but the facade did seem to serve as a nice way of thickening their own skin. That, and they apparently found it funny.
Later, Regis went to speak with Raizel again. Seira came too, but mostly to watch.
"I can see why you would share your power with these four," he admitted.
Raizel didn't ask him what he'd been doing to reach such a conclusion, because he had a pretty good idea already.
"I agree with your judgment that these four are deserving, and mature enough not to be corrupted, and I shall follow suit."
Raizel smiled a bit, but he didn't do any gloating—outside of his own head, that is.
"I'm glad, Regis."
Regis turned to go, and Seira spoke her first words in the entire conversation. "I, too, will share power with these humans," she said.
The True Noblesse nodded. "Thank you, Regis, Seira."
"Wait a minute," said Yuna, her eyes growing wide in mock-horror. "Are you saying that the nobles don't have birthday parties?"
"When we reach two-hundred years," said Regis, "we have an 'initiation ceremony' which marks our ascent to adulthood. I just had mine a few weeks ago."
"That's not the same thing, at all!" said Suyi.
"We are so throwing you a party," said Yuna.
"Party! Yeah!" exclaimed Ikhan and Shinwoo.
"I've seen human parties on music videos," admitted Seira. "They usually involve consuming alcohol and participation in debauchery. I'm not sure I want Regis exposed to that."
"Aw, I guess we can't hire strippers then," said Ikhan. Yuna hit him on the head for that.
"No," Yuna explained, "We're not that extreme. Our parties usually involve cult-movies, junk food, and Lord of the Rings Monopoly."
"'Cult' as in, 'popular with a small group' or 'cult' as in 'exploitative religious scam'?" Seira wanted to know.
"Exploitative religious—" Shinwoo started to say, but Yuna cut him off. "Popular with a small group of people," she clarified.
"That sounds fine then," Seira said.
"Does what I think about this matter?" asked Regis.
"No," Suyi informed him with a smile. "Birthday parties are as much for the guests as they are for the person whose birthday it is."
"So glad you're all enjoying this," the Landegre noble scowled.
Two days later, they'd invited the three nobles and Frankenstein over to Suyi's house for an all-day movie and junk-food marathon that would serve as Regis' birthday party.
Regis hadn't been in a good mood at the start of things. However, he'd lightened up after they'd watched the first movie. Very few people can remain in a bad humor after watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
After that, Suyi and Ikhan decided to melt a vat of cheese and tomatoes in microwave so they'd have something to eat for lunch. While this was going on, the others decided on which movie to see next.
"Hey, Regis," said Shinwoo. "Want to watch 'Nacho Libre' or the first two Terminator movies?"
"What are they about?" Regis wasn't going to admit it yet, but this was actually enjoyable.
"'Nacho Libre's a relatively recent comedy about small-time wrestling, and the Terminator movies are classic sci-fi thrillers."
"Go for Terminator," advised Shinwoo. "It'll blow your mind."
"Well, I do enjoy science fiction," Regis said.
"This one's got a lot of violence," warned Yuna, "It's about time traveling robot assassins, but they're both awesome movies."
"Doesn't sound too bad," said Seira.
The four humans, as it turned out, belonged to the category of people who are completely unable to shut up during movies. But they were also the version of this personality which is slightly less annoying than the 'irritated critic' cliché.
They frequently offered tidbits of information they knew about how certain special effects were achieved, and shouted out advice and possible dialogue for the characters. As they'd seen the movies so many times, they were able to do this without talking over the dialogue of the movie itself.
Well, after four hours of watching the Governator shoot things and/or blow them up, Shinwoo suggested they break out a board game, which resulted in Yuna bringing forth a German game, called 'Through the Desert,' whose rules only she understood. It was a bit like Risk, a bit like Go, and it was apparently played using dozens and dozens of plastic camels.
Their goal was to stake out a territory on the game board divided into sandy hexagons. Since there were so many of them, they played in teams of two, and it didn't take long for people to realize that, if they wanted to win, they would all have to gang up on Frankenstein and Seira, for the former mad-scientist took to strategy games like a duck to water.
As is turned out, they weren't able to halt Frankenstein's conquest of the Oasis, and the man celebrated by laughing maniacally, before managing to get ahold of himself... eventually.
Following this, thoughts turned towards dinner, and, after shooting down Shinwoo's suggestion that they just eat potato chips, Seira and Suyi dragged out sandwich-making materials, and the disgruntled martial artist eventually gave in—though he did put potato chips on his triple-decker sandwich. There wasn't much that he didn't put on that thing, and Ikhan lost five dollars on a bet that Shinwoo wouldn't be able to finish his ungodly creation.
The rest of the evening was spent in the wonderful world of video games, which were played in tournament until roughly midnight, when Suyi announced that she had work the next day, and was going to bed.
A week later, Regis and Seira were preparing to head back to Lukedonia, after one final thing was taken care of.
Yuna, Suyi, Shinwoo, and Ikhan were in Rai's living room, but, for once, they weren't cracking jokes or acting out. They knew as well as anyone that this was neither the time or the place for it.
Facing the four of them were Rai, Seira, and Regis. The two younger nobles weren't quite sure what to do with their eyes. Rai, however, wasn't one to be awed by ceremony, and he acted no more solemnly than he normally did as, one by one, he drank a mouthful of blood from each of his four human friends' arms.
Seira went next, as she could hide the fact that she felt self-conscious about the whole thing, followed by Regis.
The four humans did not thank them. This wasn't really something you offered thanks for.
This was a gesture which implied that there was a bond of family between participants, and family did not thank each other for things so mundane as looking out for one another.
Instead, Yuna and Suyi hugged the both of them, and Ikhan and Shinwoo gave sarcastic farewells, giving them an amiable send-off before the two of them left Rai's house to return to the ancestral home of the vampires.
Don't own the rights to any of the movies mentioned, or the board game. The board game actually exists, by the way. I don't own Noblesse either, but I don't usually go for disclaimers. I tend to assume that posting this on a fanfic website is hint enough.
When he was more of a hedonist and less disciplined, Rael had imagined that there must be some glow of satisfaction or other such reward that kept the virtuous on the path of straight and narrow. Now that he was attempting to tread that path himself, Rael was wondering whether there was some trick to finding it.
For, try as he might to feel good about his accomplishments, the young noble knew that abstaining from human blood was no more than a long-standing duty for a noble of his status—a duty he was only now ceasing to neglect.
Rather than self-satisfaction, he was feeling annoyance that he hadn't started doing this sooner, and he cringed at the thought of his brother ever finding out about it.
It would be one thing to be caught blood-stained and laughing maniacally with a basement full of blood-slaves. It would be quite another to be found out after the whole matter was, to him, long forgotten... but Rael was being morbid again. He needed to stop doing that.
Now, it was mainly an unwillingness to admit defeat to -21 and -24 which kept him in the realm of vampiric legality. Speaking of which...
"Rael! Are you going to do anything fun today, or are you going to sit around and be a teenage angst-factory?"
"Did you have something in mind, -21?" asked the noble, ignoring the jab.
The werewolf's eyes gleamed. "Of course! We're going to dump paint on -24!"
"I think I saw a movie where they did that," said Rael. "Didn't the prank victim wind up killing everyone?"
"That was Carrie, and it was pig's blood, not paint. And anyway, -24 wouldn't kill us, no matter how mad we made him."
"Dumping a bucket of red liquid onto a being with supernatural mental abilities. Now that sounds intelligent."
"Your mom sounds intelligent."
Rael wasn't sure how that was supposed to be an insult. Whatever, at least it wasn't him this time.
"Pick a color that's not red, and I'm in," he said.
After Seira and Regis' departure, the most notable aspect of life with new-found superpowers for Ikhan, Shinwoo, Suyi, and Yuna... was its remarkable similarity to life without superpowers. Despite the expected drama of this being 'a new phase in their lives' after which they 'would never be merely human again', there was an astounding lack of change in the day-to-day existence of the four humans.
Shinwoo was a martial artist; he was used to being more powerful than other people, and self-control was no issue for him.
Ikhan was far too intelligent to 'show his hand' so to speak, when a secret ability was much more useful.
Suyi, while she was all for stirring up scandal, wasn't going to cheapen their friends' gift by making a mockery of it in front of the media.
And Yuna, it must be said, was the most non-confrontational of the four, by far. Yuna wouldn't do anything with her new-found abilities unless she found herself backed into a corner with no way out. Even on those rare occasions when she snapped, it wasn't a big deal. For Yuna, snapping meant screaming at someone and going on a tirade, the effects of which weren't any stronger for the multiple vampiric powers she now possessed.
As for the powers themselves, they'd been bitten by three separate vampires, so that meant three sets of powers. Raizel's transferred powers were largely defensive: the ability to rapidly heal physical injuries. Seira's bite had given them the powers of enhanced strength, and the ability to distance themselves mentally from physical pain or emotional turmoil. Regis' sharing of power had gifted them with enhanced speed and coordination. Unfortunately, (or perhaps it was fortunately. It's hard to tell with these things) human lifespan was not lengthened by obtaining supernatural powers.
But the most important change brought about was explained to them by Rai and Frankenstein the next day.
"The nobles have a code against harming humans," Rai said, "because they have no way of defending themselves or fighting back. However, humans who have obtained the powers of noble, however miniscule the power transfer, forever forfeit the protection of the innocent."
"So, if we make a noble mad..." Suyi began.
"They would be entitled to retaliate against you," said Rai. "Seeing as the six of us are in close alliance, this is unlikely, but it is now possible."
Frankenstein cleared his throat. "On the bright side, you need no longer worry about anyone less powerful than the slayer elite—"
"Hooray!" cheered Shinwoo.
"—but the slayers of all levels will now consider you traitors to the human race," Frankenstein finished.
"Because there is no way to avoid offending the slayers, it's best to focus on ingratiating yourself to the Clan Leaders of the Nobility."
"Right, then," said Ikhan.
"There are numerous clans, among which are Landegre, Loyard, various others, and of course, the Lord herself, leader of all nobles," explained Frankenstein.
"Your leader is a woman?" asked Yuna.
"Correct," said Rai.
"Yessss!" Suyi pumped a fist in satisfaction.
"If you ever find yourself in the presence of a noble, the best strategy is usually to remain as reserved and collected as humanly possible. They associate emotion with immaturity and immaturity with humanity. Granted, the four of you are human, but to be called 'human' among the vampiric nobles is a mild insult. It implies being petulant or childlike."
"Right," said Ikhan, "we'll want to seem as inhuman as possible, then—wait, why didn't you tell us this before we met Regis and Seira?"
Rai fielded this one: "Those two, despite their young ages, are some of the more mature members of the court," explained Raizel. They appreciate sincerity and innovation. And, while you four have many flaws, being insincere is not one of them."
"Ha! Got that right!" Shinwoo had a self-satisfied grin on his face.
"Now, if anyone asks, you didn't hear it from me," said Rai, "but the clan leaders are rather full of themselves. If you play to their egos, they'll usually take a liking to you, so long as you're not too obvious with your flattery."
"What about the Lord?" asked Ikhan.
"If you ever run into her, I wouldn't speak unless spoken to. I know that's what I always do, in situations where I'm out of my depth," answered the True Noblesse.
And thus, over the course of the next few weeks, Raizel and Frankenstein educated them on recent history and etiquette amongst the vampiric nobility. They learned the various phrases used in traditional greetings and farewells, as well as faux pas to watch out for. They were currently discussing whether it would be of benefit to accompany Rai to an event or two next winter, during the height of the vampiric social season.
When Raizel had made the offer, however, he hadn't been expecting Ikhan's input. The young human had practically devoured Rai's old books on manners and social rules, and had come up with a rather disconcerting idea.
Raizel had balked when they'd first suggested it. The four of them needed to have more respect for their own dignity. Certainly, they'd been relatively powerless for most of their lives, but those days were over now.
After another few hours, he'd given in, if only to shut them up.
"Right, then, it's settled," said Ikhan. "For Raizel to acknowledge the four of us as his equals would be to defy thousands of years of tradition. While these traditions are wrong and prejudiced, the pioneers are also usually the first ones to be killed. So, If anyone asks, the four of us are Rai's human pets/servants, bitten to better serve our master. As far as anyone outside this room is concerned, we got so many powers as consequence of Rai's status as True Noblesse. Agreed?"
"Agreed," said Yuna.
"Agreed," said Suyi.
"I'm for it," said Shinwoo.
Raizel had put down his tea and was rubbing his temples with the thumb and middle finger of his right hand. "Why me?" he asked.
"Shinwoo, my boy! Might I have a word?"
The red-haired teen stopped his walk towards Suyi's house. Apparently, Rai's neighbor, Crombel, wanted to talk with him. According to Frankenstein, the guy was a top-class slayer. Whatever he wanted, it wouldn't be good... but Shinwoo wasn't about to make an enemy for no reason, if it was avoidable.
"Sure thing," he said, and he followed Crombel back to his house.
Four hours later, the others were starting to wonder where Shinwoo had gotten to. A conference had been called in Rai's living room, as they compared notes on when they'd last seen Shinwoo.
"He left here at quarter til noon," said Frankenstein. "We thought he went back home after that."
"We haven't seen him since breakfast," said Yuna. "He didn't mention going anywhere else?"
"Not to my knowledge," said Raizel.
"Nor mine," said Frankenstein.
After this, they divided the town up into sections and were just about to split off and go search, when a pounding came from the back door.
Thinking it might be Shinwoo, they converged there. When they came to the glass-paned door, however, they saw that it was not Shinwoo, but M-21 and M-24. M-24 had a few green stains on his shirt, but, otherwise, the two of them appeared normal.
Well-aware of their long-standing rivalry with Frankenstein, the five adolescents stepped back and let the older human do the talking.
"What do you two want?" Frankenstein asked them, a scowl on his face.
For once, the werewolf was solemn, and didn't look like he belonged in a mental institution. "Have you seen your redhead friend lately?"
Frankenstein's voice took on a threatening quality. "What have you done to him?"
M-21 raised his hands in defense. "Nothing, nothing at all. Though, I wouldn't worry about him, if I were you. He's betrayed you."
"Are you talking about Shinwoo?" the scientist scoffed. "I'm sorry, but I'd have to say that's impossible."
M-24 shrugged. "It's up to you whether you trust our words, but we saw it ourselves. Crombel invited the kid over, gave him the recruitment speech, offered to get him an 'in' with the slayers, and the kid snapped it up like a starving fish. Quite frankly, it was disgusting."
"Even if what you say is true..." interrupted Yuna. "There's got to be more to it than that. Give us a full play-by-play."
M-21 stared at the girl in confusion. "What?"
"All the details you can remember about everything that was said and done between Shinwoo and Crombel," she clarified.
M-21's eyes widened. "Are you serious?"
"Deadly," replied Yuna.
Fifteen Minutes Later...
"And then what happened?" queried Yuna.
"Then Crombel said that Raizel was hiding something important from him, and that Raizel was actually a vampire," said M-21.
"Then Han acted surprised and denied it."
"So, he didn't betray us," said Ikhan. "If he had, he would have told Crombel that he already knew."
"Go on," said Yuna.
"Crombel immediately switched tactics, tried to convince him that training as a Slayer would be good for his career," 21 continued.
"Did he buy it?" Yuna wanted to know.
"He seemed to," said 24. "After that, he accepted Crombel's offer, and the two of them left together, escorted by Crombel's bodyguard."
"He had a bodyguard? Did they try to intimidate Shinwoo into joining?"
"Not really. I think they chose this guy to be non-threatening. At first glance, I thought he was a woman," said 24.
"What exactly did this bodyguard look like?"
M-21 was wondering if this interrogation would ever end. "Tallish, with magenta-looking hair that's at least three feet long. He's got a guy's face, but a girl's hair. Didn't hear him speak, so I couldn't tell you about his voice."
"...did he have a gun with him?"
"Yes, a sniper rifle. Not something you'd use to threaten someone."
Ikhan and Yuna exchanged a significant glance.
"Right," said Ikhan, "That's all we need to know. Rai, Frankenstein, did you have anymore questions for them?"
"I think you covered everything we would have thought of... and quite a bit more," said Raizel.
"Right. Thank you for telling us about this," said Yuna. "We really do appreciate it."
"Right," said M-21. Then, he and his brother hightailed it out of there before the humans could think of any more questions.
The next moment, the two brothers were gone, and Rai, Frankenstein, and Suyi were left to stare at Ikhan and Yuna, who were currently avoiding eye contact.
Raizel sighed. "A kidnapping has just occurred," he said, "and people are acting like it's no big deal. Am I the only one feeling a certain sense of deja vu?"
"This situation does seem rather familiar," remarked Frankenstein. "Please tell me joining the slayers is not another one of your neighborhood traditions..."
"No," said Yuna, "but you're close."
"Well?" asked Suyi.
"Do you want the truth?" asked Ikhan, "Or do you want the answer that won't make you mad?"
"Truth, please," said Raizel.
"Well, assuming everything we've just heard is true—and I am willing to trust the word of those two—we know why Shinwoo would have joined the slayers," began Ikhan.
"We know the bodyguard."
"I've never meet a guy with that description," said Suyi.
"Well, no, it's only Yuna, Shinwoo and I who know him—"
"Is this going where I think it's going?" Suyi asked.
"Were you thinking he was a blood-slave at the same time we were?" asked Ikhan.
"I was," said Suyi.
"Now, correct me if I'm wrong," said Raizel, "But I thought you three didn't remember anything from the five months in which you disappeared?"
"We didn't... until last month."
"Ah," said Frankenstein. "I suppose the gain of a noble's powers were enough to destroy the restrictions placed on your memories?"
"Probably," said Ikhan. "All we know is, after the power transfer, we were able to remember those months again."
"You remember who was responsible for your imprisonment?" asked Rai.
"Yes, but more importantly, we remember Tao and Takeo. They were the other two blood-slaves the guy had in his basement. We became friends during that time, even though they were only around for the first three months."
"Did you know they were slayers?" asked Raizel.
"No," said Yuna. "They didn't talk about what they did for a living. We assumed it must either be something illegal or something very, very legal."
"Why would Shinwoo join the slayers simply because he recognized one of them as a friend?" asked Frankenstein.
"I'd guess he's going to try and convince Takeo to leave them," speculated Ikhan. "He's a gentle soul, and he's not cut out for brutality... even if he is a very good sniper."
"Won't they notice he has superhuman powers?" Rai was curious.
"Probably not. Most people at school don't even know how good he is at martial arts. He just has to try and get through whatever training they've got without getting injured and revealing that he has access to healing powers."
"Isn't that dangerous?" Rai asked.
"Of course it is, but, thanks to you, he'll be fine. His body will be able to heal whatever damage they do to it, and their doctors will take credit for it, and be none the wiser."
"Am I the only one feeling worried about this?"Suyi asked.
"I'm right there with you," assured Ikhan.
"Yeah, we're worried," admitted Yuna, "but Takeo's worth the trouble. He's a good person. He deserves a more peaceful life. I can't even guess why he's in the slayers to start with."
Much to his surprise, Shinwoo found himself fitting right in with the slayers. He'd even managed to reintroduce himself to Takeo, when the sniper had shown him to the new recruits' barracks:
"So..." he had asked the sniper, "any pointers to give a new recruit?"
"Well," considered Takeo, "A rundown of events would probably be most helpful. First, they have an elimination round of boot-camp to weed out those who aren't serious. Then, those left are given psych evaluations and apprenticed out to current slayers. Survive the first week, and things get much easier."
"Right. Thanks for the advice. I'm Han Shinwoo, by the way."
The man nodded. "I'm Takeo."
Shinwoo went in with the other cadets. "Thanks again!"
Well, Shinwoo's biggest problem during his first week was making sure he didn't get injured in any noticeable way, so that Rai's healing powers wouldn't kick in and expose him for the vampire sympathizer he was. Needless to say, he had no trouble staying on track with the drill sergeant's insane training regime. Most of his efforts went into sandbagging his own progress to remain on level with all the other recruits.
After a month of training, only half of the original eighty of them remained, and they were abruptly brought to a meeting room, and told they would be doing mental activities that day, to start a different kind of weeding out.
Shinwoo was much less comfortable about this portion of things. If they expected him to do anything mental, there was no guarantee he'd survive the next round of elimination.
Fortunately for him, this one was a psych test.
They were subjected to three hours of listening to testimonies by people who had been injured by vampires in one way or another. First up, as expected, was a blood-slave. She was a few years younger than they were, and she had large, pathos-inducing eyes and her skin was covered with knife scars.
"Until the slayers rescued me," she said, "I was trapped for three years by a monster that drank my blood."
"How did you get those scars?" asked the master of ceremonies.
"He didn't want to accidentally give me any of his powers," she said, "because then I might be able to escape. To do that, he needed to avoid touching me when he drank my blood. So, he normally used a knife instead of biting me..." her eyes swam with tears.
Now, Shinwoo wasn't heartless. He felt for the girl, he really did. But he could also recognize psychological manipulation when he saw it. Yeah, the slayers did do good things by freeing blood-slaves, but that did not mean all their political stances were the correct ones.
After that, various slayers, all injured in the line of duty, came up to speak. Some of them were in wheelchairs or had missing limbs. It was sobering to think that this might be them in a few years.
Finally, the master of ceremonies took back the stage. "As you can see, the enemy we fight is not human, nor is this profession a safe one. If there are any here who are not prepared to die for our cause, leave now."
And twelve people did leave there and then, but there were still more than thirty remaining.
"Very well," said the MC, once the twelve had left. "There is no shame in choosing another path, it is far better than to commit and later desert. As for the rest of you, welcome to the slayers."
Rael was out, for once, and he was having a decent time in his territory's park.
Then, his friends showed up.
"Hey, Rael," said M-21, "guess what happened today?"
Rael looked at M-24. "Do I want to know?"
M-24 thought about it. "It won't make you happy, but you'll want to hear it."
"Remember that redhead you kept as a blood-slave a few months ago?"
"That's the one. He just joined the slayers."
"Any reason given?"
"Seemed to think it would be a smart career move."
"Also, we told his friends and the True Noblesse about it."
Rael couldn't see the logic in that. "Why?"
"We don't like Cadis Etrama Di Raizel, or his lackey," M-24 explained. "but we have no problem with the kids. They should know that one of their number has betrayed them."
"I suppose," sighed Rael.
"Yes. Do you think he'll come after you?" asked 21.
"Not sure. Perhaps. You have to admit, it's suspicious. Up until recently, he was perfectly content to be Raizel's pet, if I understand."
"Certainly seemed that way," said M-21. "But people change all the time, and not always for the better."
The next day, Ikhan and Yuna were lingering in Suyi's living room for a few minutes before heading over to Rai's. Suyi had already left, as she had a photo-shoot that day.
"Do you think we should have told them about M-21 and M-24?" asked Ikhan.
"No," she said, "Even though they're the ones who probably convinced Kertia to go civilized, I don't think it would lessen the enmity between the four of them if Rai and Frankenstein knew that."
"Had any luck stalking down Tao yet?"
"Nope. He's got a lot more hacking experience, so it'll be next to impossible to dig anything up on him. But I'm still going to give it a try."
Meanwhile, over at the slayers' headquarters, the remaining candidates were being assigned out as apprentices.
"You'll be apprenticed to Tao Daquin, he's one of our computer techs, so he'll be in information central."
Tao was here, too? Jackpot!
"Right. Thanks, sir," Shinwoo told the supervisor. Then, he left the training room and headed off to find his mentor. He thought he remembered the tech-center being over in the north wing of the complex... and he was right.
He recognized Tao amongst the other workers immediately, but he went up to the closest person and made his query anyway.
"Tao?" responded one of the tech-workers. "Yeah, he's over there. The guy wearing nail-polish."
"What're you saying about me, Roberts?"
"Just that you're very pretty, Daquin."
"Also, your intern's here."
"A child? For me? Roberts, you shouldn't have!"
"I didn't, Tao."
But Tao wasn't listening.
"—and I shall hug him and keep him and I think I'll name him 'George'. "
"Actually, I'm Han Shinwoo."
"Shut up, George."
Yep. This was definitely Tao. Why did he want to help this guy again?
Oh, right. Friendship.
"Come on, George. Let's go see Takeo. He mentioned meeting you when you first got here, so imagine how happy he'll be to hear you got through the initiation!"
Well, two could play at that game. Shinwoo kept as straight a face as he could as he said, "Lead the way, Ms. Daquin."
For the first few weeks, Shinwoo shadowed Tao and Takeo in their work, and asked endless amounts of questions about procedure and creed—with one important amendment to his personality: Shinwoo was pretending he didn't have any moral code whatsoever, when it came to other species.
"Tao, why aren't we allowed to kill vampires whenever we see them?"
Tao sighed, and recited the textbook answer. "While that is our eventual goal, at present we do not have the strength to go up against Lukedonia, and must content ourselves with the slaughter of those who have broken our laws."
Shinwoo considered that. "So... we'll probably be able to do as we like in the future?"
Tao inwardly shuddered, but maintained his outward smile "With recruits like you? Almost certainly."
"Takeo, when are we going to go on a mission? I didn't join the slayers to do paperwork, I joined to destroy the non-humans!"
Takeo's expression became stiff. While he'd thought Shinwoo seemed like a likable kid when they'd first met, it seemed his views were a bit extreme, when it came to violence. "Tao and I will probably go on a mission in a few days," he said, "You're more than welcome to tag along, if you'd like."
Shinwoo grinned. "Yeah! Finally, I'll get to do something!"
There was something seriously wrong with that kid...
Even once they did take him along on a mission, things didn't get much better. Normally, they didn't let newbies come along on this type of job, and gave them to the more experienced slayers. The new recruits first missions were usually along the lines of taking out confirmed killers or freeing blood-slaves—things that left you with a good feeling inside.
The work they were going to do now... well it tended to make one feel as though they'd joined a gang. Their current mission was to eliminate a vampire who'd hindered a slayer last month.
Not everyone was physically enhanced like Tao and Takeo, and it was essential that they maintain the reputation of the slayers society. If they weren't feared among the vampiric community, how were they supposed to protect the innocent? Currently, that meant killing a being who'd done nothing more than refuse to rat out one of his comrades.
And Shinwoo was thrilled.
Why did they always have to mentor the weird ones?
Anyway, Tao had tracked the guy down to a downtown locale, so they were taking public transport, to save the headache of finding a place to park a car. It made a lot of sense, but it also left a lot of time for dialogue between them and their young protege.
"So, Shinwoo," said Takeo, trying to make conversation, "what made you decide to join the slayers?"
Shinwoo's expression darkened. "I grew up being oppressed by those monsters, and I never want to live that way again." He seemed completely serious for a moment, then he smiled and turned to Takeo. "What about you guys?"
Takeo cleared his throat. "You haven't heard of me before, have you?"
"Can't say that I have."
"Well, I'm not really surprised... but I'll bet you know my relatives; they're pretty famous. My father was a saint. And my sister? She's a god. But I'm just Iris' kid brother, Takeo. I'm a legacy member."
"Huh. What about you, Tao?"
"They pay me very well to do my job."
They were on the bus at this point, and they had another four stops to go, so neither of them were expecting it when Shinwoo yanked on the signal-cord and ran off the bus, leaving his confused mentors with a decision to make.
Takeo got up to follow him.
Tao wasn't so anxious. "Can we just pretend he died on the mission?" he asked.
Takeo shook his head. "Twisted or not, he's still one of us, and you're his mentor."
Tao sighed and got up. "Why did I have to team up with the one slayer with a conscience?" he asked.
The two of them got off the bus.
It was night, and there were very few people out. Well... very few innocent bystanders, anyway. Vampires and werewolves tended to be nocturnal, so they were around. The only humans around were those powerful enough to stand against them... and the extremely unlucky.
Judging by the snarls coming from a nearby park, they had a good idea of where to start looking for Shinwoo.
Though he'd quit picking out blood-slaves from the human populace, Rael still regarded his chosen chunk of city as his own personal stomping-grounds, and made a point of keeping any vampiric riff-raff away from his home away from Lukedonia.
This wasn't as hard as it might have seemed. Rael had no clue how fictional superheroes or supervillains were supposed to claim an area as open as a city as their territory, but for him, it was nearly habit, and almost all mental, seeing as he could distinguish species and sense conflict through thoughts.
Even from the other side of town, Rael could tell that there was some sort of disturbance going on in the park, in close proximity to M-21 and M-24. It only remained to see whether they were the instigators or the defenders. Either way, having an extra ally never hurt.
Rael stopped once he could see 21 and 24 squaring off against... Han Shinwoo? In a slayer's uniform, no less. And those were Tao and Takeo standing next to him, weren't they?
"24, what's going on here?" he asked, mentally.
"Crazy kid just challenged me to a death-match! Rael, what's this guy trying to do?"
There was a pause as Rael rifled through Shinwoo's memories, trying to figure out what his angle was.
"He's trying to get the other two slayers to defect," Rael told 24, after a moment.
"By acting like a psycho-elitist?" asked 24, raising a mental eyebrow.
"Yes," confirmed Rael.
"...all right, then," said 24.
Rael was preparing to offer further comment, when an unfortunate presence made itself known to him. Another vampire had just entered his territory... and this guy meant trouble.
"24, I've got to go,"
"Need any help?"
"No, it's my brother."
"Ah, so this probably has to do with the guys who were threatening you," said 21.
"I suspect you're right. If I don't come back, it was nice knowing you."
"See you, Rael," said 24.
Takeo: "Jesus Brother Bob"
Dr. Crombel wasn't normally one who took an interest in the new recruits, but he'd been impressed by the dedication and drive he'd witnessed in the character of one Han Shinwoo. These days, so many were joining the slayers merely for the high-paying jobs (*cough-Tao-cough*), and recruits who truly believed in the cause were getting rarer and rarer.
So, when Shinwoo trudged into his office and sat heavily down in the chair across from his desk, Crombel didn't even have to fake the concern in his voice as he asked, "Is everything all right, Han?"
"I completely failed my first mission," said Shinwoo with a sigh.
"I think the vampire's dead, but Tao and Takeo... I couldn't find them afterwards. I don't think they made it." His eyes watered a bit, but Shinwoo ignored it.
"Ah, your first mission was also your first taste of the price we must pay for our cause. Shinwoo, Tao and Takeo died doing what is right."
Shinwoo took a shaky breath, and seemed to get ahold of himself. He then seemed to realize that he had barged into the office of a senior slayer without permission. He stiffened. "Sorry for not knocking," he said.
"Quite all right. Now then, how about something to honor the memory of your fallen comrades?"
"Oh, okay. What?"
After hearing about his part in the upcoming mission Crombel had been planning, Shinwoo killed a few hours, until he felt safe enough to retrieve his cell phone from where he'd buried it in the dirt by the track. He'd been using it to communicate with the others since he'd gotten there, on an irregular basis.
That evening, he sent out a text to Rai, Ikhan, Yuna, Suyi, Frankenstein, Regis and Seira: "Tao & Takeo r free now, I told slayers they died. But bigger problems: slayers r going to assassinate Lord & Clan Leaders at gala next week. What is needed to convince cntrl ordr there is a threat?"
Rai sent: "Central Order will only believe their own intelligence. They'd need to capture a slayer themselves and interrogate them to realize the threat is real."
Seira sent: "I'm a Clan Leader, myself. I'll tell them that one of my spies within the slayers warned me of this threat."
Regis sent: "My grandfather's a clan leader. I'll try and get him to do something."
Frankenstein sent: "There's no good way to convince those pompous blowhards of anything. Don't worry about it. Master and I will be there, as well as Regis and Seira. We'll protect the targets."
Yuna sent: "You should come back and tell Rai about it. He'll no what to do."
Suyi sent: "What if u said u were a traitor, looking to sell info?"
Ikhan sent: "Go with the assassination team and do something really stupid, to give them away."
After considering these replies, Shinwoo sent back: "Thnx for the advice. I think I'm going to go 'invade' Lukedonia ; ) found out last week that I can use some of the mind-control powers I got when I was a blood-slave. Rai said the central order puts absolute trust in their mind control abilities, so I'm going to make them think I'm a scout who will later act as an assassin. So, if you want them to take my confession seriously, I'd keep our mutual acquaintance on the down-low (keep it a secret) until after the gala."
After completely disregarding Crombel's instructions to stand by and go with the assassination team, Shinwoo calmly left the slayers' headquarters, and used his slayer-learned stealth skills to sneak aboard a plane bound for Lukedonia at the secret airport.
A few hours later, he was in Lukedonia itself. Shinwoo then proceeded to sneak into and out of the palace no less than four times before someone noticed him and he was captured.
Needless to say, the central order were not pleased to see him, but they also didn't do anything violent to him. Utterly convinced that Shinwoo was under the influence of their mind-control powers, they calmly and politely asked him questions about his orders from the slayer elite.
"Name?" asked Ludis.
"Mission in Lukedonia?"
"I was instructed to carry out reconnaissance before the assassination mission."
Soon after that, an emergency meeting of the clan leaders was called, to which Cadis Etrama Di Raizel was also invited.
The nobles were all on edge, as they could easily tell that there was something afoot. Most of them knew, from their social contacts, that the Lord had just imprisoned a good number of the slayer elite. This likely had something to do with the current meeting.
Rai and almost all of the clan leaders were assembled in the throne room, when Ludis, head of the central order, came in, leading a human prisoner into the room.
Seira and Rai immediately recognized the prisoner as Shinwoo.
"Ah, Ludis," said the Lord. "Now that you've arrived, we can begin. Please, share with us your intelligence on the slayers' plans for attacking Lukedonia."
The young noble bowed to the Lord, and spoke. "I have with me here, a scout, captured during reconnaissance, during the early stages of the mission." He turned to Shinwoo. "You, tell us what your organization planned to do to us."
Shinwoo's expression remained impassive. "You were all to be assassinated during the gathering next week. This is the culmination of months of effort on our part."
The clan leaders were murmuring amongst themselves at this revelation, before the Lord called things to order.
"Investigations on this intelligence have confirmed an assassination plan, and the slayers responsible for it have been imprisoned or otherwise incapacitated. What remains to do now, is to determine our response to this planned attack. Should we continue to maintain political relations with the slayers, or should other retributive steps be taken?"
This lead to a nearly three-hour long discussion on the best course of action for the nobles as a whole.
The human prisoner, whom nearly everyone had forgotten about, was asleep before the first ten minutes had passed.
"...All right," said the Lord, as the meeting was concluding. "At this time, no further action will be taken against the slayers. Any further business to conclude?"
At this, Seira and Rai exchange a glance.
"There is still the fate of Han Shinwoo to be considered," pointed out the True Noblesse.
"Ah, yes," said the Lord, "Our young slayer friend. Seira, would you be so good as to wake him up?"
Seira nodded, and walked over to the sleeping human, and thought for a moment.
"Shinwoo," she said, in an uncharacteristically loud voice, "Frankenstein is going to kill you if he finds out you've been drooling on his floor!"
The slayer started, and jerked from lying down to a sitting position, wiping saliva off the side of his face. "Ah man, why didn't anyone move me?" he complained
Then, he saw the assembled nobles staring at him, and among these, Seira and Rai, who both had slight grins on their faces.
Shinwoo scowled in annoyance. "I hate you guys," he said. Then he went back to lying down and rolled over so that he was facing the wall.
It took the Lord a few moments to recover from this.
"I take it you two know this slayer, then?" she finally asked.
"Yes," said Raizel, "We know him. Han Shinwoo was infiltrating the slayers for his own purposes, these past few months. After completing his objective, he discovered the plot against Lukedonia, and came here to warn you of the threat. As far as the slayers were concerned, he wasn't supposed to set foot on the island until the main body of them arrived."
"But," said Ludis, "I've interrogated this child using mind-control. He clearly said that he was one of them. Boy," Ludis said, turning to Shinwoo, "are you or are you not a slayer?"
Shinwoo groaned. He wanted to go back to sleep. "Of course I'm not a slayer," he told the clan leaders without turning around. "I'm Cthulhu, and I'm here to raze this place to the ground."
"Yes," said Raizel. "I have known Han Shinwoo for quite a long time... and so has Frankenstein. Much like Frankenstein, Shinwoo is also immune to mind-control."
Shinwoo's voice floated over to them. "I apologize for lying to you," he said, "It seemed the fastest way to convince you that there was an actual danger to be faced. I'm sorry for my deception."
The Lord was considering what to do about this new development.
"And what will you do now, Han Shinwoo?"
Shinwoo got up at that, seeming to realize that they weren't going to leave him alone. He stretched a bit, before replying. "That is your decision, My Lord, My Lady. More powerful than the average human I may be, but that changes nothing about my current situation.
"If allowed to leave, I intend to return home, for I only planned to spy amongst the slayers for a short time. However, the options amongst which I may choose are yours to lay before me. I'm as curious as the next to hear my fate."
The Lord was silent a moment before replying. "Han Shinwoo, you are guilty of lying to the central order, and of allegiance with the slayers. However, your intentions justify your crimes, and you are hereby absolved. You are now free to come and go on Lukedonia, when accompanied by either Cadis Etrama Di Raizel, or by Seira Loyard."
Shinwoo nodded his head. "Thank you, Lord."
"You may go now," she said.
Shinwoo made a short bow before following Seira and Rai out the door.
They walked for a bit. Once they left the chamber, Frankenstein fell into step with them.
"Ah, Shinwoo, good to see you again."
"Likewise," returned the would-be slayer.
The four of them went over to Seira's room. She and Rai had roughly equal status, but her quarters were closer.
Once they got there, they found Regis there waiting for them. He gave a smile of relief when he saw them. "So glad to see you're not dead," said the young noble to Shinwoo.
Shinwoo looked to the others. "I take it the five of us are alone?"
"Completely," said Seira, "Nice job on reigning in your emotions, by the way. I think you impressed them."
Shinwoo's expression took on an annoyed cast. "Well, goody for them, because I never want to do that again, if I can help it. How do you have time for anything when you spend so much time to say practically nothing?"
"Not everyone has no sense of subtlety, Shinwoo," pointed out Regis.
"Oh, I have one of those, I just have no use for it. What's the point when it's just an accessory to dishonesty?"
"Some people would call it 'tact'."
"Ha! I missed you guys! The slayers don't have much of a sense of humor... And I'm happy to say that they have even less of one now that Tao and Takeo have defected."
"Congratulations," said Frankenstein. "How did you manage it in so short a time?"
"Tao had no loyalty to them to start with. He was only there because Takeo is his friend. Takeo was only there because he was a legacy member. Ever heard of Iris or Evan Fulslade?"
"His sister and father respectively."
"How on earth did you manage to convince a legacy member to defect... after only two months among them?"
"Two words," said Shinwoo. "Affecting extremism. Tao was my mentor, and he and Takeo were on the same team.
"Having to teach the stuff to me made them reevaluate their priorities. Especially when I went all racist-extremist on our first mission... on a completely unrelated note, it's probably better if I avoid M-21 and M-24 for the next few months."
"Don't tell me..." began Regis.
"That the first mission was to kill them? No, it wasn't."
"Well, that's a—"
"I just happened to see them, so I challenged M-24 to a fight to the death, and started spewing slayer propaganda. I was just trying to lay the groundwork for our mission. I didn't expect that to push Tao and Takeo over the edge, but they must have been even less loyal than I'd assumed. I hadn't been fighting for even a quarter of an hour when they tranqued me and ran off. No one from the slayers has seen them since."
"You challenged M-24 to a fight to the death?" Frankenstein was surprised.
"Yeah. He wasn't too happy about that, when I woke up. M-21 went completely ballistic. He went on a tirade about how I was going after the wrong people. He said—get this—apparently, M-24 has been on the slaughterhouse diet for the better part of fifty years."
"M-24?" asked Frankenstein. "I wouldn't have thought him better than a thug."
"He's not refined," said Shinwoo, "and he wouldn't fit in here, but he's solid. That's why I don't like Lukedonia's way of doing things. Being able to hide your emotions... it's got nothing to do with character. To be judged on that of all things... I just don't like it.
"But anyway," continued Shinwoo. "I'm not trying to be a buzz-kill. Seriously, thanks for what you did back there, it could have backfired."
"Not at all," said Rai.
"Thank you," said Seira. "You didn't have to come here, but it really helped speed things along."
Shinwoo laughed. "Your prisons are nicer than some houses I've lived in. It wasn't a great sacrifice, but you're more than welcome. Any ideas on when we go back home?"
"Our flight leaves this afternoon. We're all going back to Rai's to celebrate your homecoming," said Seira.
"You guys don't need to do anything."
"On the contrary," said Regis, "parties are as much for the guests as the subject. I do believe this is what you call 'revenge'."
As it turned out, the gala that would have been the background for the slayers' murder of the noble leaders wasn't canceled.
As a consequence, Rai was inverting one of Suyi's tried and true strategies for getting her friends into Hollywood events, so that he could give his friends a tour of Lukedonia.
As the True Noblesse, it was one of his duties to keep informed about human culture and practices, and educate the other nobles. To this end, he had decided to bring along Shinwoo, Suyi, Ikhan, and Yuna along to the nobles' gala... as his escorts. After some coercion, they'd managed to sucker Regis and Seira into going along with it, as well. So, the seven of them were going in one gigantic, and purposefully ambiguous, group.
Most nobles didn't bring humans to events such as this, so they were expecting to shock the socks off of everyone.
To their surprise, however, come the night of the gala, hardly anyone seemed to pay them any mind, as someone else had already stolen their thunder.
Rael was currently being punished. His brother had found he had been keeping blood-slaves and would be reducing his privileges and status for the next century. Rajak had tried to keep the whole thing quiet, of course, but all the nobles had still found out about it, and Rael was being avoided.
It didn't take too much time for the humans to notice this... and to decide to do something about it.
"Hey," said Shinwoo in an undertone to Raizel. "Why's everyone shunning that guy?"
"That's Rael Kertia," said the True Noblesse. "He's in disgrace right now. He's been keeping blood-slaves, and his brother found out about it."
"Ah, so he was found out?" said Ikhan. "Shame. If word of this gets out on the human plane, it'll mean the end of the agreement. And we do so like the agreement... especially since Kertia quit asking us to keep up our end of things."
"Rael was the one who kidnapped you?" asked Seira, her eyes narrowing.
"Yes," said Yuna. "The same guy who's been off human blood for the past six months."
The three nobles exchanged surprised glances with each other. This was the first they'd heard of this.
"If there's an injustice," said Raizel, "I'm sure his punishment could be lessened."
"I wouldn't," said Yuna. "Sometimes, all a guy's got is his pride. There are a few things we could do for him, though..."
Rael's brother, Rajak Kertia, was more than unhappy with his sibling's behavior. Rael's actions had brought shame and disgrace onto the Kertia name, and by those actions, Rael had also proved himself to be a criminal beyond redemption. He just couldn't believe that his young brat of a brother was a monster. Still, there was no point in making things worse, so he was watching him closely.
So far things seemed to be relatively safe. No one was approaching him, at least. Until...
A brown-haired human girl walked up to Rael, who immediately activated his powers and diverted attention away from their conversation, so no one would eavesdrop. This had no effect on the elder Kertia Brother, as he was using his own powers to make sure Rael ignored him. "Would you like to dance?" she asked the young Kertia noble.
"No, thank you," Rael answered.
A few minutes later, a blue-haired human went up to him. "Would you like to dance?" she asked him.
"No, thank you," he repeated.
A few minutes after that, a red-haired human male, Han Shinwoo, the slayer-spy, came over and opened his mouth to ask a question.
"Dear God, no," said Rael, making a face. "I'm straight."
"Well, we were starting to wonder," said Shinwoo, "not many straight guys turn down Suyi."
"Your friends are both quite attractive," assured Rael, "It simply wouldn't be wise for me to be seen fraternizing with humans, at the moment."
"You could always come hang out with our group, then" he said, "We've got a few nobles with us, so things would be less awkward."
Rael glanced at the group of them, who were all watching him. "No thank you," Rael said, "One of your party harbors a distinct dislike of me."
"You mean Seira?" said Shinwoo. "Yeah, I remember you talking about that. She doesn't hate you, she's just a bit creeped-out. But you're a decent guy, so she should come around eventually."
Rael seemed to be having difficulty remaining balanced. This human remembered that he had once been held captive, and he was talking of it as though it were nothing.
"Yeah. Power transfer with the True Noblesse will do all kinds of things to your head. Clears up blocked memories in a heartbeat."
Rael thought about this
"The other two, as well?"
"Well, that explains why 21 and 24 saw you with the two slayers. You aren't the kind of person to join them... or to challenge someone to a fight to the death."
"Hey, my plan worked perfectly! Tao and Takeo haven't been with the slayers since that day."
The corner of Rael's mouth quirked slightly. "You were the one who betrayed their plans to us?"
Shinwoo nodded, "Of course."
"I'm not sure I want to know how you managed that."
"Oh, that was your fault,"
"Even if I can't utilize any of the active abilities, when you drank my blood you gave the three of us protection from being brainwashed... even by members of the central order."
Rael allowed himself a slight smirk at that.
"I always wondered whether Ludis or myself would win in a fight."
"All I know is that he cannot interrogate you," cautioned Shinwoo.
"I'll take what victories I can get."
Shinwoo drummed his fingers against the wall in thought. "I am curious, though... how can they know about your keeping blood-slaves and still have no knowledge of the agreement?"
Rael laughed bitterly. "This wasn't brought to light through investigation but through blackmail."
"You refused to be blackmailed?"
Rael nodded. " As a result, my brother now knows that I've held more than four-thousand blood-slaves over the past century and a half."
Shinwoo cocked his head. "I don't get what's so appalling about—oh wait. Normal vampires only get new blood-slaves when their old ones die, don't they?"
"So, they think you killed all those people... woah. If you need character witnesses, just give us a call. Outsiders often have a hard time understanding the agreement."
"Thank you for the offer, but this isn't really something I can appeal." He smirked wryly. "Then again, the Lord used a blood-field to carry out my punishment, so things actually worked out quite well for me. "
"What, 'judge this guy according to his sins', or something like that?"
"More like, 'for every human life you have taken, you shall lose your powers and live for one year as naught more than a human."
"Have you killed before?"
"Yes, but not humans. They carried out my judgment this morning, and I've yet to notice a difference in my powers."
"Are you going to tell them?"
"If I weren't using my powers, I don't doubt there would be half a dozen people eavesdropping on us now, but, no, I'm not going to go out of my way to spread this around. I'm the injured party in all this, and once the truth gets out, I'm going to hold that fact over people's heads, mercilessly."
"Nice. Well, I'll leave you to laying the groundwork for your guilt-a-thon. Enjoy yourself."
"I certainly will. Have a nice evening."
"You, as well."
With that, Shinwoo went back to his group to explain things.
Rai found a rather disturbing drawing taped to his fridge, one evening a few days after that.
It appeared to be a recreation of the Lukedonian ball they'd attended together.
It showed himself dressed in a tacky, but obviously expensive suit. His earring had been colored in as gold, and he had on a hat that made him look rather like a gangster. He seemed to have been drawn wearing gold braces of some sort, and a number of ostentatious rings were on his drawing-self's fingers.
Shinwoo, Suyi, Ikhan, and Yuna were depicted in clothing which revealed their strongest pulse-points. They were standing around Raizel and looking seductively at the other vampires in the ballroom. They were drawn to resemble blood-whores.
Regis and Seira were drawn in a corner, playing with switchblades.
The rest of the nobles were drawn as congregating around a blood-soaked Rael, and only the Lord was over by their group. Drawing-Raizel appeared to be confiding something in the Lord. A speech bubble had been drawn above Rai's head which read, "It's hard out here for a pimp".
When Frankenstein came in five minutes later, Rai was still frozen in shock.
Frankenstein looked at the drawing, and covered his mouth with his hand, presumably in horror, though Rai suspected it was to hide a grin.
"They've depicted you as... some sort of rap artist, it seems?" Frankenstein said, once he'd managed to straighten out his face.
"Yes," said Rai, "that must be it."
"It's not a bad likeness," said Frankenstein. "I presume this is Yuna's work?"
When Frankenstein looked at the drawing, Rai noticed that there was a note written on the back. It showed a chibi version of Yuna. She looked much as she did in reality, even the scars on her arms had been included. She had a speech bubble over her head, which read, "I'm the one who gets to decide whether things like this are funny or not, and I say it's funny!"
"I think you're right," said Rai.
Despite his powerful mind-control abilities, Rajak Kerita was not the most subtle of people. He much preferred straightforward honesty to subterfuge. Granted, he wasn't the nicest or most moral of people, either, but he was at least honest about it. Unlike his younger brother, who was, apparently, a criminal of highest infamy. Or, at least, that was what everyone thought.
The night before they'd kicked Rael out of Lukedonia, Rajak had witnessed his brother talking amiably with a few humans and, though he'd been called away by Gejutel to offer an opinion on something or other a short way into his eavesdropping, it had seemed like his brother was on good terms with the humans. And he'd been able to use his powers, even after the Lord had taken them away. How was this possible?
To find answers, Rajak was going out into the wide world to mess with peoples' minds.
Specifically, he was going to find people whom his brother had imprisoned, as Rael had confided in his brother that he hadn't killed all of them. Rajak wasn't entirely sure he believed this, but the fact that he was investigating now showed that he was willing to give his brother the benefit of the doubt.
He didn't go near Rael's territory, as he didn't want to let his brother know what he was up to. That meant tracking down people his brother had fed off of, who were no longer in the immediate area, if such people existed. It would take longer, if nothing else, but it would be fairly straightforward, as Rajak could track, from great distance, humans whose minds had been altered in some way by his clan's power.
After four days of searching, he'd managed to learn several things from the humans his brother had fed from. 1: Rael was not a monster. He didn't kill every human he drank from, and there was a good chance he hadn't killed more than a few dozen humans. 2. There was an 'agreement' which was a quid pro quo blood-deal to guarantee protection for the human holders. That would be useful in making a case against the harsh sentence imposed in his brother. Even if Rael only killed one in a hundred of his blood-slaves, that would mean several decades of exile, a punishment unbefitting, in Rajak's opinion, of such a crime.
Rajak sought out a few more of Rael's former blood-slaves, just to be sure the information he'd been getting was accurate. However, before he had finished questioning the last two, he received an urgent telepathic message from the Lord, requesting his presence back in Lukedonia for a meeting he'd forgotten about. Rajak dropped everything and hurried back.
Not realizing he'd neglected to restore the memory-barriers on the last two humans he'd talked with.
Tao and Takeo, since leaving the slayers, hadn't had much excitement. Their defection had come close enough to the Central Order's raid that the other slayers simply assumed they'd been among the prisoners taken by the nobles.
They'd found a city to lay low for awhile, and were getting along just fine. Until a strange vampire, who covered up the lower part of his face, had questioned them about memories they didn't even know they had, before leaving in quite a hurry.
Well, the very first thing they'd done was move to a different city, in case the noble decided to come back, because it would be harder to find them in a new location.
The second thing they'd done was freak out.
Now, don't misunderstand them. Both Tao and Takeo were well-aware that they had memories they had been unable to access before now. They'd both spent a few years living in the scumbag vampire's territory, and were quite familiar with the agreement. What surprised them was that they'd known Shinwoo before meeting him in the slayers, and they were having a good deal of trouble reconciling the two sets of memories they had of him.
The Shinwoo they'd first known had been kind of a goofball, but a good kid overall. As for the kid they'd known in the slayers, well...
After tracking Shinwoo to the park he'd run off to, Tao and Takeo found him facing off against a vampire and a werewolf—rare allies if there ever were.
Currently, the vampire was staring in surprise at the kid. "You're challenging me to a death match?" he said, as though he were repeating an earlier statement in disbelief. "Kid, I think you should wait a few years."
Shinwoo bristled, "And let you kill more innocents? Not while I live, you monster!"
With that, Shinwoo attacked M-24.
The fight was long and drawn-out, as the vampire seemed reluctant to kill the kid, despite the fact that Shinwoo was fighting rather viciously... but even so, the young human wasn't able to gain the upper hand on the vampire.
"Tao, Takeo!" he said. "Help me kill this thing!"
Tao shook his head. "You're the one who issued the challenge, Shinwoo. We're just waiting until you're done playing around."
Shinwoo's face twisted. "Cowards!" he yelled. "Isn't the creed of the slayers to destroy these monsters wherever we find them?"
"Shinwoo," said Takeo. "This guy's clearly more powerful than you are. He could kill you no problem, and he's not. Come on, let's get back to the mission."
Shinwoo's face showed betrayal, before his expression turned cold, "Are you two slayers or aren't you?" he asked.
Tao and Takeo looked to the calm vampire who wasn't attacking Shinwoo (even though the human's back was turned), to the furious kid in front of them.
Then, Tao and Takeo exchanged a glance, Takeo loaded a dart into his gun, and he fired.
The tranquillizer-dart hit Shinwoo in the shoulder, and, with one final indignant look, the young slayer toppled over.
The vampire looked bemused at their choice.
Then he noticed Tao and Takeo watching him. "Didn't see a thing," M-24 assured the two of them, turning to walk in the opposite direction, dragging M-21 along with him.
Since that day, Tao and Takeo hadn't returned to the slayers. Tao later learned that Shinwoo had been one of the first captured by the nobles. However, the knowledge that Shinwoo was a decent person, or at least he had been, once, disturbed the two of them greatly.
Tao had run another search on information about Han Shinwoo, hoping to find out whether he'd been released by the nobles or not. To their relief, it seemed as though Shinwoo was outside Lukedonia, but wasn't part of the slayers, either. As relieving as it was, it was also puzzling. Why would a kid who loved the slayers so much choose to leave them?
Tao and Takeo decided to investigate. Han Shinwoo lived on the same street as Crombel, after all, and they would have gone by there anyway, to snoop through the slayer elite's stuff if nothing else.
This one's the final chapter, and I don't plan on a sequel.
In terms of future writing, I think I'm going to spend some time playing around in other fandoms for awhile, but I do plan on coming back to Noblesse, eventually.
I don't own any of the websites, movies, or video games mentioned (and I definitely don't own Noblesse).
Rael Kerita was sorely regretting that he made it a personal rule never to kill a human.
Honestly, three straight hours of 'music' was more than enough. Not to mention that one of those hours had been nothing but listening to a rainbow-excreting, pastry-shaped cat who only seemed to know one word: 'nyan'.
When he'd agreed to hang around the True Noblesse's human pets for a few days, while Raizel, Regis, and *sigh* Seira, were gone off to Lukedonia (Rael hadn't gone back there yet, he was still laying low), he'd expected things to be a little less torturous.
Behind him, four people laughed with evil intent.
"Rae-eeeelllll," said Suyi, "We drew a picture of you!"
"Good for you," said the noble.
"Actually, we drew five of them."
"Hooray," he enthused, not looking up from the jigsaw puzzle he was piecing together.
"And then we made them into a video!" said Ikhan.
"You did what?" said Rael, finally looking up. He knew Ikhan had a YouTube channel, and didn't particularly want pictures of himself floating around the internet.
"Oh, don't worry," said Yuna, "we said it was Draco Malfoy, in the description. Want to see?"
"No," admitted Rael, "but I'd feel more regret from not seeing it and knowing it was out there."
He walked around the table to look over their shoulders at Ikhan's laptop, reading the title of the video he was about to see.
"What in God's name is a 'caramelldansen'?" Rael asked.
The girls giggled evilly. "You'll see," they said.
Suddenly, Rael sensed something out of the ordinary.
"Hang on," he said. "Something's not right. There's a noble near here."
The video was immediately forgotten. "I thought they were all in Lukedonia?" said Shinwoo.
"So did I," said the Kertia clan noble. "Whoever it is, they're heading here, if they just get a bit closer I should be able to—ah, feels like it's just some Central Order agents."
"Must be some sort of inspection," said Ikhan. "to make sure you're not falling back into your evil ways."
"Probably," sighed Rael. "How annoying." He went back to his jigsaw puzzle. The four humans followed suit, Ikhan closing his laptop before taking a seat.
Rael looked incredulously at the four people who'd joined him at the table. "You do realize that if they come in here and see us all doing this, they're going to become suspicious. Normal people don't just sit around en masse assembling jigsaw puzzles."
"We do!" said Yuna, "In fact, we're doing it right now!"
"Whatever," Rael decided he didn't care anymore.
Indeed, a few minutes later, when a few Central Order Agents broke down the door of his house yelling, "surprise inspection!" the first thing they did was interrogate Rael about his current activity.
"Kertia, just what are you up to?" their leader asked asked, eying the four humans with apprehension, apparently recognizing them from the numerous times they'd visited Lukedonia.
Upon seeing their hostile expressions, Rael decided he was going to mess with Ludis' subordinates, as the guys had damaged his house; so he put on his most irritating smirk, and donned his most condescending mannerisms.
"Whatever do you mean?" he asked with a smile. "My, ah, 'friends' and I were simply engaging in normal human social activities. That is what young people do, is it not?"
The central order agent looked at him. "Watch yourself, Kertia," he said. "Scum like you doesn't deserve the title of 'noble', and you sicken me. The Lord let you off easy for your crimes. Don't think you can break our laws so easily. If I find evidence you've stepped, even an inch out of line, I will drag you before the court in chains to face your destruction."
"Hmm," said Rael, "Well, that day is not today," so if you would kindly leave my property?"
"After we inspect the house."
Rael went back to his puzzle, "Go right ahead," he said, "you won't find anything."
The Central Order agents were not gentle in their search and they 'accidentally' broke quite a few of his possessions while going though his things. Eventually, however, they had no choice but to leave.
"Have a nice day," Rael told them, as they left without a word. When they were gone, he got up to go survey the damage.
"Well," said Ikhan, "That was rude."
Rael laughed derisively. "Indeed it was," he agreed. "Though, it's my own fault, I suppose. Things would be a lot easier for me now if I'd shown some self-restraint these past two centuries."
"This is just because they think you're a killer," said Shinwoo. "They should lighten up when they find you've still got your powers, right?"
Rael shrugged, looking over what used to be his kitchen wall-clock, not paying much attention to the conversation. "Actually," he said. "They already know. I wasn't expecting things to turn out this way, but whatever.
"My brother found out I still had my powers, and realized I hadn't killed anyone. I'd guess the rest of Lukedonia knows it by now. Things have gotten a bit better, but I doubt the stigma attached to my actions will disappear for another century or two.
"More than anything else, I seem to have supremely embarrassed the Clan Leaders by my actions, because, I, a pureblood and the brother of a Clan Leader, behaved in a manner unbefitting of my station. It's the fact that I drank human blood, more than anything else, I'd guess.
"With the three nobles you guys usually hang around, the fact that they drank your blood can be justified by the fact that they are your allies, and they view you as equals. Even if I didn't take human life, what I did was still blood-slavery—one of the most controversial subjects in our society.
"It was less than a thousand years ago that the nobles kept personal blood-slaves at Lukedonia, after all, so we've got a lot of hereditary guilt associated with the practice, and those who are found guilty of it are punished harshly," he finished sweeping the pieces of the clock together and dumped them in a trashcan.
Yuna was shocked. "The nobles used to keep blood-slaves?"
Rael nodded. "I believe it was your master, Raizel, who put a stop to it," he said.
The four humans exchanged surprised glances at this new bit of information.
Then, they wordlessly split up and proceeded to clean and straighten the rest of the house.
It was another hour before the reconvened in Rael's living room. Actually, Rael was the last to get there.
When Rael did, he saw that Ikhan was hooking his laptop up to Rael's television.
"We're going to watch a movie," Suyi announced, when she saw him.
Rael thought this a good deal better than working on the jigsaw puzzle, and he didn't try to argue. Instead, he merely asked, "What's it called?"
"Silence of the Lambs," said Shinwoo.
Rael frowned, not recognizing the title. "It's not a musical, is it?" he asked.
"No," said Yuna, "It's not."
Two hours later:
"Well, that's all right," said Rael, "I wasn't planning on sleeping tonight, anyway."
"That was fun," agreed Shinwoo. "Who wants to watch Saw?"
"Is it anything like the last one?" Rael wanted to know.
"Pass. I like for my food to stay inside my stomach, thank you."
"Ha!" said Suyi. "Is the big, bad criminal unnerved by a twenty-year-old horror movie?"
"Why do I feel like you're trying to make a point here?" Rael asked the ceiling. "And why do I have an even stronger feeling that it's going to be really cheesy?"
"Okay," said Ikhan, "you caught us. We just don't want you to turn into a morose angst-bucket."
"If you're the worst criminal the nobles have to deal with," said Suyi, "then I'd like very much to visit the fluffy little world they live in. It must be a nice place... because humans create worlds which would shatter theirs, simply out of boredom."
"Don't beat yourself up over what they think," said Yuna. "They called you 'scum'? They don't have any idea what scum even is."
"Okay," said Rael. "I should 'have faith' and 'believe in myself' and 'never give up' and everything will turn out fine, will it?"
"Of course not," said Ikhan. "There's every possibility that they could hold this against you forever, maybe even disown you. Our point is that they'll be idiots if they do."
Rael laughed softly.
"I know," said Yuna, "Let's watch The Producers!"
"Does it involve demented serial killers?" asked Rael.
"Not at all!"
"Is it a musical by any chance?"
"As a matter of fact—"
"Let's watch it," said Rael. "I could use something to dilute that nightmare-fuel I just sat through."
"You might regret it," warned Shinwoo. "This one has singing Nazis."
Rael's expression showed disbelief, but by that time, the film had already started, so he let it go.
A few weeks later:
When Frankenstein came home to an empty house, he was initially quite worried. At least, he was until he heard what sounded like techno music coming from Suyi's house. Then he got suspicious.
His master's friends hadn't planned anything for that night, but they weren't exactly into planning things in advance. And someone was clearly throwing a wild party there, if the flashing of strobe lights and pounding of bass was anything to go by.
Being the sound scientist he was, Frankenstein decided to test his hypothesis, and so let himself into Suyi's house and proceeded to look around.
The first thing he noticed was that all of the lights were off, save for a strobe that seemed to be coming from the living room, and a line of light underneath the dining room door.
Frankenstein went for the door. When he entered the room, he saw that there were several people within, all relatively calm. They made for a strange panorama.
At one end of the table, Ikhan was playing Rael Kertia in chess. Yuna, a man he didn't recognize (who looked rather like a slayer), and M-24 were at the other end of the table, going through a stack of documents, each of them armed with a scanner, which they were using to copy the enormous pile of paper before them.
They all looked up when he entered.
"Have you seen my master, by chance?" Frankenstein asked.
Yuna thought about it. "Hopefully, he's still in the house. If not, Tao and M-21 probably dragged him out to a club or something."
"...what exactly is going on here?" asked Frankenstein.
The slayer, a guy with long red hair, was the next to speak. "Well, it started when my teammate and I were systematically performing reconnaissance on the slayers who were taken in the nobles' last raid."
Frankenstein raised an eyebrow. "By breaking into their homes, I presume?"
The slayer shrugged. "If you want to put a label on it, yes. We weren't expecting there to be people living in Crombel's house."
M-24 laughed. "No rent? Why on earth wouldn't 21 and I take advantage of that?"
"And Rael Kertia?" asked Frankenstein.
"He was just visiting," said 24.
"Hmm," said Frankenstein, noncommittally.
The slayer continued with his narration. "The unexpected encounter lead to conflict between the five of us," he admitted.
"While not unexpected, that still doesn't explain the current situation," pointed out Frankenstein.
"Yes," said the slayer. "Well, the... argument... that we here having attracted the attention of the neighbors." He gestured to the two children. "These two, along with five others, arrived. We knew each other previously, and they helped act as mediators. Eventually, M-21 and M-24, and Kertia agreed that we could look through Crombel's documents, on the condition that we remain discrete about their presence here. Ms. Im offered us use of her dining room to make records of the documents, as the power has been shut off at the slayer's place, and we weren't keen on working in the dark."
"And the music?"
Rael Kertia scoffed. "The other slayer lost interest in information-gathering after he discovered the home-entertainment system. The last thing I head before the ungodly noise began was Tao shouting something along the lines of, 'Screw guitar hero, we're playing DDR!'."
"So," said Yuna, "We're pooling our resources to copy this stuff, and, when we're done, each group gets an electronic version. The three of us have been taking recordings of the documents before we replace them. Then, we'll make Tao look them over when he comes down off his metaphorical sugar-high."
"Tao would be?" Frankenstein asked.
"Tao is my comrade," said the slayer. "I am Takeo. Tao, hopefully, is still in the living room. To be precise, I believe there are currently three nobles, three humans, and one werewolf in the room that sounds like a rave," supplied Takeo.
"That would be Rai, Regis, Seira, Shinwoo, Suyi, Tao, and M-21," clarified Ikhan, moving a bishop to create a fork against Rael's knight and rook. He looked up at Frankenstein. "Want to play the winner?" he offered.
Frankenstein thought about it. On the one hand, he should probably go check up with his master. On the other, he really didn't want to get roped into playing Dance Dance Revolution.
"Thank you, Ikhan, I think I will."
He sat down. Warily eying M-24, the vampire he'd so often clashed with, and Takeo, who was clearly a vampire slayer. He didn't even glance at Rael Kertia, the scandal-king of the season in Lukedonia.
He was past the point where he was capable of confusing reality for a dream. The fact was, reality was often quite a bit stranger. Especially his life, which was often a place filled with no shortage of violence, intrigue, and oh so much idiocy.
At times like this, there was really nothing left but to go along with it. And, who knew? This night saw slayers, humans, nobles, and a werewolf under the same roof and in peaceful alliance with each other. In a world where such a thing could occur, possibilities were limitless.
So Frankenstein, like the seasoned observer he was, sat calmly in his chair and watched the game play out before him.