Hello, dear readers! Welcome back to the latest chapter! In the last one, you learn that the long awaited raid will soon begin after Cleo's excursion in the Smoky Mansion. In this chapter, the plan is made and everyone carries out their tasks. I would make the description for the chapter longer, but I finished this chapter at 1 a.m. and I didn't sleep all that well last night, so I'm kind of behind on my sleep. I hope you enjoy the chapter!

Chapter 11: It Has Begun

I waited around as Nai was looked over again by the doctor. They wanted to make sure that he hadn't been injured more by his last fainting spell. Everyone else had been sent about to prepare for the raid on Smoky Mansion and Gareki was having a meeting with Hirato over something. I could only guess that part of it had to do with him wanting to be a part of the raid. Technically, he was only a civilian and it would be irresponsible to drag him through something like this, but I knew he would find a way to get around it. Nai looked at me through the window and gave me an excited wave, one that I returned with a smile. Yogi and Tsukumo walked down the hallway towards me to check up on Nai like I was.

"How's he doing?" Yogi asked with a smile.

"Still his cheerful self," I told him. "He's happy and keeps waving to let me know that he's all right."

"That's our Nai," Tsukumo said. "He's a brave individual. It's hard to imagine a world without him now."

"Have you prepared for the raid?" Yogi questioned me. "You should probably get ready soon."

"I'm always ready for a raid, so I don't need to prepare," I told him as I turned to look towards the window. "What do you think Hirato is discussing with Gareki?"

"Worried, are we?" Tsukumo teased and I forced my body not to react in embarrassment. "Yogi has a hunch about that since we were wondering that ourselves."

"Before he met with Hirato in his office, Gareki asked me about what it was like to be a child of Airship Two," Yogi stated. "He also wondered what it took to become one. I guess Hirato told him that he should join us. Perhaps that's what the meeting is about?"

"I think I'm going to find out," I said and was about to leave when Nai walked out of the room.

"The doctor said that I'm perfectly healthy," Nai told us with a bright smile. "This means I'm allowed to go with you on the raid!"

"What?" I asked in disbelief. I saw Yogi stiffen as I turned my cold gaze to him and he ruffled his hair suspiciously.

"Well… Hirato said that since Nai is the only one who can talk to Karoku telepathically, that means that we need him to even find Karoku's location within the Smoky Mansion," Yogi muttered hesitantly.

I hissed angrily and turned around on my heel, walking off in the direction of Hirato's office. I heard Nai call after me and heard his running feet behind me as he tried to catch up. "Wait, Cleo!" he yelled after me as I made my way down the halls. "Please, wait for me!"

I stopped suddenly and he accidentally ran into me, almost falling backwards if I hadn't grabbed his wrist to stop him. He gave me an apologetic smile and I let him walk along with me as I led him down the corridors. It didn't take long until I saw the closed doors of Hirato's office and froze when I heard voices. Nai was about to ask me something when I clapped a hand over his mouth and dragged him into the shadows of a hallway near the office. I signaled to him to stay quiet by pressing my index finger to my lips and he nodded, so I released him and we both peeked around the corner.

"Dammit, Four Eyes, I want to be a part of this raid!" Gareki yelled. "I can't let Nai and Cleo go out there without me!"

"Imagine that," Hirato said, ignoring Gareki's previous words. "You're worried about them. You're even concerned over Cleo's welfare, even though she is your protector."

"Of course I'm worried about them, Cleo most of all! She takes her job so seriously that I don't want anything bad to happen to her!"

"And why is that? Do you have feelings for her?"

I heard Gareki's slight intake of breath before he quietly said, "That's none of your business and I refuse to answer it either way. Now, you're going to let me join this raid and help or let me become a child of Airship Two and help either way. Those are your only choices."

"An ultimatum," Hirato laughed. "Fine, I will grant your wish. I might be able to use your skills after all. However, Yogi will be watching out for you tomorrow, not Cleo."

"Why not?" I heard Gareki ask and there seemed to be a tinge of disappointment in his voice. "Is she guarding Nai during that time?"

"No, I've got a much more important task for her," Hirato told him. "It will be explained in the morning. Now that we have this settled, I think it's about time for you to leave."

There was noise in the room and I yanked Nai back as Gareki stormed out of the room. I heard him sigh before walking in our direction. I camouflaged us both as he turned into the hallway with us. Unfortunately, Nai wasn't the best to camouflage for he ran from my arms and hugged Gareki, startling him enough for me to drop the magic entirely. He looked up at me before he shoved Nai in my direction.

"So you were both eavesdropping," he accused, glaring at me.

"Don't blame Nai. The only reason he is here in the first place is because he happened to be following me," I told him.

He didn't seem to care about that after a couple seconds and instead suddenly asked, "What's it like to be a child of Airship Two?"

I tilted my head to the side and thought about his question before finally answering him. "Home," I said softly. "It's like being home. Nai and I never really had that before and this is the first time that I can actually describe a place to be like that. It helps that all of the people here are like family and family is like home."

I saw a light of recognition in his eyes before he finally nodded. "Now I understand why Hirato asked me if I wanted to become one of you back in Vantam."

"Maybe you should," I told him gently. "You'll always be around people who care about you and you'll never be alone again. Unless you're like me, of course. Then you'll just have to hide on the ship to avoid people like the plague."

"You don't avoid me, do you, Cleo?" Nai asked me worriedly.

I laughed a little at how earnest he was and said, "Of course not! I would never avoid you, little Nai!" I heard him laugh in response and when I looked up, I could see Gareki walking away from us. I guess he got the answer he needed because he didn't stick around for long. Nai and I ran around on the ship, letting him pick games for us to play and we kept going until dinnertime. After that, I took him to bed early so that he could get the rest he needed.

As I was tucking him in, Gareki walked in the room and climbed up onto his bunk. I turned my attention back to Nai when he asked, "Do you really think we will find Karoku?"

"Of course I do," I told him with a bright smile. "I found enough information to discover that he was there, didn't I? Don't you trust me?"

"Yes, but what if they've moved him someplace else?" he asked me worriedly.

"They don't have enough time to get him far. If they've moved him, I'll track him down like a hunting dog. They won't keep Karoku from us that easily."

As I stood up, he grabbed me by the wrist. "Will you… sleep here tonight?" he begged.

"Of course," I said with a nod. "Give me a few minutes to change and I will be right back."

I quickly pried his hand from me and took off to my room as fast as I could. I changed into a white tank top and shorts before walking back into Gareki and Nai's room. Gareki faced the wall on the top bunk and Nai looked up at me sleepily. He looked like he might pass out at any second but he forced himself to wait for me, the poor dear. He scooted over to the side towards the wall and I pulled the blankets back just enough for me to crawl in. Nai hugged me and lay his head down on my shoulder with a yawn before falling asleep within a couple seconds. He looked so comfortable and peaceful that I couldn't help but smile.

"Is he asleep?" Gareki whispered.

"He's out cold," I whispered back. "He was really tired."

"Talking with Karoku takes a lot out of him. You'd think that he wouldn't be so tired after passing out for a few hours."

"You know, there is something about all of this that doesn't sit right with me," I told him. "I just… I don't remember Karoku ever being able to speak with anyone telepathically. I realize that I haven't seen the man in years, but you'd think I would remember him saying that he was developing the ability. They don't just appear out of nowhere like that."

"Do you think we're walking into a trap?" Gareki asked. "Do you really think that Karoku was at the Smoky Mansion?"

"He was there, all right," I said. "I found a room they had been keeping him in and it definitely had his scent all over. If there is one thing that can't be replicated, it's a person's natural scent. Even if it was possible to do so, an animal like me would be able to discern between the real thing and a synthetic version."

"What else did you find there?" he asked.

"I found out that there was someone else staying in Karoku's room with him quite often," I told him. "Not only that, but there is a man by the name of Uro that works as a butler of some sort and he is one of the strongest Varugas that I have ever encountered. I nearly threw up when I went up to the second floor because the presence of Varugas was so strong."

There was a pause that lasted for a few minutes. I thought for sure that he had fallen asleep when I heard him whisper, "Don't fight him tomorrow. In fact, don't fight anyone at all. I don't want anything bad to happen to you."

"You really are worried about me and yet you didn't say so to Hirato," I said softly. "However, I will do what I am ordered, so if it means that I have to go toe-to-toe with Uro then so be it. He and I have already clashed once and I'm faster, so it shouldn't be so bad if I have to do it again."

"I know you're just trying to make me feel better," he said even quieter. I heard him shift up above me before I saw him climbing down the ladder and then crawl under the blanket with us. He laid his head on my other shoulder and leaned his forehead against mine with a sigh, his breath fanning across my face slowly. "I still wish I could fight right there with you."

"No, what you'll be doing will most likely be the most important job," I told him. "I have a hunch I might know what you'll be doing and you should be safe."

"I don't want to be safe, I want to watch your back," he said softly.

"Go to sleep, Gareki," I said with a tiny laugh. "We're going to be waking up rather early to go over the plan."

He grumbled but actually listened to what I had said, making a noise before finally closing his eyes. I heard his breathing begin to slow before he was finally asleep. That left me to be the only one awake. I could feel a buzzing in my mind over the situation tomorrow and I closed my eyes. I yawned a little before finally slipping into unconsciousness with Nai and Gareki sleeping next to me.

We woke up before dawn and grabbed a quick breakfast before changing into the clothes we would wear during the raid. I went back to my room and changed back into my scaly catsuit, placing a Circus I.D. around my wrist that was high tech and tapping on my collarbone to allow the symbol of Circus to appear. I walked over to the dresser and pulled my top hat from one of the drawers. Just like the others, it was completely black but the ribbon around each one is different. Mine was a royal blue ribbon with white flames and I placed it on my head over my blue tufts of hair. I walked along rather quickly until I made it to a conference room where we were all to meet before the raid. Everyone was beginning to arrive just as I made it in the room and we all waited patiently until Hirato began to speak.

"It took a few hours, but I have come up with the perfect plan with Tsukitachi," Hirato said as he brought out digital map of Smoky Mansion. He placed it on the table and tapped it before it rose up in the air so that everyone could see it. He pointed at the gate to Smoky Mansion first. "Yogi and Gareki, you will be here. You will tell the guards that you are here to visit Karoku because he left something with you that he asked for you to return. If they argue and refuse to let you past the gate, run past them and make it into the compound."

"Got it," Gareki said, adjusting the dark hood on his white coat.

"What if they keep chasing after us?" Yogi asked.

"The Rabbits should knock them out before they get too far. This is also where Cleo comes in," Hirato explained, pointing to a spot in the middle of the courtyard. "Once you get past the gate, you will alert Cleo, who will then fly down to the courtyard and cause the biggest distraction that she can so that you can sneak inside the mansion to disable the security system. You will also send in every file they have in their computer systems to Airship Two." Hirato slid his gaze over to me and gave me one of the most serious looks he could muster. "Cleo, you need to bring everyone out to the courtyard, including whatever Varugas are in the area. This means that I am giving you permission to let your Dragon side out."

"What?" Gareki said in disbelief. "No, you can't do that! She'll be—"

"Gareki," I said sternly, never once raising my voice but still effectively cutting him off. "Do you trust me?"

"Yes, but—"

"Then trust that I will be able to do this without screwing things up," I told him. "My Dragon side and I are in complete agreement. We will remain in sync and she already agreed that she wouldn't take over unless she sensed that my life was in imminent danger that she needed to protect me from quickly. I won't let things get out of control."

Hirato guessed that Gareki might argue about something else and decided to speak again of the plan. "Tsukumo and Eva, you will defeat any Varugas that don't leave the mansion and I want you to find the man that Cleo called Uro. I'll show you a picture of him before your part in the raid. He might go after Cleo right away since they've fought once, so keep him busy until I show up to capture him. Cleo, once they've got Uro's attention and Gareki and Yogi are done with their part, I want you to lead Jiki and Nai to a safe location where Nai can listen for Karoku."

"What do we do once we are done sending the files?" Yogi asked.

"You are then allowed to leave," Hirato told him. "If a Varuga tries to stop you, you are allowed to kill it. Do what you must to escape."

He dismissed us and we went our separate ways until the raid. I took my time walking all the way up to the observation deck, sliding a hand along the walls the entire way. When I finally arrived, I took off my hat and placed it on the back of the couch before sitting down on the cushions. The sun was just beginning to rise and I let out a sigh as I watched it. It wasn't until the sun peeked over the horizon that I heard voices approaching. I turned around to see Gareki and Nai walk inside, Nai looking happy as he ran towards me, jumped over the back of the couch, and landed on top of me with his knee in my stomach. I let out a hiss of breath and reflexively sat up swiftly, only to smack my head into his. He yelped and we both clutched our heads in our hands, our eyes watering from the pain. I could hear Gareki snickering from the doorway and it only frustrated me.

Without looking, I lobbed a fireball at him that forced him to dodge, making the fire disappear before it could burn anything. "Go away, you jerk," I told him with another hiss. "I will throw another fireball at you so fast that you'll never be able to dodge this one."

"What do you think about your part in the raid?" Gareki asked me and I was so certain that he would say something snarky in response but no such luck.

As I pushed Nai over onto the other end of the couch, I looked over at Gareki and said, "I'm rather excited. It means that we are going to get Karoku back. I will do anything I can to help and if being an excellent distraction is what is needed then I will do it to the best of my abilities. Why do you keep acting like I'm going to screw things up?"

"It's not like I don't trust you do things properly, I just don't trust your inner Dragon," he told me. "She threatened to kill me and now you're just going to let her out like that?"

"I'm not," I said gently. "You made me promise to never let the Dragon side of me out unless I've got complete control. I've kept the promise and I've got control. I swear to you that what happened in Rinoll won't happen to you again. She's actually taken a liking to you."

Gareki walked over to me and I reached a hand out to grab his own. "Just promise me you'll live through this and you'll make sure that Nai does as well."

I gave him a roguish smirk that surprised him and said, "That's a silly thing that you want me to do. However, I am in an agreeable mood and so I will. I will make sure that we all live through this, including everyone in our little family here on Airship Two. No one will die on my watch."

Nai looked at us both in confusion and Gareki pulled away quickly, saying something about how he was going to go get something from his room before the raid. I nodded and Nai and I watched the sunset until an alarm blared that signaled the beginning of the raid. We headed down to the control room and I stood next to Yogi and Gareki, adjusting my hat that I hated to wear with a passion. Yogi gave a small chuckle and fixed it for me as Hirato came in the room.

"You three, time for you to go," Hirato said with a smile. "Remember that the timing has to be just right and you'll be fine. Now, Yogi and Cleo, turn on your Circus I.D.s if you would. I don't want to lose either of you and want to know exactly where you are at all times."

We twisted a bar on the bracelets and a red and blue light glowed before it blinked slowly. After high-fiving Yogi, he grabbed Gareki and we both flew off the ship. I stayed up in the air higher as we flew along and watched as they slowly flew downwards until they reached a forest. It took about ten minutes before I could see them reach the gate and I flew over to my position near the courtyard. I could hear a commotion at the gate before I heard Yogi's voice come through the I.D.

"All clear, Cleo!" he said and I could hear one set of running feet. Yogi must have been flying after Gareki. "Go ahead and do your thing!"

"Just stay out of the way and don't let yourselves be caught," I told him with a grin after pressing the red bar on my I.D. with two fingers. "There's only so much that I can do and it would serve you right."

"Over and out!" Yogi yelled and I pulled my fingers away.

"Are you ready?" I asked the Dragon, who had begun to stir in my mind excitedly.

I'll give you all that I've got and then some if that means we can destroy as many Varugas as we can get our hands on, the Dragon said vehemently. Just make me proud and that is all I can ask.

I nodded and dived down as fast as a bullet, pulling up at the last second so that I was crouched on the ground as a huge plume of dust went up into the air. When I stood up, I let out wave after wave of magic to alert the Varugas or Possessors in the area of my presence. My magic was strong enough that they practically crawled out of the woodwork to surround me in a huge circle, almost as if I was a magnet that drew them in. I didn't see Uro yet but I knew that there would still be time for it.

I pressed the red bar on my I.D. and softly said, "Yogi, count to ten and make a run for the mansion. I'm going to unleash the beast."

Thanks for calling me a beast, the Dragon grumbled.

She wasn't very happy until I latched onto her power and let it out in a huge blast. I felt my veins burn like lava was flowing through them rather than blood and that was when the fire erupted past my skin. Crimson wings of flame shot from my shoulder blades and diamond scales appeared on my forearms. I felt the blue tufts of hair on my head shift into horns and the blue streaks into feathers. I knew my eyes had shifted enough so that all of the Varugas took a hesitant step back before they froze, almost as if they were listening to orders in their minds. Next second they all leapt at me and I bared my elongated fangs in a demented grin before the flames blasted through the air. They were pure white and hotter than any other color of flame I could make, incinerating a vast majority of Varugas and Possessors into ashes that floated away on the wind.

"Who's next?" I asked in a growly tone that only seemed to infuriate them more.

They ran at me again and I had to dodge some of their attacks, blasting anyone who got too close with fire. I was having fun playing with them and before long I knew I had almost every Varugas' attention. I heard the sound of shattering glass and looked up to see Tsukumo and Eva crashing through a window to take down any stragglers. Just as I watched them, I heard a strange noise behind me that made me jump aside just in case. As I whipped around in the air, I saw a sword made from darkness crush the cement where I had been standing a split second ago and let out a hissed breath when I saw that it was Uro. I blasted the other Varugas surrounding us with the fire until we were completely alone in the courtyard, the noises of Rabbits and Sheep fighting Possessors in the sky all around us.

"So you're back again, Circus spy," Uro said emotionlessly. "I had hoped that I would get the opportunity to fight you again, especially after you left so suddenly last time."

"I wouldn't have been here in the first place if you didn't have something we want," I told him as I curled my wings near my body.

"Ah, she speaks," he said. "And here I thought that you were a mute. Now I'll know for sure that I'll be able to hear your delightful screams while I peel the skin from your lovely bones."

"I'd love to see you try," I growled, letting him see my fangs as I grinned deviously.

I formed my falchion in my hand as he rushed at me, blocking his attack easily before pushing him back. He stumbled backwards and I charged in his direction quickly by flapping my fiery wings. I slashed at him with my sword and he hissed a little at the force behind my attacks. As he tried to stab me through with his blade, I dived to the side and smacked him in the back with the flat of my sword. He figured out that I was toying with him to drag out the time until Tsukumo and Eva could keep him busy and that only infuriated him. He began to move even faster and was somehow able to keep up with me easily. If anyone was watching in the nearby area, we had to look like blurs as we launched attack after attack at each other, sparks flying as our blades clashed together. We were about to clash once more when I heard a strange musical noise and a flash of light appeared between us, forcing us jump apart or be blasted to pieces. We both turned our head towards the mansion and saw Tsukumo and Eva standing there.

"We've got things covered from here on out, Cleo!" Eva called to me, giving me a wink. "Go move into your next position!"

"You're not leaving here until I kill you, especially now that I know your name," Uro said with a glare at me, charging at me and the only thing that stopped him was a barrage of huge gemstones that were launched at him by Eva. When he turned his livid gaze at her, I flew into the air and headed directly to Airship Two after suppressing my Dragon side so I wouldn't burn the whole place down.

Flying inside and making my way to the control room, I bowed to Hirato theatrically before I was ambushed by Nai. "We watched your fight with that man," he said in a concerned tone of voice before he hugged me tightly. "You both moved so fast that I couldn't keep up with it! I was a little scared for you."

"Oh, Nai, I would have been fine," I told him, separating myself from him before ruffling his hair.

"I think we should probably go," Jiki said. "If we leave now, we'll be able to find Karoku faster. Cleo, you can help by trying to sense him or trying to find his scent."

I nodded and grabbed Nai before Jiki could since Nai looked a little hesitant to have him close. I knew that he was still thinking back to when Jiki and Gareki fought and I hugged him tightly before we flew through the air. I found the perfect spot on top of the mansion that most people couldn't reach and we landed on the roof. I set Nai down and we moved close to the edge, him holding my hand nervously as he looked out at the fight around us. He looked close to tears as he saw a few Sheep and Rabbits falling from the sky. I pulled my hand from his and turned his face with it so he was looking at me.

"Just concentrate on finding Karoku and nothing else," I told him gently. "Close your eyes and focus on listening for his voice. Don't concern yourself with anything else."

He nodded and immediately closed his eyes tightly. He cupped his hands behind his ears and turned his head occasionally as he searched for any hints for Karoku's location. I stood beside him the entire time, sniffing the air for a scent that would lead us straight to Karoku while Jiki watched us. I couldn't sense him anywhere or pick up his scent either. It was about fifteen minutes later that Nai suddenly gasped as if he was drowning, his eyes flying open and gazing at me in recognition.

"I found him…" he whispered, almost as if he couldn't believe it himself. "I just don't know how to get to him."

"Where is he?" I asked him.

He pointed over at a clearing in the woods with a tranquil pool of water and I could now understand his confusion. From here, I couldn't see a thing that would show that a person could be there. "He's over there and yet he's not," Nai said with confusion. "It's almost like he is in another dimension." He looked up at the sky where more Sheep and Rabbits began to fall and a look of despair crossed his face. "I can't… I can't let this happen! I don't want my friends to be broken! I've played with them and I can't watch this! I won't let them do this anymore!"

There was a huge explosion of golden light that surrounded Nai suddenly, making me hiss in pain as I quickly covered my eyes. My inner Dragon snarled as she felt what I did and I heard a strange lilting music for a few seconds before the light began to fade. I saw as I uncovered my eyes that Nai looked exhausted, wobbling a little before I caught him so he wouldn't hit the ground hard. I turned my gaze over towards the pool of water and saw in disbelief that there was a huge column of rainbow light shooting straight up into the heavens, one that was slowly diminishing back down into an orb of that same light that reflected off of the water.

"There," Nai said faintly and I watched as his strength slowly came back to him. "I can sense Karoku in there. I need to go there right now!"

I turned my gaze down to him and smiled. "Your wish is my command."