Shinya was in command. Obviously, Shinoa thought that was a great improvement, if it weren't for the fact that she knew her brother was grieving Guren's capture and no one knew anymore what to make of the situation.

It was by a stroke of luck that they found three more squads on their way out of the city hall area—they had only narrowly escaped the incoming vampires, but apparently the other two squads didn't have the same luck with the first wave.

The sound of their helicopters had grown fainter and the fence had come into view, but Shinoa did not slow down her pace until her hands were grasping the crisscrossed metal. She slouched forward, struggling to regain her breath, but the fact that they had arrived at the airport was hardly a relief: in the expanses of the landing area, not a single soul could be found.

"Ah, do you think they left?" Yoichi said between heavy breaths, leaning back on the fence beside Shinoa, hands on his knees. "They" being the vampires. "Now that we are far enough, do you think we are safe?"

Shinoa glanced down at him with pursed lips, but she didn't have to look into his eyes to know the words were little more than wishful thinking: they were all tired.

"There's no way to be sure," Mitsu said as she approached them, weary gaze scanning the surroundings. "A helicopter passed nearby, they must be looking for us right now…"

"But according to the orders this is the meeting point," Kimizuki joined in with his typical reasoning, but even his next words sounded uncertain: "there should be something here, right?"

No one answered to that, the only noises filling the air being of the heavy panting and tired steps as the last soldiers gathered closer. Shinoa breathed in, eyes going up to gaze slow clouds dotting oranges and yellows of the late afternoon sky. The one to break the silence was Narumi.

"What's the meaning of this? Where's everyone?" Despite his several unnecessary remarks that day, this one Shinoa couldn't help sharing the sentiment.

Scanning the faces of the group, she noticed everyone displayed similar degrees of unease, including Shinya. He gave no signs of answering.

It didn't dishearten Narumi in the slightest though, if anything it only fueled his conviction as he continued. "We came all the way here following orders, even after losing so many people." A few people fidgeted, turning their heads away to hide stiff faces. Less than half of the original number made it here. "We did that because we thought we had a purpose. So how is it? Why did we come here?"

"According to what I heard, there should be an aircraft waiting for us here, to escape," Shinya spoke finally, shocking not only the other soldiers but also the rest of his squad. Shinoa felt nothing but growing dread. "The vampires were supposed to hunt us down to Shinjuku, where the trap would be waiting."

A heartbeat passed as Narumi stepped forward, arms spread wide. "Well, there's nothing here as far as I can see. No one waiting and no trap for the vampires coming after us. What's the point in coming here when our commander was left—"

"Guren didn't organize the mission," Shinoa cut in, loud enough that all gazes fell on her. Narumi's eyes widened, mouth still agap even as no words came out. She swallowed. "It was Hiragi Kureto."

And Guren might have had a hand on it too, but she didn't add that thought, fearing that explaining her accusations would only be a waste of energy. They had suspected it before, but it was clear to her now: Guren handpicked these people, all from branches under the Ichinose clan's influence; they'd put their blind faith on the man.

"Sayuri, we better go." Shiguri's words were faint between low whispering, but assertive, no wonder wanting to go back after their lider.

Shinoa wasn't all that surprised, that is, until Sayuri's eyes widened a fraction and she stammered "w-wait!" earning a weird look from the shorter woman.

Oh?

"She knows something," Mitsu said in her ear. Shinoa glanced at her, finding her gaze also on the due.

"Yes. Whatever Kureto is doing, Guren is interested in it too." She paused, the continuous discussion being no more than white noise as she thought. "We should leave."

Her gaze met Mitsu's narrowed eyes and the blonde nodded. Shinoa twirled around, eyes once more falling on Shinya and his dejected expression—she'd better bolt out of there with her squad regardless of what the others decided to do, but her brother seemed a second from caving in and abandoning the mission—

Her head whipped to the sky the second she registered the low rumble of the quickly approaching plane.

"Is it the vampires?"

Everyone scrambled to ready their weapons and Shinoa grabbed Mitsu's wrist, heart drumming in her ears and about to make a run for it with her squad—when Shinya's voice talked over their frenzy. "Wait! It has the company's insignia!"

A shiver ran down her spine. That was hardly an improvement. "Yoichi, Kimizuki, we should—"

"Wait." Kimizuki stepped in front of her, brows furrowed. "If Kureto went to these lengths to get us here…"

Ah, he's worried about his sister.

Her mouth went dry and she froze in place; this is the precise reason why she feared telling him about her brother's subtle threat, but wouldn't it be unfair to not care about his concerns? Or was the wellbeing of these people standing right there enough to overpower that?

Even if they ran, then what?

"Damn it," she said through gritted teeth. Mitsu's hand escaped her tightening grasp to hold her shoulder instead, the grip grounding her.

The aircraft landed and rolled to a stop, her hair fluttering wildly with one last gust of wind.

"My sister…"

Shinoa's eyes snapped back to Mitsu, right before following her gaze to the plane: walking down the stairway, was none other than Aoi. If she was there…

Her breath caught in her throat as she watched the emerging figure of her brother—one thing was to know he was pulling the strings, a whole different thing was seeing him there in person.

The others walked closer and she followed with uncertain steps—maybe Kimizuki was right in waiting, but she did not rule out the possibility of fleeing just yet. "Everyone, stay on guard," she said with a voice only loud enough for her squad to hear. Although she doubted anyone would pay attention, not when everyone whispered among themselves while eyeing the newcomers in confusion. After all, Kureto wasn't the type to show his face on the battlefield.

"Soldiers! I'm Lieutenant General Higai Kureto!" He started, voice booming with the confidence already displayed on his posture. The introduction caused a fitting stirr for his dramatics. "Good job, the mission was a success! Thanks to the glorious sacrifices of the Moon Demon squads, humanity finally had a complete victory over the vampires!"

Needless to say, that was bullshit. Shinoa went rigid at those words, feeling not one drop of relief as she waited for the other shoe to drop. But if that claim didn't ring with a sufficiently strong sense of unease, the next one sure did the trick: "I must command from here. Lower your weapons and be comprehensive!"

No one will just accept that without question...right?

Despite her wishful thinking, she couldn't say she was entirely surprised to catch the new wave of whispers, this time having the uncertainty combined with relief.

She swallowed, motioning to her squad behind her without taking her eyes off of her brother. "No. Don't put down your weapons. I have a bad feeling about it." Looking closer, she noticed how not everyone was complying either.

"'Complete victory'?" Her gaze followed the voice just a second after Kureto's. She couldn't see his face, but it was clear to her how livid Shinya was, outrage echoing from his calm tone. "How? A horde of nobles is coming after us, in masses! How do you expect to win against them all, Kureto?"

"Shinya." The opposite of disturbed, Kureto smirked.

"Isn't it time you explain things?" He prompted when the other didn't offer an immediate explanation, then paused for just a second before adding: "Brother."

Shinoa found herself taking a step closer, not wanting to miss a word. But of course, Kureto would never give an answer this easily. Although still talking to Shinya, his gaze wasn't even on him anymore, instead redirected to Aoi as he handed her something. This time, Shinoa had to strain to hear the words. "Where's Guren?"

Shinya's answer was lost, but she knew it already.

"Hah! You're joking." He even looked amused for a second, but as Shinya remained silent, his smile quickly dropped. "...That idiot."

Whatever he said after that was too low for Shinoa to make sense of, and by Shinya's confused reaction, she more than ever wished to have heard. Well, not that it would make a difference.

"Silence. Your task is done." He turned around and walked off, still talking, and Shinoa couldn't bear to miss another word.

"Shii-chan." The moment she called to her demon, stopping herself from walking closer, her senses heightened just enough that she could clearly hear him:

"It's time to start. Aoi, kill the sacrifices." Her breath hitched.

"What? Kureto, wait!" Shinya started after him, but not a second later Kureto's sword was inches from his face.

"I told you, your task here is already done."

"This is bad. Really bad." Her eyes were still fixed on the scene as she took several steps back. Another pair met her halfway through and a hand landed on her shoulder.

"What did you hear?" Her concern was mirrored on Mitsu's face, but Shinoa got just as far as opening her mouth before all hell broke loose.

Metal, banging and rupturing, drawed everyone's attention to a container—that she somehow didn't notice being dispatched from the plane—just in time to see it—whatever it was. "What…?" Inconceivable, it took her a second to identify the chains cutting through the sky, approaching fast with their sharp arrow ends.

"Besides, everyone will be dead by the end of this."

She snapped back to reality with barely no time to react. Driven solely by instinct, she summoned her scythe, its weight grounding as she swung the blade and deflected the chain. Sparkles flew and another clang came from her right as Mitsu deflected another chain. Their backs met a second later and she took in a deep breath, gaze trailing to the rest of her squad.

"Everyone—"

The words on the tip of her tongue vanished completely as something warm splattered on her cheek. Rubbing her fingers on the liquid, her glove came stained in red. Mouth going dry, her gaze lifted from her hand to the dancing shadows on the floor, which paled in comparison to the rising figures, stark black against the golden sky.

Her grip tightened around her scythe to the point of aching and a fire lit deep inside her guts. "This...is another human experiment."

"We should—" Whatever Mitsu was about to say got cut off by a scream—no, a battle cry of a hopeless man.

"Stupid," she spat out the word as she spotted Narumi rushing towards Kureto, alone. Even without the added danger of the chains, he had no chance against her brother, and maybe, he knew that. "Mitsu—"

"On it." She lunged forward just as Kimizuki sprinted past them.

Shinoa stayed behind—with her weapon, she was better in that position. She could not stop, though, from switching her gaze between her squad mates and the pleased smile that Kureto wore. His words were no less sickening.

"Don't ruin it. Those were glorious deaths in favor of humanity's future. Thanks to these few sacrifices in this experiment, I'll finally slay our family's biggest mistake and free us from these puppeteers. And we'll finally carve out our salvation."

Mitsu and Kimizuki arrived just in time to deflect the chains aimed at Narumi, who only noticed them when it was too late. If anything, he looked more surprised to be alive.

"Idiot! Don't give up yet!" Kimizuki yelled, gripping Narumi's arm. They had little time to escape.

"Yoichi—" Barely did she open her mouth, an arrow zipped right past her, directed at her brother. Despite the perfect aim, he still deflected it. No matter, it was enough of a distraction as the rest of the squad returned.

"We're leaving!" Mitsu yelled, and she couldn't agree more.

"Everyone, take your pills! Retreat!" She had no idea for how long they could hold against the chains, or how more vicious they'd get as they ran out of targets…

"Don't resist, Shinoa." A chill ran down her spine at the sound of her own name. Her eyes met her brother's gaze and there was nothing but defiance in her glare. Still, he didn't know her enough to save his words: "Obey me and I'll let you live. You're technically a Hiragi, after all."

Not deviating her stare, she swallowed a pill. Ten seconds, that's all I need, and no time to waste. "Everyone, run!"

She lingered for only long enough to see his growing frown, already bolting out of there when his words reached her ears.

"Unfortunately, I can't let you go just yet. I still have business with you."

Next thing she knew, she was sent flying from the impact of their clashing blades.


Why are you playing along?

The little information of the plan that Guren had managed to hide from her leaked all out during the interrogation; he underestimated the severity of the physical strain and his mind was too hazy to keep up any mental barriers. He wasn't surprised when Mahiru used his weakened state to take over, but what did surprise him was when she finished the job for him.

She told the queen to go to the airport, as Guren himself was supposed to, and after saving him from a possible execution, she now headed back to where Kureto would be waiting.

"Hm, let's just say I want to indulge you. If my brother wants you to lure the vampires to the airport, then so be it," she answered in his own voice, still having full control of his body. He kept trying to fight her away.

If I'm such a terrible liar as you say, then you're just as bad.

"Oh, darling, I suppose this is a downside of intimacy, we can read each other too well." It became particularly easy though, when she didn't even try to keep the acid from her giggles.

Her annoyance also gave him an idea.

Then what do you want? You seemed like you had your whole different agenda with the queen.

It took her a moment to reply, and considering how most of their conversations went, it was entirely possible that she wouldn't. But she did.

"I have reassurances...I came to her a long time ago, and even though our goals differ, we do have one mutual problem. And I'm counting on her to deal with it since you made the favor of meddling with my brother."

Oh so it's my fault now?

"It's always been! From the moment you decided to not listen to me!"

It's your fault for not telling me everything then.

You'd have done it anyway—

She noticed her mistake too late. They came stumbling to the floor, the scraps from the fall only a mild ache. Guren flexed his numb hands and limbs and slowly came back up to his feet with a pleased smirk.

You're the worst.

"I'm almost disappointed that you fell for the taunting."

Congratulations darling, now go on and back to Kureto like a good bitch.

"Are you jealous?" He had a single eyebrow raised, but set back on running anyway. Mahiru didn't answer, although he could feel her still grasping for consciousness with almost an edge of desperation. "...What exactly is the problem?"

She remained quiet.


Yuu and Mika walked behind Krul in a slow march amidst the billowing white of the other vampires, who wasted no time rushing to the battlefield. Despite his keen sight, Yuu scented the blood carried by the breeze before he managed to make sense of the grim spectacle: corpses, pierced and hung by endless chains, dripping into a scarlet rain.

He should be revulsed, but his gaze was fixed on the scene with little more than longing. It took a bit too much effort to peel his eyes away, squeezing Mika's hand in a feeble attempt to ground himself. They had fed just the previous day, but the thirst grew harder and harder to quench.

"Are you alright?"

Yuu's eyes met Mika's, which seemed to be permanently marred with concern.

"I can taste them." And so could Mika. Yuu shook his head, once more redirecting his attention to the gory display with furrowed brows. "What's even happening?"

"An experiment, right under our noses," Krul said.

As the vampires finally approached, more human soldiers left the aircraft. Yuu watched them fighting, ashes and blood spilling on equal amounts.

"Is this why you'd be interested?"

"Not now, Mikaela." She made it clear by her tone that she had no patience for that, and Mika made no further inquiries.

Hidden within the mayhem, Yuu noticed humans fighting among themselves. Several clashing blades, black flames spreading through the ground, fluttering lilac hair. Four humans fought against a single one, but the man's main target seemed to be—

"That's the girl, it's...Shinoa!"

Krul halted. She whipped her head around, following the direction where Yuu enthusiastically pointed, and her brows creased. "You know this human?"

"Uh, she helped us escape," Yuu answered at the same time as Mika snapped "and you do?".

"Not personally," she answered Mika, right before looking back at the human. Her next words seemed to be more murmured to herself. "Stupid humans, this is not enough to defeat—"

The rest of her sentence was swallowed by an explosion. Yuu's hands instinctively covered his ears, something that proved to be only marginally effective at muffling the deafening sound. The gold of the sky turned into a white light that swallowed everything, so bright he could still see it through closed eyelids.

"They completed the experiment," Krul said. Yuu cracked his eyes open, struggling to look at the holy figure hovering in a splash of pure light against the crimson sky. A glimpse of heaven, a deep wound with promises of destruction. It was just a kid. "They broke the taboo."

"Is this—" Yuu staggered back, nearly tumbling down if it weren't for Mika's hand on his back. Flashes of his dreams breached through his thoughts and the luring choir echoed louder than the screams. "A-a…"

"A seraph." The weight on Krul's words cut through the haze on his mind, and his eyes finally fell to meet her searching gaze.

"How can we even stop this?" Mika's voice was a haunted whisper and his gaze was fixed up in the sky. Yuu shuddered, reading all the underlaid worries carried within the question.

Looking up at this creature, losing himself felt like a matter of time.

"We can't. Not now, not like this." Her face was directed up ahead, but her voice rang clear with frustration. "What we can do is stop this from getting worse, and I need you for that." Turning back around, her full attention was on them with no more distractions. "That girl. We can't have her harmed, nor the weapon destroyed. Take her, do whatever you need, and run. Stay on east coast, along the area untouched by the army, and I'll find you after dealing with this—"

"Why do we need to do all of that for a human?"

"—and then I explain everything."

"But what about not getting out of your sight?"

Both gazes snap back to Yuu, Mika's baffled and Krul's dead serious.

"Yuuichirou. Remember when I said I wouldn't let that happen unless a new apocalypse was being threatened? Well, this is such an occasion." Her tone was final and her gaze switched between them both. "Now go." They didn't question any further.

Still at arm's length, they bolted towards the conflict without glancing back. The blond girl and pink-haired boy weren't in the line of defense any longer and a particularly heavy strike sent her tumbling back. Mika pulled his sword and—

"Yuu-chan, stay back."

"What? No way—"

"You have no weapon."

Yuu let out a colorful string of curses, halting on his step and watching from a few meters behind. Mika intercepted the man's blade at the last second, drawing a brief surprised face from him. His face didn't take long to school back into neutrality.

"Vampire. This isn't your fight."

"I'll have to disagree." Mika's voice was flat with a seeping coldness that Yuu was starting to get used to. Then he pushed forward, the blades screeching and sliding away from each other, but the other only took steady steps back.

"Then die." When the human struck again, it was faster.

Mika managed to block and keep up with the relentless attacks, but he was solely acting on the defense. Yuu's hands were closed into tight fists and his claws grazed at his skin, itching to do something. What's up with these humans being so strong—

"It's you again."

Yuu's head snapped to the side, eyes falling on the brunette boy crouching at his left with wide olive eyes, filled with wonder.

"Ah, I remember you, you're…" he started absentmindedly, eyes trailing down from his face to the bow and arrow on his hands, to his belt. He was carrying a katana.

A grunt dragged him back to reality and Yuu turned around to see Mika being flung several meters away, sword clattering to the side.

"Can I take this?" Yuu found himself saying without a thought, pointing.

Yoichi followed the direction, slowly looking down, eyes widening, taking a deep breath, and Yuu listened to the distant steps like a timer, his own foot starting to move.

"I-I guess? I don't think it's a goo—"

"Thanks!" Yuu pulled the katana from the sheath, words leaving his lips as he started towards the scene; he wasn't sure if the boy even heard him, but little did it matter.

Approaching, he readied to strike with one grip at the handle. The weight felt off and he held it with both hands. It was marginally better. His eyes followed the trail of neon green as he swung the katana and he grunted when the blades met. Heavy, too heavy.

"Sword—" He started saying, electricity rushing through him, and cut himself off instead of cutting his fingers on the blade. This wasn't his sword, this was a demoniac weapon. He barely caught the next blow, and was sent flying.

"What are you doing?" Running past, Mika didn't even spare him an aggravated look before attacking the human. Yuu wasted no time getting up to his feet and moving forward to help; maybe together they'd have more of a chance. But the blade clashing against his in mid movement was another one.

"Well, hello again." Yuu's whole body went stiff.

There were no horns or fangs, and even if the eyes weren't red either, he knew, this was the face of a demon.

"No…" He poured all his strength into pushing him away and jumped back, but the other chased him immediately with another blow.

Sparks flew and his ears rang. Screams, clashing of metal, static, luring whispers, it all became distorted and grotesque noises.

"Did you like the seraph? I'd tell you the procedure, but you know it already." Voice taunting, smirk stretching; Yuu watched it in double, his world spinning.

"S-shut up!" He struck, movements awkward and relying on pure brute strength. And lashed and swung, missing, missing, missing.

"It would be so easy to trigger." It stung with the memory of a thousand needles piercing through his skin.

Let me help. Feed me.

"A-ah…"

The buzzing on his mind muffled the heaven's call, if only slightly. He blocked another attack, staggering back. Weak, he was too weak, slipping from his senses.

Skipping away, eyes still on his assailant, he pulled his glove with his teeth and watched the other's eyes widening as he gripped the blade tightly with his bare hand. It hurt, ached, and he cried in pain, his blood pouring into the metal. But his mind became a quiet bliss and he latched into it.

Hand shaking and dripping with several scarlet trails, he let go and flickered off the blood from already closed wounds. He gripped the handle and attacked. The man staggered and Yuu struck again before he could recover.

"Vampires shouldn't be able to use demoniac weapons," he said with a grunt, but the words were out of Yuu's mind as soon as they had been spoken. "You really are something else."

Another sloppy attack and he missed it, badly. The man side-stepped, a blow already aimed at Yuu, and grazed at his side. He faltered, wound throbbing, but still moved to try to block the next attack, when a loud wail broke through air. A mass of black spurt from the angel's back, rising, growing and reshaping into a massive winged creature.

Swords clashed before he could stand fully, the tall pink-haired boy straining to hold the katana with his twin swords.

"Go help them!"

Yuu wasn't sure if the boy could hold his own against the man, but he didn't try arguing. Best to help Mika anyway.


It felt like a long time coming the moment their swords finally clashed. Guren was stronger, Shiho was more than aware, but he had enough pent up worries and a new wave of anger to feed his demon, he let them run rampant. It worked for the most part: he stood his ground against the onslaught, managing to keep Guren busy.

Mirai was there, they did something to her. They experimented with her, harmed her, his sister, and there was nothing he could do for her. It burned deep inside his guts, making his stomach churn and his head spin with the sheer intensity of it all. Despite his profuse emotions, though, he knew he wouldn't be able to keep this up. He did take the pill, and his time was running out.

He risked glances at the others between blocks and attacks, searching for the right time to run, and Guren noticed that.

"You had a lot of potential, it would be a shame to kill you now."

Only barely avoiding a cut, Shiho hissed. "You're crazy if you think you can get to me. Not now, not when my sister is right there and you're on full display."

"You're mistaken. She was never part of my experiment." With a strong blow, Shiho stepped back wrong and the pain on his ankle was immediate—hopefully just a strain. Still, he dropped to his knees, barely stopping the next slash, and Guren was suddenly too close. "Kureto doesn't need her either, as long as he has a seraph. As long as we have a substitute, I'm sure I can pull some strings."

Shiho's breath caught on his throat and the ache on his ankle reduced to a dull pain. Standing up abruptly in one swift motion, he pushed Guren back. "Shut up."

And sprinted away to meet the rest of the squad, with just two minutes to spare. Guren made no effort to follow, but his words chased him to his thoughts for long after that.


"Not that I'm not grateful, trust me, I'm quite thrilled, but why exactly are you helping us?"

Yuu said "undying gratitude?" just as Mika hushed her.

"We must escape first, any talk can come later." The other humans didn't object, it was a fact they weren't out of imminent danger just yet, though Yuu knew Mika was mostly trying to buy them time. After all, saying that they were just following orders didn't sound like a promising way of building their trust.

Shinoa, on the other hand, let out a dramatic sigh and slumped over Yuu, who was currently carrying her. She had a deep gash, which she put pressure on with a flimsy handkerchief that got soaked with the maddening scene in an instant. She had put up a straight face and had the balls to say it was nothing and would soon heal, but the moment she stood up, he knew it wasn't. It seemed only logical when he decided to pick her up, receiving only an hesitant look from the blonde, but now he started to have regrets.

Even so, whenever Mika glanced at him with that gaze asking him if he was alright, he just put up a smile—he was fine, really. Even if it burned in his lungs, it wasn't anything he couldn't endure. They were quite nice humans, all things considered, and he'd hate to just sink his teeth on her neck—he would, he repeated to himself as he swallowed the venom pooling on his mouth.

This would be a dreadfully long trip, the fact that they had to slow down to the humans' speed just made it worse. He sighed and held his breath, better not to scent it at all.


The fact that her little pets managed to flee with the host only meant that the humans were left unsatisfied, deciding to redirect their attack towards Sanguinem instead.

They still had part of the army intact, of course, but judging from the massacre in the airport, Krul had little hopes to stop the fifth trumpet—the only way would be to fight with another one, but she'd be damned if she broke yet another taboo. Hopefully the third trumpet wouldn't be as much of a hassle to deal with.

So, as soon as she set foot on pristine tiles and announced the news, mayhem set instantly. Evacuate immediately, leave the children—no they had no time to relocate them—and keep the prisoners locked. She was stopped by so many vampires making inquiries on her way that she hoped to at least have privacy whenever she reached her destination.

"Majesty!" She bit back a groan, but didn't even glance back at the rushing servant. "The lower levels were already evacuated, there's no need—"

Well, at least that was good news. Her tone was still harsh when she spoke. "Not now, Stefan."

"But my Majesty, the helicopter is ready—"

"Then keep it waiting."

She dashed downstairs, paying no attention to the stuttered reply. As promised, the place was empty aside from the scattered prisoners. They could rot there or be captured for all she cared, but she still had some words to exchange with a certain someone, locked up deep enough to be out of ear range. And to that cell, she always carried the key.

"Ah, Krul, what a pleasant surprise—"

"The human army is currently heading towards Sanguinem, using an unknown seraph as weapon."

Bathory had not been given a drop of blood since his imprisonment, and it showed. With sunken eyes framed by dark veins and at least half of his forearms marred with vivid red marks, he looked tired, and weak. The smirk was still very much present in his expression.

"That, I can assure you, was not my fault."

Krul was not one bit amused and had no time for threats, so she cut straight to the chase.

"I'd say we have half an hour before they come blasting through the entrance. If you want to live, start talking."

"With pleasure!" Far from bothered, Bathory's smile widened, although his baffling enthusiasm was now mixed with a devious glint. "And I assure you, by the end of this conversation we will be best friends."

Krul bit down the answer at the tip of her tongue, assured that at least the time Bathory finally spit out the truth arrived. And she'd know it, how much was true and how helpful it was.