"Brother, do you have any idea what it is that you're suggesting?"
Fung sits across from Xander, a table separating them both. Once, they had been brothers. Brothers who had been closer than blood. Now, they are simply two grown gentlemen, sitting across one another before a dark wooden desk, talking politics.
"The current system is a joke, Fung. And you and I both know it."
"This is dangerous, Xander."
"The Council Five will surely resist."
"Fung, you are either with me, or against me on this."
Xander's pointed stare has always been his greatest asset: With it, Fung knew his brother could command an army and move mountains. And now that it is pointed his way, Fung finally gets why even the strongest of vampires cower before the great Lord Hawkesworth.
"So where are you in this, Fung?" He is forcing him into a decision. "Friend?" he asks, "Or Foe?"
He drops a file onto his desk. Its contents spill out onto the table top and Fung could just barely make out its contents. It is filled with documents – statements of accounts, bank transactions, photographs. Xander must have gone through great lengths to obtain these; all evidences of corruption from amongst the members of the Council Five across centuries.
"The Council System is a failure," Xander says. "This society needs a monarchy. There is no other way for peace to return otherwise."
Fung knows that Xander has already decided on this. He has known his brother all his life, and Fung knows that once his younger brother has set his mind onto a task, it shall be done. There was no persuading him out of it. It will be done.
"Fung, you either stand with me or against me. There is no place for anyone in between. Not even you."
Either stand with him or fall with the rest of the Council Five. Fung hasn't looked through the file in explicit detail, but he is sure that in that pile of evidences, both real and fake, there too would be records that belonged to him as well.
Everyone has skeletons in their closets.
And so, with great sorrow Fung tells him, "No matter what happens brother, I will stand with you."
Once, he had passed his heirdom to his younger brother who had ambitions far greater than his own. Fung had thought he'd been smart. Now he knows that he had been a fool.
This wasn't a choice. The Hawkesworths will reign once again.
"This phenomenon only occurs once every fifteen hundred years. Such a beautiful comet. Deadly, but beautiful."
The professor was droning on. Obviously, there was some sort of crazy obsession with astronomy and clairvoyance going on, but clearly, spreading the love for the subject wasn't exactly the professor's strong-suit. Kimiko had to admit that she was amongst the many that hadn't exactly been giving poor Professor Mallorie their fullest attention. But she did at least gain some reassurance from the fact that, unlike her desk mate, she had yet to resort to doodling to pass the time.
She watched Lynith doodle another little smiley onto her notepad. Last lesson of the night and her book was already covered in little squiggles. To her left, separated by an aisle, Raimundo sat seemingly the perfect model student in Mallorie's classroom. Seemingly. Kimiko had long noticed the blank nobody's home look in his eyes, which Kimiko thought wasn't too bad a way to cope with the lesson. Compared to the dark brooding look on Althalos Frederick's face that was obviously meant for something other than Mallorie's class, Kimiko thought that for sure, the blank look in Raimundo's eyes was really not too bad at all.
She turned and immediately noticed it; Lynith's eyes. It was subtle, but she could've sworn that they were glowing.
"When Mallorie asks, the answer to her question is: 1683."
"What're you talking about?"
"Lady Alistair," Mallorie called and immediately, instinctively, Kimiko found herself shooting to her feet.
"Please enlighten us: When was the last occurrence of the Heylin Comet known to our society?"
To their society? How was she to know what was known to their society?
Everyone was watching her, expectant, but certain that she would fail. Trust the professor to be asking questions that she couldn't possibly know the answers to. She simply had to trust her desk mate; 1683. If she was wrong, no harm done, her reputation could take a hit. "In the 1600s, Professor. In the year 1683."
Turned out, Lynith was right. Professor Mallorie looked impressed.
Kimiko internalised the nod of approval and humbly took her seat with a whispered thanks. She whispered, "How did you know what Mallorie was going to ask? And don't say you guessed; I know you weren't paying attention."
Lynith turned to her, eyes no longer shimmering. Smiled.
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Nothing was impossible and it was silly of her to be surprised, but Kimiko was indeed intrigued and she was indeed ignorant.
It was hours later, after Mallorie had quite literally but half the classroom to sleep when the bell finally went off at three in the morning. Kimiko made her way down the hall alone. At three, it was empty, peaceful, just how she liked it. The noise and the chatter were lively, but tiring to her. She knew that it was going to take her some getting used to, but she's trying. For her clan, she was willing to try.
It was only hours later, after Mallorie had quite literally put half the classroom to sleep, that the bell finally went off. At five in the morning, the hallways leading towards the library were empty, quiet. Most had already returned to the dorms for the dawn. Now Kimiko made her way down that hall alone, slight spring in her step.
The chatter of a crowd was lively, but she thought it tiring. It was going to take some getting used to, but she's trying. For her clan, she was willing to try.
Then out of nowhere, a voiced called out to her from behind. Male, cold and hostile.
Well, she thought, she had expected as much. With the way he'd been glaring daggers into her side all evening, she already had the suspicion. She just hadn't expected it to happen quite this soon.
Back straight, chin up, smile on.
Then reluctantly, she turned to face him.
Don't show any signs of weakness. Don't ever let them see you falter.
"Good evening, Althalos."
She had greeted him with a smile; absolutely harmless. Yet, the innocence of her expression somehow managed to irk him beyond belief.
"Cut the innocent act. I know you're not the good girl you make yourself out to be."
And to Frederick's utmost annoyance, damned Alistair heiress actually had the gall to look surprised.
"Let's cut to the chase, shall we?" Frederick held up the file containing the medical reports he had managed to garner in the short amount of time he'd had. No mistake about it; he'd always found her very familiar since the very moment he first saw her. "I found this amongst the files in my father's hospital."
No doubt about it. He'd always prided himself on having an impeccable memory.
He tossed them to her, watched her catch it with ease, noted her eyes widening at its contents.
"You're a regular at our hospital. Care to explain yourself?"
She opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again, reconsidered. She may have used an alias in her patient profile, but there had been a photo of her in the system and he hadn't been stupid.
"This entire time, you've been living right under our noses and lying about Italy. I want to know why."
There had been too many gaps in her patient profile, too much vital information deliberately censored out. An insider's job. Nobody else could've had that much unfettered access to their records.
"It's none of your business."
"Of course it is. It's my father's hospital you're frequenting."
She didn't answer. Initial shock aside, she at least had the good sense to be flipping through that file. Records of multiple visits over the years, dating all the way back to almost eight years ago. But as she read, Frederick noticed the composure slowly returning to her features. The way she looked at him, it was infuriating.
Then with an unreadable expression, she turned away. And he thought, she knew; all he had was some sort of memory of her and a stupid photo. What exactly could he do with just those two things? Formally accuse her with them? Hardly. To put it simply, he had no evidence and she knew that well.
"I'm sorry, but I really don't understand what this is about, Althalos."
Then she returned the file and she walked free. Even if they both knew the truth. Even if there was nothing that he wanted more than to prove it.
She wouldn't be walking for long though. For sure, Frederick was determined to disclose this little secret of hers. Because the moment he found enough evidence of the truth, Alistair was as good as dead.
Sometimes, when Luca spoke in that little sing-song voice, Kimiko thought her baby sister was absolutely adorable.
"Don't say I didn't warn you, Kimi." Luca sang. "You're getting too close to the Hawkesworth boy."
And at times like this when Luca used it to make an actual point, it drove her a tiny bit crazy.
"You're overthinking this, Luca."
"Absolutely. There is nothing going on between Raimundo and I."
Luca laughed, raised a sceptical brow. "Raimundo huh? Not Lord Raimundo or Hawkesworth?"
"We're the same age, it's weird to be adding honorifics to his name."
"That's how their society works!"
"Our society, Luca. If we're going to be reintegrating into it, we need to start thinking of it as our own."
Kimiko stuck the last pin in her hair, surveyed herself in the mirror and performed one final spin. It would take her a long time to get used to all the glamour, but if she was going to do this, she was in it for the long run. Evening gowns and makeup at dinner were really only the beginning. Flipping her hair, she posed before Luca, hoping for a biased opinion, "So, how do I look?"
"Too pretty to be hanging around the Hawkesworth boy if you ask me."
"Perfect!" She allowed for her smile to break through, even if she was shaking her head. Luca always did succeed at making her chuckle. "I'll see you after dinner then?"
"Yeah, if they don't stab you in the back and feed you to wild harpies first." Luca muttered, but Kimiko heard it, loud and clear. Luca knew that too.
"I'm going now." She called over her shoulder, waving without turning.
The very idea of her life being threatened by a bunch of guppies who hadn't reached the full maturity of their powers was slightly amusing. Even for those who had achieved full maturity, at maximum strength, they were hardly a match for her.
She was very powerful, very skilled and very aware of that fact.
So until Hawkesworth Raimundo had gained full maturity, what really did she have to worry about exactly?
When the food was laid out on the table and the goblets were filled with fresh blood, the general rule, naturally, was that you feast. Not wait around the table for your last Pureblood to show.
"This is getting ridiculous," Omi's announced to the entire table of seven. "I'm starving."
"Best hold your appetite a little longer, Omi. We still have to wait for our little princess." Arella lamented, picking at her nails that had just been manicured to perfection earlier that day. Growing up, Arella always had a very strong intuition, almost border-lining on supernatural. The moment Alistair Kimiko had showed up, there had been a darkness surrounding her, not evil, but dark. It set her on edge, warned her to stay away. So, Arella had done the smart thing and trusted that gut instinct.
Raimundo called for Kazuma. "Please check in on Kimiko, see if she's alright."
His faithful servant bowed, "Understood, Sir."
The Alistair heiress strutted into the dining hall in a stunning silver gown and four-inch heels. The traditional monthly supper had been practiced across generations and this time, with all eight clans present for the first time, no expense was spared. Wearing what she did, jewels, gown, heels and all, Kimiko looked around the room and still didn't feel the least bit over-dressed.
"I apologise for my tardiness," she said, then hurried into her seat between Lynith and Clay. "I'm afraid my sister was having a bit of trouble settling in with the amount of luggage she's brought."
Raimundo, always the gentleman, predictably offered her a smile. One look and it became obvious that this was how Hawkesworth Raimundo looked when he flashed his 'courtesy smile'. "That's alright, Kimiko. We're all well acquainted with the agonies of moving in."
Well acquainted or not, it was obvious that they were all famished. Omi was already eyeing the drumstick. With all eight finally present, Raimundo gladly announced to all his hungry purebloods around the table, "Let us feast."
In the five minutes that she'd been sat here watching Logan Clay stuff his mouth with a gusto she's never expected from a guy as stoic as he was, Kimiko concluded that the glorious appearance of a pureblood's traditional supper really wasn't just for show.
She, who had never quite liked the expensive taste of truffles, realised that she's more than willing to clean out her plate. Maybe even lick it clean if it had been her in a different life.
Between bites, it quickly became obvious that despite all having the same stiff upbringing, each of the purebloods had distinct personalities of their own and maybe even a distinct preference for some of their peers too. For example, Kimiko noticed the interesting way Lynith looked at Frederick as if she derived some sort of amusement from his stiffness, or that adorable blush Celeste sported whenever Clay leaned over just a little too close.
She smiled. Very interesting.
"Lady Kimiko, is it true that you wouldn't be having an attendant?" Arella asked from across the table. An innocent question from every angle and yet Kimiko had a sneaking suspicion that the Lucard heiress had a special talent for causing innocent conversations to take very negative turns.
Nevertheless, it always was interesting to watch when people liked creating mountains out of molehills. Kimiko decided to humour her.
"It is true. My little sister, Luca, shall be assisting me in place of an attendant."
"Your little sister?"
"Yes, Headmaster Fung has already given his consent."
"Quite unheard of don't you think?"
Ah, there it was; the turning point.
"Maybe so, but nearly everything about my presence here is quite unheard of wouldn't you say, Lucard?" Kimiko took her first bite of strawberry shortcake, made a mental note to ask for a second piece to take back to Luca. "Besides," she added, "Headmaster Fung believes that an early exposure to society will help Luca adapt much quicker to academy life when it's finally her time to enrol."
Their headmaster, to her utmost surprise, truly did live up to his reputation. He had been nothing but understanding and generous with them since their arrival. In just the short amount of time she'd spent seated in his office, Kimiko had sensed the man's strong sincerity with ease. A man of great character and morals, she'd decided.
"So your sister will be like your personal maid during the school term?"
"Knowing Luca, I'm sure she would find some way to make me the one to serve her."
That elicited a few chuckles around the table.
"In any case," Raimundo said, "I think it's great that you'll have the company of family here. Perhaps you should consider allowing Lady Luca to join us on our monthly suppers as well."
She brightened up a little at that. Clearly the suggestion meant a little more to her than he'd realised. "I'll be sure to extend the invitation to her."
"Excellent. In the meantime, I'll have Kazuma wrap up a slice of that shortcake for you to take back to Lady Luca. I have yet to meet a young lady who could resist one of Chef Lorenzo's desserts."
Kimiko laughed, accepted the kind gesture. "With that kind of a bribe, I can almost guarantee my sister's presence at the next traditional supper."
Again, more chuckles from the other purebloods. Two seats down, Kimiko noticed how Lynith in particular was finding it all especially amusing. "Trust you to be bribing the poor girl, Rai." She turned to Kimiko, "How old is Lady Luca?"
Lynith laughed, "Twelve? Rai, have you no shame?"
"I wouldn't go so far as to call it a bribe. More of a generous incentive."
"Call it whatever you want, cousin. A duck is still a duck even if you decide to call it a swan."
Beside her, Clay chuckled. First time she'd seen any hint of cheeriness in the guy. "She pegged ya good with that one."
Raimundo sighed, loud. "Well, it certainly wouldn't be the first time."
"And I promise that it won't be the last either," Lynith winked at cousin dearest. Kimiko hadn't thought it possible, but each time Lynith spoke with that sort of unyielding informality, Kimiko couldn't help but admire her just that little bit more.
Between bites of money and restrictive corsets, Kimiko found some comfort in watching their light-hearted little exchange. At the very least, this bunch was proving to be slightly less of the stiff crowd that mother had always described their society to be.
Day two down without incident, quite an achievement if Kimiko could say so herself. She could do this. She could do this.
"You've been unusually quiet today, Omi." Raimundo pointed out after the ladies had retired for the day, claiming that they needed their beauty sleep.
"I was simply observing."
"And what have you observed exactly?"
Omi opened his mouth with a raised finger, realised the lack of a revelation and instantly deflated a little. He muttered, "I have observed that Alistair Kimiko is an incredibly ordinary seventeen-year-old girl."
"Could be just an act. It's only been two days." Clay supplied.
"You too think that this is all just an act?" Omi asked.
"I'm just sayin' that it's a possibility. Not everything and everyone is part of some secret elaborate plan, Omi."
"I am telling you, that squirrel was glaring at me!"
"Lil' b also thought that squirrel was eight feet tall and had eyes larger than ya head."
"That squirrel was pure evil!"
Frederick sighed, adjusted his spectacles. "We are still discussing that incident?"
"He started it!"
Clay, completely indifferent, pushed aside the accusatory finger pointed at him.
"In any case," Raimundo interrupted, "I wouldn't be jumping to any conclusions just yet, but I have to admit, Kimiko does appear to be a rather ordinary teenage girl."
"Will you be continuing to addressing her without honorifics, Raimundo?"
At the sound of her voice, all four men turned to see Arella re-entering the dining hall wearing pink fluffy pyjamas and cute bunny slippers.
"Arella, I had assumed you'd already gone to sleep."
She continued on with her wilful look of displeasure. "Will you?"
"I will be, yes."
It was one thing to address the girl they way in which she had requested and it was another to continue so even in her absence. Arella didn't understand. Where exactly did the line between courtesy and actual friendliness lie then?
"Don't you think that would send the message that the Alistair heiress is welcome here?"
"That was what I was going for, yes."
"Why? There's so much hate and bad blood between her and all of us."
"Bad blood? Sure, over thirty generations ago maybe." Clay pointed out, even if the conversation hadn't been directed toward him. "But hate? I'm not sure. I don't. Not really, that is."
"I don't hate her. I just don't trust her." Omi said.
"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Raimundo told them. "I'm not saying that she's the enemy here, but if that is how any of you wish to view her-" He gave Arella a levelled look, then turned his line of sight to Frederick. "-then I'm sure that line of logic applies."
Unlike Arella, Frederick might not have said a word since the Alistair heiress had walked into the room, but Raimundo knows the difference between a guarded look and giving someone the evil eye. That look that Frederick had been giving Kimiko from across the table all evening; definitely not friendly and definitely not just a guarded look.
It was the one kind of similar to the ones some of the other students were giving her as she walks down the hallways.
Raimundo had spoken with Frederick earlier that night so he knew all about that little confrontation with Kimiko. Despite everything Raimundo has said and everything he's done, truth be told there wasn't a single cell of his that trusted Alistair Kimiko. Too many questions, too many surprises, too little answers. And anyone who was being openly hostile towards her was simply not helping
Too obvious, Raimundo thought. All of them were just far too obvious.