I do not own Shiki and neither does Useful Oxymoron, Fuji TV and Fuyumi Ono do.
Kirishiki Sunako had been quiet and demure ever since the horrors of Sotoba, but today Muroi Seishin found her to be even more quiet than usual. It had only been two days since they arrived at Nagasaki, and Sunako had received a summons from the local coven leader. Seishin was new to this world beneath a world, but was slowly starting to see the machinations of the world of darkness the Shiki moved in. And it was more convoluted and complex than he ever could have imagined.
The Nagasaki Shiki coven was loosely organized into several sects which answered to a single coven leader. Every sect had several safe-houses and lived by a set of strict rules regarding feeding, procreation and movement. He reckoned they had to be able to survive, but the way Sunako had described it, it felt as much as a cage as anything else. The sects had several human servants, hopefuls who were promised to one day be turned.
"Sunako-san?" Seishin asked as he pulled into the driveway of what seemed to be an ordinary run-of-the-mill family abode. "Are you sure this is it?"
"We're here," she whispered. The two left the car and walked over to the front door. They were let into a seemingly completely normal living room. Two Shiki stood guard next to a regal lady with porcelain skin wearing a colorful daifuku. He had learned that she was the coven leader, Kasumi, a woman born at the start of the Edo period and one of the first Shiki in Japan. And for the first time since Sotoba, Seishin saw Sunako smile. It had become a precious thing to him.
"Sunako-chan!" Kasumi exclaimed and held out her arms. The vampire child accepted the embrace gratefully.
Seishin was surprised that Sunako allowed herself to be called -chan. But then again, from what he had learned, he knew that Shiki had a strict hierarchal society based on age. Just as the Shiki is Sotoba had shown deference to Sunako because she was the oldest, Sunako has to show deference to Kasumi because she was her elder. To the Shiki, age meant strength, power and the cunning to have survived for so long.
"My sweet Sunako-chan," Kasumi smiled gently, but sadness crossed her eyes. "You're in trouble, my little one."
Sunako lowered her gaze. "Who did they send, Kasumi-sama?" she asked.
Kasumi looked away briefly. "Sunako..."
"Who?" a visibly worried Sunako pressed.
Kasumi closed her eyes. "Sunderland."
Seishin was instantly concerned when he saw the sheer abject terror on Sunako's face the moment Kasumi had mentioned that name. Kasumi caught his concerned and shook her head.
"He wishes to see you, little one. He is waiting for you upstairs, in the guest room," Kasumi said and ran a hand through her hair. "Be strong, Sunako-chan. Be strong."
Sunako released herself from the embrace and slowly walked towards the stairs, as if her shoes were lined with lead. "Seishin," she looked over her shoulders. A look shared between them was enough.
"Stop," Seishin said. "You don't have to go alone. I can help you, I..."
"No," Kasumi interrupted. "Sunako-chan can only help herself."
"But..." Seishin pressed while Sunako slowly walked up the stairs.
"Sunderland is a member of the Conclave," Kasumi spoke sadly. "My little one has gained the attention of those infinity her greater. Let us pray to any god who will listen that she will survive it."
Seishin gasped. He had learned about the Conclave from Sunako. Shiki were ruled by age, and the Conclave consisted of the oldest of all.
"We can only hope," Kasumi sighed sadly.
Sunako knocked once on the door to the guest room.
"Enter!" sounded a voice in English from the other side of the door. Sunako did so.
The guest room was sparsely furnished, but did have a large window overlooking the foothills. There was a single wooden chair in the middle of the room and at the window, with his back turned to her, stood a young looking man wearing a rather nondescript set of jeans and sweater. He had brown hair and five-o'clock shadow. This was Augustus Jay Sunderland. A Jinrou, member of the Conclave, Inquisitor and quite possibly her executioner.
Sunako stood at the door, unsure of what to do. Sunderland himself was apparently on the phone, talking with someone in English. He held up his finger, signifying that he didn't want her to disturb him.
"I see," he spoke into his phone. "I see. How much exactly does he know? Hm, unfortunate… He refused the money? Threats were ineffective? He still wants justice be done to the 'corpse demons'. Regrettable. No options left then. Make him disappear for good. You may cook up any cover story you like, just be effective. Yes… Yes… Thank you," he said and hung up, now leaving Sunako to his full attention.
"Sit!" Sunderland demanded in a thick Scottish accent. Sunako did so and twiddled nervously with her thumbs while the man kept staring out the window.
Suddenly, he turned around and marched towards her. He stopped in front of her and bent down, his face inches from hers. "What the bloody, bloody, bloody hell were you thinking!
"Silence!" Sunderland shouted. "I had to be suddenly flown in from my lovely, quiet Aberdeen mansion to clean up your mess! And what a mess it is!"
"Did I say you were allowed to speak?" Sunderland roared, his normal blue eyes turning red and black. "Did I? Do you even realize what you've done? You've risked exposing us all! Not just you and your coterie, but vampires everywhere! Half the vampire community is crying out for your blood, do you know that?"
Suddenly, he half-grinned. "And the other half is praising you for trying to break the monotony and for your braver. It puts me in a rather awkward position. You may speak."
"I..." Sunako started, in perfect English. So well to compare to a normal English speaker in America. "I know what I've lost. People I loved. Friends whom I cared for. I thought it was all worth the risk."
Sunderland sighed and rubbed his chin. "I've been working damage control around the clock. I've got agents in place to deal with situation. Our friends in the media are cooperating as planned. We're falsifying witness reports, placing evidence here and there. We're pinning it on the local doctor, Ozaki. By the time I'm through he'll be the most wanted man in Asia. 'Crazed physician uses local superstitions to stir up a massacre'. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? But that still leaves me you to deal with."
Sunako looked down. "Does the Conclave want me dead?"
"They are divided, like all vampires are," Sunderland said. "Anastasia wants to elevate you to a member of the Conclave for your bravery. Andrei wants you skinned and put you in front of his fireplace like a little rug. Mina wants to you to be roasted in the sun. Mobuto wants you lauded. Tzu wants you put in a sealed coffin and dumped into the sea, and Vlad... well..." Sunderland smirked. "Let's just say that I take Vlad's threats with a grain of salt. It's his indiscretions which caused that Irish fool Stoker to reveal some of our weaknesses to the world. So, my fellow members of the Conclave, in their infinite wisdom, decided to let me handle the situation as I see fit."
"Is this to be my last night, then?" Sunako asked softly. "I took a risk. I am prepared to live and die with the consequences."
"I can smell your fear," Sunderland noted. "You are not as brave as you want me to believe."
Sunako closed her eyes. It was true, she did fear death. God rejected her... she would find no loving embrace, no afterlife. Just the empty cold void of oblivion.
"You'll be happy to know that we have recovered some survivors from Sotoba," Sunderland broke her thoughts.
Sunako gasped. "Really? Who?"
"Some members of your coterie," Sunderland spoke. "About a handful for vampires... or Shiki is it now? Is that how you called your coterie? Quaint little name I suppose. I don't think it'll catch on anywhere outside of Japan, though. In any case, I've had mostly pleasant conversations with all of them, with Kasumi kindly acting as a translator for most of them. They've helped me piece together what has happened in Sotoba."
"Who survived!" Sunako pressed impatiently. In spite of herself, there was joy in her heart.
"Shizuka and Yoshie are the names of people you are familiar with," Sunderland spoke. "Unfortunately, Shizuka won't talk. Kasumi explained to me that she used to talk through a doll of some sort. Since she was not found with the doll, I gather it was destroyed in the fire. Until she gets a new doll, Shizuka won't speak. However, Yoshie was more talkative. Oh, she didn't want to at first, but since..."
"... You are an elder," Sunako nodded. "I don't blame her."
"For what it's worth," Sunderland started. "She was very conflicted about it."
"Then there was a rather unpleasant fellow. Masao something. Lucky bastard he was. Got staked but whomever staked him missed his heart by a hair. He blamed you for everything, including the existence of war, famine and plague. His testimony was suspect at best. Several others as well, fledglings. Kasumi has kindly offered them a place in her coterie here in Nagasaki. They'll be asked to lie low for a while."
"I see," Sunako nodded. "I'm glad some of my companions got out alive."
"Seriously," Sunderland spoke, in a softer, gentler voice. "Why did you do it?"
Sunako looked up and met his gaze. "I wanted to be free."
"That is the reason?"
"Look at us," tears started to streak over her cheeks as she spread her arms in exaggeration. "Is this a life? Is this happiness? We can't even be ourselves. Those humans outside, they have so much and don't realize it. They can go out, make friends, mingle, have families, love, live and be free. We... we're ticks, Sunderland. Parasites. We live in the shadows of the humans, calling ourselves superior predators when we are nothing but pale imitations."
Sunderland sighed. "Sunako, I am over three thousand years old. I've often thought as you have when I was younger. But when you get to a certain age you come to realize that you can change little to nothing. We are cursed creatures, Sunako. Damned with stagnation and solitude."
"I wanted to create a life for us. Something precious to be proud of. A place where we could live as a people."
Sunderland chuckled. "How long do you think it would have lasted, Sunako? They would have found out eventually. In fact, we're lucky this entire charade blew up in your face. Because, really, how was Sotoba, a backwater village, as a vampire enclave anything else than a pale imitation of life?"
Sunako had no answer for him. The past couple of days, she had been going over her plan more or less constantly, finding all the flaws, wondering how she could have avoided failure. What she had done wrong. Why the people she loved were now gone.
"Yes, because building a fairy-tale castle in the middle of rural Japan is so inconspicuous, although I do admit, you have a decent taste in architecture." Sunderland laughed.
Sunako cringed. He was right again.
"I did what I felt I had to do," Sunako whispered. "For all of us. I had to try. And I failed."
"Kasumi spoke very highly of you," Sunderland spoke. "You are lucky to have someone as respected as her to stick her neck out for you. And that is one of the reasons why your punishment will be mild. As of today, you are no longer allowed to have followers for an as yet to be determined time. You will defer to Kasumi as your master vampire and if you try to pull a stunt like this again, you will be forced into Torpor for at least two centuries. Do I make myself clear?"
Sunako nodded with relief. Though she had lost a great deal of power and prestige in the Shiki world, she was allowed continued existence. Truthfully, she hadn't expected someone of Sunderland's reputation to be so lenient. In the end, she had been stripped of her rank and all her privileges. She was a normal vampire now, under the command of Kasumi. Though she supposed she had gotten off easy.
"There is one matter to be left resolved," Sunderland spoke and opened a door leading into the next room. Through it stepped a greatly weakened and trumbling young female vampire. "Come now, miss Nao," he spoke softly in English. Nao nodded her understanding. "She is here. Will you tell her what you told me?"
Sunako looked at the young vampire. She had hate and sadness in her eyes. And an intensity which shocked her. Sunako was not used to fledglings daring to oppose her or even treating her with anything less than respect and devotion.
"You came my peaceful home," Nao trembled and switched from broken English to Japanese. "You took my life... and then you told me to attack my family... so that they could become like me... My husband... my son... my parents... None of them rose... All of them dead! You made me kill my own family! And you knew! You knew they wouldn't come back! And still you..." She trembled with rage. "You little bitch! I'll kill you! I'll KILL YOU!" She roared in Japanese.
Sunderland grabbed her around the waist before she could attack Sunako and flung her onto the bed. Nao rolled into a ball and started sobbing. "Oh god, let me die! Please, I just want die," Nao cried softly.
"Miss Nao," Sunderland spoke. "Words cannot describe the sorrow I feel for your loss and the circumstances of this entire mess."
Sunako had been shaken to her very core, confronted as she was with the consequences of her plan. It had been easy to execute it from her mansion. Easy to only see the big picture and not be bothered with the more... ethically difficult results. She had wronged Nao greatly, as did she wrong many more. It was easy to just not see it from her ivory tower, and surprisingly hard when confronted with it.
"I wanted you to see that," Sunderland spoke. "What happened in Sotoba was tragic, for both humans and vampires."
Just then the door splintered. Seishin stood at the ready to defend her and she gathered that the commotion just now had prodded him into action. Immediately, Seishin stood between Sunako and Sunderland. "No!" Sunako shouted in her native tongue. "Seishin-kun! Don't!"
"Speak in English in my presence, damn you!" Sunderland roared. Immediately, Seishin froze up, his face contorted in pain as he fell to the ground under Sunderland's gaze.
"Seishin!" Sunako rushed up to him.
"Don't worry," Sunderland smirked. "Just a small inducement of pain, nothing more. I swear, Sunako, you do know how to inspire loyalty. I'd say you're a natural leader if you couldn't just aim for proper goals. In any case, we are done here. Defer yourself to Kasumi. I will be remaining in Nagasaki until this Sotoba mess has been resolved."
Sunako was relieved to see Seishin recovering. It was then that Seishin spotted the sobbing woman on the bed. "N-nao-san?" he whispered.
Nao continued her triade of sniffles and sobs on the bed. Seishin approached her slowly.
"Are you sure you should be approaching her, Daywalker?" asked Sunderland. Seishin turned around in confusion.
"Daywalker?" He asked in English
"It's the english variant for Jinrou Seishin," pointed out Sunako. Kasumi stood by her side. The monk nodded and kneeled down towards Nao.
"Nao-san? Hey...it's me, Muroi Seishin. You know, from Sotoba and college? Remember?" Seishin asked in a kind voice and in Japanese. Nao slowly turned her head, her tear stained red eyes staring into Seishin's gray ones.
"Seishin-san...what are you doing here..." The monk turned towards Sunako, who nodded.
"Well...I too was turned...and I survived..." explained the monk. Nao slowly shifted herself to stare into Seishin.
"What about your family...your mother and father?" Seishin shook his head.
"They didn't make it...the villagers killed my mother who had no knowledge of us Shiki. She was caught in the crossfire as an innocent bystander...and father rose but was slain I'm afraid..." Nao gasped. His mother was slain? She was kind to everyone!
"Not your mother! She was too kind! She would never hurt anyone! You mean that..."
"They killed her...because I hid in the temple, and she had no knowledge of me being there at all. The temple workers tried to protect her but they were overwhelmed..." Sunako looked away this time, feeling more guilt this time rise. She felt a hand on her shoulder, and Kasumi's hand on it.
The memories are going through Seishin's mind, back in the old days, back in the college days. When he, Ozaki, and Mikiyasu would hang out in the courtyards doing work, socializing, seeing the girls go by...and there was one girl Seishin was transfixed on.
And her name was Tsunashi Nao, who was good friends with all of three men, but eventually married Mikiyasu. Infact, it was Seishin that introduced her to him. And yet, Seishin couldn't help but hate himself...
He hated himself for not asking her out sooner, for not gaining her affection, only remaining as a friend of the family rather than someone to be loved. Ozaki even got a bride, but it was out of solidifying family ties other than out of love. And Seishin was alone…alone due to his inability to act. And he lost the girl that understood him the most…
He hated himself so much he almost killed himself, slicing his wrists but failed to execute the act…
"Seishin is it?" the Jinrou's train of thought was interuppted by Sunderland.
"Anno…yes?" responded the priest in English.
"I see that you must be Sunako's Daywalker, or as she calls it Jinrou. They are few and far between so I'll let you stay in the Nagasaki coven. However, Kasumi here will be your master, not Sunako. Do I make myself clear?"
"I understand." Seishin bowed and turned towards the door. "And…sorry about the door…"
"Nothing some money can't handle. Now all of you be gone. I must continue on mopping up. There could be more survivors. Also, Seishin…."
Seishin's head quirked.
"His last name is Muroi, Master Sunderland," pointed out Sunako.
"Muroi! Since there could be survivors of Sotoba, and you're a native there I would like you to take part in the retrieval effort. Understand?" ordered Sunderland. Seishin nodded.
"Yes, I be happy to take part," answered the priest.
"Good, you will meet with Sorenson, Hamid, and Takashi tomorrow but now you all must rest. I'll also leave that Nao girl in your care as well. Now leave me." All of the vampires bowed and left, leaving the Scottsmen to brood.
"Muroi-san?" The priest turned towards the blue-haired woman.
"Well…when I go to sleep…will you…" she wrapped an arm around her. "Take care of me?" She whispered. Seishin's heart jerked. Here was Nao, the girl of his affection, offering herself to him, but he didn't want to abuse that right…
"You mean…you want to sleep with me?"
"I just don't want to be alone…not anymore…you're the only I know that's left…we won't have sex or anything but…I need someone…" Seishin turned towards Kasumi who nodded.
"It's fine. Go ahead, you can use one of the guest rooms." Seishin nodded and turned towards Sunako.
"I am sorry Sunako-san, but I-"
"It's alright. Give her comfort…" Seishin walked with Nao, hand on her opposing shoulder and escorted her to the guest room.
Written by Useful Oxymoron and Zaru.