Chapter 8

Authoress' notes: Eep! I am so sorry about the lack of updates! I do want to finish the story and I even know how and where it is going. RoveR, my muse, has been spotty but he likes to bite at the oddest times. Please bare with me as I post this un-betaed. ^^;

"Might I make a suggestion?" came the rough, stressed voice of Rulf from in front Armand as they slowly made their way up the ridiculously narrow and twisted stair case of the inn.

Huffing a breath to get his hair out of his face and lowered his eyebrows, blue eyes nearly flickering with impatience as he nodded his consent.

"The next time you knock someone out," the wolfman grunted, shifting his hold under the stallion's arms when they took another step. "Do so in the room you intend to keep them in."

Armand hefted up both of the legs where he held them at the knees and glared first at Rulf and then at the passed out creature they were transferring from the dining area to the upstairs rooms he rented for the night. He carefully slid the heel of his shoed foot to the base of the stair before braving another backward step up. It was a trial to his patience and a burn to his muscles, but they were making steady progress. He hoped.

"Duly noted," the steward muttered under his breath, taking another step back and up, "How can someone so slight be so heavy?"

"This one is nothing but muscle and bone," Rulf answered, evaluating the unconscious male. The slave's head was lulled back against the wolfman's chest, bobbing with each movement from the two males. His body was completely lax and heavy. "He is hiding his strength in magick and body."

Armand gave a jerky nod and a sigh of relief as he finally reached the top of the staircase; once more he altered his grip under the stallion's bent knees. Casting a glance over his shoulder to estimate the distance from the stairwell to his rooms, he felt a sharp sting of frustration. It took a handful of minutes and even more curses before Armand gently set down the legs (if only for the sake of those who were roomed the floor beneath them), fished out the key and unlocked the door. Heaving out a groan, the steward picked up the stallion's legs once more, walked into the room and had Rulf close the door as quietly as he could with the back of his heel.

"I know he's hiding something," Armand bit out, his muscles aching and burning as he jerked his head toward an empty bed, "Why do you think we're here? I want to know why and from whom or for whom."

Without much concern for any bruising that might appear later, they managed to dump the stallion on to the top of a bed in a graceless, uncomfortable looking heap of limbs. The male only made a soft groan, causing both conscious males to pause, but soon the stallion settled.

Letting out a breath, Rulf rolled his shoulders in circles, trying to ease some of the kinks maneuvering the male in such a tight space had developed. The wolfman glanced around the simple room, fashioned with two beds, a wash basin, a desk and a few chairs.

"I thought you said the poison was quick acting. What took so long? The pub was to close long before midnight."

Armand, who had dropped into one of the stiff wing-backed chairs, rubbed a sore spot on his upper arm and scoffed.

"I will be sure to visit that herbalist and tell her of her faulty product. I paid double what it was worth and even thanked the old bat." The brunette gruffed, "I had to use almost every drop of the liquefied Ciel weed. Nearly two cups worth."

Rulf snapped his attention to the steward, fanged mouth hung open in shock, "That should have killed him!" He jerked attention from the steward, to the stallion and back again.

"Would have if he was anything other than the ridiculously incommodious creature he is." Armand pushed himself up, crossed the room and his arms, glaring down at the sleeping male. "Whatever he is."

"How long is he going to be out?" Rulf asked, stifling a yawn with the back of his hand. "He's probably going to be nearly savage when that stuff wears off."

Armand gave one of his dramatic sighs as he lifted himself from the seat, gave one more nasty look at the male in the bed and then straightened his shirt with jerky, tugging movements.

"I've taken meals with him, he seems to run through food at an alarming rate with the sheer amount he consumes at every meal." Armand tipped his head to one shoulder and then the other, hearing several satisfying cracks as he did. "Which means I need to do what I came here to do tonight."

There was a chuckle from the wolfman before he cracked a fanged smile, "You're going to wake the witch?"

Armand gave another sigh, "Yes, I have no choice." The steward studied his empty bed with the longing of a lover before he started to walk to the door, "You may have my bed tonight. I shan't be needing it, it would seem."

"Might I offer another suggestion, Armand?" the wolfman, who was already sitting on the edge of the bed and kicking off his heavy boots, asked. With a side long look and partially raised eyebrow, Armand waited with his hand on the doorknob. "I'd fetch some flowers. Any man who wakes up his wife in the dead of night should think of doing so, but when that man's wife is a witch..."

He slammed the door behind him in reply.

"What did you do to her?" Yukari questioned, tucking her hands in her apron as the small Neko used the tip of her blunted claw to poke the lady of the house's cheek. The child turned around, blinked up at the housekeeper and then shrugged as she poked the blonde woman again.

Yukari tipped her head to the side in confusion, when Hitomi had come home from town the day before, was normal throughout dinner, but then muttered something about preparing a room for a new servant, then curled up on the first settee she found. No matter how many times the female servants or the kitten attempted to wake her, Hitomi would brush them off with a sleepy mutter. Sleeping in the hall way, no matter if it was her own home or not, was not proper.

Several hours into the new day and Yukari was contemplating pouring a bucket of water on her to make sure Hitomi would wake up. The little girl squatted at the mistress' side, her thin tail curling around her ankles as she stared up at the housekeeper with watery green eyes.

"I'm sure she will be fine," Yukari assured, "She is merely sleeping."

The kitten studied both women before her brow furrowed as if she was deep in thought.

"The true concern is how and when we will wake her ." She huffed and planted fists on either side of her hips.

Dilandau slammed his fists down on his desk, as he shot to his feet, teeth clenched and eyes lit with damnation.

"Nothing!" He roared as the two men in front of him. They never flinched as he rounded the desk, stalked up to them and screamed in their faces about their incompetence.

"Men do not just appear and disappear without me knowing about it, until now!" He seethed, pushed both soldiers out of his way as he paced with heavy steps to and from his desk and door. "That Armand DeCri is a thorn in my side, a spike in my eye," he whirled around and punched the wall, teeth clenched. "But I have tolerated him at out of mutated need to get close to Kanzaki. He is the true head of that woman since she has no family."

Dalli and Gatti shared blank expressions, knowing their leader's rants were part of the commission and had to be endured. They were familiar with the consequences of not giving Dilandau what he wanted. What he wanted was information on the mysterious man, he had given them more and more time but they still had not a word.

"I report to that blustering air bag, King Anston, in two days. If I have nothing with which to condemn that newcomer, then I can not kill him— legally." He shoved his fingers in his hair and pulled in frustration. "I want him dead," he seethed, jerking his hands down to his sides.

"He is just one man, why should you focus so much effort upon him?"

Stepping forward, Gatti cleared his throat, and spoke, "Foruma has completed your request, and has sent over the promised items."

Dilandau turned on his heel and blurred to the Dragon Slayer, grabbing the man by the shirt and hauling him a hand-breath away from his face.

"You waited until now to inform me of such!" He shoved the brunette back with all his strength, causing the man to stumble and slam into the adjacent wall. "Where are they? Have they been tested successfully?"

Dalli, wide eyed, opened his mouth and closed it with a clack, cleared his throat and in a steady voice, "He gave the warning that they have not-"

The door being jostled open and the shout of assistance was proof enough that warnings and precautionary measures were not to be heard or even acknowledged. With a slouching sigh of relief, Dalli went to aid his abused friend to his feet.

"At least he's happy," Gatti muttered, rubbing the back of his head where it hit the wall.

"For now," Dalli agreed, looking toward the door with apprehension. "Let us hope that the gadgets work well enough to keep him in such a mood."

"Indeed."

Dilandau was a ball of eager fury as he rounded the corners of his headquarters and shoved the door of the laboratory. There, on the marble top table in the center of the room, was his ace. It seemed harmless, decorative almost. It was a wooden spike, most likely blessed by one priest or another, with a crudely cut amethyst that was nearly black on on point, and faded to nearly translucent. It was kept in place by various, thin wires and twine with small smooth beads on them.

As if picking up a newborn baby, the knight lifted the tool up, turning it over in his palm and lifting it up to one of the torches that lit the windowless room.

"Magnificent," he breathed out.

"You don't even know what it does yet," a raspy voice hissed out from the shadows just beyond the torches' illumination. Dilandau's eyes landed on the man-creature as his smile twisted into one of a blood thirsty undead.

"But you do and you will tell me."

The creature narrowed its slit-pupil eyes and nodded. "I need not tell what I can show."

Quirking an eyebrow, Dilandau held it out to the creature.

Shifting slowly toward the man and magic device, the crystal sparked and then began to steady become brighter as the Other crept closer. The device became further aggravated, the light blazing and when the male stopped, a few threads away from the tip of the rock, it began to whine and hum.

"It detects the non-human blood in me," the Other explained, stepping away, enough to silence the item, the creature glared at the glowing gem. , "The thicker the blood or stronger the magick, the quicker and stronger it will react."

Dilandau held up the jewel to his face, the amethyst quickly dimming, and started to chuckle as he asked, "Can they fashion it into a cane?"

"Wake up," the irritated voice of the steward broke through only a few seconds before a sharp pain was felt on either cheek. The stallion's eyes snapped open for a heartbeat only to pinch shut and clenched his teeth together.

Huffing, Armand exited the carriage, "Yes, yes, growl, snarl— get out. Your hindering the staff from their duties. I don't issue their salaries for merely existing."

If he wasn't feeling as if he had just been put under the snake witch's sleep spell, the stallion would have made it a point to linger on the bench of the carriage longer. As it was, he was bleary eyed and stumbling down the three short steps to the ground. His legs were heavy as he moved up the stair case and into the front hall of the home. There were several servants fluttering about, collecting their belongings, asking a few questions to Armand, and working both men out of their dusty travel coats.

The stallion blinked lazily at the excited kitten was she tugged on his shirt cuff to gain his attention. He hadn't even felt or heard her approach him. Gently, he sent a small pulse of his magik to her as a nudge of question. She bounced on the balls of her feet as she nodded and tipped her head back, indicating the to the back right.

With Armand busy fusing about some asinine detail of his recent outing, the male decided to humor the child and allowed her to lead him away. His senses were still dulled and fuzzy from whatever had happened the night prior, but the link between the human and himself was becoming crisper with every step he took. Soon the Neko pointed to a pile of clothes that took him a heartbeat and several long, slow blinks to realize it was his mistress, Hitomi.

The hallway's curtains had all been drawn, leaving it warm and dark, and the seduction of sleep was fast luring him. Before he could find his own piece of furniture to nest on, he, again, questioned the girl.

She promptly rolled her eyes and huffed. It was the most expressive he had seen her since she came to the household. The girl pointed straight to the woman, then to his chest, and then to her again.

He rubbed the bridge of his nose, and let his shoulders sag in understanding. Naturally the child would seek to have her caretaker taken care of in any way possible. Even though he was using the dregs of his mental functions, he nodded, walked to Hitomi, threw off the blankets that had been placed on her, and without much ceremony and care, hefted the blonde into his arms. His tiredness was pushed aside for annoyance when he stumbled after turning, but he was too stubborn to fall short of his goal. His goal, was Hitomi's large, soft bed.

It was this only thought, the wonderful idea of curling under blankets and against the living warmth of a female that kept him focused. The kitten followed him up the flights of stairs, but did not stop at the third floor, but continued on toward the nursery.

So much the better, he was not sure how long he would be able to fend off the foul mood he felt pressing hotly on the outside of his logic. The empathic link Hitomi and he shared was quiet, she often had flutters of fear or contentment as she slept, but there was nothing but a steady flow of peace.

Lifting an eyebrow at a passing maid who scurried away quickly, the stallion p used his shoulder to nudge the partly opened door into the sitting room, and shifted around the dead weight of the woman as he gripped and pushed the bedroom door open. Walking in he glared at the cheerful mid-afternoon sun shinning through the windows, before kicking the door shut with the back of his heel.

After depositing human on her bed, the male had to stop himself from calling upon more magik to simply shut the curtains or darken the window panes. He still needed to know how sensitive the man-made atrocities of magik hunting were. No need to turn himself in earlier than need be. Unbuttoning his shirt until it was loose, he then peeled it off and threw it to the ground as he made his way to the first set of curtains. He tugged off his boots between the second and third and was stumbling his way to the bed, too tired to bother with belt and breeches, when the Neko burst through the door.

The nasty look she received had her cowering back a step, the book she had against her chest rising the cover her face. Pulling from the peace Hitomi was exuding, the male clicked his tongue and averted his eyes. The girl must have gathered the meaning as she quickly finished her journey into the room and crawled into the bed, next to the pile of limbs that was Hitomi.

He stopped by her side, arms crossed and his core magik flicking around him like an angry cat—something the Neko would surely understand and acknowledge. She looked up at him, pulled the book away and flipped a few pages before turning it, and holding it up to him.

The Sleeping Beauty, he read and then quirked an eyebrow. Surely the girl realized he never spoke and therefore could not read to her! The girl pointed to Hitmoi, then back to the illustration of the sleeping princess, and nodded with a small smile. She twisted the storybook back to her, thumbed a few extra pages and turned it back to him, one hand holding it open and the other pointing.

First she picked out the drawing of, what he gathered was supposedly considered a 'handsome prince' and then to him. His face ticked barely concealed disbelief. The girl then flipped the next page, held it up and tipped it back and forth, as if trying to make it dance.

On the one page, the prince was leaning over, kissing the slumbering woman and on the next they were holding hands and staring at each other lovingly.

The neko nodded, her smile broad as if she had solved some complex spell.

Snorting, even in his slowed thinking he found it rather ridiculous. As if he would kiss the woman and she would suddenly revive! He decided that his kindness would resume after a solid night's sleep. He plucked the book from her hands, stared at the page for a few seconds, before snapping it shut and throwing it to the foot of the bed. He pointed to the door, the kitten stuck out her lip, as if pouting. When he reaffirmed the command, her ears went flat against her head as she slumped off the bed and trudged toward the door. She gave one more look, grabbed the door handle before turning, sticking out her tongue and quickly shutting the door.

He rolled his dark eyes, and fumbled with the latch of his belt and shed his pants as he crawled over Hitomi and flopped down. He pulled the woman close to him with one arm and with the other hand, yanked the quilt over them both.

The warmth of the tears tricking down his face was what he first noticed as the haze around his mind slowly cleared. A cry of agony was wrenched from his throat as he stumbled forward, the dampness of the ground seeping into the fabric of his slippers as he drew closer to the pyre.

All the fear and sadness weighed down on him like a heavy woolen coat, and it made each move seem longer than the last. The smell of meat cooking, the thick smoke from the burning, the dreaded popping and howls as the fire seared-

They were there, dear gods, they were all there...

...She expertly ducked the blade, hearing it whistle as he swung overhead. The swordmaster was in a foul mood, ready to make her pay for her rather plucky demeanor.

"You need to be more aggressive," the instructor barked.

Her face screwed into one of disapproval as she fought, and lost, the battle to roll her eyes. It was in that moment, when her eyes came back to focus in front of her, that she nearly went cross-eyed staring at the tip of the blade a hand-breadth from her nose.

"If you aren't more fierce, your majesty, you'll be devoured."

Always, he was always saying that-

The male was the first to wake up, taste of smoke still ghosting on his tongue. Blinking, he patted his face and let out a huff. He had been crying in his sleep. He never cried in his sleep, then again, he never had such a vivid dream of a massacre of-of some one or some ones he knew. Sitting up, he eyed the female next to him when she shifted suddenly and let out a squeak of protest.

Running a hand through his sleep mused hair, he attempted to pull together what he could remember of the night prior. There was a drinking involved, hours of his mug being filled with sad and lacking drink that humans felt had the right to be labeled 'alcohol'.

It was as weak as dog piss and about as flavorful, but he drank, to appease his own need to further aggravate Armand.

It was well into the night before his thinking started to obnubilate. His instincts to shield his magick had started to react, pulling his mind and aura into himself until it could filter out what was causing the abnormality. Something that only ever happened a few times before, and this was the first time it was without his direct knowledge of what caused it. ]

Narrowing his eyes in thought, it appeared that the steward was more clever than he let on about things. This was a development that would need to be watched carefully so another incident of this nature did not reoccur. For the male to lose his grip on the magick that was welled up inside him because of someone's trying to hurt him would only devastate everything around his passed out presence.

The stallion jerked his head to the side focus completely on the door only a few breaths before the outer door to the sitting room was flung open, followed by heavy footsteps, and followed by a fist (or two) banging on the bedroom doors.

Hitomi flung herself up and away from the noise, her still sleep dosed eyes indicating that reality was yet to be felt.

"My lady," Armand's voice yelled from the other side. "There are something I wish to discuss with you, right now."

The stallion volleyed his attention between the confused woman who was trying to relax her heartbeat and the door that kept the bull at bay.

Smirking, thinking what a wonderful way to start the day, the male slithered from the bed, hearing a satisfying squeak of surprise from behind him. He opened the door wide where Armand stood, red faced and precious cravat messed up into a fluffy knot. With a sneer that was followed up by a glare, the man spoke.

"I want her out here, now." He demanded. "There is a woman in the hall who says you offered her a place in this house." Armand turned on his heel before stopping and coldly adding, "And do put some clothes on, you've nothing worth being proud of."

It took less than an hour for the maids to assist their fidgeting mistress into a fresh gown. She was told that breakfast was being served in the sitting room where both Armand and her female guest where already waiting.

With as much grace as she could muster from the harried morning events, she strolled into the room and upon seeing the 'guest' her face lit up in a smile.

"Sarah!" She beeline for the older woman and the two embraced. It was clear from the way Armand was giving the two a nasty look, he was not as warmly welcoming of Sarah as Hitomi was.

"Please sit," she instructed, sitting to the left of her friend, with Armand on her right. "Have concluded all your business with your father?"

The brown eyes flicked to the fuming man before Sarah sat up straighter and in a timid voice replied, "He is—was very eager for me to leave his home."

"At least that is something Dr. Ston and I have in common now."

Sarah ducked her head and Hitomi's shot up and her eyelids lowered, "Mr. DeCri, I would remind you that Miss Ston is a guest and soon to be part of my estate, I would ask you treat her like the gentleman's daughter she is."

"I leave for a single day and you not only manage to sleep most of it away, but in your brief waking hours you added yet another person to the pay role." Armand muttered, as he placed his forehead in his hand and massaged his fingers over the skin.

"I have spoken to the housekeeper, she has full knowledge and is accepting of a new member of the staff." Hitomi answered primly.

"Of course she would not begrudge you the help, she does not balance the ledgers. This is yet another unnecessary expense," he slipped out under his breath as he turned his head away.

When the door opened, Hitomi assumed it was one of the maids to deliver a fresh pot of tea. However, when the stallion pulled out and dropped into an empty chair at the small table, she felt the blood drain from her face.

In her haste to uncover what it was that had Armand's knickers in a bunch, she had completely forgotten about her stallion. Her, praise be, fully and properly dressed stallion.

He lifted an eyebrow and one side of his mouth, as if he knew or felt her uneasiness. As if he had the manners of royalty, he neatly arranged his food and allowed a servant to pour his tea.

"Oh," Sarah's expression returned to the guarded look, "and who is this?"

"Oh, uhm," Hitomi dabbed her mouth with her napkin as her mind bled with fear and reeled in worry as it desperately tried to weave a worthy explanation. "This is Mr. DeCri, the cousin of the charming Armand DeCri."

Both Sarah and the stallion rose, she gave a polite curtsy as he gave a neat bow.

"It is pleasant to make your acquaintance, Mr. DeCri." Sarah managed out, her nervousness showing in the way she gripped her hands.

"This is Miss Sarah Ston," Hitomi explained, "she will be joining us for our social engagements. Also, she will be rooming here." There was a hidden plea to the male as both took their seats again.

Sarah's eyebrows knitted together as she glanced at the male and then to her folded hands in her lap.

"Have I offended you, Mr. DeCri?" Sarah asked.

"Yes," Armand replied with a snap. "Thank you for your consideration."

"I-I was speaking of your cousin," Sarah clarified. "But he does not speak to me."

"Oh!" Hitomi gave an apologetic smile, "Mr. DeCri is mute."

"I most certainly am not." Armand piped up again.

"I was referring to your cousin, simpleton," the blonde woman returned.

"Perhaps, then, you should address my cousin by his first name?" Armand challenged, a dark smile spreading across his face.

The blood that began to flow back to her face quickly fled once again. She had forgotten to give him a proper name!

"Yes, prey, what is his first name?" Sarah asked, looking over to the black haired male who, though the center of the conversational topic, seemed to have no interest in it as he quietly munched on a piece of toast.

"Yes, do tell, Miss Kanzaki, what is my cousin's first name?" Armand yelped as Hitomi's slippered foot met expertly with his chin.

"He-he is your cousin, I should allow you the pleasure of introducing your family."

"Ah, but he is your guest."

Swallowing, Hitomi's eyes made a circuit around the table. Sarah was curious, the stallion amused, and Armand smug.

No help was coming from any of them! It should be simple to come up with a name! There were hundreds, nay, thousands to choose from, but every time her mouth opened to force some male name to fall out, nothing came.

"Van," Armand finally answered before he could witness a complete meltdown of his employers brain. "His name is Van."

The clatter of silverware was from the stallion, his eyes widened and narrowed in the same heartbeat on the steward.

"Yes," Hitomi quickly followed up, "His name is Mr. Van DeCri."