In the dark leather seat of Ace's car, Aiko felt perfectly calm. Calm...of course she was calm; she wasn't going to have to do anything. No one knew who she was, and as far as everyone was concerned, her name was Bell Francois. He couldn't find her. Nope. Sure she was out in the open, but her hair was dyed, and her eyes were green, not to mention her skin was a completely different color. So she wasn't concerned at all. Nope. Not nervous, not even really thinking about it...
That was the way things SHOULD have been. But Aiko was, contrary to what she wanted, sitting straight up in her seat, eyes wide, and her hands kept giving odd sparks of vampiric magic, sometimes lighting up the whole car. Ace would curse every time this happened. He said that if she was doing that on purpose, to stop, and if she wasn't, to stop. Aiko knew this was a "no win" situation, so she just buried her hands in the loose bottom of her gown. Zacklentre would just laugh. Soon they had pulled up in front of the Palace, and what a dazzling and slightly romantic sight it was.
It was really a large mansion, not quite a castle. Fountains surrounded the outside, and there were many windows scattered across the building's interface. Ace pulled the car up beside a tree, shutting it off.
"Everybody knows what to do, right?" Zacklentre asked.
"Right," Aiko sounded off, holding up her paper. She was to be the entertainer...ugh. Ace didn't answer; he just got out of the car in a cool manner. Zacklentre hopped out after him, giving Aiko a polite hand. She took it, looking at the people around. They were all so fancy in their exotic gowns, jewelry, and hairstyles. Also, Ace and Zacklentre HAD to be the only ones wearing a black tux here. Aiko saw colors in the men's outfits ranging from brown, to white. A few pinks were even mixed in between. She self-consciously touched her blond hair. She had struggled with it forever, trying to get it in the shape it was in. Being as long as it was, It was no easy job.
When they got to the doors, a guard asked them for their IDs, which they gave to them, fake ones of course. The three assassins walked inside.
The "Palace" was twice as grand on the inside as it was out. Dark red carpets and crystal chandeliers decorated everything in the room. Candles were on each table. Bottles of fancy wines were used as decor also. Aiko slid away from Zaclentre and Ace. They were supposed to pretend they didn't know each other, that was the plan. But still, she watched them all the same. Zacklentre walked calmly up to the balcony, where he was supposed to stay until the plan fell into place. Aiko had long decided that the balcony was probably the best area to get a clear shot in. Ace was wandering around, occasionally leaning up against a wall. She noticed that a lot of girls happened to be following him, though he pretended not to notice. He was probably used to it by now, after all, half of his fans in the Shadow Realm were young women, and another twenty-five percent were old women.
Aiko turned back around and was suddenly grabbed by the arm by a round woman wearing a lot of jewelry.
"Are you Bella, Bella Francois?" she asked breathlessly. Aiko nodded calmly, and the woman began tugging her into a corner. "I know this is last minute and all, but you're an entertainer, I suspect you can improvise. Look," she stopped for a moment to catch her breath, "see that stage over there? Stand on it, and sing a few songs. Tell the piano man what you're going to do before you do it. He knows every song in the book. When the clock strikes ten, announce that Mr. Luther Joyce, don't forget his name, is having a birthday. He doesn't know it, but this ball is really a celebration for him."
Aiko almost jumped. Sing? Great, just great. But she nodded anyways, and even began to walk to the stage. Some people looked at her oddly, probably because of the way her hair was piled on top of her head. She stepped onto the platform, right in from of the microphone. She glanced up and saw Zacklentre standing on the balcony. She couldn't find Ace do to the enormous crowds of people. Suddenly, the lights dimmed down. She felt dizzy as the spotlight was only on her, and she rocked a little on her feet. "Welcome everyone," she began, taking a good look at everyone in the face, "I'm going to sing a few songs tonight, and I urge you to dance, so everyone can have a good time." She almost smacked herself. That was only about the stupidest thing she'd ever said. She wondered what Ace was thinking...wait, what did it matter what he was thinking?
Aiko quickly gathered her thoughts, and turned to the piano man. "You don't perhaps know the Mejjoyan song, Shamreya ller O'ethes?"
He nodded yes, but then leaned in and whispered, "But I suggest you sing the translated version, a lot of these people aren't very fond of Mejjoyans." Aiko felt rather stupid as she reproached the microphone with a phony smile. She was already starting to hate this now that she knew that she was in full of a room of racists. The Mejjoyans were simply people more in tune with magic, they were much like elves, and they lived in villages deep in forests.
She began the song anyways. She had found out long, long ago that sometimes one must do what one doesn't wish. So her voice rang out with the chorus, as clear as crystal:
"And you loved me,
and I loved you.
We will cradle,
Each other forever,
You'll never stray far,
and suddenly the miles,
in between us,
don't seem as far away.
The night went by quicker than she imagined. She sang songs from every race, from every corner of the earth that she had traveled, and they loved them all the same. They slow danced, and they fast danced. She was just about to sing another Elvin song when she noticed Ace in the crowd, tapping his watch. She looked down at her feet, and then looked up again, beaming falsely. Someone's grandpa was going to die tonight. Someone's husband, Someone's father...
"I know everyone knows that this is really a special night, save for the one who isn't supposed to know the surprise," She began, everyone lifting their glasses to her. "Tonight is a time where young come to visit the old, and celebrate the wisest man of the year. Happy Birthday, Luther, please come to the stage." The old man was obviously surprised, as he took a leap when she said his name. He suddenly came up, smiling in his blue tux. Aiko pretended to smile back. He came up with her on the platform.
"Now I think it is time, everyone, to carry on the age old tradition," she said. Then she began to sing loudly,
"Happy birthday to you, Happy birthday to you..."
She could almost hear Zacklentre loading the bullets into the gun.
"Happy Birthday Dear Luther..."
She needn't look, she knew that he had the gun in position, it's shining nose aimed at the old man's head. Yes, someone was going to lose him tonight.
"Happy birthday to-"
Aiko and the crowd didn't get to sing the rest, as a bullet whizzed past, striking the old man's head. He fell back in shock, dead before the pain had even had time to settle in. Aiko watched, almost in slow motion, as his body hit the floor. A strange buzzing was filling her ears, and the screams were small and echoed as she watched to blood stream out of his open head. Blood...delicious...luscious...blood. She shook her head and also screamed, even adding a fake fall to it, landing in the area below the stage. Everyone was running around in obvious fear. They didn't even remember the old man that had been so ruthlessly shot, they only cared about their own well-being.
Aiko was stepped on a few times at her position in the floor until someone gave her a hand, saying, "Are you alright, miss?"
It was Ace, looking fine in his tux. He pulled her up, and Aiko nodded. She had crimson stains on her white dress from where she had fallen. "Run to the car," he hissed, letting go of her arm and rushing out with the crowd. Aiko followed his lead. The guards were trying to search people, but there were just too many, and they were all hurrying about. They eventually just gave up. When Aiko and Ace got to the car, Zacklentre was already there, sitting in the driver's seat.
"Go!" Ace growled at him.
Soon the car was roaring down the street at full speeds. They drove through a park a couple times, so they wouldn't seem too suspicious, and then finally began to head home. The car had been totally silent until Zacklentre caught his breath.
"Ha HA HA! That's got to be the most fun mission I've ever been on! That man, ha ha, it was just too easy," he laughed, turning the wheel. "Oh, and not to mention watching all those girls pester Ace, and Ace was all like, Go away, leave me alone, no, forget it, do I look like I want to sleep with you? HAHAHA! That was great!"
Aiko smoothed out her skirt. The blood was drying, and she had the strong urge to put her dirty hand in her mouth, yet she refrained.
"And Aiko sounded like an angel. I didn't know you had a voice like that! You'll have to sing again sometime," he continued. Aiko blushed. She didn't like getting all this attention; she hadn't even contributed to the mission. Ace was taking his jacket off restlessly. Aiko could tell that the fact that Zacklentre was driving was making him nervous. She couldn't help but feel the same. After watching him pull out a rose disgustedly from his shirt pocket, she turned back to Zacklentre.
"You did well with the gun," she told him. He laughed. "Well, I learned by watching you, and you're a good shot, but to tell you the truth, I was nervous. I'm kind of relieved now."
Aiko nodded. She was relieved too.
"Here we are," Zacklentre said, pulling up the drive. A man in a cloak stopped him, and peeked in the car. He then signaled to him to go on.
At the building that they called "home", the first thing Zacklentre did was take a hug gulp of whiskey. They had all settled in the kitchen, Zacklentre at the bar, Aiko at the table, and Ace was standing, leaned up against the metal refrigerator, smoking. The way he was standing was driving Aiko insane, with his back all up against that wall, his shirt sort of wrinkled and such. And his eyes...they had that sleepy half closed look to them, with smoke swirling around them to top it all off. She looked at Zacklentre as she often did, trying to ignore him. But Zacklentre was passed the point of talking to. His whiskey was starting to set in, and he was being more of an idiot than usual.
"OW! I BIT MYSELF!" he roared.
"Don't do that..." Aiko stated tiredly.
"Aiko, you're hot."
"Zacklentre, we have gone over this before...three times tonight, in fact."
"Wanna come to my room?"
Aiko was getting more and more annoyed as more rude questions came at her. By the time the clock had struck twelve, Zacklentre had asked her if she was a virgin, what was her bra size, and more gruesome questions best left unrepeated. When Aiko didn't answer, he would pester Ace about his past, and why he was so grumpy all the time, and he would also try and get him to take a drink. Finally, Ace lost his patience and slammed his fist on the table.
"You have got to be the most annoying being on this good earth, and God forbid that I'm going to listen to you any longer," he growled, tossing his third cigarette in the trash. He stomped out of the room, slamming the kitchen door. Aiko could hear him grumbling curses down the hall.
"What's his problem," Zacklentre asked, his voice thick. Aiko shook her head in a tired manner. She got up and prepared to leave. Zacklentre immediately began to protest.
"Well if you're not coming to my room, I'll just get somebody else! It's not that hard for me ya'know!"
"Aiko, don't leave me here alone…I'm so lonely."
Aiko left him to fume in his drunkenness alone. It was best to steer clear of Zacklentre when he wasn't sober. He lost the ability to be a gentleman...not that he was ever one in the first place. Aiko first went out to the balcony, the cool breeze tickling her face. It wasn't going to be much longer now before she needed to hunt. She rubbed her wrists tiredly; it was cold in her white, bloodstained dress that she hadn't changed yet. At the thought of this, she remembered the mess in the bathroom she hadn't cleaned. She decided now was a good time, as the night was still young. She walked back inside and went in her room, locking the door as usual. She clicked on the light in the bathroom, even though she didn't need it. She was happy that they had electricity here; it was almost like being in the sun again, just standing under that bulb. She sighed, and bent over to scoop up the glass shards in her hands.
Once that was done, she turned and looked at the blank space in the wall, which had almost seemed to talk to her last night. She remembered its insane accusations of her, and how she was no better than him. Every time she thought of him, her energy seemed to disappear. Her very life seemed to drain from her, not that it was ever there in the first place. She remembered how she used to tell herself that it was all just a dream. That maybe someday, she would wake up, and it would all come together again. She quit believing that now, and it broke her heart whenever she even considered it.
A bit later, Ace sat silently in his room, leaned up against the wall. He could hear Aiko screaming on the other side, though it was nothing new. He listened to her a lot: her pain, her sorrow. He wondered what could upset her so much to do that in slumber. He sighed, getting up. He went to his door and peeked outside into the hallway. Zacklentre wasn't anywhere to be seen, so he figured he was asleep. Stepping outside, he made his way to the vampire's room. For a moment he hesitated outside of the door. Her screams seemed all the more earsplitting out here.
He knew the door handle was locked, so he got out the necklace that he always kept in his pocket. The necklace itself seemed useless, save for times like this. It wasn't exactly something he would wear, with its huge blood red jewel with the dragon sitting so flawlessly on top. It almost seemed to come alive. But still, you would never find it around his neck. He stuck the necklace in the small space in the door, and then dragged it up. He heard the lock click. With some satisfaction, he opened the door quietly.
Her room was gloomy and chilly. He shivered, and began to approach the bed. Another scream rang out, and then he hurriedly rushed back to shut the door. He would never be able to show himself in public again if Aiko woke up and found him there. He didn't want to portray himself as the kind and caring friend, perhaps even more than that. When he returned to the bed, he looked at her for a moment. She was endlessly writhing, twisting and turning, as if she were possessed. She was sobbing also, sometimes her screams came out choked and hoarse. Other times she managed to let out a vampiric call, which was a high pitched screech that seemed to shake the rafters. But in away, she was...insanely beautiful. Bloody tears were pouring out the sides of her tightly closed eyes, and her hair, now black again, was spread out all over the pillow.
Ace carefully put his knees on the floor and bent towards her. He stuck his finger in his mouth, and pulled off his leather glove with his teeth, placing his hand on her bare shoulder, (The nightshirt she was wearing had slipped off that side). He then bent forward, and whispered some things to her. He would never admit it to her when she was sure to hear him, or even tell anyone, but he cared for Aiko very much, and he couldn't stand to hear her scream. Her pain was his pain; his pain that he couldn't express.
Aiko's screams had almost instantly ceased, now that his hand was placed so gently on her shoulder. He knew that as soon as he pulled off his hand, her nightmares would start again. For this was not the first time he had done this, not by far. But he had to leave soon. He had...business scheduled for tonight. He sat there for an hour, and finally got back up. Aiko started squirming again.
"I have to go," he whispered breathlessly.
Aiko shook violently. Ace made sure he left her room without looking back at her. He was heavily tempted to stay, to touch her. He tried to push these feelings away. He didn't want to "get involved" with anyone, and he still couldn't figure out this strange feeling. Sometimes when he went in there, the only thing he wanted to do was silence her cries, to comfort her. Other times, he wanted to touch her in ways he couldn't explain. He knew this was lust, just lust for her perfect body. What man wouldn't want to touch her? But the other feeling, what was it?
He shook his head and told himself it was nothing. After all, he couldn't feel, he couldn't love; he could only want what he couldn't have. He went into his room and put his jacket on, along with his belt with the sheath attached. His hand now rested on his cruel weapon, and he knew he was ready. This was all he needed, after all. He walked down the hallway, and into the elevator. Once outside, he journeyed to the edge of the property where the cleaned, cut grass ended, and the dark woods began. This didn't intimidate him at all. It only made him angrier that he was going to have to walk all the way out into the middle of the woods and then back again.
He stepped inside the shadow of the trees and began to walk down a well defined path. This was where he always went when he got a chance, in the cool of the woods. Sometimes, mostly when it rained, he would come out here and practice with a sword for hours. The rain...It almost seemed wash away these feelings of hatred and only bring calmness. But the calm it brought tonight was only peace before the storm, for tonight was bound to be a hard fight. He wasn't sure whether he would win or not, but he was bound and determined too.
His very soul tensed as he came to the clearing. His hand was still resting on his sword, though he would have much rather had it resting on Aiko's shoulder. He watched the tops of the trees with sharp eyes. He heard something snap behind him. He swung around, finding a figure in a black cloak standing behind him. His face was covered, but Ace knew this was the man he was waiting for.
"I've been waiting for hours," the cloaked man pointed out. His hands were each on a different sword. He had two, exactly identical to Ace's. Ace made an annoyed noise.
"I want to go back to bed, let's just get this over with." Ace told him, which was slightly ironic, since he'd never been there in the first place.
But opposed to this cocky attitude, Ace was tense and ready. He knew not how the battle was going to start. He pulled his right foot behind himself and pulled his shoulder forward. His eyes flashed at his enemy, who also took a stance. Ace's hand twitched on his sword. The whole forest seemed to hold its breath as they simply stood, staring each other down. Soon, the cloaked man flew forward, disappearing in his speed. Ace flicked his foot, and flew high into the air, also disappearing.
The whole world blurred as Ace shot past trees and houses. He knew his sword, which he was twisting around and around, like some kind of bladed wheel, was leaving a narrow path of destruction behind him. This was how it almost always began: A strange, demented game of cat and mouse. He could feel his energy draining. He couldn't keep at these speeds very long; he had to take the offense. He saw something flash in the corner of his eye. He turned sharply, using a tree to kick off of. The tree burst into splinters, due to the momentum pushed into its trunk. The wind roared around Ace as he struck down. He didn't wait to see if that blow hit the cloaked man, he turned around and then struck to the side. Now it was the cloaked man's turn.
Hundreds of fast blows flew at Ace in retaliation. He calculated them as he blocked. A hundred strikes per second, or something around that. All he could do was parry. He thought about how he was in dire need of a second sword. Suddenly, the cloaked man threw a blow that clashed against Ace's sword harmlessly, yet sent the latter reeling backwards. Ace desperately tried to grab on to something as the world slowed down again. He was returning to normal speeds, yet still spiraling through the air.
The cloaked man soon appeared behind him, and delivered a burst of energy that sent Ace crashing to the ground with a grunt. Ace had trouble getting back up, and hardly had time to block the second blow that the cloaked man gave with his sword. He needed to get his speed back up, but he didn't know if he had it in him. He knew he had to bring this fight to the ground, where he had something to pull forward on with his sword, but the cloaked man was relentlessly disappearing into the sky, occasionally delivering a few blows, which Ace blocked with some trouble. Ace slammed his gloved palm into the ground and flipped backwards, taking another stance. He flicked his sword again, and returned to the high speeded realm.
The cloaked man was flying fast around, ready to attack. Ace flew forward, crashing into him with momentum. The two bounced off of each other with a small explosion that dragged dust from the ground into the air. Ace's feet dragged the earth as he braked to a stop. Dust was still flying around him, and he could hardly see the cloaked man on the other side. He panted, the filth choking his lungs. He desperately needed to breath, for his energy was almost drained. He would have to end this quick. He didn't even assume a stance; he simply attacked, flying forward. He stabbed for the man's stomach, but the cloaked figure blocked it easily with both of his swords. He had Ace's weapon trapped. Ace tried twisting it out, his heart beating with dread. But it was too late.
The cloaked man twisted his own sword, causing Ace flip around and land on his back. The cloaked man jammed his left sword into Ace's shoulder, where it exited out through his back. Ace gasped, to choked to scream. But that was not the end of the attack, oh no. The cloaked man stomped him hard in the chest, and then kicked him in the stomach. Ace rolled across the battlefield, coughing blood and gasping for air. He landed about twenty feet away, lying face down. The strength his attacker had was inhuman, incredible.
The cloaked figure walked towards him. "This was not much worth coming out here for, Mr. Spades," he said in a gloating voice. Ace's lip pulled back into a pained grimace as the cloaked figure pulled him up by a lock of his hair, pulling his face close to his. "But I believe in improvement, and I have plenty of time." Ace grunted as he dropped him, and walked away. "Next time, please refrain from disappointing me." And with a burst of dust, he was gone.
It was two hours before Ace could start to even move his fingers. Using his sword for balance, he stood up and bent over, blood trickling from his wound. As soon as he did this, his stomach lurched, causing him to vomit mouthfuls of thick crimson on the forest floor. He was dizzy and out of energy. His watch told him it was 2 A.M. He needed to get back, before everyone woke up and was wondering where he was. Slowly, he took a step forward. A normal man would have died over this, Ace thought. But Ace was no normal man. He walked slowly back to building, wrapping his jacket around himself to keep from dripping blood on the floor.
"If I can just make it to my room," he told himself, "then I'll be fine." But truly, he wasn't sure if he would be fine or not.
The wound had caused his arm to lie still. It refused to function, and Ace refused to see a doctor; he had his reasons. If his arm went limp forever, it would just have to stay that way. He finally made it to his room, and he immediately kicked his door open and went to the bathroom. He hardly made it before he started puking all over the tile floor. He clutched the sink, feeling faint. He sat on his legs, and dug through his bathroom drawer with his good arm. He pulled out some pain pills, which he immediately popped in his mouth, some bandages, which he wrapped around his arm, and a carton of cigarettes. He lit one, sticking it through his lips. He leaned back, placing his back against the wall. He was afraid that if he tried to lie down, that he would choke on his own blood.
Ace rested his eyes, the nicotine from his ever-faithful drug kicking in. He could deal with the pain, what he couldn't deal with was the defeat. That cloaked man, whoever he was, had defeated him again. This was the fourth time, and after every battle with him, Ace ended up like this. He was a very powerful man. Ace leaned over again, feeling like he was going to hurl out his guts. But apparently he was empty of blood, because instead he just wretched air. His cigarette fell, landing in a puddle of vomit. Ace cursed.
Sleep didn't come easy as he listened to Aiko's screams. He wanted to go in there, to stay in her room, but he couldn't even make himself clean this horribly disgusting mess. He called himself so many names. He was a loser...A horrid, hideous, weak loser. He made himself so angry, he could hardly stand it. He could feel his temperature skyrocket. He knew this because he was starting to shiver badly.
Soon he was gasping for air again. It was as if something was clutching his tired lungs, trying to smother him. Ace snapped open his shirt to reveal a purple bruise on his chest, the remainder of being stomped on. His muscular stomach looked the same, dark and bruised from the kick. It was also bleeding as well. Cloak's pointy boots had ripped the flesh.
One thing Ace did not feel was self pity. He hated himself more than he hated that man. He hated himself for every feeling he had ever had. He hated himself for being so weak; he hated himself for creating this mess in the bathroom. And when he didn't recall locking the door to Aiko's bedroom, he hated himself for that too. Now she was sure to know that someone had come in there.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid..." Ace drifted off with those words dancing in his head.