"So this is where your mission was?"
Michael looked up from where he was inspecting a suspiciously dark spot on the concrete floor of the warehouse. "Yeah, it is. Not much to look at, is it?"
"It looks like something was lit on fire here." He gestured in the vague direction of another dark spot.
The young man nodded. "Vampire blood is very combustible. Even just scraping flint across it will light it up like the Fourth of July. Claudia says it's a good practice to burn it all off, so that there's less evidence."
"So why is there blood over here?"
"What?" Michael scrambled to his feet and all but dashed across the large cold room to where Ken was squatting close to a darkened area. He knelt and scraped a bit of it up with a fingernail. "It really is blood. But it didn't light up..." He frowned hard. "I wonder who's it is?"
"Shachou got hurt on the last mission out," an unfamiliar voice answered plainly.
Michael seemed to jump out of his skin, a hand going into one of the pockets of his trenchcoat as he stood and turned at almost the same speed Ken did. He had a throwing dagger in his hand faster than Ken had drawn his gun, then lowered it, and let out a sigh of relief when he spotted the speaker. "You scared the living hell out of me, Maki!" he complained, shoving the knife back in his pocket.
"Likewise. I wasn't expecting to see you here" came the cool reply. Maki, as the speaker had been called, was very small, not much taller than Michael, very slight, and very strongly Oriental. Given his limited exposure, Ken was almost willing to bet on Japanese. This one was almost androgynous, not handsome nor elegant but definitely beautiful, lighting a cigerette and placing it between full pouting lips. "I thought you guys had rules about returning to the site of a hunt."
The boy nodded. "We do, but... Claudia's missing and I needed help finding her, so..."
"So you're recruiting?"
"'Recruiting'? Whoever said anything about recruiting?" Ken tried to jump in. They both seemed to ignore him.
"I had to find Claudia somehow."
"Shachou? She's back at your apartment waiting on you to show up."
"What?" Michael yelled; Ken found himself echoing it less than a moment later.
"Like I said, she got injured. I collected her before anyone else could, took care of her the last few nights, then took her home." An elegant dark eyebrow raised. "I take it you want to see her?" Cool dispassionate eyes studied them both. "And I also take it you will need a ride?"
Michael nodded overeagerly, like a child receing its favourite gift at Christmas, grabbed Ken's hand, and dragged him along behind him and the Oriental.
~ * > ^ - ^ < * ~
The apartment building looked ancient and rundown, dying vines hanging on its surface and on the fence that surrounded it, but mysteriously no windows were broken and the front door was intact. Michael ignored all this as he pulled Ken from the backseat of Maki's sports car, up the walkway, and through the door. The inside of the building was almost a mirror opposite of its exterior: the hallways were spotless, the room doors were old but sturdy, and that was all Ken had time to notice as Michael zipped along the maze that passed as halls and holding onto his hand with a death grip, forcing him to follow at the same pace.
Finally he slid to a stop in front of a rather unremarkable door and knocked on it impatiently.
"Who's there?" a tired feminine voice called out from the other side of it.
"It's Michael," the young man answered. "Please let me in, Claudia. I was worried about you."
The door swung inward rapidly, and Ken found himself in a rather odd predicament. He'd stared down shotgun barrels, .9mm barrels, most any kind of a gun's barrel, but never one quite like this. The blonde woman on the other end of it thumbed a switch, and a bar popped out on either side, allowing him to place the weapon: a crossbow. And its owner did not look happy.
"And who are you?"
"All right. Now put your hands in the air and step away from my partner." Staring eye to crossbow bolt, he had to agree. She reached unerringly into the correct pocket and removed his gun from him, placing it inside the apartment before splitting any of her attention to the young man beside him. "Michael, daijoubu?"
"I'm fine, Claudia." Cautiously, as if waiting to be rejected, he slipped both arms around her waist and hugged her tightly. "I thought you had left me all alone."
She patted him awkwardly with her free hand. "I wouldn't." The young man looked a bit surprised, as if this was supremely out of character for the woman... girl? She couldn't be over sixteen if she were a day. He didn't let go of her though. "Now, Michel, who's your new friend, and where did you pick him up?"
When Michael spoke, his voice was soft; tears didn't seem too far away. "I couldn't find you! I never thought you'd trust Maki enough for protection. I had to find you! So I hired Ken to help me find you."
She turned back at him, looked him up and down, and raised the crossbow so that it pointed at the ceiling. Hesitantly, he lowered his hands. "Looks like you're mixed up in this now." She set the weapon down wherever she'd put his gun and extended that hand out to him. "I'm Claudia LeRusso."
"Ken Arriway." It would have been too rude not to accept the hand, especially since she'd just had a weapon in his face. If shaking her hand kept her plactated... "If you two don't need me anymore, I'll be-"
"You're already involved, Ken-san," Maki interrupted.
Michael only flinched this time, jumping just a bit. Out of the corner of his eye, Ken saw Claudia wince very sharply. "Quit sneaking up, Maki!" the young man scolded.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked, turning just a bit towards the Oriental but never taking his eye off Claudia.
"We were set up," the Hunter answered plainly, her voice tight with repressed anger. "I think it was the Network. Either way, someone's out to kill us. And now that you've been seen with us, you'll be a target too."
1 November 2001
Yay!! Another chapter finished! I know I said before Samhain, but I got too caught up in the excitement and just didn't get around to writing.
Next chapter later in the week! Bai-bai for now!