Chapter 1: Akatsuki
…six years later…
I was standing in front of the mirror, grimacing at the outfit my mother had picked out for me. Although I was going to Hanabusa's tenth birthnight party, I looked like I was headed to a children's theater to play the part of a colorful, clownish puppet in my extravagant clothing. Hoping to at least maintain a little of my pride, I untucked the button down shirt from my pants and unbuttoned it a couple buttons. I ran my hand through my red-blonde hair in an attempt to get rid of the slicked-back hair style my mother had spent twenty minutes perfecting. I didn't really care how I looked, but I knew I would never hear the end of it if my cousin saw me like that.
Walking calmly down the three flights of stairs that led to the main floor of the Kain mansion, I was careful not to trip, which would warrant a long lecture from my mother about being careless. I reached the bottom of the stairs unscathed, but all the same, my mother looked at me for a long moment before sighing.
"Akatsuki, you must tuck in your shirt. You look like a mess. I cannot allow you to visit the Aidou Estate looking like a beggar child," she said, barely containing her frustration. I refrained from telling her there was no way the child of a beggar would have the money to buy these ridiculous clothes, but I did as she said, resolving to un-tuck my shirt again the moment I was out of her sight.
On the short walk over, I granted myself some time to think. From past experiences, I knew that Hanabusa's birthnight parties were somewhat of an event. In past years, there had been professional puppeteers performing versions of vampire legends that every young vampire knew by heart, musicians playing orchestral masterpieces, and even a group of world-famous vampire acrobats who had performed a riveting dance depicting the birth of the vampire race. I never knew what to expect when I got the annual invitation.
About a mile away, my sharp ears heard the orchestral music playing from inside the mansion. I recognized the piece as "Ayumu and Aika: 3rd Movement". It was a piece most vampires were familiar with, a piece depicting the love of Ayumu and Aika, supposedly some of the first vampires to walk the earth. I sighed as the lilting melody of the violins carried on the wind to my ears. It was quite close now. I would arrive in less than five minutes if I kept up this pace.
As I stepped up to the tall Gothic style gates guarding the Aidou Estate, I had only to nip my thumb, letting a small drop of blood fall on the ground in front of the gates, and they opened wide, allowing me access. This was the typical aristocratic estate guard system to keep out unwanted guests. Though it was a little old-fashioned, it was effective, so most of the high-class families didn't bother to change what had worked for thousands of years.
I walked on the cobblestone driveway up to the mansion, careful not to scare the tall, black horses tied to posts along the drive, some of them with carriages attached at the back. I knew that shortly my own parents would be arriving in our black carriage, pulled by our own dusk-colored horses. I had elected to walk in order to avoid the pain of being officially announced with my family, as was the custom.
I walked up the stone steps leading to the massive doorway and inclined my head to the lethal-looking vampire guards at the doorway. "Young Lord Kain, welcome," one of them said to me warmly as he inclined his own head in greeting. "Young Master Aidou has been rather impatiently awaiting your arrival," he said with a slight smile. Hanabusa was a bright and likable child, and many of the household servants and guards were quite fond of him.
Walking into the large entry way, I took an immediate right, heading diagonally towards a door brimming with light and the sound of the orchestra. Having been to the Aidou Estate frequently, I knew exactly where the large ballroom was, even if I hadn't been able to tell by the level of activity coming from the large room.
Inside, I immediately caught sight of Hanabusa, surrounded by a group of young girls. I rolled my eyes at my cousin. Even at his young age, he was starting to show signs of being a lady's man.
"Akatsuki! Thank goodness you're here. Hanabusa wouldn't shut up earlier that you weren't here yet. What took you so long anyway?" said a voice behind me.
"Good evening to you too, Ruka," I said teasingly, smirking at her complete disregard for politeness, though we almost never spoke formally to each other. She and Hanabusa were my constant companions, and the three of us had grown exceptionally close over the years.
Shooting me a warning look, she began to walk in the direction of Hanabusa. I shook my head, smiling to myself. She could be so uptight sometimes.
About twenty feet from the crowd of girls surrounding my cousin, I was spotted. A bright smile lit up his face and he pranced over to throw his arms around me.
"I thought you had decided not to come!" he said dramatically. I heard a feminine sigh beside me.
"Right, like Akatsuki wouldn't show up to your birthnight party. You are such a moron sometimes," Ruka shot at him, crossing her arms. He crossed his own and his blonde eyebrows slowly descended upon his sapphire eyes.
Just as he was about to open his mouth to say some smart-ass retort, I stepped between them, my own arms crossed, and said, "Guys. Relax," though they glared at each other a moment longer, neither continued the ridiculous argument.
"Aidou, dance with us!" I heard a chorus of girls squeal behind us. I had all but forgotten the crowd of girls was there. Winking at Ruka and me, he turned to them, saying, "Forgive me ladies, I was momentarily distracted, but you now have my full attention. Let the dancing begin!" I rolled my eyes again.
"Well, wanna dance?" I asked Ruka, turning to face her. Crossing her arms, she looked down at my out-stretched hand with a frown. Rolling my eyes yet again, I grasped her hand, saying, "Come on, you know our parents will have something to say about it if they don't see us joining in the revelry," Sighing in defeat, she barely had time to gather herself before I twirled her into me, using the hand that was still grasping hers.
For the first time that night, I really looked at her. She looked every bit like an aristocratic lady should. Her chestnut hair was up in an elegant, sweeping hairstyle that must have taken hours to perfect, and she had even worn makeup, blush to brighten her naturally pale cheeks and eye makeup that made her chocolate eyes stand out against her alabaster and rose skin. A crystal necklace hung around her neck, dipping almost to the neckline of her plum colored ball gown, which flared out at the hips. I couldn't see her shoes, but I knew she must be wearing high heels since she appeared to be only a couple inches shorter than me as we danced.
"What?" she said, bringing me back to the present. Confused, I quirked one eyebrow at her, asking a silent question. She sighed.
"You were staring at me like you've never seen me before," she said, raising her own eyebrows. I laughed, brushing it off. "Have you forgotten that about every other week we are dragged to these night parties? Not to mention that we are together most of the time that remains anyway," I reminded her. She sniffed, the lady-like version of a snort of laughter.
The silence of the orchestra served to grab our attention as everyone turned to the entry way. At the top of the stairs, a boy who looked barely older than us, stood. His long ebony hair hung around his face, and sad, mahogany eyes looked out at us. I knew this boy. He was Lord Kaname, the last remaining member of the Pureblood Kuran bloodline. I had met him a couple times before. I had been playing outside with Ruka and Hanabusa when we were about six, and Lord Kaname had come by the Aidou Estate unexpectedly to talk to Hanabusa. Since then, I had seen him at a night party a couple months ago when the news of his parent's death had reached the public. Like every vampire aristocrat, I had heard of this tragedy that had recently befallen him. His parents had committed a double suicide last year, leaving him an orphan. It had been devastating news for vampires everywhere.
Beside me, Ruka sighed dreamily. I rolled my eyes. Girls were so strange. Not wanting to stick around for all of the inevitable introductions and chatter, I grabbed Ruka's hand, saying, "Let's go outside." She surprised me by not arguing with me and instead following me to the back door of the ballroom which lead to the outside of the Aidou Estate and the vast vineyards that the property contained. But then again, I knew she didn't often have the chance to be outside.
When we got outside, we stopped, in awe of the almost full moon above us. Ruka was the first to speak. "Why is it that we always have to have these events indoors when it's so beautiful out here?" she asked thoughtfully, still looking up at the beautiful vision of the night sky. "This would be a perfect night to go to the pond for a swim," she said wistfully, referring to the small watering hole that we often wished we could escape to, but rarely were able to, on warm summer nights.
I didn't answer her, but instead started moving forward again, eager to keep going. However, I had barely taken a step when a hand grabbed my shoulder.
"Oh no you don't! You didn't think I would let you just walk away and leave me in there alone, did you?!" Hanabusa said angrily from behind me. "Besides, we shouldn't be out here. You know about the Headless Hunter, don't you?" he said, a sly look on his face.
I was about to tell him that was ridiculous when Ruka turned to him, chocolate eyes wide, and said, "What's the Headless Hunter?" She could be so naïve.
Delighted that someone had taken the bait, Hanabusa went into story mode, his arms and hands moving around in odd gestures. Crossing my arms, I listened skeptically.
"Well, the legend goes that long ago, in this very vineyard, a crazed vampire hunter hid, waiting for a young Lady Aidou to appear so he could kill her. Not knowing this, the young Lady came into the orchard, looking for her cat, who had disappeared earlier that evening. As the hunter was about to pounce on the young Mistress, her father swooped in, rescuing the young Lady by beheading the hunter. However, according to the legend…he still roams this vineyard, headless, in search of a young Mistress. And then…HE POUNCES!" Hanabusa yelled, jumping at Ruka with outstretched arms, and scaring the girl, who had been drawn into his lies with wide eyes.
With a terrified scream, she jumped, putting her arms around me and burying her face in my chest. Patting her on the back to comfort her, I turned to Hanabusa, who was doubled over laughing, and glared at him.
"Was that really necessary? You scared Ruka half to death," I said to him. "And, if you're gonna try to scare someone, you should at least make up a legend that isn't stupid, not to mention completely implausible. Hunters don't attack nobles, they're only interested in level E's."
Still laughing, he turned, heading back to the entrance to the ballroom. "Whatever. Come on guys, I can't be absent from my own party!" He ran ahead of us.
"Come on Ruka, let's go back inside," I said, leading her with my arm. Though Ruka was a bit older than my cousin and I, a lot of times I felt like I was the most mature, constantly breaking up their petty arguments and trying to make them both happy.
Crossing her arms and sticking her nose in the air, she replied, "You know, I wasn't really scared Akatsuki. I was just humoring him."
Smiling and shaking my head at her need to be independent, I followed her back to the ballroom, wondering what she would do if I wasn't around.