The Vampire Hunter: Hunting Clarion by JP

vampire hunter

The Vampire Hunter: Hunting Clarion
by Jp
Summary: The gist…well it’s a little too complicated to just say a Vampire Hunter and a Vampire meet up and butt heads, so I suggest just reading it.

Book I:

Prologue

Random Tuesday, 9:59:46p.m. City Street.
The asphalt was nothing but a blur of black as her feet pounded the pavement. Long blonde locks streamed out behind her as she ran. Her chest was burning, her breathing labored. The rush of footfalls from behind alerted her that her attackers were still following. She made a quick turn between two parked cars and skirted down a dark alley. The lack of light did not register to her eyes, as her pupils naturally dilated wide to sweep in the faintest shaft of light. Her legs throbbed and her lungs were begging for rest, but now was not the time. As she drew close to the end of the alley, she saw a 7-foot high fence blocking her escape. She let out a huff of air as she pushed her body into overdrive. She ran at an angle, meeting with the wall of the building to her left. She used the juncture of the fence and the wall as a simple ladder. Her momentum carried her five feet up the wall and then she pushed off the wall with her left foot and somersaulted over the fence.

Her feet touched the ground and she was off again. She didn’t have to look behind her to see her shadows leaping over the fence as if they were playing a simple game of leap frog. She laughingly thought that perhaps being a real Vampire did have its perks. She zipped across the moderately busy city street. Dodging rushing cars, she avoided the last minute swerve of a truck, as she leapt in the air and dove over the hood of a parked car, tucking her body and then rolling as she hit the ground. She made a quick decision, and rolled off the curb underneath a car. She lay flat and willed her heart to stop pounding so hard. Even in the dark, she could see her breath as it streamed out of her nose. She watched as six pairs of shoes ran past the car. She listened as they suddenly stopped. She smiled to herself as she listened to their labored breathing. Nice to know they get winded too. They began to speak in their native tongue, as written in the book of Aramis, but she understood them well.

“Where’d she go?” A gruff voice shot out.

“Fuck!” came a labored reply.

“What do we do Xander?” a female voice asked.

A wad of spit was expelled towards one of the parked cars. It landed just under the front tire. “We split up is what. She can’t be that far, besides she needs to rest, so she’s probably near by.” Silver-grey eyes scanned the city street quickly. “Me and Thanos will go to the left. Sala–you and Shrieve will head off to the right. Cain and Micah, you two double back. We’ll make the circuit and meet back here in about ten minutes. Give a holler if you find her.” Five heads nodded as the trench-coated figures prepared to leave. “And remember, don’t kill her, he needs her alive.” Again, five heads nodded.

She watched from her hidden position as the feet in front of her dispersed. She counted to 100 and then rolled out from under the car. She stood up and shook off the remainder of spittle that was on her hand, letting out a quiet groan as she wiped the residue on her jeans. She took a mental note of which way the six had gone and ran straight ahead. If she could make it to the park, she might be able to make it to the cemetery, and if she could make it there, she could reach the church. They wouldn’t dare follow her there, on account that it was sanctuary, and on the point that they would probably spontaneously combust on crossing the threshold. It was a good plan she decided, as she ran with renewed vigor.

It almost worked.

Xander’s lanky frame made it easy for him to hide behind the large oak tree. Thanos squatted by Xander’s booted feet and waited. He spoke in a voice barely above a whisper, but Xander picked up his voice none the less. “Are you sure she’ll come this way, Xan?” The svelte man did not even cut his eyes towards the man at his feet. He scratched idly at his goatee and looked off into the open field of the park, his eyes allowing him to see further than normal into the dark. “I’ve been chasing this chick for three months. Trust me, she’s heading for the church. She’s got nowhere else to go, and sunrise is hours away.” A wide grin spread across thin lips, revealing the two hard points of fangs. “Gotcha’.” Thanos dared not lean out from his cover, but he could pick up her breathing. She was breathing hard as she zoomed past the row of ancient oaks, oblivious to the two men.

A brief moment of nostalgia hit her as she remembered that tumbling through a pile of leaves was added excitement to family football games on crisp November days. She wished that it was her brother tackling her to the ground, as the air was expelled from her body with a shoulder to her back. Her attackers’ momentum sent them sliding for a few feet, until the grass slowed them. Suddenly the weight of the man was removed from her 5’4″ frame only to be substituted with a rousing kick to her midsection. Green eyes snapped shut as pain blossomed through her compact frame. She rolled with the kick and tried to get up. She was roughly assisted as Xander grabbed a chunk of blonde hair and pulled her up. She only got a fleeting look into silver-gray eyes as he drove his skull into her face. Her knees buckled involuntarily and she slumped to the ground. She fought hard to stay conscious as her attacker let out a shrill call. There was silence for only a moment, and then she heard an echo of shrill calls reverberating in her skull.

Xander chuckled with amusement as the woman he scooped off the ground continued to struggle. “I’ve got you this time girlie. No escape tonight.” The blonde clawed futilely at the hand in her hair. Soon she was wishing for the sweet certainty of death as her arms were pinned back and fists begin to pummel her body. The beating seemed to last forever. Her muscled frame tried to absorb as many blows as it could, but it soon became too much. Her mind was hazy with the promise of unconsciousness. Her head lolled back onto the shoulder of the man at her back. Xander laughed and licked his lips appreciatively at the expanse of smooth flesh exposed to him. His own pulse twitched as her vein pulsed beneath his lips. Xander looked up to his cohorts with a wicked smile. “You think he’d mind if I took a taste?” Laughter rang out among the six of them until a disembodied voice moved through the clearing. A quiet alto spoke the words, “I’d mind.”

Six heads whipped about as they tried to find the owner of the voice. The blonde in Xander’s arms picked up her head slightly, searching as well. Xander gripped his charge hard about the arms and bellowed out in English. “Show yourself!”

The deep voice spoke again, this time stronger, and closer. “In time, Xander, but for now, let the girl go.”

As the sound of his own name reached his ears, Xander’s face glazed over in an expression of recognition. The look was mirrored in the rest of the 5 as well. It was her. He darted his eyes about the bare treetops and began taking small steps with the blonde still in his arms. His brethren begin to spread out as well, taking defensive positions, frantically turning their heads about, looking over their shoulders. “Fuck off Hunter!”

Micah threw a steely brown-eyed gaze towards Xander. “Xander, take the girl, we’ll hold her off.” Xander, knew it would be his only shot. He cursed in his dead language and spit on the ground, a look of disgust, marring his baby-face. Before he could reply, the Hunter responded.

“You’ll never make it , Micah.” The words rolled off her lips in a sing-song manner. It was at that, that the blonde managed to open one teary green eye. She wanted to see her, even if it was just for a moment. It was ironic actually, that she was about to be saved by this woman. The woman that her kind avoided at all costs, was going to save her life, and then probably take it in the same moment. As scared as she was, the timbre of the woman’s rich contra alto, was calming and surprisingly erotic. Her voice licked at her insides, like a lover whispering sweet nothings in the afterglow. The faintest of smiles crossed the blondes’ lips. ‘Nice going, Clarion, you’re about to die, and you can only think of sex.’ “Leave her be Xander, and I’ll make it quick.”

“Fuck you Hunter!” Micah growled, bearing his fangs. “Leave, Xander!”

Xander gripped the girl about the waist and turned, intending to make a run. Her body pulled away from him as effortlessly as a feather floating to the ground. There was only a hint of sound as the steel of a blade removed his head from his body. He and the blonde fell away from each other like two crumbling columns. Both falling into a dark slumber that shielded them from the present massacre; only hers would not be permanent. However, she had no need to witness the skill of the woman who had momentarily saved her. She did not need to gaze upon the curtain of blue-black hair that cradled dark features to know it was her. She did not need to take in the six feet of her frame to know it was her. Nor was it necessary for her to look into the fearsome gaze colored indigo to know it was her. In more than 200 years of life, she herself had never actually seen her, but there was no mistake: it was The Vampire Hunter.

———-

CH 1: An Introduction

Perhaps it was because I was born at the turn of the century. Or maybe it was because my parents consummated their love in one of the Pyramids at Giza. Whatever the case, I have lived for 800 years, and until I am cut down by my own blade I will probably continue to live for 800 more. I was born a girl, Talon Subira in Egypt in the year eleven fifty-nine. My mother was a servant in the court of Al-Adil the ruler of Egypt in its modern golden age. Her forbidden love affair with a soldier from the Crusades produced me. Whether it was the deep blue of my eyes or the strange mark that adorned my back, she knew I was an omen of evil, so she sold me to a childless Japanese farmer and his wife. Upon their death in my first full year of life, I was abandoned to the elements of nature, but I did not perish. I was found on the countryside, by a band of Ronin, and taken in by a middle-aged warrior. A week later when I spoke my first word, calling him mother, he smiled at me and raised my naked form high in the air, baptizing me in the light of the moon. I was reborn Yoshima Miakoda, first born son of Ito Matasuri.

I traveled with my father and my uncles (mataes) until the age of 16, when the time of the Calling came upon me. I became violently ill for several days until I finally exhausted my body and slipped into a coma. During my sleep, while my guardians prayed over my form and administered what medical attention they thought I needed, my mind was invaded by visions. I was assailed by blood filled images of fanged demons, which wore the faces of humans. Just when it seemed I could take no more, the bloody images faded from view and were replaced by an unfamiliar landscape, so real that it was like a map. This map would take me across a continent to Greece where others marked like myself gathered to learn of our fate. In the year twelve twenty-five, I along with seven others, left the confines of our home in Athens, spread out among the continents, and swore to uphold our oaths as protectors of innocents and Vampire killers.

After 800 years, I am one of two that remain from the group that left Athens. At the turn of the century I will be the oldest Hunter still alive and I will be one of the ten Hunters that remain. My kind has been decimated for the last 400 years and I will surely find myself falling upon my own blade, unless I find that which is key to my existence and key to human existence. The Daywalker must be found, or it will be over before it has begun.

————

With a flourish, the tall dark woman resheathed the Katana in the scabbard at her back, and walked to the limp body of the blonde. She pushed back the length of her coat as she squatted next to the golden head of the girl who lay on her side. With a touch that would have no doubt surprised the blonde girl as gentle, the dark woman rolled the girl onto her back and took in her features. She drew a slender finger down the pale column of a neck as she examined the girl for bites. The dark woman found herself attempting to smile, as she saw no marks on the girls’ neck. An unfamiliar emotion of relief swept through her tall frame and for only the second time in 800 years, the woman hesitated in her decision. She faintly caressed the bruised face and willed away her swollen flesh. As angry purple bruises began to fade to a somber red, the blonde girl stirred.

The dark woman pulled back her hand as the girl emitted a soft moan. Reflexively, the blue-eyed warrior shrank back, as thoughts of what to do ran through her head. ‘Just stand up Yoshi. Just stand up and walk away. Just stand up…make sure she gets to the church and then walk away.’ Yoshi decided she liked that idea, but before she could stand she was trapped in the jade gaze of the girl at her feet. Yoshi swore that the air was swallowed up around her. She hadn’t seen green that color since she, her father, and her mateas came across a jade depository in the hill sides of Kyoto. The green eyed girl stared deep into Yoshi eyes and breathed out the word that the dark woman searched for. The word ‘beautiful’ fell from pink lips and then just as quickly her eyelids fluttered closed and she gave in again to the dark. The dark woman raised up on her heels and rocked forward onto her knees. She breathed out the word yes, and drew a hovering hand down the length of the girl’s body, never once touching her. She closed her eyes and continued her task. It was the closest the warrior had come to prayer in over a century. As she gently laid her bundle down on the steps of St. Francis, she took one last look at the pale beauty, having no idea it would only be through faith that she would survive what lay ahead.

* * *

CH 2: The Morning After

A pink hand shot out from underneath a striped comforter and knocked the ringing phone to the floor. A small hand blindly explored the hardwood floor until it connected with the fallen phone and dragged it under the comforter. A voice laded with sleep and two octaves lower than normal spoke into the handset.

“Speak.”

“Good Lord, Claire, baby that you? You sound like death warmed over and twice reheated.”

A light chuckle tickled the ears of the man on the other end. “That’s certainly what I feel like.”

“Jesus, Claire, you sound like my uncle Louie and he smokes two packs of cigarettes a day and is working on a good case of bronchitis.” The sweet lilt to the man’s voice made her smile.

“Well, that and the fact that he gargles with glass.”

Laughter filled the receiver. “Hey, there’s one in every family. Anyway, how ya feeling and when the hell are you bringing your ass to work? You got lucky yesterday, but it’s going on 10:30 and Marianna is liv-id.” He punctuated the word with the sucking of his teeth.

The bundle of covers moved with a groan. “Marianna’s livid because whatever she stuck up her ass has died now, and must be expelled into freedom.”

A giggle crackled over the line. “Maybe she’s not getting the right thing stuck up her ass.”

A groan. “You’re a sick man Riley.”

Another laugh, followed by the clicking of a tongue. “Queer-yes. Sick-no.”

“Yeah, well takes one to no one.”

“To be a sicko or a queer?”

“Can’t decide.”

“Ugh, shut up you shit. Now look, what’s up? I need something to tell her highness or she’s going to come and hunt you down.” He quickly depressed the button on his pen in rapid succession as he listened to her take in a breath.

“Ahh-fuck. Can’t you just tell her I died and went to Jerusalem.”

He could hear the covers rustle as she kicked inside her cocoon. “Tut, tut, cutie.”

She mumbled half into the phone half into her pillow, “Man fuck me.”

“Normally, that’s not my gig, but for you Claire I’ll try anything once.”

She growled covering his laugh. “Shut it you freak. Face it Riley, you’re a big fat dyke.”

He sucked his teeth. “Oh yeah, and you’re a Victorian gentleman, standing in a pasture, quite like the- one- in- the- painting -you’re -supposed- to- be- restor–ing.” His voice reached a melodious tone as he finished his sentence.

She raised a blonde eyebrow at his comment and spoke without thought. “Actually…” she stopped short and smiled to herself.

“Actually what?” He was genuinely curious at her comeback.

“Nada. Uh, 12:30 I’ll be there.”

“12:30?”

“Yes, Ri.”

He snorted. “Clarion Larieux, if your pretty little ass isn’t in the lab at 12:30, I am so shoving my foot up your ass.”

She laughed. “Just like I like it big daddy.”

“Yeesh, nasty image there.” He shook his head. “12:30 Larieux.”

“Smooches, Riley, and yeah I’ll be there.”

She hung up before he could say something smart. The mass of blue and white comforter stretched and rippled as Clarion kicked at her covers like a 2 year-old having a tantrum. Finally, a disheveled blonde head appeared from under the comforter. She hung up the phone on its base and she sat up in her bed and rubbed at the grainy deposits in the corners of her eyes. Clarion stretched her arms and yawned and then opened her eyes fully for the second time in two days.

_____________

Somewhere in the night, Clarion lost her sleep shirt so she stood topless in front of her bathroom mirror. She blindly swatted at the light switch and physically repelled as the light invaded still sensitive green eyes. She sat down on top of the lid of the toilet and slowly dragged her hands down her face, distorting her features for a brief second. She propped her elbows on her knees and cupped her face in her hands. “Clarion, Clarion what have you gotten yourself into chèr?” The bouncy cadence of a Louisiana accent filled her ears as she stared at her reflection.

Most of the bruises had vanished from her body, leaving almost no evidence of the pummeling she had taken 48 hours ago. A pink crescent shape mark under her right eye was all that remained of the marks to her face. And while her ribs were decidedly still tender, no marks remained. Clarion flexed her muscles , both for the vanity of the action and testing her muscles. She laughed at her antics. “Oh yeah, bubba, you’re the next WWF wrestling champ. She chuckled deeply as she thought on the boys she considered her brothers and the impromptu wrestling matches they engaged in when she last lived the Parish. The smile that so easily came to her face disappeared as quickly when she remembered how she had ended up so far away from home. Her thoughts ran heavy in her mind, so much so, that she did not take notice that she was speaking aloud. “I can never apologize enough can I? May God forgive me and may he have mercy on us all. Mercy on us all.” Her voice trailed to a whisper as she reached and touched her reflection. She sighed and then let out a groan, slapping her toned thighs with her hands. “Allons chèr, allons!”

* * *

CH 3: What if the Hokey Pokey is really what it’s all about

In 800 years Yoshima Miakoda had become the model of human perfection. The fluid black material of her Gi snapped against an imaginary foe as she sliced her katana through the air and ended her drill. Black hair rested between her shoulder blades and cascaded half way down the wide expanse of her back, obscuring her sportsbra. She stood with her arms outstretched and let her head loll back. If anyone else lived out by the abandoned warehouse, they would have seen a woman that looked to be reveling in her own solid physique, that was as defined as it was feminine. She appeared to bathe in the sun that streamed in through the floor to ceiling windowed wall of her loft. The early afternoon sun warmed her olive hued features as its rays played across her muscled form. She stood that way, arms out stretched still holding her sword, head dipped back– open– for a long minute of silence. Suddenly the reverent silence was broken by the distinct growl-like texture of John Fogerty. Long black hair whipped itself into a frenzy as the tall woman placed her sword on the stand and bounced her way to the shower adding a rich, yet slightly off-key alto to “Traveling Band.”

————–

The tall woman glided into the back door of the book store so quietly that the blue-haired youngster tapping away at the laptop jumped three feet off of his stool at the sound of his name. The stoic woman cracked a faint smile as she walked around the panting form of the young man.

“For the love of Pete, Yosh, you trying to kill me!” A be-speckled boy no older than 17 turned wide brown eyes on the tall woman.

She ignored his glare as she hung up her jacket and went to pour some tea. “You cannot be a Samurai if you cannot hear.” She put just the right amount of sarcasm and condescension in her voice to elicit a smile from the young boy.

“Hey save that grasshopper crap for someone else.” He jabbed a stubby finger in the air and snorted with laughter.

“It’s true. If you can take the pebble from my hand, you will know all.” She held out her hand in front of the stout boy’s face until he attempted to swat at it. She laughed moving her hand from his reach. “I see you still got that dirt on your chin.” She tapped a tapered finger at the tiny triangle of hair on his chin.

He pouted and turned back to the computer. “Hey, it’s a manly look.”

She shrugged her shoulders with a chuckle as sipped from her tea. “Whatever you say Nate. Don’t see it, but whatever you say.” She leaned against the counter and watched the boy type away at the keys. “Hacking again are we?”

“Oh no.” He shook his head vigorously. “Two nights in County was more than enough for me, thank you by the way.” He curled his lip up at the smirking woman and then smiled as she rolled her eyes.

“Tully up front?”

“Yup.”

“Did the new books come in yet?”

Nate didn’t look up as he continued typing. “Uh, yeah, Gregor called and he’ll have them here by three. And Gregor had a nice expletive filled message to give to you in regards to your uh, how shall I put this…persistent queries.”

The usually reserved woman rumbled with laughter. “I like the way you put that. Be back in a few.”

She exited the narrow hallway that lead to the front of the store and placed her mug on the counter as she walked to the bookcase. The mahogany colored young man squatting at her feet looked up and shot her a smile.

“Yosh, ‘sup.” The boy stood and touched fists with the tall woman.

“Hey Tully. Nate got you out here doing all the hard stuff.”

He blew out air. “Whatever, I figure I’d let him sit back there and read his porn until you came in and put him to work.” They shared a laugh. “Oh hey,” he jabbed his thumb into the air, “that fountain is on the fritz again.”

The tall woman nodded and walked off to the right corner of the store that housed a 3 foot high stone carved waterfall. She grabbed her leatherman out of her back pocket and began fiddling with the wires behind the waterfall. “Hey Tully, did the rakes come in?”

“Yeah, I just opened a box.”

“Good, cuz, bird man will probably be by today looking for his rake.” Tully laughed at the nickname they had given to the eccentric man who came in the store every few days always looking for a new rake for his miniature Japanese garden. After snipping the frayed ends of a loose wire, the waterfall streamed to life once again and Yoshi stood taking in the breadth of the store. She crossed her arms across her chest as she watched Tully stack books and listened to the swift tattoo of Nate on the computer.

Yoshi inherited the store she stood in 10 years ago, when its previous owner died a valiant death aiding her in her cause. She promised him that she would take over the management of the small bookstore and continue to take in strays like he had done for her so many years ago. She breathed deep at the fresh memory of the old man, although it seemed like a lifetime ago. The modest book store specialized in Asian culture and was doing surprisingly well as Japanese philosophy filtered into the American mainstream. Yoshi took a gander at the Koi swimming idly in the window display and let out a satisfied sigh. She grabbed the morning paper and took a seat behind the counter as she awaited the first wave of lunchtime browsers.

She stretched her legs out in one of the cubby holes of the counter top and snapped the paper in the air as she noticed a folded page. She spoke over the newsprint. “Anything interesting going on in the world Tully?” The boy smiled, “check out page six” he retorted. They often played this game. He’d run across something peculiar in the paper and try to see if he beat her to a piece of information. He’d tried twice this week all ready, coming up empty handed with false alarms and old news both times. Third time’s the charm.

Booted feet hit the ground with a thud. Brown eyes were patiently awaiting Yoshi’s blue-eyed stare. She dropped the paper and stared at Tully. “Nate! In here.” The blue-haired boy was by her side like he’d been waiting in the hallway. “Talk.” He walked around the counter and Tully joined him by his side.

“This is the fourth one in the last four months. All the victims, pretty much fit the same description. Long blonde hair, hazel to green eyes, between 5’2″ and 5’6″, and an athletic build.”

Tully added. “All the victims have lived within a 5 to 8 mile radius of St. Francis and most have been killed miles away from it. Two all the way on the other side of town.” The three sat in silence for a moment, Yoshi taking in the comments and the boys awaiting her answer. She absently pulled at her lip as she looked past the boys and then arched an eyebrow as she spoke.

“Why’s this important?”

Neither boy could fight the smiles of accomplishment that graced their faces. Nate spoke first. “Well, number one, they don’t operate like this. It’s not like they have fetish week or something. Nothing about these attacks are random.”

Tully nodded his head as he leaned on the counter and started talking. “Secondly, this has nothing to do with a meal. These women have normally been reported missing for more than two days and then found after they’ve been dead for only a few hours. The second woman was reported missing for a week before she was found.”

Yoshi wasted no time in asking in her next question. “So, that means what?”

“It means this shit is planned is what.” Tully thumped a fist on the counter.

Yoshi glanced at a smiling Nate. “You agree?”

“Hell yeah. I think it also means their looking for something.”

The dark woman let out a huff of air. She traced her jaw with a finger as she looked at both boys for a moment. “Hmm. Probably means they know something I don’t right?”

Two heads nodded reluctantly. “Maybe, they just know what they’re looking for?” Tully’s attempt at a bright side came out like a question.

She arched an eyebrow and grunted. It was the equivalent of a smile. They sat in silence for a short eternity until she broke it much to their relief. “When do my books get here?”

“Three.” Nate practically shouted.

Yoshi shook her head at their obvious nervousness. She managed a crooked grin as she sat up straight. “Good job guys.” Two held breaths were released into nervous laughter. Tully turned and went back to the bookcase and Nate headed back to the back room, only stopping at the sound of his name. He turned around and cut off Yoshi with a wave of his hand.

“Don’t even, I’m all ready on it.” He smiled crookedly and bounded into the back. The tall woman nodded, continued sipping at her tea, and drumming her fingers into the counter as she silently willed 3:00 to come.

* * *

CH 4: You put your right foot in…put your right foot out…

Riley Witherspoon swiveled in the leather chair and leaned his close-cropped head out of the door to catch a glimpse of the blonde as she tried to make it to her office before Marianna intercepted her. Clarion stuck out her tongue and wiggled her eyebrows as she saw the thin man smiling at her. She was so busy making faces at Riley that she barely had time to whip her portfolio behind her back when Marianna came around the corner and stepped in front of her office door.

“Geez, Mare, scared me there.” Clarion stopped in her tracks and held a free hand to her chest. Marianna was only two inches taller than Clarion but she wore four inch heels, just so people would have to look up to her. Actually, it just made the bone thin woman look absolutely gangly and out of proportion. Platinum blonde hair was pulled back in an impossibly tight bun, only adding to her pinched features, making her look like a snobby Ostrich.

Marianna pursed barely existent lips and spoke. “Clarion Larieux,” she spat “, late again are we?”

Clarion guffawed as she stepped back. “Late, no way. I’ve been here for ten minutes. I ran out to the front to ask Charlie about some tickets he promised me.” She spied the stocky man out of the corner of her eye and pointed a finger in his direction. “See, you can ask him.” When Marianna turned her slender neck in the man’s direction, Clarion zipped her portfolio out from behind her back and sent it flying into the waiting arms of Riley. He caught the leather case with a slap and slapped it down on the desk, just as Marianna turned her beaked nose face back in Clarion’s direction. She eyed the small woman suspiciously and ran her tongue across her teeth in a sinister manner.

“Anyway, Larieux, I need that pasture picture done today and we need to clean out the blue room to make room for the college exhibit. Can you handle that Larieux?”

‘If you can handle me sucking your eyeballs out through a straw than sure’ she thought. Instead, she used her perkiest voice possible and let her Southern drawl fall over every syllable. “Why sure thang, darlin’. By-e.” Marianna rolled her eyes and stalked off down the hall at her awkward gait. She was barely out of ear shot, before Clarion entered her office and began laughing with Riley.

Riley hi-fived the woman as she tossed her coat on the hook and proceeded to sit on the edge of her desk. “You are priceless sweetie.”

“Whatever. So what’s up?”

“Well you’re going to tell me what happened to you on Tuesday and what’s with the little speed bump you got under your eye.

“Oy.” She ran a small hand through her hair. “Just me being adventurous as always.” ‘That’s putting it lightly.’ She sighed and tousled her hair and then stared at Riley quietly for a moment.

“What’s going on Claire?”

“Do you think I should do something with my hair?”

From the yelp that the man let out, it could have been mistaken that he just won the 64 million dollar jackpot. He hopped up from the chair and grabbed the wide-eyed Clarion by the hands. “Are you serious, Clarion?”

“Uh..I don’t know, but you’re scaring me, and you’re hurting me.” She smiled and then laughed as Riley dropped her hands and did a little impromptu jig. “Calm down man, it’s just a suggestion.”

“But a suggestion that I think is long overdue, my dear.”

“Oh you do?”

“Un huh. A suggestion that we should talk about as we get some lunch.”

Clarion threw back her head in laughter. “Riley, I just got here.”

“P-shaw! Fuck her! Let’s go.” Clarion couldn’t contain her laughter as she was pulled off her desk and guided to her coat. “We need to discuss hair.” Riley added a decidedly New York accent to his words as he did his best impression of a Long Island mother.

“All right. Don’t get all verklempt on me.” Clarion shot back in her own impression.
_________

The two friends were walking arm and arm down the strip gossiping about some rich lady’s supposed face lift, when Clarion stopped their strolled. Riley stopped a second later and turned to find his friend eyeing the sign on the window of a small book store. The Orchid it read. He continued to read the door, finding that it specialized in Asian culture.

“In the market for one of those little Zen gardens honey?”

Clarion laughed and turned to Riley. “Nah, just doing a little research.”

“Por quoi?”

She shrugged. “Thinking about introducing an exhibit to the museum. Maybe silk screen prints or something. Not sure, but I need to start somewhere right.” The truth was Clarion was just intrigued with the woman that saved her. At least she thought it was a woman. She felt an involuntary shiver run up her spine as she remember the sweet husk of the Hunter’s voice. It had to be her, there was only one woman Hunter left and Clarion wanted to find her. Just to thank her and then go running to the hills before she sniffed out her secret and then impaled her on her blade. The brief remembrance of piercing blue eyes caused her to shiver again, this time alerting Riley to her discomfort.

“You okay Claire?”

“Yeah. Hey, why don’t you go and put in our order and let me run in here for just a second.” Riley stomped his foot on the ground. “Oh don’t be a baby. By the time that guy takes the order, messes it up, and redoes it as something completely new I will be in and out and by your side. ‘Kay.” Riley grumbled something unintelligible and then stalked off to the deli two doors down. She laughed at his show and then entered the store.

The ringing of chimes caused Tully to raise his head from the pile of books on the floor. As his eyes fell on the green eyed blonde standing in the doorway he almost fell over. He scrambled to his feet as she flashed him a bright smile. Tully took in the rich chocolate color of the woman’s slacks and the deep tan of her cashmere swing coat and almost lost himself. Clarion took his appreciation in stride as she widened her smile.

She raised an eyebrow as she looked up and touched a hand to her forehead. “I knew I shouldn’t have gotten that tattoo on my forehead, do you think it’s too much?”

The absurd question snapped Tully out of his stare. “I’m sorry, what?”

“The tattoo.”

“The tattoo? Oh, I’m sorry, I- uh, I’m sorry.”

She touched a hand to his shoulder. “It’s okay, really.” She removed her hand as the boy smiled nervously.

“Sorry, um, can I help?”

“Yes, I think you can.” She clapped her hands together. “I’m looking for some books on Japanese warriors.”

“Really.” He nonchalantly glanced behind him, silently willing Nate to look at the damn monitor. “Well, what kind of warrior?” He decided stalling would be best. ‘C’mon on Nate!’

“What kind, oh boy. Um, little help here.”

“Well, I mean, you’ve got Samurai, Ronin, who technically are Samurai, Ninjas, mythical, real, anime. There’s a lot.”

Clarion let out a huff. “Maybe I should have put some more thought into this.” She nervously chewed her bottom lip.

Sensing her want to exit, Tully raised his hands. “One sec.” ‘She’s gonna kill me’ “Hey! Yoshi! Need ya out front!” The boy’s bellow caused Clarion to jump. “Sorry, boss is in the back.” Clarion nodded as she smiled at the boy, handing him a business card and not noticing the entrance of the tall dark woman.

“Tully!, didn’t I tell you to stop yelling like…”

Clarion had picked up her head at the sound of the voice, immediately locking jade eyes with two impossibly blue eyes. Blue eyes that she remembered. Tully looked from the blonde at his right back to the form of his boss and stepped from between them for fear their gazes would saw him in half with laser precision.

Yoshi lost her words as the searing gaze she had prepared for Tully melted into the undeniable leer of someone appreciating a thing of beauty. What the woman assumed was a freak reaction two nights ago, happened again. She hesitated. “Um,” Yoshi swallowed hard, “you need something?”

Clarion did her best to reign in the lascivious smile that threatened to break across her features as she managed a subdued smile. ‘Oh yeah, need, want, crave, as in must have or head will explode!’ She took a breath as she realized she hadn’t answered the question. “Oh, yes, um. This nice young man here was explaining to me how I was way in over my head in my research and that perhaps I should narrow my sights.”

Yoshi nodded and began walking towards the woman, surprised her legs were moving. Tully walked around the oblivious woman and stood at the counter with a red-faced Nate. “What is it that you’re looking for?” Yoshi stepped a little closer and angled her head towards the bookcase, so the smaller woman didn’t have to crane her neck to look up.

Clarion noticed the gesture and smiled. “I’m looking for a uh, woman. I mean..a warrior.” Clarion shook her head and groaned.
“I mean, I’m looking for a book on women warriors in Japan.” She enunciated each word clearly more for her benefit than the tall woman who seemed to be fighting a smile.

An alto purred out, “A book on women warriors.”

“Yup.”

They shared a brief moment of silent staring that Yoshi broke with a gesture of her hand. “Then try this.” She pulled down a soft cover book and handed it to the small blonde. Yoshi watched as the woman read the cover. “It should give you some good information and get you started. Help you narrow down your sights so to speak.

The blonde avoided the taller woman’s eyes as she looked down and dug in her pocket for a ten dollar bill. She came up with it just as the front door swung open with a jangle. Four pairs of eyes were focused on the slim gentleman staring daggers at the blonde. “There you are! We need to go babe.” He snapped his fingers for emphasis. Clarion gritted her teeth at the man. “I’ll be there in two shakes Ri, just start walking.” She smiled at him hard praying he got the hint. He tapped his watch without verbal comment and closed the door. Clarion let go of the breath she was holding and turned back around holding up the ten dollars. “For the book.”

Yoshi mechanically removed the bill, scissoring it between her index and middle finger. It was subsequently snatched out by Nate only to be replaced by $2.15 cents. Yoshi barely noticed the action behind her as she and the blonde tried not to stare to hard at one another. Yoshi ignored the warmth of the young woman’s hand as she laid out the change in it. Clarion pocketed her change and began to turn.

She stopped her turn and looked back at the woman who Clarion could swear was holding her breath. She shook the book in the air. “By the way thanks for the book and the help.” She shot a glance at the two boys behind the register with the million dollar smiles plastered on their faces. ‘This should be easy.’ “Oh and yes.”

Yoshi stepped back and raised a slim eyebrow sky high. “Yes?”

“Yeah,” Clarion smiled, “in answer to your question.” She tossed her hand out and shrugged like it was the most logical statement.

The tall dark woman was clueless. “What question?”

Clarion chuckled. “About you wanting to get me coffee?”

Both eyebrows rose. “I want to get you coffee?”

Clarion clapped her hands together in excitement. “Well sure, I would love to get coffee with you, thanks for asking.” She smiled brightly at the tall woman who was obviously fumbling for a thought. Clarion held in a laugh and spoke before the woman collapsed from the effort. “So, what time do you get off?”

A moment of silence went by as Yoshi fumbled with an answer, until Tully came to her rescue, yelling out “Six!”

Clarion had to look at the floor to keep from laughing. “Wow, you throw your voice really well. Six, that’s great. I’ll meet you here around six. Name’s Yoshi, right?” The dark woman nodded dumbly. “Cool.” She flashed the woman a toothy grin and then stepped to her right and waved at the two boys behind the counter. “Bye guys.”

“Bye.”, Nate and Tully sang out in unison. They continued waving until the woman was out of the door. The boys walked from behind the counter and stood next to the wide-eyed woman who was scratching her head in a gesture of disbelief and confusion. They stood quietly until Tully spoke.

“Blonde.”

“5’2″ to 5’6”, Nate added.

“Green eyes.” Yoshi said in a breath.

The conversation came back to Tully. “Great a-

Yoshi cut him off. “Athletic build.”

“That’s what I was going to say.”

“Uh huh.” Nate added absently.

Suddenly, Yoshi released a groan. “Crap, what’s her name, her name, I didn’t…”

Tully quickly took out the small white card and held it out between Nate and himself. “Clarion. Giselle. Uh…Olathe. Larieux.” Yoshi reached out without looking and took the card from Tully, reading for herself. She stared blankly out of the front window and held the card up and out to the side. “Nate.”

The card was quickly snatched up by stubby fingers. “Got ya, if she’s got a credit card, I’ve got her.”

“Oh she’s got credit cards all right.” Tully rang out with a laugh.

“Yeah, way too many.” Yoshi added monotonously. When she heard Nate scamper off she turned to Tully, who leaned on the counter doing his best to hide a smile. “Tully, I need your help.” The boy piped up and smiled genuinely. “What do you do on a date?”

It was only out of the knowledge that she could rip him limb from limb that he didn’t laugh out loud. He only shook his head at his tall friend and guided her to the stool behind the counter. “Don’t worry Yosh, it’s just coffee, not a date.”

She rubbed her hands nervously on her jeans. “It’s not?”

Tully smirked. “No. This is like a pre-date. It’s pressureless, like a trial-run.”

She focused blue eyes on soft brown. “That’s what they do now.”

‘So lost.’ He gave Yoshi’s shoulder a squeeze and leaned on the counter. “Yoshi, when’s the last time you went on a date?”

Silence ensued for a hard ten seconds as a black eyebrow raised in thought. She scratched at her chin and then answered. “The cold war I think.” Tully groaned. “No, maybe, the stock market crash.”

Another moan, followed by a mumbled “Oh God.”

“Nah, the Renaissance, yeah, yeah.”

“European!”

“No!”, she shot back as if disgusted, “Harlem.”

Tully threw his hands in the air. “Still. Oh man.”

“Yeah, definitely Harlem.” She wiggled her eyebrows sharing her own private joke as the young man stepped away and walked to one of the bookcases.

“There’s got to be a Zen book of dating around here somewhere.” He began to search the shelves until a wad of paper hit him in the skull. He turned back towards the woman, took note of the look on her face and broke into a laugh.

Yoshi sat up straight and looked around the store. “What?!”

He cocked an eyebrow. “You’re pouting.”

She let out an indignant “Ha”. “I’m what?”

“Yeah, you’re pouting. Your lip is basically on the floor.” He pointed.

She attempted to look down at her lip and then in a huff she replaced her usual mask that catered to only two emotions: annoyed and opening up a can of whup-ass. “All right enough. Ugh! Do some work.” She stood up with a thud. “I’m going for some lunch.” She brushed by the young man and grabbed her jacket as she walked to the door. “And call Gregor and tell him, I want my freaking books!” With that she stalked out of the front door and turned left. The empty store quickly filled with the laughter of Nate and Tully.

Tully clutched his aching sides and through big breaths asked, “please say that’s on tape?”

A renewed bout of laughter and a nod from Nate kept the boys busy with giggles as they went back to work.

* * *

CH 5: Fancy meeting you here

Fall was without a doubt, the best season of them all, followed closely by spring. Clarion had seen countless seasons, but she always longed for Fall. The colors, the smells, the air ripe with the cycle of life, the shorter days, the crisp nights, and the shorter days. Clarion let out a stream of curse words as she walked out of her office. That was the bad part about fall, the sun had this tendency of setting around 5:30p.m. And here it was 5:45. Clarion suddenly felt like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight. She’d be lucky if her carriage turned into a pumpkin and the horses into mice. As she rode the elevator down five flights she tried to decide between taking her car or just breaking into a leisurely run to cover the two blocks to the bookstore.

With her hand on the car door, she sighed inaudibly. ‘Shoulda’ ran.’ When she turned her head around, she was all smiles. There were four of them this time and she couldn’t decide if that was good or bad. So instead of lashing out into some defensive position, Clarion did what she did best, she started talking. “You guys have got to be kidding right? I mean, do I have lo-jack on me or something? Cause you guys cannot be this good. Not that you’re not good, but this is extremely irritating.” She chuckled as she mentally sized up her four attackers. They were dressed in their standard uniform of black accented by long black trench coats. It was eerie, in that City of Angels meets The Matrix meets the Lost Boys of thing.

A pale-faced man wearing sunglasses and bearing his fangs stepped forward to speak. “C’mon now and we won’t hav ta beat you.” A strong English accent smothered his words.

Clarion smiled in interest. “You from London, Essex, right?” She didn’t wait for his answer. “Damn, I love the country side don’t you.” He snorted in response. Two of the others stepped forward. Clarion stepped back colliding with her car. She held up her hands. “Okay, okay, look, here’s my last ditch effort. I’ve got a hot date, in like ten minutes. If it goes well, you guys can meet me right back here tomorrow same time, same place and I’ll go. Or hey, if it goes bad, I’ll come and throw myself at your feet. Whadya’ say, eh?” The pale man from Essex licked his lips and smiled as if he was contemplating her answer. He shifted his eyes to his companion at his right and she pressed the button on her keychain.

A high pitched wailing was emitted from her car startling her four would be captors for a brief second. She took the time and rolled over the hood of the car, praying she didn’t mar the new finish on her mint-condition 1967 Stingray. Thick-soled brogans hit the ground and she ran. She could hear the man yell out “spread”, but she had all ready hopped the garage railing to see which way they went. The chase was on.

———-

It was going on 5:45 when Yoshi had finished packing the seven thin volumes in her backpack. For the fifth time. Tully laughed as he shut out the back lights and joined Nate up front. Tully placed a gentle hand on the tall woman’s shoulder and she just about jumped through the roof. “Jesus! Yosh! chill out. It’s just coffee.”

“He’s right, calm down. Let’s go out front, the cool air will calm you down.”

Yoshi shook her head and ran a nervous hand through dark locks. She had way too much nervous energy and she knew it had to be more than just an impending coffee date. “Guys, I should be home reading.” She followed the boys out of the front door and tugged on the handle as it closed. She stared up at sky out of habit and glimpsed the last remains of the sun in orange and red tendrils that creased the sky. “And, I’ve got work tonight.” She glared at the boys.

Tully grinned. “It doesn’t have to last all night Yoshi.”

“Unless you want it too.” Nate squeaked. He was rewarded with a playful punch to the arm. She was thinking up a comeback when a swirl of black caught her eye. He was across the street in a long trench coat, blonde hair braided down his back, and he was wearing sunglasses. She pretended to be pushing at her cuticles when she spoke quietly. “What do you make of that boys, 3 o’clock?”

Nate and Tully had been asked this type of question enough to know how to be discreet. Nate answered first. “Could be a yuppie businessman with good fashion sense waiting frantically on his date with Sally from the copy room.”

“Or it could be a well dressed blood-sucking night crawler awaiting a certain fair headed runner.”

Yoshi dropped her bag to the ground and swung on her leather coat. It wasn’t her trench, but the cargo actually had a few worthy amenities. “Is that your final answer?” she asked flatly.

Tully smirked as he watched the woman pull on her jacket. “Yes, Regis, yes it is.”

She kept her eyes on the pacing man across the street. “All right take this bag to my house and dump it. Take the back way, drop it, and leave. Where’s her office?”

“Two blocks up on Madison, what about-

She shook her head. “Don’t do anything. Just go home, I’ll see you tomorrow. Keep trying to find out who she is and keep your ears open. Go now.” The boys left her without a word as they watched the tall woman eat up the sidewalk with a determined stride.

The dark woman was a block away when her hearing picked up the shrill whine of a car alarm. She got off the main sidewalk via an alley and broke into a dead run. She heard the distinct sound of panting as well as the rush of leather soles slapping concrete heading her way. She stopped running and stood in the shadow of dumpster as the blur of sound rushed by. She waited until a full head of blond hair streamed by and then she stepped out of the dark. The pale faced man that had been on Clarion’s tail almost lost his head when his neck ran into a leather clad arm. His head snapped back with force as he was thrown to the ground. He found himself staring up the long length of denim clad legs that straddled his head. He was hoping it would be quick. It was.

Clarion was too busy racing down an alley to hear the strangled cry of her former chaser. Besides, she heard new footsteps, in the most unlikely of places…above her. She actually managed to stay on her feet for a moment as she absorbed the weight of the girl that leapt from the fire escape and newly attached herself to her back. Her momentum carried her a few feet, before Clarion tripped up and they tumbled to the concrete, knocking the wind out of herself as her back thudded to the ground. The fanged girl took advantage of Clarion’s disorientation, grabbing her by a handful of hair and ramming her head into a nearby dumpster. She tipped her head back prepared to give a round up call, but the swift removal of her larynx ended that attempt. The girl clutched at her gaping wound out of pure reflex. She was still very much alive, but she was certainly in pain.

Yoshi shook moist muscle from her skin and stood in front of the girl. “They’re dead. Do you know who I am?” A brisk nod and an angry middle finger were her response. Yoshi let out a deep laugh before lashing out and snapping the offending finger in two. The girl fell to the ground in pain. Yoshi grabbed a hand full of hair and pulled her up to her knees. “I guess I should have waited to rip out your throat after I talked to you, huh.” Yoshi shrugged in amusement. “Crawl back to your coffin and tell whoever it concerns that I’m on to you.” She leaned down close to the girl, almost nose to nose. “I don’t know why you need her, but you can’t have her.” The girl defiantly thrust her other middle finger in the air. Yoshi flinched at her and the young girl ducked to avoid the blow that never came. Yoshi laughed and growled out, “get out of here.” The girl obliged scurrying down the alley.

Yoshi turned around to look down at the woman beginning to stir. Clarion let out a moan as she raised up holding a hand to hear newly throbbing head. Instinctively she raised her head and gazed into hard blue eyes and the stone face of her savior. Clarion managed a smile that was not returned. “We gotta stop meeting like this Stretch.” She sighed and watched as the tall woman avoided her eyes. “You gonna help a lady up or what?” Yoshi seemed to snap out of her reverie as she reached a hand down and helped the blonde to her feet. Yoshi backed away as she watched the woman dust her self off. Clarion was thinking of a way to break the tension when Yoshi spoke up.

“You remember?”

Clarion smiled and ran a hand through her mussed hair. “Just the eyes I’m afraid. So, how bout that coffee.”

Yoshi choked out a cough. “Uh, I don’t know if that’s the best idea.”

“Oh come now, you afraid I’ll play with your sword.” The tall wall of a woman creased her brow and frowned. Clarion held up her hands. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Look, Yoshi, I’m not an idiot. I know what those things are. They were the same as two nights ago and the same as the ones from all the other nights.”

“Do you know what they want with you?”

“No clue. So, Stretch, how bout it?”

“What?”

“That coffee.” Yoshi sighed and kicked at the ground. Clarion smiled. “Hey, I ran all the way out here, the least you could do is have a cup of coffee, besides, I owe you.” Yoshi couldn’t help but crack a smile. “Oh my goodness.”

The tall woman looked up. “What?”

“Is that a smile, I see.” The usually reticent woman expelled a whiff of a laugh as the corners of her mouth pulled into a wider smile. Clarion giggled. “Hey you better put that thing away you’re going to blind me. Clarion stepped back with a laugh and feigned shielding her eyes from a bright light.

No more than the dark woman could stop the rumble of laughter that welled up deep in her belly could she stop the blush that was creeping into her face nor could she stop the full fledged smile that graced her face, raising high her cheek bones, causing the skin to crinkle at her eyes, and exposing straight white teeth. How foreign it was for her to really smile. To Clarion it looked as though her dark savior hadn’t had a good smile in a hundred years or so. She hadn’t. Yoshi curtailed her laugh and this time, without hesitation Yoshi spoke. “Okay, let’s go get coffee.”

CH 6: Would you like some coffee in your cream?
Coffee turned out to be two steaming paper cups filled to the brim with some over-priced caffeinated elixir and a bench in front of Clarion’s apartment building. The warmth of the coffee managed to take the chill off of the evening. In the past ten minutes, Yoshi sat mesmerized as she listened to the blonde prattle on animatedly about her job at the modern museum of art. So far neither woman seemed ready to make comment on what had brought them together thus far. Yoshi watched the small woman at her side with selfish amusement as she flung her hands wildly about and contorted her face to describe her boss. Yoshi was barely paying attention except that she was enjoying watching and listening to the young woman talk. It felt good to the quiet woman to simply just be able to listen and moreover to participate. She couldn’t help but laugh where Clarion threw in one liners, and moan and groan when prompted.

Yoshi was smiling crookedly at one of Clarion’s comments when she finally added to the conversation. “Are you ever going to drink that?” Yoshi nodded towards the cup in Clarion’s hand.

The blonde smiled. “Guess I got carried away, huh?” A small blush rose to her cheeks. Yoshi could only break into a lopsided grin as a reply. Clarion smiled to herself and sighed inwardly as she pushed a lock of hair behind her right ear. She looked down into her coffee for a moment and then took a healthy cup of the still warm liquid. Clarion didn’t look up from her coffee cup when she spoke again. “So can you explain all of this to me?”

Yoshi stopped the raising of her cup and brought her head back down. She set her jaw and glanced at the woman who was still contemplating the cream in her coffee. The dark woman was unsure as to what Clarion knew or at least what she thought she knew, and in 800 years she had learned not to volunteer information. “What do you expect me to be able to tell you?”

Clarion’s sharp laughter filled the space between the two women, as she cut wide green eyes at the tall woman. “If I’m not mistaken, isn’t it your job to know about these kind of things.” The dark woman shrugged broad shoulders and sipped from her coffee. Clarion let out a snort of laughter to herself. “Are you denying the job or you just like to walk around with swords and daggers?” No reply. The tall woman’s obvious ability to change moods was beginning to grate on Clarion. “Okay. How about this.” Clarion sat her cup on the ground and turned sideways so that she was facing Yoshi. She raised a blonde eyebrow and pursed pink lips moist with gloss. “For the last three months I have been attacked, followed, watched by Vampires. The undead. Blood-sucking night stalkers.” On the inside, Clarion was cringing at the names that were said to often refer to her as well. “And since you, are so obviously a Vampire Hunter I’m thinking that you might be able to tell me why I’m so popular.” She stared hard at Yoshi as the sting of sarcasm at up her words.

Yoshi was stuck and she knew it. She took the time to gather herself as she placed her own cup on the bench and leaned forward resting her elbows on her knees and clasping her hands together. She was unsure of what to say and what not to say. But, at the same time, the woman next to her seemed to know a lot, especially for someone who claimed they had no clue why they were being hunted. The contradictions swirled in Yoshi’s mind taking up space in the areas that weren’t wrapped up in the fact that she was fiercely attracted to the woman next to her. Clarion’s voice broke her thought process.

“You formulating an answer or are we being a stoic warrior?” Clarion fought the smirk that was ready to form on her lips as the dark woman turned towards her with an eyebrow raised high. Clarion awaited some gruff response, but Yoshi surprised both women by smiling. “There you go blinding me again.” Clarion smiled fully. Yoshi laughed and sat up straight. Clarion could tell the woman was willing away the faint blush that was threatening to overtake her cheekbones.

“I don’t really know what to tell you. I don’t know very much right now, but I do know that you’re in trouble.”

“Well no crap.” She swatted Yoshi lightly on the shoulder. “Am I the flavor of the month or something? If so, I’m cutting my hair, dying it, and moving to another country.” She let out a huff of air.

Full lips curved into a smirk and then she turned serious. “They’d find you.”

The hairs on the back of Clarion’s neck bristled at the timbre of Yoshi’s voice. “I don’t think I warrant hopping continents.”

Yoshi released a breath before speaking. “Clarion, do you know what the Daywalker is?”

Being born a Vampire gave Clarion the luxury of having a heart that beat, so she wasn’t used to having it stop. As the question breathed life into Clarion’s psyche she made a decision in a fraction of a second. She simply focused a slightly awed stare on Yoshi’s lips and waited for the woman to take the bait.

Yoshi bit. The tall woman arched an eyebrow and stared back at the blonde, who was looking at her like she was a four course meal. “Problem, Clarion?” ‘Maybe she did know what was going on.’

Clarion shook her head and ran a hand through her hair, not breaking her gaze. “Not that I’m vain, but I just really like the way my name sounds when you say it.”

Yoshi stared at the ground, she hadn’t been expecting that answer, nor the flip-flops that her stomach was making as the small woman openly gazed at her. “Uh..so does that mean you know what I’m talking about?” Yoshi was clueless as to what to say to her comment, so she just ignored it.

Clarion let out a light laugh. “What that means, is that you can’t take a compliment.” She smiled and released her gaze on the nervous woman. “As to what the Daywalker is–no.” ‘It’s not like she asked me who the Daywalker was, right, technically it’s not that bad of lie..and technically I’m jackass.’ “What’s that got to do with anything?”

Yoshi nodded. “Well, when I figure that out, I think I’ll be able to tell you about your unwelcome visitors.” Yoshi fidgeted with her hands. “How come you know so much?”

Clarion smiled. “Not that a lady isn’t entitled to her secrets,” she wiggled blonde brows “,but the museum business does have it’s advantages. Actually, I think I have a few pieces that you would be extremely interested in.” She looked over at the tall woman and watched as she glanced at her watch. “Need to leave?”

Yoshi gave a small nod. “I’m afraid so.” She darted her eyes across the ground.

Clarion reached out and patted Yoshi’s thigh. “Let’s just say you’re hurrying off to your second job.” Yoshi shrugged nervously and stood up. Clarion craned her neck up and regarded the tall woman. “Will you tell me how you got this gig?”

Yoshi gave Clarion a crooked grin and looked at her watch again. “I don’t think I have the time.” ‘800 years takes a little more than conversation over coffee.’

Clarion grinned and stood up. “Then we’ll make some time. How much do you think we’ll need?” She grinned innocently at the slightly squirming woman.

Yoshi clasped her hands behind her back and looked everywhere but down at the green-eyed woman smiling at her. ‘A lifetime that you don’t have to give.’ she wanted to say. Full lips curved into a smile. “Is this the part where I’m supposed to ask you out to dinner?”

Clarion threw her head back in honest laughter. “You catch on quick.” They started walking towards the entrance of her building.

“I guess I need to meet you here as well, since I can’t seem to leave you by yourself for more than five minutes.”

Clarion shrugged playfully. “What can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment. A beacon for trouble if you will.”

Yoshi raised a sculpted eyebrow and grinned at the small woman, quickly getting into the game. “Guess I’ll be keeping me eye on you then.”

Clarion only grinned as she thought, ‘eyes, lips, hands, teeth, tongue, whatever.’ “This may turn into a 24/7 relationship.”

Yoshi stopped at the door. “Are you really worth all that?”

Clarion fought a laugh. “I’ll leave that in your capable hands.”

Clarion’s words suddenly seemed serious to Yoshi and surprisingly the sentiment warmed her insides. She found herself humbled in the presence of the small woman before her and she knew that this was far beyond merely protecting the innocent. Yoshi kept her hands clasped behind her back as she bowed her head slightly at the woman’s words. “I thank you for thinking me capable.”

Clarion could only smile as she watched emotion run through the tall woman. As she listened to her speak with quiet respect, Clarion felt extremely awful for having lied. But wasn’t this survival? She knew she probably wouldn’t stay alive without the Hunter and more than likely she would die at her hand. Even in her gregarious nature, Clarion found herself at a loss for words in acknowledging the woman’s honesty. She could only move forward and stand on her tip-toes as she placed a chaste kiss on an olive-hued cheek. She stepped back. “Pick me up at work tomorrow?”

The tall woman was in a heated haze. She wasn’t sure if it was the last remnants of coffee, the blush creeping its way into her face, or the warm shock of perfect lips pressed to her skin. She managed to nod at Clarion’s question and then watched the blonde enter the lobby of the building and disappear among the banks of elevators.

Yoshi turned up the collar on her leather coat and pushed her hands into her pockets as she began her walk back to the store. She decided that she would go home for an hour or so and do some reading and write some letters. As she made the trip from the store to the warehouse that housed her home, Yoshima Miakoda made the decision to go home to pray. She would pull out her Gi, polish her blade, light her candles and incense, and bring out her chimes. She would not pray for forgiveness or for strength. This night she would pray for herself and for a certain green-eyed blonde. She prayed that she would uphold her oath and mostly she prayed that she would not fail
CH 7: Let he who is without dog shit on his shoe, take the first step on the white rug
Clarion was in the lab when Yoshi showed up at her office door the next day, so it was Riley that greeted the tentative woman. Yoshi stood in the doorway of Clarion’s office looking down at the slim man who did a complete 360 in a chair to face her. He curved thin lips into a smile as he looked up at the blue eyed woman in the leather jacket.

He cocked his head to the side as he took in her features and spoke. “Have a seat won’t you?” He arched a brow as he recognized the tall woman from the store the other day. Yoshi bowed her head slightly and then took a seat in front of the desk.

Riley plastered a smug look on his face as he rested his elbows on the desk and leaned in. “So, I take it you’re here to see Clarion?”

Yoshi could tell he was fighting the urge to break into a full smile, but at the same time he was definitely sizing up her worth. She only nodded in reply. Riley sucked his teeth and let his lips give way to a smirk. “Not much of a talker I see, can’t imagine what she sees in you then.”

His comment did a good job of getting Yoshi’s attention. She sat up straight in the chair. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Riley only raised an eyebrow in triumph instead of smiling. “Oh nothing. You just seem a little introverted for the likes of Claire that’s all. But hey, everybody’s entitled to trying something a little new.”

Yoshi nodded. “Glad you approve then.”

“And I’m glad you can form a sentence.”

The dark woman had half a mind to reach across the table and begin plucking the vital organs out of Riley’s body with tweezers, but she was aware that he was simply being protective of the blonde, and she couldn’t deny him that duty. Instead of maiming him, she gave him a lopsided grin and nodded her head in concession. Riley relaxed back in the chair steepling his fingers and briefly reveled in his small victory. “So what’s your name?”

“Yoshima Miakoda.”

Riley smiled. “Ahh, Japanese.” He looked up at the ceiling. “Means, you’re clever and deep of thought.”

“Very good. Do you study Japanese culture?”

Riley was about to make up some swift lie, but he was interrupted by the sweet drawl of Clarion’s voice. “No, but I have.”

Both Yoshi and Riley turned towards the doorway to find Clarion’s small frame occupying the space. She wore a small grin on her face as she raked her eyes over Yoshi and Riley. Riley immediately hopped up from his seat behind Clarion’s desk and seated himself on the edge of the desk. Clarion only smiled as she moved past them both and dropped a handful of brushes on her side table. She walked around her desk and plopped down into the soft cushions of leather, stretching her legs out before her.

She focused her eyes on Yoshi. “Riley been in here interrogating you?”

Yoshi shook her head as Riley piped up with an answer. “No such thing my dear. Simply shooting the breeze.”

Clarion let out a snort of laughter. “I’m sure that wasn’t all you were shooting Ri.” The lanky man only shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes for his reply.

Yoshi let out a chuckle. “He was only being a friend.”

Clarion kept her eyes locked on Yoshi. “Yeah I bet.” She shot a glance at the smug looking Riley and shook her head. “Anyway, I’m about ready to go, so Riley you can say your good-byes.”

Riley mumbled something unintelligible but he got up off of the desk all the same. Clarion stood with him as she watched him walk to the door. Riley stopped at the doorway and turned his attention towards Yoshi. “It was nice to meet you Yoshima. Take care of my girl.” Riley smiled. Yoshi bowed her head in agreement and watched as Clarion walked out of the door with Riley. Even though she was equipped with hearing that would allow her to hear the conversation outside the doorway, she was polite and focused her attention on the painting that hung on the far wall.

Clarion helped Riley put on his jacket as they walked down the hallway. “Thanks a lot Dad.” The two shared a smile.

Riley shrugged. “Hey I’m just making sure tall dark and I only speak in Haikus, is safe.”

Clarion shook with laughter. “I’ll have to count the syllables next time she talks.”

Riley waved a hand through the air. “Sure thing. So, what are you guys up to tonight?”

Clarion couldn’t help but smile. “Just a little dinner.”

Riley wiggled slim eyebrows. “Un huh. A little dinner you say.” They shared mischievous smiles. “Are you taking her out, or our you going to show off all those hours of watching the Food Network.”

Clarion held in a laugh. “Well,” she raised her brows, “Bobby Flay made this kick ass Paella on Martha Stewart the other day. I think I can do it.”

Riley let out a whoop and swatted Clarion on the shoulder. “Oh my, I saw that. I say go for it. If you filch it, you can just make some calamari and lobster tails.” They clasped hands and shared a smile.

“Hey look, I’ll let you know how it turns out.”

“No shit Sherlock.” Riley leaned in, gave Clarion a kiss on the lips, and then turned to walk down the hallway.

Clarion held the smile to her face as she watched Riley walk away and exit into the stairwell. She smoothed down the blouse she was wearing, drew in a breath of air, and walked back towards her office. Not surprisingly the tall woman hadn’t moved from the chair she was sitting. She turned deep blue eyes on Clarion as she entered the office and then stood up from the chair. Clarion smiled. “You ready to go Stretch?” Yoshi nodded in reply. As Clarion retrieved her coat from the hook on the wall she spoke. “So, you feel like a home cooked meal or you want to go out?”

Yoshi shrugged her shoulders. “Do I have to cook?”

Clarion turned around to face the tall woman and grinned. “Can’t cook?” Clarion’s voice rang out with disbelief.

“On the contrary, I’ve got a few cooking skills.” ‘I hope I can do a little more than boil water after 800 years.’.

Clarion raised a blonde brow at the grinning woman and walked past her out of the door. “Well then I guess we’ll just be putting those cooking skills to the test.”

Yoshi joined her as they walked side by side down the hallway. “How so?”

“How do you feel about Paella?”

Blue eyes looked up in consideration. “It’s never rubbed me the wrong way.” Clarion smiled. “Is it spicy?”

Clarion’s smile got even wider as they entered the stairwell. “No other way to make it chèr.”

The two women continued the journey to Clarion’s car in mutual silence, both trying not to make a big deal out of the fact that they were searching the parking garage for unwanted visitors. Aimless chit-chat about work occupied the drive to Clarion’s apartment complex and the ride in the elevator up 17 floors.

—————

It wasn’t until Yoshi found herself standing in front of Clarion’s doorway did she feel her throat close up on her. Her feet seemed to be welded to the ground as she waited for the small woman to unlock the door. Yoshima Miakoda was nervous. She was so nervous she was practically giddy. Granted this wasn’t like random one-night stands or strategic sex, but she remembered how to do date. She kept trying to tell herself that she had done this before, and she had….eight decades ago. In her head she was running through several katas when Clarion finally opened the door to her apartment.

Clarion turned her head and looked up at the blankly staring woman and held in her smile. “You coming or you want to eat dinner out here?”

Yoshi snapped out of her trance with a jerk and gave a crooked smile as she ducked her head and followed the woman into her apartment. Even though she could make out the furniture pretty well, she decided to stay put until Clarion turned on all the lights. She listened as the woman moved swiftly through the apartment with quick ease, and then suddenly there was illumination.

Almost a millennium of life had afforded Yoshi with vast amounts of knowledge. She had pretty much seen everything under the sun and met just about every person and thing ever deemed possible. Indeed, it was true that mortal human beings never ceased to amaze her, even if they were predictable as a calendar. In almost a thousand years of life, Yoshi had the opportunity to even meet her match every couple of decades or so. In a blur of motion her mind thumbed through battle fields were she stood victorious only to collapse to the ground in exhaustion and triumph. She remembered every fatal wound, every glancing blow, and every near miss. She could count the number of times she had been outsmarted on one hand and the number of times she had been lied to without her knowledge only took up three digits. A feeling of hesitation and confusion that was becoming all too familiar to the dark woman welled up in her gut once again as she took in the décor of Clarion’s home. Sure it could all be a coincidence she told herself as she strolled about the living room. It could all be fated too or just a sadistic joke enacted by one of her ancestors. Whatever the case, for the first time in a long time, Yoshima was confused. More than that, she found that she could decipher no out to this situation nor could she decipher the smiling blonde that watched her take in the furnishings of her home.

As Yoshi took a seat on what appeared to be an authentic 18th century maroon recamÍer she got the distinct feeling that she was in over her head. Worse than that however, the thing that brought a wisp of a smile to her face, was that she didn’t care. Yoshi heard Clarion call out to her as she shrugged out of her jacket and focused her attention on the three paintings on the far wall. Clarion called out from the kitchen to her. “Wine?” Yoshi barely whispered a reply of yes as she gazed at the paintings on the wall with a raised brow.

Clarion heard the woman’s faint reply even in the distance and reminded herself that she probably shouldn’t do that as she poured out a healthy glass of Merlot. She poured one for herself and joined Yoshi in the living room. Yoshi didn’t look up as she retrieved the glass from Clarion’s hand. Clarion smiled into her glass as she walked to the entertainment center that housed her CD changer and drank deeply from her glass. She pressed the shuffle button and then turned to her visitor. “So, are you going to ask?”

Yoshi looked back at Clarion as if she wasn’t speaking. Finally, the words registered and Yoshi broke into a small grin. “You knew that I would eventually.” Clarion shrugged and rolled her eyes playfully. “Are they real?” Yoshi practically whispered her question, only to have her musings swallowed up by the sound of a lone trumpet.

Clarion let out a light laugh and sipped from her glass. “If I tell you that they are just really good replicas will you leave it at that?”

Yoshi cocked a brow as she stared smugly at the blonde across the room. “I’ve seen a enough Monèts, Rembrants,..and I believe that’s Boucher’s ‘Love Letter; to know the real thing.” She shrugged her shoulders at Clarion’s expressionless face. “But perhaps you’re just that good and I’m underestimating your skills.” Clarion’s lithe frame rumbled with throaty laughter. Yoshi looked at her with interest. “What?”

“Nothing, I’ve just got a really good comeback for that.”

“Oh.” Yoshi felt like there was something else she should say, but she was still getting accustomed to the mind and word games that Clarion seemed fond of.

Clarion smirked sensing the woman’s discomfort. “Don’t worry Yoshi, there won’t be a quiz.”

Yoshi laughed at her own antics. “But you will avoid the question?”

Blonde brows raised. “I wasn’t aware there was a question and just for your information I tend to reveal things over dinner.” She walked past the still seated woman into the kitchen. “So, suit up, wash your hands, and then once you’ve got your hands shoved up a chicken we can talk about my artwork and other things that catch your eye.” Clarion knew that Yoshi was staring hard at the paintings. But the charcoal drawings that gave life to some of Clarion’s kindred, as well as the bookshelf loaded with Vampire lore, and the fact that nothing in Clarion’s home appeared to be from the last century, were no doubt giving the blue-eyed woman something to think about. Admittedly, she felt bad about lying, but Clarion gave a sultry wink to the dark woman seated in her living room and decided if she couldn’t talk her way out of this one, she was going to have to pull a rabbit out of her hat; so to speak.

—————

In between cracking the claws on Lobsters, searing squid, and cleaning up the saffron rice that boiled over–Yoshi made the mistake of ignoring the inkling in her stomach. She would later rationalize that it wasn’t as if she was getting major warning bells, but at the same time, all was not well and she knew it. Perhaps it had simply been too long, and enough attention had not been paid. Whatever the case, Yoshi threw good sense to the wind and ignored the fact that everything about Clarion screamed out that she knew way more about what was going on than she was saying. As they talked over their meal Yoshi allowed herself to buy the explanation that Clarion’s forays as curator at small museums in Russia, Romania, and Greece accounted for all the Vampire lore. Yoshi allowed herself to believe that Clarion was merely following the swings of pop culture. Yoshi didn’t always like to admit it, but hey Anne Rice did write a good book or two and even she couldn’t deny Mr. Stoker his talent for storytelling.

As they ate dinner and laughed about inconsequential things and Clarion’s adventures with Marianna, Yoshi would stealthily cut her eyes about the room and make mental notes of her surroundings. Later as Yoshi waited for coffee to brew she stood in front of the bookcase as she sipped on her fourth glass of wine and perused the titles openly. For a moment, she thought Clarion might have the books she got from Gregor. Yoshi could hear Clarion shuffling around in the kitchen, turning on the dishwasher and giving the counter a final wipe, as she stood at the bookcase trying to clear her mind. She turned towards the kitchen and brazenly took in the frame of the woman who had promptly shoved her out of the kitchen only moments before. Even if Yoshi no longer had a word for it, it was clear to her that this was no longer about simple protection. She was extremely attracted to Clarion, and so much so, that she was willing to ignore the obvious signs that the blonde was lying to her. Yoshi rationalized that she was just scared, and after all who wouldn’t be. For someone who studied the lore of Vampires and Hunters alike, the reticent woman was sure that it came as quite a surprise to the blonde to find that those things actually existed.
CH 8: Out of the frying pan, into the fire
The soothing falsetto of Chet Baker filtered through Clarion’s apartment as the two women sat on the floor of her living room enjoying each other’s company. Once Clarion was settled on the floor she drank deeply of her wineglass and realized that she hadn’t nearly enough wine to feel as giddy as she did. In truth, it had more to do with the glimpses of deep blue eyes she’d catch looking at her, when she was trying to steal her own looks at the dark woman at her side. The blonde smothered a giggle as she cleared her throat and rested one arm on the couch so that she could prop her head up. The women were enjoying a comfortable silence until Yoshi finally broke into self-conscious grin and leaned back on the couch. Clarion mirrored her grin and then spoke.

“Two questions?” Yoshi raised an eyebrow. “Yoshima Miakoda. That’s awfully Japanese, and well..” ,Clarion cocked her head to the side as she let her eyes openly wander over the sculpted frame of Yoshi “you don’t really strike me as Japanese.” Yoshi gave Clarion a crooked smile for a response. Clarion smiled widely in return and then sat her glass down on the nearby coffee table. Green eyes flashed with mischief as Clarion rose to her knees and scooted closer to Yoshi. Blue eyes followed the smirking blonde and grew large as she felt small hands bury themselves in her hair.

“All though,” Clarion continued as she drew up long tresses of midnight black hair into a ponytail, while smoothing the remaining portion down. Clarion bit her lip as she felt a shiver run through her forearm as her ears picked up the quickening pace of Yoshi’s heartbeat. Clarion held the ponytail in one small fist and leaned back to admire her cosmetic wonder. “If you wear your hair like this you kind of have this Shogun, Samurai thing going.” The two women shared a smile and then Clarion finally let go of her handful of hair as she found herself smoothing down non-existent tendrils of Yoshi’s hair, for no other reason than for contact. Clarion let out a nervous laugh and sat back down, picking up her wineglass, and drinking from it. Yoshi looked down into the pattern of the Oriental rug at her feet, in order to ignore Clarion’s eyes and shake loose the thought that she had indeed worn her hair like that for the first 50 years of her life. She ran a hand through her hair, instantly missing the soft pressure of Clarion’s fingers.

Finally, Clarion broke through the sexual tension with a light huff of air. Yoshi looked up and they locked eyes for a brief moment. “So, do I get a story for the name or would you like to move on to question two?”

Yoshi shrugged her shoulders in a nonchalant manner. “Well, since I can usually only do one thing at a time, I’ll answer one and then we can try another.” She hit Clarion with a little smirk, that the tall woman had probably forgotten looked extremely sexy on her.

Whether Yoshi was aware of her sex appeal or not, Clarion saw the opening and decided to up the ante just for the hell of it. She ran a pink tongue across her top teeth and grinned. “I find it hard to believe that you can only do one thing at a time. I mean, you strike me as a very precise and focused woman, one who could no doubt divide her attentions and still be completely efficient.” Clarion let a wisp of a smile cross her face before she took a sip of her wine.

Yoshi raised smooth black brows and was just about to break into some factual explanation of how she was actually joking, when she caught a glimpse of green eyes that seemed to be boring into her flesh. Yoshi shifted as she felt heat rise in her cheeks not so much in response to Clarion’s words, but the forceful pull in her stomach that had nothing to do with pain. Yoshi let out a weak laugh and drained the rest of her wine as she tousled her hair.

Clarion decided to back off as she stood up and held her hand out. Only the waning sounds of a trumpet in the background filled the room as Yoshi looked up at the proffered hand in confusion and anxiety. Clarion knew it would be rude to laugh so she just shook her head and wiggled her fingers. “Hey Samurai, let me get your glass.” Yoshi managed to raise an eyebrow at the name, but her mind couldn’t quite focus on anything she wanted to say. The blonde winked playfully and smiled down at Yoshi, which elicited a slight grin from the nervous woman as she held out the glass in relief. “I think you need something with a little kick there pahtna.'” The soft Louisiana accent did nothing to ease the rising sensations in Yoshi’s stomach. She watched Clarion glide out of the living room and mumbled to herself when she was out of ear shot, “You have no idea.”

Clarion almost dropped the tumbler in her hand as Yoshi’s words floated past her ears. She almost called out a reply, but then realized rather quickly that it would be rather hard to explain how she heard what she heard. As Clarion swirled the glass with Cointreneau, she lifted the remote and changed the CD from across the room. She watched as a dark head lifted and began to bob her head in appreciation. Clarion almost lost it when she heard a soft alto singing along with Stevie Ray Vaughn. She left her hand in the ice tray longer than necessary and then snuck a quick swig of Whiskey to calm her hormones. She finished fixing the cocktails with renewed vigor and gave her self a gruff chastising before she moved back into the living room. Okay, Clarion Giselle get it together chèr. Sure she’s drop dead gorgeous, even adorably cute and sexy when she’s nervous. And, so what, that she seems to enjoy a little Stevie Ray. Under normal circumstances, we’d be having hot monkey sex and I’d be pledging her my life, alas this is not normal. She finds out I’m a Vamp and then she’ll pull my lungs out through my nose, not to mention beating me senseless for lying and slightly using her. Clarion shook her shoulders in disgust and then stood up straight. She stole a sip of her own drink and walked back into the living feeling slightly better about herself as she thought to herself, perhaps in another lifetime this will all work out.
CH 9: Practiced Introduction
As Clarion neared the dark woman with drinks in hand, she almost didn’t want to disturb her as she was giving an impromptu air guitar concert to no one in particular. She held in a laugh as she spoke. “I’ve got a guitar in the back if you want something a little more tangible to play with.” Yoshi grimaced and let out an embarrassed laugh.

Yoshi shook dark locks of hair and shrugged. “What do you have there?” She nodded towards the glasses.

An impish smile spread across the fair face of Clarion as she knelt down on the carpet extending a hand forward. When Yoshi relieved her of one of the glasses, Clarion touched a hand to her chest before she spoke. “Now wait I have to explain this properly complete with accent.”

At that Yoshi sniffed the cocktail and cocked an eyebrow. “Please do.”

Clarion beamed. “Hoo yah!” She laid on her accent thickly much to Yoshi’s delight. “Naw dis here iz a Cajun de-light.”

Yoshi laughed. “A what?”

“Cajun, pronounced, Kay- Jè an.”

“Kay…Jè an.”

Clarion nodded. “Qui.” They both laughed out loud. “Seriously, this is called a Sazer« c cocktail, a little flavor from New Orleans.” She pronounced the name of the city as one word.

Yoshi smiled and shook her head. “Does anyone pronounce New Orleans the same way?”

Clarion settled in her spot and shook her head. “Depends on where you’re from. Yankees like to say New Orleans, heavy on the ‘leans’. French provincial pronounce it like the French city. And most people from the city itself say Naw’lins.”

“One word, huh?”

“Yup. Now are you going to drink that or keep talking?” Her tone was just a tad sharp, but the puckish gleam in her eye took all the heat out of her demand.

“Pushy aren’t we? You still didn’t tell me what’s in it.”

Clarion rolled green eyes playfully. “What do you smell?”

Yoshi let out a “ha”. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Clarion swatted her on the shoulder and smiled as the solid woman feigned pain. “If you must know, just a little Rye Whisky, sugar cubes, and some bitters.”

Yoshi smirked as she sniffed her glass again. “A little Whiskey you say.” A skeptical eyebrow reached for the sky.

Clarion smiled wickedly and held out her glass. “A toast.”

“To what?”

Clarion smiled as if she was about to say something lurid, but then she softened her features and spoke sincerely. “To saving my life…twice.”

Yoshi bowed her head in agreement. “It was my pleasure.”

Clarion grinned. “I thought it was a job?”

Yoshi glanced around the room and then settled her gaze back on Clarion. “I could have said that, but I thought you might appreciate the pleasure of it more.”

Clarion drew in a surprised breath of air. “Touchè . I knew it, that shy stuff is all an act.”

Yoshi couldn’t fight the smile that graced her lips. She glanced at the floor and then back up. “Oh my, I’m afraid you’ve found me out.” She touched a hand to her forehead. “I’m so ashamed.”

Clarion shook her head. “Nothing but a drama queen.” They shared wide smiles and touched glasses. Yoshi looked down suspiciously at her drink and grinned. “Just drink it.” Clarion ordered and sucked her teeth playfully.

“Bottoms up.”

They tossed their heads back in unison and sipped at the amber fluid. Clarion was the first to come up for air as she let out a “hoo yah!” Yoshi shook her head as the liquid burned its way down her chest. She looked into the slightly glazed eyes of Clarion and grinned. “Hoo yah indeed. Is this stuff legal?”

Clarion laughed as she took a more reserved sip and then placed her tumbler on the table. “Depends on where your from.”

Both women laughed out loud as Yoshi replied, “I figured as much.” Before another lull of silence clouded both their minds Clarion hopped up and turned up the volume on the stereo. When she sat back down Yoshi was beaming. “I was just going to ask you to do that.”

“Figured. So, are you going to tell me the origin of your name, as well as how you got into your rather interesting profession.” Clarion wiggled her eyebrows as she finished her sentence.

Yoshi let out a soft sigh as she sat back against the couch, stretching out long legs, and placing the tumbler on the floor. If Clarion hadn’t been waiting for an answer she would have lost herself in the journey up the dark denim that covered Yoshi’s legs. Yoshi caught the blondes gaze and held in her smile. “I’ll tell you about the name, but as far as the uh, profession, I’ll tell… but only if you tell me more about the paintings.”

“Ahh. I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” Clarion barely managed to keep a straight face as she spoke the words.

The tall woman picked up her drink before she taught Clarion a lesson in the art of deadpan. Yoshi took a small sip of her drink and looked straight at Clarion as she asked, “Painfully slow or quick and sweet?”

This time Clarion too felt the sweet burn of the alcohol as it traveled in haste down her throat. She let out a laugh to fight the flush that was hurrying to her cheeks. “Remind me to never fix you this drink again.”

Yoshi arched an eyebrow. “Now, I find it hard to believe that you can dish it out, but can’t take it.”

The women exchanged smiles. “Oh contraire, mon frè r. I just wasn’t expecting it.”

“You must always be prepared for the battle, in all its forms.” Yoshi looked to the balcony wistfully.

“That seems like good advice, your father give that to you?”

Blue eyes focused on green as Yoshi nodded. “Can we go outside?” Clarion smiled and they both stood. Clarion smiled inwardly as she fumbled slightly with the lock on the door and then they stepped out into the brisk fall air. Seventeen floors up gave Clarion an excellent vista of the city. A blanket of stars shone bright against the crisp midnight blue of the sky, accented by a wisp of a crescent moon. Clarion welcomed the warmth of the alcohol this time as she leaned on the railing. Yoshi leaned down on the railing, resting on her forearms as she held onto her glass and stared down into the busy city street. Clarion stood in her respective corner and gazed at the stoic woman with concern and awe. As much as she wanted to speak, she opted to let the tall woman take her time. Selfishly, she hoped that Yoshi would give her the same respect when the time came. Clarion sighed audibly as she reconciled for nearly the 100th time that the truth would eventually come out and all of this would simply be what it was: a perfect moment and nothing more.

Yoshi turned at the sound of Clarion’s breath. “I’m sorry, I’m supposed to be answering a question aren’t I?”

Clarion grimaced. “No I apologize, I think I got lost in my own thoughts there for a minute.”

Yoshi grinned and stood up to her full height and then leaned back against the railing. “What were you thinking about?” Her voice held the faintest amount of mischief in it.

Blonde brows lifted . “Honestly, um, ‘let the good times roll.'”

The corner of Yoshi’s lip curled up with a smile. “Let the good times roll?”

Clarion shrugged. “Don’t ask.”

“Sure. Anyway, uh, my name. Honestly, since we’re being honest, that’s my name…sort of.”

“Ooh, an alias.”

“I was born in Egypt.”

“Egyptian? Hmm, that explains the coloring.”

“It does?”

“Not dark enough to be Greek, all though you’ve got that olive thing going there.” Clarion cocked her head to one side as she continued her assessment. “Not fair enough to be mulatto and not orange enough to be a girl from Long Island back from vacation.”

Yoshi frowned. “Orange?”

Clarion rolled her eyes and walked towards the corner where Yoshi stood. “This chick I worked with once, I swear she was orange. She had just come back from spring break or winter vacation or something and I swear this broad was orange. And I could do nothing but think about the fact that it was painfully obvious that she hadn’t gone anywhere except to Nordstrom to go get a ‘tan in a bottle’. I mean what is that?”

Blue eyes grew bright with humor. “Adorable.”

Clarion lost her next thought as the word filled her ears loudly. “What’s adorable?”

Yoshi stood up ramrod straight and almost dropped her glass. “Did I say that out loud?”

Clarion couldn’t help but laugh at the look of surprise and confusion that played across high cheek bones and full lips. “It’s called inner monologue Yoshi. I know, because I’ve gotten into a few barroom brawls on the account that I don’t have any.”

Clarion’s easy tone relieved the stress building in Yoshi’s chest. “Barroom brawls, eh?”

Clarion shrugged. “C’mon Stretch, I’m freezing. And yes, I know it may look like I lead a charmed life, but I do have a few dark alleys and such.” Clarion linked arms with Yoshi as they turned towards the sliding door. “We’ll eat some Tiramasu, have a snifter of Cognac, and you can tell me how a little girl from Egypt wound up a Samurai.”

Yoshi let out a laugh as she was led back into the apartment. Clarion closed the screen door as Yoshi took a seat on the couch. She looked up as Clarion walked to the stereo and changed the track. “I thought we liked that?”

“Don’t worry, I missed my song that’s all. Hey if you’re really into Mr. Vaughn I’ve got loads of stuff that you’d love to hear.”

Yoshi followed Clarion with her eyes as she walked into the kitchen. “So do I really look like a Samurai?”

Laughter rang out from the kitchen. “Well you do carry that big sword.” Clarion walked into the living and sat down a huge slice of cake and two empty snifters. She walked to her bar on the other side of the room and unwittingly gave Yoshi a pleasing view as she bent over to retrieve a bottle of Cognac.

Yoshi averted blue eyes to admired the art work on the walls as she felt a pulling in her stomach that was becoming all too familiar to her in Clarion’s presence. Yoshi finally made a comment when Clarion made her way back to the couch and sat down on the other end. “You know, I could just be a Civil War re-enactor.”

Clarion looked puzzled for a moment. “They used swords in the Civil War?”

Yoshi couldn’t tell if the blonde was joking or not so she opted to only smile. “Haven’t you ever seen General Lee with his sword.”

“Ooh sorry, I was busy with other things that century.” Clarion bit her tongue as the comment came out, hoping that the sarcasm won out over her quick answer.

Yoshi only raised a brow, not that she wasn’t intrigued by Clarion’s quick comeback. “So, what were you doing that century?”

Clarion chose not to turn in the direction of the blue eyes that she could feel moving over her features. Instead, she removed the cork in the Cognac and moved the glasses within her reach. “I’ll have you know that while I don’t remember much of that lifetime, I hear it was completely exciting.” She took Yoshi’s laughter as belief in her answer.

“Were you working in a distillery because that’s a mighty old bottle of Cognac.” Yoshi reached out and drew a tapered finger down the bottle.

Clarion passed Yoshi a sweet glance and then turned back to pouring the drinks. “It was a gift from a friend. Apparently, 1827 was a good year.” She handed Yoshi a snifter and both women sat in mutual silence as they swirled the dark fluid in their glasses. Neither one privy to the others thoughts that both took them to 1827. While Yoshi was thwarting slave traders on the high seas, Clarion was increasing her art collection in a less than noble way, but equally gratifying.

Each woman was drawn from her thoughts as a familiar riff poured out from the speakers garnering their attention. Instinctively they turned towards one another and smiled.

“So what’s your real name?”

“Talon Subira.” She offered without hesitation.

Clarion contemplated the ceiling as she rolled the name around her tongue for a moment and then smiled. “Patience.”

Yoshi was sincerely impressed. “Very good. Have you studied a lot of languages?”

“Not really, I’m just chock full of useless information.”

Yoshi raised her glass. “Then how about we toast to your impending success on the game show circuit.”

Clarion beamed and raised her glass. “How’d you know? All my friends think its such a useless dream.” They tapped glasses and ingested the 173 year old alcohol accented with a slow burn that complimented the soulful wailing of a Southern white boy singing his heart out about a crack in the sky.

Clarion sat her snifter down and crossed her legs as she leaned back into the corner of the couch and looked at Yoshi with questions obviously brimming in malachite colored eyes. “So how does a Talon become a Yoshima?”

The woman in question too leaned back into the couch and rested her ankle on her knee. “Let’s just say that while I was conceived in love, my existence was detrimental to a few peoples health including my own.” Clarion took a sip of her drink in order to silence her thought of saying, “I know the feeling.” Yoshi shrugged her shoulders. “Anyhow, my mother gave me away to a childless Japanese couple and I stayed with them until they died and then I was taken in by a friend of the family. He was a very traditional man with very traditional rules.”

Clarion crinkled her nose. “I sense there’s more to that comment.”

Yoshi rolled her eyes and said with a shake of disbelief, “I don’t believe I’m telling you this.”

Clarion sat forward and patted Yoshi’s ankle. “I’m easy to talk to, what can I say. Now finish, I’m all intrigued.”

Yoshi smiled and drew her lips to a thin line. “Well, quiet as it’s kept… I’m a man.” It took every ounce of discipline Yoshi had not to burst into laughter as she watched a stream of Cognac spray onto the floor. Clarion leaned forward as Yoshi lightly pounded her back, allowing the young woman to finish her coughing fit. Wide green eyes turned towards Yoshi and the dark woman couldn’t help but laugh. She leaned back into the couch and picked up her drink as she mentally patted herself on the back for making Clarion uncomfortable. “You okay there Clarion?”

Green eyes pinpointed their jade glare at a smirking Yoshi as Clarion gathered herself and sat back. “That was cruel and unusual, you know.”

Yoshi fought a smile. “Depends on where you’re from.”

Clarion let out a light laugh and raised her glass in defeat. “Touché, pussycat. I’ll give you two points for that, but remember something, I don’t fight fair and I rarely lose.” Green and blue eyes locked in sexually charged tug of war for a moment that was only broken by a change in songs.

“Seriously though, I was raised a boy, but trust me it couldn’t be helped. It just made things easier.”

“I bet.”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“If it’s about the painting-

“No, no, I’ve given up on that….for now.” Clarion grinned. “Clearly, you seem well versed on an interesting number of things and I feel safe in assuming that growing up in Louisiana has its advantages, so I’m wondering how much of the stuff you read you believe?”

Clarion wasn’t really sure how to take the question as she glanced at the woman seated across from her. Sure she knew she could bring a spectacular evening to an end with the truth or she could just dance around it like she had been all night, and pray that her wit and Southern charm kept Yoshi just out of reach of the truth. “Are you asking me if I believed in Vampires before I met one or if I believe in all the stories that surround Vampires?” Yoshi only deepened her look into Clarion’s eyes in lieu of answering. “You’re assumptions are correct, I was exposed to a lot of things out in the Bayou. I’ve seen and even done some weird shit, stuff that is illegal in at least 45 states and three continents.” Her comment garnered a snicker from Yoshi. “I think I know a lot about you, if that’s what you’re asking. I mean, I know a lot about what you do. I know you hunt Vampires and you protect the innocents. I know Hunters have existed for, well for an awfully long time. I’m not sure about initiations or rites or even how you become a Hunter.” Clarion changed her tone as Yoshi allowed herself to be carried into her voice. She grinned as she leaned in towards the tall woman and decided to press her luck just a touch more. “I’ve heard stories that say you’re immortal, impervious to pain, and all that. But, as sure as I can see the glaze of alcohol in your eyes, I get that feeling that you’re just as human as I am.”

Clarion’s words hung between them for a small eternity and served as an invisible magnet; that was doing the job of drawing the women closer together. Yoshi let the word human echo in her head before she spoke. “Am I human?”

Clarion let the warm haze of alcohol speak for her instead of using her better judgement. She shook her head before she replied. “I don’t really care, but if you leave here tonight without me getting a taste of your lips, you’ll wish you weren’t.”

This time Yoshi let the blush come as she broke her stare with Clarion and took a sip of her drink. “I can’t refuse that can I?”

Clarion grinned ferally as she blindly sat her glass down on the table. “Not unless you wanna’ sleep with the fishes.”

Yoshi shrugged . “As long as I don’t die of want.”

The tall woman barely had time to sit her glass down before Clarion moved in a rush of motion that seemed all too fast, only to place a slow kiss on full lips. Yoshi closed her eyes to the sensations that ran freely in her stomach and nestled in her groin. She pulled the supple blonde in close and deepened their kiss, as small hands anchored themselves in her hair. Yoshi released an unabashed moan that was echoed by Clarion, as her mouth was invaded by a small wet tongue.

Clarion had only wanted a taste. She only wanted to kiss her and be done with it, but even in more than 200 years of life she still hadn’t grasped the concept that things never go as planned. She got an inkling that she was going too far as she felt strong arms wrap around her waist and began a smooth descent that ended in the feel of firm hands grasping her buttocks and pulling her in close. The alarms in her head even went off as she pressed her tongue into the warm confines of Yoshi’s mouth. But, the sirens in her mind didn’t start wailing until she raised up on her knees and straddled the quiet woman with the commanding hands.

Even if better sense told her to back off when Yoshi’s lips left hers, the subsequent feel of soft lips being pressed into the flesh of her throat made her lose all rational thought for a spell. Clarion let out a sound that was more a growl than a moan as she dug her fingers hard into dark tresses urging Yoshi’s exploration. Finally, Clarion did get Yoshi to pull away, but it was only to claim her lips once more.

As for the dark warrior beneath the softly grinding hips of Clarion, she knew she had lost this fight four nights ago in the park. She had never lied to herself and she wasn’t feeling too well about starting now. Even though she wanted nothing more than to take Clarion where they sat, she knew it would compromise everything she needed to accomplish. In truth, she wasn’t exactly sure what the hell she was trying to accomplish, but she knew it involved the woman above her, that was devouring her with sheer will alone. When Yoshi raised her own hips to meet the subtle yet vigorous pace of Clarion’s hips, the dark woman knew they had to stop. Yoshi knew what she wanted and whom she wanted, but not knowing why Clarion was being targeted was ultimately more important than rabid sex; no matter how much she wanted it. As Yoshi began to pull away from Clarion, she soothed herself with the thought that when the time was right, it would be extremely good, highly worth the wait, and it would definitely last all night long.

Clarion sat back as Yoshi began to pull back. She removed her hands from a cocoon of black hair and rested them on broad shoulders as both women caught their breath. “Don’t worry, I’ve got an oxygen tank in the back.” Yoshi let out a breathy laugh and crisp blue eyes locked with hazy green. Clarion let a small grin settle on her face as she caught the sobering look in blue eyes. She let out an almost inaudible sigh and then leaned forward so that her forehead touched Yoshi’s. Besides their strained breathing, the only sound in the apartment emanated from the speakers strategically lined throughout the apartment.

Clarion leaned back and let out a chuckle as a mournful riff tore through the room. “Ugh, right now I hate this song.”

Yoshi looked up at the woman that still straddled her hips and grinned. “That’s why they call it the Blues.”

Clarion smiled and lightly drew her index finger across the moist flesh of Yoshi’s lips. “One more, and then I have to go take a cold shower.” Clarion didn’t wait for an answer as she leaned in and took possession of Yoshi’s lips once more. If Clarion was trying to release her tension, the kiss they shared only served to create a long evening for the blonde. Clarion tugged lightly on Yoshi’s bottom lip as she finally came up for air. She watched as Yoshi slowly opened her eyes and they broke into small giggles.

Yoshi let her giggles subside before she spoke. “Can I join you in the shower?”

Clarion let out a “hoo yah!” as she shook with laughter and removed herself from Yoshi and stood up. With her hands on her hips, she glared without malice at the grinning woman. “You’re trying to kill me right?” Yoshi lowered her eyes and stuck out her bottom lip just enough to make her look as innocent as possible. At her shameless display, Clarion let out a loud groan and shook with amusement and frustration. “That’s it, get out.” She broke into a smile as Yoshi laughed and ran a hand through her hair. “Take your pie and go or I won’t be responsible for what happens.”

Yoshi stood up and smoothed out her pants. “Oh really now.”

Clarion instinctively took a step back, for fear getting too close to the woman in her living room would cause her to strip naked and attack her. “I’m full of food and a little drunk, so I may be liable to lash out at you. Besides the witching hour is upon us.”

Yoshi glanced down at her watch and watched as the minute hand settled on the one, reading 12:05. “It is late isn’t it?”

Clarion folded her arms across her chest and nodded. “And I’m keeping you.”

Yoshi visual searched for her jacket and then focused her eyes back on Clarion. “Somehow, I don’t think that work…”

Clarion held up her hands. “Don’t say it.” She turned to her side and grabbed Yoshi’s jacket from the wall hook and handed it to her. Clarion leaned on the wall next to the door as Yoshi put on her coat.

“Um, I had a good time tonight.”

“So did I.” A moment of silence passed and then they both spoke at the same time. “I’d like-

“Can we-” Yoshi shook her head. “You first.”

“I’d like to see you again.”

“Well I’m always at the store by twelve and if not you can call me.”

“I can?”

“Don’t have my number I take it.” Clarion shook her head. Yoshi dug into her coat pocket and retrieved a felt tip pen. “Hand.” Clarion held out her hand and willed away a shiver as Yoshi reached out and cupped the backside. “I know you haven’t done this since grade school probably, but bare with me.”

Clarion only laughed as Yoshi took the pen cap off with her teeth and proceeded to write her phone number down on Clarion’s palm. “Now don’t lose that.”

Clarion drew her hand into her body and smiled. “Wouldn’t dream of it.” She stepped back and opened the front door. “Hey, do I need to give you a lift somewhere?” Yoshi shook her head. “Um, okay, then I’ll give you a call or call me or come by or whatever or-”

“Clarion, stop babbling and kiss me once more.” Yoshi grinned as Clarion’s features flushed red with embarrassment. She waited until the smaller woman looked back up at her and then she leaned in. It was a less ravenous kiss compared to the others they had shared earlier, but somehow even in its soft insistence it was the most passionate and promising of all their kisses. Clarion still had her eyes closed when Yoshi finally pulled away. The tall woman smiled at the blonde and was even so bold as to trace the side of her face with her fingers before stepping back. “Think you can stay out of trouble before we see each other again?” Smoldering green eyes looked around the empty hallway in avoidance. Yoshi shook her head. “Don’t answer that. Bon nuit, Clarion.”

Clarion bowed her head as she spoke. “Oyasuminasai, Yoshi.” Clarion stood at the door and watched until the doors closed on the elevator and carried a grinning Yoshi out of her building.

Clarion closed her front door, walked to her couch, and collapsed on to it with a mind clouded by sexual tension. She sat up with a laugh as she turned up the volume on her stereo and poured herself another drink. She nodded her head in agreement the music as she lit a match and let the sweet smell of Cannabis fill her lungs and her apartment. She spoke out loud after she took a deep drag on her joint. “You are so right Jimmy, I was born under a bad sign.” Clarion closed her eyes and laughed at her own thoughts, which mostly included a certain dark haired Hunter. She raised her glass high toasting a dead mans genius and thought not of her transgressions but only of thick hair, deep blue eyes, and the warmth of a certain pair of lips.

* * *

CH 10: Into every life a little rain must fall
Yoshi had seen Clarion for two days straight and the usually unexpressive woman still wore the silliest of grins on her face, that she would immediately drop the moment Nate and Tully walked into the store. The boys would smile at each other and share inside jokes at the older woman’s expense, but Yoshi just didn’t seem to care. It was going on three in the afternoon when the two boys returned from lunch to be witness to what Nate clearly felt was a sign of the coming apocalypse.

It wasn’t as if Yoshi would have heard the bell ring on the doorway since the store shook with heavy percussion that could best be described as Latin. Nate and Tully both wore looks of complete confusion as they crept through the front store room only to come to dead stops as they stood at the entrance to the back room. Tully had all ready forgiven the normally reserved woman for the music since he surmised that it was probably Santana. He whispered to Nate, “She likes guitars, so it’s okay?” It was more a question than a statement, but Nate seemed to accept that for the moment. And it wasn’t as if they had never heard her sing before. Even though she bitched about it, she was always willing to sing Happy Birthday and other such cheesy songs when the feeling came upon her. But as the two boys stood there with their eyes wide and chins on the floor, the vision before them was beyond all explanation.

They had seen a few demons, read about the mutations of nature, and even seen their share of Vampires in the flesh, but here and now in the back store room was a complete anomaly. Spikes of blue hair seemed to rise higher as Nate watched. “It’s a pod person right?” Tully could only shake his head in reply as he watched mesmerized. Both boys agreed that Yoshima was extremely attractive in that, ‘I’ll rip your arms off and beat you to death with them if you ever touch me’ kind of way. She clearly had the attributes. She had the eyes, the smoldering look, the full lips, the hair (which when worn loose, became THE HAIR), she had the attitude, and she clearly had the body. The thing was, she never displayed it…until now.

Long legs clad in black slacks moved with precision and grace to the beat. Hips that were visibly accentuated due to the low waist of the pants and the fact that when she raised her hands above her head it lifted the hem of the short sleeve shirt. Thick black hair swung in loose curls as she swayed with the music. Neither boy had ever seen this much of her body and they both knew that if they didn’t move soon she would probably rip their eyes out of their head. Tully motioned for them to move, and both boys began to step back delicately in order to exit the room, hopefully unnoticed. In retrospect, Tully probably shouldn’t have said anything to Nate as they walked backwards, but then again even if she hadn’t heard Tully’s voice she clearly heard the tumbling of boxes. It all happened in one swift motion as Tully leaned in and whispered to Nate, “I didn’t know she knew how to Salsa.” Apparently, Nate was too busy following the swirl of Yoshi’s hips to reply or to pay attention.

Black hair whipped around and blue eyes blazed as they made contact with the still wide eyes of Nate and Tully. Tully squealed and Nate was all ready crashing into the pile of boxes behind him. Luckily, they were empty so he probably wouldn’t have a concussion, all though he would definitely fake it for his safety. A long arm snaked out with speed as Yoshi cut off the stereo and none of them moved. Tully fixed his eyes to the floor and Yoshi rested her eyes on Nate’s shoes that protruded from the pile of boxes.

A long span of silence passed in the room as Yoshi slowed her breathing and bit hard on the inside of her lip. She took deep breaths as she willed away the blood that rushed to her face and then spoke in a low alto. “Not a word.” Tully looked up, but he didn’t dare look her in the eye. “Are those boxes empty?”

At that, Tully turned towards the heap of cardboard boxes that were wearing size 8 1/2 Vans.

Tully bent over, resting his hands on his knees. “You alive in there Nate?” No movement. Yoshi sighed and crossed the floor to the pile mumbling to herself. “Great, the boys come back early, I kill Nate, and now I’m going to be late for my date.” Tully held in a smile as her words tickled his ears as he helped Yoshi toss off boxes. Finally, the ruddy cheeks of the pudgy boy were revealed and it was pretty obvious from how tightly he was closing eyes that he was still alive. Yoshi let out a huff of air, stood up to her full height, placing her hands on her hips, and scowled down at the blue headed boy. She practically growled as she spoke. “Get up Nate, you’re not dead.” Ever so slowly one pale blue eye was revealed as Nate began to open an eye. Yoshi shook her head. “One word about this and you’ll be dead.” She turned towards Tully with a snap. “You either.” Neither boy breathed until Yoshi exited the back office and made her way to the front of the store and out of the front door.

Tully helped Nate to his feet and both boys shared small smiles. Nate opened his mouth to speak and brown eyes went wide. “Don’t say it man, she can probably still hear.”

“But-

Tully covered his friends’ mouth as they walked from the back room. “Later. When we are away, out of the city, and she is playing tonsil hockey with blondie. Okay.” Nate nodded and Tully released his hand. “For now, let’s just make nice and fake like nothing happened, ya dig.”

They touched fists. “I’m there with you my brother, I’m there with you.”

__________

Thank God D.C. tended to share weather patterns with Maryland or else Yoshi would have been sorry she bolted out of the store without her jacket in the dead of December. Instead, it was a freakishly comfortable 62° and the sun was shining. Yoshi was fuming at her own embarrassment and had briskly strode down Connecticut Avenue, out of Dupont, past the church, and up the hill. If she kept walking she’d end up in the high rent district. She should have known something was about to go very wrong when she found herself standing in line at a Starbucks all too ready to give an order for some prissy concoction that she really didn’t want. At the last moment, she turned on her heels more at the urging of her hackles standing on end than the coffee, and she left. She picked up a bottled water form a vendor on the street and started walking back towards the store. By the time she was halfway there, the uneasy feeling had subsided and for a split second she was almost ready to laugh at herself. She’d just go back and tell the boys that she and Clarion had gone out dancing the other night and well, that was all they needed to know.

Six stores away from her own Yoshi stopped to guzzle some water and smile at her own behavior. She closed her eyes as she drank, seemingly soaking up the sun, and let her mind roam over the previous night’s festivities. The tall woman couldn’t even remember the last time she had gone dancing but she wasn’t about to forget last night. She had plans to take Clarion out to her house tonight and possibly let Clarion read through some of Gregor’s books just to get her take on it. Not that she expected the blonde to be able to translate the archaic language of the Aramis books, but she might be able to make some sense out of some of the artwork. Yoshi rationalized her inclusion of Clarion in her work on the fact that it was all in an effort to help the woman, and the slightly selfish action of hopefully helping herself to the young blonde as well. Yoshi opened her eyes and shook off her salacious thoughts only to have them replaced by an emotion of extreme anxiety.

She took two swift strides and passed the trees to give her a clear view of the street. Hard blue eyes began to search the street for whatever was tensing her muscles. She turned her head from side to side as she stood in place, oblivious to the people who were stepping around her. Two hundred yards away and on her right, a glint of chrome caught her eye. She took a step forward to the right and a familiar smell made its way to her nostrils: another Hunter was near-by. Yoshi dropped her bottle of water like a reflex and looked back to the left and she saw him. There was no way he saw her on the account that he was running full out down the other side of the street. She searched for runners, but it was only the sound of screeching tires that followed him. Yoshi looked back to the right and the runners she was seeking were on their way.

She took off, eating up the sidewalk with long strides that carried her to the front of her store. She threw open the door causing Tully to hop the counter and reach for the bat, which he immediately dropped seeing Yoshi’s harried expression. “Give me the tanto.” She held out her hand as she instantly decided that walking out into broad daylight brandishing a 38″ katana might not be such a good idea. A small train was formed as Nate tossed the 15″ dagger to Tully who tossed it to Yoshi. She blew out of the door in the same frenzy, leaving behind a trail of words that prompted the boys to call the police.

The warrior knew she could do nothing about the speeding car, but she could get to the runners. She knew they were wannabes even without seeing the brands on their arms or the insignias on their earrings. She caught a glimpse of the other Hunter, as she dashed across the street. It was Colin. She growled in frustration as she slid across the hood of a moving car and used the momentum to plow into a leather jacketed young man. Her shoulder slammed into his solarplexus like she was at try-outs for the Redskins. It was only through the mercy of the lack of time that she crushed his windpipe and kept moving. Unfortunately, they were prepared for her just as she was prepared for them. As her fingertips found a weak grip on the collar of one of the wannabes she found herself sailing through the air with the aid of three large bodies. She lost her grip on her tanto as her hand slammed into a trashcan. Her eyes tracked the handle as it landed in the dirt. She reached out for it ignoring the kicks and punches being directed at her body.

She regripped the handle and swung her hand backward making a swift slice through an achilles tendon. A warm spray of blood from the gaping wound egged Yoshima on with a fierce battlelust that was focused on her remaining attackers. What appeared to be erratic waving on Yoshima’s part were actually precise choreographed slashes and thrusts. In a matter of moments the only movement that could be seen in her attackers were the involuntary muscle spasms caused by lack of blood and impending death. Yoshi quickly sheathed her blade and placed it in the small of her back as she ran towards Colin. Whatever chance she had of reaching him was taken away in time spent disposing of her three attackers. Yoshi managed to make it 50 yards up the side walk when she watched Colin leap a park car into the street only to be upended by a speeding black Jeep.

At the sound of broken glass and screeching tires, the people on the street all gathered at the sidewalks to gape at the accident. Yoshi used her six-foot frame to her advantage as she plowed through the gathering crowd, all the while keeping her eye on Colin’s body as he lay still in the indentation his large frame made in the windshield. Yoshi heard a few awe filled gasps around her as Colin began to move. As Colin lifted his head he caught the blue-eyed gaze of the dark haired woman and managed to get out a nod before his chest exploded.

The crooked smile fell away from Yoshi’s face as a blast from a shotgun blew Colin back into the windshield. Yoshi stood her ground as people stumbled past her in a rush to get away from the gun fire. She could only stand and watch, as she watched three gunmen converge on Colin’s body firing rounds into his body. When the sidewalk seemed to be clear Yoshi reached behind her back to retrieve her blade, but the whirring blare of sirens stopped her motion. Yoshi watched through slitted eyes as four police cruisers came to screeching halts and the officers piled out of the cars; guns blazing. Whatever gun battle they were prepared for never came. The gunmen did as expected and turned their guns on themselves ending the showdown in the blink of an eye. Yoshi eased back into the confines of an alley as the steady whir of sirens and the even pulse of a helicopter became the only sound on the city street.

Yoshi watched as the color of the different uniforms became too much for her eyes and she simply squared her shoulders and walked across the street. It wasn’t as if a six-foot woman splattered in blood and carrying a dagger was normal, but the chaos of the moment was quite perfect for a patient getaway. Tully immediately locked the door and drew the shade behind the woman as she entered the store and headed straight for the back. Neither boy said a word as the dark woman silently changed clothes. When she re-entered the front of the store, she was wiping what blood remained, from her face. She dropped the red stained towel down on the counter and sat down in order to put her shoes on.

Both boys knew better than to question the tall woman, so they merely went back to their tasks, only deviating to turn on the tea pot and sit out a mug for the brooding woman. After twenty minutes and a mug of tea Yoshi spoke. “We need to find out what hospital Colin went to and then we need to get me in.” Tully nodded and grabbed his jacket as he walked out of the front door and joined the onlookers on the sidewalk. Nate shoved his hands in his pockets as he waited for her request. “You got your camera Nate?” She didn’t wait for a reply. “I need a list of insignias and then I need to find out who those boys belong to.”

Nate shook his head and then stopped as he reached the door. In a whisper he asked, “what are you going to do?”

Yoshi kept her eyes affixed to the waterfall in the corner as she spoke in a deep rumble. “I’m going to stay off the street and go find Clarion. Call me when you know something.”

The door closed behind Nate and Yoshi slid off the stool, grabbed her long jacket and headed out of the back door. She took to the rooftops as she headed towards the museum. This path kept her off the streets and gave her a chance to firm up her thoughts. Colin was one of three people she had ever considered friends, the other two were dead. She met Colin back in the beginning when she was still in Athens. Even though he was the second oldest Hunter he still looked like a kid, only marred by the faint scar that ran from his right eye curving out to meet the corner of his mouth in an eerie sideways smile. It had been made by the only thing that could harm any Hunter; their own sword. And she had given it to him. That was 50 years ago and that was actually the last time they had seen each other face to face. However, the age of technology had brought them together in the last couple of decades.

It wasn’t that she was unused to the presence of other Hunters in her area, but Colin’s appearance as well as the circumstances around it spoke to something far larger than missing girls. Colin’s presence meant one of two things. Either Colin had found the Daywalker or the Daywalker had been found. Either way both options led to the one man they all searched for: Goethe Alexi Stolova. At nearly 1500 years of age, he was the oldest living Vampire, the most powerful, and searching desperately for a way to become a Master Vampire. There hadn’t been a Master Vampire since 89A.D., and as far as Yoshi was concerned there would not be another.

* * *

CH 11: Who are the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood…
9:30p.m.

Clarion almost fell off her chair as Riley came barreling into her office his hands in the air, his face all aglow. “Holy shit girlie, you are so in for it!” Clarion pushed away from her chair with a frown as the excited man plopped down in a chair. He didn’t wait for her to ask as he began his rant. “I hate to be the one to say this, but I think your girlfriend just went on a murderous rampage.”

“What!?”

Riley gestured wildly with his hands as he spoke. “That’s what I said. Turn on the radio, turn on the net, turn the t.v. on, do whatever just get some news.” His high pitched orders made Clarion move with a quickness to the radio in her office. She perched on the edge of desk and listened.

“Hi, this is Mike Reader with WBAL and I say again there has been a horrendous display of violence this afternoon in the Nations capitol. So far I’ve gotten mixed reports as to what actually took place only 20 minutes ago, but all reports share a description of a pedestrian being chased, struck by a car, and then executed by three men, who consequently turned their weapons upon themselves.” Clarion shrugged her shoulders and looked at Riley with a frown. He held up his hand and raised his brow expectantly. “Reports also describe a tall dark-haired knife wielding woman who got into a scuffle with four men who are now dead. No one is sure if she was attempting to reach the man struck by the car or if these two incidents are separate or not. At present there are at least seven people dead and….”

Clarion snapped off the radio and turned to a wide eyed Riley with wide green eyes of own. She began running her hands through her hair as she stood and paced the room. “Jesus Christ Riley.” Clarion spoke in a breath. “I need a t.v.”

Riley stood up. “What for?” He frowned as he touched her shoulder. “Do you need to see if it’s her?”

Clarion turned towards Riley and almost laughed. His voice held so much concern it was odd to hear it coming from the usually cynical man. “I just need to see that’s all.” Clarion was too busy looking for her keys to notice that Riley had stopped moving. She turned towards the door and walked into wall of black. Clarion looked up into cold blue eyes and realized she never wanted to see this woman angry at her. Green eyes held fast to blue and Clarion watched in relief as warmth seemed to seep back into Yoshi’s features as Clarion laid a gentle hand on Yoshi’s chest. She didn’t take her eyes from Yoshi as she spoke to Riley. “Ri give us a minute.” She heard the sharp intake of air and spoke before he could say something that she was liable to slap him for. She gritted her teeth as she lowered her voice. “Just do it Riley. Stand outside, I swear it’s fine.” She waited a heartbeat, still not breaking her gaze with Yoshi. “Please Ri.” At the sound of him sucking his teeth, she knew he was agreeing. She didn’t have to look to the slender man to see the glare he was giving her tall visitor as he exited the room and slammed the door just for unspoken emphasis.

Yoshi spoke first. “Awfully protective.”

A wisp of smile raised Clarion’s features. “He knows I’m prone to trouble.” Clarion grinned and raised up to her tiptoes attempting to kiss the dark woman only to be denied as Yoshi stepped back. Clarion frowned and crossed her arms across her chest as she regarded the woman before her.

Yoshi pushed her hands in the pocket of jeans and shook her head. “I’m sorry, I just need a clear head right now.”

Clarion smiled fully as she leaned back onto her desk. “I cloud your mind?”

Yoshi looked up from the floor and groaned. “In a good way, I promise.”

Clarion decided to leave it at that. “Are you okay and do I get to know what happened?”

Yoshi shrugged leather clad shoulders. “I’m fine and I’m still not sure what happened.” Yoshi shook her head and smoothed out her ponytail. “Do you know what wannabes are?”

Clarion took a deep breath and nodded. “Sure, um, they’re pretty much Vampire lackeys. Modern-day Renfields. Why?”

“That’s who died today.”

Clarion creased her brow. “Who was the pedestrian?”

Yoshi looked around before answering. “A friend.” They shared a moment of silence.

“A Hunter.” It wasn’t a question. Yoshi nodded. Clarion stretched out her arms with a snap and then stood. “Okay, so does this have something to do with me?”

“I’m going to find that out.”

“Okay.” Clarion walked towards Yoshi until she stood in front of her. Clarion reached her hands out and rested them on Yoshi’s hips. “You do that and then you come see me.” Clarion stepped into Yoshi so that nothing could pass between them.

Yoshi closed her eyes at the exquisite feel of Clarion’s body pressed into her. For the briefest moment she thought of scooping the woman up in her arms and fleeing the continent. Yoshi leaned down so that their foreheads touched and then she wrapped her arms around the small blonde and pulled her into an embrace. A perfect fit. The thought came without prompting to the dark warrior and it warmed her insides with its truth. She pulled away as she felt like she was losing control and stepped back, but not releasing Clarion fully. “I’m going to take you home and then I want you to stay put, okay.”

Clarion smiled. “Awfully protective.”

Yoshi gave her a lopsided grin. “Hey I’m not the beacon.”

Clarion giggled and leaned in to give Yoshi a small hug. She nuzzled the woman’s chest and pulled away stepping out of her arms. “Damn you smell great.” Clarion frowned and shook her head.

Yoshi raised a brow and tugged at her the material of her turtleneck. “I do?”

Clarion waved a hand through the air, not yet aware of the possible impact of her comment. “Whatever. Look, you go take care of your business and Riley will take me home.” Yoshi looked over her shoulder and saw two beady hazel eyes boring into her frame. She grimaced and turned back to Clarion. “He’s harmless, but he may try to claw your eyes out.” The two shared a faint giggle.

“I don’t know Clarion, I’d feel-

She cut her off. “And I’d feel better if you go check on your ‘friend’.” Clarion gave Yoshi a hard look accented by raised brows.

“Okay, point taken, but I’ll be by to see you later.”

Clarion smiled widely. “I’m planning on it. Now go before he breaks down the door.” Yoshi turned towards the door, stopped, and held up a finger. Clarion grinned as she met the woman at the door and craned her neck up to receive a mind-bending kiss from the tall woman. Clarion barely heard the words “see you later” as she rocked back on her heels in a flustered haze of arousal. Whatever dirty thought she was about to contemplate was completely shattered as Riley burst back into the room complete with slamming the door. Clarion avoided his puffed out cheeks and glaring expression as she walked around her desk and sat down. “We’re not talking about it.” She didn’t look up as she began opening her desk drawers and shuffling papers.

A click of the tongue. “And why not?”

Clarion looked up from her search as she gave Riley a look that made the man take a seat. “Because– it’s long, complicated, and I’m not sure how to explain it.” She returned to her search.

Riley sucked his teeth like a spoiled child and rolled his eyes. He then reached into the side pocket of his jacket and pulled out a chrome cigarette case, tossing it to Clarion. She snatched it out of the air. “Are you going to tell me this is a case of mistaken identity or something?”

Clarion looked up from the cigarette she was tapping on the case and smirked. “Ri have I ever lied to you?” It was a welcome change to hear his laugh even if it was indignant. Clarion nodded and lit two cigarettes handing one to a slightly less angry Riley. “Well see, I’m willing to tell the truth here, but it’s so convoluted at this point I’m confused.”

He didn’t say anything for a moment as they both pulled on their cigarettes. He watched the tension release from his friends’ face as he leaned forward on the desk. “You in trouble Claire?” He watched as she raked a hand through her straight hair and blew out a funnel of smoke. “Am I to assume she’s helping you?”

Clarion sighed. “Sort of. I mean, yes she is. Ugh! It’s just complicated, but for all intense purposes yes, she is helping me.” She turned sweet green eyes on Riley and batted her lashes.

“What?” His voice held a playful whine of expectation.

She spoke in a mock-whimper. “Will you walk me home?”

Riley smiled at her playful gesture. “As long as you kiss me good night.” Clarion smiled. “And by the way, I don’t do tongue on the first date.” Laughter filled Clarion’s office, as the two friends sat, smoked, and talked of other things.

– – – – – – – – –

Clarion’s phone rang four times before she picked it up, clearly out of breath. Yoshi smiled in relief as she sat atop the hospital building with her legs dangling over the side.

“Speak.”

“Just checking.”

Clarion smiled and ran a towel over her damp hair. “I was in the shower.”

“Got a hot date or something?”

“Oh yeah, tall, dark, and absolutely delicious.”

Yoshi felt the shiver run up her spine as she listened to Clarion lick her lips. “You’re a tease.”

Clarion let out a laugh. “Do your work and I’ll give you a new appreciation of that word.”

Yoshi shook her head as a familiar pulling began in her stomach. “You’re going to be the death of me.”

“Well you do know what it means to ‘die’ right?”

“It means something other than die?” A light chuckle crackled through the phone.

“Well Samurai you better figure that out cause that’s the password to get in.”

Yoshi groaned. “A little help?”

Clarion let out a light chuckle and then drew in a small breath before she spoke. “Heavy heart’s lead, melt at mine eyes’ red fire, So shall I die by drops of hot desire.” Clarion heard the woman on the other end take a deep breath and then she hung up.

—-

Yoshi let out a groan of frustration as she stood and walked towards the steps. “You boys better be ready.” she mumbled into the wind. After a change into hospital scrubs Yoshima walked into the two policemen guarded room, belonging to Colin. He waited until she sat down on the bed to open his eyes.

“Top of the evenin’ to ya Yosh.” A thick Irish accent gave his words a melodic quality. “I’d shake your hand, but I’m afraid I’ll damage the wires.”

Yoshi grinned. “I think I can live without your touch for one night, you ass.”

The sandy haired man smiled. “Love your outfit.”

She glanced down at the sea green uniform and shrugged. “It’s not my color, but you know I’m a slave to fashion.” He winced as he attempted to laugh. Yoshi shook her head and patted his shoulder. “Take it easy you fool, you need to heal first.”

“Isn’t that what you’re here for?”

“Well yes, but it comes at a price.”

Colin grinned. “Get to work you shit and I’ll start spilling the beans.”

Yoshi rubbed her hands together just for the sake of doing it as she stood from the bed and began placing her palms on Colin’s feet and working her way up. She closed her eyes to concentrate, but that would not keep her from hearing his story.

Colin closed his eyes as he felt the warm tingles of healing spread through his body. “Did you get the books from Gregor?” Yoshi grunted in reply. “Any luck in translating?”

“Nothing more than what we all ready have. The translations not the problem it’s what it means.”

“I’ll agree there, but I do have a piece of the pie that’s makes everything make sense.” Yoshi opened her eyes and glanced at the man. “Just keep those hands moving.” Yoshi grinned. “Apparently the blood suckers have a few things they’ve managed to keep hidden, but me and Aswan got them.”

“It’s a scroll that’s older than the Aramis books, but it’s gotten lost in a few translations and for good reason. We’ve always known Daywalkers were useful especially in the early stages, but apparently every now and then one special one comes along.”

“How special?” Yoshi laid her hands on Colin’s chest and watched him smile in relaxation.

“The Daywalker can kill the Master.”

“I kind of figured that part out.”

“Well ya smart ass, didja know that the Vamp in question needs the Daywalker to ascend?”

Yoshi creased her brow and stilled her hands for a moment. “No I didn’t.”

“But the cherry on top, is that the Daywalker can replenish the council.”

Yoshi stopped and stepped back. Ice blue eyes bored into dark brown. “Are you sure?”

Colin nodded. “Of all the things I’m sure of that’s it. Don’t ask me how it’s to be done, but the Daywalker can do it. I know you’ve always thought the Daywalker was something special enough to warrant our study, and clearly you were dead on.”

“But I don’t understand, how? What’s supposed to happen to her?” Wide brown eyes tried to connect with frantic blue. Yoshi walked to the other side of the room and looked out of the window.

“Something you not telling me Yosh?” Colin raised his head as he regarded the woman on the window sill.”

“Does the scroll describe the Daywalker?” Her voice was quiet with apprehension at his answer.

“No. That still doesn’t answer my question, what do you know?”

Yoshi groaned and then took a seat next to the bed. “For the past three months Vamps in this area have been targeting blonde hair green eyed girls.”

“And?”

“And…and,” Yoshi shrugged and then spoke in a blur. “I’m kind of dating a blonde hair green eyed girl.” Colin disregarded the pain as he laughed out loud. Yoshi stared at her hands in shame.

“You’re dating?”

” I know, I know. My job is to protect not to get involved I –

“You’re dating!”

Yoshi snapped her head up and looked at her smirking friend. “What?”

“Yoshi when’s the last time you had a date?”

Dark hair spilled over the chair as she leaned back and moaned. “Not you too.”

“Hey you can’t blame me. I’m just surprised that’s all. I mean after-

She held up a hand and frowned. “Don’t say that name.”

“Wasn’t planning on it. But whatever, you found the Daywalker?”

Yoshi pushed away from the bed and cradled her head in her hands. “I hope not, oh for the love of Izanami, I hope not.” She looked up from her hands and sighed. “Assuming, and just assuming, I have found the Daywalker what do I do with her?”

Colin shrugged . “Well I know law states you to kill her where she stands, but in this case I think you might want to hold off until we can figure out the ritual or what have you.”

“Oh man. Do we kill her, do we hand her over, sacrifice her, or what? What does the scroll say?”

Colin let out a huff of hair. “It says, and I quote, ‘the Hunter is unto the Daywalker as the Daywalker is unto the Hunter. Balance must reign in the houses of East and West for there to be life.’ Then it goes into shit about planet alignments, zephyrs, tsunamis, and all this crazy phenomenon. There’s some more stuff about purity, truth, virtue, faith and it goes on. The last line repeats the Hunter unto the Daywalker stuff.”

Yoshi threw up her hands in frustration. “What the hell does that mean? Do I kill her, does she kill me, we kill each other? Balance, what the…ahh!”

“I’ve got no clue, but you need to calm yourself or one of us is going to have a heart attack.” He waited until her breathing evened. “Now are you going to tell me the whole story.”

“Last week I saved a woman. A green eyed blonde haired woman who was being chased through the park near St. Francis. She’s been attacked at least five times in the last three months, but she manages to escape.” As Yoshi began to speak, her tale became less of an information session for Colin and more of a reality check for herself. “Um, she knows about Hunters, she knows about Vampires. Her book cases are filled with books on folklore from all over the world. Rare books, old books, you name it, she’s got it. Nothing in her apartment was made in the last century. She’s got a 67′ Stingray that looked like it just came off the show room floor.” Suddenly Yoshi stood and began to pace about the room. It was clear she was no longer really talking to Colin, but he listened none the less. “All though she does work in a museum which could account for the antiques. She was born in New Orleans, which accounts for, well a lot of stuff, and she has a family that’s still alive. She could have had the car restored.” Yoshi stopped and stared out of the window again.

“So how do you explain her escapes?”

Yoshi snapped her head around and sat down on the sill. “I mean she’s definitely smart and she’s clever.”

“Is she that strong?”

“Huh?”

“Is she strong Yoshima? I don’t care how clever or smart you are a Vamp is a Vamp and all the luck in the world won’t help you outrun a Vamp or fight one off. You saying she’s that good?”

Yoshi shook her head as Colin’s words swirled in her head. “I’ve never seen her fight.” Yoshi contemplated the ceiling and then looked back at Colin as he sat up half way and let out a laugh.

“Buggar, she is clever. She’s using you chappy.” Blue eyes filled with a crisp anger. “No offense, but she is. Think about it. Does she know about all this Master stuff.” Yoshi shook her head. “You sure?” She shook her head again and focused her hard glare at Colin’s chest. “Well there you go. You’re keeping her alive. She’s making kissyface with you until she can find out what’s going on and then she’s going to bolt. Wee clever girl she is, she’s got your number.”

Colin flinched as Yoshi stood with a growl and punched the wall. “There’s an explanation.”

Colin couldn’t help but let out a disbelieving laughing. “You think all this is coincidence don’t you?” He looked at her in confusion.

“She wouldn’t do that to me.” Yoshi spoke more to herself than Colin.

Colin shook his head as he watched his oldest friend struggle with her emotions and the truth. “When did you lose your faith Yoshima?”

Yoshi turned somber blue eyes on Colin and stopped her pacing at the foot of his bed and leaned down on her arms. She looked him in the eye as she spoke. “I don’t think I ever had any.” She bowed her head and sighed.

Colin shook his head. “After all this time and you still blame your self for something you had no control over. Her death was not your fault.”

Yoshi shook the bed with force. “I watched her die Colin!” Yoshi immediately stepped towards the wall as she mentally chided herself for yelling. A minute passed with no inquiry from the officers and she moved closer to the bed and continued in a gruff whisper. “I could have stopped it.”

“You’re full of shit Yoshima. She chose and it was her job, you would have done the same. It was what had to be done.”

Yoshi shook her head in disgust and hurt as she sat back down in the chair. “So you’re saying that I’m supposed to accept all this on faith? Faith in who Colin? In what?” Yoshi quieted and sat back in her chair.

Colin sighed and regarded his friend with sad eyes. “I can’t tell you in who or what, but you must have faith Yoshi or you won’t make it. Hell, none of us will. If you can’t find the faith to believe in something larger than yourself, than lay down your sword now and wait for the rest of us on the other side.”

“Don’t I believe in something larger than myself all ready? If I didn’t, than why do I do this? For what? For whom? I don’t have a fan club or a hotline. I live alone in the middle of nowhere with no pets. I go to work everyday to make sure those boys stay out of trouble. And every night I strap on my blade and I go out and protect people that are sometimes more animal than things that hunt them for food and sport. If I didn’t believe Colin than why do I do it? Why am I here?”

“Then stop.”

Yoshi raised her brow in incredulity. “I can’t.”

“Why not?”

The red faced woman leaned in to the bed. “Because I have to.”

Colin could have left it there, but he pushed again. “Why?”

Yoshi rolled her eyes and punched the bed. “Because it’s my duty.” Colin allowed her to glare at him until his words finally seeped into her own skull. Yoshi knew Colin was right. She hadn’t believed in anything for so long it was a wonder she still did any of this and it was a wonder she hadn’t fallen on her own blade out of nihilism. She leaned over in her seat and cupped her face in her hands. Her body shook with quiet convulsions.

Colin gave her moment before he spoke. “Do you care about her?” A tear streaked face looked up at him and she nodded. “Then just ask her. If it’s not her great. If it is…then I don’t know, but find out.” Yoshi wiped her face on her sleeve and nodded as she began to mentally pull herself together. “Hey, look at this way, if I was a Vamp trying to stay alive, I’d go to the one person I’d know that’d keep me alive.”

Yoshi released a strangled laugh. “Technically, if it’s her I should kill her.”

“The best place to hide is in plain sight and right under your nose.”

A moment of silence passed between the two and finally Yoshi stood up. “I need to head out.”

“Going to find out?”

Yoshi shrugged. “Have to at some point.”

Colin grinned. “It’s not that you have to Yoshi, you need to. I know you won’t admit it, but you need to know, this isn’t about obligations.” Yoshi did her best to ignore his comment as she walked towards the window and opened it as wide as it would go. “Hey look if you don’t want to ask her, in a week the moon will nearly be full, she’ll be out. According to the cycle it’s been six months she needs to feed soon, so she’ll be out an’ about. Just go and tap on the shoulder.”

Yoshi visibly bristled at the image of Clarion feeding and then as she stepped one leg on the ledge she looked back at Colin. “Question. How do I smell?”

Colin had to stifle his chuckle for fear it would be too loud. “If you must know you stink Yosh.”

The dark woman drew her brows together. “Not good huh?”

Colin snorted. “I mean unless you like blood and guts.”

“What?”

Colin raised his eyebrows. “You smell like you’ve been in a fight, lass.” He sat up with concern as Yoshi swayed in the window and then steadied herself. That was one piece of evidence she knew she couldn’t deny. “A little faith Yoshima and we’ll figure this out.” She turned away and disappeared out of the window, but not before she mumbled a “yeah right” loud enough for Colin to hear.
CH 12: In case of emergency: put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.
9:35p.m.

Clarion padded to the kitchen barefoot as she went to get a glass of water. She stood at the kitchen and danced as the sounds of Parliament filled her apartment. She reached under her counter and retrieved a few more candles to add to the twenty or so that she had all ready placed throughout the apartment. Clarion walked through her kitchen into the dining room and pulled the curtains on her window. She smiled briefly as she admired her view. She loved the corner apartment and she loved this city. Sure it wasn’t home, but it had become the closest thing to it in years. She had friends she could rely on and a job with a stress factor of -3, and that was with Marianna on a rampage. She had to admit things were good even if she was being hunted down by her own kind and opening her heart to a woman that despised her kind.

Clarion laughed out loud as she thought on the irony of her situation and then she dropped her glass to the floor. Clarion knew she had only spoken to Yoshi 15 minutes earlier so there was no way the woman was on her way here. Which meant there was no way she was going to come and take care of the ten shadowy figures standing in her living room. Clarion took a deep breath and stepped around the glass. Two of the leather coated figures stepped forward and she held up her hands and smiled.

“There’s not going to be some big brawl here guys. Just let me put on some shoes and a sweater and then we can leave.” She tried to find the eyes of the most sensible one and caught her attention. Clarion cocked her head to the side as she realized it was the girl from the alley earlier in the week. She smirked. “That’s not going to be a problem is it?” She locked eyes with the girl. She nodded in agreement. Clarion pointed to her own neck. “Still hurt?” Clarion drew her arms into her body for protection as she got growls in response. When no blow came she looked up to the grinning face of the girl. Clarion shrugged and swiftly walked to her room.

She came back out wearing sneakers and an LSU sweatshirt. She was met by two towering men who gripped her rather gently about the arms. She settled into their grips as if they were escorting her to a ball and winked at the girl. “I probably can’t get you guys to trash my place can I?” The subsequent chuckles she received gave her just enough leeway to act.

Clarion used the arms of her captors like parallel bars as she swung herself up and flipped over. Two punches deftly powered into the base of their spines dropped them to the floor. She dashed through kitchen, picked up a dining room chair and threw it so that it shattered the window before she went crashing through it. Her apparent attempt at an escape from the 17th floor startled the Vampires in her apartment enough to stop their pursuit for the briefest moment. While they were pondering if she plummeted to her death, Clarion was busy breaking the sliding glass door of the apartment beneath her. She ran through the apartment without incident, out of the front door and down the stairwell. Clarion barely had time to take in the fresh night air before a clothesline her chest knocked her back three feet. She welcomed unconsciousness with the thought that at least her apartment was now thrashed. Perhaps Yoshi would find her before it was too late.

– – – – —

Waking up in silk sheets brought a smile to Clarion’s face as she instinctively reached out for Yoshi and then realized she hadn’t gone to bed with her. In reality, she hadn’t even gone to bed. Clarion sat up quickly and opened her eyes. She left the dark of unconsciousness and entered the dark of the room. She squinted until she managed to fix on a dim crack of light at the far side of the room. Clarion took her time getting out of the bed, stepping gingerly testing her wooziness. She stood up and was relieved to find that while her shoes had been removed, she was still clothed. She pushed up the sleeves on her sweatshirt and ran a hand through her hair as she took a step towards the source of the light. After two small steps she stopped in her tracks as she picked up the faint sound of breathing.

With a quickness, Clarion’s head turned in the direction of the noise and stood stock still. “I’ll turn on the lights if you’d like.” It was a man’s voice. Firm, quiet, and dignified with an accent that Clarion could only describe as a mix between European upperclass and Russian. At the sound of his voice Clarion’s body bristled with a feeling ofcoldness. When her mind filled with the sound of his voice asking her to take a seat, she had the distinct sinking feeling that she might not get out of this in one piece. Clarion found the edge of the bed and sat down just as a small table lamp illuminated the room in a pale yellow.

Clarion flinched as the light invaded her eyes. She opened them fully and noticed that aside from the foreboding vibes she was getting from the man seated across from her she could have been in room at the Regency-Hyatt. She gave her full attention to the man seated across from her and she got the sudden urge to grin; which she did. She creased her brow as she took in his dark three piece suit complete with diamond cuff links and a matching tie pin. His long silver-grey hair betrayed his youthful face. It was tied off at the base of his neck and the ponytail hung freely over his left shoulder. He sat with his leg crossed in a leather wing-backed chair. His cheeks were high, his face pale and devoid of hair except for thin black brows, thin lips, and a slim nose. His eyes matched the color of his hair. Thin lips curved into a grin of his own as he watched the young blonde warily eye his visage.

Finally, Clarion leaned back on her arms and crossed her own legs as she spoke. “Aramni, no?” She was referring to his suit. He slowly nodded in affirmation. “Looks good on you, all though for some reason I think you need a smoking jacket.”

“I’ll wear that next time.”

She was silent for a moment. “I know you don’t I? Or at least I should.”

The man snorted as he rested his elbows on the arms of the chair and steepled his fingers. “The first and last time I saw you, I do believe you were stealing the heart of Barron Velassie…as well as other things.” He raised a knowing brow towards the blonde.

Clarion wore a smug grin as she nodded. “What can I say, 1827 was a very good year.” She shrugged .

“Do you realize you’re the one?”

Clarion looked around the room quizzically and replied, “I’m going to destroy the Matrix?”

Silver-grey eyes bored into green for a moment as the man let her comment settle. He smiled wider revealing sparkling white teeth and the very top of his fangs. “Xander said you were a smart-ass, I’m pleased to see that you haven’t lost that.”

Clarion gave the man a lopsided grin and sucked her teeth. “Why should I make it any easier for you?”

“It’s understandable since you don’t have a choice.” He spoke dryly.

Clarion released a snort of laughter. “It’d be nice to know exactly what matter I don’t have a choice in.”

“You’ve really no clue?”

Clarion sighed and kept herself from rolling her eyes. “Do you want another smart ass answer or can I save my best material for later?”

“No need for attitude. Perhaps this will help, my name is Goethe Alexi Stolova”

Clarion bit her hard on her lip to keep from reacting in the manner in which she wanted, which was to run screaming from the room. She swallowed a small lump in her throat and spoke evenly. “I take it you figured out a way to become a Master, and I figure into that don’t?”

“My dear Clarion, you are the key.”

Clarion lightly chuckled. “My maman always said I thought the world revolved around me. Go figure.” This time Clarion rolled her eyes and sighed. “So, tell me, is this going to be quick and painless or long and horrible?” He had a girlish giggle that not only struck Clarion as extremely odd, but it also made her queasy.

“Quick, I’m afraid not. Painful…for you, I think not. Perhaps, it might even feel good.” He showed his fangs fully as a smile spread across his face.

“Ha. Nothing like a good decapitation and a stake through the heart to get me going in the morning.” This time she bristled at his laugh.

“There will be no such thing I promise.” Suddenly he stood, and Clarion sat back on the bed in apprehension as she took in his frame. He was a whole head taller than Yoshi and he had clearly spent the last 1400 years or so keeping in shape. “Wait here, and someone will come and show you to your bath.”

“Do I smell?”

“Cleanliness is next godliness.” Clarion opened her mouth to rattle off the Smashing Pumpkins lyric as a comeback, but she thought better of it, and only said okay. He raised an eyebrow at her and smirked. “Someone will bring your dinner after that.”

“What no tour of the palace.”

“I’m afraid I am the extent of your fan base.”

Clarion nodded in understanding. “Ahh, can’t win ‘em all.” She winked at the tall man and watched him walk from the room shaking his head.

After she heard the door lock Clarion collapsed back onto the bed and muffled a scream in a pillow. Once she felt purged she tossed the pillow and propped herself up on her elbows as she took in the room. She figured she was in a basement or underground, due to the coldness of the room and the lack of windows. She took a few minutes to assess her situation and then ran a hand through her hair as she sat up straight bolstered by a small bit of confidence. “Okay Larieux, take your bath, have a meal, and then get the fuck out of here.” She looked around the room for a weapon of sorts and stopped at the end table. “Or die trying.”

———

11:00p.m.

Yoshi had taken an extreme amount of time getting to Clarion’s apartment. It had been an entire half and hour since she’d left the hospital, her mind in a cloud of doubt and confusion. She would later realize that mixed up in all that doubt and confusion was a feeling of emptiness. She just didn’t know what she was missing until she made it up seventeen flights of stairs and stood in front of Clarion’s door.

The door was ajar and the apartment was mostly dark. Yoshi, sensing no danger opened the door and closed it softly behind her. The light over the stove was illumination enough. Blue eyes went to the broken glass on the kitchen floor and then she turned back to the left to take in fully what she had seen out of the corner of her eye. The sliding door was wide open, curtains billowing in the cool night air. The coffee table was halved and the couch was on its side. Yoshi walked into the kitchen and bent down to pick up the broken glass. She stopped in mid crouch as she looked up. Whatever thread of sanity she had left snapped as she took in the smashed window. She stood quickly and bounded through the dining room, stopping at the edge of the window. A small glint of hope filled her insides as she saw the balcony directly beneath the window.

Yoshi turned on her heels and headed back through the apartment in search mode. Maybe she got out. Yoshi stood in front of the bookcase and began pulling out books and thumbing through every one. Perhaps she could find an explanation for her fears. She gave up after she finished off 3 of the five rows and drew up her hair in frustration. She looked around the room with her hands on hips. “What are you trying to find Yoshi? Maybe Colin’s right and she left the city. Or maybe they’ve taken her. Or maybe she’s dead?” She didn’t voice her next thought out loud. At least that way I’ll know she wasn’t a… Yoshi couldn’t even bring herself to finish her thought. She jolted out of her morbid mood with a snap of her fingers and walked through an archway, down a short hallway and entered Clarion’s bedroom. She slapped the light on and couldn’t help but crack a smile.

There on the mirror was a short message written in lipstick. “How cleishe is this? J Sorry I had to break our date, but something came up. If all goes well, I should be at St. Francis by dawn. Smooches.” Yoshi sat down on the queen-sized bed and dropped her head into her hands. “And what does that mean if you are at St. Francis in the morning?” Yoshi shook her head in frustration as she let her hair loose and shrugged out of her jacket and collapsed on the bed. She slammed the pillow over head in effort to not only take in Clarion’s sweet scent but to try and muffle the echoes of Colin’s words in her head: ‘She needs to feed soon’, ‘is she that strong?’, ‘she’s using you’, ‘believe in something larger than yourself’. Sleep would not come quickly for the dark warrior this night.

* * *

CH 13: A priest, a rabbi, and a reverend are sitting in a boat in the middle of a lake…..
It was going on ten in the morning when Yoshi finally awoke with a jolt in Clarion’s bed. For a moment, she forgot where she was and why, but upon seeing the lipstick on the mirror she remembered. Her head pounded as if she had gone on a drinking rampage the night before, but she knew she wasn’t that lucky. The tall woman slugglishy dragged herself from the bed and busied herself by cleaning the apartment. She left an hour and half later still in a haze of confusion, but she knew eventually she was going to have to go to the church. She had hoped she could just wait Clarion out, but the nagging feeling in her gut and the pounding in her head told her otherwise. She didn’t bother calling the boys as she made her way to her home to get a change of clothes.

Light stretching and a steamy shower seemed to put some life back into the tall woman, who finally picked up the phone and called the store. Tully answered.

“The Orchid, Tully speaking, can I help you?”

“It’s me.” Her voice sounded like glass being dragged over gravel.

Tully flinched. “You went out drinking?”

“I wish. How’s everything there?”

“Cool, Colin called and Nate’s got something you need to see for yourself.”

The woman sighed. “Let me guess, the wannabes belonged to Goethe Stolova.”

“One step ahead as always.”

“Not really, just lucky.”

“Huh?”

“Uh, nothing.” She sighed. “Look, if Colin calls back, tell him I’ve got some stuff to take care of.”

“Anything else?” Tully listened to the woman breathe for a moment. He sensed she had more to say, but he wasn’t about to pry.

“Um..yeah..” She drew in a breath. “Um, Cla-Clarion hasn’t come by has she?”

“No, but some dude named Riley came in looking for you.”

“Yeah.” Her voice picked up . “Hey, if he comes back give him my cell number. Better yet, tell Nate to get his number and call him.”

“Will do, uh you need anything else.”

“Just water my plants and no wild parties, I’ll try to check in soon.”

Yoshi let the towel drop from her waist as she walked to her bedroom and sifted through her dark wardrobe for something to wear. Yoshima Miakoda had been raised to be a shadow. She learned how to move like one, fight like, live like one, and of all the things she enjoyed over the centuries was her ability to dress like one. The phrase permanent midnight came to mind as the statuesque woman stepped out into the afternoon sun ready for anything. She removed her black trench coat as she waited for her garage door to open. The raising of the door revealed booted black feet, black denim– that left nothing to the imagination about the power that rested in her legs, and a tight-fitting long-sleeved mock turtle neck that creased nicely into the sections of her muscles when she flexed. Dark hair pooled out around her shoulders and black glasses took away the only color on her person. Yoshi automatically popped the trunk on her black 73′ Camaro and dropped her jacket and two scabbards inside the trunk. She made sure the lock was secure and then brought the engine to life.

———–

Yoshi stuck her dagger in the small of her back before she swung on her coat and ascended the steps of the church. She took a deep breath and then pulled on the brass handle of the door. As she expected at nearly one in the afternoon on a weekday, the church was veritably empty. Yoshi crossed the vestibule and wondered when was the last time she had been in a Cathedral. Apparently, the memory was too far gone for her to remember, so she merely quieted her thoughts as she walked down the center aisle. She felt a grin tug at her lips as the incense made its presence known in her nostrils, reminding her of her father for the briefest of moments. Out of respect Yoshi genuflected as she passed the alter making her way to the confessional booth.

She stepped inside and immediately the small slide was pushed back from the screen that separated her from the priest. Yoshi spoke first. “Forgive me father for I have sinned. It’s has been three centuries since my last confession.” Yoshi heard no movement beside her and then just as quickly the door opened. The priest that greeted her wore a slight look of expectation which instantly dropped to a look of disappointment as he took in Yoshi’s form.

The small man looked Yoshi up and down and then spoke. “Hunter?” Yoshi stood and the small man stepped aside and let her walk out of the booth. He grimaced and then turned around and begin walking. Yoshi followed the priest down the aisle and through a hallway into the rectory. He waited for her to enter and then closed the double doors behind her. He stood in front of the door with his hands in front of him, right hand clasping his left wrist. He wore a long black robe that touched the tips of his shoes and cinched in at the waist . His collar was visible, but he wore no cross around his neck as Yoshi expected. They eyed each other for a moment as Yoshi finally took a seat in a chair.

He was a small man, only about 5’1″ and he appeared to be of Hispanic descent. He combed his dark hair back and there was only the faintest hint of his hair line receding. Finally, after a minute or two of silence he moved from the door and stood across from Yoshi, out of her reach. “The great Yoshima Miakoda, to what do I owe this visit?” Yoshi sat up a little straighter and arched a brow at the middle-aged priest. He smirked. “It is my job to know who the Hunters are.”

“So you can alert them.” Slight annoyance swirled around her words.

“So I can give them a chance.”

Yoshi nodded at the verbal blow. “Are you going to give me a chance Father?”

He let out a chuckle. “Why should I?”

“I didn’t think you were supposed to discriminate Father?”

“I don’t..but you do.”

Yoshi again bowed her head to the verbal assault. “I came to you for help Father, not to ask for your betrayal.”

He raised a brow. “I’m intrigued now.” With that he sat down. “By the way, it’s Father Munez.”

Yoshi bowed in her seat. “Father Munez, I’m looking for a mutual friend.”

“Forgive my sarcasm, but I find it hard to believe we have the same friends.”

“Perhaps not, but in this case, we may.” He gestured for her to continue with a nod of his head. “Do you know where Clarion is?”

The priest didn’t skip a beat in making his reply. “I don’t think I know a Clarion.”

Yoshi let out huff of air and arched her brow as she looked at the confident priest. There was no look that was going to convince this man of her sincerity, so she compromised. “Fine, Father. I’m looking for a ‘friend’ that’s in trouble and I think you might be able to help find that ‘friend.'”

“What if I haven’t seen the friend in question?”

Yoshi leaned forward resting her elbows on her knees, feeling just a tad more confident. “Perhaps, you know how I can locate my friend.”

“Wouldn’t that possibly compromise others?”

“If she’s…if my friend is where I think, than I promise that the end justifies the means.”

“I’m sure it does.”

Father Munez shifted in his seat as he watched emotions play over the face of the Hunter. “What if you’re friend is safe?”

“Then I’d like to know.” Her voice was filled with more urgency than she intended.

Father Munez grinned . “Why does it matter?”

Yoshi grumbled as she sat back in her chair. “It matters because I have to know. It’s my job.”

The priest let out a knowing “aha” as he stood and wandered towards a bank of candles that stood in the corner. He appeared to be contemplating the candles for a moment and then he turned back towards the dark woman who was obviously waiting for an answer. He regarded her for a moment as he crossed his hands behind his back and moved closer. He could see the vein pulsing in her neck. She was almost scared and they both knew it. He licked his lips before speaking. “So, it is the great Yoshima’s job to find her friend.” He smirked and walked around her stopping when he stood behind her. He leaned down towards her ear and spoke in a whisper. “Why don’t you just quit or you’re going to cause the death of lots of people for no good reason.”

Yoshi turned around in a flash of motion, grabbing the priest by the collar as she stood up and hoisted him up as well. He grabbed on to her hands and stared her dead in the eye without a drop of fear in his eyes. She dropped him and stepped back, unsure of whether she should be ashamed in her action or just humbled. Father Munez smoothed out his robe and sat down. He held out his hand and gestured towards a seat next to him. “Sit Yoshima.” The tall woman clenched and unclenched her fists as she slowed her breathing and then took the seat offered. “I don’t mean to offend you Hunter, but you’re heart does not appear to be in this, and well saving a friend takes a lot more than simple obligation.” He caught her eyes and held them as he spoke. “You don’t walk into the recesses of Hell because you’re obligated. You don’t win wars out of duty. You don’t triumph because it’s your job. You survive because you need to. The need is like air. You are victorious because you fight with every ounce of your being. You prevail because you have heart and you believe in the greater good. And most of all, you are willing to leave a piece of yourself on the battlefield not out of a debt to God and country, but because you believe in God and country.” He sat back in his chair and took in her features as his words hung in the air. He saw the smallest hint of water gathering in her eyes and watched as she broke their stare and shifted her view to the floor.

He sighed before his soft voice entered the silence of the room. “She’ll find a way out.”

Yoshi’s head sprang up and two teardrops fell to her jeans. “Is it true?” Her voice was barely above a whisper.

He stood up from his seat and touched a hand to the side of her head. “You’ll need to find that out for yourself.” He held his hand to her head as he watched her shoulders slump and she dropped her hand again. He removed his hand and moved back as she emitted a faint growl.

Blue eyes suddenly flashed with rage as she lifted her head and stared at the priest. “You need to tell me how to find her.” Her voice was firm, strong, and void of feeling.

Father Munez turned his back on her and shook his head. He grabbed a long match from the stand and walked towards the candles again. “You think I’m going to tell an angry Hunter how to find a lair, in the hopes that you only save your friend.” He raised his eyes to the ceiling quickly. “Forgive me, but fuck you.” He crossed himself and then lit a candle. He heard her stand as well as the intake of air before she spoke.

“Father Munez, please.” He turned at her plea. “This is about the greater good. It’s about everybody’s life, everything, all of it.”

The priest stiffened his shoulders. “Stolova lives.”

Yoshi stood. “Then you understand.”

“I understand that the outcome is written.”

Yoshi raised her hands in the air in frustration. “Screw what is written Father! The Day- Clarion must be found!”

He couldn’t help but smile. “You won’t believe it till you see it, will you. No matter how much you read, no matter how many neon signs are blinking or arrows are pointing, you simply will not believe.” He walked towards the woman until he was craning his neck to look her in the face. “I don’t think you’re even capable of belief.” Yoshi stood with her hands on her hips as the conducted a stand-off. It was only with the heavy -pounding in her head and perhaps a heavy heart that she sat down.” Father Munez turned to retrieve his seat and smiled to himself.

Redden eyes locked with the priests’ as Yoshi looked up. Her voice was barely audible as she spoke. “I must find her Father Munez. I have to….I, I-I need to.” He bowed his head at her admission. “She’s in trouble, I can feel it, and I don’t know if she’ll make it out this time.” Yoshi sat back and ran a hand through her hair. “And you’re right, I won’t believe it until I see it, so as far as I’m concerned you’re all wrong.” He smiled . “Will you help me?”

The priest stood and let her words hang in the air as he walked the other side of the rectory and leaned over a table. When he returned to the now standing Yoshi he held out a slip of paper. “If she’s in trouble that’ll lead you to her.” He snatched the paper back before she could grab it, much to her obvious irritation. “Understand something Hunter, all the duty, honor, and work ethic in the world won’t make much difference if you don’t believe in what you’re doing.” This time he let her take the card.

“I just don’t know how.”

The priest smiled and began guiding her to the door. “Let me tell you a joke Yoshima.”

She looked down at the priest and arched a brow. “A joke?”

“Just walk with me and listen.” The tall woman nodded and began walking with the priest. “Okay, a priest, a rabbi, and a reverend are out in the middle of a lake fishing. After a little while the rabbi slaps his thigh and says, ‘Oh, man I left the cooler on the dock.’ Reverend looks at him and says ‘okay we’ll just row back.’ The rabbi says, ‘nah, I got it covered.’ With that he stands up takes a breath and steps over the side of the boat onto the water. The reverend watches wide-eyed as the rabbi walks across the water to the dock and back to the boat. Rabbi gets back and the reverend’s all aglow. ‘How’d you do that, oh my!’ Rabbi shares a smile with the priest and looks to the reverend and says, ‘Faith, got to have faith.’ Yoshi stops at the door of the cathedral and stands as Father Munez continues his tale.

“A little later, the priest sucks his teeth and says, ‘Man, I left the other rod on the dock, I need it.’ Before the reverend can say anything, the priest holds up his hand and shakes his hand. He then stands up and proceeds to walk across the water to the dock and back. Once again, the reverend is just mesmerized. The priest sits down and smiles at the reverend. ‘It’s all about faith, got to have it.’ They start talking philosophy and a little while later the rabbi looks up and says, ‘oh my goodness, I left my lucky lure in the car.’ Before he can stand up the reverend stands and shakes his head. ‘That’s okay, I’ll get it.’

“The priest and the rabbi look at one another and then back at the reverend. The priest looks up at the reverend and asks him if he’s sure. The reverend is adamant. He says, ‘Oh no, I got it, it’s all about faith, and I’ve got faith.’ The three men share a smile, the rabbi, and the priest sit back and watch as the reverend straightens his shoulders takes a deep breath and steps off the side of the boat. The reverend drops straight down like a hole opened up in the water.” Father Munez looked up at the arched brow of Yoshima just to make sure he still had her attention. “The priest and the rabbi lean over the side of the boat waiting for the reverend to resurface, and the rabbi leans over to the priest and says, ‘Do you think we should have told him where the rocks were?'”

Yoshi raised both brows at the punch line as she smiled and fished for a response. Father Munez looked comically at the perplexed woman and frowned . “Was it that bad?”

“No, but what’s it supposed to mean?”

Father groaned as he opened the front door for the tall woman and they stepped out onto the steps. He put his hands behind his back and shook his head at the questioning woman. “It means that finding and having faith isn’t always about snake oil, incense, and High Mass. It means that sometimes it’s about knowing where the rocks are. It’s about seeing what’s right in front of you.”

Yoshima smiled and held out her hand to the priest. They shook hands and he watched with a small grin as the shadow of a woman descended the stairs and somehow managed to blend in with the wandering pedestrians well enough for him to lose sight of her.

* * *

CH 14: I should’ve turned left at Albuquerque
3:30p.m.

It was Vince Lombardi who said something to effect of, you know you’ve played well when you lay on the field exhausted and victorious. After sprinting like Marion Jones for a full minute, Clarion had probably broken her own record for the 400yard dash, she was extremely exhausted, and she was hoping like hell that she’d be victorious, but she’d settle for being alive.

The bath had been great. The meal of rare lamb chops made her want to puke at first, but then as she felt a pulling sensation in her teeth, she realized that her 6 months of nibbling on rare meats and bloody cocktails was up. Clarion devoured the meal and felt an adrenaline-fueled surge of power run through her body. When she had left for her bath she noticed that there were two hallways outside her door, one to the left and to the right. With a strained eye Clarion watched her water bearer of sorts turn down the left after bringing her meal. So it was decided that when the time came she would run right. She gave a call to her guard and got him to smirk pleasingly as she asked for seconds. She him a playful him a playful shove, stepped into his blindside and jammed her fork into his eye. As he began a quick descent to the floor she rammed her knee into his chin, probably causing him to lose of is tongue as well as knocking him out.

She made sure her wooden stake, courtesy of the end table was still lodged between the waistband of her pants and her underwear, and then she took off. She found a set of stairs and was up it a if it was an escalator moving at light speed. It was only through a heightened sense of smell that she was alerted to a Vamp at the top of the stairs. Clarion did her best John Elway touchdown leap impression and attempted to hop over the beast. Her legs connected with his head and they went down in a pile of arms and legs. He let out a yelp and she knew she was screwed so she did the only thing she could do: she screamed. Unfortunately, for the Vamp pulling at her legs it wasn’t a scream of pain, but rather a scream of a surging life force. When Clarion rolled over green eyes glowed like neon lights and her fangs were glistening with anticipation. She let out a growl as she dug newly sharp nails into his neck slicing at his juggler. She managed to avoid the profuse spray of blood as he rose up and fell backwards.

Clarion was on her feet again running with new power. It was clear she was in someone’s house, but she didn’t have time to catalog antiques, she was still searching for an out. She was taken down by two Vamps just as she exited what appeared to be a den. They slid across the tiled floor of a kitchen, only stopping when Clarion’s head slammed into a cabinet on the island. She had no time to feel woozy as she was picked up by the throat and hurled across a counter. She landed on a table which did well to break her fall. She curled into a ball as she received a few swift kicks to her back and then she was up again held by her throat and rammed into a wall. Fiery eyes that glowed red seared her flesh as stale breath was launched in her face. “I told him to chain you to wall you scrawny bitch.”

Clarion clawed at the massive hand around her throat and gurgled with strained laughter. “Hey I worked hard on this figure, so I’d appreciate at some sensitivity you pock-marked shit head.” She howled with pained laughter as he slammed her into the wall again. He turned to his companion. “Alert the others.” Just as his companion was about to walk out of the kitchen, a one-armed Vamp bleeding from head to toe fell into the kitchen.

His companion dropped to his knees and asked in the dead language, “What the hell happened?” The bleeding Vamp uttered one word before he passed out. “Hunters.” The Vamp stood and passed his eyes over Clarion and then to his brother. “Bag the bitch, Hunters are on there way.” The two Vamps nodded and then they’re attention was grabbed by the hysterical laughter coming from the blonde pinned on the wall. The man holding her slammed her again and spat out, “What’s so fucking funny?”

Clarion looked down into red eyes and smiled as she used their language to voice her comment: “Too late.”

3:05p.m., Parking Garage of Holy Cross hospital
Colin settled into the bucket seats of Yoshi’s car and took a reverent whiff of the smell of leather. She leered at her friend and barely waited for him to put on his seat belt before she pulled out of the parking lot at 65mph. They hit a main thoroughfare and the Irish man was finally able to catch his breath. “Where’s the fire?”

“Stolova’s got Clarion.”

Brown eyes went wide. “He has the Daywalker?”

Yoshi gritted her teeth. “He’s got Clarion and we need to get her.”

Colin rolled his eyes at her stringent disbelief. “Whatever,” he grumbled, “, where?”

“It’s a row house near Adam’s Morgan.”

“A row house?”

“Big basement, leads to sewer system.”

“Little travel in the daytime.”

“Perhaps, but they grabbed her last night.”

He turned to the dark woman who was speeding in and out of traffic like she was trying to beat her top score on a video game. “What! Why the hell did we wait till now? She could fucking be dead!”

Yoshi turned cold blue eyes on him for a split second. “She’s not dead and I had to go talk to a priest. It took me this long to find her.”

“Ugh.” He ran a hand through his thin brown hair. “How many.”

“It’s a nest, so who knows.”

“A nest. A fucking nest! Me and you and a nest.” He chuckled.

“Problem?”

“Not a one, love. I’m just thinking I probably haven’t had this much excitement since ’65.”

An evil smirk graced Yoshi’s lips. “Which one?”

“I’m thinking 1665.”

Yoshi fully grinned. “Crazy Scotsman.”

“You’re fucking-a right there. Ahh, good times.” He smiled at the woman who sped around a corner like she was on rails. “You owe me a few pints of Guinness when we get out of this you know.”

She chuckled from her gut. “We get out of this we’re going to Ireland to get them.” Colin let out a howl and pumped his fist in the air.

“The irate Irishman rides again! You wouldn’t happen to have a flask back in here would you.”

Yoshi shook her head as she pulled to a stop three houses from their destination and atop a manhole. “You’re such a stereotype Colin.”

He beamed. “Hey all the best writers are crazy drunken Irishman.”

She hopped out of the car. “I’m still waiting on your novel. It’s under the seat.” She popped her trunk and swung her coat on. Colin stepped out of the car and glanced at her scabbard with a frown. “It’s in the back.” With that she gave two forceful stomps to the grate and disappeared down the storm drain. Colin slammed the trunk with a smile and followed.

The two Hunters touched fists and split, unspoken instructions and vows spoken so many times that neither felt the need to voice them. Yoshi took to the bottom floors searching rooms and Colin found the steps and went up.

Colin stood in the door way of the kitchen with his sword at his side and a crossbow raised in the other hand. He cocked his head to the side as he took in the view. One Vamp was down with another kneeling beside him, but his real attention was on the blonde that was pinned to the wall by an arm. He got a glimpse of her eyes as she choked out a laugh and sighed inwardly. He wasn’t going to be the one to tell Yoshi. He caught the blonde’s eye and winked, that’s when she started laughing hysterical. Colin no doubt thought it a shame, he could tell even from this vantage point that she was probably a lot of fun. If she could laugh in this situation, he would love to see her after a few drinks–another life time perhaps. He shrugged off his thoughts as he pulled the trigger.

Clarion once met a woman who described the death of a Vampire like a solar explosion. Light and heat imploded and would burst forth as their hearts were destroyed. Some Vamps disintegrated upon losing a head or receiving a stake to the heart. A few even melted at the touch of silver and some boiled to death in holy water. Others would get shot, drop to the ground and convulse until their bodies simply came apart at the seams and rapidly decayed. When the arrow pierced the heart of the Vamp holding her up, Clarion fell to the floor with a thud, and found herself sitting in ashes. Before the remaining Vamp could reach for her his head left his body with a whizz of air.

Clarion stood, dusting herself off and inspected the man before her. He brought his sword back down to his side as he looked at her. Green eyes lost her glow and she grinned. “Out of the frying pan and into the flame, no?”

Colin shrugged. “Doesn’t have to be.”

A shrill scream made Clarion jump. She looked over her shoulder and then turned back to the man. “Yeah, you try telling her that.”

He grimaced. “I’d appreciate it if you did that yourself.” He scratched at his scar out of reflex.

“She give that to you?” His non-response was answer enough. Clarion just nodded her head. “Fine, I’ll just send her a postcard from Bali.”

Colin couldn’t help but smile. “Can’t let you do that.”

Clarion pouted. “And here I was starting to like you.”

“Hate to be an ass to such a pretty lady, but well you know.”

“Yeah, I do and thanks for the compliment, not so bad yourself there.” She shrugged. “As much as I’d love to stick around I’m afraid that’s not been decided by me.”

“How do you mean?”

Clarion looked up and then back to Colin. “Six of them. Big and ugly. You can’t watch me and kill them.”

Colin smiled crookedly. “Clever girl indeed.”

Clarion wasn’t really sure why she did it, perhaps to be a tease, but none the less, she stepped towards the Irishman and planted a kiss on his cheek before she darted out of the kitchen, wishing him luck. Colin shook his head in disbelief as he reloaded his bow and raised his sword. “Who needs luck when I got a six foot Hunter two steps away from being in love.” He smiled wildly: it was going to be an interesting evening.

———

Twenty minutes later Yoshi and Colin emerged from a man hole in an alley a mile from where she parked. As Yoshi stepped away from the man hole, she resheathed her blade and shook her body. When she finished she had made a nice sized piece of splatter art on the concrete. Colin looked no better, as he tried to wipe blood from his face only to smear more.

“Buggar! I feel like I’ve been slimed.” He looked to the sullen woman who went to a nearby wall and leaned against it. “You hurt, love.”

She shook her head. “Nothing a little sleep won’t take care of.”

He walked towards her and stood. “You sure?” She nodded. “Don’t worry, she got out.”

Suddenly Yoshi stood up straight and stepped into Colin, so that they stood toe to toe. “How? Where?”

Colin gently pushed on her shoulders. “Calm down lass. She’s absolutely adorable you know.” He smiled at the woman, but only got a growl in return.

“Why didn’t you grab her?”

“Well you shithead, I was otherwise occupied by six night crawling freaks attempting to draw and quarter me at a snails pace.”

Yoshi fell back into the wall with a wet slap. “I apologize.”

“It’s accepted, now how about we clean up and you go get me that pint of Guinness you promised me.” Yoshi pushed off the wall and sighed. “Matter of fact I think you own me a few pints.” Yoshi nodded and started walking with slumped shoulders. “Hey,” he called after her, “don’t feel so bad, she’s out and you know you can find her if you need to.” They locked eyes for a moment, neither finishing his comment. Hey patted the tall woman on the back as they walked off. “C’mon I need a bath and you need to get piss drunk.” Yoshi just laughed instead of arguing, hoping that a night swirling in alcohol might make a difference. But as sure as the sun would rise tomorrow she knew it wouldn’t.

* * *

CH 15: ‘I looked all over and all I found was a phone number on the stairs.’
It was only with the orange colored fingertips of sunrise that Clarion finally rested. However, it was a rest that was short lived when her phone rang an hour later. Clarion bumped her forehead on the foot of the couch as she sat up from the floor and grabbed the phone.

“Speak.”

“Thank God you’re alive…Jesus Christ chick, you had me shitting bricks ten pounds big.”

Clarion let out a light chuckle as she rested her back against the couch and adjusted the phone on her shoulder. “Hey Ri.”

The man on the other end let out a skeptical laugh. “That’s all I get is a ‘Hi Ri.’ I should jump through the phone and beat your scrawny little ass.”

Clarion sighed and mumbled to herself. “Why does everyone keep saying that.”

“What?”

“Nothing, Riley. Look, I’m glad you called I need to talk to you.”

“Your damn right, so get up off your ass and let me in.”

Clarion darted her head around her apartment. “Where are you?”

“Getting off the elevator.” She let out a snort of laughter and then hung up the phone as she sprang to her feet and opened the door.

Riley did his best to try and crush the still tender Clarion in a hug as he came through the door in a rush of tangible energy. He opened his mouth to make some off color remark to Clarion when he noticed the broken coffee table pushed off to the side, the stacks of cds out of the cabinet along with books, piles of glass, and the bulging piece of plastic that was doing little to keep the chill winter air out. He let go of Clarion’s shoulders with a squeeze as he walked her apartment. He came back out of the dining room and leaned on the kitchen counter as he regarded the compact woman standing in the living room.

He slanted his gaze somewhat as she meekly shoved her hands into the pockets of her warm-up pants. Her hair was freshly askew as if she had just woken up, all though she looked like she had been up all night thanks to her bloodshot eyes, which took a certain energy from her normally vibrant green eyes. Her lip was cut and there was a large purplish bruise on her right cheek that matched well with the black eye that graced the left of her face. Riley sighed as he caught the despondency in her eyes. He clicked his tongue on the roof of his mouth and then clapped his hands together.

“Okay, sit down first.” Clarion gave him a wisp of smile as she collapsed onto the couch. Riley shook his head as he tossed his jacket on the couch and then ripped off a few papertowels and filled them with ice. He gave his bundle a healthy twist and then sat down next to Clarion as he held the ice to her eye with care. She let out a sigh as she closed her eyes to the touch. In the dark Clarion was assaulted with the images of deep blue eyes and strong hands that had healed her a week before. On the notion that those hands would probably strangle her, Clarion opened tear filled eyes and gave Riley a toothy grin just to show that she wasn’t completely out of it. Riley shook his head. “All right soldier, you hold that to your eye while I make tea and then you start explaining why you look you’ve been in a Rollerderby that took place in your living room.

Clarion chuckled. “I felt like it was more of an American Gladiators kind of thing.”

Riley glared daggers at the smirking woman and then turned to his task. “Yeah, I know you always wanted to join the W.W.F., but as you can see it’s hell on your appearance.”

“I thought beauty was on the inside.”

“Tell that to Linda Tripp.”

Clarion shook her head in amusement. “You’re a bad man Riley.”

He waved a manicured hand through the air. “Hey supposedly I’m going to hell for a ton of other things, so I don’t think one dig at a backstabbing snitch is going to hurt.”

“Not choosing sides I see.”

Riley laughed as he returned to the couch and handed Clarion a mug of tea. “On the contrary, he was a man, he got caught, Hillary’s going to divorce his ass and go on to better things. Karma always wins in the end.”

Clarion dropped her smile and suddenly looked serious. “What if it never ends?”

Riley crinkled his brow and sat back, tucking one leg under the other and stretching an arm across the back of the couch. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Clarion shrugged and then winced in pain. Riley immediately reached out to touch the woman but she held up her hand. “It’s cool.”

Riley let out a huff. “No it’s not. You look like you just went a round with Oscar De la Hoya.”

Clarion stuck out her chin. “Did I lose?”

“I’m not laughing at that.”

Clarion’s hair bounced as she tossed her head from side to side. “I know, but you want to.”

Riley sucked his teeth. “Anyway Rocky, do I get to know what happened?”

Clarion sighed loudly as she sat her mug down and ran both her hands through her hair. “Will you accept I’m in trouble, for an explanation?”

“If you’ll accept another black eye.”

They shared grins. “Well, I’ll be honest…I’m going to lie to you, but I’ll try to hit most of the important parts.”

“This better be a good lie, and all the important parts better be real important.” He slanted his eyes at her as he watched her squirm uncomfortable. “You were supposed to be prepared for this sweetie.”

“Yeah, yeah. You remember what happened two years ago in Adam’s Morgan?”

Riley shook his shoulders as an imaginary cold wind rattled his frame. “Of course honey. After that night, I believe in the wolf man the boogie man, and all the X-files conspiracies.” He grimaced. “Please don’t say those things are involved in this?”

Clarion started to say, ‘I am one of those things’, but she held her tongue and merely swallowed the comment instead. “I’m afraid so.”

The thin man rolled his eyes. “How the hell can you just be so non-chalant, Claire. I know you’re calm and collected, but a Vampire is still a Vampire, I just don’t get it.”

Clarion shrugged as much as she could. “What can I say, I’m from N’awlins.”

“Ha! I’m from New York smart ass, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy muggers.”

“I’m just used to different shit Riley, I don’t know what else to say.” The serious quality to her voice left him no want to push the subject any further.

“Fine.” He nodded. “Is that why you’ve been gone for two days.” She nodded. “They give you the delicate makeover?” Clarion nodded again. “This what happened last week?” Another nod. Riley sighed as things begin to fall into place for him. “Is talk, dark, and possibly an impulse killer a part of this.” Clarion let out a small grin as she nodded. Riley ran fingertips across his short hair-do. “You’re leaving town.” It wasn’t a question, but Clarion nodded anyway. They sat in silence for a solid minute until, Riley let out a puff of air, slapped his thighs and stood up. “Let’s get you packed.”

Clarion looked up at the high brow of Riley and grinned. “That’s it?”

He threw his hands up. “What am I supposed to say? If I had the good sense God gave me, I’d walk out of here faster than a fart in a dust storm, but I don’t have that luxury, because you are my friend and I care about you.”

Clarion smiled sincerely. “You are so sensitive Riley Witherspoon.”

Riley rolled his eyes and gave Clarion the finger. “And you’re a fag hag.” He turned and walked towards the bedroom, chuckling along with Clarion.

Clarion got up off the couch with a giggle. “I thought fag hags were straight?” She stopped in front of the bookcase as she searched the case for three tomes.

Riley called out from the back, “I’ve never really been clear on that one, but I’ll consult the handbook later.”

“There’s a handbook?” Clarion stood at his side in her bedroom.

He shook his head. “You’re pitiful.”

Clarion looked about the room. “Damn, maybe that explains my choice of dates lately.”

Riley looked up from a drawer. “Something wrong with big, bad, and homicidal?”

Clarion rolled her eyes and walked to her closet. “Stop that, and no nothing’s wrong with her..technically.”

“Clinically?” Riley laughed as he dodged a balled up t-shirt flung at his head. “What’s the deal I thought she was helping you.”

“Well, yeah, but help comes at a price.”

“A price you say?”

“I think it has more to do with Karma than anything.” she answered with a shrug, and then mentally added, ‘and the little known fact she’s on a short list with people trying to kill me.’

“It’ll get you every time.”

“True. Hey, do me a favor and take down the paintings.”

“Good Lord, Claire, how serious is all this?”

Clarion smiled brightly to alleviate some of his worry. “I’m not giving them to you permanently, I just want you to hold on to the suckers, for a couple of months. I’m not giving up my babies that easily.”

Riley lightened up somewhat as he snapped his fingers and groaned. “Damn, and here I thought I was going to be getting a sweet deal.”

She laughed and touched his shoulder. “Well, for a man that gets to cut and dye my hair as well as drive around a 67′ Stingray I think you’re doing okay.” Clarion held her ears as Riley let out a squeal and began hopping around the bedroom. “If you drive like you celebrate, I’m not giving you the keys.”

Riley quickly sobered. “Just jokes.” Riley visibly slowed his breathing and gave Clarion a toothfilled smile. “How short?” She shrugged and he clapped his hands together. “Who cares, will figure that out later. So, what are we packing?”

“Pretty light, it’s not that cold down South.”

Riley raised a brow. “Is it ever?”

The two friends burst into a round of giggles as they each gave their own answer to his rhetorical question.

————–

Even though Riley had clearly been joking when he suggested fire-engine red for a hair color, Clarion thought it was the best idea since toilet paper. They fought like they were crazed housewives vying for the last Princess Beanie Baby, as they stood in the hair product aisle of a local Wal-Mart. Only after the store manager shot the quarreling pair an awkward and concerned gaze, did Clarion acquiesce and settle for a little less Angie Everhart and a little more Gillian Anderson; in hair color.

After it was over, Clarion and Riley sat on the edge of her bed and just stared into the mirror for a while. Clarion rubbed her hand across the back of her neck right were her hair now stopped. She cocked her head to the right side and then the left and finally let a breath go.

Riley turned to her. “That bad?”

Clarion ran a hand through her newly sheared locks and grinned. “No, but I do wonder what else I can do with it. It’s awfully flat.”

“No worries, will layer it , but it’s fine. I like it, all though I wouldn’t suggest trying to make a ponytail.”

“Not enough, you think?” They both smiled and Clarion glanced at her watch. It was almost 4:30p.m. and Clarion planned to be out of her apartment and off the street by five.

Riley caught her action and grimaced. “You looking to bolt?”

Clarion nodded. ” ‘Fraid so, I should probably be off the street by sundown.”

Riley groaned. “Shit, I almost forgot what the problem was here. Where will you go?”

Clarion shrugged. “Someplace safe, and then I’ll get out of the city within the next couple of days, if not tonight.” In truth she knew she would stay for the next three, since it would do her no good to leave D.C. when she was on the verge feeding.

Riley nodded and then eventually stood up. “All right chick, let’s get your stuff together and get you out of here.”

Clarion stood and stopped Riley before he left the room. “Thank you for doing this for me, I know I’m asking you a lot and not telling you a thing, but I just-

He quieted her with a wave. “Claire honey, you’re my family. I’d give you my lung if you needed it. It’s dusty I know, but if you needed it, I’d give it up in a second because I know you’d do the same.” Clarion smiled and whispered an ‘I love you’ into his ear as she embraced Riley and then proceeded to make their finally sweep through the apartment.

Sunset was still a good thirty minutes off when Riley parked the car a block from St. Francis in front of a generic chain motel. Clarion hoisted her duffel bag over her shoulder and smiled as she watched Riley get into her car. She leaned down and stuck her head in the window. “Keep it clean and no lewd sexual acts in my car Ri.”

“I probably couldn’t top yours so why bother.”

“Funny, jack ass. Hey look, I’m sure you’re going to get a few phone calls inquiring about me. Um, tell whoever, whatever you want, but just give me a few days before you start spilling the beans.”

“Right now, saying you died and went to Jerusalem sounds like a good idea.”

“I’m with you there, pahtna’.”

“Go on girl take your country ass out of here. By the way, you look like a snorkel with that tuft of hair.”

Clarion giggled and pulled on the tuft of hair that was curtailed by a rubberband and best resembled a palm tree. “I was trying something new.”

“The idea is to be inconspicuous not a beacon of light.”

“Shut it. Get out of here and take care of my babies.”

Clarion waited until the red of her car was swallowed up in rush hour traffic before strolling down the block past St. Frances and into the cemetery.

* * *

CH 16: Back in the Saddle again
In her dreams Yoshi awoke to the soft calls of birds, the smell of the outdoors, and an oddly familiar crown of blonde hair fanned out across her shoulder. In her dreams, Yoshi wore a smile of contentment as she embraced her golden-haired lover and gave no thought to beginning the day. In reality, Yoshi awoke to the sound of jackhammers that only existed in her head. What didn’t smell like alcohol, smelled like alcohol that disagreed with her stomach. And as for the blonde beauty in her arms, the tall woman was lucky her sword was in its scabbard, or she would have sliced herself to death. Yoshi moaned herself into motion as she rolled to the side of her bed only to make the short drop to the floor. The subsequent thud she made immediately awoke Colin, who was taking up most of the bed.

He opened weary brown eyes to see a disarrayed mop of black hair rise above the bed. Hands appeared on the spread and two half-lidded and blood shot blue eyes peered over the bed. She moaned and Colin laughed. Since she hadn’t found her voice yet, Yoshi settled for flipping Colin the bird. “It lives.” he said through a chuckle. Yoshi grunted for a comment and then Colin watched as she tried to stand. On the third try she fell towards the wall and managed to stay upright. In Yoshi’s mind the floor was moving side to side and the ceiling was spinning, so she moved towards the bathroom with her back firmly affixed to the wall. Colin sat up on his elbows and grinned crookedly with empathy as he watched Yoshi make it to the bathroom. “Hey if you hit the toilet this time I’ll make you some lunch.” Colin got a painful moan in response and then the door slammed shut. Colin collapsed back onto the bed and wore a grin of both mirth and concern on his face. He let out his own moan as he folded himself into the covers: it was going to be a long day.
_________

By 5:00p.m. Yoshima Miakoda was the picture of health and she was beating Colin to a pulp to prove it. While she lived on the third floor of the warehouse, the second floor housed her dojo. For the fifth time in a row, within the last hour, Colin found himself on his back with a practice sword digging into his throat. He swatted the blade away in a fit of frustration and then accepted the long arm that hoisted him to his feet.

He walked to the edge of the mat and retrieved his water bottle. He managed to actually ingest some of the water that he emptied over his face. Yoshi sheathed her blade and joined him in a drink. He glanced at the woman to his right and sneered with only the barest intention of malice. “All right, you win, you got me, I’m done, no more.”

She curled her lip up at Colin and then gave him a lopsided grin. “Wuss.”

He nodded without shame. “I’ll admit without hesitation lass. I’m a wuss, but I’m a live wuss.”

She let out a smug laugh. “Only cause I’m letting you.” Colin actually looked hurt for a moment, but then seemed to take it in stride as he tossed his head from side to side and shrugged. Yoshi caught the gleam in his eye too late, as he dropped his bottle and launched himself into her body.

They fell to the ground with a slap, with Colin on top of her and in a position of leverage. After a hard forty seconds of struggling, switching hand holds, maneuvering leg locks, back bridging and grunting, Yoshi conceded with a yelp that she was pinned. With her chin to the ground and her arms bent behind her, Colin let his weight sag onto her legs just a little longer so she knew he had her. He leaned down into a florid ear. “You never could wrestle punk.”

Yoshi laughed. “No need. True Samurai would have cut your legs out from under you before you had the chance to react.”

He nudged her in the side with his knee as he began to slowly ease off her; prepared for her explosion of retaliation. “Samurai, Samurai, whatever. Yeah, and I’m about to start walking the earth with Cain from ‘Kung-Fu’.”

“You might lose a few pounds.” Colin laughed and jerked his grip on her arms causing her to wince in pain.

“And you could stand to not be so ugly.”

“Well, I’ve been looking into plastic surgery.”

Colin laughed fully as he relaxed his grip and placed a wet kiss on her cheek. “My beauty, when you go in for the face-lift, I’ll do some lipo-suction.” The two shared a laugh as Colin stood up and helped her to her feet.

“You’re still a cheater Colin.”

He shrugged sweaty shoulders. “I never said I wasn’t.” They laughed some more and traded punches as they ascended the stairs to the top floor. “So what are we planning?”

Yoshi stood in the open door of her refrigerator and stared at her mediocre food products. “I’m planning on finding Clarion. You need to get on a plane and start gathering.”

“Are we really ready for that yet?”

“Maybe not, but I want everybody on alert.”

“So this is a one woman job?”

Yoshi stepped away from the fridge. “Is that selfish?”

Colin regarded his normally reticent friend with sympathy. “Hell no. I definitely think this is something you need to do on your own, but I don’t want you to think you’re alone.”

“Don’t think I can handle it?”

“On the contrary. I think you will handle it. I think you’re going to go in with both guns blazing and you’re going to scare the girl half to death and if she survives she’s not going to want to help anymore than you want to kill her.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Exactly what I said. I didn’t want to kill her and we had a two-second conversation, so I know you don’t want to kill her, no matter what law says.”

Yoshi raised both brows and moved towards Colin. “You talked to her?”

“Yes, buttmunch. I told you last night.”

Yoshi frowned. “You could have told me the secret of life and I wouldn’t remember.”

Colin wiggled brown eyebrows. “That’s why I told you last night. I mean, I value our friendship and all, but I value my life as well.”

“Cheater.”

“So what’s the plan?”

Yoshi begin stretching her muscles. “First, I’m calling her friend Riley and see if he can help. Then I’m going to her apartment and from there scour the city.”

“Why not the church?”

“If she’s on the run, she won’t go there, because she knows I’ll look.”

“Then would she rely on Riley?”

“Their friends and besides he’d jump in front of a Mack truck for her.”

“How do you figure that?”

Yoshi let out a snort of laughter as she walked to the bathroom. “Because he was ready to claw my eyes out the last time we met.” Colin’s laughter filled her ears as she stripped her clothes and headed for the shower.

————-

Riley was nestled in his couch with his cat, sipping red wine and feeling quite proud of himself for having given the run-around to Yoshi when she called. It was a feeling of pride that quickly turned into scared shitless, as he returned from the bathroom to find the shadow of a woman standing by the balcony doors petting his cat. Riley shrieked to high heaven and disappeared into his bedroom only to return with a large cross in his hand.

Yoshi chuckled as she stepped out of the shadow and sat the cat down on the floor. “I’m not Catholic or really religious, so I’m not sure what you want me to do with that.”

Riley frowned as he stiffened his shoulders and thrust out his weapon further. “Shouldn’t you explode or melt or something?”

Yoshi nodded and smoothed her coat under her as she took a seat on Riley’s couch. “I’m not what you think I am.”

Riley looked quizzically at the dark woman on his couch and cocked his head to the side as he watched his cat rub against her pants leg. “I guess you’re not.” He lowered the cross to his side. “But you’re something, I know that much.”

“Is that an insult or a compliment?”

He shrugged slim shoulders and sucked his teeth. “Take your pick.” He tossed the cross on the couch. “It didn’t do me any good in highschool either. Should I offer you something to drink or did you raid my cabinets while I was in the little boys room?”

She arched an eyebrow. “No thank you.”

“Fine.” Riley picked up his wine glass and stood in front of the couch with his arms folded across his chest. “Was our phone interview not enough for you?”

“I figure you know absolutely nothing or you know just about everything. Then when I saw her car parked two streets over from here I surmised that you know just enough.”

Riley sipped from his wine and turned up his nose as if he had no idea what she was talking about. “I really don’t know where she is.” Yoshi looked surprised at his admission. “You’re in my house, why lie to your face.”

“Don’t think you could do it?”

“Quite the opposite, I know I can, but in this case the truth is just as vague if only less entertaining.”

“How so?”

“She’s probably long gone by now. Where to, I’m not sure. I’d say home, but she’s never been one to talk about her family and when she does it’s not all that enthusiastic. Hell, she probably went to go get some sun and play hide the twinkie with Co-eds on Winter vacation.” Yoshi didn’t mean to, but she flinched at Riley’s comment. Riley made brief eye contact with Yoshi and then sipped from his drink to hide his smirk. “Do you really want to help her?”

“Very much.”

“You care about her?”

Yoshi started to answer ‘very much’ but only responded with a “yes, don’t you?”

Riley laughed. “True, but at least I can say it.” Blue eyes bored into him for moment, but Riley happily sipped his wine. “The only person you ever lie to is yourself isn’t it?”

Yoshi fixed ice blue orbs on Riley, but the thin man waved her off and went to the kitchen to refresh his drink. Yoshi sighed in frustration and stood. “Are you going to tell me where she is?”

Riley turned to face her and grinned. “Doesn’t it hurt your voice to growl like that.” Yoshi gritted her teeth and growled audibly. “Down tiger. Look, I dropped her at a hotel near St. Francis early this afternoon. She’s going to kick my ass for telling you.”

Yoshi relaxed her scowl. “She told you not to tell me?”

“Not specifically, but I knew she meant you. She just wanted a head start.”

“How much of one?”

“About three days she said.”

Yoshi looked at the floor as she contemplated his statement. ‘That would give her enough time to…and then she’d be gone’ she thought. Yoshi started to ask Riley another question, but the man brushed by her and turned up the volume on his t.v.

‘This is Lana Wright reporting for Fox 5. I’m standing in front of the city courthouse where a decision has been handed down in the state vs. Somersville. As you may recall Stephen Somersville was convicted of the brutal raping of four college women two years ago at Georgetown University. For the last two years he has proclaimed his innocence with bravado and his lawyers have been pushing for an appeal which they received two months ago. Lawyers for the defense claim that Somersville should be released on account of police misconduct in the handling of his search and arrest.’

“I can’t believe this shit. I bet you they let that bastard off.”

Yoshi turned her eyes from the t.v. to Riley. “So he did it.”

Riley practically choked on his wine as he looked at the woman in disbelief. “You don’t own a t.v. or read the newspaper do you?”

“I was busy two years ago.” ‘I was stuck in a cavern in the Himalayas with two broken legs to be exact.’

“Whatever, but yeah the son of bitch did it. They haven’t had this much evidence since an unwashed blue dress. He’s going to get off on a technicality because the cops that pulled him off of his soon to be fifth victim beat him within an inch of his sorry ass life.”

Both Riley and Yoshi watched with disgust as the crowd gathered out of the courthouse erupted into outrage at the verdict. A convicted rapist was on his way to being set free. Yoshi looked intently at the grinning man who walked down the steps of the courthouse surrounded by his lawyers and police. It never ceased to amaze Yoshi that as much as television distorted reality, there were some things it couldn’t. She looked into the eyes of the pompous man leaving the court house and she knew he’d be out and about as soon as possible. Riley’s words broke into her thoughts. “If there’s a God, somebody will come along and rip his head off.” Yoshi only grunted and nodded as she thought to herself, ‘I think I know just the person who would do it.’

Suddenly she snapped to attention. “I need to go Riley. Thanks for your help.”

Riley nodded and walked to the door. “Hey, I don’t know if you had anything to do with that hit and run guy the other day, but if you did and you happen to run into the bastard, give him what for.”

Yoshi couldn’t stop the grin that formed. “Don’t worry Riley and yes, I’ll keep Clarion safe.”

“You better or I’ll kick your ass.” Yoshi bowed respectfully to the threat and exited through the stairwell.
__________

Stephen Somersville was a text book dilettante and psychopath. He looked as if he had read American Psycho from cover to cover and at least six times. It wouldn’t have been a surprise if he carried a copy in his pocket. Of course it would be on an MP-3 to show his technological savvy. As Yoshi followed the man for the second night in a row she thought of snapping his neck, just on principle.

The way she figured, this would be Clarion’s chance, if she was what she was. Clarion would only kill mosquitoes out of reflex, so for her to take a human life she would need a whole lot more than necessity. Why run the risk of contracting a disease from some degenerate despot when she could take the life of an arrogant chauvinist on a power trip. It was two in the morning when frustration begin to eat away hard at Yoshi. She ordered a Remy Martin and sipped at it in a halcyon manner. She knew etter, but at this rate Clarion would be miles out of town or even out of the country and there would be nothing she could do until morning. The evoking of Clarion’s name caused Yoshi to close her eyes and imagine Clarion and herself in a more serene setting where no complications existed and they’d both grow old and die together. ‘Or maybe we could live out forever together.’ Yoshi snapped blue eyes open at the random thought and downed her drink. Had she been a moment sooner she would have seen Stephen Somersville leave the bar with a lithe red-head that would have looked achingly familiar, had she seen her.

It took Yoshi less than a minute to realize that Somersville was gone and another thirty seconds to search the bar. She was out of the door like a shot. She stood on the sidewalk and scanned both sides of the sidewalk to see if she could spot him. Yoshi stiffened against the blade that was secure against her body underneath her coat. She fumed as she began walking the strip only to stop when she noticed where she was. She was three blocks from St. Francis and a short walk away from the park. Yoshi hopped the railing and broke into a light jog. When she reached middle ground she climbed a tree and stood in its branches. She raked her eyes over the landscape until she caught a flash of red hair and heard the unmistakable laugh of Somersville. A wave of emotions pulsed through Yoshi’s frame. She was more than happy to rid the world of Somersville, but she knew she would be taking away the possibility of Clarion’s outlet. More than that she was relieved that the woman with him was a red-head and not a blonde. ‘Maybe they were wrong.’ She shrugged it off as the pair disappeared into a line of trees and then she swooped out of the trees and broke into a run.

Yoshi unsheathed her katana and held it out before her as she made quiet steps through the brush, the sight she encountered almost made her burst into a fit of laughter. It was ironic really. Here she was thinking he was out to rape this poor girl and she was hovering over him draining him dry. She was good too, as there was no blood pooling under his neck. Yoshi cleared her throat and raised her sword with one hand. “Since you’re doing the female population such a service I might be inclined to let you go or just make it quick.” The red head sat up slowly, her back to Yoshi. Yoshi could see the woman wipe at her mouth with the sleeve of her blazer. “C’mon, up with you.” The red head stood up slowly with her hands at her side and turned around to face Yoshi.

Yoshi didn’t have to scream out loud to scare the birds away in the trees, the tangible force of the rage emanating off her body was loud enough. She staggered backwards as if she had just suffered a blow to the stomach and fell backwards onto a rock. She turned her eyes away from Clarion. It was her and there was no denial. Even with red hair and a smear of blood across her cheek it was still her. Yoshi swooned and collapsed, it wasn’t exactly passing out, but she hadn’t breathed in almost a minute.

Clarion wanted to cry or just apologize for a long time, but she thought it better to run, before she was overcome with the urge to sleep; a small price to pay for feeding. She looked back once as she made it out of the clearing and Yoshi still hadn’t moved. When Clarion turned her head back around she ran right into Colin. She bounced off of him and then grinned as she recognized his face. “It’s the Irishman.”

Colin grinned and folded his arms across his chest. “It’s Colin.”

“Good to meet you, can’t talk right now though, I’m afraid I’m on the lam.”

Colin nodded. “From tall, dark, and I carry I big ass sword because I can.”

Clarion smiled. “Why does everyone do that?”

Colin shrugged. “Habit. Anyway, you ready to go?”

Clarion stepped back and held up her hands. “Sorry, I got different travel plans.”

“Not this time cutie.”

“You flatter me, but no way, she looks like she just lost her dog back there, so I’m not going anywhere with her.”

“I don’t think she ever had a dog.”

“Figures.”

Colin looked away wistfully for a moment and then shot out an arm and caught the forearm of Clarion as she attempted to run past him. “Un un. Not this time, I’ve got no one to fight.”

“She’s going to string me up by my toenails. Why can’t you just let me go?”

“I think we should, but honestly we need your help.”

Clarion stopped struggling and looked up at Colin. “Really?”

“Well yeah.”

“Are you going to be there to mediate?”

“Won’t let anything happen to you.”

Clarion raised an eyebrow. “I want to believe you, but forgive me if I’m skeptical.”

“I think it’s just the hair color talking.’

“What?”

“You know Scully, the skeptic.”

“Aha. That’s funny. Hey if I live through this maybe we’ll go catch a drink.”

“You know I’d-

Clarion caught the ashen color of Colin’s face and knew even without adjusting her hearing and sense of smell that Yoshi was behind her. She whispered to Colin, “just don’t let her knock me out.”

Suddenly Colin spoke. “I’m taking her to the car.” Yoshi made no response as she stalked past them both through the park. Colin looked into the worried expression revealed in green eyes and tried to smile.

Clarion managed a grim smile. “We might be having that drink sooner than I was hoping, huh?”

Colin sighed. “She’s just pissed off right now.” He held Clarion’s arm gently as they begin walking.

“She hold grudges?”

“Once we didn’t speak for three months because I pulled a prank on her.” Clarion only groaned and opted to do more thinking and less talking.
CH 17: In theory it works….in theory.
Clarion’s face grew deep with worry as she took in her surroundings once Colin parked the car. She was polite and waited for Colin to open her door for her. She stood and looked around the abandoned warehouse district. She looked up at the grinning Colin. “Why do I feel like I’m the rat in a Martin Scorcese film.”

Colin laughed. “I’m afraid you don’t have that kind of luck Clarion.”

She laughed as they begin walking to one of the less dilapidated warehouses. “That’s good to know Colin.” For a moment Clarion was actually feeling less anxious about her predicament until she was firmly gripped about the bicep and dragged into the warehouse and shoved into an elevator.

A blue eyed demon appeared at her side and held fast to her arm as she closed the cage and they rode up. A huffing and puffing Colin met them on the third floor when the cage doors opened. “Yosh…what are you doing….let’s just talk. I thought we were talking.” The tall woman glared at Colin as she gruffly ushered Clarion about and roughly forced her to sit down on the floor. Clarion was simply stunned as her mind raced with the same thought. ‘She’s going to kill me.’ Yoshi disappeared through an archway. Clarion looked around her and tried to focus on the fact that she was impressed with Yoshi’s home and not the point that she was about to kill her. Clarion bristled as Colin came to her side.

“Gimme your shoes.”

“What?”

“Just take them off, respect and all.”

“You’re joking right.”

“Play nice and maybe I can get her to calm down.”

Clarion shrugged and slipped out of her shoes. Without warning a towel was flung into her face. Yoshi yanked her to her feet and gruffly led her to a bathroom. When Yoshi closed the door upon her exit Clarion sat down on the lid of the toilet seat and almost cried. Her hands shook as she turned on the water for the shower and as she got undressed.

Regardless of her circumstances, the steaming shower was welcome. Perhaps it wouldn’t be that bad, if the brooding woman was allowing her to get clean. There was nothing Clarion enjoyed or wanted more after feeding than a steamy shower. Clarion let the water beat on her face as she tried to allay her fears and figure a way out of all of this. When she came out of the shower a pair of loose fitting jeans, boxer shorts and a t-shirt were folded on top of the toilet seat. Clarion eased into her change of clothes and then took a deep breath as she exited the bathroom.

As expected a stone faced Yoshi was waiting for her. Yoshi avoided all eye contact as she gripped Clarion about arm and led her to a bedroom. Clarion decided to try some conversation. “Don’t have to be so rough you know.” Yoshi gave no response as she forced Clarion to the floor next to a radiator. Two seconds too late Clarion realized what she was going to do. “Oh come on, Yoshi, handcuffs! Where the fuck am I going to go we’re in the middle of nowhere.” Clarion struggled, but she was too weak at this point to do much damage, so she found herself handcuffed to a radiator next to a perfectly comfortable futon in a dimly lit room. Clarion rested her head against the wall and sighed. At least she could hear them, since the door was simply a partition. She could hear Colin.

“What’d you do to her?”

“She’s got me locked up back here!”

“What!”

Clarion was all smiles as the large man entered the room. “Great mediating Colin.”

“I’m sorry sweet pea. Brought you some water though.” He popped the top on the squeeze bottle and placed it in Clarion’s hand. At least she had enough slack to drink. “She needs more time than I thought to cool off.”

“Where is she?”

“I left her out there, but she’s probably going to go beat the stuffing out of her punching bags.”

“Good you can let me out then.”

“No key and aren’t you strong enough.”

“Funny wise ass.” Clarion looked up to the ceiling and recited monotonously, “After feeding the Vampire is normally tired , as their bodies must adjust to the new metabolism brought on by new blood ingested. Rightly so, this causes fatigue in the Vampire which will be replenished later.”

“You guys get a book.”

Clarion rolled green eyes. “Colin you have to talk to her cause I’m not feeling too welcome here.”

“Don’t you have any kind of leverage?”

Clarion scrunched her brow. “What leverage?”

“You know lev-verage.” He raised his eyebrows up and down.

“Oh. We didn’t quite get around to that, seeing how I was trying to avoid this.” She pulled on her cuffs.

“Really, you strike me as kinky.”

Clarion laughed out loud. “I’ll admit under other circumstances I wouldn’t mind being chained to a radiator by my heated sort of kind of ex-girlfriend or whatever….but this is not quite what I had in mind for the first time.”

“Does it ever go as planned?”

They both laughed. “It did for me once.” Colin nodded. “New York City, 1924. They were extremely hot.”

“They.”

“Swedish exchange students, paternal twins, boy and a girl.”

They shared grins of understanding. “Oh the tales you could tell.”

Clarion winked. “I’m sure you’ve got a few.”

Colin blushed. “Triplets, South of France, 1992.”

“Ooh, recent. You dog.”

“I try.”

“You ever had an Irish carbomb?”

Colin smiled. “Hell yeah, Guinness and a shot of baileys. Why?”

“Well you get me out of here and I’ll make you one that’ll explode inside your head for two days.”

Colin laughed. “I think I accidentally stumbled onto that recipe the other night. No can do though.”

“Can we work on the handcuffs at least?” Clarion pouted.

“Aw come on, lass. No need for the puppy dog look, you’ve got my vote. But I don’t deal in pissed off Amazons.”

“On paper it sounds like a good idea doesn’t it?” They shared knowing smiles and then they quieted when Yoshi walked through the door.

Long strides carried her in front of Clarion were she pushed Colin out of the way and proceeded to stretch a piece of duct tape across Clarion’s mouth. The red head began murmuring what were clearly curse words and pulling hard on the radiator.

Colin stood up outraged and pulled the woman to the side. “What the fuck are you doing?”

Ice blue eyes seared Colin’s flesh with a glare. With two fingers she shoved the man into the wall and growled out, “Fuck off!” At that she stalked out of the room and neither Clarion or Colin moved until they heard the elevator squeak into life. Colin stood up straight on the wall and ran a hand through his hair. He reluctantly looked down at Clarion who was looking up at him with pleading green eyes.

“I’d love to take it off sweet pea. But um, the last time she used an expletive in my presence, she tried to give me a face lift.” Clarion quieted her mumbles as she rested her head on the wall and did the only thing she could do: cry. Colin shifted from foot to foot as he knelt down in front of her. He wiped the fresh tears with his fingers and kissed her on the forehead. “Look, I’ll go talk to her and I’ll get you out of this I promise. You need to understand though she’s in a really shitty place right now. Yoshi’s lived a long time and she’s had lots of rough patches. I think she was finally letting her guard down with you and then boom you turn out to be a Vamp.” Clarion hung her head. “I know you didn’t ask for any of this, but we’re all in it now. Why don’t you get some rest, you know you need it so no use fighting it. I’ll bring you a blanket.” Clarion only nodded as she watched Colin leave. When Clarion closed her eyes she fell to sleep almost immediately, silent praying that when she awoke this would all be a horrible dream.

————

It was less the soft rays of dawn that awoke Clarion and more the angry voices outside of the room. Actually it was just one voice; Colin.

Yoshi was kneeling on the floor facing the window as Colin stood over her, arms folded across his chest. She only just returned from where ever she ran off to and this was the first time he had the chance to talk with her. “Are you out of your fucking mind! Chaining her to the radiator and taping her mouth like she’s some flipping war criminal. Have some decency for Christs’ sake. Are you going to explain to me what you think you’re doing or do we get to play charades?”

Yoshi breathed. “What do you want me to say?” She continued to stare out of the window.

“I want you to tell me what you’re going to do with the girl?”

“She’s not a girl.”

Colin groaned. “You are so full of shit. And what are you the reincarnation of Mahatma Ghandi? You’re so full of it and you’re off your rocker!”

She turned her head in his direction. “What do you want me to say? That I don’t know what to do. Or that I’m unsure about what the hell the scrolls and books mean and that maybe I should just go in their and put an end to all of this.”

Colin fumed with anger as he walked around and stood in front of the woman. “You mean you’re going to go in there and kill her?” Yoshi gave no answer. “Is that it Yoshi, tell me so I can know who to go home and pray for.”

Yoshi looked down at the floor as she rested her hands at her hips. “I’ll find out if she can tell me what the scrolls mean and if need be then…”

Colin howled with laughter. “So you’re just going to pump her for information and then bleed her like a pig or something.” He leaned over so that he was eye level. “You’re fucking sick, you know that.” They stared at each other in silence for a while until Colin finally stood upright.

“It’s the law Colin.”

Colin fought for words and only punched a hole through the wall for a response. He stalked back towards Yoshi and stood. “The law! Whose law, council law? There’s no council Yosh, we’re fucking it! We’re all that’s left. I’m not even sure if there’s ten of us anymore. I haven’t spoken to Ohai’ in four decades and Makeet might be stuck in a glacier in the North Pole. This is it Yoshi, it just fucking us. We decide, we make the rules, we are law.

“You wonder why there’s no council anymore, it’s because of warped jackasses like you who let their good intentions and love of tradition pigeon hole them into one track realities. Yoshima, we have watched empires rise and fall and we have helped make some of those things possible. We have watched the world come full circle and back again. And you know what–things change. Things get better, they get worse, but they fucking change!

Colin stopped a moment to run his hands through his hair and look down at the woman who stared blankly out of the window watching the sunrise. “Yoshi there’s not going to be a council or Hunters or anything if you don’t pull it together. What the hell happened to you?” Blue eyes that hinted at color looked up at him. “Don’t you dare try and blame Cheyenne for this. You were becoming this long before she died.” Yoshi growled and raised off her knees as she turned her back to Colin. He only laughed and then kicked a love seat out of his way as he stood in front of her.

“I’m not going to argue with you over her, but you know what happened even if you don’t want to say it and it’s happening now. You just refuse to go outside the lines. You’re just like those old prunes that ran that commune in Athens. I mean I loved some of those old bastards but they were prudes Yoshi, they were sticklers. They couldn’t imagine coloring outside the lines. They were the kind of people that read the Bible and took every word literally. It never occurs to them that it’s just a fucking story. It’s meant to teach and inspire hope and love and brotherhood; not decrees for war, slavery, and oppression.”

“Once upon a time you understood that, and you were all over the place. When they said you could only run the Gauntlet in two hours, you ran the sucker in one hour and without one target miss.” He caught blue eyes and pleaded with her silently. “You know why you did it Yoshi, because you opened your mind. You looked beyond the page and made it happened. This warrants the same thing.”

Yoshi lifted her head and spoke. “You like her?” Her voice cracked.

Colin managed to smile. “Of course I like her. She’s an absolute gem. I’d take her home to my mum if I knew the woman. But liking doesn’t have anything to do with it, well no that’s a lie. I mean, I don’t think she should be killed and I can’t imagine for the life of me why you think she should be. And screw that ‘it’s law’ shit. You’re running on hurt pride here and the fact that for the first time in a long time you can’t explain something nor can you control it.”

Dark locks shook as Yoshi shook her head. “It must be done Colin, there’s nothing else to say about it.”

Colin threw his hands in the air. “Fucking Christ woman! Listen to yourself. You’re a shell Yosh, a fucking empty shell! You’re starting to look your age. This is absolute bull shit, you just can’t get past it. Either you can’t believe you fucked up or you came close to having faith in something you don’t completely understand and you’re scared.” Colin grinned some as Yoshi looked up at him for a moment. “That’s it. You’re scared and you don’t have an answer.” Colin raised his arms above his head and flexed in a mock display of triumph. “The great Yoshima Miakoda doesn’t have the answer. The great Yoshima is stumped. The great Yoshima is starting to feel again. The ice queen is thawing as we speak. The-

Colin suddenly found himself on his back with a dagger at his throat. He laughed. “C’mon do it you shit, cause we’re all dead anyway, do me the favor and kill me quick.” Yoshi pressed the blade against his throat and gritted her teeth. “C’mon! Do it! You’re going to be responsible for killing us all anyway. I think you should do it by hand.” At that Yoshi sat up off of Colin and dropped her dagger at her side as she backed away and sat on her butt, legs askew. Colin stood up.

“That’s why I have her…to stop it.” Yoshi’s voice was weak and strained.

“It doesn’t matter. You really think killing her is going to solve our problem. So what, what if you do kill her and you kill the master too. Yoshi you’ve turned into a faithless, archaic old bastard. Who wants to follow that? It’s a wonder you haven’t taken your life, if you can even call it a life. As much as immortality may seem like a curse it’s a blessing. We’ve seen so much and done so much, and on top of that we have the opportunity to affect the people around us. We can affect the world if we want, but you think it’s a burden because you can’t pull your head out of your arse long enough to enjoy your life.” Colin shook his head as he regarded the silent woman who was visibly struggling with her internal demons.

Colin sighed. “Yoshi, if you want to go in there and kill that girl because you’re afraid, then do it. Go ahead. But know you don’t have my blessing and I’ll not stick around and watch you piss your life away because you’re too scared to live and breathe. I’ll just go back home to Ireland and call up the rest of the gang and tell them we should go buy an Island in the middle of the ocean, and watch the world self-destruct, because the great Yoshima Miakoda has all the answers even when she doesn’t have a fucking clue.”

Colin walked to the doorway and stopped as he placed his hand on lever for the elevator. He turned back to the woman who stared out of the window, her quiet tears traveling down her face unbeknownst to him. “When you go in there and do it, you tell Clarion that I apologize for failing her and that most of all, I’m sorry that you failed yourself.”

As they elevator slammed closed Yoshi fell forward, prostrate on to the floor and cried quietly; her hand gripping the handle of her dagger. Three feet away Clarion shook with anger and fear as she willed away her own tears and begin to think up a plan to get out.

* * *

CH 18: Open mouth, insert foot
What Clarion assumed was two or three hours passed in complete silence. Perhaps the sound of her rumbling stomach had been heard by Yoshi; who soon walked into the room with a tray. The tall woman sat the tray beside Clarion and did her best to take of the handcuffs without touching her. Yoshi tossed the cuffs on the bed and stood up. “An hour.” With that she left in the same silent manner. Clarion looked down at the plate and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Clarion wasn’t sure what hurt more the fact that Yoshi wanted to kill her or the fact that she remembered what she liked for breakfast.

Clarion rubbed her wrists before she devoured the large chocolate chip muffin. For a second Clarion imagined that she might be able to rationalize with Yoshi, but she knew better. As the food and coffee filled her body, Clarion felt a surge of energy coursing through her body. At least if Yoshi cuffed her again, she knew she know was strong enough to break the cuffs. She smiled as she started on her second muffin and then stopped in mid chew as she looked down at the tray her food was on. Clarion smiled as she spoke quietly to herself. “This is going to be easier than you thought, chèr.”

Forty-five minutes later, Clarion stood up and shook the crumbs off her body. The only glitch in the plan was that she was barefoot and in shortsleeves, but they were merely technicalities. Clarion picked up the tray and held it to her side as she walked towards the partition. She took a deep breath and focused the energy gathering in her body. She knew without looking that her eyes had grown brighter with a glow of green. She touched her tongue to her fangs and breathed deep. Now or Never. She tapped on the partition. “I’m done.”

Yoshi was there so fast Clarion almost missed her moment, but as the opening of the door left Yoshi’s torso wide open Clarion acted. With both hands holding the tray she rammed the edge into Yoshi’s gut several times, shoving the woman out into the main room of the warehouse. When Yoshi finally doubled over enough, Clarion brought the tray up with extreme force, connecting with Yoshi’s face and driving her backward. Clarion stared down at the downed body of the dark woman in disbelief. She almost couldn’t believe she did it. Clarion returned her breathing to normal, dropped the tray and scurried down the steps and out of the building. It was two miles to civilization and the gravel was going to be a bitch.

— — —- —

Yoshi didn’t show a bit of surprise when Colin stepped off the elevator followed by the smell of alcohol. Colin raised an eyebrow as he sat down his twelve pack and looked at the woman who seemed as if she hadn’t moved from the spot he left her in three hours earlier. Actually, except for the bag of ice she was holding to her nose she looked exactly the same, with her hair in a ponytail, black Akido pants, and a sports bra. Colin let out a laugh as he opened two beers on the counter and went and sat down next to Yoshi.

Without looking she reached out and took the cold bottle and proceeded to drink deeply. Colin eyed her with empathy and drank from his own bottle. “You want me to fix that?” He nodded at her nose.

“I can do it, but I just want to feel it for a while.”

“You let me set it and you be feeling it even after you heal it.” Colin smiled wickedly.

Yoshi dropped the bag and sipped from her beer. Colin raised up on his knees in front of the woman. He touched both his index finger and middle to the either side of her nose right on the bridge. He felt the bone carefully and then in one swift rush of motion he snapped her bones back into place. Yoshi sucked in air harshly as a sign of pain and then drank deeply from her beer as Colin moved away from her. They sat in silence and went through the twelve pack before either said another word to each other.

“You can’t kill her Yoshi. I mean I’m sure she’d find a way out of it, but she’s absolutely amazing. You do realize she should be dead by now.” He laughed. “I’m not really sure how’s she lasted this long.”

“How amazing is she?” Blue eyes filled with color, glanced at a smirking Colin and then looked away.

“Well me and your boys did a little digging and it seems our little Clarion is no spring chicken. She’s nearing 230. There are some fuzzy records in the seventeen hundreds but she shows up larger than life in the eighteen hundreds. But about her nine lives, it seems that Clarion Larieux was a cat burglar for nearly 30 years.” Yoshi turned her head and arched her brow at Colin. He nodded and smiled. “You ever been to her place?” Yoshi gazed out of the window with a look of remembrance and then she nodded. “Look like a museum right?”

“Or a woman with good taste and money.”

“Oh Yeah speaking of, Clarion’s worth about 120 million dollars and that’s just cash, bonds, stock, and the assets she accounts for. The Monets are real. Along with the Rembrandts, the Picassos, the Rodin’s, Boucher’s and whatever else she got her hands on. Our little Clarion’s one heck of a lady.”

“She’s ours now?”

“Hey, I admit I’m head over heels in love. I’ll keep her all to myself then.”

Yoshi turned slitted blue eyes on Colin as the corner of her mouth curled up in a devilish smile. “Mine.”

Colin laughed as he leaned back on his arms. “You never did understand the concept of sharing did you.” He hopped up from the floor and cleared the bottles. “So what’s the plan chief?”

Yoshi stood and faced Colin as he stood in the kitchen. “You trust me now?”

“No….I have faith in you.”

“Why?”

“Because once upon a time, in a far off land, I watched a fearless young woman fight her way through at least three dozen men without out thought or consequence to bodily harm, just to save one ordinary man.”

“He was my father.”

“And you loved him.”

“Still do.” she whispered.

Colin walked over and put his hand on the shoulder of his friend. “If you believe in nothing else believe in his love and belief in you. I don’t know what else to tell you.”

“I sat here for two hours and tried to figure out what to tell myself. You’re right I’ve got no clue what to do, I’m not sure, I’m hesitant, I’m confused, my mouth is dry, I’ve got butterflies in my stomach…and more than anything, I can’ t seem to forget what her lips taste like.”

Colin laughed and pulled the tall woman into a half-embrace and half-headlock. “You are insane.” He released her with a playful shove and a sloppy kiss to the forehead. “It feels good to be alive doesn’t it.”

“Is this really what it feels like?” Yoshi looked doubtful.

“Why do you think I’m drunk all the time girl?”

“Because you’re trying to ruin your liver?”

“Well in the beginning. But mostly because the next day when I ache all over and I can’t remember who I’m laying next to, it’s not so bad that I’ve been on this earth for damn near 830 years.”

“That’s awfully morbid and stupid Colin.”

“So is base jumping off a cliff in Hawaii, but it feels damn good to hit the water and not break my neck.”

Yoshi shrugged her shoulders as Colin began pushing her towards her bedroom. “What’s that mean? I don’t understand.”

“Whatever, maybe it’s a crappy analogy, who cares. You want to know what the point to life is?”

“If you say sex, sleep, alcohol I’m going to hurt you.”

“While those are the most important things in life along with good food, no they’re not the point. The point is there is no point.”

Yoshi stopped in the doorway. “How can there be no point?”

Colin shook his head and moved into the room. “I mean there is a point, a point of chaos, and questions, and open-ended answers, and lots of things that individually don’t make sense but as a whole create a grand picture.”

“And you think I’m insane.” Yoshi laughed as she walked to her closet and tried to tune out Colin’s philosophy on life.

— —- —- —-

Yoshi walked into St. Francis at two in the afternoon and sat down in the last row of pews, folded her hands in her lap and waited. At ten in the evening a grim looking Father Munez sat in the pew in front of her.

“You’re not going to leave are you?” Yoshi shook her head. “What?”

“I’m looking for Clarion.”

“Good for you.”

Yoshi ignored his snide reply. “Father, can you help me find her?”

“I don’t think that would be a wise decision.” He turned his back to her and started to get up.

“I don’t think it is either, in fact I have no idea what to say or do, I’m at a loss for strategy here.”

Father Munez did not curtail the broad smile that graced his face. He sat back down and raised an eyebrow at Yoshi as he looked her up and down. “You’re serious?” She nodded. “Hmm.” Father Munez tugged at his lip at he searched for something to say. “Well, you’ve caught me off guard here. I’m a little unsure of what to do, hadn’t planned for this.”

“I didn’t either.”

“That’s because you can’t, Yoshima.” He scratched at the scruff of his growing beard. “I’m intrigued and willing to help, but forgive me if I’m still a tad distrustful of your motives. Why should I help you at all, you’re going to kill her.”

Yoshi grimaced and looked down at her hands before she made eye contact with the father. “It’s not like I want to-

Father Munez sat forward and started to get up and Yoshi grabbed his sleeve. She removed her hand as he glared at her and sat back down. “Finish.”

She sighed. “I don’t want to kill her. But at the same time I don’t understand the scrolls, they’re confusing. I don’t know what to do.”

Father Munez relaxed his suspicion as he listened to the dark woman’s sincere musings. “What do you want to do?”

Yoshi shrugged. “I don’t know that I know what to do.” She shook her head. “I’ve lived for nearly a millenium and nothing has ever been this hard. I mean there was one or two other times, but those were different circumstances.”

“It’s never easy when it’s the real thing.” Yoshi looked at him with a question in her eye. Father smiled. “You look like you’ve spent your whole life waiting for something to bite you in the ass. This is it.”

“So is this God’s test?”

“According to theory this is all one big experiment anyway, so why not.”

“That’s not helping Father.”

“I’m here to guide, not pass out cheat sheets.” Yoshi sighed. “I ask again, what do you want to do?”

Yoshi took in the high ceilings of the Cathedral and breathed deep. “I want to buy a boat.”

“And?”

Yoshi grinned. “And, maybe an island somewhere and I want to sail around the world and visit the places I haven’t seen in centuries and decades….and I want her with me.” She avoided Father Munez’s gaze as she dropped her head and looked at her boots.

Father smiled and moved his hand past free falling black hair and raised Yoshi’s chin. “Do you know how to beg?”

“You want me to beg?”

Father chuckled. “I don’t.”

“Oh.” Yoshi lifted her hand and brushed her hair away from her face. “I think I understand the concept.”

“Amazing.” Father shook his head. “Well your going to need to be prepared for some groveling, some pleading, maybe tears, and she’s got a small temper.”

“And she can turn a tray into a battering ram.” Yoshi reflexively touched her nose. “Where?”

Father Munez smiled and stood. Yoshi followed suit. “Follow the path between the Roses and the Light, then go left at the fork.”

“What? Can we not be cryptic, I have enough confusing language in my head.”

Father shook his head. “No, I’m serious. Go to the cemetery, about a mile in there’s a headstone for the Roses’ on the right and one for the Lights’ on the left, follow the path.”

Yoshi blushed. “Oh. Sorry.” She chuckled at her confusion and gave the father a lopsided grin. Yoshi walked with the priest and stopped at the door.

Father looked up into deep blue eyes with question and the smallest hint of amusement. “You want me to say a prayer or something?”

“Should you?”

The acoustics in the cathedral picked up Father Munez’s laughter and carried the genuinely delighted sound through the building. He stopped as a few worshipers turned in his direction. He cleared his throat as he ushered Yoshi out of the building with a giggle. He looked up at the scowling woman and apologized. “If it’ll help–go in peace… yada yada yada, may the Lord have mercy on you…amen.” He made the sign of the cross in the air and then touched Yoshi on the shoulder. He held his hands up in a boxing stance and spoke. “Remember, bob and weave. Bob–and then weave.”

Yoshi smiled. “Sure thing Father.”

* * *

CH 19: “I’m hitting my knees for you, Baby”
Yoshi found herself standing in front of a mausoleum when she got to the end of the path. She drew in a breath as she found a man-made fissure in the cement and forced back a slab of concrete. She closed the slab behind her and wasn’t surprised to find that the room was dimly lit with torches hanging in opposite corners. Yoshi looked around the room and found no signs of life, but her ears picked up at the faint sound of movement below her. Yoshi placed a hand on her blade as she stepped around a large crypt and there she found steps that led down. She removed her hand from her sword and began to slowly descend the stairs.

Yoshi barely had time to take in the vault itself before Clarion rose from behind a marbled crypt. Angry green eyes focused on Yoshi, who stood at the entrance to the steps with her hands at her sides. “Get the fuck out Hunter!” Clarion’s voice was strained from crying but it still harbored fierce anger.

Yoshi didn’t make eye contact with the enraged woman as she held her hands up. “I mean you no harm Clarion, I just want to talk.” In a blink of an eye Clarion moved from behind the crypt and was in front of Yoshi. She drew back her arm and slapped Yoshi hard across the face. Yoshi’s head snapped to the side and she slowly brought her head back around to face Clarion.

Clarion shoved Yoshi with each sentence. “Leave now! Get the fuck out. Leave me be and let me go!” Clarion stopped pushing when Yoshi hit the wall. Clarion stood with her fists clenched at her side. She stepped back and breathed deep fighting the surge of energy in her body that was prompting her to let go of her human nature. Clarion looked down at the floor as she grabbed fistfuls of her hair and moved away from Yoshi. “Let me go, just let me go, let me go.” Her voice cracked as she came to a stop in front of the crypt.

Yoshi glanced at the red-head and then looked away as she dabbed away a drop of blood with her tongue. She moved away from the wall, but made no move to get closer to Clarion. “Will you please just let me talk?”

Clarion threw up her hands and released a guttural scream. “What the fuck is there to say!?” She didn ‘t wait for Yoshi to answer as she walked around to the other side of the crypt declaring it as a barrier. “Absolutely nothing. There’s nothing to say, there’s nothing you can tell me to make this different. Stolova wants me dead, along with every Vampire on the fucking East Coast. And you,” she thrusted her hand out in an accusatory manner, “you want to kill me because you don’t know what to do with me and because it’s law.” Clarion laughed. “Fuck you Hunter! I can do bad by myself so I don’t need your kind of help nor do I want it. Just walk away and let me go.”

Yoshi grimaced in pain as Clarion’s words assaulted her with the force of her fists. Yoshi tossed her head about as she looked about the room and tried to come up with something to say. She noticed the duffle bag in the corner next a bed that had recently been slept in. A small refrigerator stood in a corner beside a small table and a stool. Along the back wall, rested cardboard boxes and frame covers. This was Clarion’s little hideway. For a moment, Yoshi wondered what treasures were in those boxes what else she was hiding away. Finally, she looked up at Clarion and managed to make eye contact.

“Where do you think you’re going to go?”

“Anywhere but here, how about that.”

“They’ll find you.”

“Let them come, I’ll just keep moving.”

“What kind of life is that?”

Clarion’s laugh pained Yoshi in its mocking quality. “What do you know about a life? You live in the middle of nowhere and you don’t see the people that are supposed to be your friends for decades.” Clarion eased out from behind the crypt as her voice grew strong. “You live in your little world of books, swordplay, and traditional duty. What have you done but be stagnate because you’re afraid to be wrong.”

Yoshi frowned as she went on the defensive. “I’m sorry I’m not thief, is that what you want?”

Clarion howled with laughter. “I’m sorry you’re not as well. Forgive me, oh great one, for not being a fucking upstanding citizen for two hundred years. Forgive me if I got bored!”

Yoshi drew in a breath and calmed herself. “I’m not judging you Clarion.”

“Yes you are! Just like you judge us all. And you know what, I find it awfully hypocritical of you to stand there and question my humanity when clearly, it’s you who is lacking it.”

Yoshi stepped back as if she had been hit and Clarion dropped her gaze, thinking that maybe she had gone too far. Yoshi hung her head and bit at her lip as her mind raced. She turned towards the wall and kicked at it idly like a scolded child. When the room hummed with silence, she curtailed her want to sob and spoke. “Clarion, I-I don’t know what to do. I have no answers, but I have to have your help. I want your help…please.” Yoshi turned around and faced a scowling Clarion who clearly didn’t know what to make of the dark woman in her weakness.

Clarion toned down some of the sarcasm as she answered. “And just like that, I’m supposed to just say, okay, let’s go. I’m supposed to put my life in your hands and put belief in your want to save me. Bullshit. How can I have faith in the faithless? Yoshi–I, oh boy, for the life of me I can’t imagine you telling me anything that’s going to make me believe.” Clarion sighed as she watched the tall woman struggle with her thoughts.

Yoshi let her head loll back as Clarion’s words washed over her. She ran her hands through her hair and then wiped away errant tears as she dropped her head. Her mind filled with Colin’s rants and Father Munez’s bad joke. It was almost too much for the woman, but she knew if she didn’t leave here with Clarion then this would be the end. Yoshi closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and cut her mind off as she let the words come without prompting.

Her voice was a whisper. “I-I need you.”

Clarion leaned off of the crypt and arched a brow. “What?”

With her eyes still closed, Yoshi spoke again. “I need you. I– need– you. I, me. I want–I-I need you.” Yoshi sighed and continued, oblivious to the slack-jawed expression on Clarion’s face. “Just me, just for me. Not…ah. Fuck!” Clarion slapped a hand over her mouth to hold in her squeak of surprise. “Look, I need you. Fuck the scrolls, fuck Colin, fuck Father Munez, fuck Stolova, fuck the law, just fuck, fuck, fuck!” Yoshi let loose an exasperated breath and drew up her hair as she finally opened her eyes. Clarion just stared as she held her arms across her body, and held a hand over her mouth. Yoshi swallowed and knew she couldn’t stop talking now.

“You’re right, I have no faith. You’re all absolutely right, I don’t know what to believe or even how. But, I do have faith in you. I believe in you. That’s all I have strength for right now, and to be honest it’s only my faith in you that’s keeping me going right now.” Yoshi drew back her coat and pulled out her katana. Clarion stepped back more out of reflex than fear.

Yoshi flourished the blade with her right hand and then held the blade up horizontally with both hands as she touched the blade to her forehead and mumbled something unintelligible. She then dropped to her knees, bowed her head, and held the blade above her head. Clarion was unsure of what was happening or even what to do. In fear, she wanted to run from the tomb, but she held fast to her spot if only out of awe at the display before her feet. Yoshi’s black hair scraped the concrete as she bowed her head. Her coat pooled out around her and she resembled to Clarion a knight in supplication as she held the blade out with both hands. After a moment of reverent silence, a strong clear alto broke the silence as Yoshi spoke.

“Clarion Giselle, I lay down my blade. I kneel at your feet to beg forgiveness and to beg of your mercy. In this, as in all things, my life is yours. I pledge you my honor, my skill, my duty, my core, all that I am, from whence I came to wherever you lead. As it is and as it should be, from beginning to end, alpha and omega: I give you my blade.”

Yoshi whispered a stream of Japanese to herself and then she laid the katana down on the ground between Clarion and herself, placed her hands on her thighs and bowed her head. Clarion wiped at the tears that escaped green eyes and stared down at the crown of blue-black hair. For only the second time in her long life, Clarion was speechless, and the first time she did it on purpose. Clarion ran a shaking hand through red hair and let loose a breath that she didn’t know she’d been holding. She had been prepared for a yelling match, maybe a scuffle, and the possibility that she might have to hurt the woman who made her ache with want on the inside.

Clarion had cremated and buried any hopes she had for her and Yoshi, so this was highly unexpected and unfortunately for Clarion she was out of smart ass comebacks. Clarion observed the silent woman kneeling at her feet and step towards her, so that only the width of the katana separated them. With just the faintest hint of shaking, Clarion placed a small hand on Yoshi’s head and felt the woman shiver. Clarion firmed her touch, as she smoothed the dark locks away from Yoshi’s face until she looked up. Clarion couldn’t help but grin as teary green eyes fixed on teary blue eyes that were vibrant with life. Clarion continued absently combing her fingers through Yoshi’s hair as she breathed out, “I accept.”

Clarion took a step back as the breath left her body as Yoshi rose up onto her knees and embraced the small woman. Clarion giggled as Yoshi nuzzled her face in her stomach. Clarion reached around and released the pressure of Yoshi’s hold as she knelt. Clarion held onto one of Yoshi’s hands as she careful slid the katana out of her way. The two women grinned at each other and then Clarion began a two handed exploration of Yoshi’s face. She drew her fingertips across the faint bruise on Yoshi’s face.

Green eyes looked to the floor in shame. “I’m sorry I hit you.”

“No you’re not.” Yoshi smiled. “But look on the bright side you were the first person to break my nose…in at least 50 years.”

Clarion snapped her head up and her eyes went wide in shock. “Oh God, I’m sorry, really. I-I-

Yoshi touched long fingers to Clarion’s lips and quieted the woman. “It hurt–a really really lot.”

Clarion touched her forehead to Yoshi’s and chuckled. She raised her head and planted a soft kiss on the bridge of Yoshi’s nose. “A really really lot, huh?”

“Excruciating.”

“Oh, yeah, spell it.”

Blue eyes rolled with mirth. “Uh, e, x, something, ‘ting.”

Clarion laughed aloud as she tousled dark hair. “Not too bright are you?”

“Complete idiot.”

Clarion lowered her voice. “C’mere idiot.”

Both women leaned in and met one another in the middle. Warm lips latched onto one another without hesitation or tentativeness, but in the mutual understanding that precious time had been wasted. The passion that quickly built a week ago on Clarion’s couch was revived with no fear of stopping. The women rapidly devoured one another as tongues met and their hands roamed freely across one another’s bodies. Yoshi let her coat drop to the floor along with Clarion’s shirt as she stood up with the woman attached to her body like second skin. In hindsight, it was true that the bed was three feet to the right, but Yoshi’s mind was so swirled she could only make the two steps that allowed her to deposit Clarion ontop of the marble crypt.

If the marble was cold Clarion couldn’t feel it as she pulled the tall woman down on top of her and begin pulling at the black
t-shirt that was keeping Clarion from certain goals. Yoshi smiled as she broke their kiss and left a trail of heated kisses down Clarion’s neck, across her torso, her bra, and down her stomach. Yoshi stopped when she reached the edge of Clarion’s warm-up pants and looked up at Clarion with heated blue eyes. Clarion laughed as she saw a glint of mischief flash across Yoshi’s face. “You won’t ruin them, it’s just buttons.” At that, a stream of metallic pops echoed through the vault as Yoshi yanked away the halves of Clarion’s pants with one sure tug. Adidas warm-ups went in opposite directions as Yoshi tossed the pants away and ran warm hands down the length of Clarion’s legs.

Clarion shook with anticipation and arousal as full lips pressed themselves to the inside of her thigh and then she yelped in excitement as those same lips pressed against her center, with the cotton of her underwear doing nothing to cover flood of arousal. Yoshi left her newfound nest to drop soft kisses on Clarion’s chest, neck, and lips. This time when Clarion pulled on her shirt they both felt a tug of resistance. Clarion raised a newly red brow. Yoshi looked bewildered for a second as she hovered over the prone woman and then slapped her forehead in understanding. “My dagger.”

Clarion laughed as she pulled Yoshi down for a hard kiss. “Can we do without the weapons just this once.”

Yoshi rolled blue eyes as she lifted out of Clarion’s embrace. “But weapons can be fun.” Yoshi stuck out her bottom lip in a pout.

Clarion groaned. “Later. Now off with the shirt.” Yoshi smiled impishly and then removed her shirt. She couldn’t help the blush that rose to her cheeks as Clarion stared openly at her bare breasts as if she was starving. Clarion licked her lips without chagrin as she took in the supple swells of olive colored flesh that were Yoshi’s breasts. “So all those tight shirts keep you from buying bras huh?”

Yoshi shrugged as she dropped the shirt to the ground and snapped the strap on her knife. “I’m cheap.”

Clarion flashed white teeth brazenly. “And I’m rich.”

“So you’d mind?”

Clarion put her hands behind her head and looked oddly at the woman standing before her. “Mind what?” Yoshi tossed the tanto in the air and caught it at the hilt. Green eyes went wide. “You wouldn’t dare, I paid thirty bucks for this bra.”

Yoshi grinned and leaned down between Clarion’s outstretched legs. “You should stop shopping at Victoria’s Secret, then.”

Clarion laughed and then got serious as she locked eyes with a blue that was colored with intense indigo. An involuntary shiver ran through her body as she reacted to the cold steel of the dagger laying across her belly. Black and red eyebrows arched in unison, as Clarion let out a deep chuckle. “You cut me….and to the moon Alice.” Clarion shook her fist playfully at Yoshi, who shook her head in confusion. Clarion sighed. “You don’t even own a t.v. do.” Yoshi buried her head between Clarion’s breasts and shook her head no, eliciting a giggle from Clarion.

Clarion stopped her giggle as she felt the faintest sensation of cold as the very tip of the dagger was skillfully dragged from her bellybutton to the satin bridge of her bra. Yoshi stilled her hand as they gazed at one another quietly. Clarion reached out and caressed Yoshi’s face, stopping at her lips, and then gently pushed two fingers into her warm mouth. Yoshi closed her eyes to the welcome invasion and sucked on the unsolicited gift in quiet prayer until Clarion removed her fingers. “Twenty minutes ago, I thought you were going to plunge that dagger into my heart.”

Blue eyes smoldered. “And now?”

“I know you’d fall on it for me.”

Yoshi ducked her head and kissed Clarion as if she was about to disappear. When she stopped she gave a breathless Clarion no time to gather herself as she sliced through the material of her bra and then with two quick movements of her wrists Clarion’s underpants fell away from her body. Clarion could do nothing but gasp. Yoshi gave her a lopsided grin and lost herself in Clarion’s breasts. When she came up for air, she silently moved Clarion’s hands form behind her head. She looked down into green eyes. “Trust me?” Clarion gave a lazy nod. Yoshi grinned and with a small twirl of her fingers she raised her dagger and then plunged it into the marble all the way to hilt. The crypt shook with force.

Clarion shivered, looked up and caught the glint of metal. “Impressive.”

Yoshi raised a brow skyward and smirked. “Hold on to it.”

Clarion snickered. “Oh really,” she drawled. By the time she was done her sentence a head full of black hair was firmly planted between her thighs. Clarion sucked in sharp breath as a cool tongue entered her without warning. “Oh…my…god.” She closed her eyes to pleasant feel of Yoshi’s tongue landscaping her center and then they opened with a snap, as two long fingers made their presence known, and Clarion uttered the last coherent statement she would make for a while.

—–

Clarion’s sweat covered body shook with climax for the second time as she blindly reached down and buried her hand in black tresses. The dark woman eased herself away from between Clarion’s thighs and rested her head on Clarion’s stomach, that rose and fell with heavy breathing. Clarion opened her eyes slowly to greet Yoshi who was hovering over her with a cheesy grin affixed to her face. Clarion leaned up and nibbled on her lip. “You seem pretty pleased with yourself.” Yoshi feigned innocence and shrugged bare shoulders. “You realize we’ve got about six hours till dawn and I only need two hours of sleep.”

The tall woman laughed as she eased Clarion away from the marble crypt and gently laid her down on the bed to her right. “I only need one.” Yoshi tickled Clarion with kisses as they fell onto the bed in a tangle of arms and legs. Yoshi stopped her ministrations when Clarion tapped her on the shoulder. “What?”

Clarion’s head hung over the bed so that her neck was stretched out and everything in the room was upside down. “I was just wondering what’s in my fridge.”

“Hungry?”

“If I’m not eating, I’m talking.”

“I guess I’ll have to keep you occupied.” The tall woman leaned over and lit into Clarion’s neck with teeth and tongue.

Clarion moaned and laughed as a new wave of arousal surged through her. “Stop that. Let me up.”

Yoshi let Clarion up with a groan and then watched as the naked woman skipped across the room to the fridge. Yoshi watched the sway of hips for a moment and then untied her boots. “So what’s in there?”

“Well lot’s of stuff….aha.”

Yoshi tried to peer around Clarion but couldn’t see inside the small fridge. “What is it?”

“Whip cream. Now take off your pants.” The red head turned around with a large smile and held the can out like she was trying out for The Price is Right.

A dark eyebrow rose. “I need to take off my pants for this?”

Clarion laughed as she sauntered to the bed. “Well yes and hell yes!” Yoshi shook her head and quickly disposed of her pants. Clarion frowned. “I thought you’d be naked.”

“Only in summer.” Clarion shook with laughter as she straddled Yoshi and pushed her onto her back. “So what are we doing with that?”

“Stuff.” Clarion licked her lips and eyed the sculpted body beneath her with salacious thoughts.

“Stuff?” Clarion nodded and proceeded to draw a whip cream arrow down the length of Yoshi’s torso starting at her neck and ending at the recently revealed mass of dark curls, at the apex of her legs. Yoshi followed Clarion with her eyes, as the small woman removed herself only to sit behind Yoshi’s head. “What now?”

“Admiring my work.”

“Well my nipples are cold.”

Clarion gazed at the taut brown flesh of Yoshi’s nipples through heavy-lidded eyes. “They certainly are.”

Yoshi opened her mouth to ask another silly question only to have her mouth covered by Clarion’s heated and determined lips. Yoshi decided to stop trying to form a complete thought as she closed her eyes and felt Clarion make her way down her body, stopping to lick and suck all the important areas and even the not so important ones. Yoshi almost exploded at the mere feel of Clarion’s hair as it brushed against her thighs, but the ecstasy of a familiar scent hovering above her caused her to not give in quite so quickly.

* * *

CH 20: ‘When I wake up tommorrow will you still feel the same’
All though the two women seemed intent on proving they could run on the barest amount of sleep, both freely collapsed into each others arms, just after dawn. True to form however, Yoshi rose after a little more than an hour of sleep, pulled on her boxers, and retrieved her katana to do her stretching routine.

On the swords’ fifth pass through the air, Clarion awoke, but she made no comment until the dark Samurai brought her sword to her side ten minutes later. “Quite the workout.”

Bright blue eyes turned towards the sleepy red-head, laying on her stomach with her hands under her chin. Yoshi blushed lightly as she grinned and then placed her blade on top of crypt, before walking over to the bed and sitting down. Clarion rolled over letting the sheet fall where it may, and received a warm kiss from the half naked woman. Clarion let her hands remain entwined in Yoshi’s long tresses as the pulled apart. “It’s morning right?”

“After dawn.”

Clarion smiled. “You can tell time by sniffing the air right?”

Yoshi chuckled as she took hold of Clarion’s hand and kissed the palm. “My watch is in my pants pocket.”

“Cheater.” Clarion giggled and rolled back onto her stomach.

Without prompting, Yoshi eased back onto the bed and began an earnest massage of Clarion’s back. The red-head moaned aloud , which sent butterflies through Yoshi’s stomach. She dropped her voice an octave as she leaned over with her lips next to a small pink ear. “Keep that up, and we’ll never leave.”

Clarion wiggled her upper body at the feel of warm breath on her neck. With a smile she groaned out, “okay.”

—-

Clarion leaned against the wall with the pillow separating her damp back from the concrete. Her ankles rested on the edge of the bed with her legs spread in a vee. Between her legs and still twisted in the sheet was a sleepy-eyed Yoshi. Clarion lazily combed through the moist tendrils of Yoshi’s hair that hung about her face as she leaned back on Clarion’s chest. Yoshi shifted so that her feet were flat on the ground as she grabbed Clarion’s small hands and wrapped them around her waist.

“You about ready to go sleepyhead.” Clarion placed a soft kiss on a dark temple.

Yoshi sighed and squeezed Clarion’s hands. “You realize I can’t drive in this condition.”

Clarion laughed. “Who said I was letting you drive? Besides do you know the way to New Orleans?”

“Give me a map and set me loose.” Clarion squeezed the muscled woman resting between her legs and smiled from ear to ear. “Are you smiling?”

“How’d you know?”

Yoshi contemplated her answer with a shrug as she played with Clarion’s fingers. “I can feel it.” she answered quietly.

Clarion touched a hand to Yoshi’s chin. “Hey look at me.” Yoshi moved out of Clarion’s embrace and crossed her legs under her as she faced Clarion. “Do we need to talk?”

Yoshi chewed on her bottom lip as she avoided sparkling green eyes. “I was thinking we’d just forget everything that happened before today and I’d just go through life worshiping the ground you walk on.” Broad shoulders raised up and down as Yoshi picked at imaginary lint on the bed.

Clarion smiled and leaned forward, kissing Yoshi soundly on full lips. “You’re so adorable when you do that, but that’s not going to erase what’s passed. And it definitely won’t change that fact that I’m-

A large hand covered Clarion’s mouth accompanied by Yoshi shaking her head. “Don’t say it.” Yoshi could feel Clarion pout in her hand.

Clarion removed the hand from her mouth and held onto it. Soft green eyes fixed on skittish blue eyes. “It’s true.” Yoshi sighed as she gently removed her hand and stood from the bed, visual searching the floor for her shorts and jeans. Clarion watched the woman with small concern. “You avoiding the obvious Samurai?”

Yoshi bent over in silence and pulled on her shorts. She held her jeans in her hands as she turned to face Clarion. “I know, I know.” She stepped into her pants and pushed the button through the hole. “I’m not avoiding…I promise.” She ran her hands through hair that easily reached the middle of her back. She arched an eyebrow comically and pursed her lips. “Maybe I should cut my hair too?”

Clarion sucked her teeth and kicked at the covers. “Yoshima!”

The tall woman blushed. “I’m not avoiding…I’m just delaying the inevitable.” She smirked and Clarion shook her head. The tall woman walked to the bed and squatted, so that she was eye level with Clarion. She touched her forehead to Clarion’s and both women sighed. Yoshi leaned back and smiled. “Hands.” Clarion obliged and placed her smaller hands in Yoshi’s. “So small.” she said to herself as she looked down at the contrast of Clarion’s alabaster colored skin to her deep olive skin tone. Blue eyes met patient green as Yoshi looked up. “I’m still at a real loss here as to what’s supposed to happen. I’m out of my mind and I’m probably a little more on edge than I should be. Um, I’m not sure about lots of things right now, but I have no plans of losing you or sacrificing you to anyone or anything. All I know is what I feel and right now I feel like I’m 25. Hoo yah!” They both laughed.

“And I mean the first time I was 25, not the third or fourth. Everything is wide open and I’m scared out of my mind. I look at you and I think my heart is going to beat itself into stopping. I touch you and it’s like having hot flashes.” Blue eyes closed as she let go of Clarion’s hands and tried to grasp the air. “I feel you all around me and through me and it absolutely pains me to think of not having you in my life.” Yoshi opened blue eyes to stare into green eyes wet with impending tears. “I’m not answering your question am I?”

Clarion fell forward into strong arms as she bubbled with laughter. She wiped at her tears as she began to plant kisses on Yoshi’s shoulders, neck, ears, face, and her finally her lips. Clarion leaned back and brushed her fingertips down Yoshi’s face. “I forgot the question.”

Yoshi kissed both of Clarion’s palms and stood. “If you don’t get dressed soon, I’m going to forget the question.”

Clarion grinned devilishly as she dropped the sheet from her body and put her assets on display. “You threatening me chèr?”

“Why no ma’am.” Yoshi tipped the brim of an imaginary hat and winked.

Clarion’s infectious laughter bounced off the concrete walls. “Zip your pants cowboy.”

—–

Forty-five minutes and a tickle session later, Clarion and Yoshi walked out of the mausoleum into the bright sun of mid-afternoon in December. Clarion covered her eyes with her forearm. Yoshi squinted as well, as she shouldered the duffel bag, and draped her long coat over her arm, in an effort to cover her sword and dagger, but also because it was warm. The dark woman groaned. “This weather irritates me so much.”

Clarion laughed as she led them down a side path. “Hey in April we’ll have a blizzard.”

“Got that right.”

Clarion continued to shield her face from the warmth of the sun as she meandered back towards St. Francis. “Sheesh, is this what real Vampires feel like when they step into the sun?”

Yoshi rumbled with laughter. “Yeah, but then you’ve got all that fire.” She waved her hand spastically through the air to represent flames.

Clarion shook her head and quipped, “you think it’s just the fire?”

“Well, no there’s the melting and all the stuff that oozes out-

“Spew!” Clarion swatted Yoshi on her muscled stomach. “That’s nasty.”

Yoshi shrugged and smiled to herself as she watched Clarion shake out her hand. “So what’s the plan?”

Clarion thrust a finger into the air. “First a shower and then we’re off.”

“No clothes.”

Clarion slowed her walk and looped her arm through Yoshi’s. “The poor little Samurai.”

Yoshi let out a snort of laughter. “You’re just going to keep calling me that aren’t you?”

Clarion stuck out a pink tongue. “It fits and besides, do you want me to call you puddins’.”

The tall woman stopped in her tracks and focused serious blue eyes on mirth filled green. “You know I’d julienne your Monets right?” Blue and green eyes held fast until Clarion giggled and stood on her toes to nuzzle Yoshi’s strong jaw, that was fighting a smile.

Clarion tugged on a firm forearm. “C’mon puddins’- The small woman yelped as quick hands snapped her bra. “Did I say that out loud.” The two woman chuckled as they walked. “Let’s hurry up, since I’m taking Ms. ‘Don’t call me puddins’ shopping.”

Yoshi frowned and let out a little groan. “Why am I more afraid than I’ve ever been in my life.”

“You’re such a wuss. Now, come on, before we get there late and give Father a show.” Yoshi ignored the salacious thought that sprang to mind and simply smiled as she allowed herself to be led back to the church.

* * *

CH 21: Highways, Bi-ways, and Past Lives
The December sun was providing a serious source of heat as the two got into Clarion’s blue and white 66′ GT-350 Mustang parked a block from the church. Yoshi took one look at the muscle car and knew that even if everything fell apart she’d have to keep Clarion just for the car. Yoshi was smiling from ear to ear as she threw her coat into the back seat and relished the feel of the warm leather on her back. She ran her hands lovingly across the dashboard much to Clarion’s delight.

“I take it you used to have one of these?” She smiled knowingly at the dark woman who could only nod for the moment.

Yoshi pulled herself together and grinned. “I love my Camaro, but I miss my GT. I crashed it in Germany chasing some demon on the Autobahn.” She chuckled at the memory. “All I wanted to do was talk to him, I swear.”

“You can be a little intimidating sometimes.” Yoshi grimaced. “But, I like it.” Clarion leaned over and gave the woman a soft kiss on full lips that even in it’s gentleness made the stoic woman woozy. Clarion smiled and then slapped the steering wheel. “Holy crap, almost forgot. Be right back.”

With her eyes, Yoshi followed the small woman as she jumped out of the car and went to trunk. She watched Clarion open the door on her return and throw her jacket in the backseat, leaving her jeans and a snug white v-neck t-shirt. When she got into the driver’s seat, it was quite obvious what she had gotten from the trunk. Yoshi smiled big as she examined the black cowboy hat that now adorned sheared red locks.

Clarion caught Yoshi’s gaze and smiled. She tipped her brim. “You like?”

A short pause. “Yeah…yeah, I do. Makes you look like a hillbilly…I like it.” She shot Clarion a blazing smile just to prove it.

Clarion grinned and stuck the key in the ignition. “I am not a hillbilly ma’am…I am a Southern Belle.”

Yoshi coughed into her hand. “Yeah, and I’m Rhett Butler.”

Clarion smiled. “Great movie.”

Yoshi looked confused. “That was a movie?” Wide eyes turned towards the dark woman who was fighting the smile itching at the edges of her mouth. She touched Clarion’s tense forearm. “Just joking.”

Clarion shook her head and laughed. “Paybacks, you hear me. Pay…back!” Yoshi just shrugged and put on her seatbelt. Clarion smiled and started the car. Both women shook with energy as the engine purred to life. They looked at one another and just smiled. “Good sound isn’t it?”

Yoshi rested her head against the head rest. “Damn good sound.”

Clarion let out a small gasp. “I’m going to wash your mouth out with soap young lady.”

A shrug of shoulders. “Is that bad?” she asked innocently.

Clarion laughed and pulled out of her parking space. “Well, since I like to give tongue baths, I guess not.” She broke into giggles as blue eyes blanched in surprise and blood made a quick path to Yoshi’s cheeks.

It had been a pleasant drive of an hour for the two women as they made their way south. Yoshi had successfully learned the words to three of the Dixie Chicks songs and Clarion was having just as much fun teaching them. After their first pit stop, Yoshi kicked off her shoes and looked inquisitively at the red-head in the driver seat.

Clarion felt eyes on her as she merged into 95 South traffic and glanced at a serious looking woman. “What’s up, Samurai?”

Yoshi sipped nonchalantly on her water. “Just thinking?”

“‘Bout what?”

“Your story.”

Clarion grinned. “My story, huh?”

“Yeah, I mean how did you.. I mean, uh..” She trailed off and looked at the floor.

Clarion rubbed the woman’s thigh and smiled. “It’s okay. Hey, I want to hear your tale as well.”

Yoshi nodded. “Yeah, but I asked first.”

Laughter filled the car. “Okay smartass. Well, this is a 24 hour trip, so I guess I’ll give the abridged version.”

” ‘Preciate your kindness ma’am.”

“That southern drawl is getting better all the time chèr.” She winked at the dark woman and turned off the CD player. She spoke with flair. “All right you asked for it: The life and times of Clarion Larieux.”

———-

“My mother’s name was Olathe. I’m sure she had a last name in the beginning, but when she was stolen from her home on the Ivory Coast, she was sold to an Englishman living in France. She survived him for eight years until her alleged obstinacy got her a one-way ticket to a newly acquired piece of real estate in the New World.” Clarion glanced at the tall woman who had made herself comfortable in the passenger seat. She grinned and focused back on the road.

“I won’t traumatize you with the random cruelties of my mother’s life, but she lived through it on the account of my aunties.” Clarion smiled wickedly for a brief moment, sharing a quiet joke with herself. “My aunties introduced my mother to the saving grace of Voodoo at the age of 19 and apparently her life got better from there. See Yoshi sometimes religion is helpful.” She winked at the scowling woman and continued. “Anyway, maman met a strikingly handsome young Englishman a year later, and I guess she should have fled the moment he opened his mouth, but she was enamored. I never learned if it was some spell or something but according to my aunties it was love through and through.”

“I like to imagine that he was attempting to kill her, but that he took one look at caramel colored woman and fell in love.” Clarion shrugged as she finished, “after all who can resist an obstinate smartass.”

The tall woman in the passenger seat stuck out her tongue in response. “So whatever, maman, the rebel that she was carried on a forbidden love affair with this refined Englishman and a year later, 1773 to be exact, I was born. I think she was really happy for all of five minutes after she gave birth and then she looked into the corner of the room she was giving birth in, she saw my father.”

Yoshi’s ears pricked up as Clarion’s voice dropped low to feed the atmosphere of her tale. “To this day I applaud him for abstaining. I applaud him for controlling himself and not ripping my mother to shreds on account of all the blood.” Clarion gave a quick look to Yoshi who drew in a breath of air sharply. “Like I said, she saw him and he froze. Green eyes all aglow, fangs wet with want. He of course attempted to do the only thing he could, which was run. My mother, bullheaded minx that she was stopped him.” Clarion’s voice hung in the air prompting Yoshi to ask ‘how’ when Clarion paused too long. Clarion smiled and continued.

“She held me out to him. I was all bundled up and red and crying, but she laid me in his arms and I shut right up.” Yoshi grunted. Clarion took her eyes from the road to acknowledge the woman. “What?”

“Must have been nice to be a family, huh?”

Clarion shook her head and moved her hand from the stick to squeeze Yoshi’s hand in understanding. “You’re getting way ahead of me, Stretch.” Clarion cleared her throat and changed gears as she changed lanes. “I’d love to say we were this weird Norman Rockwell family and I guess we were for about the 20 minutes that my dad held me. After that, all hell broke loose. No matter what crap Masters managed to put their slaves through, the slaves themselves formed a unit with one another. It was impossible not to and in the Bayou it was that closeness that helped a lot of slaves escape. Anyway, two of my aunts and another lady were the priestess in our community. That just means they presided over the religious ceremony, but back then it also meant that voodoo priestess was a euphemism for a ‘jumpy witch’. I mean it was beyond paranoia and superstition. These women had vibes about everything. When I would visit as I got older, I would just sit in a chair on my hands for fear that any movement would upset the balance of the universe.” Clarion smiled and Yoshi chuckled.

Clarion let out a breath and stretched her neck, gaining a pop as her bones aligned. Yoshi shifted in her seat and extended her arm in order to massage Clarion’s neck as she started talking again. “Where was I…god that feels good. Oh yeah, balance of the universe. So, the grapevine suspected that my father was a Nosferatu; and they were pretty much right. Of course this meant that I was probably a little one too, so this was no good.” Clarion smirked. “It never ceases to amaze me to know that my maman had to practically run a marathon only a half an hour after giving birth.” Clarion chuckled to herself. “It wasn’t really 26 miles, but sometimes having the wrath of God put on you tends to exaggerate things.” Yoshi only shook her head in quiet amusement as Clarion continued to speak with just an edge of sarcasm to her words, but always with pride. Clarion shifted gears and veered off the highway via an exit ramp. “I’ll spare you the blood and just say the mob of do-gooders found my father and killed him. Maman escaped and through some magnificent storytelling and the aid of her big brown eyes she convinced an old crazy lady that lived out in the marsh to take me. And she did. She raised me, I grew up, got into trouble, she got me out of it, she kept me sane, she passed away, I moved on….and almost 230 years later here I am on my home.”

Clarion tapped the steering wheel as she stopped at a stoplight. The two women sat in silence until Yoshi leaned back in her seat and arched an eyebrow at Clarion. “So that’s it, the whole story.”

Clarion gave a little shrug. “Well yeah. What else you want?”

“I don’t get any childhood anecdotes, I mean at least tell me about the crazy lady you lived with.”

Clarion laughed as she turned at the intersection onto a main road. “She wasn’t really crazy, hell she was far from it. You ever heard of Marie Laveau?”

Yoshi thought for a moment and then nodded. “Self proclaimed ‘Pope of Voodoo’ if I’m not mistaken, very powerful as well and the most famous.”

Clarion tipped her brim at the grinning woman. “Well I lived with Mama Deauchchènt for 16 years and she was a very skilled woman. She just chose to keep her talents on the down low, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh really. So she teach you some tricks?”

Clarion smiled suggestively as she pulled into a gas station. “A couple.” She ran her tongue across her teeth as she caught inquisitive blue eyes looking in her direction. “Answer a riddle?” Yoshi nodded eagerly. Clarion cut the ignition and turned towards Yoshi. “What consumes, breathes oxygen, multiplies, dies, yet has no form?”

Blue eyes regarded sparkling green with question. Yoshi furrowed her brow as she thought. “I think I answered this question in Athens, I don’t think I got it right.”

Clarion giggled. “It’s not a demon silly.”

Yoshi grinned. “I didn’t think so.” She paused. “Then I’ll say fire.” She wore a smug grin which Clarion returned.

“Very good.” Green eyes pulsed with mischief as Clarion made a fist with her right hand and then in a quick swirl of motion she blew on her fist and released a fist-sized fireball, that flared to a bright blue and then vanished. Clarion turned to a slack-jawed Yoshi who was pale in awe.

“How’d you do that?” Her words came out in a gush of air.

Clarion laughed and fixed her hat. “That’s like you asking me what I put in my ettuffee. I’m not telling you, but needless to say grasshopper I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve.” Clarion wiggled red eyebrows and gave the still wide eyed woman a peck on the cheek.

Yoshi rolled down the window and whistled at Clarion’s retreating frame causing the small woman to stop and turn, face red with blush. “Do I get the rest of the story?”

Green eyes rolled. “Yeah, go buy me some candy…and make it good.”

Yoshi frowned and spoke quietly, “We’re in a Texaco.”

Clarion smiled and walked away, but not so far that Yoshi didn’t pick up her reply, “you’ll think of something.”

Yoshi almost said something smart, but figured the red-head might hear it, so she just smiled to herself and went about her task.

—–

Ten minutes later they were back on the highway, and after two hours of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s greatest hits, Clarion finished off her pack of Raisinets and started talking. “So I take it you want the rest of the story?” Yoshi nodded. “You’re extremely patient you know that.”

The dark woman smirked and stretched her back. “You try sitting in a cave for two months in Siberia waiting on Colin and you too can learn patience.”

Clarion made a sour face and shook as she imagined the cold. “You sure you want to know this, it’s not a very nice chapter in my youth, but it is when I figured it all out.”

“You didn’t know from the beginning.”

“Mama D knew, but she never came right out and said it, she was cryptic that way. But in every other way she assured me that I was very special and would figure it out one day. In retrospect, she made sure I didn’t become an animal. She taught me to respect life and all God’s wonderful creatures, even the mutations. In her words, ‘God don’t make no junk’, so if somebody told me otherwise, I had her permission to widen their horizons. That usually meant a bloody nose or a black eye, but it wasn’t like living with ‘the crazy lady’ afforded me many friends. We were too busy avoiding bounty hunters and folks that liked to captured freedman and sell them back into slavery and such.” Clarion drew in a breath and then glanced over at intense blue eyes. “You sure you want to hear it, blood, guts, and all of it.”

Yoshi grinned and rested her hand on top of Clarion’s on the stick. “I’m not going to judge you, I promise.”

Clarion smiled. “Well can I have a cigarette?”

“How can you smoke and shift gears?”

“I’m not that good, so you’re driving.”

Clarion lit her cigarette and launched her tale as soon as Yoshi pulled back into traffic. “I remember puberty and it wasn’t that bad. But, ‘waking up’ was ten times worse. Any woman that says she has bad cramps can kiss my ass. I’m getting ahead of myself so ignore that. It was two days to my 16 birthday when they came.
1789- Louisiana, pre-Baton Rouge:
For sixteen years the Bayou was a loving home for me. There was so much to learn, to see, to taste, to touch, to smell. I was constantly stimulated and constantly in trouble, which was hard to come by, especially when I knew more about where the Gators laid their nests and the number of snake species than people. It wasn’t as if Mama D cut us off on purpose, but it served us both well, all though I wonder if we had have been closer to the plantations or the docks if things wouldn’t have happened in the manner they did.

I walked barefoot through the high grass towards the outhouse, since I was supposed to be doing chores. I cinched my skirt up in my fists as I moved through the sticky sweet blades of grass and made my way to the edge of the creek. I was doing nothing but wasting time, tormenting the baby frogs and seeing how long I could wiggle my fingers in the dark water until one of those logs opened its eyes and showed itself to be a Gator. The sky appeared to be a passionate purple as the daylight and nightfall kissed one another and created dusk. This was the time of day that Mama D had taught me to relish the most. Sunsets were beautiful canvases and the glowing of the moon gave way to the open night, but it was dusk that held the balance of life in its tender arms. At dusk, life breathed anew with the coming of sleep and the promise of waking.

I smiled to myself as I lifted my head, and brushed curly tendrils of blonde hair away from my face. I could hear the bats expanding their wings, snakes uncoiling, Gators coming up for air, and even Owls opening their eyes. I released my reluctant playmate of the frog and let him join in the chorus of his kind, as their vibrato hum carried over top of the Weeping Willows. It was a wonder I heard the foot falls at all, but as they were heavy, as if burdened and three sets total. I knew it was trouble. My recent trip to the Quarter and the privilege of my alabaster skin tone had alerted me to the fact that bounty hunters were out and about.

I bundled my skirts and ran towards the house as fast as my short stride would allow. With each step I was reminded why I hated dresses. If it wasn’t the grass slicing my ankles, or the heavy material itself, it was just that it was plain restrictive. I never did make it back to the house. Even as I felt callused hands grip me about the neck and waist I kept my eyes affixed on the house, looking for Mama D. I ignored the howling men at my back and my own tears. Even as I was knocked unconscious one thought remained constant: she abandoned me.

When I awoke, (I would later discover that two days had passed), it was to the unfamiliar surroundings of a hayloft. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes as I rose into a sitting position and felt the back of my neck for the gash I knew would be there, only to find a thin scab of healing. I didn’t have time to consider the ramifications as I smelled a campfire from below. I remember feeling around in the hay and darting my eyes everywhere, searching for an opening, a weapon…a diversion. My only out was the barn door. I had to take my time climbing down the ladder on account of my sore limbs. I was ready to assume that I had experienced some horrible beating, but it was just the rush of adrenaline coursing through my small frame and beginning a process.

The door ahead of me started to open and I ran with everything I had, but he was simply too strong and I was just too small and too weak at the time. His eyes seemed so pale, void of color, void of light, and any saving grace. I saw thin chapped lips moving with force, as surprisingly well kept teeth appeared and spittle reached my face during his talking. It didn’t really matter what he was saying, I knew what was coming even before I felt the irons around my wrist and even before he tore what was left of my dress from my body.

As I lay on my back doing my best to count needles of hay, everything burned around me. I could feel the heat of the fire at my side, the sweat that covered my face seemed to boil, his breath was hot as he hovered over me, and the body thrusting between my legs seemed to be searing my flesh. Even my insides burned. I had exhausted my tears and my throat was probably bleeding from use. He came to me that way for two more days and left me for dead on the third, because I refused to speak or react. I guess he assumed me dumb. I pulled my bare legs in to meet my naked torso and I stayed that way for at least a day. I kept my eyes open for as long as possible until they finally closed as the embers of the fire burned out–and I slept.

Whomever Clarion had been five days before no longer existed when I awoke. I didn’t have fangs, my eyes didn’t glow, and I wasn’t aching for blood, yet. However, I ached for something far stronger than that at the time: vengeance. For me, it was the most foreign feeling in the world to be consumed with the energy of hate. But it was a tangible energy that fed my limbs and helped me to move. I walked strong out into the night with only the tattered remains of my slip on, but the feral glint in my eye promised anyone death if they came near me. I bathed in a river, stole some clothes, and just started walking. I could still smell him on me, so I just trusted my instincts and went were my senses led me.

I found his small plantation hours later and as I watched him from a tree on his property. I smiled in the thought that not only would I be getting rid of a smug son of a bitch who thought his money gave him rights, but I’d be freeing a handful of my people who would no doubt give me a medal, no matter my fair appearance or what I was.

I would like to say that it was not my finest hour. I would like to say that even now, so many scores of time later I am remorseful. But– I can’t. I was beyond rage and beyond hate. Sure he had taken so much from me, in the most unjust of ways, but more than that, I feared that Mama D let him. I feared she had just walked away and left me. All though, when I stalked him to his own barn two days later and followed him to his barn, it was not with anger at Mama D that I did what I did. I did it because it was the only thing that satiated me.

I remember those pale eyes growing wide in surprise at my presence, then lids lowering suggestively, his thin lips curving into a smile. He thought I was some fair haired girl concubine, but when I lifted my head pulling my hair away from my face, he saw his reflection in malachite colored mirrors. Whatever shock he went through in recognizing my face, it turned to mind-numbing horror as I grabbed him by his collar and hurled his 6’2″ frame into a solid wooden beam. I walked towards his bruised body slowly and I could feel the warmth of a smile spread across my face. He was struggling to get up, but kept slipping on the hay, and could only manage to move backwards on his hands. I could not imagine that at 5’1” and just over a hundred pounds that I was that fearsome, but when I caught my reflection in the medallion around his neck, I suddenly realized with an almost painful relief that Mama D hadn’t abandoned me– she simply let me go.

I had never felt more beautiful in my life, as I viewed myself through his eyes. What a portrait I made, standing over his cowering body. Still barefoot; I wore a pair of trousers and man’s shirt, with the sleeves pushed up to my elbows. I swept loose blonde locks away from my face and pushed them behind my neck where the rest where curtailed in a leather thong. Perhaps from a distance I looked like a fair haired stable boy, but he saw a monster. I wasn’t the young girl that he savagely raped and left for dead, I was the Phoenix that arose from the ashes to burn a trail of fire across his path. And burn I did. It was not my purpose to use him as a pseudo-teething ring, but it provided a slow torture that kept me satisfied.

I trussed him to the cross beams, arms spread, legs hanging down like a suffering Christ-figure. Only he had been abandoned and he would receive no mercy from any god. I stayed there for three days and then I left him for dead. Years later I found out that had managed to live for another three hours after I left, even with his innards hanging around his feet. I fell asleep in the trees of the swamp, awaking as the moon hung high in the sky and lighted my path back home.

Long blonde hair hung in loose curls down my back as I stepped onto the porch. It was surreal how quiet it was. Everything went still around us, even the air. I stood on the step for a long time just looking at the woman in the rocking chair packing her pipe. We said not a word to one another as she handed me a cloth and pushed a basin of warm water in my direction. I used it to clean my face and hands and then I sat in the chair next to her. We both looked out into the light fog that rose from the swamp, and our hands locked together between our chairs. The frogs began their song again, the crickets jumped with life, and the Gators took their first evening breaths. We would sit there till morning talking, less about my heritage and more about the little things I needed to know, as I would be leaving come morning. That was to be the last time I saw her in the flesh.

————–

When Clarion ended her tale, she had gone through a half a pack of cigarettes as the two women sat on the hood of the car, over looking the Atlantic Ocean in South Carolina. The taller woman leaned back on her arms, resting her feet on the chrome bumper and provided a human chair for Clarion as she sat between her legs and leaned back. They sat quietly for a while, not in an uncomfortable silence, but contemplative. The dark woman was trying to find a way to show support and her want to absolve Clarion of her pain. Clarion was beginning to wonder if she should just run off into the ocean and hope the tides carried her to a far off land.

It was Yoshi who managed to come up with the right thing to do, as she sat forward and wrapped Clarion in a comforting embrace. Yoshi buried her face in the curve of Clarion’s neck and lost herself in the slowing pace of Clarion’s pulse. Clarion felt her heartbeat return to normal as she felt Yoshi’s life force move around her. She felt tears come to her eyes as she took in her surroundings. Here at her most vulnerable moment, Clarion had never felt more powerful and she knew that the woman cradling her could feel it too. It was just like when she had taken the hand of Mama D on the porch that night and life abounded around them.

Clarion looked at the waves that pounded the surf in time to the beat of her own heart, which matched the healthy rhythm of the woman at her back. The air hummed with energy around them as the two women entwined light and dark hands and shared the silence. They stayed that way for what felt like an eternity, but was only a short moment. It was a moment that both would have to return to when the time came. In that time it would become clear to both women as to what they felt in the air, heard in the surf, breathed in, and coursed in and around them in that moment. All though neither woman was sure enough to put their finger on it, for the briefest moment they both were aware of what was possible and perhaps inevitable: Balance.

END OF BOOK I.

Continued in  Book 2

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