The Bruised Flower

by Jacynthe Demorae

A shadowy veil hung between Miyu and the world of mortals. From here, she could observe the world, unseen by its inhabitants. Rain fell steadily, a curtain of water shot through with rainbows from the city's neon signs. In the near-distance, garish red lights strobed from the roofs of the approaching police cars.

"Why are we still here?" Shiina protested. "We got the stray shinma, right? So we're done."

"Not yet," Miyu said, watching the entrance to the apartment. She felt Larva's presence at her back, solid and strong.

"Miyu..." he said, a myriad of meaning in that one word.

She inclined her head to show she had heard. It was not her task to alter the destinies of humans. As Guardian, her duty lay in hunting and banishing stray shinma. Humans had their own destinies, their own choices, and the responsibility to live with them as best they could. She'd followed the shinma's puppet back to this place. There was only one ending to his story. having written much of the final chapter, Miyu felt obligated to see the end of it. Miyu moved through the filmy shadows and passed into the building.

Yoko's apartment looked like a child's room, filled with stuffed animals and decorated in candy-bright colors. Even the blood spattering the floor and walls looked like colored sugar-syrup. The body of shinma Oh-Shu's puppet lay crumbled on the floor, the knife still protruding from his chest. His wide, empty eyes stared directly ahead. Miyu ignored him, concentrating on the woman.

Yoko cowered in the corner, curled into a fetal huddle. She wore skimpy shorts and a yellow cropped shirt. Her feet were bare, the toenails painted a bright pink. Blood coated her hands, smeared her arms. Bright splotches of it made ragged starburst patterns on her sunny yellow shirt. Streaks of it marred her cheeks, made spiky clumps in her soft brown hair.

"Miyu, they're coming," Larva warned.

"I'm hungry."

It seared through her like her own flame. The hunt and the battle against the shinma Oh-Shu had drained her strength at a time she could least afford it. The shinma's victim was her most lawful prey. The ugliness she'd sensed inside him had curdled her hunger--that, and Matsukaze's taunts. She refused to bow her head and bare her fangs at Reiha's or Matsukaze's directive. She was a princess, still. Yoko...

Yoko had a fragile beauty, like a bruised flower. She still clung to the shards of innocence, yet displayed herself like a sexual ornament. Under it all, Miyu sensed the desire to please, the longing for love and safety--and utter, utter loneliness. If Miyu plucked this flower now, she might preserve it from wither and ruin.

Miyu slipped from the shadows and crouched down beside Yoko. The young woman appeared not to even notice her.

"I know you are afraid," she told the shivering woman. "I know you are in pain. Give me your blood, and I will take that pain from you, giving you eternal happiness."

Yoko's brown eyes were glazed with chock, but Miyu saw deep within them a glimmer of consent.

Miyu reached out, cupped the woman's face.between her hands. Her skin felt petal-soft. Miyu tilted Yoko's head to the side, exposing her throat. She could see the blood vessels that branched through Yoko's body, shining with a glorious crimson light through her skin. Some were thin as spider's silk, others thick and pulsing.

Miyu cast off her last illusion, the one that allowed her to pass for human. Yoko's fearful trembling increased, the instinctive reaction of a human to a vampire. Pulling Yoko close, Miyu set her fangs over one of the brightest vessels in Yoko's neck. Fresh blood, the blood of a beautiful human, ran over her lips, her tongue. It spilled in a warm, rich rivulet to her stomach. She could feel Yoko's heartbeat in her head, rabbit fast. It spread over her hunger, quenching the burning ache.

As she drank, Miyu sorted through Yoko's memories. She saw the terrified child, neglected and hurt. She saw endless fear-filled periods of cruel isolation and deprivation, shared Yoko-chan's longing for a strong protector.

Like Larva is for me, Miyu thought. But this child had had no one.

At last, she selected a memory, one shining moment in the cascade of fear and darkness.

Yoko and Kenji raced through the amusement park like a pair of giddy teenagers on holiday. On the rollercoaster, Kenji held up his arms and whooped. She clung to him in the haunted house, lured him in for a romantic boat ride. On the carousel, each astride a painted horse, they reached for each other.

"Forget about that other guy. I'm here, now."

Yes, this was it. Miyu used the memory to seed a private world for Yoko's soul. It spun into form, like the cocoon of a silkworm. As soon as she felt it settle around Yoko, Miyu withdrew her fangs, rising to her feet.

Yoko still huddled in the corner, but her limbs were relaxed, her cheek pressed to her drawn-up knees. Her features had softened and slackened into peace. In her glazed brown eyes, Miyu could see the shadows of Yoko's dream.

"Rest well, Yoko," Miyu said. "He will never leave you, now."

"Miyu, we have to go."

She turned to Larva, Yoko's blood on her lips. He held out an arm and she went to him. Larva enfolded her in his great cloak, and they passed out of the mortal world.

-the end-