CHAPTER 8: Thorns :: :: :: :: Up on the balcony box, Ian was occupying a crimson velvet chair, his arms resting stiffly

along the armrests. The row of three seats behind him was empty, reserved to ensure his privacy. Somewhere below his guards must have kept him on their watch at all times. Eight personal bodyguards were assigned to guard him twenty-four/seven. After the First District incident two weeks ago, it was the only bargain his father accepted if he were to set foot out of the lair again. Ian rubbed his temple a bit. The continual lack of sleep, night after night was getting to him. After coming to term with having to lead a life with eight men trailing him, he decided to buy himself a nice night out to clear his mind from battles and blood. He tried to push the existence of the guards to the brink of nothingness by concentrating solely on the beautiful singer in white garb on stage. The heroine lifted her hands into the air, shaken as she lamented over her dead lover and their misfortune. Towards the suicidal end, the singer's heavenly voice gripped Ian in a way he hadn't expected. Ian stared down at the lithe figure below. He couldn't but follow the life of a woman spiraling down the path of unexpected betrayal and vicious truth. The love themeclaimed such powerful meanings that he found it almost absurd how someone would give it such importance. He shifted in his chair, irritated that he was easily frustrated by the clichéd sentiment. To him, love was just a poetic excuse for jealousy and self-interest. He didn't understand it, but hated to admit to have felt the familiar turmoil. He might never know why people felt anything at all. Feeling was a chemical imbalance²a trick in one's mind, and it never had a place in his life until this very moment tonight that he found it suddenly storming up inside of him. Before the curtains called Ian left the box. He intended not to see the heroine succumbing to the tragic end. It wasn't in his soul to surrender, or he wanted to believe it that way. Picking out an antique, silver-cased pocket watch from his leather coat's pocket, he flipped the cover open and studied his mother's smile. Ann Kruger wasn't innocent« Annie Lu's words echoed in Ian's head, and the thought of a hateful WOOHP agent brought questions upon him. He wouldn't know what his mother would have reacted if she were still alive and saw her child becoming a sort she despised. But perhaps someone would have an answer for her. Slipping the pocket watch back into the pocket, Ian strode through the carpeted hallway of the opera house and exited the front entrance. It took a little more than an hour from downtown Midgard to reach Annie's remote home. Forbidden to roam freely on his Ducati, Ian was driven in a black, bulletproof limo with four of the guards. Four other guards paired up, each pair leading and following the limo by motorcycles. Suddenly, Ian felt like a VIP in this silly parade.

Ian took a look outside as the limo drove through the crowded streets, sipping from a cup of coffee he got from Sally's twenty-four-hour diner. As expected, the secret service, under disguise as police, had the First District secured, and the neighbors were given the explanation for the occurrence as a terrorist attack. The news, of course, never made it to the front page. WOOHP' ambition was heightened by the destruction of the First District, the vampire's only headquarters in Midgard. Now the werewolves must have become their next target. Even with tight security around him, Ian had sneaked back to the library a few days ago, although only briefly before the guards caught up with him. The entire building had collapsed. Some parts of the walls still stood, shattered glasses and rubbles piled up along the pavements. Ian had climbed over the huge mound of debris and witnessed a large hole in the middle of the ground, blasted deep enough to see the maze-like walls and passageways below. The vampire headquarters was annihilated, and it would be a miracle if anyone had survived the calamity. Ian closed his eyes for a few moments as the limo turned along the graveled path that led to the monastery up on the hill. Alex was ordered off the security team and given a month to rest. Both Samantha and Sam were presumed dead, and considering the dawn approaching, it was safe to assume that Spencer and Julia had perished as well. Alex hadn't taken the aftermath well, secluding himself in his room, while Ian himself was trying to live his life as normally as he could, although it was becoming harder each second now that the limo finally pulled over in front of the monastery. Getting out of the limo, Ian ordered the guards to stay with their vehicles. His lack of explanation was to be expected, and they knew to keep their distance. At least, he wasn't going anywhere near WOOHP this time. Walking up the driveway, he glanced up at the window to the living room, the only room lit in the house, and his heart skipped a beat at the sound of piano playing inside. Before he could stop himself, he rushed up the stony stairs and pushed the front door open. :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: The rusty backdoor of the bar burst open, and a svelte, raven-haired woman rushed out into the dark alley. It was four thirty in the morning, but passersby still filled along the downtown Tokyo streets. Gasping for air, she leaned against the cold wall to catch some breath. The music kept pounding inside the building that the wall trembled. Her head was spinning, hammered by the powerful vodka shots. Her breath smelled of alcohol, and her eyes and cheeks were reddened. She was in no condition to drive home tonight, but getting home wasn't her main concern at the moment. As a young, bright WOOHP agent, she could lose a lot of credentials being spotted drunk. As a brilliant scientist, who was also a field agent with strong combat expertise, she could lose her precious career being in love with a manmade immortal. Just when nothing seemed to be able to stop her way to great achievements, Ann Kruger found her life slowly destroyed by the only person she had ever loved. Ann wiped the wet strands of her hair from her face before looking around, paranoid for any sign of WOOHP agents. She wasn't followed. She wasn't being spied on. Not yet. No one knew of her blossoming relationship with Hideaki Kruger, but she already felt hunted. Sooner or later, it was inevitable. Just when she straightened up to leave the alley, a heavy figure fell from the sky and landed right in front of her, sending her a few steps back in panic. The large, blond-haired man groaned in pain as he tried to get up, the tail of his black coat stained with blood and

dust. Judging from the situation, Ann was rather certain that he was an immortal, or else he would have died from the fall already. To make matters even more complicated, Ann turned to see another stranger just a few feet from her. A young-looking vampire with wild, chestnut tresses in a patched, charcoal coat stood in the middle of the alley, clenching her fists as she stared down at the man she had just struck down to the ground. "Curse you, traitor!" he yelled. But his hunter silenced him with a fierce kick in his chest, shoving him against the wall. Alarmed, Ann backed away until her back met with the opposite wall. Although she had been recruited into WOOHP for almost a decade since her first year in college, she had yet to come upon the vampires without her squads, protective gears, and most importantly, an exit strategy. This was a street fight between vampires she had never encountered before. Her foot on his chest pinned him in the position. Her eyes glowing in red, the female vampire bent down a little, scrutinizing the face of her victim as if she had never seen him before. Fruitlessly struggling to free himself, he snarled in his poor attempt to threaten her. "Master Masaru knows now that you're the one! You told that damn queen of our location! Know this. We'll never surrender to Uriah. Tell your queen that!" Ann was about to sneak away from the scene, but the mention of the Serpent coven stopped her. The information could be invaluable for WOOHP. It was known that the Serpent branch was destroyed by Uriah three hundred years ago, but there were suspicions of the surviving members of the fallen clan to this day. Perhaps, they weren't just rumors after all. "Masaru will die just like his father before him, and his followers will die just like their master. You won't be the last." The female vampire spoke plainly without remorse or anger in her voice. She sounded ridiculously mechanical as though it was her ritual to repeat this for every victim. Without another word, she pulled out a stake from beneath her kneelength coat and staked into her prey's heart. Screaming, he twisted in pain as his entire being gradually dissolved into ash. Ann involuntarily stiffened when the chestnut-haired vampire spun around, the stake tightened in her grip. Her eyes widened. Her heart beat so fast in panic. It was a rare occurrence to witness a vampire carrying a stake, a weapon fatal to them, and then murdering their own kind with it. The glowing red eyes eventually dulled into haunting crimson, and the vampire studied the shaken Ann with newfound interest. Ann quickly stilled herself, determined not to show her fright. She had never feared death before. But a lot of unexpected things happened today, and the circumstances affected her more than she ever wanted to admit. The vampire stood absolutely still as if waiting for Ann to break down and run before she'd begin another hunt. There was something peculiar about the vampire Ann had never felt with others. There was an ounce of perilous innocence and wild curiosity in the crimson gaze as the vampire held the stake in her hand with neither regret nor shame. It was as if she was designed that way, dictated to hunt down without a care for reasons. A caged animal released only to hunt for its master. Was she really a spy from Uriah? What had made her to be without the slightest guilt to massacre her own kind? Even at the bottom of decadence, vampires were once humans as well. "You always carry that with you? It looks« efficient." Ann finally broke the silence.

"It works with humans, too. But I'm sure you already knew that." "Ah!" Ann was suddenly snatched by the collar and thrust up against the wall before she could even register the vampire's rapid movement. However, the attacker halted, the sharp end of the stake stopping just a few inches from Ann's chest. One hand around Ann's neck, the vampire remained silent for a while, silently contemplating. "I« promise« not to tell anyone«" Ann tried to speak with the harsh grip around her neck. The vampire eventually retracted her hand. "You better not, because seven months from now, I will come back and kill you and everyone you might tell them about tonight." With that, the vampire left the alley. Her hand dropping to her knees, Ann took in a few deep breaths to calm herself down. She lifted her hand to her tummy. With just a touch on her, the vampire detected a presence of life inside her, and amazingly, spared her for that very reason. She had only found out today of her pregnancy with Hideaki's baby. The news deeply scared her, and she was unsure whether to keep it. If she were to keep her career at WOOHP, the baby would have no place in this world. But Hideaki would find out sooner or later, and their secret marriage would certainly end. Ann looked up again at the entrance of the alley. The vampire was long gone. People were walking about, enjoying their time with friends or loved ones. Upon seeing their smiles, she couldn't help but envy their simple life she could only wish for. Slowly, she made her way out of the alley and walked her way home. Maybe the baby would change all that for her. Just maybe. What should I name you? What would you like to be called? Ann was involuntarily excited to name her baby. Her life would be turned upside down seven months from now, and she must prepare herself for every possible threat against her family. But there was no secret in this world, and she knew not to keep it. "Well« Thanks for telling me. Now I'm on the death list with you." It was the response from Annie Lu, a fresh face recruited into WOOHP, Ann's partner at Red 3 Division. They had been working together for over a year now. The duo was both young and attractive, a rare pairing which had most men at the Tokyo headquarters taking turn visiting their office every hour. Annie leaned back in her chair. Her left arm rested on the edge of the desk full of tall stacks of documents and two black laptops. She looked away from her partner, obviously disturbed by the information Ann had just told her. "I need your help, Annie. I don't know who else to ask." When WOOHP leaned closer, the younger woman sharply scooted away. Annie gradually looked up, staring at her partner square in the eye. "Terry just told me about your resignation this morning. I don't like too many surprises in one day. It's bad for my mental health. You've always ignored me, Ann. You're the star around here, and I could understand your indifference at times. But now you really owe me some explanations. You better make yourself likable before I throw you out of this room. Now, talk."

Ann cast her gaze down on the floor, her hands fidgety on her lap. She had never felt this helpless in her entire life. As an orphan, she never had a family to worry about. There was never a loved one to care for. But it had changed since she fell in love with Hideaki a few years ago, and fear which had grown with love became almost unbearable to her. Now, she had not only her husband, but also her unborn child to fear for. "Are« Are you mad! You're pregnant²a²and²and with Hideaki Kruger, the very thing we're supposed to hunt down and destroy?" Annie had shot up to her feet, almost toppling the chair in the process. Hands in her hair, she paced back and forth, taking in deep breathes. There was clearly a look of shock and hurt in her vibrant violet eyes. "I don't feel good about this at all. Why are you telling me this? You know I have no choice but to report you." "I know you wouldn't." Annie kicked the desk, alarming her partner with the unusual display of anger. "This is so unfair! You've always been unfair to me! You're so selfish, Ann. You just don't give a shit about anybody. You never have. How dare of you to ask this from me now?" Burying her face in her palms, Ann found no excuse to her partner's accusation. Annie's career was put on the line now if she chose not to report her. But if Annie did, the fate of Ann's family would be jeopardized, and she would have to live with the guilt for the rest of her life. Ann knew full well of her young partner's kind heart, a rare trait to find among WOOHP agents, and it was the very reason she chose Annie to partner up with her. But now she had shamefully taken advantage of that kindness. "I'm so sorry. I just don't know who else to turn to." Ann looked up again, but Annie fiercely turned away. "I didn't hear anything. Just resign and disappear." "Annie²" "I mean it. Now. You have to leave now." "The reason I told you about the vampire because²" "I don't want to hear another word from you." Ann literally threw herself at the younger woman, gripping her arms. "I need your help. I need the guns, Annie, WOOHP' new invention. I'd have to resign before it shows, but there wouldn't be time for me to even get to see the real UV bullets. I need your access to the weapons. It's the only way to protect my family. Please, Annie. You're my only hope." Brushing Ann's hands away, Annie tried to walk away from the smaller woman. "I'll never steal for you. That's out of the question. Stick with stakes, Ann. You should just go somewhere far away, so no one can find you. Oh, wait, I think your boyfriend might be able to kick the bitch's ass. Isn't he supposed to be super strong and stuff?" "You don't understand. This one« She's stronger than any other vampires I've seen, and she's smart, too. She's going to find me. She will«" There was a moment of silence from the short-haired, blonde woman before a sigh escaped her thin lips. Ann wasn't sure whether Annie had taken pity on her baby, or if her partner had just succumbed to the challenge of the death threat. Besides, rogue vampires were few

and far in between to come across, and it could boost Annie's reputation a great deal among her macho peers if she could slay one. Only a few days later, Annie called on a secured line and agreed to help. In the meanwhile, Hideaki decided to move to a ranch up north, where it was extremely remote and the thick forest literally cast him from the rest of the world. But Ann insisted to remain in Tokyo to continue her search for the sacred blood. The decision was difficult, and Ann refrained herself from telling Hideaki about their baby, fearing that he would not escape to the north as planned. She had partly hoped that her search might protect her baby, and secretly wished to return to WOOHP after giving birth. The fact astonished even her partner that Ann's love for her husband proved not enough to cloud her ambition. The vampires were fearless criminals in the lawless land. To Ann, WOOHP was a symbol of justice, and she had sworn to serve it until the end. "You need to rest. Come on, it's almost 3 in the morning. That can't be good for the baby." Annie Lu, in her white pajamas, was reclining on the couch in the small living room of their shared apartment. Warmed in a wool sweater, Ann was occupying the desk, reading a thick book she borrowed from the library. Stacks of more books scattered around the room, and it had become a familiar sight for both women. Gossips of Ann being pregnant without a father did spread through the organization, but nobody in their wildest imagination had thought it was the infamous werewolf's baby she was carrying. Most peers only thought that it was the byproduct of her one night stand, but Ann knew that she had to be careful in every move she made, knowing how tenacious WOOHP was when it came to spy games. Annie yawned. "Does he still call?" "Of course. We're still married," Ann deadpanned. "Oh, that's right. I almost forgot« For Pete's sake, just put the book away. You're ruining your marriage with all these craps. When was the last time you saw him?" Ann ticked the tip of the pen at her chin. "About a month ago. I was wearing a thick coat, and he thought I'd put on some weight." "You have." "Not so much," Ann said, narrowing her eyes whilst continuing to jot down some notes on her green-leathered, personal journal. "Oh, yes, you have. A lot," Annie said, chuckling. "I'm not going to see him again until I delivered." Annie suddenly paused at the notion. "I don't want him to worry. I don't want him to risk being around me to protect me." Ann inwardly sighed. She was saddened by the thought of not seeing Hideaki for another three months. It was going to be hell for her. While the vampires were to be despised and hunted, WOOHP had unfairly punished her husband for his inhuman strength, casting him in the same light with the vile beasts of the night.

But then the nuisances she had caused upon Annie were enough of a reason to estrange herself from Hideaki. If WOOHP ever found out that her lover was the werewolf they had been hunting for a century, Annie would be in serious trouble for having helped her. "When I deliver, I'm going to give him the baby. He'd be a good father. I know he would be«" "Wait« You aren't going back to him?" Ann took a long moment to think before she said, "Maybe it wasn't meant to be from the start. I shouldn't have fallen in love with him. It's just« It's never going to work." "But you don't have to live this life, Ann. You can have a much better, a much freer life than this. You don't have to fight for the rest of us. You can't choose whom to fall in love with, so give yourself a break. Besides, he isn't like those vampires. He's not a killer." Annie looked at her friend for a sign of submission. "I'll never live in hiding. I don't call that a life to begin with." Ann continued to plow through the scattered books on her desk, looking for more interesting ones to venture on. Sulking, Annie flipped open a cooking magazine across her lap. "God, I hope your son doesn't grow up to be as stubborn as you are." Ann smiled and said, "By the way, I have a name for him." Flipping the magazine closed, Annie looked up with a wide grin. Ian. What do you think?" "Cute. Any particular reason for it?" Ann smiled wider. "It's my brothers name. He raised me until I was eight. He was the kindest person I've ever met." "Then it's good enough. Manson or Kruger?" Annie raised one brow in curiosity. "To be honest, he might be able to live a simpler life with your last name. Kruger might be a common name, but still. Why would you want extra attention?" Ann looked down a little, one hand over her tummy. "I've thought about it. But I guess I'll leave it to Hideaki. Maybe we'd let him use other surname just for precaution." "That's a good idea." Annie scooted to stand beside her friend and softly patted on Ann's tummy. "Good boy, Ian. Good boy. You're going to like this world a lot, I can tell." Then both women chortled merrily with each other. Week and months passed by, and Ann grew extremely appreciative of all the troubles her friend went through to take care of her in her husband's absence. Things were going smoothly, and for a brief period of time, Ann forgot the threat from the strange vampire in the alley. It was until one night that she came home to find her apartment all dark. Baby Ian was sleeping in the crib, but Annie was nowhere in sight. Ann tried to turn the switch on, but the light bulbs failed to work. "Agent Manson, is it?"

Standing by the door, Ann gasped in fright and spun on her heels to see a slender figure sitting on the couch. Her pale face was partially hidden by the shadows, but Ann recognized just who it was. The death had come as promised. "You really are a WOOHP agent, Ann Manson," the vampire said. Ann felt her throat dry. Obviously, she had been spied on all these months. Did the vampire capture Annie and tortured her for information? "I thought you were going to give your baby to your husband, but it's been two months since. Are you having second thought?" The intruder stood up so quietly one would have failed to detect her movements. "H²how did you get in here?" Ann breathed. "I waited. But you're making it difficult for me." Ann froze as the tall frame moved past her into the bedroom. The charcoal-clad vampire then stopped at the cradle and took a long look down at the baby, the action prompting Ann to charge at her. With ease, the vampire turned and grabbed Ann by the wrists, forcing her to stand still. "Did you tell them about me? Your partner? What about your husband? Where is he? I'd like to keep my words," the vampire snarled. Ann spat at the pale face, causing the vampire to let go of her. She raced to the corner of the room and held up a golf club with both hands. "Don't you dare touching my family, or my friend! You won't get away with this!" Glowering at Ann, the vampire sternly wiped her face in disgust. "I've warned you. I gave you the chance to save them, but you didn't. Would you even grant me the same kindness if you were in my position? I doubt it," she said. Her tone was tender and melodic, unlike the bitter and vengeful message behind her words. "You're a self-righteous murderer who's claimed countless lives in the name of justice. You're despicable." Ann uneasily shifted in the corner, her gaze never leaving the intruder. Beads of sweat formed over her forehead, and her heart beat so fast it almost leapt out of her chest. "We both kill to defend our kind, and our hands are tainted. But the winner writes history, and the loser always ends up being the vile one." "You're nothing, Manson. History will forget you." Ann watched the vampire closing in on her fast. She squeezed her eyes shut, praying that her last moment would be short and painless. She could only hope that the vampire would have mercy on her son. "Stop right there!" Annie's yell interrupted. Opening her eyes again, Ann looked over her shoulder to see her partner standing in the middle of the narrow walkway that connected the living room to the bedroom. Tightly holding a gun in both hands, Annie was in a black suit, her usual WOOHP uniform, geared up and ready for combat. It seemed that she had been prepared for the intrusion. Annie's violet eyes glowered at the vampire, who had halted at the peculiar sight of the luminous blue bullets loaded onto the gun. The young agent frowned slightly; she must be

perplexed to see a vampire with such a pleasant face instead of the expected cold and hideous one. Ann knew she was, since she was also struck by the vampire's genteel features. The vampire even appeared to be younger than both women. It was common to come across a vampire in their teenage bodies, or even younger, but they were never rogue since young bodies generally reacted severely to the transformation. The difficulty in hunting for food rarely allowed them to roam unaided from the start. Rogue vampires then were usually older and must possessed tremendous strength to be able to survive in the wild alone. "You've got the nerve to invade our space, you little brat. Now, on your knees," Annie said, smirking in triumph. But the vampire stood still, ignoring the command. "If you don't want to taste these UV bullets, then get down on your knees. It will definitely kill you« painfully," Annie added. Ann quickly got up to her feet. "No, let her go." Her partner's jaw dropped. "What are you talking about«! Are you out of your mind? She was going to kill you!" Ann took in a deep breath as she turned to the chestnut-haired vampire. "Will you let my family go, if we let you walk away tonight?" The vampire just stared at the UV gun, her eyes unblinking as if she were made of stone. "I swear that I'll never expose your existence to anybody outside of this room. I haven't told my husband about you, and WOOHP has no knowledge about you. At least, not from me, or my friend. Can we just pretend that we never met?" Annie took a step closer to her friend, her aim at the intruder steady still. "This is crazy, Ann. There won't be any negotiation with a killer. We have no reason to believe she'd keep her word!" Without a second thought, Annie fired, but missed as the vampire crawled fast onto the wall. "Let's see how good of a shooter you are!" the vampire hissed, her white fangs protruding. She leapt off the wall, snatched the baby out of the cradle and jumped out through the window. "Ian!" Ann rushed towards the open window and looked down into the street below. The vampire had crawled down along the wall and ran fast into the milling crowd. "Goddamn it!" Annie grunted. "I got a tracking device on Ian. We must get to him before the vampire notices it. Follow me!" Ann then rushed out of their apartment, Annie closely behind. With Annie sitting behind her, Ann sped her black Yamaha down the street where the vampire had gone. One arm wrapped around Ann's waist, Annie was holding Ann's wrist watch, reading the blinking, moving red dot, and giving directions to her partner. Soon, the dot stopped, leading them to an abandoned warehouse in the outskirt of Tokyo. As they got closer to the two-story building, Ann parked her vehicle along the narrow, graveled path and sneaked through the paddy field by foot. Her partner followed, holding the gun in her gloved hands. When Ann reached the side door to the warehouse, she signaled her friend to stop and then peered inside.

The warehouse was large enough to accommodate a dozen gas trucks. The first floor was heavily dusted with used tires and wooden boxes scattered around. An old, red truck was set aside to the far wall. A few, emptied gas tanks were laid around unchecked. The upper floor spanned only one third of the area of the first floor, a flight of rusty staircase at its right corner. It was a lot busier with broken pipes and stacks of wooden boxes, blocking most of the view upstairs. "Did you see anything?" Annie whispered. Ann shook her head, frustrated that there was not even the slightest sound of her baby. Catching a faint mumbling from behind the boxes above, she moved a little to her right to get a better look. There was some light from the small bonfire set upstairs, and through the gaps between the boxes, Ann could see the vampire sitting and fumbling for something on the floor. "Be still« Hold on« What a surprise. I'm stuck with you. What are we going to do now«? Oh« What's this?" The vampire lifted up the tracking device she had just unfastened from the baby's wrist, scrutinizing it as if it were an extraterrestrial object. "Is this your wristband?" The vampire then slowly waved it above the baby's face, trying to lure Ian into sleep. Ann involuntarily let out a relieved sigh to see that her son was still safe. Truthfully, she was struck even more so by the primitive lifestyle the vampire led. How could a Uriah spy not knowing anything outside of her own little world besides killings? Carefully, Ann crawled into the warehouse and climbed up the stairs. Annie was right beside her with the gun ready. Her partner certainly had picked up the oddity from the vampire as well; her gaze softened as she stared at the loner's back. But Ann froze when the old stair creaked, the noise prompting the vampire to snap and looked over her shoulder. However, the pair of crimson eyes gave off very little reaction at the intrusion. It was as though her whole life had revolved around an endless hunting game, and she was naturally prepared to encounter a surprise at any given moment. "You dropped this," Ann said, picking out a silver pocket watch out of her jacket. From the slight dart of the crimson eyes, Ann sensed the importance of the object in her hand. "You dropped it in the alley that night. I did expect that you'd come back to look for it." Seemingly deep in her thoughts, the vampire sat absolutely still, her gaze lowered to the rusty rails to her left. She had made no move to attack or escape, and Ian was still in her deadly reach. "We're not here to hurt you. I just want my baby back. We'll leave you be, I promise," Ann said. Annie nudged her, but she ignored her friend. Ann slowly crawled towards the vampire. "There're only two of us who know about you, I swear to God. Your identity is safe²" "You don't know who I am, and those who knew are already dead," the vampire said. Her face remained expressionless, but Ann could sense deep distrust seeded within the melodious voice. Ann adamantly nodded, and flipped the cover of the pocket watch open. The clock hands still moved, but the picture frame was empty. "Yes. Yes, you're right. I don't know who you are, and I have no reason to expose you. We won't tell a soul about you."

"What are you doing!" Annie hissed from the distance. She had not moved from the staircase just in case the vampire tried to trick them. "My friend is a little worried, that is all. You have nothing to worry about her«" Ann tried to smile. "What do you say? We'll walk away and forget about this," she said, leaning a little closer to the vampire. From the proximity, she could catch the pleasant smell from the chestnut tresses that framed the pale face. The sweet scent strangely swept away her unease. Sensing the stare, the vampire glanced up at Ann with a cold gaze. Obviously, she didn't like being scrutinized. Disturbingly, she didn't want to be remembered. "What's stopping you?" She glanced at the gun in Annie's hand, and then turned to Ann again. "Aren't you the infamous vampire hunter? What's stopping you?" The question forced Ann to look away as she tried to find an answer for herself. She had always been notorious as a vampire hunter, relentless and merciless. But something in the monster next to her was different²something she couldn't pinpoint exactly. Perhaps, it was the unexpected kindness the vampire had granted her, sparing her child's life. A smirk crept up the vampire's lips. "I never left future threats behind, a parent or a child, because people like you produce threats and ingrain hatred. People like you." She spoke so calmly, careless of the fact that Annie could fire at any moment. Her confidence to tear down her opponents at any time was almost unsounded, but the ridicule failed to stir Ann's anger as the statement unexpectedly rang true to her. Ann looked up again and studied the crimson eyes. "You could have killed me when you caught me in the apartment. Why didn't you?" For a long moment, the vampire remained silent. She then stood up and gestured for Ann to take the baby. "Because you're a coward. All you ever cared about is yourself. You're not worth my time. Leave now, or I'll change my mind." As fast as she could, Ann put the silver pocket watch down on the floor and took Ian in her arms. She then hurried towards the staircase, protected and watched by Annie. Without another word, she led her friend out of the warehouse and stalked through the field towards her vehicle. All the while, she only thanked God for giving Ian back to her and letting her know that one deserved a second chance. "You're not a coward, Ann," Annie said from behind. "You didn't kill her when you had the chance." For a few minutes in silence, Ann kept trudging ahead until she reached the motorbike. She glanced up at the starry sky, and said, "I think she was right. She wanted to let me know that she was still better than« a human like me«" :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: "Better than a human like me«" Ian read aloud the last sentence on his mother's leather journal, and then looked up across the room. The remaining pages of the journal were torn off, and it had left Ian empty and frustrated all his life. He knew nothing that happened afterwards, and only realized tonight that the vampire his mother wrote about was, indeed, Spencer.

Occupying the couch, Ian watched Annie's fingers slowly glided through the piano keys, softly striking a few incoherent notes. Ian found it hard to believe that Annie Lu, now seventy years old, was 'my young and vibrant friend' in the journal. His mother was careful enough to pen down entries after entries but never mentioning any names outright. He never understood the secrecy in those entries. It was a personal journal, but his mother still felt the need to hide something. When questioned, his father always claimed that he barely knew his wife's acquaintances and friends. Hence, the old woman in front of Ian had become the last link to the missing pages. Sitting on the piano chair, Annie looked frail in her creamy dress and a purple wool jacket. She had been playing Spencer's tune ever since the vampire disappeared two weeks ago, waiting for her to return. Dark circles under her eyes, her lips were dry and her gaze was dull. There was disappointment in Annie's eyes when it appeared to be Ian coming through the front door unannounced. Like so, Ian felt a hollow in his chest to see Annie standing on top of the stairway instead of the owner of the piano tune. Their feeling was mutual, and there wasn't any need for apology. "That was all. My mother seemed to suddenly stop writing. It was..." Ian squinted at the written date, and then looked back up at Annie, whose back was still facing him. "It was ten months before she died. What happened? What happened to her?" He read the journal tonight because Annie requested it out of nostalgia. The old lady confessed of her illness, and Ian didn't have the heart to refuse. "Your father wouldn't know. He was pretty much kept in the dark. Please don't blame him if he couldn't give you the answers you need." Mumbling, Annie turned to smile at Ian. "More tea?" Ian shrugged a bit. "Sure. It seems we're going to have a long night." Annie moved to the table and poured some more for the guest. She sat down opposite to Ian, sipping from his own cup. It must have been well past her rest time, but the old woman had refused to waste a waking minute of her life. "Ann held so many secrets, many heartbreaks and burdens. I remember« I remember her turning down WOOHP' call to go back to the organization. I was surprised. WOOHP was her life, but then Spencer changed everything. Ann believed that Spencer could give her Uriah, that she'd find the sacred blood, her lifelong obsession. Oh, your mother was crazy, I'd tell you." Ian raised his brows and let out a big sigh in slight embarrassment. Obsession-wise, he must have inherited the willfulness from his mother. "Well, did my mother find Uriah?" The old lady's face turned grim at the question, and she looked down before she said, "I believe she got more than she bargained for." :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: Ann met Hideaki a week after the warehouse incident. That night, she showed the baby to him and asked for forgiveness.

"How could you do this to me? I thought we were family." Her husband's question was rather rhetoric, and Ann wasn't sure how to react to it. Occupying a table in the in the lobby of a cheap motel, she was holding the baby in her arms. "I didn't want to stop you from moving up north. I couldn't risk your safety, Hideaki. You're everything to me." "You've made it clear that I'm nothing to you." Hideaki sharply looked away. But he had to look back again as he couldn't take his eyes off his son, the proof of their love and the reminder of all the difficulties they both had gone through to be together. "Can I hold him?" he finally asked. Hideaki took the baby from his wife and felt the weight of love so tangible, so real for the first time. He didn't have to chase after it. He didn't have to hide from it. It was nothing like what he and Ann had experienced. "Ian«" Hideaki whispered, watching his baby sleep in his arms. After a long moment, he looked up again at his wife. "What are you going to do now?" "I« I plan to go back to WOOHP." Ann leaned forwards when she saw the hurt in his eyes. "It's the only way to get to Uriah. Please, Hideaki, you know how important it is to me." "Yeah, it's important. But I don't know why, Ann. You never told me anything." Certainly, he was upset that Ann refused to move to the ranch with him, but he tried to reason that one had his or her own purpose in life. He promised to build a home for them, and that he would wait until she fulfilled her journey in the outside world. "I have forever to wait, and you know where to find me," he said, and kissed her before leaving the table. Their meetings had always been short for precaution. "He has forever, but you don't. You should go back to your family." Annie Lu had her arms across her chest as she watched her friend picking up the car key from the small desk in the living room of their apartment. Looking at her friend now, she sometimes wondered how much Hideaki really meant to Ann. Taking a pity on the werewolf, Annie had secretly given her spare UV gun to Hideaki for his own protection, knowing that he was high on both WOOHP and Uriah's list. Annie rolled her eyes. "You're not going to the warehouse again. That's out of the question. Why do you love to get yourself into troubles? I still remember how pissed off that vampire was last time we were there. I doubt she'd let us go this time." "You'll see." Ann put the car key into her pocket and picked up a white envelope from the desk, reading it briefly before tossing it into the bin. It was the letter from WOOHP, calling her back to duty. Annie let out an exasperated sigh. "Are you mad! That's exactly what you've stayed here for. Didn't you let your family go, so that you could go back to WOOHP?" To Annie's surprise, Ann turned to her with a wide grin. "I've got a better idea than that. I'm going to get what WOOHP can't give me." "That weird vampire? Come on! She's an outcast. She's a dead-end lead, leading you nowhere." Annie paced around the tiny kitchen. The whole idea of befriending the rogue vampire in hope that she'd lend a hand in finding Uriah was just absurd. She didn't see

what was so special about the vampire until Ann grinned even wider at the knock on the door. Annie immediately pulled out her gun as she peered at the door. She didn't expect a visitor at this time of night. Unbeknownst to her, Ann had. Ann strode towards the door and winked back at Annie. "I'm not going to the warehouse tonight. Don't worry. We have a better place to go." The door opened and revealed the chestnut-haired vampire in the dark hallway. The wind lightly pulled her wild tresses to the back, revealing her deep set of crimson eyes. There was a brief moment when the vampire's gaze met with Annie's before she coldly looked away. The vampire appeared almost timid, or tired, to be exact. Perhaps, she wasn't as keen on hunting for food as hunting to kill. And what could be a better place to lure a vampire these days than a hospital full of donated blood. This rogue vampire had no way of sneaking into a hospital unnoticed, and Ann was about to help her getting it. "Annie Lu, this is Spencer Lee. Spencer, this is Annie Lu," Ann said, gesturing back and forth. Annie had no idea how Ann worked around her back to get this close to Spencer, but her partner always had her ways. 'We' was no longer Ann and Annie as a team, and suddenly Annie felt a pang of anger storming in her chest. "You're not going anywhere with her alone. Not without me. Not without my gun to keep her in check. For Christ's sake, Ann, you should know better than anyone else not to trust this thing," Annie said, pushing her way out of the apartment as she sneered at Spencer's ashen face. The vampire offered no reaction. Indeed, she looked nearly green at the lack of food. Annie wondered how long Spencer had gone on without any blood. She only discovered later that, for weeks, Ann had poisoned the animals the vampire usually fed on around the warehouse, and then approached her and offered some proper food as a friendly gesture. Surely, Spencer knew nothing of the scheme, or she'd be enraged. To Ann's credit, the plan worked out splendidly that the vampire came peacefully to their door, learning to knock instead of breaking in. The trio's visits to smaller hospitals around the city gradually became as frequent as thrice a week. Spencer was visibly healthier with constant feed on human blood, and Annie secretly pondered of the vampire's growing strength. Although they were on a peaceful term, the vampire remained aloof when it came to her past. "Was it beautiful?" Ann struck out the question as she admired the city view from the top of the skyscraper. Along the edge of the building, Ann sat between Spencer and Annie, a bottle of beer in her hand. Annie had a box of juice, and Spencer was sucking blood from the bag she had stolen tonight. "What was?" Spencer echoed. But Annie sensed that the vampire knew exactly what Ann was referring to. After all, she had been around long enough to know how twisted human intentions could be. Ann might be friendly, but there was always a catch. For some strange reasons, Annie found it harder and harder each day to deceive the vampire as it was plain to see that Spencer was playing along just to have someone by her side. How lonely the road must have been for the vampire to roam the world alone for centuries.

"Was your hometown beautiful?" Ann elaborated without shame. She was letting Spencer know that she did want something back from their masqueraded friendship. She wasn't afraid that the vampire, who had flown them up to the top of the skyscraper, would get upset and hurt them. She feared no more because she knew that Spencer wouldn't. She had begun to learn that the vampire did have a heart like humans²a heart to be fooled and pained. "It was very beautiful. But it was so long ago. It must have changed completely by now." Spencer briefly looked away. "Did you have a family? Friends? How old are you?" Ann concentrated her whole attention on the vampire now, and Annie could almost feel the sincere curiosity in her partner's voice. Sometimes Annie had to admit that she didn't like the intense way Ann stared at Spencer. It made her feel uncomfortable when Ann acted as though she owned the vampire. "You're staring." Out of the blue, Spencer's words brought Annie out of her train of thoughts. The vampire was pointing out that it was, in fact, Annie herself who had been staring intensely. An involuntary blush flushed her cheeks as Annie stuttered, "I²I was just thinking«" "You were thinking about?" Spencer raised her brows. Ann now turned to Annie in curiosity, and Annie had to look down to avoid her friend's eyes. The last thing she wanted was Ann's disapproval. "I was thinking what has kept you from returning home, wherever it is," Annie said quietly. There was a moment of silence before the vampire replied, "It's no longer my home. It hasn't been for a long time." "Is it Uriah? It must be." Ann leaned so close to Spencer that she was now completely blocking the vampire from Annie's view. "You're relentless, Ann. Watch it. It's going to come back and hurt you one day." "Yes, or no? Please," Ann pouted. Spencer turned at Ann's childlike plea, and Annie found herself stop breathing for a second at the vampire's smile. She had to lean back a little, peeking at the vampire over Ann's shoulder, fearing for getting caught again. "I was sent to Uriah when I was four years old because of my illness. I basically grew up there. My mother was there to take care of me. She« I'd say she was all I had." Spencer looked out to the beautiful view of the city below. "The island was different back then. People came and left all the time. It was very different." Ann and Annie sat still for a moment, stunned at the revelation that Uriah was once accessible to humans in ancient time. The information would have WOOHP at its knees, begging for more. "Why are you still here, Spencer?" Ann asked, frowning. "Aren't you supposed to go back now that you've finished your hunts on the remaining Kyoto vampires?"

Spencer sucked the last drop of blood and shrugged. "I do what I have to do, and by no one's order." "So you really are a rogue? They made you, and then you just decided that you had to kill them to go rogue?" Annie blurted out. For some strange reasons, she was relieved that the vampire had no relation with Uriah. But then again, she saw no solid reasons why Spencer had to destroy her own clan. "I do what I have to do, Annie. You don't have to believe in me," Spencer said, chuckling. But her tone was sincere and without a hint of resentment. She rubbed her hands a few times and continued, "The Serpent coven is a thing of the past now. I don't want to mention it again." "I want to go to Uriah. Will you bring us there?" Ann asked. Spencer just smiled a little. "Even if you could get there, the queen would have you killed." "Are you certain of the queen's strength?" Ann grinned in challenge. "Time has changed, Spencer. We've got UV bullets now, and every vampire should be very afraid." Spencer shrugged. "Then I hope you've got enough of your new toys, because Uriah had an army of twenty thousand vampires last time I was there. And that was a very long, long time ago." The information left Ann and Annie reeling. It was discovered that Uriah harbored a few headquarters around the globe, and one on Japanese soil, Midgard Island. But they had obviously underestimated their entire population. No wonder that WOOHP, a huge organization it was, still could not bring down Uriah. Maybe Spencer really was their only lead, and having her in their team now seemed a better deal than Annie had anticipated before. "That's a nice watch," Annie commented at the pocket watch in Spencer's hand. At four in the morning, the trio was occupying a bench at a deserted train station after a night out at a bar. Ann wanted to relax, and Spencer and Annie tagged along as usual. Ann tried to get the vampire to drink something other than blood, and Spencer proved to be able to consume whatever that her body didn't absolutely need, just like humans. Ann seemed pleased at the result, but Spencer assured them that most vampires were not keen enough to take anything other than blood. Spencer slightly shook the pocket watch next to her ear. "It's broken again," she said. "I can get it fixed for you in the morning," Ann said, grinning. She snatched the watch from Spencer's hand and flipped it open. "Oh? Still no picture. You should put a picture of yourself in there." "I don't think the immortals can go digital. We're too fast," Spencer said. Her cheeks reddened from the excessive alcohol consumption, Ann laughed. "So you're stuck in the past, or something like that? How ancient are you?" Spencer smiled knowingly. "You're so secretive. Most vampires just loved to brag about their strength and their past achievements." Ann scrutinized the watch, frowning. "It looks pretty old. Where did you get it?"

Annie only kept quiet. She had grown to feel rather uncomfortable at Ann's endless interrogation. Somehow she was afraid that Spencer would get upset and left them altogether. "Some watchmaker in London gave it to me« He was a kind man«" Spencer said, looking away. And Annie began to know that look in the crimson eyes²the same look whenever the vampire was hurt, thinking about the past. Ann flipped the watch closed and stared at Spencer. "You've been everywhere, haven't you?" "No. Not yet. We didn't have planes back then." Ann let out a merry chortle, swinging her legs over Spencer's lap. "Or you would have gone to the moon already!" "The moon, yes," Spencer said and smiled. "Who was he, that watchmaker?" Annie asked. Strangely, she felt the unstoppable urge to interrupt their laughter. The smile disappeared from Spencer's face, and she failed to answer. As silence grew, Ann began to catch the uncomfortable air among them, and glanced between Annie and the vampire. "I know what to do with it now!" Ann broke the silence with a big grin, clutching the watch. She had the watch fixed the next morning, and put a picture of herself on the inside of the metal lid. It was a not-so-subtle suggestion to Annie that the vampire was now Ann's property. Spencer, however, didn't seem to catch the notion, and was rather pleased that her watch was working again. Other than Annie's personal discomfort with her partner, all seemed to have gone well between Annie and Spencer. Little by little, Spencer began to open up to the young WOOHP agent. On a pleasant, quiet night, Spencer admitted to Annie that she was given the watch by the Londoner about two hundred years ago. But the old man, who had befriended her, was killed during her fight with some of the members from the Kyoto coven. He was just one of many faces²one of many whom Spencer had lost through the centuries. "You shouldn't have to live alone. No one should," Annie said. And before she could stop herself, she reached for the vampire's hand and brought it up to her chest. "But it suits me well. I'm quite used to it," Spencer said, returning Annie with a small smile. Annie felt her cheeks hot and had to let go off the cold hand before the vampire would actually pay any mind on their seemingly casual touch. As strong as a team the trio had grown, all hadn't gone so smoothly for Ann. Her husband's calls became more frequent due to his worries over her safety, and more importantly, his growing mistrust in her. One night Hideaki unexpectedly paid her a visit, holding Ian in his arms. Wearing a baseball cap, he was in a gray, hooded coat and a pair of black trousers.

"Hideaki«? Oh, my God«" Ann hurried him into the apartment, glancing into the hallway before shutting the door. "What happened? Are you all right? Is Ian all right? Is she okay?" She rushed to take the baby in her arms. Annie came out of her bedroom and quietly greeted Hideaki with a slight nod. He paused for a moment before pacing around in the living room. "Ian is ill, Ann. I brought him to see a few doctors. But so far, they couldn't diagnose what is wrong with him. He's got high fever, and he can't eat." "How long has he been ill?" Ann studied the baby. "A week." Ann looked horrified. "A« a week?" "You have to get to him to a bigger hospital. The clinics closest to the ranch couldn't help him." Hands clasped at the back of his head, Hideaki walked further into the apartment. He paced around some more in front of Annie's room, his gaze filled with unease. Ann quickly nodded and said, "Annie and I will take him to the hospital now. You wait here²" Hideaki suddenly threw a punch through Annie's bedroom door. With his inhuman strength, he grabbed the person behind the door and swung the slender frame out into the hallway. Pinning Spencer up against the wall, he stopped for a second in terror when he realized that he had caught a vampire. Spencer was equally stunned to see him. Surely, she hadn't expected him to catch her scent so quickly. Hideaki then focused and struck the vampire in the face, plunging her to the floor. "Spencer!" Annie called out. "Hideaki, stop!" Ann dashed to her husband's side. On her knees, Spencer turned in time to catch his fist just a few inches from her face, halting further attack. She spat out some blood and glowered up at him. Hideaki was alarmed that he couldn't seem to lose her grip since most vampires were unmatched to his strength. ³Hideaki Kruger. It's a pleasure to meet you in person," Spencer said as she slowly got up. She then raised her free hand. Ann threw herself in front of Hideaki. "No, Spencer! No, please, don't hurt him." After a long stare, Spencer scoffed and let go off the werewolf. As soon as Hideaki was freed, he instantly motioned his wife to move away from the vampire. "What's going on here, Ann? Who is she? You know her?" "Yes, she's a friend. She's our friend," Ann assured. Hideaki glanced past Spencer's shoulder to see Annie nodding back in reassurance. He then turned to look at his wife and a deep hurt set in his eyes.

"Hideaki, I meant to tell you²" "Tell me about what? I tried to understand when you refused to move to the ranch. I waited and waited. But it's been ten months, and you never visited us. And now you're keeping a vampire in your place! I can't imagine what else you haven't told me, Ann. Maybe I don't want to know anymore." Hideaki strode out into the living room and stormed towards the front door. Ann followed suit. "Wait! Wait! It's not what you think. I couldn't risk visiting you and Ian because I refused WOOHP' offer to go back. And they've spied on me ever since. We have to be patient. It takes some times to prove to them that I am not going against the organization." Hideaki coldly stared at his wife. "You told me back then that you were staying to go back to WOOHP. You lied to me again." "I refused WOOHP because I found her." Ann gestured towards Spencer, who was glaring at them from the corner of her eyes. The vampire was leaning against the wall, wiping the blood from lips with the back of her hand. "She knows Uriah. She can give me what I can't get from WOOHP." Hideaki studied the young-looking vampire. Cocking his head a little, he took one step forwards and said, "Rogue vampires are usually older, and they're very hard to come across. Who are you, really? What have you got from befriending my wife? Who do you work for? Answer me now, or I will tear you down." Spencer gave out a calm, but scornful smile. "I followed no one's orders, not even your wife's, though she'd tried." Snarling, Hideaki clenched his fists. But the knock on the door broke the mounting tension between the two immortals. "Did you expect someone?" Annie asked Ann, in which her partner shook her head. She then carefully pulled out the gun and approached the door. Spencer stood at the far corner of the room, not really paying much attention to anything except the werewolf who had just challenged her. Annie leaned close to the door. "Who is it?" "It's me, Victoria. Annie, are you all right? I heard some noises." Annie felt a pang of relief to hear it was her neighbor. Definitely, the commotion Hideaki and Spencer had caused earlier had gotten some attention from the rooms nearby. Annie opened the door to greet her fifty-year-old, hefty neighbor. "I dropped something in the bathroom, and I slipped. How clumsy of me! I'm so sorry about the noises. I hope I didn't wake you." Victoria gave Annie a warm smile. "It's all right, dear. I hope you aren't hurt²" The old neighbor was cut short when a pair of black-gloved hands reached from behind her and snapped her neck broken in a swift movement. Annie screamed and raised her gun. Ann and Hideaki rushed into the doorway to see what had happened. To their utter surprise, a tall, dark-haired vampire in a gray suit stepped out

and stopped at the door. He pushed Victoria's body to the floor. He looked from Annie to Ann, and then Hideaki, his gaze dark and intense. "Ann Smith« and Hideaki Kruger«? I can't believe my luck tonight," the vampire said. A triumphant smile slowly crept up his cold, handsome face. Annie and Ann were equally bewildered. They had expected WOOHP agents, who had been keeping them under surveillance for all these months, to show up at their doorstep rather than a vampire. Did this mean that the vampire had got rid of the agents on their watch? However, the intruder stopped and a look of surprise set in his hazel eyes. "Spencer«?" "Reito«" Spencer staggered in her post. Ann turned to Spencer, her eyes widened in disbelief. "You« You set us up." Before Spencer could respond, Hideaki pulled out a UV gun Annie once gave him and fired two shots at Spencer, catching her off-guard. The force spun the vampire off her feet and sent her lithe form against the window. Cornered, Spencer broke the glass with her elbow and leapt off the building. "Spencer!" Annie rushed to the broken window and peered down seven-story below. Spencer had already gone out of sight. Hideaki turned and fired at Reito at once. But the vampire dodged the bullets and disappeared fast into the hallway. Hideaki meant to follow, but Ann pulled him back. "Leave now, Hideaki! You must leave now!" Ann urged. Hideaki looked frustrated as he kept glancing back and forth between his wife and the empty hallway. "What are you talking about? I can't leave you like this. Who knows how many vampires are out there right now?" "WOOHP must have noted the absence of their agents by now, and they'll send more men soon. You have to take Ian with you. It's not safe for you both here." Hideaki took the baby, but still lingered at the doorway. "Come with me, Ann." "I« I can't« They'll question my absence, and they'll track us down," Ann said, reaching for him as tears welled up her eyes. But Hideaki took a step back, avoiding her touch. "I'm going to protect you and Ian. I'm willing to risk it to be with you. Are you?" Ann paused, failing to find words to help her husband understand. "Save Ian. Save yourself, Hideaki. This is not your fight." "I guess we've stopped fighting together for a long time now, and I've just realized it. It's not about WOOHP. It's not me being hunted. It's all about Uriah, the only thing you've ever cared about« and I don't even know why. Why, Ann? Why is it more important than your family²more than us?" There was only a long silence, and Hideki eventually turned and walked away.

"Why?" Annie watched her friend from the back. She, too, had always wondered. Amongst all the agents she had known, no one could match Ann's devotion in her quest to destroy Uriah. Letting out a sigh, Ann tiredly walked back into their room and shut the door behind her. She sank down on the couch and rubbed her face. "It's complicated. I wish I had an easy answer for everyone« I'm« I'm so tired. All my life, I've been chasing Uriah. I've tried so hard to protect the people I love« I don't know when it became my obsession, but I can never be at peace until I find it." "You've got to stop one day, you know that. Believe it or not, life is short. We're not immortals." Ann's head shot up, and she stared at her friend. "And I should thank God for turning out to be a human despite having a vampire as a mother." Annie froze, unable to believe her ears. "On my graduation from high school, a WOOHP agent approached me and gave me a file that had my whole life recorded. From the day I was given to the orphanage by a local policeman to my teenage years. My whole life, I always believed that both my parents were killed by vampires." Ann looked down at the pieces of shattered glass on the floor, the wind softly blowing her dark hair. "My« my mother murdered my father, a human. She took his life because« it was just who she was²what she was. She fled, and even WOOHP lost her track. She was lost forever." Annie took in a deep breath and said, "So you've gone through all the troubles to find her." "To kill her and the likes of her. Her kind should be annihilated, "Ann said, glancing past the dark stain of vampire blood on the wall and out the window to the moon high in the sky. "I have to find Spencer. She's the only link to Uriah." Ann then stood up and stalked into Annie's bedroom. Annie followed to the doorway and silently watched Ann taking the gun underneath the pillow and collecting more ammunition from the drawer. She knew she couldn't stop her partner, and perhaps, she shouldn't. But it troubled her somehow that she kept worrying for the already injured vampire. Witnessing firsthand how WOOHP had run tests of UV bullets on some captive vampires, it was a miracle that Spencer was able to escape Hideaki that fast. "But Spencer is different from them«" Annie finally said. "She set us up tonight," Ann said as she continued to check the guns. "We've been so careless. She's not a rogue as she claimed to be. She almost got us and Hideaki killed." "I still think that« I don't know«" Annie looked away, frustrated at her own conflicted feelings. Ann paused for a second. "Are you in love with her? Didn't I just tell you it's a very dangerous thing to fall in love with a vampire? They'd tried, Annie, and they failed to overcome their nature²their urge to bleed the life out of us²" "She's not your mother." For the first time, Annie defiantly stared back at her partner, whom she had always respected and secretly idolized. But Spencer's life was on the line,

and she couldn't possibly just follow Ann's order. "It's not fair," Annie said, but her voice came out trembling now. "She spared your child's life, Ann. She's different." At the mention of Ian, Ann stayed silent for a long while before she said in finality, "You don't have to come with me. In fact, I'd rather you stay here and wait for WOOHP men just in case the vampires are still around." Annie quickly took Ann's hand before her partner could leave the room. "No, it's okay, really," Ann said, and then looked up at her friend. "I should« I should thank you for being there for me all this time. I'll find Spencer and get some answers« You may be right. I have to stop sooner or later, and maybe it'll end tonight. My journey could end tonight, and I could be with Hideaki soon." Shortly after Ann left, a dozen of WOOHP men arrived at Annie's doorstep. To cover Ann's absence, Annie lied that Ann had already followed Reito. She then led the agents on the hunt for Reito, hoping to give Ann more time to rescue Spencer. To avoid being easily attacked, Ann opted for a car instead of her motorbike. To her surprise, she found Spencer only five blocks away from her apartment. The vampire was lying beside a dumpster in an alley, bleeding profusely. Passersby stared at them, but Ann quickly put Spencer into the car and drove out of town. She headed towards the abandoned warehouse, thinking it would be safe for the vampire. Ann turned to look at the quiet Spencer. "Hold on until we get there, okay?" Spencer was splitting out blood, and she could hardly speak now. Her skin got paler and paler that she now looked almost purple. "There's no time to stop by a hospital to get you donated blood, so you're going to have to hold on." Ann glanced between the road and the glowing red gaze from the vampire beside her. "He« He shot me«" Spencer weakly growled through her gritted teeth. "I²I know. Can²can you heal yourself?" Ann felt the uneasiness crushing in her chest. The murderous gaze continued to fix upon her, sending chill down her spine. Spencer was clearly losing her self control, and the thought of her mother erupted in Ann's mind. Mother« Speeding along the narrow road, Ann looked out the windshield, noting the absence of the moon from the dark sky. She took no comfort at the sight of the black sea below the cliff. The road was dark and deserted, and before any more dark thoughts could enter her mind, a heavy thump hit the roof of her car, the force strong enough to shake the vehicle off its intended direction. Ann tried in vain to keep her car on the road, turning the steering wheel left and right. Ann clumsily grabbed her gun and tossed it at the vampire. "Spencer, shoot them!" Spencer shakily took the gun and fired up at the roof a few times. Ann looked at the mirror and felt relieved for a brief moment to see a vampire rolling off the car and falling onto the road behind them. It was until she took her attention back to the

road before her that she slammed on the break so hard to avoid the van coming in the opposite direction. "Jesus Christ!" Ann yelped. Her car managed to whiz past the van just by an inch unscathed, but another vampire had caught onto the car and veered it off course again. The male vampire punched through the window on Spencer's side and grabbed her neck. "Where is he! Where is Kruger!" the vampire snarled, clinging to the window. Ann ran her car near the edge of the cliff, trying to crush the attacker along the metal barrier. But the vampire pushed his feet against the barrier, fighting the vehicle back. Blindly, Spencer grabbed his arm and bit his wrist, draining him fast. He shrieked and, all the while, lost his strength to push the vehicle. Ann then crushed his body and lost him to the road. Only his torn arm was still in Spencer's grasp. However, the small amount of blood weren't enough to heal her wounds. Just when Ann thought they were safe again, Spencer began to wheeze, dropping the arm to the floorboard. Vampire blood was cold and obviously wasn't enough to sustain life for a wounded vampire. Ann then took a deep breath in and extended her hand to Spencer. "Take some of my blood, if it'll keep you alive for now. Come on." When there was no answer, she turned to look at the vampire, only to find that Spencer had already passed out. "Spencer! Wake up«! Wake up!" But the vampire failed to respond. Her body slid down the seat and her head flopped onto Ann's lap. "Wake²" Ann didn't have even a second to think when Reito suddenly flew down and landed in the middle of the road before the vehicle. She was certain that her car had slammed into him, but it felt as though she had run into a brick wall. The car flipped from the collision, rolled twice before sliding off the road and falling down the cliff. Ann remembered the beautiful sight of the sea below before darkness washed over her. The weak groans of pain and the sounds of ragged breathing eventually stirred Ann out of her deepest slumber. She opened her eyes to the strong brilliance of the sun, and the fierce throbbing in her head intensified by the seconds. Her body ached terribly, but thankfully her legs didn't register much pain. She glanced up and saw the edge of the cliff so high against the blue sky above. It's morning already«? Spe²Spencer«? At the thought, Ann turned to see the vampire not too far away from her. Spencer was leaning against the wall of the narrow, concaved area under the cliff, hiding from sunlight. Staring right back at Ann, the vampire's expression remained cold and unreadable as her usually crimson eyes were almost transparent now. Her chest heaved ever so slightly that one would have missed its motions entirely. Her weak arms were resting along her sides, and her wounds kept bleeding. Her skin was as white as a sheet, and her soaked hair had bled into the color of glittering silver. It appeared that Spencer had dragged them both of the water, but she wasn't in any shape to escape any further than the narrow rocky shore. Grunting, Ann tried to sit up, but froze when she caught sight of an opening in her bloody stomach. The wound was twice as large as the size of a baseball, and she only realized now that she was bleeding badly. Her hands began to tremble upon realization. And she only

understood now the meaning of the look on Spencer's face when she saw that her left leg was broken and anything below her right knee was completely missing. Her mind suddenly registered all the physical pains, and she screamed out in terror. Her whole life flashed before her eyes, and she could see the end of it now. Tears poured down her face, and she just couldn't stop herself from crying aloud, trying to wake from the nightmare she was in. It was only until Spencer spoke in a language she did not know that Ann was able to break away from the state of oblivion. Oddly, the vampire's harmonious voice soothed her mind even though she did not understand the meaning of those words. She eventually stopped crying and wiped her tears from her face. Although she felt her energy was slipping away fast, and that her life could end any minute now, she turned and took a long look at the vampire, who appeared to be as calm as the sea before them. "What« What did you say«?" Ann breathed. Spencer tried to move, but ended up coughing up more blood. But it didn't seem to matter now. She kept glaring at the human who would soon share the same fate with her. "If« If I tell you« I'm gonna have to kill you«" Spencer still managed a dry scoff. Her body starting to shake, Ann closed her eyes and smiled. She knew that if the vampire wanted to kill her, she would have done so long ago, and she knew that Spencer could not possibly come out of her hiding place now to reach her in the sun. But she also knew for a fact that she was going to die anyway even if help was on the way. "I accept« your challenge« I want« the truth«" Biting her lips to muffle her cry of pain, Ann started to crawl towards the vampire. But her muscles weren't functioning as she wished. She whimpered and had to stop to take a breath in. When her body simply refused to move any further, she reached her shaky hand as far as she could and grabbed the cold hand in the shade. "Take« my blood«" Ann said with determination in her eyes. Spencer paused a little, staggered by Ann's action. "Does« Uriah matter« Does it matter so much« that you'll die for it?" Ann slowly shook her head. "Because« Because you spared my child« You knew that I'd love him even before I did« You« gave me the most incredible« thing I've ever had« my Ian«" There was a moment of silence before Spencer hungrily snatched Ann's hand and drew the woman close enough to whisper into her ear. Ann's eyes widened at Spencer's last words for her. The vampire then buried her fangs into Ann's wrist and sealed the truth into the dark once again. ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::: "I« I still remember that beautiful evening« The sun was setting«" Annie muttered as she was lying on her warm bed, her dull gaze staring up at the ceiling. Her shaky hand was clinging to the black rosary around her neck, her most beloved gift from Spencer. After long hours of recollections of the past, Ian tucked the old woman into bed, covering her with a thick blanket. With the vampire gone, Annie had lost the will to live. She entered her final days earlier than the doctor had predicted.

"The agents and I spread out to find Ann, hoping that she'd survive the accident somehow. She was the strong one, you know« But she was only human, and she couldn't win all the time. I found her« I found her body lying in the sun. She looked peaceful as I recalled, so peaceful that I thought she was just sleeping« But then the injuries on her body looked extremely severe, and I realized then that we had come too late. Then I saw Spencer hiding further into the shade. She was scared of me when she saw me. I« I raised my gun up at her, screaming in my head that she was a murderer. I stared at her with all the hate I could muster. I wanted her to beg for her life. She had no way to escape. Not out in the sun like that. Not with WOOHP agents around« But she didn't say a word. She just looked at me, sitting there, hugging her knees« The bite mark on Ann's wrist was telling me to finish her. I could have shot her right there. I could have«" "But you didn't," Ian said quietly. Sitting on a chair with a cup of coffee in his hand, his mother's green, leather journal on the desk nearby, Ian tried so hard to stay calm, and not running away in frustration as he usually did. "Because I trusted her. I trusted that she would never hurt my friend²that she was different. And I spent the next fifty years of my life proving myself right time and again« She was different." Ian shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I« God«" he muttered. It was clear to him now that Spencer deliberately let him believe that she was the murderer of his mother, so that Ian would not linger to help and escaped the First District unharmed. It seemed that the vampire had finally repaid Ann's dues. "I asked her if she killed my mother«" Ian said, reluctantly looking up at Annie. His heart was begging him to regret, but his head was telling him that he did the right thing to leave the vampire there. "She didn't answer« So I left her there. I let her die." But Annie offered no reaction to Ian's confession. The old woman just kept mumbling things inaudible to Ian's ears. Nothing could be done now. No one could undo the past. And Annie wasn't going to delve into regret and anger anymore. She saw a brighter path ahead of her, hoping to join her love in a place far away from this chaotic world. Pulling his collar closer, Ian got into his car and headed back to his apartment. On his ride home, he kept looking at the picture of his mother on the pocket watch, one of the belongings his father had kept from the day she died. Ian left Annie that night, feeling far emptier than when he knew so little about his mother.

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