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Lillies Upon our Graves

Chapter Text

Kurogane easily kept pace with Subaru as they climbed up the steep hillside that housed the Scavengers' base. The only other time he'd come to the base had been with Fuuma when Souma had teleported them into the dungeons. And after the transformation and his subsequent talk with the kid, she'd taken them directly back to the Liberalists. So Kurogane's only impression of the base was from the inside of a dungeon where he'd spent the entire night howling in agony.

Far from the city, Kurogane was disappointed to note that the air wasn’t quite pure, even if lacked Cavahall’s ever-present stench of decay and chemical rain. Then again, hardy shrubs clicking to life were the only vegetation around for miles. Sweat trickled down his back, making his t-shirt cling to his skin, the humidity and lack of a breeze only serving to add to the discomfort.

Subaru had insisted on parking the jeep in a concealed spot at the base of the hill and making the climb on the foot. According to the young vampire, their visit was unannounced, and given the Touya's Lupine territorial aggression, the best approach would be the one that gave the Scavenger's plenty of warning of their arrival. The sick bastard must get his kicks out of making everyone crawl up to his domain. Cavahall’s Touya was just as twisted as every other counterpart of people Kurogane knew in this world. Tomoyo was jaded, all jaggedly broken pieces of the princess he loved held together by the unreliable glue of rage. That bastard Yuui… well maybe he didn’t qualify as the mage’s counterpart but unlike the blond Kurogane actually cared for, Cavahall’s version was a slimy, greedy piece of shit. And this Touya, like the king of Clow, held a position of control, but while that Touya genuinely cared for his subjects this mocking caricature was only in it for the power trip.

By the time they reached the perimeter markers, a man Kurogane recalled encountering in Infinity, was waiting for them, the light of the rising sun casting a halo of orange behind him. Kurogane wiped at the sweat dripping into his eyes as Subaru greeted the man. “Good morning, Lantis-san. We were hoping to speak with Lady Emeraude, if she is available?”

To Kurogane’s surprise, the vampire's words were missing the accent. Must be back within the manju's range, he thought, glancing around. A part of him wished the white creature would come hopping out of the underbrush while crying his name in its shrill voice. But then he remembered the spell that the witch had cast to alter his features and realized with a pang of disappointment that even if the meatbun was hiding somewhere nearby, it wouldn't recognize him.

"Emeraude is currently busy with a patient,” Lantis replied, unaware of Kurogane’s inner turmoil. "I can't say how long she might be."

"It's okay." Subaru smiled. "We're willing to wait."

"You might end up waiting for a long time," the man warned, though he turned and gestured for them to follow.

"We don't mind," Subaru said as they continued trekking up the hillside, the ground slowly leveling out as the rocky terrain gave way to cobblestone streets and rows upon rows of tiny cottages. In the distance, he spotted a set of towering buildings that looked like some sort of apartment complex, and he wondered just how many Unnaturals occupied the settlement. The Scavenger led them towards the last row of cottages that were located near one of the entrances to the mines. Sunlight painted the sleepy little settlement in golds and pinks, dusting the edges of the buildings and daubing the stone walkways with a faint glow as morning crept past the horizon. The view would have been spectacular had Kurogane been the sort of man to care. As it was, his attention was drawn towards the high pitched shrieks that could be heard coming from the last cottage.

The Scavenger leading them looked startled upon hearing the screams, though he broke out into a run after only a moment's hesitation. Kurogane was pleased to note that he didn't have any trouble keeping up with the man. Their guide disappeared through the doorway of the cottage though when they crossed the threshold, the scavenger was hovering nervously inside what appeared to be some sort of waiting area. From the looks of it, the cottage had been converted into some sort of medical facility. He could hear raised voices coming from a narrow hallway that led deeper into the building.

"Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!" cried a woman, the same one who had been shrieking earlier.

"Freya, sweetie, it's okay," Masooma said, her soothing voice carrying a hint of magic. What the hell is she doing with the Scavengers?

"No! You don't understand," came Freya's reply. "It's wrong! It is making everything wrong!"

"What the hell do you mean by that?"

Kurogane nearly groaned when he recognized Touya's voice. Great, the bastard is in there too…

"It is dying," Freya whimpered. "And it is killing the world with it. It's all wrong. It should not be here. It's wrong! Wrong! Wrong!"

Kurogane's senses prickled at the focused buildup of magical energy in the other room before Freya's cries tapered off into silence.

"I don't know about him being wrong," Masooma sighed heavily, the sound of rustling fabric reaching Kurogane's ears, "but I do agree with Freya on one thing, Touya. Your friend is definitely dying and I'm not sure how to help him."

"Aren't you supposedly one of the best in your field?" Touya growled. The wolf stirred in the back of Kurogane’s mind at the sound of its Alpha.

"It doesn't mean I can cure a disease that defies logic," Masooma shot back, irritation clear in her tone. Kurogane could picture her eyes flashing with defiance, could imagine the little furrow of her brow that went with it. He knew she had the guts to face down an alpha werewolf, she’d done it often enough with Kurogane, after all. The fact that they were currently in said alpha’s territory wouldn’t phase the healer. "At least not within half an hour of encountering it. None of my spells are taking for long. The Vampirosa accelerated healing factor is helping keep the damage at bay but… I'm sorry, Touya. I'm going to need more time to come up with a definitive prognosis. I had hoped Freya would be able to help him, but merely being in the boy's presence is causing her distress."

"Souma can take her back to your base," Touya growled after a moment's pause. He figured the alpha might have partially transformed if the agitation of Kurogane’s wolf was any indication. "You, on the other hand, need to figure out what is wrong with the boy and fix him."

"Please don't forget that I'm here as a favor on Tomoyo's behalf," Masooma replied, her tone frigid. "I'm not one of your flunkies, so don't think you get to treat me like you treat them. If you—" She broke off, and Kurogane picked up the clatter of hurried footsteps.

A third, feminine voice spoke up, this one carrying the same cultured lilt to her words as Subaru. "Masooma, your stabilizing spells appears to be unraveling. The little one's bleeding is worsening."

"Damn it!" Masooma cursed. "At this rate, we're going to have to put him in stasis." Her voice grew distant, and Kurogane supposed she must have retreated further into the clinic with the other woman. A click of a doorway cut off her voice completely.

The Scavenger who had been hovering near the doorway cleared his throat and walked into the hallway. "Touya, we've got a couple of visitors for Emeraude."

Taking that as their cue, Kurogane and Subaru stepped across the threshold and followed their guide. Touya paused in his pacing, turning to face them, his eyes widening momentarily when he spotted Kurogane. The expression cleared quickly though, gaining a calculating glint instead when he saw Subaru. "Kuanos, you've made a new friend. And abandoned your old ones, it would seem."

Kurogane crossed his arms and gave the man a flat stare in reply, silently taking in the Lupine's haggard appearance. Touya was pale, his hair was in a complete disarray and the stubble stood out in stark contrast on his face. His hands and clothes were covered in an alarming amount of nearly dried blood.

"Emeraude is preoccupied at the moment," Touya told them, unconcerned with being observed as he turned fully towards Kurogane. "Have you decided to leave the Liberalists? I was told that none of them could reach you this past week."

"Why do you care?" Kurogane grunted, recalling at the last minute that in order for Subaru's plan—whatever that might be—to succeed, they would need Touya's cooperation.

"I did sire you, Kuanos," Touya pointed out with a lopsided grin, completely at odds with his earlier behavior. Crazy bastard. Kurogane internally scoffed as said bastard continued to speak. "If your falling out with the Liberalists has left you with no place to stay, you are more than welcome to join the family."

"Why were you looking for me?" Kurogane asked, choosing not to respond to the man's offer.

"Syaoran wanted to speak with you again, but…" The man trailed off, letting the silence hang between them as he glanced towards the hallway that led deeper into the cottage.

Something like fear wrapped its cold arms around his heart, chilling the blood pumping in his veins until a solid block of ice settled in the pit of his stomach. The blood covering Touya took on an entirely new meaning. "But what?" Kurogane demanded. "What happened to the kid?"

"We're not sure," Touya replied, his manipulative mask slipping to show genuine dismay. "I found him collapsed in the mines this morning, bleeding heavily, but with no visible injuries whatsoever. You claim to have known him from before?"

"And you told him he belonged in your world," Kurogane snapped back as he took a step towards the alpha.

"I admit, I could have been wrong." Touya shrugged. The tenuous hold Kurogane had had over his anger broke. He shot towards the alpha with a wordless cry, wrapping clawed hands around the Lupine's throat as Kurogane shoved him into the wall.

"Kuanos-san!" Subaru cried in alarm, but Kurogane ignored the younger vampire.

"You admit you could have been wrong?" Kurogane spat, his words coming out garbled through his partially transformed mouth. "You've been lying to the kid all this time, and you fucking admit you could have been fucking wrong?!"

"I might have mistaken him for someone else," Touya replied, unconcerned by the claws poised perfectly over his jugular. "Don't you think you might be overreacting?"

"Overreact— the kid is dying! After what those assholes at The Company did to him, you fed him lies about where he came from." Rage bubbled inside him. The blood pounded in his ears, a persistent ringing drowning out Subaru's protests. "You took advantage of him and now he's dying, and you think I'm fucking overreacting?"

The kid was bleeding, dying, and there was nothing Kurogane could do to help him. He didn't know where the manju was, and the mage was trapped in a hellhole, and there was not a single fucking thing he could do to save the kid because he had no means to send the boy away. He was completely useless and the bastard had the gall to suggest that Kurogane was overreacting!

He shook with fury, the nerves and muscles in his arms strained to their limit as his vision hyper-focused on the Lupine trapped between his hands. His chest heaved and his bones creaked from the effort it took to contain himself. But the wolf in him didn’t want to hold back. It wanted the bastard to break. Wanted that asshole to feel every moment of agony his actions had forced the kid to feel. The wolf’s bloodlust rose to the fore and he sank his claws into flesh. Pain from his transformation barely even registered as his mind shifted. The primal side of his mind shoved away what little rationality remained. The wolf howled for blood.

This wolf/not-wolf before him was the reason the kid was dying. He liked playing mind games. Mind games that were killing one of his. And so, this other had to die. He squeezed, claws digging deeper into flesh.

Flames of agony slashed across his exposed abdomen and a boulder smashed against his ribs, sending him skidding across the floor. The other explosively shed his non-wolf form, and in his place stood the Alpha.

Fear doused the rage and he whimpered, stepping back on paws slick with blood. The Alpha snarled and he flattened his ears in submission. The taste of iron was strong on his tongue as the Alpha advanced. Nearby, a bloodsucker made to move closer, halting only at the Alpha's enraged snarl.

You dare to attack me? The sounds issued from the Alpha's strange wolf/not-wolf mouth. After everything I have done for you? After I helped you! I turned you and you dare to challenge me?

No. No challenge. The wolf whined, sinking to the ground at the Alpha loomed above him. The not-wolf part of him raged. You tried to manipulate me! He tried to subdue that part of him, but the not-wolf howled. He fought for dominance, trying to take over, but he resisted. No challenge.

Fighting the Alpha meant death. Cold and clammy fear settled in his heart. It made him weak, and that was when the not-wolf surged upwards. He took over and he felt himself shift into a wolf-not-wolf creature like the Alpha. The intensity of the terror lessened just enough for Kurogane to reassert his control.

"You are nothing but a manipulative bastard," he growled, baring his teeth at Touya. "You're in love with the power you have over these people. And the idea that I don't submit to you like some lackey… I bet that really pisses you off."

"I couldn't care less what you do with yourself," Touya snapped. Subaru shifted in obvious discomfort at the confrontation, though he stayed put.

"And yet, you couldn't resist offering me the honor of being a part of your little family," Kurogane scoffed, meeting the Alpha's glare with one of his own. "You're no better than The Company."

Touya's features twisted in rage. He shot towards Kurogane with a howl and Kurogane met the blow with one of his own. The world rushed away from Kurogane with a roar as the Alpha’s attack sent him crashing through a wall. He landed in the sickbay, upending and destroying several empty beds before he managed to dig in his claws to stop. Pain blossomed in his chest and Kurogane found it hard to breathe as he struggled back to his feet. Spitting out a mouthful of blood as his broken ribs reset with several loud snaps, Kurogane crouched low and growled at other Lupine in challenge, ignoring the pitiful whimpering of the wolf in his head. He would damn well challenge that lying, manipulative bastard and beat him to a bloody pulp, if he wanted to. Alpha or no, it made no fucking difference to him.

He managed to get in all of two hits before Touya had a hand around Kurogane’s throat, lifting him into the air as though he weighed nothing. Kurogane flew through another wall, plaster and broken bricks raining down on him as he crashed into a cot. A woman cried in alarm, but he was already tearing through the hole. Putting his whole weight into the punch, he smashed his fist into Touya's jaw, feeling the satisfying crunch of bone under his knuckles. Touya soared across the length of the room, bringing the wall down upon impact. Kurogane smirked in satisfaction when the alpha emerged from the rubble, looking dazed. His lower jaw hung loose as he staggered to his feet, shaking his head like a dog. They were upon each other moments later.

Primal instincts took over before long and soon the fight had devolved into a flurry of clawing and biting. They smashed through the clinic, ignoring the cries of distress around them. Later, Kurogane would wonder at the number of patients their fight might have managed to traumatize or injure, but right now all he knew was his hatred for the monster before him.

"Enough!"

Ropes of crimson magic wrapped around his limbs, wrenching him away from Touya. The jarring action shoved away the haze of animalistic fury that clouded his mind as Kurogane found himself immobile and hovering in the air. He blinked. Across from him on the other side of the demolished room, Touya hung in the air like a life-size marionette with ropes of magic wrapped around his limbs. The only reason the structure didn’t come collapsing down on their heads were the thick, runic chains of magic wrapped around the supports beams of the building. Masooma stood between them, hands outstretched towards him and Touya. Her eyes glowed with the power she commanded, her hair flying behind her despite the absence of a wind.

"If you two are done knocking the fucking building to the ground, get the hell out of here!" Kurogane felt the crimson strands of her magic sinking into his flesh, pressing and squeezing until he lost his hold over the transformation. Across from him, Touya let out a yelp as he too was forcibly reverted. Souma appeared in front of her in a flash of dark smoke, and Masooma all but snarled. "Don't even think about it, Souma."

Glancing around, Kurogane could see a small crowd had gathered outside of the destroyed clinic, most of the scavengers still in their sleeping clothes. Morning light illuminated the wreckage around them in tones of soft pinks and reds. A white-faced Subaru stood next to Emeraude, the latter looking extremely displeased.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Touya roared when Souma stayed put, observing the witch through narrowed eyes.

"Saving my patient," Masooma snapped back. "Unless, of course, you care more about this impromptu pissing contest."

"Let go of me, witch," Touya growled, straining against her magic when she made no moves to obey his command. Masooma's brow furrowed, her lips pinched together in a silent battle of wills though soon it became evident that her magic was strong enough to keep him in his human form. Touya’s face twisted, his mouth foaming with rage, eyes wild and blood splattered across his face, looking damn ready to kill her. And still, Masooma barely flinched. He'd always believed her to be a healer more than a warrior, but seeing her face down the near rabid Alpha werewolf and winning, Kurogane had to admit he was impressed.

"No. And you need to calm down," the witch said, and Kurogane felt more than saw the magical ropes pulsed with energy at those words. A sense of calm enveloped his mind, the lingering haze of rage giving way to crystalline tranquility. Across from him, Touya's struggles died down within seconds as he gave up on trying to break free, content to hang in the air. Once she was certain that neither of them would attack her, she lowered her hands and they both lowered to the ground. A trickle of her power remained behind, wrapped around both his wrists to send out the soothing waves of magic, but the rest of the ropes dissolved to nothingness. Souma was at Touya's side in an instant, standing between the Alpha and the healer, though Touya appeared calm enough not to attack Masooma.

"Let's not do that again," Masooma sighed and nearly sagged to the ground. Emeraude flashed to catch the witch before she could collapse. Ignoring the admonishing look Emeraude shot her, she struggled back to her feet as the invisible wind whipping around her hair died down and traced out a runic spell that shot towards a mound of rubble and slowly began clearing out a path for them. Turning back to him and Touya she waved towards the newly created passage. "Shall we?"

-0-

Ten minutes later, Kurogane found himself standing in a cramped room with only Souma, Touya, Subaru and Masooma for company. The room was under Emeraude’s office, its entrance hidden behind a filing cabinet of all things. Emeraude herself was busy helping her assistant and the volunteers shift the clinic’s patients into a nearby cottage.

Touya and Souma had claimed a couple of chairs in one corner of the room while Kurogane stood with Subaru near a wall watching Masooma flit about the room, her attention focused on the pair of unconscious patients in the middle. Two elegant feathers hovered inside a glass case setup above the cots wreathed in delicate strings of crimson spells. The hair on his arms were standing up on ends from the magic pouring off of the feathers which Kurogane suspected to be memories, though not belonging the princess. Sakura memory feathers had all been fat at the base and white as snow with those distinct, red markings but the brown and green feathers inside the case narrow and much long, lacking any sort of pattern whatsoever.

A different set of memories then. Kurogane concluded, keeping the demands for an explanation to himself. The healer was focused on saving the kid’s life with her dancelike spellcasting and Kurogane could wait long enough for her to be finished before interrupting. Stasis, she had called the set of runic strings she was weaving around the kid’s prone form, though Kurogane could see how parts of the spells kept disintegrating. She was patching them up faster now than ten minutes ago when almost all of the threads had vanished but the magic wasn’t stable yet. The healer had a skill that rivaled the mage and while she might not have had the same amount of magic, Kurogane knew from the way she had easily subdued Touya that her magic was still pretty damn powerful. So why did her spells keep breaking down?

Kurogane frowned in thought as he focused his attention on the kid. Syaoran wore nothing save for a pair of shorts, his body and the sheets below him covered in blood, though just as Touya had said, Kurogane could spot no visible injuries. The kid squirmed, expression drawn in pain but the runes wrapped around his wrists and ankles held the boy in place. A crimson tear escaped from the kid's eye and dribbled down the side of his face to mingle with the blood welling from his ear. If it weren't for the pair of breathing tubes going down his nose, Kurogane suspected the kid would have been bleeding from there as well.

His gaze drifted towards the cot next to the kid’s, occupied by a transformed Lupine surrounded by similar thread of crimson and golden runes. The spells were linked the memory feathers, drawing on their magic but the stasis spell surrounding this patient was steady. He didn’t need to look very closely at that familiar shade of auburn hair to confirm that it was the Cavahall’s counterpart of the princess. Even in Lupine form, she looked far too young to bear the amount of scars that marred her skin and Kurogane found himself gritting his teeth as his mind brought up one idea after another as to how she might have ended up in that state. From the looks of things it had been a long time since she had been placed in this lonely, underground room. Kurogane glanced at Touya who had a firm scowl plastered on his face but for once, a hint of humanity shone in his sorrowful eyes as he stared at his sister. So somewhere hidden deep beneath that smarmy, greedy exterior, the bastard did have a heart after all.  

"I've managed to put him in stasis,” Masooma said as she stepped away from the bed. The pen sticking out of the hair bun atop her head drew his attention momentarily, and he realized that not only had he lost the hairclip he'd intended to return to her, he'd also forgotten the exact number of days that had passed since he'd arrived in Cavahall. We've never stayed in a place this long. What if I can't get the kid out of here in time? His heart plummeted at the thought, the sinking, gripping feeling of dread intensifying at the worry clearly visible in her expression. “But I don’t know how long it will last. I’ve anchored the spells to the feathers and they’re stable for now but his body is shutting down.”

Touya looked up sharply, opening his mouth to speak but she cut her off. “I don’t know why it’s happening to him. I've never encountered anything of this nature and I'll need time to search for a proper cure. This solution is temporary at best."

"Being in this world is what's killing him," Kurogane said as he pushed away from the wall and walked over to the witch. He stared at the kid's pale face, listening to the breath rattle in the boy's chest despite the tubes shoved through his nose, and felt a pang of guilt in squeeze his heart. I'm fucking useless! He reached out and rested a hand on Syaoran's hair, eyes going wide in surprise at the heat radiating from his skin. Almost as if the kid was burning. The mage was always cold to the touch…

"What do you know about this?" Touya demanded.

"It's part of a price he paid for a wish," Kurogane answered, more for the healer's benefit than for Touya's. "He needs to keep moving between worlds to stay alive. If we're ever in a place for more than a fortnight, he falls ill."

"If that were true, he should have died by now," Souma pointed out. "He's been with us for much longer than that."

"I guess that must be why the mage turned him," Kurogane sighed, turning away from the boy. "If they'd been trapped inside The Company for a while, the price began taking its toll on the kid and as he grew worse, the mage might not have had any other choice."

"This mage, he's the Hybrid you're trying to rescue, correct?" Touya's ears perked up in interest.

Kurogane merely narrowed his eyes, daring the bastard to finish voicing that demented thought. Touya said nothing as he leaned back in chair, appearing satisfied.

"How long will you be able to keep the kid in stasis?" Kurogane directed the question at the witch, knowing that if he looked at Touya too long, he'd be tempted to smash the bastard's face.

"It depends," she said, looking at the spells she'd woven around the feathers. "A couple of weeks if the runework holds. Maybe a month? These memories are helping for now, but I'll need to monitor his condition to be certain."

Long enough for me to find the manju, Kurogane nodded. The dimension hopper would be able to take the kid away even if Kurogane had to stay behind for the mage. He glanced at the feathers hovering above the two kids and frowned. He had no idea how the kid had managed to lose his memories in the form of feathers but he was certain they belonged to the kid though he doubted Touya would be amenable to parting with them. I’ll have to find some way to send those with him.

"Would leaving this world help him?" Subaru asked, directing the question at Kurogane.

He blinked. "What?"

"You said being here is what is killing your friend." Subaru explained. "Would he recover if he were to leave Cavahall?"

"He's been fine before." Kurogane nodded thinking back to the couple of times when they'd been unable to leave immediately once the manju's earring had begun to glow.

"I see." Subaru nodded, hesitating for a brief moment before he turned to Touya. "Touya-san, I was going to have Emeraude-san make this request on my behalf, but seeing as we are all here: Kuanos-san and I will need access to your mines once the tournament begins. I believe one of the shafts leads to a cave system situated out in the wastelands?"

Touya quirked a brow, clearly interested. "So that's how you're planning on getting to your brother."

"Yes." Subaru nodded and turned to Kurogane. "I know of someone who might be able to help your dying friend."

"Who?" Kurogane hated feeling of relief offered by the vampire's words. If he'd known where the manju was, he'd have told me.

"You know of the Wishing Shop?"

"What of it?" If there'd been a way to get in touch with the other kid, I would have done it already!

"The owner has the power to pull people across dimensions," Subaru explained. Kurogane wondered how much Subaru had been told about him and the others. The Witch must have somehow known the future and arranged to have him sent to Kurogane now, but did Subaru know about the change in ownership for the shop? Had he known that Kurogane was a dimension traveler using something of the Witch's to travel? "Maybe if we send Syaoran-kun to the shop, he might be able to recover until we retrieve Fai-san?"

"That's all brilliant; however," Touya cut in before Kurogane could answer. Irritation blossomed in his chest as Kurogane glowered at the alpha, but then the ropes of magic around his wrists pulsed and the anger dimmed to a slow smolder. "If you want to access the tunnels, I want something in return."

The bastard paused letting the words hang in the air until Kurogane snapped in impatience. "What is it?"

"The company uses inhibitor nanites to confine its champions to the wastelands,” Touya said instead and Kurogane grit his teeth. "When you were last here, Fuuma mentioned that the Liberalist techie is developing something to work around that issue. Are you using that to free the Hybrid?"

"Yeah." Kurogane narrowed his eyes at the Alpha, hoping the man wasn't going to ask for those nanites as recompense. As things were, Kurogane would be lucky if Tomoyo agreed to let him use those for the mage, considering how abruptly he'd stormed off.

"It's decided then," Touya clapped his hands once as he stood up with a grin. "I give you access to the mines during the tournament. In return, when you go to retrieve your brother and his friend, you bring back someone for me as well. Lupa is partnered with those two so it shouldn't be a problem to fetch her."

Masooma spoke up before Kurogane could decide on what to say. "There are limitations to the technology. What you're asking is—"

"I don't care," Touya interrupted, waving his hand in impatience. Turning to Kurogane and Subaru, he continued. "If you want access to the tunnels, you will do what I ask."

"And if I refuse?" Kurogane challenged.

Touya regarded him with a cool smile. "You're welcome to find some other way to get to the arena."

Kurogane considered his options, thinking back to what Subaru had said when he’d first brought the idea up. While there were ways to get in, the only one to do so undetected was through the mines. And the smiling bastard knew it. Kurogane turned on the full force of his glare at confident spark in the alpha’s eyes. "Fine. I'll get her for you."

"Brilliant!" Touya smiled a predatory smile. “Let’s leave dear Masooma to her research and discuss the details somewhere more appropriate, hmm? After all, it wouldn’t do if Syaoran were to suffer an unfortunate accident because you couldn’t control your temper, Kuanos.”

Kurogane grit his teeth, picking up on the threat hidden in the alpha’s words. As soon as this is over, I’m ripping this bastard to fucking shreds! Instead of announcing that promise, however, he stepped to the side and bit out three words. “Lead the way.”

-0-

Bia scrolled through the reports that her assistant had collected and sent through to her system. Cerellium production had gone up ever since that arrogant mutt had taken control of the mines. She supposed it was a good thing that he had. The mutt seemed to believe it had some sort of leverage over The Company with the way it used inhibitors on the rest of its followers, though Bia was getting free labor by cutting down on the cost of The Company's employees required to oversee the mines. Despite the initial hiccups, Bia's position within The Company had only improved with Touya's apparent takeover of the mines. The other directors on The Company’s board were impressed with her handling of the seemingly unprofitable situation into something cost-effective. That she had done so with an efficiency and decisiveness that belied her young age and lack of experience only meant that she had a better standing than her soft-hearted cousin.

"What game are you playing at now, Bia?"

Thinking of soft-hearted cousins… Bia glanced up, adapting a look of delight as she dismissed the reports. "Danish, how nice of you to drop by."

"Drop the theatrics," Danish snapped, storming into her office. "What gave you the right to approve this?” Danish slapped his palm on the table and the holographic display pulled up Akira’s proposal from last month, Bia's signature clearly visible in the document.

"I have all the rights to utilize The Company's resources as I see fit," Bia replied as she leaned back in her chair, dismissing the display before nodding for Danish to take a seat. She tapped the screen and brought up the latest reports submitted by Kyle and Akira and pushed them in his direction. "The mutt is useless as ever though. See for yourself."

Danish frowned, brown eyes scanning through documents, looking thunderous by the time he reached the end. Bia crossed her legs, biting back the urge to smile at the barely concealed anger in his words when he spoke. “You let them drug her?”

"Relax," Bia waved her hand. "It's not like anything came of it. According to Akira, the Hybrid is cursed with impotency."

"I don't give a damn about that. You allowed that son of a bitch to drug Maddy!"

This time, Bia did smile as she dismissed the documents. It was still so easy to rile him up whenever the mutt was concerned. "And this is why the board has been denying your requests to have Lupa’s control transferred to you. You're too emotionally invested in the Lupine."

"And you're a psychopath," Danish snapped, frustration warring with the anger in his eyes.

"Is that the best insult you could come up with?" Bia buffed her nails before throwing a sly grin at Danish. "I don't know why you refuse to accept the truth. You can't get her back. Even if Lupa went up for sale and you somehow managed to win the bid, dear little Maddy no longer exists. Accept it and move on. The board of directors can only ignore your behavior for so long."

"Is that a threat?" Danish gave her a narrow eyed glare.

"No, dear cousin." She shook her head, still smiling. This was too easy. "It's a warning. Change your views before you are forced to change.” She turned her attention back to the reports she had to put away when Danish had come storming in. “Now, if that was all you wanted, I do have business ventures to oversee. And so do you, no?"

Instead of taking the hint, Danish leaned back in his chair as he gave her a considering look. “I wonder what the board of directors will have to say about your recent behavior.”

"Meaning?" She quirked a brow.

"Don’t tell me you of all people forgot the rules about breeding gladiators," he said, casually picking at non-existent lint on his trousers. Bia narrowed her eyes. "You gave Akira your approval to use two of our most popular gladiators for breeding, breaking countless rules and setting a dangerous precedent.”

Her expression soured. Danish smirked as he tapped the tabletop and copied the reports from Akira and Kyle to his portable console. “They’re not going to be very happy with you when they find out. Thank you for sharing these with me, by the way.”

A pop up notification showed up on her console as she received the email addressed to the entire board of directors. She felt heat rise up her cheeks as she read the short message Danish had sent out with the email. The reports and her approval were in the attachments.

"I don't enjoy having to remind you of this repeatedly, dear cousin, so consider this your final warning. Leave Lupa alone.” He gave her a cold smile. “Because the next time you try something like this, you will wish I had brought you before the board."

"What I do with Lupa and her team is my prerogative, Danish," she snapped.

"Not when you put The Company's profits at risk with your actions," Danish said as he stood up, pocketing his personal console. "Try not make another mistake like this, cousin. I'll see you at dinner tonight." With that, he walked out of her office, leaving Bia to fume.

An invite for an explanatory meeting with the rest of the board popped up in the display. Bia shoved the console away with a snarl. Glowering at the closed door, she leaned back in her chair. Ever since Lupa had been appropriated by The Company, Danish had been steadily becoming a bigger pain. I suppose it's time to deal with this particular thorn.

Unlocking her drawer, she withdrew a secure comm-device and scrolled through the list of contacts. Dialing a number, she brought it her ear.

"Hello?"

"Fuuma, I have a new assignment for you."