Actions

Work Header

Blood Assassins:Temptations

Chapter Text

"The secret side of me, I never let you see.

I keep it caged, but I can't control it.

So stay away from me.

The beast is ugly.

I feel the rage, and I just can't hold it."

- (Skillet-Monster)


 

Once again, nightfall arrived in hopes of obliterating the relinquishing light of the sun, its encompassing darkness blotting out all but the faintest light. Ill-omened moments like such had children cowering under their blankets, sheltered by their homes. From their bedroom windows, a canopy of stars could be seen materializing among the ocean of blackness, serving as dull waning lights against the moon. The ubiquitous moon was a spherical lump of bleeding crimson that hovered in the firmament as it cast eerie shadows upon the earth. The moonlight bounced off houses as silhouettes of mutated figures, expanding and spiraling on their own accord, spreading ominous shades of red.

The unnerving scenery was filled with inconsistencies; the temperature was always fluctuating. The breeze howled in discord as it scraped the land with its invisible bony fingers, like skeletons roaming the empty streets aimlessly.

Indeed, this was the time for wild fantasies about underworld creatures and their resurrections. Many tales about baleful spirits, ghosts, werewolves, and even vampires were told by the parents in the Capital, who wanted their children tucked into bed prior to curfew. Naturally, none of the adults fell for their own make-believe stories, though that was only because they knew nothing about the true darkness that stalked them.

Along with the backdrop of stars, a lone figure stood passively on the roof of a guard's tower that was deserted by neglectful watchmen. Her black clothing, consisting of a sleeveless dress, long gloves, and a pair of knee-length socks with matching boots, helped camouflage her slender form in the darkness. Her flowing luxuriant black hair offered another layer of secrecy, adding to the list of the many things that kept her hidden.

The moonlight's route altered slightly due to a drifting cloud, and the light shifted towards the figure, its rays being instantly absorbed by her red armguards and red tie around her neck. The garment and the black and red color theme were selected from her wardrobe with great care; they served as the perfect identification should someone spot her.

The night was her domain, as it was prior to the incident, but even more so after… when no one was out to restrain her.

Akame, the renowned assassin of the Empire and the former member of the Elite Seven, frowned. Below the sharply furrowed eyebrows resting under uneven bangs, were eyes that glistened coldly in the dark, as red as the moon above her. Her pair of ruby-like orbs caught the sight of houses, shops, and inns that lined the streets, which separated into alleyways and branched off in different directions further than what she could perceive. From up here, it was impossible to see where each path ended, though from prior knowledge, Akame knew that they forked and ended near the gates that marked the Capital's boundaries. What lay beyond were terrible beasts in the form of hideous creatures, though they were hardly worthy of her attention; any Danger Beast with enough intelligence would steer off her radar without a second thought.

With a slow but intended motion, Akame pulled her scarf up and decided to commence her nightly routine. Her neckwear, which flailed about weakly in the wind, was peach-colored in design. It was nothing special save for the three black flowers that formed a triangular crest on the side, the gifted representation of a strong bond that she held dearly to. The scarf itself was just enough to cover the lower half of her face without obstructing her from sniffing out her targets.

A sudden chilling breeze visited the earth and would've made many shivered, though Akame merely welcomed its touch on her equally cold skin, not the least affected by the surrounding draftiness whatsoever. In fact, the breeze stirred up different scents that assaulted her nose at once. The familiar stench of alcohol, cigar, and manure was as distinguishable as the flickering lampposts on the sides of the streets. Doing her best to ignore the irksome distractions, Akame allowed hunger to be her escort, guiding her nose in the direction of a possible food source.

Hunger, such was the name of the terrible monster that buried itself deep within the roots of her entire being. It was her constant companion, the one that she tried so desperately to get rid of but to no avail. In spite of everything, the hunger was a horrible addiction that not even she, with all her willpower, could resist. Even so, her resilience fought back with passion, unwilling to allow the killing urge to dictate her life.

Currently, Akame let the craving stimulus incite the senses that were dulled from being incarcerated. She was always eager, almost overwrought, to find any oblivious targets. It had been days since she was properly fed. The question of who did not bother her by any means, be it a drunken man or a homeless person. Regardless, she did have a secret preference for someone young, perhaps a teenager. The blood of an adolescent tasted exceptionally delectable, something that Akame could put on par with meat. The mere thought was mouth-watering and her fangs skimmed the surface of her tongue, restless and full of anticipation.

'My, isn't someone famished? What are you waiting for? Let me assist you. Simply embrace who you are and claim what is yours. Don't hold back now. Hunt, feast, and kill to your desires. Wreak havoc on this miserable world that rejected your existence.'

'Go away!' Akame inwardly growled out a warning that was regrettably losing its impact at this stage. Her desires had a strange way of manifesting itself in the form of an inner voice that took every opportunity to deride her when her resolve was waning. It would always be so alluring and tempting that Akame would nearly succumb to its suggestions. Nonetheless, as tantalizing as it was, she forbid her inhuman side from running loose. Instead, she opted to keep it shackled and locked up in the deep chasm of her mind. It was a no-brainer for her to guess the consequences otherwise. Once she gave in to the hunger, it would be the end for the people in this wretched place. In spite of everything, Akame didn't wish for a massacre. After all, it was not because of leisure that she hunted humans; but rather, she did it out of necessity.

Besides, Akame knew that the Empire would suspect her for any inexplicable deaths. It usually worked like that, even when there was a piece of evidence that contradicted the supposition. She would be accounted for and punished for anything that seemed phenomenal. The authorities were all abusive no matter how much she tried to prove her innocence, as she did so when she was little. The punishment always included deprivation and Akame learned to stop pleading after a while, understanding how deplorable her behavior was. It was futile. She supposed it was just simply because she was a feared outcast. The authorities gave off auras of condescension and superiority, but she knew that it was just an act to conceal their fear. Everything they did was with the intention of restraining her, to keep her under their control.

Before seeing everything with her own eyes, Akame thought of using the serial killer to take the blame. Who was going to notice one or two more shrunken bodies when a psychopath was on the loose? Nevertheless, she realized how stupid and flawed her plan was. The serial killer, Zank the Executioner, had returned from hiding to decapitate people at random. Rumor had it that he murdered countless innocence whilst on his rampage. Coming here, Akame realized just how dangerous Zank was; the scent of blood was unnaturally thick and strong in the area. It was just as well that her body didn't react to any blood that wasn't fresh. Still, the arrival of the serial killer was more of a threat than a blessing. Her food source was becoming scarce since nobody in the right frame of their mind would want to risk their lives by leaving the sanctuary of their homes.

'My feeding ground is being trampled on. And I'm hungry.' With a palm resting on the red hilt of the katana tied to her belt, Akame's fingers fleetingly brushed against the black markings inscribed on the weapon's side. The blade, eternally cursed, was fitting for someone like her. It was supposedly one of the 48 relics that once protected the Empire from invaders, though more than half were scattered across the continent after some ancient civil war. Since she was no archeologist, Akame usually had no interest in such things. Regardless, she was still somehow chosen to be the wielder of the infamous one-cut killer, Murasame. Perhaps it was a feeble form of consolation, but it felt better knowing that she was still wanted, even if such foolish lingering human desire was satisfied by a cursed blade.

'Just how low do you plan to sink? Your so-called reassurance means nothing. Why not seek for something far more fulfilling? You do know what you crave for don't you?'

'What I want is none of your business,' Akame scoffed inwardly, letting her irritation pour into her mind. Her hand instinctively grasped around Murasame, even when she had no intention of drawing the blade.

'It is in my nature to pry, just as it is in yours to kill. No one knows you better than I do. I've been living as a part of you for four years now. Pretending to be enigmatic is utterly pointless when I can read your heart.' There was little doubt of the mockery that was laced onto the haughty tone.

'I have nothing to hide from a prehistoric spirit who has nothing better to do than to bother me. Just leave me be.'

'Ah, there's the waspish tongue that's so like your sister's. But tell me sweet Akame, when was I ever a lowly spirit? I am immortal… a being that far surpasses the capacity of what any humans could dream o—'

'And yet, you were hunted down by humans and made into the Imperial Arms known as Blood Collection: Absordex,' Akame cut off sourly, hoping that the retort would be adequate to discontinue the conversation.

'A mistake that I will surely take vengeance on. I am still nowhere near my full strength though… but your existence shall compensate for that.' The way that the inner voice spoke of the word 'mistake' struck terror into the pit of Akame's stomach, something that was normally impossible for anyone else to do. At once, the Imperial assassin comprehended its intention and once again confirmed her suspicions. So long as she kept her hunger at bay, the beast inside of her would remain unheard of to the rest of the world.

'I refuse to help you. It's true that I loathe the people who experimented on me and merged my existence with yours. But I made a promise to someone that I will help the people in this country. For his sake, I will abide by my words as law.'

'Stubborn fool… hmph, but I expected an answer like that from you. Still, we both know that it's pointless to resist. It's bound to happen… you'll come to me sooner or later when the hunger finally consumes you. But until that day, I will continue to wait.'

'It won't happen… because I won't allow it.' Akame's conscience emerged as the victor of her internal conflict as she managed to fend off the verbal temptation once more. Despite the confidence that accompanied her words, Akame knew that she was truly breaching her limits. Already, she could feel the hunger invading every cell of her body, compelling her to begin her hunt. Unable to ignore it any longer, Akame heeded her needs reluctantly.

The dexterous assassin leaped from one rooftop to another, her boots just lightly touching the tiles. She pressed down hard enough for graceful leaps, but not enough to make a sound. Out of habit, she hid in the shadows of the taller buildings that obstructed the moonlight, thus allowing her form to merge with the still setting. Her dark hair only made concealing herself simpler and it wasn't long until she detected someone's approach from behind.

About a dozen or so footsteps echoed from the contact with the paved path as Akame, crouched low on her two legs, scrutinized the street beneath her warily. A few seconds later, a file of Imperial guards marched past. Having suffered casualties during the past few nights, the guards seemed to be on the lookout for anything that moved, their eyes darting from right to left. However, none of them felt the need to look up, which was providential for the assassin.

The Capital was getting tight with its night patrol, no doubt because of the cases involving the serial killer. From Akame's viewpoint, security was only a trivial hindrance that she, as a trained assassin, was taught to bypass.

'They are wary, but not skilled enough to detect my presence.'

It was too bad that the people below her were Imperial guards because they would've satisfied her hunger thoroughly. Morals and loyalty aside, she was also held back by subservient. It would do her and her master no good if she was witnessed feasting madly on the Imperial soldiers.

'What are you… a pet? You're quite pitiable. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!' Her inner voice had its ways of patronizing her and Akame found no appropriate rebuttals. Frankly, she couldn't disagree this time around; she was pathetically tied to a leash, the despicable result of her insubordination. Her fingers found the metallic restraint underneath her scarf as the strong and cold steel taunted her with its unrelenting hold. 'In retrospect, I should've known that this would've been the result.'

Deciding that musing over the matter would get her nowhere, Akame redirected her attention to the street below and was just in time to hear the exchange between two policemen.

"Uh, sir, where exactly are we going?" The speaker was a young man dressed in the traditional silver battle armor of the Imperial soldiers. Struggling to match the pace of his comrades, he fell to the back of the line, unaware that he and his teammates were being closely trailed. The young man was fidgeting with the lance in his hands, his fingers drumming against the shaft in apparent nervousness.

"Captain Ogre received intel that strange things are happening in District 34. We've been told to check for any irregular activities," the officer beside the youngster answered casually, all the while stroking his beard. Like all others, he too was oblivious to the eavesdropper lurking in the shadows.

"Unusual activities? Do you mean the vampire sightings?"

"Pah, rubbish! This is why kids like you shouldn't get recruited into the army until you're at least ten years older. You are too gullible for your own good. You actually believe in the things that the old geezers in the inns say? Vampires are just from fables, everybody knows that," the older officer huffed in disdain. "I'm telling ya right now, you need to get that load of garbage out of your head if you want to be successful in the military. And you better not let your mouth run wild around the Prime Minister. Everyone knows that he hates people who mention a word about vampires. Apparently, the only thing he finds more contemptible than folktales of vampires is Night Raid."

"Night Raid? You mean the assassin group on the wanted posters. I heard that the organization is closely linked to the Revolutionary Army and that two of its members managed to infiltrate the palace years ago, murdering the crowned prince in the process."

"So you're a wise one, huh kid? But you're wrong about one thing; Night Raid was actually formed after the terrible incident. Still, my hunch tells me that Night Raid is involved in this case too. They are always around when there's trouble. So I'll betcha that they are the ones stuffing around in District 34, along with Zank the Executioner."

Thanks to her sensitive hearing, Akame eavesdropped with little difficulties. Interest piqued, she decided to search the said area before the Imperial guards could. Not only was Zank beginning to get on her nerves, but the fact that Night Raid was involved prompted her to take action.

Bestowed with a new purpose, Akame set off at full throttle, leaving a swirl of dust for the guards to notice had they looked up. The red-eyed assassin's untiring legs carried her as fast as they could across the rooftops. At such velocity, her vision should've been blurry but her unusually red orbs captured and focused on the surroundings on a whim. Such feat would have been impossible for her years ago, but now, she wouldn't doubt her ability for a second; she was convinced that she could reach her destination, exploit the area, and leave before the Imperial officers arrived on the scene. Her inhuman velocity was just one of the advantages of being a test subject, though at the expense of everything precious to her.

It was on a fateful night so similar to this one, that she lost everything she cherished.

'Back then, I didn't have the strength to protect them. But now that I am stronger… where are the ones who I've sworn to protect with my life?'

Out of the corner of her eye, Akame noticed a bulletin on the wall opposite of her. She passed it without as much of a pause, only allowing the time to fleetingly scan for anything interesting. Nothing significant grabbed her attention, save for the two wanted posters that were pinned to the center of the board. There were four records altogether, but only two names struck a chord in Akame's memories.

Night Raid's Najenda, wanted dead or alive for countless murders, defection, and the assassination of Prince Masumi.

Night Raid's Kurome, wanted dead or alive for countless murders, defection, theft, and the assassination of Prince Masumi.

Akame pushed away the nostalgic sensation that coursed through her body and prioritized her needs. She quickly guided her train of thoughts before they could steer her towards the irrepressible scars of her childhood. As a means of distraction from the unwanted recollections, she concentrated on the path before her and pushed forward. After a while, the rooftops became more and more parted as she entered the urban areas of the Capital. Small jumps over the gaps eventually became bounding leaps, with Akame muttering a curse under her breath. This would've been so much easier if only she was fed. 'Then again, I wouldn't have come if I wasn't hungry.'

Akame was somewhat glad when the buildings began to part away to allow room for a clearing. Leaping down from the rooftops, the first thing she noticed was how battered down the place was. Crumbled walls could be seen, no doubt being the lingering ruins of formerly grand mansions. It was no surprise though; the district was previously owned by the wealthy proportion of the Capital before they evacuated and moved closer to the palace.

The place being deserted certainly posted no problem for Akame; what she was intrigued about was how the grounds looked.

The battle scars were fresh, just like the overwhelming scent of blood that had her senses reeling. Serrated cracks decorated the plain concrete floor that was dyed red. Tracing the blood trail, Akame's eyes locked onto a bulky figure that lay motionlessly in a supine position. Her hand flew to Murasame on pure instinct and she immediately gave a cautious whiff. The stench of death was heavy on the man, so strong that she was left in no doubt that he had died recently, perhaps no more than an hour ago. Regardless, being the vigilant person she was, Akame strained her ears for a particular sound. Only when she was certain that there were no heartbeats in the vicinity did she release her grip on Murasame. Nothing alive was near… including herself.

'Ah, so you unwittingly admitted that you're no longer a human? Good girl.'

Wisely choosing to ignore the nagging taunt, Akame crouched down beside the corpse and began her inspection. Pulling the man's long-sleeved top up, she took in the gruesome wounds on his upper torso and a hint of surprise flashed across her features.

Akame wouldn't call it butchering, but the victor of the battle was clearly someone with ample skills. The gashes ran deep and split the victim's flesh, with the fatal blow being a diagonal slash that started from the collarbone and ended at the bottom of the left lung, undeniably damaging the heart in the process. Akame's eyes then traveled to the right and she noticed that some exterior force had brutally crushed the man's arm, leaving parts of the shattered bone to stick out of his disfigured limb. 'This isn't something a normal human's grip could do… Is it another vampire? No, that's impossible.'

Mildly intrigued, Akame began to take note of the clues that she couldn't see. She picked up on two distinct types of blood from the corpse. One undoubtedly belonged to the man while the other brought her a peculiar sense of familiarity. When and where had she encountered it? Granted, it wasn't the blood of an old victim, something that Akame could recognize after tasting it once. More importantly, it smelled of someone who was alive and young.

'It smells so good.' Without as much as a conscious thought, her tongue danced around her lips in one full rotation. Something about the aroma had every cell within her body tremble in desperation, yearning for the heavenly taste that would bring her body to the pinnacle of satisfaction. Gulping, the red-eyed assassin could not stop her body from what she deemed was a display of weakness; her face was flushed, her breathing was erratic, and her very soul trembled with uncontrolled stimulations.

'It's scrumptious, isn't it? It's like nothing you've tasted before. What are you waiting for? Hunt it down! Savor the taste!'

'Argh, but it's outside of my usual range.' Akame's hand grabbed the side of her temple. Her predicament was becoming quite the dilemma. Two choices were presented to her… to pursue or not? Doing so could possibly endanger herself. While familiar with the layout of the Capital, what rest beyond the borderline was unknown territory. Being a territorial being, she was somewhat tentative. However, retiring now would yield no results, considering how the smell was becoming fainter and fainter by the minute. Come tomorrow, and she was certain that she would be back to square one with her investigation. It was now or never. Wrestling with the idea, it was intuition that triumphed over her reasoning.

Since her mind gave permission, her body was more than willing to oblige and take off, guided more by smell than sight. Relying on her unfailing senses to escort her, Akame permitted her mind to drift off, to when things were a lot different. Back then, paradise was non-existent for an assassin like her, though the welcoming presence of her only childhood friend and her young sister made any ordeal bearable. At a young age, the three of them were inseparable and did many things together. They had no qualms about the differences in their status. Naturally, the adults revolted the idea of the three of them spending time together, but none of them dared to meddle. It was just him, her sister, and her. Nonetheless, the memories were of a distant time, a mere fantasy left for reminiscences.

Despite that, Akame indulged herself in her childhood memories. With the recollection, recognition also came. The blood that could stimulate her urges effortlessly was that of Masumi's, her childhood friend. It was an indescribable flavor that she tasted only once, back when she was still a human. Loitering images flashed in Akame's head—a poisonous snake suddenly striking, her sister extracting her weapon, a younger version of herself sucking the venom from Masumi's leg, and the three of them pumping fists as they sealed their pact.

"Akame, you're so hopeless sometimes! It's not an order; I'm just telling you that I hate this master-servant relationship we have. I want us to be friends. Forget about my lineage… We're on equal ground and I want you to call me by my name like a friend would."

"Why am I so adamant? You really want to know why I want to change the Capital, huh? It's obvious that this place is corrupted. Those who are poor don't get a say in anything and are dictated by the wealthy. I don't like it one bit. Your family background can't determine the person you become. Just because you are born in the slums doesn't mean that you are anything less human. Well, at the very least… I want to create a world where orphans like you and Kurome can live freely as humans… and not as killing machines for the Empire."

"I can't get cold feet, but this isn't something I can do alone. I need both you and Kurome. We'll make a deal. The three of us swear to never withhold secrets from each other. We will always be together and help each other. And together… we will change the country for the better. It's a promise!"

'How could I nearly forget something as important as this? He is ready now… to change this world. But why did I doubt it for even a second?' Akame clicked her tongue, mentally scolding herself for being neglectful. Although a traumatic incident had separated the trio a year after their vow, she should've known that Masumi would be too obstinate to give up. His uprising was just beginning and Akame could only pray for his success. Before, she would've jumped at the chance to defect and join him, but it was impossible now.

Whether or not Masumi would regard her as a threat didn't bother her as she propelled through the darkness. Strengthened by anticipation, Akame paced herself further, not caring if she surpassed any human limits. As long as the sun was down, such exertion meant little to the body that was modified to endure harsh conditions. Naturally, the enhancement was only possible given that she wasn't deprived of blood. She might have fought against numerous skilled Teigu users, but deprivation was the one enemy that she could never overcome.

It was only when she was assaulted with the forest's pleasant aroma did she slowed her sprint to a jog. Her eyes straight away became valiantly alert for any movement. The rustling leaves and the fallen branches were the first things prominent to her, though she also perceived thin wires that stretched along the forest floors. The silver threads were meant to be invisible to the naked eye, but Akame's crimson orbs could still faintly discern them. 'I must be getting close for the assassins to be setting up traps.'

With the grace of a lynx, Akame dexterously avoided the wires, which proved to be of little challenge when she could see them. Tracing the origin of the strings, it wasn't long before she stumbled upon a large mansion-like building embedded in the side of a cliff, successfully shielding the man-made structure from prying eyes. From a distance, it would look nothing more than a part of the rocky cliff. Akame assumed that such design was probably done by architects with unrivaled skill.

'I am on course.' Thinking back to the wanted posters, Akame's lips curled into a miniature smile, a fang just protruding out of the corner of her mouth.

This was it… the notorious Night Raid's hideout.

Chapter Text

"No signs. No lights, such a mess all over.

Don't kill your hopes.

You make me realize who I need."

- X.U (Owari no Seraph OP)


 

This was it… the notorious Night Raid's hideout.

Akame pressed on. While she didn't go any slower or faster than minutes before, her movements were done with extra caution, something that wasn't necessary prior. Looking around, she searched for an accessible route. An old tree was situated quite close to the cliff, its branches just within the reach of a window on the second floor. Luck seemed to on her side today, for Akame was quick to notice that the window was partly opened.

Approaching the tree, Akame reached out and grabbed the closest branch, pulling herself up with efficiency. Contrary to the usual myths, she could neither fly nor change her form at will. Theoretically, it should've been possible for her to obtain some of the fantasized superpowers, though she was far too pragmatic to dwell on the slim possibilities. Otherwise, she would've to be subjected to numerous experiments, where side effects were often worse than death. Already, far too many had perished during the early testing stages and even more were recorded as a lost cause due to being driven insane. Truthfully, there was no reason for her to take the gamble. The initial testing had already managed to strip her of her humanity and made her experience hell; it was suffering that she never wanted to endure again.

'I doubt I can survive if they force me into another round of testing… though I suppose a part of me is already dead, right?' For once, she sought out the existence that dwelled in the deepest and darkest corner of her mind. She only needed a simple answer, though past conversations with the creature told her that she wasn't going to be let off easily. Be that way, she thought.

"Quite true." the voice echoed in her head, alluringly tempting for anyone but her. "You ceased to be human the moment they found that you and I are compatible. But you are rather fortunate, since all the poor souls before you, who are incompatible with me, are now nothing more than a pile of bones. Perhaps you should appreciate that you still breathe."

'This life is nothing more than a sense of falsehood. There is neither any laudation nor pride involved in being an undead,' Akame retorted in her head. It took her a mere minute or so to scale the vertical surface. She grabbed onto the window's frame and swung her legs over before sliding herself in.

"And yet you scavenge whatever you could in this contemptible life. Heh, heh. Hypocrisy… such is a trait in humans. It seems even you are susceptible to it. You should learn to be more sincere and heed your desires."

'Mind your own business. I have no intention of becoming your kind. You don't need to evaluate my choices in life. My heart decided that this is correct, so I will walk the path that I believe in. It is as simple as this.' In no way did her appearance indicate that she was having a mental debate, Akame's crimson pools surveyed the sight before her, searching thoroughly. What greeted her vision was a kitchen sink with dirty dishes stacked up on the side. Cooking apparatuses were left scattered across the stoves, their lids half-covering what leftover there was. Whoever was on washing duty tonight decided to slack off for whatever reasons.

"Do as you wish. But as I have always said, we both know that this is pointless. It's bound to happen… Huh? Ugh! Revolting. We should continue this at a later date."

'Agreed.' Akame's nose wrinkled in disgust. The mental link between her and the creature was abruptly severed as a scent overfilled her nostrils. There was no mistaking what was on the assassins' meal for tonight. She didn't even need to see the orange-red stains on the plates. The smell was so obnoxious that she fled on a whim, narrowly missing the greasy table as she leaped over it. She pushed past the portiere that hung from the wooden frames of the entrance and out into the corridor, skidding around a corner without pausing.

Perhaps it was one of her most ridiculous weaknesses, but it was impossible for her to be in close proximity to curry without suffering from the repulsive stench that burnt her nose. She could hardly bear it and her hybrid existence made little difference, though the side effects of her vampire side were only exacerbated after sunset. She could have endured it had it been daytime, but within the darkness, curry was one of her worst nightmares.

'Argh! C-can't breathe. Need… out!'

Too queasy to check where she was going, she found herself climbing a flight of stairs and into another corridor on the third floor. She passed through several rooms in a hurry before she felt the sudden urge to stop in front of a closed door. Unlike all the other rooms that she scurried past, this one smelled of the living. Someone was inside, most likely asleep given how late it was.

'Blood…' Akame swallowed instinctively and her hand reached for the doorknob. Her arm froze in place when she noticed a flat piece of slate that was nailed down to the center of the door. Aided by the little moonlight that filtered through the window's curtains, Akame read the writing inscribed onto the tag.

"Kurome's room," she whispered in a hoarse voice.

Her crimson orbs enlarged. The cruel twist of fate brought a sense of fear that wormed its way into her system, cracking her stoic mask like an eggshell. Her hand shot back from the doorknob, nothing short of behaving like someone who was electrocuted.

Why here? Of the dozens of rooms in Night Raid's headquarters, Akame just had to inadvertently trespass the room of the person who she wanted to desperately avoid. Many claimed her to be fearless, but if Akame were to speak of her Achilles' heel, then it would have to be her love for Kurome. Even the detrimental effects a bowl of curry could never truly rival the impact her sister had on her.

"Kurome… I promise that we'll always be together. I'll never leave you, no matter what."

Guilt. The recollection had Akame drowning in a sea of guilt. She felt awfully contrite, having inadvertently broken the promise to Kurome. Betrayal was common in this corrupted world, though the younger Akame, whose heart was still innocently naïve, believed that she could keep the promise with Kurome intact. Holding onto her words was like following an additional but prioritized rule. Being the assassin she was, she was accustomed to enforcing rules, so having one extra wasn't implausible for her. At least, that was what she believed.

'I believed that my words would become the glimmer of hope for Kurome in this depraved world. I was wrong to think that I had the power to keep my promises. Back then...'

The lesson was learned the hard way when Honest tried to assassinate Masumi. Amidst the chaos ravaging around her, Akame made her toughest decision. She chose to side with Masumi and one of the rebel's general, Najenda, and fought against the Empire. Her role was to let the critically wounded Masumi flee with Kurome and Najenda. That eventually led her into a fierce battle with Esdeath, the Empire's strongest general. Akame remembered having fought with every ounce of her strength, stubbornly refusing to relinquish her freedom after receiving a slight taste of it. The blessed feeling of being free from her shackles; she just wanted to savor every last drop of it.

'And I lost that only chance.' Akame's hand roamed towards her neck, where her fingers delicately reached for her scarf and slipped underneath the fabric. At once, the chilling metallic choker came into contact with her fingertips, and she involuntarily shivered as the one responsible for this degradation came to life in her mind's eye. How she had learned to loathe and fear the one who forced this life onto her.

"The weak are destined to lie beneath the boots of the strong," Esdeath uttered as a matter of fact. Although her body arched and her muscles screamed in pain, Akame could still distantly hear the blue-haired general's words as she was yanked up by her tattered collar. Esdeath had her fingers clutching tightly onto her clothing as she hoisted the beaten assassin to her eye level, with her feet sagging above the ground. The amount of brimming confidence that danced within Esdeath's cerulean eyes was something that couldn't be ignored even in Akame's disorientated mind. That was the symbol of her awe-inspiring powers; she was the victor and so she was confident in her abilities. "You're Elite Seven's Akame, correct? I can sense your resolve. You put up a pleasurable fight against me. For you, dying like this would be a complete waste. So if you truly value your life, then come and serve me."

Esdeath won because she was strong. Akame lost because she was weak. That was the logic behind her defeat, just as it was the way that the universe operated.

'It is just as she always says, the strong survive and the weak perish. However, Masumi survived. He lives on… so he is strong. And because of that, I need to be strong too.'

There was something worthwhile in her sacrifice since both Kurome and Masumi managed to escape. They were free from the Empire because Akame had put anything on the line to ensure that. Unfortunately, both of their freedom had a heavy price; Masumi lost his position as the rightful heir to the throne and Kurome lost her sister. The siblings were separated and only fragments of a broken promise lingered behind to fill the void in their heart.

'After all the suffering I put her through, do I really have the right to show my face?'

Akame's arms limply fell to the side, her hands clutching and unclenching. She had yet summoned enough courage to open the door and peek in. There was still a chance to leave undetected. Similar to her, Kurume was a light sleeper and any sudden intrusion would surely wake her. It was a practice that the siblings had developed as assassins, where a moment of inattentiveness would mean instant death. A habit like this was difficult to get rid of but honing it was as conventional as sleeping and eating nowadays.

'I should probably just leave. She's doing well. I can hear them; her heartbeats are strong and healthy. Just knowing that is adequate. The way that I am now, I have no right to intrude on her new life.' Her emotional desires were obstinate though her rationale proved to be a stronger force. And with that, Akame turned on her heels and decided to abscond.

Perhaps in time the two sisters would be reunited, but at present, their reunion would solve nothing and only bring more sadness. Besides, the night was still long and Akame knew that her salvation laid elsewhere.

Taking a deep breath for the needed composure, the red-eyed assassin took off again in what she believed was the right direction. The wall's shadows proved to be great assists in camouflaging her. Her stealthy movements complemented her role as an elite assassin; she was fleet-footed and soundless, indiscernible in the darkness.

But she didn't get very far before the sound of footsteps informed her of the two people approaching. Stopping dead in her tracks, she reflexively used the nearest window ledge as a stepping stone to climb up. For whatever unknown reason, the hideout was designed like that of traditional housing, with horizontal beams that stretched across the ceiling. Using the joists, she held herself up at a spread-eagle position to keep out of sight. If possible, she wanted to avoid any direct confrontation with Night Raid. No matter how strong she was at night, she knew it was dangerous to pick a fight with the Capital's most wanted group of assassins.

"Ah, that was a good workout~! Those creeps really were rotten to the core." The speaker was a woman in her early twenties. She had long spiky blond hair with two extensive bangs that framed the side of her head, hanging just past the white scarf she wore around her neck. Her outfit, consisting of a black tube top, pants and brown boots, was heavily scented with blood. Stains of red could still be seen from her lion-like paws as she stretched out her arms.

"Yeah, and those scrums actually had the nerve to beg for their lives. After all that running and hiding they tried to pull off." The woman's companion, a green-haired individual in his late teens, spoke with a growing grin on his features. He wore a green-hooded jacket over a white and red ringer shirt, blue jeans, and brown shoes. A pair of red goggles could be seen as an additional ornament on top of his shoulder-length hair. "But I gotta hand it to you, Leone nee-san. You sure had no problem finding them in the dark. It kinda remained me of playing a game of Hide and Seek with three-year-olds."

"I prefer to call it Cat and Mouse. But seriously Lubbo, you know they're no match for the instincts of a predator," Leone paused momentarily to emphasize her point with a gentle tap on her nose using a finger. "One whiff of the place and I knew exactly where they were. You just can't miss their rotten stench."

"You sound pleased, Leone nee-san," the teen chuckled.

"I always feel refresh after a good fight!"

"You'll feel even more refresh after taking a bath. I guarantee it!" With enough fervor to put every woman's sixth sense on the alert, Lubbock exclaimed in an undeniable perverted way.

"Nice try. But no way am I washing when you got that look. Your intention is as clear as that stupid smirk and drool on your face," Leone pointed out, wearing a grin that threatened to divide her face into two. Her golden eyes were lit with mischief and her tail twitched playfully, almost as though she was ready to retaliate if her comrade resorted to his deviant behavior.

"Come on, Leone nee-san! I'll give you a back massage." Lubbock, who had been casually strolling with his arms behind his head, stuffed them both inside his pockets at once. He flailed his jacket around, imitating a bird flapping its wings. "And all you have to do is enjoy your bath while I fly into your breasts and sing the national anthem!"

"Do you want me to break two of your fingers?" chirped Leone, unfazed by Lubbock's ridiculous comment.

"Ugh... But it's a small price to pay for my utopia!" Lubbock announced, allowing his desires to dictate his next action. He lunged forward, both hands reaching out for Leone's round ample breasts. However, his leeched expression was soon replaced by surprise when Leone skillfully maneuvered her body and avoided his outstretched arms. He was then suddenly grabbed from behind and shoved into the ground. There was a groan followed by a string of frantic yelps when Leone pulled his arm back and twisted his wrist.

"You never learn, do you?" Leone shook her head, amused as she kept Lubbock pinned down with a foot pressed on his back. "Utopia, huh? Well, how about I give you hell instead?"

"Owww! Leone nee-san! I give up! Owww, stop!" Lubbock cried out for leniency, pitifully struggling against the woman's iron grip. Never mind wanting to assault Leone's curvaceous assets, he was completely at her mercy.

Just as suddenly as she had retaliated, Leone released Lubbock with a threatening growl. The blonde pulled her lips back and revealed glistening fangs that gave Lubbock a start. At first, the green-haired teen thought he had somehow angered the woman with his playful nature. After all, it was not rare for him to get on her nerve. Although what troubled him greatly was that this was the first time she had released her killing intent. However, he then noticed that her hostility was not directed at him, but was instead spreading outward, hunting down a target that lurked in the darkness.

"Grrr. Who's there? And what are you?" growled Leone, unsettled by the unusual scent that she could faintly detect with her enhanced nose. The smell was nothing like a human or a Danger Beast, instantly putting her on the alert. Her primal instinct screamed danger and her body tensed as her eyes frantically searched the area.

Lubbock caught the uneasiness in Leone's tone and his assassin's persona took over. He scrambled back on his feet, with vigilance replacing confusion on his countenance. Since Leone was on the lookout, he afforded a glimpse at his Teigu, Infinite Uses: Cross Tail, and was surprised that none of the wires he had set as an alarm were triggered. Either the intruder was simply a fragment of Leone's imagination or they were extremely skilled to bypass his security. As much as he hoped otherwise, Lubbock suspected the latter. Experience taught him not to doubt Leone's senses, which were far superior compared to an average human's because of her belt Teigu, Animal King: Lionelle.

"We know you're here. Come out," both assassins said in unison.

"…" No reply.

Silence draped over them like a blanket. It lasted for a moment before Leone pushed Lubbock to the side and pounced forward, just as a shadow dropped from the ceiling. The woman roared and pulled her fist back, coming down hard with a punch.

A blurred movement from Akame and she blocked with her sheathed blade. She gritted her teeth when Leone applied more force, intending to shatter her Imperial Arms. Perhaps she could match her in strength, though she feared that the strain on Murasame would be too great. Going by instinct alone, she shifted her weight and sidestepped, letting the woman's knuckle scrape down the length of her scabbard.

"Crap!" Leone was thrown off-balanced by the sudden move. She had not expected the figure to move with the dexterity that surpassed her own. Adjusting her footstep, she pushed off from the ground and managed a clumsy roll on the floor. The tip of a sheathed katana slammed on the spot that she was a millisecond before.

"Jeez, you wanna give me a brain tumor that badly?" In spite of her pounding heart, Leone gave a curt remark. As expected, her foe didn't reply and instead pushed for another assault.

Timely, Lubbock covered for Leone and hurled a spear made of wires. The figure dodged with the grace of a lynx, and in the direction that he had predicted. A smirk appeared on his face and he tweaked the wires on his Cross Tail with expertise. Controlling a series of silver threads that he had kept hidden near the walls, he caused one of the threads to run across the entire hallway, successfully creating a trap that would cripple the intruder.

"I've got you n—huh?" Lubbock's eyes widened at what happened next.

What he failed to predict was that the figure, who he could now distinguish as a raven-haired girl due to the dim moonlight, had supreme reaction time. With a mere second before the wire could bite into her skin, she spun around and intercepted the trap by ramming her still sheathed katana into the ground. Lubbock's wire cut into the scabbard in a shower of sparks. The green-haired assassin watched, awestruck, as the intruder made a skillful air maneuver.

Akame pushed herself off the ground and used her weapon as a fulcrum to launch her body into the air. She flipped upwards, pulling Murasame with her before the wire could slice through. She landed close to Leone, who charged at her at full throttle. Her body reacted on its own, without conscious thought. The blow meant for her jaw whizzed by in a blur of knuckles.

Leone grounded her teeth, assuming a defensive position. The intruder moved, unexpectedly fast. She dipped and weaved in an erratic manner; her movement seemed fickle as a cat, giving Leone little time to improvise. She blocked the next shot with her arm, wincing as the sheathed blade landed with a bone-shattering impact. Even with her beast-like enhancement, the blonde couldn't deny the strength that the raven-haired girl possessed despite her smaller frame. But she wasn't given much time to be in awe, as the intruder withdrew her katana, only to follow up with another strike. The weapon sliced through the air vertically this time and Leone leaped to the side. The blade crashed into the ground and a chunk of rock was sent flying towards Lubbock.

"Careful, Lubbo!" shouted Leone.

Heeding the warning, Lubbock formed a web with his wires and caught the projectile with sweat trailing down his chin. That was too close, he thought, although he had to admit that it was a witty move. Because of the rock, he had to rearrange his wires, effectively negating whatever attack he intended to use with Cross Tail.

Before Leone could heave a sigh of relief on behalf of Lubbock, she was walloped. There was a jarring impact on the back of her neck. Disbelief flashed across her features and she lost consciousness even before the painfully registered. 'Damn it! I… I-I got distracted!'

"Leone nee-san!" A gasp left Lubbock's throat and bewilderment spread on his face. Leone was possibly one of the best close-ranged fighters he knew, yet she was taken out in her field of expertise. At that thought, fear wormed its way into Lubbock and he involuntarily gulped. It registered that alone, he stood little chance against the mysterious intruder, who not only possessed great combat prowess but also had one of the finest reflexes of an assassin. To make the matter worse, she had yet to unsheathe her katana. If the circumstances were any different, then Lubbock would've counted on his charisma to persuade her into joining Night Raid. 'One look and I can tell she's not the talkative type. I doubt she's in the mood for a chat anyway. This is looking real bad.'

Akame spared a look at Leone, confirming that the blonde was indeed unconscious. Surprise had temporarily lowered Lubbock's guard, so she took the opportunity and leaped forward. She crashed into the assassin's midsection, tackling him down to the ground. There was a startled cry from the green-haired teen before he tried to wrestle her for the upper hand. She didn't let him win. Like greased lightning, she saddled on top, pinned his body underneath, and held the tip of her scabbard an inch away from his neck.

"Oww! Damn, you're good. If things were difficult, I would totally ask you out." While the sweat that rained down the side of his face betrayed his fear, Lubbock still managed a wolfish grin as he scrutinized the girl's passive features. The lack of emotion unsettled him a little, seeing as he couldn't read her. Maybe she was actually cringing at his flattering remark but just didn't show it, he thought. It was something he would never know. Emotionless and deadly—she had the qualities of the perfect assassin. 'On second thought, maybe she's just near perfection. Thank heavens! Else I would be dead by now. Even after all this time, she hasn't released any killing intent. She's not driven by bloodlust. That means that there's still a chance for me outta this mess.'

Had Lubbock actually knew and comprehended Akame's mental conflict, then he would have had a very different opinion. While the green-haired assassin was measuring the severity of the situation, Akame, despite her stoic features, was struggling to resist the hunger. Being so close to Lubbock was making her vampire urges resurface. How she craved for his fresh warm blood, which would surely flow out of his body like a heavenly stream once she bit into a vein. Already, the exposed skin peeping out from under the collar was captivating and the fear she smelled from him only tempted her more.

"Go on. He's all yours." With every intention to exacerbate her condition, the hunger manifested as the tempting voice, beckoning her to make a move. Akame's body trembled in response, full of anticipation. Truthfully, she didn't think she could resist much longer. She was hungry from the beginning. Although she was put off by Leone's blood, which smelled like a wild beast's, the sweet scent of Lubbock's blood drew her in. It was taking every ounce of her self-control to maintain her sanity, to not give in to the temptation.

"Hmm? Hey, you kinda look a lot like Kurome-chan," Lubbock said abruptly, inquisitiveness latched onto his voice as his eyes squinted into slits. The familiar raven hair, the similar facial appearance, and even the comparable fashion sense were far too uncanny in Lubbock's opinion and a moment's contemplation evoked another inquiry. "A-are you perhaps Akame of the Elite Seven? Kurome-chan's sister?"

Lubbock's recognition seemed to have stirred a trace of panic in Akame's eyes. But that was transitory, as her face soon contorted into something that Lubbock would never see on Kurome's features. Frankly, Kurome was far beyond what he would call an average girl, and her malicious smirk illustrated the hidden cynical nature within the youthful countenance. Even so, she would never allow bloodlust to dominant her form.

Akame's bloodshot eyes gave away her intent. Her crimson orbs glistered like a sharp knife, dripping with blood. Somewhere along his observations, he noticed that her collected breaths had changed into heavy pants, and she was making strangled grunts from the back of her throat, almost like someone invisible was choking her. If Lubbock didn't know better, he would've thought that one of Cross Tail's wires had wrapped itself around her neck and was squeezing her life out, bit by bit.

"…Hey, calm down. What's wrong?"

"Shut up." Akame's words came out as a pained hiss, and although it sounded like a reply to his question, Lubbock partly suspected that she was actually talking to something he couldn't see or feel. It made him all the more curious despite his predicament. He knew that he was completely at her mercy, and despite her erratic behavior, he was still under the impression that Akame didn't want to kill him or Leone. She was here for another reason, and it was a reason that he wanted to discover.

All of a sudden, Akame shot up like she was burnt by him. Before Lubbock could make any sense of her action, he found a boot to his side. He let out a pained cry as he was sent sprawling, crashing into the wall headfirst.

Akame didn't even check if Lubbock was still conscious. She fled the scene without a second thought, sprinting down the corridor with speed that was phenomenal. To someone who witnessed the sight, it would appear that she was fleeing in shame. But nothing could be further from the truth. Any longer near Lubbock's presence and she was certain that she would commit an act despicable in Matsumi's eyes. He would never forgive her. Therefore, Akame was immensely glad that she managed to hold back her craving for blood, however momentarily.

If truth be told, she didn't think she could withhold her craving after seeing blood, even if it was her own. Lubbock was very cunning, and he portrayed the perfect image of someone who was helpless when she had him pinned down. But in reality, he had some control over the situation. He initiated conversations as a means of distraction, and nearly succeeded when he mentioned Kurome. He wanted to divert her attention so that she wouldn't notice how close one of his wires were to her neck, and how easily the nearly invisible wire could have looped her head off. Not that it would've mattered much to her once her vampire urges took control, she thought. The risk of potential injuries would matter little to her whenever the hunger consumed her and she became a blood-lusting monster.

Only when Akame was far away from Lubbock did she stop and lean against the wall, panting profoundly. By no means was she fatigued, despite her ragged breathing, though the hunger was making her weak. It felt like she had just run a marathon and everything around her was blurry, like she was underwater. She understood that the only remedy was blood but she was unwilling to hurt the assassins in Night Raid, who were all Masumi's new teammates.

'Maybe coming here was a bad idea after all. I should have just stayed in the Capital and feed on any stranger I saw… But now that I'm here, I have to refrain from drinking anyone's blood. They're all precious to Masumi... I can faintly smell him on their clothing. He's near, and yet I haven't bumped into him yet. Ironic.' Deep in thought, Akame failed to detect anything abnormal until an unforeseeable force slammed into her. Every bone in her body creaked in protest as she found herself pressed against the wall. Pain flared through her body and she squeezed her eyes shut. The intense pressure held her down firmly, refusing to let her go despite her vigorous struggles.

At that moment, realization dawned on her and she became aware that someone was manipulating gravity, leaving her helpless as they approached to finish her off. She inwardly berated herself. She was too careless, having deemed that she would be the predator here. Instead, she was the one backed into a corner, an ideal prey for the assassin lurking in the darkness.

Thanks to her enhanced senses, Akame heard what any other ordinary human could not. Barely perceivable footsteps echoed, drawing closer by the second.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap!

With eyes still closed, she braced for the painful assault. Her attacker would soon realize that it would take more than one strike to kill her, so she anticipated numerous blows that would rain down on her body.

"Huh? A-Akame? Akame, is that really you?" Instead of a fury shower of steel, she was instead met with a familiar voice as the gravity around her returned to normal.

Her body slid down in a slumped posture. She opened her eyes wearily. Shock still clung to her pupils, making her eyes fuzzy with stupor. But even in her disorientated state, there was no mistaking of the pair of green jades that stared at her, astounded.

Akame stared back at the bright green eyes before allowing her gaze to fall, taking in the full appearance of the young teenager with medium length brown hair that stood before her. He was donned in a blue hooded short-sleeved sweater, with a one-sleeved tan cardigan layering on top, a pair of black pants, and appropriate combat boots. Fortunately for Akame, he was wearing a short green poncho around his neck, hiding the base of his neckline from her sight. In one hand, he was holding onto a strange blade wrapped in a black cloth that branched off into seven directions. The design struck Akame as ludicrous, but the way that it was being held illustrated lethality. At once, she suspected that it was this weapon that had held her down by manipulating the gravity around her.

Indeed, the blade was fascinating in her eyes, but nothing could be more breathtaking than its owner. His appearance formed butterflies in her stomach, and she wouldn't help but clandestinely take a sniff. The unique scent, though unfortunately mixed with blood, was everything that she needed to confirm her suspicion.

"Masumi," Akame whispered, feeling her lips go dry.

Chapter Text

"I no longer fear killing

My wish would no longer come true

I live merely in order to protect

So that I can stay true to myself"

-Filament (Mirai Nikki ED2)


 

 

Awkward silence draped over them like a heavy blanket as the two stared at each other. Akame was left speechless while Masumi gawked. Both were completely stunned by the turn of events.

'How did this happen?' Their minds shared a single inquiry that couldn't be assorted in their jumbled state. Only one thing was certain: this was no dream. Reality smashed into their skulls as hard as Masumi's heart could be heard hammering inside his chest.

Masumi moved first, unexpectedly fast. His hand shot forth and grabbed Akame by the wrist, pulling her back up to her feet. His Teigu clattered on the ground as he pinned her arms to the side. His mannerism was anything but gentle as his eyes widened. It fleetingly crossed his mind that he was being too rough, though the idea of Akame slipping away from him was so unbearable that his grip reflected his feeling.

Akame flinched, startled by the way that Masumi was acting. While the knowledge that she could wrestle free was there, she did nothing and allowed Masumi to search her features. He needed the time for clarifications. His emotions were on raw display as he tried to compare her face with the memory of the girl in his childhood.

Eventually, satisfaction crept on his features and he nodded before allowing a smile to slip through. He marveled the girl standing before him like she was a lost treasure. In the years they were separated, Akame had matured into a striking young woman who stole his breath away. Her hair was still long, trailing down towards her knees in an attempt to provide a veil for the back of her legs, the part where her long black socks failed to cover. What little moonlight that filtered past the curtained windows supplemented to the glossiness of the flowing tresses that were as dark and delicate as a raven's feather.

But what caught Masumi's attention the most was the way that her crimson eyes glinted in the night. Years ago, he would have missed the hidden implication. But now that he was in the assassin trade, he could no longer overlook the apparent sharpness that defined her pair of rubies. Cold and acute. A reflection of the life she had been living.

To pique Masumi's interest further, there was something mystical in those orbs. They were to the point of surrealism, with hints of shimmering red seeping out. Bloody red. That was Masumi's first impression when he saw them. A disturbing color normally associated with bloodlust. Not exactly the most bolstering observation but he forced his discomfort down in favor of marveling the girl he had before him.

"W-wow! Akame. It really is you! You've grown…"

"Same with you," Akame said softly, her voice so quiet that one would have interpreted as shyness if not for the composed manner that she conducted herself. Being a master of her emotions, it still took both time and effort for her to swallow the overwhelming joy that coursed through her body.

To finally reunite with Masumi and to see how much he had developed was a dream come true. Years had molded the frail yet cheerful boy into a well-toned teenager who survived the intense training. His body displayed the results and there was a purpose in his actions. When he reached out to grab her, there was no excessive movement that would've been averse to a stealth mission.

Even his emerald orbs illustrated his drive. Intensity emitted from them as he measured her. It was probably an unconscious behavior, though the way that he studied her was akin to dissection. It was as if he was trying to discover and expose her weak points. Indeed, he was truly becoming more like a seasonal assassin and the recognition drilled mixed emotions into Akame.

Shaking off both content and sadness, she directed her sight at the cowlick that rested on top of his brown tuft. At that moment, it drew upon her that her head was tilted up slightly. Her eyebrows dropped and her obsidian orbs replicated the glossiness of a doll's pupils as she deadpanned, "You… you're supposed to be around Kurome's height."

"Huh?" Masumi's face was etched with bemusement as he tried to fathom what caused Akame to suddenly change her demeanor. He tried following her gaze and it wasn't long until he realized what had caught her attention. "Oh! You know, men are generally taller. Hmm, what's with that look? Something tells me you're not happy… Is it because I'm taller now?"

Gathering what he knew about Akame, Masumi deduced the exact reason for her dissatisfaction. Despite being antisocial, the raven-haired assassin was actually an affectionate sisterly figure towards him. Since he had no elder sister, he was initially envious whenever he saw Akame showering Kurome with affection. Longing for the same treatment, he requested Akame to indulge him in a similar manner, which she obliged. While he eventually grew out of that desire and wanted Akame more as a friend than a sibling, he still fancied the way she would pat his head. It was a soothing gesture and one that Akame herself found easy due to being half a head taller.

Now that Masumi pondered about it, he felt grateful that his childhood friend would try to accommodate his every whim. It was no wonder why Kurume loved calling him a spoiled brat back then.

A chuckle escaped with the thought. While there was the urge to loosen the awkward atmosphere, a larger portion of his mind spurred him to tease Akame. Deciding to humor himself, he placed a hand on top of her head and said, "What's the matter? Do you want to pat me that badly? You can just ask and I'll bend down for you. Otherwise, you'll have to get used to this treatment, since I kinda like this. Ah, I've always wondered why you enjoy doing this."

"You are acting like a child." With her lips pressed together, Akame gave a look that bordered on a pout. The rare expression lasted no more than a few seconds before her eyes suddenly regained vigilance, with the crimson shimmering with killing intent.

Instincts pulled Akame away from Masumi's touch and her hand shot to Murasame. But before she had the chance to move, Masumi reacted and grabbed her again.

Masumi didn't share Akame's astounding senses, but he caught on the moment she flipped the switch and returned to her killer mode. His ears caught a sequence of footsteps, with the pacing of someone who was hurrying down the corridor. Without needing to be told, he knew that being seen with Akame would bring nothing but trouble.

With his teeth gritted, he pushed Akame into his room while simultaneously kicking his weapon in the same direction. Leaving the Teigu behind was no good; it would only draw unneeded suspicion. He didn't care where the momentum sent the blade skidding, just so long as it was hidden from view.

He slammed the door behind them. The noise was a mere thud to the human ear but was so deafening to Akame that it nearly raptured her eardrums. There was no chance for protest as Masumi looped an arm around her from behind, securing her in place as he clamped his free hand over her mouth. Akame's eyes widened but fought against the instinctive urge to resist.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

The person responsible for the sound stopped right before them, their appearance being barricaded from Akame's sight by the wooden door. The red-eyed assassin couldn't help but briefly contemplate whether or not she should barge down the door and attack. But Masumi must have read her thought, for he tightened his grip on her.

"Shh. It's fine. Just don't move." His whisper was a soft caress that drove an uncontrollable shiver down her body. The warm breath against her collarbone drained her strength, sending a sensation that made her legs melt like butter. A stumble and she would've crashed to her knees, if not for the snugged embrace that supported her.

'How is he doing this!?' Astonishment coated her shrinking pupils. Never had she felt so defenseless, not even when Esdeath had her hand around her throat. The intimacy was responsible, she realized, though the fact didn't trouble her as much as it should. She despised vulnerability; it made her lose everything precious to her. Yet, she could find no fault in Masumi, the one who was making her weak.

So focused on her reflections did she nearly missed the conversation going back and forth between the closed door.

"Hey, Tatsumi! Wake up and get your ass over here! We've got an intruder!" The speaker on the other end had no problem getting her high feminine voice past the wooden barrier.

As soon as the word intruder was heard, Masumi gave Akame's waist a squeeze, no doubt having fathomed who was accountable for the commotion that had stirred him from his sleep.

"Yeah, coming!" Masumi called back, then muttered a curse as he pretended he had hit his toe on the corner of his wardrobe. "Ack! Stupid thing! Hang on just a moment, Mine! I'll be done soon."

"Hurry up, slowpoke! I'll be leaving this floor to you. I'm gonna get Sheele to search the floor above with me." The girl called Mine gave a snort that plainly indicated her impatience. Even without seeing her expression, Masumi knew that she was wearing a disapproving scowl.

"Alright, alright! I get it."

"Hmph… Just make sure you close your fly this time before coming out."

"Wha-! That was just the one time. No need to remind me." Embarrassed, Masumi's cheeks burned and he cast his gaze down towards Akame. He couldn't really see her expression from this angle, which prompted him to wonder if she was silently laughing at him. He inwardly heaved a sigh. He should've known that Mine was merciless when it came to insults. It was just unfortunate that his childhood friend was right beside him at the exact moment.

Contrary to Masumi's concern, Akame was listening to the interaction absentmindedly. She licked her dried lips. Masumi was close. Way too close in fact that it was becoming impossible to ignore his presence, particularly how his warm body was pressed against hers. To make the matter worse, his scent assailed her nostrils like waves in a storm, making her eyebrows furrow surreptitiously. She could feel the savage beast within her thrashing about, demanding her to feed it.

'Go on!' The hunger returned to trample over the heartwarming reunion and beckoned her to act. 'It's utterly pointless to resist like this. Why deny your own desire? Why torment yourself? Go for it! Resisting it any longer is simply pointless. Go for it! Bare your fangs and sink them into his flesh.'

'No. Never. He's Masumi… my only childhood friend. I can't and I won't!' Akame refused bluntly, mustering every ounce of the humane rationale she had left in her cold body.

'Haha, don't make me laugh. A friend, you say? You mean the friend who abandoned you to the sadist general. The friend who didn't even try to rescue you when you were treated as a lab rat, tortured and left devastated. The friend who is so obsessed with reclaiming the throne that he has neglected you. How can you not see it? He does not care for you at all. So why care for him?'

'He does care!' Akame shot back with a wild fury, though momentarily shocked at the vigor she placed on the emphasis. In any case, she had never been imperturbable when it came to matters concerning Masumi. If she was a little more restrained with her feelings regarding the brown-haired teen, then perhaps she would never have been captured by Esdeath. Still, regret never came in that regard. Her heart chose what she deemed was right and she would follow through. After all, that was what defined her as an individual. Without it, she doubted her ability to stay sane.

'He does? Well, color me surprised. I didn't know… But if so, then he should be more than willing to give you some of his blood. He cares for you, right? So he should be able to grant you this small request... Or is your human heart faltering because you fear rejection once he realized that you're no longer human?' Being a part of her meant that the voice was almost always accurate with its observations about her. It made her loathe it more, though the intense emotion couldn't erase its existence.

'Your sarcasm doesn't amuse me in the slightest. Just leave me be.' She tried stifling the hunger with willpower alone, yet that ended in futility. Fighting back an irritated scoff, she ran the edge of her fang across her tongue and temporarily calmed the beast by ingesting her own blood. In retrospect, satisfying the hunger with droplets was impossible, especially when a more favorable food source was practically within reach. 'It'll have to do for now… It has to!'

The instance Mine's footsteps faded, Akame spared not an extra second and pulled her arm free from Masumi's hold. Something akin to desperation stirred, which she responded by pushing her friend away with so much force that he staggered back. While she noticed the pained expression on his face, she pretended she didn't see it and averted her gaze, feigning interest in anything in the room but him.

It was at that point that Akame noticed how bland the room was. By standard, it was cozy, though how he of all people could cope with living here was an unsolved mystery. Masumi, by birthright and heritage, deserved only things of the highest class. Instead of living in a royal palace surrounded by hundreds of servants and maids, he was cramped in here, with his things littering the ground and his bed unmade.

It wasn't hard to imagine his new life. She wasn't the one with problems.

"A-Akame… Why? What's wrong?" asked Masumi. Confused, he took a step forward and was discouraged when she retreated. The female assassin backed herself into the nearest wall, with her arms wrapping around her body in a protective manner. Try as he might, Masumi couldn't deduce the sudden change in Akame's behavior. She seemed so repulsive to his touch now, and he wondered what he did to elicit her aversion.

Akame felt a pang in her chest. It didn't take a genius to figure out that she must have hurt Masumi's feelings. He was looking more like a rejected child than the handsome teenager she had laid her eyes on. Although she couldn't pinpoint the exact reason, she definitely found a preference in seeing Masumi robust and jubilant. The bleak face didn't match him at all and she supposed she ought to rectify that.

"That girl… why did she call you… Tat… Tatsumi?" she tested the name with her tongue. The syllables rolled off in an awkward manner, with her being too accustomed to Masumi. "It means sleeping dragon, correct? Why change your name?"

It was an adequate distraction. Whether or not Masumi knew about Akame's true motive behind her inquiry was questionable, but he seemed to relent and didn't pursue her for an explanation about her sudden aloofness.

"Yeah. Well, I can't exactly go around using my real name when everyone else thinks that I'm dead. Besides, my name goes poorly with my job. Father called me Masumi because it means true purity. But there's nothing pure about being an assassin," Masumi—no Tatsumi—said, his tone growing sober at the mention of killing. Committing crimes for the greater good; while he didn't fancy the idiom an eye for an eye, he knew that Night Raid was doing what was necessary in order to rebuild the corrupted Empire from scratch. 'I know... There are filthy scrum bags that littered the Capital streets. Whereas heaven has failed to pass down the appropriate judgment, I won't let them go easily.'

"Assassin…" Akame murmured, almost too quiet for Tatsumi to catch the word that quickly left her lips. Then speaking in a volume that could be heard but simultaneously keeping everything confidential inside the room, she said curiously, "An assassin killed Zank the Executioner. Am I right that you're the one responsible?"

"Why ask?" Tatsumi's eyebrows furrowed for a moment before they returned to their resting position.

"I checked his body. The cause of death is a diagonal cut that hacked through the collarbone, running down to the bottom of his heart. It's anything but a clean cut. The jagged lines… they're from your Teigu." The analysis was spoken in a monotone, though there was undeniable certainty latched onto the tone. Akame was convinced it was Tatsumi's handiwork, though not by investigating the corpse alone. The primary evidence came from the blood that was infused with the air, heavy and intoxicating. There were Zank's and Tatsumi's.

"…Ever thought of quitting the assassin trade to become a detective? You'll probably make a good career out of it." A touch of sarcasm dripped from Tatsumi's remark as he sauntered to his bedside to pick up the blade that he had kicked away.

"I would've quit a long time ago if I could." Her response was cold, devoid of any sentiment as her fingers briskly brushed the metal surface concealed beneath her scarf.

The gesture was not lost to Tatsumi, though he wisely ignored it in favor of getting Akame to stay. He had diverted from the original topic with sarcasm and reached a subject that the raven-haired assassin was reluctant to delve into. He respected that, just as she respected him when she went along with his distraction. Besides, there was also the chance that if he persisted, then she would depart into the night, leaving him with no means of contact. That was definitely the last thing he wanted.

Time to change the subject, he realized.

Ripping away the piece of cloth that covered his Imperial Arms, he hoisted it so that Akame could see the seven jagged branches in their full glory. He inspected the surface of the steel and noted with contentment that it was physically free of blood. Without diverting his attention away from his task, he asked gingerly, "Akame. You remember… that night, don't you?"

"How can I forget?" A jolt of agony flashed in Akame's eyes. That night was painful for them both.

"I was unconscious back then but the Boss—by that I mean General Najenda—told me that General Budo caught up to us. Apparently, he was completely out of the loop as well. Honest acted without his knowledge, so he was also caught off guard by the assassination attempt. Long story short, he refused to join the rebels bluntly but gave me this," Tatsumi paused and gestured towards the weapon in his hand. "Force Shifter: Juryoku, an Imperial Arms that can manipulate gravity."

"I see. I suspected that was what you used to immobilize me earlier. You forced me down by increasing gravity." Being Akame, she was quick to analyze the information given.

"Forced you down? It sounds really bad when you put it that way. But other than that, you're right. And…" A halt was necessary for Tatsumi to gather his thoughts and contemplate on his next sentence. He cast their attention to Juryoku because he wanted to avoid conversing about the incident with Zank. But try as he might, he found his reflections loiter. Guilt formed hesitation that prevented him from disclosing the events that Akame wished to know about. However, there was a small stubborn part of him—perhaps his morale—that prevented him from forgetting the entire matter. Instead, he found himself deliberating whether he should tell Akame and trust her to console and counsel him if needed.

"…And it's with Juryoku that I ended Zank's life. Your assumption is correct, Akame. Typical," muttered Tatsumi darkly, having decided to place faith on his childhood friend. As an elite assassin, she should have insight that could help him rid his guilt. "I manipulated gravity and made the beheader go down on his knees. Then I crushed his arm, the same one that he used to loop off heads."

"You didn't finish him off immediately?" No consolation came from Akame. As an alternative to the comfort that Tatsumi sought, mild curiosity could be heard.

"No," Tatsumi replied, his emeralds glistening with unreadable intensity. "Why do that? He needs to be taught a lesson; that… pain is a sorrowful and terrible thing. I had to make him understand and feel the pain of those innocent people, whose lives were ended for no reason other than them being in the wrong place at the wrong time!"

"It was not a clean cut," stated Akame coolly, unperturbed by the odium seeping out of Tatsumi's distressed voice. While she didn't approve the seemingly sadistic manner that Tatsumi talked about killing Zank, she supposed she ought to have expected repugnance. It was Honest's fault, she believed, that the kind-natured boy turned out like this. The physical and mental suffering Tatsumi went through due to the prime minister's evil schemes went beyond what an average human being could tolerate and that ultimately changed him. Whether or not the change was for the best was something Akame couldn't evaluate, though she found no appeal whatsoever. Only melancholy struck her core. In a way, she felt responsible for not being present during the critical stages of his transformation from a child to a killer.

"…Yeah. You're right. It was messy. Blood splattered everywhere." As if he was sapped of his will to stand, Tatsumi lowered himself onto the edge of his bed. Presumably disgusted by his own Imperial Arms, he unceremoniously flung it onto the carpeted floor before running a hand through his brown hair. His eyes, while fixed on Juryoku, was distant. It was obvious that he was replaying Zank's death in his mind, of the horrendous way that he murdered the executioner. "He was screaming, clutching onto his useless arm and begging me to end his pain. I tried to prolong his suffering… but in the end, I was a coward. I ended up giving him death afterward, just like he asked for. I did what was right… No, that's not it, isn't it? That's the wrong word to use. No matter what reason I have, the desire to torture and kill someone is just…"

"Don't let the fear of striking out hold you back," Akame advised like a teacher would to her student. His distaste was justified, though the path he chose was not something he could back away scot-free. There were consequences, both mentally and physically, that he must learn to deal with before the final retribution. "There are some things in the world which you must to do survive."

"…I know. Zank isn't my first kill. I've done this numerous time already. It's just that he's the first to linger behind my conscience… all because of the things he showed me!" With his fingers interlocked with each other and his elbows rested on his knees, Tatsumi turned to Akame with distraught creeping on his countenance. His emerald orbs bore into her red ones, frantically searching for hopeful comfort. "…I know I'm losing it. My human heart."

"Your human heart," Akame parroted back with furrowing eyebrows. Something told her that she was not going to like what came next. Was Tatsumi already swimming in the deep end?

"Zank showed me an illusion tonight. It's the person who I cherish the most, the one who I deem most precious. And do you know what I did when she lunged at me? I instinctively strike her down. I could've just parried the sword, but I didn't. You see? I'm tottering over the edge of my sanity. I won't be surprised if I try to cut you down the next time we meet on the battlefields!"

The implication behind his words was not mistaken. It was Tatsumi's silent pleading, begging her to join forces with him and become the lock and key to his insanity. As much as Akame longed to abandon the Empire and pledge her loyalty to him again, it was impossible under her current state of affairs. Perhaps Tatsumi was aware of that intuitively, as he didn't outright invite her.

"I won't die that easily." A humorless smile graced her lips. It was probably meaningless reassurance.

"That's beside the point," Tatsumi heaved a tired sigh, "Why can't you u—"

"Understand? Trust me Tatsumi, I do. This is about your guilt and sanity."

"Then what is your solution, sensei?" Annoyance poured from Tatsumi as his face replicated the sneer that he would commonly see on Mine whenever she was irritated.

"Live with it. All the resentment, sorrow, and grief will horde around you. Rather than be haunted by the negativity and let your rationality spiral out of control, carry these intense feelings on your shoulders. Take responsibility for all the lives you took… even if it means including my life eventually." Her advice, spoken like moral conduct, was like acid to her own ears. The way that she was now, the hypocrisy was as apparent as the lack of heartbeat coming from her chest. The human Akame would've been able to proclaim her belief without a second thought. However, the Akame now was nothing more than a mere shell of her former self, tied to the corrupted world by the blood that oozed out from human flesh. Similar to Tatsumi, she too was balancing on the edge of her humanity, and the awareness that she was feasting on human felt like sinking lead, a dead weight. Eventually, she abandoned the notion of continuing to fight while accepting the responsibility. Learning how to become more apathetic to the death moans of her prey, she ultimately self-taught herself to not care at all, to feast and drink when needed without any remorse.

Yet here she was, with the nerve to tell Tatsumi to move on while carrying her ideal fantasy.

"Forget what I just said. It was foolish," said Akame, her words losing the certain edge of certainty.

"No," Tatsumi shook his head, "It isn't fool—"

"I won't repeat myself again, Tatsumi. Just forget about it," she hissed dangerously, leaving no room for rebuttal.

"Why… why are you so cold? You were never like this before." The accusation sounded harsher than Tatsumi intended, though Akame seemed unfazed as she walked over to his bedside. His eyebrows puckered, the frosty aura that she emitted suddenly becoming all the more apparent. Try as he might, he couldn't become accustomed to the coldness she exhibited.

Come to think of it, Tatsumi noted that Akame's coldness was not simply on a mental level. It manifested physically through her body temperature. Back when Tatsumi was holding onto her, he couldn't help but inwardly compare her to an iceberg. The excitement delivered by the reunion had cast aside this abnormality. But now that he mulled over it, he found the Akame before him was like a stranger. Was this stoic, detached, and remorseless killer the same Akame he befriended?

"I have been cold for many years." There was a spine-tingling chilliness that accompanied the truth, but there was no denial. Akame continued to inspire false hope into herself, telling herself that she was still a human despite the way that her body clearly showed contradictions. No human in the right frame of mind would want to see a friend bleed, though Akame couldn't refute the persevering desire to pounce and feast on Tatsumi. At this rate, she feared that Tatsumi would discern her unusual behavior and realize that something was misplaced. In fact, she had a hunch that it wouldn't be long until his doubt sprout and he forced her to leave. But until then, she would resist her hunger in order to prolong what little time she had left to spare with Tatsumi.

'A fool you are, that you would risk your own life for an intangible moment of sweetness.' The voice's mockery was heard but she dismissed it.

"You've changed," Tatsumi stated cautiously, as though just coming to terms with the fact. Although there was a part of him that screamed danger, telling him that the girl before him could become a threat, a greater part of him ignored the warning in favor of Akame's presence. He wanted her around and he was certain that she felt the same. Against what could be his better judgment, he shuffled a bit to make room before plopping a hand on his bed in an inviting gesture.

"I could say the same thing to you." Slowly as to not startle him, Akame took the cue and found herself a seat beside Tatsumi. Twisting her upper body sideways in his direction, she brought her right hand to his left shoulder and ran her index finger down until she reached his chest.

"A-Akame?" Tatsumi's body stiffened but he made no further movement. His eyes followed her finger like a hawk, while only his quickened heartbeats betraying the nervousness hidden underneath his calm façade.

Akame traced the rim of the dressings beneath his attire, moving so delicately that it seemed she was handling a fragile vase. "Your pain threshold has increased tremendously. The old you would've been brawling given the injuries you have sustained."

'She knew? …!' At that moment, Tatsumi caught a glimpse of unmistakable distress in Akame's crimson pools. Although her facial features stayed emotionless, the way that her pupils quivered bore out concern for his wellbeing. The change was subtle but it was definitively there, along with what Tatsumi believed was the remnant of the younger Akame. The realization sent him a spike of delight. Was the real Akame just sealed within a layer of inflexible stoicism? Perhaps he could try to bring the real her out. He decided to give his notion a try, if only just to resurrect the girl in his memories.

Now armed with a theory, Tatsumi took a deep breath and began removing his cardigan and sweater. He supposed he ought to initiate the inevitable before Akame decided to go with the more embarrassing alternative, namely to strip him herself. Tatsumi vividly remembered that bad habit of hers. Back when they were just children, he attended combat lessons with Budo and would often return injured. As a result, Akame would forcefully remove his clothes to examine his bruises. For Tatsumi, the experience was so mortifying that he could never get use it regardless of the repetition. And much to his chagrin, Akame seemed oblivious as to how uncomfortable it was for him.

'Maybe it's just an Imperial assassins' thing. Come to think of it, were they ever taught common scene?' The question inside his head was self-answered when he recalled a certain incident with his childhood friends. The younger Kurome proved his notion wrong when Tatsumi, on a hunt for Danger Beasts, stumbled upon her and Akame bathing in a secluded pond in a forest. Contrary to Akame's nonchalance, Kurome's cries of pervert made the scene all the more bizarre. The outcome still occasionally manifested in his nightmares, with Kurome whipping out her blade and trying to cut off the essence that made Tatsumi a male. 'Kurome definitively possesses a sense of shame that Akame lacks. With how much the two share in common, it's a miracle that Akame is denser than Kurome in this regard. But then again, Akame has always been sitting on the extreme end of the spectrum.'

Ending his musings, Tatsumi peeled off the clothing that covered his upper torso and casually dumped them onto the ground. Now only half-dressed, he was aware of how glaringly obvious the large scar across his diaphragm was to Akame. Perchance it was more noticeable than the Empire's tattoo that was imprinted on his right arm, the symbol that he was the next rightful heir. Compared to the fresh injuries he sustained, the old ugly scar that stretched across his diaphragm to his stomach was a constant reminder of his failure. If only he had been more vigilant, then maybe he wouldn't have fallen for Honest's trap.

Tatsumi blinked when nothing happened. Akame's lack of action surprised him. Instead of examining the bandages wrapped around him, she spun on her heels and looked away. Bemused, he deliberated if common sense was finally setting in and she was embarrassed.

Unbeknownst to Tatsumi, Akame averted her gaze for a reason beyond his comprehension. His scent and his freshly bandaged wound were so intoxicating that she was completely ensnarled. The hunger was skyrocketing. Holding back was getting extremely difficult. Although telling him to dress was of the utmost importance, only low growls articulated from her parched throat. Little by little, she was becoming more like a beast than a human.

Left with no choice, she clamped her fangs on her tongue. The small wound on the surface instantly enlarged, with a metallic taste seeping into her mouth. Pain exploded, though she held back a grunt by concentrating on the liquid dripping down into her throat. She must have been ravenous if she was finding her own blood taste pleasant.

"…P-put on your c-clothes! Hurry!" While she hid her bloodthirsty expression with an arm, her tone conveyed the urgency she wanted. It took some effort but comprehensible words finally left her lips, unlike the previous animal-like growls. There was enough blood pouring out to fleetingly sedate the hungry, so she took the opportunity to eradicate the primary temptation, namely Tatsumi's bare and wounded torso.

Although he was perplexed, Tatsumi caught on and grabbed his clothing. Before he could put it on, something else caught his immediate attention. "A-Akame! Your mouth is bleeding! What happened? Show me."

Hearing that, Akame silently cursed and clicked her tongue. The latter movement was badly timed, for it prompted her to flinch and made Tatsumi all the more paranoid.

"It's not as bad as it looks. I'll be fine," she tried reassuring.

"But blood is seeping through! Open up and show me. I need to see how bad it is." The command was authoritative, fitting for the one who was originally the crowned prince. To the raven-haired assassin, it sounded as if he planned to force her mouth open with his hand at any moment.

'One of the many things a vampire is supposedly granted in myths doesn't apply to me at all. How pathetically sad.' Vampires in the stories were often exaggeratedly powerful. They were immortal beings capable of flight and possessed extraordinary healing factor. Some fables even rambled on about how the blood-suckers could resurrect after their body was reduced to just a pile of ashes. It could be compared to a phoenix being reborn. Unfortunately for Akame, reality didn't work that way and she found herself with no regeneration abilities. She was just like a normal human in that aspect; her wounds healed at the same rate as a human's. Therefore, as much as she wanted the gashing wound on her tongue to disappear, it wasn't going to happen anytime soon.

Given that, it was no surprise that Tatsumi would fuss over the wound when she finally relented and opened her mouth. Averse to letting Tatsumi discover her fangs, she made sure to retract them beforehand, then opting to glue her sight on Tatsumi's cowlick instead of his person. It didn't help control the hunger though, for his scent was substantially captivating. Of all the people in the world, Akame bitterly wondered why Tatsumi's scent was the one that could effortlessly arouse her appetite.

"Whoa! Just how on earth did you injure yourself like that? Argh, dammit! What kind of ointment can I use for something like this?" As morbid as Tatsumi was, he was left uncoordinated. With one hand lifting Akame's chin, the other hand clumsily delved into his pants pocket, searching for something that could help. He naturally found nothing useful, as it was not his habit to put medical supplies into his pockets.

"I'll be fine. J-just put on some clothes, now." Akame briskly pulled back from Tatsumi's touch and wiped her lips with the back of her gloved hand. While the damage from self-harm should be considered a matter of priority for anyone else, Akame was more concerned with the fact that Tatsumi was still unclothed. To her, seeing him like this was more torturous than tempting three-year-olds with candy yet forbidding them to eat.

It dully registered in Tatsumi's preoccupied mind that Akame was tirelessly telling him to put on his top, but modesty was cast aside the moment he noticed that she was hurt. However, his concern was soon replaced by a sense of inferiority. Rejection soaked his flesh. The hand that had held Akame's chin fell limply to the side, leaving him to once again contemplate on how the invisible rift between them was getting bigger. Compared to before, Tatsumi shared more things in common with Akame, with examples like being an assassin himself and having suffered casualties. He should've filled in the gaps during his years of training. So it didn't seem right to him that while Akame was but a mere step away, it felt as though a fissure had opened up and torn them apart, keeping them stranded on different sides.

A new reflection clicked, persistently looming above him like a gloomy cloud. Trust was the primary issue between him and Akame. It was supposed to be a mutual thing yet Akame refused to tell him anything personal, including why and how she bit herself in the first place. Speculations were tossed around inside his head, yet none of them could appropriately explain her odd mannerism and her ever-shifting mood. What he needed was Akame to clarify. A wave of frustration torn through his body and rage lit his veins. Why should he bother with her when she wasn't completely being honest with him? 'I don't care anymore! I told her my anguish and she can't even tell me what's bothering her! I've had just about enough of her.'

Unaware of Tatsumi's growing doubt, Akame was tittering on the edge of defeat. A mental battle against the hunger couldn't be won and having resisted for as long as she had was something no less than a miracle. With the last part of her sane humanity, she urged her feet to move. She spun on her heels and made a move for the window, eyes locked onto the moonlit night. The curtains that fluttered about were supposed to be white, but only crimson appeared in her vision. Everything was red and black. As a feeble means of distraction, she inwardly berated herself over and over again with each growing stagger. Their reunion was nothing more than a laughable spectacle. Now that she located her childhood friend, she found herself unable to trade heartfelt conversations with him and was succumbing to her inhumane craving. No longer could her willpower, which was supposed to be a reinforced fortress, stash away the hunger that intends to drive her mind into havoc.

Another step and she would've been able to swing her leg over the window's edge. Before she could, she was stopped by a hand on her arm. Her head swiveling around, she instantly met the heated gaze of Tatsumi's.

"We're not done yet! Don't think you can just walk out on me." Anger resonated in Tatsumi's voice with the force of a roaring waterfall. He bit the inside of his cheek. How erroneous was he to think that he wanted nothing more to do with Akame. The accumulated frustration might have overpowered his rationale momentarily, but even the intense negative emotion was trivial compared to the unsettling premonition that was pulsating. Something ominous was telling him that he was going to lose Akame forever if he stood by idly. Although not one to believe and accept fate indubitably, he instinctively threw away his better judgment and allowed impulse to dedicate his next action. So the next thing he knew, he had already scrambled over to Akame and grabbed her. Strangely enough, he didn't regret what he did.

"T-Tatsumi. Unhand me! I need to…ack, go!" Akame tried wrenching herself free, but there was underlying strength in Tatsumi's vice-like grip. His fingers clawed into her skin, leaving red marks behind. She hadn't expected him to be this strong, now that he had abandoned all forms of subtlety and gentleness.

"No! Not until you tell me what's wrong," Tatsumi growled, all traces of his usual tenderness thrown out of the window.

"You don't understand. I need to go, now." Using her other hand, Akame made an effort to pry his fingers off. Her attempt was cut short when he interlocked fingers with hers, effectively preventing her from attempting anything else.

"That's because you never gave me the chance to understand! You haven't told me anything yet!" Blinded by rage, Tatsumi dragged Akame with surreal strength equivalent to that of ten men. Anyone witnessing how he effortlessly yanked Akame off her feet would've proclaimed that the raven-haired girl was as light as a feather. But in reality, Tatsumi had his foot on Juryoku and was operating gravity to reduce Akame's weight force. Unceremoniously, he dumped her onto his bed, eliciting a surprised gasp from her. Without letting her recuperate from the shock, he crashed his body down onto hers.

The bed creaked from the impact. The bedsheet fluttered slightly before setting back down. It was a blanket of white snow that made a stunning contrast to the strands of midnight black streaming in the center.

When astonishment finally faded away, Akame registered that she was lying on her back, with both arms shackled to the side by Tatsumi's hands. Her eyes widened as the lightheadedness reeled in, amplified by the inebriating scent that plagued her senses like a disease. Even without a mirror, she knew that her crimson eyes were shimmering with anticipation. Like cat's eyes glowing in the dark, only more frightening and filled with lust.

"Ugh. Leave me! I'll hurt you." Under duress, her mask of indifference melted away as she matched his furious glare with one of her own, her glowing eyes narrowing into slits. Any other woman would presumably be mortified to be forced into such compromising arrangement, but Akame merely felt rage stir in the pit of her rumbling stomach. She lashed out with her legs. Because of her position, she had no idea where she hit, though Tatsumi's grunt implied that her attacks had at least collided. But much to her chagrin, he didn't recoil away. If anything, her aggressiveness only provoked him, like a fan would to raging flames.

"I don't understand. Why? W…why don't you trust me?" His voice cracked with sadness that betrayed the passive emeralds gazing at Akame reproachfully. Not a single tear was shed despite his emotions running turmoil; all that was reflected in the surface of his expression was the façade of a cold assassin. "It's agonizing, you know. The way that you try to hurt me because of some secrets."

Akame didn't reply, though she ceased her futile struggle. His warm breath against her collarbone was a drug. She felt herself sink deeper than ever before into the foggy potion of her mind, a red misty backdrop where the hunger lurked like a vicious tiger. She soundlessly cursed Tatsumi's ignorance. He had no idea what he was doing to her, how he was simulating her carving for his blood. Swallowing down the last droplets of her own blood, she pulled her chin closer to her neck. Shadows created a veil for half of her face, an endeavor to shield her from the delusional vision of Tatsumi that looked bloody enchanting. But try as she might, her eyes traitorously lowered towards Tatsumi's neckline and his bare skin came into her view.

'He looks… appetizing. I want… no, I need a t-taste.' She refused to believe that she was a cannibal, but her desires screamed otherwise.

'Go on. Dig in!'

Unaware of the conflicting war waging inside Akame's head, Tatsumi mistook her lack of resistance as a sign of giving up. It crossed his mind that his position was very misleading. If anyone from Night Raid was to stumble into the room at the very moment, then the sight of Tatsumi saddling a raven-haired girl would guarantee uproar. Tatsumi was certain that he would never hear the end of it. Despite that, he would rather attain unpleasant nicknames and become the target of life-long detestation so long as he could prolong the time he had with Akame. Until now, he had no idea how much he missed her.

Swallowing down a gulp of saliva, he said, "I know that everyone keeps a secret or two stashed away in a personal locker. I don't expect you to tell me everything… but can't you at least give me some damn credit? I'm your childhood friend, your best friend. So can't you just tell me what's happening to you? You're hurting… I can tell."

Akame focused every fiber of her enhancement to boost her ears. But the sounds waned in and out, distorted. Only one thing remained clear, just out of reach; his smooth firm skin seemed to be imploring her.

"N-ngg. Grrr!" A groan came from Akame, followed by a growl that gave the impression of a beast locked inside a cage. The sound caught Tatsumi off guard and gave the hunger-driven Akame the opening she needed. Gravity returned to normal when he was distracted. While the hunger drained most of her strength, it simulated desperation and survival instincts that drove her past human's limits. With sufficient power to amaze even Esdeath herself, she seized Tatsumi by the hair.

The teen's hair was caught in one hand while the flesh on his right shoulder was being dug into by the fingernails of her other hand simultaneously. She gripped onto him with the strength equivalent to a bear's. At the rate she was going, Tatsumi would end up with dressings on his right shoulder as well. Too bad that wasn't what Akame cared about right now.

Another growl came from the base of her throat and her facial appearance morphed into a terrible snarl.

Terror wove into Tatsumi's heart. Fangs. He saw sharpened canine teeth that showcased peril the moment Akame opened her mouth. One look and he knew instantly that the fangs were not fashionable accessories; they were designed to punctuate flesh like a knife would cut through butter.

The fear she smelt on him intensified her appetite. Her eyes sharpened with malicious intensity. Her head eagerly leaned forward and she bared her fangs at the exposed neck.

"A-Akame."

A soft whisper filtered through and clashed with the haze that was the hunger. A small light of humanity returned to her crimson orbs and she flinched. Against the overwhelming desire, she tore her grip away from Tatsumi.

"…Run." A barely coherent grunt, but the message had gotten across.

Contrary to the action that should've been subsequent to her plead, Tatsumi didn't budge from his seated position. Instead, he wrapped his arms around her and tilted his neck to the side, a gesture that bewildered her.

Confusion didn't set in for long before she yielded to the hunger again. Accepting his invitation, she arched her head back before pushing her fangs straight in. Tatsumi's pained gasp was now music to her ears; it was the sound that initiated the feeding sequence. Under normal circumstances, shame would fill to the brim as the victim was bitten, but she had restrained herself for far too long. Too famished and deprived to even allow care to linger for a millisecond.

She drank gluttonously, embracing Tatsumi back as if afraid he would flee. Her tongue relished every drop that filled her mouth with a rich metallic taste. It was piquant, a divined form of lavish beverage.

Unbeknownst to Akame, Tatsumi had no intention of changing his mind and escaping the source of the stinging pain that jabbed his neck. Instead, he rubbed Akame's back gently, a gesture resembling a mother soothing her child.

Tatsumi was no detective material, but even he knew the basics of gathering observations and pieces of evidence to piece together a plausible conclusion. Akame's aloofness and her appearance—everything was beginning to make sense, like something had suddenly clicked inside his brain. In all honesty, he wanted to scowl at himself for his delayed deductions. He didn't need Akame to tell him; he should've been able to decipher everything given the clues.

"Sorry," Tatsumi apologized as he continued to massage her back, "I should have come back for you. I should have saved you from the Empire. You became their lab rat because of me. I'm sorry… for abandoning you. It's my fault."

No reply from Akame. In fact, the raven-haired assassin didn't seem to have heeded his words. Her attention was solely on extracting more blood from him. However, Tatsumi willed that she heard his apology. Whether or not she accepted it was contemptible, though he could've sworn he perceived her glancing at him from her peripheral vision for a second before returning to his neck.

Tatsumi wasn't sure how long they stayed in the same position, seated on the bed and embracing each other. Time seemed to flee as rapidly as the amount of blood he was losing. While he couldn't gauge how much he'd actually lost, the growing numbness in his entire body alerted that he was breaching his limits. The only relief was that Akame seemed to be slowing down, and the fangs that pierced his skin were no longer trying to force their way deeper into his flesh. He wondered if she had had enough to sate her thirst.

"Akame." He decided to try again and called out for her name, praying that she would at least give an audible response.

"Mmm," Akame hummed in reply as her tongue danced around, licking away any excess blood that was around the punctuated wounds and savoring every drop there was. Sanity came reeling back at full force after a while and the things she did while being blood-crazed registered, generating several human emotions that weren't associated with lust. Shame and sorrow were the most predominant amongst the tidal wave of sentiments she concealed behind her stoic features. But apart from those, apprehension was also strong. While the voice was still greedily calling out for more, Akame denied its wants and prioritized Tatsumi's safety. His face was ghostly pale. She feared that anymore and his life would become endangered.

Tatsumi visibly relaxed when Akame finally pulled away from him and his immediate action was to apply pressure to his new wound to stop the bleeding. Although lightheaded, he was more bothered by the rueful look directed at him. There was no joy in watching a disheartened Akame; that wasn't why he voluntarily donated his blood. With a smirk that successfully concealed the pain he was in, he placed a finger to her lips and halted the apology before it could be articulated. "Don't say you're sorry. Don't you dare say it! I'm the one who freely offered my blood. You just took my offer. You didn't do anything wrong, okay?"

While bloodlust no longer reigned supreme, Akame still felt queasy when Tatsumi's finger touched her lips. With an inaudible gulp, she shuffled back a little and shifted to fold her legs underneath. Out of all the position she could've arranged herself in, she found kneeling down the most appropriate, where she could easily switch to a combat stance should the situation arise. While it was currently unnecessary, the habit came to her as natural as sleeping.

Having an idea of the questions to come, she then prepared herself mentally and waited. It hardly seemed fair to Tatsumi if she didn't entertain his growing curiosity after feasting on his blood.

Awkwardness found a home inside Akame when Tatsumi didn't bombard her with inquiries like she initially expected. Instead, the brown-haired teenager simply gazed at her, his emeralds softly beholding her. There was a dreamily look on his face and Akame could only hope that she hadn't drained him to the point that he was becoming delusional. Her fingers drummed against her lap in an edgy fashion. Patience had always been her forte, yet her self-control seemed to be crumbling amidst restlessness.

"Are you alright? Do you need to lie down?" Akame asked, deciding to be initiative. She prioritized Tatsumi's health, not trusting her own restraint. Usually, starvation would've prompted her to drink until her victims were all shriveled up. While it was excruciatingly difficult to surrender to the shameful truth, she knew deep inside that Tatsumi would've met the same fate as her countless prey had he not called out to her. By some miracle, his voice reached her and chased away the hunger. It baffled her as to how that was done but for the time being, she would clench onto the fortune that he was alive.

Her question proved to be the remedy to Tatsumi's stupor. He blinked twice and snapped out of his trance. "Yeah, I'm fine. No need to lie down. Was just… um, daydreaming."

The interest to probe into what he meant by daydreaming was tempting, but Akame decided to let the thought go. For some inexplicable reason, a feminine side of her had an irking feeling that she wouldn't like to know what preoccupied his mind, judging by how flushed his face was at present.

'How strange. The last time Tatsumi's face was dyed red like this was the time when he saw Kurome and I bathing… Kurome isn't here right now and I'm fully clothed. So why? I don't understand.' Had the thought been made known to Kurome, then it was guaranteed the younger sibling would've face-palmed at her sibling's cluelessness while teasing Tatsumi for being lewd.

"Tatsumi, I believe you now know why I was being elusive. I didn't want to… do it," said Akame, feeling distasteful at the mention of her exquisite needs. "However, I'm assuming that you've interpreted my reasons."

Tatsumi gave a nod and licked his lips. Years ago, the notion of creating a superhuman army was devised and became a controversial topic amongst the conferences he attended with his late father. There had been plans to merge Imperial Arms with individuals, experiments that would've granted the Empire an edge in the war against other countries. Nonetheless, the idea was put off when the side effects were acknowledged; most of the test subjects would not survive the initial phase, let alone grow and mature into seasonal warriors who could tap into the true potential of the Imperial Arms. To compromise for the unsettled dispute between ambitious scientists, the previous Emperor reluctantly permitted the program involving orphan assassins, the very same program that snatched Akame and Kurome from the streets and brought them under Masumi's wing.

"Not Murasame though, huh?" said Tatsumi, jabbing a chin at the katana resting in Akame's belt.

"No. Apparently, they believe that granting one the ability to kill something with a single touch is far too dangerous. They needed ways to…" Akame paused and searched for the right word. Finding no appropriate synonym, she furrowed her brows inauspiciously before settling with what she had. "…tame me, as they put it. So they chose Blood Collection: Absordex while knowing fully the repercussions."

"Blood. You crave for it, don't you? I suspected as much from those bastards," Tatsumi spat with venom dripping down his tongue. Sharing his father's ideology, he too loathed human experimentation.

In response, Akame offered him a semblance of a humorless smile, her fang just protruding out from her mouth, a clear evidence of the undeniable fact. The experiment that Tatsumi despised so much gained prevalence after his supposed disappearance. Akame herself was the proof that all the effort his father put into were for naught.

"According to Master Esdea…" Akame inwardly scowled, hating herself for letting that title slip without a conscious thought. Years of submissiveness towards the sadist had drilled unwanted habits into her. She should've bitten off her tongue when she had the chance. However, Tatsumi made no indication that he noticed her pause, so she corrected herself. "According to General Esdeath, I'm one of the few successful and valuable lab rats. Something that'll—"

Akame was cut off when Tatsumi slammed a fist into his bedsheet. There was no sound transmitted from the impact of his hand on the soft surface, though it served as a decent means to vent his frustration. Harshly, he fixed a piercing look at Akame.

"Don't," he muttered, prompting the raven-haired assassin to tilt her head in confusion. "Don't deny your humanity, Akame. Not even subconsciously. I won't have it. You're a human being, not a lab rat."

The last part of his declaration was akin to receiving a 'not guilty' verdict from a judge in court. Akame's pupils dilated with shock. It dully registered that to lose faith in her own humanity would be erasing a part of her existence, the essences that made up the person she was. It was the reason why she was constantly resisting the hunger that wanted her to reject her own conscience. However, it never crossed her mind that hearing acceptance from someone else could be this reassuring. To have someone important and precious to her clarifying her worth; the sensation was truly soothing.

"Thank you, Tatsumi. I'm grateful… It's challenging to keep faith when even my heart contradicts my belief." Her once humorless expression melted into a genuine smile as she gratefully cupped the hand that Tatsumi used to punch his bed with. She slowly and cautiously guided his hand until they rested on her chest. As expected, the heart that should've announced its liveliness with irregular movements that highlighted her racing emotions was motionless even when Tatsumi's hand was directly on it.

From the moment that Tatsumi fathomed what happened to Akame, he acknowledged the possible repercussions. So the unusual phenomenon didn't surprise him. However, simply being aware of the fact didn't account for being mentally prepared when the truth was shoved into his face. A stray tear trailed down from the corner of his eye, soundless and unaccompanied by any sniveling. He didn't wipe it away and instead allowed it to drip down the side of his face as he took Akame's hand. Copying Akame's motion, he brought her hand to his heart, letting her feel the steady beats that resonated from his chest.

For Akame's sake, he cast aside his embarrassment and allowed his true feelings to seep into his next words. "Even if your heart won't beat anymore… just know that mine is still beating. For the both of us. Together as one."

A cliché line that sounded like it was ripped off from one of the Manga that Lubbock read. But did its origin really matter, especially for the dethroned prince who took an interest in an orphan girl? The meaning he wanted to convey was apparent and no amount of platitude could refute his sincerity. He meant what he said; he wouldn't mind repeating it, again and again, to get that message across.

The unmistakable blush tinging his cheeks was contagious and Akame felt her face burn with his. For a moment, she was left gawking like fish on land, having forgotten to breathe. How could he say something like that without any hint of hesitation? As dense as Akame was regarding romance, she was not ignorant of something that sounded like a confession. The rapid pulsing of Tatsumi's heart indicated his genuine feeling, though how he could declare it out loud was beyond her understanding.

Mistaking her bewilderment as a form of confusion, Tatsumi reflected on his own words. His declaration should be obvious enough but Akame's deficiency in anything related to romance made him worry. Intending to remove all ambiguity, he swallowed the lingering nervousness and calmed his heart. "Akame, I want you to s—"

"You can stop there. It's good enough, Tatsumi. I know…"

"You always did know, didn't you? Astute as always… or am I too easy to read?" A depressed sigh, one that terminated his high hopes. He let go of her hand, his own arm falling limply to the side. "Yet your answer stays the same."

Early on, he did remotely hinted his desire for her to stay with Night Raid but was refused. But now that he cleared up his blotted feelings, he was spurred forward, to try again. Human or vampire—it didn't matter to him so long as she was by his side. Nonetheless, while it was clear that Akame's desire was lined on the same vector as his, she was also obstinate in terms of returning to work for the Empire. He mulled over the possible reasons.

As if his musings were transmitted to Akame, she liberated him from the cycle of contemplations and provided a straight answer. There was no reason to keep him in the dark now, especially since he shared one of her biggest secrets. Tugging at the edge of her scarf, she exposed the choker around her neck. The metallic chain that usually degraded her dignity as a human and left her being dragged like a dog was currently in Esdeath's possession, though that didn't make it any more comfortable for her tender skin. She watched as Tatsumi's eyes locked onto the Empire's insignia engraved on the metal surface, one hand instinctively tracing an identical symbol tattooed on his arm. There was underlying sorrow present on his countenance and Akame mused if he was thinking along the lines of how similar they were in some aspect. While they both wore the Empire's crest for different reasons, they felt no more a part of it than daytime belonging to the moon.

"The… drugs to extend my lifespan aside, this rigged collar is the reason why I cannot leave the Empire," Akame paused and licked her lips, feeling her mouth go dry. "Mas—I mean, General Esdeath, she has utter control. I cannot disobey."

"Explosives? The darn Empire never fails to disgusts me.' Tatsumi clicked his tongue, mimicking what Mine would do whenever she found herself annoyed at something or someone. "We'll have to get that off you soon then. I'm going to assume that Esdeath is the problem to tackle here. If so, it's going to be really hard; that woman is super strong. But if we time it right and come up with something plausible, then maybe we can get that accursed thing off you for good… without it blowing us sky-high in the process of course."

Bewilderment once again filtered through Akame's passive façade and presented itself in the form of a soundless gasp. The mannerism that Tatsumi expressed demonstrated growth in his character. Akame couldn't but marvel how quickly his mind processed the information he was given. He was trying to seek for a solution rather than dwell on what couldn't be changed. What fascinated Akame more though was that he was able to remain optimistic despite everything; how rapidly was he able to believe that there was a solution to the problem to begin with. Unlike Tatsumi, Akame had partially resigned to the fact that she was going to wear this choker for as long as the current Empire reigned. 'He made it sound like a casual joke, but the determination in his eyes is no buff. He actually does believe that he'll find a way to eliminate Esdeath.'

"Why do you look so surprised, Akame?" Tatsumi asked rhetorically, having a general idea of what the raven-haired girl was thinking. "You know, it's nice to look at the brighter side of things once in a while. I learned to do that when I had my title and family ripped away from me. Besides, there are somethings in the world that you have to try, even if it sounds ridiculously impossible."

Akame had to agree with the last part, especially when she considered the impulsive choices she made on the night of that incident. Nonetheless, it was difficult for her to be hopeful when all she was constantly surrounded by death. To survive and avoid sharing the same fate as her many comrades, Akame learned to be observant and analyzed situations from all viewpoints. It kept her alive but simultaneously eradicated her capacity to regard things from one angle only. So try as she might, she couldn't be all optimistic like Tatsumi.

Now that Akame's deliberations were focused on the issue, she contemplated the possibility that Tatsumi was selectively sieving through information that he wanted while temporarily neglecting undesirable ones. While it sounded ludicrous, it did explain his mindset and how he was able to cope after having everything stolen from him by Honest.

Feeling accomplished with her conclusion, Akame let a smile grace her lips. "Don't ever let that hope of yours die out, Tatsumi. I shall be counting on you."

Akame's voice held a softer tone that reminded Tatsumi so much of her younger version. For a fleeting moment, he felt his heart melt like butter. The frosty layer that covered her eyes had liquefied and there was genuine happiness present on her fair features. Captivated, Tatsumi's breath caught in his throat and he could only return a grin of his own.

"…But for now, I'll have to return." Saying that Akame cast her gaze over to the window and noted that much of the night had passed away without her awareness. It would not be long until dawn claimed the world from the darkness with its illumination. "Tatsumi. I shall hold onto your promise while continuing to hope that you'll find us an exit in this hell."

"Gladly." With that word came the resolve to retain his promise. While the both of them knew how valueless words alone could be, the pair decided to indulge themselves in the belief that there could be an ideal resolution.

Following Akame to the window, Tatsumi sneaked another scrutiny of the woman he had grown so fond of. The years of separation only strengthen the feelings he had for her felt back when he was a child, morphing simple admiration to what he believed was pure affection. Bathed in the moonlight, Akame was an empyrean sight, with fair facial features that needed no artificial adornment. 'Beautiful…'

"Are you hungry still?" He gestured towards the bite mark on his shoulder. It had clotted already, but he wouldn't mind letting it bleed some more. As unreasonable as it was, it was a last-ditch effort to prolong her stay. The longer he marveled at her, the more he yearned for her presence. He didn't want to tear his sight away from her. Was it because of greed or something much deeper? He was willing to bet his life on the latter.

"You won't survive." The answer came out flat, though the drifting crimson orbs betrayed her feigned disinterest.

"You didn't answer my question," he persisted, catching her surreptitious glances.

"I'm always hungry, Tatsumi," she relented and deadpanned, her eyes narrowing and the rubies morphing into obsidian. Then before Tatsumi could reply, she pushed back and allowed gravity to catch her. "So until next time."

Tatsumi watched her form slip past the window. He didn't fret nor did he give chase, understanding the futility of attempting to do so. Instead, he turned his gaze upwards to behold the full moon, with a hand fisted over his heart.

Not daring to look up towards where she could sense Tatsumi's presence by the window, Akame melted into the darkness of the forest. Her eyes were once again detached of emotions, coldly glistening with a crimson gleam. She licked her drying lips. It seemed that she would've to take a greater detour for a stray victim out on the streets to satisfy the returning hunger.

The thought of her next action made her eyebrows furrow before they swiftly returned to their original position. Satisfaction? There was none. She knew the hunger well, just as the voice understood her. Never could she be satisfied because…

'For us, there will always be temptations.'