Fifty Years Before
The next couple of days went by as Azumi attempted to get through the next few scrolls. However, every couple of seconds, she was distracted by the thought of the man helping her father with her fang. She could not keep her mind off of him. She wanted to know more about him. She had heard he was given a guest bedroom in the castle to stay in for the duration of the project but she had no idea which one. She tapped her pen on her desk a couple of times, sighing heavily. She wanted to see him again. The fastest way to do that would be to finish the scrolls and take them down to the lab to retrieve the next batch but she could not focus on getting through the scrolls to even do that. She could not even guarantee that he would be in there when she went down.
“Ugh,” she groaned, tilting her head back and running her hand through her hair. “What’s wrong with me?” she mumbled. No person has ever distracted her or made her lose focus as much as this man had. She closed her eyes and thought about it for a few moments. “Maybe he’s the One?” she whispered. She played with the idea for a little while until she heard a faint hiss from the floor by the fireplace. Naga moved toward her, slithering up and into her lap. “You’re hungry?” she smiled. “Let’s go feed you then.” She kissed the snake’s head and stood up, leading him to the door and out of the room.
Azumi and Naga made their way down the stairs to the next level. The snake hissed softly at her, telling her that he was beginning to get bored being stuck inside all of the time and wanted to go out once in a while to get fresh air.
“Yeah, you and me both,” Azumi sighed. “Maybe we’ll do that after you eat.” She smiled down at him. “We’ll go to the cliffside behind the castle. Father shouldn’t bother us about going there. No one goes there. We’ll be unbothered by hunters.”
“Are you plotting to escape, my Lady?” a voice asked just as they entered the hall where the guest rooms were located. Azumi looked over and saw Sasori walking toward them. Her heart jumped, from both being startled and actually seeing him again. He smiled and she swore she felt herself blush.
“It isn’t an escape if I plan to return,” she smirked.
“I suppose that’s true,” he chuckled. “But I believe it is still the opposite of what your father wants.”
“I have a hard time doing everything my father wishes,” she said. “Are you heading back down to the lab?”
“Ah, no, actually, your father sent me to go rest for the night. But that was a little while ago and I find myself a bit restless. Just thought I’d go for a walk myself.”
“Oh,” she perked up a bit at the idea that had just popped into her head then looked down at Naga who looked back up at her. He knew what she was thinking. He always did. “I was just going to feed Naga and we were going to go for a short walk to the cliffs right behind us. You’re free to join us if you’d like.”
Sasori looked down at Naga and smiled then looked at Azumi. “If it isn’t too much of an imposition, I’d love to.”
Part of Azumi did not expect him to say yes, but all of her was excited that he did. She smiled and nodded. “Follow us, then,” she said. “We’re just going down to the feeding room.” She started to descend the imperial staircase with Naga following at her side. “Naga doesn’t take too long to eat so we should be really quick.”
“That’s all fine by me,” Sasori said as he followed them. “So,” he started, they went through the main hall that led to the usual passage down to the labs, “you are snake vampires and you all have a snake familiar?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered. “Usually, the familiar is born or hatched at the same time we are born or turned. And it is a mutual bond. Naga was born when I was born and we chose each other.”
“Do other variants do the same thing for their animal?”
Azumi smiled a little, finding the questions kind of cute. She liked explaining vampiric customs to humans. They always sounded so innocent with their questions. “If they are an animal variant, yes.” They entered the feeding room and she opened a large container for Naga to slither into so he could ‘hunt’ for his food. “The Nara family are deer variants and they do have their own familiars but deer are a much more free-roaming creature so they let their familiars live in the thick forest that surrounds their castle. We like to keep our snakes in a more...safe environment because the stigma around them is...a bit more hostile than what people think of deer.”
“That is understandable,” he nodded. “I did notice that Naga is a black mamba,” he chuckled, “and he seems to be the most docile snake I’ve ever seen.”
“Not many people want to give the deadliest snake in the world a chance,” she smirked. “But if they just stood around him for a few minutes, they’d realize he’s actually a big sweetheart and all he wants to do is bask in the sun and by the fire.”
“Your family is quite interesting. I’m a little surprised there aren’t more of you.”
“There used to be. But as the number of hunters grew, ours began to shrink severely. Hence why my father wants me inside at all times.” She could not help but roll her eyes as she mentioned her father.
“He’s your father. It’s his job to worry. I’m sure the last thing he wants is to lose his daughter to a hunter.”
Azumi thought about his words for a moment. “I forgot about that thing you can do where you say something rational and I can’t help but agree,” she chuckled.
“It’s called persuasion and I like to think I’m a master at it,” he smirked.
“Maybe you can persuade my father to let me go outside once in a while.”
“I’m not sure about that,” he said with a soft laugh. “I might be good at persuading people but your father is a pretty strong-willed man. It wouldn’t be easy.”
“That’s Orochimaru for you,” she sighed. “He knows how to make the things people are best at hard for them. That’s what he does best.” Naga hissed and slithered out of the large container. “Done?” Azumi smiled at the snake. Once he was fully out, she closed it up and put it away. “Let’s try to leave without being seen,” she said to both Naga and Sasori before heading out of the room and back up the hall.
“You seem to be a master at sneaking out,” Sasori teased.
“I like to think so,” she smiled. She led him back to the main level of the castle and through the kitchen to the back entrance. “Have you been adjusting well to staying here?” she asked. “I know sometimes it can be hard for a human to have to adjust their schedule to fit around a nocturnal life.”
“I’ve adjusted easily,” he assured her. “I have always been more of a night person so this was not a difficult thing to adapt to.”
“That’s good to hear,” she smiled.
They stepped outside into the cool, fresh air. “Finally,” she sighed, enjoying the immediate breeze. “I forget what wind feels like sometimes.”
“So where exactly are we going?” Sasori asked, looking ahead of them. He saw a path, lit only by the moon, that led toward the horizon.
“Just over there,” she pointed in the direction of the path, “it goes down a little and there’s a sitting area.”
“It’s still on the castle grounds?”
Naga slithered up her body, coiling around her hips and resting his head on her shoulder. “Just outside of it, technically,” she said as she started walking. “But not far enough for my father to worry. It’s not like I’m heading down into the town or anything.” The path was a decently short walk that declined a little lower, just out of view from the castle’s back entrance. At the end of the path was the edge of the cliff where the waves below could be heard crashing against the rocks. “I don’t really come out here very often,” she hummed. There were a few benches and a swinging bench in the small area. “But maybe I will now.”
“Maybe I’ll join you,” Sasori said, sitting down on the swinging bench. “If you don’t mind, that is.”
“Of course, I don’t,” she smiled, joining him on the bench. “If anyone understands the need to get out, it would be me. Especially because you have to spend hours upon hours working with my father. You deserve it.”
Sasori chuckled softly and she could not keep the smile off of her face. “Thank you for being so understanding,” he said. She tried so hard not to stare at him but she could not help but constantly look at him as he looked out at the horizon and at their surroundings. She always found humans’ curiosity to be cute but his curiosity was especially cute.
Naga slithered up onto the bench and coiled between them. Azumi’s hand moved to pet the snake as they all sat in silence with only the sound of the waves for a few minutes. “I suppose I should thank you as well,” she said softly, “for helping my father out with this project.”
“Oh, there’s no need to thank me,” he waved it off.
“It’s only right. I am getting a brand new fang out of it.”
“You’re welcome then,” he smiled.
“So how did you end up working with my father?” she asked.
“I was referred to him by someone else I worked for a couple of years ago,” he answered. “I received a letter from him explaining the project he was working on. Before I even got to the part about payment, I knew I wanted to do it.”
“I guess that says a lot about how much you enjoy your line of work,” she said. She stood quiet for a short moment, thinking about how she could word her next question. “Do you travel?” she asked.
He looked at her and smirked. “Eager to get out, are we?” he teased. “I haven’t traveled in a while. But before settling in the town below, I did quite a bit of traveling.”
Azumi let out a soft squeal. “I have always wanted to travel but it is a bit difficult since half of the time I would be out would be lethal to me.” She scoffed a little. “And my father, I suppose, is also a factor. He’d never let me leave.”
“Maybe when hunters are no longer a threat, he’ll lighten up a little.”
“I can see hunters no longer being a threat but I cannot see him ever lightening up.”
“I don’t know him as well as you do,” he chuckled, “but I can see what you mean.”
“Where exactly have you been?” she asked. She could only assume he was quite a cultured man if he traveled. From all of the books she read, she liked to think of herself as cultured despite not having traveled but reading books and actually going to places were two different things. She figured she could actually learn a lot from him.
“A lot of places,” he smiled. “A few of the surrounding countries, the other parts of this country, a few overseas excursions to different continents.”
“Wow,” she whispered, turning her body a little to face him. She rested her arm on the back of the bench and rested her head against her hand. “That sounds amazing.”
“I could tell you about them, which I’m sure you’d enjoy very much.”
“Of course,” she grinned.
“If you’re willing to be a little patient, I can tell you more than just the small bits and pieces I can recall right now and let you read the journals I’ve done from my travels.”
She could not contain her excitement. “I would love that,” she gasped.
“I’ll look for them when we get back.”
They sat there for a little while longer, enjoying the cool breeze and the ocean sounds below. Every now and then, Sasori would ask a question about vampires and she would answer it the best she could. Then the sky started to turn a little pink. “Uh-oh,” Azumi hummed, noticing the color change. “Nights seem to be getting shorter and shorter,” she mumbled.
Sasori looked up at the sky. “I suppose we should go back,” he said softly.
Azumi sighed heavily. She did not want to go back inside. She wanted to stay there with him. She tapped Naga gently on the head and he moved to coil around her body as she stood up. “I have to get this one to bed,” she said, petting the snake’s head. Sasori stood up with her and they headed back to the castle, entering through the kitchen. There were only a few people up and moving around but they seemed to not acknowledge the fact that Azumi had been out. “We should do this again soon,” she said as they made their way up the imperial staircase. They stopped at the top, on the level where the guest rooms were. “It’s a nice escape from the confines of this place.”
“I would love to, my Lady,” he said.
Azumi chuckled softly. “You can call me Azumi. I do think I mentioned that to you.”
“Ah, yes, you did. My apologies,” Sasori smiled, taking her hand to press and kiss to the back of it. “Goodnight, Azumi.”
Her breath hitched and took all of her might to not let out the soft squeal that dared to escape her. “Goodnight, Sasori,” she said. She watched as he made his way down the hall to his room. Just before he disappeared, she continued up the next set of stairs and to her bedroom, practically running into her door before entering her room quickly. Pressing her back to the door, she could not keep the grin off of her face as she ran her hand through her hair. “Wow,” she breathed. Naga hissed teasingly at her. “Shut up,” she smiled. “Go to bed.”
Naga moved down to the floor and made his way up onto her bed. Azumi looked at her desk, at the scrolls that had been waiting for her while she was out with Sasori. There was no way she was going to be able to get through them. She was even more distracted by him than she was before. She shook her head, deciding it was a better idea to just go to bed and work on them later. She changed her clothes and crawled into the bed after Naga and went to sleep. Or at least she tried to.