He had followed the scent across the wastes for weeks. It had called to him, tickling his mind and tantalizing him with long-forgotten memories...
Author's Warning: This story takes place AFTER EPISODE 30. If you have not seen that far, don't complain to me that there are spoilers in the story. You've been warned.
The city stood proud at the edge of the wastes, its skyscrapers lighting up the night and obliterating the natural light of the stars. It was the only beacon of civilization for miles, the wasting remnants of what once was a noble civilization.
The traveling figure paused on an outcropping of rock that overlooked the city. There were some houses that sprawled out past the edges of the city, with small plots of farm that would occasionally produce meager amounts of fresh vegetables. Some lights sparkled among those houses; most electrical but every now and then the dancing shadows of live flame would be apparent.
The night wind carried an icy chill, as well as the strong scent of acrid smoke. The figure ghosted silently along the rock crest. If anyone had happened to look out past the brightness of the city, they would have seen nothing save for the moving shadows.
He had followed the scent across the wastes for weeks. It had called to him, tickling his mind and tantalizing him with long-forgotten memories. The trek had been long ... the wastes stretched the majority of the western part of the continent. It had been full of peril, and he could not remember the last time he had tasted fresh meat. The scent of the flower had called him this far, there was no turning back now.
He raised his nose, letting the cool wind caress his muzzle. The scent of the flower overrode all else, this must be his destination. Even the acrid scent of destruction was muted by the calming smell. All at once, the efforts of the past weeks caught up with him and exhaustion overtook the white wolf. He trotted slowly between hovels and cottages, finally coming upon one that had been abandoned. The scent of humans was old; he knew he would not be disturbed here. Loping quietly in through a busted door, he barely made it behind a rotted desk before sleep overtook him.
"There he is, catch him!"
A white ear flicked at the shout, it came from nearer than he was comfortable with. Golden eyes opened as someone crashed into the side of the hovel he had found. The sharp sound of gunshots got him up; he could smell the gunpowder and then the stench of the unwashed humans as they drew closer to his hiding place.
The door was thrown open thunderously as a teen not much older than a boy slammed into it with his entire body. He was carrying a satchel full of fresh food. The boy bounced as the half-rotted door slammed against the wall and ricocheted back at him. He froze as the door slammed against him, staring in surprise as the large white wolf crouched, the fur around his neck rising. "I though--" The boy started, but then remembered his pursuers. "Half the food in this bag is yours if you help me!" he cried desperately.
The white wolf needed no second bidding. He had originally been planning to just make a run for it, but the scent of fresh food after running for so long on nothing but his memories was unbearable. He sprang forwards.
There were three of them in all, one a short, fat merchant dressed in bright, garish colors. Following close behind him were two very brutish men who could only be bodyguards. One wielded a gun, while the other had a very large, blunt, iron bar. All three of them stank, the smaller, fat one the worst of all. He attempted to cover his unwashed smell with fragrant oils, and overall it made for a reprehensible stench.
"Which way did that brat go?" he screeched, sliding to a halt in the middle of the road. "I want his head! I want his hands! It will teach him to never steal from me again!"
The two bodyguards did not speak, but glanced around, observing everything. One nodded towards the door of the abandoned hovel, which hung ajar. They moved noiselessly towards their prey.
Before they could move into the entranceway of the hovel, a large white blur shot out of the door. It sprang upon the first bodyguard, the one armed with a gun. The man shouted in surprise, shooting at the white blur and managing to only nick the creature. The shout turned into a horrified scream, which quickly transformed into a gurgle as the wolf sank his fangs into the bodyguard's neck.
The second bodyguard stopped dead, his eyes on the wolf, which now stood spread-pawed on the still-warm body of his companion. Blood dripped from the jaws of the beast. A second growl diverted his attention from the white wolf to the door, where a second, smaller wolf stood spread-pawed and ready to spring. The bodyguard promptly dropped his iron bar to the ground, where it clattered and rolled towards his fallen friend, before turning and running full-tilt the way he had come. The merchant had fled at the first sign of the beast.
The small brown wolf stepped out of the entrance, looking down the way the thuggish guard had retreated. He grinned cockily, resuming a human form before anyone had the sense to notice. "Ha, I think that asshole pissed himself! He won't be following after any street rats for a while." He turned to the white wolf, which was spitting the human blood onto the ground. "I didn't expect you to go for the throat, though. That will gain you unwanted attention, so unless you plan on beating a hasty retreat I'd suggest concealing yourself."
"Why take human form?" the wolf snarled, still spitting blood on the ground. "Where is your--"
"--pride as a wolf," the brown-haired boy finished for him. He opened his satchel and pulled out a string of fresh sausages. He tossed it to the white wolf, and watched, amused, as he sniffed it, then gobbled it up greedily. "I'll tell you what I told the last wolf who asked me that. What good does your pride do you when in that form you're nothing but a walking money mark? Wolves are hunted, my friend."
The brown-haired wolf straightened from the crouch he had been resting in. "Come on ... you're new in town. I at least know a safe place to spend the night." He glanced down at the dead guard. "And I at least owe you that much, for saving my hide. I'm Ashi," he added.
He watched the white wolf consider for a moment, then they both heard the sounds of shouting as the police drew near. He rose, taking human form as well. "I'm ... Kiba."
The sun brought little warmth to the city. It rested in a stark, gray sky and often moved behind clouds, threatening to snow.
People moved around in a constant rush, late to their jobs, late to school. Always wrapped warmly in all sorts of layers, they used the layers of clothing to isolate themselves from the people around them. Always rushing, they ignored the slow decline of the environment and concentrated on themselves. One person moved slowly through the crush of people, intent on very little save his own morose thoughts.
There had been another attack on the lab near the northern edge of the city. While normally, the white-haired young man paid little heed to things that happened outside of his own territory, it had been a rival gang that had attempted the raid. The group had been entirely destroyed in the raid; leaving little doubt to the severity of the consequences should other groups get any bright ideas.
It didn't bode well for any of the street gangs. Lately, it seemed as though the police force had concentrated their efforts on eliminating the numerous gangs that operated within the metropolis. They hadn't bothered the groups much before the large installation was constructed a few years before. Ever since then, the police had slowly been concentrating more effort on apprehending and dissolving the gangs that made up the city's underworld.
Tsume looked up in time to see a police cruiser scream through the intersection, lights flashing violently. Two more cars flew through, several seconds behind the first. Two old ladies stood by the mouth to an alley, and Tsume overheard them as he passed. "Did you hear? Some wild dog is on the loose... it ripped out some man's throat!"
"A wild dog, huh? It would have to be a big one to catch a man off-guard like that!"
He diverted down an alley, never changing stride as he did so. A wild dog attack? It was unheard of, dogs weren't large enough to take a man by surprise ... unless it was some drunkard lying passed out on the street, and then it was plausible some hungry creature mistook him for carrion. But wild dogs large enough to take out a man...?
"They say it was a wolf."
Tsume wasn't surprised by the voice. He glanced up at a fire escape and saw one of his three runners, a boy named Ashi. "A wolf?"
Ashi was leaning against the railing, grinning cockily. "Or at least, that's what they say."
Tsume glowered at Ashi. The boy was a full head shorter than he, but sometimes Tsume got the feeling that Ashi was only short because he liked being that way. Ashi had ragged, dirty brown hair that liked to sweep back past his ears. The boy fiddled with his goggles, still grinning. "You're involved in this, somehow," Tsume growled.
"Maybe I am, maybe I'm not," Ashi shrugged. "Anyway, I swung by to let you know that the police are looking for you, specifically, again. Maybe you should crash at your girl's place for a night or two, give me and Dran time to nose out the rat. That, and," he said touching a finger to his forehead as if he'd just remembered. "I have a ... friend ... who's new in town. D'ya care if he shares a berth for a night or two, until he gets on his feet or moves on?"
Tsume stared at Ashi. "How did you hear that?"
"Through the usual channels," Ashi shrugged, grinning. He knew damn well Tsume would never actually pursue the question, as it was it would be kind of hard to explain he overheard a police radio while nosing for scraps behind the police station. "What's up, oyabun? You look a little rattled."
"Did you hear about Luca's gang?"
Ashi frowned, and for a second Tsume swore the boy had ears that flicked forward with interest. He blinked, certain he had imagined it. Ashi shook his head. "No, I hadn't. And that's rare. What's up?"
"They're all dead."
"What? How?!" Ashi vaulted over the fire escape and landed a few feet away from Tsume in a crouch. "Who did it? And when are we striking back?"
Tsume shoved his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket and began walking down the alley. Ashi followed, and Tsume paused when he heard another body hit the ground.
"Err," Ashi paused, half-turning. "Remember that friend I told you about?"
Tsume half-turned as well, to see a young man straightening. Cobalt blue eyes met dark gold. After a moment, Tsume glanced back to Ashi. "This him?"
"Yeah. That's -"
Ashi blinked, glancing from Kiba to Tsume. "Have you two met?" His glance lingered on Kiba for a moment more, the unspoken still hanging in the air. 'Does he know?'
Kiba shook his head once but did not speak. Tsume had turned and continued down the alley. "No," he said gruffly. Ashi, puzzled, shrugged once and then followed after his oyabun.
Tsume, meanwhile, was staring down at the ground, already lost in his thoughts despite himself. Where the hell had he pulled that from? He didn't recognize the guy ... despite his scruffy appearance; he didn't look like the sort to be in a gang. But when they had locked eyes, Tsume had felt something. It was hard to explain ... something deep, and wild. Something ancient.
He shook his head, glancing down at Ashi, who was looking at him, concerned. "What?"
"I said, who killed Luca's gang, and when are we striking back?"
"The guards at the lab."
"WHAT? The idiot tried to break into there? No wonder they're all dead." Ashi folded his arms behind his head and blew out a breath, looking disgruntled. "Everyone knows that place is impenetrable. No one goes there."
Kiba's voice surprised them both. Ashi glanced over his shoulder and shrugged. "If we knew, the gangs wouldn't be so intent on breaking in to find out," he said, matter-of-factly. They continued out of the alley, which spilled out into another main street. However, this one was actually set about fifteen feet higher than the next street over, providing an interesting view of the northern part of the city. Ashi pointed at a strangely shaped building to the north. "There. That's the place." He paused, staring at it. "I wonder what goes on in there..."
Kiba stared at it too, and Tsume stopped to look at him. The boy was damnably familiar. "That is where I need to go."
"Well, that's... wait, WHAT?" Ashi had started walking again, and abruptly stopped and spun on his heel. "Are you damaged? An entire gang was slaughtered going in there; you won't make it past the first set of..."
"The scent of the flower is coming from there," Kiba said matter-of-factly. He made as if to jump down to the next street, but Tsume moved quickly, grabbing one of his coat's sleeves.
"Wait. Maybe we can help each other."
Kiba paused, staring at Tsume, and Ashi completely boggled. "Oyabun... what?"
"You want to find out what killed your friends." Kiba stated.
"I won't lie and say you're wrong, but I want to know what's so goddamned important about that place." Tsume stared into those blue eyes. "I don't know why... and I'm a fool for doing this... but it seems to me that you're perfect for this job."
Kiba did not break the stare. "Twenty hours. Then I'm going ... whether you're with me or not."
"Dammit, oyabun," Ashi yipped angrily. "Did you totally ignore the fact that the police have a warrant out for you? You have to lay low, at least for a while...!"
Tsume didn't answer, instead shoving his hand back into his pocket and continuing down the road. Ashi paused, glancing from Tsume as he walked away, to Kiba, who was still staring at the installation. "He'll find out if you're not careful," Ashi said quietly. "I've spent three years here, I don't want to blow it, and I especially don't want you to blow it for me!" Ashi turned then, to run after Tsume and chide him more in the vain hope something would get through.
Ashi's stride faltered slightly and he glanced back at Kiba. But the young wolf said nothing more, chasing after the human he called oyabun.
The skies grew darker quickly as it threatened to snow once again. "Taku," a boy in a dark blue hooded sweatshirt said with a sigh, leaning back and staring up at the dense layer of clouds. "Snow, snow. All it ever does around here is snow." He shivered slightly at the chill breeze, and then made a face as a fat white snowflake landed on his nose.
Hige glanced up, brushing the snowflake off of his nose with an irritated grunt. A dark-haired boy his own age was leaning out a window on the second story of the boarding flat. "What?"
"You better get a move on if you don't want the old lady catching you hanging around here again," the boy shouted down. "You're behind on your rent, and she's out for blood this time!"
"Yare, yare." Hige sighed, and closed his eyes. The college entrance exams had come and gone again, and once more he had completely blown them off. He couldn't last much longer as a ronin ... no part-time job would keep him as it was. He was about to get kicked out of his lodgings ... maybe he should just cut all ties and move on, like a couple of his buddies the year before.
Another snowflake drifted down from the sky and landed on his face, so Hige opened his eyes to glower at the heavens. It was a total injustice that the upper class didn't even have to take the entrance exams; it severely cut down the number of available spots for any of the poorer classes. Never mind the fact that the rich drove up the prices of attending any of the schools anyway.
Hige glanced down, and started in surprise. A large black dog sat at the foot of the stoop. The canine's fur was scruffy, and was matted with blood in places. "Whoa! Where'd you come from?"
The dog cocked its head at Hige, its tongue lolling out. Hige smiled slightly as he reached out and rubbed the dog's head. "You look hungry, fella ... you belong to anyone?" There was a slight commotion down the street, and Hige looked up with a frown. "Hey ... you're not the dog they're after, are you?"
A glance into the dog's soft blue eyes made Hige instantly regret having said that. He fished around in his pockets and pulled out a dark red bandanna. "Heh, I've had this for a while. Here, it'll probably look better on you than me." He tied it around the dog's neck, and patted its head again. "Now ... I've got to be going. Sorry I don't have any food ... I probably need it as much as you do." He stood up, shoving his hands back into his pockets and hopping down the stoop.
As he passed the dog, it stood up and started to walk next to him.
Hige stopped. The dog stopped. Hige started walking again, and the dog started a pace behind him. "Now, just what are you doing, blue-eyes?"
The dog's ears perked a little, and Hige smacked himself in the face. "No names. I'm not gonna name you, then you'll never leave me alone. Listen." He squatted down so he could stare into the dog's eyes. "I have no money. I have no food. No. Food." He repeated the last to make sure the dog got the message, and then realized how ridiculous he looked. He straightened, running a hand through his mess of brown hair. "Taku... you can follow me if you really want to, but I have nothing for you."
That stated, he turned on his heel and started back down the street. When he glanced back over his shoulder, the dog was sitting on the sidewalk where he had stopped, its ears drooping. He looked forward. "Well, that's good. Poor thing would have starved to death hanging around me." When he glanced back over his shoulder again, the dog was gone.
Ashi sat cross-legged on the ledge. The gang was headquartered in an abandoned, split-level place. The lower part was usually where the gang gathered to hang out, to fight, and to receive orders. The upper part, though, was usually ignored. Ashi had staked it out as his own, and the few times someone had called him on it usually had nightmares for the next few nights of a large brown dog snarling over their throats.
The nicest thing about the top part was that half of the roof had caved in. A nimble-pawed wolf could easily get in and out using the rubble as a ramp, and often enough one could find Ashi on the roof, generally enjoying himself and acting as a lookout for the rest of the gang.
Tonight, however, he sat inside, frowning down at the handful of gang members who had shown interest in Tsume's plan to invade the lab. They were mostly fools, bloodthirsty fighters who didn't care that they would most likely be slaughtered in the run. It amazed Ashi how careless humans could be with their own lives. Dying was natural, but it didn't have to be without reason.
Ashi stood, and then leapt lightly down from the ledge. He scaled the rubble quickly and was out on the roof in no time at all. Kiba was lying there, his hands folded behind his head and his attention firmly on the sky.
He glanced up as well, but saw only the cloud-covered sky, with the lights of the city behind them reflecting off. He plopped down beside Kiba, staring out at the far-off installation. "Just what is so interesting about that place?" Ash leaned back, putting his weight on his hands. "Why are you so intent on getting in there?"
Kiba didn't answer and Ashi sighed, staring off. Several minutes passed in silence, before Kiba spoke. "Don't you smell it? The scent of the lunar flower?"
Ashi laughed quietly. "That," he said quietly. "I should have known. You're not the first wolf to come through here babbling about this flower." He sighed. "None of them stuck around long, though ... most were shot on sight. A few got away, went back to the mountains, I'd guess."
"But you've smelled it."
Ashi tapped his nose. "Of course I have ... your nose would have to be buried in crap to not notice. Why do you think I've stuck around here so long?"
"I thought you liked the humans."
"Ah, I like'em well enough." Ashi finally flopped over backwards as well, staring at the sky. "If I didn't, I wouldn't be hanging around with them. They're useful, you know."
"I suppose you wouldn't mind being a pet, either."
"Hey now, that's low." Ashi shrugged. "I just said people are useful. You don't need to get all defensive about it."
Kiba grunted something but Ashi couldn't make it out. The clouds were thinning slightly ... the snow from earlier in the day had barely amounted to a dusting. From behind the clouds, a sliver of moonlight appeared.
Ashi smirked slightly. "Ah, you're certainly a special one. Felt the full moon through the clouds, huh?"
Kiba didn't respond, still staring up at the dark night sky.
The inside of the installation was always alive with activity, regardless of the time of day. Guard patrolled the outer rim of the building, and white-garbed scientists bustled around, their noses in papers, and scribbling on clipboards. Even through this mess of constant activity, it was hard to miss the caravan of official-looking vehicles that pulled through the main gate.
There was hardly a disruption in any of the scientist's routines, save for a few. Out of one of the black vehicles, a beautiful woman in a dark red business suit emerged. She brushed strands of blonde hair off of her shoulder as she stood, considering the installation.
She turned in time to see three lab-coat-clad scientists bustling up to her. She looked down her nose at the three of them, half amused and half annoyed by their bumbling, overlapping conversations. Instead of trying to decipher what they were babbling about, she took charge. "Are any of you Dr. Degre?"
"That would be me, Chikai-sama."
Hamona Chikai glanced to her left, where a young woman with her hair tightly up in a bun stood. She had been considering a clipboard, and had only glanced up at her name.
Completely ignoring the other three scientists, Hamona turned and walked purposefully towards her. "I was told you are the one to talk to concerning Tsuchi and Tane."
"That would be correct," Dr. Degre pushed up her glasses with one finger. "Please, Chikai-sama, call me Cher. Would you like to see them?"
"Follow me, then." The young woman led the way into the installation, followed by Hamona.
The exterior of the building was constantly busy, but the interior seemed calm. They passed few scientists, and fewer civilians. "So, doctor... tell me what's been going on with our flowers."
"We're not quite sure," Cher said. "They've been reacting to something. Our contact with the other installation is limited, so we don't know if Kuki has been reacting at all."
"It's quite strange. I didn't even know this facility existed until father died." Hamona looked at the ceilings. "I'm afraid I don't know much of what's going on. Oneesama usually takes care of this, but she has been called away."
They came to a pair of large doors, which had a code-lock. Cher swiped a pass-card, and then quickly typed in a five-digit number. The door hissed, and then with a groan of hydraulics, it opened.
The interior of this room was not lit by the harsh fluorescent lights of the hall; instead there was a soft glow that ran along the walls. The majority of the light came from twin green orbs, suspended in the middle of the room. The scientists at work glanced up at the intrusion, but went back to their duties quickly. "Agra, has there been any change?" Cher called as she strode brusquely to one of the control panels.
"Tane's levels have returned to normal, but Tsuchi is still reacting. She opened her eyes earlier."
Cher glanced at the right-most sphere, where the figure of a young girl was suspended. Her eyes were half-open, but completely dark. Outside of the green liquid, they would be solid red.
Hamona moved to stand beside Cher. "So this is Tsuchi?" She glanced to the other sphere, which also held the figure of a young girl. "And that one's Tane," she added, more as an afterthought. "That's strange."
Cher was busy marking things down on her clipboard. "What's strange, Chikai-sama?"
"Three flower maidens exist, yet the Lunar Tome only speaks of one," Hamona said thoughtfully.
The blonde doctor started suddenly. "You've seen the Lunar Tome? You've read from it?"
Hamona nodded, her eyes still fixated on the spheres. "Yes ... it's been in my fiancÃ©'s family for years." Then she shook her head violently, looking back down at Cher. "There's no telling what has been causing these reactions?"
Cher shook her head. "No. In my time here, the flower maidens have never opened their eyes." She gestured to Tsuchi. "Something is going on."
Even as the two women stared at the flower maiden, Tsuchi's eyes slowly opened wider. "Dr. Degre! Tane is reacting again!"
"What?" Cher ran over to the other globe, in time to see Tane shift slightly and open her eyes as well. "What in the world is going on?"
Even as Cher was making adjustments on that side of the room, a harried scientist ran in. "Dr. Degre!"
"Now what is it?" Cher snapped, not turning around.
"... Dr. Degre," the scientist panted, out of breath. "You'd better hear it for yourself..."
Cher stopped and turned around. "...hear?" Hamona glanced at the scientist, and then followed her as they hurried out of the inner chamber. It didn't take nearly as long for them to go back down the enormous hallway as it had for them to go up it. They exited the inner part of the facility, and as Hamona felt the cool night air brush her cheek, she heard it as well.
The howl was carrying quite clearly on the still night air. "That's a wolf," the other scientist said quietly.
"That's impossible," Cher snapped. "They've been extinct for close to seventy years!"
Suddenly Hamona's eyes lit up and she rummaged in the bag she wore slung across her shoulders. With a triumphant sound, she pulled out an old book, wrapped in a scarf to keep it safe. Cher's eyes widened as Hamona begin to flip through it. "That's it, isn't it... the Lunar Tome..."
"One of the things that the flower maiden reacts to is wolves..." Hamona said quietly. "It is wolves who will lead the way to paradise ... and the end of the world."
Her words hung in the night, surrounded by the distant howl of a wolf.
End Chapter 1
shizuka na tsuki (/Silent Moon/)
*/oyabun/ -- boss
*/ronin/ -- in this instance, someone trying to get into college
*/shizuka na/ -- silent
*/taku/ - jeez
*/tsuki/ -- moon
*/yare yare/ -- oh well, verbal sigh