Chapter 14:

Chapter 2-5: The Forgotten Girl Part 6

Between Life and Death

The sun shone bright overhead, bathing the entire landscape in a harsh light. The plateau that extended before us seemed arid and desolate. You'd be lucky to find even a tumbleweed rolling around. Without any grass or vegetation, the cracks in the dry earth were for everyone to see, not that there was anyone around. Bookmark here

From up on the hill, you could see the silhouettes of structures that reached for the sky, now long forgotten monuments of a past that seemed to have faded away. Nothing would bring it back and there was little reason to look to the future. Bookmark here

And so, as we sat atop the hill and viewed the world, an arid breeze carried her words to me. Bookmark here

"Ju euz xkk yoay? Iy'x yok ktj ul yok cursj. Yoatq euz lur xyaeitn ciyo mk."Bookmark here

I turned to face her. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't make out the features of her face. It was as if someone had wiped their hand across a wet painting. Her words were a garbled mess of sounds that seemed familiar yet felt like a mix of random syllables. Bookmark here

She asked me one more thing and I answered with a nod. Though I could not see her face, I could tell she smiled. She grabbed my hand and turned forward to face the horizon. The sun would begin to set in a few hours, but for now, we sat underneath a fragile tree. The only one in the area it seemed. Bookmark here

How long did we sit there? It felt like days. But we both didn't have complaints. As long as…..Bookmark here

*     *     *Bookmark here

My lungs filled with air as if I had been brought back to life after having drowned. I jerked up as I drew in a deep breath. I couldn’t stop panting and cold sweat ran down every inch of my body. Even though I felt light headed, my heart was beating uncontrollably, with each beat echoing in my head. Bookmark here

I began to look around. I was still in the same clearing I remembered being in; surrounded by trees and soft grass combing through my hand. The stars in the night sky shone brighter than in the city and the midnight breeze only served to give me shivers, as well as to highlight the warmth at the side of my neck. Though, it was more than just warmth. A pulsating pain spread out from the left side of my neck. I didn’t remember getting injured there, so I tried to soothe it with my hand. I didn’t know what I expected the pain to be but my hand came upon something wet and warm. At this point I knew exactly what it was. Even in the dead of night, the crimson tint of my blood could clearly be seen covering the palm of my hand. When I went back to try to stop the bleeding, I found the cause of it all. As I ran my fingers along the side of my neck, I felt two deep grooves from which the blood was oozing out. Bookmark here

"What did you do, Claire?" I muttered. Bookmark here

This was the last thing I wanted from her. And I've told her specifically before. Hopefully it isn't what it seems. Bookmark here

"Speaking of which…" Bookmark here

Once I stood up, I was able to grasp our situation much more clearly. When me and Suzuhara had exited the forest into the clearing. We had found Claire surrounded by figures just like the ones we found in the forest. And Claire was on the ground, not able to run away, Elise was holding a sword above her head. And that was when Suzuhara tackled her and started fighting her. It was still disturbing to remember seeing Elise chop off Suzuhara's arm, only for it to grow back instantly. Suzuhara barely even flinched and it didn't seem like she bled all that much. Bookmark here

It was incredible yet terrifying. Bookmark here

From there it went black. All I remembered was running over to Claire and propping her face up against my chest. Even so, given what she gave me, I could piece things together. Bookmark here

Off lying in the distance were the bodies of the figures we had seen surrounding Claire. Suzuhara was off fighting the remaining two, though it didn't seem like she needed any help. And judging from what I saw of her last time, a two on one was a walk in the park. Bookmark here

That left Claire unaccounted for. Bookmark here

I scanned the area and found her standing off in the distance. She was standing still, which I found quite odd, but I decided to approach her anyway. It wasn’t until I was within earshot that I saw why she was so still. Bookmark here

I didn't notice it before but Claire was holding her arms up in the air. And between her hands she grappled onto the neck of her opponent. Claire's face held such a nasty glare that it was hard to tell it was her. But it was clear as day. Bookmark here

Claire wasn't just wrapping her hands around Elise’s neck, she was strangling her, digging her nails into her flesh and wrapping her fingers around her like a vise. Bookmark here

Against the strength of a vampire, all Elise could do was try to pull Claire's arms apart or try to kick her with her legs. But it was all a futile effort. Claire's arms wouldn't budge and Elise's kicks had no effect. Bookmark here

The more and more Elsie lost her breath, the more her strength faded and the more her kicks just became useless flailing. Her screaming and grunting diminished to only gasps of air. It seemed like all her limbs were ready to collapse. Bookmark here

Claire seemed monstrous. And it wasn't like she didn't have the power to kill Elise right then and there. She was much more powerful than Elise. Claire just chose not to show mercy. She chose to watch, to inflict as much pain and fear as she wanted. To have control over one's life and their ultimate judgment. Bookmark here

"Claire!!! Please, stop!!"Bookmark here

Her body tensed up much more than it already was. Her hands loosen up a bit, letting Elise take in a breath of air. Bookmark here

Claire slowly turned to face me. She had an expression of guilt written all over her face, as if she had been broken, or rather, as if she had broken something precious. Bookmark here

"Y-yu…" Bookmark here

She wasn't able to even speak my name. Bookmark here

Shortly afterward, her hands let go of Elise’s neck and she dropped to the ground. She gasped deeply as she rolled up into the fetal and began to cough uncontrollably. Slowly her skin started to regain its former color. Bookmark here

As we stood there in silence, I couldn’t help but feel disgusted. No, it was probably more accurate to say that I was disappointed. I never would have thought that Claire would go to these lengths. She let herself be tainted. I'm not sure what my expression looked like but Claire wasn't happy to see it. Bookmark here

"I….." Bookmark here

She tried to reach out with her hand, but the relative silence was broken by Suzuhara. Bookmark here

"I don't know what's wrong with me but it sure is useful." Suzuhara sauntered over to my side as she stretched her arms and back; her white tails and ears now having mysteriously disappeared. Bookmark here

Seeing her face did help me calm down a bit. It reminded me that we had come here for a single purpose: to find Suzuhara and bring her home. It was a task that we had now accomplished; surprisingly Suzuhara did most of the work herself.Bookmark here

I glanced at Claire waiting for a response. I must've still had a displeasing look on my face because Claire couldn't help avert her eyes. Bookmark here

"W-well… It seems that we'll be able to get you back home safe and sound, Miss Suzuhara."Bookmark here

“Yeah, it's probably best that we get out of here quickly,” I suggested. “But I’m happy to see that you’re as optimistic as ever.” It was rare that you would ever see Suzuhara sad or down in the dumps. Even so, I’d say she was stretching her limits this time around. I don’t understand how she is able to stay this calm after all that has happened to her. Bookmark here

“It’s like I always say, Yuuta, if you don’t try to find things funny, your world will alway seem like a dull place.” And she added a cheeky finger wag to boot. Bookmark here

“Well,” Claire began hesitantly, “You two should start heading toward the road. You remember the way, right?”Bookmark here

She still couldn’t look at me but I knew she was referring to me. I simply said yes and she continued. Bookmark here

“Good. I’ll tidy up here. It’ll probably be best if I round them all up and tie them up. Afterward, I’ll call the people to have them arrested. I’ve heard that they have actually been searching for this cult for a while.”Bookmark here

“I hate you,” Elise cursed from her place on the grow. But Claire didn’t bother to look at her or answer. Bookmark here

“I guess this all worked out in the end,” Suzuhara opined.Bookmark here

“But we still don’t know why you now have ears and tails,” I pointed out. Bookmark here

“Your vampire friend can probably explain it to us later.” Bookmark here

We both looked at Claire for a response but she simply nodded. But we were fine with that. That could all wait for later, after all. We first needed to return Suzuhara back to her mother. I can’t even begin to imagine what she’ll do when she lays her eyes on her daughter once again. Bookmark here

“Alright then, say safe,” I said to Claire as Suzuhara and I made our way back to the woods. Bookmark here

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We made sure not to get too close to the highway Claire had loosely followed to get us here. We stood waiting behind the cover of some trees, tensing up each time the headlights of cars illuminated the forest. Bookmark here

For a while we stood there in silence. Suzuhara and I could be considered friends—we sometimes found ourselves in conversations at school—but that was mostly in the context that our friend group often mixed together. She was a friend of Shizuka more than she was one of mine. So there wasn’t much for us to talk about out here in the middle of a forest as we waited for Claire. I resorted to humming in order to pass the time. Bookmark here

But if there was one thing I knew about Suzuhara it was that she didn’t like the silence. I remember her being very lively at school. You could very much consider her the life of the party, alway having a wonderful time interacting with people and entertaining them. So in actuality, the silence was probably just me waiting for her to speak first. Bookmark here

“It’ll be nice to be able to see my mother again,” she let out as she kicked a stone across the forest floor. “My parents were usually the only things I could think of back there. Most of my dreams were of my father, in fact.” Bookmark here

Suzuhara didn’t lift her gaze from the ground. It must have been hard for her to have lost her father only to then be kidnapped in her time of mourning. And then spending several weeks trapped in a cage with only her thoughts. She had nothing else to think of other than that painful memory. Bookmark here

“It was always the same dream. I woke up in a dark place. My surroundings just felt like an empty void. And next to me, on the ground, a small stream trickled by. Each time I would follow the stream, with each dream getting me closer and close to its end. And one night, I reached that end. There, in front of a lake that the stream emptied into I saw my father just standing and looking into the distance. I was never able to see his face, though.”Bookmark here

:One day you will.” I spoke without thinking. I just didn’t know what to say and that phrase just felt right to me. I just hoped that one day, the pain of her father’s death would ease up, that she would be able to see him smile in her dreams. Bookmark here

“I hope so,” she whispered. Bookmark here

Not long after, we could hear the sound of twigs snapping, only this time, they didn’t give us a sense of dread. When we turned toward the sound, we found Claire making her way toward us. Bookmark here

“I called the police pretending to be a commuter and told them that I had found a girl wandering along the highway. I also call you mother. They all should arrive here in a few minutes.” Bookmark here

“Thank you.” Bookmark here

Once she was finished with her explanation, took her phone and snapped it in half. “Since me and Yuuta won’t be here when they arrive, I don’t want the police to track me down. That also means I’ll have to find a new place to live.”Bookmark here

“Sorry for the inconvenience,” Suzuhara apologized. Bookmark here

“Don’t worry.” I could tell that Claire wanted to say that it was her fault to some extent. But she refrained from doing so.Bookmark here

“I also informed them about the cultist. They have been trying to locate them for quite some time now. I think they’ll be pleased to see all of them tied up along with the leader. For now though, Yuuta and I will wait in a nearby tree until the police arrive while you wait here. And if they ask how you managed to escape, just say that you saw your chance when the church started to crumble. Claim ignorance to everything else.” Bookmark here

Suzuhara nodded and Claire prompted me to follow. Bookmark here

We couldn't see much from up in the tree. With all its branches and leaves in the way, it was hard to make out things at a distance. But that was alright. All that mattered was that we had an unobstructed view of Suzuhara. Bookmark here

Claire didn't want to talk to me. She didn't even dare look at me. I didn't quite understand why, but I also had my thoughts about her. I mostly just felt mad at her, among other things. The biggest reason being the scar on my neck. Bookmark here

"Is this permanent?" Bookmark here

She didn't look at me and yet, as if she had read my mind, she said, "You don't have to worry about that. It's simply a scar. All I did was drink some of your blood. So there's no chance of you turning into a vampire." Bookmark here

It was hard to hear her whisper over the wind but she answered with what I wanted to hear. Bookmark here

"Good." The last thing I wanted was to wake up as a vampire and not be able to step in the sun ever again for all of eternity. But at least she didn't do something I didn't want her to do. Bookmark here

Hopefully something like that never comes to happen. Bookmark here

The sound of a car racing down the highway echoed from behind us. Not long afterward, multiple sirens could be heard wailing in the distance. Bookmark here

The car came to a stop nearby and we heard a door slam shut. A woman stepped out and frantically began looking around until she spotted someone hiding behind a tree. Bookmark here

The moment the woman recognized her long lost daughter, she sprinted toward her and hugged her so hard I thought she would squeeze her to death. But it was a happy ending after all. Bookmark here

The police arrived soon after which meant it was time for us to leave. Bookmark here

I tried my hardest to not fall as I stood up on the tree branch we were perched on. I glanced over at Claire. Though I felt reluctant, I had to at least say something. Bookmark here

"Thank you." Bookmark here

Claire looked up at me a bit shocked. She held a waning smile for just a moment. She couldn't think of anything to say, so she just turned away. Bookmark here

She was probably thinking the same thing I was when she was fighting Elise. I think it scared her but it was something we both saw clear as day. Bookmark here

And so, Suzuhara's ordeal came to pass. Bookmark here

Between Life and Death

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