Now that I know what I'm without
You can't just leave me
Breathe into me and make me real
Bring me to life...
From the song Bring Me To Life (the Fallen album), by Evanescence
We never found out until much, much later the exact nature of the monsters that attacked us that night.
I had fought against terrifying Orphans in my time as a Hime, but the creatures that descended on us that night were the most demonic and hellish things I'd ever seen until then. And there was no one left in that crowd who had the powers of a Hime.
One of the monsters had exploded through the windows of the room where Shizuru and I stood. The screams erupting from the hallway outside told us that they had invaded the ballroom as well.
Reacting almost instantaneously, Shizuru shoved me out of the creature's way in a single fluid motion. Using the first aid kit, she smashed a nearby display case of katana and, brandishing the weapon, called out to grab the monster's attention. I froze in terror. I had no doubt that she still retained her fighting skills, but without her former powers, she could hardly hope to defeat the demon stalking towards her.
"Run, Natsuki!" There was a steely urgency in her voice I had never heard before.
"I'm not leaving you alone with that thing!" I yelled back.
"This isn't the time for heroic displays!" she snapped. "If you run now, you might be able to find something to use as a weapon outside."
Against all my instincts, I nodded and ran. It was complete chaos in the ballroom, with people screaming and running. I eventually found one of the residence guards cowering on the floor, and lit up at the sight of his gun.
"You!" I yelled, "Hand that gun over right now!"
The only response I got was a vacant stare and a whimper. With a curse of impatience, I yanked the weapon from his holster and ran back towards the room where I had left Shizuru.
Somehow, through sheer skill and cunning, she had managed to injure the monster in several places while remaining relatively unscathed. However, it was slowly yet inexorably backing her into a corner.
"Shizuru!" I yelled. The monster craned its neck towards me and I fired a bullet close to its head to distract it from Shizuru. Slowly, it turned its torso toward me, and at the moment that it begun to lumber forward, I emptied the five remaining bullets into its chest.
The monster paused, then stumbled to its knees. I smiled in vicious satisfaction - only to discover a moment later that I had rejoiced too soon. With a howl, the creature bounded to its feet and rushed towards me. Just when I thought it would decapitate or disembowel me with its claws, the blade of a katana emerged from the middle of its chest. Moments later, when it toppled forward, a slightly disheveled but very much unhurt Shizuru emerged into view.
"Shizuru!" I ran towards her and embraced her fiercely. "Shizuru, you idiot. You bloody, bloody idiot. Don't ever, ever do anything like that again!" My eyes were bright with tears of relief; my knees were beginning to shake. And despite the fact that she had done most of the fighting, Shizuru held me close and stroked my hair. "There, there, Natsuki. It's over now." I looked at her again, scarcely believing that despite her slender form and the loss of her powers, she had managed to win.
It was Mai, running in the hallway outside looking for me. We met her at the door, and she sagged with relief at the sight of us.
"Natsuki! Shizuru-san! I'm so glad to see you're safe."
"Are the rest of the monsters dead?" I asked her.
She nodded. "It was lucky that there were only two of them in the ballroom. I don't think Fumi-sama's going to be too happy about how the former Hime made free use of the Japanese medieval weapons collection that she just acquired, but it really came in handy."
Shizuru spoke. "Has anyone sent for the police and for ambulances, Tokiha-san?" Mai nodded. "Reito-san, Suzushiro-san and Yukino-chan are handling that right now. They're also trying to identify the most seriously injured so they can get treatment first."
She looked at our disheveled clothes and added worriedly, "Actually, we should get the both of you checked for injuries too."
Shizuru smiled at her concern. "We're fine, Tokiha-san. I don't want to distract the medical staff from the ones who really need assistance."
Mai smiled back, relieved at this reassurance - before her eyes suddenly widened in startled horror.
What happened next happened very quickly, and very slowly, all at the same time.
I remember Shizuru pushing me away, hard.
I remember the flash of a katana, sudden and blinding.
I remember the monster collapsing, thrashing violently in its final death throes.
I remember Shizuru turning away from the creature at her feet, looking at me from across a vast distance.
I remember the smile on her face, her relief at seeing me safe.
Most of all, I remember her crumpling to her knees, blood streaming in a thin line from the corner of her mouth.
What I don't remember, can't remember at all, is when the monster managed to stab her, its claws piercing neatly through her midsection, so that her burgundy dress was stained into an even deeper crimson.
I remember, somewhere, the sound of an inhuman scream.
I remember scrambling and stumbling to her side, catching her before she finally collapsed.
I remember the look on her face as she gazed at me with sorrow, longing, tenderness and love.
She put her hand on my cheek and whispered, "It's not so bad if a weed dies so that a flower can bloom..."
Then still smiling at me, she closed her crimson eyes...and left me, finally and irrevocably.
It was then that the madness descended.