My name is Natsuki Kuga. I'm only nineteen years old, but already I feel as if the best part of my life has ended.
People don't understand it. My classmates tell me that I'm beautiful. My teachers tell me that I'm intelligent. My friends tell me that I'm strong and that someday the wounds will heal.
Some wounds can't ever heal. Because the people who bear them don't deserve it.
Twice, I killed the woman I loved.
Twice, she died in my arms.
Only once did she ever come back. And I never told her how much I loved her.
So when my best friend, Mai Tokiha, told me, "You have to let go, Natsuki," I laughed bitterly and replied:
"Let go? How can I let go of something I never had?"
I survived the months after Shizuru's death by doing the same thing that helped me survive my mother's death: I focused my energies on finding the enemy.
The first thing I did was to return to Fuka Academy to search the school for clues. Fumi-san had met me, tremendous grief and sympathy in her gaze.
"We searched the grounds thoroughly, Natsuki-san. There wasn't a trace left of the monsters that attacked us that night. They disintegrated completely, and what remained revealed nothing unusual on examination."
I had closed my eyes and clenched my fists in frustration. As I turned away, Fumi-san reached out and grabbed my arm.
"I'm so sorry, Natsuki-san. So, so sorry..." She said it in a fierce whisper, in a voice choked by regret. I stared at her in bewilderment, and patted her hand awkwardly.
"It's...alright, Fumi-san. We're all sorry." I'd walked away hurriedly then, my eyes and throat burning from the by-then familiar ache.
My subsequent attempts to find answers proved futile. None of my contacts in the underground could provide me with any information. None of the work I did with the police as a crime lab assistant could provide me with any clues. For weeks, I kept my eyes and my ears open for the least suspicious incident - and absolutely nothing came my way.
To distract myself from the pain, I threw myself into school and work. I took extra courses; I worked overtime shifts. I sought solace in exhaustion, but grief found me even in rest. Sleep gave me no respite - my dreams masqueraded as memories of things that never happened - and would never happen - Shizuru in my arms, smiling, laughing, alive. I would wake up only to remember her death, and the tears would come, hot, angry, unwanted. Bleak days blurred into grim weeks, until one day, nearly six months after Shizuru's funeral, I was called into my boss's office at the lab.
"This is going to raise eyebrows Kuga-san. You're still an undergraduate and you're not even full-time, but you work hard and you do good work. That's reason enough for me to put you on my A-team - but only if you want it, because what they're working on right now doesn't seem to be going anywhere."
"In the last two months, the police have discovered six bodies in the slums: three beggars, two thieves, one prostitute. There was no evidence of violence, no sign of struggle, and zero witnesses. Usual motives for the crimes have been ruled out. Police don't think it's theft as the victims were dirt-poor. They don't think it's revenge either as the victims were nobodies. They suspect a possible serial killer, though the profilers are stumped because there's no torture and no message. Common cause of death," and here, my boss paused and looked at me, "was exsanguination, and in all cases, two puncture wounds were found at the jugular."
"In other words," I spoke drily, "we're looking for Dracula."
My boss shrugged. "I'm sure the press will think of something just slightly more original when the news finally leaks out. Call it what you will, but if our guy is a copycat killer, he's got the original down pat. Legends have it that Dracula's victims were drawn irresistibly to their killer. Well, apart from the lack of resistance in the case of our victims, there's this to deal with." At this, my boss picked up a stack of photographs on his desk and flipped them across to me. As I went through the pictures, the hairs on the back of my arms began to rise.
"They died with a smile. Every single one of them."
I looked at my boss and nodded. "Count me in."