Story: The Coming of the Thaw (chapter 3)

Authors: bleeding.blade

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Chapter 3

"How long has this been going on?"

Midori sat across me, worry and concern clear in her green eyes. Mai had been so appalled at my sudden deterioration that she had dragged me out to see the older woman.

I shrugged listlessly. "A few weeks."

Midori sighed and took off her glasses. "The thing about grief is that it doesn't always follow a straight line progression. Sometimes it suddenly gets worse. Even after it seems that it's been getting better." She hesitated. "Natsuki, you might want to consider seeing a -"


"Natsuki." Mai pleaded.

"Mai, no. Look, I know you love me, and I love you too, but you have to let me handle this on my own."

Mai rammed her fist down in frustration. "I've let you handle this on your own for the last eight months, and, in case you haven't noticed, you haven't been handling it at all!"

The injustice of the accusation stung, and I could feel the rage that was almost always seething under my skin threatening to explode. I don't know what I would have screamed at her in that instant if Midori's phone hadn't suddenly rung and startled us all.

"Midori. Yes?"

We couldn't hear what was being said on the other line, but the red-haired woman's lips tightened and her voice was tense when she ended the call.

"Got it. We'll be right over."

Then looking at us, she said.

"That was Haruka. Yukino was attacked in their house by a monster like the ones at the ball."

We were out of Midori's flat in seconds.


What we found was not as bad as we'd feared. Some of the former HiMEs as well as some of Yukino's former colleagues from the Fuka Student Council were there by the time we arrived. Yukino was badly shaken but unhurt. Haruka was furious as expected. What had actually happened was that Haruka had been preparing dinner, and when Yukino had uncharacteristically failed to appear after being called twice, Haruka had gone to the younger woman's room to check. There, she had found Yukino stumbling in a trance-like state toward a monster standing outside her window. Haruka's shrieks had broken Yukino's spell, and when Yukino began screaming herself, the creature broke the window and attempted to grab the younger woman. Only a "blurry figure," as Haruka put it, had crashed into the monster at that very moment, and while the two creatures had struggled outside, Haruka had dialed the police. By the time the police arrived, however, no sign remained of either the monster or the figure - though the thoroughly thrashed woods next to the house showed evidence of an extremely violent battle.

While Haruka told her story, I cursed myself for not having been on duty at the time, for it meant that another forensics expert had already gone over the scene. For the first time in eight months, we had sighted the monsters that had killed Shizuru - and I had completely missed the preliminary investigation. I decided to survey the scene anyway, and Mai, Midori and Nao came along with me out of curiosity.

As I examined the woods outside Haruka's house, I couldn't shake off the sudden feeling of déjà vu that came over me. I had never been to Haruka's home before, but the sight of the gouged trees, broken trunks and pitted ground seemed oddly familiar. It was only when I saw the grayish powder at the foot of a scarred cedar tree that I finally made the connection:

I remembered Fumi-san's findings: They disintegrated completely, and what remained revealed nothing unusual on examination.

I recalled the lab technician's conclusion: Just plain crushed rock.

The monsters at the ball. The vampire in the slums.

They were all one and the same thing.

They had killed Shizuru.

They had tried to kidnap Yukino.

They were hunting the HiMEs.

And something even more terrible was hunting them.

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