"But how can you be so sure that they're after us?" Nao demanded.
"I can't give you proof," I admitted, "but I'm somehow absolutely sure. I've been tailing them for weeks. They've never attacked outside the slums - never gone after somebody who'd be missed. This time they've gone after someone who doesn't fit the profile, and it just so happens to be Yukino. The only other time they've done it, all the HiMEs were present, and," here, my voice trembled ever so slightly, "one HiME was actually killed."
Nao looked as if she wanted to argue, but Midori cut her off. "It's all circumstantial evidence, like Nao's pointed out, but I'm not going to wait until another one of us is dead to be convinced. I agree with Natsuki that there's more than just coincidence operating here. The problem is, if something or someone is after us, what can we actually do about it?"
"Not much," I responded wryly. "None of us have any powers left. But if these monsters are after us, there seems to be something else that's after them. After the initial run of victims, the police haven't discovered any new bodies. I don't know if this..."vampire-hunter" is on our side or not, but at least it certainly isn't on the side of the monsters."
Mai looked troubled. "Then it looks as if the only thing we can do is to be more careful and more vigilant. It's probably best if we avoid being alone too much these days." She'd looked at the others as she'd said it, but somehow, I had the feeling she'd meant it for me.
In the end, it was Midori who came up with a semblance of a plan.
"Like Mai said, I think it's best if we team up temporarily for safety reasons. Mai - Mikoto, Akane and Yukino will be part of your team. Natsuki, Nao - you'll both be with me. Fumi-san, Yukariko-san and Alyssa should be safe with Miyu at the Fuka Academy convent - that android should be able to give even the "vampire-hunter" a run for its money. Akira and Shiho are both abroad, but I'll send them a message in any case to be careful."
"If an...emergency arises, call my spare number immediately. In the meantime, Nao and I will try to find what information we can using our sources. Hopefully, we can augment what Natsuki's been able to learn so far. If any of us find anything, you'll all be the first to know. That's it for now." Then seeing as to how everyone looked so glum, she added, "HiME Sentai dismissed!"
When Midori joined me outside, I was staring grimly at the night-time sky.
"You think it's them again, don't you?"
I glanced at her. "Who else do you think it could be?"
The red-haired woman sighed. "Smoke?"
She took a long drag and exhaled a perfect smoke ring. "What're you going to do?"
"Kill all of them. Like I should have the first time around."
She shook her head. "Killing's not in you. It was in her maybe. But never in you."
She sighed again, stubbed her cigarette, and made to go back inside.
"I put it in her, you know." There was pain in my voice when I said it.
Midori paused. "Maybe you did. But you also put it out. Don't ever forget that, Natsuki."
The night sky, when I looked at it again, looked just the slightest bit blurry.
"Well, this is turning out to be bloody useless!"
Nao threw herself down on Midori's couch in irritated boredom. For the last three weeks, Midori, Nao and I had rotated staying between our three homes - an additional precautionary measure Midori had instituted amongst the former HiMEs so that we wouldn't be such "lame ducks" as she put it. The frequent moving and cramped quarters had taken their toll, however, and all three of us were feeling more irritable than usual.
"I say we just call this whole thing off, go to our respective homes, and try to live the rest of our short lives as normally as possible."
I was tempted to agree with Nao. So far, absolutely nothing had happened, and our combined efforts at obtaining new information had failed in any case.
Nao continued to rant. "I bet you, I just bet you, no one's going to call that bloody emergency num -"
The shrill sound of Midori's phone startled all of us.
It was an incoming call. From Mai.
And just as abruptly as it had begun, the ringing ended.
I was out the door and on my bike before Midori even got to her phone. I should have known something was wrong the moment my Ducati wouldn't start. But in my rush to get to Mai, I merely swore and tried revving the bike again.
Then I heard Midori's warning yell. Too late.
All I remember was the sting of a dart on my neck, then the sudden paralysis that caused me to topple over on my bike. It must have been a powerful drug, for the blackness claimed me before I even hit the concrete.