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Hey all followers, friends, and so forth.

I know it's been a while since I last did much over here on Deviant. It's been a rather hectic year. From medical emergencies, funerals, work related stress, radio drama stress, and working on writing original compositions, it's been a really crazy and full year. But I wanted to let you all know that I'm still alive and kicking!

This year, I published my second book, Kas. It's sort of a "Alice down the rabbit-hole" mixed with "Beauty and the Beast" kind of tale, with elements of "what the crap is going on?" mixed in. Not a read for someone who wants just a bit of fluff, but a mental challenge of sorts. Not everyone can handle it, as I've learned.

And I'm working on getting my third book ready for publication. You can see the promo for it in my "featured" gallery, because I just posted it. This new book is the first of three planned, all the same epic story. It was just too long to tell in one go, kinda like Lord of the Rings, only modern and dragons. It's called Tarragon: Key Keeper, and comes out in April, though I'll be doing a cover reveal in February, which is when I'll, hopefully, post the cover art here as well. We'll see.

Here's the blurb:

For hundreds of years, the gates of Tarragon have been sealed from the outside. Prophecy speaks of the day the last Key Keeper will return and wake the dragons from their spell-cast slumber, returning them to their rightful home.

Seeking to fulfill her father's dying wish, Anwen Porter travels to the Drakonii Mountains where she meets Tyler, a mysterious local with a secret. With his help, she learns more about her clouded past and her own abilities. But when Courtney, a lovesick mage, tries to insert herself into their plans, things begin to go horribly wrong.

With death threatening at every turn, Anwen must learn to rely on her newfound friends to survive. But how can she unravel the mystery of her heritage when everything is trying to kill her?

Any who, just wanted to wish everyone a belated Merry Christmas and an early Happy New Year!
  • Listening to: soft music
Tarragon Key Keeper Promo by Gollumina
Tarragon Key Keeper Promo
A little promo item I created for my new book. Like the lettering? The overall design?
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Chapter Twelve: Back We Go

It had taken some convincing, but Jiro had finally agreed to lay aside his usual attire for this last evening of their vacation. Instead, he wore a rented tuxedo of jet black. His usual gloves had been replaced with gentleman's gloves of white. Beside him, Kotaro wore similar attire, only much smaller.

Zelman grinned. Everyone was wearing a jet black suit with various accents. The main difference was that his was the only one without full length tails. Everything was going according to plan. He was very glad he'd found out what Jiro had had in mind and had decided to hijack this last day. After all, the Old Blood's plans had been boring and plain. This was showing them just what life was really about.

All eyes turned to the elevator as it chimed its arrival. The doors slid open and Jiro's mouth almost dropped open as the four ladies left its confines, all dressed in very fine evening wear. Damien, James, and Scott's mouths did drop open. Matt was too busy on his phone to notice.

Kotaro's eyes shown with amazement. "Wow. Mimi, you look like a movie star!"

The girl blushed furiously, head bowed so that she was looking at the floor, hands clasped in front of her. But even though she wasn't looking up, she could feel about three pairs of eyes on her.

Jiro found himself almost unconsciously walking to her side and taking her hand, then kissing it gently. "Mimiko, you look amazing," he finally managed to say.

Zelman smirked in a self-satisfied way as everyone paired up. There was no mistake who stood out the most out of the girls though. It was just as he'd planned. He checked his watch. "Well, it looks like it's time. Everyone ready?"

The girls nodded, not sure what the plan was, but they had a good guess. Their partners also nodded, smiling like they were entranced by their partners and didn't care where they went so long as they went together.

Zelman led them out of the hotel where a white stretch limo was waiting for them. A valet held the door for them as they all swept into the posh confines of leather upholstered seats and silk decor. The vampire tapped on the window that separated them from the driver. When the window was halfway down, he gave their destination, then leaned back against his seat, totally relaxed.

Mimiko smoothed her gown with one gloved hand, stealing glances at Jiro in his black tux. She tried not to blush any more, but seeing him so attired made her stomach do funny flips inside and she couldn't help herself so she tried to distract herself. "Do you know where we're going?" she whispered into his ear, more embarrassed when she noticed that the other couples seemed to be snuggling.

"I have no idea," Jiro replied softly. "But I'm sure that we will not be jumping out of another plane," he tried to joke.

While they had been talking softly, their driver had moved out onto the Vegas Strip and was driving surely towards their destination. A few turns later brought them to a more modern looking building with large glass windows in front. A name was scrawled across the top of the building in fancy script, lit with low intensity lights. Whatever the name was, it wasn't in English or Japanese.

Lucienne and Karri's eyes went up in surprise when they saw the name. "Amazing," they seemed to breath at the same time.

The limo pulled to a stop and another valet opened the door for them, holding it as they all disembarked from inside, the girls standing a bit self-consciously as they waited for Zelman, who was the last to leave the limo's confines.

A doorman in a tailored uniform held the door to the fancy restaurant open for them, his hat tipped as they brushed by in silk and satin. Just past the front, a matre de waited for them, seemed to be expecting them. He didn't even ask for their party's name but had them led to two tables near the dance floor.

Zelman settled into his seat, uniformed men helping the ladies into their chairs. "Order whatever you like," he said in a carefree tone.

Almost everyone's mouths dropped open at that offer. A few of the boys started to protest but he waved them aside. "Consider this an apology for earlier," he suggested, as if treating the girls to the spa, and sending the boys off to play hadn't been compensation enough. His winnings had been large, after all.

Kotaro's eyes sparkled as he looked at the menu a waiter placed in front of him. "Wow! They have so many different choices!"

Music began to play from a live band on a stage at the back of the dance floor. Various couples were converging to dance to the slightly upbeat tune. Chandeliers sparkled, shedding rainbow colored light across the dancers and diners alike.

Mimiko wasn't sure what she ordered from the menu, but it sounded good. Her mind was in a whirl at the finery around her and she didn't realize, until she was already on the dance floor, that someone had asked her to dance.

"I hope you're enjoying yourself," Zelman said in her ear as they performed an almost flawless waltz. Mimiko's feet were not quite up to the dancing, especially not in the shoes she was wearing, but the red-head was a very skillful dancer. The girl nodded mutely. "And, are you willing to forgive me of my little pranks?"

The compromiser wasn't sure how to answer that. She gulped slightly, trying to compose herself. "You did pull a few nasty tricks," she finally said, remembering the terror of free-fall when he'd thrown them out of the airplane earlier that day. "The girls think you're trying to woo me."

Zelman laughed lightly. "Woo you," he said in amusement. "That's such an old-fashioned term. But," he paused thoughtfully, "I suppose there is some truth to that." He grinned suddenly. "Someone had to give that stick in the mud a push."

Mimiko stopped abruptly, eyes filled with surprise. "What?" The other dancers swirled around them, their own elegant eveningwear shimmering in the half-light.

Zelman lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it, making a show of it. "For a beautiful women, who wouldn't want to move heaven and earth?"

She shifted uncomfortably in place, not sure what she should do. Her high heels would not make running easy at all. She was more likely to fall and twist an ankle. The weird thing was that part of her was enjoying every minute of the attention he was showing her, while another part was clamoring for her to make a hasty retreat to the safe confines of Jiro's arms. It was very confusing.

Zelman glanced over at Jiro as he held his lips to Mimiko's hand, his eyes twinkling in an almost challenge that made the other Black Blood clench a fist under the table. He smirked as he lowered the girl's hand and began to dance again. "The Silver Blade doesn't like my attention being so focused on you," he commented with idle amusement. "I wonder if he'll try something."

Mimiko tried to look at Jiro with every turn they made; almost wild-eyed in her anxiety that Zelman's words might prove true that the Old Blood would try something. They did not need to be kicked out because of a disagreement between two vampires over one human woman.

The Crimson-Eyed Butcher paused in his dancing. "I believe our food is ready," he announced and took her hand to lead her back to their table.

Jiro glanced at Mimiko, almost as if he were asking if she were okay. Her expression was one of shock. He knew exactly what the other vampire had said to her though, having heard it all, despite the music.

Mimiko mentally shook herself and looked at the plate of pasta a server had placed in front of her. To try and avoid, or at least delay, any further comments about the situation, she picked up a fork and began eating, signaling the others that they should do the same. She tried to ignore Zelman's smirks from across the table.

xXxXxXxXxXx

The evening continued on and dessert was brought out between more dancing. Jiro had not been allowed to dance with Mimiko, through some design agreed upon by the other men in the party, but she had no lack of partners, from their tables and from others.

Her head felt like and airy, like she was floating through the evening without touching ground. It came as almost a jolt when she realized that her current partner was Jiro. She was so surprised that she, once again, stopped dancing in the middle of the floor.

Jiro lifted a brow. "Is my dancing that bad? I know I haven't had nearly as much practice as others in this room." His tone held a hint of bitterness in it as he looked away from her lovely face.

Mimiko blinked rapidly and touched his cheek. "No. I was just surprised. It felt like they were purposely keeping us apart," she admitted. "I was just startled."

He gave a slight scowl. He'd come to the same conclusion, and wondered what kind of game Zelman was playing. He would not let it ruin her last evening though. He would not. "I hope you've enjoyed yourself despite that."

She smiled at him, and then quickly looked down in embarrassment. "Yes." She didn't dare say more as they were swept back up into the dancing. She tried to hide her blushing by not looking at him, heart pounding. Finally, she couldn't take it any longer and looked up. "Jiro…"

The Silver Blade wasn't sure what she was going to say as they were suddenly signaled that it was time to leave. He glanced over at an ornate clock that indicated it was well past midnight. They still had to go back to that hotel and change out of their borrowed clothes, then travel back to their hosts' apartment to gather their things. Their plane would be leaving in less than eight hours. It was with great reluctance that he announced what she already knew. "We should go."

Weariness stole over her as he led her back across the dance floor to the rest of their party. She only half acknowledged everyone else as they talked about how wonderful the evening had been as they re-entered the limo.

xXxXxXxXxXx

In a haze, she found herself changing back into her own clothes, taking down the elaborate hairdo, washing makeup off her face, and returning the silly stiletto heels. Her mind refused to tell her what she was going to ask Jiro before they'd been interrupted on the dance floor.

Were they back at the apartment? Were Karri and Lucienne helping her to repack her things? Was she trying to catch a last minute hour of sleep? What time was it anyway?

Jiro stared absently at the suitcase he shared with Kotaro. What had Mimiko been about to say back in Vegas? He had a feeling he knew, but didn't want to admit it. He was tired. Kotaro had fallen asleep on the way back, and so had Mimiko. He didn't think she was really awake when they'd arrived back at the apartment. Would she even remember to tell him later?

Scott poked his head into his shared room. "Hey, we're ready to leave whenever you are. Matt's got the van downstairs at the front door."

With a sigh, Jiro picked up the suitcase and followed him out the door, Kotaro stumbling behind him.

Karri yawned as she greeting Mimiko and helped her put her bags inside the vehicle. She was sure her Japanese friend wasn't really awake, but that didn't matter too much as everyone else piled into the van, those who had been able to climb out of bed to join them, that was.

Matt put the car in gear and drove them back to the airport. They all paraded inside, half supporting each other to the terminal building.

Mimiko tried to not yawn as she swayed where she stood, plane tickets in hand in front of the security checkpoint. She absently hugged everyone, including Kotaro and Jiro. Zelman had disappeared sometime between getting back from Vegas and everyone packing.

"Come back sometime," Lucienne requested. "Any time you need another vacation. Can't promise it will be as eventful as this one was, but we can always try."

Mimiko hugged her again. "I'll try."

Jiro discreetly indicated that it was time to leave. Another round of hugs ensued before she finally made it through the security gate and to their terminal, half dragging her suitcase behind her.

After another period of waiting, where Mimiko dozed in one of the many chairs in the lounge, they boarded their plane.

Jiro smiled almost wistfully as he tucked a small blanket over the compromiser's lap. It would be a long flight back to Japan, plenty of time to contemplate just what Zelman had been up to, and what Mimiko had tried to say on the dance floor.

...

(I hope you enjoyed reading this story. I had fun writing it, but it is time to move onto my original writing)
Chapter Eleven: All Dressed Up And...

Mimiko settled down into the most divine substance she'd ever felt on her skin, mud. The person who had said that mud was good for nothing but to stay outdoors on the ground, or to make things dirty, obviously didn't know what they were missing out on. The smell wasn't the most pleasant in the world, but it felt oh so good on her skin. She was almost more than willing to forgive Zelman for his trick earlier. Almost.

Three sets of contented sighs followed her as her American friends sank into their mud baths. "This is what I was really looking forward to," Lucienne commented as a spa attendant placed cucumber slices over her eyes. "It's not every day someone offers to pay for a complete spa package. If I didn't know any better, I'd say that Zelman guy has a thing for you."

Mimiko's cheeks flamed under her facial mask. "What? No! That's not possible. I mean, come on, guys! You can't be serious!"

Karri glanced over at the crimson girl, lifting one of her cucumbers to peek. "It's not impossible, you know. And there are some definite indicators that say he might."

The compromiser squirmed in her mud. "No. I mean, come on! He and my mother were friends. He couldn't possibly, even remotely have those kinds of feelings towards me!"

The two girls exchanged glances with each other while Sara ignored them all. "We'll see," they said almost in unison.

xXxXxXxXxXx

Zelman smirked as he watched the roulette wheel spin round and round, the small ball inside bouncing across the numbers as fate tried to decide which one it would finally land on. Roulette, one of the most up in the air ways to gamble. There was no way to tell exactly where the little marble would land, at least not if you were a Red Blood. As a Black Blood, however, especially one endowed with such things as Hide Hand, it was a much different matter. The dealers cheated, after all. Why couldn't he?

He snuck a furtive glance over at Jiro and the other boys who were not really participating. Kotaro was too young, and the American boys didn't seem to be interested in playing any games of chance. Instead, they walked around and watched, or, in Kotaro's case, stood at the edge of the casino because he wasn't old enough to actually enter. But Jiro stood not too far away so that was fine with the casino employees. After all, children should not be left unattended.

The ball came to a sudden halt, landing on a black thirteen space, just like he'd planned on happening. The stacks of chips on the corresponding square raised a brow from the dealer, but he shrugged and slid over the right number of chips for the win, more than tripling the ones already there. Some people just got lucky, then cocky, and then they lost it all. That was how it worked.

Zelman could tell what the dealer was thinking without having to Eye Raid him or anything. Red Bloods were sometimes so transparent it wasn't even funny. The corners of his lips went up a fraction of a centimeter more as he thought about Mimiko's reaction after having touched down from her little "jump". He was sure she, and possibly Jiro, had been about ready to pummel him. If it hadn't been for the help of those American boys, he might have been in need of some blood, but since they'd managed to call the enraged vampire down, that had not been necessary. Zelman had promised not to suck from any of the locals, after all.

The vampire pulled his winnings towards him. The chips amounted well into the high digits. They would more than pay for whatever he wanted. He could set them all up in the hotel for their last night if he'd wanted, in the executive suite, but that was probably not the best idea as the Company trio's plane left early in the morning and they'd have to drive back to the college to get their things, a couple hour drive, then to the airport there. Of course, he could go there, get their stuff, come back, and change their tickets to leave from the airport in town, but he figured he didn't need them to be any more mad at him than they were. Jiro was frowning at him in disapproval.

He smirked towards the other Black Blood and bet half of his winnings on number seven. The dealer spun the wheel.



This was definitely the life, Mimiko decided. She could get used to this. The mud bath had been amazing, and now she was getting the full manicure and pedicure treatment. Her feet had been buffed, the calluses removed by expert hands. Her cuticles had been treated and her skin was as soft as the day she'd been born. All she needed now was for all the little knots in her back to vanish and she'd feel like a completely different person.

The others were enjoying their own sessions on either side of her, hair wrapped in white towels, fluffy robes over their bodies, cucumbers still over their eyes. They were either silently enjoying this experience or had fallen asleep. They were no longer teasing her about Zelman.

Thinking about him, she couldn't help but give a little scrunch of her shoulders. Did he really like her that way? He was paying for the works for all of them. Of course he had money to burn, but still. Was there something up his sleeve? Zelman didn't do things just because he was being nice. There was usually an ulterior motive at play. Was he trying to apologize for giving her the scare of her life, or was he secretly trying to woo her.

The idea made her feel very uncomfortable. Sure she liked him, but only a very little. Her heart belonged to Jiro. And she did owe him a debt of gratitude for helping save her life all those months ago. So what was he doing? Was he trying to show up Jiro? Was he trying show her what he could give her if she chose him instead? She shook her head, trying not to dislodge the towel wrapped loosely around her head. Impossible! Right?



Kotaro grinned like a kid on crack. Now this was more like it! "Bang! Bang!" He fired the virtual gun at the video game's screen as his virtual persona fought through a combat scenario. Jiro probably would not approve of his choice of games, but everyone else had persuaded him to give a few games a try himself, and they were currently racing him in one of those multi-racer games. He didn't need to know.

"Bang! Bang!" He hit a few more targets before another character got his. He put the gun down and retrieved his playing card, heading over to see how his brother was doing.

Jiro was not one for modern gadgets, but after having had a brief explanation by Scott, he wasn't doing too bad, at least as far as steering his virtual car went. He still didn't know how to work the pedals and so was laps behind the others. But that was all right. He could sense that Kotaro was having fun so that made his frustration a bit more bearable. He just wished he knew how Mimiko was doing.

She'd been upset about the whole being pushed out of a plane incident. Who could blame her? Jiro wasn't too happy about it either. But he couldn't cause an international incident without causing a lot more trouble than was worth the effort. Besides, these Americans didn't really seem to know much about actual vampires and they didn't need to find out.

His thoughts kept going to Mimiko, wondering how she was doing, what she was doing. Only half off his attention was on the game. He was surprised to find it suddenly over, his car coming into last place. He blinked in surprised. "Ah, it would seem that I lost this time around."

Scott chortled slightly while the others rolled their eyes.

"You need to use the pedals," James offered helpfully.

Jiro glanced down at the pedals as he exited the playing area. "Ah, yes. I will have to try that next time." He saw Kotaro standing a few feet away, watching. "And what games have you been playing?" He smiled affectionately.

Kotaro jumped up. "I played this really awesome game called Dance Dance Revolution! It was so fun, brother! You try to do all these moves following the arrows as they scroll up the screen!"

Jiro blinked. The game sounded far too complicated to him. "I'm sure it's very fun," he said absently. He glanced at a clock on the wall. They'd been at this, either in the game room or watching Zelman rack up more chips, for almost three hours now. Surely the girls would be done by now.

Kotaro noted his distracted glance. "You're thinking about Mimi, aren't you? But it's okay! Zelman said he paid for the whole works for everyone and that it'd take several hours. I know she's enjoying herself!"

Jiro gave him a wry look. "Oh?"

The boy nodded firmly. "With how stressed she's been at work and everything, having a chance to play in the mud and everything's got to be relaxing, right? I mean, I always liked playing in the mud."

Jiro smiled in confusion. He wasn't sure what his brother was talking about, exactly, but he was sure there was some kind of miscommunication somewhere. He decided it was best to just go along with him. "In that case, you're probably right."

Damien came over. "They're all probably getting a makeover right now." He saw the confused look on his Japanese friend's face. "You know. Putting on makeup and getting their hair done? That kind of thing."

The vampire nodded in sudden understanding. "Ah. Yes, that might not be a bad idea for her. She doesn't often dress up. Perhaps it is not a bad idea at all."

xXxXxXxXxXx

Mimiko looked into the mirror. She almost didn't recognize herself. She had designer makeup on her face and her hair had been done up in a series of soft curls that had been pinned up around her face, giving her an almost diva look.

She twirled in front of the mirror slowly. She wasn't used to wearing high heels. Her midnight blue dress swirled gracefully around her in a very form-flattering manner. She looked like a movie star or a billionaire's daughter, or wife. Thinking the word wife, she colored behind the makeup. Zelman had paid for the dress too.

A knock sounded at the door. "Mimiko, can we come in?" The door opened and Kari's head poked inside, hair done up in a sleek manner. She paused in the open doorway and stared. "Wow."

Behind her, Lucienne and Sarah also stared, their own evening style dresses shimmering softly in the light, hair down up, makeup making their faces practically glow like they were some kind of angels. "Wow is right. You look like a million dollars! Zelman must really think highly of you!"

That comment earned her a nudge in the back from one of her friends.

Mimiko blushed even more. "Stop it! There's just no way!" She looked down at the carpet and the black shoes she was wearing, designer brand with a lot of straps. They gave her an additional four inches to her height.

"If I didn't now any better," Sarah spoke up, "it would seem that he intends to take us either to some kind of club or formal event."

Mimiko gulped. "I was afraid of that." She turned back to the mirror, her nude painted nails reflecting the light from the lights over the mirror. "I just hope dancing isn't on the menu."

Lucienne glanced up at that comment. "Can't you dance?"

Mimiko turned in a bit of hurry and had to put out a steadying hand on the counter top. "Not in these shoes! They're death traps! I can't believe I'm wearing them!"

"But they look good on you," Kari spoke up. "Walking in heels isn't easy. There's a sort of trick to it. It's mostly balance though."

The compromiser groaned. "Great. Then I'll be falling left and right in these things!"

"I doubt either Jiro or Zelman will let you," Kari replied. "It's obvious they both like you."

Mimiko bit her lip. "Please stop with that, okay? I'm nervous enough wearing this thing." She indicated the dress with its sheer outer layer, the silk under layer falling like a cascade down her skin. It was a modest dress, longer in length, with little capped sleeves, but the neckline was lower than she was used to wearing, even if it didn't show off anything it shouldn't.

Lucienne agreed. "Okay. But we should hurry. Scott just called to say they were waiting for us down in the lobby."

A little thrill ran down Mimiko's back, whether of fear or anticipated, she couldn't tell. The masseuse had done a wonderful job getting all the knots out, and with everything else, it was almost hard to feel stressed, though anxious wasn't quite the same thing. "Let's go. I just want to get this over with." She pulled on her elbow length gloves, wondering how Jiro was going to be dressed.
Chapter Ten: Afraid of Heights?

Zelman smiled to himself as he stared up at the night sky. Thanks to some quick thinking, and a bit of string pulling, he had managed to ruin Jiro's plans for Mimiko's last day. In their stead, he had a lot of other things already bought and paid for. He just hoped that the other Black Blood wouldn't throw a fit when he found out just want he had in mind.

Of course, he wasn't going to tell them what was going on until it was too late to change anything. He'd already talked to the guys in the group, and they'd all agreed, pretty much, to the change in plans. At the very least, they were game, especially since Zelman had put in that everything was already paid for and they didn't have to spend a dime. The hardest part would be to trick Jiro and Mimiko. But that could wait until the morning. He grinned up at the waning moon. This would be fun.

xxXxXxX

"Rise and shine!" Matt pounded on the girls' apartment door at six in the morning, waking the entire place up. "Day light's wasting!"

Lucienne groaned and put a pillow over her head. "Day light hasn't even come up yet," she mumbled, but the pounding on the door continued.

"You have ten minutes to get ready before we leave you here!" With that, the pounding stopped.

"I think he means it," Kari said as she rolled out of bed, encouraging Lucienne to do the same. "Let's go see what they want. I'll go make sure Mimiko's awake."

Lucienne yawned as she got up and headed to the closet. What on earth had those boys planned for them today? She just hoped it wasn't anything too crazy.

Kari went to Mimiko's room and knocked. "You awake?"

Mimiko groaned. "How could I sleep with that racket?" She opened the door, dressed but with hair that obviously had not been brushed down yet. "Ugh. What's with waking up at the crack of dawn? I thought Jiro had something planned."

Kari shrugged. "Who knows? But we'd probably better go and see what they've got going on or be left behind. I have a feeling they're planning on dragging everyone they can with them, including your vampire friends."

Mimiko rolled her eyes. This was all crazy. She still didn't feel like she'd had enough sleep. They'd gotten to bed late, after all. Well, maybe not the others, but she had. Stupid vampires. Why did they have to be so difficult? She'd only wanted to give Jiro a little blood, and then with Zelman interjecting his usual annoying self into the situation… Ugh! She practically yanked the brush through her hair as she looked for her shoes.

xxXxXxX

Kotaro had to refrain from giggling when he'd been told what was going on by the Red Blood boys. He'd been sworn to secrecy, though, and couldn't tell Jiro or Mimiko what they were going to do, but he was excited. He couldn't wait for them to reach their destination and do what Zelman had decided they should do. He didn't care that the original plans had changed. Zelman's seemed much more awesome, after all.

His face was lit up with pent up energy and excitement as he waited for the girls to come out of their apartment, Jiro leaning tiredly against the wall, hat pulled low over his eyes. "This is going to be so much fun! I can't wait to see what all will happen!"

"Did we really have to get up this early," Jiro wondered, feeling more than half dead, his shoulders slumped, his umbrella held in one hand like a cane.

Zelman grinned as he walked over and thumped him on a shoulder. "Come now, you'll enjoy it! I promise!"

Jiro rolled his eyes as the door opposite them opened and the girls came out, Lucienne, Karri, Sarah, and Mimiko. He took a moment to glance critically at the compromiser, who was yawning hugely. She looked like she hadn't slept nearly long enough. He knew the feeling.

"All right!" James clapped his hands together, "It's time to head down to the van and make it down before we miss our time slot!" He pulled out the van keys and handed them to Matt, who would be driving this time around. "We'll get breakfast once we get there, so those of you who want to catnap on the way down are more than welcome to do so."

Mimiko stifled another yawn. "And where, exactly, are we going?"

Scott smiled. "We're not saying. It's a," he put his finger to his lip, "secret. You'll just have to wait and see."

Zelman chuckled at the expressions on his associates' faces. He carried a bag in one hand, though what was inside was anyone's guess. "This should be amusing," he commented. "Shall we be off then?"

At the vampire's suggestion, they all headed down to the van, eight Red Bloods and two vampires.

xxXxXxX

They drove south, and a bit West, which was probably a good thing, considering the sun was beginning to rise by the time they'd made it to what the locals called The Gorge, a massive area of mountains that had been split by the road, revealing intricate canyons and rivers. It also decreased their travel speed due to the windiness of the road.

Jiro had pulled his hat down over his face; his arms folded, and was snoozing in the back seat, Mimiko leaning against his side, also asleep. The boys exchanged smiles at this. The vampire continued to nap, even though his younger brother was bouncing up and down in anticipation in the seat in front of them.

Zelman made no comments about the arrangement, but seemed more than amused by it, the grin on his face revealing a hint of his fangs. How amusing would this be, having a bit of fun at the younger Black Blood's expense? He really wondered what the younger vampire would do, especially when he realized there was nothing he could do about it.

Another hour passed before the bright billboards and casinos began to come into sight. But before they actually reached Las Vegas, Matt turned off and headed towards a small airport, following some directions on a piece of paper. He pulled up next to a large hanger. "We're here! Should we wake those two?" He indicated the sleeping compromiser and vampire.

Zelman grinned. "No. Let's let them sleep a bit longer, shall we? Make the surprise more exciting."

Karri opened the van door and stepped out. "But aren't they required to attend the before class?"

The red-eyed vampire laughed. "Don't worry. I've already arranged everything. It shouldn't be a problem. Let them sleep. Maybe the Silver Blade will be less cranky, eh?" He winked.

Lucienne followed Karri out. "Let him have his fun," she advised. "I know Mimiko will have fun. She told me, once, that she wouldn't mind doing something like this just once."

Matt turned around in his seat. "Well, everyone out. Just call me when you're ready for them to go inside. I'm going to catch a few Z's myself."

Sarah glanced at Matt. "You're not coming?"

"Nope," Matt said from behind closed lids. "I'm just the driver for this round."

Zelman glanced at his phone for the time. "We should get inside. The class will start soon. I want to be sure the proper pairings occur."

With a bit of jostling, which, thankfully didn't wake the sleeping pair in the back seat, everyone but Matt exited the vehicle and headed towards the waiting hanger.

xxXxXxX

Mimiko woke groggily to the hum of machinery. She almost gasped as she realized she was no longer in the van, but strapped in on a metal bench in a cylinder shaped something with something lumpy strapped to her back. "Wha…? Where am I?"

Zelman's grinning face peered at her from the left. "Good morning, Sleeping Beauty," he greeted. "It's about time you woke up. I'd hold tight though, if I were you. We're just about to take off."

Mimiko's eyes went wide in panic. "What?" She looked out the only window across from her, past Scott's grinning face, as the landscape went whooshing by them. She averted her eyes to quickly glance around the interior.

Jiro was leaning against the plane's wall, on the other side of her, Kotaro sitting between them. He wasn't wearing the same clothing. Somehow, despite his still being asleep, he'd changed into completely black clothing, and had a ski mask over his head. If it weren't for the usual goggles, and the fact that she didn't know anyone quite so tall or lanky, she could have easily mistaken him for someone else.

Kotaro was hunched up in excitement, his face practically glowing with anticipation. "Can I wake him now? Can I! Can I?" He was practically bouncing in his seat.

Zelman's eyes sparkled in amusement as the plane left the ground, quickly picking up speed and greater altitude. "Sure. Why not?"

"Yay!" Kotaro turned in his seat and shook his companion. "Brother! Brother! Wake up! We're in a plane!"

Jiro almost jumped up, except he was strapped in. He immediately felt his head, then looked around. He noticed everyone sitting, staring at him. "Would someone please tell me just what is going on and why I'm wearing completely different clothing?" His tone was more than a little irritated.

Zelman unbuckled his safety belt and walked over, leaning towards the wall a bit as the plane banked. "Well, well. You finally woke up! And just in time! We're on our way up for an appointment with fate."

Behind his goggle's, Jiro's eyes went wide. "What did you say?"

Kotaro couldn't contain his excitement any longer. "We're going to jump out of a plane!"

"What?" Jiro almost broke his harness. "Zelman, you had better explain what exactly is going on, and you'd better explain now."

The other vampire shrugged. "This is my contribution to our little vacation. Sky jumping. We'll be going down in pairs." He paused a moment, almost thoughtfully. "By the way, according to the luck of the draw, you and Kotaro are partners, and I'll be teaming up with Mimiko." He grinned hugely as he inserted himself between Kotaro and the compromiser.

"What?" Jiro and Mimiko spoke in unison as they looked at him incredulously.

"That's the luck of the draw," Zelman grinned.

At that moment, a man came from the front of the plane. "Hey everyone! We've just about reached our altitude so I'm going to go over a few last minute items. Please make sure your chute buckles are secure." He tugged on his to show them how to check. "Take the carabineer attached to your pack and hook it onto this bar." He took his own and attached it to the bar that hung above everyone's head on the right side of the plane, where the window was.

"When you jump, this will pull at a cord on your pack," he continued, "which will break away once you are clear of the plane, deploying your chute. If this does not deploy your chute, pull on these cords here." He tugged gently on two cords along the straps of his pack. "This will release your chute, but don't pull them unless your chute doesn't release once you're clear of the plane."

Mimiko blinked rapidly. "Wait, you mean we're actually going to jump?"

The instructor nodded. "That's what everyone here has signed up for," he confirmed.

"But I didn't!"

Her words were silenced by Zelman's finger on her lip. "Trust me," he whispered in her ear, causing Jiro to scowl behind his ski mask. "This will be like nothing else you've experienced."

The instructor continued on as if he hadn't been interrupted. "Make sure you jump at the same time as your partner. Remember," he began to shout as he slid the large door open, the noise of the propellers filling the cabin, "you can direct your chute by pulling on the cords. When you are going in to land, keep your knees bent to lesson the jolt on impact with the ground, and run with the momentum. The chute should provide some braking power behind you."

Mimiko gulped. Did Zelman really expect her to do this? She quickly looked over at Jiro, whose expression she could not read. But she could feel the anger rolling off of him.

"I've been instructed to give you a nudge out the door if you hesitate," their instructor continued. "The only person who should remain in the plane is the pilot, who will take the plane home. As long as you follow our lead pair down, you shouldn't have any problem landing in the right zone for pick up. Beware cross winds and updrafts! We ready?"

Everyone unbuckled their belts and moved towards their designated partner, all but Mimiko, Kotaro, and Jiro. They clipped their carabineer to the rod, waiting.

Zelman offered Mimiko a hand. "We're the lead pair," he grinned. "Shall we?"

Her eyes went wide. "What?"

Before she could protest further, he had guided her to the front of the line and clipped her to the rod, ignoring Jiro's protests, knowing he wouldn't try anything, partly because he was too weak, and partly because he didn't want to risk pushing her out of the plane.

"We've reached altitude." The announcement came over a speaker from the pilot.

"Coming, Jiro?" Zelman offered a salute before grabbing Mimiko's hand and pulling her backward so that they essentially just fell out of the plane.

Jiro reached out a hand but it was too late. He stared in horror as the two were visible for a split second, then gone from view, their lead breaking. "Come on, Kotaro," he said with determination and controlled anger as he clipped his and his brother's lines, ready to follow the others and hoping he could keep up with the older Black Blood and the compromiser, just in case something went wrong.

xxXxXxX

Mimiko felt a rush of air around her body. It was so loud, but her heart pounded even more loudly. She was too surprised to scream out. The plane seemed to zoom away from them as they free fell, then, suddenly, her chute opened. It was like a giant hand had jerked her backwards.

Zelman was suddenly by her, grinning. "Thrilling! Isn't it?" He yelled at her as he pulled on his guide ropes to keep from crashing into her. He glanced behind them a bit to see Jiro and Kotaro jumping from the plane, their chutes opening less than a minute later. Other chutes opened up behind them as the others also jumped, clearing the plane and its propellers.

xxXxXxX

Matt watched the sky through a pair of binoculars, along with a second team of sky diving experts, waiting for the group to land. Matt suddenly jumped up and down in excitement. "I see them! I see them!" He pointed towards the sky at several small pin-sized dots of color that were rapidly heading their direction, growing larger as they came.

Above them, Mimiko was trying desperately to follow Zelman's shouted instructions, pulling on her guide lines to safely reach the large space that looked like a meadow with piled hay in it. "Whoah! I can't do this!"

Several yards from her, far enough away that his chute wouldn't tangle with hers, Zelman grinned like a maniac. "You're doing just fine! Pull both cords at the same time! If you feel like you can't reach that area the people below are lining, aim for the hay!"

"What?" But she didn't have time to retort as the ground came up even more quickly than she'd ever thought possible. "AH!" The next thing she knew, she was surrounded with dried hay up past the top of her head. It tickled her nose and stuck at the back of her throat as she thrashed around, trying to get out. Thankfully, she'd closed her eyes before impact.

Matt saw the compromiser plow into one of the piles of hay. He started running towards it, though it was going to take a while since it was a good hundred or more yards away from the nearest landing crew member. Zelman had landed a good halfway down their "landing strip" without so much as a hitch.

Not too far behind, wincing a bit from the intensity of the sun despite his skin being completely covered, Jiro saw what had happened. He twisted in his pack, pulling down hard on the guide ropes so that he could undo the straps. He fell a dozen or so feet from the sky, landing with a jolt, but quickly got up and was running towards the stack where Mimiko had landed. "Mimiko!"

Inside the haystack, Mimiko was trying to push her way out, without much success. She had to stop her activities to try and stifle a sneeze caused by the dust from the hay. The straws stuck into her clothing like dull needles, pricking her all over, but she had to admit that the experience of parachuting was indeed very exhilarating, even though it had been one of the most downright scary things she'd ever been forced into doing.

Jiro had reached the haystack by this point, a good half minute before anyone else, Kotaro coming down several dozen yards past it, with a much more gentle landing. The Black Blood began to almost frantically pull at the hay, making the straws shower down over him. He was panting heavily by the time he'd found one of her ankles and gave it a gentle tug.

Mimiko felt something grab her leg and almost went into panic mode. But then she felt herself being pulled backwards by that appendage and decided the best thing she could do was keep her eyes and mouth shut or risk getting more hay down her throat and straw dust in her eyes.

By the time Jiro had halfway extracted the compromiser from the stack of dried grasses, Zelman had landed and has run over to help out. "Let me give you a hand," he said, and grabbed her other ankle before Jiro could protest. He let out a mighty heave, which brought Mimiko completely free from the hay. She was in Jiro's arms before she could so much as fall to the ground from the semi-violent jerk.

Jiro brushed straw from her hair, caressing her face. "Mimiko, are you all right?" He noticed several small scratches from the sharp plant, wishing he dared remove the ridiculous ski mask from his face, but the sun was too bright to allow it.

The compromiser opened her eyes, blinking in surprise, and spat out hay. "Ugh. Whoever said haystacks make a nice landing place lied. I feel like I've been pricked all over."

Zelman chuckled behind them. "Only you would manage to land in one, Compromiser. But it's nice to see you didn't suffer any real damage from it."

Mimiko stood a bit shakily, more from the rush of adrenaline that was slowly fading, and from her fright, than from any injury. "Whoah!"

Jiro put out a steadying hand. "Careful."

Before anything else could be said or done, the others finally converged on them, chutes already removed and left behind.

Scott, James, and Damien were practically glowing with the rush they'd felt from the experience. The girls were also thrilled by the experience, but were definitely more worried about their friend's abrupt landing.

Mimiko finally pushed Jiro's helping hand away. "I'm okay, guys," she reassured. She took one wobbly step forward but managed to stay upright. "Just a little shaky from the landing," she amended.

Kotaro jumped up and down, realizing that rushing towards her in a bear hug was probably not the best idea. "Wasn't that just so awesome? I want to do it again! Brother, can we do it again?" He looked hopefully at Jiro.

Jiro let out his breath. "How about we don't," he replied. "I don't think Mimiko could handle another round." He wasn't sure if he could either. He would have to pay Zelman back for this rather… unsettling surprise.

Zelman checked the time on his phone. "Oops. Looks like it's time to go. If we don't hurry, we'll be late." He bowed to their jumping crew. "Thanks for the experience but we have to run. I hope the amount I left is sufficient to cover everything?"

The man nodded. They'd arranged previously for the company to also take care of the cleanup of the parachutes.

"Let's go," Zelman said, heading towards the van.

Seeing that their friend really was okay, the others followed after the older vampire. Jiro, however, stood his ground. "Zelman."

The crimson-eyed vampire turned slightly, pausing. "Silver Blade. Really, if we don't hurry, the rest of everything will be ruined, and I don't think Mimiko will appreciate it if it is. Trust me on this one, you will both enjoy it. Either that, or you can just stay here and miss your flight tomorrow because you're being stubborn. Your choice."

Jiro decided to follow, escorting Mimiko. Now was not the time to let the Crimson-Eyed Butcher feel his wrath.
Hey all followers, friends, and so forth.

I know it's been a while since I last did much over here on Deviant. It's been a rather hectic year. From medical emergencies, funerals, work related stress, radio drama stress, and working on writing original compositions, it's been a really crazy and full year. But I wanted to let you all know that I'm still alive and kicking!

This year, I published my second book, Kas. It's sort of a "Alice down the rabbit-hole" mixed with "Beauty and the Beast" kind of tale, with elements of "what the crap is going on?" mixed in. Not a read for someone who wants just a bit of fluff, but a mental challenge of sorts. Not everyone can handle it, as I've learned.

And I'm working on getting my third book ready for publication. You can see the promo for it in my "featured" gallery, because I just posted it. This new book is the first of three planned, all the same epic story. It was just too long to tell in one go, kinda like Lord of the Rings, only modern and dragons. It's called Tarragon: Key Keeper, and comes out in April, though I'll be doing a cover reveal in February, which is when I'll, hopefully, post the cover art here as well. We'll see.

Here's the blurb:

For hundreds of years, the gates of Tarragon have been sealed from the outside. Prophecy speaks of the day the last Key Keeper will return and wake the dragons from their spell-cast slumber, returning them to their rightful home.

Seeking to fulfill her father's dying wish, Anwen Porter travels to the Drakonii Mountains where she meets Tyler, a mysterious local with a secret. With his help, she learns more about her clouded past and her own abilities. But when Courtney, a lovesick mage, tries to insert herself into their plans, things begin to go horribly wrong.

With death threatening at every turn, Anwen must learn to rely on her newfound friends to survive. But how can she unravel the mystery of her heritage when everything is trying to kill her?

Any who, just wanted to wish everyone a belated Merry Christmas and an early Happy New Year!
  • Listening to: soft music

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Gollumina's Profile Picture
Gollumina
Karlie Lucas
Artist | Professional | Varied
United States
I am mainly a portrait/pencil artist but I also work in audio with a small production company I started called The Manga Project, where we are transforming beloved manga into radio drama for no profit, just the pure enjoyment of allowing the fans the ability to hear their beloved characters come to life in ways they may never otherwise.
I also do cake commissions, sewing commissions, paint, doodles, do photography, write poetrye, novels, short stories, fan fiction, etc.

Current Residence: TEXAS!!!
Favourite style of art: realism
Personal Quote: Our greatest trial is overcoming our own fears and doubts.
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:iconxeonphoenix:
XeonPhoenix Featured By Owner May 6, 2014  Hobbyist
Thanks for the fave!
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Thanks for the fave
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Gollumina Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2014  Professional General Artist
no problem!
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Thankies for the fave x)
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hey thanks for faving my pics sister mine.
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no worries, bug. :D
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You've been tagged!
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thanks for the llama
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thank you!
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yw
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