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.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.