“So, um, I… sort of have something I need to tell you,” Shiori carefully began while leading her adopted brother over toward a corner of the building. She could see Flick talking to the headmistress, and felt her heart seem to bounce a few times in her chest, buoying her for what she needed to do now.
Columbus, for his part, came willingly with a curious expression. “What’s up, Shy? You seem, you know, better. Did something happen? I mean, other than the obvious that you already talked about.”
Stopping a short distance away from where Asenath was, Shiori bit her lip. This was hard. Even knowing what she knew now, even after everything that Flick and Gaia had said, it was still difficult. Her mother had given her up. For good reasons, yes, but she had still given her up. Throughout her life, she’d had no one to count on until she finally met Columbus. From that point on, he had been her constant. He was, in every respect, her brother.
She felt better about what she was, but the idea of losing Columbus because of it still made her want to throw up. It didn’t matter how reassured she’d been or how unlikely it was that he would cast her aside. The possibility itself was utterly terrifying, no matter how remote it may have been. Her brain kept coming up with worst case scenarios, and then refused to stop obsessively dwelling on them.
“Y-yeah,” she managed then after realizing that the boy was staring at her, waiting for a response. “Yeah, something happened. But it sort of… started back when we first came to Crossroads. Back when we looked into the Edge.”
“Your vision,” Columbus realized then, his brow knitting in a frown. “I knew it. I knew you saw something bad. You were just so—sorry.” Realizing he was interrupting, the boy reached up to tug his goggles off before shoving them in a pocket. Looking at her with his bare eyes, the boy nodded for her to go on.
“I um…” Shifting from one foot to the other uncertainly, Shiori let her gaze shift first toward the corner where Asenath was calmly and silently waiting, then to the other side of the room where Flick and Gaia were. Both sights made her feel better, and she straightened a little bit. “I saw my mom. I saw her… umm, with me, when she gave me up to the adoption place.”
“Oh my god,” Columbus’s eyes widened noticeably. “You saw your mom? Crap. No wonder you’ve been bummed. Seeing your mom give you up must’ve been… but… there’s more, isn’t there?”
Forcing back the reflex to hide or evade the question, Shiori made herself nod. “Yes. My mom, she umm, she made the guy at the adoption place take me. She made him change my identity, change everything to hide me.”
Columbus looked even more confused by that. “Hide you? Why would she need to—wait, what do you mean, she made him? And why would she need to hide you? Wait, is your mom a spy?”
“No,” Shiori started before muttering an amendment under her breath, “I mean probably at some point, but that’s not…” She trailed off, blushing a little bit before looking back up to meet the boy’s gaze. Just like taking off a band-aid, just like taking off a band-aid. “My mom isn’t a normal human.”
“Not a normal human?” The boy’s head tilted a little, an uncertain frown crossing his face before a look of realization came over him. “Oh. Oh shit. I get it now.”
“You do?” Her voice was weak and uncertain.
He was nodding then. “Yeah, I mean… your mom’s a Heretic.”
Shiori’s brain stuttered a bit as she mentally flailed. “Wait, wait, a Heret–”
“Of course. It makes sense now,” Columbus continued. “The reason you’ve been all freaked out. She’s a Heretic for Eden’s Garden. You found out that your mom’s part of Eden’s Garden and freaked out because they’re supposed to be our like… rivals or whatever. And the reason you feel better about things now, ready to talk about them, is because Flick told you that they’re not really that bad.”
“Oh man,” Shiori mumbled while staring at him. “How can you be so close and yet so far at the same time?”
“So far?” The boy blinked. “I don’t get it. Wait, is she a Heretic for another group?”
She shook her head quickly, trying to push on before she ended up losing her nerve. “No, she’s not a Heretic at all. She’s—she’s a—she’s a…” Closing her eyes, she let out a breath before opening them to look at him. “She’s a vampire.”
“Oh.” Columbus took that in with a wince. “Oh shit. Was that… why she gave you up? Because someone turned her into a vampire after she had you?”
“No, you d-don’t understand.” Shiori tightened her fists. “She was a vampire before she had me.”
It took a few seconds for that to sink in before he reacted. “Before she had you? But that would mean you… that would make…”
“Half,” the girl whispered under her breath, just barely loud enough for him to hear. “I’m a h-ha-half… vampire. I mean, I d-don’t drink blood or anything like that, but I’m still—M-my mother is a vampire. And that makes me a half-vampire.” Realizing she was rambling, trying to fill the resulting silence, Shiori closed her mouth with a sudden snap.
There was no response at first. The boy simply stood there, staring at her while his mouth opened and shut a few times before any noise came out. “…. y-you… you’re… half… vampire?” he managed in a weak voice. “That’s… holy shit.”
Cringing, Shiori made herself not look away, though her own voice was weak as well, a plaintive little mewl. “Please don’t hate me. Please.”
“Don’t hate you?” Columbus echoed, chin lifting a little. “You just said that you’re half-Heretic, half-vampire. This is… I mean it’s… awesome!”
The violin screech inside Shiori’s head must have been audible. “Wait. W-what?”
“You’re half-vampire! Dude, that’s cool as hell.” Columbus was raving. “You’re like Blade. Only better because you’re Shiori.”
She stared at him. “B-bu-but the—Crossroads was talking about how every St-Stranger is evil and all that. And vampires are… you know.”
Columbus just raised an eyebrow before slowly shaking his head. “Shy, they can say anything they want. They could get every single person who has ever gone to that school, every Heretic who has ever existed to line up and tell me about how evil vampires are, all of them repeating over and over in one hundred percent agreement.”
His voice softened then, hand coming up to gently cup the side of her face, just under her chin. “And I’d tell every last one to screw themselves. Because you’re my sister. And I love you.”
A tidal wave of emotion rushed through Shiori as she stood there, trying to force the words to come out. “I… Columbus, you—I… I…” Failing to force the right response through the lump in her throat, she instead flung herself forward and wrapped both arms around the boy as tightly as she could. Her face was pressed to his chest while she clung to him.
The two of them stood like that for a several long seconds, Columbus eventually lowering his hands to hold onto her. “It’s okay, Shy.”
“You… you think being a half-vampire is cool?” she finally managed without releasing him.
“Cool? It’s amazing. Shy, you’re like a superhero! I mean, even more than we are already. After meeting Asenath, do you really think I’d believe you were—wait.” In mid-sentence, the boy blinked, turning a bit. “Your mother, you said she was—and Asenath was–”
While Shiori fought to collect herself, the vampire in question stepped forward. Her voice was low. “I’m not her mother. I’m her sister.”
Poor Columbus did a quick double-take. “Her si-sister?”
Smiling a little, clearly enjoying the act of surprising the boy, Asenath nodded. “Yes. Well, half-sister. We share the same mother.”
“That means you’re—she’s–” Columbus looked to Shiori, who was actually giggling a little bit in spite of herself.
“Yup,” Asenath stepped closer, opening her arms. “If you’re her brother, you’re my brother too. Do I get some of that?” she teased.
Looking from one girl to the other, Columbus finally shrugged. Pivoting on his foot, he lifted Shiori off the ground. As the girl yelped in surprise, he took two quick steps before accepting Asenath’s offered hug. Shiori was squeezed between them, giving a short squeal that quickly became a laugh.
“So basically,”she heard him say after a few seconds of that, “I have a half-vampire sister training to be an evil monster hunter, and a full vampire sister that’s already a superhero detective bodyguard.
“It’s official. This is basically the best day of my life.”