Hironah awoke in much the same position in which she’d fallen asleep- curled in a ball with her face pressed against Uneme’s chest. His arm was still around her, but she could tell by his breathing and his practiced stillness that he was awake. There was an unusual tension in his embrace that warned her, even before consciousness made her aware of the others in the room, that something wasn’t right.

     The sound of Yume’s muffled sobbing confirmed her suspicion.

     Hironah twisted her face upward to look at Uneme. He’d been staring away from her, watching something intently, but turned to meet her eyes when he felt her moving. He said nothing to her. She could see from his expression that he was already aware of whatever it was that had happened. Her gaze telegraphed a question, but he only shook his head. The look in his eyes told her that whatever misfortune had befallen them, it was one he did not share, save for in his concern for her. A spike of worry shivered through her gut as she sat up and away from him. He released her without hesitation. Hironah felt his eyes upon her as she stood to survey the room of the temple where they’d spent the night.

     Yume was huddled in Kaiya’s arms, her tears absorbed by the rough fabric of his robe. He didn’t speak to her, only held her in silence, as though he held together all the pieces of her that threatened to be washed away in her grief. He raised his eyes to Hironah as he became aware that she was standing. In them she could see that Yume’s tears were not a private pain. She received his wordless warning that she was only footsteps away from joining them in sorrow. On the far side of the room, Yoshiki paced without cessation. He gave the impression that his repetitive movement was a necessity- if he stopped, he’d fly into pieces.

     With apprehension, Hironah approached Kaiya and Yume. A passing sensation brought her the idea that she walked across an entire world to reach them. Kaiya hugged Yume tighter and kissed the top of her head, saying softly,

     “I’ve gotta talk to Hironah.”

     She looked up at him with reddened eyes and nodded solemnly. He let go of her and rose. To Hironah he said,

     “Let’s go outside.”

     Hironah made no argument, only trailed behind him.

     He closed the door softly behind them once they’d stepped onto the veranda which opened on the square shaped courtyard. Kaiya continued into the middle of it, where he stopped, his back to Hironah. She walked over to stand beside him, bathed in the weak light of early morning. Neither wanted to break the silence. Kaiya looked into Hironah’s eyes. He could think of no way he could phrase his information that might be able to soften the blow he knew was coming.

     “Hironah…” His voice was tentative, quiet. “Aki’s dead.”

     She stared at him as though he’d been speaking in tongues.

     “What?” was the only word she managed to push through numb lips.

     “He was murdered.”

     “But…” she slumped. “No… no way.”

     “Yoshiki got up early to get the papers. It was front-page news, obviously. He managed to hide most of the article from Yume. The Media… wasn’t exactly delicate in their description.”

     “What… what did they do to him?”

     “I don’t know if I want to tell you, Hironah.” Kaiya studied his hands.

     “Tell me what they did, Kaiya.”

     “He was cut.” The Night’s Herald turned his gaze toward the sky, then screwed his eyes tight shut with a heaving sigh. “About fifty or sixty times, shallowly- nothing that would’ve killed someone else. The Imperial Guard was out looking for him last night after he went missing, but he’d already bled to death by the time they found him- not far from here, actually, on the same beach where we found Mirai. He was left there… apparently he was alive when whoever did it walked away. Poor Aki…” Kaiya shook his head, fighting his tears. “Poor kid must’ve been so scared.”

     Hironah’s shock was melting, burned in the fire of her fury.

     “Kill him, Kaiya. Find him and kill him.”

     It was Kaiya’s turn for silence. He only nodded briefly in response. Hironah continued to rage.

     “I’m going with you,” she announced. “Yoshiki will understand. Caiaphas can’t be allowed to think he can just pick off my family one by one. I want to be there to spit in his face when he draws his last breath. We’ll send him back to Pandemonium together- you and me.”

     “Let’s do it.”

     They nodded at one another, a brief smile through tears.

     The door behind them banged open.

     “Get in here!”

     “Quen?” Hironah turned, recognizing the voice.

     “Hurry up!” He barked in reply. Hironah and Kaiya did as they were told.

     As Quen hurriedly ushered them into the room, he continued speaking.

     “You have to leave. Now.”

     “Why?” Hironah balked.

     “The Imperial Guard will be here within the hour. The warrants have just been signed by the Emperor himself.”

     “Warrants?”

     “They’re coming to arrest you.”

     “For what?”

     “The assassination of the Crown Prince.”

     Hironah’s jaw dropped, and she stood frozen in shock. After a moment, she glared at Quen accusingly.

     “How would you know that?”

     “We don’t have time for this. You’ve got to get out of here.”

     Numb, everyone gathered their meager possessions. Within five minutes they were on their bikes, tearing away from the Parks. Yoshiki took the lead, his usually cheerful face grim as Yume sighed the last of her tears into his back. At a loss for what to do, they’d taken Quen with them. He rode with Uneme, his expression inscrutable. Only Hironah rode alone, watching the road blankly and wondering at what point she’d fallen into this nightmare.

 

    Quen stood alone on the outskirts of the clearing into which they’d pulled their bikes. They’d ridden ten hours straight, no one wanting to stop. They were still unsure whether or not they’d stay the night here, or if their nerves would set them running again. For the time being they rested, suddenly aware that they had nothing to eat… and nowhere to go. While Kaiya, Hironah, Yoshiki and Uneme were deep in discussion on that subject, Quen had faded back into the trees.

     He observed the people in the clearing for a while, his hand in his pocket clasped around the item within. His eyes fell on Seiken, sitting alone and staring sightlessly toward a non-existent horizon. He was barely visible in the failing light. Quen’s mind turned to his mother.

     “Remember how I taught you about what ‘compassion’ means?”

     Purposefully, Quen approached the Decameron and squatted down beside him.

     “Seiken?”

     Out of habit, the Decameron turned his face toward the sound of his voice.

     “Yeah, Quen?”

     “I have something to give you.”

     Both were silent as Quen pulled the thick black ribbon from his pocket and handed it to Seiken. The Decameron held it out at length, his fingers playing along the smoothness of the satin, gently exploring the pale blue embroidery on either end.

     “Mirai?” he asked, a number of questions tucked carefully into her name.

     “She asked me to give that to you if I ever saw you again, and to tell you not to blame yourself. She knew what would happen when she returned to the Musubiki. She was ready.”

     “She’s dead,” Seiken stated flatly. He balled the ribbon in his fist.

     “I’m afraid so. She was proving too volatile for us to handle…” Quen shook his head slightly. What was the right thing to say? “I’m sorry it had to be this way. I know you all were rather fond of her.”

     “I don’t see how it would’ve hurt to leave her alive.”

     “We’d planned on it. As a project, she was a huge success… but she’d grown so unpredictable. She had the potential to compromise other projects. If we could’ve trusted that she wouldn’t…”

     “I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Kaiya’s right. You really do think you can make yourselves gods.”

     I really don’t know what I’m supposed to say, Quen thought to himself. What would Uneme say? What would Kaiya say?

     “Seiken…” he began, trying for a moment to make himself someone else, someone who would understand what loss was. “Mirai, despite all we did to her, was a bright and gentle soul. She wasn’t Diasminian, you know. She was a prisoner, a foreigner from the Otherlands who’d entered our country illegally. She came from a place called Hinter, way up north. I heard it never stops snowing there. It’s winter all year. She’d been fairly intelligent before the experiment. Just before the Zeit, we celebrated her twenty-fourth birthday. She mentioned you- how sad it must’ve been to spend your birthdays alone and without a home. We might’ve altered her mind, but that was always the kind of soul she had. The girl I knew in the days before the experiment would’ve said the same thing. Mirai was right, I’m sure, that she’ll have a better life when she’s reborn… Not all of us will be allowed that grace, but I have faith that she will.”

     Seiken shook his head silently. Quen suddenly felt that he and the Decameron were discussing a matter of some depth. Cocking his head, he asked quietly,

     “Were you in love with her?”
“No… Though I did care about her a lot.”

     “Have you ever been in love?”

     Suddenly shy, Seiken blushed and stammered over his words.

     “Y-yeah. I have.”

     “What’s it like?” Quen’s eagerness took Seiken by surprise. Sensing his shock, Quen quickly added, “It’s just that I’ve never been, and mother says she hasn’t, and… Well, I don’t really know anybody else. Not anyone I could ask, anyway.”

     This seemed to satisfy the Decameron.

     “I think maybe it’s different for everybody, like the foods we like or the kind of weather or what makes us smile.”

     “What’s it like for you?”

     “I- I guess it’s kind of, well… Being happy when that other person is happy and hurting for them when they’re sad, like all you want is for their well-being… feeling warm and content when they’re around and missing them like hell when they’re not… and, well… um, wanting to touch that person… I dunno, Quen. This is a bit hard to explain.”

     “I think I understand.”

     “Quen…”

     “What?”

     “Don’t you ever feel lonely?” Seiken’s expression was one of concern laced with curiosity.

     “No… I don’t. And I’ll never care about someone else the way you just described. I’m just not that kind of person.”

     “I feel a bit sorry for you.”

     “You shouldn’t. I don’t need your pity. Though I’m sure the kind of love you experience brings a lot of joy, I’ll also never feel the pain of its loss.”

     Seiken shrugged.

     “Suit yourself.”

     “It’s not a choice I can make, though I’m not unhappy with my lot. It seems tough what you all go through.”

     “It is sometimes… especially when you lose someone you love.” Seiken moved his face away from Quen, his sightless eyes grazing the clearing. His face was cast in worry.

     “You’re a good man, Seiken. If I had the chance, I think I’d want to be more like you… I hope you and Kaiya are able to defeat Caiaphas.”

     “I do, too.”

     Hironah’s voice called sharply from across the clearing.

     “Quen! Get your sorry ass over here. You have explaining to do.”

     “The lady beckons. Later, Seiken.”

     He rose and crossed the ground to where the others waited.

     “Yes?” he asked with his customary coldness.

     “How did you know about the warrant and the Guard coming?” Hironah demanded.

     “Mother. Kat called her, frantic, and she sent me to warn you. The Empress doesn’t believe that you’re to blame, though the Emperor seems to.”

     “Why?” Hironah pleaded. “Why would he think something like that? That’s- it’s… This is horrible!”

     “As far as anyone’s aware, the five of you were the only people who had access to the Palace other than the usual staff. There weren’t any signs of forced entry…”

     “The guards watched us leave! And enter, for that matter. Aside from that, it’s sick that Harata would think any of us would be capable of… of… Name of the Cat, what is wrong with him? He’s gone crazy!”

     “Hironah…” Kaiya reached out to touch her, but pulled back as Uneme shot him a challenging glance. “Harata is probably mad with grief right now. As much as we all loved Aki, he was Harata’s son. He’s a desperate man doing desperate things.”

     “Dammit, Kaiya! Why can’t you just be angry about something for once in your life?” Hironah snapped.

     “I’ll save my anger for the one who deserves it- the person who did this.”

     “You’ll be angry enough when we’re all being executed for a disgusting crime we didn’t commit.”

     “Hironah, that’s just it. None of us were there. Once they’ve got forensics, they’ll stop looking for us. Harata will come to his senses.”

     “If,” Uneme said darkly. “If they get forensics.”

     “They will,” Kaiya stated confidently.

     “Don’t be so sure. Sounds like our dear Emperor’s gone round the bend. For all we know, Caiaphas has already gotten to him.”

     “You aren’t suggesting-” Kaiya started.

     “Hironah,” Uneme grasped her hand briefly, “maybe you ought to leave. This will probably be hard for you to hear.”

     “There isn’t anything I’ve heard in the past couple of days that hasn’t been hard to hear. I’ll sit in on this, too.”

     “Are you sure?” Uneme eyed her with concern.

     “Just say whatever’s on your mind.”

     He nodded, then turned to Kaiya, saying,

     “We can’t rule out the possibility that the Emperor killed the Crown Prince himself.” Before Kaiya could interrupt, he continued on hurriedly. “If they never find any evidence that someone broke into the Palace, it would stand to reason that the person who killed Akos-hieran was already there. Since you guys were the only people to be admitted yesterday, that leaves only the staff, the Guard, and the Imperial Family themselves.”

     “That doesn’t mean Harata was responsible,” Yoshiki, who’d been unusually quiet, pointed out.

     “No… but Hironah told me last night about your visit, about how he was like a totally different person. Can you look me in the eyes and tell me you’re one hundred percent sure he was in no way involved?”

     Yoshiki stared hard, right into Uneme’s golden eyes.

     “Yes, I can. I can because I’ve seen how fear for the people he loves can change a man. I’ve seen what becomes of a man’s life when he’s driven by that fear.”

     “You’ve seen it? Or you’ve lived it?” Uneme asked suddenly.

     Yoshiki looked lovingly down at Yume, who slept huddled against him.

     “Bit of both.” He smiled softly. “I don’t regret the choices that I’ve made.”

     “Regardless, you’re letting your own experiences blind you. Look, I’m not trying to suggest that Harata would do such a thing intentionally. What I am saying is that it is possible he was forced to.”

     Everyone lapsed into grim silence. It was a long time before Kaiya ventured,

     “I dunno… It is a possibility, one that I’ll have to explore, but…” He shook his head. “Blue told me that the avatar of Caiaphas would… Well, he’d be Caiaphas. He wouldn’t behave any differently from the man himself. Killing Aki would certainly be something he’d do, seeing it as a necessity, but making Harata do it…” He trailed off, his heart aching. Hidden within, behind the calm façade, a part of him was demanding to scream out his loss until he was empty and exhausted, left shuddering in pain and silence. He would not give in to this, he knew. He would find release in vengeance… or so he hoped.

     “You’ll find a way to check it out?” Uneme pressed.

     “Yeah, I will,” Kaiya’s voice rang with exhaustion. “For the time being though, we really need to figure out where to go. No place where we’ve got any ties will do… I’ll go with you to see that you’re safe, then I’ve got to start searching.”

     No one said anything for a long time. It was Yoshiki who broke the silence.

     “Riku and Natsuno,” he said cryptically.

     “Hm?” Hironah eyed her cousin. The names sounded familiar.

     “They’re Kazuki’s kids. I used to see them a lot when we were younger. One time Ma took me to Kitaka’en and they showed me these cool underground passages the Pantagruel used to use to sneak out of the city, back when they weren’t supposed to leave. I spent some time poking around up there after I joined Sirrah, thinking they might come in handy. I never ended up having to use them, but they’d be perfect for us now. A couple that I know of open in the middle of the mountain range up there. We can get water and hunt food.”

     “That does sound perfect,” Hironah responded, brightening. “But it’ll take nearly a week to get there.”

     “Nah. About three days or so. We’ve already covered a lot of ground.”

     “I don’t disagree with your proposal…” Quen suddenly jumped into the conversation. “However, getting to Kitaka’en from here will be dangerous.”

     “Going pretty much anywhere is gonna be dangerous,” Yoshiki pointed out.

     Quen eyed Uneme.

     “I forgot to tell them,” the Angemal stated, sounding bored.

     “I see. I mentioned this to Uneme, but it appears he failed to inform you that some of the Musubiki’s creations that were on display at the Zeit escaped during the riot. One in particular I have no wish to meet on the road to Kitaka’en.”

     “Which one?” Yoshiki asked, more out of curiosity than worry.

     “The dragon.”

     “That thing?” He laughed. “What is it, like, yea big?” He held out his hands.

     “Not anymore,” Quen said darkly. “We engineered the DNA in a way that would cause it to age rapidly. In the unlikely event- or so we’d thought at the time- it escaped and we couldn’t recover it, it would grow and die of old age within a year and a half or so. That way we could be sure it wouldn’t be around indefinitely, wreaking havoc. It’ll be about full-grown by now.”

     “Damn…” Yoshiki whispered, sounding somewhat awed.

     “We could probably head due west from here and cut north again once we’ve left its radius. It’ll take more time, but if that’s the safest way, maybe we ought to do it,” Kaiya offered.

     “What are the odds we’ll even run into it?” Uneme asked. “The more time we waste on the road, the more of a chance we have of getting caught by the Guard. In my opinion, that’s a much bigger problem.”

     “I dunno, Uneme… If we do run into that thing, will we even be able to fight it? We might be able to pick off a squad or two of Guards, but a giant, flying, fire-breathing lizard?” Yoshiki pondered.

     “It might be worth the extra time to avoid it,” Kaiya ventured, recalling with a sense of unease the strange creatures within the tent at the Zeit.

     “We don’t have extra time,” Uneme said heatedly. “You know, Kaiya, I wonder if you’re really worried about this or if you’re just trying to put off doing what you have to for a few more days.”

     “I don’t really think it’s a good idea to risk putting ourselves in the path of something that dangerous,” Kaiya said evenly.

     “Really? Or are you just scared?”

     “I realize that finding and facing Caiaphas is something I have to do anyway. Putting it off isn’t going to make it any less difficult… or frightening.”

     “Uneme…” Hironah said softly. “You’re not involved with this really. The Guard isn’t looking for you. You weren’t with us yesterday. You don’t have to do this… You could go on your own and they’d never know the difference.” The words were spoken with concern, rather than irritation.

     “I’m not leaving you. I’d never forgive myself.” He turned back to Kaiya. “We have to get to a place where we can hide as soon as possible. I know the Guard better than you do. They’ll find us if we go the other way.”

     Suddenly unable to bear sitting there any longer, longing for motion, eaten by an abrupt anger, Kaiya stood.

     “Fine,” he said, giving in. “I’ll go get Seiken.”

     He came to regret his haste a short time before dawn, when the shadow cast from overhead chilled more than just his back.

 

     “It can’t get us in here,” Yume whispered, her blue-green eyes enormous behind her glasses. “Maybe it’ll just give up.”

     After the gargantuan creature had descended, shrieking, from the sky, they’d scattered, desperately seeking cover. Yoshiki, having long possessed the habit of assessing his whereabouts for potential hiding places, was the one who’d noticed the cliffs across the field beside the road. They were partly hidden by a growth of trees, but he had an inkling… with a barked command to Yume to hold on for dear life, he cut across the field on his motorcycle. Yes, there they were, a couple of narrow caves in the side of the rock formation. He was quick to signal the others, who came to weave within the trees, distracting the creature above with the noise of their now invisible bikes. They cut the engines, hurrying to squeeze into one of the caves before the gigantic beast could discern their whereabouts.

     Kaiya peeked outside cautiously.

     “Shit! Guys… this isn’t gonna work.”

     “Why not?” Hironah asked anxiously.

     “Persistent bastard’s going along the cliff, burning out the other caves. Unless we wanna get fried, we’ll have to think of something else.”

     “Can we outrun it?” Uneme asked.

     “Not likely,” was Quen’s grim reply.

     “Then I guess we’ll have to kill it.”

     “Does it have any weak points?” Yoshiki asked hopefully.

     “The eyes,” Quen emphasized. “If you can get it through the eyes, that’ll go straight to its brain.”

     “Great. We need a plan. If Renta was here, he could probably hit it… but I doubt if any of the rest of us could.”

     “If we kept it to the ground long enough, a couple of us could probably climb up on it- go up its neck,” Uneme spoke quickly. “If one of us could manage to get to its head, that’d do the trick.”

     “Fine, we’ll try that, as we haven’t got time to think of anything else,” Hironah said firmly.

     “Someone will have to distract it, keep it on the ground and keep it from bothering with whoever’s up there,” Yoshiki put in.

     “I’ll do it,” Uneme offered.

     Kaiya saw it then- Hironah stiffened slightly, pushed a little harder against the Angemal in the already cramped cave.

     “Maybe the two of us-” she began. And Kaiya knew. If Uneme was to go, Hironah was going along with him. He could already see that stubborn streak bristling in her.

     “Let me do it,” he cut her off. “I live for this stuff.”

     He smiled despite the slight ache he felt at the sight of her relief. He exited the cave with a wink, pleading with the gods to see to it that Uneme protected her.

     He hopped on his motorcycle and as he revved the engine, the bright red, catlike eyes of the dragon focused on him. Kaiya realized that if he kept the creature in the trees, it wouldn’t be able to take flight. Still, if he could wound the large, leathery wings, that would offer more of a guarantee. He drew his gun.

     He’d never cared much for firearms, unlike Yoshiki who seemed at times obsessed with them. Kaiya found in their coldness an extension of that chill in the soul that came from killing without thought. The ease with which they enabled one to destroy another left him unsettled. However, at the moment- as at other times in the past- he reminded himself that the pistol was a necessity. He’d need to get a few good shots in before the others made their attempt on the beast.

     He watched with fascination as the dragon sucked in its breath, saliva dripping from gleaming fangs still sharp and young. He was utterly and entirely at peace, deciding to take some enjoyment in what he was doing. After all, it wasn’t every day that one had the opportunity to play with dragons. With a laugh, he took up the task of firing on the creature, dodging the flames that spewed from its mouth. Soon, the trees behind him were ablaze.

     Once it seemed that Kaiya had gained the beast’s full attention, Quen, Yoshiki, Uneme and Hironah snuck silently along the face of the cliff. Kaiya had been careful to keep the dragon’s back to where his friends would emerge. The scales and hide of the creature were so thick, it would barely register them as they mounted. So long as they were able to avoid its flailing tail, they’d be able to climb its spiny back with relative ease. All they needed was for one of them to make it to its head…

     Yume swallowed hard as she watched them go. She was long past the point of tears, and had known better than to argue when Yoshiki instructed her to remain behind with Seiken. She’d learned the value of silent obedience. They had no time for heated words or disagreements. With no more than a silent, serious look, she nodded and did as she was told. Her eyes, however, remained glued on her brother. She’d be there if he needed her.

     As Kaiya teased and taunted the beast- often coming within life-threatening reach of both tooth and flame, but always deftly skirting them- the other four managed to climb up on its back. Their hold on the dragon was tenuous at best as the furious creature flailed about, trying desperately to do away with the pesty human being before it. Quen fought the hardest to keep his balance, not being as agile as the rest.

     For a few blissful moments, despite the terror that each of them felt, it seemed they’d be successful. Then Uneme’s foot slipped, kicking the beast in the wing-blade where one of Kaiya’s bullets had lodged. It roared in pain and annoyance. Aware now of the people upon its back it shook violently, lashing with its tail. As he fought to keep hold of the thrashing creature, Yoshiki suddenly felt all the air within his lungs rush out. He had the vague sensation of flying as he heard who he thought was Quen scream in agony. As his body hit the ground, Yoshiki lost awareness of everything, including the pressing necessity to catch his breath.

     Yume watched in horror as the dragon thrashed, its spiked tail pummeling Yoshiki and sending him flying. Quen was next to fall, torn and bloodied, but Yume took little notice. Without so much as a glance at Seiken, she took off in a sprint, her sole focus on reaching her brother. She passed by Quen, who was no longer making any sound. He lay motionless, but she barely looked at him. Yoshiki had fallen on the far side of the huge creature. She couldn’t see him where she was, dashing along as fast as her legs would carry her. In her mad rush, she paid no attention to anything around her. She’d made it halfway around the dragon when the world went black.

     Shit! I have to get its attention back on me, Kaiya thought frantically. He allowed himself one momentary glance at Hironah, her face set in determination as she clung to the neck of the dragon, fighting to gain ground as it tried to shake her off. His eyes narrowed and he pushed from his mind the vision of Yoshiki sailing through the air, of Yume running and screaming at the top of her lungs. If you can go on living…

     With a snarl, Kaiya focused his fury, his loss, his pain and sorrow. Carefully, he fired upon the terrible abomination before him. He placed himself within its reach and fired again. Look at me. Look at me. Look at me. He had only to buy Hironah a few minutes. Finally, the red eyes focused on him again. Smirking, he backed off slowly, staying within reach of the powerful jaws. He stared straight into the eyes of the dragon. He was in complete control.

     Seiken, aware that Yume had dashed off, made to chase after her. His head pounded with the garbled rantings of the unnatural beast. He could barely make out the voices of the Elementals, on whom he relied to have any understanding of what was going on. He trailed after Yume, trying with all his might to block out the nightmare sound ringing in his ears. So focused was he on this chore that he almost missed the urgings of the Elementals to stop. He halted, momentarily unaware of Quen’s motionless form sprawled out before him. Once he finally realized what those who aided him were speaking of, he froze completely, all but his jaw which dropped slowly, by increments.

     The Elementals were no longer bound to keep Quen’s secret for him. It was laid bare for all with eyes to see.

     No longer harried by the dragon upon which she climbed, Hironah hastily made her way up the rest of its neck. She was trailed closely by Uneme. Once they were standing on its head, they clung to the monumental horns that grew there. One by one, Hironah drew her swords, passing Dawn to Uneme. If she truly was to slay this being which was not even meant to exist, she wanted her part to be played with Dusk. They’d just nodded to one another when the dragon’s head dipped suddenly. They clung tenaciously to its horns while it shook its head rapidly- much in the way a dog would shake a rabbit to break its neck. Hironah fought a wave of nausea as she swung back and forth. Her arms began to ache from the strain. Abruptly, the motion stopped.

     “Do it now!” Uneme screamed.

     In unison they raised the blades, plunging them with all their might through the eyes of the creature. They clung to it as it fell, dashing free of its writhing body as soon as it hit the ground.

     All the sounds in Seiken’s head- the death cries of the dragon, the Elementals yammering over the various turns of events in all their grim reality- became too much to bear. He screamed, his voice tearing the landscape.

    

     The first thing Yume became aware of as she opened her eyes was the throbbing pain in her head. It drew a haze over her vision. Then she heard the screaming wail, and in her confusion wondered for a moment if she was making the terrible sound herself. She felt her jaw clamped tight shut and realized it must be someone else. Slowly, understanding came to her.

     That’s Hironah.

     Yume struggled into a sitting position. Her stomach churned.

     Why’s she making so much noise?

     Memory flashed back into place and she recalled what had been going on. Fear crashed over her… she fought to regain control, growing dizzy from shallow breath and rapid heartbeat.

     Yoshiki.

     As Hironah’s wails died away, Yume fought to stand. Her cousin’s voice had told her, without a shadow of doubt, that someone was lost, never to return.

     Quen looked pretty bad, she tried to rationalize, but it was all for naught. Hironah would never cry like that for Quen.

 

 

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