Chiesara sat at the table in her gleaming, months old kitchen and watched Renta intently. Her hands were clasped around the steaming mug of hot chocolate he’d made for her, letting the warmth seep in, hoping it would drive off the chill that had fallen over her very spirit. She longed for Kieran, but her husband had been forced to go to Rien, to register the death of their son with the local authorities. She’d wanted to go with him, but that was impossible. Someone needed to remain at home. Kieran had asked Renta to stay behind as well, to keep his wife company.

     Chie sighed heavily, rubbing her eyes in the vain hope of stemming the tears that welled there.

     “I’m really, really sorry,” Renta said again. That seemed to be all he could say since he’d recounted the grim tales of the murders that had transpired a few days before.

     “I know, Renta, I know,” Chiesara replied softly. “Please stop blaming yourself.”

     “I can’t… I was right there. I’m sorry.”

     “There was nothing you could’ve done. Enough of that.”

     She watched as Renta hung his head, tracing a line on the table with his index finger. He’d been unable to look her in the eye since she and Kieran had arrived at Kamitouki to oversee Yoshiki’s funeral.

     “Yoshiki chose his fate a long time ago,” Chie said quietly, her knuckles white from clutching the mug in her hands. “I’ve had to make my peace with that. It was never what I wanted, but the choice wasn’t mine to make. Eventually, I even learned to be proud of him. He believed in what he was doing. One morning, I woke up and realized that he wasn’t being naïve or headstrong. He knew what he was sacrificing, but he did it willingly. He knew he’d never get to live a life of peace, with a quiet job and a happy family. He understood exactly what he was giving up, but he never once looked back. He did it out of love.” She released a shuddering sob. “I love my son. I miss him… but I’ve missed him a long time now. I have to carry on with the understanding that I’ll probably never give up believing that it’ll be him calling when I hear the phone ring, that one day he’ll just come home, swaggering through the door like always. But I can also have faith that one day, one glorious day, his soul will come home to mine. And we’ll never be apart again.”

     Renta, unable to answer her, merely nodded in solemn understanding. Chiesara sighed.

     “By every god there is, I wish I could kill that woman.”

     “We’re working on it.”

     “I wish I could do it myself. You might not believe it, Renta, but I’ve killed before. It took me a long time before I stopped beating myself up over it. But I don’t think I’d feel so sorry about her.”

     “If you’re serious, I could probably-”

     “I’m just mouthing off, Renta. I have too many other things to take care of, and Kieran would never forgive me. He’d tell me it made me just as bad.”

     “I think it might be fitting.”

     “Don’t tempt me.” There was a gleam in Chiesara’s eye that informed Renta that he’d be better off dropping the subject. There was a fire waiting to be ignited in this woman, and they both knew it. Too much talk of the idea, and she’d be off, dragging the Angemal behind, excitedly chatting about the coming revenge. If he thought it would help her, he wouldn’t hesitate to talk her into it, but he knew Chiesara all too well. The death of her estranged sister-in-law would offer her no comfort. Only time and peace could do that. Time they had. Peace was another matter.

     “I should probably go check on Yume soon,” the Angemal said softly.

     “I can’t believe Hironah did that to her. I still don’t understand.”

     “She’s insane,” Renta said heavily. “She’s gone completely mad.”

     “I wonder if I did the right thing, leaving her behind. She needs help…”

     Renta shook his head.

     “Let her alone.”

     Unwanted, the memory of the night he’d brought Yoshiki’s body back to Kamitouki replayed itself in Renta’s mind. Hironah, covered in blood, stood before him, looking at him with a burning coldness in her eyes. She pointed at Seiken’s corpse, crumpled against the blood-splattered wall.

     “You entered this house with a body in your arms,” she said to Renta, her voice steel. “You can exit the same way. Get rid of him. I don’t care where or how, just get him off this property. If you choose to return, that’s your decision.”

     Renta hesitated, looking down at Yume.

     “Do as I say.”

     Still he did not move.

     “Now!” Hironah’s hand was twitching near the dagger that she’d sheathed.

     Uneme walked softly over to where Renta cradled Yume, who still wept.

     “I’ll watch over her,” he said. “I promise no more harm will come to her. I swear it on my Blood.”

     The two Angemal locked eyes for a moment, the vow solidifying between them. Renta nodded slightly. Kissing Yume on the head, he passed her to Uneme. He rose and made to follow Hironah’s instructions, gathering up Seiken’s destroyed body in his arms. Without a word he left, not looking back. He stepped out into the darkness. He went on a few feet, wondering what he ought to do, when he heard Tamaki’s voice.

     “Renta?”

     “Yeah.”

     “What happened? I heard someone screaming.” She stopped short in her advance, recognizing the body that leaked over his arms and dribbled blood on the cobblestones. “Seiken?”

     “Hironah killed him.”

     “She killed him?” Tamaki’s voice was quiet, thoughtful, rather than incredulous. “Why?”

     “I- I don’t know.”

     “What are you doing with him?”

     “Hironah told me to get rid of the body. She wants it off the property.”

     Tamaki tilted her head, regarding Renta and his burden in the light of the moons and the ambient glow that spilled from Kamitouki’s buildings. She moved closer, reaching out to touch Seiken on the forehead, as though expecting him to stir.

     “What should I do?” Renta pleaded.

     “I think I know a place.”

     Renta followed Tamaki through the property to a pathway that led to the bluffs overlooking the beach. He became acutely aware of the cries of the ravens in the bare trees overhead.

     “They’ll eat him!” the Angemal hissed in disgust.

     “Let them,” Tamaki replied flippantly.

     “He hasn’t had the Rites.”

     “He doesn’t need them.”

     “But-”

     “In the wars, the Angemal bury their dead, or burn them all together. They don’t bother with the Rites for each individual. Do you think all those people become ghosts?”

     “I guess not, but-”

     “They don’t.”

     “But Seiken’s not an Angemal.”

     “Trust me, he doesn’t need them.”

     Tamaki sounded so sure of herself, he decided not to argue with her. Instead, they continued on in silence, the only sounds the cracking of twigs and crunching of leaves underfoot, the cries of the ravens overhead. They came to a place where the trees ended, the moons and stars frosting the bluffs with silver light. Tamaki continued to lead until the silhouette of an old and twisted tree, barren with winter, loomed over them.

     “Here,” she said quietly.

     “Here? Isn’t this where-”

     “Yes, this is where Kaiya’s ashes are buried.”

     “We can’t leave him here.”

     “It’s what he would’ve wanted. Leave him, Renta. You can come back and bury what’s left of him tomorrow.”

     What’s left of him. The Angemal gazed up at the flock of ravens that had followed them. They alighted in the tree, black on black. He shuddered.

     “Isn’t this against all the tenets of your religion?”

     “Religion isn’t going to help him now.”

     “But-”

     “I’m going to say some prayers,” Tamaki assured him, “but he isn’t there, Renta. He’s gone, completely. There is nothing in this world we could do that would make any difference.”

     “It’s against the Code.” Renta shook his head. “The desecration of bodies is a fate saved only for the most hated of enemies.”

     Tamaki said nothing, her silence pensive.

     “Maybe we should leave him somewhere else- in the trees, where there’s more cover.”

     “No, leave him with Kaiya.”

     “Why? You said it won’t make any difference.”

     “Renta…” Tamaki shifted, a girlish gesture betraying the struggle within. “Seiken loved Kaiya. He’d never been close to anyone other than himself for a long, long time. Kaiya’s death broke his heart. Leave him here. I know you see it as a desecration, but it could also be viewed as a last blessing on a life that fell to evil.”

     “Yoshiki told me you thought Seiken was Caiaphas. Was he?”

     “We’ll know that answer soon enough.”

     Sighing, Renta laid Seiken’s body under the spreading branches of the ancient tree. He did what he could to arrange the dripping, mangled corpse in a dignified pose. When he straightened, he surveyed the results of his attempt. Overhead, the ravens hopped eagerly to lower branches. Only one remained near the top of the tree. It was larger than the rest, massive in fact, and quite easily recognizable to those below.

     “Rah,” Tamaki observed.

     “I never really understood Seiken,” Renta admitted. “But I didn’t dislike him. He was always careful in his work for Sirrah. I never really got how someone who could be so… compassionate, I guess, could be so alone and terrified all the time. I wanted to get to know him better, I just never knew how. Sometimes it felt like he lived behind and invisible wall.”

     “I know what you mean.”

     “I kinda hope he really was Caiaphas, you know? At least then what just happened will make some sense. I’ve known Hironah a long time. I don’t like to think that she could just murder someone like that. It’s one thing to face an enemy on equal grounds, but he couldn’t even defend himself.”

     Tamaki sighed.

     “I’m going to stay here and pray for a while. I know it won’t do anything to help Seiken, but perhaps it will help the rest of us.” She touched Renta’s arm gently. “You can go back to the house. I’ll be along as soon as I’m finished.”

     “Alright.”

     The sound of Chiesara’s voice brought him back to the present.

     “- been through so much. And now she’s all alone. It isn’t right.”

     “She’s got Uneme with her. Yume trusts him. Hironah ought to do alright for now. You’ve got enough worries.”

     “I’ll be honest with you, Renta. I haven’t felt this awful in a long time. I wish Blue was here. He’d know what to say. He always knew what to tell me.”

     Renta nodded silently.

     “Not that you’re not a comfort,” Chie added hastily. “You’ve been a world of help, Renta.” She watched him blush. “Do you know where I wrote down Tamaki’s address? I was in such a haze, I completely forgot.”

     “In the blue notebook. The small one.”

     “Thanks. As soon as it’s possible, I want to drive out to see her. She’s such a nice girl. I can see why Yoshiki was so fond of her.”

     “He was crazy about her. I’ve never seen him like that before.” The Angemal smiled ruefully. “Yume said so, too.”

     Chie shook her head sadly.

     “It figures.” With a sigh, she added. “I’m hoping she’ll be willing to make some arrangements for Taka. Yoshiki’s service was so beautiful. I was thinking that I’d like for her to do Taka’s, too.”

     “She probably will. I think she’d be honored, actually.”

     After a few moments of silence, Renta asked,

     “Is it really that bad?”

     “You’ll see for yourself in a few minutes. I need you to check on him when you go up to look in on Yume.”

     “Alright. Should I go now?”

     “Yeah. I’ll start making lunch. I hope soup and sandwiches are okay. Twenty-three years of marriage and I still can’t cook worth a damn.”

     “That’ll be fine,” Renta replied with a broad smile.

     “Ask Yume if she wants to come down. I doubt she’ll say yes, but it’s worth a shot.”

     “Okay.”

     Renta left the kitchen and made his way upstairs. Chiesara and Kieran’s new house was quite a bit larger than their last one, and Renta felt a pang to think of its emptiness in days to come. He’d known Yoshiki’s family nearly as long as he’d known the man himself. His heart ached for them now, mingled with his own sorrow. He wanted badly to be able to shield them from further pain, but realized there was nothing he could do. Quietly, he repeated an old Angemal saying, one of which his own father was very fond.

     “Pain is a part of life. Grit your teeth and it will either pass or kill you.”

     His own words ringing in his ears, he turned the knob on Takae’s door.

     Chiesara had been in earlier to open the curtains to the winter suns and brush his hair for him as she did every morning. She fluffed the pillows on the neatly made bed he ignored at night and chattered at him absently, long past the point of pleading with him to wake up. She turned him toward the window just like every other day, telling him,

     “If you’ve got to stare at something, it might as well be the scenery.”

     Renta entered the room quietly, creeping around to lay eyes on the man who was seated in the most comfortable armchair Chiesara and Kieran could find in Rien. He barely resembled the Takae that Renta had known from his visits to Kamitouki. Though Chiesara and Kieran kept him very clean and dressed him every day in a fresh set of clothes, it could not hide the changes that had come over him. He was pale and wasted, his skin dry and flaking. His hair was falling out in patches, shot through with white. His ice-blue eyes, so like Yoshiki’s, were sunken in his head, shadowed in violet. They appeared enormous as they stared out emptily at nothing.

     Renta bowed his head.

     “Oh, Sir.”

     Renta had always addressed Takae, Blue and Kieran as “sir”. Yoshiki found this formality hilarious, but the Angemal could not be made to abandon it.

     He looked again at Takae’s face, searching as others had, for some spark of lucidity, some flicker of recognition. He found nothing. Renta choked on his memories of this man, who despite his perpetual look of being a few steps further away than he ever really was, had all the hallmarks of a patient teacher, a loving father, and a caring uncle. For a moment Renta was thankful for his fate- that he would fade into death, never to wake to the reality of the desolation that had come to his family.

      Renta had once watched Kaiya build castles in the sand to amuse the young and frail Aki. As the tide came in, the waves ate away at the walls and turrets, each progression of the water carrying back a portion of the sculpture until all that remained was a scarred place on the shoreline. Thus he felt he’d watched this family fade with each wave of fate. Hironah’s madness marked the end of Kamitouki, but what remained of the rest of them? When the water finally finished its erosion, who of them would be left, the scar to mark the place where once a family had stood?

     Gripped by the urgency of the worry he felt for Yume, which constricted his throat and iced over his belly, Renta turned from the shadow of Takae and left the room. His pace increased until he reached her door, barely remembering to knock before entering.

     Yume rolled over to face him as he entered. Her blue-green eyes were red and puffy from crying. The bandage on her face was wet.

     “Renta?” she sniffled, squinting.

     “Hey,” he said softly as he crossed the room to sit down on the bed beside her.

     He touched her hesitantly. In response, she moved closer to him and he drew her into his lap, holding her close.

     “How ya doin’?”

     “I feel like shit,” she replied with renewed tears. He held her tightly until she cried herself out.

     “I know,” he whispered. He couldn’t tell her that her pain would pass with time, that everything would be all right. He knew no empty phrases of comfort, and his Honor was too strong to allow him to speak words he didn’t mean. Instead, he placed a hand under her chin and tilted her head upward. “Let me take a look at you.”

     She was silent as he inspected her bandaged face.

     “We’ll have to change this.” He rose. “Hang on a second.”

     Renta crossed to the cluttered chest of drawers and opened up a hinged wooden box atop it. As he carefully picked through the contents, he recalled the late night trip to visit one of Nira’s only remaining Decameron. Wise and getting on in years, she’d read the lie in Renta’s eyes as he recounted his hastily-constructed yarn about an accident with a kitchen knife. She didn’t press him for the truth, merely shook her head sadly and set about her work. The long gash that ran up the side of Yume’s face was deep, and required stitches. The Decameron worked attentively and quietly. When she was done, she gave them the box of supplies and wrote a list of instructions. Finally, she turned to Yume, looking somber.

     “I’m sorry, dear, but that’s going to leave a scar. If you apply the poultice I’ve given you, it won’t be quite as bad.”

     Yume only nodded in silence. Renta thanked the woman and gave her some payment and they left.

     He closed the box and returned to Yume. As he carefully cleaned and disinfected her wound, she sat rigidly, occasionally squinting back tears.

     “There,” Renta said. “That’s much better.”

     Yume hung her head. Touching the fresh bandage gingerly, she whispered,

     “Just like Yoshiki.”

     Renta only nodded, understanding the weight of the meaning in her words. Yoshiki hadn’t mentioned the jagged scar that ran up his face, and the Angemal didn’t have any idea where it came from until he’d finally asked.

     “Oh, this?” Yoshiki asked in reply, rubbing the raised pink flesh. “I forget I have it most of the time. Got it in Pandemonium, in the Rift. I don’t mind it so much… Kind of a souvenir from walking where no mortal is meant to roam.” He grinned. “Besides, Tamaki thinks it’s cool. Turns out I’ve seen more of Pandemonium than she has- she’s too awful at Soul Walking to get there.”

     Renta brushed the hair back from Yume’s forehead.

     “I can’t stand it,” she whimpered. “I can’t take the thought that every time I look in the mirror I’m going to see him instead of me. Every morning when I brush my teeth, I’m going to be reminded that he’s gone. Because of this.” She gestured at the wound.

     Renta pursed his lips. He was no good at this. He couldn’t talk to her like Blue would’ve, or Kaiya or Yoshiki. He simply didn’t know how. Resigned, he accepted that none of those people were around to help her. There was only him, and he was going to talk to her the only way he knew how- like the Angemal that he was.

     “Yume,” he began, taking her hands. “Yoshiki thought of that scar as a sign of his courage, and it was. So is yours. You earned it trying to help someone who wasn’t as strong as you. You put yourself in danger trying to save your friend.”

     “It didn’t matter. Hironah killed him anyway.”

     “We have a saying: ‘Victories do not courage make.’ It comes from an old story about a warlord who’d never once been defeated. He became so afraid of failure and so terrified of death that when he finally met a challenger he couldn’t overcome with ease, he turned and fled. In his haste to escape, he ran his horse over a cliff and died without Honor. The point is, it’s not the success of the act that counts toward bravery. It’s the act itself.” He touched her bandage lightly. “The scar you have here,” he touched her side, waking memories of a poisoned wound, “and here,” he laid his hand over her heart, “and here, are marks of a life lived in valor.”

     “I don’t care about valor or bravery,” Yume said bitterly. “I want my brother back. I want Uncle Taka not to be dying. I want to hear Kaiya’s voice telling Seiken about the universe. I don’t care if that means I’d have to live my life a coward.”

     “I know,” Renta replied sadly. “I’d do anything to make that a reality, even if it meant giving up my own life.”

     “I’ve had enough of people giving up their lives. Kaiya died to save Hironah, and how does she thank him? By going crazy!”

     “Well, Yume,” Renta looked her in the eyes, “Yoshiki devoted his life to you. It’s on your shoulders how he’ll be repaid.”

     She glared at him in anger for a moment, as he’d expected her to, but soon she relaxed, slumping against him.

     “You’re right,” she said quietly. “But I feel so tired and disappointed. My life has changed, and I just keep thinking about how badly I want things to be the way they were. I don’t want this life I have now. It feels like I’m never going to care about anything again. I wonder if that’s what happened to Hironah. After Kaiya died, maybe she just stopped caring.”

     “Maybe.”

     “I wish Uneme had stopped her. I was so angry with him for just standing there… but when I confronted him about it, he told me he couldn’t have stopped her, that she was Berserk, and that it would’ve been wrong to try, anyway.”

     “Why did he say it would’ve been wrong?”

     “He told me Hironah put and Oath on herself to kill Seiken. He said that kind of Oath is sacred to Angemal and cannot be broken, and that if an Angemal can’t fulfill an Oath in life, it’ll pass through their blood over generations until it can be. Is that true?”

     “Yeah, it’s true. An Oath on the Blood is the most sacred kind of vow that we can make. And we do believe it can transcend death, guiding the fates of all the descendants of someone who doesn’t complete an Oath they swore in life.”

     “I always felt sorry for Seiken. None of us really got close to him except Kaiya. Kaiya always loved everybody equally, even when we were real young. Blue was his Master, but he was so devoted to Uncle Taka you’d think they were father and son.” Yume shook her head. “Seiken reminded me a lot of Uncle Taka. He’d get the same look in his eyes sometimes- like he was cut off from everybody else, like no one would ever understand the depths of his soul and whatever torments rested there. But Uncle Taka was surrounded by people who loved him anyway. Seiken didn’t have that. Before Kaiya died, I used to hope that he’d help Seiken, that he’d give him the solidity that Uncle Taka had with all of us. I hope he’s at peace now, wherever he is.”

     “I do, too.”

     “Renta…” Yume ventured. “Do you think now that Blue and Kaiya and Yoshiki are dead and Hironah’s gone crazy, bad things will stop happening to us for a while? Yoshiki told me Tamaki thought Caiaphas was causing all this somehow. Do you think that maybe if we give up on him, he’ll give up on us?”

     “I think it’s possible.”

     “I hate to let him win, but Yoshiki always said that you have to learn to accept when you’re defeated. I don’t want revenge. I just want the people who I love who are still here to be safe.”

     Renta nodded.

     “Will you give up, too?”

     “If you ask me to.”

     Silently, Renta vowed never to mention that Caiaphas may have already been defeated, his bones buried beneath a tree next to the ashes of the man he’d loved in his second, unholy life.

 

     “I’m leaving.” Bel looked across the table at Hironah, who was regarding him with interest. “I’m sorry. I can’t keep working here.”

     “I understand,” Hironah replied. It was not the response he’d been expecting.

     “Of course, I’ll stay through the spring and take full responsibility for notifying the students.”

     “That’d be much appreciated. You can also assume the duty of letting those enrolled for the next term know that Kamitouki will be closing its doors.”

     “What? Hironah, how are you going to support yourself?”

     “That’s not your concern.”

     Bel sighed.

     “Forget the formalities for a minute. I know you’re my employer, but I’ve been living here for over ten years. We practically grew up together. I’m worried about you, Hironah. I don’t know what’s going on or how things have gotten to be the way they are, but I bear you no ill will.”

     “But you’re leaving anyway.”

     “I’m sorry. I really am, but I can’t stay in this place. It’s like it’s been cursed.”

     “And yet you would suggest that I keep inviting innocent young people to this place to share in that curse?”

     “That’s not what I meant-”

     “Look, Bel,” Hironah’s violet eyes gleamed in the dull kitchen light. “You’re right. We’ve known each other a long time. And I know you well enough to know exactly what it is you’re going to do. When you leave here, you’ll start your own school. You’ll keep teaching, probably line up one of your old Night’s Herald classmates to do it with you. In that way, I know that Blue and Taka’s legacy will live on. That’s all that matters to me. This is just a place. It’s not important.”

     “But what about you?”

     “I’ll figure something out. Don’t worry about me.”

     “I can’t help myself. You’ve been through so much and… well, honestly, Hironah, you’re not okay.”

     “Who says I need to be?”

     “I’m serious.”

     “So am I.” Hironah rose. “Thanks for letting me know you’re planning on leaving. Now get out of my house.”

     “Hironah-”

     “Get out, Bel.”

     His heart heavy, the towering Corduran did as he was told. Hironah, intent on ignoring him, walked into the sitting room. Uneme was lounging on the sofa, watching television. She flopped down beside him.

     “Bel just quit.”

     “What’d he do that for?” Uneme asked defensively.

      “He said he couldn’t work here anymore. He didn’t say as much, but I know he meant he couldn’t work for me. He suspects that I did something to Seiken, and I already tried to burn the place down once. Who’d want to stay here and work for a nutter?”

     “You’re not crazy, Hironah. You’re just in a lot of pain.”

     “What’s the difference?” she asked despondently.

     Uneme kissed her forehead lightly.

     “If you allow yourself, there are ways to ease your pain. That’s one difference.”

     “I haven’t got the faintest idea how to do that, Uneme.” With a sigh, she added, “Let’s not talk about it.”

     “Alright.”

     The two said nothing more to one another, save for passing jokes or observations as they watched the television programs. After about an hour had passed, they listened together as a newscaster standing before the Imperial Palace recounted the first public appearance of the Emperor in over a month. Hironah and Uneme had watched his address earlier that day. Harata had appeared even older and more haggard than when Hironah had last seen him, and despite his best efforts he had the air of one haunted. Uneme shook his head sadly. He looked at Hironah and opened his mouth to speak, but abruptly changed his mind, turning from her again.

     “What’s the matter?” she asked.

     “Hironah…” He scrutinized her face for signs that he should continue. “Do you think it would make you feel better if you could help Harata?”

     “There’s nothing I can do for him. He doesn’t want my help anyway. He said as much.”

     “Do you want Bel to stay?”

     Hironah simply stared, startled by the swift change in topic. When her mind had caught up, she answered,

     “Of course I do.”

     “Did you tell him so?”

     “No, but-”

     “What was the last thing you said to him tonight?”

     “I- I told him to get out.”

     “See, Hironah? We don’t always say what we mean, and Harata’s your uncle. You have the same blood running through your veins. Of course you’re gonna do and say the same kinds of backwards things.”

     “I hadn’t really thought of it that way. But still,” she added, “there’s nothing I can do to help him.”

     “Look at him, Hironah. It’s obvious that something really terrible has happened, but nobody’s doing anything.”

     “I have no intention of trying to meet with him again. It was hard enough the last time.”

     Uneme looked at her intently.

     “Things have changed since then. Maybe this time would be different. And when you think about it, you have so much to gain and nothing to lose. If you can help Harata, you’ll get a part of your family back. I only want what’s best for you, Hironah. That’s why I was asking.”

     “I don’t think there’s anything I can do. I can’t even get close enough to Harata to have a conversation with him.”

     “You will if you go with me.”

     “Go with you?”

     “I’m going to save him- from Caiaphas and from himself.”

     “What? Uneme, you can’t be serious. Besides, in the note Tamaki left for me, she said she thought maybe Seiken-”

     “I know what Tamaki thought, but I disagree. I’ve said all along that I believe we’ll find the avatar near the Imperial Family, in the capitol, at the heart of things. We’re running out of time. Harata can’t possibly hold on much longer. I love my country, and I’m loyal to the Empire. I’m not willing to let that bastard win. I won’t let him destroy the system my father died to protect. I’m going to save Harata and the Empire.”

     Hironah made to argue, but felt her words shrivel before the fervent gleam in his eyes. Her logic faltered, her reason faded. She looked away from him, black strands of hair falling to hide her face. Her trembling voice spilled out, soaked in hopeless remorse.

     “You’ll martyr yourself. You’re going to end up like Kaiya and Yoshiki, like Blue. Don’t do this to me. You’re all I’ve got left.”

     “I’m not going to fail, Hironah. I know I’m not. It’s my destiny to do this, and I will succeed. I’m going to go to Mianuus. When I return, it will be in victory. I know you’ll be here waiting.”

     “No I won’t.”

     Uneme peered around the curtain of hair that hid her eyes. She looked back at him, her expression rigid and stony.

     “I’m going with you. I’m not going to lose you, too. If I have to die a thousand deaths, I’ll protect you. Maybe that’s my destiny… and I lost everyone else because I never accepted it.”  

 

 

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