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    Innocent Empty Innocent

    Post  TJ on Sat Dec 07, 2013 7:14 am

    You might not notice this right away. Maybe in a day or a week or a month, but until then, it'll be here and who I am now. Things are a bit messy, but over the next few weeks I think they'll get better, and once it's all over I'll tell you all about it. For the time being, I'll stick to our age old tradition. This'll be our secret, since I cut off the posts for the blog.

    Pages 1-10:
    Another uneventful day seemed to pass the tiny village of Xenym by while various families spent their time fulfilling their regular duties. Though very much like humans, very few had any human blood in them, and for this reason exactly was the town hidden far away in the Snowfields of Jienda; as they had come to terms with, the name of the creatures that inhabited it were known as the Cerebians, hidden among mankind and the villages they named havens. The snow seemed to have been much more bitter that day, inviting powerful winds alongside a storm of flakes. The cold was of little to concern to the villagers of Xenym after spending years in the heart of it.
    Reina impatiently tapped her finger on the wooden table she sat at and moved her gaze to her mother who sat at the other side solemnly reading.
    Soft grey eyes looked up from the book and examined the teenager curiously. “Why do you have such an annoyed expression Reina? Is something the matter?” Her mother asked with a reassuring smile.
    “No, not really.” She replied twirling her auburn hair around her finger. “I'm just a little bored is all I guess.”
    Her mother closed the book and nodded sagely. “It is a very uneventful time, but that means there's peace. There are many out there who fight everyday so this peace will last for generations to come.”
    She had heard the story more times than she could count and all the other ones even more so. She had a slight desire to voice the opinion but refrained from it to respect her elder. Some of her friends had heard the same stories and spent years being trained to wield weapons and cast magic so they could join the fight. Reina did not want to battle against the evils outside of her home, nor did she wish to let her friends risk their lives alone, but her lack of ability in either art and nature prevented her from joining them in their quest. She wondered if her parents had been different people, would her outlook have changed? “I'm gonna take a walk. When Dad comes home tell him not to worry and that I'm a big girl now.”
    She gently smiled and waved her daughter off. “Your father is bound to worry but he'll be fine sooner or later. Have a safe trip dear.”
    “You worry too much too.” Reina furrowed her brows but her own grin betrayed it. Her mother was a frail woman who loved books very dearly and had since she was her daughter's age. Her pursuit of knowledge lead her to seeking knowledge about humanity, the history of her kind and their legends. She passed on her knowledge through nursery rhymes and story tales throughout her daughter's life, and due to it Reina gained a deep love for the tales which she decided she would never confess to. Her mother ran the library in Xenym; it was small but very homely. The place seemed to emanate the same welcoming aura that its keeper gave off.
    Her father was a stalwart man with a strong sense of duty. Before he settled in Xenym with his wife he was a teacher somewhere far away from where they were now. He like his wife, passed on his knowledge, but as a teacher and student in place of parent and child. Searching through her memories, she recalled that despite the fact, he still remained a wonderful parent in her eyes and always would. His words still filled her with confidence whenever she thought of him, “You've got a good head on your shoulders Reina. I know you'll do great things when you're older. Until then, let us spoil you because you're our pride and joy.”
    Their teachings together brought light to things others might not have understood. The history of her people and what she heard in the stories coincided at times, and made her wonder what was really out there. The tales of the creator and the gods and goddesses he held in high-esteem; princesses and princes and powerful fighters joining forces to protect the world from evil creatures called Agasuras and their king. Some even spoke of a saviour joining their kind and leading them to salvation and everlasting peace. The tales did sound a tad more grandeur and embellished at times, but she still loved them dearly, and part of her wanted to believe that it was possible. If someone could relieve their kind the need to fight, her friends could come home safely, as would many others. Families and friends alike would be reunited, the world would be safe for humans and her kind, the Cerebians to coincide and they could all finally lay their weapons to rest.
    Though Reina lacked the ability to wield a sword or staff, she felt she could contribute by following in the steps of her parents. Her mother said that in the past and in the memories passed down through texts, the answers to the questions of those before them had still contained solutions. When they discovered it, fate would finally be set in motion and the dreams that the Cerebians shared could come to fruition. Reina wanted to shape history with her own hands in her own way, and she wanted to live to see it, record it, and pass it down for those generations who live in a time of peace.
    She spent the better half of her day meandering around the town, visiting various locations for the sake of passing time alone. She visited the cathedral for a brief spell to pray, and spent hours flipping through different books on the genetics of her kind. Her mother had said that the royal family had the ability of clairvoyance, something that was lost in their bloodlines hundreds of years ago. Just as in the legends, the books told of it, and each time a familiar adage resurfaced in her memories. 'The eyes are the key to the soul,' or so it said. She borrowed the book and a second about the forbidden arts and returned home.

    That night as she closed her book for the final time that day, she flicked off her lamp and lay back in bed, covering herself in her sheets as she uneasily stole a glance at the window. It was only a matter of weeks until those that were trained would be dispatched to join their brethren in the ongoing fight against the Agasura. She knew it would be a long time until she would see them again, and the thought of it had been weighing down on her for months now, the gravity of the situation growing by the day.
    She knit her eyebrows as she arose from bed and turned her lamp back on. Next to the light was a small framed picture, and she lifted it, gazing upon it with a somber smile. In it stood a trio of people, linked by their arms over another's shoulder. Reina stood in the center between the two, her male friend towering over her with his broadsword proudly standing in the ground next to him. As she looked at the radiant grin on his face she recalled the days where she and her other friend teased him for being shorter than the rest of the class. By the time they were thirteen he became bigger, stronger and a lot more fearsome than the other boys, but though that was the case, he still remained the class clown. His short chestnut hair had grown throughout his teenage years and now covered his shoulders. He still had a bowl-cut in the picture.
    On Reina's right stood a young girl the same age and height as her; her platinum blonde hair covered one of her eyes at all times and in doing so, she often winked at people without them noticing. She and her companions often got a good laugh out of it while her unsuspecting victims stole a confused glance at the trio. She was one of the fastest girls in the class, and certainly the best with a bow. Watching her shoot an apple off of her sleeping friend's heads was one of the best laughs she had in years.
    She held the picture tightly to her chest and let the memories return to her sub-conscious. They were some of the best times she had ever had, and she knew for certain that she would miss them, but when they all graduated they knew that it would not be the end. Someday they would come together again, and Reina, Alessa and Virgil's trio would be complete once more. Tomorrow she would go to see them for sure; it might be a little sooner than she had initially planned, but she did not want to waste a day when the time to depart was drawing near.

    The next morning she stood nearby Alessa while her friend nocked an arrow in her bow. A set of targets were set up across the frozen wastes with a multitude of arrows lodged in them and around them.
    “I bet I could take Virgil's head off if he was one of those targets.” Alessa said shutting an eye and firing a shot. It sailed through the air and hit one of the targets on the bulls eye. She grinned and fist-pumped.
    “How long have you been a murderer?” Reina asked cautiously raising an eyebrow.
    “Born one.”
    “Save some of that fighting spirit for the Agasura.” She watched as Alessa let another arrow let fly and miss. The look on her face only showed half of her displeasure. “Methinks someone's lacking practice.”
    Alessa suddenly began panting heavily while gazing at her through her bangs. “Rei-rei...c-could I just...” She uttered reaching into her pocket while Reina backed away slowly. She drew an apple from her pocket and her unarmed companion jumped back, then froze in place.
    Reina covered the top of her head and frowned. “What? No!”
    As if it never happened Alessa began to act like her usual self and put the apple away. “Why do you insist on crushing my hopes and dreams?”
    “You'll need some dreams that are within my realm of potential Les.” Her companion shrugged. “Where's Virgil? I expected him to be here by now.”
    After missing another shot the archer furrowed her brows. “Probably went to see the healers again. When those warriors train someone always winds up with something broken. He gets it the worst 'cause he's gigantic. That immense size of his makes one versus one matches unfair to the other guys. Lately they've been calling him 'the walking apocalypse' on top of being known as 'the titan'.” Alessa grinned and prepared her next shot while Reina quietly chuckled.
    “If you're gonna be saying things like that,” A voice from behind the two said, “Make sure I can't hear you next time.” The shadow of a massive hand reached over Alessa's head and gripped it, lifting her off the ground. “I can be pretty scary when I'm angry you know.” Reina took a glance at the person that completed their trio and smiled while Alessa hung limply in his grip.
    “It's good to see you Big V. How goes the training?” Reina asked.
    “Warlord Carmen's been giving us a hell of a time the past few weeks. She's been working us like dogs even more than usual.” He released his grip on Alessa and she collapsed to her knees with a defeated expression. “Though Les wasn't kidding about the whole 'everyone gang up on the titan' thing. One of them got a good swing on me.” Reina tilted her head with a curious expression as he rolled up one of the sleeves of his tunic. His entire forearm was bandaged.
    “Not exactly the first thing that came to mind when you said 'swing'.” She replied nervously.
    “We stopped practicing with our fists a long time ago. It's all weapons training now.” He grinned devilishly. “Wanna see it?”
    “No thanks.” She gestured for him to take it away.
    “You reap what you sow gorilla man.” Alessa said rising with a pointed look.
    “If you want me to give you an iron claw, that can be arranged.” He said raising an eyebrow.
    “I retract my previous statement.” She crossed her arms and looked away. He nodded approvingly.
    He shifted his gaze back to Reina and seemed to appraise her with a familiar curiosity. She could not resist the urge to look his way also. “Are you sure you don't wanna come along with us Rei? Even if you don't join in the fight, all that knowledge of yours would certainly come in handy throughout the journey.” She stared at him blankly for a moment and he flushed. “You d-don't have to decide right now. It's just something you can consider over the next few weeks you know?”
    Alessa drew another arrow from her quiver and pointed it at Virgil. “I'm with the titan on this one. Besides, someone needs to keep this guy from stomping on innocent humans. This is a two-girl job you know.” He placed a hand on her head and she grinned nervously. “I'm just kidding!”
    Reina laughed. “Thanks guys, but I think I'll stay here and hold down the fort. There's still hundreds of books that are dying to be read. If I ever get through our whole library I'll go with you the next time you visit.”
    “We're holding you to that!” Alessa said immediately after grinning with Virgil. “Ba-zing!” The two gave each other a high-five.
    “You two have to come back alive though.” She told them through a pouting expression.
    “Me? Die? Pfft.” Alessa snorted nocking another arrow. “The gods and goddesses smile upon me.” She let the arrow fly and missed her mark again. “Now if they'd just smile upon my archery...”
    Virgil gave Reina a reassuring smile. “Whenever we can we'll travel with a party. I'll keep Les out of trouble too. We'll be sure to bring you a souvenir too.”
    “I'll bring you back a dragon's heart 'cause I love you this much.” She spread her arms out wide to emphasize her point. Virgil chuckled at that joke.
    “Your words are more than I could ask for.” Reina replied.
    “So, you throwing us a get-out-of-town party or wha-” She stopped mid-sentence at the sound of a horn being blown. A long, loud cry pierced through the winds of the frozen wastes and left a lasting impression upon the three. Danger. It told them.
    As they heard the sound again Virgil was the first to snap out of his reverie. “Alessa, we have to go! Now!” He drew the broadsword from the sheath on his back and immediately prepared to set out. “Reina, get home as quickly as you can. Lock the doors, lower the blinds and shut the windows. Barricade everything you can and wait for our signal before you come out. Most importantly, hide.”
    “Promise me that you two will come back safely.” Alessa stopped to steal a glance at Reina and smiled somberly. “Promise me!” She desperately cried out nearly in tears.
    “I promise, we'll meet again Rei-Rei. So...wait for us, okay?” Alessa waved to her as she chased after Virgil.
    Reina watched the two disappear into midst of the snow towards Xenym and she clenched her fists. Now more than ever before, she felt powerless. All she could do is flee to her own home and hope that the danger would pass with as few casualties as possible. The moment that she knew that she and her mother were safe, she would pray with all her might that God Ah bring her friends and the families of the other villagers home safely.

    After crossing one of the gates into the village she caught a clear glimpse of the villagers defending their homes from the invaders. Banners featuring the Dark Moon Kingdom's insignia were raised high as their soldiers bearing arms furiously fought off the defenders while even greater numbers marched towards the village. Xenym was not well known for its militia; farmers, warriors, wizards and archers alike were all still in training. Some did not even have that much, yet they fought with all they could to protect their land. The Cerebians never aimed to wage war on humanity, and avoided the possibility at all costs, but in this situation they were given no choice. Having to go against what they believed in order to protect what they held dear was a choice some could not bear to make and had hidden away in their homes, praying for an end to the fighting.
    Reina rushed into her home and immediately found herself stuck between the couch and the rest of the house. She locked the door after managing to push it open and slide inside, then searched every possible place that her mother could be. She opened the door to her mother's room and discovered her looking back with a terrified expression that turned to relief shortly after she deemed the invader to be her daughter.
    “'re alright.” Reina said gratefully.
    “Reina, there isn't much time. Take some warm clothes and rations. We have to escape while there's still time!” Her mother responded.
    The young lady looked shocked. “But we can't just leave! Dad won't know where to find us...and Alessa and Virgil...I just can't leave them behind here! They're my friends!”
    “There's no time to discuss the matter Reina. Just do as I say and do it quickly. I won't lose you too, not here.”
    Reina clenched her fists and turned away bitterly. She knew that the chances that Xenym would be able to stand against the Dark Moon Kingdom were nearly non-existent. Part of her wanted to believe that somehow they would succeed; somehow they'd fend off their invaders and her best friends would return, if even for the last few weeks of their stay in the village. That her father would come home after missing for so many years. Why was she condemned to a fate that seemed to spit on her at every turn? Had the gods abandoned her kind at such a crucial time?
    The sound of fighting seemed to grow closer by the moment, and she reluctantly stole a glimpse through one of the windows to find that the soldiers of the Dark Moon had stormed the village already and had begun ransacking the homes of the other villagers. The soldiers had torn down the gates and the remnants of Xenym's resistance was snuffed out with great haste, and in it she could see neither Alessa nor Virgil. While fighting back her own sorrow she tried to close off everything she could. She locked the windows and doors and barricaded the entrance with a couch. She made haste for the bedrooms and blocked off all the windows with any furniture she could find.
    As she entered her parent's bedroom a second time her mother looked at her with a puzzled expression that only lasted a matter of moments. “We're out of time already...” She muttered. “Reina, go into the closet and take the shovel. Once you do, close the door and stay in there, do you understand?”
    Her words were a declaration of her own impending death; just like her friends and her father. Her eyes were red and swollen, and now more than ever she looked her age, a frail and brittle lady that seemed so unfamiliar to Reina now. But despite all of it, she was the young girl's last bastion of hope. The humans and the Agasura had taken everything else that she loved away from her, and the last person in her life was now telling her to save herself. She could not accept it.
    “No...” She uttered, a whisper.
    Her mother smiled bitterly. “You've always been such a good girl. You're not going to experience your rebellious phase now, are you dear?”
    “I...” When she spoke it felt as if she had a lump in her throat. The words she conjured seemed to be lost in the abyss of her own sorrow and she could only choke out a stream of sobs.
    Her mother embraced her and gently stroked her hair. “It's alright dear. I know that God Ah has not forgotten us. If he had he would not have sent Julius to our village.” She pulled away slightly and her soft grey eyes smiled upon her daughter. “Now, you'll do as I asked won't you?”
    While the last of her tears ran their course her mother wiped away the remnants and let her daughter go. If anyone could stop the Dark Moon Kingdom, it would be Julius, one of the greatest Mages that Jienda had ever seen. His ability with earth magic was unrivalled, but his lineage had offered him a much greater potential with the element than the others along with the title God's Governor of Earth. Where he was now, she had no idea but if he stepped in there was still a chance that her mother and many of the other villagers could still be saved.
    She retreated to the closet and took the shovel inside, closing it behind her and sitting as silently as she could, praying with all her might. After she finished she wondered if the reason that Julius had not shown himself was because he feared the consequences of killing humans. All Cerebians knew that to do that was an atrocity and one that would not go unpunished, but for the God's Governors, all four of them, there was an even steeper punishment. None knew what the punishment itself was, but it was certainly not one that many were willing to make light of.
    The sound of the soldiers attempting to force their way in startled her, and she realized it was only a matter of time until they found her and her mother. She worried about what they would do to either if they had located her and tightly gripped the shovel to let her fears become her strength. When they discovered the door would not open with brute force alone, they took weapons to the door until the remains came crashing down upon the couch and they moved it aside to gain entrance.
    “Search all the houses for the filthy creatures!” Someone shouted from outside in the common human language. “Leave no stone unturned!”
    Their footsteps within the house caused her to tremble with fear and she desperately tried to stop it, but could not.
    “I've located one!” Another man had shouted. Reina could feel her heart breaking. Had her mother not hidden prior to their arrival? “Where are the others? Confess now and they will not be harmed, nor will you.”
    “There are no others.” Her mother said sternly. A loud thump startled Reina along with the sound of her parent grunting. There was no doubt in her mind it was her collapsing.
    “We will not ask you a second time.” Another man had said with an eerily sly tone.
    The realization dawned upon her and she was immediately riddled with guilt. She must have given herself up in hopes that they would not search the rest of the house as thoroughly, or at all, if the soldiers believed her lie. But at what cost?
    “There is no one else in this household...” Her mother uttered. “Nobody but me.”
    There was a brief silence. Reina waited their response in bated breath.
    “I'm not buying it. His Highness will have our heads if he found out that we let any escape. Search the rest.” The first of the two said. “Take this one to the commander and tell him I sent you. He'll deal with her properly.” She could hear her mother and the soldier leaving the house.
    Reina held the shovel tighter than she had previously, cursing herself for being the only one to have escaped capture while many others before her did not. With the last few remnants of hope that she withheld, she attempted to convince herself that there was a slight chance that she would not be discovered. She wanted to believe that behind the shoes and coats that she was safe. She was wrong.
    The door swung open and she could feel the depths of her own despair closing in around her. Her heart was beating louder, fear ran throughout her body and her instincts screamed for her to strike her assailant first. She leapt from within the closet towards the soldier, swinging the shovel with all the might she could muster while shouting a wordless battle cry. She came to a sudden halt as the shaft was wrenched from her hands and the handle was thrusted into her stomach, winding her and knocking her back into the closet. The soldier tossed the shovel aside and pulled her back out of the closet by her hair and shouted for backup while she cringed.
    One of the other soldiers stormed the hallway and pinned her to the floor.
    “Your mother was wrong when she thought she could fool us.” The man with the eery voice sneered as he knelt down in front of her. “She was not the first either.” He shrugged. He looked at her face and she glared back at him, giving him pause for a couple of brief moments. Unlike the other soldiers he was clad in a white cloth garb with a mask that covered most of his face. He lowered his mask and lifted her head with a hand and smiled at her. “So young and beautiful, like a flower in bloom.” He looked deeply into her eyes and his stare sent chills down her spine. “Such lovely pale eyes too.” He let her go and shook his head. “This will not do. Send for another unit.”
    The soldier holding her still called for another to enter and one of them did as requested, stopping before the man before her and saluting. “Sir!” He said.
    “Good timing. I'd like you to remove this young lady's eyes.” He said without a hint of hesitation.
    “Sir?” He asked slowly lowering his hand.
    “Y-you're sick!” Reina hissed in their language. Her words were only a facade to mask her fear; her entire body was trembling and she was certain her captor knew it, but this was all she could do.
    “This is the price of treachery my dear. Your loving mother had sealed your fate in her attempt to protect you. Someday you'll understand.” He rose to his feet and raised his mask. “Do as I say and you may have your way with her afterwards. Are we clear?”
    “Crystal, Sir-Kazuo...Sir!” The armoured soldier nervously replied saluting him again.
    He crouched down in front of her and she looked at him, the front she once held now crumbling away and being replaced with a budding fear. “P-please...don't take my eyes away from me also...” She whispered through trembling lips.
    Through his visor she could see the nervous look that he gave her. He seemed to be as vehement against the act but not so much that he would disobey the orders of his superior. She shut her eyes and felt his fingers press against her eyelid and force it open, tears streaming down her face as she sobbed and begged for the two to free her, his fingers inching closer by the moment.
    Her screams rang out among the others of those being enslaved, murdered and raped by the soldiers of the Dark Moon. Their voices only came out as vague noises to Reina after the violent process came to a close. Everything was dark, and she could hear little else but the noise that surrounded her. Her torture knew no end as the clothes she wore were cut and she was mercilessly violated time and again.
    Now more than ever, she knew that the gods had betrayed her race, as did Julius.

    “Salem! Master Kazuo isn't gonna wait all day for you to get in there! Pick up the slack!” Barnes commanded.
    Salem nodded once and set his eyes towards the gate of the town. He quickly chased after the other ninjas of Owl Castle following the Dark Moon Kingdom's lead. Walking over the corpses of the fallen soldiers and villagers he uneasily glanced at some of the creatures that defended a village located in a tundra. He felt a deep sense of regret at what had occurred, and an even deeper rooted fear when he was clear that they looked eerily similar to humanity. If the years he had spent training at Owl Castle had taught him anything, it was that these creatures were the only thing standing between humanity and salvation. They were scattered across Jienda to hinder the Dark Moon Kingdom and would go to any length to see that through, so they would strike first, and strike hard. Salem wondered why he felt that they were the ones committing an unjustified criminal act in seeing this mission through.
    He caught a glimpse of some of the Dark Moon soldiers carting away captives in caravans and on horseback and immediately turned away. This is what he had trained for; there was no reason he should feel any remorse or doubt in his heart. He had to be ready, as the leader of the village, a man with power beyond that of the human imagination could arrive at anytime.

    Salem joined ninjas among their ranks, hidden within the shadows surrounding the inner walls of the village while the Dark Moon soldiers rallied their forces in the square, gathering the remaining survivors and preparing them for transport.
    “Can you feel that? I think the big boss is gonna be showing up soon.” A nearby ninja muttered.
    Salem nodded solemnly. The ground felt unstable beneath his feet as if it was rebelling against their act. Master Kazuo informed all of them that they would be fighting a wizard with an affinity for earth magic the likes that they would not ever see in their lifetime a second time, that is, if they lived to see another day. Some had their doubts due to the tales some spun, while others had none thanks to the sheer number of soldiers they had to fight against him. Salem believed in the adage 'seeing is believing' but he would still remain wary. The Dark Moon certainly had to be tampering in a power beyond their understanding, and he had little choice but to follow in their wake and strike from the shadows. It was the duty of the ninjas of Owl Castle, as those trained there are sworn to the king.
    The ground began to tremble viciously which caused panic to break out among the Dark Moon's soldiers.
    The largest and most intimidating of the generals raised his battle axe into the air and rallied the men. “Now is the time men! Know that desertion will only result in death so prove that you are worthy as the king's soldiers and subdue the leader by all means necessary! Should we hold him in our grasps, we will have one of the four strongest of their kind under our control! We shall make history this day!” General Hayato roared.
    The fear that was once evident among the soldiers turned to courage as they all shouted battle cries preparing for the arrival of the leader.
    When the tremors came to an end, sand began to gather around the town, rapidly rising and engulfing it in a tornado of sand trapping those that were within the city. The confidence and morale that was built rapidly fell as the soldiers cried of their imminent deaths.
    A voice powerful enough to cause the ground to vibrate spoke to them all, “For millenniums the Cerebians have guarded humanity against the evils that lurked just outside of the zones that His Highness had created to protect them, and now you turn your swords against us?” The sand gathered to one place high above the soldiers into a sphere and as it dissipated, it revealed the speaker. A man clad in green robes wielding a gnarled staff as tall as he was appeared with an armoured Temple Knight by his side; the two standing upon a dense landing of sand. The look in his emerald eyes was not of rage, but disappointment. The earth still vibrated with the force that his voice echoed as he spoke. “We're not so uncivilized that we would seek bloodshed over the opportunity to reform the ignorant. Release those that you've taken captive and walk away, and there will be no further need for violence.”
    The beautiful Temple Knight standing next to the leader took a step forward and spoke, her platinum blonde hair swaying in the wind as resolute blue eyes stared down upon them. Clad in pearl white armour emblazoned with a blue sun, she emitted a commanding presence. “We've lived alongside the Cerebians and the greater half of the world is still yet to realize it! We all share in the same dream; to bring salvation to humanity! There is no need to wage war against each other. This is not what their gods wish, nor is it what they intend to do. If you persist with this path, then I, Rosetta, contractee and wife to God's Governor of Earth Julius shall be your opponent.” She drew her sword and shield and pointed it down at the group.
    “Should you refuse, then you and all those that stand by you shall be buried by the 'Sand King's Tomb'. In doing this, know that the Cerebians will retaliate if need be.”
    Salem looked up to the two and shook his head. This had to be a sign. Humanity was treading in something beyond their comprehension, and they were bound to pay the price for the slaughter that they had began. With General Hayato at the reins of the mission, Salem knew there would be a bloodbath. Hayato was renown for his ruthless tactic and relentless cruelty, which always lead to a successful campaign. Salem was well aware that he would not back down from a challenge, and this was one he would certainly not turn his back to. If what Julius and Rosetta said was true, everyone was going to die here and now by being buried in sand, and that was proof the Dark Moon really was the one committing the evil deed, making the ninjas of Owl Castle guilty by association. Salem had to find a way out before the battle ensued, but if he was caught leaving at this juncture he would be killed without a second thought by his own comrades. He needed a plan, and fast.
    “There is no creature that can escape the embrace of death! If you seek to hinder our mission, prove to me that you are worthy to die on my axe!” Hayato snarled. “Archers! Fire on my mark!”
    Julius shook his head. “If this is what you've chosen, then so be it!” He began to mutter to his wife and her weapon gained a bright glow once he finished. “My strength is yours.”
    “I will carry out the will of God Ah!” She replied raising her sword skywards and diving into the heart of the soldiers.
    “FIRE!” Hayato roared which was followed with a slew of arrows launched towards Julius. A wall of sand blocked every single arrow causing them to fall limply to the ground following Rosetta's descent. The moment she touched the ground she thrusted her sword into the snow creating a massive fissure around her and those that surrounded her, shattering the ground merely seconds afterwards, upturning the earth and launching those caught in the area away or pulling them beneath the earth.
    When Salem saw it happen he found his opportunity and made his move. If he could find a Cerebian to take as a 'captive' he could exit without risking being considered a deserter while rescuing them from an inevitable death. He slipped out of the sight of those around him and wove his way through the shadows into a recently ransacked house. To try to take a captive from one of the soldiers would be tantamount to suicide. If he could find one that may have been left behind his plan would go accordingly, but the chances were very slim. There was a possibility considering the fact that the soldiers would have likely left some behind that they had mounted. Salem dreaded the thought, but he knew that it had happened already. After searching through four different houses, using unorthodox means to enter every one to avoid detection, he had located one where he could hear someone. By the sound of it, it had to be a young girl, likely crying alone. Had her family been taken from her?
    He cautiously entered the house and checked his surroundings. He found himself in a bedroom that was thoroughly searched. Clothes and other miscellaneous items were scattered about, and the furniture was thrown down. He crept through the house towards where he heard the young girl and spotted her, crouched down next to another person, holding out her hands that emitted a small jet of light. Another naked person. As he quietly crept towards the young girl, he stretched out a hand to get her attention without startling her too much, but she caught sight of him first. The poor girl looked absolutely terrified and Salem himself was mortified. She immediately got up and fled towards the door, and he immediately pursued her in a desperate attempt to stop her from leaving, but he came to the realization the impact his actions would have would make things a hundred times worse. He felt a pang of guilt at the thought that the girl would be captured and likely taken away, but he knew there was little he could do to prevent it, that would not likely end in both their deaths.
    He looked back at the girl laying stark naked on the floor and cringed. Her body was bruised and stained with fresh blood in certain places. He had no doubts that one or two of the soldiers had had their way with her. He lifted her face and saw the trail of blood that ran from her eyes; with only a glance her eyelids told it all, and a feeling of pure disgust washed over him. As if murder and rape was not enough, they had done such a terrible thing to her. He placed his fingers to her neck and felt her pulse still steadily beating. Despite the fact that she had lost so much blood, she was still alive. The bleeding seemed to have stopped also; had it been that young girl's doing? For someone so young she was courageous to risk her own life in an attempt to save another. Whatever happened to her afterwards, Salem would not let her actions be in vain.
    He returned to the room he entered from and gathered some clothes from the ransacked mess the house had become. As best as he could, he dressed her and tore some of the cloth from a t-shirt that he would later use to bandage her eyes. He took a bag and filled it with any non-perishable foods that were yet to be taken, then took the girl and climbed out the way he came. With this, he could leave the town without having to fear being considered nothing more than a deserter. It was not specifically in their orders to take the victims from the vicinity, but Master Kazuo had said that if the situation calls for it, they use their better judgement to decide whether what they are doing would be productive during the mission. With the soldiers of the Dark Moon and the ninjas of Owl Castle fighting against Julius and Rosetta, his actions could be justified. He felt uneasy when the thought crossed his mind. If hundreds of their men struggled against two Cerebians alone, how would they fare against the others if they were together?
    Salem scoffed as he hauled the young girl towards the gate. He would not stand for this any longer than he already had. He spotted two men standing guard at the broken gate and assessed the situation. Should they deny him passage, not only would he and the girl he had be buried with the others, his entire mission would be compromised. He looked around and found a scaffold that lead up towards the battlements of the outer gate. Had the walls been properly fortified with a militia to defend it, the village would have made a formidable enemy to the Dark Moon. Julius and Rosetta alone could fend off the army; he wondered for what reason the two had left the village at all, especially after the war horns were blown.
    He decided to press the matters no further. After reaching the battlements, he threw the supplies down and took a deep breath. His training had prepared him for things like this. He rummaged through his garb and drew a grappling hook and rope. Master Kazuo suggested that they hide them in case they need to fight, but Salem decided to keep his on his person, and commended himself for the decision. He latched it onto the wall and tugged it from the other side to be sure it was sturdy, then took the girl and began to rappel down the rope.
    After finally reaching the bottom, he took his supplies and fled the scene.
    As he took his first steps away from the village, he could have sworn he heard someone say, “Thank you.” After thinking back on all the things he had seen that day, the possibility did not seem so far-fetched.
    When he was a fair distance from the battle he caught a glimpse of men fleeing the scene as the sand tornado intensified and seemingly collapsed upon the village, leaving nothing more than a mountain of sand in the frozen wastes. Salem was not surprised by this, but seeing such an unreal sight gave him pause. He wanted to pray for those who had died in that battle, but he worshipped no gods. He muttered his condolences and continued on his way.
    Salem was reluctant to follow the path that the ninjas of Owl Castle had taken to get through the snowfields. Returning to his hometown Aoich, for that matter, would be the worst choice he could possibly make. The fact that he had escaped and survived the encounter with God's Governor of Earth would make him a suspicious person to begin with. His choice of not returning to the group would have him branded as a deserter and killed. He sighed deeply. Making such rash decisions was not like him at all; Owl Castle was his home, and he completely abandoned that solely due to his moral compass, but it did not give him any direction now. He had to change his image, possibly his name, and find somewhere else to live. From what he had studied Elias was connected to the Base Snowfield, and was a peaceful city ruled by King Hejong. The cities of Belos, Elias, Young Gyoung, Elfa, Ves, Lilliput and even the sunken city of Atlantis had all formed an alliance through their leaders, a pact of sorts to prevent the humans from fighting amongst themselves, and instead focusing their efforts against the Agasura. Salem never knew why, but the Dark Moon King did not partake in this.
    He stole a glance at the girl on his back as he let his thoughts run freely for a moment. The men of the Dark Moon and those of Owl Castle very rarely, if ever, spoke of the strange creatures. They were sure to drill everyone on how terrible the Cerebians were and that they were the force standing between mankind and true salvation, but he never found out exactly how they prevented this. If they looked and acted so similarly to humanity, for what reason should the two races be enemies? There was always the possibility that the Cerebians and Agasuras were related, but Julius had said that their kind had lived alongside humanity peacefully, and Rosetta hinted at the fact that she too was human, and married to one of them. It truly was a shame that things had ended the way they did; he would have loved to ask them about their kind, but he was still thankful that he could save even one of them. In her, he may come to understand who the Cerebians are, and what the true intentions of the Dark Moon Kingdoms were in attacking them.

    Salem had spent days walking, and often found himself collapsing from exhaustion, persisting despite his growing weariness. There were very few occasions where he found a safe place to rest for a period, but he came to understand that the Cerebian girl with him was awake, and completely silent. He could only imagine the trauma that she had went through, and the pain that she could be experiencing every day knowing that she was likely the only one who had survived the attack. As far as the Dark Moon Kingdom could be concerned, the two were as good as dead, and to them soon to be free if they could overcome nature's trial. Though she never spoke, Salem felt a strange connection to her as she solemnly and very rarely showed signs of depending on him when they came across tough times. If the winds were powerful she would hold on to him with more force than usual, and during meals she would respond faster when he would feed her.
    When camped out one night he sat by the fire and watched her quietly as she slept. He always felt sadness upon seeing the cloth wrapped around her eyes. Despite everything they had taken from her, he still felt that there was a mysterious beauty to her, and it strengthened his desire to protect her. He could not return the lives lost in the battle, her maidenhood or her eyes, no matter how much he wished for it, but with what power he had and the will to do so, he'd keep her alive.  The innocent life that they had failed to take from her, he would rekindle the flames and help her to start over in another time and place. Tonight too, she would likely suffer dreams of the event repeating itself as it had the others; her cries often attracted the attention of Agasuras, but nothing that Salem could not prevent from bringing harm to her. He did not know what tomorrow would hold for him but he knew that he would not die out here in the tundra.
    Determined to see his decision through he continued on, carrying the girl no matter what he faced. While crossing a valley in the dead of night Salem heard the sound of wolves howling. The Agasuras rarely attacked when he travelled with the others because of their numbers, but now that he was alone he was nothing more than prey. There were very few places to hide, and with massive walls on both sides of him even fewer places to run. Out of desperation, he began to run, and fast as he was, he knew that his pursuers would not give up so easily. He could hear the sound of them approaching as he desperately tried to create distance and feel the eyes boring into him. It was only a matter of time. He desperately looked ahead and saw a wolf leaping down from ledge to ledge towards him and he knew that his time had come.
    He lowered the Cerebian girl as quickly and as gently as he could and drew his ninjatō. As the blur of silver approached from the front with others closing in on the rear, he readied his weapon and prepared to fight with all that he had, but as the wolf from the front approached he began to have a doubt in his mind. Something seemed to be latched onto its back. He squinted to get a closer look, and as it neared he deemed it to be an infant. Salem found himself at a loss; if he was to cut the wolf down, he would likely take the child with it. Under what circumstances would a child ride a wolf? Leaving the matter aside, he braced himself as the wolf charged at him and right past him, stopping at his rear and growling at the approaching pack.
    Salem turned around and eyed the pair curiously, catching a glimpse of the infant blowing a raspberry at their attackers that cautiously growled back. The maternal wolf padded closer to them while snarling and the others backed away, eventually deciding on leaving their prey to the more fearsome canine. It turned to Salem and seemingly examined him for a couple of moments, then went about its business.
    The wolf itself had a distinct scar across its left eye, and the young girl riding it had short platinum blonde hair and bright green eyes with a hearty laugh. Salem watched in awe as the creature padded away with its rider excitedly bouncing on its back, seemingly amused by their meeting. He felt almost certain he had seen another Cerebian, and if their infants could command wolves the Dark Moon Kingdom was digging its own grave.

    The following days had proceeded uneventfully in terms of encounters with Agasuras, though the weather was merciless and had taken its toll on him but he persisted. For days his hands and feet had been showing varying degrees of frostbite, steadily shifting from first to second. His feet only hurt most when he needed to jump from one landing to another. Though a tad shaken, the Cerebian girl was still hanging on and stealing a glance at her occasionally gave him the strength he needed to push forward.
    Through the falling snow he caught a glimpse of what seemed to be a building hidden away in the snowfields. If his memory served him correctly, it was likely the Racoon Hot Springs, located in the Soprano Snowfield. He had heard some of the other ninjas mention it after the briefing for the mission, and they openly voiced their desire to pay it a visit. It would truly be a shame if they did not live to see it, but the cost of loyalty can be steep. Salem almost learned that lesson in the worst way possible.
    As he approached, kimono-clad women with long violet hair approached him. The devilish look in their blue eyes told it all; they were most certainly Agasuras, and he was not going to be killed after coming so far. He leaned forward and shifted the girl's weight higher onto his back, and broke out into a sudden sprint. A series of icicles sprang up at his heels and shattered in his wake as he ran, and more followed from every direction. He leapt across a small gap and over a small pink fluffy creature that attempted to headbutt him after being caught off guard. The Snowfields were a very unusual place, and more infested with Agasura than the locations beyond them. He heard that they flock to where there is strong Agasuric energy, especially those that had sites called “Instance Dungeons', housing beings stronger than the average creatures.
    As he avoided another fluffy creature, he made his way towards a small landing with a tall tower-like stone resting upon it. He took one hand off of the girl to use it to climb the ladder, and rested her against the stone to catch his breath. He looked out upon the Snowfields and Elias just across the bridge nearby and sighed with relief. His body was worn out and he was completely exhausted both physically and mentally, but his destination was within arm's reach. If he could find somewhere to rest he and his silent companion could sleep in a bed after days of travelling.
    Salem opened the bag with the supplies and drew a set of clean clothes. He had heard that most adventurers across the continent of Jienda were eccentric, especially in the way that they dressed, but he did not want to risk standing out because of his garb. He desired it even less when he considered the possibility of one of the members of the Dark Moon or Owl Castle catching him. Now dressed in cargo pants, a t-shirt branded with a pair of wings and a pull-over sweater tagged with princess he sighed. Between his life and his outfit, he chose the former over the latter and was now regretting the decision. Though he valued his life, a couple more seconds to check what he was going to wear in the near future may have done his pride a world of good. His lack of  a mask revealed his tousled black hair and sharp, dark brown eyes.
    Placing his garb in the bag, he picked up the Cerebian girl again and leapt down from where he stood, wishing he had not made the choice shortly afterwards. The strange fluffy Agasuras that attacked him before had seemingly forgotten his presence and flocked to the other side of the slab of land he stood on, anxiously awaiting a pair of unlucky adventurers. He took the opportunity to carefully climb down and make his way across a series of split landings to get to the other ladder. He climbed down and made his way towards the Base Snowfield.
    Beetles seemed to be the only creatures that inhabited the area, and he sighed with a hint of relief. He climbed down another ladder and made his way through the area, cautiously leaping over the beetle gs as they approached while keeping a firm grip on his companion. After a brief period he reached the bridge and smiled victoriously. After all of his struggles, he had finally made it to the largest city in all of Jienda, Elias. He was finally free.

    Salem looked around the airport like a child in a candy store. He had never seen anything like it, the massive aircraft that waited for passengers to board and the attendant that waited outside of it. He had the desire to ask her about it, but changed his mind quickly settling for going onwards towards the city in search of rest. By this point his legs were shaking and his vision was blurred. When did he start to feel so weary? As he walked his body seemed to kneel down on its own and he fell to the ground. If he could just close his eyes for a moment, he would be able to rise and continue on with renewed strength. Though it had been a few moments, Salem was sure that he would be ready to press on whenever he so wished it. Before he knew it, he had fallen asleep.

    Salem opened his eyes and found himself in an unfamiliar place. He arose and a thick wool blanket fell upon itself while he searched for his Cerebian companion. He spotted her laying in a small bed next to him, sleeping peacefully. Whoever his benefactor was he felt inclined to at least thank them for taking the two in and be on his way. Salem had no urge to overstay his welcome, let alone have anyone question why the girl he was carrying around was 'blindfolded'. He walked out of the room into a short corridor that lead towards a flight of stairs.
    As he neared the bottom he glimpsed around the environment he found himself in. A series of small tables with chairs surrounding them made up most of what seemed to be a cafe, while framed photos decorated the walls and a multitude of lamps hung from the roof and lit up the shop. Salem turned away from the stairs towards a bar with a group of seats resting before it.
    In one of them a young girl sat, completely clad in an olive green dress with a matching gatsby featuring ear flaps and a heart sewn onto a small white patch on the front. A small brown broom likely bigger than she was rested next to her chair while her tiny legs moved back and forth to the rhythm of the owner's humming, her brown moccasins narrowly avoiding a collision with the bar. Her puffy green twin tails turned as matching eyes met with Salem's, both looking equally startled. The sound of the bell on her silver choker chiming caught him off guard.
    The owner leaned over the counter and gave him an unusual salute, the bell on his bracelet ringing with his gesture.. “Hoy there traveller! You've finally woken up huh?” He grinned, and Salem could see little else beneath the navy blue wide-rimmed fedora he wore giving his skin an unusual almost violet hue. Beneath the hat a long silver ponytail gently swayed with the barkeep's every move. “With a meeting like this, you have to be some kind of 'MC'. Something this interesting is too strange to be normal.” He wore a black vest over a white dress shirt and matching pants with a pair of white rubber gloves on both hands. The most unusual thing about him was the cloth he seemingly wore around the right side of his face. The markings on it were nothing like Salem had ever seen, but he convinced himself that it was nothing more than a design pattern. “So, tell me about yourself. What's your story?”
    Their eyes were on him and he could feel the two pressing for an answer. There was no way he could tell them that he was an ex-ninja gone rogue after attacking a village of humanoid creatures with incredible power. “I'm just a traveller who was visiting the Raccoon Hot Springs. I stumbled upon that girl collapsed in the Refrize Snowfield. My name is Salem.” He replied with conviction and a hint of remorse at giving his real name in the heat of the moment.
    “Oh?” The barkeep replied. It was rather difficult to tell whether it was surprise in his voice or disbelief. “Truthfully, I thought that you two were dating.” Salem gave him an incredulous stare. “I mean, when you find two people collapsed, one of the two wearing a girl's clothes and the other blindfolded, you can only assume that they're into some kin-” The young girl shot him a glare of disgust and disbelief and he gestured for her to calm down. “I'm just kidding! I'm not that ignorant. Where I come from it doesn't matter what you look like, what you like to wear or whether you like the same gender, it's all good.” He sighed. “Well sometimes looks do matter, like a lot, but for the most part it's a very accepting place.” Salem noted that the barkeep for one, enjoyed talking quite a fair bit, and two, had a very unusual sense of humour. “That aside, you must have really overdone it to suddenly collapse like that.”
    “It was a trip longer than I initially intended.”
    “I could tell.” The barkeep replied. “You look awfully pallid for someone who took a trip to the hot springs, not to offend. Sit down, take a load off and have a meal. On the house.” Salem obliged and sat down at the bar nearby the young girl who turned her gaze back to the owner before their eyes met again. “Where are my manners? My name is Vanir, owner of Madelaine's Tea Stop. This is my-my Brownie, Skuld. She's also my waitress.” She waved and Salem gave her an acknowledging nod in turn, not quite knowing what a Brownie was, he deemed it to be a term for waitresses in the shop. Vanir walked into the kitchen behind him and returned with a bowl of soup, handing it over to his customer. “Now then, enough with the formalities. The shop is empty so let's be honest with each other. I can still smell the scent of blood on that girl, and judging by the influx of travellers recently discovered leaving the Snowfields, there’s more to that story than you're letting on, isn't there?” Salem nearly spat his soup out and the barkeep smiled at him as if they were having a friendly conversation.
    “How do you-”
    “The eyes can deceive, but they certainly don't lie.”
    Salem eyed him cautiously. “How much do you know already?”
    “If it's about that girl? I know a lot. I hope you do too, because you could be sticking your nose into something you're not quite ready for. If the two of you are nothing more than mere strangers, leave her here with me and I'll look after her. I know some friends who could help her out, if she's in need of some secrecy in her life. Whoever did such a thing to her clearly has some malicious intent towards her and those around her.”
    “You...know about them? You can help her right? Pray tell, who might you be?”
    “Me? Just some tea shop owner. Had a run in with a certain princess that ended with a stalemate. She promised she wouldn't bring her friends to off me if I helped them out, so we've come to a mutual understanding. So if I come across a friend like yours, I'm inclined to assist them.” He paused and seemingly examined Salem. “You're a human, I can tell. It's not unusual for them to associate themselves with the others.” He smiled somberly. “They're very kind in this realm. I like that.”

    Last edited by TJ on Sat Dec 07, 2013 7:26 am; edited 1 time in total

    Posts : 895
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    Innocent Empty Re: Innocent

    Post  TJ on Sat Dec 07, 2013 7:19 am

    Salem raised his eyes from his soup and gave the barkeep another questioning stare. “I don't quite understand that last statement.”
    “Let's keep it that way.” He crossed his arms and nodded. “I won't pry into your business so much that you have to dredge up any unwanted memories. After seeing what they've done to her, I can only imagine what the rest would have been like. Though her knowledge is urgent to me. Whatever she's been through and had seen is priceless information, and we all know how important that is these days. So, what's your plan from here on Salem? You gonna take her home and make her yours? If so I can't let you do that.”
    Salem eyed him defensively. If he was making another joke, it certainly was in bad taste, and if he was serious than he was only insulting him. “I...don't have a course of action currently. We still must search for a place to stay.”
    “No home huh? Why don't you two settle down here? I don't mean getting married by the way.” He added in suddenly. “It's just Skuld and I living here now, as the old owners retired and their son went off to be the owner of some fancy popular restaurant in the market. Jerk.”
    Ignoring Vanir's sudden livid tantrum, he considered the possibility of staying at the tea shop. Vanir was well aware of what the Cerebian girl was, and he had not met someone who was one, and knew more of them. Salem knew too little about them to give her the proper care she might need, and he had never taken care of anyone outside of himself, let alone properly communicated with them. This would certainly be his best chance at giving her a chance at starting her life anew. “I'll take you up on your generous offer. What do you wish for in terms of payment?”
    Vanir smiled. “You've got an interesting accent. As far as payment goes, I don't really need that much.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “How's this: you go out and find a job, and assist me in paying for food and whatnot. You do that and we'll call it square for both you and your friend.”
    “Then we're in agreement.” He reluctantly stole a glance at the stairs and then back at his soup. “Could one of your friends assist her with her...impairment?” Salem had never suffered anything like she had, and looking back on it now he realized how blessed he was to not have to face such a difficulty. At the same time, he felt a sense of guilt for being unable to help her, or even empathize.
    “I don't think any of them can help with it, but I'll find a way to help her adapt. If one of the senses is dulled or taken away, one only needs to rely on the others in its stead, and hone them to make up for what's lost.” For once he seemed to be serious, and his companion gave a proud nod. “I'll teach her just as my master taught me.”
    “Please take good care of her.” Salem requested. Though he did not understand some of the things Vanir mentioned, he believed the barkeep to be a man worth putting some faith into, but not one that he completed trusted just yet. Though he did not wish to part ways with Reina for even a brief while, the two could not survive on the few rations they had left. Salem would certainly be in Vanir's debt, but he would remain ever vigilant with him.

    “You will obey, won't you?” The voice hissed.
    “P-please...don't take them away from me! Please!” Reina desperately cried out. She had lay pinned to the floor staring into the visor of the knight preparing to gouge her eyes out. She sobbed and begged for mercy for what seemed to be an eternity.
    “Calm down and listen and you won't have to suffer any further.”
    “No! No please no! Please just let me go!”

    “Oh my goodness.” Vanir muttered. He and Reina were alone in the room, and she was crying and screaming at the top of her lungs despite being fast asleep. “Quick Skuld! Bring the flower before she gets the whole of Elias in here and they haul me off to the slammer!” The cloth around his face was taken off revealing a white pupil with unusual markings while the other was crimson.
    “C-coming Master!” The voice of the Brownie replied as the patter of her moccasins sounded through the hallway.
    Skuld rushed into the room holding a flower and knelt down next to him. She placed the flower pot down and began drawing a rune with her finger in thin air, the movements she made leaving a shimmering gold trail until she completed it, casting a light green glow on her body that transferred to the potted plant as she lifted it again. A single flower rested within the pot, a dainty plant with blue petals tinted green around a lengthy yellow bulb.
    Vanir took in a deep breath and sighed with relief. “That flower smells nice.”
    “Master it's not for you to smell!” Skuld said curtly drawing it away from him. She pointed it towards Reina and the flower's petals closed around the bulb, suddenly spewing a cloud of pollen into her face.
    She stopped crying and screaming and seemingly calmed down after a couple of moments. Skuld sighed with relief and the barkeep gave her a gentle pat on the back.
    “Job well done. Looks like all that studying in botany really did pay off. That flower is good for a lot more than funerals.” He turned back to Reina while rubbing his hands together. “Now then, time for round two.” The moment that he laid his eyes upon her, her face cringed and it appeared as if the nightmares would begin anew.
    Skuld picked up the bandages and handed them to the barkeep suddenly. “No more of that Master! You're scaring the poor girl.” She looked into his eyes with determination. “Let me handle it. If what the Dawn Sage told us is true, then the Cerebians are very alike to those of our realm. They may not be able to draw strength from us, but I do believe that they can still form pacts like us.”
    Vanir looked uneasy about the whole idea. He suddenly hugged his companion causing her face to flush and whispered, “Be careful, okay? I leave her in your care.” He wrapped the cloth around his face again and made his exit.
    The young girl uneasily looked at the Cerebian and swallowed hard. She had never formed a pact before because she had been contracted to her Master since the day she had been born. If not for her own selfish desire to be praised by him, she would certainly do it to free the young Cerebian girl from her suffering. “H-here goes...” She muttered.
    She stood up and clasped her hands together, creating a magical aura that enveloped the whole room while a magic circle took form beneath her. The circle featured a beautiful winged person wearing a laurel of flowers standing in the same position that Skuld did at that moment. She took a deep breath and drew out the runes for the pact, in the manner she had recently. A rune as proof of the pact appeared on her forehead in a bright gold and a matching one appeared on the back of Reina's hand. Skuld sighed with relief and collapsed to her knees. Performing such an action while being contracted was something she was very unsure of, but was now thankful that it had succeeded without any repercussions.
    She gently took Reina's hand and closed her eyes. Try as they might, neither Vanir nor Skuld could wake Reina from her sleep without causing her to panic at their touch, and she would not let Vanir near her when she was awake. Reina arose from her slumber and placed her other hand atop Skuld's cautiously sliding her fingers over the Brownie's tiny hands.
    “Who...” She muttered. “Who are you?”
    “My name is Skuld.” She replied beaming. “I'm a waitress at a tea shop in Elias. It's good to finally hear your voice. Will you tell me your name?”
    “My name? My name is Reina. I...” She paused. “A human?” Her face lit up with terror and she backed away as far as she could with her back to the wall. “N-no...get away from me!”
    “It's alright! There's no need to be afraid.” Skuld was conflicted between telling the truth and keeping her identity a secret. “I...I'm not a human. You can tell right? Through our pact.”
    The young girl was telling the truth and Reina had no argument against it. Very few humans knew how to form a pact, and even less were able. The aura that she emitted was like nothing Reina had ever experienced, and she felt positive that it could not be a human's, though it was not a Cerebian's either. If only she could see she could decipher what stood before her now. To avoid a conflict with the girl she decided not to press the matter. Whoever Skuld was, she was not someone that Reina would like to anger.
    Reina sighed. She was at a complete and utter loss. “You're right. I can. But why have you taken me in? I'm just some stranger...and whoever brought me here must be also.” She vaguely recalled being carried around on someone's back. They never spoke, but they handled her with a very distinct gentleness. The feeling of their broad back was still fresh in her mind; it was the only thing that stood between her and her recurring nightmares.
    “Master is very kind to all of his visitors.” Skuld replied with a smile.
    The Brownie looked alarmed at the question and broke out into a cold sweat. “Th-that isn't his actual name...” She muttered nervously. “It's just a nickname that he took up after becoming the barista at this shop. Everyone calls him that.” Reina found it unusual, but it sounded reasonable enough for her to nod in understanding. She took Reina's hands and gave her a serious look. “Reina, you don't have to be afraid of us or hide anything. We are Confidants to the Cerebians.” Skuld laughed. “We weren't always on good terms but we've made a few reliable friends. We understand the objectives of your people and we too want to help you accomplish them. In doing so we can save your world and Master can see his objectives through also. If there's anything we can do for you, please don't hesitate to ask.”
    “Thank you Skuld.” Reina should have noticed it sooner, but for a human to be named after a Valkyrie seemed like a very unlikely occurrence. “I'll be in your care.” She smiled, genuinely thankful that she had found reliable companions that were aware of exactly what she was. She had heard that Cerebians existed among the humans but she had met very few.
    “I...have a request.” The girl said nervously. Reina raised her eyebrow acknowledging the question. “Could you...could you keep the fact that I can speak a secret from Salem?” Before the Cerebian could ask who she was speaking of Skuld responded. “He's the boy who brought you here. I'm sure he's trustworthy, we just need to have our secrecy sometimes.”
    “I...I understand. Your secret is safe with me.”
    The Brownie hugged Reina and she could not hide her smile. “Thanks Reina! Master and I will work hard to help you so whatever happens you can count on us okay? We'll support you all the way.”
    The girl was so tiny Reina wondered how old she was. The voice did not betray the small body that accompanied it, but for such a young person could she be allowed to work? The human societies were so strange. “Help me? With what?” She was genuinely curious.
    The young girl averted her gaze and intertwined her fingers. “With...your disability and adapting to it. I-if that's okay.” Reina made a sullen expression for a moment, recalling that she was indeed inflicted with a disability, and one that she would be confined by for all her life. Even now she found it hard to accept, and even more so to adapt, but still something she would have to do regardless of her opinion on the matter. She felt a sudden burst of anger and sadness after recalling the experience that lead to her current state. What she had heard about humanity consisted of lies and embellished tales. She could hear Skuld whimpering and her anger immediately washed away as guilt took over. “I-sorry I didn't mean to offend you.” It was not like her to lose her temper like that and to jump to conclusions so easily. Whoever had decided to attack Xenym was not the humans that the Cerebians would live among; those that attacked her village certainly did it for a reason, but how many of them had a choice? She recalled the words 'desertion will only result in death'.
    “No, I owe you an apology Skuld. You didn't offend me at all...I just...” She choked up while speaking and gently placed a hand to her temple. Remembering the event seemed to give her a myriad of mixed emotions, more frequently a fear of nightmarish proportions. She took a deep breath and choked back a sob. “Recalling the event can be...a bit hard on me at times is all.” Flashes of the faces of those she loved appeared in her mind. Alessa, Virgil, Mom, all of them now gone, to a world beyond Reina's reach. She tightly gripped the hem of her sweater and bit down on her lip. “Could you...give me some time alone?”
    “Take all the time you need. I'll be sure to drop by occasionally to see how you're doing and offer company if you want.” Skuld gave her a parting smile and left the room, closing the door behind her as she did. The runes on she and Reina faded shortly afterwards.
    Reina buried her face in the pillow and sobbed as her entire body trembled in fear. No matter how many days had passed, no matter how many times she had relived her nightmare, the terror that gripped her that day still lingered and overpowered her. The Dark Moon have taken many things from her, but they had not taken her life. That night she vowed that whatever it took, she would get back at those who lead the attack on Xenym, and she would rescue the captives that were stolen away that day.

    The next morning Salem stood in the mirror looking at the reflection that stared awkwardly back at him. Now fully dressed in a black suit with matching shoes, and his hair combed and slicked back, he shifted his tie uneasily and stole a glance at the clock in the room he stayed in. He still had twenty minutes before he started his first day at his new job. Dressing up in such formal attire was something he had never done before, and he most certainly was not fond of how restricting it was, but he constantly reminded himself he was going to work, not to battle. The idea of it was ludicrous but no one knew his story, so it would only seem as such to him. He wondered what Vanir would think.
    As he walked through the hallway he had the fleeting thought of checking up on Reina, so he gently rapped on her door and received no response. He opened it slowly and quietly, stealing a glance inside at the sleeping Cerebian. She seemed to be doing a lot better, as for the first time she had no nightmares. It seemed that Vanir had not harmed her, and if he did attempt to, Salem strongly believed that Reina would be able to defend herself should she be attacked. He left her a present and was sure to tell her the night prior, though she was asleep at the time so he may not have gotten through. He cracked a tiny smile as he shut the door and went about his business, going downstairs to set out for work.
    Upon reaching the lower floor he found the Brownie and the shopkeeper going about their business. Skuld swept the area and Vanir seemed to be drying a cup with a cloth.
    “Good morning Salem.” Vanir said with a grin. “You clean up nicely. What's the occasion?”
    “I'm preparing for my first day at work.”  answered confidently.
    “Oh?” Vanir looked genuinely interested at this point. “So who decided to take you under their wing?” Salem gave him a puzzled look and some of his amusement was lost. “It means who's willing to train you.”
    “A man named Ver-”
    “Don't you dare say Verun!” He suddenly hissed causing both Salem and Skuld to look startled. He smiled wryly and let out a dry chuckle. “Ehh...sorry. He and I have a bit of history, so we really don't see eye to eye. Anyway, go on.”
    “Essentially yes, I am working under Verun-”
    “Tch.” Vanir clicked his tongue.
    “at the Elise Main Restaurant.” Salem paused. “You two must be mortal enemies if you have such inclinations towards him.” He knit his eyebrows.
    “Mortal enemies? Possibly. Business rivals? Absolutely.” He shook his head. “I could go on all day about every little detail that I don't like about that smug bastard, but you'll be late that way, so what are you waiting for? Get going kid. Say hello to Marin for me.”
    Salem realized that the barista was speaking the truth. “You're right. Goodbye for now!” He said rushing out the door. The bell rung quietly as he shut it behind him and rushed to work.
    “I really believe that you and Verun should make up Master.” Skuld told him.
    “Over my dead body.” He retorted.

    Reina arose from bed and stretched. For the first time in nearly a week she had a good night's sleep and awoke feeling refreshed.
    “Good morning Reina.” Skuld said beaming.
    Reina screamed and Skuld panicked. “Oh goodness gracious it was just you Skuld. I...thought it was someone else.” She smiled. “God Ah is merciful.”
    Vanir suddenly charged into the room with a bewildered expression and the two shrieked. “Gods! What are you two screaming about?!”
    Skuld calmed down but Reina flew into an absolute panic. She began grabbing anything she could find and throwing it at him while screaming, “Get away! Don't come any closer you beast!” She hit him with a pillow, missed the flower pot, missed a framed picture and blinded him with the blanket she slept with. She nearly threw  Skuld too but the Brownie took cover in the closet before she was grabbed.
    “C-calm down will you? There's no need for any of this!”
    Though bewildered she recalled a voice telling her if she needed to defend herself that there was a weapon under her bed. Where she heard it she was not sure of, but if it was true she needed it now. She reached under the bed and drew Salem's ninjatō and unsheathed it from its scabbard. Fumbling the blade, she managed to get a proper grip on it and lunged towards Vanir, piercing his stomach with the blade. After successfully lodging it within him, she reeled away almost immediately and fled to a corner, trembling as she whispered, “Go away...please go away!”
    Skuld caught a glimpse of his bloody wound and she began to scream again. “M-Master!” She cried out in a panic.
    He turned his eye to her and grinned. “Listen Skuld...okay? You listening?” She exited the closet and nodded through teary eyes. “Good. Now, I w-want you to...go to the sh-shed and g-g-get the herbs. The one th-that smells l-like socks. Got it?” She nodded.
    “But that sword...” She reached to take hold of it and he stopped her.
    “D-don't pull th-that out yet! G-go now. Bring the f-f-first aid kit t-too.” She nodded and immediately set out to fulfill the task. He looked at the terrified girl and sighed. “G-g-gods...” He managed to stagger out of the room and her fear seemed to subside.
    Reina gripped her temples and took deep breaths. Not even she knew why she reacted the way she did, and she felt absolutely terrible about it. She felt even worse knowing that the person she just stabbed and potentially killed was the Master that Skuld spoke so fondly of. If that was so, why did he have such a terrifying presence? Something about him just screamed evil and the aura, though Reina was unfamiliar herself about them, reminded her of that which she had read in first-hand accounts of people who had battled with Agasuras. If they had all faced something so terrifying she wondered how the heroes from ages past had faced them on a daily basis. Unlike them though, she had stabbed a human being, and she too could become a killer. She never meant to do it, but her instincts said it was that or death. She wished she could go back and undo what she had done but it was a choice she would have to live with, and a choice she would suffer a severe punishment for.
    The sound of the royal guard hammering away at the door startled her. Their voices came through as they shouted for Master to open the door and for him to confirm that nobody was harmed.
    “Everything's peaches and gravy in here so you don't need to come in! Or blow my door down you big bad wolves!” The guard did not seem amused by his humour.
    “In order to keep the king's peace we will have to open the door using force if you do not comply!” One of the knights shouted.
    “Can you just wait a moment?! I'm suffering from a grave wound right now that needs medical attention!” Master shouted back.
    Reina covered her ears. The sound of their voices terrified her, and she did not want any part of whatever was to come. If they saw what she had done to Master they would certainly take her away to a human 'jail'. She had heard many grave things about them, and she had promised herself she would not commit any crimes that would earn her a place in them, if she ever found herself among the human societies. It was a short lived thought.
    She heard the guards force their way into the shop and detain Master, due to his protests. Two of them searched the shop for the location of those who were screaming and Reina knew they were coming. Her hands began to tremble and her fears came to life. The event now was just like that which had occurred that day. The armoured men were coming to take her and her mother away. She did not have the strength to stop them, nor could she protect her friends. Death was all around her, and was looming closer by the moment. The footsteps coming up the stairs caused her entire body to quake in absolute terror and she began to whisper to herself in hopes they would go away.
    Two knights entered and she immediately crawled away from them into the nearest corner she could find while sobbing. “I'm sorry...please don't take my eyes from me...I'm sorry...”
    Skuld tightly gripped on to the second knight's armour and solemnly struggled to pull him away from the terrified Reina but to no avail.
    “There's nothing to fear, we're from the palace. We're here to help you.” The male knight reached out towards her and Skuld immediately grabbed hold of his arm in an attempt to pull it away. “This Brownie is acting rather unusual. What should we do with it?”
    “Ignore it.” The other answered, another man with a seasoned tone to his voice. “We're not allowed to lay a hand on pets unless they're proven to be vicious. What this one is doing I wouldn't quite call it dangerous, just a mild hindrance. Rules are rules.”
    He shrugged and proceeded though the Brownie repeatedly shook her head in a desperate measure to convey her message. The moment his hand touched Reina's shoulder she shrieked and swatted it away, leaving the two nonplussed.
    “Please don't hit me again...I-I'll be good...” She cried. The fragments of sentences painted the thin veil of a picture of what she may have experienced, but the two were unsure of what they could do.
    “We're not gonna get anywhere like this.” The second knight said. Skuld took his hand and pulled him towards the doorway. “If I didn't know better this Brownie knows something. Keep an eye on the victim. I'm gonna find out what it is she wants to show us.”

    “Salem, table two if you'd be so kind!” Verun chimed. Salem's boss dressed alike to him, gave him his award-winning smile with a platter full of food to bring to a table. His chestnut hair, hazel eyes and handsome face made him quite the fancy among his female customers.
    “It shall be done.” Salem replied and immediately realized what he had said and corrected himself. “Right away Verun!” His mannerisms from Owl Castle were hard to part with, and upon working again they resurfaced in his everyday speech. He placed the food at table two and bowed out, returning the platter to the kitchen.
    “Salem would you come here for a moment?” Verun called to him.
    He exited the kitchen and a moment before he responded to the call he froze up immediately. In the doorway stood a knight clad in silver armour with the emblem of Elias emblazoned upon it and Skuld by his side. His mind was racing. Had Vanir found out his identity and alerted the palace? He could escape through the fire exit at the back, but he would be a wanted criminal if he ran. Not that he already was not. He could not bring himself to leave the Cerebian girl behind after going to such lengths to saving her and promising himself to assist her in starting over.
    “This knight from the royal guard would like you to testify for what seems to be a case of domestic violence against a young girl in the Old Town District.” Verun stated.
    “Domestic violence?” He squawked. If Skuld was with them, it must have meant Reina and Vanir were involved. He considered the possibility that Vanir had hit her, but there was the possibility that she was having another nightmare and they had mistaken it for him abusing her. Whatever the case, he wanted to solve it and find out exactly what had occurred. “I'll do it.”
    Verun tapped the watch on his wrist as Salem left with an apologetic gesture.

    Upon returning to the shop Salem found Vanir tied up with two knights standing guard on both sides of him.
    “Good timing Salem. Tell these guys that I wasn't the one who did that to the kid. Hell, she was the one who abused me.” Vanir grumbled. “Though if it doesn't end with me in the slammer I won't be mad, I promise.”
    Upon a glance he could see the bloody wound in the shop owner's stomach and he had a rough idea of what had occurred. “Before I speak out against him, can you tell me what happened? In the state she's in now, I don't believe she'll be able to help us.” Salem said.
    Vanir told him everything that happened up to the point that Skuld left the shop, and Salem was convinced that the barkeep really was innocent. “Homegirl's got a bad case of PTSD. I've never seen someone with the tendency to stab somebody because of it, but if this wound isn't proof I don't know what is.” Salem gave him a confused glance and he elaborated on the meaning of the abbreviated word.
    “He's telling the truth. She's been having frequent nightmares of the event that had done this to her since the day I found her.” Salem explained the symptoms that he had noticed over the span of their journey and cleared up the misunderstanding between the guard and the shopkeeper. The captain of the guard had personally come to the shop to resolve the matter.
    “On behalf of the royal guard and the palace, I would like to apologize for the trouble my soldiers have caused you. As you know, it is our duty to keep the peace in Elias, so if their is a disturbance we must respond immediately.” He told them.
    “Well you guys are, if anything, effective. Those guards of yours certainly know how to use that rope of theirs. I could certainly get used to being tied up.” Vanir laughed but nobody laughed with him and he frowned. “Bunch of hard-asses...” He muttered under his breath. “Don't quote me on this, but I think Reina's androphobic. I've come to realize that in the presence of men, or at least most men, she tends to fly into a panic. At times just by hearing their voices it can happen. That combined with her fears equals this.” He pointed to the wound in his stomach. “You guys can go now by the way.” He gestured to the guards. “Now that the problem is resolved you'd just be dragged into something you shouldn't be.”
    “All soldiers, back to your stations. Our work here is done.” The captain said, making way for the soldiers to file out the door one by one.
    “Hold on a moment, there was a lady among your ranks right?”
    “That would be me.” One of the knights responded.
    “You, yes you. You tie a mean knot.” She chuckled at his flattery. “But that's not what I called you for. I want you to test my theory. Reina doesn't seem to panic when in the presence of my Brownie, who of course is female, but the rest of us are guys so it's a tad difficult to get a proper conclusion. Would you be so kind to go and speak to her? You don't have to ask her about her situation; I personally don't think she's ready to talk about that. If you could even hold a conversation with her, that'll do just fine.”
    She turned to the captain and he gave her an approving nod. “As you wish.” She responded.
    “By the by, what's your name?”
    “Cecilia Hayes.” She answered with a smile.

    Reina could hear the sound of armour against wood and she braced herself expecting someone to take her away, just a she had expected. It seemed that the chaos had come to an end by the infinite quiet that filled in the gap between the beginning and the present, leaving her wondering what they had done with Master and Skuld.
    The sound of a knock against the door startled her and she mustered up her courage to ask, “Who's there?”
    “Cecilia Hayes. Knight of the palace etc.” Cecilia replied.
    “Another knight? What have you all done with Master and Skuld?”
    “That strange pair that runs the shop? They're still here. That clever kid brought some guy who told us the truth behind the matter so the others backed off. You don't need to worry.” She crossed her arms. “But I'm here for a reason. Are you okay? Supposedly you have a certain tendency to panic and attack men in the near vicinity, with sharp objects. He didn't do anything to you that lead up to that right?”
    Reina lowered her head in shame. “That's right. I assaulted him without being harmed or even threatened. He'll...he'll live, won't he?”
    The knight grinned. “He's a tough guy, so he'll survive. I don't know how he does it, but he's handling it well. A little too well for my liking.” She turned away and waved, stealing one last glance at the girl. “You've been through some tough times huh? Whatever you've faced, you lived through it, so be proud. See you around.”
    Reina placed her hand to her chest as the words of the knight replayed in her mind while the sound of her leaving accompanied it.

    “I didn't hear any screaming or the sounds of anything being thrown, so I take it that things went well?” Vanir asked with a grin.
    Cecilia nodded. “It seems your suspicions were on the mark barista.” She closed her eyes. “That girl must have seen the face of war, for someone to do such a terrible thing to her. I really can't fathom why anyone would go to such lengths or what they intend to prove in leaving someone in such a state, but to have survived the ordeal is amazing nonetheless. Take good care of her.”
    “Count on it.” Vanir responded. As the knight made her exit Salem hastily added that he needed to get back to work because Verun was waiting for him, and in response Vanir kissed his teeth and slammed the door after him. “Good riddance to the little double agent.”

    On a starry night there was a gentle rap against Reina's door.
    “Come in.” She said. The door creaked open and the sound of gentle footsteps answered her. “Who's there?”
    For a moment there was no response, then finally a nervous mumble. “I...I'm Salem.” The voice of a young man. Something about it sounded oddly familiar, but she could not put her finger on it. The sound of his voice, despite the fact that it was a man's was strangely calming to her. “You may not recall the event but I had found you in the tundra.” She began to recall the event; someone had carried her all the way from the tundra to the Snowfields and to Elias. They made sure she ate, stayed warm and fought off Agasuras, but then she was still in shock both physically and mentally, and could barely bring herself to speak, let alone move her body. “You were wounded, but you still survived. I'm thankful for it.”
    “Your name is Salem?” There was a pause again, she assumed he nodded. Salem never did say much. Maybe it was in the fact that she rarely spoke to him until now which was cause, but then and now, he seemed awfully soft-spoken. “It's a pleasure to properly be introduced to you Salem. My name is Reina.” She smiled at him. “You saved my life. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I wish I could do something in return for you, but I've nothing to my name but the clothes on my back. Everything else...may have been lost.”
    Salem shook his head. “I'm not looking for gratitude of any sort. I just wished to know you better. I don't know what your situation is, or what had happened that left you in such a state but you're here now. Whoever had done this to you, you're free of them, and in this city I hope you can start anew.” He paused for a moment and she patiently waited for what he had to say. “You don't need to speak of what had happened yet. I know its a very difficult memory for you to come to terms with, but until you can allow me to be your strength. If there is anything you may need, call upon me. If this city is not to your liking, I'll take you across the world if you so desire.”
    She was taken aback by his immensely earnest declaration, but somewhat impressed. By the way he spoke, he was not likely from anywhere near Elias.

    How many weeks had Reina spent in this room since the knights had come? She timidly traced her hand along the wall next to her and felt the glass of the window by her bed. She wondered what stood on the other side of the glass; what the face of the marketplace she now lived in would have looked through her eyes, had she still had them. Was she doomed to be shrouded in darkness for the rest of her life? The following day Master and his companion quietly repeated their daily process and both froze in place upon hearing Reina approaching.
    “M-Master!” Skuld placed a finger to her lips after calling out to the barista and he nodded. “Reina, good morning.”
    “Good morning to you too Skuld, and Master.” Reina answered with a smile. She carefully came down the stairs with a hand against the wall and felt her way around the shop.
    “Let me get you a seat!” The Brownie rushed to pull up a chair for their guest and she nodded to the barista.
    “Master?” He asked and Reina looked startled, her face flushing pink only moments after.
    “Oh um...did I say something strange?” Reina asked.
    “I wouldn't call it strange per se, but those who know a Confidant, that is, typically refer to me as Vanir. Only my guests call me Master. And Skuld.”
    “Skuld!” Reina complained.
    “I'm sorry! Force of habit!” Skuld cried.
    “You two are something else.” Vanir muttered. “So what brings you out of the cave today?”
    Reina still looked startled when he spoke and he smiled wryly at the discovery. While Skuld lead her to the chair she replied, “I...want to overcome my-oh thank you-fears.”
    “If this is going to end with you stabbing me a second time, I'd recommend asking Salem to help you overcome your fears of men. Violent androphobic girls are not as amusing as I once thought.”
    She furrowed her eyebrows. “Is that supposed to be amusing?” He only said, 'You'd be surprised' and she disregarded the comment. “I'm very serious about this Vanir. If I have to beg for this, then I'll beg, but please help me surpass my fears and become a warrior!”
    He fumbled the cup he was holding and narrowly managed to catch it while shouting, “Gods!” After successfully managing to get a proper hold on it, he gave her a stern glare. “Have you gone mad?! You're skin and bones! Your body says you're not fit to be a warrior!”
    “I'll do whatever you tell me to do, so if you can, teach me!” She was adamant on having her way and he knew it.
    “Why don't you study to become a wizard? Trust me, I've seen some real warriors before, both male and female and they were not the type you'd want to cross swords with. Hell, I used to run the gamut with one of the finest warriors in all the realm. She and some other power houses kicked my ass. Badly. It's a damn miracle that I survived with a few scrapes.” He frowned. “As for you, you're not cut out to be a warrior. If you're so vehement on doing it, I'll be damned if I could actually convince you not to, but if you can't even be in the vicinity of a man you'll only get yourself killed. I don't need that on my conscience.”
    “If I prove myself, would you be willing to teach me?” Reina had a strangely hopeful look and Vanir's resolve was steadily cracking beneath the pressure. She felt confident she could change his mind.
    “Stubborn girl...” He muttered. “You don't even know whether or not I'm a warrior! I could be a wizard for all you know!”
    She shook her head. “Though I can't see your outer physical appearance I can...tell, in a way. It's hard to explain but I just have a feeling.” He raised an eyebrow. “Everyone has a certain aura about them, no matter what race or class, that aura tells a lot about them. At first yours was very intimidating but now it tells a story of someone who became powerful through hardship.” She chuckled. “Maybe I'm just talking nonsense but even when I still had my eyesight I still had that sense.” She clenched her fists. “If you won't train me now, I'll work myself until I become someone worthy of your time.”
    Though Vanir sighed, he still smiled. “It's just like she had told me. 'The eyes are the key to the soul' or something like that right? Jeez...” He shook his head. “I swear, you Cerebians have some kind of third eye or something. But you specifically...remind me a lot of me when I was your age. Don't answer this if you don't want to, but what drives you to such lengths?”
    Reina did her best not to think of her traumatic experiences. Here and now was not the place to fight against her own fears. She needed to show Vanir that she was capable of becoming a proper warrior with his guidance. “I want to avenge my people by taking down the generals who lead the attack on my village, an-”
    “That's enough.” He snarled causing her to stop with a terrified expression. “Vengeance? Don't joke about something like that. You can't even begin to fathom how many soldiers-no, how many people I've many deaths I've seen due to people living only for the sake of vengeance! Vengeance is nothing more than a fool's errand! It's a one-way ticket to an inexorable demise! If that's all you seek to accomplish, you'll need to find another mentor, because I won't be the one to teach you. Those who walk that path walk the path of carnage. I won't stop you from seeing your choice through to the end, but I won't participate in it.”
    “It's not...” She muttered and he awaited her response. “It's not the only objective that I aim to accomplish. My people have been enslaved by the Dark Moon, and they had taken my mother from me too. I was too weak to protect her, and to protect myself. This is what I've become for it!” She sobbed. “As if stealing the lives of my friends and taking my mother away from me was not enough, they'd destroyed all that I held home, my possessions, my holy place, and they went so far as to take my eyes and my maidenhood away from me! I don't care to make them pay with their own blood, but I can't bear to know that everyday I while away those that I once whiled my days away with are suffering by the hands of the Dark Moon Kingdom. I may just be one person, but even as just one I know I can make a change, and if there’s a way I will make a change!”
    Vanir smirked. “Talk about living for the sake of others.” He sighed and gave her a slow clap. “I didn't think you had the courage to talk about such traumatic experiences so soon. Bravo Reina. You've convinced me.” He looked out the window wistfully. “The fact that the people of your town were enslaved means that your mother may still be among them. I can teach you, but I can only build you up as far as you're willing to push yourself. If your conviction is powerful as your words, I may just be able to make a warrior out of you.” He put the cup he was cleaning away and nodded to his waitress. “Alright Skuld, we're gonna close up for the day. The three of us are gonna hit the gym. Also, could you stay by Reina's side and guide her around the city? Until she familiarizes herself with the area through memorization, it'll be our job to help her out.”
    “You can count on me Master.” Skuld replied with a smile.
    “Before we go though, let me be clear on a couple things kid. I'll give you two years to prove to me that you're capable. Show me how strong you can become in that time and then I'll teach you. Until then I'll only teach you the basics. That aside, I'm not your average mentor. I didn't train as a warrior in this realm, and in coming here my mana was sealed so using spells and stances is impossible for me. I can't pass on that knowledge to you nor can I give you the proof of your aptitude.” He smiled bitterly. “I was never a real warrior to begin with. Are you sure you're alright with this?”
    Reina nodded. “If you can give me the strength to wield a weapon that's all I'll need. I know our people have access to powers much greater while wielding them, but if possible I don't want to have to murder the generals. In place of it, I'd like to use them as bargaining chips. I may be able to make a trade with the Dark Moon for my people in turn for their lives. Defeating another matter unto itself.” She grinned. “But if you're the one teaching me, somehow I believe I'll be able to do it.”
    “Gods...” Vanir muttered. “Stop putting so much confidence in me already. If you get killed I'm gonna feel guilty afterwards.” After confirming that the shop was properly closed up he lead them out and locked up after them. “Let's get right into it, shall we? Show me what you can do, and somehow I'll make a man out of you.”
    “Beg your pardon?” The girl asked incredulously.
    “It was-oh never mind.” He muttered under his breath.

    Vanir lead the two through a series of unusual paths, often times including alleyways and back roads with little presence within the city of Elias leaving Skuld with an uneasy air about her.
    “Master, why are we taking such unconventional routes to reach our destination?” Skuld asked uneasily.
    “If Reina hasn't adapted to mine or Salem's presence (as men)yet, it'd be for the best if she wasn't around an even larger group of strangers. That aside, we aren't too sure of what triggers her fears. Until we fully understand it, lets not risk that. When we can help her to overcome them, little by little we'll assist her into becoming a part of the human society.”
    Skuld beamed. “That sounds really nice.”
    He stole a glance at Reina. “You alright with that plan Kid?”
    Reina smiled and nodded. “Your kindness is too much for me.” She said.
    “Hush you. Ain't like I've got anything better to do anyway. Our shop's a ghost town.” He laughed dryly. “Ah here we are.”
    The group arrived at a large pale building labelled 'Elias Fitness' and made their way up the stairs towards the entrance.
    “Today we'll be working on those scrawny arms of yours. Can't expect you to wield anything more than a stick if you're a stick.” Vanir sneered. Reina was slightly surprised by the sudden influx of insults, but his words were nothing in comparison to the things Warlord Carmen said to her warriors. The trio entered and she heard Vanir walking away as he told the two, “I'll go get you signed up. Just wait there with Skuld.”
    Skuld gently tugged on Reina's hand and she knelt down to hear what the young girl had to say. “Reina, I'm sorry I won't be able to speak with you inside or in the city sometimes, but if we're not holding hands I'll still be nearby okay?” She told her.
    Reina tousled her hair and smiled at her. “Thank you Skuld. Knowing you're there is a great comfort to me.”
    Vanir eventually returned and Reina knew it was him by the chiming of his bell as he approached. “Alright kids, lets get right to it, shall we?” She gave him a nod and Skuld lead her while following in the barista's wake.

    Around closing time the trio took their leave, Reina nearly limping by the end of their session.
    “I t-thought we'd just be working on my arms.” She muttered breathlessly.
    “Arms? Hmm...I did say that but if I wanna make you into a powerhouse you're gonna need a full body overhaul. Better warn you now though, you're probably gonna be bed-ridden for a day or two just from the soreness in your muscles.” She wanted to make a jape about it and restrained herself, realizing she was becoming more like him than she would have liked.
    “It's not entirely a bad thing.” Skuld told her. “Once they recover you'll be stronger than you were before.” The optimism of his waitress was rather contagious. Reina wondered what brought the two together, considering that they were seemingly polar opposites.

    Over the next few months Salem often did not see Reina when returning from work and occasionally caught glimpses of her behind the shop doing practice swings with a wooden sword. The two very rarely talked, but when they did he noticed that she seemed to be doing a lot better over the time she had spent at the shop. Though he had no idea what she was learning swordplay for, she started smiling and had been more talkative than she once was. Having another goal in mind likely gave her some peace of mind, but had not exactly cured her trauma. Vanir was likely giving his best in helping her to overcome it, so Salem wished to do his part also. The days where Vanir worked were those that Reina trained alone in the back. In his days off he could take the opportunity to speak with her more than he usually would, and now was a good opportunity for it.
    He exited through the back and closed the door after him catching Reina's attention.
    “Vanir? Is that you?” She asked stopping in the midst of her practice.
    “No, it's Salem.” Salem replied.
    “Ah. Good morning Salem.” She said with a radiant smile and he smiled back. Today she wore a black tank top and navy shorts with her auburn hair tied in a fishtail braid. He wondered if Vanir had done it, considering that he too has long hair. Someone had to do Skuld's hair, so it was very likely that he did both of theirs. When had the two become so close?
    “Would to talk for a bit?” He suddenly became aware of how nervous he sounded. His voice nearly cracked and he felt rather embarrassed by the fact, but it did not seem to bother her.
    “Sure.” She placed the sword in a rack with a second next to it, and grabbed a bottle of water and a towel. The two sat down on a nearby bench and Reina took a drink. “It's rare that we get to talk these days. Verun must be working you really hard.”
    “The work isn't too difficult. It can be a bit busy during the lunch rush, but once things ease up its a very forward job. I'd like to know what it is that caused such a rift between he and Vanir. In some of the pictures in the shop the two are together, and they look rather happy.”
    “I'm not sure either, since Vanir won't tell me the reason. If we do find out the cause, maybe someday we'll be able to patch things up between them.”
    “One of these days I'll ask Verun what their story is. He doesn't seem as bitter about it as Vanir is, so maybe I can find out some vital information from him.” There was a slight pause between the two and Salem decided to take the opportunity to ask her a more personal question. “Reina, would you...tell me about your life before that day?”
    She was silent for a couple of moments and Salem immediately thought it was much too soon to ask, but she gave a nod with a smile and his heart was relieved. “Xenym was peaceful. Nothing ever really happened there.” She chuckled. “It was really cold, so we rarely had travellers visit it, but that was alright. It was a small village, so everyone knew everyone else. When we celebrated, we often did it as a whole, even if it was just someone's birthday. Having everyone come to your birthday party made you feel really loved.” She placed a hand to her chin and thought for a moment. “We only had one school, and it wasn't really all that big, but they somehow managed to fit all of us in it.” She laughed. “My friend Virgil used to give the teachers trouble all the time. There wasn't a single day where he wasn't in trouble for one reason or another.” Her smile slowly disappeared as she recalled what had occurred on a specific day.
    With just a look Salem could tell that it was a painful memory for her, but telling of her past made her happy. He knew the only way she would overcome her fears was if she were to face them. “Will you tell me more about your friends?” He asked.
    She took a deep breath and nodded. “There was two of them, Virgil and Alessa. We were an inseparable trio. In our early school days Virgil wasn't part of the group. He used to prank the girls and the teachers quite a fair bit, and his father always had to come to the school and scold him for it.” She chuckled. “His dad was really muscular too, and intimidating. After we became friends with Virgil and got to know him, he turned out to be a really nice guy. He was just strict with Virgil because he wanted to raise him to be a proper man. In our teenage years Virgil began to look a lot more like his father, and he became very reliable and stern. He was actually pretty handsome but I'd never have told him that or he might get an inflated ego.”
    “Alessa was my best friend through all of it. Both of us were tomboys.” Her face flushed slightly as she giggled, the girl seeming younger and much more vibrant at the moment. “When we were young we often wound up among the boys, and she loved to wrestle with them.  Her mom used to make her do archery practice and she always told me how much she couldn't stand it, but it turned out that she had decided she'd be an archer when it became time to pick a career. She also had the biggest crush on Virgil. The two of them used to fight all the time and she said it was because she didn't like him, but I knew better. When the boys stopped fighting with her she turned to other things like properly studying and her archery, so she became a lot better when it came to those. We often studied together, and I taught her everything I knew. I was top of the class! Pretty impressive right?”
    Salem chuckled. “Very. You must have really given your all to rise to the top.” He did not quite understand what it meant to be the top of the class, but he had a vague idea. He wondered what his life would be like if he had went to school like Reina. The two lived completely different lives, and if even for a moment he wanted to share her burdens, her joys and in the memories she held dear.
    She nodded proudly. “Mom made sure of that. The two of us did so well that Virgil came to us for help when he decided to part with his trickster ways and become a serious student. His father always scolded him become of his terrible marks. Maybe there was a point where he had finally had enough.” Salem had no doubts in his mind. “After that we started hanging out more and going places together. There wasn't much to see or do in Xenym, but when we were together it never really mattered. Just being with them made everyday exciting. Looking back, it makes me miss them even more. I wonder how many times I've seen Alessa insult Virgil in some way or another and invoke his wrath.” She laughed. “No matter how old we got that's one thing that certainly never changed.” She seemed slightly relieved. “Thanks for hearing me out Salem. The talks we've had are a refreshing change of pace from the usual training.”
    “It's my pleasure.” He said.
    “Will you tell me about yourself? We've known each other for a few months but I only know your name.” She chuckled with a flushed face.
    Her question gave him pause. How could he tell her that he was a part of the invasion of her hometown? “W-well I'm-”
    He nearly jumped out of his seat when he heard Vanir exit the shop and call one of them leaving them both confused, “Hey, male kid!”
    “Must that be the way you differentiate us?” Reina asked with knit eyebrows.
    This gave him pause. “Uhh...yeah? You'll get used to it sooner or later. Anyway, there are some people here I'd like to introduce you to so don't dilly-dally and get your ass in the shop.” He raised an eyebrow. “Am I interrupting something? My mistake. Though if you'd like to come along too, feel free female kid. I'm sure they'd be glad to meet you too.”
    Salem wanted to ask exactly who Vanir intended to introduce him to, but saw little reason in the idea knowing that he'd be meeting them in a matter of moments. As for his question, if it was not obvious already he barged in on their conversation at an incredibly convenient time.
    “It's nothing that we can't discuss another time Vanir. I'll have to pass up on your invitation; maybe another time I'll meet them. For now I'd like to be here with my memories, but thank you all the same.” He shrugged and she turned to Salem. “You should go and meet your guests Salem. Let's talk again another time. If you're ever interested I have more stories to tell.” She gestured for him to go with another bright smile.
    He grinned guiltily. “I'm looking forward to it.”

    Last edited by TJ on Sat Dec 07, 2013 7:25 am; edited 1 time in total

    Posts : 895
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    Age : 26
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    Innocent Empty Re: Innocent

    Post  TJ on Sat Dec 07, 2013 7:19 am

    Pages 21-30:
    Salem entered the shop while following in Vanir's footsteps and found a group of five gathered around the bar, the barista taking his place on the other side of it. Only moments ago Salem had feared that he may be crossing paths with people from his past, come to take him back and likely execute him for desertion, but much to his surprise and relief, it was a group of strangers.
    “The guest of honour's here, so let's get these introductions along with, shall we ladies and gents?” Vanir asked. While speaking Vanir made a series of unusual gestures with his hands. A young girl with short icy blue hair in a bob cut nodded. “Alright first one's first! Leader of this little crew and many others, the little princess!”
    The girl who nodded before stood up and gave him an uneasy glance. “Please do not call me that.” Just as Vanir had, when she spoke she made a multitude of gestures with her hands. The 'Little Princess', likely no older than eleven or twelve was clad in blue corduroy pants over pink sneakers and a navy blue sleeveless blouse. She wore a band on her head that featured white ribbons with red tips holding onto two bells that rested next to her temples. She also wore yellow frame-less glasses and a pair of star earrings. “You must be Salem, correct? Vanir has told me great things about you. My name is Peorth, leader of the guild Yggdrasil. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. For taking care of one of ours, I owe you a debt.” Though young, the guild leader had an air of elegance and leadership to her.
    “Let's move on to the next one,” Vanir continued, “the ranged terror of Yggdrasil, Star!”
    “Oh please.” The girl laughed, seemingly watching his hands rather than his eyes as he spoke. A young lady likely no older than Salem with snow white hair tied in a bun and half-open golden eyes winked at him. She wore a white tube top and an a-skirt with a snowflake pattern with black gladiator sandals. Star waved at him and his eyes flickered between the glittering silver bracelet and her eyes. “Nice to finally meet you Salem. Just like Vanir said, you can call me Star,” She smiled cheerfully, “You've been looking rather confused for a while by the gestures that these two have been making. You're probably not familiar with sign language right?” He nodded. He had no idea what sign language was; the masters at Owl Castle would likely have considered it irrelevant to his training. “They do it for my sake. I can't hear.” Her voice, though not very loud, had a rather endearing tone to it.
    The realization dawned upon him and the look on his face gave it away. “I'm sorr-” He paused and his face flushed. If Star could not hear, how was he to communicate with her? As far as first impressions go, he certainly was not doing so well.
    Vanir gestured to her and she smiled. “Don't be. It's not everyday you'll come across someone who's hearing is impaired. That aside, learning sign language isn't easy.”
    The barista nodded. “I had to learn it twice, and both times it was hard as hell. Figured I might as well learn it after I learned Jienda's common language. Anyway, if there's something you want to say to Star, I'll translate for you.” He explained. “The others already know it.”
    “Thanks.” Salem said.
    “Next in line is Yggdrasil's eccentric explorer Kooh.”
    A young lady with a hair colour like Peorth's tied in twin tails and shining crimson eyes rose and took a bow. She wore a white golf shirt and a plaid mini-skirt over a pair of cycling shorts. She wore white sneakers and had both ears pierced with a tiny clear gem. “You're too kind,” Kooh said with a grin. “Hi Salem, thanks for rescuing Reina. I heard you two were really hitting it off,” She raised her eyebrows masterfully and he gave her a cautious stare in turn. “I've also caught word that God's Governor of Earth Julius had a little baby girl with a human spouse. I wanna see her!” She cried longingly. Salem found her to be as eccentric as Vanir said.
    “Now for the boys. Why don't you go first Hero?” Vanir asked.
    “Don't mind if I do,” A tall young man with sharp blue eyes and long black hair tied back in a bomb-style ponytail rose from his chair and flashed Salem a grin, the mole near his mouth catching his attention for a moment. “Hey Salem. Vanir's been saying some good things about you.” Hero told him. He was a muscular man wearing a cream button-down shirt, matching jeans and white sandals. He wore a straw hat, a black bead bracelet and waterfall shaped earrings. His unbuttoned shirt revealed his abs and its lack of sleeves revealed a serpent like dragon tattoo spread across his right arm. “This Reina sounds pretty strong too. I wouldn't mind sparring with her.” He grinned. Despite his disposition, Salem could tell that he was fierce just by his presence alone.
    “I ain't got any wooden great swords for you. That aside, I don't need you beating up my student!”
    “Every bird has to leave the nest someday, cheapskate!” Salem eyed the two curiously expecting a fight to break out at any moment, but the pair laughed it off.
    “Now then, last but not least a real fan favourite, Ardy!”
    “Who are you calling Ardy? My name's Ardoss.” Ardoss hissed. A boy who seemed to be the youngest in the group stood up. His long black hair was tied in a ponytail and his other features gave Salem the suspicion that he was from Aoich.
    “Come now, don't be such a downer. You know I've only got love for you.”
    He rolled his turquoise eyes and crossed his arms, white sleeves over a red tunic. “I never said I wanted your love. I didn't want it before and I sure as hell don't want it now.” Vanir was mock offended. “So you're Salem huh? You look weaker than I expected. Vanir really hyped you up.” Though the last statement was over Salem's head, the rest was evident to be nothing more than insults. To his defense, unlike Ardoss he did not have a camellia hairpin and bandages for shoes. The boy's brown pants were nothing too spectacular.
    Ignoring Ardoss' string of insults Salem addressed them all, “It's my pleasure, meeting all of you. Some time ago Vanir had mentioned a someone he called a princess and her friends. I take it you're the group?”
    “Indeed we are.” Peorth answered with a nod.
    “So what brings you here today?” Vanir asked with a raised eyebrow. “The fact that you came all this way with the whole crew instead of mailing me what you wanted me to know has to mean its important.”
    Peorth intertwined her fingers and stole a glance at the window. “Before we begin we must be sure that Salem is sworn to secrecy.” She turned her gaze to him, her piercing sapphire eyes filling him with a sense of unease. “Those who wish to be entwined with us are those we call Confidants. We trust them with our secrets, our news, and we rely on them in our times of need. Confidants are an important source of information for our people, and can be important allies if conflict arises, especially with the Agasura. If you choose to become a Confidant, we shall be relying on your strength when the need arises; though not only us, people from all over the world may come to you if you are the nearest Confidant. That aside, you shall be given a mark that is only visible for the first few minutes that it is created, but remains with you until your demise.” Upon hearing the word 'demise' he felt a greater unease. “This mark will be proof of your covenant with us, and will allow our kind to feel your presence among others. It is a hefty responsibility, but a necessity in forging bonds between our kinds. Will you, Salem, become a Confidant? If you choose not to do so, I will kindly ask that you part ways with Reina. Your life is at risk if you remain with her, and we do not wish to bring those that are not involved into our conflict.”
    Salem crossed his arms and closed his eyes as he weighed his options. If he was to become a Confidant, he would not only understand Reina's situation better, but he would also become a trusted person among the Cerebians. It seemed to be the better choice, without a doubt, but should he do so he could be putting her and the rest of her kind in danger. He was still a deserter of Owl Castle, and if he was captured, he would be tortured and interrogated most certainly. Being on their side, it never had happened before, but he was taught that if he was tortured for any information on the kingdom or castle, better to die and take the secrets to the grave. Being a part of Owl Castle and seeing first-hand what happened to the Cerebians for existing made him sick. He wanted to atone, and to assist Reina in bringing an end to the slavery and slaughter of her kind. What guarantee did he have that he would not be the catalyst for it?
    He opened his eyes and glimpsed at the group of Cerebians before him. Peorth had a serene and trusting impression, Star beamed at him, Hero gave him an acknowledging thumbs-up while Kooh whispered for him to say yes and nodded repeatedly, and though Ardoss did not make eye contact, he gave a shrug. Skuld on the other hand was positively glowing with excitement at the prospect, while Vanir was making an 'L' shape on his forehead with his left hand and making seemingly mocking expressions.
    Though they knew little of him next to what Vanir had told them, they trusted him wholeheartedly and wanted him to be a part of their culture. Salem almost could not believe it. He remembered that he wished to start anew with Reina. He had come this far already, and he had left his old life behind him; becoming a Confidant could be a necessary step in that direction, and he would not likely get another chance at it.
    “I'll do it.” He said.
    “It is a good day.” Peorth said with an approving nod.
    “Atta-boy!” Kooh cheered.
    “Welcome to the team Salem.” Star told him with a smile.
    “Ha! I win! You owe me big, Barkeep.” Hero exclaimed with a fist pump.
    “Oh get out.” Vanir muttered with a dismissing wave of his hand. Ardoss did not speak.
    “Have I become a Confidant?” Salem asked. He found it incredible that such a graceful guild master managed to keep her composure with such a rowdy group of guild mates. The masters at Owl Castle rarely joked, and those who laughed when they did were punished.
    “Oh no, not at this moment.” Peorth replied. She arose from her seat once more. “Hero, Kooh, Star, I would like you to act as witnesses as I perform the ritual.” That sense of unease Salem had prior returned, as if what had occurred previously was the building of a basin, in preparation for what was to come. Had he agreed to be interrogated by the Cerebians? Julius had said their people would not choose bloodshed over diplomacy, or in his words 'reforming the ignorant' but what could Salem consider this? He took a deep breath. Vanir was also a Confidant, and he did not know of Salem's past so the others likely knew little also. They had no reason to interrogate him, and if they did he would hold to his secrets. For the time being, he decided to put his trust in them; as it stood, Vanir and Reina were the only ones he could turn to. He would not doubt his benefactor now.
    “Right behind you Lil' Princess.” Hero said rising. She glared at him for a moment and he grinned back at her.
    “Let's do it!” Kooh said jumping off of her chair with Star following closely behind.
    “Vanir, if you'd be so kind?” Peorth asked a rather vague question.
    “Your wish is my command.” He responded closing the blinds.
    Kooh stood in the middle of the room. “Salem over here!” She called to him while gesturing for him come over. “You're gonna have to kneel down for a bit.”
    He did as she requested and the trio took their places in a triangle around him. Peorth stood in front of him and gave him a nod, likely signalling that she was going to begin. Explanations aside, she was a girl of very few words.
    “It would be in your best interest to pay very close attention to the ritual, Ardoss. As God's Governor of Wind, it will be your duty to select Confidants as you see fit along with your peers.” Peorth stated. This bit of information caught Salem's attention. Rosetta had said that she was the wife to the God's Governor of Earth, which proved to be one of the deadliest Wizards that Salem had ever seen. The two single-handedly crushed a rather large majority of the Dark Moon and Owl Castle's forces attending the invasion. The fact that Peorth mentioned his 'peers' meant there certainly was more of them.
    “...Okay.” He said reluctantly. This almost surprised Salem as much as the last thing he had heard. The coarse boy had no remarks for Peorth. He did not know the relationship between the two, but somehow Peorth was superior to him in some strange way or another.
    “Let us begin.” Peorth turned to the others and nodded once to each, and as she did they would close their eyes, lower their heads and clasp their hands together. The guild master outstretched her arms with her palms facing skywards as did her head, and an unusual darkness fell upon the room as an unusual circle took shape beneath them all, split into three fractions; a series of marking unbeknownst to Salem along with a large symbol, seemingly a herald, appeared in the center. A leaf cradled by two wings. He tried his best not to move or make a sound as Peorth proceeded with the ritual.
    “Without your guidance we are lost; on this day we shall add another lamb to your flock. Great shepherd, lend us your wisdom in our journey to bring salvation to all! Teach this man your ways so that he too may guide the lost along the path of righteousness! By the name of Peorth Emeria Ásvaŕtlim I request the ascension of Salem as a Confidant under God Ah's jurisdiction! With these three as my witnesses, let it be so.”
    The fraction that Hero stood in lit up brighter than the others and he raised his head with open eyes. “I, Hero, acknowledge his ascension.” He said with conviction. The tone in his voice proved how serious he could be, and Salem felt a slight amount of intimidation by hearing it. The glow from where he stood travelled through the markings in the circle to the center and a third of it began to emanate a powerful glow.
    The next person was Kooh, following the same gestures and actions that Hero had. “I, Kooh, acknowledge his ascension.” She said in an uncharacteristically serious tone. Salem began to wonder whether that was her usual self; it seemed almost natural for her, despite her typical disposition.
    The final person Star had done as her predecessors. “I, Star, acknowledge his ascension.” For the first time Salem found it rather normal for any of them to speak in such a tone, Peorth aside. The circle emitted an incredible, nearly blinding light and Salem squinted just to reduce the amount he took in.
    “Their wishes shall give shape to the future of the Cerebians. Let their trust take form in this mark and embrace your destiny in forging a new legacy between our races!” Peorth chanted, then knelt down and placed a hand to Salem's head. For the first few seconds she did, it burned lightly. Moments after it began to cease, pain jolted through his entire body and he cringed, managing to contain a shout of pain. It was brief, to his relief and he gasped heavily as he fell to his hands gasping. “The ritual is complete. We welcome you to our colony, Confidant Salem.” Peorth gave him a rare smile.
    Hero walked over and gave him an approving nod. “The herald doesn't look half bad. I was thinking of getting one on my back. Like a genuine tattoo, you know?” He said aloud. He seemed to be referencing the glowing herald upon Salem's forehead, alike to that which was within the circle.
    “I do not approve of this.” The guild master remarked.
    Kooh gave Salem a pat on the back. “You took that like a champ. Way to go bud.” She told him with a grin. “You should've seen Vanir during his ritual. He screamed.”
    “Wh-I did no such thing!” Vanir hissed defensively. “Am I right?! Skuld?!” The Brownie looked away with a mischievous smile. “Betrayer! Backstabber! Traitor!”
    “Let us fill you in on the little details of our race over a meal!” Hero said offering Salem a hand. He took it and offered his gratitude, taking a seat shortly after next to him. “Serve it up Barkeep!”
    “Do I look like a barkeep to you?! I'll serve your head on a silver platter before I serve you or Kooh a thing!” Vanir shouted.
    Salem knew not what he had gotten himself into, but he knew for certain that he would enjoy his years if he could do it with them.

    Reina tightly gripped the wooden sword and took a swing. She stepped forward and took two more. As she practiced she recalled Vanir's words that would be paramount in her training. Being a warrior was about more than just strength; overpowering an enemy is a small feat in comparison to truly understanding the art. Speed, footwork, technique and focus were all crucial elements, but not all there was to it. She had to be aware of her surroundings. If she was fighting amidst a group, swinging wildly would likely end with an ally getting decapitated by her. Most importantly for her, according to him, would be to listen. Her ears would have to be her eyes in every battle; he did not go into detail on the matter because he would teach her much more if she proved herself, so learning as much as she could from the basic information he had given her could give her an edge when the time came.
    As if fighting an enemy, she made gestures to block, parry and strike when she saw fit while remembering the things she had learned in books and through her late friend. Virgil had often shared his knowledge with Reina and Alessa after the day's training. Alessa often asked about what he had learned that day, and willingly acted as a training dummy for him to demonstrate Warlord Carmen's teachings. Some of the time she went so far as to spar with him, often getting thrown around and defeated, though Virgil held back. All the times he had bested her might have made her a lot tougher, considering that regardless of what he did to her she would rise again. Reina chuckled gently. Virgil had taught her the shadow boxing technique so if she ever decided to take up a weapon and join the Cerebians in their fight against the Agasura she could. She knew that the real reason behind it was so that she could learn to defend herself through practice for when he and Alessa left the village. He always worried like that, but did very roundabout things in order to help them become stronger.
    She plunged the sword into the dirt and sat down next to it. She missed them all dearly, especially her mother, but the Cerebians believed that death was not the end for everyone. Somewhere on the other side, they were all there waiting to meet her again. When her time came she would be reunited with them, but her time had not come yet. Fate had plans for her; much bigger than she could have ever imagined. She may not have been her people's saviour, nor a hero in their eyes, but it did not mean that she could not be something more than she was now. She was a survivor. She had witnessed the invasion and escaped it thanks to Salem, and that was more than enough reason for her to take action. She tightly gripped the grass beneath her and tore it out as she grit her teeth. Thinking about the event was still difficult for her, but it would not bring her to her knees any longer. Reina had three wonderful friends supporting her and pushing her forward. She would not let their efforts go to waste. She had decided she would save her people, and in doing so she would return to them their lives, their hopes, and their futures.
    She rose again and took the sword in hand, pointing it forward. Someday she would wield a real sword and do battle against the Dark Moon, but until then she would grow in body and mind, and when the day comes she could not fight anymore, she would make her peace and go over to the other world where her family and friends awaited her. When that day comes, she would show them how strong she had become.

    The Dark Moon King had summoned his generals and the leader of Owl Castle, the Shadow Ninja King to a place hidden at the highest point in the castle, by the name of 'The Moon of the Sixteenth Day'. The area, a garden within the castle; tatami mats over cobblestones surrounded by water, grass, flowers and trees growing from within the liquid. The walls were a gentle tan and the windows were barred with wood. Rice paper screens were scattered throughout the long corridors along with small wooden tables and platforms reigning over the water. Various types of fish swam through it within the view of the visitors. Generals Hotaka and Hayato sat next to each other at one side of a table, Master Kazuo and the Shadow Ninja King adjacent to them, and the Dark Moon King at the head of the table.
    “It pleases me to see you all gathered here today.” The Dark Moon King said. He was a tall slender man with long black hair and a sparrow beard and moustache. He had sharp dark eyes that commanded the attention of those who surrounded him. He was clad in a dark blue kimono emblazoned with the Dark Moon's herald, a black crescent moon within a circle, a black hakama and a pair of geta. “The Sun of Wind brings me good news.” The Shadow Ninja King gave a confident nod. “He claims that you have successfully overthrown the winged creatures in the tundra and defeated their leader. General Hayato, your report?”
    “Your Highness,” General Hayato began bowing his head. A titan of a man clad in solid black yukinoshita dou, faulds, poleyn, greaves with a kabuto resting in his lap. He had short black hair and a ducktail beard with fierce eyes. “The invasion was a success. We have enslaved sixty-four creatures and slain the others. As the King of Owl Castle informed you, we have also slain 'God's Governor of Earth Julius', as the winged ones know him.”
    “Excellent. You have done well in leading the men Hayato.”
    The general bowed again. “I am not worthy of your praise, your grace.”
    “If I may, your Highness?” General Hotaka requested. A slender man with shoulder length black hair tied in a high ponytail and calm, dark eyes began. He wore a black haori over a matching kimono and a striped hakama with white tabi and tan zori.
    “Permission granted.” The Dark Moon King responded with a keen interest.
    “In challenging the winged one's leader, or God's Governor of Earth, we had lost many good men. He and his wife alone had defeated more than half of the army we had sent to invade, and a fair portion of the soldiers of Owl Castle. I strongly believe that the casualty rate is much too high for us to ri-”
    Hayato slammed his hands down on the table and interjected, “Lives will be lost in war! If we cannot make sacrifices-”
    The Dark Moon King raised a hand and the second general stopped immediately. “Hold your tongue Hayato. I did not give you permission to speak. Now, if you would please continue Hotaka.”
    “If it pleases you, your Highness.” He cleared his throat. “As I had said prior, in engaging the God's Governor of Earth many of our forces were slain. I have discussed the matter with our tactician, and he suspects that if Julius was the God's Governor of Earth, there are others, likely with great power under the other elements. He had shown me an excerpt from a history book, and in it, it had mentioned four heroes who wielded the powers of earth, water, wind and fire. I am almost certain that the two are linked. Should the remaining three be united, I fear that they would be powerful enough to eliminate our remaining forces with ease, and within the fortnight. We know not of their whereabouts, and even less so of their capability.”
    The Dark Moon King solemnly listened to his general speaking, and Sun of Moon took his opportunity when he saw it. “May I have a word, your Highness?” He asked. Another man clad in black ninja garb, though unlike many of those under him, he did not wear a mask. His puffy white hair and cat ears resting upon them, and his red and blue hetero-chromatic eyes gave him a very distinct image. The Dark Moon King nodded. “To use such destructive magics must certainly require a massive amount of power, correct?” The King raised an eyebrow and the others leaned in closer. “I suggest rather than killing the God's Governors, we capture them and utilize their power. There were no survivors after the invasion. Though very few of our men were lucky to escape with their lives before being buried beneath the sand with the others. I don't believe that all the God's Governors would be so generous with their lives, and those of their people like he was.”
    “How do you suggest that we handle this situation?” The DMK asked.
    “Captives, of course. If we can find the weakness of the God's Governors, we can exploit them. Just as we do, the winged ones have families. Say we had the mother or father of a Governor, they would have no choice but to submit. That matter aside, I am in agreement with Hotaka. We should take some time to recover. I lost some of my best men in that invasion, and should we make a move again so soon, both Owl Castle and Dark Moon Castle will be left unguarded, or at the least left in the hands of soldiers who are ill-prepared for battle.” He crossed his arms. “We should be wary. Those who reported back to me after the invasion said that from what they had seen, many of the village's militia were untrained, and nothing more than mere villagers and farmers. We have little intelligence on the capability of their wizards, God's Governor Julius aside. To our advantage, the soldiers have crossed swords with some of their warriors.”
    “So you suspect that wherever they may be, their wizards may have power that exceeds that of humanity's?” Sun of Moon nodded gravely.
    “I would like to speak your Highness.” Hayato said. “If we're to combat the winged ones, and keep the men alive, we're going to need more power. If His Majesty will lend us his strength, I have no doubts we could easily conquer the winged ones, and their governors also.” The look on the King's face said that Hayato had his undivided attention. “Our tactician, Eung Soo's daughter Choen Palm  is well versed in the ancient magical arts. I know how to get men like him to speak.” He grinned devilishly. “We should have him send for her from Simyeon and act as the princess' retainer. During her stay we will train her in the art of war and use her power to trample the winged ones underfoot. The sooner we strike, the better. There may be no survivors from the invasion that are not within our grasp, but we cannot afford to let the other winged ones obtain the preemptive strike. I suggest that we make great haste in eliminating their forces before the princess comes of age. Should they hinder us before we can complete the ritual, everything we have done will be for naught!”
    The Dark Moon King intertwined his fingers. “Hayato raises a very valid argument. Have you any thoughts on this Hotaka? Kazuo? Sun of Moon?”
    Hotaka swallowed hard and nodded. “Hayato raises a very good point in bringing Choen Palm to the kingdom. Her insight will be a necessary tool in keeping this in our favour. But I do not agree that we should strike again, as of yet. As Sun of Moon had said, we have lost many men, and if we're to leave both castles vulnerable, we would be open to attack. I suggest that we recruit more men for the sake of our cause. So long as Aoich is within our power, those who live within it shall be conscripted. Those who refuse to comply...” He shook his head. “While we train new men, I suggest we prepare Choen Palm also. If her magics are as Hayato says, she may be a prominent part of this army. But we must also obtain intelligence from her. She may likely be versed in the history as well as the magics. Her knowledge is an absolute necessity, without a doubt.”
    “I shall take your counsel and act immediately upon it. Make haste in sending for Eung Soo. I wish to speak with him immediately. That is all. You are all dismissed.” The three rose and bowed, then took their leave.
    The Dark Moon King smirked. Where his fathers and forefathers had failed, he most certainly would not. In fifteen years he would accomplish all that his predecessors could not, and revel in the glory of the kingdom's god and the future he would bring.

    Vanir sat on a stool before the bar, flipping through a paper quietly while Reina ate nearby and Skuld swept the store.
    “ the king and his army finally kicked the goblin king's ass eh? It says Cecilia got promoted in here too. That Sir Levi guy though...I don't like him so much. That shit eating grin of his just rubs me the wrong way.” He commented.
    “You always had a disdain for 'pretty boys' Master.” Skuld chuckled.
    “I heard all sorts of stories about Sir Levi while growing up.” Reina added. “My mother once told me that he had become the leader of the king's own knights.”
    Vanir shrugged. “He's probably nothing special.”
    The door suddenly opened and a pair of people entered, both looking sullen, worn-out and cold. The first, a man fully clad in silver armour with a sheathed longsword at his hip and a white shield with a sun emblazoned in blue upon it. He removed his helmet, revealing a head of short brown hair, his copper eyes and bushy eyebrows. Next to him was a lady who wore a long tan button-up coat over what seemed to be a red robe and black cloth boots. She had long brown hair and deep brown eyes that were now red and puffy. In her hands was a tome with an unusual design. Before the two had entered Skuld disappeared into the kitchen.
    “Ah...good morning you two. Haven't seen you in quite some time. Did you have a long stay in Elias after the battle against the goblin king?” Vanir asked.
    The armoured knight sat down at the bar and his partner sat next to him. “'s all gone.” The barista looked at him curiously. “Our home. The entire village...buried in sand!” He uttered. The wizard burst into tears.
    Vanir's expression was shocked. “I had suspected something had happened there but...sand?”
    The knight looked around the shop and caught a glimpse of the young girl sitting at one of the tables silently eating her meal. “Is she...?”
    “Who, Reina? Don't worry she-”
    “Reina?!” The wizard cried out. She looked to the girl as the knight had a double-take, and they immediately rushed to her side. “Reina! Oh for the love of God Ah what have they done to you?!”
    Reina stopped in the midst of her meal and raised her head to the lady that spoke to her now. “That voice...Beatrice?” Reina asked and was immediately hugged. Beatrice held her so tightly she could barely breathe. After reaffirming her suspicions, Reina hugged the lady back and sobbed into her chest.
    “You are a very strong girl Reina...” Beatrice whispered stroking the girl's hair. “You've suffered so much and yet here you are.”
    “So you guys are already acquainted I take it?” The knight gave him a single glance, and the weary look in his eyes silenced Vanir for a period. “That must be the aftermath of what had occurred that lead up to Reina winding up under my care. Could you two give me some details?”
    “Grant, would you do this for us?”
    Grant nodded to his wife and turned to Vanir. “Do you remember how I told you that God's Governor of Earth Julius lived in Xenym?”
    Vanir nodded. “I do. He was the one who married the human girl right? Kooh had mentioned that the two had a daughter.” Grant looked absolutely heartbroken at the statement and Vanir grit his teeth nervously. Reina could feel the tension rising between the two. “T-though I don't think she was there when the battle had...come to a close. If what the little princess says is true, one of the two, father or daughter has to have survived. She confirmed that the God's Governor of Earth is still active, but she couldn't say for sure which it was. You guys pass down your title to your children when they come of age right? She might have inherited it because the old governor kicked the bucket.” Despair washed over the trio of Cerebians and Vanir broke out into a cold sweat. The more he spoke the worse everything seemed to become. “M-my apologies.”
    Grant gave him a smile. “Think nothing of it.” His smile faded as quickly as it appeared. “Since the invasion of Asgard, under the young Queen Peorth's rule, the four Governors took flight to the havens closest to the cities that worshipped their ancestors. The God's Governor of Water is the warden of Elfa and its haven Ramalda, God's Governor of Wind remained in Aoich and its haven Lemanin, God's Governor of Fire and his family are currently located in Ves and its haven Mezzalone, and Julius had taken refuge in Xenym, Elias' haven. Though the area isn't within his jurisdiction. It's actually under King Hejong's protection. We had caught word that a new haven was being founded within Belos' forest, but that was years ago during our adventure. Xenym, once the Governor of Earth's became the King's and that was to become his, as there was no one to protect it. Julius said he'd only stay in Xenym until he became the warden of the new haven. Since the goblins waged war against us the king had few men to spare to act as sentries against invaders, and Julius stayed with us to offer his protection. He and Rosetta had their child, but their whereabouts...I don't know. Judging by the aftermath of whatever had occurred at Xenym, Julius and Rosetta likely didn't escape, or the others for that matter.”
    Vanir nodded throughout the conversation as the details came in, and placed a hand on his chin thoughtfully once the knight finished. “I see. I've heard a bit about the departure of the God's Governors, and I've also heard the details of the building of that new haven. It was completed a few years ago, so I'll give you the details for it later. If your village was buried in sand, I believe its safe to say that it was likely the God's Governor's doing. What would drive him to do such a thing though? It seems a tad extreme, don't you think?” Grant nodded, but he was lost too.
    “I believe that he did it to save us.” Reina suddenly said. The group turned their gazes to her. “They were enslaving our people and murdering those who fought.” She wanted to tell them of the other terrible things they had done but she could not bring herself to speak about it. Not in front of Grant and Beatrice. “Only God Ah knows what the Dark Moon would do to them after claiming them but...for those who may have been taken away I hope they're safe.”
    “So it was the Dark Moon's doing?” Beatrice asked, disgust dancing on the edge of her words.
    “It was only a matter of time.” Grant muttered shaking his head.
    “I studied a bit about the Dark Moon after becoming a Confidant. Supposedly they're looking to revive their god? One that wishes nothing but destruction no less.” Vanir shook his head. “What do they know about the gods and their ilk? They'd sooner be killed than revered for their actions.”
    “We can't allow this!” Beatrice hissed. “They've taken our villagers captive. Can we really just sit back and let this happen?” Grant placed a hand to her shoulder and she sighed. “I'm sorry...after going through that first war it's very difficult to know that these terrible things are happening on Midgard also.”
    “I know it is, for all of you. I've met a lot of guys and girls like you, be it survivors of the war or the friends and families of those who knew those who fought in it, and they shared the same burden. Trust me on this, the Dark Moon will not get away with this. But rushing in there with no militia or plan will only end in death for both of you, and right now you two are a valuable asset to your people. The new haven, Hanamah needs you. It needs capable Mages and Knights, to defend it and to teach the younger generations and the untrained. So whatever happens, do everything you can to survive. I'll look into the matter, and if she so chooses, I'll look after Reina too. Bide your time for now, and when the opportunity arises we'll take back what they've taken from you. Just don't do anything reckless, as challenging the Dark Moon could result in a war between the humans. That's the last thing you guys need.” Vanir drew a paper and notepad and scribbled directions to Hanamah onto it, then handed it to Beatrice. “They're a tad vague but should essentially get you there. Though before you go, do you want to rest or have a meal? You really could use it.”
    Grant gave him a thoughtful smile. “Thanks for the offer, but like you said, Hanamah needs us. We haven't a moment to waste. The Dark Moon could make their next move at any time, and we shouldn't waste a day that could be spent preparing for them.”
    Beatrice turned to the young girl. “Will you come with us Reina? If there are other survivors, I'm sure they'll turn up there. Being among the Cerebians again may prove to be just what you need after facing off with the Dark Moon once. I'm sure all of the knowledge you've accumulated over the years can be passed on and recorded once again. Our libraries were lost in the sand, after all.”
    Reina was conflicted. She was absolutely overjoyed to know that there were survivors from Xenym other than herself, but she had her heart set on her mission and seeing it through to the very end. That and though Salem was not a confidant, would he so easily choose to leave his life in Elias behind to go to Hanamah with her? Her face flushed slightly. Why would she even have the thought of dragging him along? “Thank you Beatrice, Grant, but I'm going to stay here a while. There's still so much I have to do and a lot I need to learn from Vanir.” Vanir placed a finger to her lips while whispering 'shh' the moment she was about to refer to him, and following the event Beatrice glared at him viciously.
    “What exactly are you teaching our Reina?” She asked keeping a close eye on him.
    “W-what you say...” He muttered averting his eyes. “Oh you know, this and that...” Reina knew it was painfully obvious he was avoiding the question, and for getting him into it she found it only fair to get him out.
    “He's been giving me some hands on botany time.” She answered, well aware that she was lying through her teeth, which she felt guilty for, but the fear of Beatrice's wrath outweighed her sense of guilt at times. “He's well versed in his use of herbs and other plants I've only seen in books.” The Mage would likely tear Vanir apart if she found out that he was teaching her to be a swordswoman.
    She eased her glare on the barista and let out a quiet sigh of relief. “Is that all? I thought you'd be corrupting her with something much worse.” Reina chuckled quietly. She knew that Beatrice and Grant had lost a lot more than just their precious companions in the war, and to see others suffer the same pain over again would wound them deeply. She often found herself meeting with Beatrice in the library and the two would talk of the things they had recently read. Beatrice saw her as her own daughter, and was a close friend of her mother's. If not for her own sake, for the one who considered her part of her family, Reina would do everything in her power to be sure she survives the ordeal.

    When they least expected it Skuld emerged from the kitchen with tea and snacks to accompany it, and Beatrice seemed to be absolutely enamoured by her very presence.
    Vanir laughed, “Well then, looks like you guys are in it now! Have a seat and take a load off. Your destiny can wait an hour or two.” He looked at Skuld and winked, to which she beamed.
    Before she knew it Beatrice was on her knees hugging the Brownie who was rather startled, but seemingly used to the event. “G-good morning to you Beatrice.” Skuld said nervously.
    The elder Mage was in such a good mood she was positively shining. “Skuld, promise me you won't change in the slightest no matter how much you age!” She said nuzzling the girl.
    Skuld looked absolutely mortified. “I...I'm still growing...” Reina stifled a laugh. It was a rare event to see someone else shame the girl aside from the one she called Master. He did such acts on a daily basis, but it came naturally with his eccentric personality. Beatrice always did love kids, but she was much more reserved about it in Xenym.
    “Don't trouble her too much dear.” Grant chuckled as he took a sip of his tea. “You produce a fine blend as always Vanir. Why don't you pack up and set up a shop in Hanamah? I'm sure the village would adore your products.”
    Vanir frowned. “You're nuts! I can't sell this stuff to your people with their wacky currencies and whatnot!” He crossed his arms. “That aside, I'm not leaving this city until I show up that smug asshole sitting in that throne he calls a restaurant!” Vanir's grudge would likely last a lifetime and then some.
    “Do you think you two will ever get along Vanir?” Reina asked, mostly out of curiosity, but partially because she had rather taken a liking to being a tad mischievous.
    “Hell no!” He roared. “That little punk Salem can work for him until he's old and shrivelled for all I care! The backstabber...” The barista kissed his teeth. “That Verun steals my customers, my visitors, my Cerebian guests...”
    Grant quietly chuckled as he took a bite of a scone. He and Beatrice often went on adventures since before Reina was born and after their arrival in Xenym, and Elias was one of the places they frequented. She had no doubts that the two likely frequented the shop. Judging by the what Vanir had said, Verun was likely a Confidant also, as there was a very familiar presence nearby. Over the past month or so it seemed to be a lot more prominent, though Reina had not kept much track of time since her arrival.
    “Who's this Salem you've got such a disdain for?” Grant asked with a raised eyebrow.
    “Some kid who picked Reina up after the attack on Xenym or something. Not sure where or when he found her exactly, but he did, so that's all that really matters.” Vanir replied with a shrug. Reina found it rather curious that he was able to bring her from there to Elias, but even more so that he got her out alive. She could not remember what happened during the end of the attack; she only recalled being assaulted and knocked out after struggling. She would have to ask him how he managed it sometime.
    “I've never heard the name around you think he might be a selki?” Beatrice asked. She let go of Skuld and the young girl seemed to be sweeping the shop.
    Vanir shook his head. “He's a hundred and ten percent human. He recently became a Confidant too. Looks like our little family is growing.” He grinned.
    “No way!” Reina cried out in disbelief. “You guys never told me about this!”
    “Oops?” Vanir chuckled.
    “I had a feeling there was another Confidant nearby. I thought Verun's aura was just misleading. It's good to know that there's more humans willing to join our fight.” Grant told him. He turned to Beatrice. “We'll have to go meet him sometime.” She nodded in agreement.
    “Why are you guys keeping secrets from me?” Reina asked in a disappointed tone.
    “Secrets? Oh no no...nobody's keeping a secret from you. Well maybe Salem is, but it ain't my business so...” He shrugged in place of finishing his sentence. She frowned and he smiled guiltily.
    After finishing their tea and snacks Grant rose first and Beatrice followed shortly after. “We should be on our way. Vanir, thank you again for your hospitality, and you too Skuld. The next time we find ourselves in Elias we'll be sure to drop by again.” Grant said with a grin.
    “You're welcome!” Skuld chimed.
    “You better! If I catch word that you went to Verun's restaurant I'll brutally murder both of you, him and Skuld for collusion!” He mock hissed.
    “Master!” The young girl seemed distraught and he laughed.
    “You better take good care of the girls Vanir, or I'll be sure to give you a painful lesson when we return.” Beatrice growled with a stern tone. He raised his hands in surrender and she smiled. “I have high expectations of you.” She walked over to Reina and gave her a loving hug. “Be safe Reina. We'll be waiting for you in Hanamah.”
    “I will Beatrice. Have a safe trip. You can leave everything here to me. I'll be sure to keep the barista out of trouble.” She replied smiling.
    “Hey! I don't get into trouble!” Vanir testified.
    “Come again soon Grant, Beatrice!” Skuld requested with a wave. “There will always be a hot cup of tea waiting for you!”
    “We'll be back for sure. Until we meet again!” Beatrice said exiting the shop.
    “I wish you all the best! We'll be sure to remain in touch.” Grant exclaimed upon his leaving also.
    Reina sighed once more but smiled. “Thank God Ah that they escaped the Dark Moon's clutches. I had thought I was the only one for all this time.” She confessed.
    “You're not alone kid.” Vanir told her. “Be strong. Whatever might be out there, know that you have allies all across the world. Regardless of what city you're in, there's always gonna be a Confidant or two, and nearby havens will welcome you. And hell, if you've got nowhere else to go you can come back here. We could always use the company.”
    “Thanks Vanir. I've still got a learn, so I won't be going anywhere anytime soon.”

    Reina spent months relentlessly training under Vanir doing a series of different excercises to increase her strength, speed, and awareness. On his off days Salem often offered her tips or assisted in the excercises himself. She had made great strides in her efforts, and they began to show how much she had improved both physically and mentally.

    Vanir, Reina and Skuld stood in the outskirts of the Ancient Forest, one of the three dressed in autumn wear. Vanir wore a long navy blue button-up coat and black boots. He placed his hands in his pockets and shuddered. Reina and Skuld on the other hand were not so bothered by the cold. Reina wore a white t-shirt and blue shorts with running shoes and a wooden sword at her side while Skuld remained in her usual outfit.
    “You two are nuts.” He muttered under his breath followed by a sniffle.
    “I was raised in the coldest place on Jienda.” Reina replied. “The autumn season here isn't anything more than a breeze.” A smile danced on the edge of her lips. “Though we didn't have seasons there. It was winter all year round.”
    “I hope you and the any other psychos who lived out there die of hypothermia.” He shuddered. “Let's get this exercise started. You know the rules. Catch Skuld in the allotted time and I'll give you a pass. You've gotten better've got five minutes.” He pulled back his left sleeve and eyed the watch on it. “You ready?” Skuld climbed on to her broom and Reina took on a sprinter's form. “Go!”
    The Brownie took off on the broom and Reina immediately pursued the sound of her bell jingling as the broom carried her past Agasuras and trees, easily avoiding any possible dangers. Reina stormed through anything that stood in her way, bashing a wolf  to the ground and stampeding over it without a moment's hesitation to gain on Skuld. The bell chimed as the broom shot upwards to the top of a platform and Skuld disembarked to turn around completely. Reina ran past where Skuld flew and held out a hand, grabbing hold of a nearby rope and immediately leaping onto the wall and scaling it to catch up. Skuld leapt from where she stood back onto the broom, gently drifting towards a nearby Iris Stone and off into a tree's crown with Reina rapidly gaining on her. The Cerebian landed on a bridge connecting the tree to another and nearly fell off due to its shaking, but quickly regained her balance and broke out into a sprint again.
    The sound of the bell began to die down amidst the noise of the wild boars that inhabited the area. She focused her attention on the bells sounds and moved forward. One of the boars caught a glimpse of her stampeding towards it and charged at her in turn, causing her to dive towards it and tumble from its back into another forward roll and back into a run. She listened for the sound of the other boars and noticed that one seemed to be facing away from her. Before it could turn she sprinted towards it and leapt onto its back, kicking its sides and causing it to fly into a rage, charging towards the Brownie. Skuld caught a glimpse of it and turned away with her mouth agape as she lifted her broom over another nearby boar. The two creatures collided while Reina leapt off the first towards Skuld, grabbing both pet and broom and tumbling across a nearby platform.
    “Success!” She cheered raising a fist to the air. Her clothes were torn and dirty and she had a few cuts on her arms and legs.
    “That was mean Reina...” Skuld muttered. After falling with the Cerebian she took was covered in dirt. reaching into the pocket of her dress and drew a whistle, took a deep breath and blew it so hard her face flushed. The sound of another whistle caused her ears to perk up slightly and she nodded to the girl. “Master got the message. Let's go meet up with him.
    The two returned and Vanir stood shuddering. Skuld walked over and took one of his hands beaming, and he smiled back at her, the bell on his bracelet chiming in unison with hers for a moment.
    “Well congrats Reina. You beat the clock again. Guess I won't get a good laugh today either huh?” Vanir asked grinning.
    Reina glared at him and hissed, “A fair part of my motivation came from putting that smug attitude of yours to rest.”
    “Oh so sassy.” He laughed. “Sometimes we need an antagonist rather than a supporter to really push ourselves past our limits. You've done well.” He cracked his neck and turned back towards Elias. “I'm gonna need to brush up on my swordplay. Once you've bested me, I'll have nothing left to teach you.” He paused. “Well...I might. Now then, shall we?” He looked to Skuld and she nodded while beaming back at him.
    Reina sheathed the sword at her hip and stretched. It was only a matter of time until she would be ready to set out on her journey.

    Salem exited to the back of the shop and found his companion practicing. After so long it did not come as a surprise to him, but her growth certainly did. She wiped the sweat from her brow and grinned as she tilted her head in his direction.
    “Salem! Good morning!” She said. The vigour and vim she began to show more recently was rather refreshing. It had been quite a long time since the invasion, and though it was not always easy, she had overcame her fears of the memory of it and seemingly had grown stronger from it.
    He smiled. “Good morning Reina. How does the day find you?” He asked.
    “Fantastic! I feel like I'm in top form today! Would you like to spar with me?”
    The question gave him pause for a moment. “If this is what you want, then I'll be your partner.” How long had it been since he held a weapon in his hands? The thought felt almost strange to him, though he had done it all his life. Since coming to Elias he put away all his tools and given his ninjatō to Reina though only briefly, reclaiming it after she had impaled Vanir. Salem took a wooden sword from the rack and took a few swings with it. It certainly was light, more so than his weapon despite its size. Though lacking practice, he had spent a majority of his life mastering swordplay, so he felt confident that his skills likely only deteriorated only slightly over the course of his taking up a regular job. He had no intention of hurting Reina, so he decided he would hold back.
    Salem approached the Cerebian girl and she smiled at him again. “Don't hold back on me because I'm a girl okay? I'm a lot tougher than I look.” She told him earnestly. Gender aside, he did not want to hurt her because it was her. The thought was a tad unusual to him, and what she said was even more so, but he decided not to press the matter. He certainly would not doubt the legitimacy of her statement though.
    “You can begin whenever you're ready Reina.” He said, taking his stance.
    She grinned devilishly. “Prepare yourself.”
    Within moments she was in his face, swinging at him and immediately putting him on the defensive. She threw a flurry of attacks that he easily blocked, and closely watched until he got a grasp on her pattern. In the midst of a horizontal swing, he parried the attack and returned the favour with a similar swing. She crouched beneath his attack and arose with a thrust to his stomach that easily knocked him off his feet. He hit the ground and looked up to see a wooden sword pointed at his throat. Salem was at a loss for words.
    “I thought I told you not to hold back?” Her rhetoric question stung his pride.
    “I-my apologies.” He answered. What else could he have said? A small part of him hoped that it was him holding back that caused his loss, and a much larger portion was impressed at how strong she had become. He knew she was dedicated to completing her mission. For both their sakes, it may have been for the best if he took more time to train himself also.
    “Would you like a rematch?” She offered him that, and a hand. She certainly was a lady who was humble in victory and graceful in defeat. Most of the time.
    “Yes.” He took her hand and rose to his feet, picking his weapon up as he did.
    The two stood face to face again. Salem knew better this time, and he had a clear idea of exactly how he lost the first round. He would certainly not make the same mistakes he made previously. He took his stance and eyed her cautiously. The fact that she could match him and defeat him without her sight was proof that she had become much stronger, but years of gruesome training would not be so easily undermined by a couple years' worth of exercises.
    Salem took a deep breath and made the first move, rushing her and meeting her blade against his. He needed to focus and find the weakness in her attacks. Should he give her the upper hand and let her take the offensive, he would find himself in the same situation. Every strike he made was precise, meeting her blows with one of his own, faster, but lightly as not to overexert himself too quickly. His steps were light, and the minimal swings he took seemed to throw her off. The sound of the sword cutting through the air and his footsteps would be prominent in predicting his movements so he did each as little as possible.
    She blocked one of his attacks and immediately retaliated, allowing him for him to leap back and dash towards her again, landing a blow on her right shoulder. She stepped back in bated breath, expecting a follow-up but received nothing in response. She solemnly waited as Salem quietly walked around her, breaking out into a sudden thrust at her back. Almost immediately Reina responded by parrying the blow and swinging back at him. He back flipped and leapt at her, bringing his sword down upon her and clashing once more. She pushed him back and lunged at him, managing to catch his left leg as he dodged to the side and tumbled to his feet. Salem found himself gasping for air. He knew that if the battle went on he would give himself away by breathing alone. He calmed himself and went on the defensive as she rushed him with a myriad of attacks. A single blow glanced off of his blade and in it he saw his opportunity. Without a moment's hesitation he struck her wrist and thrusted the blade into her stomach flinging her back. She let out a wordless groan as she collapsed to the ground and dropped the blade. Before she even reached the ground he was over her with the blade pointed downwards as if to deal a finishing blow.

    Last edited by TJ on Sat Dec 07, 2013 7:22 am; edited 1 time in total

    Posts : 895
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    Innocent Empty Re: Innocent

    Post  TJ on Sat Dec 07, 2013 7:21 am

    Pages 31-40:
    He froze in place as Reina gently massaged her wrist and chuckled, “That was a good fight. Think you might have bruised my wrist with that one strike.” Salem dropped his sword and gazed at her with a forlorn expression. What on earth did he intend to do? Though they may have been nothing more than wooden swords, a well-placed strike could potentially end some unfortunate soul's life. She asked him to spar and he had nearly lost himself in the battle. “Salem? You're still there right?”
    Her words brought him back to reality. He was towering over her and she still could use his assistance in getting back on her feet. “My apologies.” He muttered. “Allow me to assist you.” He let her reach out first and took her hand, helping her back up. “I wounded you...I owe you another apology.”
    She placed a finger to his lips and shook her head. “No more apologies. You did exactly what I asked you to do.” She smiled at him and he felt like doing the same. “Looks like you've picked up more from Vanir's training than I have. Must mean I'm lacking practice.” She laughed. “You wouldn't happen to have some experience in swordplay would you? Maybe fencing? If my family owned a weapon shop I'd ask to try out the weapons too.”
    He had Reina and the shop owners convinced that he was the son of a blacksmith from Aoich, and planned to stick with that until he could find it in himself to tell them the truth. “I have had some practice with the weapons.” He answered hesitantly. “I had...taken quite a liking to the swords.”
    “Knew it!” She chimed. “I hope you'll teach me some of those moves. You really had me going there.” She held out a hand and he took it, shaking his hand confidently. “You're a very valiant swordsman Salem. I hope you'll spar with me again sometime; I've got a long way to go before I can beat Vanir.”
    “It would be my honour.”

    “Today's the day huh?” Skuld asked with a curious expression. She gently swept the floor while the shopkeeper shined a cup.
    “Yup.” Vanir responded. “The kids have really put in the time. I'm impressed with the progress they've made over the years. Didn't think Salem would join in but he's full of surprises huh?”
    “Are you ready to face Reina Master?”
    The Brownie knit her brows. “You won't hurt her too badly will you? I can't ask you to hold back when fighting her but...”
    He placed the glass and cloth down and walked to the other side of the counter to place a hand to his small companion's head. “Don't worry, she'll be fine. You've seen it for yourself right? She's doing things that I haven't even taught her. She's become faster, stronger, and much more attuned to the ways of a warrior. Relying on sound to predict your enemies isn't an easy thing to do, but I think she grasped it faster than I did.” He grinned. “Better not keep her waiting.”
    He walked to the back with Skuld following in his wake.
    “I'll be rooting for both of you!” She said.
    “Who's side are you on? Can't have the best of both worlds sometimes.” He remarked.

    Reina awaited her teacher in the yard, clad in leather armour from head to toe. Too many times had she and Salem beat each other to a bloody and bruised pulp that Vanir had enough of the sight. Though it was nothing too special, it certainly offered them much better protection than their regular clothes. She had a sneaking suspicion the catalyst for his decision was a stream of complaints from the customers at Verun's restaurant after catching a glimpse of Salem.
    While she practiced she heard the door opening and the footsteps of both master and waitress. “Is it time Vanir?” She asked.
    “You're damn right it is.” Vanir said. He walked over to the weapon rack and grabbed a wooden sword, shifting it about in his hand and nodding. “Been a while since I wielded one of these. Let alone an actual weapon.”
    “You won't wear any armour?”
    He snorted. “Nope. It's not that I don't think you can hit me, mind you. I just don't have the patience to put it on right now.” She snickered and he knit his eyebrows. “I'll regret it in the morning though, but I'm not the type to change his mind once he's set on something.”
    “I'll try not to hurt you too badly.” She snickered again and he frowned.
    “Oh now that's a challenge if I ever heard one. Let's get down to business shall we? Stick 'em up.” He raised his sword to hers and took a stance as she did the same. “Unlike your sparring sessions, you and I will go at it until one of us yields or can't fight anymore.” He shrugged. “Or if Skuld calls it. Sound fair?”
    “That sounds reasonable to me.” She answered. She had spent over a year preparing herself for this moment and she had no intention of falling to her teacher. Salem had taught her things that Vanir did not know about and if she used it to her advantage she could likely surprise him.
    “Good. Show me the results of your training kid!”
    Vanir lunged at Reina and she blocked his blow, his lips curling into a thin smile at the response. She forced him back and immediately followed up with a stab that he stepped aside to avoid. Within a moment of ending her thrust she immediately slashed at him and missed him again as he dodged to the side and assaulted her with a thrust and vertical swing upon rising. Reina managed to block both attacks but the second caused her to fumble her blade and lose it as Vanir struck again. It flew through the air and clattered dully against the grass a fair distance from her, leaving her vulnerable.
    “This is the end.” He said reeling his blade to the side and taking a wide swing at her chest. She performed a side somersault and avoided the blade by a hair's breadth, continuing onwards until she could reach her blade, kicking it from the ground back into her hand. “Impressive.”
    “I learned from the best.” She replied with a grin.
    “Don't you sass me!”
    Reina went on the offensive again, storming towards Vanir with reckless abandon, and the smile on his face said he knew how her decision would pan out. She reeled her blade back for a thrust and he readied his to parry her attack, finding himself at a disadvantage when she side-stepped past him and whirled around with a slash at his back. He flipped his hand over and held the sword with both behind his back successfully stopping her surprise attack. He cringed as she continued an onslaught of attacks, seemingly weakening his grip on the blade. Quicker than her mind could process Vanir dropped to the ground and rose again after she missed her next attack, driving his sword into her ribs. She gasped for air as she stumbled away from him and he pursued her. He viciously struck time and again and the pain in her ribs pulsed every time his sword met hers. She failed to block another attack and the wood met her wrist, sending a jolt of pain up her left arm while a lasting throb remained where the weapon landed. She took a few steps back and gently massaged her wrist, her ability to grip the blade weakening while the pain intensified.
    “Is this the best you can do kid?!” Vanir roared. “This isn't even my final form!”
    “Master!” Skuld shouted. “Reina is taking this seriously so you should too!”
    “I am serious! My arch-nemesis didn't have the courtesy to take up the last boss demeanour for me and look what happened to him!” He plunged his sword into the ground and turned to the swordswoman. “Every hero needs an antagonist; they're our greatest allies and enemies, what we aim to be, and to eventually surpass. If you don't have the willpower to overcome me, then the Dark Moon will be completely out of your league! If this is the best you can do, yield! Lower your sword before I have to injure you again!”
    “Never!” Reina hissed. “I've trained hard for this day and I'll do whatever it takes to succeed!” No matter how hard the training was or how many wounds they may have received, Alessa and Virgil had not once given up. Virgil frequently came to the two, bandaged and bruised but still wore a smile. Alessa trained until her fingers were blistered but not once complained how difficult it was for her. The two were clearly out of Reina's league; everyday it seemed that they were only getting further and further away from her, until the day they would finally part ways. The day had not even come and they had parted ways, never to meet again. Their promise had been broken against their will because of the Dark Moon and Reina would not let it pass. She would see the Dark Moon fall no matter what it would take. “Raise your sword Vanir! This is nowhere near over!”
    The barista rolled his visible eye and sighed, “Stubborn...”
    He wielded his sword again and sauntered towards her as she prepared for his approach. Taking the initiative she took a low swing which he parried and awaited her next attack. He could have struck. She knew, and she knew he was holding back. Her strikes were slower and sloppier due to the attack on her wrist. She would not let it hold her back; she was determined to win the battle and would not let his words discourage her. She took two swings at his chest and a third vertical swing towards his shoulder, the dull sound of wood against bone catching her attention as he let out a low grunt.
    “I...underestimated you.” He muttered under his breath. “You're much too cheeky.”
    Reina braced herself as he returned her blow in kind with two powerful strikes against her sword forcing her back slightly. Before he could strike again she stopped his attack with her own and swung again, the two clashing in a meeting of pure strength. He forced her sword out of the way and slammed his into her right arm, following up with a second blow to her left leg. Judging by the places he aimed for, he was trying to disable her. Her body throbbed all over but it was not enough to make her quit. She stepped forward and took two vertical swings which were also blocked by him. She immediately attempted to strike from one shoulder to the ribs on the other side of his body and he dragged her sword down with a well-timed strike, immediately lunging at her and forcing her off of her feet with his blow. She let out a cry of pain before she hit the ground hard while experiencing her head spinning.
    “Have you had enough kid? If this was a real battle, you'd have died after the first strike from loss of blood. You're aware of that right?” Vanir clicked his tongue. “Give up now before you become rust on some samurai's blade.”
    Reina managed to pull herself to her feet once again and pointed her blade at the barista weakly, her hands and knees trembling as she uttered the words, “If I'll die by their blades, fine. But I won't die before I strike down those who lead the attack on my home!” She held the sword with both hands and renewed her stance as a phrase once said by Virgil took prominence in her mind. “A true warrior speaks with his weapon! He who has the stronger conviction will always rise above his adversaries!”
    Her words were met with a brief silence that was broken by Vanir furiously clapping. “That's it! That's what I've been waiting for! My impression of you just changed entirely. You've reached potential hero status in my eyes.” He chimed. She wore a look that was a mix of shock and disbelief, while Skuld covered her face in embarrassment. “I'm still going to have to beat you into the ground though.”
    Reina took a deep breath. Her body was sore in multiple places and her heavy breathing made it much more difficult to hear Vanir, but his dominating presence made up for it. Though she lacked confidence she had willpower, and it was more than enough for her to carry on. The moment he stepped close enough to her she swung at him and he blocked again. She continued in a desperate attempt to find an opening, and at every moment her blade met his she realized that the intervals between her strikes grew. He had already won.
    “You've got the right attitude kid.” Vanir said parrying her attack and striking her leg, causing her to take a knee. “But you've forgotten the basics. Though in your defense, you have certainly improved.” He raised his blade and slammed it over her head, causing her leather helmet to break in two and a small trickle of blood to run from it into the cloth tied around her eyes. He sighed with a bit of relief and plunged his sword into the dirt again. “With this, the battle ends.” He looked alarmed as Reina plunged her sword into the ground and used it to rise again, heaving and trembling as she stood at her full height, her bangs covering her face. “Gods! Back from the dead?!” The panic in his expression and voice soon faded. “Skuld, call it.”
    The Brownie tilted her head quizzically. “Reina's still standing Master! The battle isn't over!” Skuld said, a hint of hope in her voice.
    Vanir shook his head. “She is, but she can't go on any longer.” He reached out to her and gently touched her forehead with two fingers, her body leaning back and collapsing to the ground only moments afterwards.
    The glimmer in the waitress' eyes disappeared as she raised a hand skyward. “The battle is over! Master is the victor.”
    After placing the battered swords back on the rack the barista hauled the young girl over his shoulder and proceeded inside with Skuld in tow. “You lost did good kid.” He muttered.

    The locker room of the restaurant was bustling with members of the staff coming and going for beginning and ending shifts. Salem opened his locker and removed a navy blue coat from it, zipping it up as one of his co-workers walked past and gave him a pat on the back.
    “Good work out there rookie!” He said.
    “T-thank you!” Salem blurted out slightly startled. “Same to you.” Despite being with the company for such a long time, he was still their most recent member, and this earned him the title of rookie.
    He exited the room and made his way through the restaurant, waving goodbye to the customers who wished him well as he passed by. Seeing the 'regulars' at the store and knowing that they recognized him filled him with an unusual sense of pride. His time in Owl Castle had nothing of the sort; Master Kazuo frequently reminded all of the ninjas that they were nothing more than tools of the Dark Moon. They were the swords that would strike down its enemies from the shadows and silently return to it. His name, if ever, was rarely used. It never really bothered him much, since it was all he had ever known, but in this place the people were much kinder. What they saw was not a soldier of the castle, nor a weapon in which their lives were at stake, but a real living, working person.
    He walked through the streets of an autumn Elias back to the Old Town District where Reina and co. awaited his night time return. Today was the day that she and Vanir would finally face off to prove whether she was worthy of being trained by him. Salem did everything in his power to prepare her for it, but he could only pass on so much knowledge within the given time frame. The styles and weapons used in Aoich differentiated a fair amount from the other cities, so there was only so much that he could pass on to Reina. She had given everything she had and more to prove herself, so he really wished for her to succeed. She had incredible potential and she was a very quick learner. He spotted the store in the vicinity and quickly made his way over to it.
    Salem pushed the door open and the bell chimed, Skuld's bell ringing as she turned her head to him and waved.
    “Hello Skuld.” He said. “Where is Vanir currently?” She pointed to the kitchen with her free hand, her broom in the other. “I see. Thank you.” Salem walked past the brownie and the bar into the kitchen to find Vanir about to take a bite out of a sandwich.
    “Gods! Oh it's just you Salem. Well you caught me in the act of late night snacking.” He said placing the sandwich on a plate. “You gonna blackmail me or what? You can take my money or whatever you want, just leave Skuld and I out of it.”
    After spending so many months with the man and experiencing his random tangents on multiple occasions, Salem could not even be surprised by the ridiculousness he spouted. He still did not quite grasp exactly what Vanir's train of thought was. “I'm not here to blackmail you.” Salem replied. “I only wished to hear the results of the battle between you and Reina. Did she succeed?”
    “Nope.” Salem looked rather disheartened and Vanir knit his eyebrows. “You and Skuld are a real pair of downers, you know that?” He rolled his eyes. “Kid tried her best, but she's still got a long way to go. You win some, you lose some. That's just life kid.”
    “Could you not give her a second chance Vanir?!” Salem asked defensively. “I have never seen anyone work as hard as her in my entire life. Could you not reward her dedication?”
    “The battle's already over. No second chances, no rewards, nothing. That's it. What's done is done. The world doesn't work like that kid.” He turned away. “The Dark Moon wouldn't give her a second chance if she tried to fight them. They'd put a sword through her chest and be done with it.”
    Salem grit his teeth. Vanir was right. Regardless of who the enemy was, they would not likely forgive anyone who aimed to take their life. How could Reina's entire race consider such a thing possible? Though they seemed to be a much more peaceful race than humanity, they were still condemned to death and slavery under the Dark Moon King. The world seemed to be so unjust to those who's aim was peace. Reina's journey should not end here. She was the one who would bring the Dark Moon Kingdom to its knees; she had to be. Salem believed with all his being in the fact, and he would see her through it regardless of who believed she should give up.
    Vanir eyed him cautiously. “There's a fire in your eyes kid. I don't like that so much. By the way, leave the other kid alone for now. She took a nasty blow to the head and she's out like a light so let her rest.”
    “I understand.” Salem responded. He exited the kitchen and walked past Skuld who looked at him sullenly. He could feel her eyes following him as he ascended the stairs and made his way to his room. Entering the room and closing the door behind him, he took his black vest and blue tie off and threw them onto a nearby chair, then collapsed in the bed. He turned over and stared solemnly at the ceiling shrouded in darkness. He felt angry about the entire matter, but he really did understand. Vanir was much kinder about all of it than anyone in Owl Castle would have been. Salem's training had taught him that his choices are either kill or be killed. Be discovered and risk death, and that every man must live for himself, and die for his king. The teachings meant little to him now. He was given a new life. So was Reina, but they had taken everything from her. He had nothing to lose, but everything to gain. Was he just following her blindly to have some sort of destination?
    He let out an audible sigh. What was it that he wanted to do exactly? He had sworn to give Reina a new life and he had accomplished it. He had not guaranteed that she would succeed against Vanir with his training, but her loss meant that he too, had failed. He failed her, who had put her trust in him and his teachings. Could he bring himself to face her after shaming her before her teacher and ruining her dream?
    A gentle knock roused him from his reverie. “Please enter.” He responded almost naturally. The door creaked open and in the light of the corridor stood the young girl, holding a tea cup and saucer. She carefully approached and held it out for him to take, and he graciously accepted it. The refreshing scent of jasmine tea invigorated his senses. “Were you worried about me Skuld?” The young girl's face flushed and he smiled for her. “Thank you. This is just what I needed.” She bowed and scurried out of the room, gently closing the door behind her and returning Salem into the darkness he had adapted to, for a brief period. After taking a sip of the tea, he took a deep breath. One of the finest mentors in all of the kingdom had once said that a ninja must not only hone his skills, but also his mind. If the mind is weak, the blade will break. Master Tamori was Salem's idol, and the embodiment of the level of skill he aspired to reach someday. If Vanir would not hone Reina's skills, Salem would take her under his wing and teach her the ways of a ninja.

    On a chilly afternoon Skuld, Reina and Salem all exited the hospital and made their way back home, the two girls hand in hand. Reina wore a white sweater and crimson track pants, with bandages now wrapped around her head also. Salem wore his work outfit and usual coat, while Skuld was clad in her usual dress with a matching autumn coat over it.
    “I cannot believe Vanir gave you a concussion.” Salem said. The two could feel the pointedness in his comment.
    She gestured for him to calm down and grinned. “It's not like I expected him to hold back. I'm glad that he remained stern throughout all of it. If he went easy on me I wouldn't get any stronger. You did the same when we trained right?”
    Salem shifted nervously at the question. He was rather guilty of holding back occasionally, but for the most part he gave her the proper training. He felt a tad guilty about the matter. “Of course.”
    Reina beamed. “Knew it.” She was so trusting his guilt grew by the second. “ did I do?” The moment she posed the question the expressions of both her companions darkened. The poor girl seemed to wilt at their silence. “ don't need to answer the question. I get the idea.” She chuckled.
    “You fought valiantly Reina but against Vanir...” Salem trailed off.
    She looked crestfallen. “Yeah, it was a bit of a lofty goal huh?” Though she chuckled again there was no humour in her voice. She tried to smile but she looked pained and not even remotely happy. “Thanks for going out of your way to teach me Salem. I couldn't imagine myself getting close with anyone after what happened but you guys have really grown on me.” Skuld gripped her hand a little tighter, the young girl nearly on the verge of tears. “Sometimes there are things we can and can't do right?” Her smile began to fade. “In a lot of the texts I read they mentioned a saviour from another realm would end the war between our races and forge an everlasting bond between humanity and our kind.” She began to sob. “If only...If only they could come just a bit sooner. They could save my people. They all the things I never could...”
    Salem gently embraced her and she sobbed into his chest. “Never lose that faith. Whatever may give you the strength to continue on through hardship, hold it to your chest and never let it go.”

    The trio arrived at the shop while Vanir was serving a customer a cup of coffee. Two customers sat at the bar and he stared at the group quizzically as they entered.
    “What's with you guys? All three of you look like you've seen death itself.” He said. He glanced at Reina. “Congrats on escaping the hospital kid.”
    “Thank you?” Reina replied.
    “Want me to bake you a cake or something as a little present? I make a mean pound cake.”
    She smiled somberly. “Thank you, but no thank you. I'd just like to rest for now.”
    The barista knit his eyebrows. “Where's your usual gusto kid? This isn't like you at all. What's got you so down?”
    Salem eyed him uneasily. He was well aware of Reina's loss, and of all of the people among the group he should have known the answer to the question before he even asked it. For what reason would he be putting up such a facade? Salem could not help but feel the urge to put a stop to the Vanir's questionable actions but found himself at a loss as she responded first.
    “I gave my all but I lost against you. That's the end of our training isn't it? There's nothing more that needs to be said on the matter.” Reina said.
    He looked at her incredulously. “Who said it's the end of our training? I mean sure, you lost to me, but I never said you had to win.”
    “What?” The three of them looked surprised, Reina most of all.
    “I told you to prove to me how strong you could become by the end of the trial period. You kids need to stop jumping to conclusions.” He frowned. “True strength isn't about how quickly you can crush your opponent or whether or not you can win a battle. True strength is the ability to face hardship and rise again, no matter how many times you fall. Even the most powerful of men and women can be brought to their knees under the right circumstances. Those who are willing to take those hardships and learn from them, and even more so those that will continue to fight to reclaim what they had lost are truly the strongest.” He crossed his arms. “To me, the strongest people are those who give everything and more to protect those that they hold dear. The moment you chose to continue to fight me though I told you to yield, was when I had decided to take you under my wing. Right then and there you'd proven yourself. Your will to continue afterwards had just made my impression of you better. You've got guts, kid. I like that.”
    The trio remained silent, watching Vanir as he explained his thought process and for a brief period afterwards. Then they all burst into cheers of joy and excitement that brought a brighter atmosphere to the entire shop. Both the barista and his customers could not resist the urge to smile at the sight
    After things had calmed down Reina and Salem took a seat at the bar. “I was scared you wouldn't train me any further. I really didn't know where I'd go from here.” She said.
    The barkeep chuckled. “You're still young kid. You're barely even an adult but you're running yourself ragged like you are.”
    “I'm already an adult!”
    He raised an eyebrow. “Oh? How old are you now kid?”
    “I'm nineteen.”
    The barista snorted and she frowned. “You've still got your whole life ahead of you. Promise me you won't go get yourself killed out there if I train you. I don't want your blood on my hands.”
    She grinned. “Then you better train me well, Master.”
    Vanir shuddered at hearing her call him that in such a tone. “So not cute...” He stroked his ponytail a couple times and turned his stare to Salem. “You did pretty good too, kid. You taught her some good stuff. You'll continue to teach her right? Mixing styles isn't always the wisest choice, but those who can do multiple styles of swordplay are something to fear.”
    “Of course I will.” Salem said. There was no doubt that he would do everything he could to help her improve.
    Reina smiled. “I'll be in your care again Salem.” His face grew hot at the comment.
    “Is it getting hot in here or is it just me?” Vanir said with a laugh, Skuld glaring daggers at him. “Cool it kids, save some of that spunk for the training. On that note, soon as you fully recover we're beginning, so you best be ready kid. We're gonna make up for all the time you missed.”
    “I'll be ready Vanir. Teach me well.” Reina said with a confident grin.

    It had been a year since Reina's training began and over it she had improved greatly in what she was capable of prior. She had attuned her senses and utilized them in combat to locate her enemies and respond quicker to their actions. Though she lost more times than she could count, she proudly counted the four times she had bested her teacher. The young Cerebian girl and her companions stood outside Madelaine's Tea Stop dressed for the winter. A light snowfall and gentle wind gave way for the coming spring, though the ground and buildings remained blanketed.
    “Remember,” Vanir began, “Just go to Club Abio and ask for a girl named Lucia. She's an information broker that you can hire to do odd jobs.” He paused and gently squeezed Skuld's hand. “Or something like that. I highly recommend that you see her. I warned her ahead of time that you'd be coming, and paid the price.” He rubbed his neck. “This one's on me, but next time you're on your own.”
    “Thanks a lot Vanir. We'll be back soon.” Reina told him.
    “Goodbye for now.” Salem said.
    “Yeah yeah get goin'.” The barista muttered waving them off with a chime of his bell, Skuld doing the same.
    Salem gently rested the back of his hand against Reina's and she reached for his arm with her hand, gripping it and allowing him to lead the way. The two happily walking through the Old Town District.
    “Club Abio and the Elias Main Restaurant are actually one building, so the place isn't very far. We'll be there soon.” Salem said.
    “Have you ever been to Club Abio Salem? We didn't really have such places back in my village.” Reina said. The city had all sorts of things she was yet to discover, but someday would.
    “I haven't.” He sounded a tad nervous. “Our arrival in Elias is my first time in such a big city. Aoich was always a much more traditional place. Though I much prefer my hometown, I've grown fond of Elias in the time we spent here.”
    Salem only occasionally spoke of Aoich. She wondered what kind of place it was, only reading about its history. “What was the city like?”
    He immediately stiffened. “It was...a peaceful place. The city often had various festivals, and was well known for worshipping a myriad of gods. The style of clothing there was very different also, most men and women wearing an outfit called a kimono befitting each gender.”
    Reina smiled impishly. “What's a kimono?”
    Seeing was believing, describing was another. It took Salem a couple of moments to assemble his thoughts into a possible explanation of the garment. “It's a t-shaped straight lined robe with attached collars and long and rather wide sleeves.” He paused for a moment. “They're wrapped around the body and are tied by a sash called an obi. Those who wear them often wear the accompanying footwear, split-toe socks called tabi and a sort would you call them here? Sandals? Flip-flops? They're rather alike to both...” He began to sweat.
    Reina chuckled and squeezed his hand a little tighter, his nervousness increasing in another way. “I see! What else?” Salem very rarely spoke outside of during training. When they would, he wore a much more serious demeanour, so in turn she teased him in such ways.
    “The colours and designs vary by the season...” He muttered averting his gaze. “They're often very vibrant and at times have a motif depending on the time of year. Sometimes cherry blossoms, butterflies, bamboo, plum blossoms, things such as that.”
    This peaked her interest, her excited expression giving away the fact. “They sound beautiful!”
    Salem smiled. “They truly are. Once this is over, maybe we can visit Aoich and find one for you.”
    “I'm holding you to that.”
    He smiled wryly at the comment as the two walked down the main street towards the restaurant. Salem looked around curiously and knit his eyebrows. “On days like these normally there would be adventurers pedalling their wares to the passerby. I can't find a one.”
    “Maybe they all ran to the Free Market? Sitting in the cold and snow all day isn't something most people would want to do.” She chuckled. “Though growing up in Xenym I can't say I'm one to talk.”
    “The Free Market certainly would be a much more welcoming place on a day like today.” Salem eyed the massive structure uneasily as they passed it. “It would most likely be very crowded, considering how many adventurers would choose to be inside of it rather than outside.”
    “They've gotta be willing to make sacrifices if they want comfort. I'd hate to be one of the guys who bought a license for selling outside of it.”
    Salem turned to Reina as he stopped walking and looked up to the sign on the side of a building that read Club Abio in handwritten neon lights. “This is the place Reina. Shall we?”
    Salem grabbed hold of the handle on the pink door and the two were immediately blasted by a wave of loud music and people cheering and enjoying themselves.
    “What is this?!” Salem asked incredulously gazing upon the scene before them. A short stairwell lead to a room full of neon lights, dancers and guests partying and dancing. A massive screen featuring a series of iconic expressions that would slide across it horizontally into a pink square captivated him for a matter of moments, and left him even more puzzled as he caught a glimpse of someone standing atop a small stage performing the emotions and gestures that accompany them in rhythm with that which played on the screen. The crowd would shout out the gesture the performer would do next and they would execute the action in turn.
    “What did you say?” Reina shouted in response to Salem's question.
    “I said what is this?!” He reiterated much louder this time round. She shrugged and grinned and he smiled back. Though they lived in Elias for such a long period neither of the two had become very cultured to the ways of those who lived in it.
    “It certainly sounds like fun though! Makes you wanna dance!” Without another word Reina released her hold on Salem's arms and broke out into dance. Her lack of knowledge on the act made for quite the spectacle, but he was not one to judge, let alone know whether she was good or bad. “Alright I've had my fun.” She said as her show came to an end. “Let's find this Lucia, shall we?” She took Salem's arm and the two weaved their way through the crowd aimlessly. “Maybe we should ask someone? If there are regulars I bet they'll know who she is.”
    “That sounds like a good idea.” Salem spotted a young man in the crowd dressed in casual clothing with a shock of neon green hair. He seemed to be swinging his head rather violently as Salem approached him and uneasily tapped his shoulder. “Beg your pardon, but you wouldn't happen to know of a girl by the name of Lucia, would you?”
    Salem could not tell for the life of him if the teenager could even see through the fringes of his hair. “Lucia? 'Course I know her! Girl's a party animal!” He replied with a startling amount of enthusiasm.
    “Wonderful. Now could you give us directions to where we can find her?”
    The teenager frowned. “Can't see her now. She's not on the floor. You can talk to her sisters though. They're pretty cool too. Maya's over there.” He pointed to a young lady dancing amongst a crowd of visitors, clad in a black leather dress and shoes.
    “This way.” Salem told his companion and she nodded, following in his lead. As he approached he called out to her. “Excuse me, are you Maya?” She stopped dancing, her wild blonde hair coming to a rest as her daring crimson eyes focused on him.
    “I am! Are you new to Club Abio?” Maya asked with a grin, revealing a pair of prominent canine teeth. “I can show you the ropes if you like!”
    “, we're not here party.” Reina snickered at hearing his response and he flushed. “We're looking for someone named Lucia. You're one of her sisters, correct?”
    “I am! Going by what that funny barista told us you two must be Salem and Reina. It's nice to meet you guys.”
    “Likewise.” Reina chimed in.
    “The pleasure's ours.” Salem added.
    “Since you two came all this way don't let me keep you waiting. I'll show you to where Lucia is. She's waiting for you, after all.” Maya said leading the two through the crowd and as she walked it parted, making way for them to pass with ease and closing as they did. Salem watched incredulously as the event occurred and turned his focus to the dancer's back who nonchalantly continued on as if it was an ordinary occurrence. He had no doubts that it was. “Follow this hallway right to the end. You'll find her there.” She opened a black door that was labeled 'members only' and gestured for the two to enter.
    “Thank you.” Salem said leading the way while Reina gave her thanks. The corridor was rather dimly lit, with a series of doors lining it from one side to the other, a single door waiting for the two at the far end of it. Salem cautiously approached it and raised a hand to knock, but paused. “Are you ready?”
    “Is there any doubt?” She was becoming rather witty.
    He gently knocked on the door and a velvety voice replied, “Enter.”
    The two opened the door and they found themselves in a startlingly bright room painted black and decorated with pictures of a group of sisters that eerily looked rather similar. Salem had seen twins before, but he had never seen quadruplets, let alone believed that the chances of them coming to be were very high. In a fine leather chair sat one of the four. A beautiful young lady clad in an identical outfit as her sister, with a charming smile and long curled blonde hair. She smiled and winked at the two upon laying eyes on them and gestured for them to take a seat.
    “Welcome to my dressing room! Have a seat, won't you?” She asked. Salem guided Reina over to an ordinary looking chair with a black leather backing and glimpsed around the room in search for another, only to find a bean bag chair. Throwing his doubts aside he sat down and made a shaken expression upon sinking into the seat. “No need to look so nervous! I won't bite, unless you're in my debt.” She laughed. Salem looked at her cautiously. He could easily imagine her and Vanir getting along quite nicely, with their strange humours. “In case Vanir hasn't told you yet, my name is Lucia, the finest dancer in Club Abio, and part-time information consultant.”
    “It's nice to meet you.” Reina said. “I'm Reina, and this is my friend Salem. We came here today to request your services.”
    Lucia raised an eyebrow with a curious expression. “You've got my attention. Continue.”
    “I'm looking for a group of people...” She said and her thought seemed to trail off. It seemed that she was unsure of how much information she wanted to share with Lucia, but both she and Salem knew that she could not be too vague or the broker could offer them nothing in turn. “They were taken captive by the Dark Moon Kingdom. If you have any information on their location, or the people who lead the army that took them captive in the first place, could you inform us? Anything you can tell us will be useful!”
    Lucia gazed at the two without changing her expression in the slightest, taking long and slow blinks and seemingly let the thought seep in. “So you're after the generals of the Dark Moon and their captives hmm? That's quite a brave thing to pursue. I won't question your actions though. If you pay the price, I'll talk.” She flashed the two a devilish grin and Salem broke out into a cold sweat upon catching a glimpse of her fangs also. “Little over a year ago someone came to me with a request to look into the aftermath of a battle. I had seen the place, and on my way back I decided to investigate just a bit more, happening to spot a series of travellers clad in the Dark Moon's colours and carrying their banners. The leaders among them stood out quite nicely, just by their outfits alone.” She intertwined her fingers and rested her chin upon both hands. “I was surprised that so many had survived what had happened there. I can't say I know what occurred at the time, but I never thought I'd see the day where there would be a mountain of sand in the tundra.”
    Salem swallowed hard. He recalled with unease watching the God's Governor bury all of Xenym in sand, taking the lives of the unfortunate soldiers who had continued to fight, and the remains of those who had already lost theirs. He was lucky to have escaped with his own.
    “That must have been Julius' doing...” Reina muttered under her breath. “So he really did come after all.”
    “By now the captives will have been taken to the castle, so if you plan on rescuing them you're going to need quite the plan. I do have some information on the generals but that'll cost you extra.”
    “We'll pay it.”
    Lucia smiled impishly. “Wonderful! Be sure to send Vanir back here with my regards.” She crossed her legs and stole a glimpse at Salem sending a chill down his spine. “A little birdy told me that the Dark Moon and Owl Castle have six very important figures among them; the Dark Moon King, the leader of Owl Castle the Shadow Ninja King, also known as Sun of Moon-” Salem swallowed hard. How did she know the Shadow Ninja King's name? Exactly who was this little birdy that she spoke of? “The tactician Eung Soo, the shogun Hayato, Captain Hotaka and Master Kazuo. I've nothing to tell you about the first two, but I'll tell you about one of the others for your payment.”
    Reina rubbed her chin uneasily. “I don't know much about their ranking terms. Salem, do you know what a shogun is?”
    “Ah yes of course.” He cleared his throat. “The shogun are hereditary military governors of Aoich. There used to be more in the period that Aoich could be considered a country and not just a city among the others. To put it in a simpler fashion, the shogun are generals beneath the king, or as he's known in Aoich the emperor. Targeting the shogun first might not be the best course of action.” He knit his eyebrows.
    “I agree.” She turned to Lucia. “Is Master Kazuo also a higher rank than the captain?”
    Lucia chuckled. “No, my dear. Kazuo is an important asset to Owl Castle, not to the Dark Moon. Are you interested in his whereabouts?”
    Reina shook her head. Judging by the frown she made, it seemed that she knew little of Owl Castle and it's relationship with the Dark Moon Kingdom. “I'd like to hear about Captain Hotaka. He might be a good place to start.”
    She gave Reina a charming smile as if it was what she had wanted from the beginning. “Hotaka's a level-headed man with a very strong sense of duty, both towards his king and to his morality. My sources tell me that after an invasion sometime over a year ago, Hotaka sheathed his sword and went into retirement, under the watchful eyes on the Dark Moon.” A sly grin took prominence. “Of course, they're not guarding him. Only ensuring that for one, he doesn't go anywhere they can't see him and two, doesn't breathe a word about their secrets. Loose lips sink ships, after all.”
    Salem blinked. He knew that Captain Hotaka was an honourable man, but above all else he respected the Dark Moon King's wishes. Had the invasion of Xenym really driven him to such lengths? “May I ask if you know the reason for his retirement?” He asked with apprehension.
    She raised an eyebrow. “Would you consider a battle won against an enemy who refused to fight back a victory?”
    “Of course not. If both parties know the intentions of their enemies then by all means, they should match it, if not surpass it. To engage in a battle half-heartedly could easily result in death.”
    “There's your answer.” Salem made a grimace while Lucia swapped legs into the same position. “I like you two, so I'll do you a service on the house. I'll have one of my girls find Hotaka for you. If you're going to meet him, you'll need to find your own transportation.” She chuckled. “That's a service I can't offer you.”
    “That's nothing we can't handle right Salem?” The Cerebian said with a smile to which he nodded in turn.
    “I agree. We'll get there in good time I'm sure. Vanir may be able to offer us some insight into the matter. It'd be best if we asked him.” Reina nodded vigorously.
    Lucia eyed them with a keen curiosity. “Is there anything else I can do for you? If you take the offer now I'll give you a good price.” She said, her tone almost teasing.
    “No, but thanks anyway. For now I believe that's all we'll need to know. We'll come back if we're in need of your help to find the others. Thank you very much Lucia.” Reina answered.
    “Your efforts are greatly appreciated Lucia. Thank you.” Salem said.
    Lucia pursed her lips into a smirk. “You don't need to thank me. I don't run a charity.” As Reina said goodbye and made her exit, Salem followed suit and paused after catching a glimpse of the dancer giving him an unusually melancholic stare. “Keep her safe, won't you? I know of someone that would be very sad to know that she didn't live to tell her tale.”
    “I will. I swear it.”

    The two returned to the shop to find Vanir dressed in a hooded sweater and blue jeans, doing a handstand outside of the shop. The hood was over his head and he smiled as they approached.
    “Hey kids. Welcome back.” He said.
    “Vanir, what are you doing?” Salem asked incredulously.
    “What is it? It sounded as if he was on the ground. Did you lose your bracelet?” Reina asked. Salem explained the situation and she burst out into laughter.
    “Yeah yeah laugh it up.” He muttered. “Skuld locked me out. Said she'd only let me in if I do a handstand.”
    “What have you done to invoke her anger?” Salem asked.
    “Made some promises I didn't keep. And some I won't be able to.” He sighed.
    “You should learn how to treat a girl right Vanir.” Reina sneered. “You're about as charming as they come.”
    “You sound a lot like someone I used to know.”
    Reina walked over to the door and rapped on it gently. It creaked open and a sullen looking Skuld peeked through the small crack. Upon discovering Reina on the other side she opened it fully and gazed at the two through upturned eyes.
    “Vanir did some mean things, didn't he?” Reina asked the Brownie and she nodded in response. “Don't worry, I'll get him to apologize.” She leaned on him and he frowned. “Alright Vanir, it's time to spill the beans. What exactly did you do to upset Skuld?”
    “You think I'll talk?” He hissed. “Hell no! You'll have to torture me before you get me to speak.”
    “That can be arranged.” Reina smiled devilishly and pressed him against the wall harder than she had prior.
    “I do not have the patience for this.” He rolled his visible eye. “Okay so I promised her that I'd take her to dinner once your training was done and I didn't. Happy now? Can I stop doing a handstand? The blood's rushing to my head and I think I'm gonna pass out soon.”
    “Are you sorry?”
    “A hundred percent.”
    “Will you keep your promise to Skuld?”
    “Cross my heart and hope to die.” There was a hint of impatience in his voice.
    “Do you forgive him Skuld?” The young girl gave a smile and a nod.
    “That's that it seems.” Salem said.
    Reina let the barista go and he collapsed to the ground with a thud and groan. He remained face-down for a couple of moments before pushing himself off the ground and onto his feet, dusting off his clothes. Skuld stepped aside and the three entered afterwards.
    “So, Lucia helped you kids out right? She didn't give you any trouble or anything?”
    “She was very helpful. We'll find out the details of our first mark once she discovers them.” Salem answered while the two took a seat.
    “There's another price that needs to be paid for the extra information Vanir.” Though Reina could not see his face, she could feel him turning pale at her words and his eyes gazing at her.
    “Why are you telling me this?” He asked, his voice almost a hush.
    “She told us to send you back with her regards.”
    Vanir intertwined his fingers and rested his head against them while leaning against the bar. “Gods...”
    Reina chuckled. “Sorry!”
    “Don't give me that!” He sighed. “You kids are gonna put me in my grave.”

    Later that day Salem stood outside with his ninjatō silently practicing in the dead of night. It would only be a matter of time before Lucia would inform the two of Hotaka's current location, and he needed to be at his best if he was to take on the Dark Moon's captain. His strikes were fast, accurate and potentially deadly, but not as they once were. His skills had dulled over the time he had spent in Elias with his companions, but in those times of peace he found something that he held very dear to him. Reina had become an indispensable person in his life, and he had sworn on his name that he would protect her with his life.
    He turned in the direction of the shop's front at the sound of the door opening and closing. He slipped into the alleyway between the shops and peered around the corner from the darkness at two cloaked figures sneaking away into the night. By their sizes alone, he deemed the two to be Vanir and Skuld. Under what circumstances would the two be sneaking out so late at night? Though it was not his business, his curiosity would not let the two go, and it was a good opportunity to practice his prowling. It would certainly be a skill he would need in his journey with Reina.
    He silently pursued the two as they evaded the sight of the everyday man, taking unusual routes through alleyways and paths that were infrequently used in the Old Town, moving towards the Ancient Forest without exiting through the market. Salem quickly followed in their wake, remaining hidden at every possible interval. Skuld would often look back while Vanir searched the perimeter ahead of them, both keeping a very close eye on any potential pursuers. The level of secrecy and caution that they withheld assured Salem there was definitely something seedy going on, and that the two were involved. As the two exited the city through a vacant street, he followed after them into the Ancient Forest, tightly gripping the hilt of the sword at his hip.
    After spending so much time in the darkness his eyes had already adjusted, so he could see the Agasuras that infested the area clearly enough. The howl of the wolves sent chills down his spine as he reminisced his time in the tundra, but he did not let it shake his resolve. Vanir and Skuld leapt into the bridges that crossed the trees and made their way further into the forest, seemingly towards the mines. What circumstances would have the two in need of gems? Salem leapt from where he stood into one of the trees and followed after them, cautiously silencing one of the boars that was preparing to charge at him. He pulled the bloody weapon from the creature and leapt to a lower branch, jumping across them as he followed the two out of the sight of the Agasuras. They could still smell him, and often became rather aggressive as he neared, but did not act from their vantage point. Leaping from tree to tree he eventually caught up with the two as they leapt to the cave the mine was located in and began their descent down the stone steps. This definitely had to be their destination, and he could feel that the answer to his questions would be found here.
    Salem entered the mines, descending down a series of dark steps lit only by the torches that hung on the walls. Bats flew towards him from within and out through the exit startling him for but a moment. He swallowed hard and continued further down, examining his marks as they climbed a ladder at the far end of the room he was in and made their exit to a lower floor. The room itself held very little in it, the walls and landings that surrounded the area built solely of rock, ladders occasionally allowing for travel between each side. Small bundles of rock held varying precious and common minerals within them, inviting adventurers to bring their tools to line their pockets. The walls here too were lit by torches, but they were far and few between offering minimal amounts of light to the visitors. They would likely have to bring their own, if need be.
    Without another moment to spare Salem quickly dashed towards the edge of the landing he stood on and jumped down to a lower one. A group of three dirty looking mutts awaited him and bared their fangs upon his approach. He drew his ninjatō again and watched them cautiously. The dog behind him leapt at him and he immediately twisted around to cut it down. The other two sprinted towards him and followed suit, the first being met with his foot across its face, sending it on the landing the three stood on to the lowest level of the room, while the second dog's fangs met his steel. He stepped forward and impaled the creature, pulling out his blade when it stopped struggling. His skills may have dulled, but his edge still remained sharp.
    He leapt towards a nearby platform and pulled himself up. Another dog awaited him there but he decided not to bother with it. As it approached and eventually lunged at him, he evaded it and dashed towards a ladder that lead to a higher landing. Upon reaching it, he made his way down the stairwell to where the duo had disappeared to. He had lost some time in fighting the creatures, but he felt sure the two could not have gone far. After all, there was only one exit.

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    Innocent Empty Re: Innocent

    Post  TJ on Sat Dec 07, 2013 7:31 am

    Pages 41-44:
    Almost identical to the first, Salem entered the second floor and examined the room with caution. The sound of something emanating alongside bright flashes of light caught his attention He walked towards the end of the landing and looked down to discover a tall violet pillar with a bright matching light at the top. He had heard of them before, and seen a single one upon the eaves of Owl Castle. A series of stones that adventurers used to 'save'. Supposedly those that did could teleport to them if they had corresponding items. On the ground floor below it another light was being emitted, and one that shone much brighter than the Save Stone's, while at the same time emitting a sickening feeling. Salem quickly and quietly climbed down the ladder to a lower landing to get a better look at whatever it was that occurred, and with every step he took he could feel it overwhelming him. His body was almost being attracted to it, while his mind was being forced away. The sound of voices, hundreds, maybe even thousands of them all speaking at once in foreign tongues. An unusual purple smoke-like substance shrouded the floor beneath him, and the source of light was what seemed to be a violet magic circle, and the markings the young girl created with her finger. As if her very hands could give shape to light, she traced markings into the air and with every movement a shimmering trail of light followed and remained as she walked, leaving the shapes side by side in her wake.
    “Keep the flow stable.” An unfamiliar voice hissed. The words were difficult to understand due to the way they spoke, but Salem still managed to decipher them, and deemed it to be that of a man. Something within him said it was Vanir, but what had become of him? “We have to do this properly or the power might leak out. If it happens too many know what'll happen. So let's make sure it doesn't.”
    “What if someone comes Master?” Skuld asked. Salem was alarmed. Since when did Skuld speak? He was almost certain she was a mute.
    “If they do we'll take care of them, obviously. We can't let this get out or we're gonna be knee deep in it. Keep those seals coming. I think we'll have this under control soon.”
    Salem got into a prone position and gazed down upon the two. Terror filled his mind and his entire body had been paralysed in fear. The black magic that Skuld had been using was not what terrified him so; Vanir had become something otherworldly, something that definitely did not belong on Jienda. It seemed that the purple smoke that surrounded the area was coming from him, and in the heart of it stood something completely inhuman. Salem could not put what he saw into words, but he knew that he had to leave. He quietly rose to his feet and crept away from the two. He climbed the ladder and when finally out of earshot he ran as fast as he could.
    Out of the mines and into the Ancient Forest, without looking back he ran as fast as his legs could take him He stumbled and fell face first into the ground. He could taste his blood but he only rose to his feet and continued running. He had to get Reina and leave that shop immediately. If he could find his way to Hanamah he could escape Vanir's clutches and start anew in a place far from his reach, with people he knew that Reina could trust. They may be homeless for a spell but if they could get away he would make the sacrifice. If he could do it once, he definitely could do it again.
    As Salem neared Elias he narrowly avoided the boars who would charge at him but let his guard down and one of the blue wolves dug its fangs into his leg. He wanted to curse but his frustration could not outweigh his fears. He pried its jaws open and forced the creature aside fending off another two with his weapon. The moment he saw an opening he rushed past them and climbed up the nearest tree to bandage his wound. He ripped some cloth from his shirt and tied it around his leg, then rose to his feet and continued on.

    Reina found a rude awakening in being shaken from her sleep, and nearly cried out by how startled she was, but managed to keep her calm at the sound of Salem's voice.
    “Reina, don't panic!” He suddenly said.
    “Salem?” She asked groggily. “What's going on? What time is it?”
    He was silent for a moment, but the sound in his voice was that of fear, and his heavy breathing gave way to a growing unease within her. “I'm not sure. What I do know is that we need to leave, as soon as possible!”
    “Leave where? The city? Where will we go? What happened?”
    “Vanir is...Both Vanir and Skuld...there's something off about them. They're not human. I believe they're Agasuras but nothing like I've ever seen! We should leave Elias and find our way to Hanamah. Someone may be kind enough to take us in until we can find a place we can call home.”
    The young lady snorted. “Calm down Salem. The day's still early and you probably just had a bad dream. You should go back to bed and stop worrying already! It's very unlike you to get so worked up.” She paused after the thought. It definitely was unlike him to be bewildered to such a degree, and in spite of the words she had just spoken she felt that there was truth in his words; it may be in both of their best interests that she go out on a limb and follow in his lead. “Where are the two now?”
    “I had last seen them in the Forest Mines. By this point they may be on their way back, so if we're to leave we should make preparations immediately.”
    Reina nodded. Had what she felt from Vanir upon their meeting been exactly what Salem saw in the Forest Mines? It seemed unreasonable for the two not to be linked. Though if it was true that he was an Agasura, how had he managed to enter the city? The existence of such a being carried a bad omen; the world was changing rapidly and both Cerebian and mankind would have to be ready for the new age to come. With the Dark Moon's aggression aimed towards the havens the Cerebians would be severely crippled. Reina knew her kind would need a leader, but the attacks on their home had taken both their queen and her heir from them and forced them into exile. All that remained were the remnants of the guilds that were formed in order to battle the Agasura. Who could bring them together to put an end to these threats? “I'll follow your lead. Do you think we'll be able to find our way there? I've never been to any of the havens outside of Xenym.” She tried her best not to look worried. “I've heard that there are certain conditions that need to be met for entrance, so humans and Agasuras don't wander in.”
    Salem handed her a bag and she began to pack clothes into it for their journey. “I can't say for sure that we'll be able to find our way there but...I won't give up until we succeed.” His voice became a little softer. “We've come such a long way. If the Agasuras in the Snowfields and Tundra and the Dark Moon itself could not take us, I'm almost certain that this is a challenge that we can overcome also. Whatever must be done I'll do to make sure that you at the very least arrive in Hanamah. You are a precious person to not only your community, but to your race as a whole. Just as Beatrice and Grant are necessary, you are too. You absolutely cannot die.” He had heard about the two from her and she regret it slightly in that moment.
    Her face became hot and her thoughts muddled at his words. Was he to die for her sake too? Was she really so important that others would have to give their lives in order to save hers? No. Under no circumstances would she accept that again. She would not lose him too. “You're wrong Salem.” She muttered. “I'm no more important than any other man or woman in this world. You shouldn't have to lay down your life for mine! Live for yourself, and die for your own causes! If it can be helped don't die at all! Live to see the day where you can smile upon your children and tell them of the hardships you faced to get where you are! People care about you too, you know.” Her fists were clenched and her voice trembled with them. “You can't just die and be satisfied you saved someone else you know! You have to live too or the people you care about will be heartbroken. You can't die here. I won't let you.” Regardless of the race Vanir may be, he had still trained her in swordplay and she would use it to do what her lack thereof prior could not.
    “I won't die on you Reina. So long as you need me I'll keep fighting, even in the throes of death. But this is a discussion for another time. If we don't escape here neither of us may live to see another day. I'll prepare things for the journey, so once you feel that you're prepared let's meet downstairs and leave through the back.” With those words he parted with her temporarily
    “Alright.” Reina fit as much clothing as she could into her bag and reached for the sword hidden under her bed, but found nothing. It was not like her for her to misplace her things, especially a weapon. It would definitely be a crucial thing to have, but she did not have the luxury of time on her side to search for it. She shrugged it off. The one time she had used it was to stab her benefactor, and the sword was not the type she was trained to use. One of the wooden swords from the rack would suffice as a weapon she could defend herself with. Once finished she closed her bag and left the room with the utmost haste.

    The two met outside and Reina took Salem's arm. The chill of winter still remained, which would make camping out a very difficult process, but if they had to bear with the cold for the sake of their lives it was a sacrifice Reina would be willing to make.
    “The best thing we could do now is to take a more indirect path to the Forest. According to what Vanir had told me, the Agasura often inhabit the most common roads, especially flatland. Typically those that are unable to fly would. The roads will be bumpy and rough, but as long as you stay close I'll keep you safe.” Salem explained.
    “My hero!” Reina said with a teasing grin. The silence that followed it likely meant that she embarrassed him. Some things never changed, and she would hold them dear always.
    “Let's get going.” He began to walk, and the usual long strides he would take seemed to be shorter and slightly hindered. He must have been carrying multiple bags.
    “Are you okay? If it's too much to bear I can take one of them.” She offered.
    He chuckled, a rare occurrence. “This is nothing I can't do Reina. Though I must admit, should we run into any Agasura I may need to count on your strength until I can offload these bags. Could you do that for me?”
    “Come now.” She laughed.
    The two walked for hours, watching the sun rise and welcoming the new day as they continued on towards their destination, occasionally stopping to eat and consulting each other on their well-being. The roads off the paths in the Ancient Forest were just as Salem had described them, the two often finding themselves climbing steep hills and leaping across gaps as not to fall from the higher slabs of terrain. On the first day they slept for a small portion of it in order to regain their strength and carry on, resting through the nights and travelling by day. They had no tent to sleep in, but Salem had managed to locate a second sleeping bag that they could use prior to their leaving and took it for their journey. He would gather sticks whenever they camped and make a campfire to keep them warm throughout the nights, keeping his means to lighting the fires a secret. Reina did not hear the sound of flint nor matches to ignite the wood and the mystery was something that she would go to great lengths to unravel. The speed in which he could light a fire was incredible, and he had to have some kind of trick into doing it. She would get it out of him eventually; if not that day, she would try again the next.
    The barren snow coated land of the Ancient Forest and the iconic evergreen trees scattered across it were soon replaced with the towering trees of the Forest and the same familiar crunch of snow beneath the feet of the two. On the far end of it rested a small town by the name of Belos, a starting point for newcomer adventurers and a homely place for those who want to be as far from the Agasura as possible. Reina remembered fondly how her mother would always say that if she had not taken up residence in Xenym she would have liked to raise Reina in Belos. It was said to be one the most peaceful places in all of Jienda. Someday she would bring her there. If even for a visit, she would be sure that her mother got the chance to see it with her own eyes.
    “We're getting closer Reina. Hang in there.” Salem said.
    “A bit of patience hasn't done me in yet.” She said with a smile.
    Though she knew that the two would likely get lost, she was alright with the situation as it was. Salem was giving all that he could in order to reach their destination and she would not deter him. The days were cold and the nights even colder, but the two persisted. As they went on Reina began to take comfort in the sound of their footsteps despite the silence as their search continued. She could tell that Salem's own faith was deteriorating when they would have a meal, as their rations would only last so long. The fact left a deep tension in the air like having an expiration date on both of their lives. At times she wondered what the two would do should they actually deplete their rations, and where they would go. They had gone so far off of the common paths that both adventurer and Agasura alike were scarce. If she had done more research on the havens, could she have offered some useful insight into finding their way to Hanamah? The thought would plague her to her last breath, so she decided not to let it bring her down under any circumstances.
    “ the last of it.” Salem muttered. He sounded exhausted, both mentally and physically. His normal soft-spoken but cautious tone became one that lacked any sort of distinction to it. His words dragged and his thoughts often trailed off, among the few times he would speak. “”
    An emptied can of baked beans sat in a pot over a small fire that Salem had made and the two sat huddled together by it to stay warm. Of late it began to seem that the fires were growing weaker and smaller by the day. Reina could handle the cold, but Salem's strength seemed to be slipping away from him. His body was freezing more often than not, and the steps he once took had slowed down greatly. There was only so much one could take, but it seemed he was reaching his limit. She had to take him somewhere warm. The two would not last much longer if they stayed, if not they would either die by hypothermia or starvation. Neither would be a pleasant way to die. “I'm okay. You need it more than I do.”
    He shook his head while muttering, “” In spite of his protests she removed her jacket and placed it around him, holding him closer to warm him up as much as she could.
    She took a spoonful of beans and held it to his mouth as he continued to protest. She pursed her lips and put the spoon back into the pot, then took hold of both of his cheeks with her hands and turned his head to face her. His entire body was shivering violently. “Look at me Salem. You need to eat and regain your strength. You've eaten less than I have since we left Elias. Do you want me to put on weight that badly?” A quiet snicker escaped his lips and she smiled. “Eat up. We're not going anywhere until you do.” Though he was not entirely convinced, he knew she was much more stubborn than he was. He reluctantly took the spoon and ate while gazing at the smiling girl from the corner of his eye.
    The following days were the hardest. The two found themselves drinking the snow to sate both their hunger and thirst, weakly struggling through the Forest while searching for any possible aid that they could find. Their time was short, they were lost and their senses had dulled to the cold. Reina did not know how much longer she herself could go on, but watching Salem collapse brought her back to reality.
    “Salem...?” She uttered. She knelt down in the snow and shook his body. She removed her gloves and placed her fingers to his neck, feeling a slow, weak pulse. She glanced around the area in the hopes she might find some direction to Belos, but to no avail. She mustered the last of her strength and hauled Salem over her shoulder, struggling to press on as far as she could, holding hope that someone might locate them, or that she might stumble upon Hanamah. She walked for hours, her body trembling beneath the weight of the two, and finally collapsing. The two had silently lay in the snow, every shallow breath a quiet cry for help.
    Reina's fingers reached out for something, anything, she did not know what it was that she wanted to take hold of but it was there, and it was definitely close. She let out a defeated sigh. She had no intention to die in the Forest. The Dark Moon was still waiting for her. The people of Xenym still needed to be rescued. Salem needed a warm fire and food also. She could not afford to die before she accomplished all of these goals. Once she regained her strength she would continue on until she found Hanamah.

    Salem opened his eyes and shook his head. His vision was blurred for the first few moments since his waking. He looked around the room he was in and deemed it to be an unfamiliar place, but it certainly was not someone's home, nor the Madelaine's Tea Stop. As he surveyed the room, an angry looking Vanir glaring at him from a chair by his bedside nearly caused him to leap from where lay. The crossed arms said he was rather bemused.
    “V-Vanir?!” He cried out.
    Vanir tapped one arm impatiently for a couple of moments. “You idiot.” He began. “What in the seven hells were you two thinking? If you morons wanted to elope don't do it in the middle of winter with no destination in mind please. If I wasn't a Confidant do you know how long it would take me to find you two? I had to close the shop and travel into the Forest with Skuld just to reclaim you before both of you died of hypothermia! If you're going to be bested by mother nature don't. Challenge. People! They'll kill you a lot faster than the weather will!”
    When the barista's tirade came to an end Salem slowly shifted his gaze away from him. Under what circumstances would Vanir choose to save the two over letting them die? The Agasura and humanity were not on good terms at any point in time, and according to Rosetta the Cerebians even less so. What exactly was his end goal? His actions and his very being conflicted. He cared less for Vanir's reasons and more for Reina's well-being. Could she have been located somewhere in this strange institution? The strange cord connected to his arm that was drawing a liquid into it from a sac on a pole was rather cumbersome. Did they place one on her too? What purpose did it serve? “Reina. Where is she?” Salem asked.
    “You'd like to know wouldn't you?” Vanir hissed. “Skuld is looking after her in another room. Wouldn't have had to drag your stupid asses here had you not tried to get yourselves killed.” Salem began to speculate that Vanir had a certain fondness for frequent insults. It would have likely been in his best interest not to press him for more. The barista sighed. “Let's cut to the chase shall we? So you saw. That's problematic for both of us.”
    Salem's face remained blank but his mind was abuzz. Was he detected? It was possible the two were playing ignorant to his presence and were warning him of the consequences of his being there. It was possible that their leaving gave way to the fact that something was amiss in the minds of the two, and lead to this conclusion. He closed his eyes. Regardless of the scenario leading up to the current situation, Vanir would likely kill both of them since they knew, after all. Going by his memory alone he recalled the exit to the barista's left, making an escape from the entrance impossible. On his right was a window, but judging by what he could see from where he lay using it as an exit would prove to be the end of him. Trying to run at all would not easily go well, considering he was bound to the pole. He could potentially use it as a weapon if need be. It had excellent reach, and from what Salem could tell Vanir was unarmed. His natural physical strength aside, Salem essentially had the advantage over him. “What will you do?” He asked with a raised eyebrow. He would show no fear to his enemy.
    “What indeed.” He frowned. “I could put you out of your misery but the other kid won't accept that. If I snuff both of you out the Princess'll come back with a vengeance. I'm not interested in these revenge chains. We're both reasonable men here. You keep your mouth shut, I don't kill you. Easy right? Everybody wins. Just don't go and do something stupid like running off again or you'll do yourself in. I've spent too much time on you two to let it go to waste like that.”
    Salem was at a loss. If any information was leaked about Owl Castle or the Dark Moon, anyone involved would be executed immediately. After being interrogated. How could Vanir be so mild about such a serious topic? Especially after threatening both Salem and Reina's lives? Something was very off about the situation, but he would not trade both his and her life for his own pride. “Then I'll take you up on that offer.” He replied. “My lips are sealed.”

    That's everything I have for now. Hopefully now that I've got some time off I can continue. And hey...thanks. In those little actions I found solace.

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    Innocent Empty Re: Innocent

    Post  TJ on Sat Dec 14, 2013 12:51 pm

    It took a while but I finally managed to get a hold of A phone so I could do this right. A picture tells a thousand words, after all. Had to borrow my other elder brother's phone to do it. Sadly, I'm the youngest in the family lol. Anyway lemme tell you a long-winded story so at least you understand a bit better. Well, truth be told I want you to know about me. Everything you read here is all true, at least, I'll tell it to the best of my abilities. Things can be wrong because they're from my perspective, but if you understand the story that's good enough. There's no implied meanings or anything, it's all very straightforward. Just promise me, whatever you see here that you NEVER repeat the same mistakes I have. I know you're smarter than that, so I don't have any doubts, but the path I've chosen to tread is the worst possible one. Let my failures be a lesson for you, and any others you may be able to help that are going through a similar struggle.

    To keep a long portion of the story short, I inherited a health-condition from my mom called eczema, and growing up with it was a nightmare. My allergies triggered it, and naturally, it was something others didn't really understand so they'd likely keep their distance. Made me a really self-conscious kid. We were all just stupid kids back then. Though lately I've been thinking this is where everything started.
    Just so you know now, this is me. The real me. Nothing too special lol. Selfies never really were my thing either but now you know lol.
    Innocent 2013-116

    So moving on, when I was 13 I think being 'emo' became a giant stink. Sounded ridiculous to me, along with the rest of my generation. Didn't understand back then though. I was just a stupid teen. Swore I'd never do any of the things that an emo would do. Apparently I was a terrible liar. This one's not so pretty. Not that the first was lol. You've been warned.
    The Proof:
    Innocent 2013-117
    This didn't start happening until last month, thankfully. Going back seven years, before I started playing LT i met someone in another game called Angels Online. Don't play that game. Regardless, she was a person who was wise beyond her years, and was immediately able to tell that I was suffering from depression. I was in denial then too, but she was understanding despite the fact. Stuck to me like glue, and I was thankful for it, though I wouldn't admit it. Taught me how to speak out, to open my heart to people and to love myself, if even a little bit. Things I never thought I would do again. Liked her then but didn't have the courage or confidence to be hers. Had a chance, missed it, got over it. Everything that happened in between then and now is just nonsense.

    Fast forward seven years and we're here, now stupid adults. I've met a lot of different people along the way that changed my life, for better or worse, including you, and I'm thankful for all of it. I can't say I've gotten better, really. Rather I've gotten worse, but I'm working on it. Back then I believed I could get better on pure willpower alone and strived for it, but science isn't one to be played for a fool. My Doc said the depression is caused by a chemical imbalance and all sorts of things I don't remember or understand, but he suggested some meds and that I see a psych. I did the former, not the latter. Poor choice on my part. This all occurred last week, more or less.
    That aside, that person and I still stayed in touch via fb or tumblr or whatever. After things took a turn for the worse I tried talking with them again, with a bit more confidence, and I think I can safely say I crashed and burned. Part of me wishes I could go back and undo it all, cause I did some damn idiotic things. But after all, this is who I am for better or worse, and I'll have to live with it and learn from it as best I can. That person gave me something to live for. She's the reason I'm still here to the day, and being a burden worries me, but I'm terrible at not being one to everyone around me which makes it even worse. On that note, there were a lot of points where I wanted to die. I really find it incredible, and rather embarrassing how optimistic I used to be, even on here but I do miss it a bit at times.
    As for where we are now, I can't say for sure. She might be pissed at me, she might not. We don't talk like we once did and after all, maybe it's for the best. I can't say for sure that I understand her story, and what the end goal of it is, but I'd like to learn it, and those of the people around me, including yours. I can't do much but lend an ear, but if it would brighten your day a bit I'd be glad to. I hate parting with friends more than anything, but I prefer them to go where they'll be happy then be stuck by me and unhappy. If they find joy, wherever it might be, that's the best thing I could ask for.
    Also that story about my brother was not an allusion. Not too fond of them myself really, To give it a bit more context, I asked a friend to text him a really angry message, courtesy of me. I said something like, "Tell Tristan to return my phone or I'll call his enemies to gouge his eyes out and castrate him". The next day he came home and started telling me some story about some crazy girl who likes to write and make her characters frick frack and something about killing somebody and not caring...can't really remember. It was just a terrible allusion to my text message, which he took seriously for some reason. Reason he told the story was because I have terrible insight when it comes to allusions, so a lot of the time they'd slip right past me and I'd miss the meaning. I've been swarmed with them the past few months, but my insight's gotten better because of it. Still, I'd never seen him act so subdued before, and it was rather strange. He's one of the most prideful men in this house, and if you saw the way he acted on a daily basis you'd see why I found it so unusual. To put it bluntly, he's really loud, obnoxious and does what he wants. He and I are more or less, polar opposites. He still didn't return my phone, and I'm not amused.

    Still, here we are today. I'm still sorting things out a bit, and because of it writing's really become challenging, leaving the days I work aside. I've been swarmed with shifts too, my goodness. Hopefully things will get better soon and I can get back to finishing all these works.
    I put her through a lot of trouble, and I've done the same to you. Sorry about all of it. I don't wanna blame my depression or social anxiety for the way I act, but I can't deny that they have an impact. I've always been kind of flighty, it's been a lot worse recently because of all of this, but I hope that I can solve the problem without anything having to change dramatically, especially those around me. I don't want anyone to have to go out of their way to accommodate me. I may be self-conscious at times, but one way or another I'll overcome it. If I'm to continue on, I have to.

    That just about sums up my story. For hearing me out and just being a great friend all these years, I just wanna say thanks. Wish I could do something nice for ya but I can't draw you a nice picture or something unless you like stick men lol. Still, if you have read all of this, thank you. Sometimes having someone hear you out is just what a guy or girl like me would need. If you know anyone else who might need you, I hope you'll do the same for them, and always know that I will for you if you ever need it.
    One more:
    Innocent 2013-118

    Can't say for sure where we'll wind up from here, but still, thanks for sticking it out with me thus far. Heh I know I'm a handful, but I really do appreciate what you've done. Keep doing what you do best AK. That quirky and charming personality of yours can certainly bring out the best in a lot of people.

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    Innocent Empty Re: Innocent

    Post  TJ on Fri Dec 20, 2013 3:42 pm

    One more page:
    “For all of our sakes, let's hope that holds true.”

    Reina arose from a bed and shuddered. What on earth happened? Where was she now? The layers of clothing she once wore were missing and she felt the fabric of a hospital gown against her body. A familiar sensation, but not one she wished to recall so soon. The sound of someone's breathing caught her attention and she turned in their direction, somewhat afraid to speak. After silently listening for a couple of moments, she recognized the sound to be Skuld, fast asleep.
    “Skuld, is that you?” She asked.
    The young girl jerked upright with a startled whimper and blinked. “Reina!” She leapt from the chair into the bed and hugged her companion.
    The Cerebian chuckled. “Hi there. Did I worry you? Where's Vanir?”
    “Master is in another room looking after Salem.” Skuld said in a hushed voice. “What urged you two to leave the cafe? That was really dangerous you know.”
    Reina remained silent. What could she say? Lying her way out of the situation would not be a difficult thing to accomplish, but what if they knew the truth? She could not help but worry that it may come back to haunt her and Salem in some way or another. Giving away the truth may only make a possibly hidden matter come to light. She would not take that risk. “We were hunting Agasura under the request of one of Salem's co-workers. He had neglected to gather more herbs for the stew and asked Salem if he could go in his stead.”
    “In the middle of winter?” Skuld asked.
    Reina swallowed the question hard. She wanted to say boar, but the boars would not be found in the heart of the Forest. “They grow in every season. A chef has to be prepared for any situation.”
    “What herb were you two searching for?”
    She could feel beads of sweat running down the nape of her neck. Skuld was really pressing her for answers today. She searched her memory for prior knowledge of herbs that would grow in the winter and one came to her. “Thyme. We were told that there were locations they could grow in the Forest, but could be difficult to find depending on the amount of snow.”
    Skuld remained silent for a couple of moments and Reina's unease increase with every passing second. “Is that all?” She beamed. “Master has that at the cafe! You could have asked and I'm positive he would be glad to share it with you!”
    Reina chuckled dryly. The two were safe, for now. Salem must have had it even harder than she did. “Is that so?” She wondered where the two would go now. Would they return to the cafe and pretend the event never happened? Her desire for the truth burned strong, but it was not her place to be questioning the two and their history. Someday she and Salem may need to escape, but for the time being she just needed to keep their knowledge a secret and rescue her people. Though it pained her to admit it, she may need Vanir and Skuld's help to do it, and she would use any means to save her people.

    After a couple days the two were discharged and finally returned to Madelaine's Tea Stop by request of the barista himself. The moment they walked in they found him at the bar waving a letter.
    “You've got mail kids.” Vanir said. With a flick of his wrist that letter flew towards them and landed at their feet.
    Salem looked towards Reina and she nodded in response. He picked up the letter and looked at the front of the envelope. “It's from Lucia.” He said. He opened the envelope and removed the letter, quickly reading through the contents silently. “It says that we can find Captain Hotaka within one of Aoich's residential areas. There are even directions included to his home. What should we do Reina?”
    She snorted. “What do we do? Let's go!”
    “I'm not letting you two run out there just to get yourselves nearly killed all over again.” Vanir objected. “I'm gonna pack your bags and then you can leave, got that?”
    “That...sounds reasonable.” Salem answered. He folded the letter and placed it in his pocket. Within it's contents there was more it said that he did not relay to Reina. Lucia spoke of a slaughter that took place in Aoich nearly two decades ago by the hands of the Dark Moon. A bloody campaign spearheaded by Hayato himself, which propelled his ranking within the army. Salem vaguely recalled overhearing the details from some of the men he had trained with; the two discussing the Dark Moon's decision to forcefully recruit soldiers for their cause, in preparation for waging war against an 'army beyond them'. Lucia's letter said men, women, and children alike were killed in the process, and those that did not struggle and who could not, were taken captive. Children were raised by both the Dark Moon and Owl Castles and bred to be ruthless killers. The final message in the letter gave Salem chills. You're familiar with this story, isn't that correct 'Salem'? He was aware of the story, but did she mean that she knew he was from Owl Castle? Or was there something more to it than that? Exactly how much did she know about him?
    “Hey Salem.” Reina said causing him to awaken from his reverie.
    “Ah. Yes?”
    She smiled. “Are you still awake? If you stay like that storm clouds will gather.” He opened his mouth to speak and found himself at a loss for words. Her intuition was sharper than ever.
    He shook his head. “No need to worry Reina. I'm fine. So our next destination is Aoich hmm? We have quite the journey ahead of us then. It'd be best if we set out now as not to waste too much time.”
    “Slow your role kid.” Vanir said. “I know a few people who can help you out there.”
    Reina raised an eyebrow. “Who? Are they those friends who visited some time ago for Salem?”
    The barista shook his head. “The little princess and her crew? No not them. Though she did organize this little rendezvous just for you two. Be sure to thank her the next time she drops by.”
    The girl smiled. “So what's this surprise you've been keeping so hush-hush?”
    Vanir held his head high. “I called in a favour and she asked a couple of people to pull some strings. A group of nomadic Cerebians have set up shop in the market over the past few days and are waiting for you two before they set out again. They stand out badly. You can't miss 'em.”
    “It's very kind of you to go to such lengths for us Vanir, despite all that's happened.” Salem smiled somberly. The thought of Vanir's words still haunted him. He would not tell Reina those; he wanted to spare her that much at the very least.
    The barista placed a hand to his chin and gazed at the two. “Whatever you say other kid. I do this for myself, so you believe what you wanna believe.”
    Skuld snorted and Reina snickered. “Whatever you say Vanir.” The Cerebian girl said.

    That's what I've written down lately. I'm gonna try and speed things up a bit since this has gone on for far longer than I intended, but with this I think I can still have some good development in between the main plot points. Hopefully with this one I can tie up a lot of loose ends the main story won't cover, and prepare the next oneshot properly. That one will wrap up the Dark Moon series and hopefully give a bit more insight into the motivations of the characters.

    On another note, I think I'm finally getting back into the swing of things. It's still a bit rough around the edges but I definitely feel a lot better about a ton of things. I'm trying to be a bit more confident and get back in touch with those I slipped away from, and for being away so long, I'm sorry about that. Between work and all the other stuff going on I guess I just couldn't quite sort myself out properly, but when I'm not there I'll definitely be here at least every couple days and on tumblr too.
    Gotta admit, at times I find myself missing your insults a little bit. They're a part of my past that I'd hate to do without. And hey, what better place or time to understand a character I'll be working with than the creator herself? When you've got the time, drop by here and leave me a message. I'd love to hear about what you're up to these days and I'll tell you about my misadventures and plans for my works if you're curious too. A little bit of idle chitchat could do us both worlds of good. I'll see you again real soon, I gotta run.

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    Innocent Empty Re: Innocent

    Post  TJ on Sat Dec 28, 2013 8:15 pm

    Pages 46-48:
    Vanir handed the two rucksacks with all sorts of supplies latched on and included within. They had everything they would need for the trip, from clothes to camping supplies and non-perishable foods. They were certainly more prepared than they were on their escape. The amount of items within was rather weighty, so Reina felt thankful that they would be riding with the traders to Aoich rather than having to perform the journey on foot.
    “The traders will likely make brief stops in between cities.” Vanir began. “Make sure that you save in both Yong Gyoung and Aoich alright? If you've never done it before, better that you do now than miss the opportunity and regret it later.”
    Reina tilted her head quizzically. “Save?” As the barista prepared to offer her an answer her head jerked upright as she recalled the meaning. “Oh! The save stones! I've read about those in the library! The save stones were beacons created for humanity to travel across the world instantaneously, but the Greater Stones that are within the cities are those that keep the Agasuras out of them. All of this came to be through God Ah's will and the ability of his Left Hand.”
    “Thanks for the religion lesson Tips.” The barista muttered. “You left poor Salem here dumbfounded.”
    Salem's eye darted towards Vanir and he hissed, “What are you talking about?”
    “You'll get there someday kid. Don't you sweat the small stuff.”
    Reina could tell by Salem's silence he was likely irritated by Vanir's words, but not so much that the two would fight. They argued regularly over the most menial of details, but when one of the two knew the other was right, their discord would come to a conclusion. It would be a tad unusual to start their mornings without Vanir and Skuld's presence again, but they would see each other again very soon. So long as the two made it back to Elias alive.
    “Reina, it would be best if we got going. We shouldn't keep Peorth's acquaintances waiting.” Salem suggested.
    This time round she looked dumbfounded. “Wait a moment Salem! Did you say Peorth?!” She cried.
    He raised an eyebrow. “...Yes?”
    “Peorth as in the queen? The late queen?!”
    “She is the leader of a guild but there was no mention of her being a queen.”
    “Vanir, explain.”
    “It's the same one.” He said with a shrug.
    Reina fell silent. After a couple of moments she broke out into long sobs. Salem immediately took her into his arms and sent Vanir a wary glance. “Reina what's the matter?” He asked shifting his gaze back to her.
    “She's alive...” She uttered through her sobs. “Oh thank God Ah she survived.” She sniffled a couple of times and wiped her tears away. “Sorry.” She smiled. “Everyone had thought the royal family had died out after we were forced to flee from our home, but she made it through. In these dark times the Cerebians need a leader.” If she's alive, and acquainted with the two, it was possible she could find out some truth from the tales she knew so well. If there was a saviour out there for her kind, they may be able to end the Cerebian-Agasura conflict. Though on the other hand, she was in no position to be questioning her people's queen. At the thought that the two got to meet her, she began to frown.
    “Is something else the matter?”
    “No.” The two men exchanged uneasy glances.
    “Just keep this matter hush-hush okay? The little princess will skin me alive if she finds out that I spilled the beans.” He frowned. “Not that she's doing a very good job by going by her given name!” He waved them off. “Alrighty then. Off with you two. Be sure to mail us. And don't die please?”
    “We'll be fine Vanir. Don't you worry about a thing.” Reina answered.
    “Hmm.” He muttered. Skuld tugged on his sleeve and she made a widening gesture with both arms. “Huh? Oh! That's right! Hey kid! Hold on a second!” The barista disappeared into the shop and the two awaited his return. He came running back out with a long piece of cloth covering up something in his hand. “Catch.” He tossed it to Reina and she nervously fumbled the object, unsure of how to hold it. She unwrapped the item and solemnly slid her hand against what felt like the hilt of a sword. Her hand came to rest on the guard and she shifted it to the blade, feeling the sharpness of it and the way it curved as her finger ascended towards the tip.
    “This is...” She whispered.
    “A katana. I should've had it forged sooner but...” The barista shrugged. “The past is the past. No point in stressing the small stuff. I swapped out the wooden long sword you used to use for a wooden katana. I've seen you practicing with that short sword or whatever they call it in Aoich and it seemed more your style.” He sighed. “Salem's a good teacher. Pay close attention to him. Also take good care of your weapon, and it'll take care of you...and your enemies.”
    Though her goal was not to slay her enemies, a real blade would serve her much better than a wooden sword. She unsheathed the blade and felt the weight in her hands. Something about it felt so right she could not quite describe it, but it was a beautiful thing indeed. “Thank you so much Vanir. I'll take good care of it, and I'll be back with Salem.”
    “You better! This stuff ain't cheap you know! Neither is your life. Or my time!”
    “Bye!” Reina said walking away as he shouted after them.
    “We'll meet again very soon.” Salem said.

    The pair soon found themselves in Elias' marketplace and just as Vanir had told them, a group of unusual looking travellers had flooded the marketplace, dressed in more layers than anyone either had ever known. That matter aside, there was a chain of caravans that seemed to carry other wares and other times people, and creatures Salem had become slightly familiar with in his first few glances of the Desert. Large violet limbless creatures with small purple tails and dark bands along their ears pulled the caravans along. Prispings, he was told they were called. Those he saw in the Desert were not even half the size of those he gazed upon now.
    He scoured through the hordes of people for one that stood out from the others, that could possibly be the leader of the nomads, but as far as he could tell they were all the same ranking. He rubbed the back of his neck uneasily. “I don't think they have a leader Reina.” He told her.
    “Maybe they don't need one. Let's try asking one of them and see what they have to say.” She replied. The two approached a lady completely clad from head to toe in everything she could to keep herself warm, leaving only a small slit for her to see. “Excuse me, we're travellers that requested the aid of the caravan. My name is Reina and this is Salem. Do our names sound familiar at all?”
    The lady looked up to the two and nodded. “Yes. I've heard much about the travellers that sought out the city of cherry blossoms. You'll come with us won't you?”
    “It would be our pleasure!”
    “I am curious though.” Salem began. “Does your caravan have a leader of sorts?” He had the urge to suggest a king but a clan is not a kingdom. “Is there any high-ranking member of the clan that we may be able to speak to for a few answers to our questions?”
    The merchant shook her head. “Nothing of the sort. We are but one family. There are no rankings, no secrets and no one left behind in our family. We make decisions as one and travel as one.”
    “That sounds like my kind of group.” Reina chimed.
    The merchant rose to her feet and gave the two a nod. “If you'll excuse me.” She walked over to another member of the caravan and said something out of earshot of the duo. He gave her a nod and the two proceeded to others, spreading the word. As the numbers increased some members began to pack up their wares while others made their last sales to the visiting adventurers. Reina smiled wryly at the sight and Salem did not doubt the possibility that she felt guilt for what had occurred.
    “Don't stress yourself out too much over it Reina.” He said gently. “The caravan was awaiting our arrival to set out. We may have kept them longer than intended. With this they can finally set out towards their destination.”
    “I never said I was worried.” She smiled normally. “You've got a keen eye Salem.”
    “Some things take time.” He answered with a slightly flushed face. “Especially our growth.”
    Once the caravans were packed up some of them began to set out while others followed in their wake, leaving the pair somewhat confused.
    “They're not going to leave us behind...right?” Reina asked with a puzzled expression.
    “I'd like to believe so.” Salem answered.
    One caravan pulled up beside them and the driver turned to them. “You may board here adventurers. There is enough space for two more people to fit.”
    The two nodded and climbed into the back, the tarp offering sufficient protection from the snow and winds outside. Within they found themselves among a group of four people, two men, one young and old, a lady and a boy that was likely her child. The polite smiles and acknowledging nods the two received from those around them put them at ease; Salem wondered if it was just the hospitality of the nomads, the Cerebians, or potentially that they were guests of Peorth. Did the nomads know their queen was still alive? The matter aside, though the driver said there was enough room for two, they could surely fit much more within.
    “It's a pleasure to meet you all. I'm Reina and this is Salem.” Reina chuckled and her companion nodded. “You've likely heard of us from the others. We'll be in your care over the next couple of weeks.”
    “The pleasure is ours travellers.” The lady replied. “My name is Ageha; this is my son Moran.” The young boy tightly held to his mother while hiding behind her. “He can be a tad shy around strangers. Please, do not mind him.” She was a dainty thing dressed a little lighter than the other travellers, clad in a blue coat, black leggings, black faux fur boots with a scarf wrapped around her neck. Her silky black hair was cropped short and smiling eyes gazed upon the pair.
    The man sitting at the other side of the vehicle gave the two a weary smile and introduced himself. “I'm Nazir. This old man here is Osman.” The man, alike to most of the other nomads were completely dressed from head to toe in winter gear. From the tan hat on his head to the black winter boots on his feet, they were definitely not fond of Elias' current season.
    From a single glance Salem could tell the mother and child had been born in Aoich, if the names had not given them away. The other pair, and seemingly many of the other nomads had come from Elfa, or possibly a haven near it. Among all of them, why was a single pair from Aoich in their numbers? Though Salem was curious, he would not pry into their business. They likely had their reasons for becoming nomads, as he had his for keeping secrets from both his benefactors and companion.

    It's just a little bit but it's proof that things are coming along. Not bad eh? Again, still really rough around the edges but I think I'm getting there. Read a little tip from the writing cafe that you shouldn't be overly descriptive with the actions of the characters, which is something I know I do too much. Didn't do it at all before, started and did it too much. Proper writing can be such a fickle thing at times. My goodness. Definitely need to find a way to describe the characters without one, sounding like a racist and two, relying on where they're from to point readers in the right direction. Hopefully once I finish the rough I have a means to fix it in the good copy. Need to remind myself that Ageha and Moran are humans, not Cerebians. Little bit of a contrast there for ya lol.

    Leaving that aside, said I'd be here more frequently and I've been gone at least 8 days. Hell's bells I'm more fickle than my writing is. It's been a bit slow between me trying to get some written down and working, but hopefully I'll come around along with it. I've got a few days off, so I'll hopefully have more to show soon.
    So I heard you weren't feeling well? Take good care of yourself alright? Sleep is the best thing you can give yourself; kick back and watch a movie until you crash, take some meds and give yourself all the time you need to get better. Take it from the flighty guy, tumblr and whatnot can wait a few days. The world won't be going anywhere in a hurry, so you take your time. When you come back, maybe I'll have more to show ya. Or not!
    Now stop reading my nonsense and get in that bed of yours madame. Don't you go dying on me you hear?

    Posts : 895
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    Innocent Empty Re: Innocent

    Post  TJ on Fri Jan 17, 2014 9:35 pm

    I'll have more to post tomorrow, my mind's abuzz. By tomorrow morning I should get it together. Spent the past week saying "Today's the day I get some work done" and I put it off for this reason or that and bleh. Maybe tomorrow. I'll definitely try, 'cause I wanna see this through to the end properly, and hold to my promises.
    Still, though I know it's not my place to, I do worry. I really do hope you're holding up alright. I'll add a bit more to this later, but for now this is what I've got. Hopefully it's not too bad!

    Pages 48-50:
    With a sudden jerk the caravan began to move following behind the others. Salem absently gazed out the back at the others trailing behind them while Reina gently hummed under her breath. He could feel the searching glances of Ageha and Moran on them but he would not condemn them for it. It was only reasonable that the nomads would be wary of the adventurers; not all would be so kind to the travel-weary merchants, and would likely steal goods from them while flaunting their strength. At times the Dark Moon would do just that, claiming that it would be to keep the kingdom of Elias and it's comrades from becoming mad with power and spiralling out of control. Salem had accepted the fact blindly and without question, and with just a glance he could tell that the people before him and many of the others likely all had experienced many horrible things, just as Reina had.
    To ease the tension even a tiny bit, he decided to take a gamble and ask, “Is something the matter Miss Ageha?”
    She blinked slowly only mulling over the question for a moment, and responded, “Nothing is the matter. I am rather curious about you travellers. May I ask where you hail from?”
    Reina spoke up first. “I come from the haven Xenym. You've heard what happened to it, right?” She asked.
    Ageha nodded gravely. “I have. We have lived in peace with humanity for so many years. It comes as no surprise to me that the Dark Moon would be the first to turn against us. They are renown for taking the lives of their own, and now they wish to take ours as well. We must not stand for it.” She held her son tightly. “You are lucky to have escaped with your life Reina, but it seems...your fight was a costly one.”
    Salem stole a solemn glance at his companion. Those who did not know her personally only knew a small portion of her struggle. They could only see her suffering on the outside, the loss of her eyes. They could never come to know both the physical and emotional trauma she had experienced, and the many nights she had relived every moment of it.
    “I consider myself lucky to have walked away with this.” She smiled bitterly. “There are still others who are suffering by the hands of the Dark Moon, and those who didn't make it through the battle. God Ah bless their souls...” She paused and took a shuddering breath. “We lost God's Governor Julius there also. As for his daughter, our benefactor and Confidant Vanir had told me that someone had confirmed the God's Governor of Earth is still active. I once read that when there is none left in the lineage to take up the mantle, it's passed on to another family through a newborn and the cycle begins anew. Of course, it isn't immediate. Julius' daughter Kasumi may have survived the battle and taken his place. She was only a baby then, but if Julius' familiar is with her I think she'll be alright.”
    “I pray that she's found and looked after. The God's Governors are our hope in these dark hours. If we must fight, we will surely need their help in protecting our people. The Dark Moon does not seem to care much for who they harm and what impact it would have on the world around them. I am sure that I just as the others do not wish to do harm to mankind, but just as Julius has, we must protect ourselves or humanity will be bested by the Agasura.”
    “I agree. If I can reclaim those who are being held captive, I'll do it while trying to keep the casualties as minimum as I possibly can. Things can't stay this way. We can't let the Dark Moon manipulate us in such a manner!”
    Ageha looked aghast. “You must be mad! The Dark Moon Kingdom is not something one Cerebian could challenge alone! You will die!”
    Reina chuckled. “I won't storm their front door and fight my way through them. I have a plan that could get our citizens back without us having to directly challenge the samurai of the Dark Moon. It's dangerous but...we have to do all that we can to prove to them that we will not stand for this! Anyone willing to join in my fight's welcome to do so.”
    “You are very brave. I pray that our warriors can have half the strength that you do and protect their homes too.” She smiled. “I believe that if we just hold on and keep our faith strong, the saviour will come and end this war. There is not much that traders like us can do, but we will keep you in our prayers and provide to the havens as best as we can.”
    Reina beamed in turn. “I think so too! I'll always believe that the saviour will come through for us. Until then, we need to be strong and hold our ground and to our beliefs. God Ah hasn't abandoned us yet. I know it.”
    “You're a good kid Reina.” Nazir said. “Watch yourself out there okay? I'd hate to see you go.”
    “Oh I won't die, don't you worry. I've got my big strong Salem to protect me.” She chuckled and gave him a pat on the back, startling him slightly.
    “Oh yes of course!” He uttered. “I'll keep her safe.” He began to sweat uneasily. He only looked out for himself. He knew nothing about protecting someone else. With a deep breath he strengthened his resolve around the thought that if he was strong enough to kill her enemies, he could protect Reina. The unease within him grew further, his eyes shuttered. Someday he would have to face the secrets that he had hidden from her, and the two may be enemies afterwards. He dreaded the day for most of the time the two had spent together, and he knew someday that it would come to be, but until then he wished to hold to the fleeting friendship and joy the two shared in each others' presence. She certainly did have a way with people. He hoped that side of her would stay with her for years to come.

    Night fell and the nomads had set up a series of small campsites where Cerebians from across the various caravans and families would gather over a meal and share stories. Most of the nomads hailed from Elfa or Ramalda, making Ageha and Moran quite the unusual pair. Salem and Reina themselves were no exceptions either, but unlike the parent and child the two were only travellers tagging along for a brief while. The two sat quietly and listened as the nomads told of their hometown and how they came to be traders or why they would do such a thing. Many refugees from the war that struggled for survival and had been lucky enough to be discovered and taken in. Some traders, farmers, teachers and even warriors. The more they spoke of Asgard the more homesick Reina felt by the moment, but Xenym had become her home, and it was gone now. Someday maybe she would make another haven her home, but until then she would cherish the time she had with her makeshift family.
    “Many are familiar with my story.” Ageha began, Reina perking up at the sound of her voice. “You seem rather curious travellers. Would you like to hear it also?” The two nodded. “My husband and I had lived in Aoich all our lives. Many of us lived in fear of the Dark Moon Kingdom but we always believed that they would do no harm to those who did not challenge them. Especially those that lived within their territory. We had been blissfully unaware of how wrong we were on the matter.” Ageha took a deep breath. “It had all happened so suddenly...the sounds of screaming and doors crashing to the ground as the soldiers took our homes by storm. They threatened us with swords and spears, requesting that we hand over our children and any capable men to serve the kingdom. Those that resisted would be killed without mercy and those that did not would be spared by the king's amnesty. It was wrong, but there was nothing we could do. My husband had left and enrolled within the army, and I spent years awaiting his return.
    We were fortunate. The aftermath of the slaughter was a terrible sight to behold. Families were torn apart and the remains of those who resisted were littered across Aoich's residential district. In all my years I had never seen anything like it; I could not help but wonder why the Dark Moon would bring war within it's own walls, or at all, but I could only accept what I saw and live on. My husband returned to me six years ago, saying his time was done and that if they had need for him that they would return, and the time we had then were some of our most glorious days. Soon after I had given birth to Moran, they had returned requesting my husband's aid in preparation for war against the Cerebians, or as they knew us, 'the Winged Ones' and they attempted to take Moran from me. My husband held them off and told me to escape with him and run as far and as fast as I could in spite of my protests.” Her voice lowered amidst the crackle of the fire and almost seemed to fade out. “There was nothing I could do for him again. Only run away and leave him to his fate, the same as the others. On my way to Young Gyoung the caravan found us and took us in, offering us food, a place to sleep and clothes to wear. It is thanks to them that my little boy has grown so big and strong. I believe that someday he''ll accomplish great things.”
    Most of the listeners broke out into tears and long sobs, Reina finding herself rendered to tears. When she finally gathered her composure she wiped away the last of her tears and turned to her partner quietly sniffling.
    “You're not moved by this Salem?” She asked.
    He was silent for a couple of moments, something that was not new to her. “I'm just not the type to get...emotional over things.” He answered. The way he answered told her more than the response itself. He was deep in thought about Ageha's tale for some reason or another, and she wanted to get to the bottom of it.
    “What are you thinking?”
    “Hmm? Nothing in particular. It's quite a sad tale indeed, but I too wonder for what reason the Dark Moon would choose to do such a thing to it's own people. Why slaughter their own people in order to increase their numbers? What use would they have for children in an army?”
    The girl tilted her head quizzically. “You ask some hard-hitting questions. But what would you do if you found the answer to them? Do you think it'll give us a lead in our journey?”
    He chuckled quietly. “Not at all. They are, after all, nothing more than mere idle curiosities. An answer would only satisfy my urge for understanding on the matter.” He was lying. She had no intention of pressing him for the truth, but after being together for so long seeing through him was a skill she had acquired. What was he hiding? For what reason did he do such a thing? Maybe it was still hard to trust her, but certainly someday the two would get there.
    “It's a shame but I can't satisfy your need for knowledge. Good luck on the matter though!”
    “Could I ask for any more?” Reina cracked a tiny smile. In terms of being sassy, Salem was a close third with Vanir holding second place, and Reina first. His remarks were far and few between, but they were certainly clever.
    “Oh you!” She said with a flick of her wrist.
    I just read some of it and it was terrible. I used so many words too many times within the same paragraphs. Embarrassing! I'll fix it later when I edit it. Unless I read it again. Anyway I'll return!

    Right I'm back so time for my two cents! Kk so as far as what I've got here, the idea's pretty clear. Though truthfully, I've been thinking that I developed Salem a little too quickly in the first act. He should change and grow more throughout the story, since he, just like Su, was raised in Owl Castle, but from an even earlier age. In that regard, as far as killing goes, the two would share similar opinions, including Tamori's teachings.
    The chance to bring in the caravan is a big help, and through Innocent I can finally expand a bit on the havens and the confidants. Though essentially, the story will still focus on these two. My favourite part is that this should, if my talent allows it, set up the story for Unbreakable juuuust right, while contributing to the main story's development. Hopefully the ties I've created will be clear to the readers when they see them.
    Though I gotta admit, I am a bit conflicted on the name for the next oneshot. I like it, but at the same time it sounds like it'd be the name of a cheesy action flick. I considered naming it Indomitable, since it essentially has the same concept, but it sounds like a ravaged a thesaurus to get to that conclusion. Might give it a name closer to the first, to keep the flow in tune with USS since Kasumi is the protagonist for both.
    That's all for now! Until next time!

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    Post  Suuba on Thu May 01, 2014 6:14 pm

    Truthfully I dont know how to reply to any of this. Cause you know I suck at this shit sometimes lmfao. tbh I never saw any of this until I came back on today, which you know im fuckin sorry for.

    Anyway I'm glad the shit that went down isnt as bad as it was (or its completely done idfk) you look like a nerd. a big fuckin nerd. which is cool u nerd. You better not be cuttin yo. I will fuckin walk my angry ass to fuckin canada to kick yours. i will fuckin do it.

    I havent read too much of this part of the story, mainly because its alot to catch up on. But i'll get threw it eventually, slowly but surely. But from what I read so far, it's great. Buncha asshole ninjas lmfao.

    But hey if you need to ever talk or anything, im on tumblr and LT (yeah i joined up again.dont u say shit) or if you have skype we can chill on that too. My thing is still the same as my tumblr akhiansan yo

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    Post  TJ on Tue Mar 15, 2016 8:49 am

    This is gonna continue to update real soon!

    I know it has a few flaws that could cause controversy, and have conflicting feelings on the matter still. Even so, the me now isn't like the me from 3 years ago. I've learned quite a fair bit, I've become more attuned with the world around me, and I know now that more often than not, I have to be willing to take a step in the deep before anyone else can also.

    I'll talk more about this later, but whether you take Inno at face value or look for metaphorical meanings behind the actions of the characters, the people and events, there'll be much to glean from it. Though its existence is important to the series because it gives an in-depth look into Midgard-the people, the places and the going-ons on the front side of the coin, rather than the back. As for Reina and Salem, there beliefs, hopes, and what 'justice' is to them will be things it explores also.
    I can't explain all of it now, and when I next return perhaps not then either, but in time, I'll get there.
    That aside, the skills that I need to acquire and master as a writer that will hold sway both in the economic, social and personal challenges in the future will be a part of this.

    So bear with me here as I go forward. I promise, I'll give nothing less than my best in this project. If it raises conflict, I just hope that it's no different than any other-if not, I'll take all responsibility for it.

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