Between Two Worlds | Teen Ink

Between Two Worlds

June 27, 2014
By Charlotte Stern, Santa Rosa, California
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Charlotte Stern, Santa Rosa, California
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Author's note: I was inspired by Eastern/Asian settings for the story, and I was heavily influenced with Japanese mythology to help write the plot. I hope that the people who read this book can relate to certain characters, and that they will root for them on their journey.

This can’t be happening.
My hair streaked behind me as I burst through the tunnel. My forehead broke into a cold sweat as I climbed out of the trapdoors and was faced with the grand oak doors. I was too restless to open those doors. If the rumors I heard were true…my shaking hands slowly opened the doors, but my somehow, my subconscious already knew that I was too late.
As I bolted into the chambers, my eyes were immediately drawn to the center of the room; where a limp body laid in a pool of crimson. I gasped and dropped to my knees, slowly tilting her face so I could see it. Lady Jila, the Empress of Linn City, my guardian, lay dying in her own blood.
She slowly opened her eyelids to look at me. Even while dying, she still makes that gentle face for me, I thought with dismay. I finally managed to say, “I’m so sorry.”
She smiled at me. “Even if you were here, there would be nothing you could do, my son. It was time for me to go, anyway.”
It had been years since she called me her son. My whole body felt numb. I couldn’t even feel the hot tears sliding down my face. I let them fall. “You can’t die now,” I half-sobbed, my voice quivering. “Not while the city needs you the most.” But deep down, I knew I would have to accept this cruel punishment.
“Sin. Listen to me,” Jila urged. “I have one final request.”
“Anything you want, I’ll do it.”
Jila’s eyes fluttered, struggling to keep themselves open. “I have a daughter. You must make sure she is safe. You have to protect her. She is my only child. She and you...are most precious to me.”
I nodded. Even with my eyes closed, I could feel her eyes on me. “What’s her name?” I was finally able to ask.
“Trissilan.”
I nodded again. “I’ll keep her from harm. I promise, I won’t let anything bad happen to her.” Jila smiled warmly, although her eyes were losing light.
“Thank you...Sin.”
Those were the final words she spoke before she passed on. Trying to restrain my childish sobs, I gently closed her eyelids and slowly walked into the child’s nursery in the next room. I peered over the yellow-painted crib in the far corner of the room. In it was a sleeping baby wrapped in a faded blanket. This must be Trissilan, I thought to myself.
As I gently picked her up and exited through the tunnel, my mind was already full of plans and ideas. I would raise her on the streets, where I lived. I would make her a fake past, tell her I was her guardian, and that her parents put her in an orphanage. She would have no memory of her true past, and she would live blissfully unaware of the tragedy of her real mother. She would live in a blanket of lies.
At least, that was what I planned...

“Hey! Wake up! It’s time to get up!” I felt small hands shaking me continuously. I had been dreaming of the past again. I regained consciousness of where I was. I felt the futon’s mattress pressed onto my back, and my clothes smelled like sweat.
“Alright Triss, I’m getting up,” I said to the small figure scurrying around my room. I sighed. Triss was always so energetic. “I don’t see what you’re so excited about, kid. We’re just going out to go shopping.” I sat up and tossed my hair over my shoulder.
“But we get to climb rooftops! I never get to be on the rooftops!” I grinned, just a little. I decided it would be best to not ruin this moment for her.
I swung my legs over the futon and climbed out of it. I grabbed a fresh pair of clothes and removed my shirt. “NO LOOKING!!!” I shouted at Triss as I caught her golden hair disappear through the doorway, her laughter still ringing in my ears. I changed into my casual wear, pulled on my black boots, and examined myself in the mirror.
My hair was a mess. A fiery-red, long haired, spiky mess. I had always loved how it matched with my amber eyes. I brushed it and tied it into a ponytail (as always). Slipping on my black yukata and dark red scarf, I unhooked my prized katana of the wall, given to me by Jila on my fifteenth birthday. I examined it.
It was a finely crafted katana, with a red and gold handle. If you looked close enough, you could see the tiny dragon designs on the handle. The blade glistened and shined, and it cut as smoothly and ferociously as the night. I slipped into my scabbard and tied it onto my waist.
Triss was already waiting by the window, wearing a green wool sweater, a matching green wool cap, a yellow scarf, and lime green rainboots that I had given her on her seventh birthday. “It looks like you’re ready to go,” I smiled as I walked past her, then promptly opening the window and climbing out onto the rooftop. The dewey air immediately attached itself to my face. There was fog everywhere, as far as the eye could see. Perfect.
As Triss climbed out the window behind me, I stood tall, admiring the weather. Fog was perfect to hide in. It served as a blanket of protection to shield you from being noticed by the suspicious the the paranoid. I love foggy days.
“Stick by me,” I muttered, taking hold of Triss’s hand and setting off towards the direction of the black market, hopping from rooftop to rooftop. Triss had been begging me all week to take her to the black market. At first I strongly objected, thinking about all the strange souls who dwelled there and the abnormal, strange objects such as shriveled kidneys or stuffed birds. But day after day, Triss insisted, and I finally gave in. My thoughts halted as we reached the end of the final rooftop.
“Okay, I’m climbing down the gutter. Climb on my back and don’t let go, okay?” I alerted Triss. She nodded in understanding. She scurried onto my back and strapped her arms and legs around me as if she were clinging on for dear life, fearing of falling into a void. “Okay, here I go,” I muttered to no one in particular as got on my knees and slowly worked my way down the gutter.
Climbing down the gutter is a slow and difficult process. If you are careless while climbing down one, there is a high chance you will fall and break an arm, leg, or neck. The coldness of the gutter chilled my hands as I gripped onto it. I inched my way down very slowly. I paused halfway down, trying to find a footing. I craned my neck. “Triss, I’m gonna jump,” I told her, my breath coming out in clouds.
“Jump? Are you sure?” She asked, her voice uncertain.
“I don’t have any other choice,” I responded. Clearing my mind, I squeezed my eyes shut and let go of the gutter.
I felt the sudden pull of gravity getting the best of me. I could feel nothing but the air howling in my ears. The cobblestone street came at me with such force that I wasn’t able to stop myself. With a sickening THUD, my feet hit the ground. The sudden shock of the coldness of the street and the landing caused my legs to shudder with pain. “Triss, are you okay?” I asked instantly. I heard Triss’s voice as she climbed off me.
“Yeah, I’m good. That was kind of fun!”
I sighed in relief. Thank God.
“Okay, we should hurry up and get going if we don’t want to be noticed,” I told her. I set off across the streets in the direction of the black market. Suddenly, I realized that Triss wasn’t with me. I turned, only to find her still standing behind me, mesmerized by something.
“What is it?” I asked her impatiently. She pointed to the sky.
“Look at that. Isn’t it pretty?” She said to me. I turned around.
There, high above the fog, was the palace. Its white and golden designed shimmered with majesty. In fact, many people had now stopped to admire the palace’s beauty. The sun had finally begun to rise, and the sky was now filled with beautiful pink clouds and soft orange rays of light surrounding the palace. I thought about how long it had been since I had been in the palace, and how I longed to go back inside it again. Then I thought of Triss. She doesn’t know that this palace is her real home, I thought. I was plagued with sudden guilt. Shaking the thoughts off, I took hold of Triss’s hand. “We’d better get going,” I told her.

---
The black market was exactly as I expected it to be. Shady and suspicious. There were sellouts loitering and lugging some unknown substances. Sellers clad in black cloaks selling God knows what. A dark, dank atmosphere that lingers like a bad feeling. It did after all, take place in an alleyway, only transformed by some chain-link fences and the crudely-built shops. This is no place to bring a kid, I thought with regret.
“If you want to go back, just say so,” I told Triss, keeping her close at my side. She just shook her head, to my disbelief.
“That’s alright,” she responded. “I’d go anywhere and feel safe with you here.” She smiled at me. I felt a sudden pang of sadness, but I had no idea why. The guilty feeling spread inside me again.
I walked over to a counter to examine some interesting wares. Then, I found something that caught my attention. Ten silver shurikens, glistening in the morning sun. “How much are those?” I asked the shopkeeper, pointing at them. I had originally planned to just browse, since I didn’t trust the business bargains there. But these shurikens felt different. I felt like I needed them, and that they belonged with me.
The shopkeeper looked up at me. “Ten coins each. I only accept tin and bronzes. No refunds.” Sighing, I pulled the savings I had brought with me out of the pocket of my yukata. It was half of my stash that wasn’t exactly honest money. I felt guilty when I looked at it.
“Is this okay?” I asked. The shopkeeper eyed it, made an expression that said, Is that all you got? And sighed.
“Alright, fine. I’ll hand them over,” he mumbled, a unsatisfied expression on his face. He handed me a leather bag and put the shurikens in them.
“Thanks,” I said, barely disguising my grin. Tying the bag around my waist, I turned around, only to find that Triss wasn’t there.

Once I realised what happened, felt sick to my stomach. I turned my head left and right, looking for her. “Triss!” I yelled, with no response. I immediately darted down the closest alleyway and ducked underneath the hole-entrance in the chain link fence. My walk broke into a run. “Hey, this isn’t funny! Come out!” I shouted frantically. What if someone had gotten to her…? I finally came across a nearly-empty alleyway, except for the smokers from before, with Triss in their grasp.
“Hey! You freaks better let go of her!” I nearly shouted at them. The smokers merely gave me a lopsided smile, the leader of the gangs grip on Triss tightening. Seriously? “Listen up, you filthy drug heads,” I threatened them. “I’m giving you one last chance to let go of her. If you don’t I’m separating your bodies from your heads.” The smoker on the left nodded to the leader, who grinned as he handed her Triss. He then drew out a dagger from his belt. His cronies laughed. Does this guy actually want to fight me? I thought with disgust. “Okay, you asked for it,” I growled as I unsheathed my katana.
The leader launched himself at me. They way he staggered was an huge hint that he was drunk as well. I easily dodged him, but he threw himself at me, causing me to hit the brick wall beside me. I kicked my feet off the wall and successfully slashed him with my katana. He yelled out, clutching the spot I hit him on his arm, and punched me in the face before I had time to react. He then grabbed me and hit me across the face with his fist again and again, until I could feel the blood oozing from my nose and hear my ears ringing. He threw me once again on the wall. I slumped over.
“Too easy!” He shouted, his voice filled with bloodthirst and alcohol.
“You’re not bad yourself,” I rasped. It had been a long, long time since I fought an opponent as big and strong as himself. He raised his fist to strike me once more.
Suddenly, I saw a pair of black needles fly from the air, pinning the sleeve of my opponent against the wall. He turned around.
“Who’s there?!” he yelled. I strained my neck to see who threw the needles. There, on top of the brick building behind us, stood two figures, one clearly a young man, and the other a young woman.
“I strongly advise you let go of that man there,” The man spoke calmly. As my eyes adjusted to the sunlight, I could see their faces.
The man had hair the color of azure twilight, with a dark brown longcoat and a blue tie. He wore sharp glasses that were taped together in multiple spots. The lenses of the glasses shone in the sunlight. He gave off an aura of sharpness and cleverness. The girl next to him wore a dark colored tunic, brown leather shorts, and matching brown boots. She had semi-long, straw colored hair that was tied beside and behind her head, with a white feather fit into the headband on her head. She had a quiver of arrows and a finely crafted sniper bow slung across her shoulder. My opponents eyes widened with disbelief.
“Get outta here, kids!” He yelled. “This ain’t your fight!” In response, the girl drew one of her arrows and shot it at my rival. It hit him squarely in the foot. He yelled again. “We’re getting outta here!” He addressed his group. “Leave the kid here! She’s not worth the trouble!” He and he then turned around and limped away.

The duo who saved me before bandaged my wounds and reassured Triss that she was now safe. They lead us back to their temporary lodgings, or “cabin,” as they called it. It was a fine house, on the borderlines of Linn City and the Sky Road. After I introduced myself and Triss, they introduced themselves to us.
“My name is Inigo,” the young man said to me while bandaging my wounds. He gestured towards the straw-color haired girl. “This is Celia, an acquaintance of mine.” Celia smiled gently at me and raised a gloved hand in greeting. “We haven’t had many guests in our cabin for a long while,” Inigo told me. “I suppose we should welcome you as temporary comrades.”
“You’d welcome total strangers?” I asked Inigo in disbelief.
Inigo gave me a look as if to say, You better be joking. “I saw how you handled that katana, Sin. You fight like no other warrior I’ve seen. I have been training in throwing projectiles, such as sharp objects, or poisonous objects, or both. Celia has been trained in the art of sniping, and she is no pushover.” Inigo paused to nod at Celia, whose face turned a slight shade of pink. “But we have never seen someone so skilled with a sword in our lives,” he addressed me. “Not in all our years of fighting.”
“Exactly what are you fighting for?” I inquired them.
“Well,” Inigo responded, as if he had been waiting for the right moment, “I am a scholar. My father would tell me legends of priests and monks that gained enlightenment from mastering a fighting technique, and experiencing true emotional happiness. I’ve been studying the art of enlightenment, and it is truly quite fascinating. You should study it sometime. Anyway, I want to become as graced with knowledge as possible so I too, can become truly happy. Do you know what happens when you become enlightened, Sin?” I shook my head, my ears still buzzing from Inigo’s rant.
“No. What happens?”
“You get to speak with God!” Inigo was on a roll now, his eyes bright with determination and wonder. “Could you imagine? I’ve heard that speaking with Him will purify your soul and bless you with grace, wisdom, skill and many other characteristics! Fascinating, isn’t it? Yes, you must agree that it is most fascinating. Anyway, that is my goal in life. Helping others, mastering a technique, and obtaining happiness.” He turned to Celia. “Now Celia, tell us what you are fighting for.
Celia looked at the paneled floor. “My family has a very long bloodline of the Mafia,” She spoke to the floor. “I have heard legends of my father and my grandfather and my ancestors before them. They were skilled gangsters, and they were loved and hated by everyone who knew of them. The Mafia consists of only male heirs, so when my father and my mother had children, I was a disappointment among my father’s side.” Celia paused for a moment, as if to relieve that very memory.
“My father sent me to live off in the countryside with my aunt, and I never heard of him again. My brother, Walter, grew up to be a skilled gangster and was much loved by the Mafia. He was their star. I would hear tales of how he took on every gang in Linn City. How he mastered every single weapon. How he took on a hundred men single-handed.”
“Yeah, well I’m not sure if I believe that,” I cut in. I instantly felt guilty when I looked at Celia’s forlorn face. Triss shook her head at me. “I-I’m sorry,” I muttered. “I didn’t mean to bring back bad memories.”
Celia shook her head, as if to dismiss my earlier comment. “Then one night,” she continued, “My mother visited me and my aunt. That’s when she told me…”
Tears suddenly sprang to Celia’s blue eyes. They ran down her face like raindrops on a windowsill. Inigo handed her a handkerchief. She feebly wiped her eyes with it. Triss scooted over towards her and put her arm around her shoulder. I awkwardly patted her shoulder. Celia looked up at me a gave me a watery smile. “You’re too kind,” she told me. I blushed, in spite of myself. Inigo grinned. Triss giggled.
“Um, do you still want to continue?” I asked her. She nodded, to my slight surprise.
“My mother gave me news that Walter...had died. We all mourned his loss that day. The cause was that he was killed by some anonymous gang. That day, I vowed to myself to live up to my brother, and then I set off to capital city, Linn City, where my brother used to live. I swore to help anyone in need, so if their lives came to an end, their deaths would not be in vain. However, I had nothing to disguise myself in, and I feared that gangs would come after me.”
I glanced at Inigo. He held me in a gaze. “Celia was actually attacked by a gang precisely three and a half years ago. That was when I found her.”
Celia smiled, recalling the memory. “Inigo saved me from the attack all those years ago.” She smiled fondly at Inigo, who blushed and turned his gaze towards the ground.
“He’s my hero. If he hadn’t found me, I would have been killed,” Celia told me, her eyes shining.
After our conversation, we then said nothing for the rest of the night. We sat in silence until one by one, we left to go to sleep.



---
I slept separate from Triss and the others that night. For a while, I sat in my guest bed, staring at the log ceiling. Dream catchers and brightly colored kites hung from the log ceiling. My blankets were brightly patterned with reds, yellows, blues and greens. My dresser held all sorts of exotic knick-knacks such as hand-woven baskets, necklaces, and stone figurines. It was a very strange room. After replaying everything that happened that day in my head, my eyes grew heavy, and soon I was surrounded in a barricade of sleep.
I had unsettling dreams that night. I dreamed of shadowy figures with glowing yellow eyes clawing their way through a ominous and foreboding forest.
I then dreamed of running through the same forest, desperately searching for a way out, like a trapped animal in a cage. The trees were alive, clawing at me with their roots. My yukata snagged on their branches. My skin was knifed by their thorns. Off in the never-ending distance of the forest, I heard screaming from far away. It was Triss’s voice.
I suddenly woke up with a start, my heartbeat racing, my forehead broke into a cold sweat. Inigo was kneeling by the side of my bed, his eyes filled with panic.
“Inigo. Thank God you woke me up,” I breathed, wiping sweat off my forehead with the back of my hand. “I heard Triss screaming in my dream. It was so real, I could’ve sworn it was happening right now.”
Inigo shook his head. “It wasn’t your dream, Sin. It’s happening right now.”

My eyes shot open with fright. “Wait, what?! Are you saying that Triss was screaming just now?!” I was just as afraid as Inigo was right then. Inigo nodded.
“There’s someone outside our house right now. We found out just right after Triss started screaming. We went into her room, but she wasn’t there.”

I jumped out of bed and slipped my clothes on. I can’t believe this, I thought. I can’t lose anyone else ever again.

Inigo quickly led me outside the cabin, where Celia stood frozen, unable to move. “Celia! What’s wrong?!” I asked her frantically, shaking her by the shoulder. She lifted her arm to point at the thing in front of her.

There, in front of me, Inigo, and Celia, was one of the shadow creatures from my dream. Its eyes burned right at me. It opened its mouth, revealing the many teeth it possessed, and screamed at us. It was not a human scream, however. It sounded like the howling of wind on a stormy night. The scream pierced through my ears, my brain. I clapped my hands over my ears, trying to avoid the current of sound waves the monster was casting at us.

Suddenly, Celia stepped forward, pulling out an arrow from her quiver, then promptly fitting it into her sniper.
“Get lost!” she shouted over the screaming. She fired her arrows at the monster, hitting it straight in the face. It shrieked, writhing back and forth, and then disappeared in a cloud of black, forbidding smoke.
“What was that?” Inigo panted, exhausted from holding back from the screaming. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
“That monster appeared in my dream,” I breathed, removing my hands from my ears. Inigo and Celia turned to look at me, shocked, unable to conjure any words. It was then that I realised something was off.
“Where’s Triss?” I spun around, the feeling of dread spreading inside me. “TRISS!!!” I called over and over again, but to no avail. I finally sunk to my knees, my thoughts and feelings breaking down all over again.
“Where could she have gone?” Celia whispered. “Do you think the monsters took her?”
“What could they possibly want with her?” Inigo inquired, his voiced blatantly frantic and irritated.
“Trissilan is the daughter of the Empress,” I spoke towards the ground. Inigo and Celia’s heads whipped towards me, their eyes wide. “I never told her though. I didn’t want her to discover her past.” I continued. “I thought that if I kept the truth away, she’d be safe. I thought I’d fulfill the Empress, my guardian’s dying wish.” I brought my fist down and slammed it on the ground with anguish and the painfulness of remembering it all. “So where did I go wrong?!” I shouted, my eyes welling up with tears.
I felt Celia’s gentle hand on my shoulder. I turned to look at her. Her eyes were filled with compassion and understanding.
“It’s not your fault, Sin,” she whispered. I closed my eyes and took a shuddering breath. “I understand what it’s like to lose someone close to you.” I opened my eyes.
“Celia--” I began, but was cut off by a sudden shining blue light.
I shielded my eyes from the bright light. It was not bright like an obnoxious light, but it was more like the light from a full moon. In the center of the light stood a figure, graceful and elegant. When my eyes adjusted, I saw what she looked like.
She was wearing a white ritual robe with a yellow sash with a purple emblem around her waist and a blue long skirt. Her hair was black and was cut cleanly into the shape of a half-moon. A large, red comb was nestled on the side of her hair. She held a bottle of sake in her delicate hands. She looked at me with an elegant kind of sadness. She then spoke to me.
“You must travel to Hana City,” she told me. Her voice was soothing and silky, and it made me know that I could trust her.
“What will I find there?” I asked her.
She just gazed at me. I could tell she was waiting for something. Anything.
“ In Hana City, there are those who are in need of heroes,” she told me. “It has been suffering for too long. In that city lies two wounded souls. Two wounded souls that are connected to the Empress in waiting. One is would-be warrior, haunted by true identity. The other regrets the past, and has nowhere to return. Find them. Heal their souls. Then the truth may come to you.”
I realized that there was no turning back now. I had to go to Hana City. It didn’t matter that those two souls were complete strangers to me. It didn’t matter if it could be dangerous. I had to do it. For Triss.
“Alright, I’ll do it,” I said, determination sparking up inside me. If I went to this city, I could get Triss back.
The woman smiled at me. “Thank you.” She said, bowing her head at me.
“Wait.” I held my hand out, stopping her. “What’s your name?”
The woman closed her eyes slowly. “Izanami,” she said. “My name is Izanami.”
Then she faded away.

The next morning, me, Inigo, and Celia packed our things to head out to Hana City. It was apparently northeast of Linn City. Since Linn City was the very heart of the region (or as we called it, the Southern Nippon region), it was very easy to analyze all of the cities, villages, coasts, and towns on a map. It took us about three days to travel on horseback through Sky Road (we bought the horses from a nearby stable) to Hana City.
It was a truly amazing city. The streets were paved with shiny stones, with tall, grand houses and manors, presumably owned by rich people and lords. Mountains peeked above the city off in the distance. But all around us, everywhere we went, we were surrounded by cherry blossom trees. The air was filled with the scent of them, and their petals were scattered on the streets and were flying through the gentle wind. I had never seen such a beautiful city in all my life.
Luckily for us, we were able to rent a room from a nearby inn and a stable for our horses, with plenty enough money leftover to buy ourselves food. As soon as we got into our room, I tossed by boots, weapons, and yukata aside and threw myself on top of the bed.
“I’m exhausted,” I groaned to Inigo, who was busy unpacking.
“I’m sure you are,” he murmured, clearly preoccupied. “You haven’t forgotten about those two people, haven’t you?”
“No! Of course I haven’t!” I responded, sitting up and undoing my hair. “Where’s Celia at?” I asked him.
“Taking a shower,” Inigo said, examining one of his books. “She’ll be out soon.”
I sighed and collapsed back on the bed once again.
I thought about what Izanami had told me about the two wounded souls. I thought about the first soul. One is would-be warrior, haunted by true identity. I pondered over what that person might be. Clearly someone who is being stopped from achieving what they want or need. This person was also a warrior in training, meaning that he or she would still be training in a dojo or taking some sort of class. I climbed off the bed, not bothering to tie my hair. “I’ll be right back,” I told Inigo.
“What for?” He asked, but I was already halfway down the stairs. I ran into the reception lobby.
“‘Scuse me,” I addressed the receptionist. She looked up from the paperwork she was writing on, clearly annoyed.
“Whaddaya want?” She asked me impatiently.
“I need a guide to all the dojos in the city,” I demanded. She shook her head.
“This city only has one dojo close to us, but it’s fairly far away. It’s fairly close to the mountains.”
I sighed. It was that far away? “Can I have some directions, please?”
The receptionist nodded. She pulled out a map and handed it to me.
“Follow the path carefully, and it should lead you up to the Shigeru-sama dojo and class. It shouldn’t be hard to miss.”
“Thanks a lot,” I praised her gratefully.
“Don’t mention it.”
I turned back around and ran up the stairs, telling Celia and Inigo what happened over our dinner.
“Shigeru-sama’s dojo and class is only open to boys,” I told both of them, but rather to Celia in particular.
“Does that mean I can’t come with you?” She asked with disappointment in her voice.
“Yeah, sorry,” I told her, shrugging. I turned to Inigo. “We should depart soon,” I advised.
“The trip takes about half the day, and we shouldn’t waste any time.” Inigo nodded. “That’s what I was thinking, too.” He muttered.
After we finished our food, I obsessed over how I would find that first person in the dojo. I had no idea. All I could do at the moment was hope for luck.





---

When we departed on our horses the next day in the afternoon, the scenery changed dramatically around us. The buildings became less and less, the country became more vast and lush.
I raised my head and inhaled the air. The crisp air smelled of sweet grass, a surefire sign that summer was turning into fall. I looked out ahead of me.
All around myself and Inigo was the rolling, green hills with the occasional pine tree. The path we were following on the map was worn in by many people walking on it. The skyline was a forget-me-not blue, with light, puffy clouds. Everything around me felt perfect.
I then heard the tranquil ring of wind chimes. I looked up. There, nestled on a hill, surrounded by a fence, targets and pigs, was the dojo. It was worn by storms and age, but there it stood, proud and eye-catching.
“I think we’ve found it,” Inigo told me.
We then mounted off our horses, tied them to the fence, removed our shoes, and walked through the dojo’s resting room, into the training room.
Every single student’s head turned to stare at us. Each of them sported a training yukata and a trainee blade. The master in the front of the class, who I presumed was Shigeru-sama, squinted at us. He had tiny eyes, a bald head, and a white beard that hung down to his round stomach.
“Can I help you?” He asked.
“We just wanted to watch some of your training,” Inigo explained to him. “We were thinking about enlisting here.”
Shigeru-sama nodded. “Yes, yes, of course. Have a seat.”
We watched the students train for an hour. It was obvious that they were amateurs, but one blue-haired trainee in a lavender yukata caught my attention. His moves in particular were more graceful, and his body seemed light as a feather. Maybe it had something to do with how delicate his body looked. I was definetly interested. Maybe he re-took his classes, I thought. Intrigued, I watched him train some more. After some thought, I realised that he seemed less human when fighting. The wolf, I thought. The wolf was a symbol of great spirit and loyalty, but they were always very graceful while fighting. Like this trainee.
After the hour was up, Shigeru let the students take a break.
I walked over to the bamboo training mat. A feeling of nostalgia coursed through me. I remembered when I was just a student in a dojo. I felt someone’s eyes on me.
I turned around to find the blue-haired student from before, staring at me. He turned away when I saw him, embarrassed.
“Something wrong?” I asked him. He shook his head.
“No,” he muttered vaguely. “It’s just that...you seem familiar. I think I saw you in a dream once, or something.”
My heart froze. Was this the first wounded soul?
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
“Naoto.”
I gestured towards the mat, where the trainee weapons lay.
“Wanna joust, Naoto?” I offered.
Naoto’s face lit up, as if waiting for that very question. “Of course,” he said, grinning. He ran towards the mat and picked up a trainee katana.
I pulled out my own katana, but then hesitated. “Are you okay with me using a real blade, Naoto? I wouldn’t want to stab you on accident.”
Naoto shook his head. “I’m okay with it.”
I withdrew my katana, its blade raring to go. Naoto’s eyes widened, impressed.
“Shall we begin?” I challenged him. He nodded. We crossed swords and begun.
I made the first move, swinging my blade to his right. He blocked it sharply.
Impressive.
Naoto swung his blade towards me. I blocked it easily.
“Don’t hold your blade like that!” I scolded him as we continued to spar. “If you grip the handle away from the blade, you’ll have less control of it!”
“Thanks for the tip,” Naoto replied, successfully hitting my left arm.
We continued on like that, striking and blocking one another, until we collapsed on the ground, worn out.
“Thanks for fighting me,” Naoto breathed between taking large gulps of water he taking.
“Don’t mention it,” I panted, slumping against the wall. I looked at Naoto. “So, you said you saw me in a dream?” I asked, trying to sound casual and interested, keeping my anticipation from bursting out.
Naoto nodded. “Yeah, I did. It was really vague, though. I’d be surprised if I could remember it.”
“Can you tell me what I was doing in it?” I requested.
Naoto furrowed his brow, thinking hard. Then finally, he said, “Well, you were...calling my name. You kept on saying that you needed me for something. Something like ‘You are a wounded soul in need of healing.’ Then I woke up.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. How could’ve Naoto had a dream about me? It just didn’t make any sense. I suddenly heard a familiar voice in my head. Nami’s voice.
I captured your thoughts and I put them in Naoto’s head, and they mingled with the dreams. Naoto knows everything of your hardships. You just have to remind him.
I took a deep breath. “Naoto,” I told him, “I really, really need your help.”
Then I told him everything.

“So, in order to save Triss, you need to join forces with other people in the city?” Naoto asked me once more. I nodded.

“Exactly,” I confirmed. Then I realized something. “You’ll have to leave this dojo behind. Come to think of it, where are your parents, Naoto?”

Naoto shook his head. “I never really liked this dojo, anyway,” Naoto told me, lowering his voice. “I had to stay in the same class again and again. I’ve lived up here for years. Also, I’d rather not talk about my parents here.”

“Would you rather talk about it when we arrive at the inn?” I offered

“Yeah, that would be great.”

I stood up from the mat, about to slip on my boots when I felt Naoto tug at my sleeve.

“What is it?” I asked him.

Naoto’s eyes burned into mine. “You’re being truthful about this?” He asked me, his voice serious. “What’s so important about saving a girl that I don’t know?”

Although it annoyed me slightly, I understood Naoto’s scepticism. “Naoto, Triss is the future Empress of Linn City,” I said. Naoto raised an eyebrow.

“And why is that?” He questioned.

I explained everything, from me finding Jila dead, to her asking me to take care of Triss. After I explained everything, Naoto sat in silence, taking it all in.

“And you’re saying,” Naoto said finally, “That you don’t know why she disappeared?”

“No,” I answered. “All we knew was that she was screaming in the middle of the night. She was gone, but there was some sort of...creature. From my dreams.”

Naoto remained silent for a good three minutes before saying, “Do you think that your dreams are clairvoyant, Sin? It can’t be just a coincidence.”

My theories shifted. Perhaps he could be correct. Maybe I could have visions after all…

“You’re a perceptive one, Naoto,” I heard someone say. Naoto and I looked up.

Inigo had dropped by, and he was now kneeling beside us.

“I too, suspected that Sin had some sort of vision power that could help him see into the future. It could really help us,” Inigo muttered, or rather, thinking out loud. He adjusted his glasses thoughtfully, one of his “thinking” gestures. He looked at Naoto. “I think I’ve met my match,” he told Naoto, impressed. “Someone as smart as yourself should be in a university.”

Naoto looked away, his face a redder shade from when I first saw it. “Uh...thanks,” he murmured.

I decided to break the awkwardness. “Inigo,” I asked him, “Do you think that you could look up some books on clairvoyance?”

Inigo nodded. “Certainly. I know I could look up some libraries near the inn if we could get another map.”

“We should start right away, then,” Naoto piped up. “I’ll tell Shigeru-sama that I’m leaving.”

“He wouldn’t be angry?” Inigo asked.

Naoto shook his head. “He really doesn’t like me. Says I take up too much of the class time.”
Inigo and I exchanged looks.
“Right...well, we better be on our way,” I suggested.



---

Naoto had purchased a book on visions and epiphanies when we got back to the inn. Celia and I made tea in the kitchen (in which I was terrible at doing, Celia helped me clean up the counter on several occasions), and Inigo and Naoto examined the book together in the drawing room. I would glance over from time to time to check on them.

I once glanced over to find that Naoto was sitting very close to Inigo, maybe a little too close. I caught Celia looking at them as well. When she noticed that I was looking at her, he spun around hurriedly, embarrassed.

I resumed cleaning the counter of my most recent mess with a washcloth.

“Naoto’s really warmed up to Inigo, huh?” I asked Celia. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her shrug and frown, her brow furrowed.

“Yeah, sure. I guess. I don’t know,” she mumbled, scrubbing hard at the counter.

I lifted up the third kettle of tea from the stove and poured it into a mug, added sugar, and gulped some of it down.

“Not bad,” I mused, wiping my mouth with my sleeve. “Do you want some, Celia?”

“Sure. Whatever,” Celia said, taking some tea and pouring into a glass.

I sighed. Celia was being frustratingly vague today. She was not her polite, cheerful self. She seemed kind of distant and unfocused. Maybe it was because she couldn’t come with us to the dojo. I turned to look at her. She was staring at the ground, her glass untouched.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
“Yes!” She almost shouted. I jumped, my shoulders tensed.
“Don’t do that, Cel!” I hissed at her, still shocked by her outburst. “You almost gave me a heart attack!”
Celia sighed. “Sorry,” she muttered. “I’m just...a little stressed.”
I then heard a calm, cool voice rise above the tension Celia had left. “Sin, come here for a minute.” Inigo.
Pouring two more mugs of the tea, I wandered into the drawing room.

“So, what did you need?” I asked Inigo and Naoto, sitting next to them. Naoto’s book was widely spread across the drawing table, showing various forms of text and pictures that mostly illustrated people’s brains and confusing diagrams. Naoto pointed to a particular portion of text.

“It says here that people born into certain samurai tribes and clans had the ability to see the future in their dreams by performing rituals.”

“Read the paragraph, please,” Inigo requested.

Naoto cleared his throat. “‘According to ancient history,’” he read, “‘Samurai clans and tribes that would isolate themselves from society in order to perform visual and clairvoyant rituals that would help them see the future. This helped them to aid society to avoid disaster.’” Naoto stopped reading to catch his breath.

“That’s what it says, anyway,” he concluded.

“There’s some information on one of the last tribe shamans,” Inigo observed, pointing to a picture of a tough and scary-looking shaman.
He was decorated with some necklaces and feathers. White and red face paint was smeared on his face. Naoto read the text.

“‘The last shaman of these clairvoyant tribes, Ayoun, wanted nothing more than to have children and grandchildren of his blood, so that his legacy would live on. But before he could fulfil his goal, his wife died from disease. The only person who he could marry was...’” Naoto paused, his eyes widened in disbelief. “‘His daughter, Shoko. So they got married.’” Naoto re-read the article to make sure it was correct. He then resumed reading it again.
“‘They had kids as well. Ayoun was still obsessed with having more of his bloodline re-created. He eventually became oblivious to the rest of the world around him. Shoko eventually ran away and took the children with her, and Ayoun went insane.’” Naoto stopped reading. All that was left was an awful silence.
“Sounds like a Godly awful ending for that poor guy,” I cut in, desperately wanting to punctuate the silence. Inigo nodded.

“Yes, it seems like it,” he agreed.

“But really, that’s all we know,” I pointed out. “We should probably find more books on clairvoyance and dreams and such. Don’t you think?”

Inigo and Naoto both nodded vigorously.

Naoto suddenly snapped his fingers together and made an “Oh!” Gasp. “Unless Sin is somehow a descendant of the samurai!” He stated.
“There is a slight chance he could they could be related,” Inigo agreed, examining me. “He does kind of have the chief’s looks.”
Realizing Inigo’s joke, I recoiled. “Am I really that scary looking?” I asked defensivley.
Inigo shook his head, grinning. “No, of course not. I’m just kidding. Anyway, we should all go to the library. You, me, Naoto, and Celia,” Inigo suggested. “I’m sure we’ll find more information about Sin’s dreams and those samurai.”
Naoto held his head in his hands with exasperation.
“I need a break,” he complained. “This is all so overwhelming.”
I felt tired as well. “I’m going upstairs,” I told them. “Finish your tea.”
I bolted upstairs two at a time, and then collapsed onto the bed in my room. I began to silently ponder about the other soul we needed to join forces with. The other regrets the past, and has nowhere to return.
“What could that possibly mean?” I whispered to the ceiling, as if it held the answer. It was too much to comprehend.

After spending another half an hour thinking, I felt the aroma of Asian beef waft its way upstairs into my room. It smelt delicious. I remembered how hungry I was, and my mouth began to water. I sat up, undid my hair, and made my way downstairs.
I sat myself down at the dining room, with a steaming plate of beef and rice right in front of me. I had never been so famished in my life. Naoto must have noticed me drooling.
“Celia made all that,” Naoto said to me, gesturing towards Celia, who was finishing untying the apron she was wearing.
“She’s an exceptional cook,” Inigo agreed, just as Celia walked in and sat down. She shrugged.
“I just like making food,” she said distantly.
Inigo looked at me. “Go ahead,” he consented, grinning at me.
I dug in.
I shoved a piece of beef in my mouth. It was hot and juicy. Celia had tenderized it and soaked it in some sort of sweet teriyaki sauce, making it even more savory. Swallowing it, I scooped up some rice and shoved that in my mouth as well. It was as delicious as it smelled.
After I finished eating, I slipped on my yukata and my boots to walk outside to get some fresh air. I took a deep breath and turned my head towards the night sky. The stars glittered and winked at me, and the lights of the city was exhilarating. The city was beautiful at night. I decided to take a walk.
The wind blew gently in my hair as I strolled across the streets. It was incredibly quiet just then. As I reached a dead end of an alleyway, I felt the feeling of being watched. Instinctively, I looked up. There was a figure crouched on top of the wall like a cat. They leapt towards me, striking like lightning.

I struck my attacker smartly in the face. Yelling and cursing (the sound of her yell determined that she was a girl), she pulled back. I whirled around, my eyes darting about, searching where she was now, with no luck. I then felt hands reach out from behind, grab me, spun me around, and pinned me against the wall. My attacker’s face came into view under a lone streetlight.
She was masked in all black, half her face covered by her hood. She had crystal blue eyes that cut into mine. A few strands of light brown hair had escaped from her hood. There was a red mark on her face from where I punched her.
Her hands were pressed against my collarbone. They felt strangely cool. Not cold, like ice, but rather like a summer breeze. It took my a couple seconds to realise that I was staring at her.
“Who are you?” I managed to ask.
The fierce light in her eyes died as she examined my face. Disappointment shadowed her face as she let me go.
“I’m sorry,” she told me. “I mistook you for someone else.”
“Who are you?” I asked again, a little bit more impatiently this time.
She removed her hood to show her full face.
She had wavy, light brown hair, just as I thought. It was cut short and evenly. She had casually trimmed bangs over her forehead.
“For now, you may call me Night,” she said to me.
“Who did you think I was?” I demanded her.
Night sighed and leaned against the wall, slumping with disappointment.
“I owe you an apology,” she said. “Earlier today, someone stole my weapons. I couldn’t see his face, but he was muscular, like you. He had a scar on his collarbone as well. I attacked you because I thought it was him. But you had no scar, and looked entirely different from him.” She sighed again.
“What are so special about your weapons?” I asked her.
“They belonged to my father,” she explained. “They’re blades. I can attach them to my arms and spin around in them.”
She demonstrated by slowly spinning in a circle with her arms outstretched.
“I need them because I’m kind of...on the run,” she said to me, not elaborating any further.
“Why are you on the run?” I asked her.
Her eyes darted around nervously, eventually resting on the ground.
“You’re not a spy, are you?” She asked me anxiously.
“Do I look like a spy to you?” I muttered, turning my head towards the ground as well.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her shake her head slightly.
“Sorry, that was a stupid question,” she replied. “I’m on the run because I’ve stolen a lot of things in the past. I stole money, medicine, and food for my mother. She was sick with some sort of unknown disease. She ended up passing away, and I was adopted by a foster family.”
Night lifted the palm of her hand up to her face, where a bruise was forming fast. “Sorry about that,” I apoligized. “But it was your fault for attacking me.”
“Okay, I’m sorry too,” Night muttered.
We sat in silence for a few minutes.
“By the way,” Night said to me, “I didn’t catch your name.”

I looked at her. “Sin,” I introduced myself. “I’m Sin.”
That’s when I heard footsteps coming around the corner.
I tensed up, but I relaxed when I realised it was Naoto, carrying a book.
“Sin,” Naoto breathed gratefully, “Good thing I finally found you.” He turned to see Night. “Who is this?” He asked, gesturing towards her. I looked at Naoto and grinned.
“Naoto,” I told him. “I think we’ve found the last soul.”

“No kidding?” He said, back at me. He looked at Night. She had a confused look on her face.
“Okay, look,” I told her. “It’s a very long story. You sure you wanna hear it?” She nodded.

I told her everything. Night took it all in.
“So, what will you do now?” She asked me.
Naoto smiled. “You’re about to see,” he said enthusiastically. He placed the book he was holding on top of a nearby crate.
“This book conjures images of people who have visions with their dreams,” Naoto explained happily. “With this, we can find people like you.” Naoto opened a section of the book and placed his hand over it.
“Thou who hides, show thy true form!” He demanded.
Suddenly, with a huge bang that send uus sprawling backward, a rift opened up into thin air, right above the book. In the rift’s center stood a man with a fearful look on his face.
He was an extremely burly man, donning a white gii tied with a belt, and purple sandals. He had a black beard and finely cut black hair. A blue sword with a moon emblem was slung across his back. On his collarbone, however, was an ominous scar, that almost looked like claw slashes. Night gasped.
“That’s him!” She cried. “That’s the man that stole my blades!” The man’s gaze shifted towards us.
“I’m so sorry,” he apologized, his eyes pleading for forgiveness.
“Why did you steal her blades?” I asked him.
The man’s face sagged with depression.
“I stole them to fight my enemies,” he responded.
“What kind of enemies?” I pushed.
The man’s brow creased with sadness. “I stole them to be more powerful against the demons I am fighting.”
My eyes widened. “What?!” I couldn’t believe my ears. Demons? Nobody talks about demons anymore. Not even in storybooks. It’s been said that if you talk about demons, you’ll be cursed forever. At least where I come from.
“Please,” the man pleaded. “The demons took my wife away when she died. She will become one of them if I don’t get her back.” A single tear ran down his face.
“Without her,” he continued, “I just couldn’t go on with living.”
“What’s your wife’s name?” Naoto asked. The man sighed.
“Her name is Izanami,” he said. My heart skipped several beats.
“No way.” I breathed. Naoto turned his head towards me.
“You know Izanami?” He asked.
Just then, I saw Inigo and Celia run up to us, sweating and out of breath.
“Sin,” Celia panted, “We did some research. Izanami is a goddess. If we don’t help this man out, we could be in big trouble.”
I was trying to absorb what she was telling me. Demons? Goddesses? It was all too much.

“I had no idea,” Night whispered, “That there are demons, gods, and goddesses in this world.”
“There is, though,” the man told her. “Humans just don’t know that yet.” He looked at me. “Please, warrior. Will you help me get my wife back?”
I looked at everyone around me. They all patiently looked back at me.
I nodded. “Yes,” I confirmed.
The man gave me a watery smile. He then reached through the rift and pulled me through. I could also feel the rift sucking us closer towards its gaping mouth. I desperately searched for my footing, but I felt like I was being tossed back and forth without any direction. The world swished around me at a blinding speed...and then everything froze.

I awoke in a place that was unfamiliar to me. Rather, it didn’t seem real at all. It felt like a dream, the way I felt hollow and senseless inside. The way how everything around me seemed like one big haze. First I looked down, realizing I was lying on a bridge. Then, I looked around, blinking slowly as I looked.

“Hello?” I called out, testing my voice.

No response. I stood up, my legs feeling like lead.

“Hello?” I called again, a little more urgently. My voice tightened with concern. “Inigo? Celia? Night?”

I swung my head back and forth, trying to find any sign of them. All I saw around me was a town of some sort. There were buildings, but they were lopsided in a way that I couldn’t describe. It was as if someone had made a crude drawing of those very buildings, and put them into being.

Glowing lanterns hung from clotheslines that had no clothes. Instead, they were decorated with kites. It seemed like some sort of festival was occurring. I looked up towards the sky. There, a full moon hung within the blackness of the night, shining its light down on the town.

I then noticed that there was nothing to hear but dead silence. I felt for my katana. It was still there, thankfully. I walked towards the town through the street. The street’s path was very narrow and twisted. A very strange way to construct a street, it occurred to me.

There was no one to be seen. Either this town was deserted, or everyone was inside, hiding in their homes. I knocked on a door. No response. That’s when I noticed the metallic smell on the door.

I felt the door, my hands touching something warm and wet. I lifted my hand to look.

Blood. A bright crimson stain marked on my fingers. By the looks of it, it was still fresh. I looked at the door, where I saw the word marked on the door.




Run

Run. Someone had written run in their door, in blood.

Horrified, I stepped away from the door. Who would do this? I contemplated, still shocked from what I had witnessed. I would never mention this to anyone, but I had a severe fear of blood. Ever since Jila died in a pool of it, I couldn’t stand the sight of it. I was even beginning to feel sick. I walked off the doorstep, starting to feel dizzy. I then heard something move.

I whirled around, yanking my katana out of my scabbard.

“Who’s there?!” I shouted, my voice nearly breaking with my shock.

I felt my paranoia kicking in. It had traumatized me since he same day I was traumatized with blood. My paranoia was a curse. It would halt my confidence, give me panic attacks. You could say that it was one of my most blunderous weaknesses. Not that I was very strong to begin with. I heard the movement again.

I gripped my katana, slowly walking in a circle. My adrenaline was high, the way it rushed through me. Reflexively, I looked up towards the roof of one of the houses. That’s when I noticed who was causing the movement. He leaped at me, a cutlass at his ready.
I frantically withdrew a shuriken (I had almost forgotten that I had brought them with me) and tossed it as if it were a disk. It hit him on the wrist, causing him to yell and swear.

He landed right on top of me, barely giving me enough time to react. He punched me. My jaw went numb. He brought his cutlass down on me. I rolled to the right, his cutlass missing me by a few inches. He swore as he pulled at the cutlass hurriedly, where it had stabbed the ground. Climbing frantically to my feet, I regained grasp of my katana and slashed him, right on the shoulder, my slash so long that it grazed his mouth.

He howled in anguish and pain as he grasped at the now-bleeding gash. Blood poured from his shoulder. Not wasting another moment, I walked over to him, grabbed him by the collar, lifted his face to mine, and pointed my katana at his throat.

“Look, buddy,” I growled, “I don’t want any trouble. But if you don’t tell me why you jumped off a rooftop to attack me, you’re dead. You hear?” My adrenaline was getting the best of me. My attacker just tilted his head and laughed. His laugh was scratchy and raspy. A line of blood leaked from his mouth where it was bleeding. All over his face was dirt and soot.

“You fight well,” he rasped at me, his bloody mouth forming a smile.

“Cut the compliments,” I snarled, “Or I’ll cut your head off.”

He kept on smiling. “Big talk,” he muttered. “Just who are you?” He asked.

I shook my head. “Who are you?” I echoed.

He stared at me. He then unlatched my fist from his collar and scrubbed the filth from his face. Looking at him closely from behind the dirt and blood, he had cold blue eyes and shortly cropped, straw-colored hair.

“You can call me Walter.”

I blinked. Was this the Walter that Celia mentioned? At first, I had no idea what to say.

“Why do they…” I began, but paused, reconsidering my words. “Who’s they?” I asked.

Walter looked around hesitantly.

“We’re not safe here,” he said to me. “Come with me.”

As Walter lead me to God knows where, he told me everything. Guess he thought I was a pretty reliable guy, even after I threw a shuriken at him and ripped a giant gash in his shoulder.

“So, here’s how it began,” Walter started.

“A long time ago, I was the next descendant of a mafia called The Green Mafia. Me and my little brother, Toby. I was assigned as the loudest, most popular, and most intimidating gangster in all At first, I enjoyed being in the spotlight, and getting all the attention, but then I realised how horrible I was being. I was killing almost everyone who wanted to pick a fight with me. My attention turned into reverence, which turned into fear, and then hatred. People would actually throw rocks at me.”

Walter paused to shake his head, as if trying to rid himself of the memories. He then resumed speaking.

“I told my dear ol’ Dad that I didn’t want any part of the Mafia anymore, and he flipped his lid. He said that if I didn’t like it, I could just go and live with my little sister, where he sent her away. Well, that really set me off. So I got in a fight with him. He really beat me up after that, and he threw me out of the house.” Walter sighed briefly, not overtly, however. He started talking again.

“That day, I didn’t want to live in that world anymore. I would read myths and legends about another world entirely. One of my favorite legends went like this.” Walter took a deep breath, and recited the story.

“‘Far away, there was a town. This town was called Kamiki Town, and it was always shrouded in the shade of cherry blossom trees. However, once a year, every full moon, an eight-headed serpent named Yamata would demand a sacrifice of one maiden before the festival. The villagers, being terrified of Yamata, would do as would say.

“‘But one night, a maiden clad in all white would walk about the streets. No one knew who she was, so the villagers assumed she was a bad omen sent by Yamata to check on the maiden sacrifice. They dubbed her Shiro. A harboring warrior named Izanagi decided to get rid of Shiro by attacking her. They ending up battling each other, Shiro beating Izanagi with ease. Then, when the night of the festival, Shiro disappeared, and the next maiden was to be chosen for the sacrifice. Her name was Izanami. Izanami was the wife of Izanagi, and sought to rescue her. However, by the time he had reached Yamata’s lair, Izanami had already been eaten, and her spirit was entering the Underworld. Izanagi killed himself so he could enter the Underworld as well. Waiting for him was Shiro, who guided him to Izanami’s spirit. In return, Izanagi exchanged his own soul for Izanami’s. The exchange was made, and Izanagi became a demon.” Walter’s story finally came to an end.

“That’s a sad story,” I said aloud. It lead me to the thought that maybe Nagi and Nami weren’t apart of our world at all. A world of stories, myths, and legends. It was like something out of a storybook.

“So, how did you end up here?” I asked Walter, gesturing to the scenery around us, which had changed to a dank-looking forest.

“It’s a very long story,” Walter explained. “Me and my little brother were pulled into a myth after we played around with some weird books. Some sort of portal opened up. All this,” Walter waved his hand to present the forest, “Is a part of my favorite myth. However, every day, the myth replays itself. Every night, Izanami is sacrificed, Shiro disappears, and Izanagi becomes a demon.”

“Is there anything you’ve tried to do about it?” I asked him.

Walter nodded.

I sighed. “Well, does anything else exist beyond this myth?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” Walter replied. “There are demons and monsters up in the mountains. In fact, this is another world entirely. This world consists of only myths, but I’m sure that others have been sucked into this world as well.”

“Okay,” I said to him, “There have been monsters showing up out of nowhere, and they’ve been causing a lot of trouble in our world. Also, Nagi stole a comrade of mine’s weapons. How’d it happen? Can they move in between two worlds?”

Walter stopped walking with a sudden halt.

“I guess I never thought about it,” he muttered. It was clear that he was thinking about it.

“But why?!” I demanded. “Why are they coming into our world all of a sudden?”

Walter turned to face me.

“They could be after something,” he said. “Do you know of anything that the demons and monsters might want?”

Triss, I immediately thought. But that lead me to the same question every time: Why? I made a mental note for Walter to teach me about all the myths.

“Here we are,” Walter told me, gesturing towards a hut.

It was about the size of a small house. It seemed old, and not to mention worn down, but it seemed safe nonetheless. Walter opened the huts’ door and lead me inside.

When I entered, I could see three rooms from where I was standing: a bathroom, a room for eating with a boiling pot in the center, and the main room I was in. I removed my boots and equipment and sat down on a rug made of some sort of furry hide. There was a lively fire in a fire place, and in the center was a small boy tending to…

“Naoto!” I nearly cried out in relief. Sitting on my knees, I worked my way over to her.

Walter, who was in the kitchen, asked, “So, how our guest?”

“Good,” the boy responded. He was sponging a washcloth over Naoto’s forehead, which was caked with dirt and blood. “I’m going to wash the dirt off soon.” He then looked at me.

He had the same blue eyes as his brother, only they seemed more gentle. He had short, white-blonde hair that was neatly brushed and parted. His smile was kind and polite. He seemed around the age of ten or eleven, the same age as Triss.

He stretched out his non-washcloth holding hand in greeting.

“Nice to meet you,” he said to me, his eyes bright. “My name is Toby. I’m Walter’s little brother.”

I managed to smiled back at him.

“Where did you find Naoto?” I asked.

Toby pointed to Naoto questioningly. “Him? Oh, we found him outside our hut. He hardly had the energy to speak, but he said that his friends were close by him.”

I sat next to Naoto. He lay on a mattress, with his arms and legs sprawled out. I brushed the hair from his forehead, then winced. I could feel the blood on his forehead. His eyes slowly opened, and he grinned when he saw me.

“Hey, Sin,” Naoto rasped.

“Hey,” I responded.

“I thought I’d find you,” Naoto told me, his words dry and sandy.

I turned to Walter. “I think he needs water,” I told him.

Naoto shook his head. “No, no water…” he muttered.

Toby peered over Naoto. “We’re going to give you a bath soon, okay?” He told Naoto.

Naoto’s eyes widened with what looked like nervousness. “What?” He rasped. “No, I-I’m fine,” he stuttered.

How weird, I thought. What was Naoto so worried about? “But you’ll need one,” I persisted.

“No!” Naoto said forcefully, in a much higher voice.

I looked at Naoto with concern. “Are you okay?” I asked. Before he could respond, I heard a knock on the the door.

“I’ll get it,” I insisted. I stood up, walked over to the door, and opened it.

There, at the front door, stood Inigo.

His glasses were hanging for dear life on his right ear. His hair was matted and was damp with blood. His clothes were torn up as well, but he was able to stand, unlike Naoto. His face lit up when he saw me.

“You’re a mess,” I remarked as I opened the door wider to let him in. “What happened to you?”

“Fell out of the rift and hit my head,” he said to me. “Besides that, I feel great.” He sighed and scrubbed his eyes. “I have a migraine,” he explained to me while pushing the palms of his hands into his eyes.

“Naoto, guess who came back!” I said, walking to the center of the room and kneeling beside Naoto. I placed my hand on one of his shoulders.

Naoto blinked tiredly. “Who?”

Inigo peered over Naoto. He grinned at him. “I see I haven’t missed much,” Inigo said to Naoto.

Naoto laughed. “I guess not,” he replied.

After I introduced Inigo to Walter and Toby, we cleansed ourselves of dirt and blood. Toby told us that Inigo’s glasses were beyond fixing, and that he would have to live without them for a while until we got new ones. We then sat with Naoto and talked and waited for dinner until he dozed off. We sat in silence for a long while. I looked at Inigo. He sat cross-legged, staring down at his motionless hands.

“Hey, Sin?” He said suddenly.

“Yeah?”

He turned to look at me. “Can I talk to you outside?”

“So, what’s eating at you?” I asked Inigo after we found a place to sit (an old fallen-down tree that was slowly rotting away).

Inigo shook his head. “I’ve been having these weird feelings,” he told me. “Something that I can’t entirely explain.”

“Just say as much as you can,” I said to him.

Inigo paused with thought. He then buried his face in between his arms and muttered something inaudible.

“Could you repeat that?” I asked him.

Inigo lifted his head. I saw that his face was now a rosier color of red. “I said, ‘I think I’m in love, but something’s bothering me.’”

I took me a while to swallow those words. I suddenly felt small and awkward, realising that I had never talked to anyone about love before. I never saw the point of it, anyway.

What good does it do to be in a relationship if your partner just abandons you? What’s the point of having a partner if they just die anyway? I never understood it, and I wasn’t ready to talk about it anytime soon. But I took my chances.

“ Who...who are you in love with?” I asked Inigo. My insides cringed when I saw how deep of a red Inigo’s face turned.

Inigo took a shuddering breath. I could tell that it took him all of his strength to even look me in the eye. But he did. If I were him, the heat radiating off of my face would probably be enough to light a fire.

“Naoto,” he whispered.

At that moment, I swear that my brain literally stopped working.

I felt so hollow on the inside, so small and stupid. Now my face felt like it was burning, too.
What in God’s name is wrong with me?!
“Oh,” I managed to say.
“Yeah,” Inigo said back.
We then sat silently for a few minutes. An awkward atmosphere hung over us like fog turning into rainclouds.
“So, does Celia know?” I finally managed to ask him.
“Beg pardon?”
It was so obvious all along. How could Inigo not know? I would see the way Celia would look at him, the way she’d talk to him. How jealous she looked when Inigo and Naoto were sitting too close together.
“You know what I mean,” I said to Inigo.
Inigo shook his head. “No I’m afraid not.”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t play dumb with me, Inigo,” I told him. “You saved her life on the streets. How could she not have a thing for you?!”
“I guess now that I think about it…” Inigo started, but his voice trailed off. But then he shook his head. “I can’t. Celia’s my best friend. I know that I took her in after I found her, collapsed on the streets like that. I love her, but I just don’t feel...that way about her.”
“What is it that about Naoto that draws you in so much?”
Inigo shrugs. “I’m not sure,” he mutters. “The way he acts...the way his eyes light up when he talks...the way he smiles...something about him…” Inigo trails off once again, staring out into the distance. I give him some time to think before I speak to him again.
“I’ll tell you what,” I said to him. “Let’s go back to the house before this gets any more awkward than it already is.”
Inigo nodded vigorously.
Before I could hop off the tree, I felt him tap my shoulder. I looked at him.
“Thanks,” he said, and smiled at me.
Then we both headed back together.
---
When we went back into the hut, I could smell the aroma of rice, among other things. Walter was preparing the food at the counter. He turned to look at us when he heard us enter.
“Dinner’s almost ready,” he told us.
“Where’s Naoto?” I asked, noticing that he was not on his mat.
“He’s bathing himself,” Walter replied.
“I’ll go get Naoto,” Inigo told me.
While Inigo was retrieving Naoto, I took the liberty of exploring the hut. The extra rooms were a guest room, a lounging room, and another bedroom, presumably Tobys’ room (Toby was in there already, preparing some fresh bandages for Inigo and Naoto). I watched him unravel the bandages. He reminded me a bit like Triss.
When she was young, I didn’t have much for Triss to play with, so I gave her a spool of string. It wasn’t much, but she loved it all the same. There were so many times that I would find her sitting on the floor, with the string surrounding her.
I decided to check on Naoto. Surely he must have been done taking a bath by now. When I walked over the the bathroom door, I heard someone scream, and the terrible CRASH of something being thrown and shattered. Before I could knock, the door slammed ajar. Inigo bolted out of it, his face flushed a deep red.
“What was that?” I asked him. “Was that someone screaming?”
Inigo took a few deep breaths before responding. “That was Naoto,” he said to me, his voice wavering.
“Are you kidding?” I asked. I nearly laughed. “That sounded like a girl!” I immediatly shut up when I saw the unamused look on Inigo’s face.
“It’s Naoto,” he muttered, looking at the floor. “I--”
Just then, Naoto stormed out of the bathroom, wearing nothing but a towel.
“Why would you do that?!” He yelled at Inigo, who averted his eyes.
“Do what?” I asked Inigo. I was feeling sincerely confused. “Inigo, what did you do?!”
Then, I looked at Naoto, and realised.
“Are you…” My whole face flushed red. “Naoto, are you...female?”
Naoto sighed, her whole face darkened with shame. She nodded.
“Okay…” I said, but was at a loss for words. “Okay. Naoto, get some clothes on, but you better explain all this.”
---

After everything simmered down, Naoto, Inigo and I sat down to discuss.

Naoto was the first to talk. “Inigo,” she said, “I owe you an apology. I’m really sorry about what happened earlier. I just wasn’t thinking straight, and you walked in on me and...sorry.”

Inigo just looked at his feet, as if they were the most interesting thing in the world. He shook his head. Naoto told us everything.

“When I was young, my mother and father were divorced, and I had to live with my father. Before I went to the dojo, I had a dream of becoming a warrior. I would read stories about them, and how they would fight and act selflessly. But my father said it would be impossible for me, because I was a girl. Everyone around me said the same thing: I was a girl, and therefore not strong enough to become a warrior. Then things got worse.

“My father became a heavy drinker. Sometimes all he did was sit at the table and drink sake. I tried to avoid him, but sometimes he would take his anger out on me.” Naoto rolled up her sleeve and pointed to a scar on the arm. “That’s one of his memories he gave me,” she said, grinning sadly. She resumed to her talking.

“I became a wreck. I was looked down upon because I wanted to have a boy’s occupation, and my father would beat me almost every time he was drunk. So one day, I decided that I would act as a boy. I started wearing typical boy’s clothes, and I enrolled myself in the dojo. That night when I left my father, I left him by himself, passed out from sake. I trained in the dojo for years, and I did everything I could to become a warrior. I even lived there. I had been training for so long, until you two found me.” Naoto sighed. “All this time, I was changing myself for others, and I never thought once about how it could affect me.” She put her face in her hands and muttered, “I’m a fool.”

“Um, Naoto,” I said to her. The shock from today was coming at me so hard, I didn’t even know what to think anymore. I tapped her on the shoulder. “What do you want, Naoto?” I asked her. “What do you need?”

Naoto lifted the hands from her face. “I don’t know, Sin,” she told me. “I don’t know.”

Then Inigo spoke up. He had been silent for so long that it surprised me to hear his voice again. “It’s not about what others think of you Naoto,” he told her. “You make your own decisions. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.” He was starting to raise his voice.
“You’ve been letting other people overrun your life for so long, you’ve forgotten want you want in life. So what do you want?” His last word sounded so emphasized and forceful. I had never seen Inigo this demanding before. When Naoto still remained silent, he said in a more quiet voice, “It’s okay Naoto. You don’t have to keep your emotions bottled up anymore.” Then he asked her one last time, “What do you want, Naoto?”
I looked at Naoto. Suddenly, she bursted into tears. They rushed down her face as if she could no longer contain herself. She let out a quick sob as he drew her knees up to her chin.
“I want my mother back!!!” She sobbed, letting her emotions getting the best of her.
I had never seen Naoto like this before. She looked so small and vulnerable.
“Here,” Inigo said to Naoto, moving closer to her and wrapping his arms around her in a hug. She let him. I had no idea what to do.
Not wanting to disturb them, I edged away from them and let them be. I leaned my head up against the wall and sighed.
I thought of where Celia and Night may be. They must have landed far away from us if Inigo or Naoto didn’t mention them. I got up and walked out of the room. When I reached the doorway I told Inigo and Naoto, “I’m going to look for Celia and Night.” I slipped on my yukata with my katana and shurikens, ate one of the fishes that was for dinner, and then ran out the door.

I ran through the forest, calling their names over and over again. There was no reply. I looked around everywhere I could, finding nothing. The forest looked the same to me.
It was starting to get dark out. I should have brought a lantern, I thought with dismay. Off in the distance, I thought I saw a glowing light, which was really weird considering it night time. I ran towards the light, hoping to find something, anything.
The distance from myself to the light seemed endless. When I got close enough, I saw that the light was moving away from me.
“Wait!” I shouted at the light. I had finally caught up with it. Unexpectedly, I rammed into it as if it were solid, which caused me to fall backwards. I landed on the leafy ground. I realised that the light was someone.
A maiden clad in all white.
She turned around to look at me. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I didn’t see you.” She had an upset look on her face.
“Is your name by any chance Shiro?” I stammered, remembering what Walter had said to me.
“That is my name, she said, nodding. “You have heard of me?”
I nodded. “Can you help me with something?” I asked her.
Shiro frowned. “Help you? But I do not even know you.”
“Please,” I begged. “It’s urgent.”
Shiro sighed. “Very well. But first, you must help me.”
“With what?”
“Defeating the eight-headed beast that will eat the maiden.”
“Me? Why me?” I asked.
“I can’t do it alone,” Shiro said to me. “If we do not make haste, the maiden will be eaten.”
I recalled the myth in my head. According to the myth, Izanagi had not been quick enough to find Yamata, which was the cause of him becoming a demon. If Shiro and I could change that, who knows what would happen. Maybe it would help save Triss.
“Fine. I’ll help,” I agreed. Shiro nodded her thanks, then she extended her hand to help me up.
“Follow me,” she urged, suddenly turning heel and breaking into a run.
Keeping a firm grip on my wrist, she sprinted with ease. She was going so fast, my feet felt like they were about to give in under me. But still she continued to run. The scenery around me was a blur, and the wind whistled in my ears.
Too fast.
My eyes stung and began to feel watery. I looked down at Shiro’s feet to see how fast they were moving. They were a blur.
“Hold on,” Shiro said to me.
Before I could ask “why,” she suddenly launched herself into the air. We were in the night sky.
Unbelievable.
Were we actually flying? Shiro soared through the air. She had slowed down, and now she was frantically scouring the ground below.
“I take it that you’re not human,” I shouted to her over the howling wind.
Shiro looked back at me and shook her head. “No, I am not,” she responded. She was grinning.
“What are you grinning for?” I asked.
“It’s just nice to meet someone who is not afraid of me,” she replied. “Someone who knows that I’m not human.”
I shrugged. “It didn’t take me long to figure it out.”
We flew through the air for sometime, until we reached a more barren-looking territory. It was surrounded by unrippled water that looked almost like a floor of glass. In the center was an island with dead trees and ruins of buildings. At the far end of the island was an malicious-looking tower.
“There it lays,” Shiro muttered. She made a sharp swan dive towards the island, as graceful as a bird.
My hair whipped about in my face as we dove towards the ground, getting faster by every second.
“Are you sure this is safe?” I yelled at her over the noise.
Shiro said nothing. She had a look of deep concentration and determination on her face as she focused on the ground.
She let go of my wrist.
I froze in horror when I realized what she had done. I drifted away from her by the second.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” I screamed at her.
“We must go our separate ways for now!” She yelled to me. “If any monster finds you with me, your life will be at stake! Don’t fret! I shall meet you at the gate!” And with that, she flew past me, leaving me to fall alone.
When the island got into view, I saw how bigger its structure looked. Shiro had directed me to the back of the island, while she flew over to the front.
The main entrance must be too dangerous, I thought for a split second.
The water below suddenly hurled itself at me. With a less than graceful SPLASH, I planted myself face-first into the lake.
With a gasp, I emerged from the lake. I looked around me. The sky was a stormy dark gray, with ominous-looking clouds churning in the sky. Not a single star to be seen. The island was in swimming distance. I can even see the back of the island, where Shiro intentionally dropped me off. I wondered if she was safe. I dipped my head underwater and paddled towards the island.
When I arrived on the island, I could see the back entrance. I emerged from the lake and peered at the entrance behind the big tower. It was guarded by two creatures that I assumed were demons.
One looked like a bull that was standing upright, and the other looked like a lizard. They both held spears and they were both wearing gray robes. I figured that if I wanted a chance of getting in, I would have to act un-human. But just how stupid were these demons? I examined the sleeves of their robes, hoping to find what ranking they were. Only one stripe on each of their sleeves. Low-rank. Would I have to find another way around them without fighting them and making a mess?
I sighed and ran my hand through my hair with frustration. I walked around to the other side of the tower. The front entrance was guarded by some demons as well. Both of them looked like crows. There was no other way for me to go without killing them. I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. I whirled around.
She was wearing a purple yukata with a white floral pattern. Her double blades hung loosely at her side. Her eyes were covered up with a mask with a little character drawn on it. She grinned at me.
“Night? Is that you?” I whispered, not wanting the demons to hear me.
She gave me a knowing nod. “I landed here,” she whispered. “I know that there are demons here, so don’t worry.” She held out a slip of paper with the same character. Some string was looped between the two holes on the edges of the paper. “Turn around,” she instructed me. I did.
While Night was tying the mask around me, I asked, “Where’s Celia? Did she land with you?”
“Yes, she landed with me,” Night responded. “When we figured out where we were, we tried to sneak by without being noticed. But the demons are everywhere, Sin. They got Celia, and I’m trying to find her. It seems like they’re preparing for some kind of ritual.”
“Great. So we can fight them together,” I said.
Night finished tying my mask, but I could feel her hands lingering.
“Night?” I asked, suddenly feeling embarrassed.
“Sorry,” she apologized. “I was just lost in thought. You...you have very nice hair, you know that?”
“Thanks,” I muttered. No one had ever said that to me before. I was glad that Night couldn’t see how red my face was.
She spun me around so she could look at me. She nodded approvingly. “Let’s go. These low-rank demons won’t know who we really are with these disguises.”
We approached the demons. They eyed us.
“You must be real ugly to wear masks like those,” the lizard demon said to us. They both laughed.
“We’re just passing through,” Night insisted. She gestured towards me. “He’s new on this patrol. I’m going to show him around.”
The lizard demon sighed. “Okay, get in,” he said.
They parted to let us through. Night took me firmly by the hand and led me up the crude stairs that the demons had been guarding.
“Do you know where they’re keeping Celia?” I asked Night as she pulled me up the stairs.
“I’m not sure,” she responded. “We got caught when we found my blades. It turns out it was being sold on the market. She pushed me aside and told me to hide from the demons, and they ended up taking her away instead. They beat her up, too. There was just too many. I heard them taking about using her as an ‘appetizer for the boss.’ Or something like that.”
“Appetizer to the boss…” I repeated, think to myself. “Where are we going?”
“To the Demon Market. We can look for some information on where they’re keeping Celia.” When we reached the balcony on first flight the stairs, Night looked at me. “Speaking of which, Sin, why are you here?”
“I have to do someone a favor,” I told her, not elaborating any further. “I asked someone to help me find you and Celia, but I have to grant her favor in exchange,” I explained.
Underneath her mask, Night’s face turned a shade of light rosy pink. “That’s so kind of you, Sin,” she said to me. She had a little bit of laugh in her voice . It filled me with a sense of security. A grin lit up on my face. Just thinking about made me feel warm inside. My thoughts returned back to reality, when I realised all that we had been doing so far was looking at each other. My eyes snapped to the floor, my face heating up immediately. Night smiled. I knew what she must be thinking. That I look ridiculous when I’m embarassed.
“Well, I guess we should get a move on,” I muttered. Night nodded in agreement.
We walked up more and more of the stairs, until we reached the topmost room, which was a very strange room.
It looked like a greenhouse for the most strangest-looking plants in the world. Fat green vines snaked up and down the walls. Giant venus fly traps were planted on the sides. Their mouths hung open eagerly. Poisonous flowers were everywhere. I looked down at my feet. The ground was covered with swamp-green colored moss. Embedded in the moss was a river of unknown purple ooze. I stepped away from it.
“What do you think this is?” Night said to me.
“Who knows? Maybe this is where they store their vegetables,” I responded. I walked around the room, examining it. Night did the same. She started tapping on the walls. “What are you doing?” I asked her.
“I’m trying to see if there’s another room,” she replied. She tapped the stone walls continuously. I didn’t hear another sound, other than the stone of Night knocking on stone. I then heard the hollow tok of a wooden door being knocked on. I turned around and looked at Night. She grinned with satisfaction.
“I think we’ve found it,” she said to me.
I walked over to the barely-visible wooden door. A vine was blocking the way. I pulled out my katana and sliced it in half. A green liquid dripped from the vine. It oozed like honey. We opened up the door and was greeted with a tunnel. We walked down the tunnel for some time, until Night spoke to me.
“Do you hear something?” She asked, stopping in her tracks. I paused as well.
I could her the faint sound of talking. It sounded like an entire crowd, the closer we walked towards it. When we emerged from the tunnel, we were greeted with quite the scene.
It was a gigantic cave, lit with torches. There were market stands everywhere, holding indescribable items that looked even more disgusting than the black market at home. Everywhere around us were demons. They were running the stands, shopping, and yelling at eachother.
“I think we’ve found the Demon Market,” I said to Night. She nodded.
I looked at the crowd. I hated large crowds. I had a phobia of them, just like I had a fear of blood. I felt my palms start to sweat. My vision started to unfocus. Crowds had been a problem for me ever since I was young. I shuddered. Night looked up at me.
“Are you okay?” She asked me.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I lied.
“We’re just going to get some information,” she assured me, “And then we’re out of here.” We then walked into the crowd together.
I was beginning to feel dizzy. The stuff the demons were selling certainly wasn’t helping either. Night walked over to one of the stands. I held back. I was starting to feel sick. Night asked the shopkeeper something I couldn’t hear. He said something back to her. Night thanked him, and turned away.
“He said that tonight is the festival,” Night informed me, “And that their boss is going to feast on two maidens instead of one tonight. Do you know anything about the ‘boss?’”
I realized why Shiro had brought me here. It was so clear to me now. She wanted me to help me defeat Yamata. That was why she disappeared from the village, so she could fight him. But she couldn’t possibly fight him on her own.
“Yeah, I do,” I said, and I explained everything.
When I finished explaining, Night pondered over this.
“So,” muttered, “We need to find out where Yamata is, in order to defeat him and rescue Celia.”
“You can leave that to me,” I offered.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I think you should lay back on looking at-” I gestured towards the stuff on the stands- “All of this.” Night nodded.
Just when I was about to turn away, I felt her take hold of my arm.
“If you can’t stand the crowd, I’ll come find you,” she insisted. I nodded and turned away to go to a stand.
I noticed that some of the stands were closed or abandoned. I approached one of the demon’s stands. The shopkeeper’s head looked like the face on a clay figurine, with the stretched out ears and hollow eyes.
“Can I help you?” He screeched. His voice sounded like a bat.
“Why are there so many closed shops?” I asked him.
The shopkeeper’s hollow eyes stretched in surprise. “You mean, you don’t know what’s going on today?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Well, you’re in luck!” he screeched excitedly. “Today is the day that the market’s famous boss picks just two people for something special. Do you know what that special thing is”
“What?”
“You to see the boss’s throne room!” He shrieked enthusiastically. “No one knows who or why she picks them. Some say that she chooses them because of their spirit.”
I felt like the luckiest guy in the world right then. “Are the entries still open?”
The shopkeeper looked at me as if I was crazy. “You planning on entering? It’s a one-in-a-million chance that you’ll get in. Someone as unfamiliar to the market as you could only hope to get in.”
I scoffed. “I think I can handle it,” I replied. “I’ve been told that my spirit is strong, after all.” I turned and walked away from the stand, scanning the crowd for Night. I couldn’t see her at all.
The Market seemed endless, with demons everywhere. I self-consciously put one hand on my neck, and the other on the handle of my katana. I suddenly saw a ring of chanting demons. The way how they seemed so unbalanced and the way how they slurred their words gave off the huge fact that they were drunk. I approached the ring.
I pushed a few demons aside to get a closer look. I was thunderstruck at what I saw.
In the center of the ring was Night, who had been pushed over. She threateningly pointed her blades at the demons. There was a cut on her head that was bleeding. She couldn’t take on all those demons at once.
I barged into the center of the ring. “Hey! What’s the big idea?!” I shouted at them. I looked down at Night questioningly.
“They attacked me,” she muttered, her hands shaking slightly. “I tried to put up a fight.”
I withdrew my katana and pointed it at the nearest demon. They all fell quiet.
“Which one of you jerks are responsible for this?” I growled, narrowing my eyes threateningly. When they remained quiet, I let my katana down and faced every single one of them.
“Try that again,” I snarled, “And you’ll have to put up with me.” I reached down and pulled Night up. “C’mon, we’re leaving.” I said to Night. But the ring of demons didn’t part.
One of the demons that had a frog-like head said drunkenly, “Are you trying to take away something that’s rightfully ours?” He croaked.
I turned towards him. “What?”
“C’mon,” he insisted, “We were just trying to have some fun. The lass just lost her mind, I tell you. Planning on fighting us yourself, little man?” The last two words ended in a sneer. I took a few steps towards him, my eyes piercing at him.
“Say that again. I dare you.”
I felt Night grab my shoulder. I turned my head slightly.
“You don’t have to do this,” she whispered in my ear. “I’m fine, really.”
I looked at her. Her face was stained with tears. There was a small, yet noticeable cut on her cheek, and it was bleeding . She was anything but fine. I shook my head at her, turned towards the demons, and lifted my katana threateningly.
When I was just about to strike the nearest demon, I heard a loud and demanding command
“STOP.”

We all turned our heads towards the speaker.
She (at least I thought she was a female) was a very peculiar demon. She was different from every demon I saw so far. She had a very human-like face, besides the fact that her eyes were shrouded with her strange, stringy hair. She was wearing a long black baggy robe, tied with green poms and a purple belt. Her eyes instantly locked on me and Night, who was still gripping my shoulder. The demon lady drifted towards us.
“And who are these fine plebeians?” She asked us. When she approached us closer, I noticed that her skin was a sickly pale color. She was reminiscent to a ghost.
“We don’t want any trouble,” I insisted. I looked at the ring of demons. Their ring was slowly dissolving, and they had cowardly looks on their faces. I could hear them muttering amongst each other. The demon lady beckoned me and Night.
“Come with me, plebians,” demanded. We followed her.
She lead us down narrow pathways and tunnels. All the while, I was clueless.
“Where are you taking us?” I asked her.
“You have been chosen,” she says simply. “I felt your spirit when you stood up against those drunken demons. Very strong. Therefore, you have been chosen to visit Yamata’s throne room.”
I looked at Night with disbelief. It sounded too good to be true. She shrugged, looking just as baffled as I was.
“My name is Tengu,” the demon lady told us. “I am the runner of the Demon Market.”
“Thanks a lot for the clarification,” I muttered under my breath.

After a very long while of struggling to keep up, Tengu lead us to a chained-up, secluded door that was at the dead end of one of the tunnels. Tengu pulled an old rusty key out of her robe and jammed it into the enormous padlock and twisted it. There was a satisfactory click, and then the padlock and the chains dropped to the floor uselessly with a solid clunk. Tengu opened the door and gestured inside of it. The dank room was very dim, with barely a light to be seen. Night and I stepped inside of the room. We heard a sudden SLAM that made us jump. The door was closed. I ran over to the door, grabbed the handle, and pulled on it. The door wouldn’t budge.
“Come on!” I shouted, pounding my fist on the door. No reply. Night walked up to me. She had removed her mask, and her big blue were eyes full of worry. She looked at me.
“I think she locked us in here,” she breathed. Of course she was right. I was an idiot for not thinking it over. Tengu probably knew that we were human, and that she would lock us in here to rot away. I slapped my forehead with frustration.
“This is my fault,” I muttered. “I didn’t even stop to think about the consequences. I’m so sorry, Night.” I felt terrible.
“No need to beat yourself up, Sin,” Night assured me. She placed one of her hands on my arm. Shivers ran up my spine. She turned her head to look around. It was so dark that we couldn’t see a thing. I could barely see Night’s face when she was close by. I removed my mask, hoping that my eyes would adjust to the darkness. There was no point for looking for an exit. I sighed and sunk down to the cold floor, waiting. I heard Night’s footsteps. She went and sat down beside me.
“Mind if I join you?” She asked.
“Not at all.”
We sat together as the minutes ticked by. I was losing track of time. I thought of Inigo and Naoto. What were they doing? Were they okay? I hoped so.
“Hey, Night?” I asked her.
“Yes?”
“I know that Night’s your nickname, but can I ask you what your real name is?”
That silenced Night. Nobody had probably asked her what her real name was.
“Nevermind…” I muttered. “I didn’t mean to bring up any painful memories…”
Night shook her head. “It’s...not that, exactly.”
“Well, I can’t see why you would want to change it,” I muttered. “It must be a beautiful name.” I could just feel my face warming up. “Why did you change it?”
“It was the name of my stepmother,” she mumbled.
“You had a stepmother?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “After my mother...passed on, my father remarried to another woman. She hated me. She would do anything to kick me out. She actually did one day, which lead me to a foster home.” I could hear the heaviness in her voice.
“Oh,” I said. I felt unable to say anything to comfort her. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t know.”
“It’s okay.”
I reached out and placed my hand on her shoulder. “Hey Night?” I asked. She nodded. “Can I...can I call your real name someday?”
Just then, Night caught me by surprise. She quickly threw her arms around me and pulled me close, not giving me any time to react. She buried her head in my shoulder, her hair fanning out across my collarbone. I was too embarassed to do anything about it.
“Thank you,” Night whispered. “Thank you so much.” I could tell that she was crying, and it broke my heart.
“Uh...you’re welcome,” I stammered.
We sat like that together for some time, until I whispered to her, “Chase.”
Night shifted her head. “What?” She asked.
“My real name is Chase. Chase Allen.”
“I like that,” Night said. “Can I call you Chase?”
I closed my eyes and grinned. “Go ahead,” I whispered.
“Can I ask you something?” Night asked me.
“Yeah.”
“How did you get so close to Jila?”
I opened my eyes. I hadn’t heard her name in so long.
“I’m not sure if I even remember,” I muttered. “But I’ll tell as much as I can.”
I closed my eyes and remembered everything.

“There he goes again. The little boy with the red hair. They say that he’s gathering medicine for his mother. The poor thing’s had so much injuries, thanks to that no-good drunkard of a husband. She really should take a stand for once, but then again, there isn’t much you can do about it.”
I hear them talk about me on the streets. They look at me with pity and disgust. I can’t blame them, because I know that they are right. When they look at me, I know what they see. They see a poor boy in ragged clothes, a moth-eaten cap, and too-big shoes that have holes in them.
Usually I trudge the streets, looking for food and medicine. I knock on every door in town. Most of them reject me, but some kind souls tend to give me a loaf of bread or an apple. Today I stand in the sleet-covered town square, holding out a cup for people to drop their spare coins in. The harsh hail rains down upon me, with dark and threatening clouds hanging in the sky. I look inside my cup. Hardly enough to buy medicine for Mother. If I go back now, my step-father might hit me again. Tears well up in my eyes, but I refuse to let them fall. I can’t cry. I won’t.
People pass by me as if I’m invisible. I look onward, hoping to draw attention to anyone. My stomach growls. I hadn’t eaten at all yet. I would be lucky if we still had some food left. Father tends to eat it all up. I let my thoughts wander. I thought about meat. Meat was very rare in our town. I always wondered what it tasted like. My mouth starts to water. I stand up, deciding to head home.
I was able to score a boiled potato and two apples. I also receive some coins. I eat one of my apples on my trek back to my home. It would be better to have some food before Father finds it. As I pass the streets, I can feel their eyes on me. The aimless town folk who wander the streets. I look straight ahead, pretending not to acknowledge their stares. Instead, I continue to munch on my apple and be thankful for it. The flesh of the apple is crisp and sweet. I eat it all the way to the core, not wasting any of it. I finally reach my home, a tattered shack up on the darkest, coldest part of the street. Shackle Street. The wind whips about in my face. The cold bites at my skin. I bury the apple core in the snow so Father won’t find it, and then I head inside.
It’s not much warmer from outside. There’s a weak fire in a crudely built fireplace, but not much else.
“Mother?” I call. “Father?” I can’t hear anyone. I suddenly hear a strangled whimper. I make my way into the bedroom that me and Mother share.
There, I see Mother shrunk back into the corner of the room. I can tell that she’s been crying. I see the welts on her arm. The bruises on her face. The fear on her face. I can see Father too, yelling at her. He hits her again. I look away. She screams. Just when Father pulls back his fist again, I run up to block him.
“Get outta my way,” he snaps at me. I can smell the tobacco on his breath. I don’t budge.
“Chase,” Mother sobs, “I’m fine. Just please leave. Please.” When I still don’t move, Father hits me across my face. I can already feel my face burning. He grabs me by my wrist and yanks me up into the air. I dare not cry. I refuse to submit to him, but I know who will win. He has so much power over me. My cup falls and topples over, spilling all the coins out. My bread and apple falls as well. Father notices this, and releases me carelessly. I fall and hit the floor, the welt on my face searing in pain. He picks up my items.
“What are these?” He asks in a soft, threatening voice.
“They’re for Mother’s medicine,” I say.
“All this time, you’ve been hiding this from me? When we could be using this money for better reasons?!” Father turns towards me, grabs me by the collar, and slaps me across my face.
“Stop!” Mother cries. “Doug, please stop! He hasn’t done anything wrong!”
“SHUT UP, WOMAN!” Father yells, still holding me by the collar. “I DO WHAT I WANT!” He throws me to the ground and kicks me. I cry out in pain as I feel the jolt in my ribs. He turns away and stalks out of the room. Mother hurries towards me and kneels beside me.
“I’m sorry, Chase,” she whispers. She pulls me onto her lap and hugs me. I start to cry. I know that there is nothing that I can do against Father, and that everything is hopeless. Even Mother knows that.
“One day, we’re going to leave this place,” she assures me. “And we’ll start all over again. Just you and me.”
I wonder if this will be true one day.
Mother then tends me to my wounds, although she is much more beaten up than me. Luckily, Father hadn’t taken the food from me, and I ate the bread and the apple. He has taken the money though.
I go to bed early that night. I crawl into my sleeping mat, pull my thin blanket up to my chin, and cry silently to myself. I cover my ears with my hands, trying not to hear the arguments and screams of Mother and Father. I feel so worthless. I cry myself to sleep that night.
---
I kneel besides Mother, holding her hand. She was so sick, but it was hard to tell behind her bruises. I hadn’t earned enough money to buy medicine. It was all my fault.
“But Mother,” I sobbed, “You can’t leave me here.”
She smiled kindly at me. “I know Chase. But I know that you’ll pull through. Do you know why?”
I shake my head, wiping tears from my face. Mother reaches her trembling hand up and touches my heart.
“Because you are strong, and I believe in you,” she whispers.
Then, she leaves me. I close her eyelids and sob over her dead body.
I left the house for good that day.
I decide that I would leave the town as well. I don’t know where to go, or what I was looking for, but the only thing I knew was that I had to get out. I only take what I can carry: a blanket, an extra change of clothes, and some spare coins and food, which I wrapped in the blanket. I place all the items neatly inside of a crate that we used to use as a dinner table. I pry a hole in the crate, and tie a rope through the gap. I then walk out the door of my home for the last time.
---

I visit any place I can, knocking on doors, asking for food or for jobs. Sometimes when I’m not residing in a village or town, I camp inside of my crate, especially during winter. Winter is the worst. It’s harder to get food during that particular season, so often I barely get any food in me. It’s much better in the spring. But I try to cast my thoughts of food aside. On and on I travel.

I reach a small town in the late fall. I try to take in jobs for food and money, and I use what little money I have left to buy food. I settle down by a curb, right next to bakery. The rich and buttery scent of pastries works its way towards me in the early morning. It’s cruel, knowing that I could never afford such luxury food. But one day…

A group of boys older than I am visit me every afternoon to make fun of me. Sometimes they call me names, other times they take my food and money. Today, they mock me by throwing pieces of bread at me, calling me “peasant” and “crumb catcher.” Though it made me upset, I know that they are right, and that I have no right to be angry at them, even though they are cold-hearted. They also waste perfectly edible bread. When no one is looking, I pick the bread up off the ground and store it inside my crate. A little dirt won’t kill me.

While I sit on my curb and watch people pass by, I suddenly see somebody that stands out from the crowd.

She has shiny black hair tied with care, with little accessories like pearls and miniature diamonds embedded within her hair. She wears a silky, obviously expensive kimono with an exotic dragon print. She has fine slippers that she wears on her dainty feet. Everywhere I look at her, she wears all sorts of jewelry. Gems, pearls, shiny rocks. Everything about her screams royalty. I dislike her immediately. I have no respect for people who wear precious gems and carefully-crafted clothes like some sort of casual wear. She turns her head and notices me. I scowl at her. She turns and strides into the bakery. I bury my head in my hands, grateful that she left.
After some time however, I see her walk out. She’s holding some sort of pastry. Oh no, I think to myself. She walks right up to me, to my horror. She kneels down to my height and smiles at me.
“What is your name, little boy?” she asks me. She sounds so sincere. I frown.
“Chase,” I mumble.
The lady hold out the pastry for me.
“This is for you, Chase,” she says to me. I stare in astonishment. She must be joking. No one would ever have the time or heart to buy a poor boy something. Would they?
Looking at her suspiciously, I accept the pastry, trying not to look starving.
“Thanks,” I mutter, acting like it’s no big deal. The lady smiles.
“I despise these clothes,” the lady says to me as she watches me fumble the pastry in my hands. “I didn’t want to be seen in these by people who are less fortunate than me, but I had to. I apologize if I come off as stuck-up to you.”
I am taken aback by these words. Did she actually feel that way? I instantly felt guilty for judging her so quickly. I shake my head.
“ I don’t think you’re stuck-up,” I say. She gratefully nods her thanks. She’s definitely sincere. She stands up and turns around, but first she gaves me one last glance.
“My name is Jila,” she says to me before she disappears into the crowd.






---
That night, after I eat what I have for dinner (some fish meat on slightly stale crackers), I dig into my pastry. Even when I first bite into it, the lusciousness of it fills my mouth.
The light, flaky, buttery crust blended perfectly with the sweet berry filling. I savored every bite, living in pure bliss. I had never eaten something this delicious before. I had never eaten anything this close to what I was devouring. I relished it all the way down to the last bite. I then lay in my crate, adoring the silence of the town before drifting off to sleep. For the first time in my life, I fell asleep feeling full and satisfied.






---

A few days later, it rained immensely.
I sat underneath my crate for dryness and wrapped my blanket around myself for warmth. It was awhile since I saw Jila, and I was secretly hoping that I could see her again. Just then, I see the group of boys run up to me. They kick my crate over, causing me to topple onto my side.
“Hey look! It’s crumb catcher!” One of them shouted, grabbing me by the arm and yanking me out of my crate so hard, it actually hurt.
“Leave me alone,” I said, attempting to stand my ground. They laughed.
“Let’s have some fun with crumb catcher!” Another one of them crows. The boy who had grabbed me picks up sleet that had formed on the ground due to the cold weather, shoves it in my face, and holds me in a headlock. I shriek in pain as the coldness stings my face. They all laugh at me. The cold overwhelms me. I have no idea how much more I can take. I squirm about as much as I can, but they only laugh even more. The boy presses the sleet to my face even more. I can feel myself go numb.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?!”
The group of boys stop and turn around to see who yelled at them. I can feel the pressure leave my face, even though my face is now freezing.
There, standing there, is Jila, She’s changed, the last time I saw her. She looks very plain, with her hair in a braid, and an average dress and sandals. Even when she looked so simple, she still looks very beautiful. I like her better this way.
She strides over to the boy who held the sleet in my face, and grabs him by the ear.
“I’ll say it again. What are you doing?” She says to him threateningly.
“We didn’t do nothin’, lady!” The boy whines. “We was just playing!”
“Get out of here,” Jila says, letting go of his ear. “I better not see you around him again.”
The boys turn around and scamper off. Jila kneels down and looks at me with concern.
“You look a little worse for wear, Chase,” Jila says to me jokingly. I sigh. I wish that she could see me in a better state.
“Say, Chase,” Jila says, “I think you would be better off with me than in this place.” She suddenly stands up and holds her hand out to me. I stare up at her with disbelief.
“Are you serious?” I ask her. She nods.
“I’ve been traveling for sometime, so you can come back to my home city with me. You can stay there as long as you like.”
I couldn’t believe it. Would she actually do this for me?
I took her hand.

“So that’s when she became your guardian?” Night asks me, breaking me away from my thoughts.
“Yeah,” I replied. I grinned, just thinking about it. “I swear, the night when I figured out she was the empress, and the night we arrived at her palace, I had the best food ever. I even had an actual feather mattress to sleep on. Can you imagine?”
Night laughed. Ah, I loved the sound of her laughing. They were the types of laughs that you could reap and sow off. I lived for them.
“You could’ve been a prince, you know.” Night says. She sounds serious. I turn my head up to the endless pitch-black ceiling in wonder of her opinion.
“Who, me? Nah. I could never live that kind of life. Royalty just isn’t for me.”
“Would you be happier, you think? With royalty, I mean?” I smile as this statement. I gently pat Nights’ hair.
“You know I’m glad with just the way I am,” I say to her. “I mean it. If I was royalty, I might have even more people hating me than they do now.” Night laughs again.
Suddenly, I felt the ground vibrating slightly beneath us. Night and I jolted up with shock. The vibrating turned to violent shaking.
“What’s going on?” I said, even though I couldn’t even hear the sound of my own voice over the noise of all the shaking. Suddenly, the floor lurched forward, causing us to slide to the other side of the room. That’s when I felt the strange, rising-up feeling. I looked up. I saw beams of light shining towards us. I looked at Night. She was bracing herself against the wall.
“Night! We’re being lifted!” I shouted to her. “We’re in a lift!” All this time, we were in one, giant lift, and now we were being lifted towards the top. Hope and relief filled my heart, but it sunk when I figured out where we were.

We were in some sort of giant courtyard. There was a huge tea garden, along with dozens of miniature model houses. In the center of the courtyard was a gargantuan, golden bell. It glittered in the pale sunlight. There was also a stick sitting beneath it. The whole courtyard was eerily quiet. I observed the courtyard, taking it all in. Night walked over to the bell, as if almost in a trance. The gravel that was beneath our feet made a crunching sound as she stepped on it.
“Don’t touch it,” I warned her. “We don’t know what it’ll do.” Night shook her head. She pointed towards the bottom of the bell. Lying beneath it was a stick.
“It could be some sort of clue,” she suggested. Before I could protest, she picked up the stick beneath the bell, drew it back, and hit it hard up against the bell.
GONG.
The noise echoed the courtyard. I could feel it vibrating beneath my feet, in my bones. It took me a few seconds to realize that the trembling wasn’t from the bell’s noise.

It was coming from the ground.
Night seemed to notice this to, because she grabbed the bell’s wooden frame and hung onto it as the ground continued to shake.
“What did you do?!” I asked her. I was starting to feel irritated that she didn’t consider my warning. She looked at me and shrugged. I sighed. Too extraordinary for her own good, that girl. But I couldn’t help but admire her. I suddenly felt a strange feeling, like my heart was being twisted up. My thoughts were interrupted by yet another, more violent shake. I lost my footing and stumbled to the ground.
As the shaking continued to get more and more brutal, I dug my hands into the gravel, hoping it would end soon. I then heard a deep rumbling noise. I looked up.
There, to my disbelief, I saw a mound forming in the center of the courtyard, right beneath the bell. It was growing bigger and bigger. I feared it would burst. Night was still over there, holding onto the bell frame for support.
“Night!” I yelled. “Get away from there!” I doubted that she could hear me over the loud tremor.
I finally found my footing and stood up. I felt my entire body shaking. Without hesitation, I bolted towards the courtyard's center as fast as I could, my breathing short and shallow.
I can be such an idiot sometimes.
The next event nearly made me stop dead in my tracks. The mound, that threatened to explode, burst like an erupting volcano. My breath caught in my lungs. I heard a terrible shriek as the...thing emerged from the courtyard’s center. My arms and legs were beginning to feel sore. I felt like I had never ran this fast before in my life. Finally reaching the courtyard, I reached out for Night, and managed to grab her. Running away from the center, I dove towards the ground as another violent shake threatened to knock us off balance.
“I’m sorry I did that,” Night said. I regained my thoughts, and I realized I was lying on the ground on top of Night with my arms locked around her.
“You should’ve listened to my warning,” I breathed, struggling to find my breath.
“I’m sorry, Sin,” Night pleaded. She briefy glanced up at me, but her eyes flickered away with guilt. Wheras one half of me wanted to be upset with her, another part of me wanted to think she was really cute.
I can’t stay mad at her forever.
I hastily climbed off Night and hoisted her to her feet. The shaking had finally subsided. I felt a short second of relief, only to be overwhelmed by horror as Night and I glanced up to find who was looking at us.

There, staring as us face-to-face, was a serpent. He loomed over us like some sort of proud shadow. His blood-red eyes cut into mine. I had only heard of these types of monsters from the stories Triss would tell me.

On an occasional night, Triss would complain to me that she would have dreams about creatures. She wouldn’t exactly tell me what they were, but I recalled her mentioning a serpent once. I had dismissed them as just simple dreams, and that they weren’t real.

I’ve never been so wrong in my life.

“AND WHAT,” he asked us, his voice booming across the courtyard, “MIGHT SOME WEAK HUMANS BE DOING ON MY DOMAIN?”

I was at a loss for words. It took me a few seconds to realise that I was shaking uncontrollably. I could feel Night trembling behind me as well. I then saw something on the serpent’s back that caught my attention. I could make out a limp figure slung across his scaly shoulders; clothes torn and dirty, broken sniper bow askew.

Celia.
Night must have noticed her too, since she gave me a slight nudge. I decided to play it safe, for all of our sakes.
Before I could invent a reply, the serpent let out a booming laugh. He opened his mouth wide, showing as his razor-sharp teeth. Night and I flinched and drew back a step.
“COULD IT BE,” he howled, “THAT MORE HUMANS HAVE DARED TO APPROACH ME SO THEY COULD KILL ME? WELL HUMANS, LISTEN CLOSELY. YOUR PRECIOUS GODDESS WON’T BE HERE TO SAVE YOU NOW.”
“Goddess?” Night muttered. I was beginning to wonder the same thing. The serpent swung his head to the right to reveal a unconcionus Shiro. I inhaled sharply at the sight of her. Blood was stained on her white gown, and also clung to her fair hair. To my shock, I saw her tremblling, struggling to get up. She turned her head towards the serpent, her eyes full of hatred.
“Yamata,” she panted, “You won’t get away with this.” Serpent cackled again.
“BUT I ALREADY HAVE!” he roared at her, “THE MAIDEN HAS BEEN EATEN, AND NOW I WILL BECOME STRONGER THAN EVER! LOOK!” Yamata thrusted his head towards the night sky, in which a full moon was looming among us. Its’ golden rays shimmered down upon us.
“Yeah, so?” I questioned. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Yamata looked back at me.
“IT MEANS, YOU PITIFUL LITTLE MORTAL, THAT AFTER I HAVE EATEN ONE HUNDRED MAIDENS, DURING A FULL MOON, I WILL REACH FULL POWER! NOTHING WILL STOP ME NOW!” I quickly glanced towards Shiro. Her eyes were full of horror, and hate. I also noticed that she had no weapon. Had she fought this beast that was ten times her size, with no weapon? I looked at Yamata. I noticed that he had a nasty gash on his neck, something that could only be made by a brute weapon, like an axe. Did Shiro do that? I also noticed a couple of arrows that managed to pierce his thick hide. Yamata turned his deadly stare back to Night and I.
“THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO NOW. YOU SHALL NOW EXCEPT YOUR FATE. YOU ARE ALL GOING TO DIE HERE.” Although he was looking at me, I could tell he was adressing it towards all of us. My response? I pulled out my katana and (with a hand trembling like a leaf) held it up to Yamata’s face, looking him right in the eyes. I could see anger and rage in them.
“Over. My. Dead. Body.” I snarled.
Suddenly, Yamata drew his head back and shrieked. I clamped my hands around my ears. I couldn’t tell if he was shrieking in anger, or in pain. But then, I saw something gruesome. Seven other heads bursted out of shoulders, causing blood to fly through the air. I looked away as quickly as I could. A wave of nausea coursed through me, but I resisted the urge to let it overcome me. Yamata’s eight new heads twisted and turned through the air, baring their teeth.
“NOW MORTALS,” they chimed in unison, “PREPARE TO DIE.”

But then, I saw something that saved my life.
A spike. It glided through the air, and hit Yamata’s main head squarely in the eye. He shrieked, and let out a string of curses.
“If I were you,” a calm voice rang out through the courtyard, “I’d get the hell away from my friends.” I looked up with disbelief. I was greeted with the most relieving sight in my entire life.
Inigo, Naoto, and Walter.

They leaped down from the wall, one by one. Inigo was armed with his spikes with a new pair a red-rimmed glasses, Naoto with her katana, and Walter with his cutlass. Naoto cast a quick glance at me. I was petrified with gratefulness, but also fear.

“You didn’t think we’d let you go on your own, did you?” she said to me, grinning. I quickly shook my head. She cleans up well, I thought to myself. She was no longer all wounded up (the visible wounds were covered by bandages), her hair was tied back in a small ponytail, and she was wearing a blue peacoat. She looked at Inigo, who had his hand full of spikes raised.

“Now then, shall we begin?” He politely asked Yamata. Hearing him say that to Yamata in that casual tone of voice kind of sounded like they might as well be playing chess instead. Yamata raised his head up high and once again, let out a deafening shreik. I could vaguely see the courtyard crumbling around us, the twilight sky turning a cloudy red. What was going on? We all drew our weapons out.

I managed to see Celia’s limp body fly past me and hit a wall. Inigo immediatly rushed over to her and kneeled beside her. Yamata’s head turned towards Inigo and Celia, momentarily forgetting us. I yanked a shuriken out of my pouch and hurled it at him. It sloppily glided through the air. I thought that the aim was fine, but it merely plinked off of Yamata. I sighed in frustration. Walter, who was standing close to me, promptly shoved me aside and ran up to Yamata.

“Hey lizard! Over here!” he yelled. Yamata looked at him. Walter sprang up, yanking his cutlass from his holder. One of Yamata’s head rammed himself right into Walter. He fell backwards, brushed aside like some sort of pest. I then saw something that made my heart skip a beat.

Shiro, who I had earlier presumed had died, was forcing herself up on the ground. She was covered in blood, and shaking all over, but she managed to stand up. She then limped over to Yamata, who immediatly launched all eight of his snarling, deadly head towards her. I looked over to Naoto, who was struck with shock.

“She doesn’t even have a weapon!” Night whispered to herself, her voice trembling with half fear, half awe.

But then, right before Yamata could snap up Shiro, I saw her pull out a sword so fast, it was blinding to look at. It wasn’t just an ordinary sword. It was gigantic, twice my size. It gleamed with pure, gold light. She swung it, somehow managing to slash all eight heads at once. Screeching in pain, they drew back. Shiro had hit them in the eyes, blinding them. She slashed them again, this time hitting them on the neck. They screeched louder. Then I saw something very strange happen to Yamata’s body.
Yamata’s hide, which was a bright and shiny gold, had now turned into a dull brown. The sword that Shiro was holding had now disappeared. She collapsed onto the ground again. Night, Naoto, and I bolted towards her. When we reached her, I tilted Shiro’s face so I could see her. She looked so tired, as if she was ready to fall asleep.
“Yamata’s armor...has been disabled,” she said to me very faintly, her voice shaking a bit. “You...should manage to attack him now. You need to hurry.” I felt my heart sinking. Shiro couldn’t die now. But I knew what had to be done.
“Thank you Shiro,” I whispered to her gratefully. “For everything.” Shiro managed a small smile. Her blinking became slower and slower, until her eyes were completly closed.
“I’m so tired…” she whispered.
I looked over to Naoto. She had a saddened look on her face. She looked over to me.
“Sin,” she said to me. I nodded in response. Naoto took a small exhale before speaking. “When you went out to look for Night and Celia, remember how upset I was?” I nodded again. How could I not remember? “Well, I’m done with crying. And I’m done with hiding.” Naoto’s deep-blue eyes burned into mine. They blazed with such ferocity and determination. “From now on, I’m not going to be posing as a boy anymore.” Naoto stood to her feet, still keeping her eyes on me. “And I’m going to make sure that no one else will have to die on my watch. I’m done with holding back.” She reached her hand out to me. “So, what do you say? Are you with me on this?”
I stared at Naoto with disbelief. Pride swelled inside of me. I didn’t know if it was because of how brave she was, or if she embraced her true self, or if it was because she was putting others before herself, but I didn’t care why I was proud.
I reached up and grabbed her hand.
“Naoto,” I said to her as she pulled me up, “Let’s finish this.”

By the time we had gotten up, Night had ran up to us. Inigo as well, while holding Celia in his arms. Walter had woken up and wandered over to me with a dazed look on his face. After making sure they were all there, I looked up at Yamata. All of his heads were still shrieking and writhing, causing a huge earthquake. I had to come up with a plan, fast. I thought for a moment, then I had an idea.

“Follow me,” I urged them.

Inigo looked at me with a puzzeled look on his face. “Where are you going? You’re not going to abandon us, I hope.” I winked at him.

“You’ll see. Come with me.” Walter rolled his eyes, but he oblidged. I ran over to the cliffs, searched for a grip and a foothold, and then strated climbing.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Walter asked, climbing after me, and struggling to keep up. I pointed to a stone ramp that spiraled upward.

“See that?” I told him. “I’m going up there to find Yamata’s weak point.” Walter shook his head and muttered something which included the word “crazy”, but I ignored him. I scrambled up the wall as fast as I could. When I finally reached the ramp, I hoisted myself up, swung my legs over the ramp, and climbed up. My group climbed up shortly after me, although he was out of breath. I sprinted up the ramp as fast as I could. The ramp climbed upward towards the skies. The longer I ran up, the more I noticed it was getting thinner and thinner. I took a deep breath, willing myself to not look down. We would have to run single file. Not wasting any more time, I ran farther up the ramp until I reached the peak, with Walter followed close behind me.

“Okay hotshot, now what?” he panted. I squinted down at our target. I then looked at Walter.

“I’m gonna jump down there and strike him. You see that?” I pointed up towards the moon, surrounded by drifting clouds. “As long as we have the moon up there, we can borrow its power to defeat Yamata.”

“How do you know that?” Inigo breathed, who was still holding Celia. I shook my head, unable to even know why myself.

“Back in in the woods, Shiro had grabbed hold of my hand to take me to Yamata’s stronghold. When Shiro touched me, I saw...something. I don’t remember what it was, it happened in a flash.” I closed my eyes, trying to remember what I saw. The moon in the sky, maybe? Then, I remembered something. I saw a gleaming sword . It was made golden from the moonlight. I opened my eyes again. “I know what I have to do,” I whispered.

Holding my katana in my hands, I raised it up towards the night sky, towards the moon. The golden light radiating from the moon suddedly came to view on my blade. I stared at it in awe.

“So, the legend’s really true,” Walter muttered. I looked at him questioningly. “In the story, if whoever has the true heart of a hero will come to face Yamata under the moonlight, his sword will glow, giving him strength to defeat Yamata.” Walter shook his head and turned away, his eyebrows drawn together in confusion. “I’ve been here for years, and out of all the people I’ve met…” Walter was interupted from a gasp from Night.

“My blades…” she breathed. She held up her blades for me to see. They as well, were shining gold.
I looked at Iinigo, Walter, and Naoto, whose weapons as well were shining. I couldn’t believe it. We were all heroes? With shaking hands, I touched my blade, questioning my sense of reality. How could I, out of all people, ever be a hero? After all the fights I’ve been in, after all the lives that were lost because of me...being a hero is the last title I deserve. I felt someone gently tap me on the shoulder. I turned around. There, Celia was standing there, holding her shining golden sniper bow. She smiled softly at me.

“The moonlight revived me,” she explained. She then glanced at the ground, looking worried and embarassed. “You’ve helped me learn from my mistakes,” she whispered. To whom she was talking to, I wasn’t sure. “I was blind by my own jealousy, my own childish emotions.” She shook her head. “And I’m sorry. If it wasn’t for you, I might have not ever met my brothers.” She looked up at Walter. I noticed her eyes were glossed over with tears.

“Sis…” Walter gasped in disbelief. He also seemed skeptical that this strong yet caring woman was his sister, someone he probably only met when she was just a baby. But then that emotion faded on his face as quickly as it came, replaced by a heavy determination. “You’re right. Let’s finish this.” I cast a look at all my friends, the extraordinary people that I had come across. I shook my head slightly. Why was I being so sentimental now? Does moonlight have that kind of effect on me?

Casting the thought away, I turned towards the cliff, towards Yamata. I knew what I had to do.

Breathing in, I steadied myself, braced for it…raised my katana towards the night canvas…

And I jumped.

I tried to recall what happened in the seconds between us jumping off the cliff and striking Yamata. I really did. But no matter how hard I try to think about it now, those few seconds were always a blur. I do remember the haze of golden light, everything rushing around me, and everyone around me. I recall Night the most, since she was closest to me. But when she was falling alongside me with everyone else, I was able to think for a millisecond about how she wasn’t just falling, but gliding. It was almost like she was floating downward, kind of like a bird. I didn’t know whether to feel amazed or confused. But I didn’t have the time to think about it. Focusing on Yamata, I held my sword up high-I caught everyone doing the same out of the corner of my eye-and struck Yamata as hard as I possibly could. Blinding shrieks filled my ears.


Before I even knew it, I had hit the ground. I felt the what was left of the courtyard’s stony pathway hurl itself at me. But before I was greeted with falling and getting my head smashed open, I felt being caught and gently placed on the ground. Looking up, I saw Night looking back, her arms around my shoulders. She must have caught me while I was falling. Wow. I sound like a doting romantic.

“Thanks for the save,” I muttered. Night just shook her head.

“Don’t mention it,” she replied.

Our attention was suddenly caught by Yamata, as was everyone else. He was no longer the high and mighty serpent I had first laid eyes on. He was now nothing more than a scaly heap lying limp on the ground. A river of blood ran under our feet. A shudder racked my body. Our weapons were no longer golden, and the moon had disappeared. The sky was growing brighter. We were suddenly caught off guard by a flash of light. Drawing a hand up to my eyes and squinting to see better, I could make out two figures. When I peered closer, I realized that it was Izanagi and Izanami. But they no longer looked stressed. They seemed happy and at peace. They were holding hands. Izanagi noticed us, and smiled.

“Brave heroes,” he said to us, “Thank you for everything you have done for us.” Walter ran up towards them.

“Does that mean we’ve saved you?” he asked eagerly.

“I’m afraid that it was too late for me to be saved after I was taken into the Underworld,” Izanami said to him. Walters’ smile faded.

“In order to save Nami from being becoming a demon, I killed myself in order to journey to the Underworld to save her,” Izanagi explained. “You needn’t worry anymore, because now we are together.” I looked over to Walter. I could see the shame in his his eyes, and I wondered why. Was it because he wanted to save Nami and Nagi himself?

“Brave heroes,” Nami spoke to us, “You must journey North, to a faraway region called Silverwood Mountains. There, you may find what you seek. My heart filled with hope at this statement. Could I find Triss? “But be warned. Demons swarm this region, and if you wish to rescue what you truly want, you must encounter a great evil.” Her words swam in my head. I wondered what they all ment. But before I could ask more about the information she had given me, there was another flash of light, and they were gone. The creepy redness in the sky slowly evaporated, leaving us with the nightly sky. We all stood to together in silence.

“Well,” Naoto muttered, breaking our silence, “I guess we have no choice but to try to figure out what they ment.” Inigo and Celia nodded in agreement.

“Silverwood…I don’t think I’ve heard of it,” Inigo said. “I know that this world is inhabited solely by myths, but Silverwood? I don’t think I’ve heard of that myth…” he pressed his fingers to his temple thoughfully.

“I guess the only way to figure it out is to do some studying,” Celia suggested. With that, we each agreed we would do our best to find out about the myth of Silverwood. But first we had to find a way out, which wasn’t too hard.

The demons had all fleed from the stronghold for their lives. When they saw us, they begged and pleaded in fear that they would do anything for us, just as long as we didn’t kill them. We asked them to take us back to Kamiki Town on their boats.







---

After a long trek back to the town, we noticed something strange. Not only did the town seem more calm than when I first saw it, but it seemed to be de-materiralizing in front of us. Everything around us seemed paper-thin, and it looked like everything was drawn with a brush.

“What do you think this is all about?” I asked Night later on, when we arrived back at Walter’s hut, where Toby welcomed us back. She shrugged.

“It could be because since we changed the original story,” she said to me, “We changed the way the story, well, goes. I remeber reading stories about a mythology character like Shiro. Her name was Shiranui, I think. Shiranui was apparently the creator of everything in their world. Without Shiro…” Night took a deep breath, and I could tell that she was thinking about Shiro’s last stand. “Without Shiro, there won’t be anyone to watch over the world.” She looked at me. “I have a premonition that we have to do what Izanami told us to do, or else who knows what might happen? The world might crumble around us.” I nodded.

“I have a premonition that you’re right,” I responded. She was right. If this world crumbled, we might be trapped in it forever. And if we don’t find what Nagi and Nami wanted us to find in time...Triss…

Night suddenly heaved a giant sigh, and laid her head on my shoulder. I took an embarassed sideways glance, and countinued to look up towards the night sky.

“What have we gotten ourselves into, Sin?” she whispered. “First I was fighting you in an alleyway, and now I’m fighting alongside you with people that I don’t even know.”

I laughed. “Funny how that works,” I responded. Night grinned. I turned my head to look at her.

“Night?”

“Yes, Sin?”

“I...uh, I had some spare time, so I made this for you.” I hurredly searching my pockets, then I pulled out a pin that I had sewed. It was in the shape of a flower. “It’s my first time making one of these, so uh...do you want it?”

She beamed at me. “Of course!” I sighed in relief, then I fastened it to her sleeve.

“Thank you, Sin. It looks beautiful.” I glanced down at her again.

“Night,” I whispered. “Your cut is bleeding.” Night looked at me, confused, then lifted her hand up to the cut on her cheek.

“I guess it just opened up again,” she said absent-mindedly. I could see a faraway look in her eyes. “I’ll wipe it off,” she assured me.

“No, it’s okay,” I insisted, “I’ll do it.” Without thinking any second thoughts, I reached forward and wiped the blood off her cut. But when I finished, I found myself lingering, in spite myself. Night looked at me. I froze, with my hand on her face. The awkwardness that had floated around me, strangely, was no longer present. It was just Night and I.

“Chase?” Night breathed.

Right then, as if in a trance, I leaned forward and put my lips against hers.






---

Before, I had never known what a kiss felt like.

But then I did.

It was the most wonderful feeling in the world.

There was a strange warmth inside of me. Not the heat of embarassment, but rather a warm glow that was forming right inside my chest. Like a dying ember. I felt like I was flying, soaring though the stars. I could have sworn that would float away at any second, if it weren’t for the anchor of Night’s arms wrapped around me, and my hands entwined in her hair.

Now, I’ve had my share of crushes before.

When I was in my late teens, Jila had enlisted me in royalty-sponsered dojo training. I was a focused and motivated student. I didn’t really have any special talents, but my best trait was my effort.

And there was this girl.

We would occasonally spar together, since we were both pretty good with the katana, and she was no pushover. And she was pretty cute, too. She had shiny blonde hair that went down to her waist, even when in a braid, and she had some light freckles. I remember that I had a big crush on her. All my classmates teased me about it, because deep down, I knew she was way out of my league. I eventually got over being a love-sick teenager, but that all changed when I met Night.
After what seemed like an eternity, Night broke our kiss. I looked down at her. She was blushing a deep scarlett. I could also feel the familiar rising heat on my face as well.
“I’m sorry…” she murmured. We both looked away from each other. Anymore of this awkwardness would make us faint with embarrassment.
“I should stop bothering you now,” Night muttered. Though I pretended not to notice, I could hear her voice trembling with excitement. I managed to catch a glimpse of her when she was walking away from me. Even though she was covering up her face with one of her hands, I could see her smiling slightly, still blushing.
“Wait,” I urgered her, suddenly grabbing her sleeve. She looked at me and nodded. “Night…” I stuttered, then took a deep breath to steady myself, “Would you possibly like to to...go out with me sometime? I mean, maybe when all of this is over, maybe?” Just for a brief second, I thought I saw confusion and worry flash across her face, but then she beamed at me.
“Of course, I would love to,” she replied. Exhaling in relief, I let go of her sleeve and turned away as she headed back inside.
Returning my gaze to the sky once more, I silenly celebrated a victory of my own.

The next morning, we all did our research on how to get to Silverwood. Toby and Walter were busy reuniting with each other, and Night and I weren’t seeing much of one another, due to...understandable emotional conflict. That left me with Inigo and Naoto. We sat in a crammed study room, jam-packed with mythology books and ancient documents. We were talking about how the book that we had found that summoned us to this world, and how it might have a had a connection on why we were the ones summoned.

“I have a feeling,” Inigo told us, “That if we find whoever summoned us here, we might have our lead.” He turned to Naoto. “Do you still have the book?” Naoto nodded.

“According to Toby, I was clutching to it when he first found me. Would you like me to get it?” With that, she got up, and after a few minutes, she came back holding the book. She then placed it down in front of us. But when she opened it, she frowned in confusion. “That’s so strange,” she muttered. Inigo and I looked over her shoulders, and then we understood what she ment. The pages were blank. Not a single word to be seen. “The last time I looked at it, it had words in it…” Naoto mumbled in disbelief. I felt a chill run down my spine, as if a draft of wind had gusted through the room. I lifted my hand up to my neck, where the breeze had been.

“Did you just feel something?” I asked Inigo and Naoto. They exchanged looks with each other, then shook their heads. As they went back to examining the empty book, I felt the draft across my nape again, only stronger. I could even see the tufts of Inigo’s hair being tossed around, as if caught in a breeze. I looked over to the window, expecting to find it open, but it was closed. But that’s impossible, I thought. I could feel the strange wind getting stronger. I looked at Naoto, who was staring in shock at the book, whose pages were now being flipped by the wind. I saw a flurry of gibberish words within the pages of the books. I looked back at Naoto.

“What did you do?!” I asked her.

“I don’t know!” she answered despairingly. We were suddenly interrupted by a huge blast of wind that knocked all three of us backward. The library became alive with a flurry of books and pages. My hair whipped around in my face, making it hard for me to see. When I was finally able to catch a glimpse, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

There, above the book, stood a cloudy haze that looked like a throne room. But there was something off about the whole thing.

It looked mutated and menacing and I could faintly make out traces of blood stained on the throne. In the room’s center was some sort of circle, surrounded by tall candles, drawn in what looked like blood. It looked like a ritual circle from storybooks. The sight of it made me shudder slightly. Crowding around the circle was a cluster of faceless, hooded people. I felt as though as they had faces, but if they did, they were completely blacked out. There was one person that stood out to me. He or she wore a dark purple cloak, and a rusted golden crown. Another chill ran down my spine, the second chill felt different. It coursed through my body, and I felt as though as I was freezing. The vision I was seeing was slowly fading. When I regained my senses, I looked around the house. It was being shaken vicously. Books were falling off the bookshelves and toppling onto us.

“What's going on?!” I yelled over the sound of shaking and things falling over. “What the hell is this?!” I turned around to see Celia, Night, Toby, and Walter standing in the doorway. Well, more like clinging to the doorway. The room was tossing us back and forth. It felt nauseating. I grabbed onto the nearest thing in the room, a bookshelf, and I clung onto it for dear life.

“Not another earthquake,” Night whimpered, grasping the doorframe with one hand, and her double blades in another. I felt a book fly past me and hit the wall. I forced my eyes shut and clung to the bookshelf until my knuckles turned white. I felt the cold air around me once again. I opened one eye and quickly looked around me. Everyone was hanging onto something, but the house was breaking apart. Materializing, more like. Before I could do anything else, a chunk of the raftor plummeted and hit me squarely on the back of my head. I fell forward, losing my grip on the bookshelf. It hit me so hard, I could see little shapes dancing around in my vision. I hazily lifted my hand to the back of my head where the debris hit me.

“Damn,” I whispered, “It's bleeding.” I lifted my hand from my head and saw the blood on it. I blinked wearily, and tryed to move, but I felt something pinning me down. I strained my head behind to see that the bookshelf had fallen on top of my lower back. I struggled and scuffled, but my edges around my vision were fading slowly into black. My conscienceness like ice, slowly slipping away. Before I knew it, I blacked out.






---

I awoke in some sort of shrine room. My head was no longer bleeding, and I was free of the bookshelf. I carefully stood up on the white-tiled floor, looking around. This room felt so familiar. There was wreaths on the walls, as well as many flowers and candles. The entire room was white. I could see my reflection in the tiles. I looked at the other side of the room and saw a long hallway that led to one door. I could feel its presence drawing me to it. I slowly walked down the lengthy hall. I looked at the walls as I walked. Still many flowers and wreaths. How strange, I thought. I then reached the door. I ran my fingers over it. It was made of smooth oak. I grasped the ebony door handle and pulled it open. I was greeted by a flood of light that washed over me. I walked into the room to find a single throne, lined with red cloth. On the throne was...someone, but there was such a bright light surrounding them, I couldn’t see their face at all.

“Who are you?” I asked the bright light.

“I am sorry,” the person in the light replied. Judging by the voice, the person was a female. Her voice sounded sad and rueful, and on the edge of crying. “I am so sorry,” she said again, her voice wavering.

“Are you the one who brought me here?” I asked her. Silence.

“Yes, I summoned you here,” she finally said. “You must make haste. I am trapped in the highest mountain of Silverwood. There is a great evil there. An evil that can be matched by no other. You must find me...before it is too late.” While I comprehended her words, I could feel my vision slowly fading back. To reality.






---

“I found him! I found Sin!” I heard someone cry out. Night’s voice. “Help me get this bookshelf off him, you two!”

I winced in pain as I remembered what happened to me. Bookshelf. Debris. Bleeding head. Earthquake. I felt something cold, most likely snow, pressed against me.

“Naoto, take that side of the shelf.” I faintly recalled Inigo’s voice. So Night, Naoto, and Inigo were with me? Suddenly, the pressuring, painful weight of the bookshelf disappeared. I looked and saw Inigo, Naoto, and Night shoving the bookshelf off of me. I stretched my arm outward, searching for my katana, but what I found was a miniscule pile of blade shards. The remains of what used to be my prized sword. My heart sank.

“He’s breathing,” Naoto gasped, dropping next to me.

“N-Naoto,” I rasped, still stunned by my injuries, “I can’t feel my legs.” Naoto grabbed me by the shoulder.

“If only Toby was here,” she muttered while trying to hoist me up, “We can figure out where the bookshelf damaged you.”

“It wasn’t that heavy,” I coughed as Naoto helped me to my feet. I looked around. All around us, we were surrounded by a snowy landscape with a light snowfall. There was mountains and a forest off in the distance. There was a lake to my left, and a meadow. It was breathtaking, like something out of a story book. However, when I looked up to the sky, I saw ominous-looking, heavy purple clouds.

“We’ve found Silverwood,” I said gratefully. Naoto looked at me and raised an eyebrow.

“How do you know that?” She asked me. I shook my head and shrugged. I turned my head and saw Inigo slouching in the snow, clutching his head. His glasses were knocked askew into the snow. Naoto followed my gaze.

“He hit his head,” she explained. “It’s bleeding pretty badly. He won’t let me tend to it, though.” She shook her head and sighed.

“Naoto, honestly, I’m fine,” Inigo said, his voice sounding terribly scratched. Naoto whipped her head around to face him.

“Inigo, I wasn’t born yesterday,” she said, irritated. “Either you let me help you or you die of blood loss. Your choice.” When Inigo didn’t reply, she set me gently down on the snow, took off her coat, and draped it around my shoulders. “Excuse me for a minute, Sin,” she said to me. With that, she did a full heel-turn and stormed over to Inigo.

“No, Naoto, don’t--” Inigo began, but Naoto cut him off.

“Just shut up and let me bandage your wound okay?!” she snapped at Inigo. “Take your hand off your head.” Reluctantly, Inigo obliged. Naoto searched in her pockets for bandages, but to no avail. “Do you have anything sustainable for bandages?” she asked Night. Night shook her head, her eyes wide with fear of how much blood Inigo was shedding. Naoto sighed in frustration. “Guess I have no choice,” She mumbled. She then began to unbotton her shirt.

“Woah, woah, woah,” Inigo said, frantically grabbing her hand. “What do you think your doing? You can’t just take off your clothes like that!” Naoto looked at him and shook her head.

“I just want you to get better okay?” She muttered, freeing herself of Inigo’s grasp. She pulled her shirt over her head. I looked away for a split second, feeling like I was violating something. But when I looked back, I saw that Naoto was tying her shirt around Inigo’s head, dressing the wound. I glanced at Inigo. Poor, poor Inigo. His face was flushed a bright red, and he wa so incredibly flustered that just looking at him made me feel embarrassed. Naoto then finally stopped dressing the wound.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” she said, grinning triumphantly. She then picked up his glasses and carefully slid them back onto the bridge of his nose.
“Thank...you…” Inigo mumbled, self-conciously bringing a hand up to his face. Naoto shook her head and sighed in relief.
“You know Inigo,” she said to him and she got up, “You can be really difficult sometimes.” Inigo looked down at the snow, blushing even harder. I stifled a laugh and turned it into a cough. Naoto lifted the coat from my shoulders and put it back on her herself, then helped me up once more.
“Can you walk?” she asked me. I tried to take a step, but stumbled against her. “I’ll take that as a no,” she said, steadying me carefully.
“What happened to Celia and Walter and Toby?” I asked.
“Celia was with me,” Night mentioned. “During the earthquake, I grabbed hold of her hand, but I guess she let go. I’m not so sure what happened to them.”
“Where do we go from here?” Inigo sighed, pressing his hands against his head. “We’ve been seperated again, and for all we know, there’s tons of monsters out here.” Walter would know, I thought to myself.
“We were summoned here,” I said suddenly. They turned to face me.
“By who?” Naoto asked incredulously.
“The person who summoned us here…” I thought out loud, recalling what she had said, “She told me that we had to hurry up and find her, before it was too late. Something about a great evil being in the highest mountain of Silverwood…?”
“You mean, that?” Naoto asked pointing to our north.
There indeed was a mountain. It looked more like a volcano smothered in snow. I could also see that it was the source of the ominous looking clouds. The clouds seemed to be swarming around it. Looking at it made me feel uneasy.
“That’s it,” I said. “We should look for some shelter and someone who could provide information on what in the name of God’s going on, don’t you think?” I asked the mountain, staring at it.
“You’re right about that,” Inigo agreed. “But first, we should find some shelter. It’s getting dark. We’ll look for the others in the morning.”
Upon this agreement, we found a cave after a few hours of searching. I was relieved to be able to rest. My legs and back felt numb as ever. Inigo had gone off to find a good source of water (he claimed that the bacteria could be removed if we boiled it) and food, and Naoto had gone to scrounge up firewood, for our water and for a signal. I could withstand the hunger just fine, but I hadn’t realized how parched I was until Inigo had finished boiling the water. I drank my share of water as quickly as possible. It was glorious.
That night, I was up on night watch. I felt paranoid and I wished I had my katana. After maybe an hour of watch, I felt someone gently tap me on the shoulder. I whipped around. I saw Night.
“You can’t sleep?” I whispered. She shook her head.
“Inigo and Naoto are asleep,” she whispered back. “Can I sit with you?” I nodded and slid over. She sat down beside me. After watching the moon for awhile, Night finally spoke up.
“Can I tell you something, Sin?” she asked me. I nodded. Her eyes darted down towards her hands. “I’m...actually kind of scared,” she admitted. “Of the future. Of what will happen if we don’t make it back alive. I mean, we don’t even know who summoned us here. All we know is that we were brought here to help this world. What do you think will happen to our world if we don’t save this one.” I sighed and shook my head.
“Who knows?” I said. “I just hope that someone will explain it to me, too.” After that we sat in silence for a bit more.
“Hey, Sin?” Night whispered. I looked at her. She was fiddling with her hands, blushing slightly. “Can I...ask you something?” I nodded. She glanced up at me.
“That night…” Night began, but looked away suddenly. She began to talk again, facing away from me. “The night that you kissed me, why did you do it?” I looked away. I felt surprised and confused at the same time. Why had I done it? It didn’t even feel like I did it. It felt like someone else entirely, like someone had taken over my actions and made me kiss Night. I struggled to find an answer. My hands were shaking slightly. I guess I had to come out with the truth sooner or later.
“B-because I really, really like you,” I stammered, looking at her. She looked back, her sky-blue eyes wide. Who could ignore those eyes? I felt like they were hypnotizing me, drawing me in.
“Really?” she whispered. She shook her head. “In all my life, when I was a child, nobody cared about me. Not even my own parents…” she scrubbed at her eyes. I could tell she was on the verge of crying. “To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even supposed to be born. I was just a mistake.” I shook my head, aghast. I put my hand on her shoulder.
“We don’t think your a mistake,” I told her. “Inigo, Naoto, Celia… we all care about you. We all care about each other. We’re all we’ve got now. I don’t care if it’s destined to be that way by some prophecy or if it’s just a coincidence. You guys are the closest to family I’ve ever had, and I’m so grateful that your a part of it.” Night looked up at me steadily, tears clinging to her face. She seemed to be searching me in some way.
“You mean it?” she asked me, her voice barely a whisper. I inclined my head.
“I care about you a lot, Night,” I told her, taking her by her hands. “I’ve never felt this way about anyone else before.” I took a deep, steady breath. I could believe I was actually doing this. Time to confess. “Night, I like you alot. Maybe even a little bit more than like.”
Night gaped at me. “Oh…” she breathed. I could see the shock on the face.
“Look,” I said. “ I’ve never put my trust in anyone before all of this happened, but you’ve helped me realized something. I know that this is way too sudden for someone like me, but whenever I look at you, I can feel it Night. You don’t have to feel the same way about me, but I just felt like I needed to confess that.” Night finally had seemed to overcome her shock. She was blushing slightly. She shook her head.
“I’m so sorry Sin, but you know how it is,” she muttered. “We’re in the middle of a crisis. It just wouldn’t be right.” She glanced up at me. “You understand, right?”
My heart sank, but I still managed to nod. “Of course I do.”
“But maybe someday we can be together, when all of this is over.”
My heart skipped a beat. “Wait, what?!”
Night smiled. “Yes Sin. Us. Because I care about you very much as well, too.”
Just then, every wall that I had built around myself, all the space that I had put between others, had melted down. Unsure how to respond, I let out a laugh.
“Night, that’s...this is great!” I said gratefully, burying my face in my hands. You’ve made me the happiest person alive by just saying a few words. Although I wasn’t sure how this would turn out. I hated making pacts with people. Swearing my lives for them. Dedicating every action, every word and every shred of my common sense to them. If we found a way out of this strange world, even if somehow Night and I would run away together, I had a horrible feeling that it just wouldn’t work out. I was too headstrong, too immature, and just too attached to the past to ever let go. If I couldn’t grow out of my headstrongness, then I certainly wouldn’t be able to handle a solid life with someone else. I had grown used to people betraying me and stabbing me in the back. Maybe it would be no different from back then.
---
Growing up with Jila were probably the best years of my life. Call me a spoiled brat, but I had all the good stuff. Soft bed, heavenly food, you name it. I hadn’t known that Jila had a husband, but he left her after she had a miscarriage. I would see her crying sometimes late at night, but she never told me until much later on. She had always wanted a child of her own. She traveled everywhere she could in the country, looking for some sort of orphange or home, so she could take in a child of her own.
The problem with our country was that there was too many homeless kids. Out of all the kids in the country, I was probably in the majority of those with and without homes. Lots of people blamed it on the government. Too much taxes. Rulers and bigwigs being too greedy. Rations being too little. Lots of children ended up on the streets, either abandoned or just too poor to make a living. My family tried to make a living as best as they could, but my step-father would beat me till I was blue. It broke Jila’s heart to see so many kids on their own, and her not being able to take them all in. Even though she was the highest surpreme ruler, descendant of a royal family and an a daughter of an esteemed samurai, Jila was no match for the government. I knew that many people blamed the poverty on her instead. Many people loathed her, but I never learned of anyone who would want to cause a physical attack on her. When I was little, it would confuse me so much why anyone could hate someone as nice as her. Sometimes at night, I could hear people far below the castle, throwing things at the walls and yelling horrible things. I would cover my ears and try to ignore it, but it kept coming back. By the time Jila rushed into my room to check on me, I was sobbing and I wouldn’t let my hands off my ears. She always told me that I was sensitive. She was right.
Jila hugged me close and stroked my hair as I cried. I was too upset at the time to be embarassed.
“Why do they hate us so much?” I sobbed, sloppily wiping my nose with the back of my arm.

“It’s not you that they hate,” she reassured me. “They are just lost.” Back then, I had no idea what she meant; but now that I’ve matured a little, I have a better understanding.

While I grew older, Jila kept me oblivious to the drearyness of Linn City. When I was around sixteen years old, I was fully aware as to what was going on. The city used to be a prime tourist spot in the summer. Every night, fireflies would appear and illuminate the lakes and the tall, beautifully made buildings. The streets were clean and all of our nature was respected by rules. Some places of the city looked like a park or an organized forest. The people who lived within our barriers were kind and warm-hearted. But once the government and taxes spiraled out of control, nothing was the same. Factories were made in order to ensure enough necessieties for everyone, but the smoke thickened the air. The animals, even the fireflies, disappeared. Our buildings began to crumble due to the lack of carpenters. Our chances of keeping our nature was hopeless. Many people lost their jobs and were forced into those that no one can mention, It wasn’t as bad as my hometown Shackle Street, the dark corner of the world which the rays of the sun could not reach, but it was still a dull city. Soon, the dreamy place of majestic buildings and fireflies became a bleak city of darkness. From there, everything spiraled out of control, and then my story truly began.

I was able to get some sleep, but only barely. I couldn’t stop thinking about Night. Yes, she does have that kind of effect on me. I felt groggy when I woke up. I looked around the cave, rubbing my eyes sleepily. I tentativley moved my legs around to thankfully find that they were less numb. I looked up to find Night leaning over me, holding a basin of water. I could see the the tiny patches of bandage placed over the rough scrapes on her face.
“Good morning,” she said to me, smiling. “Sleep okay?”
“Yep,” I yawned, leaning towards the basin and splashing water on my face. “I dreamt about you.”
“Really?” Night grinned, playing along. “That’s sweet of you.” She reached over and handed me me a shirt and a sturdy-looking coat as I tied my hair back. I suddenly noticed something. I reached towards her and gently tugged at her sleeve.
“Your clothes are clean,” I remarked.
“We washed our clothes in the river while you were asleep,” she explained. “We also did a bit of searching, and we found a village a ways away. We plan on heading over there soon.”
“You should’ve woken me up,” I said to her, feeling guilty for not helping out. “I could’ve washed clothes too.” Night shook her head, a slight smile on her face.
“I wanted to let you sleep,” she insisted. “You seemed pretty out of it.”

“I guess that’s why I don’t remember going to sleep,” I muttered, rubbing my forehead. I sat up until I was leaning into Night. She blushed and looked at the ground.

“Y-you’re pretty close,” she whispered, rubbing the back of her neck self-consciously, glancing breifly at my bare chest, then averting her eyes.

“So?” I muttered, leaning closer until our foreheads were almost touching. Her eyes were so much bigger close-up.

Night shuddered and drew back. “S-sorry...I…” she stuttered, placing her hand over her mouth, her face reddening. I looked at her intently. I wanted to kiss her again so badly. Was that a selfish thing of me?

“I don’t think we should…” Night whispered. She was staring at the ground with her hands clasped together. I sighed.

“What do you mean?” I muttered. She was nervous, I could tell, but I had never seen her this upset before. It was confusing. I tapped her on the head. “Night, you’re acting really strange lately,” I remarked. “Is something wrong?” She shook her head a little too quickly.

“Nothing’s wrong,” she said, glancing down at her hands. I took hold of her hands.

“I’m not sure you’re telling me the truth,” I replied. I squeezed her hands. I wanted her to know that I cared. “I can’t help you out if you don’t tell me what’s wrong, Night.” Night pulled away.

“I don’t need help,” she protested. “Or pity. Or charity.” She seemed stressed and frustrated. “If I wanted your sympathy, I would have let you know.” Her voice was shaking. I felt slightly taken aback by this statement. Had I triggered something to set Night off? Night saw the questionable look on my face and sighed.

“I’m sorry, Sin,” she muttered, a look of guilt on her face. “I can’t tell you what’s wrong right now, but I don’t want you to worry about it.” She glanced sideways. She looked tired and pale, like she hadn’t gotten enough sleep. “I’m sorry I lashed out at you. It’s just...all my life, people have pitied me. I used to be treated like a starved, pathetic animal.” She heaved a sigh, an irked look on her face. “I don’t want that kind of treatment anymore.” I nodded. I wanted to believe her, but I felt like she was hiding something. But I didn’t dare mention that to her.

“I’m sorry too, Night,” I said to her. This time I felt sincere. “I’m sorry that I set you off. I didn’t mean to--” Night cut me off by holding her finger up to her lips.

“Don’t say sorry,” she insisted. “The last thing I want to see is you upset or sad because of me.” When I said nothing in reply, she leaned forward and kissed me. I let her. I was so tired and I wanted to go to sleep. Night was just like a dream. I never wanted to wake up from it. I was scared that if I did, I would lose her. I didn’t want her to be sad either. I loved her, but I didn’t have enough courage to say it. I was falling in love, but I didn’t want to realize it.

“Good morning, you two,” I heard someone say. Night and I pulled back suddenly to find Naoto standing in the entrance in the cave. She grinned wryly.

“Well,” she said, “At least I know what you were up to, Night,” Naoto teased. She laughed at the sight of Night blushing.

“Inigo’s waiting for us over at the village,” Naoto said to Night. “We’re really lucky that the people of the village are letting us stay there.”

“We have no shortage of luck,” Night muttered, standing to her feet and helping me up. I tried walking, but stumbled and feel against her shoulder.

“Oh, that reminds me,” Naoto said, fishing through her coat pockets, “I told the village elders about your injury, and they gave me these.” She truimphantly pulled two wooden braces and a roll of bandages out of her pockets. “Let me see…”

Before long, Naoto had finshed tying the bandages and securing the braces on my legs. The wood was sturdy and felt stable, but they felt strange and uncomfortable when I walked.

“You’ll get used to the braces,” Naoto insisted. She scanned us over, as if marking off a checklist. “Right, we’re ready to go,” she said, then she led us out of the cave.

It was pretty windy and hard to see. I tightly folding my arms across my chest to keep the cold away and continued to get used to walking again. The snow swept around us in a flurry of white dust. I could feel my boots sink deeply into the thick and icy snow. I couldn’t see much in my line of sight besides a couple of snow-covered pine trees dotted across the landscape. Naoto was trudging ahead of me, and I saw her point forward.

“It’s just up ahead,” she told us. “Just a little bit farther.” Sure enough, when I looked ahead, I saw that we were heading straight towards the wall of a cliffside.
“What’s this?” I asked in confusion, turning to Naoto in confusion. But Naoto was not fazed. She gestured us towards her and pointed to a boulder that was leaning against the wall.
“Help me push this aside,” she instructed. Night and I walked over and helped her push the heavy, snow-coated boulder aside. Pushing the boulder aside revealed a hole, just big enough to crawl through. Naoto grinned, got down on her knees, and crawled through the hole. Within a couple seconds, she disappeared. Night and I followed suite.
The hole turned out to be a tunnel. It was dark and slightly claustrophobic. I could hardly see a thing. I was about to ask Night if she was still there, when suddenly her voice rang out within the tunnel.
“Do you see that?” she asked, probably adressing Night and I. “There’s a light a little farther up ahead.” I strained my neck forward and saw a pale blue-ish light up ahead. I let out a small exhale of relief, knowing that the tunnel wouldn’t go on forever.
We were greeted with a blast of fresh air as we emerged from the stuffy tunnel. The first thing I noticed was the snow. It was no longer thick but felt powerdy, and the harsh wind was no longer blowing. I got up from my hands and knees and brushed the snow off, but when I looked up, the sight that I was greeted with was breathtaking.
In front of us, there was a frozen landscape. A still and sparkling waterfall and pond. The trees sagged with the weight of powdery snow. Glistening icicles hung from white-covered ledges.
“Woah,” I breathed, enticed by how beautiful the frozen land looked. Naoto looked fondly at it.
“Isn’t is amazing?” she said. “When Inigo and I went through the tunnel the first time, Inigo kept on asking ‘Is this a dream?’ I had to keep telling him not to pass out on me.” She let out a small laugh. Suddenly a thought struck my mind.
“Naoto,” I said to her, “This tunnel looked really hidden. How’d you find it?” Just then, I saw a figure emerge from behind the trees. He was dressed in black and had brown hair that had been cut short. He had sharp, piercing eyes. There was something about his gaze that made me uncomfortable. Naoto snapped her fingers.
“Oh! I forgot to tell you,” she said to Night and I, “Sin, Night, this is Markel. We met him wandering close by our cave. He said he was returning from a journey. He’s a traveling priest. He’s just like Walter: he’s trying to find an escape. He’s going to be a huge to help to us. He also told us to speak to the village elder for guidance., and guide us up the mountain.” Markel nodded at us.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said to us meekly. His voice was deep and rang out in the silence like a hollowed-out tree.
Naoto pointed at a trail on a snowy hill. I looked up at the hill. It seemed to spiral up and up. Whatever was on the top of the hill was blocked by the deep purple clouds I saw when I first arrived in Silverwood.
“The villiage is up there,” Naoto told us. Night looked concerned. She was staring at the clouds. Naoto followed her gaze, and gestured towards the hill.
“C’mon, we’ve got to start climbing. They’ll explain everything to us once we reach the top.” Night and I exchanged glances before following Naoto and Markel up the mountain.
From below, everything seemed frozen. Not just its looks, but in time as well. The wind wasn’t blowing, the trees’ branches weren’t moving in the slightest, and the powder snow did not fly everywhere when we trudged through it. In fact, it felt so calm and tranquil as soon as we emerged from the musty tunnel. Time, in this place, had stopped. We were the only ones in this place that were moving.
But as we kept climbing the cliffs, the air became more wild. By the time we climbed so we couldn’t see the bottom, the winds were lashing out at me. My hair, although tied back, whipped around violently in front of my face. I couldn’t see a thing. I kept trying to brush my hair out of the way, but it didn’t help anything. Suddenly I faintly saw Markel turn his head and see me trying to get my hair out of my face.
“You must cut it!” He shouted over the winds. I stopped and looked at him.
“What?”
“Your hair is being a nuiscance to your line of sight! You will never make it up the mountain this way!” I self-consciously lifted my hand and wrapped my fingers around my red tufts that were tied back. “If you continued to keep your hair this way, you would surely cause yourself death from blindness!” I let out a huff of frustration. Who was he to tell me what to do?
“Fine!” I shouted towards Markel. He quickly plunged his hand into his black habit and pulled out a stone knife. He passed it to Naoto, who handed it to me. I frowned at the knife. I didn’t want to have to do it, but I decided I’m not that selfish. I carefully lifted my hair up and with a quick swipe of the knife, cut my hair.
Nineteen years worth of growing out my hair, tumbling down the depths below. I probably looked like a different person with my hair cut short. I felt the back of my head. Just as I thought. I sighed.
“Right!” Markel said. “Now, let us continue onward!” As the rest of us moved on, I silently greived over my loss. The last good thing from the past I had clung onto had disappeared from me as well.
I had lost everything. I felt tears slowly slide down my face.





---

After all of our climbing, I finallly felt the winds die down. I sighed in relief. My legs were aching so much. The braces only made it more uncomfortable to walk. I felt them shaking violently as we reached the top.
“Here we are,” Naoto said, “Sin, Night, welcome to Anui village.”
As we climbed onto the surface, we looked all around. There was huts doting the landscape as well as trees. The mountains close by streched up to further surfaces, like bridges leading to other parts of the village. I turned my head to look how far we had climbed. I gasped.
I could see all the mountains dotted with snow below us. The sky was a clear blue (except for those strange purple clouds) and it was truly breathtaking. I had no words.
“Beautiful, huh?” Naoto asked, walking over to where I was. “The people who founded the village isolated themselves up here in the highest points of SIlverwood for spiritual training. Apparently, they aren’t apart of this world. They told Inigo and I that they come from the same world as we do.” I looked over at Naoto.
“So other people have been trapped in here?” I asked. “Like us? Like Walter and Toby? Why?”
“Nobody knows,” Naoto sighed. “There have been hundreds of people trapped in this world with no way out. Sin, do you think this’ll have an affect on the real world?” I paused and though about what was going on in our world.
Was it exactly the same before we got sucked into the world? Did the people continue to live their lives the way it was, before Jila died. A shudder suddenly racked my body. I hadn’t thought about Jila for a long time. I still had no idea how she died, and it was unsettling. When I saw her body on the floors of the palace, the gashmarks on her looked like something that a monster would do, not a human. They looked like clawmarks. Blood was everywhere, even on the walls. Then suddenly, a thought hit me.
Jila’s husband left her after she had a miscarriage. But when I came back to the palace after I heard she was attacked, she told me that Triss was her only child.
Jila lied to me. I couldn’t believe it. Why would she do that? I thought about Triss. The monsters had taken her away. Why? Who knows? All I knew that Jila was hiding something from me all along, and that Triss was in greater danger than ever. I had to find her before…
“Sin!!” Naoto was shaking me by the shoulders. “Sin! Listen! We found Celia, Walter and Toby!” I looked over at her stupidly.
“What?” Not waiting any longer, Naoto grabbed my hand and pulled me over to one of the large huts. Its door had a exorcism seal painted over it.
“The villigers found them finally,” Naoto said, relieved. “We’re lucky that they’re still alive.” She firmly pushed the door open and yanked me inside. Sure enough, Celia was inside the hut, laying on a canvas bed. Sitting next to her was Inigo, a bandage covering half his head. Night was on the other side of the mat. I quickly ran over to Celia and kneeled beside her.
“She’s not seriously wounded,” Inigo reassured me. I sighed in relief. Celia looked at me a smiled.
“Sin, you cut your hair,” she remarked.
“So?” I muttered, running a hand through my hair.
“It looks good like that.”
“Celia says she’s fine,” Night said, walking over to where I was sitting. “The villigers said that she had passed out and that Walter was carrying her here. He needed to be bandaged up.”
“What about Toby?” I asked. Night glanced at Celia, who looked away. Everyone suddenly fell silent.
“Night,” I repeated, beginning to feel panicked, “Where’s Toby?” Night shook her head. I could see the pain in her eyes.
“Toby...was attacked by monsters,” Night muttered under her breath. “He has a serious head wound. The wound was bad, and he didn’t make it through the night.” I felt my heart drop. Out of all of us, it had to be Toby. Sweet, kind, caring Toby who was more than willing the treat our wounds. An image of him came to my mind, laying on a mat, bandages wrapped around his head, his eyes closed forever. Laying peacefully on the canvas, his skin pale and cold. His arms resting carefully at his side. As if he was asleep. He was gone forever, and he didn’t even deserve it. I felt the sting of hot tears well up in my eyes. I felt powerless, like there was nothing I could do.
“No,” I whispered under my breath. ”Not Toby…” Suddenly, I turned heel and stormed outside into the cold.
“Sin, wait!” I could hear Inigo call after me. But I kept on walking. Walking to God knows where. I was trapped in this world with no way out. I stumbled in the snow and fell to my knees, but I no longer cared.
I let the numbness of the cold take over. I felt as if there was a wild fire swelling inside me. A lump gathering in my throat. A burning, familiar anger that I had always felt in my days when I was young and stupid. Powerless. Useless. Coward. I brought my fist up into the air and slammed it down into the snow.
“DAMN YOU!!” I screamed at the world. I yelled at the top of my lungs for everyone to hear. “ARE YOU HAPPY NOW THAT YOU’VE TAKEN EVERYTHING FROM ME?!!” I let my head fall forward into the snow and started sobbing. I let myself slowly break down. Fate was laughing at me. Fate had taken things from me I could never get back. It was pointless now. Fate would take me next.
I heard the crunch of boots in the snow as Inigo kneeled beside me. He rested his hand on my shoulder.
“Why’d you do it, Inigo?” I sobbed. “Why did you and Celia ever decide to save this self-pitying idiot?” Inigo sighed.
“Because the world isn’t as bad as you think,” he replied. “It would be a selfish thing to do if you took your own life, Chase.” I cringed at the sound of him using my real name. “Think about your friends. Think about Night. She loves you, do you know that? She’d walk to edges of the earth with you.” I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. I started to cough, tears pouring down my face. There was no end to them. Inigo reassuringly rubbed my back as I continued to cough, but he kept speaking.
“This world isn’t as cruel as you think it is. There are people who love, respect, and care about you. Can you imagine what would happen to them if they left you?” I finally was able to stop coughing. Inigo pulled me to my feet.
“You’re tired,” he said to me. “Come on, you need rest.”

At first, I was at home.

I was laying in a bed, being stirred by the familiar smell of my mother’s food. I strained to open my eyes, and I thought I saw her.

My mother, standing over the kitchen counter, making breakfast. She was busy, as always. She had an apron tied around her waist, and her hands wrapped in cloth. Her long dark hair was tied back. Her hands were quick and didn’t stop moving around. She glanced over her shoulder when she heard me sit up. She smiled at me. That familiar smile made me want to cry. She quickly walked over to where I was.

“How do you feel, Chase?” she asked me, gently brushing my hair away from my forehead.

“Tired,” I muttered. Truthfully, the smell of the food she was making had woken me up.

“Go back to sleep, then,” she said in her soft voice. Suddenly, I felt myself drifting away from her. I wanted to stay with her, but my vision of her smiling face was slowly fading. I could feel myself drifting back to consciousness...

I could see two blurry figures hunched over me. They wore tattered robes and were holding bowls of medicine. I tried to speak to them, but my lips were cracked and dry. I felt like my body was burning up.

“Water,” I rasped, my voice barely a whisper. My head was pounding and I felt like it would split open at any minute. I closed my eyes to get rid of the pain, but I drifted back to sleep again.

The next time I woke up, I no longer had the headache. I sleepily opened my eyes and saw a bowl of water next to a plate beef and rice. My mouth began to water. I had not eaten in a long time, and it smelt so good. Maybe the smell of the food woke me up.
I sat up, reaching for the water first, and finished it all in one gulp. I then picked up a spoon laying next to the food and shoved a ton of beef and rice in my mouth. I sighed in relief. It felt like I had never eaten before. The beef was thick and plump and had some sort of sweet sauce poured all over it. I savored it. Just then, all of a sudden I heard a soft knock on the door. The doors then creaked open, and Celia walked in with a tray of medicine.
“Sin! You’re awake!” Celia said gratefully, setting the tray down and rushing over to me. “How are you feeling?” I shrugged, unable to speak since my mouth was full of food. I hastily swallowed it.
“How are you?” I asked, remembering what happened yesterday. What happened to Toby...I shook the thought away.
“I’m...okay,” Celia muttered. “You weren’t there to see, Sin, but Walter and I were emotional wrecks when we figured out what happened to Toby. We weren’t quick enough to get to Toby when he was attacked by the monster. We didn’t even see what the monster looked like.” Celia took a deep breath. “We traced the blood in the snow and we found him. Walter and I carried him until the villigers found us. They said it was too dangerous to be out in the open with demons running rampant.”
“Demons? There wasn’t any demons from where we were,” I said to Celia, confused.
“Sin, did you see those purple clouds?” she asked. I nodded. “Apparently, those clouds are where the demons are attracted to. It’s like drawing moths to a flame. The villigers say something pure evil is brewing in those clouds, and that if it doesn’t get stopped soon, then…” Celia stopped and shook her head. “The chief elder of the clan will explain it all to us.” she took hold of my arm. “Can you stand?”
To my surprise, I could. I noticed that I wasn’t wearing my braces any longer. My legs were wrapped in bandages. The villiagers had healed our wounds. Celia handed me a coat and led me far up the villiage’s path, until we reached the biggest hut. She pushed the door open and led me in.
Inside the hut, there was scrolls and wreaths hanging on the walls as well as paintings, gongs, and vases. It looked strange and cluttered. In the center sat a small container of incense. I noticed that everyone was sitting in the hut as well. Inigo, Naoto, Night, even Walter. There was also someone who I did not recognize. He looked old and hunched-over. He wore a eccentric-looking monkey mask on his balding head and he clutched a cane. This must be the chief elder, I thought to myself.
“So, you have all arrived,” he said, his voice scratched and old. “Have a seat,” he said to Celia and I, gesturing towards the cushions on the floor. We sat down.
“Now young lady,” he said to Celia, “Have you told him about the purple-tinged clouds?” Celia nodded. “Good. Now, I believe you all deserve an explanation on why you were summoned to this world. Let me tell you everything.”
“In our universe, we live in two different worlds. Our world is the human world, the world with human comforts and sources. But the other world is home to demons.” I shuddered at the word demons.
“We don’t mention demons in our world,” Walter muttered. The chief elder nodded.
“You are aware of the story of demons, yes?” We all nodded. Everyone knows the story. Once, there was a world were humans and demons walked the same ground. But they became enemies when the humans and demons fought over land and sources. The world was full of chaos until a prophecy was created: a group of warriors chosen by the Gods vanquished the demons and banished them into another world full of darkness. The demon world, as described in stories, was a living hell on earth. So then the humans had their own world, and they created a new philosphy, a new God, and a new civilazation. But the prophecy foretold that one day, the demons would rise from the ashes, and the apocolypse would take place.
“But what the story does not tell you is that there is a certain area in between those two worlds. A world that has both humans and demons. This world however, should not exist. This is the world we are trapped in. It is the key link to the demons rising up again and invading the human world. There was once a balance between good and evil, but now there is no balance.” The chief turns to Inigo. “Young man, are you aware of the ancient gods?” Inigo nods. “Who is the goddess of balance and purity?” Inigo rubs his temple thoughtfully, then recites out of memory.
“Taraquin, the scale goddess,” he replies. “According to literature, she was the one who balanced out the two worlds evenly.”
“Yes, excellent,” the chief said, nodding. “And who was Taraquin’s guardian?”
“Rilla, goddess of time. They ran the balance together, but then Taraquin was stolen into the demon world, and Rilla was murdered.” Inigo says as if reading from a book.
“Yes, exactly,” the chief says. “When Rilla was murdered, the time cycle went awry.”
“Cut to the chase, old man,” Walter growled suddenly. “We don’t have all day.” Celia shot him a reproachful look which silenced him right away.
“Since time could no longer be created, instead the same events were looped, only with different people.” The chief explained. “In other words, our world is going through a time loop. The only way to stop the demons from taking over our world and breaking the time loop is to destroy the demons who captured Taraquin.” The chief stands up. “Come with me,” he says. We stand up and follow him outside. He walked over to the edge of the cliff and pointed to a huge mountain, much bigger than anything else. I remembered seeing it off in the distance. The purple clouds swarmed all around it. I felt nervous standing so close to it.
“Whatever...or whoever resides in this mountain is the one summoning all demons,” the chief says. “The only ones who can stop the demons once and for all are the prophesized warriors.”
“But how?” Night muttered. “Didn’t you say that they could only be chosen by Gods or Goddesses?” The chief looked at her.
“My dear girl, this is where you come in,” the chief said to her. When he saw the confused look on her face, he continued to speak. “Don’t you see? You have been chosen by the Gods to break the time loop and put an end to all evil. You are the warriors.” I looked at everyone, who had baffled looks on their faces. “Come here, young man,” the chief said suddenly. I turned back around.
“Me?” I asked. He nodded. I walked up to him.
“Give me your hand,” he instructed. I held out my palm. He withdrew a knife and made a cut in my palm. I winced, watching a tiny bit of blood ooze out and fall onto the snow ground. The chief then took his cane and drew a large circle with all sorts of complicated patterns and writing in the center. He then clapped his hands together and muttered some sort of prayer. My thoughts on what he may be doing was interrupted by a loud flash of light that knocked us back.
“Don’t look away from the light!” The chief yelled. “Look into the light’s center!” Even though I was shielding my eyes, I looked into the light as best I could. I saw the light take shape into a figure- no, a sword. As the light died down, I looked into the center of the circle.
There, I saw a glistening katana. It had a blue handle with tiny silver symbols painted on it. It kept shining, even though the sky was dark with purple clouds. It was just like a piece of artwork. I suddenly heard a gasp from Naoto. I turned around, and I saw that she was holding a jade-green katana. She was not the only one with a weapon. Inigo was staring in disbelief at a golden shield, Night held a new set of dual blades, Walter had received a long and pointy silver cutlass, and Celia was gazing in shock at a long, curved majestic bow and a new quiver of arrows.
“These weapons have been made with the breath of the Gods,” the chief said. “Great warriors, will you rise once again to defeat evil?” I looked over at my friends. What would I do without them? I would have no one to talk to, no one to support me. I knew that we had to do it. For them. For everyone. I reached down to the katana and picked it up.
“Yes,” I said confidently. I turned to them and grinned. “Ready to save the world?”

O great heroes, grant us one last wish in our final hour! Give us hope and strength within our desperation, and guide us back to the light!

Those were the last words I heard the chief elder say before he whisked us away to the tallest mountain. With a wave of his staff, he had transported us there. I felt the chilly snow on my skin. I looked up and saw the ominous mountain towering over us. The purple clouds were closer than ever. As I peered closer at the clouds, I could’ve sworn I had seen some thing big swirling inside of them.
I could see little black blobs swarming towards the clouds. The way they drifted across the sky reminded me of how tadpoles swim in water. The blobs darted across the murky clouds and attached themselves to the clouds. A shudder racked my body. I could feel a sudden coldness overtaking me. Negative energy, everywhere. Staring at the mountain, I took a deep breath, and walked in. Without another word, I was joined by my friends.
The mountain was so dark I could hardly see, but soon my eyes adjusted to the darkness. But it didn’t feel the regular kind of darkness that appeared in the absense of light. This darkness was moving and alive. Squirming and chattering. They swirled about us and formed into little blobs, but darted away from us when we walked too close. But the blobs trailed after us as we climbed up a steep, crumbling ramp that spiraled upward. Besides the chattering darkness blobs, the mountain was dead silent. It was nerve-wracking.
“This darkness is like a disease,” Celia observed, watching the hundreds of blobs float by. I turned to face her.
“You’re probably right.” I glanced downward and saw Night leaning against the side of the wall, shaking all over. I immediately walked over to her. The closer I got, I noticed that she was sweating, even though the mountain was cold.
“What’s wrong?” Inigo asked worredly. I pointed to Night. Celia immediatly ran down the stairway.
“You should keep going,” Celia told Inigo. He nodded and led Walter and Naoto up to the ramp’s flight. I turned my attention back to Night, whose whole body was shaking. Celia attempted to brush her hair aside, but it was stuck to her forehead from her sweating. “Night, we only have a little more to go.” Celia tried to comfort her, but she sounded urgent. Night shook her head, her breath coming out in ragged gasps. I glanced to Celia as if to ask ‘what’s wrong with her?’ but Celia just shook her head in confusion, tears threatening to spill out of her eyes. Even she was lost. I had never seen Night act like this before, and it was starting to scare me.
“Sin…” Night rasped. “You should just go…” I could see the pain in her eyes.
“Are you crazy? Night, why are you even acting like this?” She shook her head, shaking violently again. She pointed to the topmost flight that the ramp led to.
“Up there…” she choked. “I’m sorry…please. Please.” I was now beginning to feel genuinley scared. Night’s eyes were clouded and distant, as if she were somewhere else entireley. She suddenly sunk to the ground, clutching her shoulders and sobbing. Celia looked over at me in fear.
“Don’t make me go up there!!” Night cried out. Her voice sounded strangeled and raw. I knelt down, grabbed Night by the shoulders and slapped her across the face. She focused back at me in shock.
“Stop, Night,” I said, urgently shaking her by the shoulders. “Stop scaring us. You need to come up with us, alright? So stop acting so strange!!” She gulped, but didn’t move. “Fine.” I muttered. “I’ll carry you up.” I grabbed her and scooped her up into my arms expecting her to feel heavy, but she was surprisingly light. Night said nothing. She just wrapped her arms around my neck and remained limp and still. Celia led us back up the ramp.
When we reached the top of the ramp, we arrived at an old rotting door. Night suddenly started shaking more than ever. Celia walked over to the door and tentatively pushed it. It let out a low creak as it slowly opened. We walked into the room.

The room that was greeted before us seemed very strange. It was hollow and blank, save the crude and strange drawings scrawled across the stone walls. All around us were unlit candles, presumably burnt out. The room was gigantic, but not a single piece of furniture was there. I looked and saw Walter, Inigo, and Naoto examining something on the rough stone floor. Still carrying Night, Celia and I joined Inigo.

“What’s this?” Celia asked, tracing the red traces on the ground. Inigo peered at them with an intellectual look on his face. He stood up, and motioned for us to do the same. He then pointed to the red traces. Looking up, I saw that it was a huge, red circle. I had never seen it before.

“It’s an exorcism circle…” Inigo muttered. “For sacrificing spirits and demons.”

“Why is it here?” Inigo sighed and shook his head.

“That’s what I’d like to know. Naoto and I searched the whole room, looking for any other places, but this is the only room.” Suddenly, I heard a loud BANG. Everyone jumped and turned around, only to find that the door that was at the entrance previously was gone, replaced by stone.

“No…” Walter muttered, running up the stone wall. “No, no...damn it, we’re trapped!! How’re we gonna get out?!” But then, before we could react, a beam of light started to emit from the exorcism circle. I spun around. The light was growing stronger and stronger. Night gripped onto me even tighter, and she was shaking once again. I realized that the light was reaching closer to Night and I.

“Sin!” Inigo yelled. “Get away from the circle! It’ll devour you if you stay near it!” I tried to turn away and run, but I felt hands burst out from the circle and seize me by the ankles so I couldn’t move. Inigo and the rest bolted up to me, but they were repelled from a barrier of light. Night and I were trapped, being pulled into the circle. I then saw more hands rise from the circle and pull at Night. They were trying to take her away from her away from me. Night let out a whimper and gripped me tight. The hands were gripping me too.
They were scorching me. I felt like I was on fire, but I couldn’t yell for help. My voice wouldn’t work. It was the worst pain I ever felt. I could feel the fire surging under my skin, inside my head. I was being overtaken by white-hot pain, but I held Night close as hard as I could. It was too much. I heard Night let out a scream, then everything went black.

When I opened my eyes, I no longer felt the seething pain. I looked around me.


I was in a grassy field. The sky was a vast and endless blue, and I could feel the wind blowing across my face. I grinned. So, this is what freedom feels like. I take a few steps, and I’m surprised that the familiar pain in my legs is gone. In fact, I can’t feel any sort of pain. I feel like I can run a thousand miles. I take a couple more steps, then even more. Before long I find myself running across the field, laughing. I suddenly stop in my tracks when I see a lone figure, not quite far off in the distance. She turns, and I’m finally able to see her.

“Night!” I call out, smiling. “I was looking for you!” I walk up to her and hug her tightly. She smiles back at me. “We should go back. The others are waiting for us.” She shakes her head. My smile fades, and I let go of her. “Why not?”

“I’m sorry, Sin…” she says, smiling sadly. “I should have told you this a long time ago...when you and I were dragged into the exorcism circle, it made such an impact on me that...I disappeared from this world.”

“That’s impossible! Inigo said that exorcism circles only take interest in demons and spirits!” Night grinned again. She lifted her arm up towards the sky and pulled down her sleeve.

Her arm was see-through.

My breath caught in my throat as I stared at her see-through arm. I looked down at her, and it seemed like her whole body was faded, like an old photograph.

“The truth is…” she whispered, glittering tears falling down her face, “I died. A very long time ago. I flung myself into a river shortly after my mother’s death, and I just couldn’t take it. I didn’t want to visit my father and cause him pain, so I traveled far away from my home. I didn’t want anyone to know I was alive. Not the even people who tried to investigate my death.” She glanced up at me. “Ever since I met you, the hollow feeling I once had in my chest is gone. For the first time in all these years I’ve been gone, I’ve finally, finally felt free. And you helped me realize that. Inigo, Celia, Naoto, Walter...you guys are my real family.” She was still smiling, even though tears were rushing down her face. I felt a lump form in my throat, and I found it harder and harder to say something.

“You can’t,” I choked out, on the verge of crying.

“I’m sorry.” With that, I burst into tears. I was trying so hard not to cry, but it all went to waste. But Night didn’t seem to care. She wrapped her arms around me and stroked my short hair.

“I wish we could’ve met in a better time,” she whispered.

“I-I’m not crying!” I half-stuttered, half-sobbed. “I just have something in both eyes!”

“Don’t lie.” I started to cry even more. I cried until my eyes were parched and my head hurt. Night took hold of my hands.

“Feel better?”

“Hardly.” She still smiled. I could see that she was fading even more, almost dissolving. I couldn’t feel her hands, even though they were still holding mine.

“Please don’t go yet,” I stuttered. “I still have tons of things I want to say to you.”

“So do I.” The places where Night was dissolving was being filled with beams of glowing light.

“Night. Please.” She was no longer smiling. She took hold of me and hugged me, even though I couldn’t feel her. Just then, she leaned forward and whispered something in my ear.

“I remember now. My name is Tsubame.”

“I’ll remember that.”

“Thank you.” I looked at Tsubame. I could see now that she was fading fast. “I hope we’ll meet each other again…”

“Wait. You’re not going anywhere yet--” I suddenly siezed her by the shoulders and kissed her as deeply as I could, one last time. I finally pulled back.

“I think I’ll remember that forever,” she said jokingly, blushing a little. She hugged me one last time. But before she faded away, she whispered something to me.

“Can I tell you something? I love you, Chase.” And then she was gone. I felt the sting of reality come back to me. I covered my face with my hands and waited. Waited for someone something. Anything to take me back to her.

“We should have never met,” I whispered. “...I love you too.”

And then I faded back to the real world.

“Sin! Wake up!” I gasped and bolted upright, pain shooting through my entire body. I stared at my hands which were covered in cuts, some which were bleeding. I rolled up my sleeves and stared at my arms, which were covered in cuts as well.

“Oh my God,” Naoto gasped, rushing over to me. “Sin, you’re bleeding! What happend to Night?!” She grabbed me by the shoulders. I suddenly remembered.

“Night’s gone,” I whispered, burying my face in my hands. My voice was dry and raw. “She...she was a spirit, that’s why she was acting strangely when we were near the excorism circle.” Everyone fell silent.

“So…” Walter muttered. “Are you saying that Night’s...moved on? Like, as a spirit?”

I nodded. Unable to say anything. Celia kneeled down by the circle, muttering something that I couldn’t hear.

“What are you saying?” I rasped. She glanced at me.

“I’m sending a prayer to Night,” she explained. “She deserves one, after everything she’s been through.” I nodded and dragged myself close to the circle, and sent her a mental prayer.

I only knew her for a short time, but it was enough for me to love her. Please, send her to a better place. A place better then the hell she’s experienced.

Everyone took turns sending prayers, until we sat around the circle, gathered in silence. I glanced at Naoto, who had a stream of tears running down her face. I looked around the whole circle. Everyone seemed on the verge of crying.

“I hope she’s doing okay,” Walter admitted. Everyone turned to look at him. No one would expect Walter, as cold and intimidating as he was, to say something like that. He glanced up fiercly, glaring at us all. “What? I’m just trying to show some appreciation for her.” He stared at the ground. “She was a good friend, y’know? I wanted to look out for her. And y’know what, I don’t even care if this seems out of the ordinary for me. Because damn it, I miss her already. I hope...I really hope that she and Toby will have a good spot up in heaven.” Everyone sat in awe.

“You’re right, Walter,” Celia muttered. “We all honored her.”

After our moments of praying, Inigo pointed to the circle.

“Get away from there!” He urged us. We turned and found that the circle was glowing a strong yellow-gold. “The circle has its sacrifice, and now it’s going to awaken!” All at once, we shot away from the circle, just in time before something exploded out of it. I scrambled to my feet, but had much trouble due to the pain racking my body. Celia grabbed me and helped me stand up as I looked at the center of the circle.

A huge black blob had erupted from the circle and was growing by the second. Soon it grew big enough so it revealed a hole. I felt some sort of force pulling me towards the blob. Unaware that I wasn’t in control of my feet, I slowly limped over to the blob.

“Sin!!” Inigo shouted warningly. I paid no attention to him as I peered through the hole.

I could see a warped throne room, exactly like the one I saw in my vision. The hooded figures, the candles...they were all present. However, the most eerie thing about the twisted throne room was the figure standing in the center. The same faceless, hooded figure. I felt myself being pulled even further towards the entrance, oblivious to my other surroundings. This was the only thing that mattered…

“Sin!!! Stop, you’re being controlled against your will!” Inigo yelled.

This isn’t natural, I thought hazily as I stuck my arm into the black blob. Inigo was right, I couldn’t feel the weight of my actions. I felt drawn to this twisted and grotesque throne room and I had no idea why. I felt light as a feather. I wasn’t even sure what I was doing, and the thought of that made me start to panic.

“Grab him!” I could see Inigo and the rest make a run towards me and grab me by the arms. But then, I could see that they were being pulled into the blob’s abyss as well. I felt myself being enveloped by the dark as we were sucked into the blackness, and were envolped by a sound that sounded like air being released from a balloon.

“What’s going on?!” Naoto yelled over the loud sound. “Where are you guys?! I can’t see you at all!” I noticed this as well. I tryed to look around to find any signs of Inigo or Celia or Walter, but they were nowhere to be seen. I felt like I was falling, and that I would hit the ground at any moment.

“Naoto!” I yelled. “Grab onto my hand! I don’t want to lose sight of you!” Naoto, who seemed to be drifting towards me, grasped my hand as we fell into the nothingness.

Then suddenly, the falling stopped. We could feel the unexpected coldness as the black hole spat us out onto the ground. Luckily I had not lost sight of Naoto, since she was still gripping my hand. I looked up and saw that we were in the throne room, only there was something there that I had not seen before.

There was a flight of stairs that led to a platform. On this platform was, what seemed like, a giant blue crystal, which was supported by some mechanical device that was shooting electricity into it. But in this crystal was…

“Triss!” I yelled. I quickly helped Naoto up, then I bolted up the steps as fast as my legs could carry me. I ran over to the crystal and banged on it with my fist. Sure enough, Triss was inside it. Only there was something strange about her. When I peered closer, I realized that she appeared older in age. Older from the last time I saw her, and more mature-looking. “Triss! It’s me!” I shouted again, desperate for her to recognize me. Her eyes were open, but she had an empty look in her eyes. So distant and blank, I had a dreadful feeling that she couldn’t see me. She just kept staring blankly ahead. I leaned my head up against the crystal.

“Please, Triss,” I whispered. “It’s me, why can’t you see me at all?” I suddenly heard footsteps and I whirled around. I saw that it was Inigo, Celia and Walter.

“Oh God…” Inigo muttered, rushing over to the crystal. “It’s Triss! What is she doing here?!” But before I could say anything, I heared an ominous and smug voice coming from the back of the throne room.

“So...I see that you’ve found her.” We turned and saw the cloaked figure from my vision. Just looking at him caused a shudder to rack my body. “I’m impressed. I didn’t think you’d be able to overcome all the little puzzles I made for you…”

“Who are you?!” I yell. “You’re the one who kidnapped Triss? The one who pulled us into this world? Why don’t you come up here and show yourself?!”

“With pleasure.” The hooded man sneered. “I suppose you deserve a reward for making it this far.” His words made a very familiar-feeling anger swell up inside of me. He walked towards us, and I felt my whole body go numb and cold like an icicle. I turned and saw Inigo had gone frozen as well. Just who is this guy? I thought. He was a stranger to me, but yet there was something so familiar about him. Before I knew it, he was standing before me, staring me down. He silently removed his hood that shrouded his face.

Behind the hood stood an old and worn face that, at first, I couldn’t recognize. He had a gray and tangeled beard growing from his face, and his eyes were a pale white that gave me the chills.

“I suppose you can’t tell who I am by looking at me, Chase.” He said my name like he was talking about a disease or a murder.

“How do you know my name, you creep?!” His mouth curled into a nearly-toothless smile.

“You did this to me, you brat.” I just stared at him with blank confusion. A look of anger flashed across the old man’s face. “You idiot,” he snarled, a very familiar look of rage glinting in his eyes. Suddenly, a brief memory darted through my mind, but it was enough to realize.

It was a short memory, but I remembered the same look of the old man, only being used by my father. Not my step-father, but my real father. The one that left when I was too young to protest. The same look that he would have on his face, almost constantly.

“No.” I breathed. It was all I could manage. Naoto looked at me and raised an eyebrow.

“You know him?” she asked. The anger clawed inside me.

“Naoto,” I muttered in a very low, quiet voice. “This...this is the bastard that calls himself my father. He grinned, as if to mock me.

“Very good.” He snarled. “I was worried that you wouldn’t catch on. You were always so slow.” He looked at all of us. “Well...I suppose I should explain.

“You probably don’t remember me very well, Chase. All you knew was that I, your...father, was a cheating bastard that cared more about his research than his own family...well, you were right about that. So this scum left his family in favor of uncovering the secrets of the old Gods. He was depressed and angry, but he never knew who to be angry at. He became so infatuated with his research that he drove himself mad trying to figure out ways to get close to the old Gods. That’s when he discovered this world, the world of demons. He wanted them to know that we was much more than a mortal, so the demons gave him a test. They said to him, ‘If you can steal the incarnation of Taraquin and kill her guardian, we will grant you the highest position of the demons. If you fail, we will eat you.’” He smirked and gestured towards the crystal where Triss was trapped in. “As you can see, I am being fueled by Taraquin’s power, and I will release all of the demons onto the mortal world.” He gave us a sinister smirk that gave me goosebumps. I glanced over at Celia, who was shivering.

“Are you saying that Triss is the old Goddess of balance…?” I growled. That would mean Jila was… He grinned again.

“Finally, you’re catching on. You however, had nothing to do with my plans. You were...just in the right place at the right time.” I felt myself go cold again. In a twisted way, it all made sense to me. Gash-marks on Jila that couldn’t be caused by another human-being. Triss disappearing after a monster invasion, my dreams about darkness and monsters, and us being summoned into this world. “Quite the coincedence, if you ask me. Unfortunatley, you’re a bit too late. Look.” He pointed toward the ceiling, and all of us look to where he was pointing.

The ceiling was replaced by a night sky, except the purple clouds that we saw in the distance were closer than ever. They swirled in the sky as the blobs and demons flocked towards it.

“With this Goddesses’ power, I can send all the demons in this world into the human world.” He sneered. “We’ll see how pretty your little heaven is after it’s been turned into a hell.”

“Why are you doing this?” Walter suddenly spoke up. “Why do you have so much beef against the human world?”

“You don’t understand, do you? The human world has caused me so much pain. And the demons...they give me sympathy, unlike the filth that I used to be apart of. Why do you even care for your world of humans? What good have they done to you?!” When he said this, he looked right at me. “They lie! They cheat and steal! They’ll turn their backs on you one day, and they won’t hesitate to kill you where you stand!!”

“That’s ENOUGH!” I turned suddenly to find that it was Inigo who said this. He stepped forward. “Have you ever given it any thought that the reason why humans don’t do anything good for you is because you’ve never done anything good for them? You’ve probably cheated someone before! Lied to someone! But...humans have good values too! They help others, they give support and they fall in love! Not every human out there is as bad as you think! That’s why…” -He took out his golden shield- “I disagree with your theory!!” Without warning, he flung the shield at the crystal.
The crystal shattered, and an unconscious Triss tumbled out. I quickly ran over to Triss and scooped her up in my arms. A piercing shriek suddenly emitted throught the room.
“YOU!” My father shrieked. “HOW DARE YOU DESTROY MY LIFE’S WORK!! ALL MY RESEARCH, GONE!!” He raised a clawed hand high up towards the ceiling. There was a flash of light, and lightning that seemed to take the shape of a spear appeared in his hands. He flung it towards Inigo. “DIE!!!”
It happened so quickly, I couldn’t do anything. The whole world was spinning around me and I was stuck in slow motion. The life drained from Inigo’s face as the lightning spear went right through him. I heard a scream, but I wasn’t sure who screamed. The world suddenly shifted back to normal as I bolted over to Inigo.
“No--” I gasped, falling to my knees. “Inigo, no! Please!!” Celia was at a loss for words, a look of terror on her face. Naoto let out a sob and with shaking hands, grabbed him by the shoulders. Inigo coughed and looked at me with distant eyes.
“Why are you so sad…?” he coughed, blood leaking from his mouth. “I...I can’t feel anything…”
“Shut up!!” Naoto sobbed, pressing her hands over his giant wound. Blood was everywhere. I looked away, feeling like I was about to throw up. I felt hot tears forming in my eyes. “Just shut up! Don’t you dare leave us now, you hear me?! Not like this…” She desperatley tried to stop the bleeding, but I knew there was nothing she could do. I looked at Celia, who was staring at the ground, her hands shaking.
“No...stop…” Inigo rasped, pushing her hands away. “This is what I want.” He turned to look at me. “Sin...do you remember when I told you when we first met...that the only thing I wanted to do in life was to obtain enlightment.” I stayed silent. He gave me a small smile. “Well, I found it. I’ve realized that...going on this journey with you, and meeting everyone here...has given me true enlightment. I got to help someone, and now I feel happier than I’ve ever been...”
“Don’t say anything,” Naoto sobbed. “You’ll make your wound worse.”
“I don’t care.” I could see the light in Inigo’s eyes fading as he reached out to clasp Naoto’s hand in his. I could see that his hands were shaking.
“Inigo, why aren’t you listening to me…?! Why can’t you can’t be still for one second?!”
“Naoto. I love you.” I stared at the ground as Naoto’s eyes widened. When I looked back up, I saw that Inigo’s life was truly fading out. “I...I had to tell you.” And then...the light in his eyes died out.
“Y-you...you idiot…” she sobbed, holding his lifeless hands tightly. “Why did you tell me now…?” I heard a noise to my right and saw that Walter had stood up and drew his cutlass.
“You...you coward! You bastard! Why did you do it?!” He yelled, blindly charging towards him and striking him with his weapon. My father fell backwards, and for a moment I thought that the blow had killed him. The first thing I had noticed was that instead of blood, a black tar-like substance oozed out of the spot where Walter had hit him. Instead of there being a gash, there was a black tear, like ripped clothes. He suddenly wheezed a horrible, scratchy laugh.
“Do you think--” he coughed up more black ooze “--That will do anything to me?!” He slowly stood up, oblivious to his torn wound. “Me, the demon lord?!” Clutching Triss, I immediatly sprung backward at the sound of his voice. We stared at him as he started to morph.
His eyes started glowing an intense red, and he threw both his arms towards the sky. We turned and saw that the purple clouds were churning faster than ever. I stared in fear as the blobs from before shot towards my father and swarmed around him, attaching themselves to his body. More and more of them flew out from the clouds and piled themselves on him.
He was being enveloped by darkness and eaten by demons. Eaten alive. I saw Walter shiver in disgust as my father became completely devoured until there was nothing left. Celia suddenly gasped. I turned and saw that he was growing bigger and bigger as the darkness swam through him. He was giant now. I looked at him and I realized that he was the figures in my nightmares, the mysterious colossus that I would run from in my dreams.
“Do you see me now?!” he roared, thrashing his giant arms towards us. We leapt backward. “Now you see my power!! I WILL CRUSH YOU!!!” Right then, the walls melted away from us. For a few seconds there was nothing but darkness swirling around us, then we were in a whole new place.
We were high up into the sky, too high up. I couldn’t even see the ground. The darkness blobs were swirling around us as well. The sky was a blood red, but the stars pierced through the sky. The wind lashed violently across my face. I shuddered. I felt like the floor beneath me was spinning out of control. Gently setting Triss down, I unsheathed my katana. Celia, Naoto and Walter drew their weapons as well.
“So...you wanna fight?” I muttered. “Fine.” I tilted my head towards the sky and yelled right in the face of the darkness that had been haunting me all these years. “BRING IT ON!!”

I immediatly charged towards him. He easily towered over me in size. He was a goliath. He drew back one of his behemoth hands and swung it at me, but at once I swung my katana. I instantly felt the blade connect with his wrist. He gave a huge shriek as his whole wrist fell to the ground. He continued to scream as he clutched his stump of a wrist. His black-tar blood gushed out from his wrist and sloshed everywhere. I ran backwards and grabbed Triss, feeling sick.

“Don’t touch the blood!” I called over my shoulder. “You’ll burn if you touch it!” They immediatly stepped back.

“Okay, Sin! Now’s my turn!!” Naoto called to me, bolting up to the monster and leaping up. Blinded with his pain, my father swung his gigantic fist into the ground, causing it to crumble and shake. I saw Naoto plummet mid-leap.

“NO! Naoto!!” I yelled. I looked around me. “Grab onto each other! He hit the floor, and now it’s crumbling!!” I clutched Triss tighter, and Celia grabbed Walter. Before I knew it, the floor gave out from underneath me, and I felt myself falling.






---

I felt like a dead weight as I plummeted into the seemingly never-ending sky. I desperatley searched for Naoto. Just then, off in the distance I saw the monster dropping out of the sky besides us. Just then, I saw that someone was gripping onto him. I looked and saw…

“Naoto!!!” I shouted. “Hold on!!” I turned to Celia. She nodded and fitted an arrow through her bow, aimed, and let it fly.

As we were still falling, I saw the arrow dart by at lightning speed and hit my father squarely in the eye. He screamed again, and advanced towards us, his eyes a piercing red. I saw the stray blobs advancing towards us as well. I saw a closer look at Naoto, who was hanging on for dear life.

“Don’t worry, I got this!!!” I heard Walter yell. Much to Celia’s protest, he let go of her, drew his cutlass and made a flying leap towards him. He grabbed my father’s bulbous neck and slashed him on the shoulder. He howled once more.

“Give me more!! I need MORE POWER!” he shrieked, and I saw more blobs float into him. Suddenly, I heard a very familiar voice ring in my mind. It was Izanami’s voice.

Sin. Now is the time! Raise your sword to the sky and finish off this incarnation of evil once and for all!!

I suddenly saw the blood-red clouds clear, and there it was. Shining like a beacon of light. The moon. I looked and saw our weapons glow golden once again.

“NOW!!!!” We sprung towards the monster, and Naoto sprung up into the air. We struck him all at once. As we struck the final blow, I saw Naoto shoot back down and cut his head off in one clean slice. Celia gasped and pointed up to the sky.

I saw that the moon was shining so brightly, the purple and red clouds of darkness were finally dissolving. They cleared away, and the sky turned into a deep blue. But to my shock, I saw that the ground was coming closer and closer to us, but then a pale blue light glowed around us, and we slowly came to a stop. I looked and saw that the light was emitting from Triss. When our feet touched the ground, I fell onto my hands and knees. I looked over to Naoto, who was staring at the ground.

“It’s...finally over,” she whispered. “We can finally go home!” Tears suddenly filled her eyes. “But...why don’t I feel happy at all…?” I walked over to where she was and hugged her tightly. She burst into tears.

“We’ll have a memorial for Night and Inigo when we get home. I promise.” I looked up and saw Triss standing over me. I immediatly shot up and grabbed her in a hug.

“Triss…! Oh God, I missed you so much…” I said. “Y-you have no idea…” She hugged me back. After awhile, she looked up at me with sad eyes.

“I know everything that happened, Sin.” I stared at her in disbelief. She sighed. “I know that you were trying to keep me from getting hurt. That you went to look for me. I know that...my mother was murdered when I was a baby. I learned everything.” I sighed.

“I’m...I’m really sorry,” I stuttered. “I’m sorry I kept so many secrets from you.”

“I’m not angry.”

“I promise I won’t keep any secrets from you when we get home.” Her smile suddenly faded, and she pulled away from me.

“I...I can’t go home…” she whispered, looking at me. I saw the tears in her eyes.

“H-huh?! Why…?” I couldn’t believe what she said. “After everything?”

“I have the power to send you back to where you came from. But I can’t come with you.” She stepped back and gestured to the scenery behind her, which was a peaceful field that was awashed in the moonlight. “What your father said was true. I am the goddess of balance, and my mother was the goddess of time. She ended up in the human world because she fleed from ours before I was born.” She glanced up at me. “Please, Sin. You’ve done so much for me already, so the greatest thing I can repay you with is sending you back to a world without pain. Without suffering.” She looked at Naoto. “A world where you can live in peace with someone.” She glanced at Celia and Walter. “A world where you’ll have a family that will never be torn apart.” She looked back at me. “I can repair your world. You can start over again. All of you. I can save Inigo from the dead. It’s not too late.” I took a deep breath, then I slowly walked over and hugged Triss for the last time.

“Alright, kid. Send us back.”

She smiled at me, even though her eyes were filled with tears. Right then, the scenery melted around us into white space. I reached out to Triss, but she was fading as well.

I’ll send you back. Back to your world.

The whole world around me was spinning. I closed my eyes and waited for it to end. Just then, I heard Triss’ voice for the last time.

Thank you, Sin. Thank you...and goodbye.

I could feel myself drifting back to my world. Back to my home.

I lived alone.

Well, that was one part of what happened afterwards.

I woke up alone, in what seemed like a park. It was autumn, and I could see the sun setting in the distance. At first, I couldn’t recognize the city. The city that had stolen my life away had disappeared. I looked around in awe. People were casually walking by me, oblivious to what I just seen. In fact, they seemed happier. The streets were clean, and everything seemed so...normal. A normal city which I had never seen. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I slowly stood up.

“Excuse me,” I asked a passerby. “Where...where am I?” It was difficult for me to speak. He raised an eyebrow.

“You don’t know? You’re in Linn City, the best city in the world!”

“I see. Can you tell me why it’s the best city in the world?” He gestured around.

“Many people call it the best city in the world. I’m surprised you’ve never heard of it before. It’s an incredibly peaceful city, with no rulers or governement or anything. There used be a line of emporers and rulers, but then someone ended up creating a new city, and demolishing the castle. The city is so much more peaceful and happy now because of him.”

“I see...who was that person?” He glanced at me.

“His name and appearance varies,” He said, furrowing his brow. “I believe he went by the name of Chase Allen.”

My heart skipped a few beats. “Oh. I see...thank you very much.”

“It’s no problem.”

Then that day, as I slowly limped out of the park, I realized it. Triss had used the last of her powers to send us home, and change the course of history. All for us. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I could feel an unfamliar happiness well up inside of me, and I welcomed this new happiness. I knew that Naoto, Celia, Inigo and Walter were out there somewhere.

That gave me more than enough courage to keep going. I welcomed this new life.






---
---
---

I had begun to lose my memories.

I lived alone, but I lived a peaceful life, and I was content. I had recorded everything about my journey, and what I had learned, but my memories became more and more hazy. I had a hard time remembering anything now.

One day, I couldn’t remember why I was writing this down. I started blanky at the paper that I stopped writing in mid-scentence.

I looked around me. Everywhere, I was surrounded by papers scattered across the floor. I blinked in confusion. I felt a gaping hole grow inside me, like I knew something was supposed to be there, but I just didn’t know what it was. Suddenly, I felt tears fill my eyes, and I started to cry. I couldn’t even fathom why. I couldn’t even remember who I was.

Chase. I’m Chase Allen.

I hurredly scrubbed at my eyes and turned back to the paper that I was writing on. I cleaned the papers up off the ground. I picked up the paper that had “one” labeled on the corner, and I read it.

My name is Chase. I’ve never told anyone about my full story, but I want to write it down before it’s too late. I don’t know if anyone will ever find this, but I want to share my whole story.

I spended up whittling the whole night away reading the papers. I was desperate to remember, to muster up some memory up who I really was. Then, I finally ended up with the page that I had stopped writing on. Determined to fufill my story, I quickly turned back to my table and wrote for the rest of the night.






---

I had dreams that night. Not nightmares, but dreams.

There were four figures standing in front of me. I felt overjoyed to see them.

“I miss you guys,” I said to them. They smiled at me.

“We’ll be fine, Sin,” the young lady with the blue hair said to me. She was holding hands with a man with glasses and twilight-colored hair. They seemed like a couple.

“We’re glad you remember us,” he said.

“I want to see you guys again, you have no idea.” I felt tears forming in my eyes.

“We want to see you again too,” the short-haired blonde girl said to me. She was standing next to a man who looked similar to her, and a smaller boy with the same colored hair as them. They looked like siblings. “But it’s thanks to you that we got to start over again, and we can’t thank you enough for that.”

“I didn’t do anything.” The man with the glasses stepped towards me.

“Sin, we promise that we’ll meet again.” He gave me a very familiar smile. My heart twinged. “Maybe not now, but definetley someday.”

“I’ll look for you guys.”

“There’s no need. We’ll come to you.” I nodded and smiled, letting the tears stream down my face.

“I’ll be waiting on you, then. Don’t take too long, okay? I miss you enough already.” They nodded and smiled.

“We promise.” Then they faded away. I could feel some of my memories returning to me, and the emptiness that I once had before was gone.

And then, I woke up.






---

I brought flowers to Jila’s grave the next day. The graveyard was old and peaceful, with a gentle fall breeze blowing through the trees. Not a soul to be seen. I could feel the soles of my shoes sinking into the moss in the cracked pathway. I was wearing the best suit that I could find for the occasion. I found her grave, kneeled down and placed the flowers at the foot of her gravestone. I hoped that she was proud of me.

I kneeled there for awhile, until I felt the breeze stirring, and the air grew damp. Looks like rain, I thought, placing the rest of my offerings down and slowly standing up. I casted one last look before leaving, but I heard a voice behind me.

“Oh, you’re visiting Jila’s grave, too?” I turned around.

Standing behind me was a young lady, around my age, clutching a bouqet of lillies. She was pretty, with soft light-brown hair drawn into a ponytail, and fair skin. Her wide blue eyes looked hopeful and friendly. A large hat was tugged over her head, presumably for warmth. She smiled at me.

“Well, I was just finish paying my respects,” I said to her. “She helped me out in a lot of ways.” She nodded, still smiling.

“I see...not many visit her grave, so I go there to tend to her grave every once and awhile.” She sighed. “Honestly, she seemed like a nice person, but I guess not many people liked her.”

“So you come here so she won’t get lonley?” I smiled at her. “That’s a nice thing to do.” She blushed.

“W-well...you know, I just felt like…” she stuttered, bashfully scratching the back of her head. “Y-yes, I guess you’re right. I don’t want her to get lonley…” she sighed. Just then, I saw something pinned on her sleeve.

A flower pin. My heart tripped over itself. Something clicked inside of me.

“That’s...a nice pin,” I remarked. She glanced down at her sleeve, where it was fastened.

“Thank you!” She grinned. “It was made for me, by someone very dear to me.” My heart ached. I wanted to run up her and hug her, but I kept myself rooted to the ground.

“Someone special, huh?”

“Yes.” I couldn’t take it anymore.

“You’re name doesn’t happen to be Tsubame, does it?” I blurted out. Her eyes widened in shock.

“That’s...how do you know my name…?” I felt my hands shaking. “Do I...do I know you?” I buried my face in my hands.

“Oh my God,” I muttered. “No, I can’t believe this…” Could this really be happening?

“A-are you alright?!” She rushed up to me worredly. I looked down her. I smiled at her, tears pouring down my face.

“I-I’m sorry,” I said, wiping my eyes. I held out my hand. “I forgot to introduce myself. Tsubame, by name is Chase Allen.”

Shocked, she took a step back from me. She shook her head.

“You’re not.”

“I am.”

“Oh my God…” she sobbed. “I...I thought I would never find you again.” She looked at me, and I felt like she was staring into my eyes. “Is it really you…?”

“Tsubame, can we start over again?” I smiled, blushing a little. “I missed you.”

She dropped her lillies and ran up to me, hugging me tightly.

“Oh my God…” she sobbed again. “God, I missed you so much!!” I smiled and let her cry into my shoulder.

“It’s alright,” I whispered, stroking her hair. “I’m not going anywhere.” She half-laughed, half-sobbed. “They promised me that we’ll see them again.” She looked up at me.

“We’ll wait for them, right?”

“Of course.” I smiled at her and ruffled her hair. “Um...Tsubame, do you want to...maybe, start over with me…?”

“Of course I do!” she replied, wiping her tears. “I love you, Chase!” I took hold of her hand.

“I love you too,” I said, overjoyed. “And...I promise I’ll take care of you, and we’ll wait for Inigo, Naoto, Celia and Walter to come back to us.” She smiled.

“I know you’ll take care of me,” she laughed. She then looked over at the graveyard’s exit, and gestured towards it.

“Shall we?”

“Of course.”

Holding her hand in mine, we walked out into the light together.



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