ONE young maiden was breathing heavily while she ran barefoot like a madman throughout the thick forest in the darkness. Turning to a sharp corner, Rinda continued to run as fast as her legs could carried her.
She should have known. God, she should have known better than not to doubt her instinct and better judgement when it comes to those two!
The anxious and bad feeling that had been there at the pit of her stomach, increased rapidly as time quickly passed by.
After her failed attempt to heal the wounded and deceased guard, Rinda had rushed outside to find Kazuo, hoping that he would be some sort of a help in the matter.
Unfortunately, her attempt of finding the older man was futile as the man had not been in his private chamber since they parted, minutes ago.
Wasting no time, Rinda decided to hold on her search for the ginger-blonde man and focused on to where Shinji was.
Rinda prayed nothing bad would happen to him at the very least and hoped that deep in her heart, Kazuo was already there to protect him.
After a moment of running toward uphill, finally, Rinda came upon an opened field that overlooked the rest of the town and the boarders beyond it.
There was lights－torches, she realised that lightened up the area. Rinda could hear voices, one loud one whom she recognised immediately, shouting at someone.
Walking toward the field as silently as she could, without been caught or heard, as she got closer, all the sudden, Rinda stopped walking. Her knees trembled as she stared widely at centre of the ring, were two figures shaded by the light from the torches－both whom she recognised, pointed their weapons at each other:
Shinji and Kazuo－long time friends and rivals.
For as long as Rinda could remember, those two had been the best of friends, brothers, partners and companions. Sure, they argued and made fun of each other a lot, but they also acted like real brothers and always be there at times of needs.
Yet, there were times when Rinda had to admit, she felt something was slightly amiss between them.
At first, Rinda had thought nothing of it and assumed they were just being themselves. It hadn't been until when the obvious was showing, Rinda had to ask someone about it. She went to the only person who knew more about them.
Shion had once mentioned to her despite how constant those two argued and throwing friendly insults at each other, there was a time when Kazuo bore a deep hatred toward Shinji for taking away something that was precious to him.
His hatred toward the young Prince was so deep, Kazuo could have killed him with his bare hands.
No matter how many times Rinda had begged him to tell her what had caused him to bear such hatred toward Shinji, Shion refused to tell her, for he was simply glad that their relationship had been restored and the two had be able to move on from their past.
Two men faced each other with their feet firmly planted on the ground. Each wielded their primary weapons. One was holding a modified gun, and the other held a silver skull necklace that transformed to a chained sickle.
“Kazuo. What is the meaning of this?” Shinji asked calmly. He had the taller man at gunpoint on the head.
On the other hand, Kazuo had the sharp edged of his chain sickle at the latter’s neck. His head would be rolling should he dared to make any drastic moves.
Mika had already drawn out the twin blades out from the scabbard. Even so, she knew better than to attack aimlessly when Shinji’s very life is on the line.
So she waited patiently, and observed the situation closely. Her eyes drifted from Kazuo to the man standing behind him, with a cocky grin.
“It is exactly what it looks like!”
Ralph’s loud voice disrupted the silence. “Shocked, Your Highness? You weren’t expecting the only person whom you’d trusted with your life, to betray you all these years now, were you?”
“I asked you a question. Answer it.” Shinji’s voice was more forceful this time.
Kazuo cracked a small smile. “Don’t take it personally... Your Highness.”
Mika couldn’t help it. She just couldn’t believe it! He seemed like a nice man when they'd first met earlier.
So why the sudden changes of air? Why would he...
“I see. In that case...”
Mika who had been standing behind him all the while, watching intensively as the two men exchanged words, suddenly felt something being thrown at her feet. Her eyes grew widened at the sight of Shinji’s favourite gun at her feet.
Turning to look at the man in question, Mika saw Shinji had his hands lifted in the air. His deep violet eyes stared at the man stoically.
Even Ralph, was taken by surprised and dumbfounded by the young Prince’s unexpected action.
“Shinji.” Kazuo tightened his grip on the chained sickle. “What the hell are ye doing?”
“I’ve made a vow to myself, should I were to die by anyone, it will be by your hands, Kazuo. If the time has finally comes for you to execute your revenge, then I will not stop you. However, I do ask of you to spare from killing my Apprentice. Mika has nothing to do with the past.”
“What?!” Ralph nearly screamed his head off. ”Who the hell do you think you are to demand anything at this point?”
Ignoring Ralph’s raged, Shinji continued.
"You and I both know Fulaina is in great danger. If nothing is done to prevent the Spirits from crossing over here, humanity will surely be perish. I have given a mission to stop the Spirits at any cost. However, as importance the mission is, I’ve taken an oath a long time ago that should the time has comes for my blood will finally be spill on the soil, it must be none others by your hands, Kazuo.”
Shinji turned his whole body around and locked his eyes with his Apprentice.
“No matter what happened to me, you must finish the mission, Mika. That is the reason why you are chosen to become my Apprentice.”
“That is an order." His voice was hard and cold. “Promise me.”
“Say it!” Shinji growled.
“Well, well, well! Had I known he would EASILY give away his life, I would have asked you to do it sooner, Kazuo!” Ralph laughed.
“What are you waiting for? Off with his head!”
“NO!” Mika and Rinda screamed horrendously.
They watched in great horror as Kazuo swung the sickle, readily to chop off the White Wolf Prince’s head off-
One by one, the loud sound of Ralph's henchmen cried painfully filled in the air.
Thud! Something fell over the ground and caught everyone’s attention.
“What’s going on here?” Ralph shouted in rage.
Another painful cried, followed by another as one by one, the henchmen fell down on the ground.
Something fast jumped down from the trees, and landed on the ground. In less than a second, a group of Warriors had Ralph and the last surviving members of his henchmen surrounded in the opened field.
“By the order from the Grand Elders, you Ralph, are no longer a member the Warriors. You will lose all rights to become the member of the Warriors. It has come upon the Elders’ attention that you’ve broken the Warrior’s Codes more than once. One of the felonies you’ve committed was an attempt to murder His Royal Highness Prince Shinji Karou and his Chosen Apprentice, Lady Mika. In regards, according to a convinced witness, you have also broken the Villager’s laws by secretly committed few more illegal crimes outside of Islez,” spoke the leader of the Warriors in an authorized voice.
He took a few steps forward toward Ralph and arrested him.
With arms now tied on his back, Ralph’s eyes never strayed away from Kazuo. His face was paled. His eyes filled with deep shock－and betrayed.
The look on his face, the unbelievable gaze when his eyes locked with his, caused Kazuo to look away.
The ginger-blonde haired man lowered his head. His eyes found the weapon on his hands fairly interesting at the moment. He didn’t wish to look up and to meet with the hurt and betrayal gaze of the man standing somewhere behind him.
Kazuo reminisced the scene earlier; His hands were actually trembled when he had wielded his weapon and took a swung at Shinji.
The thought of actually doing something like that to the White Wolf Prince shook him down to his very core. It had made his blood ran cold.
Even if it was just an act.
Letting out a sigh, Kazuo lifted his head. With a wary smile, he looked at the young Prince, who had lose all of his coolness and just stared blankly back at him. his forehead was damp.
His legs, Kazuo noticed, were slightly shaken.
“Making these lovely ladies worried about ye. What were ye thinking?” Kazuo whispered softly to him.
On the other hands, Rinda had her face covered with her hands. Tears were streaming down on her cheeks.
Earlier, when Ralph had shouted for Kazuo to kill Shinji, and when she had seen him wielded his weapon, readily to strike him down once and for all, her knees had given up to support her and she fell ungracefully on the grass.
Her heart cried out at losing the man she loved.
Kazuo smiled guiltily as he approached her, at the soft sobbing sound that echoed in the silence of the night.
“Rinda.” His voice was gentle as he called out to her.
Rinda lifted her head slowly. Tears still running down her cheeks like waterfall. She deeply frowned and in an instant, Rinda lunged herself at the tall man.
She grabbed his legs, the closest thing within her reach, and tackled him down the ground.
“YOU! What have you done to him?!” Rinda hit him hard across the face, before yanking his collar and shook him hard. “Why did you do it, Kazuo? WHY?!”
Kazuo said nothing. Instead, he pointed in the air at something, or someone standing a distance away from them.
Rinda moved from Kazuo to the person he was pointing at.
She almost stumbled forward when she saw Shinji still standing on his spot and looked very much alive.
Pinkish eyes then drifted from Shinji to the below her in question.
“It was just an act, doll. Did ye really think I would actually kill him? Honestly.” He sounded offended, but the smirk on his face told her otherwise.
“I-I don’t know...” Rinda finally confessed. “I don’t know what really happened between the two of you in the past. Every time I asked the Elders, they refused to tell me anything! I know at the very least, you harboured a deep grudge toward Shinji, but I don’t think you’d actually-”
“I would never hurt him.” Kazuo patted her head, with a small smile graced his lips. “So ye don’t have to worry your pretty little head over it. Okay? Promise.”
Rinda blinked her eyes rapidly. More tears began to pour out of her eyes. She gave Kazuo a good hit on his shoulders, causing him to laugh heartedly.
Mika and her companions began to head back to the village after the whole fuss was over. They were being escorted back home by the Warriors who captured Ralph and his fellow henchmen.
No one spoke a word. Each of them were occupied with their own thoughts.
Mika thoughts were filled with words Ralph had said earlier:
“He killed a man closest to his own heart! A man he’d often looked upon on!”
At first, Mika refused to believe what he had claimed Shinji to be － a murderer. She could not imagine he would be the type of man who killed someone for the sake of pleasure.
Mika remembered asking Suzumi once why he needed an Apprentice to protect him when he had the whole clan members to back him up.
“It’s because of his position. Being the leader of the Clan is not just about leading a Clan. It’s also putting your life on the line. The White Wolf Clan is a powerful Clan. As such, it means we have enemies who are after Shinji for the Clan. That’s when you came in, Mika. You being his Chosen Apprentice means that you have chosen to become his bodyguard－someone who will be closer to him than any Captains or members of the Clan, with an exceptional for the family members. No title is higher than to be close to the one who’s leading the Clan.”
An alarming alarm brought Mika back to reality from her deep thoughts when loud desperate shouts came from the most front where the captives were being held by the Warriors.
All hell broke loose when a handcuffed Ralph kicked and fists the Warriors who were heavily guarded him, broke free.
Even with his hands tied on his back, Ralph was incredibly fast on bringing down all of the Warriors to the ground using only his feet, in a minute or less. His martial art skills were both fierce and deadly.
Once the last member of the Warriors was killed, Ralph took a dagger from him and freed his hands. He pointed the dagger dangerously at Kazuo, who had rushed over to see what was the commotion all about.
“You son of bitch! You... You dared to betray me after all these years?! After all that he has done to you－taken everything away from you－KAI! Have you forgotten about you dead brother?”
“I haven’t forgotten about him.”
“Yet you’re still chose to side with this bastard who murdered him! Weren’t you the one who had come to me after his death and wanted to avenge his death? TELL ME!”
Kazuo frowned deeply. His eyes gazed locked on the man who threatened him with the bloody dagger.
Behind him, his friends were watching closely.
Shinji was watching.
“What the hell are you talking about you son of-” One hand gripped on Rinda’s arm before pulling her back to where she was, behind him.
Kazuo gave her a tiring smile. His eyes spoke with volume the words that his mouth couldn’t speak at the moment:
Stay out of this. Please.
The smile faded as he looked up to Ralph. “I’ve been doing lots of thinking about Kai’s death.”
Kazuo shrugged. “I’ve grown tired of it. All of it. ”
“It ain’t worth it, Ralph. Kai won’t have wanted it like this. He would have wanted us to live on and carry the legacies he’d left behind. Beside, Shinji didn’t intentionally killed him. He had to. He was forced to, in order to save Kai’s life, he had to end his life.”
“Don’t give me all those bullshits! The little boy who came to me on the night he was murdered, he was a soulless boy with dead eyes when he said he wanted to seek out vengeance against his best friend who had killed Kai! Admit it, deep down your heart, you still hate him and want him dead!”
“Enough!” Kazuo finally shouted in frustration.
His eyes filled with hatred and sympathy toward the ex-Warrior, as he glared at him.
Kazuo could never stand Ralph, though the man had once been a best friend of his belated brother. He was a brash, loud and unpleasant man. How did a man like him ended up becoming a good friend to his late brother, puzzled him.
Until now, he still failed to see what Kai had seen in him.
“Ye are the one who still won’t let go of the past, Ralph. I have.” Kazuo’s voice softened. “I know what I’ve said all those years ago. Vengeance against Shinji, wanted him dead, all those horrible things I’d said to ye about him, I still remember those words clearly.”
Kazuo sighed heavily.
“But that was years ago. Back then, my head was still fresh from his death. I couldn’t life without Kai by my side. He’s the only family I had left. I couldn’t accept the fact that my best friend was responsible for my beloved brother’s death. No matter how many times Suzumi or the Elders had tried to explain to me, I refused to accept it. But now that I’m older and wiser, I understood what they had been trying to tell me. Cause I’ve been in his shoes. I’ve been in Kai’s shoes. A lots of time, in fact.”
“What do you mean by that, Kazuo?” Rinda asked him.
Kazuo turned to face her again. He gave her the same smile he’d given her earlier.
“Rinda, do ye remember there were times when I’d left home for who know how many months? And when I do came back, there were always piles of money that I’d bought home? When ye asked where I got it from, I’d always, always shrugged it off and acted like it was nothing? Well, ta tell ye the truth, Princess, it was actually the money that I’d gained and earned from being a service to the White Wolf Clan. Whenever Shinji had to go somewhere far or dangerous places, the Clan would asked me to be his bodyguard. Of course, I’d kept telling them not to pay me, but then, they would always sneaked in some cash in my bag. In the end, I’d stopped telling them and just accepted as it is as part of the job.” He smiled at her.“Ye always nagged me to get a job and pay the bills after all. So why not?”
Before Rinda could speak, Kazuo turned his attention back to Ralph.
“Sometimes it was difficult. They, the enemies, were a lot stronger, faster and smarter. There were times when I’d almost lose him and my own life. But we’d managed to pull through somewhat. That’s when it suddenly came to me, ′Ah. This is what Kai must’ve felt each time he was on mission to protect Shinji.′No matter how hard it was, Kai always pulled everything together and made it back home safely. Except on that unfortunate day.”
Shinji who had been listening in silence, was shocked to hear about Kazuo’s confession. He tried to speak, opening his mouth and then closed it up again. But no matter how many times he tried, the words simply wouldn’t come out.
Shinji knew. He knew Kazuo still harboured ill feelings to him for what’d happened. What he didn’t know was how deep that feelings goes up until now. Despite the ginger blonde haired man had claimed that he no longer held a grudge against him, Shinji knew some things could never be forgotten.
“Kai’s death was not Shinji’s to be blamed. Kai died as an honourable man and a brave Warrior. That is what he should always be remembered as.”
TREE branches swung by the cool breeze as grey heavy clouds gathered in the skies. Not too soon after, the rain started to pour drizzlingly before a storm approaching them.
Ralph gritted his teeth with a shaking fist, the same fist that was holding the dagger and pointed it at Kazuo. He was shivering, either from the cold or from the words spoken to him by his deceased best friend’s younger brother.
Letting go? How does he expect him to let everything go after all these years? Kai’s dead!
The only person who had ever cared about him and the first to befriend him, the man who had truly see the real person beneath the intimidating mask he’d often wore to push people away, the man who had greatly encouraged and pushed him to lower down his defence and be more opened to other people is now dead all because of him!
If only he hadn’t come to the village for protection against his own bloody enemies, Kai would still be alive right now!
Ralph tightened the grip on the dagger.
Kazuo heavily sighed. He was shivering and was already drenched because of the rain. A decision was needed in this situation.
He had two choices of how he was going to handle this; one, he could tried and talked to the bloody arsehole and convince him to drop this foolishness at once. Or, they both would commence to a battle of possible death.
Of course, Kazuo would want to avoid bloodshed in any situation. Ralph may be a hard man to please and the last person Kazuo would ever wanted to be friends with, but even a bastard like him not worth to die over a stupid reason such as this.
Kazuo knew the man won’t give up anything so easily without a fight, but he had to try.
“Give it up Ralph. It’s pointless. You’ve lost. Accept it.”
Ralph let a slight sneer, but he didn’t move.
Rinda who was standing beside Shinji, had both arms wrapped on his left arm, due to the cold of the rain and the cool wind blowing at them.
Taking a long deep breath, she gazed at him from the corner of her eyes.
His face calmed, but she could feel terror in his eyes watching over the two men.
What’s he thinking about? What is going through his mind, I wonder. Watching those two fights because of what he’d done in the past. If only... If only he would let anyone in, let me in, I would have gladly...
Rinda’s clenched on Shinji’s arms went unnoticed by the said man. In fact, he was too focused on the two men that he didn’t even felt her arms on his until a voice softly called out to him.
Blinking his eyes, Shinji turned to his left and met with his Apprentice’s concerned face.
Mika didn’t even need to look at him to know that he wasn’t looking his best at all. She could hardly blamed him for it.
At some point during Kazuo and Ralph’s conversation, Mika had moved in and stood in front of them.
The silence was killing her. But at least her intuition earlier had proven to be true; Shinji wasn’t the type to kill people without a reason. He may be bold and straightforward, but he never killed anyone unless it was the last thing he forced to do.
With that, Mika’s mind was at peace and returned to the two men facing each other.
Ralph had covered his face with his available hand. He had remained in silence for quite some time now. The raining had gone from bad to worse, though neither men dared to move from their spots.
Kazuo had summoned his chained sickle, but kept in at bay. He kept his guards up, and watched the older man stood stiffly.
It was getting hard to keep on watching him through the rain, but Kazuo did not dared to blink his eyes. Fearing if he did, Ralph might slipped from his sights.
The man may not be bright, but he was a sneaking old snake.
In the midst of the silence, there were a soft chuckling sound came from the ex-Warrior.
Everyone was instantly on their guards. The chuckles soon dragged on to a hair-rising laughter.
“Time and time again,” Ralph shouted through the heavily poured rain. “You’d managed to walk away from everything, Prince Shinji. EVERYTHING! Well, not this time.”
Everyone instantly on their guards.
In a blink of an eye, Ralph was out of their sight.
“What?!” Rinda shouted, alarmingly.
Mika held on the twin blades in front of her in defensive posture. Her eyes quickly scanned to where Ralph had vanished — There!
Kazuo quickly swung the chained sickle to the left as instructed; just in time to collide with a flying dagger at his direction.
It did not ended there!
At the same time as his sickle clashed with the flying dagger, Kazuo felt something rapidly fast passed by him like a wind, followed by a sharp pain on his right abdomen.
Kazuo’s eyes grew widened and his face turned sheet white when he realized what was it. The pain finally kicked in and he fell, rolling backwards from the powerful kick.
“Kazuo!” Mika ran forward to help him but momentarily stopped.
Shinji! She quickly ran back to him.
Ralph was running closer toward his target. Instead of charging toward Shinji like what they had all predicted, the man changed his direction exactly at the very last minute, and hurled up his target — much to everyone’s shock!
“If I cannot have your life... Then I’ll kill her!”
Ralph screamed out, followed by maniac laughters. With his tight grip on Mika’s waist; he kept on running while dragging the poor Spirit girl with him toward the edge of a cliff.
“Mika!” Shinji’s voice boomed throughout the rain, he sprinted off after them.
He fired three perfectly aimed bullets — two of three bullets hit him on the back of his left knee; caused Ralph to slow down and stumbled frontward.
Meanwhile, Mika had been struggling to break free from his tight grip on her waist.
Her twin blades had fallen on the ground when Ralph had previously hurled her and then dragged her to the cliff.
The sound of three gunshots rang soundly. It had completely shocked her. It wasn’t until she felt herself slowly falling down at the end of the cliff, when she’d realised that Ralph had been shot!
Six seconds remained before Mika fell down to her death.
In those seconds, the Spirit did everything that she could to break free from the man’s tight grip on her waist.
It was fruitless.
Ralph had no intention of releasing her no matter how many times she’d kicked and punched him on the guts, face or whichever parts of him that was within her reach.
I won’t die. Not like this!
With an Amazon-like yell, Mika gave the man a full-powered elbow blow at the back of his head, using all her might.
It worked! Ralph’s eyes rolled at the back of his head. His grip on her waist loosened as he fell down.
Mika was floating in the mid-air.
Mika forced her body to lend forward, fighting against all gravity and reached out for her hands.
Exactly at that moment in time, Mika felt her body dropped. Eyes widened, she forced her body to move forward, despite the obvious failing.
Mika finally let out a scream when-
A sound of clanks reached to her ears. Before she knew what happened, Mika felt something cool, chained and metallic wrapped around her left wrist, thus left her hanging by the edge of the cliff.
She couldn’t very well see the owner of the chains, but instantly knew who it was, and let out a long thankful and relieved sigh.
The rain had stopped pouring by the time Kazuo carefully pulled the Spirit girl up.
Mika looked at him with gratitudes.
“Kazuo... Thank you. Oh, thank you!"
Kazuo let out a small smile and winked at her, before he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her into a hug.
“Anything for ye, doll.”
Kazuo finally exhaled the breath he didn’t know he been holding on up until now, and closed his eyes. Holding onto the Spirit girl in his arms, Kazuo looked down at the lifeless body of Ralph below in the river.
True, he would never be fond of the man. But Kazuo couldn’t deny it had been Ralph whom was the first to welcome him — welcomed them both when he and Kai had first come to Islez. It had been Ralph whom had taught him to use the Sickle after he inherited it from Kazuo.
If Kazuo was to be completely honest, he wouldn’t blamed Ralph for what he’d done. The man had suffered enough when he lose his best friend and comrade.
The very reason why he’d gone mad in the first place.
Kazuo would have done the exact same thing should anything were to happened to Shinji.
Kazuo tightened his grip on the Spirit girl in his arms, while they waited for the rest of their comrades to arrive.
WHEN dawn finally arrived, and the first bright of light of the sun touched the sky, Mika and her fellow companions finally arrived at Islez.
They were dirtied and covered with sweats, blood and muds. Above all, they were completely energy drained from everything that happened last night.
News travelled fast of Ralph’s betrayal, his attempted assassination on The White Wolf Prince, and also his ultimate death.
Before the four friends could even reached the entrance gate, they were swamped by the villagers with endless questions about the incident that occur last night.
Shinji, for the better or worse, groaned tiredly at the people throwing themselves at his direction and asking him questions.
For once, he couldn’t care less to put on an appearance. He looked at his Apprentice who was on his right, politely asking the villagers to give a way to them.
To his left, Rinda was doing the same thing, except her words were lack of any politeness. Kazuo was handling the front crowds.
“All right, people! Step aside! Make a way for Prince Shinji! Step aside, please!”
Two Warrior’s units came to their aid and made long beelines for Shinji and company to pass from the entrance of the village, all the way to the Elders’ Residence Home.
Once they’ve reached to the Elders’ Residence Home, Shion was the first to greet them at the door.
“Oh, Goodness me! What happened to all of you?”
Kazuo wordlessly stepped forward, and bowed his head respectively at the Grand Elders before them.
“Elders, I-” Before he could propose his reports, Elder Dauz, stopped him by raising his hand in the air.
“Save your words for later, child. Right now, you need a good rest. That goes for all of you too. Your Highness, I’ve already talked to the Clan’s councils and they too have agreed to delay the meeting until after you have gotten your rest.”
“Thank you. My sincere apologies for the inconveniences, Elders.” Shinji bowed his head.
“There’s no need for you to apology, Your Highness. Now please head to your living quarters and get some rest you very well deserved.”