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~~~~~~~ Complete PROLOGUE through CHAPTER 5 Book Sample UPDATED 08/14/17! Revised BREAKING THE SHACKLES in E-Book AND Paperback both available now on Amazon as of 08/31/17 by Author/Publisher TONJA CONDRAY KLEIN(c)2016! ~~~~~~~~

PROLOGUE~ 3931 A.D. (After Daystar), almost seventy years ago in Eirinth – medieval alternate dimension world existing parallel yet disparate to the present-day technological world of Earth – different passing of time between the two realms ~

Jaedin Saito fought to overcome the demonic energy that held him captive while he watched the scene unfold around him outside the small village of Kitai. He knew they were north of the Atenonai desert in the Migoto kingdom province of Yakedo, but since Jaedin was one of the Kouken of Eirinth that had been born and lived in the Migoto kingdom province of Heigen, he wasn’t that familiar with the others yet. Kouken, meaning “Protector(s)” in the common tongue, fought the forces of the evil dimension realm of Naraku to save the lives of mortals in Eirinth.

Jaedin’s elemental gift was a symbiotic link to Wind that appeared in the visual form of a blue wolf when summoned. Jaedin was one of the more powerful elemental Wielders of his age but was struggling to break free as helplessly as the others in his group. They had been sent to help the village to evacuate to the main Yakedo city of Mizu due to a drought that was crippling residents in the late summer month named Hachigatsu. Jaedin was trying to focus on the moment, but his stunned mind kept struggling to understand how their group had been ambushed before any of them could even sense the demons materialize.

The Kouken and fighting partners known as Bengosha, meaning “Defender(s)” in the common tongue, were all blocked from their fighting gifts while demons unlike any Jaedin had ever seen before waited nearby. Bengosha had fought beside Kouken for centuries with gifts controlling the aspects of energy states and matter phases. The group before Jaedin’s had tried different abilities to trigger physical precipitation, but it hadn’t worked for the first time in decades, finally leading to relocation. Jaedin looked over at his own Pledge-Linked Bengosha partner beside him and saw Aralee Yoshida’s hazel eyes locked on him. They couldn’t use their voices to coordinate a defense at all, couldn’t even mouth words without debilitating pain. The internal link from their fighting partnership had been silenced, and connections to their gifts had been severed. Aralee’s Striking Lightning was as blocked as Jaedin’s Wind Wolf.

They’d been in the province of Yakedo to protect the main city against demon attacks that had recently returned after being absent from the entire kingdom for quite some time. This new task had appeared easier when compared to the fighting that had escalated in the last couple of weeks. When they’d neared Kitai, immobilizing bands of demonic power had wrapped around them all. After being held for over an hour, their taxed muscles were cramping as dark energy and desert heat tried to seep away what little strength they still had left. The block against any of their communicating abilities was as incapacitating as the physical hold. The fighters could move their heads and watch each other but couldn’t even move their lips. Most had tried, but searing pain would then overtake their bodies, making it seem impossible to form words needed for any tactics.

Jaedin looked to the ones he knew best from having grown up with their slightly younger children that he considered friends and couldn’t stop thinking about right then. Close by were Eben and Baina Yamamoto who trained the child Kouken as the individual elements chose a Wielder to be sacredly synchronized. They were parents of Kaiyan and Shin, friends of Siena Stasheff, Jaedin’s best friend and elemental-brother. Those three were too young to fight yet and were at home with Zale, the son of Kemp and Havyn Murakami who were a few feet away from Jaedin and mentors for Kouken a decade or two younger than him. Jaedin caught a glimpse of Siena’s brave mother, Carina Stasheff, even farther away. Jaedin knew she’d keep fighting since recently losing Derek Stasheff, her Mate-Link and Siena’s father. Carina was a survivor and mentored the young adult Kouken like Jaedin. She’d also taught Ryuu decades ago, and his brother hadn’t had it easy then since their father died in a demon battle not long after Ryuu reached maturity. Jaedin was thankful for a brother who had demonstrated love that refused to falter in their desperate time of loss.

If only one of the mentors could find some way to break free now!

Jaedin didn’t know why the demons hadn’t attacked the village sixty feet away. It was only a matter of time, but he wanted to keep that from happening. Some of the demons were different from the ones that had black shadow or gunmetal gray scale armor that they’d faced before. These others had dark red armor that glinted with flashes of flame, but they seemed less anxious to simply kill Jaedin and the others. Soon after that thought came to him, several Defenders were suddenly released. Jaedin felt a surge of adrenaline at the prospect of someone getting around the hold. In the next moment each Bengosha turned to his or her Kouken partner as they also fell free. Jaedin checked on Aralee, but she was still restrained. When he looked back to the others, any anticipation turned to unease as he noticed those Defenders’ eyes. Where the camaraderie once filled familiar depths, vacant emptiness now dulled them as a murky mist slowly surrounded the loosened Bengosha. Jaedin would have screamed a warning to the other Kouken if he’d had a voice that worked at all. If only someone would realize what was going on and find a way to counter it!

Kemp and Havyn were freed as her Bengosha straightened. Tal had been Pledge-Linked to Havyn for decades and was like family, but at that moment his stare was that of a stranger. Tal quickly moved to make a fatal blow to Kemp first, but then hesitated at Havyn for a moment until he struck in one of the few ways a Kouken’s quick healing abilities could be rendered useless – a direct piercing round of dark energy to the heart of a weakened protector. Watching the couple crumple, Jaedin missed when Carina was hit but turned in time to see Eben and Baina share the friends’ fate at the hand of Eben’s Defender, Creole. Both of them cried out as the energy swelled through their chests and shut down blood flow. It seemed each voice was loosed so their cries could be heard by those still bound.

Jaedin’s gaze went to Aralee and saw her fighting the block. Her chapped lips tried to form words as the tenacity he admired in her finally overrode pain to defy the evil hold. Jaedin was ashamed he hadn’t fought harder as he watched her go beyond the agony to give him a promise. It wasn’t the one he’d hoped for, but he knew what it was costing her.

“I may not…love you like…you love me…but,” she mouthed and fought to continue as her tears fell. “You’re my…faithful Protector. I won’t let…them use me…to kill you.” She swallowed as her lips moved between silent gasps, “Jaed, you must…fight for Eirinth. No matter…who is…lost today. Don’t let any…of our deaths…keep you from…doing what you…know you must. Element and…Calling. Fierce and…”

“Faithful,” Jaedin managed to force his lips to form and silently groaned at the blinding pain that went through his entire body. It was the worst pain he’d ever felt, but he knew he had to endure it to answer her. “I’ll try, Ara,” He took a deep breath that would have been a sob if any sound had been possible for the ones still bound. He had to at least tell her one more time, “I’ll always…love you…Aralee!” Jaedin could only pray his pain-contorted face was able to express his internal turmoil.

He’d revealed his feelings to her a week ago, wanting for them to Mate-Link. She’d told him that she loved a mortal named Boyce and had planned to join him when Kitai was safe. It had shattered Jaedin’s hope of a life with her as more than her Kouken fighting partner, but that didn’t change his devotion or duty to her now. Her next words felt like a knife through his heart, but Jaedin knew she didn’t mean for them to be. He knew it spoke of her faith in him and that softened the pain…a bit.

“Tell Boyce…how much…I loved…” Aralee faltered.

Jaedin doubted he would ever get the chance to deliver her final message to the other man, but to ease her pain he would at least agree to do it regardless of his own broken heart right then. He winced and managed to get out the mouthed words, “I promise.”

When her eyes went toward the village in concern, Jaedin knew they had to at least try to survive if for no other reason than to keep the demons from killing innocent people. It was their calling to protect and they had to go down fighting to prove their worth.

If only they could find some way to break the shackles and fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves…

CHAPTER 1~ 4000 A.D. (After Daystar), almost seventy years later in Eirinth – medieval alternate dimension world existing parallel yet disparate to the present-day technological world of Earth – different passing of time between the two realms ~

“The forces of evil are gathering and gaining strength,” Lazzaro said to his main ally named Mateo. Lazzaro was a Murai Tenshi being, meaning “Warrior Angel” in the common tongue of Eirinth, and Mateo was a Denrei Tenshi being, meaning “Messenger Angel”. Lazzaro’s hair was russet while Mateo’s was blond. Lazzaro had emerald eyes to show reborn life while Mateo’s were sky blue to signify kept promises. Both were focused on their spiritual duties that needed to be discussed. Lazzaro was tasked with fighting demons in various dimensions while Mateo now would visit believers in dreams for Eirinth specifically to both spiritually call mortal fighters and encourage their supporters. Both served as was commissioned by God Almighty in Heaven of all realms. He was known in Eirinth as the Father of Lights like Heaven was called Joukai.

“I know,” Mateo said happily, “I’m to conduct dream-visits in the Migoto kingdom.” He smiled. “The Daystar will begin Rebirthing that world. I get to be an integral part! That should make Michael and Gabriel elated with prospect.”

Lazzaro grinned broadly. “They will have their moments in the grand scheme of things as well. I’m bound for their main world of Earth for a while. Apparently there is something that will be happening soon to need mortals from Earth to help fighters in Eirinth. Near the end of this, the dimensional worlds will finally overlap with spiritual completion.”

“Then may the Christ protect you on Earth as the Daystar protects me in Eirinth,” the Denrei Tenshi intoned with a bow, choosing to use the names that were for the same Creator of this multidimensional universe of “Let There Be”. Though named differently in each existing realm until the trans-dimensional properties could be understood by them all, the “I AM” was true Creator of it all. That understanding seemed to be coming sooner than any of them had expected, but it probably felt much longer for the mortals who aged while dimensional Joukai inhabitants were eternal.

“And may we see the days when all believers join together in rejoicing over complete universe dimensional beauty at last,” the Murai Tenshi agreed with a stately incline that showed his massive spiritual sword and bow signifying his calling.

Mateo nodded again, grasping his spiritual harp and drum of truth used to spread what was forgotten by some but never abandoned by all in any realm. Lazzaro then faded from the meeting place of Tenshi to head for his main destination. The area around the world of Earth would be an actual spiritual battlefield to get through. That’s why the Murai had been called for the mission there.

Although Eirinth was filled with evil enemies, the Eirinth realm had Fighters that were both physical and spiritual once their abilities were accepted and trained. The demons that appeared in Eirinth were physically visual instead of mostly existing in spirit realms. Each Denrei Tenshi was necessary for calling the mortal Eirinth Fighters to find their individual places of purpose while time existed.

It would take the usual passing of time with the continued mortal prayers while willing hearts began to seek and embrace spiritual gifts for fighting that could change the future for the better. The first was already on Mateo’s side and the second was being handled by many believers in Migoto. Now the Messenger had to wait for the third facet to be revealed so their meeting with a Divine Destiny would be the beginning of Rebirth.

That Rebirth coupled with a Destiny shaped by the Creator was always a symphony to savor for all the followers of Tenrai Daystar!

~~~~~~~

The world of Eirinth was comprised of kingdoms. One of them was Migoto, meaning “Splendid” in the common tongue. Migoto was a place of ancient culture with seven provinces. Majestic mountains rose up toward the sky in the mid-northern province of Sakari. Deep canyons and desert marked the land in the mid-southern province of Yakedo. Farming lands dotted the middle ruling province of Heigen to sprawl over into the northwest province of Tsuri where fishing villages thrived along the coast. Scholar Universities in the southwestern province of Chie held historical writings. Lush forests grew in the southeastern province of Kozue with its flowing rivers. The northeastern province of Shinrin was like Kozue in many ways yet distinct with its metal-working and artisans.

In the Shinrin province town of Ando, an almost fifteen-year-old girl named Seimitsu Forester ran through dirt streets, splashing in puddles from earlier rain. Her sister named Shiri was two years younger and had already celebrated her thirteenth year. Shiri now chased her sibling while promising dire revenge for being soaked by one of those splashes. As the girls ran, they passed many houses that lined the rustic way with budding flowers and gardens in the mid-spring month named Shigatsu. Ando was bigger than the small village named Meian where Seimitsu and Shiri lived a couple miles away. Their mother was a teacher in Ando where the girls also studied. Vian Forester was currently shopping at Ando’s open market. Seimitsu knew they were close enough to be safe but far enough away to get into a bit of harmless romping.

“Come on, Ri!” Seimitsu called out with light laughter. “Our Gram Belva could run faster than that!” She looked back and saw her sister give a glare, trying to catch up due to the teasing. What Seimitsu didn’t notice was one of the many temple priests unknowingly stepping into her path just as she spun around and ran right into him.

The man fell into one of the larger puddles and Seimitsu barely kept her balance from tumbling after him. After a moment of surprise the man wiped the mud off of his cheek before giving her an aggravated look that turned wry when he recognized the culprit. “Good morning, Seimitsu. Thank you for a mud treatment my skin maybe needed. God provides!”

“Pateren Wendell! I never would think you needed a…” Seimitsu began to explain but fell silent when she saw his raised eyebrow and kind blue eyes laughing back at her reaction.

Shiri caught up then and panted her own apology, “We’re so sorry, Pateren Wendell! Sei didn’t do it on purpose. She wasn’t looking and…”

Wendell Masterson lifted his hand to halt her as he stood and then laughed. “Well, she has the wrong priest if she was taking revenge for the last Reihai temple service. Pateren Gerik angered your mother then.” He looked at Seimitsu who quickly stared at the ground with embarrassment. The priest continued anyway, “He follows revised temple doctrines, and though I respect his right, I also don’t agree with him on many things.”

Seimitsu looked back up at him. “Really? I thought temple priests weren’t allowed to disagree openly.” She winced at Wendell’s deep sigh and quickly said, “I promise not to tell anyone, Pateren Wendell.”

The priest shrugged. “With priests for so many different beings that are worshiped at this temple, I don’t think most can agree. Believing as I do, those other beliefs lead the people away from the One and only true Creator.” He shook his head. “It’s a worrisome truth I struggle with.”

Seimitsu nodded and said with renewed fire, “I think so too! Why would people believe in some of those other things? Some of them seem so silly or not even spiritual at all.”

Wendell gave her a searching look. “Well, I can’t say I’ve always believed what your Uncle Jun and Aunt Thalia does, but I accepted our main faith in Tenrai Daystar four decades ago.” He smiled again. “I’ll always try to be honest with you since you’ve tried to do the same with me. Even over things you weren’t supposed to do.” Wendell seemed to wrestle with a laugh, and Seimitsu knew what was coming before he said it. “Like when you cut Shiri’s hair when you weren’t even…”

Seimitsu’s responding giggle interrupted him and caused Shiri to elbow her as she exclaimed hotly, “It’s not funny!”

“But I thought I did a great job at the time,” came Seimitsu’s confident response as she nodded her head in spite of Shiri’s frown.

“You cut it all way too short!” The girl in question exclaimed as she motioned how short with her hand, making Seimitsu feel a little bad.

The priest seemed to understand and patted Shiri’s shoulder. “But it’s grown out nicely and didn’t look bad then either, Shiri.”

“Yeah, but it just reached the same length this year! I could have pulled it back sooner if she hadn’t…”

Seimitsu moved closer to Shiri and patted her to interrupt the rest of the rant that she knew would continue. “I said I was sorry, Ri, and I feel bad about you still being upset about it.”

Shiri rolled her eyes then glared at what Seimitsu had hoped was her best honest look. Apparently it wasn’t since Shiri added acerbically, “The only thing you were sorry for was getting caught, Sei. Mother grounded you for a month over it.”

Seimitsu grimaced. “Well, I really thought it looked cute that way and didn’t think I should be punished for it. I didn’t know you would be that upset when I did it. I really am sorry…okay?”

The priest smiled as Shiri nodded her head, but then he gasped as Seimitsu was shoved by her sister into the large puddle where he’d landed before. The action splashed him and Shiri both in the process.

Seimitsu flailed in the mud with shock at her sister’s action. “Shiri! Why’d you do that?”

Shiri crossed her arms. “I forgive you, but there are always linked consequences for mistakes. Remember that the next time you even think about cutting my hair when I’m too sleepy to object…or splashing me!”

Wendell shook his head at the girls as he reached his hand down to help Seimitsu up before she got cold. “You have blue eyes while Shiri has brown. You have light brown hair while Shiri has dark brown. You’re so different, but each has a spirit as indomitable as a storm.” He grinned as Seimitsu began ringing out the bottom of her tunic. “Now that we have that settled, do I get a real apology from you too, Sei?”

Seimitsu’s eyes met his and she knew she owed him that much since it had been her fault. The priest hadn’t deserved it, and he always supported those who tried to do the right thing. “I’m really sorry, Pateren Wendell. I’ll try to be more careful from now on. You teach the love and truth of Tenrai Daystar, so I never would’ve pushed you into a puddle on purpose…well, not unless it was on a summer game day!”

Wendell smiled and moved closer. “It’s okay then. About Gerik, it’s hard when others who claim to serve the same Master can’t agree on what the Master wants from us, isn’t it?” At her nod, he continued. “All we can do is hold onto our faith in what we do know and then learn as much as we can so no one leads us down a wrong path.”

“Yes, I know, but it makes me mad that the others teach that the Father of Lights is punishing us with demon attacks!” Seimitsu stomped her foot. “Some of the others won’t even acknowledge Tenrai’s name at all during services! That’s why my family only comes to yours now.”

The priest smiled. “I don’t believe we were left to face the demons alone either. Like you, I have faith that Tenrai Daystar will return as the Last King of Eirinth someday. Don’t give up hope, gentle daughters! Keep faith in Tenrai and pray.” Wendell looked toward the crowd moving into the temple and then at his own soaked robes. He shook his head before he laughed once more. “I need to get cleaned up before my patrons see me. May the Father of Lights through Tenrai’s Blood Pact be with you!” With that blessing, Wendell began walking away as he hummed merrily in spite of his current muddied state.

Shiri looked at their dirty clothes and frowned as she said, “Do you think he’s right, Sei? No one else seems to believe it…well, except for mother, Jun, and Thalia.”

Seimitsu tried to give her sister a convincing look before finally answering her. “Well, I’m gonna believe anyway, Ri, even if no one else does.” She then sighed. “Maybe Lord Tenrai will send Tenshi to fight the demons for us if we pray more. Our Creator can do anything, you know?” Seimitsu noticed Shiri’s worried look. “Hey, it could happen.” Grabbing Shiri’s arm, Seimitsu pulled her toward the market to rejoin their mother while beginning to muse aloud about what powers a Tenshi could have.

~~~~~~~

Jun Morgan tended to the hearth and pulled a pan of biscuits out from the heat as they finished browning. His mind was on what Thalia, his life-mate, had told him the previous day about Seimitsu talking to Pateren Wendell about their mutual faith. He’d always liked that priest, and they’d gone to many services Wendell had presided over. Their world wasn’t lost yet, but the people of Migoto needed to hold onto their faith in the midst of the increased turmoil of everyday life. That wasn’t easy sometimes when every step forward seemed to lead to two more backwards.

“Good morning, Love,” his wavy-haired blonde greeted as she came into the main room. “I think you’re still thinking about the girls and their talk with Pateren Wendell like I am.” She leaned in to kiss him, but before her lips made contact, her attention suddenly shifted to the golden brown goodness in the pan he had set down. “Oh, those smell yummy!”

Jun laughed. He loved how her stormy blue eyes lit up. “You know me so well when it comes to news of our shared faith. For now, you get the butter, Sweet, and these are all yours.”

“Then what will you have?” The woman teased as she batted her eyes in obvious exaggeration with a coy smile.

The male teacher pulled her to him and growled, making her laugh as he mock-threatened her, “I’ll have you across my knee, Matron Thalia, I’ll tell all of your students that I had to take you to task this morning, and then you’ll never hear the end of it!”

Thalia Morgan only laughed more at his antics. “All right, Master Jun. I’ll share them with you but not until you give me that kiss.”

Jun looked at her haughtily. “And just what kiss would that be?”

She smirked then leaned forward and caught his lips for a quick but passionate moment before pulling away to gaze into his eyes as she whispered throatily, “That one.”

The man grinned and looked at her lips longingly until he saw her smirk. She then gasped from him swatting her backside before he restated, “Come on, Sweet. Get the butter before the biscuits get cold!”

“You will pay for that later, Juntaro!” Thalia promised by using his full given name to make her point. She laughed as he purposely blinked at her the way she had at him. Shaking her head, she turned to the ice chest.

Jun grabbed a biscuit and took a pleased bite while his eyes took in the sway of her skirt. As he chewed, his thoughts returned to their “nieces” that were technically “great-nieces”. “Regardless of what happens, Sweet, Sei and Shiri need to keep their faith bright when things do grow darker.”

~~~~~~~

Shiri sat up with a choked sob. She felt Seimitsu sit up in the bed beside her to begin rubbing her back gently. The nightmares always left her feeling wrung out like she’d really been running from the monsters that had often plagued her nights for as long as she could remember.

“You okay, Ri?” Seimitsu asked in a soft voice. Shiri knew her sister had learned she was usually skittish when waking, and she always seemed to try to give Shiri a few moments to escape those terrors. Shiri appreciated it. Seimitsu gave her a few moments before she asked in a concerned voice, “The same dream you’ve been having?”

Shiri nodded while knowing Seimitsu wouldn’t make fun of her since her sister was just as upset about it as she was. “The same one,” she gasped then took a deep breath. “We’re trapped under our burning house. A demon is right outside and waiting for us to run.” Her voice then choked again. “But when we do, it chases us, snarling and…and…” Shiri began weeping, feeling completely helpless even though she was now awake.

“It won’t come to that,” Seimitsu promised as she took her sister in her arms. “I don’t know how, but I’m gonna find a way to protect you, Ri. I won’t let them hurt you as long as I have breath in my body!”

Shiri took calming breaths until she could speak then pulled away. “I don’t think anyone can keep them away, Sei. Maybe Pateren Gerik is right. Maybe Tenrai abandoned us and demons are supposed to…”

“No!” The sky blue-eyed girl shook her head. “I won’t ever believe that. No matter what happens, I believe Tenrai loves us and wants for us all to live. You can’t let yourself doubt that no matter what happens!”

“What else can I do when it seems so hopeless?” Shiri cried out then got out of bed to stand with her hands clenching as she tried to make her eyes glare instead of cry. “If He loves me so much, why am I having these nightmares? They rarely let me go! How much longer do I have to endure them, Seimitsu? How can I…how can this…?” She just shook her head and figured she looked even more defeated than she felt.

Seimitsu stood up beside her then. Shiri saw that her sister’s eyes were sad but very determined as she said, “I don’t know. I do know that these nightmares aren’t from our Creator. They have to be from the evil depths of Naraku, and you have to fight the doubt they’re making you have. If you give up, they win! Sometimes we have to go through that darkness to get to Tenrai’s Light, remember? Thalia told us that, and I trust her. She, Jun, and mother believe…and so do I. We both need to.”

“I’m just so tired,” Shiri almost whispered to Seimitsu. From the expression on the older girl’s face, the words hurt her too. Shiri grabbed Seimitsu’s hand. “I believe too, Sei. I just don’t know how to stop this.” When Seimitsu didn’t reply, Shiri hugged her. She knew that they both were hoping their lives could change for the better, because neither of them wanted to ever let fear be the thing that defined their lives.

~~~~~~~

“You’re my Captain, my Sunshine; the Wind underneath my wing. You’re my Friend, my Companion; the One who makes my soul sing. All I am is by Your loving hand. My life has been renewed. But best of all, I can hear You call, when I’m already runnin’ to You.”

Thalia Morgan finished singing the new song she’d written and had decided to use it for her class to learn. She’d been excited to share it, but the looks she was receiving worried her. “So…what do you think?”

The students shifted where they sat on the blanketed flooring then glanced at each other. Their ages were from seven to eleven, many in the upper range. Finally one of the older boys named Jeremy spoke up.

“Why do we have to sing songs about someone that doesn’t exist? I’d rather sing about the sky or the sun or somethin’ else I can see or at least imagine is real.”

Thalia felt her heart plummet. It was difficult to play games or sing songs of faith since many children came from different upbringings. She tried to vary things to be fair to parents and not force anyone to believe in what she did, but she wasn’t going to omit her beliefs to appease others either. Other teachers shared their different faiths very openly.

Thalia cleared her throat and replied calmly, “Well, I believe the Father of Lights does exist, Jeremy. I wanted to share that with you all. I know Matron Willis recently told you about her belief that the trees hold the spirits of her ancestors. It’s her right to believe, but can she prove it?”

“Why do you believe in something else?” A smaller girl named Lila asked with a voice full of curiosity that spoke of her innocence.

Thalia prayed silently for guidance as young faces focused on her completely. “Well, I believe because I read things that explained it, asked Tenrai Daystar into my heart as my Savior, and feel His loving presence deep inside of my being now,” she replied.

“That’s not a real reason,” Jeremy scoffed and earned murmurs from the other students over it.

“Well, you didn’t seem to have a problem believing in unicorns when we read that one story last week,” Thalia quickly pointed out. “I’d think that believing in the One who actually did create the unicorns long ago shouldn’t be any harder than believing in the creation you liked.”

Lila furrowed her brow. “My dad said it’s something people say to make us not be so afraid.” She shook her head. “I’m still afraid, ‘cause the demons really do exist. How can just believing in a Daystar help us when people are really dying? How do we know what’s really true?”

Thalia looked at the wearied expressions of the children in her care and sighed. “Sometimes Faith is all we have when times are the hardest. I’ve read many writings that support my beliefs, but it truly is just a matter of trusting in the One I can’t see, or hear, or touch even when it doesn’t make sense to my mind. I believe that the Father of Lights did send Tenrai Who is going to come back to this world to become Eirinth’s Last King because He promised it. Until then I will choose to believe. Since demons are real, doesn’t it make sense our Creator is real too?” She saw she had their attention and went on, “Sometimes bad things happen because people won’t stand up for what’s right. The Father of Lights is waiting for them.”

There was silence then Lila nodded and said boldly as young children often do, “I think I want to be one of those people then!”

The teacher smiled. “You just might be. Don’t give up hope and maybe your prayers will be the ones that bring about better things. I don’t know why it’s taking so long, but giving up won’t do us any good either.”

The other students nodded at the sentiment, but Jeremy still looked skeptical. Thalia would pray for wisdom in dealing with him. His parents were hard-working people but didn’t hold to any particular belief to her knowledge. That sometimes made it difficult to share anything spiritual with a child in his situation, so she had to try to understand. “I respect your feelings, Jeremy. I hope you’ll do research until you’re ready to accept what I believe or not. I just believe that it’s the only way to the perfect ethereal realm of Joukai, and I want to go there…don’t you?”

The boy scowled then looked down. His sun-kissed hair fell into his eyes as he replied, “I don’t know. Maybe if unicorns go there, yeah. I just don’t know if they do.” He hesitated then added, “Since you want us to sing the song so much let’s try it, okay?” His dark blue eyes met hers and had a tentative yet contemplative look in them. “It does have a nice melody, so I’ll try to pretend that unicorns believe it.”

Grinning at him, Thalia nodded and began the first verse again. She did try to make her class fun while staying true to her faith. As they sang, she silently prayed for Jeremy and the other children while asking the Father of Lights to help them all to see His truth in time.

~~~~~~~

Avidan Miyazaki, the king of Migoto, had been on the throne since his father’s untimely death shortly after the prince turned seventeen. The new king had learned to rule with compassion and justice, earning respect of his High Council and trust of his people. Insight from his mother Lady Carissa and wisdom from his councilor Sir Lew Sasaki had helped.

The main problem that the king couldn’t find a solution for was the demon attacks plaguing Migoto. On this night, in mid-spring of his twelfth year of reign, Avidan sat in his study perusing the ancient history scrolls he’d had brought to him from the Chie province. He had been reading for several days, looking for possible answers to his people’s stark plight. Avidan’s mind whirled with the accounts of the kings of old and battles won against all odds by fearless warriors. If only he could find a way to find people who could fight their current enemy.

“I just don’t know what to do,” he said to himself aloud.

Avidan sighed and decided he’d had enough history lessons for the night, so he reached for parchments with tax and census figures. Being the king and not knowing how to protect his people was weighing heavily on him. When some older scrolls that must have been hidden in rolled sheets slid free, Avidan stared at them as he tried to figure out how they’d come to be there. Curiosity welled up inside him as he opened a scroll to read.

The king was surprised when he saw the parchment was about the Father of Lights. He was the God believed for millennia to be the Creator of all and worshiped in many temples. It had changed from the main faith of the kingdom when Avidan’s grandfather merged temples with the other faiths to become places of worship for any chosen being to avoid violent uprisings. Avidan had never worshiped since none of the faiths he’d read about made sense to him. The scroll in his hands at that moment told how the Father of Lights had created the world of Eirinth as home of the first two mortals created for their world. It told of how the Father’s enemy, a fallen Tenshi named Archan, deceived the mortals into disobeying their Creator. That had given Archan control of the realm and created demons from Tenshi that were deceived by Archan too. The demon attacks were stopped by Warrior Tenshi that protected the two mortals back then.

It told how the two mortals believing the fallen Tenshi’s lie was a foremost betrayal that created a blood-taint for all mortals. It also caused them to lose the Father’s gifts of friendship, protection, and immortality with Him because they chose a path of disobedience that the Father of Lights had warned them against in the beginning of their creation.

After millennia of Eirinth mortals trying to find a way to earn their gifts back and failing to fight the demons, the Father sent His own essence aspect to be born as the mortal named Tenrai the “Daystar”. Avidan noted this was thought to be near four thousand years ago according to the scroll. He felt his heart leap at the possibility that a Creator would love rebellious creation so much He would become one of them to show how they were meant to live. If it was true then why were the demons back? What had happened to Tenrai?

Avidan settled his mind to read on and quickly found out. Tenrai had given His life to protect a wayward follower named Pepin that demons tried to kill. An innocent died for a tainted mortal. Days later, Tenrai came back to life! For Tenrai to die for an imperfect mortal had broken the taint if a person accepts His Blood Pact that gives the person a promise of being restored, not only as a friend but also as adopted family to the Father.

Before Tenrai returned to Joukai, He taught His followers to teach the other mortals to believe. He also promised He would come back to be the Last King of Eirinth. He appointed those who had stayed with Him in Eirinth to become two different kinds of Fighters; the Defenders called by dreams spiritually and the Protectors of those Defenders by birth. He gave Defenders the gifts of energy and Protectors elemental gifts to protect the mortals from demons until Tenrai returned. The True Element, personage of the Father of Light’s power in all the realms, then became available to all fighters in the Eirinth mortal realm to use His new gifts by believing. For many centuries, faithful Wielders banished demons from Eirinth in a destiny planned for them since before the taint came upon all creation. A destiny lost again somehow, but then how had…

The knock at the door made Avidan jump. The voice that spoke was a comforting one, though, as his visitor came in. “Are tax reports so interesting that you didn’t hear me knock earlier?”

Avidan shook his head. “Not tax reports, Lew. Something much more intriguing.” He motioned for his councilor to join him. “I found some ancient scrolls that were hidden in these reports somehow.”

“Hidden? How peculiar,” Lew commented as he sat down in the chair near the desk. His eyes went to the pages and his look of interest increased since he was a man of learning as well as action.

Avidan reached for another scroll he’d read earlier that told of a group of fighters in the Migoto army almost a century ago that had used elemental powers to fight demons and protect the kingdom. Having read about Kouken in the ancient tongue meaning “Protector(s)” in common, they must have been descendants of the original followers of Tenrai. It made sense, but what could have happened to them? Leaving a fighting post was one thing. Leaving a Divine calling was quite another.

The king then grabbed one of the other sheets he’d come across about a teaching society called Bengosha in the ancient tongue that had once been part of the temple scholars. They’d all been wiped out by the demon attacks about sixty-five years ago. Flipping back to a part about Defenders, he noticed they too had been teachers as well as fighters with different kinds of energy gifts. Bengosha was an ancient term that meant “Defender(s)” in the common tongue. If Protectors had abandoned their calling that would explain how demons had destroyed the Defenders. It could have also led to why the evil forces now had such freedom.

“I’ve found information on fighting groups in our past that battled against the demons for the people. They served the Father of Lights who came as Tenrai Daystar to redeem a spiritual estrangement and also give fighting gifts to those chosen to save the people.” Avidan frowned. “Why would Tenrai allow them all to disappear?”

Lew sighed. “Maybe those called refused their destiny. I see men walk away from defending our land pretty often…sometimes out of fear, sometimes out of hardship, but always from not believing in what they once thought they’d been called to do.”

Avidan leaned back in his chair. “But if this is true, why hasn’t either group reformed yet? Surely new generations have been born.” He wanted to figure out this mystery, so he shuffled the brittle pages. “I saw something…wait.” He then read a paragraph he must have skipped over earlier. “This says Protectors need the Defenders to fight at full potential. Due to the nature of their gifts, those chosen as Defenders are called by spiritual means, not born with the inherent knowledge of the gifts.”

Lew nodded. “I remember my father telling me about Defenders. Since they haven’t been in existence for decades, teachers and students haven’t been chosen.” He paused. “That could mean the Protectors are powerless until Defenders come forward. They may be hiding in fear.”

Avidan sighed. What now? He’d found the answer he’d been seeking yet there wasn’t any indication it still existed. He looked at his most trusted councilor and friend. “Do you believe? I haven’t thought much about a faith, but nothing else makes sense. This does.”

“I’ve always believed in the Father of Lights as Tenrai Daystar, Avidan,” Lew said softly. “I don’t go for Reihai temple services because of the hullabaloo at times with the worshipers of the other gods. I pray at home, read the holy texts, and hope for something better for Migoto.”

The king took a deep breath. “Well, I want to believe too. We’re far from Temple, so maybe we can pray here?” When Lew nodded with a small smile on his face, Avidan closed his eyes and felt peace begin to fill him as he spoke tentatively, “Father of Lights, I come to you as a servant now. I have not worshiped You, but after reading this, I believe You’re the Creator that came as Tenrai Daystar to reclaim us from the blood taint and demons. Please call Your chosen ones to teach Bengosha, the Defenders, who can bring missing Kouken, the Protectors, back into Your service. I’ll offer a place of honor for fighting for my people no matter who might be against it. Save this land, my Lord and King, Tenrai Daystar! Call those who can end this suffering.” He paused then nodded. “I believe You hold the Divine Power of Transformation. I make You my Everlasting King and God for as long as I have breath by Your Blood Pact…always.”

“Spoken like a true leader and believer,” Lew said with a grin. “Your father believed too, Avidan, but feared undoing what his father allowed at the temples. Lady Carissa believes as well, although she is private about most things, as you know.” He then got up to leave and patted Avidan’s shoulder. “Rest and believe. Tenrai will answer our prayers. Once we ask, we must believe even when faced with doubt.”

~~~~~~~

The city of Tanima in the northeastern province of Shinrin was a bustle of activity, even in the humidity of the late spring month named Gogatsu. Jun made his way through crowded cobble streets to a familiar herbal shop. He slipped inside with a sigh of relief for quiet as much as escaping the heat of midday. He preferred the sedate town of Ando where he lived. Still, he’d needed the roots and herbs for the tea he made for healing. Jun couldn’t believe spring was so close to being over. Summer usually passed more quickly. Autumn seemed to rush too. Time marched to a beat of its own as a discord to humanity at inconvenient moments.

Jun tugged at his long sleeveless tunic to try to cool off. He was a tall and broad man that the heat always bothered. Thalia claimed his short reddish-brown hair and beard that were just beginning to gray made him look distinguished at forty. She also attested his eyes were beautiful hazel blue that held a wealth of experience in their depths. Certainly there was no doubt why he loved her so much! Breathing in the comforting scent of herbal tea and cinnamon, he smiled and headed to the counter. The silver-haired shopkeeper was a spry sixty-eight year-old man sitting at the small desk nearby. He seemed to be focusing on a written text as usual since he was also a teacher and lover of items that gave people an understanding. Eron had moved from a different town to the city for that very reason.

“Good day to you, Master Eron,” Jun greeted happily. He was not expecting the outright surprise on the other man’s face at seeing him since Jun usually came there every few weeks.

Eron Cordelain’s expression faded, turning into a real smile for his former student before he got up and walked to the counter. “Good day to you as well. It hasn’t been that long since you were in. What brings you here this fine morning?”

“Slippryellum,” Jun replied. “Summer is coming fast and Thalia already had a couple colds in the spring weather. I need to get stocked up so she doesn’t have to suffer.”

Eron nodded sagely, but Jun saw another one of those looks flash across the man’s face before Eron turned to reach for the tanned bags on the shelves. “You will probably need some Licoce, Echinae, and Denseal before it’s all over too.”

Jun nodded distractedly as he watched his former teacher pull out the aforementioned herbs. He wasn’t sure about Eron’s odd behavior but just relegated it to the other man’s advancing age.

“You know me too well, my friend,” Jun replied. “I don’t want to have to come to the city again for a while, especially if Thalia gets a sore throat.” They both knew how easily Jun’s mate got sick, even during the warmer months. “You know I don’t like traveling anyway.”

“Always was a home-body,” Eron agreed as he began measuring the herbs and placed them in small pouches. He was uncharacteristically quiet, and that made Jun wonder if he was well.

Thalia was with her friend and music arranger Renault Salvatore, known simply as Ren at the musician’s guild, to discuss her compositions with him. Jun had time to catch up with the man who had taught him how to teach. He needed to make sure his old friend was okay. Looking at the small desk a couple feet away, he saw several weathered texts. Curiosity winning over concern, Jun walked over to them. Eron always found rare historical writings, and that was an interest he’d passed on to Jun.

“What’s this you’re reading?” Jun asked as he took in the symbols of one of the older writings. “I haven’t seen symbols like this in a while. It has to be two hundred years old.”

“Yes, you’re right,” Eron replied quietly while tying a last pouch closed before walking over to the desk. “One of my older students found these during his latest sabbatical.” He paused, his dark blue eyes pinning Jun’s pointedly. “He said he had a dream to bring them to me.”

Jun blinked in surprise. “A dream about these? That’s rather odd, isn’t it? Wouldn’t he usually take things like this to Chie?”

Eron dropped his gaze and rubbed his hand over the back of his neck. “Well, I didn’t believe him at first, but since I’ve been reading…” He paused then reached to gather the scrolls to place them into a leather satchel while Jun watched in confusion. “Jun, I had an odd dream last night. That’s why I’ve been acting so strangely at seeing you today.”

The pit of Jun’s stomach lurched. He still felt like a mere student with the man in front of him at times even though Jun had students of his own now. Eron had always told intriguing stories, but this sounded like something more. “What did you dream?”

“That you would come here today, and when you did, I was to give these scrolls to you.”

Jun looked at the satchel being held out to him and was puzzled even more at this turn of events. “I don’t understand. Why would your student bring them to you just to give them to me? You probably have more of an understanding than I would. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Eron didn’t pull the satchel back. “The dream was very detailed, down to even what you’d come here to buy.” He shook his head as Jun began to protest. “You know I’m not given to usual whimsy, my boy, but after reading some of them, I think I understand why they must go to you. I believe the Father of Lights will lead you in what you must do once you’ve read them too.”

“What are these scrolls about?” Jun was unsure if his unease was from fear or anticipation. “Are you sure that these are genuine?”

Eron nodded. “Our Creator did not leave mortals alone to face demons that are attacking the kingdom, Jun.” The old man gestured with the scrolls. “These writings have teachings that we have been without for more than seventy years.” Eron pressed the worn bag to Jun’s chest to get him to grasp it. “You’re the one who will find the new spiritual Defenders, known as Bengosha in the ancient tongue, who are called to fight demons in this realm the way Warrior Tenshi do in their own. A Denrei Tenshi told me this in my dream. I believe it was real even more now.”

“Bengosha?” Jun asked incredulously. “I know several older terms and spiritual titles, but I haven’t ever…”

“According to those scrolls,” Eron interrupted, “Tenrai Daystar called certain believers to have spiritual gifts that could fight and cast the demons from our realm. Some believers were called to become Bengosha, Defenders of the people. Others were born as Kouken, the Protectors of Defenders and this world. We’ve forgotten about them since it’s been a generation since they were in service. The last Bengosha on record died about sixty-five years ago, and Kouken seem to have just disappeared. This Tenshi said they are still alive but in hiding.”

“Then how am I supposed to find them?” Jun asked. Yes, he was a believer in the Father of Lights who came as Tenrai Daystar even if some at temple refuted the older teachings. Believing in gifts that could defeat demons was an entirely different matter though. He’d heard stories from older people too, but for those tales to be true was a hard thing to even consider in the present circumstances.

“I’m not sure why it’s taken so long for them to be called either. Maybe the new Defenders are only now old enough to learn. As for the Protectors…” Eron shrugged. “The Father of Lights will work that out.”

Jun stared. “Why would the Father choose me? I’m already forty years old and teaching many students regular lessons, Eron.”

The other man laughed good-naturedly. “You’re still young, my friend. Things must change, and if you are one of those meant to help it happen then rejoice!” With another glance at his former student, Eron turned and went to his counter where he sat down. “Read the scrolls. If you pray and believe, you will understand. Our King of Glory is getting His people ready to reclaim as many people from the demons as we can.”

Jun could only nod as he picked up the small sack with pouches and clutched the satchel to his chest before turning to go. Pausing at the door, he looked back at Eron. “What if I decide not to do this? What if I fail to teach these new Bengosha? What happens then, Eron? I can’t be that important in the Father’s plans that He’d put this on just me, right?”

The gray-haired man sighed heavily. “The only things holding the demons back are the prayers of Tenrai’s believers, but people are losing faith, and the demons are gaining strength. They will continue to attack until they take over this world. We must not give up on what Tenrai has already promised to help us do. It may not be easy but right rarely is.”

“But how can a few do anything to stop them, especially here?”

“Migoto may be the first kingdom to fall, or perhaps the very last. All of Eirinth will perish unless the Bengosha that are called to fight are trained,” Eron replied. “You’re the one Tenrai chose for it.” Jun dropped his eyes but nodded before opening the door. He didn’t see the healer’s eyes following him but heard Eron’s soft prayer behind him, “Help him, Father of Lights. Help him believe in Your gifts by the power of Your True Element. Only You can give him strength to fulfill his new destiny and teach your Chosen.” Jun thought “amen” before closing the door.

When Thalia met Jun at the bench where he waited, he quickly told her about Eron’s dream, the teaching scrolls, and his part in this additional calling. Thalia’s bouncy joy overwhelmed his apprehension since they had been praying for a new dimension to their lives. This wasn’t anything he’d expected, but Jun couldn’t doubt this possibility until he tried to fulfill it.

~~~~~~~

Seimitsu was suddenly standing in a vast green field and looked around in confusion as she wondered where she was. The last thing she remembered was going to bed. It was a class day on the morrow, and she needed to sleep while Shiri did. To find herself anywhere but home was frightening, especially since she didn’t know how she’d gotten there.

“Sei? Is that you?”

Seimitsu turned to see Shiri walking towards her. Shiri looked just as confused as Seimitsu felt so she answered, “Yeah, Ri, it’s me. Is this a dream? It feels real, but how did we both get to this place if it is?”

“You are in the realm right between sleep and dreams, Tenrai’s Chosen! I brought you here to tell you of a destiny waiting for you if you choose to accept it.”

Both girls turned toward the voice to see the blinding light that transformed into a beautiful young masculine figure. He had seven foot high white feathered wings, clear blue eyes, and shoulder length white blond hair held back by woven gold and silver bands. He was dressed in robes of flowing gold with a mantle that had silver symbols for love, joy, and peace. Seimitsu didn’t know the foreign lettering but understood it.

“Who are you?” She asked in awe tinged with a bit of fear.

The winged figure inclined his head. “I am Mateo Denrei Tenshi. I’m a Messenger Angel from the Father of Lights, your Creator who came as Tenrai the Daystar to your realm long ago.” He straightened. “You have both been called to become Bengosha due to your faithfulness.”

Shiri wrinkled her brow and then stepped closer to Seimitsu. “Called to become what?”

Mateo smiled. “Bengosha. They are the Defenders that are chosen to defend the people from demons. You and your sister were given gifts by Tenrai when you believed that He still lives and will return as King.” He smiled gently. “You must learn how to release your gifts and use them to create the future waiting for you to help save as many people as you can.”

“But how?” Seimitsu asked. Her faith warred with doubt even though she’d spoken about a being like this rather calmly to Shiri more times than she could count. “Everyone else believes that the Father has abandoned us and demons are supposed to attack us as punishment.”

“Not everyone, child,” the Tenshi replied softly. “Your teacher and his mate have been chosen to train you. Pateren Wendell will help you discover your gifts. When Jun mentions Bengosha in your class, you need to go to him after the lesson that day and tell him about this dream. Then he will know what to do. After that, go with him to see Wendell. Tenrai the Daystar will guide you along this path. Have faith, dear ones. Remember that this land and hidden Protectors are counting on you to do what is needed.” With that Mateo began to fade.

“Wait!” Seimitsu called breathlessly. “Who are these ‘hidden Protectors’? Mateo? Mateo!” The landscape began to fade too.

Seimitsu was soon sitting up at the same time as her sister, both looking around their room. Shiri turned and was the first to speak. “Sei? Did that…really just happen?”

Seimitsu nodded as hope filled her. “Yeah, Ri. I think it did.”

“What do we do now?” Shiri asked with fear in her voice. “How can I fight those things that torment me? And how can Jun teach us that?”

Seimitsu smiled then sighed. “I don’t know, Ri. We wait as Mateo told us. You know how practical Jun is. This isn’t at all, so he’ll probably struggle with it. It will take Thalia to get him to see what he already wants to do even when he doesn’t know it. We just have to be patient.”

Shiri smiled back shakily. “That is not your strong point.” Her smile then faded as she drifted into contemplation. “Maybe if we both learn to fight, I can do it. Maybe my nightmares will end after I fight.”

“Maybe so,” Seimitsu agreed softly. “Like Mateo said, we just have to have faith.” She then laughed. “Well, I said the Father of Lights might send a Tenshi to fight the demons. It wasn’t quite like I expected, but Mateo was as beautiful as I’d always thought a Tenshi would be.”

“He was as majestic as you thought too,” Shiri added then smiled as both girls lay back down in the bed. Their hands clasped again as they closed their eyes to try to get more sleep since it was still dark outside the window. Seimitsu could only wonder who those “Protectors” were, why they were “hidden”, and if they really would be willing to help the two of them someday. Seimitsu also wondered why no one else seemed to know anything about Bengosha or “Protectors” just before she fell asleep.

CHAPTER 2~ 4000 A.D. (After Daystar) in Eirinth – medieval alternate dimension world existing parallel yet disparate to the present-day technological world of Earth – different passing of time between the two realms ~

In the northern middle province of Sakari, the village of Bunan sat nestled on a plateau of one of the mountains in the Kiwadoi range. It was in a secluded place intentionally since most inhabitants didn’t want regular interaction with the town or city in the valley unless a necessity called for items they couldn’t grow or make themselves. It had been that way for the people of Bunan for almost seventy years. If their council had its way it would remain so for the next century.

Shin Yamamoto sighed as he leaned his head back on the tree he was resting against. He was on the slope of the mountain that was over the valley as he watched the sunrise. He’d be one-hundred-ninety-seven years soon, and though his age was equivalent to nineteen mortal appearance or development years, it was because of his ancestral kind that they aged one physical year for every ten SET (Standard Eirinth Time) years lived after age five. Today, he felt closer to seven hundred. It wasn’t that his life was horrible. He found joy in many things. Shin just knew there was more he needed to be doing. That truth nagged like a pain he couldn’t relieve.

“Brooding again, Shinakio?”

Shin looked at the woman smirking at him as she strode towards the tree. Her long hair swayed in a high ponytail in a color that she called “strawberry blonde”. Kaiyan called his hair color “streaked blond” since it had brown strands through it. It fell past the nape of his neck to graze his collarbones and he felt it move as he shook his head before he answered, “No, Sis. Not brooding. Just thinking about what I’m usually thinking about – what we should be doing instead of hiding now.”

“Spoken like a true Kouken!” The young woman exclaimed as she sat down beside him.

“I’m serious, Kai.”

Her turquoise eyes flashed dangerously. “Don’t call me that! Kai is a male name. My name is Kaiyan! You know I don’t like it when Siena shortens it so you shouldn’t either.”

Shin grinned at her. “I know, but Shinakio isn’t my name either, so you just have to deal with yours if you’re going to call me the other one.”

Kaiyan huffed. Even though she was two-hundred-twenty-seven SET years, she didn’t look like it and certainly didn’t act like it. Shin often wondered when she’d finally admit that she liked it when Siena teased her. Then he decided he didn’t need to waste time thinking about it when there were more important things he should focus on. His sister felt the same as Shin did about their calling, and he knew he needed Kaiyan’s help if anything would ever change for the younger fighters.

“Zale had another dream last night,” he told her softly.

Kaiyan gasped with excitement. “Like the previous one?”

Shin nodded. “The same one actually. He said it must mean that they are both alive now and we should find them.” He paused then asked the question he knew he had to ask. “Do you think it’s time to go to the council and suggest we go back to being Protectors again?”

Kaiyan was silent for a moment and then sighed. “In light of the dreams, yes. Do I think they will listen? I doubt it.”

“Then we should try to get the small group we train with to accept fighting again first,” Shin replied, “before mentioning Bengosha.”

Kaiyan gave him a pointed look. “You know he won’t support it.”

Shin looked away. “I know, but maybe we can find some way to convince him somehow. He needs this as much as we do.”

“Don’t get your hopes up, Shin,” Kaiyan warned then flicked her bangs and leaned back against the tree. “His loss has blinded him to anything else.”

“Lord Ryuu has every right to feel the way he does,” Shin said in defense of the other man since he knew how much his and Kaiyan’s loss had affected them. “You know Jaedin meant the world to Ryuu since their father had died. If something happened to me, wouldn’t you feel the same way? What would you do if I was killed?”

The strawberry blonde snorted. “Fight until I got rid of as many of the ones responsible that I could. You know that! It’s what Ryuu should have done back then instead of abandoning us and the people.”

The two siblings fell silent until Shin sighed again. “We lost our parents, Kaiyan, but Ryuu lost himself too. Let’s try to help him if we can. We can talk with the others at the practice field to see how much support we can get. I’m sure Zale and Siena will have some ideas to try too.”

“Just don’t expect much from Siena,” Kaiyan warned then shook her head with a frown. “You know where his loyalties truly lie.”

~~~~~~~

“Come on, Ryuu!” Siena Stasheff said as he paced in front of a desk within the private council member’s small chamber. “You haven’t been to the practice field in forever and a day. It would do you good to fellowship with your element again!”

“You know why I won’t go, so quit asking me, Siena,” Ryuu Saito said calmly as he finished reading one of the papers from the large pile in front of him and signed it as the NE (Northeast) Kouken Council member.

Siena snorted then walked over to plop into one of the other chairs. “I lost my mother and him too, you know. That shouldn’t keep either of us from doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Mom and Jaedin wouldn’t want that, and you should know that more than anyone!”

The older man’s cobalt blue eyes, only a shade or two lighter than his brother’s had been, cut in Siena’s direction. “Do not presume to know what Jaedin would want. You were his best friend, but I was his brother.”

“I was his elemental brother, remember? With you being his blood brother, you should know what he’d say to this,” Siena stated. Kaiyan had told him that he had forest green eyes, so he imagined them darkening as they met Ryuu’s suddenly challenging cobalt. Siena’s two-hundred-thirty-seven SET years weren’t Ryuu’s four-hundred-twenty-five, but Siena had to stand for what was right no matter who was against him. “Mom trained you, Ryuu. She and Jaedin would be appalled at us right now!”

“There are no Bengosha, and even if there were, we couldn’t trust them now,” Ryuu countered, his voice tinged with anger. “They betrayed us once. I won’t let anyone do that again.”

“But letting the demons take over our world is better? Jaedin and my mom would be apoplectic for us even thinking that way!” Siena threw up his hands in total exasperation before closing his eyes to run his fingers through his shoulder-length golden brown hair – smiling from thinking of the exact color Kaiyan said it was. He then let himself muse about Ryuu’s to try to calm down. The other man’s was black with dark brown mingled together. Kaiyan had said some women called it “sable”.

Of course, none of the women Ryuu’s age had a chance with him despite his availability. That thought prompted him to look at Ryuu again. The man had gone back to signing official documents. Siena just shook his head in annoyance. How many times had he argued with his best friend’s older brother? Jaedin’s brother that Siena considered as close to being his own? It always hurt, but Siena had to try to get through to Ryuu somehow.

“I think Shin is getting restless again,” he said in a matter-of-fact way, hoping to get a reaction to pull Ryuu out of his placid routine. The continual document-signing always bugged Siena.

Ryuu sighed heavily as if knowing exactly how Siena felt about his work. “That boy needs to settle down and accept things the way they are.”

Siena shook his head as he laughed. “He’s a man now, Ryuu. He’s only a couple decades younger than me. Remember?”

“Regardless, he needs to let go of the past and accept the present.”

Siena raised an eyebrow at him, feeling sad and angry at the same time. Jaedin would have walked out long ago in complete disgust. Siena had seen times like that long ago. It prompted him to say, “Like you?”

Ryuu’s head came up with a fierce glare from where he’d been perusing another one of the pages Siena despised. “I think it’s time for you to leave before we get into an even worse argument.” He said it pointedly, but Siena could hear the masked pain and frustration.

Siena met that glare and grimaced inside even though he tried to maintain his normal ire-persona. “The truth is still the truth, Ryuu.”

“Please go, Stasheff,” the other man said as he rubbed his temple. “I have to get these papers signed today or Kisho will harangue me until I contemplate hitting him like I want to hit you right now.” He paused then added, “Come over for dinner. We’ll debate foolishness of youth tonight.”

Siena gave him a miserable look, nodded, then stood. “I’ll be there. Just remember, councilman – you weren’t the only one to lose someone that day. Some of the others are sick of letting the enemy get away.” With that he turned and left, hoping he hadn’t made things worse.

~~~~~~~

Zale Murakami sat at the table and took a bite of beef roast as he looked at Shin and Kaiyan across from him. “So, where’s Siena?”

Kaiyan gave Shin a pointed look but refrained from commenting. Zale had been told by Kaiyan that his blond hair was much lighter than Shin’s streaked blond. Proof of it being longer was it was pulled back at the nape and fell down between his shoulder blades. His two-hundred-seven SET years were only slightly more than Shin’s.

Shin had taken the time to swallow his bite then smiled at Zale. “I think he’s at Ryuu’s. You know Ryuu bribes Siena with food to keep them from fighting when Siena visits him at his council chambers trying to get him to practice. It helps Ryuu get some work done when Siena leaves and calms Siena down for a little while.”

Zale shook his head. “They fight as much as Jaedin and Ryuu did.”

“More since Siena has a worse temper than Jaedin ever had, if my memory is correct,” Kaiyan commented and earned Shin’s glare.

“I wouldn’t talk about a temper if I were you, Sis.”

Kaiyan just huffed making Zale smile and shake his head again as he said, “Siblings.”

“Yeah, would you like mine?” Shin offered Zale. It earned a kick from his sister under the table and made him chuckle some even as he stretched out the offended leg. “Just kidding, Kai!”

“Don’t call me that!” She demanded as she kicked him again even harder with her eyes blazing.

“I think I’ll just bask in your loving sibling-hood and call myself truly blessed,” Zale said with a teasing grin while Shin adjusted his legs out of Kaiyan’s reach.

Kaiyan rolled her eyes and smacked Zale’s arm as she said tartly, “Not funny, Zaley.” It was the nickname they’d used for him as a child, but unlike her it didn’t bother him. He just laughed as she muttered and got more potatoes.

“I think we should go to the next open council meeting,” Shin stated suddenly, bringing both companions to a more important topic.

Zale gave him a surprised look. “And tell them what?”

“Nothing about the dreams,” the streaked blond assured Zale. “I just think we should bring up wanting to fight the demons to protect the people again since it’s been a long time since the betrayal.”

“We talked to a few of the others at the practice field today. They seemed to feel the same way,” Kaiyan explained. Her temper was much like Siena’s – easily ignited and easily distracted.

Zale sat there staring at them for a few moments. He’d been away from the field that day because he’d twisted his ankle that morning over a toy left on his walkway by one of the children that lived down the road. It was healed now thanks to his Kouken healing attributes, but he’d spent the day thinking about what might happen if they began protecting the mortal people again. There were good and bad possibilities. Since the dreams had started, he’d longed to return to the service they’d all been called to do by their Creator. Their gifts were given for a reason. He wanted to fulfill that calling if at all possible.

“So what’s the plan?” Zale asked, willing to go along with the troubling-twosome if it meant finding their way to fulfill what his dreams had shown him so many times now.

Shin smiled. “Let’s keep talking with the others at the field that seem interested. If we get enough support, we might be able to convince the council to let those who are willing to then return to protecting the people against the demons.”

Zale looked down at his plate and used his knife to spear a carrot. “I think that our time is growing short, siblings.” His eyes met turquoise and dark gold. “Those demons are going to take this kingdom unless we do something about it, regardless of what the council says.”

Shin and Kaiyan’s gazes met then they both nodded in acceptance. All three of them knew it was only a matter of time before the issue was decided, not only for them but for all of Eirinth.

~~~~~~~

“We’ve managed to increase our canned stores over more than enough for the winter, so we won’t have to go into the towns or cities unless we have a major need,” Lady Euridis Flynn, SE member of the Kouken Council ended with gray eyes bright with obvious satisfaction from having accomplished the goal agreed upon some weeks earlier.

Ryuu’s mind was so far from that topic he could have been on a distant star. He kept thinking about the day before. Siena hadn’t brought up the heated conversation from Ryuu’s council chambers at dinner, but his words kept ringing in Ryuu’s memory. Just remember, councilman – you weren’t the only one to lose someone that day. Some of the others are sick of letting the enemy get away.”

Was that what they were doing? Hadn’t the Bengosha become the enemy decades ago? Since they’d all disappeared, why were Kouken still hiding from the demons? A few Protectors had fled because a report from the attack in Kitai had said that Defenders attacked with the demons, but shouldn’t remaining Kouken begin fighting for the people again anyway? It was now something Ryuu was considering whether he wanted to or not.

“Lord Ryuu? Ryuu, are you listening?” Ryuu looked up to see Lord Kisho Kojima, NW council member giving him a perplexed look.

Ryuu smiled benignly. “Sorry. Just mulling over a couple of things I’ve had on my mind. What did I miss?”

Kisho sighed then related the gist of the conversation, which was a request for more hand-crafted goods from their village to go to the nearby town. It was only being considered since it would create more revenue to buy more stores at a time and limit contact with the rest of Eirinth. Ryuu shook his head. Was this really what they’d become? Living as ostriches with their heads buried in the sand? Siena was right – Jaedin wouldn’t have allowed it without a violently bloody fight!

“While I approve an increase in commerce and revenue, I don’t approve of us making ourselves more isolated,” Ryuu said. That earned surprised looks from the other three Kouken Council members, but he went on in spite of it. “The threat of the Bengosha is over. It’s time we move beyond that time and become involved with the rest of the main kingdom to reclaim our place.”

“And take a chance that demons will target us again?” Lord Haldis Kaneko, SW council member and oldest of them asked incredulously. “I don’t think the threat is any less than before. We have to do what we must to survive and stay out of any conflict.”

“At what cost?” Ryuu demanded, wondering what had come over him but feeling more like his true self than he had in a long time. “While I understand our need to protect ourselves, we also must remember that we were each called to protect this kingdom. That’s something we haven’t done in a very long time.”

“For about seventy years actually,” Kisho commented with his light green eyes sharp but a little confused.

Ryuu met that gaze. “Yes, and while I share in the great loss that happened then, I also share in the merely fabricated safety now. That has become our sole purpose in existing and without even earning it.”

“We earned it long ago, Lord Ryuu,” Haldis replied crisply. “Now, the issue is whether or not to allow more goods to be transported. Since we all agree with that, the motion will stand.”

Ryuu nodded but knew this wasn’t the end of this particular discussion. He couldn’t let it be. He didn’t even know why…yet.

~~~~~~~

Kaiyan Yamamoto walked along with Shin, Zale, and Siena. They’d just come from the practice field and were all tired and sweaty from their practice session. The one woman of the group sighed as she thought of how well she’d done with targets that afternoon. Her Geo Stallion was fierce and beautiful. Kaiyan loved her element fighting partner almost to the point of obsession. She laughed at herself over fanciful thoughts. If the guys only knew how silly she could be!

“I don’t think the council is going to consider such a proposal, Shin. You know how dug in some of them are…especially Ryuu.”

Siena’s comment brought her back to a new conversation going on without her. Frowning, she caught back up with the others that were a few steps in front of her because she’d fallen behind with her thoughts. “What do you mean by that? What did you do now?”

He scowled at her. “I didn’t do anything, Kai! I simply don’t think Ryuu will support it. I told him we needed to move on and start protecting Migoto again because Jaedin would want it. Ryuu just doesn’t see it that way, and I don’t know if he ever will!”

“Way to go, Sen!” She retorted, using her nick-name for him that meant ‘lotus flower’ in retaliation. “Why in the world would you bring Jaedin up at this point?” She blew at her bangs. “And don’t call me Kai!”

“He’s going to think about Jaedin no matter what, Kaiyan,” Zale said to soothe her. “It is always linked to being a Protector in his mind.”

Shin nodded. “I’m sure you were just trying to get him to see our real situation,” he said as he put his hand on Siena’s shoulder. Then Shin looked at Kaiyan. “And maybe mentioning Jaedin will make Ryuu think about what they both stood for before that battle.” Shin sighed as his eyes met the determined ones of Zale. “And even if everyone is against us, we may have to fight because it’s the right thing to do.”

Kaiyan looked at her younger brother and wondered when he’d become so confident. He had suffered from bullying when he was a child since he’d been much smaller than the other kids his age. Even though he was still shorter than his peers now, his attitude had matured greatly. His sister was prouder of him than he could ever guess. Shin had become the man that stood up for his beliefs. She looked back at Siena and saw him frowning at her. Even she could see the hurt in his forest eyes from her earlier words. She hated when she let her temper flare. Siena hadn’t deserved it this time.

Kaiyan smiled softly. “I’m sorry, Siena. Shin’s right. We just have to do what we can to get through to them all.”

The brunet nodded as his face cleared at her apology. It was a scene they’d played out more times than she could remember. He then said, “Ryuu seemed all right that evening when I left, so maybe it did some good instead. I guess we’ll find out…hopefully soon.”

Shin threw his arm around Kaiyan. “Yeah, Sis. Let’s have some faith! If we don’t believe in what we’re doing how will the others?”

The strawberry blonde just smiled before ducking under his arm to begin walking ahead. She laughed when the three young men called out for her to wait. Sometimes it seemed like they were trapped in an endless pattern of inaction and waiting for something to happen to force them to change. She just hoped that the “something” came along while they could still have time to fight.

~~~~~~~

“Ryuu-ki! Wait for me…wait for me!”

Ryuu turned to see his younger brother rushing after him. The little boy always used the name when he needed something, adding the ‘ki’ part from the ancient word ‘aniki’ that meant older brother. It amused Ryuu so he allowed it. Being one-hundred-eighty-five years older, Ryuu sometimes got annoyed with the ball of energy that his sibling could be. For the most part, though, Ryuu adored Jaedin. He especially loved how those innocent midnight blue eyes lit up when Ryuu came home from his classes.

“What do you want, Jaedin-nii?” the young man in appearance asked, smiling when Jaedin’s child-like eyes did light up at Ryuu’s use of the nickname for his little brother. It was another truncated word from the same ancient language the Kouken still spoke and used in literature.

“You gonna see Crina?”

Ryuu grinned. “Ca-rina, and yes, I’m heading there to study now. Why?” He already knew the answer. Carina’s son was only a few years younger than Jaedin. They played well together even if they had their moments of usual little boy tussling.

“Can I come?” The child asked with hopeful eyes that almost melted Ryuu where he stood.

Ryuu pretended to consider it but then sighed. “Okay. Get your outside gear. It’s cold and I don’t want to deal with you getting sick.”

Jaedin gave a whoop of happiness and fetched his sleeved cloak. Once he had it on, Ryuu nodded approval and reached his hand to take the smaller one. “Don’t get into fights with Siena. You know he has…”

“A bad tempersure,” the child of forty SET years said with a nod.

His older brother chuckled. “Temper, Jaedin. Temperature means a fever like when you get sick.”

“Well, whatever it is, it makes him holler a lot!”

Ryuu threw his head back and laughed, picking up his little brother to hug him. Jaedin’s arms wrapped tightly around Ryuu’s neck, and they walked out the front door.

Ryuu lay in bed for a long time after he woke up, tears filling his eyes as he remembered the dream. His heart both laughed and cried, torn between the joy of the dream being based on a memory and the pain from knowing he’d never see those midnight blue eyes again in his mortal life. He knew the intense rage when the tragedy had happened. Ryuu had also wanted to destroy the enemies immediately, but the others in the council had voted against him. He’d sulked at home alone for days.

That’s when the drinking had started – with a single bottle. Ryuu was now sober and intended to stay that way. He took a deep breath, sat up, and wiped roughly at his wet face. Siena’s one point was valid – they needed to remember more than their pain so their losses weren’t in vain.

~~~~~~~

“Do you remember the way my mother used to sew such amazing clothes?” Zale asked Shin as they walked by a dress shop in the village.

Shin smiled. “Yeah and you used to be her favorite model too.”

The tall blond frowned at the shorter one. “I’d rather forget that.”

“But you looked so cute with those frilly things on,” Shin teased him, stepping away to avoid a punch to his shoulder. He grinned at his friend. “I remember you looked really good in blue.”

Zale shook his head but replied calmly, “So help me, Shin, if you don’t shut it, I’m going to tell your sister that you were the one who cut her doll’s hair that one time, not Siena.”

Shin’s amusement was cut short by that threat as he said, “Okay, I give.” If there was one thing the brother and friends had learned – never get Kaiyan truly riled up or there would be some bloodshed. Shin looked back at Zale, and the taller blond knew his smile had to be a bit smug.

Another memory apparently came to Shin since he grinned broadly. “But I seem to remember certain coloring sheaves that you…”

Zale stopped in mid-step as his eyes met Shin’s dark gold ones. “Okay…truce. Siena will always be the only one of us brave enough to counter Kaiyan, and I don’t know how that will work out for him in the end since she knows it.”

The two young men nodded then continued down the road for a while until Shin smiled again though it was tinged with sadness. “I do remember that my mother made the best custard tarts,” he said. “Father used to say they were the best in the whole city.”

Zale nodded with a smile. “I remember that.” He could then feel his smile falter as he said, “My mother wasn’t much of a cook but father loved her anyway.” He could tell from Shin’s expression that his words had stunned him. Zale added quickly, “He loved her so much, but he had such high expectations for me to be the best Wave Wielder in the land. I was only eighty years!” Zale frowned. “How can a kid at the development age of eight live up to that kind of thing, no matter how talented he is?”

Shin gripped his shoulder. “My father told me more than once that your father was really proud of you, Zale. I know he put a lot of pressure on you, but he just meant to encourage you.”

Zale nodded. “I know, but if it weren’t for you, Kaiyan, and Siena, I might have ended up with a bad view of myself.” He smiled slightly. “You all taught me that whatever I became needed to be of my choosing. Not anyone else’s. You all told me I had to discover my own path.”

“And that’s still true today, Zaley,” Shin said with a grin.

“Don’t make me have to get that sister of yours after you. I know more things you let Siena take the fall for when we were kids since he did things to Kaiyan on purpose to tease her.”

The shorter blond swallowed hard. “Well, now that I think about it, Siena might have been the one who messed up those coloring sheaves…”

~~~~~~~

Ryuu sighed at the knock to his council chamber door. He truly did not want to deal with Siena at the moment. He was still a bit too raw from the dream, but he knew the other man would not go away, so he called out in his best authoritative voice, “Enter.”

“Good day to you, Lord Ryuu,” a young man greeted as he walked in with a swagger that still annoyed Ryuu.

“To you as well, Takeo. What brings you here?” Ryuu could truthfully say he’d rather it would’ve been Siena instead of the man standing before him.

Takeo Kojima, the younger brother of Kisho from the Kouken Council, smiled then sat down in one of the chairs. “My brother told me about you wanting to fight the demons again. I wanted to give you my support since I know how hard it was for you to even propose it.”

Ryuu blinked at him, completely not expecting such a thing. “Does Kisho know you’re here? Or that you feel this way?”

Takeo shrugged. “Not that I’m here but that I think it’s time we take on the demons again.” Light green eyes just like his brother’s grew hard then. “Seeing the others killed made me see that it’s better to go down fighting instead of just living in exile, even if this is safer.”

Ryuu nodded then sighed. “If we just knew that the demons were the only danger we were facing, it would be easier to decide what to do.”

Takeo considered his words for a moment before speaking. “Well, do you think we should just bide our time for a little longer to make sure?” He shrugged, seeming a bit deflated. “Considering just how many of our strongest fighters were lost, we might want to let the younger ones get stronger before really taking on the demons again.”

Ryuu thought for a moment then sighed again. “That might be the best course of action.” His mind told him it was probably the wisest thing to do even as his heart clenched. “If anyone brings it up that’s what I will tell them for now. Maybe that will help us to ease into the idea.”

Takeo smiled again. “As always, you never fail to see true reason, Ryuu.” With that he got up. “I’ll tell Kisho to not worry about your view since it’s helped mine. He thought you might lead some kind of rebellion against the council!”

Ryuu snorted. “My loyalties lie with the council, Takeo. Please make sure he knows it. I’m well aware of what a delicate and dangerous situation we would face in this matter.”

Takeo tilted his head. “Of course, you do. You lost your brother in that battle. If anyone has cause to be wary, it’s you. Besides, losing Siena would be something you couldn’t bear. Good evening to you.”

“You too, Takeo.” He faltered then added grudgingly, “Tell Macy I said hello.” Ryuu wanted to bite his own tongue off, but he couldn’t help how much he missed her even with their past and current realities.

Takeo gave him a penetrating look since he was Mate-Linked to Macy and had been for decades. He nodded and replied, “I’ll do that.”

As Takeo walked out the door, Ryuu was reminded of another time and then quickly went back to the expenditure parchments he was working on for the next meeting. He had no time for regret or memories. Of course, he couldn’t help that when he closed his eyes he saw echoes of violet ones that shone with mischief in one moment then melded to one of despair in another. Ryuu tried to push it away but he couldn’t help the ache for what was truly gone. Unfortunately, longing memories could not undo the past.

~~~~~~~

“Look, mama! A flutterby!”

The russet red-haired woman turned to see him using his Wind element to lift a delicate insect above a flower. “Siena! Let the butterfly have the nectar. If you play with it too much, you’ll exhaust it until it won’t be able to last long enough to get it.”

The little boy’s eyes widened as he gently let the wispy jewel-tone colored creature land again. “I sorry, mama! I not wanna hurt it.” His lip started to quiver, thinking he’d done something wrong.

Carina Stasheff knelt beside him and pulled the little boy into her arms. “You didn’t, dear heart. Just remember that your power is supposed to be used for good, not just for fun. Okay?”

Siena nodded, lifting his face to reveal the small tears tracking down it. “I will. I don wanna hurt the flutterbys.”

The young woman smiled, pulling him closer. The floral scent of her hair calmed her son as he breathed it in while she spoke, “I know.” After a moment of holding him, she pulled away and patted his head. “Want to visit Shin?”

The little boy nodded enthusiastically. “And Kai! I can tell her bout…” He paused, his mind recalling how she hadn’t liked him playing with the little bird that one day. “Well, maybe I can show her the colors with her die-oods!”

His mother smiled and took his hand. “Dye-woods, my heart. Let’s go, but try to not bother Kaiyan too much!”

Siena woke with a jolt. Sitting up, he looked at his hand, almost able to still feel his mother’s touch. He hadn’t dreamed about her in quite a while and decided it was from talking of the past so much the last few days. Though he’d admonished Ryuu about living in the grips of those days, Siena wasn’t over the loss he’d experienced either – not of Jaedin and certainly not of his mother.

“But I’m still going to fight,” he said out loud. “I’m going to help make sure their deaths were not in vain.” His eyes filled with tears before he could stop them as he looked at the ceiling. “I promise, Mama. I won’t let your sacrifice be forgotten or used to keep people from doing what’s right.” With that, he got up to get ready for the day, his hand still feeling warm as a familiar scent lingered in his mind and somehow managed to fill his senses again.

~~~~~~~

The village merchant shops gathered outside for the nice weather, voices raised in haggling as the goods were exchanged for currency. Shin walked along rows of tables with metal items, his eyes taking in excellent choices but dismissing each. He sighed; he hadn’t known picking a small dagger would be such a difficult task. He finally gave up and walked toward where the others were waiting by the food stands.

“What’s this sudden fascination with weaponry, Shinakio? Aren’t our gifts enough?” His sister questioned him as she sipped her berry juice.

Shin frowned over the name then shrugged. “They can be useful.” He pointed to Siena’s twin daggers that the man didn’t go without since they had once belonged to his father. “I want something I can use for various tasks like those can be used for when needed.”

“You’ll have a hard time finding their equal,” Siena challenged as he ruffled his own bangs that were damp. “My Da got them in Shinrin. Some of the best metal-working was done there.”

Shin grunted, “Well, I can at least try.”

“Maybe we should take a trip to check out the shops there for a better selection,” Zale offered.

Shin glanced at Kaiyan and Siena. They both gave Zale somewhat surprised but odd looks so Shin responded with, “I think we should hold off doing that until after the open meeting.” He saw his sister and friend relax before he shared an amused grin with Zale. The other man took a bite of his braised chicken drumstick, a favorite food sold at market.

“Yeah, now wouldn’t be a good time to get caught sneaking off to other parts of Migoto. Maybe we can after we see how the council reacts to our proposal,” Siena said, earning an awed look from Kaiyan. He gave her an affronted one back. “What? I can be as reasonable as anyone else.”

“Sometimes,” the strawberry blonde admitted but then smirked at him. “Sometimes just doesn’t seem enough in the grand scheme of things, though, when it comes to our calling.”

“Don’t start, Kai!” The brunet warned, though he didn’t seem to really be angry. “I don’t want to have to remind you that I’m faster and stronger than you in any fight, with or without an element partner.”

“Don’t call me Kai!” Kaiyan yelled, making Shin and Zale share another one of those looks. Shin still couldn’t decide if Kaiyan or Siena had the shorter fuse.

Siena wasn’t affected by Kaiyan’s temper this time. “Aw, come on Kai-Kai! Don’t you wanna pway in the stweet?” He teased her as he shot off down the road to run backwards through the clear street to watch her.

“I am going to make you sorry you were ever born, Sen!” Kaiyan snarled as she went after him. Siena laughed as he turned to begin putting a little distance between them since Kaiyan was gaining.

“Those two really need to Mate-Link and get through with the flirting,” Zale observed as he finished his food. His cerulean blue eyes gleamed with amusement and a bit of awe.

Shin blinked at the thought but then shook his head. “I doubt that would help. They might kill each other if they ever became Mate-Linked with the way they argue now.”

“Maybe.” The tall blond just shrugged, looking around the other tables. “I need a new tunic.” He looked down at the one he had on. It was beginning to fade. “I know I probably won’t find anything as fine as what my Ma made, but I have to try.”

“Then let’s go before they get back,” Shin agreed, looking over to where the clothing was located to the side.

As they walked toward the tables, Shin thought about how the four of them had changed in the past few decades yet still continued to remain the same in some ways. It wasn’t that it was so wrong, but he knew why it no longer was enough, at least for him. He stopped long enough to buy a juice with the currency that the surviving children of the Kouken Fighters lost in Kitai had been given. Shin had appreciated the help back then since he’d been young and afraid even though he’d had Kaiyan. They both still struggled to regain a normal life, but not being able to fight demons that had taken their parents didn’t help. Shin wanted to earn his place, making sure fewer children had to endure what he and Kaiyan both had.

~~~~~~~

“Keep watching them at the practice field. Let me know who they are talking with and if they seek them out more than once. If they are to go against the council we need to know so we can stop them before it gets out of hand. I don’t want to deal with their idiocy.”

The other man in the room nodded, completely aware by now of what failure would mean for him personally since he was in the midst of something he would not be able to escape. “Yes, my lord. I will report anything I see or hear as soon as I can.”

Kojima smirked, his cruel eyes glittering in the darkness that only one small candle fought. “If you hear anything concerning Ryuu, report it immediately. His recent change of heart is not good. I’d hate to have to kill another person he loves to immobilize him again.” The man paused, seeming to let that sink into the other man’s awareness of what it could mean for him. “I want you to watch my brother too. He’s fighting my one controlling spell. It would be truly unfortunate for him to break free of it at a crucial moment.”

“It will all be done, my lord.” The other man hesitated then asked, “What of Lady Euridis?”

“She is of no threat to us,” was the reply. “I doubt she will ever try to overstep her boundaries, which is why I have allowed her to still be on the council and friends with Macy.”

The other man nodded, swallowing roughly. This was always the hardest part…leaving with even an ounce of self-worth. “Anything else?”

“That will be it for now, but remember – you are too involved in this now to back out. It would mean death but worse before the end.”

Nodding shakily, the other man turned and walked out of the dim chamber, making a mental list of his orders to ensure that he would not fail a single one…no matter what.

The young man had been warned by his parents as a young boy that you couldn’t trust a viper not to strike even if you had hand fed it for a lifetime. He was getting tired of fearing the fangs finally penetrating to render him as useless as his mindset had been when this had all begun. If only he could go back and change the course his life had taken.

He’d trusted the wrong person before and that had led to his anger and misjudgment. He’d trusted another one that was leading to new rounds of misjudgments. If he didn’t soon learn the lesson of listening to his true heart he’d never change his future. He had to play along until the moment presented itself to allow him to right a wrong from long ago and the new wrong he was trying to avoid if he could find a way to do what was right.

He had seen the way Shin and Zale calmed themselves whenever around Kaiyan when she was in a rampage. If he could only learn how to be that calm. It would do him a lot of good to hang around them all at the training field and in the area where the merchants sold goods more often. Maybe now that he understood what was truly at stake he could find the strength to not be as successful as he’d been.

His lack of progress in the past had made teachers so aggravated. It was part of the reason why he’d failed to see what he had been missing for so long…friendship that was strong, true, and based on more than personal abilities or societal standing. More than acceptance of those in power who refused to accept the main truths you knew as needed to keep your world from falling to pieces. His parents had taught him those truths, but he’d forgotten in moments of pain, treachery, and lack of balance in his life.

Balance – a word that had always seemed to have definitions that never brought the peace he’d sought. He was going to try to re-establish the meanings and see if he could put the past behind him and try to help those that didn’t need to learn the harsh lessons that had haunted him for the past seventy years.

It was time to teach his heart that there could be an honest answer to “if only” that didn’t end with the feeling of defeat caused by another wrong choice when a right one was in his grasp.

CHAPTER 3~ 4000 A.D. (After Daystar) in Eirinth – medieval alternate dimension world existing parallel yet disparate to the present-day technological world of Earth – different passing of time between the two realms ~

Jun let his eyes roam over students sitting in the large classroom, wondering like he had for over a month about his students. It was the first summer month named Rokugatsu so the teaching year was ending. Were any in his class those he’d train to become Bengosha? There seemed to be a few possibilities, but the problem was how parents would react. Most wouldn’t want their children fighting demons. According to main scrolls there had once been many Bengosha and even more Kouken. It had been seen as an honor then and a necessity that others accepted. Now though…

From their scroll reading, he and Thalia had found that the specific things the Bengosha needed to learn were dependent upon which Energy gift. It looked like a defensive shield would be the first thing they’d learn since it would work with any gift, but he needed to find those he’d teach before they could even do that. That thought alone made the teacher sigh heavily. What Jun needed to do was focus on the lesson he had to teach to finish the class for this term.

“Master Jun, is something wrong?”

Jun looked up to see the oldest daughter of his best friend Berne Forester giving him a pointed look. Seimitsu, though she preferred to be called Sei, was usually laughing and inquisitive in an insightful way. She had her mother’s honey hair and her father’s blue eyes but dressed more like her father to her mother’s chagrin. Seimitsu ignored dresses for the practicality of decorated tunics, like the black one she had on that morning with a blue dragon emblazoned on it that fell just past her knees over black leggings – unlike the flowered sundress that Shiri wore over modest tights.

Both girls excelled at their studies, so Jun had always considered them his best students, their relation aside. They were both as curious as cats, always asking questions whenever he told stories, wanting to know more about everything they could. Both girls called him ‘Master’ during class, but he and Thalia were their extended family outside of school. Jun would have already chosen Seimitsu and Shiri for Bengosha training if it weren’t for their father and his explosive temper. It was legendary and a bit difficult to behold even when you weren’t the target of it. Jun had learned long ago to give the other man space over certain things.

Jun and Berne had both moved to the town of Ando for work. Berne was as stubborn as he was fun-loving, something that had marked their teen and young adult years with trouble. The teacher couldn’t ask for a better friend, but Berne didn’t believe in the same things that Jun did. If he tried to teach Berne’s children any divine fighting gifts, the blacksmith would come with a brand in one hand and a belt knife in the other. Jun wasn’t truly scared of the man, but he didn’t want to fight him either.

Berne’s mate and mother of the two girls was Vian, daughter of Thalia’s much older brother from a different father. Vian had become more like a little sister to Thalia since they were closer in age. The two young women had grown up in the province of Kozue to the south of Shinrin. They came north to the town of Ando, and the young women had decided to stay and help run the local school owned by Thalia’s family friend “Aunt Dory”. Jun found out later that Thalia and Vian had chosen to stay because of him and Berne.

The herbalist-turned-workman had fallen for Thalia a few months later and proposed a permanent relationship to the bouncy blonde. He had become her mate happily and then a reluctant teacher to help with growing numbers of students in Ando. It had taken Berne longer to admit to being smitten with Vian, but he’d then claimed her as his mate some time later. Seimitsu came along shortly after that. When Dory passed away, the two women and Jun took over running classes completely while Berne kept metalworking since it was a job he’d found pride in doing well.

Shaking himself from his thoughts again, Jun realized he hadn’t replied yet. Seimitsu and the other students were looking a bit worried. Laughing, he said, “I’m fine, Sei. Thinking how to begin and still finish the last lesson of this year.” It was the truth, so the teacher smiled as he tried to concentrate. “This is the hierarchy to the government of Migoto,” he explained as he wrote using a quill on parchment attached to an easel. “Leaders from each village answer to the mayor of the closest town. The mayor reports to the governor of the nearest city. The governors are given authority from the provincial lords, who are each part of the Migoto High Council.” Jun paused and drew connecting lines. “The High Council then serves directly under King Avidan…”

“Why can’t the High Council stop the demons from attacking us?”

Jun almost dropped his plume, turning to see who had asked that. From the determined look on her face, it had been Shiri. The girl had her father’s brown hair and her mother’s brown eyes. She was as clever as her sister but also resolute to not live in Seimitsu’s shadow. Shiri’s dress was sunny yellow with bright flowers. The contrast was pretty obvious.

They’d both make excellent Defenders but Jun had to get that idea out of his head; it just simply would never be. He sighed when he noticed that all of the students were waiting for his answer. Most of those in class were in their teens or a year before. They were all old enough to know the attacks weren’t right, and he couldn’t stand there as a teacher and believer in Tenrai Daystar without attempting to explain his viewpoint of the dire situation since Shiri had asked.

“The High Council is not a spiritual government, Shiri. They can’t stop demons.” Jun paused, knowing he was taking a chance, but couldn’t stop himself from adding, “But there were Defenders called Bengosha and Protectors called Kouken that used to fight the demons for us long ago.”

Shiri shared a look with Seimitsu and then asked, “Bengosha and Kouken? Where did they go? Shouldn’t they still be fighting for us now?”

Jun blinked at her quick acceptance while the other students gave him disbelieving looks. He decided to go on anyway since Seimitsu and Shiri were both interested. He still couldn’t quell his desire that they be his two students in the new field he would be teaching soon. “Well, something happened that made the Protectors leave about seventy years ago. I’m still trying to find out the details, but after the Protectors disappeared then the Defenders just weren’t strong enough to fight the demons alone. The last Defender died about sixty-five years ago, so people don’t remember them at all.” Jun sighed. “Some priests do teach us about the Creator, but they don’t seem to know about these Defenders or Protectors. That’s why we have no defense against the demons now. Most people know nothing of the ones once called to fight for the people.”

“But since a few of us know about them, why can’t someone learn how to become a Bengosha?” Seimitsu inquired, causing murmurs around her. “Didn’t they write down how to do it somewhere? That would seem like something too important to be lost completely.”

“Yeah,” Shiri added, looking at her sister. “The fighters must’ve left behind something.” When Seimitsu nodded, the younger sister added as she looked at Jun again, “The writings couldn’t have been destroyed, especially if they would have had those things in them, right?”

Jun placed his hands on the arms of his chair, leaning back as his eyes passed over the large library that they used for everyday lessons. His students sat on the low carpeted floor, parchments in their laps, quills idle at the moment, but the teacher could only see the two girls near the front whom he suspected were really meant to be his Bengosha to train, come what may. Jun had prayed the night before for wisdom. For Seimitsu and Shiri to both bring up these specific questions was something he couldn’t ignore…no matter how much he didn’t want to deal with their father.

“What would you do if there were scrolls to tell you, Sei?” He asked cautiously, watching her eyes shine with prospect.

“I would learn how to fight the demons so no one else would have to die,” she replied with her blue eyes like the sky that stared unflinchingly into his darker ones. “Running away in fear when they attack is not what Tenrai Daystar wants for us. We have to stand up for what we believe in. Just talking about it isn’t enough anymore.”

Jun nodded then looked at the younger sister. “And you, Shiri? What would you do if there were parchments about it?”

Shiri glanced at Seimitsu then seemed to sit up straighter. “I’d then learn to fight too so Sei wouldn’t have to do it alone.” She paused, biting her lip. “I might get afraid sometimes, but I could do it with help from a good teacher and the gifts I would be given to do it.”

“You’d just get killed too!” Linden, a boy in the back row, called out and made the rest of the class laugh since it did seem impossible.

Seimitsu tilted her head and ignored the boy behind her to study the man in front of her. “Not if someone like Master Jun was our teacher. Someone like him would make sure Shiri and I learned what we needed to know to stay alive and defend others.”

Jun held her gaze, amazed at the conviction in her voice. He also could tell from the light coming through a window that it was getting late, so when he glanced at the marked candle, he wasn’t surprised that it was time to end the lessons. He announced that they’d continue next year then dismissed the group. The other students left while Seimitsu and Shiri continued to stay in their places.

They both got up only after all the rest had gone. Shiri walked right up to Jun’s desk. “Do you think the scrolls exist?” She asked as she looked down at her hands clasped together. “I don’t want to be hurt by a demon. Or see anyone else hurt either…” Her words were cut off as Jun reached out and took her hand.

The teacher’s heart twisted at seeing her fear. “There may be a way to stop them, Shiri.”

Seimitsu came to stand beside her sister, putting her arm around Shiri in comfort. “She has nightmares, but I think learning to fight would help. I know we’re young, but maybe when we’re older we’ll be able to do more with what you could teach us. A Tenshi visited us last…”

“A Tenshi?” Jun interrupted.

“Yes,” the older sister replied confidently. “His name was Mateo. He brought us both to the realm between awake and dreams to tell us that we’ve been chosen by Tenrai to become new Defenders.” She paused then went on, “Mateo said that when you mentioned Bengosha in this class, we should tell you about the dream. Oh! And that we should talk with Pateren Wendell about helping us to find our gifts, and…”

“What of your parents?” Jun interrupted again, dismissing the dream until he could sort it all out. Like with Eron, he was excited and bewildered in almost equal parts.

Seimitsu winced. “Well, our father won’t approve,” she admitted before looking at Shiri who nodded. Seimitsu gazed back at Jun. “But our mother probably would.”

The man considered this for a moment then decided it would be best to deal with Vian if that was true. The younger woman had a greater understanding of spiritual matters for sure. “All right. I’ll talk with her. I can’t tell you anything more until I do, okay?”

Both girls nodded at him then Shiri looked at Seimitsu, giving her a small smile. “Maybe this can help stop my nightmares, Sei.”

Seimitsu hugged her. “Yeah, Ri. Maybe so.” She then looked back to Jun. “Will you talk with mother now? She and Thalia should’ve already dismissed their students too.”

Taking in their eager expressions, Jun could only smile. “I can do that. You two go and wait outside since it’s so nice out. I’ll come for you.”

Smiling back, the two girls turned and bounded out the door. Jun took a deep breath. This wasn’t going to be easy even if Vian was open to the idea. There would be questions he didn’t know the answers to himself. He and Thalia had only read through a few scrolls so far. There could be startling expectations of the Bengosha that they had no clue of yet.

Sighing to himself, the teacher closed his ink well, tipped his plume, and then stood to put the parchment sheets away for next year. “Who would have thought?” Jun mused then shook his head over the incredible turn of events as he left the room. He closed the wooden doors to what used to be the stables in back that were converted into the library where he taught older children history and advanced subjects.

Thalia taught music and nature while Vian taught basic studies to younger children in the rooms adjacent to their home. He had no doubt of some parents confronting him about his teachings that day, but he refused to back down when asked for the truth that he knew absolutely. Choosing to fight one battle at a time, Jun pushed the other from his mind to focus on this approaching discussion with Vian. Squaring his shoulders, Jun took the path around to the front of their house.

~~~~~~~

“Nearly fifty villagers in one night! I don’t know what we’re going to do, Thal. If those demons come to Meian, we’ll be slaughtered, and no one can do anything about it! Village elders are at a complete loss, and the High Council certainly doesn’t have any answers,” Vian lamented.

Thalia stared at the young woman that was her niece through her brother. Thalia actually thought of Vian as a little sister due to their ages being so close. Ever since learning more about the Bengosha, Thalia had thought of Vian’s girls. She hadn’t said anything about it to Jun since she knew that Berne would not allow his girls to learn how to fight demons. Thalia didn’t know if this was the right chance for her to talk with Vian about her two girls or just wishful thinking on her part. Vian did have some of the same spiritual viewpoints…

“What if someone could do something about it?” Thalia asked. “What if it was possible to learn how to fight the demons, but it took someone that’s chosen and others that can teach them?”

Vian snorted. “Like who? The council is too wrapped up in those disputes of property lines for the Lords to do anything about the demons for commoners. There is no one else.”

“What if there was?” This time the question came from Jun, who had just come through the hall from the front classroom that led to the little sitting area where the women were talking.

Thalia noticed the determination in her mate’s eyes and wondered what had happened. He’d been discouraged for the last few days, so she’d been praying for him. It seemed like something of a break-through if she was right, and that might change their circumstances finally.

Vian Forester gave him a skeptical look. “Who could possibly stop those monsters, Jun? We’ve been running from them for decades. Who would dare oppose them without dying?”

~~~~~~~

The male teacher sat down at the little table with them, his chair across from the women. Taking a deep breath, Jun prayed for the right words as he began, “There was once a group of believing fighters called Bengosha in the ancient tongue, meaning Defender or Defenders in ours. These certain believers were given special abilities through the Blood Pact of Tenrai to fight the demons until they are weakened to be cast out of our realm. There haven’t been any Defenders since the last died close to seven decades ago. There hadn’t been information on teaching those with gifts once they’ve been called either.”

“And there’s someone who can teach them now?” Vian asked. Her tone was hopeful before it turned wary. “How do you know this? Is that herb shop keeper telling you stories again?”

“Master Eron gave me the training scrolls a few weeks ago.” He smiled at her shocked expression and went on, “I’ve been looking for my students ever since I began reading. The future Bengosha must learn basic defensive skills first – the earlier, the better.” He saw understanding in her eyes. “Yes, most parents wouldn’t let children learn anything associated with that, but the first lessons would help them to survive demon attacks.” He locked his eyes with hers. “Wouldn’t that be worth it?”

Vian looked down at the table as her hands grasped her cup. “Yes.”

Jun went on then, “I believe your daughters are two of the ones I’m supposed to train.”

Vian sat there, still looking down at her hands. She was thirty-one, having become Berne’s Mate at sixteen years old. She was strong and able to match the stubborn father of her children in every way, but for her two daughters to be able to fulfill their destiny, Vian had to be willing to face hardships that included Berne’s fury when he found out about the lessons. The teacher was sure his friend would and throw a colossal fit.

Her cinnamon brown eyes focused on Jun again. “Why do you think that they could be the ones you’re looking for? Surely, you have other students that would be better suited. Older, more easily trained, and…maybe boys that are sturdier.”

Jun shook his head. “Shiri asked me in class today why the High Council couldn’t stop the demons from attacking. I mentioned the former fighters no longer around, but your girls began questioning me about the possibility of writings that could teach people to become the Bengosha. I explained to the group some of what I told you about Defenders. After the other students left, your girls said a Tenshi visited them both in the realm before dreams and told them that they had been chosen by Tenrai.” Jun held up his hand to forestall the rebuke from Vian that he saw coming. “I didn’t tell them about the scrolls yet. I asked if they’d go against Berne to become Defenders if something like that existed.”

Vian blinked. “Do you believe the dream-visit? What did the girls say about their father?”

“The Father of Lights sent a dream to Eron about the scrolls, so sending a Tenshi to call the girls is a definite possibility. Either way, they said Berne wouldn’t allow it, but that you might since Shiri’s nightmares are about demons and seem to be getting worse.” Jun sighed. “She’s so afraid, Vian, and I want to do something to help stop the nightmares.”

“I know, but what makes you think this training will help?” Vian countered. “Wouldn’t trying to teach them how to fight make it worse?”

Jun shrugged. “I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that if they do this, they have a chance to survive even if the demons come to Ando or Meian. This might be the only way for that.”

“I know this is even beyond what we’ve been taught, Vi,” Thalia interjected, “but I’ve read these scrolls and could think of no one but your girls to be the Bengosha.” She smiled at Jun’s raised eyebrow. “I didn’t tell you because I knew you didn’t want to deal with Berne. I don’t know how we’ll handle him when he does find out, but I truly believe that Sei and Shiri are the ones you’ve been seeking.”

“If Berne finds out and says the girls can’t learn I must respect his wishes,” Vian said matter-of-factly. “I hate to do that but he is their father. I can’t force him to believe like I do, no matter how much I wish I could.” She smiled sadly. “Until then…I will let them see what they can learn if you wish to teach them…so long as it isn’t dangerous.”

“It shouldn’t be dangerous at first,” Jun replied as truthfully as he could since he didn’t know all of the details yet. “It should be enough to save their lives before more demanding things they might have to study.”

The mother searched his eyes. “You promise they won’t learn how to fight the demons until later?”

Jun hesitated. “From the texts I’ve read, there are things they must learn before fighting with those gifts they will develop. I can’t teach them more than defensive techniques until the other presents itself.” He reached out and took her hand. “Even if demons attack, they will at least be safer. If anything, this could help stop Shiri’s nightmares.” He smiled. “It may give Sei direction as well. She’s quite willful and acts on her emotions, especially when thoroughly convinced of something.”

Vian laughed, shaking her head. “Shiri can be more of a handful than Sei is sometimes because she’s always trying to outdo her sister.”

“Which might help,” Jun said with a grin. “Sibling rivalry isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this kind of situation.”

Vian laughed and stared down at her cup again. She took a deep breath, looked at Thalia, and then met Jun’s gaze. “All right. I’ll give my permission. Teach them both how to defend themselves, and if we live, then go on with the rest once they’re older.” She picked up her tea, took another sip, and then set it down with a sigh. “It’s better than getting slaughtered without any way to fight.”

Thalia leaned over and hugged Vian enthusiastically. “Yes, it is! It might save us all before this is over.”

“We can hope,” Vian replied as she hugged the blonde back.

Jun nodded then stood up to go. “I’ll start their training tomorrow, Vi,” he said then gave Thalia a smile. “I’ll see you later, Sweet. I need to read the scrolls so I…” Jun looked into the front room and saw impatient girls peering through the window. “I’ll tell the girls first though,” he said then walked through the room to the front door, smiling as he opened it. “Okay. We’ll need to…”

“What did she say? Can we learn? Do you know what to teach?”

Jun blinked at Shiri as she bombarded him with the questions then raised his hand when she took a breath, seeming to have even more. “Yes, Shiri. Your mother said you could.”

Both girls squealed with happiness and hugged him, chorusing with “Thank you!”, and he began laughing at them being so happy.

Jun was filled with joy over his first quest being over and his new Bengosha being so enthusiastic. “Your mother agreed, but you both must promise to keep this from your father for now. He won’t understand what you’re doing since he doesn’t believe like we do.”

It was a sad fact that Jun only wished wasn’t true. He and Berne had both been rambunctious young men, but while Jun had outgrown his rebellion by believing in Tenrai’s love, Berne still scoffed at his friend’s faith. It was only by remembering how much his friend had endured in a rough childhood that gave Jun the strength to keep hoping Berne would one day believe in Tenrai too.

Seimitsu stepped forward. “We figured that. How are you going to teach us, though? I wouldn’t think writings on this are something you can find that easily or we would have known about this before, right?”

Jun smiled. “As you both guessed, there are parchments and scrolls that were just discovered and tell how the Bengosha are trained.” Noticing their interested looks, he went on. “Bengosha are called and each given the gifts that they have to be trained to use. From what I’ve read, Kouken have to wait for the element to choose him or her. I don’t know where even one of the Kouken is, so we’ll have to focus on training you. I’ll need to study the scrolls more to know exactly where to begin. I should be able to teach you, but we’ll have to search for your gifts…you know, inside.” Jun then shrugged since he didn’t quite know what that would take to accomplish since those spiritual abilities were not his specialty either.

The girls shared another one of those looks before Seimitsu said, “That’s why you have to take us to see Pateren Wendell. Mateo said he’d help us find our gifts…whatever they are.”

Jun rubbed his beard. “Then we’ll have to see him. From what I understand, if you are truly meant to be Bengosha then Tenrai gave your gifts to you when you believed He is the Daystar. I don’t know what these gifts could be, but I know you have to trust Him to use them.”

“What do you mean?” Seimitsu asked as her brows furrowed.

The teacher looked between his two students. This was a different type of subject for him to teach. “For this power, you must be dedicated.” He then searched for words and tried to make it simple. “You need to be willing to set aside your own wants and fears to do what the Father asks.” The girls nodded, but Jun could tell they still didn’t quite understand this completely. He actually didn’t either yet. Sighing, he resigned himself to the fact that he’d need help in explaining it since he was out of his depth. Who better than the priest? “Pateren Wendell should be able to lead you with that. Just keep asking, keep seeking the truth, and you will find your way to the right path even if it takes a bit longer than you’d like.”

There was a moment of silence when the sisters contemplated that, but then Seimitsu took a deep breath, seeming to push away any thoughts other than one she obviously felt was the most important. “Okay. We both need to find our gifts to begin getting rid of the demons as soon as we can! What time do you want to see Pateren Wendell tomorrow?”

The initial search was over and now the teacher had to pray for the patience in dealing with his new Bengosha until they were ready to follow the path that Tenrai already had laid out for them. Until then…Joukai help him! That thought made Jun smile since he realized that Tenrai was in the Joukai realm and would keep helping for His purpose to be accomplished.

~~~~~~~

Wendell walked along the shore humming to himself, his eyes taking in light from stars as he listened to lapping water. This dream was familiar since he’d dreamt it many times since he’d believed in Tenrai as the Daystar. He was coming to the point where he’d wake up like always before. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes, waiting for the scene to disappear and his study to appear since that’s where he’d fallen asleep.

Wendell was surprised when he remained there, still hearing the water. Opening his eyes, he took in brighter light from the stars, and this time one seemed to be falling right to him. Curiously, he wasn’t afraid as he lifted his hand to catch the brightness. The light pulsed softly, and he smiled in enchantment. He then heard the sound of waves growing and looked to see a visible current swirling towards him. Again, he wasn’t at all afraid of it and lifted his other hand to catch sound that wasn’t a real wave any more than light could be a real star. Light in his left hand and Sound in his right, the priest pondered what it could mean.

“They are the pathways for the gifts of Tenrai’s Beloved,” a male voice said, making Wendell turn to see an ethereal male being with white wings walking towards him as he said, “You have been chosen, Wendell True Heart, to lead two new Bengosha to find their spiritual fighting gifts. They will be the Defenders that bring back Protectors known as Kouken. They will restore the Faith of Eirinth to the people once more.”

“Bengosha? Kouken? What…I don’t…” he couldn’t even explain due to his confusion but was trying to retain it all.

The voice became tender. “When you wake, you will understand.”

Sensing the dream was ending, Wendell asked quickly, “Who are you so I can tell them?”

“I am Mateo Denrei Tenshi from the Father of Lights that came as Tenrai Daystar,” he said with a gentle smile. “Our divine warriors have protected your world in the spiritual realm for generations because of the prayers of the faithful…like you.” He sighed. “But we cannot fight in this dimension now, so the Bengosha and Kouken are needed to defend and protect you. Master Jun will bring the two new Defenders to you on the morrow. When you see them, rejoice! Shackles will begin being broken.”

It was then that Wendell woke and sat up as he tried to catch his breath. He felt like he’d run a marathon! Pulling back the cover from the chair he had fallen asleep in while reading, he got up and poured a glass of pineapple juice from his pitcher. After several swallows, he sat back down and contemplated what he’d just seen and heard. The knowledge of what had been revealed was all clearly in his mind. Just as he and the others had believed, the Father had not abandoned them, and now Tenrai Daystar was going to show the path to set things to rights.

With tears in his eyes, Wendell prayed, “Father, this is the answer to our prayers, and I will do all I can to help Your chosen ones. Give me more Faith to follow where You’ll lead me, according to Tenrai’s Blood Pact. My Lord and my God, beside You there is no other!”

~~~~~~~

Seimitsu walked beside Shiri as they followed Jun to the temple. Since regular classes were over, they came before it was past times for counseling that priests usually observed. Seimitsu kept hoping Pateren Wendell was there and not on a private visit. She and Shiri prayed last night that their gifts would be easy to find. Calming warmth had filled both of them, but Seimitsu was now wondering how it would work out since this was nothing like any of them had done before.

Would Wendell laugh at them? Or would he tell them to leave? He’d said that he believed like they did, but this was beyond even what their family taught. Though Mateo had said Pateren Wendell would do this, Seimitsu was more fidgety than usual, so Shiri was glaring at her.

“Sei, you need to calm down,” Jun suddenly said, making her jump at his voice. When she gave him a sheepish grin, he stopped and put his hand on her shoulder. “Do you believe in what the Tenshi said?” Seimitsu nodded quickly, so he smiled. “Then trust in the Father to work it out.”

“Either you believe or you don’t…that’s what you told me,” Shiri interjected, her glare softening since she seemed a bit afraid too.

Seimitsu sighed. “Yes, you’re right.” She then laughed and took Shiri’s hand. “Or should I say, I’m right?”

Jun shook his head at them as Shiri huffed while Seimitsu just grinned. Then he led them up the stairs into the temple. Once there, he asked one of the priests that walked to them to go get Pateren Wendell. Seimitsu was surprised at how calm Jun was. This wasn’t a thing their uncle did as a teacher either, but Jun was as cool as a melon chilled in the creek. As she looked around, she noticed priests scurrying everywhere and wondered what was happening. Her attention was drawn away as Pateren Wendell came to meet them with an excited look on his face.

“Master Jun, good of you to bring your gifted students!” Wendell exclaimed then looked at Seimitsu and Shiri. His eyes seemed to glisten. “Please follow me to my study so we can discuss your new path.”

The three visitors gave each other surprised looks then followed. The man’s response had been unexpected, but when he began humming while they walked it became encouraging. Seimitsu couldn’t understand how he’d known they were coming, but Jun seemed to be taking it all in stride. Seimitsu decided not to question it, trusting her uncle-teacher’s mature instincts. Once Seimitsu wasn’t focusing on their situation she noticed the odd activity around them again.

Further into the temple, priests were moving things, seeming to carry them to a few designated areas. Seimitsu thought that maybe they were doing seasonal cleaning, but it was summer and they seemed upset. She didn’t understand so she decided to follow the others until reaching their destination then maybe she’d ask. Wendell motioned them inside a room then closed the door behind them. Once the priest turned to face them, Jun spoke first.

“So the rumors I heard this morning in town are true? Priests that don’t worship the Father of Lights are being moved out of main temples?”

Wendell nodded. “Yes, the decree came from King Avidan. I don’t know what happened, but he’s sending soldiers to help the other priests to find good housing to be fair and avoid future problems.” He smiled. “Our Creator is doing something for His people.” He looked between Jun and the girls. “Calling those that can serve once more to defend us and protect against darkness is a miracle that I praise Him for too.”

Seimitsu felt her heart leap. “So you know why we’re here?”

“I do,” Wendell answered then laughed at Jun’s expression.

“How is that possible?” Jun asked in a stunned voice like his look.

“I had a dream last night that you’d come because you are going to be training them.” He then looked at the girls. “And I was told that you’re both going to become Bengosha, the Defenders against demons, so I need to show you both how to find your gifts.”

The teacher and students stood there for a moment, blind-sided by what the priest was saying. Seimitsu was the one to recover first. “So you can help us find them?”

Wendell nodded, his eyes lighting up with more joy. “Yes, I can.”

Seimitsu smiled and came to stand in front of him, unafraid now that she knew he wasn’t going to be upset with them. “Then show me.”

“Okay,” he replied. He looked at Jun and got a nod of permission. “Shiri, you come here too.” When Shiri had, Wendell reached his hands to take theirs, Seimitsu’s with his left and Shiri with his right. “All you have to do is focus on how much you want to serve Tenrai. I can then lead you to the place inside of you to allow your energy gifts to be released.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Jun asked from where he was standing close by, his voice strong and determined even though he was a little out of his usual area of command.

“Pray,” the priest replied, looking at the other man happily. “Pray that they will find the flow of the True Element that gives strength to all gifts that the Defenders can call upon.” Jun nodded and closed his eyes as Wendell and the girls did the same.

Seimitsu grasped Shiri’s right hand with her left as Wendell held to her sister’s left and her right one, completing a circle. She focused on what Wendell had said, telling Tenrai how much she wanted Him to let her fight to save her family and anyone else that she could. Warmth began to fall on her again and she knew Shiri felt the same from her small gasp. Her mind went to her words of promise to defend Shiri, her mother and father, and those that would need her and Shiri’s help against the demons.

“Prepare a way for these gifts to permeate their hearts, Father of Lights,” Wendell intoned, “A path to their spirits where they will be able to call on Your power as Faith gives fountains of living Energy for Your Purpose. Through Tenrai’s Blood Pact, I release Your gifts to them.”

Seimitsu gasped, feeling something even more bright and ethereal flow through her, merging with what must be her soul, renewing her spirit, and filling her with a sense of being loved like she’d never known before. She looked at Shiri and saw brown eyes gazing at her with true awe.

“It feels like a symphony playing inside me,” the younger sister explained, tears beginning to fall down her face. “I’ve never felt anything so completely wonderful and full of joy!”

Seimitsu laughed, her eyes going to Wendell to see him looking between them, so she confirmed hers as well. “It feels like a rainbow of colors wrapping around me from the inside,” she said, voice going soft in wonder of it. “I didn’t know so many hues existed and they’re so glorious like a thousand unknown places I could visit!”

Pateren Wendell looked at Jun and grinned. “I would say both their gifts have been found and accepted.”

Jun nodded, his smile becoming so wide it made his eyes crinkle. “Thank you, Wendell. Truly our Creator is awesome in His gifts to His people, now and always.”

“That He is,” the priest agreed happily then looked at the girls. “Any questions right now?”

Seimitsu looked at Shiri and saw nothing but peace there so she just shook her head. “I don’t think so, Pateren Wendell. I think we have what we need to learn what Jun will teach us.”

Wendell nodded with eyes still tender. “If you have any questions later, you are welcomed here, fair daughters. I am so blessed to be the one to help you on your path. It has filled a place in my heart that is brimming with expectation that makes me wonder what will happen for us next.”

The two girls looked at each other and then grinned as they each wrapped an arm around one of Wendell’s as he laughed in utter delight and returned the arm hugs. Shiri was the one to break their silence that lasted for a couple minutes. “Thank you. We’ll visit whenever we can.”

“I look forward to it,” Wendell said as he let them go. “Just don’t blow anything up!” He winked as Seimitsu and Shiri giggled at him. “Unless it’s necessary to stay safe, that is!”

Jun shook his head as he reached out his hand to Wendell. “Thank you for your help, Wendell True Heart.” He blinked at what had come out of his mouth but the priest just beamed.

“Peace and grace be unto you, my friend. I’ll be praying for all of you. Finding out from the messenger that visited me that our prayers are what help the Warrior Tenshi to protect us in the spiritual realm has truly encouraged me as much as seeing you called in this physical realm.”

“So there are Tenshi that actually fight?” Seimitsu asked in awe.

Wendell smiled as he nodded. “There are multitudes of ethereal fighters that interfere with the demons attacking here; otherwise all of Eirinth would’ve fallen long ago.”

“So why can’t they fight here all the time?” Shiri asked.

“Because Tenrai called mortals to do that,” Seimitsu replied before the priest could. She smiled at Wendell when he nodded at her. “Tenshi are primarily messengers like Mateo in our world, and the gifts we have are more powerful because they were given for this purpose.”

The priest grinned. “Mateo was the one who came to me,” he told them, making Seimitsu almost bounce in place as he added. “I believe he is the messenger assigned to you both and your tasks.”

“Which means you should not hesitate to pray to the Father of Lights by Tenrai’s Blood Pact for help when you need it,” Jun said, earning another nod of agreement from the priest.

“Believe me, we won’t,” Shiri replied, giving Seimitsu a pointed look. “Even if we do get good at fighting, more help is always good.”

~~~~~~~

“What possessed you to do this, your majesty?”

Avidan looked at one of his advisers and raised an eyebrow. “I explained in the decree my reasoning, Rupert. Furthermore, I see no need to have to defend my actions when they are only in line with those of the kings before my grandfather.”

“But your highness…” The man began but was cut off by his King.

“I understand your concerns,” Avidan conceded, “but I’ve already allotted several groups of soldiers to help with relocations in each of the provinces. My decision stands. I will not change it.”

The adviser must have seen the determination in Avidan’s eyes and nodded before turning to leave the king’s private chambers. Avidan put his head in his hands, praying his other advisers would stay away for now. He was still trying to reassure himself that he’d done the right thing. After he studied the scrolls about the Father of Lights more, he’d made his decision to restore the faith of his kingdom while allowing others to have freedom.

“Father, please help me to stand against the disbelief in others,” he said softly. “Please help me to believe even when no one else does. Please show me that my faith is warranted.”

“He will.”

Avidan jerked his head up to see Lew standing there with a small smile on his face. The king sighed. “Do you think I’ve lost my mind?”

Lew threw his head back and laughed. “No, my King. I believe you have finally found the heart of Migoto.” He nodded at Avidan’s surprised look. “I am glad to see this decree come.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t wait until you came back from Tsuri,” Avidan admitted. “You might have had a better idea of how to do this.”

“You are our King, Avidan. Sometimes the direct way is best, especially when it is necessary to bring a kingdom out of darkness.”

Avidan gave him a searching look. “Do you think this will lessen the attacks or instigate more?” He then shook his head. “Never mind. Maybe it will at least get people to pray more.”

Lew was quiet for a moment then spoke, “Focus your prayers for Bengosha first and that will bring the Kouken back into service.”

Avidan smiled at him. “I know. I will continue to pray for that.”

“I’m a generational soldier,” Lew said. “Having seen many battles be won through miraculous things, I know our Creator will make a way for the two groups to be reunited.”

Avidan felt his heart grow lighter at the man’s words. “I believe it won’t be that long either.”

The councilor nodded. “The demon attacks are growing worse so I believe you’re right.”

Avidan nodded. “This may be the defining moment, and I hope we can hold fast until the people are truly safe.”

The king and soldier shared silence for a few moments before Lew sighed. “Well, I will make sure the right soldiers are sent to complete your orders, your highness.”

“I would appreciate that,” Avidan admitted. “Tell them to all find decent lodging until the other places of worship can be remodeled. Let the owners know that they will be compensated but that I expect them to help the priests choose permanent shelter just as nice as the Tenrai temples. No one should be able to say that I’ve mistreated them. After they are settled, it will be up to the leaders and followers to sustain their temples just like those who serve at the Tenrai temples did for quite some time before.”

“As you wish,” Lew said, placing his right fist against his chest over his heart in respectful salute. “I think this is the first step towards restoring a better life for all of the people, whether believers or not.”

The young king nodded. “As do I, my friend.” Avidan smiled as he then looked out the window that showed the beautifully kept outer palace courtyard. “As do I.”

CHAPTER 4~ 4000 A.D. (After Daystar) in Eirinth – medieval alternate dimension world existing parallel yet disparate to the present-day technological world of Earth – different passing of time between the two realms ~

Ryuu pulled his charcoal gray cloak closer to protect him from the early evening chill in the first month of autumn named Kugatsu while he tried to make sense of his conflicting emotions. Being the Lord Protector of the Northeast, he’d attended the open council meeting with the other leaders and villagers that afternoon and was finally on his way home. His cottage was on the outskirts of the village, meaning he had the time to mentally go over things that were bothering him while he walked alone.

Shin had stepped forward during the meeting, claiming that their kind had abandoned their faith, and that they needed to return to protecting the people of Eirinth or they’d never find the peace that they sought. Some of Shin’s peers had stood with him, including Shin’s sister and Siena. The elders who had lived with the reasons for leaving their Protector-ship of Eirinth had protested, leading to a rather lively debate that had inevitably ended the open meeting.

Ryuu knew Shin was only one-hundred-ninety-seven SET years and probably couldn’t fathom what all had happened since he was only a child then. Still, Ryuu couldn’t dismiss the younger man since Shin spoke with such conviction and rather calm reasoning before the shouting from the older leaders had begun. Shin had shaken his head and walked away. Ryuu had seen the frustration in the expression on the other man’s face.

Ryuu kept wrestling with the subject. At the time all those decades ago, he’d been grieving so much over the loss of his brother that he hadn’t been able to make decisions himself. That had left the rest of the council to decide their outcome alone. Now, he wondered if Shin was right. Ryuu was questioning his own feelings like when Siena challenged him. Could they find peace if they began protecting the people of Migoto again? That had been so long ago, and even if Kouken returned to service, who would help them? Surely, there were no more…they wouldn’t want for there to be…Ryuu couldn’t find strength to say the term for their former allies.

“Lord Ryuu!” A voice called out behind him.

Ryuu turned to see the instigator of all the chaos jogging towards him. Sighing, Ryuu stopped and waited for him to catch up. Shin had streaked-blond hair and was shorter than Ryuu by some inches. He had a solid build that was slighter than Ryuu’s but with a lot of muscle within the lithely compact form. Shin was also powerful in his fighting gift from what Siena had told Ryuu. He had developed wielding his Wave Tiger at a fairly early age, surprising many teachers due to his much smaller physical size growing up and being shorter even now.

Shin caught his breath as he came to a stop with his hands tucked into a green cloak. “Kaiyan should be here in a moment. We want to speak with you if you will give us a few moments.”

Shin’s sister had similar features, but her striking hair he’d heard called strawberry blonde and blue turquoise eyes set her apart from her younger brother. The woman was coming over the hill at a much more sedate pace. Siena had grown up with the two and became close friends, but Ryuu had never taken the time to get acquainted. He had preferred to not be reminded of more of those Jaedin had known. Ryuu was four hundred-twenty-five SET years and about forty-two in appearance, but looking at the two younger siblings, he felt older in light of their vitality.

“The discussions are over, Shin,” he said simply. “I understand your passion and reasoning, but others simply don’t feel the same and probably never will because of the betrayal.”

The younger man smiled. “You were very quiet during the meeting even when the others were arguing rather vehemently. I wasn’t sure if you agreed with them or was just staying out of it.” He paused. “I do respect you, Lord Ryuu. I’m hoping you will consider our proposal seriously.”

Kaiyan came to stand next to her brother, and Ryuu nodded to her in greeting before gazing back at Shin. “Even if I considered it, there are those on the council that never will. I really haven’t decided how I feel about what you said earlier, but it probably won’t matter in the end.”

Shin sighed with a compassionate look on his face. “I know that you suffered great loss during the betrayal, and I would not wish to belittle that horrible time or trod on the memory of those we lost during it since my parents were among them.” That point made Ryuu nod. “I only hope you won’t let those feelings keep you from seeing the truth we believe.” He ran his hand through his bangs, looking so very young at that moment. “Yes, I was a child back then. Many of us were and are only now adults, but I remember the pain and fear the adults then went through. I believe we need to focus now on more than ourselves to create a future that can become better than what we have and for future generations.”

“We were given extended life by Tenrai Daystar to serve Him, but by not fulfilling the vows we made to Him, we are throwing that gift right back in His face,” Kaiyan said, turquoise eyes burning with sheer purpose. “We’re letting the demons claim the ones that Tenrai died to redeem – the ones that are the reason He called us – the very ones we swore to protect!”

“Kaiyan,” Shin said in a rebuking tone, his dark gold eyes flashing.

Kaiyan sniffed at him. “I speak the truth. I respect Lord Ryuu as much as you do, but reality of our actions cannot be denied.” She gave Ryuu another stark look. “We pray and pray for our own safety yet we think nothing of those caught in the middle! How dare we bear the title Kouken if we refuse to do the very thing our Creator asks us to do?”

“Kaiyan!” The younger man growled, earning her glare. “Lord Ryuu is not our enemy. He said he didn’t know how he feels. We can’t force anyone to see things the way we do.”

“And what if the council refuses to listen too, Shin? We have to be willing to fulfill our calling even if there are those who oppose it! Tenrai may have Tenshi fighting demons in spiritual realms, but we were given our gifts to use in this realm to protect the people right now!”

Ryuu raised an eyebrow at the familiar sibling-sparring so like what he remembered having with Jaedin in what seemed like another lifetime ago. His brother had always supported being Protectors, even when Ryuu had questioned certain aspects of it. The memory softened Ryuu, making him ask, “What would you do if the council decided to protect Migoto again?”

Kaiyan broke her gaze away from Shin to look at Ryuu again. “Find the Bengosha in Eirinth and follow the ancient ways. It is the only path to our own restoration – stopping demons as Kouken were called.”

“There haven’t been any Bengosha for almost seven decades now, Kaiyan.” Ryuu shook his head. “It would be of no use to seek them out because they no longer exist.”

The siblings gave each other a look and Ryuu could only guess the meaning. Kaiyan nodded to Shin. The young man sighed then looked back at Ryuu. “Zale has been having dreams for the past few months that show him two Bengosha in Shinrin. He doesn’t know who they are or even how far in the future these images are from, but there is hope, Lord Ryuu.”

Zale was two-hundred-seven SET years, and one of the peers that stood with Shin at the meeting. The longhaired blond with piercing eyes people called cerulean had also voiced his complete agreement with the siblings; Ryuu now understood why. His gaze settled on the siblings, but he could only wonder how Zale was having dreams. Spiritual gifts such as divine premonition in dreams and visions hadn’t happened since…

Ryuu frowned. All the Spiritual gifts like that had ceased around the time they had retreated to the mountains. Acknowledging that fact, he took a deep breath and noticed the hopeful looks he was being given. “So what would you have me do? I don’t even know if I believe it is the right thing for us. I voiced the proposition in the chamber meeting because of Siena’s words from the other day, but the rest of the council is against it.”

Kaiyan smiled at Shin as he answered with his own grin before telling Ryuu, “You will find your father’s journal in the bag you packed from your study. It will have the answers you seek for yourself.”

The Lord Protector of the Northeast could only blink in shock. “My father’s journal?”

~~~~~~~

Ryuu sat at the desk in his study, staring at the papers lying on top of it without reading them. He hadn’t been out of his estate in the past five days, secluded from the others. They were reeling from the recent events, and although he wished he could offer comfort, he had none, not even for himself. Nothing afforded him refuge – not practice, reading, or sleep.

Nothing could make the world right again for him.

The knock at his door brought him out of his thoughts and he called out rather hoarsely, “Enter.”

A young man came in, closing the door behind him before coming to stand in front of the desk and giving its owner a searching look as he set down a bottle of strong ale. “Lord Ryuu. I’m sorry I didn’t come by sooner. I was just released from the healers today.”

Ryuu nodded, his eyes going to the bottle since he was unable to look upon the only returning survivor of the demon attack, Lord Kisho’s younger brother…instead of his own. “It’s all right.”

There was silence for a moment before the other man spoke again. “I wanted to tell you about your brother. He was the last Kouken standing with me. I tried to stop his Bengosha, but she was too strong. She took him down before I could save him then the demon hit her before…”

The older man shook his head, eyes closing. “I cannot bear to hear it, Takeo. Please…”

Takeo Kojima reached into his belt pouch to pull something out to lay it on the desk beside the liquor. “I know he would’ve wanted you to have this to remember him now that he’s gone.”

Ryuu looked down to see Jaedin’s silver wolf belt buckle. It was his brother’s symbol and something that the older brother had commissioned when the younger man’s element’s fighting form had first been revealed so many years ago. Ryuu reached out to grasp it, trying to stop all the tears beginning to escape. “Thank you,” was all he could manage to get out.

The younger man nodded and turned to go, pausing at the door to say tightly, “My brother said to tell you to never forget this day, Ryuu. Never forget what was taken from you.”

Broken sobs filled the room soon after the other man left as Ryuu reached for the bottle. His grief overcame his usual moderation in all things. Moderation now seemed pointless…

Ryuu abruptly sat up in bed, panting and sweating, as he ran his unsteady hand through long hair that had come out of its thong during his nightmare…well, actually another memory. He fought to regain his breath while shaking at the vivid pain that lanced through him just as it had back then. Covers were twisted around his legs, showing how he’d really tried to escape the scene as it replayed in his mind…like it had many times.

Ryuu suddenly wanted the ale so badly he could taste it. Instead of giving into that old vice he reached over to his nightstand and opened that drawer to get out the other object from his dream. The polished silver wolf buckle gleamed in the waning moonlight that came in through his window, illuminating it even more to his eyes. He swallowed, willing tears away as he’d tried for almost seventy years since that fateful day. Like Siena had said, Ryuu wasn’t the only one who had lost loved ones that time. Over one hundred lives, both Bengosha and Kouken had perished in Kitai – a battle that had taken some of their finest fighters.

With his other hand, Ryuu grabbed his father’s journal. It was still open to the page he’d been reading before falling asleep. ‘The council first decided to forbid mated couples from serving the same Bengosha. Now a Bengosha can only have one Kouken and Mate-Linked pairs cannot have different Bengosha. This now makes it unlawful for over half of our kind to Pledge-Link. It is completely the work of the enemy to weaken us!’

The Kouken Council had changed many practices over the years before Ryuu became one of them. He couldn’t imagine how some of those decrees had happened so easily before. Because of the Kouken withdrawal from Eirinth none of them knew exactly what had occurred at Kitai. Until Kouken returned to their Protector-ship, they probably never would. Ryuu realized that now, but the other three council members were all adamantly against it. Lady Euridis hadn’t been antagonistic during the meeting, but although she wasn’t as set in her ways as the men were, Ryuu knew she wouldn’t go against the other two men either. Lord Haldis was now five hundred-fifty-five years, having lived through the fighting and losing of fellow Protectors longer than she had lived. Still…

Was personal loss and perceived safety enough to justify abandoning their calling?

Ryuu sighed, gathering his hair back to secure the leather around it again. He should forget the whole thing. The problem was, as he looked at the silver glinting on the covers in his lap and the worn book in his hands, he was reminded of his brother’s and father’s faith in fighting for Migoto and all of Eirinth. Now that the Father of Lights was sending the dreams again, could Ryuu walk away without considering the consequences?

Wiping a hand across his face, the man could not fathom doing it. He then sighed and slid back down in bed as he tried to force his eyes to close for a little more sleep. If only he knew what to do. If only he could be sure that this was the right path. If only he were…

~~~~~~~

“That is simply not going to happen,” Lord Haldis said calmly without apology. His black eyes met Ryuu’s aggravated ones.           

Ryuu kept his gaze locked on the Lord Protector of the Southwest, the highest ranking member of their council. They were in their meeting chambers in the village. He was suddenly aware of how lavishly the room was decorated with brocaded chairs and finely carved tables. It certainly was more opulent than what they’d had in Heigen back seventy years ago, when the Kouken fighters had deserved such rewards because of service protecting the people from demon attacks. Ryuu’s home in the mountains now was much simpler than the estate he’d owned before, but his father had earned that one too with his sacrifices long before the Kitai betrayal.

He’d found his father’s journal just where Shin had said it would be. What he’d read had opened his eyes to many things. They’d lost much, but they could regain most of it if they would just try. It had reminded him of his brother’s faith. Jaedin had been steadfast in his belief that protecting Migoto and Eirinth was their purpose for living. That they should never shirk that duty out of a sense of self-preservation. Jaedin had paid the ultimate price for that passionate ideal, but it was still true.

How could Jaedin’s own older brother have forgotten that?

Ryuu shook his head, forcing his attention to the subject at hand. It had been a few days since the open meeting, so he’d hoped his peers had pondered Shin’s words as much as he had; apparently it had been entirely too much to hope. Placing his hands on the table in front of him, he looked at the two other Kouken in the room.

“I understand as well as you do exactly what it would mean if we became involved with the rest of Migoto again, but I believe Shin has a valid point. We still train our young people to become warriors yet we refuse to let them protect people like we’re called to do.”

“We learn to fight in case the demons might attack us again,” the Lord Protector of the Northwest, just over four-hundred-thirty-one SET years replied. “At least, that’s what I’ve heard ever since we relocated. Maybe we should stop practicing before someone puts us in danger.”

Ryuu balked at the tone. “I, more than anyone else here, am aware of what caused that reasoning, Lord Kisho. I’m not disputing that reason, and not proposing we stop learning how to defend ourselves.” He saw the older man’s light green eyes narrow, but Ryuu would not back down now that he’d brought up the discussion to return to service again.

“How could we be assured of our safety?” The Lady Protector of the Southeast asked. Her smoky gray eyes seemed to show an interest in more than an argument. She was three-hundred-twenty-nine SET years, not as bitter yet wary. “How can we be sure others won’t betray us?”

“We can’t be, Euri,” Ryuu answered. He saw her surprise at his candor since she paused in pulling back her jet black hair. He decided to continue, “We can do what’s right and trust the Father to protect us.”

“The way He protected your brother?” Kisho challenged with a voice tight and almost mocking, whether he intended it or not.

Ryuu glared at the brunet for his audacity. “My brother is not the point to use. He died almost seven decades ago, unlike yours, Kisho. We still don’t know the reasons for it. If we rejoin the rest of the world, or at least Migoto, we may find out why. I still have faith enough to believe Tenrai will protect me.” He paused for effect. “Do you?”

“As I said, that is simply not going to happen,” Haldis reiterated to close the topic before Kisho could reply. “Now I believe we have more important matters to discuss.”

The Lord Protector of the Northeast leaned back in his plush chair. He had tried to reason with them, but as he was beginning to realize, Shin was right – they had fallen so far it would take something life-altering to bring them back to where they should be.

~~~~~~~

The training area was located in a level area surrounded by stone. Ryuu hadn’t been there in several decades, but it was easy to find those he sought; they were practicing with their gifts against hay targets. Grace and beauty melded with the fierceness and power they exerted as they wielded their visual representations of four elements that chose them and belonged to the Creator. Ryuu felt older than his age once again as he watched them do something he hadn’t done in a long time – train with an element partner.

Shin’s element was water that created a massive form. The sound of the element was like a growl, helping confirm the name ‘Wave Tiger’. It took on the color of both Shin’s hair and eyes, mixing to form a vision of swirling gold with darker stripes of brown. It wasn’t really an animal, only a visual so the Kouken could direct it to the intended opponent.

Zale’s element was water as well, but his power’s form was that of a huge lion. It had a difference in the rumble it produced but obviously of the same type and so named a ‘Wave Lion’. It was the color of Zale’s eyes and hair as well, cerulean outlining pale sand. While Shin’s tiger seemed to crash over its target with unleashed fury, Zale’s lion moved as if chasing then pounced with mighty force.

Unlike the two males, Kaiyan’s element was of soil in the form of a large majestic horse. The ground quaked as dust rose, creating an image of the ‘Geo Stallion’ as it enveloped then ‘buried’ its target, a perceived sound of hooves on packed mud echoing. Kaiyan’s was a mixture of her strawberry blonde hair outlined with the deep turquoise of her eyes – beautiful yet effective against her enemies.

“I wish we all could have been with the others so long ago,” said a familiar voice. “We at least might have been able to save the ones we love before it was too late.”

Ryuu turned to see Siena standing beside him. The younger man had been a true friend since Jaedin’s death, helping ease some of the pain since he’d been Jaedin’s best friend and elemental brother. Many evenings they had spent in laughter along with tears for ‘their’ lost brother. Siena felt like another brother to Ryuu in the space Jaedin unknowingly left for them both. In Ryuu’s darkest times, Siena had stood beside him but had fought with him about drinking. Siena’s camaraderie had kept Ryuu from falling into an abyss of complete self-destruction.

“We all would have perished with them, my friend,” Ryuu replied sadly. “You were just over a hundred-sixty years back then, and not even my dragon or your fox would have saved us.” He looked for Takeo but didn’t see him. Perhaps Kisho had finally forbidden him to come.

Ryuu did see Siena scowl suddenly. He could remember Siena practicing often right after they’d relocated. The younger man was only an inch or so shorter than Ryuu with the golden brown hair that had grown down to his shoulders. Forest green eyes held the understanding of the darker side of life – more than his mere two-hundred-thirty-seven SET years merited. Ryuu then thought about Siena’s wind element like Jaedin’s but a ‘Wind Fox’ of golden brown tinged with green that reminded him of trees – graceful yet strong and cunning like its visual animal form.

Siena must have seen Ryuu’s pensive look because he seemed to shake off his feelings that had been visible to Ryuu. “Well, since Jaedin was stronger than I am, maybe my fox wouldn’t have made a difference.”

“I don’t think any of us would have,” Ryuu replied sadly. “There was something going on that I don’t think any of us know about yet.” He paused then added, “Still, Jaedin would have appreciated us wishing it.”

“Your dragon would have done some major damage, taking more of them down with us,” Siena smirked, “maybe even giving some of our friends a better chance to escape.”

Ryuu’s element was fire, its form a ‘Fire Dragon’ that took on the black of his hair highlighted with cobalt blue of his eyes – the color Macy had told him they were anyway. He couldn’t help but smirk back at the young man’s boast. “Well, maybe with the both of us, we could have helped at least. Fighting until the bitter end together.”

“Together until both of us fell, my friend,” the forest eyed man agreed. “I would’ve at least taken out Jaedin’s attacker before she killed him, that’s for sure.”

Aralee had been Jaedin’s Bengosha, and Jaedin had loved her in a way even Ryuu couldn’t fathom…unless Jaedin had fallen in love. If so, for her to betray him like that was the worst thing that his brother could have endured before death. “If you hadn’t, I would have so you both could’ve escaped. Like Takeo.” He shook his head. “I still don’t quite understand how he managed to when the others couldn’t.”

Siena nodded and they both went back to watching the others catch their breaths. It was familiar, reminding Ryuu of Jaedin and him practicing together, taunting each other into testing their skill limits. Ryuu smiled but felt his heart breaking again. He was unable to stop thinking about Jaedin when in the presence of the others, but he had to do this and would not fail them like he had Jaedin. “Tell Zale to come to my cabin tomorrow night,” Ryuu finally said, unable to remain there for much longer.

Siena gave him a considering look. “I didn’t think you knew him that well.” When Ryuu just shrugged, Siena offered, “Want me to come too? They do have some valid points. I might not agree with everything they say but it can’t hurt to listen, can it?”

“No, it can’t,” Ryuu admitted. “In fact, Shin and Kaiyan can come with you too since this involves all of us. It would be better to talk about it together over some hot chocolate.”

Siena smiled. “Okay, I’ll tell them,” he agreed. Ryuu nodded then began walking home. He knew he would have to pray harder than he ever had before since this meeting was going to be a test unlike any other.

~~~~~~~

Ryuu found himself standing in a wide expanse of grassy green field blowing with the breeze. His eyes roamed the plain, wondering why he was there. The sun was a soothing warm light above him, shining in a blue sky that was without clouds. He could see nothing else, knew of nowhere in Eirinth that was like this place.

“Are you a Kouken? A Protector of Bengosha?”

The voice was young that spoke. Ryuu turned to see a girl who looked like a teenager in years, staring at him with eyes the color of the sky above them. He came out of his shock and asked, “Who are you?”

She tilted her head, honey brown hair swaying with the motion, and smiled. “I’m Seimitsu, but call me Sei. I’m a Bengosha in Meian.”

He felt his eyes widen. “Bengosha? In Meian? That’s impossible.”

Seimitsu sighed. “That’s where you’re wrong. Yeah, we both just started training, but Jun says we should be able to create defensive shields soon. I just wanted to see if I could do something else while we work on that. It may not be long until I can…”

“How old are you?” Ryuu asked, interrupting her rambling.

“I was fifteen in the month of Gogatsu. My sister, Shiri, is now thirteen.” She then flushed. “Shiri doesn’t know I took some of Jun’s scrolls, and she’ll be livid when she does, especially since I’m doing this without someone else knowing it, but we need to find the Protectors so we can…” She blew at her bangs. “Just tell me who you are since I told you who I am.”

Ryuu blinked at her in surprise at her tenacity. “My name is Ryuu Saito. I’m a Kouken and Northeast Lord Protector.” He hadn’t meant to tell her all of that, but he could see from the way her eyes lit up that it pleased her. He didn’t know why, but he felt like that was good.

“That’s great! It’ll be a while before I need to summon you, Ryuu, but I’d like to get to know you before that.” Her blue eyes had no hint of deception. “I don’t know why you are hidden, but will you help me if I summon you? I promise to be the best Bengosha you could have!”

Ryuu jerked upright in bed again. Sun was streaming through the window, a contrast to when he’d awakened from the memory the night before. The dream he’d just had seemed even more real than the memory. What would his answer have been to that girl? Would he go against the council? He wanted to believe that he wouldn’t have promised his loyalty, but remembering the sheer determination in her blue eyes, Ryuu wasn’t sure he could have said anything but yes to her. Had it just been a dream?

He wasn’t sure, but there was at least one person who would know, and Ryuu would have to wait until that evening to find out. The more he read of his father’s journal, the more Ryuu was seeing that the younger Kouken were right about needing to do something about the situation.

Struggling out of his sheets again, Ryuu stood to grab his clothes and dress. He ate a quick bite of breakfast then headed to the village. As he walked, Ryuu reflected on how differently he’d lived in the main city named Kanmuri of Province Heigen before fleeing to Bunan. His father’s estate had been large with many guest rooms and a vast library. The city had afforded him access to scrolls from other kingdoms, goods from all over Migoto, and interaction with peers from all of Eirinth. He’d thought of sneaking out to visit those cities to see if anyone he’d known still lived.

When his kind had abandoned Heigen, settling in the mountains for their own safety, much had been left behind. At the time, Ryuu hadn’t objected over much since being overruled by the council about fighting. After that, his grief overshadowed all else. They had all lost themselves. Ryuu knew Shin was right about that but wasn’t sure how the dreams fit into this. Could it be a sign that his last objection – that Bengosha were no longer being called – was wrong and not even a real problem anymore?

Sighing, Ryuu made his way into the council hall and his private chamber. He had papers to look over and sign that were necessary to their continued autonomy. There had been a couple nearby lords trying to claim the village, but the council had been able to keep them at bay. It had been the most interaction they’d allowed in a long time. Ryuu was beginning to wonder if fights like that would be the thing to break them out of solitude.

He wasn’t sure if even that would bring Protectors into agreement.

~~~~~~~

“Did he at least say what this was about?”

Siena sighed for the hundredth time since they’d set out for Ryuu’s place then looked over at Kaiyan who had asked the question. “No. Ryuu asked me to tell Zale to come, and when I asked to tag along, he said for you and Shin to come too.”

Kaiyan snorted. “Well, why shouldn’t we if he asked for Zale?”

Siena sighed again. “Look, I already told you he said all of us.”

Turquoise eyes flashed. Even though the man stood a good two inches taller than her, she obviously wasn’t intimidated. “If he hadn’t?”

“Oh, for the sake of the Light, you two knock it off,” Shin huffed.

“It’s probably about the council,” Zale threw in, trying to change topics as his cerulean eyes met Shin’s golden ones meaningfully. “Even if Ryuu tried to sway them, I can’t believe they’d give our words credence.”

Siena sighed again and then frowned when he realized it. “It could be that. I know he was thinking about Jaedin yesterday, so it’s possible the council brought it all back up again.” He looked at the long haired blond. “Why he’d ask for you specifically, though, I don’t know.”

“It’s so wrong of them to keep doing that to Lord Ryuu,” Kaiyan said with narrowed eyes, suddenly Ryuu’s advocate. “They have no right to make Jaedin into a mere point in the arguments. I know each of us has said things about how fighting may not have been the answer back then, but they should not use Ryuu’s pain against him now when he’s finally coming to understand the true situation.”

“They feel they have every right to do that and anything else they can to keep things the way they are now,” Shin pointed out rather tightly. “They don’t want anyone to change how we have lived all these years, even though it isn’t what is good for us now. Whether right or not, they know Ryuu’s weakness, and they will exploit it to keep him in line.”

“Weakness against anyone else who refuses to let the past be the future,” Siena agreed then sighed once more when Kaiyan kicked a stone from the path to land against the natural wall of stone. He shook his head at her to earn another glare as they rounded the curve of the mountain and reached Ryuu’s little cabin. Siena could tell it wasn’t what the others had expected for one of the Lord Protectors. Haldis and Kisho both had larger houses inside town. Even Euridis had a slightly bigger home. When they all stopped outside the wooden door Siena stepped forward to knock.

~~~~~~~

Ryuu had finished filling some cups with sweet melted chocolate and steamed milk to ward off the cooling evening when a knock sounded. Upon opening the door, he was pleased to see Shin and Kaiyan with Zale and Siena. Ryuu smiled and welcomed them in. After the hot drinks had been distributed, he settled in the chair along the wall of his main room. The others sat on a small lounger or other chairs facing him. Looks of curiosity and anxiousness abounded.

“I know that all of you have been close since you were children,” Ryuu began, “but since I was older, I never got to really know you. After Kitai, I was so caught up in my grief that I never reached out to befriend you, and I’m sorry about that.” Ryuu sighed. “Since it appears we’ve been put together for a reason, I want to discuss this with you.” After receiving nods, Ryuu looked at the light-haired blond. “Zale, I’d like to know about the dreams you’ve been having.”

“What dreams?” Siena asked as he then gave Shin a stunned look that earned a sheepish one from the streaked blond over having apparently kept something from him.

Zale nodded but took a drink of cocoa before speaking. “Actually, I keep having the same one,” he said. “It’s so vivid I believe that it’s real and not just a regular dream.” He closed his eyes. “I see two girls…well, young women. One is gathering Light into a Sphere she sends towards a target that explodes.” He paused, sighing. “The other one is singing and gathering Sound the way the other did Light before releasing it to blast things apart with her musical voice acting as a battle song.”

Silence filled the room and Ryuu noticed how Siena shifted in his seat with impatience…or annoyance at being left out it would appear.

Ryuu ignored his friend for a moment to consider what Zale had just said. There really was only one explanation considering his dream the previous night, so he asked, “Could you tell if one of the two had honey brown hair and sky blue eyes?”

Zale opened his eyes and blinked at him. “Yes, I do believe the one who used Light had short honey hair and light blue eyes. The one with the beautiful voice had long chocolate brown hair and cinnamon eyes.” Zale’s face softened for a moment then he looked back at Ryuu in true confusion. “But how did you know?”

“Because the lighter haired girl visited me in a dream last night.” The others gasped but Ryuu went on. “Her name is Seimitsu. Her sister, Shiri, must be the darker haired girl.” He took in their startled looks. “I believe Zale has been seeing what those girls are going to become soon. They’re just now beginning to train to become Bengosha, so his dream’s in the near future. Sei said she’s fifteen and Shiri is only thirteen now.”

“Shiri,” Zale whispered, as if trying the name out for use in that future. Siena looked over at Shin and raised an eyebrow. Ryuu could tell their friend seemed to have a kind of infatuation with Shiri, but the other young men didn’t seem to understand why. Ryuu had to smile.

“So what do we do now?” Kaiyan asked, obviously wanting to get them back on track, either not catching Zale’s preoccupation with Shiri or not concerned about it.

Ryuu looked at her and focused on her question. “We need to be careful. If those two girls are just now learning, we can’t do anything to cause the council to interfere before they’re ready to face the demons.”

“So where does that leave us? Are you for the Bengosha?” Zale asked with a protective voice reminding Ryuu of Jaedin – a bittersweet moment that he hoped Zale would not pay for later like Jaedin had. He forced himself to stop that line of thinking for the moment.

Ryuu sighed. “I believe I’m for them, but for now it’s best to bide our time until these Bengosha are older.” He saw Shin begin to protest this and held up his hand to forestall him. “If we find others before, or if things change, we’ll decide what to do then.” Both blonds relaxed, making Ryuu smile. “For now, we should continue to train, meet in secret, and…pray.”

That last thing was something that took the others by surprise, but Siena was the first one to recover and ask, “Pray for what exactly?”

“The return of dreams is just one of the spiritual gifts given to us,” Ryuu replied. “Our fighting gifts are passed by genetics and elements, but our abilities only come from prayer and the Daystar’s Will in guiding the elements to us. There are gifts we lost when we abandoned Eirinth.” Ryuu pulled out a small aged piece of parchment that he’d found in his father’s journal. “Share this between only the four of you. My father hid it away for a reason. I believe it was for a time like this.”

Kaiyan reached out to take it and began reading. The three young men looked at Ryuu in bemusement, but then Shin chuckled. “Well, it looks like our Creator has more planned for us than even I thought.”

Ryuu nodded. “Me too.” He looked at those around him as new friends. “What Kaiyan is reading about is how spiritual gifts are given according to your element’s form that chose you, also for this purpose.”

“According to the element’s form? Why is that?” Siena inquired.

“By element,” Ryuu answered him. “Gifts of Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Discernment, Foresight, Revelation, Communication, and Healing are used in balance within individual fighting abilities.” Ryuu nodded at Siena’s shocked expression. “The form an element takes as synchronized was not given to the Wielder by accident. They were given to foreshadow spiritual gifts once we seek them like our elemental fighting symbiosis.”

“So all of us already have that gift that just needs to be…what? Released? Accepted?” Siena seemed to be trying to understand, but Ryuu could tell he was a bit unsettled by the concept for some reason. Probably why the others had kept knowledge of the dreams from him since they knew him in a different way than Ryuu apparently did.

Kaiyan looked up from her reading to reply, “According to this, Siena, you should have the gift of Discernment.” Her turquoise eyes met his forest green ones. “In other words, you’ll be able to sense things about people such as hidden emotions, intentions, and even lies or truth.” She raised an eyebrow in obvious doubt.

Shin grabbed the parchment, making his sister squawk. Then he looked over it and smiled at Zale. “Well, we can definitely verify that you have the gift of Foresight.” Zale grinned as Shin read a little more before asking with a frown, “But how do some of these work?”

Ryuu shrugged. “I’m not sure. I guess we’ll all have to figure it out as each gift is revealed.” He saw Siena was still uncomfortable for some reason. “You won’t be forced to use the gift, Siena. It’s voluntary and will be as second-nature as your element. Just pray about it. You with us?”

“I will protect that which you protect,” Siena replied firmly. “I just need time to adjust to this.” He frowned. “Mother should have told me.”

“I think we all wish our parents had,” Ryuu intoned, earning their agreements. Shin passed the parchment to Zale as Ryuu went on, “But for now, we seem to have time to discover them. Let’s use the time wisely.”

It was only a beginning but at least it was more than what any of them had known for sure just days before.

~~~~~~~

“So you’re sure they will no longer pursue this?” The commanding voice inquired while Kojima’s hands sharpened an ancient metal weapon. The surrounding darkness was broken by the single candle on the ornate desk, giving just enough light for the task.

“Yes, my lord. They plan to wait for a better time.” The young man paused before adding, “Perhaps they will soon forget about it all.”

A dark chuckle filled the room then. “No. They are too zealous to do that, but things will only get worse for them because of their defiance to the council. Do we know where these supposed Bengosha are?”

There was silence before the answer. “No, but they’re merely children. Ones that young certainly are no threat to us now.”

“We must make sure they’re taken care of before they can become one.” His hand tested the blade, drawing blood from his own finger. “I’ll see what else I can find out from my other spies throughout the kingdom.” Kojima’s eyes were piercing as he looked at him purposefully, “Keep your eyes and ears open. If you find out more, tell me immediately. Ryuu being involved in this changes things.” He snarled as he wiped the blade clean. “I thought for sure an open meeting would re-enforce the failings of the past. Perhaps I need to instill the memory of those days with more…force.” Sheathing the blade, Kojima stood and looked at his spy. “Again, you should remember why you’re doing this. No sacrifice then no victory. Betrayal rewarded with treachery.”

A shaky breath rasped out but then the spy answered, “I know, my lord. It will be done as you command.”

The answering smirk was full of malice. “Yes, it will.”

The spy nodded but was halted by a question he needed answered. “If you mean to kill Ryuu anyway, why do you let this go any further?”

Kojima smirked. “Your revenge will be given soon after I have control over the council and the fighters are shuttered once again.” His light green eyes met the spy’s dark ones. “Only then can I unleash my vengeance on those that held me back the same way you were.”

“Yes, my lord,” the young man replied and finally left the room.

Ryuu Saito had begun to befriend the other young Kouken so close to the spy’s own age. Although he should be angry and snarl, his heart still had a small place where he felt bad for Ryuu. Seeing the older man reach out to those who hadn’t been part of his life before Jaedin had been lost or to help Ryuu to get through his alcohol addiction made the spy a bit more accepting of his role in things up to this point since the others hadn’t done all they should have either. They were changing with Ryuu though.

He’d follow Kojima’s orders as long as it didn’t cause him to make the same mistake he had long ago. Though no one knew it was his mistake because he’d hidden it, they couldn’t imagine how that choice changed more than one life.

His situation made it easier for him to blend in at the practice field or village. He’d watched Shin and Kaiyan at ease with siblinghood, Zale being calm about his role as odd-man out most of the time with them, and the three being so there for each other that they could even keep a bit of information from their closest friend because they feared he’d question it then feel bad about it. It was admirable, though annoying.

He’d thought they truly trusted him as much with their secrets as they had his abilities training. They should’ve known he would understand even if it took him a while to get over his shock. Hearing about additional gifts and Bengosha for the first time like he had was a bit hard to swallow since he’d worked so hard to keep their trust even if he did fail sometimes when his own temper flared or his painful past pushed him away.

How could he believe anything that anyone ever said to him unless he saw the truth in person? Shin’s group had kept him from finding out about the spiritual gifts and the new fighters so easily.

The spy didn’t want to deal with another slight like the one Haldis had inflicted upon him so long ago. He’d already let that destroy his old life. He couldn’t let another destroy anything else.

If only…

CHAPTER 5~ 4000 A.D. (After Daystar) in Eirinth – medieval alternate dimension world existing parallel yet disparate to the present-day technological world of Earth – different passing of time between the two realms ~

It was a beautiful day, the sun shining brightly in a sky so blue it almost hurt his eyes. He sighed, knowing it was just a dream, but at least this one was not to be feared. She would be there soon, just as bright as the sunshine with eyes as blue as that above him. She’d shown up many times in the past couple weeks. Her laughter and carefree conversation made him smile in spite of a miserable life. He’d tried to imagine running with her in the field by the place where she claimed she studied until they both would fall down in the grass, laughing together. He’d like that more than anything he could imagine.

She was only a dream; he had to keep reminding himself of that. Perhaps she was a redeemed spirit in Joukai that Tenrai allowed to visit him for comfort. She couldn’t really exist in Eirinth outside his nightly visions, could she? It just wasn’t possible. His tormentor made sure no one could get through the barrier surrounding him. No, she was only a wonderful dream; one he wished he’d never wake…she just arrived!

~~~~~~~

Seimitsu’s eyes fluttered open, blinking at sunlight shining through the window. She smiled in remembrance of the dream visit. It was a skill she’d learned and used often in the past couple weeks. The first time led her to the Lord Protector of the Northeast named Ryuu. She really needed to visit him again to get to know him, but she’d been so busy visiting her new friend – someone she’d met the second time she’d used the skill even though she’d tried to see Ryuu again. Odd why that would happen…

This other man wouldn’t give her his name, but he was the most beautiful man Seimitsu had ever seen so far. His midnight blue eyes had captivated her as soon as he’d looked at her. He thought she was only a dream. Since she honestly didn’t know him, it probably was for the best. Her mother would ground her for life if she found out about it, but he’d told her that they couldn’t meet outside their dreams anyway when she’d asked him to come to Meian. Seimitsu didn’t know why he couldn’t, but that was okay. Somehow she knew she was the only light in his unspoken darkness. For some reason that was all she really needed to know for now.

“No…I can’t…I won’t!”

Seimitsu sat up in bed and began shaking Shiri, waiting for her to gasp awake. Cinnamon eyes searched for her as Seimitsu soothed, “It’s going to be okay, Ri. You’re safe. I won’t let them hurt you.”

Shiri sat up as she reached out and wrapped her arms around her sister, burying her face in the Seimitsu’s shoulder. “They were…were going to…to make me kill you!”

“That will never happen. You’re getting stronger, Ri. The demons have no power over you.”

Shiri shook her head. “I’m not strong…not yet.” She took a deep breath and then pulled away to look at Seimitsu. “But I will be one day, Sei. I will be able to save you, I promise.”

Seimitsu smiled. “I’m sure you will. We’ll probably save each other many times. We’re sisters, and no demon can change that.” She pulled her close again and Shiri nodded silently.

~~~~~~~

Jun nodded with a pleased look on his face. They were behind the barn library, practicing in the field while Thalia studied the scrolls to plan their next session. They’d been working on the shields for the past couple weeks and the gifts were becoming easier for both girls to focus to create spiritual protection barriers. Shiri had seemed distracted when they began training that morning. She had made up for it by her completing the shield around herself and Seimitsu and then the one currently around the three of them. Seimitsu seemed truly happy as the shield faded from around them. It had been held for quite some time.

“See, Shiri! I told you. Your Light Shield is stronger than you think. Those demons won’t get us. Even if they attack, we’ll hold them off until they give up and go away!”

Jun stood up smiling and then looked at Seimitsu. “Shiri’s isn’t a Light Shield, Sei.”

Seimitsu blinked at him then stood too. “What do you mean?”

Jun rubbed his fingers over his short beard. “Remember how you saw colors and she heard music when you both got your gifts? Her shield doesn’t shimmer like yours does; it pulses. That’s probably to help during the battles so demons can’t stop both gifts at the same time while you’re fighting. It would make sense from what Thalia and I read in the scrolls. While you are using Light, Shiri seems to be using…”

“Sound,” Shiri said as she got to her feet as well, a huge smile on her face for the first time that day. “I can feel Sound around me that I pull in to cover me, like a cloak of…” She frowned, trying to explain what she obviously knew inside.

“Vibration,” Jun finished, making her frustrated frown change to a smile again as she nodded. He and Thalia had studied the many defensive techniques before the girls began the training. Power shields were among the foremost detailed. The first time Seimitsu made her Shield barrier had been an exciting thing for all of them. Shiri had soon followed with hers, gaining in strength almost every day.

“Two different gifts for two different Defenders,” the teacher said in a considering tone. “This way, even if one of you is stopped, the other might be able to keep retaliating.”

“Anything to make our chances better is okay with me!” Shiri said.

Seimitsu hugged her and laughed. “Yep! Now let’s see how long I can manage all three of us too!”

Jun smiled as the older girl closed her eyes and Shiri watched intently with a peaceful look. He was happy for the girls’ progress.

~~~~~~~

“Where have the two of you been? I’ve told you time and again when you stay in town to be home before dark!”

Seimitsu winced as Shiri looked down. Their father was angrier than either had expected. Seimitsu knew it was her fault. They’d stayed at Jun’s to work on her shield. “I’m sorry, father. We just lost track of time.”

Their father was almost forty years old but looked older right then. He ran his hand over his face. “I don’t mind it that you go into town when your mother does and stay to play with friends or visit Jun and Thalia, but your mother was home hours ago from the market. How many times must I tell you that it’s too dangerous after dark to come through the forest? The demon attack last month on the village across the river was too close to us for you to keep ignoring it! I depend on you as the oldest, Sei, to get you both home safe. You’re almost as bad as Lev and he now…” His voice choked off suddenly, seeming unable to continue his reprimand.

Seimitsu felt her heart race in fear at his expression. “What about Lev?” Lev and Lani were the children of their father’s sister. They were Seimitsu and Shiri’s playmates each summer since they came to visit in Meian or Berne took the girls to visit their village where they’d moved. That something bad had happened to them was not a thing Seimitsu wanted to consider.

Before their father could reply, Vian appeared from the other room with her cinnamon eyes red. She reached out and embraced Shiri tightly and began sobbing. “Thank the Father of Lights, you’re both okay. We were so worried.”

“What about Lev and Lani?” Seimitsu asked, clenching her fists.

“They came home late one night last week to find the village under attack,” Berne answered, his voice rough with emotion. “Instead of Lev getting Lani to safety, he decided to face the demon. It…” He took a breath. “It killed their whole village…and your cousins.”

Seimitsu could only stand there in shock. Lev and Lani were…they were…it wasn’t possible!

Berne went on. “If Lev and Lani had been home on time, my sister would have taken them to visit their gramma earlier. They wouldn’t have been home when the demon attacked.”

“You must promise to come home on time from now on, Sei,” her mother pleaded as she pulled away from Shiri to look at her, tears coursing down her cheeks. “If Jun wants you to stay, he must then bring you home. I know you think you can…” Vian paused, not wanting Berne to find out about the lessons. “If you see something wrong, run away! Don’t worry about anyone else. You run and don’t look back. Promise me!”

Shiri looked at her older sister, her own eyes filled with tears. Seimitsu had talked with Lev and Lani just last summer to help their cousins believe in the Father of Lights and Tenrai the way they did. It had happened just in time, seeing that they had been killed. At least they knew that their cousins were in Joukai now, the Father of Light’s realm, but that didn’t stop the pain of loss. “Sei…”

Seimitsu looked at Shiri then at their father. Berne gave her a level look. “Promise us now, Seimitsu!”

That was the one thing that Seimitsu wouldn’t do – outright lie. She had let her father believe she and Shiri were in town for other reasons, and she’d kept from telling him about training, but she wouldn’t promise what she knew she’d never do. This latest attack was one more reason to fight. Seimitsu said calmly, “I’ll make sure we get home before dark from now on, but…” She then swallowed. “I won’t promise to run away. I will always fight to save those that I love, so don’t ask me to make a promise I will never keep.”

“You cannot fight demons, Seimitsu!” Berne yelled, her refusal making him even angrier. “If you try to fight, they’ll make it worse for you before you finally die, just like it did with Lev and Lani. A courier found them and what he told me was unimaginable! The demon made them both…linger. If you come across one of those things, you must…”

“Run and hide like a coward while it slaughters everyone I care about?” Seimitsu shouted back. “I won’t do that, and if you had any faith in the Father of Lights, or true love for us, you wouldn’t be able to either!”

“Seimitsu!” Vian gasped out. “Do not disrespect your father!”

Seimitsu shook her head. “I’m sorry, mother. I won’t betray what I know is right, not even to make you feel better or keep father from being angry. If people do nothing then evil has free reign.” Seimitsu looked at her father and saw that anger growing. “We have a responsibility to…”

“There is no way to stop them!” her father growled out in fury.

“But there are ways to fight them! Ways that I’m going to learn so I can keep you all safe. I’m so close to being able to do that, and I won’t stop learning what…”

Berne stepped closer to her, his eyes blazing. “You haven’t been staying in town to see your friends, have you? You’ve been at Jun’s and listening to some nonsense he’s been telling you!” He curled up his fists. “Seimitsu, I won’t have you endangering yourself and Shiri for something that isn’t even true.” His gaze went to Vian. “They won’t be allowed to go anymore. Do you hear me?” He was almost shaking. “I won’t have my children believing in such…”

“It’s the truth!” Seimitsu yelled, not retreating from the enraged look he turned her way as she went on, “The Father of Lights did not leave us without ways to protect ourselves. Long ago, Tenrai Daystar appointed the Bengosha, Eirinth Defenders, giving to them gifts of power to fight the demons. There were also Kouken, Protectors with spiritual abilities that fought as well. Everyone has just forgotten, but I’ll…”

“No!” Seimitsu’s father shouted as he grabbed both her shoulders. “Those are tales of an eccentric dreamer trying to escape reality! Jun may have been my friend, but ever since he became a teacher, he’s lost all his sanity to fairytales! I won’t allow you to do this anymore! I don’t believe in Tenrai, the Father, or some stupid gifts that don’t exist!”

Seimitsu bit back her tears, refusing to cower from his vehemence. She hadn’t learned as much as she’d hoped to before facing her father’s rage like this, but she’d feared it would come to this when he did find out because he didn’t seem to believe in anything. Seimitsu knew it would be this way at some point, but this was too soon. She had to do this, whether he understood it or not. She lifted her chin and said with conviction, “You cannot stop me because I must do what I know is right.”

“Sei!” Her mother exclaimed, torn between her responsibility as a parent to support her mate and her faith-promise to her children to support them in their quest for ways to fight the demons.

Seimitsu understood, but that didn’t make it any easier to accept. Ignoring her mother’s plea, Seimitsu kept her eyes locked on those of the man she loved in spite of his high-handedness and unwillingness to listen. “I will learn the old ways. I will become a Defender and fight any demon that tries to take you away from me.” It was a vow that Seimitsu meant to keep, no matter what she had to do to fulfill it. “You must understand that I have to do this – for me and Shiri, for you and mother – for all of those that I can defend. I must do it!”

“You will not go to Jun’s again,” Berne replied in an even harsher tone. “This has gone too far already. Your mother will bring core lessons to you when the term begins then take them back when she goes to class. If I find out you’ve been there, I will send you so far away you will not be able to see us until I decide to come for you. Do you want that, Seimitsu?”

“Sei!” Shiri cried out as she pulled away from their mother to stand with Seimitsu, gripping her arm. “Please…please listen to them and don’t make father send you away. We just lost Lev and Lani. I don’t want to lose my only sister too!

Seimitsu looked at Shiri. The girl’s eyes desperately pleaded with her. In her heart, Seimitsu knew that both of them were meant to become Defenders, but she also knew that neither of them could do that if she was sent away. Seimitsu would have to wait until things settled down then try to reason with her father. Taking another breath, she looked at her mother who was still crying over their loss. She mouthed the word “Wait”. That gave Seimitsu some hope, but she was still upset. She met Berne’s eyes again, sky blue like her own, still demanding an answer from her.

“I will do as you say,” she replied finally. “I don’t agree with you, but you are my parents, so I will try to obey you.” Seimitsu then shook her head. “I can only hope the Father of Lights will forgive us for not doing all He’d have us do. People will die because we don’t, and you both will be held accountable for allowing it to happen.”

“Do you think your God would want you to do something that’s so dangerous?” Berne shook his head. “You’re still a child, Seimitsu. Even if He does exist, He’d not want you to throw your life away.”

Seimitsu pulled free from Shiri, keeping her eyes on her father. “If I’m a Defender, I can at least stay alive when the demons come. They will come, make no mistake about that. It’s just a matter of when, not if. You will lose me anyway then if I don’t learn these things now.”

With that, Seimitsu turned and walked away toward her and Shiri’s room. Dinner was the last thing on her mind. She had praying to do…and maybe another dream visit to her friend to help ease the pain of losing her training…something she needed for at least a little while.

~~~~~~~

He gasped in pain as burning metal seared a path down his chest. He’d learned early on that crying out only encouraged his torturer, so he’d also learned to focus his mind to ignore physical states and try to cling to something else. The recent revelation that the girl he’d thought was just a dream was actually real had certainly helped him. Biting back a groan, he receded into his memory of her visit from the night before.

His usually sunny visitor was very upset. He held her close as she cried, running hands that were not shackled in dreams through her honey colored hair gently. Over the past weeks, she’d given him comfort, so he was glad he could at least do this much, though he couldn’t understand why she’d be crying if she were from Joukai. Joukai had no sadness.

“What’s wrong, Mitsu?” She’d told him to call her that, but he still couldn’t tell her his name because his captor had taken it from him so very long ago now.

Mitsu sniffed as she pulled away a little to wipe at her nose. “My cousins were both killed by a demon. I just wanted to get away for a while and find some comfort. Father is being such a pain, and mother won’t go against him, and I just…just…I don’t want to stop learning to become a Bengosha because I want to keep those I love safe!”

He stiffened, pulling away more to stare at her. “You are from Eirinth? You’re not just a dream?” When she nodded, he gaped. “But Defenders don’t exist anymore. They haven’t for…”

“I know. My sister and I are the first ones in a really long time,” she replied, sitting up. “My teacher found some scrolls that tell how to become one. My sister and I were called by Tenrai. That’s what we’ve been learning, but father is against it, and it’s just a huge mess now!”

Images of his Defender, especially the last ones before her death, flashed through his mind. “Your father may be right, Mitsu. It is way too dangerous for you. Demons aren’t the only ones you should fear. Meian may be far enough away, but you should just…”

“No! Not you too!” She cried out, shaking her head. “Please, you have to believe in what I’m doing!”

He pulled her into another hug. “All right. All right. Please just be careful, my Mitsu, my light. Be careful and learn everything you possibly can to keep you safe. You may not have much time until evil strikes, and it may come when and from where you least expect it.” He pulled away and looked pointedly into her worried sky blue eyes. “Not all of the…”

“Unfortunately, she hasn’t learned enough yet to stop what will happen,” came the voice that he wished he’d never have to hear again, interrupting his escape. “Your warning came too late to save her.”

Trying to ignore the seared paths, he glared at the man holding the knife. His enemy was gaining more skills as the decades passed, and as he realized this latest one, it scared him more than any previous ones. How could he endure such torture if he couldn’t escape within his own mind?

“Don’t look so forlorn,” the hated voice said. “At least she will go to Joukai and be with all your former friends…and your other love.”

Would his own thoughts always be responsible for putting those he loved in danger? His heart ached, especially for the girl who wasn’t just a dream anymore. “Mitsu is stronger than you think…stronger than any of the others were. You will not defeat her as you did them.”

“We will see, Gakkuri,” the other man sneered, fingering his blade as he used the name he’d given the prisoner in place of his real name and smiled. “We will see just how ‘heart-broken’ I can make you become.”

~~~~~~~

The sky was darkening rapidly. Seimitsu walked along, scuffing her shoes against stones in the soft ground and kicking a few into weeds nearby. It had been a week since they were banned from practicing. No amount of cajoling, crying, or arguing could change their father’s mind. Not even their mother could get through to the obstinate man. Seimitsu regretted agreeing to obey him. She and Shiri studied each evening after getting notes from Jun. Their mother took it to him the next day. They’d been allowed to attend Abigail’s birth celebration in town that afternoon but had been told what would happen if they ‘stopped by’ Jun’s.

“Sei, quit dragging your feet,” Shiri called, walking ahead of her. “It’s almost dark. You know what will happen if we don’t get there soon.”

Seimitsu stopped and looked around, feeling helpless. “I know.”

The forest was encompassing, but it was the individual trees that made it so vast. She knew that Tenrai wanted it to be the same way for all of those who believed, to become part of His incredible force against evil. She and Shiri had continued practicing the shield lessons that Jun already taught them; waiting until their parents were asleep so they wouldn’t find them creating shields in their room. Unfortunately, the girls weren’t getting to learn anything else to help them beyond shields.

Seimitsu sighed in frustration, began walking again, and almost ran into her sister standing with hands on her hips as she began speaking with concern. “I know we’re going against father by still using our shields at night, but defying him outright will get you sent away. We have to get home before dark, so quit dawdling around in the forest like a tree!”

Seimitsu smiled at the comparison and wished it was true but then frowned. “I wish father wouldn’t make it so I even have to think about ways to go against him at all. He’s so stubborn and won’t listen to reason! Because of him, we’re stuck trying to do this on our own. If something happens before we’re ready, I don’t know how we can survive!”

Shiri huffed. “Sei, it’s only been a few days. Give it some time.”

“We don’t know when the demons will attack, Ri! I want to learn everything I can before then.” She’d learned more than Shiri knew, but her friend’s warning had made her anxious and even more upset.

Shiri winced. “I know, but when the Father of Lights called us He knew this would happen and will work it out…right? He is all-knowing and all-powerful. If He could make the things with Tenrai come together, He can make it come together for us too.”

Seimitsu sighed. “But we can’t sit around and wait. I know we’re not adults yet, but we have to do the best we can with what we have now. Though we must obey father, that doesn’t mean we quit either, especially since he didn’t forbid what we already know.”

Stepping around Shiri, Seimitsu continued to walk more briskly to get home so she could go to her room to pray. She’d done that a lot lately – praying for patience, for her father’s idiocy, for Shiri to not have more nightmares – but her prayers didn’t seem to go beyond her own roof. If it weren’t for knowing the things she’d learned, she’d have lost faith.

Shiri gave Seimitsu a sad but understanding look. Seimitsu knew that Shiri felt as bad as she did. Seimitsu knew she missed their practice too. There was something wonderful about feeling like you had a divine purpose in a life that was usually so ordinary and full of fear. It was also frustrating to not learn new ways of protecting themselves like Jun had spoken of during their sessions.

“The nightmares are coming back and they’re worse,” Shiri said. She’d hidden it well the past week, maybe gasping awake and not crying.

Seimitsu slowed down to walk beside Shiri, taking her hand. She hadn’t been discussing this with her sister for fear of causing nightmares to happen, just like she’d prayed for it not to moments ago. Hearing Shiri admit that her fears were growing worse made Seimitsu regret following their father’s stupid demands when he didn’t even understand their reality. Seimitsu was getting ready to say as much when they rounded the bend in the pathway. Both girls noticed a glow of flames flickering in the distance that made them come to a dead stop.

Shiri’s grip on Seimitsu’s hand tightened, but before she could drag them away, Seimitsu jerked free to run towards Meian, ignoring Shiri’s cry of alarm. Seimitsu had warned their father about this, but like she’d told him, she would not abandon the people they knew if there was even a chance of saving a single one. She didn’t know what she’d do, but Seimitsu trusted in Tenrai to guide her. When she reached the horrifying scene, she turned in different directions, looking for signs of life.

Dozens of little houses with thatched straw roofs and wood-frame windows were now only smoldering cinder. Burnt bodies lay scattered on the singed ground, and Seimitsu was grieved by some of the clothing she recognized. Choking on a sob, she went in the direction where their home had been that morning. Nothing remained but crackling beams.

Seimitsu’s throat closed up at the sight. She was lost in her own pain for countless moments until she heard a wail from beside her. She turned to find Shiri there, shaking and gasping for breath that seemed to elude her. Fighting her own need to scream, Seimitsu pulled Shiri to her. This couldn’t be happening…not so soon…they weren’t ready!

“It’s okay,” Seimitsu whispered. Her voice hitched because even she knew it would never be okay again. She needed to be stronger, but it was so difficult right then. Where could they go? Was everyone in their village dead? What about Jun and Thalia? Had the demon moved on to attack them too? Seimitsu couldn’t even think. “We have to be brave…”

“Being brave is the last thing you should do, little girl,” a gravelly voice rasped out.

Seimitsu whirled around, pushing Shiri behind her, as she took in the sight of something that had plagued her younger sister’s nightmares for years standing just a few feet away. It had charcoal black scale armor that curled into a murky mist, but the physical presence was terrifying in nature. Large horns were on its distorted head and huge red eyes glowed from darkened features with absolute malice in their depths that spoke of eons enjoying the torment of mortals. Lethally clawed hands needed no further examination to imagine what they could do to a person.

“Sei!” Called out the voice of her father, and the girls turned to see him running towards them. He was covered with soot in several places and his hair was almost black with it, but he’d escaped the fate of the others that had been burned to death.

Seimitsu’s relief he was still alive was cut short when the demon let loose a blast of liquid that sizzled. Berne tried to dodge it but couldn’t manage to get completely out of the way, falling down in agony when it hit. Shiri screamed and pushed away from Seimitsu just as their mother came out of hiding to try to help her mate. When they both reached Berne, Shiri gathered her pulsing Sound Shield around them. Seimitsu trembled in fear and anger as her own shimmering Light Shield came to surround her before the demon could attack.

A sound like gnashing of teeth preceded something that may have been heard as laughter if not for the ugliness it held. “I thought you would be entertaining, girl. They told me you were both learning to be Bengosha, and from the strength of your shields, you are quite powerful already. Too bad you will not live to find out what you could have been.”

Seimitsu frowned. “They who?” No one knew about their training except for their parents, teachers, and the priest. It was a certainty that none of them had said anything to a demon about it.

The demon made that horrible noise. “Why, the Kouken, of course. They did not want to be bothered with you, so they sent me to make sure that you never try to call on them again.”

“He’s lying, Sei!” Shiri called out to her. “Kouken may not defend us anymore but they would never be in league with that thing, and they don’t even know us!”

Seimitsu kept her eyes on their enemy. Shiri didn’t know Seimitsu had actually contacted a Kouken, but she was right about the demon lying. It was a relief that Ryuu hadn’t betrayed her. She was ashamed to have a brief time of doubt. “The Kouken are forever our allies,” Seimitsu said with confidence she actually didn’t have yet. “But I wouldn’t believe anything you’d say about them. Go away now while you still can.”

“I was told your faith is strong for one so young, and I couldn’t wait to see what you would do when faced with reality.” The fiend then motioned to those ruins around them. “Do you like my handiwork? Will you allow me to get away with it? It will be more satisfying if you don’t.”

Seimitsu felt her fear completely give way to righteous indignation rising within her. This thing was threatening all those she loved and all she believed in. She couldn’t back down in light of such glee over suffering it had caused, and she certainly wouldn’t let it intimidate her. “I will see you cast back to Naraku before this night is over,” she said, lifting her chin to meet the evil red gaze unflinchingly through her shimmering Light Shield.

“You cannot defeat me,” the demon replied. “You are mortal and merely a toy for me to play with before I let you die.” It moved closer, a fluid motion as if floating. “Now what should I do with you? Take over your mind and make you tear your little sister to pieces? Or maybe restrain you while you watch me do it?” He placed a claw against grotesque teeth protruding from his mouth, seeming to contemplate carefully. “Or maybe I should make her kill you…”

“You will never make me hurt my sister!” Shiri shouted, fear evident under her bravado, but her Sound Shield held fast anyway.

All of those stories, all of the hours spent practicing their gifts, all that time learning the truth had come down to this moment. Seimitsu was already approaching womanhood. Although still part child, she had tasted the bitterness of loss now, not only of her cousins, but also several of the older people she’d known for years that were lying a few feet away in the burned clothes. Seimitsu wasn’t going to let it happen again. She’d keep this menace from hurting her sister and parents as she’d promised in what seemed like a lifetime ago. She breathed in then lifted her eyes up to the darkened sky. Praying silently to the Father of Lights, she spoke out loud, trusting Him to do as Shiri had said – make it all come together for them.

“As Tenrai has chosen His Defender, I now choose my Protector. Harken to me, Ryuu Saito, Protector of the Northeast, and protect me as I protect these in my care. I call you to answer my summons, my Kouken!”

~~~~~~~

“Being brave is the last thing you should do, little girl,” a gravelly voice rasped out.

Ryuu had been reading over some papers in his den when he felt a tingle then the vision had begun. This had never happened to him before, but after hearing the description of how a dream felt to Zale, Ryuu knew what he was experiencing was along the same lines. He didn’t know if this was happening at that moment, but he knew it was real or would be soon.

Ryuu watched as Seimitsu whirled around, shoving her sister behind her. The shadow scaled armor that melded into the mist and large red eyes glowing from darkened features was familiar to the older Kouken but was something he’d hoped to never see again. At that moment, a man came out from the shelter of the trees. It was Seimitsu’s father more than likely since he was calling to her. Ryuu felt his breath catch as the demon cast an acid blast, its Naraku weapon.

The man fell down in agony as the girl Ryuu supposed was Shiri and another woman who had come out from hiding both ran towards him. Shiri then shielded them, and Ryuu recalled something similar be used by Defenders he’d seen fight long ago. He looked back to Seimitsu. She was trembling, but not only from fear; there was righteous anger. Her shield shimmered around her, providing her with protection for now, but if the demon continued its attack, neither shield would be able to withstand for long since the two girls were not strong enough yet. Ryuu would wager that they hadn’t even learned fighting techniques at this point since they would’ve used them if they had. He tensed when the demon spoke again.

“I thought you would be entertaining, girl. They told me you were both learning to be Bengosha, and from the strength of your shields, you are quite powerful already. Too bad you will not live to find out what you could have been.”

Seimitsu frowned. “They who?” Ryuu figured only their parents, teachers, and maybe a priest knew about them. He certainly knew that none of them had said anything to a demon about the two girls.

The demon made the horrible noise again. “Why, the Kouken, of course. They did not want to be bothered with you, so they sent me to make sure that you never try to call on them again.”

There was no way any of Ryuu’s kind would have consorted with such evil! No one knew about Seimitsu but those he trusted implicitly. His heart clenched when he saw doubt fill sky blue eyes for a moment, but then Ryuu saw when she believed her sister who was shouting it wasn’t true. It was a relief for him since he didn’t want her believing such hateful lies.

Ryuu wanted to rush to her side. She was so young…she shouldn’t have to face this thing alone. Was this what Eirinth had been dealing with for all these years? While his kind had run away, had these monsters been having their fun? That made him sick to think they’d let it happen. How could they have let their own fear and pain blind them so badly?

What Sei did next stunned Ryuu. She breathed in as she looked up to the sky and spoke aloud. Ryuu knew the Kouken summoning before the words came. The fact she knew what to say reinforced what she’d asked him in the dream. In this moment, the hallowed words were so powerful and perfectly spoken. “As Tenrai has chosen His Defender, I now choose my Protector. Harken to me, Ryuu Saito, Protector of the Northeast and protect me as I protect these in my care. I call you to answer my summons, my Kouken!”

Ryuu found himself in his den suddenly. The earlier tingle had not stopped; in fact, it had grown into the pull that a summons caused for his kind even if they were not already pledged. He stood, unsure of what to do since he wanted to rush out and meet that call without hesitation. It’s what Seimitsu deserved. She and Shiri couldn’t keep their shields up for much longer. If he didn’t answer the call, they would all soon die!

The thing holding him back was a past that haunted him. Ryuu thought of Jaedin pledging to Aralee and how it had led to his death. He then thought about the others and what they’d think if he did answer the summons after telling them to wait. Then he thought of fighting again and knew fear stronger than when he was much younger.

“Are you still My chosen, Ryuu Fire Wielder? Or has fear become your master? Do you trust Me to take care of that which is Mine? There are only two paths – one to denial and one to obedience. Follow Me, and I will restore what you have thought lost.”

Ryuu opened his eyes, realizing he’d heard that voice inside his own spirit, revealing the truth he’d been ignoring for so long. Nodding, he then replied through his tears, “I serve you, Father of Lights, who came as Tenrai Daystar. I am a Protector of Defenders and the people, and I will not stop fighting to protect them while there is still breath in my body.”

Grabbing his cloak, Ryuu rushed outside. Looking out at the darkened sky he called to his element. Before him, a dragon of black with blue outlining it materialized, ready for action even though Ryuu had not communed with it for a long time. Running his hand down the scales that had hardened for him to ride, the fire element growled a greeting.

“Sorry I ignored you for so long…Kaen. Let’s go save our future!”

~~~~~~~

The demon made that grating sound again, only it was even more horrid than before. “There will be no Kouken coming to you, child.”

“Watch and see,” Seimitsu replied boldly. “He will come and you will be defeated like your kind deserves.”

“But they have been forbidden to do so. Bengosha betrayed them long ago, and the Kouken hate all mortals because of it. They would just as soon see you die. You are alone and will not live through this, so give up now. I might make your death be a bit quicker…or even less painful.”

Seimitsu shook her head, trying not to lose hope. “He will come,” she reaffirmed, holding her ground. “He will and none of your lies will change that.” She saw Shiri weakening and hoped Ryuu got there in time.

“The truth is much better than a lie,” the foul thing replied, making her shiver. “Too bad you never asked this Protector about his past. You never found out the truth and trusted him without proof of his intentions.”

Seimitsu swallowed a bit roughly. “I will trust the Kouken, no matter what you tell me. Even if it’s difficult, he will fight to protect me and Shiri.” Seimitsu nodded to affirm her words to herself. “I refuse to believe his past would keep him from doing what is right!”

“He has betrayed you, just as your kind betrayed him. He told his council about you, and they sent me to kill you and your sister.”

“You lie!” Seimitsu yelled out, feeling her own words wavering.

The demon grated out in sick pleasure, “I will see you curse his name before you die, little girl.”

“Not if I can do anything about it,” a strong male voice ground out very close to Seimitsu.

Seimitsu whirled around to see a huge dragon that appeared dark black underneath bright blue flames surrounding it standing behind her. After a moment, the man walked out to where she could see him, gray cloak fluttering. She gasped in relief as she recognized him. “Ryuu!”

The Lord Protector of the Northeast nodded to her. “This is the answer to your question, bright Seimitsu of Meian.” He faced the shocked demon that stared at him. “Your time of torturing these beloved souls that belong to the Father has come to an end, servant of the forsaken.”

~~~~~~~

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