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BREAKING THE SHACKLES in E-Book AND Paperback as of 10/17/16 by Author/Publisher TONJA CONDRAY KLEIN(c)2016!

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PROLOGUE

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~ 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 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

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~ 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, their realm had Fighters that were both physical and spiritual once all their abilities were accepted and trained. The demons that appeared in Eirinth were more visual instead of mostly existing in spirit realms. Each Denrei Tenshi was necessary for calling the mortal Eirinth Fighters to find the individual place 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 the 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. It 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 that their lives could change for the better, and neither of them wanted to ever let fear be the thing that defined them.

~~~~~~~

“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 and 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 to 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 as his visitor came in though. “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 it 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 called 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

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~ 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 all 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.”

“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 then leaned back on 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 small private council member’s 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 villages 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. All of them were tired and sweaty from the 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 and they played well together even if they did have their moments of usual tussling.

“Can I come?” The little boy asked with hopeful eyes that 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 at stake he could find a strength to not be as successful as he had 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 upon more than any personal abilities or societal standing. More than acceptance of those in power that refused to accept truths you knew were needed to not see your world fall to pieces. His parents had taught him those truths, but he’d forgotten in moments of pain, treachery, and the 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 those 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.

~~~~~~~

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