Disclaimer: The characters in this fic, such as Kurando, Anastasia, etc. don't belong to me; they are property of Midway, so don't sue! ;.;

Dedications: God, my friends, my cousins, my readers, Aruze for gracing this magnificent RPG with a sequel – despite the ending they chose to go off of – and finally, sudden inspiration for making me write this during periods of boredom.

Special dedication to: Leebot, for his kind support and helpful criticism; I really hope that you'll write an SH fic someday!

Shadow Hearts II: The Princess And The Samurai

Part Two: Forest Of Wind

By Tiger5913

"Joachim! My camera stand!"

The tall wrestler being commanded gave a slight nod in obedience, and set the tripod down onto the ground, but then was quickly assured aside by a petite girl holding a camera. She placed it atop the platform supported by the balance of three legs, and waved her arm at her companions, gesturing at them to distract the monster long enough for her to get a good shot. The flying creature screeched shrilly when it was being backed up against a tree by the small fighting party of a persistent, faithful white wolf, and the somewhat reluctant, unofficially-deemed leader of their group. Joachim Valentine, the blond man that had been assisting the amateur photographer earlier, now stood by her side with a long brown emcee's desk propped upon his shoulder, serving as her self-proclaimed protector.

"Hey, Anastasia, think you can speed this up a little?" Her brunette ally called out as his battle stance tensed a bit from inactivity – he was far more interested in attacking and defeating the monster than merely containing it.

"Okay, okay, I'm going as fast as I can, Yuri!" Princess Anastasia Romanov, the headstrong Russian native, hastily assured her friend as she hurriedly prepared her camera to capture a picture of the flying creature. "Blanca, keep it by that tree!"

Being one of her closer friends, the intelligent canine quickly growled in confirmation and slowly edged toward the subject, hind legs bent at a steady angle as if he was about to pounce. Yuri Hyuga sighed wearily at the girl's request, but nevertheless he nodded and joined Blanca in cornering the monster, causing it to peer at the two opponents with growing anxiety. Just as the young princess was finished setting up her camera, the object of her interest shrieked shrilly and thrust out a large fist of clenched feathers, shaking it in some sort of signal or ritual. At the sudden action, the fusionist and his ally backed away a couple of steps, and with a swift gust of wind, the bird-like creature whirled around and flew up to fully disappear into the thick branches and leaves overhead.

"Ohhh…!!" Anastasia moaned in annoyance and clamped her hands down to her hips for further emphasis of her frustration at efforts wasted in vain. "I can't believe it ran away! I just got my camera ready and everything-!"

"Ah, relax, Anastasia," Yuri sought to calm her with a slight shrug. "Forget about the stand next time, but hang onto your camera. I'm sure there're more of those bird monsters in this forest, so just be on the lookout if you want a picture that bad."

"Okay…" she hung her head for a moment, pouting in disappointment, but perked up suddenly when an idea came to her, and she asked enthusiastically, "Hey, Yuri, can I borrow your Warning Device for a little while? If I had it with me, I could probably find one of those monsters easier…"

"Sure," he agreed easily, and reached back into the waist pack hanging behind him to pull out a rectangular box with two antennas sticking up from the top. "Here it is. Hope this helps."

He placed the small instrument into her eagerly-outstretched hands, and she immediately tightened her grasp around it, grinning widely as she expressed her gratitude, "Thanks!"

"No problem," her ally replied casually, and then turned to their other friends, voicing the same question they were all wondering, "Hey, how much further until we reach this place that Kawashima told us to go to, anyway? I don't even know where Kurando's gone by now; maybe I should've told him to stick with the rest of us…"

"Well, sensei said to keep going north until we leave the forest, and the village would be just a little distance away," the redheaded woman of the group recalled sensibly, and also assured, "And Kurando wouldn't have asked to go ahead if he didn't know the way, so he should be all right. Let's keep an eye out for him as we're going along."

Yuri sighed and nodded, gesturing for the others to resume their journey through the forest, but he lingered around Anastasia in the back for a moment to remark wryly, "Huh, we probably could've been at that place by now if someone didn't make us stop to take a picture…"

After making sure that her vampire friend had the tripod properly packed up and securely in his grasp, the chestnut-haired princess whirled around to face the previous speaker and fired back passionately, "Hey! I… you know I'm taking these pictures to show my parents and Alexei all of the places we've been! Maybe they won't worry so much if they got to see where we've traveled…"

Based on the messy events that had happened in Russia several months ago, everyone in their party knew how much she thought of and cared about her family back at home. "Yeah, I know, Anastasia," the twenty-four-year-old sympathized in a quieter tone, and gave her a small grin as he continued lightheartedly, "The next time we see your parents, I'll tell them that we're taking good care of you. About the pictures… heh, just don't show them all the shots you've taken of monsters; that'd probably freak your parents out."

"I definitely won't!" she agreed with an understanding nod, and then glanced down at the camera held in her hands with loving fondness in her eyes as a smile spread over her face; the Warning Device had been tucked away minutes prior. All the pictures I'll show them will be nice and peaceful places… like the towns we've been to.

When Yuri glanced ahead just then and saw that their allies were slowing down to wait for the duo, he motioned for the teenage girl to catch up, and hastened his step, making his way to the front to lead the group. While the others all glanced around, looking for a glimpse of the village, Anastasia stayed at the back, doing her own exploration as she periodically pushed shrubbery aside with her free arm. She trailed after her allies with mild awareness, her pace slower than theirs because of the precious item that was carefully clutched to her chest, and she barely noticed that she was following behind. Suddenly, a low beeping noise rang from her pocket to steal her attention, and the princess immediately stopped to take the Warning Device out, and squealed softly in excitement, hoping that she would get a second chance at taking a picture of the bird monster.

Before she got carried away by her excitement, Anastasia peered at her friends to mentally note the distance, figuring that it wouldn't take too long for her to accomplish the goal. That in mind, she then focused on the noisy instrument in her hand and turned in random directions until the beeping got slightly louder, and she willingly began to head down the invisible pathway. The princess kept her eyes on her surroundings as the Warning Device continued to alert her of a nearby monster's presence, and when she caught sight of movement, she clicked a button to shut off the sound. She proceeded toward the rustling leaves, and when she heard a low groan coming from the same area of her destination, she hesitated momentarily, wondering if a traveler was being attacked by a monster.

Let's see, I've got my Crests equipped, and my monster pictures are with them… but I can't use my egg to attack when I'm holding my camera, she thought to herself, and stole a glance at her other pocket, which held the aforementioned weapon inside. Oh well, my magic spells should be enough to drive a monster away.

Strategy in mind, she carefully jogged for a short distance, and as she approached the spot, she quietly pealed back the shrubs and slowly stuck her head forward to witness the scenario. A pleased grin graced her lips when she spotted the monster that she'd been looking for, hovering a few feet away with its back facing her, and so the brunette quickly adjusted into a comfortable position. She planned to take a picture of the bird creature, which had a chance of possibly distracting it with her camera's flash, and then while its attention was averted, the person being attacked could get away. Anastasia crouched down to her knees and brought the viewfinder up to her eyes, ready to take a picture, but she needed to make enough noise for the creature to turn around and notice her.

After quickly checking her equipment, the girl poised herself, holding one finger over the shutter button as she called out sassily, "Hey, bird-man! Now look this way!"

It turned around to locate the source of the outcry, and she temporarily stunned it with the flash of her shot, which caused the monster to shriek and falter slightly, conveniently moving aside to let her see the victim. Her bright green eyes widened in surprise and her hold on the camera wavered when she identified the attacked party as the young swordsman who had gone on ahead of their group to find the village. Kurando Inugami appeared grateful for the mysterious distraction and stepped back, his dark eyes carefully watching the foe before he raised his weapon and lunged forward, swiping the bird creature with several fierce strikes. His last hit made the adversary slam headfirst into a tree trunk with considerable force, and after suffering such a powerful blow, it slumped to the ground, still alive, but knocked out for the time being.

"Whew…" the winner of the battle breathed in relief as he straightened back up to his usual stance and slowly walked toward the fallen monster, his sword not yet sheathed just in case it suddenly woke up and attacked him again. He was also heading in that direction because he was curious about his surprise benefactor, but knew at the very least that it wasn't Blanca who had came to aid him this time, since the speaker had a feminine voice… A flash of blue material caught his eye when Kurando got closer to the shrouded bushes, and he quickly peered forward to see a familiar slender-framed girl clutching a camera in her hands, with a small grin on her face. He glanced over her shoulder to see if their other allies were present, and when he realized that she was alone, he wondered why Anastasia was wandering around by herself; it wasn't very safe for to travel through the Forest of Wind solo…

"L-Lady Anastasia," he greeted with mild shock in his tone.

"Kurando! Hi!" She returned warmly, her bright jade eyes twinkling in unabashed happiness as she rose to her feet and hugged the camera to her chest, a rare sign of timidity from her.

The samurai gave her a partial smile to show his approval and replied with, "Hi, it's… it's nice to meet up with you, but… where are the others? Did something happen to them?"

"Oh!" Anastasia suddenly remembered that she had left her friends in search of the bird-like monster, and she glanced around, trying to remember which direction she had arrived from. "No, they're okay! Um, they're over on the main path, still looking for the village… I just kinda wandered off, that's all, heehee… Hey, we were all wondering where you went."

"I was heading toward there myself," he told her. "I know which path to take to get there, and the village isn't that far from this forest, but I got a little sidetracked when I was suddenly attacked by the monster. It's kind of strange… I didn't expect such hostile action from that creature."

"Hostile? Did you get hurt?" The concerned princess inquired as she immediately glanced over him, quickly noticing that there was a small tear at the bottom of his sleeve, and the open folds exposed a thin, but seemingly-long scratch on his arm. "Oh, you did! Here, let me heal that for you…!"

He looked down at the aforementioned injury, whose existence he wouldn't have realized for some time if she hadn't spotted it so soon. "This? Ah, it's nothing serious. You needn't worry about it, Lady Anastasia."

"Let's see… I think I have the Marax Crest on me," she mused softly, talking to herself as she set the camera down and closed her eyes in preparation for the casting – apparently, she hadn't heard his humble protest. "This should be a pretty strong spell, but I'll try it! Cure Plus!"

At her summon, a cool sensation seeped in throughout his form, soothing the mild ache of his forearm, and with such a pleasurable feeling calming down his nerves and post-battle adrenaline, a small sigh of contentment escaped from him. His own eyes closed for a moment, but he reopened them to see his companion standing in her normal position once again, camera back in hand as she watched him eagerly, wondering if he had healed. Within a few minutes, the only evidence left of his wound was a tiny scar, and Anastasia grinned, a little surprised, but glad that the spell had taken effect so quickly; well, then again, it was an upgrade of the regular Cure. Meanwhile, Kurando found her concern just a tad overwhelming, but overall, he was grateful – not only for the curing spell, but also for her assistance in his fight against the bird monster – and so he smiled at her to indicate his appreciation.

"Y-you're okay now?" The young mage asked, blushing slightly at his gesture; he rarely expressed it around the others, but when he was with just her, he seemed to show a little more emotion than usual…

"Yes, thank you," he assured her gently, and then after a quick glance at the unconscious monster, he finally felt secure enough to sheathe his sword. "And also, you have my gratitude for helping me with that battle against the Tengu."

"Oh, i-it's no problem! You're welcome! I was happy to help you beat that… Ten-gu?" She repeated questioningly with a light click of her tongue. "Is that what those bird monsters are called?"

He nodded. "They can be pretty fierce in a one-on-one battle. I don't encounter them very often, since they're pretty timid creatures, and even when I do, they usually run away. I'm really surprised that this one decided to attack me."

"Aw, I bet it won't try that again!" Anastasia praised passionately, and she giggled a bit as she recalled, "Heehee, we ran across one earlier, but it ran away before I could take a picture. I'm glad I got it this time!"

"That's good," the dark-haired samurai agreed, and then he glanced around the setting, noticing how vast the forest seemed when it was surrounding just the two of them. He thought of their other allies, and suggested aloud, "Well, do you think we should go look for everyone else now, Lady Anastasia? I wonder if they got lost…"

Just how far is this village, anyway? "Y-yeah, let's find them!" she agreed quickly and tightened her grip on her precious camera as she followed her companion; together, they weaved through the bushes and other miscellaneous forestry for a short while until the pair was back on a plain dirt path. The princess didn't recognize the setting, with the surrounding trees blocking her view when she tried to look around, but nevertheless, she trusted that her 'guide' knew where he was going. Anastasia doggedly trailed after the Japanese native as they continued along, but her attention kept getting diverted by the background scenery peeking at her through the branches and leaves, promising a glamorous portrait of nature's art. A tall mountain loomed in the distance, and its enigma captured her gaze, entrancing the girl until she bumped into Kurando, who had stopped at the fork in their current path, and was glancing to the right with curious eyes.

"They could have branched off to the cliff area, I suppose…" the young swordsman mused quietly to himself, and deciding to check just in case, he started down the path that would lead to the aforementioned area.

"Um, Kurando?" The stationed fourteen-year-old inquired timidly, after she had glanced ahead of the main path and glimpsed a sight of telltale housing, so she automatically guessed that it was the village their party had been looking for all along. Still, she didn't want to wander away from Kurando, and settled for asking him, "Where're you going? Is the village that way?"

"No," he shook his head slightly as he kept walking forward, "but… maybe the others went down this way. If they're not there, then I honestly don't know where else they could've gone… this forest isn't that big."

Anastasia sighed and shook her head slightly in exasperation at the thought; if the guess was true, how in the world did Yuri and the others really get lost in such a small forest with easy and straightforward paths? While her companion was further distancing himself from her position, she stayed at the fork in the path, and when his lithe form had began to be shrouded by forestry, the princess decided to do a little searching of her own. But instead of physical traveling, she used the power of her voice; "Yuri! Blanca!! Are you guys even still in this forest?!"

"Awroo!!" came the fast response somewhere off in the distance – apparently, the intelligent wolf had heard her with his keen senses – and then a familiar voice called out shortly after, "Hey, Anastasia! Is that you over there?"

Recognizing the speaker as the leader of their group, she instantly snapped to attention and took a few steps forward, heading away from junction as she shielded her eyes to look ahead before shouting in reply, "Yuri! Where are you?!"

Her loud summon received nothing verbal, but after a few minutes of noisy shuffling and leaf-crunching, her friends soon arrived to the setting and the reunited team regarded each other with curious glances.

"Where the heck did you go, Anastasia?" Yuri questioned immediately, breaking the silence first, and his dark eyes briefly flickered with concern before it faded to show annoyance. "We went all the way back to the entrance, looking for you!"

"Ah, I, um, hehe…" the princess blushed at the reminder of her bold, albeit selfish action and ducked her head, while tucking her hands behind her back in a show of apologetic innocence. "Sorry, Yuri; I was following the Warning Device… it started beeping, so I went to find the monster it was picking up… But, but I got a picture of the bird monster!"

"Heh, I figured as much. Well, that's good for you, and I don't really mind, as long as you're okay," the experienced fusionist commented with a wry half-grin, and then when he glanced around for a bit, he remembered the last member of their group and asked, "Hey, while you were away chasing the monster, did you happen to run into Kurando by any chance? We haven't seen him since we first came into this forest, and we're kinda getting worried…"

"Oh, Kurando! Yeah, I did!" Anastasia confirmed, nodding enthusiastically at the pleasant reminder. "He was here at this fork a few minutes ago, but he went off to the side path to see if you guys were there…"

"Ah, geez, why does everyone keep wandering off?" He questioned a bit rhetorically while throwing up his hands in over-exaggeration, and then turned around to address the rest of the party, "All right, you guys, we're gonna go get Kurando, then we'll keep looking for the village. But make sure you all stay with me! Please, no more little side trips, okay?"

The last comment was directed at the princess, who knew full well, and so she pouted in response, but the others nodded and waited for their leader to start off before they obediently followed in suit. They all knew that Yuri was usually very easy-going and let his allies do pretty much whatever they wanted, but when the situation got complicated or a problem was present, he would quickly switch into an authoritative mode. With him and the slender teenage girl up at the front, the group walked down the side path that Kurando had taken earlier, while Anastasia kept a critical eye on the housing ahead, still wondering if that was the village. Halfway through, the friends suddenly bumped into the young swordsman, apparently on his way back to the junction, and surprised him; in response, his hand immediately went to the hilt of the sword sheathed next to his waist.

"Whoa, take it easy there, Kurando," Yuri protested when he caught a glint of silver from the long, thin blade, and he instinctively raised both arms to shield his companions. "Hey, you can put that away. It's just us!"

"Yuri, Lady Anastasia… everyone," he realized with a start, and quickly left the vicinity of his weapon, then bowed a humble apology. "I'm sorry for reacting so rashly. I thought I had run into another monster…"

"Okay, that's it; we're getting out of this forest right now. It's making everyone paranoid," the leader decided after casting a weary glance at the samurai; Kurando was usually very calm and controlled, so his somewhat-aggressive reaction meant that there was something bad in the air. "Now, where the hell is that village Kawashima wanted us to go to?"

"Kurando knows how to get there!" The Russian girl piped up right after he finished speaking, and then she crossed over to stand next to the younger fusionist and took a hold of his hand to get his attention, which made him straighten into his normal posture. "Come on, Kurando! Show us the way!"

She lifted her chin and gazed at him adoringly; the seventeen-year-old flushed slightly, much to the amusement of his other companions, but he nodded and allowed himself to be dragged back to the main path. Once there, Kurando started to lead everyone forward to the village, but one of the party members glanced off at the unexplored section and let curiosity get the better of her, so she took a few steps down the side path. Once she got a good look at the setting, she gasped in surprise, recognizing it as a place she'd seen several months ago after venturing through a memory of Yuri's to help him regain his Amon fusion form. The red-haired woman slowed to a stop, and once the leader of the group noticed, he also came to a halt, not wanting to lose anymore of his friends due to their new bad habit of random wandering.

"Yuri, this is… just like the place from before…" she murmured softly in wonder.

Yuri stepped up next to her and glanced around questioningly; he grinned a bit when he realized that it was indeed the same peaceful place he'd enjoyed being in a few years back, so he kept a mental picture in his mind. "Yeah… it's from my earliest memories as a child."

By this time, the others had realized that the two were absent from their group, and Kurando stopped in his tracks, turning around to inquire, "What are you two talking about?"

"Huh? Ah, it's nothing," the brown-haired fusionist answered with a slight shrug, "Let's keep going."

But his temporary pause caused Anastasia to release her partner's hand and take a moment to marvel at the surroundings, especially the mountain she'd noticed earlier, and after her eyes thoroughly roamed its magnificent view, she sighed dreamily. "Wow… what a beautiful mountain!"

The young swordsman walked up beside her and nodded in approval when he saw the sight, informing her knowledgably, "Mount Katsuragi. It's considered a holy mountain."

She whirled around to face him in amazement. "A holy mountain?"

He smiled slightly at her astonished look, and continued telling her, "Legends say that a god lives here."

"Really?" The princess turned back to gaze at the mountain again with wonder in her bright green irises. "Wow…"

"Well, as great as the view is, I think we should get to that village soon," Yuri chided as mildly as he could, and then he looked around, "I have a feeling someone's waiting for us there."

"Okay, okay…" Anastasia relented, and took her companion's hand once again as everyone began to resume walking.

Usually the first one to detect an unsettling feeling in the environment, Blanca paused briefly to lift his nose and sniff the air, which the chestnut-haired girl noticed immediately and bent over slightly to give him a curious look.

"What is it, Blanca?" She asked curiously.

"Awroo, awroo. Grrr… (Be careful. Something's strange…)" he growled in reply, answering in his special wolf language that only his closest companions could understand.

At the current time, the princess hadn't learned how to decipher his unique speech yet, so she didn't get the meaning of his message and instead mimicked him playfully, "Grrr…"

She missed hearing the faint ring of a bell that sounded just then, but Kurando hadn't; he raised an arm protectively to stop the young female from proceeding forward, and then he wondered out loud, "Was that a bell…?"

The noise rang again, and made everyone look around – trying to find the source – and when it sounded once more, the retired puppeteer in their group touched his chin in pondering as he mused quietly, "Did ya feel that? The wind stopped."

Suddenly, the earth beneath their feet began to shake, and one by one, the friends were all sucked into an invisible hole, barely able to let out a scream or yelp of surprise as they sank down below the ground. Everyone went down together, but could only hear each other's shouts due to the overwhelming shadows that blanketed over the entire area, purposely blinding their sight, preventing them from seeing where they were going. Because of their close proximity, Anastasia had fallen together with Kurando, and she immediately latched onto his waist for comfort while squeezing her eyes shut in fright as the two plummeted through supernatural darkness. As they descended into an unforeseen trap, the samurai returned the hold to his companion, and firmly wrapped his arms around her back, assuring that he wouldn't let her go without the certainty of her safety.

Despite the rather long journey downward into nowhere, Kurando was inwardly insistent on protecting the girl in his arms, vowing to make sure that no harm came to her in the new, mysterious place that everyone was being sent to…

The End

Author's Note: Yay, finally finished this! XD Hehe, the cut scene in the Forest of Wind was one of my favorites, especially the part when Anastasia was growling at Blanca. She looked so cute! :D Hah, I can't wait until the next part of this series: Inugami Village, and the scene in which Anastasia embarrasses herself! Ahh, what a fond and very funny memory… Well, I'll save that for next time. XP Thanks for reading this fic, all you lovely people out there. But before you hit the Review button just yet, I need to ask for a little bit of help from you, my dears.

I have quite a few SH:C story ideas to work with right now, so I ask of all you readers to please vote on what fic you'd like to see next. The list is as follows:

Sequel to Summer Rain

Sequel to Missing The Family

Continuation of Devil Loincloth

Karin x Nicolai fic

Part Three of The Princess And The Samurai series

Please leave a review and tell me your thoughts! Thanks a bunch in advance, and see you next fic! )

With love for my fans,