There was something in your eyes that gave you away. A type of darkness and sorrow deeper than what is experienced by children because it has had more time to brood and stew than the childhood years have to offer. The type that kisses from mothers and soft soothing balm could not heal. It wasn't always there, I know. You once had a lost and distant look, that first time we met, as if you were but half awake and still untouched. There was this presence about you, a radiant magick that promised a secret place and some ancient spell. As if an old witch from the mouths of the story-tellers have crawled out of the dark caverns of earth and dew, and put an enchantment upon you.

You remind me most of the legend we heard at an inn in Flanoir, where a girl as white as snow was enthralled into an eternal dream. It was, you told me later, a story your sister had loved above all others. It was something you had told to her before bed when she was but a babe - an age when memories fade like mirages in the desert. That you yourself had never liked such a tale was pure irony, though not too surprising given your nature that we are only beginning to rediscover and you are only beginning to relearn. You did not seem the type to be moved by the tales of gallant princes of far-away places. You were not a girl who needed saving, despite the belied fragility of your body and your seeming youth. "It was the only story I knew of, that our mother had told to me when I had been a girl," you had explained to me with your childlike voice. The strangeness of those words spoken with such innocence no longer confuses me, but it is your eyes that had looked out at me with an expression that has yet to fit your face that gives me pause.

Still, you were like the girl of Flanoir who was tricked by a sorcerer and put into an enchanted sleep, encased in ice and youthful-eternity. There, she must have seemed like she was waiting for a prince to dislodge the choke-hold put upon her by such a spell. And now, before me, I can see what might have become of that girl in such an age-old tale. She might have been very much like you, after the dream was broken and the child woke up to that of a woman's mind. And, like the body of the dreaming Flanoir girl, you did not age one bit in what must have seemed like a thousand years, existing in a half-dream state too far from consciousness to act upon your own wills and desires. You, unlike that Flanoir child, faced the world with your cold eyed stare, instead of being locked in an icy cage. You were not sheltered to be bait or snare. You were used, instead, as a tool forged through a mindless fire that burned away your past like hot coals set upon paper. Unlike that girl who was rescued, you remained alone amongst your companions, silently picking up the pieces of your lost humanity and trying to glue back together a girl who might have become somewhat of a monster during the abscence of her soul.

And on you was the scent of death, not sleep. The smell of earth had once been so strong upon your skin that I could not help but imagine you dreaming with your pink hair spilt over rotting wood and darkened soil in some forest tomb. There was no spicy freshness of pine or snow to dust your pale skin or perfume your cloth. Instead it smelt of worms and rot and the deep earth after rain and leaves, dead and buried, beneath your body and over flesh. It was the smell of decay, though we would not find the cause until later that it was not you that was dead but the body you took care of in your waking dream. It had taken a long time to even realize then that there was also a touch of something that was not quite winter underneath your frigid coldness, like those eyes that no longer fit upon your face. At that time, there was something of yours that lingered long after all else was gone. A glimmer of hope perhaps, or maybe it is just my mind filling in what had never been there before the spell was broken.

Now, when you look at me, there is a touch of harshness, an unforgiving stare beneath your somber study of my face. I know you turn away more ashamed of yourself than me at the confusion of your emotions. And I think, you really are a child, though the scars you bare are far too heavy for such comparisons. "I should love you a little, I think." You say that with a tremble in your voice and that same far-away look in your eyes as once when you had lost your heart. Only this time, there is not that promise of death wrapped around you like a blanket of ice and snow. There are no more magick to cloud your life or the person you are. "Yet, even with the reminder of my stubbornness and my pointless anger, there is still a trace of hate that I cannot rid myself of. You must think me weak for not being able to let go." A child to be so honest and yet speaking of emotions children had not the words to articulate.

What do I say to that? What could anyone say, really? "I can only pray to Martel that one day you shall forgive me," I answered softly. I shall also silently pray that one day I might forgive myself, though I doubt the latter would ever happen in this life-time.

"I too, shall pray with you." You leave and come back quickly, hands grasping a basket, eyes so very hesitant as you touch my arm. When I turn, I cannot help but stare, stare and wish in one guilty moment that it is not you but her in your place. The feeling is fleeting but I am guilty of it nonetheless. You look so much like her at times, especially those times when you try to smile. I have amusedly watched you test your expressions before a mirror, hesitant and unsure of yourself. How unnatural your expressions had been, and how you had curiously looked to me when I had been unable to fight back a chuckle. "Is it so bad?" you had asked, embarrassed enough to blush. How in that moment it had felt like years had fallen away and she was in front of me again, making my heart lighter than I had thought possible with that bright light in her eyes. But instead, I see you before me now, with confusion and uncertainty. Slowly, hesitantly, one corner of your mouth struggles to go up, half an imitation and half a feeling that you don't know how to express or explain. I guess it is hard for me to let her go still, especially when you are here with me now. Even when the wound has dulled it has yet to fully heal, and it is hard to heal when neither you nor I think I deserve the relief.

"Let us go then," I invite you with the extension of my hand in the present, and you take it without hesitance. Out into the evening we go, with the sky studded white and silver, brightened by such far off lights than it has been for quite sometime. You hum a little tune under your breath, white breath like fog and wind. Almost, I can mistake you for a child in the darkness that cloaks you, but then I remember too quickly how you are not.

Softly, you tug on my hand again until I turn to see you looking up at me with those haunted eyes. Your lips move and the words come forth. It is a child's voice that speaks with such strange dignity and reserve. "Do you feel old, Regal?"

Smiling ruefully, I look to the sky. "Old? Yes, sometimes I feel older than I look." I smile only with so much irony at such words spoken to you.

"I feel like that all the time," you answer with that look in your eyes that says that you understand why I said what I did. Perhaps you do understand me in this moment better than anyone else can. You, a woman in a child's body, half trapped and half lost. "I guess we share more than one thing in common," silently we go, your warm hand in mine and my cool hand guiding you. "You must miss her, very much," you finally break through the darkness softly. I have never heard you so eager for words, nor so flushed in the face. It is, most likely from the cold, but time has passed since the world was made one and you have been given time to live as I had been given time to heal. This is, I think, the first time we have ever spoken about her without being before her grave.

"Yes," I answer honestly, though I do not wish to continue.

"Tell me," you begin hesitantly, "what she was like." I look at you surprised before you began to explain. "She was my little sister, I knew her only as a child." Your hand grips mine a bit more tightly, but you continue to exercise control of yourself far beyond your years. "I want to know her as a woman. A woman I would never know her to be."

And so, on a night of clear skies and stars, I told you about her. A star in the skies of our lives that had faded all too quickly, and loved all too much...


"The harshest judge is a guilty judge."

- Regal Bryant, on crimes and punishment


Nightwatch of the Lone Savior

by Blue Jeans

They buried his mother under a great tree in the cemetery reserved for nobles. Because she was the mother of the Chosen and because she had died trying to protect him, Mylene Wilder would have one of the grandest funerals ever known in the history of Meltokio - next to the old King's, that is. There had been a great gathering of mourners at the gates of the cemetery that day, after the service. However, only one young boy, attended by his butler, Sebastian, had been present - besides the royal entourage - at the official burial. The Pope is also in attendance, over-looking this particular event with a deep frown etched between his brows. Years later, Zelos would learn that the man was far more disappointed on who he buried that day than he had let on. For now, young Zelos Wilder is fighting back tears, because a man is not supposed to cry, no matter his age. He's also trying very hard not to notice the snow, because it only brings back memories he does not wish to carry with him. And he's telling himself that life goes on, because it already has.

Seles Wilder did not attend this particular funeral. Instead, she's busily being the only one to go visit the unmarked graves they had dumped the bodies of newly slain criminals in. Her mother is one such criminal, and in her young mind, she doesn't quite know how to deal with the fact that the woman she loved above all others had attempted to kill the boy she had once loved so whole-heartedly that he had been like the father she never had. In the dirt and the heavy snow, Seles is standing by the unmarked grave, watching the freshly piled dirt with uncertainty in her eyes. She won't admit she's crying either, because it's just the stupid snow that's melting on the heat of her cheeks and getting in the way of her eyes.

Seles has never been to this part of town and hadn't dreamed that she ever would, until this morning. She has never been this dirty and she has never ran away from home or broken any of the rules before, especially since she's doing something that she would have once considered beneath her. Yet, today, she's watching the grave through a blurry gaze, ashamed she's there and ashamed all the more that she doesn't know where her mother's body is located beneath the darkened soil. She's ashamed of herself and of her mother. She's furious that her brother had just stood there with a blank expression on his face as the Pope threw accusations of her mother's half-elf blood in her face. She's angry that he wasn't there to protect her like he had always done so in the past, like he had promised to do so when she was a child and they had loved each other - because even if she doesn't love him anymore, the promise still stands. She's angry at herself for not being strong enough to stand up for herself or for the woman whose name is now a taboo to even mention in the city. She's angry at the woman buried beneath the dirt for leaving her alone to fend for herself with nary a goodbye. And she knows, with a fearful certainty, that nothing will ever be the same again for her, for Zelos, for the people who were left alive in the aftermath of this ground-shaking event.

History would not be kind to Seles Wilder. It would be far crueler to Seles Wilder's half-elfin mother, whom the historians of Tethe'alla would not even deem the right to bare the Wilder title. Instead, they would call her Half-Elf, stripping her of name, identity and individuality, and burn her - along with her race - at the stakes of history for it. Seles Wilder's picnic by the hill, a few months later, would be one of the last days of freedom she would remember having for a long time after. It could be said that only after the worlds had merged - after the title of the Chosen was eradicated - that Seles had finally been able to gain some form of freedom. However, due to her blood and her mother's crimes, it was not until half-a-year later, when Zelos stormed into the South-Eastern Abbey, demanding to know why his half-sister was still locked up, that she would begin to gain back some semblance of a life again.

There were no thanks waiting for him, but Zelos Wilder didn't expect any to begin with. There was too much past between them and all, despite the fact that they were related by blood. Even though he loved her, there was too much history made by the adults in their lives. Zelos doesn't want her thanks anyway. He doesn't think he deserves it because what he did couldn't really be counted as a favor. Freeing her would only be the beginning of her ordeals, he knew that. But at least Seles could now have choices that she could make for herself, instead of being locked up in a tower for crimes not of her doing.

Especially since, even though Zelos Wilder has forgiven his half-sister of the past, those who admire him still, would not. Those who were used to the ways of Tethe'alla would not forget her mother's crimes, and she would not be forgiven for her birth right. Knowing this, Zelos gave her a bag of gold coins, a map and a letter. He told her to go visit a dwarf by the name of Altessa. "He'll need you, and even if life would not be the same as you are used to it, it would be better than the city. It would be better than a tower, Princess."

Seles doesn't like the nickname anymore, she has stopped being that girl who did, long ago. She tells him so as boldly as she used to, though this time around, it has more to do with the fact that she has nothing more to lose than being the spoiled, upper-class girl she once was. She had wanted to argue on her sudden relocation, but she had come to recognize the hard look in her brother's eyes. Though not many people saw Zelos Wilder as much of anything but a play-boy, Seles has seen her brother when he was being aloof and cold. She knows, because she's one of the reasons he has became the way he did. When his eyes hold that serious expression in their gaze, no logic in the world could move him to do otherwise. "Oh come on," Zelos lightened his tone with a grin that Seles had seen work on many other women. "I'm just looking out for my baby-sister. A thank you kiss on the cheek would be more than enough as payment for my hard work!" Zelos drawls out the lie, and she knows that he doesn't believe in a single word he's saying.

Seles gives him one hard stare before turning to go. "Prepare my luggage," she orders the guards once she has descended the stairs. "I'm going to Ozette."

"Ozette, my lady? But the village, I heard, has been destroyed-" the guard began to protest. At that moment, Zelos came down the stairs as well, and made eye contact with the guard. His blue eyes are frosty, clear and commanding in his smooth aristocratic face. It holds an expression that commands obedience, and when the guards see this they all stand a little straighter under the gaze and comply silently, much to Seles' annoyance. Zelos shifts his gaze to the top of his sister's head and the brotherly smile slides back easily as he looks at her. With her back safely turned to his, he can pretend they don't hate each other and that they're siblings without any history, again. "As you wish, my lady," the guard complies as Zelos sets a hand on Seles's shoulder.

"Won't you stay longer?" Zelos inquires after her with a pout, breaking the tension that has saturated the air. "Don't you miss your big-brother's company?"

Seles freezes under his touch before turning to give him a glare. Then she proceeds to remove his appendage as if it was diseased. "Please," she said to the guard instead. "Make it quick. I do not wish to doodle and waste my time with beasts." The comment sent the guards scurrying away to do her bidding and to avoid whatever wrathful tantrums they were used to royals throwing when they are insulted. The red-head though, just let it roll off of his shoulders, because he's used to it, especially when it's coming from Seles.

"I am a rather well groomed predator," Zelos agrees proudly, ignoring Seles' pointed glare, one that could have burned down unsuspecting trees if there were magick behind it. "What? Really Seles, all this time you're away from your brother and you haven't gained one bit of manners. Let your wonderful older-brother look at what you have become out of my supervision." Zelos said as he forcefully turned her to face him. He looked rather displeased, though too animated for her to take his displeasure seriously. "I should fire your etiquette teachers," he announced, "you are exactly as I have left you! Not an improvement in any of the departments I'm paying them for. And what is worse? You still have a long way to go before becoming a real woman!" Zelos pulled back and chuckled a little as he began to imagine Sheena in her ninja costume, amongst other things, as to what his definition of what a "real woman" should be like. "I shall pray to Martel for my darling, little sister to grow a chest that shall not be as flat as a board, forever," he sighed dramatically, head still in the clouds of fantasy. "And her mannerisms shall become refined and of such grace that-"

When the guard returned, he found Zelos twitching on the floor as Seles sat primly a few feet away, in the pews. "I learned martial arts for a reason." She explained to the stupefied expression given to her. "Anyway, he volunteered to see if I had gotten rusty after all this time."

Zelos, unfortunately at the time, didn't look like he could muster up the strength to give any more opinions that day.

-

The desert air seem to suck all the moisture out of his tender skin, Zelos Wilder thought dejectedly as he pulled at his vest that seemed determined to stick to his youthful body. He could see why all the old men were so wrinkly, like dried up prunes, as they frequented the market-place in the day. They were also hard to bargain with. Not that Triet wasn't far cheaper than what he was used to in the sprawling markets of Meltokio, but Zelos would never dream of disgracing his hard learned bargaining skills by not at least attempting to bring the price down to a more favorable value.

Sheena had once accused him of being cheap when they had visited the markets of Altamira. She had, once again, expected more stupidity from him because of his high sounding title, but he was appalled at her miscalculation. "Math is my specialty, darling," Zelos had proclaimed, a bit chauvinistically. "Leave the bargaining to the men, and you'll be taken care of." He continued, determined to be oblivious to his impending doom. Granted, it took Raine and Regal to pull Sheena off of him that time, but the look on her face was worth it.

"Let me have him," Sheena struggled futilely against Regal's iron grip, and Raine's restraining staff. "He deserves it!"

"I know you want me, sweetheart, but not in public!" He purred when she was finally dragged some feet away. He had never seen a woman move so fast with so many people hanging onto her, even if those people were shooting him looks of disgust. Really, these children had no appreciation for the art of flirtation! Anyway, all that pulling on Sheena and her revealing costume ended up giving Zelos quite an enjoyable view.

"I should have just let her have you," Lloyd sighed later that evening, dusting off the dirt on his red coat as he was one of the four that were dragged through the streets of Altamira by one enraged female ninja.

"You should have. I would have welcomed my hunny with wide, open arms." Zelos had agreed with a knowing, arrogant chuckle and a completely different set of logic. He had ignored the sigh of defeat that Lloyd gave off in the face of his lecherous grin, but it would be memories like these that would later make him go back to them, despite his betrayals and his fears. It would be memories of Sheena's dark flashing eyes - and bouncing bosom - along with Lloyd's look of resigned loyalty, that would nail the coffin for one Zelos Wilder.

He would just never tell them the cost he had to pay for it. Sometimes, words weren't enough and apologies brought nothing and nobody back from the dead. Mithos didn't know this, and look where it got that fool. In the end, he found himself not very different from the half-elves he had hated since the death of his mother and the betrayal of the woman he had, up to the day of the assassination, thought of as a second mother. In the end, everyone danced their dance of betrayals and pride and envy. Humans, evles, half-elves, and even dwarves, they were not very different when it came to hurting each other.

It was so easy for people to sell out on someone close to them. In the end, Zelos noted that scum was scum, regardless of race. The miracle was in finding those like Lloyd and Colette, innocent little children who wished to sacrifice no one and fought for everyone's sake. Humans, elves, half-elves, and even dwarves, maybe they all stood a chance so long as people like that were among them. And it was up to Zelos to make it possible for such people to survive this brutal world. It was up to Zelos to make sure people like himself would never be given the chance to betray a friend and teach their children likewise.

It was during these distracting, sentimental thoughts that he finally met up with the man that had haunted Sheena Fujibayashi's shadow since her failure to capture Volt the first time. Zelos was quite disappointed with the man's dramatic entrance and told him so after Kuchinawa introduced himself in a similarly dramatic fashion. The ninja had began to steam just as heatedly as Sheena would, and Zelos could see how those two might have found each other just as easily the best of friends as they were the worst of enemies. It failed, however, to amuse Zelos too much, especially after being stuffed for long days arguing over the details of race-rights with old, self-important Ambassadors from all over the new world. It pleased him less that this was how his day was going to end. He never did like destiny, but this was getting ridiculous! He didn't need any more self-important people on quests of revenge to complicate his tiring days. Wasn't Martel listening when he made his wish of having just a simple, uncomplicated life? Wasn't Mithos enough of an ass for one lifetime?

Kuchinawa was still speaking. Zelos guessed this was as good an answer as any from the Goddess he prayed to daily, more out of habit than out of belief. She had been kind and beautiful, from what Lloyd had told him, as a Goddess should be. However, at this moment, Zelos thought she was rather picky about whom to bestow that kindness and beauty upon. He drew his sword in the middle of Kuchinawa's rant about how inferior beings like Zelos didn't deserve the time of day from a highly trained ninja like himself. The look of surprise on Kuchinawa's face was priceless when he saw that Zelos had already drawn out his weapon and was prepared to do battle. "Look, are you here to assassinate me, or are you here to babble?" Zelos asked impatiently, as he extended his sword to the ninja, eyes already locating a barrel nearby with a top that looked like a promising shield. When Kuchinawa opened his mouth to answer, Zelos waved him to silence. "Ah! I know what you're going to say," Zelos began rather mockingly. "Yadda, yadda, yadda... No, the sword is not just for decoration. Yes, I have heard enough self-important speeches today to last me a life-time. Unfortunately for me, those people also happened to be far more eloquent than you'll ever be, but it looks like you will be the one closing this day. And no, as grand as you are to yourself, you're really not pretty enough for me to pretend that I'm actually interested in what you're going to say next. So, move it along already!"

"If you wish," Kuchinawa ground out the consent through clenched teeth. A dangerous glimmer lit up in the assassin's eyes, and Zelos didn't trust it one bit. There was anger and indignation in that gaze, but Zelos would much rather the man become enraged and thoughtless so that he could be better controlled. "I didn't expect so much sense from a play-boy like you, at least not enough for you to draw your weapon out right away. I always thought begging became you a bit better though."

"Begging is something more fitting of a desirous woman in bed. But I shall thank you nonetheless with the very little, but apparently impressionable, sense I do possess," Zelos mocked. "However, you really need to work on your insults," he countered, barely dodging a few well thrown kunai aimed for his head. Zelos knew the man was out for vital organs, preferably his, though he would have to survive this particular event first to figure out why. "It would be much more fitting, say, if I taught you a thing or two by starting with an insult to your lineage..." Zelos continued as he worked his way strategically towards the barrels.

"Don't bring up my lineage in this," Kuchinawa growled. "You aren't worthy enough to speak their names."

Zelos chuckled at this instead, after situating himself behind the barrels and against a wall. "What would your parents say if they were to hear you now?" he taunted with an arrogant smirk.

Kuchinawa's composure crumpled and that was when Zelos moved. The barrels exploded from the impact of Kuchinawa's weapons, steel mixed with magick. Zelos was beginning to have an understanding of the man's skills, and if Kuchinawa was not so annoying, Zelos might even have admired the man for his competence in combat. From the dust and rubbles, Zelos emerged with an arrogant smirk on his face as he faced the blazing eyes of a panting Kuchinawa. In his hand was the barrel's lid. Well, beggars can't be choosers, Zelos shrugged at the incredulous look he was getting from his current opponent. "Temper, temper," Zelos grinned predatorily at the ninja before him instead. "I guess you're finally taking me seriously." he observed, "But did your mother not teach you one bit of manners?"

Kuchinawa charged at him with a roar on his lips, and that was when the real battle began.

-

Sheena Fujibayashi was furious. She had heard about the battle in the market-place when she had passed by some whispering pedestrians, hurrying in the other direction. "A fight," someone was saying. "Between the ex-Chosen of Tethe'alla and some red-clad assassin, I hear..."

She had turned to follow the direction the fight was supposedly taking place with fear and anger at her breast. How dare he? Was the foremost thought in Sheena's mind. How dare that fool go after a battle that was obviously hers to fight, alone. Zelos Wilder never figured into her equations, he never figured into her life, but for one reason or another, he seemed determined to invade every aspect of both. The more she tried to ignore him, the more invasive he got.

How dare he? Sheena thought heatedly, refusing to acknowledge the anger as anything more than that. It wasn't like she was afraid for his safety. Sadly, that fool could take care of himself when it comes to a fight. However, for once, Sheena wasn't very assured by that thought.

Kuchinawa, for all his faults, was one of the best fighters in the village. She had beaten him once, but barely. She admit, from her observations of the red-head ex-Chosen, he was a powerful warrior despite his almost effeminate looks, but where Kuchinawa had been sharpening his skills this past year, Zelos had been living the peaceful life of a diplomat. Who knows how far his skills had slipped. And damnit, even if Lloyd taught her the importance of believing in your friends, Sheena wasn't feeling so confident right about now.

Faster, faster, faster...

Her brain was screaming at her, and for one horrible moment in time, Sheena realized that these were the exact thoughts that had raced through her mind when she had fought against Volt that first time. These were the tormenting thoughts she had been thinking when she was first defeated. These were thoughts throbbing inside of her as she helplessly watched her fellow villagers decimated in a few seconds before her very eyes. This was the exact same thought that ran through her head as she raced back to the village for help.

Faster, faster, faster...

But she was never fast enough. She collapsed, wide-eyed at the edge of the crowd. In the distance, she could hear the grunts of exertion as the fights continued. She didn't know who was emitting these sounds, but the fear pounded in her breast like a nightmare coming into reality. Grandfather, lying in a pool of his own blood, weighing down her body as she tried to reach the village. His blood wetting the material of his makeshift bandages, her torn shirt, her bruised back, and drying, drying as if it was seeping into her skin and branding her forever weak. The surprised, glassy looks on the faces of the dead, on the faces of Kuchinawa's parents who had been like her own...

It was all coming back so fast that Sheena stood helplessly, feeling like she was about to vomit. And then she heard his mocking, melodious voice floating over the murmurs of the crowd. It burned her up, anger searing through her fears and the words she had not spoken flashed before her eyes: How dare he? How dare he treat her like some weak female who couldn't fight her own battles? How dare he interfere? How dare he go out like that, as if he was the guilty one, as if he was the one who deserved to be punished for his incompetence? How dare he take away her chance to know if she was truly deserving as the successor?

Sheena pushed her way through the crowd, angry. She arrived at the edge, stumbling, and watched, wide-eyed at the scene before her. Kuchinawa was not on his feet anymore. Instead, he was hanging from Zelos' grip while turning an unnatural shade of blue in the face. Zelos had a cold look in his eyes, blood dripped from the cut on his cheek and the arm he was holding Kuchinawa up by. Otherwise, Zelos didn't look very different or even strained, though a bit dustier than usual, he handled Kuchinawa as if the other wasn't much of a challenge.

"It can't be," she heard her childhood friend gasp out. "The poison..."

"Obviously only affects humans," Zelos said evenly, and had Sheena not spend her life training to hear what others missed she probably wouldn't even have realized that Zelos had spoken at all. A million questions came to mind, but there was time for that later.

"Let him go, Zelos." She grounded out slowly. This was still her battle, Kuchinawa was still her rival. It didn't concern Zelos in the least, and she told him that quite pointedly before the gathering crowd.

"It concerns me if he attacks me, sweetheart," Zelos informed her with a harshness in his gaze that she was unaccustomed to seeing. "But now that you're here, I won't have to do any special delivery. Here," Zelos said as he tossed a small vile into her surprised hands. "The antidote you were looking for," he elaborated at the confused look on her face, effortlessly ignoring the sudden struggle that Kuchinawa was putting up at this particular turn of events. Then his features visibly relaxed before Kuchinawa was thrown away with a flick of a wrist. The action had been so graceful and elegant, it was horrifying. To Sheena, even as Kuchinawa was sent skidding down the street, away from both of them, she hadn't thought that her childhood friend could be so easily defeated or that Zelos had grown so incredibly strong. "If you want him still, go after him." Zelos calmly invited her to the deed. He wasn't facing her anymore, but from the perplexed look that came over Kuchinawa's purple, gasping face, she had a pretty good-idea that Zelos wasn't exactly being his happy-go-lucky self today.

"Zelos..." she was reaching out to him when she noticed the tenseness of his shoulders. There had been a golden glimmer in the soft fire-light, like a flicker of a fire-fly in the dark. Then, Zelos stretched out his arms and flexed, though Sheena had trouble registering what he was doing for a second. His action was so surprising that it froze her to the spot.

"Ah," the red-haired ambassador almost sang as he showed off his lean form. "Wasn't I so cool, defeating the evil assassin like that? Oh, my cute little hunnies," Zelos turned his gaze to the gathering crowd of men and women, flashing them all an overly charming grin. Suddenly, the fear and tension that had thrummed through the air dissipated before Sheena's eyes as young and old women sighed at his sparkling-eyed smile. Sheena wasn't sure how Zelos did it, but even she was feeling a little woozy from the affects, though she'd never admit it. "I know you want me," he rumbled. The predatory light in his eyes, the dangerous smirk tugging on his lips, and his self-confident aura that made even the blood coating his face and body seem somewhat dashing. His actions pulled them all in, making the crowd forget about the tense situation that shrouded the incident before them.

However, it just as quickly dissipated as someone gasped in the crowd when Kuchinawa got up, ready to have one last go at Zelos, with the ambassador's back turned. Sheena moved without thought, though later she would admit that if she had to do it again, she wouldn't know if the results would have been the same. It didn't change the fact that Kuchinawa dropped with a kunai in between his eyes, or the fact that Zelos, who had already sheathed his sword and dropped the tattered remains of his ridiculous barrel-lid hadn't anything to protect himself from the projectile. The red-head was quick enough to block the attack instinctively, but he ended up having to pull out the weapon from his forearm with a frown on his face. The red-head only winced and whined - though Sheena would not notice this until later - when she had looked to him before going to where Kuchinawa lay, dead. When she finally reached Kuchinawa, she ended up being more exasperated than she would have been if Zelos had not been there to steal the spot-light from even a dead man.

This wasn't how it was supposed to be, she wanted to say to Kuchinawa's slackened face, unaware that Zelos had quieted. "We were the best of friends," she whispered as she reached out, tracing the features she had been so familiar with as a child before closing his eyes. Zelos approached her with deliberate steps that crushed the gravel and sand beneath his feet, warning her of his approach. Surprisingly, however, he kept his mouth shut. "This was not how I wanted things to end," Sheena spoke at last, unsure what she was feeling now that this particular feud was over with nor with whom she was saying these words to.

When she turned sharply to glare at the man who ruined everything, she found that he was already walking away. The guards that were in charge of protecting the visiting ambassadors were only now emerging, dispersing the crowd from the scene of the crime. Those guards were so useless, Sheena thought angrily as she watched them act as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, trying to convince the locals to leave as others began to approach her. They were going to take Kuchinawa's body away, dispose of it as if he were a common criminal and not give him a Mizuho burial, like he deserved. Despite everything that had happened, Sheena wasn't going to let this happen too. She was going to drag Kuchinawa back to Mizuho if it was the last thing she did. If not for Kuchinawa's sake, then it would be for his parents that she did this for...

But mostly, selfishly, it was just for herself.


To be continued...


Note:

Triet has no police force of its own.

The guards that cleared the crowd are just the body-guards, mercenaries and soldiers brought in by the visiting Ambassadors.

Zelos' mother and his step-mother both died five to six month before the picnic scene. They are both older than the game's suggested age for the event in this story.