Five hundred years ago, Gaea, "Heaven's Land", was embroiled in a vicious internal war

** disclaimer: Digimon does not belong to me. Takeru and Hikari doesn't belong to me. If they did, I'd be rich. So leave me alone you vultures!

** Authors notes: I'm baaack!!!! Thought I died, didn't you? ^_^ Well, this is my next project, an all-out epic like the "Ashes" trilogy. Except whereas the "Ashes" trilogy was a what-if fic, and had modern world / sci-fi overtones, this will be totally different. A totally AU fic, like Caspian's "My Father's Crown", or Time Lady's "A Digi-Tale". This will be a fantasy, though not in the conventional sense (no dragons, trolls, cheesy spells, or witches here). It will have rather strong religious overtones, a long way down the road. Christian religious. I mean come on, there's enough yaoi and yuri and NC-17 graphic sex fics out there, I think the Lord deserves a chance.

Also, just like "Ashes" this'll be an amalgamation of basically anything I think of. You'll recognize concepts, ideas, and names from most notably: "Vision of Escaflowne", "Jo Jo's Bizarre Adventure" (the concept of the "stand"), "Record of Lodoss War", "Rurouni Kenshin", "Star Wars", and even games like "StarCraft" etc. Should make for an interesting read. See if you can spot them all! ^_^ I'll make a complete list of the ideas I used later on.

Special thanks to: Dreamwalker, and Phawx who both helped edit my story. Thanks a ton guys! I couldn't have done it without you. You were a great help!! ^_^


Age of Gods: Chapter One

By: TK Takaishi

Five hundred years ago, Gaea, "Heaven's Land", was embroiled in a vicious internal war.

Records are sketchy and vague, many details lost to the mists of time, but historians have managed to piece together fragmented accounts of that bloody age referred to as the "Aeon of Strife". Kingdoms locked in mortal combat for decades on end. Generations of soldiers lived and died for the sole purpose of grinding their enemies into the dust. Surrender was unthinkable. And the sad thing was, no one could remember how the war had started in the first place…

There were several major powers, but the one that was dominant among them was the Khaydarin kingdom. Its armies swept the land like a tide of darkness, and the countries, exhausted from internal conflict, could do nothing to stop them. They were predators, inciting chaos, and destroying all attempts at peace between the countries, in an effort for conquest of Gaea.

The ancient records of that era has it that it was about that time that Adun and the first stand-masters came to be.

Historians are uncertain of Adun's full name. They aren't even sure if that's his real name. The records, translated through six different languages, over a course of five hundred years, had lost much in terms of clarity.

What is beyond doubt though, was that Adun was a visionary, the leader of a select few that possessed the awesome power of the stands. Some say he was a chosen sent from heaven, and commanded mysterious abilities that no one really understood.

After generations of bitter warfare and strife, it was Adun that finally brought an end to it all. Within three years, he had rallied the kingdoms of Gaea together against the Khaydarin kingdom, the one country that refused to submit to his peace proposals. The demon army was smashed and defeated, and slowly retreated from the kingdoms they had occupied. Bit by bit, "Heaven's Land" was reclaimed.

In the final battle, christened by later generations as the Seihad, or "Holy War" in the old tongue, Adun firmly pushed the Khaydarin kingdom back into the land from whence they came. According to legend, records and archaeological evidence recovered from that era, the battle was so apocalyptic, that the Earth itself awoke, screaming with rage. For three hours, the sky turned a deep crimson red, and blood rained down upon the earth. A string of volcanoes erupted, shattering the land, and ripped a corner of Gaea right off the mainland, forming what people now call the Island of Akeldama (that is, Field of Blood). It was on that island that the smashed remnants of the Khaydarin army were pushed, never to return.

And thus ensued, what historians call, "The Age of Gods".

Adun crafted a benevolent alliance of nations. Together, with the other stand-masters, they formed the Council. The power of the stand was passed down through the generations, and there were six families, six holy bloodlines, that were blessed with the power of God. That was the origin of the name "The Age of Gods", for during those blessed years, God's will was truly done on earth as it is in heaven. The Council ruled fairly and justly. But most importantly, they ruled for the good of all.

It was easily the most prosperous and peaceful age Gaea saw in all of her bloody history. For five centuries, people forgot the meaning of war, forgot the meaning of bloodshed. Together, the kingdoms of Gaea, who had once fought each other as bitter enemies, embraced each other as brothers, rejoicing in their similarities, and at the same time, their differences.

But all that was about to end...





Two dark figures ran through the forest. Tearing at slashing branches, and tripping on gnarled roots, their breath caught in their throats as ragged sobs. A baby's wailing cry could be heard above the panted gasps for breath.

The night was dark. Inky black stretched in all directions. The trees were but shadows and silhouettes, black against black. The moon and the stars were gone, their usual, friendly flickering light devoid from the cold earth, for even the heavens were hiding their eyes.

Behind them, the midnight sky above the forest was stained blood red, refracted from the light of the burning city. The proud city of Palas, capital of the kingdom of Ishida, lay smashed and burning, as hordes and ranks of the demon army breached her walls, and slaughtered her defenders. The sound of crashing steel, scream of dying men and whinnying of horses sounded like some hideous battlehymn in the boiling night air. A small knot of knights stood alongside their Emperor, fighting valiantly, but the battle was already all but lost. The smell of cold steel, and coppery blood was in the air, as earth was shredded and tortured in the desperate struggle.

The Queen of Ishida refused to look back as she fled, sobbing. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she struggled to run despite the arrow wound in her shoulder. In her arms, she clutched a wailing baby, no more than five months old, crying with fright. At her side, a loyal soldier ran, his sword drawn and glimmering steel blue in the crimson firelight.

It was not supposed to happen like this…

Tripping, the Queen fell, collapsing onto the ground. Instinctively, she clutched her baby closer to her chest. Immediately, the soldier was at her side, trying to help her up. "Milady, are you all right?"

The Queen waved him off as she panted for breath on the loamy earth, her hand clenched over the arrow wound in her shoulder. Crimson blood seeped around her fingers.

What's wrong with me? I've fought with the best of Ishida's knights, run with the fastest Ishida scouts, and yet my body is failing me…

Behind her, the feral screams of the pursuing army rang through the woods, as fleet hunter-seekers raced through the forest, chasing the last members of Ishida's royal family.

"It was not supposed to happen like this- "

Then, her body arched as she retched. Dark blood poured out onto the forest floor. Gasping, almost clawing at her throat for breath, she felt her entire body go numb. What was wrong with her?

With a frown, her bodyguard, one of Ishida's greatest knights, examined the arrow that had pierced his Queen's shoulders closely. In the moonlight, the steel arrowhead gleamed a faint purple, as if someone had painted the violet stain on. The soldier gave a moan of despair.


"It was poisoned, wasn't it?"

The Queen drilled her soldier with a piercing glare. She knew the symptoms, she knew her limits, and she had a long way to go before reaching them. "Vargas, answer me. The arrowhead, was it poisoned?"

Vargas nodded. He felt the arrow slip numbly from his fingers. The baby's wails seemed to increase.

The Queen closed her eyes. Poisoned…. Whatever poison the arrow had been contaminated with, it was undoubtedly spreading through her body right now, making its way inexorably towards her heart. There was no way of getting to an antidote in time.

That was assuming an antidote existed. The demon army did that sometimes. Use poisons they themselves had no antidotes for…

She took a last look at her precious baby. The boy wailed and sobbed piteously, frightened with the horrible screams of the dying in his ears, and the sounds of warfare. His tiny hands clenched the fabric of his mother's tunic desperately. The last hope for their people, the last fragile link of the Ishida bloodline.

But you can't die…There's so much you haven't experienced yet, so much you haven't done…

"May you live to avenge what has happened this night," she murmured softly in the boy's ear. The baby's cries seemed to decrease for a moment, and the little prince looked tearfully into his mother's eyes, as if truly understanding what was about to happen.

Taking the baby, she handed the blanket-wrapped form to Vargas. Astonished, the soldier took him gently, his large, battle-scarred hands cradling the small form.

"Vargas. I want you to leave me."

"But milad- "

"Save yourself, and save my baby."

"Milady, I took an oath. You know I would never leave your- "

"Bodyguard! You will be silent when your Queen addresses you!"

Vargas reluctantly closed his mouth, and bowed his head out of deference. The Queen's tone softened as she laid a hand on her bodyguard's shoulder. Unfastening one of the two swords buckled to her belt, she pressed the sheathed blade into her servants hands. Forcing the soldier to look into her eyes, she spoke slowly, each syllable clear and crisp, so there could be no misunderstanding.

"Run, as far and as fast as you can. I entrust upon your hands the life of the Crown Prince of Ishida. If you must, go into hiding. You must never, on your life as a knight, allow harm to come to our Prince.

"When the time is right, give this to my son." The Queen patted the sword now clenched tightly in Vargas's grip. "Teach him your skills, that he may use it for justice, and to protect the innocent. Your heart will tell you when the time is right.

"Then let destiny take what path it may."

They both understood the significance of that tiny life that Vargas now cradled in his hands. The last link in the bloodline, the last generation of stand-masters…

Gleaming tears streamed down from Vargas's eyes. Battle-hardened soldiers do not cry. But he was being ordered to leave his Queen…

It was not supposed to happen like this…

"Milady. I would fight to the death for you. To preserve the honour of the Ishida family, I am prepared to go all the way. Why do you doubt my loyalty so?"

The Queen shook her head slowly. She could feel her heart beginning to fail her, as crimson blood trickled from her shoulder. She didn't have much time left.

"As long as Gaea has a people, and a leader, there is hope…"

The feral screams and horrid screeches of the demons increased. Crashing and cracking could be heard as they smashed headlong through the woods, snapping entire branches as they went in their berserk killing rage. Once set in motion, the dreaded hunter-seekers could not be stopped until they had ripped their target to shreds. They had been known to annihilate legions of their own forces in their frenzy to get at their prey. Casting a glance over her shoulder, the Queen snapped at her servant.

"Now go. Run, and don't look back."

Sheathing his sword, Vargas cradled the crying baby close to his chest. Carrying the precious bundle, the soldier dashed off through the forest. His breath caught as ragged sobs in his throat as he ran, and his hands clutched the baby desperately. The boy's wails faded in the night as Vargas plunged blindly through the woods.

Behind him, the Queen staggered upright, drew her remaining sword, and stood in the face of the oncoming horde. Burning determination blazed in her eyes, determination to buy her servant, and her son, enough time to get away.

Even as the demons rushed her, charging her, she bayed her challenge to the winds.

"O Father, stand by me now!!"

Blinding light burst forth as a raging pillar of flames, illuminating the scene with holy brilliance. Her "stand", the royal phoenix, emerged…no…exploded from her form as she summoned her will against the snarling ranks of hunter-seeker's that threatened to engulf her, pitting her spirit against the collective might of the demon army. Snow-white wings blazed against the dark, inky background above the Queen as she unleashed the ultimate representation of spirit and soul in all its blinding glory.

And with that, the Queen of the Ishida royal family, one of the last surviving stand-masters remaining, launched herself headlong into battle for the last time…

It was the end of the Age of Gods.

**Fifteen years later**

The winding mountain path was peacefully quiet. Ambient, late afternoon rays of warm summer sunlight, just beginning to turn red with dusk, filtered softly through the branches of trees, casting mottled blue and green shadows on the ground. The occasional chirp of forest songbirds sounded softly through the woods. This place was well back from the frontlines of the bloody war fronts, sheltered and protected.

A small, wooden cart, pulled by two horses, slowly bounced and creaked its way through along the dirt road. Sweet-smelling hay, feed for the horses, was piled in the back, along with various supplies and food items. Three figures sat in the open backboard, enjoying the summer sun. One, an old man in his early fifties, with a shock of steel gray hair and twinkling, hazel brown eyes, guided the reins. A sword was buckled to his belt, most likely for protection against bandits. The man's son, and a girl, his son's friend, lay sprawled in the hay stacked in the back.

From a distance, an observer would've seen the two children's plain clothing, and would've thought, "Typical farm children". Many youngsters accompanied their parents on supply trips like this one. In this case, the three of them were returning from a weeklong run, and were eager to get home. But upon closer inspection, one would've seen that the two children were not typical at all.

Takeru Takaishi was a fourteen-year-old boy from the quiet mountain village of Kurtal. Perhaps it was his slimness, his lightness of muscle and bone that would've struck one as unusual. He might be considered by some as a small boy, despite his medium height. Not unheard of, but rare in farm children.

But even more so was his face. His fair complexion, and delicate features, were unique, to say the least. In truth, Takeru hated his face. His platinum blond hair and blue eyes didn't help matters any. In summer, he exposed his visage to the burning sun for hours on end, and in winter, he scrubbed it hard with stinging snow to make it brown and weathered, as a true man's should be. But it was to no avail. No stain, and no whisker appeared. Laesbube, or "Angel-face", the village's boys had mockingly called him, but that had quickly stopped when they discovered that the boy' fists, though small, were dangerous.

Takeru might not look the part, but he had been extensively trained in the art of sword-fighting and personal combat since the age of eight by his father. Bullies had long since learned to keep their distance.

At the moment, the three of them were engaged in a spirited discussion, trying to while away the long travelling hours.

"I'm telling you, it's a rip-off!" the Takeru's father, Richard Takaishi, was saying as he idly guided the cart down the road. "Those merchants of Broli, they always say they have the lowest price! We could've gotten twice the wheat seeds for half the price if we had looked a little further! Maybe spent an extra day or two looking around."

Takeru grinned as he stretched out luxuriously on the hay. "Yeah. But with the way the war's going, we're lucky to get prices like this. Food's getting scarce. Isn't that right, Kari?" Turning, the boy directed his gaze at the girl sitting beside him.

Hikari "Kari" Kamiya was dressed in the typical garb of mountain children as well, but somehow, she seemed to wear it with more dignity than any of the other girls in Kurtal, which constantly made those around her jealous. Shimmering, light brown hair framed her fine-featured face, held back with a simple hairclip, adorned with a white flower. The brown hair was more typical of Kurtal ancestry, but her eyes definitely were not. Her crimson-red eyes held the wonder and innocence of a child, but the depth and maturity of an adult.

Right now, those eyes were twinkling with amusement at the argument between father and son. "I'll have to side with Takeru on this one, Mr. Takaishi," she said gently to the man. "Farmland's getting scarce, and prices are rising."

Richard snorted. "Youngsters nowadays. Ganging up on me, eh? You must think I'm some senile, old, outdated.... Why, back when I was your age, we could buy- "

Suddenly, he stopped himself in mid-sentence. An awkward silence descended upon the cart. Takeru shot his father a puzzled glance. "Father? You were saying?"

Richard gave a small laugh, though it was tinged with a touch of sadness. "In light of the circumstances, I don't think this comparison's applicable."

Kari snapped her fingers. "That's right! Back when you were a child, the Age of Gods hadn't ended yet." Sitting up, her wine-coloured eyes widened with curiosity. "What was it like? I mean, we learn about the history all the time, but I've rarely heard it from someone who's actually lived in that era. For some reason, mother doesn't like to talk about it."

Richard glanced at the setting sun. The sky was slowly turning a light shade of rose red with the dusk. "I...I don't know. I don't want to bore you children..."

Takeru rolled around until he was lying on his stomach. Bits of wheat and hay stuck to his blond hair. "C'mon father, just tell us already. I never tire of your stories. Why should Kari?"

For some reason, Richard remained silent as he guided the wagon along the road. In the fading afternoon light, it seemed his eyes suddenly hardened into cold flint, then softened again into their normal hazel brown.

"The Age of Gods was beautiful..."

Takeru had to strain forward to hear his father's whisper. Kari gave Takeru a puzzled sideways glance, but the blond boy just shrugged in return.

"I remember back then that one could travel anywhere one wished, without having to worry about loyalties, alliances, and war fronts. My father and I used to make runs all the way to the kingdom of Sheid, and we wouldn't even think about bringing a weapon for protection. Land was everyone's land, and everyone was guaranteed safe passage on it.

"I remember great feast days, celebrations whenever our little town was honoured by the visit of a Council member. I mean, think about it! A chance to see one of the legendary stand-masters! That was the stuff children's dreams were made of. I was but a little boy back then, but I would be so excited by the parade and procession. My father used to pick me up onto his shoulders so I could see over everyone's heads." A small smile flashed across the old man's weathered features.

"And most importantly, I remember when wheat cost a third of what it costs now. It's a pity, in a way. I never realized how much I'd taken for granted until the Age ended..."

Richard fell silent. The setting sun gleamed red on the horizon. For a long moment, the wagon bounced along the dirt road in silence.

"Sir?" Kari ventured softly. "Do you...remember what it was like...when the Age of Gods ended? When Ishida fell?"

In the velvety light of the dusk red sky, Takeru was certain he saw his father's eyes darken. The hazel brown turned almost black. Half of the man's face had fallen into shadow.

"I prefer not to talk about it. Please understand.... I have…memories."

Kari opened her mouth to ask again, then closed it again as Takeru shook his head. "My father won't even say anything to me," he whispered in her ear. "He won't even tell me exactly how my mother died. All I know is that she passed away shortly after giving birth to me." For a moment, the boy's blue eyes were pained. For as far back as he could remember, it had always just been him and Richard. Richard had been a good, loving father for sure, but sometimes, a little boy just needed a mother. He didn't even know what his mother looked like. His family had never had a portrait of her painted.

"Ever since the beginning, it's just been father and I, poor farmers trying to make a living in the middle of a war. I wish I'd gotten a chance to meet one of these stand-masters of the Age. It hurts him to talk about it. The things he's seen since then are best left alone."

Kari sighed. She knew the basic course of the story from there. She had just wanted so much know more.

Fourteen years ago, Khaydarin launched a sneak attack, and crushed Palas, capital of royal kingdom of Ishida. With at least five hundred years to rebuild her armies, the dark kingdom had regained a shadow of its former dark glory. Caught completely flatfooted, the capital fell quickly before it had a chance to mobilize her incredible military might. Her entire royal family, every last member, was killed in that one night.

The legendary Ishida bloodline of stand-masters was dead.

With the fall of one of the most powerful and prosperous kingdoms on the map, Gaea was thrown into chaos. Border raids and skirmishes incited by Khaydarin added to the confusion, and in the initial melee, several minor kingdoms were crushed. Tensions escalated as people accused one another of the damage.

One of the first things Khaydarin did was to assassinate select members of the Council, the ones possessing the powers of the "stand". With a series of lightning-quick raids, they toppled whole cities in a matter of weeks, before any of the kingdoms had a chance to mobilize their armies. The murder of the Ishida family was one example. The stand-masters were now an extinct race. Aided by covert, sneak attacks and false diplomatic information planted by the demon army, the land fell to civil strife again within two years. Without the guidance of the Council, the people, in fright and despair, struck out blindly against one another.

And now, it seemed that history seemed doomed to repeat itself. Several countries had declared outright war on their neighbours, while several others seemed on the verge of doing the same. Bloody wars and fiery battles raged across the continent of Gaea, as Khaydarin's border raids grew bolder and bolder.

The Aeon of Strife was back again in full force.

Had he heard, Adun would have turned in his grave.

Kari nodded, and settled back. The little cart made its way slowly around the winding valley path. The sun's golden-red orb was slowly sinking below the mountainous horizon. Takeru stretched, and settled himself deeply into the hay, making himself comfortable.



"Do you know what it was like?"

In the fading evening light, Takeru stared at the sky as stars began appearing. His voice was a soft murmur as he spoke to his best friend.

"Kari, I'm fourteen, remember? Even if I had been born at the fall of Ishida, I'd still only be a baby. I wouldn't remember anything." Turning his head, his blue eyes sought out Kari's crimson ones. "Why do you ask anyway? You seem very curious about the Age of Gods."

This time, Kari was silent for awhile. Her chestnut brown hair ruffled slightly in the evening breeze.

"Mother had always told me about Father, and what a great knight he was," she began haltingly. "She told me that he died trying to defend one of the last Council members, Gaea's last hope for peace. They say that it was Ichijouji soldiers that killed him, and assassinated the Council member. That's the official version anyway. But mother had always believed that it was Khaydarin forces...

"I want to know more about the age, the ideal world he died trying to protect..."

Takeru was silent for a moment, his blue eyes half-closed. "Perhaps you will. This Aeon of Strife can't last forever y'know. God wouldn't let his people suffer like that.

"It might take a long time, but all we're waiting for now is the next Adun to lead us out…"

The pair was silent for a few hours as they winded their way along the pass. Kari yawned as she settled herself in the hay beside her best friend, and fell asleep. The cart creaked as it hit a pothole, and Richard murmured a soft "easy there" to the horses. The sun's orb was a deep crimson red by now, as it submerged slowly behind the far off hills.

Richard grinned to himself as he watched the setting sun. "Perfect timing," he whispered. Kurtal was just around the bend, and it looked like he'd be able to get home before sundown after all. Maybe he'd get to see a few friends before he went for dinner tonight. "Hey Takeru, you might want to wake Kari before- "

Then, he reined in the horses abruptly, both horses whinnying with fright from the suddenness of the maneuver. Kari was jerked wide-awake as the cart shuddered to a halt. As the girl gazed around, wide-eyed, Takeru clambered up to the frontboard, beside his father. "What just happened?"

Richard's hazel eyes seemed focused on some fixed point on the distance. Takeru frowned. "Father?" he questioned as he followed his gaze.

And froze.

A dark, black cloud of smoke billowed into the sky, staining the clear evening sky a dirty blue-black.

Kari stood up for a better look. Her crimson eyes widened. "You don't think…"

"Hold on children," Richard gritted out, as he snapped the reins again, this time much harder. Takeru and Kari were almost thrown off their feet as the cart fairly took off up the rolling hill, the horses galloping along the path. The dirt road fairly flew by under the racing wheels as the two children hung on for dear life.

Then, as they crested the hill, Richard hauled in the reins again. The horses whinnied in fright as the cart skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust.

The path winded through the hills and rocky cliffs like a snake, and here, it crested the rise in the mountain pass. Beyond the next valley lay the village of Kurtal. At this hour, the first fire torches should've been lit as the people prepared for night. From this vantage point, Takeru should've been able to see the farmers and the workers coming in from the fields after a hard day's work, and hear the faint echoes of mothers calling for their children to come in for dinner.

Instead, his horrified eyes took in a devastated vista of burnt out buildings. The charred, wooden remains still smouldered with fire, as flames raged across the once fertile green fields. A section of the outer fence of the village lay smashed open like a pile of so many twigs. The blue-black flames came from the burning of the fields and crops. The silos, storing the precious wheat looked like they had been ripped open, and looted.

Nothing was spared.

Numbly, the young boy sat down. He vaguely heard Kari sobbing beside him. When Richard jerked the reins, he barely noticed when the cart plunged down the valley floor, racing towards the devastated remains of what used to be the village of Kurtal.

Up close, the devastation looked even worse. An eerie silence blanketed the ruins, broken only by the crackling of burning flames. Here and there, Takeru could see the charred remains of corpses littering the streets. Around the corner, he could see a dead mother, holding her baby in a final embrace. He could feel his gorge rising in his throat. Beside him, Kari lost the battle, and threw up on the ground.

Skidding to a stop in front of the smashed remains of their farmhouse, Richard leapt off the cart, and unsheathed his weapon. His naked sword, the one the farmer always carried around for protection, gleamed coldly in the fading daylight.

"Mrs. Kamiya?" he called out, his voice echoing in the mountains. "Mr. Fujiyama? Mr. Izumi?


Silence. The wind whistled through the streets, bringing with it the smell of burning wood and flesh. It was at that moment that the sun set completely. Suddenly, the ruins of Kurtal looked that much more sinister and hostile without the sun bathing it in its warm glow.

How did they track me? After fourteen years, have they finally caught on? But I was so careful…

Takeru watched his father as the man stood stock-still, allowing the breeze to ruffle through his clothes. What the boy saw in his eyes frightened him. His father looked…cold. Takeru could see the fear in his father's posture, but it was under control. The man was not scared. It was something…different.


Startled, the blond boy paused a moment too long before answering. "Ye…yes father?"

"Take Kari to her home. Check to see if there are any survivors. I want both of you back here once you've finished one round, regardless of what you find. Both of you."

Relief flooded through the boy's mind. His father knew what he was doing. His father would know how to fix all this. Everything would be all right. "Yes father."

"Get moving. And be careful."

Taking Kari's hand, Takeru scrambled down from the cart. The girl looked shaky, and almost fell when she leapt off the wagon. Holding onto the boy's arm for balance, she pulled herself back up, but didn't let go. "Takeru…what happened here?" she whispered in a small voice.

The young child swallowed the lump in his throat. He had to remain strong, for his friend's sake. "Don't worry," he said, trying not to let the cold fear in his stomach get through to his words. Forcing a fake smile of confidence, he began running towards the Kamiya's next-door farm, no more than a field away. "Let's go find your mother." The two children ran off along the dirt road.

As the sound of the children's light footsteps faded, Richard turned. His shoulders stooped as if burdened with a heavy weight. Slowly, the mountain farmer sheathed his sword, the blade sliding in smoothly with a well-oiled hiss.

Striding resolutely into the burned out husk of a farmhouse before him, all that was left of his former life, the farmer entered through the door. Ignoring the smashed furniture, his feet crunching on the wooden splinters, Richard headed straight for the fireplace.

When he reached it, the man stood staring at the brickwork for what seemed to be an eternity. Unyielding, red stones, packed tightly together with mortar formed the chimney. Slowly, and with great care, Richard pushed one, select stone. The brick slid loosely in its slot, one corner jutting out. Clouds of mortar dust kicked up from the age-old brick as the farmer pulled the stone out.

This one brick had not been cemented in place like the others.

Reaching inside the dark gap, the old man groped about with his hand. His fingers brushed against a layer of cloth, wrapped around what seemed to be a round tube. Richard smiled grimly.

His memory had not failed him after all.

Withdrawing his hand, he pulled the mysterious object out with him. Richard now held a long, slim, cloth-wrapped object, the fabric faded with age. A fine rope tied the waterproof package together. When the farmer blew gently on it, a cloud of decade-old dust drifted off lazily.

In the darkening twilight, Richard held the object up to his eyes. He lifted the cloth-wrapped package with respect, almost reverence, testing its weight, testing its strength. His hazel eyes were clouded with doubt, clouded with...sadness?

But he's so young! Only fourteen-years-old, barely a man yet. I trained him well. I taught him everything I know, everything he has to know, and he's shown astounding progress. He's even better with the sword than I was at that age.

But would it be enough?

Is he ready for this? Is he ready to know?

A single murmur escaped his lips.

"Could now be the time?"

** Author's notes: A lot of people have been pressing me for more and more romance. I'd suggest you take a look at the classification. This is Action / Adventure, and arguably Drama. Sure, there'll be Takari romance, but it's a sidetheme. It'll only be one out of a whole series of relationships I'm going to be exploring, like friendship, brotherly love, parental love, and loyalty to your commander. I refuse to degrade into one of those authors that writes totally unjustified gooey, drippy, sappy romance WAFF fics. has enough of those…If I do write sappy, it'll be for a reason, 'kay?

Well, what do you think? Love? Hate? Do you even think I should continue? I'm not about to write a novel that no-one's interested in. So please review!!