Bonjour! Welcome to the official first chapter of Homeward Heart! Ha! I TOLD you all I would get out! I told you! I actually managed to whip my butt into doing it! Go Hikari, go Hikari! Okay, anyway, I'm done now.

On a more serious note, I would like to remember the victims of the Friday Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. If you're willing, I'd appreciate it if my readers would say a small prayer in honor of them. I pray that the family members and friends whose loved ones were killed will come to heal, and that all of them will always know that the children and adults who were killed are still with them. I pray that all of the students and teachers who survived this incident will also heal, and that in time they will be able to move on without feeling angry and hateful, and without feeling guilty because they survived when others didn't. I pray that God bless them all and that He will shed his light and love upon these broken hearts.

Thank you everyone for reading my chapter, and for taking a second to think and pray for these people.

The blue-haired boy was afraid. It was dark out. The sun had long since set. The moon was barely visible through the dense haze, let alone the stars. The Mist swirled around the child. He cried, holding a canteen close to his heart. The boy had hidden in a hole in the base of a tree trunk. He was barely able to fit through the narrow entrance. He hoped to stay safe from the Seru there.

Mommy, I got Drake Water. You'll get better!he cried in his mind. The child tried to stay quiet; he froze when he heard whispers.

"I sense a human," a voice hissed. The boy heard a strange sound, like knives whistling through the air. "Where are you hiding, little human? Come out, come out." The boy tightened into an even smaller ball. "It does not matter where you hide…I will find you eventually." Something passed by the hole; the child saw it looked like a pair of talons floating in the air. The upper part of the figure could not be seen from his hiding place.

Is that…a Seru? the boy wondered. He felt his heart begin to pound almost painfully in his chest. The child feared that the Seru could hear it.

The whistling sound stopped. Seconds passed in silence.

"I found you." The tree the boy hid in was suddenly ablaze. Crying out in fear, he scrambled out the hole. A figure loomed over him. It was just as tall as adult. The Seru had a stick like spine that connected with two long, white talons at the bottom. Its black head was round and a white beak sprouted from its face. It seemed to float in the air, just a few inches above the ground. "Bah. You're just a child. You will not do any good as a host."

The boy scurried away, attempting to run. The Seru, however, quickly gained upon him. It glided swiftly in front of him, blocking his path. "I will burn you to death," it whispered. Its talons were suddenly beginning to burn. The boy backed up too quick; he tripped himself. The Seru raised its flaming talons. The child whimpered. The Seru brought its talons down.

An arrow was suddenly sticking out of its head. It dropped to the ground. The flames it had produced sputtered out.

"Vahn!" a voice cried.

"Father!" the boy wailed. A man was racing towards him. The Seru, however, was not dead. It floated upwards.

"You nearly hit my vulnerable point," the Seru told them. "But you missed. Just barely." It produced flames quicker than either the boy or his father could react. It threw the ball at the man. The man managed to evade it, though not completely. He dropped his bow. The wooden weapon was now ablaze.

"Father!" the child cried again.

"You would make an excellent host," the Seru whispered at the man.

"I don't think so," the man snarled. "Get away from my son." The Seru flew at the man, swifter than any human. The man drew out a knife. The Seru glided to the man's side nimbly, faster than the man anticipated. The Seru stabbed its beak into his arm. The man cried out. He spun, slashing downwards at the creature, attempting to slice its spine. The Seru floated backwards, avoiding the blade. It went forward again, and jabbed its talons at the man's legs. The man used the knife to block, the blade sliding upward inbetween and against the Seru's talons. The friction caused the man's weapon to stop near the base of the Seru's spine. The blade was locked inbetween the Seru's limbs. It pulled its talons back, along with the knife. The man's only weapon was jerked from his hand. It landed a few short feet away.

"Now you have no means of defense." The Seru stabbed downwards. The boy's father let out a howl of anguish. The child watched in horror. The Seru's talons were embedded in the man's right leg. The Seru tore its limbs free from the man's. The man fell forward to the ground, clutching his thigh. "I will not kill you, human. I will take your body for my own. You are strong. Then, you and I will kill the child over there."

"Get away from my father!" the boy yelled. The Seru turned to face the boy.

"Oh? Do you wish to die before I possess your father, human?" It glided over to the child, and circled him. "Shall I kill you first?"

"Vahn, run! You have to run," the man panted heavily.

The boy shook his head. "No!"

The Seru cackled. "This is why you humans die so easily. Always protecting one another. I think…I shall possess you first. It will be much more…enticing, to kill the child with a human's body."

The creature returned to the man. The man had managed to roll onto his side, propping himself up on one arm. He was unable to get to his feet. He tried to reach for the knife. He rolled over onto his back to get closer, stretching his arm out towards the weapon. The Seru floated above the man. The creature then thrust its talons down at the man's neck.

A talon was in the ground on either side of the man's neck, effectively pinning him. The man struggled, but was unable to crawl away. "Vahn, go!" the man shouted again. The man was unable to get to the knife.

"Now, you and I become one." The Seru's physical being seemed to dissolve. The man writhed and screamed. He could feel tendrils in his body, and the Seru continued to enter the man's being.

However, it all stopped a second later. He could feel the Seru's essence in his body withdrawing. The Seru completely disintegrated. The man just lay there, breathing heavily. His body was still his own. Standing there was the boy, the knife in his hand. He had tears trickling down his cheeks. He dropped the knife as if it burned. The child stood there, frozen.

The man realized what had happened. Struggling to kneel, he said, "Vahn. It's alright. You're safe now." The boy ran to his father, and embraced him tightly. The boy sobbed. The man stroked his blue hair and held him close. "Come on…we need to get you back to the village. It'll be alright." The man fought to stand, but he gasped in shock.

Seeing his father hurt so badly caused the little boy to cry again. The child handed his father the canteen. "I'm sorry, Father! I just wanted to get some Drake Water for Mommy!" The man took the canteen. The Drake Water might be enough to give him the strength he needed to limp back to the village. "Will it help you, Father?" the boy whispered, looking at his father's leg.

"Yes, Vahn. It will help me. We can take the rest back to your mother," the man said quietly. The father could not bring himself to tell his son just yet what had happened. He unscrewed the cap and drank a few small sips. Almost immediately the pain in his leg and arm dulled and he felt somewhat invigorated. He gave the canteen back to his son. "Hold on tight to it." He stood, and started to limp, but he fell, groaning. Even the Drake Water would not be enough it seemed. Looking around the woods, the man spotted a large tree limb, tall and thick. "Vahn, can you drag that branch over here?" he pointed. Nodding, the child went and pulled the branch over.

Grasping it, the father stood shakily, but nonetheless he stood. He took an experimental step forward with the makeshift crutch. It would be enough to help the man at least support his weight. The father did not know how bad the damage to his leg was. "Let's get you home…" They began the slow journey back. The man's renewed strength drained quickly. The throbbing in his leg and his arm became sharper. Eventually he was relying upon sheer willpower to make himself overcome the pain, to walk onwards. The man had to ensure his son made it home safe.

All the while his father struggled, the boy watched with guilt. The pair managed to travel only half a mile or so before the boy saw his father finally fall. "Father? Father! Father, get up!" the boy cried. His father didn't answer. The man's eyes were closed. The child shook his father's body and shouted, but the man did not get up. The boy eventually sat next to his father. Not knowing what to do, he cried. This is all my fault…I just wanted to help Mommy…

Vahn Runin woke up abruptly. He sat up in bed, sweating. After a few minutes, the memory faded from his mind. It was all my fault…he shook the thought from his mind. He felt a familiar aching in his chest of guilt. Beside him, his little sister, Nene, slept on. I'm surprised I didn't wake her up. His expression softened. He gently stroked his sister's short, lavender-blue hair away from her face. Vahn shifted his gaze to see his father, Val, sleeping deeply in the bed just in front of his own.

Looking around, Vahn gazed at the familiar house. It was a small, circular, one roomed cottage with a dark wood floor. The diagonally paneled walls were light brown in color. A round wood table with five chairs stood in the center of the room. The bed he shared with his sister was pushed under a window, just across from the table. The headboard of Val's bed was just a few inches away from Vahn's footboard. Not far from the headboard of Vahn's bed was a gigantic wooden wardrobe. A few feet away from the wardrobe was a large brick stove. Directly across the room from Vahn was another window, along with a wood desk pushed under it. Between the desk and the stove stood a water barrel, filled with enough liquid for a few days' use. The front door was a few feet away from the footboard of Vahn's father's bed. And located between the desk and the front door was a wood bathtub, along with two wooden dividers. The two dividers were currently leaned against the wall, waiting for someone to use the tub.

Every other house in Rim Elm, save the Elders' house and the old two story cottage, were built exactly the same, and were furnished in a similar manner.

Getting up quietly, being careful not to wake his father or younger sister, he tiptoed to the gargantuan wardrobe, opening it. He took out a clean pair of gray denim pants and a white cotton shirt, along with his usual red vest with the flame emblem on the back. Vahn dressed behind one of the two wooden dividers he had quickly propped up, then threw his dirty sleeping clothes into the hamper. Vahn walked quietly out the door, closing it silently behind him. The young man sat on the steps and pulled on his worn, brown leather boots that he had grabbed on his way out. Pulling the cuffs of his denim trousers over the boots, the teenager stood and adjusted the brown band at his waist. Satisfied, Vahn stretched his lean, yet well-muscled frame before running his fingers through his short cerulean hair, pushing his longer bangs out of his brown eyes.

I should go pray, he thought. There was only one place in the village where Vahn went when he was troubled. It's been a few weeks since I've last had that nightmare…

Vahn strolled around the iron rail above the circular garden that stood in the center of the village, stopping at the house closest to the garden's entrance for a moment. He gazed at its window, then walked down the cobblestone ramp into the garden. Vahn came to stand in front of the holy bluish-green Genesis Tree. Closing his brown eyes, he stopped for a minute, letting the presence of the Genesis Tree soothe his mind.

The garden holding the Genesis Tree was the very heart of Rim Elm, surrounded on three sides by four story stone walls to the north, east, and west. To the south of the village, the ocean could be heard lapping gently against the shore. The unbendable walls extended over the beach and into the water, protecting the village from the demonic Mist and Seru.

Every morning Vahn woke up around the same time, and always he came down to the stone garden surrounding the Genesis Tree to pray. It was the only place where he could feel at peace. He began to pray. Rem, I hope to be able to hunt well on my first day tomorrow, and that no one's hurt by the Seru. Men are constantly coming back injured, and with only six men to do the hunting, we can't afford for anyone to get hurt. Please protect them and let come back safely and with a good catch. Unless we get a good hunt soon, the villagers will have to start rationing again. Rem, please let me receive a good catch tomorrow.

Tomorrow was to be Vahn's first hunt since he had just turned fourteen two days the age of fourteen, men were allowed to go outside the walls to hunt for food for the villagers. Women could choose to do so also, but most preferred to stay inside the safety of the walls and do the village chores, as well as to ensure the safety of the village's few children.

Hearing two pairs of footsteps coming down behind him, Vahn turned around to find the Village Elder and one of the village children. The Village Elder was an old man, with a thick white beard and eyebrows and a balding head, along with brown eyes. Wrinkles were etched into his tanned face, showing his age. He wore a light lilac hat upon his head and a robe of deep violet which lightened in color as it went to his feet, matching his hat. The robe of violet was hidden underneath an over robe of plain brown. The Elder's usual wooden walking staff was in his gnarled right hand.

The little girl-the Elder's granddaughter-had red eyes and blond pigtails, and was about six or so, dressed in a white sleeveless dress covered by a pale pink vest which both ended at her knees. She wore white socks and red mary-janes on her feet.

"Morning, Village Elder. Hi, Sade," he greeted politely, addressing the elderly man and his young granddaughter.

"Vahn, I knew you would be here," the old man spoke to Vahn, who nodded in reply. Switching his gaze from the teen to the holy tree, he said, "The mysterious Genesis Tree. This is a soothing place. You always liked this tree. Tomorrow you will become a hunter, an adult. Were you praying for a successful hunt?"

"Partly, yes."

"Ah. Perhaps you're also praying for the safe return of the hunters who are out now?"

"Yeah. I was just hoping that they got a good catch and none of them got hurt. I hope I can make a decent catch tomorrow, too. We've been running low on food lately."

"That is good. Then I, too, will pray for your success. Vahn, I thought I would come here to cheer you up. But I guess that wasn't necessary. You will be a fine hunter!" he reassured the bluehead. "I am counting on you, from the bottom of my heart." And with that, the Village Elder left Vahn standing by the tree with young Sade, who was staring at it in curiosity.

I only hope I don't fail, Vahn thought after hearing the Elder's last words. Praying by the tree for a few moments longer, Vahn started back up the stone slope. On his way out, the door to the house he had stopped by earlier opened.

A tanned young woman a bit taller than Vahn came out, locking the door behind her. The woman had a red hairband in her thigh length emerald hair. Short bangs reached her eyebrows, which brought attention to her warm green eyes. She was dressed in a white cotton shirt that was tucked into a brown waistband and covered by a short sleeved shirt of sky blue. A magenta skirt that extended to the ground was partially hidden by a shorter red overskirt. She wore no jewelry save for a white pearl necklace on a slightly thick chain.

"Morning, Mei," he called.

"Vahn! I was just looking for you." Seeing him come up from the garden, she stated, "So you were praying at the Genesis Tree." Vahn nodded. She came over to him and continued, "It's about the hunting clothes for you to wear tomorrow."

Knowing that it would irk her, he said, "What hunting clothes?"

Mei put her hands on her hips and said indignantly, "You're terrible! I can't believe you forgot." She crossed her arms and turned away from him. "After all the trouble I went through to make them for you to wear hunting tomorrow."

Seeing her expression made Vahn laugh. "I was just joking."

"That's a mean joke! I was really angry for a minute there." She uncrossed her arms and turned back to him. "Anyway…"

"Is something wrong with them, Mei?" he asked, being serious now.

"I'm almost finished, but I have to check some of the measurements. So can I measure you one more time?"

"Sure, go ahead," he replied. I'll be glad when they're done. I appreciate her making me armor, but I'm tired of her bugging me, too.

"Thanks. Vahn, you're so kind. I'll be at your house waiting for you, so don't be too late." Mei gave him one last smile before turning to leave for his cottage. After she left him, Vahn headed around the garden and to the beach. He put a hand up to shade his eyes as he climbed down the stone steps overlooking the ocean.

Finding who he had been searching for, Vahn walked over to a man. The man was dressed in clothes unlike that of the other villagers. The man wore loose maroon pants and a sleeveless tunic of the same color that crossed over the center, which was held in place by a knotted brown sash. Stitched onto the tunic was a symbol that Vahn was unfamiliar with. His head was shaved bald save for a small section of dark, red hair pulled into a strict bun in the center of the back of his head. Simple cloth sandals were upon his feet. He was well built and very muscled. He stood up from a meditating position and looked straight at Vahn with brown eyes.

The man was a monk of Biron, and Vahn's teacher. "Greetings, Vahn."

"Hi, Tetsu." Vahn bowed to him, in the way that he had been taught to when addressing Biron masters.

The monk studied Vahn for a few moments before nodding his head. "You were a child when the Mist appeared, Vahn, but now you are ready for the hunt. Time goes by so quickly. I have taught you the techniques of Biron all your life. Do not forget them while hunting outside the village. Now, then…Vahn, do you want something?"

"Yeah. I'd like to practice with you."

"I see. Before we practice, take this." Vahn was handed a small pack of herbs. Vahn took the bag of herbs and examined them. "Tetsu, what are these leaves? I know they're used in healing, but I don't remember a lot about them." Vahn took one out to better look at it.

"Vahn, you are going on the hunt tomorrow and yet you do not remember what the villagers have taught you about healing leaves?" Tetsu gave Vahn a look of skepticism, and after a moment just sighed. "If you mash them up into a pulp and place them onto an injury, their juices will help to ease pain and prevent infection. It helps wounds to heal a little faster and can bring down swelling. I have no doubt they will be helpful on your hunt if something should happen, so be sure to commit their shape and feel to memory. Now, put the leaves away." Vahn put the leaves bag into the pack and tucked the pouch into his waistband.

"Now you are ready. Come at me," he instructed, beckoning to Vahn.

His student analyzed Tetsu's fighting stance, looking for the best possible opening. Then Vahn charged, aiming a high kick at the left side of the monk's head with this right foot. Vahn put the full force of his leg into it. Tetsu was ready, swiftly putting his left arm up at a slightly slanted angle, blocking Vahn's attack. He then spun his arm around so that it circled Vahn's ankle, locking it in a tight grip.

Vahn responded by letting himself drop to the ground on his back. His weight dragged the monk down with him, and as Tetsu fell forwards, Vahn aimed a kick at the man's abdomen with his other leg. The force of the blow caused Tetsu to release Vahn's ankle. Vahn grabbed Tetsu's shoulders and with his foot still in contact with Tetsu's stomach, flipped the monk over his body. Tetsu landed heavily on his back, his head near Vahn's. The bluehead quickly got up and turned around, ready to put the finishing combo on the Biron master.

Tetsu, however, quickly swept his student's feet out from under him. Vahn took a face-forward fall. Tetsu quickly straddled Vahn's back and twisted the teen's left arm on his back. Tetsu held a knife-hand at Vahn's throat. Vahn realized that if this had been a real fight, and if the enemy had possessed a blade of some sort, his throat could well be slit now.

That ended up going wrong, Vahn thought to himself while struggling to breathe. Tetsu was much heavier than he was. Tetsu realeased the bluehead's arm and got off. Vahn stood, flexing his left arm.

"You must be quicker next time to get out of the way of your enemy. Now, try your Somersault technique on me." Vahn got up and dusted the sand off his clothes before sliding back into his fighting stance. Tetsu was also back in his stance. Vahn charged straight at him, pushing his feet straight into the ground and bending his knees, flipping backwards in the air. As he rotated in the air, both feet came into contact with the monk's jaw, snapping his head backwards. Vahn tried to keep the force of his impact down so that he wouldn't injure his teacher too much. Landing in a kneeling position, Vahn stood up. Tetsu was on his back, rubbing his jaw. "Very good, Vahn. That was almost perfect. And you did well in keeping the amount of damage to a minimum." Vahn could see his teacher's jaw start to swell, knowing that it would bruise later. It would be sore for a few days at most. Seeing his teacher get up and ready his stance, Vahn shifted back into his own position and continued to spar with Tetsu.

"Good, that is enough practice for today." Vahn stood there panting after nearly half an hour of training with the monk. Sweat ran down his forehead as he stood with his hands on his knees, catching his breath. His teacher, however, barely seemed to be hot. "You did well. Go and rest. We would not want you to be tired on your first day as a hunter."

"No, that probably wouldn't help much," Vahn commented. "Tetsu, is there anything else you could tell me that could help me with fighting?"

"No. There is no shortcut to success in battle. Constant training is the only way."

"I see." Tired, Vahn sat down on the sand. Tetsu stood by him. He and his teacher stared at the ocean waves for a few minutes in silence. "Tetsu, you've taught me a lot about Biron's teachings, but now that I think about it, you've never told me where you learned about Biron, or where you learned to fight," Vahn said, interrupting the quiet.

Tetsu was silent for a moment before speaking. "Outside Rim Elm is a temple devoted to Biron. There, many warrior-monks devoted to Biron practice night and day. They renounced the world's dependence on Seru and worked to polish their fighting skills. Many Biron warrior-monks also traveled the globe to spread the noble teachings of Biron, who is a god of strength and love."

"Like you, when you came to Rim Elm?"

Tetsu nodded. "When visiting Rim Elm, I was trapped here by the Mist. But I am still a faithful Biron! I feel it is my destiny to teach the young the teachings and fighting skills of Biron."

"Are you going to teach the other kids soon?"

"Soon, yes. I believe that they are at an age where they would be able to start understanding and hopefully appreciate the teachings. I just do not know if they will pay as much attention as I like." Vahn laughed. "Hopefully they will take after you in the fact that you dedicated yourself to practicing." Tetsu put his hand on Vahn's shoulder. "Tomorrow you leave for the outside world, where many Seru lurk. Do not be overconfident!"

"Thanks, Tetsu, I won't. I'll see you later." Getting up and bowing to his teacher, Vahn walked over to the stone steps on the left side of the shore. Maybe I should go talk to the elders. Might be a good idea to get some more information before I go hunting tomorrow. I could probably ask some of the other villagers too about their experiences with the Mist and Seru. I need to learn everything I can so I don't get hurt. Decided, Vahn made his way to the Elders' house.

Vahn was making his way back to his house after having spent the last two hours or so going around learning what he could and receiving advice from most of the villagers. Going to the door and stretching his sore body, he wanted nothing more than to lie down and take a short nap before Nene served lunch. It was only eleven in the morning, so he had time to kill. However, upon hearing voices inside, he decided to stop and listen for a moment.

"It's getting late. What could he be doing?" He heard his little sister's voice.

"I'm sorry Mei. That Vahn-I wonder where he's wandering around," Val added.

"It's alright." He smiled slightly at the sound of Mei. "My father hasn't come back from hunting today yet, anyway."

"I should be the one making hunting clothes for my brother," his sister said.

"Don't worry about it, Nene. I just wanted to help celebrate this special day for Vahn."

"Um, Mei, can I ask you something?" he heard Nene ask tentatively.

"What is it?"

He couldn't hear what Nene asked though, as she had lowered her voice. Deciding he'd heard enough, he opened the door and went inside.

Vahn saw his father sat at the desk, reading a book. Val was now dressed in a pair of light green trousers, a white cotton shirt, and a light brown vest. Val's brunette hair was short, although it was slightly longer than that of the other male villagers. Val's small goatee had been freshly trimmed. However, Val's right leg was a bit strange looking compared to his other leg. The leg was set at a slightly twisted angle towards the right, though not severely. Val's white cane was leaned against the desk. Vahn quickly looked away in guilt, remembering his earlier dream.

"Ah-ha! I knew it!" his sister exclaimed, turning to him the moment he shut the door. Going over to her, he looked down at her. The upper part of her short, bluish-lavender hair was now tied back with a pink ribbon. She wore a matching floor length skirt held in place with a red waistband and short sleeved white shirt under a red vest. Her eyes, close to the same color as her hair, scolded Vahn from under short bangs.

"What took you so long? Mei has been waiting for you this whole time! You're always wandering around with your head in the clouds." Nene turned to Mei. "Let's hurry up and take those measurements!"

Vahn noticed that Mei's face was a shade of blushing scarlet when she turned around to face him. What's Mei so embarrassed about? Backing up to give her space, Mei came over with her measuring tape.

Feeling him fidget a bit, she said, "Hold still, Vahn. I'll only take a minute." She measured the width of his chest and the height of his left side. "I knew it! You've gotten bigger since the last time I measured you. You're almost as big as my father-maybe bigger! It's amazing how quickly boys grow." Vahn rolled his eyes. Girls exaggerate a lot. I probably got a little bigger in the last week or so, but I'm not anywhere near as wide as Juno.

Taking one last measurement, she told him, "Alright, I'm done. Thank you, Vahn." She went to his father and sister. "Mr. Val, little Nene, if you'll excuse me, I'll be on my way."

Val looked up from the book he was reading. "Thank you, Mei. Give my regards to Juno when he returns from the hunt."

Mei nodded. "I will." She gathered her materials and headed towards the door.

"Hey, thanks. I do appreciate you making my armor," he told her seriously.

Hearing him say that made her smile warmly at him. "You're welcome, Vahn." Then she opened the door and left.

Nene had gone to cook at the stove, starting to prepare lunch. Vahn went up beside her to see what she was cooking. "Did you thank Mei properly?" she asked her brother.

Vahn smiled and rolled his eyes. "Yes, Nene."

"Well, I didn't hear anything." Vahn always thought that it was funny that his little sister, who was only nine, five years younger than him, was always trying to lecture him. She's always lecturing me. You'd think she was an adult by how often she does it. Knowing it would annoy her, he went and gently pulled on one of the ends of Nene's ribbon, loosening it slightly.

"Don't do that," Nene told him, smacking his hand lightly with the wooden spoon she was holding. "Now you messed up my ribbon." She put the spoon down to fix it. "I hate it when you do that."

"Which is why I do it," Vahn chuckled.

About four or so, there was a loud noise as the giant metal doors on the north wall of the village squeaked open. It must be the hunters, Vahn thought, standing up from the garden. Nene and Val also glanced up from the vegetables that they had been planting, both of them still kneeling. Val struggled to stand, putting the weight on his white walking stick. Nene helped him to rise before brushing the soil off her hands.

"The hunters have returned!" the village guard who kept watch over the gate shouted.

"The hunters are late today," Val noted. "They're usually back earlier than this." A frown etched itself on the man's face. "The winds have been acting weird today. I hope nothing happened….Vahn, would you go see if everything's alright?"

Val's son nodded. "Sure. I'll be back in a bit and let you know if anything happened." For some reason, an uneasy feeling entered Vahn's mind as he started the walk towards the gates. Something doesn't feel right. Rem, please let nothing bad have happened. He silently sent a small prayer up to the god as he went to join the small group of villagers in front of the gates.

"By golly, they were gone a long time." One of the two female elders, Hisa, spoke.

A little boy ran forward, shouting, "Father! My father's back!" Running up to the hunter Jacob, he hugged the man tightly. "Welcome back, Father. Did you catch anything?" he asked eagerly.

"No, Lyle. Not today," Jacob sighed.

Two more hunters followed after the first, carrying another man on a stretcher. Juno! Vahn thought in alarm. For a moment, he thought that the man was dead. But after a few seconds, he saw the rise and fall of Juno's chest, and knew he was alive. For some odd reason, Juno's leather armor and shirt had been slashed open on the front, now resembling a vest. Juno's breathes also seemed slightly irregular. Vahn went over to get a closer look. The two hunters gently set the stretcher upon the ground.

Hisa came over to inspect the man. "Is that…is that…it is! It's Juno!" she exclaimed. "What on earth happened? He looks hurt!" The villagers looked up as one last hunter came through the gates. But it was the person that he was carrying in his arms that caused all of the villagers to stare. The lead hunter, Esto, was carrying a short woman through the gates. Vahn gaped, his eyes widening in amazement as she was set down on her feet.

The second her feet touched the ground, she let herself plop down. The stranger was breathless and panting hard. The female had an odd contraption in her hand, which she set down by her side. Sliding a small black pack off her shoulders, she drew the bag open and pulled out a vividly green container. She put the container to her lips and began to rapidly down the liquid inside.

A stranger?! How did she get through the Mist? Vahn's mind reeled at this rare phenomenon, trying to process it. He wasn't the only one to react in complete shock; many of the villagers wore astonished looks on their faces. However, Vahn's shock became bewilderment as he gazed at the woman and his eyes narrowed as he took her in. An unusual feeling of nostalgia filled him. I know I've never seen her before, but…she seems… familiar…Vahn didn't understand the sudden familiarity he felt. It's almost like I've met her somewhere before, but I haven't. How's that possible?

However, no one else seemed to be having the same feeling of recognition like he was. Instead, the villagers were busy examining the newcomer and her unusual appearance; it was obvious by the way she looked and dressed that she wasn't from Drake Kingdom.

She had brunette hair that was pulled back into a strange braid, reaching to her waist. Two chin length bangs were parted on the left side of her hair, framing her face. She was very short and fair compared to the tanned villagers. She wore a short, red sleeved shirt covered by a black collared vest. Her vest was partially open, revealing a silver locket. The woman wore strangely patterned denim pants and odd shoes. A black belt was looped at a slanted angle around her hips. A black shirt was tied around her lower waist. Silver hoops hung from her ears, and bracelets circled her wrists; a gold one on her right and on her left wrist, a pink one along with a strange looking device strapped on as well. The woman's fingernails were red with dashes of silver on them.

The people of Rim Elm took a long time taking in her appearance; unlike the women of Rim Elm, her clothes were rather tight-fitting, shaping her body, and she wore more jewelry than any female villager. She was also soaked. The stranger was shivering, rubbing her arms, and her hair stuck to her forehead.

"Father, who is she?" The little boy tugged at his father's pant leg in curiosity. "Is she a stranger?"

One village woman whispered to another, "It's been ten years since anyone else was seen outside! How did she come to be here, and through the Mist?"

The gates were finally shut and the guard asked, "Esto, what on earth happened?! You're back so early. What happened to Juno? Is he alright? And who's she?" He gestured towards the young woman.

Just then the Village Elder came into the center. "What has happened here? Esto, you and the men are back very early! Did something happen?" Noticing Juno, the Elder went over to the stretcher and quickly examined him. "What happened? Is Juno alright?" he demanded sharply. Everyone's attention shifted from the stranger back to Juno. The Elder did not notice the woman.

Everyone turned as Mei came rushing over, a wide smile on her face to greet her father. "Father!" It was then she noticed the man on the stretcher. Her eyes grew wide with fear, and her heart started to race. "Father?" She ran to the stretcher and knelt next to it, grabbing her father's hand. Her fear was less prominent when Mei saw her father breathing. Vahn went over to her and settled himself by her, offering his support. "What happened? Is Father alright?" she asked, her voice panicked. She glanced between Esto and the Elder.

"…I cannot say for sure," Esto answered.

"Esto, please tell us what happened," the Elder instructed. Everyone, including Mei, turned their attention to the hunter.

"We came back early because the Mist came much earlier than usual," Esto started. "We abandoned our game and fled. Haddon, Jacob and I met Juno and Dai at the spring. When we got there, this girl randomly appeared in the spring." He glanced at the young woman. That was when the Elder finally took notice of the outsider, and his eyes widened.

Esto continued. "We confronted her, and she said a lot of…unusual things. She ran off into the woods, just as the Mist and Seru got very close to us. Seeing as she's the first person we've seen in ten years...Juno and I decided to go after her and make sure she did not get killed. We sent the other three back to the village, although," and here Esto glared at them, "they did not listen to me.

"But, perhaps it is a good thing they did not. Juno found the girl, and I heard Juno's horn. The others heard the horn as well. I went in his direction. When I found them, the girl was trying to drag Juno to the spring. When I checked on Juno, I thought he was dead. His heart was not beating. Haddon, Jacob and Dai came to aid me, and together we fended off the Seru. During this time, she-" he glanced at the girl, "-she did something to Juno's chest. I do not know what, but his heart was beating again after several minutes and he was breathing by the time we got rid of the Seru. I carried Juno back to the Spring, where we quickly gave Juno Drake Water. After that, we quickly made a stretcher for Juno, and then came back here."

Mei whispered then, "My father almost…died?" Esto nodded. Mei glanced from the unconscious Juno to the outsider, who was still gathering her breath. "She saved his life?" Mei asked.

"Yes," Esto answered.

Vahn gazed at the woman, then back to Juno and said softly, "But his heart stopped…Juno should be dead. Is it even possible for a heart to start again?"

"…Course it is," a voice replied. The woman had made her way over towards them. Her pack was now over her shoulders again, and the gadget she had been holding had been shoved into a pocket, judging by the bulge in her pants. She was now examining Juno with blue eyes. "He suffered from electrocution. His heart stopped. I tried a cardiopulmonary thump and then performed CPR. It's a miracle that his heart managed to restart without an AED. It's possible, but extremely rare when CPR alone works to restart a heart. Especially since this is my first time ever doing it. This guy needs to get to a hospital. Do you have a phone somewhere to call an ambulance?" she asked the Elder. "My cellphone isn't working."

Upon seeing Mei, her blue eyes glanced the young woman up and down, finally coming to rest on her green hair. The stranger gazed at the emerald haired girl for several seconds, before returning her attention to Juno. The Elder just gazed at the brunette, confusion written on his face. Mei was looking at her likewise. After a few seconds, she just snapped angrily, "Listen to me! He needs paramedics and a doctor! His heart may be beating, but I don't know how bad his breathing and heartbeat are. And I know for sure that he's got some broken ribs from CPR. He needs to go to a hospital. Do you have a phone I can use?"

"We do not know what a phone is. And what is this CPR you speak of?" The Elder said.

"Enough," she growled. "I'm sick and tired of the joke! You tell me you have no idea what a phone is. 'What's CPR'! Not knowing how to do it, I can believe. But everyone I know knows what it's supposed to do and when to use it!" she hissed quietly. "I didn't save his life for him to die due to other peoples' selfishness. And he will die unless he's given prompt medical attention."

During this entire time, Hisa had been on Juno's right side, near Vahn and Mei, examining Juno. "Amon, he does not appear as though he will die," she addressed the Elder. "Juno's pulse is a bit unsteady and his breathing is irregular, but his heart has resumed a rather normal pattern. Specific herbs should help to completely heal him and settle any abnormalities. As for broken ribs, those will heal in time. I do not think you need worry, Mei," she now told the emerald-haired teen. Mei's green eyes turned hopeful and began to shed tears of relief.

Thank Rem, Vahn thought. He released a breath he did not realize he had been holding.

The stranger just looked at the female elder. "What? That's not possible. Even if his heart is beating again, he needs something to stabilize blood flow and pressure. I don't have any ideas on what medicines medics use. And he probably still needs a defibrillator, to shock his heart into the correct pattern." Hisa looked at the girl, an odd expression upon the elder's face.

"Move," the outsider said. She gently pushed the Village Elder aside and felt for Juno's pulse and put her ear upon his chest. The brunette listened intently for a moment, before her eyes stretched open. "But…how?" her voice was stunned. "He hasn't been shocked by an AED, or-or given any medicines…" she trailed off. She stood up from her position from over Juno, seeming bewildered. A sudden epiphany hit her. The woman whirled to face Esto. "That water…what was in it? You gave it to him, shortly after I revived him."

"Drake Water has special properties. We do not exactly what it has in it, but it does have some very unique qualities. Scientists at Drake Castle were attempting to study it before the Mist came," the Village Elder said, answering for Esto.

The woman blinked, uncertain, but then continued on, "Okay, so his heart and breathing seem normal. He still needs to go to a hospital! He may have suffered brain damage!"

"What is a hospital?" Hisa inquired, done examining Juno. "You keep mentioning that word. But I have never heard of such a thing."

The stranger just stared at Hisa, outraged. "A hospital. An infirmary to tend to sick and injured people."

Vahn ogled at her, uncertain. Most of the villagers were sharing his same expression. "What's an…AED? And CPR?" Vahn couldn't help but blurt out.

The woman rounded on him. This was the first time she was giving Vahn any real notice. When he had her full attention, the stranger took him in up and down as she had Mei. "Are you doing some kind of cosplay or something?" She began circling slowly, taking in everyone's appearances and the surroundings around her.

The Village Elder was beginning to grow uneasy, based upon his expression. Immediately the Elder stood and directed, "Haddon, Dai, please take Juno back to his house. Hisa, if you and Rei would please go and see to it that Juno is alright, and examine him thoroughly. Make sure to give him any herbs you think he needs. After that, he will need to rest."

Hisa nodded. Dai and Haddon, who had been bearing the litter originally, lifted it once more. Mei stood up and Vahn stood with her. "Mei, do you want me to come with you?" the bluehead offered.

Mei shook her head. "Thank you, Vahn, but I would like to be alone with my father when he wakes up. I hope he'll be alright…" Dai and Haddon carried the litter towards Mei's home. Mei went with them, holding Juno's hand, followed by an orange-haired woman and Hisa. They had barely gone more than a few feet when Mei stopped suddenly. The teen rotated around. The girl released her father's hand and went up to the stranger, placing her hand upon the woman's arm. The brunette outsider jerked away from the sudden contact and whirled around to face Mei. "Thank you, for saving my father's life." The warm gratitude in the teen's voice caught the stranger unawares.

The woman's face softened from its angry and bewildered expression to one of wariness. "You're…you're welcome."

Mei smiled graciously at the brunette despite the tears still trailing from her green eyes, before then walking back to Juno and taking his hand again. The procession back to Mei's home began again. Once they were out of sight, the villager's observations were again claimed by the outsider. She seemed extremely uncomfortable from the stares she received.

Vahn gave the woman a hard, analyzing gaze. His intensive observance drew her attention yet again. Blue eyes met with brown. Their gazes were locked; a tense second passed, and then she turned her head away. I'm almost….certain, that I know her. I don't know why. Rem, why does she seem so familiar? I've never seen her until today, let alone met her. I don't even know her name.

The Elder turned towards the rest of the villagers and spoke loudly, "Everyone, I realize that all of you are concerned about Juno's welfare. But I need all of you to please go back to what it was you were doing before the commotion. Until Rei and Hisa are finished examining Juno, I cannot say exactly what his condition is." The old man cleared his throat. "Also, I realize that you all are most likely curious about the newcomer, but I must ask that you let her be until she and I have spoken. That is all." His dismissal was clear. Everyone began to disperse.

The Elder came up to her and gave the woman an unreadable expression. "I believe it necessary that you and I speak. You seem like you could use some dry clothing as well. Please, would you be willing to come with me?" His tone was one of cordiality, not of demand.

The stranger hesitated, then nodded. Vahn watched the Elder begin to lead the stranger away towards the Elders' house.

Vahn just shook his head. His thoughts were jumbled because of this outsider's sudden appearance. Rem, just what is going on? Vahn decided to head home and think about it later.

Thank you everyone for taking the time to read my story. Would you also be willing to take the time to review? Pretty please? It's Christmas after all! If you wanna compliment me, that's nice. If you wanna critique me and tell me how to improve, awesome! And you just wanna tell me the chapter sucked uberly...well, at least be nice and say why. I don't care if you bash me so long as I get a reason why. Otherwise there really was no point in leaving a review, right? ;) Merci, everyone. And just in case I don't get another chapter out before the 25th, I just wanna say; Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! God Bless everyone!