Alongside the path, the apple trees bloomed majestically, standing perpendicular to the ground with branches stretching outwards over the path. Petals fell gently to the ground, white and small; they covered most of the path and filled the forest with a rich, aromatic scent, its scent blowing for many yards through the vagrant air. White flowers blossomed at the base of the trees, their buds drooped. The birds chirped and the bugs buzzed in unanimous tone and the sun's golden rays falling behind showered throughout the forest; the forest glowed with pastoral colors, casting dark shadows at their side, long on the ground. During last winter's harshness, arctic snow covered the land, deprived of lush of warmth of life. Forming icicles on trees, it froze and striped them of their leaves, displaying them to the world Look! Look how stark you are with disfigured arms, black and dark as the night's sky! O Ashera! How deceptive you are! Creating lifeforms in your mind's eye, monstrous and repulsive, hiding their true nature and spring came as a survivor; scared away winter and its torments and brought life back to the land.
Father and Ike were up ahead and Boyd and I were trailing behind. His arm around Ike's shoulders, Father, his face close to his, whispered to him about the standards of the mercenary group and gave tips on his mission tomorrow. Ike was not looking at Father, his attention set ahead.
The sun was falling behind us; my shadow, twice my size, strode at my feet. Boyd called my name but I ignored him. He walked near the path's side where the grass and dirt met, where most of the fallen petals accumulated, stepping on them without any consideration, and I walked in the middle, the road bare. I looked at my shadow, double my size, and striding at my feet. Boyd came closer, his breathing and heavy steps grew.
"Hm?" I said, trying to sound like I finally heard him. I kept my attention down at my feet, my hand sliding into my right pocket and keeping the batch of flowers close to my left side. I rubbed the surface with my thumb.
"How do you feel?"
"Your brother becoming the newest member in our troupe. He wanted this all his life, right?"
I kept rubbing the surface, rough and rusted under my thumb. "So, you overheard?"
"Well, yeah, I could hear the commander from all the way over here. I'm not deaf you know."
I took my hand out of pocket and looked at him, white petals were on his green hair. "If you must know, I'm happy. Happy that Father finally given Ike the job. He deserves it. I've seen him working twenty-four hours a day perfecting his swordsmanship." Under the umbrage of the oak tree Ike and Father fought."But I think the question should go to you Boyd: how do you feel about my brother being in the mercenary group now?"
He became quiet. He scratched his head roughly and then rubbed his arms. "Well," he began, "I guess I'm happy too. But -"
"But you're afraid that Ike will get all the attention?"
"What? No. No. You think that I'm jealous of Ike? No way."
"I don't know. He's beaten you on multiple occasions."
"Please, that was only one time."
"More like a hundred to me."
"You're exaggerating," he said, blushing. He took the white petals out of his messy, dark green hair. "Besides, Ike's not perfect. He can't even beat his own father."
"Or Titania. Did you consider that? Both of them are out of his league. They're professionals. They've been doing their jobs for years."
"Yeah, but when Ike fought Titania that one time, he was able to get a few hits on her, but with your dad: nothing; not one hit. I don't think his sword even brushed him."
I turned my attention away from him, annoyed. Light slowly faded away. The evening sky, a gradation of black transitioning to radiant orange, darkened as the sun slowly descended behind the horizon, taking most of the light that engulfed us in the afternoon and leaving one strong, final golden beam, emitting from the sinking sun behind us; metamorphosing everything that the light touched into gold but darkening the insides of the forest.
I looked at Boyd. He was looking straight ahead. The sun's ray hit him, outlining the back of his head all the way down to his feet; a fine pastoral yellow sketched his face, round and smooth and dirty; preserved and young. Eyes wide and big twinkled vaguely under arched eyebrows, almost hidden by his headband. Sleeves torn, his burly arms, brown from the countless days of training, exposed to the light with sweat glistening and small scars glinting in small, white slashes, its marks scattered starting from his wrists going all the way up to his shoulder. A body muscular and fit and tall withstood the weight of his axe, longer than his arm and weighed about the same as him, and held it in his right hand, its head slightly bigger than his own, resting on his shoulder. White petals continued falling from the trees. Some landed on Boyd's head.
I giggled. He started giggling too, not knowing what I was giggling at. He scratched the behind of his head, the white petals fell off.
We continued walking. Father and Ike stopped talking and walked side by side. Looking straight ahead, they stood tall and confident, not saying a word to each other. Boyd blurted out: "Hey! I have to tell you something that happened on my mission today. It's great."
"Oh," I said, "go ahead."
"Alright, you're going to love this. Well, before we reached the village where the bandits raided, Shinon and Gatrie had been to town south of the fort the other day and they were arguing about fighting in the morning. I came from the path, went across the grassy field where the lake was, and went deep into the forest where I heard the dull crashes of Ike and Father's wood training swords colliding. In the forest, rows of thick elm trees broke up to a small stomping ground under a thick canopy of leaves; under the shadow in front of a large oak tree, they fought.
Ike stroke from above. Father merely stepped aside. He missed. Ike did the same thing. Same result. Father unleashed a powerful blow that brushed Ike's face. He fell backwards and spun around, his left foot slid making him kneel. He raised his head. There! There! A spark flared in Ike's eyes; a light penetrated through the thick canopy of the elm trees and landed askew across Ike's face, capturing it.
Rage and animosity: the primal lust for blood and the desirous passion for death. Father, can you see it? Can you see Ike's behavior and strokes and yells that a fiendish hex rests deep inside the village, two houses near the entrance were burned down, its frame and supporting beams remained, scorched and black, smoldering in the debris.
Shinon and Gatrie separated from the group to take the enemy from the rear while Titania and I attacked up front, through the entrance where a mockingbird chirped three notes, two up in harmonic fluidity follow by one step down on a sharp, while a cicada hummed a three shrilling, monotonous note: two short buzz, one long one. An audience high up and oblivious to the engagement beneath them, where father and son sneaked past another burnt house and found a bar with smashed windows, its insides hollow and dark with the tavern door swinging steadily in the wind.
I crept up behind the building where I saw a bandit seated on the ground drinking heavily from a stolen bottle of wine, the liquid running down and down again, Ike tumbled. All the effort and all the time training day in and day out failed him. A gifted swordsman turned wild, Ike charged at Father, like a beast charging at its prey; a prey that pranced and dodged humiliating the predator without boasting. I stood behind a tree watching the pitiful show. Exhausted, Ike knelt. Father stood there emotionless and stern. He took a step back and held his sword diagonally, skyward, and away from his body. Ike burst with adrenaline and launched forward, swinging his sword from underneath his side and bringing it up diagonally to hit Father on his side. Foreseeing this, Father quickly blocked it and I immediately thought about the time when Ike wanted to touch what was wrong?
What was wrong? Nothing is wrong. Everything is fine. I've seen the moon and the sun together in the sky many times and I could tell you with complete honesty that nothing is wrong. What's there to worry about? There's nothing to worry about. Everything came to that moment where I decided to take advantage of the opportunity.
I sneaked up to the drunken fool who still drank from the bottle, his face covered in red, and I had my axe stretched out, the sharp point even from the heavens, Father told me never to let anyone touch my Ike struggled to knock Father's sword out of his hand but one day I wanted to do it. It was going to be our little secret Father shoved him and Ike, from the sudden power from the push, flew backwards a few feet and landed roughly on the ground, kneeling again. Father stood perfectly still, having his sword touching the ground, and with a quick jerk, I stabbed the bandit in his ass.
He yelped and dropped the bottle, smashing into pieces, the liquid splashing everywhere, and with a swift motion, I spun around, bringing my axe from beneath my side found Ike and confronted him and he said Yes. Let's do it. We went around the company of our employees they were close, but a mountain emerged and separated them and Father told me never to let anyone and he fell like a bag of pathos. I emerged from my hiding spot and called out: Father! Ike! Father turned around, saw me, and smiled. Ike remained kneeling. All the tension surrounding them into my room, closed the door and I laughed my ass off. Then, I saw Titania who moved a couple of steps towards me. Ike, a fallen soldier, head down, sword down, knelt on the dirt, in a last gasp, leaped in the air, sword high above him, yelling; eyes full of fury.
Father sensed this behind him and dodged it. Ike smashed his sword into the ground and Father stroke Ike from behind his head with her axe, covered in the blood of her enemies, and with another swoop killed another bandit, barging into the door before Ike could touch it. I had it held out in front of me. Father backhanded him, passed out and instantly fell, face first. You Fool. You damn fool! I knew you couldn't keep your hands off of it! He grabbed his hair violently the leader was at the town hall. Half of it demolished, half of it slapped across the face. I cried saying Father, did you have to hit him that hard? He looked at me. He brushed his hair with one hand and said to me If I ever see you letting him giving me his and Ike's sword I'll make sure you won't forget it. He raised his hand and the leader didn't even put up a fight; dead the instant Titania thrust her axe down upon his skull. That woman is death on a horse. Simply cutting up her enemies with one stroke. It took me forever to kill a couple of fools You think you can disobey me! and raised his hand up again support Ike, his head bent down; completely past out and I cried Can you be more gentle, Father? Can you be nice to Ike? He worked hard in the corner. Ike was passed out, his body stretched across the floor, and Father kept looking at him, breathing heavily. Man, I wish I could be like Titania some day. Or be like the commander where I can just glare at my enemies and they'll drop dead. Wouldn't that be great, right Mist? Mist?"
"Hm?" I said. Throughout the entire story I was looking at my shadow, its size augmented so much that it reached Ike's heels, my shadow fading into the emerging darkness. "Yeah, I heard you. I don't know, I guess it'll be nice to be strong and not having any one to intimidate you."
"Yeah, what a great feeling that would be. I have a long road ahead for me to be at the same level of awesomeness that Titania and your Father are at." He paused. "Sometimes, I feel like they're meant to be together. I get that vibe every time, don't you agree? I can't understand why they don't just hook up. They're perfect for each other, right? I mean, didn't they spend months in Gallia together?"
I didn't respond. Boyd ceased talking, not sure whether he said was offensive or not.
Sounds slowly subsided; the sun faded with it. The birds and the bugs that hummed and sang all afternoon vanished, and left the stage for the night critters to perform: a fragmented song of shocks and surprises with a chorus of soft chirping crickets in the background. The line of apple trees disappeared one by one from the side of the road and merged into heaven trees. Beyond those trees, sloping into a smooth curve, the path and trees ended, and there, on top of a hill, through a field of tall grass swaying in the evening wind, was the fort, rarely visible in the fading light.