Always Embracing the Darkness and Light

Darkness: Part 1

"Mcdohl." Ted smiled happily at Mcdohl.

Mcdohl sat up suddenly in bed with a short cry. His heart was racing in his chest and his breath coming out labored and short. After a few moments his breathing returned to normal. He hid his face in his hands to find it covered with a light sheen of sweat. His whole body was trembling as if cold, and yet he was not cold.

"Ted." He whispered into his hands. The name was long dead on his lips, and an old familiar grief washed over him like a wave.

It has been four years since his friend was taken by the Soul Eater. And at the thought of the cursed rune, Mcdohl pulled back and slid off the gloves he always kept on his right hand. He reached over where the moonlight was spilling in through his window to burn traceless on his bed cover. Faintly he could see the markings of the Soul Eater. Its black blemishes were jagged and seemed to suggest a shape.

"Ted." He said quietly, almost as if talking to the rune. His vision began to blur as tears spilled down his pale cheeks. He clutched the bed sheet in anger. His hand trembled as if his anger had awakened the cursed rune.

"Ted, Ted, Ted.." Mcdohl began repeating the name again and again, his voice rising louder. Soon he chanted the name as if crazy.


Gremio was jolted awake by the voice of his young master. Instincts immediately told him that the young master was in trouble. He threw off the covers and bolted out the door of his room. The Mcdohls domicile was dark but he knew his way around the mansion and did not falter or stumble in his haste as he ran up the stairs and rushed to Young Master Mcdohl's bed room.

With out a moment's pause he threw the door open.

"YOUNG MASTER!!!!!" He shouted.

Young Riou looked up from the stream he knelt next to, hands still cupped cool water dripping back into the stream.

"What?" He asked regarding his two companions who stood behind him patiently waiting. "C'mon, c'mon!" Nanami stamped her foot impatiently on the grassy ground. "I can't believe you! You're going too slowly! I'll bet you're only doing this so you can rest longer!"

"What? That's not true Nanami! I just got thirsty waiting for you that's all."

The second companion, Jowy, inclined his head in a moment's thought. ". I think you have your facts switched a little Nanami."

Nanami glared at him before playfully jabbing him in the ribs with her elbow. "Thanks for backing me up there Jowy." She said lowly so only Jowy could hear.

"Okay, okay." The blond youth said laughing while holding up his palms submissively. "But you know Nanami is right. We can't be dawdling like this if we hope to cross the mountain to reach Lake Toran. The pathways can be very treacherous during nightfall."

Riou suddenly began to laugh. "You mean the mountain that Victor almost killed Flik trying to cross?"

"What? Really?" Jowy asked genuinely surprised.

"Oh I remember when Flik told us that!" Nanami stifled her laugh with a hand. "But Jowy wasn't there at the time, he was..."And her voice died that instant along with her laughter. Riou realized the cause immediately, and looked to Jowy fearful of his reaction. He knew that he and Nanami had unknowingly treaded onto painful memories.

The blond however, did not seem too shaken. His soft blue eyes were reflective for a moment before turning somewhat inquisitive. And a small tentative smile appeared on his lips. "No I wasn't there. Wish I was. But tell me, I'd like to hear what kind of mess Victor dragged Flik into."

Relief washed over Riou and he heard Nanami let out a breath. Jowy was trying to forget his past he knew and so where they. One year had come and gone since that terrible episode with the war of Highland and the City- states. One year since they had left those old lives behind and turned to exploring the world around them.

"Well you know how Victor is." He said scratching the back of his head uncertainly. This provoked a laugh from Jowy, which eased him more.

"Well you know what they say; there isn't someone who isn't dangerous for someone else." Jowy grinned.

"By the way Riou, why were you so interested in going to Lake Toran all of a sudden?" Nanami asked as the trio made their way back to the beaten path.

The boy smiled "Well it would be a nice time to visit it, don't you think? Summer is just beginning to set in. I also read once that, that was where Toran Castle was. Master Mcdohl and the original Liberation Army used to reside there."

"Speaking of which, Gregmister is on the way! We could stop by and visit Gremio and Mcdohl." Nanami said happily, which caused her to increase her pace.

Jowy looked from one to the other, feeling once again out of the loop. "Mcdohl? Gremio?"

"They are friends who we met in Banner village awhile back." Riou explained. He stopped for a moment then added in a lower voice, "He's like us Jowy."

Jowy shot him a confused look and Riou only responded by raising his gloved right hand. With this silent gesture, Joey knew what Riou was saying.

Mcdohl was also the possessor of a true rune.

Meanwhile, this subject went unnoticed by Nanami who was bounding farther and farther ahead in her excitement. "Maybe Gremio will be cooking his special stew! Hey! Maybe I can ask for his recipe what do you think guys?"

Jowy and Riou gave each other nervous glances. Jowy raised a brow questioningly. Riou tried to laugh but it died in his throat and his shoulders slumped as he shook his head. As good a cook that Gremio is, somehow it won't help Nanami's terrible cooking skills.

"Ah..Speaking of which, are we due to cross any towns?" Jowy asked changing the subject.

"Banner Village is at the entrance of the mountains." Riou replied. "We could stop there and rest. Besides even if we did cross the mountains before nightfall it would still be a long trek to Gregmister."

Joey seemed to take this into account, like Riou knew he would. Finally he nodded his head with consent.

"Right then. I'm up for it; I am a little tired anyways. A hot bath wouldn't be too bad either. I can finally wash off this week's travels."

Riou smiled lightly before motioning with a small nod to his sister ahead of them. "And with Nanami spending so much energy right now, I figured she would appreciate the pit stop too."

Evening had already set by the time the traveling trio had reached their destination. All three had decided to rent a room and early next morning to replenish supplies and be off once again. However, the three youths were met by an energetic child at the mouth of the village.

"General Riou!!!!!" The boy shouted the greeting as he ran up. Jowy was doing a double take right about now, his eyes wide with disbelief. The boy looked eerily similar to a very young Riou, and the cloths he wore.He even had a yellow scarf around his neck!

"What the.!? Riou, this child looks just like you!"

Riou laughed embarrassed. "I'll tell you later." He raised a hand in greeting to the little boy who was still bounding up to them at an incredibly fast pace. "Hey Ko! Long time no---"He didn't even have the time to finish his sentence as the child literally pounced on him knocking him flat on his back. Ko sat on his chest with a huge smile on his face.

"I can't believe it! You're back!! Have you come to visit me General Riou?! I bet you have lots of stories from your adventures!" In his excitement, he was talking a mile a minute, not even giving poor Riou a chance to answer. He hadn't changed one bit since Riou had last seen him. After the child ran out of breath, Riou introduced the boy to his friend and sister and explained the reason of his sudden visit. Of course this set Ko off again with a barrage of more questions.

"Why do you want to visit Mcdohl's castle? Are you planning on making another army? Can I join? Will Master Mcdohl be there!?!?"

After calming the child down a bit, Ko insisted that he stay at his house. His family ran the local in Banner, and they happily allowed them to stay free of charge, in gratitude for Riou and Mcdohl saving Ko's life earlier before.

Night soon fell and in their room, Jowy commented on how lucky they were not attempting to cross the mountain in the same day. The three were sharing a room as they didn't want to trouble the family with trying to get two or three.

"So you've got your own little fan club." Jowy said slyly from his bed. Riou removed his boots and set them aside.

"He's not my fan club. He just wants to be like me. I remember I had childhood heroes when I was little. And besides, he likes Mcdohl too." Came an offhanded response.

"Right. What ever." Jowy smiled as he eased back on his soft bed. It was a nice and welcomed change for once. He hadn't gotten used to sleeping on the hard ground while on their travels. Nanami was already fast asleep on the third bed. To this day, Joey didn't know how she did it. She could sleep soundly anywhere, even on hard rock.

He closed his eyes for a moment before reopening them. "Maybe your little fan club would like to accompany us to Toran Castle."

Riou responded this time by throwing a pillow at the blond. "He is not my fan club." He insisted and quickly pulled the sheets over himself so that Jowy wouldn't see him blushing red from embarrassment. Jowy curled under the covers as well. He tossed back the pillow hitting the small white mass that was his best friend.

"Is too." He said softly as he was lulled to sleep.


Riou stirred at the soft, familiar voice, but did not awaken. Instead, he stubbornly buried his face into the soft recesses of his pillow.

"....Riou..." The voice beckoned him again, and was accompanied by a gentle tug at his shoulders. "Riou, wake up." Finally, the young boy reluctantly rolled over. Propping himself on his elbows he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. His vision was blurred from sleep but after a few moments his eyes began to adjust to the darkness. There was a figure leaning over him, and as his vision became sharper he found it was.

"What the..? Jowy!? What do you want? It's the middle of the night." Said a very cranky Riou. Jowy put a finger to his lips.

"Shhhh.Quiet Nanami's still asleep." He said in a very hushed whisper.

Riou stole a glance off to the side to affirm that she was still asleep. This time he asked in a painfully hushed voice; "Jowy, it's the middle of the night. What do you want?"

"Just get up.." Riou threw his pillow in protest.

"Hey! Cut that out! I'm serious!" Jowy hissed. "There's some one here who wants to see us."

Riou eased himself back onto his soft warm bed. He waved a careless hand as if to shoo Jowy away. "Tell Ko I'm too sleepy to tell him stories right now, tomorrow morning..."

"It's not Ko, its Leknaat." Jowy said quietly.

Both boys quietly slipped out of their room and out of the inn, taking great care not to arouse anyone. Riou followed as Jowy led the way. It was still pretty late and everyone had already retired to bed hours earlier, leaving the village of Banner quite empty and eerie. The moon was out and it illuminated the entire village with it's soft silver rays making it seem as if the whole place were unreal, like that of a dream.

Jowy led Riou to one of the piers, and that's when he saw her. She wasn't hard to miss as she was giving off light of her own regard. Riou drew in a silent breath, this had been his first encounter with her since her last appearance at the cliff near the waterfall. And he knew that her appearance here was of significant importance as she rarely left Magician's Isle.

As the two boys neared he could see that her appearance had not changed in the least as she was exactly as he'd remembered her, fair and beautiful. When the two boys were close enough a soft smile graced her delicate features.

"Bearers of the Bright Shield Rune and Dark Sword Rune, it is good to see you that you are well." Riou and Jowy looked to each other at that moment as they had realized the irony of what she said. Riou stepped forward.

"It is good to see you again too Lady Leknaat. Why have you come to visit us so late in the night? Is everything well?" He asked already sensing that everything was not. And as he predicted, her smile faded.

"I must apologize for calling you at a such a late hour, I wished not to disturb you, for you both have gone through so much, and you looked so happy enjoying your new lives..But there was no one else I could ask.

Jowy stepped forward and knelt before her, as a knight to a lady.

"Lady Leknaat, what is it that you wish to ask of us?" She did not speak right away, and if Riou knew any better, he'd of thought she was holding something back.

That was not a good sign.

Following Jowy's example, Riou also knelt. "It isn't like you Lady Leknaat, to hesitate. This has to be a dire matter, please tell us."

Finally the old seer nodded gently. "Indeed, but are you two really so quick to give up this peaceful life once again? In the past, the runes you bore had caused you so much pain, and it is for their power that I seek your help."

From the corner of his eye, Riou thought he saw a dark expression pass over his friend's face. But he could not tell, one moment it was there, the next it had slipped away. Perhaps the Seer had understood something that Jowy did not dare to voice?

"Yes, that is true; these runes have seemed like a burden. But in accepting our runes, we also accepted the responsibility." Jowy said with sound judgment. Riou gave a curt nod of resolve and could not help but admire Jowy's strength and courage.

"And to turn our backs to things that we know we can change would be a disgrace." Riou added. "We've faced a lot in our life, and I think we can handle a lot. If our runes are needed once again, then so be it."

Leknaat glided forward gracefully, and touched each youth lightly upon their shoulders motioning for them to stand. "Along with your skills you two have grown wiser, and therefore I know I can tell you all."

"Tell us what?" Jowy asked. To this Leknaat stepped back, and for a second, Riou thought she would disappear, but instead, she swept her slender arms out in a wide graceful gesture.

"Look to the stars." She said. The two were unsure of what this had to do with anything but did as she instructed. "Do you see it?"

Riou and Jowy squinted into the blackness to see millions of twinkling stars. They were still unsure of what they were suppose to be looking at and Riou was about to ask, when something faint caught his eye. Amongst all the dazzling stars, a piercing red star shone. Her heard Jowy suck in a breath. Obviously, he had seen it too.

"Riou, do you see it?" He asked. Riou nodded without tearing his eyes away from the spectacle.

Leknaat spoke up, "That is your star Riou. That is the Tenkai star. Your stars as well as the stars of destiny hang there in the heavens."

"But why is it shining red?" Riou asked amazed, that such a star actually existed. All this time he had thought that it was nothing more than a title or a myth.

"The Tenkai star is foretelling of danger that is to come to one who is born under it."

Both youths stiffened and finally tore their gaze away to stare at Lenkaat unbelievingly.

"So.So then it is trying to say Riou is in danger am I right?" Jowy said his voice quivering slightly. Leknaat turned to face them. "That is what I had thought, when I first noticed the change in the star. But I sensed no danger in Riou's future. And therefore, I believe the Tenkai star's warning is of another."

Jowy was at loss for words, but Riou quickly stepped forward.

"Master Mcdohl? He is the only other one person I can think of."

"You are correct." Leknaat said quietly. "This is a dire situation indeed. The star tells of an unnatural occurrence. Mcdohl is slowly dying, and it seems that the Soul Eater is to blame.

The next day the trio rose early and thanked the family for their hospitality. After replenishing their supplies they set off. Well rested, and fully recharged, they were well past the mountain paths in no time, and were crossing the borders which would lead them straight to Gregmister. The border guards that used to be posted at the bordering gates were no longer there as the war was over, and the Republic of Toran and the newly formed nation were allies now.

Both Jowy and Riou remained silent about the events from the night before, and Nanami seemed to have no indication about, which was all the better.

Riou stared ahead, seeing yet unseeing, his mind was too preoccupied with the late night conversation. He could still hear Leknaats' words fresh in his mind.

"It's as if the Soul Eater were building up its strength, preparing itself."

Preparing itself? Preparing itself for what?

"What would that rune need to prepare itself for? Doesn't it obey the owner?" Jowy asked.

Or does the owner obey it? It can happen..Like before.

"Lady Leknaat, could it be like the Bright Shield and Black Sword Rune are? Jowy and I were always told that our runes were what caused us to fight each other."

"Yes it was the nature of your runes that caused you both to fight." Leknaat agreed.

Then who's to say that the Soul Eater doesn't have its own side effects?

Riou looked thoughtful for another moment before finishing his thought. "Then perhaps this is also the nature of the Soul Eater?"

But the old seer shook her head, long raven locks of hair swished softly. "The Soul Eater can never threaten the life of its owner. It's not within its power to do so."

It doesn't have to have power to control some one. More like manipulating...

"Unless." Riou continued. Jowy looked to his friend.


.We didn't even realize we were being subjective to our rune's nature.

"Unless the owner is allowing it to, can that be it?" Riou finished.

"Yes that is possible. And that is the heart of the matter, should the Soul Eater succeed, Mcdohl will die. Should he die without passing the Soul Eater to another, the rune could run wild, consuming souls at will."

A true grim reaper.Countless lives would be lost again.Once again.

"I understand now. The Soul Eater is influencing Mcdohl." Jowy said putting half and half together. "And Mcdohl must not be aware of it, and is mistaking it as his own choice."

Just as you once did Jowy.

Lenkaat nodded in satisfaction. "And the problem I present before the both of you is the taming of this rune. I cannot take this task on myself for my rune is not used for such forceful means. You Riou, and Jowy are the bearers of fighting runes. And as such you are most fit for this."

What about Luc? Doesn't he bear the True Wind Rune? Why not him? Why?

"Wait, in taming this rune, does that mean we might have to fight Mcdohl himself?" Riou asked, his voice betraying no emotion. Jowy glanced over to his small friend. His slight body was washed in the pale moon light, and his thin circlet glinted weakly from beneath the locks of brown hair. The look on Riou's face was also unreadable, which was a first for Jowy. He had always known Riou to be an emotional little fireball. But not this time, boy was watching Leknaat impassively, as if trying to determine something in his mind.

If it really came down to it, could I really bring myself to fight him?

Leknaat turned from the pair and began walking slowly away. "Under the rune's influence, Mcdohl will not be as he normally would, I do not doubt that."

Mcdohl.You seemed so much stronger than that...I can't believe this.

"Wait, Lady Leknaat, how would we go about taming this rune?" Jowy asked a hint of worry in his voice.

The woman stopped and turned her head slightly, but not so much as where she could see them. "Do what ever you deem necessary. I trust your judgment."

Why? Why do you trust us? Do you see something we don't? What are you hiding?

"Leknaat!" Riou's voice suddenly broke the silence. Almost as if breaking out of his reverie. Now Jowy could see the flood of emotion washing over his features.

"You said before you can see into the future right? Did you know this was going to happen to Mcdohl? Was it in our future that we were going to do this? Is that why you came to us for help? Is that why?"

Destiny, fate, Future, you see it all. What is it you foresee for us? What will happen?

She stood there silently, and Riou could have sworn that this whole time, she had been reading his mind, but avoided answering the questions he did not ask aloud.

"Riou, I can see the future with these old eyes, but they slip away so quickly. It was not foretold that such things would occur. It was only probable. For you see, True Runes are Gods of their own destinies. And as such for you who bear them can make the future what ever you desire. From destiny and fate, you have brought about chance. And always, your futures are unseen for they have yet to be written by you."

So that's why..


"Whaaaaaaa!!!" Riou fell back as Nanami startled him from his thoughts. From the ground, Riou propped himself up on his elbows, as Nanami stood over him.

"Where you even listening to me?" She asked hands on her hips. Riou could not phrase a response, so he just looked up at her embarrassed. Nanami rolled her eyes and helped her brother up. "Look, we're finally here." She stated, pointing to the distant city. The sight of the city struck something deep with in him, like the ringing of a struck crystal glass. And before he was about to lose himself in his thoughts once again, he felt the hand of his best friend on his shoulder. He looked to regard the blond. He could tell Jowy knew what was on his mind, and the two exchanged silent words of worries and concerns.

What waits for us there?

Danger is always a probability.

Can we handle this?

We have the power, so we must wield it so. But what will happen?

This isn't written anywhere what will happen.

Destiny plays no part in this, this is solely upon us.

Why did it have to be Mcdohl?

Once again, it was Nanami who broke their thoughts. "C'mon you two! We didn't come all this way to Gregmister just to look at it!" And she laughed as she ran ahead leaving the two youths in the dust of her wake. Riou let out a small laugh of his own, while Jowy shook his head in dismay.

"That Nanami, she'll never change." He said with the under tone of love in his voice. Riou then turned to look at Jowy once more.

"Mcdohl.I know we can help him. I'm sure we don't have to fight him. It's not said anywhere that we simply had to." And Jowy could see in his eyes that despite what Riou wanted to believe, he knew deep down that this wasn't going to be settled by any peaceful means.

"Soul Eater.Is a true rune. And it's just as dangerous, if not more as ours. We're going to have to be careful. I know you want to still believe that Mcdohl would never use it against us..But he is under the rune's influence now."

Riou shook his head. "No, I still don't want to believe that. I know Mcdohl is stronger than that. I've fought with him for so long.He isn't weak as that."

Jowy gave him something of a sympathetic look. "C'mon." He said in a lowered tone. "Let's go see this Mcdohl."

Riou gave him a curt nod of resolve.

"Mister Gremio!!!" Nanami greeted happily as the familiar blond servant answered the door. "M-miss Nanami? Lord Riou?" Gremio stammered clearly surprised. Truly he had not expected such a visit.

Riou walked up to the servant and greeted him with a smile of his own, such a false fa├žade. "Gremio, it's good to see you again. My friends and I were on our way to Toran Lake and decided to drop by to see how you and Master Mcdohl were." Riou explained, upon seeing the shocked look upon Gremio's face.

"Gremio, who is at the door?" A new voice asked. The Servant turned from the door enough for Riou to identify the speaker.

"It is Young Riou and Miss Nanami, Young Master." Gremio replied.

"..Nanami? Riou?" Mcdohl asked almost as if hearing the names for the first time. Nanami stuck her head through the door way, peeking around Gremio.

"Hey!" She said a light musical note in her voice. Right then, something in Mcdohl seemed to click and it shown in his eyes.

"Oh! Riou! Nanami! I almost forgot! How have you two been?" The young master smiled a little embarrassed. And despite his concerns and doubts, Riou returned the warm smile. Gremio ushered the three in almost reluctantly. Once inside Mcdohl noted the new face and Riou introduced them.

"Master Mcdohl, Gremio, I'd like you to meet my best friend." Riou said gesturing to Jowy. Jowy stepped forward and shook Mcdohl's hand.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Gremio, Master Mcdohl." He said politely. Mcdohl gave him a light smile and shook his hand in return.

"Please, just Mcdohl is fine, I'm not that much older than you, mister ah."

"Jowy, Jowy Atreides." Jowy said. At this, something seemed to register in Mcdohl's mind and Riou could read the expression like an open book.


"Jowy huh? For some reason that name rings a bell. Like I should know it from some where." And when he could not find the answer in his mind, he looked to Riou. Riou shook his head silently asking the former to drop the subject. Mcdohl instantly understood and said no more.

"Mcdohl, you haven't changed a bit since the last time I saw you!" Nanami walked around the boy examining him from head to foot. "In fact, it doesn't even seem like you've grown at all!" Perhaps she meant it as a compliment, or perhaps she didn't realize an important fact about Mcdohl. But what ever the reason, no one bothered to tell her she was right.

"So what brings you three to Gregmister?" Mcdohl asked, turning to regard the two. Gremio cut in then, relaying to the Young Master what he missed. And Mcdohl only nodded in understanding.

"Ah, I see. So that's why." He said softly.

"Well actually it was my dumb idea." Riou said jokingly. "I thought since we had traveled so near your borders, why not see Lake Toran? Besides, I'll bet its great scenery this time of year." The young master smiled once again, and to Riou's surprise, it seemed to touch his gold eyes. There was no falseness behind his smile, unlike Riou's.

"You're right; it is nice this time of year. And the fishing is excellent there."

Riou was caught off guard by what Mcdohl said, and couldn't help but laugh. Of course, fishing was his and Mcdohl's favorite pass times. That was how he first met Mcdohl, and that's when he actually picked up the sport. "Now I'm really eager to see this Lake Toran."

"Say, how long has it been since we last met?" Mcdohl asked changing subjects.

Riou looked to Nanami and Jowy then counted on his fingers for a moment. "Hmm..Ah, it's almost been a year."

Mcdohl closed his eyes as a sense of nostalgia swept over him. "Time flies so quickly, you wonder where it goes." He said to no one in particular. He opened his eyes again to capture Riou's. "You must stay longer, I'm sure you have lots of stories to tell. I want to hear what you've all been doing with yourselves."

The brown haired youth waved a dismissing hand, "No, no, we couldn't impose..." But he was cut off in mid sentence as Mcdohl placed a hand on his shoulder.

"It's fine, really. Gremio will put you up for the night, right Gremio?" Mcdohl looked to the servant who gave him a worried look.

"If it would please you Young Master..." He said and tried to smile, but Jowy and Riou were not fooled, something was definitely wrong here. "I'll get started on supper right away, in the mean time why don't you four go play upstairs? I'll call you when it's ready." The servant began to sound like his old self. He threw his green cape behind him as he walked away toward the kitchen leaving the four youths alone. As soon as he was out of earshot, Jowy raised a brow.

"Play upstairs?" He asked unbelieving. Mcdohl and Riou began to laugh and for a moment Jowy thought the two were so alike, they could have been twins.

After the laughter had subsided, Mcdohl gave Jowy an apologetic look. "You'll have to forgive Gremio, he meant no disrespect, he's just taken care of me so long, and he gets nostalgic at times."

Nanami, who had been quiet for a long while, suddenly hooked her arm around Mcdohl's. "Ne, Ne, Mcdohl, I bet your room is still the same, why don't we go out in town instead? I mean, it's a nice day isn't it?" Mcdohl smiled gently seemingly amused.

"That's not a bad idea, but we'd better let Gremio know. God only knows why he still worries about me."

"You two go on ahead, we'll tell him." Jowy suddenly suggested.

"What? Is that really alright?" Mcdohl asked.

Riou looked to his friend, and it took a second for it all to register, that's when he caught on to Jowy's game. He too then stepped up.

"Sure it is, we don't mind." The comment was accompanied by his fakest smile.

Mcdohl stared at the two, his expression unreadable and Riou thought that he must have realized something was wrong. Riou knew for a fact that Mcdohl was nobody's fool. But after another tense moment passed, Nanami's impulsiveness came to the rescue.

"Oh come on! What difference does it make?" The young girl tugged at Mcdohl's arm and led him through the door. She threw a glance behind her to Riou. "Don't take too long!"

Riou smiled uncertainly, perhaps Nanami's impatience could have its usefulness too. He waved them off. "We won't! But don't wait for us!" However, Mcdohl still had his eyes trained on him, unsettling Riou so deeply, that he avoided his gaze to stare off to the side. Finally after a little ways from the house, Nanami asked Mcdohl something and he turned away to speak to her.

Riou let out a breath he didn't know he was holding.

Jowy nudged Riou before he turned to walk down the hall. "He's gone. C'mon, we can't be gone too long or he'll suspect something." Riou followed Jowy closing the door behind him.

"I think he already suspects something." The boy said worriedly.

"Where's the kitchen? We need to speak with Gremio. He's Mcdohl's servant right? I'll bet he can tell us what the low is down."

Riou took the lead nodding solemnly. "Right. He probably knows, but doesn't understand. He deserves that much from us." Still remembering the place fairly well, Riou soon led Jowy into the kitchen and once there, they confronted the servant. It didn't take much on their part to get him to talk. And quite frankly, Riou wasn't surprised. The servant seemed to just break down and the story came with no trouble. Gremio was so distraught that he had to sit down and lowered his head into his hands.

"I'm afraid that it may be my fault that the Young Master acts the way he does now, this house holds so many painful memories for him. Most of the time I am unsure how he is handling it. I thought it would be good for him to stay here awhile, as I do not want him to grow up wild and think he doesn't have a home to return to. This is his father's house you see. I only wish for him to take care of his estates. But then, after two months, something in him changed. I don't know what it was; suddenly he just didn't seem the same. He was different. I can't explain it; I thought he might be coming down with something so I called in Dr. Lukian. But he said that the Young Master was as healthy as the next kid. But as the weeks went by, the Young Master became more withdrawn, quieter, he began to lose all interest of going out and exploring the land like he used to. I had to admit, I was relieved as he won't get into anymore danger, but.But the Young Master loved what he did. It was just not in his personality to act like this. Then as the months passed, he seemed to get weaker. And this time I could tell, he had this drained look on his face, and his eyes had lost the fire that so many people had once admired. I tried to call the doctor in again, but the Young Master would not allow it. He kept insisting that he was fine. But he couldn't fool me. But what could I do? I was at loss. Cleo and Phan were gone away on personal journeys; there was no one I could turn to. And so, I watched him. And then, it happened. Two nights ago, I was awakened from my sleep by the Young Master's cry. I thought he was in danger so I quickly ran to his room, and there I found him, standing in the middle of what seemed to be a hexagram burning brightly on the floor. I knew full well where I had seen the sign before. It belonged to the Soul Eater. It seemed the Young Master was trying to give his soul to the Soul Eater as Ted had done some years before. Naturally, I ran in without thinking and pulled the Young Master away. He was furious and told me not to interfere, and I told him that if this is what he wanted, then he would have to take my soul first."

Dinner that night went by with out a hitch. It seemed to Riou that every thing was as it was suppose to be. Mcdohl himself laughed and traded stories with Jowy, Riou, and Nanami. There was no hint of what had transpired two nights ago in his actions, or words. If there was truly something wrong as both Gremio and Leknnat had feared there was, then Mcdohl was truly the greatest actor Riou had ever seen. And for a second he began to have his doubts about Mcdohl.

After dinner, Gremio showed Riou and Jowy to their rooms then left the two alone as he took Nanami to a separate room next door.

Riou walked around the beautifully furnished room, a clear testament to the Mcdohl's wealth. Truthfully, he was a bit uncomfortable. He just wasn't used to such splendor. Jowy on the other hand took to the room as if it were nothing special. Of course, it was to be expected from one of his back ground.

"This isn't too bad." Jowy said looking around the guest room.

Riou finally sat upon the plush bed, feeling as if he might sink in the mattress itself. "Sort of reminds me of your house." He replied.

"But you never went into my house." Came a curt response. Jowy looked to Riou questioningly.

Riou smiled a bit sheepishly as he often did. "I know, but I was able to see through your windows from the trees remember?"

Jowy nodded as he did begin to remember and the memories came back slowly. "Ah, I'd almost forgotten about that time."

"Your father grounded you when you kept coming home late." Riou continued, helping the memories come along more quickly.

"I was grounded for two whole weeks. I couldn't come out to see you. And I was pretty surprised to see my best friend's face peering in my window on the second floor." Jowy tried to keep from smiling at the mere memory. But it was a futile attempt.On both sides. Both youths began to laugh as they shared that particular moment. When the laughing had subsided, Jowy looked to Riou questioningly.

"You always came to see me, but I always wondered, weren't you ever afraid that my father would find you?"

And the brown haired youth replied smoothly, "If I was ever afraid of your father, then it would be because of what he would do to you if he ever found out about me."

Jowy took this answer in carefully. Riou's initial response did not surprise him, it was the conviction behind it that did. He closed his deep blue eyes for a moment before reopening them to meet Riou's hazel gaze.

"Thank you, Riou.." This was accompanied by a gentle gratifying smile, a smile that Riou had always treasured more than anything in the world. Some thing that he had almost lost a long time ago....

Riou returned the smile, but after another moment, a thought came over the youth, and the smile faded as he asked what was probably on both of their minds;

"Jowy, do you think that Mcdohl is really being controlled by his rune?"

The smile turned into a grim line of thoughtfulness. Jowy closed his eyes silently contemplating. After another moment he nodded. "Ah, I'm guessing that how he acts now is only a front."

"I thought that too. Mcdohl.The Mcdohl that I knew kept to himself a lot. He was a very quiet person.." Riou dropped his gaze to his hands that were now wrenching each other in slight guilt. "I'd like to believe that this was what he was like before the wars. He just seemed so happy this evening, normal."

"That's where we have got to be careful Riou; it's obvious he's doing his best to cover up so that no one will notice." Jowy warned softly.

And the brown haired boy sighed and nodded sadly. "I understand."

Suddenly there was a soft knock on the door, and both heads turned to look. The door slowly opened and Riou expected to see Gremio, but instead Mcdohl appeared. Their eyes widened at that moment, and one thought must have crossed both minds in that second; had he heard?

But dark haired boy took care not to allow himself to be read as he spoke softly.

"I know it's late, but I need to speak with you both." It was clear that no questions were to be asked.

The three slipped out of the mansion without Gremio's or Nanami's notice. A task not easily done, but it seemed that Mcdohl had done such a thing one too many times before. Probably during his time leading the Liberation Army, and if that was the case, then Riou himself was not too surprised. Perhaps it was another habit that they both shared as leaders of the same Army.

It was only a little after dark, and the town itself was still pretty active. Perhaps a few people here, and the usual town drunk there. But no one seemed to take notice of the three as they stopped at the fountain at the center of the town.

"Can you tell us now what it is that you need to speak to us about?" Jowy asked.

Mcdohl looked around as if making sure they weren't followed then turned back to them and shook his head. "No, not yet, too many people."

Riou stole a glance for himself and realized that there was next to no one in their immediate vicinity. "Too many.?" He started but Mcdohl interrupted by motioning for the two to follow him. The black haired boy moved silently and steadily through the cover of darkness, as if being led, and Riou noted that he avoided the patches of light that the occasional street lamps provided. Eventually, they reached the gates, and even then, Mcdohl showed no signs of slowing down. There had been guards posted there once, but with the war, they were reassigned different posts elsewhere. And it probably would have mattered if they were there or not, for the way Mcdohl moved, it seemed that no one would be able to stop him. So determined was he that both Riou and Jowy began to get a bad feeling about the whole situation, but neither said a word deciding it would be best to see where this played out to.

They followed Mcdohl out the town gates. The moon was out that night and dimly lighted their path. Mcdohl continued his hike away from Gregmister, toward the distant mountains that would lead back to Banner Village. Finally, after reaching rock dotted hills, a little distance from Gregmister, Mcdohl stopped.

Riou sat himself down on a rock outcropping, looking back at the town that seemed tiny and far.

"This place is perfect." Mcdohl said quietly almost to himself.

"Okay, what is so important and secret that you wanted to speak to us about?" Jowy asked.

"Yes, so secret that it had to be in such a distant location." Riou added rubbing his bare arms chilled by the night air.

"I'm sorry for troubling you; it's just that.It's just that I can't stand good-byes. And I didn't want to endanger any of the townsfolk." Mcdohl said sympathetically. Riou and Jowy snapped in that instant.

"What?" Riou couldn't believe what he was hearing. Mcdohl continued as if he hadn't noticed their reactions. His gaze was upon the dark ground, and a sad smile on his lips.

"Perhaps that's why I let Gremio stop me before." He finally looked up regarding the two. "I'm glad that you came by when you did. Now, you can tell him for me.

"Mcdohl.Ah!" Riou had tried to approach Mcdohl when the ground beneath his feet began to shake. The slight youth stumbled backwards into Jowy who caught him.

"Mcdohl!!!" Riou called out.

The raven haired youth stood as if unfazed by the quake, eyes still trained upon them and that sad smile still on his lips. Quickly, Riou noticed something on his gloved right hand began to glow, a soft red, almost like fire, but not quite. Mcdohl seemed to follow his gaze and looked to his gloved hand. Silently, the boy slid off the glove and the hidden rune could now be seen clearly, its dark shape glowing and pulsing as if alive.

"Riou, is that.?" Jowy trailed off unable to finish his sentence.

"The.The Soul Eater." Riou said fearfully.

The ground continued to quake and beneath Mcdohl strange runic lines began to appear, as if being drawn by some invisible hand forming a star. The lines lit up and became clearly visible. Riou struggled to stand with Jowy's help.

"Mcdohl don't!! You can't do this! Don't you know what you're doing?!" Riou shouted over the roar of the noise.

Mcdohl closed his eyes and nodded solemnly. "Riou, Jowy, I used to live content at one point in my life, then one day Ted gave me this accursed rune, and I lost everyone who meant anything to me." Mcdohl said bitterly. "I HATE this rune! And I can no longer stand the pain I feel when I look at it and know that the Souls of people I once loved are trapped there!"

"But Ted willingly gave his life for the Soul Eater, remember what Gremio said?!"

"Gremio doesn't have to bear the rune!" Mcdohl shot back. "He doesn't have to live with the pain, or the burden. He doesn't know how it feels to be constantly fearing it's dark power, feel it's endless hunger for new souls, he doesn't know, he could never. He doesn't deserve to suffer the way I do. He doesn't deserve this burden, but neither do I."

"Mcdohl listen to me," Jowy spoke up, "This isn't you talking! It's the Soul Eater! It's manipulating you!!"

The boy shook his head. "No, I'm in my right mind, from the start I allowed the rune to take my life, I ASKED it to."

"But if you die you'll put everyone in danger by turning loose that rune!" Jowy shouted angrily.

"Then you take it!" Mcdohl snapped. Clearly, the reply came with such venom that Jowy was caught off guard. He tried to frame a reply but no words came from his mouth. Mcdohl saw this and smiled some what cruelly. "See? You don't want it either, at least you are beginning to understand my fate.I.I don't care anymore. I've lived so long doing what the people want. I've always done what the people want. I've always put the people first. But this will be my first and last selfish wish..I want to be with my family."

Riou struggled against Jowy's hold. "MCDOHL!!!!!!!!!"

But once again, he was ignored as Mcdohl calmly closed his eyes and lowered his head.

"Rune that governs life and death." He began to chant, and in response, the Soul Eater pulsed faster, and was soon encircled in hell fire. The dark energy began tearing at the ground, the quake becoming more intense, the rock dotting the plains rattled upon the ground. The noise was defaening. From above, a column of light descended from the heavens and shone over Mcdohl's lone form. He looked up and a small sad smile crossed his lips. He allowed the light to wash over him, embracing it as the sun, or a long lost friend. "Please, take my soul now." He whispered.

Riou, in a reckless move broke free of Jowy's grasp and rushed forward. His shout rang out and over came the clamor of the earth.

"MCDOHL!!!!!!!!" With out a thought or a second thought, he lunged forward, and caught Mcdohl at the waist, forcing him away from the light. The older boy had the balance of a cat and managed to steady himself. He looked in horror to see Riou holding tight.


Riou shut his eyes tightly, silently calling out to his rune. "Bright Shield Rune..Please show your merciful power." Answering his call, the true rune on his right gloved hand exploded with white power that resounded through out his entire body. True to its name, the rune appeared announcing it's presence in the shining shape of a shield. Its brilliant rays beating back the darkness of night. Riou called upon the power of the shield in hopes that it would be enough to force the Soul Eater back. But to no avail, the Soul Eater was a whole rune and the Bright Shield only half, and Riou let out a cry as he felt the darkness over power his rune.

Mcdohl's eyes widened in horror as he realized that the Soul Eater was beginning to do its job. But this was not how he had intended it to end. He was to die alone, but the Soul Eater began to take Riou with him. It seemed to know no difference. He began to pry Riou's arms off, but the young boy held fast with a grip like a vise.

"Riou let go or you will also die!! Let go of me!!" Mcdohl shouted to him frantic. Time was running out and he could already see a dark shadow arise from the ground and slowly crawl up Riou's legs.

Riou could feel the darkness creeping up his body, engulfing it. It was a painful, numbing sensation. He could not feel his legs, didn't even know if they were still there. Riou kept his eyes shut for fear of seeing. He heard Mcdohl's voice, felt the pull at his arms. But soon his voice was lost to the dull roar that surrounded them, and the hand that tried to remove Riou's hold, now rested limp upon his shoulders. Out of nowhere, he felt a strong hand clasp over his right. Riou opened his eyes to see Jowy on the other side of Mcdohl. The blond had one hand holding onto Riou's and the other was shielding his eyes from the blinding light released from above.

"Riou!" He shouted, sounding so far away. "We need to combine our runes quickly!" Riou nodded, and began to concentrate, exerted all his strength and offered his very soul to the Bright Shield rune urging it, to become one with the Black Sword rune. This proved to be a hard task as he was doing his best to be oblivious to the pain that was the darkness eating him alive. He wondered and hoped that Jowy wasn't feeling the same pain. Riou bit onto his lower lip hard drawing blood. But he took little notice as he felt as powerful force resonating from Jowy's hand onto his own where the Bright Shield resided. He could hear its whispers, different than those of the Bright Shield. It was a strange feeling. It was as if he suddenly was not alone in his thoughts, and in the same manner could see thoughts that were not his own. The feeling, both familiar and strange, Riou wondered if he and Jowy were joined in their thoughts as their runes began to merge unnoticed.

The runes began to move together, overlapping each other as they assimilated. The markings of the Bright Shield and Dark Sword runes slowly disappeared from both Riou and Jowy's right hands, and high above them the Rune of Beginning appeared, its radiance enough to light the night sky.

The pillar of light around them rapidly kicked up in a maelstrom of violent winds as both Soul Eater and Rune of Beginning waged war against each other, with the three youths in the dead center.

"Ah!" Both Riou and Jowy cried out as sudden pulsation of power from between them threw them back. Both youths lost their grip but managed to catch the other's hands forming a human barrier around Mcdohl. Riou managed to open one eye slightly and see Mcdohl's figure overshadowed by a dark force.

"The Soul Eater's repelling us!!" He faintly heard Jowy above the winds.

"Jowy, don't let go or we'll lose him!!!" Riou shouted back.

A violent gale suddenly began to whip around them and threatened to pull them away and the force from the inside repelled. Riou fought against it, but could feel Jowy's hand slowly slipping from his grasp. His body strained against the growing fatigue and his mind was equally tired. But even then, he continued to rage against the Soul Eater, trying to force it back, but its power was strong, and it resisted fiercely. By now, his whole body was trembling with the threat of giving out. The mere power he exerted for the Rune of Beginning was being consumed so fast and he could not hold out for long. Something had to be done. "M-Mcdohl, why? Why do you want to die?" Riou began to speak, but the mere task proved difficult, as he felt that his breath was being ripped from his lungs by the unnatural gale. "You think you're the only one who's suffered the loss of a loved one? Open your eyes! We all have gone through the same thing! its part of life, we go through it and move on!" Riou shouted in a last attempt to stop him.

"I tried to go on, couldn't you see that? I tried! But, but it was just that they were TAKEN from me! It wasn't fair! To them or to me!" Mcdohl's voice pierced through the raging winds, and through the dark barrier, Riou could see him. The boy stood there, calmly, untouched by the elements around them. His head was lowered and his eyes obscured by the dark locks of hair. He was still; perhaps the dark barrier was a shield of some sort, isolating him from the outside world. But even then, it could not conceal the faint shimmer of glistening tears that fell.

"Mcdohl.." The name escaped his lips as the bandanna boy continued.

"I lost many people to the Soul Eater Rune. And I tried to forget, but I see them in my dreams, their last moments play over and over. I am afraid to get close to anyone else because of my curse, because the Soul Eater will demand their souls next. So I am forced to remain alone. You and Jowy came over, and I saw how happy you were together.It, made me miss, my friend even more, and I began to envy and long for the same happiness." Mcdohl's hands balled into fists then. "We used to be so close, like you and Jowy. It wasn't fair, why did it take Ted from me?

"T-Ted?" Riou thought. But the winds suddenly gained a burst of strength and slammed into the young boy, almost causing him to lose Jowy's hand. He strained and gripped Jowy's hand more tightly, and he felt Jowy do the same. In all the commotion, he might have not heard her voice.

*Riou.* So soft and gentle was her tone, he had no doubt it was Lady Leknnat. She sounded so close!

"Lady?" He asked and looked around expecting to see her, but when she spoke again, he realized that it was in his mind that she spoke.


The boy closed his eyes, trying to block all distractions out of his mind. He concentrated trying to picture her in his mind's eye. And in the darkness, he could see her there.

*There is the Soul Eater's strength. The Soul Eater is reflecting Mcdohl's grief and deepest wishes.*

"Mcdohl's grief and wishes.?" Riou started to say, but Jowy's voice broke into his train of thought. "Riou!! The Rune of Beginning! It's starting to be engulfed by the Soul Eater! We have to let go now!"

But Riou shook his head vehemently and squeezed his eyes shut. "NO! We can't! We still have a chance I know it! Please believe in me Jowy, and don't let go!"

"Riou." Jowy said. He looked to the youth who had his eyes tightly shut against the strong winds. If anything, he looked stronger and determined than ever. And Jowy knew it would be pointless to argue with him. Even in the face of death, Riou refused to give up.

"Damn." Jowy cursed in his head. "At this rate, we will be totally consumed by the Soul Eater." At the mention of the name, he looked up to see the Runes overlapping each other with the Soul Eater emerging to the top. It had almost totally consumed the Rune of Beginning. Jowy had heard Leknatt's voice. He wasn't sure how, but he believed it to be the bond of their runes. In any case, if the Soul Eater was really using Mcdohl's emotions as its energy, then the youth must be distraught beyond reckoning. It's incredible that he hadn't gone insane.But who's to say that he isn't already? "It's only a matter of time." He looked back to his slight friend, who still gave no signs of giving up. Jowy understood Riou's feelings, but simply could not allow the boy to come to harm. Because he loved his friend so much, it was natural that he'd want to protect him, just as Riou would for him. "Don't worry Riou, I won't let us die here.." Jowy closed his eyes and consentrated once more. But this time, focusing soley on the Black Sword Rune. "Please, Black Sword Rune grant me the power to cut through all." He silently prayed.

"The strength of the Soul Eater is Mcdohl's emotions." Riou reasoned in his head. "If only there was a way.If only I had the power. But, Ted is the only one that can stop Mcdohl's pain." He suddenly flinched as a familiar grief hit him then, causing a soft tear slide down his cheek. And in that moment he realized then Mcdohl's pain and how much he understood it.

"I know this pain, I felt the same when I thought I had lost Jowy. We had been together for so long, we were like brothers with one heart. The sudden separation between us was like death, and when I was forced to fight him, I just as well wanted to die. I didn't want to live with the pain, I wanted to die too. But I was lucky, I got Jowy back. If only.there was a way for Mcdohl to do the same." Riou felt the sadness, and the hoplessness of the situation. He felt despair and failure crash into him as he wished a seemingly powerless wish. But despite all that, he continued to wish and pray to all the True runes, not caring where the power came from, to grant a miracle. Feeling that somewhere, deep inside there WAS hope. "Ted, I wish you could see, you could hear how much Mcdohl suffers from your loss." He said trying to reach Ted. He did not know what the boy looked like, so he focused only on the essence and the name, calling him out. "Please help us. Mcdohl isn't mad at you, he's just sad and wants you back." Riou didn't know what to be expecting, didn't even know if his thought were being heard. Perhaps he really wasn't expecting anything at all. As he felt his hands slowly slip from Jowy's hands, he added in a soft mummer, "Everything will be okay, I promise."

At that moment, he felt his hand slip from Jowy's grip, but was immedietly caught and held firm. Surprized, Riou's eyes shot opend to be met with a strange sight.

As if appearing out of no where, another boy clad in blue, had entered the field of runic warfare. He held onto Riou's hand while holding onto Jowy's hand. Riou looked up to meet the stranger's eyes, and though seeing him for the first time, he seemed familiar as if he'd known him as a long lost friend.

The boy seemed to understand and smiled warmly his eyes light and unafraid.

"Don't worry, I'm going to help you now, just don't give up." He reassured him. Wordlessly, Riou nodded and closed his eyes. As tired as he was, he pushed himself a little farther a little more a little longer.

And that's when he felt it. Faint at first, but it quickly gained strength, washing over him like a powerful wave knocking out all his senses. The pain in his muscles and the fatigue that constantly nagged at him was wiped out in an instant, and the roar of the wind was suddenly non existent, silenced. And all he could feel was white hot light, in every part of his being...

end of part 1