Warriors from Between
ALEXIS STOOD facing her trainee in front of her. He was drawing both his swords and she was drawing her single sword. She assumed her most defensive position and waited. He eyed her slyly. Then, so fast she could barely see (but she did) he leaped and brought his right blade down toward her head. She leaped out of the way just in time, dodging the cruel point. Her trainee cursed and drew back his blade for a second attack. Alexis put up her hand. She listened. We’re being watched, she signed to him. He nodded and moved back. Alexis crouched and spun her blade in her hand. “Come out!” her trainee yelled to the air. Alexis nodded and readied her sword. Then a great crashing sound came and Ryuu, one of Alexis’s friends, burst in. “SURPRISE!” he yelled. The thing was, Alexis didn’t know it was him, so when the dust cleared she found herself pressing her blade against his neck. “Oh, oops, sorry Ryuu,” she said, lowering her blade. She gave a sheepish grin. “I thought you were someone else.”
“Someone like…Talia? Cause I hope you know she’s spying on you guys.” Ryuu grinned. Alexis threw her head back and yelled as loud as she could (which is very loud, I’ll have you know), “TALIA! GET DOWN HERE AND TALK FACE TO FACE WITH ME! UNLESS YOU TOO CHICKEN TO DO IT!” Ryuu smacked his palm against his forehead. Leave it to Alexis, he thought, to make Talia flip. Backwards of a cliff. Alexis’s trainee, Jared, looked inquisitively at him. “Is she always like this?” he whispered loudly, so he could make sure Ryuu heard him. The truth was, he could hardly hear himself over the noise Alexis was making. Then suddenly Talia leapt down from the ceiling, eyes murderous, hands clenched into tight fists. Her blazing blue eyes seemed to glow against her black hair. “Ta-” Jared began but Talia held up one gloved finger. “Shush.” Talia’s eyelids twitched, as did the skin between her thumb and index finger. The corners of her mouth twitched up into a sickening smile. She crouched low and seemed to be trying to swish her tail (but she didn’t have one, ha ha!). Then she pounced. Literally. Like, she leaped from her place on the ground onto Alexis’s back. “I’m here, darling Alexis. You don’t have you yell insults any longer.” Her sweet tone turned from that to dangerous, all in one second. Alexis growled and threw her body forward, making sure she landed on her back. Talia cried out but didn’t lose her grip. Suddenly the room was flooded with light. “What is going on here?” Orion, Alexis’s, Ryuu’s, Talia’s and many other’s master, cried, rushing forward. “Alexis, get off of Talia. Talia, let go of Alexis. You should both know better than this. You are teenagers!” Alexis lowered her head, but Talia stood up straight. “Tali-” Alexis began to warn softly but was cut off by Orion. “Talia, I have a letter from your mother.” Talia smiled a tiny, unnoticeable smile that she squashed as soon as they saw it. Orion handed it to her, smiling tightly. Talia tore it opened, glanced at its contents, scowled, and tossed the whole thing into the fire.
“Talia!!” Alexis cried, astonished by her favorite enemy’s actions. “She wants me to come home.” Talia’s voice was clouded and dark. Her eyes shone with unshed tears. “I want to stay. I don’t want to go home--” Talia’s voice broke and she covered her face. Heart-wrenching sobs came from behind her hands and tears leaked out. But, surprisingly enough, it wasn’t Orion who put his arm around her shoulder, it was Ryuu. He hugged Talia and whispered something in her ear. Talia looked up at him with tear-streaked eyes. “You… You’d really do that for me?” she asked, voice quavery. Ryuu nodded and led Talia out of the room. The others lingered a while, talking about how the war was going. “I wish they’d just quit,” Jared muttered. “Who?” Alexis asked. “Lord Denerim. And his cursed ogres. They’re just making it harder for everyone!” Alexis shook her head, her blond hair fanning out in multiple directions. “It’s giving us practice in case ogres invade,” she replied, voice taut. Alexis’s father, General Dane, was leader of their army. If he fell, Denerim and his ogres would prevail.
But I guess it’s time I introduced myself. I am Sophi. I am the most revered swordsman in this millennium. Also, before we get super confused, I’m a woman. Well, actually I’m a girl, but you get it, right? And, in the distant future, I’m gonna be Alexis’s best friend. I am the absolute best samurai in the entire world. But I didn’t know my little gift would come in handy. With protecting a certain girl’s life. You get who I am, now, right? So, intro’s over! Let’s find out what Talia and Ryuu are doing.
Talia sniffed. “Ryuu, why do you think my mother is wanting me to come back?” Ryuu muttered something inaudible. “What?” Talia said, looking at him in confusion. Ryuu wasn’t one to mutter or mumble. He was usually a well-spoken boy. “I said,” Ryuu said, grinning with both eyes slanted crazily, “she must have heard about all the Academy murders. Tina, Zhao, Mari and her twin brother, Marco, Rin, Jess, Cati, Kaitlyn, Emery, and Jason. Too bad you won’t be on that list; or will you?” He leaned in, his stale breath filling Talia’s nose. Talia choked. Ryuu took that moment to draw a curved dagger from his waist. “Say bye-bye…” he murmured in her ear. Talia’s eyes widened in fear. Then I decided it was best if I acted. I silently drew and arrow from my quiver and nocked it in my bow. Taking careful aim, I shot. The arrow, instead of hitting Ryuu (who had moved just as I shot the arrow) hit Talia. She cried out and a spurt of blood pierced the night, closely connected to the scream that chilled the air. Talia was dead and it was all my fault. This moment unbearable, I fled to my room up in the rafters. While I did that, Ryuu was looking around, trying to find the person or thing that had just done his job for him. Finding no one, he retired to his room. And then I decided to listen in on what he was going to do next. I was traveling my vent. Really, I was traveling through the vent just above Ryuu’s room. As I sat just above his bed, I heard him talking to someone on his phone-- an accomplice, maybe? I only caught the name. Darlin. The name sounded vaguely familiar. Then I snapped my fingers. “Of course! Darlin’s his older brother!” I shout-whispered. Ryuu flinched. “Ok… I’ll… what I can… You need the money… Don’t say that! Mom’s definitely not… Just shut up.” He slammed his cell shut. I gasped. What about his mom? I puzzled in my head, trying to fit the pieces together. Then it struck me; the person I needed was Alexis.
As I slid silently down the air vent, I heard muffled sniffs from Jared’s room and I knew they had seen the body of Talia. The innocent life I destroyed. If I ever told them, they’d never, ever forgive me! Then I arrived at Alexis’s vent. Alexis was lying face-down on her bed, face pressed into her pillow. I slid my long, thin fingernails under the lip of the grate and lifted soundlessly. Placing it aside, I dropped quietly into the room. Once again replacing the grate, I said in a soft voice, “Hello, Alexis Wolvern.” Alexis whirled around.
“Who are you?!” she cried, confusion written all over her face.
“I am Sophi. I need your help. You know Ryuu, right? Well, He did something awful.” I had to lie to her until I was sure she trusted me. She had to think it was Ryuu! I mean, he was about to; doesn’t that count? Anyway, I had to earn her trust. Alexis makes a better friend than enemy. Trust me, I speak from experience. “Ryuu? You’re crazy,” she scoffed, waving a dismissive hand at me. “I may be crazy, Alexis Wolvern, but I saw it with my own two eyes. You’ve got to trust me,” I said, while crossing my fingers behind my back for luck and to take the guilt out of lying. Alexis eyed me suspiciously. “Why should I trust you?” she demanded, eyes narrowed.
“Let’s just say,” I said, “I’m not really the kind of person you’d like to have as your enemy. Deal?” I cocked an eyebrow.
“Are you threatening me?!” Her voice rose dramatically; I could get caught is someone came in here and saw me! “Alexis, calm done. I wasn’t threatening anyone, not really. At least, not intentionally.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? That, somewhere, out of the blue, you’ll pull a knife on me?!” She half-drew her dagger, readying her defensive position. “Listen, Alexis. I am not your enemy. You can trust me. I am not looking for trouble, just help. You knew Talia, right? The girl who died?” I asked. She looked at me fiercely. “Of course I knew Talia. We were the closest friend-enemies you could ever find. She was loyal. She was brave. She was also the only one I considered my ‘rival’. Until she was murdered...” Where Alexis’s voice faded off, mine continued. “By Ryuu,” I finished. Alexis’s eyes widened and she looked up. “What?” she cried, shock written all over her face. “B-but... he was with her... he probably protected her... He just wouldn’t! I know Ryuu better that you!” The obvious statement made me flinch ever so slightly. But Alexis noticed. “Not so brave, are you, Rabbit?” she said mockingly. I drew up to my full height (which was a full foot higher than her) and said, darkly, “You’d better trust me. You never know what could happen to your other friends, half of which have already died, murdered by Ryuu. If you don’t act now, we’ll never get the chance and we’ll never stop him!” Alexis flinched slightly. I felt a little sorry for her. It’s not every day you learn your friend killed another one of your friends. But then she stood straight and addressed me like I was a soldier and she, my captain. She pointed at me. “Go. Leave me alone. I don’t want to talk to anyone, you hear? ANYONE!!” I drew back as if I had been slapped. Then, nodding sadly, I climbed back into the vent. My trek back to the rafters seemed so long. But I finally got there and opened the skylight to sleep beneath the stars. The moon hanging over was like a gigantic night light. The stars stared back at me while I lay there. I rolled over and then I heard a light footstep. Sitting up, I glanced back. Standing there were Emery, Jason, Tina, Zhao, Mari and her twin brother, Marco, Rin, Jess, Cati, Kaitlyn, and, now, Talia. I gasped. Talia and the others approached me. Talia was the first to reach me. She sat down and motioned the others to, too. Her mouth moved but no words came out. She shrugged and signed to me. ‘We thank you for trying to save us. We will now return the favor. We will appear in Alexis’s dream and tell her you mean well.’ Jason leaned forward and signed his own message. ‘Deep in my heart, I know all will be well. After this mission, you will join us. We will be happy to have you. We need you to help Jared and Alexis along. We depend on you.’ I nodded, quite moved by their words. “I won’t let you down,” I whispered to them. They vanished immediately. And I sat straight up. I was in my bed, and I was sweating from the dream. It wasn’t a dream… It was real! I looked up at the open skylight, at the starry night. “I won’t let you down,” I promised in a quiet whisper.
Two hour later, after getting only one and a half hours of sleep, I readied myself. With two swords, three concealed daggers, one tiny but dependable bow, a normal-sized crossbow strapped to my back, and a several blow darts as well as the tube for blowing them strapped to my right forearm, I was ready at last. I left the rafters and entered the vent, traveling for thirty minutes with the added weight of my weapons. I finally arrived. I went to Jared’s room first, told him everything except the part which I played in Talia’s death and told him to meet me where the tunnel from his vent branched off in multiple directions. “But,” I said, “Expect Alexis to be there. She’s coming too.” Then I left through his vent and went to Alexis’s room. Sliding open the vent, I dropped to the ground. “Alexis. Wake up.” I shook her shoulder. She opened her eyes, saw me and gasped. “Ohhh, you scared me, Sophi!” She sat up and said, “What is it now?” I dumped a bag-full of weapons into her lap. “Now,” I said, pausing to get her attention, “We fight. For Talia, Emery, Jason, Marco, Mari and Mark, Rin, Jess, Cati, Kaitlyn, Tina, and Zhao. We fight for all of them. We avenge them.” I looked Alexis right in the eyes, daring her to protest. She held my gaze for a good thirty seconds then dropped her gaze and nodded. “Alright,” I said. “Now we get out of your giant school.” Alexis nodded, then shook her head. “How?” I smiled slyly and pointed to the vent above her dresser. Alexis’s eyes widened. “What? There’s no way I could fit in there, let alone all the things!” I grabbed the weapons. “You won’t need to worry about those. I’ll take care of those.” Then I heaved the vent cover off the vent and hoisted myself up. Alexis mounted her dresser and held her hands up to me. “You’re kidding, right?” I asked, skeptically. When she shook her head, I sighed and reluctantly pulled her up. She ‘ouched’ and ‘owwwwwwwwwed’ through the whole process. “This way,” I said, and moved down the tunnel to where Jared’s branched off. There, Jared was waiting, eyes, excited and sorrowful at the same time. “I’m gonna miss Orion. He’ll wonder where we are!” I shook my head. “You guys’ll leave a note. Let’s just go.” They nodded and I took the lead. As I led them through the winding tunnels, I suddenly realized: this was their first actual battle! They were so… so… inexperienced! I was gonna have to train them hard and long to get them ready for what lay ahead. They were small, and scared. Like me when I was their age. I would try to give them insight while I was training them, but nothing could really prepare them for the battlefield, not really. The thought of what they would see once it was over. They wouldn’t see victory, power, or gain. They would see bloodshed, death, and sorrow. Nothing but sorrow, bloodshed, and death. I couldn’t--no one could!--prepare them for that. Nothing ever would be able to. Nothing, never. “Sophi…” Alexis said, glancing at me. “Are you ok?” I nodded and said gruffly, “I’m fine.” She nodded and looked away. We were on our way to battle.
I pulled on the small door knob and the door swung in. Jared gasped and Alexis sighed. Outside, the familiar greens of the forest and the smell of trees and grass and moss and summer air filled my nose and theirs. Jared ran forward and threw himself into a small patch of flowers, burying his nose in them. Alexis giggled and stepped out onto the large field. I watched her laugh and roll around in the grass, tears of happiness running down her face. I stepped out and walked toward them, a slight smile on my face. “So,” Jared said, looking up from his flowers, “What next?” I sighed heavily and sat down, right next to a big patch of lilies. “Now,” I said, “We hide and train. We’ll have to elect someone to do the stealing food and water. Who wants to do it?” No one answered. They didn’t know the tunnels as well as I did. “Oh, fine,” I huffed. Jared looked down at one particular daisy and grinned sheepishly. Alexis thanked me incessantly. I merely waved her off. “Don’t mention it,” I said. Jared nodded and announced, “I’ll grab clothes and other supplies,” he offered. “Ok, I guess,” I mumbled. Jared looked overjoyed. “That means you’ll have to memorize the tunnels when I’m not able to go with you,” I reminded him. He groaned, but nodded. I told them to come with me; only I knew the ways of the forest. They had lots of magic and used it on anyone who didn’t give them a peace gift. It even carried off those with them if they hadn’t. “Alright,” I said, kneeling just on the border of the forest, “Give the forest something. Like a few hairs, a locket or something else. For a peace gift. Then we have to walk five feet away and sit down with our backs to it. Then we wait for two minutes, no peeking, and if the gift is gone, you get to pass through. If not, you have to go around the forest. But in this case, we need to be in the forest.” They nodded and each took something out of their pockets; Alexis took a letter from home, Jared took the wedding ring he had found in his mom’s drawers. The placed them in a pile of moss just inside the forest. Then they retreated five feet, turned and sat down. I sat with them, setting my watch timer for two minutes. Jared shifted, obviously restless. Then my timer rang after what seemed like an eternity. “Finally!” Jared cried and spun around. The gifts were gone; the forest had accepted them! Jared, Alexis, and I bowed to the forest. “Thank you,” I said, “for allowing us to pass through your wood.” We stepped forward and Jared’s foot landed on a deer poo. “Oh, gross,” he said. Alexis and I laughed. Then I noticed something embedded in the black mass of poo. “Wait, hold still.” I moved closer and pulled out a pair of gloves. Slipping them on, I leaned down and pulled out the shiny device; it was a silver disk, and on it was the word, ‘Titanium’. “Titanium…” I whispered. The memories of Titanium, the cruel organization that had fostered me when I was a child flooded back to me. The whippings when I didn’t get 100% on a test… all the nights I went to bed hungry because I had accidently lost my pen… the times I was made to sleep outside because a teacher didn’t like me. And, finally, the death missions they had sent me on. And if I didn’t come back with my target, something awful would happen. Even more terrible than the others. I sniffed the device and it smelled not of poo, but of the facilities there. “Ewww, gross, Sophi!” Jared exclaimed. “Sit down, all of you. I’m checking your boots.” They obeyed, but not before Alexis asked why. “Because,” I said, “Jared’s boot had a tracking device. For all we know, Titanium could be following us around!” Then Alexis nodded and pulled off her boots. I flipped them over and examined the bottom. A tiny, silver rectangular box was embedded into the heel. I grabbed it and pulled. It came free and I examined that, too. Instead of ‘Titanium’, it said ‘Darlin Koplinn’. Then I looked at her other boot. The same one was in the toe. Then I looked at Jared’s other boot. A triangle, this time. But it still said Titanium. Then I sat down between them and pulled off my sneaker-boots. Naturally, I didn’t find anything. “Wait,” Alexis said as we started off again, “shouldn’t we check our clothes, too? I mean, we only checked our boots! What is Tita-whatever or Ryuu and his brother put something in or on our clothing? We should check.” Jared was the only one who protested; he was gonna take off his clothes in front of two girls! “Fine then,” I said. “Go find somewhere to hide while you do it!” I was already unfastening my jacket. I had it off by the time he left the clearing. “But don’t go too far!” I called after him. He nodded and yelled, “Don’t worry!” We both giggled when he was out of sight. I ripped off my blouse and examined it. Nothing. Thankfully, I slipped it back on. Then I checked my leggings. It looked like Alexis’ examination had gone a bit overboard. She was taking off all her clothing. I wisely hid in the underbrush while she… did her business. Only then did I see the small white fox by my feet. She looked up at me with azure eyes. She also had a blue tint to her ears. Her nose was a white-pink color. She sniffed my sneaker-boots, nose twitching. Her tiny paws had light pink claws that flexed when she dug her foot into the soft moss and dirt. I knelt beside her and she whimpered and backed away. “No, don’t go,” I said gently, extending my left hand. She sniffed my hand, stepped forward tentatively, and licked my palm. I reached forward and touched her back. She flinched but stayed where she was. Then I petted her head and she nuzzled my hand. I picked her up and she snuggled closer. I carried her back to Alexis and I was relieved to find her done with her investigation. Jared was standing next to her, grinning. In each of their hands were four tracking devices, both with Titanium and Darlin Koplinn inscribed on them. I took all eight of the devices and threw them into the stream, where they fizzed and crackled. I nodded and said, “Good work, guys!” They both grinned at me and set about making camp. Night was rolling in and it looked like there was going to be a storm. Jared was the first to finish his tent and he then started looking around with a dim flashlight for berries or something else we could eat. I walked over and helped him search. As he reached out to grab a handful of dark crimson berries, I smacked his hand. “Don’t touch those! They’re poisonous!” Jared grabbed his hand back his eyes widened. “Look!” he said, pulling his sleeves over his hands to protect them while he pushed aside the light grey plant. I immediately saw what he was talking about. A small, sliver stone carving of a fairy lay in the tall grass. I reached forward, and he pulled my hands back. “Snake!” he whispered loudly. He was right. A bunch of poisonous-looking snakes were curled around the fairy carving. I nodded and drew my small, pointed bow. I approached the hoard of snakes, aimed carefully, and shot. The tiny arrow hit the stone carving with a tink, but bounced off. I cursed and now shot at the snake hoard. I hit the biggest, most venomous-looking snake and caused the whole hoard to scatter. “Watch yourself!” I shouted to Jared. When no snakes were left in the little nest, I grabbed the fairy carving and it came away in my hand. “I got it!” I announced to Jared, making my way to his side. Then saw his leg was purple, and swelling. But the worst was yet to come. The snake was still hanging on! And it was the most venomous-looking one! And it had three heads! I reacted on impulse, snatching all three of the heads in my hand, whispering, “sorry!” to Jared, and ripping the snakes away. Jared’s scream was instantaneous and loud. Blood poured from his three-headed snake gash. I threw the snake towards the lake. Then I grabbed my jacket and wrapped it around his leg and lifted it to the low branch of a pine tree, levitating it so the poison would quit spreading. Jared moaned and groaned while I did so. While he did that, I made sure none of the snakes were still around before calling for Alexis. Alexis came dashing, and knelt instantly by Jared’s side. “Oh, no, oh, no, no, no, nonononononononono,” she moaned and went to the river. “WAIT!” I yelled, catching her tunic hem and pulling. Alexis whipped around. “What?” she demanded, eyes searching. But before I could explain the danger, I saw a large, dripping water snake emerge from the pond. I still had her tunic in my hand, so I threw my arm back, tossing her next to Jared. I stood, ready and facing the giant serpent. It hissed but I drew my sword. Time to protect the ones I care about, I thought fleetingly before lunging forward and driving my sword into its side. The creature screamed and batted itself back and forth, trying to dislodge my sword. It dislodged me, but my sword still remained stuck in its scales. Just before I hit the ground, I felt gentle hands catch me and set me down. I caught a glimpse of a teen boy (probably a little older than myself) wearing a mask ascend on the water snake in my place. His white hair fanned out behind him, long and shining. Then I passed out.
My eyes opened for the first time in a lot of hours. I sat up but my back screamed in protest, telling me to lay back down. Then I saw I was sleeping on a mat with sweet-smelling leaves. When I glanced at my back, I saw a thick, green-white paste smeared along the line of my spine. I sniffed it and grimaced. Then I sat back up and swung my feet over to the edge of the mat. When I stepped, though, I realized the mat was on a small rock crevasse, and that I’d just stepped into a small stream, trickling gently over my bare feet. I walked upstream for a few minutes, then turned around and just then saw the camp right above my little alcove. Alexis saw me and started to yell, "So-” but I cut her off by vigorously shaking my head. No, no! I mouthed, slicing my hand across my neck. Alexis looked confused but continued the sentence by saying, “S-soo,” and looking at the stranger. “What have you been following us for? To make sure we are safe, or something else?” He shook his head, silvery-white strands of hair snaking out of his short, cropped ponytail. “Just to make sure you and the… other girl were safe.”
“Her name’s Sophi,” Jared interrupted. His intervene seemed almost… sweet. Then a hilarious thought hit me and I began climbing the side of the rock face. Just as I was about to jump up and roar “boo!” when I heard a twig snap. I leapt up next to them and yelled, “Look out!” Three archers, arrows already nocked, were advancing silently on us. Their cover blown, they released the arrows. They all missed and I took that opportunity to draw my crossbow and nock an arrow into it. The stranger had risen and was standing in front of me, a curved sword at his side. I realized he was trying to shield me, but I moved around him, so I could fight. My fighter instincts were seconds away from taking over. I leaped into their midst and slashed wildly, hitting my target wherever I swung. I could see Alexis, Jared and the stranger, all fighting side by side. It was like they’s all known each other for years. I bit my lip. Maybe they had. When I found a moment, I raced over and joined them. It was now a four-sided circle. Our movements were totally in sync. We were like one. Then Jared got hit by a short, stubby arrow, in his shoulder. He cried out and fell. I leaped over and stood in front of him, fighting off anyone who came near. Alexis and the stranger joined us, all in a circle around Jared. Now I was certain. I knew the stranger. I was moment- arily distracted by that thought. So an enemy had a chance to sink something into my shoulder, except he didn’t; it hit the masked stranger instead. My vision went black and I drew my sword and attacked anyone who even came within twenty feet of my friends. Soon, the clearing was empty except for a small group of friends, huddled into one another. I knelt in between the two boys, praying they’d be alright. The stranger was closer to death than Jared, but still pretty alive. I breathed a sigh of relief. Though they were hurt pretty bad. But I was relieved to know they’d be alright.
“Wait,” the stranger said, when Jared and Alexis were walking around, grabbing my wrist. “I… I want you to know my name. My name… My name is Ryuu Koplinn.” He reached up and took off his mask. Ryuu’s hair had obviously turned silver after some tragic accident; people didn’t have that shade of hair dye. But his face looked the same. I fell back, away from him, shock numbing my brain. Ryuu grimaced. “I’m sorry!” he yelled, looking sincere. Pity crept into my heart, though I forced it back.
“How… how did you know about me?” I forced myself to ask the accusatory question, wincing inwardly at the bitter taste of the words on my tongue. He looked down at the ground, his pale green eyes shining with wetness. “You weren’t as secretive as you thought; I had always known you were there. Watching me.” My eyebrows drew together in understanding; he’d moved on purpose when I shot for him. He’d always known. About me, about my secret treks in the vent, even my listening in on his conversation with his brother. It all made sense. He’d wanted us to go out to the forest, so he could do… whatever it was he was going to be doing. I scrambled backwards, tripped and landed on my back. With lightning reflexes, Ryuu reached out and grabbed my hand before I slid off the little cliff into the stream.
“Let go!” I shrieked, and batted at Ryuu’s hand. I fell backward and yelled. Then I felt a jerk on my arm: Ryuu again. This time, no matter what I did, he wouldn’t let go. Instead, he hauled me back on the
ground, and I sat down, shaking. Ryuu reached forward, to put an arm around my shoulder, I thought, and I shoved it away. “I still haven’t forgiven you, y’know,” I said, glaring him right in the eyes. He looked down and nodded, regret written all over his face. “Why?” I finally asked. “Why did you betray them? I know you did it for your mother and possibly you brother, but why? You had a choice. It was staring you in the face, and you didn’t see it. But even if you couldn’t decide then, decide now; who are you doing this for? Us? Or yourself? Or are you doing it because you feel guilty and want to be forgiven? Let me tell you now: you are right to feel guilty. But we could all forgive you. Talia could. Jared could. They all could. Alexis could, too, if you asked the right way.” Ryuu looked up, eyes gleaming with hope. “You… you really think they’d forgive me? After everything I’ve done?” When I nodded, he asked the question I had dreaded for the past two minutes. “Could you forgive me? Please? I-if I tell you I’ve changed? If I tell you… what I’ve felt this whole time?” My breath caught in my throat. My chest hurt. Then words tumbled out. “Of course I can forgive you, anyone could! Even if you don’t tell me you’ve changed, I’d still forgive you.” He smiled a huge, happy grin, and I realized what he’d meant when he said ‘if I tell you what I’ve felt this whole time’. My shock must have showed on my face, for he nodded and said, “What I’ve felt… toward you, Sophi. I… I… I love you.” That’s when I noticed his arrow wound; it was bleeding like crazy and he winced. I handed him the scarf in my bag, watching the white fabric turning a vibrant red as he pressed it against the gaping wound. I felt tiny, unnoticeable tears welling. Before I could stop them, they streamed down my cheeks, soaking my face. “I’m dying,” he whispered. I leaned forward and hugged him. Just then, Alexis and Jared charged into the clearing. Alexis skidded to a stop. “R-Ryuu!” she cried, eyes wide as a whale’s mouth. Jared slowed but kept going, only stopping to sit next to Ryuu and me, investigating Ryuu’s wound. He shook his head; Ryuu really was dying. I lowered my head and the tears came fresh. I sobbed uncontrollably, my shoulders shaking. Ryuu’s hand came out of nowhere and grasped mine. “Good-bye, Sophi. See you… in the next lifetime. I hope our paths intertwine then, too. I’ll always think of you as nothing less than Sophi, the most revered swordsgirl I’ve ever known. And I’ll love you till the end. Good-bye…” His hand dropped and flopped lifelessly onto my lap. I grabbed it and hugged it close, wishing he was still alive. Alexis sank down on her knees, head in her hands. “We lost him as soon as we got him…” she whispered. Then, barely a whisper, Ryuu’s voice said, “I’m doing this for you all. Including my brother…” I gasped and looked up. His eyes were open and gazing at the sky, but they were misting over. “Ryuu!” I whispered, keeping him awake as long as possible, “we are doing this for you, too. Please, stay awake!” Ryuu shook his head, now gasping for air. Then his head went still. His eyes were fixed on my face, as if I were the last thing he had wanted to see. Me and Alexis and Jared. I stood and picked up Ryuu’s black and red mask and my blood-stained scarf. I looked at the mask and I pictured Ryuu’s face behind it, smiling, grinning, and, finally, laughing. It was a friendly laugh, more like a giggle. But it was still a laugh. One tear fell through a hole in the mask. One fell on the scarf, turning the bright red fabric its natural white. One patch of white in a universe of red.
Ryuu did regenerate (he is now a pretty girl with HUGE plans) and when Sophi died, she regenerated as his soon-to-be BFF. But they haven’t met yet. They will, but that’s a story for another time. I will tell it LATER.
P.S. I’ll be telling it as Ryuu/Anna Metzler for the next one. And Sophi is going to be a guy (Alan Kiplen).
REALLY, THE END.