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With the house settled in for the night each one gradually drifted off to sleep at their own pace.

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Taku had instantly fallen asleep because for him it was not a difficult task. He was used to sleeping and even enjoyed it; spending many hours sleeping throughout the day even during class.

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Sohma had spent a good part of the night reading before closing his book with a solid thud. He laid the book down on the nightstand, his glasses rested on top of it. He said goodnight to Sadoo and Otoha before allowing sleep to overtake him.

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The two long time friends had continued talking well into the middle of the night.

It was unusual for the two of them to stay up so late, after all they were used to getting up early in the a.m. for baseball practice or working out. They did not talk about anything of any particular importance which to both of them said more than actually talking about the tap dancing elephant. They both wanted to talk about Abe. It had been a very long time since the three of them had actually been in the same place together for more than a few minutes.

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Eventually Otoha and Sadoo gave in to the comforts of sleep. Otoha had gone to sleep relatively quickly, but Sadoo laid there with his eyes open, staring at the darkened ceiling for a while. He was worried. It was not something he wore well so he generally tended to keep himself as cool and level-headed as he possibly could.

This night his worries festered so much so that they brought forth nightmarish dreams. The dream was the same, over and over again. He walked into a home calling out for Tationy, but she simply would not answer.

“Tationy where are you?” He hollered as he moved through the house looking for her. “Chochi is going to be upset with you for leaving the door unlocked.” He added as he moved through the kitchen.

There was a tea kettle on the stove, but it had not been started. “You will not believe what that husband of yours did.” He said as he moved toward the dining room. “Come on now this is not funny anymore, why are you hiding from me?” He hollered. He could feel the hair on the back of his neck standing. An eerie chill traveled through the length of his body and rested at his neck and shoulders. He had a bad feeling.

His pace began to hurry as he moved through the house. He checked each room only to find each of them to be empty. When he finally made it to the small den that was where he found her.

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She was wearing nothing but her underwear. A pool of blood upon the floor and a cleaver not to far away. There was no blood on her skin or clothing. She had been cleaned and posed. Whomever did this, wanted her to be found. He stared at her, a knot in his throat which felt so large it was difficult to breathe. In the dream his body lurched forward as he rushed to get to her.

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He was breathing heavy, startled awake by that nightmare that he had been having. His eyes were wide open and he knew that no matter what he was not going back to sleep. His mind could not wrap itself around the dream. He had nightmares before, mostly about screwing up at the critical moment in the big game. He had never had one about someone being killed before.

It had felt so real. He still had chills throughout his body and that image was embedded into his mind so much so that he could not shake it from his thoughts. He had gone to wake up Otoha, but noticed instantly that his bed was empty.

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The image of her laying there posed like a sleeping child flashed in his mind again.

His breathing became ragged as he clutched at his chest after that horrific image of her flashed into his mind. He did not understand this feeling that was overtaking him. Sadoo felt this overwhelming guilt every time he thought of that dream. He felt like he was having a panic attack and he laid his head back on the pillow, closing his eyes, and trying to regain control of his breathing.

Exhaling he opened his eyes and sat up, pulling himself from the bed. Taku and Sohma were also gone which told Sadoo that it was already morning and the others were most likely getting ready for the day. He decided that was the best thing he could do after all they started their community service work today and he did not have the time to worry about a dream.

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The shower which might have been relaxing any other day brought him little comfort. His mind kept wandering to images of her laying there, dead. He surmised that it probably had something to do with his worry over Abe. He and Abe had history and he knew very well what Abe would do to a girl like Tationy.

By the end of the shower he was feeling better. He decided that the dream was a result of his worry over Abe and Tationy and it only made him more determined to keep them apart.

With his shower completed he moved downstairs where he joined the others for breakfast. Mr. Nakamaru informed them that they would be cleaning up the Founder’s Memorial Park this morning and then after they would head to visit a monument.

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They had arrived at the park and Abe conveniently disappeared leaving the rest of the group to do all of the work.

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They spent several hours picking up trash in the park. Otoha and Sadoo stuck relatively close to one another so they could talk. “So that was what I dreamed about.” He said after having told Otoha all about the nightmare that he had the night before. “Every time I think about the dream I can feel the stress just embedding itself into my body.”

Otoha had stopped what he was doing to look at his old friend and made an unreadable face. He knew this was conjuring up stuff for Sadoo, but there was not much he could do about it until Sadoo let go of the anger he had toward Abe. “I just do not get this entire situation.” Sadoo said with a sigh, “I completely want to protect her from Abe. I know what he does, it makes sense that I would want too and yet…” His shoulders balled forward as he hung his head low, “I feel so guilty when I look at her. I do not know why.”

“I cannot honestly think Abe would be good for her. There is no way he is going to change.” He argued. Otoha inwardly chuckled as his friend began to ramble. He knew it was not a laughing matter, his friend was very stressed over the situation, but he also knew it was all part of the process. Sadoo had to figure it out on his own. Otoha certainly could point out what Sadoo was not seeing for himself, but in the end that would not help him; some realizations had to be found on their own.

“I will talk with her.” Sadoo finally said. “I will tell her to stay away from Abe.” He had found his resolve though Otoha could only speculate what would happen next. He did not believe it was the right course of action, but this was certainly something that Sadoo felt he had to do. What happened next, Otoha could only guess.

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With the park cleaned up the group headed toward a monument not to far away from the Founder’s Memorial Park. A small pond surrounded a large group of rocks and a very tranquil quality uplifted the entire group. Sadoo felt all of the stress that had overtaken him since the nightmare the night before wash away.

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“The residents of Sobatole call this park Malicho. It means, Warriors Resting Place.” Mr. Nakamaru explained. “This is a very important place in the history of our country. Many battles were won by our ancestors here and many warriors lost their lives. The area centuries ago was much harder to navigate so many of the bodies are still buried deep within the ground.”

“Century old tales tell of how many armies stood face-to-face upon this spot and threw down their weapons. It has a very overwhelming tranquility about it so many warriors through the centuries have used this spot to train and meditate.”

“If we follow the history in Jee Ishi’s Book regarding the Exiled Prince this area was where the general, one of the princes guardians, would make his last stand. In Ishi’s version the injured warrior was cornered and told to surrender. He refused which was taken as an act of hostility against the army and was killed.” He explained.

“In the fairy tale the place is never given a name though the general chose to stay behind to allow his prince to escape.” Mr. Nakamaru explained as he began to tell the tale of the general.

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“The advancing soldiers sent by the Adviser Jin had been gaining on them at a pace they had not anticipated. The only hope of escaping was for one of them to stay behind and to hold off the soldiers for as long as he could. The general volunteered.”

“The prince tried desperately to convince the general not to stay behind. His sword had already been drawn and he looked out as far as his eyes would allow him to see, waiting for the approaching soldiers. It was his way of telling his prince that there was no point in trying to convince him not to do this.”

“His resolve was firm.”

“The prince had turned and looked to the distance before speaking to his general. He told him simply that he was honored to have known him and that he would always be his general in this life and in the next one.”

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“The others had turned their backs and headed up the path stopping short as they waited for the prince to join them. The prince’s barbarian looked toward the prince and the general whom they soon would be leaving behind. With a simple gesture of his hand he told them that it was time that they needed to leave.”

“The greatest swordsmen of the group stood back, though kept his eyes focused on the general and the prince. He had offered to stay. The sound argument of the great swordsmen was that he was more capable of taking on multiply foes. In the end the resolve of the general won out.”

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“The prince did not say goodbye simply moved toward where the others were waiting. He passed his assassin along the way. He was simply standing there facing the general. It was a silent exchange between them. The chances of survival were slim so they were both well-aware of the outcome.”

“The general said nothing as he stared at the assassin who simply bowed his head before departing with the others.”

“The rain was falling gently. It added to the already dangerous terrain after all the area was covered in sharp, smooth rocks and moss. For most warriors it would be a difficult place to battle because it was on a steep slope with a deep crevice on either side. Once you were at the top of the slope the only way you could go was further up or back-down the way you came. Surrounded by water, trees, boulders, the general knew that most warriors of average skill would have a difficult time navigating this area. It gave him, an expert warrior, the advantage. Despite that it was peaceful. The general kept his attention sharp because he knew at any moment the enemy could arrive.”

“The general had considered how many men might be sent up the slope first. Worst case scenario was that all of them would come at him at once. He prayed that was not the case because against them all his chance of prolonging the battle was lessened. He needed to make sure that he dragged this out for as long as he could. The soldiers pursuing the prince and the guardians had arrived and there was a glimmer of hope when a figure began to move up the slope toward him.”

“The closer the soldier got the better the general could see him. When they finally came face-to-face the general found that this was far worse than the worst possible scenario.”

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“The man before him had white hair with one visable yellow eye. His left eye was covered by a patch and he bore a scar on his cheek. The man with the eye-patch was not just some soldier. He was a member of the Ishi Clan and one of the elite guardians for the Emperor. He had a devil’s grin and a smugness that lingered around him, but none of that mattered because it was the evil inside his heart that caused a chill to travel up the generals spine.”

“He had once seen this man cut down a group of orphans in a village they had seized during the war. He was heartless, merciless, and delighted in massacring innocent people. He was not a warrior he was a coldblooded killer.”

“They stood staring at each other for a long time before that devil of a man smiled and spoke, I can hear your heart pounding. Are you afraid?

“The general did not dignify that with an answer. Any true warrior knew that fear was necessary. If you could not fear, then you could not appreciate. The man that stood before the general had no fear in his eyes only the lust to kill; he truly was a demon of the Ishi Clan.”

“The general did not know if his skill could match that of the man before him. He was strong, he knew that from the few times that the Emperors men assisted the army squadron he led. He had to hope that he could hold off this demon long enough for the prince and his guardians to put some distance between them.”

“They stared at each other for hours. Neither making a move. One might call it gaging each other, but the truth was the Ishi Clansman was trying to make the general lose his composure. The general was well know for his emotional control. It was extremely difficult to manipulate him into reacting rashly. Only one man had ever managed to cause the general to lose his cool that man was the greatest swordsmen he had ever met.”

“He smiled which caused the Ishi Clansman to cock his head to the side in curious wonderment. I should have allowed him to stay, but my resolve was firm and strong.

“The Ishi Clansman smirked at the generals words he looked forward to crossing swords with this man that the general spoke of. First though he had to deal with the man before him. The order was given to show them no mercy. They were to be killed and their bodies were to be left. All of them except for the prince. His body was to be brought back to the New Aslann Empire.”

“Neither of them made a move until dawn came. Perhaps the Ishi Clansman lost his patience or perhaps the general was provoked. In the fairy tale it never says it only states that when dawn arrived the battle began.”

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“Ultimately, like every great sword battle it would be decided with one move.”

“The general was fatigued and had taken several shallow slices to his back and arms due to the sword of the Ishi Clansman. He never allowed that to hinder him as he raised his sword above his head to make one final strike. He knew that the man before him would rush him and if his timing was wrong he would be dead.”

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“As his knees buckled he realized that he never stood a chance. He had thought for certain he had him as he brought his sword down, but the Ishi Clansman had maneuvered in an unexpected way, switching hands in mid-stride with his sword, slicing across the generals shoulder before switching hands again and plunging his sword deep within his stomach.”

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“The prince had convinced his men to wait one hour for his general to arrive. The assassin stood out front of the group waiting intently for the man that had been his rival and friend. It was silent as everyone waited expectantly though they all knew that he would never be coming back.”

“The prince’s greatest swordsmen must have felt the tension in the air around the prince’s assassin because he began to try to convince him that it was a bad idea to go after the general. Of course the assassin could not respond with words, but his actions told them that there was nothing more to say, when he walked off and left his prince and the others behind.”

“It was a day later by the time he made it back to where the general had made his last stand. He fell to his knees near the body of his friend and he wept as he reached out and shut the eyes of the general.” Mr. Nakamaru finished the tale of the general and grew silent for a moment. “According to various accounts the generals body was buried not to far away from here.”

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“It is really peaceful here. One would think with so much bloodshed upon this area that it would imminent something more sinister.” Tationy spoke. She was looking out over the area much as the prince and general in the story had. “What happened to the princes assassin?”

“That is a story for another day.” Mr. Nakamaru remarked. They were disappointed that he did not tell them more, but understood that Mr. Nakamaru told the story at his own pace.

The group traveled back to Mr. Nakamaru’s house and he allowed them to have the rest of the day to do as they wished. He pulled Abe into a private room to talk with him about what everyone figured was him skipping out on community service.

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Sadoo found the treadmill and decided that he would workout for a bit. Normally he would have done it early in the morning, but because of the community service and the nightmares he did not have the time. He had been running for about 30 minutes on the treadmill before finally stopping.

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He rotated his neck as he stepped off of the treadmill and caught sight of someone outside the sliding glass door. His good mood had gone sour as he noticed Abe fallowing Tationy into the house. He opened the sliding glass door and grabbed onto Abe’s shoulder. Abe whipped around to see who had grabbed him and came face-to-face with Sadoo.

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Neither said anything until Tationy was safely inside the house and out of earshot. “What the hell do you think you are doing Abe? I am not going to let you hurt her.”

“Get off my back Sadoo. You have no idea what is going on.”

“I don’t? You play games with people it is what you do. She just happens to be the only girl here so you think you can do whatever you want and I am not going to let you.”

“Is this about Tsubaki?” He asked and then continued, “She came after me. I cannot help it your girl did not want you.”

“You are a real piece of work.” Sadoo poked Abe in the shoulder, “You do not care about anyone, but yourself.”

“You don’t know anything about me.”

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“I don’t? Look who you are talking to Abe. You hurt Tsubaki and then you abandoned our team. I know exactly what type of guy you are. This is your only warning, stay away from Tationy.” He remarked as he walked off in a huff.

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He would shower, change, and eventually find himself in the kitchen taking a seat on one of the stools at the small bar. He was frustrated with himself for losing his cool.

“Are you alright?”

Sadoo had been resting his head on the bar counter when her voice broke his thoughts. His head lifted and his eyes focused in on her. He could not answer her at first, but then finally spoke, “Not really.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” She asked.

He considered her words. “Thank you, but no.”

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She took a seat at the bar at the opposite end. She said nothing simply sitting there in silence with him. She was well-aware that he did not want to talk about it, but she hoped by her sitting there that he might not feel so alone.

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The silence lingered around them and Sadoo’s thoughts traveled back to the past. They had been on the baseball team together. Sadoo was the ace pitcher, Otoha held the position of catcher, and Abe was the best player they had.

Abe played center field. That was not what made him the best player though. He was a switch-hitter, capable of batting left and right handed. When he batted with his right he could send line drives to any place on the field without even trying. If he needed to get on first he could look for the weakest point and pull at just the right angle to make sure the ball went that way. If he batted left he could send the ball out of the ball park every single time.

Abe batted fourth which was the cleanup position. He was capable of doing whatever the coach needed him too whether it be a well placed bunt or bringing in the runs if the bases were loaded. There was not a pitch he could not hit.

Despite the three of them always being together, Sadoo would hardly call himself friends with Abe. They spent hours practicing together and working out. Otoha and Sadoo would often take their positions without any gear on and play the game mentally for hours. Abe would join them sometimes by simply standing in the batter’s box. When it actually came time to practice with their gear on, sometimes Abe would bat for them.

Eventually things changed. The new school year had started and the coach decided that it was necessary to pick a new captain and vice-captain. The previous holders had graduated leaving the spots vacant. Abe had thought for certain that he would be made the captain after all he was the best player on the team. Much to Abe’s surprise Sadoo was given the spot as captain and Otoha became his vice-captain. After that, things changed.

Abe hardly talked to them anymore. It got to the point that any time Abe would step into the batter’s box he would hit off of one of Sadoo’s pitches sending it straight toward Sadoo. The first time Sadoo brushed it off as nothing, but then it continued to happen until one day he ducked to slowly and got clipped in the shoulder.

Sadoo was lying down on the ground in pain. His teammates had rushed toward him to assist him. Abe just stood in the batter’s box, staring toward were Sadoo was on the ground. Sadoo had caught sight of the look in Abe’s eyes and knew that he had done it on purpose.

Sadoo ended up at the hospital and did not practice for a week before coming back to the team. By the time he did the moral of the team was at its lowest and Abe was at the center of it. He had begun to mock many of the players. Sadoo did his best to contain the situation and even put on a smiling face to show that nothing was wrong between him and Abe.

The situation only escalated when Sadoo caught his girlfriend Tsubaki pinned up against a wall with Abe’s tongue down her throat. Tsubaki had accused Abe of forcing her to kiss him which Abe denied. Sadoo had defended his girl and went after Abe, but was stopped by the delinquent Chochi Waichia. After that, Tsubaki kept insisting that Sadoo get Abe kicked off the team.

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Sadoo was happiest when he was at the pitcher’s mound. No cares in the world other than making sure his team succeeded. The moral of the team was still at its lowest point and he knew that he had to do something about it, but he was conflicted on whether or not removing Abe was the right thing to do. It was not that he did not believe his girlfriend, he did, but the look on Abe’s face at that moment was one that Sadoo had not recognized. It plagued him.

Otoha and Sadoo were only suppose to be playing catch because they had a game the next day. The coach did not want him to injure his arm before he was able to pitch, but every time he thought of Abe he would send a high-speed pitch at Otoha. He was lucky that Otoha was able to catch one of Sadoo’s pitches with and without a glove. Most people would easily injure themselves.

“You should talk to him.” Otoha told Sadoo after the fifteenth high-speed pitch landed in his glove. This one stung and as he took his glove off he could see the redness deepening from having caught numerous pitches like similar to that day.

Sadoo bowed his head, he already knew he needed too, but every time he thought of it he got angrier. “I will.”

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Sadoo had only planned on confronting Abe about the moral of the team. The other stuff was just between the two of them so he waited until after practice was over at 6 p.m. and found Abe on the field. Sadoo lost his cool the moment he had seen him and under the illumination of twilight everything had poured out. He accused Abe of trying to injure him and messing around with his girlfriend. Abe never defended himself. He just gave Sadoo a pissed off look as Sadoo continued to attack him verbally.

Otoha thought the situation was going to come to blows so he placed his hand on Sadoo’s shoulder trying to calm him down. Sadoo continued attacking Abe with his words and when he finally finished speaking he asked Abe if he had anything to say for himself.

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Abe responded, “Yeah, I quit. See how far you losers get without me.” He voiced as he began to walk away.

Otoha repeatedly told Sadoo to calm down as he held him back from going after Abe. He assured him that this was nothing and that Abe would be back the next day for the game. Unfortunately for the team that did not happen. Abe had meant his words and walked away completely.

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His thoughts were interrupted when he realized there were voices talking not to far away from him. Sadoo had been so lost in his own thoughts that he had completely blocked out the outside world only to realize much to late that Abe had joined him and Tationy at the bar.

“Where exactly were you during the community service?” Tationy asked Abe.

Abe rubbed the back of his neck and shrugged, “I forgot to leave my I-pod in the car and went back to drop it off. This weird guy came out of no where. Think he was drunk or crazy. I don’t know.”

“Pfft.”

Tationy and Abe turned to look at Sadoo when the disbelief sound left his mouth. “I don’t expect you to believe me Sadoo. You never do.”

“You give no one any reason to trust you.” Sadoo retorted.

Their voices were raising significantly and Tationy sighed. She finally got a chance to talk to Abe and it turns into a verbal free-for-all with Sadoo. Neither boy even realized she was still there. Sighing to herself she stood up and disappeared from the room leaving Abe and Sadoo alone to argue.

To Be Continued

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