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Their future was now their past. For some, like Chochi, it was just a means to an end. Even if they did not remember, it was inevitable that they would end up back in time during a period of war, clans, and hatred.

3

“Chochi.” His father’s words broke his thoughts, but he made no outward movement to acknowledge his presence. His father sighed as he crossed his arms over his chest. “I know this year has been difficult. I miss her too, but you must move past this.” His words were met with silence as Chochi continued to sit at the table, lost in his own thoughts. “I miss your mother too, Chochi…”

“Mister Waichia…Chochi….” A voice called out interrupting the conversation between father and son.

“Taku we are in the dining room.” Mister Waichia answered back.

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“You would not believe the weather. The storm clouds rolled in so quickly.” Taku spoke as he looked between the two. He did not have to be a mind reader to know that he interrupted something.

“I want you both to be careful on your way to school. Taku, please make certain Chochi does not get detention his first day and both of you, no cutting class.”

“Yes, Mister Waichia.” Taku voiced.

“I will be in meetings today to work out the final preparations for Fridays mass. Taku, I hope to see you and your family there.”

“Of course, Mister Waichia.”

Ryozo Waichia looked at his son once more, containing his frown. There were things he wanted to say, but Chochi had never been receptive to advice of any kind. Chochi had told him many times that his father would not be able to handle hearing his confession a fact that disturbed Ryozo. Deep within him he could tell there was trouble lurking within his son’s heart. His voice gave away that the words that were about to come, were certainly not what he wanted to say. “Make sure you both grab an umbrella before you leave the house. Have a good first day.”

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Taku brought his hand to his chest, giving a slight bow. “Thank you Mister Waichia. Please, have a good day as well.”

Ryozo shook his head as he turned on his heels, mumbling something under his breath. “You know he thinks you’re crazy and he hates it when you do that.”

“It feels awkward not to when I look at him.”

“He is not my father.”

“So you keep saying, but he certainly looks more like him than any other incarnate. His name is even the same. I am unable to see him as anything other than Lord Waichia.”

“Lord indeed. He is nothing more than a religious nut that thinks there is a God willing to bring salvation to this pathetic world.”

“I think he is right to be worried about you.” Taku finally spoke after a long moment of silence. He moved to glance out the window a moment before turning to look at his oldest friend. “It’s a new year, Chochi. Our last year in high school….”

“So? How many times have we done this, Taku? Don’t you tire of it?”

Taku was worried about Chochi, but unwilling to say the words. “It does not concern me the way it does you.”

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“Oh?” Chochi uttered as he looked up at his oldest friend.

Shaking his head Taku asked, “Trying to take my words as a challenge?”

“Weren’t they?”

“Not this time.” Taku responded, “We should get going or we are going to be late.”

Chochi stood, stretching his limbs, “Why are you in such a hurry?”

“I want to take the long way.” Taku said with a shrug as Chochi eyed him suspiciously.

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The two friends walked with the rain pouring down around them. They had not bothered with umbrella’s even though Ryozo had made a point to remind them. Neither of them seemed to pay it any attention. The sky darkened with each moment and loud cracks of thunder could be heard off in the distance, yet to them, this was just another day. They walked nine blocks in the wrong direction from where they were supposed to be heading. They talked about nothing in particular as they moved onto Arlengo Boulevard and Taku said, “Look to your left.”

With each step, they casually walked. It was obvious to any that these two young men cared little about what was expected of them. Chochi heard familiar voices long before he turned his head in the direction that Taku had indicated.

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“Ugh.” The one he recognized as Mai said as they continued to walk by. “Stare at someone else you freaks. So disgusting, I cannot believe he is my cousin.” She wrinkled her nose when neither boy turned their attention away from the three girls standing near the entryway of an apartment.

Pai Pai rolled her eyes as she adjusted her glasses. “Freaks of nature.”

Mai laughed and brought her hand up giving the two of them a single finger salute. The redhead leaning against the building did not even acknowledge them. While Mai and Pai Pai thought for certain that the two young men where looking at them, their eyes were only on the redhead.

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“That’s right, keep walking you fucking freaks.” Mai called out as Pai Pai chuckled.

“Mai, was that really necessary?” The boys heard the soft voice of the redhead ask as they continued walking. They were unable to hear Mai’s response, having gotten to far away from the ‘ugly’ girls.

At first neither boy said anything until Taku finally broke the silence. “Her name is Tationy.” Taku was certain that no response would come even though he had hoped that Chochi might have something to say regarding the redhead. He walked side by side with his old friend, heading toward the school. If it were not for the thunder and the rain pouring to the ground, the silence might have been to much for even Taku. Taku knew that Chochi needed to process the information he recently received, though it concerned him that it was taking him so long to do so.

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Their first day back at school went as well as it usually went. “I figured I would find you here. Thinking about joining the jocks?” Taku questioned his old friend Chochi as he stood there watching Sadoo, Abe, and Otoha on the practice field behind the school. Taku turned to look at them briefly before looking back to his friend while leaning himself against the fence arms behind the back of his head, “They sure are dedicated. The rain has not let up yet they are still out on the field. They are still the same.”

“Some things never change.” Chochi finally responded.

“You are concerned about Abe?”

“He is problematic.”

“You are considering killing him.” Taku remarked as Chochi finally turned to stare at him. Silence all about them. It was not a test of will to see who would speak first because Taku was well-aware that Chochi would speak if he wished too, there was no forcing him.

“Abe has never been controllable. His arrogance, his sense of entitlement, have gotten us into more than one situation through the years. He has taken it upon himself too many times to protect the prince on his own and it has resulted in death.”

“He is not the only one.” Taku pointed out.

“Ohh.” Chochi smiled and chuckled under his breath at the challenge tossed down by Taku.

Taku was certain he would not accept the challenge so he spoke quickly, “About Tationy….The prince”

“Again with the prince, you and Atsuki are getting tiresome.”

“This one is the real deal.”

“So were the last ten.”

“Chochi, we saw this one with our own eyes. When I first laid my eyes upon her it was as though the world had stopped moving.”

“Sounds like you’re in love.”

“You know me better then that, I don’t dabble in such pursuits.”

“Ahh, so why all of a sudden is your world not moving.”

“You can joke, but this one she is the real thing. Unlike the rest of you, I have not had the pleasure of seeing the prince in nearly 200 years.” Chochi looked toward his friend briefly, “I have no doubts and neither does Atsuki.”

“Well that settles it then.” Chochi remarked. Taku knew the tone well enough to know that Chochi was not at all convinced that the redhead he had showed Chochi was in fact the prince.

“The stars are aligning in a favorable position this time. We are all in one place.”

“It is not enough to be together, we need to all remember.”

“True, but we are strongest when we are together. We won’t be divided this time, not like that time.”

“There were circumstances that time. Atsuki did what he felt was best.”

“Always the devoted second in command.”

“Taku, I know how you feel about Atsuki’s leadership since our deaths, but you have always trusted me. I will not lead us astray.”

“You are right.” Taku said as he pushed away from the fence and moved to walk way. “Atsuki is monitoring detention today, he will talk with us there.” Chochi watched as his oldest friend began to walk away, but stopped suddenly. “Chochi, don’t follow every order that Atsuki gives blindly after all you are more than capable of leading us.”

Chochi frowned, “That cheeky bastard.” He said with a sigh. Taku was always doing that. He sometimes wondered if he was trying to start a revolt against Atsuki’s leadership with comments like those. Chochi was too strong to be moved by such words. He was probably the most devoted of all the guardians. He gave one passing look toward the jocks before departing toward the school building.

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As he moved toward detention he stopped at the Martial Arts Club Room to check on Sohma. Sohma, along with Abe, Sadoo, and Otoha had yet to develop their memories. He stood there watching through the window as Sohma moved through his fighting style. They had been fortunate in the beginning, five of them had been together in the same place; Sadoo, Otoha, Abe, Taku, and Chochi. Eventually Atsuki arrived and not long after that Sohma. Chochi considered that Taku might be right in regard to the stars being aligned this time though that certainly did not mean they would be favorable.

5

Atsuki and Taku were already waiting for Chochi as he entered into detention, tossing his jacket toward a table, and leaning himself against the wall. “I want the two of you to keep an eye on her. Don’t let her out of your sight for even a moment. We cannot risk the Ishi Clan getting their hands on her.”

Chochi listened to the words of the guardian leader, but there was something hidden behind them. He could tell he was concerned even though he did not verbally say it. “This girl, is there any sign of her remembering?”

“No.”

“Not to be the voice of reason, but the two of you are jumping the gun without proof that she is the prince.” Chochi stated.

“I have never known you to be a doubting Thomas, Chochi.” Atsuki remarked.

“We have walked this path a lot lately, I just think we should be a bit more cautious this time.”

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Atsuki thoughtfully considered the words of the once brutal warrior. “I understand your concern, Chochi.” He spoke, “Taku will keep an eye on her for now. I want you to watch the others. See if any of them engage her in any fashion or see if they suddenly become interested in her. Will that satisfy your doubts?”

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“If the others make any outward movement or acknowledgment toward her, it would indeed satisfy me.”

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“It would be better for two of us to be monitoring her.” Taku finally spoke.

“I have never known you to doubt your abilities.” Chochi commented. “You are worried.”

“The fact that all of us are here in the same place and there are so many people from our timeline who have also been reborn in this particular time, does concern me greatly. Our siblings, parents, friends, clansmen, enemies have been reborn or have descendants in this time and area, I do not believe that is coincidence.”

“Even if it was you would not believe it.” Chochi stated.

“Your concern is warranted.” Atsuki responded. “However, we will not have a better opportunity then, we do this incarnation. We have all come together in the same place and this might be our best opportunity to move forward and return to our own timeline.”

“Our only concern right now should be protecting the prince, if this girl is the prince.” Chochi stated.

“It is her, I have no doubts.” Taku remarked, ending the conversation on those words. For each of them there was nothing more to say. They all knew what they were to do. They were not wet behind the ears, they had walked this path a time or two.

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The months that followed, Chochi had noticed nothing that stood out at least not initially. “What do you think you’re doing Abe?”

“Nothing really.” Abe said as he placed his hand against the wall near Tsubaki’s head. She leaned against the wall in an uncomfortable position. “Are you scared?” He asked her.

“No.” She lied. “Sadoo is not going to like this.”

“Like I give a flying fuck what he likes and don’t like.” He remarked. Chochi had been about to round the corner when he happened upon the situation. He stood silently, out of sight.

“Abe, whatever it is you want you are not going to get.” She told him.

“Really?” He said as he stood there staring at her. He could tell she wanted him and that her words were lies. “You have been pretending to watch Sadoo practice for as far back as I can remember. We both know the real reason you are here.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, you got nothing I want.” She told him.

“I bet…” He said as he leaned closer to her, “That I could do things to you that Sadoo does not even know exist.”

“I doubt that highly.” She protested and he smiled knowingly having noticed the way she licked her lips at his comment.

“Should we find out?” He asked.

“You lay a hand on me I will scream.”

“Scream all you want.” He told her as he leaned in and devoured her mouth. Chochi frowned deeply at this development. It was not the first time Abe had gone after another man’s woman, he had a bad habit of feeling entitled to everything and that included any woman he wanted. He had demolished more than one relationship to take what he wanted.

“What the hell do you think you are doing?” Sadoo’s voice range out and broke Chochi of his thoughts.

“He forced me.” Tsubaki had said, though Chochi was well-aware she had been more than a willing participant once Abe had kissed her.

“She is lying.” Abe stated.

“From what I just seen it looks like you had your tongue down my girlfriends throat.” Sadoo commented as Otoha stood back and watched. He knew he should interject himself, but he told himself it was for the best if he did not.

“Your girlfriend is a slut who spreads her legs for anyone with money and popularity. That is the only reason she is your girlfriend.”

“You son of a bitch.” Sadoo shouted as he pushed Abe.

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The two positioned themselves to come to fisticuffs. They exchanged heated words and at first Tsubaki stood back smiling at the development. Otoha knew it was going to come to blows and was about to move to intervene in the situation when a movement caught his eyes as Tsubaki jumped in surprise and the delinquent Chochi was positioned between Abe and Sadoo. He had stopped both hits with just the position of his body and his hands.

Shock crossed the face of Sadoo as he backed away from Chochi and spoke, “Let’s get out of here.”

Chochi could hear them walking away and the soft apologizes of Tsubaki as Abe tried to push past him so that he might go after them. “Get the fuck out of my way.”

“What were you thinking?” Chochi asked and Abe’s body froze. He had never heard the voice of Chochi before. It was serious yet commanding and powerful.

“You don’t understand, get the fuck out of my way.”

“I can’t do that until you calm down.” Chochi remarked as his hand moved to Abe’s shoulder halting him from moving.

Abe jerked his shoulder and tried to move by once more. “Get out of my way.”

“No.”

“What are you enjoying this or something you sick fuck. Get out of my way or I am going to kill you.”

“Like you could.” Chochi remarked.

Abe was getting angrier as the situation continued. He already did not like this guy and each time he moved to get by Chochi he was halted by a quick positioning of the delinquent’s body and his hand upon Abe’s shoulder. “Get out of my way, I can’t let this end this way. I have to keep that commoner from hurting her.” Abe yelled.

“Her….” Chochi said as Abe’s body relaxed. It hit Abe much to late what he had said and he wondered why he would. “Her who?” Chochi questioned as he moved back from Abe, giving him enough space to let him know he would no longer stand in his way as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Is Tsubaki trying to hurt someone you care about?”

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Abe poked Chochi in the chest, a challenge by most anyone. Chochi ignored it as he listened to Abe’s words, “Its none of your business.”

“I am making it my business. Now you can tell me the easy way or I will take you to the ground and make you tell me the hard way.”

“You are a piece of work.” Abe stated.

“Answer me.”

“It is no one. Just some stupid girl.”

“Stupid girl?”

“Tsubaki and her harpies are pissed off at her because she had the nerve to smile and return a greeting. Tsubaki and her gang of vipers decided that they were going to put her in her place.”

“So you decided to do what exactly?”

“Show her what it is like to have her life destroyed.”

“How did that work for you?”

“Are you giving me attitude?” Abe argued.

“You just pissed off your friend.”

“I don’t have any friends.”

“Was this girl worth it?”

Abe stared blankly at Chochi as he tried to gauge what he might be thinking. “She is just some stupid girl that does not know her place. I cannot have her disrupting the balance of my social status.”

“Looks like you did it for her. Pretty valiant of you to make yourself an enemy of your group just to get their attention off of her.”

“You don’t know what your talking about.”

“You are probably right, after all why would the most popular guy in school make himself an outcast amongst his peers. I must be misunderstanding.” Chochi said as he turned on his heels and walked away leaving Abe alone with his thoughts.

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For Chochi, the coming months only added trouble to his wary mind. Abe’s behavior had gotten more erratic. His friendships with Otoha and Sadoo had been severed, severely and he had abandoned the baseball team. Chochi had told himself it had nothing to do with this girl named Tationy. Until one day he found himself staring down at her after she had run into him.

There was no recognition in her eye’s only fear for the reputation that he held at Aslann High School. Silently he watched her, taking in every little detail and memorizing it. She only sat there on the floor looking up at him. He could hear her heart pounding, the fear lingering around her, as she wobbled to her feet. “I’m sorry.” She managed to whisper before taking off in a run down the hallway.

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Chochi sighed inwardly as he allowed the dark thoughts of the past to fade away. He wished it was something as simple as not wishing to remember, but the light of the day shining through the windows and the arrival of his brother did not help his troubled mind. Casually he looked over his shoulder at Maito, “I thought that was not who you were anymore?”

“Consider it a gift, big brother.”

“I don’t need any gifts, just be who you are.”

“Last night you were, why do you look like that? Now you want me to go back, there is just no making you happy as usual.”

Chochi sighed as he turned to face his brother, “I will be leaving.”

Maito shrugged, “I am not surprised. You are going off to find the prince are you not?”

“What if I am?”

“This is not your world anymore, big brother. It may not seem like it, but things are different.”

“I know that.”

“There is a big difference between knowing something like that and seeing it with your own eyes. I will go with you.”

“That is not necessary.”

“You are worried about my safety or are you worried about what I will say to your prince?” He questioned, but brought his hand up to halt Chochi from responding, “There is a war coming. We Waichia know that better then anyone. We can sense the turmoil within the vessels of this world. The plots that thicken each day, the secret alliances made, I plan on being on the winning side.”

“What makes you think I am the winning side?”

Maito avoided the question, “You should get dressed. I figured father’s old clothing might remind you about whom you really are.”

Chochi had gone to speak to his brother once more, but Maito had disappeared down the stairs. He was glad to see his brother dressed like Maito of the Waichia and not some woman. Deep down he knew he needed to deal with his clan, but his priority was the prince. The troubled thoughts lingered and he sighed deeply as he moved to dress.

He gave himself a once over in a shambled mirror, he looked like his father. Scowling more he turned away from the mirror. His father was not someone he wanted to think about. His life had been forfeit long ago when he refused to abide by the laws of the Waichia Clan. A strong man that refused to recognize the division and the leadership as anything more than what it was, a means to control the ones they deemed ‘lesser’.

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Maito watched his older brother as he descended the stairs of the small shack he called home. For Maito, the return of the wayward son of the Waichia was both a blessing and a curse. Chochi’s resemblance to their father seemed even more prominent in this form then it had ever been before. Certainly those of the Waichia would not be unable to look upon him without remembering a different time, with mixed feelings.

They silently stepped outside of the home, passing through the gate toward the road. Chochi turned to his brother, “Will you?”

“Are you asking me to look for your prince?” Maito asked rhetorically as he glanced at Chochi for a moment before turning his attention forward, closing his eyes and clasping his hands in Bogmata, an esoteric hand seal of the Waichia clan. With his eyes closed he took a breath in, holding it for a moment as the images of the world around them assaulted him.

“It is unusual to get so many minds that are open, but your prince is not one of them. There is one though, a guardian of the prince.”

Chochi frowned, he has never known his brother to not be able to find someone if he tried. It concerned him that Tationy’s mind was closed off to the Waichia. Even as a member of the Tylo clan she should still be able to be located, which told him that someone was shielding her. The question was who and why? “The guardian, which one?”

“He is arrogant, powerful, yet not as he appears.”

“You are talking about Abe.”

“If this is the name he goes by now, then yes, but this one does not acknowledge that name. When my mind touched his, he was Shu of the Sosa.”

Chochi looked to the ground for a moment, “That is not possible, Abe has no memory of whom he was.”

“You are mistaken big brother. This one has secrets buried so deep that an eternity of delving will never reveal them all. Perhaps he is called Abe and maybe he even does not remember, but it is lurking there just below the surface like the great sea dragon. A predator that is capable of striking from any vantage. The one called Shu is there and far more dangerous than he ever was.”

“Where is he?”

“He is amongst the Ruthlbahdo squadron led by Commander Kari.”

“Seems unlikely he would go there of his choosing.” Chochi said to himself. Maito watched his brother as he contemplated the situation at hand.

“This one, the one you call Abe, concerns you.”

“You remember Shu.”

“My encounters with him were limited, but we Waichia have always know him to be dangerous and formidable. You however, you see something else. What have your eye’s witnessed.”

“He is dangerous.”

“That will not stop you from seeking him out.”

“I have too. It is better for me to keep an eye on him than for him to be allowed to run wild.”

“The prince, there is a chance your prince is dead.”

“Prince Tatsuya will not die so easily.”

“You have such confidence, but I was unable….”

“Maito.” Chochi spoke sternly, “Speak ill of my prince again in any manner and I will forget you are my brother.”

Maito bowed his head ever so slightly, “I will seek out a friend who might be able to better assist me in locating your prince.”

“Torgore Ishi?” Chochi asked, which halted his brother’s departure.

“The Ishi are not as they appear. I would wager they are far more trusting than those you have aligned yourself with.”

“What are you saying?”

“I am saying, it was not the Ishi that caused your death. They where simply the tool used.” Before Chochi could stop his brother to question the cryptic remark he was gone.

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He walked the beaten path that led through the poorest district of all of Aslann. Chochi hated the thought of his brother living in such squalor. He was a Waichia, one of a few clans that still remained within the great nations that were descended from nobility. He sighed inwardly as he stopped moving looking toward the sky. Everything seemed illuminated by bright orange and yellows, which told him that twilight would soon be approaching.

He sensed the presence of another though reacted much slower than he should have. As he twisted his body, bringing his leg up to connect with a kick to the individual who had been stalking about unseen. He felt the shooting pain rock through his kneecap and travel the length of his leg and realized much to late that the person that had been following him was Taku.

Chochi tried to position himself in a standing position though it was difficult. He wanted to nurse his knee, which had connected to the fist of Taku which could only be described as hitting a brick wall at high speeds.

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He was certain that his kneecap was fractured at the very least. He opened his mouth to speak the words of question that were racing desperately through his mind. It gave him little time to react, something he was not accustomed too, for Taku had moved far to quickly and planted him onto the ground by force. His body ached, his head pounded and he could feel the bruising traveling over every portion of his body. Every moment he had the chance to ask why, his body felt Taku’s fist.

Such an area was so desolate as the poorest folks of the Aslann Empire worked in the seediest districts or near the docks to make their meager earnings. Those that did happen upon the scene, quickly turned and walked in the other direction not wishing to be a party to anything that might bring them trouble by the law of Aslann.

Chochi took a beating so severely from his friend that by the time Taku stepped away from him, he could hardly stand on his own accord.

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“Why did you not draw your sword?” Taku finally asked.

Chochi stumbled slightly as he looked toward his friend. “Why?” He managed to ask before spitting on the ground, blood trickling from his mouth.

“Draw it.” Taku demanded in a cold tone. Chochi shook his head. “Draw it or I will kill you.” Chochi shook his head once more. Taku eyed him coldly, “Draw it or I will kill the prince.”

Chochi pursed his lips together as he reached his hand up toward the hilt of his sword. He was uncertain what was going on with his oldest friend as he stumbled slightly and felt Taku’s fist once again connect with his body. He doubled over in pain, coughing up blood as his knees buckled and he went to the ground. He did his best to hide the pain he was in, making no sound no matter how much he wanted too.

He expected Taku to finish him off, but the deep sigh and the pain he felt as his body was lifted only brought more questions. He had not even managed to recover from the beating he took during the escape from the home of Elder Nakamaru, now at the hands of his closest friend he took one that most definitely would not be recovered from quickly.

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He lost track of time and distance and somewhere along the way even consciousness. His eyes felt heavy and he could feel the heat of the sun etching closer toward his backside. Chochi at first felt a dull ache at his head, as his leg bent and moved slightly upward. The palm of his hand instinctively went to his knee and he grimaced in pain. He cursed himself for having such a delayed reaction, but his senses felt dulled as though he had been unconscious for a lengthy period of time.

“I think this is the longest it has taken you to recover.” Taku’s voice spoke out.

Chochi managed to open his eyes, his face contorted slightly as he laid atop a bed in a tiny room. Taku was sitting in Shirmiato, a meditative pose used by the Kensuku clan to gather strength and perspective or so they said. The true purpose of the pose was a secret and it was generally believed that even amongst the clan its true significance was unknown. Chochi bit into his lip, closing his eyes. There were things he wanted to say, but the words they simply did not wish to leave his mouth.

“You are not going to ask me why?” Taku asked. Silence from Chochi caused Taku to close his eyes, though Chochi was well-aware that his old friend was not at all in any sort of weakened or vulnerable state. “Why did you not draw your sword?”

The question, it had been asked before. Chochi gripped his knee with his hand as he tilted his head slightly so that he might better gauge his friend. Taku was so relaxed. It was not uncommon for him to seem perfectly at ease and be capable of moving before one could even react. He was fast, probably the fastest of all the guardians when it came to attack speed. “Why did you not finish me off?”

“It was not my intent to kill you. Why did you not draw your sword?” Taku asked once more.

Chochi remained silent again not answering the question. “Why did you attack me?”

“I had to be certain.”

“Certain about what?” Chochi asked as he very slowly pushed himself up into a seated position.

“Your intent.”

“My intent?” Chochi questioned as he looked at Taku, his hand still resting on his knee.

“Yes, your intent.”

Chochi stared, confusion traveling over his features as he brought his hand up and touched his forehead. His head hurt, his body ached, and he told himself if it was any other person he would kill them for having done such a thing to him. It was that thought that caused him to pause looking toward Taku sharply.

“Seems you realize.” Taku finally spoke opening his eyes and locking them onto his oldest friend. “Why did you not draw your sword? This is your last chance to answer me, if you do not I will break every bone in your body.”

“I can’t against you.”

“Why?”

“Because we swore to each other a long time ago that nothing would interfere with our duty. That no matter where we were or who we were with we would always protect the prince, give our lives for her, even take each others lives if we thought the other was a hindrance to that task. Do you think that I am a hindrance?”

“Your emotions are breaking through, your cool demeanor is showing cracks. Large ones that I have not seen in many years.”

“You think me a hindrance?”

“No, I had to make certain you had not betrayed the prince.”

“What?”

“Guiren informed me that we were betrayed from within. I had to make certain it was not you. If you were the one, you would have killed me without hesitation and without remorse. You never once went for your sword until the very end and even then, you hesitated. You never hesitate, Chochi.” Chochi tried to take in what his friend was telling him as he moved to stand, but his legs buckled underneath him. “If you keep moving around your kneecap will never recover. Best estimation you have four weeks minimum, though there is a chance it might never heal properly.”

“Why?”

“You are a Waichia and you look more like your father than you have ever before. It will cause nothing but trouble with you walking around.”

“If someone within the guardians betrayed us, you cannot do this on your own.” Chochi argued.

“It has to be this way, be grateful I pulled my punch.”

Chochi bowed his head the anger bubbling inside of him. It was obvious to Taku that he had hit a nerve with Chochi. “Abe cannot be on his own, the prince needs to be found.”

“Abe is and will always be unpredictable. Even if you are at his side, you cannot control him. No one can. Our priority is finding the prince before anyone else does.”

“How am I suppose to do that, you busted my knee up?”

“It is for your own good. Between Abe, the prince, the guardians, the Waichia, and Hiko Kari the last thing I need is for you to …. ”

“So you do think I am a hindrance.” Chochi managed to say as he bowed his head.

Taku ignored Chochi’s words as he stood, “I will find the prince. Please, stay put.”

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Chochi spent much to much time lying on the bed staring up at the ceiling. He tried desperately to come up with a time when things had changed and he had become a hindrance. He could not help, but to think he was, even though Taku had not answered him. The weeks had progressed quickly by and he stood moving to sit on the edge of the landing.

His knee still ached and the worst the weather got the more he felt it. Taku was right, it probably would never heal properly. He closed his eyes, cursing under his breath as he bent his leg slightly resting his hand upon it. For, but a moment he rubbed along his knee, lost in thought until he felt the landing move slightly as someone sat down next to him.

He opened his eyes turning his head to glance at the person before looking toward the flowers and trees straight ahead. “Yo.” The man said as he brought his hand up toward his forehead adjusting the eye wrapping and then running his fingers through his hair.

“Elder Kensuku, I am not really in the mood for company.”

The thin, wiry framed Elder of the Kensuku reached out running his finger along the flower petals of a tree before responding, “Fall will be upon us soon.” Chochi had nothing to say. Idle chit chat was never something that he participated in and he had no need for what society considered acceptable social behavior.

The Elder of the Kensuku clan glanced at him briefly frowning, “You are still thinking about the words of Senri?” He questioned as he eyed him. He did not really expect a response from him, he was not the type. “Senri was rather harsh with you, though seeing you have not moved from this house I suspect that you are not disagreeing with his words.”

“Doesn’t matter.” He said and the Elder of the Kensuku could tell that Chochi had been defeated.

“I see, he wounded your pride.” Chochi gave him a cold stare, “I was like you once. Proud and arrogant. I was considered a genius amongst my clan. Back in those days I was just Tien of the Kensuku and all I wanted was to be stronger and better than my father and his father. The Kensuku were looked upon as nothing. Our social status was as low as it could possibly get in Aslann and I was determined to be more than that. So when I was made Elder of the Kensuku, I convinced my people to revolt and go against the Emperor. We were many, we were strong, and yet we crumbled under the weight of our own pride. They are no better now than they were in those days. I was young then. Now my hair is silver and I lost one of my eyes. Half of what I was. You know what it is like to stare down an army.”

“Point?”

“Senri knows that you feel something when you look at them. Long ago, you never showed any signs of your emotional state. You appeared as nothing more than a beast of the Waichia Clan. Now, you cannot hide it. When you saw him, Commander Hiko Kari what did you want to do to him? Now before you tell me nothing, I will remind you that as you took down the might of the army of the Emperor it was he who would finish you off. You got to look into his eyes in that split second before he killed you, what you must have seen in that moment.”

Chochi bowed his head. “I wanted to kill him.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“It would have made her sad.” Chochi said simply.

“Does that help answer the questions burning deep within you?” Tien questioned him as he stood up and stretched his frame. “You need to choose, Chochi. You are either a guardian of the prince or the man that loves her. You cannot be both.” Chochi had gone to ask him how he knew about the prince, but Tien had departed so quickly he did not get the opportunity.

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Frustrated with himself and the situation Chochi remained seated looking out over the garden. His thoughts had never been so heavy even after he made his way back to the bed he found that he could not keep his mind from thinking about the words of both Taku and Tien. During those days Chochi had been able to easily separate himself from his emotions, it was not until his first incarnate that it had become difficult. He reasoned that it was because those feeling were the first things to return to him.

Atsuki had been the only one of them who had truly been able to put aside his feelings. In not one lifetime had he ever allowed this feelings to drive his reason. Even after the prince had told him that she loved him, Atsuki still cast aside his feelings. He did it because he knew that if he let himself be lost in those emotions the guardians would not survive it. Tien was right, you could not be a guardian and be the man she loved as well. In this world, with this responsibility it was either one or the other.

Chochi closed his eyes rolling to his side. He did not know why he was fighting so hard to make her see him, especially with Abe and Hiko around. Her eyes, would only find them it was always how it worked with her. He was unable to push the thoughts from his mind, he felt broken. As though Taku and Tien both had reached into his brain and shook it violently. He told himself that with sleep everything would be better, so he closed his eyes and forced himself to sleep.

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Had he known his mind was going to take him back to his death, he would have put off sleeping. The hazy images of being surrounded, by the might of two armies. Those he could see with his eyes and those he could feel. Hundreds surrounded him until he was cornered at a small hideaway. He was surrounded by trees, mountains of rocks and boulders that enclosed him in a small narrow nook.

Long ago that little hideaway had been called Ormato Perbimisio or Lover’s Paradise. There were stories that surrounded it. Tales of old that told of how lovers who had been separated by land, water, and nations conquered all before them to reunite in that small little hideaway.

The battle had started far away from that little nook, in a place called Ridoermat, a small little village controlled by bandits. They did not like the law of any kind there, which allowed for him to go unnoticed until the law of Aslann appeared to deal with him. They devoured the town and anyone that stood in their way. Causalities of war, even if they were murderers, rapist, and thieves.

He was surrounded by faces he knew well and ones he only recognized. He had a sword plunged through his chest. Blood saturated his body and the ground. Esoteric users, used what the modern civilization would call magic to lock him down, make him easier to battle and control. Ultimately it was used to suppress the abilities that the Waichia held over the mind.

To his right was Suetomo Kensuku, a once mighty general of the Ruthlbahdo. He was forced to put the uniform back on to hunt him down. They only summoned him back when his skills were needed. Next to him was a member of the Ishi Clan, he was unimportant to Chochi because his killer intent was so weak that even a child could probably have bested him. At his side, Hero Takahashi a formidable General of the Ruthlbahdo. He was unrelenting in his pursuits and nearly impossible for even an advanced fighter such as himself to battle successfully.

To his side was Zen Kari, a long-standing General within the Ruthlbahdo. He had a flawless technique and it was not uncommon for fighters from around the Great Nations to seek him out to test their skills against him. There in the background stood Mikk Takahashi. Not much was known about him by anyone other than the fact that he was highly skilled and extremely dangerous. He had gone so far as to kill members of his own clan to advanced further within it. No one was off limits, not even his own mother if he felt it would advance his status.

In front of Mikk stood an Esoteric user. The most Chochi remembered about him was the strange coloring of his eyes. They were the lightest shade of blue that he had ever seen and he had almost killed him, but he had been saved by Chee Hamara, despite the factional division. Next to him was another soldier of unimportance. He had meager skills at best and the fear could be smelt upon him.

One of the fighters that Chochi most had to worry about was Tien Kensuku. Like almost all of the Kensuku his skill was so advanced that he was considered a genius by many who crossed paths with him. They did not make him the Elder of the Kensuku clan because of his political skills and way with words. Next to him stood Fei Maiba. A man that could charm just about anyone, which often kept him from having to fight.

Before Fei, was a fighter who moved like a wild beast. Chochi had suspected he was from the Zenaku clan with his dark skin tone and wild movements, but during the course of the battle was hardly a time to ask such a question. At his side was Chee Hamara, a self-taught swordsmen who somehow managed to defy expectations with his movements.

The red hair of one soldier was the most important thing about him. It was an unusual color in Aslann, very few people had it. Next to him was Oro Ishi. He was not the most skilled of the Ishi clan, but he was still more than capable. The last esoteric user, Chochi knew only that he had a preference for music and was often within the court of the Emperor performing. Being a soldier was more of a secondary job for him, but he along with the other esoteric user were still strong enough to suppress his abilities.

The most dangerous of them though was Hiko Kari. Never had he ever faced such a force of nature. If it were just the two of them battling it out it would have been one to retell to ones children. A battle of epic proportions most certainly. To deal with so many whose skill levels mirrored his own, was a challenge. One he probably could have overcome if it had not been for Tien, Suetomo, Zen, Hero, Chee, Mikk, and Hiko. Had those fighters not joined into the battle, he certainly would have overcome this situation with ease.

He reached for the sword in his chest. Several of them took fighting positions, others seemed less concerned. Chochi had little fight left in him by that point and he longed to pass over to the other side so he might be reunited with his prince. He managed to stand only to get his legs swept from underneath him. He landed hard the sword plunging in a bit further. He struggled to his knees looking up into the face of Hiko Kari.

Hiko got close to him, speaking coldly, “Your comrades betrayed you.” He could hear the others chanting to kill him over and over again.

Chochi closed his eyes a moment as a smile traveled over his lips. He whispered so only Hiko Kari could hear, “A guardians life is found only in war and death. For my prince, I would gladly give my life thousands of times. What are you fighting for?”

Chochi forced himself awake, his eye’s opening wide as he gasped for breath at the moment Hiko Kari would have finished him off. He sighed, the rain was falling gently outside and the wind had picked up enough that the smell of the flower blossoms in the air relaxed him, but only somewhat. He stared at the darkened ceiling, shadows dancing along it as crickets sang off in the distance.

He tried to focus his mind on something else, but each time it went back to that time.

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He approached a balcony overlooking a small pond. “Ridoermat, is beautiful.” Atsuki spoke as Chochi took a spot next to him. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked about before resting his eyes on the leader of the guardians. The silence told Atsuki more than actual words, “You are unhappy with me.”

“Why did you do it?”

“Are you referring to Abe and the prince?” His question was met with silence. Chochi was one of the few people who could say much without even speaking. “The prince is feeling vulnerable, scared, and she is worried about us. She needed someone.”

“Why him?”

“Because he is the only one of us that would do it.” Atsuki remarked simply. Chochi frowned as he turned his head away. “The prince is our duty. No matter how we feel for Tationy, our duty always comes first. Even if we wanted to bring her comfort, men like us cannot. We have made it to the middle of our lives, Chochi. For warriors such as us, that is an accomplishment. Abe is a different sort. Duty means little to him. He was the only person that could comfort her in her time of need.”

“I don’t agree. The physical is not as important as the emotional. All Abe does is take and this will not end well.” He remarked though silence only fallowed.

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The three guardians that remained gathered in the small house that they occupied. Ridoermat was filled with the most unsavory of sorts. Coin got you further in that small village than anything else and it was easy to hide amongst the lowest, if only for a brief time. Eventually everyone in Ridoermat would sell you out to the highest offer if it got them what they wanted.

“We will wait a few more days, see if the others find their way here.” Atsuki remarked as they sat around a small table.

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“There is no need to wait, we all know that they are not returning. Sadoo has fallen and Otoha abandoned the prince. If he returns I shall kill him myself.” Abe remarked.

“There is still hope that Taku and Sohma shall find their way back to us.” Atsuki stated, “You need to have faith in your comrades.”

“I have faith in my sword, my skill, all of you just get in the way.”

Atsuki turned his head slightly to look at Chochi, expecting a response from him toward Abe words. Though no response came, which concerned him greatly.

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“Taku and Sohma have made their way back to Aslann. Infiltrating the Emperor’s Palace will take their combined effort, but we have to make certain that they do not have the knowledge to follow us. Jin and the Ishi Clan hold the key to powers far beyond our understanding.” Atsuki voiced.

“Then we have no need to wait, as I said they are not returning. It was a suicide mission you sent them on Atsuki.”

Atsuki frowned noticeably, “It was necessary.”

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“Abe that is enough.” Chochi finally spoke up. “We will wait three days, if they have not returned by then, you will take the Prince toward Mount Celiabai. I will remain here and wait for the others and divert attention of any who shall pursue us further.”

Abe frowned though simply nodded his head, “And what of our fearless leader?” He asked as he turned his attention toward Atsuki very briefly.

“I will take the long way to Mount Celiabai, through the Forest of the Ancients.”

Chochi and Abe turned their attention quickly toward Atsuki, “Are you sure that is wise?” Chochi asked.

“Perhaps not, but if the army makes it past you they will most likely take the easiest route toward the mountains. The swamp is where I will face them if they should find their way past you, Chochi.”

“You have no worries Atsuki, I shall not let them pass me.”

“I have no doubts.” Atsuki remarked though Abe scoffed as he stood up and exited the building. Once Abe was out of sight and earshot Atsuki spoke, “I believe you should go and see the Prince.”

“Prince Tatsuya is resting.”

“Hardly.” Atsuki voiced as he stood. “You have things you wish to say, like I told Abe now might be the only chance you get to say them.”

“Pushing her and Abe together, that was the wrong decision.”

“I am not pushing her and Abe together. I am telling you to go and speak with your Prince, Chochi.” Chochi tilted his head to the side and frowned even more than usual before looking away. “Don’t try to figure out what I am doing Chochi, just go speak with your Prince, before you are unable too.”

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Chochi could not bring himself to enter the resting quarters of the Prince right away. He sat silently by himself lost in thought. When he finally did venture forth he found that the Prince was not resting at all. He brought his hand to his chest and bowed slightly, his expression was softened yet there was a lingering sadness about it. The prince controlled her expression and said nothing right away.

Chochi remained bowed, the silence that linger about them made him wonder if his Prince would ever speak to him. “Do you think me so weak Chochi?”

“My Prince?” Chochi questioned as he allowed his eyes to look toward Prince Tatsuya.

“Do you think me so lowly that I would be swayed by the touch of Abe?”

He found his head shaking as he spoke, “No Prince Tatsuya.”

“Then you do not have to worry about what Atsuki did.” She stated and he forced himself to control the frown. “You wish to know what happened?”

“No.”

“I do not believe you.”

“He is one of your Guardians, he should not look upon you in such a fashion.”

“He is a man and so are you. To deny that is a weakness in itself.”

“Our lives are only for your protection Prince Tatsuya, nothing else.”

“I free you of such a burden Chochi.”

Chochi looked quickly toward his Prince.

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Her expression was distant, haunting, saddened even. There was something in her eyes and he wanted to delve into her mind lair by lair to find out what it was. Verbal cues though would hardly work on her in this state, there was something surrounding her. “It is no burden.”

“It is. I see it on all of your faces.”

“That is not what you see.”

“Then what is it?” She questioned.

“It’s love. We all love you.” He said as he locked his eyes on hers. He did not know what he expected or wanted.

Her expression gave him nothing and her words caused him to pause probably longer then he should have. “The Waichia are able to erase portions of their memory, I wish for you to erase your love.”

“Prince Tatsuya, are you ordering me?”

“I am asking you to do this for me.”

“Why would you ask me to do such a thing?” She kept her eyes locked on his, but gave no response to his question. His temper boiled over as he looked away from her. His voice was cold as he spoke, “You allowed Abe into your bed and yet you ask me to forget my feelings for you, why is he awarded such privileges?” Again no response from Prince Tatsuya as Chochi clenched his fist for a moment and wanted to desperately turn and walk away.

“I do not wish for you to carry this burden.” She finally responded. “You are Chochi. My Chochi.” She said and his eyes finally locked on hers, “I want your next life to be filled with joy, not carrying the weight of such emotions. You are my warrior, brutal and strong. Yet your heart is filled with such a weakness and I do not wish for that burden to be your demise.”

“My demise…” He repeated as he eyed her, “Prince Tatsuya are you seeing things?”

She bowed her head, “Seems my eyes are cursed, Chochi.”

“What did you see?”

“Death.”

“That does not mean it will come to pass, Prince Tatsuya. The eyes of the Tylo clan can see many possible outcomes.”

“For me it matters not, these eyes will drive me into madness. It is what they do. Please, erase your memory of loving me.”

“I am sorry, Prince Tatsuya, I can’t do that.”

“Then we are both doomed.”

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“I would have it no other way, then to have the odds stacked against us. I prefer a battle so great that the odds are unfavorable.”

“You shall have that battle, Chochi.”

“Do you see it? How I die? Is it clear to you?”

“Your death is clear to me and I am sorry for I fear that your death will be with no mercy.” She said and it was evident to Chochi that the Prince was having a hard time controlling her emotions. The sadness could be heard within her voice. Chochi nodded his head once to her words. He wondered who he would face-off against. There were any number of fighters that would show no mercy such as Mikio and Kuro Ishi, Hiko Kari, Mikk Takahashi.

The list was very long and any one of them would be a most difficult battle, but it had to be someone truly efficient to kill him. He could not help, but wonder who it might be. Unlike his prince he was not sad at the thought, in fact the warrior in him played out every possible scenario. He could ask the prince to walk him through it, but he refused to do so. It mattered not how it played out, the outcome would always be the same.

He allowed his eyes to linger upon his prince, “Please do not tell Atsuki or Abe.”

“But…”

“Please Chochi, do this for me.”

“Atsuki can help you.”

“There is no point. All who have the cursed eyes of the Tylo Clan are doomed to madness. Let them not worry over something that is beyond their control. Death comes to us all, we will not survive the next three days. So take comfort where you can, while you can.”

Chochi gave a simple nod of his head. He wanted to take comfort in her, but her request of him, it was unexpected. Her having the cursed eyes of the Tylo Clan, that worried him more than anything though. The Tylo Clan could not help what they saw, within their eyes they had the ability to see all possible outcomes for any given situation. Millions, billions of outcomes. It was unknown why so few of the Tylo Clan were able to access the ability. Why only a handful of them were capable of seeing beyond time toward what people would call the future.

Those that did, suffered greatly. Having your mind bombarded with so many images over and over again takes a toll on you. One so great that you slip into madness to the point of where you are a danger to yourself and others. They all have walked the same route, those that have the cursed eyes of the Tylo Clan. Chochi knew that his princes fate was sealed even if they managed to survive.

“I am tired, Chochi. Please leave me.” The Prince spoke and Chochi reluctantly nodded his head. He was not certain how long he had been silent after her words, but he was certain that his time to act upon his feelings were long gone. Atsuki was right, he was not the type of man to bring her comfort in her time of need.

He quickly bowed turning on his heels, but was stopped by her voice. “Look past your feelings Chochi. The Waichia are strong and can see deception even when it is not visible, do not be blinded by emotions, feelings, the unnecessary.” He glanced at his prince briefly, giving a simple nod of his head. At the time he gave her words little thought, his mind was much to occupied as he departed the room where the prince was to rest.

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His thoughts were thankfully distracted as he heard voices coming from beyond the fence. Tien Kensuku was no longer a great General for the Ruthlbahdo, but he still had his function within them. When they needed him, he was summoned back to active duty. When he was not needed he maintained the stables and the kennels for the military.

Chochi stood himself up and stumbled slightly at first before managing to walk with a somewhat normal cadence. It was raining out, this kind of weather only made his knee feel worse. He wanted to be angry at Taku, but he knew if the situation were reversed he would have done the same thing. He stepped through the gate and walked a distance before opening his mouth to speak when Taku’s words caught his attention. He slipped quickly out of sight.

“Keep your voice down Tien, we cannot afford for Chochi to hear you.”

“Why are you keeping him alive? Have you grown soft Taku?”

“I assure you that is not the case. I see this as it is. If he dies it will be difficult to control the Prince and Abe.”

“I think we should just be done with the lot of them. The Kensuku will get nowhere in this war if we have weakness holding us back.”

“Just tell me you have done what I asked of you.” Taku replied.

“It was not easy, but the Takahashi will stand with us and their Elder Mikk Takahashi gives his word that no member of his clan will stand against us. The Hamara clan though, is far more difficult. We have those who do not support their Elder Chee. Unfortuatly that lazy sot has many allies and supporters. Killing the Nakamaru Clan Elder was a dangerous ploy, are you certain the guardian leader is not overextending his abilities?”

“Atsuki has things well in hand. If all goes according to his plan, he has already infiltrated the palace and will proceed to deal with Jin Ishi.”

“I still think we should deal with the Waichia.”

“As I said we will do no such thing.”

Tien grew silent before finally speaking again, “What has Guiren uncovered about the betrayal?”

“He tells me it was the Prince.” Taku spoke.

Chochi bowed his head as he listened to the conversation. He could not believe what he was hearing and even for a moment he felt as though the whole conversation had been staged for his benefit. It led to so many questions. What were the Kensuku up too? When did Taku and Atsuki align under the same cause and what cause was it? Was it really the Prince that betrayed the guardians? He moved away from the building. He wanted to stay and listen, but knew that something was brewing far more dangerous than even he could have imagined.

Their plan had nothing to do with the Kensuku, it had to do with removing the Emperor and his Adviser Jin. Chochi walked toward the house, quickly tossing on clothes as he considered what plan Atsuki was hatching and why he would purposely put the Prince in harm’s way. Chochi replayed the battle in his mind that separated them. Their intent was hostile. They were not simply trying to scare them that he was certain of.

Taku had far better survivability than any of the other guardians. He was capable of blending and going unnoticed. He was unremarkable in looks and his personality was kind, so nothing stood out about him that would make others remember him. That was his real strength. People like Chochi and Abe stood out in a crowd because of how they looked and their personalities. Taku could be a demon hiding behind an innocent smile and no one would suspect.

He slipped off of the grounds when they were distracted in conversation and did his best to remain hidden until dark. At first he did not know where he would go. There was no one he could trust, even his closest ally was suspect.

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When he found himself standing outside the grounds of the Ruthlbahdo he thought for certain that he had gone mad. Through the gate he spied Commander Kari moving toward the garden and he did his best to follow him in a stealthy fashion. Hiko leaned himself against the side of a building that the Ruthlbahdo tortured prisoners in.

His head was bowed slightly and he had brought his hand up to place his oomba between his lips. The ancient cigarette gave off a bit of a honey scent as he burned through half of it in a single puff. By the time he realized someone was standing in front of him it was too late to draw his sword.

Their eyes locked as Hiko moved to lower his hand, but was halted by Chochi’s words. “What are you fighting for?”

Sharply their minds flashed back to a moment when that question was spoken.

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“Do you remember what you said to me before you drove your sword through my skull?” Hiko did not respond to the question, simply stared at Chochi, “You said you were fighting for the Empire. Rough around the edges, cold, heartless killer who is loyal to the Great Nation of Aslann. You and I are not so different. I have been called those same words and yet I am her most loyal servant.”

“Are you here for your friend.”

“I am not here for Abe. I am here for you.”

“Is this revenge? If that is your intent brat that knee will hinder you.”

“I am far older than you.” Chochi remarked. Both men hid their emotions and spoke in stern voices that never raised in tone.

“Your knee was not busted up the last we saw each other, did it happen on the assault of the Nakamaru Elder’s Estate?” Hiko questioned.

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“I want you to listen.” Chochi responded ignoring Hiko’s inquiry. “The Emperor and his Queen had two children. A son was born first, ill and dieing. A daughter born second. Jin Ishi and the Emperor hid the son away and disguised the daughter as the future heir to the throne. She was given no name of her own, simply called Tatsuya by her parents. The leader of her guardians, gave her the name Tationy. She named us, Atsuki, Chochi, Abe, Sadoo, Otoha, and Sohma. We cast aside our clans, our given names, our families long ago to protect her. At least some of us did.”

“What do you mean?”

“During the Battle of Shimargata, the Prince led a small invasion force into the castle of one of the Dragon Lords, with explicit orders to execute everyone. The place was seemly abandoned, but deep within the bowels hid women and children. Tationy could not bring herself to have them executed. Killing them to her would just bring more hatred and war, so she refused. As you know, no soldier, no prince, is allowed to disobey the Emperor. We were simply supposed to be exiled, but an order was handed down for our execution.”

“The Ishi say the order was a forgery. It was obviously believable enough to fool even their eyes.”

“I overheard something, I was not supposed to hear. One of the guardians talking to the Elder of the Kensuku about war. He said that they have the Takahashi and half of the Hamara Clan.”

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Hiko smirked slightly, “Yo, brat. You expect me to believe that?”

“They said that Mikk Takahashi informed them that no member of the Takahashi would stand against them. That they had half of the Hamara Clan, but that there were some that were loyal to Chee Hamara. They said it was all planned. That killing the Nakamaru Clan Elder was apart of it and that one of the guardians should be on the Emperors grounds now. He is going to kill Jin Ishi. I admit our plan was to kill them both, after what they did to our Prince, but the Kensuku clan was never a part of it.”

Hiko stared at him and frowned, “So there was betrayal from within.”

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Chochi turned his head to the side and looked toward the stars. “They said that it was the Prince. I don’t believe it.” Chochi said, “Part of me thinks the conversation was for my benefit that they knew I was listening. Regardless, I cannot take what they said at face value. This is why I came to you.”

“You think I am going to help you?”

“I think you will do anything to protect the Empire. There is something sinister going on here and as much as I want to find her and protect her, I have to find out what is going on. I cannot simply bring all the guardians together without risking her life. You always wanted to be a guardian for the Prince, now is your chance. Find her, protect her, even if it means leaving this place.”

“Yo, Waichia.” Hiko spoke his name, “Do you think I am a fool? Lead me astray from my duty to the Empire with your…”

“She loved you. She does not remember anything. She knows nothing of this world. It is all gone and what little that is coming back to her is all bad. She asked me, three days before my death to erase how I felt for her from my memory. I couldn’t. I still can’t. You cannot be the man she loves and her guardian at the same time. It is what the Elder of the Kensuku Clan told me. He is right. You cannot be both and somewhere along the way, I stopped being her guardian and became only the man that loved her. Repeatedly throughout history, I have failed to protect her from the Ishi, from Abe, from everything. I need to deal with the guardians and uncover what they are up too. You, need to find allies you trust and protect her with your life. It is probably too late for the Emperor and the Adviser. I was told a war is coming, but I think it is already upon us. The question is, what are you fighting for?”

A snap of a twig caused Hiko to turn his attention and when he looked back Chochi was gone.

To Be Continued

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