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Kuro had known walking away was the wrong decision, but he was feeling heated. So, he took the opportunity to check in on Tationy. She was still sleeping peacefully. There were no words to describe how it relaxed him looking upon her peaceful face.

Still, he could not stop the grumble under his breath when he noticed Mikio standing outside. For a time he just stood there in annoyance. Nao was not wrong. His brother, the reincarnate of his father, was the strongest of the Ishi. That did not mean he liked or agreed with the decision to have him watch his back.

Stepping outside, he took several awkward steps toward his brother and halted suddenly when he spoke, “He thinks you are being childish.”

“Nao understands…” Kuro tried to say.

“I was referring to our father.”

Those words were unexpected. Rubbing the back of his neck, he forced himself to keep his distance as he responded, “What else is new.”

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Kuro put his guard up when Mikio turned to face him. His marred features were cold, his green eyes distant; he was the epitome of apathy. “I understand your reasons,” Mikio acknowledged. “If the roles were reversed, I find myself wondering if I would feel the same. That does not change the fact that I am best suited to protect the Elder of the Ishi.”

“My enemy does not stand before me, but behind me. Those were the words of our father as I stood at his back; he thought me a lesser man. Saw me as someone that would stab him in the back. He acted as though I wanted what he had. Don’t pretend you understand Mikio. The only thing we have in common is that he is standing between us.”

Unreadable expressions were not an uncommon thing with Mikio, but there was a moment Kuro thought he had seen something reflected in his eyes. Annoyance, anger; he was not certain. “How blind you are to the sacrifices of the people around you,” Mikio stated coldly.

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This moment was certainly a long time coming and he expected it to come to blows, “I am not going to tell you how to do your job. The position of Elder of the Ishi is yours. Even if the entire clan wanted me to lead, I never would have. It was nothing I wanted. However, your feelings for her are clouding your judgment.”

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Kuro had never known Mikio to be so direct. As a child he was quiet and curious and when he grew into a man there were days, weeks, and months that he would go without speaking. It was always assumed that the burden of the Tylo eyes was simply to heavy for him to bear, but now Kuro found himself wondering if Mikio just didn’t have anything he wanted to say.

“I know she told you that she is worried that your feelings for her will still your hand when you need to be without hesitation. She is not wrong to be concerned,” His brother added.

“The two of you think that I would hesitate; when have you ever known me to hold back?”

“Only with her have I seen you show restraint,” Mikio stated.

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Kuro placed his hand to the back of his head, rubbing it a couple of times, before releasing air from his lungs in an exasperated sigh. “The two of you worry needlessly over things that may or may not happen. My hand has never been stilled by her in millions of years, why would that change now?”

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There was a moment of pensiveness from Mikio, though it hardly lasted long. He shoved his hand in his pocket, fixed his attention upon Kuro, and spoke in a rather haunting tone. “She will be mortally wounded in this war. Foolishly she believes in you and is hoping that you will make the right decision in the heat of the moment when she is lying upon the ground broken.”

Kuro felt tension in every part of his body as Mikio added, “You fail her and yourself when you order me to go after Kazuma. Foolishly you charge into battle against an enemy that gravely wounded the woman you love. Your hand stilled without her even uttering a word. There are some people that believe dying together is some sort of romantic notion. It will bring neither of you any closure. There is no happy ending with death. You cannot even muster the strength to crawl to her. Struck down and you die several feet apart.”

“I don’t need you telling me my future.” Kuro snapped, “I choose my own fate.”

“That is right you do and it kills both of you.”

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Kuro flashed an angry glare toward his brother, “This conversation is mote. These events may or may not even happen. Speculating on what I will do is all well and good, but …” An image of her flashed sharply into his mind and his words were silenced rather suddenly. He hated knowing the path laid out before him and it pissed him off to no end that Mikio told him, despite that knowledge.

“You cannot be the one to fight him and protect her. That sacrifice will always be mine,” Mikio stated. There was something in his tone and the way he glanced into the distance that made Kuro think that this was less about protecting Tationy and more about Mikio choosing his death. “This has always been my battle; one I was never capable of finishing all those lifetimes ago.”

A realization struck Kuro, “You are talking about the Nakamaru.”

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“The Sons of Myia will cause great damage on the battlefield and without Rin to open the great void and send them back from whence they came it will require our strongest chaltas to face them head on. There will be great losses among our clan. I will not diminish your skills with a sword, but that will not protect either of you against demons of this caliber.”

“I get it,” Kuro shortly replied. He took a moment to consider the conversation from start to finish. This war would be a lot easier if the power of Rin was upon the battlefield. He would be able to command the demons of the Nakamaru and banish them to the great void if they did not comply. Unfortunately, the God of Death was trapped in a body that he was never meant to be in. That asset was not an option, not unless they could find a way to remove him from Mikio.

His brother anticipated his thoughts, “I do not know if I would survive the process of having Rin transferred into another body. Nao speculates that it is possible using the same techniques that were used on the Prince of Aslann, but there is no guarantee.”

“We cannot risk losing you, not even for Rin’s power,” Kuro responded as he tried to rub the annoyance off his face. With a sigh he added, “I should probably finish speaking with Nao and Togore…”

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Kuro did not get very far in his attempt to walk away, “There is actually something we need to discuss.”

“It is fine. Watch my back or whatever.”

“I intended to with or without your permission, but this is actually about something else. The Nakamaru have never been easy to follow beyond the veil. Like the Kari, they can mask their movements. Moments before the meteor touched down, I lost track of Bak.”

His attention swiftly returned to his brother, “What do you mean you lost track of him?”

“I mean exactly what I said,” Mikio paused a moment then added, “There have been points in time where events are hidden. There are a number of reasons, but the cause of this is an anomaly I have not encountered. Whatever this was; it masked an entire area for fifteen minutes and hid the movement of our blood.”

“Certainly a weapon that might be dangerous in the wrong hands,” Kuro stated.

Mikio simply nodded his head, “I need to walk beyond the veil. Search the paths of every living being to encounter the cause of this power. Doing so will place me in a vulnerable state physically and mentally, but I feel it needs to be done.”

Things did not seem to get better only worse, “Fuck, you should have told me sooner. In that small window of time any number of things could have transpired.” There was a silver lining, “As long as his seal was intact he should have been protected from mental manipulation…”

“I think this is not something even he could protect against.”

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Not something he could protect against. The words were almost incomprehensible. “Are you saying there is some fucked up monstrosity out there that cannot only mask itself from your eyes, but hide itself from our best chaltas?”

“I am saying, it could be standing right next to us and we would not even know it until it was too late.”

“Fuck,” Kuro said rubbing his face. “Wake Tationy up. Do whatever the hell you need to do, but you figure out what happened in that fifteen minutes and what sort of monster has been released upon our territory.”

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