The next couple of weeks were the very best days of my life. I immensely looked forward to every morning, so I could be with Dani again. Monotonous, unpleasant training became a joy when I had someone that I loved to share it with. Whenever we weren’t running drills, we spent every possible moment together. Just talking between classes, having lunch together, and walking outside at night before bed made every day amazing. Finally, my life felt complete.
Rather than letting my training slip because of my relationship with her, I actually grew even more skilled. Somehow, knowing that Dani loved me gave me inspiration to work even harder and improve even more. Maybe it was some kind of subconscious machismo due to the fact that I’m a male. But if I was given the opportunity to impress my girl, I was going to take it.
We had decided not to do anything too serious in our relationship until after the graduation. Then, I would be a full agent, and we could get married and do things right. There was nothing in the prophecy that mentioned that the Shadowy One would have to be alone his whole life, right? Dani agreed that she would stay by my side, no matter what the prophecy entailed. Her support and loyalty to me gave me even more confidence that I could fulfill whatever I was destined to do.
One day, after our morning jog, Dani and I were waiting in the gym for the next training session.
“Hey, remember that weird tree we saw out in the woods?” she asked.
“Hm… you mean the one that was growing at a 45 out of the ground?” I recalled.
“Yeah! I wonder what’s with that guy!”
“Well, maybe he drank too much beer as a sapling, and he thinks he’s going straight up.”
Just then, Sagar came along. He was beaming an uncharacteristically bright smile. Approaching us, he spoke warmly.
“It’s really good to see you two together like this! I always enjoy seeing my students happy!”
“Thank you, sir.” I replied, and nodded my head.
“It reminds me of Takeji and Trinity again.”
A cloud seemed to pass over his smile, and his face darkened at the memory.
“This time, I won’t let anything happen to either of you.”
“It wasn’t your fault, sir.” I insisted.
I saw what happened. He came as soon as he could, but he was occupied defending others until it was too late.
Sagar changed the subject away from the past.
“You know you can’t both be agents, right? That’s just not the way things are done here. Only one of you will be promoted.”
“That’s fine!” Dani chirped. “I don’t really want to be an agent anyway. I’ll just get a job doing something else around here, and we’ll be fine. Milo can be the agent. He’s the best!”
As my cheeks grew a bit warm, Sagar smiled again.
“Ah. You already have it sorted out. Good. And between you and me…I think that Milo is definitely the best choice to be promoted. Ultimately, it isn’t up to me, but if it were, you would unquestionably be the next agent.”
“Thank you, sir. Both for the compliment, and bringing me to this point. I won’t let you down.”
“I know you won’t. You could never let me down.”
Then, Geoffrey and Kazushita entered the room. The two of them glared daggers at me, but I easily brushed them off. I no longer worried about my rivals. I wouldn’t say that I’ve forgiven them for their behavior over the years, but I no longer harbored any hatred. My heart was full of love and caring to continue loathing them.
“Alright guys! Today we’re going to be going over the use of non-lethal devices, such as gadgets for stealth and infiltration. I hope that all of you have reviewed the applications of mission equipment…”
While we were practicing using grappling hooks, lock picks, and stun guns, Kazushita was being more of a jerk than usual. He was intentionally hindering my efforts at each of the techniques I was practicing. Every time he disrupted me, I just ignored him, and moved on to work on the next gadget.
I was using a grappling hook to scale a wall within the training area, when Kazushita, who was higher up the wall than I was, dislodged the tip of my line, and I dropped several feet to the ground. I shook it off, and decided to work on something else. I didn’t notice as Dani launched her grappling hook toward the top of the structure, and started to climb up.
Kazushita watched like a cruel predator until she had nearly reached the peak, before knocking her hook of off its fixation.
“YIIIIIIII!” I heard her scream, and quickly whipped my head around.
She plummeted toward the ground, at least 20 feet below.
I sprinted as hard as I could toward where she would land. I could feel no sensation, other than the pounding of my feet, and a weird tingling in my head. This was not going to happen. Not on my watch. I willed myself to go faster, not even feeling a twinge of fatigue.
In a flash, I caught her in my arms before she hit the ground. She felt as light as a feather, and I hardly flinched upon bearing her weight.
“You alright?” I questioned, looking into her face.
Her breathing was hard and fast from terror, but there was still a smile on her face.
“Yeah! I’m fine!” She gasped. “Thanks for the catch!”
I gently set her down and squeezed her hand. Then, I turned my head upward at the not yet dead cretin who had just made at attempt on my girl’s life. I fired my grappling hook directly at Kazushita, in his perch on the wall. After I felt it hook onto his vest, I whipped the cord downward with force sufficient to rip my target off the wall, and fling him toward the ground.
He managed to deflect his fall on the way down, but he still hit hard enough to knock the wind out of him. I stood with my arms crossed, waiting for him to stand up and face me. Although he was silent, I could tell that he was steaming mad.
“You mess with her, you mess with me, asshole.” I declared flatly.
Kazushita stumbled to his feet.
“You…that was… let’s settle this!” He fumed. “I’ve had just about enough of you, arrogant bastard!”
“The feeling’s mutual.”
He worked a kink out of his back.
“I’ve been looking forward to this! While you were messing around with blondie over there, I’ve been studying your techniques, and preparing for this very time. I’ll crush you!”
I calmly took a fighting pose.
“If I fall asleep kicking your ass, let me know how it works out for ya, alright?”
Kazushita proved he was as fast as he was strong as he charged me. He fired a couple of straight punches at my face. I easily dodged, before I realized that they were only a ruse. His actual intention was to wrap his arms around my waist, and pick me up high in the air, just to pound me into the ground. Reacting quickly, I drove my elbow into the back of his head, forcing him to drop me.
Sagar was watching us, but it was his policy not to interfere. As long as we didn’t kill each other, he had no problem allowing us to sort out our differences. Dani and Geoffrey also watched, tense with apprehension of what the outcome would be.
I hopped backward to give myself some space. My opponent kept the pressure on, throwing a right hook. When I blocked, he grabbed my arm. I knocked his grip off with a circular movement, so he performed a middle punch. I blocked it aside, and countered with a quick kick to his right side.
He grunted with the impact, but kept coming. His next strike I guided past my head, and used his momentum to crash his face into my elbow. Stunned, he dropped back a step. I knew I had him. With a quick hop-step, I delivered a side-kick to his gut, followed by two quick jabs.
In a last effort, he swung his arm in a hammer fist toward me at close range. I caught his hand, then stepped under and behind his shoulder. With a smooth movement, I flipped him completely into the air, and onto his back on the ground. Victorious, I coolly walked away.
Dani cheered gleefully.
“Yeah Milo! Woo hoo!”
Sagar smiled as well. Geoffrey certainly did not, only turning and leaving the area. I held my hand out to give Dani a high five, but she jumped up and hugged my neck instead. Oh, well. That worked for me. As I hugged her back, I spotted Hanson over her shoulder as he silently departed. He must have been watching the entire event unfold. Fine. All he would have seen is me demonstrate my superiority over my adversaries.
“Well, this seems like as good of a time as any to say it.” Sagar began. “I’ve been informed that this class is ready for graduation. The final test will be in two days, so start preparing now. This test is a very realistic simulation of what an actual mission may be, so your performance will be heavily factored into the final decision for the promotion. With all that being said, take a breather until then, and I wish all of you the best of luck!”
I couldn’t help but feel optimistic. I had repeatedly proved that I could best the competition, and we were in the home stretch. What could go wrong?
Later that day Dani and I were walking outside in the woods. We chatted excitedly about the news that graduation was coming up soon. It wouldn’t be long now before we could more officially be together. Only two more days until the final test, then, probably not long at all before the final results were in. I could take my place as an agent, the next step in my destiny as the Shadowy one, and start a life together with Dani.
After a while, we had nearly completed our walk through the forest and were heading back to headquarters. Just then, I noticed something off of the path behind a tree. It was a dark figure, stalking us. I wasn’t sure what they wanted, but it was obvious they knew I saw them, but still made no move. Whatever it was, I wanted Dani out of there.
“Um, Dani? I need to… use a tree over there for a second.” I hoped my miserable attempt at fabricating an excuse would work. “You can go on back. I’ll catch up to you.”
She gave me a confused expression.
“Uh…OK! Take as long as you want! I’ll see you back there!”
After I was certain she had gone and wasn’t hanging around to see what was going on, I turned to the location where I had seen the mysterious form.
“OK, come out!” I called, ready for anything.
From behind a tree, out stepped Captain Hanson. I kept my face expressionless to mask my surprise as my superior commander approached me.
“Milo.” He muttered malignantly. “I’ve been watching you.”
“I know you have, sir.” I attempted to show respect. Best to avoid trouble that way.
“What’re you thinking, messing around like that!? I thought you wanted to get promoted! Now you’re just throwing it all away for some girl!?”
I was taken a bit off guard by his verbal attack.
“No, I’m not. You’ve seen me. I haven’t let my training slack at all. I’m still the most capable-“
“There’s more to being an agent than knowing how to pass the tests! Something called commitment! Completely putting your own life aside, for the good of the organization!”
I continued to try to defend myself.
“Sir, I can easily do both-“
“No you can’t! You’re either going to be loyal to Tsalderek and the work of God, or your useless human desires! You can’t devote your life to the cause, as well as to that pathetic bitch!”
His words kindled a rebellious anger within me. He wanted to tell me how to live? He wanted to insult the one I cared most about? Fine.
“OK, then. I choose Dani.” I began to walk away. “You can forget about manipulating me anymore. I love her deeply, and no ambition of mine or yours in going to get in the way of that.”
As I turned my back to him, he shouted:
“You’re just going to throw away all of your duties as the chosen one?!”
“You know that the fate of mankind is riding on you, and you’re just going to drop it all just to live how you want to?! How much more of a selfish bastard can one man be!?”
Turning to glare at him, I responded.
“I thought you didn’t believe in that prophecy stuff.”
“Maybe I don’t. But do you? You’re the one who’d have to live with themselves, knowing that they had failed at their mission from God!”
When I hesitated, Hanson pressed on.
“You can’t be half committed to your destiny, Milo. You’re either all in, or all out. It’s your choice.”
With that, the man disappeared into the undergrowth, and I was left alone. For several long seconds I stood still, not knowing what path to take. Destiny? Love? Fate? Duty? Commitment? What was I supposed to do?
I decided to keep moving to help me think better. I circled around through the woods again, taking a far larger arc than Dani and I had just done. With that much time alone with my thoughts, a thousand different scenarios ran through my head. What if the prophecy wasn’t real after all? Then, I could live out my life the way I wanted. But, could I risk that? I had seen the prophecy predict where I would be, and even some of my characteristics. If I ignored it, and it was right, who knows what would happen to mankind? Maybe I could keep Dani with me, no matter what. No. Hanson would never promote me if he thought I wasn’t fully committed. And even if he did, I would be putting Dani in danger by involving her in my destiny. could I really live with myself if she got hurt or killed because of my decision?
After the long walk, I had come to a conclusion.
Dani and I couldn’t be together.
I had known for all of my life that my purpose was to fulfill the prophecy, and restore peace and purity to mankind. It was always impossible for me to live a normal, happy life. When I got to know Dani better, and fell in love, I hoped against hope that I could somehow have both. Hanson’s words and threats, though, brought me back to the harsh reality like a bucket of ice water. It didn’t matter what I wanted. All that mattered was that I accomplished the purpose that I was made to do.
When I returned to headquarters, the sun was starting to go down. As it died, so did my renewed positivity on life. My heart cooled as the Earth did, apart from the light. I tried to push my emotions to the rear of my mind and out the back door, when I saw Dani bouncing toward me.
“Hi Milo!” She giggled, and enthusiastically glomped me. “I was starting to worry about you. I went back out to the woods where I left you, but you weren’t there.”
Then, she noticed that I wasn’t hugging her back. In fact, I stood as stiff as a statue, without even making eye contact. Just seeing her, much less being embraced by her loving self was enough to make passions well up within me. How could I do this? What I wanted more than anything was to hold her, and forget about any responsibility. But I knew I couldn’t. This just wouldn’t work. My resolve returned as I thought about everything that was resting on my shoulders.
“Are you alright?” She asked cautiously. “You seem-“
“Dani, stop.” I coldly commanded.
“Dani. This can’t go on.”
“What can’t?” Her voice was fearful.
“We can’t be together. There’s too much at stake.”
“But, Milo, all of the plans we made, and good times we had… why…”
“It’s important that I get promoted. If my allegiance is divided, I’ll never be able to complete my destiny.”
“Milo, you can’t…just…”
She reached out her hand to touch my face, but I firmly and gently grabbed her wrist before she could.
“Dani… I’m sorry. I don’t… I never wanted.”
She backed slowly away from me. Tears filled her blue eyes as they stared into mine. Then, she flipped around and ran away.
That was the hardest and most miserable thing I’ve ever done in my life, and it hurt on a level I didn’t even know existed.
Still, I knew that I did the right thing. If God’s will for man could be achieved, the destruction of Dani’s and my heart was a small price to pay. Why did the right thing feel so wrong?