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The Iron Masks

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Ayanami wakes with no memories and in a dire situation. All he knows is that the Iron Masks are after him. Would you want to regain your memories, even if it might not be what you want?

Adventure / Fantasy
Age Rating:

Tetsu No Masuku

He awoke in a dark, damp room. No light in sight. Silence surrounds him. His dark brown hair barely cushioned his head from the rough, hard floor. His strangely colored red eyes that were a beautiful crimson could barely adjust to the darkness that shrouded him. Semi-conscious from his unknown slumber, he struggles to move a muscle. His hands were bound to his front. His arms stuck to his sides. His legs were barely able to move.

"Is anybody there?" he whispered to the darkness, his voice hoarse. "Can anybody hear me?!" he cried.

Suddenly a huge screeching noise came from an unrecognizable door. Light shone brightly in the face of the boy. He could notice that what he was wearing was similar to a straitjacket. It was a long, white coat with sleeves longer than the lengths of his arms, and black, belt-like straps bound his wrists, arms, and upper legs. At the doorway, a large, hooded figure, covered by a dark coat, created a shadow on the wall right behind the boy.

"Ayanami, you shall forsake your soul. You belong to us," said the cloaked figure. As the hooded figure approaches Ayanami, the boy stared in horror and confusion of the situation that stood before him. The cloaked man hoisted Ayanami onto his shoulder. At that moment, Ayanami noticed that the man was wearing an iron mask. The mask showed no expression. It simply had the mouth and eyes in horizontal slits for the wearer to be able to see and breathe. The boy's head was lying on the man's back and his legs were flailing and hitting the man's chest. It was a futile resistance as the man brought him into another strange chamber.

This new room was wide and at about three-quarters of the way through, there was a glass wall separating something dark from the entrance of the room. On the other side of the glass, there was a large portrait, reaching as high as the wall. The portrait had no picture. It was as if someone had covered the entire painting with black paint. The darkness of the painting seemed to draw the curious boy towards it. The cloaked figure opened a door in the glass wall and placed Ayanami on his feet. Ayanami was confused to what he was doing in this glass prison.

The hooded man locked the glass door and stood behind four other hooded figures, each wearing an iron mask. Their mask, however, had a certain design or pattern that was hardly recognizable in the dimly lit room.

"Ayanami," one of the figures spoke, "you shall forsake your soul. We cannot allow you to roam this world."

Ayanami stared wide eyed. "What have I done to deserve this?" he pleaded. "I haven't done anything to deserve any of this! Please let me go!" But none of the figures bothered to listen to his plea of confusion and fear. Ayanami trembled and was exhausted of his current situation. He leaned his side on the glass wall, wondering what will become of him now.

Suddenly, strange gurgling noises came from the dark portrait. The picture was bubbling. Waves formed on the picture's surface. Then a black pillar of darkness shot out of the picture, right at Ayanami. He dodged quickly as more and more of the darkness shot out of the picture, planning to engulf him. The darkness continued to fly right out of the picture, rushing like arrows trying to hit a moving target. Ayanami was running out of room to run to. Terror and panic filled his mind.

When Ayanami reached the furthest corner he could, he was exhausted because he was using more energy than he should due to his binds. While he was standing in that corner, he heard crumbling noises right beneath him. Then suddenly, the floor broke and Ayanami came down with it.

"Oof," he grunted. When Ayanami looked around, he noticed that he was in a cave-like place. He noticed that as he fell, he landed in the arms of a giant man. The man was very large in build. He had very short brown hair. It was like he had shaved his head and his hair started to grow back. His eyes were closed. He wore a dark grey shirt and light brown pants that had a few pockets at the sides. Around his neck was a small golden chain. In front of him was a girl with short black hair and a grin on her face. She wore a beige and red headband which could have been just a long ribbon on her forehead. She had a red tank top with a beige, short sleeve, short length jacket. She also wore beige shorts. On her back there was a large, ninja star-like weapon, which shinned from the light at the end of the cave.

"Whoa, that was a close call! Your soul was almost taken into the twilight. We better get ourselves out of here before those Iron Masks get us," her voice chimed. As the two strangers began running, Ayanami, who was carried in the arms of the male, had no energy left. He couldn't even speak any words. He felt a little thankful that he was being carried, although he knew that he would be a burden if they did make him try to run with his legs partially immobilized.

A cool breeze could be felt as they neared the exit of the cave. The rays of the sun became brighter. The chirps of the birds became clearer. Ayanami felt a huge flow of relief go through his entire body.

But dark figures appeared at the end of the cave, blocking their path. The girl yelled, "Get out of our way!" She grabbed the large ninja star from her back and threw it at them. It spun with great velocity. It made quick and loud whooshing noises. The weapon went right through the figures, cutting their bodies in half. As the group ran passedthem, their bodies began to disappear and fade away.

After exiting the cave, the group entered and rested in a small forest on the outskirts of Pakalona Village. The large man laid Ayanami down by a tree, where his back laid against the roots and trunk of the tree. His hands reached out and around to unfasten the belts that strapped Ayanami's body. However, he refrained himself from taking off the white coat because Ayanami had no clothing underneath except for some black pants.

"You need some water," declared the girl, "do you have enough energy to drink?" she asked. Ayanami simply stared. He didn't have enough energy to respond, so he knew that he obviously couldn't drink. The girl gave him a concerned yet firm look. She drank some of the water in her bottle but didn't swallow any as she approached the weakenedboy. As her face approached his, Ayanami began to feel nervous. She did what he thought she would do. The girl pressed her lips against his, allowing the water to pass from her mouth into his. He swallowed the water eagerly to replenish some of his strength.

After he finished drinking the water that was passes to him by mouth, Ayanami was finally getting his thoughts straight.

"So who are you people?" he began, "and, not that I'm not thankful, but why did you decide to save me?"

"My name is Luna," replied the girl. "And this is Haruse. We're from a small village called Mur. But you really ask us why we saved you? Do you honestly not know about yourself? Plus, it wouldn't benefit anyone if that masked organization was able to profit off of you." She drank from the bottle.

"I...I have no memories from before I woke up," Ayanami said grimly. "Please tell me why those iron masked people had me captive."

"Well," Luna began, "within your body, you have the potential to create a special stone. Apparently, this stone can grant many of your wishes and grant you phenomenal powers. The organization that held you captive, the Iron Masks, wants you because they want that power for themselves."

"Why did they try to trap my soul in the twilight?"

"If they seal away your soul, your body becomes an empty shell. Since your body is in that state, there would be no resistance and they can do away with you as they pleased. It's just how they like to do things."

"Ayanami, would you like something to eat? We have a few special herbs that are full of nutrients and can replenish a lot of energy," his soft voice spoke calmly with a warm smile on his face. Ayanami was surprised at how Haruse sounded. His gentle voice contrasted his large body.

"Oh, thank you, Haruse. I am truly grateful." The herbs looked like delicate flowers with over-sized leaves. The pedals had a dark reddish-purple tint. While the leaves were many shades of green. It was darkest at the center of the leaves and the color slowly became lighter as it reached the edges. There was a fresh mint-like aroma coming from the leaves. As Ayanami bit into the leaves, there was a light sweet taste, followed by the natural minty flavor.

"Hey, Ayanami, you don't plan to keep wearing that straight jacket thing, do you?" Luna asked.

Ayanami stared down at his attire. He thought for a moment then he took off the white cloth. He began tearing at the white fabric and the black belts.

"There, all done." The belts that were still attached to the cloth were around his collar and loosely around his wrists. The belt that would have been around his legs was torn off, making the length of the fabric a bit shorter. It was used as an accessory belt that would hang around his waist. Since there are no buttons or zippers on the fabric, the front of this strange coat is wide open, where the breeze of the cool winds would be felt. Luckily, he already had black pants which complemented his outfit nicely. The only thing that was holding the jacket front together was the belt around his collar, which only held the top of the jacket.

Luna felt her face redden. "Oh my god," she nearly screeched. Luna eyed him from top to bottom. She noticed that Ayanami had a nice body with great facial features. He seemed to have the "innocent pretty- boy" face. His beautiful crimson eyes simply drew her in.

"So where are we headed to now?" Ayanami asked, trying to ignore Luna's facial expression.

"We might as well enter Pakalona Village. It would be best for us to stock on some new supplies and perhaps we should arm you with a weapon. It would be inconvenient if an enemy appeared while we were defenseless," Haruse advised. Haruse handed Ayanami a small pouch of gold, "if you do find something you like in town, you can use the money to buy it," he said with a kind smile.

The environment changed as the travelling companions approached Pakalona Village. This village was surrounded by sand, similar to any village residing within a desert. However the climate was just moist enough so that vegetation and any distant forests could grow and survive without having a drought.

While travelling in town, Ayanami was passing by the shop stands at the market. Luna and Haruse had separated to go look for whatever they needed. He walked by many unusual stands. He kept going until he reached a unique sword stand. In that stand were many uniquely designed swords. All with their own color, shape and size. Ayanami felt as if he was being called to the table. He looked around and noticed a black sheathed sword lying on the side of the table closest to the merchant. Even though the sheath was black, the handle was dark red.

"I see you have your eye on that blade, young man," the merchant said as he carried the sword towards Ayanami. "This sword is a beauty. A rare, one of a kind!" the merchant explained. He decided to show Ayanami the blade of the sword. As he slid off the sheath, the redness of the blade was easily visible. The blade was red with a black linerunning up along the dull side of the blade, right up to the tip. At the part closest to the sword's handle, there was a small symbolengraved. It looked like a small, scratched-in picture of a flame. The flame was done with a single line beginning from the left then going up, drawing a flickering-like flame. After, the line drew down and spiraled clockwise within the lining of the flame. Ayanami stared at the blade. He felt this longing connection that needed or had to be formed between him and this blade. So he decided to buy this sword. The cost was only about half the gold that Haruse had lent him.

As he walked, he attached the sword to the belt around his waist. After he finished attaching it, he noticed that he had entered into a sketchy part of the village. It was rather dark for daytime, he thought. Ayanami wandered around, searching for his way back so he could meet up with Luna and Haruse.

He decided to turn at the corner that was coming up on his right. However, he ended up walking towards a dead end. As he turned around to go back, dark hooded figures stood in his path. Their hood was pulled so low that Ayanami couldn't see their faces at all. He sensed the danger that was approaching, but he had nowhere to run to. There were too many of them that he wouldn't be able to pass through either.

They all raised their arms in unison. Their sleeves were so dark that their hands couldn't be seen. Suddenly, black threads shot out of their sleeves. The dark thread resembled the darkness from the room Ayanami was trapped in. They grabbed onto Ayanami; Wrapping around his neck and wrists. It began to tie his arms to his body. It was a futile effort to pull out his blade. The dark threads grabbed hold of his legs. More and more of the dark threads were coming from the sleeves and they were pulling Ayanami towards them.

His legs gave in and his body dropped to the floor. The dark threads were dragging him towards the shady figures. The black threads around his neck chocked him as he was pulled. He couldn't stop himself from being dragged around as they pleased. Ayanami looked towards the sky. The sky looked down on him cruelly. The wide open space high above was free from any torment, while down below, all creatures would be tormented by the greed and ruthlessness of others.

Suddenly, something jolted off one of the small buildings of the alleyway. It came down quickly between Ayanami and the hooded figures. A man, with long blond hair, tied in a ponytail with a silver band. He had honey brown eyes that gleamed in excitement as he cut the black threads effortlessly with his blade. The darkness that bound Ayanamibegan to fade away. Then, the stranger charged right at the hooded figures, slashing them down one by one. Right after they were struck down, their body began to fade and disappear entirely.

"Thank you for saving me," Ayanami breathed as he stood up.

The man dashed right behind the boy. "Don't thank me," he whispered. His arm swung out and hit Ayanami on the back of his neck. Darkness clouded Ayanami's mind and he collapsed onto the ground.

When Ayanami woke up, he was lying on a table. His wrists and ankles were bound to the table by cuffs of metal. His mind could barely focus about what had happened.

"You're finally awake," it was the man with the blond hair. He was grabbing tools off a nearby table. "I'm sorry if you have to suffer, but in this world, only the strong will survive. Even if trickery and deception must be use," he looked down at Ayanami. "I'm sure you have already guessed what I want. It's the same as what everyone with thedesire of power wants-the Spirit Stone."

"Spirit stone...?" The words barely came out of his mouth.

"Yes, little boy. That is the name of that stone which can be created from you. Actually, you yourself, are the stone. However, a stone with a soul will create resistance. That is why I will drain a few days' worth of your blood and take your eyes in order to create the stone, then dispose of you."

Ayanami stared wide eyed. He struggled but the binds held him firmly. The blond man approached with a small knife in his hand. "This will only hurt a bit," he said, raising the knife to the artery in his arm. The man gave a quick slice. Ayanami flinched at the stinging pain as blood started to poor out, falling into a bucket at the floor.

After a few minutes of his blood draining, the man bandaged up the wound and poured some water into Ayanami's mouth. He picked the bucket of blood from the ground and went up the stairs. Ayanami was completely drained of, not only blood, but of energy as well. He lay on the table, staring into the bleak nothingness of the room. He noticed a small window, realizing that the room he was contained in was probably a room dug underground. It was night time. Ayanami wondered if Luna and Haruse have realized he had gone missing and if they were searching for him now.

Two days have passed since he woke up in this torturous state of being half alive, half dead. He looked out the window. It was about noon. He noticed that a small squirrel had approached the window. It was looking down at him and began knocking at the window. Then, two shadows appeared and the window creaked open.

"Finally found you," Luna exclaimed as she climbed down from the window. Haruse was too large to fit through so he kept watch from the outside. Luna rushed to Ayanam's side and unfastened the metallic cuffs that held him down. She pulled his arm over her shoulder and half dragged him towards the window, where Haruse could reach and pull him up.

Once again, they returned to the small forest at the outskirts of Pakalona Village. Ayanami was being hand fed small herbs and fruits by Luna. Her little face was filled with worry about Ayanami's health. After he was done eating, his strength was mostly replenished.

"Why...," he began. The other two looked curiously at him. "Why do you continue to save me? Is it because you both also want the stone for yourselves?" The bitterness in his voice grew. He looked at them with an anxious glare. "Are you only keeping me alive so that you can use me and betray me? Answer me!" he demanded. Both of them were reluctant to give an answer. They looked down at the ground with a grim expression. Ayanami felt his ears redden. Then he stood up and said, "thank you for all you've done, but I can't stay with you any longer." And he walked away from them without looking back.

Ayanami went towards the other side of town. He kept walking until he reached another forest. As he entered, the forest brimmed with life. Birds sang melodically. Animals on the ground scurried as they played. Oversized flowers were in full bloom. And trees reached up high into the sky. As Ayanami walked, leaves and fallen berries were crushed under his feet. He heard rustling noises from every direction and thought he saw shadows following him. He kept turning his head to see if anyone was there.

"Hey, you!" yelled a female voice, "You're causing an uproar in the forest." As he turned around, tree roots dropped back to the floor and he stared in disbelief. Although the tree roots did unsettle him, the thing that surprised him was that he thought he saw wings behind the girl. He rubbed his eyes and looked at her again. The wings were gone.

The woman that approaching him had long brown hair tied with a pink ribbon. She wore a white dress with a large, pink bow at the back and the hems of the dress were pink. "Sheesh," she said, looking at the tree, "he's a human. You can't harm him even though he's giving off a lot of spiritual powers." she glanced at him.

"Who are you?"

"I'm the guardian of this forest. My name is Hana. Any forest with a large amount of spiritual powers requires a special guardian. And my family has been doing this for generations. But this forest has the largest amount of spiritual energy within the entire continent so everything has their own will and can move about as they please."

"Why is it your family has to guards this forest?"

She looked at him. She looked away as she said, "our family has demon blood in our veins. It allows us to be able to protect these kinds of forests." Her eyes went back to Ayanami. They trailed up and down as she analyzed him. "So what are you doing in this forest?" she said in change of subject.

"I'm trying to learn of myself. Since I have no memories, maybe I can regain them if I travelled."

"But doesn't travelling by yourself get lonely?" she wondered.

A moment of silence passed . "I can't really trust anyone anymore," he answered with a pained expression.

Hana looked at him thoughtfully. "Maybe, while you're still in this forest, the spirits can be your companion. If I ask, they can help you."

Ayanami looked at her. His smile was kind. "Thank you, I'd appreciate that."

Ayanami and Hana went their separate ways and he continued his journey through the spiritual forest. As he walked, the forest amazed him with the vast species of plants. He wondered how this forest came to be. He thought of Hana roaming the forest all day, talking to the tree, the flowers, and the animals.

His thoughts suddenly go cut off when he tripped and fell face first to the ground. The tree root was bent up a bit, causing his painful descent. "Why you..." he said threateningly. Then he looked up. He noticed the man with long, blond hair and honey brown eyes. Ayanami watched him carefully as he passed by. "Can you grab him for me, treespirit? I need to talk with him, but I know that if I don't restrain him, he's going to capture me again." The wind blew leaves around him and then towards the blond man.

Cracking noise of the woods moving briskly and the grunts and groans of the man echoed in the air. His entire body was strapped to the floor by the tree roots. The roots wove in and out of the ground like thread on clothing. The man's hands were unable to reach for his blade that flew out of his reach while he was ambushed by the tree roots. As he looked up, Ayanami was standing tall right in front of him.

"So you really did come here, boy," he grunted as it was hard to breath with his chest tight to the forest floor. "Where are those companions that saved you from my clutches? Did you think they saved you to just use you, like I did? Is that why they aren't with you? What an unsecure brat," he snorted.

Ayanami's eyes filled with anger. "This is useless chit chat," he turned his back on him and began walking away.

"Hey, Hey! You can't just leave me here! Help a man out."

Ayanami didn't turn back. "Why not? I can leave you there to be fertilizer for the trees. Plus it's not like I can actually trust you. Unlike my companions that saved me first, they didn't do anything that would end up killing me to get the stone."

"Alright! I'll swear an oath to you." Ayanami finally turn around and looked at him. "I swear that I will become your companion. I will protect and defend you. If any harm befalls you, I will receive it tenfold." Ayanami felt a light burning sensation on his right arm. Small curves of red lines began for form, creating a signature. It red out Kohaku.

"Your name is Kohaku?" he asked.

"Yeah, what about it? Now please get me out of here." he said impatiently.

Ayanami placed his hand on the tree. "Thank you for your help, you can let him go now." the roots began to recede back to the ground, releasing Kohaku. When he got up, he brushed some leaves and dust off his long, white coat. The collars of his coat were up high so that it could hide his face partially. The trimmings of his coat were abeautiful golden color. He wore the same colored yellow shirt on the inside. His pants where white and the pants flared open at the bottom.

"So where are you even going anyways, brat?" Kohaku asked with an irritated tone.

"My name is Ayanami, not 'brat'," he said. "I'm just going to where ever I can. I want to remember my past."

"How troublesome."

Ayanami and Kohaku arrived at Dakura Village the following nightfall. The village resided near the Great Fall. A large waterfall that sustained life for the village. The village was surrounded by a grassy meadow filled with flowers and vegetation. Every house was built with wood from a nearby forest. Villagers glanced at the two travelers as they entered and wandered the village. Dark shadows followed unnoticeably behind.

They headed for the inn to rest for the night. Their room was large. There was a wall that separated the two bedrooms. The candle lit lamps were blown out and they both went for their needed rest.

A large dragon covered in flames appeared through the darkness of his dream, creating a bright glow around itself. Its flames flew brightly in front of Ayanami. "My child, the dangers you face are the trials you must overcome to signify that you are capable of carrying the powers within my stone. The stone dwells within you and you may utilize its magic as you choose. To use the stone would signify your knowledge of it. And others would not dare oppose you... Learn the stone's capability and hone your skills. The blade that has called out to you, accepts you as its master, as you are the wielder of flame. Be warned that there are also others that possess a stone similar to yours and they may target you to gain more power." As the mysterious dragon of flame disappeared into the darkness, Ayanami tried to call out to it. He wanted it to wait. There was so much more he wanted to know. But when he opened his mouth to call out, no voice was heard.

Ayanami woke unsettled within his bed, realizing that all of that was a dream... Or was it?

"Did you have a bad dream?" Kohaku asked from the entry way of the room, "you were tossing and turning all night."

"It's nothing," he replied, rubbing his hand over his eyes. He got out of bed and got dressed, still concerning himself about the strange dream.

While Ayanami and Kohaku wandered around town, children ran about everywhere. One girl was playing tag with another and bumped into Ayanami. As she looked up, he looked down at her with a kind smile. The girl smiled back and apologized to him and rejoined her friend.

"What exactly are we walking around here for?" Kohaku began.

"There's something I want to look for." Ayanami encountered a tent.

"Are you serious? You came here looking for a fortune teller?"

"If you don't want to come in, then stay out there."

As he entered the tent, an old woman wearing a dark purple cloak sat behind a table. On the table lay a crystal ball.

"Hello there, young man," her voice was crackly. It made him feel insecure of the woman. "Please sit, sit. What would you like me to see? Your future? Your love life? Your destiny?"

The boy sat down. "Please tell me of my destiny."

"Alright." She looked into her crystal ball, making strange humming and moaning noise. Then suddenly, her eyes bolted up at Ayanami like they were about to burst from her sockets.

"What is it," he asked eagerly. "Is it something bad?"

"Oh my, on the contrary, my child," an eerie grin grew on her face, "it is very delightful!" Pincer-like flesh grew out of her cheeks. Extra arms sprouted from her sides. The whites of her eyes became entirely black. As her mouth gapped widely, silky, white threads shot out and stuck to Ayanami. The white threads were like a spider's threads. It was all sticky and Ayanami couldn't escape from it. The threads wrapped him to the chair. He was about to call Kohaku for help until thread was shot right at his mouth, silencing him. The pressure of the threads shooting at him made the chair tip over and fall back. He struggled to at least loosen the thread's grip, but it was a completely useless effort.

"Finally another one of you comes by," the old woman said as she crawled around the table towards him. Now visible, around her neck was a green stone that had a small symbol carved in it. "I was able to take this stone from a weak girl similar to you. So confused, so terrified that others wanted to capture her, to torment her. When she came here for her fortune to be told, I realized she was a stone bearer. I killed her, and her soul and blood was used to assemble the stone. Of course I could have gouged out her eyes, but that would be too messy for my tastes. Her soul was much more to my preference."

Ayanami stared wide eyes in horror, terrified of the fate that would befall him. The old woman tore Ayanami out of the chair, the threads still holding him tightly. Under the table was a trap door. She pulled it open and he was brought down into the darkness.

The old woman strung Ayanami up on a large cobweb and departed to another area of the underground cavern.

Throughout the entire web, skeletons hung. Old cocoons were torn with blood and flesh staining its whiteness.

Within his own cocoon, he was able to, very slightly, move his hands around. He slowly reached for his blade. The moment he felt the hilt of his blade, it immediately began to warm up. He began to slowly draw it out of its sheath. Now pulling at the blade, his hand began to feel a burning sensation but he ignored the pain. He used his leg to bump the sword towards the silky threads. The blade touched the threads and it began to tear and burn. The red flame ran right through the spider's silk.

Now free, Ayanami dropped down from the web and yanked the threads holding his mouth. He walked around, sword in hand. He could hear the old woman mumbling. The sounds coming out of her mouth sounded like some kind of chant or spell. Most likely used for trapping his soul so she could forge the stone.

As he silently turned around, he bumped into something white. It was Kohaku.

"I felt your presence moving away and this is where you were." He looked at the spider woman, "so you got caught by something like that, huh? I'm surprised how you got out of that web."

"Talk later. That woman has something that interests me and I'm not leaving without it. It's a green stone around her neck."

Kohaku leaned over the corner to take a look at the green stone.

"What do you think you are doing?!" The old woman was face-to-face with Kohaku. He stumbled back as he swore at the spider woman. She opened her mouth wide as she shot out her silky thread at Kohaku. He tried to dodge the attack but he wasn't quick enough. The threads glued his foot to the cavern floor. He tried to pull his leg our but it didn't work.

The woman shot at him again. Suddenly, there was a strange sizzling sound. When she stopped shooting her web, she saw that her web had melted right in front of the boy. Ayanami had hurriedly stepped in front of Kohaku and he drew his red sword, which melted the webs. His sword had smoke rising off of it.

"Get away from us!" Ayanami yelled. His blade blazed. Flames covered the red blade. He slashed threateningly at the spider, making her recede further and further away from Kohaku. He was just barely able to cut at the string holding the green stone. As the string snapped, the stone fell to the ground. She shrieked at the flames, too distracted by them, and she rushed away into a darker area of the cave.

"Phew. Thanks," Kohaku said.

"I didn't know that my sword would burst into flames," he breathed. "We had better get out of here." Ayanami picked up the green stone and gripped it tight as they ran out towards the exit.

When Ayanami and Kohaku left Dakura Village, they decided to take their journey towards the west. The next village they would come to would be Houshin Village. A port village beside the ocean. All they had to do was follow a nearby stream that would eventually lead to the village.

"Hey, Kohaku, are there others like me? Ones that carry a stone in them?" Ayanami asked out of the blue as they walked.

Kohaku stared, his mouth open slightly. "If there were others of you, I'd hunt them down instead of having to be stuck with you. Well not like that matters now. If we do run into others like you, I can capture and kill them as I please because killing them won't affect me as it would to you."

"If there actually are others, I'm not going to just sit around and let you hurt them." His eyes were serious. Almost glaring at Kohaku.

"Well, well, so you really don't like being all alone. Whatever, if I hang around you enough, I'll be able to witness a live stone's magic. So that way I won't have to bother if you find any of your little common pals." Ayanami couldn't make out if he was being sarcastic or serious. He gripped the green stone, now inside his pocket. He thought that as long as he could be able to find the others like him, he would protect them with his life.

Since the travel to Houshin would take a few days, they both had to camp for the night. They worked together to catch some fish and Ayanami had to build the fire. They decided that since it was nice and warm, they could sleep under the stars.

After dinner, Ayanami laid his back on the ground and held up the green stone. With this, he thought, he could gain more power. Not that he really wanted it. Suddenly, he remembered that the stone could be used to grant wishes. He wondered if wishing for his past would work. As he held the stone up towards the stars, he wished that he will gain his memories back. All he wanted was to know who he was. Even if his memories ended up showing him something unpleasant.

In his dream, he was in a room. He looked up at the stars through a glass barrier, held up by long poles of wood, making a dome shape up above. Then he walked towards a wooden desk. On the desk was a framed picture. The picture showed two boys. They both wore black cloaks. A sad feeling flowed through him as he turned away from the picture.

Ayanami woke at dawn. The sunrise made the sky all pink, blue and light purple. It was a beautiful scene to behold. "Why couldn't I see their faces..?"

He sat silently for a moment. Then he noticed that the stone he had been gripping last night was gone from his hand. He searched all around him but it was nowhere to be found.

Then Kohaku walked up from behind him, "is this what you're looking for?" He held the stone between his thumb and his index finger. "So this is what you snagged from that hag spider. I should've noticed this was the stone, even though the waves emitted from this is a little different than the waves coming from you. So this is why you brought up the subject of there being others similar to you. Well, now that the cat's out of the bag, you better hope the others aren't already turned to their stone as well," he snickered and pocketed the green stone.

Ayanami was about to chase after him until he was snagged from behind. He was pushed brutally towards the ground and a knife pointed at his throat. Kohaku turned around noticing a girl on top of Ayanami. The girl had long black hair that blew in the morning breeze. Her eyes were the color of pearls or of a full moon. A beautiful pale color that seemed to glow around her pupils. She had a very beautiful complexion. She wore a sleeveless white dress that ended a little before knees length. There was a black string with a black corsage right under her breasts that decorated the dress. She looked at him intently, focusing at his eyes.

Kohaku tried to grab her from behind but she jumped up high before he could even get close. She landed on her feet a few meters away.

"What do you want from me?" Ayanami asked as he got up.

The girl stood up. He shoes had black lace that strapped around her legs. "Can you not feel it, the energy waves that resonate between us? Or perhaps you still haven't mastered the use of your stone."

"How did you-"

"I know your companion can feel it. He is a trained hunter. I do not understand why he hasn't killed you yet."

Kohaku interrupted, "well, my beauty, I was kind of forced to swear an oath to him, therefore I can't lay any harm on him. However, I can deal with you as I please!" He charged at the girl, drawing his blade. He swung his sword with magnificent speed but she easily blocked the blow with her knife.

Kohaku tried to slash another blow, raising his arms to prepare for another strike. Suddenly, great winds began to blow him back. And he was trapped within the sudden tornado. The winds picked up dry leaves and twigs that now circled around Kohaku. Cuts began to appear on his clothes and skin. The cuts on his face stung more and more.

"Stop it!" Ayanami yelled. He pulled his sword from its case and charged at the girl. He slashed at her and flames burst out of the blade, extending its reach. The girl wasn't able to avoid getting burned at her left shoulder.

As she was jumping back, the wind began to die down around Kohaku. Ayanami joined Kohaku, trying to support his companion with now cut up legs. "Forgive me for my rough actions," she began, "I merely wanted to test your strength. My name is Yuuki." She looked at Kohaku. "So where did you get that stone?"

Ayanami began tending to Kohaku's wounds as he began to tell Yuuki the story from when he awoke and the hooded figures to the spider woman that had already killed a stone bearer and was trying to kill him next. Yuuki was very attentive and mostly nodded at times.

"I see, so the reason you travel is to recover your memories. So do you intend to gather all the stone bearers in order to make that wish?"

"I need all of them to make a wish?" he felt his heart ache because the wish he made last night was bound to not come true now.

"The spirit stone is the combination of our stones," she explained. "Each one of our stones utilizes an element. Mine is wind, while yours is fire and the green one, earth. It is easiest for us to notice the others by our energy waves. But looking at the eyes work as well since our eye colors are quite unique."

Moments of silence passed. Then Yuuki began again, "if you want, I can bring you into my village. It is actually quicker to go past there to reach Houshin, rather than following the stream. I can show you the way, it isn't too far from here."

Ayanami and Kohaku followed Yuuki through the plains. They entered a small forest. After walking within the forest for about thirty minutes, they finally reached the village. They were welcomed to the village of Mizuho. Even though the two stone bearers were welcomed warmly, the hunter on the other hand, had people stepping on his feet and small rocks and twigs being chucked at him.

Yuuki turned back and looked at Kohaku. "They treat you that way because they sense your violence and ambitions. They feel your thirst for power. In this village, stone bearers represent prosperity for the clan and good harvest. So I am sorry for the hatred the villagers will show towards you."

"No problem," he replied showing a grin of irritation as a little boy threw a pebble at his head.

An old man approached. His hairs were slightly becoming gray but he had a smile of pleasure on his face. "Welcome, travelers. Yuuki, I see that you have found another stone bearer as well as someone who wields a stone."

"I have returned, grandfather." She bowed at her grandfather. "This is Ayanami," she introduced, "he is the stone bearer of fire. His traveling companion, Kohaku, a hunter has acquired the stone of earth. However, he did not acquire it through any means of death." The villagers murmured and whispered about the hunter.

"A hunter that did not kill but still acquired the stones? Tell me, young man, how did you acquire this?" he looked at Kohaku.

"It was retrieved from an old spider woman. She was disguised as a fortune teller and was after Ayanami's stone. She already had the stone of earth in her possession. Ayanami simply took it from her as we escaped her lair," he replied. His head bowing down slightly.

"I see." The old man turned to Ayanami. "Wielder of the stone of flames, why has this hunter not harmed you yet? Surely he would have had many opportunities as he has been accompanying you with your travels."

"Our first encounter was when he had held me captive. He planned to kill me then, however I was able to escape from his clutches. After a while, we met up with each other again and I was able to force him to swear an oath to me," he raised the sleeve on his right arm, showing the red signature.

"Ah, how clever." The old man clapped his hands together. "Everyone, the travelers are our precious guests," he announced, "They shall have a feast tonight." Everyone nodded and cheered. Then they all scurried off to prepare the food and the dancers for the night.

During the feast, there was a large banquet and dancers. The food was accompanied by apple whine, a specialty of the village. Ayanami and Kohaku ate very well that night. And after the banquet they rested easily throughout the night.

The next morning, the two Men decided to leave to continue their journey.

"Please wait!" a female voice came from behind them. "I am coming with you," she had a small bag on her back and was rushing behind them.

"Are you sure, Yuuki? This trip could get very dangerous," Ayanami was concerned.

"Yeah, especially since you're travelling with a hunter. There is no reason for me not to kill you." Kohaku grinned maliciously.

"I can protect myself," she said defensively. "If you even try to get near me, the winds will slice your neck, I assure you," she threatened. "Also, it is dangerous for a stone bearer that does not know how to use his stone to be travelling in the first place. I will be around to mentor him."

Ayanami gave a nervous laugh.

"Whatever," Kohaku replied, "it'll be your fate."

After just one and a half days of travel, the group had reached Houshin, the port village. Many people in the village were fisherman or sailors of a crew. The market was always brimming with people. Traders of all sorts were there doing business.

"Don't stray too far from each other," Kohaku warned. But when he looked around him, neither Ayanami nor Yuuki were there. "God damn it, you stupid brats!" he swore and stomped off to search for them. Then a shadow not of his own, trailed right behind him.

Ayanami and Yuuki were wandering around near the docks. The ocean breeze felt warm on their skin. They watched as men grabbed crates on and off the ship. The sailors hoisting the sail. The captain giving orders and keeping things in line. People moved endlessly around at the docks.

Suddenly, a short man with a dark blue bandana on his head appeared right in front of them. The bandana was pulled down so low that they nearly covered his eyes. When he opened his mouth, his two front teeth were missing. "You kids want to ride on a ship? No charge." His voice was scratchy.

They both stared at each other then looked at the short man. "No thanks," they said in unison. And they walked past the short man.

Suddenly, two large men wearing the same dark blue bandana blocked their path. Long, sharp scimitars were held in their hands, pointing at the two travelers. "You will be boarding our captain's ship. He made a special request for the both of you brats." Both their voices were equally deep as they talked together. "If you don't come," the one on the left threatened, "then your friend will be in a deadly situation." They both laughed.

Ayanami's eyes were wide. "Kohaku," he said silently. Yuuki gripped the sleeve of his arm and nodded. "Fine, take us to your captain," he said reluctantly, "but you have to keep your word that my friend won't be harmed."

The large men grabbed their shoulders and knocked their knees to the ground. They pulled their arms back, binding them tightly with rope, making it cut into their skin. "You have a pirates word," he snickered, "but that means nothing!" All three pirates laughed at Ayanami as he and Yuuki were shoved towards their ship.

As they boarded the ship, their weapons and bags were unequipped and tossed into a room above the deck. They were shoved into the cellar of the ship, where the dungeon resided. They were locked into a cell with their hands still bound.

"I'm sorry for getting you into this mess, Yuuki," Ayanami said. His eyes pointed towards the ground.

"I forgive you, Ayanami. It is not entirely your fault. For a hunter, Kohaku is quite pathetic in being alert within his surroundings." She smiled. Ayanami gave a small laugh. "However," she began, "I wonder what this ship's captain would want with us?"

Ayanami gave thought. "Perhaps he knows we're are stone bearers and plans to kill us."

"Let us hope that that is not the case."

The door slammed open. Shaking the whine on the racks. "Our captain wishes to see you." It was one of the large pirates that had the scimitar from earlier. He unlocked the cell door and yanked them both by the arms.

As they reached the deck, Ayanami gasped. Kohaku was tied to the center pillar. His mouth was held back by a white rag, tied at the back of his head. He was half conscious and was bleeding from his lip. He had a small cut on his right cheek. His sword was nowhere to be seen on him, which meant that the pirates had taken it away as well. Ayanami wanted to stop and talk to him, but the pirate dragged him up steps of stairs where he and Yuuki were pushed into a cabin and the door shut behind them.

The room was quite luxurious for a pirate ship. There was a small chandelier that lit the room. The bed was made neatly. The pillows were stuffed with white feathers. At the center of the room was an oak desk of high class workmanship. Ayanami concluded that this room must have been the captain's quarters.

"Welcome," the captain said. He was quite young, Ayanami though. He was younger than the other crew members. He had long dirty blond hair that almost reached down towards his shoulder. His eyes were a vibrant electric blue. There was a black cloth over his forehead, almost like a headband, that nearly lay over his right eye. His coat was long and black with blue trimmings and buttons. He only had it done halfway up. Around his neck was a key that lay on his bare chest. His black pants had rips and holes. In his hand, the stone of earth, taken from Kohaku.

"You are...!" Yuuki stared at him.

He looked at her and smiled. "So you can tell! My name is Sakuya, the stone bearer of water." He walked around them holding a small knife, "hold still," he said as he cut the ropes.

Ayanami rubbed his red wrists. "What do you want with us?"

"I was just a little bored. When I found you guys, I thought I'd have a little fun," Sakuya grinned. He turned to Yuuki and held her hand. "So my lovely princess, your eyes show me you have the stone of wind, am I right?" he said as he was about to kiss the back of her hand. Taken aback, Yuuki blushed.

Ayanami pushed him away and stood in front of Yuuki. "Stay away from her!" he barked. His eyes were full of caution.

"Is she your lover?" he snickered. "Well, your personality does suit the stone of fire."

Suddenly the ship rumbled. "Captain!" yelled a voice outside, "Captain! There's trouble! Something unknown is-!" He was cut off. His voice was a muffled scream of terror. Ayanami and Yuuki looked at Sakuya as his expression became fierce.

Sakuya busted out of his cabin. Down on the deck, four dark cloaked figures with iron masks were aboard. The deck was slowly getting covered by a vast darkness. It spread, eating the ship floor. Even Kohaku, tied to the pole, was slowly being swallowed by the darkness. It reached up, crawling higher and higher. It began wrapping around his mouth. His scream of warning was muffled. The other crewmen were shoved to the floor. Their bodies held down by the blackness. Their mouths shut by the sticky blackness.

Ayanami and Yuuki were behind Sakuya. They were horrified by the scene before them.

The four iron masked figures looked up at the three of them. As they raised their hands with fingers pointing at them, the darkness shot out from its giant mass. A black pillar going straight for them. Yuuki, quickly thinking, commanded the wind and formed a barrier around them. The wind that circled them blocked the dark pillar's attack. It was sliced into billions of pieces. Then it tumbled back onto the deck.

"You dare come onto my ship and harm my crew?!" It was Sakuya that raised his voice. "I'll show you the power of the ocean!" He lowered his arms, then his fists moved as if they really grabbed something. Then swiftly, he pulled his arms up. "Take this! Tidal wave!" A rush of water rose up from the ocean. It rushed towards the Iron Masks,sweeping them off their feet. They were knocked back, but they hit the side boards of the ship.

Suddenly, something small shot up at the three of them. Ayanami stumbled back. His hands at his throat. He was coughing, trying to stop whatever was going down his throat. Then his knees dropped to the ground. Hands clinching at his chest.

"Ayanami!" Yuuki cried. She dropped down to his side and held him in her arms. His face was stricken with pain. He began to pale little by little.

"Darkness has entered the boy," said one of the Iron Masks. "He may or may not die, but it is certain he will weaken drastically, unless you hand him and yourselves over to us."

Ayanami grinded his teeth. "You're not taking any of us!" he spat. Sweat dripped down his forehead. His hand gripped tighter at his chest.

"Have it your way, stubborn stone wielder. You may suffer for the rest of your life."

"Just shut your trap and get your asses off my ship!" Sakuya yelled as he hauled another load of ocean water towards them. They were knocked off the ship, but they began to fade. They snickered as they disappeared with the darkness that had spread over the ship.

Then all was silent.

Ayanami's shallow breathing was unsteady. He was lying down in the bed of Sakuya's cabin. Yuuki was at his side, wiping away his sweat with a handkerchief. Kohaku was sitting down in the large chair behind the oak desk. Sakuya was at Yuuki's side.

Yuuki noticed that there was now a strange mark on his chest. It was like a tattoo. A black snake coiled around his chest. It's mouth open over where his heart would be. The fangs long and sharp. However, he only thing that did not seem like a tattoo was the eye. The eye looked like a black stone embedded within his skin. Yuuki wanted to touch the black eye, but as soon as her fingertip grazed it, Ayanami cringed. His eyes shut. He groaned in tremendous pain.

"He needs to be returned to my village," she declared. "I'm sure my grandfather knows a way to at least strain the darkness so that Ayanami would not be suffering so much."

Kohaku looked up. "I don't even think that he has enough energy to walk, let alone travel. How do you plan to get him there?"

Sakuya looked at them both attentively. Then he turned to Ayanami, who was suffering. He walked over to his desk and unlocked the bottom drawer with a key that hung around his neck. From the drawer, he took a glass bottle of water. The bottle had a cork to stop the water from spilling out of the bottle.

Sakuya approached Ayanami with the bottle uncorked. He motioned Yuuki to stand aside as he lifted Ayanami's clothing. He began pouring the water over the snake's eye. Yuuki and Kohaku watched as the black stone just barely glow a light blue.

"What is this water?" Yuuki asked in amazement.

"Water's spirit liqueur. It'll stop the darkness from leeching his strength for the time being. During that time, we have to take him to your grandfather."

Kohaku raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean by 'we'?"

"You seriously think you can make it to her village before the liqueur wears off?" he almost laughed. "I can easily take you there on this ship. Especially since this ship is meant for air, as well as water. But most of all, I want to stay with beautiful Yuuki." He looked at her yearningly.

Sakuya was just about to hold her hand until someone grabbed him by the wrist. "I told you to keep your hands off her, you stupid pirate," Ayanami managed to say. Sweat dripped down his skin. They both stared at each other momentarily.

"Ayanami!" Yuuki's voice was relieved as she wrapped her arms around him. Ayanami sneered at Sakuya over Yuuki's shoulder. "How are you feeling"

"There is still some pain, but it's bearable."

Sakuya tossed Ayanami's sword on the bed. "I looked at your sword," he said, "There's the symbol of fire inscribed on the blade. It seems that since the element of fire isn't usually around in the environment like wind or water, it's used as a medium for you to lash out fire with. I'm even surprised that you were actually able to find something like that."

"I didn't find it. It found me."

The ship sailed off into the sky. Propellers from under the ship where large. They spun at tremendous speeds to hover the ship in the air. The sails caught the wind. Sakuya was at the wheel, steering the ship with confidence.

Ayanami was leaning over the edge. His dark hair blowing in the wind. The pain from his chest was growing slowly. He knew the effect of the liqueur around the dark stone was weakening. His hand gripped at his chest, hopping that he could distract himself the darkness' pain with another pain.

Yuuki walked up from behind, her white dress blowing in the wind. "Are you alright, Ayanami? Perhaps you need to rest some more."

"If I keep resting then I might not wake again. I have to keep my mind working. Something that will distract my thoughts." His gaze towards the horizon was calm but sad. "I wish I could remember who I was. Know who my family was. Where I was from..." His voice trailed off.

Yuuki was beside him. Her hand on his. "Even if you do not know your past, you are still you. The you now, are the one that I know. The one that has cared for me as I do for him. If you do, one day, gain back your memories, you will still know of your adventures with your fellow stone bearers. And I hope that you will cherish the time we have spent together." She raised herself upward and kissed Ayanami on the cheek.

As she walked away, Ayanami placed his hand on his cheek. His face flushed. A smile showed on his lips. One that truly showed his happiness.

Ayanami finally decided that he should go back to Sakuya's room. After a few steps, his legs collapsed. The pain becoming more and more unbearable. Kohaku was on a higher deck as he noticed Ayanami cringed in pain. He jumped over the wooden railing to get to his side. On his way down, pain stuck at his chest. Instead of landing on his feet, he fell and rolled. "Damn it." he muttered. He stood up, leaning on the ship's railing to support him and made his way to Ayanami. "Yuuki, get over here!"

Yuuki and Sakuya both arrived swiftly. Sakuya hauled Ayanami onto his back while Yuuki grabbed Kohaku's arm and pulled it over her shoulder, leading them to the captain's cabin.

"Hold out a little longer, kid," Sakuya said as he laid him down onto the bed. "We just have to fly a little further." Sakuya left the cabin, swiftly returning to the wheel.

"Damn this oath," Kohaku grimaced. "I have to tell him to cancel it."

"Kohaku, would you not just end up attack us all?" Yuuki looked at his eyes, reading his expressions.

He sighed. His voice shaky from the pain. "I swear this oath to you, Yuuki, that I will not harm any of the stone bearers. If I do harbor any such thoughts, my body shall be restricted until you decide to release me." Red swirly writing appeared on Yuuki's inner arm-Kohaku's signature.

Yuuki leaned towards Ayanami. "Ayanami," she whispered into his ear, "I need you to undo the oath Kohaku has sworn to you."

Ayanami shook his head slightly. "Danger," he muttered.

"I promise you, none of the stone bearers will be harmed. He and I have sworn an oath. If you don't undo your oath with him, he will keep suffering the same pains as you. And we can't afford to have to take care of him, too"

Ayanami opened his eyes slightly. As if reassuring that Yuuki was being truthful. His eyes shut, and he nodded. "I undo this oath," his voice was a mere whisper. The red marks on his arm began to glow. Then it faded slowly. Kohaku felt the pain weakening and was relieved.

The ship flew over vast plains as it reached its destination. It landed on a large patch of tall grass in the forest. Sakuya and Kohaku were carrying Ayanami from both sides-his arm over their necks. His legs dragged on the forest floor. He had hardly any energy left to walk.

"Tell my grandfather I must meet with him," Yuuki ordered a nearby guard. "The situation is urgent. Ayanami is being weakened by darkness!" The guard nodded swiftly and went to call the chief.

Yuuki led them to her home. She motioned to Sakuya and Kohaku to lay Ayanami down on the bed. Her grandfather rushed into the room.

"Yuuki, explain." He asked.

"There was a battle and the darkness was able to strike him. We had stopped the darkness from draining his energy temporarily but his worsened state has returned."

The chief approached. His hand suspended over Ayanami's chest like he was using it to scan the spiritual waves of the dark stone embedded in his chest. He leaned over Ayanami. "The most probable way for him to continue on without the darkness continuously draining his energy would be for him to accept it. By accepting the darkness, not only can he utilize it, but it may intend to take over his mind completely."

Ayanami attempted to sit up. His right hand gripped at his chest. His left held to the chief's wrist. "I'll take my chances," his voice was hoarse. "I'll allow the darkness to stay within me. As long as it doesn't keep leeching my energy. Please, tell me what I must do."

Everyone looked at him worriedly. Then the chief's spoke, "alright, I will help you. But be warned that this is very dangerous for you." Ayanami nodded. "Everyone, please leave Ayanami alone with me. I must aid him privately." As the chief commanded, everyone left the room and waited outside.

"Ayanami, please bear the pain, for it may be great." The chief overlapped his hands directly over the dark stone in Ayanami's chest. He pressed down. Ayanami felt the sudden pain surge from his chest then spread throughout his entire body. It was a continuous feeling of spikes jabbing at him. The chief mumbled a continuous chant. Thetattooed snake began uncoiling from his chest. Its body moved and slithered. It travelled to Ayanami's right arm. It's head on the back of his hand. The snake's body coiled around his wrist and lower arm. On Ayanami's chest, a circular symbol appeared over his heart. Like another black tattoo, but it was inscribed with and unknown language.

As the chief slowly released his hands, Ayanami raised himself from the bed. The pain had subsided greatly. He felt much better, except for a strange feeling deep down within his heart.

"There, that should do it," the chief stated as he wiped sweat off his forehead. "The markings on your chest are writing in the language of the spirits. It will protect your heart. You and the darkness coexist. You must endure living with a force of hatred and darkness within you. Even though you both coexist, it will still consume you. Honestly, there isn't very much I can do except for slowing down the process. However, now you are able to use the darkness' power. It will become more dangerous for you. If your heart weakens, the darkness will have a chance to consume your spirit, and possibly your soul as well. Also, if you rely on the powers of darkness too much, then that will give the darkness an advantage to make your body succumb. You must take care of yourself wisely."

Ayanami exited the house. All his companions ran out to greet him. Their expressions were full of relief. Ayanami looked to the sky. The clouds were dark gray. He assumed it was going to rain.

"I'm so relieved," Yuuki said.

"What did the old man do?" Kohaku asked. Ayanami showed him his arm. The snake's eye now on the back of his hand. Kohaku stared intently.

"So what're we going to do now?" Sakuya asked. "I don't know 'bout you, but my life is with my crew."

Ayanami faced him. "Thanks a lot for helping me." He raised his right hand. "Maybe we'll meet again one day."

Sakuya grabbed his hand and shook it. "Sure, why not," he grinned. He turned around and made his way to his ship. The sound of the propellers spun furiously as is flew over the village.

When Yuuki, Ayanami and Kohaku left the village and went into the forest, it began raining. Ayanami felt a pure sensation cleansing him. It began pouring as they continued to walk through the forest.

"We should find shelter," Yuuki insisted. "I think there should be a cave nearby up ahead."

When they found the cave, the outside rocks were covered in moss. The inside looked like it would go deep down for an eternity. It was so dark that you wouldn't be able to see the end of the cave. Stalagmites had begun forming on the ceiling and floor of the cave.

"It's pouring down bad. We might have to stay here for the night." Kohaku shook the water out of his hair.

Yuuki pulled out blankets from her bag. "At least we are prepared. We may rest warmly."

"Oh crap!" Kohaku yelled.

"What's wrong?"

"That damn pirate has the earth spirit stone."

"Well," Ayanami spoke, "we'll get it back from him eventually. If we don't, we know that Sakuya won't be trying something dangerous with it."

They used rocks or bags as their pillow. Ayanami and Kohaku were grateful for the warm blankets as the wind grew stronger throughout the night.

As the night passed, the hard rain turned into a calm shower. Ayanami lay awake, too distracted by the multiple sounds that could be heard throughout the cave. When he turned his eyes towards the shadow of the cave, he noticed something that glinted red. His curiosity got the better of him as he left his blanket, picked up his sword and wandered deep within the cave.

The cave echoed his footsteps. Gravel crushed beneath his feet. As he continued his walk, more red dots appeared. Ayanami looked up. Hundreds of red dots shone above him. He realized that all those red dots were the eyes of bats. Over a hundred bats hung above him. Their eyes tracking him. Ayanami swallowed hard as a drop of sweat ran down his forehead.

After a moment of locking eyes with the bats, they began to shut their glowing, red eyes. Ayanami sigh a sign of relief.

When he looked down, he saw a mask. His eyes were wide. On the ground was a mask made of iron. The Iron Masks had left one of their symbols here. Ayanami felt anger flow through his entire body. The hatred he harbored against that organization for imprisoning him and erasing his memories made his body fill up with rage. Suddenly his right arm went for his sword without him controlling it. Shocked by this uncontrolled movement, Ayanami grabbed hold of his arm-stopping it from drawing the blade. He felt like his arm was being tightened andchoked by the snake marking. When his arm finally calmed down, Ayanami realized what it meant to have to coexist with the darkness. "The darkness will take over..." he muttered."I'll never let that happen," he said as he clenched his fist and walked back to his resting spot.

Morning came with cool air. The trees were wet from the night rain. The grass was covered with dew. Birds began chirping as forest critters scurried around on the forest floor.

Ayanami inhaled the fresh morning air as he stretched his arms. As he raised his arms, he observed his right hand-where the snake head lay.

Kohaku walked up behind him and grabbed his wrist. "Are you scared of this thing?" He looked Ayanami in the eyes. "If you let uncertainty and confusion cloud your heart, then you will be consumed by this mark."

"If I am consumed by this mark, do you plan to kill me and make the stone yours?"

Kohaku chuckled, "I'm not allowed to have such thoughts." He turned and went towards Yuuki to help her repack the blankets.

The next village they arrived at was Sakura Village. This village was known for its amazing cherry blossoms. The trees had beautiful blooming flowers. Cherry blossoms were all around the ground. Its pedals danced in the wind. Children played around the trees.

As they entered the village, people were staring at them. Ayanami was certain that they were mostly staring at him.

An old man approached Ayanami. He was bald but his grey eyebrows were long enough to cover his eyes. His beard was thinned as it dangled under his chin. "Ayanami?" his voice was in disbelief. "Oh my, it truly is you! Why have you returned?"

Ayanami starred. "Old man, you know who I am?"

"You don't remember? This village, Sakura Village was where I raised you."

"I lost my memories.."

"Oh my, please, then, come to my home. We can discuss many things."

Suddenly, one of the villagers came behind him. "Elder, are you sure about this? These are strangers."

"Do not fret, Ayanami was raised in this village. In fact, I was the one that raised him."

Upon arriving at the elder's house, they sat on floor cushions around a low table. "Ayanami, my boy, it is a pleasure to see you again."

"What did you mean by you raised me? Are you not my father then?"

The old man sighed. "I found you outside this village when you were just an infant. I knew I couldn't leave you so I decided to take you in. However, once you were in the village, strange things began occurring. Houses suddenly went in flames. Large bonfires went out." He looked at Ayanami head on. "A child born with an affinity for fire was what the villagers thought you were. They wished to have you leave this village. One day, when you were much older, you decided to leave the village. That was about five years ago, if memory serves me correctly."

"Five years," Ayanami echoed. "Even though you are the one that raised me, I still don't have much of a clue of who I am."

"You change. Everyone changes. The personality you have now, is the current you. If you do end up remembering all your past, and if it is a dark one, what will you do? If your life was filled with hate and bloodshed, how will you react?"

Ayanami's eyes were wide. He was lost in thought. He couldn't even imagine how he would handle himself is he realized his past nature was one he was trying to destroy-the darkness.

"Ayanami and friends, please stay for the night. There is a guest room prepared for you all. I'm sure your journeys must have been exhausting. I will have dinner prepared for you." The elder got up from his cushion and left the room.

There was an awkward silence. The thought of Ayanami having a dark past filled their minds.

Suddenly, a boy walked by and looked at them through the window. He had dark brown hair with chestnut colored eyes. "Be careful, the elder hasn't been himself lately," was all he said and he walked away.

In the evening, food was brought to their room. Ayanami and Kohaku ate the food, not realizing their own hunger. Yuuki, on the other hand, ate carefully as she watched them.

At night, they had all passed out. Each of them sleeping too soundly in their beds. Their bedroom door opened and a shadow slid in. In its hand, a knife. It was prepared to stab Ayanami. His hand went down-

"What do you think you are doing, elder?" Yuuki was sitting on her bed, eyes glaring at the old man. "Get away from Ayanami!"

The elder grabbed the unconscious Ayanami with the knife pointing at his neck. Yuuki hissed. "Ayanami, wake up!" she cried.

"It's no use, child. There was a sleeping drug in the meat. I suppose you didn't eat the meat since you are quite awake." his eyes were entirely black. A dark aura filled the air around him.

Yuuki's eyes opened in realization. "You've possessed the elder. A member of the Iron Masks!"

"Oh my, how quick witted you are. I am Sho, one of the four leaders of the Iron Masks. This old man was quite pathetic, if I must say so myself. A feeble old man that I could make use of. You see, I knew Ayanami would end up going back to his home town. That's why I came here to wait for him. And now that he is within my grasp, I think I want to make him suffer for escaping from our organization." Sho grasped Ayanami's wrist where the snake tattoo was. The aura of darkness circled around Ayanami's arm. The snake grew longer, wrapping itself up higher on his arm. Ayanami groaned in pain. His eyes shut tightly. Sho held Ayanami firmly, ensuring that his arm wouldn't swing itself out of his grasp.

"Stop it!" Yuuki yelled. She tried to run at Sho but he instantly pricked the knife deeper into Ayanami's neck. Yuuki stopped herself. She had never felt so infuriated at herself for not being able to protect someone who was right in front of her.

Ayanami's eyes shot open. Pain flowed through his arm. He tried to pull his arm but couldn't. "Who're you?" he looked at Sho. "Let go of me!"

"Just a little longer," he grinned.

The snake mark had already completely bound his right arm. It began to circle around his shoulders and slowly around his chest, nearly going over the protective seal Yuuki's grandfather had placed on him.

Ayanami kicked Sho in the shin and made him howl in pain. Ayanami was able to escape from him clutches.

"Don't think you escaped so easily." Sho raised his hand and grasped the air. Yuuki was confused at what he was trying to do. But Ayanami fell to the floor. His left hand grasping his right shoulder. "You are weak with that soul of yours-too scared to fall to darkness, but too weak to follow the light. Just allow the darkness to consume you. It'll be so much easier for you."

"I'll never fall to the darkness," he spat at Sho. He was still gripping his arm.

Suddenly, a shadow came out of the elder's body. It formed into a figure. He had dark blue hair that covered the left side of his face. He wore an iron mask with a strange symbol that curved on the right cheek. He wore an earring on his right ear. His entire body was covered with a long black cloak that was open halfway down. "You'll never escape the darkness." He laughed as he faded away in the dark room. The body of the elder collapsed and lay on the floor unconscious.

"Ayanami, are you alright?" Yuuki's voice was panicked as she stared at the long snake that wrapped around him.

"I'll survive," he grunted. "Wake Kohaku, we leave now."

The night sky was embedded with stars. The wind was chilly, yet bearable. They ended up staying in another forest. Ayanami could barely handle the pain that was being inflicted on him by the snake mark. He felt as if he was being squeezed to death. He crouched down on his knees and laid his head on the grass. The cold grass made him relax a bit. It was a different feeling that eased his pain.

Yuuki came from behind and wrapped her arms around him. She rested her head on his back. "It will be alright. I know you must be terrified." Her voice was gentle and reassuring. "You are not alone. We will face the darkness together."

Ayanami swallowed and nodded. "Thank you, Yuuki." The pain from the snake mark began to subside and Ayanami was able to relax a bit. "Can we...stay like this for a little longer, Yuuki?"

"Of course."

"Hey, I found a spring over-" Kohaku stopped in his tracks as the two separated from each other and glared at him. "Sorry for interrupting," he said as he cleared his throat. "Yuuki, maybe you should go in the springs first."

"Are you saying that I am dirty?"

"Not at all, my beauty. I just don't think that you'd want to end up bathing after me and Ayanami."

"Alright, thank you, Kohaku. I'll go take my bath then now. And both of you better not peep."

Ayanami looked at Kohaku. "I'll keep Kohaku away."

"Hey! What's that supposed to mean?"

Ayanami laughed, "It's nothing."

Yuuki undressed herself and sat down in the springs. The water was quite warm and she felt relaxed. She leaned back and closed her eyes. She suddenly heard noises coming from behind her. As she turned around, she saw that it was Ayanami who had already sat down, his back towards her. She also sat back down in the water with her back facing him.

"Yuuki," Ayanami spoke, "thank you for your encouragement. I really needed it. Maybe, if it weren't for you with us all these times, Kohaku and I may not have been able to get through the tough situations. I'm glad that you came with us. Even though you could have stayed safe in your village."

"There is no need for thanks." She felt her face get hot. She didn't know if it was because of the springs or Ayanami. "I did what I had to do, as a fellow stone wielder."

"Even though it was because of your duty, I'm still grateful."

Ayanami got up and was about to leave until Yuuki got up and wrapped her arms around him. "If you ever need someone to hold you, I am here for you."

Ayanami placed his hand on her arm. "Thank you."

After Yuuki finished bathing, Ayanami and Kohaku entered the spring. Kohaku observed Ayanami's markings. The snake ran along his right arm and wrapped around his shoulders. He noticed the strange symbol over his chest.

"Are you done staring?" Ayanami felt a little irritated.

"Sorry, sorry. It's just kind of interesting. I've never really seen anything like this. It's just caught my eye, that's all."

"Kohaku, what do you plan to do if we do end up defeating the Iron Masks?"

I'd kill the three of you and take back the green stone, Kohaku replied in his mind. "Ugh!?" he felt his body tighten. It was as if he was being bound by heavy chains. The weight seemed to drag him down, but he didn't fall.

"Kohaku! What's wrong?" Ayanami was at his side.

"Kohaku, what were you trying to do?" It was Yuuki. She came up from behind a tree and approached the two males.

"What do you mean 'what he was trying to do'?" Ayanami looked at Yuuki. "What's wrong with him?"

"There is nothing wrong with him. He is simply being bound by our contract. If he even thinks about harming any of us, this is what will happen to him."

Ayanami looked at Kohaku. Sweat was falling down his forehead. "I get it, Yuuki. Will you undo this now please?" Kohaku's voice was rough and strained.

She looked at him. "Release his binds."

Kohaku felt the release of his limbs. He exhaled heavily and wiped the sweat off his face.

"Please be careful, Kohaku. It would be best if you do not burden us with your thoughts of greed."

When Ayanami and Kohaku returned from their baths, Yuuki had already set up a campfire. Ayanami sat down, huddled in his blanket and munched on some dried fruits. The night was silent, but it was relaxing. The temperature slowly dropped as the winds began to grow.

As Ayanami stared at the fire, he thought he saw a black flicker. He looked around and noticed a tall figure standing behind him.

"Sho!" he jumped back with his sword in hand. Kohaku and Yuuki were both alerted and they were at Ayanami's side.

"Who's this guy?" Kohaku asked.

"He's the one who spread the dark snake on my body more. At the time he showed up, you were put to sleep by a drug he put in our food. But he possessed the elder of that village so that he could catch us off guard."

Sho wasn't wearing his mask. His face was young and his skin was slightly tanned. The light of the fire brightened his face. He smiled and said, "I'm not after you right now, Ayanami. Actually, I'm here for that guy." He pointed at Kohaku.

"Me?" his voice was in disbelief. "What do you want with me?"

"I have a proposition for you, my friend. Join us-join the Iron Masks."

"Heh, even if I did, I'd be useless to you since I have sworn an oath to these guys."

"Oaths can easily be broken. All you have to do is make the other person you have a contract with succumb to you and make them say that they abolish it."

Kohaku looked at Yuuki. Their eyes met. Hers were full with panic.

"A tempting offer, but I nicely decline. Now get lost."

"Oh ho, I know how you truly feel." Sho began to fade away. "You can't ignore that tempting desire in your heart. It's so strong that I can taste it." His laugh echoed in the night sky as he completely disappeared.

"Annoying bastard," Kohaku muttered. Ayanami and Yuuki looked at him intently. "Why are you both staring at me? I said that I wasn't going to go, didn't I?"


"Good. Then that's that. I'm getting some shut eye. Night, both of you." Kohaku lay on the ground and pulled the blanket over his head. His back facing the fire and the both of them. Ayanami and Yuuki looked at each other, their expressions worried. They both decided to copy Kohaku and sleep for the rest of the night.

Even though Kohaku was trying to sleep under the blanket, the thoughts of Sho's proposal ran through his mind.

It was nearly dawn. As he walked, leaves were being crunched beneath his feet. His weight was added by another's presence. It was difficult for him to move well because of the invisible chains that now bind him.

"Ah, I'm glad you decided to change your mind."

"Shut it. Now hurry up and make her undo the oath." Kohaku carried Yuuki in one arm, her body leaning against his side. Her face was filled with rage. Kohaku had bound her arms and her legs. He silenced her mouth with a long cloth.

"No need to be so impatient. We shall return to our organization for this process, for we have a much more efficient solution for your problem." Sho waved his hand in front of Kohaku's and Yuuki's faces, making them pass out. Sho took hold of each of their arms and all three of them disappeared as the sun rose.

Ayanami woke in a panic. Both Yuuki and Kohaku were missing. The fire had died out throughout the night. "Damn it, Kohaku!" he yelled silently. "I have to save Yuuki. Even though that organization will undo the oath, there's no telling what they'll do with either of them afterward."

When Yuuki woke, it was dark all around her. She was lying on the floor. Binds around her wrist and neck were chained to the stone wall behind her. She felt weak. It was as if all the energy from her had been forced out of her body.

Although the room was dimly lit, she was thankful that she could see her surroundings. Her eyes went wide as they trailed across to the other side of the room. Kohaku lay on his side. His arms bound back by large iron cuffs. His eyes were blindfolded by the same material. The cuffs had a long chain that held onto the stone wall.

"Kohaku!" Yuuki's voice was filled with rage and worry. She tried to get close to him but the chains choked her.

Kohaku groaned and swore at his blindness. He sat up on his knees in confusion, pulling uselessly at the chains and the binds.

"Are you happy now?" Yuuki spoke, suppressing her anger. "Is this what you wanted?"


A door slammed open. Yuuki saw that it was Sho at the door. "You're all finally awake, I see."

"Sho, did you lie to Kohaku, so that you could just capture me?"

"Of course I didn't lie. What I say holds true. I will remove the oath he swore to you and he will join our organization and he can hunt for Ayanami at his leisure."

"If you're accepting me, why chain me up and blindfold me?"

"Too many questions asked," he sighed. "Don't worry, I had to discuss it with the other leaders before they would accept you. But luckily for you, I am a good voucher." Sho came beside Kohaku and unfastened his blindfold. His eyes cringed from the light outside of the room. "Time to get the show on the road," he breathed.

Sho grabbed Kohaku's head, his palm covering his eyes. His other hand reached for Yuuki. He held each other against the wall. Yuuki gripped at his arm, trying to pull him away.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Kohaku yelled. He felt a strange shift in his body. His throat felt choked and no more words came out.

Silence shrouded the room. Both Yuuki and Kohaku stopped struggling as Sho released his grasp on the both of them.

Kohaku opened his eyes. For some reason, he was at the other side of Sho. His arms weren't bound behind him anymore but now long chains dangled from the manacles around his neck and wrists. "What the-" he began but stopped as he noticed that his voice sounded feminine. He looked down at himself. He wore a white dress. His hair grew long and black. He looked over to his side. The body that lay crumpled on the wall was a male. And suddenly, he realized that he was now in Yuuki's body, looking at his own image.

"Sho! What did you do to me?!"

"I got rid of the oath on you like you asked. Plus it's a lot better this way since I won't have to kill a girl to get the stone."

"Change me back this instant!"

"Sorry, I can't do that. The leaders only decided to keep you if you were in her body. That way, we get a new recruit and a stone as well."

"You bastard, you tricked me!" Kohaku attempted to punch him but he dodged his attack. Sho bent over and elbowed Kohaku in his stomach, making him unconscious.

Sho unlocked his chain and threw him over his shoulder. His foot already out the door when he said, "Unfortunately for you, my lady, you will remain here and await your fate." The door slammed shut with Yuuki unconscious in Kohaku's body.

When Kohaku woke up, he was lying in bed of a luxurious room. The blankets were made of silk. The four bed posts were large and made of oak. He recalled that he was still in Yuuki's body. He got up and walked around the large room. It included a full body sized mirror with a large bathroom. Elegantly carved closets contained clothes that could have been for either gender. When Kohaku looked out of the window, he saw the ocean. It seemed like he was in a tall tower on an island in the middle of nowhere.

He looked down at his left arm. On the back side of his hand was a black symbol that he never saw before.

"Oh well, at least I'm rid of that oath and I now have a stone in my possession."

There was a knock on the door.

"Feeling better now?" It was Sho. "Sorry for being so rough, but I had to." He wore his iron mask. The strange swirly symbol was the exact same as the one on Kohaku's hand.

"So, when do I leave to hunt my prey?"

"How about right away?"

Ayanami wandered into Houshin village, the port village where he met Sakuya. He went towards the docks, where he encountered the pirates that brought him to Sakuya's ship. But when he arrived at the docks, the ship was nowhere in sight. Ayanami felt hopeless. He felt that there was nothing that he could do to help Yuuki.

He backed up to find another solution. At that moment someone bumped into Ayanami. His attire was black and Ayanami had thought that it was a member of the Iron Masks. However he saw that his coat was only halfway done up, showing his bare chest. His hair was dirty blond and his eyes were a vibrant electric blue. "Watch where you're going!" he yelled.


"Huh? Ayanami, is that you?" Sakuya adjusted the headband that was nearly covering his eyes. "Where are Yuuki and the hunter? Aren't you usually with them?"

"I need your help. Kohaku got tempted by the Iron Masks. Now he kidnapped Yuuki. We have to go save her!"

Sakuya looked confused. "What're you talking about? She's right here."

As if on cue, Yuuki walked up from behind him.

"Yuuki!" Ayanami ran up to her and embraced her. "What happened with Kohaku?"

"I was able to give him the slip. He nearly handed me over to the organization," tears ran in her eyes. "I was so terrified."

"That damn liar. Wait 'til I get my hands on him."

"Please, Ayanami, we must stop the organization. I'm certain that Kohaku hasn't abandoned us completely. Sakuya, you'll help us as well, won't you?"

"If the beauty asks for me, how can I refuse?" He grinned and crossed his arms.

"Alright, then we'll go and stop the Iron Masks. I still don't know about Kohaku, but I trust your judgment, Yuuki."

Kohaku, whose spirit dwelled within Yuuki's body snickered and thought of Ayanami as a fool. But he also felt an unexplainable pain from his chest.

The three of them rode on Sakuya's ship. Yuuki gave him directions towards the island Kohaku had been taken to. It was a short flight, taking less than a day.

"In all my days of flying and sailing, I never seen this island before." Sakuya stared at the island. He landed his ship in the ocean behind the entrance of the tower.

He pushed down the plank so that they could descend. Sakuya walked first, then Ayanami and Yuuki followed after. Suddenly Ayanami bumped into Sakuya's back.

"Hey, why did you stop?" Ayanami asked, rubbing his nose.

"We've got company."

Ayanami looked around Sakuya. Blocking their path were cloaked figures. There were about ten that stood in front of them. Sakuya pulled his arms low and was preparing for an attack.

Suddenly, wind circled Ayanami and Sakuya. Blades of wind slashed at Sakuya's wrist. It left cuts with blood barely leaking out. Sakuya cursed as he turned around at Yuuki.

"Yuuki, what the hell do you think you're doing?"

She held her composure. She looked down at the two boys trapped within her wind. A menacing grin on her face. "Sorry, I'm not you precious Yuuki. She's locked away in the tower somewhere."

Ayanami stared. "Who are you?" Then his eyes opened with shock. "Kohaku...?"

"You got it, brat."

"You bastard! And I was hoping that you'd actually be different-that you really didn't want to join the organization. But you're really just scum."

"I love having power. Obtaining it was my goal all along. You were too blind to realize that fact. You thought I'd be all 'buddy-buddy" with you just because I got stuck swearing an oath to you? Now it's time you pay the price."

Kohaku commanded the winds to tighten the circle around them. Ayanami and Sakuya howled in pain as the winds cut their skin, causing more and more blood to spill as the circle shrunk. Ayanami glared at Kohaku through the pain as he and Sakuya passed out from the pain and the great loss of blood.

"Well done," Sho clapped as he walked forward from the small crowd of cloaked figures. "That was quite the impressive show of display. Well, I'm definitely not bored anymore." He turned and faced the other members of the organization, "take these two away. We can soon forge the spirit stone." The members cheered for their success.

"Wait," Kohaku interrupted their mood, "we have to check if Sakuya still has the stone of earth."

"Yes, you're definitely right." Sho motioned to one of the members. He ran forward to where Sakuya lay and searched his clothes. He pulled out the green stone. "Perfect, now all is set. Kohaku, go rest in your room. I'll call you when preparations are set."

Kohaku nodded and entered the tower, where he was showed to his room by one of the cloaked figures. He noticed that the black marking on his left hand had faded away as he walked.

It was dark all around. The dragon covered with flames looked at him. The only sound that could be heard was the flailing and flickering of its flames. Then it walked away, into the darkness, its flames bursting more than the last time he was seen.

Ayanami awoke. His vision cloudy. His head throbbing. His body felt heavy. The scars on his body still stung. He was leaning on the hard, cold floor. A buzzing noise rang in his ear. The room was dimly lit. At one side of the room, he saw Sakuya lying on the floor, unconscious. On the other side, someone was on their knees, leaning towards him.

"Ayanami, wake up!"

His vision finally focused on his surroundings. "Kohaku?" He still lay on the floor.

"No, I am Yuuki. Kohaku has betrayed us. His spirit was placed in my body and he brought you and Sakuya here. He has deceived us all!" She tried to pull at the chains that bound her, but it was futile.

"Yuuki?! But...you look like Kohaku. How's that possible?" Ayanami tried to move, but none of his muscles obeyed his will.

"I told you that we have switched. Sho, one of the four leaders of the Iron Masks, was the one who did this to us."

"I can't move. What's wrong with my body?" Ayanami struggled, but nothing changed.

"You and Sakuya must have had a paralysis drug injected into your bodies. I am not entirely certain myself, but I think that was what I saw one of the organization members do."

Ayanami swore. He was irritated at his immobile body. If only he could actually move then he would feel a bit at ease. He looked up at Yuuki, who now resided within Kohaku's body. He felt more frustrated at himself for not being able to do anything about it. He couldn't do anything about Yuuki's current state.

"What?! Why didn't you tell me this before?" It was a female voice from the other side of the door.

"You wouldn't have made such a convincing act if you knew. Wasn't it fun though, to have this experience?" A male voice replied.

"Why you... Why don't you try this yourself and see if you'd like it?"

"Sure, why not? As long as it'll rid me of my boredom."

The door in the dark room burst open. Kohaku, Yuuki's body, was next to Sho. They walked up towards Kohaku's body.

"What do you want, traitor?" Yuuki hissed.

Sho raised his hands in front of him. "Now, now, that isn't very ladylike behavior. Even if you're in a male's body."

"Let's just get this over with, Sho," Kohaku said.

"Yes, yes." Sho placed his hands on Kohaku's and Yuuki's heads. He shut his eyes and focused his energy.

Kohaku's eyes were wide. "Wait-!" was all he could begin to say as their souls switched back to their original bodies.

The two corpses lay slump against the stone wall. Ayanami and Sho both waited for either of them to open their eyes.

A strange scratchy noise was heard. Sho fell. His legs knocked down from behind him. Sakuya had slid his leg on the ground, tripping Sho.

"How can you move?" Sho exhaled, slowly getting up from his fall.

"My body has taken a lot of abuse. It's built immunity to your stupid drugs." Sakuya snickered as he got up from the ground.

Yuuki's eyes shot open. She charged straight at Sho. Her punch went for Sho's stomach. There was a small cracking noise. Yuuki had most likely fractured one of Sho's ribs. He fell back to the floor. His arms wrapped over his stomach as he coughed up blood.

Sakuya grabbed Sho by the collar of his robe. He knocked the iron mask off and threw a hard punch at his face, causing Sho to bleed from his nose. "Bastard..." he muttered as Sakuya shoved him to the ground and pulled his wrists behind his back. All Sho did was glare at him as he spat blood out from his mouth.

Yuuki was about to bind Sho's wrists with chained manacles that had bound her previously until a strange dark aura began to circle him. The aura slithered around Sakuya, who stood on top of Sho. Sakuya jumped back but the dark aura still circled him.

Yuuki instantly went over to Sho. She continuously kicked him. "Stop that this instant!" she yelled. Sho's body went limp. Suddenly, the snake-like aura that surrounded Sakuya disappeared. "That was dangerous," she said. Her eyes went up and she looked at Ayanami and Sakuya who both stared at her. "What? Is there something wrong?"

Sakuya and Ayanami stared at each other. They never realized how violent Yuuki could be. Now they were going to be extra cautious to not get on her bad side.

Yuuki approached Sho once again to bind the manacles around his wrists and neck. At that moment, Kohaku regained consciousness. Three pairs of eyes went against one. Kohaku sat back against the wall. His wrists still bound behind him. His body's state has remained the same when he had left it. He looked at his former companions nervously. Sweat dripped down the back of his neck. He cursed silently as Sakuya came closer to him.

They walking down the hallway. Yuuki helped support Ayanami as his body was still partially numb due to the paralysis drug that was injected into him. Kohaku walked in front of the group, Sakuya right at his back. Kohaku led them into the luxurious room he was resting in.

As they entered the room, Sakuya shoved Kohaku down on the floor and ordered him to not move. Yuuki led Ayanami to the bed, where he was able to rest. Sakuya went over to Ayanami and checked his vital signs.

"I didn't know you could nurse someone."

"A captain's got to have many skills if he want his crew and himself to live." Sakuya's hands kept moving around; checking Ayanami's pulse and heart rate.

There was a sudden thud noise. Sakuya's movements stopped completely.

"Sakuya!" Ayanami shook the body that now lay unconscious on the bed.

Kohaku stood behind where Sakuya stood. His sword in hand. He drew his blade and pointed it towards Ayanami. "Now it's time you start behaving."

Yuuki came from behind him, attempting an attack. But Kohaku dodged and hit the back of her neck. He grabbed her as she was knocked out. "Get on the floor, Ayana-"

Ayanami stared at Kohaku as he crumpled to the ground. He saw something strange. It was as if white chains were binding Kohaku. The chains appeared from his chest. They snared and tightened around him-restricting his movements. Kohaku grunted and swore as he tried to struggle out of the chains. The chains squeezed tighter the more he struggled. He felt the air being forced out of his chest.

"The oath..?" Ayanami mouthed. He pulled himself over to Yuuki and looked at her arm. It still bore the red signature that symbolized Kohaku's oath to her. He shook Yuuki, trying to wake her. "Yuuki, Yuuki," he called.

She moaned and slowly opened her eyes. She looked around and saw Kohaku struggling on the ground. "The oath," she breathed. "Ayanami, what will we do now?"

"We have to shut down this organization. We can't let them make people suffer."

"Hah," Kohaku breathed, "you're such a hypocrite. Aren't I suffering here because of you?"

"Don't you compare me to them!" Ayanami yelled. A dark shadowy aura began to appear around him. It circled around his right arm, where the snake's head resided.

Cracking noises came from the other side of the door. Then a hole appeared within the door. Something had torn a hole into the door and made its own path towards Ayanami-it was his blade. The blade of fire that allowed Ayanami to utilize his stone's power. The sword was now in his hand. Darkness continuously circling around his body. Ayanami felt his hand swing up. He gasped at his sudden movement. His arm swung the sword down at Kohaku. Kohaku's eyes were wide, terrified of his soon-to-be death.

Ayanami had stopped his arm. His left hand holding back his right arm. The control of the snake mark was stronger than the last time. He was having great difficulty holding himself back. He gripped his right arm so hard that the sword was dropped from it. And his arm returned to his control. Ayanami was finally able to relax a bit.

"Ayanami, are you alright?" Yuuki was worried. She had never seen the darkness actually possess someone.

"I'm fine," he panted. Sweat dripped down his back and his forehead.

Kohaku was breathing heavily for air. His chains tightened his chest, making it hard for him to breathe. He looked up at Ayanami, who looked completely exhausted. Kohaku had to think of a way to get out of these chains. He had to find a way to convince Yuuki to release him of these binds. But how?

Sakuya coughed and groaned on the bed. He sat up, rubbing the back of his head. "You bastard," he muttered at Kohaku. He grabbed Kohaku up by his neck, making him choke.

"Don't, Sakuya," it was Ayanami. "If we do things with hatred, only the darkness will benefit from it."

Sakuya looked the other way. "You're lucky, this time." He dropped Kohaku on the floor. Kohaku coughed, gasping for air.

"Let's go. We should take care of the other three leaders," Ayanami decided.

Sakuya and Yuuki nodded in unison. They all made their way towards the door.

"Hey, wait! You can't just leave me here." Kohaku pleaded.

"This is like when we first met, don't you think, Kohaku?" Ayanami's gaze was cold. "Remember, I'm too insecure to trust anyone?"

The words made Kohaku flinch. Ayanami turned around and made his way out the door with the others. Kohaku watched his back as it disappeared behind the door. He felt a pain in his chest. "Damn it," he whispered.

The three of them were running down the long hallway. They passed multiple rooms. One area that were full of different cells made chills run through their spine. They recalled the room where they had trapped Sho in. As they passed that room, they noticed that the door had been opened once again. When they looked inside, they saw that Sho was gone.

They had nearly reached the end of the hall until Ayanami suddenly stopped. Familiar sounds could be heard in one of the rooms. Strange spinning and whooshing sounds and the sounds of people getting hurt could be heard. The stone bearers had kept their guard up as they approached the room.

Ayanami slowly opened the door and a sudden noise of something impaling the wall was heard beside him. Ayanami looked beside him. A large ninja star-like weapon had been thrown at the wall. In the room was a girl and a large man. They were combating the cloaked figures that surrounded them again. On the floor lay many dead cloaked figures, slashed away by the ninja star.

Ayanami rushed right into the scene. Yuuki and Sakuya called his name but he didn't look back. He drew his sword from its case and slashed away at the figures.

"Ayanami?!" the girl said. A grin of glory spread on her face. In her hand was a dagger she used to battle. She and Ayanami were compatible fighters. They followed each other's movements swiftly as they fought the cloaked figures. The large man had spiked knuckles on his fists. He punched away at the figures. Soon after, Sakuya and Yuuki joined the battle.

When all had calmed, they all sat on the floor, their breathing heavy. Only Sakuya had walked around to look for a suitable blade that was used by one of the cloaked figures. He found a large sword that intrigued him and he took it with him as he went to join the others.

"Luna, Haruse, what are you both doing here?" Ayanami asked.

"Since you had left us, we have been making preparations to infiltrate and shut down the Iron Masks organization." Luna replied. She looked down at her hands that gripped her shorts. "Ayanami, I'm really sorry about before..." Tears ran down her face.

He looked at her and smiled, "it's alright, Luna. It's also my fault because I couldn't trust you. Even though you and Haruse had saved my life twice." Luna sniffled and wiped the tears from her face.

"I'm glad we got the chance to meet again, Ayanami," Haruse spoke. "It's good to see you found some companions that understand you." He smiled at Yuuki and Sakuya.

"How did you both plan to take down this organization," Sakuya asked.

Luna pulled something round out of her bag. "I plan to make a huge bang at the core of this place. The lowest levels of this tower contain some type of reactor that's linked to the twilight."

"That won't be enough," Ayanami said. "If there are still organization members, they can just rebuild the organization again."

Luna shrugged. "Then all we have to do is kill the leader."

"Leaders," Ayanami corrected. "There are four of them. And they're pretty powerful. Each of them utilizes some form of dark power."

"Do you have any information regarding them?" Haruse asked.

"No," Yuuki replied. "We have only encountered one of the leaders- Sho. The other three remain a mystery to us. Even though Sho seemed a bit irresponsible, he is not a force to be taken lightly." She looked at the snake tattoo on Ayanami's body.

Sakuya got up on his feet. "We sure as hell aren't going to find out anything by sitting here."

Everyone agreed as they stood up. "I guess that our main destination would be the top of the tower then," Ayanami declared.

As they exited the room, they saw that the hallway was crowded. Hundreds of cloaked figures blocked their path. Their weapons in hand.

"Ayanami," Haruse began, "you and everyone go on ahead. Luna and I will take care of these guys. We can't waste time. We'll set up bombs at the reactor while you go and take care of the leaders. It's most likely that they are at the highest point in this tower."

Ayanami nodded.

Haruse and Luna charged at the mob first, attempting to clear a path for the others. Luna threw her over-sized ninja star. It spun and sliced everyone that came in its path, making blood fly out of multiple bodies. Haruse swung his armed fists. His spiked knuckles puncturing the flesh of the cloaked figures. When the path had been cleared, Ayanami and the others dashed right through, making their way towards the highest point in the tower.

The next floor was quiet. There was wide open space. If it was a hallway, it was much larger than the previous floor. The walls and the floors of the room were dark blue. The ceiling seemed to not exist. It looked like they were standing in a deep well. It was still dimly lit. The room made it seem like they were standing in mid-air. As if they had entered some other dimension. At the other end of the room was an iron door. They continued their path with caution, certain that something would try to catch them off guard.

Yuuki walked at the head of the group. Their footsteps sounded like they were standing on a see-through platform. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary as she walked a few meters.


Yuuki turned around and saw Ayanami and Sakuya with their hand rubbing against their forehead. They were both mumbling at the sudden pain.

"Is something wrong?" She tried to hide the little amusement in her voice.

"Ow," Sakuya began, "seems like we hit something". He raised his hand and he was shocked. There was actually something before him-a glass wall that could hardly be seen. "What the hell is with this?" His palms pressed against the glass, pushing it as hard as they could. Ayanami felt around in front of him. He could feel the glass wall.

Yuuki felt around in front of her but she felt nothing. She turned to the left. Her eyes widened as she felt the glass wall. When she turned to the right, the space was empty. "Why are there only glass walls in some areas and not others? What purpose does this serve?"

Ayanami walked forward, his left hand sliding on the wall. He nearly fell as there was a sudden turn that bent the glass wall to a ninety degree angle. "I think this is supposed to be a maze," he concluded.

"Great, just how are we supposed to get through a maze we can't see?"

"If we keep following the path of the wall, we'll eventually get to the exit."

"We must not waste any time. None know how long this maze could possibly be."

Ayanami and Sakuya now walked at the head of the group. Their hand on their sides of the wall. As they proceeded straight, their hand slid off the glass. They both began to turn, each going the opposite direction. Their heads turned back.

"We should go this way first," Ayanami decided.

"No. I think that this path will lead to the exit." They both glared at each other for a moment waiting to see if one will react to the other.

"Fine, have it your way. See if I care." Ayanami turned his head around and began walking towards his direction. Sakuya did the same. Yuuki looked at both of them. Their backs creating a larger distance. She sighed and ran after Ayanami.

Ayanami and Yuuki walked in silence. His hands remained in contact with the wall. Strange noises could be heard. The noise of something sliding. Ayanami looked through the wall at Sakuya. It seemed like he didn't notice any noises. They preceded their journey through the glass maze.

Sakuya's hands were extended to the area at his left and in the front. The one in front of him had encountered a glass wall. He touched the area to his right-another wall. He swore as he had to turn around. After a few returning steps, there was another wall. Sakuya felt panic rush through him. His hands moved, touching the walls that surrounded him. He was boxed in, trapped in a glass prison. He called out to Ayanami and Yuuki at the other end of the room. Neither Ayanami nor Yuuki turned to look at him. Sakuya banged at the walls with his fists, yelling their names. But it was all futile.

Finally, Ayanami and Yuuki reached the end of the maze. They stepped out into the wide, open space. "I guess we better go back and get Sakuya," he said as he began to turn back. But he didn't take a step. "Who're you?" His voice was surprised.

A figure with a long dark coat stood in their path. She had short, dark brown-red hair. There was a bizarre shadow pooling around her feet. The iron mask she wore had a curvy symbol over her lip. "I'm Mizuki, one of the four leaders of the Iron Masks." Her voice sounded childish. "I find it funny how easily companions will desert each other," she snickered. "I wonder how he truly feels about you now." Mizuki raised her hand and pointed it behind her.

"Sakuya!" They said in unison. Sakuya kept banging at the glass while he yelled their names, but nothing was heard. The glass was sound proof. "Let him go," Ayanami ordered. He ran towards Mizuki but was stopped. He smashed into a glass wall and stumbled back. "Damn it..."

Mizuki was laughing. "How entertaining you are. This floor is my domain. I control these walls." She raised her hand, the palm upward. "I bid you both farewell for I have chosen my opponent."

The floor rumbled. Ayanami caught Yuuki as she was about to fall. They noticed that Sakuya and Mizuki were getting lower and lower-or they were getting higher and higher. The platform they stood on was clear glass. They looked through it, down at Sakuya, until they couldn't see him anymore.

"Ayanami! Yuuki!" Sakuya called out as they faded away into the darkness. "Shit!" he muttered as he turned towards Mizuki. He glared at the cloaked woman. His eyes gleam vibrant blue. He grabbed the large sword he had taken from the previous battle with the large numbers of cloaked members from his back and swung it at the glass walls surrounding him. The glass shattered into a billion little pieces. Sakuya raised his voice in fury, slashing at anything that could be in front of him. As soon as the walls were shattered, the fragments raised from the floor to replace them. Sakuya had just about reached Mizuki until she suddenly vanished.

"This will be entertaining."

Sakuya jumped back at the voice behind him. He gripped his bladetightly and swung at the wall. As it shattered, so did Mizuki. "Damn. A reflection, huh?" Suddenly dozens of Mizuki's image appeared around Sakuya. He swore as he looked at each and every one of them.

"Try not to bore me too soon, handsome," Mizuki laughed.

"I hope Sakuya will be alright," Yuuki worried.

"I hope everyone will be alright."

The glass platform finally stopped moving as they reached the next floor. Each floor became less and less like a hallway and more and more like a room. The current room was lit by sunlight that entered through various holes in the iron wall. On the iron floor, there were billions of little holes. In the center of the room, a figure stood. A man with black hair that waved as wind blew from the windows. His iron mask had wavy lines across where the bridge of the nose should be, crossing from the left of his eyebrow to the lower part of the right eye socket. And like all the other leaders, wore a long black coat.

"Welcome, intruders, I am Tsubasa." His voice was deep. Ayanami and Yuuki stared as a shadow of darkness appeared behind him, forming something that looked like wings. "So, which one of you will be my opponent?"

Yuuki stepped forward. "Ayanami, please allow me to handle him." She walked of the glass platform and onto the iron floor, filled with holes. Then the glass platform slowly began to rise.

"Yuuki, please be careful," he said as he look down at her from the rising platform.

Yuuki nodded without looking back. She walked forward towards her opponent. Her eyes observing him. She knew she couldn't underestimate him. "My name is Yuuki. I will be your opponent, Tsubasa."

Tsubasa nodded his head, as if in approval. "I see you have the power over wind. That makes us at an equal stage." His feet rose from the ground. His wings of shadows flapping gracefully. "We'll see who commands the winds better."

Suddenly the floor began blowing winds from the tiny holes. Yuuki's dress flowed slightly. She commanded the winds beneath her feet. And she began hovering in the air.

Black feathers of darkness shot from Tsubasa's wings. They charged directly at Yuuki. She created a barrier of wind that circled her, knocking away the feathers. They tumbled and remained floating in midair, carried around by the winds.

Tsubasa flew right at her. His body gliding. Yuuki tried to unbalance his wings by shifting the directions of the winds. Tsubasa faltered slightly but he had high control of his movements. He grabbed Yuuki around the waist and hoisted her upwards. Then he dove straight down, accelerating their speed. As he neared the ground, he threw her. Yuuki hit the ground hard. Luckily her impact was slightly cushioned by the winds blowing upward from the holes.

Yuuki got up on her feet. She commanded a whirlwind. It spun crazily, picking up the feathers that have been scattered in the air and dust that remained in the room. The whirlwind was headed straight towards Tsubasa who remained high in the air. He had no way to escape. As the winds neared he got pulled in with no control. When he entered the winds, he couldn't be seen. Yuuki continued commanding the winds to spin even quicker.

The winds slowly died down when Yuuki had used up most of her energy. When the winds and dusts cleared, Yuuki saw Tsubasa suspended in the air. His wings were gone and his cloak had cuts. He fell from the air, thudding painfully on the ground. Yuuki walked to where he lay. His body looked limp. There were cuts over his hands and his mask. She was about to reveal his face until something grasped at her wrist.

"That was quite the impressive display of power, Yuuki," Tsubasa grinned from behind his mask.

Yuuki pulled away and jumped back. Dark marks that resembled feathers were imprinted on her wrist.

Tsubasa stood up and took off his mask. His eyes a cool blue, like the sea. He had fair skin. He looked like he could be a few years older than Ayanami. His grin was cold with amusement. His wings of darkness spread open and black feathers shot out towards Yuuki. She countered with a barrier of winds, knocking them back. But the feathers moved irregularly and charged again at her. Yuuki dashed away, dodging the feathers. However, they followed her, almost as if the feathers were heat seeking.

Every direction she went, every movement she made was followed by the feathers. They shadowed every movement she made. "The mark..!" she gasped.

Tsubasa summoned more feathers that continuously chased Yuuki. She could feel the energy leaving her. All this movement simply caused her to waste her strength so she wouldn't be able to fight her opponent. She felt irritated at how easily she was caught into his trap. Yuuki yelled and dashed at Tsubasa, using the winds to increase her speed.

She was too quick for Tsubasa. Her punch struck him right in the stomach, smashing him right into the iron wall. And at the last moment before she would end up contacting the wall, she pushed herself off the floor, speeding straight up into the air. The feathers all collided with the wall. Tsubasa gasped in pain as his own feathers struck his upper body.

Yuuki landed gently on the iron floor as Tsubasa picked himself up. He wiped away the blood from his mouth. He pulled out the feathers from his body and stood unsteadily. "That wasn't half bad." He coughed up a bit more blood.

From his wings, he plucked a feather and held it with both hands. The feather grew and formed into a pure black blade. Tsubasa lowered his knees and held the sword with both hands at his right. "Now, it's time I get serious."

The platform rumbled as it made its last stop. The new room was plain. The walls were white and there were a few square windows. At the center of the room was a man with blue hair.

"Yo, Ayanami." It was Sho.

Ayanami stepped off the platform and onto the stone floor. His sword had already been drawn.

"Why the silent treatment, Ayanami?" His eyes trailed to his chest and he grinned. "How's it like, living with darkness? Do you enjoy it?" he snickered.

"You're the one who put it on me, so you'd better take it off me, Sho." Ayanami stared at him as he gripped his sword tightly.

"Ah, well, how about if you can beat me, then I might take that mark off you?"

"I accept your challenge."

Ayanami was about to charge at Sho until he got knocked back. Sho's hand had already grabbed him by the face and flung him back at the wall.

"My, my, if you're only that serious then there's no doubt that you'll die in this battle."

Ayanami coughed as he got up on his feet. He stumbled to regain his balance. His eyes looked straight at Sho and he charged straight at him. He slashed vigorously but Sho could easily dodge all his attacks. Ayanami went for a horizontal slash, but Sho bent backwards, avoiding his attack. Sho raised his leg and kicked Ayanami up high in the room.

Black snake-like shadows shot up from where Ayanami stood. They grabbed Ayanami in mid-air, too defenseless to fight back. When they lowered down to the floor, Ayanami had been tangled by the snakes. His arm couldn't swing his blade one bit. They wrapped around him, binding him harshly from his ankles up. His feet didn't touch the ground. Ayanami struggled to free himself, but it was useless. Sho approached him and grabbed his wrist, where the head of the snake tattoo resided.

"It's time you get a better taste of darkness," Sho said as he focused his dark aura towards Ayanami. The aura wrapped around his wrist and the snake tattoo began to elongate. Ayanami nearly began screaming in pain as the snake's body began to wrap around him more and more. The snake's body split midway to wrap around his left arm. Ayanami felt like he was being suffocated by the snake as it squeezed tighter and tighter around his body. Finally, the pain was too unbearable and Ayanami screamed. His cry of agony made Sho grin in pleasure. "This is the feel of darkness. How is it? Isn't it lovely? Doesn't it make you want to succumb to it for eternity?"

Ayanami gasped in pain. Sweat dripped from his forehead, chest and back. The pain of the snake subsided momentarily. His head was lowered in exhaustion from the pain. He mumbled.

"Huh, what was that? Speak up, Ayanami," Sho raised his hand to his ear and smiled.

"I will... never..." Ayanami's head rose up, his expression fierce, "...succumb to darkness!" Suddenly, Ayanami's blade burst into flames, burning away the shadow snakes that bound him. He landed on all fours on the floor, his eyes burning with fury.

Sho stepped back. His smile was gone. "You..." He summoned another shadow snake that coiled around his right arm. It warped and was reshaped into a giant lance that surrounded his arm. And he charged at Ayanami. Their weapons clashed. Ayanami's will held him strongly. The will that told him to continue to fight, and to never give up.

Ayanami was able to strike Sho in his shoulder. Sho's eyes were filled with rage. Small, black snakes shot out at Ayanami from his wound. One of the snakes wrapped around his right wrist. Another went around his left thigh. A third wrapped his upper left arm and his body. They all tightened simultaneously. Ayanami stumbled at the pain. He nearly dropped his sword from the snake that coiled around his wrist.

Sho went for Ayanami again. Every time Ayanami was able to injure Sho, small, black snakes would come out from his wound and wrap around him. More snakes had attached onto Ayanami. It wrapped around his right ankle, right and left arm, his chest and stomach. Ayanami could hardly breathe as they squeezed him endlessly.

He winced at the pain as something dark was headed towards him. He reacted quickly and swung his blade at it. The dark thing bent at the end of his blade as it got flung away. It hit Sho and he began choking and gasping for air. Ayanami realized that it was one of the snakes. If he didn't counter the snake, it would have begun to strangle him instead, like it was doing to Sho now.

Sho chocked as he tried to gasp for air. He gritted his teeth as he muttered the word, "disappear." The snake around his throat faded away, along with the snakes that coiled around Ayanami. Ayanami felt relief and relaxation flow through his entire body. His mind swiftly returned to the situation before him and he knew that this was his only chance for victory.

Sho slowly raised himself from his crouched position. Suddenly, he was pushed back against the wall. He felt pain surge through him as blood spurted from his mouth. Something had impaled him to the wall. It had punctured through his chest. The wall was stained a deep red. His vision began fading quickly. As he looked up, Ayanami was close to him, holding the other end of the sword that had struck him. "Heh, I was careless," he coughed out more blood.

"Take away this curse like you promised."

"How foolish. The darkness isn't a curse. Everyone lives with it. It all depends if you give into it or not." Sho's eyes slowly closed. His body went limp.

Ayanami looked down at his chest and arm. The snake mark was gone. All that was left was the black gem that stuck on the backside of his hand. Ayanami pulled his sword from Sho's chest. Sho's body dropped from the wall and laid in a pool of his own blood, crumpled on the floor.

Suddenly a staircase appeared at the other end of the room. Ayanami went towards them and looked back at Sho. He turned his head back, eyes shut, as he made his way up the stairs.

The next floor seemed to be the last. The roof of the room was a dome made of glass, held up by wooden poles as framework-a large skylight. It was evening outside, the stars and moon slowly began to shine and sparkle in the sky. The room felt nostalgic. Ayanami knew that he saw this room once before. Candles that stuck to the wall helped the stars illuminate the room. Around the room were two other sets of stairs that led downwards. Ayanami wondered if those would lead to where Yuuki and Sakuya would be.


Ayanami turned his head towards the left.

"Ayanami, get out of here!" It was Sakuya yelling at him. He was covered in cuts and bruises. He was on his knees. His hands leaned on an invisible glass like a mime. Throughout the glass were little slits. It allowed Sakuya to breathe in air. He began to bang on the glass wall to make Ayanami listen to his command. Over him, Mizuki sat cross legged. It looked like she was floating in midair. Ayanami realized that she was sitting on the glass box that trapped Sakuya.

"Hush, you!" Mizuki ordered as she hopped off the glass prison. She kicked the box and it rolled to the center of the room like a dice. Sakuya tumbled around as it spun. He hit his head on the glass and started to bleed. When the box finally stopped, Sakuya sat slumped against the walls. His eyes barely showed any consciousness.

Ayanami heard footsteps coming from one of the stairways. The sounds of the footsteps seemed to drag on the floor. Two figures with black hair appeared. It was Tsubasa that walked as he carried Yuuki. Her hands were bound by darkness. She was covered in cuts which began to bleed. Her eyes were open but she seemed too weak to do anything.

"Ah, Tsubasa, my perfect assistant!"

"Who are you calling your assistant, Mizuki?" He glared at her.

"Just help me perform a magic trick for lovely Ayanami, okay?"

He didn't respond as he walked to where Mizuki stood.

Mizuki pulled out a large cloth that lay on the floor and threw it over the glass box, covering Sakuya. "Tsubasa, could you please give me some of your swords?"

Tsubasa followed along and summoned his wings, where he plucked a few feathers. They formed into swords as he held them. He handed it over to Mizuki.

Ayanami stared in horror. "No! Stop!" he yelled.

Mizuki shoved the swords in the slits of the box, ripping holes through the cloth.


Mizuki pulled the cloth off as she grinned in satisfaction. The swords had passed through one end of the box and out the other. To Ayanami's relief, Sakuya wasn't harmed at all. Sakuya was as shocked as Ayanami. He could have been dead at that instant but the swords missed him. Only now, if he were to move, the swords would cut him endlessly.

Tsubasa cleared his throat to get back to their current situation. "Since you are here," Tsubasa began, "I'm guessing that Sho is dead?"

Ayanami nodded slowly. His eyes followed Tsubasa and Yuuki.

"Sho might've been an idiot but he was fine to be killed by you!" Mizuki yelled. "Tsubasa and I, we wouldn't be able to handle that!"

Ayanami was taken aback. "What do you mean? Aren't you only after the stones so you can just gain power?"

"You don't get it. You're-"

"Mizuki, that's enough," called a voice from the shadows. A man with silver hair walked forward. A mask with a wavy symbol on the forehead hid his face while the black cloak hid his body. A long sword at his side. "Remember, what I told you? It's all different now."


Ayanami was on guard. "What are you talking about?"

The figure walked closer towards Ayanami. His hand went over his mask and he took it off slowly.

Ayanami's eyes opened with shock. The face of the figure looked exactly like his. The same skin tone. The same face structure. He even had crimson red eyes. "Why? Why do we look alike?"

"It's been a while, Ayanami," his eyes lowered a bit, a sad smile appeared. "I didn't think we'd end up meeting again like this. But I guess you don't remember anything from before you woke up in that cell and we tried to send your soul to the twilight." His smile brightened a bit. "I've missed you, brother."

Ayanami's eyes were wide. He staggered back and leaned against the wall. "No way... How can you be my brother-my twin brother, and you'd still try to kill me?!"

"We made a promise, Ayanami. We knew that one of us would be the bearer of the stone. We just didn't know who it would be. But we promised that whoever it may be, we wouldn't hesitate and we would continue on with what we've planned." Akihiro chuckled, "it's like the gods playing a cruel joke on us. Brothers who rule the organization of darkness, and one becomes changed and is forced to go fight for the other side."

"No. That's not possible. I can't be a leader of this organization."

"It's true. Both you and I guided this organization together." Akihiro walked towards Ayanami. Ayanami tried to get away but he couldn't move his feet. A shadow pooled at his feet, gluing them to the floor. He struggled as Akihiro approached him. Ayanami kept his guarded stance until Akihiro was right in front of him. Akihiro wrapped his arms gently around Ayanami. His muscles relaxed while Ayanami's tensed. "I don't know if this was because we were twins or we were played with by the gods, but while we were apart, I saw strange things. Maybe images of your journey."

Ayanami froze and thought back to the time he had a dream of this room where he looked at a picture and felt sad. "So that wasn't just a simple dream..." he muttered.

Akihiro's eyes opened. "You mean, you saw something like this in adream? And you felt the emotions of another?"

Ayanami nodded slightly.

Akihiro laid his head on Ayanami's shoulder. "I missed you so much," he whispered. "You have no idea what I had to go through. But," Akihiro looked at Ayanami in the eyes, "I've figured out a way to forge the stone without having to kill you. All we would have to do is forge the stone within you-merge the other stones with yours."

Ayanami's eyes widened. He shoved Akihiro away. "No," he looked at Yuuki and Sakuya, both in pain, who watched him, "I'm not going to kill them just for the stone. I won't kill my friends!"

Akihiro looked at him, his eyes filled with sadness, "brother..." He looked down, his expression darkened. "I see, losing your memories must have changed you so much. And with those new experience, you're become more like a stranger to me." He looked up, his eyes filled with anger and hatred. "You aren't my brother anymore!" Akihito drew his long blade. The steel gleamed in the moonlight. He charged straight at Ayanami with killing intent. "Don't worry, brother, I'll make this a swift death!"

Ayanami raised his blade, prepared to counter his attack.

Suddenly the entire tower began rumbling and everyone was caught off balance.

"What was that?" Mizuki asked.

"Something must have happened at the reactor!" Tsubasa spoke.

"Mizuki, go find out what's happened," Akihito ordered.

"Don't bother," said a female. Everyone turned their heads towards the direction of the voice.

"Luna. Haruse."

"Were you going to let us miss out on the main event, Ayanami?" Luna grinned. She grabbed her large ninja-star weapon and spun it towards Mizuki and Tsubasa. They jumped out of the way, leaving only Sakuya in the glass box. The weapon stuck to the floor beside him. Luna and Haruse ran towards Sakuya. The glass box shattered to pieces when Haruse smashed it with his spiked knuckles. Swords clattered on the ground. He carried Sakuya and fed him some herbs. Sakuya's wounds began healing quickly and he felt his strength return to him.

"Thanks," Sakuya said.

"We wouldn't have made it this quick if he didn't help us." Luna looked towards the stairs where she and Haruse had entered.

A figure walked up the steps.

"Kohaku!" Ayanami was surprised.

"Ayanami," he nodded.

"How did you get out of the chains of the oath, you traitorous bastard?" Sakuya nearly yelled.

"I don't really know myself, actually. But they suddenly just disappeared and I heard Yuuki's thoughts and saw what she saw. I can't really explain it myself. But I guess since Yuuki was in danger, I got released." Kohaku sighed. "I know you don't trust me, and I probably don't deserve your trust again, but just let me try to make things a bit right."

Akihiro looked at him. "So you betray this organization then?"

"It's not like I was actually a member or anything. Sho was the one who brought me here for his own amusement. Besides, I don't really remember ever swearing and oath or pledging loyalty to this organization." Kohaku held his blade tightly as he charged into battle. He went for Tsubasa who carried the weakened Yuuki.

Tsubasa tried to fly away with his wings of darkness. He was already partially up in the air. Kohaku was quick. He slashed him from the back. Tsubasa howled in pain as he dropped Yuuki.

Kohaku jumped and slid on the floor, catching Yuuki. He stood up with Yuuki in his arms. He brought her over to Haruse, who fed her herbs. She regained her strength but her hands were still bound together.

"What are you doing?" Akihiro yelled, "kill them!" As if on cue, Mizuki and Tsubasa charged at Luna and Haruse.

"Sakuya, take care of Yuuki," Haruse spoke as he jumped into battle with Luna.

Haruse clashed with Mizuki while Luna fought with Tsubasa. Mizuki grabbed one of Tsubasa's feather blades and was in close range combat with Haruse. Luna and Tsubasa used their long range skills against each other.

Ayanami felt his feet loosen from the ground. He was about to go join Yuuki and Sakuya until Akihiro pushed him to the wall at his neck. Ayanami chocked for air.

"Don't think I've forgotten about you, brother," Akihiro said coldly. He raised his blade, ready to stab Ayanami. Suddenly, Akihiro cried in pain. He turned his head around. "Bastard…" Kohaku had stabbed his sword into Akihiro's arm that held his blade. As Akihiro staggered back, Kohaku went to Ayanami's side.

"You okay?"

Ayanami was breathing heavily. "I'm fine," he replied, leering at Kohaku.

Kohaku smiled faintly. "Yeah, I know you don't really trust me. But for now you know that I'm on your side."

"That's reassuring," he said sarcastically.

Ayanami and Kohaku stood in front of Akihiro. Both prepared to fight. Kohaku was ready to rush in until Ayanami motioned him to stop.

"Akihiro, Sho said things about us growing up in Sakura Village, is it true that we were abandoned by our parents?"

Akihiro gripped his hand around the wound as he pulled the blade out. "Yes, it's true. Both of us were abandoned when were young. Our parents didn't want us. They didn't want to have to risk their lives over us. They were scum for leaving us! If it weren't for the village elder, we would most likely have died that day."

Ayanami tightened his fist around his blade. He looked at Kohaku, "please stay out of this fight." Kohaku nodded. He turned his head back to Akihiro. "Prepare yourself, brother." He pointed his blade at Akihiro.

"Heh, such a tragedy indeed." Akihiro gripped his sword and advanced quickly at Ayanami. Their blades began to clash. Their movement went at high speeds. Shallow cuts began appearing on both of them. Their attacks were hesitant. Sparks shot out as their blades made contact. Ayanami's blade suddenly lit in flames, extending his reach. Ayanami gasped as the flames shot out at Akihiro. He nearly called out his brother's name. Both were shocked as the flames didn't burn Akihiro. But they circled around him, like a bird flying around a pillar, until the flames circled around his blade, remaining on it. The flames slowly turned a shadowy black as it flickered and flared around the blade.

"So I guess, because we are twins, I also wield some form of power over fire." He swung his blade, covered in black flames. "Who knew that the gods enjoyed playing with our lives to such an extent?"

Luna chucked her weapon towards the ceiling, where Tsubasa flew. It spun quickly and touched his wing slightly. However he didn't falter. The weapon had gone right through his wing.

"You need to do better than that, girl," Tsubasa taunted.

Luna caught her weapon as it came back to her. "Shut up!" she yelled. She ran towards one end of the room at an extreme speed. Her feet stepped up on the wall, making her run vertically upwards. She went about twice the height of where Tsubasa was in the air and she pushed herself off the wall. She did a back flip in the air. It was almost as she was floating for brief moments. Just when she was over top of Tsubasa, she twisted her body and flung her weapon at him. Tsubasa yelled in agony. He was cut from his right shoulder to the left side of his abdomen. Tsubasa tumbled down to the ground. The pain too unbearable to keep himself in air.

Luna then charged down head first at Tsubasa, who now lay in pain on the ground. Her weapon pointed directly at him. Gravity increased the velocity of her descent. There was a sudden, loud stabbing noise as blood splashed on the floor. Blood was on Tsubasa's face, but the blood wasn't his. His arm was extended upward. In his hand, a blade summoned by one of his feathers. Luna coughed at the pain in her stomach. Blood dripped from her mouth. She had been stabbed by Tsubasa's blade. Her arms too short to reach the weakened Tsubasa with her own weapon.

Tsubasa flung his sword over, with Luna skewered at the center. She hit the floor hard as more blood spilled from her wound. He got up slowly, using another sword to support him. His breathing was heavy. Sweat dripped from his forehead. His wounds stung at every movement.

Luna was in tremendous pain as she tried to pull the blade out from her body. She was lucky that the sword hadn't punctured any vital organs. She whimpered then made a small cry as the blade was separated from her body. She stumbled to stand as the blood covered blade clanged to the floor. It felt difficult for her to move. The pain felt like it burned her entire body.

Tsubasa slowly approached Luna. His left hand gripped his right shoulder. He had another sword in his hand. "I don't have any ill feelings against you, but I'm just doing what I have to." Tsubasa raised his blade, prepared to strike at Luna.

Suddenly, winds blew at Tsubasa, stopping his actions. The winds grew stronger and Tsubasa was taken off his feet. His body flew and he hit the wall. The pain was too intense and Tsubasa was knocked unconscious. His body lay slumped against the wall.

Luna looked behind her and saw Yuuki standing, her eyes fierce, commanding the wind. "Thanks," Luna said, "I thought I was going to be a goner." Her thoughts faded as her legs began to fail her.

"Luna!" Yuuki cried.

By the time Yuuki noticed, Sakuya was already at Luna's side. He had caught her before she collapsed to the floor. "She'll be alright, but she's lost a lot of blood," he began, "what she needs now is a lot of rest."

Yuuki felt her wrists relax. The shadowy binds that held her had now faded away. Even the feather marks on her wrist had disappeared as well.

Ayanami and Akihiro fought vigorously. They were equal in power, yet Ayanami struggled to keep up with Akihiro. Akihito had more skill and knowledge on how to fight with his blade, while Ayanami seldom used his throughout his journey.

He looked over to where Yuuki and Sakuya were. Luna had completed her battle with Tsubasa and she was resting on Yuuki's lap.

"Keep your eyes on the battle!" The blade swiped in front of Ayanami's face, cutting a few strands of hair.

Ayanami jumped back and used the wall to push himself towards his brother. Their swords clashed with sparks flying away. Akihiro swung his sword and pushed Ayanami away.

"Come now, brother, I know you can fight much better than that."

Ayanami gritted his teeth and swung his blade as hard as he could. The flames of his blade extended the area of his attack. Akihiro easily dodged and came in for an attack. He cut Ayanami's thigh. Ayanami faltered and stumbled at his handicapped leg. He limped as he tried to stand properly.

Akihiro towered over him. His blade pointed at Ayanami, almost touching his throat. Neither of them moved as they both stared into each other's eyes.

Suddenly a large rumble shook the tower. Ayanami was caught off balance. He looked towards the stairway. Something black was spreading across the walls, floor and ceiling.

"Ayanami!" Kohaku yelled.

Ayanami felt a pain in his chest. Blood leaked from his mouth. He looked down at his chest, where a sword had now pierced his heart. At the end of the sword was Akihiro's hand at the handle.

"Good-bye, brother," his expression was dark.

Ayanami felt weak. He couldn't move a muscle in his body. It seemed as if time had slowed. He felt like he was in another dimension. Everything around him looked dark.

Through the darkness he saw a flame. It grew bigger as it approached him. It was the fire dragon he saw in his dream. The dragon ran towards him, smacking his head at Ayanami's chest. Although he was pushed back, he didn't fall. The dragon had him at his horns, holding him, forcing him away to somewhere else. The dragon ran towards Akihiro. Ayanami tried to call his brother, telling him to move; he tried telling the dragon to stop but it kept going. No one seemed to hear him. The dragon then shoved his head at Akihiro, forcing Ayanami and his brother together. Then all feeling disappeared with his senses.

Haruse was having difficulty with his battle. Mizuki had been doing most of the attacking while he defended.

"Come on, fight me seriously! Or are you just a gentle giant? How pathetic," she spat. Mizuki continued slashing blows at Haruse.

Haruse looked around to where Luna was. She was safe with Sakuya and Yuuki. He felt relieved that she didn't need to fight anymore. His mind returned to his current battle. His concentration increased as his attacks grew fiercer.

Mizuki began stumbling back. She was being pushed backwards from Haruse's attacks. She cursed at Haruse and grabbed something from under her coat and threw them at him.

Haruse flinched at the contact of the unknown substance. He realized that they were shards of glass that emitted a dark aura.

Mizuki stood far away from Haruse. She grinned as she snapped her fingers.

Haruse's feet felt stiff. When he looked down at his feet, he noticed that there was a thick layer of glass that covered them. There was a tingly feeling of needles stabbing at him. It was like the glass was ice and was freezing over him. His feet struggled but the glass didn't break. The glass continued to grow over him, moving up his legs.

Haruse reached into the pouch attached to his pants. He grabbed a long rope. And took off one of his spiked knuckles.

"Are you giving up?" Mizuki asked mockingly.

Haruse ignored her and tied one end of the string to his weapon. And he swiftly chucked it towards Mizuki. The rope spun around her, wrapping her tightly. Mizuki felt the weight of the knuckles that added tension to the rope. She felt off balance as it dangled on the string.

Suddenly, Haruse pulled the rope and Mizuki was dragged towards him. She couldn't get out of the ropes. Once she was close enough, Haruse grabbed her and held her tightly against him, her back on his chest. Her feet touched the glass and it began growing over her.

"Let me go!" she shrieked. She struggled as much as she could but Haruse's arms held her firmly.

"The only way to save yourself is to stop this glass," Haruse's tone was calm.

Mizuki didn't answer him. The sounds of her whimpering in terror was all that came from her mouth. She eyed the glass in horror as it spread over her legs.

"So this technique can't be reversed, is that it?" The glass was up to his sides. "Then if you can't reverse it, we can die together."

"Noooooo!" Mizuki cried in terror. She struggled even harder to free herself as the glass continued to grow over her.

"No, Haruse!"

Haruse looked over. It was Luna. She had regained consciousness. "Don't do it Haruse!" she pleaded. She was sitting up but she didn't have enough energy to move. "Don't leave me. Haruse!"

He smiled at her. "Good-bye, Luna. No matter what, you have to live and become happy. Live for the both of us, alright?"

"No, Haruse! Don't go!" But the glass had frozen over him and Mizuki completely. Tears flowed from Luna's eyes. "You idiot!" she yelled. She buried her face in Yuuki's chest. Yuuki held her and stroked her hair, trying to comfort Luna.

"Hey, Yuuki," Sakuya began.

Yuuki looked up at him and followed his eyes. Her eyes were wide. She saw Ayanami, a sword straight through his chest. "Ayanami!"

Kohaku ran up to Akihiro and swung his blade at him. Akihiro jumped back. Kohaku held Ayanami in his arms. The sword still in his chest. His eyes were blank and void of emotions. Kohaku swore, "don't die, you brat." He tried to stop the bleeding. He knew that if he pulled the sword from his chest, he would undoubtedly die. No matter how hard Kohaku tried, the blood wouldn't stop.

Sakuya looked at Akihiro. He didn't laugh in triumph or taunt his victory. He simply stood there. Then something shocked him. Akihiro's hair began changing color. It became dark brown, fading to silver at the tips. Suddenly his hands held his head and he crouched slightly. He was muttering words he couldn't hear.

Akihiro yelled and everyone's eyes turned to him. He was stumbling back and forth. "Stop it!" he yelled. "Get out of my body!" Akihiro dropped to his knees. Hands still holding his head. And suddenly, he dropped to the ground. Unconscious? No one was certain.

"Behind you!" Yuuki yelled at Kohaku. Kohaku turned his head. Blackness was about to engulf him. He carried Ayanami's body and ran from the spot.

The darkness slowly wrapped around the limbs of Akihiro's body. Sliding him towards the pit of the darkness. Sakuya ran towards him and grabbed his body. The darkness tried to pull but released the body and Sakuya nearly fell back.

"We have to get out of here, now!" Sakuya yelled.

"Haruse!" Luna cried as Haruse and Mizuki were dragged into the darkness.

Sakuya went over to the wall and shattered a window. He looked over the edge, it was a long way down.

"Just jump!" Yuuki ordered.

Sakuya didn't complain, recalling Yuuki's temper. He jumped out the window, Akihiro's body over his back. Yuuki and Kohaku followed with Luna and Ayanami in their arms.

Sakuya was prepared for the hard impact but he felt nothing. Yuuki had commanded the wind to form a cushion under their feet as they fell. Their landing was soft and they headed for Sakuya's ship.

Ayanami opened his eyes. It was dark all around. In front of him stood the fire dragon. The flames blazing on its back.

"You will die now, Akihiro. The chains show the weight of your crimes against the spirits," the dragon roared.

Ayanami walked around him. Akihiro was there, surrounded by a circle of flame. His eyes full with fear of the dragon before him. Akihiro stood on his knees, slouching slightly from the tension in the chains. He wore a steel harness that chained in multiple directions to the floor. Chains wrapped his arms behind him and pulled them back. The metal around his neck reflected the light of the flames.

Ayanami ran in between Akihiro and the dragon. "Fire spirit, what are you doing?"

"I am punishing this child. He has caused too much trouble. Eliminating him is the only way to solve this. He must pay for his sins." Flames flared out of the dragon's mouth.

Ayanami jumped into the circle of fire, where Akihiro was trapped. He held his trembling brother in his arms. "No, you can't kill him!"

The dragon laughed. "Because he is your brother? You should have killed him while you were both in your mother's womb. If you had killed him at that moment and absorbed him, you would be at your full potential. And then none of this would have happened. Also, is this boy, the one who tried to kill you, worth saving?"

"Yes," he replied.

"Even though you do not recall much about him?"

"No, I do know him. Ever since you took me here and I woke up, I've regained my memories. My brother is dear to me, no matter what. And if he is guilty, then so am I."

The dragon laughed loudly. "That is good to hear." The flames around the brothers disappeared. The chains that held Akihiro unlocked and dropped to the ground.

Ayanami looked up at him, puzzled. "What do you mean?"

"If you had neglected your brother at this moment I would have killed you, Ayanami."

"So you mean that this was a test?" His voice was shaky with a bit of relief.

"Yes," the dragon replied. "However, there are still problems at hand. Ayanami, your body is dead. You can no longer return to it."

"Fire spirit," Akihiro spoke, "let Ayanami take my body."

"Akihiro I can't do that! You still live."

"It's alright, brother. It's the least I can do. Even though it won't make up for all I've done to you."

"Now, now, boys," the dragon spoke, "there is no need for you to be separated. You can both return and live. However, Akihiro, for your punishment, you will not return to you human body."

Akihiro nodded, "that's fine with me."

Something small shot out from the spirit's flames. A tiny bird with silver feathers, the exact same color as Akihiro's hair. The feathers of the tail were long and curled inwards towards the body. The tips of the wings and the tail faded from its natural silver color to a dark crimson red. The eyes of the bird were the same red. "This will be your vessel, Akihiro."

"Thank you," was all he could reply.

"I wish both of you a happy life," were the last words of the dragon as their surroundings faded into a bright white light. Ayanami and Akihiro smiled at each other until they faded away in the warmth of the light.

When Ayanami opened his eyes, he realized that he wasn't in the tower anymore, but he was in Sakuya's cabin on his ship. His entire body was stiff. He was sitting in a chair. He looked down at himself, he wore a black robe. He looked over at the other side of the room and his mind was now fully awake. On the bed he saw a body-his body. The skin was pale and blood poured through the bandages that wrapped around the chest. Suddenly, Ayanami felt a jolt of shock rush through him. He tried to move but couldn't. He was tied to the chair. The ropes that bound his wrists and ankles were thick. There was rope over his chest as well. The ropes were most likely used for the sails of the ship, which would explain their large diameter.

Ayanami felt unbalanced as he tried to wobble the chair back and forth, trying to loosen the ropes. The ship tilted greatly and the chair fell to the floor. Ayanami groaned at the painful fall. That's when Ayanami noticed that the door of the cabin was slightly open. He couldn't see much other than the ocean sky but he could at least hear voices.

"Sakuya, what are you doing?" It was Yuuki's voice.

"Gah! Get this stupid bird away from me!" He yelled. "Damn it, what kind of bird are you? Leave me alone!"

"That really is a weird color for a bird," Kohaku's voice was fairly calm. "I wonder what species of bird has silver feathers and red eyes."

Ayanami's eyes widened. "Akihiro, I'm in here!" he called out to the bird.

The voices mumbled. Ayanami couldn't make out what they were saying. "Hey, you can't go in there!" Sakuya suddenly yelled.

Ayanami watched the door. After a short period, a bird flew in. It landed beside Ayanami's head that now lay on the ground and snuggled against his cheek.

"Akihiro, I'm glad you made it back. I missed you, too," Ayanami smiled.

Suddenly, the door burst open. Sakuya, Yuuki, and Kohaku were in the door way.

"You weird bastard, what is that bird?" Sakuya said harshly as he lifted the chair and returned it upright with Ayanami still fastened to it.

"Sakuya, I know you might not believe it, but I'm Ayanami. The bird is Akihiro."

Sakuya's hand went around his neck, shoving him into the back of the chair. The chair slid back slightly, bumping into the wall. "You're right as hell I don't believe you. You killed Ayanami. Even though I don't know why you look exactly like him now, doesn't mean you are him."

"I look like him?" Ayanami was puzzled. Other than the fact that they were twins, his brother had silver hair. Wasn't he in his brother's body?

Sakuya plucked a few strands of hair from Ayanami's head. He flinched at the pain. When he opened his eyes, he saw that Sakuya held the dark brown strands of hair in front of his eyes. "Your hair is the exact same color as his now."

"But Sakuya, I am Ayanami."

"Who're you trying to fool, Akihiro? You killed Ayanami." He pointed towards the body at the bed, "that's Ayanami!"

"No, me and him both switched places-well not entirely. My soul is in his body, while Akihiro's souls is in that bird's body. It's the truth."

Sakuya felt multiple emotions blend within him. He went over to his desk and grabbed a white cloth. As he returned to him, he tied the cloth over his mouth. "I don't want to hear it from you." His expression was dark.

Ayanami tried to protest but his voice was muffled by the cloth. All he could do was watch as his three companions walked away from him. And the door shut, leaving him in the room.

Akihiro tried to break the rope. He pecked at it but it barely frayed. It would take forever for the rope to be able to become undone. Then, something wet dropped on the bird's head. Akihiro looked up at Ayanami. He was crying. Tears rolled down his face as he sat in despair. Now, he wouldn't be able to get his companions to trust him again. He had no idea what to do. He felt helpless.

The day passed and it was now night. Ayanami still sat in the chair. His stomach was empty. He felt lifeless.

Akihiro stood on the floor, at his side. There was nothing he could do. He looked through the window, the moon was full and the sky was clear. Akihiro felt a strange tingle throughout his little body.

A clattering noise drew Ayanami's attention. He turned his head and his eyes widened with surprise. He called out but the sounds were muffled.

"I didn't expect that to happen." A boy of Ayanami's age stated. It was Akihiro. He was in a human form. The only thing that distanced that thought was his hair. His hair was made of silver feathers, fading to the crimson red at the tip, just like the bird's wings. Akihiro went over to his brother and untied the cloth around his mouth.

"Akihiro, how...?" his voice trailed off.

"We can worry about that later, brother. First we need to get you your energy back and get you out of here."

"At least," he began, "put some clothes on."

Akihiro looked down at his body. He was completely nude. He laughed nervously and went over to a closet in Sakuya's cabin and pulled out a long black coat with red trimmings and a pair of red pants. The colors suited him nicely. He pulled out another coat with a similar design, except it was white instead of black.

Akihiro went over to his brother. He untied the knots of the rope and helped his brother stand and change out of the organization's black robe.

"Hey, let's try to talk with them again, alright?" Akihiro said.

Ayanami shut his eyes and nodded.

The door of the cabin wasn't locked so the brothers left the room with ease. As they walked out, the deck was soaked with water. It splashed lightly beneath their feet.

"Akihiro, get away!" Ayanami shoved his brother to the side as water rushed around him. Akihiro fell on his behind and starred at the water prison. Ayanami was trapped in a bubble of water. His breathing became heavy as he floated in the water.

Sakuya jumped down from a higher deck. He starred at the two Akihiros. "What kind of trick are you trying to pull, Akihiro?"

"This isn't a trick," the real Akihiro replied. "The one you trapped is Ayanami. The one you've been travelling with. I'm just the bird."

"Funny, you look pretty human now," Sakuya raised his sword towards him.

"If you want the truth, we'll tell you. Just call Yuuki and Kohaku to judge our sides of the story, too."

"Fine," Sakuya replied, releasing Ayanami from the bubble. Ayanami dropped on all fours, breathing heavily for air.

They were all in Sakuya's cabin. Ayanami and Akihiro stood side by side. Yuuki and Kohaku observed both of them. Akihiro really did look like Ayanami with the darkened hair color that matched the corpse that lay on the bed. The boy with feathered hair also looked like Akihiro. The two boys really seemed like twins.

"Where's Luna?" Ayanami asked.

Yuuki was startled that Akihiro would ask about her. "She is resting," she replied.

The long night began when Ayanami and Akihiro explained what had happened at the moment of their fight. Ayanami described how he saw the fire spirit push him into Akihiro's body. Akihiro talked about howthe spirit gave him another chance, in another body.

"This is quite the story. But it's still too hard to nail the truth," Kohaku spoke after some thought.

Ayanami was beginning to feel irritated how the conversation had taken them nowhere. "Then, either of you, test me, ask me something that only the Ayanami you have been travelling with would know."

The three of them exchanged glances. Kohaku stepped up, "okay, each of us will test you to see if you really are Ayanami or not."

"That's fine by me."

"Alright," Kohaku began, "since I met you first, I guess I'll be the first one to test you." Kohaku thought for a moment. "How did you and I officially meet?"

"Our first encounter was when you saved me from the organization members that tried to take me with them in Pakalona Village. I ended up walking to a dead end, and then they cornered me. Although you did save me, you knocked me out and were draining my blood so you could make the stone. And then, I saw you again in the spiritual forest. That was when I asked the spirits of the forest to hold you down so we could talk. I was about to leave you there, however you decided to swear an oath not to harm me, and if any harm came to me, you would feel the effects tenfold." Ayanami breathed and looked at Kohaku, eyes serious.

"Well that was entirely right," Kohaku smiled, "If you had missed any of the details I would have called you a fake."

Sakuya stepped forward. "Alright then; one down, two to go. I'll be asking next. Who did I send to get you?" Sakuya knew his question was slightly vague, bit he knew the answer he wanted.

"When we were at Houshin, the port village, there were three pirates, all wearing a dark blue bandana. The first one was short and his two front teeth were missing. He asked us if he wanted a ride on a ship, but Yuuki and I declined. After that two big guys told us that if we didn't go, then Kohaku would have to suffer greatly. They held scimitars at us. They laughed at how I wanted their word for Kohaku's safety, but they said that 'a pirate's word means nothing'. When we got up to the ship, they pushed us into the cells of the ship. After that, one of the big guys took us to see you. That was when I saw Kohaku beat up and tied to the center pillar of the ship."

"Hmm, not bad," Sakuya replied. "Alright, Yuuki, it's your turn."

Yuuki's and Ayanami's eyes met. He noticed a hint of sadness and hope in her expression.

"When we were taking you back to my village, what did I tell you?" Her hands tightened and gripped at her chest.

"That time was when we were on Sakuya's ship, after the encounter with four of the Iron Masks that day. I got attacked by the darkness and there was a black stone in the chest. That night, I stood outside on the deck, leaning over the edge. When you came up to me, I was whining about not having any memories. That was when you told me that even if I didn't know my past, I am still me and the me now is the one you know." Ayanami held Yuuki's hand, "and you hoped that if I do regain my memories one day, I would still cherish the time I have spent with you." He kissed Yuuki on the cheek.

Yuuki felt tears sting her eyes. She wrapped her arms around him. "Ayanami!" she cried with joy.

Ayanami held her tightly, kissing her forehead and wiped away her tears.

Akihiro cleared his throat, ruining the mood. "Now that that's settled..."

Yuuki starred at him. She looked angry.

"Hey, Akihiro, you might want to run," Ayanami advised.

"Eh?" Then suddenly he was punched in the stomach. He fell back and crashed into the desk and other furniture in the room. Dust flew up and Akihiro was trapped within the mess.

"Guess I need to hire a maid," Sakuya joked.

After the dust cleared, there was a chirping noise. On the floor was the clothing Akihiro wore. Everyone starred down at the little bird as it flew up and perched itself on Ayanami's shoulder.

"So he really is a bird," Sakuya pointed with a strange smile on his face, laughing nervously. He felt like Akihiro was ridiculing him as he looked at his animal form.

Yuuki groaned in frustration. "If you were not on Ayanami's shoulder, I would inflict so much pain on you."

Akihiro chirped musically, sounding almost like a laugh.

"So," Ayanami began, "what will we do now?"

"I say we just travel and freeload off of Sakuya's ship, Kohaku suggested. Sakuya glared at him. "Well, we can travel and stop anyone who's trying to get their hands on the spirit stones," he restated.

"Not a bad idea," Ayanami replied.

"Alright then. Let's set sail towards the ends of the world."

The end

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Conni: Es hat mir sehr, sehr gut gefallen, es war von allem etwas dabei, es war spannend, zwischendurch traurig und auch mal lustig und dann hatte es auch noch ein gutes Ende, was ich liebe 👍👍👍😍

ritchie557: Am in love with this story I want to see how it ends

Doreen: Loved this storey wish it was much much longer lol. Would recommend this storey , characters were great and funny .

Arista: Nette Ideen und ich lese gerne weiter! Noch besser wäre es, wenn es vom jemandem sprachlich überarbeitet würde. Vielleicht findet sich da jemand?

BlueIvydoll: Great writing. Filled with romance, action, wolfes, slice of life and charathers that you fall in love with.

raelynn: This book is good I would recommend to 20+

michellecsnelling: I love this book. It keeps you on the edge of your seat. Jessie Tate is a fabulous writer and this book so far has been written so well it keeps the reader wanting more.

Kaari: Just finishing book 4 of this great series and will read 5 before the night is through

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RUHI: I loved this, amazing 🤩🤩🤩Thank you author for another wonderful story 🤩🤩🤩🤩

Gordon: I like the flow of the plot and the character development. It keeps you interested and doesn't drag but doesn't jump around either.

Susanne Moore: Ugh I hate those bad and selfish people. Can't wait until they all get there butt kicked

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