Shadow's Pursuit

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Chapter Fourteen

THERE FINALLY CAME a highlight in Raine’s otherwise boring and repetitive routine- she received a note from Hayato, stating his return from his mission along the Severin.

Seeing his handwriting had made a surge of energy rush through her veins, filling her with instant happiness and excitement, for she now knew that he had not been harmed. She had rushed to reply, much to the confusion of the messenger-boy, and agreed to meet him for their usual training session the next day, after her lesson with Wetherdon.

And when the time arrived, she near ran to the training grounds, having decided to put on her training armour in her quarters beforehand. Her Death Magic session had not been as successful as it should have been, but she was feeling far too excited to bother with the gloomy emotions that were currently required for her techniques to work. Wetherdon seemed to have sensed her anticipation and did not reproach her, though he didn’t seem overly pleased about it either.

Now, the sun was blazing down on her and heating her back, and the grass was crunching beneath her boots. She thanked Kaipoc, God of the Weather, for such a pleasant day for their reunion.

Hayato approached her quickly as she climbed over the fence to meet him, increasing his pace into large, purposeful strides, smiling at her warmly. But then he suddenly stopped a pace short in front of her, a strange look flashing over his face and Raine had the distinct feeling that he was going to embrace her, but had decided against it. The notion brought a tingling sensation to her stomach, something she hadn’t felt before.

He appeared the same as always, dressed in his custom Kayokian armour, his long black hair tied into a high horsetail that swayed with each of his movements. It was as though time had not passed at all between them.

“You would not believe how glad I am to see you,” Hayato said, his eyes glowing with genuine happiness. “I’ve been slowly losing my mind to boredom.”

Raine grinned despite herself. “I’m glad to see you too, Hayato, and that you weren’t injured during your mission. I’ve missed our training sessions.”

And you, she thought.

“As have I,” he said. “Training with my comrades has been bland in comparison. I apologise for being away for so long- they told us two weeks but that was not to be so, it seems. How are you? You appear well.”

“I… well… I’ve been busy,” she admitted, her smile fading a little. “A lot has happened in these last few weeks.”

“Is that so?” he asked, seeing her change in expression. “Shall we speak of it now, or after our training?”

“After,” she said, her eagerness returning. “I’ve been looking forward to this.”

“So I can see,” he said, chuckling. “You even put on your armour before coming here.”

“Well, it does save time, right?” she said, feeling warmth spread across her face, and Hayato’s grin grew.

“I’m not complaining.” he said, his hand moving to the hilt of his blade. “Shall we, then?”

THEIR TRAINING SESSION went as well as it always did- they started with their warm-up exercises, practicing basic footwork and simple strikes and parries, and then continued into a faster pace as they sparred against one another.

Raine started to use her Water Magic against Hayato at his request, and familiarity returned to her muscles and limbs as they went through the motions. It was invigorating, and chewed away at the unease, guilt, fear and confusion that she had been feeling so often of late.

They spoke little, putting all of their focus and concentration into their steps and techniques. Her lack of recent training was startlingly evident as the Kayokian disarmed her again and again.

Raine lost track of time as they moved about the training grounds, Hayato sweeping around like a dancer, each of his movements graceful yet filled with strength. She watched his feet and his hands, trying to ignore the swaying of his hair around his shoulders, and his burning gaze as he too watched her intently.

EVENTUALLY, HAYATO SWEPT her sword from out of her hands once again, and then sheathed his as she went to retrieve it.

“I think I need a little more training…” she muttered, gasping for breath. Damien would kill me if he saw how clumsy I’ve become.

“I’d be glad to supply that for you.” Hayato said with a small laugh, bowing in thanks for the training session. She returned the gesture, and they slowly made their way to the side of the grounds, regaining their breaths.

“So, you say that much has happened whilst I’ve been away, yes?” Hayato asked her, watching her with interest. “Did you enjoy the festivities? I could only witness the eclipse from where I was by the river.”

Raine sighed, her near-ecstatic mood dropping instantly as she remembered all that had happened so recently.

She took a deep breath and told him everything, watching the sky as birds ducked and weaved in the air and the afternoon rolled in, promising a pleasantly cool evening.

By the time she had finished, Hayato was frowning.

“That… vision you had… It is disturbing.” he said eventually, looking thoughtful. “Have you spoken to any Life Magi about it? Or a Healer?”

“Not really, no,” she confessed. “I told my friend Chelstra, the Life Mage I told you about, and she didn’t seem too alarmed by it… I just wish that I knew what it meant.”

“Hmm.” Hayato said. “Perhaps you will just need to be aware of any recurring symptoms, then, and hope that it does not happen again.”

“That’s pretty much what I’m doing.” she said. Silence fell.

“But, a Death Mage? That sounds impressive.” Hayato said, now smiling again, and she had the impression that he was trying to cheer her up. “Even if you do not wish to learn it.”

“I don’t mind it as much as I originally did.” she said, touched by his concern. “To be honest, I can see how it is useful as a form of magic. I just don’t think I’ll get into it as much as Lloyd does.”

“That is good to hear.” Hayato said. He grinned at her. “I don’t think I would like to be on the receiving end of such techniques just yet, though.”

“I think I can deal with that.” she said, grinning in return. She went to stretch, her muscles starting to ache again from their excessive use, but then felt something move in her pocket.

“Oh!” she said, remembering, and pulled out a pouch from within her clothes. “I forgot! I bought you a present.”

“You did?” Hayato said, eyes widening in surprise as she held out the bag before her. “That is far too kind of you. You shouldn’t have done so.”

“It was something I found at the festival.” she said, feeling her cheeks warm once more as he took it from her. He opened it and pulled out the half-moon brooch. “I’m not sure if you would have liked it or not, seeing as you don’t really believe in the Goddess Leyna, but still, since you said that you wanted to be there…”

“It is wonderful.” Hayato said, cutting through her awkward ramblings. His eyes were glowing, and she found that she couldn’t tear her gaze away. “This is very considerate of you, Raine; thankyou.”

“You’re welcome.” she muttered, feeling her chest constricting.

What is this feeling? I can barely breathe but yet, I’m happy…

They stood in silence for a time, enjoying the last of the sun’s heat on their backs and the fresh breeze through their sweat-dampened hair. Now that she had spoken to him, after so long, Raine felt as though a massive weight had been lifted from her chest, freeing her from her troubles and concerns.

“Shall we go then?” Hayato said suddenly and she hid her frown, surprised. “The sun will almost be set soon.”

“Oh, okay.” she said, pushing herself off from the fence. She was enjoying the peaceful moment with him in the sun, and tried to hide her disappointment as he reattached his cape, taken off for their training session.

HAYATO SAID NOTHING as they walked back to the barracks, looking around idly and occasionally playing with the brooch in his pocket.

Have I done something to upset him?

“Is something wrong?” she asked eventually, unable to contain her tense curiosity any longer. He looked at her, startled.

“No, nothing at all.” he said, frowning. “Do I look like something is wrong?”

“No, just quieter than usual, I suppose?” she said. “Is something on your mind?”

“You could say that.” he said after a pause. Then he smiled. “All is well; do not worry.”

“Alright…” she said slowly and he smiled reassuringly at her.

They reached their parting place and after a short farewell Raine turned to leave, still slightly confused.

“Raine, wait.” Hayato said, reaching out and taking her hand firmly. She looked back, frowning.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. Her eyes widened as he then took her other hand, holding them both in his own. He looked at her intently.

“Nothing, nothing is wrong.” he said quickly, and she realised that he was nervous. His eyes flickered out around them but they were alone, and the only sounds she could hear were the cheeping of birds and the buzzing of insects.

“I…” Hayato said, looking down. He let go of her hands, as if suddenly realising that he was still holding them. “I’m sorry.”

“What’s going on?” she asked. He scratched the back of his head and then, seeming to have regained his composure, looked at her seriously. His eyes were burning.

“I have something that I would like to ask you.” he said, his tone even. She looked at him, tall and in control, and found herself becoming nervous.

“What is it?” she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

He swallowed. “Raine, I would…like it very much if we started spending more time together.” he said.

She blinked, feeling her cheeks beginning to burn. “Do you mean-?” she asked, unable to finish her sentence. He nodded, his lips curling into a small, nervous smile.

“I would like to court you.” he said, voice quiet but strong. “I know that things will be difficult in the near future with this war looming, but I thought about it and I could not forgive myself if I did not at least try to ask you.”

“I-” She was unable to form words; the affection in his eyes was so powerful that it almost overwhelmed her. She was suddenly forcefully aware of his height, his broad shoulders and firm, lean body and his masculine yet soft jawline. She could smell his scent, a mix of male sweat and polished armour.

“I’ve startled you.” he said, looking away. “I’m sorry.”

“I just don’t know what to say.” she said eventually, “It’s not that I don’t want to or anything-”

“Here- how about you think about it, and let me know when you have decided?” Hayato said gently. “I do not want to rush you and I know that this is a serious decision.”

“Alright.” she said quietly, mind numb. His smile grew.

“Very well. I will speak to you soon, Raine.” he said, smiling softly. “Take your time.”

She nodded and with a last fond look at her, he turned and walked away. She watched him go, his shoulder blades moving with each powerful stride, his horsetail hair swaying from side to side in time with his steps, his cape flicking about him.

In another moment, he had turned a corner and disappeared from view.

Holy Rendeis, Raine thought, the tight knot around her brain loosening as she stood alone on the stone path. She turned slowly, checking with a final glance that he had indeed left, and then headed back towards her quarters. She was numb, her legs leading her automatically, her heartbeat finally resuming its ordinary pace in her chest.

What do I do? She crossed her arms, holding her elbows. Despite her nerves, she felt a pleasant excitement swelling in her chest and she let her scattered thoughts roam as she entered the female quarters and moved down to her room.

She didn’t even realise that she was smiling.

She unlocked the door and entered the room, and she didn’t notice that her curtains were drawn closed until it was too late.

She looked at them, frowning, as a shape formed in the corner of the room, at the end of her bed. There was the glint of metal and she dropped immediately, a throwing knife thudding into the wall where her shoulder had just been. Her hand fell to the hilt of her sword but she was too slow, and she froze as another knife pressed against her neck, the metal cold and unforgiving.

“If I wanted to kill you, you would have been dead the moment your foot entered the room.” Damien hissed, his undeniable voice in her ear. She said nothing for a moment, stunned, and he backed away, keeping to the darker parts of the room as he looked at her.

He was dressed in dark shirts and pants and wearing plain leather boots. She stood slowly, her pleasant reverie shattered, fear and unease returning to her gut.

“What are you doing here?” she asked quietly, letting go of her blade. Damien crossed his arms, tilting his head to look at her with his familiar patronising glare.

“Waiting for you, obviously. Have you fallen into your position so deeply that you’ve forgotten all of your training?” he asked, voice low and cold.

Raine said nothing and just kept watching him, trying to hide the bewilderment that was rushing through her mind.

“Well?” he demanded. “You entered the room like an amateur. Even a trainee assassin could have killed you if they wanted to.”

“What are you doing here?” she asked again, finally finding her voice. “Wouldn’t it have been better to come see me at night?”

“My position is far more important and difficult than yours,” Damien said. “Unlike you, I do not have endless free time to spend playing around with infantry soldiers and my shifts are constantly changing. Be that as it may, I have work tonight and so I could not approach you then.”

He took a few steps, looking around the small, plain room with disinterest. “And seeing as all of your companions are either eating in the Dining Hall or are out working, now is the best time for me to slip in.”

“Or do you disagree?” he added, looking at her, challenging her.

“Why are you here?” she asked, ignoring the rising anger in her chest.

“I came because I need to know if you were in contact with any Shadows whilst you were at the Severin.” Damien said coolly. “I need to know if they contacted you at all.”

“That’s all?” she asked, stunned. “Couldn’t you have just sent a letter or something?”

“I could have, if I wanted to run the risk of getting caught contacting you.” he snapped, his amber eyes narrowing. “And whilst I’d be able to pull it off with ease, how would you, a simple mage, be able to reply to me? Think about it.”

“Right…” she muttered, well used to his retorts. “Well, no, there were no Shadows at that bridge battle that I can think of; I certainly didn’t sense any. And I haven’t received any letters or word from the Guild. Why would they want to contact me? Has something happened?”

“Nothing has happened.” Damien said quickly but he was frowning, a familiar calculating look growing across his young face. “I was not informed about the bridge being built, and I want to know why.”

Raine said nothing. The Shadow Guild does whatever it wants. They’ll only notify us if they can be bothered to. Otherwise, we’re on our own here. It’s always been that way.

“Very well.” Damien promptly turned on his heel, his movements smooth and silent. “You should continue sending information to the Guild. And get promoted.”

“Wait.” Raine said, unable to help herself as another question rose to mind. He looked at her slowly, his hand on the doorknob.

“How long were you following me?” she asked.

“Why does it matter?” Damien said, shrugging. “Long enough. I watched you training with the Kayokian man, and then came back here once you finished up. Your swordplay is atrocious; you should be embarrassed.”

“So you left when we were still at the training grounds?” she asked, ignoring the insult and keeping her voice even despite her nerves. Damien’s eyes narrowed.

“Yes.” he said. “Why? Was there something I should have seen?”

“No,” she lied. “I was just wondering.”

Damien’s hand moved from the doorknob as he turned to face her, expression serious.

“Liar.” he said, taking a step forward.

“I’m not lying; I just wanted to know. I like my privacy, if that’s alright.” she said, forcing a tone of irritation to her voice. She made herself stay still as he approached, resisting the urge to back away. In a few large strides he stood before her, his face a foot away from hers.

“You’re lying.” he hissed, his voice barely above a whisper. “I trained you and I know that you are nowhere near skilled enough to fool the likes of me.”

Raine said nothing, knowing that her voice would betray her if she tried to lie again. She looked back at him as neutrally as she could. She could almost see his thoughts running around behind his bright eyes, so intense was his stare.

Then his eyes widened and he stepped back.

“By Tenebrae- don’t tell me-” he started, voice rising. Then his eyes narrowed again and his surprise was replaced by suspicion. “Don’t tell me that you are with that man?”

“No,” she said quickly but it was too late; he had seen the panic in her eyes. He put a hand to his face, closing his eyes for a moment. She had seen the expression enough- he was close to a cold, violent rage.

“He is your enemy.” he said eventually, his voice a vicious hiss. “He is your sworn enemy. You were ordered here by your king and country to steal information so when the time is right, Treston can invade it.”

She remained silent, but this only seemed to irritate him further and he stepped forward again. This time her instincts took hold and she stepped backwards until her thighs hit her desk.

“How could you-” he said in disbelief, but shook his head again, trying to compose himself. His amber eyes were glowing with cold, collected fury.
“War is coming, Raine. I hope that you will be ready for the time when you will need to stab him through the chest with your blade.” he said icily, turning around.

“Damien, it’s not-” she started, but he put a hand up and she automatically fell silent.

“I hope that you will be ready for the time when you will need to execute all of those around you, all of your friends,” He spat the word with particular vehemence, “Because if you don’t, I will. And then I will execute you for failing to follow your orders. You are a Shadow of Treston first and foremost.”

He turned the doorknob. “Don’t forget that.”

Then he disappeared, closing the door behind him. Raine knew that if she opened it again, he would already be gone.

Legs shaking, she locked the door. The thought of having to turn on her friends made her feel so violently ill that she leaned against the wall beside her and let herself slide down it, sitting on the cold, stone floor.

Images of her brother, her father, and the few friends she once knew from her days in the Mage Academy flashed through her mind. She found in her heart that they were as equally important to her as her Avendan friends- Troy, Hammond, Chelstra, Will, even Lloyd Wetherdon.

Hayato.

Finding her loyalties irrevocably torn between two countries and her own heart, she started to cry.

A FEW DAYS passed, sweeping by in a blur of Death Magic training, confusion and misery. Her darkened mood seemed to enhance her magical abilities, as it was far easier to find the emotions she needed within herself to cast her techniques, but that knowledge comforted her little.

It was near evening when she left the Death Guild, the heat of the sun subsiding into gentle warmth that she accepted gratefully, a pleasant change from the coldness of the underground tunnels. The sky was beautifully clear, its endlessness broken only by the outstretched wings of birds in flight.

Raine breathed in the fresh air deeply, smelling the mouth-watering scents of that night’s dinner as it lingered in the air.

“Thought you’d be around here.” said a familiar voice and she looked over at Hammond as he appeared from behind a nearby building.

“Hello, Hammond.” she said, her mood lifting slightly. “How are you?”

“Fine.” he said neutrally. “You? Mana vital still kicking?”

She nodded and together they headed towards the Dining Hall. “That’s what you were doing just then, yeah? Training with Wetherdon?” he asked.

“Yes.” she said quietly.

He nodded. “Thought so. The Life Mage’s been looking for you for a while; figured I’d come give you a warning.”

“Thanks.” she said.

“You’re going to have to tell her eventually, you know.” he said, voice low. “That kind of stuff gets out, and I’ll bet Wetherdon wants you as a certified Death Mage on the double.”

“I know.” she said. “I’m going to soon; I just don’t know how to say it. Chelstra is going to freak out.”

“She’ll get over it.” Hammond said placidly. “She’ll act all uncomfortable, say how Death Magic is bad, blah blah, and then she’ll realise that it’s only a form of magic and has nothing to do with you. Then she’ll be your best buddy again. Good times.”

“I suppose.” she said slowly.

They continued to walk in silence for a time.

“But of course, that’s not just it, is it?” he said after a while, looking down at her. “Something else is on your mind.”

“What makes you say that?” she said.

“Because you’re just too complicated to have only one thing running around in that over-eager brain of yours.” he said. “Plus it’s all over your face. Spill, or I’ll be forever tortured by not knowing.”

“Well…” she started slowly. She felt a blush spread over her cheeks as the memory of that night returned. Hammond glanced at her, and raised an eyebrow.

“Now this has to be good.” he said.

“There’s… a friend that I’ve been training with for a while now,” she started, and he continued to watch her.

“The infantry guy from the islands.” he stated.

“How did you know?”

“Troy.” he said, shrugging. “He talks about him from time to time when we’re at lunch. Was starting to get annoying, too.”

“Oh.” she said.

“So, he asked to court you, yeah?” he said nonchalantly.

“Hammond!” Raine spluttered, her face turning a violent shade of red.

“What?” he asked. He scoffed at the incredulous look on her face. “Oh come on, it’s obvious as hell; what else would it be? Calm down; looks like your face is going to explode.”

“I, well-” She looked away. “Yes, yes he did.”

“Hmm.” Hammond said, thoughtful. “And?”

Raine frowned. “And what?”

“And what are you going to do about it, Little Miss Love-struck?”

“I’m not love-struck.” she grumbled, crossing her arms. “I’m just a little confused.”

“Fair call though,” Hammond said, not hearing her, “He is a good looking guy, from what I’ve heard.”

“You’re not helping, Hammond.” she said. He sighed and looked back down at her.

“What do you want me to say? It’s up to you in the end. If you got feelings for him, then why not?” he said, moving his hand through his hair. “I don’t care what you do either way as long as you don’t end up hurt.”

“That’s uncharacteristically sweet of you, Hammond.” she said, pleased. He looked away.

“Nah, just to stop you whinging to me about it; last thing I want to put up with is a heartbreak.” he said. Then he sighed again. “Raine, do what you want to do. That’s the only advice I got for just about everything.”

“Thanks Hammond.” she said. He shrugged.

“If you think it would make you happy, than go for it. Worst comes to worst, you split and don’t talk to him again, or whatever.”

“I suppose so.” Raine said.

But that isn’t half the problem. It’s what will happen in the future that I’m worried about.

“But I wouldn’t leave the man waiting for too long; that’s just cruel.” Hammond added as they approached the Dining Hall.

He’s right. It’s been a few days already. I have to tell him today.

They nodded in respect to the stone statue of Athos besides the open double doors as they entered the building, almost overwhelmed by the clashing conversations and the strong, powerful scent of cooking meat.

“See, Troy’s waving at you already. I can’t wait to see his reaction when he finds out.” Hammond muttered.

“Don’t tell him.” she said quickly, looking at him with wide eyes. “I don’t know what I’m going to do yet.”

“I think the answer’s obvious, personally.” he said quietly.

They approached Chelstra and Troy, who were smiling enthusiastically at her, and he leaned over for the last line of their conversation. “It’s just up to you to make it.”

Raine suddenly remembered the cold fury in Damien’s eyes, the clear threat in his voice. She felt a horrible sinking feeling in her gut as she realised that she had already made up her mind, not that she had any choice or say in the matter. The thought depressed her beyond words and she felt a lump rise in her throat.

She forced a smile onto her face and pretended to be happy as she realised with a heavy heart that the decision was already made for her.

SHE MADE HER way to the edge of the training grounds, the sky a dark satiny blue and littered with stars. She had sent a note to Hayato sometime earlier and from what she could see, he had not arrived yet. She took the moment to try to compose herself, leaning on the fence before her and looking out into the empty training field. Her hands were shaking, and nausea was strong in her stomach.

I have no choice. I have to do this. If I don’t, then bad things will happen. Damien knows and he won’t tolerate it.

He’s going to do it anyway, said a nasty voice in her mind, He’s going to kill as many as he can, regardless of whether you cut ties with them or not.

I can’t let them die, she thought, desperation growing. Even if they are from Avendan- they are my friends! I can’t let Treston forces kill them; they don’t deserve it.

Even if they’re your enemy? the voice sneered.

They’re not my enemy! she retorted viciously.

What if they turn on you? They’ll find out eventually; you can’t just run into the hills and stay there until everything’s over, you know.

Why do I have to do this? What did I do to deserve this?

It’s a job, like Damien said. You got too deep, too close, and now you need to dig yourself out again.

She couldn’t stop the tears as they started to roll down her face. “I hate doing this…” she whispered.

She heard footsteps and rushed to wipe away the tears with her sleeves, blinking furiously. At last, she turned around, trying to smile despite the misery that filled her chest.

“There you are.” Hayato said gently, looking at her with a nervous smile. “I was starting to give up hope.”

“I know.” she said, voice shaking. “And I’m sorry that I took so long to reply. I just…had a lot on my mind.”

“I can imagine.” he said. “Don’t worry about it; I do not blame you. I did throw it upon you a bit suddenly, and I apologise for that.”

He took a step forward and the light from the moon was reflected on his dark hair and the silver brooch at his neck. He was dressed in basic uniform, the lack of armour revealing his broad chest and toned arms.

aeHe lHe looked at her for a moment and his smile turned into a concerned frown, his eyes sharpening. “You’re upset. What’s wrong?” he asked, moving towards her.

“Don’t, I-” she started, putting her hands up in front of her. She could feel her heartbeat racing- he was so close, but yet he was so untouchable.

She couldn’t, for both of their sakes.

He stopped immediately. “I take it that you’ve made up your mind, then.” he said, unable to hide the resignation in his voice.

“I…don’t know, Hayato.” she said. Unable to look at him anymore, she turned around and stared over the training grounds again. “I don’t know anything anymore. I’m so confused.”

“What can I do to help you?” he said. “We don’t…we don’t have to be together, if that’s what you want. But I still want to be there for you.”

He moved to stand beside her and she knew that he was looking at her, but she couldn’t bring herself to look up at his disappointed face.

“That’s not what I want,” she said eventually. “That’s not what I want at all. I don’t want to hurt you. What I want…”

At that she burst into violent tears, unable to contain the anxiety, confusion and desperation that had been slowly building up inside of her ever since her confrontation with Damien.

“Raine…” Hayato said softly, and reached out for her shoulder gently. She twitched at his touch and tried to shake him off, but his grip tightened and he pulled her towards him and wrapped his arms around her. She didn’t fight him, instead crying into the softness and warmth of his tunic, incapable of stopping or pulling away. She felt his hand glide softly over her hair and her cries deepened, encouraged by his gentleness.

AT LAST THE waves subsided and a dull headache grew, and she could feel her pulse throbbing behind her eyes and at her temple. She felt weak and unable to stand, supported only by Hayato’s embrace.

She closed her eyes and stood there, listening to his steady heartbeat and feeling warmth radiate from his body, his hand moving over the top of her head and along her hair.

She wrapped her arms around his waist and the muscles in his arms and chest stiffened for a moment before relaxing.

“Raine.” he said softly, his voice penetrating the silence around them. She looked up at him through a blurry haze of tears and he wiped them from her face with his thumb. When she opened her eyes again, his face was only inches away from hers, his dark eyes concerned and full of powerful affection. She could see a few faint creases underneath his eyes, proof that he had been sleeping poorly for the last few days. She could see the few hairs that started to regrow around his chin and mouth. She could see the light vertical indents along his lips.

She was filled with a wanting so powerful that she reached up suddenly and touched the side of his face, feeling the smoothness of his skin and moving her thumb along the thin strands of dark hair beside his ear. His eyes went wide with surprise, his lips parting as though to say something, but she leaned in and pressed her mouth against his, closing her eyes. She felt him twitch for a moment, his stomach tightening, but then his arms constricted around her and he pulled her closer, kissing her back. At that moment, all of her doubts and fears melted away.

Their lips parted after a long moment and Hayato looked down at her, his eyes burning.

“Does this mean…?” he said, voice deep and husky.

“Yes. It means yes.” she said quietly, her lips curling into a smile as he breathed out with relief.

“Women are so confusing.” he muttered and as she giggled, he moved in and kissed her again.

FINALLY REALISING THAT they were standing in the open and exposed to watching eyes, Raine moved her arms to her sides and Hayato did the same, taking a small step backwards. His eyes were positively glowing and he looked at her with such fondness that she couldn’t help but smile, her cheeks starting to burn again.

“I can’t say that I was expecting that.” he said after a long while.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “My emotions have been all over the place lately.”

“Oh, no need to apologise.” he said, smile growing. “It’s definitely not a bad thing from where I’m standing.”

“So what do we do now?” she asked slowly. He smiled and took her hand.

“Now I take you to dinner, and court you properly.” he said, kissing it.

“I think I’m looking forward to that.” she said, grinning.

“I most certainly am.” he replied. He looked at her for a moment before glancing around, as if only now aware of his surroundings.

“I think I should escort you back to your quarters.” he said softly. “You are most definitely tired.”

“I think I am.” Raine agreed. He put out an arm and she wrapped her own around it, smiling sheepishly, and they headed back across the grounds towards the mage quarters. They kept to the more unused paths, avoiding the watchful eyes of other soldiers and magi, until they approached the building that housed her room.

Hayato lowered his arm and she turned around to look at him, unable to stop smiling. He looked back at her fondly before taking her hand again.

“Goodnight Raine,” he said as his lips touched her skin.

“Goodnight Hayato.” she breathed.

He looked at her for a moment more before turning and disappearing into the night. She couldn’t help but watch him go until his tall silhouette faded from her vision.

“Oooooh!” said a sudden, shrill voice, making Raine jump. She turned and looked at Chelstra, who was peeking out through the slightly opened door to the female quarters. Raine’s face went bright red.

“How long were you standing there?” she demanded, voice rising. Chelstra giggled and came out to meet her, her orange curls bouncing on her shoulders.

“Long enough to see Prince Charming kiss your hand!” she said, grinning from ear to ear.

“Oh shut up,” Raine muttered, now grinning herself.

“How long have you two been courting? Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked, clearly excited.

“Only since about half an hour ago,” Raine replied quietly. “So I didn’t have anything to tell you up until now.”

“Ooh, this is so exciting! And he’s so handsome too!” she crooned. “You really are a lucky girl, Raine.”

“Don’t go running around telling everyone,” Raine warned quickly. “I don’t want anyone to know just yet. Especially Troy.”

“Oh, he’ll be alright with it, I think,” Chelstra said, waving a hand dismissively. Raine gave her a disbelieving look and she shrugged. “Alright, he used to like you quite a lot, but he’s known that Hayato’s been in the picture for a while now.”

“What do you mean, in the picture? We’ve just been friends!” Raine said indignantly.

“Yes, but he was an obvious contender.” she said. Raine frowned and went to speak again but she cut her off with another casual wave of her hand. “But I don’t think he sees you that way anymore anyway, so I wouldn’t worry.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Raine said, horrified. Chelstra laughed.

“Couldn’t you tell?” she said.

“How can I tell? He acts that way with everyone!” Raine retorted, drawing further laughter from the Life Mage.

“That is true. Don’t worry; I’m sure he will be happy for you.” she said. She looked at her, eyes twinkling conspiringly. “So, come inside, you have to tell me all about your first date!”

“It wasn’t a date.” Raine said, following her inside. “And look Chelstra I’m really tired; I need to sleep.”

“Ooh, stolen all of your energy already?” the girl said, giggling again as Raine rolled her eyes and sighed.

RAINE STARED AT the ceiling for some time, willing her mind to calm down. It was a challenge- she couldn’t stop smiling, and every time she thought of Hayato and his voice when he spoke to her, the way he looked at her with affectionate longing, a tingling sensation would travel down her spine and legs.

She ignored the voices of doubt in her mind, ignoring their cold, sneering warnings, and eventually her heartbeat and breathing returned to normal and she rolled onto her side and into sleep.

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