Here ya go - the last chapter. I don't really like how it begins, but I do love the ending. Hopefully, it all smooths out. So, enjoy!
"Hn," came a disgruntled grunt. "That was pathetic." Yet even as he got to his feet, there was a small smile on his face. Aerto bent down to pluck three senbon from the grass; he had thrown himself to the ground in order to avoid their deadly kiss. He tossed them back to their owner, and she slipped them back into her pouch.
She was a slim beauty with expressive hazel eyes, and a long, brunette braid that swung freely behind her. Kaymy gave a little giggle, and glanced shyly beside her.
A young man, with brilliant green eyes, and a messy mop of ebony hair that was marked by a single white streak, lifted an arm and pointed. "That is pathetic," he said in a soft, quiet voice.
Aerto looked down at his arm, where his green-eyed friend was pointing, and let a surprised "Hngh!" Frantically, he grabbed hold of the slender needle which was embedded in his flesh, and yanked it out. He moved his arm nervously, almost expecting it to flop uselessly back to his side, forever paralyzed. Fortunately, it moved normally, and he tossed the senbon angrily to Kaymy.
She giggled again. "It's not mine. It's Sai's." The green-eyed boy nodded, and took it from her, slipping it inside his own pouch.
Aerto looked flabbergasted. "But how - when...? I never saw him move!" He scowled at Sai. "Besides, I was sparring with Kaymy, not you!"
Sai gave a slow smile. "You were too focused on your opponent, and too unaware of your surroundings. A perfect opportunity for an enemy to strike."
Aerto's scowl deepened, but he grudgingly admitted that it was true. It was a weak point of his. "Hn. Your turn, Sai. I'm going to beat you into the ground for that little senbon trick of yours."
Sai just smiled that quiet smile of his, and took a low stance. "Try it," he softly said. As Aerto charged, Kaymy gave a small, contented sigh.
Finally. Finally, they were together again, and happy. Sai had gained his voice, and all the good memories of his time in Tokita village. He was content - she could tell by the happy shine in those emerald eyes. And as long as he was happy, she was happy.
Kaymy wasn't the only one watching Sai as he sparred with Aerto. Takeshi stood quite a ways off, hidden by tall, thick brush. The Maka and Sai's adoptive father, Reimi, stood with him.
"He doesn't remember?" Maka Rei asked, watching as Sai gracefully flipped over Aerto's attack, then deftly tripped Aerto with a smooth sweep.
"I don't think so," Reimi answered. "He seems to have lost all memories concerning his people. He's the same as when we found him."
Takeshi frowned as he watched his two students. His eyes were on Sai especially, noting the way the boy easily flipped and contorted his body to avoid Aerto's kunai thrusts. Those movements. . . they are those of the Goka. . . He looked away, his expression unreadable. "I guess it's for the best, then."
"Mm," Reimi agreed solemnly. "I never want to have to see him like that again." His expression grew distant and sorrowful as he recalled the broken form of his son in Takeshi's arms. They had returned from their mission; while it was successful, it was nearly a complete disaster, as Sai had been completely shattered.
Kaymy had been in constant tears, refusing to let go of Sai's hand, blaming herself for the whole thing. And Sai himself became uncontrollable if she showed any signs of leaving, screaming the only word he could speak, "Kaymy."
A medical scan by the doctors showed that was in excellent health physically, and definitely able to speak. In fact, Sai was healthier than some of the Seni in the village. The only problem had been his mind. He had been broken, his mind shattered, reduced to mere shreds and pieces of his former self.
But it wasn't completely hopeless, as he showed signs of recognition. He knew Kaymy, and refused to let her go. He tolerated Takeshi and Aerto to be in the same room as him, while he screamed at anybody else, afraid that they would take Kaymy away. Many times, the doctor had to sedate him, and many times, Kaymy had to soothe away his fears.
Reimi bowed his head. Those had been hard times, and every time he recalled them, his heart seared with sympathy and hurt for his adoptive son. He hated the Gokaku, for what they did. Even though the man in charge, Ilamok, was dead, he hated those who still lived.
But now, those times were over. It was all in the past, and Sai had returned, the same as he had been before it all. And that was enough. "He's fully recovered," he said, confidently.
"Then you agree that he is ready to take part in this mission?" Maka Rei gazed intently at Reimi.
"Yes. It's been nearly three months; he should be fine."
"Very well. Takeshi," the Maka turned to him, "the mission I told you about this morning is yours."
"Thank you, Maka," Takeshi gave a quick little bow, his dark eyes ever unreadable, and all-knowing. "Then with your permission, I shall go to my team."
Maka Rei gave a regal nod, and Takeshi turned, his silver hair swirling about him, and walked toward the three Juni.
Sai grabbed Aerto's arm as the black-eyed boy thrust forward with a kunai, and did a little spin, throwing Aerto up and over onto the ground. Aerto let out a grunt, and struggled to get up, but Sai kneeled on his chest, holding him down.
"Let me up, you idiot!"
Sai just gazed down at him with glowing emerald coals, twin stars that seemed to pierce through everything, seeing all that was hidden deep within... Aerto shuddered at the sudden chill, and then, suddenly, it was gone, as Sai was standing beside him, offering a helping hand.
Shaking off his uneasiness, Aerto accepted it, and was lifted to his feet. "You've gotten better," he grumbled, "but next time, it'll be you on the ground."
"We shall see," Sai only said, and smiled. Aerto smirked, knowing that his friend accepted the challenge in his own quiet way. Even though he usually was silent and collected, Sai was always ready for a challenge.
"Here comes Takeshi," Kaymy spoke up. "I hope he's not going to make us do more training." All three Juni slumped at that thought. They were sick of doing useless training, while all the other Juni teams went on missions.
"Hn," Aerto grunted agreement.
"Hello team," Takeshi greeted as he walked up. He took in their dark expressions, and chuckled lightly. "You should look happy - we're going on a mission today."
Kaymy lit up like the sun. "Really?!"
"Yes," the Seni's lips curved upwards in a smile. "We're going on a week-long mission to the Desert lands. We have to deliver some secret information to the Safu." He held up a scroll. But none of their attention was on it. The Juni were thinking back to one fateful mission which involved the Safu.
"The Safu?" Sai murmured, and wondered how Kaymy would take it. He turned to see what she was thinking, when he paused, and blinked. Kaymy had grabbed his hand, and now she grinned at him.
"This is going to be fun," she exclaimed, her eyes dancing mischievously. "I'm going to show those Safu that they'd better step carefully around us, if they want to see another sunrise."
"Hn," Aerto smirked. "Sounds good to me."
Takeshi turned, hiding his amused smile. "Get ready, Juni. We leave in one hour." He headed off, thinking to himself. Our first mission since then, and with the Safu, no less. This will be most interesting...this mission.
"It's hot," Kaymy sighed, glancing around to see her teammates. Up ahead, Takeshi strolled along, seemingly unaffected by the blistering desert heat. Behind him came Aerto, who had wrapped a long strip of material around his head like a turban. She thought it made him look ridiculous, but he claimed it kept the heat off. And at this moment, she was willing to try anything.
Scowling, she peered over her shoulder at Sai, who brought up the rear of their little group. He caught her gaze, and gave her a gentle smile. Feeling her heart suddenly starting to pound, she hurriedly faced forward, her cheeks growing warm.
Silly! She admonished herself. It was just a smile, for crying out loud. No reason to go all loopy over that!
"I've got your back, Kaymy," he said softly from behind. "You can relax."
"That's the problem," she muttered under her breath. The fact that he was behind her, watching her all the time. . .she reddened. It was just too hot out here in the desert. Now the heat was making her turn red.
Trying to distract her wandering mind, she looked around at the barren land. Dirt. That was all she could see. That, and rocks. Oh, so exciting! And ugly, she thought. Ugly and too quiet, and too hot! "What a horrible place," she muttered. "If I lived here, I'd evaporate into a pile of dried up skin."
Aerto snorted from in front of her, and she glared at the back of his turbaned head. "Well!" She sniffed. "At least I-"
Takeshi abruptly stopped, holding up a hand to catch their attention. Kaymy fell silent, wondering what the problem was. It didn't take long for it to reveal itself, as a large group of men seemed to ooze out from the surrounding rocks, and surround them.
Kaymy merely watched as they all stared stonily at her group, unworried, and sure that she could handle any trouble that came her way. Hmm...which one was their leader? If she could take him out, then the rest of the group would probably surrender. All so nice and easy...
"What do you want?" Aerto called out. He too, seemed unfazed by the sudden appearance of half a dozen, dusty men in dirt-colored clothing.
"The scroll," one man replied calmly. "Give us the scroll, and your lives will be spared." Ha! Kaymy grinned inwardly. This one was the leader! Of course, since he was the one wearing the eye-patch, and looking like a rough character. Though she had to admit, he did look kind of cool and dangerous with the eyepatch, not to mention the part of scar that peeked out from the scarf he had wrapped around his face. Oooh, this was so much fun!
"Ha!" she snorted, expressing her great amusement. "What a laugh! You guys don't know who you're dealing with, right guys?"
"Hn," Aerto just hefted a kunai in either hand, fixing the men with a cold, ebony stare.
"Yes," came a low, dark hiss from behind her. Kaymy slipped a hand into her pouches, ready to pull out several senbon. But then, she froze, as the air suddenly seemed to drop in temperature. She shivered involuntarily as a chill settled deep into her bones, and a feeling of fear began to seep through her skin. She trembled, frightened, yet wondering where this feeling came from. Why was she suddenly so scared? She felt like bolting, and running to someplace safe, yet somehow, her feet were rooted to the ground, and she couldn't move.
And suddenly, it was gone; the oppressing heat of the desert returned, and she found herself gasping for air. Suddenly alarmed, she looked toward the eyepatch man, and despite the scarf and eyepatch hiding his face, she could tell that he too, was shaken. He looked like he had seen death itself, staring the way he was behind her. . .
Kaymy whipped around, and stared at Sai. He looked back at her, and blinked, seeming a little confused. Kaymy frowned. Nothing out of place here: Sai just stood there normally, one hand uncurling from a fist, while the other rested just above his weapons pouch...
"M-move out, men," The eyepatch man barked out, and his men disappeared into the surrounding area like ghosts. Kaymy gaped. They came demanding the scroll, and all of a sudden, they leave?
"That was. . .interesting," Aerto lowered the kunai he held.
"Stranger things have happened," Takeshi murmured, his dark eyes thoughtful. "Let's move on."
As the Juni scrambled to obey, Kaymy tried to figure out what had just happened. The last time she had felt that was before, with the Safu, when they tried to scare her off by simply giving her a dark stare that conveyed their killing intent. So...who had...?
A icy hand closed its fist around her lungs, and she turned once more to look at Sai. He gave her a questioning look, and she turned back, confused. No way. There was no way at all.
It is quiet and uneventful for the rest of the journey. We arrive at the Safu village at dawn, and the quiet, hard-faced warriors let us in. They hold their spears tightly, and their stony, wary expressions let us know that we are under close watch.
Takeshi takes it all in stride; the open hostility doesn't seem to disturb him. But Aerto and Kaymy seem nervous, although they bear it well. I wear my mask, an unreadable expression that hides all my thoughts, all my feelings.
I stand quietly with my team as Takeshi hands over the scroll to the village leader. He is a dark-skinned man with even darker eyes, eyes that seem to see all, to know all. Those eyes land on me as he looks over at us, and I get the sense that he sees under my mask, and sees all my secrets.
It makes me restless, and a little uneasy, but I stare right back at him with emerald ice. I will allow no one to get to me, no matter how strong they are. I am a pillar of ice, a pillar of fire. Their attempts to get inside my mind will be burned, or frozen right where they stand.
"Your team?" The leader of the village says to Takeshi.
"Yes," he answers. "You've met them before, I believe."
The leader looks at us again, and once more, I meet his gaze coldly. My mask is firm; it does not slip beneath his piercing gaze. Yet, somehow, I get the feeling that he knows.
"They have improved," the leader says. "Perhaps, the girl isn't so useless now. And the boys...they are men, now. They have grown."
I can sense Kaymy's pride, and Aerto's smug feeling. But I do not feel any sense of accomplishment. Instead, I feel unease. That man, that leader. . .he knows.
He knows what it is that I hide under my mask.
"Though," the leader goes on, giving us a sly look, "I believe that they still need improvement. They would not survive a day in the desert."
Kaymy stiffens beside me, her hazel eyes no doubt growing dark. She slips a hand in her pouch, intending to show the leader just how much improvement she needs. I feel a tiny smile tugging its way into my mind. When she found her strength, that girl also found a tendency to act before thinking.
I make a tiny sound of disapproval, and she hesitates, looking at me with questioning look. I give her a tiny shake, and she sighs, and withdraws her hand, minus the senbon.
"You all look weary," the leader says suddenly. "Perhaps you would like to stay for a bit to rest up?"
Takeshi raises a brow and looks at us. He's letting us decide? Aerto shrugs, and Kaymy looks to me. I give a tiny, tight shake of my head. No. I do not want to stay in this hostile place. I do not want to stay with a man who knows... who knows the truth.
"Very well. Looks like we'll start heading back right now, then." Takeshi gives a respectful bow to the leader. "Thank you for the offer."
"No. Thank you." The leader is looking at me when he says this, a smile hidden in those dark, dark eyes. I hold back a shiver, and turn away. As we walk away, I can feel those eyes boring into me from behind.
"Sai?" Kaymy slips her hand into mine. "Are you all right?"
I shake myself out of that dark place, and find a real smile for her. For her, I can always smile. I lace my fingers with hers. "I'm fine."
And we walk together, and as she smiles up at me, I feel the darkness inside leave. Her smile, her love - it fills in the holes in my heart, and with her, my heart is almost complete.
It's the end! But never fear! I'm thinking of a sequel, maybe. I still have to think things through, so it'll be a while before I start anything new.
Thank you all who reviewed - you guys are the best!
And if you haven't yet, please go read my other story, Raven's Cry. It's going to be my next main project. See ya!
EDIT: Sequel is out, and it's titled Beneath the Mask. Go read it:P