tAuthor's Notes: Yup, Aoi won the poll. (As expected.) I was probably going to overrule you guys anyways if you voted for Liliana.

I woke to white nothingness. The last thing I remembered was running out the mansion and then... My head ached from thinking of it. I heard a loud crash before I passed out, but that's all I knew. I stood in the empty stretch of land by myself for a few minutes more.

Finally, a dark swirling vortex appeared. From out of it stepped a very tall man in shining silver armor with no helmet on. He had jet black hair and light brown eyes. The man raised his hand and the portal closed, leaving nothing else behind.

"Makoto." He stated simply.

"You know me?" I asked. The man nodded his head.

"I've been watching you for quite some time. I'm disappointed. You nearly died from something caused by your own clan's element."

"It isn't like I was trying to choke to dea-" I stopped myself. "Wait, nearly?" He nodded. "I'm not dead."

"Good job catching on, Makoto. I want you to be careful around Liliana. She has her own agenda." The man took out a cigarette and put his finger up to it. A small flame came from the tip of his finger, lighting it.

"You can use fire magic?" I asked incredulously. "Are you from my clan?"

"No. I can only do this little bit with fire. Your clan just controls fire more easily than other mages do. For example, that sword stunt you did with Satashi? It would take a regular mage months of training what you did in just a day."

"So what happens now?"

"We wait. This lasts only as long as you're unconscious." He took a long drag of his cigarette.

"Well, while we're here...Who are you?" The man dropped his cigarette in surprise. It fell past his feet, into the white nothingness. His lips curled upwards a bit.

"You haven't guessed yet? It's me, Kazuma." The blood drained from my head and the world went cold. My worst enemy was him? The man who facilitated the murder of so many innocents, the man who currently wages war with the world, was just this ordinary person? "Who else do you know with the power to invade your dreams and speak to you like this? I just want you to know that I'm not the monster you're making me out to be." With that, the world faded from my view again. The last I saw was Kazuma putting another cigarette in his mouth.

The world was now black instead. I heard faint, urgent voices in the background.

"He isn't breathing!" Corack's voice. He actually sounded panicked for once. "What do we do?"

"Back away from him. I know what to do." Aoi's soft voice rose above the rest of the others. I felt pressure upon my chest as small hands pushed down on me. I opened my eyes to see Aoi was much too close. She had her lips pressed against mine, blowing air into me. I could feel the heat flood my cheeks.

A-Aoi? I asked her. Aoi jumped back in shock.

"You're okay!" Aoi jumped back onto me, wrapping her arms around my sides. I coughed violently as the smoke cleared my system.

"What happened?" I looked around. Satashi, Corack, Liliana, and Sergeant Savage were behind Aoi.

"A beam tore loose as you were getting out of there and hit you in the head. You'll be okay." Corack answered. Instinctively, I put my hand to my head. The texture of dried blood greeted my hand. "You've been out for about ten minutes." Sergeant Savage leaned over and offered his hand. I took it and he pulled Aoi and myself up.

"I apologize that the test went this far." Sergeant Savage said sheepishly. Corack, Aoi, Satashi, and I stared at him blankly. Finally, rage filled my veins.

"What kind of test was that?" I asked, angrily. "You could have gotten us killed!"

"If I thought you would have died, you all would never have even been considered for this." Liliana replied.

"You were part of this?" I asked. She nodded.

"Of course. Didn't you think it was odd for me to be in a palace replica a mere kilometer away from the actual thing?" I had nothing to say to that. "Of course, the fire was going a tad too far, Sergeant." Sergeant Savage nodded.

"I figured it wouldn't instill the feeling of urgency if there wasn't an immediate threat, Princess. I could have just as easily flooded the place, but it would take longer to get ready."

"No matter." Liliana said briskly. "What's done is done. Have the soldiers been evacuated from the premises?"

"As you ordered, Princess. They were rescued after Makoto left the room. Only the last man had a lasting injury. We're not sure if he'll be able to wield a sword again." I felt bad after hearing that. He must be in extreme pain after what happened to his hands.

"Come, Makoto, Aoi, Satashi, Corack. My father is waiting." Liliana walked away, motioning for us to follow. We were going to meet the king?

Liliana led us up through the palace, passing hundreds of servants along the way. The palace was much more lively now, as the sun was coming up. The king's quarters were at the end of a long hallway that was surprisingly empty. No windows or paintings adorned the walls. The door itself was unremarkable, other than being seeming sturdy.

"When you go in, remember to speak respectfully. My father has had a short temper in the past few weeks." Liliana warned. She pushed open the door. The king's study had a desk with a pile of books on it. A bookshelf that stretched the expanse of the wall was filled with other important looking books and scrolls. No window allowed light in, which struck me as odd.

The king was sitting at his desk, reading over a paper written in a language I'd never seen before. Perhaps it was a letter from one of our neighboring countries. He was a middle aged man with short blonde hair and an energetic look on his face.

"Ah, you're here!" His voice came out light, but loud. "You've kept me waiting, haven't you, Lily?" He asked.

"We got here as soon as we could, Father." Liliana replied. "These are the candidates. They passed your test with no problems."

"Before you say that, you might want to wipe the blood off that young man's face." The king threw a handkerchief at me. I looked at him questioningly. The king drew an imaginary line from his forehead to his right eye. I quickly rubbed it away. "Let's get down to the introductions. I am King Frederick the Fourth. You all are?"

"A-Aoi Furu, Your Majesty" Aoi stuttered.

"Satashi Motoka, Your Majesty" Satashi joined in.

"Corack Tokumura, Your Majesty" Corack added. I noticed the king's jaw clench slightly.

"Makoto Kagori. Your Majesty" I added hastily. King Frederick put the paper he was reading to the side.

"Okay, let me explain a little bit of what's going on. My daughter's sixteenth birthday has just passed. As is tradition, she is to start going around with bodyguards. She's refused every single person I've offered her so far. She somehow got a hold of your files and she wants you all for the job. I was reluctant to let unproven warriors protect my daughter, so I had Sergeant Savage set up a test for you all. Any questions so far?"

"Just one." I said. The king motioned for me to speak. "How does guarding a building test our abilities?"

"Ah, yes." He answered. "I was going to get to that. You see, it wasn't about testing any actual abilities. You were told that there was a VIP in the building, but weren't told who. We needed to see what kind of person you were. If you thirsted for knowledge, as someone we needed to, you would have entered the replica at some point. Being here means one of you did. Good job, Makoto."

"How did you know it was me?" I asked. The king let out a slight laugh.

"Because none of the others would do it. Satashi and Corack seem too dedicated with the task at hand from reports I've received about them. Aoi doesn't seem to be the type of person to disobey her superior, so you're what's left." Great. Nice to know that I was the last to be thought of.

"I ask you all, will you guard me for the time being? I know we deceived you, but it was necessary." Liliana asked, her voice low. For a moment, all was silent. It was a big decision for us all. I knew the others wouldn't answer, so I took the initiative. I knelt down on one knee and bowed my head.

"I speak only for myself, Princess." I started. "I would be honored to protect you." I looked up to see Aoi fuming silently. Corack and Satashi both knelt down to Liliana.

"I, too, would gladly accompany you." Satashi said.

"And I as well." Corack added. We all looked to Aoi. After a moment's hesitation, she also kneeled down.

"And I as well." Aoi finished. Liliana clapped her hands in delight and gestured for us to stand.

"That is good to hear! I didn't really expect any of you to agree. There are of course some formalities to be observed, but that will be taken care of later. Corack, Satashi, Aoi, please follow me." She led them out the door. King Frederick stared at me for a few tense minutes before opening his mouth.

"Makoto, I want you to be the team leader." He spoke quietly, but not in a whisper.

"Why me?" I asked in a tone to match his.

"Liliana seems to favor you a little more than the others. For that, I want you to have something." King Frederick stood up and grabbed the side of his bookcase. With a mighty heave, he pulled it from the wall. There was a chest in an opening in the wall. King Frederick pulled it out and creaked the chest open. He reached inside and pulled out a sword. It had a black blade and hilt, with a ruby in the pommel.

"This is Tenebris, an ancient heirloom passed down from generations past. In our tongue, it means 'biter of flesh'. It is given to warriors of the highest order. As my daughter's bodyguard, I want you to have it." He held the sword out to me. I took the blade, feeling the slight weight of the sword.

"Is...Is it okay for me to have this?" I asked. I felt kind of bad for accepting such a weapon.

"Of course. There is something you need to do, though. I want you to draw the blade across your hand." He spoke seriously, as strange as his request sounded.

"You want me to...to cut myself?" I squinted my eyes at him and rubbed my ears. Maybe I was just tired.

"Yes. This blade binds itself to one master per generation. Once it tastes your blood, it will recognize you as its owner. Now draw the blade across your hand." Slowly, I raised the sword and pulled it down the length of my hand. I shuddered as the thin crimson stream ran down the blade. I watched in fascination as the blood disappeared into the steel. The ruby glowed dimly as it absorbed what was left.

"Well, that was...interesting." I said quietly.

"It was, wasn't it?" King Frederick chuckled. "It'll recognize you until you die, so serve us well, Makoto."

"Yes, Your Majesty!" I snapped a salute.

"Good. Now go join your friends with Liliana. I have something for you all to do.

And I believe this is where I'll leave off. I think this is my longest chapter yet. Here's hoping I can keep them getting longer.

Oh yeah, and I started looking for a publisher already. I have one in mind, but I have to super spruce up three chapters for her to consider it. Please remember to review! :)