Hallo Minna-san! This is pretty much a re-upload of what was here before, only now Fates has finally been edited! That means there are less typos and plot holes, and three more pages of story to enjoy! Do please Review at the end of each chapter and include something I need to work on, as well as something I did well. I'm here to get better so constructive criticism is welcome! And a big thankyou to all the people who reviewed before, as well as my many beta-readers. You guys are the best. ^_^

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The new batch had come in. Poor kids.

Taro Kashiwa leaned against the doorframe and watched the newest bunch of orphans to arrive at the Institute. He remembered being there himself, feeling vulnerable and alone, with no history. They'd had their memories wiped, every last one. The scenes of their parents' deaths were too horrific to be retained. He continued to gaze at them, his mind slipping into the past. Poor saps. You have no idea what is waiting for you. I can't help you but maybe I can keep more out of this place. He took a long last look at the kids, then pushed away from the wall. He turned and walked down the hall without a backward glance.

The moonlight crept silently across the floor, its searching outermost edges fingering everything in their path. The faint glow stole carefully up the bunk until it alighted upon Taro's slumbering form. He turned his head away from the pale luminescence, deeply immured in his dreams.

He was lost. Scared. Why? He couldn't remember anything. Help me!

A gentle hand shook him awake, dispelling the nightmare. He opened sleep-heavy eyes and blinked until the face in front of him came into focus. It was his teacher.

"Come on, sleepyhead. It's time for a story." He obediently rolled up his mat and joined his classmates. They all sat in a semi-circle around a short chair. The teacher walked past him, briefly placing her hand on his head. He leaned into the brief contact, missing such gestures and not knowing why.

"All right children. I've got a scary story to read to you. Do you like scary stories?" Everyone's hand shot up into the air. Taro waved his frantically. "All right then. Keep in mind, young ones, that this story is true. Once, long ago, there lived a race of giant monsters called the Shinoar. Four hundred years ago, humans first arrived here. We were lost and scared and far from home. When we found this place we asked the Shinoar if we could stay somewhere on their lovely planet. At first none of them wanted us to stay but they gave in and let us. Do any of you know why?"

The children shook theirs heads 'no' in unison.

"It's because they wanted to eat us! They were lazy and mean and thought that we would be easy food. But fortunately for us, they were also really dumb. They ordered us to give them our children as payment for the use of the land we were on. We said that we wouldn't because we love our children. The Shinoar didn't understand this because they drove their young away as soon as possible. Well, the next day huge flocks of Shinoar attacked our cities. They killed many people and let their hatchlings play with the bodies."

"Ewwww…" said the boy sitting next to him. Taro silently agreed. He knew he was going to have nightmares. The other kids around him looked like it too.

The story continued to say that they managed to defeat the villainous Shinoar and that they no longer existed. He wasn't sure that the story was entirely true, even though Teacher had said it was; it was far too black and white. His five-year old brain tried to find a respectful way to question the veracity of the story, but couldn't, and he decided to let the matter drop.

"All right you little heathens, go outside and play."

"Hooray!" he yelled and raced out into the warm sun.

Taro's mind continued to wander its night time pathways, innocently meandering down corridors with images best locked away. He had few pleasant memories of this place. All too few.

"Taro-kun? I don't want to do this. Can we leave?" Taro looked at his best friend and shook his head, not trusting himself to speak. Everything about the room was wrong. It was too bright and the air smelled stale. A door opposite them whooshed open with a blast of fetid air. The silhouette of a man appeared, outlined against the even brighter light of the adjoining room.

"Toushin? Come with me." The figure stepped to one side and motioned the terrified boy forward. Taro watched his friend sink deeper into his chair, his eyes welling with tears.

"Did you not hear me, boy? I said come." Toushin clutched the seat rim tightly with his small hands and shook his head, clearly wishing to remain where he was. "Very well then."

Two very large men stepped into the room and lumbered over to the boys. The larger of the two leaned over and plucked Toushin from his chair. He carried the wailing child into the other room, the door closing behind him.

"Noooooo! Please don't! Stoooo-" The protests quickly rose in pitch until it was nothing but a mindless scream that cut off abruptly. The silence that crashed over the place was deafening. Taro couldn't stop shaking. For his friend, and for himself. He was next.

The scene shifted once again, fading to blackness then spiraling back to a new nightmare and the horror that awaited.

Oh. Gods. The images would never leave him. The brutally mangled bodies of… his parents… were permanently etched into his mind. The screen at the front of the room flickered to life, a picture of the culprit spread across it.

"This. This is what killed your parents. This is why you are here."

He looked up and the saurian creature's slitted eyes seemed to stare back at him, taunting him. Shinoarii. He felt the rage boil up from the depths of his soul, trying to release itself in a maniacal howl. He kept silent, anger licking at his every thought. You monsters. I will not let you go unpunished.

Pain brought him back from his unconscious reverie. He shook his head to clear the pervasive scenes and un-balled his fists, absently noting where his nails had cut into his palms. He blew on the small cuts for a moment, then burrowed back underneath the blankets to resume his interrupted sleep. It was a pattern he had lived with for years.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"It's been two months. They should be doing better by now." Toushin leaned against the plate glass, his nose almost touching it and his light gray hair falling in front of his face.

"Toushin! Stop it. You're acting like one of the Psychs."

"Gee. Thanks Taro! I've never been so flattered…" He turned around and leaned against the window, smiling at his surly friend, his gray eyes full of mischief. "You really need to lighten up!"

"Mmm. Come on or we're going to be late for our briefings."

"Oh man. I forgot. We're finding out what fields we'll be going into today." Toushin laughed, the sound painfully hollow. "Not like there's any question for you. You're a hunter, all the way."

Taro nodded, his expression stony. I may hate the Shinoar, but that doesn't mean I want to be a butcher. But he had no choice and he knew it. It was time to meet his future.

The pair walked down one hallway after another, instinctively negotiating the maze of corridors that was the Institute. Their shoulders brushed each other's as they walked, offering emotional support that they couldn't and wouldn't otherwise display. Taro stopped at one door while Toushin paused at the next. They looked at each and nodded. Taro's hand, when he reached to open the door, was shaking visibly with his distress.

Get a hold of yourself, he though crossly forcing his hand to steady itself. He grabbed the handle firmly, pulled it open and strode through, his keen gaze quickly taking every detail of the room, possible exits points and anything that might be used as a weapon. He bowed formally to the two men waiting for him, his head reaching nearly level with his knees. They nodded their approval, both at his gesture and at his quick appraisal of the room. The director of the Institute walked forward and warmly clasped his hand.

"Taro. I can not express how proud of you I am this day. You have surpassed all of our expectations."

He bowed again. "Thank you, sir."

"Taro," the director continued, "this is Ryoushi Masurao. He is to be your partner for your first assignment. He already has the particulars of this operation and will brief you on everything you need to know. But for now, I have other young men to congratulate so I'll leave you two to get acquainted."

Taro turned his full attention to the other man. He was unusually tall and wraith-thin, his form so slender that he looked like he might blow away with the slightest breeze. Despite that, he radiated a raw strength that dared anyone to try and take him. But it was his eyes that held Taro frozen for those first few seconds. His eyes were a type that froze the guts and made the strongest of men want to cry out in fear. Taro held his composure by sheer force of will, meeting Masurao's gaze and holding it, partly mesmerized by his new partner's oddly orange irises.

Masurao spared the boy in front of him only the briefest of glances, raking over his lithe frame with a combination of intrigue and disgust, then locked eyes.

"You're the best they've got so far?"

He looked extremely put out at Taro's nod, his narrow chest heaving with his exaggerated sigh. "Look, just don't get in my way next week, okay?"

He tossed some photos on the table haphazardly, giving little care to their condition. Taro reached out and plucked one off the polished surface, holding the moment of frozen time delicately between thumb and forefinger. Two happy and loving faces stared back at him from the picture, their hands linked as they leaned towards each other.

"Cute couple," he said coldly. "Shinoar?"

"Undoubtedly. They also have a daughter but records show her to be adopted so we're not sure, and that means we can't kill her." He looked mildly disappointed for a moment, then sneered. "Poor thing."

Taro merely quirked an eyebrow at the last statement and the other man chortled gleefully. "If she is Shinoar, death would be a far nicer thing to encounter that what our dear leaders would have planned for her. Now, the plan is simple. We'll fly over their house at dawn a week from today. These ones," and he gestured at the photos, his expression laden with contempt, "have the stupid habit of greeting the day in their true form. This makes our job a whole lot easier." He smirked at Taro. "Think you can be here on time?"

"Watch me." His eyes silently answering the challenge evident in the older man's voice.

"Will do, miboyo. See you in a week!" Masurao left the room, saluting Taro with a jaunty wave. The young man watched the empty doorway for a moment then sagged against the table, not noticing as the photos fluttered to the ground to be trampled underfoot. Am I going to end up like him? Gods above, I hope not.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"It's a new day. I've never noticed so many of these things before. Even the air is different." She opened her eyes, smiling at her ceiling. She stretched, enjoying the pull of sleep-tight muscles, then sat up. Her legs swung freely over the edge of the bed as she peered about her excitedly. Predawn is so beautiful, she thought, crossing her cold hardwood floor to look out the window. She breathed deep of the predawn air, catching the faint, hinted smells of grassland and forest that were so a part of her parents.

"Yuki-chan! Come greet the day with us!" Her mother's cat-like eyes had easily spotted her in the darkness, the gold orbs glowing in the semi-darkness.

"Hai, Mama! I'll be down in just a minute!" She leapt to her closet, one hand pulling off her knee-length t-shirt while the other rummaged through her clothes. The garment fluttered to the floor, quickly followed by several others. There it is! Yuki held up her gi for inspection. It wasn't particularly formal or festive, but it would do. Now all she had to do was brush her hair and she'd be set. She plucked at the waist length mass and gritted her teeth as her fingers got stuck in one of the infinite numbers of tangles that turned her normally silky hair into a veritable nest like mess.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Getting to the bathroom was proving difficult. She picked herself up off the floor once again, then finished pulling on her pants. She barely noticed the low thwump-thwump of a helicopter passing overhead, instantly dismissing it in favor of returning to an upright position and grabbing her brush. She braced her feet, brush held before her like a weapon for a moment, then ruthlessly attacked the single monstrous tangle that had formerly been her har. Ow. Ow ow ow. Stupid brush. Almost done, though. She looked into the mirror, swinging the auburn strands about her shoulders and smiled.

"Yuuuuukiiiiii!!!" As the tortured wail echoed throughout the house the brush clattered to the floor, forgotten as panic instantly seized control of her brain.

"Mama? Mama!" Run. Run! Yuki slid down the hall, barely regaining her balance before colliding into a wall. She looked around the corner and immediately regretted it. She dropped slowly to her knees, trying to control the dry heaves that shook her entire body.

"Mama…" She forced her gaze outside, forced herself to see what the new day had brought. The display above the horizon was a fitting tribute to the events that had transpired. Reds of every shade imaginable spread across the sky, mirroring the horror of the scene below. A man was standing over her beloved mother's body, carefully cutting off her head. He stood up, casually holding onto the lightly curved horn that graced the cheeks of all the Shinoar.

"Whatcha think?" he asked of the young man standing near the orange-brown heap that had been her dad. "Should make a good trophy."

Yuki locked eyes with the one near her father, pleading, begging that it be a bad dream. It had to be. How else could she possibly keep on living?

Taro felt sick. This was no mere nausea but a pain that burrowed itself into his soul. The shinoarii at his feet took another ragged, rasping breath. He looked away, then fixed his gaze, his attention caught by a flash of gold. He turned and found his eyes locked with those of a young teenager. Her hair flashed a golden brown in the first rays of light, dazzling his senses and making his breath catch in throat. She looked so sad, so lost. Her sobs cut him to the quick. I know. I know how you feel. He knew all too well the pain that clouded her eyes, the same pain that he lived with every day. Only instead of it being some nameless monster, he was now the one destroying hearts.

"Well. What have we here. Taro! Catch!" The female's decapitated head landed at his feet, sending up a small cloud of dust and eliciting a heart-wrenching moan from the young girl. "My. Aren't we a pretty little thing."

"Leave her be!" The old male's great hulk shifted several feet, the vaguely serpentine head weaving back and forth. "She is but a foundling, discovered in a back alley one night. We took her, hoping to help our own kind. But I have grown fond of her, as had my mate. She never knew what we were. Please. Let her go."

"Quiet, beast. We'll do with her as we please." Masurao stalked forward, his short sword held close to his side.

"I'm sorry, Yuki-chan." The blade descended and pinned the great head to the ground, silencing it forever.

"Da…" the girl gasped, then pitched forward, to deep in shock to remain even remotely upright. "Da. Oh Da."

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

She woke slowly to the sensation of a hand caressing her hair, smoothing it against her back in an almost comforting gesture. She stiffened involuntarily when the hand fisted itself at the nape of her neck, hissing against the pain.

"Rise and shine, Yuki-chan. Your destiny awaits."

She opened her eyes reluctantly, knowing that her mother's corpse lay only a few feet away. Taro's breath caught in his throat at the despair in the girl's mint green eyes. Yuki. Now doubly an orphan. He felt sick again.

"I'm sorry, but we have to take you with us now." The kindness in Taro's voice was totally at odds with the entire situation but he couldn't help offering her some sympathy.

"Aw. Don't baby her. Get up." The hand in her hair began exerting a great deal of pressure, forcing her to capitulate. "And here. Hold this."

Yuki stared into her mother's dead eyes and immediately dropped the head, sinking again to her knees. Her complexion turned a decided shade of green and she moaned low in her throat.

"You'll carry it or we'll be carrying you. In a body bag." The knife presented to her neck drove the point home. She cradled Masurao's trophy to her chest, carefully wiping away every trace of dust from the beloved visage. She rose unsteadily to her feet, turning her face away from the open concern in Taro's eyes. The last thing she needed was pity from the likes of him, she told herself. He was a butcher and she hated him and the other with every fiber of her being.

"All right. Let's get moving. The pick up location is a couple day's walk away with her in tow." Taro took up a position on Yuki's left, Masurao directly behind. She stepped forward immediately, neatly evading her captor's shove. The low growl behind her made her want to laugh. Poor baby. You don't like it when your toys won't cooperate with your plans, hmm?

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was hot. Unusually so. The trees around them had drooped visibly, no longer offering shade. The sun beat on captive and captor with equal fury. One figure stumbled.

Thirsty.

"Get up."

Water.

"I said get UP!"

Can't, came the tired thought.

"Gods. Let me guess. You didn't eat at all yesterday."

Help.

"And you didn't bring anything to drink. You're a flaming idiot, you know that? Hey! Get away from there!"

Rustling, then a shadow and something cool.

"I don't know how he made it this far with nothing to eat or drink yesterday and fighting all morning. I'd lay odds he trains most of the day."

"Naturally. We all do. Not that you monsters are much of challenge."

The shadow moved, taking the low growling with it.

"Come on. I dare ya."

"You're not worth my time. And no matter what you did, no matter how much I despise you both, I don't want either of you dead." She turned her back on Masurao, leaning over Taro's prostrate form. The comforting hand she placed on his forehead was withdrawn almost instantly. So what if he's sick, Yuki. He's still your enemy. She shook that un-Shinoar thought away, knowing her parents would be ashamed. Her step-parents taught her to care for all living things, no matter what they had done and she would do her best to follow that tenet. Emotions firmly under control, she dragged Taro to the sparse shade offered by a nearby tree. Masurao stood silent, watching as she shifted Taro into a sitting position and placed a water bottle to his lips.

"Come on. Wake up. If you die, your buddy there'll probably make me carry you too." He remained silent, his breath coming in dry gasps. "Damn it! How dare you do something so Shinoar." Her hand knocked his head painfully into the tree. One eye opened a fraction and clear brown met cool green.

"That's better. Drink." The bottle was presented again and he grabbed at it, his hand unsteady. The cool of the water going down his parched throat was pure bliss. He closed his eyes and drank, leaning against the rough bark of the tree for support. Yuki watched to be sure he wasn't going to pass out again, then turned to confront Masurao.

"We'll stay here until dark. He's not fit to travel and I'll be the same in an hour or two if we keep on." Her face was flushed from heat and her mouth felt like it was full of cotton balls.

"What do you care about Taro?"

Her eyes flashed. "I was taught to respect all life." His sneer went unnoticed as she lay down near the tree.

Dusk was slow to arrive, but eventually the shadows lengthened and the air cooled. Masurao lifted his foot and aimed.

"Wake up."

"Oomph!" Yuki rolled from the force of the kick, clutching her stomach. "You are such a bastard," she snarled.

He readied another kick but Taro stepped in the way.

"Enough. She has to be able to walk." Taro knelt and extended his hand to help her up. Her eyes narrowed at his offer, trying to find an ulterior motive. She spurned the gesture and rose, one hand still pressed to her middle. The rays of the sun put forth a last splash of brilliant colors, then faded into darkness.

Like life, Yuki thought to herself. Just like my life. Nothing but darkness. Light? Something was coming. Masurao sensed it too. He edged closer, reached out to take her arm, and the forest erupted in flames. The trees around them became fifty-foot torches, their flames licking at everything in reach. A mass detached itself from the top of a burning tree and plummeted towards the ground. The creature touched down briefly, the silhouette of a shinoarii clearly outlined against the orange and red of the fire. It's eyes reflected the flames before the being lunged forward. Thick arms wrapped around Yuki's body and lifted her upwards. Her screams were lost in the flapping of wings.

"Shit." Masurao watched Yuki's struggles but knew that he could never catch up with them. More shinoarii materialized out of the inferno around them, eyes glowing madly in the light.

"What? Only four?" He cackled gleefully and unsheathed his sword. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Taro also readying himself for battle. He looks pissed, he noted happily. A quick nod passed between them and the duo charged.

~*~*~

"Geez that was a short fight. And least their blood is pernicious." The thick orange fluid oozed lazily down the blade, staining the metal as it passed.

"Yeah? So are their corpses." Taro placed his foot on the snout of his last victim, hoping that the added leverage would free his blade. It didn't budge. "Gods damn it! Let! Go! Of my! Knife!" Kicking the handle of the blade widened the cut enough for him to yank it free. "So. Do we just go back?"

"That's about it. We accomplished the most important part of the operation."

"True. Let's go while it's still dark. Pha. These things stink."

A helicopter broke the silence of the morning but no one paid it any heed.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"You did well, Kashiwa."

"Thankyou, sir." His voice remained bland.

"Your next mission is long term and you'll be on your own."

He nodded.

"We'll recall you on occasion but this is your priority."

The director placed a photograph on the table. Taro picked it up, already suspecting whom it showed. Yuki smiled up from the picture. She looks so happy, he thought dully.

"Find her, Kashiwa. Rescue her. Bring her back to us."

He nodded mutely and pocketed the photo.