Chapter 26 [Companions]
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A piece of memory, Kenn’s memories. A moment in his past that changed his life forever. It started with the sun as high as it could go, but for some reason, it was drizzling: a midday rain, one could call it. A flute was kept in his hand as he skipped toward his house. Joyous to meet his parents again after a long day of class, even though his clothes were gradually getting wet.

A humble home was in sight, his family wasn’t rich, but still could afford a comfortable life. Kenn walked into the front yard, still with a bright smile on his face as he slid the front door. He could hear his parents talking from the hallway. Kenn set aside his lute on the drawer and proceeded inside, but stopped when he overheard something dreadful.

“Keiko...There’s no other way. I blame myself for this. You warned me so many times and I kept ignoring you. Look at what I've done.” That was his father, he sounded like he was in pain and terrified.

“No. No… screw everyone else. We are a family, I won’t let them get to you.” Kenn’s body froze as he tried to understand what’s going on, and why is his mother sobbing?

“I decided. You need to do it. Just like we talk.”

“No!”

“Keiko, you’re a Jigoku no Senshi, they will believe you but you need to show them your loyalty. Either you save Kenn or our son would be dragged into my foolish action.”

“Then what? You live free of guilt? I told you so many times that it was a stupid decision to go against The Empress, so why didn’t you listen to me?”

“Because I believe in a better future!”

“This future? Where you put your own family in danger.”

The door shook as three figures stood in front of the door, Kenn glanced back between the door and the hallway. He couldn’t decide what to do so Kenn froze up, his foot was nailed down, but all that indecisiveness was too late.

“I-I’m sorry, Keiko. I will always love you and Kenn. I’m sorry…”

A gurgling noise can be heard down the hallway, it could have been anything, any number thing that could make that noise. However, why is it that no matter how much he tried to fight against it, but it was a fact that his father was no longer with him.

The door across the hallway slid open, A trickle of blood was on her mother’s cheek and bleakness in her eyes. She saw her son but didn’t react as she made her way past him without saying anything. She didn't greet, wave, or even looked at him as if he was invisible to her. Blood flowed down the hallway, Kenn’s leg and lips trembled as he finally registered the horror event that had happened.

Keiko slid the door open and revealed three military men with their weapons ready. “It is done. I’ve killed him. You can confirm it if you want. My loyalty is to The Empress.”

“Y-You killed him?” muttered Kenn, but Keiko remained quiet.

“You killed him!” The boy slammed his clenched hands against his mother back while he sobbed furiously, “I hate you.”

“I hate you!” screamed Kenn.

Through the years after the event unfolded, Kenn remembered the ridiculed, the stares, the shameful whispers, the irritating gestures. His mother had made his life worse and worse, day by day. Kenn couldn't even visit his father's grave because traitors weren't allowed to have one. Their body would be burned and tossed into the river with no respect, nor pity, no time to mourn.

However, what truly hurt him more was his mother's disappearance after what happened between her and his father. She had left him without a single word of goodbye. Kenn had to live with his grandpa from a distant family because his other siblings had rejected him until Uncle Goro took him in. Meeting him was a gift, he had learned everything he needed to know to survive on his own from Uncle Goro, but with that brand on his back as a son of a traitor and a son to a husband-killer.

Easy to say it was hard for him to find someone who didn't judge him by what his parents had done.

So Kenn hated Keiko for leaving him and being the source of all his pain.

 

***

 

Back in the present.

Victor brought his blade down on Kenn’s short Katana, it produced a clanging noise before bouncing back. Pure anger can be seen clouding Victor’s eyes, Kenn tried everything to calm him down, every word he could think of, every reason he could express, but this man doesn’t desire any peaceful resolution whatsoever.

Furthermore, he knows that Victor knew that this was a part of The High Commander’s plan, and yet, his desires to end Kenn’s life outweigh any potential thoughts that he was being played by their enemy. Victor’s revenge was more important to him than the life of other people, and that thought was the first nail into Kenn’s heart.

The second nail that hit was Victor’s unrelenting admiration of that woman; a woman Kenn once called mother. He hated that.

“What was so good about that woman?!” shouted Kenn, and that managed to stop Victor.

“You admired her so much that you were blinded to the truth! I asked you again what is so good about a murderer, who kills his husband and left her child alone?”

“Because she’s the only one I got. She saved me, took care of me, taught me. I could have saved her. Changed her mind. Do something. I just needed more time! But you took that away. You didn’t even give her a chance.”

“She was my mother. Not some savior. She was unwell. Stop dressing the truth with false admiration. She was a murderer who had left a trail of dead bodies all across The Kingdom, and if she were to be left alone, more bodies would rise. That’s why I decided to stop it. To finally end it,” argued Kenn as he slammed his blade against Victor’s

“Who are you to decide who lives and who dies?” argued Victor as he dodged the blade.

“What about her? You’re fine with her deciding other people’s fate?” Kenn stepped aside and swung his sword.

Victor was tongue-tied, and he paused, before looking back at Kenn with a furious glare, “I-I don’t!” His blade met Kenn’s then they both took a step back.

Victor gritted his teeth in rage and with his full might, he brought his Man-eater Katana down onto the wooden floor. The ultimate technique coupled with the sword shattered the entire floor, the room began to collapse. At the same time, a dozen explosions from beneath the castle sent shockwaves upward to the top floor. The castle’s structure was slowly losing its strength after losing its support beams from the explosion. The massive weight of the castle was overwhelming the last support beam and sooner, the entire castle was coming down on them.

The High Commander didn’t expect an explosion. A visible confusion was apparent on his face, but when he saw Captain Hajime, he knew that he was being outplayed by one of his captains. A betrayal, but during the chaos, Goro was too late to realize that The Rookie had broken off from his allies and leaped toward him. His sword was steady as it impaled Goro’s chest.

“I always thought that we were a family…” whispered Kenn.

“Then, you are a fool…” said The High Commander before falling away from Kenn and being succumbed by a pile of rubble.

The castle had collapsed. Dust clouded the castle’s remains. Kenn found himself under a large wooden pillar. He coughed and coughed as he tried to lift the pillar, but failed to do so. He looked around him, there was no one nearby, no one he could call for help. However, he knew someone was looking for him. It is just a matter of time before someone comes, either that someone is an enemy or an ally.

Victor appeared out of the cloud of dust as if fate had decided for him to meet Kenn. His Katana bare within his right hand as he walked toward Kenn with a grim expression. This was it, there’s nothing else he could do or said to stop this. This was his fate. He deserved this. Shoulders relaxed, eyes closed, all that is left is to wait for the sweet embrace of eternal darkness.

A cold blade nimble under Kenn’s neck and caused him to grimace. The thought of dying was terrifying, but somehow he finds himself more at peace knowing that now is the end. Every breath he took was quiet but deafening to himself. Every jitter in his hands was invisible to a naked eye but glaring to himself. Forget what anyone said, killing a man is easy, he just needs to push that blade into his throat and done. However, living after what he had done is something else entirely.

"Her last wish was: Don't be like me." Victor gritted his teeth.

"I don't even know what her favorite food was. What her life was. How many families did she have, or what kind of person she was before I met her? And she asked me not to be like her; how am I going to grant that wish when...when I barely knew her." A tear dropped from his face and onto Kenn’s.

A fortress rises behind Victor made of a man with a massive shield. Kenn raised his hand to warn Victor. The Outsider took no time to move the blade away from Kenn's throat and swung it behind him. Sword meets shield, both tools of war. A shield made from the strongest steel against the strongest attack, but sadly, The Katana wasn’t made from the same steel.

Muscles and veins bulged as Victor tightened his grip, but when he closed his eyes, there was a hue of blue light around his arm. Too imperceptible for anyone to see. A crack appeared and grew outward from the impact, both on the blade and shield. Surprisingly, the shield broke apart first, sadly so does The Man-eater. The impact sent a booming shockwave outward, clearing the cloud of dust in the area

The giant man was thrown up against a broken wooden beam and impaled him in the chest from behind. Blood seeped through the gaps between the helm, he grunted and tried to get himself off, but it was too late as he laid back and accepted his fate.

Victor let go of the hilt. It fell among the other broken pieces of what was once a katana. The bandage around his hand had torn apart while blood poured out from his cuts. Quickly, his bandage was turned red. However, Victor felt his body had become weightless as he stared at the broken pieces. Without saying anything, he started to walk away and left the area.

Kenn looked on, speechless.

Time seemed irrelevant to Victor as he walked out of the castle’s remains without anyone stopping him. He spotted a bottle in his path, he dropped to one knee and tried to grab it. The bottle slipped through his hand, he looked at his hand. It felt numb, trembled constantly, moving a finger was heavy. Despite the condition of his hand; Victor used the inside of his elbow and chugged down the bottle as he continued walking.

Before he knew it, he was outside of the city; a ray of light escaped the horizon. No direction, no destination, once more Victor found himself lost and alone. Maybe it’s for the best that he had no one, so much pain, so much work just to stay with them.

Is that what he even wanted?

To be alone?

“I’m such an idiot.”

It could have been a drop of snow on his warm cheek, but there was a droplet of water leaving a trail of warm droplets on his skin.

 

***

 

Back in the Mansion.

Kenn used all of his strength to lift the beam, but it seems pointless. However a hope in the form of Yemen appeared, an arrogant smile on his face, he slid down the rubbles. Quickly, he slid his hands underneath the beam.

“Yemen?”

“Almost kicked the bucket, but still alive and bloody kicking.” He took out his flask and revealed a dagger size hole on it.

“At a high price, it seems,” joked Kenn.

“Where’s Brother Victor? I hope he didn't kick the bucket early. I still need my drinking buddy.”

“He left…”

“What?”

“We fought.” With both of their strength, Kenn was able to relieve himself away from the heavy beam.

“A fight?”

“It was complicated. He hates me now.”

“Are you an idiot?” asked Yemen as he was perplexed at Kenn’s statement.

“It’s the truth, we had a bad past. I killed his mentor. There nothing I could do to change that.”

“Of course, you can't change the past, but you do realize we are talking about the same Victor. That dude may not show it, but he cares. He cares a lot, maybe way too much. Even if it got nothing to do with him, he still got himself involved. If he truly hated you then you wouldn't be alive. You need to find him.”

“And do what?”

“Bloody hell, talk to him! Go. I have some other business to attend. I’ll catch up before The Imperial Army arrives.”

Kenn gritted his teeth then launched himself into a run. He chased after Victor’s trail and hoped that man didn't make it that far. Exhausted from running, Kenn stopped in his tracks when his gaze rested on a drunk man leaning against a tree. Victor glanced at The Rookie while his eyelids were heavy and puffy red eyes.

“What are you doing here?”

“Tofu,” said Kenn.

“What?”

“Her favorite food was tofu.”

“Ah...tofu. I hated the taste.“

“She had no relatives. She was completely orphaned and alone during her teenage year until she married my dad. She was a doting parent. That was for sure. I remember one time she would knit seven scarves for each day of the week just to keep me warm. Most people would think that all of this information were stupid and pointless, but it wasn’t. No matter how much I kept pushing it back; deep down, I know that I love her, and I'm glad that she found someone who shares the same love for her as I do.” Kenn looked on with a deep longing.

“She knits?” chuckled Victor.

“She was the best or so she claimed to be.”

“I believe it,” said Victor with a small smile on his face.

“Are we good?”

“Good? Probably not.”

“Oh,” a disappointed frown appeared on Kenn’s face.

“Not now, but you shouldn't involve yourself with me. Everyone I got close to, always gets taken away. I’m no good. Besides, it’s better this way anyway.”

“That’s not true. You may have your fault, but we love you anyway.”

“We?”

“Well, not quite that kind of love, more like an acquaintance.” Yemen appeared with a dozen gold chains and bracelets.”Bloody hell! I miss you, mate!” With that jingling, he embraced the injured man. Victor grimaced at his pain but let out a short laugh as his heart eased to see that his new drinking buddy is well.

“Not one doubt… but do you mind?” Victor raised an eyebrow to let him know that he was hugging him for way too long. Yemen let go of the man, he rested beside Victor. With a grin, he took out a bottle of alcohol and three cups. He poured the content on the small cups and pulled Victor closer while gesturing at Kenn to join them.

“Every celebration needs one good toast.”

“Celebrate what? I doubt we even stopped anything. Sure, we stopped The High Commander then what? The Imperial Army will take over from here. The Empress got what she wanted and what about the people here? Basically, the two choices we got were, doom the people to a civil war or doom them to a new ruler,” nagged Kenn as he took a seat beside Yemen.

“Our wellbeing?” shrugged Yemen.

“Did you take a look at us Yemen?” The injuries on them were a pale contrast to their healthy state of wellbeing. “We are beaten, hurt, slightly burned, and bruised. I doubt our well-being is being taken off.”

“Bloody hell, okay.” Yemen raised his cup, “How about a toast to...lasting relationship?”

“I’ll toast to that.” Victor barely raised his cup to meet Yemen’s.

“I got a few arguments for that, but it’s better something than nothing,” sighed Kenn.

The three of them took a sip, and Kenn grimaced at the bitter taste. “Ugh, tasted horrible. Why do you guys even drink this?”

“Keep drinking my young friend, you’ll find out soon enough,” implored Yemen with a grin on his face.

“Come on, don't waste any of it,” said Victor.

Kenn let out another long sighed before chugging the whole thing down. Quite a bold move, but foolish, he felt the burning sensation in his stomach and the rise of the content in his stomach. Yemen and Victor raised their eyebrows at the young man and cheered their heart out before pouring another one for Kenn.

“It’s quite romantic that we are drinking under this tree,” Kenn pointed out.

“Why so?” asked Victor.

“This tree; The Green Needle is the longest living tree in the entire world. Scholar said that this tree was here even before The Archaic.”

“May our bonds remain as long as this tree until all three of us eventually kick the bucket,” said Yemen.

“A toast to that.” Victor raised his cup again and met with Yemen’s

“To lasting relationship,” Kenn hit his cup against the other cups with a giant smile on his face. The three of them were tired and hurt, but to other people, they looked like they just had the best party of their life. However, nothing in their life is close to what they just went through together in the last couple of days, and they are glad to have each other by their side. Through thick and thin.

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