Just as the cold and frosty air had predicted, it hadn't been long until the first amounts of snow started to cover the lands. And with it, so, too, was the training field just outside of the palace currently devoid of any soldiers.
All except for two certain individuals.
The clash of steel sounded in the air with each strike that Maren made against the training dummy in front of him, while Amaragi was silently watching him from the sidelines, sitting upon a wooden crate.
Albeit after a certain while, Maren grew much too self-conscious in the knowledge that someone was watching him, thus, prompting him to face her not long after with a hesitant look.
"... are you sure you don't want to join as well? Or… do you want to spar, maybe?" regardless of which, he would most likely feel the most comfortable when he knew that she was at least occupied as well, if only to reduce his inner embarrassment from being watched.
However, his sudden words had actually caught her slightly off guard, tearing her out of her own train of thoughts. Truthfully, she had not in the least lost interest in simply watching him train. Albeit when he offered her to spar with him…
"I think I'll decline, I'm… not really in the mood for it, really." she lifted both of her hands slightly in apology, but the thought of actually crossing blades with him, even if it was trivial, didn't sit well at all. She enjoyed watching his progress, truly, but still…
… while she had regarded him during his session, there was but one thing that had caught her eye. It was subtle, almost not noticeable if one were to not pay attention, but she did. And it was the fact that, whenever he struck the training dummy, his entire form would actually stiffen slightly, his eyes barely hiding the amount of pressure he was most likely feeling.
His whole movement seemed… forced.
"I see that someone is training hard." both of them looked towards the source of the new voice the moment a certain figure entered the training ground with an equally familiar saber.
"Mind if I join in?" Namagi was leaning her weapon against her shoulder, specifically eyeing Maren's own blade as she offered him a friendly sparring session. The latter considered it briefly before he nodded, and Amaragi actually leaned forward slightly with interest. She was not going to lie, the prospect of seeing them fight piqued her interest far more than she would have liked to admit…
Her sister's combat prowess was more than impressive, at least from her point of view. And yet, she had only rarely seen Maren fight.
The two of them got ready at opposite sides, until they both nodded their heads when they were fully prepared. And with that, Namagi made the first move. Charging ahead, she kept her giant saber neatly at her side, not slowed down in the slightest despite its oversized form.
Amaragi watched as Maren remained calm, not moving from his spot. He was watching her sister carefully, and the moment she was in close range, he actually managed to sidestep a strike from her saber. Namagi immediately followed up with another, her movements fluid and flawless, forcing Maren to block.
However, with a strong swipe, stronger than Namagi anticipated, he dislodged his blade from her own, pushing her back slightly.
"Very good, give it to her!" Amaragi playfully lifted one arm into the air, cheering him on. Forcing back a small but knowing smirk, Namagi glanced at her for a moment with a roll of her eyes.
"Well, someone here seems to be biased…" with an amused but equally playful shake of her head, she completely focused back upon Maren once more.
Only to witness that his form seemed to have grown less focused all of a sudden, his eyes reflecting the same notion as he almost blankly stared at the ground. Albeit they were still in a fight, and thus, Namagi used the opening when it was presented to her. With a careful and light knock of the hilt of her saber, she struck him upon his chest, the blow merely having been strong enough to make him stumble slightly.
"You have lost your focus, Maren." unbeknownst to Namagi, as her words seeped into his mind, images began to flood his head. Slowly but surely, he looked back towards her again, assuming his previous battle stance. Yet, a glint of concern began to reflect in Namagi's eyes when he remained unresponsive, almost as if he hadn't heard her.
Despite that, she charged towards him once again.
Going along with a direct approach, she almost blatantly swung her saber at him in a vertical manner, prompting Maren to block it. For a long moment, both parties struggled against the other, and yet, this time being much closer, Namagi only barely witnessed the sudden change in his eyes.
With a prompt shift, the strength that was pushing against her increased by such a large amount that she actually lost her balance for a moment. And that was when Maren moved to strike her once, twice, and each time she parried his blow, the next only seemed to be even stronger than the last.
All until one of his hits caused her to stumble upon the ground, balancing herself upon her upper left arm. When she looked back at him, his eyes full with anger and unresponsiveness, she thought for the briefest of moments that he would actually strike her yet again-
-until suddenly, the rage in his eyes subsided in an instant. Witnessing the position she was in, Maren dropped his blade in pure and utter shock, and it almost seemed as though he had woken out of a stupor.
Having watched the entire scene, Amaragi had long moved over to his side before she witnessed the evident guilt in his eyes.
"I-I… I'm so sorry…! I didn't mean to…"
"It's alright, nothing happened. It was a sparring match, after all." before even Amaragi had the chance to say a word, Namagi had casually stood up from the ground, dusting herself off a bit.
Still, it did little to ease Maren's mind.
"Is something wrong…? You seemed out of it for a moment…" Amaragi gently placed a hand upon his shoulder, purposefully ignoring to directly mention the last part of the fight. For just that one single moment, it almost seemed as though he had allowed his inner rage to take over. There had been no clear thought in his attacks, merely brute strength drawn from anger and recklessness.
He stared at her hand for a moment until he suddenly turned around and left, the guilt over his own actions written all over his face.
"I don't… I just don't like fighting…" he didn't wait for a response as he made his way back inside the palace, and Amaragi did not wait for a second before she immediately followed after him, knowing exactly that he was not alright.
As Namagi watched her sister go, she remained in place, leaning her saber back against her shoulder. Whatever just happened, something must have triggered inside of him.
But regardless, judging from the look she had seen in his eyes, she would make sure to let him know later that she took no offense from his actions.
'You're lacking, son. Try it again!'
Image upon image coursed in front of his mental eye, a light shudder escaping him as his breathing turned hitched.
A small boy almost staggered to the ground, his lungs aching for air, and he could barely hold on to his blade or stand secure upon his legs without wobbling.
'I… I can't…' an irritated huff escaped the taller figure in front of the boy, his eyes narrowing sharply with judgement.
'You must. I can't look at you anymore if you don't finally improve, and if you are lacking, then you must try harder.'
Another suppressed sob rippled through him, his hands clenching together in an almost painful way.
In all of the boy's struggles, he couldn't explain the sudden rush of vigor and defiance. And so, even though he didn't look back at his father directly, he raised his voice.
'... but why? Why do I need to do all of this…?' the eyes of the father regarded him with a strictness that he was unable to witness.
'Don't you understand? Once you grow older, you will take over my heritage and join the army, there is no other way for you. But if you can't live up to it…'
It was then that, slowly but surely, the tearful eyes of the young boy met the ones of his father.
'... then you don't belong here.'
Each word seeped into his mind like venom, causing him to curl together even more.
Unable to look into his father's cold eyes any longer, the boy shakily looked to the side, where his older brother was leaning against the wall, having watched the whole ordeal. But when their eyes met, he simply dismissed the boy with a huff.
The father merely narrowed his eyes once again before he turned and left, motioning for the older brother to follow back into the house.
'A shame that only one of my children will carry on my legacy. Your brother hasn't been born a warrior either, he has overcome his struggles to become one. But you… I wish I could say the same for you.'
The young boy watched in horror as the door to the house sharply closed, leaving him behind in the cold and frigid snow.
'... w-wait…! But I…'
Regardless of how much he forced his legs to move, desperately trying to gain enough strength to walk, he merely ended up falling back upon the ground, his sore hands coming into contact with the snow.
With sheer helplessness, the panic, and the pain, he could almost feel how his lungs seemed to tighten, barely giving him enough air as he tried to breathe.
And in the end, his warm tears freely began to roll down and soak his face.
Tears that nobody ever witnessed, and a broken young boy that no one ever spared a glance to.
"... Maren…?" a gentle voice sounded in the room, accompanied by a light pair of steps that almost hesitantly approached him from behind.
When Amaragi entered their shared room, it hadn't been long until she witnessed his curled form in a corner near one of the windows, albeit his eyes were blankly staring at the ground and half of his face was covered while he was hugging his knees.
However, it was the sound of his sobs that caused her heart to freeze.
He remained unresponsive as she came closer to him, thus, she considered her actions very carefully. And with that, she sat down next to him, leaving the smallest of gaps between them when she did so.
"... do you know why I joined the Norian army…?" before she had a chance to utter a word, she barely caught his small and frail whisper. Remaining silent, she leaned her head forward ever so slightly, signalling to him that he had every single ounce of her attention.
"... my family has always despised me for not wanting to… for not wanting to hold a blade in my hands… for not wanting to fight…" a pause, and she desperately tried to force herself back when she witnessed another shudder coursing through him. Not yet…
"... if I hadn't… father would have abandoned me… my brother wouldn't have spared a glance at me…" his eyes were almost shivering, and she dreaded trying to imagine the memories that were most likely coursing in front of his mental eye at that very moment.
"... I made it in the end, did I not…? And still, I felt… nothing… but when it came to fighting, whenever I witnessed an enemy in front of me… I did feel something. I saw something. Someone…" slowly but surely, his eyes began to narrow.
"... and all of a sudden, it wasn't that hard anymore to harm them… it didn't feel so bad to see their blood… it didn't matter if I got hurt, I barely felt anything…" it was not solemn anger that was reflecting in his eyes. It was a twisted sense of hatred, accomplishment, hurt… and sorrow.
Once again, tears threatened to escape his eyes, but suddenly, his entire body was engulfed in a certain warmth, a pair of arms held him tightly against the body of another, and he simply remained motionless when Amaragi buried her head into the crook of his neck, refusing to let go. He didn't fight back, he didn't move… he was almost limp in her arms.
And still, she hugged him more fiercely, her lips tracing over all the vulnerable skin that she could reach, trying anything that came into her mind through sheer instinct.
"I didn't survive through any skill… I never did… i-if anything, it was always sheer luck… through recklessness, through brutality… I only know that world, anything else ceased to exist, anybody else was just an untrustworthy filth…! Anyone who gave me compliments was a liar…"
"Don't say that!" he was silenced the moment her lips engulfed his own, spreading so much more of the warmth when she held him, and even as brief as it was, Amaragi leaned her forehead against his own, his back now lying on the ground when she pushed him down with her hovering above.
Her hands were gently holding the back of his head, and her own crimson eyes had long begun to grow teary as well.
"Don't… say that… I don't care about your combat prowess, about your family that didn't deserve you, about any of that!" the amount of hurt in his eyes stabbed her heart repeatedly, mercilessly.
"I care solely about you, who you want to be… so forget the world… forget about anyone and everyone who has harmed you…" her hands slowly moved down to his cheeks, tenderly drying each and every single one that escaped his eyes.
"As long as I am here, no one will harm you, nothing will happen to you…" back then, whenever her father had suppressed them, she had her siblings… they always had each other…
"… all you need to do…" the mere thought of not having had both Namagi and Kiel at her side when they were still young, of not having someone that she wanted to protect… it horrified her.
"... is to let me…" but he didn't have that… he had no one…
"... protect you…" until now. And she wouldn't stray from that, ever.
She would protect him… and no one else.