Trials of the Junsuikaoni: In Pursuit of a Prophecy: The Final Act (Book 4)

Noah and his team return home only to find that their lives will once again be turned upside down with the arrival of the new Academy Council. Their arrival triggers old wounds that they didn't even know they had, while precipitating their current ones. This all couldn't have happened at a worse time as the foretold Prophecy has finally been set in motion as Judas makes his move. After arduous training, Noah and his team set off on their most dangerous journey yet to gather the sacred shards of the Great Sword of Sorrow, the only weapon that can end the reign of Judas and eliminate the Junsuikaoni demons once and for all. However, the trials they each will have to face along the way will hold more danger than they've ever known. Witness the epic conclusion to a battle over 20 years in the making as Noah faces off against his brother Judas and the prophecy is at last fulfilled. Just which way will the hands of fate turn in the end? Will they ever find the happiness that they seek?

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4. You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone, But Please Don't Ask Me to Stay

            “Resignation? Are you serious?” A tall man with a stylish cloak fit for a king sits in his throne, his legs crossed and as he twirls a strand of his purple hair. His mouth and chin is layered with matching hair, giving him a look of maturity, despite him wearing such a childish grin.

            “I’m serious Lord Silas, I’ve got to do what’s best for me and most of all my child.”

            He sits silently, glaring in amusement. “Does he even know you’re pregnant?” He puts his leg down on the ground and stands, making his way towards her. “I mean, yes I know it’s not my concern, but I can’t help but wonder. You and I go way back and I’d go as far to even say we were friends, wouldn’t you agree Rachel?” He pushes her hair behind her ear tenderly.

            She backs away from his touch. “If you call imprisoning me and making me your loyal servant for most of the time I’ve known you, then sure we were. I appreciate you respecting the boundaries and never forcing yourself on me and eventually giving me my freedom to work as your paid employee instead, but don’t think that means I see you in a favorable light. You were simply a means to an end from me in the beginning and now you are no more than a reasonable boss who I respect professionally. In that regard, I don’t really feel the need to discuss those specifics. I’m doing the appropriate thing and putting in my resignation. I apologize for the short notice, but I can’t let a good opportunity pass me by. That is all I have to say Sir.”

            “My, aren’t we formal today?” He lets his hand linger for a moment, as though he’s contemplating taking her face in it, but he knows better than to test her patience and refrains. “Very well. I will accept your resignation, but let me confirm you understand what this means.” His face becomes harder and more serious. “Resigning from this post under me effectively invalidates your security. You will no longer have my personal protection nor any of the luxuries you’ve experienced until now. You will no longer be kept informed of the highly classified information you’ve been allowed to know and you will be held accountable and harshly punished if you leak any of the confidential information you’ve learned. When you walk out that door, you will in that moment become my enemy, especially considering you’re choosing to join the ranks of my sworn enemy. I will have no mercy on you from that moment on and will not hold back. Knowing all of these things, are you certain that you wish to go through with this?”

            “I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life. Thank you my Lord and goodbye.”

            He watches her walk away and realizes this will be his final chance to tell her his true feelings. So he decides to do so now. “Rachel wait! There’s something I need to tell you.” She stops and looks back curiously. “The truth is…well…I’ve always-.”

            Her face becomes disgusted. “Oh god, please don’t tell me you’re about to confess?”

            “What?” He laughs off the idea. “As if I’d ever! No you idiot, if you hadn’t cut me off, I was going to say that I’ve always thought you were an annoying bitch and I honestly won’t miss you in the slightest. You leaving is such a joy to me I just couldn’t contain it any longer.”

            She smirks. “Oh, I see. Well that’s good then. Take care Judas. I’d say I’ll send you a photo of your nephew, but I don’t think you’ll be around long enough.”

            “Oh, are you that confident in your beloved? Do you really think he’ll defeat me?”

            “Of course. He’s going to win simply because he’s got a genuine love for others that neither you or I have. He’ll do anything it takes to see his friends and family are safe, even if it means he has to sacrifice himself to do it. He’s selfless, where you’re a cold-hearted evil bastard who cares for no one but himself and that will be your downfall in the end. Mark my words.”

            “Hmm, well we shall see about that. All I have left to say is this, may the best man win.”

            “Yea, he will. See ya.” Rachel turns away and this time leaves without another look back.

            “Well, I always thought she was a stupid girl, but to leave such a high ranking position; she’s a fool as well. Please don’t tell me you actually had genuine feelings for her Silas.” A thin and curvaceous woman walks out, tossing her long black hair to the side as she does.

            “Oh mother, how nice it was to not see you. She may be a fool, but she’s not an idiot. She knows that things are going to get messy and she doesn’t want to drag her innocent child into it. I know it’s hard for you to understand, what it means to be a mother I mean, since that’s a foreign concept to you. A child should be with its parents, even I’m not so heartless as to deny that. Oh and don’t be ridiculous. As if I’d love anyone other than myself. Love is not a concept I have.”

            “Hmm, well that much I know. You’ve never loved me a day in your life, I was just your incubator and later provider. You’ve never seen me as a mother, not that I cared either way.”

            “Enough talking already. We’ve got work to do.” He returns to his throne. “It’s time.”

            “We’re making our move? We’re going to take over the city and rise up?”

            “Not all at once. For now, let’s focus on the officials. We’ll take care of them, put our own people in their place and infiltrate the city and eventually the world from inside out. With their godly savor out of town for the next year or so, they’ll be left defenseless. When he finally returns to face me, he’ll return to a city enslaved by its own hubris. They’ll be nothing left to save.” His mother, Remy, looks excited. “Oh and mother, congrats on your new promotion.”

            She grins. “At last you’ve come to your senses and given me the position that should’ve always been mine. I’ll bring this city to your knees and make sure Noah cannot win. I’ll see to it that only the very best of your generals are assigned to the holy temples that house the sword fragments. Without that sword, there’s no way Helios will ever get strong enough to defeat you, even in his godlike form. He has no idea just how powerful you are.” She laughs.

            “Well then, I’ll leave that to you. Don’t fail me mother, or you’ll be joining gramps.”

            “Of course. I will not fail you. I shall take my leave.” She walks away and Judas sighs heavily. As he does, he senses the presence of another and sees shadows around the room.

            “Kole, I’ve been expecting you. What’s your update?” A shadow circle appears in the center of the room and a man emerges from its center. His eyes are black as night.

            “My Lord, I’ve confirmed that the girl is with Noah and has tremendous power. She was successfully lured and baited to the targets and she performed spectacularly. For such a young girl, she easily adapted to her carnal instincts and devoured them. Truthfully, I think she would’ve consumed them completely if she’d not been interrupted by that enforcer. She’s clearly got extreme power and can control all elements like Noah. She’s extremely unstable and her hunger is an issue for them, but perfect for us. She’d make quite the little weapon for us if we had her. I can have my minions on it at once. I have one tailing them as we speak.”

            “No, for now just continue to have them follow and observe. I’m sure an opportunity will present itself. When it does, that’s when you strike. Do this right, she’ll come to us. That’s all.”

            “Of course my Lord. Good day to you then.” He disappears back through the shadow circle and with its disappearance, the shadows dissipate too. Judas sits and silently smirks, knowing that the day will be soon upon them and he will finally be the ultimate ruler.

###

            “Is she still sulking?” Mika walks beside Noah as they make their way up a steep mountain. He carries two long wooden staffs over his shoulder as they walk.

            “Yea, she’s sad about having to leave her parents of course, but honestly she’s come to terms with that since it was her choice to do it. Her real regret is what she did to those innocent people. Even though she understands someone set her up, she still feels bad about it. She refused to even drink from me this morning. So Mia said she’ll just keep her filled up on pig blood. The good thing is she ate so much from those humans she’ll likely be able to go at least a month without needing human nutrients again, but if she doesn’t get over this by then, I’m concerned she’ll starve herself. I don’t really know what I should do or how to help her accept it.”

            “I’m not sure there’s anything you can do Noah. It’s up to her to accept her mistake and learn from it. Only she can forgive herself and make herself stronger from it. She’s still young, but as we know; she’s growing every day and is really smart, so I believe she’ll be able to do it.”

            “Yea, I hope you’re right Dad. I hope that Tahno and Rebecca will come out alright too.”

            “I believe they will. It truly is a shame about the circumstances though. I still wonder if this was the right choice? Maybe they would’ve come around eventually? Erasing the memory of ever having Macy seems too sick for both them and her. Maybe when she was a bit older they-.”

            “I don’t believe it would’ve made a difference Dad. They were human and Macy was not only Junsui, but according to Ouran; very possibly a Junsui God. As they know and I should know better than anyone, there is one ultimate rule to know. In a time of Mortals and Gods, we’ll never be able to live amongst each other. Above all; humans were never meant to birth Gods, nor Gods humans. That is the natural law of the world and the only truth that will ever bind us.”

            Mika looks a bit disappointed at his words, but he also understands the truth behind them. As a holy monk, he knows just as well that it is indeed the absolute taboo for the two worlds to mix and every instance of it has ultimately led to disaster and ruin. “What a cruel existence it is.”          

            “You’re telling me! As if this all isn’t already bad enough, now I’ve got another headache to deal with in Rachel. I called her last week to tell her we were heading out of the city for training and I’d be in touch soon, only for her to tell me that she’d be joining us as soon as she finished putting in her resignation. Now she’s on the road with us, making our triangle tricky.”

            “Yes, I was quite surprised to see her joining us during our brief stop in Tourer Kenai. I imagine the situation between you, her and Mia will surely become more complicated, but that should not affect your training. We’re already six months behind schedule and so I’m going to have you make up for that lost time in the next. So make sure you understand where your priority is. Don’t think you’re invincible just because you’ve awakened your god powers and form.”

            “Yea I know Dad; I won’t lose focus on my training. I’ve already had a thorough talk with her and she assured me she’d be on her best behavior. I’ve also made it clear that we won’t be being intimate unless we’re at a town inn because I won’t subject Mia to the terror she experienced that time again.  She wasn’t very happy about that, but she accepted it in the end.”

            “I see. Well, I’m glad you two reached an understanding, but honestly, that was more than I needed to know.” Mika is creeped out at hearing a reference to his son’s sex life.

            “Well, now you know how creepy it was for me when you told me about you and Nik’s dad. I won’t mention mine if you don’t mention yours. Deal?”

            “Ok, deal.” They laugh together and Mika pats him on the shoulder. “This is really nice. I’ve always wanted to have quality time with you as Father and Son, so it makes me happy we finally can, even if under these serious circumstances. I wish I could have them with Mason and even Judas too believe it or not. Maybe in another life?” He laughs, but with a sad tone.

            “Well, none of us know what the future holds, so maybe one day you will. Anyway, just how high up are we going up old man? We’ve been walking forever!”

            “To the top of course. We’re almost there, so just hang on a bit a longer.” They continue up the mountain and after several more minutes, they finally reach its peak and come to rest on a flat level. “Now, sit with your legs crossed and we will meditate for about an hour.” He does this.

            “Hey, get real old man! We walked all the way up here just to now spend an hour meditating? That’s stupid! Can’t we just get to the fighting already?” Mika has already closed his eyes and doesn’t respond. “Ugh!” Noah sucks it up and does as he was told as he mumbles.

            After a little over an hour of meditating, Mika stands gracefully and grabs the staffs. Noah follows his example exactly. Mika grins and suddenly his entire aura becomes fierce; enveloped in his power, getting Noah’s attention and he grins back. “Now, let us begin.”

###

            “Nik! It’s all you man!” Gunther builds a rock barrier with the falling rubble, but the continually flowing lava from the volcano’s core keeps breaking them down. He’s unable to manipulate the lava directly due to the fiery and viscous nature, but he can use the rubble within it to slow the flow before it can reach the town below. He won’t let the innocent people be hurt.

            “Yea, I’ve got you Guns!” Nik stands at the edge of the volcano’s opening and with all the force he can muster; he pushes down the bubbling lava, trying to extinguish the fire fueling its eruption. The rubble mixed into the lava makes it very difficult to handle the lava along with its liquid viscosity, as those two aspects are more Gunther and Mai’s specialties, but if he can extinguish the fire, the liquid will harden and return back to solid rock, which Gunther can manage from there. Six months ago he’d have never been able to influence such strong fire, especially in this large quantity, but thanks to his father’s extensive training; he now can. He increases his effort to the max and at last, the lava starts to calm down. It slowly settles and bit by bit, the fiery red core dulls to black and the once fluid liquid becomes stiff and unmoving.

            “I think you did it Nik, the lava isn’t flowing down here anymore!” He puts up more rock barriers along the path to ensure the previously released lava will not be able to continue and after a few more minutes, the lava has been dissipated and the volcano seems to have been stifled. “Alright!” Gunther hops along the rocks to reach Nik up top. “We did it man!” He high fives Nik and then pulls him into one of his classic bear hugs. “I think that was our best yet!”

            Nik acts bothered, but actually doesn’t mind it. He places his arm around Gunther’s shoulders and pats him on the back. “Yea, I think we did great. We’ve come a long way huh?”

            “Yes, indeed you have boys!” They both turn to face the person who interrupted them.

            Nik rolls his eyes. “Dad, please stop calling us boys, we are men! It’s insulting.”

            “Yes, I know you’re men, but to old souls like us you’re still boys. Anyway, good job!”

            “Yes, very good job you two. It seems you’ve both learned your strengths and how to efficiently use them together to solve a problem. That team work is going to be vital on your journey. Now that you’ve mastered this, it seems it’s time for your solo training. You now need to work on using those personal strengths and maximizing your potential in exploiting them. I expect that you agree with me Igneal?” Scorpia looks at him expectantly.

            “Hmm, I suppose it is. I’ve quite been enjoying our time all together though. We’ve gotten to get to know each other well and our boys were able to repair their friendship to be stronger than ever. But still, you’re right, so let us enjoy this last night together shall we?”

            “Aw no way! It’s time for us to go train separately already? Mom, can’t we just train together for the full time. I mean you saw us right? We’re amazing together!”

            “Yes that may be true, but that doesn’t change the fact that you both need to maximize your own abilities. What will you do if you can’t fight together? Do you think you’ll be able to survive or even fight a strong enemy with your current level of power? I don’t think so.”

            Gunther looks down, knowing she’s right, but still doesn’t like to hear it. “I guess.”

            “Hey, it’s ok Guns. We may have to part ways for now, but I know we’ll both come back stronger than ever and then we’ll really be unstoppable when we fight together. If the others train as hard as us too, then when we link up with Noah, there’s no way we can’t win. We really will be invincible then. So thinking about it that way just makes me more hyped than sad.”

            Gunther smiles and nods in agreement. “You’re right, I never thought about it that way.”

            “Alright then! Let’s head back to town and collect our reward. Then we can use it to party it up tonight. It’ll be just like the old days, right Scorpia?” He looks at her and winks.

`           She maintains her strict composure, but glares intensely at her old friend and he laughs nervously. They begin to walk back to the town, Igneal and Scorpia speaking amongst themselves. Gunther turns to Nik, who’s watching them in amusement. “Hey Nik, how do you think Lili and Mai are doing? He tries not to look concerned, but it shows all over his face.

            “Dude, you’ve asked that like three times a day every day since we separated from them. I’m sure they are just fine ok? They are both big girls and if you’re worried about Mai’s threat, don’t be. One, both their parents are there, so they won’t let her actually hurt Lili. Second, Mai doesn’t really want to kill Lili. Look, Mai is a complicated person, but I’ve gotten to know her pretty well and we’ve gotten pretty close. When she made that vow she was hurt and broken over Eve. She really does intend to take all the responsibility for Lili, but the only one who’s actually going to suffer is her. She’s taking on all of Lili’s issues and pretending that she’s ok with never being able to even look at another girl without Lili spazzing out. She’s the real victim here.”

            “Well I hope you’re right about all that. Honestly, I’m hoping that they both will be able to come back after these next six months free of all their demons and able to be happy again. All the drama between all of us in these last months has seriously been exhausting and has destroyed our friendships. I want to be friends with everyone like before. Honestly, I almost wish it could go back to how it was before everything with Marcosias happened. We were at our best when we were just the Elite Junsui Hunters you know? I’d even give up being more than a friend with Lili if it meant we could return to those happy days. I just want us to be a family again, like before.”

            “I feel you Guns. I wish we could too. Well, that’s probably why we need to have our personal time away from anyone else and just focus on us. That’s another reason not to be sad over our separation. Use the next six months to find yourself again and become a better version. That’s what I’m planning on doing to be honest. I hate who’ve I’ve become too. I’m sick of the pain and loneliness and the self-mutilation. Believe it or not, Dad actually helped me realize that I don’t have to be ashamed of being gay. It’s like in my head I’ve always known it and told myself that, but the cutting was a clear sign I hadn’t fully accepted that part of myself. But to see Dad so confident and powerful despite his aversion to other men, it made me realize that I could also be like that one day. He’s kind of become my inspiration and I want to reach his level of awesomeness. He acts like a fool, but he’s a strong guy and knows his stuff. So I’ll get stronger.”

            “I’m really happy you’ve finally come to terms with it and want to face it Nik, truly. I want to say now that it’s come up, I’m really sorry for not trying to help you sooner. I knew you were doing that, but I just pretended not to see it because I was scared and didn’t know what to do, not because I didn’t care. You’re my best friend and it hurt me too. So please forgive me!”

            Nik sees Gunther tear up and pulls him into a half hug. “Dude, I get it, so don’t feel guilty about it. I’d have done the same. I’ve always known I could count on you if I needed, I chose not to confide in you and deal with it alone. I needed to get to this point for myself, so all I need from you is to keep being my bro. Can you do that for me? I of course will stick with you too.”

            Gunther pulls Nik into another bear hug. “Of course man! I’ll always be here for you, no matter what. I’ll also do my best, so let’s get stronger together ok? Then we’ll be true bros.”

            “You’ve got a deal dude!” Nik returns the hug with one of his own.

            Their parents ahead smile at each other as Igneal says, “yea, they’ll be just fine now.”

##

            “Seriously Mai, what was up with that earlier? You were looking at that girl with so much desire, I could practically smell the sex between you. You wanted her right?” Lili shouts.

            Mai keeps her cold exterior and with a replies with a deep sigh. “Yes, I’m sorry Lili.”

            “I told you not to look at other girls though. Why do you keep disobeying me?”

            “I’m sorry Lili.”

            “You should be. I’m all you need Mai. When you want it, get it from me anytime, ok?”

            “Yes, I’m sorry Lili. Please forgive me.” They go silent as they continue walking along the path behind their parents walking together hand in hand, feeling awkward from the exchange.

            They should be used it to it by now, since this is about how the exchanges between the two girls have gone over the last six months of their joint training. They both perform well in whatever tasks they are given in training, but as soon as they are off the clock, they go back to being a couple of awkward and strained angst. They also haven’t been the best at working together. On individual tasks they are spectacular, but together they can’t seem to find a rhythm. Hermias has just about reached the end of his rope with it. “I’ve had enough of this now dear, can we just beat some sense into them both already? Just give me a few moments, I can-.”

            Aquaria bops him on the nose and shuts him up instantly. “No darling, you must be patient. Please don’t tell me you’ve forgotten our angst filled teenage years with the others.”

            “No dear, I haven’t forgotten, but even still, this is a bit too much. They’re a mess!”

            “Hush, their final test together is coming up as we speak. We agreed on this right?”

            “Yes of course. I’m not backing out of this now, but do you think they’re up to it?”

            “For their sakes, let’s hope so. Everything is riding on this, on them.” She stops and turns to face the girls. “Ok, we’ve reached Marhaven, this is my hometown and it’ll be the final stop of our joint training regimen. We’re going to go set up your final test, so while we do this, you two go on ahead and look around. Everyone is very friendly here and they have been expecting us so don’t feel nervous or like you’re unwelcome. Will you be ok on your own for a bit you two?”

            Mai takes the liberty of answering her mother. “Of course, we’ll wait for your return.” She sits on the ground and crosses her legs. Lili follows her example and nods in agreement.

            “Ok then, we’ll be back. Please do your best not to cause any scenes alright?” They nod.

            “No wandering off for any hanky panky either! This is a respectful town so save it for later.” Hermias says this with his usual stern voice and narrowed eyes. Lili laughs out loud.

            “Dad, just get out of here already. We’re not going to do anything naughty alright?”

            Aquaria drags him along by the collar with a stern face. “Ok, see you soon girls!”

            They sit in silence, neither looking at the other for a long time. However, after about thirty minutes of silence, Lili decides to initiate a conversation. “Hey Mai, you hungry?”

            “No. If you are, you’re welcome to go find a place to buy some food. I’ll stay here.”

            “No way! If you’re not going to go than neither will I. I won’t let you out my sight.”

            “Ok then.” Mai cuts the conversation there, not interested in fighting or talking more.

            “Hey Mai listen I-.” Lili’s words are cut off by a sudden shout nearby.

            “Help! Help! Anyone! They are-, those poor innocent little girls are…. Please, anyone!”

            Both Mai and Lili look in the distance and become alert, concerned by the man’s words. Mai stands first and Lilli immediately follows as always. The both run towards the man and the commotion, to see a small crowd has formed. Mai calls out to them. “What’s happening?!”

            An older woman turns to her and explains the situation. “Those two girls were just playing together at the edge of the coast and suddenly the waves began to pick up. It probably would’ve been fine if it was just that, but before they could return to the shore, a typhoon formed and joined with the tsunami to become a massive maelstrom of water and wind. I’ve never seen anything like it before! Those poor girls…they’re only four years old. Lady Aquaria and Lord Hermias are the only ones who could possibly save them, but they’re off attending to an important duty. Oh my! What can we do? Those poor, poor girls. Who can save them?”

            Mai and Lili look at each other and immediately realize that this must be the final test they mentioned, it’s too perfectly set up not to be. However, that would also mean…. Mai scowls and looks to Lili. “Would they really go as far as to put two innocent children in danger for this stupid test? I knew they were ruthless, but I still never thought they could….” She’s furious.

            “Can we be sure they are doing this? I mean, they went in the opposite direction and I highly doubt they’d go this crazy, even my father! This might just be a massive coincidence.”

            “That’s part of your problem Lili, you’re way too naïve about other people and the world and that’s why you’ll never be able to live like a normal human being!” Mai shouts angrily.

             Lili looks hurt, but doesn’t say anything other than, “fine! I’ll go save them on my own!” She runs off towards the sea, leaving Mai angry and guilty at once. She follows after her.

            “You’ll never be able to handle this. I’ll take care of it, just be ready to grab those girls after I calm the waters. You should be able to do that much I hope?”

            “I’ll save them without any help from you. You do your thing and I’ll do mine, ok?!”

            “Fine, have it your way!” Mai reaches the edge first and waste no time diving right into the sea. She disappears under the water, leaving Lili above to face the massive vortexes of wind. She tries her best to control the wind speed of the vortexes, but finds it very difficult due to the massive amount s of water being sucked up into them. The water is interfering with her ability to control the wind properly. Under water, Mai works tirelessly to quell the rough seas and waves, but can’t direct the water properly as every time she manages to calm it down, the wind vortexes suck more back up. She resurfaces above the water swearing. “Dammit! This wind! Lili!”

            “What?! Don’t tell me your actually about to ask me for help? The almighty Mai?”

            Mai hates her sarcastic tone and starts to say screw it, but then she hears screaming.

            “Ah! Help! Someone! I’m scared! I want to go home!” The girls speak back and forth and cry simultaneously. At the same time, they are getting pulled further out and nearing the danger zone of the vortex. If they are not pulled from the water soon, they’ll get caught in it and surely die. Even surviving in these waters as they are now is a miracle. Mai clenches her teeth.

            “Lili…we can’t be like this, not right now. Look, I know we have a lot of issues and resentment between us, but we’re going to have to put those aside if we don’t want two dead little girls on our conscious. So please, just for now, work with me to save them, ok?”

            Lili frowns, but then she breaks it, knowing Mai is right. Those girls are all that matters right now. “Ok Mai, I’ll help you if you help me. Let’s save those girls together, ok?” Mai nods.

            Joining their hands together and motioning with the other, they focus on stifling the vortexes and calming the sea. As though their energies have become one, the vortexes are quickly dissipated and the water goes still. They even go as far as to clear the skies, so that the rain has stopped and the clouds are white and fluffy in the sky. The crowd is in awe at the sight they see and the wonder of the two that they were lucky enough to witness. Working together, they did something amazing. However, there was no time to celebrate yet, as the girls were still far out into the sea and no longer crying out. “Lili, we’ve got to get them out the water now!”

            “Ok!” They immediately get into action, their thoughts as one and in a matter of seconds the twin girls have been pulled from the water and put on land by them. Both the girls are unconscious and don’t seem to be breathing. “Mai, they’re not…what do we do?!”

            “Lili.” Mai speaks distinctly and calmly. “The first thing you need to do is remain calm. If you panic, then these girls are as good as dead. You have to keep a clear head and think about what needs to be done. Can you do that? Are you calm? Can you think clearly and understand?”

            Lili takes a breath and then nods. “Yes, I’m calm now Mai. What do we do now?”

            “I can feel the water moving in their lungs and it’s restricting proper breathing. So first I must get the water out of their lungs and then after I’ve done this, I need you to inflate their lungs with air to kick start their breathing again. We have to work quickly, before their oxygen flow gets cut off to their brains. Do you understand what I’m saying Lili?” Lili nods. Mai places her hand on the girl’s chest and closes her eyes, feeling the flow of the water. With one fluid motion she pulls the water out of her lungs, a steady stream flowing out of her mouth. “Ok.”

            Getting the go ahead from Mai, Lili quickly switches places with her and gets right to work on inflating her lungs. She pulls at the air, forming a jet stream of air that enters the girl’s mouth and as it enters her lungs, her chest can visibly be seen puffing up. Lili continues the stream as Mai presses on her chest to get her heart pumping. After about a minute, the girl finally gasps for air and coughs. “Mai, she’s breathing again. We did it!” She supports the girl.

            “We still have one more to take care of Lili and we need to be quicker since she’s been down longer now.” Mai once again removes the water and Lili inflates her lungs just like before. They do everything exactly the same, but for some reason, the second girl isn’t responding to their efforts. “Dammit! Come on girl, you can do this! Breath for me now! Don’t give in!”

            Everyone looks on with sadness, starting to think the worst. The first girl has found her bearings and now sits beside her sister with a concerned expression as tears start to form in her eyes. “Wake up Morgan! Please! I’m sorry I made you do it. Mama and Papa always told us not to play by the edge of the sea, but I made you do it. It’s all my fault. I’ll take all the punishment, so please, wake up! Morgan!” The girl takes her sisters hand and starts bawling.

            Mai looks at her empathetically, but remains focused on her task. Lili however, finds herself resonating with the girl and speaks as she continues her efforts. “Hey, don’t blame yourself. I don’t know you or your sister, but I’m sure she’d never blame you. Even if you suggested it, it was your sister who chose to go along with it. I’m sure she’d take share of the blame too. No one should have to take the burden of others all onto themselves, because even if it helps the other person in the moment, they won’t be happy knowing you’re destroying yourself in the process. It’s not right be so dependent on another that way…I should know, I do now.”

            Mai looks at Lili, who’s staring at her with apologetic eyes as tears start to flow down her face as well and she can understand. “But by that same logic, it’s not right to blame the other person when it was your own choice to take on the burden. Guilt always goes both ways.”

            The girl looks at them both, realizing that although they’re trying to ease her guilt and pain, they are having a personal exchange between them and somehow feels a shift in the air. Just then, there is a loud gasp and she looks to see her sister’s big eyes staring at her with tears. “Zoe….” She turns herself over and reaches out for her sister. “I don’t blame you Zoe, ok?”

            With quivering eyes full of tears and a trembling lip; Zoe reaches for her and hugs her tight. “Morgan! I was so worried! I’m so happy you’re ok!” They hug each other and cry.

            Mai and Lili smile at each other and then for the girls, happy that they were able to save them. They’re hands are still joined together. The townspeople who’d been looking on also smile in happiness and cheer. The old woman from before says, “Oh, how wonderful! I was terrified for these poor girls. I can only imagine the pain their parents would’ve felt if they’d return to hear of their deaths. Oh how tragic it would’ve been. Thank you so much for saving them, you have no idea just how important they are to us and our town. They are-.”

            “That was wonderful you two, good job.” The woman is abruptly cut off by Aquaria, who walks towards them with Hermias close behind. “You have never been better united before.”

            Mai stands and faces her mother head to head with a angry glare. “Are you serious?! You two waltz back here as though these girls didn’t almost just die and you simply say good job with a smile? Can you be so cheerful knowing that you put these girls’ lives in danger for the sake of some stupid final test? Do their lives mean so little to you? Is this all just a big joke? Would you be as willing to put these innocent girls in danger if they’d been your children? Would you?!”

            “Hey, don’t shout at your mother like that. You don’t even know the full story!”

            “What’s there to know? That she’s heartless enough to put other people’s children in danger for her ambitions even if it could very well kill them? That’s just sick!”

            Having heard the commotion, the girls finally stop crying and look up to see Aquaria and Mai facing off, neither of their faces breaking. Then in unison with a smile they shout, “Mama! Papa!” They run together towards them and hug on Aquaria’s legs and then into Hermias’ arms.

            “There’s my brave baby girls. Papa is so proud of you. We’re so sorry we did that.”

            “It’s ok Papa, we know you must have had a good reason. I was really scared though.”

            “I know, but that you did great Zoe, you too Morgan. I’m so proud.” They hug tightly.

            Mai and Lili look on at the scene and realize that they didn’t know the truth. Zoe pulls away from her Papa and grabs onto Aquaria’s leg and pulls up. “Mama….”

            Aquaria leans down to pick up the four-year-old girl and holding her in her arms as she rests her head on her shoulder, she returns her gaze to Mai, who now looks stunned and maybe a bit ashamed. “I assure you Mai, this has never been a joke. We took this very seriously. Do you think we’d endanger our daughters’ lives lightly and for just anyone? Of course we wouldn’t. This wasn’t just us trying to give you an effective final exam, this was us putting our absolute trust and faith in you. We wanted to show you both that we trust you with their lives and that we believed in your bond. Only if your hearts were connected could you have pulled this off.”

            Finally dropping the façade, Aquaria’s eyes fill with tears and she hugs Zoe tightly in her arms. Then she sets her down beside Hermias and Morgan so that she can hug Morgan as well. “I was so scared you know. I didn’t know if you’d wake up Morgan. I’m so proud of you for fighting hard and of you as well Zoe, for sticking by your sister no matter what. Mama’s so sorry and I’ll never put you in such a dangerous situation again, ok?” They nod and hug her together.

            Lili and Mai both look on with a range of emotions, but seeing Mai with an expression of guilt over her rash accusations, Lili hugs her in support. “It’s ok Mai, you didn’t know.”

            “Maybe not, but I didn’t allow them to explain either. I was so harsh. I’m the worst.”

            Aquaria looks back to see Mai and Lili’s remorseful faces and laughs. “Now, now, don’t look so serious girls.” She turns to the twins and speaks to them gently. “Morgan, Zoe, look here. These girls saved your lives, so you must thank them. However, they are also family; sisters just like you are to each other and so go greet them properly ok?” The girls look at them bashfully.

            “Those are our sisters Mama? How? You and Papa said we were your first together.”

            “Yes that’s true Zoe, but remember how I mentioned once that I didn’t marry your Papa until many years later from when we first met?” She nods. “Well before that time, I’d been with another man; a human just like you two and together we gave birth to a baby girl. That baby girl was Mai, the blue haired girl you see over there. She is your sister through my blood.”

            Hermias chimes in next. “It was the same with me girls. I also was with another woman before getting with your Mama and she gave birth to another baby girl, Lili, who you see beside Mai. She’s also your sister through my blood. We were not allowed to stay with them as they were raised in the human world and so we don’t really know them well outside these last six months, but that doesn’t change that they are our daughters and we love them like we love you two. They became step-sisters once your Mama and I got married and so now they are a part of our family. They are Junsui like us, but just as we don’t love you any less for being human, they won’t either because they share half of that human blood too as hybrids. Human or demon, it doesn’t matter when talking of family. So be good to them and I know they’ll be good to you.”

            The girls stare at Mai and Lili, initially unsure, but then they run towards them and grab them into tight hugs. Together in unison they say, “thank you for saving us Mai, Lili; sisters!”

            Mai and Lili are caught by surprise at first, but quickly soften their hearts and lean down to return the hugs. Neither of them had ever imagined they’d have one sister let alone two and to know that they were given so much trust by their parents makes them feel very warm. They put these innocent little girls’ lives into the hands of strangers, daughters or not, they only knew for six months. They couldn’t doubt their geniality anymore. In this moment, they’re both so happy.

            Later that night, they all spend the evening celebrating. There’s a huge party and every villager takes part. In this small fishing community, there are many humans and other Bakemon, but Aquaria and Hermias are the only Junsui. However, none of that seems to matter, as everyone treats the others the same. There is a clear unity between the humans and Bakemon that this world has only every wished to have on a grand scale. This small village is proof that Bakemon and humans can live amongst each other with a little love and understanding. Their sisters are a testament to that truth. Though the fact that the twins were born human from Junsui parents is troubling for both Lili and Mai, as they understand what that means. After arriving to their parents’ home and after the girls are in bed, Mai, Lili and their parents sit together and Mai is the first to bring up this difficult topic. Though neither seem surprised to hear it.

            “Perhaps it’s our curse, or maybe karma. Perhaps the universe is punishing us for leaving you all behind. To leave your parents alone after losing you all to the academy and never look back; it was cruel. Yes, the fact that they were human and we were not, was a factor and the fact that we were commanded by our government to return was a part of it, but I still believe that if we’d been more mature about it, we could’ve found a way to stay in your lives. They at least made it their business to watch you from afar on the council and even did their best to keep up correspondence with us, but we all came to a mutual decision that disappearing from all of your lives was best. We said it was better for you all, but sometimes I still feel it was just better for ourselves. We still believed in that homegrown stigma that humans and Junsui being together was taboo and not right. We all had moments of weakness, where we almost considered returning into your lives, especially once the government had loosened their regulations, but in the end none of us really followed it through. I know I personally regret not making more of an effort and sometimes do wish I could do things differently, especially after your parents died. We should’ve been there for you all in that tough time, but even then we stayed away and silent. I know we can’t expect forgiveness, but I will still say for us and on behalf of the others, we are so sorry for abandoning you. I just hope you all know not to blame yourselves. It was never you.”

            Both Lili and Mai are silent, trying to understand their feelings to everything she just said. Part of them wants to be angry and feels bitter, but at the same time, they understand what it means to be too afraid to face things that were too hard or made them uncomfortable. Their history together alone is more than enough to understand that. So they can’t truly resent them.

            Hermias speaks now. “All of that regret really ate away at us, not one of us were spared. We all just dealt with it in any way we could. Some were able to effectively, while others were not. Igneal found solace with Mika, and eventually Aquaria and I found comfort with each other that blossomed into love, but not without heartache. You see, believe it or not, your mother and I were two points in a triangle of our own. I’d gone down the worst path of all, drinking my life away with little regard to my own health or the safety of others. Aquaria tried her best to help me through it, but I just made her life miserable and caused her to sacrifice her own happiness. She eventually got fed up with it and left me behind. I was almost at the point of self-destructing, but then Scorpia came to my side. She’d always been watching us from the sidelines, never wishing to interfere and come between us, lying about her true feelings so not to step on Aquaria’s toes, but she couldn’t bear to watch me suffer like that. So she came to me and pulled me back up with her love. She gave me everything she had and I took it greedily, but never really took it in earnest. She was the sweetest person to me and was always good to Aquaria too, but we trampled on her kindness. We somewhat reconciled not too long after I got together with Scorpia, but I didn’t want to let her go because I’d come to rely on her kindness. Aquaria also wasn’t able to give me her full commitment again at fear of getting burned, so like the cowards we were, we started a secret affair right under Scorpia’s nose. We’d become terrible people.”

            “The worst part of it all was that we’d tainted Scorpia’s kind soul. When she found out, she was absolutely heartbroken and felt betrayed by us both. It hardened her and snuffed out her brightness. She became cold and distant, that’s the way you can see her to be now. She wasn’t always like that though. She used to be so vibrant and enthusiastic and was very often our voice of reason in our teenage years. We did such a terrible thing to her and even in the end, once I’d finally accepted Hermias with all his demons and he in turn got better for my sake, she was never the same. No amount of apology could repair what we’d destroyed with our lies and deceit. Even when we got married and had the twins, she was there in support, but she could never give us her true blessing. She became all about duty and the mission, using work as a way to hide all the pain we’d caused her. We’ve made many mistakes and lost many things in the process, including a dear friend and so with all of those sins, it’s not hard to believe we’d be dealt the worst card of the lot. Two immortals giving birth to two mortal human baby girls. As we watched them grow and get older while we stayed the same, we’d always remember our sins. As they become old and grey and eventually pass on, we’d still be the same as we buried our babies. That’s our fate.”

            She gets a bit choked up and Hermias comforts her with a face full of shame. “We understand that it’s our due punishment and so we’ve come to accept it, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Every day we see them grow even an inch, it’s a reminder that we’re going to lose them one day. That’s why I say to you girls, we both say to you, don’t make the same mistakes we did. Our triangle didn’t have a happy ending, but it was mostly due to our poor judgement and cowardice. However, you two and Gunther are still young and the damage hasn’t been set in stone. We’re aware of the mistakes you two have already made, I know you understand what I mean so I won’t go deeper into it, and it almost seems like our history may be trying to repeat itself, but you three have the power to stop it. It’s not our place to tell you who you should or shouldn’t be with or otherwise and so we won’t, but no matter what the choice may be, a choice must be made. Lili, I’m talking to you now. I know that it’s hard being torn between two people who you love dearly and it’s easy to just think that you can love them both and they’ll be happy with that as long as you divide your time, but I’m sure you have come to see that it’s not that easy. Your indecisiveness is hurting both Mai and Gunther and ultimately yourself. You like to use your trauma as an excuse and understand that I’m not I invalidating it. What happened to you was a terrible thing and would damage anyone after experiencing it for so long at such a young age. However, you still have the capacity to know right from wrong and I know you can see how painful it is for Mai to take on the weight of that trauma in your place. You are still trapped beneath those men and Mai has become your tether to reality. You can’t let her go because your subconscious knows if you do, you’ll have to face those men again. It’s all a massive defense mechanism you may be confusing with love. I can’t speak for your heart, only you can do that, but all I’m saying is that you need to face your demons without the security of Mai by your side. To do that you must separate yourself from Mai and so that’s why it’s so important that starting tomorrow you two will be going separate ways. These next six months away from Mai should give you the clarity you need to face yourself and break free of your chains. It’ll be scary and hard and you’ll probably feel lost without Mai by your side, but at the end of it, I believe that you will become the most powerful of them all. You’ve got so much potential Lili, but you lack the confidence and bravery to pull it out. It’s time to stop hiding in the closet Lili. It’s time to come out and face those fears. Push those men off of you once and for all and love yourself. Nevermind Mai or Gunther. Before either, you must learn to love yourself, ok?” Lili’s eyes cloud over and the tears stream down her face as she falls into his chest and nods. He comforts her.

            Aquaria stands and leaves them to have their moment, sitting beside Mai now, who looks deep in thought. “I guess we’ve given you a lot to think about huh?”

            Mai looks up at her. “Yes, but honestly it’s nothing I didn’t already know. I’m not proud of some of the decisions I made, but I also don’t wish to live in the past. I’m sorry I hurt Gunther of course, but he also knew how complicated Lili and I and whatever relationship we had was before he joined in. He’s always known Lili’s deep rooted issues were there, he just got too confident to believe he’d be able to fix her. I did warn him it wasn’t as easy dealing with her as I made it look, but I guess he thought he could handle it. Besides, he really does love her; that’s always been clear. However, knowing Lili better than anyone else, I know she loves him too. It’s just as Hermias said, she’s confusing her dependency on me with love. Lili’s never really known what love felt like until she found it with Gunther. But as long as she’s stuck on me, she’ll never be able to give him her full heart. I’ll be frank, I’m sick of Lili. I’m tired of being her stability and the one to talk her down. I loved her back then, oh hell who am I kidding, I still love her. I loved her from the moment I laid my eyes on her, but I’m no longer in love with her like I was. Nik and any other logical person believes I can just walk away and believe me I’ve tried, but all that got me was the worst heartbreak I’ve ever felt when she pushed the woman I realized I loved too late into that lake. It was then that I realized that Lili couldn’t live without me and just maybe I couldn’t live without her. The idea of anyone other than me putting their hands on her when she lost herself made me angry and the thought of her being locked away in some psych ward made me sick. I felt that I was responsible for making her so dependent when I took her into my care back then and so it was only right to see it through to the end. That’s why I said what I said. I know it seems harsh, but if you knew Lili like I did, if you’d been through what I have with her, you’d understand that saying those things was the best thing I could’ve said. I’d be saving both of us from a lifetime or dependency, resentment and suffering. I’m the only one who can save her, unless she chooses to save herself. For all of us, I really hope these next six months will be liberating for her, I know it will be for me. The only thing that really bothers me is knowing my sisters will die before their parents. That’s far too cruel to even call karma. How do you deal?”

            Aquaria strokes her face tenderly and says, “I don’t, but I must. We deal with it the only way we can, one day at a time. We’ve already decided that we will stay with them until the very end. When that day comes, it’ll be the day that we too will die, even if only in spirit.”

            Mai can feel the depressing weight of her words, understanding that they’ve already written their death certificates. Before she can respond, a soft and sweet voice is heard. “Mama, Papa, we can sleep.” The two caramel colored girls with long brunette hair and light eyes say this is unison as the hold hands. “We had a scary dream. Can you sing for us?”

            Aquaria walks over to them and kneels down. “Of course babies, I’ll be there just as soon as I show Mai and Lili to their room. For now, maybe Papa will get you back to bed?” She looks at Hermias who has now released Lili and after rubbing her head tenderly, he stands and nods.

            “Don’t keep us waiting too long Mama.” He slips in a quick kiss and then ushers the girls away. “Have a good night you two, but do be mindful that there are children next door.” He winks and Aquaria rolls her eyes as Lili’s face turns red. “Oh and Lili, we’re heading out first thing in the morning, so say your goodbyes tonight. Sleep well now.” They head upstairs.

            “Don’t mind him, he’s an idiot, but he means well. You’re free to do as you please, within reason of course. Anyway, please follow me.” She leads them upstairs and into a spare room. “This will be your room for tonight. I’ll set clean towels and such out for you in the bathroom. If you wish to shower together just, please be sure to lock the door in case the girls get up to use the bathroom and be mindful of the noise. If you’re hungry feel free to help yourself to anything in the fridge. If you need anything, you’ll find us in the room at the end of the hall, but we’d appreciate if you kept in mind that this will be our last night together for six months.”

            Lili is beyond embarrassed, while Mai is very straightforward. “Don’t worry mom, we’ll be sure to leave you to your private time and we will be considerate with ours. I don’t want to keep you, but I just have one question. Who’s going to care for the girls while you are gone?”

            “Oh no worries, Mrs. Porter, that older woman you met earlier, is our designated nanny. She knows our work demands we be on the road a lot and so she and her husband care for them. They get along great with her grandkids who also live with her, so they’re never lonely. Besides, they’re very close, so as long as they’re together they won’t feel alone anyway. They’re used to our absence at this point, so they’ll be ok. Though I can’t say we aren’t looking forward to the day where we no longer have to be away from them for long periods. We’d rather enjoy every moment of the limited time we have with them. However, we know where our duties lie and so we will always do our best. Anyway, have a good night girls and Mai, see you bright and early.”

            She walks away with a smile, leaving the two alone. They lay out their night clothes in silence and then with an unspoken understanding, they head to the bathroom together. As they go, they pass by the twins’ room and see them lying in their bed side by side, hand in hand, smiling as their Mama and Papa on either side of them sing a soothing melody. Mai and Lili look on in happiness but also a bit of envy, realizing these are the kind of moments they never got to have with their parents, while these girls did. However, they both understand that things were complicated and in the past, so it was pointless to wonder over what ifs now. However, they both can see that this family is a loving one and cannot be broken apart so tragically.

            Later that night, as Lili lies in Mai’s arms and against her chest, Mai speaks her mind. “Lili, they can’t be broken apart like that. I know what we agreed on with Noah but….”

            “I know. I agree Mai. I can’t bear to see them be torn apart. I’ve made up my mind too. I mean if we’re going to die anyway…. I heard what you said by the way, thank you Mai, really.”

            “You don’t have to thank me for speaking the truth. Anyway, I’ve made up my mind too. So that’s why Lili, when we are apart for these six months, I really wish for you to break out. Do anything and everything you want to do and live freely. Find yourself and discover the woman you want to be. Enjoy your life the best you can while you still have time, that way those evil fucks won’t have the last laugh. Don’t worry about me or how I’ll feel because in all honestly Lil I won’t be thinking about you. I’m going to ogle at every girl I can get my eyes on and have a different girl in my bed every night. I’m not holding back who I am anymore and I won’t let you hold me back from my desires. So let this night serve as our final chapter. Let this final kiss be the end of our past and our present and lead the way to our distant yet short future. I will always love you Lili, but we will never be lovers again. Do you understand? Can you accept that?”

            “I’ve always know how you felt Mai and I’ve known for quite some time that you don’t love me anymore and I’ve finally realized tonight that I’m not in love with you either. For the first time, I wish that I was in Gunther’s arms rather than yours. I really love him Mai, but he-, he may never forgive me. I will probably take this love and regret to my grave.” She tears up.

            “He’ll forgive you Lili. I don’t think he’s ever not. Let that be your motivation. Let him be the light that you run towards as you become a new you. Now, let us close this chapter at last.” Mai pulls her close and they share one final kiss to serve as their last sweet memory.

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