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Chapter X

In Chapter X (a prologue of sorts), we first come upon

Sagituro (Turo)

a young elf who loves to invent all sorts of crazy contraptions which put wrinkles into his old grandmother's brow. Turo dreams of leaving the village, but his grandmother refuses to let him leave. While bemoaning life's complete and utter lack of fairness, Turo learns that there are humans in the village, which is an incredibly rare event. Turo heads over to gawk at the visitors, and stumbles across an elven child playing with a firecane, one of Turo's more "explosive" inventions (think of it as a cross between dynamite and a firecracker ... um ... only it doesn't blow things up nor does it sparkle ...). The noise attracts


Kaiyen and Shaina

the human travelers. Sao remarks upon the ingenuity of Turo's invention, adding that he didn't expect to see such talent in such a backwater elven village. One thing leads to another, and Sao gives Turo the chance that he's been waiting for by inviting Turo to leave behind the mundane normalcy of his village life to travel with the trio of humans. Turo eagerly grabs the opportunity to leave, but first he has to convince

Pokata, his grandmother

But to Turo's surprise, when he approaches his grandmother, Pokata agrees to let him leave, and even gives him

The Amulet of Elders, an ancient artifact

that she never even allowed him to lay his hands on before. Too excited to think upon these strange turn of events, Turo leaves with Sao and the others. As soon as Turo and the humans leave, Pokata tells an invisible watcher to come out of hiding. Behind her, a figure materializes. It's

Takura, one of the elven Princes

who thanks her for her cooperation. Pokata vents her frustration on the newcomer, deriding him for his weaknesses. Ashamed and upset, he tells her not to worry, that he will watch over Turo for her. Pokata replies: "That is all you ever do. You never do anything but watch."

A few days later, Turo, a little bored and anxious for some adventure, waits impatiently in the middle of a forest with the trio of humans. Someone has been following them, and Sao has decided to finally put a stop to it. He instructs Turo to place his firecanes in the middle of the clearing, a plan to which Turo agrees reluctantly, after Sao promises that he isn't trying to hurt the stranger. Too late, Turo figures out Sao was lying through his teeth, and the stranger is momentarily stunned when Turo's firecanes explode beneath his feet. When the smoke clears, it reveals a blind, red-haired elf. Despite Turo's isolation, even he is not ignorant of the stranger's identity, and to his shock, Turo realizes that the stranger is none other than the

KM Kurenai Mashin, a feared assassin of the Shouten Guild

Sao and the Kurenai Mashin confront each other, and Turo learns that the Kurenai Mashin has been sent to kill Sao and the others, who are in fact members of a rival guild, the Kobura Guild. As Turo absorbs the danger of his situation, Kaiyen shoves him into the midst of the swordfight between the Kurenai Mashin and Sao. Turo's unexpected appearance throws the Kurenai Mashin off balance, and Sao quickly stabs the Shouten assassin. For a moment, Sao revels in the fact that everything is going according to plan, but the Kurenai Mashin unexpectedly regains the upperhand. The Kurenai Mashin defeats Sao with a single stroke, then easily dispatches Kaiyen and Shaina ... without taking a single life.

Turo, now alone with the assassin, suddenly realizes that the elf before him is actually a familiar face. With shock, he recognizes that the Kurenai Mashin is Mokurei, a childhood friend of his who had left the village long ago. Dismayed by Turo's recognition, the Kurenai Mashin turns to leave, but before he can disappear, Turo leaves him the Amulet of Elders, which, Turo insists, rightfully belongs to Mokurei.

Neither of them notice that watching them from the trees is Takura and

Kiri, Takura's kitsune familiar

Back in elven territory, Pokata is anxiously awaiting the return of her grandson. By her side stands

Hyouden, one of the elven Princes

who half-heartedly berates her for failing to tell him of Turo's plight. Suddenly, Turo arrives, abashedly greeting his grandmother and the Prince. Before either of them can say a word, Turo tells Hyouden about seeing Mokurei, which renders the Prince speechless.

After speaking with Turo, Hyouden rushes to Yokuzama castle and bursts into his father's audience chamber, ignoring the protests of


one of the King's most loyal guards. Hyouden's entrance silences his brother, Takura , who is in the middle of speaking to their father,

King Tiall'eyn

Hyouden relates Turo's news to the King, who shows no surprise at the announcement. The Prince is shocked as he realizes that Turo was merely part of the King's plans, and is furious that his father would risk Turo's life. The King dismisses Hyouden's disapproval, reminding his son of the destiny to which Mokurei belongs. His words forestall further argument:

"Eventually, Mokurei will become strong enough to be of use to us. When that time comes, Hyouden, you will bring him back. He cannot run forever."

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Chapter One : Blind Strength

Chapter One opens with the Kurenai Mashin holding the Amulet of Elders in his hands. He says to himself that the Amulet doesn't belong to him and that it never did. For a moment, he thinks of the past, remembering the day that his mother let him hold the Amulet in his hands. It was the same day that she was killed in the war that marred his childhood. Unwilling to think further on the painful memories of his childhood, the Kurenai Mashin ends his reflection of the past and returns to the Assassin Guild headquarters, where he ends up arguing with

Ryu, leader of the Shouten

The Kurenai Mashin is digusted by the fact that Sao and his followers were so easy to defeat. He realizes that he has nothing more to learn from the Shouten, and announces that he is leaving the Guild. Ryu, unwilling to allow anyone someone with intimate knowledge of the Guild to leave without a fight, orders his men to kill the Kurenai Mashin. Unfortunately, they fail. Miserably.

The Kurenai Mashin leaves, and hours later he rests near a quiet stream, inexplicably out of breath. While taking a drink from the stream, the Kurenai Mashin is surprised by

An Elven girl wielding a spear

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Chapter Two : Child's Play

The beginning of Chapter Two brings us back to Sao, who is being tortured by a fellow Kobura member for failing to achieve an honorable defeat (ie. death) at the hands of the Kurenai Mashin. Before killing Sao, the Kobura assassin mocks Sao for selflessly sacrificing himself to save Shaina and Kaiyen.

Meanwhile, miles away from where Sao lies dying, Shaina and Kaiyen are desperately trying to hide from their fellow Kobura. While taking a much needed break from running for their lives, they receive an unexpected visit from




Loki, we learn, was the one who told Sao, Shaina and Kaiyen that Turo was the "key to defeating the Kurenai Mashin". Of course, Shaina and Kaiyen are none too happy that Loki's plan failed, but before they can exact their own bloody kind of revenge, Loki disappears in a brilliant flash of light. In a tree far from where Shaina and Kaiyen stand, both utterly discombobulated, Loki reappears ... only this time, he appears in his true form ... as Takura. Ghost, meanwhile, transforms into Kiri. Takura announces that he's all "magicked out" ... and so the two of them then proceed to have a nice conversation about the need to rid the world of the evil squirrel population. Well, they ARE stuck in the tree. So really, they've got nothing better to do.

Meanwhile, back at camp KM, the elven girl's attack on the Kurenai Mashin is interrupted by a gaggle of Kobura (yesh, they're like geese). While the elven girl is fighting most of the gang, KM is stuck fighting

Yochiro, the crazy Azuka look-alike (inside joke :P)

to whom he almost loses. He narrowly avoids death by decapitation with the help of the elven girl. Defeated, Yochiro and her henchmen leave, nursing their wounds and their pride. The elven girl turns to the Kurenai Mashin with a satisfied grin, only to find him collapsed on the ground.

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Chapter Three : Anubell's Tear

The Kurenai Mashin realizes that he was poisoned by Sao's blade. Normally, the Shouten are given an antidote to the poison with which the Kobura coat all their weapons, but having guessed that the Kurenai Mashin would abandon them, Ryu had given the elf a false antidote. After a moment's hesitation, the elven girl decides to use magic to aid the fallen assassin. While casting the spell, she silently implores the Elven Goddess Shakri to allow her to heal the Kurenai Mashin because he can't die, not when she's finally found him.

When the spell comes to an end, the elven girl breathes a sigh of relief. It seems she has managed to fight something called "Thamona's Taint" long enough to heal the Kurenai Mashin. Still, she wants to ensure that the spell was fully successful, but though she is determined to stay awake to watch over him, exhaustion gets the better of her, and she falls fast asleep.

When she awakens, the Kurenai Mashin is gone ... along with the Kobura goods that she had stashed away after the fight. The elven girl quickly catches up to the Kurenai Mashin, who reluctantly shares a meal with her with the stolen goods.

After the elven girl introduces herself as Itaka, the discussion soon turns to the matter of the bitter rivalry between their two Clans. To Itaka's surprise, the Kurenai Mashin reveals his distaste for war and the meaningless hatred that accompanies it. Impulsively, she tells the Kurenai Mashin of her journey to find Anubell's Tear, an ancient Sougen artifact that possesses legendary power -- so legendary, in fact, it is considered merely a fairy tale. But for Itaka, it is the last hope for her people. The Sougen, she exolains, are dying of Thamona's Taint, a strange sickness that has made it virtually impossible for the Sougen to use their magic. Their magic, centered around healing, is used for everything from warding off sickness to replenishing crops. Without it, the Sougen are dying.

Itaka's story peaks the Kurenai Mashin's interest ... but for reasons that are less than altruistic. He immediately asks her if Anubell's Tear could return his sight. Itaka hesistates, replying that it could if he once could see. The Kurenai Mashin replies that he was told that he could see once. Itaka brightens, concluding that they both now have reasons to search for the Tear.

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Chapter Four : Pawns

The chapter begins with Takura enjoying his favorite pasttime - chasing squirrels. He is interrupted by

Daitsu, his younger brother, and Mishiru, Daitsu's large feilne familiar.

Daitsu, despite being younger than Takura, views his brother's lack of maturity with absolute disdain. Fortunately for both brothers, Daitsu is frequently absent from the villages, as he spends most of his time alone in the surrounding forest with Mishi, undergoing vigorous training. Daitsu quickly leaves Takura and visits his father, who has news for his youngest son. Tia'lleyn announces to Daitsu that according to Takura, Mokurei has "come into his powers" and thus will soon be ready to take on his destiny. Daitsu reacts angrily to the news, stating that Mokurei was a coward who doesn't deserve to protect the villages. Daitsu insists that as the Third son of the Royal line, he should be protector of the villages. Tia'lleyn brushes off his son's fury, telling Daitsu that the position will be his if he manages to defeat Mokurei when the blind elf returns home.

Daitsu storms out, only to be met by his older brother Hyouden. Hyouden, empathetic of Daitsu's plight, invites his brother to joust with him. Daitsu agrees, and they relocate to an empty clearing, where they have at each other with powerful blasts of magic. Takura, having finished his squirrel chasing, watches his brothers from a distant tree. Kiri observes that Takura must wish he was with them. Takura denies this, but then adds that he'd "like to claim victory over those two. Just once".

Meanwhile, KM and Itaka arrive at Alumina, the nearest village, looking for supplies and a night's rest. No longer a member of the Shouten, KM doesn't quite know how to behave in the village. When he was part of the Shouten, people would simply give him things for free to avoid any possible unpleasantness. Since they are both without money, KM and Itaka enter the nearest pawnshop, where KM tries to sell his mother's amulet, the Amulet of Elders, to

a rather seedy looking pawnbroker by the name of Thollos.

When the pawnbroker tries to rip him off, KM practically shoves his sword down the man's throat, only to be stopped by Itaka. Ushering KM out of the store, Itaka sells the pawnbroker her staff. Though the staff bears a tremendous amount of sentimental value, Itaka knowingly sells it for half of its value in order to prevent any further altercations between the pawnbroker and KM.

After leaving the store with KM in tow, Itaka heads towards the nearest cheap inn that she can find. There she leaves KM and finds

the local cartographer,

who helps her decipher the ancient map.

Meawhile, KM gets into trouble at the bar (typical!) with:

the barmaid, a mercenary (Kitachi) and two members of the local gang, the Calamity Kings.

He also manages to take out

Kitachi's brother, Kochi.

Itaka, completely oblivious to the chaos KM is causing, leaves the cartographer's place and heads back towards the inn. As she does so, she catches sight of

Velle and Nydeira, two elves from Itaka's village

who take great pains to try and escape Itaka's notice. When Itaka finally catches up to them, she is appalled by their outfits and the trio have a heated exchange about Itaka's useless search for Anubell's Tear. They are interrupted by

Lady L'ytiannel and Tyranis, her bodyguard.

To Itaka's shock, she learns that Velle and Nydeira are the Lady's servants, which explains their gaudy outfits. Velle and Nydeira are the village's best Hunters, and Itaka realizes that with them gone, things must be desperate indeed at home. Before Itaka can demand why Velle and Nydeira have abandoned their home to work for a spoiled human, they turn their back on her and follow the Lady to her carriage. Itaka attempts to follow, but is blocked by Tyr.

A conveniently uttered scream from the direction of the inn forces Itaka to abandon her chase and return to the inn at which she left KM. When she arrives, she finds the place in shambles, and its occupants sprawled unconscious on the floor. At this point annoyed and exhausted, Itaka retreats to their room on the second floor, only to find the pawnbroker and

his henchmen, members of the Calamity Kings,

who were waiting for KM in order to steal his amulet. Unfortunately, they get more than the bargained for, and Itaka beats them all in a humiliating defeat. The cartographer then arrives on the scene, and Itaka and KM learn that he is in fact the mayor of this impoverished town. He had been blackmailed by the pawnbroker and had lost his position as mayor, which forced him to take up his hobby of cartography in order to provide for his orphaned granddaughter. With Thollos nicely dispatched and humiliated, the mayor decides give KM and Itaka a monetary reward. As an afterthought, KM asks for the return of Itaka's staff, having noticed it missing. Much to KM's dismay, Itaka responds to the small gesture with exaggerated thanks (she glomps him ^_^;).

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Chapter Five : To Serve and Protect

For the past two weeks, Itaka and KM have been entering the towns that dot the path towards the next piece of the map, doing good deeds and thus earning enough money to keep them going. The latest village they come across is home to a farming community whose homes have been invaded by a travelling group of mercenaries. The men, having left for the fields in the morning, are trapped on the farside of the nearby bridge that leads towards their village. Itaka and KM's offer of help is accepted by

Aidaan, the village leader and Mekken.

When Itaka and KM cross the bridge, they are attacked by

a cloaked woman, Tamarin Kai,

who defeats KM with ease while Itaka watches on helplessly. Convinced that the woman is one of the bandits, Itaka is shocked to learn that the woman is in fact KM's old sensei. It quickly becomes obvious, however, that KM left her tutelage on bad terms. Before Itaka can learn anything more about their relationship, they are interrupted by

Kaisa, the bloodthirsty leader of the invading mercenaries.

KM, fueled by anger at having been defeated by his former teacher, decides to prove his skills to Kai and vent his fury by brutally dispatching Kaisa's followers. For a second time, Itaka is left on the sidelines to watch in helpless horror. In an opportune moment, Kaisa snatches one of the villagers who crept out of hiding to watch the fighting. Tamarin Kai, seeing the boy in danger, lashes out with a speed and pent up violence that echoes KM's earlier outburst. Only through great self-control does she stop herself from slaughtering Kaisa. We learn that Tamarin was the original Kurenai Mashin, and that Kaisa had been searching for her in order to kill her and claim her place as the most skilled killer in the land. Much to Mekken's consternation, Tamarin orders Kaisa to leave and to never return.

Later, Itaka talks with Tamarin and reconsiders her decision to travel with KM. Never having seen him actually kill someone before, she never imagined he was capable of such hate and brutality. Tamarin convinces her that with Itaka's help, KM will change.

While the two women talk, KM and Mekken ambush Kaisa and KM kills the mercenary. Mekken rationalizes his part in the murder by claiming that Kaisa would have eventually returned, putting the village in grave danger.

When KM returns to the village, it is time for him and Itaka to leave. As they leave, Tamarin asks that Itaka remember that she has the best chance to change KM's ways. Turning to wave to Tamarin, Itaka yells back "Consider it a promise!", while KM looks on suspiciously.

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