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  Chapter 1
Never Again

       Everything stood still on the battlefield. The dreaded site captivated everyone’s attention. Trails of bodies littered the ground in all forms death could take. The few who still drew breath stood focused on one thing. A situation before their eyes that they thought nigh impossible. The look of terror and shock painted across the faces of everyone who witnessed what just happened. Everyone except two individuals standing at the convergence of everyone's attention.


       One stood, his body battered from a fight that almost took his life. His torn clothes were bathed in blood. His wounds further added to the soaked garments. His hand gripped the hilt of his Tachi. Ready to fend off any, in his case, expected attack or retaliation. The crimson hue of his blade smoldered as flames danced off its surface. 


       To have Shakti refined to a degree to manifest an element to your weapon was something only third-year students and up were able to do. But as a second year, it was all the more an indicative showcase of his skill. More important than the impressive Shakti he exerted through his weapon, was the blood that still dripped wet off its blade. 


       His perplexed look trained on the sight unfolding in front of him. One he knew he perpetrated. His face grew stoic as he continued to look down at the site in front of him. His eyes faded from confusion to an unsympathetic stare. Being vigilant not to display any emotion of regret or apathy. But he never took his eyes off the man who knelt at his feet hunched over on the ground. Holding the body of the one he just killed.


       The crouched individual’s eyes screamed in agony over what he was seeing. They yelled louder than any of the survivors could do with words. Tears ran rampant from his eyes like a never-ending torrent of emotions. Filled with heartache, anger, and confusion. But by far the greatest emotion he felt… the pain of watching the one you love die.


       Other students scattered throughout the training field unable to tear their gaze off the man they called friend and comrade but first and foremost…family. They gawked helplessly as he held the lifeless body of his blood-covered partner close to him. The hole in her chest confirmed the inevitable. This field of death is where she would draw her last breath.


       "This was supposed to be a training exercise. How did it end like this?" Akito thought.


       It was a thought they all shared. She was irreplaceable in their lives. Lively, determined, skilled. More importantly, they knew she was the entire world to the broken man holding her. Although he never said it out loud to anyone, not even her, they knew he loved her with every fiber of his being.





       A forest once overflowing with battle cries of Guardian students fighting for their lives. As the weapons they wielded tore through hordes of monsters just moments ago. The only sound to be heard now was the unintelligible whimpering of a man between the roars of a coming storm. Internally begging that his desperate words held any power to save the woman in his arms. 

       His eyes shut tight, the blurred burning sensation behind them overshadowed by the tightening in his chest. As if a void just opened up to replace the spot where his heart should be. Its dark nothingness eats away at his very being. Tension built uncontrollably in his muscles as they ached, trying to control the erratic shaking he was under. His skin grew wet from the warm blood that leaked from the body he held. An overwhelming wave of nausea flooded inside him as he tried his best to understand and come to terms with the reality of what was happening. 


       The memories of every moment they shared clashed and mixed with a new feeling. One that washed over him like a torrent of water in a storm, trying to fill that void in his chest with the promises of never again. Never again would he be able to wake up next to her. Never again would her smile bring him immeasurable joy.


       Soon, her staple in his life every day would happen…


       Never again.

       “Hey, hey, hey; don’t worry I’m here now,” he desperately whispered to her.


       “Kenichi,” she gasped, choking on the blood in her throat.


       Gripping her body in his arms. He slowly rocked back and forth in a desperate attempt to ease her pain. In reality, he had to do anything to try and hide the shaking from his own body.


       “Shhhsh. Don’t talk, okay? We are going to get you all fixed up, so just stay still for now. Conserve your energy until help gets here.” 


       She heard the pain in his voice. It hurt worse than any physical wound could ever cause her. 


       “Kenichi,” she coughed out. Despite knowing the situation she was in, couldn’t help but weakly raise her hand to his face.


       Kenichi grabbed her hand, helping it to his face, holding it against him. She could always provide him comfort this way when he needed it to calm his emotions. But this time it felt different.


       “It’s okay,” she whispered.


       He desperately used the contact as a lifeline to pull himself out of the waves of despair he found himself drowning in. Both were trying to provide comfort to each other. Him lying to her about things turning out ok and she using the last of her strength to ease his tormenting heart.  


       “Hey… Let me see your eyes,'' the dying girl asked, doing her best to restrain the seemingly inescapable coughing. 


       "No. Please, anything but that. I can’t." He thought.


       “Shhhsh, don’t speak, try not to move ok. You're badly hurt. Don’t worry,” he said, trying to delude himself with his own words, “Kali Academy has the best doctors in the region. They will have you on your feet in no time. So for now, just conserve your strength.” 


       Yes, he knew every word that he spoke was a lie from the start. But he didn’t want to. How could he? He knew what she wanted. What those words really meant. If he could hide his gaze from that sight, maybe just maybe, the situation would become less painful. A little less…real. 


       She stared at his face. Taking in all she could. Burning every single detail in her head hoping and praying that when she died, wherever she went, she would be able to take this image with her."Don’t cry, Kenichi," she longingly thought, "I’m right here. I won’t leave you."


       Her vision closed in around her. "I feel so…tired. So cold." She thought. Kana felt what little strength she had drained from her body. "No, I need to stay awake. I need him to see me. To understand. I can’t die without him knowing. I need to confess. But first…."


       She knew what he needed was not some false play to deceive him; That everything was going to be ok, but the truth. She was going to die soon.


       "I don’t want to cause him torment when I die. I want to give him a memory that will remind him of what we have. To gather strength and resolve in the future. To remember who I am now. To finally tell him what I’ve always wanted to say." She thought, determined.


       Her body convulsed with violent, uncontrollable coughing, her body began to betray her mind. It was a fight to command it to keep her hand held to his face. His shaking grip on hers did most of the lifting.

       “Open your eyes, Kenichi...please; I’d like to see them one last time. I want you to look at me like you always do,” she said.  


       Kenichi knew that if he opened his eyes he would be greeted with a sight that would only cause the waves of emotions he felt to grow outside his control. Bringing nothing more than regret and heartache. 


       "Is not seeing her like this worth the regret I will feel later? This will be my last chance. I don’t want to face it. But...," he thought. 


       A cool wind stung his eyes as he opened them. His resolve was all but gone, yet determined to see her last wish fulfilled. His blurred vision slowly faded away to reveal the appalling site before him. Tears dropped uncontrollably on the bloody face of the one he loved. 


       But somehow as if being able to separate herself from the reality they currently were in, he saw it.


       "She’s smiling?" He thought perplexed.


       Weak and smeared with blood, it still graced her face.


       "They're so beautiful, yet, so sad," she thought. It took all she had to focus her failing vision on them. “I’m so glad I got to see them one last time.” She whispered.


       Kenichi tightened his grip on her hand. Each word she spoke pulled him closer to the reality he desperately wanted to run away from. 


       “Do you remember the day we first became partners? I was so scared of these eyes that day,” she said. She thought back to that same day, "I hated them then. To have to see them every day after we paired was cruel. I hated fate for being partnered with you."


       “Imagine my surprise that it’s these very eyes, that after a time, I’ve done nothing but wish to have them stare at me every day. Can you do me a favor?” 


       "She wants a…favor?" He thought. Taken aback by the question his confusion was quickly swept away by the desire to make her happy in her final moments. He nodded his head, still not trusting his voice to betray the immense emotions whirling inside him right now. 


       “Remember the wish I made at the shrine last year?”


       Kana's words triggered a vivid flashback of the bi-annual Remembrance Festival, where Kenichi and Kana shared a multitude of experiences. Among them was her heartfelt wish.

       “Would you make it come true for me?”


       Shock grabbed his body in reaction to the request she made.


       "It can’t be! Did she really mean it?" He thought.


       Although the relationship they shared, a request like that would be normal. They kissed many times. But her wish made this one different. The journey of how it came to be, was riddled with ups and downs. The most recent event before this day was a particularly bad one.


       Due to the deteriorating circumstances, they were in, he did not dote on the vocal implication. He knew it would not save her body. But maybe if miracles were true, it would bring her soul rest when it finally left this plane of existence. 


       His grip slightly tightened around her body slowly to not cause her any additional pain. He gently raised her head towards his own. His eyes closed as his lips drew near before they pressed against hers. 


       A maelstrom of emotions and memories rushed inside him. Temporarily stopping the void that was sucking everything within him. His mind played back to all the times they shared. The trials of being strangers forced together by the world's events. Learning to trust in each other. To rely on the other. To help each other overcome their weaknesses. To be each other’s everything in the world they never wanted. His grip tightened as this simple kiss brought with it the feeling of overwhelming love and happiness coupled with the wretchedness that this would never be again.


       "I’m sorry, Kenichi… I thought I could tell you. But I can’t. Please make it come true for you as it has for me right now." she regretfully thought.


       The warmth that once adorned his face with her hand grew cold, forcing him back to reality. Their lips parted, drawing with them the regret of what could have been and what he’ll never have after today. 


       With her final breath, spoken barely above a whisper, she mustered the strength to convey the profound words, "I love you."


       He stared down at her blankly.


       The rain crept in. Each droplet fell on her blood-masked face. She didn’t move as the rain grew heavier. The tears of joy that ran down her cheeks washed away with the blood. The slight smile that pursed her lips earlier was still frozen in place. Her arm fell by her side. No movement was exhibited from her body. 


       The woman he had grown to accept as part of his life, spending so much time growing to understand.


       His partner helped him grow into who he was now.


       His foundation in life held him up. 


       The woman he loved with all his heart lay dead in his arms.


       She spoke never again.

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