"Give me my brother! Warrior Pale! Warrior Paaaale!"
The silver-haired girl yelled after Pale, trying to get his attention. Every minute, every step, they felt the pressure of the black-cloth sword-wielding assassins chasing after them. And behind them, an even stronger existence followed.
Pale glanced to check on Taree's condition. Her short silver hair was a mess and sweat covered her face and exposed neck. Her breathing was erratic and she ran awkwardly, wincing in pain every few steps.
"How long have you and your brother been running?"
The pair dropped down a small dune, crashing into a soft pile of golden leaves. The two separated briefly, weaving through gigantic, gnarled tree roots. When they emerged from the root maze, Pale brazenly ran forward with his head entirely turned to her.
Taree was stunned by his radiant grin, stuttering her words, "I-if I tell you, will you give me my brother back?"
"Maybe?" Pale didn't say yes. He didn't want to lie to her.
She kept up easily, which really surprised him. He'd always thought girls were weaker than guys, and that people like Sorina and Miss Seldin were special to be so strong. It had taken him months and months of hard training to be able to run while carrying both a person and a log and a weapon for long periods of time. Even though her brother was surprisingly light, he didn't want to trust her with additional weight. Anyroad, Pale really wanted to show off in front of her.
"Tamaki and I been running from Yoshio for like six bells?"
Pale laughed, "Haha, yeah!? No way!"
Taree fumed, her silvery hair flaring up with her indignation, "No way, what?!"
"You can barely run. I don't wanna leave you behind," Pale explained, cruelly.
"YOU-- How dare you! Argh! Okay, fine! Give me something to carry, then! Anything!"
Pale mentally groaned. So the girl had an annoying side to her, too. "No, just focus on running!"
"Why... Why are you carrying that log?"
Pale tried to recall why he was carrying the log. It was a replacement for his armor when he was doing strength and agility training without it. Pale had taken the log along during the Gann hunt without thinking about it. And he couldn't leave it behind because he would have to use it, the sun after.
"I guess... it's my responsibility?" Pale said, his voice betraying a hint of uncertainty.
"You don't sound super sure of that."
Pale decided to focus on dodging obstacles in the golden-leafed forest.
"Whoops!" Pale slid sideways with his forward momentum, before laying Tamaki face-down (arrow-up) on a crispy pile of leaves.
"Why are you stopping?" Taree slowed down to match Pale. She put her hands on her head while trying to catch her breath.
Without answering, Pale stepped past her towards where they were running from.
Pale waved his spear around in front of him, praying that his spear could move as fast as his eyesight.
Taree didn't realize what had happened until she looked at a nearby tree and saw a metal dart embedded into it-- a hidden weapon. Her heart sank as she realized the ninjas had caught up to them. Then she screamed in shock.
"Taree? What's wrong?"
"H-how did you learn to do that?"
Pale grinned sheepishly, "Everyone from Guild Invictus calls it... Fruit Ninja training."
Taree was shocked, hearing about Pale's ninja training. It was a serious taboo if Outsiders were practicing one of the Hidden Sects' secretive ninja techniques. But that wasn't the biggest problem. The biggest problem was that they had stopped running!
As if reading her mind, Pale gave Taree an apologetic glance.
Taree's anger cooled slightly. She would have preferred to have a last stand against Yoshio's ninjas with the Chosen One. Pale was a powerful expert, but she could tell with absolute certainty that Lone was twice-- No! Three times as--
Pale threw his log!! How could he just toss away his responsibility like that?? Taree stared at it as it flew past her head-- It looked like it weighed as much as she did!
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Taree's jaw dropped. With the deep clunk sound the log made, it was definitely heavier than she was!
She looked to where Pale had thrown it-- PALE THREW IT AT TAMAKI!?
A million emotions flooded her brain. Warrior Pale had killed her poor brother! Was it because his useless half-corpse was slowing them down? She needed to get her explosive, bloody revenge! 'Oh, Tamaki!' she cried in her heart. 'You were my favorite brother-- you were my only brother. But if there's one way your poor, stupid, pathetic soul can be laid to rest, it's by your beautiful sister claiming bloody vengeance in thy name! Amen.'
A dozen 'thnks' resounded throughout the clearing.
Taree slowly opened her eyes to find that she and Pale were safe, behind a boulder. Faster than she could think, Pale had grabbed her and kept one hand on her head to make sure she wasn't at risk of being hit. She looked over to where her brother was-- a series of accurate hidden-weapons had become embedded in Pale's log, effectively saving her brother from becoming a porcupine.
Taree looked to Pale with a serious face, "You don't know how close to death you just got."
Pale tilted his head, confused, "Huh? But I just--"
Taree slapped his hand away from her head-- the same hand that he used to make sure she wouldn't get shot in the face by flying scraps of metal.
His hand was warm.
A man's loud yell reverberated throughout the forest. Yoshio's troops immediately withdrew, running back towards the voice.
Pale and Taree stood up and gazed at the ninjas' fleeing backs.
"That was... Yoshio's voice just now, wasn't it? Was he attacked?"
"Meh, that guy's a loser, anyway. Come on! Let's get my brother to safety."
"Yeah, okay. Let's go." Pale nodded. He was glad that the ninjas had withdrawn. He could defend himself decently well from the ninjas' thrown weapons but that was his limit. He couldn't easily defend Taree or Tamaki at the same time. He began walking back but didn't hear Taree's footsteps following him. With a face full of worry, he turned back. "Taree?"
The silver-haired girl's face was pale and her body shook all over as she pointed. "W-w-w-warrior Pale! DON'T MOVE!"
"Eh? What's wrong?" Pale was very careful not to move. Whatever it was that was making Taree panic spooked him too.
Taree's eyes were growing hot and she started hiccuping.
"Th-there's a knife in y-your back."
Pale's back felt numb and hot, and a bit prickly. Boss Tycon had explained to him prior that adrenaline would make him numb from the pain for a while, especially on broad areas of his body, like on the back or on the thighs. When Taree told him, feeling began to return, and he felt some of the blood drip down.
Pale turned his head to look at her out of the corner of his eyes, "Psh. Are you crying? Wow. Have some self-respect."
Tears quickly started to blur Taree's vision as she stared at Pale's back. Dozens of darts and piercing instruments were protruding from his leather armor. An incredible amount of blood was spilling down onto the dirt.
"W-why... Why did you save me?"
Pale was starting to feel a bit dizzy, but he smiled in an attempt to calm the girl down. There was nothing to worry about. He was in control. He had to stay calm in front of anyone he met, so they wouldn't panic.
"I guess... Because it's my responsibility."