December 20th X793, four days ago (Note: This story occurs over a year after the events currently happening in Trail of the Tigers' main chapters)
The Fiore Christmas Ball. Thousands of people attended in classy formalwear and danced to various songs of different genres, with classical being a common theme. In attendance, there were members of both Sabertooth and Unchained Soul, including their Masters. At the moment, the current dancing pairs were Sif and Sting, Hayden and Eriko, Alexander and Brianna (both of whom were blushing heavily), and even Ryuunosuke and Sakura, and Ezra and Yukino. Eugene, Josh, Kai, Brooke, Violet and the others were focusing on espionage and stealth. They were on a mission, rather than a visit.
Eugene and Brooke simultaneously spotted the target, and the second he went outside, the entire ambush group pounced.
December 24th X793, 8:12pm, now
"Come on, slowpokes, hurry up!", Sif said as she playfully chastised Hayden and Eugene, while simultaneously dragging them by their sleeves. "The stores'll be closed by the time we get there!", she yapped after. When Sif released them as they were entering a store, Hayden attempted to escape. Only to have his tail grabbed, but not by Sif, by Eugene!
"If I have to go through with this, so do you, Wolf.", Eugene said calmly as Hayden gave up and followed Sif with Eugene. Within just fifteen minutes, Eugene and Hayden were carrying so many items Sif had bought, they were both shaking at the knees almost.
"Gah...why is it we have to do this but the others don't?", Hayden mumbled to himself. Sif heard the noise, and turned and gave both Slayers a rather mean glare of sorts, startling them both to silence.
Brooke, Josh, Kai and Akabane were hiding in a bush. All them staring in the direction of a small café. They weren't on a mission. They were watching Alexander and Brianna, both in rather classy clothing, sat at a small table on the terrace of the second floor, enjoying a meal. However, they were both slightly blushing and were almost constantly silent, agitating Brooke as she waited for something to happen.
"S-So--.", they both said simultaneously, interrupting each other. Alex scratched the back of his combed, styled hair (as a opposed to his usual scruffy style), and Brianna laughed softly, awkwardly.
"This is painful to watch...", Josh chided to his three companions around him, not taking his gaze off of his sister and his best friend on a date.
"In my opinion, this is hilarious." Kai said with a smirk on his face. He was fighting the urge to laugh loudly.
"So far, it seems things are going well." Akabane said calmly. "I wonder how this will develop."
"Shh, look!", Brooke said with an excited whisper as she pointed at the pair.
Brianna had shivered (she was in a dress for the love of all things holy), and Alexander had stood up and was in the process of draping his coat over her shoulders. When he sat back down, they both became notably more comfortable, and were even smiling at each other, rather than blushing and making weird expressions.
"Aw, how gentleman-y!", Brooke chirped happily.
"Lame. She should have brought her own coat if she was cold.", Josh said in response, only to be kicked down a set of nearby stairs by Brooke for the comment.
"Jackass.", Brooke said with a smug smirk.
The three still remaining looked back, as Alexander and Brianna were leaving the café, but instead of walking robotically, Brianna had her arm coiled with Alex's! Josh returned with a big bump on his head, and a look of bemusement, earning laughter from Kai and Akabane. Alex and Brianna were strolling down the street together, both chatting and seeming happy in each other's company.
Alex suddenly stopped and darted for a bush. He dived over the bush. Nothing there. He shrugged and returned to a confused Brianna. "Thought I heard something.", he reasoned to her. As they walked on, Brooke, Josh, Kai and Akabane were all hiding in a thin gap between buildings, all with exasperated and startled expressions on their faces, having nearly been caught spying.
Thunder suddenly boomed, and the heavens opened, raining heavily on the land. The pair on the date scampered to hide under the awning of a nearby inn. They were acting more and more romantic. Alexander was leaned on the wall, with Brianna also leaning against him, cozying into him for warmth, as well as to be sweet. Alex blushed again as he hesitantly raised his arms, visibly stuttering with his movement, before his hands met, and his arms were around Brianna.
Brooke was almost squealing in joy, but Josh and Kai luckily avoided her blowing their cover, by placing their hands over her mouth. They were all lurking at another café right near the inn, dressed in disguises of course. They all made sneaky glances at Alex and Brianna, while also making sure they themselves didn't end up being rain-drenched. The table they were at had a large umbrella over them for just such an occasion.
"Well, this became more romantic really fast." Akabane calmly said in a quiet tone as so the couple wouldn't be able to hear him.
"Yeah, if only we got the right push, it'd complete things." Kai said in response.
"Want me to summon some mistletoe over them?" Violet said, appearing out of nowhere. This almost made the group shout in shock but Brooke who was the most used to this covered Kai and Josh's mouths. Akabane was shocked but he didn't make a sound.
"Isn't that cheating?", Josh asked the youngest member of the Woodland family.
"Well, it is the Christmas season. Mistletoe kisses are basically tradition.", Brooke responded to Josh, instead of Violet. "Go ahead, Vi. Summon a Mistletoe and-- Eh?!?", Brooke yelped, almost as if she had choked on her own air. The other kids also had expressions of surprise on their face.
Before Violet had even summoned the Magic Power to bring forth a Mistletoe, Alexander and Brianna were already in the process of kissing! Their kiss was a gentle, heartfelt one, compared to the more ravaging and forceful versions. Brooke pushed the younger Wizards around her so that they could not see what was happening. "Le~et's just keep it PG for you...", she said nervously.
Both young Wizards were visibly smiling during their kiss, and were practically grinning when it ended. Brianna rested the side of her face on Alex's chest, and his arms got noticeably more firm when it came to hugging her. "Want me to...?", Alex practically purred to Brianna.
"Definitely. Do it now...I want you to.", Brianna returned. The remarks of the couple made the younger ones blush in awkwardness, especially Brooke.
"This isn't appropriate for public affection...!". Brooke said with a nervous stutter in her voice.
"What isn't?", Alex said to the group of youngersters, with a smug grin on his face. That was when the group realised they had been moved--no, teleported over to Alex and Brianna, who also looked a tad smug. "Y'know I knew you were there from the very start.", Alex revealed to the group, surprising them. "Like my dad, I can uniquely pick out Magic Power signatures. Yours aren't very hard to miss.", he continued. Brooke just laughed in embarassment. The group went through all that trouble to not be seen, yet they were known the whole time.
"And if you'll greatly excuse us...", Brianna said as her hand traced along Alex's cheek and she moved her face towards his again, causing the group to squawk and flee elsewhere into the rain, letting the pair have their moment.
Hayden and Eugene looked like the grumpiest little reindeers in the world. They sat there with frowns on their faces, while wearing red noses and reindeer antlers. "You both look so adorable~!", Sif giggled happily as she jumped in between them after setting up the camera. She was dressed as Mrs Claus, wearing a knee-length Santa dress with a white chest, black straps, and white furry seams/hemlines. She noticed their frowns, and before the camera counted down to zero, Sif planted a kiss on Hayden's cheek, and then Eugene's cheek, in order to get them to display different expressions rather than frowning the whole time.
Hayden blushed and went beetroot, with a half-grin on his face, while his eyes looked startled. Eugene however, merely looked embarrassed as he still didn't want to take part in a picture looking like something he hunted on a normal basis. When the photo snapped, Sif was in the middle with a happy grin, Hayden looked flustered, and Eugene was just a grump. "You grinch.", Sif teased Eugene after receiving the photograph. "Anyway, I just have a few more things to buy. Don't worry, they're light. Bu~ut I'll need your opinion on one of them.", Sif said as she beckoned the boys to follow her to a clothes store, both of whom were cursing mentally.
After buying a few outfits, for both genders (seemingly for everyone), Sif turned and stopped the boys. She had already stored her new outfit with Requip prior to them seeing it. "I want your honest opinions, okay?", she said, to which Hayden and Eugene nodded in agreement. She proceeded to Requip into her new outfit. Her hair was released from its bun, revealing that she had cut it from waist length, to just below her shoulders. The outfit itself was a party dress that channeled class, and was made of white satin. It was strapless, and came down to just above her knees. The skirt expanded as it got lower towards its hemline. Sif giggled happily at how it looked, and looked up at the two boys for their opinions. "Well?", she asked them.
Hayden was almost speechless, he was struggling to get a word out. That basically confirmed what he thought to Sif, earning a smile from the girl. She turned to look at Eugene for his.
Eugene slightly blushed as he looked at how good Sif looked in this outfit. Thankfully, he could still express his opinion with words as well. "You look very pretty in that Sif, it suits you." he said with a small smile.
She grinned happily and triumphantly, due to the fact that she had gotten two positive reactions to her new dress. "Thanks, guys!", she said as she Requipped into normal street clothes. A white trenchoat, a purple plaid skirt, grey tights and a pair of knee-high black leather heeled boots. "Come on, we should get back home. The little party starts soon!", she said as she scampered out of the store, with Hayden and Eugene still hauling the large amount of gifts.
Meanwhile, back at the house
Ezra was adding the final touches to the setup for the upcoming party. He adjusted the Tree ornaments, he laid out an array of food and drinks, he even lit up the fireplace to his preferred level. Zuno pounced onto his head, and Ezra handed the little critter tinsel and the Christmas Tree star. Zuno proceeded to scamper up the tree and place the star on the top, and then ran across the wall as he put up the various ropes of tinsel. Just as the pair finished, Sif, Eugene and Hayden walked through the door, all of whom were amazed by the amount of holiday spirit that had engulfed their current home.
Eugene and Hayden then sighed in exasperation, and dropped all the gifts Sif purchased onto the floor and sofas. "This is so cool, Ezra!", Sif said, praising her older brother's decorative skills.
"Thank you. I had some help from Zuno, too.", Ezra replied, with Zuno pouncing onto Eugene's shoulder and chirping happily as he just perched there.
"Thanks for the hard work Zuno." Eugene said as he rewarded the small creature with a fruit. He then looked around the place. "Man, you did a lot of decorating, it almost looks like an entirely different building."
Ezra smirked slightly, and then went into the kitchen. The smell that came through the open door was so delightful that it made even Sif's mouth water, so lord knows how Hayden and Eugene, with their superior sense of smell, must be feeling right now.
Little more than ten minutes later, Brooke, Josh, Kai and Akabane returned. Josh, Kai and Akabane were struggling in their race to get inside first, until they all fell. Brooke simply used them as a rug and literally walked right over them.
"Take it easy, kids.", Hayden said a tad sternly. "Wait. Where are Bree and Alex?", he asked them as he noticed the absence of his future-daughter and his best friend's future-son.
"See for yourself.", Brooke said as she pointed at the window.
Hayden, Sif and Eugene all peered through the window, and were rather surprised by what they saw. Alex and Brianna were sitting on the bench on the house's porch, cuddling together. "Aww! It finally happened and I missed it?", Sif whined as she watched the young, new couple.
Meanwhile, Hayden's tail got all prickly as he seemed the slightest bit ticked off. Brianna is his daughter after all, so he has a reason to be protective. The state of Hayden's tail made Sif giggle a bit, before Ezra called out from the kitchen. "Dinner's ready, you better all be sitting by the time I get in there.", he said, with a semi-threat mixed in. Within a minute, everyone had their coats, hats and scarves sitting on the hanging rack, and were all sat around a dining table, waiting patiently for their food. When Ezra eventually brought the food in, they had a celebratory clink of glasses...and that was when Hell rose on earth.
2 hours later
Brianna and a shirtless Alex were messing around in the garden like any loving couple would do. Josh, Kai and Akabane were completely out of it and were sprawled up the stairs. Brooke and Sif were laughing wildly and jumping around while singing random songs at the top of their voices. Ezra was wearing a kimono and was sat on the table, cross-legged, bellowing orders at everyone, only for them to ignore him and thus end up getting smacked. Hayden and Eugene were having a childish scrap in the hallway. There was something they had in common. Everyone was completely wasted.
"What the crap are you talking about!?! Dolphins don't fly with wings, they fly with airplanes!" Eugene exclaimed to Hayden. He was one of the people in a drunken state and he and Hayden had gotten into some stupid argument that made no sense. In the back of his mind though, something was trying to pull him back to reality.
"Noo~oo! They fly with their tails! Dumbass!", Hayden barked, literally, as he pulled on Eugene's cheeks, stretching his face like rubber.
3 hours later
Everyone was starting to konk out. The only ones still awake were Sif, Hayden, Eugene and Alex. Alex was enjoying himself consuming the fire from the fireplace, meanwhile Sif was trying, in her drunken mind, to stop Eugene and Hayden fighting, but the two kept going at it. In order to grab their attention away from each other, Sif Requipped into a rather revealing, black lacy outfit clearly meant for private use. Pushing her hair up, she pouted and tried her best to distract them from fighting. "Hay~den...Eu~gene...", she almost purred in her efforts to do so.
Eugene continued to argue with Hayden in a drunken manner and then he heard Sif calling to them in a sultry voice. This was enough to make him and Hayden turn their heads in curiosity. Eugene then blushed as Sif was wearing a rather revealing outfit and she was acting in a very seductive manner. At this point, Eugene just snapped out of it. "What the crap is going on?" He said to himself as he recovered from the ensuing headache. He saw Hayden staring at Sif with a flushed face and his tail was wagging. He then walked over to Sif. "Sif, snap out of it, you're wearing something you normally wouldn't wear in front of us." He tried to reason with her but he made sure not to touch her as from experience touching a drunk person (drunk females) in this current state had the possibility of making things awkward. Even this distance was cutting it close.
Sif simply ignored Eugene for the moment, as she goofily laughed at Hayden flat on his face with his tail in the air, so surprised by Sif's appearance that it made him pass out. That's him down for the night.
"Whee~!", Sif giggled as she practically flung Eugene around in an apparent "dance" of some sort. She leaned towards his ear. "Wanna know a se~cret?", she chimed quietly. And then she passed out against him.
"Well, Wolf's out of commission." Eugene said to himself as he saw Hayden fall unconscious. Sif all of a sudden flung onto him and leaned close into him. She said something about a secret into his ear and before he could finish asking about that, she passed out. "And Sif is out too." Eugene said as he picked her up in his arms and laid her on a nearby sofa. He found blankets and put them over both Sif and Hayden so that they wouldn't catch cold. What was she going to say anyway? Eugene wondered to himself. Ah well, I'm going to bed. He then headed off for the room he was sleeping in.
About five hours later into the night, later, a semi-drunken, exhausted Sif went for a wander around the house, looking for a bedroom. She silently opened the door, and stumbled towards the seemingly-occupied bed. She climbed onto it, and looked at the male silhouette for a moment, before just slumping onto his chest gently, with a warm smile on her face.
Eugene was about to fall asleep when he heard the door open. His eyes opened wide at this intruder. It was most probably not an enemy and more likely to be Violet and perhaps Brooke but his instincts from living in a constant life or death situation during the first half of his life made him ready for any approaching enemies, even when asleep. What came into the room was something Eugene was not expecting though. Sif had walked into the room in a half drunken stupor and was headed towards him. At that moment, a flash of memory came into his head. Crap, is the alcohol still affecting me a little? For some reason, despite the situation, Eugene made no move to stop Sif from getting in bed with him and laying on top of him. It feels warm and cozy... Eugene thought before he succumbed to sleep alongside Sif.
The next morning...Christmas Day! Alexander, wearing only his usual shorts, woke up on the swinging bench out back with Brianna laying against him, both of them wrapped in a thick blanket. He smiled down at his sleeping girlfriend -- they were a couple now --, and gently wriggled from her, to position her so that she didn't wake up. He tip-toed into the house, before darting up the stairs to the bathroom. That was when he saw Brooke and Violet standing at the door of Eugene's room, both of them smiling happily. When he leaned on the door frame and peered round its corner, he was a little surprised at the sight, but it was nonetheless quite sweet to behold.
Sif was sleeping on top of Eugene, whom had his arms around her, cuddling her into him. And then Brooke sneezed, causing the two sleepers to shift. The movement startled the three kids, and they leaped to hide behind the walls of the room before they were seen. Sif rose her head up and yawned, rubbing her eyes softly to open them properly. And then hell broke lose.
Both of them screamed in fright and surprise, and Sif practically launched herself off the bed. "What the hell?! Did you trick me in here when I was drunk, Eugene?!", Sif yapped, all the while her face was entirely white in fright.
"To be honest I don't remember much from last night besides the fact that we all got drunk, you weren't the only one." Eugene said in response as he began to calm down. He then remembered the last moment before he fell unconscious. "Wait a minute, you were the one who came into my room...." He then rubbed his eyes as he tried to process the situation. "Well, on the bright side, we didn't wake up naked so I think it's safe to say that it is probable that we didn't end up doing anything we would end up regretting while we were drunk." He said this somewhat analytically.
Sif just stood there, gobsmocked at all of this, her eyes hidden by her hair, as her face flushed bright red. "Well, why didn't you throw me out?!", Sif retorted, "And, please, as if I'd do anything with you.", she responded sarcastically and rather defensively to the Dragon Slayer looking at her.
Alex, from his hiding spot just outside the room with the girls, inhaled a bit, as his nose crinkled.
"To be honest, I have no clue." Eugene replied honestly. "First you're walking into my room and the next thing I know, you're getting into my bed and we fall asleep, bringing us to our position from a minute or two ago." He then proceeded to change his clothes. As he wasn't raised among normal humans for a majority of his life, he didn't really mind if someone else was there while he was changing. At the very least though, he would keep his underwear on. "And from my experience in dealing with drunk people, a majority of them women for some reason, anything could happen when you're drunk even if you don't think it would happen."
"Do you have to change right in front of me?! This is the fifth time you have done that! You're only making this worse!", Sif almost whined as she got to her feet. Realising her short nightgown, she quickly Requipped into a casual outfit. A yellow jumper and a pale brown pencil skirt. Her long, freeflowing hair was also tied up into a high ponytail as well. "You do not tell--", Sif went to say, until...
"ACHOO!!!", Alex barked from the hall, causing the girls to dive on him and get themselves to a hiding spot before they were found. Just as they got out of view, Sif and Eugene came out of the room, looking around them for the eavesdropper.
Eugene quickly had his clothes on as he heard the sound. It was almost as fast as Sif requipping her clothes. "Did you hear that? Someone's there." He said before the two of them rushed out of the room and look down both sides. "Who do you think it was? It'd be bad if it was Hayden or your brother. They might've tried to kill me or something." He said seeing that nobody was there. He then smelled them. "I smell our daughters and our nephew." He whispered to Sif as he pointed in the direction of where they were hiding.
Sif immediately teleported in that direction, stopping at the corner of the wall. "Gotcha!", she yelled as she dived round, ending up landing playfully on her future daughters. Alex, meanwhile, was making his escape. He was an open target for Eugene, however...
At the top of the stairs, Alex tripped on the carpet, and ended up rolling down like a human avalanche, yelling out in surprise. Unlucky for him, there was someone coming up the stairs. Brianna! He rolled right into her and they both ended up flying back down, with Alex ending up becoming Brianna's seat by the time they stopped. She had landed right on him, knocking the wind out of him with the force of the landing. "Ow...", they both groaned, with Brianna rubbing where Alex basically headbutted her in the face.
"That is why you must always keep on your guard and be ready to react." Eugene said with a small smile as he jumped down to where the two were on the floor. "I would think I'd have told you that in the future. You okay?" He asked when he reached them. "Hopefully this will teach you not to spy on your Aunt and Uncle or at least be silent."
Sif, Brooke and Violet came down the stairs, with the young girls giggling at what just happened. Alex raised a shaky hand, about to reply to Eugene before it flopped and a little white ghost floated out of his mouth."Kyaa~! Don't die!", Brianna and Brooke squealed comedically as they put the ghost back inside Alex. He lay there with a blank expression.
"Let me...get my air back and...I'll get up.", he croaked as Brianna got off of him and brushed herself down, Requipping into normal clothes, rather than armor.
"Moving on...Merry Christmas, guys!", Sif spoke with a perky tone in her voice as she grinned, as Ezra walked in the door. "Where've you been?", she said playfully to her older brother.
"You were all sawing logs when I woke up, so I went for a walk.", he returned plainly as he removed his wooly coat and gloves. It had snowed heavily overnight, and now the snow was over ankle deep. He looked down at his down-for-the-count son on the floor. Without even needing to think, he said one word, "Alexander.", and the boy got to his feet like a rocket, headbutting Eugene in the stomach accidentally in the process, causing Sif to giggle, obviously amused.
"I see you have him trained now to move at your every command." Eugene said as he got up having not gotten hurt. This was due to a certain somebody punching him with much greater force each time he got close to this person. It was then there was a knock on the door. Eugene opened the door and immediately stepped back. The first reason being that one of his guildmates, Sakura, the guild subleader would come bursting in and the second reason was to not be too close to the girl that was sure to be behind her.
"MERRY CHRISTMAS!!" Sakura exclaimed as she did indeed burst through the door. Atsuko was right behind her. A bit behind them were Ryuunosuke, Kurogane, and Shana.
"Ah, hey guys, glad you could stop by." Eugene said as the came in.
"Please excuse the intrusion." Kurogane said out of politeness with a smile.
Sakura's rather loud entrance startled half the people in the house; Brooke tripped over Alex's foot and fell into Eugene, Brianna and Alex both yelped, and a stupidly loud thud came from the back room of the house, followed by an annoyed dog-line whine. At least he was awake now. Meanwhile, Sif and Eugene were having a chuckle at the result of Sakura's entrance.
"Sakura! You guys came!", Sif responded happily after the dust settled, greeting her guildmates with a happy grin. She began chattering with the girls in the house as they all got comfortable, meanwhile the guys sat down with them...keeping their distance from Atsuko of course. Ezra was in his kitchen preparing dinner for later. Hayden, meanwhile, stood in the doorway of the lounge with a gloomy glare, having been woken up earlier than he would have liked. His chest was bare, but he had his trousers on, and the blanket from last night rested over one of his shoulders.
"You're lucky we're friends now...", Hayden grumbled sleepily as he stretched his arms up and let out a pitchy yawn, like a dog would. His furry tail was drooped down the back of his legs. "Anyone want a drink?", Hayden asked as he walked past the group towards the kitchen, getting just an inch too close to Atsuko...!
Atsuko noticed that Hayden was in her range. The Unchained Soul members and some of the future kids also noticed and became fearful as the world seemingly went into slow motion. Atsuko's body was already in motion to hit Hayden because of her androphobia. But this time, it was slightly different. They could see her leg move for a kick. Additionally, flames were covering her legs. Well, this is a new one. Eugene thought to himself as he felt the world go back to real time. Atsuko unleashed a flaming kick at full force right at Hayden's crotch, hitting square on and knocking him into the air a bit which was then followed up by a flaming punch at full power to the gut, sending him flying into the wall. "Kyaah! A guy!" She exclaimed in fear before running to hide behind Sakura.
"Wolf, you're on fire! Literally!" Eugene exclaimed as he saw Hayden's trousers catch on fire. "Shana!" He said to the sniper girl who nodded as she took out a key.
"Yuyu, help me out!" She said summoning a celestial spirit that looked like a little penguin. "Yuyu, use Ice Beam!" The little penguin blasted an beam of ice which impacted dead on at Hayden's crotch which was where the fire was.
Hayden flopped from the wall, face-first to the ground, motionless. Sif looked a tad bugged and yet, also a little worried. Little blue lines were by her eyes. "He's gonna be so angry when he wakes--", Sif said with a facepalm before a distraction made her stop abruptly.
Hayden...was standing up! Not even 30 seconds after Atsuko's attack, Hayden was on his feet, shocking almost everyone in the room, even Sif and his own children. "--Up?! Eh?!?", she shrieked in surprise. Usually it takes one attack from Atsuko to just knock a man out. Even Eugene and Kurogane had been subjected to that! But Hayden was standing up after that brutal kick from the girl!
"Oi, girl. What do you think you're doing kicking me like that in my own home, huh?", he growled almost patronizingly, as his fringe hid his eyes partially, but instead of their usual gold, they were shimmering a bloody red color.
"Looks like Wolf can take a hit or two to the no no spot." Eugene said being calm about it all. "Anyway Wolf, to explain, she has androphobia and is scared of guys. It gets to the point that she will hit any guy within a meter of her. So calm down Wolf, she didn't do it out of malice or anything." He then turned to Atsuko. "Atsuko, you should apologize too." The girl nodded and did so albeit quietly out of fear.
Hayden sighed as he cooled off. As he swatted the ice off his trousers, the hole caused by Atsuko's fire was dangerously close to exposing his 'intimate area'. While his black shorts beneath his trousers still hid it, it was quite a close call. "Guess I should go get changed.", he said was he disappeared up the stairs, along with Alex, who was still wearing only his casual shorts.
Sif turned to look at Atsuko at the other end of the sofa. "So how come you brutalised Hayden but only punched every other guy?", the girl asked with a little laugh behind her voice, as she put Violet on her lap, looping her arms around her like a loose seatbelt.
Atsuko looked nervous as she responded. "We didn't have the coordinates for this house so we had to start from the middle of town. There were so many guys too close to me because the streets were somewhat crowded and I had to hold it in so I wouldn't cause a scene. The moment the dog person came near, I couldn't hold back anymore and released it all at once." She explained. She then looked at Violet who looked happy being on her mother's lap. "So how is parenthood so far? It must have been an unusual experience considering the situation." She asked with curiosity.
"Ah, Atsuko, what'll we do with you? What if a poor guy came up to you to ask you out? Granted it'd be funny to see a guy flying across town, but still.", she asked her fellow Unchained Soul member. When Atsuko inquired about parenthood, Sif smiled and gave Violet a cuddle. "It's weird, considering I don't even have a grey hair yet, but it's the best feeling ever.", Sif said while smiling down at her future-daughter, and then looked up to Eugene to see if he has a response as well, with her cheeks slightly blushed with warmth and happiness.
“How many times do you think that’s already happened?” Atsuko said in response. Because of her appearance, it was already quite common for guys to approach her and ask her out or try to flirt with her. And it was just as common for those guys to be sent flying or at least for Eugene or Kurogane, if they were around, to take the hit. Sif had been next to her on some of those occasions. “I wouldn’t want to be with a guy that liked me only for my looks anyway.” Sif then said how being a parent was the best feeling ever as she cuddled with Violet, making her giggle. Sif then looked towards Eugene with a smile which gave him a small feeling of comfort.
“Why are you looking towards me?" Eugene asked feeling somewhat embarrassed for some reason. He was seated at least a meter away from Atsuko as so that he wouldn't get hit. Violet also gave him a smile and Eugene couldn't help but smile and pat her head. "Yeah, being a parent was a completely new experience but it's quite the feeling."
"You seem quite happy." Atsuko commented.
Sif looked at Eugene with a smile, after Atsuko's remark. She turns to the girl and proceeds to answer for both herself and Eugene, "We are. Recently I've actually found it hard to stop smiling!", Sif said with the happiest grin anyone has ever seen on her, which is quite a feat, considering she smiles a lot. Brooke looped her arms around her father's shoulders, giggling happily along with her mother and sister.
"Don't worry, Miss Atsuko! I'm sure there's a great guy out there that is perfect for you! He might be closer than you think, maybe even in this town!", Brooke said to the Unchained Soul woman with a perky tone behind her young voice, smiling all the while.
Just as Brooke finished talking, the boths both returned with Hayden appearing first, as Alex tailed behind and teleported across the room, to the kitchen door, both of them fully clothed. Hayden was wearing a blue button-up t-shirt with a pair of slate grey jeans, and Alex was wearing a black tank top with a white zip jacket left open, and a pair of maroon shorts grazing his knees. Alex avoided Atsuko, but Hayden seemed to be pushing his luck just a little.
"It'd be best if you didn't get too close." A hand gently grasped Hayden's shoulder as Kurogane said this to Hayden with a small smile while pulling him back a little to make sure he was not within range.
"Yeah Wolf, just because you can take a hit doesn't mean you should be pushing your luck." Eugene added.
"I swear, you two act like my bodyguards sometimes!" Atsuko exclaimed in a slight joking tone alongside a laugh.
"It'd be more accurate to say we protect other guys from you." Eugene also said this in a joking tone.
"And even if Hayden here can take a beating, if you send him flying enough times, you're going to destroy the house at some point." Kurogane said calmly as he motioned to the small crater in the wall from Hayden crashing into it earlier.
Hayden looked at the wall. His skin went white, and he let out a frightened squeak.
"Hayden? What's wr--Eekk!!", Sif had the same reaction. Scattered across the fireplace and the floor, was the shattered remains of an ornament made of glass. It looked to have been a sculpture of the Sabertooth guild emblem. "Oh no...the figure..", Sif stuttered, "Ezra had worked on that for over five years!", she forced herself to speak as she and Hayden immediately began clearing the mess.
"What's all the noise out here?", Ezra said as he poked his head out of the swinging door, his blue bandana around his head like a chef hat.
"Nothing! Nothing at all!", Sif and Hayden almost yelped simultaneously, after which Ezra disappeared back into the kitchen to finish the dinner preparations. The two panicked as they created a crafty way to hide it, using a Christmas wreath to do so.
A few hours later.
Hayden was sat on the sofa, covered in bandages. He had been punched by Atsuko four more times, albeit two of them times being caused by other people. The first accident was Alex tripping and falling beside Atsuko, and space-swapping with Hayden right before the girl hit him. The second was Sif falling from a ladder and knocking Hayden into an awkward position right on top of Atsuko! His face had landed right on her chest! As a result, Atsuko punched Hayden flying off of the terrace and into the back garden pond.
He sat cross-legged as he sulked. His tail was flopped to the side, the tip flicking in annoyance. He was glaring at both Sif and Alex, both of whom looked nervous for obvious reasons.
"Stop looking at me like that, Hayden! You know me falling was accidental!", Sif said in response to the expression on Hayden's face.
"You caused me to land in the most awkward position I could have possible landed in!!", Hayden literally barked at his friend. "And you!", he said as he focused on Alex, "Why did you switch me in, why me of all people?!", he barked again, causing Alex to chuckle nervously.
"Guys, you're causing Atsuko much stress. Please be more careful." Eugene said as he saw Atsuko run off and hide behind Kurogane. She normally would have hid behind Sif or Sakura but both of them were right next to either Hayden or Ryuunosuke so her only options were Eugene and Kurogane. Even then, she kept a little under a meter away from him. Normally, being within a meter of a guy would have made her punch out but she was comfortable enough with the two swordsmen to lower the gap a little.
"Atsuko, you may also want to hold back a little. I don't think the house can take too much more." Kurogane said gently to the girl behind him.
"I am holding back." Atsuko said quietly in embarrassment.
"Okay then, let's change the mood and have some fun!" Sakura said cheerfully as she grabbed Sif, Shana, and Atsuko in a blur and ran off with them into another room. From there, the sounds of forced changing and struggling could be heard. Soon after that, the sounds stopped and the girls came out in revealing Santa outfits.
"Sakura, what the crap!?!" Shana exclaimed out of both anger and embarrassment as her face was bright red. Atsuko didn't completely mind. She was used to wearing this sort of clothing but she did feel a little self conscious despite that.
"Oh come on, we should get into the holiday spirit!" Sakura exclaimed happily. "So what do you think?" She asked mainly directing it towards the guys as she struck a pose which came naturally to her from her time being a model for Sorcerer Weekly.
"Mother....why?" Akabane said quietly to himself out of embarrassment alongside a facepalm from seeing his mother act like this.
Josh looked equally as embarassed, but his blushing face only made him even more adorable.
"This is even shorter than the one I own, Sakura!", Sif whined as she pushed down the front of her dress in an attempt to keep herself barely decent.
Hayden's face was beetroot, and he was clearly struggling to find words to speak, however...it wasn't clear who he was looking at. "I'm just g-gonna...", he gulped, "I-I'm..", he continued to stutter as his eyes lurked from Sif, to Sakura, to Shana, to Atsuko, and then he awkwardly made his way into the kitchen, tripping over the carpet, and then catching his tail in the door, earning a yelp from him.
"I'm heading out. Running low on ingredients.", said a voice from the main hallway. It was Ezra.
"Wait up, I'll come!", said Alex, who was clearly looking for a way to escape this madness, and his face was also as red as Hayden's was. Ezra Requipped a long winter coat with a fur-trim hood onto his body, and Alex put his jumper back on as they walked out the door.
When they left, it was almost as if a barrier had been lifted. Sif attempted to escape back to the bedroom to get her other clothes. "Can I change out of this please?", she asked Sakura, even though she was already half way out of the door.
"Wow, I expected Wolf to be a bit more resilient to this sort of thing." Eugene said with a small laugh as he saw Hayden run off into the kitchen. He and Kurogane were rather nonchalant about the matter as they were used to Sakura dressing like that as well as Atsuko at times. Ryuunosuke didn't react at all but that was normal for him for anything.
"I'm going to go change." Shana said as she stormed off back to the bedroom to go change back to her normal clothes.
"Ah well, since the most of the guys ran off, I don't see much more of a point in staying in them." Sakura said before giggling a little. "I didn't expect them all to act so innocent though." The girls all went back to the room to change.
Sif was the first to return, and was back in her comfortable clothes from before. She lifted Violet and sat her back on her lap as she perched on the sofa beside Eugene. She was obviously flustered and slightly embarrassed about the recent ordeal. She was sulking; her eyes were closed and she was breathing sharply.
"Thanks for your hard work, putting up with Sakura's whims once again." Eugene said with a small smile as he patted Sif's head a little. On occasion, it was common for Sakura to play around with Sif, Shana, and Atsuko.
Meanwhile, in the town's market.
Ezra and Alex were walking through the streets as a gentle trickle of snowfall continued to blanket the town. The snow crunched under their feet as they went to multiple stalls. Ezra thanked a salesperson with a smile and nod, as he lifted his purchased food in their bags and turned to look for Alex, when he heard the sounds of a struggle. He ran to the source of the sound, the corner of the street. Just out of the range of a streetlight glowing in the night, Ezra saw three men assaulting a women, clearly with dark intentions. He immediately dropped his groceries and Requipped two Magic Pistols into his grasp.
Ezra blurred forward at such a speed that the snow on the street actually split and was scattered into the air. He kicked two of the men down the street, doing the same to the third but with an elbow to his face. As he landed, he did a swirve, his boots digging into the ground, and his pistols aimed at the thugs. All of this was almost in slowmotion for the woman. Ezra's gentle expression throughout, his short hair waving gently in the tailwinds. "Tornado Shot!", Ezra casted as he fired one shot from each of his handguns. The two shots conjoined ust before impacting the middle of the group, and they erupted into a small tornado that launched the trio flying into the horizon, kicking up quite a breeze in both directions of the street, fluttering hair and loose clothing, and blowing snow away.
When it was done, Ezra, who was stood in front of the woman, turned to check up on her. He went to speak, but he went silent upon seeing her face, a rare feat for someone like him. It seems the same condition had afflicted the woman too. The pair were stood in silence; Ezra with a strucken expression, the woman with one of awe. "I-I'm Anna.", she said quietly and nervously.
"I'm Ezra.", he responded. "Did they harm you, Miss?", Ezra questioned the woman, who was dressed in a grey dresscoat with her warm brown hair flowing down in front of her shoulders.
"I'm fine. Just a little shaken up. Although that's partially from the cold.", she chuckled with a slight shiver as she fixed her ruffled dresscoat, which had been shaken by the attack and the wind.
"We have room for a few more back out our home. I was getting more ingredients for dinner. Would you care to rest up there?", Ezra asked the woman with his usual tone in his voice.
"Thank you, that's very kind.", she said with a smile on her face that seemed to charm even someone as stoic as Ezra.
Alex came bolting round the corner, carrying the bags that the stuff he bought was in in his hands. "Dad! What's goi--", he said but stopped abruptly as he skidded to a complete stop, staring at the woman, Anastasia, in complete awe and shock. "...Mom...?!", he said quietly with shaky breaths before teleporting himself away before Ezra managed to see him.
Meanwhile, back at the house.
A clatter came from the kitchen. Hayden went to investigate, and found multiple grocery bags dropped on the floor. "The hell? I smell Alex on these, but he's nowhere around here...", he thought out loud, with Sif and the others in the lounge hearing.
"He teleported after he dropped off the groceries." Eugene said as he came in to see the bags on the floor. "He went off somewhere wanting to be alone. That one breath or two I could hear from him before he teleported out sounded saddened and stressed. However, at this point, I can't figure out why. Hmm..." He thought to himself for a bit. As he said this Shana had come out. "Shana, use your rifle to lock on where Ezra is."
"Roger that." Shana said with a nod as she took out her sniper rifle. She wasn't going to shoot but use the scope.
"The general coordinates of the shopping district are within 23-50 and 78-30." He gave Shana bearings as she went outside and aimed. It didn't take long for her to locate him.
"Ezra located." Shana reported.
"Is Alex with him?" Eugene asked.
"Negative." Shana said in response. "There is a woman next to him."
"Describe her." Eugene said, knowing that there wasn't time to switch positions to look through the scope himself as he couldn't adjust the scope of a sniper rifle if Ezra and the women moved.
"Long brown hair, gold colored eyes, wearing a grey dress coat. She seems to have some good chemistry with Ezra." Shana said adding in some teasing at the end. It was then that Eugene and most likely Sif realized who it was.
"Sorry Wolf." Eugene said apologetically as he quickly drew his sword and activated a spell. "Forest Dragon's Darkness Realm!" In the next moment, Hayden would find all of his senses disabled, leaving him blind, deaf and more. Sakura and Atsuko were in another room at the moment doing something else, Ryuunosuke had temporarily gone back to guild hall, and Eugene was sure Shana and Kurogane would keep quiet. They had become his 'back up files' just as he would be theirs if any of their memory were to all of a sudden be gone, something that had happened in the past which led to the necessity of the 'back up file' system. "The woman is Anastasia. I'm sure you kids know who that is and how that affects Alex. Do you know where Alex would be after seeing her?" He asked the ones who knew Alex the best. His family from the future and close friends.
"We do.", Brianna and Brooke said simultaneously. "Anastasia was, erm... Anastasia was Ezra's wife...Alex's mother.", Brooke said, rubbing her arm somewhat with nerves. "She died a few years ago, in our time anyway. But, remember how we said the disease killed a lot of our family...?", Brooke said as her voice got quieter and quieter.
Brianna sighed. "It wasn't the disease that killed her. It was Ezra that did it.", Brianna said with a slight quiver of fear in her voice.
"Yeah, I know." Eugene said in response with a grim expression on his face. "I don't know why he did it though. This takes domestic abuse to a whole new level." Despite the small joke, his tone remained serious. "Since you said that you know where he is, I'll assume at least one of you two can reach him?"
Almost everyone looked at Brianna in unison.
She was about to protest but sighed in defeat. "You have a point...", she said in response to everyone looking at her. She Requipped into winter clothes and darted out of the door, heading straight for Alex's favourite spot. Within about fifteen minutes, she eventually reached a pristine lake a few miles away from th town, and hidden by a near-ridiculous mass of trees. The lake was as clear as the sky, and was pristine and almost heavenly. The moon's reflection was visible right in the middle, and Alex's silhouette could be seen sitting on one of the lake's shores, barely being touched by the moonlight.
Brianna said nothing. She simply sat beside Alex, and looked at him. He had his hat pulled down to cover his eyes partially by pinning his fringe down. Alex was sitting with his knees bent up, and his arms rested on them. Brianna put her hand on his nearest arm, causing him to look up at her. Even in the darkness, Brianna could tell Alex's eyes were hiding a broken soul. "Alex...", she whispered softly.
Alex lurched towards Brianna and embraced her, his face buried into her shoulder. While his words sounded as fragile as glass, he had yet to physically cry or sob. "I promised myself I'd be strong. I promised I'd be able to get through seeing her again. But I wasn't...I'm such a wimp.", Alex chastised himself as he clutched Brianna's arms for comfort.
She moved her arms around Alex, rubbing the back of his head gently. "I get why you want to be strong, Alex. But here is what I don't understand.", she began to speak loud and confidently in order to get her point across. "What I don't understand...", she said as her hands clenched into fists, "Is why you think you have to do it alone, Alexander!!", she almost snapped at him. Unseen by Alex due to the darkness, Brianna was shedding a tear or two. Whenever anyone, not just Brianna, used Alex's full name with him, it meant that they were incredibly serious about what they were saying, and that the matter is majorly important.
Alex looked up. It was slightly obvious he was smiling, even if it was only a little bit. "Brianna...I've been meaning to tell a secret for years." Alex said with notable hesitation in his tone of voice.
She looked up, with a little noise of inquisition.
"I-I, uh, I..", he desperately tried to gather words, "I..--", he continued before he just stopped all together. Instead of speaking, he simply brought Brianna close and pressed his lips upon hers for a few seconds, but to the two of them, it felt like eternity.
Brianna's hand gracefully moved along Alex's cheek. "I feel the same way.", she said with an amused giggle, as she got to her feet and practically dragged Alex up as well. "So now that that just happened...are we...?", she questioned nervously as her voice trailed off and her cheeks got warm.
Alex took Brianna's hands into his own. "I'd hope so. Otherwise that moment is just gonna be an awkward memory.", he said with a laugh, as the two began to walk. "Oh, Brianna, there's one more thing I wanted to tell you.", he continued.
"Yes?", she said as she looked up at him.
Alex hesitated. "Never mind.", he said with his usual charming smile, as he used his Territory Magic to teleport himself and Brianna back to the house, their hands still linked.
“So it finally happened huh?” Eugene said as the newly formed couple (not exactly new in his eyes) teleported back into the house and were holding hands in a manner that couples did. “Congratulations I guess although it was pretty obvious that it was going to happen.” He then remembered something. “Oh yeah, I forgot to turn back on Wolf’s senses.” He turned towards the werewolf who was still moving around, not knowing where he was going due to not being able to smell, hear, or see. Eugene deactivated the spell and Hayden’s senses returned just before Atsuko came out of the room she and Sakura were in. As he was in her range, Atsuko screamed in fear before punching Hayden in the gut and into the wall besides Eugene before running away again. “Wolf, Alex is back and he and your daughter are now officially dating, although I thought they already were.” He added that last part as an afterthought. “So are you going to be the overprotective parent?” He asked in a slightly teasing tone.
Hayden coughed. "Damn you all to Hell...", he wheezed as he unstuck himself from the wall. "I'll get to you in a minute...when I have air in my body again...", he grumbled, before sneaking in a glance-glare towards Atsuko.
Sif just patted Hayden on the head while he was still laying on the spot he had flopped upon on the floor. She laughed, rather amused by the current state of things. "You're quite a punching bag today, poor thing.", she said as she helped the Wolf to his feet.
Atsuko had already ran off at that time. Eugene crouched next to Hayden. "Well Wolf, now you've tasted a bit of what me and Kurogane go through everyday except she doesn't hold back on us." He said with a small smile.
Hayden lay there face down for a few moments. Until he attacked Eugene with a sucker punch uppercut to send him into the ceiling.
Meanwhile, Ezra and Anastasia were on their way back to the house, which was in quite a messy state! Sif and all of the children were running around in a panic trying to tidy everything up. Meanwhile, Hayden was still just laying on the floor as he recovered from being winded by Atsuko. Despite all else, he proved he was no joke; he hadn't been knocked out once by the girl.
“What the crap was that for Wolf?” Eugene calmly asked as he got out of the ceiling. He noticed the kids were cleaning, signaling that Ezra and Anastasia were going to reach here soon. He activated his magic and summoned clones of himself. “Okay guys, let’s do this!” He exclaimed raising a shout from the clones before they all got to work. Together, everyone was able to get the house clean and somehow repair the damage from Hayden being sent flying into the walls. In the midst of all the repair work though, they failed to notice they kept running over Hayden each time they passed where he was laying which was common as it was like the middle of the room. A few times heavy objects or tools even fell on him. When they had finished and they knew that Ezra and Anastasia were almost there. Eugene mouthed to the kids and Sif to act like they didn’t know Anastasia at all. He then went to Alex. “Stay strong okay?” He said as he patted Alex on the shoulder. “Act natural!” He said out loud after that causing everyone to look like they were doing something.
Before he became a pancake, Hayden managed to get his breath back and stood up, and started to help the others clean up. Everyone was scrambling to make the place spotless, and that's just what they managed to do, finishing just seconds before Ezra returned home. When he opened the door, everyone practically dived for the spots they were in before Ezra left.
"Everyone, this is Anastasia. She had nowhere to go for tonight, so be sure to make her feel welcome.", Ezra said with his usual calm voice, but it was obvious to those with keen eyes that the tiniest of smiles had tilted the corners of Ezra's lips.
The group got their introductions done, and Anastasia's smile was so warm and full of kindness that even Hayden felt uplifted by it.
"Everyone. I have a small surprise. In the spirit of Christmas, I have placed various items through the city, and in the near outskirts, for you to find. A Scavenger Hunt. In each of these envelopes is a list of clues as to where each item lays. There is a total of twenty items, whoever brings back the most will win a special prize.", Ezra said as he passed every person in the room an envelope, bar Anastasia. The woman, who looked visibly cold, sat down on the empty spot on the sofa as she watched everyone read the contents of the envelopes. "Naturally, I will remain here. Anastasia has also opted out, as she has decided to rest for the night.", Ezra revealed, "Teams will be two members maximum, trios are only exceptions if there is one person extra.", he went on. "Get choosing and get going.", he finished with.
Right at that moment, Ryuunosuke alongside Ren, Mune, Eriko, and Hayate entered the house via Dokodemo Door. Sakura jumped at the chance and grabbed Ryuunosuke. “Come on Ryu-chan, we’re partnering up and going on a scavenger hunt!” She exclaimed excitedly as she pulled Ryuunosuke by the arm and out the door.
“Scavenger hunt?” Eriko asked while hand signing.
“Ezra apparently set up a scavenger hunt for items hidden all over the city.” Eugene said in response while also hand signing.
“That sounds fun.” She then turned to her husband. “Mune, let’s go together.” With a nod from him they got their own envelope and went off to find their first item. Eugene then turned towards the rest. “So how do the rest of you want to pair up?” He asked. “I’m okay with going with anyone for the most part.”
“The same goes with me.” Kurogane said calmly.
Ren had walked up to Ezra. “As discussed, I’ve already gotten the other stuff set up for this game. We just need to activate it when everyone has left.” It appears that the two red heads had planned this scavenger game out prior together.
In the space of fourty minutes, only one of the twenty items remained. The teams tied for first place were Sif and Hayden, Eugene and Hayate, and Shana and Atsuko. The others were not far behind.
Sif and Hayden were sprinting along rooftops, while Eugene and Hayate were doing the same not far from them, and Shana and Atsuko were racing along a platform. They were all making their way to the top of a mountain where one of Fiore's fanciest, most classy restaurants was situated, also where Ezra worked when he wasn't doing Wizard work.
As everyone was racing along, Sif and Hayden gave each other a look, and abruptly, Hayden jumped down into a dark alley rather than the next rooftop, hidden by the night.
"Eh, Wolf went into the alleyway below. This is unexpected." Eugene said to Hayate as he could see them from a distance. While he couldn't tell what they were up to, he knew there was something. "Hayate, if we see a giant wolf, let's go easy on it." He said to his partner who nodded in response. Eugene figured that either Hayden was going to pull a prank by scaring the others or it was to utilize a divide and conquer strategy. If it was the former, if Hayden were to attempt to get any of the Unchained Soul members, he was screwed.
A swift gust of wind sweeped across the land as Sif took into the air using her Flight Magic, speeding through the air towards the item like an arrow from a crossbow.
Meanwhile, a blur could be seen moving at blinding speed through the streets, clearly the fastest member of the current semi-race for the object. Obviously it was Hayden. His speed was so tremendous that the snow that blanketed the streets was being split and thrown high into the air, towards Eugene and Hayate!
"Hayate." Eugene said calmly. Hayate didn't need anything else to be said and he activated his magic to melt away the snow coming at them so they would get buried under it. Eugene watched Hayden rush through. "In three, two, one..." Eugene had set up a trap earlier which Hayden wouldn't be able to avoid so easily with the speed he's going. This trap included trip wire and getting tangled up in ropes of Wolfsbane. "Well, I guess this should teach you not to just go full speed ahead Wolf." Eugene said to himself as he watched Hayden struggle with the entanglement before moving on.
A loud, distressed howling whine echoed across the city as Hayden was caught in the Wolfsbane trap set by Eugene. The second she heard the howl, Sif stopped where she was hovering in the sky and immediately looked back in Hayden's direction. She glanced in Eugene and Hayate's direction, and flicked her hand. "Heaven's Gate.", she casted, which erected a solid wall of Holy energies right in front of the two boys, a blockade. Meanwhile, Sif was making her way over to the snared and struggling Hayden.
"Looks like Wolf will be fine, let's go." Eugene said to his companion and the two got around the wall before disappearing into the dark once more. But not before throwing to them a bottle of liquid that would make the symptoms more bearable until he regained his strength.
In a matter of minutes, everyone was on the final stretch towards the last object, with Hayden behind the duo of Atsuko and Shana, while Sif was soaring through the air just above Eugene and Hayate.
Hayden was accelerating past Atsuko when he looked at her face, and something simply took him over. He darted in another direction, in order to tackle Sif out of the sky and for them both to impact Eugene and Hayate and knock them backwards, away from the object. He was sacrificing his chance to win, in order for Atsuko to do so.
As they all crumpled in a heap to the ground, everyone else was on their way to the final object, when the game was ended by Atsuko grabbing the object and looking surprised that she won at first, but then started to cheer happily, looking over to Hayden, Sif, Eugene and Hayate laying in a heap not even 20 feet away from the girl.
Unbeknownst to Hayate and Sif due to their positions, while noticeable by both Eugene and Atsuko, but Hayden's expression had a warm, genuine smile on it, almost hidden by his hair, but was still just about noticeable. Not a smug one, a real smile. But then he switched it and seemed to act jealous that he lost, and apologizing to Sif for "accidentally" bumping into her.
"You do realize that he did that on purpose right?" Eugene said to Atsuko through sign language, knowing that she also saw that expression. Because of Eriko, most all of the guild members save for Sif and their newest additions had to learn sign language to better communicate with the woman.
"Yeah, I know." Atsuko signed back. The two of them decided to use sign language so that Hayden couldn't see or hear what they were saying. They didn't want to make the werewolf feel bad. "Well, that just shows he's not that bad of a guy despite how stupid or how much of a jerk he might look."
"You've really gotten used to guys haven't you Atsuko?" Eugene signed with a small smile.
"Well, thanks to you and Kurogane I can deal with them better and get closer to them." Atsuko signed in response.
"No kidding, when we first met, you beat me to the ground on sight. I wasn't even 5 meters from you." Eugene said remembering that fateful and moderately painful day. The two of them laughed a little out loud.
As the group began to head back, Atsuko walked past Hayden. "Thank you." She said at a level only Eugene and Hayden could hear with a small smile on her face. Her face was also going a bit red. The reason for that was because she was holding in the urge to hit Hayden with another powerful blow. "I can't hold it anymore!" She exclaimed before rushing to Eugene and punching him with full force. From the sound of it, Hayden could tell that even the worst damage the androphobic girl has dealt to the werewolf paled in comparison to the amount she used on Eugene and most likely Kurogane on other occasions. Even for Hayden, this would be extremely painful for him and that it could possibly knock the wind out of him even with his body. The fact that Eugene didn't use any magic to protect himself from the blow but still stay standing alone was amazing. Hayden cringed at what would've happened if he got hit by that.
"She hits with enough force that I felt a gust from here...", Hayden thought to himself, as one of his canine ears twitched. "But that's still nothing compared to Ezra on a slow day...", he continued to think, as his face started getting more and more fearful. Afterwards, Hayden replayed the sound of Atsuko talking to him for the first time, and ended up smiling slightly, with a hint of blush on his cheeks. "Her voice. She only whispered..but I could hear it as if she were shouting. Her voice is really--", Hayden was continuing to think to himself before his train of thought was interrupted.
A small envelope icon appeared in everyone's vision, which opened a few seconds later. A chibi version of Ezra with a rather out-of-character expression on its face popped out. "Congratulations to whomever collected the most items!", Chibi!Ezra said with his usual, real voice, but with a tone of voice he has never used before. "I am requesting you all to make your way to the top floor of the restaurant. But first, I recommend that you all dress in formal attire.", he continued, before the chibi facepalms and finishes with, "Damn you, Sakura...what did you do to my voice.", he chastised the pink-haired Wizard, after which the Chibi!Ezra poofed into smoke.
After a short while, everyone had went and changed into appropriate clothing. Hayden was in casual-formal clothing, to accommodate for the fact he has a tail. Sif was wearing a long, white silk dress with small layers that drifted by her feet, with a split up the left leg, accompanied by maroon strapped sandals with tall heels that made her Hayden and Eugene's height. Ezra was wearing a simple suit with a blue blazer, black trousers and an open-collared shirt.
Hayden was looking at everyone enjoying themselves, and he immediately startled and blushed somewhat when he saw Atsuko all dressed up, and looked in another direction, still even a tad confused himself how he started to notice Atsuko like that.
In general, the guys of Unchained Soul weren't very fashion conscious and they only wore simple suits but they still looked good. The girls on the other hand had much more fancy and beautiful attire that would have attracted the looks of many if there were more people than themselves. It seems they already attracted the attention of Hayden and Ezra. As gentlemen, the guys escorted the ladies to their seats. Even Atsuko had been escorted by either Kurogane or Eugene as she could tolerate touching them for about 30 seconds. Soon, everyone was in their seats.
Ezra was standing in the middle of the room. "Everyone, I'd like to thank you all for attending.", the man spoke confidently as he stood completely straight, the pinnacle of good manners. "As you know, this is our first Christmas together as a group like this. I wanted it to be special, so on that note...time to eat!", Ezra said, with a light smile on his face as multiple waiters and waitresses brought food to each table. The food looked absolutely flawless, it smelled flawless, and also tasted flawless. Accompanying dishes and drinks made the view look spectacular.
For the last two of three hours, everyone had been eating, drinking and being merry. Gathered around the fireplace was Atsuko, Hayden (at the opposite end of the sofa of course, for safety reasons...), Eugene, Zuno, and the kids that arrived from the future, even Alex and Brianna, the oldest of the group. Alex had his back against the stone fireplace with Brianna in his arms, both of them enjoying the warmth of the fire. Zuno was nestled on Atsuko's lap, like a little dog, watching her as she told her story to the kids sitting on the floor in front of her.
Sif and Anastasia were getting to know each other on the huge terrace outside. Ezra was reclining in an armchair, a few feet from the story group, enjoying how peaceful everyone was.
"....and Santa got back on his sleigh and took up the reigns, leading his reindeer to fly through the sky while saying 'Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night' The End." Atsuko had finished telling her story. "Ah, Christmas is perhaps my favorite holiday. The best part is the surprise that is placed under the Christmas tree by Santa. I wondered whether or not Santa would come after I became an adult so I checked each year..."
"...." Those who didn't know about this side of Atsuko were stunned into silence as they didn't know how to respond to that bright innocent smile.
"Um, Santa Claus is--" Kai didn't get to finish his sentence before he was tackled by Sakura with her hand over his mouth.
"Don't you dare ruin her innocence!" Sakura said in a whisper, making sure the girl in question couldn't hear.
"Erm, Miss Atsuko! Kai was trying to say Santa isn't even--", Josh tried to say, before he too was interrupted by Hayden pushing his face to the floor. Hayden looked at Atsuko and chuckled nervously, trying to distract her from what the boys were trying to tell her. And then it became clear: he was within range once again!
"He isn't even...gonna be here until we are all asleep!", Hayden finished the sentence with, with a growl in his face when he glanced down at Josh. He smiled peacefully at Atsuko, hoping she bought the answer, but she was moving to punch him. But this time, Hayden actually blocked it by grabbing using the flat of his palm. "You're slacking, Atsuko.", he says playfully.
"Wolf, you might want to move..." Eugene said with a bit of a warning tone. Hayden hadn't noticed it at first, but the fist he was holding began heating up. It was already past burning point. "The other way she might go about it is use magic." Eugene said to explain Atsuko not using as much power than normal. At this point, her fist was already nearing volcanic levels in heat.
Hayden was budging, he kept his hand rested on Atsuko's. He was enduring the heat! Even if some of it was being siphoned by Alex in order to not cook everyone else, Hayden was still proving his worth. "I don't give a shit.", he responded to the Dragon Slayer. "I'm tired of getting hit.", he continued, as his gaze focused on Eugene momentarily. He looked back at Atsuko, staring her right in the eyes, as her heat continued to rise and rise. "I want you to know that you can trust me, Atsuko!", Hayden almost barked out at the girl as he remained still, powering through the situation.
Atsuko began to shake in fear, almost to the point of crying as she began to remember things from her past. The heat coming from her kept rising and rising. While Hayden was toughening out, Atsuko actually looked like she was growing weaker, her legs becoming all wobbly and her face appearing feverish. Eugene and Kurogane became worried immediately as they've seen this before. Eugene took a small needle and quickly pricked Atsuko with it, making her fall unconscious. Kurogane caught Atsuko who fell over. It seemed her temperature was still rising. Eugene hurriedly used ice magic to lower her temperature. "Please, stay away from me..." She whimpered in her sleep due to her memories.
"Hayden, I can feel that you have good intentions towards Atsuko but her fear of men is more deeply rooted than you think." Kurogane said with a somewhat serious expression on his face. "Would you mind being more careful in the future?"
"If that does not show she can trust me, then I don't know what will--", Hayden was speaking before he stopped abruptly. His eyes shone bright for a few moments, before he turned and suddenly broke into a charge towards the exit of the restaurant, bursting into his giant Wolf form, howling as he charged towards the mountains for some reason.
"Hayden, wait! Where are you going?!", Sif called after him as she ran towards the door to follow him. "Eugene, c'mon! Ezra can look after her.", she said as she practically swung herself through the doorframe. "I'll take the sky!", she yelled as she flew upwards, following the silver blob in the distance moving at incredible speed.
Little did they know it, but Eugene was already hot on Hayden's heels. He wondered what was going on. Until he figured out, he wouldn't take any action. He also made sure to hide his presence. As he was taught by a ninja clan, even Hayden's advanced senses or Ezra's sense ability wouldn't be able to find him. So where are you going Wolf? Eugene thought to himself as he kept up.
Sif sped down and stopped in Hayden's path, hovering. "Hayden, talk to me, right now! Where the hell are you going?!", she almost chastised the wolf, who had stopped, and was just looking at Sif in silence, but his eyes were glowing like before.
Hayden plodded on the spot, his paws padding around on the dirt, obviously feeling anxious for some reason.
"Wolf, you okay?" Eugene said as he approached Hayden. To Hayden and Sif though, it would be as if he appeared out of nowhere. He began analyzing Hayden's actions to try and get some clues. He was prepared for almost anything coming from the wolf from combat to talking. "Well Wolf, I'm sure you can't talk in that state but don't worry, I can understand animals so I should be able to understand what you're saying."
Hayden turned his head so that he was glaring at Eugene. He padded slowly towards the Dragon Slayer before he was face-to-face. Suddenly, in a system of movement that was at such a speed it left an afterimage, Hayden bit down powerfully on Eugene's shoulder, and proceeded to launch him into Sif. After throwing Eugene, Hayden launched his Eclipse Spirit's Bluster from his canine mouth, causing an explosion that also blinded the pair temporarily. When it faded, Hayden was gone, and howls were coming from all directions to disorientate Eugene, while Hayden's scent could no longer be detected. But Eugene would probably notice a Dokodomo Device machine on the ground near him and Sif.
"He used a Dokodemo Door." Eugene said, calling Ren. "Access records of transfer and send them to me. I'm going after him."
"Got it, sending you coordinates." Ren said typing away at his computer.
"Hey Ren, we should add in fingerprint or DNA recognition so other people won't be able to use it." He suggested.
"That's an idea." Ren said.
"Sif, got any clues as to why he's acting like this? It ain't the full moon since he was able to keep his rational sense or else he wouldn't have been able to activate the Dokodemo Door." Eugene asked Sif.
The results for the Dokodomo's coordinates for the exit point came back inconclusive: there were ten separate exit points.
Sif thought to herself about the question Eugene asked, until she looked up at the sky. "Erm...Eugene? It's not the full moon...but it's definitely something.", she said as she turned the man's head to look at the moon as the clouds moved away from it.
The moon, despite being only half, was as red as fresh blood. A few moments later, the same number of howls echoed from all over the landscape.
"Oh dear, I don't like the looks of this." Eugene said with a sigh before he put his thumb and pointer finger in his mouth in a whistle like fashion and blew. While no sound came out, it appeared that it was a signal. Multiple people dressed in ninja attire appeared out of nowhere and landed next to Eugene and Sif. "We got 10 exit points to cover. Split up and search for Hayden. However, do not engage. I repeat, do not engage. Once you find him, report back." He gave orders to the ninjas who nodded before disappearing in puffs of smoke. "And now we wait." Eugene said as he waited for them to come back. After about five minutes, one of them had arrived. She looked like a small girl.
"Reporting, Hayden is using the exit pwortal weading two coradinates reven fwotween." She said, struggling with the last part of what she said.
"You know, you've really got to work on getting past your 30 character limit." Eugene said with a small sigh, knowing how the little female shinobi had issues with speaking in long sentences.
"Sh-Shut Up!" The female shinobi said in an embarrassed tone and with embarrassed expression.
"Well, I got the idea, we'll head there." Eugene had gotten used to it as well and was able to look past it as he opened the gate. "Let's go Sif." he said as he opened the door to where Hayden would be.
When Sif and Eugene arrived at the location, they were in complete shock. They were back in Alakitacia, judging by the familiar landscape from a year ago. But they were in the same, massive city they resided in that time. Only this time, the city was a complete mess. Buildings were toppled, crushed and even on fire. Bodies littered the streets, blood stained the stone tiles. It was as if Hell had risen and attacked this poor city.
Down the street, what seemed to be a Werewolf had a child pinned to the ground, no more than 10 years of age. The child was missing an arm and his leg was clearly broken. The huge wolf pinning him down was about to deal the finishing blow, but it definitely was not Hayden, for this Wolf had brown fur.
Eugene had masked his presence so this enemy wouldn't sense him before charging in. He took out a gun and sprinted towards the wolf and the child. Before the werewolf could react, Eugene had shot the gun, firing a silver bullet into its leg before he grabbed the child and sprinted back to Sif. "That isn't Wolf. So what's going on here? What happened to the Christmas feel we had earlier?" He couldn't help but commentate a little.
Sif was staring at something. A temple on a mountain, engulfed in the very same energy Hayden uses with his Spirit Slayer Magic. "Come on. I know that signature, it's definitely Hayden's.", Sif said as she pulled Eugene by his hand, using her Flight Magic to get herself and the man to the temple, with the child still in Eugene's grasp.
When they arrived, the entire front of the temple was missing. The walls were littered with ancient text written in fresh blood. Sif took the child from Eugene and hid him in a bush, using mud to mask his scent from the wolves. "It's too dangerous for you. Stay low, stay still, and stay quiet, okay?", she said to the shaking child, as she stood and looked at the entrance. She looked at Eugene, and with a nod, they both walked inside, their swords in hand.
Before they had left, Eugene summoned some Wolfsbane plants to cover the boy. He also signaled to the shinobi that they were to keep guard and watch the area. He kept his black sword in one hand, a gun with silver bullets in the other. He began to cover Sif and himself with the same flowers to keep the werewolves away. "Now then, where are these werewolves?" He said partially to himself as he looked around and used his enhanced senses to search for Hayden.
When the duo went down a stairway, they arrived on the inside of the temple, which was absolutely massive. On both sides, there was an endless amount of giant wooden crosses forming a walled-in pathway towards a throne. Each cross had bodies on them, all of them bleeding, with their stomachs torn open and their throats bitten out.
Near the throne at the end of the path, in the center of the giant room, there were multiple people. Someone was sitting on the throne. Hayden! He was engulfed in a blood-red mist, and his eyes had turned crimson as opposed to their usual golden shade. Six figures were standing around Hayden. Two on the arms of his throne, two on the step below, and two at the bottom, facing Sif and Eugene. All of them were cloaked. There was something off about the six figures, that neither Sif nor Eugene could figure out.
"Hayden, what the hell is all this?!", Sif yelled as she approached the throne-sat Werewolf.
"It is the beginning...of the World of the Wolf!!", Hayden bellowed, his voice echoing around the arena, with what sounded likd 50 other Wolves, all hidden, barking and howling merrily at Hayden's response.
"Oh dear, Wolf's delusions have gotten even worse. To think this would come by being rejected by a girl..." Eugene commented as he looked around and heard for where the other foes were. They'd be reluctant to come near them due to the plants but there was a possibility of other measures. He then turned to face Hayden. "While I think you're going delusional at the moment, I'm sure there's some sort of reason for all of this. What's going on?" He asked as he kept an eye out for enemies.
"Look at the sky, you fucking dumbass.", Hayden chastised Eugene, "I'd explain it all to you..but your feeble mind wouldn't be able to comprehend it.", he laughed shortly as he got to his feet. The six people around him all shifted, with a small breeze flicking their hoods. Eugene and Sif would have caught the smallest glimpse of a patch of blond hair dangling from the hood, before the figure tucked it back in.
"Feeble mind huh? If that's supposed to be me, I can't even imagine what your mind is supposed to be." Eugene said with a teasing grin as in the intelligence department, Eugene had quite an edge over the werewolf, even if the gap wasn't as big as appearances showed. At the same time, he kept wary for what Hayden's actions might be.
Hayden chuckled coyly, and snapped his fingers. The two figures in the middle moved forward with blinding speed, causing their cloaks to fall off. Eugene was restrained by his arms, by two very familiar figures. The two figures beside Hayden also moved quickly, removing their own cloaks as well, restraining Sif in the same way Eugene had been. The last pair, the two at the bottom, simply threw off their robes. The four restraining Sif and Eugene pricked them with a strange item, causing their bodies to go numb.
Sif looked through her blurring eyes, at the figures assaulting them. "No...!", she whimpered in horror, "Olga and Rufus?", she said as she looked at Eugene's holders, "Minerva and Yukino?", she continued as she looked at the ones restraining her. "Even Rogue and Master Sting too?!", she started to sound horrified. The was one difference about the six this time around. They all had canine features, they had been subjected to transformation into Werewolves!
"Hayden, why are you doing this?!", Sif shrieked in anguish and fright, before Minerva pulled her head back by her hair, a warning for the girl to shut up.
"The Red Moon affects my family once every millennia...and when it does, it ascends us to unstoppable levels of POWER!!", he roared, echoing around the temple, as his tribemates, and the Wolf-ified members of Sabertooth, all howled in response. Hayden walked down the steps from his throne. His hair spiked out in multiple directions, and he had a silencing smile on his face. He clutched Eugene's lower jaw, and tilted his head so that Eugene's eyeline met Hayden's glare. "It's a shame neither of you would be able to make the cut.", Hayden venomously spoke to the pair, referencing to his Tribe. He tossed Eugene's face to the side roughly as he took a few steps back.
"Wolf, what the hell is this?", Eugene spoke to the Werewolf walking away from him.
Hayden turned and smile, and disappeared as a blur. Eugene suddenly felt agonising pain throughout his body. When he looked down, half of his abdomen had been torn away.
Hayden snapped his fingers, and Olga and Rufus dragged the now-dying Eugene into the darker areas of the room. Padding footsteps could be heard, and noises of pain from Eugene echoed into Sif's ears. The Wolves were piling on and around him...and eating him!
Sif shrieked in despair and weeped uncontrollably, "EUGENE!!!!!", as her Magic overflowed and blasted Minerva and Yukino away from her. Hayden was quick to react, grabbing the girl by her neck. Sif's Magic began to swell into a cloud around her. Hayden began charging his own. Both of their Magics exploded from their bodies in a brilliant clash of light.
"Sif...", a distorted voice said, "Si~if...", it said again. "Sif, wake up.", a familar voice said, as she was poked on the cheek by someone. When her vision cleared, she saw Eugene looking down at her with his usual expression. Sif sat up, and saw that she was in a bed, but not her own. Must be one belonging to the hotel beneath the restaurant. "You fell asleep.", he said, a little amused.
"I did? Oh, I'm sorry.", she said as she rubbed her eyes.
"Yeah, you sort of collapsed a bit after Atsuko told her Santa story." Eugene explained to the woman on the bed. "Are you okay? Maybe you got a bit of a fever from being out too long in the snow. Maybe you should rest a little longer." He said with a slightly worried tone as he put a hand on her forehead to check for the said possible fever.
"I didn't offend her did I?", Sif said, looking a little worried. "Wait, where is everyone?", she said with an inquisitive expression, looking around the stunningly fancy and huge, yet empty room, with only Eugene seemingly here with her. The room was quite warm. Obviously Eugene had turned on the heat, as well as lit a small fire in the fireplace, in worry that Sif had caught a fever.
"Don't worry, she wouldn't get offended by something like that. In fact, she was worried." Eugene assured her. He then answered her next question. "As for everyone else, they were initially crowding around you before I told them that in their state of panic, they'd only make things worse. They actually almost accidentally set the bed on fire." He grimaced as he thought of what almost happened. "Well, just in case I'm going to prepare a herbal mixture to help with fevers and colds." He said as he got up and began to head to the nearby table with a small grinding tool.
Eugene was suddenly halted by Sif grabbing his hand, and pulling him back so that he was sitting on the bed beside her. She looped her other arm around the one she grabbed. Her hair had drooped over her eyes, but there was a single visible tear sliding down her left cheek slowly. "Please don't leave me...not now, not ever.", she said, as she cried gently into his shoulder, before looking up at him.
Eugene felt flustered at what was going on. Sif had basically wrapped both of her arms around his with a hand in his while crying into his shoulder. With his free arm, Eugene wrapped it around Sif, bringing her closer to him and stroked her hair a little. "I won't leave you, that's a promise." He said with a small smile of sincerity.
Sif smiled herself, and felt her head moving up closer to Eugene's, seemingly by itself. As their faces got closer, Sif closed her eyes, with the smallest hint of blush on her cheeks. After a few seconds of both hesitation and anticipation, their lips met in the middle, with a kiss. As the kiss went on, Sif interlocked her fingers with the hand of Eugene that she was already holding, and her hand rested on his chest, as light as a feather.
Honestly, Eugene didn't expect things to develop in this way until their faces got so close together. Sif had closed her eyes, Eugene did so as well and they both unconsciously closed the gap between them and kissed. He felt Sif's hand intertwine with his and her other hand on his chest. As Eugene had little to no experience with this sort of thing, he just let instinct take over and used his free arm to bring her closer to him, deepening the kiss. The two of them stayed like this for a period of time before they had to break apart for air. They remained in their current position as they looked into each other's eyes, the both of them a little red in the face. "So...What does this mean for us?" He asked to break the awkward silence after they broke apart.
"I-I don't know.", Sif said with a stutter of nervousness. She looked directly into Eugene's own gaze quietly for a few moments. "Maybe it could be...the start of, y'know...us?", she said both bashfully and inquisitively. After another silent moment, she smiled again. "Hey...this close, your eyes are actually...incredibly comforting. They're making me feel a little warm.", she said with a slight giggle in her voice.
"I wouldn't be against the idea." Eugene said in response to her question/suggestion with a small smile as he rested his forehead against Sif's. As they stayed like this, Sif commented on how being this close made his eyes feel comforting and that they were making her feel warm. "What a coincidence, I get the same feeling from looking into your eyes. I guess it also helps that we're snuggled together like this." He said slightly embarrassed.
Sif simply smiled as she and Eugene embraced.
A little later...
A strong piano flourish echoed around the city, accompanied by the gentle pickings of a guitar, and the tranquil strides of a violin.
Happy smiles plastered the faces of everyone in the group following Eugene and Sif revealing the news between the two.
Some of the group members, as well as basically the city's entire populace, were gathered in front of a large stage. As the piano flourish started getting more depth, a second piano joined in. The lights turned on, and on stage was Sif, Eugene (with his guitar) and Alexander were all on slightly raised platforms, all in elegant, Christmas-themed clothing and standing in front of microphones. Behind them, Ezra was on a large, shiny, black grand piano. Kurogane was on the other side holding his bass guitar. The song began to pick up slowly, as Alexander started the first verse. His voice, despite his usual appearance, was peaceful and soulful as he chimed the words to the song. Sif and Eugene joined in shortly after, the three of them singing the next verse.
Eugene's guitar strumming started to become more passionate, as did Kurogane's base strumming. As the group progressed through the song, Sif and Eugene were struck again with memories, but this time, new ones, as were all the children from the future. Despite this, those performing still powered on.
Sif and Eugene both experienced their new memories. The MBP disease being rendered extinct not even a matter of weeks after its revelation. Eugene proposing to Sif on the edge of a cliff and their wedding a year later. The birth of Brooke and Violet, and even a third child, a son. Lastly, they saw themselves embracing on the porch of their family lodge in a forest, with Sif shedding a tear of pure joy both in the future-memory, and in the present day as she performed on the stage. Eugene himself was also grinning from the warmth the new memories induced.
A little while after their performance ended, Sif was standing on the terrace of her bedroom at home late in the night. She was smiling. Her shoulder-length hair was flowing gracefully in the wind, as was her thick, fluffy house coat. A figure came up behind her, and looped their arms around their waist. It was Eugene, who was only wearing a pair of pyjama bottoms, so he immediately shivered the second he stepped outside due to the snow and the chilly weather. He used Sif for warmth, resting his chin on her shoulder. He glanced down when he noticed wetness on the fresh snow on the terrace's railing. "You okay, Sif?", he asked comfortingly.
"Yeah...", Sif said with a sniffle, grinning. "I feel great.", she said as she turned and hugged Eugene, meeting his embrace with a kiss as they both went back inside, as the sun began to rise on the horizon.
- - - CHAPTER END - - -