Chapter 22:

Saintess of Sol

Aether: Sin

Our collective pasts are what shape us.

But it’s our future that defines us.

Our pasts are complete with misery mixed with joy, and oftentimes filled with regret.

But our future is a blank slate. It gives us reason to aspire for change.

The change we crave is what births hope.

And through hope comes the present.

The present where you…and I…

Will cease to exist.

Faeko: “I’m pretty sure that’s the same question your dad has had for years, haha.”

Kato: “I can imagine that.”

Emilia: “Well, it’s not like we would ever complain about that being the case, though. I know I always say this, but honestly, we can’t thank you enough, Kato.”

Kato latches his rope onto Aurelia once more as she tries to sneak away, and drags her back to him.

Kato: “It’s really nothing. I’m grateful to you both as well for last night. The risks were even greater considering the fight was on capital grounds, and yet you all were there to support my mission.”

Faeko chuckles: “So I guess we are now only ninety-nine favors away from calling it even, then,”

Emilia leans in and points: “Isn’t that the woman you saved?”

Faeko and Kato turn towards Aurelia, who was playfully attempting to gnaw her way out of the rope’s grasp. Aurelia looks up towards the three, and tilts her head in confusion.

Aurelia: “What? What happened?”

Emilia's eyes widen as she smiles: “Ohh it really is her! Aurelia! The talk of the city!”

Faeko: “Wow, now that we can see you properly in the daytime I must say, the rumors are true. Your beauty truly is-”

Faeko feels a chill crawl along his back, and he immediately stops talking as he senses his wife’s daggering eyes.

Kato: “What brings the two of you here?”

Emilia relaxes her gaze and looks towards Kato.

“Well it’s not like we have any orders to take care of at the moment. With no nearby threats from beyond the mountain, all of us Foxtrot soldiers are free to do as we please.”

Emilia then wraps herself around Faeko’s left arm and blushes.

Faeko puts his right hand behind the back of his head, and laughs in embarrassment.

Kato: “Right…the two of you are still trying, I take it. I wish you luck.”

Aurelia furiously whips her neck back and forth between Kato and the couple, confused as to what they were talking about. Faeko notices.

Faeko: “Sorry, we didn’t mean to exclude you from our conversation. My name is Faeko Ashigake. This is my wife, Emilia Ashigake. We are old friends of your…protector, here, haha.”

Aurelia: “I remember you two from last night, but what are you here again for? Is there going to be another fight?”

Emilia: “I would hope not,”

Faeko: “Well, you see, my wife and I have been married for two years now. We met in the Elected Division together as schoolmates, and have been a swordsman duo ever since. Emilia, here, hails from a minor clan that was prominent with martial arts, while I hail from the Ashigake clan, the noble clan that made a name for themselves as the most skilled sword fighters in the land.”

Faeko’s smile begins to fade.

“However…my clan has suffered tremendous losses. My father and mother passed away due to old age, but my brothers were slaughtered in battle years back. Fighting as Alpha Division soldiers, but using swords in this day and age…it cost them dearly.”

Emilia softly holds her husband’s hand to comfort him. Faeko continues.

“I was the youngest child. So my elder sister should have been next in line…but disputes within the branches of our family, especially about having a woman as the head of our clan, led to her life being ended as well. But it didn’t end there. Seeing an opportunity to become the head of the clan, my cousins, uncles, aunts, and others just continued to fight. They all lost their lives in the dispute. It was horrible. We were just left killing each other. Over and over again. And in the end…I was the last one standing.”

Aurelia stares at Faeko as tears drop down from his covered eyes. Faeko then lifts his head back up and tries to plaster on a smile.

Faeko: “But enough about me. Sorry to drag on about my past-”

Aurelia: “I get it now. You and your wife are trying to start it all over again. Revive the clan, or something like that.”

Emilia and Faeko stare blankly at Aurelia, before bursting out in laughter.

Aurelia: “Huh?! Did I get it wrong?!”

Emilia: “No, no, you’re right on the mark. I just didn’t expect you to say it out loud like that. People here in the capital tend to avoid topics and nuendos like that.”

Faeko: “So you’re really not from here after all. Which place do you like better, here or where you are from?”

Aurelia pounds her chest proudly: “Definitely where I’m from! Texdan is the greatest!”

Faeko: “I see, haha. Let’s hope you still find your time here enjoyable. This is your new home, after all,”

Faeko and Emilia begin to walk away in their golden robes towards their designated room.

Emilia: “Have fun, you too.”

Aurelia: “Wait.”

Faeko and Emilia stop and turn towards Aurelia.

Aurelia: “If you really want to have kids…I know a way that might help.”

Faeko’s and Emilia’s eyes widen.

Aurelia: “My parents actually went through the same thing. My mother was barren, but my parents refused to give up. My father is a devout worshiper of the gods, so he tried everything he could in his power to shower the gods with gifts. They even came to the temple a few times to perform their affections before Sol like the two of you are currently doing; however, that didn’t bear fruit. If the two of you are really looking to have a child, perhaps trying the method he used will work for you as well.”

Faeko and Emilia practically teleport directly in front of Aurelia.

Faeko and Emilia: “What is the method?!”

Aurelia smiles brightly and puts her thumbs up.

Aurelia: “You need to eat a fruit from the Aether Tree!”

Faeko and Emilia pause. Kato's eyes widen.

Faeko and Emilia: “HEH?!...”

Aurelia: “Listen, I know it’s against the rules, but-”

Emilia: “Are you trying to kill us?!”

Faeko: “Touching the leaves of the Aether Tree is already dangerous enough, but you want us to eat a fruit from it as well?

Kato: “Still no brains, huh…”

Aurelia: “Hear me out! I’m telling you, that’s what cured my mother! My father told me all about it, multiple times! After visiting the abandoned Temple of Lunarias on the outskirts of Texdan, they took time off from the farm to travel with other worshippers from Texdan on a pietious journey to the Aether Tree Festival. You know, the festival that showcases the bright color changes of the tree at the end of each year? During the heights of the festival, for reasons unbeknownst to them, my mother was offered a fruit by a stranger. Although most people with sense would definitely have rejected it, my parents are…seriously devout. ESPECIALLY my father. They believed it was a direct answer from the gods, so my mother ate from the fruit…and then a year later, I was born.”

Kato stares at Aurelia, puzzled. Faeko and Emilia, although frightened by the odds of such a ridiculous story, now felt a glimmer of hope.

Aurelia: “It doesn’t stop there, since I also have a younger sister. She is proof that I wasn’t just a miracle child, meaning my mother was really cured from her barrenness. And it all started from the fruit.”

Faeko: “The fruit, huh…”

Kato: “You can’t be taking this girl seriously, Faeko,”

Emilia: “Stay out of this, Kato!”

Kato looks towards Emilia’s frustrated expression. Tears were forming in her eyes.

Tears of a woman who had clearly begun to lose hope…but could finally grasp it again.

Kato: “...”

Aurelia: “I know it sounds like a crazy story. To be honest, I definitely hesitated in telling you. I can’t verify whether the story is true or not. Or even if the fruit was actually from the Aether Tree itself…but that’s the best ray of hope I could offer to you both.”

Emilia grabs Aurelia and hugs her tightly.

Emilia: “Thank you!”

Faeko: “We’ll have to consider it, first…but we’re grateful to you, Aurelia…”

Aurelia blushes as she smiles proudly: “Aw, shucks, you don’t have to praise me…but keep going, if you wish,”

Faeko: “Still, that’s an incredible story to ponder, Aurelia. Perhaps it ties to your radiant beauty?”

Emilia turns to Faeko with beaming eyes: “So when we have a child, they will be just as radiant and beautiful!”

Faeko smiles brightly as he holds his wife’s face in his hands: “Of course!”

Kato: “Yeah…they’ve lost it.”

Aurelia lifts her bottom lip up and whispers to herself: “Hmmmm….maybe I shouldn’t have said anything…”

Kato whispers: “I heard that…”

Aurelia turns to Kato and grits her teeth, whispering back: “I said what I said…”

Kato whispers: “And you said it quietly for a reason,”

Emilia grabs Aurelia’s hands softly: “If it all works out according to your story…I’ll be sure to tell them all about you!”

Faeko: “I’m so glad we ran into you. You’re like a messenger from the gods, sent to help us towards our goal.”

Faeko snaps his fingers.

Faeko: “Right! Considering your story, and how you are now a Flare Aid, it’s as if you are…a Saintess of Sol!”