Chapter 5: Second Thoughts

Sumiko darted into the room, startling Sai with a sudden shout of, "We got trouble!"

Sai turned her emerald eyes to the young girl, a soft questioning noise sounding in her throat.

"The King's men are coming!" Sumiko explained, her dark eyes wide. Even as young as she was, she fully understood Sai's current status as a fugitive, and what the coming of the King's men meant in such a context.

Sai's own eyes widened as she quickly stood from her position near the fireplace. Now she was acutely aware of the thundering hoofbeats in the distance approaching, growing louder and louder.

"We gotta get out of here!" Sumiko said, anxiously bouncing on the balls of her feet. Sai nodded her head silently, and ran with Sumiko towards the door. Upon passing by Mari, however, the older woman caught Sumiko delicately.

"What are you doing!?" the little girl cried as she squirmed against Mari's grasp. "We have to escape!"

"Sai has to escape," Mari corrected her firmly. "You are staying here with me."

"No, I'm going with Sai!"

"Why are you so determined to put yourself in danger like that? To go out into the forest with her knowing that she is a wanted fugitive, and that the King's men are out there right this very moment?"

"For the same reason we kept her here in the first place! To protect her!"

Mari's eyes widened slightly, her grip weakening just slightly; it was enough for Sumiko to be able to pull away.

"She's innocent, right?" Sumiko continued, "So I'm gonna do everything I can to make sure those guys don't hurt her!"

Mari gazed at her with a sympathetic look, but she remained firm. She knelt down to Sumiko's eye level, placing her gentle hands upon the girl's shoulders. "Sumiko, I don't want to let you get yourself into danger. I worry about you."

"And Sai is just supposed to face all those men on her own? Why don't you want to keep her out of danger?" Sumiko's dark eyes began to shimmer with tears as she declared, "I know she's only been here a little while, but she's like a part of the family now! Our family! You should protect her just like you protect me! And if she's in danger, you should put yourself in danger to save her!"

Mari said nothing for several moments as she pulled Sumiko into a hug. "Sumiko . . . Dear Sumiko . . . I know you're not my daughter, but I care for you as if you are, and I've been doing so for eight years, since you were only two. Your parents are watching over you, you know, and they wouldn't be happy if you threw yourself into danger like this."

"But . . . Sai . . . She's like a big sister to me! Why can't you . . . ?" Sumiko's voice was beginning to grow softer, gradually becoming choked with tears even as she tried to suppress her emotions.

"I'm sorry, Sumiko . . . I am. But I can't let you go. Sai will just have to . . . hold her own out there."

By this time, Sai should long gone, vanished into the forest well beyond the point of anyone ever catching up to her; Sumiko would never be able to find her now. Sai was gone, and she could never return to that house. It was when Sumiko realized that truth that she lost all composure and started sobbing into Mari's embrace, tears streaming from her eyes. Mari simply held her close while tears shone in her own eyes, comforting Sumiko while she herself ached on the inside.

Little did they know that Sai had lingered just outside the window to see if Mari would let poor Sumiko follow her. After witnessing the heartbreaking scene, she dashed into the forest, nearly blinded by tears.


Taisuke was the first to spot her. A flash of pale among the dark, there darting between the trees; it was most certainly her.

Sai. Poor, innocent Sai. Forced to run because others wanted to unjustly take her life to cleanse the blood that was never on her untainted hands.

The prince slowed his horse's pace for a few moments, deliberating on what to do. To follow the protocol of a search such as this, he was to call Sai's presence to the attention of the other men. But perhaps, if he stalled long enough, she could be gone from everyone else's sight and escape unscathed. Yes, that was what he hoped for.

But alas, it would seem that fate was determined to shatter each and every one of his hopes.

"There's the prisoner!" one of the men cried, seeing Sai's form between the trees. She froze in place at the call, and Taisuke saw for an instant her emerald eyes, widened and filled with absolute terror, before she sprinted into the forest.

"After her!"

All of Tayaki's men urged their horses on faster, and Taisuke had to do the same in order to keep his place at the lead. Sai was surprisingly swift—although she was more than likely propelled by the force of adrenaline—and she weaved around the trees with graceful ease; she was able to keep herself ahead of the many men on horseback. But Taisuke worried: How long could she run like this? She would eventually tire, and she would almost certainly be caught then. Taisuke, in spite of the apparent goal that fate had to break his hope, prayed that Sai would be able to elude her pursuers somehow.

For one heart-stopping moment, it seemed that she flickered out of view; Taisuke's heart paused from overwhelming joy, those of the rest of the men from dismay. For just one moment, it seemed that she had gotten away. She'd escaped!

But then Taisuke and the men following him came to the end of the forest, and discovered Sai standing there, her escape completely halted by a cliff. She was staring down at the long fall that awaited her should she slip from the edge, her emerald eyes wide and shimmering with horror and hopelessness. She gasped and quickly turned around once she heard Taisuke approach on his horse. Taisuke halted his stallion, and hopped down from it without saying a word. He stared straight at Sai, who gazed back with hope now glimmering in her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, perhaps utter his name, but Taisuke merely narrowed his eyes into a silencing look to keep her quiet.

So she said nothing as the prince approached her, holding his rifle tightly in his hands—so tightly that his knuckles were white. Once he was but a few feet away from her, he raised the rifle and aimed its barrel at her. She gasped silently as the pain of betrayal appeared on her features, shining in her wide eyes. After all this, after all he'd done to save her, was he the one that was going to end it now? Was he going to be the one to take the innocent life he'd been trying to protect?

Silence hung in the air as Taisuke trained his rifle on the girl before him. Sai moved one step backwards—or rather, attempted to. The cliff halted any further progress in that direction; her heels were at the very edge. She kept her fearful, shimmering gaze on the prince as several moments passed without any trace of movement. She worried and wondered what he would do, while Tayaki's men were silently rooting him on, wanting this chase and this tiresome charade to end here and now.

Taisuke found himself unable to move his eyes away from her deep gaze as he aimed his weapon at her chest, then up at her head, and then down at her stomach. He knew exactly where to place a shot to make it a fatal injury; the lone difference between each vulnerable place was how long the victim would suffer before bleeding out. Did he want to shoot a not-so-weak place, thus leaving the chance for survival but opening the doors for agony and suffering? Or did he want to bring about a quick end for her? Even he did not seem to know.

His sapphire eyes began shimmering with barely suppressed anguish. Why did it have to be this way? Why couldn't Sai simply be free? Why did she have to be condemned for deeds she did not commit?


Time continued to crawl past; seconds turned to minutes. Taisuke and Sai seemed frozen in place, almost. Taisuke's gun quivered just slightly in his trembling hands. He couldn't bring himself to look at Sai—his gaze was lowered, concealed safely, even while his gun remained on the girl. He had no choice. This was the only option, no matter how he dreaded it. Unaware of their prince's distress, the men behind him began to let their minds drift. None of them heard Taisuke whisper ever so quietly to Sai.

"I'm so sorry . . . Please, I hope you can forgive me."

Sai barely had a moment to react. She just had the time to open her mouth to speak before—


The sound of the gunshot shattered the silence, rippling through the air like a thunderous wave. Sai let out a strangled gasp, her eyes widening. Immediately, she pressed her hand to her side, where a flower of crimson was beginning to bloom. Her breath hitched in her throat as agony seemed to split her in half, and she pressed her hand harder against her side, feeling the slick warmth seeping slowly out of her. She raised her gaze to meet Taisuke's eyes one last time. Those emeralds were now shining brightly with the gleam of tears, and filled with a shocked despair. She drew in a slow, quivering breath before she spoke, her voice forced out of the very depths of her damaged being.

"Tai . . . suke . . . Why . . . ?"

Taisuke had no response to offer. Why was the very question he himself pondered. He could only gaze at her while fighting to repress his own despair.

It was then Sai, perched precariously on the edge of the cliff, lost the strength to keep her balance. Her feet slipped, and she began the long descent awaiting her. She reached out to Taisuke, futilely praying that he would take her hand and rescue her.

He could do no such thing. The others would notice if he saved her now. He had no choice. He flinched at Sai's scream as she fell, soon disappearing from view. He quickly closed his eyes, and kept them shut tightly so that his eyelids could hold back the sudden wave of tears that threatened to rise up.

"I'm sorry," he murmured, his quiet voice laden with emotion. "I'm so sorry, Sai . . ."

The men behind him gave a cheer, exuberant at the fact that the prisoner was executed at last—by the prince himself, no less!—but the only thing Taisuke could hear was the shattering of his own heart, and the faint sound of a splash down below.