His curled knuckles brushed her jawline, tracing it slowly. He extended his fingers, cradling her face in the palm of his hand, and leaned forward so that their foreheads touched. He waited until they were breathing in sync, their exhalations creating small patches of fog in the early evening air, before allowing his hand to glide down from her head, pass her shoulder, and graze the length of her arm until it came to rest on her waist. He brought his other hand up to her waist as well, and drew her to him. She reached up behind his head, toying with the hair at the nape of his neck for an instant before intertwining her fingers and pulling his mouth down onto hers. She kissed him for a long moment, breathing in his breath, savoring the taste of his lips, and enjoying the gentleness of his embrace. She gently pulled away from the kiss, turning in his arms to stand with her back to him. He wrapped his arms around her midriff and held her, swaying slowly in the light mountaintop breeze. They stood atop the highest plateau on Moralos, a precipice which overlooked the Pacific Ocean. It was only accessible to one who had hang-gliding skills, which was why they were the only ones on it.

"It's been three years since you first brought me to Moralos," she said. "And every year, you've brought me to this spot. Why?"

Hiryu didn't hear her. He was lost in thought. He gazed at her, noting how her features still seemed as freshly breathtaking to him now as they had the first time they met. It was so long ago, it seemed. She had changed so much since then, and so had he. She had surpassed his expectations, as well as everyone else's, by making B-grade; she had shown herself to be proficient with firearms, despite her initial mistrust of technology; and she was rapidly becoming one of the most sought-after snipers on the island. For his part, he had been awarded the rank of super-A grade for completing a nigh-impossible mission. He'd been unsuccessful in his attempts to discover exactly why Matic had failed to warn him about any of the situations he'd encountered. His stated mission had been to eliminate the prime minister of Kazakh, not to destroy a maddened god bent on draining the earth of its ki. Technically, he could have returned to Moralos after he'd killed Ouroboros, but that was not to be...

"Hiryu? Are you listening to me?"

...still, if he had returned to Moralos immediately after finishing off Ouroboros, he would never have met Sheena.

She pinched his arm unexpectedly, snapping him out of his revelry. "What?"

"I asked you why you always bring me here on the anniversary of Meio's defeat."

"Oh. That. Well, it's fairly complicated reason..." he shifted uncomfortably.

"I'm sure we have the time," she said, smiling.

"True. Where to begin...do you remember anything about Emperor Garuda?"

"Shiroi told me that he seized the American city of New York and attempted to overthrow the world's governments from there in 2029. I was still in the rainforest then, so I don't remember anything as such, no..."

"Hai. You're on the right track. He was well on his way to succeeding and becoming the world despot, when he was suddenly overthrown himself."

"Two 'ninja' killed him, Shiroi said."

"Not ninja. Striders."

"The Striders were behind that?"

"Yes. Hayate and Kaede, two of the original nine Striders, infiltrated Garuda's base and assassinated him. However, after they did this, it turned out that Garuda was receiving orders from someone outside the earth's biosphere. Whoever had been employing Garuda sent a small guild of bounty hunters eight years later. They were vicious, armed with weapons we'd never encountered before. That's when we decided to forego our traditional ninja weapons, abandoning them for those that were more effective, like cyphers and high-tech firearms. Anyway, these bounty hunters pursued us, claiming our blood as forfeit for 'imperial regicide.' They sought out Hayate and Kaede first, then avidly scouted around for the rest of us. We scattered, abandoning our original base in Japan, and hid for several years on this island. Shiroi took charge of the remaining Striders and their apprentices here, training them against future eventualities."

"What does that have to do with you?"

"Hayate and Kaede were my parents."

"Oh...wow..." Sheena sank to her knees.

Hiryu knelt behind her, still holding her as he continued his tale.

"Ryuzaki thought it best to keep me away from this island, fearing that whoever sent the bounty hunters would learn that Hayate and Kaede had a son, and would seek to kill him as well. He trained me in his own personal disciplines and brought me before his various underworld contacts for more extensive instructions in the arts of war and survival. When I was twelve, he brought me back to Moralos to undergo formal Strider training. I surprised everyone by making C-grade in under three years. Normally, it takes twelve years to reach C-grade, which is why most Striders are formally trained from birth. I owe my rapid progression to the training that Ryuzaki went out of his way to provide for me.

"When I made A-grade at the age of eighteen, no one could believe it. Not only was I the youngest A-grade ever, but I was also the only living A-grade, aside from Shiroi. I suppose that's why they gave me the assignment of taking out Kazakh's prime minister."

Sheena twisted around in his arms and looked at him with a gleam in her eyes. "Yes, and I'm glad they did, too...otherwise, I might have ended up with someone else." She tackled him, knocking him backwards into the sparse grasses that grew at this elevation. She then laid down on top of him, kissing him ardently and stroking his cheek. She pulled away after a few minutes and propped herself up on one elbow.

"Wait, wait...what does that story have to do with you bringing me here every year?" she asked.

He ran his fingers through her hair as he replied, "The Striders have a legend that when one of them dies unnaturally, his spirit does not leave this plane until his heir has properly avenged his death. I do not know who killed my father, so I cannot avenge him and his spirit must still be wandering about. This particular place is special to me because...sometimes...when I meditate here...when I am completely still and at peace...I can feel my father's presence here. The ancient Mesopotamian peoples believed that their gods lived on the mountaintops, and there is a certain amount of truth in that. When you are away from other people, in an elevated place, your mind can be quieted and be conditioned to hear things that you otherwise often miss."

"Has he spoken to you?"

"Not as such, no. He communicates with me, but it is more of a communication by images and emotions than by concrete thoughts."

"So he couldn't just tell you who killed him."

"No. Not that he hasn't tried."

"Oh. I'm sorry." Sheena laid her head on his chest, listening to his heart beat again.

"Don't be. I'll find him someday. And when I do...no power in the universe will save him from me."

She kissed him again, unable to remain patient any longer. They each tugged at the other's clothing, pulling it off as slowly and smoothly as possible, relishing every movement. Abandoning all pretenses of modesty, they yielded to the flames burning within them just as they had that first time, three years ago. Each time they repeated this dance, it ignited the same passions as it had when they were in the shuttle on the way home to Moralos; the passage of time had not caused their love for each other to diminish in the slightest.

Afterward, they lay in the grass for quite some time, eventually drifting off to sleep just as the stars came out. A shooting star fell from the vicinity of Orion's belt, and at the same moment, a low voice murmured something inaudible. Hiryu's eyes popped open for an instant, then he smiled, and fell back asleep.