Master Shinowa sat in the middle of the training room.
His eyes were closed.
He was at peace.
He let his mind wander where it willed.
As always, it wandered to Elsie and Hildreth.
He saw her go into a fighting stance.
Beautiful, graceful moves that served a deadly purpose.
Hildreth stood beside her.
Not beside her.
He stood by her side.
As a companion.
As a partner.
His moves were not so graceful. They had more strength, more power, more weight.
But Shinowa could see that they were a well-matched pair.
They fought well together.
They were happy together.
He opened his eyes and considered the line his meditations led him to.
He stood and pulled the call rope.
His servant rushed into the room.
“Summon Vansing and Mayhew.”
The servant bowed and obeyed.
“It is time.”
“Master?” Elsie entered the training room. “You wished to see me?”
“Yes. Mayhew as well.”
Hildreth entered the room.
“What I say, I say to both. Vansing. Mayhew. You recover well from your injuries.”
“Thanks to your care, Master.” said Hildreth.
Master Shinowa nodded his head. “But it is time for you to go where you belong. Where you both belong.”
Elsie looked at Hildreth. He held her hand. “Master, about that.”
Master Shinowa exhaled through his nose. “You object.”
“I will do as you command. You are above me.” He squeezed her hand. “But, Master. My city is far from Havaton.”
“Havaton is not your city. Not your concern.”
“That is true, Master, but..”
Master Shinowa waited.
“Is there no one who can take my place?”
“You are hunter.”
“I know, but—”
“You are given city to protect. You must protect. You have left it long time.”
“Master, please. I only want…”
Master Shinowa waited.
He was very good at waiting.
“I don’t want to leave her.”
“Elsie. I love her.”
“I love him too.”
“A city cannot have two hunters. It is imbalance.”
“I am aware of that, Master.” said Hildreth. “But what would you have us do?”
He exhaled through his nose again.
Elsie walked up to him and went down on one knee. “Please. Release him from his city. Let him come with me to Havaton.”
“Will you live single apart?”
“No, Master.” Hildreth walked up to Elsie and rested his hands on her shoulders. “I intend to marry her.”
Master Shinowa stood silent and inscrutable for a few minutes as he considered his next move. “Vansing. Walk with me. Mayhew. Stay.”
Elsie followed Master Shinowa outside onto the oak and bamboo balcony.
“What of Smith the vampire?”
“What of him?”
“Is Smith higher in your heart than Mayhew?”
Elsie turned and looked out at the forest.
“Which does your heart cry for?”
“Mayhew. I mean, Hildreth.” She looked down at the white puncture marks on her wrists. “I don’t hate Ambrose. I want to hate him. I want to want to burn him in effigy and stake dummies with his name scrawled across their chests. But I can’t feel that way about him.”
“Just disappointment. He left me without even saying good-bye. Without any explanation.” She raised her head. “I know Hildreth. After all of this time I’ve spent with him. Training. Going to movies. Just being together.” She turned to face him again. “I know him, Master. I trust him. And I do love him. It may not be the wild exuberant craziness I felt for Ambrose, but it is enough. I will love him to my dying day.”
He hugged her. “That is all I want to hear.” He released her. “Take Mayhew. Be married. Be happy and be well.” He smiled with tears in his eyes. “May you both see old age and many children, dear Elsie Vansing.”