Peonies in Winter

Prologue

Buried deep inside the earth, no one would find the evidence. Not even a single soul would ever find out, who they are and where they came from.

The shadows of three figures were shading the trees around them. Standing in a semicircle – a tall woman in the middle and each a man to her left and right – they were looking at the loose soil in front of them.

It was cold, the wind blew her blonde hair tangledly around. The man standing left next to her passed her his warm and thick jacket when he noticed her shivering. He would not turn his gaze away, not for a single second, from the hole which they slowly filled. A hole which kept all of their secrets.

"Wouldn't it have been better to simply throw the box into the ocean?" Jabra snorted as he turned around with a swing, as if this gesture would have made it easier to leave the past behind.

"Don't be such a fool. We've already agreed to leave discussions behind. Even in the ocean they would have found it, sooner or later. This chapter is over now."

Kalifa, who changed her view between Lucci and Jabra, grabbed her jacket even tighter, pulled it over her shoulders until the fabric began to warm her up and hissed: "Won't you guys ever stop that? Seriously, after all these years both of you could at least try to pull yourself together."
Before earning a sharp look from Lucci, she turned her back towards the coven of evil, hoping to leave everything behind. While dramatically blowing out her cigarette's smoke, she faced Jabra once more. "Thanks for the jacket; I will give it back to you later."

Overwhelmed by her feelings, she continued walking deep into the forest to the small cabin they were living in for months now. It would have been too embarrassing for her, if one of her… colleagues saw her tears. Tears of joy, tears of endlessly alleviation. The longer she thought about it, the more she wondered if they were still colleagues. Did they become friends? Family? Nakama, how Kaku used to say?
For far too long she had to live in fear. Wanted. A bounty was put on her head.

A shy smile appeared on her lips, a certainty nobody on this earth could take away from her: not only she was safe but also Lucci, Kaku, Jabra, Blueno, Kumadori and Fukuro could start their jaunty life in peace. Even if Kalifa would never admit it, this certainty made her happier than anything else.

"Hey, Kalifa!", Jabra shouted, starting for a sprint and laughed like the carefree friend she missed so much. "I'm kind of thrilled of what Blueno and Kaku cooked. If I won't get to eat today, some crazy shit will happen. And you really don't want to be part of it."

"Jabra…"

"No, please don't say it." Jabra face muscles contracted and he playfully covered his ears.

"That's… Oh you know what… Screw it. I'm hungry too. Extremely." While Kalifa narrowed her eyes and adjusted her glasses, she turned around one last time just to see a subdued but smiling Lucci who followed both.

"I'm relieved." Jabra's words caught her attention and dragged her out of her observation. Not once in her life would she have expected such a sentence from Jabra.

Little did Kalifa know, that the events of the upcoming months would surprise her even more. She was fooled and deceived by people she thought she knew.

Especially by herself.