Chapter 34: The Final Run (The end of arc one!)

The following morning just outside the Koizumi estate, three hooded figures were hauling what appeared to be a sack into the back of a small peco-peco driven carriage.

"If you backstab me again I swear I'll slit your throat." Ai spat while waving her dagger threateningly in the direction of an oblivious Azami. The alchemist-in-training crossed her arms and turned her back from the crimson-haired mage.

Ai looked just about ready to pounce on the alchemist-trainee when she was held back by none other than a nervous Yukino. "Please, let's not fight. We have to get out of here." she told the both of them in exaggeratedly hushed tones.

Azami climbed unto driver's seat fuming. "What the hell am I doing?" she asked herself, a frown flittered over her face. She was frustrated, confused and frightened all at the same time. Why? Simple, it wasn't just the fact she had freed both her captives and enlisted their aid in sneaking Lei out of Payon, the thing that really bothered her was: Why was she doing this all for him?

Yukino climbed unto the carriage, Ai sat at the front, her hands playing with the hilt of her dagger all the while. Azami tugged at the reigns lightly causing the peco-peco to start walking.

"Why are you helping us?" Yukino asked, although the answer was obvious for anyone to see.

Azami shrugged and tugged at the reigns harder causing the peco-peco to move faster.

A loud yelp escaped Yukino's lips when the sack they hauled in the back started trashing around wildly. "What's going on here!" the bag shouted in a panic stricken voice.

Ai climbed into the back of the carriage and sliced open the sack, a confused looking Lei stared back at her. He sat up rubbing his eyes, couching from the leftover flour. "What's going on?" he asked Ai, though his eyes were trained on the person at the driver's seat.

"Her idea." Ai told him.

Lei blinked and stared at Azami with his mouth hanging open. "I'm confused."

"Aren't we all." Azami grumbled in a low tone.

"Were getting you out of here." Yukino explained. "There's just one problem…"

Lei stared at her, obviously befuddled. "Problem?" he breathed.

Yukino sighed. "It's only a matter of time before you're found out. The three of us decided on a plan, we go to the train station and leave on three separate trains. Azami will create two homunculi-" Lei interrupted. "homunculi?"

"A Homonculus, a clone, a clone of you." Azami snapped back.

"A clone!" Lei croaked in a nervous tone.

"You don't have to worry, they die in a day or two. If I could clone people I wouldn't have even needed you in the first place." Azami told him icily.

There was a silent pause, then Lei popped the question. "Who do I go with?" he asked her.

He looked at the three girls, all of them avoided his gaze. "Well?"

A full three minutes of silence came before someone gave him and answer, and to everyone's surprise, it was Yukino. "Who do you want to go with?" she asked him.

Ai cleared her throat. "Better yet, ask him. Who does he love the most." she stood up and moved to the far corner. "You have till we get there to choose." she told him without looking.

Lei wanted to say something in protest but instead, he hugged his knees to his face, contemplating the decision he would have to make.

"We have company." Rae shouted, waving a finger at a group of peco peco's trailing behind them.

"Shit." Azami spat before urging the peco peco to move faster.

Lei craned his neck outside the carriage, the men hand their arrows trained on them. It was then when a crimson blur swept behind them blocking their view. A huge bird of crimson glowing brightly flapped its wings between them and the riders.

"I'll catch up." the bird said.

The four hooded figures scurried into the Payon's train station under the cover of a growing snowstorm. Azami, being more familiar with the place hurried to the ticket booth coming out shortly after with six tickets in hand.

"So?" Azami waved the tickets in front of Lei. Their eyes met and Lei couldn't help but stare for awhile. "Make the choice already." she gave him a wistful look and sighed, before she stuffed the tickets into his hands.

"Well?" Ai said, irritated.

Lei couldn't help but notice the alchemist-trainee's shoulders tremble and he was sure it wasn't because of the cold. Without him noticing Ai came up to him snatching a pair of tickets from his hands. "You're not going to chose me," she forced a smile and kissed him on the cheeks. "It's pretty obvious anyway."

Azami and Yukino stared at Lei and he never felt as nervous now than at any moment in his life. Behind him he could hear the conductors calling out to the last few passengers who still weren't on board. He looked at Ai who was pointing at the clock, five minutes till noon.

"I love you!" the two girls told him almost at the same time.

He looked at Yukino, who was already sobbing her heart out. Then Azami, who was on the verge of tears. Lei closed his eyes and when he opened them he had made his choice. It was time to take the plunge.

Lei took in a deep breath and finally looked at them wearing a brave smile. "It's…"