Thicker Than Blood

Part One: The Wind

Chapter 1

Earthbound


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"Wake from your sleep, fated children–
The peace is gone."
- Liberi Fatali, Final Fantasy VIII


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Timeless

A single, minuscule object in the universe, known to some mortal creatures as a star, went out and there was darkness where there had once been light.


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12,003 BC

It was hot. It was wet. It was sticky. It was a spitball, and it hit Gaspar in the eye.

He stood very still for a moment amidst giggling, his hand still poised over the chalkboard in the process of writing the word 'Earthbound.' This was not the first time a spitball had chosen his face for its target, and he knew it would not be the last, but he was still enraged, and understandably so. Anyone with another person's saliva and a wad of tissue in their eye had the right to feel just a little bit pissed off. How it had managed to hit his eye when his back was to the class, the Guru had no idea, but really did not care. Gaspar had a lot of experience with the seemingly impossible accuracy Janus possessed when it came to such things as spitballs and suction-cup arrows and mudpies turning up where they had no business being.

The Guru turned around to face the class. He ignored the delighted expressions on the other children's faces. Yes, there he was, in the back at his own table with his booted feet propped up on its wooden surface casually, his arms crossed behind his head, leaning the chair backwards comfortably. There was no I just nailed you with a spitball you wrinkly old geezer smirk on his pale features. Already hidden in his robes was the glass spitball tube--the one thing Gaspar needed to get the boy taken permanently out of his class. Without hard evidence, Schala would not relent to private tutoring for her little brother -- taught by someone other than Gaspar, thank the gods.

With as much dignity as he could muster, Gaspar rummaged around in a cabinet for a towel to wipe the spittle and disintegrating tissue from his eye.

"All right," grumbled the Guru, returning to the chalkboard and standing in front of it with his hands clasped behind his back. He glared sternly at the class and the young prince in particular. "Very amusing. To continue with the history lesson..." He turned back to the board.

Janus immediately tuned Gaspar's incessant droning out, pulling out the glass tube and loading it. Those closest to his table kept glancing back at him, warily eyeing the tube, and giving only half their attention to their instructor. To say Gaspar's teaching was boring was like saying the sky was full of air. It was pointless. Who cared about a bunch of dirty Earthbounds, anyway? Shooting spitballs was the only way to keep his sanity, Janus reflected as he sent a particularly sticky one arcing over three rows of tables to splat into the hair of a little blonde girl. Gritting her teeth, the child combed it out with her fingers and let the mess fall to the floor. She glared hotly and turned up her nose at the immature antics of the prince.

Hmmm. They were growing an immunity to spitballs. Not good. There wasn't much left in his arsenal that wouldn't injure them. ...Mudpies? Janus thought about it, loading another spitball. Messy, but effective. It would require some sort of catapult...easy to build, hard to hide from Gaspar. The prince took aim and fired.

The boy it was flying at ducked under the table to retrieve his feather pen. The saliva coated wad of tissue hit Gaspar in the butt. No one made a sound. Janus was too stunned to remember to hide his spitball tube. Gaspar whirled around, his cheeks red with rage.

Gaspar closed his eyes. Gaspar counted to ten. But when the other wet wad firmly lodged itself in his left nostril, he lost it.

"Ragh! That's it! I've had it with you!" The old man charged down the aisle and yanked the surprised looking prince to his feet. Dragging him along, Gaspar stormed out of the door. The moment it slammed shut, Janus snatched his arm away.

"Don't you ever touch me like that again," he hissed through his teeth, glaring hotly up at the Guru of Time.

Gaspar glared back just as hotly. His hands clenched into tight fists, nails digging into the palms, and his breath was coming in heavy gasps. Janus thought he had never seen someone so furious before. The old man whirled on his heels and started down the corridor briskly, barking a terse "Follow me." to the young prince. Despite the fast pace, Janus was determined to keep up. His robes swished around him as he ran.

They drew amused stares from the palace citizens. A few laughed to see the spitballs on Gaspar; most everyone in Zeal Kingdom knew of Janus' troublesome nature, although he tried to hide most of it from his sister.

Ah, there she was now. Schala stood leaning over a table, staring intently at a bunch of papers spread out on its surface. Her icy blue eyes narrowed in concentration, and a stray wisp of hair had fallen over her face. The other Gurus, Belthasar and Melchior, along with a bunch of stuffy bored looking court officials stood with her. She glanced up and caught sight of Gaspar with the spitball still lodged in his nose, shock clear in her eyes. Then she saw Janus her full mouth twisted into a frown as she straightened.

"He's done it before, Your Highness, and if he wasn't the prince I'd have boiled him in his own blood ages ago," Gaspar was snarling. Fury made his body tremble. "He is snide, disrespectful, and arrogant. He doesn't appreciate a thing I've done for him. If he was any other child the punishment for such-"

Schala silenced him by holding up her hand. She stared down at Janus her eyes hard. "I with agree with you completely, Guru Gaspar." She turned to the others. "If you will excuse us…?" They nodded absently, and dismissed her with a wave, not taking their eyes from the documents.

Schala led Janus to a nearby floor-to-ceiling window, out of earshot of any others. He looked at her cautiously out of the corners of his eyes. She was furious with him. He could see it in the hard glint in her ice colored eyes. In all other aspects, his sister looked the princess. Cool, calm, collected. Hardly any external sign of the anger he knew was burning behind her cold façade.

"You're on their side," he hissed through his teeth.

"I think you should be punished, yes. Because you have been tormenting a dear friend of mine. Because you don't seem to realize how good you have it here and as a result treat everyone like shit. If that makes on 'their side' I'm sorry." She turned to look down at him. "I have been far too lenient on you. I thought you deserved it since Mother is acting as if you don't exist. And now I can see that Gaspar has been right all these years. You are a brat, you are spoiled, and you do need to be disciplined." Schala paused, her eyes still on him. "So. Anything you can think of that would suffice as reconciliation?"

"No."

"Good. I already have something in mind. Gaspar keeps me informed of your progress in his lessons. He tells me that lately you are studying Earthbound history. He adds that it seems to disinterest you noticeably more than the other subjects."

Janus had no idea where she was going with all of this, but he had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

"I'm going to send you to Algetty for three days. To save your pride, you can piddle off the excuse of wanting to further your knowledge about the fascinating culture they have down there."

It didn't really sink in at first. Algetty? Janus thought, perplexed. What in Hell is…? His jaw dropped and his violet eyes widened in shock. He whirled on his sister, pale cheeks red in fury.

"Earthbound?!" He shrieked when he could breathe again. "You're sending me to the Earthbounds?!" The young prince glared at her fiercely. She returned his gaze with cool indifference.

Schala's was the only opinion that mattered to him. Not just because she had raised him after Zeal refused to even acknowledge his existence once he had been born. Schala was his best friend. His only friend. No one else took him seriously. No one else cared. She never turned him away, even if it was the middle of the night and he'd only had a bad dream.

"Fine," Janus snapped at last, meeting her icy eyes in another glare.

Her expression softened ever so slightly. "Three days. You leave tomorrow morning." She turned on her heels and started back to the table, where Belthasar was engaged in an intense argument with the officials over the contents of the papers. Gaspar had already gone back to his classroom.

Heaving a heartfelt sigh, Janus plodded through the ornate marble corridors to his room; thankful that in the very least Schala had forgotten to send him back to Geezer Gaspar. It bothered him more than he liked to admit that she was disappointed in him.

Algetty for three days? He would do it, Janus decided. No matter how bad it was. He'd do it for Schala.


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Rast: This one's for you, Rachel! Hang in there it will get better, I promise.

Also, the terms Lavoid and soul kiss belong to Nanaki, whose works can be found at icybrian.com.

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