In hindsight, it was no surprise that, when given the choice, Kuon the Bewitching would always want to visit the lake. For once, Kyoko did not find strength in herself to make fun of his child-like fixation for the winged feathered creatures; she just let herself be carried away until she was suddenly landing on a boat. A swan boat.
"No bread today?" Prince Ren the Charming nodded to the water as he rowed, making a show of his big effort.
It was just a standard saturday demonstration by Queen Jelly the Witch. Doves flew in pairs creating heart shapes through the sky with their interlocking rainbow trails. Multicolored fish could be seen meters down on the teal, glittering, crystal clear water, and they periodically jumped up in a swirling choreography.
"No bread, those are clearly magical."
"I am clearly magical and you still force feed me," Prince Ren shook his head. "Was your early said 'etiquette' all just for show, peasant?"
"Maybe those ladies there got some bread stored for you." She sourly shifted in her seat, avoiding to look at the colorful mass of dresses on the shore.
"Maybe they would go away if you looked less like a sulking peasant and more like a Princess Candidate who claimed a Prince."
Kyoko the Plain snorted at the audacity of this fairy.
"Oh, do not dare to push this on me. Whose brilliant idea was it to turn into a human?"
"The damsel was in distress," he rowed with stoic energy. "What kind of gentleman would I be to ignore my lady's struggles?"
"Danger?" Kyoko squinted to avoid looking at the display of his upper muscles. "Memory seems to be failing you, your highness! Lady Kimiko could only be a threat to me even in her most delusional dreams. And if you are trying to address the dress fiasco, Prince Koga had everything under control well before you..."
Oars came flying to her side.
"In short, it means you are your own Prince and need no help?" he crossed his arms. "Row ahead, My Lord."
Kyoko rolled up her sleeves.
"It will be my pleasure."
There were few things that got Prince Kuon the Bewitching by surprise, and without a doubt, all recent occurrences could be pinpointed back to one stubborn cook. He fell headfirst into the glittering water, making acquaintances with the multicolored fish when the boat increased in speed and yanked him out, ending his aquatic sojourn
"Come knead bread with me next time!"
Kyoko's wild smile sparkled a twin one on his face.
"Ah, so that's the kind of prince you are? One without honor, I see" Prince Ren mused, wiping the damp hair out of his face. "I demand you join me here so we can get this matter straight, like two reasonable gentlemen."
"You wish jellyfish," she chuckled.
Kyoko felt a surge of energy in the air right before the colorful fishes swim away as fast as watercolor dripping down a canvas. A massive water column rose, and on top of it, the Prince's glowing green eyes scowled menacingly.
"Eat sand, peasant prince."
She reflexively looked at the shore, worried to what the other ladies might see, but was thrown off balance and fell hard in the wood. She felt when his wave rose the boat in an impossibly high height, and after a scary, still second, it spun out of control, round and round until it suddenly banked, stranded on a small patch of sand that few unwise souls would have dared to call an 'island'. Unable to control her wobbly legs, Kyoko stumbled on Prince Ren's emerging body while attempting to get out of the boat, consequently dropping them both down in the sand.
Glares were exchanged in defiance, but when mouths were opened, just giggles slipped out. Her sides hurt. They needed several minutes to catch their breaths from the irrational and uncontrollable laughter.
"It is so warm and peaceful here," Kyoko closed her eyes and took a deep breath, focusing on the soothing sounds of water.
"It reminds me of home. The birds here sound similar to my riverbank Dryads' songs," Prince Ren leaned his head on his forearm. "Your view of the sun is better, but the water spirits recently learned a dancing number that would put all these fishes to shame."
"I cannot fathom how majestic it would be to just live in your world," she sighed. "I would never grow tired of exploring all the minutiae on the … Oh by all gods Kuon, your eyes!"
She urgently pulled his face to her.
"What?" Prince Ren frowned. "And how came you can touch me but I can not touch you, Lady Kyoko the I Have Seen It All Before?"
"Shut up, chipless cookie," she marveled, "they are green again!"
Kyoko pulled his chin up and inspected carefully. With no charms or illusions, Kuon's eyes were more bewitching than the first day she saw him. It was true that when he turned human, their hypnotic quality never quite went away, but now, looking at it directly was nothing short of setting off a spell - a mind-numbing and magnetic one.
"I am using all my powers to keep this transformation," he snapped his fingers but only a peach-sized, pathetic storm appeared. "I am so drained after all that magic… I could not dry myself even if I tried."
"But we still have a dance to attend," Kyoko sat up. "You can not stroll into the ball dripping like that."
"Why not? You would never tell mermaids to dry themselves before a ball," Prince Ren snorted and pulled at her skirt. "Besides, If you get as wet as I am, we would fit in just fine."
"Come, merman. I think I know someone almost as tall as you."§
"It is unprecedented! A breakthrough! Never, In all my research, my lady, never an occurrence like this was registered. Not even once! Tell me, was the fae dialect also affected by the extents of the transfiguration?"
Lord Yukihito The Erudite stopped pacing to gaze at her, wide-eyed.
Kyoko regretted sharing the nature of Prince Ren's secret almost immediately. Yukihito, the most composed gentleman she knew, had an unflattering breakdown when learned exactly where her fairy-grandfather had been these last hours. After fumbling with spare clothes and eagerly lending his changing chambers, Lord Yukihito behaved only a hair saner than an excited teenager knight who had just met his fairy tale hero.
"Must be, otherwise he wouldn't be communicating with everyone, right? Apologies for ignoring obvious information. Oh, what kind of researcher am I, neglecting previously gathered data? What about his powers? Does he get to keep it? And, what exactly caused this cataclysmic event? Was this your wish? Which astrological and supernatural conditions would need to be met in order for him to perform this trick again? How long does it last? Would any other common fairy posses this power? What are the everlasting consequences on his body?"
"...aaaaahhn," she replied wisely.
"Peasant, this is so small that I would rather use the damp suit."
Prince Ren the Charming stepped out from behind the curtains and Kyoko was suddenly aware of the inappropriateness of the situation. His outfit was somewhat ill-fitting, short in length and tighter than necessary, but when he leaned against a pillar, the common shoes and brown pants suddenly looked regal.
Lord Yukihito fell to his knees with reverent eyes.
"He, he is just so.. magically-sublime."
"The shoe seam... it seems comfortable enough. To dance. I mean, you got dapper dancing shoes," Kyoko pointed.
"Yes yes, it is functional," he rolled his eyes. "But this shirt is too tight, see?"
Her eyes accidentally followed his hand and she was forced to observe that he hadn't even tried closing his shirt at all. Loose fabric draped down his toned torso like a crumpled napkin that had the misfortune of protecting a warm, buttery perfect croissant.
"A humble scholar, like me, could never compare to your fae body excellence," Lord Yukihito had unexpected tears in his otherwise dignified face. "Apologies, your highness, for I have failed you."
"I don't know," Kyoko closed a reluctant button. "I'm sure if we just, left the top open a little…"
Wisps of feathery blonde hair curled out on her index. She tried patting it down but was carried away by how smooth the whole thing was.
"Kuon… I don't think your fans are ready for this..."
Horns blew off at a distance and made Kyoko jump back into reality. She backed down and wiped the corner of her mouth.
"Well, we don't have much choice now, do we? Thank you for your aid, scholar. You were, ahn, an exemplary assistant." Prince Ren patted the Lord's elbow and stepped forward. "Come peasant, I believe we have a ball to attend."
Kyoko hurried to follow his giant, effortless steps and walked by a petrified and gaping Lord Yukihito. She set her jaw and shook her head. How did he do that? And why, why for all that was sacred, did she have to capture the bewitching fairy-grandfather?§
Despite everything, they managed to arrive at the ball before sundown. A mix of orange, pink and purple lights bathed the ceilingless ballroom, where a gathering crowd of couples was split between dancing on the hardwood floor or chatting at the opulent tables.
"Something is off," Kyoko halted.
"I don't know…" she took in the scenario. "Do you remember how the opening ceremony had that impossible rainbow... and the overwhelming amount of blossoms in the flower bed... oh, and those nifty fish at the lake..."
"Well-coordinated, at best," Prince Ren intervened.
"Shut up," she slapped his arm without real force. "Well, this ball is everything I wished it would be, and more! But somehow, part of me expected something a bit more... magical, maybe."
"She does not want to steal the moment," a stern voice interjected.
"Lady Kanae, I did not see you the whole day!" Kyoko bowed, delighted. "Oh, and you have a companion!"
Lady Kanae and a child not taller than herself bowed in return, both courteously bored.
"Prince Hiou the Adamant escorted me through the festivities after the incident with my last prince," informed the Cold Beauty.
Prince Hiou gave a disturbing smile that made Lady Kanae's blue fairy laugh maniacally.
"What did the last Prince do?" Prince Ren was curious. "Perhaps he summoned your anger by offering you a hideously tacky bouquet that was so tacky it could only be accepted at a funeral?"
"No," Lady Kanae mused, "Did you give Kyoko one of those, or was it someone else?"
"What were you saying before, my lady?" Kyoko interrupted loudly. "Who does not want to steal the moment?"
"The Queen," Lady Kanae answered. "The princess race technically ends on the summer solstice, but most of the pairings happen in this dance. Excessive magic would steal their shine. Look, it is her turn."
Lady Rumiko the Ivory Beauty was floating gently above ground, unaware of the world as she chatted happily with her partner. Suddenly, a ray of sunshine descended from the sky and multicolored petals cocooned her features from sight. Her now free fairy gave it a goodbye kiss, and it all exploded magnanimously, revealing a safe and crowned new Princess underneath.
"Is your friend okay?" Prince Hio asked.
Kyoko's wide eyes were glued to the crown, a crystal as delicate and pale as Lady Rumiko's skin itself.
"Perfectly fine," Lady Kanae shook her head.
"Three, two, one..." Prince Ren counted.
"SHE IS SO FLAWLESS!" Kyoko shrieked, jumping up and down. "Oooooh it was so perfect, Never have I ever seen something like this from the kitchens! And her crown is soooo beautiful…. Wait, I have a crown too! Surely, I should take it out in respect of the princess, right? How rude! Argh, I must look so silly right now…"
Prince Ren held her hands before she snapped the flowers away.
"Calm down peasant," he scolded. "I, your fairy-grandfather, gave you this crown. It is not against your rules."
"But if Kyoko was given a flower-crown by a fairy," Lady Kanae wondered, "that means…"
"Means she finally found a crown as fake as herself," a melodically voice interjected, "and best yet, it is going to rot and decay like her stupid pretensions."
Dusk grew darker as Kyoko the Plain inner demons exploded through the ballroom.
"Shotaro! Shouldn't you be using that beak of yours to cluck us some shallow songs?"
"Oho, did I touch a nerve?" The minstrel prowled around her. "Easy there princess, or the nobles will spot the fake swan in no time."
"What what now? Sorry, I do not speak chicken language. I would ask you to repeat that, but clearly it would not be worthy of my delicate ears."
The minstrel had an answer ready for that, and for all her next retorts. Their public bickering escalated to a harmonical crescendo of snappy replies and sordid insults, punctuated by his never stopping lute. More than a fight, it all sounded like old lover's duet.
"Don't," Lady Kanae held Prince Ren's arm.
He ignored the tug, eyes glued in the scene, "pardon me, my lady?"
Lady Kanae stepped in front of him, backed by her prince.
"If you are going to stop them by insulting Kyoko into a clever and mean trap, like you have been doing since you arrived here, just don't."
"My lady misunderstood me," Prince Ren chucked dryly "I have been merely…"
"...pulling Kyoko's ponytails like a kid who is love," she crossed her arms. "My child-prince knows how to play this game better than you, your highness."
Prince Ren starred at her and laughed in disdain.
"Love? Love? That peasant cook abducted me from my land, overfed me to exhaustion, threatened my life daily and you say I am in 'love' with that plain creature?"
"The way I see it, she brought adventure to the doorstep of a secluded fairy and tried to make him comfortable at the best of her abilities," Lady Kanae shrugged. "Or so I understood by her rants with Chiori. We did not talk at length."
He growled and turned away, childishly.
"Look, if it is all that bad of a torture, just pair her up with Koga and fly away to the sunset... but make up your mind fast. Your time is almost up," Lady Kanae stepped aside. "Only you can decide how you fairy tale day ends."
A commotion made it hard to hear the Lady's voice. Kyoko and Shotaro's argument had been mistaken for an attraction, and a crowd was following them along.
"Man up, fairy," Prince Hiou the Adamant advised.
Prince Ren brought his hands to his face and muffled a sigh, sputtering a series of melodic clicks that would have earned a slap from his mother. When he looked up, there was a new spark of resolution in his features.
He smoothed his shirt, and opened an extra button, for good luck.
"Minstrel, I will take it from here," Prince Ren smoothly stepped into the argument and snatched Kyoko's frantic hand away.
Kyoko tried to free herself, but her movement was somehow translated into an impromptu swirl.
"I was promised a dance," Prince Ren declared.
"No!" she struggled. "That jerk was almost where I wanted him. I need to go back and tell him to…"
Her thoughts were forcefully halted as the lute grew louder. Simple and cheerful chords enveloped the minstrel's voice, booming words through the whole ballroom.
'A swan is a swan and a goose is a goose!
At a barnyard or a ball,
With fancy tricks to fool them all,
A swan is a swan and a goose is a goose!
Clapping now everyone!''
Kyoko was shaking like a leaf.
"I am going to murder him. I am going to dismember his limbs one by one and burn his open ends so that his blood will not leak. I am going stab countless rose torn's to his heart and dance on top of his chest, and I am going to do so on a tower so that everyone can see," she spat. "How dare he play that childish tune at a place like this. How dare he?!"
Prince Ren took her hands in his and cleared his throat.
"That man is trying to upset you enough to get your undivided attention. Right now, the cruelest possible thing you could do is simply ignoring him."
"W-What?" Kyoko's eyes bulged out, "But, but I want to humiliate him. Publicly..."
'A swan is a swan and a goose is a goose!
Despite its coiffured hair,
Regardless of the clothes it wears,
A swan is a swan and a goose is a goose!'
"Trust me, I do it with you all the time, you are very easy to fool," Prince Ren the Charming pulled her into a swirl that ended into a tight hug. "Do you know the waltz, Kyoko?"
"Oh," she gingerly followed his feet. "That, that's oddly honest, coming from you."
"Really? No come back?" He laughed and bent her torso with his. "Left hand on my shoulder, right hand on my hand. Try to keep up."
'A swan is a swan and a goose is a goose!'
"Even I know that," she mumbled.
Prince Ren conducted her through a series of impeccable steps, and to his surprise, Kyoko did not fight in the slightest. Her determined eyes were looking straight at his, and at him only.
"You know what peasant, your plan had merit," he mused. "If we take out some of that blood, I am sure we could rub it in just a little."
Without a warning, Prince Ren threw her up in the sky and jumped right after. Kyoko watched in awe how a lock of his hair lighten up in bright yellow, only to be followed by another and another. In a blink, he was blonde again. She opened her mouth to point it out, but the lack of ground beneath her shoes startled her tongue.
"Do not stop moving your feet," he advised.
They were airborne! Floating above everyone's heads at the rhythm of gooses and swans.
"Oh by all the goods! Kuon, it is so high! Everyone is looking at me! Me, the most graceless biped of them all… I will never be able to show my face in public again."
Kyoko hugged him tightly for support, not daring to stop the waltz. Prince Ren expertly swirled her through the purples of sunset.
"Nonsense, you are doing great," his voice was soothing. "Trust me, I had to accompany worse fairies at their debuts. My father made sure I knew how to lead properly. Did your guardians not teach you how to dance?"
"They taught me how to perfectly dice an onion in all seventeen different colonial ways. But that is what I am truly best at," Kyoko laughed with a tad of hysteria, "You know how the feast got me so busy that I had to skip the dance classes. I was expecting us to just sway back and forth a little... "
"Classes?" he snickered into a box step. "Those are for peasants and children, you are a natural!"
Kyoko hid her face in his chest.
"Not all of us are born with your tender stretchy muscles, you know? And how are you making me, us, do this?" She peeked down at the gaping nobles. "I thought you could not even dry yourself with what was left of your magic."
"Kyoko the Plain I am here and I will not leave you," Prince Ren squeezed her hand. "You just have to trust me."
Kyoko sighed, closed her eyes, and concentrated on the awful song. They swayed and twirled and jumped in the sky. She heard a 'show off' scream, but it did not concern her since it was probably proclaimed by Lady Chiori.
"I think... I can do it."
"Of course you can," Prince Ren pulled her closer. "You were born to fly."
Kyoko laughed lightly.
"Did you drink something, Prince Kuon? Honestly, if you behaved like this half of the time, the whole Princess contest would have been a cake walk."
He smiled in return.
"You just have to wish for it, and I will oblige."
"And what is the point of me wishing you to be kinder? What a waste!" Kyoko snorted. "Besides, you are going to vanish on summer solstice after our contract is over. No point in me asking you that if I will never be seeing you again."
Prince Ren halted and the lack of movement made them slowly float down. He smiled and brushed away a tear from her cheeks.
"That was not what I meant."
Kyoko covered his delicate hands with her own strong ones.
All she could focus on was the contrast of his gold hair against the dark sky. She bit her lips anxiously, when he inclined his head, causing their noses to gently brush.
"Silly, just wish me to..."
Kyoko found herself in a cloud of iridescent smoke, and in the next moment, she was falling to the ground, fast. Impressively enough, she landed safely on top of a pile of man's clothes and had her glass jar tightly crushed in her arms.
"Kuon! Are you okay? By all gods, you scared me!"
Inside the pot, the winged creature gave a yawn disproportionately big to his diminutive size.
"Yeah yeah, I overstayed my welcome," he rubbed his eyes and yawned again. "Should have kept an eye on the sun."
"Yeah? Should?" Kyoko rotated the jar so that her screams could have a better angle. "That was very irresponsible, even for you! You could have shattered and died on this landing!"
"Relax donkey head," Kuon the Bewitching leaned smugly into the glass and winked. "I am in one piece. A safe and sound and hot piece."
The perplexing fairy height combined with her new familiarity of his ways made Kyoko laugh uncontrollably.
"How come the smaller you get the sassiness increases?"
"What can I say? Faires got a knack for the absurd. My human brain was holding me down," he rubbed his eyes and yawned once more.
"Good to have you back," she wiped a tear of laughter and sighed in relief. "Thank you for the day, your highness. It was the most magically royal experience I could have wished for."
"Glad that we finally clarified how awesome I am," Kuon murmured and slid down the glass. "Well, peasant, now that we got this clear, I need to take a nap."
"Do not worry," Kyoko the Plain got up and retrieved her flower crown, ignoring the mass of ladies that were frantically checking on her conditions. "I've got you, little prince."§
Damn, this day has been hella long,
Thank you Uni for writing his song,
I couldn't make two words go along.
So now, I'm going to write Quantum Skip,
But I also will be gone for a while on a trip.
So don't worry, I'm not RIP.
I'm moving to London!