Disclaimer: Fruits Basket is owned by Natsuki Takaya/HAKUSENSHA - TV TOKYO—you know, them guys. I just sorta, er, "borrowed" the characters, and practically every other element in this story. Please don't sue. It's not worth it, I assure you.
The Prince of Snows
Evening fell upon the city with the lightness of a veil descending from the sky. In fact, for the inhabitants of the city, this was exactly what evening was: Yaori, Goddess of the Moon, awakening and spreading her dark veil over the earth, upon which she laid out her jewels and pearls and her silver hair comb, which was now floating dreamily above the city, filling the streets with a diffused light. Yaori was an ancient goddess, older than the reckoning of most of the city-dwellers. As deities went, she inspired fondness and a familiar sort of devotion, unlike the awed reverence reserved for Lord Akkan the Sun God, and when people gathered round for story-telling, Yaori and her adventures were traditional fare.
But that night, the story about to be told in a small room of a small house at the very edge of the city was not about Yaori, or any of the deities for that matter.
"Are? What's wrong, sweetheart? Can't sleep?"
"I'm not sleepy yet, Mother. I was looking at the moon. It's so pretty, isn't it?"
"Mmm. Lady Yaori certainly seems happy tonight. Well, since you're not sleepy yet, would you like to hear a story?"
"Oh yes! I'd love a story! Especially the one where Lady Yaori gets kidnapped by Lord Borukaru, who keeps forcing her to marry him, but she becomes friends with a swan, a frog and a pear tree and they help her escape and—"
Soft laughter. "But you already know that story. Too well, I think."
"Oh. That's because it's a nice story, but…hmm..." The little girl trailed off as she thought of a good story. Suddenly, her face brightened. "Mother, tell me about the Prince of Snows."
The young mother looked at her in surprise. "Where did you hear about that?"
"Jiro-san showed me a book today. It had a picture of a boy in it. He looked very handsome, but sad. Jiro-san said it was the Prince of Snows, and that everybody knew his story. Do you know it, Mother?"
Her mother nodded slowly. "Yes, I know it. But it's a very sad story, not like the ones about Lady Yaori. You might not like it at all."
The little girl gave it some thought then smiled brightly. "That's all right. You told me before that even sad things have something precious to give. I'd really like to hear the story. Please?"
The mother gazed at her daughter for a long moment. She reached out and picked up the small wrist resting on the coverlet, absently fingering the charm bracelet with its little animal charms, then sighed. "All right. Come lean against me and I'll tell you."
Long ago, so the mother began, there was a kingdom so rich and powerful and so large it covered the maps from end to end. Its walls were made of stone carved out of the mountains and wood from fragrant trees shipped in from the lands in the West. There were sprawling cities within its realm, with winding streets and bustling marketplaces and gleaming towers, but there were also forests and villages and rice fields. Two streams flowed on either side of largest city, coming together in a sparkling ribbon of a river, dotted with boats with colorful sails. People from faraway lands came to marvel at the sights—the golden-domed temples of Lord Akkan, the obsidian turrets of the Academy of Magic, the villages and orchards. And of course, the most wondrous of all, the royal palace itself.
The royal palace was everything that was grand and lovely, with its gardens and pagodas, and so immense it was almost a city in its own right. In the middle of this vast paradise was a tower so tall it was said that anyone who looked out its topmost window could see the entire kingdom laid out as a veritable banquet for the eyes. From this tower, the king stood at the window and surveyed all that he ruled.
It was golden age for the kingdom. The great wars were over, the various rebellions quelled, and peace had at last been achieved. People grew rich from trade, and many elected to enter the Academy and learn magic. It was said, however, that there was none so wise in ruling, so shrewd in matters of commerce and politics, and so strong in the ways of magic, as the king himself. In fact, the royal family, a fairly extensive clan by all accounts, prided itself on the fact that it bred not only rulers but magic-users as well, and had an entire order of mages all to itself.
A shadow, however, lay upon the kingdom. For many years, the king and queen were childless, and the throne had no heir. Finally, one bleak winter morning, the queen fled to the temple and threw herself before the altar of Lord Akkan, weeping and praying for a son. Sure enough, months later, there was heartfelt rejoicing in the kingdom when the queen gave birth to a son.
And never was there a child more blessed by the gods, or a prince more loved by his people!
A beautiful boy, was the prince. He was named Yuki, and mere days after he was born, people were already calling him the Prince of Snows, because his skin was as white as the snow his mother had fled into that hazy winter morning. As the years passed, his snow-white skin warmed to a pale ivory, and his hair deepened to the silvery lavender of a winter morning at the flush of dawn. His eyes, however, remained a deep violet, eyes that were warm and kind, but flashed cold and hard when he was angry, like amethysts in ice. As he grew older, it became evident that physical beauty was not the only gift the gods had given the young prince. Although it was not true that he was reading books that could boggle even the most senior mage at the Academy as soon as he was born, he did come close, learning how to read almost as soon as he could pull himself up on tottery legs. He was a thoughtful, quiet boy who preferred to listen more than he spoke, and, to the delight of his tutors, began methodically devouring the books in his father's library along with his primers and storybooks. It was not true that he was able to quote entire passages from the Book of Tenets moments after his birth; he did that at the age of four.
One would think that a boy with such a scholarly bent, who was quite content to sit underneath a tree with a book or putter around in the flower beds alongside the bemused royal gardeners, would be somewhat puny and given to sloth. The prince, however, proved once again to be a marvel. Sent by his father to learn the fighting arts from a retired army commander, Yuki quickly surpassed his peers and soon proved equal to boys twice his age who had been training for twice as long as he had. He would stand at one side and watch their teachers demonstrate move after move, or sit in a corner while the older boys sparred, watching every throw and parry and kick and thrust with an alert gaze, then proceed to execute the same moves so fluidly it would seem as if he had been studying them for years. When he started creating moves of his own, the old commander made a decision, took him aside and proceeded to train him himself so that, at the age of eight, the prince could wield sword, dagger and staff with lethal skill. Speed and strength lay within the small, slim body like a coiled snake.
Strong and handsome, intelligent and wise beyond his years, the prince drew people to him as easily as the sun melted away last winter's snow. His parents worshipped him, the aristocracy adored him, the servants doted on him, and even hardened soldiers treated him as a beloved little brother. Young ladies of noble families and princesses from foreign lands were begging their fathers to negotiate a betrothal to him when he was only five years old. The young misses in the city sighed as they watched him ride with his father and mother in the royal carriage, his thoughtful violet eyes peering out the window. With his solemnly courteous manner, shy smile and his careful way of listening to whoever was speaking to him, be it princess or peasant, the prince won hearts wherever he went. If he had a failing, it was his inability to wield magic as well as his father and clansmen did, but it didn't matter. Yuki enchanted as easily as he breathed.
Not all succumbed to his enchantment, however. As young as he was, the popular young prince had already earned his share of enemies.
One of these was the brilliant mage, Ayame. At sixteen, Ayame was the most promising of the students at the Academy and would have been chosen, along with a few of the senior mages, to journey to the lands in the West and study magic there, if it weren't for the unfortunate accident of birth that made him a close cousin to the young prince. As it was, a week before the most anticipated moment of his life, Ayame was summoned by the king and ordered to tutor Yuki in the ways of magic, adding in meaningful tones that Ayame was also to act as guardian and surrogate big brother to the prince who, the king felt, was a bit too shy and solitary, isolated from the other children by his title and his remarkable beauty and intellect. Ayame, with his flamboyant manner and outrageous charm, could perhaps help the prince learn to act more like a little boy than a miniature adult. The young mage had no choice but to swallow his fury and bitter disappointment and stand aside as a hated rival took his place in the traveling party, while he himself stayed behind to play nanny to a spoiled brat who was, to Ayame's thinking, too dull and colorless to merit all the attention lavished upon him. Yuki, for his part, sensed at once his new guardian's animosity toward him, and in his icy, stubborn way when his own pride was ruffled, dug in his heels and refused to cooperate, much to the mage's frustration. You can imagine how magic lessons went with these two! Needless to say, the two boys managed to get along quite like siblings, although not as the king imagined they would—the mage treated the prince as an unwanted burden and a troublesome pest, and the prince treated the mage as a capricious tyrant and a contemptible fool.
And then there was Akito.
Ah, Akito. Now there was one with darkness in his soul. Black-haired and painfully thin, with eyes the color of light dying in an empty room and a voice like silk gliding over steel, Akito was both the king's secret hope and his greatest despair. In the silent youth's veins ran the purest strains of royal blood, and the most grievous violation of everything that blood stood for.
Akito was the bastard son of the king. Now such things were not unheard of, in those days when kings reigned. But Akito was the product of a brief, illicit union between the king and a wandering woman, a member of the Forbidden Tribe. These were the lowest of the low, the filthy-blooded ones, a rag-tag band of vagrants and criminals. They were the stone-worshippers, the animal-lovers, the witches and the crazies, plucking at the hems of civilized society, scratching out a living by scavenging what they could from refuse heaps and stealing the rest. They lurked in the dark places of the kingdom, and no decent person would even consider associating himself with one of their kind.
But outside the cities, where the forests nestled at the foot of the mountains, the Forbidden Tribe grew strong enough to become a serious menace to the nearby villages. When the reports of pillaging and widespread banditry became too numerous to be ignored, the king rode out with his army, determined to see these vermin destroyed once and for all. Like a cleansing tide the king's army surged through the forest into the Forbidden Tribe's stronghold and crushed them utterly.
That night, the king, flushed with victory and too much wine, staggered into his chamber and found a woman there waiting for him, clothed only in her long black hair. She came to him, lithe as a shadow, and by the time the king realized what she was, it was too late. The woman had vanished as if she had never been. The king searched everywhere, hunting down the wretched survivors of the Forbidden Tribe and forcing them to reveal the whereabouts of the woman, all in vain. Effort was made to keep the truth from the people, but in the dark, musty corners of the kingdom, whispering voices told of the king's terrible sin: He had broken the sacred oath. He had betrayed the thousand-year-old vow made by the very first king, his ancestor, and every king that came after, and sullied his blood with the blood of the forbidden people. According to the lore, for as long as the king remained true to the oath, the kingdom would be strong. But the king had betrayed the oath…and the whispers would trail off into fearful silence.
But the years passed and no dire catastrophe occurred to rend the kingdom from end to end. Tentatively, the king allowed himself to relax, thinking that nothing had come out of that muddled, shadow-filled night. Then one day, he looked out and found a small, thin boy standing there, looking lost amidst the lush beauty of the gardens. Nobody knew where he came from, but the king gazed into unfathomable gray eyes and knew, with a chill, who the boy was.
Perhaps he should have killed the boy then. Had him taken to the edge of the city and executed, or thrown him into the sea, or swung a sword at the scrawny neck, spilling the tainted blood all over the roses. Perhaps, if he had, he could have spared his people the horror of the punishment for a broken oath. But for all his faults, the king was unable to lift a hand to a defenseless child, and against the better judgment of history, the boy was taken in and given a place at the palace.
And so Akito lived an in-between life. He was the son of the king, but the queen could not abide the sight of him, and no member of the aristocracy would acknowledge him beyond a distant, frigid politeness. Neither was he a servant, and had he attempted to befriend them, he would have been met with sullen muttering and stony stares. For months, he would speak to no one except his father, but the king, after assuring himself that the boy was an ordinary human and not an avenging demon, desired nothing more than to pretend that Akito didn't exist. The poor lad wandered about the palace like a lost shade, shunned by everyone he met, hiding in the shadows and watching his family go on with their merry lives without a single thought to him. Eventually, one or two of the more tender-hearted servants took pity on him and offered a timid sort of companionship, but by then it was too late. Unrelenting solitude wrapped around the black-haired youth and turned his heart into ice. Until the end, he breathed not a word about his mother and where she was, and if he had ever chanced to speak to her again. Perhaps the only comfort Akito drew from the long, lonely years growing up in the palace was the knowledge that the king had no other son, and only the son of a king could inherit the throne. Sooner or later, his father would have no choice but to acknowledge him.
But then Yuki was born. Beautiful, gifted Yuki, the darling of all. In the glow of the young prince's enchantment, Akito was all but forgotten.
That was a lamentable mistake, one of many the king made in the matter of his first-born son. If only they had paid more attention to him! Perhaps if they had, they would have noticed the creeping malice in Akito's eyes, the coldness of his face, the chill in his smile. They would have noticed the dead birds that sometimes lay outside his window, the strange scrolls scattered across his table, filled with words written in a coarse, ancient tongue. They would have noted the peculiar way shadows seemed to follow him, even in broad daylight. Most of all, they would have noticed the many nights he would vanish from the palace, leaving no trace of his passing.
And perhaps the king would not have mistaken Akito for an ordinary boy. Akito was far from ordinary. The blood of mage-rulers flowed in his veins, granting him powers that would have astonished his father, had he cared enough to find out. But Akito's powers were of a dark, vicious strain unknown to the royal mages at the Academy. It was the magic of the Forbidden Tribe, earth magic corrupted by evil and hate and a thirst for vengeance. It could have been that Akito's mother was a witch of great power, and she passed onto her son all her hatred and spite along with her dark sorcery. Keeping his abilities hidden from his family, Akito trained in the vile ways of the Forbidden Tribe, learned to summon demons and bend their wills according to his whim, and was initiated into the circle of forbidden magic with the blood from his first murder. He gathered to himself the scattered bands of the Forbidden Tribe, who were only too willing to follow him in return for the chance to avenge the massacre of their kin many years before, and forged himself an army the like of which had never been seen before in the kingdom—an army that moved in shadows, struck swiftly and killed mercilessly, then melted away again into the cracks and crannies of the city. But there were worse things than that. Defying every commandment against the summoning of the dark gods, Akito performed a secret, terrible rite and bound his soul to Mugon, the dark god of silence and most faithful servant of Lord Borukaru, the God of Death. How it must have amused him to observe the petty lords and ladies with their little games and shallow pursuits, oblivious to the danger growing right underneath their noses.
A shadow army at his command and an arch-demon enslaved by his will, and still Akito waited. He knew about the rivers of magic lying beneath the kingdom, damned up behind a thousand years of oppression and cruelty and remembered betrayal. He knew about the prophecy and the oath his father had broken. He knew—and bided his time.
The day of Prince Yuki's ninth birthday dawned clear and blue, and the joyful sounds of feasting and merry-making filled the streets. In the royal palace, the grand party in honor of the prince promised to last for a week. Everyone was happy, except perhaps for a certain young mage who, in his disgust over all the to-do, had stalked out of the palace vowing not to return until much later that evening when all the nine-year-old children were asleep. The king and queen beamed proudly as well-wishers thronged around the young prince. Lords and ladies drifted about in colorful clouds. Servants smiled at one another in the hallways. Soldiers passed around jugs of ale and toasted the young prince. Mages at the Academy abandoned their scrying for the day to join the city-dwellers in the streets. Filled with joy and love for the handsome young heir, the entire city floated upon an ocean of food, wine and euphoria.
Then Akito struck.
The day that promised to be bright and joyful darkened in the blink of an eye, and shrieks of laughter quickly turned to cries of bewilderment and screams of terror. Storm clouds covered the sky until it was hard to tell if it was day or night. The earth shook and trembled, casting down towers and houses around the terrified people, tearing deep gorges in the ground from which noxious red fumes poured out. Akito's shadow army attacked, and the people found themselves struck from behind by the very same folk they had offered food and wine to mere hours before. City guards ran about in confusion, soldiers desperately tried to regroup, but Akito's army merely vanished into the shadows only to attack again and again. The mages rushed out with spells ready, and found themselves contending with a host of demons. And the earth continued to quake, stone walls continued to crumble and fire surged through the city in a wave of red death.
And from the tower of the Academy, Akito gazing upon the destruction and death with a satisfied smile. Then he fixed his eyes toward the tower of the royal palace, and his smile deepened to one of anticipation. It was time to pay his respects to his father and his dear little brother.
The royal palace was in chaos. The king had been about to present Yuki with his birthday gift when the earthquake struck. Marble pillars and walls groaned and collapsed, crushing the merry-makers as they fled. Fire followed the earthquake, gushing up from cracks in the ground, and the magically-sensitive members of the royal family found themselves clutching their heads and whimpering as wave upon wave of power swept over them. Dazed and in pain, the king struggled to master himself and stand up, and found himself confronting a thin, pale figure cloaked in black, walking calmly through the fire, cold gray eyes glinting in the darkness. Hovering above was a looming shadow, a black void with eyes of sharp red lightning and an empty gaping maw that devoured all life and light and hope. The king looked up at the shadow, the bringer of death and silence, then at his smiling son, and his spirit shriveled inside him.
Akito had come home.
The battle that ensued was horrifyingly brief and, in the end, utterly futile. Even a mage-king could not hope to defeat a dark god. In the end, as the king lay dying at his feet, Akito gave his arch-demon a final command and the dark lord Mugon obeyed, rising up into the air in a twisting gale and then sinking deep into the earth. And then—silence. People looked up in fear and wonder. One last glimmer of hope…and then the city died.
No mere fire or earthquake could destroy a city and shatter a kingdom as utterly as this. The earth simply opened up and swallowed the city. Nothing remained—no tree, no tower, not even a single brick. At the wreckage of the palace, the ground split open and waters rushed forth in a great flood. The palace, the gardens, the pagodas—all lost to the fury of the crashing waves, until finally, a vast lake was formed in the place where the palace once stood. All that was left was a tiny island with its tower rising up as a lonely testament to the evil that brought it to ruin.
Eventually, a dense, dark forest grew over the land where the city once stood. Nobody dared to enter that forest. The few who tried never came back. It is said the forest is cursed, that its borders crossed into another world, a hellish place full of demons and monsters. The land surrounding the forest was a wasteland, where nothing grew. The river had turned to dust. The fields and orchards had withered away. Shinosohma, the great city, was dead. The Kingdom of Kaibara was broken.
And what of poor Yuki, who lost his family, his home and his kingdom in one fell blow?
Some say the prince had died, crushed underneath the rubble during the earthquake. Or burned in the fire. Or killed by demons. Even if he somehow managed to survive all that, he still would have drowned when the lake was formed, along with the rest of his family.
But some say the prince did survive. That Akito had captured him and put a curse on him. Some even claim that Prince Yuki was still alive, imprisoned in a dungeon of a castle on an island in the middle of an enchanted lake just beyond the forest. But that was, of course, ridiculous. The story was more than two hundred years old. Surely no one could live as the prisoner of a black sorcerer for that long, nor would one wish to.
"Then again, who really knows for sure?" the mother finished with shrug. She turned to her daughter, curled up in her lap. "What do you think, sweetheart?"
Soft sobbing answered her. "The poor prince! The poor king! The poor people! How sad for them!"
The little girl went still for a moment, then nodded fervently. "Oh yes. They treated him so badly. It wasn't all his fault." She sniffled and wiped at her nose, then sat up suddenly. "Mother, do you think the prince is still alive?"
"Perhaps. The place beyond the forest is steeped in magic. Anything can happen."
"But what if he were still alive? What happens then?"
Her mother smiled. "Then he should do what all lost princes should do: Take back his kingdom."
The little girl's eyes widened at the possibility. "He could be alive. He could be. I want to help him. Won't somebody help him, Mother?"
"Somebody will." The mother affectionately smoothed down her daughter's hair, her fingers coming to rest on the little orange cat pendant hanging around the small throat. "Now go to sleep, sweetheart. The time for sad stories is over. Your Prince of Snows is waiting for you."
She kissed her daughter good night and tucked the covers around her. A stream of silvery light fell upon the sleeping face in a gentle benediction. The young mother looked up, and she and Yaori shared a smile.
(TO BE CONTINUED…)
Author's notes: Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. It's a monstrously long bit of work, and it's taking so long to finish. It's an alternate world kind of thing, with a lot of OOCs and extremely different takes on the curse, but I tried to keep all the characters together, somehow. Most of this is based on the Furuba anime, as I have no access to the manga. It also doesn't help that I live on another planet. By the way, this is heavily Yuki-Tohru-oriented, as well as Kyou-Kagura and some new team-ups that surprised even me. Reviews, negative or positive, are welcome.