Disclaimer: I do not own any of Yuu Watase's work.
She was in the midst of starlit space, taking in the endless sea of stars that glistened in the distance. Her naked body floated gently, and she could feel her long, raven-black hair resting over her chest with grace. Despite not knowing where she was, Takiko Okuda felt completely content. It was as though the entire galaxy had fallen into place perfectly, and she was its bare witness. Suddenly, a bright silver light erupted before her, causing her to shield her eyes from its blinding force. A being took its form right before her, majestic and terrifyingly beautiful. It seemed to be a man, clad in robes of the finest material. He was entwined within two magnificent snakes, their slit-like eyes boring its gaze upon her.
"My priestess, Takiko Okuda," the beast-god, Genbu, spoke with a voice that miraculously resounded through out the never-ending vacuum. Takiko stared into the enchanting eyes of the being, determined not to let the fear consume her.
"To which path do you wish to undertake?" Genbu asked. "Contemplate carefully."
Takiko closed her eyes and took a deep breath; she already knew the decision in which to make. She was certain that this was the path for her and nothing else. At the back of her mind were images of those she held closest to her heart, affirming her choice — Namame, Urumiya, Inami, Hatsui, Hikitsu and Tomite. Her dearest companions were encircling her and giving her smiles of comfort. Finally, her vision rested upon one charming young man. She whispered his name, "Uruki".
Takiko slowly opened her eyes once more and smiled at Genbu.
"I choose to return to the Universe of the Four Gods, and rejoin my friends and especially, the one I love."
The beast-god looked at Takiko; it was hard to read his expression.
Finally, he spoke, "It will not be so easy for you, my priestess. There are many challenges in which you would have to face by returning to that world. Are you certain that this is what you want?"
"Yes! Without a doubt!"
"Then so it shall be."
Genbu raised his arms aloft, as though in show of welcome. He began uttering words that Takiko could not decipher. Suddenly, a piercing cold took over her body, causing her to gasp in shock. She wrapped herself in her arms and shuddered uncontrollably. The multitude of stars around her began to diminish into the distance. Then, she heard it — distant and forlorn cry.
"What's going on?" she asked. Moments later, her vision began to darken and she knew no more.
The handsome young man sat on the cushioned marble throne and sighed, his expression reflecting his deeply disturbed mind. He stared intently at the expansive hall before him, his gaze boring its way through silent space. Despite the immense grandeur that resided within the four walls of the throne room, it felt very much empty and devoid of joy, like that of his heart. The young king brushed his long brown hair with his hands out of sheer frustration, hoping to cease the pain throbbing in his chest. It was coming once more, piercing its way through his insides mercilessly. It was the feeling of sorrow and utter loss; so powerful it was that he could hardly catch his breath. A year had already passed and he knew the pain would never stop coursing through his veins, reminding him time and time again of how he had loved and suffered a loss so great, it would forever shroud his heart.
He buried his face in his hands, as he was afraid of the tears that would show. But they penetrated anyhow, basking the skin of his cheeks with water. And for the umpteenth time, the king found himself crying, helpless and alone.
His eyelids were forced shut and there in the stark darkness she stood, looking at him with beautiful black eyes. The love of his life. The one woman who made him complete. And now that she was gone, nothing seemed as whole as before. The young woman smiled a gentle smile, causing him to shudder slightly. She then opened her mouth to utter a word that resonated in his head like a ruthless siren song, "Uruki".
"Your memory will always stay by my side, won't it?" the young man whispered to himself in a horribly strained voice. "Won't it, Takiko?"
As he sat there, absorbed in his tortured soul, the double doors opened and hurried footsteps could be heard. Hastily, the young king wiped the tears from his eyes and sat upright. He refused to appear in such a weak state before anyone; honour and nobility was the impression he would constantly put up no matter how much he yearned for help. He watched in stern silence as a soldier approached and kneeled before him.
"Your Highness, an audience awaits you outside. They say it is of great importance," he said.
"I highly doubt that," the king replied, but he nodded his head nonetheless. The soldier understood his king and marched out of the hall. Moments later, he appeared once more with a group of thirty men and women. All of them were dressed in their finest clothes. The young king felt his heart sink as he watched them line up before him; he already knew what motive this congregation brought.
"My dear King Rimudo, we have come with glad tidings," said a middle-aged man with a red beard. "I have –"
"Please, call me Uruki," the king interjected. "I wish to be referred to by my Celestial identity."
The bearded man stood stunned for a moment but bowed in compliance.
"My King Uruki, I have come with the finest virgins from across the land and beyond. Every one of them willing to be your devoted wife."
The man eagerly gestured towards the many women lined up behind him; all of them were looking at Uruki with hushed excitement. Before he could respond, one of his advisors, Mugen, suddenly approached from behind and smiled in his direction.
"Such beautiful women they are, my king," Mugen said. "I'm sure one of them would be to your liking."
Uruki's footsteps echoed throughout the hall as he observed the many women around him in silence. They were a sight to behold, with their gentle smiles and immaculate skin. Only a blind man would refuse such angelic beings. Then perhaps, Uruki was blind. For through his eyes, these women were nothing compared to Takiko. They lacked her grace, her beauty, her tenderness … everything. He turned to look at a woman with raven black-hair, staring at her absent-mindedly. The young woman blushed and gave him a quiet smile. Uruki did not reciprocate for he felt nothing. He knew, only one smile was capable of making him drop to his knees. But that smile died a year ago, along with the woman who held it.
"I'm sorry," Uruki finally spoke, clenching his fists. "Thank you for coming. But … you may all leave now."
Whispers of shock and confusion erupted in the throne room; the men and women were looking at the king with perplexed expressions. Uruki, in an attempt to avoid their questions, marched away without a word.
"But, my King!" said a man in exasperation, following after Uruki. "Surely, you could reconsider. I assure you these women are pure virgins, born from rich and honourable families. They are sought after by many men –"
"Then why don't you give the women to those men?" Uruki responded coldly, turning to look at the man who had dared to challenge his word. "I'm certainly not one of them. I have no interest in these women, as beautiful as they are. But …"
Uruki paused in his words, not knowing how to explain himself. He placed a hand on the man's shoulder, much to everyone's surprise, and smiled feebly.
"I'm sorry. But none of these women are for me."
He then turned and walked out of the throne room.
"Your Highness, forgive me, but why are you being so stubborn?" Mugen asked while he and Uruki were in a quiet corner of the palace. "This has been the fourth rejection."
Uruki did not respond, choosing only to admire the view of the lake ahead. The sky was clear and pristine that day, and the jasmine flowers that adorned the trees surrounding the lake were finally blooming, marking the start of spring. The chirping of birds could be heard in the distance, carrying with it songs of peace and tranquillity that sailed nonchalantly with the wind. Having been accustomed to harsh winter and raging fires, Uruki thought that this was certainly a moment to behold. The country of Hokkan had never experienced such natural beauty before, not since after the summoning of Genbu …
Uruki stopped in his thoughts, recalling a sacred ceremony that happened a year ago. Eight warriors encircled one priestess, who read aloud an incantation from a holy scroll and thus beckoned the beast-god upon them. He would never forget that day; for it was then that he experienced the greatest moment of his life … and watched it vanish from his grasp. It was at that moment that Takiko left him, and he had never ceased to feel such excruciating pain since then.
"My king," Uruki heard Mugen's voice begin, and a tinge of annoyance hit him. "You have to understand, finding a wife is of utmost importance. The country requires an heir to the throne. You, of all people, would know this. Surely you don't wish to be alone for the rest of your life."
"I think I've already been condemned to that fate," Uruki finally spoke, his voice quiet and unassuming. "Have you ever been in love, Mugen?"
"I beg your pardon, your Highness?"
"You heard me. Have you ever experienced such heavenly bliss by simply touching the lips of a woman so dear to your heart?" Uruki turned around as he said this, looking at his advisor with stunning blue eyes. "I have. And there's nothing more hurtful than not being able to feel those lips again. It can drive any man insane. Once you've encountered such beauty, nothing else can possibly challenge it. Therefore, no other woman would ever be able to take her place."
Mugen, the young and wise advisor, was left dumbfounded before his young king. Uruki had never uttered words of his past before or of his lost lover, the legendary Priestess of Genbu — at least, not to anyone other than seven particular companions. Those who had the fortune of meeting the priestess spoke of her grace, beauty and gentleness, and also of her great compassion and unfaltering courage. It was said that she alone had garnered the undying loyalty of the eight warriors; so strong was their dedication that they were willing to die for the priestess. Uruki's abiding love for her was testimony of that.
Not knowing how best to respond, Mugen bowed his head in show of obedience. Suddenly, a servant approached them.
"My king, they have arrived," the servant said. "They await your presence at the throne room."
Upon hearing this, Uruki broke into a wide smile, his heart beating in excitement. He thanked the young man before him and excused himself. He sprinted down the hallway, not giving a care in the world at the stares he was receiving from his subjects. Finally, as he turned a corner, his eyes fell upon two familiar figures, standing before the steps of the throne.
"What took you so long?" Uruki said jocularly. The two people, one a man and the other a woman, turned around to look at him. They smiled gently.
"Forgive us, your Highness," the man said; he was quite the tall and intimidating form. And as he bowed, his long black hair fell gracefully over his broad shoulder.
"Hagasu, c'mon! There's no need to call me that," Uruki insisted, trying to hide his embarrassment. "You never addressed me that way when you were hunting for my head. So why now, huh?"
"He never liked you back then, did he?" the woman chided in, placing a hand on her hip. She had such an air of confidence about her that only a dignified woman like herself could ever muster. She tossed her black hair aside and smiled at Uruki, her beauty mark becoming more evident than ever.
"It's great to see you again, Inami," Uruki said, placing both hands on the shoulders of his dear comrades. "It's great to see both of you."
"And you," Inami replied sincerely. "So I heard you've refused another proposal. You're becoming quite the heartbreaker, my little prince."
At this, the three of them laughed in unison.
"Are we ready to go?" Hagasu asked to nods of approval from his two friends. "All right then. We'll have to pick Hatsui up first."
"Where is he now?" Uruki asked.
"At home, I believe. He's overseeing several of his precious plants, along with Namame."
"Well, he does have a knack for herbs. I've never met anyone as knowledgeable as he is in that field," Inami commented. "By the way, Hagasu, where's Tegu?"
"He's resting at home," Hagasu responded calmly. "He's been feeling a little unwell lately."
"That's too bad then. Well, we'd better get going and fetch the others."
The three companions walked out of the throne room and proceeded down the long and winding hallways of the Hokkan palace. As they did, they absorbed one another in light-hearted conversations; Inami and Uruki joked about under the silent amusement of Hagasu, who could not help but grin upon seeing his friends going at it. They were completely immersed in one another's company until Uruki bumped into someone, causing him to fall a few steps back.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" Uruki said, looking down at a small figure sprawled on the ground, covered in layers of thick blankets. "Here, let me help you."
As Uruki lifted the blankets off, the figure finally revealed itself, staring up at him in shock.
"Oh, it's you, Megumi," Uruki said. "Sorry about that!"
The young brunette-haired woman stood rooted to the ground, looking at the king as though she had been turned to stone. Suddenly realising what she was doing, seventeen-year-old Megumi blushed and hastily collected the laundered sheets strewn on the floor.
"I'm sorry, my king! Forgive my clumsiness!" Megumi exclaimed. Seeing the sudden fluster that took over the poor girl, Uruki exchanged confused glances with Inami and Hagasu.
"Megumi, relax! I was as much at fault as you were," Uruki assured the young woman. "I wasn't watching where I was going."
Megumi gripped onto the sheets and nodded wearily at the king, unsure of what to respond. Uruki then smiled at her, causing her to blush even more. It was quite the awkward moment, as they stood before each other's presence.
"Well, are we going to stand here all day or shall we get going?" Inami broke the silence, looking rather annoyed. Uruki smiled once more at the maid and excused himself, leaving an awestruck Megumi who stared right after him.
Megumi hid in a dark corner, trying to maintain her composure. She could feel the warmth of her cheeks as she leaned against the wall, blushing furiously. The image of her king played in her head; he was smiling down at her, ever so charming he was. Her heart was beating wildly.
"He spoke to me," Megumi whispered in a voice so soft she could hardly hear herself. "He actually spoke to me!"
Surreptitiously, she peered out of the corner and her eyes fell upon the receding form of Uruki in the distance, flanked by Hagasu and Inami. He was chatting away, obviously content with the presence of his close companions. She watched his mouth curve into a charming smile and she sighed dreamily.
"Megumi? What are you doing?" said a male voice out of the blue. Startled, she dropped the blankets in her arms and slipped onto the floor.
Megumi felt a pair of firm arms wrap themselves around her waist and she was lifted on her feet. She looked up, while rubbing her back, and saw her brother standing next to her.
"Oh, it's you, Mugen," she said, relief setting in. "I didn't hear you coming! You scared me!"
Mugen grinned at his sister's clumsiness. He took off the monocle from his right eye and tapped it on his sister's head.
"What were you doing back there? Spying on the king again, huh?" he asked with a sly smirk. Megumi glared at her brother and stuck her tongue out.
"No! I just … no, I wasn't!"
"Admit it. You were doing just that," Mugen teased. But the smile on his face vanished almost immediately as he saw Megumi bite her lip to avoid answering. A sudden sensation took over the adviser — a mix of anxiety, worry and fear — and he placed a hand on Megumi's shoulder.
"Megumi, I've told you countless times before. You cannot continue like this. There are plenty of men out there."
"I know! But, the king … Uruki's … just different! I can't help it," Megumi said defensively, her face turning red once more. Mugen scowled upon hearing this.
"But he hardly notices you! What are you trying to achieve with this, Megumi? Do you want to get your heart broken? You know you hardly stand a chance with him! His heart already belongs to someone else!"
Megumi's shrill voice resounded across the hallway as she exclaimed in exasperation. Mugen, completely taken aback by this sudden outburst, stared at his sister with a dumbstruck look. Megumi had never screamed at him before, not with such conviction. He began to realise the severity of the situation, and of the deep love his younger sister truly had for the king.
Suddenly, an image took over his line of vision. It was a memory, one that he had kept in a secluded corner of his heart for so long. He closed his eyes, determined to shut it out. He then wrapped Megumi in a tight embrace and sighed.
"My dear sister, I'm saying this because I care about you. Just … forget about the king, no matter how hard it'll be. If you were to ever hurt yourself because of him, I don't know what I'd do."
Megumi gasped upon hearing such intimate words coming from her brother's mouth. After all, he had always been stoic and reverential in the presence of the king, and to hear such emotion from him showed how much he had meant those words. She sank her forehead against her brother's chest.
"I'm sorry, Mugen. He's too special to me. I know it's impossible, but I have to try, no matter what it takes."
Author's note (March 31, 2011): Once upon a time I got bored and suddenly realised that I hadn't updated my Genbu Kaiden Fanfiction in ages so when I checked, I was appalled to find that the format was all wonky, as in there was no border to separate one scene from the next so it felt like one continuous mess. That's why I've decided to replace it with a new version, and admittedly, I've made a few edits here and there. I can't believe some of the mistakes I made back then. Oh well. And yes, I will be publishing the latest chapter... soon.