La Belle Au Bois Dormant
Epilogue: Once Upon A Dream
"How long did King Kurogane and King Fai reign for?"
"Their reign lasted a hundred years," the old storyteller told the child on her lap.
"But…Fai was a faerie. Didn't he outlive Kurogane?" the little girl asked, her eyes bright with tears of worry.
"By no more than a few minutes. You see, when it came the old king's time to die, Fai lay down with him…held him in his arms until he'd passed, then simply willed himself to follow, just as Queen Sakura did for King Syaoran. And of course, Prince Zima became king after them, reigning in peace with his queen, Dita, for nearly as long as his parents had."
"So they died together?" a young boy in the audience asked.
"Of course," the old woman said with a chuckle. "What other way would they have chosen?"
"What about Queen Yuui and Queen Tomoyo. Did Tomoyo die, too?" another little girl asked.
"No. Living in Faerie with Yuui granted her the life of the fey. They reigned for many hundreds of years, up until Faerie separated from our world, disappearing into the mists of time, and for all anyone knows, they reign there still to this day."
"Did Tomoyo ever have her babies?" yet another child asked.
"Yes, she did. Two baby girls named Yuzuki and Kaede. No one knew it at the time, but Kaede-hime was the reason Sai had been so protective of Tomoyo. She and the princess shared a faerie's soul connection, and when she was old enough, they fell in love."
"What about Watanuki? Did he have a baby?"
"Yes. Her name was Kohane. He and Doumeki lived out their lives with her in the cottage in the forest."
"Who knows? Perhaps they were simply tired of court life and wanted a chance to raise their own child in peace. They passed eventually, but some say you can still see Kohane in Celes."
"Was Akira the only baby Subaru was ever able to have?" another little girl asked sadly.
"Unfortunately, yes. If you'll remember, Seishiro couldn't have any children of his own. It was the sacrifice he made to ensure everyone's future. So he helped raise Akira as if the boy were his own, in place of his kaa-san."
"Obaa-sama!" another girl in the audience called out. "My name is Soma, too!"
"Really now? I certainly hope you live up to the name, then. Souma was both a worthy warrior and a fierce friend. Honor her name and she will certainly guide you."
While a few children remained to ask questions, the rest of the audience slowly began to disperse: some young, some not so young, all familiar with the Tale of the Two Princes. It was always a big event when the ancient storyteller came around. It was said that no one knew the old stories better than she did. There were whispers that she was more than a hundred years old. Few like her remained in the world. Whenever she came around, work always ceased so that people might listen to her stories. Unfortunately, though, the old woman knew what her audience did not: that time would soon be coming to an end. She wasn't entirely sure why; she simply sensed that her time was ending.
"I think King Kurogane should have died in battle," the storyteller suddenly heard the insistent voice of a boy among the crowds of dispersing people.
"Why?" another boy asked. "I think it was nice they got to die together."
"You would. You just don't get it. A warrior like him, he would have wanted to go that way."
Looking through the crowd, the old woman quickly found the sources of the two voices: two boys standing with the girl who'd identified herself as Soma. Somehow, she'd known what she would find when she looked at them: a boy with dark hair and red eyes and a slightly smaller boy with blonde hair and blue eyes.
"You know this for a fact, do you?" she asked, her voice lancing directly toward the impetuous boy as she gently pushed through the gaggle of children surrounding her. Soma and the blonde boy both started upon being addressed by her, but the dark-haired boy tried to look defiant. He couldn't have been more than twelve.
"Yeah," he started slowly. "Yeah, I think so. That's what I'd want."
"Tell me, young man, how old are you?"
"I'm gonna be twelve in another week," he announced proudly. The old storyteller sighed, reaching out a hand to rest it on his shoulder.
"Then I suppose you would think battle is a good thing," she said, looking to the toy rifle strapped to the boy's back. "What is your name, young one?"
"Youou Suwa," he said. The old woman laughed quietly at this.
"I suppose it would be." This was it…the reason why her time was coming.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded petulantly. Looking into the boy's mind, the storyteller could see that his parents had given him the name in honor of the ancient royal line. The land of Nihon was no longer governed by a royal court and a sovereign. Over the centuries, the empire had taken on a more democratic system of governing. The only vestige of the old system was the way the provinces were still divided up.
"What about you?" she asked turning to the other boy. "What's your name?"
"Yuui," he answered shyly.
"Ah," she said. "What a coincidence. My name is Yuui, too."
The boy's already intense blue eyes lit up at this; not only to learn he had the same name as the honored storyteller, but also to know that he and his friends were the first people she'd ever revealed her name to. Everyone else just called her Obaa-sama.
"Would you children like to see something?"
All three children nodded eagerly. Something new and exciting was always appreciated in their lives.
"Is it far?" Youou asked as the three followed Yuui through the town.
"It's in the forest," she answered. This particular town had grown up not far from Celes' borders. "Is it still all right?"
"Well…I guess if it's not too far in. It's just…our kaa-sans need us at home," Youou explained.
"Any particular reason?" Yuui asked, feeling that she already knew.
"Well, You-tan's kaa-san just had a baby girl a few weeks ago, and mine's going to have a baby soon, too," the younger Yuui explained. The elder laughed out loud at this.
"You might have waited," she said with a grin.
"What?" Soma tried to ask.
Rather than explain, Yuui asked, "What's her name?"
"Tomoyo," Youou answered.
"Heh, even your name has endured…just as I promised you," she said, speaking to someone who was not there.
"What are you talking about, Yuui-sama?" Yuui asked her.
"You know…it isn't entirely true…what I told you about Yuui and Tomoyo," she said as she led them into the forest. It wouldn't take long to reach their destination. The forest's magic was more subtle these days, slipping into a state of near-hibernation ever since the break with Faerie, but Yuui had a relationship with the old wood such that it would take her where she needed at the pace she desired. Just enough time to explain…
"How so?" Soma asked.
"Tomoyo did die…not so very long ago, actually. Just sixty years."
"Sixty years?" Youou repeated incredulously. "That seems pretty long to me."
"Not to me, it doesn't. We traveled together for nearly a hundred years before she left, telling the old tales to those who would listen."
"You traveled with Queen Tomoyo? But…that must mean you're…" Soma struggled for the words.
"Queen Yuui," Yuui finished for her, his eyes wide with wonder.
"Not anymore. I haven't been a queen since this world and Faerie parted ways. My Kohaku became queen when I left."
She could tell that Youou was skeptical of her, but Yuui and Soma still possessed some of their sense of childhood wonder.
"But…why did you stay here…when the two worlds split? You could have stayed in Faerie with Tomoyo…and been happy forever," Soma said.
"As young as you are, you wouldn't understand…but sometimes life can get too long. The half-fey in this world have lost touch with their roots and they live mortal life spans. I'm the only one left. Even Kohane has gone now. As for why I returned. Even I couldn't tell you…for who am I to resist the charge of the Lord and Lady? For good or ill, I am bound to the land of my birth until my time of dying…though that land be utterly changed…save for this forest."
"Yuui-sama…how long has it really been…since it happened…since the time of the Two Princes?" Yuui asked her.
"Nearly sixteen hundred years have come and gone since those days…and the time will soon come for me to join them," she said quietly as they finally approached the little hillock. Youou was starting to ask her what she meant when he was interrupted by the sound of shifting stone. If he'd been skeptical before, he really had to believe in the magic the former queen used to move aside the rocks, revealing the entrance to an underground chamber. Soma covered her mouth in shock.
"Is…is this the place where…"
"Yes," Yuui said, knowing the girl couldn't bring herself to say the words. "Come," she said, heading down into the crypt. The three followed close behind.
Two tombs had been added since the crypt had been created all those centuries ago. Yuui led the three children to the oldest of the tombs, using her power to shift the heavy lid and reveal the sarcophagus' occupant: Souma…dead at only eighteen, and looking the same as she had the day they'd laid her to rest, untouched by time. The young Soma gasped, knowing just who she was looking at.
"She died before she could really live," the old woman said sadly, her grief still evident even after all this time. Gently, she pulled her reborn friend into her arms, whispering to her, "You have the chance to live the life she could not. Don't waste it. Honor her name."
Once Soma had nodded, Yuui took the time to shift the lid back into place before moving on to the next sarcophagus, which was much larger. The two occupants were also much older. Kurogane was well and truly an old man, his once youthful skin wrinkled with age and his once black hair snow white. Fai didn't have quite the same appearance of age: a few lines on his face and a decent amount of grey strands mixed in with his blonde ones. Whatever the difference in their appearances, they were resting peacefully together, the Hearts of Fire and Water around their necks and Ginryuu clasped securely in the old king's dead hands.
"The sword is here," Yuui began to explain to Youou, "should you ever have need of it."
"G-Ginryuu?" the boy whispered in reverent awe, taking in every detail of the well-honed blade before turning to look up at the old storyteller. "Why would I?"
"I don't know…but I now think this is the reason I was meant to stay for so long…so that I could meet you once more…and give you these gifts. They may be needed again someday soon."
"You've been carrying that toy too long, Youou-kun. You know why…don't you. You are him. Only Kurogane could ever truly wield that blade…he and Fai. Return to this place if you ever have need and you will see I speak the truth."
After returning the lid to her brothers' sarcophagus, Yuui led the group to the last one, which was also built for two. This occupant was an old woman, much older than even Yuui seemed to be. Lovingly, the old storyteller reached a hand in to stroke her grey hair.
"My beautiful Tomoyo," Yuui said reverently. "I've waited so long to return. The time's finally come for me to lie beside you."
"What?" all three children demanded in shock.
"Y-you're dying?" Soma asked, her voice thin with sorrow.
"Why? Why do you have to die now?" Yuui asked, tears already beginning to form in his eyes.
"Oh, don't worry, Yuui-kun. You'll see me again soon," she reassured him as she pulled him into her arms for a hug. "I'm coming right back to you, Otouto. I just have to die before I can be reborn. Though, heh…I suppose I ought to call you Nii-sama now. We won't be twins in this life, but at least we'll still be together."
"But…I don't…want you to die," Yuui sobbed, burying his face in the old woman's chest. Soothingly, she stroked his soft, blonde hair.
"Children, please don't be sad for me. I'm happy. I can finally rest…and I can be with all of you again. There's a whole new lifetime of memories still to come."
"Then…you're the baby…my kaa-san's going to have?" Yuui asked, still sniffling as he wiped at his eyes.
"Yes, and that new life can't be born until I die."
"A-all right," Yuui said, drawing a shuddering breath as he released the old woman. "If you promise you're coming right back…"
"A few days at the most," she said, dropping a gentle kiss onto the boy's forehead before turning to climb into the sarcophagus.
"But…if we do need to get back in again…how will we do it?" Youou asked her. "You moved all the rocks to get us down here."
Turning back to survey them one last time, Yuui smiled down at Soma. "You have the gift in you. There is a spark of faerie blood…and that will be enough. All you need do is find it."
"M-me?" Soma murmured in shock. Could it really be true?
"Absolutely. Go now. Return to your homes and tell them the old storyteller has passed on."
"Won't the old stories die with you, though?" Yuui asked her.
The elder Yuui chuckled at this. "No. Believe it or not, a government scribe actually tracked me down a few years ago to record the whole thing on paper. It will stay…through the ages…so long as you do not forget."
"We won't," Soma promised her, a few tears escaping her eyes.
"Good. Now go home. I'll seal the entrance after you."
"But…won't you be lonesome?" Yuui asked.
The former queen smiled tenderly down at her brother. "No, I won't…not here with my Tomoyo, but if you wish, you may stand at the entrance and sing for me. I will hear you."
Nodding, the three children bowed their heads to her before turning and heading back up the stairs. Once Yuui felt them reach the surface, she raised the stone barrier that protected the crypt from the outside world once more. Then, as she lay down beside Tomoyo, slowly pulling the sarcophagus lid over their heads like a thick blanket, she heard their voices…singing her to her rest.
The old woman knew the old lullaby. She recognized all the familiar words from her childhood, but there were some new words, as well. Centuries of singing had made the song longer.
Don't listen to them
'Cuz what do they know?
We need each other,
To have, to hold.
They'll see in time.
When destiny calls you,
You must be strong.
I may not be with you,
But you've got to hold on.
They'll see in time.
We'll show them together, 'cuz
You'll be in my heart.
Believe me, you'll be in my heart.
I'll be there, from this day on
Now and forever more.
Oh, you'll be in my heart,
You'll be here in my heart,
No matter what they say.
I'll be with you.
You'll be here in my heart.
I'll be there,
Yuui smiled as the world slipped away around her. She was eager to see them all again, even though she knew she wouldn't consciously recall them…not for a long time, at least. What she had told them was true, though. She was happy…happy that she could at last lay down her burden, knowing that their legacy was preserved. Already, she could hear Tomoyo calling to her.
Yuui, my Yuui…come to me. We're all waiting for you. It's time to let it go.
The old woman cried, feeling the years lift from her as she died. It was the best thing she could have said.