Suikoden I: Scarlet Moon Empire
by Stacey Lui
Stacey_lui@hotmail.com

Prologue- "New Day."
"What's the matter, Aaron," Teo McDohl asked his son. The boy was pacing back and forth frantically in the small waiting room. "Are you nervous?" Aaron paused and looked at his father.

"I guess I'm a bit nervous," Aaron's voice trailed off to a murmur. He wrung his hands and quickly tightened the green bandanna on his head. Teo shook his head in amusement, the boy was truly apprehensive.

"Don't worry, the audience will be finished quickly. Just be the way you always are. The Emperor is stern, but there's nothing to be afraid of." Teo playfully mussed Aaron's hair much to Aaron's dismay. Aaron smiled forgetting his discomfort for a second. A maid entered the room and announced that they were expected in the throne room. Aaron quickly fixed his bandanna and patted down his red tunic and glanced nervously one last time at his father. Teo smiled in return then motioned for the maid to lead them to the Emperor.

They walked silently shoulder to shoulder down the long hall. Aaron kept his gaze down-cast and noticed that he could see his reflection in the finely-polished tangerine tinted marble floor. It was then he realized how much time has passed. He recently had turned seventeen, the age Gremio claims is when responsibility finds you and never lets go. He sighed and shook his head in dismay. This was the reason Emperor Barbarosa wanted to see him today. He turned his attention to his father's reflection.

I'll never be as great as my father, he thought. Teo McDohl is one of the five greatest generals in the empire. He is also the most trustworthy and the king's favorite among the five, and it has sparked jealousy among the others for many years. Teo had secretly hoped that Aaron would take after him, but what he hoped was what Aaron feared. Aaron respected his father undeniably, even then gazing at his father's reflection and back to his own he knew there was some barrier between them. They were never close, hell, Gremio was more of a father to him then his real father was. Teo was always on a mission for the emperor, defending this, protecting that, and so on. Aaron resented the Emperor for straining his relationship with his father, though also had immense admiration for the man.

Emperor Barbarosa was the hero of the Scarlet Moon Empire during the Seven Year War of Succession and was renowned throughout the world as "the Golden Emperor." When Aaron was younger his father entertained him with the adventures of the great Barbarosa. Many believed Barbarosa was a hero, if not a god. Though truly he was a legend among the masses.

Teo glanced over at Aaron and noticed the thoughtful expression on his face. He smiled and clasped his hand on Aaron's shoulder, which brought him out of his trance. They stopped in front of the throne room and waited for the guards to announce their presence.

"Teo McDohl, General of the Imperial Army and his son Aaron McDohl, here for an audience with the Emperor," the guard bellowed. Teo nodded to Aaron and proceeded into the room. Aaron took a deep breath and soon followed. The throne room was beyond anything he has ever seen. The room was showered in candles, which made the room sparkle, as if they were walking amidst the stars. Below their feet was a crimson carpet, which was embroidered with golden threads that lead to the throne. Aaron kept his gaze forward but was aware of all the guards in the room. The men were dressed in silver trousers with blue tunics that were bordered with white satin and carried a jewel encrusted gold swords at their side. His father once said he worked for the Emperor as his personal bodyguard, and was then promoted to the position he held to this day.

His father was dressed in a silver armor, with tufts that held the undergarment together with the armor peeking up between the crevices. He also wore his golden cape, which was a gift from the Emperor himself. His black hair was standing on end as though he had just risen from bed. He always told Aaron that it wasn't appearances that mattered but your skill in the battlefield. Aaron was trained with the staff ever since he learned how to walk, and it was always second nature to have it by his side. The fact that it wasn't with him now made him a bit anxious.

Teo stopped suddenly, causing Aaron to collide into him slightly. His father's cape enveloped around and he tried desperately to untangle from the mass. A deep thundering voice came from the throne and Aaron held his breath. Teo stepped forward and the cape fell from Aaron. Slowly Aaron gazed up at the intimidating figure at the throne.

"Welcome, Teo. How are things?" The man's voice boomed across the throne room. Aaron gaped in awe at the man. He could tell instantly that it was the Emperor himself; no one had that air of royalty like this man had. He dressed in pure gold body armor that was ordained with jewels around the collar. A purple cape was draped around his shoulders. His black hair was slicked back and fell to his shoulder. His face was one that people would expect to find on a warrior. With a strong jaw line and eyes that burned into your skull, Aaron knew that this moment will be with him until the day he died.

"Much as they were when we fought together in the War of Succession, Your Highness," Teo replied. Barbarosa chuckled.

"Impressive words. Do you not agree, Windy?" A tall willowy blond woman stepped out from behind the shadows. She had the look of a heavenly angel with long blond hair pulled up in a high ponytail, which was entwined with a blue satin ribbon. Her dress and cape were all the colors of the rainbow as it shimmered in the candlelight.

"Indeed, they are the words of a great general." Her sultry voice wavered across the room. She took her place by Emperor Barbarosa's right hand. The room was silent as if all were in awe of her presence. She glanced towards Aaron as if measuring him up to her standards. Aaron throat went dry and he tried to swallow.

"Teo," Emperor Barbarosa said bringing the attention of the room back to him. "I am sure you are aware of the troubling activity in the north. Would you be willing to travel there to protect the border?"

A man rushed past Aaron and crash into him sending him to the floor. He ignored him completely and walked up to Teo and started to shake his hand enthusiastically. "This is my Minister," Barbarosa stated.

"Our disputes with the United City-States of Jowston are complicated, but with General McDohl in charge, we can rest assured," the Minister said gleefully. He stepped aside to allow the Emperor to approach Teo. He held out what appeared to be a sword wrapped in purple velvet.

"My beloved sword Prakka has brought me luck on countless occasions. I would like you to have it. Take it with you."

Teo accepted the offering. "Thank you, Your Highness. I, Teo, swear not to disappoint you."

"You have my blessing. Good luck, Teo." Teo bowed slightly and stepped aside-leaving Aaron in full view of the Emperor. "So you're Teo's boy Aaron. Quite an impressive little countenance. Listen, Aaron. Would you be willing to give the Empire a helping hand while your father is protecting the northern border?"

"Yes, Your Highness," Aaron replied and glanced over at his father. Teo smiled in approval back at him.

"You already resemble your father. I shall look forward to seeing you grow into manhood," the Emperor commended him.

"Thank you for your kind words, Your Highness," Teo responded.

The Minister stepped forward, "Commander Kraze of the Imperial Guard will be Master Aaron's superior." Windy approached Aaron and lifted his chin with her finger.

"What an attractive young man you are." Aaron blushed and gave a distraught look to Teo.

Teo grinned and decided to save his son from the harlot. "We had better be going, Your Highness."

"I'm relying on you, Teo. And Aaron, I hope your efforts will surpass your father's." Aaron nodded and followed his father out of the throne room.

Windy caught his arm and in a mocking tone whispered, "Good luck to you, Aaron." She winked and sauntered back to Emperor, leaving Aaron perplexed in the middle of the walkway.

"Let's go," Teo said. Aaron nodded and proceeded. A man was waiting patiently outside of the room.

"Teo!" the man exclaimed.

"Here for an audience with the Emperor, Kasim?"

The man nodded. "Considering that I, Kasim Hazel, am one of the Five Great Generals, this is a terribly long wait."

"No need to worry, Kasim. Aaron and I had to wait a while also. By the way this is Aaron, my son." Kasim grinned and stepped toward the boy. He stared at him as if studying his potential. Aaron became slightly nervous and annoyed. It was as if all the people he met today were setting him up against some sort of standard.

"Ah, Teo. It looks like you've brought a fine son into this world. I envy you."

"You're embarrassing me, Kasim." A maid approached the two men.

"Master Kasim. The Emperor will receive you now. Please come this way."

"Well farewell, Teo. Aaron." They nodded in return and Kasim followed the maid to the next room. They proceeded down the stairs following the red carpet. It was not as extravagant as the one in the throne room, but it worth at least a couple thousand potch. Teo stopped abruptly and turned to Aaron.

"This is Kraze's room. You'll be reporting to him starting tomorrow. Go and introduce yourself."

"Okay." Aaron walked knocked on the study wooden door.

"Enter." The muffled voice came from the inside the room. Aaron proceeded into the room. The candles set off an ominous glow in the caliginous room. Aaron blinked rapidly as his eyes tried to adjust to the darkness. He noticed a man sitting on the chair in the corner of the room.

"Commander Kraze?" Aaron asked hesitantly. The man stepped into the candlelight. Aaron shuddered inwardly as the man approached him. His face was severe with hollows around his eyes and his cheeks. And his nose protruded jaggedly from his face. He reached up to flatten his greasy hair before approaching Aaron.

"Heh. So you're Teo's boy. What's your name?"

"Aaron, sir."

"Aaron? I couldn't care less if you're the son of a great general. You'll get no special treatment here, understand?" Aaron opened his mouth to answer but was rudely cut off. "Now go on home. Work begins tomorrow. Report here first thing in the morning."

"Yes, sir,' Aaron replied defiantly under his breath. He stalked out of the room where his father was talking with some of the soldiers.

"I heard the real reason you're leaving is to put down the rebels. Is this true?"

Teo shrugged, "The Emperor has only asked me to defend the Northern border. Whatever he has plan after that is up to him." Another soldier approached them.

"You mean the Liberation Army. They actually have a name now."

"Yeah, I heard about that also," the first soldier added. "But there nothing but traitors." There was a murmur of agreement among the mass of soldiers. Teo noticed Aaron standing on the edge of the crowd.

"If you'll excuse me," Teo said as he made his way through the crowd.

"See you on the battlefield!" One of the soldiers shouted. Teo smiled in recognition.

"Did you introduce yourself?" Aaron nodded. "I must admit I'm quite surprised that you've been assigned to such a weakling, but... well, let's get going. Gremio must be worried sick." They exited the Imperial Palace and walked through the Imperial Garden. The Imperial Garden is infamous not for its flowers but for its fountains. Though not open to the public, it was impossible to see the Emperor without passing the fountains. And even then the fountains could mesmerize the specters and they would never wish to leave.

Teo sighed and gazed at the fountains. "See Aaron," Teo said as he pointed to the fountains. "Each of these statues among the fountains represents the heart of the Scarlet Moon Empire."

"Isn't that the Court Magician Windy?" Aaron asked as he pointed to the woman in the middle of all the fountains.

Teo shook his head. "No that's Lady Claudia. She was the Emperor's wife during the Seven Year of Succession. She passed away soon after we established a foundation for the Scarlet Moon Empire. Everyone says that Windy has an eerie resemblance to Lady Claudia, but there both great women and cared endlessly for this empire."

"The fountain in Gregminster is also made in the resemblance of Lady Claudia," Teo added, glancing at the position of the sun he stated, "We should probably go." Aaron followed his father out of the palace walls. They had to cross a drawbridge to enter Gregminster. His father always said that Gregminster was in complete ruins before Emperor Barbarosa came in and rejuvenated the city. Rumors mentioned that Lady Claudia fell in love with the city and that was why the Imperial Palace was built so near it. This increased the popularity of the city and people from all around flocked to its city gates. Though much to the dismay of the original Gregminster residents.

They headed toward the mansion to the east of the city. This is where Aaron lived with his father, Teo, his servant, Gremio, and his two guards, Cleo and Pahn. Only two other Great Generals lived inside the city walls. Sonya Shulen lived next door to Teo and Aaron. And Milich Oppenhiemer lived across town in the Rose Estate.

"We're home," Teo shouted as he hung his cape onto the coat rack. Gremio rushed into the room and up to Aaron.

"Welcome home, Young Master. H-h-how did it go?" Gremio stammered. "Was everything okay? Were you nervous in front of the Emperor? I was so worried."

"Everything went okay," Aaron reassured him.

"You shouldn't worry so much, Gremio." Gremio shot around in shock.

"Master Teo! I didn't notice you at all."

"Didn't notice me? Good Lord. The only one you seem to care about is Aaron."

"Sorry, Master Teo. Young Master, Master Teo, dinner will be served in a few hours. And remember Ted is coming to congratulate you, so be here by supper. I'm going to make the best stew you've ever tasted. Why don't you go and rest, Young Master?"

"No thanks," Aaron replied. "I want to go see what's happening at the bar."

"The bar!" Gremio exclaimed. "Master Teo did hear that! You can't let him go to the
bar, there's nothing but ruffians in an establishment of that nature."

"He's right," Teo stated.

"But father," Aaron pleaded. "That is the only place where I can here the news about what's going on outside of the city."

Teo sighed. "Okay, go get Cleo and Pahn to accompany you." Gremio started to protest, but Teo shook his head.

Gremio sighed. "Well, I'll go make the stew. Remember to be home in time." Gremio left the room defeated. Aaron smiled at his father and followed Gremio out of the room and into the hallway. Stopping in front of the room closest to hi he knocked gently on the door. He paused and waited for an answer. When no one responded he opened the door into the dim chamber. The thick curtains were drawn so that streams of light were struggling to enter. Clothes were strewn on every piece furniture, and a sleeping hump can be found on the bed buried under a variety of trash. Aaron smiled fiendishly. Treading lightly to the body he paused then let out a tremendous shout. The figure flew from the bed and onto the floor in surprise.

"What the...oh, it's you Young Master. Home already?"

"Yes. Pahn I wonder if you would like to accompany me to the bar?"

"Yeah sure. You better go get Cleo," Pahn said as he rubbed the drowsiness from his eyes. He yawned and shooed Aaron out of the room. "Just give me a few minutes." Aaron headed down the hall to the room to the left of Pahn.

"Cleo? Cleo?" Aaron knocked on the door. When no one answered he opened the door.

"Young Master! How many times do I have to tell you? Please knock before entering a room of a lady."

"But I did knock," Aaron protested.

"Oh well, you can be forgiven if it's my room, I suppose," Cleo said not paying any mind to Aaron's protests. "So what do you want?"

Aaron sighed. "Father wants you to accompany me to the local bar."

"Why would you want to go to a place like that?"

Aaron shrugged. "Information, I guess. I hate being coped up in this city. I want to know what happens in the world around me."

"I know how you feel," Cleo said. "But it'll get better. Ted is coming over tonight, maybe some company will help ease your mind."

"Perhaps, but I still want to go to the bar." Cleo sighed. "Is Pahn going?"

"Yeah."

"Well I might as well go. Someone has to drag Pahn's drunk body back home," Cleo smirked. "I'll meet you at the entrance." Aaron headed out of the room; Pahn was already waiting for him. He nodded his head toward the doorway.

"Do you smell that?" Aaron paused and sniffed the air. An aroma of sweetness filled his senses.

"It's Gremio's stew. Do we have to go now?" Pahn pleaded. Cleo quickly entered the room adjusting her gray gloves.

"For god's sake Pahn," Cleo swore. "Are you always hungry?" Pahn glared at her and turned his full attention to Aaron.

"I'll be right back." Pahn rushed out of the room and back into the hallway. Few seconds later they could hear loud cursing, a crash, and a slam of a door. Pahn ran back to the entrance grasping a chunk of beef. "We better hurry," Pahn said hastily as he ran outside. Cleo rolled her eyes and grabbed Aaron by the hand.


They entered the inn. Marie, the innkeeper, approached them swiftly. Her hair was pulled up in a brown bun that lay on the top of her head. She was a plump motherly woman and Aaron had spent much of his time in her company when his father was out of town. "Master Aaron, I see you've come again. Did Gremio kick you out again?"

"Not this time, Marie," Aaron replied. "I'm just here to see what's the news outside of this godforsaken city."

"Don't say that," Marie scowled. "This is the most beautiful city in the world."

"But I don't know that," Aaron replied. "I've never been outside of the city."

"Don't worry. One day you will see more of the world than you would have liked," Marie said with a knowing gleam in her eye. Aaron gazed at her quizzically. "Anyway, don't stay too long in the bar. I don't want you to become associated with ruffians." Aaron nodded. "Well off with you. I have cleaning to do." Aaron smiled at the only mother figure he ever had and headed toward the bar on the far side of the inn.

Upon entering the bar, an argument was in full blow in the room. One of the men noticed Aaron and his company. "Who do you think is the greater general?" Aaron opened his mouth to respond but the man just continued. "General Kwanda Rosman, of course. He defended Emperor Barbarosa countless times. General Kwanda is a truly great soldier. I admire him." Another man interrupted.

"You're joking. General Kasim Hazil, the best swordsman among the five. The greatest swordsman is the greatest general, of course."

"Lady Sonya Shulen, Commander of the Imperial Navy. Not only a swordswoman, but a magician as well. And beautiful too boot." A complimentary sigh filled the room. "Lady Sonya is the greatest. Don't you agree?"

"She's not the greatest," a soldier in the corner scoffed. "General Milich, the Flower General, is powerful too. Top-class expertise in swordsmanship and magic, and always so well dressed."

A man standing the closest to Aaron shook his head in dismay. "You guys just don't understand. The most powerful general is most certainly General Teo McDohl, victor of a hundred out of hundred battles." He turned to Pahn. "Don't you agree?"

"Hell, of course, I agree." The roar of disagreement started to flood the room.

"Look what you started," Cleo whispered to Pahn. She then turned to Aaron. "Young Master, we better leave." Aaron took one glance at the rowdy crowd and agreed. He wasn't going to get any information today. They began to leave the inn.

"Master Aaron!" Marie rushed from behind the counter. In her arms were two packages. "Master Aaron, I was wondering if you would please deliver these two packages." Thrusting them into his arms, she continued. "I'm far to busy today."

"It's alright, Marie. I would be pleased to deliver these for you." Marie grinned.

"Thank you." Aaron waved goodbye and left.

"You just had to agree, didn't you? I'm hungry," Pahn complained.

"Don't worry this will be quick," Cleo replied. "One of the packages is going to General Milich and the other to Lady Sonya."

"Well let's get going," Aaron said motioning to the large manor at the end of the town. The manor was covered with roses. Some consider extravagant and beautiful while others just considered it downright ugly. They stopped in front of the golden gates.

"We'll wait for you out here," Cleo said. Aaron proceeded pass the garden and up to the front door. Knocking on it swiftly, a servant soon opened the door.

"A package for General Milich? You may bring it up to him." Aaron headed up the grand marble stairs. To his amazement the whole second floor was filled with dressers. A man was standing in a small clearing in the middle of the floor. He was wearing an elegant azure outfit with a golden gloves, boots, and cape. A thoughtful expression was upon the man's porcelain-like face.

"This outfit seems nice, of course, but the colors on this one match better." Suddenly he noticed Aaron. "Young man which do you like? Say aren't you Teo's boy?" Forgetting his dilemma for a second, the man approached Aaron. "Of course, you're Aaron. I was called by the Emperor, and of course I must show him my exquisite taste in clothes."

"General Milich," Aaron started. "This package is for you." Milich's eyes started to gleam with excitement.

"Perfectly wonderful." Milich pulled out an extravagant cape with a large pink rose embroidered on the back. He swung it around his shoulders and tied it around his neck. Turning to the full body mirror he examined himself in appreciation. "Absolutely dashing. Well, Aaron, I must be on my way. Good day." Milich gave a slight bow and exited the room.


"Well let's head back to Lady Sonya's house," Cleo said. They walked across the city. Though Gregminster is considered a city, it was about the size of a small town. It only took a couple of minutes to cross the town.

As they approached the McDohl manor, Pahn yawned. "I'll see you two later. I trust that you can handle the delivery alone."

"You lazy ass," Cleo insulted. Pahn grinned and jogged to the manor. Cleo sighed dramatically and turned her attention to Aaron. "Well let's get this over with." Aaron nodded and walked up to the front door. A frantic servant ran out of the door.

"Excuse me," she said as she ran past Aaron. Aaron threw Cleo a questioning look, but she just shook her head and motioned for him to hurry up. Since the door was open Aaron decided just to give the package directly to Sonya. The hallway was dark, though it was still early in the afternoon. Curiously he glanced around the room. He had never been in a women's house before. By the furniture he noticed and the numerous potted plants, he could definitely tell the house was run by a woman that cared about her surroundings. Aaron paused. Even standing there he could feel a sense a peace. A portrait of Lady Sonya Shulen was hanging on the wall in front of him. She was beautiful, with long blond hair, though not like that hair Court Magician Windy possessed. Windy's hair was close to a white, a blond that glowed in the moonlight. While Sonya's hair was the color of gold that shimmered in the sunlight. She dressed in a golden metal armor that also wrapped around her shoulders. A red skirt was her favorite piece of clothing. Sonya once said that 'Men look like pigs, but women look fantastic on the battlefield.' She became the envy of all women everywhere, and the lustful object of all men.

But what really startled Aaron was in the portrait. Lady Sonya wasn't clad in her usual armor, but in a white willowy dress. She was smiling at a man that was holding her hand. It was too dark to make out the man's face, but his eyes were so familiar that it shook his soul. A woman's sobbing and some murmuring knocked him out of his trance. He followed the depressing sound to a large door. Pushing it open he saw two figures huddled on the corner of a bed. The woman dried her eyes and he noticed that it was Sonya Shulen. The other figure didn't make any movements. Aaron cleared his throat. Startled Sonya looked up and straightened out her dress. It was then that he noticed that she was wearing the white dress from the portrait.

"Sorry for bothering you," Aaron apologized, slightly embarrassed. "The door was open. I have this package for you."

"Aaron?" she asked stepping closer to him.

"Yes," Aaron replied. Sonya grinned as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

"I haven't seen you in ages." She quickly hugged him. "But I don't blame you. Your father is such an ass when it comes remembering the 'little things'."

"I resent that," Teo warned as he stepped out of the shadows.

"Father, what are you doing here?" Aaron said clearly astounded. His father was the other figure that was shrouded in the darkness. Dejavu started to flood Aaron's senses but he quickly brushed them away. Sonya glanced at Teo sadly.

Grasping Aaron's shoulders harshly she started to speak, "Aaron, after tomorrow, you won't be able to see your father for a while. Better spend time with him while you can." Her eyes darted quickly across Aaron's face, as if trying to tell him something more. Aaron nervously backed off.

Teo clasped his hand on Sonya's shoulder. "Don't be a fool, Sonya. Aaron, you're not taking this seriously either, are you?" Aaron shook his head. Sonya looked forlorn for one reason or another and turned her attention away from him. "Aaron, I have to speak with Sonya. You go home first." Aaron agreed and left the package on the bedside dresser. Glancing back one last time he saw his father put his arm around Sonya and lead her back into the shadows.


"Finally home," Cleo sighed gleefully as they stepped into the entrance of the McDohl manor. "I'm going to go check up on you later, okay." Aaron made his way toward the kitchen. Gremio was busily finishing the stew. Deviously Aaron approached Gremio. Gremio was humming to himself as he stirred the stew.

"Oh no you don't Young Master," Gremio said without turning around. Startled Aaron stopped in place. "My hands are full right now. This is the most important step when you're making a stew."

"How did you know I was here?" Aaron asked incredulously. Gremio smirked to himself.

"I used to change your diapers."

"Okay, enough said," Aaron replied thoroughly embarrassed.

"By the way," Gremio continued. "Ted is here to congratulate you. He's upstairs in your room." A broad grin appeared on Aaron's face as he ran down the corridor and up the stairs. He threw the door open. None of the candles were lit yet and out of the window Aaron could see the setting sun.

A young boy with sandy blond hair was sitting on the corner of Aaron's bed. There was a beauty about the boy, something delicate. His skin was pale and his eyes were the color of the clearest pools. A slow grin crept on his face as Aaron approached him.

"I heard the news Aaron," he said calmly. "You met the Emperor, didn't you? Tell me about it." After Aaron finished his tale saw that Ted was silent at the end of the bed. "Aaron, there's something I need to ask you." Ted sighed deeply and looked Aaron straight in the eye. "I owe so much to Master Teo. He adopted me when I was an orphan, and it's about time I returned the favor. May I join your entourage?"

"Of course you can," Aaron replied as he patted Ted on the back. Ted grinned back and looked physically relieved.

"I have another question." Aaron frowned in concern. "Don't worry," Ted laughed. "I was just wondering what the Court Magician Windy is like. Is she pretty?"

"Yeah she's pretty," Aaron stated in a dream-like state. He leaned back on his bed and stared out the window. "She reminds me of a star. So beautiful but so distant." Ted leaned back also and stared at the stars. Silence fell on the room.

"Aaron there is something I have to tell you," Ted started seriously. Aaron glanced over at Ted. The room began to darken considerably. "Can you keep a secret? Can you promise not to tell anyone what I'm about to tell you?" Ted added hastily. Aaron nodded. "Well..."

Gremio slammed open the door. "What are you two doing in the dark? It's time to eat." Aaron started to get up.

Ted pulled him back down and whispered softly, "I'll have to talk to you later, okay?"

"Sure."


Ted and Aaron entered the great dining hall. It had the capacity to fit three of the kingdom's finest troops but lately it was only used to serve the six members of the manor. Teo sat at the head of the table with Aaron at his right hand and Gremio at his left. Cleo and Pahn sat next to Gremio while Ted sat next to Aaron. No one sat at the other head of the table, which was usually reserved for a guest of honor.

"Are your glasses filled?" Teo asked as he stood up. "Okay, attention everybody. Tomorrow morning, I must travel north. Aaron will be responsible for the household in my absence. Are you ready for this, Aaron?"

"Yes father," Aaron grinned at Ted. Ted smiled back and slapped him hard on the shoulder. It was the first time Teo has ever given him charge of the household whenever Teo was away. Usually the position was given to Gremio.

"Okay then I'd like you all to give him full support. Gremio."

"Y...y...yes, sir?" Gremio stuttered.

"You've taken care of Aaron since he was a baby. Thanks to your efforts, he has grown into a fine youth. I'm grateful to you."

"But sir, I, this is my job, an... and besides, serving Young Master is a pleasure for me too."

"I'm glad to hear it. I hope you continue to watch over him." Teo then turned his attention to Cleo and Pahn. "I'm counting on you two as well to help protect."

"Yes, Master Teo," Cleo responded softly.

"Of course, Sir. Leave it to us," Pahn vowed.

"And of course the most important one of all," Teo said as he directed his attention to Ted. Ted sat there incredulous of what Teo had to say to him. "I hope you'll always be a good friend to Aaron."

"I'd do so even if you said otherwise, sir."

"Good. Let's eat before the food gets cold. Let's raise our glasses." Teo paused for a second and glanced at Aaron. Aaron smiled at Teo. Teo smiled back and gazed at the people around him. "To my son. To the Empire."


The shadows played on the wall as Teo made his way to Aaron's room. It was late, close to midnight, and Teo could hear Aaron's soft snoring beyond the wall. Gremio hastily tried to keep up with Teo's long steps. "Master...." Gremio started. Teo touched his finger to his lips. Gremio acknowledged the message and opened the door for Teo. A small lump could be seen on the bed. The window was open and a cold breeze made its way into the room. Aaron murmured with discomfort as he tried to pull his sheets up. Gremio went to close the window.

"It looks like I won't be seeing your face for a while," Teo murmured as he pulled up the sheets and tucked Aaron in. A broad smile crept across Aaron's peaceful face.

"Shall I wake him up?" Gremio asked as he took his place next to Teo.

"No, let him sleep." Teo paused and brushed the hair from Aaron's forehead. "It's not as if we'll never meet again." Teo clenched his fist and backed away quickly from Aaron's sleeping form. "Gremio, take good care of him." The candles played on the walls still and all Gremio could see was Teo's back retreating into the shadows.

******End of Prologue******