Title: First Meetings aren't Always the First
Disclaimer: Kyou Kara Maou and all of its characters are not my property. The only thing I can call my own here is the story of this fic itself. And if you have read something similar to this, it's entirely coincidental.
Synopsis: Another run-in with the Demon Mirror and a wish that suddenly came out of Yuuri's mouth led him back to the past, when Conrad was not yet in the military. The two of them meet in a seemingly familiar fashion, but with a very headstrong Conrad. Will Yuuri be able to handle the stubbornness and pride that was Conrad? And will he be able to correctly pronounce 'Conrart'? Conrad-Yuuri friendship.
First of all, sorry for the long delay. (does dogeza)
It has been almost half a year since I last updated. I know the blame is all on me, yes. After Christmas break, I can say that I focused on my last months in college, barely finishing my thesis. During that time I had also been giving some of my time to write this chapter, but it was going on like 200 words a day, until I finally stopped writing it. It even occurred to me once that I might discontinue this fic. There were also these depressing events that kept me from finishing this chapter, like how, at first, my thesis adviser kind of ditched my thesis (but she still gave me a high grade once the semester was over, thank the heavens); and that my grandmother died just a week before my graduation. I also hated how this chapter went when I wrote it, and I was ready to delete the file.
Well, after maybe a month of doing nothing, I started watching the season 3 of KKM. To tell you the truth, I started writing this fic after I watched season 3's episode 13, and after that I wasn't able to follow the series until I graduated. (I was surprised to know that Lord von Radford is indeed a respected veteran soldier! It wasn't awkward to have him visit the military academy then, as Conrart told last chapter.) And now that I finished watching it (it was a great inspiration driver!), I decided to continue this fic, after all.
Finally, after several revisions, this chapter is here, and I can safely say that I can see this story's end concretely. This chapter here is a very long one, and it does almost nothing but build up the plot. There may be some scenes here that are totally irrelevant to the story, but please forgive me, I got attached to them so couldn't find myself deleting them. Te-he!
Since no one complained about how I referred to Conrad and Yuuri last chapter, I'll be using the same formula here.
Please read on!
III. Caught! Yuuri, in the Purists' Grasps
"…And this person died," finished Conrad. Those last words that came out of his mouth were laced with dread.
Murata leaned slightly forward, propping his elbows on his knees, hands entwined. "A civil war sixty years ago, you say. I've read all the history books in the Shinou Temple's archive, but I do not remember reading something about this civil war."
"It was a futile attempt on the purists' part. It did not last for more than two weeks," cleared Conrad. "And since it mattered only to the half-humans, little was written about this incident."
"So, is…is that person you're talking about…really Yuuri?" Wolfram asked, worried about what his older brother's answer would be.
Conrad paused for a moment, and shook his head. "I'm not really sure. Although that person looked like His Majesty, there are certain factors that make me believe they are not the same person, like the hair color. When that person washed his hair, it still had that brown color. Certainly that's because—"
"That person wasn't wearing any hair dye," Murata interjected.
The brunette nodded. "But I'm a bit bothered by other things, like how he called me 'Conrad' the first time we met, and the name he introduced himself with…"
"Which was?" the blonde asked.
"…Mitsuzaemon." The name was familiar to the soldier. I've almost forgotten about him…and now he returns to my mind? Why now of all times?
He looked at the sage, who seemed to have the same look of familiarity with the name, although much subtler. "What now, Your Highness?"
Murata leaned back on the couch, his arms now on the couch's armrest, eyes closed. "Don't work yourself over it. Though judging by what you said, this Mitsuzaemon does resemble what Shibuya might do…"
Wolfram became even more worried, and frantically he said, "So what do we do now? Conrad said that that person died! Is there anything, anything at all, we can do to bring Yuuri back right now? And Conrad," gripping his brother's shirt tightly, looking intensely at his older brother like his own life depended on the latter's reply, "Are you really sure…that this Mitsuzaemon died?"
Conrad found it hard to affirm that question. But at last, turning his head away from Wolfram, he nodded. "I'm sorry, but I believe so."
The blonde's eyes widened, his hands that were gripping Conrad's shirt quivering. Once his brother said that, all of Wolfram's energy left him. His head drooped; arms fell lifelessly at his sides. "I…I still don't believe you. Yuuri is a double-black. This Mitsuzaemon isn't. That's proof enough for me." He started to walk toward the door. "I'm going back to my room. Just…call me if—" he shook his head, "—when he wakes up." He then slowly left the king's quarters.
The brunette looked at the closed door. He himself was extremely worried. If the sage had said that that person might indeed be Yuuri, then it must be true. But like Wolfram said, from what he could pull out from his memories, Mitsuzaemon's hair was brown; there was no doubt about that. And, like Wolfram, he was clinging to this small fact that that person and Yuuri were different people. "Your Highness, can't we really do anything?"
"No. We can do nothing, expect wait for Shibuya to wake up." Murata replied. He slightly tilted his head down, eyeglasses reflecting light in a way that hid his irises.
Conrad bowed his head. Doing nothing about something, especially if that something had to do with Yuuri, was the least of his specialties. If only he could go to where Yuuri's consciousness was, he would. If only he knew this would happen, he would've looked closely at the Demon Mirror's surface just so he would be by Yuuri's side. But, like the sage said, at this moment, what he could only do was sit and wait for Yuuri's eyes to have life in them again. He sat again on the chair beside Yuuri's bed. "If that's the only thing to do…" He looked again at the peaceful expression painted on Yuuri's face. Yuuri, please…wake up soon.
The sage turned his head to the window near him and looked at the mixed hues of orange, red, and violet in the sky. He then looked at the windowpane itself, seeing his reflection staring back at him. A mirror only shows one's reflection, huh.
"Tch. They're gone."
The five pursuers were annoyed that their prey were able to escape. They walked out of the plaza.
"That was indeed the orange-haired guy we saw before." Two days ago, when they were going back to their base after they beat up a half-breed for coming up to them and berated them for something they apparently did, the orange-haired guy came out of the woods and helped the half-breed. He probably thought that they were already gone. "That guy must be a half-breed himself, seeing how he helped that guy two days ago, and now he's with…the filthy poser himself."
Nonetheless, it was good news for them, as one of the two definitely would be a worthy catch. That was definitely the half-breed posing as one of the royalty, formally known as Crown Prince Conrart Weller.
They had known how the prince looked like from detailed descriptions given to them by the higher-ups; apparently, his existence as a crown prince of the Demon Kingdom was one of the reasons why the group wanted every half-breed in the kingdom banished. Son of the Maou or not, a lowly half-breed should just stay as a lowly half-breed! The last thing they wanted was for some filthy half-breed to rule Shin Makoku; if that were to happen, they would most likely conduct a mass suicide first than acknowledge such a king.
Being in this place, the prince was surely not staying in Blood Pledge Castle at the moment; he was probably attending the royal military academy which was not far from this district.
"We should go back and report this to Sir Fritzgant."
The others nodded, and after reaching this agreement, they ran for quite a while, still checking around if anyone were noticing them, reached the public stables and rode their horses, and for an hour left the district toward the outskirts, took the path to the sea, went up where the path splits, and disappeared inside a decrepit mansion.
Conrart slowed down to a walk as he neared the academy. When he reached the gates, he saw a carriage parked in front of it. A visitor? He entered the building, and was about to go straight to his quarters when someone called him. "Conrart!"
The brunette turned around to the speaker. "Lord von Kleist."
Gunter wore an indifferent look on his face. "Where were you all this time again? Please, weekdays are class days, so don't go gallivanting around on a whim."
"I already proved that I do not have anything more to learn in swordplay," replied Conrart coldly. "Is that all?"
The sword instructor's expression changed into one of slight surprise at the words the prince told him, but he immediately shook his head. "Actually, no. I'm sure you saw the carriage out front. Her Majesty came to see you again; she's waiting in the reception hall. I was reminding her that it was already dark outside, and that she needed to return to the castle as soon as possible, but she insisted on seeing you tonight…"
"Then you'll have to excuse me." The soldier-in-training then walked past Gunter and proceeded to the reception hall. The instructor sighed, and went to his study.
Once in front of the hall, Conrart knocked on the door. A woman's voice, unmistakably his mother's, spoke from inside. "Come in."
The brunette opened the door and proceeded inside. Queen Cäcilie was seated on the long couch placed near the fireplace. She greeted her second son with a smile. "Conrart, good evening." She wasn't alone, though, like he expected her to be; beside her was someone he least expected to be there.
Conrart returned her greeting. "Good evening, Mother." He glanced at the other occupant. "Wolfram."
The last one addressed, Crown Prince Wolfram von Bielefeld, glared at Conrart and turned his gaze away abruptly. Conrart ignored this, and he went near the two, sitting on the opposite couch. "What has brought you here?"
"Nothing, really," answered Cheri. "We weren't able to talk properly the last time, so I waited today for your return."
"My apologies," said Conrart, "if you have waited for me for so long—"
Wolfram gave a snide smirk. "Heh! As always, your manners are lacking, Weller. Making Mother wait even for a minute is disrespect. As I expected your kind to be like—"
"Wolfram!" reprimanded the queen. "Don't say such things. Conrart is your elder brother, you should also show him some respect—"
The blonde prince stood up, then looked sternly at Conrart. "I don't remember having a half-breed as my brother!"
Likewise, Conrart looked at Wolfram in the eye, although indifferently. Wolfram, unable to keep the gaze, started to leave the room. "Please excuse me, Mother. I can't stand to breathe the same air that he does; it's suffocating me. I'll be waiting outside."
"Wait, Wolfram!" called Cheri but her youngest son was already out of the room, slamming the door close.
The queen stared at the door, and sighed. She then turned to Conrart. "I'm sorry about that, Conrart."
"Don't worry, Mother. I've become used to his actions." Ever since Wolfram found out about Conrart's father, Dan Hiri's origin, he started to become hostile toward his 'Little Big Brother', and even stopped acknowledging him as his brother, saying that he felt 'betrayed' by him.
"That's not something you should get used to," replied Cheri. "Whatever may happen, and whatever Wolfram or others say, there's no denying that the two of you will always be brothers."
The brunette sighed. "I am still surprised that he came with you today. I never expected the day he would set foot in this place, with me still in here."
"It's actually a visit to the Spitzweg territory. Brother insisted I go and see what's happening there now. I persuaded Wolfram to accompany me, which he did," answered the queen. "On the way back to the castle, however, I told him that we'd pay you a visit. Again, incognito."
"Which he totally went against, I presume," added Conrart.
Cheri chuckled. "You really know your brothers, don't you? But of course, no one disobeys the Maou. So he told me that he would wait in the carriage, but I insisted he come inside. And then, this happened." The smile on her lips disappeared.
"I'm glad that you go out of your way to see me, but you are the ruler of this country. Please refrain from just coming and going as you please."
Cheri's lips formed another smile. "Ara, that coming from someone who leaves the academy during school hours and does as he pleases." Conrart frowned, which made his mother laugh. "You give Lord von Kleist a hard time, don't you? Don't worry; I'll do as you say once you do that yourself. Anyway, how's your day?"
"Oh, nothing interesting…except for one. There was this…strange boy that Yozak and I met earlier in town, only six years younger than Wolfram. It turns out that he just came to Shin Makoku for the first time. He's also a half-human."
"A new friend, I assume."
"Not quite…yet. Until he tells me who he really is, right now he's just another half-human boy I happened to stumble upon."
The two became silent for a while. After a minute, the queen spoke. "Ne, Conrart, I know you're already aware of the presence of the purists, and I've told you about them last time."
Conrart became attentive once he heard the word 'purists'. "…Yes. What about them?"
"Recently, they've become more active. There were reports about their activities around the land, ranging from as simple as bullying to as grave as pillaging a small town mostly populated with humans and half-bloods. These activities are everywhere; they're becoming hard to control, and we still can't pinpoint where they are concentrated. We're still trying very hard to hide their existence from the greater public to lessen strife, but if this continues… We do have a few suspects regarding the leader of this group. Most of them are conservative nobles, and some rich influential Mazoku: there is Avery von Roshvall, Filo von Gyllenhaal, the art dealer Matthias Eigen, the well-known merchant Ewan Meierdort, to name some. All of them have had a few bad history regarding half-human relations. Currently they are being investigated."
"I see…" As those words left his mouth, something else entered his mind, making him stop mid-sentence, staring blankly ahead.
This action did not escape Cheri. "Conrart, what's wrong? Did something already happen here?"
"…Oh, nothing. I was just reminded of something."
Cheri didn't seem convinced, but accepted Conrart's explanation anyway. "I know how much this issue has been affecting you. Just…please, do not push yourself too hard. Don't make any hasty decisions or actions."
"I can take care of myself."
"I know that, too. But what I'm saying is not just for your sake. It's for the sake of those around you as well." Cheri stood up, so did Conrart out of courtesy. "We should be going back to the castle; the night is becoming deep, and Wolfram must be bored by now."
The two walked toward the door. Conrart bid his mother farewell before she went out of the room. "Shall I accompany you back to the carriage?"
"No need. You should rest now."
"Take good care of yourself, Mother. Please say that as well to Wolfram."
"I will. Goodnight. We'll see each other again sometime."
As Cheri closed the door behind her, she saw her third son beside it, his back against the wall, arms crossed in front of his chest. She was a bit surprised by this. "Wolfram. I thought you were waiting in the carriage…Were you, by any chance, listening to us?"
A slight blush crept up on Wolfram's cheeks. "O-of course not! What reason do I have to do that? I was only waiting for you to come out so I can accompany you back to the carriage." The blonde prince walked next to his mother. "We're going back now, right?"
"Right!" Cheri replied, cheerfully. The two of them walked toward the front gates. "Oh, by the way, Conrart wanted me to say something to you."
Wolfram frowned. "I'm sorry but I don't want to hear it."
Cheri ignored him and went on. "Hn-hnn." She grinned. "He said, 'Take good care of yourself.' Isn't that thoughtful of him?" She looked closely at her son's reaction. The latter's head was bowed down, eyes hidden by his hair, but a shade of pink was noticeable on his cheeks. They stopped in front of the carriage as the door was opened for them. "You're really not honest with yourself, Wolf!"
"Stop teasing me, please!" shouted the prince. He added, to himself mostly, "…right now, the one who needs to take better care is him…"
"Huh? Did you say something, Wolfram?"
"…Nothing, Mother." They then went inside the carriage, after which it moved along the path back to the castle.
Conrart was lying on his bed in his quarters. Rest day tomorrow, huh. I guess not, for me.
He was supposed to meet Yozak tomorrow in front of the tavern, to conduct an investigation of their own about the purists.
"Like I said a while ago," told Yozak, a grin forming on his mouth, "I happened to stumble upon those 'bullies' when I was taking what I want to dub as my 'secret solo adventure and perils in the woods'. I was coming out of the woods when I heard their yelling. They beat poor Davis out of shape, then left. Of course, I was hiding behind the trees when that happened. As soon as they were out of sight, I helped Davis up and brought him to a healer I'm friends with. I'm sure I reported what happened, though I don't know if the officials took it seriously. Since we aren't hearing something about it from others, I guess they didn't."
Conrart brought his spork down. "You're sure they took the path to the sea?" His friend nodded, then drank some ale.
"They went that way alright, I just don't know if they went all the way there," replied Yozak as soon as the mug's edge left his lips. "Who knows; maybe they came back as soon as we reached town."
Conrart nodded slightly to that. As he was about to drink, his friend's next words apparently made him pause. "Ne, Conrart, what about we go down the path to the sea and find out what's in there?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know what I mean." Yozak's voice became softer, obviously not wanting anyone but his friend to hear what he was about to say, even though the noise made by the other guys in the tavern were enough to drown his own voice. "The existence of the purists isn't that publicly known yet in this area. Those guys won't say any words like 'disappear' and 'your kind will be out of these lands soon' if they didn't know anything about the purists, or if they aren't part of this group of purists themselves. I asked around about that path to the sea; it's not really a path I take. They say that it splits into two; one straight for the sea, and one going upwards a cliff. Apparently, there's an old, deserted mansion there, overlooking the sea, sitting near the high, sharp cliffs, reportedly the best place to end your life, since everyone that fell from there either died because their bodies got smashed or impaled by the rocks below, or were washed off by the sea, never to be seen again."
"And because those guys took that path, you say that there must be something going on in that old mansion. That kind of thinking is…simple, even for you, Yozak."
Yozak frowned. "C'mon! It won't hurt to see. If I'm wrong, then no worries. But what if, even if it's only 0.001%, I'm right? It seems that the land where that old mansion stands on belongs to the Fritzgant family, although it has been left untouched and unguarded for some time now. Maybe the purists thought that the mansion was a good place to hide, because of its infamous reputation."
"Or whoever thought of that is plain stupid," added the brunette. Before Yozak could retort, he continued, "Well, it's not like I have something else to do tomorrow. Might as well take that 0.001% chance you have and see this matter to its end."
The orange-haired spy-to-be's eyes lighted up. "Then we go tomorrow?" He didn't wait for his friend's reply as he resumed, "Great! Meet me here tomorrow noontime."
Conrart agreed to that. "Let's just keep this to ourselves for the time being, until we do find something out."
"It's a secret, then," replied Yozak. "And, yeah, this may seem out of topic, but I heard you got defeated by your instructor, what's his name…Lord von Kleist?"
Conrart frowned at that last thought. The next time he and Lord von Kleist duel, he'd assure his victory.
He sighed. What his mother said a while ago, the suspects, and activities occurring everywhere, spread out across the land, as if hiding the center of everything. That event Yozak witnessed two days before. The 'stalkers' they had a while ago, and how, as Yozak mentioned before, some of them looked like the ones from the incident two days ago. And furthermore…
The Fritzgant family is in good ties with Ewan Meierdort. And Sir Meierdort is one of the suspected leaders of the purists. But the Fritzgant family is known for their neutrality on the issues concerning human relations. What if Sir Meierdort, assuming that he indeed is the leader of the purists, had somehow persuaded them on conspiring with him?
It seemed that the 0.001% chance of finding something out just incremented.
Yozak sure was good at getting the information he wanted; he knew where to look for information, he knew who to ask, he befriended people he was sure he could depend on eventually. Conrart thought that Yozak would make a good spy; he'd tell that to his friend once he had the time. Though he had to improve on the disguise department; his female costumes weren't that convincing.
The rest of his day tomorrow would surely be tiring. He decided he would take it easy first during the day, spend the time just doing nothing…
…or better, find out more about that random half-human boy from Echigo. Mitsuzaemon was weird, a bit suspicious, but nonetheless…interesting, that was sure.
He closed his eyes, waiting for sleep to take him. His first stop tomorrow: Old Rochelia's bathhouse.
Never judge a book by its cover.
Or in this case, never judge a house by its façade.
The old mansion looked deserted, when one viewed it from the outside. Iron gates eaten by rust, brick walls broken and brittle, inner doors and other wooden surfaces home to termites, a roof missing some tiles, a destroyed garden; whatever vegetation was grown there now reduced to nothing but dry grass. No visible light from inside. It was indeed very surprising to see this mansion still standing, as if it itself refused to cave in and be destroyed by time.
No one would dare come by the mansion, for it had a frightening history. It was built around six hundred years ago, owned by a Mazoku soldier whose name no one remembered, but his acts never forgotten; apparently, hidden under the mansion were small prison cells where the soldier held captive his enemies, or even his wife or children lest they did him wrongly, and starved them, or in the case of his enemies tortured them to death. The soldier met his end when one of his captives escaped; their chase led them to the nearby cliffs, and he fell down to his death, washed out by the sea below. All the other captives were set free, again by the escapee, and no one ventured near that house for a long time.
Three decades later, a wealthy merchant bought the house, and together with his family lived there for quite some time. But the following recession made them poor, and the merchant, not used to the life of poverty became desperate, and not long afterwards snapped; he killed his family, brought their bodies to the cliffs, dropped them, and followed them shortly after; by morning some of the fisherfolk found his body impaled on one of the sharp rocks below the cliffs. The land was passed on to a distant relative of the merchant, the Fritzgants, but it had not been touched since.
No one would even look at the mansion whenever they were at sea, much less go near it, for they believed it to be haunted with the souls of all people who lived and died in and near it. Except now.
A man was seated on the floor of the living room, other men not less than thirty surrounding him, including the five men who were at the district some time ago. A small candle separated these men, its flame threatening to die at any moment. The five men reported what they had seen in the district just a while ago.
The man was surprised. "Conrart Weller is in town? Are you sure it's the Conrart Weller, the half-human prince?"
"Yes, sir," one of the five answered. "It was him, indeed; Sir Meierdort's description fit the person we saw perfectly."
The man, Gregory Fritzgant, paused and went into deep thinking. Gregory was one of the purists who were appointed in the near district; he was the group's acting leader. He was almost one hundred ninety centimeters tall, had pale skin, short wavy hair with a dark blue color, and deep indigo eyes. He was dressed in plain clothes, although he came from a wealthy family; a fancier one wouldn't really do where they were anyway. But a sword was strapped around his waist; for he was a proud and skillful swordsman. He considered his sword as part of his being. He was also blessed with an affinity for earth majutsu.
He had, for long, despised humans. He was told since he was small that the humans were afraid of them because of their innate powers. Fear became hatred. Hatred led to violence. Violence led to numerous wars.
If not for them, the Mazoku race, if not for the Shinou, then no one would even be alive by now. How dare the humans treat them as monsters!
There was also the abomination called the half-breeds. Anything of human origin or relations should not be allowed in their treasured land. But this… He despised Cäcilie von Spitzweg for marrying a human, and consummating this relationship for another half-breed to be born. Why had the Maou done such a thing, and worse, the great Shinou to allow so? He despised Conrart Weller, because of who he was.
Unfortunately for him, his family remained neutral to these issues, and just reaped what they sowed; nothing more, nothing less. But after some time, his hatred was seen by Ewan Meierdort, an acquaintance of their family and one of the influential figures in Shin Makoku despite him being just a merchant. It seemed that Ewan shared his sentiment, and was already planning for the ostracism of every half-breed in Shin Makoku, and later on the humans themselves. There were already some parts in the country where members had taken in. He was offered to be a part of this plan, and take this district, to which he agreed.
Conrart Weller would be a nice gift to Sir Meierdort, he thought. The half-breed prince would be a great bargaining chip for the lives of all other half-breeds spoiling these lands. But how…?
"We also saw him with some other people, who we think were half-breeds, too."
Gregory lifted his head when he heard this. "And, they were…?"
"We don't actually know them. One was an orange-haired guy, probably also a soldier-in-training. The other one was a redhead…we've never seen him around before. But he was together with the prince, and they seemed close enough. They left the redhead in the public bathhouse." Murmurs began to spread across the room.
Gregory then stood up, and said to everyone present. "This is a good opportunity for us. We must capture Conrart Weller, and present him to Sir Meierdort. I've heard he has a soft spot for his fellow half-breeds. Maybe we can use this redhead to lure the prince." He turned to a man to his right, a middle-aged-looking man of average build, cropped gray hair and brown eyes. "I can trust you with handling that, right, Ash?"
"Yes, sir," Ash replied. "We'll have Weller by tomorrow."
A soft light that touched his face caused Yuuri to stir up from his sleep.
A trickle of sunlight managed to inch its way to the room through the narrow window spaces left uncovered by the heavy curtains. He still didn't open his eyes, and his head throbbed slightly; events of the previous night temporarily forgotten.
He snuggled under the blanket, turned away from the windows and buried his face on the pillow. A little while later, he heard the door open. Distinct footsteps made its way from the door to his bedside; something was placed on the drawer beside the bed, a pull on another thing, followed by a soft thud.
Somehow, he kind of knew who made those footsteps. He heard those footsteps every morning, whenever he would wake up in his quarters and do his morning routine. Conrad…? It must be time for the morning jog… "…five minutes more, please…my head kinda hurts…" He turned to where he last heard the footsteps and slightly opened his eyes, sight a bit blurred; he saw someone seated on a chair. He looked up to the person's face…brown hair, yes; it was probably Conrad…though it was rare for him to see his retainer wearing a different color besides light brown…
…Now when did he last see Conrad wearing light blue-green? "…Conrad…?"
"It should hurt, you being an inexperienced drinker," said the person seated on the chair. "And I'm telling you again…it's Conrart, not Conrad."
Wha… All of a sudden, the events that happened yesterday came rushing back to him. Wolfram running after him…Conrad helping him…the Demon Mirror…the past… THE PAST!
Yuuri fully opened his eyes, surprise evident in them. He suddenly sat up, and immediately regretted doing that, since his head throbbed painfully afterwards. He grabbed his head with his left hand. "Owww…"
"You okay?" said the man on the chair.
Once the throbbing had subsided, Yuuri brought his eyes once again to the speaker. It was Conrad alright; but his hair was longer, and his eyes showed…fearlessness. "Conrart…-san?" I'm…still in the past? Why? WHY? thought Yuuri, I thought that when I woke up, I'd be back in the present! I've already seen Conrad in the past, doesn't that already account for something? What else am I going to do here? When—or more importantly, how am I gonna go back to my time?
Sheer confusion was clearly etched on Yuuri's face, while he was staring at Conrart. The brunette took this expression as a demand to explain what he was doing there, so he said, "Yozak mentioned yesterday that today's rest day for the academies, right? We'd meet later at noon, but I thought I'd stop by here first. Here." He handed Yuuri a small brown paper bag.
The young king took the bag, confusion still apparent on his face. "…What's this?"
"Hangover medicine," the brunette answered. "I figured you'd have one after seeing your state last night."
Wow, he even thought of that, as expected of Conrad. "Um, thanks."
Conrart stood up and made his way to the door. "Better wash your face and change," he told Yuuri as he opened the door, "Meet you downstairs. I've a lot to ask."
Yuuri got up from the bed once the door closed. Ask…what? Geez. He's kind, really, but I really don't know what's in his mind when he has that stoic look on his face. I like the present Conrad better… He washed his face with the water in the basin on top of the bedside drawer, took the clothes lent to him inside it, which were a pair of brown loose pants and a gray half-sleeved shirt, and changed into them, then went downstairs. Well, better make the most out of this experience. Maybe I can try to make Conrad smile!
He was greeted by Rochelia on his way down. "Oh, good morning! Mitsuzaemon, isn't it?"
Uh, right. "Y-yes. Good morning, uh…Rochelia-baachan."
"I hope you find the clothes comfortable. Yours haven't completely dried yet; the wind last night was a bit chilly. You can get them later, maybe by noon."
"Thank you, the clothes are fine. By the way, where's Conrart-san?"
"Ah, the brown-haired young man who're with you and Yozak-chan last night?" Rochelia nodded toward the front door. "Outside. He's waiting for you."
The young king then proceeded to the front door after giving thanks to the old lady.
"First question: tell me, who are you?"
Yuuri almost choked on his glass of milk.
How did he find himself in this predicament?
A few minutes earlier, when he met Conrart outside the bathhouse, the older man bade him to follow, which he did. They stopped in front of the BearBee Tavern; at which point he tried to run away in fear of being forced to drink again, until Conrart cleared that during the day, the tavern served more like a diner than a beerhouse. Which was right; there were a few people inside when they entered, and all were just eating quietly. They bought the typical Shin Makoku breakfast (more like Conrart bought for the two of them), and started eating in silence, when Yuuri, feeling a bit awkward of the silence, and out of his curiosity on the younger Conrad's lifestyle, brought up questions like 'What do you do in the military academy?' and 'How's everyday going for you?' Instead of answering Yuuri's questions immediately, Conrart suggested that they take turns in answering each other's questions, so that there would be a fair exchange of information. Fair enough, the young king replied, why not.
And Conrart's first question got him teetered at the edge of his seat.
"I already told you, didn't I? I'm Mitsuzaemon, from Echigo. A half-human, with a Mazoku for a father and a human for a mother," replied Yuuri, laughing sheepishly. But deep inside, he was nervous. Am I found out? Am I really that transparent? "Why ask that again?"
"Because something in me senses that you're not telling the truth. Are you hiding something?"
Yes. I'm your future king, and you will swear to Shinou and to yourself to protect me at all costs. Not to mention that I'm the soul bearer of your late best friend Suzanna Julia, which by this time you haven't even met yet. "Well…of course everyone has a thing to hide. Including me. There are some things I can't tell you; those are mine and mine alone."
Conrart stayed silent for a while, then answered, "…Point taken. For now I'll believe that. Your question?"
"Uh, right. So, how's life?"
"…Not really great for the past years. How about you, in Echigo?"
That's a pretty hard one. Just think of how it's like on Earth. "Okay, I guess. Managed to mingle with everybody else and act at my own pace. How about you Conrart-san, do you have a lot of friends?"
Conrart shook his head. "I don't need a lot, to a point that I don't know who among them I can truly trust. Unlike you, from what I can tell. Why do you seem to trust others easily?"
Yuuri shrugged. "I guess that's just who I am. I prefer to see the good in others than try hard to spot what's bad in them. Easier for me that way." He drank some milk from the glass. "And because of that, I got a lot of friends along the way!"
"Then why bother leaving your town when you have lots who care for you?"
"To see new things, and to experience them. And do something for my family, like I said yesterday. –Hey, you asked two times!"
Conrart shrugged. "Then ask two this time."
"Easy for you to say…wait…" The young king paused for quite a while, thinking of what other things he could ask. Hmm…maybe I can ask again about his school…or family—wait, I already know a lot about them, and experienced being around them firsthand—so what? He looked at the brunette. He was wearing the same stoic expression. …Ah, I know! He looked closely at Conrart, which made the older man give him a confused look. "Ne, Conrart-san," Yuuri finally asked, "Why don't you smile?"
The brunette was a bit surprised by this question. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I've never seen you smile since yesterday," explained the young king. "And I mean a genuine smile, not a forced one, or one that you give when needed."
"…There's no need to smile when there's nothing to smile about," answered Conrart, frustration subtly etched on his face. "And with everything that's happening now, I don't think I can."
Yuuri frowned. "There's always something to smile about! If you keep thinking of your problems, you'll just get too stressed out! Let's see…you can think of your accomplishments, your dreams, some fond memories…or just look at the clouds and relax, or tell the world that you've decided to be happy today! That way you'll be able to relax, and maybe put a smile on your face! Hm-hmm! How's that?" Thinking he just suggested very good ideas, he smiled at the brunette.
Who had a somewhat surprised expression on his face at the end of Yuuri's short speech.
What the heck? thought Yuuri. Here I am, helping him think of something good, and yet there's still no—
He didn't finish his sentence when he saw what he was waiting for. Conrart's eyes were focused on the redhead before him, his head leaning a bit forward, and his lips formed a very soothing smile.
"Wah! At last you smiled!" the young king suddenly exclaimed, "That's good!"
"…You, you're really a jolly person, aren't you?" said Conrart as he briefly closed his eyes. "Maybe you're right. There are still some good things to smile about, even though a lot of problems revolve around you. And here I was thinking you were a bit suspicious, but I guess that instead of suspiciousness, I should call it innocence." He looked closely at Yuuri once more. "Your personality is contagious, you know that? I have this feeling that wherever you go, you always leave your mark behind."
"I think I've been told that before, but in different words. Anyway, Conrart-san, you should keep smiling like that. Makes you look better and kinder!"
"You think so?"
"Un! If I'm not mistaken, you said before that you and your younger brother don't have a good relationship. Maybe if you smile like that to him, it'll make him realize how important you really are to him!"
"…Impossible. This'll probably make him more irritable."
Yuuri sweatdropped. He's kinda right… "…Oh, yeah, why will you and Yozak-san meet for today? Something to do about what you were talking about last night, eto… purists, right?"
Huh, I was right. Since I'm still here, and I really don't know what I should do right now… "Ne, if I can help you in some way, I'd be glad to."
Conrart glanced at him briefly while sipping his tea. From the look on Yuuri's face, he seemed serious enough on lending them a hand. He wanted to see how the boy would fare in those situations…but suddenly he had a feeling not to let the boy in any danger, and he was then reminded of what his mother told him the night before. "…No. You're just new here; you don't know anything about Shin Makoku yet. And I can't let an ordinary civilian be in any danger, especially you, since we are the target of these purists."
"But you yourself aren't a full-fledged soldier yet, as is Yozak-san!" And this time, I don't want to be in the sidelines. I want to help, even for a bit…
"At least we are in training. We can handle whatever comes in our way. But you…forget it. You should best look out for yourself; find a job, a permanent place to stay in. Leave everything else to us."
Yuuri stood up, still trying to get his point across. "But—"
Conrart remained unfazed. "No is no. A mere civilian like you wouldn't be able to properly defend yourself. This time, I'll prove to everyone else that we are worthy of existence."
The young king frowned. What the heck? Here I am, wanting to help them, and he just brushes it off? Why? I thought that since I'm in this level, you'd let me have my way, help you some! Usually it's always Conrad who agrees with me…is it because he's not yet 'Conrad'? He turned away from Conrart.
"Thank you for the meal. I'm going back to the bathhouse; maybe I can give Old Rochelia a hand." He quickly made his way toward the exit, frown still evident on his face.
I'm not your king right now! And yet, why did you say those things, as if you wanted me to avoid any trouble?
Conrart was a bit stunned with Yuuri's reaction, but quickly collected himself and stood up, following Yuuri. "Wait."
They stopped in front of the bathhouse. Yuuri was silent. Conrart didn't exactly know what was going on inside the young king's mind, but at least got the gist of it. "Mitsuzaemon, I somewhat know what you're thinking. I know you want to help us, maybe as a sort of gratitude, but like I said, you are just a civilian. Don't bother thinking about the purists. Leave that to us. Do I make myself clear?" Yuuri kept silent, head bowed. "Alright. I'll be going now. We'll probably pass by here tonight." With that, the brunette walked back to the tavern, leaving Yuuri still standing in front of the bathhouse.
The young king clenched his fists. Why, even now, do you still seem to protect me?
…Even so, I would still like to help. No one has ever been able to stop me before, why should I be stopped now? I'll definitely, definitely, be able to somehow help them.
After he had decided, he went inside the bathhouse. Time to conduct my own investigation!
Conrart walked back to the tavern; it was almost noon. Yuuri's look was still on his mind. The young man surely was determined to assist them. That kind of determination, where does he get that?
He shook his head. Now was not the time to worry about such things. He should focus on his and Yozak's activity later that day. There must definitely be something happening on that decrepit house by the sea.
As he walked down the main street, among the other townspeople passing by, in one of the dark alleys he just passed were the five people who were in pursuit of him and Yozak last night, wearing normal clothing, behind a cart with some logs covered by a huge blanket. Conrart did not notice them, however, as the men were in the middle of the dark alley; the five men, too, did not notice him passing by because they were waiting for someone else.
As Yuuri entered the bathhouse, Rochelia greeted him. "Oh, Mitsuzaemon, back already?"
"Yes," answered Yuuri, smiling. "I thought I could be of some help in here, so I can repay you for letting me stay here."
"Maa, you're a good kid. Well then, I'm about to go to kindle the fire for the hot bath. You can help me, if you like."
"With pleasure!" Yuuri walked toward Rochelia and together they went to the heating room. The young king got the pieces of firewood left in the storage and placed them in the fire, while Rochelia fanned it. They continued doing this until the fire was big enough to heat the water for the large pool at the back. Rochelia looked at Yuuri. "Well, that's done. Thank you. Usually, it's my son that does this every time, but he's not yet home, so…"
"It's okay. I'm glad I can help," replied Yuuri. It was then that he noticed Rochelia still staring at him. "Um…is there something on my face?"
Rochelia smiled at the young king. "You have beautiful eyes. They're deep black, but they shine radiantly."
"Huh…" Yuuri had a confused look on his face, head slightly tilted to the left.
The old lady laughed at Yuuri's reaction. "Don't mind old me. I'll go prepare our lunch. Your clothes should be dry by now, too. We'll open the bathhouse in the afternoon."
They went outside the heating room and were along the corridor when the front door opened, and in front of it was a middle-aged looking man with cropped gray hair and brown eyes. The man entered the bathhouse, and Rochelia, who smiled as soon as she saw the man, went to him. Yuuri followed, curious about who the man was.
"Tadaima," said the man. "Oh, do we have a guest?" He looked at Yuuri.
"Okaerinasai. Well, let me introduce you two. This young man right here," Rochelia said as she turned to Yuuri, "is Mitsuzaemon. He'll be helping us around for a while."
"Pleased to meet you," said Yuuri.
"Mitsuzaemon, this here is my son." Rochelia went next to the man and patted his shoulder. "His name is Ash."
Ash extended a hand to Yuuri. "Nice to meet 'cha." Yuuri shook hands with him. The older man smiled. There you are, Mr. Redhead.
"Mitsuzaemon here is a kind young man, you know?" Rochelia told her son, smiling. "You should learn from him!"
Kind, eh. That would be perfect, thought Ash."Why? Am I not kind?"
"You're always leaving the house when your chores here are done." Rochelia had a mock frown on her face.
"For work, that is, mom!"
The old lady laughed. "Yes, yes, I understand. At least I won't be lonely now that Mitsuzaemon is here! Right, Mon-chan? –Ah is it okay to call you that, son? 'Mitsuzaemon' is a bit long for dear old me…"
Yuuri also let out a laugh. Mon-chan… "O-of course! I'll be glad to stay here until time permits me so!"
Ash sighed. "Well, mom, you're starting to make 'Mon-chan' here your son, eh? And," he looked at the clothes Yuuri was wearing, "those clothes…"
The young king looked at the clothes he wore. "Ah, right! These are—"
"—Your old clothes. I let him borrow them," immediately replied Rochelia. "His clothes got wet because Yozak-chan and his friend threw him in the hot bath last night." She chuckled.
"Yozak? The orange-haired young man that sometimes comes here? Mitsuzaemon, you're friends with him?" I see, so that orange-haired was 'Yozak-chan'…
Yuuri slightly nodded. "Well…right now you can say we're more of acquaintances than friends. In fact, we're going to meet again later, together with Conrart-san…ah, that's the name of his friend."
Hmm. So he does know that half-breed prince. Better to be acquaintances than not at all. Well then, let's begin testing that kind heart of yours. "Is that so…but he's half human, right?"
Yuuri flinched. Ash noticed this, and had a feeling of success inside. The redhead replied, looking a bit disturbed. "Yes. Is there a problem with that?"
The older man waved his arms. "No, not really. It's just that I rarely know pureblooded Mazoku who're attached with half humans, unless…"
Yuuri looked straightly at Ash. "…That's right. I am half human, too."
"But that shouldn't matter, right?" Rochelia added. "Yozak-chan and I get along pretty well. And I'm sure with Mon-chan, too, from now on."
"Yes of course!" the young king replied happily.
The gray-haired man, while managing to wear a cheerful smile, had other thoughts. Of course it does matter! No one with human blood has the right to spoil the lands of pure Mazoku!
Rochelia then proceeded to prepare lunch, while Ash remained, with one more thing to say. "My mom's right about that. But be careful. Nowadays, I'm hearing a lot of rumors at work that there are people who're hurting half humans. Including in this district, apparently." He glanced at Yuuri, who after hearing his statement, had a surprised look, followed by concern. If you follow me, it's my victory. "Well, then, what do I have to do here today…" He started walking away from Yuuri to the heating room.
Yuuri was by then thinking. People…who're hurting half humans? Maybe they're the purists Conrad and Yozak were talking about! Ash-san seems to know something about them. I should try asking him. He started to follow Ash. "Wait, Ash-san!"
As soon as Ash saw Yuuri take his first step toward him, he smiled. "What?"
"A-ano… can you tell me more about those rumors? Who are these people, and why are they hurting half humans?"
"It seems you've already kindled the fire for the hot bath." Ash then peered in the firewood storage. "But we're out of wood…Oh, right, I was supposed to gather wood to bring here today. I guess I forgot." He turned to Yuuri. "Will you go with me to gather firewood? I can answer your question while we're on our way."
Yuuri nodded. "Sure."
"…Ah, wait a sec. I'm just going to hand this letter to my mother."
"What is it?"
"Oh, nothing." Ash wore a smile on his lips. "Just a message for one of our frequent customers."
"So, what do you want to know?"
Yuuri turned to Ash while they were walking on the street. "Well, everything you can tell me about those people."
The older man smiled. "Before I tell you, I just want to know why you're intent on knowing those things. Is it for self-preservation? To protect yourself? Curiosity?"
"No." Yuuri shook his head. "It's just that…I want to help a friend regarding this issue—"
"And that would probably be Yozak and his friend, I presume."
"—Ah, yes. So if I can tell him anything I can gather about those purists, maybe his burden would be much lighter."
"…Purists? For you to know how they call themselves, it seems that you know more than you're letting on. Anyway, you're right. Those people are known as purists, intent on cleansing Shin Makoku by driving out the half humans. They are dispersed around the whole kingdom, not just here. I've been hearing about many similar cases to what I just told you a while ago around Shin Makoku." They were nearing a dark alley, and Ash was walking toward it, while Yuuri, listening to Ash, just followed blindly. "There are, of course, leaders to such a big group. Rumor also has it that one of them is in this part of the kingdom."
"Really? Then if that's the case, maybe it's possible to talk to him!"
"Hm? Talk to a leader of the purists? What for?"
"To persuade him to stop whatever he's planning! Maybe it's not too late to convince him to let go of any hatred he has on half humans, that even if we are different at birth, we still can live together peacefully!" Yuuri smiled. "Ash-san, thank you for sharing those information!"
They stopped near the middle of the alley, before a cart covered with a blanket. It was then that Yuuri finally noticed where they were. "An alley? What's in here, Ash-san? We're gathering firewood, aren't we?" He looked at Ash, who was wearing an eerie smile. Then, a chuckle escaped his lips, followed by laughter.
"Here I am, thinking of what you might want to say to the leader, but Mazoku and humans living together, peacefully? Are you sure that's ever gonna happen? As if!"
Yozak ran across the streets, well, tried to, with what mobility his disguise would give him, on the way to the BearBee Tavern. I'm late! Damn strict instructor! Conrart's going to be pissed at me as well!
He had to get into female villager clothing once more to sneak out of the school premises, since his instructor found out that he was out the whole day yesterday and was intent on punishing him today by giving him double the student workload. And he had to put on some light make-up to make his disguise more believable, which kind of irritated him.
He was about to pass by the same narrow alley, but by some chance happened to turn his head toward it, and he noticed a young man with reddish brown hair talking with someone at the middle of it. Mitsuzaemon? And that other man, isn't he Rochelia-baachan's son?
Curious as to what the two were talking about, and seeing how the other man was laughing hard and how Yuuri was looking confused, he quietly went in the alley, hiding behind stacked wooden crates placed conveniently a bit far from the two, but still within hearing range.
Ash continued on laughing.
Yuuri became bothered by this. "…Um, Ash-san…?"
The other man gradually stopped laughing, and let out a breath. "Ne, Mitsuzaemon, why don't you try talking to the leader? Then we'll see if whatever crazy thing you're thinking would come true, eh?"
"…What are you saying? Do you know where he is? Why would you—"
Just then, the five men who had been there from the start, jumped out of their hiding places similar to that of Yozak's, and began to surround Yuuri.
The redhead began to step back. He was still looking at Ash, sheer confusion etched on his face. "…Who…who are you?"
"Me?" Ash again smiled eerily. "I'm just…one of them."
It immediately dawned on Yuuri what Ash was talking about. "You're a purist—!"
Yuuri didn't finish what he was saying as one of the men quickly got behind him and struck a hard blow at the back of his head with the iron handle of a knife, rendering him unconscious.
The largest among them picked Yuuri up, took him to the cart and threw him in, covering him up with the blanket and some of the logs. Ash turned to the others. "It won't be long before the prince gets that letter, if this kid here were telling the truth. Let's get out of here and hook up this cart with the horses." Three of them were about to pull the cart, when the knife wielder earlier sensed a different presence near them. "There!" He threw the knife in the direction of the stacked wooden crates just near the main street. A person then emerged behind the crates, then quickly darted to the main street. The person was wearing a dress; a cloth hid the person's hair.
"A woman?" Knife-wielder said. Turning to Ash, he asked, "Should we pursue her?"
Ash shook his head. "Our job here's done. Let's head to the public stables."
Conrart tapped his foot on the floor, still waiting for Yozak to appear. It had been twenty minutes past their meeting time, and still no sign of his orange-haired friend. And he was the one excited about this…
Just then the door of the tavern opened loudly, and a tall woman entered, walking brusquely, heading straight for Conrart. It did not take long for the prince to notice that the 'woman' was Yozak, but as he was about to reprimand Yozak for being late, the latter grabbed his wrist and dragged him out of the tavern. Once they were outside, Conrart pulled his wrist out of Yozak's grip. "What's with this all of a sudden?"
"We need to go! Just now, Mitsuzaemon…he got kidnapped! And those five men yesterday did it!"
The prince was surprised, then confused. "How? I just met with him a while ago, and left him back at the tavern. And how would they know that we know Mitsuzaemon? They've been following us since—!" Since the bathhouse yesterday!
Yozak nodded, as if reading what was in Conrart's mind that moment. "They must have seen him together with us yesterday, and apparently they seem to recognize me, otherwise, they wouldn't have followed us at all." He started walking briskly toward the bathhouse and Conrart followed. "There was another person besides the five. And if I'm not mistaken, I've seen him at the bathhouse before, he's Rochelia's son."
"Rochelia's…the old lady's son? Her son is with the purists, you say?" Conrart shook his head. "In any case, let's head to the bathhouse." He walked past his friend straight to the aforementioned building.
That's what we're doing, thought Yozak. But I'd really like to change what I'm wearing first.
"Oh, Mon-chan? –Sorry, that's how I call him." Rochelia was smiling at the two men. After being surprised by the suddenness of the two's visit and letting Yozak (who she thought was a female customer, imagine her surprise to see it was her dear Yozak-chan) change into his usual clothing, the old lady was then asked by Conrart about Yuuri's whereabouts.
"I left him here about an hour ago. Do you know where he is now?"
"He's together with my son, Ash. We ran out of firewood, so the two of them left to get some. That's what Ash told me before they left." The two soldiers-in-training looked at each other, Yozak giving a nod. "Oh," the old lady added, "He also told me to give this letter to you, Yozak-chan." She handed the piece of paper to the spy-to-be. On one part of the paper was scribbled 'To Orange Head and the Prince'. "It sounds like some title of a tale, doesn't it?"
The two then thanked Rochelia and went outside the bathhouse. Yozak handed the paper to Conrart, who then unfolded it. It read,
To Orange Head and the Prince,
Oops, was that heading too informal? My apologies, oh dear half-breed prince.
As you are reading this, it means that Redhead is already on our hands. And whose fault do you think it is? It should have been you in his place, you know; but you're a slimy, slippery eel, and he was an easier catch. How unlucky Redhead was that he got associated with you.
You want to save all the half-breeds in this kingdom? Can you even save one filthy half-breed's life?
It seems that Orange Head knows where to find us. We'll be there, and we'll save a seat only for you, dear half-breed prince.
We are but your humble purists.
The paper found itself crumpled in Conrart's fist.
And I'm ending it there.
This chapter is so long! I was considering on cutting this into two, but I can't seem to find a good point at which to cut it, so there.
As I was reading the purists' letter on that last part, I myself got pissed by it. And it seems that even in the past, Yuuri can't escape his 'Demon King in Distress' role. He appeared in this chapter just to get kidnapped, again. I'm looking forward to write his reaction in this situation next chapter.
About the half-human-ruling-the-Demon-Kingdom thing, I'm just curious, does the whole kingdom of Shin Makoku know that Yuuri is half-human? Did they immediately accept him just because he's a double-black, with no regards to his origin? If they weren't aware yet, if most of them still held suspicions about humans, and suddenly they knew, what would their reaction be? …Hmm, I smell a what-if fic brewing…
A lot of you have already, possibly, speculated how this story will end. Hold on to those speculations for two more chapters. Yes, two more chapters, and an epilogue, and it's done! Two more chapters this long, probably. (I am fond of using unsure words, aren't I?) Just please don't expect me to update again for three months, as now my status has just degraded from student to unemployed. Seriously, I need a job.
See you next time!
Next chapter: Gregory Fritzgant hated Yuuri's eyes because they carry the Soukoku's color. A half-breed doesn't deserve those eyes… Conrart and Yozak arrive at the manor, but what can two people do by themselves? Yozak is aware by this, and he does something…
Meanwhile, in the present Blood Pledge Castle, the Demon Mirror started to crack.