City of the Wind
(Revised 2009 Feb)
Originally published on LiveJournal as Valentines '08 gift for Aventria, posted on FFN for archiving purposes.
Warning(s): Angst in future chapters.
Note: Inspired by Monica Wood's "The Pocket Muse" and FunctionJunction KEIKO's Kaze no Machi e (from Tsubasa RESERVoir Chronicles). On my LiveJournal, the same chapters are posted, but with the matching "soundtrack" for each chapter -- songs you can listen to while reading, songs that inspired the story and the words from scratch. Links on profile.
The first time he came upon the inconspicuous old oak door was on a fairly cloudy day. The sun was out, but it lacked warmth. Dappled cold sunlight shed upon the kingdom, along with a gentle breeze that ruffled hairs and dresses here and there.
Days like these were days when a feel of melancholy drifted in the air. It was as if the earth was showing its longing for something distant, as if the kingdom was celebrating the memory of those who no longer walked underneath sun. It was a beautiful day, but it was a sad day.
The door was of aged oak, carved and embellished with patterns of flowering vines on the sides. The handle was of either gold of silver, he could not tell, but he was certain it was either one. Here and there among the carved flowers were fairly deep dents, as if there were chunks of something previously inlaid in the wood. He suspected this door was a jeweled door, leading to a room that used to be for the royal family. After all, this was the old West square of the castle.
Braving the old and failing handle, he reached over and pulled it open.
Toki no mukou kaze no machi e
Shiroi hana no yume kanaete
Dust billowed out from inside the sealed room, a loud creak-and-groan coming from the failing door. He moved back, covering his nose and trying to keep his glasses free of grit and grime.
As the dust settled, he stepped forward, his impeccably orderly robes catching some of the dirt on the hem. He shifted the bound journal he was carrying in his arms and moved cautiously into the darkened room.
He was no stranger to magic. For the kingdom, magic was a way of life. All children of the earth were granted gifts of magic upon birth, strengthened by blessings and bonds from parents and family as the child grew. Few were exceptionally strong, even within the mighty royal family. These exceptionally strong ones were grafted from the common folk and taken into the Monasteries for training until they were fit to become either acolytes or mages and serve the kingdom.
He was one of the strong children.
Waving his hand over a nearby torch, fire sprang to life. Careful to keep the door wide open, he stepped forward and waved his hands again. Another torch sprang to life, as well as a few candles on a side table right underneath it.
The light, he noticed, was quite unnatural. Imbued with magic, it had streaks of brilliant green within the yellow-orange flame — but he hadn't done anything to imbue the flame with magic. It had to be the room, he thought to himself. The room, he could feel, was practically bathing in pure earth magic.
"Who are you?"
He started and whirled around, only to find himself falling into brilliant golden eyes.
Amai yubi de kono te wo tori
Ne, tooi michi wo
Michibiite hoshii no
Anata no soba e
Mind racing, he snapped his fingers, and the entire room blazed bright as day with light. Torches flamed on the walls, and candles sputtered with fire. Dusty lamps bathed corners of the impossibly spacious room and rid it from darkness for the first time in a decade.
It was a boy, he found, a boy, barely fourteen or fifteen — shorter than the average, thin and underfed. His eyes were of unsettlingly beautiful gold fire, and his dark hair was streaked a peculiar green tinge — an indication, no doubt, of a strong gift of magic. The boy wore old and dirty clothes — rags at first sight, but brightly colored robes on closer inspection.
"Who are you?" the boy asked. His voice had a certain husk to it, sending shivers down Tezuka's spine.
"I could ask you the same question," his cautious reply.
The boy gave him a steady, scrutinizing stare. "You have magic. Strong magic. Who are you?" he rasped again, voice rusty from disuse. Brilliant golden eyes implored him to answer.
"I am a mage of the castle. And you are?"
The boy remained silent, staring at him for one, two more heartbeats. The boy then turned and headed for the room's sealed and draped windows, waving his hands over them. The drapes lifted and were rid of dust, and the windows were revealed and scrubbed to cleanliness. There was a small porch beyond the glass doors, and the view was of the West square's old unkempt gardens. The porch opened into one of the paths, and the path led off into the hedgerow mazes, which was by now a confusion of twists and turns nobody would be able to navigate.
"Don't you think we take life for granted, mage?" the boy asked.
A butterfly flittered into the room as the windows were pushed open to let in the ample breeze.
Tezuka could not bring himself to think of a proper reply, but he really did not need to, because the Monastery bells were ringing, and he was late.
The second time Tezuka took the shortcut through the West wing was two days after. He had resolutely convinced himself that he would never venture into the wings again, but he found that he really had no choice — the old and separate section of the library was just too far from the Monasteries, and unless he took the shortcut, he would be late for the court meetings.
He marched right past the doors, eyes never wavering from the corridor's sunlit path. He was thankful that the one side of the corridors was open to a wide and unkempt court garden, and the sun could stream in to illuminate his way. It would be far too dreary otherwise.
However, before he could turn into the pathway that opened to another garden beside the Monasteries, a voice called behind him, "You left your journal, mage."
He stopped mid-stride, and turned to find the boy, now in clean robes, standing in the middle of the partly sunlit corridor and holding out his journal.
Strange, Tezuka thought. Under the sun, the boy looked like a faint shadow of a person, as if one could see right through him. But of course Tezuka could not, for ghosts did not exist.
Cautiously approaching, Tezuka gently took the bound journal and tucked it into his arms. "Thank you."
"What is your name?" the boy asked. There was something different in those eyes.
"Tezuka." A faint smile flittered over the boy's face. He slowly made his way back towards his room. "You'll need to hurry, Tezuka, or you'll be late for the court."
And as a phantom, he was gone.
This is foolish, Tezuka faintly thought.
His enchanted clock informed him that it was one in the morning, and yet here he was, up and unsettled. He could not, for the life of all that was magical, bring himself to sleep. There was something tickling at the back of his consciousness, something he could not put his finger on but knew was there.
Sighing, he relinquished the quill into the ink bottle and closed his journal. There was no hope of doing any work when his mind was elsewhere. He turned the lamplight down into a gentle flickering flame, much like a firefly's light, and placed it beside his bed. He then stepped out into his foyer, one that overlooked the hills beyond the Monastery.
However, something else caught his eye.
As he looked over to his far left, he faintly saw an outline of a person walking through one of the gardens — he frowned.
Since when was there a walled garden beside the Old Library's courtyards?
Picking up his outer robes and pulling them on, he waved his hand to extinguish the lamplight and strode out of his room. He did not know when he stopped by the kitchens to pick up a basket of food, but apparently he did, for the basket was in his hand as he strode through the gardens and into the old and abandoned West square.
Now that he thought back on it, he was neither taught nor had he heard or read anything about why the West square, a small but beautiful piece of the castle, was abandoned. No one ever stepped into the square's vicinity, for fear of something — what thing, Tezuka did not know. He had always assumed it was the age and the derelict state of the square that drove people away, but now, the boy he met was making him reconsider his assumptions.
As he arrived at the room's old oak doors, he stopped.
What am I doing? He asked himself. Why am I here? I should not be here. This place is forbidden —
"Are you going to stand there all night, Tezuka?" called a voice — sweeter and deeper than his mere and flawed memory could ever remember — from beyond the doors.
He could not help but step in.
Sono utagoe taenai hirusagari
Mezamete futari wa hitotsu ni nari
Shiawase no imi wo hajimete shirunodeshou