City of the Wind
(Revised 2009 Feb)
My love, your face is all I know
Of sunrises and sunsets.
I touch you, and I touch the sun.
Warmth and light, source of all life.
I revolve around you.
Planets collide in your absence,
And the moon is my heart,
Deep in shadow,
With a dark veil over its face,
Mourning the loss of mornings forever.
Screaming, Ryoma crumpled to the floor of his darkened room. The warmth of the firelight was gone, and all that was left was the cold and a darkness so profound he felt himself drowning within it. It was all too familiar a feeling, being encased by the darkness once again.
Disoriented, he rested his cheek against the cold floor. His entire being was burning, burning painfully, and he could not comprehend — his mind was lost within the vision's powerful grip. It wasn't until his fingers brushed the hem of fabric hanging from the nearby couch did he wake. His eyes snapped open, wide and afraid. His heart pounded against his ear, loud, reverberating, erratic. His fingers shook, his arms and legs lifeless. Cold sweat promptly broke on his forehead.
Hot tears trickled down his cheek, making his pale white skin flush an angry red. His hand caught the fabric once more and pulled at it — ah, yes, 'Mitsu had forgotten his cloak. It must have been cold this morning, he thought absently —
Jerked awake by the sudden realization, magic rushed through his veins. The entire room burst into life, overflowing with agitated earth energy eager to help its young charge. With great difficulty, Ryoma clambered to his feet. His body, still under magical shock, refused to obey his orders without a valiant fight, but even hell would not stop him.
He stumbled his way through his room, hitting his legs against the edges of his divan painfully.
He had to hurry.
He had to hurry.
Or else —
Ryoma wrenched open the old oak door, uttering a harsh curse under his breath. A blast of frigid air slapped against his face.
The outer world… can I? Should I?
A brief pause within which his eyes flickered between hesitation and fear lapsed, accompanied by utter silence. However, as if to bolster his determination, the vision's pitch-dark window once more flashed in his mind, the very making of a nightmare — and the horrifying image of his 'Mitsu, his mage, inside that abominable chamber, unconscious, tied down, screaming in pain —
For 'Mitsu… for 'Mitsu, I can.
Steeling his nerve, he pushed through the doorway and, without further hesitation, flew down the darkened hallways.
A single choked sob, however, slipped from between his lips, echoing and lonely within the silent darkness.
Wavering in his disbelief, Nanjiroh peered at Keigo. The King, he thought dubiously — then only a spoiled little brat, now a proud young man who held the fate of the entire Kingdom in his hands. This was the King, and this King was currently shattering the foundation of the lives they've known for the past ten years.
"Uncle, we must hurry," pressed Keigo, keeping his voice low, but urgent. The modest dark clothing and voluminous cloak hid his identity well, but for some innately intuitive people, the guise could be too shallow. Before anybody had the chance to realize who he was, they had to get out of here. Cozy as it was, the small farming town was far too near the border, and the Empire was no less than five miles away. "Before the Monastery finds out and takes him, Uncle — Tezuka, Ryoma's friend, has spoken outside of the West quarter's walls. Someone else might have heard him during our conversation in the Libraries!"
However, Nanjiroh merely gave him the same blank stare, shock having frozen him into a standstill. It was not all too hard for Keigo to comprehend the extent of Nanjiroh's disbelief. After all, it was Nanjiroh who had found Ryoma's corpse — supposed corpse, he corrected himself — ten years ago. Throat slashed, arm broken, a large stab wound in the stomach. The heavy scent of the blood had been enough to make even Rinko, a battle-hardened and experienced medic mage, to retch.
Rinko then burst into racking sobs. "Ryoma! Ryoma, my child — alive!"
Nanjiroh blinked, snapping into consciousness once more.
"Uncle!" Keigo hissed in impatience. "There is no time for pointless dilly-dally! We must hurr—"
A burst of golden fire erupted in front of Keigo. The three of them, eyes wide, watched. The golden fire slowly calmed and molded itself into a fire lotus.
"A Summon," Nanjiroh exhaled.
Without further ado, Keigo grabbed Nanjiroh's arm and marched the three of them through the door, across the small vegetable garden, and into the neighboring stable. He threw open the side door, and there in front of him stood two magnificent steeds — Snowfire and Elléran. Keigo recognized them from his youth — they were of a rare magical breed, and lived for as long as their master was alive.
"No time to waste. We leave. Now."
Things never happened the same way twice. This was an established fact of the universe, for time was ever flowing, and no two moments were ever the same. Ryoma knew this, and he was thankful — for if things were never the same twice, then things would not go as his dream went. Nature was on his side tonight — the moon was full, and the earth thrummed with latent energy. The trees rustled side to side, anxious. The air whipped past his bare feet as he almost literally flew through the labyrinthine passageways, weaving in and out, letting the magic lead him.
Lead me. Lead me, to where Kunimitsu is!
Never before has the magic ever failed him. And never will the magic fail him in days to come. This he knew for certain.
He sharply turned a corner, eagle-sharp eyes catching the silhouette of assassin mages poorly hidden within the night's sparse shadows. Chanting reached his ears —
Oh, no, you don't.
The one powerful word sent a lethal lash of magic towards the mages — he flew past them, and could not help but let a bloodthirsty grin curl upon his lips at the sound of them crumpling to the flagstone floor. They took his Mitsu, his mage, his life — it would only be fair if he took their lives as well.
Tonight, he was merciless, for tonight would be the end of all.
As he ran, he pulled strength from the earth and the wind, gathering the magic around himself, condensing it until a shimmering film of raw earth magic outlined his form, effectively shielding himself from detection and magical assault. His breath rushed in and out of his lungs, saturating every fiber of his being with tendrils of warm, molten magic. His feet were cushioned from the rough stone by the silk of power shimmering over his skin. Truly, he was the epitome of nature's power.
He stopped when he came upon a small antechamber, circular and wide enough for full moon rites. He stopped in his tracks, eyeing the heavily decorated floor. The darkness made it hard to see in precise definition, but there were lines on the floor, calling on some potent magic, giving the room a very unpleasant atmosphere.
His eyes flashed a sharp gold as he gathered the light of the moon around his hand, plunging the antechamber in momentary darkness before bathing it in bright white witchlight.
Earthlust stone coupled with ancient circles… Ryoma warily eyed the unwanted but nonetheless beautifully intricate decoration on the floor. The person who witlessly sets a single foot within this web of circles should be a very unlucky person. I wonder what would happen…
"It depends on which rune they step on," a silky voice from the left wall made Ryoma jump and bristle in alarm. His eyes could see no one else. "They could burn, be torn into tatters, be ripped into shreds of useless trash… they could be thrown into an eternal darkness that would slowly but surely drive them insane… or they could walk away unharmed."
Annoyed, Ryoma snarled. If you don't want to show yourself, then I'll pull you out of the dark myself! He siphoned off the earth's raw magic, pulling more and more, his bare feet touching the ground and acting as amplifiers. A swirl of bright yellow enveloped the ball of witchlight he held with a hand, and as the room was illuminated with the amplified light, a dark, cloaked form was revealed.
Ryoma's eyes narrowed.
"A pleasant evening to you, Your Royal Highness," the cloaked messenger hailed, stepping forward and dropping to his knee in a graceful bow. Ryoma's attentive eyes, however, could see the entirely too amused smile curving upon the messenger's lips.
Ryoma's arm lashed out, and the cloaked messenger was suddenly gone from the floor, pinned by a wave of power against the stone wall. "Where is 'Mitsu?"
"Ah, now," the messenger coughed, swallowing with great difficulty. The solid wall of magic pinning him to the wall shimmered, pulsed, and threatened to press harder. "I'm sure Your Highness can find him without this lowly messenger's help."
The messenger's eyes flashed a bright blue, and suddenly, Ryoma was pinning empty air against the stone wall. Whirling in anger, he lashed a huge wave of magic towards the messenger, who barely managed to sidestep and save his arm. The cloak's clasp, however, was cleanly sheared through into two. Dark cloth fell to reveal the Monasteries' standard magistrate robes underneath, accompanied by a face Ryoma was not familiar with — a face that Ryoma would be sure to remember for the rest of his (very long) life.
"What an utter shame," sighed the messenger, bending down and picking up the sheared cloak. "This was woven from Seir spidersilk — very expensive, very tough. It was my favorite." With a peculiar turn of his wrist, the cloth disappeared into thin air. He turned towards Ryoma. "Impressive, Your Highness. The magic you possess certainly is very potent. Having been drawing from it for the past ten years, I can vouch for it."
"You are not of the Kingdom," Ryoma muttered under his breath, comprehension dawning upon him. "You are of the Empire."
The deceptively kind face gently formed a smile. "My name is Yukimura, Your Highness. Yukimura Seiichi."
Ryoma's eyes widened. "The Yukimura clan…"
"I would appreciate it if Your Highness desists from associating me with such a useless clan." The smile never wavered from the messenger Yukimura's face, and the voice's tone never changed, though the dark blue eyes hardened with heavy intensity.
"What do you have to gain from this?!" Ryoma railed in anger. "Why did you have to include 'Mitsu? It was me you wanted, no? My magic—take it! I don't care. Leave 'Mitsu alone!"
"Ah, yes," nodded Yukimura, crossing his arms behind his back. He tilted his head sideways, as if an intellectual perusing a thought-provoking but peculiar philosophy. "Tezuka Kunimitsu, one of the strongest — if not the strongest — mages of the Monasteries. At first, he was inconsequential within my plans, but soon the necessity of disposal became apparent when his involvement with you deepened — I'd hoped he'd stop visiting you after that first meeting. Things would have gone according to plan. But no! He had to fall for you!" Yukimura chuckled. "On top of that, he saw the cracks in the wards. That shrill friend of his, Kikumaru, helped confirm his suspicions — Kikumaru has extraordinary eyesight, you see. He was the first to realize the truth about the Elders as well." The messenger's voice was rolling, gentle, warm — completely betraying his real nature. Ryoma could feel a natural charm about this person. No wonder his younger self completely fell for the lies so easily uttered by this stranger.
"I'd very much like to adjust that thought. I was the first one who discovered the truth about the Elders — Tezuka was far too busy mooning over his new love to notice a single thing amiss," an even gentler voice interjected from the same entrance Ryoma used. Eyes turned towards the intruder. "My, what a jolly gathering! Good evening." A brown-haired and similarly smiling mage — a strong one, at that — stood there, seemingly relaxed. A ribbon of his magic, however, poised for both defensive and offensive action at any moment.
"Who are you?" Ryoma barked, irritated. Too many roadblocks!
"I am a mage, Your Highness, and I am also Tezuka's friend," the brown-haired intruder said, still wearing the same unsettling smile. In a second-snap, Ryoma immediately felt the blood relation between Yukimura and Fuji. He did not even need to go as far as feeling for their magic — simply seeing their identical deceptive smiles was enough. Somehow, though, he felt something off with the blend of the magical signatures.
"Fuji," Yukimura the messenger greeted, ever the picture of calmness. "How unexpected. I would have thought you would be sleeping, like the rest of the Monasteries is."
"The rest of the Monasteries except the Elders who are performing the stripping rite, you mean," Fuji inputted. His smile widened. "Yes, well, the crickets deemed it a fine night to sing into my ears and deny me the luxury of a deep slumber." He turned towards Ryoma, blue eyes softening. "Your Highness, you should hurry forward. Tezuka's life is in danger. You can leave this to me."
A deadly glint flashed within the depths of Fuji's blue eyes, and Ryoma deemed it wise to leave the two feuding cousins behind. He turned and deftly leapt over the runes lined and carved and set in Earthlust stone, blasting the wooden door open with magic and sprinting past it without a single backwards glance.
"We will meet again, Your Highness."
It was a faint whisper, steadily fading within the darkness, but it reached Ryoma's ears all the same.
Just how long is this hallway?
His breath misted as the air grew stale and cold. His bare feet, battered and bruised, smarted from the sting of icy stone. His cheeks were flushed bright with his exertion, his muscles aching in protest. He was ascending, further up the Monasteries' dark towers. It was every bit as he'd imagined it when he was younger, from what he could see of it from the West quarters. It was dark, dank, and depressing, the very epitome of death and desolate loneliness. He was uneasy, but he was not afraid. His magic ran with him, and even now he could feel the fine silky film of raw power against his skin. His magic, the earth, nature, the voices, they comforted him.
The darkness was endless. The hallway turned and twisted, left and right, but it was a single path, never straying. He faintly worried about Yukimura the messenger and Tezuka's friend Fuji, but he could not afford to waste time. His Tezuka's very life was at high risk. He simply had no choice but to trust the brown-haired smiling mage to take care of the messenger for him.
He was spared from further worry when his witchlight showed him the end of the hallway. There, in front of him, was an immaculate iron-wrought solid door, embedded with glimmering crystals symbolizing the constellations. Beyond it Ryoma could smell the heavy scent of blood and forbidden magic.
Bracing himself, he extinguished the witchlight and relaxed his hands. His fingers tingled. Raw power from deep within the earth stirred, and as his eyes fell into a close, he could feel his core wake. He drew forth more, and more and more, until he shone within the darkness, his magic manifesting as a bright golden light.
Removing his hand from the wall, he turned towards the door and lifted a hand — the door, pure iron, imploded.
Stepping into the threshold, Ryoma's golden eyes glimmered in anticipation. A swirl of heavy golden magic enclosed him, banishing the surrounding darkness. The wide ritual room, a familiar circular shape, was surrounded by gigantic supporting pillars. The torches were lit, and through the glass ceiling, Ryoma could see the bare and darkened night sky.
However, when his wide eyes descended upon the single form in the center of the gigantic circular room, the magic withered.
There, in the very center of the room, lay Tezuka. On a dais raised a few inches from the cold floor he lay, as still as a slumbering corpse. Not a single breath disturbed the air in the room. Death stench wafted with the magic, touching his nostrils, making his eyes smart and his throat clog. The torchlight was cold and unnerving, and cast unwelcome shadows upon the unconscious mage's face.
Ryoma quaked. His feet, numb as they were, stumbled him forward. His eyes, stinging with tears, were disbelieving. He knelt. His hands, cold and clammy, touched Tezuka's face.
"'Mitsu? 'Mitsu, wake up," he said, his voice a mere whisper. "It's me. It's Ryoma."
"If you need anything," Tezuka began. "If you need me to come to you, tie this around the porch's pillar where I can see it from the Monastery. I shall come."
With that, Tezuka spun on his heel and headed for the Monasteries. But before he could walk past the turn, a weak and hesitant voice called out behind him, "My name…"
He stopped, turning partly.
"…my name… is Ryoma."
Pulling on his magic, he warmed and thickened the stale cold air around them. Gently, very gently, he pressed his lips against Tezuka's, yearning for even just a single stir — but there was none.
Hot tears streamed down his cheek as he struggled to deny the obvious truth. Around him were four cornerstones, and atop them were bejeweled mirrors — appropriate tools for stripping magic. They were tinted a shimmering blue-violet, the color of Tezuka's magic. They stole away what was bound by birth to Tezuka's soul, they robbed his Tezuka of birthright. They were the darkest and most forbidden form of magic – they were abominable. Ryoma's eyes scrunched up tight – the mirrors shattered and rained around them in shimmering pieces, a curtain of diamonds, beautiful, yet soulless.
This was a punishment, Ryoma knew. This was the Monasteries' punishment to Tezuka for breaking the West quarter's seal, and for repairing the wards on his own. This was the Monasteries' — no, this was Yukimura's retribution to those who stood in the way of his plans.
A hand settled over the mage's chest. "I will be right beside you." No matter what you will be facing, I will be right beside you.
Tezuka leans down and places a soft kiss upon the boy's forehead. "…I know."
"'Mitsu, wake up," he begged, voice breaking. "Please. Wake up."
"It's too late, young prince," a deep voice said. A group of Elders emerged from behind the pillars, but Ryoma paid them no heed. "Tezuka Kunimitsu is no longer a mage. His magical core has been stripped from him, and soon he shall succumb to the void. His death is only a matter of time."
Ryoma was not paying attention. He gently lifted Tezuka's head, cradling the limp form against his chest, placing soft kisses upon a cold brow. "You promised me, 'Mitsu. You promised me you would stay."
"Will you stay with me?"
Tezuka gave him a small smile. "If you wish me to."
"The mage is no longer alive, little prince!" another Elder barked. "Give it up and surrender! Retreat within your quarters and we shall pretend this never happened! You shall not be punished if you—"
"All I need is a promise, Kunimitsu. Promise me you will always be here for me."
"Always. I promise."
"You, a lowly mage, do not have the right to command me, a rightful prince of this Kingdom!"
Ryoma's voice neared a roar, reverberating through the Monastery tower's very walls. The pillars thrummed with magic, the floor warmed with power. Ryoma's eyes, glinting gold under firelight, lit up. The swirl of raw earth magic returned, stronger, fiercer, wilder.
Out of control.
"You, a lowly mage, do not have the right to take away what has been given by nature!"
Clutching Tezuka to his chest, he unconsciously drew on the magic. More and more, until the density within the room was unbearable and suffocating, until the very pillars groaned under the weight and strain. Far below the towers, Ryoma could hear the first cracks of weakened stone.
"You, a lowly mage, do not have the right to touch what is MINE!"
Outside the ritual chamber's walls, panicking mages woke from their slumber, unable to ignore the call and pull of raw power, the crumbling slabs of stone overhead. The spell of sleep was broken. The trees swayed back and forth, as if in a war dance. The wind whipped and lashed and roared, the heavens clouded and clapped with thunder and storm. Nature itself was echoing the anger and the pain Ryoma felt.
Hot tears were still streaming freely from Ryoma's wrathful eyes, burning his skin. He held Tezuka close, the scene in his vision flashing to his consciousness with frightening clarity, a nightmare he would forever suffer. Tezuka held up by floating cornerstones, arms spread as if in crucifixion. Tezuka's hoarse scream as the magic was literally ripped apart from his soul. Tezuka's eyes drooping as the last of the life force was taken. Tezuka's lips moving to form one last word — Ryoma.
Ryoma's rage rose, and with it his magic — he released an anguished cry, a cry that echoed through the heavens. The glass ceiling shattered as lightning struck, breaking through the protective wards as metal would pierce through onion skin. Shimmering shards fell upon their heads, heavy glass cutting through skin and bone of those too slow to lift shields. Three of the Elders fell to the stone floor in a pool of blood and detached limbs. The rest of them were taken by the magic, branded and stripped of power – Ryoma relished the same screams of suffering they gave before they were consumed by his Summoned hellfire.
At that point, thought, it was all too much.
Releasing his hold on the magic, Ryoma screamed, his eyes glowing a bright gold-white. The entire chamber swam in a blinding flash of white light, and in the dead of the night the tower was a beacon to the entire Kingdom.
And then the pillars crumbled.
"Don't worry. I'm not going to let you go," Ryoma murmured against Tezuka's temple. "I'm not going to let you go, 'Mitsu. You will not die." In the midst of the crumbling pillars, he placed a single palm upon Tezuka's heart.
The magic gathered and pulsed under his hand. Ryoma pulled, more and more, trying his very hardest to heal the torn soul, to replace the stolen magic. He poured pure earth magic into Tezuka's very being, begging, praying, hoping…
"You shall live, 'Mitsu. For me. For us."
The flagstone floors began to crumble, and beneath them there was a flurry of panic from the resident mages, but Ryoma was oblivious. His eyes settled upon Tezuka's face.
Breathe for me.
Tezuka's eyes snapped open, his chest shuddering in a single breath of air.
Under the fading sunset, Ryoma's eyes danced happily with contentment and bliss. He once more smiled up at Tezuka, a smile of pure happiness. "I love you."
A Song of Storm and Fire
"How is life in the castle treating you, Uncle?" Keigo asked a pensive Nanjiroh with a small smile. The young King leaned against the veranda's balustrade. In the far distance, the Monastery's crumbled towers were barely visible over the tall trees.
"As well as can be expected under the circumstances, I suppose," sighed Nanjiroh. There was nothing else left to be said, but there was a mountain of things left to be done. "Ryoma?"
"He is resting." Keigo shifted slightly, a slight frown on his face. "The ordeal four nights ago left him exhausted nearly to the point of death, and yet he still had enough strength to wake and argue with Aunt Rinko."
"Argue?" chuckled Nanjiroh. "Is it about the mage again?"
The first time Ryoma woke was a full day after the tower's complete destruction, and the first thing the boy had asked for was Tezuka. He did not even ask where he was, what happened, why his parents were present — all he wanted was to see Tezuka. Only after they allowed him to do so did he calm down enough to ask the questions he was supposed to be asking.
"Yes," Keigo heaved a heavy, exasperated sigh. "He is completely and utterly smitten, Uncle. I fear he will only hurt himself."
"All we can do, Keigo," Nanjiroh said, "is to pray and hope that the mage will recover. For if he does not, then Ryoma…"
Words were not needed to convey the meaning.
A stretch of somber silence followed, before Nanjiroh spoke once more. "How goes the search for the Empire's spy sorcerers?"
"Quite well, in fact," Keigo said, a wry smile playing on his lips. "Ryoma's magic, it seems, called upon nature itself to brand, strip, and burn all mages and sorcerers included within the Empire's plans. I expect Yukimura miscalculated Ryoma's strength."
"No," Nanjiroh countered. "He did not miscalculate Ryoma's strength. He would not make such a mistake. What he miscalculated was nature's strength and Ryoma's connection to it."
Keigo nodded. "The Monastery will be reinstated, and each mage will be reinvestigated, but overseeing it is still a debatable problem. The Royal Court has yet to make a decision."
"How about letting the Echizen clan oversee it?"
"Yuushi," snapped Keigo. "Would you stop sneaking around behind my back? One day I might lash out and accidentally skewer you on a spike."
"I am honored that His Majesty thinks for my wellbeing," smirked the bespectacled mage.
"Oh, shut up." Nanjiroh fancied himself a chortle as Keigo grumbled to himself. "How about it, Uncle?" Keigo suddenly asked.
"Take over the Monastery?" Nanjiroh raised both his eyebrows in disbelief. "Me?"
"It is not a bad idea," Keigo shrugged. "As long as Aunt Rinko is there to make sure you refrain from skiving off your duties, I do not see any problem with said arrangement."
Nanjiroh stared at both Keigo and Yuushi. Young and yet burdened with a million responsibilities, taking care of and maintaining a prosperous Kingdom, striving to guarantee the safety of their people… oh, how the war has stolen their youth. Nanjiroh could still remember when these two young lads had to worry of naught but what game to play for the afternoon.
Certainly, if he took over the Monastery, the chances of another mage spy would be lessened, and the loyalty of the remaining mages to the Kingdom would be reinforced. The wards would also be strengthened, a probable five times stronger than before.
But was his family ready for such a burden? Things were moving far too fast, as if unable to wait for the next dawn. The Kingdom could feel the clouds of war descending upon it. Ryoma's ridding the Kingdom of the mage spies was an unquestionable declaration of war. News of what had transpired would have already reached the Kingdom's ears, especially given the fact that Yukimura, the cloaked messenger who had tricked Ryoma, escaped into the darkness of night. (They drew immense satisfaction – Ryoma, especially – after being informed by Fuji that Yukimura had not escaped without his own fair share of severe wounds.)
"I am not yet sure, Keigo," Nanjiroh finally replied. "I have to consider Ryoma first and foremost. He is not yet recovered, and will not be for some time. I know for a fact that he will not completely recover until the mage awakens — who knows when that will be. But I shall talk to him and to Rinko, and we shall see."
Keigo nodded in understanding. "Thank you, Uncle. It would be a great help." The young King turned towards the city, and far to the horizon, the borders of the Empire. "The drums of war are sounding once more. We need all the help we can get."
Gently, Ryoma woke from his dream. His eyes fluttered open, bleary and disoriented. The hand he held was warm, but still. He lifted his head from where it had been resting beside Tezuka's pillow, and his eyes rested upon Tezuka's sleeping face.
A faint smile ghosted upon his lips as he remembered his dream.
"'Mitsu?" "You will keep coming for me, won't you?" Ryoma whispered into the night.
"You will keep coming for me, won't you?" Ryoma whispered into the night.
Tezuka pulled the smaller body closer. "Of course. You know I will."
"No matter what happens?"
"No matter what happens," Tezuka assured the boy. "Don't worry, Ryoma. Everything will be fine. I will always come back for you."
"You will come back, won't you?" Ryoma whispered, pressing his lips against Tezuka's. "I know you will. And I will wait for you. Until you wake, I will be right here."
The serene sunset gave the room a golden glow. After a few moments of silence spent holding Tezuka's warm hand and gazing at the mage's peaceful visage, Ryoma stood and made towards the other end of the room, where a regal grand piano stood.
Gently, he rested his fingers upon the keys.
As soft ripples upon water, the notes weaved into one another, until the melody simply flowed from his fingers. This was the same song that as a child, he had made with his flute. This was the same song that as a child, he had asked his mother to name for him. This was the very same song that he had made for his father, his loving father — this was the song that symbolized the youth and innocence that was taken away from him. This was the same song Tezuka fell in love with, the song Ryoma had planned on teaching him.
This was his song.
The notes were born and became calm waves. Certain gentleness was woven in between the phrases, and he could feel warmth being drawn forth from within his chest. He could see in his mind's eye the shimmer of rippling water against a warm, gentle sunset. One ripple, and then another, and another — the cycle was never-ending.
He felt the presence of his father, his mother, Keigo, and Yuushi by the door, but he paid them no heed. The notes flowed as he siphoned off his love and his sadness, his joy and his pain. Finally, he had escaped the darkness. Finally, he lived within light once more.
And yet where was the meaning of life when his love was taken away from him?
He had tried his hardest to give Tezuka back his magic, and he succeeded — but Tezuka's mind had not fully recovered, torn and tattered as it was from the rite. He would be in deep sleep until his mind fully recovered — but until when? Ryoma did not know. And Ryoma did not think he could live without knowing.
As the song gently lapsed into a close, he uttered a small sigh. His fingers lay motionless upon the keys.
"So you finished the song," Nanjiroh remarked faintly. "It's beautiful."
"I finished it two moons past," Ryoma explained. "When I was inside the room, I could do nothing. It was all darkness. Until 'Mitsu opened the door."
"Why was he there?" Nanjiroh asked, entertaining the train of thought. Rinko made her way to the bedside to check the mage's status.
"He said he was simply passing by," Ryoma smiled. "He was running late. He needed a shortcut."
Ryoma gazed up at Keigo. "Why are you all here? I thought there was a Council assembly."
"Aunt Rinko said she had something to tell us," Keigo said. "About your condition."
Ryoma frowned, retracting his hands from the keys and placing them on his lap. "My condition? I'm perfectly healthy. I do not even have a single scratch on my entire body. My magic will recover in a few more days. There is nothing to worry about." He paused, searching his mother's serious face as she sat herself on the chair beside the bed. "…is there?"
Rinko pursed her lips.
"Come now, Rinko," Nanjiroh coaxed. "Is it serious?"
A sigh. "Well," Rinko said. "Yes, it is quite a serious matter."
Keigo's brow furrowed. "Then it is all the more important you tell us."
A stretch of silence followed.
"It might be a little hard to believe. The condition is quite rare," she spoke into her lap.
No one spoke.
Rinko lifted her head, her eyes meeting her son's golden ones. "Ryoma, you are with child."