They thought that praying would suffice -
But she knew that hope would come with sacrifice.
A . W R I N K L E . I N . T I M E
Princess, Princess, why do you cry?
Why do your tears fall so fast?
Is it because you had to say goodbye
To the lives you took in the past?
It came without warning.
Isn't that how it always is? The victim never had ample time to prepare—to strategize—to prevent tragedy from occurring. The outcome is always the same. Always, always the same. Death, destruction, pain, blood, tears, screams. History always speaks of bloodshed—and we are always fated to repeat the mistakes of our fathers and forefathers.
Just as I . . . am fated to repeat those of my grandmother.
My grandmother was a calm, serene woman. Her days as the Princess were always warm and bright. The people adored her; whilst many women of my line were blessed with the gift of Light, not many women were born into my family—and the Lady Diana, the Spirit of the Moon herself, is very partial to women. I was never able to see my grandmother young, but our people told me stories. When I was a child and allowed to roam the lands however I wished, they would tell me of long, midnight hair and eyes the color of warm tea. Skin as pale as snow and as soft as silk. I believed them; for, though old, my grandmother was still beautiful. I wanted to be like her—that gentle, that loved.
But there was another story; the tale of my mother's parentage. My uncle—the successor to the Throne of Selene—was born through the union of my grandmother and one of the humans from Earth, as my line was forbidden from mixing blood with our people and, then, Selene and Earth were in communicable terms. My grandmother, however, loved a demon. Since she was a child, she'd loved him—and conceived a child outside of her union. That child was my mother.
The demon—my grandfather—was found and killed by the Council. My grandmother, still the Sovereign in spite of everything, managed to save my mother from the Council's unfair clutches, but my grandmother's disregard for the Sacred Rules had changed much in the land of Selene; the land that would one day be known as the Moon, a mere chunk of floating rock.
My uncle despises me. As does his son, my cousin. They see the same "disgrace" in me; a potential threat.
But that changes nothing; the end is the same.
Always, always the same.
"Princess! Princess, where are you!?"
The clamor of booted feet followed closely on the tail of that urgent roar. Balanced easily on the rail of her marble balcony, the young blonde smiled to herself and jumped from her perch. "I see her through the window!" she heard the youngest of the Guard yell as she plummeted through night's wind, a cacophony of voices cutting through the silence. She giggled softly as wings of fine, silver light kept her from an ill-fated fall—she'd spent forever wishing to leave the confines of the castle walls. Tonight was it. 'The trials of the day are worth it, if I can have this.'
Once her bare feet touched grass still warmed from the sun's light, the young princess ran for all she was worth; her pale cheeks paling further from the cold wind, miles and miles of hair freeing from their combs and billowing behind her like a shimmering tail of silver silk.
Past the Imperial Gates and into the cobblestone streets of the nearby village; none but a were-creature could ever hope to catch her. At twelve, she was healthy and athletic, strong and smart—she would not give them a chance to catch up. It was the dead of night, with Earth hanging in the sky like a nine-month belly ready to give birth, but villagers were wide-awake. Night was a gift, and the people of Selene loved it—lived for it. Recognizing the fair-haired child, they gaped as a small army chased through the streets in hot pursuit of her; the soldiers of His Majesty were of the best Selene had to offer—a twelve year old girl would have to work hard to get one over on them.
But she was the Princess, and a chosen; luck was on her side.
She lost them after encountering a winding alley and hiding in an old, moldy barrel. It smelled of stale ale and dirt got on her voluminous robes, but that was nothing—she waited until the footfalls had ended before chancing a glance outside of her hiding place. Seeing nothing but a dark alley, she ventured out further . . . and bumped her head onto someone's shin. "You okay down there?" came a voice from above, and she had the passing, hazy notion that the Spirit Diane was talking to her. But Diane, of course, was a woman—this voice was not.
Cobalt eyes looked up to meet warm, friendly sapphire; he was tall with sandy, autumn hair and a smile. She was silent, her tongue grown thick and useless—when he got no answer, he bent his knees and came almost eyelevel to her, a basket of meats and fruits set down next to him. "Need help?" She didn't even notice he was setting her upright until she felt solid ground beneath her feet and his long, tendony hands brushing away the dirt on her robes. Whatever trance she'd slipped under dissipated and her cheeks flooded with color—he took it in stride, smiling with understanding. "I'm terribly sorry about that—vampire's gaze and such." He chuckled a little. "Didn't your mama ever tell you not to look anyone in the eye?"
"I-I. . ." What was she supposed to say? She was fortunate that he didn't realize who she was—maybe the dirt had ruined the gown enough?—but what was she supposed to do? She was a horrible liar, that much had been tested long ago, so . . . what? "M-my mother, she—" Was this what it was to be tongue-tied? Is this was a vampire's gaze did to people? No wonder the storybooks told her to be wary.
His eyes turned sad. "You don't have one, do you?" At her apparent surprise, he apologized. "I pick up things—I didn't mean to pry."
"Mahiru," she blurted, and wondered where her brain went. Judging by the twitch in his brow, he may have been wondering the same thing. "M-my name. It's Mahiru." She let out a silent breath; as far as she knew, the kingdom wasn't well-versed in the Princess' identity as an individual. She hoped that held true. 'And I'm acting like an idiot—nothing like what a princess is supposed to act like.' Maybe that would be in her favor. "A-and yours?"
That smile came back, fangs and all, though they weren't noticeable if one weren't looking for them. She'd never met a vampire before. "Nozomu, little one. I am called Nozomu." He ruffled her hair. "Here," he reached into his basket and handed her an apple, red and ripe. She looked at him in question, but took the offered fruit and she finally returned his grin. 'He doesn't even know me, but he's so friendly.' There weren't any bad vibes coming from him at all—she bit into the apple and found no poison. Chewing and swallowing, she thanked him. "You're so nice, and we just met. I-I don't have anything to give you, but I promise I—"
With a wave of his hand, he silenced her. "Think of it as a gift—you look like you haven't eaten in a while anyway." He was so astute—she'd missed her mother something terrible in the last few months since her death, and as a result, her appetite had diminished. She took another bite and chewed. "How old are you?"
"Twelve," she answered, making sure her mouth was empty before speaking.
That answer seemed to please him. "Ah, you're getting at that age. It was you the guards were after, wasn't it?"
She almost choked on the apple. "I-I—"
He chuckled again. "Don't worry—I won't say anything." He stood, bringing up the basket with him. A sigh slipped from his lips, and he looked out at the streets as if he weren't talking to her at all. "You know, it would seem awfully suspicious that a little girl would be walking around by herself." He checked his pockets absently. "But if her older, handsome brother were carting her around, then perhaps no one would stare and ask so many questions." He snuck a look at her from the corner of his eye. She caught it and couldn't believe a stranger would go through so much trouble for her. "That is, of course, if she doesn't mind."
Even if she did, she didn't really have a choice; he could yell for the Guards, and there went her plan of escape. But more importantly, she felt nothing nasty or distrustful coming from him, and she'd always been sensitive to things like this. He meant her no harm at all, and she could only thank her lucky stars that things had turned out thus. She smiled and shook her head no. Grinning, he held out his hand.
She took it.
Nozomu still had some shopping to do, it seemed. Some spices, mostly, and some more meats—a very healthy eater, this vampire. She asked about this—didn't vampires drink blood?—but he smiled, letting her know that he did not live alone, and that a very picky, pushy chef lived at his home. Mahiru had the funny suspicion he cut his trip shorter than it should have been, however, which may or may have not been attributed to the fact that she was attracting much attention; her robes, in spite of how rumbled or wrinkled they may have gotten, was still highly unusual outside of the castle walls, which was something she had not thought about—she'd never been so far from home.
They walked for miles, it felt. The village—Nanaset, he'd called it—was far behind them, her eyes drinking in the wide, open fields and fresh night air. Running ahead in a burst of energy, she giggled and twirled around, the feel of grass between her toes a sensation she hadn't felt since happier days. It reminded her of smiles and long walks by the meadow with her mother. Of casual strolls in the nearby village of Eden's Pass. 'I wish this could last forever.' The tranquility of this moment was what she'd craved for so long.
She'd forgotten she'd had an audience. Having spun herself dizzy, she let herself fall in a pile of silk and hair. She felt so . . . free. Thoughts of the Guard or her uncle were the farthest from her mind; this moment was ambrosia she'd never pass up.
Her view of the sky was blocked, the natural glow emitting from Earth shining behind him like a halo. He looked like an angel in that moment and she found herself flustered yet again. "There's something different about you, little one." He smiled again, just like he had earlier when she'd crawled from that dirty, grimy barrel. The thought crossed her mind that if this kind, understanding man had really been her brother, she would have never leapt from her balcony for a single night of escape. "But as much as I'd love to let you have your fun, it's not wise to linger in the open like this." His fine, pale digits were cool to the touch; he pulled her up easily and she followed him without complaint.
"I live in a cabin by a creek; the creek, of course, is located within the woods, which you should be starting to see momentarily." He looked down at her—she knew by the sensation in the back of her neck. For a moment, he was quiet. "Have you ever been in a Wood, Mahiru-chan?"
"No," she answered honestly.
"I figured." She wondered if she'd answered wrongly. Her world was full of wrong answers; it would only make sense that the outside world would operate in the same fashion. "Have you ever been carried?"
That one surprised her. "N-not . . . since I was a baby." Her mother used to carry her until she was too weak. The Guards would occasionally lift her when she couldn't reach her mother's sickbed, but that hardly counted. "Why?"
His fangs were showing again, glimmering pearly white. "The Wood floor has many sharp and damaging things that could hurt you—your bare feet would be submitted through much stress and strain." Another thing she hadn't thought of. What would she have done without this kind vampire's aid? "But I'm sure I could carry you; if you don't mind, of course." He switched the basket to his other arm. "I would never touch a Lady without her permission."
Her shoulders tensed. 'Lady'? Perhaps he was just being polite, but . . . Oh, she hoped he remained ignorant of her status. "Okay," she half-whispered, uneasy and unsure. She wasn't even allowed enough time to fret over propriety; one moment his arm was around her tiny waist—and the next, her legs were dangling against his chest, her stomach flush against the back of his head. It was a heady, giddy feeling, being so high. 'I feel like I'm two instead of twelve.' Some of the men would carry their daughters around like this, the fathers holding onto their child's ankles so that they wouldn't fall. Never behind the uptight walls of her home, of course, but in the village streets, with the Guards, even.
This was . . . nice.
It felt horribly uncomfortable, however, having her bare legs out in the open like this; the hem of her skirts had been dragged up and most of them trailed behind her and down the vampire's back—and what about her hands? Did she leave them dangling uselessly by her sides? That left her too unbalanced—so where? In his hair? 'My uncle would call me a harlot for thinking such things.' This was, quite possibly, one of the oddest situations she'd ever been in. Nozomu, though—astute as ever—offered her a solution. "Would you be so kind as to hold the basket? I can't help but feel as if you'll fall at any minute, and I need both hands to steady you."
The princess agreed readily and took the basket from him, enjoying the ride. The journey through the Wood wasn't as long as the walk through the village and field, but it still took a while. When the wooden dwelling appeared in the aforementioned location, she felt anxious and excited—she'd meet others like Nozomu, and steal just a little more time away from her uncle. She quietly thanked whatever deity was looking out for her for sending Nozomu her way—she may have ended up in the Guards' clutches without his help.
'Look mama—I made a friend tonight. And he's nice. You were looking out for me, weren't you?'
The door swung open with a creak—the lights had already been on—and a chorus of greetings assaulted the two once they entered. She, of course, had not been expected, so it was normal when a boy that looked only a few years older than herself did a double take and yelped. "A human?" That comment had all heads turning their way; she wished she could hide behind Nozomu, but he hadn't let her down yet.
The door was closed soundly behind them and only when he was good and ready did the vampire let her down. "Here, Akira; I got the supplies—and since we have a guest tonight, I'm sure you wouldn't mind cooking up something special."
He'd tickled the right chord; the boy called Akira grinned widely and took the basket. Like a weary child, she somewhat hid behind his leg, not liking the attention she'd wrought upon herself. Nozomu saw this and smiled, gently pushing her out into the open. "Everyone, I'd like you to meet Mahiru; Mahiru, this is everyone." He motioned to a shorter boy with hair that would make any girl envious. He sat with a book in his lap. "This is Misoka." Mahiru did a small curtsey out of habit, noting the way Misoka's eyes widened a fraction. Did they not curtsey here? "The one cooking—with his tail wagging—is Akira, and the grumpy one in the corner by the fireplace is Mitsuru." At the sound of his name, the young man's eyes hardened, but she curtseyed anyway and smiled a little.
Since there was such an awkward silence, she decided to speak up, though her voice was small. "It's a pleasure to meet you all. . ."
That did it; slamming the book closed, the short one—Misoka—stood and pointed at Nozomu accusingly, his eyes narrowed slits. "You kidnapped the Princess?!" Mahiru almost jumped out of her skin. "What in Selene's name could have possessed you, Nozomu? We'll be executed on the spot once His Majesty finds out about this—and you introduce her as if our hides aren't endangered simply because we haven't knelt in her presence!" Misoka tossed his book down on the couch he'd been sitting on.
And Nozomu, as if the mention of the Princess did not surprise him, simply smiled. "I found her hiding in a barrel—she was running from the Guard." He placed his hand on her head, but the gesture was lost on her—he must have known who she was on sight. "Mahiru-chan seemed to not want to be known—so I indulged her and brought her back here; I couldn't leave a twelve year old girl alone on the streets, Misoka."
"I left the castle of my own will, Misoka-san." She bowed her head in apology. "Nozomu-san was kind enough to help me; forgive me if I am intruding." Your run-of-the-mill princess she may not be, but damn it all if she didn't know her manners. "I do not want you all in danger because of me."
"Nonsense," said Nozomu, who ushered her into a seat. "You're the Guest of Honor."
That smile of his should be outlawed. Behind him, Mahiru saw the scowl on Misoka's face, but there was something more there too. From the corner, Mitsuru growled and grumbled something she couldn't hear, but she could tell it wasn't very nice by the tone. "This is most unwise, Nozomu," said Misoka, who sat back down, but never let them out of his sight. "You shouldn't be so close to her—you'd be killed for that alone." There was a hushed quality to his voice. "A commoner shouldn't share such familiarity with one of noble blood."
"Misoka's so strict, ne Mahiru-chan?" He poked her nose and she couldn't help a small giggle. "Mahiru-chan and I are friends, ne?" She could feel herself glowing in response. Misoka said nothing, but the unease was there—Mahiru decided that concentrating on Nozomu was best for a smile. He treated her like a person; not some untouchable doll, not some "insolent little brat" or a "burden" . . . but a girl.