THE TWIN MOONS
Author's Note: Seriana is feudal planet, resisting conquest by the Terran Empire. Ichigo is a child of both Terra and Seriana, but is at home in neither. Can he bridge two worlds to save his people?
Pairings: IchiRuki, HitsuKarin.
Acknowledgement: The characters belong to and are from the incredible imagination of the manga god Kubo Tite. Arigato, gozai masu!
Chapter One: Prologue
Twenty-five years before:
The small boy clasped his mother's hand tightly. The spaceport loomed large, before him, its tall, sleek buildings rising from seemingly nowhere to touch the reddish sky. He had never seen anything so tall, nor had he ever seen buildings made completely out of metal and glass.
Anterra: city of the men who had come to this planet centuries ago to with aspirations of conquest. In truth, the Terrans had not ever completely tamed this wild world, with its sprawling forests, inhospitable climate, and strange people. The Terrans had tried to reign in the many fiefdoms and larger kingdoms – the 'Keeps', as the Serians called them – but, despite centuries of Terran rule, the Serians still refused to recognize the Terran Empire as sovereign.
"I don't want to leave, Mommy," said the little orange-haired boy, looking up at his mother. "I want to stay with you and Daddy."
Masaki forced a smile. "You'll be coming back soon, Ichigo," she said, kneeling down so that her face was close to his. "Your Uncle Hiroki will take good care of you until then."
"Why do I have to go?" the boy asked, his small face streaked with tears.
"Things are…unsettled… here," said Masaki, hesitating slightly over her choice of words. They walked onwards into the main transport terminal. "Besides, you'll get a far better education on Terra than here on Seriana."
You'll be safe there, little one.
A Terran guard waived them over, having eyed them suspiciously as they made their way across the terminal. It wasn't difficult to understand why – unlike the other passengers who wore modern clothing typical of Terran tourists, Ichigo and his mother both wore traveling cloaks and, beneath their cloaks, the traditional clothing of Serians - she, a long velvet dress cut low at the bodice, and he, short black velvet pants and a fluttery white shirt. It was as if mother and son had been transported from some medieval past and dumped, unceremoniously, into a sterile, future world.
"Traveling papers?" demanded the guard, in the language of the Empire, Terran Proper. It was clear from his expression that he only tolerated Serians – that they were a nuisance, an irritation. Masaki handed him a leather-bound folio with gold letters stamped on the front. The guard opened the folio and handed it back to her. "Gate 23 is on the third floor to your left," he said, waving her in the direction of a large moving-staircase that rose hundreds of feet into the air.
"Thank you," said Masaki, also speaking in Terran, as she walked away with Ichigo in tow. The guard did not reply, but shook his head in disgust.
"Damn Serians," he muttered under his breath, as he watched them walk away.
They reached the gate with only a few minutes to spare. Through the high glass windows, Ichigo could see the shiny exterior of an enormous metal ship. The vessel was so huge that only a small portion of it was visible, with its tiny portholes reserved for first class passengers. Ichigo's eyes grew wide, and he pressed his face against the glass to try to see the top of it.
Masaki held Ichigo's travel papers out to the attendant who was helping passengers board the ship. "Traveling alone?" asked the attendant, looking down at the small boy with surprise.
"I'm not afraid," said Ichigo, as he heard this. "I'm already six years old." He said these last words with great pride, and the attendant smiled at him before turning back to Masaki.
"His uncle will be meeting him on Terra," Masaki replied, pointing out some documents in the leather portfolio.
"We'll take good care of him," said the attendant, patting Ichigo on the head. He scowled at her and straightened up, trying to make himself taller.
"Thank you," said Masaki, kneeling down again and putting her hands on Ichigo's full cheeks.
"I'm not afraid," he said, putting on his best grown-up face.
"I know," said Masaki, seriously, speaking now in her native tongue. In spite of himself, Ichigo's eyes welled up with tears.
"I love you, Mommy," he said, kissing her lightly on the cheek.
"I love you, too, Ichigo," she replied, gathering him in her arms. "We'll see each other again soon, son. You'll be back home before you know it. I promise."
She touched Ichigo lightly on the head, her other hand resting gently on a small object which hung about her neck. Then, releasing him, she walked him over to the gate and handed the leather portfolio to him to carry. She watched him walk through the gate and into the narrow corridor which led to the ship. Ichigo walked for several yards, then stopped to look back at her. He smiled and waved, willing himself not to cry. She waved back at him, and he turned and walked through the silver entryway and through the airlock. That would be the last time he ever saw ever saw his mother again.
It was more than twenty years before he was to return to Seriana.
Chapter One: The Rider
The forest was dark, but the rider flew blindly through the trees, astride the grey mare, kicking her gently in the ribs.
"I know you're tired," thought the rider, touching the horse's neck lightly, "but they are not far behind. Our only hope is to outrun them before we reach the mountain pass – we will be vulnerable on the narrow trails there."
Three cloaked riders rode down the mountain trail, their horses struggling over loose rock as the wind blew hard against their faces. Winter was coming, and they had only a few days, at most, before the snow would begin to fall. They had to make it back to Fury's Keep before then, or they would die of starvation.
"The edge of the forest is just over the next ridge," said Hisagi Shuuhei, who had taken the lead. He had grown up in this part of the mountains, and he knew these trails well.
"We'll make camp there," Ichigo replied, aware that the other two men were at least as exhausted as he. They had been riding for nearly twelve hours straight, having taken advantage of the light of Seriana's twin moons when the sun had finally dropped below the horizon.
"Others have come this way recently," said the third man, throwing off the hood of his cloak to reveal a long, red braid. "Their packs were light."
Ichigo had traveled in this area only once before, when he was very young, in the company of his father. He knew the Dark Country, as this area was called by outsiders, was quite dangerous. Bandits and thieves roamed these trails, preying on unsuspecting travelers – merchants mostly – transporting goods to the Far Country and the great kingdoms beyond. That the hoof prints of the riders who had preceded them here were not deep meant they were likely not merchants.
"We'll take turns sleeping," Ichigo replied.
As they reached the top of the trail, the sparse vegetation began to give way to scattered trees and, finally, a thick forest. They pitched their tents and watered their horses beside a small mountain stream. They did not dare light a fire, for fear they would attract unwanted attention; they would eat a cold dinner of bread and salted fish tonight, thankful at least to have a place where they could rest, relatively sheltered from the elements.
Ichigo took the first watch, despite the usual protests from his comrades. He leaned against one of the trees, drawing his knees to his chest for added warmth. He sighed deeply – it had been a long journey from the great city of Anterra, and little progress had been made in negotiations with the Terrans. Three long months in the Terran city, and he had grown homesick for the rolling hills of Fury's Keep and for his family. Absentmindedly, his hand strayed to the string around his neck and the small stone which hung from it, wrapped in leather. The stone warmed to his touch, even from within its wrappings, and the longing for home intensified.
He stood up, tucking the stone back under his shirt and walking over to where there was a larger opening in the forest canopy. The twin moons had now set, and stars shimmered through the branches. He shivered in the icy air and wrapped his cloak more tightly around him. Despite the bitter cold, he felt the stone warm again, although he had not touched it.
"Someone is nearby," he thought, resting his hand on his sword. He had never been gifted with the ability to sense the feelings or thoughts of others, so he did not know if the presence he felt was friend or foe.
"Shuuhei, Renji," he said, reluctantly waking the two other men. "We have company."
The trees were growing thinner, and the pursuing riders were gaining on her.
"Whoever they are, they must be desperate, to be chasing a lone rider, with few supplies," Rukia thought, as she pushed her horse even harder. A woman was not supposed to travel alone and, despite her disguise, she knew she could not hide her sex forever from thieves. She did not want to contemplate what her pursuers might do to her if they found out who she was.
Then, another thought, "My brother will never forgive me for this." She sighed - there was so much she had done that Byakuya might never forgive.
As she climbed higher towards the mountain pass, she felt the star stone which hung about her neck vibrate slightly. Another noble was nearby - she recognized the distinctive feel of his reiatsu. He was not from the Dark Country, but from somewhere beyond. But which kingdom? One favorable to her people? Or was he from one of the lands in and around Fury's Keep? She made her decision quickly – a noble, even from a hostile land, would be far less dangerous than the men who pursued her.
She veered her horse off the trail, heading towards a stand of thick trees surrounded by sparser vegetation. In the distance, she could see small tents pitched under the trees. She could now feel the presence of three nobles camped there – she could sense the other, weaker reiatsus now that she was closer.
"There is no choice," she thought, dismounting her horse and waving the animal off into the small stream beyond the trees. "I'll just have to take my chances." She began to walk towards the encampment.
As she walked, she was intercepted by two of the men who had been pursuing her. They were both dressed in ragged clothes - bandits, by the looks of them. They had been waiting behind one of the trees and approached her with swords drawn.
"Damn," she thought, drawing her sword and silently berating herself for not being more careful. She had not realized they had overtaken her – she had allowed herself to be distracted.
"What do you want?" she demanded, lowering the pitch of her voice so as not to betray her gender.
Several other men appeared with her horse in tow, one tossing her small packs over his shoulder and grinning.
"What money do you have?" asked one of the men. Rukia reached inside her cloak with her left hand and withdrew a small canvas bag filled with coins, tossing it on the ground in front of her, all the while keeping her sword pointed in front of her.
"That's all I have," she said.
"Where are you headed, boy?" asked one of the other men, bearded, with a long, deep scar on his cheek.
"Fury's Keep," she lied.
"You're going the wrong direction, son," laughed another man, advancing on her with his weapon held at the ready. "Perhaps you would like us to escort you back down the mountain, then?"
"No, thank you," she replied, trying to keep her face from showing fear.
"How impolite," said the first man, laughing now, "to refuse such a generous offer." He nodded to one of his companions. "We'll take the lad with us to the village – he might fetch us a bit more gold. I'm sure there's someone who could use a stable boy at the castle."
One of the men made to grab Rukia's arms, but she swung her weapon about, hitting him hard on the shoulder. He shouted in pain, and another man now rushed at her while the remaining men waited for an opportunity to grab her from behind. There was a loud clanking sound as her sword met one of the thieves', and his face registered surprise at how strong she was.
"This one's quite the little fighter," laughed the man with the sword, parrying as Rukia swung again. "Where did you learn to wield a sword like that, boy?"
Rukia said nothing, but ran at the man, cutting him in on the forearm with her blade. He growled and swung his sword at her. When she tried to respond, she felt several strong arms grab her by the shoulders. She pulled back, trying to escape, managing to get one arm free. She felt a large hand grab her around the neck, twisting her sword arm behind her. As she struggled, a small leather packet attached to a silver chain swung out from underneath her shirt, catching the eye of one of her attackers.
"Ah," said the man, with triumph in his voice, "look what we have here, Tanaka. A star stone, and a right sizeable one, too. That should get us a few thousand bits on the black market, eh?" He reached down to grab the stone.
"Don't touch it!" shouted Rukia, horrified. She remembered, vividly, the few times she had permitted another to hold the stone and the sickening feeling she had experienced each time - even in the hands of her Sensei, the sensation had been jarring, uncomfortable.
"Take it from him," ordered the apparent ring-leader of the group.
"No, please," she begged. "Don't touch it." The star stone had been around her neck since she was a tiny child – it was a part of her, in tune with her mind – the physical manifestation of her reiatsu. She had heard stories of others with powerful reiatsu who had died when they were separated from their stones.
She felt a calloused hand against her neck, pulling the chain hard, until it snapped. Fingers closed around the stone's wrappings and she felt suddenly sick, nauseous. Pain shot through her head and chest; she thought her head would explode. The leader of the band walked over and snatched the stone, still in its leather covering.
"Oh, God," she thought, as he held up the stone and watched her reaction with some interest. She felt her legs collapse underneath her. The man who was holding her let go, and she fell onto her hands and knees, vomiting and coughing as another wave of pain and dizziness hit her.
"Not so feisty without the stone, are ye, lad?" laughed the leader, watching her cough and gag. "Bind him, Tanaka." Rough hands pulled her arms behind her and tied her wrists together, even as she kneeled.
"I've heard the stones are powerful weapons," said another man, looking at the wrapped stone, curious.
"Let's see what we have here," said the leader, pulling the drawstring and opening the small leather pouch which held the stone. An jagged, uncut green crystal glittered in his palm. It was several inches in diameter and shimmered slightly, even in the darkness. "Not too shabby," he said, eyeing the stone with a grin. "I've never seen one so big."
"He's a noble, for sure," said one of the other men, looking to the leader and laughing. "We got right lucky, didn't we, then, Kanawa?"
"Please," whispered Rukia, fighting the blinding pain, struggling to stay conscious. "You mustn't touch it." Rough fingers reached into the leather and held up the green crystal. The throbbing in Rukia's head reached a fever pitch, and she felt the world around her fade…
She was floating in nothingness – a far more comfortable feeling than the searing pain.
"Are you alright?" A voice, disembodied, echoed through her consciousness.
"Is he injured?"
"I don't see any wounds."
"The big one had this in his hand," came another voice.
"Bastards. Don't they know anything? Bring it to me."
Footsteps, then a nothingness again.
She was drowning in a sea of pain.
"Let me die."
"I can help you." A man's voice, concerned.
"Let me go, I can't stand it any longer."
"Take my hand, boy," he said. "I can bring you back, but you have to grab onto me."
"Please let me die," she moaned. Anything was better than the pain.
"Dammit, boy," he said, his voice echoing in her mind, "no one is dying today."
The pain began to fade, and she felt a mind brush against hers.
"Who are you?" she asked, struggling to hang onto him.
"Kurosaki Ichigo," he replied.
*This story is in two parts, although they are both in one fic.