Rank and title overpower free country ideals, often dividing families even lovers for centuries. Juuri/Haruka & Yuki/Kaname.


Echelon

Prologue

Tomorrow marks a week of our unremitting travel. Fortunately by dawn we'd breach the godly gates of Kyoto and spend the remainder of the week in the hospitality of blood and wine. I wager not only the band but also the horses insist on respite. Toppling on horseback at night is not the best idea of sleeping soundly. We hardly garnered time to worry about our physical condition from the perception of reaching our ultimate destination and feast on bountiful blood to explode our starved bellies.

One arrived with different assumptions to regal regions like Kyoto. The Pureblood Palace resided in the epicenter of colonies and immediate to galaxies of pagodas and shrines. I don't understand why we have shrines when vampire communities don't practice religion. Human lives encompassed daily rituals and devoted prayers to some 'superior' deity. If there is a god I doubt he would want them to live in a society governed by callous purebloods. For the most part, they aren't entirely tormented and sucked dry for malignant derivations. Every eve a 'blessed' handful is tossed in the palace courtyard for snacking. Believe it or not the arrangement is conferred primarily between the head of the family and the royal Internal Affairs Officers.

I predict a handsome sum of money, land or some social elevation is favored than the lives of one's family members. Even the Internal Affairs Officers are acute with whom they choose for the royal meal. The distressful and financially deficient families are the easiest target. I suppose all a human can do is live and pay debts for life. Maybe this is why they need gods, someone or something to believe to save them from misery.

Unlike transient humans purebloods live the longest, not because of the galaxy of blood they consumed but a common gene issued them certain powers and control over other echelons. They are the most desirable creatures to inhabit the planet. Beautiful, influential, almost all are royalty and the origins of vampire race. One of the original pureblood royalty is the Kuran. They possessed majority control over regions in East Asia and tantamount of Oceania.

Kyoto houses their chief palace.


º º º


"Why wouldn't she? It's now a quest you see." Mumbled a hooded vampire to the abreast rider on his left, "But it's amazing watching her last so long. Women are incapable of such things especially with a band of men. Hah!"

The crimson handle of a blade tapped his shoulder. Grinning under his hood, he glanced back, "Who?—ah!" Shocked by a glaring pair of red eyes, he stiffened and turned away. "Ahem, you need something?"

Numbly Yuki eyed the aged vampire. "Perhaps you've been spending too much time with humans. There can't be another reason for your obtuseness toward females." Yanking the reins, she rode ahead and smirked playfully. "We are just as capable as you."

The startled vampire gave himself a good shake and grumbled hoarsely. "I hear she has been riding from the age of four in human years. If her damned father educated her like a normal woman, she wouldn't be haring off across deserts alone with men. Ah—what bad luck!" He growled at Yuki's back.

A sharp jab on his ribcage sent him toppling over the horse had he not hastily grasped the reigns and straightened. The man veered his head to the right and sat daunted by another hooded man whose gaze lanced abhorrently upon him before he joined the girl at the front.

After series of huffing and puffing, his comrade remarked. "They sure are inseparable."

"Ah, yes." Confusion dispersed insight of recollection as he hummed knowingly. "Now I see. She is never alone if that Kiryuu boy follows her around like her tail."

Promptly the subject glared in their direction.

He choked on his breath and cringed. "What is this, ears of a werewolf?"

"Seems to be so." Grunted his equally perturbed comrade. "Kiryuu's are legendary vampires."

"Stop giving into idiotic tales." He barked.

"Hard not to." Absently he murmured in deep thought. "Their descriptions are drastically similar. What translucent silver hair and lethal violet eyes, men of expert swordsmanship and inheritors of the eminent Bloody Rose from the late Kuran heika—Look closer there rides a future knight of the king!" He praised.

"I wonder how you'll wake up tomorrow night." Muttered his skeptical neighbor a little malignantly. "Buried somewhere in the desert or dragged by a rope from a horse the rest of the way to the gates."

"Neither."

His eyes sparked enthusiastically. "Are you sure about that?"

"I'm a light sleeper." He countered.

"I'd hope so." Turning back to the riding couple beyond, he heckled loudly. "Look how eager they are. Getting ahead of everyone—ah, fledglings."

"The horses are exhausted too. Everyone wants to reach Kyoto."

"Yes, but her reasons are something else remember?"

"Hmm."

º º º

The sentry at the gates critically peered at the two. Assessing their badge, he scornfully eyed the towering hooded man behind the slender obvious frame of a woman.

"Your wife?" He gestured to the bowing head.

"Mm."

"For security purposes I need to see your face." His arm swept raptly to Yuki's hood and paused at the crown of auburn hair. He spotted out of the corner of his eye the rigidness in her comrade and a clenched fist knotted on his knife. "I'm won't touch her more than necessary." The sentry spared him a sadistic grin before drawing Yuki's hood.

Large red eyes glared at the man in baleful revulsion.

He retracted his hand. "Ahem." Blushing at her scrutiny he automatically returned the badge to her comrade. "Have a safe stay. Keep your badge with you at all times. We are amidst searching for runaway slaves."

"We assure you," Her lips molded into an elegant smile, "My husband will not be leaving my side at all."

"Well I wouldn't have it any other way." The sentry assessed the tall man. "Losing something precious is a regrettable thing, right?"

Yuki grabbed the reins to her horse and followed Zero further in the mouth of the city. "So, husband, what amenities beyond do you wish to treat me? I've traveled high and low, compromised sleep and beauty and rode on an empty stomach to be at your side. Don't I deserve silk, warm beddings and boisterous nights under you as a reward?"

Zero tugged his fair horse, unresponsive to her teasing.

"Guess I'll be doing all the bouncing tonight huh?"

His only indication of having heard her notorious hint was a sidelong glance. She scribbled her brows in distaste. "Zer-o, what do you say to a woman looking forward to lay with you?"

A gurgling hiss slipped out of his parted lips and fangs protruded in his low hallow answer. "As you wish."

"And to a woman who is ready to fall over backwards from malnourishment?"

"I'm at your disposal."

"And if she wants to sleep safely at an inn?"

"As you wish."

"Even if you must offer yourself?"

"As you wish."

"How about if she wants to be carried?"

Zero gave a tentative glance at Lilly, the horse was in obvious turmoil by the questions as he. "As you wish."

Her long white fangs revealed as she grinned in approval. "Good boy." Often having to stand on her tiptoes to pat his head she resorted to brushing his broad shoulder.

The intensity of her red-eyes peculiar in the evening than the day. He believed it was merely due to the liveliest time for a vampire, the night. When the senses were seduced by blood in the most deplorable manner.

Noticing his hardened stare, she knew what he was thinking because she thought the same. "Unfortunately we don't have a lot of time. No inns or fountains of blood for us but we do have to rent a stable and leave Lilly and Cyrus to rest. They've worked hard for us." Brushing her dark horse fondly, she sighed. "Thank you." Cyrus permitted her gentle brush in noiseless nods.

º º º

The tapping hurled all fragments of somnolence as the servant barged in the dim suite. Throwing herself on the maroon rug, she mumbled apologetically. "Forgive me mistress, but you asked me to let myself in if in case you didn't answer."

Ruby eyes glimmered amusedly as she sat up and swept her generous long hair over her back. "Did I? Then help yourself but I was right in the middle of a wonderful dream…" A hazed smile ignited as she remembered remnants mysterious to the servant. "What is so urgent that you had to interrupt?"

"The dinning hall is missing you." Her servant implied with an unnecessarily extravagant smile. "So is Rido-sama."

Juuri snorted and fell back on the pillows. "Who cares. I'm not hungry."

"Rido-sama personally invited you and won't take no for an answer. The royal family will be visiting in a short whi—" She glanced at the door all the while tracing various scents circulating the household. "Wrong. The royal family has just arrived. You must dress and meet them."

She rolled on her side and shut her eyes in an attempt to scrimp for her dream. "I wasn't told the royal family was coming earlier. Do you understand how long it takes to pamper a woman who hasn't been seen in two months?"

The maid trailed next to the bed and knelt down. "Oh my lovely lady, it would be different if you went outside sometimes. Confining yourself in your room isn't healthy."

As grateful as Juuri was to her sweet servant she didn't look forward to leaving the comfort of her bedroom. Especially not to attend a dinner for distinguished purebloods. Seldom did fate bother listening to her desires, which was why her introverted nature won her over at dinner. She perfectly proved to the maître she hated artichokes and olives in her meals by flicking them off her plate regardless of whether it hit others.

Rido looked on from the corner of the table, the tightest smile crippling at the edge of his mouth. "My dear," He whispered in liquid tones, "Juuri, dear?"

She persisted with the flicking and stiffened raptly by a short gesture from the maître. It lasted a meager second before she became undaunted to be center of the room's frowning scrutiny. Rising to her feet immediately, she deposited a smile to her guests. "I don't have much of an appetite and will join you in the parlor afterwards. Enjoy your meal."

Sitting on the left of Rido, Lady Kurenai touched his sleeve lightly and bent in his ear. "Have you been feeding her well? Juuri is looking morosely pale."

The auburn haired clattered her fangs and whirled on her heels. The warmest smirk encompassing her satin-soft features as Juuri said. "I'm doing fantastic, Kurenai, thank you for your concern. Although, I'd wish you'd pay more attention to Ouri-sama who is enamored by your cleavage than his food or fiancé." Slamming the door on their scandalized expressions, Juuri felt a shiver of victory in her bones.

When she entered the dim parlor the momentary happiness waned and she resented her words more than ever. The shamed-faced Ouri-sama would avoid Kurenai for the most part and she was certain the company wouldn't lift a single silverware from lack of appetite as their minds would be filled with Ouri-sama's attraction to Kurenai's overpowering cleavage. Poor, Sara-san, the stunning pureblood would have much to say.

Thoughts visited and left in silence. Juuri opened the balcony doors and leaned against the threshold, an arm across her waist and head tilted to the side. The shadow on the settee finally decided to move from its confines.

She didn't open her eyes to greet him, only smiled in the evening breeze. "No wonder I didn't you see in there."

"I have little interest in dinners and conversation."

"You're smart." Juuri opened her eyes to admire his moonlit profile. He was staring outside. Dark locks fluttering over his brows and immutable red-eyes. "But if you keep avoiding crowds you won't meet a nice girl, Kaname."

"I've always admired you, Juuri-sama." He smiled winsomely.

"And I've always liked your father." Juuri fixed his necktie and smirked. "Will you tell when you find the woman of your heart?"

Kaname assuredly covered her white hand. "Yes, Juuri-sama."

She smiled wistfully at the boy who had turned into a man in what felt like mere seconds. "Not fair how fast you've grown. I still remember when you were first born." Instinctively, Juuri brushed her abdomen and her smile vanished. She turned back to the night and said a little tremulously. "Yes, it was summer. Birds and butterflies roamed about to welcome you and festivities thrived for weeks. You were a quiet baby but a sure charmer. Whoever met you came to adore you fast." Juuri chuckled softly. "You really live up to your name, my prince."

Kaname lowered his eyes. "Only because of those who looked after me like you did, Juuri-sama."

She waved it aside with a careless grin. "I was only doing it out of motherly affection. Women and babies, we make them but they save us." Juuri stopped by the balustrade with an enigmatic smile that could have been deceptive as her words were cloudy. "I want to get away. So, so far away no one can touch me."

The words astounded him at first. Kaname joined her and regarded the city below.

"It's a trap, Kaname." Juuri whispered. "This pureblood race keeps us tied with no where to escape. I've tried and you've probably heard the rumors."

"Barely." Kaname uttered calmly.

Juuri laughed in her hand. "Since when did you start practicing to act like a gentleman?"

"Since always."

"Tell me quickly..." Growled a voice from the parlor as the shadow dipped out of the threshold and mingled in the gray light of the moon. Rido eyed the two and expectedly held out a hand. "Was it necessary to embarrass Ouri, what's he done to you?"

Juuri shrugged before thoughtlessly accepted the hand and was helped inside. "What's the harm? His marriage to dear Sara-san is set in stone. I don't think any man in this world can keep his eyes specifically for his lover. Soul mate or not, it's natural to want what you can't have."

"Enough with the psychology, Juuri." Rido warned over her head, "Sara can forgive you but it's Kurenai you need to be careful around."

Another flawless scoff was cast in the air by the woman. "What can she do, flaunt her breasts? Don't worry there's nothing more or less perturbing than deadly secrets and if breasts have the upper-hand here then this society is screwed up, especially its men."

"I'm not interested in a conversation about Kurenai's breasts, Juuri." Rido guided her to a seat. "At least not right now."

Juuri sat down and slipped one leg over the other, leaning forward and pointed at his even expression. "That's because you're not drunk yet."

She had a point but he dared clarifying liquidly. "Even if I were drunk her breasts don't fascinate me, not much." Rido sent a hurried glance across the room and gripped the armrest in slight panic. "Refrain yourself, there are innocent and pure eyes and ears amongst us!"

Kaname had secluded himself to a nearby shelf and was satisfactorily picking his way through books. He looked up in the silence and met Juuri's cunning stare, clenching his teeth as color seeped into his skin.

"You're wrong." Juuri stated flatly. "There are no innocent and pure amongst us, Kaname is a grown man. He has seen a good amount of breasts and I'm positive he knows a lot about them than most women do."

Rido shifted in the chair and rooted an elbow on the armrest as he stayed a finger against his temple. "So you intend to embarrass everyone you meet tonight even our benignant prince?"

"It's time I get out of my shell and show people how much I love them."

His eyes didn't stray from her face, relaying a lethal hiss. "Kaname, did she drink?"

"No." Kaname closed a book and promptly reached for another.

Juuri sat up, tugging her skirt on her bare knees, "I'm not drunk, my frankness is normal."

"In private, yes," Rido's eyes narrowed maliciously, "Not with the royal relatives. It's been years since their last visit and I'd hate you to be on their bad side."

"An honest remark won't enlist me as the enemy." Juuri pushed an arm on her forehead. "You overanalyze too much. If they don't like what they hear they can ignore it. Filters are critical in our arena."

"I agree." Kaname quietly interjected from the side. Somehow he had made his way at the other end of the room to occupy a scarlet chair beside the fireplace. One book placed neatly beneath a long, white elegant palm on his knee. "Without filters we'd run each other mad than we already do."

"Thanks, koi." Juuri lowered her hand and fixated on the hard cover in his lap. "Finally found one, what is it?"

"Quine."

Her eyes rolled at the name. "Dear god if there is an almighty—how can you read that?" She cried in agony.

His fingers were working to lift the cover and ceased at her remark. Now hesitant to peruse his selection, he stared. "Patience and open-mindedness, Juuri-sama."

She was horrified by his indifference. "Oh no, it's coming back to me. All the abhorred years of forced education. Sensei's whip and hours of studying phonetic Chinese. I can feel the blisters already!" Her glowing eyes snapped open, lips thinned into an invisible line. "Instead of latching to that book and caressing the pages, do it to a girl, Kaname. I promise time will fly quicker than you know."

"You've gone corrupt, Juuri." Rido murmured amusedly. "Encouraging our prince into illicit love affairs."

"He is not married."

"He will soon enough."

"Doesn't mean he can't have fun now."

Rido eyed her coolly. "Do you have stories to tell me?"

She chortled. "Don't you wish to know?"

His stare turned icy. "Juuri…"

"If I wasn't sworn to secrecy I would but fortunately my adventures will follow me in death."

"Shall I make you divulge anyway?" Rido headed to the cart and lifted a pair of glasses.

"I'm too guarded to divulge anything when I'm drunk." Juuri assured.

"I know that." He proceeded to pour her a glass, "The wine is a mark of our agreement and the one making you divulge," Rido handed her the drink, a hand lifted to brush her satin warm cheek, "Will be I." Her bottom lip was rosy and supple against his fingertips. "You're still planning to reject me?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Juuri shrugged, pulling away from his hand to indulge in the drink. "There are tons of women falling at your feet, most of them wind up between your sheets. Wed one or two, I know your insatiable appetite is too much."

"If only she agreed then I didn't have to persist with the others."

Juuri tipped her head back and smiled gracefully. "You can always, oh I don't know, abstain, Rido."

Immediate disapproval chiseled across his face, forging brutally in his blue-red irises and curling on top of his smirk as he refrained from cringing. "This is why I love you, Juuri."

The parlor entrance was flanked by a slender shadow. Her glittery skirt dazzled in the soft lighting like her creamy milk skin. Sara whisked into the room, her narrowed eyes targeted on none but the carefree woman delighting in her drink.

Aware of the animistic glare, Juuri hailed Sara and gestured to the empty cushion on her right, "Come sit with me, Sara-san."

Her ruthless expression swarmed with objections but unlike her stare, Sara speechlessly took the opportunity to be near the woman. She flipped her golden rich hair and smirked divinely in the seat. "Thank you for earlier."

"You're welcome." Juuri amiably swirled her wine before sampling.

"If you didn't snap Ouri back I'd had done something far worse." Sara mechanically winked her blue irises.

"My goodness…" Juuri lowered her drink in awe. "You're astonishingly beautiful, Sara-san. It's time you put your assets to good use. Ouri-sama does love you but he was a little…eh."

"Distracted?" Sara contemplated a wavy hair lock.

"Men are always distracted, aren't they?"

"Because distracting things like you are always around." Rido offered Sara a drink before returning to his seat.

"I'm curious," Sara's devilish eyes lingered over Rido. "Why are men dishonest with their actions?"

Juuri's lips parted, "He's the last person you want to ask. Uh, Kaname?" She turned around to spy the secluded shadow immersed in his book.

He sharply closed the cover and sat up on queue. "Regardless of prowess we are products of humans and derive habits, tastes and perceptions similarly. If he weren't distracted he'd never have interest in you to begin with." Disengaging eye contact, Kaname resumed his silent reading.

Juuri's brows lifted in mild surprise, "There you have it."

"And what about you?" Sara tapped her chin with an elegant digit. "Prince? Have you no interests beyond books and politics?"

"The waters will be tested in due time. Not now though." Kaname replied.

"And why not?" Sara sipped her drink. "It's different when you aren't bound to someone for eternity, then you can have anyone you want. Limits don't exist or come to mind. You may want to take advantage of that before Kuran heika's arrange your marriage." She brushed her neck and his eyes trailed her white hand as they settled delicately on her breast. "By then, you'll be trapped."

The word had little affect on Kaname, however, Juuri was riled up. Slamming her glass on a nearby table, she flew to her feet. "I think I'll retire now."

Rido was watching her intently above his drink. "You've been locked in your room for months, why do you want to go back again?"

Without meeting his eyes, Juuri circled her chair and headed to the door. "Never mind that. Thanks for the company."

º º º

Try as she might, will herself she could but Yuki couldn't fall sleep. Her restless tossing in the shade drew Zero out of his sleep and peer at her despondent disposition. She lay curled by his side, lathered within her coat and blanket. His eyelids lowered casually after a moment of silence.

Suddenly she shot up hissing and scratched her bundle of long brown hair. She shot a fiery glare on the lounging figure at her left. "Why can't I sleep?" She turned to assess the royal palace. That's right, it was perceptible now. At once her restless nerves calmed and her breathing evened. "Somewhere in there not too far from here, I wonder what she is doing?"

º º º


© Nur Misurr

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