This land is vast and amazing. There are four continents on this world, all islands, with smaller ones joining their leadership. The North, East, South and West are all monarchies, a royal family as rulers. In the South, the Ashura's rule, guided by t he souls of the past. In the East, it is the Kinomoto's, guided by beings of magic true born. The West has a Mage as its ruler, but there is no family name in the Western Quarter, and guidance comes from the voices of the wise. And the North is ruled by the Himura's, guided by the lone Kudo heir. I am the story teller, and this is where our tale begins, many years ago in the warm, sunny lands of the North.
The Northern land is the epicentre for the growth of fruits and grain. Not one of the other three quarters is able to grow them, so the northern quarter has great financial support from the other three for the exportation. The current ruler, King Himura, had arranged for a great ball to be held in honour of the dignitaries coming from the other quarters. The dignitaries would be swearing their allegiance to the king and he would continue supporting their homelands with his country's fruit and grain.
The ball was a great success. The silver-white walls were decorated with vibrant reds, gold and oranges, symbolizing the resources responsible for the great trading. All the food was prepared to perfection and entirely out of the fruits and grains that could be harvested in a northern season. The king and his two children were standing on a raised platform, dressed in their finery, reminiscent of the Chinese fashion. The king was in golden robes, the Princess Tsukiko in a red dress, and the young Prince Rikuo in robes of darkest green.
The visitors were just as splendidly dressed, all in the ancient traditions of their lands. King Himura glanced over the people gathered and allowed a smile to cross his lips. Such peace and prosperity he hoped would be passed on to his daughter Tsukiko. Gender meant nothing to the North. The first born child was always more trained then the second, so who else to lead after King Himura died if not his eldest child?
As the night progressed great joy and laughter was in abundance, along with delicious food and potent drink. The king himself found the drink to be of great strength and fought to keep himself composed from its effects. But not all were in such a gay and festive mood. The Northern chief Chancellor was renowned for being a dark, emotionless man, with little heart for anything past his assigned duty. He watched the proceedings with disdain evident upon his features.
There were several children gathered at the ball also. Aside from the princess and prince of the North, there were the noble children of all four quarters within the boundaries of the great ballroom. The young prince Rikuo was playing a chasing game with come children from the West, a brother and sister whose names did not match, when something caught his eye. Or should I say someone?
A boy, probably just around the prince's age, was standing by one of the many windows that adorned the walls. He was dressed in simple regalia, a black robe with threads of white to represent the wind littering the fabric. The child himself was pale in skin, with hair of shimmering gold. Had the child been taller, his hair would have melded with the decorations upon the walls; such was the colour of his hair that was styled to fall longer to the right of his face. The feature of the boy that had caught the prince's attention, however, were the hazel eyes with flecks of green dancing through their depths, mirroring the prince's robe. Rikuo, having been taught to recognize faces of people with even minor importance, had never seen the young boy before.
His eyes suggested heritage in the East, whilst his hair proclaimed origins in the West. The boy's figure was yet to fully develop, but already held litheness, a gracefulness that lay claim to the South, yet the robes he wore were held sacred in the North. The boy couldn't have appeared more different from Rikuo unless he changed his apparel. Rikuo, though only seven years of age, was with black hair and dark brown eyes with his skin tanned, already a tall boy developing the muscular physique common to the men of the North.
As Rikuo watched the boy, the chasing game forgotten, the boy chanced to look in his direction, meeting the young prince's gaze with an intensity that stole Rikuo's breath. For that instant, Rikuo saw the world in the other boy's eyes. Happiness, pain, suffering, joy, peace and war, all flitted across the hazel green eyes of a boy about seven years into the world, before they were masked, hidden behind passive depths of near life-less brown and grey.
Rikuo felt a twinge of pain in his heart. Why should someone so young have to suffer so much? How were they able to survive with so much pain? Rikuo took a step in the direction of the boy, intent upon making the hurt and sadness go away.
"My name's Rikuo. What's yours?"
The young boy started, surprised by the sudden presence of the Northern Prince by his side. Rikuo managed to stifle the grin that threatened to appear, and repeated the question.
"Well? What's your name?"
The young boy blushed slightly, embarrassed that the prince was interested in him at all and managed to stutter out a response.
"Kaz ... Kazahaya ... your majesty."
Rikuo chuckled. The boy called Kazahaya was ridiculously polite if he actually called the prince a title when a few minutes ago he had been running around like a normal kid. Rikuo saw that Kazahaya was still nervous and extended a hand in front of the boy.
"Come on. Let's join in the games."
Rikuo was surprised that Kazahaya didn't take the offered hand and instead seemed to shrink into the wall.
"No thanks." A sad smile crept onto Kazahaya's face, which Rikuo instantly disliked. "I feel like I need to stay here, out of the way."
Rikuo had heard of Noble men and women practically beating disobedience out of their children, but he had always thought that the children had been bad to begin with. Rikuo couldn't imagine little Kazahaya ever being bad. Maybe Kazahaya's parents thought he would turn bad if they didn't? A glance sent towards the small boy showed that Kazahaya was nervously examining his surroundings, as though he were afraid of being attacked. Maybe Kazahaya's parents were just worried that Kazahaya would get lost, and told him to stay where they could find him. Rikuo smiled at that thought. Kazahaya seemed pretty nice, just a bit out of his comfort zone. Rikuo knew first hand how daunting balls could be, especially if it was your first one. Rikuo decided that if Kazahaya were with him, no one was allowed to get angry and grabbed Kazahaya's tiny hand within his own.
Kazahaya froze for a moment before shaking and wrenching his hand away from the young prince's grasp. Rikuo was a little angry at first, before he turned and saw Kazahaya's face. A cold sweat had broken out over the child's pale brow, and fear was running through his eyes.
'A child that is hurt does everything to never be hurt again.' Something one of Rikuo's tutors had told him. If Kazahaya had been hurt before and it happened because someone grabbed his hand, why wouldn't he be afraid?
"I'm sorry Kazahaya. I didn't mean to scare you."
Even though the young prince felt as though he should give the boy in front of him a comforting hug, that meant more contact, which is what scared Kazahaya to begin with. Kazahaya caught his breath and straightened his posture before looking back at Rikuo. The gaze from earlier had returned. Rikuo felt himself swallow when Kazahaya gave him a smile. The smile wasn't sad or faked. It was warm and gentle; the sort of smile you had to earn.
"It's okay. I really would like to play with every one, but it's for the best if I stay here." Kazahaya gave a deep bow, the depth indicating the difference in rank between himself and the prince before him. Rikuo knew the significance of such a deep bow too. Kazahaya's bow told any watching that Kazahaya was a commoner in rank. Rikuo knew that commoners were forbidden entrance into this ball; the guards payed absolute attention to that. Rikuo figured that Kazahaya felt he owed the prince as much respect as he could show, because this wasn't the first time someone had bowed deeper than rank marked.
Rikuo was about to persist in Kazahaya's involvement when a melodic voice calling his name had his attention drifting. Rikuo's gaze left Kazahaya and searched the ballroom until his eyes fell upon the northern princess, his elder sister Tsukiko. Before he could stop himself, or even realise his actions, Rikuo found himself running to the princess, leaving Kazahaya in his spot against the wall.
"Sister. You were calling me?" The princess smiled at the informal address, and bent slightly so that she stood level with her brother. "I was wondering where you disappeared to little brother. Wherever did you wander off to?"
Rikuo blushed in embarrassment. He explained to the princess that he had been playing with the other noble children for a while until he began talking to Kazahaya. The young prince suddenly realised that he had left Kazahaya alone and turned to see if the young boy was alright. Rikuo sighed in relief when he saw that Kazahaya hadn't left his post by the window, before Tsukiko was speaking to him again.
"I was wondering where that little boy had gone as well." Rikuo looked to his sister, a puzzled expression on his face. Princess Tsukiko looked at her little brother with a sadness marring her features. "As he was entering, he accidentally bumped into the Chief Chancellor. You know how that man thought this entire ball was a pointless waste of time and money? He has been fuming terribly because father ignored him, and when the boy bumped into him, he snapped and vented his frustrations on the child. I didn't hear all of it, but he called the boy a worthless piece of trash, something that needed to stay in the corner unnoticed. The boy froze for a bit, before he quietly excused himself and essentially vanished. He looked terrified."
Rikuo could feel his heart twinge in pain at what his sister told him. The Chief Chancellor was an unkind man on the best of days, but after fuming and restraining anger for near a week, the slightest thing had caused him to demean a child he hadn't even known. Kazahaya had looked nervous during his perusal of the ballroom no doubt afraid that the Chief Chancellor would notice what should remain unnoticed. Rikuo felt his fist clench at his side in anger, as he forced himself to breathe normally. He had no idea why he was feeling so protective over the boy he had only just met, but Rikuo, even at the age of seven, had learnt never to deny his reactions and instincts. A quick glance towards his sister showed that she too was infuriated by the Chief Chancellors actions towards the blond youth, and after a brief moment's consultation, the siblings began searching the great ballroom. Their quarry was found by himself, standing by the table laden with great foods of the season holding a glass chalice of wine, his face contort with disgust at the price such extravagance would cost. The Prince and Princess approached the Chief Chancellor with restrained anger, and he appraised them with rage of his own.
"Why are you so angry?" Tsukiko began. She, by nature, was a caring girl and could see reason in most all situations. There was an unspoken agreement between Rikuo and his sister that she would start the confrontations, and the prince would end them. "Yes this ball cost a large amount, but the alliances and wealth that occur because of it greatly exceeds its expense."
The Chief Chancellor glared at the princess, and proceeded to speak with a cold and calculating voice.
"Yes, maybe so, but the wealth will come from exporting more and more of our resources, and it costs time and money to export greater loads. We would do better to ignore alliances and all the havoc they can cause."
Rikuo felt his anger grow. The king had explained to his children at great length the benefits of alliances and treaties. Rarely did they cause havoc if one payed attention to what was going on around the place.
"Even if you do not believe in them, what right does that give you to call a child trash?"
The Chancellor turned his gaze to the young prince before speaking, his voice showing signs of the terrible wrath beneath it.
"If his majesty is referring to the insect that ran into me, he deserves to be treated as the filth that he is. I don't care what social status he is in his homeland, here, that child is nothing better than a dead cat on the side of the road."
Tsukiko had felt her anger raise at the previous statement, but the last statement had her seeing red. Rikuo had been seething, but instead felt unadulterated rage at the words of the man before him.
"You call him an insect? A piece of filth?" the Chancellor looked surprised that the prince was contesting his words. "He may be a child in years, but he is a man at heart and is more kind than you will ever know. Not only does he possess the kindness of the God's, he is blessed with forgiveness exceeding that which man can normally attain!" Rikuo's voice had grown in intensity, but the volume remained low, threatening in its near silence "If there is any trash or filth within this ballroom, it resides in your visage, not his!"
The royal children turned away, their confrontation ended, and began to walk away from the greatly insulted Chancellor. Tsukiko made up her mind to persuade the king to replace such an unfeeling man, whilst Rikuo made plans to make the terrified young Kazahaya feel better. Both started when they heard the sound of glass shattering, the echoing clinks as the destroyed crystals fell to the floor. The Prince and Princess turned to see the Chancellor nearly atop them, the remainders of the chalice held in one hand, a knife of considerable length taken from the table in the other.
Neither could move, finding themselves terrified at the sight before them. The Chancellor drew closer every instant, the knife raised, preparing to strike them down. Rikuo found himself closing his eyes, almost expectant of the knife to befall him, when a sharp jolt in his side caused his eyes to snap open.
The young prince found himself, and his elder sister, being pushed out of the blade's path by a most beautiful apparition of golden hair wearing a robe of darkest night, before the deadly knife sunk deep into its side. Rikuo felt himself gasping, as he realised that it was no ghost saving him, no spectre of time long past.
Blood spilled from the wound in young Kazahaya's side. Princess Tsukiko felt a scream of unrelenting fear escape from her throat and push past her lips. Every person within the ballroom turned to see the Northern Chief Chancellor pulling the knife roughly from the same boy shaking on the ground. The guards started moving, slowly surrounding the man, clearly no longer stable.
The Chancellor's gaze once again fell upon the royal siblings and a vicious snarl escaped his mouth.
"Tenacious little fly, I will give him that, and quite clever too. I have been planning to do this for many a year, yet he is the first to see." Members of the crowd gasped in fear and shock, that the Chancellor had been wanting to kill the Princess, the heir to the crown, and the Prince, second in line to the throne. The Chancellor snarled a second time, more hideous than the first, and raised his voice so that all could hear. "Before the two of you were born into this world, no balls were held, no frivolous gatherings attended. Everything was order and protocol and tradition! If it takes your death for the king to see reason and stop the novelties of alliance from getting to his head, then it is my god-given duty to fulfil this requirement!"
The Chancellor once again made to strike Tsukiko and Rikuo when he began to stumble, his legs trapped together. The king himself was stunned by what he saw transpiring.
Holding onto the Chancellor's legs, preventing him from moving closer to his targets, was Kazahaya.
Despite the injuries the child already suffered, Kazahaya clung with all his might to the man, effectively holding him in place. The Chancellor grew even more furious, and began swiping at the child with both hands, destroying the black robe with the blade and attacking the child's flesh with the glass. Kazahaya openly cried out in pain for every time the Chancellor struck him and tears fell freely from his face. Rikuo and Tsukiko were terrified, only this time it was not for themselves but for the boy who had saved them.
As Kazahaya's cries grew more and more pained, and the remnants of the black robe were stained red, Rikuo realised that the guards, which had earlier surrounded them, were just watching the act, doing nothing to stop it. Tsukiko noticed also and was appalled. Kazahaya cried out again, as the Chancellor dug the destroyed chalice into his back and twisted it. Rikuo, unable to take anymore, suddenly rose. Without truly knowing what he was doing, the young prince ran forward and, with all the strength he possessed in his body, slammed his foot into the Chancellors head.
The Chancellor immediately released his hold on the glass and once again turned to glare upon the prince. The king, suddenly realizing that nothing was being done, snapped his fingers. The single sound echoed ominously throughout the great ballroom, and just as immediately as it came it was gone, the only difference being the guards seizing upon the treacherous man, removing him from the child that had prevented his rampage. Rikuo and Tsukiko were instantly by Kazahaya's side, the princess in tears, and the prince's body shaking.
The young boy's back was marred with wounds, blood flowing, the boy's life force fading as his blood drained from his body. The Chancellor, being led away, allowed a cold, mocking laugh to resound through out the ballroom. As his figure faded from sight, King Himura pledged that the man would not live to see morning. The King joined his son and daughter by their saviour, examining the boy's wounds just as they had. From the height at which the king stood, he noted, humourlessly, that the marks adorning the child's back vaguely resembled wings. Sadly, the wings suited the boy; he was, after all, an angel.
The king once again snapped his fingers, the sound somehow less imposing than before. A servant quickly ran out of the great hall, and confused and worrying murmurs began spreading throughout the guests. Rikuo and Tsukiko found themselves scanning the faces of the guests, searching for the one that bore reminiscent of the child that had protected them.
But not a single face resembled young Kazahaya at all.
The ballroom doors flung open, and several men came in carrying a stretcher. As they approached, the prince and princess moved out of their way, watching carefully to make sure that no further harm came upon Kazahaya. A hand upon each of their shoulders turned their attention to a beautiful young man with pale blond hair, and clever brown eyes hidden behind a pair of thin spectacles.
The man smiled at them kindly. "Don't worry. I will be tending to him personally." With that, the man known as Kakei quickly issued instructions to the men carrying the stretcher that the injured youth lay upon. As he was now against the black fabric of the stretcher, the full atrocity of his wounds became apparent. Kazahaya's normally pale skin was further blanched, his forehead drenched in sweat and tears. Only the lower half of his garment remained, and his back.
As Kazahaya was carried out of the ballroom, the visitors were unable to choke back sounds of anguish, anger, fear and shame. Fear, that the brave young boy would not live through this ordeal, and shame, that none had done anything g to prevent the tortuous wings from growing upon his flesh. But a single sound that the young prince had been listening for was not heard throughout the entirety of the ballroom.
The sound of a parent worried for their child.
Rikuo's eyes narrowed, as he and Tsukiko trailed behind the stretcher.
Though they must have been there at the start, they weren't here now! Kazahaya was at the ball alone.
This is not the end of our tale; our story has yet to truly begin. But what happened next, dear children, is a chapter, for another day.
Don't worry though, for I shall most certainly tell this tale.
I am, after all, the Storyteller.