"-up. Master Kagamine, it's time to wake up."
The voice that awoke Len that sunny morn was bright and cheerful; almost as light as the birdsong that percolated through the open windows of the beautiful guest bedroom.
Once Len had blinked away the hazy spots of sleep that stuck to his vision, he found that the owner of the voice was very bright and cheerful, too.
Her hair was pale silver, falling about her shoulders in cascades, like a waterfall. Her skin was ashen and pale. There was something delicate, almost sickly, about her frame, for she was far too skinny; her uniform bunching about her stick-like body in swathes of material. Despite this, however, she was smiling widely. It was warm enough to rival the bright sunshine that streamed across his bedroom.
She must have opened the curtains before she woke him, for Len distinctly remembered closing them before he went to sleep.
It was a little embarrassing, to be woken by such a fresh, cheerful young woman. Len's own hair was a mess, his appearance bedraggled, and he felt strangely exposed as the young maid smiled at him. He hadn't had enough sleep. That nightmare had seen to that.
At the thought of the nightmare, shudders racked Len's entire body.
"The roses... they bite."
What did that mean?
Len was never one to try and find symbols in dreams. He was far too practical for that- or 'painfully boring, just like an old man!' as Rillianne had told him upon numerous occasions. However, Len couldn't quite shake the lingering images of that dream (nightmare?) from his mind. The scene of the grassy field, studded with flowers and oozing with blood, continued to haunt him; running through his head in hazy, disconnected bits and pieces.
The young Rin.
The daisy chains.
Blood, blood, so much blood- red, red, red, red-
"The roses... they bite."
It felt as though needles were lacing themselves under Len's flesh; icy cold pinpricks, like droplets of rain, but, somehow, this metaphorical rain was falling inside his skin- chilling him to the bone. Not even the bright sunlight, nor the view from his open window of the sprawling kingdom below, could provide Len any comfort to detract from his wild delusions.
Seagulls flew outside the window on outstretched wings, cawing obnoxiously to one another- caring not that some people may still be asleep.
People, small as pinheads- teeny-tiny splashes of color- ran about the white-washed, cobblestoned streets below, going about their daily business.
The market stalls looked busy, even for so early in the morning.
All this activity was happening in the bright world, the real world- yet Len still couldn't quite throw off the shackles of last night's fearful imaginings. If anything, he only felt more detached from the rest of society; laying in the ornate, four-poster bed that was too magnificent for his lowly status. He felt trapped; drowning in so much splendour it was a wonder he hadn't choked.
He... didn't belong in the Kingdom of Marlon; not at all.
He belonged by Rillianne's side.
Was that what his dream had been about?
Return to Rillianne- or a terrible tragedy will happen.
Miku's cold, dead eyes seemed to stare at Len whenever he shut his own. The thick lashes were spiky with tears. Her pallid cheek was stained with crimson. Her body lay, crumpled, a few feet away from her head; limbs twisted and broken and broken again, as though each individual little brittle bird bone had been crushed underfoot. Her fingers were a wreckage of pale flesh and paler bone. Her clothes were shredded.
On her head was the circlet of roses.
Rin's fingers were stained with Miku's blood, her face adorned with a seraphic smile.
It was difficult to breathe, it... it hurt... The linen bed sheets seemed to be choking him.
He had to-
"Master Kagamine?" asked the white-skinned maid worriedly, her eyes widening in surprise. "M-master Kagamine, are you alright?"
Len turned shakily to look at the lily white maid. He had quite forgotten she was there- and now he felt guilty for startling her with his increased trembling and the almost maniacal look that had rose, unbidden, upon his features. He was sweating, too.
He had to calm down. He didn't want the people of Marlon to label him as 'crazy'; that could reflect badly upon Rillianne.
Dreams only had as much meaning as you gave them. At night that dream (nightmare) had seemed special; almost prophetic. By the light of day, however, with no imaginary monsters slinking about the shadowy ground, it was... laughable.
He was being silly.
He couldn't leave the Kingdom of Marlon now. It was impossible. The marriage negotiations would be completed in a few days, and then he would return home.
There was nothing to worry about.
Breathing heavily- in and out, in and out- Len tried to school his facial features into something more normal.
"I'm fine. I just... didn't have enough sleep," Len said, forcing his voice to remain neutral. He bowed his head in apology; offering the maid an embarrassed, slightly flustered smile. "I'm sorry if I startled you."
Unexpectedly, the maid's cheeks flushed light pink the moment Len offered her that awkward smile. Her fingers began to tremble, making the tray in her hands shake.
Len hadn't noticed before, too consumed by his own hellish fantasies to pay due heed to the real world, but the maid was holding a breakfast tray. It was laden with a fine boned china teapot, teacup and a plate of scones.
Len, fearing that the maid would spill tea over the fine bed sheets in her apparent state of nerves, took the tray from her fingers; setting it upon his legs. He smiled at her.
"Please be careful, Miss...?"
"U-um..." The girl appeared to have forgotten her own name, for she coiled a finger round her hair anxiously and looked at the floor, cheeks still flushed and pink. Eventually, however, she was able to say- voice barely more than a whisper- "I-it's Sukone... Sukone Tei."
"Thank you, Miss Tei. You have a rather pretty name."
"A-ah, u-um... t-that is, I, er..." Stuttering, she began to twist the material of her skirts about in her fingers. Her face was now as red as a beet. "Y-you don't need to be so kind! I'm... not worthy...!"
She was so modest it was slightly jarring- though, at the same time, it was somewhat endearing.
"You don't need to be so formal with me. After all, I, myself, am only a butler," said Len levelly, pouring himself a cup of tea. It smelt of lavender.
"Yes, but standard procedure and, um... Oh no!"
"What is it?"
"I'm meant to pour you the tea," Tei said, fingers still twisting at her skirts. "And I should have given you your breakfast... Oh no... I've made so many mistakes- h-how can you enjoy your breakfast if it's been served in such a clumsy manner?"
Len smiled. "Don't worry about it. Remember; I'm a butler. If I didn't know how to elegantly pour a cup of tea by now Milady would have cut my head off for sure."
"That would be shame. You have such a nice face..."
"Hn?" Len tilted his head to one side quizzically, placing the teapot back down on the tray. "What was that?"
Tei giggled nervously. "O-oh, nothing! Ignore me! Just the ramblings of a foolish maid, ahaha... Um... B-but, please don't tell anybody about this. If anybody asks, I served that breakfast to you, alright?"
"Of course. You are the one who brought it to me."
"Hehe, well... I hope you enjoy it," said Tei, bowing her head. "The King and Queen have declared the marriage negotiations will begin at six o'clock in the evening, so you are free until then to do whatever you may. Walk around the castle, look at our famed rose gardens- or maybe, even, you could look around town."
"I can leave the palace?"
"Certainly. You're not a prisoner here; this isn't a fairytale!"
"Heh. I'm no Rapunzel, then?"
"Of course not," said Tei, smiling nervously- apparently unsure whether she could joke with somebody of a higher status than her in such a casual manner. "Your hair isn't long enough. And the handsome prince is trapped inside the castle as well."
Len's eyes widened slightly at this. "Trapped...?"
"Prince Marlon is really sick at the moment. That's partially why the time for the wedding negotiations got pushed back so late today- to give him time to recover," Tei explained. Her voice was calm now, though two pink spots were still visible on her cheeks. It contrasted sharply against her white skin. "I'm sure he'll be fine though, so please don't worry."
Kaito Marlon was sick?
Len frowned, his mind jumping to the events that had transpired yesterday. The Prince had been ill then, too. Did he have some kind of life-threatening affliction? If it was serious, surely Rillianne would have been told?
If Kaito Marlon's lifespan truly was shorter than a healthy person's, it made sense the King and Queen would attempt to hide this. If it was a widely known fact the successor to the throne was an invalid, there would have been a public outrage- and it would have been made all the more difficult for the King to marry his son off to anybody else.
Seeds of worry began to take root in Len's mind.
What would Rillianne do if it was discovered her love suffered from a terrible disease?
And, strangely enough... Len couldn't help but worry for Kaito Marlon, too. The young Prince, contrary to how he appeared in portraits, was thin and frail; entirely unsuited for a position of power. Len pitied him. There was something so weak and helpless about the prince it was impossible not to feel sympathy for him.
"A-anyway, once you've finished your breakfast you can leave your tray here, and I'll take it away," said Tei, bowing her head. "Please excuse me."
And, with that, she left the room.
The door fell shut behind her with a thump, leaving Len alone with his thoughts.
Outside, he could hear the seagulls cawing; ghostly white birds flitting across the blue sky.
The taste of lavender tea seeped across Len's tongue, pacifying him somewhat; calming his nerves.
What was he going to do today?
"Ahhh, he's so lovely and kind and handsome, I just... I just... Aaah, I can't explain it!"
"Then do us all a favor and don't bother trying. I'd rather stick darning needles in my eyes than listen to your affections for Master Kagamine."
Tei pouted. "Neru, you're so mean! Don't trample on a fair maiden's love like this!"
"It's not 'love', you cretin. You hardly know him."
"I know, but..." Tei sighed dreamily, clasping her hands together. "When I see him my heart skips a beat, and when he smiles I... I... I-I can't really explain it; but he's so kind and so thoughtful... and so attractive, too! Did you know, he said I was pretty earlier?"
"Then he's blind."
Tei pouted, clasping a hand to her chest as though she'd been physically wounded. "Neru! Don't be so cruel! Haven't you ever been in love before?"
Neru paused, fingers clamping round her hair tightly. The young maid had been in the process of intricately styling her lovely blonde hair, but she paused at Tei's words- freezing, as though she had been caught in a blizzard in only her undergarments. Neru's knuckles turned almost white.
"Hm?" Tei's eyes widened. "Did I say something wrong...?"
Neru breathed in and out heavily. It looked as though she was trying to compose herself.
Then, with a face of thunder, she snapped the final bobby pin into her elegant bun, and turned to glare at Tei.
"Whether I have or haven't is none of your concern."
"It's my day off today," said Neru sharply, running her fingers through her hair once more. "I'm going out. If I see you again it will be fifty years too soon."
Tei blinked at Neru with surprised eyes. Why had Neru gotten so angry when she asked about her love life- and why was she dressed up so nicely? Although servants of the Marlon family were by no means poor, Neru's attire seemed a little too luxuriant to be entirely practical. She wore a long, flowing dress of white silk, taken in at the waist with a whalebone corset. It made her look so impossibly skinny and waifish Tei felt half sure she would disappear, like a will o' the wisp. Her hair was beautiful, pinned up in numerous places, with loose bangs framing her face.
If one hadn't known Neru had the personality of a particularly bad-tempered wasp, they could easily have mistaken her for a seraph. She looked exactly like a princess.
Why would Neru dress so extravagantly? What had happened to that simple side ponytail she usually wore?
Tei began to ponder.
Then, all of a sudden, her eyes lit up.
"H-hey, Neru!" Tei called after the young maid, "t-this person you're meeting... Is it a boy?"
Then, she scowled. It ruined the 'seraph' look considerably- but she still looked beautiful.
"No. I'm going to meet Puff the Magic Dragon, obviously."
And with that, Neru stormed off.
The palace in which the Marlon family resided was situated in Atalia, the capital of Marlon. Atalia was a mere three hours' journey by carriage from the seafront and was rather more crowded than the smaller towns that were situated more directly by the harbor. As a result, many wise merchants set up their stalls in Atalia, transporting the foreign goods from the harbor to the bustling centre of commerce set a little ways from the sea. The market stalls in Atalia were more prolific than those anywhere else in Marlon, and they sold a wide variety of goods from jewellery to silk to honey to preserved, pickled fish.
The markets were not the only incredible thing about Atalia, however. There were shops everywhere; small, quaint, white-washed buildings that hung over the cobbled streets as though they were about to collapse under their own weight. The shops were cramped together as though they were trying to share body heat; looming over the crooked alleyways in an almost menacing manner. Their large, glass windows displayed their numerous wares; strange-colored candies Len had never seen before, strong-smelling cheeses whose scents mingled together and drifted by on the air, and- to Len's immense delight- books.
Len had always loved reading ever since he was young. Even though he was only a butler, he had been given a superb education with the best teachers from Lucifenia alongside his sister.
That had been before they were separated.
Rin had never enjoyed reading very much. As a child, she said it was 'boring' and 'too hard'. As an adult (or, as somebody slightly older), she said it was pointless escapism for depressed people.
"If you sit around reading all day nothing gets done," Rillianne had said once, as she stole one of Len's books and hit him playfully about the head with it. "Do your job, oh butler of mineee~"
And Len had laughed, bowed, and said, Of course, Milady."
Even so, Len still loved reading. It was one of his greatest passions in life- and it was depressing to consider so many people in Lucifenia were illiterate. That was why there were so few bookshops there, he supposed- and why they were so expensive.
In the Kingdom of Marlon, however, the literacy rate was much higher. More money had been pumped into the education system, and the results were obvious. In Marlon, 70% of the population could read and write to a satisfactory level. In Lucifenia, the numbers were much lower- perhaps around 40%. It stood to reason, though. Most of the people in Marlon were merchants, or else they took on respectable jobs like doctors, lawyers, teachers. In Lucifenia, the most common job was farming- and there were so few schools or hospitals there wasn't much of a need for teachers or doctors. If people needed legal matters settling, they went to the neighbouring Kingdom of Elphegort.
Len cherished the sight of so many book shops. It was so comforting it drove his seemingly prophetic dream from last night clean out of his mind.
The scent of the neighbouring cheese shop next door filtered through the air; pursuing Len as he browsed between the shelves of books. It was only a minor irritation, though; easy to shake off. It certainly wasn't enough to ruin Len's happiness.
Len's fingers danced, spider-like, against the spines of numerous books. Some of them were dusty. Blowing the fine film of dust away, he was able to read the titles; muttering to himself as he did so.
Alluring Secret: Black Vow
Alice the Human Sacrifice
Song of the Pitch-Black Forest
There didn't seem to be any particular rhyme or reason in how the books were shelved at all. Some had fallen over. Others were displayed vertically, whilst some were stacked on top of each other lying flat. It looked as if human fingers had fled that place for quite some time, given how chaotic everything was. The smell of moth balls hung in the air, dust motes swirling about lazily- visible owing to a band of sunlight that filtered through from the outside street. It was a little lonely, thumbing through such long forgotten books.
Len couldn't help but feel sorry for those stories. It looked like they would remain closed forever; never read. The author of each novel had worked so hard, putting in bits and pieces of their own souls into those stories... and they had been abandoned.
Len was seized with a sudden, childish desire to pick up those books and arrange them all into a proper order- or else purchase them all and take them home.
Aha... He really was a child.
Brows furrowed, his fingers continued to dance across the spines of the books, wondering what stories even of them contained; wondering who would liberate them, if indeed anybody would.
The Tailor Shop on Enbikenza
Dark Woods Circus
The Gift from the Princess who Brought Sleep
But, as Len's fingers continued to trace patterns against the books-
-he accidentally managed to press his fingertips against something that was definitely not an inanimate object.
It was soft and warm, the blood of live flowing sweetly underneath the pale flesh.
Len turned about in surprise, eyes widening slightly.
His hand had managed to find that of a pretty young girl's. She had, apparently, been trailing her fingertips against the spines of books, too- and that had created a rather awkward predicament of hand holding with a stranger.
Wait a second, though...
This girl wasn't a stranger; not at all.
She wasn't attired in her usual maid's dress, but Len would recognize that pretty face and lovely hair anywhere.
It was Hatsune Miku.
The seagulls cawed overheard as they went about their daily lives; soaring through the sky with not a single care in the world. Len could remember that he'd always felt somewhat jealous of them. They were free of the ties of destiny that seemed to bind all other human beings.
Their lives were free and simple.
What wouldn't he have given to be able to grow wings and fly away like that?
Now, however, Len did not envy the seagulls in the slightest. To have a simple life of no worries meant there would be no good things, either; no moments of happiness that could be contrasted against the sad, for everything would be blank and monotonous.
Len could not remember feeling so happy in his whole life.
Len was seated on the side of a water fountain in the town centre alongside Hatsune Miku. The water streamed from the mouth of a beautifully carved marble dolphin; far more serene than the ugly, bloated, jewel-eyed monsters that acted as bath taps in Len's quarters. The droplets of water hit the basin below with noises so soft they were almost lost on the wind; ripples forming against the surface of the crystalline water.
The air smelled sweeter than usual.
The sunlight was so bright and warm.
Hatsune Miku clutched a brown paper bag to her chest, arms wrapped about it. Inside were a selection of books she had picked with Len from the shop; all of them fairytales.
Miku smiled softly, looking a little shy, as she peeped up at Len from underneath her eyelashes.
"I'm glad we managed to rescue them..."
"Hn?" Len asked; his voice softer than usual to match Miku's quiet tones. "What's that?"
"The books. I'm glad we managed to save them. I know it might sound a little silly, but... I think it's really sad when books get left in the shop for ages... and nobody ever buys them."
Miku laughed. "I know it's childish, really, and maybe it doesn't make much sense, but... I-if I wrote a book, I would want to share it with people. I wouldn't want my stories to be forgotten. Even if it's a boring story, or not a very good one... I-I'd still want people to read it."
Len was so surprised the ability of human speech left him for a few moments.
"Hey, Len... Are you okay?"
"I-I'm fine," said Len- freezing as Miku's fingertips pressed against his arm. "I'm just surprised, that's all."
"D-did I say something weird?"
"No- it wasn't weird, not at all! I-it's just..." Len smiled sheepishly. "That's what I think, too."
Len nodded. The wind shifted through his hair slightly as he moved, making the ends of his hair flutter slightly.
Miku's face flushed light pink.
"W-wow... Usually, when I talk about books, people don't care- but you... I-I didn't think we'd have so much in common!"
"You think we're alike?"
"Of course. I mean, um..." Miku bowed her head, crushing the paper bag to her chest a little too tightly. "I-I'm clumsier than you, of course, and more incompetent... A-and you have a higher social status than me. I-I didn't want to say anything rude about you; that wasn't what I was intending at all! But, um... t-to think, we both like reading..." Miku smiled softly. "W-when I found out, I was... happy."
Miku giggled quietly; the slight noise almost swallowed by the sound of the fountain. "I-I might be overstepping the line, and if I am, I apologize, b-but... B-but..." Her cheeks turned pink. "I'd like for us to become friends... I don't really have that many."
Len felt his heart beat faster and faster. It felt as though there was a trapped butterfly in his chest trying to escape.
One look from Miku's wide, turquoise eyes and- suddenly- it felt like nothing else in the world mattered.
"Sure," said Len slowly- awkwardly; trying to smile despite the queasy feeling squeezing his stomach. "I'm a little low on the friends front myself, so... I-I'd love to. B-be your friend, I mean. A-anyway..." Len turned his head away- desperately trying to change the subject. "Do you like fairytales a lot?"
Miku smiled, amused at Len's embarrassment; though her own cheeks were as pink as his.
"Umm, yeah... I like fantasy stories. They're so much more fantastic than my own life- even though, sometimes, I wish I could have a fairy godmother or find a Prince Charming."
"M-me too; that's exactly how I feel!"
Miku tilted her head, smiling mischievously. "You want to find a prince?"
"A-ah, no; I-I didn't mean that last part!"
Len's face turned beet red. H-him and his stupid mouth. He'd never been one to inelegantly babble before, but when he was around Miku, h-he just couldn't help himself.
He felt like an idiot.
Miku began to laugh- though it was completely without malice. Instead, it was soft and sweet, but not thick or cloying.
"You know, those books aren't for me," she confessed, once her laughter had died down somewhat. "They're... for Kaito. Prince Marlon, rather. Ehehe."
Len's brows raised slightly. "The Prince likes fairytales?"
"Yes. I think he was a little lonely, confined to his sick bed, so he asked me to go into town and buy some new books for him to read. Our tastes are very similar, though, and I usually borrow his books when he's finished," Miku explained, her voice tinged slightly with nostalgia. "It's nice, having somebody to talk to."
Len flinched, feeling icy cold shards of envy embed themselves in his chest.
"You two sound like you're very close."
"Yes!" Miku nodded brightly; unaware of the dark expression that had flickered across Len's face. "That's true. I mean, you really can't help but not like him... He's a very kind person- and I owe him a lot. I think you would like him, too."
Miku looked dreamily off into the distance. The paper bag in her hands crinkled slightly.
"After all... You're very similar."
The sunlight played across Miku's heart shaped face, making her eyes sparkle like semi-precious stones. Her turquoise hair- fluttering slightly in the breeze- shined with an ethereal light.
When Miku turned to Len and smiled, it felt like a hand had seized hold of Len's heart and was constricting it painfully.
"And the Prince likes you too, Len. I know he does."
The Atalia Arms was a small, shabby bar that had seen better days. Unlike the most respectable buildings in Atalia, its white paint had chipped off, revealing the crumbling brick underneath. Tiles were falling off the roof. Everything about it was grotty and dark, and the windows were so dingy and caked with dirt it was impossible to see through what had once been clear glass. It was located down a very small, twisting alleyway few entered, where the houses were so hobbled over and crooked they looked like little old men leaning heavily on their walking sticks.
Even so, the bar had a very small group of faithful clientele that never drank anywhere else.
These people were often elderly, with warts and other facial disfigurements, the remnants of disease marking their features. They complained bitterly in hoarse voices about the 'good old days'- although what days they were, exactly, nobody seemed quite sure of. They drank their gin and mead bitterly in the darkened confines of the bar, sometimes from morning until dusk. The scent of tobacco, alcohol and age hung in the air; almost as thick as the grime on the floor and the dust on the tables.
The other group of people that frequented the bar were, however, quite different. They were the thieves and drunkards, the harlots and their negotiators, who used the dingy, dismal bar as a place to socialize; to plot and plan, away from the eyes and ears of those who could stop them.
It was a place without laws or morals for shady business meetings and questionable transactions. Nobody asked questions.
It suited Akita Neru just fine.
The pretty blonde girl, haired tied up in her ornate bun, was seated at a worm-eaten wooden table in the corner of the bar. It seemed a bit of waste, she thought disdainfully, that she should waste such fine clothes to visit a cheap, rundown hovel like this- but she wasn't trying to impress anybody in the bar; not even the hooded figure that sat before her.
That would come later.
When Tonio learnt of all the information she had uncovered, he would surely be proud of her- and, given her elegant attire, maybe that pride to extend to something else...
"Are you sure of your findings?" Neru asked the mysterious figure seated before her.
"I'm quite sure," replied a high, girlish voice; sweet tones that didn't quite match with the heavy robes that shrouded the figure's face in shadow. "I heard it with my own ears."
"And you are sure it's happened already?"
The figure nodded. "They said it was absolutely, definitely going to happen- but the formal treaty wouldn't be signed until the two parties came face to face. It's definitely going to happen, though."
Akita Neru nodded slowly as she absorbed the information. She sipped her mead with all the elegance of a real lady- although, of course, a proper lady would never have drunk something so uncultured as mead when they had fine wines. The taste of honey spread across Neru's tongue.
It was sweet.
Knowledge was sweet.
The Kingdom of Lucifenia and the Kingdom of Venomania were going to form an alliance, were they?
This was all very interesting.
A cruel smirk split across Neru's mouth just like a bloody gash.
The young girl encased in the thick, heavy robes shivered slightly at the look on Neru's face.
It was almost feral.
Venomania was an unknown country to many. It was cut off from the continent of Archane by wild forests filled with tall, skinny trees and dangerous animals that knew how to hunt and claw and maim and kill. There were rumors that the people of Venomania knew how to claw and kill, too; that they were even more uncivilised than the rabid monsters that lurked the forests. Of course, the educated and particularly astute knew not to take those rumors too seriously. It was commonplace for vile stories to circulate about unknown places, mainly out of fear.
However, the rumors about the King of Venomania were even more disgusting and depraved than the stories of his people.
It was said the King was a sadist who derived sexual enjoyment from tormenting others; tearing young, lily white girls apart and drinking the blood from their twisted necks like a vampire from ancient myth. He was said to keep a vast harem of wives locked away in his castle- and when they no longer pleased him he would throw them into the dismal dungeons until they starved to death and became cold. Although the King cared not for the ages of the women he sodomized, it was said he held a particular passion for young girls.
Yes- small children with skeletal limbs, no older than seven or eight, were his favorite dish. He liked their wide eyes, their lisping voices, their innocent faces, their soft skin, their naive trust.
He liked them all the more when they were screaming.
My, what sharp teeth you have.
Yes, my dear. All the best to gobble you up.
Gakupo Kamui was like a wolf, devoring young women- crunching their hearts between their teeth- breaking bones and breaking innocence as though it was sport. No- he was worse than a wolf.
Wolves only ate when they were hungry.
It would have been easy to disregard these stories as complete nonsense- but one really had to wonder, where had these tales come from? They were not vague as other rumors so oft were. These stories featured names, places, ages- young girls vanishing from thin air, never to be found again; and any who had been to Venomania did remark that it was a very odd place filled with strange, lopsided, almost fiendish people.
How much of the stories were true?
These tales had not escaped the ear of Rillianne. Ever since she was a child she had wondered about Venomania, and whether it was truly as wild and wicked as they said. When the King of Venomania had offered to form an alliance with her Kingdom, she had been distrustful, even though she was too mature to truly believe the horror stories anymore.
There were many horror stories about Rillianne, and only few of them were true.
Even so, she couldn't deny she was intrigued to meet the King in person.
Would he be twisted? Hideously ugly? Bent over, disfigured? Would he be like some hideous goblin; a creature with glowing eyes and sharp teeth that lived in a swamp, like the illustrations in the fairy stories Len had read to her?
When Rillianne finally met the King, she couldn't deny she was slightly unsettled- even disappointed.
Gakupo Kamui was none of those things.
He was tall, very tall; far taller than any of Rillianne's ministers. His long, purple hair was silken, so fine any princess would have been envious of its beauty. His blue eyes were cold, like chipped ice. His lips quirked upwards in a small smile, as though he were enjoying some private joke none others were privy to. In each and every way he was beautiful- not handsome, but truly beautiful; lean and lithe, and with the polite manners of a real gentleman.
Even so, there was something almost leonine about his grin- something... animalistic.
When he bent down on one knee and kissed Rillianne's hand, his lips lingered on her skin for too long.
His lips burned against her hand, leaving a faint imprint of bloody red lipstick behind.
Rillianne and Gakupo were sat at opposite ends of a large table, dining together on peacock and a fine assortment of vegetables. Rillianne did not much like the foreign King, whose facial features and accent were so different to hers', but she had to put on a show of being polite.
They were, after all, going to form an alliance.
Rillianne's servants flitted about the corners of the room, looking slightly nervous, as the brought more courses to the table and removed old ones. Neither King nor princess paid them any heed.
"Tell me," said Rillianne coldly, "why has your Kingdom- which has remained separate from the rest of Archane for so many years- suddenly decided to join forces with Lucifenia?"
Gakupo smirked. His sharp teeth- wolf's teeth- glinted in the candlelight.
"Are you displeased with our union?" he asked, his voice smooth as velvet. "I would have thought a young flower like yourself, placed in such a precarious position, would be desperate to create as many ties with as many countries as possible."
He laughed softly; an ominous sound which struck a chord inside Rillianne's heart.
"I am not a delicate flower," said the princess sharply, sitting up a little straighter. Her fingers clenched around her silver fork; the cold metal biting into her skin. "I am perfectly content with my situation. Do not try to turn my question back upon me like that- it's such a boorish thing to do."
"Of course." Smiling, Gakupo bowed his head. Strands of purple hair fell upon the tabletop; splashes of color against the white linen. "Do forgive me. You are such a beautiful young girl I quite forgot I was in the presence of real royalty."
"Do not make that mistake again."
"I shan't. Ahaha..." Another laugh; low and dangerous. "To answer your earlier question, my fair lady... Well. To be perfectly truthful, my position of absolute power is beginning to slip somewhat."
Then, she began to grin. The look on her face was truly demonic.
"You mean your people are beginning to rebel?" she asked, a twisted kind of amusement filtering through her words. She sounded like a small child who derived pleasure from tearing the thin, gossamer wings from insects. "You claim I am too young to be a real princess, and yet you are unable to control your own people? Ahahaha- that's hilarious. Don't tell me such funny stories."
"It may seem funny to you now, but I assure you, Milady, dealing with a potential civil war is quite... unsettling," said Gakupo calmly. "Have you heard what happened to the Kingdom of Apostate?"
Rin's eyes widened slightly; her cruel smile vanishing.
"Apostate? You can't mean... Vanika Conchita?"
"I do indeed."
The princess frowned. "But that's just a fairytale, surely...?"
Gakupo smirked. "Oh, how cute. Is that what you believe? Ahaha...~ It must be quite difficult to accept a tale of rebellion like that when Archane has, for the past two centuries, been relatively peaceful. However, my Kingdom is not located in Archane. The world I come from is very different from yours. I assure you, it is entirely possible groups of discontented peasants can rise up against their rulers- and, in some cases, they do. It happened in Apostate. I do not wish for it to happen to me." Gakupo tilted his head, eyes narrowing. "Do you know what the people of Apostate did they Queen, darling Rillianne?~"
Gakupo leant forwards, eyes widening. The candlelight played across his face, casting a hellish light about his excited countenance. He no longer looked human. Instead, in his intensity, he looked like a real demon.
When he next spoke, his voice was quiet- but Rillianne could hear every single syllable.
"They captured her. Then, they paraded her in the town square. They tore off her clothes. And then... they ate her."
Rillianne stared; watching as shadows pooled underneath Gakupo's eyes. There was something horribly intense in his stare- something that suggested he wasn't lying.
"It's a harsh world out there, my cute little Princess~ An eye for an eye, you understand? Vanika Conchita had been oppressing her people for years. It is only natural they'd rebel." Gakupo grinned, leaning back in his seat. "I've been oppressing my people, too. And, if the stories are correct, so are you."
"It's to keep them in line," said Rillianne, glaring at Gakupo with hard, challenging eyes. "If I was too lenient, there would be chaos."
"Mmmhmm~ But it's very difficult to know where to draw the line. If you're not harsh enough, they don't listen. If you're too harsh, they get delusions into their head- dreams of rebellion- and then... Well. A whole Kingdom can be toppled just like that. I've seen it happen. It's happening to me."
"And that's why you decided to ally with me?" Rillianne asked haughtily, sticking her nose up in the air. "Because you're too weak to solve your own problems? You want to use my soldiers to settle your internal disputes?"
"Something along those lines, yes~"
"And if I said no?"
Gakupo folded his arms. Despite his talk of his Kingdom's problems, he looked incredibly calm; toying with strands of his beautiful hair, whilst he gave Rillianne a wolfish look and a wide smirk.
"If you said 'no', you might find yourself in a very difficult position later, Princess."
"Are you threatening me?"
"I'm merely being truthful~ I know, from experience, when the seeds of rebellion begin to grow- and the crueller you are, Milady, the more you're watering them. In time, they'll bloom... And you're nurturing some very, very beautiful flowers, Milady. Truly... fantastic." A grin split across Gakupo's face. "You help me and I'll help you, yes...? Daughter of Evil."
Rillianne couldn't breathe. It felt as though all the air had forced itself out of her lungs.
Was it possible that she, whilst trying her best to prevent any uprisings from the peasants, had only added fuel to the fire? Would she... end up like Vanika Conchita?
Rillianne's fingers trembled.
The knife in her fingers shook.
The food before her no longer looked luxuriant. Instead, its smell of it made her feel sick.
What did she, a mere child, know of governing a country? She was still a teenager. Gakupo Kamui, however, had been on the throne for thirteen years. He had more experience than her. He must have known what he was talking about.
Why... did she feel that she had to trust him?
a/n: Pretty long-ish chapter, yeahhh :3
No Kaito here, but I can only make him angst for so long, and there's more interesting stuff going on XD Like Neru. Neru's pretty interesting, right? ^_^''
This is so much fun to write I don't even. I hope I can finish it... :3
Gakupo is one of the minor characters that has a pretty complicated backstory, & I'm not sure it'll ever get into this fic.
Neru is another one XD
& Luka. She hasn't really done much yet tho. Can anybody even remember who Luka is? XDD
Gakupo and Rin are actually kind of similar, as well XD There's like vague Gakupo x Rin here too, I like that pairing~ :3
As always, please R & R, I wanna to know what you think ^_^;;
What do you think of the plottt?~~ :D
Plot first. Romance later XD~