A/N: I'm going to stop apologizing for long waits. -_-' Just know that there are several other ideas for this fic rolling around in my head and hiding in the depths of my computer's hard drive, all of which will eventually get written.
To Be a Cat
"Wouldn't it be nice to be a cat?" Lios said out of the blue, causing Duzie to falter in the middle of hacking a straw dummy to pieces with a wooden practice sword. According to the schedule Father had drawn up for the two princes, they were supposed to do some reading on magic or war strategy or something or other, but Duzie had long ago mutinied on any such self-directed study. Lios wondered sometimes how Duzie had transformed from an utter bookworm who had taught himself how to read, to someone who refused to do any form of reading, in lessons, for class, on any topic at all, unless an adult - preferably Mother or Father - stood behind his chair and breathed down his neck and made sure he was actually turning pages every minute or so. Lios himself had no power to make Duzie study. Drag Duzie to class? Yes, that was within his power. Making Duzie pay attention to the tutors and study? No, Lios wasn't a miracle worker. Therefore, the two princes of Pheliosta were now in the palace courtyard instead of the palace library during their "self-study" period, Duzie energetically attacking a number of practice dummies, Lios idly playing with a strand of magical lightning.
"A cat?" Duzie asked incredulously as he stepped away from a straw practice dummy that was barely holding itself together. "Why would it be better to be a cat?" Duzie's tone made Lios stifle a giggle - he sounded wary, as if he suspected he would regret asking.
"Well, for one, they don't have classes to go to," Lios said, lifting up a finger, allowing the magic he'd been juggling to dissipate into smoke.
"True," Duzie nodded as he eyed the practice dummy with a calculating gaze. "But you and I both ditch class whenever we feel like it - or rather, whenever you don't have a stick up your ass about 'listening to the tutors'. I never feel like going to class."
Lios decided not to respond to Duzie's comment, and lifted a second finger. "They don't have to worry about politics and taxes and all that wonderful stuff about running a country."
"You know, I don't worry about about any of that stuff anyway. And you're the crown prince, so you're the one who has to mind the taxes," Duzie said with a smirk, bouncing a bit on the balls of his feet.
"Yes, but I could always just appoint you Chief of Accounting once I'm king," Lios snarked back.
"Aww, why can't I just be your bodyguard?" Duzie whined. Then he whirled and a perfectly executed spinning heel kick knocked the practice dummy to the ground. Duzie continued through with the motion of the spin, bringing the practice sword he still held around to chop at the poor straw dummy with the whole force of the spin behind it. A voice in the back of Lios' mind babbled inanely about centripetal and centrifugal forces as splinters and straw went flying in every direction.
"Duzie, you idiot!" Lios leapt from the wall he'd been leaning against, toward his idiot of a brother who was crouched panting, eyes closed, bleeding from several cuts where splinters had sliced across his face and arms. "How the heck do you manage to inflict injuries on yourself when you're such a supposed expert in weapons?" Lios demanded as he knelt down in front of Duzie, hands dancing gently over each cut he found. "Damn it, there are splinters in some of these," Lios grumbled. "At least there's none in the cuts on your face ... Hold still." He murmured a short, focused vanishing spell, exceedingly careful in specifying that it was the splinters he wanted gone, not whole patches of Duzie's skin. (Lios shrugged away the images that flashed across the back of his mind, images of men lying screaming on the ground, whole chunks of flesh vanished from their bodies. It was just a nightmare, nothing more. Nothing real.) He let out a sigh of relief when the slivers of wood embedded in Duzie's arms disappeared into smoke.
"You done yet?" Duzie complained, eyes flickering open for a moment (and Duzie's eyes did not shine red, in that sliver of a second, not at all), before closing again. He squirmed a bit, trying to yank his wrists free from Lios' grasp.
"No," Lios snapped, "hold still!" The generalized healing spell Lios spoke then was a familiar one, used regularly to heal the small cuts and scrapes that came with life as energetic ten-year-olds. (Lios also used it, less regularly, for damage control of larger wounds like a lacerated knee, or a knife through the arm, when Lios wasn't sure if he could spare the time or magic for a more thorough healing.) Lios watched with a critical eye as the cuts sealed themselves and faded into barely visible white lines. He scowled at the faded lines that refused to disappear - such healing left no marks on Lios himself or anyone else he'd healed, only with Duzie did the healing fail. The theory that maybe Duzie's magic (and Duzie did have magic, Lios knew he did) cancelled the effect of all spells done to him fluttered to the forefront of Lios' mind and was sent back to its corner - there were other things to worry about.
"You done now?" Duzie's whine brought Lios out of his annoyed contemplation of the thin scars that were all that remained of two dozen or so splinter wounds.
And Duzie was up and moving again, kicking aside the remains of the wooden practice sword and the straw dummy with an aggrieved sigh. "Still don't have enough height for that maneuver," Duzie muttered. "And didn't quite compensate well enough for the torque. Definitely forgot about the reach."
Lios shook his head, scrambling to his feet. Duzie was always trying new moves with the sword or a pair of knives - sometimes even with two swords. They rarely turned out as well as Duzie said they would. "Another experiment gone wrong," Lios said.
Duzie stiffened. "But not a failure, I just misjudged some of the details. I got it mostly right."
"You had no control at the end, Duzie. You weren't able to stop the spin early enough to keep from slamming into the pavement!"
"Yes, I know that!" Duzie snapped. "I'll need to work on it -"
"Why do you need to work on it?" Lios asked, trembling slightly with anger and a desperate need to convince Duzie to stop experimenting. "And why can't you have one of the swordmasters supervise when you decide to invent a new move?"
Duzie closed his eyes and grumbled under his breath, something about 'not a new move' and 'too darn short' but Lios didn't catch all of it. "What?" Lios demanded.
Duzie shook his head. "We're attacked once every couple of months, by vampires, assassins, and the random rogue magical construct. Lady Ramia has a fondness for weapons tournaments and she keeps threatening to enter us into one eventually. Some of our contemporaries among the nobility are trained in fencing and swordplay and keep trying to challenge us to a blade or magic 'demonstration' battle in thinly veiled attempts to either kill one of us or make us look weak. Pray tell, whyever would I attempt to oneup the competition by using a unique style of fighting?"
The ringing silence stretched until Lios, desperate to find some way of breaking the tension, cracked a grin and said, "So you agree that being a cat would make life much easier?"
Duzie let out a huff of laughter and the angry tense atmosphere vanished. "No politics, no scheming relatives," Duzie said in a playfully wistful tone.
"No assassins too," Lios added. "No training, no classes. And cats are far below the notice of any vampire or human ..." Duzie twitched at that last bit, and Lios paused, the smile falling from his face. "Duzie? What is it?"
"Nothing, it's nothing - "
"No, it's not nothing, Duzie, tell me what's wrong. What did I say?"
"It's just ..." Duzie's voice trailed off, and he bit his lip uncertainly. When he spoke up again, he wouldn't quite meet Lios' eyes. "You know the village of Milan? There was a ... shall we say, a minor controversy involving the kyawl cats in the area, and it escalated into a tragedy in which three children died." Duzie's voice was casual, as if he was mentioning offhand something of no consequence. But he was using far more tact than he usually did, and that ... confused Lios. Duzie never spoke that carefully about anything or anyone, not about any of the nobility, not about Mother or Father, not about Lios, not even about himself. Duzie's tongue had always been razor-sharp, but now he was treating the subject with kid-gloves. What the hell is going on?
Duzie had not yet finished. "The villagers blamed the kyawls and now it is their unoffical policy to kill any and all cats on sight."
Lios closed his eyes and felt ice curl in his heart. Nothing is ever as simple and easy as it seemed - if there was a way bring death and killing into the picture, then someone would do so, guaranteed. He knew this, he should not be surprised - it was common sense by now to wear chain mail beneath his court clothes, to etch ever-sharp runes on every blade he carried, to check for poison in his food, to wrap magic around him every moment he was awake, ready for the inevitable assassination attempts. But that was his life, he'd thought, maybe, somewhere out there, there was someone for whom death was a distant notion, not an ever-present shadow across his life. "Why can't even a cat's life be simple and straightforward?" Lios wondered.
Duzie shrugged, tossing Lios an ironic smile. "It's life. Nothing's ever simple. Especially not the lives of cats." He trotted over to the stack of practice swords they'd carried out earlier, picked two out of the pile. "Now stop being so morbid, and practice your sword forms!" He chucked one of the swords at Lios' head.
Lios ducked out of the way, laughing. "Alright, alright," he grinned and picked up the sword.
Lios never thought to wonder where Duzie had heard of Milan's issues with kyawls. It certainly hadn't been in any of the politics or diplomacy lessons ...
A/N: This started off as a very, very short thing on cats ... and then Duzie and Lios jumped tracks on me ... twice ...
Also, no real clue about the particular maneuver Duzie was trying out, I cobbled it together and made Duzie ramble about things I only researched for ten minutes on wiki and youtube.