Disclaimer: I do not own Kyo Kara Maoh

Claimer: I, chop4tess, own this story, its plot and any and all original characters

Hello again, yes I know it's been awhile for some of you and I apologise for that. I'm afraid quite a few problems appeared during the writing of this story.

Firstly, I ended up re-writing the whole start of the chapter which meant I had to shift a few things around on my story plan which caused some brain storming. Then I wrote one scene in this, then thought about re-writing it, decided not to, went back to it weeks later, eventually re-wrote it, thought about it some more, finally deciding to go with the re-write.

Secondly, I have been suffering from the big 'B'. Boredom. You would think that being bored would help stimulate writing as if you've got nothing else to do you would write? Right? Wrong. I practically been in a flipping coma for months and its killed, yes killed, my creativity. As a result I haven't started chapter four yet. But I wanted to post this anyway.

Massive thank you to everyone who has reviewed, put this story on their favourite list or are following it.

This chapter sees the introduction of another OC called Abby Caz (Sorry about the lame surname but it was a last minute thing and I couldn't think of anything else.)

Enjoy!

Chapter three: The Great Escape

(Big Shimaron)

Casper Falken had never considered himself much of a hero. Sure he had stayed up all night with a broodmare or six to help them bring their foals into the world or cleaned up after them when the foals didn't make it, but these things didn't really make him a hero. He had no idea what to do with a sword and had limited experience with a bow. In fact, Casper had never been in a serious fight in all of his 60 years of life. So to be fleeing in the dead of night from evil bandits with an unconscious boy of unknown origins was quite a change of pace for Casper.

Trees flashed past in a dark blur as the two horses he had stolen from the bandits' hideout galloped along the wide track before them. The moon was high in the sky and shone down with a bright sliver light. The trees in the surrounding forest were black and menacing but the track was like a pure sliver river cutting a path to safety through the uncertain darkness of the forest. The horses were fit and sure footed somehow managing to avoid tripping over tree roots that would surely break a leg at this speed. Casper wouldn't usually ask a horse to run so fast over uncertain ground. Even with the sliver light of the moon showing the way, it was still possible for the horses to stumble. But these were exceptional circumstances. Speed was the only advantage they had right now.

Casper glanced to his left to check on the boy he had tied to the saddle of the grey mare he had stolen. Since the boy was unable to stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time, due to the horrific injuries he had sustained while held captive by the aforementioned bandits, Casper had had no choice but tie him across the saddle like a sack of grain. He had bound the boy's hands with cloth to the stirrup on one side of the saddle and his ankles to the stirrup on the other side. Fortunately the boy didn't seem to be bouncing around too much but Casper knew that flopping about on a hard saddle couldn't be doing the boy's injuries any good at all. He would be far worse off if the bandits still had a hold of him, Casper reminded himself.

Casper redirected his gaze to the track before them. A cold wind had sprung up during their daredevil gallop through the forest and it cut through Casper's stolen attire like a knife and made his eyes water. Casper had planned a daring and cunning escape from the hell hole he had been held in only for a very drunk, and remarkably stupid, bandit to stumble into the cell and make their escape that much easier. Said bandit had fallen over in a drunken stupor just after unlocking and unbolting the door that held Casper and the other boy prisoner. Never one to miss up on a good opportunity, Casper had stripped the bandit and pulled his clothes on in the hope of fooling any bandits that they met that he was in fact on of them. The plan had worked wonderfully. Apparently the bandits had never given internal security that much consideration. True, the hidden cave and trail were good at keeping people out but they weren't very good at keeping people in.

The trail started to curve around to the South and Casper breathed a sigh of relief. To the South lay a port town where he hoped to sneak aboard the first ship leaving for anywhere in the Mazoku Kingdom. Due to the new Demon Maoh's 'lets be friends with everyone' policy, trade was booming so there should be plenty of Mazoku ships docked at the port just waiting for Casper to sneak onto with his unconscious cargo. That's if the bandits didn't catch them first. And that was a pretty big 'if'. Casper knew that their leader, Rick, would assume that the port would be their first point of call and even though he had released all the horses from the stable block before escaping it would only slow them down so much. Casper set his teeth against the cold wind and urged the horses on.

:-:

Rick had never been so angry in his life. Well that wasn't entirely true as Rick was prone to getting very angry very often over a lot of different things. This time though, he was really really angry for a damn good reason. He thought he had struck gold when he spotted the Demon King in his human disguise wandering through his territory with such a small company of soldiers. Then the damn brat had slipped through his hands as his blond fiancée took them by surprise by attacking them instead of running. The blond had been a good fighter but he was heavily outnumbered and Rick could see the draining effect the Houseki stones were having on the demon.

Capturing the blond had made Rick's day seem just a bit brighter. He planned to torture all the useful information he could out of the snobby brat then use what was left to get a heap of money as a ransom from the demon King. The fact that the King, or the Maoh as his subjects called him, would only get back a lifeless husk was of no concern to Rick. He had found the cave system quite by accident many years ago when he was a boy and it had served his people well since they turned to a life of crime. If the locals who had lived in this forest for 40 years couldn't find the cave, then how could some pathetic boy King? Even the dogs that Rick assumed were sent to sniff out his captive's trail had been unable to find them. Rick had heard that there were strangers looking for the blond and he thought it best to let them live to hand in their reports rather than kill them. Killing them would draw too much unwanted attention, besides the rumour was that the men came from Caloria and Small Shimaron and Rick had no fight with them.

The only snag in his plan was his prisoner's refusal to talk. Rick hadn't gotten any useful information out of Wolfram at all. The damn blond kept his mouth firmly shut. Well, when he wasn't screaming in pain that is. Rick was pretty sure the demon was on his death bed when his men brought in the new arrival. A demon kid who claimed he was selling horses in the nearby town when he was captured. Rick had spied an opportunity; maybe the blond would talk to this demon? They were of the same disgusting breed after all. All Rick needed to do was convince the brown haired demon that getting information out of the blond was in his best interest.

Now all those plans had fallen apart because of that worthless son of a horse breeder. True the Falken name was a well-known one for producing some of the finest horses in both the human and Mazoku kingdoms but the boy had little to offer Rick. A ransom could have been offered but first Rick had to know what the boy was worth. Now Rick wondered if Casper, if that was even his real name, was actually some sort of spy sent to snatch the Maoh's fiancée from his grasp. It was too much of a coincidence that the brown haired demon would show up just before Rick sent out the ransom note only to ride off into the night with said ransom. This was now a matter of pride. Casper had dealt Rick's ego a blow and Rick intended to make the little weasel pay dearly for it.

"Your horse Sir," a bandit stepped up holding the reins of a black stallion who snorted in anger about being roused at this time of night. Many of the horses had made a break for it upon seeing the open gate but most of them hadn't gotten far. The narrow trail out of the natural corral prevented the horses from escaping into the forest allowing them to be swiftly captured.

"Mount up!" Rick hollered making the stallion prance nervously. Rick gripped the reins in an experienced hand and leapt lightly into the saddle. It was a damn nuisance that most of his men were too drunk to stand let alone ride a horse in the dark. But Rick had always believed that allowing the men to celebrate a good day's raid with wine, beer and women was good for moral. Rick glared at the ten men who were sober enough for the job. They were good men with whom Rick had worked with before but he wished he had more men for this hunt. That damn demon could be half way to the coast by now if he was sharp, which Rick had to assume he was.

"Ride out!" Rick hollered turning his horse's head towards the nearly invisible gap in the trees. The men formed a neat line behind him and trotted under the thick branches. It was almost pitch black there and the horses snorted uneasily. Rick nudged the stallion's side with his tough leather boots and the stallion stepped out smartly. Those boots were made of weather hardened leather and could pack a mean kick.

Once they were out on the main trail the bandits spread out to look for clues to which way the demons went. Rick would have headed for the port if he was in their position but the demons may well have ended up lost in the dark. Rick was just considering ordering the men to split up when one of the bandits sat up and waved a hand.

"Hoof prints heading South Sir! Two horses by the looks of it."

"Excellent," Rick felt his lips curl upwards in a cruel smile. "How about we go fetch our little run-away's back?"

:-:

Casper had finally given in and pulled the horses back from a wild gallop and into a steady trot. Both horses were puffing and blowing hard and were covered in sweat. They couldn't stop though. Casper knew Rick wasn't stupid and he knew the bastard would be right on his tail as soon as he got enough men and horses together. He just hoped the drunken state of the men worked in his favour. Hopefully the men would be so drunk they would fall off their horses. His father, Raoul, despised all forms of drinking and while he let the stable hands have their fun on their days off, they were forbidden from going near the horses if they had consumed more then three glasses of beer or wine. Casper liked the odd glass of fine wine with a meal but beer was too heavy for him. Casper smiled at the memory of sitting in the empty old barn the stable hands used as a party venue soaking up the warm and friendly atmosphere. The smell of hay made more pungent by the flame torches and the mass of warm bodies reeking of horses, leather and cheap beer.

An owl hooting in the dark jolted Casper from his thoughts. The horses had slowed to a walk without him noticing. Casper was about to kick his bay in to a trot when he noticed the sweat patches covering the horse's neck and sides. Taking pity on the animals Casper simply nudged them into a faster walk. The cold wind was still blowing and Casper hoped the animals wouldn't catch a chill before reminding himself that he had bigger problems.

Casper glanced at the boy slumped over the saddle of the grey mare. He hadn't so much as stirred during the whole ride. Dear Great One he isn't dead is he? Casper tugged the tired mare closer and leaned down to press two fingers against the boy's neck. At first he felt nothing, causing his own heart rate to accelerate rapidly, before feeling a weak but steady pulse under his fingers. Casper sighed in relief. He couldn't see the boy's face but he doubted he would be waking up any time soon regardless. The wind blew again making Casper shiver. It suddenly occurred to him that the boy was wearing even less than he was, and he was sick. If I don't get us somewhere warm this boy is going to die of hypothermia. Casper bit his lip and glanced over his shoulder. He really couldn't stop, not knowing that Rick and his merry gang of thugs could be hard on their heels right now. Casper turned back to the track and noticed for the first time that the trees were thinning out.

Casper nudged the bay with his legs and with a weary snort the bay stepped out into a sluggish trot. Soon the trail widened and the sliver light of the moon began to brighten until everything was picked out in stunning shades of sliver. Casper would have stopped to admire the beauty around him if not for the blood-thirsty hordes that were surely following them and the rapidly becoming hypothermic boy tied to the saddle that Casper had taken responsibility for.

The forest opened up before Casper with a great flourish to reveal rolling hills of sliver moorland spread before him. The hills looked rather like a huge sliver ocean that had been frozen in place by some unseen deity. Casper half expected the hills to suddenly turn into giant waves and roll across the land. Get it together Casper, bigger issues at hand remember? Casper shook himself as he pulled the bay and grey to a gentle halt. He had made it further than he previously thought. The sliver light of the moon made everything look the same as if he were moving through an endless sliver lit forest without actually getting any closer to his destination. It was hard to judge distances and time moved at the speed of a constipated slug.

The moorlands presented both problems and opportunities. The problem was that anyone within ten miles would be able to see them as clear as day out in the open like this. The opportunity was that without life threatening tree roots for the horses to trip over or low hanging branches to decapitate the unwary, they could move a lot faster. The horses were slowly recovering their second wind and Casper was certain he could ask for another short gallop soon. The question was; would it be soon enough?

:-:

Rick and his gang had made good time through the forest. Only one horse had stumbled over a tree root and one man knocked from his horse by a thick branch. Both man and horse recovered from their trauma and set forth with renewed passion. Rick had made it clear that anyone not keeping up would be killed in a rather violent manner. There was nothing that gets the blood of bandits up like the threat of death. They all knew that Rick would do it too.

The journey was made in silence beside the sound of the horses as they galloped through the forest. Even these sounds, usually so loud, seemed muffled by the silently watching forest. There had always been stories of ghosts and monsters living in this old forest but the men had never paid them much mind till now. The forest seemed to be watching their every move and the whisper of the wind through the trees became the whisper of vengeful spirits. Heck, these men had killed enough people in often violent manners to be right to be wary of spirits seeking well deserved vengeance.

Time passed in a strange fashion under the trees so it seemed like forever and no time at all before the group emerged from under the trees and onto the wide rolling moors. Rick pulled his horse of a halt, ignoring the sliver lit beauty around him, his keen eyes looking for one target only. There, cantering up the next hill from them where two horses. Rick couldn't make out who was riding them from this distance but he figured only two people would be out at this time of night.

"There they are! Remember I want them both alive." Rick snarled before kicking his horse back into a gallop. The men cheered as the thrill of the chase coursed through them knocking all thoughts of vengeful spirits from their minds. They flowed down the sliver hills like a particularly ugly black stain down a sliver tablecloth. Already they were loosening their swords in their sheaths looking forward to the moment when they cornered their prey.

Had the men not been so fixated on their prize they may have noticed that the whispers they heard in the forest had followed them out onto the moorlands even though there were no trees in sight. If even one of them had taken a moment to look around them, he might of seen the ghostly wisps of light following them from the under the trees before melting into the light of the moon.

:-:

As a rule Casper did not swear or use foul language. He was once kicked by a foal in a very private place and had cursed like a drunken sailor that day, but on the whole, Casper was a gentleman. When Casper saw the horde of bandits tear themselves away from the shadows of the trees and start galloping towards him however, he muttered a few choice words which would have earned him a smack had his father been around to hear them. It seemed the bandits had rounded up their horses and gone after them far quicker than Casper had given them credit for. Casper asked for a canter but the horses were going up hill at this point and were starting to tire again. Casper figured he was maybe twenty minutes ahead of the bandits. If only there was just some way he could only widen that gap.

He had spotted the far off glow of the port town while riding over the top of the last hill and suspected he would be there by dawn. If he could keep the bandits off his ass for another few hours he could lose them within the port town; if the bandits would even enter the town that is. This was no longer the bandits' domain and they did not hold the same power here that they did in the forest. If only Casper could out run them for just a little longer. Casper sent up a silent prayer to Gods he'd never really believed existed but damn well hoped that he had been wrong in that belief. He could use some divine intervention right now.

Casper's prayers were answered in the form of a rather weak looking bridge over a fast flowing river. Casper cantered over the top of the hill and down the side into a miniature valley. The river running through the middle of these two hills wasn't wide but it was deep and fast flowing. The horses snorted and sidestepped nervously eyeing the freezing cold water as it crashed against rocks sending a fine spray of water into the air. Casper reined to a halt and eyed the bridge with deep misgivings. It didn't look strong enough to hold one horse let alone two at once. Casper bit his lip and cast a worried glance over his shoulder. They needed to hurry or face being captured by Rick and his gang. Casper had a feeling that drowning would be a far quicker and less painful death than whatever Rick had in mind.

Convincing himself to cross the bridge was easy compared to convincing the horses. The bay took one look at the bridge and said, quite plainly; no freaking way pal! Casper gritted his teeth and gave the bay a sharp jab with his heels. The bay jumped forward only to brace his legs snorting in fear. Any other day Casper would have dismounted and led the bay across whispering calming words and reassurance, but they didn't have time for that. The grey wasn't helping matters by yanking back on her reins when Casper least expected it almost ripping them out of his hand. Only having one hand to steer a very nervous bay over a rather sad looking bridge, while dragging an equally nervous grey by the reins, was not a good position to be in.

Casper didn't see them; he didn't feel their presence nor hear their whispers. The souls of all those who had been killed and maimed by Rick's gang and remained strong enough to walk this world gathered to watch the boy demon struggle with the horses. These spirits knew damn well what would happen if these boys were caught and they had no wish to inflict harm upon any but their attackers. Two spirits moved closer and breathed words into the ears of the frightened horses making them jump. The spirits then reached out and touched the animals with unseen hands pressing upon them the urgency of their quest. It was more than the animals could take. Casper was nearly thrown off as the bay and grey surged forwards in a sudden rush of movement and nearly jumped the entire length of the bridge in fright.

"Bloody hell," Casper gasped as he pulled the horses back from their desperate dash across the bridge. The bridge had held but it had creaked rather alarmingly. Deciding to worry about what had caused that sudden dash at a later date; Casper turned the animals' heads and started to climb the hill before them.

The spirits watched the demons go with a feeling that would have been satisfaction had they been corporal. Instead of celebrating this minor victory the spirits got to work on the bridge.

:-:

Rick and his gang of bandits reached the bridge twenty five minutes after Casper crossed it. By pushing their horses too hard the animals were almost dead on their feet. The uphill inclines were slowing them to a crawl not matter how hard they were kicked. The spirits hissed in excitement and drifted away to hide in the moonlight, watching events unfold before them.

Rick bullied his stallion into standing before the rotten bridge. He knew that Casper had passed this way because of the churned up ground on both sides of the river bank. It seemed his horses had given him some trouble before assenting to cross the bridge. Rick smirked, hoping this had slowed them done enough for him to catch up to them before they were in sight of the town.

"We cross here!" Rick called to his men. The bandits were mean and cruel but they were not entirely stupid. One look at the bridge only confirmed the widely held belief that the bridge would collapse the second they stepped on it plunging them into icy cold rapids. Rick growled when he saw the hesitation of his men.

"What are you lot, cowards? If that demon scum can cross here than so can we!" Rick turned back to the bridge. It was made of a dark wood that had clearly started to rot in places and was about ten horse strides in length. Rick looked back at his men to see them staring at the bridge in mingled fear and disbelief. It would take far too long to find another bridge to cross the river. There was a stronger bridge on the main track, made of stone, but that was three miles away downstream and they needed to catch up to their escaped prisoners now.

"Anyone who does not cross this bridge with me will be considered a traitor and given over to Eric for a week!" The men hurriedly kicked their horses towards the bridge. Eric was the one who had tortured Wolfram to within an inch of his life. Every man knew what Eric was capable of and they knew there was no escape from him or Rick. Their fear of their leader and of Eric far outweighed their fear of the bridge.

The bridge was easily wide enough for two horses to walk side by side. Rick went first closely followed by two of his men side-by-side. Another two bullied their horses onto the bridge behind their comrades. Rick was almost at the end of the bridge when it happened.

With the weight of five horses jumping and dancing on its tired old boards, weakened further by the spirits, the bridge gave way with an ear splitting crash. All five horses and their riders vanished amidst squeals and yells of terror. The five remaining men barely controlled their panicked horses long enough to see Rick's stallion haul itself out of the rapids, rider-less. The other four horses and their riders vanished beneath the swirling blue waters.

The spirits, their job done, faded away into the night.

:-:

Casper heard the crash of the bridge falling down but he didn't know what it meant. Glancing over his shoulder Casper stared wide eyed back along the route he had travelled. The horses sensed his fear and sidestepped nervously. Turning his attention back to the horses Casper kicked them on into a weary canter.

The moon was starting its decent now and within two hours the sun would start to rise over the horizon. Casper pressed the horses onwards not knowing of Rick's fate by the ghostly hands of the ones he so cruelly murdered. It was almost ironic that Rick would be done in by the ones he had previously killed.

The wind was still blowing and out here in the open it was stronger than ever. Casper was now sure the blond boy was shivering although it was hard to tell considering the way he was bouncing around on the saddle. Casper gritted his teeth and urged the horses onwards. He just hoped and prayed they would find a boat soon.

:-:

Captain Horace was not well known for his patience. He was well known for having a loud voice and a foul temper but also for being a fair Captain. He never flogged or hanged a man on his ship unless they really deserved it. Captain Horace was a huge bear of a man with a beard bushy enough to hide a small child, great hairy arms and a barrel chest. He always wore his thick blue coat, now slightly tatty looking, his grey trousers and great big black sea boots. He also wore his Captain's hat with the pride and dignity of one who had to fight to earn the right to wear it. It was therefore not in the Captain's nature to be stuck in port for days waiting for someone to turn up when said person was most likely dead in a ditch.

Captain Horace liked Raoul Falken as he was a no-nonsense and level headed man that Horace had great respect for. His son however, was an entirely different story. Horace was a Mazoku with a long standing hatred for people born into wealth. Raoul had built his empire with his own sweat and blood and Horace admired that. Casper however, was born into the lap of luxury and strutted about the place as if he already owned it. Horace had to fight for everything he owned and fight even harder to keep it yet this little upstart of a child had everything just handed to him on a sliver plate.

Captain Horace muttered curses as he walked back to his ship just as the sun was rising over the horizon. He had been cajoled into bringing that naïve little upstart here to sell horses only for the brat to go missing during a raid. He had been gone four days now and Horace was pretty sure he was either dead of some lucky bandit's 'woman' by now. Casper was, for all his faults, a very attractive young man. He looked just like his mother in many ways. Horace figured that was the reason the boy's father had so little to do with his only child, Casper must bring up some painful memories of his late wife. Horace had met Raoul's wife Adal before she died and found her to be a polite and caring woman with a wicked sense of humour and a sharp tongue. Everyone loved her and everyone had been knocked sideways by her unfortunate death.

Horace grumbled some more as an old injury flared into life. A sailor had once stabbed him in the knee during a fight and although it had been healed through Maryoku healing powers, it had never been the same since. Horace had just collected the early mail and had been annoyed to see a letter from Raoul himself to say that he was not to leave the port until Casper was found, dead or alive. Horace muttered a few colourful phrases as he marched onto the docks. The chances of finding the boy were close to zero meaning his ship was stuck for Great One knows how long and having to pay large port taxes because of it.

Horace was so wrapped up in complaining he almost didn't notice the two weary horses stumbling towards him. Horace glanced up just in time to avoid being run over and glared at the filthy rider on the bay horse. "Oi, watch were you are going you great clumsy twit!" Horace roared making the tired bay jump. The rider jerked as if he had dosed off looking around in shock. "Bloody drunken riders, the whole lot should be hanged…." Horace muttered to himself stepping around the startled horses.

"Captain Horace is that you?" A tired, rough and travel weary voice reached Horace's ears over his own mutterings. Horace looked up and blinked at the young face staring at him. "By the Great One, it is you!" Horace looked a little closer and felt his eyes go wide.

"Is that you Casper?" Horace boomed making the horses snort.

"In the flesh or what's left of it anyway." Casper tried to grin but it looked more like a grimace. The constant tugging on his arm by the grey and resulted in a painful throbbing in his shoulder and his hand was covered in rope burns and popped blisters that oozed clear fluids. His legs ached from being in a cheap uncomfortable saddle for so long and Casper was certain he would sleep for a week.

"What the devil happened to you, boy?" Horace boomed his hands on his hips as he ran an eye over the filthy exhausted boy before him.

"I'll explain everything in time I promise. But look there are nasty people after us and we need to get the heck out of here fast." Casper sat up slightly and gazed around trying to get his bearings.

"'Us' what do you mean by 'us'?" Horace asked his voice almost echoing around the empty town.

"I don't have time to explain Horace. All you need to know is that I was captured by bandits, found a boy half dead and escaped with him. But the bandits are still following us so can we please get off the street and on to your ship?" Casper had never felt so drained but the flight was not over yet. Come on body; just give me a little more time before you conk out.

"Good grief boy you know how to get yourself into trouble don't you?" Horace shook his head as he peered at the shape slung over the second horse's saddle which he now recognised as a body. "Who is he?"

"Not a clue," Casper admitted. Horace had a million questions but he decided that these where better left for private quarters.

"He's coming with us then is he?"

"Oh yes," Casper managed a smile this time. "He's defiantly coming with us."

:-:

Casper woke to the sound of the ship creaking softy around him. Captain Horace would have said the creaking was the sound of the ship's soul. You could tell the mood of the ship by the sound she made as she soared through the ocean. By the steady rise and fall of the ship Casper guessed they must be well out to sea by now. He was lying in a narrow bed wearing a loose fitting white shirt and trousers. He sat up slowly, still feeling groggy from the night's events, and stumbled out of narrow bed to the port hole. Light streamed in through the small glass circle giving the small cabin a friendly warm golden glow. The cabin was mostly bare, only the bed and a chest of drawers decorated the room. The walls, ceiling and floor were made from the same light coloured wood.

Casper peered out of the port hole but couldn't see the sun. He guessed it must be late afternoon by now. Casper yawned as he shuffled back to his bed and sat down. He rolled the past events of the night and early morning around his head as he felt the ship rise and fall below his feet.

Captain Horace had acted quickly after their brief conversation on the dock yard. Taking the horses' reins he led the two animals to where his large ship was docked. Casper remembered sighing with relief to see the familiar shape of the horse transport vessel that Horace captained. The ship itself belonged to his father but Horace was in charge of everything that went on aboard the ship. Horace had called for some hands to come down and carry the unconscious boy on board while Casper was half carried on board himself. Horace gave the two horses to a startled looking dock worker and told him they now belonged to him.

Casper was ushered into the room he was currently residing in while the ship's doctor fussed over him. Casper had tried to tell the old man that the other boy was far worse off but the doctor was having none of it. "I will see to your friend in good time young man," he had said. The doctor was an old man, even for a Mazoku, with a shock of white hair and a wise wrinkled old face. A pair of half moon glasses sat on the end of his nose and a pair of bright blue eyes regarded him calmly through the thin lenses. Casper had been too tired to argue further so he caved in. Within a few minutes the doctor had announced him well and had given him a foul tasting potion to drink. In fact that was the last thing Casper could remember.

Casper yawned again and stood up. It was time to find out what was going on. Casper changed into a clean pair of clothes that had been set out for him on the chest of drawers. He opened the door and walked out into the main corridor of the ship. From here he could see the doors leading to the kitchen, infirmary and further down at the end of the ship the Captain's office. Casper turned and made his way to the Captain's office walking unevenly as the ship pitched and rolled under him.

Casper knocked loudly on the door and heard a voice bellow at him to come in. Casper pushed open the heavy wooden door. Directly in front of him was a large table bolted to the floor covered in charts and maps. Captain Horace sat in an equally large chair behind the desk which was also bolted to the floor. Windows covered the entire wall behind the Captain to let in the light making the whole room glow gold. Smaller tables and dressers were pushed against the two walls adjacent to the door and were covered in all sorts of nautical items.

"I see you're finally up and about then Casper?" Horace boomed looking up to see his unwanted guest. "Shut the door then lad!" Casper shut the door and decided not to have a strong word with Horace for being too familiar. After all, the man did just save his life.

"Where are we Captain?" Casper asked standing in front of the desk. There was nowhere of him to sit so he remained standing.

"We are here," Horace pointed to a position on the chart laid out before them. "We should be at the Mazoku coast within three days if this wind keeps up." Casper nodded as he studied the chart upside down. He knew nothing of navigating the seas but he trusted Horace's opinion.

"Did we encounter any problems leaving port?"

"No just the damn port authorities were sad to see us go. We'd been lining their pockets just sitting there in port for days on end." Horace grumbled as he made a mark on the chart.

"That brings me to another question." Casper waited until Horace looked up at him. "How come you were waiting in port for so long? I thought you would have been long gone. Not that I am not grateful you stuck around."

"Your father ordered me to stay until you were found." Horace grunted as he leaned back in his chair. "I was about to organise a patrol to look for your sorry behind when you appeared on the docks like some phantom." Casper would have gotten angry at the Captain's informal tone but he was too stunned to speak.

Casper had always believed that any love his father felt for him died along with his mother. Casper had been only 17 when Adal died but he could still remember her clearly; her light brown hair, soft violet eyes and her gentle loving smile. Casper missed her dearly but the one worst affected was his father. Raoul had locked himself away with his horses shunting the outside world even more than usual. Casper had given up trying to reach out to his father years ago.

My father wouldn't let Horace leave without me? Casper shook his head feeling a sad smile tug his lips. Who knew that all I had to do to earn his love was get kidnapped and almost killed by bandits. It was so absurd it made Casper want to laugh.

"Oh the doc wants to speak to you about that boy you brought with you." Horace's voice smashed Casper's daydreams bringing him back to the present with a jolt. "He said it was important."

"Ok, where is the doc?"

"In the infirmary the last I saw of him. Now get lost I have work to do. This ship doesn't plot a course herself you know!" Horace grunted as he picked up his compass. Casper smiled and turned to leave to office. He didn't like Horace's tone, but he had more important things to worry about right now.

Casper hurried down the hallway toward the infirmary. He could hear men shouting to one and another as they swarmed over the deck like ants. The ship creaked and groaned as she rose over a wave and glided down the side. Casper pushed open the infirmary door and looked around. The infirmary had a mix of beds and hammocks hanging from the ceiling. The infirmary was located in the middle of the ship so the only light came from the lanterns hanging from the ceiling. The orange light gave everything a soft and calm glow. The doctor was sitting at a desk at the end of the infirmary writing something down with a feather quill.

"Doctor, I heard you asked for me?" Casper walked up to the doctor's desk glancing left and right for any sign of the boy he had rescued. All sorts of painful looking instruments were lined up along the walls or on top of tables. Cabinets lined the walls filled with bottles of something or other and neatly wrapped bandages.

"Ah young master it is good to see you up and about." The doctor smiled and stood up. "How are you feeling? I imagine you must be hungry."

"I am starving actually," Casper admitted feeling his stomach growl.

"Well let's get some food inside you then boy."

"Wait, I have to know, the boy I came with…" Casper trailed off as the doctor sighed.

"He's alive," Casper grinned, "but barely." The grin vanished. "I cleaned him up best I could and treated the worst of his wounds but he has a fever. I don't have the medicine I need to treat him with me."

"So he will die?" Casper asked slowly feeling his heart clench painfully in his chest.

"If we can get him to a proper hospital then he will make it I'm sure. I just don't have the correct medicines here." The doctor swept his hand to indicate the whole infirmary.

"What about the hospital at my father's farm? Would they be able to treat him there?"

"Yes they should, but won't the boy want to go home?" The doctor frowned and Casper sighed.

"I have no idea who he is. I don't even know his name." Casper admitted, "I thought it best to have him treated at my father's farm until he was well enough to let us know who he is."

"I see," the doctor nodded and for some reason Casper wanted to blush.

"Can…can I see him?" Casper shifted from one foot to another under the doctor's heavy stare. There was a long silence before the doctor nodded.

"I don't see why not." The doctor turned and walked towards a section of the infirmary that had been closed off by a curtain. He pulled the curtain back and Casper stepped forward slowly. Lying on a bed, looking as pale as death itself, was the boy he had rescued.

The first thing Casper noticed was that the boy was indeed a blond and he was even more beautiful without all the dirt. The torn dirty clothes were gone and replaced by a similar outfit to the one Casper had been wearing when he woke up. The boy was lying on his left side fast asleep. Bandages covered his wrists and Casper knew if he looked he would see bandages covering the boy's back as well. There were several painful looking bruises on the boy's face.

Casper shook his head as his heart squeezed painfully in his chest. What did those men put him through? Casper knelt down beside the bed and reached out to touch the boy's face. The boy shifted under his touch but didn't wake. His skin was burning hot to the touch. Casper didn't know why but he felt a strong attachment to this boy. He never wanted to see him harmed ever again, whether that harm was physical or mental. Casper had never felt this way about anyone before and he had no idea what it meant.

"If you don't know the boy, why did you save him?" The doctor asked kindly watching Casper gently run his fingers through the limp blond locks. Casper paused feeling a rather large lump on the boy's head just behind his ear. That must have hurt, Casper frowned. It could well explain the boy's lack of response if his brain had been damaged by the blow.

"I couldn't just leave him at the mercy of those brutes that did this to him." Casper scowled as he answered the doctor's question. "I don't know who he is but no one deserves to be tortured and beaten like that." The doctor smiled at the passion in Casper's voice.

"Oh I agree, what they did to this boy is terrible."

"They didn't…they didn't abuse him did they?" Casper swallowed a rise of bile in his throat. "I mean…sexually?"

"No, there is no sign they used him in that manner." Casper felt his shoulders slump in relief. He couldn't imagine how awful an experience that would have been. "But you haven't really answered my question Casper." Casper glanced up at the doctor who regarded him kindly. "You could have left him in a human hospital but you chose to not only take him with us back to the Mazoku Kingdoms but also to your father's farm for treatment."

"I know he will be treated well with us." Casper protested. "I think this boy has been through enough to have earned that at least." Casper reached out and brushed a lock of hair from the boy's face. "Don't worry, you are safe now." Casper whispered to the boy. He got no response from the boy not that he had expected one. Casper sat back on his heels. What he had said to the doctor was true, he wanted this boy to receive the very best medical care there was but that was only half the story. Casper wanted to make sure this boy was safe. And nothing would convince him that this was the case unless he could see it with his own eyes. Casper noticed the boy was shivering despite the warmth of the infirmary. "He's shivering," Casper said softly.

"I'll get some more blankets," the doctor turned and walked away. Casper may fool himself but he didn't fool the doctor's eyes for a second. He knew that Casper had somehow fallen completely in love with this blond stranger. The doctor just hoped the blond didn't already have someone back home.

-:-

(Shinmakoku – three weeks later)

Yuri wondered for the hundredth time what the hell he was doing here. He stared at the crowd of dancers and nobles without really seeing them. He was sitting in the Grand Hall on his throne as pretty young women and handsome men floated across the dance floor before him. The Hall was lit up with thousands of candles giving everything an almost fairy tale glow. Musicians played ballads and sonnets on a raised platform placed halfway down the hall in front of the large windows over looking the garden. The music flowed through the air like a river of sound wrapping around the dancers like a velvet cloak. It was beautiful and hopelessly romantic. And Yuri hated every second of it.

He could no longer remember the reason for the ball or who had suggested it be held in Shinmakoku. He had a suspicion that Stoffel had something to do with it but he couldn't be sure. Yuri propped an elbow on the arm of his throne and leaned his chin against his hand. He really didn't want to be here, everything just seemed so false to him. The music, the lights and even the people appeared to be mere figments of his imagination. If he were to blink they would all vanish in an instant and the Hall would become cold and empty once more. Yuri lifted his glass to his lips and scowled as he realised it was empty. Beckoning a maid he shoved his glass towards her and grunted. The maid blushed as she quickly filled his glass with wine before hurrying away.

Yuri wasn't sure how much he had drunk but if the way the room was bending had anything to do with it, it was most likely far too much. Yuri sighed as he raised the glass and took a gulp. He couldn't even taste the wine anymore which in itself was a relief as the stuff tasted awful. Yuri hadn't planned to drink himself stupid tonight but after two hours of watching people laughing and smiling he couldn't take it anymore. He was either going to start screaming or crying so he grabbed a glass of wine instead. The first sip had made his throat burn and after the third glass his head started to spin. Now, an hour and several glasses later, he just felt numb. Numb was good.

Yuri didn't want to think too much about the way he was acting. He didn't want to self analyze his behaviour tonight because it brought the painful truth to the front of his mind. Yuri would much rather keep drinking and try to forget why he was so damn depressed. Yuri glanced down at the ruby red liquid in his glass. Almost two months had dragged by and still no word from Wolfram. Yuri knew that Greta had given up hoping her other father would return. Her eyes were suddenly duller and her face more serious. In fact she looked much like she did when she first arrived at Shinmakoku claiming to be Yuri's illegitimate child. Then she tried to murder him. Yuri snorted as he took another drink. He had to be the only King in the history of this world and his who adopted the child who wanted to kill him. Not that he regretted adopting Greta. Her story had been so heartbreaking, how could he have done any different?

Yuri sighed again as he stared at the dancing figures through his glass. The delicate carvings of flowers on the glass made the figures bend and twist into unnatural shapes. Yuri lowered his glass slowly his eyes sweeping the Hall searching for his daughter. Greta was nowhere to be seen. Yuri suspected she had sneaked off back to her room by now. Yuri didn't blame her; in fact he wished he could do the same. Yuri burped quietly before giggling in a drunken manner. At the rate he was going he would need to be carried to his room. Yuri giggled some more before stopping abruptly. It would not do for the dignified masses to see their Maoh in a drunken stupor giggling like a child.

But I am a child, especially in demon years. Yuri pondered running a finger over the rim of his glass. The high pitched humming the fine cut crystal emitted was drowned by the sound of the party. Yuri glanced down at the glass in wonder. One voice; completely buried under the sound of so many other voices, unheard and unseen by everyone around it. Wolfram…Yuri shook himself angrily. Don't think about him. Yuri took another gulp and some wine escaped his mouth to trickle down his chin. Yuri wiped his face with his sleeve. His mother would have disapproved of such behaviour but Yuri didn't have a tissue handy. Besides, no one was paying him the slightest attention.

Yuri sighed as a face came to the front of his mind. Two weeks ago Stoffel had brought a young lady to the Palace claiming she was his cousin's youngest child and only daughter. Abby Caz was a beautiful dark blond with intelligent blue eyes and a curvy figure. She seemed cowed when she first met Yuri but after a little coxing she began to relax, even challenge him on his views on the world. Yuri found himself smiling for the first time since before Wolfram had been taken.

They spent long hours walking around the gardens or going out riding. Abby was happy to just walk or trot while they talked whereas Wolfram would have moaned they were going too slow and demand a gallop. Abby was happy to talk about anyone or anything without once calling him a 'cheater' or a 'wimp'. Yuri told her many stories from his first few years as demon king and she told her about her life with her three older brothers.

Abby told him that her father never wanted a daughter and with three sons she had no place in the family. Her mother was more interested in the newest fashions and the local gossip than raising her daughter. Yuri had been horrified to learn that her father sometimes got drunk and hit her. Yuri had spent several minutes ranting about irresponsible parenting until Abby calmed him down. She said that her second cousin, although she called him uncle, Stoffel was the only one who seemed to care about her. Yuri had felt great sympathy for her and he wanted nothing more then to help her prove her worth to the world. He just had no idea how to do that.

Greta had taken a strong dislike to Abby but as far as Yuri could tell there was no real reason for this anger. Everyone spoke highly of Abby but Yuri had noticed a slightly guarded expression on people's faces when they spoke of her to his face, as if they were choosing their words. Yuri was mystified by this behaviour as Abby seemed like the perfect Lady to him. Yuri had asked Greta why she didn't like Abby and her answer had shocked him.

"She's trying to replace Wolfram!" Greta had snapped her eyes filling with tears. That conversation had happened yesterday and Yuri had been unable to look Abby in the eyes since. Was that Abby's plan? Was she trying to gain the favour of the Maoh in the hopes of being his next wife? For some reason the thought of marrying Abby made him feel….awkward. Abby was certainly a beautiful woman and she would make a fine queen. Unlike Wolfram, she would give him a child if they were to marry. Besides, wasn't she everything he'd ever wanted in a wife; smart, funny and not afraid to speak her mind? So why did the thought of sharing his life with her, make him feel so strange?

"Evening Yuri," Abby appeared next to Yuri making him start in surprise. He hadn't even noticed her approach him. Yuri looked up at her and managed to force out a smile. Now he felt really awkward as he had just been thinking about her. Abby's dark blond locks were pilled up on her head in elegant swirls and she was wearing a flowing blue silk dress that matched her eyes. The bodice of the dress was tight decorated with elegant flowers picked out in sliver thread and the skirts reached her ankles. She was wearing a simple sliver necklace with a green emerald and matching earrings. In other words, she looked amazingly beautiful.

"Oh Abby, good evening," Yuri hiccupped and blushed as Abby raised an eyebrow.

"I didn't know you liked wine," Abby sat down on a spare seat next to Yuri with a rustle of skirts.

"I don't, well I mean, I don't usually drink, but um, I am now, because…" Yuri cut himself off before he babbled anything else. Abby gave Yuri a gentle smile. There was something off about her expression though. She looked, worried, no, maybe sad was a better way to describe it. Yuri frowned and leaned forward trying to figure her out. Abby was very good at hiding her emotions if the need arouse.

"Is there something on my face Yuri?" Abby gave Yuri a half smile as she caught him staring. The wine made Yuri slightly bolder than he usually would be.

"What is wrong?"

"Why would anything be wrong?" Abby broke eye contact to smooth down her skirts.

"You tell me." Yuri answered watching Abby carefully. Abby paused and looked up at Yuri. For a moment they just stared at each other. Abby sighed and looked back out over the dance floor. Yuri wondered, somewhat belatedly, if he should have asked her to dance. He hadn't thought about it because he could never dance with Wolfram and Wolfram would have killed him if he tried to dance with anyone else.

That was another difference between Wolfram and Abby. Yuri could hold Abby's hand in public or dance with her and not feel like a freak. He could kiss her now in front of all these people and not worry that they would think him strange. He could be normal with Abby. Strange how with Wolfram gone, normal seemed overrated.

"I've heard what people are saying about me." Abby spoke knocking Yuri out of his daydreams. Abby was still avoiding Yuri's gaze. "I guess you have heard what they've said too."

"What do you mean? Who said what?" Yuri was confused. He felt like he should know what Abby was talking about but he had no idea.

"People think I am only interested in you because you are the Maoh." Abby turned to fix her blue eyes on Yuri. "They say I am shallow because you have just lost your fiancée and already I am taking advantage of your grief to take you for myself." Abby said bitterly her voice heavy. Yuri stared at Abby his mouth hanging open. He had never heard anyone speak like that and it shocked him as much as what she said.

"P-people aren't saying things like that surely?" Yuri stammered. Then again, he never paid much attention to gossip. Nothing good ever came of talking behind people's backs. Most of the time the gossipers had the story all wrong and seriously hurt other people's feelings.

"Please don't try to protect my feelings Yuri. I know this to be true. That is why you have been avoiding me of late isn't it?" Abby sighed and shook her head. "Maybe I should go."

"No!" Yuri grabbed her arm to prevent Abby from getting up. Abby turned to look at Yuri in shock. Yuri blushed and released her arm. "I mean, please stay, just for a moment and let me explain." Abby paused but after a moment she sat back down watching Yuri carefully. "I spoke to my daughter Greta yesterday and she said something that surprised me. I have been thinking about it which is why I have been avoiding you. Greta said you were trying to replace Wolfram."

"I see," Abby said softly. "That is why she doesn't like me?"

"Yes, but I don't feel that way about you at all." Yuri gave Abby a smile. "You and Wolfram are two completely different people. In fact you couldn't be more different if you tried. I didn't love Wolfram as a fiancée and I know that hurt him. I regret it but there is nothing I can do about that now." Yuri sighed and his gaze flicked to the dance floor. For a moment he could almost see Wolfram standing in a corner his arms crossed glaring at Yuri for daring to even speak to a girl without him around. Yuri felt his lips quirk up in a sad smile. "Wolfram was very special to me though. You can not replace him." Yuri glanced back at Abby who was staring at him with an unreadable expression on her face. "But, that doesn't mean I don't care about you. What those people are saying is mean and horrible. Don't listen to them Abby because you are a very special person too. You deserve someone to love and treasure you." Yuri smiled and reached out to take Abby's hand in his. Abby blushed as Yuri kissed it. "The man you choose to love would be a very lucky man indeed."

"Yuri…" Abby breathed in wonder. She smiled and leaned forward to kiss Yuri's cheek. Yuri blushed at the feel of her soft warm lips against his skin. He breathed in the scent of her perfume. The perfume was dainty and feminine like a flower. It made his stomach flip and his heart pound. "Thank you," Abby pulled back to smile at Yuri. Yuri laughed in embarrassment and rubbed the back of his neck.

"You're, err, welcome," Yuri hiccupped again and they both laughed.

:-:

Yuri was wrong in thinking no one was paying him any attention. Conrad for instance had been watching Yuri closely for the past two hours. During the first hour of the party Yuri seemed to be himself, smiling and greeting everyone. Conrad began to notice the smile wearing thin by the second hour and he wasn't really surprised when Yuri suddenly snatched a glass of wine and started to drink. What did surprise him however; was Yuri continuing to drink. He had been knocking back glass after glass at a rather alarming rate for the past hour. Conrad was sure that if someone didn't intervene soon Yuri was going to make himself very sick indeed. Or he was going to do something very stupid. Conrad had seen the effects of binge drinking before and it was never pretty.

"You know I'm surprised our Maoh hasn't collapsed on the floor in a heap yet." A voice cut into Conrad's thoughts making him jump slightly. Conrad turned to see Josak watching Yuri with an admiring smile. "The kid must have more of a stomach for liquor than I gave him credit for."

"This isn't funny Josak," Conrad muttered hoping no one else had noticed the Maoh's state. "He could do himself serious damage getting drunk like that."

"I'm not laughing Captain." Josak glanced at Conrad from the corner of his eye.

"I guess I should go talk to him." Conrad sighed glancing up at Yuri again worriedly.

"And say what exactly? We all know why he's acting like this." Josak tore his gaze from Conrad to glace up at Yuri once more. Yuri had been depressed ever since the Ten Nobles decided to announce that Wolfram was dead. Killed in action they said. Yuri had sent letters to Lady Flurin and King Saralegui to call off their attempts to find Wolfram. Josak knew they had sent letters back to Yuri but he didn't know what they said. No one did. Yuri had stopped talking about Wolfram altogether.

"I can't just let him drink himself to death over Wolfram!" Conrad hissed making sure to keep his voice down. Yuri did have a reputation to uphold even if he didn't care about those things personally. "I know he misses him, we all do, but this is not the answer."

"You're preaching to the converted here," Josak sighed turning to face Conrad. "Maybe it is just harder for Yuri to accept than for the rest of us."

"What exactly are you trying to say? Wolfram was my little brother I would have done anything for him." Conrad glared at Josak feeling stung at the implication that he could just forget his brother so easily. Josak shook his head before reaching out and placing a gentle hand on Conrad's shoulder.

"Maybe Yuri never confessed but that doesn't mean he never felt anything for Wolfram. Loosing someone you love is not an easy thing to deal with. I should know, after all, I almost lost you once." Josak gently touched the scar over Conrad's eye with a sad smile. Conrad stared at Josak in shock before feeling a rush of heat to his cheeks.

"You – Josak do you mean what I think you mean?"

"Yeah," Josak dropped his hand and shook his head with a laugh. "As confessions go that was pretty lame huh? I've been waiting to tell you for ages now but there never seemed to be a good time." Josak raked his fingers through his hair. "Then Wolfram goes missing and Yuri goes from driven to depression within a few weeks…" Josak paused, "I guess this could be called the worst timing ever right?"

"I don't know what to say." Conrad finally spoke. "You really have those feelings for me?"

"Yes I do." Josak saw no point in lying about this. He shifted under Conrad's gaze uncomfortably. He had wanted to tell Conrad he loved him for so long, why did he have to blurt it out now of all times? Josak felt a humourless smile curl his lips. Conrad had just looked so lost while he was staring at Yuri Josak had just wanted to take away that confusion. He was so used to seeing Conrad calm and in control it was almost frightening seeing him look so insecure.

"Josak I…" Conrad looked down biting his lip.

"Its ok you don't have to say anything." Josak gave himself a mental pat on the back when his voice came out even. What he really wanted to do was throw himself at Conrad's feet and beg for his love. "I shouldn't have said anything to you, please just forget it." Josak turned to leave but Conrad grabbed his wrist.

"Let's go somewhere more private." Conrad said glancing at the crowds of eager gossip hounds surrounding them. For a moment Conrad forgot all about Yuri and his drinking as he led Josak away from the dancers and out of the Hall. Soldiers saluted sharply when they passed and Conrad nodded back. A few glanced at Conrad's hand still clamped around Josak's wrist but none of them commented. Once the sounds of the party had faded to a faint murmur Conrad stopped walking and turned to face Josak.

As Conrad stared into those blue eyes he knew so well he thought about all the years he and Josak had spent together. Two half bloods fighting against the prejudice all their kind faced. They stood shoulder to shoulder knowing the other would never betray them. Even when Conrad joined Big Shimaron's army he knew that Josak never lost faith in him. Conrad remembered all the times he never had to say a word to Josak, all he had to do was look at the man and Josak understood him. But more importantly Conrad remembered the warm glow that spread through his veins whenever Josak was close. He remembered how his heart jumps when Josak flashes him one of his teasing smiles. He remembered how often he worried about Josak even when he knew Josak could take care of himself. Conrad felt himself smile as he realised that there was one person in this whole world whom he could count on no matter what.

"Yuri isn't the only one who has had feelings for someone but has never confessed." Conrad said quietly. He kept his gaze fixed on Josak's watching those blue eyes go wide in surprise.

"I thought…"

"I was shocked to hear you confess," Conrad admitted, "I have never thought of you that way before. But now I think about it, I've always loved you I've just never realised it before." Conrad reached out to touch Josak's face, a face he knew as well as his own. "I'm sorry I kept you waiting."

Josak didn't know what to say. Conrad's confession seemed to have robbed him of speech. Josak had always been a man of action so instead of words he replied to Conrad's statement by kissing him. Conrad made a surprised sound in his throat before reaching out and wrapping his arms around Josak's neck. Josak moaned softly before wrapping his arms around Conrad's waist and holding him tightly. For a long time the two men just gently kissed each other. There was no urgency or panic in their kiss. It was gentle and for the most part chaste. Josak pulled back for air and smiled at Conrad's slightly dazed expression and swollen lips.

Josak didn't know how long he had waited for this moment. To hold Conrad in his arms and kiss him seemed like some wild dream. For Conrad to give him that gentle loving smile, the one that made his blood run hot. An unwanted question pushed itself to the front of Josak's mind demanding attention. Josak ignored it in favour of resting his forehead against Conrad's. He really didn't want to ruin the mood with his questions. Unfortunately Conrad could read him and easily as he could Conrad.

"What is it?"

"What is what?" Josak asked stalling for time.

"You want to ask me something, so ask me." Conrad gave him that smile that made Josak's knees weak. Josak caved at once.

"It's just…you loved Julia and Yuri has Julia's soul, so I thought –"

"You thought I was in love with Yuri?" Conrad arched an eyebrow and Josak nodded. "I thought I was at first," Conrad admitted, "but once I saw that Wolfram loved him I felt bad about my feelings and tried to stop them. It was after that I realised that Wolfram and I saw Yuri in a different light. The love I felt for Yuri was just as strong as Wolfram's love but it was a different kind of love." Conrad groaned. "I'm not making any sense am I?"

"It's ok I think I understand what you mean." Josak smiled gently kissing Conrad again. It was such a relief to know that Conrad didn't love Yuri that way. Josak hadn't really believed it himself but there were times and signs that maybe Conrad's feelings ran deeper than he thought.

"Look at it this way; Wolfram has a sexual attraction to Yuri while my feelings for Yuri are platonic." Conrad grinned. His face turned sad suddenly making Josak frown. "I mean, Wolfram used to have an attraction to Yuri."

"I am sorry he's gone you know." Josak said softly. "I may not have liked Wolfram much but I never wanted him dead."

"I know that Josak." Conrad sighed and hugged Josak close. Josak felt a little guilty for the flare of lust that spiked through him at the contact. "I just miss him is all." Any thoughts of lust vanished at the sadness in Conrad's voice. Josak hugged his now lover closer and tried to tell him without words that no matter what, he would always be there for him.

:-:

It was very late but the party was still going one downstairs. Some of the guests had left to go to bed but most stayed. These parties were the endurance test for the wealthy. Who could be the most pleasant and sociable for the longest time? Who could keep dancing even after a few glasses of wine? The longer you went on for the more respect you received. Yuri was unaware of this, not that he would have cared much if he had known. He had drunk far too much and was succumbing to the effects of the wine. His head was swimming and he couldn't see straight. He was now heading back to his room before he embarrassed himself further. Fortunately he wasn't making the journey alone.

"How much have you drunk?" Abby teased as she supported Yuri as he wobbled down the corridor.

"Lost count," Yuri replied with a yawn. Abby giggled and smiled at him. "If Wolf could see me now he would be mad." Yuri grumbled. "He'd probably call me a wimp." Yuri hiccupped and scowled.

"I'm sure he meant it in an affectionate manner." Abby replied wrapping her arm more securely around Yuri's waist. Yuri muttered something inaudible before sighing heavily. Abby glanced at Yuri, she took in his flushed cheeks and slightly dazed expression fondly.

Once they reached his room, Yuri pushed open the door and Abby helped him to his bed. The room was pitch-black apart from a chink on moonlight spilling through the curtains. Abby lit a candle and placed it on the bedside table before shutting and locking Yuri's bedroom door. Yuri flopped back against the covers and didn't even notice the lock turning over. Abby walked over to a pitcher of water sitting on a table against the far wall. She poured a glass of cold water and gave it to Yuri.

"Drink this, you will feel better." Yuri sat up slowly peering at the glass. His hair was a mess and his clothes where rumpled. Abby thought he looked adorable.

"Oh, thanks," Yuri mumbled as he took a long drink. Abby paused watching him. For a moment she hesitated, wondering if she should really do this. But didn't Stoffel say that Yuri loved her? Didn't Yuri enjoy their private moments together? Why would Yuri give her gifts, like those flowers, if he didn't have feeling for her? And there was what he said before; about her being special. No one had ever called her special before and it destroyed the doubts she been having while Yuri avoided her. He did have feelings for her and it was time he stopped moping for that long dead fiancée of his and started living again.

"Feeling better?" Abby asked as Yuri finished the glass. Yuri nodded with that goofy smile Abby liked so much. Yuri was so different to her brothers and father it was like he was a different species. Her brothers found her annoying and her father made it clear that he never wanted her to be born. To know you were not wanted was a terrible thing and Abby had often considered suicide in her younger years. It was the determination to prove her worth that kept Abby alive through those painful years.

The older she got the clearer it was that she would be pretty. Abby used this to her advantage, getting what she wanted by batting her eyes at men. Her brothers cursed her, called her a slut even though she had never taken any of those men into her bed. Realising that nothing she did would impress her family Abby nearly lost the will to go on. But then her uncle Stoffel came into the picture. He was her mother's cousin and he gave Abby an education in the arts and reading. Abby had never read a book before and soon she developed a hunger for knowledge. Now at her father's parties she exchanged knowledge with other learned men. They grew to respect her and that made Abby feel so proud. It wasn't enough for her family though. Her father yelled at her for showing him up at his own parties while her mother told her she was filling her head with nonsense.

That was before she met Yuri though. He treated her as if she were important, as if she was somebody that mattered in the world. He didn't think she was stupid and he often encouraged her to engage in debates on various matters. He listened when she spoke and treated her gently. That feeling of mattering to someone was intoxicating and Abby was sure that now she knew what it was like to feel like that, she was sure she couldn't live without it. She couldn't go back to her horrible father and nasty brothers. She just wanted Yuri to always look at her and continue to treat her like she was the most important person in his life.

"Good," Abby whispered taking the glass from Yuri and putting it on the table. She leaned forward and kissed Yuri on the lips. Yuri made a surprised noise in his throat as their lips touched. Abby deepened the kiss and she felt Yuri respond. She could tell by the way he kissed that he had never done this before. Somehow the knowledge that Yuri was a virgin as well was exciting. That meant that Wolfram had never taken Yuri to his bed. Or perhaps, Yuri had never wanted to be in bed with Wolfram?

"Abby, what are you doing?" Yuri blinked trying to get his alcohol fuddled brain to understand what was going on.

"I am kissing you, Your Majesty." Abby whispered against Yuri's lips and he shivered.

"O-oh…" Yuri licked his lips as Abby took off his sash and coat. "S-should you b-be d-doing that?" Yuri stammered as Abby gently ran her hands up Yuri's chest. Yuri gulped and squirmed as his body reacted the same way any boy's body would while being touched by a beautiful girl. Yuri blushed bright red as he started to breath heavily.

"Don't worry Yuri I will be gentle with you." Abby whispered against Yuri's ear feeling him tremble. The power she had over Yuri shocked her. She, who had never held any sway over anyone, had reduced the great Maoh to nothing. It felt amazing.

"Um, I'm not sure…" Yuri trailed off with a squeak as Abby gently pinched one of his nipples under his shirt. Abby smiled and stood up. Yuri blinked, his face red and breathing heavy, as she reached around behind her to unclasp her dress. It was difficult without a maid but Abby had chosen this dress because it was easy to take off. She knew several of the girls her age had noticed the dress' design and sniggered about it. But now look at her, she was about to make the Maoh hers and there was nothing they could do about it.

:-:

Conrad returned to the Hall slightly dazed with swollen lips and messed up hair. Josak was grinning broadly as he followed Conrad into the Hall. Cecile spotted her second son straight away and knew at once what the look on his face meant. She made a quick excuse to the young man she had been chatting with and hurried towards Conrad.

"So what have you been getting up to then?" Cecile cooed as she sorted out Conrad's wild hair. Conrad blushed while Josak's grin got even wider.

"Now mother don't fuss." Conrad sighed pushing his mother's hands away. Cecile giggled and hugged her son.

"Now don't be angry Conrad. I'm just glad you have finally found your man." Cecile winked at Josak who actually looked slightly embarrassed. "Maybe we will have a wedding in the family after all. Oh," Cecile put a hand over her mouth realising what she said. The smile vanished from her face and her eyes became sad.

"Mother," Conrad said softly as he took her hands in his and kissed them.

"I'm sorry Conrad, it just slipped out." Cecile sighed as stepped back from her son. "I just wanted my baby to be happy."

"We all wanted that mother." Conrad assured her softly. Cecile nodded looking on the verge of tears. Conrad glanced up at the throne expecting to see Yuri. Only Yuri wasn't there. Conrad quickly scanned the Hall using his height to his advantage. He couldn't see Yuri anywhere. Conrad frowned in concern. He hadn't seen Yuri in the hallway and he and Josak hadn't bee gone all that long.

"Who are you looking for?" Josak asked noticing Conrad's behaviour. Cecile looked up to see her son's worried expression.

"Where is Yuri?"

:-:

Yuri wondered if he was still in the Hall and had passed out in a drunken stupor. He watched with wide eyes as Abby shed her dress leaving her in only her underskirts and corset. Abby turned around and sat down between Yuri's legs making him squeak again.

"Would you untie my corset for me Yuri?" Abby purred. Yuri hiccupped slightly before reaching out with shaking fingers. He didn't know what was happening or what he should do. Should he go along with this or run away? Should he say no? Did he want to say no? Before Yuri could think too hard on the subject, Abby's corset was unpicked and Abby pulled it off. Now she was just in her underskirts which looked rather like a nightgown. Yuri had the bizarre mental picture of Wolfram wearing something similar before that train of thought was derailed by Abby's lips on his.

"W-wait I'm not sure about, err, this." Yuri pushed Abby back gently. Abby smiled at him in a way that made his heart beat so hard in his chest he feared it would jump right out. Abby reached up and pulled out her hair pins letting her shoulder-length blond curls fall around her face. It made her look ten years younger. Yuri couldn't remember how old she was but he knew it was somewhere in the 40s.

"Don't think My King, just feel." Abby whispered as she kissed him. Yuri couldn't fight back as she gently pushed him back against the bed. Yuri allowed himself to be moved into the middle of the bed with Abby straddling his hips. Abby took control of the situation as Yuri's motor functions were somewhat hampered by his intoxicated state. "You have been sad for so long. Let me make you feel good." Abby ran her fingers through Yuri's black locks and the last of his resistance crumbled. Yuri had never been in this situation before but his body seemed to know what it was doing as Abby stripped him before pulling her remaining clothes off. Yuri couldn't see much in the dim light so he ran his hands all over Abby's body, feeling the soft velvet of her skin under his fingers. Yuri sat up suddenly his arms pulling Abby in close. Abby shivered and moaned her back arching as Yuri nibbled her shoulder.

Abby's blond hair spilled over her shoulders in silken waves and Yuri could see the light from the single candle reflected in her blue eyes. Yuri traced the contours of her body smiling as she shivered again under his touch. A part of Yuri was screaming at him to stop this. He had to stop right now before this situation got out of control, before he did something he would regret. Yuri however, had been feeling lonely and depressed for weeks. Abby was right here and now, offering him her body and damn it all he wanted to take what she offered. So when Abby smiled and leaned down Yuri did nothing to stop her.

-:-

(Falken stud farm)

Wolfram woke to the sounds of bird signing cheerfully. He opened his eyes slowly and glanced around the room. He was lying on his side facing a wall on a narrow bed. The wall he was staring at was made of a dark coloured wood. Wolfram could see a beige carpet covering the wooden floor. For a second Wolfram didn't move. He stared at the wall his eyes wide before he sat up suddenly. Pain exploded across his shoulders and stomach. Wolfram gasped in pain and tears welled up in his eyes. He tried to hunch over his stomach but that caused fresh agony to tear across his back.

"Whoa, where do you think you are going?" A voice spoke up suddenly and Wolfram found himself being gently pushed back against the bed. "Now lie still you silly thing before you hurt yourself." The voice was gentle and soothing and Wolfram found himself relaxing. The hands on his shoulders were gentle but firm. Wolfram glanced up and was met by a pair of violet eyes. The boy smiled showing Wolfram white teeth. "Hey there sleeping beauty."

"Who are you?" Wolfram flinched. His voice was rough and painful. "Where am I?"

"Just a second, let me get you something to drink." The boy gave Wolfram a gentle smile before turning around. Wolfram glanced around the room taking everything in. The room was large, the bed situated in the middle of the room with a large wardrobe directly opposite. A large chest of drawers sat next to the bed with a large pitcher of water on top. A wooden chair sat next to the bed with an open book placed on the seat. An open window was set above the drawers through which sounds of birdsong filtered in as did soft warm sunlight. All the furniture was made out of the same coloured wood as the walls and was decorated with elegant swirls and carvings.

"Here, drink this, you will feel better." The boy turned back to Wolfram holding a glass of water. Wolfram sat up slowly flinching as new pains and aches made themselves known. He took the glass and drank eyeing this stranger before him. The boy was very handsome with thick, slightly curly light brown hair and a wide friendly smile. Wolfram grimaced as he drank, his throat felt raw.

"Who are you? Where am I?" Wolfram repeated his earlier questions once his throat felt a little better.

"My name is Casper Falken and you are at my father's stud farm." The boy, Casper, smiled and lifted the book off the chair and placed it on top of the drawers. He then sat down on the chair. "I'm really glad you are awake, you've been out of it for three weeks!"

"Three weeks?" Wolfram repeated slowly looking around the room.

"Yeah, I was really worried about you but our doctor said you were getting better. She is a great doctor, really knows her stuff, so I trust her but I was still worried you know?" Casper laughed and rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "So do you have any family we can contact? They must be worried sick about you by now."

"Family…." Wolfram trailed off as he began to tremble.

"Hey, are you ok?" Casper frowned, his face concerned as he gently placed a hand on Wolfram's shoulder. Wolfram turned his head to meet Casper's gaze his eyes wide in terror.

"I...I don't remember." Wolfram shook his head as he realised the reality of his situation. "I don't remember anything!"

"Ok, ok, don't panic on me now. Take a deep breath." Casper rubbed Wolfram's back in slow circles and Wolfram was surprised as how quickly the panic faded. "The doctor was worried this might happen. You took a very nasty blow to the head it may well have caused some memory loss."

"But I don't remember anything at all!" Wolfram reached up and felt a large lump on his head just behind his ear. It was still tender to the touch.

"Hopefully it is only temporary," Casper gave Wolfram's shoulder a squeeze, "Try not to concern yourself too much ok? I need to fetch the doctor to take a look at you. I will be right back." Wolfram nodded biting his lip. "Hey, I know you said you don't remember anything and all…but do you have any idea what your name is? Maybe we can start there?"

Wolfram frowned in concentration. What is my name? He knew that somewhere in his mind he knew the answer to Casper's question. Wolfram twisted the bed sheets in his hands in frustration. Why can't I remember anything?! It was frustrating and it made him angry to be so helpless.

"Hey now if you don't know the answer it doesn't matter." Casper gently untangled his fingers from their death grip on the bed sheets. "Don't punish yourself ok?" Wolfram looked up and for reason his heart skipped when he saw the gentle concern in Casper's eyes.

"Wolf," Wolfram breathed softy. Casper blinked in evident confusion.

"Sorry?"

"My name, I think it's Wolf, or something similar." Wolfram made a frustrated noise. "Why can't I remember?"

"You've been to hell and back Wolf; you are allowed some down time after that." Casper grinned. It was then Wolfram realised that Casper had yet to let go of his hands.

"What happened to me? Now that I mention it, why am I in so much pain?" Wolfram flinched as he leaned forward causing fresh pain to jump across his back.

"I will tell you everything I know I promise but first please just lie back and let the doctor look over you ok?" Casper released Wolfram's hand to gently push him to lie down again. Wolfram relented and allowed himself to be pushed back.

Casper gave him a grin before turning and walking out of the room. Wolfram watched him disappear out of the door before sitting up again. Wolfram sucked in a breath as his body protested violently at the movement. Wolfram finally managed to sit up but he was shaking all over and sweating. His body wanted to obey Casper's orders but his brain wanted to know what the hell was going on. I must be stubborn, Wolfram smiled as he swung his legs out of bed and onto the floor. The soft carpet tickled his feet and Wolfram wriggled his toes into the soft material for a moment before attempting to stand. Attempt was the apt word for this situation. As soon as Wolfram tried to shift his weight onto his legs pain exploded in his back and legs. Wolfram sat back with a barely stifled whimper of pain. Pain coursed around his system telling his stubborn streak that standing was a really bad idea right now.

Wolfram groaned in frustration but made no further attempt to stand. Someone had beaten the hell out of him and it seemed even three weeks, if Casper had been telling the truth, of sleep wasn't going to cure him. Wolfram lifted his legs back onto the bed and lay back against the pillows. For all he knew that Casper person was the one responsible for causing all this pain. Wolfram frowned as he pictured Casper's gentle smile in his mind's eye. There was no way anyone who smiled like that could be anything other than a decent person. Wolfram couldn't imagine him hurting anyone. But then again, never judge a book by its cover right? Wolfram heard the sounds of voices and footsteps coming closer. Wolfram braced himself for whoever may be coming.

:-:

"It would seem to me that your memory loss is the result of a conscience effort on your part to suppress all your memories of your past life." Wolfram stared at the doctor before him in shock. For the past half hour she had been examining all his various injuries while Casper recounted the events over the past few weeks from him finding Wolfram till their daring escape.

Wolfram found himself listening to the tale in astonished silence hardly noticing the doctor poking and prodding his wounds. The fact that Casper would risk his life to save his when they didn't even know each other made Wolfram feel rather strange. For some reason, the display of courage this boy had shown sparked something deep down in his soul that felt a lot like admiration. Wolfram wished he could remember his past life now more than ever.

"You mean he forgot everything on purpose?" Casper asked in surprise voicing the question in Wolfram's mind.

"Considering where you where being held, and the nature of your injuries, it is highly likely that you where being tortured for information. You may well have suppressed your memories in an attempt to protect the information that the bandits were trying to extract." The doctor tucked a lock of light brown hair behind her ear, her hazel eyes serious as they examined Wolfram from behind her glasses.

"But he's not being tortured anymore," Casper pointed out rather unhelpfully. "Why can't he remember anything now?"

"It is possible his mind retreated so far into itself and buried the information so deep it will take more than just 'wanting' the memories to surface for them to appear. You may never remember anything from your past," The doctor said gently.

"What?" Wolfram stared at the doctor in horror. The thought of never knowing who he was, never remembering anything about himself, was terrifying.

"It is possible a trigger of some kind could bring the memories back." The doctor said thoughtfully a light frown creasing her young features. "Unfortunately, without knowing anything about you it is impossible to know what sort of trigger would bring the memories back." There was a long silence as everyone digested that bit of information. "That blow to your head won't be helping matters but it seems to be healing nicely. In fact, all your injuries are healing quickly but I must insist that you remain in bed for another few weeks at least."

"I'll make sure he takes it easy." Casper smiled at Wolfram. Wolfram managed a watery smile in return but his mind was in turmoil. He was tortured for information so he buried the information his captors sort deep in his mind. So deep that even he couldn't remember it. He found it slightly difficult to believe that was even possible but what other explanation was there? He doubted people just forgot their whole lives.

Of course this presented a more pressing question. What was it the bandits wanted to know? What knowledge did he have that was so important people would go to any lengths to obtain it? A part of Wolfram didn't want to remember who he was. Maybe it would be better not to be burdened with such knowledge?

"Are you ok?" Wolfram was jolted out of his thoughts to see Casper sit down on the bed next to him. Wolfram noticed in surprise that the doctor had left the room at some point during his inner musings.

"Yeah I just, I wonder whether I should try to remember who I was or if it would be better to forget." Wolfram glanced down at his hands folded on his lap.

"Why would you think that?" Wolfram didn't raise his gaze but he heard the surprise in Casper's voice.

"Whatever I knew, it was information that drove people to do terrible things in order to get it. I don't know if I want that kind of knowledge." Wolfram admitted quietly still staring at his hands. There was a long pause before Casper spoke again.

"I don't know what those bandits wanted from you, and maybe you're right, maybe its better not to remember." Casper gently placed his fingers under Wolfram's chin and tilted his head up. Bright green met soft violet. "But I do know that a person's memories and experiences shape them, for good or bad, and those memories are precious. I don't believe for a moment that you don't want to know who you are."

"But what if I don't like what I find?" Wolfram whispered feeling oddly vulnerable. With no idea who he was or who he used to be, he was at the complete mercy of this young man. It wasn't a feeling he was comfortable with.

"You are who you are and no memory loss or denial will change that. I think it is better to know who you are and if you don't like the way you are, then you change." Casper smiled as he dropped his hand. "For the record, I very much doubt that you are a bad person."

"Why would you say that?" Wolfram was regaining some of his composure now. He sat upright and regarded Casper in a manner that could almost be called regal.

"Just a feeling," Casper answered cryptically. "Now you must be hungry." Casper bounced to his feet with a beaming smile. "Don't go anywhere I'll be right back with the most delicious food our resident chef can come up with." Casper turned and left the room leaving the room feeling suddenly emptier.

Wolfram sat back against the pillows and let the past events wash over him in quick succession. As he did so he came to two conclusions. Firstly, he could trust Casper. He didn't know why he felt that way but he did. There was something about Casper that made him feel comforted, safe even. He knew this could all be an elaborate set-up but there was something about the honesty in Casper's expression that discredited that idea. Secondly, he had to try to remember who he was. Casper was right; he wanted to know who he was. The more he thought about it the more he knew that just pretending his past didn't matter was foolish. What if he had a family? What if they had given him up for dead?

Wolfram closed his eyes and let a heavy sigh pass his lips. There was something he hadn't told Casper. Ever since he had woken up here he'd had a nagging feeling that he was forgetting something, or someone, important. For some reason this someone made conflicting feelings of fierce protectiveness and deep pain resonate inside him. Who are you? Why are you so important to me? Wolfram squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face in his hands but the image of the person's face refused to come to him. Assuming it was a person. All Wolfram knew that this person, whoever they were, used to be important to him and he had to remember them. He had to.

*End Chapter*

*Cough* Right a show of hands, how many of you want to kill Yuri right now? Yeah I thought so….that night is very important for the rest of the story though so it had to happen. I imagine Abby isn't likely to be a popular character.

Please review but due to some trolls rolling around I am now moderating guest reviews. So if you review (if you are a guest) won't show up unless I approve it first. I'm sorry but I don't want to have nasty spiteful homophobic comments on my stories by people not even brave enough to allow me to respond to them.

Next time: Wolfram regains his memories and returns to Shinmakoku. Yuri receives a shock and makes a proposal. Miscommunication and pain rip apart old loves and unite new ones.