Kaoru was leaning against the edge of the stone wall, feeling the warm summer breeze filter through the window. Below on the castle's grounds, several children played together, giggling and screaming. At his age of eight, Kaoru knew where he was wanted and where he wasn't; it wasn't fair and he didn't understand it, but he followed it nonetheless. He squinted and found his older brother in the throngs of the game, chasing after a girl around his age. Kaoru sighed and set his cheek down on the cool window sill but continued to watch.
Hikaru was his adopted brother, mother said. They were about the same age, but Hikaru was four months older, born in March. Kaoru knew Hikaru was more important than him and more loved than him; it was written on mother's face.
Behind him the sturdy wooden door was knocked open and Kaoru turned lazily to look towards it. "Kaoru, why aren't you doing your chores?" Mother asked entering the room.
Kaoru grimaced, staring out into the grounds. "Hikaru's not doing his," he whined, fussing at his sleeve.
"He did do his; this morning, in fact. Now he's just out with his friends."
"How come I don't get to go outside?" Kaoru asked suddenly, turning his green eyes onto his mother.
Her blue eyes were full of shock and she paused to rake her fingers through her stringy blonde hair. "You have friends inside," she began.
"Why can't I go outside?" Kaoru asked again with just as much force.
Nozomi's face fell brokenly and she crossed the room to her son. She kneeled down before him. "Oh Kaoru, it isn't safe for you out there," she murmured to him and she placed a kiss to his dusty brown hair. "I just want to keep you safe." She draped her arms around him protectively, pressing the soft satin of her dress to his cheeks. Briefly, Kaoru closed his eyes, losing himself in the feeling.
Eventually, she pulled back. "Someday I will tell you why, but for now can you trust me?" she asked, holding his shoulders.
"I don't know," he said sadly, still feeling the hollow ache of loneliness down in his stomach.
"Tell you what," Nozomi said, moving her fingers to her neck and unclasped the necklace there. She brought it forward and held it out for him to see. It was a long, woven, black chord and at the end held a stone shining a brilliant red as a ruby. "This," she said, "is a charm to keep you safe from harm."
"Is it a real ruby?" Kaoru asked, peering at it in wonder.
"No, but it is an enchanted crystal. It will be our little secret," she said, pressing a finger to her lips. And then she set the necklace into her little boy's hands and he clutched the treasure to her chest. To Kaoru, it was the most precious thing he had ever owned. To Nozomi, it was a charm to hide Kaoru's black magic.
"Thank you," Kaoru exclaimed in a rush of happiness and he flung his arms around his mother in his excitement. Nozomi's chest glowed with affection; it wasn't often that Kaoru showed such happiness.
She giggled and then swatted her child across his head. "Alright, stop procrastinating. Go do your chores. The prince was looking for you earlier, so you have to get your things done if you want to go play with him."
"Yes, ma'am," he saluted and then strung the necklace over his head and tucked it into his shirt just as he ran out of the room to chores.
An hour later found him scrubbing the stone floors of a well-used hallway. His fingers were stinging from the chemicals and his skin was wrinkled from the water, and he worked his muscles ruthlessly into scrubbing, trying to get done as fast as he could.
"Well look who it is." Kaoru looked up to find Tamaki, the little prince, prancing up his freshly washed hall. The nine-year-old stopped just next to Kaoru, careful not to step in the water pooling by Kaoru's knees. Kaoru glanced at him with distaste. "You just tramped through my clean floors," Kaoru replied with snap.
"That's not how you talk to your prince," Tamaki joked. Really, Tamaki was a good friend and treated Kaoru, a servant hand, as his equal, but Kaoru couldn't help but resent the young prince on occasion.
"Come to taunt me, have you?" Kaoru asked, continuing in his work and keeping his eyes down.
"Boy, we are in an ugly mood, aren't we?" Tamaki retorted, scraping his shoe across the wet floor. "Come on Kaoru, let's go play. I'm bored."
Kaoru sighed and sat back on his knees. "Why don't you play with my brother?" Kaoru asked, wiping his wet hands off on his pants.
"He's outside," Tamaki said glumly.
Understanding completely, Kaoru glanced up at Tamaki and they exchanged a pained look. Neither boy was allowed outside. "I have to finish this."
"I'll tell them I commanded you to play with me."
Kaoru cracked a grin and stood, abandoning his bucket of soapy water. "Thanks Tamaki," he laughed. The two ran off to find a new place to play.
Tamaki and Kaoru raced about the castle, playing one of their usual games. They called it 'Invisible,' where they tried to avoid everyone and stay hidden as they tried to get from one side of the castle to another. Kaoru was standing just behind Tamaki as they hid behind a decorative suit of armor in the passageway. "Okay," Tamaki whispered, "The coast is clear."
The two boys hurtled from their hiding spot and they sprinted down the hall towards the end of the hallway. But suddenly, against the wall, Tamaki noticed a silhouette against the torch light on the far wall. "Retreat!" Tamaki called turning and running away. The two laughed as they ran.
"Sounds like they are playing their game again," they heard the King laugh from behind them.
"Let's split up to divert the enemy!" Tamaki called his second command.
Dutifully, Kaoru veered off into a turn in the passageway while Tamaki continued to run straight. He giggled to himself as he ran down the dark, rarely used passageway. It was an area reserved for high class guests, but they haven't had any recently. Kaoru ran until he hid behind a pedestal holding an expensive vase and crouched low to wait.
But only moments after, Kaoru froze as he heard the faint creak of a door opening behind him. Turning his head, he readied himself to scream, but a hand shot out and grasped him by the mouth, muffling any noise Kaoru tried to make. "Shut it," a rough voice spat and then the stranger pulled Kaoru into one of the empty chambers and closed the door behind them.
As soon as the hand released him, Kaoru backed further into chamber, and his fingers clutched at the necklace he'd gotten earlier that day. "I found you at last, prince," the figure hissed from beneath its black robes. It was long and covered his face in shadows.
Kaoru shook his head. "I'm not a prince."
"But you could be, should be, if you just come with me," he beckoned enticingly.
"Who are you?" Kaoru asked in a hardened voice.
"Daichi," he said simply, "and I can teach you magic. I can teach you to be better than anyone in this castle; you will be able to go outside; you will be powerful."
Kaoru wrapped his arms around himself. "Magic's forbidden."
"Only because the old queen says so."
Kaoru frowned at Daichi's darkened figure. "No, I don't think so," Kaoru denied, taking another step back.
"Maybe you will change your mind if I show you," he said, flashing a smile under the hood. He approached Kaoru, who backed up in panic. Kaoru cried out as Daichi snatched him up by the wrist, and held him place. "Hold still," he growled, and Kaoru immediately stilled in complete terror.
Daichi pried Kaoru's arm stiffly away from his body and uncurled his hand. "Hold your arm still," he commanded, letting go but still holding onto his shoulder. Kaoru did what he said, confused.
Suddenly Daichi snapped his fingers, creating the most bizarre sight Kaoru had ever seen. A fire had sparked in his hand, burning above and not touching his hand and it was burning an odd color: black and green. Forgetting his fear, Kaoru gasped, "How did you do that?"
Daichi moved the flame towards Kaoru. He snatched his hand away, terrified again. "Relax," the stranger said, wrenching Kaoru's hand back up. And then, before Kaoru could react, Daichi was putting the flame in his hand and it stayed! It didn't hurt or touch his skin; it just crackled in his hands.
"Wow," Kaoru whispered, suddenly invigorated as he watched it burn.
"You can hold it because you have magic in you," Daichi said, grabbing Kaoru's attention. "You could learn how to do this too."
Kaoru turned his eyes back on the fire, frowning. "But I'm just… normal."
"No, you are better than normal, and it is a miracle I found you before you put on that necklace," he said, gesturing to Kaoru's neck.
Immediately Kaoru dropped the fire, which disappeared in thin air, and held onto his necklace protectively. "What are you talking about?"
Daichi sighed. "It is obvious you won't go with me now but just remember… if you ever want to escape this place, if you want to learn magic," he paused to flick another flame into his own hand again. "All you have you to do is take off that necklace and I'll find you, and we'll go far away. Do you think you can remember that?"
Kaoru looked down, kicking his shoes together. He thought about his friend Tamaki, and his adoptive brother Hikaru, who wasn't all bad. And he thought about his adoptive mother and what she did for him. "No, I don't think…" he trailed off, looking around. Daichi was gone.