Shooting Star

Act 5: Brave New World





Riou could hardly remember when the party had ended or the walk that took the two back to their rooms. But by the time the adrenaline wore out, he found himself bidding the Queen a good night, and was just making his way to his sister's room. And before he knew it, he had collapsed beside the form of his sister. It must have surprised her, and he thought he heard her protest. But all his energy was drained and he could not speak. Not that he really needed to, for soon Riou felt familiar arms pull him close and held him as if protecting him. It was nice. But despite the comforting feeling, Riou drifted off into a troubled sleep.

The young leader dreamed of terrible things. He saw horrible events replay themselves and he being unable to stop them. It was always like this. And always he would wake with a start, cheeks stained by tears, the sadness heavy in his heart.

Jowy had once again invaded his dreams, showing him that the nightmares were very real.

Riou sat in the dark room allowing the remnants of the terrible dream to fade. But when they would not leave him as fast as he would of liked he rose from the bed heart set on a place where he could think like he always did. He looked upon his sister lovingly before drawing the covers over her shoulder and silently leaving.

Outside the room a blinding light that could match the radiance of the Bright shield greeted him, and it took him a moment to adjust to the first rays of the sun.

"Morning already?" Riou wondered raising his hands to shield his eyes. Usually his nightmares would cause him to wake before the sun, but weather the sun rose with or with out him, Riou was still intent upon greeting the day. He walked out to the hall and climbed the stairs to the highest steeple, quietly passing the dosing guards. If he had been anyone else but himself, he would of done something not very nice. But he was content in letting Shu deal with such matters.

Riou reached the top of the stairs and pushed open the ceiling door.

This was his favorite place to retreat to, offering privacy (aside from the great griffin Feather) and a sort of sanctuary for him and his thoughts. The crisp morning air soon began to clear his mind, and renew his strength His brown fringe parted as the breeze caressed his cheeks.

"Good Morning Feather." Riou greeted. The griffin kyooned in response. Unbeknownst to everyone in the castle and even to his stars, Riou understood the griffin thanks to the listening crystal that hung by a leather cord around his neck. It allowed him the ability to understand and speak with Feather. And not only Feather, but also any other animal should he desire it. But he kept this secret to himself. It was a novelty for him.

He continued to walk out on to the rooftop of the towers in perfect balance. At the edge he sat facing the sun allowing his legs to dangle perilously over the roof's end.

"I see you come here a lot too."

Riou nearly fell startled by the voice from behind. He turned quickly to find Tir Mcdohl standing a few feet behind. The strong breeze tousled his raven hair and played with his bandanna's tails.

"Ah, Tir," Riou said a little flatly then he would of liked. "Good morning to you. You disappeared shortly after our return to the castle."

"I came here to think a few things out last night."

Twin hazel gazes met then, one wiser than the other but the other boasting of something more.

Riou looked away.

"Yeah? Well you missed a great party last night." Riou said. Tir moved and took a seat next to Riou.

"Perhaps, but I could see it from up here. And the whole caste will be buzzing with the latest news." Tir said nonchalantly.

"What news?" Riou's gaze flickered back to Tir genuinely curious. The dark haired youth shrugged, eyes never leaving the distant horizon and sky.

"Well Nanami went around spouting about how you had yourself a little girlfriend. And with your appearance last night it just confirmed her gossip."

By now Riou's eyes had widened to the size of dinner plates, unable to believe what he had just heard.

How could he of been so careless?

Tir was now turned to him, his expression a little amused. A thin smile tugged at his lips. Riou had a hard time phrasing a response as he was still trying to soak in the latest bit of information.

"I-it's, it's not like that. She's not my girlfriend." Riou tried to defend himself lamely. Why did he have such a hard time speaking? Jillia was just a friend that's all right? So why was he so flustered about all this?

"You're blushing." Tir said ever so calmly.

"Shut up!" Riou cried out turning away.

*Oh, that was so mature Riou, what a great come back. *

He was ready to die of embarrassment, for he could not understand why he was stuttering like a fool and it frustrated him really.

"So you really like her huh? You really do like Jillia?"

And Riou, ever so distracted by his last comment, was quick to defend himself without thinking.

"I don't like Jillia like that. She's just a friend." At that point he wished he would just die right there. "I mean Rosa, ROSA."

Tir held up a hand to silence Riou. "Save it Riou, I already know anyway. I figured it out last night, while watching you two."

Riou was silent, eagerly allowing Tir to continue.

"And Camus of all people never forgets a pretty face such as hers. Of course, it being the nighttime, he did begin to doubt his assumptions. But I didn't, and what I don't get is why she's here, what are you trying to do Riou?"

"I'm just trying to help her." Riou retorted stiffly, his hands clenched tightly upon his lap. "I brought her here because she asked me to."

"You can't do that Riou, you know that no matter how good your intentions may be, no good will come of this." Tir argued. "You're already involved with a war, you can't get involved with anything or anyone else." Riou's head shot up then and he turned to Tir astonished.

"What? I'm not getting involved with her! Why does everyone assume that I'm in love with her or something! She's married to my best friend! Or are you trying to tell me I'm trying to take her from Jowy to get back at him!"

Tir held the young leader's shoulders firmly with both hands. "Riou, calm down, I know you're too good of a person to even think about anything like that. That's what I don't get. What are you doing?"

Riou saw the sincerity in Tir's eyes, and knew he was speaking the truth. He shook off Tir's hands from his shoulder and resumed his watch over Dunan Lake. Its placid waters calmed him even more and allowed him a clarity to think.

"You wouldn't understand." He said in a lowered voice. Tir smirked following his gaze to the lake.

"Try me."

The boy sighed and figured he should. Besides, Tir of all people had a special and unique understanding with him. And so Riou started from the very beginning where he first ran into the Queen and all proceedings after that point. Tir listened intently as Riou spoke, nodding slightly every now and then, but never speaking a word.

"And that's why she's here." Riou finished finally, and Tir eased back as he took in all this new information.

"Well that's quite a dilemma. It must be so important to her that she would want to start such a quest right now." Tir thought aloud. Riou looked to him gauging his reaction. But as always Tir kept his calm demeanor and it was really hard to tell what he thought.

"So you understand right? I'm not wrong in what I'm doing right?" Riou prodded.

Tir straightened to sit upright and turn towards the younger leader. "I see your compassion for Queen Jillia, but either or, you have got to stay away from her."

Riou drew back unable to comprehend what he had just heard. "Wh-what?! But why Tir? I said I was going to help her and.."

"And you won't if you're with her." Tir finished. Twin gazes locked again. "Look Riou, It's already bad enough that you've risked bringing her here, but you further endanger her if you hang around her too much. Look at all the rumors going around already, sooner or later some one is going to find out, and then the whole castle will know. Then what? People's loyalty will sway and suspicions will arise, their leader with the enemy queen? The liberation army will fall apart, and then you have Highland coming in to attack us."

Riou lowered his gaze shamefully. "And as our army is right now, we couldn't stand an attack from Highland in full force, we'd have no chance."

"And you'd lose so much.." Tir added softly as he could see the pain in the young leader's eyes. He knew Riou understood fully the extent of his actions. But to his surprise he saw the pain fade quickly to be replaced by something of determination.

"No..No I won't let that happen." Riou said he looked to Tir again. "I'm going to protect Jillia at all costs. I'm the one that brought her here and I'm going to make sure she returns safe."

Tir sighed as he leaned back again. He knew Riou's determination, and he also knew that it would be pointless to argue now. Riou had made up his mind. "Okay, okay. Do what ever you think is right, I can't stop you if you're following your heart. But I still think if you're going to help her, you're going to need to step back and let her do this by herself."

Riou raised a brow not understanding. "What are you saying?"

Tir smiled a little smile before climbing to his feet. Facing the shores of Dunan Lake he continued.

"We learn through experience and experiencing and no one can really teach anyone anything." Tir elaborated. " If the environment permits it, Jillia can learn whatever she chooses to learn; and if Jillia permits it, the environment will teach everything it has to teach."

Riou watched Tir Mcdohl as he turned the information around in his mind. Yes he did have a point. And the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. Finally, an amused smile broke upon his lips as well.

"Master Mcdohl you are truly wise beyond your years."

The raven-haired youth chuckled at all the praise. " Actually, that's what Master Kai told me when I used to train under him." Tir admitted "He taught me for a couple of years, and then disappeared. So I had to continue my training on my own."

"And I heard you were very good." Riou said, and at this, a there was a dangerous glimmer in Tir's eyes.

"Yeah, and I had heard the same of you also. You were trained under Master Genkaku a hero of the city-states."

"Former hero.." Riou corrected, already beginning to see where the conversation was leading.

Tir held out a hand and helped the other up. "So, you feel like a quick round? It's been awhile since I've had a real sparring partner you know."

The younger leader smirked as he dusted himself off, "If that was a challenge then you're on. It'd be an honor to cross weapons with you."

Tir laughed clapping Riou upon the back heartily. It had been awhile since Riou had heard Tir laugh. But something clicked over in his mind and he held up a hand.

"Actually, I'll meet you in the dojo, I've got a few things to take care of it's nothing really." Riou explained.

"Don't go backing out on me." Tir warned playfully."

"Wouldn't miss this match for anything." Riou replied as he turned and started off.

"Riou."

At his name the younger boy stopped and looked behind. "Yeah?" Tir stood at the edge of the roof, his form silhouetted by the rising sun from behind.

"I ran into an old friend of yours, he told me to relay something to you." Tir said.

The boy turned attentive. "An.an old friend? What did he say?" Riou asked.

"He misses you, very much." Tir said simply before turning away.

Riou stood frozen in place, unable to move. As cryptic as the message was, Riou already knew whom it had come from, he didn't need Tir to explain. But when did he.?

"Tir..Tell me, is he..well?" Riou asked his voice quivered slightly.

The youth did not turn but replied a simple 'yes.' And Riou knew he would not get anymore out of him. And as simple as the message was, it began to fill Riou with more hope adding fuel to the fire that burned deep with in.

"Thank you, Tir. Thank you very much." Riou said before continuing on his way.

Tir stood and waited till the footsteps faded to nothing. Cocking his head to one side he allowed the cool breeze caress his face and play with his bandanna's tattered and torn tails. His eyes grew remote and distant as they began to see distant things, things that no one else could or would see. And a distant smiling face, far beyond his reach. Once or twice in his contemplative silence he thought he heard the soft echoes of laughter riding on the distant winds.

He could have imagined it, but he knew he didn't.

Tir drew in a deep breath, before saying in a soft voice "You're welcome."







Jillia woke when the rays of the morning sun peeked in through the partly drawn curtains. Like fingers, the light caressed her delicate features rousing her from the land of dreams. Rising slowly she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. For some strange reason she felt refreshed, her heart was considerably lighter as if the heavy burdens had fallen away, gone like those of a horrible dream.everything.

That was when she became fully aware of her surroundings. Instead of marble walls, rich decorations and royal furniture that she was used to waking to every morning she was met with an entirely different scene. Simple and yet elegant furniture sat about, Windows were open ever so slightly to allow the cool summer breeze in. Everything came back to her then in a vivid flash of memories so stunningly clear.

"The escape, coming here, and last night." She said softly. The last thought lingered with in her mind and she drew the covers back and slipped out of bed. Jillia followed the soft breeze to the window and drew the curtains back all the way, allowing the sunlight to spill in and fill the room with the warmth of it's light. And with it, that wonderful feeling that she could never describe with words returned. Looking out, she spied upon the people far below who were getting ready to start the day. The world seemed as if it were just waking up, and she was intent upon greeting this brave new world.

But where was Lord Riou? When the thought finally hit her, she looked around as if expecting to find him in the room. Where was he? Jillia thought back to last night, but found she could only remember it in the smallest details.

"After the dance, we had something to eat and.he walked me here." She looked to the door and found a small night stand that hadn't been there before. Upon it were two trays. One was a small washing bowl with a towel, and the other was full of fruits and delicious looking pastries.

Evidently left by the servants. Or was it Riou? She couldn't tell. But never the less these were left here and she might as well make use of them.

She washed her face and began to freshen up for the day, she ate of the food that was there and savored the sweet bread. All the while Jillia wondered if she should wait for Riou.

Or maybe he was waiting for her?

Jillia didn't know and sat upon the bed running her fingers through her long black hair. She became restless as the minuets passed. Sounds of the castle awakening floated in through the windows beckoning her. Jillia's yearning grew and her heart beated faster. Till at last she could not take it anymore.

"Well I can't wait here forever. Perhaps I should go and meet him." At least, by doing so she could explore the castle and find the Leader. With that decided Jillia left the room without another thought.

With or without Riou, Jillia was going to explore her new surroundings, so intent was she upon following her heart.



***

Remnants of last night's bon fire was being cleaned up, and people walked to and fro, picking up, tossing away, and sweeping the mess. Jillia had mingled a little but mostly kept everything to small talk, as she was cautious that she might be recognized. Though all she could really do was change her hair style (by putting up in a loose braid, allowing a few black locks to frame her face.) she decided not to be so common in one place. And with her constant wandering she would be able to find out more about Riou's whereabouts. She had checked out Nanami's and Pilika's room, only to find out from Nanami that he was gone and probably wandering about.

"That kid always has a lot on his mind, and sometimes he just needs to be by himself to sort things out."

And so, Jillia quested her self with the task of finding him, feeling that his unique understanding would aid her in her own personal journey. But what would she say when she found him? Jillia wondered if it was really something that you share with someone. After all there are some paths that had to be taken alone she knew.

"But am I ready for this?" She asked herself quietly.

Really Jillia, you thought you'd of asked that question before Riou took you here. In accepting his help, you accepted the challenge. You have to be ready for this.

Her mind answered her, and she knew it to be right, for her heart greatly supported the fact.

"I have to be ready for this, I AM ready for this." Jillia said with firm resolve.

"Ready milady? Ready for what?"

Jillia gasped startled out of her own thoughts. She realized that she had been lost in her own thoughts and wandered into a wooded area. This was a unique part of the castle, as it seemed to have patches of small forests growing in every corner and place. Farther up she could see the front gates of the castle. Beneath one of the trees was seated a young man with deep red hair and mahogany eyes. The bow and arrows at his side immediately told Jillia that he was an archer. But unlike many of the archers she had seen, this one was not like the normal enlisted archers. The air about his person was confidant and yet humbled in a way. His eyes were kind and gentle, and Jillia had a feeling that she had seen him some where before, but she couldn't quite place the face.

"Oh, I was just talking to myself, I didn't know there was anyone near by to hear me." Jillia said somewhat embarrassed. The archer smiled understanding and replied;

"Sorry, I should of said something sooner but you looked so preoccupied at the time."

Jillia stood, eyes examining the archer as he spoke and she suddenly recognized him as the archer from before.

"You are.Kinnison I believe?" She said only faintly recalling from the events before. The archer, blinked surprised before smiling once again.

"Why yes, that is me. How do you know my name? Have we met before?"

"Yes of course, don't you remember I.." At that point the sentence died in her throat. She had met him before, but he knew her as the undercover agent Gentaro. Of course, Jillia couldn't tell him that. "I, I umm, well you see, I heard of your exploits to the Highland palace with Lord Riou. The whole castle is nothing but talk of that." She quickly said. Kinnison seemed to buy it though, and why not? It was true. Wives and soldiers alike spoke of the botched mission rather highly. And once again Riou proved himself to be a truly worthy leader, inspiring to all. More stories to add onto his legacy, and fuel for the ever-growing rumors and tales.

"Ah, I see," Now it was Kinnison's turn to blush. "It's not all that they say it is."

Jillia made her way over and sat beside him,

"Please do tell." She said even though she knew the whole thing. Jillia thought it would be very interesting to hear what the guardian star thought. Kinnison was only too happy to have a bit of companionship and he began to re tell the tale, but he wasn't too far into the story when a rather large white dog (or at least Jillia thought it was a dog) approached. As it neared, features of the wolf became present. The only tale tell sign that it was tame was the blue wrist band around it's front left leg.

"Ah Shiro, there you are boy!" Kinnison greeted the animal. "Where have you been? Out with Yoshino and the children again?" The wolf grinned a huge grin in response tougne hanging out.

Jillia was amazed at the sight, for she had never been so close to a wild animal before. It was then Shiro looked to her. Timidly she held out a hand and the wolf touched it with his cold wet nose sniffing inquisitive.

"He Belongs to you I am guessing?" Jillia asked.

"Yes, Shiro is my hunting partner and best friend." Kinnison said fondly. It was clear in his voice of the friendship kinnison shared with the wolf. Shiro upon hearing his name turned to look at his master silently, but it seemed Kinnison understood the look all too well, and read what was not spoken in words.

"Yes Shiro, she is new around here. I've never seen her before either." He looked back to Jillia, then; "I'm sorry I've been so rude, you know my name but I don' t know yours."

"It's.." Jillia paused again remembering to be cautious. "Please call me Rosa."

"Rosa? That's a lovely name." Kinnison said.

Rosa, the names that Riou had given her to further hide her identity. How ironic, Jillia mused to herself. She was here on a self-discovery, yet here she was hiding her real identity. She really did not like to lie, and especially to one of his nature. But it was necessary. How much she wanted to reveal to him everything, but no good could come of that. And some secrets must be kept.

Jillia and Kinnison spoke a little more about the events of yesterday (and because she was there) the conversation taking twists and interesting turns. Shiro had settled down almost between the two as if content in listening in on the story, and of course was able to get his ears scratched by two people.

".So after the war me and Shiro here plan to head back to our woods."

"Shiro goes everywhere with you doesn't he?" Jillia asked petting the animal. Kinnison nodded.

"Yes. Shiro is a great hunting partner, he can track anything."

"Really?" Jillia asked and a thought came to her then. "Can he find people?"

Kinnison raised a brow. "People? Well yes he can do that too, we sometimes have to locate lost kids and bandits out in our forests. Why?"

Jillia got up then and dusted herself off. "Well I've been looking for Lord Riou, but I can't seem to find him."

"He's a hard one to find when he doesn't want to be found," Said the archer simply.

"Yes I see that, but there is something that I need to speak with him about."

At this comment she noticed a change of expression upon the archer's face. A mixture of suspicion and uncertainty played upon kinnison's face, his eyes watching her as if taking in every detail of her.

"What? Why are you looking at me like that?" Jillia asked a little unnerved.

"I see.so it is true." The archer said softly more to himself than to Jillia. But when Jillia asked to know what he meant, that of a smile replaced the expression. "It's nothing Rosa, I was just thinking to myself." It was a bad cover up, and both Kinnison and Jillia knew it. But before she could press the topic further, Kinnison quickly turned to his wolf friend. "Here, you can use Shiro, he knows Riou's scent and he'll be able to lead you to him in no time!"

As much as Jillia wanted to know, she really did want to move on and find Riou. Even though she enjoyed exploring and speaking with the townsfolk, time was not something on her side, and she knew too soon, she would have to leave. And if she didn't get the answers she seeked now, she may never get them at all. Jillia bid Kinnison farewell (this accompanied with uncertain looks) and with the great white Shiro by her side she continued on her way.

But finding Riou proved to be a great goose chase, as Shiro picked up his scent and kept his nose close to the ground. Where ever he went Jillia followed closely behind. First Shiro led her through the marketing district of the castle, it seems he had visited several shops there dropping off items and picking up runes and such. Jeane the current rune master pointed the two in the direction of the hot baths, but from there, Shiro picked up the scent again and led her to the restaurant. Camus whom Jillia remembered from earlier said that Riou had stopped by for something to eat and had talked with him about 'Certain things'. Upon stressing the words, Jillia was given almost the same identical look she had received from Kinnison. But like the archer, the Knight did not explain.

"You should check the theater, I do believe he was headed in that direction. Perhaps you will find him there."

With Shiro in the lead, Jillia headed to the theater. She found the place remotely crowded, and just barely managed to follow Shiro behind the stage. There she found a dancer by the name of Karen.

"Lord Riou?" The dancer cocked her head to one side thoughtfully. "I did see him in the crowds during my last performance.."

"Yes, he was here." Another girl with short brown hair approached. She introduced herself as Anal lee "Lord Riou had come to listen to one of our new songs, he was so kind to stop by. But I'm not sure where he went, perhaps to the garden, or maybe to see Lady Yoshino out back."

And so, the search continued, Shiro seemed to be leading her all over the castle, and every place they stopped a guardian star was there to help with the search, pointing them in the direction of where Riou had gone. From the gardens to docks, and from docks to bars, it seemed that Riou was really on the move. Every where she went she was met with many people, with many stories to tell of Riou, and more often than not, she was met with the same mysterious all-knowing look. She was getting rather tired of it actually. Finally, Shiro led her out into the great hall, at the very center where a stone tablet stood guarded by a young boy. The youth patted the white wolf upon head before turning to look at Jillia with a somewhat of an annoyed look.

"Don't tell me, I know what you want." He said stiffly. "But Lord Riou isn't here, he's gone to the soldier's barracks, now go away." The stone guardian turned his head away as if the mere sight of Jillia annoyed him. A short 'thank you' and she was all too happy to leave, the attitude was just too much for her. And she had a feeling that if she hadn't been brought up so lady like, she would have called the boy a not-so-nice name.

At this point, Jillia was beginning to wonder if she would ever find Riou. Had it not been for Shiro, she probably wouldn't have gotten this far. Why it was already evening!

The soldier's barracks were not as crowded as she first thought it would be, and she found an amazing assortment of knights, both blue and red, mercenaries, jowston soldiers, and even ninjas. She asked around a bit more before she ran into a young boy carrying a white baby dragon.

Lord Riou has even the dragon knights on his side? She thought amazed.

The boy, who introduced himself as Futch, seemed to examine her, looking at her up and down. And low and behold, there was that look again, only it seemed that what ever thought that went through his head made him cringe in childish distaste.

"Yeah, I've seen Lord Riou, he came by to see how Bright was doing." Futch glanced at the little dragon in his arms. It was squirming about trying to swat at Shiro's nose with its tail. He sighed in dismay as he tried to calm it down. "Anyway, if you're looking for him, he left about ten minuets ago with that karate girl Wakaba, I think they went to the dojo. I had seen Master Mcdohl there earlier, maybe they're training or something. Follow me, I'll take you there."

The former dragon knight having nothing better to do, escorted Jillia to the training dojo. Upon entering the dojo, the sound of striking wood could be heard. The song rose and dove in pitch and volume at variable speeds the tempo often fluctuating at different rates. Battle cries filled the room and echoed off the walls, mixed with the cheers of spectators, gathered there.

Jillia and Futched forcibly made their way to through to where they could see the spectacle and there in the center of the floor stood Tir Mcdohl and Riou Genkaku. The two were breathing heavily and a light sheen of sweat covered their faces. In glaring silence, the two circled each other watching and waiting before they charged in with a fury of strikes and blows. The two youths crossed weapons with each other in a vivid lively display of skill. Each showed a finesse that was unbecoming for their young age as blows were traded, parried and dodged with amazing ease and grace.

Amazed and awed by the match Jillia continued to watch absorbed. She had never seen Riou fight before, but had a pretty good idea that he was very skilled, but seeing him fight now, it was nowhere near to the degree she'd always thought it to be. As Jillia watched she began to realize that din of the fight was not as heavy as she'd observed back home in Highland. Once in a while she would catch the guards sparring with each other in fields, or she would catch General Seed giving a period of instruction to a group in the courtyard. But this fight, though competitive (boys will be boys she figured), had a certain playfulness, though the looks on both Tir's and Riou's faces said other wise.

When the exchanges ended, the two combatants found each other eye-to-eye, staff and tonfas locked between them each striving to gain the upper hand. Then with the grace and poise of a feline, Tir launched himself backwards using the momentum of his opponent's force, landing a few feet back. Riou quickly followed through and launched into another storm of attacks. But surprisingly Tir began to doge and block the hail of attacks with skill and grace. Tir seemed hard pressed at first but skillfully began to maneuver his staff and when one of the strikes did not land, he leapt back a distance once again this time swinging his staff in a wide arch catching Riou off guard. But before the young leader could recover Tir once again swung the staff upward, totally breaking Riou's defensive barrier. The staff began to spin as Tir returned the volley of blows, with Riou desperately trying to block each one, but in the end, the end of the staff caught Riou in several places. And with one concise blow, Tir disarmed Riou of one of his tonfas. Already weakened and with one tonfa, Riou simply could not react quickly enough as Tir dropped low and swept his feet out from under him. With a heavy thud, Riou hit the floor, and the whole dojo was filled with cheering.



"That was quite the match Riou." Jillia said as they walked down the castle's corridors. Night had fallen and the halls had already been lit with torches and warmed by one of the many fire places built for the drafty old halls.

Riou wiped his brow with a hand, a trace of sweat still evident. "I can always expect Tir to keep me on my toes."

Jillia giggled softly. "I thought you had him there for a second."

"Yeah so did I. I thought perhaps my training with Jowy would give me the one up on Tir." Riou trailed off and his eyes wandered to the windows then. "But his fighting style is far different than Jowy's" He said almost sadly.

"So that's why you lost, you weren't seeing Tir for who he was, you were being distracted." Jillia said.

"Yeah.In skill the two are nearly matched. But I think Jowy was better because he had a certain grace, and I remember watching him practice for hours on end. He never thought he was that great at it, but.I thought he was one of the world's best.." The memories were coming back to him now, and Jillia could see it in his eyes. She had always wondered if something so beautiful could really bring so much sadness and pain.

When Riou realized she was looking at him he managed a forced smile. "You know you should see it yourself, then you'd agree. If Jowy keeps at it, he'll be the best, and then we could." But Riou cut himself off finding as if he could not go on. Jillia could swear she heard the boy's heart breaking anew. She just couldn't stand to see the pain in his face. So she smiled taking a hold of one of his hands with her own ."And here I thought you lost because your movements were a little rigid."

"Rigid me?" Riou asked, his head jerking up incredulously. Jillia nodded laughing.

"Yes, when I watched you two fight, it almost looked like a dance."

"But Jillia I know how to dance, if that's what you're saying.."

"Of course you do, just not the way Lord Jowy or Master Mcdohl do." Jillia said playfully teasing the young leader. "Did it ever occur to you? Jowy's fine and graceful movements or Master Mcdohl's smooth and fluent maneuvers are all aspects to their noble heritage? Why, hasn't anybody told you about ball room dancing?"

"B,ball room dancing? Tir? Jowy?!" Riou didn't have to picture it in his mind before he began to double over in fits of laughter. It was just so unheard. And just when he thought he was ready to stop, the image of a very refined and strict Jowy and Tir popped into his mind causing him to laugh till he cried.

Jillia smiled fondly upon the boy. Truly, hearing his laughter was like music, and so inviting was it that the young queen could not help but join in. And unbeknownst to Jillia and Riou, were being carefully watched. Tir who had excused himself earlier to the bathhouse shortly after the fight had been following the pair. He was watching the two behind the bend in the hall, arms crossed gingerly over his chest. As Riou and Jillia continued to walk down the corridor, Tir closed his eyes and shook his head disapprovingly.

"Oh Riou, what are you doing? Don't you understand, she's taking your heart and you don't even seem to care." Pushing himself off the wall he continued to trail the pair.





Upcoming Chapter: Prelude to a Kiss