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The Tale of Psyche and Eros Redux

Chapter Text

Act 1


~.*.~


Ä tlenthea was a land very much like our world. Unlike our world however, it was a land of mythical beasts and fantastical beings; of daemons and gods; of queens and kings of old. And it is here, in the city of Thessalonikk, our story begins.


Francis Bonnefoy was a beautiful man, and a very talented one at that. With velvety locks as golden as the sun, and blue eyes rimmed with long lashes, he enthralls the audience either with his melodious singing or with his heart-moving performances in the Arena; a celebrity with throngs of swooning admirers and many a statue erected in tribute to his beauty. He was Venus as a man.


“Ah, listen to them, Herakles. The name of Francis Bonnefoy rolls easily from their lips, sweet like honey and rich like wine.”


He sighed proudly, flicking those golden locks with manicured fingers. “They absolutely adore me.”


His companion turned to regard Francis, his expression contemplative, a faraway look in his teal-coloured eyes. Cats of every sort clustered around him, nuzzling and purring like tiny engines.



“I suppose they do.” Herakles said. A calico had climbed onto his lap, and was demanding to be immediately bestowed with some attention. He scratched her ears absent-mindedly. “I don’t think they have much choice in the matter though. You are a god. Beauty and Vanity are but your instruments used to tease human hearts.”


“Ohohoho, you flatter me so, mon ami.  But you are quite right, and there is no greater creature or being in Atlenthea that they could ever love as much.”


Perhaps Irony had been eavesdropping and saw it fit to be playing pranks, even upon gods. Perhaps it was just the way of the Cosmos; that there were always stronger warriors, prettier women and bigger fish. Either way, Francis would come to regret those very words.

 

~.*.~

 

Deep in the woods, away from Thessalonikk, was a house with a small round door. It belonged to a young man who worked as a healer, selling medicinal herbs and tending to the villagers seeking help for their ailments. The man was kind to his patients, always treating them like a mother nursing the wounds of her sick cubs. Because of his quiet and gentle nature, the people grew to love and care for him.


Sometimes the children would even bring their injured pets to him, much to their parents’ embarrassment, but the man never turned them away. Instead he would smile bemusedly, and did his best to treat the injured creatures in the same fashion as he did with his patients. And like their parents, the children loved him just as much, if not more.



So it was that word of his kindness spread far, and people from other neighbouring villagers and cities began seeking him out as well. Again, his charity and humility touched them so that they spoke of his name with such reverence and began to pay homage to him, as if he were a god. As it was, news of his deeds travelled far and wide, and soon even the people of Thessalonikk were speaking of him, much to the annoyance of Francis.



“Who is this... this Kiku they speak of?” he raged to Herakles. The two were seated in a lush bar, sipping honeyed wine from their glasses.



“That’s all I ever hear everywhere I go now, and they speak of him as though he were the latest trend in fashion, when he obviously isn’t. C'est rien que de la merde!



Herakles only shrugged. “I dunno, he sounds quite nice to me.”



Francis huffed, gnawing into his silk kerchief in a dramatic show of anger. “He probably has the face of a guinea pig and the brain of a mouldy cheese sandwich!" 



Herakles pondered for a bit, before lifting up an old, scruffy-looking tabby, who was meandering about under the table. “Menelaus looks a bit piggish too. I still like him though."


Affronted, Menelaus swiped a paw lightly across Herakles’ cheek, before squirming out of his grasp and leaping away.



Je m'en fous! The point of the matter is, he’s been stealing my limelight and that is unforgiveable.” 
Still seething, Francis stared angrily at the other, who was already half asleep, when he came upon an idea.


“Herakles, mon puce, I think you are the solution to all my unfortunate woes.”



“Hmmm?”



“You are the god of Love, no?”

~.*.~


Herakles would usually never agree to this sort of thing, as it wasn’t in his nature to be vindictive – except towards one other person, but that’s a different matter altogether.  He’d “lost” the drinking game with Francis, however. In actual fact, he’d fallen asleep in the midst of the game out of sheer boredom. Francis somehow took that to mean Herakles was too sloshed to continue and therefore proclaimed himself as victor. As part of the deal, Herakles had to seek this man out and make him fall in love with the most hideous of beings, thus putting him to utmost shame. So here he was, sitting on the back of his calico daemon-cat, skimming across the sky in their search for Kiku in the woods. It wasn’t long before Herakles spied the man gathering herbs along the riverbank.


He watched the man for a bit, and saw how Kiku came across a kitten caught in a rabbit snare, gently releasing it and making sure it was unhurt. Herakles’ lips quirked at that. As the sun rose higher, Kiku turned back and made his way home. Once he’d laid out the gathered herbs to dry just beside his small house, he sat in the shade of a tree for a brief rest, only to doze off.



The daemon-cat descended from the sky and Herakles quietly approached the sleeping man. He hesitated, studying the smaller figure for a moment. Kiku had raven hair, a dark contrast against his skin, which was pale like porcelain. His lips though were pink, much like the soft blush on his cheeks, and as Herakles bent over to prick his side with his arrow, he couldn’t help but think how attractive this man looked, even in sleep.


At Herakles’ touch, Kiku’s body twitched slightly in sleep, and to his surprise, a pair of vulpine ears appeared on top of Kiku’s head, followed by a long, bushy tail.



“A
kitsuné, huh? How sly!” Herakles chucked softly. A wrong move though, because the laughter stirred Kiku awake and the smaller man looked up to see Herakles standing over him. Soft brown eyes met sea-green ones and Herakles was lost in the moment, until he felt the sharp arrow piercing his hand and he jumped, startled. Realizing he had been discovered, he leapt on to his daemon-cat and fled quickly to the heavens above, leaving Kiku to wonder if everything was but a dream.

 

~.*.~


Chapter Text

Act 2


~.*.~

Kiku had always loved the sun. At dawn each day, he would walk down the curved path to sit beside the lake, right underneath the old cherry tree and watched as the sky gradually changed from a dark inky blue to a warm orange glow, which spread out as far as the eye could see. He would bask in the light as the sun enveloped him in its warmth, turning his pelt a brilliant gold. And if anyone were to look at him then, they would think he was a child of the sun in the shape of an orange fox; his expression betraying nothing; his eyes bright like amber flame.


Once the sun was blazing high in the sky, Kiku proceeded with his other daily routine: fishing. Unlike other foxes, Kiku was very fond of fish, and would seize every opportunity to have some. Mornings were always the best time to hunt as the fish were still sluggish with sleep and thus were easier to catch. He had just managed to seize a large carp between his jaws when he thought he heard a faint crash through the undergrowth. He frowned, changing back into his human form and turned around as the crashing grew louder, only to receive a face full of brown fur and whiskers as an animal of sorts flung itself at him.


DA ZEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE~!”


Black paws groped clumsily at Kiku’s chest as a brown fox landed heavily on him, nearly bowling him over. He hissed, vulpine ears and tail erect in shock, as he tried to pry the offending creature off him.


“Hey Kiku! See, I told you the next time you wouldn’t be able to hear my wonderful attacks until it’s too late. Nyahahaha!” The brown fox laughed, obviously taking much pleasure at the other’s discomfort.


Kiku sighed in exasperation. He should have known.


“A simple ‘hello’ would be more preferable as a way of greeting,” he said, flicking his tail in slight indignation. “But I suppose I shouldn’t expect so much from you, Yong Soo.”


“You’re just annoyed that I scared you,” the brown fox gloated, paws still clinging on stubbornly to the man’s chest. “But hey, everyone knows I’m the master of stealth. In fact, I created stealth.”


Kiku considered nipping the other fox’s paws and probably would have done so if Yong Soo didn’t suddenly decide to change into his human form. Kiku stumbled under Yong Soo’s larger weight, slipping over the fish he’d dropped earlier and sending both of them into the water.


“Aaaahhhhh!” Yong Soo spluttered as he struggled to stand up, splashing more water over Kiku, who was half-pinned beneath.


“Tch. You guys are embarrassing.”


Ignoring Yong Soo’s shrieks, Kiku looked up to see two newcomers standing by the lakeside; a young girl and boy, both with ears and tails much like his.


“Hey Hong, Mei, don’t just stand there. Do something!” Yong Soo wailed in the fear that twenty inches of water could possibly drown him. Hong stared at the other owlishly as if in deep thought.


“Call me Edison. Hong is like so boring.” And without warning, he cannon-balled into the water, soaking them further.


The wind picked up, sending the tree blossoms swirling into the air, and a large white fox appeared. His eyes were like golden orbs, his nine tails spread out behind him like a magnificent fan. He sniffed, watching as Hong and Yong Soo wrestled each other while Mei helped Kiku out of the water.


“Hong. Yong Soo.” The white fox finally spoke, his voice stern. The two immediately fell silent, crouching under his gaze. Kiku shook himself, thanking Mei and bowed politely to the white fox.


“Yao.” He greeted simply as the other approached him, golden eyes still blazing and Kiku wondered if he was angered. Before he could ask, Yao transformed into his human form and bursting into tears, enveloped the smaller man into a fierce, bear-like hug.


“Kikuuuuu! Oh, how I missed you, you never visit as much as I’d like you to and when was the last time you even wrote to us?!”  


Kiku was sure he felt a rib or two break as Yao hugged him tighter. He winced, as Yao rattled on how he thought Kiku looked thinner and why was he catching fish when meats surely were more favourable, and that was probably why his poor little Kiku was horrifyingly undernourished.


Kiku wondered if it’d be too rude to consider biting his eldest cousin as well, just to get him to stop squeezing him to death.


“I’m fine, Yao.” The smaller man said, squirming out of the other’s hold. “And I do apologize for not visiting more, but lately I’ve been rather busy. There’s been an increase of patients, and I didn’t want to leave them unattended.”


He adjusted his yukata, pausing to bat at Yong Soo, who was busy nibbling at his tail, and gazed back at Yao.


“What brings all of you here?”


At his question, Yao’s eyes filled with tears again and crying, threw himself once more at Kiku.


“The Oracle of Delfi came to Brother Yao in a dream.” Mei said, curling her small hands tightly around Kiku’s left arm. “And she told him... she said...,”


The girl choked, dissolving into tears as well, unable to continue.


"The virgin is destined for no mortal lover. His future awaits him on the top of the mountain; a beast of the night whom neither gods nor men can resist.”(1) Yao recited hoarsely, the words leaving his lips like a proclamation of eternal doom. Kiku flatten his ears, still somewhat puzzled and not quite sure if his whole family hadn’t suddenly gone – excuse his frankness – quite mad.


“Basically she means you’re to be sent away and married off to a beast. Beast, as in like, a monster.” Hong drawled, lying lazily on his back, chewing at a stalk of grass.


“I’m pretty sure she meant ‘eaten’ instead of ‘married’ though.” Yong Soo added unhelpfully.


~.*.~


Kiku always had a strange relationship with his family; his three younger cousins were boisterous and energetic while Yao, being the eldest of them, was a doting older brother figure, and at times, painfully overbearing. While Kiku didn’t dislike them and was fond of them in his own way, there were times he felt exhausted just being around them.


Seeing how distraught they were by the Oracle’s news however, he tried to console them, even though in truth, he himself was quite unnerved.  But Kiku was never one to reveal his innermost feelings, not even to family and tried to reassure Yao that perhaps it wasn’t all that bad.


“It is all bad, Kiku.” Yao said sadly, as the family sat together for dinner in Kiku’s home that night.  “Everyone knows the Oracle’s prophecies are never wrong, and if we don’t abide by what is to be, our family will be cursed for generations and generations. Aiyaah!”


Kiku remained expressionless, but felt his heart sink. Yao was right.


“Well...,” he began slowly, gazing at his family. “If that is indeed my fate, then so be it.”


The next day, they all made their way to the top of Mount Shirōma, where Kiku was to wait for the beast to lay claim on him. After much crying from Yao and Mei, and Kiku’s constant reassurances he’ll be quite fine, the others left him to face his fate alone. Without the need for his brave front, now that his family had gone, Kiku could only sit quietly beneath an old tree, his bushy tail curled around him more for comfort than for warmth, even though it was highly unlikely he would admit it, even to himself. He did not like this misery welling up inside him and for the first time, he wondered if he was indeed cursed by the gods above.


He froze, ears twitching when he felt something tickling the back of his neck. Hissing, he leapt aside, fangs bared and ready to face whoever or whatever it was that crept up behind him, only to see nothing…. well, he wasn’t sure if a grinning mouth filled with sharp teeth and framed with long white whiskers was considered a something, especially since they didn’t seem to be attached to a body, let alone a face and were just floating on thin air.


He wondered if he should ask what– no, that would be too rude, and said instead, “Who are you?”


The spaces between the grinning mouth and whiskers finally filled out and the face of a calico cat with amber eyes fleshed out before him, along with the rest of its body.


“Are you asking for my name?” the cat purred, swishing her twin tails languidly. “If it’s a name, then you could just call me Corporal Cat.”


An odd name.



“It’s actually Corporeal Cat, but Herakles was half-asleep when he named me.”


Kiku wasn’t sure who exactly the cat spoke of, and the only thing he thought of was how “Herakles” sounded liked the name of the tentacled-beast, the Kraken.


“Herakles? Who…?”  The kitsune flattened his ears apprehensively, suddenly noting that Corporal Cat had grown several times bigger and was now looming over him.


“Your future, of course.”


~.*.~



It was a strange sensation, really, to have the cold wind brushing against his cheeks and whipping the folds of his sleeves around him while he clung tightly unto Corporal’s back. The daemon-cat was skimming high across the sky, so high that Kiku could only see the clouds below them and felt the chill of the wind right into his bones. 


“We’re almost there, fox.” Corporal said.  “Hold on tight.”


As Corporal slowly descended, Kiku saw they were approaching a quiet dale, filled with an assortment of blooming flowers. Once they landed, Kiku alighted from the daemon-cat, and despite still feeling cautious, looked about him with much curiosity. Butterflies flitted all around, the scent of the flowers sweet and pleasant while birds sang from a nearby grove of tall, stately-looking trees.


After the first few steps, Kiku paused, uncertain and glanced back at Corporal. The calico only swished her tails languidly, a bemused look in her eyes. She nodded at him to proceed on. Kiku’s jaw twitched slightly and after giving her a small bow, continued on nervously down the path, and entered the grove of trees. When he finally reached the heart of it, he could only gasp in amazement.


Right before him was a magnificent palace, its towers rising high into the sky. Just before the entrance, a fountain gushing out crystal-clear water, the bubbling sounds like music to his ears. Filled with admiration, Kiku continued forward and entered the palace. Inside, he was greeted by more works of beauty – gold arches, pillars and walls enriched with cravings and paintings. High above him, on the ceiling was  a mural of Ätlenthea  and Kiku was so filled with wonder of it all that he felt terribly small in comparison to such perfection.


While he was busy studying a sculpture, he felt something tickling his ear. He glanced back and saw Corporal, now a normal-sized cat, floating right beside him.


“All you see in this palace are yours. Dinner will be ready shortly so you can lie and rest in the room if you wish, or take a bath. Herakles’ servants are yours to command; when you need anything, speak of it and they will attend to you.”


Kiku did as Corporal suggested, and when he was ready for dinner, he was served with the most scrumptious meal he had ever laid eyes upon. While he ate, music played even though he could not see the players, nor did he see the servers who kept replenishing the food and wine until he could eat no more. He had also yet to see the beast who was his betrothed, and as far as he could tell, the only other living creature in sight beside himself was Corporal Cat, who he decided to share his fish steak with. She certainly had no objections to that and purred into his ear affectionately as a way of thanks.


It was only at midnight did his betrothed came to him, his true form shrouded from view in the darkness. Kiku sat nervously on his bed, trying to remain composed but his heart was pounding in fear and–


“Are you scared, little one?”


Kiku looked up at the surprisingly soft and husky voice and saw eyes, green as the sea gazing at him. He could not see the face of the one who spoke, but in those eyes, he saw no malice; only a quiet calm and a gentle kindness. He stared, slightly taken aback and only realized he hadn’t replied when the figure brushed a hand softly against his cheek.  “I’m sorry for scaring you. But I swear you will not be harmed in any way.”


The touch startled him a little, but Kiku didn’t move away and only coughed nervously, averting his eyes.


“N-No, I apologize. It’s just that... this is all very different from what I had expected. N-Not that it’s bad or anything.”


He turned back to Herakles – for it was he indeed – afraid he had somehow offended the other, only to be greeted by a short, breathy laugh.


“You are adorable.” Herakles said, eyes glowing with amusement, and perhaps something more. “Would you like to view the stars with me? The skies are clear tonight, and it would be nice to have some company.”


Kiku blushed, but managed a soft smile. “I would be honoured.”

~.*.~


And so it was Kiku spent his days living in Herakles’ abode in such fashion. Herakles never showed himself to Kiku and was away mostly during the day, but he made sure that Kiku had everything he needed and treated him with nothing less but kindness. Even at night, when they shared the room together, Herakles never forced Kiku into any uncomfortable or awkward situations. He seemed content enough just to exchange thoughts and stories with the smaller man, and at times, humour Kiku with silly antics and jokes, to which Kiku couldn’t help but laugh.


“For once I think the Oracle is wrong.”


“Oh? How so?”  Even in the darkness, Kiku could almost see Herakles’ lips quirking.


“She said you were a beast.” Kiku began solemnly. “But I see now you’re neither a beast nor a god. You are a clown.”


Herakles snorted in mock indignation, and Kiku buried his nose into his sleeve, unable to contain his laughter.  Herakles shook his head, but chuckled good-naturedly.


“And you,” he said, a mischievous spark growing in his green eyes. “You need to be punished for being so bold.”


Herakles pounced unto the smaller man, tickling his sides and Kiku continued to laugh while trying to wrestle away from his grasp. Herakles wasn’t about to let him slip free and tickled him more, causing Kiku to squirm harder until both were laughing  like children and their bodies were so close they could feel each others’ breaths on their faces. It was only then Kiku realized how entangled they were...


“Kiku...,” Herakles thumbed his cheek lightly. Kiku stared, mesmerized by those green eyes, while trailing a finger against Herakles’ strong jaw, and his soft lips, and before he knew what he was doing, he leaned forward to kiss Herakles. If the god was surprised, he didn’t show and only move to deepen their kiss. And with that kiss, everything finally came undone between them; all inhibitions, all restraints dissolving away into the night. What could not be shared with words before, they now shared with tender touches and unfettered gasps, their hearts and bodies joined and entwined as one with burning passion.


Outside by the wooden doors, Corporal Cat licked one white paw nonchalantly as she listened to the sounds of their lovemaking.


~.*.~


Brows knitted in deep concentration, Kiku busied himself with preparing food in the kitchen when Corporal Cat appeared, rubbing her flanks against his ankles before leaping up unto the table.


“The servants can take care of dinner.” She said pointedly, sniffing curiously at a bowl of gravy.


“I feel bad for always troubling them. Besides, I want to try something different, for Herakles.”


Corporal watched him work for a couple more minutes before speaking again.


“Your cousins, I think they are looking for you.”


Kiku dropped the wooden spoon he was holding with a clatter. “What do you mean?”


Corporal explained how she’d seen three foxes searching about in the dale, and how she’d heard them calling out to him. Kiku was surprised at the news at first, but soon felt ache in his heart, and he realized then how much he missed his family. He stared back at Corporal, uncertain. The calico studied him for a while, noting the silent plea in those brown eyes and she sneezed lazily.


“Herakles...?” she began, glancing upwards. A soft breeze picked up, and then Herakles spoke, his voice echoing through the room.


“You miss them.” There was no question in the voice. Kiku bowed his head, silent for a moment before he lifted his gaze, nodding. A long pause, and then Herakles sighed.


“Guide them here, Corporal and they can stay for dinner with Kiku. But thereafter, they must leave again.”


When Kiku saw the trio – Yong Soo, Hong and Mei – he could hardly contain his happiness before he was drowning under a sea of fur and whiskers as his cousins flung themselves unto him, embracing him with joy. Kiku showed them then, the wonders of the palace and over dinner, told them about Corporal Cat and the invisible servants and about how everyone had been kind to him since the day he arrived.


“So he’s not really a beast?” Hong asked, helping himself to another serving of pudding. Kiku didn’t answer, and only busied himself to hand out more bread to Yong Soo.


“What’s he like?” Mei quipped, tugging at Kiku’s sleeve. “Is he a man, or a kitsune too? Or perhaps a god?”


Kiku gave them a weak smile. “Um... in all honesty, I’ve yet to see his true form with my own eyes.”


The three stared in shock, before bombarding him with more questions and slowly but surely began to fill him with doubt.


“If you’ve never laid eyes upon him, how do you know he isn’t a beast like the Oracle said he is?!”


“Herakles has never harmed me in any way, and I don’t believe he ever will.”


“Then why hasn’t he shown himself to you?”


“.....,”


“Cousin,” Yong Soo said, wearing a look of utmost seriousness. “The Oracle is never wrong, and on our way here, we even heard the villagers say this valley is inhabited by a monstrous serpent, who fattens up his captives only to eat them up later.”


“Kiku please, listen to us,” Mei begged. “At least find a lamp while your husband sleeps and see for yourself if he’s man or beast.”


“Right. And if he really is a beast, just stab him already and you’ll be free again. It’s that simple.”


Kiku set his glass down with a bit more force than usual. He gazed at his food, torn between anger and fear. “I think you should all go now. It’s getting late.”


Once they were gone, sent away back to the valley by Corporal, Kiku firmly tried to put their suspicions out of his mind. Their words continued to eat away at him however, and he was unable to contain his own curiosity. So that night, after Herakles had fallen asleep beside him, Kiku quietly rose to retrieve a sharp knife from the drawer and lit a lamp.


For the first time, he laid eyes upon his lover and saw not a hideous monster but the face of a handsome man with a strong jaw and brow, and high cheekbones, his lustrous brown hair in longish waves. His eyes were green like the sea, with the fire and intensity of roaring waves within them.


His eyes. His beautiful green eyes.



Kiku blinked then, realizing that Herakles’ eyes were open and he was staring straight at him, a look of distress and betrayal upon his face. Without saying a word, Herakles moved away and jumped out from the window.


“Herakles, no, wait..!”  Kiku was overwhelmed by terrible guilt and in his desperate attempt to follow Herakles, fell out from the window and crashed painfully to the ground. Herakles, seated on Corporal’s back, was flying away into the night, but seeing the kitsune lying curled in pain below him, he guided the daemon-cat back to hover for an instant before him.


“Foolish little fox,” Herakles said, unable to keep the sadness from his voice. “Is this how you repay all that I’ve done for you? I broke my promise to Francis, and in an attempt to shield you from his vain wrath, decided to hide you here until he forgets you.”


He gazed at the other man, hurt still in his eyes. “I love you Kiku, but I see now what you truly think of me; a monster. Go back to your family and I shall leave
forever. Love cannot last without trust.”


And so saying, Herakles fled away, leaving Kiku, heartbroken and alone, to weep silently in regret of his actions.



~.*.~

 

Chapter Text

Act 3


~.*.~

 

Menelaus wandered about lazily, sniffing for any prey that would tickle his fancy. It was nearly dawn, but it was still dark and the moon continued to bob in and out from the clouds, casting inky shadows upon the quiet glade. The faint squeaking of dormice under the bushes piqued his interest and the grey tabby was about to pad towards the sound when a movement caught his eye.  He flicked his tail, and with a curious mmhhhrr, walked towards the figure lying on the grass.

 

He recognized the figure as Herakles’ betrothed; the man lay on his back, so silent and still that the cat wondered at first if he was asleep. He peered over the man’s face and meowed a soft greeting, to which he received no reply. The man was staring blankly into the sky, his eyes listless, his face distraught. Menelaus waited and then leaned closer to sniff at the man. His whiskers brushed lightly against those cold, pale cheeks and with another mmhhhrr, he plonked his furry self right on top of the man’s face.


Several heartbeats and a strangled cough later, Kiku finally responded, lifting the cat away from his face. He sat up, gazing at Menelaus as though it was the first time he’d noticed him and offered a weak smile.

 

“I’m sorry,” Kiku began, setting the cat down. “You must be hungry–”


What are you moping around for, boy?


Kiku blinked. He heard the voice clearly, as if it whispered right into his ear. He stared at Menelaus, who returned his gaze, a smug look in those icy-blue eyes.


“I... it’s just that....  I am not a boy.”


The cat sniffed pointedly. You sure are acting like one right now.


Kiku felt his cheeks burning and glanced away. Were Herakles’ cats all sharp-tongued and blunt? He sighed tiredly.

 

“Perhaps you’re right. I’ve been as foolish as a child, and see where it’s gotten me.”


Menelaus said nothing, watching as Kiku pulled his knees closer to himself, guilt and sorrow etched sharply on his face. The grey tabby took pity then, and leaping up onto the man’s shoulder, licked his cheek lightly.


Do you love him?



Kiku tightened his grip around his knees. A pause, and Menelaus felt the tension ease in those shoulders, followed by a slight nod. 


So what are you waiting for?


“I don’t quite understand what you mean.”

 

Go and tell him. 


Kiku clenched his fists, his head hung low before speaking up again. “I broke his trust. How can I ever face him again?”

 

But you still love him, don’t you? If you had one chance to redeem yourself, what would you do?


“I.... I would go to the ends of the world and back, to show him how much I cared. To say I’m sorry.”

 

Menelaus purred then and leapt back down to the grass, strolling off. He gave a final glance at the man and flicked his tail once before disappearing into the bushes.

 

I think you’ve found your answer then. Good luck, boy.


Kiku sat, thinking hard about the cat’s words and then lifted his gaze upwards to the moon, eyes brighter with new resolve.

 

“I am not a boy.”

 

~.*.~

 

The man with luscious golden locks paced around the empty Arena stage, a glass of wine held elegantly in one hand while the other toyed absent-mindedly at the silk cravat around his neck. He paced back and forth, brows furrowed as if in deep thought, before coming to a stop at centre-stage. Raising up his wine-glass, he began to recite in a voice sweet like honeyed wine (1):

C'est l'éternel agonie
C'est le plus grand plaisir

Pour s'approcher comme un pélerin
Rempli de la mort et rempli d'amour!
Rempli de la mort et rempli d'amour,
Je chante, je chante!


C'est ma fortune et ma richesse
Pour avoir dans mon coeur
Toujours brûlant et fidèles
Et prête à éclater
Ce faisceau blanc que les poudres
Tous les souffrances
Ce cri de pitié
Sur tout le bonheur.

 


In the midst of bowing graciously to an imaginary crowd, Francis felt a presence behind him. A small orange fox had entered the Arena, limping slightly.




“Ahhh, so the Trickster finally arrives,” Francis sneered as the fox approached him cautiously. “To think Herakles had fallen for the likes of you.”

 

Kiku changed into his human form, and steeling himself for the worst, knelt before the god of Beauty.

 

“I’ve come to beg forgiveness from you, and from Herakles, for all that I’ve done.”

 

“Now why would we want to do that?”



“Please. I would do anything for Herakles, to show him that I regret doubting his word and that I.... I... ” Kiku paused, jaw tightening. He didn’t want to be admitting his feelings to anyone else, especially not to Francis.

 

“That you what, love him?” Francis could not help but shriek in vicious laughter. When he finally spoke again, his face was dark with malice and his voice was thick with scorn.


“What do kitsuné know about love? You lure men and play on their devotion to you, only to break their hearts and send them into utter wretchedness. Such is the vile creature that you are.”

 

Kiku bowed his head lower, anger and shame burning deep within him at the cruel words but he bit back a retort. He refused to give up however, and tried again.

 

“I admit I have caused much grief to Herakles, and that I am undeserving of all he has done for me. Hence, I willingly submit myself you as a servant, o god of Beauty. Teach me and show me how I can redeem myself to him.”

 

At his words, Francis only huffed, but taking that as a pretext to humiliate the fox further, he agreed to the deal.

 

“Very well. I shall then make trial of your housewifery.”

 

And so Francis arranged a number of tasks for Kiku to complete, in order to prove his worthiness as the betrothed of Herakles.  For the first trial, he led Kiku out into a garden with a number of small pools. In these pools were hundreds of tiny, glittering fish of every kind imaginable and Kiku was to sort them into different pools according to their colours before the day ended.


Dismayed at the enormity of the task, Kiku sat confounded, watching the fish dart about in the pools. But he remembered Menelaus’ words then and shook himself out of his stupor. Splashing through the pools, he tried his best to catch and sort the fish accordingly, but it was obvious to anyone who saw this, that the task was near impossible to complete by one small fox. Soaked and exhausted, Kiku paused to catch his breath when he felt something land softly on his back and he turned to see a pair of amber eyes and a grinning mouth floating beside him.

 

“Corporal...?”

 

The calico’s head finally appeared and she winked at him before disappearing into thin air. Kiku wanted to call out to her again when he heard soft meows and purrs and suddenly, throngs of cats appeared from all around him. The cats dashed towards the pools and began sweeping up the fish with deft paws and before Kiku knew it, the fish were separated accordingly in the fashion Francis had requested. Once the deed was done, the cats nuzzled affectionately around Kiku’s ankles and one by one, ran off just as quickly as they had arrived, disappearing from sight.

 

Seeing the task thoroughly complete upon his return, Francis hissed angrily, “Fripon, this was not your work alone and therefore unacceptable!”

 

The next morning, Francis directed the kitsuné to a grove stretching over by the river,  where ferocious and wild sheep grazed and for this task, he was to bring back bunches of their golden wool. Kiku stood by the riverbank, again at a lost as to how to complete this dangerous new task, for the sheep were huge and had wickedly sharp horns and deadly hooves. A kick from one of them could easily break his bones.

 

He had almost given up hope when he heard a rustling sound down the bank and saw a young girl looking up at him from the river. Her eyes were like jade and she wore a wreath of reeds in her short, golden hair. Smiling kindly at him, she said, “Wait until noon when the sheep will take refuge in the shade of the trees, and head to the bushes just a little way off the river. There, between the briars, you will find the wool snagged off their coats.”

 

Kiku followed her instructions and thus accomplished his second task, much to the growing wrath of Francis, who again was certain the fox didn’t manage it all on his own. So he sent Kiku out on the third quest: this time, he was to fill a flask from a waterfall cascading from the mountain peak. As he struggled to cross the perilous rock face, Kiku realized then that only a winged creature could reach the falls. Even so, he continued on relentlessly, not because he was unafraid of possible death, but because he knew he had no other choice.


The fox had nearly reached halfway past a dangerously steep cliff when his paws slipped over loose rocks and he lost his grip, skidding backwards. Too shocked to utter a sound, Kiku was sure he was falling to his death when he caught a glimpse of huge creature swooping past him and felt a sharp pain in his back as he was suddenly jerked upwards.

 

“Fear not little one, I’ll save you!”


Kiku couldn’t see the face of this unexpected saviour and could only hold on to those claws as they slowly descended from the air. Once they reached the ground, the claws released him, and Kiku saw a magnificent golden eagle before him, eyes bright and blue like the sky.

 

Catching his breath, the fox bowed gratefully to the eagle. 

 

“Thank you. I owe you my life.”

 

“Nah, it’s cool, dawg. Besides, I couldn’t just fly by and watch you die.” The eagle ruffled his feathers triumphantly, as if plucking foxes from the sky was a daily routine for him, which led Kiku to wonder if he should point out that he was a fox and not a dog.

 

“But seriously, what were you trying to do? That particular cliff’s called Hell’s Pass for a reason, ya know!”

 

Kiku retold his story to the eagle, of his broken trust and lost love and of the trials set by Francis for the redemption of his wrongdoing.

 

“I see!” The eagle quipped, clearly impressed by the kitsuné’s tale. “So, you’re like a hero in those old folk-tales, braving through countless obstacles but never giving up once because your love burns so... so passionately!”

 

“Er well, actually it’s not really like–”

 

“O-kay! This is how I can be a hero too and help you with your quest!” And before Kiku could ask what he meant by that, the eagle grabbed the flask with his claws and in a flurry of feathers, effortlessly glided over to the falls to fill it up to the brim. When the eagle returned, Kiku thanked him again for all he’d done and set off to return the flask to Francis, thus completing the third task.

 

This of course, did not sit very well with the god of Beauty. To put it rather mildly, Francis was furious and would possibly have torn out locks of his hair. But he was very vain and loved his beautiful hair too much, so he contained himself like the gentleman he was.

 

Twirling a finger lazily into his hair, Francis said, “Again, this was no work of your own, you little crétin, thus I am not yet convinced by your own usefulness and capability as Herakles’ betrothed. But I am patient and my heart is generous, so I will offer this one last task for you to prove yourself.”

 

Kiku waited silently, his body aching from the labours of the previous trials, and fatigue etched upon his features. Nevertheless, his eyes still burned with stubborn resolve and he nodded at Francis’ words.

 

“For the final task, you are to head into the heart of the Underworld and to seek out the Queen of the realm. You will send her my request to fill up this Box with a little of her beauty, for I have wasted much of it from caring for my dearest brother from his heartache and from training a wretched scum like you. Complete this and you shall meet Herakles once more – that is, if you somehow managed to return alive.”

 

~.*.~

 

Kiku was almost certain this final task would mean the end of him. He had not heard of anyone alive who had entered Erebus and returned safely, and the thought of it very nearly broke whatever was left of his will and strength. Overwhelmed by anguish and hopelessness, the fox would have collapsed to the ground and lay there forever in misery. But he had his pride still and the thought of never seeing Herakles again.... no, he would carry on or die trying.

 

The kitsuné trudged through the woods, hoping that he wasn’t terribly lost since Francis had only instructed him to look for the Black Mountains and somehow conveniently forgot to give him exact directions. After several hours of walking, Kiku couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched. However, when he glanced around him, he saw nothing, and his ears could only pick up the sounds of forest birds singing and of insects chirping in the thicket.

 

As he continued deeper into the woods, he thought he saw the glint of eyes in the shadows and heard the soft rustle of a creature through the foliage. He swallowed thickly, quickening his stride in hopes of losing the creature. An eerie howl pierced through the forest – a wolf – and the kitsuné broke into a run. Glancing back, he saw hazel eyes and the brown mask of the wolf, trailing several metres behind him. It was only then he realized he had nowhere to escape – the path he had followed led him to the foot of a huge mountain, too steep for him to climb. On each side of him were thick brambles, the curved thorns snagging viciously into his clothing whenever he brushed against them.

 

Kiku hissed at his carelessness, before spinning around to face the wolf, ears flatten and tail erect as he fell into a defensive stance. He was probably no match for the creature, who was bigger and stronger, but Kiku was not ready to give in so easily. Just as he decided to make the first move, the wolf surprised him by sitting back on its haunches and sniffing disdainfully, transformed into a young man.

 

An Ōkami.

 

“You’re going the wrong way.” The man said curtly, his brows knitted into a scowl.

 

“... How do you know where I’m going?” Kiku asked.

 

The man huffed irritably, running a hand through dark brown hair. A single, long curl managed to escape his fingers however, and stuck out rebelliously to the right side of his head.

 

“Of course I know, twerp. I’m the guardian of this mountain and everyone who comes this way is seeking only one destination.” He paused, studying the other with hazel eyes.  “You’re heading to Erebus, aren’t you?”


The kitsuné bowed as politely as he could, his mind still in a whirl. “I am. Please, could you show me the way?”

 

The other man stared at Kiku for a long time, so long that Kiku wondered if he’d accidentally offended him and was about to apologize when he finally sighed. Pointing back up the trail which Kiku had first arrived from, he said, “Continue down that path towards the left and you will eventually reach the other side of the mountain. There, you will find the river Acheron. Follow the river until you reach a cave. This is where the Acheron meets the river of the dead, the Styx and that will lead you right into the heart of the Underworld.”

 

He fished through his pockets and handed over several coins and a tiny pouch. As he did so, Kiku thought he heard a faint sound echoing from the woods.

 

“– aaaannoooooo....! "


He twitched his ears, and looked to the other man questioningly, but the wolf-daemon only frowned harder, stubbornly ignoring the sound and continued to speak.

 

“To cross the Styx and back, you must give the ferryman his due in silver coins each time. Once you cross the river, you will need to placate the Cerberus with sweet cakes to avoid any harm. And while in Death, you do well not to eat or drink any food offered to you, unless you intend to spend the rest of your days down there.”

 

–mmaaaaannoooo....!”


The sound grew noticeably louder, and Kiku could see the veins twitching at the side of the wolf-daemon’s temples. Abruptly, the man turned swiftly towards the sound and snarled back ferociously, “Bastardo! I’m busy right now, so stop yelling out like the imbecile that you are!”

 

But Romano, dinner’s almost ready and the food will get cooooold~!

 

SHUT UP, ESPAÑA, I SAID I’M BUSY!”

 

Well hurry up then~! Buuuuhhyoooooo~ ”       

 

Kiku was almost certain Romano was going to blow his top but after several seconds of extreme scowling, he only sighed and muttered, “Che palle.”

 

He took out a second pouch from his pockets. “This one is also for the ferryman. If you lose it, I’ll personally look for you and skin you.”

 

“A-Ah. I’ll make sure to keep them safe.” The kitsuné nodded, bewildered and watched as the man changed back into a wolf.

 

“Oh, and one more thing. Whatever you do, do not open the Box.” And with that, the wolf dashed off into the woods, scattering dead leaves into the air in his wake.

 

Kiku gazed at pouches of food and silver coins for a moment, and then carefully tucked them away in his clothes, making sure they were tied securely. He was about to continue on his journey when he felt yet another presence, and looked up, wondering if the wolf had returned. Instead he saw a calico cat floating before him, her twin tails waving lazily behind her, her mouth set into a wide grin.

 

“Corporal.” The kitsuné reached out for the cat, his heart suddenly feeling lighter and as she nuzzled against his cheek, he couldn’t help but laugh – something he hadn’t done in days.

 

“Looks like you’ve been busy.” The cat mused, her voice half-teasing.

 

Kiku gave her a tired smile, before gazing down the path Romano had pointed out to him earlier.



“I’ve done much wrong, I know.” He began softly. “But I really am sorry for everything and I just hope Herakles will see that. Or at least I hope he will see that I don’t think of him as a monster.”

 

Corporal said nothing, licking his ear gently, as if in deep thought.

 

“Well then. I guess its best we head on to Erebus and finish this final deed quickly.”

 

“You’re following me into the Underworld?”

 

“Why not? I can’t have my favourite fox be accidentally eaten by the undead, right? Besides, the sooner you and Herakles kiss and make up, the better for me. I swear, he’s been so mopey the past few days, he’s like a kitten throwing a hissy fit.”

 

Kiku laughed again, and decided that she was probably right.

 

“I haven’t had much to entertain me either, and you know, you two make the most interesting sounds during sex–”

 

"I-I think we should go now!" Kiku cut in quickly. He coughed loudly, suddenly blushing so hard he almost felt like a night lamp in the fast-approaching dark.

 

Kitsuné-bi.” Ignoring Corporal’s snicker, he conjured up three tiny blue flames to light the path before them.  

 

With the calico cat perched around his shoulder and with renewed courage, he continued down the trail that would lead into Death.

 

~.*.~

 

Chapter Text

Act 4


~.*.~


The river churned, dark, murky waters lapping doggedly at its banks. There was a chilly heaviness that lingered eerily in the air. It lingered, restless and smothering, to besiege the hearts of any mortal foolish enough to wander across the border until it drove them mad with despair or grief, it did not matter. Death was not picky with companions.

Amidst the roar of the Styx was another sound, softer and more pleasant. Within seconds, a boat appeared from the mist, a small engraving of a dragon eating its own tail hewn unto its bow. A cloaked figure stood upon the boat, humming a tune as he rowed, his pole cutting through the black waters in slow, swift strokes.

He hummed, a happy tune, almost in rhythm with his paddling and he continued so in such fashion, humming and singing. He was nearly as old as the river, or rather, he felt as old – in truth he wasn’t quite sure of his age anymore. It had been a long time after all, and as he thought about the past, his mind began to wander – memories of his past, their past, about times long before where he remembered vaguely the scent of jasmines and trumpet gentians, of the warmth of the sun on his skin, of the sharp aroma of baked bread and … is that a light, a person over there? No… maybe… ?

Rowing and rowing, the never-ending cycle of thoughts and movement, but still the Ferryman carried on, always humming his silly tune. The light he’d noticed earlier gradually became a shape and he paused for a moment to take a better look. A young man approached the riverbank, three tiny blue flames hovering around him. Perched upon his shoulder was a calico cat with amber eyes and twin tails.

The man hesitated for a second and then bowing, he spoke. “Are you the Ferryman?”

, the one and only. Otherwise also known simply as Feliciano~!” The Ferryman returned the bow with double the amount of vigour, pushing back the hood of his cloak to reveal his face, now painted with a big, bright smile. 

Kiku thought the smile was oddly misplaced, a stark contrast to the grim atmosphere surrounding them. It filled him with a strange sense of comfort however. “I am Kiku, and I am seeking passage into Erebus. May I request for your help in getting across the Styx?”

“I wish I could help you and I think I’m not wrong, but ve, you don’t seem to be dead enough to go across.”

“Indeed. I am pretty much alive and I don’t plan on being otherwise either. I do however have a task to fulfill.” Kiku held up a silver coin. “And I have payment for the passage.”

Feliciano cocked his head then, suddenly interested. “Ahhhh mio amico, I see you know how it works then. This is a pleasant surprise!”

Just as Kiku handed the coin to the Ferryman, he felt Corporal’s whiskers tickling his ear lightly and he remembered what Romano had requested of him.

“Excuse me,” he began. “The wolf-guardian also asked me to give you this.”

Feliciano gazed questioningly at the pouch Kiku handed to him, before reaching inside to pull out a small, roundish object. It was a tomato. An even bigger smile broke out over the Ferryman’s face, but with it came an enveloping sense of sadness. Feliciano thanked him, ushering him into the boat and began to paddle.

They continued in silence for a moment; Kiku glancing uncertainly at Corporal, who only returned his gaze pointedly, and Feliciano rowing hard, the smile still fixed upon his lips but his eyes were downcast and he seemed lost in his thoughts.

“Feliciano.”

“Mmmhh? Oh mi scusi, yes what is it?” The Ferryman lifted his gaze to meet Kiku’s. 

“… Is everything all right? You look troubled.” 

At this, Feliciano gave a small chuckle. He rubbed the back of his neck with one hand in embarrassment before turning his gaze up to the inky blackness above them.

“I was just thinking of the past, about how there was once two brothers who were very close to each other, even though they were quite different in character. The brothers were orphaned at a young age, so they were taken in by their grandfather, a strong ruler of many lands. The grandfather loved the brothers, especially the younger one and his show of affection sometimes caused the elder brother to become envious. But you see, the eldest loved his fratello almost as much, even if he never wanted to admit it aloud, so he was always looking out for his younger sibling, just like everyone else.”

“A daemon-queen of a faraway land saw the grandfather’s kingdom and wished it for herself. So she devised a plan to turn the brothers on each other. She tried seducing the eldest, promising power and riches if he would rise and turn on his own family. But he refused and in anger, the daemon swore revenge. One day, as he was out shepherding, the daemon cast a spell upon him and when the younger brother came to retrieve him home for dinner, the eldest could not recognize him and only saw a monster before him. Driven by this madness, he struck out at the beast with his knife, wounding it.”

Here the Ferryman paused, head bowed. For a moment, there was only the sound of his pole splashing through black waters. Kiku said nothing, understanding that no words were needed to fill the silence, but watched him with concern nonetheless, emptiness gnawing at his heart. Feliciano then continued.

“Only when he felt the splash of blood upon his hands did he recognize the ‘beast’ as his own little brother. Panicked, he tried seeking help – it was however, a fatal wound. Unwilling to give up, the eldest fled to the realm of Erebus and was even willing to trade his life for his brother’s. Moved by his pleas, the Lord Death said that if the eldest would serve under him for the rest of his days, his brother will live. He agreed.”

“I see. So you’re Romano’s elder brother?” Kiku mused as he glanced at the Ferryman, studying his features and noting that stubborn lock of hair that curled just like his brother’s, except that it curled to the left instead. “You look very much like him.”

“Elder…? Oh no, amico! You’ve got it the other way round.” Feliciano laughed, eyes gleaming with humour. “Romano’s the eldest. I’m the youngest of the Vargas line.”

“Ah, but you said…”

“I couldn’t let my fratello throw himself into eternal servitude.” Feliciano smiled again, this time with some pride. “So I begged Lord Hades to take me as a servant as well, to help my brother make amends for his mistake. Besides, if it were the two of us, Lord Hades agreed that we only need to serve him for a century and then we are free~!” 

The kitsunè tilted his head, shifting as he felt Corporal move away from her seat beside him to rub her flanks against the Ferryman’s shins.

“A century is a long time for mortals.”

“Ve, it is, but he is my brother.” Feliciano reached to scoop Corporal up with one hand, letting her clamber around his shoulders, purring. He chuckled, stroking the cat affectionately, before turning back to Kiku. “And if you care deeply for someone, you’d do anything for them, right?”

Kiku thought of Herakles and replied in a softer voice, “Indeed.”

They had finally reached the other side of the Styx and Kiku made sure his remaining pouches were secured safely in his clothes before getting off the boat and unto the riverbank.

“Thank you, Feliciano– ” Kiku began only to be nearly bowled over by the sudden flurry of movements. He felt hands wrapping around his neck and before he knew it, Feliciano had him in a bone-breaking hug. 

Grazie Kiku, for passing me Romano’s gift! And for listening to my boring little story. Ahhhhhh, I get quite lonesome down here sometimes, and even though I’ve made a few friends, I never get around seeing them much, you know! So I’m really grateful that we could have met and you’ve been really nice to me~!”

Kiku tried as politely as he could to squirm out of the Ferryman’s python-like grip. 

“It is my pleasure to be able to help you.”

“Oh, oh, before I forget, could you help me with one last favour?” Feliciano reached into his cloak and passed a small branch of violet flowers to the other man. “Please, pass these to Ludwig.” 

Kiku nodded and watched as Feliciano pushed off with his pole, and giving the kitsunè and Corporal one last mighty wave accompanied by a loud “In bocca al lupo!”, he paddled off into the faraway mist. 

Crepi il lupo.”

 

~.*.~

 

“Are you certain this is the right way, Kiku?”

“There’s only one path from the river and I’ve followed Romano’s directions as best as I can.”

A careless sniff, and then – “Romano only told you how to get to Erebus, but not exactly to where Hades resides.”

Kiku flatten his vulpine ears at Corporal’s words. She was quite right about that. Uncertain as he was however, there was no other path in sight, and he didn’t understand how or why, but he instinctively knew it was best to keep to the path and not stray elsewhere. He was sure Corporal felt it too – she was bristling and growling under her breath, her claws digging slightly deeper than usual into his clothes. Kiku stroked her head gently, trying to calm her, while he himself took comfort in feeling the warmth of her fur in his fingers.

All around them the land was cold and shrouded in shadows darker than black. If it were not for the fox-fire, it would have been nearly pitch-black. 

“Well, well, well, what do we have here?”

The kitsunè froze in his tracks at the new voice, his heart beating faster. He casted the fox-fire towards the direction of the speaker, but whoever it was slunk back into the shadows and Kiku only managed a glimpse of sharp fangs and a snow-white tail. Corporal’s growls grew louder and she stood before Kiku, several times larger now, hackles raised. 

“Such cute little creatures you are, I might actually be forced to pet you!” the voice cackled, and this time Kiku saw a pair of red eyes blazing from the dark at him. 

“You’re an insufferable ass, you know that Gilbert?” Kiku turned at the sound of the second voice. A huge tan and black dog-like creature appeared from his right, wearing a deep, dignified scowl upon his face. The first voice cackled again, and slunk out from the shadows, revealing himself to be a snow-white dog, his tongue lolling out as he grinned widely. There was a scar across his right eye. 

“Hey, takes one to know one!” 

The two huge Alsatians growled at each other, towering over Kiku and the kitsunè wondered if he should make a run for it then. Before he could react, a third Alsatian stepped right up before him. 

“Gilbert, Roderich. Enough already.” The newcomer said, his voice clipped with annoyance. He was the largest of them, with piercing blue eyes and a coat like gold. He frowned hard at Kiku and Corporal, who was still growling cautiously at the dogs.

“We are the Cerberus, gatekeepers of Death. You have wandered far from home, fox.” Kiku felt the golden Alsatian’s icy glare scrutinizing him. Placing a hand on Corporal’s shoulders to calm her, he stepped forward, dipping his head in a polite bow but not breaking eye-contact with the Alsatian. 

“State your purpose for being here clearly and we might be kind in how we handle this.”

Kiku dutifully told the gatekeepers of his task. 

 

“I apologize if it seems too much, but please, I ask that you grant me passage with these as payment.” He reached for the pouch again and held out three sweet cakes. At the sight and smell of the cakes, all three Alsatians’ ears perked up. Gilbert leaned in closer excitedly and snapped up a piece at once. 

“Gilbert, you are truly an idiot, to be won over so easily with cake.” Roderich said, sniffing disdainfully. 

“If that’s so idiotic, why are you eating it as well?” Gilbert sneered, licking his lips happily. Roderich only continued to munch on his share silently, refusing any reply. The golden Alsatian glared exasperatedly at them before letting out a resigned sigh. 

“Since you two have already eaten it even before any discussion, I can’t possibly refuse the man his request anymore.” He accepted the last piece from Kiku, nodding his thanks, before stepping aside to allow him through. As he did, Kiku saw the path leading through a gate which he was quite certain wasn’t there before. He was about to continue on when a thought struck him. He turned back to the golden Alsatian.

“Pardon me, sir, but would you happen to know of someone named Ludwig?”

The golden Alsatian met his gaze steadily, curiousity in those icy-blue eyes. “Yes I do. I am Ludwig.”

“I’ve been asked to deliver something to you.” Kiku held out the branch of violet flowers he’d kept carefully within the folds of his yukata. “These are from Feliciano Vargas.”

Ludwig’s eyes widen in mild surprise at the sight of the flowers, but at the mention of the Ferryman’s name, his expression soften. In a swirl of grey shadows, the Alsatian changed into a tall, blonde man dressed in a dark green cloak. He reached for the branch tentatively. 

“… Heliotropes,” he murmured, bringing the branch closer to take in the sweet scent of the flowers. “Thank you.” He said simply and while his brows were still furrowed sternly, Kiku noticed the faint shadow of a blush dusting his cheeks.

“When you return, will you deliver my reply to him?” 

“Of course, as long as it is within my means to.” 

“Please tell him this,” Ludwig paused, visibly steeling himself for what he was about to say next. “'Ever since you arrived here, I’ve always loved you. And no matter how many hundreds of years go by, I will always love you more than anyone in this world or next.’

The kitsunè committed those precious words to memory and then offered Ludwig a reassuring smile. “I will do my best to convey it to Feliciano.” 

After exchanging thanks and bidding the gatekeepers farewell, Kiku carried on past the gateway with Corporal, finally entering the House of Hades. 

 

~.*.~

 

“Who goes there?”

The man frowned hard, seated upon his rosewood throne adorned with dark-green ivy and blood-red lilies, their petals and stamens reaching upwards like long, spidery claws. Above his throne was a large engraving hewn into grey stone – a grinning skeleton crowned with a wreath of laurel, the sun held in one hand, the moon in the other and encircled by a dragon eating its own tail. His green eyes were bright as fire as he studied the figure who had just entered his Court. 

Kiku stepped forward cautiously. Behind him, Corporal followed suit, her twin tails held up high in apprehension. 

“Forgive me, your Majesty, but I come seeking audience with your Consort. An important task was given to me by way of Francis, lord of all that is beautiful.”

At his words, the Lord Death regarded the kitsunè bemusedly, before tilting his head to face his side. Kiku followed his gaze to rest his eyes upon to the beautiful young lady seated next to the man. Her eyes were like bright blue jewels, their colour rich with a sapphire blaze. They bore into him, scrutinizing him. A bright-red poppy flower was tucked neatly into a corner between her ear and silken locks.

As she leaned closer towards him, as if to take a better look at his features, he caught a whiff of her hair. It was like golden flax and smelt of honeysuckle budding in the spring; a contrast to the deathly cold and clammy air of Erebus. She was gorgeous, Kiku thought. 

“You’re here for like, beauty cream right?” squeaked the woman in a somewhat high, but fairly unmistakable–

Kiku blinked, still staring and stunned in momentary disbelief.

“Hel-lo? I’m like, talking to you over here, you know.”

So he wasn’t just imagining the male voice; she was really a he. Why had Francis and Romano previously referred to the Lady – no, no, he’s a man – of Death as female, Kiku would probably never know. In fact, he figured it was probably best not to know. Giving both of them an apologetic smile, he dipped his head and knelt before them respectfully. 

“Indeed I am,” he said meekly, and told them of his story – of breaking Love’s trust and of Beauty’s trials for him to achieve repentance and perfection; of the wolf-guide and his brother, the lonely Ferryman; of the Cerberus, gatekeepers of Hades. 

Death and his Consort listened attentively and when Kiku finished, the man with the golden hair rested his chin against his hand, legs crossed and eyes closed momentarily. When he reopened them, there was new sense of attentiveness in them. He let out a soft sigh and said, “We have heard stories of you for quite some time and now that we’ve heard of your quest with our own ears, I see that your journey has been an arduous one.”

“It is pretty impressive for one mere fox, that I have to say,” Death added, nodding at Kiku, a touch of respect in his voice.

Kiku bowed his head. “I was fortunate to have help from many kind friends.”

“Well, your own story certainly is far more interesting than those whispered to our ears.”

“And I did promise to give Francis the cream once, long ago.” Death’s Consort smiled at the fox, beckoning him to approach the throne. “So show me, like, your junk and I’ll– ” A hand clasped hastily over his mouth before he could finish the sentence.

“Feliks,” Death said to his Consort, frowning hard. “Stop teasing the fox.” He gave Kiku an apologetic glance, chuckling rather sheepishly. 

“Ahaahaahaa! Toris, you’re such a spoilt-sport sometimes!” Feliks huffed, pouting rebelliously. 

Kiku could only smile uncertainly at the two. Perhaps even Death has a sense of humour as well. 

Once he had received the cream from Feliks, he thanked both of them, bowing graciously and they wished him the best of luck. 

Thus he completed his final task and with that, the kitsuné began his journey back to the Living. As he reached the gateway and its Keepers once again, he gave them more sweet cakes and reassured Ludwig he had not forgotten his promise. 

“Hey if you ever do visit again, bring more of those awesome cakes! Hehehehe!” Gilbert called after him. Kiku only laughed, and promised to try. 

He gave another silver coin to the Ferryman and delivered Ludwig’s message as Feliciano took him across the Styx. “Ve, Kiku, I’m sooo happy to hear that! Grazie, grazie, graaazie!!” 

Kiku didn’t even try to avoid the crushing farewell hug Feliciano gave him before they parted ways. 

As he watched Feliciano paddling away, singing a happy tune to himself, Kiku felt Corporal jump up to perch upon his shoulder. She nuzzled affectionately against his ear, purring softly and his lips quirked into the tiniest of smiles. He stroked the calico cat’s head once and then staring straight with his head held high, his eyes bright, he continued forward.

He was finally heading home. 

 ~.*.~

 

Chapter Text

Act 5


~.*.~

 

The brown sparrows were but simple creatures. Their daily morning routine rarely changed; it cycled between waking at the crack of dawn (because, as the saying goes, the early bird catches the worm), rolling in the sand pit for a bath, and then getting a quick sip of water from the river, before settling in the eaves of the oak tree, hidden from the blaze of the afternoon sun.


It was not supposed to be any different today, so the tiny birds didn’t pay much attention to the distant and faint rustling sound over rows of towering red hollyhocks. As they continued scuffling about the sand pit, the rustling grew louder and abruptly, a figure darted out from between the hollyhocks, vulpine ears pricked forwards attentively and a bushy, orange tail held out straight behind him.


Kiku dashed quickly past the sand pit, startling the sparrows from their bath and sending them fluttering hastily up to the safety of the trees. For the first time since the night Herakles left him, he felt a huge weight off his shoulders. He could barely contain the mix of anticipation and excitement rushing through him as he ran down the weather-beaten path.


“Kiku, calm down!” Corporal chided, trying to keep her balance as she clung tightly to his shoulders.


The kitsunè slowed to a stop, sobering a little at her words.


“I’m sorry,” he began, giving her a sheepish smile. “I just don’t want to keep Francis waiting."


The daemon-cat twitched her whiskers knowingly. “And by ‘Francis’, you actually mean Herakles.”


Kiku felt his cheeks colouring but didn't reply, politely turning his gaze back at the path instead, watching how the sunlight weaved in through the canopy and cast shadowed fractals against the ground.


Corporal sneezed humorously then, amber eyes glowing. “Deliver Feliks’ box to Francis. I will go to Herakles and bring him to you.”


Leaning closer, she gave his ear a quick, affectionate lick and then bounded off his shoulder. She transformed into a huge cat with flames encircled around her paws, and with a swish of her twin tails, leapt upwards to the sky, sending a flurry of leaves dancing about in her wake. Kiku watched for a moment as the daemon-cat skimmed higher and higher over the clouds. When he could no longer see her silhouette against the blue expanse before him, he glanced back towards the path.


Kiku reached for the box Feliks had given him from within the folds of his clothing. He dusted it off carefully, holding it out under the light. While in the House of Hades, and throughout the journey out of Erebus, he didn't have the chance to study the box. Now that he was alone, he couldn't help but take a closer look. Generally a cautious person by nature, there was still a tiny part of him that gave in occasionally to some form of inquisitiveness, especially if the object of study came directly from the gods themselves, or if they were simply cute things. And Feliks’ box was cute in an odd sort of way, and quite pleasing to the eye.


Kiku turned the box around, intrigued by the designs. Made of bone-white porcelain, its borders were gilded with gold leaves, and a blood-red pomegranate flower was painted upon its cover. As he studied the gold hinges and latch, he noticed an aromatic (and vaguely familiar) scent from within the box itself. Kiku was not one to throw caution to the wind, so he hesitated at first, wondering whether to proceed any further.


But the scent wafting from the box was intoxicating and somehow he felt immensely drawn to it. He brought the box closer, nose crinkling as he tried to decipher the scent. It reminded him of the sea and had the faint tang of salt to it. Suddenly filled by strange desire, Kiku finally gave in to curiosity and lifted the catch to open the box, and saw what looked suspiciously like a thin sliver of sliced fish… of sliced mackerel.


He was famished, having eaten nothing for nearly two whole days, his last meal being a piece of bread purposefully burnt to a lovely charred crisp by Francis. And if there was anything Kiku had a weakness for, it was fish… especially mackerel. Before he even realized what he was doing, before he had time to ponder about why Feliks’ box had fish in it, Kiku brought it to his lips and in a dream-like state, took a small bite.


Immediately, he felt an overwhelming spell of dizziness. The kitsunè blinked, trying to stave off the sudden languor and the creeping blackness. He tried, but could not, for it was not a spell any of the Living could hope to win against. Staggering to his knees, he struggled one last time, only to collapse into deathly slumber.

 

*



All this while, Herakles had been watching Kiku’s trials and his journey into Death from a silver dish of water in his quarters. With the completion of every task, he could not help but feel tenderness blooming in his heart at Kiku’s determination. So when he saw the kitsunè had fallen under the spell, he finally relented. Calling out to Corporal, he took to the sky and flew to where Kiku lay in a deep sleep upon a patch of grass.


Herakles took the sleeping figure into his hold, and cupping Kiku’s face, brought their lips together in a soft, gentle kiss. He continued kissing until he felt eyelashes brushing against his cheek, like the flutter of butterfly wings. He drew away, watching as Kiku slowly stirred awake, coughing lightly. Kiku blinked several times, disorientated, before he picked up the familiar scent of spice and lavender, and felt the warmth of arms wrapped around him. He lifted his gaze, catching a glimpse of sea-green eyes and of wavy, brown hair.


“You know,” Herakles began, chuckling, “sometimes I have to wonder if you are a cat instead, and not at all a fox. Your sense of curiosity certainly rivals theirs.”


Kiku blushed, before he managed a weak smile. “I assure you, the only thing Corporal and I have in common is that we both have a weakness for fish.”


At his words, Herakles could only laugh again. Beside him, Corporal huffed in slight indignation. “And cats are not as naïve as foxes.”


Kiku hadn’t realized how much he’d missed this; the laughter and the warmth of Herakles’ hold. He met those eyes again, and then lowered his gaze once more, this time in shame.


“Forgive me,” Kiku said, his voice traced with guilt. “I should have listened to you. And I’m sorry that I’ve hurt you, even though you’ve shown me nothing but kindness and…”


Herakles stopped whatever else he’d wanted to say, a finger pressed gently against his lips. “There’s no need to apologize anymore. I’ve watched all that you’ve done and all that is enough to show me the sincerity of your feelings.”


Kiku smiled, and to Herakles’ mild surprise, reached for his tunic and gently pulled him closer for another kiss.

 

~.*.~



Francis hummed as he ran his fingers through golden tresses, soft like silk. A morning ritual, he would never fail to spend a few moments at his dressing table, combing his hair and then tying it up into a loose ponytail, complete with a baby-blue ribbon to match his eyes. Once he’d done so, he leaned back in his seat, studying his own features in the mirror.


“Monsieur Bonnefoy,” he began, gently tapping the mirror with the brush as he addressed his reflection. “I do believe it’s possible that you are too attractive.”


He sighed contentedly, tracing a finger over his reflection’s lips. “Your beauty has overstoked the furnace, so much so that it stirs a tempest in many a fair lady’s heart, and sometimes even in men ohohohohon~! Yet how can anyone blame you, since your gorgeousness is apt to drive anyone into debaucherous conduct, no?”


He pursed his lips and closing his eyes, leaned forward to plant a kiss unto those oh-so-succulent lips (why yes, Francis Bonnefoy was so astoundingly beautiful that even he would want to indulge in himself at times)… only to feel a strange tickling sensation brushing against his face. He wheezed, choking on what seemed to be an extremely repulsive clump of fur.


Sacrébleu!” Francis sputtered, fur clinging to his chin as he jumped back in a dramatic show of horror. Before him, sitting smugly on the dressing table, was a pudgy-faced grey feline with icy-blue eyes. Francis recognized it as one of Herakles’ daemon-cats.


“What brings you here?” he fumed, spitting cat hair down his front.


Menelaus studied the god silently for a moment, before he lowered his head and placed a small trinket box he’d been carrying in his mouth on the table.


Herakles requested me to deliver this to you, the cat said simply, and also to inform you that the fox has paid his due in full.


Francis cocked his head, pondering over Menelaus’ words. “So Herakles has finally relented? Tut, tut, my dear brother’s too soft for his own good sometimes.” He sniffed disdainfully before reaching over for the box. “At least that wretched fox made himself somewhat useful…”


He trailed off, staring incredulously at the now-opened box in his hand, his mouth agape. Sitting neatly in the centre of the box was a thin slice of fish and just beneath it, a slip of paper folded into a tiny square. Unfolding the note carefully, he skimmed through the curly handwriting:

 

“ Francici,

 So I totally like, hadn’t got the time to whip up that beauty-cream you wanted

(you should’ve TOLD me earlier. I mean, I’m really busy! Like, geez
ಠ_ಠ )

Anyway, I heard fish works just as fine for the skin,

particularly mackerel mmmm-hmm!

So hey, have some TOTES AWESOME FISH ‘kay!


Ah hahahahahahaha!

–Feliks 

 


Francis scoffed irritably, crumpling the note in his palm. He shouldn’t even have been surprised – it was Feliks, after all.


By the way…


Francis turned his gaze back towards the grey cat. “Oh, you’re still here, you little fleabag?”


You’ve been summoned to His Majesty’s court. Menelaus said, twitching his whiskers. There is to be an important announcement, and thereafter a celebration. The High King wishes you to–


“The High King wishes my humble presence to grace his Court?” Francis cut in, his eyes now sparkling like polished sapphire. “Mais bien sûr! No one can resist my dazzlingly radiant beauty and even His Majesty understands this.”


Menelaus flicked his tail once, before he turned and leapt down from the table. Just as he landed on the ground, he’d transformed into a huge, grey panther-like cat, violet flames swirling at his paws. Leaning over, he picked Francis up by his tunic easily.


“Argh!” Francis cursed. “Unhand me, you bug-infested excuse of an overgrown, walking carpet!”


We’re running a little late. Menelaus said, gripping the tunic between his teeth. Hang on tight, or I might drop you… by accident, of course.


“This is unacceptable! Release me, otherwise I’ll… I’ll….! Aïeeeeeee!!!


Menelaus leapt upwards into the sky then, mmhhrr-ing in slight amusement. Dangling from the daemon-cat’s jaws like indignant prey, Francis continued shrieking ardently.

 

~.*.~


Olympos rose tall and majestic on the horizon, towering over a green woodland expanse and over valleys dotted with ever-blooming plants, like brushstrokes from a palette. Throngs of daemons and fantastical beasts hurried towards the mountain, sometimes in little groups, while others choosing to travel alone. But all were headed in the same direction and there was a contagious anticipation in the air; in each canter of hooves, each pit-a-patter of paws and each brush of feathery wings. It was not every day the High King summons everyone to his Court, after all.


The god of Beauty had long ceased his passionate wailing when it was clear none of it bothered Menelaus in the very least. Francis grudgingly thought the daemon-cat was probably half-deaf, and decided not to overwork his melodious voice – he can’t have himself croaking like a frog before the Court, right? Because Francis Bonnefoy does not croak, thank you very much.


When they finally approached Mytikas Palace, Menelaus slowly descended and landed lightly in the courtyard, where most of the gods and demi-gods had already gathered. Francis gave his tunic a thorough brush-off once the daemon-cat released him, making sure to give Menelaus the nastiest glare he could muster.


“Aahhhh Francis, my boy! You’re finally here!”


At the sound of the deep voice, Francis spun around, the scowl now transforming into the most dashingly handsome smile in the whole of Ätlenthea. He made his way towards the front, bowing graciously before the four figures seated in gilded thrones of gold.


High King Romulus the Strong held dominion over all of Ätlenthea. Dressed in a tunic weaved from the finest silk, and cloaked in velvet red, he was as kind and just in his rule as he was merciless and cruel in battle. Beside him, dressed in regal finery like his own were the three other rulers – King Otto the Fair, High Queen Alcmene the Wise and Queen Nafretiri the Radiant.   


“We were worried you were going to miss the wedding!” Romulus said.


“A wedding? But who….?” Francis began, only to feel someone brush softly past him.


Herakles stepped up from the gathered crowd and bowed before King Romulus. He was now clad in a pure-white chiton, teal and gold lining in the hems, and had a wreath of laurel in his wavy hair. His eyes were bright with anticipation, his lips curved into a soft smile. Francis was still gaping when he heard a soft murmuring behind him. He turned and then cursed softly.


Kiku carefully made his way past the crowd of gods and demi-gods and daemons. His expression betrayed none of the awkward nervousness he felt within, save for the tinge of pink dusting lightly across his cheeks. Dressed in a royal-blue kimono and gold obi-sash and with a yellow chrysanthemum tucked neatly in his dark hair, he looked very much like a beautiful painting brought to life.


Herakles reached an arm out towards his betrothed as he approached, and together, the two stood before the Court, hand in hand.


“Now then,” Romulus continued, raising his voice over the gathered crowd. “Since we’re all here, let us begin the cere–”


“Hey, hey, what’s this? My little brat of a brother actually found someone willing to marry him? What a joke that is hahahaha!”


Kiku glanced over in surprise just in time to see a tall and built man – no, a god… Herakles’ brother? – throwing an arm around Herakles’ shoulders and holding him in a friendly headlock.


“Don’t touch me, bastard.” Herakles growled, eyes flashing fire as he pushed the newcomer roughly away. “When was the last time you took a bath? Oh wait, you don’t even understand what ‘bath’ means, right Sadik?”


“Hey!” This time it was Sadik’s turn to snarl. “Watch your mouth there, punk!”


“Only if you start washing your filthy as–”


“E-excuse me,” Kiku cut in softly, placing himself in between the two angry gods. “I know this conversation must be very important for both of you, but I don’t wish keep everyone waiting with the ceremony. Perhaps we can all sort it out amiably after that?”


The two only stared wordlessly at the kitsunè. Kiku felt the back of his ears redden, and he bowed his head apologetically. “Forgive my intrusion. I didn’t mean to be rude…”


Herakles let out soft chuckle, brushing his fingers lightly against those pale cheeks. “There’s no need for you to apologize, Kiku. You’re quite right about that.”


Sadik’s gaze was still trained silently on Kiku and he wondered if he’d offended the other god with his careless words. He was about to speak up, to apologize again, when Sadik whistled softly and leaned closer over towards Herakles.


“Horny little brat, you used your arrows on this one just for yourself, didn’t ya?” Sadik grinned, elbowing Herakles in the ribs knowingly. “And a kitsunè too no less. Imagine all those curvy chicks he can shape-shift into when you get tired of cocks. Hell, I’d tap that myself…”


Herakles punched Sadik right in the face, unable to contain his annoyance any longer.


“Hey, what was that for, huh?! All’s fair in Love and War, don’t ya know?”


“Then you won’t think it unfair if I punch your ugly face a second time.”


King Otto cleared his throat then, fixing the trio with a stern, icy glare and looked as if he was about to say something. But Romulus only let out a long, hearty chuckle, wiping the tears from the corner of his eyes.


“Aaahhh youth! Such energy and such passion. But the fox is right, we have a ceremony and–”


“And you’re not starting it without us, aiyah!”


There was a collective gasp of surprise from the crowd, and light breeze abruptly became stronger, rustling the branches and sending petals and leaves whirling in circles into the air. Even though the sun was still blazing hot and the skies were mostly clear, there was a light drizzle of rain that accompanied the winds and suddenly, suddenly the shadow of a large, winged creature flying overhead fell over the gathering…


Kiku lifted his gaze upwards. “Yao.”


A large, golden brown eagle landed just beside Herakles and Kiku, and four foxes leapt off its back, transforming into their human forms just as they landed. Yao stepped right up to the High King and his Court, hands on his hips before he dipped his head in a long, polite bow.


“Apologies, but you can’t possibly start the ceremony without the rest of us. After all, we’re Kiku’s family and it’s only right the ceremony should wait until the most important people are all here, hah!”


Kiku felt his jaw twitch a little at his cousin’s too-blunt words. “Y-Yao, please, remember who it is that you’re addressing…”


But the High King let out another loud guffaw, his golden eyes glowing with mirth. “You are quite right, Eldest Fox, sir. Well then, now that everyone of importance is here, shall we?”


Romulus stood over Herakles and Kiku then, holding up a silver goblet before them.


“The whole of Ätlenthea has heard of your story, and what a fine story it is! With that, I hereby declare before all that you are now husband and wif–”


“–husband.” Kiku added quickly, blushing a little as he did, and he dipped his head, bowing apologetically.


The High King blinked, before chuckling to himself. He nodded at Herakles. “So polite, and yet so… so spirited underneath that calm exterior. Just like your mother, my dear boy.”


Beside him, Alcmene didn’t bat an eyelid. But her teal eyes were bright and the corner of her lips curved upwards in the tiniest of smirks as she glanced knowingly over at her son and his betrothed. 


“Very well then. Without further interruptions, I hereby declare you both husband and husband. Let this union never again be broken by man or god, or even by daemons.”


With that, Romulus passed the goblet to Kiku; a drink of ambrosia to grant him the immortality of the gods. As Kiku drank up the last drops, he felt a strange rush of warmth within him, from his toes to the tips of his tail and his vulpine ears; his dark eyes glowed amber and there was a slight pain in his gut as he felt his tail splitting, his fur now changing from orange to a brilliant snow-white…


“Kiku?” Herakles was still wearing his usual calm expression, but his voice was traced with concern. “Are you…?”


Kiku closed his eyes for a moment, inhaling deeply, before opening them once more to meet Herakles’ gaze. He glanced back at his bushy tail – now split in nine and held out like a majestic fan behind him. 


He smiled softly at Herakles then, eyes warm with affection. “I’m fine…. The best I’ve ever felt in a long while.”


There was a loud sniff and both Herakles and Kiku looked up to see Romulus and Yao hugging each other, eyes glistening with tears of joy. Beside them, Otto only frowned harder, shaking his head while Alcmene and Nafretiri only watched on silently, bemused smiles upon their lips.


“Well, I suppose this will have to do.” Francis drawled from amidst all the sobbing. He fixed Kiku with a frown, but there was a gleam of respect in his gaze now, and he smiled. “At least now the mortals can go back to worshipping the Beauty that is me, so I guess this makes us even now, fox–”


“OH I LOVE HAPPY ENDINGS!” Romulus bawled loudly into his sleeve. “They always make me cry!”


“ME TOO!” Yao added, sniffling dramatically into a silk kerchief. “Oh Kikuuuuu, you’ve grown up so much, I’m so proud of you, aiyaaah!”


Kiku wondered how best to respond to all of that, only to glance back uncertainly at Herakles.


“Welcome to my family… I suppose.” He said instead, sighing.


Herakles only grinned, before leaning forward to plant a quick kiss against the other man’s forehead. “And welcome to mine.”


With the auspicious ceremony concluded, the sounds of lyres and harps a-strumming and drums a-beating gradually filled the Court and the celebrations began in full. It continued on far into the night with much singing and drinking, with much merry-making and dancing around the Great Bonfire, the flames licking high into the star-filled sky.


And so, Love and Soul – for that was what Kiku had come to represent, in all his determination and his firm resolution – had sought each other, and after countless hardships and sore trials, had finally found one another again.


The next day, sprawled all over a grassy patch of lavender and with empty wooden cups on his stomach, Yoong Soo awoke with a splitting headache – only to find himself all alone.


As he rolled over his side, cursing silently and wishing for the sun to go and die in the farthest corner of the world, a small white rabbit brushed past him, snatching his favourite scarf from around his neck and rushed off into the woods.


“Hey!” Yoong Soo screeched angrily, scrambling to run after the fast-fleeing rabbit. “Give that back!”


Perhaps Yoong Soo might not have been so quick to give chase, if he’d known where this would eventually lead him, if he’d realized this was the start of his own dangerous quest….


But that’s another story, for another time.
 

-télos-