In the land of Zenkoku, there existed many races, from ningen to yousei to mamono to kaijuu. The kaijuu could be further broken down into sub-races that differed greatly from each other, from ryuu to tsubasamotsu to youko. There was also a fifth race, the shinjuu, but since no one had ever seen one of the holy beasts, eventually, the shinjuu became known as a mythical race that only existed in legends.
Among the different races, the most numerous and the weakest were the ningen. They had the shortest life spans, but perhaps it was because their lives were so short that they never held anything in reserve, always living their lives out with a bang. All of the other races lived much longer, anywhere from five to ten times the lifespan of a ningen, so many of them looked upon ningen with indulgence, thinking of them as children.
The ones guiltiest of treating ningen like children were perhaps the yousei, a kind but prideful race who thought themselves superior to ningen. In contrast with the yousei, the mamono were anything but kind. They were a cruel and heartless race known to be power hungry. Anywhere you went, you would find them in positions of power, as if they were born to rule. They were natural leaders, fearless with hearts of steel, possessing nearly no weaknesses.
No weaknesses... except for their hametsu.
A mamono's hametsu was akin to a fatal weakness, for a mamono's hametsu was the only person they could never ever bring themselves to harm. The need to protect and care for their hametsu sang in their blood, as if all of their affection existed solely for this person, and that was why a mamono was normally cruel and heartless. Otherwise, a mamono would crash and burn from loving so deeply and passionately all the time.
Some said a mamono's hametsu was the harbinger of destruction, that a hametsu could only lead to ruin. Others claimed the opposite, that meeting their hametsu was like meeting salvation, that they had never known how empty they were until their hametsu filled that emptiness.
Hametsu: ruin, or salvation?
Which will it be?
In the year twelve thousand and twenty four, kinryuu, the year of the golden dragon, a lone boy brought forth ripples in the land of Zenkoku, hundreds of years of balance since the last war suddenly disrupted.
He arrived at Seigaku, seemingly out of nowhere.
The country of Seigaku in the eastern lands of Kantou was home to many and was led by a tsubasamotsu by the name of Tezuka. He possessed an authoritative pair of beautiful, white wings that few could keep their eyes off of. The people loved to watch their leader beat his wings, gusts of wind dancing in his take-off. Whenever stray, white feathers would drift down to the earth as their leader took flight, the people would hasten to snatch them up before others did.
Before the tsubasamotsu Tezuka had taken rule over the country of Seigaku, the lands had been overseen by the mamono Yamato. Although Seigaku had never been considered strong under Yamato's rule, Seigaku did well for itself, all the way until Yamato met his hametsu, who ended up being his downfall. The empire of Rikkaidai showed no mercy in snatching Yamato's hametsu, threatening him with the one person he cared about.
Checkmated, Yamato had had no choice but to surrender. Soon, he stepped down. In the chasm he left, Tezuka rose up to rule, his majestic, white wings mesmerizing many. The people felt safe under his rule, knowing that even though he was not as resilient and tough as a mamono, he at least did not have the fatal weakness of a mamono. This time, they would not be done in by yet another hametsu.
Little did the people know that Tezuka was actually half mamono. He had not wanted to hide his ancestry, but when Yamato handed the country over to him, he warned Tezuka that the people would not accept another mamono so soon.
Tezuka took pride in his ancestry, in his mamono blood from his father that lent him strength and helped him remain calm even in the face of pressure, and in his tsubasamotsu blood from his mother that allowed him to empathize with and care for the people. However, Tezuka understood that he needed to put the people's minds at ease.
With that in mind, when Tezuka became king, he decided that only a select few needed to know about his mamono side, and that no one needed to know who his hametsu was. This way, the people would be at ease, and enemies would not even think to seek out his hametsu to threaten him.
Tezuka still hadn't met his hametsu, but when he did (for he believed he would), Tezuka did not plan on even telling his hametsu that he or she was his hametsu.
Thus, Tezuka ruled for more than a hundred years, his heart serving his country wholeheartedly. So many years passed that even Tezuka thought he would never meet his hametsu.
Then, the day came.
"Go in now," urged a gentle voice Tezuka recognized as Oishi's. "Introduce yourself."
That was all the warning Tezuka received before his entire world got turned over.
The moment the boy stepped into his sight, Tezuka finally and instantaneously understood why his father had always been so dedicated to his mother. Tezuka had known that his mother was his father's hametsu, but he had not actually understood what that had meant, not until now.
Face-to-face with his hametsu, Tezuka could not respond. He could not move a single muscle. He could not even blink. He could not take his eyes off of him. Oishi started speaking, something about how the boy had recently joined them and had risen up in the ranks at a very quick speed, but Oishi's words barely registered. Tezuka almost thought himself to be underwater with how muffled and slow Oishi sounded.
Tezuka had always wondered how he would be able to identify his hametsu. His father had explained little, but his father had been utterly correct.
"You will know."
Tezuka knew. He just knew. The knowledge echoed in his mind and sang in his blood, every beat of his heart telling him that he was the one. Already, Tezuka could not imagine not feeling this buzz, this awareness of his hametsu's existence.
Tezuka could only stare at the boy who stood next to his second-in-command. The boy didn't even come up to Oishi's shoulders even though yousei like Oishi were not particularly known for their height.
Round ears, Tezuka vaguely thought, mind still blank. No wings. No horns. No tail. Except for the boy's sharp, golden eyes, he looked and felt completely like a ningen.
Seconds after meeting his hametsu, Tezuka already felt a deep pain in his chest, for ningen did not live long. In the blink of an eye, the life of this boy before Tezuka would pass by, and the ripples caused by his existence would soon ebb away.
Ningen. They burned brightly and fiercely, and then they were gone, their light so easily and so quickly snuffed out.
Tezuka bowed his head down, his wings curling up around him reflexively. He tried to relax, but it was a hard feat. He could see the numbered years before him.
"What is your name?" asked Tezuka.
"Ryoma," came a very blasé response, golden eyes flicking to Tezuka for the briefest moment before the boy lost interest.
That was the name of his hametsu.
All his life, Tezuka had waited for Ryoma, and never was he so glad that it was not publicly known that Tezuka was half mamono. He never wanted to see anyone use the boy to threaten him. If that happened, Tezuka would first be devastated at seeing his hametsu hurt, and then he would be thoroughly tested, for he was afraid he would forsake his country for his hametsu.
Tezuka didn't think he had the resolve to choose between his country and his hametsu. Now he understood the dilemma Yamato had faced.
Contrary to Tezuka's fears that Ryoma would not be able to protect himself, Ryoma was a prodigy. The rookie of the east, some had taken to calling him, a cheeky genius that had suddenly appeared one day. Every mission Seigaku's strategist, the mamono Inui, sent Ryoma on, Ryoma would come back successful, earning him the reputation of being undefeated. Ryoma first defeated Fudoumine's Ibu, securing them an alliance. He then defeated Seiru's Yuuta, capturing him and bringing him back to Seigaku, for Inui had stated plainly that it would not do for Yuuta to remain in Seiru's hands.
After all, Yuuta was Fuji's hametsu. Fuji had known that his little brother was his hametsu ever since Yuuta had been born, so he had spent all his time doting on and protecting Yuuta, only to drive him away with his overprotecting.
As Seigaku's second strongest, Fuji could not afford to have his hametsu in someone else's hand. If anyone ever threatened him with Yuuta, he would definitely be thrown off his game. After Ryoma brought Yuuta back, Fuji smiled – and then he went to Seiru and taught Mizuki a lesson for messing with Yuuta. No one messed with Yuuta, not with Fuji around.
Ryoma won battle after battle, his fame growing more than Tezuka anticipated. Whispers traveled through all of Zenkoku about the golden-eyed child's skill and his alarming ability to emulate what he saw. Revealing your hand before him meant that he would learn the secret behind your technique, and then it would no longer be your own.
All of Zenkoku began to wonder -- where had this ningen come from?
True to the nature of ningen, Ryoma created waves in a short amount of time, waking all of Zenkoku, beckoning everyone to look at his youth and vigor. He burned brightly. And quickly.
It both pained and exhilarated Tezuka.
Ryoma was not someone Tezuka could shelter and keep back from the spotlight despite how he very much wanted to do so. Ryoma's happiness mattered just as much to Tezuka as his physical well being. To keep Ryoma caged would be to keep him unhappy, so Tezuka did the next best thing.
He trained him. He trained him so that he could rise to his rightful glory. He trained him so that Ryoma could defeat all adversaries even without Tezuka's help.
Watching Ryoma and marveling at Ryoma's strength, Tezuka realized there was one vital lesson Ryoma had yet to learn.
How to lose.
This was a lesson Ryoma dearly needed to learn, or else he would be in serious trouble if he ever were to meet defeat during one of his missions. Crashing and burning on the battlefield could very well be fatal. Tezuka could not bear that thought. He would rather he were the one to teach Ryoma that lesson.
So teach him he did.
It hurt Tezuka to defeat Ryoma so soundly, but his own feelings mattered little. When he dealt the final blow and won, Ryoma looked up at him from the ground with his piercing, golden eyes, his breath coming in short gasps. Ryoma's piercing gaze caused a tremble to run through Tezuka, one he almost wasn't able to keep under control.
For the first time, Tezuka felt like Ryoma was truly looking at him.
For the first time, Tezuka dearly wanted to tell Ryoma that he was his hametsu.
He wanted Ryoma to know that he was his ruin, his eminent downfall, the one thing that would most likely kill him one day. He wanted to tell him that he was his strength, his meaning in life, his everything.
He was his hametsu.
Without Ryoma, there was no meaning in either failure or success. Ryoma's existence was what made everything matter.
What was to happen to Tezuka after Ryoma's death? Tezuka could not bear to imagine it.
Yet Ryoma was a mere ningen. He would not live even a quarter as long as Tezuka. He would not...
Why oh why did Ryoma have to be a ningen?
He wanted to tell Ryoma everything, but he told him nothing, for Tezuka had decided he would never tell, both for the sake of his country, and for Ryoma's sake.
Instead, he entrusted Seigaku to Ryoma. He gave Ryoma a goal. He wanted Ryoma to become stronger and stronger until no one could harm him.
"Ryoma, become the pillar of Seigaku."
Perhaps it was selfish of him, but this would tie Ryoma down so that Ryoma would spend the rest of his life here where Tezuka could see him.
Tezuka never ever wanted Ryoma to leave.
Ever since Ryoma came to Seigaku, he met tons of interesting people. Momoshiro was one of them with his brute strength despite being a ningen. Kaidou was also amusing, for even though he was a yousei, he made scary faces and often scared others away despite his kind nature. Kawamura was another yousei with his kind nature, but unlike most yousei, he had a violent side that came pouring out whenever he held onto a weapon. Some said this was because he was only half yousei, but no one had managed to figure out where the other half of his blood came from. Like Kaidou and Kawamura, advisor Oishi was a yousei, always kind and forgiving. Kikumaru was a kaijuu but more specifically a youko, mischievous and ever changing. Then there were the mamono, Inui and Fuji with their calculating natures. Momoshiro warned Ryoma from the start to be wary of Inui and Fuji, and Momoshiro was the one to educate Ryoma about the concept of hametsu.
"Where have you been your whole life, huh?" asked Momoshiro in incredulity when he discovered that Ryoma knew next to nothing about mamono and the concept of hametsu. "How can you not know all this stuff? It's basic knowledge! All Zenians should know this! Have you been living under a rock?"
Ryoma merely shrugged at Momoshiro's incredulity.
After that, he took to observing the mamono he knew.
Ryoma didn't know who Inui's hametsu was, but he did know that Fuji's was Yuuta. He didn't really understand what about Yuuta made Fuji care about him so much -- there was nothing special about him -- but apparently it was something inherent.
"Is he also your hametsu?" Ryoma asked Yuuta in curiosity one day. He jerked his head at Fuji to indicate who he was talking about.
"My older brother you mean?" Yuuta shook his head. "No, he's not actually. You really don't know anything about hametsu, do you? It's not a two way thing."
"Oh, strange," remarked Ryoma. He would've thought being a person's hametsu meant that that person was also your hametsu. Otherwise, wouldn't it kind of suck and never end if a hametsu had a hametsu, and that hametsu also had a hametsu, and on and on and on...? But then, only a mamono would have a hametsu, so not all hametsu had their own hametsu. Oh well. It didn't involve him anyways.
"Then who's your hametsu?" asked Ryoma.
Yuuta made a face. "Like I'm gonna tell you that. You shouldn't ask personal things like that."
With Seigaku's rising strength, country after country became alarmed. Some even decided to take the initiative to attack before Seigaku became too strong. Yamabuki was one such country, but even Yamabuki's strongest did not manage to bring Ryoma down.
Ryoma went on to defeat Yamabuki's Akutsu, who turned out to be a mamono whose hametsu was actually Kawamura. Ryoma watched in fascination as the cold-hearted Akutsu softened in Kawamura's presence. This Akutsu was the same guy who had pummeled his face in the dirt? Ryoma found that almost hard to believe.
The people of Zenkoku were such fascinating creatures.
Truly fascinating, Zenians were.
Following Yamabuki's attempt to bring Seigaku down was Hyoutei's attempt to do the same.
"Tezuka! Stop! Don't do this!" Oishi cried out. He tried to run forward, but Kikumaru pounced on him to hold him back, all nine-tails of his taut with tension. Oishi had been injured before the battle. Momoshiro even had to take his place. Oishi would not be able to help Tezuka, not when he himself was already so heavily injured.
The battle with Hyoutei was taking a turn for the worse. Never had a battle been so close. Never had a battle become so drawn out. Even those cheering for Hyoutei had long since quieted down, watching with abated breath.
Ryoma watched too, eyes gleaming. Why was Tezuka taking things so far? Conceding defeat here would not hurt Seigaku greatly. Ryoma didn't understand. He often did not understand Tezuka, Tezuka whom everyone claimed to be calm and collected, but whom Ryoma had always found to be passionate and fierce.
He just didn't understand why Tezuka was being so hotheaded here.
Why was Tezuka putting his all into this battle? Why not retreat? Tezuka was the one who had taught him how to lose, yet now Tezuka was the one who was stubbornly refusing to give up. Ryoma was next after Tezuka. He could win it for them. He could!
Ugly red spilled down Tezuka's feathers. Pristine white was now stained scarlet. He'd torn his wings, aggravating his old injuries in his never-ending battle with Atobe, the mamono who was Hyoutei's king. Rumors were that Atobe's hametsu was still unknown despite his open attempt to search for his hametsu. He'd searched for a thousand and twelve years with no luck. The lack of a hametsu meant that there was nothing to temper Atobe. It also meant that there was nothing people could threaten him with.
When Tezuka finally went down, Ryoma could stay still no longer, but it wasn't Tezuka's defeat that stirred him so. It was Tezuka's passion that had moved him, his nonsensical passion that Ryoma still didn't understand completely, but that mattered little because he felt a similar, unexplainable passion rising from within.
Ryoma leapt off the tree he had been hiding in, daggers flying out of his hand, blood singing in his ears.
Yet Atobe caught the daggers without even turning his head.
Tezuka looked up, breath ragged. He locked eyes with Ryoma.
"What's this?" Atobe asked, one hand arching up against his face, his eyes fierce, as if they could see through everything. In fact, he'd honed his sight so that he could notice every little sign that hinted at someone's weakness, and he'd used that very skill to detect Tezuka's old injury. His index finger toyed at the solitary horn in the middle of his forehead that signaled the blood of a mamono. Blood had trickled down from his head, splitting at his horn to drip down his face. He was not uninjured either.
"Did you prepare a present for me, is that it, Tezuka? Is your prodigy the one behind me, the one I've heard so much about? Too bad for you, but I will be destroying-"
When Atobe turned and saw Ryoma, the one he had planned to destroy in front of Tezuka's eyes, his hands dropped. The daggers he had caught with one of his hands clattered onto the floor. The other hand that had wiped at the blood on his face dripped scarlet liquid onto the ground.
In a flash, Atobe was in front of Ryoma before the boy could react. He grabbed Ryoma's shoulders, smearing one of his shoulders with blood. "You. Come with me to Hyoutei."
Tezuka's head snapped up, eyes wide, his mask of indifference gone. It couldn't be. He had never heard of...
"Why?" asked Ryoma belligerently, golden eyes staring the king down. Meanwhile, he'd already brought another dagger out, angling it against Atobe's neck.
Atobe let him.
"Because you are my hametsu," Atobe said without any hesitation, voice strong but hurried without any hint as to the fact that someone was holding a dagger to his neck. "My destruction. I have been waiting for you for over a thousand years. Come with me before someone harms you, before I go crazy with worry."
Atobe shot a look at Tezuka, accusing him of hiding Ryoma away, of purposely using Ryoma in a mental battle against him.
But Tezuka had done no such thing. He would never use Ryoma like that. In fact, he was still in shock that he and Atobe shared the same hametsu.
Just who was Ryoma?
Could Atobe be making this up?
No, no... that couldn't be, not with how Atobe was acting, not with his sudden change in demeanor. Tezuka had never before seen Atobe act like this in all the years he'd known him. So this was what Atobe was like in the presence of his hametsu. Even Atobe...
That didn't mean Tezuka was going to let Ryoma go. No matter how much Atobe would attack Seigaku in the future to get his hands on Ryoma, Tezuka would never let Ryoma go.
But it all depended on what Ryoma wanted. What if Ryoma...?
"Come with me, hurry!" Atobe insisted. "With the influence of my kingdom, no one will be able to harm you! And you will have everything you ever desired, more riches than you can ever imagine."
"Hn, I'm your hametsu?" asked Ryoma in curiosity.
"Yes, so come. Quickly," Atobe urged.
"Huh, if I'm your hametsu, doesn't that mean... you're defenseless against me?"
A wide grin spread over Ryoma's face.
Perhaps it was a good thing for Tezuka that Ryoma did not know he was his hametsu.
Tezuka watched as Ryoma moved his dagger with a flick, a deep, angry gash appearing on Atobe's throat. Self-preservation kicked in, the only thing that saved Atobe as he leapt away from the devil in his arms.
"You..." Atobe trailed off, hand pressed against his throat, eyes full of hurt. If he had not been a mamono, he would be soon dead from this kind of injury.
Ryoma didn't stop his attack.
Atobe could only dodge and could not bring himself to retaliate.
He is his hametsu, Tezuka thought. His ruin.
"Why?" Tezuka asked once the battle ended. Ryoma supported Tezuka while Oishi went on ahead to secure the path for them.
Why not follow Atobe? Why harm someone who would be completely dedicated to him? Why take such delight in tormenting someone defenseless against himself? How could he have done it? Would Ryoma one day do the same to Tezuka too?
Tezuka asked none of this. He merely asked why, and he also wanted to ask himself why he cared so deeply about this ruthless boy. Would he care so much about Ryoma if Ryoma had not been his hametsu? He wanted to believe that he would. He couldn't imagine life without Ryoma and his brilliance.
"Why what?" asked Ryoma in confusion.
Tezuka paused before he decided he could explain this one thing, if nothing else. "Atobe's influence is far and wide. As his hametsu, you would never be left wanting, and he would definitely see to your every need. You are his hametsu. He would treat you well."
"No thanks, I don't want to be like Yuuta, captured as bait for Fuji once everyone knows I'm Atobe's hametsu. I wish he hadn't announced it like that," Ryoma replied with a roll of his eyes. "And I do not want to be pampered or kept in a cage. I don't need to be protected."
Tezuka reached a hand out, fingers threading through Ryoma's hair.
How young he was... but how little time he had... why...
"...what?" Ryoma asked, brows knitting together.
"You may think you don't need the protection, but you are only ningen," Tezuka said, finally explaining what had always been on his mind.
Ryoma frowned. "What about it? Are you discriminating against me?"
"No! Never! It's not that... it's just that... you have much less time on this earth than I do. Or that Atobe does. He doesn't want to see you pass on so quickly, but he has no choice. Of course he would want to keep you caged, to spend as much time as he could with you."
Each word Tezuka spoke, he felt like he was describing himself.
"And you?" Ryoma questioned.
Tezuka blinked. "Me?"
"Yes, you. Do you want to keep me caged too?"
"I..." Tezuka's mouth went dry. "I... yes. Yes, I do."
And he had. He'd bound Ryoma to Seigaku.
This time, it was Ryoma's turn to blink. "Awfully honest, aren't you?"
Tezuka turned his head away and let his hand drop, but Ryoma leaned forward, as if he'd made some sort of decision. Tezuka almost felt like he had just passed some sort of test when those golden eyes peered back at him warmly and mischievously.
"I have good news for you then," Ryoma murmured. "Well, good news only if you like me enough to spend the next thousands of years with me."
Eyes wide, Tezuka stared.
"You heard me. Don't believe me?"
It couldn't be...? But how? Ryoma looked thoroughly ningen except for those golden eyes of his...
Tezuka watched as Ryoma closed his eyes to concentrate. Then, an enormous pair of leathery wings materialized behind his back, what appeared to be gold dust compressing together to fold behind Ryoma. When the wings grew to their full length, Ryoma extended his wings, sunlight glinting off of them.
The sight stole Tezuka's breath away.
The wings were golden in color, just like Ryoma's eyes.
Tezuka knew of only one race that had golden wings. The kinryuu, a sub-race of the shinjuu.
Ryoma was a kinryuu. A golden dragon. A mythical creature he had only ever heard legends about.
Ryoma grinned cheekily. "Oh, I just got bored of staying home. Thought I'd explore Zenkoku a bit. Wasn't let down. Everyone's been pretty fascinating." He paused and pulled Tezuka down to his height so that he could whisper into his ear. "And I've been wondering, why have you helped me so much? Don't tell me I'm your hametsu? But that can't be right, I thought only the mamono had hametsu..."
How spot on he was... but Tezuka would never tell because it would not benefit Ryoma to be known as two mamono's hametsu. Tezuka already knew that Ryoma would be hunted in the future by many to use against Atobe. Ryoma did not need the extra burden of being hunted for being Tezuka's hametsu.
"I am glad," he said instead, "that I will be able to spend an eternity with you."
Ryoma's grin grew even cheekier. He flapped his large wings. "Come fly with me? Oh, but you're injured. Next time..."
"Yes, next time."
For there would definitely be a next time. For this, Tezuka was glad.