According to Legend, the King of the Ancient Lands begat two children born only minutes apart. The elder child, a son, was born in the dark, early hours of the morning. The younger child, a daughter, was born just as the Sun began to rise over the horizon. Given the proximity of their births, the King decided to split the Ancient Lands in half, giving each of his children their own kingdom to rule when they came of age.
Sanguinem, a Kingdom to Rule the Day.
Seraphim, a Kingdom to Rule the Night.
When the children came of age, and the King failed in his health, the children began to rule their respective kingdoms. Sanguinem, which lived under the blessing of the Sun, provided crops, handcrafted goods, and livestock for both kingdoms. Seraphim, which thrived under Moonlight, defended the Land from the Mali, insidious creatures that lived in the darkness.
For many years, the two kingdoms lived harmoniously, a perfect balance between Light and Dark. Then, true Darkness fell.
Lord Ferid Bathory, royal advisor to the King of Seraphim, became jealous of Sanguinem. He believed they thought themselves superior, able to bask in the Sun, while the people of Seraphim were relegated to hide in the shadows. It is for this reason that Bathory planned a coup to take the throne for himself. Using his influence, Bathory murdered the King of Seraphim and took his place, declaring war on the Queen and the people of Sanguinem.
The Queen, after learning about the death of her brother, became overcome with grief, and her already fragile health declined. Still, she was vigilant in her attempts to keep Bathory’s Dark Army at bay. Under her leadership, and the Light of the Sun, the Queen successfully withstood Bathory’s attacks on the Kingdom. Sanguinem stood strong in the Light of Day and resisted attack in the Darkness of Night. However, everything changed when the Queen became pregnant.
The Queen fell into grave illness with her pregnancy, and the entire Kingdom devoted its attention to her wellbeing. It was in this moment of distraction that Bathory enacted his most heinous and vicious plan of all.
Using Dark Magicks, Bathory devised a spell to steal the Sun right out of the sky. And so, on the day the Queen gave birth to a healthy son, the Sun flickered out of the sky and the Kingdom fell into total darkness. Without the blessing of the Sun’s Light, the Mali were permitted to run freely, terrorizing villages and destroying the Kingdom’s strongholds. The Queen sent legions of soldiers to resist the new threat, and a temporary resistance was managed to be put into place.
However, without the Sun to guide the way, Bathory’s power will only continue to grow. Sanguinem cannot resist forever.
Yet, there is still hope.
According to Legend, a Chosen One, Companion to the Sun and Champion of Light, will emerge in the eighteenth year of Darkness. Wielding the blessed sword Lucidum, this noble warrior will strike down Bathory’s Dark Army and return the Sun to His rightful place in the Heavens, ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity.
So it is Written, so it shall be.
Yuu’s back hits the stone floor for the tenth time that day. The broadsword goes flying out of his grasp, and Yuu barely has time to recover his senses before something sharp is being pointed at the base of his chin. Yuu looks up and meets blue, smug eyes.
“I win again,” Mikaela says with a smirk. He retracts his blade and sheaths his sword, resting his hands on his hips. “For the Chosen One, you sure are a slow learner.”
Yuu scoffs and scrambles back to his feet, fighting down the urge to wince as he stands. He crosses his arms and frowns petulantly.
“You’re the one who said I’m the Chosen One, not me,” Yuu says. “I’m doing my best here.”
“I am just giving you a hard time,” he says with gentle eyes. “You have come a long way since when I first met you.”
That was true, at least. Yuu certainly was not the same person he was just a few weeks ago.
A few weeks ago, Yuu was just a regular teenage boy celebrating his 18th birthday in an abandoned park. That’s what you did when you had no friends or family to celebrate with you. He never expected to trip down a hill and wake up to a boy with bluest eyes and palest skin he had ever seen crouching over him. He expected even less for the boy to grab him by the arm and whisk him away to a castle, on horseback, no less, and announce to a room of important looking people that he was the “Chosen One.” Least of all, Yuu didn’t expect that the boy was the Crown Prince of a magical land cloaked in eternal night, on the brink of being swallowed by Darkness forever.
Mikaela looks away from Yuu and stares out the window of the training room, the smile falling from his face. He steps over to the window and sighs. Yuu follows Mikaela’s gaze and sees a thin crescent of luminous white hanging in the sky.
“Everyday the Moon grows weaker,” Mikaela says solemnly. “She won’t be able to keep the darkness at bay for much longer.” His hands grip the edge of the window. “That is why it is imperative that you complete your training and return the Sun to the sky as soon as possible. Otherwise, we will have no chance to defeat Lord Bathory and his Dark Army.”
Yuu’s grip on his sword tightens as he takes in Mika’s words and grave expression.
His whole life he has never been anyone special, just an orphan with a bad attitude and no one to love him. When he was told he was some kind of destined savior, it didn’t make sense. Surely, someone as insignificant as he could never save anyone. He is truly unworthy. Still, Mikaela brought him before the Queen and the royal council, eyes sparkling, looking at Yuu like he was hope incarnate. Yuu was helpless to reject him. Moreover, he was helpless to reject destiny when he gripped the sacred sword Lucidum and the blade sparked to life with light in his grip. Even now with a practice blade in his hand, Yuu can recall the power that flowed through him, the fleeting feeling of forgotten memories, just barely out of his reach.
It would seem he really is the Chosen One after all.
Seeing Mikaela’s wistful expression, Yuu knows that he must fulfill his destiny of bringing Day back to this land of Night. It’s with this in mind that he approaches Mikaela quietly, practice blade poised to strike. Mikaela clearly isn’t expecting it when Yuu grabs his shoulder, throwing off his balance and bringing them both to the ground. Yuu cages Mikaela’s body with his own, blade raised and poised to strike just between the Prince’s eyes. Yuu smirks when he sees Mikaela’s shocked expression.
“This was the first thing you taught me,” Yuu says. He leans his face closer and speaks in a lowered voice. “Never let your guard down.”
Mikaela stares up at Yuu, wide-eyed, for just a few moments more before laughing and shaking his head. His shock turns into something more closely resembling fondness.
“I suppose I did say that,” Mikaela admits.
Yuu has only just begun to enjoy the feeling of finally besting the Prince when Mikaela hooks his foot around Yuu’s ankle. It is Yuu’s turn to feel shocked when his world is flipped and suddenly Mikaela is the one straddling him, holding the base of Yuu’s practice sword to the bottom of his throat. Mikaela basks in his victory for just a moment before rising, leaving Yuu dumbstruck on the ground.
“You still have much to learn before you can defeat Bathory,” Mikaela says. He holds out a hand.
Yuu blinks, schooling his expression back into something more neutral, before reaching up and clasping Mikaela’s hand. Mikaela hauls him up to his feet and pinches the tip of the practice blade between his fingers. He holds the hilt out to Yuu.
“Ready for the next lesson?” Mikaela asks. Something playful is glittering behind his eyes.
Yuu smiles and takes the sword from the Prince. He widens his stance, matching Mikaela’s challenging gaze with one of his own. “Ready.”
The Oracle of the Court is one of the most powerful people in all of Sanguinem.
The gift of Sight has been bestowed upon her family for generations, and she is the one upon whom the whole Kingdom relies to avoid tragedy and obtain victory over their foes. From what Mikaela had told Yuu, the current Oracle inherited the position at a young age after the untimely death of her sister. Despite her youth, she remains one of the most powerful Oracles the Kingdom has ever known, and the knowledge she provides is especially invaluable during these troubled times.
Still, Yuu never expected the respected and revered Oracle to behave in quite the way she does.
“Hello, my dear friends!” The Oracle announces as she struts into the throne room, burgundy cloak flowing behind her. “Who here is ready for the show of a lifetime?”
Neither the Council seated on the right side of the room nor the congregation of Royal Knights seated on the left respond, but Yuu can see the exasperated looks on their faces, apparently already used to the girl’s theatrics. The Oracle’s eyes sweep across the room and settle on Yuu. She waggles her fingers to where he stands on the left side of the throne.
“Hello, Chosen One,” she says with a wink. “How is your training with the Prince going? I truly hope he is being gentle with you.”
Yuu blushes but doesn’t respond.
From the right side of the throne, Mikaela sighs and levels the Oracle with an unimpressed stare. “Shinoa, how many times do I have to tell you not to tease him—”
A hand is raised. Mikaela stops speaking at once.
“Let us commence. We have no time to waste.”
Mikaela bows his head. “Yes, of course. I am sorry, Mother.”
The Queen is a small and delicate looking woman, barely reaching to her own son’s shoulder when she stands to her full height. She has been sickly for most of her life, according to Mikaela, but this has never stopped her from ruling Sanguinem with poise and power. Despite her stature, her aura is commanding and her intelligence is unmatched. Even now, Shinoa has ceased her joking at the sound of the Queen’s voice, lowering her eyes in deference. Yuu stands up a little straighter as she speaks.
“Oracle,” the Queen says. “The emergence of the Chosen One has occurred in the eighteenth year of Darkness, just as prophesied. However, this knowledge has surely reached the ears of our adversary, and his attacks on our Kingdom will only increase in number. What have you seen regarding Lord Bathory?”
The way the Queen says his name is like it is a dirty thing, not even worth the air it takes to form the word.
Shinoa bows ostentatiously, sweeping an arm in front of her. “Your Majesty.” She pulls a leather-bound tome out from her cloak and flips through the yellowing pages. Blood red ink marks the pages. “I have had many visions in these recent days and have transcribed them to the best of my ability.”
Shinoa’s eyes scan the room, and she seems almost smug about how everyone is leaning forward in interest despite their earlier scoffing. Only the Queen has the decorum to keep her expression neutral. The Oracle continues.
“Bathory’s power will only grow as the Moon fails in Her brilliance. The only chance of subduing his treacherous reign is to hang the Sun in the sky once again. This where our Chosen One comes in.”
All eyes in the room dart to Yuu, and he squirms under the weight of their gaze. He looks over to Mikaela, and the Prince smiles encouragingly. It gives Yuu the willpower to stop fidgeting.
“I have seen shadow and flame dancing in tandem, gold and obsidian towers rising to the Heavens, flesh broken and bruised by a blade of Light,” Shinoa says.
She takes a long breath and closes her eyes.
“The Chosen One, accompanied by a party of noble warriors, must travel to where the Sun has been hidden, lying dormant for eighteen years. It is the destiny of the Chosen One to wield Lucidum and free the Sun from the chains of His mortal prison.”
Lucidum, which sits sheathed on Yuu’s hip, suddenly feels impossibly heavy.
“Have you seen the location of this supposed prison?” The Queen asks.
Shinoa’s eyes open and she pauses for a few tense moments.
“No. I have not. However, I am confident that the answers will become clear to me over time.”
The sound of someone scoffing has everyone diverting their attention away from Shinoa and Yuu and to the left side of the throne room. A burly, ill-tempered knight Yuu has come to know as “Sir Ichinose” stares at Shinoa with an eyebrow raised, arms crossed against his chest.
“For an ‘all-knowing Oracle’ you seem to really be in the dark about this,” the knight says. His violet eyes flicker toward Yuu, and he holds an accusing hand out in his direction. “We are giving a great deal of responsibility to a brat who could barely wield a sword just a few weeks ago.”
Yuu grits his teeth. “Hey! Who are you calling a brat!”
Sir Ichinose doesn’t even look at him. “He has a temper, too.”
“Sir Ichinose, it would only take one look at your surroundings to realize that we are all ‘in the dark’ as you have so helpfully put it,” Shinoa says. She nods her chin in Yuu’s direction. “And that ‘brat’ is the only person who has any chance of bringing Light back into this world.”
Sir Ichinose leans forward, eyes narrowed. “That still does not excuse the fact—”
“Sir Ichinose,” the Queen says. “While I recognize that you are one of the most proficient knights in my court, you fail to realize that the final word on this, and any matter, is mine.”
A muscle twitches in Sir Ichinose's jaw. He exhales through his nose and leans back in his chair.
“I apologize, Your Majesty,” Sir Ichinose says, though it sounds rather reluctant to Yuu’s ears. “I am just wary of an outsider with no proper knight’s training having the entire fate of our Kingdom in his hands.”
“Your Majesty, if I may?”
A voice calls out from the right side of the room, and Yuu turns to look at the Council. A councilman with snow-white hair and blue eyes has his hand raised. His gentle demeanor is the antithesis of Sir Ichinose’s in every way. The Queen nods to him.
“Councilman Hiiragi, speak.”
Councilman Hiiragi bows his head respectfully. “Sir Ichinose,” he says. He smiles at the knight in a considerably less respectful way. “The wisdom of the Oracle has been guiding our Kingdom for years. Her visions, however cryptic they may be, always lead to truth.” He looks over to Yuu, still smiling. “If the Oracle as seen this young man restore Light back to this world of Darkness, I am inclined to believe her.”
“I agree,” the Queen says. Yuu feels something in his chest loosen. “Though we may not know much about Yuuichiro, he has been delivered to us just as the prophecy states. Even Lucidum has recognized him as its rightful owner. If the Oracle has seen the Chosen One leading a party of warriors to free the Sun, then so be it.”
Shinoa bows again while Sir Ichinose grumbles something sounding like “nepotism” under his breath. Yuu steals a glance in Mikaela’s direction, and the Prince is smiling at him wide. His blue eyes are shining in the torchlight. Yuu smiles back.
The Queen clears her throat. “However.”
The smile falls from Yuu’s face.
“Sir Ichinose, I understand your concerns regarding Yuuichiro’s capabilities. Destiny alone does not a Chosen One make. Therefore, while we await further clarity from the Oracle regarding the location of the Sun’s mortal prison, I will place him under your charge for all further training.”
“What?” Mikaela turns sharply toward the throne. “Mother, that will not be necessary. I am perfectly capable—”
“Enough, Mikaela,” the Queen says.
Mikaela’s mouth snaps shut.
The Queen looks up at her son, expression hardened. “I know how desperate you are to have a place in all this, but you must let the Chosen One fulfill his destiny on his own. My word on this is final.”
Mikaela, who has gone paler than normal, looks like he wants the protest. He says nothing. Yuu’s stomach ties back into knots.
“Sir Ichinose,” the Queen says as she directs her attention back to the knight. “Do you think you will be capable of training the Chosen One to your standards?”
Sir Ichinose snorts boorishly. “Of course. It has always been my dream to teach a talentless knave the intricacies of battle.” He glances at Yuu in unease. Yuu grits his teeth.
Mikaela remains silent.
“Very well,” The Queen says with a nod. “It is decided. The Chosen One shall continue his training as the Oracle deciphers who shall be selected to join him in his quest. In the meantime, we shall stay vigilant in our defense of the Kingdom and surrounding villages from Bathory’s attacks.”
The Queen rises from her throne. The members of the court bow their heads instinctively. It takes Yuu a moment to remember what Mikaela has told him about court etiquette, and he scrambles to mimic the pose the Prince has dawned on the other side of the throne. Left arm crossed behind his back, right hand clenched into a fist over his heart. The Queen addresses her subjects with a regal sweep of her eyes. She takes a step forward, and two guards stand by to catch her if she collapses. She draws in a breath.
“Go forth, and may the Darkness never consume your Light.”
Yuu walks down a long, winding corridor escorted by two palace servants.
“His Majesty, the Prince, wishes to speak with you,” they had said.
Out of everyone in this new and strange world, the Prince has been the one with which Yuu has spent the most time. Yet, he had never been invited into any of Mikaela’s private spaces before. Remembering the Prince’s sullen face in the throne room earlier, Yuu’s heart hammers with each step.
Eventually, Yuu is led to a large set of double doors flanked by armed guards on either side. The guards look the three of them over, and the servants bow in respect. The guards look to Yuu expectantly. Yuu awkwardly tips his head.
If there was a test for entry, Yuu seems to have passed. The guard on the left turns and pushes open the doors. The servants remain still, hands clasped in front of them, and Yuu takes this as his cue to enter behind the guard. The guard stands just adjacent to the doorway, and Yuu does not dare enter in any further.
From what Yuu can see, he has been taken to a lavish sitting room, furnished with ornate chairs and couches. A large, finely detailed fireplace on the far wall casts the room in an orange glow. The Prince is seated on one of the couches in front of the fireplace, and Yuu is surprised to see he isn’t alone.
Mikaela stands when he sees Yuu. Shinoa remains seated on the couch, leather-bound book open in her lap. She smiles at Yuu and waves.
“Your Majesty,” the guard says. “Master Yuuichiro, as you have requested.”
Mikaela nods. “Thank you.” He waves a hand. “You may leave us.”
The guard bows and turns back through the doorway, swinging the door shut behind him. Mikaela looks down at Shinoa with a pointed look. The Oracle snickers and closes the book on her lap with a flourish.
“I suppose I will give you two your privacy,” she says. She stands, tucking the book under her arm. She picks up her robes and walks toward the door, leveling Yuu with a smirk. “Already been invited to the royal bedchambers, I see? The Prince must really be quite fond of you.”
Yuu flushes scarlet. “Shut up.”
“Shinoa,” Mikaela warns. “That is enough. Leave him alone.”
Shinoa bumps Yuu with her shoulder as she passes, laughing brightly. She waves back at the Prince without turning around. “Whatever you say, Your Majesty.”
When the door closes after Shinoa, Mikaela lets out a sigh and drops back to the couch. He looks up to Yuu, who is still hovering near the entrance, and smiles softly. The cold demeanor with which he addressed the guard has been replaced by something far more tender. He beckons over to Yuu with his hand.
“Come here,” he says. “Sit with me.”
Yuu swallows thickly and walks across the room. He sits next to Mikaela, careful to leave space between them. The Prince smiles, and Yuu has trouble looking at him directly. The heat of the fireplace is warm on Yuu’s skin, and sweat beads along the back of his neck.
“I apologize for earlier,” Mikaela says. He manages a dull, half-hearted laugh. “My mother can be intimidating all on her own, never mind the entire High Council. You must have felt quite uncomfortable.”
Yuu scratches the back of his head. “It’s fine. I just felt kind of awkward when they were talking about me like I’m some kind of hero. I’m just a regular guy.”
Mikaela leans forward and grabs Yuu’s hand. The reflection of twin flames flickers wildly in his eyes.
“You are a hero,” he says. “You have been Chosen, and destiny tends to choose wisely.” His grip tightens, face severe. “You are more important than you know, Yuuichiro.”
A heat that could rival the fire in the hearth climbs its way up the back of Yuu’s neck. He shakes his head and pulls his hand away from Mikaela’s touch.
“I’m not,” Yuu says. “It’s just like your mom said earlier, just because some sword chose me or whatever doesn’t mean I’m going to be this great hero. And I already said that you don’t have to call me Yuuchiro. Yuu is fine.”
Mikaela leans back and furrows his brow. “It is so informal. I would feel rather...improper by shortening it.”
“Then how about I call you by a nickname, too?”
Mikaela’s eyebrows nearly climb to his hairline. “Excuse me?”
“Why not?” Yuu asks. “‘Mikaela’ is a bit of a mouthful anyway.” Yuu has to stop himself from laughing at the Prince’s stupefied expression. “How about I call you...” He tilts his head in thought. “Mika?”
The Prince does not respond right away. His mouth hangs open, and splotches of red rise to the apples of his cheeks. He blinks, and slowly the corners of his lips turn upwards.
Suddenly, Mikaela laughs.
He laughs openly, uproariously, so much so that the sound ricochets around the room before it hits Yuu’s ears. Yuu doesn’t think he has ever seen the Prince so unpoised, so completely and utterly unprincelike, since he has arrived in this foreign world. Eventually, Mikaela’s laughs taper off into quiet giggles, and he looks up at Yuu with tears clinging to his lash line. Yuu’s heart flips in his chest.
“You are so strange,” Mikaela says. He is still smiling. “So very strange.”
Yuu begins to panic. “I’m sorry. You don’t have to—”
“It’s quite alright.” The Prince takes his hand again. “You may call me whatever you would like, Yuu.”
Yuu doesn’t pull away this time. Mika’s eyes soften.
“You know,” Mika says. He looks into the fire and draws in a breath. “When I was young, I wished that I could be the Chosen One.” He laughs, but this time it is a quiet, glum thing. “I would hear the prophecies, and I always believed that I was supposed to be a part of the story. That I had some crucial role to play. But of course, Lucidum was never mine to wield. No matter how many times I tried, it would never...” Mika trails off and shakes his head. He looks back to Yuu with a small smile on his lips.
“Regardless, I felt as though my and the Sun’s fates were connected in some way. I just did not know how. And then I met you.” Blue eyes shine. “I found you, and I knew somewhere deep inside of me that it was what I was meant to do. Find you. Bring you to Lucidum, guide you on your journey, fight alongside you. From the moment I saw you, I felt this connection that I cannot describe, but it is more real than anything I have ever felt before. Can you not feel it, too?”
Yuu can hardly breathe as Mika speaks. He did not notice until just now how close the two of them have gotten. Mika’s knee presses against his, and the Prince now has both of Yuu’s hands squeezed in his own. Yuu tries to respond, but words refuse to come out of his mouth. Mika waits for an answer, and his eager expression is slowly replaced by apprehension. He laughs anxiously, blushes, and looks away.
“I apologize if I overstepped,” Mika says. He pulls his hands back and leans out of Yuu’s space. Yuu grabs his hand before he can get too far.
“No!” he shouts. When Mika jumps, Yuu clears his throat bashfully. He lowers his voice to a more reasonable volume. “It’s just that, I completely understand what you’re saying. The connection, I mean.”
Yuu had felt it too, lying dazed on the forest floor, staring up into the face of a ghostly pale figure. Instead of feeling panic or confusion like he should have, Yuu only felt a sense of peace. Like it was someone he had always known. An old friend. He feels that peace again when Mika smiles and squeezes his fingers.
“Oh,” Mika says softly. “I am glad.”
Yuu’s heart feels as though it may fall out of his chest.
“I just hope I can live up to your expectations,” Yuu says with a nervous laugh. He lets Mika’s hand go in favor of playing with the hem of his tunic and drops his eyes to his lap. “I really am nothing special. You’re the first person to ever need me for anything.”
Yuu’s breath catches when he feels fingers against his cheek. He looks up, and Mika is smiling, but there is sadness in his eyes. A feeling that Yuu can’t quite name bursts to life in his chest. Mika sighs softly.
“Oh, Yuu,” he says. “It is not only I who needs you. We all do.”
Yuu doubles over with hands on his knees struggling to catch his breath. Sweat clings to every inch of his skin, and his tunic sticks to his back uncomfortably. When he looks back up, Sir Ichinose is standing over him with that derisive smirk on his lips. He puts his hands on his hips and snorts.
“What is wrong, Chosen One?” he asks. “Is my training a bit too rigorous for you? Do you miss the luxury of being the Prince’s lapdog?”
After hours of intense sparring, bruised ribs, and Sir Ichinose’s excessive haranguing, it is safe to say Yuu misses his training sessions with Mika far more than he would care to admit. Around him, other knights train and spar with each other under the command of Sir Ichinose, but Yuu is overly aware of their glances and whispers ever since he stepped foot into the training grounds. His status as the Chosen One has spread quickly. Sir Ichinose seems to have taken that as a challenge to work Yuu twice as hard in an attempt to humble him. However, Yuu refuses to give the older knight any satisfaction, so he stands straight, spits on the ground, and scrubs the sweat off his forehead.
“I can go all day, old man,” Yuu says. He twirls his practice blade in his hand. Sir Ichinose snorts.
“Of course you can,” he says. He sheaths his blade. “I, however, have many important prior engagements I must attend to.”
Yuu’s blood flares with indignation. “Huh? I thought you were supposed to—!”
“Kimizuki!” the knight calls over his shoulder. Another knight, tall and broad-shouldered, leaves his sparring partner to jog over to the both of them. Sir Ichinose casts Yuu a glance out of the side of his eye. “This is Kimizuki, and he will be sparring with you for the rest of the day. I do hope you will go easy on him, oh mighty Chosen One.”
Kimizuki looks to Sir Ichinose with confusion. “You are leaving me to train him?”
“Yes. He still has much to learn, so be patient with him.”
Kimizuki nods. “Understood.”
Sir Ichinose pats Kimizuki once on the shoulder and walks back toward the castle, being sure to send Yuu a teasing smile over his shoulder as he goes. Yuu rolls his eyes and turns his attention to Kimizuki. The knight looks down at him dubiously.
“Listen,” Yuu says. “You don’t have to worry about teaching me any of the basics. I think I’ve got most of it down.” Yuu's face turns haughty, and he puts a hand on his hip. “I guess natural talent comes with the whole ‘being Chosen’ gig.”
Kimizuki’s expression doesn’t waver, but he takes a few moments before he responds.
“You are quite cocky.”
Yuu shrugs. “So what?”
“I hate people who are cocky. Especially those who have done nothing to prove themselves.”
“I wouldn’t say that.” Yuu grins arrogantly. "Lucidum seemed to like me fine.”
Finally, Kimizuki’s stoic expression begins to crack. He clicks his tongue, irritation creeping onto his face. “That does not mean anything.” Kimizuki holds his practice blade in front of him and widens his stance. He tilts his head. “Come on, then. Show me that ‘natural talent’ you keep blathering about.”
Yuu scoffs and matches his stance.
“Bring it on.”
To borrow a phrase from Yuu’s home dimension, the Chosen One had his ass thoroughly and utterly handed to him today.
Kimizuki did not hold back one bit. Yuu is loathe to admit it, but the other knight’s strength and ability are impressive. He couldn’t keep up with him regardless of how hard he tried. He had collided with the harsh, cobbled floor too many times to count, and Yuu can still see Kimizuki’s smirk as he loomed over him with practice blade pointed at his chest.
“You still have a lot to learn,” Kimizuki had said. “Tomorrow, we shall go over the basics.”
Yuu clicks his tongue as he remembers Kimizuki’s words, throwing himself face first onto the plush bed of his chambers. He rolls onto his back and winces at the ache in his spine. He sighs. As much as wants to put that lumbering bastard in his place, Yuu knows he indeed has a long way to go before he can fully live up to the mantle of Chosen One. His eyes slip closed, exhaustion getting the better of him.
A soft knock on the door prevents him from falling completely asleep. He sits up, wincing again, and stares at the door curiously.
“Yeah,” Yuu calls after a moment. “Come in.”
The door cracks, and a boy cautiously sidles into the room. He is slight, timid in posture, with mousy brown hair and wide, mossy green eyes. He carries a leather bag in his right hand. When he and Yuu make eye contact, the boy bows his head respectfully.
“Master Yuuichiro,” he says. “I’ve been sent by the Prince to attend to your injuries, if it should so please you.”
“Mika sent you?” Yuu asks.
The boy’s eyes widen, and whatever he was about to say next gets caught in his throat. “Yes, ah, Prince Mikaela sent me,” he stammers. “Is it alright for me to come in?”
“Sure,” Yuu says. He flops himself back down onto the mattress and waves a hand in the air. “Come do whatever.”
The boy hesitates but slowly makes his way to the edge of the bed where Yuu is laying. Yuu looks up at him and purses his lips thoughtfully.
“What’s your name?” Yuu asks.
“Yoichi Saotome. The members of my family have been healers for the royal family for generations.”
Yuu raises an eyebrow and sits back up. “Oh yeah?”
For the first time since he’s entered, Yoichi smiles. “Yes. My sister is actually the personal attendant to Her Royal Majesty, the highest honor of any physician. I have been training under her since my youth.”
“Well, let’s see if any of that fancy training can do something for my back,” Yuu says. He rolls his shoulder. “It hurts like a bitch.”
Again, Yuu’s candid language causes Yoichi to stumble. It only takes him a moment of fleeting eye contact to recover, and he places his bag down on the bed next Yuu. He opens the bronze clasp, and Yuu catches sight of archaic instruments and colorful glass bottles. Yoichi turns to him and smiles gently.
“Can you please remove your tunic?”
It is Yuu’s turn to take pause. Yoichi looks at him expectantly, hands over his supplies. Yuu draws in a breath and grips the hem of his shirt. He only hisses in pain once or twice as he lifts the fabric over his tender flesh. He lets the tunic fall to the bed. Yoichi gasps. Yuu looks down and sees why.
Yuu’s skin is littered with a myriad of purple and yellow spots, courtesy of Kimizuki and Sir Ichinose. They represent not only his bruised pride but serve as a reminder of how far he still must go in his knight’s training. If Yuu was at all embarrassed by his shirtlessness, it is replaced by the shame of his shortcomings so fully on display for someone else. He pointedly looks away from Yoichi, trying to ignore how deeply the bruises ache.
Yoichi clicks his tongue. “Is this all a result of training?”
Yuu shrugs, nonchalant. “I think they’re just going extra hard on me because I’m the Chosen One or whatever.”
“Still, no one should be treated so harshly,” Yoichi says. For the first time since he's entered, Yoichi frowns.
The way he speaks is so caring, almost motherly, that Yuu feels his discomfort dissipate with each word. He looks back to Yoichi, and the healer is rifling in his bag, brow furrowed in concentration. He looks up, and when he makes eye contact with Yuu, a blush warms his ears. He busies himself with looking to the bottle in his hand.
“I suppose that might be rather naive of me to say,” Yoichi says with a laugh. He uncorks the glass bottle with a pop. “I am not a warrior, so I am unaware of how brutal a life like that can truly be. Healing has always been my gift.”
He tips the bottle in his hand over into a scrap of cloth before carefully applying a salve to the bruises on Yuu’s ribs. Yuu stifles a wince at the first touch, but as Yoichi works the pain subsides. The salve smells deep and earthy as Yoichi massages it into his skin.
“This should help the bruising to fade,” Yoichi says. “It should also relieve some of the pain.” He smiles softly. “I truly hope that tomorrow you will be given a chance to rest.”
Yuu snorts. “Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.” Yuu shudders to think what Sir Ichinose has planned for him tomorrow.
For a few minutes, Yoichi works in silence, applying the salve with trained finesse. Yuu feels the achiness fade with each application, and his muscles finally relax enough that fatigue can fully set in. With the pain gone from the forefront of his mind, another thought pops into Yuu’s head.
“How did Mika know about today?” Yuu asks. “That I was injured?”
It was silent for so long that Yoichi jumps when Yuu speaks. His eyes dart up momentarily before he focuses back on the blade of Yuu’s shoulder.
“Well, the Prince has eyes all around the castle, you know,” Yoichi says. “There is not much that goes on that he will not know about. I believe that especially applies to you.” Yoichi smiles, knowingly. “He admires you very much.”
Yuu’s heart beats a little faster. “He’s keeping an eye on me?”
“Of course. After Sir Ichinose was appointed to take over your training he was—” Yoichi seems to remember himself, and he clears his throat. “Ah, well. He was not pleased.”
Yuu remembers Mika’s face in the throne room. “I see.”
“Sir Ichinose is known for his ruthless training,” Yoichi says. “I suppose that is why he is the leader of the Knight’s Order.”
“Yeah, well that guy seriously needs to get off of my case,” Yuu says with a huff. Yoichi laughs, quietly, but does not say anything more as he applies the rest of the salve. Yuu stays silent as well, thoughts wrapped up in Mika and the knowledge that the Prince is watching over him.
Yoichi finishes his work shortly thereafter and caps the bottle before placing it with the rest of his supplies. He closes his bag, rising from the bed. He offers Yuu a cordial smile.
“That should do it. If you ever need anything else, do not hesitate to send for me.”
Yuu smiles, warmly. “Will do. Thank you, Yoichi.”
Yoichi bows and turns to leave. He makes it as far as the door before he stops.
“...I admire you, too.”
Yuu pauses in the middle of putting his tunic back on. He stares at Yoichi’s back. “What?”
“I, too, admire you,” he repeats.
Yoichi looks back, cheeks blotchy with color. He grips his bag tightly, and the leather creaks in his hand.
“I believe that you will put the Sun back into the sky. I really, truly do.”
He says the words with such conviction, with so much unadulterated hopefulness that his eyes shine. Yuu blinks, and he is unable to conjure anything to say before Yoichi laughs quietly, lowering his head to stare at the floor. He shifts his weight from foot to foot.
“Forgive me if I have overstepped,” Yoichi says. He looks up again, meeting Yuu’s eyes for one final moment. “Goodnight, Yuuichiro.”
A small, buoyant smile plays on his lips. Then, he leaves.
The bruises are no longer sore, but Yuu now sits alone, and his heart aches in a way that can’t be named.
Yuu runs down the corridors of the castle, swearing softly under his breath as he dodges politicians and servants on his way to the training grounds. A message from Sir Ichinose had arrived at his door after only a few hours of rest.
“Sir Ichinose expects you in the training grounds in fifteen minutes,” the guard had said. “He will be waiting.”
The damn guy.
Yuu knows from personal experience how much of a hardass Sir Ichinose is, but now he understands why his reputation throughout the castle is such that it is. Yoichi sure wasn’t kidding when he called his training “ruthless.” He is a little more grateful for the watchful eye the Prince has kept him under.
Yuu is so distracted by his frantic thoughts that he doesn’t see the other person coming from the direction of the training grounds, and the two collide painfully. The bruises on Yuu’s ribs are not pleased.
The other person grunts. It’s a girl, only a few inches shorter than Yuu, with corn yellow hair tied up onto her head. Yuu recognizes the uniform of the knighthood as she straightens her tunic with a scowl.
“Watch where you are going!” she growls. She taps a piece of flyaway hair back to her scalp.
“I’m sorry,” Yuu apologizes. “I didn’t even see you—”
Yuu has not even finished speaking before the girl looks up, and her expression of disdain quickly changes into something else. Her face becomes comically red, the grimace on her lips falling slack. With wide eyes, she stares at Yuu, shoulders locked with tension. Yuu shuts his mouth and cocks his head.
“Are you ok?”
She doesn’t respond, instead flinching when Yuu speaks. Yuu is about to ask again, but the girl casts her eyes to the ground, clenches her fists, and stomps her way past Yuu and down the hall. Yuu stares after her retreating figure, trying to parse together what has just happened. He shakes his head and keeps walking. Whatever that was all about, he doesn’t have time to worry about it now.
The Kingdom will need a new Chosen One if Sir Ichinose kills him for being late for training.
It isn’t even an hour later before Yuu has the chance to confront the girl again.
After being lectured for his tardiness, which Yuu would contest was mainly due to the fact that he was given less than fifteen minute’s warning, Sir Ichinose sentences him to twenty laps around the training grounds. Yuu grits his teeth, swallows his arguments, and does as he is told. He really does not feel like invoking Sir Ichinose’s wrath any more than he has to.
When he is finished, Yuu returns to the center of the field, breath labored and sweat clinging uncomfortably to his back. He almost turns around and leaves when he sees Kimizuki standing next to Sir Ichinose with arms crossed. That pink-haired bastard even has the gall to smile, smugly. Yuu would let him have it if he had any breath to spare.
“Oh good,” Sir Ichinose says with a smirk. He runs a hand through his hair. “I am glad to see that your punishment has not sapped your strength entirely. Perhaps there is hope for you yet.”
Yuu, instead of spitting words of defiance like he wants to, coughs violently. He straightens up, leveling Sir Ichinose with a spiteful gaze. His eyes slide warily to Kimizuki. The ache in his muscles is nearly Pavlovian.
Sir Ichinose crosses his arms over his chest. “Kimizuki tells me you have potential. Still, you have so much to learn. That is why I will be enlisting another one of my best knights to help guide you.”
Yuu’s mouth gapes open indignantly. He gestures wildly to Kimizuki. “As if saddling me with this asshole isn’t enough?”
Kimizuki glowers at Yuu, hands clenched into fists. “What did you just call me?”
Yuu opens his mouth to retort, but Sir Ichinose cuts him off. He looks to the side of the training field and shouts. “Mitsuba! Come quickly before these two idiots cut each other to ribbons!”
Yuu is too caught up in a staring match with Kimizuki, trying to beat his standoffish expression with an even more vicious snarl of his own, that he does not notice the girl walking to join them in the center of the field. It is only when he hears a gasp that Yuu turns to look. His brutish expression is overshadowed by recognition.
“Oh,” he says. “It’s you!”
The girl from the corridor stands next to Sir Ichinose, face just as red as when Yuu saw her earlier. Her face is frozen into a mask of shock as she stares at Yuu, and Yuu is about to speak again before she suddenly turns on her heels to face Sir Ichinose.
“This is what you wanted me to help you with?” she asks. It sounds more like an accusation.
Sir Ichinose’s face remains blank. “Of course. Is there any ‘special assignment’ these days that does not have to do with our beloved Chosen One?”
The girl thrusts her hand out toward Yuu, still locking eyes with Sir Ichinose. “But why would you want me to train him?”
“He is the last hope for our Kingdom, regardless of how frightening of a thought that may be.”
Yuu very much wants to remind the two of them that he is, in fact, standing right next to them, but Sir Ichinose brings his hand down onto the girl’s head before he has the chance to speak. The knight spins the girl around, and when she is face to face with Yuu again she averts her eyes, arms crossed over her chest. Sir Ichinose looks at Yuu, blank-faced.
“This is Mitsuba Sanguu.” He pats her head, and if Yuu didn’t know better he would describe it as affectionate. “She is one of the best knights in my battalion. She will be in charge of training you along with Kimizuki.”
Yuu scoffs. “Are you serious? You’re just dumping me off onto the rejects even though the Queen told you to train me?”
Kimizuki cocks his head in challenge. “What did you just call me?”
Yuu turns back to face him. “You heard me, you overgrown—”
“You cannot leave me with the two of them,” Mitsuba whines to Sir Ichinose.
The knight simply smirks. “Have fun,” he says with a wave. He turns to leave, and Mitsuba frowns at his back before turning back to the boys.
Yuu is nearly chest to chest with Kimizuki when he feels a tug on the back of his shirt. He stumbles, and when he has found his footing he is eye level with Mitsuba. Her face is still red, but the bashfulness has been replaced by something much more hostile.
“Listen here,” she hisses. “I know that you have a reputation as some Heaven-sent savior, but I do not care.” Mitsuba releases her grip, and Yuu nearly stumbles backward into Kimizuki. She points a finger into the center of Yuu’s chest. “If you train under me, I will not hold anything back. Besides,” the flush roars back to life, “what kind of Chosen One cannot even look where he is going in a hallway?!?”
Yuu blinks, owl-eyed. Mitsuba removes her finger from Yuu’s chest and puts both hands on her hips. She stares daggers into Yuu’s skull. From behind Yuu, Kimizuki snorts.
“Careful, Chosen One,” he says. “She may bite you.”
Mitsuba’s ire shifts focus. She takes a step in Kimizuki’s direction. “Do not think that I will go easy on you, either!”
Kimizuki gawks incredulously. “What have I done?”
“If you are finished comparing your manhood with everyone you perceive as a threat, I would appreciate your help in proper training.”
Yuu nearly tips over with how roughly Kimizuki pushes past him. “You have no right to speak to me that way! Sir Ichinose appointed both of us.” He looks down on Mitsuba in defiance. “You are not in charge of me.”
Mitsuba refuses to back down. “Trust me, I am not too keen on mothering both of you, but I will do what I must in order to fulfill my duty.”
The two knights have seemed to forgotten Yuu’s presence entirely, too preoccupied in squabbling with each other. As their voices increase in pitch and volume, Yuu feels the weariness of the past few days sink back into his skin.
If Mika is truly watching over him, now would be a great time to intervene.
In the weeks following their first encounter, Mitsuba is true to her word.
Between Mitsuba and Kimizuki, Yuu barely has any time to catch a breath, and his body protests with each rigorous training session. Just when he thinks he has one of them cornered, the other will catch him off guard until he is forced to yield.
However, despite his ever-growing frustration, his skill is also increasing.
Yuu learns over time how the two knights operate. Kimizuki, who is all blunt force and strength. Mitsuba, who uses finesse and carefully timed blows. Slowly, Yuu recognizes the patterns, and defending himself against them becomes easier with every passing day. He once manages to disarm Mitsuba after bringing Kimizuki to kneel, and the girl refuses to speak with him for the rest of the day. The next day, she commends him, albeit begrudgingly. Yuu practically glows with the praise.
After training, Yuu returns to his chambers, and more often than not, Yoichi is waiting for him. The healer treats his bruises, wraps the cuts and calluses on his hands with ointment soaked bandages, and, most importantly, relays messages from the Prince.
Mika has been keeping his distance from Yuu. Whether or not it is of his own volition, Yuu doesn’t know. Regardless, the castle feels lonely, the eternal Night even darker, without the pleasure of Mika’s company. He doesn’t have much time to ruminate on it, not in the wake of his training. If his mind wanders to Mika during sparring lessons, Kimizuki forcefully brings him back to the present with a well-timed sweep of the leg and a stern “pay attention” as he staggers into the cobblestone ground.
Yuu does not think about his homeworld often. That other world, the one before Sanguinem, seems as distant as a dream now. It was a world that was never kind to him, never offered him anything of substance. Here, Yuu is needed. There, Yuu is nothing but a burden. He prefers to pretend that he never belonged in that placed at all.
However, sometimes, he does think of it, but only when other people bring the matter to light.
“So in your world,” Mitsuba says.
She, Yuu, and Kimizuki sit in the refectory, dining with the rest of the knights at the end of a long training session. Mitsuba stirs the bland porridge in her bowl, head held up by her hand. She looks to Yuu with a curious set to her brows.
“In your world, the Sun and Moon rise and set every cycle?”
“Yep,” Yuu says. He has given up on finding anything appetizing about the coagulating paste in front of him, and he pushes the bowl to the side. “It’s kind of hard to remember what a sunset looks like after being here for so long.”
Mitsuba’s brow furrows further in thought. “But, where does it go?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Sun. Where does it go when it sets?”
Kimizuki snorts. “Seriously? What kind of question is that?”
Mitsuba turns to him, face indignant.
“It’s a perfectly rational question! Are you not curious at all?”
Kimizuki rolls his eyes, but he still looks at Yuu, waiting for his response. Yuu scratches the back of his head. He clears his throat.
“Well,” he says. “I know it has something to do with the rotation of the Earth and the position of the Sun in space...”
Mitsuba and Kimizuki stare at Yuu blankly. Yuu’s cheeks heat up.
“....I guess I don’t really know either.”
Mitsuba sighs. She gives her attention back to her porridge. “You are the Chosen One. You are supposed to know about these things.”
Yuu crosses his arms over his chest. “Listen, just because I’m the Chosen One doesn’t mean that—”
A murmur of commotion goes up through the refectory, and the three of them turn toward the source of the outrage. Mitsuba sucks in a harsh breath.
“The Oracle,” she whispers.
Shinoa walks through the refectory with all the regality and poise of someone used to commanding a room. Her robes flow behind her, and the other knights gawk as she stalks her way toward Yuu’s table. She plops herself down on the bench beside him, folding her hands in her lap. She wears that coy little smile of hers that Yuu has associated with trouble. Kimizuki and Mitsuba do little more than openly gape.
“Hello, Chosen One,” Shinoa says. She gives the refectory an inspecting glance and looks to the discarded bowl of porridge behind Yuu’s elbow. She laughs, softly. “This is sure a far cry from the luxuries of your chambers. Mikaela would be livid if he knew you were being forced to consume that.” She looks back up at Yuu, and her eyes twinkle mischievously. “Or perhaps he already knows.”
Yuu blushes, but he doesn’t comment on her statement. “What are you doing here?”
“I am here to fetch you,” she says. “There is an urgent matter in the throne room for which you must be in attendance.”
“Throne room?” Yuu sits up a little straighter. “Will Mika be there?”
Shinoa laughs again. “Your devotion is adorable. Yes, he will be there, and we must not keep him waiting.”
Shinoa rises from the bench, smoothing down her robes with her hands. Yuu scrambles to follow suit. The Oracle turns to look at Mitsuba and Kimizuki, and the knights visibly startle under the sudden attention.
“You two shall come as well,” she says. “Hurry along, now.”
Kimizuki blinks. “What?”
“Why do we need to come?” Mitsuba asks. Shinoa smiles, and Mitsuba reflexively casts her eyes to the tabletop.
“My dear,” she says, and Mitsuba flares red. “This whole affair is much bigger than one person alone. Even if he is the Chosen One.”
The Throne Room is considerably less empty than the last time Yuu had been in here.
The Queen sits on her throne, back straight, hands clasped in her lap, golden crown shining in the torchlight of the room. Mika stands to her right. His posture is decidedly less poised, tension clinging to the set of his shoulder. His arms are tucked behind his back, but Yuu is able to tell that he is fidgeting with his fingers. Mika’s circlet gleams in tandem with his mother’s.
Yuu stands before the throne, Mitsuba to his left, Kimizuki to his right. Kimzuki stands rigid, his mask betraying not a single emotion. The same cannot be said for Mitsuba; she looks between Yuu, the Queen, and Mika in a constant, anxious loop.
Yuu had been surprised to see that Yoichi was also summoned. He stands near the base of the dais, eyes blinking owlishly. He bites his lip as he looks to the Queen, cheeks rosy with color.
Shinoa stands in front of Yuu and bowed before the Queen. She is the most relaxed one in the room by far.
“Your Grace,” she says with honeyed words. “Thank you for your audience in such short notice. You are truly a benevolent ruler.”
The Queen is unimpressed by the pleasantries. “There is hardly any time for superfluous speech. Tell me, have you found the location of the Sun's prison?”
Shinoa laughs softly, and she rises back to her full height.
“I have indeed, Your Majesty,” she says. “And that is not all. I have also seen the noble warriors that shall accompany our Chosen One on his quest.”
Mika looks to Yuu, and the smile on his lips is tinged with anxiety. Yuu’s pulse quickens. He tries his hardest to smile back. It doesn’t feel correct.
“From what I have deciphered,” Shinoa says, and she takes a step back so that she may address everyone properly, “the Sun’s prison resides on the top of Adcaelum Peak.”
The smile drops from Mika’s face entirely.
“Adcaelum?” Kimizuki asks. His stoic facade has finally cracked. “That is in the heart of Seraphim territory!”
Shinoa grins. “Indeed.”
“Are you sure of this, Oracle?” the Queen asks with a tilt of her head.
“I am. I have seen it clearly. It is on the mountain’s peak that the Sun shall make Himself known to us.”
The Queen draws in a steady breath but does not break her composed character. “Very well.” She looks to Yuu, and Yuu feels tiny under her scrutiny. “I hope you have been training well, Chosen One. You shall need it.”
Yuu gulps. “Of course, Your Majesty.”
Mika looks pale.
“Do not worry, Your Excellency,” Shinoa sings. She turns back to face Yuu and the two other knights. “He shall be accompanied by a worthy party.”
Shinoa stands tall, and her eyes bore into Yuu for just a moment, before she looks to the others in the room.
“Shihou Kimizuki. Mitsuba Sanguu.” She turns toward the dais. “Yoichi Saotome.” The healer’s head whips up in her direction. She smiles at him. “I see all of you there, on the Peak, present as the Sun makes His ascension.”
“Me?” Yoichi asks, voiced pitch an octave higher. He looks from Shinoa to the Queen to Mika, seeking clarity. Mika smiles at him. Yoichi blinks and turns back to Shinoa. She chuckles at his gobsmacked expression.
“Why so surprised?” she asks. “This Chosen One will certainly need a healer considering his penchant for reckless behavior.”
Yuu bristles. “Hey.”
Shinoa does not turn to look, but Yoichi does, and his face is nearly glowing, smile wide on his lips. He walks to stand next to Kimizuki. The tightness in Yuu’s chest eases with the knowledge of Yoichi’s presence on his journey.
“Of course, I shall also be accompanying Yuuichiro on his quest,” Shinoa says to the Queen. She does turn to look at Yuu now, and her wink undoes any prior feelings of serenity. She turns back to the throne. “I will provide more clarity regarding the mission at hand and use my visions to guide the party wisely on their quest.”
The Queen nods her head. “Understood. You shall begin your quest as soon as the next cycle passes. Your journey shall not be easy, but it must be done.” She stares at Yuu directly, and suddenly he feels as though he is the only one standing in the throne room. His palms sweat. The Queen’s eyes drill holes into his skull. “Do not fail us, Chosen One.”
Yuu gulps but raises his head. “I won’t. I swear it.”
“Actually,” Shinoa says. All eyes fall back to her. For the first time since speaking, the Oracle’s smile is laced with tension. “There is one more person who must join us.”
Shinoa turns, slowly, to face the Prince. Mika looks at her, confused. He looks to his mother. He looks to Yuu. He returns his eyes to Shinoa. She is still looking at him, smirk sharp on her lips.
“My Prince,” she says. “Your time to participate in the prophecy has come at last.”
Yuu’s breath catches.
Mika is just as flabbergasted. “What?”
“What exactly does my son have to do with any of this?” the Queen asks. Her tone is cold, dangerous, and her neutral expression harbors something menacing underneath the surface. Mika sucks a breath between his teeth.
“My Queen,” Shinoa says. “I do not know why, but if Mikaela is not there...the Chosen One shall never fulfill his destiny. I have seen it clearly.”
The Queen does not respond, and the silence in the throne room is deafening. Yuu looks to Mika, and Mika looks to his mother. His face is caught somewhere between fear and sympathy. With shaking hands he walks closer to the throne. The Queen doesn’t look up at him, but the line of her mouth tightens.
“Mother,” he says, softly. He places a hand on the back of the throne. “I will be alright.”
There are a few, terse seconds before the Queen responds. “I do not doubt your ability, but as Prince you have responsibilities here.” Her throat bobs. “If something were to happen to me—”
“Do not speak like that.” Mika drops to a crouch. He lays his hand onto the Queen’s forearm. “You will be fine. I shall return, and together we will watch the Sun rise over our Kingdom. You shall rule by Day once more.” His voice drops to a whisper. “I swear it.”
The Queen draws a steady breath, and slowly she turns to her son. She raises a hand and caresses Mika’s face gently. Mika smiles, eyes brimming with tears. Something within her softens.
“Very well,” she says. “Go. Join them.”
After one moment more, Mika rises. As he descends the steps his eyes are fixed on Yuu. He grins with a near childlike giddiness, face flush with color. Yuu smiles back as he approaches, and something warm turns inside of his chest. Mika falls in line beside Yuu. Their hands are so close they could nearly touch.
“Go forth,” the Queen says. She looks to her son, and the coldness retreats from her expression. She almost even smiles. “And may the Darkness never consume your Light.”
From here, He can see everything.
The world below Him is small, but so far from insignificant, and His Light stretches far across the Land.
Below Him, His people, His loved ones, live by His Light.
When He rests, His sister rises, spinning amongst the Stars, giddy as a young girl twirling in a white dress.
Below Him, His people, His loved ones, die one by one.
Darkness looms, and He casts His Light to aid in the never-ending fight.
From here, He can see His demise approaching.
He is not surprised when the hooks, cold and sharp, sink into His heart.
Chains pull, and His flesh rips, and
His loved ones
They are dying.
Chains pull, flesh rips, and He stretches His Light as far as it can reach.
He stretches further and further and further until
Until He finds a child, just taking his first breaths, so small, so fragile.
Into this wailing babe, He pours all of His hope, all of His Light.
The child, His Beloved, His Precious One, His Chosen—
Yuu wakes with a start.
His breath is ragged as it raced in and out of his lungs. His heart pounds inside of his chest. Visions he does not quite understand dance curiously through his head.
“Did I startle you?”
Yuu turns toward the voice, and Shinoa is standing over him, an amused look on her face. She has traded her burgundy robes for a more practical tunic and trousers.
“Get up,” she says. “It is time for you to take watch.”
Yuu sits up, back cracking as he straightens himself. Next to him, a campfire crackles, illuminating the clearing where he and the others lay. To his left, on the other side of the fire, Mitsuba and Yoichi wrestle with fitful sleep on the hardened forest floor. Mitsuba appears miffed even unconscious, her arms crossed tightly across her chest as she lays propped against her knapsack. Yoichi curls in on himself, cloak wrapped tightly across his shoulders.
In front of Yuu, Kimizuki lays asleep against the trunk of a tree. His watch must have just ended.
Yuu looks to his right, and the Prince is asleep a few feet away. The light of the fire turns his hair to gold, and his lashes cast long shadows onto his pale cheeks. His breath is even in slumber, quiet little snores tumbling from a slack mouth. The wave of fondness that comes over Yuu is nearly overwhelming.
“Excuse me, Chosen One.”
Yuu startles. He turns back to Shinoa, and she is smirking.
“Did you forget about your watch? Or are you more content to watch something else?”
Yuu’s ears get hot. “Shut up.” He stands, wiping his trousers of leaves and dirt. He grabs Lucidum’s sheath and attaches it at his hip. “I’m ready.”
The two walk toward the forest line and find a sturdy tree to lean against. Yuu crosses his arms over his chest, shivering when a breeze cuts through the fabric of his shirt. He turns to look at Shinoa, and she pulls her book open across her lap. She touches the words with a quiet reverence, eyes soaked in reverie. Yuu tries to decipher the scribblings, but it is as if it is written in a different language.
“Are those all of your prophecies?” Yuu asks. Shinoa smiles, eyes still cast downward.
“Not all,” she says. “Some are my sister’s, as well. Though, towards the end of her life, her prophecies became nonsensical.” She draws in a careful breath and looks up at the campfire. “Her visions became clouded with Darkness, and she eventually slipped into madness. She died muttering ravings about shadows and demons and inescapable rooms.”
Shinoa is still smiling, but her eyes betray the facade, shining with grief. Yuu’s hand twitches with the urge to comfort her. He keeps his arms crossed.
“I’m sorry,” he says instead.
Shinoa shakes her head and waves a hand. “Do not concern yourself with it. There was nothing to be done.”
“How do the visions work?” Yuu asks. “How to do you know what to write down?”
Shinoa laughs breathily, and she runs her hands over the worn pages of the books.
“It is...rather hard to explain,” she says. She taps her chin in thought. “I suppose ‘visions’ is not an accurate descriptor. We ‘see’ in abstractions. Concepts. Things that are not meant to be seen.” She lolls her head to look at Yuu, smile on her lips. “Clearly, this makes translating the visions into words quite the feat.”
She looks back to the book, and Yuu watches as her fingers deftly flip through the pages.
“For example, when I see visions of you,” she says. “It is hard to differentiate between my visions of the Chosen One and the Sun. You seem to be made of the same...essence. The same substance.” She lands on a page, and Yuu can see his name amongst the scrawl. “Telling you two apart is becoming an ever increasingly difficult endeavor.”
“I see.” Yuu leans over Shinoa’s shoulder to try and get a better look.
Shinoa smirks again and looks at Yuu, mischievously. “Would you like to see my sister’s prophecies about you?”
The realization that Shinoa’s sister had visions of him before she was even born does curious things to his head. He nods.
Shinoa turns toward the beginning of the books, and the words on this page are much easier to understand. Yuu sees words he recognizes like “Sanguinem” and “Chosen One” and “Bathory.” He scans further down the page, and his eyes catch on a particular passage.
“'Companion to the Sun and Champion of Light,'" he reads quietly. He reaches over and places his fingers on the page. “Why is ‘Companion’ crossed out?”
The word is not just crossed out. It is scribbled out, written over, written again, crowded by other words orbiting around it.
Shinoa’s brow furrows. “It is not the right word. I cannot explain how I know, but I can feel the inadequacy.” She traces over the text with her finger. “What I have seen is something so much deeper than a simple word can convey, and ‘Companion’ hardly captures the meaning in full.”
Yuu can’t explain how, but he feels the same inadequacy as he stares at the pages. It’s like a word is lodged in the back of his throat, but he can’t quite get it out. He shakes his head.
Something rustles in the trees ahead of them. Both Shinoa and Yuu looks up toward the noise. Shinoa rises quickly, shutting her book with a decisive snap.
“What is it?” Yuu whispers. He rises, placing his hand on Lucidum as he stares into the trees. Shinoa’s face turns dark.
“Mali,” she says.
The rustling comes back, louder, closer, and suddenly Yuu can just make out something lurking within the shadows.
An amorphous, shadowy beast stalks behind the trees, pacing with a sinister gait. Everything about it blends in with the darkness, almost melting in and out of existence as it moves, apart from the eyes. Twin eyes glow with a pale, sickly light, ravenous as they stare out into the clearing.
The sounds of shuffling leaves kick up to Yuu’s left. And then his right. And behind him. He and Shinoa retreat into the center of the clearing.
“Wake them,” Shinoa says. She runs to Kimizuki and shakes his shoulder until his eyes flutter open. “Wake them all, quickly!”
Yuu does as he’s told, running to Yoichi and Mitsuba to jostle them to wakefulness. Yoichi lifts his head startled, and Mitsuba nearly gives herself whiplash with how quickly she becomes vertical. Yuu leaves them to kneel by Mika. Disturbing him when he looks so peaceful feels criminal, but he puts his hand on the Prince’s arm regardless.
“Mika,” he hisses. “Wake up.”
Mika jumps as he wakes, and his eyes are blurry with sleep as he looks up at Yuu.
“What is happening?” The question is slurred with fatigue.
“Mali,” Shinoa says before Yuu has the chance. She watches the treeline cautiously. “Many of them, by the sound of it.”
“Oh Heavens,” Mitsuba says shakily. She draws her blade. Kimizuki follows suit.
Yuu extends a hand to Mika and pulls him to stand. They all gather into the center of the clearing, back to back, eyes on the trees. More glowing eyes appear one by one.
Yuu watches as the Mali scurry near the clearing edge, but they refuse to enter. He cocks his head, confused.
“Why won’t they come?” he asks.
“Mali are creatures of the Darkness,” Shinoa says. “They avoid light if they can.” She nods toward the campfire, still roaring. “They dare not come any closer.”
“Well, we can’t just stay here forever,” Yuu says. He grips Lucidum ’s hilt tightly. “So we fight.”
“We?” Yoichi squeaks.
Shinoa punches him lightly on the shoulder. “Of course us more delicate beings will remain out of harm's way," She looks toward the others and winks. "Our noble warriors shall protect us!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Kimizuki says. “Just try to stay out of the way.”
Yuu watches more and more Mali gather in the darkness, and his grip on Lucidum shakes. Mika places his hand on top of Yuu’s lightly. Yuu looks up to him. Mika smiles, though it is tight with nerves.
“We will be alright,” he says. “We have you, after all.”
The implication that their survival rests on Yuu’s shoulders doesn’t necessarily make Yuu feel better, but the fact that it is Mika who is speaking helps his breath come easier.
“Right,” Yuu says.
He draws Lucidum, and a jolt crackles up his arm as the blade comes to life in his grip. Golden Light flows from the hilt and toward the tip of the blade, and Yuu hears Yoichi gasp as they are surrounded by its glow. Mika’s eyes sparkle as he looks at Yuu. Yuu takes a step toward the trees.
He inhales. He exhales. He widens his stance. “Let’s do this.”
Yuu charges forward, and the Mali scatter away from Lucidum ’s glow like cockroaches. He swings, and the Mali that are not fast enough get caught by his blade. Momentarily, illuminated by the light, Yuu catches sight of sharp claws and jagged edges and spiked teeth, but Lucidum turns the creatures into cinders almost instantaneously. The Mali shriek as they crumble into nothingness.
Yuu follows the sound of the retreating Mali and nearly runs into Mitsuba as she swings her blade into dark claws. There is a shrill cry as she pierces through a Mali, but more pile up onto the treeline, and she grits her teeth in effort. Yuu leaps to her aid.
He swings Lucidum wide, and the glowing blade cuts through the Mali like paper. Mitsuba blinks vacantly as the Mali disintegrate before her eyes.
“Why are we even fighting if you can do that?” she asks incredulously.
Yuu shrugs in lieu of a proper answer because he is already throwing himself across the clearing to help Kimizuki. He pushes past Yoichi and Shinoa, huddled together, and lunges to spear through a Mali to Kimizuki’s left. He looks to Yuu, before refocusing himself on the Mali in front of him. His blade slices through, and Yuu can hear the Mali as it slumps to the ground in defeat. Kimizuki casts him a sideways glance.
“I had it under control,” he says tersely. Yuu rolls his eyes.
“A ‘thank you’ would be nice,” he says.
Kimizuki snorts. “In your dreams.”
The sound of shrieking grabs Yuu’s attention, and he turns to face the commotion.
Mika swings his blade with practiced precision, face hardened with concentration. Mali fall under his blade, but Yuu can see the sweat of exertion soaking through the back of his shirt. Yuu leaves Kimizuki behind before the knight can make another snide comment.
Yuu has already raised Lucidum by the time he reaches Mika, and Mika has just succeeded in falling another Mali by his sword. He does not seem to see the shadowy figure looming just to his left. Yuu prepares to strike.
“Mika, on your left!” he shouts.
Mika looks up and dodges just as Yuu strikes. Lucidum pierces through the Mali until the tip of the blade thunks into the trunk of a tree. Around Lucidum, the Mali scrabbles wildly with its claws until it is nothing but dust. Yuu pants roughly.
The forest is quiet again.
Suddenly, Lucidum seems to glow brighter than before. Its light trickles out of the blade in little golden spirals, and the place where it has pierced the tree begins to shine. Yuu watches, silently, as the tree slowly becomes luminous, glowing with the same golden light emitted by Lucidum. He pulls until the word his free from the wood. The tree still glows brighter than ever.
“What is that?” Mika asks mesmerized. The others begin to gather closer as well.
“I don’t know,” Yuu whispers.
They all turn, and Shinoa looks at the tree with giddy recognition on her face.
“I have seen this,” she says almost dreamily. “A tree, golden and glowing, standing alone in a forest.” She looks at Yuu with a kind of pride he might expect a mother to show her son. “It is a beacon made of Sunlight. The same Sunlight that resides within Lucidum.”
She walks forward and places her hand gently onto the tree’s trunk. Even without touching it, Yuu can feel the warmth rolling off of the bark. It makes him think of hot summer days, sunshine peeking out from the clouds after a rainstorm, early morning light shining through his window.
“As long as this beacon is here, the Mali will not return,” Shinoa says.
“Then we must make more,” Mika says. Yuu turns to him, and he is looking upon the tree with open wonder. His eyes glow nearly as bright when he turn to Yuu. “If we can erect more beacons like this, we can reclaim the land that has been lost to Seraphim. We can drive the Mali from this Land.”
“Not to mention, relieve the villages that live in fear of Mali attacks,” Shinoa says with a raised finger. She turns to Yuu and raises an eyebrow. “How does that sound, Chosen One?”
Yuu looks from her to Mika to the rest of the group. They all look to him, wide-eyed and hopeful, full of expectations. Yuu draws a steady breath. He sheaths Lucidum.
For the first time since he has arrived, Yuu feels absolutely sure about what he must do. He smiles
“Hell yeah. Let’s do this.”
The journey to Adcaelum Peak is long and riddled with challenges, and everyday Yuu feels more and more grateful for the party accompanying him on this quest.
Together, the six of them trek through the Darkness, defeating the sinister Mali and winning the territory back to the Light. Their arrival at each village they encounter is a herald of hope, and the villagers rejoice with the news that the prophecy is finally coming to pass. The attention Yuu receives as the revered “Chosen One” is not attention he feels is well deserved, but he shakes hands and accepts gifts nonetheless. The burden of the limelight is shared partially with Mika, the Crown Prince, though the attention directed towards him is more out of fear and reverence.
Shinoa tries to redirect the spotlight in order to introduce herself as the esteemed Oracle. Yuu and the others always laugh at her offended expression when the villagers blink in vacant confusion.
Sometimes, the party sleeps in lodgings offered by the villages, and they enjoy each other’s company around a squat wooden table sharing food and drinks and pleasant conversation. Other times, in between villages, the party sleeps in shifts on the forest floor, a curtain of stars and crescent Moon hanging above them.
Sometimes, when it is just the two of them, Mika tells Yuu stories of his childhood, a youth that only knew Darkness. He tells Yuu of the stories he would hear as he was tucked into bed, stories of destined heroes and glowing blades and a brilliant Sun rising over the horizon. His blue eyes shine, capturing the flame of the campfire within his irises. He smiles, and Yuu is rendered utterly helpless.
Sometimes, Mika asks Yuu about his world, about his Sun, about what life in the Light is truly like. Yuu does not have fond memories of his home, but the way Mika’s eyes shine as he tells his stories is more than enough motivation to conjure the right words.
“So, the sky actually turns blue?” Mika asks when the others are asleep. They sit shoulder to shoulder, keeping a vigilant watch for insidious creatures lurking in the Dark.
Yuu can’t help but chuckle at Mika’s baffled expression. Mika puffs out his cheeks, annoyed, as Yuu laughs. “I always thought it was some kind of made-up story adults told their children.”
“Sorry,” Yuu says, though Mika’s miffed expression is almost as amusing. “Yeah, the sky is normally blue in the day. In fact, it’s just like—”
Yuu catches himself just in time. Mika blinks. Yuu flushes and looks away.
“Well,” he mutters. “It doesn’t matter.”
Mika doesn’t push any further.
Sometimes, when Yuu is the only one on guard, he looks to the Moon. If he focuses hard enough, he can hear Her song, wailing into the blackened sky, a song that aches with longing for Her brother’s return. Every day, the song grows weaker and weaker.
Sometimes, when Yuu is absolutely certain no one is watching, he weeps, silently, as he basks in the lonely glow of the crescent Moon.
(Sometimes, Yuu dreams.)
(He dreams of the Sun, bright and brilliant and golden, clutched in the arms of a newborn child.)
(He dreams of the Moon, hacking away at Herself, wasting away to nothing, giving every piece of Herself to hold the Darkness at bay.)
(Sometimes, he dreams of Mika, eyes glowing gold, mouth twisted in grief, piercing a blade through his heart. Those dreams are the hardest to ignore when he wakes.)
A village resides near the base of Adcaelum Peak, and when Yuu and his party arrive the villagers are more than thrilled to see them. Tales of their deeds, their victories over the Mali, Yuu’s ability to erect beacons of Sunlight to prevent the Mali’s return, has spread like wildfire across the Kingdom. It is for this reason that the village elder runs to them, breathless, and begs for their help.
“Please,” he says to Yuu. “Please ward the Mali from coming back to our home. We are barely surviving as it is.”
The villagers look to Yuu in desperation, and Lucidum sits heavy with purpose on his hip.
“Of course,” he tells them. “Don’t worry. We’ll make sure you are alright.”
The party splits into three to clear the surrounding forest. Kimizuki and Yoichi take the West, Mitsuba and Shinoa take the East, and Mika and Yuu travel Northward into the forest to erect the beacon.
Mika and Yuu walk in silence, weapons drawn and ready. Mika carries a torch in his left hand to illuminate the path in front of him. Yuu doesn’t need a torch. Lucidum ’s glow provides all the light that he needs.
Things seem quiet, which does the exact opposite of assuaging Yuu’s tension. Still, any moment he can spend alone with the Prince is a blessing, and the quiet between them is nearly companionable, given the circumstances.
He looks to his left, and Mika has just turned to look at him as well. They lock eyes. They both look away, bashful. More silence follows. Eventually, Mika clears his throat.
“The end of our journey is nigh,” Mika says. He laughs, softly. “I can hardly believe it.” He looks to the sky, and his eyes catch the pale glow of the Moon. “We have come so far.”
Yuu hums and, too, looks up at the Heavens. “I can’t believe it, either.” He turns to Mika and grins. “Who could have guessed I’d end up being such a great Chosen One, huh?”
Mika rolls his eyes. “I suppose you did outperform our expectations, just a bit.”
“Hey,” Yuu says playfully.
All is quiet for a few moments more until Mika turns, face suddenly serious.
“I never doubted you,” Mika says. “Not for one second. I always knew you were destined to be great.”
They have stopped walking now, and Mika still looks at Yuu intensely. Yuu heats up under his gaze. Mika seems to remember himself. Again, he clears his throat.
“I apologize,” he says with a small smile. He begins walking again. “I will try to refrain from becoming too passionate.”
It takes a moment for Yuu to remember to keep walking, and he jogs up next to Mika. “It’s ok. But really I should be thanking you. For all of your help.” He huffs a quiet laugh. “I could have never been the Chosen One without you.”
“Nonsense,” Mika says. “Destiny chose you, not I. You would have become the Chosen One regardless of my involvement.”
Mika looks back up to the sky, and something contemplative passes over his features. He is silent, and Yuu resists the urge to ask if he has something on his mind. Fortunately, Yuu does not have to wait long.
“When this is over,” Mika says, “will you try to find your way home?” He finally looks at Yuu, eyes solemn. “Back to your homeworld, I mean.”
The question stops Yuu in his tracks. He stands still, looking to his feet, to Lucidum in his hand.
Before this moment, Yuu had never even considered the fact that Sanguinem, that this entire world, is not his actual home. The thought of returning to his life before, to the neglect, the loneliness, makes something sickening roil in his stomach. He looks up at Mika, and the Prince is trying and failing to wrangle his expression into neutrality. Yuu takes a heavy breath.
“I don’t think so,” he says. The words feel good coming out of his mouth. He stands a bit straighter. “I’ve never felt like I belonged there anyway. I think was always meant to come here. To meet you.”
The last few words slip out, unbidden, and Yuu wishes desperately he could grab them out of the air and jam them back into his mouth. Reluctantly, he looks back up at Mika, and the Prince’s face is bright with color. Yuu’s heart picks up the pace, and he intends to backpedal until Mika’s mouth splits into a quiet grin. He looks to the side, back to the sky, before his gaze lands back on Yuu. Yuu licks his lips, shifting his weight from foot to foot. Mika takes a step closer.
“Yuu,” he says. He swallows and bites his lip. “Yuu, I—”
Yuu doesn’t hear the end of his sentence because something further out into the trees catches his attention. Just out of the corner of his eye he sees it, something pale and tall and clothed in darkness. Ice water fills his veins as he turns to look at the figure, and when Yuu sees him, the world almost grinds to a halt.
A sharp-toothed smile beckons Yuu to come closer. The figure disappears into the darkness.
Yuu begins running before he understands why.
Mika calls out to him, but Yuu doesn’t listen, cannot listen, not now, not now. He searches the trees frantically, trying to find the figure again, and he is nearly dizzy as he spins to search. He was here, Yuu saw him, so where where where—
A hand grabs Yuu by the throat, Yuu turns, he swings Lucidum in a wide arc until it is also caught in someone’s grip. His assailant spins him around, and Yuu grits his teeth, shoulders shaking as he tries to free himself until he looks up and he sees—
Yuu stops struggling all at once.
Red eyes bore into him from beneath a frame of silver hair. His smile is fanged and dangerous, filled with sadistic pleasure. He is tall and lanky, but his grip is strong and merciless against the base of Yuu’s throat.
His hands are cold, so cold cold cold, and so hauntingly familiar, and Yuu does not know how he knows it, but a name is seared into his mind, heavy on his tongue, tastes like poison in his mouth—
“Ferid Bathory,” Yuu chokes.
Ferid Bathory’s grin widens.
“My my,” he purrs. “Look how you have grown.”
When he speaks, the fight swells back into Yuu with a vengeance, and with clenched teeth he tries to free his blade from Bathory’s grasp. Bathory’s eyes gleam with sick amusement, and he closes his hand around the blade. Blood drips between his fingers.
“Now, now,” he says. “You must be careful. You could hurt someone.”
Bathory’s blood shifts eerily from crimson to black, and it runs down Lucidum ’s blade like sludge toward the hilt. Where the blood touches, the Light fizzles out. Yuu watches in horror as Lucidum goes dull, the golden glow retreating back into the handle. Yuu can feel the same coldness, the same emptiness he felt before, replacing Lucidum ’s warmth in his bones. Soon, the two of them are plunged into darkness, the only sources of light being the weak Moonlight overhead and the sickening glow of Bathory’s eyes.
Yuu’s chest rattles as he searches for breath. Bathory looks down on him, madness like twin flames behind his eyes, and Yuu’s legs shake under the weight of his stare.
Bathory leans in close. “I knew it was time for my intervention, but I never expected this,” he whispers. Yuu recoils from his breath. “You resisted so much before, yet look at you now. You ran straight into my arms. Did you miss my embrace that much?”
“Go to hell,” Yuu spits.
Bathory merely simpers. “When you ran, you did not even spare a glance behind you.” He looks over Yuu’s shoulder and leans to whisper close to his ear. “Look, now. Look how you have abandoned your Precious One.”
Bathory digs his thumb painfully into the meat of Yuu’s cheek and turns his head to the side. Yuu’s neck strains as it fights to remain static, but his focus eventually follows the line of Bathory’s gaze. What he sees amongst the trees nearly stops his heart.
Yuu can see the light of Mika’s torch before he sees the Prince himself, bursting from amongst the trees. Mika’s eyes are wide with panic, face pallid and drawn with unease. His steps are frantic, his focus scattered. Something bright flares in Yuu’s chest.
“Mika,” he whispers.
Of course, Mika cannot hear him. Yuu is about to call out again when he sees something stalking in the darkness behind the Prince.
Mika does not hear the approach of the Mali, either.
It rises high above Mika’s stature, eyes slitted and filled with malevolence. Yuu’s voice is stolen in the moment. Mika takes another step forward. The Mali strikes. Mika turns too late.
Blackened claws catch Mika on the torso, and he cries out in pain as he staggers. The torch is extinguished as it falls from the Prince’s grip. In the dying light, Yuu sees crimson bloom through the white fabric of Mika’s tunic.
The breath rushes back into Yuu’s chest.
“Mika!” he shouts.
He breaks free from Bathory’s hold. Lucidum feels cold and dead in his hand. He scrambles forward, tripping over his own feet in his haste. In the darkness, he can no longer see Mika nor the Mali. He rights himself, hand clutching blindly near the trunk of a tree. Grief is thick in his throat.
A sharp blow strikes the base of Yuu’s skull. Blackness swells into Yuu’s vision. Bathory chuckles quietly behind him.
It is all He can see.
A being of Light, trapped in complete and impenetrable Darkness.
Chains bind His wrists, shackle His ankles, wrap tightly around His chest, over His heart.
And it is cold.
A being of Warmth, and now all He knows is coldness.
He is falling down.
Further than He has ever sunk before.
Further than even the edge of the Horizon.
He calls with chapped lips, parched throat, mouth bloody and raw.
He calls to His Beloved, His Companion, His Chosen One.
Find me, please.
Please, my Love, come to me, you are close, closer than you know—
Yuu jolts awake with a start, vivid dreams still dancing behind his eyelids. Visions of flames being snuffed out, a door being slammed shut, a newborn child wailing into the darkness, and Mika, bloody, falling to the ground—
“Yuu, please calm down.”
Yuu’s eyes have been open for a while now, but he does not see until just this moment. He looks to whoever has spoken, and Shinoa is crouched by his side, hand raised in front of her gently. Her brow is set with worry. Yuu stares at her, blinks, then turns to scan his surroundings.
He is in a room, humble with few furnishings, and an oil lamp on a table in the corner illuminates the space. Shinoa is not the only one there. Kimizuki and Mitsuba are also present, postures as stern as always, though with a trace of concern on their faces. Yuu looks down at himself and realizes he is in a bed. The blanket is tattered and scratches his skin when he moves. He turns back to Shinoa.
“What,” he says. He swallows, thickly. “What happened? Where is Mika?”
“Mikaela is fine,” Shinoa says. Her eyes say something different. “You just ran off, we found you both so far away—”
Yuu tunes her out. His mind is racing, teeming with memories. The feeling of Bathory choking his heart with a darkness so thick, so oppressive, it felt as though it infected his very soul. The image of Mika falling as that creature loomed over him, raising his sword desperately, Yuu helpless but to stare. Yuu had left him, and Bathory laughed, and Mika’s face twisted in pain, and Yuu had just left —
Yuu springs out of the bed, but when his feet hit the floor he stumbles. Shinoa reaches out to steady him.
Shinoa tries to push him back down. “What are you doing? You need to rest.”
“Tell me where Mika is,” Yuu says. He looks to the door, stepping out of Shinoa’s hold. “I have to see him.”
“Idiot, you can see him in just a moment,” Kimizuki says. He tries to block Yuu’s path, but Yuu shoulders him out of the way.
Mitsuba grabs his arm. “You both need rest,” she says sternly. “Wait until the beginning of the next cycle, at least.”
“Please,” Yuu croaks. The word is said so desperately, Yuu doesn’t even recognize his own voice. His shoulders shake. “Please, I have to see him.”
The room falls into silence. Yuu’s heart feels like it is in his throat. The wound on his head throbs dully.
“Down the hall, third door on the left.”
Yuu turns when Shinoa speaks. Her face is tight with tension, eyes as hard as amber.
“Go to him,” she says. Something vaguely resembling a smile rises to her lips. “If I know him at all, he is worrying himself to death over your wellbeing.”
Something in Yuu’s chest is knocked loose. He smiles at her. “Thank you.”
Yuu looks to Mitsuba. After a moment, the girl clicks her tongue and releases his arm. Yuu looks to Kimizuki. He sighs and steps out of the way of the door, eyes cast to the floor. Yuu can’t yank the door open fast enough.
Down the hall, third door on the left.
Yuu speeds down the hallway, sidestepping around servants and other guests of the inn. He finds the door he is looking for, and a woman carrying a pile of linens blocks the entrance. She startles as Yuu approaches.
“My Lord,” she breathes. Yuu barely hears her.
The linens are stained crimson with blood. Yuu nearly rips the door off of its hinges in his haste to enter. The woman moves to follow.
“My Lord, right now is not—”
Yuu pauses still in the doorway. His breath is snatched from his lungs.
All attention is drawn to Yuu as he loiters by the entrance. A woman holding a pitcher stands near the foot of a bed. Yoichi is knelt on the ground, a bundle of cloth held in his grasp. Yuu does not pay them any heed. His eyes are fixed on the figure sitting at the edge of the bed.
Mika’s face is thick with tension as he looks up at Yuu. His shirt hangs open, falling loosely down one shoulder. Bandages are wrapped tightly around his midsection. Yuu’s eyes are drawn helplessly to the dark red stain on his left side. Yuu clenches his hand so tightly that his nails bite into his skin. Mika rises quickly, too quickly. He winces, and something sharp pierces Yuu through the heart as he watches. Mika’s eyes bore into his.
“Leave us,” he says. Though he looks at Yuu alone, it is clear who he is addressing.
Yoichi rises as well. “Mikaela, I still must—”
“Must a Prince ask for something twice?”
His tone is sharp and stentorian. Yoichi’s jaw clicks shut. His hands shake as he clutches the bandages tighter. With a glance cast in Yuu’s direction, Yoichi bows.
“Of course, My Prince.”
Yoichi leads the other woman to the door, slipping past Yuu silently. Yuu can feel Yoichi’s eyes on the back of his skull, but he does not say anything more before he shuts the door behind him.
Yuu and Mika are left alone.
“Yuu,” Mika whispers. His shoulders sag as the tension leaves him, and the mask of authority he wears deflates into melancholy.
Yuu doesn't respond. Slowly, he walks toward the Prince, eyes fixed to the crimson stain. Mika is silent as Yuu approaches. He is silent as Yuu parts his shirt, runs careful fingers over the wound. A strangled noise punches its way out of the back of Yuu’s throat. He looks back up, and Mika’s eyes shine like sapphires.
“I shouldn’t have left you,” Yuu whimpers. He closes his eyes, laying his palm flat onto Mika’s side. “Fuck, I should have—”
“Hush,” Mika breathes. His hand finds its way to the side of Yuu’s face, and when Yuu opens his eyes, Mika is much closer than before.
“There is no need for that,” Mika says. He brushes Yuu’s cheek with his thumb. “You did what you did for a reason.”
“But you got hurt.” A sob threatens its way up Yuu’s throat, and Yuu struggles to swallow it back down.
“Enough,” Mika says.
His other hand wraps around Yuu’s neck, and he pulls their foreheads flush together. Yuu’s eyes flicker shut on instinct.
Yuu exhales shakily. “I should have been there.”
“Do not worry about what you should have done,” Mika says. Yuu can feel Mika’s breath on his mouth as he speaks. It is intoxicating.
Mika’s voice drops to a whisper.
“Just be with me now.”
Yuu leans closer until his nose brushes along Mika’s gently. With eyes closed, Mika draws him forward until he is tipping over, leaning over Mika’s body sprawled out onto the bed. His hands wander from the bandages, skirting up the sides of Mika’s ribcage, exploring the skin of his back, the muscles of his chest.
Mika gasps, and Yuu is helpless but to lean forward and steal the sound right out of Mika’s mouth. He tastes sweeter than Yuu could have ever imagined. Yuu is addicted instantly.
The two fall headfirst after that, tumbling into a tangle of desperate hands and mouths, relentlessly chasing after something that can only be found in one another. The feel of Mika’s skin on his own, the sounds that fall from Mika’s lips, the sound of his name, said brokenly and wantonly, set Yuu’s very soul ablaze. He forgets about everything else in the world, his quest, Bathory, Lucidum, the Sun, the Moon, Heaven and Earth. Nothing else could ever matter than this moment now, a moment where he has finally found himself complete in the arms of another.
In this moment now, Darkness could never exist in a Light that shines so bright. Coldness cannot be in a Warmth so all-consuming.
In the aftermath, Yuu’s skin still buzzes with adrenaline, and his chest is warm as Mika lays against him. His eyes are closed, and he simply enjoys the feeling of Mika running his fingers over the back of his arm. When he does open his eyes, Mika is staring up at him, eyes half-lidded. A quiet smile plays on his lips.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Yuu asks.
Mika doesn’t answer right away. “Looking at you like what?”
Yuu’s face goes hot. “You know.” He gestures, vaguely. “Looking at me like—”
“Like you are something to be admired?” Mika finishes. He sits up on one arm, and the bedsheet pools temptingly around his slender waist. His eyes are still fixed onto Yuu. “Like you are a sight to behold? Something deserving of worship? A beauty beyond compare?”
Each word that comes out of Mika’s mouth makes it feel as though steam will burst from Yuu’s ears. Yuu turns his head toward the wall, huffing an embarrassed laugh. Even then he can feel Mika’s eyes on him.
“That’s not what I was going to say,” Yuu mutters. Mika giggles, and a hand comes around to Yuu’s chin. Gently, Mika guides Yuu’s head back to face him.
“You know,” Mika says. “I have been told, so many times, that nothing in this world can compare to the beauty of a Sunrise. The Sun, as it peeks over the horizon, filling the sky with shades of reds and blues and purples and so many other colors I cannot imagine.”
Mika’s eyes fill with fondness. He runs his knuckles along Yuu’s cheekbone.
“When I look at you,” he says, “I do not care if I ever see a Sunrise.” He leans close and speaks against Yuu’s mouth. “There is nothing that can be more beautiful than you.”
Yuu wants to protest, tell Mika that he is mistaken, that he must be thinking of himself, a being so lovely that he is the one that deserves to be hung in the sky.
Yuu wants to protest, but Mika rolls on top of him, sealing any gaps keeping them apart, and suddenly his mouth is preoccupied with much more pleasurable affairs.
Yuu doesn’t return to his room after that.
After a few hours of rest, Mika and Yuu emerge from the same room of the inn, and Shinoa swoons in a practiced show scandalization. Mitsuba rides a fine line between disgust and total embarrassment. Kimizuki remains as stoic as ever. Whenever Yuu tries to look at Yoichi, the healer quickly averts his eyes.
The party begins their ascension of the Peak shortly thereafter. A rocky path is cut through the trees along the side of the mountain, and Yuu leads the group through the winding twists and turns. Mika walks next to him, letting their hands brush together when he is sure no one else is looking, but keeping his expression coy, teasing whenever Yuu turns to look. The urge to abandon the quest entirely in favor of indulging himself in Mika's touch is not a temptation Yuu resists easily.
However, it is not long before the Mali begin to gather like insidious moths to a flame.
“Already?” Mitsuba mutters as she draws her sword.
The vegetation on the side of the mountain is limited, so the nebulous shapes of the Mali can be seen clearly, undulated in and out of the darkness. Kimizuki and Mika draw their blades as well, gathering to protect Shinoa and Yoichi in the center. Yuu steps forward and unsheaths Lucidum, waiting for the spark to illuminate their foes.
Lucidum remains lifeless in his hand.
Mika looks to him, eyebrows raised. “What is happening?”
Yuu looks down to the blade, and the coldness seeping into his skin is familiar. His heart lurches painfully as he remembers glowing red eyes, sinister smiles, unsettlingly black blood.
“Bathory,” Yuu whispers. His hands shake. “Bathory did something, something with his magick. Lucidum is—”
The Mali scutter against the stone ground impatiently, and Mitsuba swings the torch in her hand in a wide arc to scare them back into the shadows. Yuu’s face pales.
If Lucidum is dead, he has no defense against the Mali. If Lucidum is dead, he has no way to free the Sun from His prison.
A million things run through Yuu’s mind at once. The Queen’s stern command. Mika’s hopeful expression. Yoichi’s gentle hands. Shinoa’s prophetic visions. Kimizuki’s ruthlessness in a fight. Mitsuba’s righteous anger.
He is going to let them all down. He is going to fail, just like he always has, just like he always will, he will fail, he is nothing—
Mika’s voice cuts through the haze of his thoughts. He looks up, and Mika is staring into him. He reaches out and placed his hand on top of Yuu’s grip on Lucidum ’s hilt.
“Stay with me,” he says.
Yuu sucks a sharp breath in through his teeth.
Mika turns to face the others. “For right now, let us just focus on the matter at hand!” He raises his blade. “If our journey has taught us anything, we are strong together. We shall not fail, not now!”
Mika grabs the torch from Mitsuba and walks toward the shadows. He waves the flame, and the Mali scatter away from the light. Mika swings out and catches a Mali as it tries to flee. It cries pitifully in pain.
Yoichi runs forward with his torch and swings wide. Kimizuki lunges, and he is there to catch the Mali that are too slow in their escape. Following suit, Shinoa and Mitsuba employ the same tactic.
Yuu watches as his friends fight, shadows and flame dancing amongst each other. They fight as he stands still, completely useless. He looks down at Lucidum, and a cold fist closes around his heart.
Yuu lurches, and Mika is there passing a torch into his free hand. He speaks again, slowly.
“Stay. With. Me.”
Mika’s eyes are as hard as stone. Yuu releases the breath from his lungs. He grabs the torch.
Running forward, Yuu swings Lucidum, no more than an average blade, into the Darkness.
Without the aid of Lucidum’s full power, the journey up Adcaelum Peak is long and harrowing, and the party is barely able to stand by the time the tip of the Peak is in view.
The air is thin, and Yuu struggles to take breath as he leads them to the top of the mountain. The incline of the path plateaus into a rocky expanse, plants sparsely clinging to life in the high altitude.
It is here that they have been traveling towards, toiling each day for, fighting beasts of Darkness, walking for hours on end. It is here that the Sun lies dormant, ready to be restored. It is here that all things will come to an end. As Yuu takes in the scene, he stops frozen in his tracks.
The others pile up behind him, but Yuu is barely aware of their presence.
“Why did you stop?” Mistuba asks petulantly. She shoulders past Yuu and takes a step onto the Peak. “What could you possibly be waiting—?”
When she sees what is waiting for them, she stops talking.
One by one, the rest of the party steps off the path and onto the Peak. Mika walks up beside Yuu, and his eyes are quivering. His mouth gapes open as he looks out over the mountain.
“By the Sun and Moon,” Mika whispers. Yuu stands silently beside him.
At the top of Adcaelum Peak, there is absolutely nothing to be seen.
“I do not understand,” Yoichi says. It is the most he has said since the inn. “I thought the prison was supposed to be here?”
He looks to Shinoa. They all do. Shinoa looks nearly as dumbfounded.
“I,” she says. She swallows. “I was so sure...” She shakes her head slowly. “It has to be here. It has to be.”
Mika’s hands are curled into fists at his sides. His mouth is drawn with tension.
“If Shinoa saw it was here, then it must be here,” he says. He takes a step forward and wretches a torch out of Yoichi’s grip. “Search. There must be something.”
Kimizuki snorts. “I do not know if there is much to see.”
Mika whirls on him. “Do not speak back to me! I am your Prince!” He takes two long strides until he is nearly chest to chest with the knight. “If I say ‘search,’ you do as I command.”
Shinoa sighs. “Mikaela, please...”
He turns to her. “It was your vision, was it not?” Shinoa looks to the ground in shame. Mika’s anger is turning quickly into something more panicked. “The Sun has to be here, Shinoa. This cannot have been for nothing. Yuu has to—!”
“Oh Heavens,” Mitsuba whispers She stares off of the edge of the mountain, eyes wide with horror. Mika runs to her side. The blood drains from his face.
Mali, legions upon legions, are gathered in the valley at the base of the mountain, writhing like a malicious, endarkened sea. At the head of the mass, a lone figure commands the horde atop a dark steed. Though it is impossible to make out his features, there is no one else it could be besides Ferid Bathory.
“Mikaela,” Mitsuba hisses. “We are out of time.”
“No,” Mika whispers. He whirls to face Yuu. “Yuu—!”
As he turns, Mika’s words are frozen in midair. What he has to say doesn’t matter. Yuu is not listening to him anyway.
Yuu stares, transfixed, at a flat expanse of stone near the Peak’s edge. He begins to walk forward, the pull nearly magnetic.
Something is brewing deep within him. Something is beginning to rise to the surface.
Yuu has been here before.
He has been here, but not of his own free will.
Yuu has been here before, pulled down.
Down by something stronger and viler than himself.
It was here that he was purged of his warmth, made to feel so cold.
Cold and helpless and weak and small.
He remembers being held by sinister hands, hands that bound him so tightly he thought he would never escape, hands that intended to harm the ones he loved, the one he called Precious—
It all comes flooding back, all at once, and Yuu doesn’t know how he could have ever forgotten in the first place. He stops walking when he reaches the edge of the mountain, and he looks up to the Heavens.
A crescent Moon smiles down at him, barely clinging to life. Yuu remembers Her laugh, how She likes to dance amongst the twinkling Stars. Yuu smiles at Her.
He has missed Her so, so much.
Yuu lowers his eyes back to the Peak, and he turns to face the others. He locks eyes with Shinoa, and the Oracle is staring at him with eyes wide. She clutches her book of prophecies tightly to her chest. Tears gather in her eyes.
“Of course,” she whispers. “How could I have not seen it before?”
Yuu smiles at her. “You told me yourself. Your visions only make sense when the moment is right.”
“I was right,” she says, and a smile slowly rises to her lips. “It was never supposed to be ‘Companion.’” She laughs, quietly, and shakes her head in astonishment. “It was always meant to be ‘Lover.’”
Mika looks between the two of them, eyes filled with confusion. The beginnings of questions get lodged in his throat.
“What,” he stammers. “What are you two talking about?”
Yuu turns to face him fully, and his heart swells as he looks at the Prince, beautiful even in his panic. Yuu’s gaze softens.
“Mika,” he says. “Thank you.”
Mika blinks vacantly. “Yuu, what—?”
“You have brought me here, just as you were supposed to,” Yuu says. He takes a step toward Mika and extends his hand. “Just as according to prophecy, it is here that you must finally set me free.”
Yuu takes another step. Mika takes a step back.
Mika shakes his head. “I do not understand what you are saying. Yuu, please this is not the time to make jokes.”
“It was here that Bathory stole me from my rightful home,” Yuu says. Another step. “It was here he pulled me to earth, trapped me within a mortal body.” Another step. Mika remains frozen in place. “He tried to hide me, even by sending me to another world, but of course I would always find my way back.” Yuu raises a hand and lays his hand on Mika’s cheek. “Back to you.”
“Yuu,” Mika whispers brokenly. “Please.”
“Mika,” Yuu says. “I am not the Chosen One.” He smiles, and his eyes sting. “You are.”
“No.” Mika’s tears catch on the edge of Yuu’s hand. “No! I cannot be the Chosen One. Lucidum never—!”
“It’s because you weren’t ready,” Yuu says. He draws Lucidum from its sheath, and the blade remains dark. He holds the hilt out towards Mika in invitation. “You are ready now.”
Mika’s breath catches as he looks at Lucidum, and he raises a shaking hand. After only a moment of hesitation, he grasps onto the hilt.
Lucidum kicks to life, and Mika’s breath is punched out of his chest as the Light explodes from the blade. Mika blinks, and his blue eyes melt into molten gold.
“By the Sun,” Kimizuki whispers.
It is just now that Mika seems to remember the presence of the others. He turns to look, and they all stare at him in awe. The hand holding Lucidum shakes. He turns back to Yuu, tears still clinging to his cheeks.
“It is time,” Yuu says. He takes a step back toward the mountain’s edge. Tears of his own burn behind his eyelids. “It is time to send me back home.”
Mika drops Lucidum to his side and rushes forward, grasping onto Yuu’s arm desperately.
“No, ” he breathes. The tears flow freely once again. “You cannot leave us. Not now.”
“Mika,” Yuu sighs. He looks back to the sky. “My sister is dying.” A sob rips its way through his chest. “I must go back to Her before it is too late.” He looks back at Mika, and his heart aches with longing. “Setting me free is the only way to save everyone.”
From off to the side, someone clears their throat. Yuu and Mika turn.
“The Mali are approaching,” Mitsuba says. Her face is a mishmash of conflicting emotions as she looks at Mika and Yuu. Her throat bobs before she speaks. “It is now or never.”
“Yuu,” Mika sobs. He steps forward and leans his head against Yuu’s, breath ragged. “I cannot do this without you.”
Yuu laughs, tears slicing wet paths down his cheeks. “Oh, Mika. I will always be with you.”
“I love you.”
“And I love you.”
Yuu kisses him then, and he tries to memorize every grove in Mika’s lips, the way his breath tastes, the smoothness of his skin under his hands.
When they part, Mika takes a step back. He raises Lucidum with shaking hands. Tears pour down the sides of his cheeks, his face twisted up in grief.
Yuu smiles at him.
“Don’t forget. I will always be with you.”
Mika steps forward and drives Lucidum through Yuu’s heart.
According to Legend, the Chosen One, accompanied by a party of noble warriors, ascended Adcaelum Peak. It was here that the Chosen One wielded Lucidum and broke the bonds of the Sun’s mortal prison.
As the Sun was freed, a beam of Light burst into the sky from the Peak, blinding and brilliant.
For the first time in eighteen years, the Sun rose.
As the first rays of Light shined over the horizon, the hordes Mali assembled by Ferid Bathory were reduced to nothing but ash. The little reinforcements he had remaining were feeble compared to the power he once held.
As the Sun continued to rise, the Chosen One descended the Peak.
Accompanied by his warriors, the Chosen One, Lover to the Sun and Champion of Light, slew Bathory and defeated his Dark Army once and for all.
As the Sun sat high in the sky, Bathory’s reign of Darkness finally came to an end. Light prevailed. The battle was won.
So it was Written, so it came to pass.
The party’s return to the village is met with a grand celebration.
A grand festival, a celebration of triumph over evil, of Light overcoming Darkness, is assembled. Banners fly high, drinks are shared, games are played in the streets, laughter is heard from every mouth.
For the first time in their lives, children play in the light of the Sun. For the first time in their lives, children do not have to fear leaving the borders of the village in order to hide from the Darkness.
For the first time in his life, Mikaela learns that the blue sky was never a myth.
For the first time in his life, Mikaela witnesses a Sunset.
The village watches, enraptured, as the sky melts into a myriad of colors, each more vibrant than the last. Yoichi, Mitsuba, and Kimizuki watch from the village square, entertaining the villagers with tales of their quest. Shinoa and Mikaela watch from the balcony of the inn.
Shinoa leans over the railing, arms supporting her weight. Mikaela stands back, but he is entranced as he watches the Sun disappear from sight, dipping below the horizon.
“It is beautiful,” Shinoa murmurs.
Mikaela hums. “Yes. He is.”
Shinoa turns to look at him, and her face is laced with sympathy.
“Do not fret, My Prince,” she says. “He will be back in the morning.” She laughs, eyes glowing with wonder. “Morning. What a marvelous word to say.”
Mikaela draws an unsteady breath.
“I want Him here, with me, morning be damned.” Mikaela laughs, but the sound rings cold and hollow. “I suppose that makes me rather selfish, does it not?”
Mikaela watches as the Sun finally falls out of sight.
Shinoa pushes off of the railing. “Mikaela—”
“I am going to return to my room,” Mikaela says. “Tomorrow we must begin our journey back. Tell the others they should rest, as well.”
Shinoa doesn’t say anything as Mikaela turns, and he walks back toward the entrance into the inn. She takes a long breath.
“We miss him, too, Mikaela,” Shinoa says after him.
Mikaela doesn’t respond. He shuts the door to the balcony.
The halls of the inn are empty. No one would dare hide away inside, not now, not today of all days. Mikaela is grateful for this as his grief builds. He has barely made it to his room before the tears threaten to spill over. He opens the door and closes it behind himself quickly. He leans his head against the wood and takes a labored breath. His nails bite into the soft wood of the doorframe.
I truly am selfish.
Mikaela pushes himself from the door and turns to ready himself for sleep. He is stopped in his tracks when he sees a figure by the window.
He is not facing him, but Mikaela could recognize him anywhere. The dark hair, the broad shoulders, the tan skin of his arms and neck. He turns as Mikaela stares, and his green eyes are as bright as emeralds in the Moonlight.
Mikaela is sure it is an apparition, a sick, cruel joke that his mind is playing on him. There is no way that this can be real. There is no way Mikaela could be so lucky.
“Mika,” Yuu says.
Mika is throwing himself across the room before he knows what he is doing.
He melts into Yuu’s embrace, and the tears flow freely as he takes in his scent, the warmth of his body heat. Mika shakes in Yuu’s arms, and he leans back to make sure he isn’t dreaming.
It is Yuu, undoubtedly, but something about him has changed. He seems fuller now, more complete, his smile more vibrant, his eyes brimming with Light.
“How are you here?” Mika asks, voice barely above a whisper. He raises a shaking hand and places it on Yuu’s cheek. Yuu cants his head into the touch. “How can you be here?”
Yuu laughs and turns to place a kiss into Mika’s palm. “Where do you think the Sun goes when it sets?” He leans forward, and Mika’s eyes slip shut as Yuu sits his forehead against Mika’s. “He goes to be with the one He loves.”
In the village courtyard, the Moon shines down, full for the first time in eighteen years, casting the world in hues of silver and white. The villagers dance, and drink, and sing, and laugh, and do all the things that seemed impossible only hours prior. In the Light of the Moon, hope has found its home in the hearts of the Kingdom, the promise of Sunrise lying just below the horizon.
Inside the inn, two lovers find their home in each other. As they join together, they are no longer merely a Sun and His Chosen One. Now they are something so much more, something so much deeper. The warmth found between them is untamable, and the Light shining in each other’s eyes is unmatched. Inside the inn, two lovers prove that there is no force that could ever drive them apart. Not Heaven and Hell. Not Good and Evil. Not Light and Darkness.
When the two lovers are made into one, around them everything else orbits.