There's usually a kingdom, a castle, a prince and a princess. An evil stepmother, magic, maybe a catchy tune or two.
Usually, you can count on a Once Upon a Time…
And so, there was a kingdom and a castle, and a prince locked away in a tower. However, it took a lot more than a tower to keep Ash Lynx imprisoned.
“I'm not sure what you find so funny,” the king inquired of him, lounged back on his throne and glaring at the prince, who was smirking up at him.
“Who said I found anything funny?” Ash asked, a poor attempt at innocence, given that he didn't even bother to drop the smirk. Golzine frowned, stamping out his cigar in the tray on the arm rest beside him.
“The security on your wing will be increased tenfold after today,” Golzine imposed, sitting further up in some sort of power play. Ash raised an eyebrow, unimpressed, but stayed silent. “Take him back to his rooms,” he waved to the guards.
Ash stood up before they could get to him, walking toward the door with a confident swagger. He threw one last look over his shoulder in the threshold, then exited without a word. Alone in the hall, Golzine rubbed at his eyes.
He then went to stand, making his way across the room and into another chamber. This had been going on for too long. Golzine wasn't sure how it kept happening; how Ash duped all those guards.
Ash was his to control, his most prized possession. He had groomed him. He had made him into the most fearful, intelligent creature in the kingdom, destined to take over his powerful reign.
Dino had acquired the fairest one in the land, and nothing would get in his way of keeping him.
But the fairest one in the land did try his patience. It was times like these that Golzine had to remind himself why it was all worth it; why he put up with Ash's foul mouth and inability to stay in the castle.
Coming to a stop at the opposite end of the room, opulent and garish, but far smaller than the receiving hall, Golzine reached up to the sheet which covered his second most valuable possession.
“Afternoon, my mirror,” he greeted it, as it shined awake from its stupor. Blue and green light reflected from its surface, signifying it was, indeed, activated. “Show me the fairest in my land.”
Immediately, the reflections began to change, the blues and greens rippling, becoming brighter and changing. Golzine stepped back, pleased, and waited for his image, his solace to the tiding fury rising in him. The Ash which had stood before him, threatened to never leaving the castle again, was not his. He was a rebellious thing, which did not hold respect for the king nor the kingdom he had built.
In the mirror, Ash was his. His. Only his.
Golzine owned the visions in the mirror, and he owned Ash. Whether the boy accepted it or not, one day, he would learn.
But, as the reflection changed, it showed greens and browns and small pinks in the distance. It showed life outside the castle, bustling people in the square, and the fields not far off. It showed high bricked walls and, there, focusing in on a boy who was not his. Who was not Ash.
The boy, raven-haired and eyes wide, taking in everything around him, stepped closer, hand gripping a leather bag slung over his shoulder. He was smiling, basking in the sunlight in commoner's wear.
He was simple, and plain, and he was not what he had asked his mirror for.
“Mirror, show me the fairest in my land,” Golzine commanded once more, growing more irritated. The mirror rippled, but, again, it showed the boy. Golzine stepped closer, fire in his eyes. “Mirror, show me the fairest of the land.”
The boy, the boy every time.
“Who are you?” he asked, leaning in. The boy turned to a man beside him and seemed to ask a question. Golzine's fists grew tighter and he went to a table beside the couch, opening it to pick out another cigar. He nearly crushed it lighting it.
He looked back to the mirror, taking a drag. He narrowed his eyes as the boy laughed at something one of the stallers says.
“Whoever you are,” he decided, tapping ash away from the cigar, “You will not be the fairest for long.”
It did not take long for Ash to get out again, and he did so immediately, after being chucked back into his room, just to spite Golzine. Fuck him. He can't keep Ash held hostage for long.
Ash would not let the bastard control him.
He walked down the street now, taking his dear time just to stretch his legs and take in the scene. Shorter could probably be found around the tavern, not particularly for drinking this early, but to meet with his boys. Ash would head there, and maybe bump into some of his own boys along the way.
When he passed the square, he smelled pastries and potions and strange foreign spices. Then he heard a yell, noticed the crowd scrambling and swelling in anxiety. Something seemed to be going on close to the center.
Ash frowned, but made his way closer. When he noticed wild blond hair, unmistakable over the crowd, Ash sighed. “Goddamnit,” he cursed, then pushed his way through.
There was a splat as something fell to the ground- was thrown to the ground by the looks of it. The knight glared down someone, gesturing to some sort of paste from one of the stalls he had just pitched to the curb. “Pick it up, fucker.”
Ash’s temper flared. What the fuck?
“How do I pick up something like that?” a voice replied, sounding irritated, only a bit of fear to be heard. “It is not solid.”
“I didn’t say you could ask questions,” Arthur snarled.
“And I did not sign up to be bullied in the street, sir,” the other voice replied. Ash approached, noticing the guy Arthur was talking to. Short. A fire in his dark eyes. Ash stalked up, cutting between the two, blocking the guy from Arthur’s wrath. Instead, Arthur received his.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Ash growled. Arthur’s eyes widened, taken aback by the prince's sudden appearance. He covered it quickly, crossing his arms, and stepping back subtly from Ash to glare him down.
“Teaching this punk a lesson,” he replied coolly, not even sparing a glance for the guy behind Ash.
“Really? Looks like you’re terrorizing some random street goer to me.”
“Are you supposed to be out of the palace,” Arthur then asked, challengingly, “Your highness?”
“I can do as I please,” Ash brushed this off with practiced ease, donning his guise of confidence and high ‘I do what I want’ royal attitude. Arthur, however, did not stand down.
“We’re under direct orders to bring you in if you’re seen outside the castle,” he said, looking quite happy with himself. Having this over Ash must have been like candy to him. He didn’t sound sorry at all when he said, “My apologies, your highness, but I’ll have to place you under arrest.”
Arthur lunged at him and Ash spun, grabbing the arm of the boy behind him and yelling, “Run!” Like that, they were taking off down the road, stamping feet behind him. More guys joined Arthur as they progressed, but Ash kept his eyes on his surroundings, making sure the boy with him didn’t fall behind. Surprisingly, Ash didn’t have to slow his pace at all for him.
Calling behind him, low enough that none of their followers heard, Ash instructed the other when sharp turns approached, and when to duck into dark corners, behind boxes, and even onto a roof. They were both slightly panting when they reached a deadend, cut off by a tall building, Ash scanning the area for something, anything they could use to hide or get over. Other than a couple sturdy-looking bamboo stalks and a broken crate in the corner, there was nothing.
“I have an idea,” the guy panted, running over to the corner of bamboo. Ash’s eyes widened. Was he planning on fighting the royal guard - who had swords - with sticks?
“We’ll never take all of them,” Ash shook his head, but the guy just shook his right back.
“It’s not for fighting. I am jumping,” he said, hacking a hole into the ground. Ash could now hear the pounding of an army of soldiers’ footsteps.
“It’ll break,” Ash said, bewildered, but the guy continued to line up, stepping back and sizing up the jump. Ash continued to watch, wide-eyed.
“Then I will die trying.”
Then, he began to run.
He ran, and he ran, and he reached his little divot in the dirt.
And he flew.
Ash’s breath caught as he watched, transfixed. His jade eyes came to life after years of a glazed marble sheen. The world became full of color, and that color shone brightest in the form of a boy he didn’t even know the name of.
Then, he heard a hard thump as the boy landed on the roof, and a loud groan. Ash winced in sympathy. His other senses coming back to him, Ash turned to see soldiers rounding the corner far off. They saw him and shouted.
“Hey!” a voice called, and Ash turned around. It was the boy, up on the roof. He was waving to him and reaching down. “Come on!”
Ash gaped at him. Was he… trying to help him?
And Ash almost ran to him, almost forgot everything to go with this mysterious stranger who had flown and achieved freedom like it was nothing. Ash wanted to be saved. Could this boy save him?
But Ash couldn’t. It was too late. The soldiers were too close now and they would only both be caught. He stepped back, shaking his head.
“Go! They’ll catch us both!” he called, causing a puzzled look to appear on the boy’s face. He didn’t move. “Ash shifted closer so he could hear him better. “They’ll think you’re an accomplice. Nothing will happen to me. I’m the prince.”
“But you ran away from them,” the boy said, confusion knitting his brows. “Do you want to go back?”
“No,” Ash laughed bitterly. “But they can’t ever hold me for long.”
The boy looked conflicted, still reaching out an arm, but, slowly, his fingers curled inward, and it retracted. Ash hated to see it go. His opportunity for freedom; this amazing, otherworldly boy. He heard the footsteps and knew the boy had to get away. Now.
“Go!” he called again. The boy stood.
“What is your name?” he asked, and it was so strange for Ash that, at first, he didn’t answer. Everyone around here knew him.
Then, “Ash Lynx,” he said, looking upward. The boy paused, looking down, then nodded.
“It was good to meet you, Ash Lynx,” he said, and, without another word, turned and ran away, looking as though he regretted it the whole way. Ash felt relieved. The boy wouldn’t be caught. He wouldn’t get pegged as one of Ash’s accomplices of getting out of the palace, around the city. He would be safe.
This nameless boy who Ash may never see again.
Ash sighed, still looking up at the roof and the bright blue sky, feeling stuck in the dark, dank alley; trapped. The footsteps came to a rest behind him.
“Alright then,” he sighed, turning toward the hoard of soldiers which blocked the alleyway behind him, “Take me back.”
Eiji was still trying to wrap his mind around what the hell he had gotten himself into by the time he had made it back to the motel he and Ibe were renting out. He was panting and huffing and puffing like a fish out of water, which was saying something, as he was actually quite athletic.
His heart still ached.
That boy, the prince, Ash Lynx, had defended him from that knight, and what had he done? Left him behind. Abandoned him. Eiji had run away.
It was why he was here, wasn’t it?
“Eiji, are you alright?” Ibe asked, walking over with a concerned look on his face. He always looked concerned, didn’t he? Eiji smiled, nodding his head and throwing two thumbs up. Ibe looked doubtful, and he led Eiji to the small table in their room. When he presented him a glass of water, Eiji gulped the whole thing down in one swallow.
Then he explained everything that happened after Ibe had left him to explore the market.
“The prince?” Ibe asked, looking incredulous. “I had heard he gets out of the castle frequently, but you met him?”
Eiji nodded, having caught his breath for the most part, but still feeling a bit winded, especially after having gone straight into the long explanation. “He helped me, but… I had to leave him.”
“That is quite… amazing, Eiji,” Ibe said, impressed.
Eiji had to agree. It was all pretty amazing; meeting the prince on his first day in the kingdom, running away from guards of the palace. Oh no- “Does this mean they will be looking for me?” he asked.
Ibe’s eyes widened. It seemed as though he had not thought of this until now either. “You will keep your head down. Okay, Eiji?” Ibe instructed. “This will blow over soon.”
All Eiji could do was nod and agree, suddenly overwhelmed with the knowledge. He would stay inside for a while, or wear a hood while in town. He could keep a low profile.
Ibe nodded, looking satisfied himself before standing up. “Good,” he said. “Now, to make dinner.”
“Okay,” Eiji agreed, and watched as Ibe disappeared into the adjoining room. He would follow, after just a moment. He needed a moment to calm himself, to come to terms with everything that had happened that day.
His thoughts went to the prince again. Ash Lynx. He felt disappointed that he would probably never see him again and sighed.
“Perhaps one of the soldiers will pick on me again and he will come to my rescue,” Eiji mused, before standing up and following Ibe into the kitchen.
Golzine did not call on Ash that night, which meant he was up to something.
And Ash, always looking for dirt on the sick old man, wanted to know what. It was that evening at dinner that his interest was truly piqued though.
He sat across from Golzine, trying to pretend to be anywhere else. Cutting into a roasted potato, wanting more and more to stab himself with the expensive silverware instead of eat with it, one of the attendants stepped forward, looking nervous to interrupt. It must have been important.
“Your guest has arrived, Papa Dino,” the boy said, swallowing as Golzine’s eyes fell to him. Ash felt a shiver go down his back for the boy.
“Guide him to his room. Give him what he desires. Tell him I shall meet him first thing in the morning,” Golzine responded, looking uninterested. Ash, however, narrowed his eyes. He knew better than to ask, though.
“Yes, sir,” the boy answered, then bolted away. Ash wished he could leave. Instead, when dinner had ended and Golzine had made a point to order guards to lead Ash to his room (still pissed off that Ash had escaped not once, but twice that day no doubt), Ash decided whatever guest was visiting now was worth inspecting. They did not receive guests often.
It was simple getting passed the guards. It’d be a lot easier to sneak back in since he wasn’t even leaving the castle, and, if they noticed he was gone, inside the castle would be the last place they’d look. For now, Ash had free reign. Well, as long as he stayed out of sight. Golzine kept guards everywhere.
It didn’t take long to find this guest, and, once he did, he was more surprised than he thought he’d be.
“Blanca?” he said, standing in the doorway of his old teacher’s room. Blanca looked up.
“Ash,” he greeted. “I thought you were being barricaded in your room this evening.”
Ash shrugged. “The bastard can’t keep me locked up.”
“That’s probably partially my fault,” Blanca said, grimacing slightly. Ash shrugged again.
“You taught me, so I guess that’s so,” Ash said, then grew serious. “What are you doing here?”
“Business,” Blanca answered, infuriatingly vague. Ash crossed his arms and leaned against the door frame. “You should know that.”
“Yeah, but what sort of business. He having you off someone?”
It was Blanca’s turn to shrug, and he looked even more unphased than Ash. The bastard. “I do not know yet. I meet with your father tomorrow about it.”
“Don’t call him that,” Ash growled and Blanca put up his hands in surrender.
“My apologies.” They were silent for a moment. Blanca took out a book. It was Islands in the Sun again. “Did you ever read it?” Blanca asked.
Ash ignored him. “Are you meeting in Golzine’s office?”
“Are you thinking of listening in?”
“What if I am?” Ash challenged, sticking his chin in the air. He felt like a kid again, around Blanca. Some snot-nosed brat who wanted to prove himself, who had no skill or talent of his own but for being the ‘fairest in the land’, whatever that meant. Blanca boiled that defiant blood in him again, the spark that he had been losing before Blanca had taught him to defend himself from the sick bastards who came and went from the palace walls.
“Yes, the meeting will be in his office, as far as I know. It’ll be at day-break, though, and I know how you are with mornings,” Blanca teased. Ash rolled his eyes, pushing himself upright again, ready to go now that he had the information.
“You gonna tell on me?” Ash asked.
“I have nothing to tell.”
Ash nodded. At least Blanca didn’t give a shit about Golzine. He was there for business and business only. Ash didn’t think Blanca had any loyalties.
He certainly didn’t have a loyalty to him. Ash had thought, once upon a time, but Blanca had left and Ash had had to carry on.
He turned to leave. “Good night, Ash,” Blanca said in farewell, and Ash spared a lazy wave over the shoulder.
He wasn’t sure if he could stand more time around Blanca.
The next morning it was easy to sneak down to Golzine’s office. Just as Blanca had said, Ash had a reputation for not being a morning person, so no one expected him to sneak out that early.
It had simply been a matter of staying up all night. Ash was working on adrenaline.
The palace was eerily silent as he made his way through it. Shadows and panels of orange from the rising sun glared from every corner, and every window boasted a new day. Birds chirped, grass covered in dew, clouds parted and drifted steadily on. Ash walked lightly, not just so he wouldn’t get caught, but because he feared disturbing the ethereal morning atmosphere.
Ash was reluctant to turn down the hall that would take him further into the palace, where no windows boasted of a beautiful day and only candles lit the way. It was always far too dark in the wing where Golzine kept his office. Ash knew it was for intimidation. It was why his receiving hall was there too.
It wouldn’t intimidate Blanca, Ash knew. It didn’t intimidate him anymore either. Ash had been there for too long. Golzine himself barely intimidated Ash. He just wanted him dead.
There was no way he could do that without getting himself killed while in this castle. Sometimes, Ash considered it anyway.
Ash padded further up the corridor, nearing two coats of armor which flanked the receiving hallway. As he approached the office on the other side, he heard voices and ducked behind one of the coats of armor. There was Blanca, being led by a guard to Golzine’s office. Blanca saw him immediately, to no surprise, and caught his eye as he passed. He did not say a word.
Once the guard had dropped Blanca at the entrance and left, Ash approached the doorway. He could hear them faintly through it, but the wood was thick to prevent eavesdropping. Damn it.
But Ash hadn’t scoured this castle when he was younger for nothing. He knew all its secrets.
He just hoped he was still small enough to fit through the air ducts.
Quickly, Ash crept his way back to the receiving hall, running to the back and opening up one of the ducts. Crawling through, he could already tell it was going to be a bitch to get out of, but continued on. The trip was a short one to get to the grate next door.
“-a boy, somewhere in the kingdom. I believe he is in the city, as I saw him in the square, but he could have moved on by now,” Golzine’s voice carried through, and Ash was already repulsed. Golzine was looking for another boy? But why bring Blanca in for that?
“Why is it that you want him dead, your majesty?” Blanca asked, and Ash’s heart sunk. Oh, that would be why. Golzine didn’t want the boy as one of his boys . He wanted him dead. He wanted some boy in the city dead. Why?
“He has gotten in the way of something very important to me,” Golzine answered simply. Ash’s eyes narrowed. What was he being so vague for?
“My apologies, your majesty, but I am going to need more information than what you have given me. I cannot hunt down a ‘boy with black hair, Asian features, plain looks’. That is a lot more people in your capital than you might believe,” Blanca said, and sounded as though he had been reading from something. Ash scooted a little closer, careful not to make a noise. Sitting in Blanca’s lap was a folder, but the contents were indeed sparse. It was laughable, really, the post-it note piece of information which it contained.
“I cannot give you a photo because I do not have it. But I can show you him. You will have to memorize the face you see,” Golzine said. Blanca nodded.
Then, Golzine turned and pulled a sheet from the wall. Ash’s mouth ran dry at the sight of the gigantic mirror which encompassed the entirety of the wall above the fireplace. He had seen that mirror before; in his dreams, in his nightmares. That mirror was the reason he was trapped, why he could never escape for long.
“You wanted to know why, right?” Golzine asked. Blanca nodded silently, watching with interest. Ash watched too, fighting back the bile in his throat. “Show me the fairest in my land,” Golzine commanded, and, suddenly, panic rose to Ash’s head.
Shit. I’ll be caught. They’ll see me. How did Golzine know? Or maybe he doesn’t- Maybe he’s checking on me because I’ve been getting out so often lately. It’s coming back to bite me. I’ve been getting too cocky. Now he’ll know I’m here, that I’m listening in, and punishment will be much worse than simply locking me in a tower.
But, through Ash’s haze of panic, he noticed something. The mirror, rippling and changing… did not show him.
“This is why,” Blanca said, understanding in his voice. He seemed to understand a lot more than Ash did.
Why is that not me? It’s always been me. Why is it not now?
And, for a millisecond, happiness rose in Ash’s stomach, a disbelieving kind of excitement that convinced him, for such a short time, that this could mean freedom. That, if he wasn’t the fairest in the land, Golzine would let him go.
It didn’t take long for reality to set in.
“Once he is out of the picture, I will have the fairest in the land again,” Golzine stated. So simply put that one would think he was referring to shewing away a pesky fly. That he wasn’t hiring a huntsman to murder some innocent guy just because he threatened the position of ‘fairest in the land’.
A new wave of revulsion went through Ash for Dino Golzine. He was surprised that the man was still able to shock him, after everything. After it all, he could still do something that took Ash aback.
“And there is no name?” Blanca asked. “No other information?”
“This is why I called for you,” Golzine explained. “It won’t be difficult for a man of your caliber, will it?”
“No,” Blanca shook his head. “Merely asking. I will kill this boy for you.”
That brought Ash back to his senses, and he knew what he had to do. He couldn’t let Blanca kill some innocent like this.
His eyes darted back to the mirror, taking in the sight of the boy again, ready to carry out his own little operation. He would find him first. He had to.
As soon as his eyes laid back on the mirror’s surface, though, Ash froze. His breath stopped when he took the image in. The short boy, the one who had flown. Raven hair, dark eyes, a quiet intensity and the memory of a hand reaching out for him, beckoning him to freedom.
The nameless boy from the square.