NOTE Please, please pay attention to the dates in this story. They're there for a reason, and are the only indication of the passage of time here, as this story takes place over the course of four to five years. PLEASE.


05/04/1996

somewhere in the Western regions, Qidanta

"Rai… I'm really sorry."

He was only half-listening to his sister, younger than him by about six years, laying back on the grassy hillside. The blood of Sol's heart dyed the sky a deeper red; the ache of her lost love seemed to mirror Raizzé's own, yet… It didn't hurt. He'd suspected this all along. Kitan had always seemed like a one-sided figure; now he knew it was because he had really only shown him one side of his true self. Rai almost felt like he wanted to cry. But he didn't. He was just…hollow.

Like when his father…

"Rai?"

He blinked, then shook his head, not turning his eyes away from the sky. "…It doesn't matter. It never did, anyway. I knew…it never could've lasted this long."

Selva blinked. Ever since the first time he had come back from Chetrennes, about five years ago, Rai had been acting weirder and weirder. Those damn Easterners must've been messing with his head… Hmph "But… Aren't you sad? At least a little pissed off? I mean, I knew Kitan was a jerk, but I never thought he'd be this much of a jerk! A fetishing jerk! The nerve of that guy—!"

"Lira must be happy… She deserves him, after all…"

She just stared at him. "…Did you even hear a word I said?! Pretty much everyone in the clan knows about him by now, and she still said 'I do.' Man, I woulda sent that guy straight to the Forest…" She paused; he said nothing. Sol was beginning to dip below the horizon, while Mani had already risen, chasing her across the sky. "…Aren't you even jealous?"

"Why would I be? It's…it's no fault of his, or Lira's—"

"Of course it is! He's been tricking you for five years! And…" Selva hesitated again, letting her angry expression fall for a moment. "…I can tell he really hurt you, Raizzé. And for that, I'll never forgive him."

"I told you… It doesn't matter."

She realized she wasn't going to get anywhere with him; it'd probably be best if he was left alone with the matter. She drew her knees to her chest. "Fine… Whatever you say. But I don't want you to become a pushover just because of that, got it? If anyone else does something like that to you, you're not just gonna sit by and think, 'Oh, well, it must be my fault,' all right?"

"…Selva, you don't have to act like you're my mother."

"But if I don't, how else are you gonna listen to me?!"

There was a long silence after that. "…Selva."

"Yeah?"

"There's…something else I have to tell you."

"Like…what?"

"…You know about Lady Alexandria Niziér, right?"

"Um…" She thought. The clan, being made up solely of Westerners and thusly living strictly in the Western regions, never heard much from the far-more-advanced 'outer' world, yet…she felt like she should know this name. "…Oh, yeah, Al! I remember her! Isn't she, like, the High Queen of the Eastern regions, or something?" (She said 'of the Eastern regions,' but she also quite literally meant the whole of Qidanta.)

"Yes, well… She was." He sat up, but didn't look over at her. "Lady Alexandria passed away last week."

"…Oh… Now that you mention it, she wasn't really that old, was she?"

"No. She just turned thirty-five, actually. Terminal illness, or so I've heard."

"I see…" Then it hit her; despite his pure Western blood, Raizzé had taken the place of his father five years ago as second-in-command to the Qidantan leader. "Wait! Since she's gone, does that mean…you're…you're the new…?!"

"No, not exactly. She left behind a son—Lucius Niziér—and his heritage takes precedence over mine."

"Oh, okay… He's Nikaro's son, isn't he?"

"Yes, of course." Both Lord Nikaro and their father, the former second-in-command, had come from this exact clan. Not that it was something that most of the others were particularly proud of, though.

"So… Wouldn't that make him half-Western, too?"

"Well, yes, but… Why does that matter?"

"Oh…" For a moment, her face looked grave. "Nothing, really…"

"Anyway… The only problem is that he's not yet of age, and the cabinet doesn't see him fit to inherit the throne just yet. So, until that time comes, I'll have to fill his role."

"Oh, I get it…" There was another silence. "So… Um… This time… You're leaving for good…?"

Rai paused, then sighed. "I don't know… If I do come back, though, it won't be for a really long time."

That one phrase hit Selva's heart like a dagger. It was the one thing she'd been afraid of for so long: that Raizzé would become so attached to the Eastern world he would never want to return. "No! You…you can't!"

"Can't…what?"

"You can't leave…" Fire flashed in her eyes. "I won't let you!"

"Selva… It's not something that can be helped. There's nothing I can do about it."

"I don't care! There's still so many Easterners who hate us all… Look at what happened to dad, and Nikaro! If you go back, you'll only end up with a bullet in your brain, too—!"

"I know exactly what I'm dealing with, Selva. But… I really can't worry about myself. My concern is primarily for the young master."

"But why?! If he dies, then you can become the leader—!"

"And then you really will never see me again."

"That's not the point. You'll have more influence over the government. You can get them to leave us alone, for once!"

"Selva, I'm doing the best I can. But for now, you'll just have to trust me."

She bit her lip, looking at the ground for a moment, then turning back to Raizzé. "…Well… All right, I guess. Just…don't be a pushover, all right?"

He smiled. "I don't think that'll be too hard to pull off."


05/06/1996

Chetrennes, Qidanta

The palace now seemed much quieter than when Raizzé last remembered it… Since Lord Nikaro's death nine years ago, the general area had always been quiet, with heavier security against the media. But now, this silence seemed to be paired with a peculiar emptiness. Servants had always been few in number—since both Nikaro and Alexandria agreed that they could do their own work for themselves—yet…it was…strange. Like that hollow feeling he got when Selva told him…about Kitan…

Well, he was going to have to get used to it. Aside from the servants, the only people living in the building were master Lucius and him. It was an odd thought, now that he realized it; he had always thought of the palace as more of a second home, inferior to the land of his birth, even though he lived here throughout the majority of the year. He never particularly enjoyed the life of luxury; he didn't see it as any different from his life back home, really. It just wasn't that important.

Then he realized something completely different: he had never really met master Lucius, not once. His parents had kept him mostly isolated, to keep him from being exposed to the media. It was sensible thinking, but then…he'd never really had much of a childhood, did he? Raizzé guessed he was roughly around fourteen years old by now; it would be another four or five years before he would be allowed to officially take the throne.

Well… It most certainly looked like Raizzé had a long way ahead of him.

As he moved further away from the entrance, he realized that the atmosphere wasn't completely drowned in silence; he could vaguely hear a piano off in the distance. He smiled; if the gentle Lady Alexandria ever demanded one thing, it was music. She, herself, could play beautifully, but it was usually a servant who did the playing, instead. That must've been exactly what was happening right now; her favorite servant playing a tune in her memory. The place hadn't changed much after her passing, after all.

As he unconsciously drifted toward the source of the music, he began to think more of what Selva had told him. There was no denying it; the first thing he had seen once he returned was the both of them, Kitan and Lira, together. Happy. It wasn't there before, but now it felt like Yura's arrow had lodged itself firmly in his heart. Kitan had led him to believe that the two of them were actually in love, even though they were of the same sex. Now… Raizzé didn't know what to believe. It was the same year that he inherited the position of second-in-command from his recently-deceased father, when he first fell under that spell, at the age of eighteen…

He supposed he probably knew better now, but what was to keep himself from getting hurt again? Selva was trying to get him angry, he knew, angry enough that he might use the 'evil eye' on him, even though it was forbidden. Selva felt he deserved it, but Raizzé did not. Why? He knew that, by the Dragon King's law, what Kitan had done was one of the greatest of sins, but… It didn't anger him like it should have. He was only angry with himself, for no reason. Well…no rational reason, at least. How could he let himself be tricked so easily? He only brought it upon himself, after all… There was never any specific rule, necessarily, which said that two men couldn't be together in such a way, yet… He was certain now that there were dire consequences. He probably would die for it, by the hand of some racist Easterner. Like Lord Nikaro. Like his father.

When he realized he was getting closer to the music, he also realized that he didn't recognize it. It was a bit strange; usually, Lady Alexandria favored the works of Earthling composers, such as "Für Elise" and "Pachelbel's Canon." Raizzé was quite sure he had never heard this one before, though. The door to the room was cracked open; he pushed it further and stepped inside to ask the servant about it—

But it wasn't a servant, as was rather clear when he laid eyes upon the person sitting at the piano. From this one view, the only other thing that really stood out about him was his excellent posture. For a moment, he seemed not to notice Raizzé; then he stopped, and Rai could just see his back tense.

Then he turned to face him, and, to Raizzé, it was almost as though he were meeting Alexandria for the first time all over again. Half-mindedly, it occurred to him that this boy must be Lucius, yet he was stunned at how much he really did resemble his mother. Their faces seemed almost exact, as well as his delicate frame and near-porcelain skin. Yet there was also some of Nikaro in his appearance, as well; otherwise, he could've passed as a pure Easterner, lacking the darkened skin of a Western. His eyes were a deep, entrancing gold, and his hair was…blue?

(That threw him off for a moment. To the best of his memory, Nikaro had the darkest hair Raizzé had ever seen on a Western, yet he could never figure out if it was black, brown, or something entirely different. It must've been the third; Alexandria's blond hair probably caused it to become much paler.)

He blushed lightly, then stood up, delivering a quick bow from the waist. "Um… Hi… You must be… Sir Raizzé, right?"

It took him a few seconds before he could bring himself to answer; his voice wasn't particularly deep, and had an almost melodic quality to it. "Oh, uh… Yes, I am. And you're Lucius, I assume."

"Yep." He paused, inadvertently creating an awkward silence, looking around the room before settling on Rai again. "So… You're a Westerner, aren't you?"

He could tell Lucius was just trying to make conversation, so he forgave the obvious question. "Yes."

"I thought so… You kinda look like…like Sir Jizo. Yeah, that's it!"

At first, Raizzé thought he was going to mention Nikaro, but he was more than a bit surprised at his own father's name. His experience with most Easterners was that their preconceived notions of Westerners stretched to the limit of not being able to see them as individuals. But…perhaps Lucius was different. "Yes… He was my father."

"Oh, really?" He seemed to light up at that comment. "I never knew he had a son. He was really nice; it was too bad that he had to die like that."

Yes…too bad, indeed. He didn't say anything in response, instead choosing to look away. Then he remembered his initial reason for entering the room. "Oh… By the way, about that song… What is it?"

"Oh, that? I dunno, really. I found it a while ago; the music looked really beaten up, and there isn't a title on it, at least none that I can see. I think it's supposed to be a duet; it sorta sounds like it, doesn't it? I mean, it's so pretty on its own, but I think it would probably sound so much better with an accompaniment. I dunno if Mum ever knew about it; it doesn't look like she did, because I don't think I've ever heard it before, either. I just found it in a big pile of all this music, and…" He hesitated, falling silent. "…I talk too much, don't I?"

"…Um…" Raizzé sweatdropped. In a way, he was reminded of Selva. Only without the fire and brimstone. "Not…really…"

"Sorry…" He sighed, looking down. "I'll try not to talk as much. It's a bad habit, I know…"

"It's not particularly annoying, you know."

"Yeah, but… It's just so lonely, now. I'm too shy to try and start up a conversation with one of the servants…"

(Raizzé didn't say anything to that; he wasn't sure if Lucius expected an answer or not.)

There was another silence. Lucius tilted his head slightly, looking intently at Rai. "…Your hair…"

He twitched visibly, restraining himself from snapping an indignant reply. He had long received uneasy glances and comments about his hair from several Easterners before, more often than any other aspect of his appearance, and with good reason; it almost reached his knees, even though he kept it tied back, and was pure, shock-white, a sharp contrast to his dark, tan skin. Of course, such a contrast was natural among Westerners, but conservative Easterners seemed to have different ideas. He still remembered the exact words he had received from a female official the very first time he had been in Chetrennes: "About that hair… Can you make it look more…you know…natural?"

Of course, it was against custom to dye it (or any other part of the body, for that matter) with man-made substances, or even to cut it (although this, too, had trickier circumstances), so he never did comply. Yet he couldn't possibly defy his superior's orders, or even argue about it, so he clenched his teeth and waited patiently.

"…It's pretty."

That, however, he was most certainly not expecting.

…Did he just say 'pretty?' "E…excuse me?"

"I like it…" Lucius smiled. "It looks really nice."

Raizzé was still stunned at this reaction. "…Uh… Thanks, I…think…"

Well… He guessed that this must serve to prove that he was different from other Easterners. Maybe…with this kind of a leader, the public opinion of Westerners would change, as well. But he could only hope—and it would be another five years before he found out for sure.