"How is he?"
"The doctor said much blood has been lost. He'll need someone to transfer blood in order for him to recover."
"How did this happen?"
"One of those horrible ninjas pierced him with a flying dagger…right in the heart."
Aya quietly listened to the conversation inside Yuki's chambers. She sat outside, touching the cold wooden floor and hating herself. Not only was I not able to save the baby, I couldn't protect my brother from this, she thought, burying her head in her arms.
"What?! Poison has entered his body?"
"Yes…the blade was dipped into a large amount. Not even human blood can help him."
"No! What must be done then Korin?"
Yuki… she felt tears trickling down her face.
Arin sat beside her and offered his handkerchief. He still didn't change into his nightwear and his sword still hung on his side. Aya accepted and wiped her face hurriedly.
"Father wants to speak to us tomorrow, early morning before the Court Assembly begins," Arin said solemnly. "What? Why?" Aya asked. "Well, if I'm not mistaken, there's something important that only his family should know about Yuki's condition," he replied. Aya looked down and frowned. "I couldn't do anything… I didn't do anything to keep this from happening. My attention froze when I saw the ninja's leader." Arin turned to her, alarmed. "You saw him, the leader of those ninjas? Why didn't you say anything you idiot?" "Don't call me that!" Aya yelled. Tears stung her eyes so she quickly turned away. "I already feel terrible for not saving Yuki and now you're calling me an idiot. What a big brother you turned out to be." Arin sighed. "I'm sorry, but don't get me wrong, I feel even worse for not protecting my best friend. I was fighting beside him, so I'm the one who should be blamed the most."
Aya looked at him. Arin stared at the walls, thinking to himself. She could sense his feelings, unsteady, maybe even fearful for Yuki's life. She knew he loved Yuki as if he was his real brother and she knew he was blaming himself even more for what has happened tonight. He just didn't want to show it when she was around.
He stood up and pulled her by the arm. "We have to get to bed. Tomorrow Father will have a word with us so we have to be up early," he advised. Aya nodded silently and followed him towards the inner halls. Her room was just across his, the door decorated with red and blue phoenixes which she herself painted when she was younger.
They stopped in front of her room. Arin bade her goodnight and closed his own door behind him, leaving Aya alone outside. She sighed and closed the door behind her.
"What's going on Aya?"
Berries, Aya's Coltan cat, jumped down from her basket and walked towards her. She was enchanted by a travelling magician when Aya found her injured by a fox two years ago. She was given the gift of Voice, and ever since she had kept Aya company whenever she felt alone. Nobody knew of her talking except her own master.
"A group of ninjas infiltrated the palace and kidnapped Earth Kingdom's heir, baby Hanyu," Aya explained, sitting on her bed. Berries gasped. "So that was what happened. I was listening to the conversation of some mice behind the trees while taking a walk in the gardens, saying that a commotion has erupted during the welcoming banquet. I didn't realize it was this serious." "And not only that," Aya added. "Yuki is poisoned and dying. A flying dagger pierced his heart and now they're saying not even human blood transfer can help." And with that, Aya broke down and cried hysterically. Berries cuddled beside her and waited till the lady queen cried herself to sleep.
Arin and Aya stood in front of their father. Emperor Korin looked devastated and Lady Mayuki was silently crying beside him.
"We will wait for Master Shoukun to arrive," the emperor said. Shoukun was the emperor's highest adviser as well as an expert in apothecary. Not a second later, he entered the emperor's throne room. The morning light shone through his red silk robes and his long hair glistened in the sun.
"Your Excellency," he said, bowing. The emperor nodded in response and said, "Please inform my two children about last night's occurrences." "As you wish," Master Shoukun replied, turning to the two. Brace yourself, Aya thought to herself.
"A group of thieving ninjas, known as the Black Demons, have entered the palace and have kidnapped Prince Hanyu, supposedly Earth Kingdom's next king. Their whereabouts have been traced to the Zaiden mountains where lightning and thunder collide frequently with each other, a dangerous place. We predict more of their men will be coming back to steal more of the palace treasures and what's worse is that Earth Kingdom's visitors will not be heading back to their lands as it will cause terror and uproar to their people. If the whole Earth Kingdom will find out their heir has been kidnapped, a war will arise between Earth and Fire and the equilibrium will be destroyed. Not only that, a civil war will erupt to see who will be the next in line to take over the throne."
Master Shoukun paused, looking intently at Arin and Aya.
"What about Yuki?" Aya asked softly. "What has happened to him?"
"A kind of poison only found in the Zaiden mountains has entered Prince Yuki's body through the flying dagger that pierced his heart. It would have been better if it entered through his arms or legs, but since it has contaminated his bloodstream, the arteries and the heart itself, there is very little chance that the prince will live."
And with that, Lady Mayuki burst into tears. Emperor Korin looked down in despair. Arin cursed. "You can't just say that! Yuki can't die! Isn't there a way to cure him?" "Zaiden poison, as it is called, can only be cured by blood transfer. But it cannot just be human blood. In order to keep the prince alive, he must have dragon's blood in him to neutralize the poison, particularly blood from the Aurora Dragon found deep in the fiery canyons near Water Kingdom," Master Shoukun answered. "So if you're planning on saving Yuki, you must leave and obtain blood from the dragon before his life leaves him."
He stood up and looked at his two children. "Which is why," Emperor Korin continued. "You two are the ones I have chosen to go on this mission. I cannot request the captain and his army to retrieve the cure and I cannot possibly send some of his soldiers to do it for him. Both you and Aya will retrieve the young prince from the Black Demons and obtain enough dragon blood to save Yuki's life." Almost everyone protested at this, including his adviser.
"You cannot possibly think of sending two teenagers on such a dangerous mission your Higness! And with no one to protect them as well!" Master Shoukun exclaimed. "He's right my lord," Lady Mayuki agreed. "I cannot allow Aya to go on such a dangerous journey as this! A woman fighting against ninjas and a dragon?!" "Father please reconsider this," Arin suggested, stepping forward. "I will take on this mission alone. Even if I will have to lose my life along the way, at least spare the princess's life." Emperor Korin held up his hand for silence. He turned to Aya, who was standing silently and observing what was happening.
"Aya, I know you are skilled and capable of saving both the prince and your brother's life, but I will only give my blessing if you decide to accept this with confidence," he said. She looked at him, her attention transferring to her mother, to Arin and then to Master Shoukun. She then saw an image of Yuki and her younger self, and at once she nodded in acceptance.
"I'll join Arin and save both Prince Hanyu and my brother's life," she decided. "Even though it will be dangerous, it is better than waiting for his death and the destruction of the equilibrium to arrive." They wanted to protest against this, but the emperor gestured for the two to step towards him. He gave Arin and Aya their blessing and requested for them to meet him again in the same room right after the Court Assembly, which was about to start.
"There is still much to be explained before you head on your way. We must pray for Yuki to hold on a little bit longer," he said solemnly. He then exited the throne room with Lady Mayuki and Master Shoukun, leaving Arin and Aya alone again.
"Do you actually think coming along would make this any easier Princess?" Arin demanded. Aya glared at him, but was shocked at his expression. He seemed rather disappointed and annoyed than usual. "Father asked me and I gave him my decision. You don't have to feel responsible for anything," she retorted. "If anything happens to me, you just go on and do what you were assigned to do." "And you think I'm that reckless?! Man you get a lot more childish every single day!" And with that Arin stormed out of the room as well.
Aya sat beside her brother, not knowing what to do. He was bandaged on both his sides and was breathing rather heavily. Every breath seemed to agitate her.
"His heart's pumping as much as it could," Berries said, appearing beside her. "It's as if he's trying to hold on as long as he can." Aya smiled at this. "Well, you're right about that. I know Yuki wouldn't give away without a good fight. But still, I feel as if I'm responsible for what has happened to him. If only–" "Now you stop blaming yourself Aya!" Berries ordered, meowing uncontrollably. "None of this is your fault. The only thing that can restore peace is for you to save both princes." She hopped onto Yuki, examining him with her sharp crystal green eyes. "The poison is slow, but as each day passes it will stick itself onto his bloodstream and will grow into an incurable virus. You must retrieve that cure before his body is too weak to hold on." "You're not making this any easier, but thanks for the medical info." "My pleasure," the cat replied. She hopped onto the window sill and looked at her. "Don't forget, your father still has something important to tell you later this evening." She jumped out after that. How does she know these things? For a cat she sure is sharp, Aya thought, smiling a little.
Later that evening, she knocked and entered the throne room. Her father was sitting on his desk chair by the window, staring out into the setting sun.
"Come in my daughter."
Aya bowed and sat on the floor by her father's feet. He placed his hand on her head lovingly and sighed deeply.
"I feel so much unease at the decision you've made today, but I would feel even more devastated if I didn't do something to bring back the peace here in our land," Emperor Korin began. "Aya, you are my only daughter and a treasure to our family. I would like to ask again if you are willing to go on this mission." Before Aya could answer, he held up his hand. "Answering a second later would only mean ignorance and hasty decisions. You must remember, Yuki, Prince Hanyu and the Earth Kingdom's lives are in your hands. You risk your life or the lives of our dear loved ones at this gamble." "I cannot just sit and watch all of this without putting effort into restoring the equilibrium Father," Aya replied. "Arin may be more capable of fulfilling your wishes, but I would most prefer it if I were to accompany him and offer my services as your daughter." He gazed at her and smiled. "You have the same spirit as your mother," he said. Aya smiled as well. "She doesn't want me to go, does she?" she asked. "Well, you are her only daughter, so of course she wouldn't dream of sending you off to search for a dragon. But she understands due to the circumstances," her father replied. He stood up, opened the cabinet beside the royal throne and took out a red box.
"During the banquet, I announced that Ro Ensan has come for two purposes. I had no intention of announcing it publicly, but I fear that the time has come to reveal its content as it holds the balance of all the lands." Emperor Korin opened the box and showed Aya a beautifully carved stone. It was a small carving of a seven-tailed phoenix, a dragon, a lion and a rabbit. Each one had a jewel as its eye, which glittered even when the room was candlelit alone.
"This is an ancient treasure made by four powerful kings," Emperor Korin explained. "Back then, only the Fire, Water, Wind and Earth Kingdom ruled the lands. The four kings, hoping to instill the equilibrium, carved a seal that would represent each kingdom's cooperation to the affairs of the Kingdom of Colors. They each carved their own symbols, installing their official jewels. Since then it has been kept safe for centuries. When a new kingdom later on emerged, Spirit Kingdom, conflict began to surface. It wanted to be a part of the Kingdom of Colors, but the four kings doubted the ruler's intentions and looked down on him as a novice and being power-hungry. In order to get revenge, the seal was destroyed in the presence of the four kings and up until now the seal has not been fixed."
He handed Aya the seal. "Ro Ensan wanted to discuss this with me before presenting it to the assembly. He wanted to propose accepting Spirit Kingdom and commissioning a new seal to end the conflict that has been going on for so long. I need you to head over to Spirit Kingdom and request them to announce their acceptance in attending the next assembly to discuss this issue." "Me?" Aya stared at him, dumbfounded. "Why are you sending me to such a restless place? And why would you need me to ask for their acceptance when they wanted to be a part of the Kingdom of Colors all this time?" "Spirit Kingdom has plans in dissolving the Kingdom of Colors and becoming the ultimate ruler of everything," her father replied solemnly. "They have resented the four kingdoms so much that they plan on taking over each kingdom and creating one whole empire, with their leader as the Ultimate Emperor. If this happens, I do not know what will happen to our future." Aya looked down at the broken seal. One whole empire, she thought. That's something no one has ever dared propose in so many years.
"I know you will make a great governess and will help bring everything back in order. Your journey with Arin starts tomorrow." He then embraced her. "Father, I'll do my best in fulfilling your wishes," Aya promised. "But can we do all of this and come back in time to save Yuki's life?" "I know you can and I know you will," he whispered. "Now go, you must rest for tomorrow you will go in my place in bringing order throughout the whole land."