Through the Night

 

Part Two: Shigeru and Kasumi

 

It's going to be time soon. Not that this is something that I look forward to. I'm disillusioned enough not to look forward to much anymore, actually. Fusube City is known best for one thing... and that is that it's the seat of the strongest kingdom that Johto has seen in centuries.

And I suppose that I should be proud of this all, right?

The word *proud* could not be further from my mind when I think of this land.

There's a clink of metal and my late night reverie in the library is interrupted. I wonder what he sent guards for this time, I muse, as I turn the page.

"What does he want?" I ask the guard, without even looking at him.

"Your lord father wishes that you see him in his chambers," The guard begins in a monotone voice. "your studies have kept you up throughout the night and he wishes to speak to you." Cutting through all of the pretty words, I wonder what I did this time...

Wait, I was up all night? I stand and push the chair back, there's another clink of metal as I nearly hit the guard. I stalk past him to the edge of the wide, old room. The dust is thick enough to kill, it seems, and I push away one of the heavy drapes as I hold my other hand to shield my nose.

It seems that the guard was right. Bright sunlight spills into the room, and I let the drape fall again. I turn and walk passed him without another word. "Shigeru-sama, SHIGERU-SAMA!" That was not proper at all, I smirk, and I leave the poor guard behind. He can deal with my father. I have other things that I'd rather deal with, in all honesty.

Yes, I'll see my father. After a morning bath and something to eat. I didn't know that I'd stayed up all night in the library. Anyway, if he's going to be mad at me, why not just go all the way with it?

There's so much that I wish that I could do. So much that I wish that I could change. There's a life out there waiting for me to come and live it... And I don't know how I'm supposed to reach out and grab it.

I'm blinded for a moment by a flash of light, and I pause in the long hall to rest by a long and slender window. Fusube has changed so much since my father came to power. I can remember the changes... I've lived here all of my life.

I'm quite aware of everything that he's done. Each evil that he has inflicted not only on the people of Johto, but on the eastern lands as well. There's times where I wish that I could just jump on a dragon and fly away... Of course, they'd never listen to me. I'm not the right type of person.

If my father could have gotten rid of me that way, I'm sure that he would have, a long time ago.

I sigh and turn from the window. The guard's finally catching up with me, and I slam my bedroom door in his face, locking it behind me. I'm going to have hell to pay, later. And you know what? It's nothing different from any other day.

At least nothing has changed.

So for now... I'm going to enjoy myself. Enjoy, I could laugh. Life in Fusube is anything but something that you can enjoy...

There's things about me that he'd kill me for, if he knew the truth. So... I guess that he can't learn the truth.

I sigh again and put those thoughts out of sight, and out of mind. I at least want to have a moment of peace before it all comes crushing down upon me.

~~~~~

"My Lady! Your pardon, please, my Lady, may I see you for a moment?"

I clench my teeth together and try not to say something that would be highly inappropriate for a Lady of my status under my breath. Turning, I set my best polite smile across my face. "Yes, your Grace?"

The ambassador from Johto gives me a fake oily smile. "I had hoped to see you alone, my Lady Kasumi. Did you not say that you had some free time later this afternoon?"

No. No, no, no, no, NO! I struggle to keep the smile on my face. "I'm sorry, your Grace. You must have misunderstood. I have very little free time, and there is much for me to do on my own. I'm afraid I'll have to decline."

"Ah, of course." He gazes at me slyly. "A Lady as beautiful as yourself would surely have multitudes of suitors to deal with. I can only offer my poor heart as a gift -- but I pray that you will accept it." He kisses my hand and my teeth hurt from clenching tightly around that phoney smile.

I hate him. I absolutely hate him. He has been courting me practically since he first arrived at the Orange Islands, and I have to be polite because of his ambassadorial status. But, I know that he is only doing this because I am next in line for the High Cleric's position -- ruler of the Orange Islands. He hopes that, by gaining influence with me, he will be able to push his proposals further towards being accepted. His hopes, however, are fully in vain. The Orange Islands will remain neutral as long as it serves our own interests to do so -- the current High Cleric and I agree on that whole-heartedly. The war has been dormant for years now, but we won't risk being involved in any conflict that may result in the annexation of our lands from either side.

"I apologize, my Lord, but I must take my leave." I reclaim my hand and curtsy gratefully. "A pleasant day to you."

"To you as well, my Lady." His eyes give me the shivers. I feel as though he is measuring me with those eyes -- sizing me up as a hunter might before closing in for the kill.

I hurry away before he can try to press me into meeting him alone. The thought of speaking to him for more than a few minutes gives me a headache. I would like to avoid that if at all possible.

It isn't hard to keep busy when I am what I am, a highly-ranked cleric. Here on the Orange Islands, clerics are the highest of nobles, and thus a son or daughter of the current ruler may not be named the Heir. I, in actuality, came from a poor family, but was singled out from a crowd of my peers because the gods apparently favored me. I have council meetings to attend, guests to welcome, and a number of small but important tasks to see to, yet I have a good amount of spare time. I would never let his 'Grace', the Johto ambassador know that, however.

It's still early in the day, and so I head toward the landing bay -- where our prized white dragons will be coming in and out at various times. I love dragons. I will never have one, because my position as a cleric is far too important for me to become a dragonrider, but I adore them all the same. White dragons breathe ice, which I'm sure is fine for most, but I would truly like to see a dragon that breathed fire instead. I have never once seen a type that did, though I have heard of them.

As I walk out into the closed-off area where humans without their dragons are allowed, I notice the ambassador's guards tending their black dragons. They're dark and silent -- and I mean the guards, though the dragons resemble their riders very much. Fierce and deadly looking things, capable of breathing acid, they are exactly what I would picture when I think 'evil'. Still, they are fascinating. Having seen only whites, I find these a striking contrast.

"Lady Kasumi." One of our dragonriders, a brown-haired, earnest-looking young man bows before me. I can see light and excitement in his eyes... I wish I was like him, I really do. He gets to ride the dragons, watch the world from way up there, live a free life, without clauses and contracts and the crushing weight of a country balancing on his every decision. He rises, and I smile at him, trying not to look envious. There are times when I wish the gods had never seen fit to have anything to do with me.

But -- I glance at the cold eyes of the Johto dragonriders, and I know that I can't truly wish for that without guilt. To wish myself in a different life would be to wish the fate of the Orange Islands into the hands of another, someone who would quite possibly be weaker and less able to defend us. I *cannot* do that, not even if it would mean my happiness.

Because my lands are more important. And I would never do *anything* to endanger them in any way.

Never.

~~~~~

When it came down, it truly crushed me, I muse as I stare at the wall of my bedroom. To say that my father had been angry with me when I was finally able to see him would have only slightly been that of an understatement. He's the type of man that always has to have his way, no matter what. If you do not do as he says... Let's just say that his last advisor who spoke up against him did not meet the most pleasant of ends.

The only reason why I'm sure he's not had me put to my death yet, is that I'm his son. And as his son, I am his heir. There are times when I'm thankful that the line of my fathers throne will in time turn to me. I could in time change what he has brought upon the lands... Now is not one of those times.

I have this rebellious streak, you see. And as much as I wish otherwise... I do at times fear my fathers wrath. Truly, I do. Now is not one of those times.

Now... is the type of time that I'm spent pacing my room, thinking of a way out. He's posted guards outside my door, and there's no way out in sight. Unless I want to jump out of my window...

I'm insane enough to contemplate that, standing at the surface and gazing outside. Where did the day go? It's almost dark...

My father is most likely dealing with some sort of council with his highest ranked dragonriders. Itsuki and Ibuki, Tsukushi and Matsuba. I've had the *pleasure* of meeting them before. Never again, I hope...

My hand comes to rest on the window. This wouldn't be the first time that he had to deal with me running off, I muse, my hand on the cold surface of the heavy glass. He's never been sure *how* I did it... And I'm in no mood to let him know my secrets. I don't feel like dying...

Though that would make things simple, wouldn't it? No... I don't want an end, I want a beginning. And I won't have anything as long as I'm within these four walls.

I pack lightly, I won't need much. The most important thing that I have is the thing that my father would kill me for. He's never been one who believed much in the ways of white magic... He's more of a destructive man and everyone knows that.

The book that I speak up has a few spells of the lower levels within it. Nothing that I could cause rebellion with, no. But enough that I could escape from my fathers grasp. Yet again... They always find me in the end. Maybe this time it could be different...

I know these spells my heart. And somewhere out there, there must be *more*... A way to use magic to help, rather than to harm. To be respected and not feared because your desire could bring destruction down upon them all. My father cannot truly be as strong as he likes to think. If he did, then the eastern lands would have been conquered by now, Kanto and the Orange Islands alike.

And yet they have not. So either his power is not as it could be, and this is all an illusion. Or my father is waiting for something, something more than even his dragonriders and his own precious spells.

If he knew that I was practicing the opposite of all that he stood for... I'm sure he wouldn't be amused at all.

I take a deep breath. The highest level spell is the only one that would allow me to escape. And you know, I'm going to take it... Part of me says that this is wrong, that as the heir I should stay, there might be some way to undo what my father has done... But how can I undo something when my father still lives?

I have my morals and obligations, yes, doused with a healthy desire to *live*... And that's what I want to do. All right... I flip through the book, and find the page that I need. The spell is simple, and with concentration it gives me long enough to escape the confines of this *place*.

There's a shimmer in the air as I speak the words of the spell. I've used this before... it's my natural way of escaping. My father cannot stop what he cannot see, what he cannot sense...

And then it all looks a bit faded, and I know the spell has taken effect. I mutter thanks to Mejiro and then I slide the book into my pack, before slipping it over my shoulder. My freedom is just a step away...

All I need to do is take it.

So I do.

~~~~~

I think that being a cleric is probably one of the hardest jobs in the world sometimes. People in our lands think that it's wonderful to be a cleric, that you are given high positions and your life just falls into place. I would love to point out the flaw in that line of thought. Especially when I'm faced with times like this.

"I-Is she going to be all right, Lady Kasumi?" the black-haired little boy beside me asks tearfully, gazing down at his older sister's pale, lifeless face.

I feel I could burst into tears at the sight of her. It's so very hard... She had been injured while training, and I have been trying for nearly an hour to bring her back... She is right at the brink of death, and I pray to Chiyu and call to her, but... I think that she is beyond my reach; she's been comatose for too long, and now He has taken her with him. It happens. I cannot save everyone, though I wish that I could. Her wounds were horrible; more broken bones than I've seen before, blood coating her body, that still, pale look unchanging on her face. Chiyu holds her soul already, and she is at peace, with Him...

Even the most powerful clerics cannot bring those back. She was too far gone before I even had a chance.

"L-Lady Kasumi?" the boy sniffles, eyes wide and shining with tears. He can't be more than 8 years old, and I see already that he thinks the world of his dragonrider sister. I do not want to be the one to tell him... I do not... But, as the cleric, it is my duty.

I sigh and let the girl go, looking up from the still, cold body. "I... She's gone," I whisper softly, numbed by the loss. She couldn't have been more than 25, maybe a little older than myself, and now her life is over. I can hardly stand it, but I have to remain strong as the little boy begins to sob and several women lead him from the room.

Once alone, I bury my face in my hands. I must be strong, because I am needed, and if losses break my heart beyond repair, then I am not fit to be High Cleric. That is our job: heal who we can, and let the rest go. I may not like it, but it is my life -- I can accept it or wither away. And, as long as I am needed, I would never give up.

Wiping the tears away, I stand and leave the room. "I will be with his Majesty, if I am needed," I tell one of the servants, and she curtsies low and scurries past. I keep going, down the carpeted hallways, past the lush tapestries... They seem so dull and lifeless now, like that girl's face. But I know the feeling well; it will pass.

"Lady Kasumi," the High Cleric greets me as I enter his throne room.

I curtsy. "Your Majesty. I had hoped to talk on the arrival of the Indigo ambassador."

"Of course." He smiles, but I see the sadness at the back of his eyes. He doesn't like this war any better than I do -- any better than any cleric would. We see death far too often in times of peace. In war... I shudder to think it.

"I must know... Do we plan to join either side?" I look up at him skeptically; of course, when the Johto ambassador first arrived, we had talked together for a short time and decided to remain neutral -- no agreeing to proposals, and no refusing them either. When his Grace began to court me, we decided together that I would act friendly but distant. The High Cleric would never make a decision on matters such as this without first talking it over with me.

"Yes." He nods slightly. "I see no reason why we should venture from our middle ground stand just because the other side makes overtures. We treat our new guests as we have the others. Agreed?"

"Naturally." I smile. "I had assmued that, but I needed to know for sure." I held in a sigh; my head throbbed unmercifully. I'd done far too much this afternoon -- now, if I wished to be awake to deal with the Indigo ambassador when they arrived, I'd best get some sleep.

"You were working as a healer today, weren't you, Kasumi?" the High Cleric asked gently, noticing my weariness.

I nodded. "It was my turn, your Majesty. I don't neglect this duty." The memory of that girl's cold face makes me want to start weeping again, but I force myself to remain strong.

"You are right for the clerical path, Kasumi." He smiled faintly, still with that sadness at the back of his eyes. Of course, the High Cleric heals as the rest of us do, when it's necessary. And we have all had turns working as healers -- he has seen more death than I have, and he still is able to do what's best for our country. I can do the same. "It requires every bit of the strength I see in you, but I know you can handle it. That is why you are the Heir."

I curtsy again, eyes lowered properly. "Thank you, your Majesty."

"Go and lie down, Kasumi." There is understanding in his eyes. "Be rested for when our guests do arrive. And take time to harden your heart and block the fresh memory of sorrow. Don't allow it to conquer you."

My heart is steel; my soul is ice. "I won't, your Majesty," I promise, and I am confident that this, at least, is a promise that I can keep. Steel and ice -- the harsh cold of it will chill me forever, but our country *will* be safe. I will see to it.

I curtsy once more and depart.

 

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