Chapter 1: …Prologue…
“Oh, look! It’s waking up!”
Something furry and soft brushed against bare skin, causing the unconscious figure to stir.
“’Sugi, stop batting his face with your tail!”
“Sorry ‘Kito,” the first voice sounded embarrassed. “I’m just so excited! We haven’t had Other World visitors in so long!”
“I know, now hush. You’ll scare him. Go to your corner.”
The batting stopped, followed by a scampering sound. It seemed that the one called ‘Sugi had retreated.
“Sorry about that stranger,” the second voice said. “My pet is a little excitable.”
The man stirred, groaning as he tried to rise. Gentle hands pushed against thin, bare shoulders.
“No, not yet. You’ve taken quite a nasty spill.”
A dry tongue darted out over drier lips, vocal cords attempting to work. “Wh-whe…?”
“Where are you? Oh, that’s easy. You’re in Fianna, the farthest outcry of the entire kingdom.”
“What kingdom? Wow, you really are from the Other World, aren’t you? This is Coradepia, the Eighth Kingdom.”
“You sort of… fell… through my roof. Two days ago. Gave my ‘Sugi quite a scare, you did. Took me a day and a half to get the knot out of his tail. But don’t worry about the roof. That’s what makes trees so great.”
The man struggled to open his eyes, face creasing with the effort to fight back the darkness of sleep. Slowly, the battle was won.
“’Sugi! Back up!”
“But ‘Kito! It’s got blue eyes!”
“I see that, now go away!”
Through blurry eyes, the man watched a black shape move away, ears picking up a light purring sound.
“You’ll have to excuse him,” the one called ‘Kito went on quietly. “The genetics for blue eyes died out in our world several generations ago.”
“What day is it?” the man rasped.
“Ah! It’s Thursday, I believe. Let’s see, yesterday was market day, tomorrow’s wash day, so yes, it’s Thursday.”
With shaky limbs, the man pushed himself up into a sitting position. His head pounded, the world swayed nauseatingly. “Oh, damn,” he moaned, pressing the heel of his hand against his left temple.
“Told you so.”
The voice drew him. He blinked hard, forcing his vision to clear. To his right sat a tall, thin man with shoulder length brown hair. His dark eyes bore the same smile that graced his lips, giving him a more feminine air than his figure alone. Beyond him, another man curled in a corner, bright golden-green eyes twinkling beneath a set of tabby colored ears surrounded by black and red hair.
“You look confused,” the man next to him stated softly, drawing his attention back. “But that’s okay. We’ll explain everything to you, just as soon as Nao is back in town.”
“Nao. He’s kind of like our mayor, if you’re so inclined. He’s led and protected us for five years now. He’ll help you figure things out.”
“Who are you?”
“Me? I’m Sakito. And that one,” he hitched a thumb at the creature in the corner, “is Hitsugi.”
“’Sugi? He’s a Feline Macawn. Um, to put it simply, he’s a man-cat. Tabby, actually. Very sweet disposition.”
Sakito chuckled. “It’s a lot to take in, I know. Just give it time, you’ll get the hang of it. What’s your name, stranger?”
The man hesitated, one hand fisting in the light blanket that covered him. “I’m… Tora.”
“Oh! It’s named Tiger!”
“’Sugi, hush! Tora, it’s nice to meet you.”
Tora glanced down, noting for the first time that the light blanket was all that covered his body. “Um, where are my clothes?”
Sakito let out a light giggle. “You were soaking wet when you landed. I wasn’t very well going to bring you into my spotless home all covered in mud and blood, now was I? They’re nearby, don’t worry. You’ll have them back once they’re patched up.”
“You’ve got yourself a nasty scratch on your forehead.” Sakito pointed.
Tora lifted a hand to touch the bandage over his right eye.
“It’ll need changing soon,” Sakito noted, eyes roving across Tora’s face. “Bad thing about head wounds, they bleed like a bitch, even if they aren’t fatal.”
Tora let himself sink back into the bed, his eyes drifting closed once more.
“Yes, you rest,” Sakito said, moving the blanket to cover his chest. “Nao will be back tomorrow or the day after, so until then, you regain your strength. We’ll set you right, don’t worry. ‘Sugi, open that window, let some fresh air in.” A warm breeze washed over Tora, bringing with it the sound of tree limbs waving, the leaves rustling lightly. “The best of Fianna, right there,” Sakito said, his voice somewhere across the room. “Come on, ‘Sugi, let’s let Tora rest.”
A door closed with a soft click, leaving only the sound of the trees behind.
“Thank you,” Tora whispered, letting sleep claim him once more.
The storms come from nowhere, raging loud and hard over city and countryside. Sometimes, people and things disappear in the process. In the city of Osaka, Japan, the same holds true.
On September 20, 2007, three days after his 27th birthday, Tora is caught in one of these storms coming home from his mundane job that dominated his mundane life. Two days later, he awakes in Fianna, Coradepia, a realm unlike any he’s ever known. Word of his arrival spreads throughout the kingdom, reaching the halls of the King himself. With his life on the line, Tora is forced to trust the strangers around him, and learn to tell his enemies from his friends.
Dream or nightmare? Reality or illusion? In a place where nothing seems real but everything holds danger, Tora must learn to survive.
Merveilles Castle, Capital City Shito, Coradepia
“You mean to tell me that something fell out of that storm?”
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you, my King.”
“Is there any idea what it was?”
“No, my King, not yet. But my men are looking. If it came from the Other World, we will find it.”
“Is that what you believe? That it’s from the Other World?”
“Only those things from the Other World would come from the storms, my King. If there is another explanation for it, then it, too, will be found. Until then, my men and I work under the assumption that something traveled the space between the worlds. Does that suit my King to know?”
“It suits me well, Ruka.”
“My King does me an honor in his trust in me. I am grateful.”
“Good. I do trust your judgment, Ruka. You know that.”
“Thank you, my Lord, Ni~Ya.”
“Keep a constant patrol, otherwise,” Ni~Ya instructed, turning his eyes to the high ceiling. “Full details in every town, even the farthest outcries. I want to know everything that goes on. Everything. That storm… something about it…”
“My King?” Ruka looked confused.
Ni~Ya stood, running fingers through his white hair. Leaving Ruka where he sat, Ni~Ya made his way across the hall to one of the large windows that overlooked the courtyard. The castle was oddly quiet for a spring day, giving evidence to the markets and fairs going on in the surrounding towns. Within the black walls of the castle, though, Ni~Ya brooded and stalked the corridors, long since disdaining going outside.
“It’s been six years since my brother vanished,” he said, clasping his hands behind his back as he stared out over the walls into the distance. “Six years, and not a word of him, dead or alive.”
“The search continues, my King,” Ruka returned, moving to stand a few feet behind Ni~Ya. “We’ve not given up.”
“He did me a favor, actually.” Ni~Ya turned to Ruka and smiled. “After our father died, he did me a great honor in leaving. He left me everything, all of this. I’ve begun to stop caring whether or not he’s found.”
Ruka lowered his eyes to the floor, his wolfish ears twitching beneath his black and silver hair.
“That bothers you?” Ni~Ya asked.
“No, my King.”
“Of course it wouldn’t, as you have a vagrant brother as well, right?”
Ruka did little to stop the growl that rose in his throat, baring his claws at his sides. Ni~Ya smiled again.
“I know, Ruka. That your mother spawned a Feline Macawn was a disgrace, wasn’t it?”
“My family has been Canine Macawn for generations,” Ruka growled out. “More generations than we can remember. My brother is an abomination to our name.”
Ni~Ya reached out and placed a tender hand on Ruka’s shoulder, feeling the muscles slide and bunch beneath his leather jacket. The normally sullen Wolf clenched his teeth, fighting for control. Ni~Ya knew exactly how to rile him up, Ruka knew that. He also knew why. Since he’d started sharing the king’s bed, there had been nights when Ni~Ya had pushed the issue of Ruka’s brother, stirring his Wolf’s blood to near boiling. Anything to coax Ruka into taking control.
“Is my King feeling adventurous,” Ruka growled out softly, “to stir my blood to rage?”
A sadistic smile curved Ni~Ya’s soft lips. “My Ruka, my pet.” He dropped his hand and began a slow circle to the man before him. “So quiet, so soft. So sincere. So strong, too. But, why does it take so much to get you to take control? To take what is willingly given to you? When you could easily rend my flesh, take my blood and end my life, all of which I’d willingly lay and let you do. All I ask is that you return to me what I so graciously give to you. Our silly charade is getting old. I’m tired of having to push, having to almost beg for you to take from me.”
Ruka remained silent, fighting the smile that wanted to curve his lips. Slender hands reached up and pulled the jacket from his shoulders, the soft material dropping to the ground behind him. Those same hands traced the muscles of his back, nails dragging across the fabric of his shirt.
“My King enjoys these games, does he not?” Ruka asked quietly, still fighting down a smile as a shudder ran through his body. “Likes the pain? It thrills him, right my King?”
“My Ruka does like his pleasures too, does he not?”
“Would my King be inclined that I take him here, in the Hall?” Ruka asked boldly, turning swiftly and dragging the smaller man into his arms, clinging tightly. “Or would he have me take him to his chambers and ravage him in his bed?”
Ni~Ya’s hands came up and fisted into Ruka’s hair. Mouths crashed together fiercely, the kiss deep and passionate. “I would have my lover take me where he pleases,” Ni~Ya hissed into Ruka’s ear, nipping the lobe as he slipped a hand beneath the black leather collar Ruka wore. “And as he pleases.”
Ruka let out a half growl, making quick work of clothing before lowering his lover to the floor of the Hall.
Sakito’s Mercantile Shop, Town of Fianna, Coradepia
Tora leaned against the wooden porch railing, watching the small handful of people who had dared to brave the rain dash across the narrow street. His head still ached, but he refused to let it keep him in bed another minute. Sakito had argued with him for nearly an hour, finally throwing his hands into the air in surrender.
“Other Worlders! I swear!”
Hitsugi snickered from his corner, his tail waving back and forth like a pendulum.
“They’re not so bad,” the Macawn stated simply. “I like this one.”
“He’s the only one you’ve ever met!” Sakito said loudly. “You have no basis for comparison!”
Hitsugi laughed, the metal studs lining his bottom lip flashing in the sunlight temporarily streaming through the window beside him as some of the storm clouds rolled off for a brief respite. “I still like it.”
Tora had escaped to the porch while they bickered, breathing in the smell of wet earth and heavy rain. He’d quickly gotten used to be referred to as ‘it’ by Hitsugi, though the creature refused to approach him too closely now that he was awake and getting around. Even so, Tora found that Hitsugi was good for interesting conversation. He was happy to share information about Fianna and the people who lived there, that is, until Sakito would come and chase him off.
“Tora?” He turned to Sakito, who stood in the doorway of the shop. “I’m sorry, but you really shouldn’t stay outside too long right now. Not until we’ve talked to Nao.”
“It’s your eyes. Come inside, please.”
Confused, Tora relented, following Sakito back into the shop. “What’s wrong with my eyes?” he asked, sliding onto a stool at the far end of the counter, listening to the rain start up again.
Sakito didn’t answer right away, making himself busy with the many jars of spices on a shelf behind his ancient till. He thought hard how to put his answer simply and elegantly. “Remember when I told you that the genetics for blue eyes had died several generations ago?”
“Well, that’s true.” Sakito turned to face Tora, his expression serious. “Since then, only four people in history have had blue eyes. They’ve turned out to be Seers of sorts, and one of them was very powerful. She could call magic, use it. In the end, they burned her as a witch. She was the first. Since then, blue eyes are rare and feared. An Other Worlder like you doesn’t know that, but it wouldn’t stop someone from reporting you.”
“You think someone would call the police on me just because my eyes are blue?” Tora asked incredulously.
“In a heartbeat. Especially since…”
“Nao’s here!” Hitsugi called from the adjoining room. “I see him coming down the street!”
“Calm down, ‘Sugi!” Sakito yelled, waving frantically as the Macawn went flying out the door of the shop and into the street. “’Sugi, no! You’ll get soaked!”
Tora barely suppressed his laughter, following Sakito to the doorway. Hitsugi dashed down the street, his ears sodden in an instant. From the midst of a small group of people, a small boy emerged, dashing just as quickly toward Hitsugi.
The two collided in the middle, toppling into the mud amid shrieks of laughter. Beside Tora, Sakito groaned, gripping the bridge of his nose between two fingers.
“Do you know how long it takes to get mud out of tabby fur?”
Tora let out a dry chuckle, watching nervously as the group got closer. Someone yelled for the two in the mud to get up, another small boy prodding the one Hitsugi had called Pon with a walking stick.
“Yomi, stop! That tickles!”
Hitsugi slopped his way out of the mud, dragging the small boy with him. They laughed and slumped onto the porch of Sakito’s shop.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Sakito yelled, blocking the doorway. “You two are not coming in here like that! Not on your lives!”
“Come on, Saki,” a young man called. “At least let them go in through the back. They’ll get sick out here.”
Tora saw something close to reverence flash through Sakito’s dark eyes.
“I just… they’re… I don’t want… alright.” Sakito deflated. “Do as Nao says, you two. Go to the back, but stay in the room. I’ll send along some dry things shortly. And Pon, try to get some of the mud washed from his ears and tail, please.”
The two muddy figures grinned and leapt from the porch. They squelched through the mud, singing loudly as they rounded the building. The rest of the group parted, leaving Nao standing on the steps by himself. He turned, giving Tora his first good look at him.
Nao kept his hair cut short and layered with a streak of gold-blonde in the forelock, the strands of which framed his light brown eyes. A smile slipped onto his face when he caught sight of Tora staring.
“You’re the one, are you?” Nao said. “Well then, let’s see what can be done with you, shall we?”