brokenworld01: (Bucephalus)
[personal profile] brokenworld01
Ok, so not really, since Kou is still technically a prince, but hey, I needed a funky title. ^_^


~*~*~

It didn't take Johar long to settle in to his new role, nor to realize that he'd been left with a primarily administrative position, since they weren't actively at war.

There was a surprising amount of paperwork to be done, but he didn't grumble over that half as much as might have been expected. He realized, with a minor spark of annoyance, that one of the reasons Dokugakuji had promoted him over some of the other officers with more seniority was the fact that he could read and write.

Still, he found he enjoyed the work, embracing the challenge of managing their army and city with a relish. There were fortifications to repair, corners of the city to reclaim for the growing number of civilians that followed the army, roads to recover, etc, etc. Rebuilding the fortress had been their first priority, but it was mostly secure. Now they had to turn their attention to the rest of the city.

City planning was an intriguing challenge. Johar thought he might even like to continue with it after the General returned. Provided Gyumaoh's army didn't descend on them and render the whole project a disaster of course.

One week blurred into two. Two edged into three. They weren't expecting the Prince back for at least two months, more likely three. And when he did return, would it be with a human army at his back? Or only an alliance on paper, and the promise of a king?

Johar tried not to worry about it. There were enough things in the immediate future for him to worry about without borrowing trouble.


"Does it ever bother you?" he asked Elak one night, as they nursed a jug of wine in the mess hall.

The older youkai grinned. "What, your promotion?" He'd been with the Prince from nearly the beginning, and was in charge of his own division.

"Yeah," Johar said, leaning back on the bench.

"Nah," Elak replied. "Too much paperwork."

Johar grimaced and helped himself to the wine again. "No kidding."

"Besides, I can only read a little, and can't write worth beans, so...." He shrugged. "Nobody with an ounce of sense resents you, General."

"It's the ones without the ounce that I'm worried about," Johar admitted with a wry smile.

"Ah, well." Elak glanced away at the sparsely populated hall. "Trust us to keep you informed, like we trust you to keep us organized and supplied."

It was a sobering thought for Johar, to have someone put the implicit trust into words like that. He wasn't just a placeholder, though it would be easy to think he was. His actions had direct effect on and consequences for too many lives.

Swallowing the last of the wine, he nodded to Elak. "Thanks. I'm gonna turn in."

"G'night, General."


~*~*~


Getting in to the human's fortress was not as difficult as getting to it had been. They found Gyumaoh's spy a little too easily, and left him disabled in a way that would look like an accident before they began their ascent.

"You shouldn't leave an enemy at your back," Toril had protested.

"If we kill him," Dokugakuji pointed out, "they will send more, and be curious as to what happened. The last thing we want is --"

"To attract attention. Yeah, yeah, I get it." But he still wasn't happy about it. And none of them had a decent plan for getting back down the mountain afterwards.

The King's men were watching for them, and welcomed them to the stronghold. It was nearly midnight when they arrived, so they were shown to guest quarters and offered baths and food. And though they were treated as honoured guests, there was a four-man guard on their suite.

"Good thing you didn't bring a larger honour guard," Doku observed.

Kougaiji gave him a wry smile. "It might have made things awkward, hmm?"

"So, was I a diplomatic choice, then?" Toril asked unexpectedly, from where he stood by one of the broad windows. "A half-breed to show that you welcome those with human blood? Proof of your good intentions toward this treaty?"

Kougaiji and Doku exchanged a mildly surprised glance. "No," the Prince replied calmly. "That was not my intention. It was your stealth and skill at negotiating the ruins that decided it."

Toril turned to face them, red eyes dark in the shadows by the window. "Good," he said sharply. "Because if you were using me as a symbolic placeholder..." He let the sentence trail off.

Doku shifted restlessly in his chair, but Kougaiji only shook his head. "I would not. Please trust me, Toril."

The hanyou remained tense and guarded, but finally nodded and turned back to the window. "It stopped following us," he said softly.

"Yes," Kougaiji murmured.

But neither of them could say why.


The next morning, the three of them were escorted to the King's audience chamber after breakfast. It was a less formal room than Dokugakuji had expected -- there was no throne, only a large chair behind a large desk, and several more chairs arranged in an arc before it. Behind the desk, the room stretched out to a tall window and doors that opened onto a stone balcony.

Not the most secure of rooms, either, but perhaps they had nothing to fear up here on their mountain.

As the youkai's arrival was announced, three severe looking older men bowed from their stations along one wall. Doku swept his gaze over them and dismissed them as advisors. Warriors, perhaps, but they were clearly here as a ceremonial necessity and not going to be active participants. Their position some distance from the King made that clear.

Doku's eyes were drawn to the King, who rose from his chair to greet them, and Doku had to give the room a second glance to be certain they were meant to accept the slight figure as the ruler. He was shorter than Kou, even, which made his youth more apparent. Yet there was an air about him, a presence, that seemed to fill a much larger space. His blue eyes were sharp and intense, watchful but not as guarded as one might expect. His blond hair caught the morning light streaming in from the balcony, giving it near-white highlights.

"Prince Kougaiji, General Dokugakuji, I welcome you to Âvárana," the King said. There was no hesitation in his pronunciation of their names.

Kougaiji drew to a halt before the King, with Doku a pace behind and to his right. Toril followed another three paces behind. "Greetings, King Skander. We thank you for your welcome and your hospitality."

The air in the room hung tense and still for a brief moment as Prince and King studied each other. When they bowed, it was in unison, eyes still fixed on each other, the depth of each genuflection precise and precisely matched. A meeting of equals. Some tension Doku hadn't realized he felt relaxed at that.

"Please, be seated, we have much to discuss," the King said, gesturing to the chairs before his desk.

Kougaiji chose the centre chair, directly facing the King's. After a moment's hesitation, Doku moved to sit on his right. Toril remained standing a pace behind their chairs.

"Your father," King Skander began, returning to this seat. "Or perhaps I should not call him that, hmm?"

Doku tried not to grimace. It was a difficult place to begin. This king of the humans was awfully blunt for his age, which couldn't have been more than 17. Younger than Johar and Toril, even. If his height was any indication, he had not yet reached that final growth spurt of adolescence.

Kougaiji shrugged, tight-lipped. "It is a fact. Nothing more."

"Ah. Well, then. Gyumaoh's army laid seige to our fortress, attempting to overrun us by sheer numbers. Our greatest fear was actually that there would be so many bodies as to make it possible for the survivors to climb the carcasses to reach us."

"Your fears proved unfounded, it seems," Kougaiji said.

The King nodded. "He sent a messenger under flag of truce, to inquire if it was our intention to remain upon our rock. We assured him it was. He indicated that the Youkai King was so generous as to allow us this freedom, on the stipulation that we not send forth armed men from our gates."

"And you accepted?" Kougaiji said, frowning.

Doku shifted his weight a little, trying not to draw attention to himself. Behind him, Toril was doing a remarkable impression of a statue, as were the three advisors against the left-hand wall.

Pushing himself up out of his chair, the blond-haired young man paced towards the window. "What would you have done, Prince Kougaiji?" he asked, turning back to face them. Smiling a feral smile, he laid his hand casually on his hip, close to the hilt of his dagger. "Sent men uselessly to their deaths in the name of glory and honour? What use are such things when there is no one left to speak of them?"

"I would not," Kougaiji replied quietly. "There is no honour, no glory to be had in this war."

Skander studied him silently, his blue eyes bright and intense. "As you say."

"How long ago was this truce settled, though?" Kougaiji asked. "It is not like him to leave a wolf at his back."

Clasping his hands behind his back, King Skander turned and paced to the window. "A little over six months ago. It was... a few days after my father's death."

"Ah.... I am sorry to hear of your loss."

"Thank you," Skander replied quietly. "It was a ridiculously pointless foray on his part -- he knew we could not overrun the youkai -- and yet his honour compelled him to make the effort." Turning to face the window again, the King added, "My honour is of a different sort. Less... traditional, shall we say."

Studying the narrow lines of the King's shoulders, Dokugakuji frowned. There was a sudden tension in the young king, almost as if he were expecting something. It raised an answering tension in Doku, and he swept his gaze restlessly over the room again. The advisors were flicking nervous glances toward the balcony, hands shifting restlessly at their sides.

Toril stepped forward, and from the corner of his eye, Doku saw him raising a hand as if in warning as a shadow descended on the balcony.


~*~*~


"-- and yet you must make a foray, to leave your rock and re-join this war," Kougaiji was saying.

Toril's stomach turned a slow, curling flip, and he let his hand fall to his side, fingers clenching into a fist. His head was aching fiercely, darkness swimming across his vision in thin waves that threatened to topple him if he dared to move. The shadow on the balcony grew larger, became a shape of impossible sinuous curves and wings...

Doku turned to him, rising from his seat to lay a steadying hand on Toril's shoulder. He didn't have the strength to shake it off. Blood pounded in his ears, a thunderous roar that drowned out thought and reason.

He'd been okay with meeting the King, although his blue eyes had sent strange shivers of recognition up Toril's spine, but the dragon was a different matter.

"Sit," Doku urged, pushing him towards his vacated seat.

Toril collapsed onto it, wrapping his arms tightly around himself to keep from shuddering. Someone was speaking, but he couldn't make out the words. Closing his eyes, he forced himself to take a deep breath, and then another, focusing on nothing but the air moving in and out of his chest.

A rush of air fanned across his flushed cheeks a few moments later. The King must have opened one of the balcony doors. Prying his eyes open again, Toril scowled at the world and braced himself against whatever it was.

"It" was a young woman, or rather, what must be a young female dragon. Her skin was green, her hair was green, her eyes... her eyes were red, and watching him curiously. A lightweight robe of palest blue was all the clothing she wore.

"This is Meiru," the King was saying. "A messenger for her people, who share our interest in ending the youkai-king's rule."

The dragon bowed deeply to the youkai, gracefulness evident in even the simple gesture.

"Shit," Toril muttered, riding out the last of the weird vibrations in his skull. Doku squeezed his shoulder. "She's not what was following us," Toril added, unable to stop the words from spilling out.

Kougaiji nodded. "I know. Meiru, your pardon for Toril's reaction. He has a... sensitivity to energy. It is a pleasure to meet you." He bowed respectfully, with Doku echoing the gesture flawlessly.

Toril just bobbed his head in a quick acknowledgement and went back to breathing.

"It is a pleasure to meet you as well, Prince Kougaiji," Meiru replied, her voice low but distinct.

The King was frowning thoughtfully at him. "Perhaps some refreshments would be in order?"

"I'm fi--" Toril began, but Kougaiji spoke over him.

"That would be welcome. Thank you," the Prince said.

~*~*~
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August 2011

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