Black on Silver

The Kazehawa Phoenix

“Many generations ago,” Hana began, “the kingdom of Wutai was ruled by a king whose true given name has been lost to the ages. In the chronicles he is simply called Ichirou, or the First Son of Wutai, though his family name, Kisaragi, remains.”

“I’ve heard that name before,” Genesis said dryly, though it meant little. Everyone knew that name. Godo, current ruler of Wutai, carried that name.

Hana continued as Zack seated himself at the kitchen table, well out of Genesis’s reach. “It is said that Ichirou’s reign was cursed. He took the throne after a bloody civil war over who should be emperor. In the end, he emerged the victor, but inherited a country that was ravished. Plague, famine, storms, poverty…the people and the royal house were in turmoil. With all the suffering, it was easy to put the blame on the son of the family who had clawed and assassinated their way to the top. It was said that it was the gods’ punishment, and it ran deep indeed. Ichirou himself fell ill with the plague, and barely lived, with his health stripped away. He became sickly and frail. If his bloodline was to retain the throne, he desperately needed an heir before he died.

“His efforts only seemed to ignite the vengeance of the gods. His first wife died from the very same plague that had nearly taken her husband’s life only months before. His second wife was assassinated as she slept, and his third fell ill with a sickness that ravaged her mind, disappearing into the night and never to be seen again.

“Legend has it that one day as he paced the gardens, his heart gave out, and he fell into a pond, losing consciousness. Some even go so far to say that he actually died. When he awoke, he said the most beautiful woman greeted him, a goddess descended to the mortal realm. She had pulled him from the pond and wrapped him in her own kimono to keep away the chill. With hands softer than silk and a voice like a cool breeze on a summer day, she had coaxed him back to life. He said it was a sign, a renewal of his life, a chance of redemption from the deities who had made him suffer so.

“His health returned, and he took her as his bride at once. No one knows who she was or where she came from. Her name was…

“Yukihana. Yukihana Kazehawa.”

She paused as Zack and Genesis took in the full weight of what she had said. She shared the exact same name as a legendary queen from centuries ago.

“And at once she was with child. An oracle that had been silent since the land had begun to decay began to prophesy in the streets. He shouted to all of Wutai that the son of Yukihana would save our land and that his bloodline would endure to the end of the nation. He said our country would enter an age of peace never before seen, and that her son would renew not only Wutai, but the entire world. Every day more and more people believed his words. Soon, all of Wutai awaited the birth of the emperor that would save them all.

“But perhaps the gods had not exacted all of their vengeance just yet. Yukihana fell desperately ill, with the child of prophecy still in her womb.

“Doctors from all over the land came to attend to her, but no one knew of the illness that decayed her skin and tainted her eyes. No cure could be found, and many times, the nation feared that she would die with their hope within her.

“But she survived to the day of her delivery, and against all odds gave birth to a healthy son. Everyone present rejoiced, but Yukihana uttered her final words that changed all of history:

“’This is not the emperor.’

“After one long hour, amid the raucous confusion her declaration had caused, a second son was born. She had carried not one heir, but two inside her womb. The moment the second son left her body, she died, without a word as to what she had meant by her words, or whether this second son was the chosen one.

“And so the nation was split. The older son, Tokimune, preceded his brother by an entire hour, and so many felt that throne should fall to him. But his mother had denounced him from his first moments in the world. Others placed their faith in the second son, Soujun, believing that Yukihana had always intended to name him as the child of the prophecy. In addition, Soujun had the affections and hopes of the king Ichirou, for he had inherited his mother’s face and gentle spirit. In remembrance of Yukihana, whom he had dearly loved, he named the younger son Soujun as his heir and he was tentatively placed on the throne.

“So began the second civil war, only a handful of years after the first. Warlords and nobles and merchants allied themselves with one son or the other and fought by any means for the right to the throne. It was senseless, brutal killing and assassinations again, until Soujun, who had succeeded his father, renounced his sovereignty and left it to his elder brother Tokimune.

“The war ended, but the division remained. When Ichorou died, the descendants of Tokimune kept their father’s name of Kisaragi. Soujun’s descendants, against tradition, took on the last name of their fabled mother, Kazehawa. The two families never mingled, never married. A Kisaragi would never marry anyone with so much as a drop of Kazehawa blood in their veins, and vice versa.

“As the tensions cooled, the Kazehawa family returned to court to serve the royal family, and then, eventually, they became high nobles, the most powerful family second only to the king’s. It was a golden age of prosperity, with the descendants of the two brothers finally ruling together in harmony.

“But it could not last. With the Kazehawa family’s rise to power came the revival of the old legends. People began to speak that Soujun’s line was the one truly meant for the throne. They pointed to their current prosperity as evidence. Only when the Kazehawa clan had returned to the palace had wealth and peace begun to flow.

“At the time, the head of the Kazehawa family’s name was Akito, and he was a wise and humble man who would not risk another civil war. Before the rumors could blossom into bloodshed, he took his family and disappeared from the court entirely. Today, the family exists only in whispers and legends. If they have power still, it is only in the deepest shadows of the court.”

“But you…” Genesis ventured slowly. “You are a Kazehawa.”

“Not only that,” she said solemnly. “…I am the last direct descendant of Soujun’s line.”

Genesis let out a low, slow whistle. “That’s…quite a story.”

Zack’s eyes were wide and disbelieving. “It’s like a fairytale.”

“It’s no fairytale, it’s my ancestry.” She was bowed over, head down, looking very small and subdued. She sighed as if the carrying a tremendous weight on her shoulders.

“Is there any truth to the article?” Genesis asked. “Are you some lost princess of Wutai?”

Hana shook her head. “There is some truth, but more exaggeration. When Akito pulled the Kazehawa family from the court, the Kisaragi clan bestowed upon us the crest of the phoenix and some emblems and rights. It’s almost impossible to untangle fact from fiction anymore. However, the one thing we know for sure that he said was that should his line ever come to an end, as Soujun’s descendants we would be the first in line to inherit the throne. But few knew of this. It is a secret to all but the highest royals of Wutai. We are…meant to be the shadow of the royal family. Secret, but ready to protect the throne should the unthinkable happen.”

“So it is possible?” Genesis asked. “You could be royalty.”

“I would rather die,” she said strongly, solemnly, “than take that upon myself. But,” Hana didn’t seem like she could get any lower, “if it came to that, I would have no other choice, if it kept Wutai from anarchy again.”

“So why is this coming to light now?” Genesis asked. “You said your family was secret. And now not only Wutai but the whole Continent knows.”

“My…father. He’s finally making his move.”

Even Genesis could feel Zack’s anger flare without so much as turning to look. Hana sucked in a very deep breath before continuing.

“You both know of him.”

“What?” Genesis and Zack said at the same time. The two men looked at each other. “Genesis hasn’t met him like I have,” Zack said, clarifying.

“I don’t mean that.” She bit her lower lip – hard. “His name is Blackwell Reuben.”

Zack swore loudly. “He was—!”

“…The first SOLDIER,” Genesis finished, regarding Hana with skepticism but no small amount of amusement. “Very interesting indeed.”

“But he vanished off the face of the earth a long time ago!” Zack cried.

“If only. It’s him all right. One look at his eyes will tell you that. Can’t you remember, Zack?”

Zack scrutinized his memories of the man. Honestly, his most vivid image was of that cane he carried. But yes, something had been off about his eyes, something Zack hadn’t understood as a backwoods child….

Eyes infused with mako energy: the SOLDIER trademark.

He fell quiet, not wanting to believe it, but knowing deep down that she was right. The first hero of ShinRa, the first SOLDIER, had become a monster.

“I still don’t know how he found out about the Kazehawa family,” Hana continued softly. “He went on a mission there, and, once he learned our secret…” She choked, and even a hand clasped to her throat could not steady her voice. “My…mother….” She shook her head, eyes clenched tightly shut. She could say no more.

Zack swore again, banging a fist on the kitchen table as the pieces fell together. With everything new he learned about that man, the more his blood burned hot with anger.

“He took your mother,” Genesis finished for her, without emotion. “So he would be in line to ascend.”

Hana nodded, hand still on her throat.

“And you…”

“A piece in his murderous game.” Her sorrow turned to anger. Her fists were clenched in her lap, knuckles white. “He knew he would have an easier time putting me on the throne than himself, because he’s a foreigner and only related through his so-called marriage to my mother. And because he’d systematically picked off every other Kazehawa heir and weeded out so much of the Kisaragi line, I would inherit the throne if Godo and Yuffie died. I’m not sure if he planned to keep me alive as a figurehead to cover his tracks or off me entirely and take the glory for himself, but either way, he would be emperor.”

“It sounds like a really big stretch, Hana. Can he really do that?”

“He shouldn’t be able to. But my whole life I’ve seen him do things that should have been impossible. There’s no doubt he’s stark mad for even trying, but he’s clever and ruthless enough to make it work. It is working. I don’t even want to know how he’s doing it but he is! He’s got a whole army of followers in Wutai, and he’s got so many in the royal courts wrapped around his finger! And now with this we’ve fallen right into his hands again!”
“Wait, Hana, slow down!” Zack said. He got up from the table and sat at her side. “He’s not here. You’re safe and free. There’s no need to overreact.”

“Don’t you see? I am the Kazehawa heir now. This is exactly the place that he’s been scheming and murdering to put me in my entire life! And his plan worked! All he has to do is assassinate Godo and his daughter and he’s one step away from ascension!

“Except…” She slowed down, and then swallowed. “Except…Sephiroth.”

“That’s right! He’ll protect you!” Zack leapt on that solitary note of far-fetched optimism and prepared to milk it for all it was worth. “He can protect Godo and off your father and then there’s nothing to worry ab—“

“Zack, you have the brains of a puppy,” Genesis said. His eyebrows were low, eyes simmering with a fierce emotion that Zack couldn’t quite identify. “Sephiroth throws a wrench in the entire equation, but Blackwell’s playing it right into his hand.”

“Yeah, he’ll screw up Blackwell’s plans—“

“Or help them.” Genesis said. “Angeal needs to teach you to think, boy.”

“What are you two even talking about?”
“I miscalculated,” Hana whispered. “So very, very badly.”

“Okay seriously, stop it and tell me what’s going on!” Zack directed his frustration at Genesis, who did not respond to the glare or his raised tone of voice with anything but cool indifference.

“Tell me, Zack, who inherits if Hana dies?”

“Her bastard father.”

“Even a month ago you would have been right. But think. Blackwell is not the only one to be a Kazehawa through marriage anymore.”

“What are you…?” The blood flooded out of Zack’s face. “No way,” he said. “…He…no…Sephiroth?!”

~*~*~*~

Genesis grinned. “He can be taught.”

No way! That’s not even…!”

“It is,” Hana said. “If I die, he has as much claim to the throne as my father does, though perhaps not as much support from the courts.”

“Wutai would take the man who just demolished her as her emperor?”

“It would cause political upheaval, but they would be bound by law. It’s the same card my father is banking on – if he can do it, why not Sephiroth?”

“This is crazy,” Zack said and rose from the couch, beginning to pace. “Completely, insanely crazy.”

“It is quite the tangle you’ve gotten yourself into,” Genesis said. “And it only promises to get bigger.”

“Do I want to know if it can get any worse?” Zack said.

“It will get worse. And very quickly,” Hana said. “Blackwell’s next target will be ShinRa, I’m certain of it. He’s going to bring the battle here.”

“Why?”

Genesis sent Zack a look that clearly said that he thought his was stupid. “If his lust for power truly knows no bounds, he will take advantage of Sephiroth’s connection to ShinRa. He’ll try to gain as much leverage here as he can and then take the Continents and Wutai at once.”

“He can’t do that!”

“He barely has to,” Hana said. “The journalist who published that article has already practically done it for him.”

~*~*~*~


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