Dark and Light
The full moon illuminated the cloudless night, calm and quiet. A gentle breeze rustled the grass, silencing the crickets that chirped within. A dark figure rushed past, followed closely by another. They ran through the fields, one on the heels of the other, silent as the breeze. The first stumbled, falling to its knees, just for the second to grab it by the arm and yank it to its feet and continue to run. They skid down a hill, pausing at the bottom to catch their breath. The second pointed off in the distance, the first nodding to it. A rustle of grass at the top if the hill drew their attention. The second hoisted the first up to its feet again, which took off in the direction it was pointed down before. The second took off on a different path, opposite the first. Another rustle of grass from behind made it freeze in place, turning, drawing a dagger as it turned to face its pursuer, the moonlight illuminating its ruby red eyes.
Udumo. For many years, peace reigned over the Kingdom. Trades with the neighbouring Kingdom of Peteng had seen great advances in Udumo’s industry, leading to a prosperous age for everyone. The streets of the castle town were filled with people, excited chatter, and activity as they prepared for a great celebration! It was the day before the High Prince Darius’ 21st Birthday, and the entire Kingdom planned to celebrate.
Castle Mahery was buzzing with activity as well, but for a different reason. Behind the walls that stretched around the Castle yard, a private event took place. Nobles, servants, Royals and retainers all gathered around the practice ring. King Alexander; a regal man in his late 40′s with a mane of dark hair that stretched to the ground below sat in a cushioned chair in a roped off section. He was known as both a kind and fair ruler, as well as noble Father. King Alexander was guarded by his loyal retainer, and best friend, the Samurai Hiroyoshi. While they were about the same age, it was said the two could not be more different. Hiroyoshi had a cold streak about him, delivering swift and decisive justice upon any who dared threaten his King and Liege with no show of remorse. To his left sat King Alexander’s three youngest children. Princess Skye, who has always been more of a tomboy, took up the lance at a young age and quickly became one of the best Pegasus Knights in the Kingdom despite her young age of 19. Her bright red hair was always kept short to keep from flowing into her face in battle, and often wore light leather armour stained white. Prince Morgan was much more withdrawn, preferring to spend his time by himself, and mastering the art of the bow. Unlike his sister, he kept his longer hair tied back but a few strands always seem to slip in front of his eyes. And finally, Princess Julia. Shy would be the best way to describe the 14-year-old Princess, often stuttering or stammering around those she wasn’t familiar with. Unlike her siblings, she hated violence and refused to pick up a weapon. Instead, she became a shrine maiden the Goddess’ Temple in the village and learned about healing the sick and injured. Each Royal was always accompanied by at least one of their two retainers, to protect them from whatever may come.
The object of the spectacle was a sparring match between High Prince Darius, and his loyal retainer, Saizo. Darius looked very much like a younger version of his Father, right down to the wild mane of hair held back by his crown, even wielding his Father’s electrified sword. With a great swing, the electricity released from the sparking blade, rushing across the ground to Saizo’s feet, who leapt into the air to avoid it.
Saizo was also a near mirror image of his Father. Though draped in black as any ninja should be, Saizo’s fire red hair was always greased back, his blood red eyes focusing on any target with an intense precision that came with years of training. Saizo’s strength and skill were not to be underestimated, preferring close range attacks so he could see the light fade from the eyes of those he killed in his Liege's name. Along with his ninja garb, Saizo always wore a pair or bracers with large razor sharp blades that followed the line on his forearm, as well as a mask that hid his face from the nose down.
Reaching into the folds of his garb, a handful of shuriken appeared, thrown at the High Prince with deadly accuracy. Darius was quick to sidestep a number of them, deflecting the others with his blade, before swinging again to release an electric attack. As soon as Saizo’s feet touched the ground, he vanished in a literal puff of smoke, just to reappear to Darius’ left! Leaping forward with a battle cry, Saizo tried to strike the Prince’s shoulder with a newly wielded kunai. Sword raised, the blades collided, but Saizo’s attack did not stop. With a kunai in each hand, he swung in rapid succession at the Prince, again and again, forcing him backwards as he deflected each swing. In a sudden turn, Darius pressed back against Saizo’s blades, making the ninja leap backwards to protect himself, then lunged forward himself. Kunai’s crossed, they rang out against the Prince’s sword as they fought for control, neither man giving an inch.
Darius pulled back suddenly, sending Saizo off his balance as he thrust forward. Yet again Saizo vanished before the High Prince, appearing behind him this time as he sprung forward. Darius raised his arm, the armour blocking his kunai’s from harming him, and swinging his sword upward at the ninja. Saizo narrowly dodged the tip of the blade, springing forward, aiming an upward strike. Darius sidestepped his attack, off his balance once more, swinging his blade backwards to catch himself. Saizo leapt backwards, pausing for only a moment before rushing forward again. This time Darius was ready, bringing his blade up in an attack. Despite his attempt to stop, the tip of his sword slid across his chest vertically, leaving a thin slit that leaked blood. Ignoring the wound, Saizo readied himself to charge Darius once more.
“That’s enough!” Called out the voice of the King, who now stood with his hand raised into the air. Both Darius and Saizo relaxed, sheathing their weapons, and bowed to King Alexander, Saizo much more deeply than the Prince. A round of polite clapping rang out around them from the nobles who had been watching. Without a word, Saizo vanished, appearing in a tree little ways off, still able to watch his Lord from afar. The King began a speech to all those present, the same time Umoya; Saizo’s younger twin appeared in the tree next to him.
“Nice match” Umoya complimented his twin, receiving a grunt of acknowledgement while Saizo went about cleaning the new cut on his chest.
While only minutes separated their time of birth, the two brothers could not be more different. Saizo’s stubborn, fierce, unyielding with a passion that burns as hot as a flame! Umoya on the other hand was a gentle spirit. He allowed himself to be swayed by the thoughts and opinions of others, remaining calm at all times. Even their battle styles were different, as Umoya preferred distance attacks and relied on his dominant speed. Though Umoya’s hair was green like that of the tree tops, one trait the brothers shared was their faces. For whatever reason, many women swooned over their faces, something Saizo found as a hindrance to his work, and so he wore his mask. Umoya seemed more oblivious to this face and so went without. No matter what, the brothers always worked well side by side, holding each other in the highest respects. After their Father, retainer to King Alexander died in the line of duty, Umoya took over the role to honour him.
“Why’d you let him win? You were in control the whole match.” Umoya questioned, eyeing Saizo’s quick work of patching himself up.
“It wouldn’t do to make all those stuffy nobles think our Future King weak. No. Better he wins and looks strong in their eyes” Saizo grumbled back, tucking away his medical kit, shifting his garb to cover the bandages.
“But we need a King who’s actually strong, not one that just appears it.” Umoya shot back.
“That’s why we’re here to protect him” Saizo growled to his brother, vanishing again as King Alexander finished his speech, gaining another round of applause from the spectators. He appeared again among the other retainers in the roped off area for the Royals, Umoya just a moment behind him. The nobles gradually stood, shuffling away as the show was over. Servants cleaning up the mess left behind. Alexander and Darius rejoined Skye, Morgan and Julia, who stood to congratulate Darius on his battle.
King Alexander looked over all his children, a grin on his face, a tear in his eye. It took a moment before the youngest, Princess Julia, noticed this look on her Father’s face and approached cautiously.
“F-Father? A-are you alright?” She squeaked nervously. Alexander just brushed the tear away, his large palm gently touching Julia’s back, pulling her in for a hug. Now the other Royals stood and watched Alexander, sharing Julia’s concern.
“It’s nothing, really” Alexander tried to dismiss, but the worried stares of Royals and retainers alike pushed him to explain further.
“You’ve all grown so much, become such strong and honourable individuals. I just wish your Mother was still alive to see what amazing children we have...” The King’s voice cracked a little, sadness, yet pride in his words. Darius, Skye and Morgan approached their Father as well. Skye joining the hug, Alexander’s arm wrapping around her. Morgan stood close to Alexander’s right side, while Darius gripped his Father’s left shoulder.
“We miss her too.” Was all he could choke out. The retainers present looked on silently to this tender family moment, some knew the feeling all too well. Umoya shifted to stand beside his twin, sharing a glance. The King composed himself, clearing his throat as he released his girls from the hug.
“That’s enough now, off to your studies! And don’t be late for Dinner! ” Alexander forced out through a fake grin, the sadness still in his eyes.
Skye, Morgan and Julia all departed without another word, closely followed by their respective retainers. Alexander motioned for Darius to walk with him, they, in turn, were closely followed by Saizo, and Hiroyoshi. Close, but out of earshot. Umoya vanished so he could scout ahead, securing the Royal’s path.
“Tell me Saizo.” Hiroyoshi began in his intimidatingly deep voice. “You’ve been remarkably quiet on the subject of moya taking your Father’s position as a retainer to Lord Alexander. Does it not bother you?” He inquired quizzically. Saizo snorted uncomfortably.
“I swore my allegiance to Lord Darius long ago, and will serve him to my dying breath!” Saizo shot back, unamused by Hiroyoshi’s prying.
“As long as my brother guards The King to the best of his ability, then he is honouring our Father just as I would!”
Hiroyoshi dropped the subject, unsure if he struck a nerve, or this was Saizo’s usual gruffness. Several awkwardly silent moments passed, having to adjust their pace to keep in time with The King and the High Prince a number of times as they strolled through the castle gardens. They’d stopped, talking to one another, several sets of eyes watching close. Unexpectedly, the castle steward; Tuari, ran towards King Alexander. Saizo closed the gap, standing just a few feet behind his Liege.
“I’m sorry to interrupt Your Majesty, but there’s a person here who claims to have an urgent message for you, and you alone!” Tuari blurted a bit breathlessly from his run. Alexander took a step forward, a very serious look on his face.
“From where does this messenger hail?” Alexander questioned, Tuari bowing at the waist.
“My apologies Your Majesty, but it refused to speak to anyone but you.”
Alexander quickly turned, motioning for Hiroyoshi to come along.
“You too, Darius. This could be important.” Alexander commanded, Saizo on his Lord’s heels as the group now made it’s way to the throne room, where the messenger waited. As soon as the throne room doors swung open, a figure draped in a black cloak turned, and dropped to its knees respectfully to King Alexander.
Alexander, Tuari, Hiroyoshi, Darius and Saizo all stood before the messenger, Umoya hiding from its view from Alexander cleared his throat, expectantly.
“Your Highness, I bear a message of great importance for all Udumo!” The voice was firm, yet soft. Effeminate. Though surprised this messenger was female, Alexander continued.
“So I’m told. Please, rise.” He commanded as he had before. The woman shrouded in black stood slowly, a mask covered her face from the nose down. All that could be seen, a pair of bright red eyes that shined like rubies.