A month had passed since the death of King Hirijichi and Mimura's disappearance. The kingdom was barely making it through with the help of the Yamada kingdom. Taro's mother and the Mimura's most loyal assistant, Isogai, worked together to maintain their kingdoms, but they cannot make any established laws without anyone to take up Mimura's throne. They were in a stalemate situation, and the people were wondering when Taro will take action. Without a king, the citizens were raising havoc, but Taro was concerned of other matters. He was still the only one putting efforts to finding Mimura, but without any leads, and constantly returning back from the woods empty-handed, he was beginning to feel exhausted.
He had practiced his archery, swordsmanship, and even studying magic to increase his chances in defeating whatever stole Mimura from him. For the longest time, he wasn't attending to his kingdom or his sibling's needs. His focus was purely on finding the lost prince and claiming him for himself. Taro had spent nights dreaming of the day he'll finally see him, working out exactly what he wanted to say and conveying his feelings properly. However, the only clue he had was from King Hijirichi's dying words.
"The great animal," they echoed in his head. "It's not what it seems!"
"What did he mean?" Taro sighed.
He put down his hundredth book on mythical creatures and rubbed his eyes. His room was filled with books he took from his family's library. He read through them all, twice, and he still had no clue what to do. All he could think of was imagining the night Mimura was kidnapped. A massive beast must have taken him and killed everyone else. Taro guessed it was a creature that was indescribable. It's the only explanation why King Hijirichi was so terrified and desperate for Taro to know.
"Why couldn't he tell me what it was?" He mumbled. "Was it something no man has ever laid eyes on?"
But why take Mimura away and not kill him? The creature could have easily destroyed the entire Mimura lineage on that night if it was so powerful. Taro racked through his brain wondering why only Mimura was spared.
And then it hit him.
"His kingdom," Taro gasped. "It's not what it seems..."
He scurried out of his chair and burrowed into his pile of books. He tossed the useless ones over his head until he found the one he was looking for. He had discarded it long ago when he thought it didn't meant anything, but the answer was in front of him all this time. It's not what it seems because it wasn't truly a creature, but a shape shifter. The monster has to be a creature of intellect, and kidnapping Mimura would meant the shape shifter wanted something from him. His throne.
"Of course!" Taro gasped. "All this time, I've been trying to find a beast. I must look for something more exotic! Now, I'll find you, Takuya."
He grabbed his bow and quiver before he dashed out his door, but he nearly bumped into his mother on his way out.
He hugged her quickly. "Great news, Mother! I know how to find Takuya!"
She frowned. "Taro, you're still not going on about that fat animal, are you?"
"The great animal, Mother," Taro said rolling his eyes. "I'm in a hurry now, so what is it you need of me?"
"I'm reminding you that tomorrow night we'll be holding our ball," she said. "All the nobles will be gathering here, and I am expecting you to be there. Everyone in the kingdom is coming."
Taro sighed heavily. "Mother, I...I can't."
"B-but...the ball!" She said, getting teary. "I've been planning this for weeks, and I kept telling you about it..."
It must have slipped his mind. He hated when she does that face to him. He knows exactly what the ball was going to be about: finding him a new suitor. In the past, she had tried pairing Taro with another, but it flopped when Taro wanted to marry Mimura. Now that she believes the prince is gone, she focuses back to her son to finding a new bride. She would always say it's not a matchmaking ball, just a gathering of friends. But in the end, she invites every noble's daughter around. And when she makes that face, she knows he can't say no.
He has been to plenty of his mother's ceremonies before. Another royal appearance would be a cinch to fake.
"If I don't find anything today, maybe I'll come-"
"Ahhh! Thank you, Taro! Thank you!"
"But please, Mother, don't make it into another courtship parade."
"No, my dear! Of course not," she smiled coolly.
He knew she was lying, but maybe he can dodge it when the day comes. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before he left again. All the talk of parties was rushing past his head as he felt adrenaline pumping in his veins again, and he had only one person in mind to share his news. He raced across his courtyard and ventured into the villages. The people have grown used to seeing him wondering in the streets, so he wasn't disturbed as he ran towards the familiar cottage at the far end of town. Ikegami's farm sat on the top of a small hill, and he was lucky to find her hoeing her field.
"Takako!" Taro called out to her. He jumped over her fence and stopped just before he entered her field. "I got it! I know what happened to Mimura!"
"Another theory?" She asked, straightening her back. "You didn't stayed up all night thinking about it, have you?"
"I did, actually," Taro grinned. "But this has to be it."
He showed her a page in his book. A small, harmless mouse was drawn into the page. He was silent for a few moments to catch his breath, and Ikegami stared at him confused.
"It's a mouse."
"Yes, a mouse," he nodded. "But it could be the very thing we're after."
"Are you alright?"
"Just think. It's only an innocent creature until it change," Taro turn the page, "into this."
A drawing of a vicious dragon covered the previous page. Ikegami stared down at the dragon, sucking in her bottom lip.
"All this time, the thing I've been searching for is not what it seems," Taro explained. "I've been searching the woods thousands of times, but I was looking for tracks that could lead me to Takuya. I thought I was supposed to find this one being. But what I should be looking for is something much more peculiar when really...it's a monster."
"But...but that could be anything," Ikegami said.
Taro closed the book and nodded with a serious look. "Anything."
"You'll be searching the woods another thousand times trying find something like that!" Ikegami said with distraught. "How will you know if it's the one? This could make you go crazy!"
"That's why I need your help," Taro grinned. "Please. None of my knights are helping me because my mother orders them to help the riots in Mimura's Kingdom. Jiro and Saburo are still training their first weapons, and I don't know anyone else who is as strong as you."
Ikegami started blushing. "But if I go with you, I...I might-"
Taro grabbed her hands and held them tightly. His eyes begging as he chimed in his head. "For Takuya. For Takuya. For Takuya!"
"Such pretty eyes," Ikegami thought.
"Please help me, Takako," he whispered.
"I...I guess I'll help out."
"Thank you!" He grinned, and hugged her. "We leave this afternoon!"
Mimura flapped his wings as hard as he could, but he was able to get wind under him and soared higher. With the help of Aiba's teaching, Mimura was able to fly properly. For the past few weeks, he was fumbling and falling like a rock. Jun and Ohno watched from below, but they gave encouraging words. He had to know how to fly so he can help Aiba retrieve the map in the tower. It'll also help them find Taro faster, so Mimura was determined to get it right.
At long last, he got the technique down. The first time he soared higher than the treetops, he felt freedom at last. It was exhilarating to feel the wind blow passed his head, to see the world so small below him, and the power of flight within his wings. A part of him wanted to just fly away and leave the shrine, but he could not leave his new friends. He promised to help Jun and Ohno, who had been so kind to him and helped him find food to eat. And Aiba always lightened the mood up despite their prison. It was the first time Mimura made friends other than Taro.
"We're almost to the tower," Aiba called behind him. "Remember, stay close to the walls to hide, and fly latitude to avoid any attacks."
As they flew up towards the tower, Mimura spotted a separate hut that was hidden alongside the hill. It was fairly close to the lake as if it was a well of some kind. But Mimura dismissed the thought and focused back at the tower. Aiba's part was to fly inside an opening and get the map since he was smaller. Mimura had to make a diversion to buy Aiba some time. Before they took off, Jun and Ohno made sure that Gantz left the shrine for reasons unknown. It was the perfect opportunity since the old female assistant wouldn't be able to stop them.
"I see an open window," Aiba said. "Wish me luck."
"Be careful, Lieutenant."
The clever puffin made a quick feathery salute before he dove into the window. Mimura swooped down to find where the assistant was, and sure enough he found her sweeping in the lower levels. He peeked at the window to draw her attention. She immediately yelled at him with her broom and he flew away. He wondered where Aiba will find the map, but he kept leading her down the tower to give Aiba more room to search.
At last, Mimura saw Aiba bullet out a window with a rolled up parchment in his beck. He found it! Mimura saw the assistant open another window, but he was quick and charged towards her. She screeched as his mighty wings caused a fuss around the window seal. He was knocking over books, glass bottles, and strange ornaments. She backed away, crashing into a shelf filled with black balls and strange looking firearms. One of the weapons had its triggered pulled, but nothing happened so Mimura took off.
Five seconds later, he heard explosions from inside the tower. Hopefully, that will slow the assistant down long enough. He dove back down towards the lake and spotted his friends waiting for him nearby the shrine. He landed smoothly and wobbled his way towards them. The map laid out before them, and Mimura instantly recognized their location.
"There's Taro's Kingdom," he pointed with his wing.
"And my kingdom is here in the north," Jun said.
"My home land is due west," Ohno stated. "The trees and the mountains are different there than it is here."
"I was taken from here," Aiba said, pointing towards the east. "This means we are somewhere around the middle. Perhaps we are closer than we thought. If we fly farther south, and with the right calculation of the sun's direction, we might find your prince's castle."
"Excellent!" Mimura said, enthusiastically. "When do we leave?"
"Wait a minute," Ohno droned. "What will you do when you find your prince? He'll see you as a swan."
"He has a point," Aiba said. "And you can only turn back when you're on this lake."
"I'll lure him here," Mimura answered. "I'll somehow get his attention and bring him here."
"I still think I should come along to speak for the both of you," Jun said. "What will Prince Taro think when he hears a talking puffin?"
"That's rich coming from a talking frog," Aiba snapped back.
"My princely charm could convince him otherwise," Jun tossed his head high.
"I advise His Highness to stay behind," Aiba grunted.
"I do not take orders from peasants. Let alone delusional parrots."
"We'll stay here," Ohno answered for the both of them. "We'll await your return."
"Then it is done," Aiba nodded. "Prince Takuya, you stay close to me. You don't know when you'll come across hunters, bandits, and witches alike. It is a dangerous world out there for birds, but I will protect you and beat any arrow or spear thrown at us."
"Thank you, Aiba," Mimura bowed his head.
"You listen here, parrot!" Jun croaked. "If anything happens to Mimura, I'll have your wings clipped! Pulled out your feathers and have your legs fried in butter!"
Aiba snapped his beck at him, and Jun coward behind Ohno's shell. Together, they took off and flew south towards the edge of the woods. Finally, he was leaving the shrine. After one long exhausting month, he was finally free. Somewhat. He still had to return back, but only to tell Taro and hopefully devise a plan together. But all Mimura could think about was seeing Taro again. He missed him so much...
Taro stalked around a tree, keeping his arrow pointed down and his footsteps treading quietly. The late afternoon sun gave the forest a grim glow, as if it can since something sinister was approaching. He had never felt this instinctive before, but it was a good reflex to keep his guard up. Ikegami was right behind him and also armed, but she seemed spooked by his theory. He was beginning to think it might have been the wrong idea to bring her along after all.
"Ahh!" She screamed
"Shhh!" He hissed.
This was a bad idea. He was better off going alone, just like he had always done for the past month. Of course, he didn't want to blame anyone for their lack of faith. His mother was preoccupied by maintained order between two kingdoms mutually, but he still felt alone. Once he finds Mimura, everything will be the way it should be.
Suddenly, a flutter of light distorted his vision. He quickly hid behind a tree and peered over. It was far, and hard to see, but Taro spotted the most unlikely creature to be wondering in a thick dense forest. A swan. Elegant and gracefully. And it was flying in his direction.
"I understand now," Taro whispered to himself. "It's not what it seems."
Something so pure, majestic, and beautiful was not entirely what it is to be. In these woods, there are hardly any swans, and Taro felt his heartbeat pounding. This was it. This must be the great animal that stole his Mimura away. Behind those white feathers lays a monster. A sudden surge of vengeance building up himself as he tightened his hold on the bow. He drew back the arrow, waiting for the right moment to strike. This one's for Mimura!
He leaped out and aimed. In that split second of hesitation, the swan dodged his arrow. Taro's eyes widen at its impeccable accuracy. He never misses! He's been training the past month in mastering his archery. How could an overlarge bird escape his arrow?!
"So it is you," Taro growled, and he gave chase.
He couldn't hear Ikegami following him, but he didn't care. His target was above and flying away. It sensed it was being followed, so Taro did his best to stay hidden, hoping it will stop flying away. The swan was fast, so Taro readied another arrow and fired. It missed by inches and he cursed under his breath. He ran deeper into the woods, never leaving sight of the swan. As he ran farther and farther from his kingdom, the sky was getting darker. He climbed up a rock hill and took aim again. It appears the swan has another bird companion, but they were easily in his sights.
However, the birds cleverly flew into the sun, blinding him temporary.
"No," he grunted. "I won't let you get away!"
He jumped down and continued on foot. They were farther away, but he sprinted hard. He never ventured this far out from his land, but he wasn't going to give up when he was so close. The sun was setting and nighttime took over. He saw the birds fly just over the trees, and Taro climbed up a steep hill. Suddenly, he stopped in his tracks as he drank the scenery. A forgotten shrine stood before him. He never knew such a place existed. The shrine had seen better days as he climbed up the stairs. He was sure the swan came in this direction. He slowly walked across the courtyard, eyeing the shadows of the building. He heard the sound of water, and he hurried towards the back of the shrine.
He found the lake where a frog and tortoise watched him from afar. There were reeds and fireflies along the shores, but his eyes fell on the swan. It landed gracefully on the water. It was dark thanks to the clouds covering the moon, so he was able to hide himself from it. This must be its home, and Taro pointed his arrow again.
He was smacked in the head by another bird, and his arrow took off in the other direction. However, it didn't scare away the swan. A puffin started fluttering around his head, distracting him. He tried waving the idiotic creature away as he readies another arrow while he was still in the cover of darkness.
But then the clouds drifted, and the moon shined down on the swan. Suddenly, the water glowed and it started rise up like a pillar. Taro lowered his weapon and watched with wide eyes. His mouth hanged open as the swan was engulfed by water. At last, the magic ended and Mimura stood before him where the swan was before. His heart thudded loudly.
Mimura smiled nervously at him. "Hello, Taro."
He dropped his bow and dashed towards him. Water splashed at their feet as they embraced at long last. Taro inhaled deeply, surprised to remember his refreshing scent. He reached his hands up, staring deeply into his eyes. He looked so much more beautiful than before, as if the long month had dulled Taro's memory, and he pulled in for a long deep kiss. He felt complete again. All those weeks of doubt, anxiety, and confusion was a passing memory. Mimura seemed just as longing as he was, pressing his tongue as hard as he could. Taro sucked down on his bottom lip, pulling gently with his teeth as they parted.
After they got their breath back, Taro chuckled. "No one believed me. I've looked everywhere for you."
"I'm sorry I made you worry," Mimura uttered.
"My gosh, I nearly killed you!" Taro gasped. "I didn't know! I-"
"It's alright," Mimura said. "I wanted to get your attention to follow me here, so you know where I am."
Taro grabbed his hand and led him out of the water towards the exit. "Come. Let's go home."
But Mimura stopped him. "I can't."
"I'm trapped here," Mimura explained. "I'm under a spell. When the moon sets, I'll change back into a swan."
"What?! Who did this to you?" Taro frowned.
"Gantz. The man who killed my parents. He's back and he might be coming soon-"
"Then let him come," Taro said, feeling his anger coming back again. "I've been training the past month for this moment."
"No! He's way too powerful. He could kill you," Mimura said. "He's only keeping me alive because he wants to use me to take over my kingdom. I've been holding off for so long. And I can't leave the lake since it's the only one where I can change back into a human at night."
Taro felt like he was getting a headache. He hadn't been far off with his assumptions, but it was more complicated than that. He never imagined the mastermind was a shape shifter and a sorcerer. He had hoped he find Mimura, rescue him, defeat the great animal, and marry his love.
"There must be some way we can break the spell."
"There is," Mimura smiled lovingly. "You must make a vow of everlasting love."
Taro held his hands again. "All you had to do was ask."
"But you must prove it to the world," Mimura added.
His brow furrowed in disbelief. "How do I do that?!"
"I...I don't know."
A booming voice echoed from the shrine. "Takuya!"
Taro turned his head at the source of the sound. Someone was coming...Gantz.
"Quick, you must go!" Mimura said, pushing him away.
It wasn't fair. He just found him and now he has to leave. It was all happening too soon. He didn't even get to say the words he's been practicing for months. He didn't get the chance to say how much he loves him. But he could see the sense of urgency in Mimura's eyes. A vow was something he can easily do, but to prove it for the world to see? Where can he find the perfect place for everyone to witness them?
"The ball," Taro gasped in realization. "My mother is holding ball at my castle. Tomorrow night! Everyone will be there, and I'll give you my vow of everlasting love."
"Takuya!" The voice boomed again, more angry.
"I'll be there," Mimura whispered, looking nervous as the voice drew closer. "Now, hurry!"
Taro pulled Mimura's hand and gave him one last kiss. He wanted it to last longer, but its shortness was bittersweet in itself. They both inhaled sharply before they parted. He hurried around the side of the shrine to avoid the back entrance, and he gazed one last time at his handsome prince. He will break the spell.
He was certain.
"Takuya!" Gantz shouted. "Did you not hear me calling?"
Mimura whirled around, trying to relax his accelerating heartbeat. "I...I was-"
"I thought I heard voices," Gantz narrowed his eyes.
"I-I was t-talking to myself," Mimura lied. "One can get lonely sitting by the lake all day."
The man shrouded in black eyed him suspiciously. Mimura tried to calm himself down with regular breathing, but Gantz came up close to his face as if sniffing for clues. Suddenly, Gantz snapped his hand out and grabbed Mimura's neck. His airway was partially blocked, but he still gasped small amounts of air. Gantz was reading into his eyes.
"You're not plotting something against me, are you?" Gantz hissed.
"No," Mimura choked.
He released him and Mimura stumbled back, coughing and gagging.
"Good," Gantz nodded. "Then I don't have to suspect you, my pet. Furthermore, I've brought a new guest."
Mimura's heart sank. He thought he meant Taro, but then the assistant hag dragged a tied up girl from the shrine. She was struggling to free herself, but when she spotted him, she gasped.
"Prince Mimura Takuya!"
"Poor girl. She was found lost in the woods," Gantz said, circling behind him. "A farmer from the Yamada Kingdom, she said. But she won't tell me why she was in the forest."
That's when Mimura knew who she was. It was Taro's friend, Ikegami Takako. He must have asked her to join him, but somehow got separated. Mimura felt responsible for her capture since he drew Taro away. The poor girl must have been frightened.
"Care to hear a story? I was out into town today. Something I rarely do," Gantz explained, "and the most juiciest piece of information reached my ears. The Yamada royals are holding a ball."
Mimura felt his heart pounding again.
"Now, I was a quite offended because I didn't receive my invitation," the sorcerer laughed. "And yet the whole kingdom was welcome to attend. Oh...but you weren't invited, if I'm correct. After all, you stayed here where you couldn't possibly have known about it. Did you know about it, dear prince?"
"I didn't know," Mimura lied again.
"They speak of Prince Taro finding a new suitor at the ceremony," Gantz said, smirking at him. "It would seem your prince has abandoned you. Unless someone was sneaking around and told you about it. Perhaps this girl was a messenger?"
He avoided looking at Gantz.
"Also," he continued. "My lovely assistant informed me she was attacked by a few birds this morning. They raided the tower while I was away. I wonder why?"
Mimura kept his lips shut. He was more concerned about Ikegami who was watching them from afar. He wished he could help her, but if he made the wrong move, he might accidentally get her killed.
"Take her to the well," Gantz ordered.
"If she has nothing to do with me, then let her go," Mimura said, objectively.
"Oh, but I think she does," Gantz said. "After all...why would this be here?"
Gantz pulled out from under his cloak the bow Taro left behind him. How could he be so foolish as to forget the bow?! They were so caught up in the moment of reunion, Mimura had forgotten about it. Gantz laughed at Mimura's fallen face, and he tossed the bow far out into the lake.
"Thought you could fool me, did you?"
There was no point in hiding.
"Your end will come one day, Gantz," Mimura said, bitterly. "I know how you work now. You can't stand the sunlight, and that's why you're always dressed in black or why you only come to see me at night. You rely heavily on magic and science, but without it you are nothing! And I swear I will break free from my curse, and I will see to it you will never rise to power again!"
Gantz glared at him with cold, dangerous eyes. He reached inside his cloak again and pulled out a small black ball. For a moment, Mimura thought he was going to get his first real torture, but instead he threw the ball towards Ikegami and it landed at her feet. Suddenly, a sharp blue light illuminated from it, zapping at Ikegami.
She screamed as the blue light zigzagged across her head, degrading her cryptically into nothing. She was literally being sliced like cattle and disappeared into thin air. Mimura was frozen on the spot, horrified at what he was witnessing. The blue beam of light continued down her body until she was completely gone.
"What did you do to her?!"
"She was simply transported," Gantz smiled. "I will be questioning her soon, but now I have other work that must be done. Or perhaps I'll make her my whore tonight...unless you wish to fill in her place."
In that instant, Mimura punched Gantz hard across his face. The sorcerer staggered back from the impact, but the evil man just laughed at him. Mimura was about to throw another fist again, but he was suddenly thrown off his feet and splashed into the shallow waters. His hair and clothes got muddy again, but he didn't care. He just wanted to cause him pain.
"I will never be yours!"
"I have been nice," Gantz muttered darkly. "I've tried convincing you. I've tried bribing you. A pinch of blackmailing. But I've done everything I could not to harm you. I have waited far too long...no more will I be the gentlemen."
Suddenly, thick black metal cuffs appeared around Mimura's neck and ankles. He was lifted up on his feet by magic, and he reached for his new collar, trying to free himself.
"Take one last look at the sky, Takuya!" Gantz boomed. "It would not matter if you attend the ball tomorrow night...there is no moon!" He threw his head back, laughing.
Mimura gazed up and felt his heart sank to his stomach. Yet again, he missed another important detail. The moon was barely a thin crescent, and by tomorrow it'll be an empty night sky. He would have no way of changing into a human even if he wanted to go. Mimura had been so anxious to meet Taro, he forgot about the moon's vital importance. He was so close to being free, so close to being with Taro again, but everything went to shambles. And now he was going to be locked away forever. The tears started forming in his eyes again.
Will he never break free from this curse?
End chapter 3 T_T
To Chapter 4 http://arashiforyou.livejournal.com/52519.html
i must say, the little reunion was over the top cheesyness for me XDD
this chapter was fairly quick/short don't you think?
well, it must be...because the next chapter is the last!! O_O