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The Contract

Chapter Text

 

“Within the continent of Somnium, there exist three kingdoms. To the north, the Kingdom of Inferna – the land of the immortal demons. To the west, the Kingdom of Caelem – the land of the heavenly beings. And to the east, the Kingdom of Terra – the land of humanity. Each kingdom is ruled as a monarchy, the reigning bloodline having been kept in power since the dawn of time.

“The tripoint, where the borders of all three kingdoms meet, lies a city that has evolved into an immense trading ground. The City of Opscurus, once a peaceful area enriched with the combination of three cultures, is now consumed in the flames of war.

“Ruling families from each kingdom monitor the area in their own fashion. Starting with the north, the ruling family of… Are you listening, Prince?”

A sharp thwack resounds between tall bookshelves.

“Ow!”

“It wasn’t that hard of a hit, Prince.”

The prince grumbles a hum, rubbing his upper arm. “I thought I said that it was fine to call me by my name? It’s lonely being referred to by title. Aren’t we friends?”

“Don’t tell me you’re that secluded, Leo-san? Don’t you have any friends your age?”

Leo listens to his friend’s chuckle with a pout. “You are my age, Mikejimama…”

“I meant ones that live in your own country.” Madara laughs again, putting the book in his hand down. “Not someone who is only around when called upon by the royal family. With that said, I’m supposed to be teaching you about Inferna and Caelem.”

Looking down at the table and kicking his feet back and forth solemnly, Leo replies, “I don’t want to study…”

“Your parents are paying me good money to teach you, especially since I’ve been to both kingdoms many times.” Madara fiddles with the pages of the book before him and closes it. “I guess it is your-”

“Big brotheeeeer!” A shrill voice pierces through the thick, wooden doors of the library. Said doors are soon pushed open and a head peeks through the crack. “Happy b-! Oh!”

The young girl’s face turns a bright red as her eyes land on the two sitting at a table. She hastily comes inside and bows her head low.

“Ruka?” Leo questions with a tilt of his head.

“I’m sorry! I-I mean, I do apologize for the discourteous interruption!” She says frantically.

Madara chuckles, “Do not worry about it, Princess. I was about to free the prince for today. Call it a birthday present.”

“Thanks, Mikejimama!” Leo bounces up from his seat. “What did you need, Ruka? Need your big brother to get something down for you?”

“No, I can ask a maid to help me… I just wanted to be the first one to wish you a happy birthday.” Ruka replies, a little sheepish now. “So, happy birthday, brother.”

Leo’s smile softens. He walks up to her and brings her into a warm hug. “Thank you.”

Her smile is bright when Leo lets go and steps back. “Mother and father are preparing the celebration now.”

“So early?” Leo groans under his breath. It is still morning, the sun shining through the window having yet to reach its’ peak height in the sky. “Alright. I’ll go down and see if I can help.”

“Mikejima-san, will you be in attendance tonight?” Ruka asks, peering around Leo.

“I will be, Princess. Thus, I will see the two of you then.” Madara stands up and collects the books stacked on the table. “You two, run along and enjoy the day. Before you have to be in the same, stuffy hall as adults and need to act like the royalty you are.”

“You don’t want to join us?” Leo asks.

“While I’m in your kingdom, I have some stuff I want to do.” Madara says vaguely. “You don’t need to feel like you need to entertain me, Leo-san.”

Leo tilts his head again. “If you’re sure. Come on, Ruka.”

The siblings make their way down to the grand hall within their castle home. Leo wants to hum the melody swimming in his head, but the silence in the corridors is too oppressive. The usually bustling castle workers are nowhere to be seen. Also…

He shifts his eyes to look at his younger sister through the corner of his vision. Ruka will think he’s weird. No one knows about the tunes rushing through his veins. No one knows how the inspiration wells up in his heart, filling it to almost bursting nearly constantly. It is not a proper interest for the Prince of the Kingdom of Terra; the future King of the Kingdom of Terra. He’s supposed to be handsomely charismatic or a mastermind tactician.

Not a genius composer.

“Hey… Brother?”

Her voice breaks through his frenzied thoughts.

“Hm? Something wrong?”

“I’ve been meaning to ask, but,” Ruka trails off. “Who is Mikejima-san, anyways? Mother and father invite him to the castle fairly regularly, but I have yet to hear of any of his accomplishments or his status and position? Er… not to sound rude.”

Leo chuckles under his breath. “Madara Mikejima is a scholar. He’s a big guy who likes to be called Mama, and has travelled around so much that his knowledge is nearly infinite.”

“To all three kingdoms?”

“Yeah.”

“Is that safe?”

Leo hums and looks up towards the ceiling for answers. “Maybe not anymore… But he’s safe here.”

When the two of them make it to the grand hall, Leo notices the fancy tableware and the expensive pieces of art adorning the walls. Castle workers are walking from place to place with purpose, decorating with fresh flowers or bringing decorative banners representing the kingdom inside. Banners that have been stored in the treasury all of this time.

Leo looks around, feeling nerves crawl up his throat. This year is…

“There they are!” Ruka announces. She grabs his hand and drags him to where their parents are talking to the royal chefs. “Mother, father.”

“Leo, are you not supposed to be at your lesson?” Their father, the current King of Terra, asks.

Leo subtly clears his throat, “Mikejima-san dismissed me a little early. As a birthday present. However, we have thoroughly covered today’s topics, there is no need to inquire about his instructions.”

“Is that so.” Their mother says in a voice so smooth it virtually sounds like she is singing. She puts a hand to her cheek gracefully, a gesture all befitting of a queen. “If it has come to that, go on, son. You can spend the rest of the morning and afternoon at your leisure.”

“What can I do, mother?” Ruka asks eagerly.

“Go ask the maids if you can help with flower arranging.” She pats Ruka on the head once and smooths down the stray baby hairs.

Leo watches Ruka run off in excitement. She has always adored the art of flower arranging. She is much more princess-like than he is prince-like. “Are you certain I do not need to prepare anything?”

“Listen to your mother.” The king says gruffly, waving his hand in dismissal. “Go on.”

Leo slightly bows his head and turns to walk out of the bustling grand hall. He won’t question things further. Being left to his leisure means he finally has freedom again. Practically.

Going to his room, he changes into his archer gear. It’s a skin-tight outfit, perfect for sneaking out. Even with the freedom to do as he pleases, he still is not allowed outside of the castle walls without an assembly of guards encircling him. Instead of his bow and arrows, however, he opts for the long, thin sword that is currently propped up beside his bed. If something unexpected happens without anyone watching his back, he’s certain a sword will be more useful. And easier to carry without making too much noise.

Carefully, Leo looks out of his window and starts to climb over the ledge. His fingertips scratch at the stone walls as he grips at the spots where he has memorized lay small ledges. Little by little, he makes it down the castle wall and hops onto the solid ground.

Next is the perimeter wall.

Leo hides in the shadows, behind support beams and trees as he makes his way to the edge of the property. Along the way, he passes by the knights training in the courtyard.

Regally, beautifully, they stand proudly with swords swinging and clashing together. Sharp sounds echo in the air along with the squeak of shoes against the ground as they dance to and fro. Sweat drips down their jawlines and stretch out thinly along their chin before splashing onto crinkled grass beneath their feet. Though they are not in their official uniforms, the knights remain dashing – shining with the majestic pride in serving their kingdom.

Mesmerized, Leo peaks from behind a large column that is holding a canopy to an outdoor walkway in place. He wishes he can join the fray. He wants to join the frontlines, one day – not be protected behind formidable, stone walls until the day he dies a natural death. But the frontline is no place for a prince. Or so they say.

Shaking his head, he continues on his way carefully.

Leo makes a soft grunting noise as he climbs to the top of the perimeter wall and drops down on the other side. He swipes his legs clean and then looks up at the tall foliage that surrounds the castle. The forest is still vast – the castle town having settled a little further away from the actual castle.

Sunlight streams through the leaves as he walks along. Casually, he puts his arms behind his head and soaks up the warmth.

The silence allows his mind to wander aimlessly.

Today is his birthday.

Today is the day that he – under Terrian law – becomes of age to succeed the throne. Although, in case of emergency, the next in line must take the position no matter what their age or be accused of treason – even if there is a need for an acting regent, a person of age to aid. His life has been lucky, thus far. His mother and father, the current monarchs of the Kingdom of Terra, are healthy and ruling over the land with great success.

Or so they were before the war found its way onto their doorsteps.

But Leo is proud of his parents, even if things are now looking dire and their kingdom is forced into a corner. They tried everything in their power to avoid the battles; did everything to try and protect their people’s every day, peaceful lives. That is what a good monarch is supposed to do. No matter the cost.

They are nothing without their people.

The war has yet to reach their capital, the city just a couple kilometers away from the castle. The populations littering the outskirts, near the border, are the people Leo truly worries for.

He absently wonders if his trip is cancelled. Once the eldest child of the royal family comes of age, they are to tour the Kingdom of Terra. Visitations to every major city and town within their territory, meeting with every Lord and Lady helping the royal family rule over the land, and the flaunting of himself to curry their and the people’s favor. Leo is meant to sell himself to the people. Somehow prove to them that he is suitable to represent them ensuing the brilliant reign of his father.

Yet, even if Leo believes his father is doing everything in his power, the people might feel differently. The prices of goods are rising, foreign trade is impossible and has completely halted, and the list of shortages growing ever more alarming. The lives of their knights are at risk. The lives of their very own citizens are at risk.

Today’s birthday celebration is a desperate attempt at normality.

With the kingdom plunged into war after centuries of peace, it is no time to be drinking the night away with expensive wines and spirits; wearing extravagancies so grand, the cost can supply a whole army with weaponry to last months. Why isn’t the royal family helping them, the people ask. Why are they rejoicing in the death of the people?

But what king or queen would revel in that? Anyone who does can be sent straight to the Devil’s Gate, deep within the Kingdom of Inferna and thrown into Hell, in Leo’s opinion.

He suspects his father is using Leo’s birthday as an excuse to gather the Lords and Ladies of the land; of those who work closely with the royal family and the royal court. A gathering under ceremony is much less suspicious than a gathering on a day at random. Usually, even on special days such as today, Leo is often sent to lesson after lesson. There is no rest for the next heir to the throne. And yet, his father allowed him time to play as he pleases.

An apology, perhaps.

Though they are celebrating his birthday tonight, it is likely that his father and mother – the King and Queen of the Kingdom of Terra – will have very little time for him. He imagines that security will be tighter than ever. With so many of their leaders in one place, it will be easy to cut off multiple commanders’ heads. Without their leader, morale will sink, taking with it the last vestiges of harmony.

Perhaps that is why so many of their knights littered the castle grounds. They have been called home, if only temporarily, and preparing their bodies and minds. Getting ordered to warm up in the courtyard to keep their senses alert and their movements sharp for what may come.

The sunlight peeking through the leaves warms his skin, enticing him to lift his face upwards and close his eyes. He hums in pleasure at the dishonest peace.

Maybe he will write a song in the dirt. A masterpiece so beautifully fleeting that it will disappear with the next storm. He knows there’s a small body of water if he goes a little further from the safety of the castle grounds. It’s passive, full of vegetation with the occasional animal coming by for water.

With a goal in mind, Leo takes off with determination in his steps. Once the trees start to part, he knows he has made it. The sun is shining even brighter now that it has climbed higher in the sky.

He probably has to start going home sooner rather than later, so Leo gets to work. Eagerly, he tries to find a spot empty of grass. What he finds, instead, is smears of blood streaking the ground. The darkening stripes oxidizing with the air and painting a gruesome scenario within his mind. The longer his eyes stare fixatedly, the more violent his imagination becomes, the more his despair rises.

So close to the castle? To his home? Is it one of their own?

Carefully, he puts a hand on the sword strapped to the side of his hip, the weapon making a small click within its sheath. Silencing his breathing and making his footsteps as light as possible, Leo follows the trail. It leads him to a lump hidden away in the tall grass at the base of a tree.

“Hey… are you dead?”