Marking of the Days

by Sincline Koutaishi


It is not easy rebuilding an empire. The hours are long, the days that are filled with them are longer still. At least with so much to do there is little time to worry over the dark voices that are still whispering at the borders of my mind.

This has been the longest I have spent outside of an active division, outside of the military. Still I am in command, and now I have command of it all! Yet it is not the same as spending my days in uniform, planning, flying, fighting... When I meet with Shilne I tell him of my jealousy and he laughs. This is what I had wanted... However it is different than what I had imagined it might be.

High Commander Aiwulan is keeping himself and his troops busy with the human borders along with Banrek out at the Ministry of Information. With their efforts combined with rotating border support troops, I am left with little need to speak with any of them and this is good medicine indeed for keeping the old voices quieter... But not silent. I find myself prodding at them like an old wound, testing to see how far I can press before they press back. I want to find their boundaries, and the limits of my new found ability to suppress them, resist them.

The best way to do this is to spend some of my idle hours focusing on my past, my lost and fragmented memories of youth. It is something that I regret indeed, not having had the time to find more of my memories before returning from Vidon to ensure my Imperial rule. The memories of my mother serve to elicit the greatest response from my harassing mental friends. They do not want to have me remember better times, to remember my time with her. Perhaps this is because my parent bond was strongest with her, far stronger than my bond to my father.

They and my uncles Miakuranai and Tyonichunai were the only people I had made bond with. When Uncle Tyo went to the Gods I remember having such a hollow feeling inside of me as I stood beside his still and silent body before they set light to his funeral pyre. There was something missing from him, and that was the bond. He was gone and so was it.

When my mother passed I felt it in an entirely different way. The change from warm, living bond to vast emptiness. It was a thousandfold what I had felt from Tyo's passing.

Then with father's passing I sat beside him and watched every breath he took, just waiting for that feeling to come to me. I wondered how strong it would be, or if I would feel it at all. It did come to me, much as I wanted it not to, yet it was not nearly the same depth as that of my mother's passing. And too, much of that feeling was overshadowed by my anger. I have a hope that when the time comes my own son will not sit beside me, cursing my every breath and wishing me to hurry into the final fire.

In this prodding way I have regained a few more memories of my mother though never quite whole images. I remember her hair—a golden type of brown—and her eyes—a strange human green. I remember her worry over my first youth swordplay competition at the Kaitenshi. This particular memory has changed as I have dwelled upon it. I remembered before that my mother was helping me on with my body armor before the final contest of the day. Now I remember clearly that it was my father.

"Suku meh... I know your mama tells you that it is not most important to win every game, nnh?"

"Yes, father."

"She is correct. It is important that you do the best that you can. It is important that you enjoy what you do. It is important that you learn from what you do. Learn from your opponent. Learn from yourself."

"Yes, father."

He smiled slowly, "Yet... I would enjoy seeing you defeat Maienshin's boy."

"I would enjoy that too, father." I smiled in return. "I will beat him."

"Perhaps you will. You have done very well today and I am proud of you."

"I know."

Father finished the work on the armor then presented my sword to me.

"Enjoy yourself then."

"I will."

I beat young Etauku easily. His fighting was poor for he was so worried that he might lose to me. He fought from fear. Father was pleased as the end bell rang and pulled me away from my prey to calm me before I could injure him further. I wanted to see more of his blood for all of the insults that had been heaped upon my shoulders over my few years. This much I remember.

As I dwelled again upon this moment I found my peace being broken by a message from Banrek at the Ministry of Information.

"Majesty... I am sorry to interrupt you after so long a silence from our corner of the Empire... Yet you had said you wanted to be informed of all things Altean..."

"What is it?" I sat up from my relaxed posture, having been in the midst of preparing to sleep for the night.

"Hnn... How to describe it..." He tapped his fingers on the console.

"Begin to say something." I smirked.

"I will tell you the end of the story first... We have the Lieutenant of the Altean Princess' personal security team."

"Have you? How did you manage that?"

"Not myself." He chuckled, "He was adrift in a small ship coming toward the border. The border patrol intercepted him as he crossed and Aiwulan informed me."

"I see... What has been done with him?"

"Nothing. He sits now in his ship, complaining." He chuckled. "Do you wish to speak to him before we send him back from whence he came? He seems eager to have words with you."

"If I must."

"It is your choice, my lord."

"Very well... Connect him."

"Quickly quickly." He nodded and closed the channel.

I leaned forward, reaching for a box of smokes to partake in while sorting through this little diversion.

I cannot have peace from the humans. When I think I am rid of them, they pull me back into their borders no matter how often they had told me to keep out.

As I was drawing in my first mouthful of smoke the communication console lit again and a face appeared before me... A human male face with eyes closed, mouth slightly open. For a moment I thought him dead until he began to snore.

"Young Lieutenant..." I spoke, jarring him out of his sleep with a snort.

"Mnnh? Uhgghh... Man, you people have the worst timing. I was having this great dream..." He yawned and stretched leisurely before looking toward his view screen. "Oh hey... What's up, Prince Jack of Ass?" He smiled, amused by his own humor.

"Your time, apparently. Still filled with jokes even so."

"Is this blab session going to be long? I'm starved."

"Hnnn... What are you doing heading into our territory, fool?"

"Well, ya see it's like this..." He sat up a bit more, "I'm a curious kinda guy... And when an entire race of people—who had been regularly taking pot-shots at us—suddenly closes shop after just about destroying the planet I happen to keep all my stuff on... I get that itch. Yanno? I wanna know what's up. Whatcha doing? What's goin' down. What's new, blue?"

"Your mind has left you. That is not new. Being curious is not a good reason to lose your life."

"Yeah, well... Hindsight." He shrugged. "But enough about me... Do you have any idea how much of a mess your last little party made? We're going to be cleaning up for years. And I mean years... Not to mention this winter sucked in every way possible."

"Wai wai, so it goes that we all face difficult times." But I felt an intense pang of guilt, for I had seen the damage that was done by my father's troops before they turned to face me and mine at Galrea, "You will sacrifice your life to complain to me of your misfortune? You do not have to stay there. You could easily return to your home world to rid yourself of the inconveniences you feel." At least I am amused by his scowl at my outward lack of caring.

"Dude, just lay off them, know what I mean? They had enough problems before you showed your ass up and started torching their crops. It's not like they're living the urban dream, they're living in the friggin' middle ages. You've put them back to the stone age. They're not just slim because they're all on diets. You getting my drift??"

I frowned at his increasingly hostile tone, "Lieutenant, have you seen our ships in your skies? No. Have you heard our words to you that we will not be returning? It seems you do not believe them if you have indeed heard them."

"That's not what the Alliance Central Command is saying."

"They do not always tell you what is true. Surely you must believe that. You should trust what your own eyes show you."

"Yeh yeh yeh." He huffed. "That's why I'm here. To have a look myself."

"So you have...Now turn around and go home before I change my mind about letting you live."

"I would and all... But you see, I have a little problem."

"And that is?"

"I gots no go juice. No voom voom. I'm dead in the water. Savvy?"

"Your ship will not move..." I summarized from his assortment of odd words.

"Bingo. See, I thought I would just kinda send myself this way and cut all the engines, just use a little juice here and there to keep on track... Just drift on through unnoticed to see what you all were up to. Problem is... When I shut it down to start the silent drifting idea... It wouldn't start again when I needed to shove myself in a different direction. So I've been floating along here, out of range of any help, expecting this to be my coffin. Hooo boy, it has been a load of fun."

"I see... Your sneaking has not served you well."

"This piece of crap ship has not served me well. So whattaya say, old buddy, old pal? I'll get off your porch if you gimmie a ride home?"

"I am not your friend... And you are a spy by your own admission so why should I help you?"

"Because I'm a hell of a guy?" He held up a thumb.

"Nnh... Perhaps I will have my men push your ship along into more hostile territory to amuse you."

"Oh hey... I've been amused enough for the past week. Believe me... How about dinner? I haven't had anything to eat in two days."

"You want me to feed you as well as help you?" I laughed. "You must think me very generous."

"Hell no, I don't think that. I just figure since I'm not dead yet I might as well shoot for the moon. Give a po' man a break."

I split the screen and brought up the lead of the contingent that had found him, "Sergeant... Tow his ship along to his home so that he may hail them and be rescued... Ensure that he is taken care of before your departure. I do not want to hear from the Alliance that his ship has crashed and that we are to blame. Do not speak to him and do not speak to them. Understood?"

"Yes, Majesty."

"Good... Lieutenant... I have some news for you."

"Lay it on me."

"You are going home."


"And further... I will not be feeding you."

"Dammit! C'mon man! I don't hold any grudges against you for trying to slit my throat all those times. You can drop the grudge against me for kicking your ass. I'm starving here!"

"Tch. Such an imagination... You have enough energy left to annoy me and so I have confidence that you will survive for another day while my men tow you back to your own territory."

"Yeah, but I won't be happy about it."

"I will find a way to live with that knowledge. Good journey, fool. Keep clear of our borders for I will not send you home alive again."

"Yeh yeh. Thanks fer nothing."

"You are so grateful. I am glad."

With that I closed the transmission, sitting and tapping my fingers on my desk for a moment before opening another channel to the Ministry of Information. The startled primary who answered my hail had a hard time keeping himself together to see to my request.

"Get me a secure channel to the Altean castle."

"Majesty... I do not know how to do that."

"Then fetch someone who can!"

"Yes, sire. Yes."

He bowed away and brought a sergeant who hurried about fulfilling my request. I waited while they hailed and finally a weary looking Colonial Minister responded to my calls to the castle. He snapped out of his tired expression at seeing my face before him again instead of the Alliance personnel whose signal was being copied in order to gain their answer.

"Forgive me for disturbing your sleep." I nodded to him.

"Why are you calling here?" He frowned.

"I mean to let you know that I am returning one of your people to you unharmed."

"What... What are you talking about?"

"Your young Alliance Lieutenant has crossed our borders with intent to spy. He is an irritating thing, however I am sure you would want to have him returned even so."

"I am not sure who you think you have but the Lieutenant is here. He has taken some time to himself to go on a... hiking trip..." His speech slowed with his realization that he had been lied to.

"He has not been hiking." I smirked. "He has been drifting toward our borders in silent run, hoping to avoid detection. His craft failed him in his scheme and so my men are towing him back toward your space. You will have to dispatch personnel to retrieve him for his ship is not capable of landing on its own."

"I see."

"Perhaps you will have a few words with him, nnh? I can guarantee that should he or any other of your curious Alliance brats come across the border that they will not be returned again. I have many ways to make a man regret his curiosity. Believe me that none of them end with their continued breathing."

"Understood. What brings this rather giving mood? I am surprised that you did not keep him."

"After speaking with him for a while I thought to send him back. He has the best interest of your people inside of his actions, no matter how foolish he is. I have some respect for that. More so than I have annoyance. It would be a shame to end him when I am certain he has far more entertainment for you, neh?"

"Most likely." He agreed.

"Then do me a kind favor and fill him with your anger for his deceiving you."

"I will indeed. Thank you for your patience. I know that it is a rare thing."

"Do not fill me with compliments, good Minister. I find it confusing." I chuckled, "They will hail you when they are in range. I will assume you have the honor to leave my men in peace when they return yours."

"Of course."

"With that said, good night."

"Good night then, Prince. And thank you again."

I closed the channel then, having enjoyed my few moments of entertainment though they brought me much discomfort over the next few days. Speaking with them brought more memories, more deep dreams and more voices...

Quite often now Hanta finds me asleep when she comes to bring me more work—half laid out upon my desk amidst piles of paper—and has to wake me enough to send me to my bed. I am always dreaming of the past. Sometimes I wake with a start, thinking my father still alive and myself still locked to his will. Not the most pleasant of dreams...There are others that I enjoy much more, though I often find them troubling in their own ways.

As the sun begins to set on another day I find myself drifting into one of these dreams while still half awake. The palace staff has been out cutting the long grass in the courtyards again. Its aroma has been drifting through my windows and the open doors to the balcony all the while I have worked. It is a soothing scent, mixed with the warmth of the early summer evening and the angle of the sun upon the planet... There I lay my head down on my folded arms, sighing as I look across a landscape of paper and wire. Shortly the last bells of the day will begin to chime. I believe that I will have long since fallen to sleeping before they carry their last sounds to the city below.

My thoughts are on the music that has been playing on my katsuna as I have worked on this late afternoon. It is the same music I had been listening to shortly after my first failed journey to Altea to claim that world for the Empire and for my own holdings. My return to that human held planet had been to satisfy my curiosity as to the fertility of the soil. I went to gather samples of it to return to my long-time friends at the Avasjan Sciences Ministry and also to have a closer look at this world that I felt would shortly be under my authority.

It was—and still is—quite a pretty little planet, overflowing with plant life of all kinds, yet the humans that reside there seem to have problems sustaining their crops. Perhaps it is due to their planting human vegetation on a non-human world. I mused over this arrogance that might kill them as I wandered in the forest, collecting as many samples of plant life and soil as possible.

Shilne was quite irritated with me for going down to the surface by myself, but I was in the mood for a bit of danger that day and my ego would not keep me from what I felt would surely be my prize. My prize complete with a human workforce to grow native crops that would feed our people—a tidy revenge for the human occupation of Mycenea.

I smirked as I walked about under the green canopy, laughing to myself at their poor defenses and antiquated warning systems. I had easily flown into their airspace undetected and landed quite boldly near their government hub—the massive castle whose spires only just breached the tree line from my view down here on the ground. I moved only far enough away from my craft that I could still hear the music I had turned on to keep me company while I dug about in the underbrush.

It was a late summer afternoon on Altea and the sun was angling down sharply, drawing crisp shadows. The air had the slight scent of the coming fall in it. A perfect day indeed, just slightly humid so that my lungs were quite happy to breathe in this mixture of oxygen without any odd feelings coming of it.

I had been there for almost two of their hours when I heard a rustling from the underbrush and stood up to take notice of it further. It was no small animal that was picking its way through the forest that fine afternoon. Not from the sound of it at any rate... I wondered if there was any native animal large enough and hostile enough to pose a threat to me. No matter... I thought I could use a good fight that day and felt more than energetic enough to meet all foes. I decided to go have a look rather than wait for it to seek me out by my strange scent.

I crept up on the noise carefully, knowing that I should not take for granted that I was more powerful than whatever it was I was going to find... My concerns were quickly washed from my mind as I viewed the potentially dangerous creature working its way through the brambles. I grinned. What luck! I had happened upon my favorite little human colonial Princess.

I thought to make for her immediately and then thought again. Her guard may have been close by... I made a good circle about her as quietly as I could and found that she had wandered off on her own. Not a very intelligent thing to do in a time of war.

I laughed inwardly and worked my way toward her quietly, wondering where she was going with such a look of interest on her face. I sorted it out soon enough as she was listening and changing her direction... She had heard the music from my craft and come to investigate. She must have already been in the forest when she noticed it.

"A little bit of exercise for her? How could her guard leave her on her own even so?"

And then I recalled that I too was in these alien woods as royalty alone and it caused me to frown. I was picking at her for behaving as I did. Interesting...

She was almost to the verge of the clearing where my cruiser was resting and so I caught up to her quickly, soundlessly. I could almost taste her, I was so close... And then she pushed aside the last branch that separated her view from my craft... She was startled indeed and gasped, taking a step back and letting the branch fall back into place.

"Oh no..." She breathed, her little cream colored hand going to her mouth.

She must have been frantic, thinking that there were Imperial warriors in the area and she there on her own. Ah, it was so exciting, the little game I was having. Soon the game would be over though... She turned to go back the way she had come and turned directly into me, jumping back with a shriek. Her blue eyes were enormous at the sight of me! Before she could gather her wits to run I grasped her wrist, wrenching her arm upward to prevent her escape and her ability to strike at me.

"Yaisht, Princess." I greeted her, a fantastic grin crossing my face.

"Let me go!!" She shrieked. "My guards are right behind me!"

"A lie." I said, working on my human words, "I have seen there are none. We wait for them perhaps?"

I laughed at her frantic expression and then she began to struggle in earnest, trying to pull her arm down to her side again. She did not even have a weapon with her! What luck!

She was hardly any weight compared me and I tugged hard on her arm, pulling her against me, "So small, humans." I was delighted by the feeling of her and lifted her up though she struggled still. Eye to eye with me she stilled, her feet hanging above the ground. She seemed to have stopped breathing and her look was one of utter shock and horror. "Nnnh..." I tilted my head, examining her closely for the first time. Those strange blue eyes began to overflow with tears and she pushed against my chest, trying with what strength she had to free herself from me. Her fear had sapped her will to struggle and stolen a good bit of her energy.

I took her to a nearby fallen tree and set her feet there, still holding her tightly against me... Then I took her with one hand by the jaw and throat, feeling her rapid pulse and her tears against my fingers. I turned her head to the side, curious about her strange ears, her cream colored skin and golden hair. It was all up on the back of her head that day. I held her jaw more firmly and my other arm released her body. With my free hand I found the pins that held her hair and pulled them out, causing a wave of silken hair to flow down her back... Ahhh... So beautiful... So young... So untouched...

She tried to turn her head back to face me but I held her still while I just looked her over. I had not been so close to a human in a long while and she fascinated me. She was full of fire and will and I felt washed over by her presence, much as I did when first I saw her. Now that I had her alone there was nothing to stop me from trying to figure out what caused these strange feelings. My arm returned to holding her against me as I enjoyed the new view of her. My hold did not slack but my hand trailed down past the small of her back, causing a new outburst as it reached softness.

"Nooo! Stop it!!" She wailed, renewing her struggling as I pulled her tightly against me again.

"Tsssshhh. Stop your noise." I said to her, watching her eyes squeeze shut. She knew she was beaten and that excited me to no end. For all of her fire and anger there was nothing she could do to escape me... I leaned in to her throat and took a deep breath of her. A low growl escaped my throat, "So beautiful..." I said to her in southern.

"I don't understand you! Oh God... What are you doing??"

Even I was not completely sure... She moved me... I wanted her... I wanted her to be mine and I held her to me possessively, pulling her face closer to take in the scent of her hair better. When her world became mine she would also be mine, she would serve me as I wished, she would be my favorite slave. I would have made her a queen, yet she would refuse me. She would be mine even so. I felt myself beginning to salivate at the thought of taking her to her womanhood. Amazing... I wanted her so much... Just from the closeness... She was so warm in my arms...

I felt my lips parting, my eyes fading shut, my breath coming deeply as I tasted her sweet scent on the roof of my mouth, noting every subtle nuance of her, absorbing every detail of her. From that moment on, her scent would be a part of my being. I would never forget its sweetness.

"What am I doing??"

Fighting with myself to stop... My entire being ached to taste bond with her... To take her into me... To give myself to her.

"Mine... She is mine!... I am hers... Hers... Only for her... Stop!!"

I drew my breath sharply in surprise as I broke free of the trance-like state of bonding that I had begun to lose myself to, releasing her jaw. Her face slowly turned back to mine. Such a look on her! She was angry and terrified and all at once. Her tears came in abundance and I could feel that my grin had long since faded from my face... I did not like this... Those beautiful blue eyes... I wanted them to look upon me with desire, not fear.

There were no words spoken as I stood there face to face with her. There was only the sound of the breeze in the leaves, the music that drifted from my craft over in the clearing, her rapid breathing, the pounding of my heart... My hand that had held her jaw now reached for her and my fingers smoothed away her tears. This seemed only to make her cry more...

"Stop being afraid of me..."

How could I expect that she would? I had stalked up on her and grabbed her, holding her against her will... A torrent of emotion rushed through me the likes of which I had never experienced.

"Please... Don't hurt me." She begged softly, her fear winning over her anger.

She trembled in my arms as I felt that powerful heat cascading through me... Waves upon waves of the strangest feelings... I could have just picked her up and carried her off to my waiting cruiser... Instead I stopped touching her face and my arm slacked about her middle... She did not move from against me and momentarily I felt a bliss in this added to the sheer wonder of all the emotion that was racing through me.

"Let me go..." She whispered but it was like a scream to me.

She was unarmed and yet she had won our strange battle. I lifted her from the fallen tree and set her feet back on the ground... Looking down upon her, still breathing in her scent, fighting my bonding urge, taking in the beauty of her... I released her completely and she stood there in shock, looking up at me and shaking. My heart was pounding inside my chest as though it would come loose.

"Go." I said to her, not meaning the words I had forced out of myself. She drew her breath in surprise, not sure if I was having a joke with her, "Go home." I told her and took a step back. "Come back to my arms..."

She stopped cringing and stood up straight, looking up at me for a good while. I wondered what was going on in her mind. This was not what she expected. Certainly she thought I would take her against her will... And I could have.

No... I could not have. As I stood there I realized I could never harm her... I love her. That is the power she has over me, the feelings that only she has brought to me.

Finally she took a few steps away then turned and hurried away from me for a little way... Then she turned again, looking back at me. Did she expect me to follow her?

"Hurry along little one... I will be back for you... One day."

Then she was gone back into the forest leaving me to stand there mute, overwhelmed by what had happened. My little bit of fun had turned into a lifetime of wanting what I could not have. Her love.

I did not have much time to ponder what had happened for the battleships of her people came flying over looking for me. I ran for my cruiser and launched, having no troubles dodging them even with so full a mind. I took a low flight past the castle, seeing her standing there and looking up...

I wake from the dream in my pile of papers, eyes half stuck shut from pathetic sadness. I can still taste her... I can taste her scent. It is as though she has been in my dream with me. I breathe in deeply, trying to keep that feeling, trying to keep her with me in this only way that I have left... And it too is leaving me rapidly. Perhaps my Diya is correct in the end. I am weak for at least this one thing. This one human.

I raise my head slowly and sigh. These dreams have been coming to me so strongly since my return to find my father dying. I have never had dreams like this before and it seems that either I am dreaming in this very real way or not at all. There is no middle ground.

I get up from my desk and go to the bath, splashing some water on my face and rubbing the stick from my eyes then lean there looking at myself with a frown. "What dreams a fool has..." I remark to my reflection, but still I feel these things.

A knock comes to the outer doors.

"Enter!" I call and hear them open.

Hanta has come for me, likely to see if I am sleeping again. She instead finds me leaning there and staring at myself in the reflecting pane.

"What are you doing there? I should be finding you sleeping!"

"Just staring at myself and trying to sort through what I have in my head, Hanta."

"You will be staring for a long while then, my King." She laughs.

I turn my head and frown at her instead of at myself for a while, "Saich... How you talk to your King... Shameful." I stand again and return to the main room, selecting a bottle of wine to pour a glass for myself.

Hanta begins busying herself with tidying some of my mess and laying out my evening attire. I lean against the wall by the doors to the balcony, watching her for a while.

"Gods, what a mess this place is. What is all of this?" She holds up some of the wire she has found on my desk.

"From my cruiser project of the morning... Young Damanu has decided for himself that he will become a flight engineer. To that end he has been sending suggestions as to how I might achieve better performance for my pyaton. So far, he has been correct in every instance. I work his small projects to the bigger ones as I see he knows what he speaks of."

"Wonderful. I am glad to hear he is doing so well." She smiles approvingly for a moment, "It looks as though you have brought the whole pyaton in here to work on!"

"Nnh..." My thoughts drift back to my dreams and the lingering feelings, "Hanta... Have you ever..." I stop as she looks up from her work in my direction, "Ahhlll... Never mind it." I look into my glass instead of her curious face.

"What is it?" She asks, "Finish your thought. It seems to be weighing on you."

"It is nothing. I think I am still stuck in my dreams." I sigh then chase it by taking a long drink, finishing what I have only just poured.

"I hope that you can swim, Baika." She laughs as she comes and takes the empty glass from me.

"Nnh? What is that meaning?"

"The supports in the bridge are weak, my lord. You may fall in."

I furrow my brow, "More of your northern strangeness. Why are you northerners so fond of your strange allusions?"

"We are more intellectual than southerners." She punctuates her insult with a sweet smile, "It is a saying that equates your mental state with a bridge and can be used in many ways... The bridge may perhaps be missing parts, or broken, or just stretching too far across a body of water for its own good... And so you have a risk of breaking and falling in... Falling in over your head if you cannot swim. Understand?"

"Perhaps you should speak more slowly for my benefit as I am so stupid." I mutter out of sarcasm, turning my gaze toward the outside.

"Gods you are grumpy when you wake up." She shakes her head, refills my glass then returns it to my hand. "I know you have been sleeping. Your hair is a mess."

"And you are filled with smiles." I ignore her comment about my appearance, watching the trees bend slightly in the breeze.

"I am happy to be home with Yuki again."

"And how is he?"

"Very well. He finally believes that I will be home a good deal more now that you have decided to move yourself to Manaleh. He is happier day by day as I remain on a regular schedule."

"Perhaps you are mistaking his terror for happiness." I turn toward her to give her a smirk.

"Very grumpy." She makes a face. "You can ask him yourself when he comes to bring me home tonight."

"How very sweet." I sneer.

"Ahhlll... Grumpy and jealous both."

"I am hardly jealous. I have enough on my mind without that."

"So what was your question to me?"

"Nothing at all." I wave her off. "Have you ever loved someone you hardly knew?" I ask the question in my mind to at least give my thought completion.

"Frustrating thing... Come and sit so we can go over your schedule for the morning."

We sit for a time doing just that until Hanta's katsuna chimes and she clicks it open.

"Yuki-ii." She smiles, "Please allow his entry, Talahnd." She instructs the guard at the gate.

"As you wish."

Her husband now joins us, bowing low to me. He was a sub-commander in the 48th division before returning here to become a section commander in the Namidan Enforcers—the civilian local defense. He seems happy with it indeed.

"Hello again, Yukishanai. Rise." I release him from his bow.

"It is good to see you again. Thank you for deciding to change your residence."

"It was all done for you." I laugh and Yuki smiles.

"Of course. You are always thinking of me, Majesty." He pulls his long white hair back into a tie after removing his gloves. He is done for the day and ready to be civilian.

"How goes your new profession?"

"Well indeed. I enjoy working with daily people rather than being constantly surrounded by military. It is a good change to rescue pets from trees and catch petty thieves then go home at the end of the day and watch the news feeds."

"You have grown lazy, Yuki."

"Hardly that! Working with the civilian population has its own set of challenges."

"I can imagine...Your wife has been telling me more of those strange northern allusions. Do you understand them?"

"After so many years, I begin to recognize what she means." He nods and smiles at his wife. "Are you finished here?"

"I am I believe. Baika?"

"Go home." I smile at her as well and they leave together.

I go to the balcony that faces the courtyard and lean there with my wine, watching them now crossing to the front gates. Yuki and Hanta, the perfect pairing. A southern man and northern woman. They have been like glue for years upon years.

When first I had taken her into my service, she was still in her training at the university part of the time. That is where she and Yuki had met for he was in the military academy that shares ground with the university. I was young and overly confident of myself, always seeking out the challenge of pressing my chances with women. I sought to make Yuki nervous, often engaging in flirtations with Hanta even before his face. She was only just finding her confidence with my poor behavior and was not certain of how to be polite to her royalty but tell me to stop.

Yuki came to me in a fury one evening. He had come to walk his intended back to the university residences only to find me making her uncomfortable by playing at flirting with her. Suddenly he became quite bold and told her to wait for him outside my rooms. I could tell that she was afraid of what would happen but went on her way as he asked. At that time Yuki forgot to care that I was his Prince and warned me that she was his love and that he would not tolerate my playing with her.

"... You may be a Prince, but she is my love and she will be my wife. I will fight you to the death for that fact. Do you wish it, young lord? Will you find me before you in combat? Or will you leave her be and keep mindful that she is your advisor only??"

"You take my casual flirtations poorly, Yuki. You should allow your Prince his fun."

"It may be fun for you, but it troubles her. You will stop!!"

"Very well." I nodded, "I will bother her no further. I am sorry I have upset her. I have pressed my chances."

"That you have. You will apologize to her."

"I will."

I had never seen such a look of determination on a man's face. At first I had felt he was foolhardy to face me in that way, but then I found my respect for him. From then things settled. She and Yuki married only 40 days from their first meeting and never have they wished to part.

I envy them this night as I watch them walk away together to go to their home. In my own way I have envied them for a long while. Instead of going home to a wife, I will simply find myself looking over a schedule of events for the next day and falling into an empty bed.

Shortly there I lay, wearing the clothing Hanta had laid out before her departure, my back raised by pillows and reading my work for the day that will come. The sounds of the summer night filter in through the windows and the doors to the balcony. I can hear the echoes of conversation every now and again from the courtyard below and then the palace guard hushing the voices, so that their king might have his rest. This place is comforting indeed.

Work done, I turn my katsuna toward the Imperial news feeds and then toward the human news feeds. They think that we cannot see their signals and we let them keep that illusion of security... I scan the feeds in their strange characters to find what I would like to torture myself with that night. There she is, meeting with visiting members of the Alliance and 'royalty' of several human kept worlds. Her face has taken on a more serious look in some ways—I presume from having taken in the death of her father two seasons earlier—yet she still keeps her gentle and sweet posture and expressions. Perhaps I am mistaking seriousness for maturity...

All the same, she is beautiful to me and though I know so very little of her full personality, I desire her for my wife and companion. I want to have her smile upon me as the sun fades and we return to our home together. An Imperial warrior male desiring a human colonial princess... No matter how much time will pass I fear she will always have this effect upon me. I wonder how she would feel if she knew... This would likely not matter to her as she surely blames me for the death of her father—her last remaining parent and relative too it seems. No amount of change that I have made in my way of thinking or my actions can make amends for that.

I switch to the imperial repeater that we have placed on her borders, looking down upon her world with fascination.

"Why do I torture myself so? Hnn, because it is better than the torture of not seeing her at all..."

What fortune. There she is on the landing pads outside of her castle. She looks to be ready to take a flight with some of her pilots. I am strangely proud that she has taken to flight and combat instead of becoming just an ornament for a throne. She is certainly not a typical Princess. I have often enjoyed being shot at by her when I had come down to her world to play at the flirtation of annoying her and her people with my presence... Just to remind them that I could come and go there as I pleased...

The skip point we have set up on the dark side of their moon has been of great use over the years. While Altea is one of the closest human occupied worlds to our borders, it is still far in distance. The skip point makes us far more like neighbors. Going to bother her is a short trip. I smirk and think to pay a visit.

Make her yours. She defied you. She refused you. Make her bow to you. Make her your slave. Take her to you and then throw her away. You are King now. Emperor of all the Nations. You are deserving of your pleasures. She is nothing. Just a stupid little human girl.

I squeeze my eyes shut against the dark voices that have suddenly overrun the well-guarded borders of my mind. I find that I am standing once I open my eyes and half way to my chamber doors. I have made to go for my cruiser to follow the voices that are still murmuring in the corners of my mind and steal her from her world.

"... You think you have bested me, boy... You have only carried on in my place." A flash of father comes to my mind to make things more difficult. Memories of the last time I had seen him alive and well, there as he had glared up at me from his defeated posture on the command deck of his prized flagship. "Nothing will change, just the face." He sneered, "Those dark voices that call me call to you just the same... I can see them behind your eyes even now... Their familiar tones tell you of your new power. Comforting are they not?"

Every muscle in my body is fighting against each the other. A shudder cascades through me as I fight to relax, fight to release my locked jaw.

"No... No... I am..." I growl, staring across the room to the shelf where his ashes are, "Whatever you are... hiding inside of me... I know you now. I know you are a coward. You will not give me a throat to grasp or a piece of flesh to strike at... Whatever seed you may be of that witch and my own failings... You will not win... I will never fall to a coward who whispers just out of reach from the shadows. Never."

It takes a long moment before I recover myself enough to return to my bedside, still feeling shaken, aching all over. I have come so far... But not far enough it seems. They are coming more loudly for me as the days pass. I need to keep my focus, my strength, or they will wash over me. I must let my hunger for my lost memories and things from the past go for the time being, or lose myself too.

I look to the katsuna where it is laying in the sheets I have disturbed in my haste to leave. She is still in view. Her face turns to the sky with a smile and suddenly I feel as though she knows I am watching. The sick feeling inside recedes from me, the voices go quiet.

"Gods, you are beautiful..." I stop my torture with capturing that image and then click my katsuna shut, "Curse those who ever invented the Katsun."

I toss it onto the table beside my bed and settle in for the evening. Whether or not I will ever see her in the flesh again, I have a determination to live a life that she would be proud of my having.

On to 18