Author's Notes: This is taking me so long to write, mostly because I have writer's block. Evil thing...=.o=; And yeah, a lot of this stuff sounds Japanese, 'cause, well, it _is_. I borrow heavily from their culture, both legends and history, and even a few elements from anime, manga and a couple videogames. But don't worry, _that's_ not blatantly obvious. Anyway, everything here's mine. No takie.

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The Starchild Saga: Book One: Aijiyoh

Chapter One

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Princess Haruken, even at a young age, grew to resemble her mother in more ways than one. Like Payotrani, her wings were fully mature at only two years of age. When the Queen was sure of this, she immediately started her daughter in lessons, and was amazed at the rate at which the girl learned. Haruken was performing aerial tricks within two months from the start of her training. Briane, who had stayed in Kiohto to tutor the Princess in Spirit magic, claimed the girl was a natural.

But flying wasn't the only skill Haruken was quick to learn. As the years passed, she seemed to absorb the knowledge provided her by her instructors like a sponge. Even the spells the inu taught her were mastered within days. Payotrani was kept content with the news of her daughter's progress, and when the girl reached the age of four, she was enrolled in Boreas's public schooling program.

~*~*~

When Payotrani came into power, she had insisted on many changes. One of which involved the education of her people. Not only would all children between ages four and eighteen be educated--not just the nobility's offspring--but the children would not be separated by rank or class within the classroom.

The Queen had decreed such a law for her future daughter, to teach her early to respect her future subjects, and know what would be best for them. It also helped to give a sense of equality, avoiding conflicts between the upper and lower classes. It was a revolutionary step, as traditionally, Boreas was a strict nation of class, but over time, most of the population eventually gave way to the idea.

Yet, despite her mother's efforts, young Haruken still remained separate from her peers in one way--her wings. She and her mother were the only mortal beings with the ability to fly, and as a result, the other children shared a dangerous envy of the royal line's exclusive gift. In spite of her rank, Haruken was ostracized and persecuted, just for being different.

At the age of seven, Haruken was placed among the adolescent students. Although it contented her mother, Haruken felt out of place. Her feelings were confirmed one rainy day, when a gang of Draconian boys decided to attack.

~*~*~

It had been raining all that afternoon, which hadn't helped Haruken's already-sour mood. She'd been struggling, for once, with the arithmetic lessons, and once more, a few nastier human boys had taunted her at noonmeal. By the time the last lesson of the day had dismissed, and she was returning to the palace from the schoolhouse nearby, she in no mood to deal with anyone. When the Draconians surrounded her in an alley between the schoolhouse and the palace walls, she stood ready for a fight--though, she wasn't battle-trained yet.

" 'Ere she is," growled one, a giant, misshapen brute. While all Draconians were reptilian beings that walked on their hindlegs, he was perhaps the ugliest of his kind. "Pretty, pretty princess."

"Thinks she's too good fer us, she does," added another, perhaps the polar opposite of the giant, with spindly legs and a long, whip-like tail.

"Perhaps I should call the Guard and inform them that two of the animals escaped from the menagerie," Haruken mused aloud, looking to each of them.

"Ye think yer so intelligent," snapped the leader, more of a toad than a reptile. He was wider than he was tall, with buggish eyes and a wide snout, and a short, thick tail. "Smarter'n us, are ye? Princess or no, ye seem t' 'ave forgotten yer place; no _child_ c'n be smarter'n a man."

"Man?" Haruken glanced about. "Where, exactly? All I see are wild, mortal animals."

The toad, as she labeled him, narrowed his eyes. "Ye li'l wench! I don' care if yer th' Princess--ye'll learn what it is t' be smarter'n us!"

As the gang advanced, Haruken stood her ground. She eyed each of them disdainfully before one, the lizard, leapt toward her. Moving quickly, she struck out with her foot as she moved to the side, kicking at his midsection. Alone, without her Spirit powers, she wouldn't have been able to even faze him; but as it was, she directed a string of that power into her kick, and her would-be attacker was sent sprawling into two of his comrades. The others paused, now wary of the seemingly helpless child. Some glanced to the toad, who stood a safe distance away from the ring of lowborn gangsters. Haruken turned to him as well, glaring angrily.

He was staring wide-eyed at the Princess, but it didn't last long. "So, she's in contact wi' th' Spirits, is she? No matter." He pointed a swollen, short-clawed finger at her. "Get 'er! Don' kill 'er, but teach 'er 'er place, since she's fergot."

"And since when were foreigners authorized to dictate what royalty should and should not do?" Haruken snapped, her wings bristling with anger. "Since when were they allowed to 'teach me my place'?"

"Since yer mother came int' power," the toad replied confidently. "She's bin bendin' t' our will, goin' out o' 'er way t' make us 'appy--an' soon, she's goin' t' snap. Give us all th' power. A won'erful Queen, really."

Haruken narrowed her eyes. "You're wrong."

"No, actually; I've 'eard me father say jes th' same thing. Payotrani will fail--"

"_No!_"

Haruken flung herself past the giant who had first spoken, and tackled the toad. She pinned him with her weight--increased by her magic-- and immediately began to pummel his face, feeding her blows with her magic. It wasn't until she'd exhausted her power that she let up--but by that time, the toad's head was nothing more than a bloody pulp.

She sat back, horrified. Her hands ached, and felt dirty. When she looked down at them, she nearly retched; they were soaked in blood, both the toad's and her own-she'd split open her knuckles with the force of her blows. The gangsters behind her took several steps back before fleeing for their lives.

"What have I done...?"

~*~*~

A patrolling Guard, a human by the name of Alexander, found her. A seasoned man of nearly forty, he'd been Captain of the Northern Quarter for a little over twenty years. Before that, he'd fought in many bloody campaigns at Dragon Fort, on the border of Boreas and Draco. But nothing could prepare him for the sight that greeted him that wet afternoon in the alley.

The Princess was sitting atop a headless Draconian corpse, spattered in blood, with eyes as round as saucers. Her hands were soaked in it, and she was as white as new-fallen snow. Alexander froze in his tracks as soon as he spotted her, his heart leaping into his throat--his stomach, as well, once he saw _why_ the corpse was headless.

When Alexander found his voice, he spoke. His voice caught, and he tried again. "Princess, what...happened here?" he inquired softly. His heart leapt again when she turned her fearful eyes to him.

"I...didn't kill him...did I?" Her voice was hardly more than a whisper. "He's...still alive, right?"

"Let me take a look," he replied. She stood shakily, and he knelt beside the corpse and her, wincing at the sight. The bloody mush attached to the neck was unrecognizable as a Draconian; in all the campaigns he'd been through, he'd never seen anything so gruesome. He looked to the girl-- for behind the title, she was only a child--and spoke hesitantly.

"I'm...afraid you did, lass," he told her, as gently as he could. She squeaked, and tears began to pick their way along her cheeks. But she took a deep breath, probably swallowing her fear. He admired her strength; he knew many men unable to do the same.

She explained the ordeal with a steady voice, though he could see she was torn inside. When she finished, she wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her robes. "I couldn't stand it...they wanted to hurt me. So I retaliated..."

"Do you know who these boys were?" Alexander had a feeling _he_ did; even if she didn't, but could describe them accurately enough, he'd have them.

"No," she admitted. "But they were all Draconians. This one looked more like a toad before...before I--" She shook her head. "There was one that was just a lizard with clothes on, and another was huge."

"Sons of the Draconian Sympathy Group," he confirmed, nodding. "Only those little bastards'd be brave enough to attack you." He smiled softly, his heart and stomach finally settling, and patted her head. "Don't worry, Princess. We'll catch them and have them hung." He took her up into his arms, lifting her as he stood again. "Come on; I'll take you back to the Palace, and explain to your mother what happened."

"I won't get into any trouble, will I?" Haruken asked, her reddish- brown eyes looking to him with residual fear.

He chuckled. "Not at all, Princess," he assured her. "You acted in self-defense; you can't be punished for that, especially since you're the Princess." She relaxed visibly.

"What about him?" She glanced back to the headless mass behind them.

"I'll alert the rest of the Guard and they'll clean it up." She nodded, and they returned to the palace.

~*~*~

The Draconian Sympathy Group, an elusive group dedicated to paving the way into Boreas for their northern brethren, was captured, and hung, as Alexander had said. Briane took it on herself to tutor Haruken in her lessons, and so the Princess remained in the Palace, unless with a Guard-- which, more often than not, was Alexander, by Haruken's request. Payotrani, when she could spare the time, aided the ookami in teaching her daughter.

Unfortunately, the peace only lasted a year before disaster struck.

~*~*~

It was midwinter of the following year when the Draconians attacked. Haruken's lessons had finished--they were completed at the end of summer-- and she had taken on some responsibilities from her mother. Payotrani was beginning to show her age at last; by the time Haruken would be of age to take the throne, Boreas would have lost its finest monarch in several centuries.

Howaito, the Warlord of Draco, wanted to make sure it lost its Queen sooner.

The attack began with the loss of several outposts and villages near the northern border, including Alexander's hometown of Dragon Fort. Despite the efforts of the Borean Army of Defense, the Draconian horde, far larger than Boreas's defenses, pushed further into the country. Payotrani, seeing that she had no choice, called upon the aid of her surrounding allies; Kyushu to the west, and Gaeas to the east.

In addition to the military aid, she made a special request of the Regent Syrike to foster her daughter in the protection of their fortified capitol until the Draconians were defeated. Despite Haruken's protests that she was old enough to fight, the Queen sent her off with Briane to Mirrikana, the capitol of Gaeas.

Unfortunately, that was the last the girl ever saw of her mother, for after she rode off on Briane's back, Payotrani was shot through the heart by a Draconian Captain's arrow. Another brought down Alexander.

The ookami was eventually forced to put her to sleep with a small touch of magic to calm her. But it slowed her down considerably, trying to keep the Princess on her back while flying several thousand feet above the ground. As such, it was easy for the same Captain to follow the monster wolf, intent on finishing off the ruling bloodline.

~*~*~

Haruken shivered, fluffing her wings against the cold wind that bit at her ears and face. Her tears were practically frozen to her cheeks; she'd seen her mother get shot, seen her lifeless body pulled inside the Palace. Soon after, Alexander followed. Briane had said nothing, but Haruken spent most of the flight after she awoke with her face buried into the ookami's fur. She'd only just cried herself out less than a mile from the Boreas-Gaeas border.

"We're almost safe," Briane assured her in the Spirits' language. "It'll only be a few moments longer before we're in friendly airspace." Haruken winced; she didn't like thinking of her home as enemy territory.

But suddenly, the ookami howled in rage and pain, both mentally and physically, faltering in midair. Haruken felt a bolt of panic shoot through her; Briane had been shot. She looked about the ground--which was moving rapidly towards them--and spotted the malicious grin of the same Draconian that had killed her mother and best friend. That panic was replaced by a burning hatred for the enemy of Boreas.

However, she barely had any time to roll off Briane's back before the ookami slammed headfirst into the snow-covered ground and rolled a few feet before laying still. Haruken could then see the arrow in her chest, staining her fur and the snow a bright crimson with her lifeblood. The Princess hurried over to her fallen guardian, dropping to her knees beside her.

"Briane!" she cried, shaking a sinewy shoulder. "Briane, wake up!"

One bloodred eye cracked open, turning an ice blue slit pupil towards her. "Haruken...you must...go east. It's...not far now."

"But what about you?" Fresh tears filled her eyes. "I don't want to go without you..."

"Don't worry...you'll make it." Briane pulled her lips back in the grimace only the Daiche family would have recognized as a smile. "Just...go. You'll be taken care of..."

"Briane, I..." Haruken choked back a sob, unable to continue.

"You'll have to," Briane replied sharply. "Listen...parts of the Starchild Clan are based here. They'll help you..."

The demonic eye slowly closed, and her chest stilled. Haruken, fearing the worst, gripped a fistful of fur in both hands and shook her violently. But there was no response; the ookami was dead. Her corpse dissolved into dust as her life-force left it completely, leaving only the arrow that had killed her.

Haruken, feeling very much alone and empty, lowered her head and wept.

~*~*~

"I think she's coming to, Father."

Haruken winced. Her whole body stung, but especially her face. Despite the warmth she realized was surrounding her, she couldn't stop shivering. But what met her eyes as she opened them slowly, stunned the thoughts of pain from her mind.

It was as if Payotrani had returned from the dead. The teen-aged girl standing over her would've been able to pass for the Borean Queen, if she were only a bit older, and possessed the wings of Boreas's ruling line. The only difference besides the wings was her eyes; this girl's eyes were a beautiful golden amber, shimmering with both concern and relief.

"Thank the gods you're awake," she breathed, smiling. Haruken tried to force her heart back into her chest from her throat. "We thought we would lose you; you were almost as frozen as the snow."

"Who are you?" Haruken squeaked. Her voice sounded very small.

"Oh, forgive me," the girl giggled. "My name is Ryrami, daughter of the Gaean Regent Syrike. Two of our scouts found you near our border, unconscious and half-frozen, and brought you to us."

"Home." Haruken shot bolt upright as her memory of the Draconian attack returned. "What's going on at home?"

Ryrami hesitated, but the younger girl's desperation to know of her home drove her on. "Well...the fighting's still going on. We hope to push the Draconians out of Kiohto, at least, within a few days." She looked apologetically to the younger Princess, who winced. "And your mother is dead, shot--"

"--by a Draconian, I know." Haruken lowered her head, holding back tears. "I turned back at the wrong moment and saw it."

She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder, and looked up into the sympathetic golden eyes of the Gaean Princess. "I know how you feel; I witnessed my mother's death as well," she said gently. Haruken just nodded numbly, clueless how to respond.

"So, she's awake at last," came a smooth, deep male voice from Haruken's right. The girl jumped, and turned to see a richly dressed young- looking man standing in a wide doorframe.

He was easily Ryrami's father. Their eyes were the same deep gold, and they had the same pointed chin. But he had rich flaxen hair reaching to his shoulders, and long bangs framing his handsome face. Haruken could see he was lean, but well muscled, with broad shoulders under a midnight blue silk tunic, and matching trousers. The tunic was tied at the waist by a sash matching a violet cloak of crushed velvet. He wore the only symbol of his office as a cloakpin, a gryphon and a dragon supporting the Gaean coat-of-arms--a golden nine-tailed fox rampant on a crimson field.

Ryrami smiled to her father. "She is." She turned to Haruken. "Princess, may I introduce my father, Regent Syrike, ruler of Gaeas."

"No, no, don't stand up, Princess." Syrike motioned for Haruken to stay where she was as she started to pull herself free from the thick furs. "You need to keep warm, lest you catch your death. As it is, Ryrami tells me you've developed pneumonia--not a serious case, but you'll be out of commission for a while."

"Thank you both for taking the trouble of fostering me," Haruken said softly. "My mother is dead, as is Briane Quickeye, an ookami and my mentor. Both were shot down by a Draconian arrow."

"So that's why the scouts found you alone," Syrike said. "My deepest sympathy."

"I'll live," she sighed. "But what will happen to me now?" Syrike smiled softly.

"You stay with us, at least until you're old enough to take your mother's place," he told her.

"Don't worry. I doubt it'll be much different than home, just a change of personnel," Ryrami said cheerfully. Then she stood, gently prodding the younger girl back down. "Now then, you get some rest. And you," she added, turning to her father. "You get out. I don't want _you_ getting sick, too."

Syrike chuckled. "Very well, very well." He smiled to Haruken. "Don't worry; once you recover, you'll be happy here." She nodded and he left

"Here now, drink this." Ryrami held a draught of _something_ to her lips. "It'll put you to sleep and help to fight the sickness." Haruken drank it down, wincing at the bitter taste.

As she drifted off to sleep, she felt Ryrami stroking her hair. "Sleep well, Princess. I'll watch over you. We'll all take care of you. That's a promise." Haruken managed to smile in reply before succumbing to darkness.