(Three years ago)

          The wagon approaching the town carried someone who had died.

          From the lookout tower located in the middle of the town called Vella, both Rihou Royaltine and his older sister, Naomi, could very clearly see the wagon coming down the forest road very clearly. At fifteen, Rihou was less than one year younger than Naomi, but he had always been the leader of the two. Most assumed them to be twins, particularly since they possessed identical chocolate colored eyes and hair and a nearly shocking beauty.

          Rihou, seeing the wagon, felt his stomach sink. It had been almost a year since his father, Divan, had gone to the Empire to help a friend. Word traveled fast, even into a small town of Foresalia. They all knew that the Empire was no more and was being replaced by the Republic of Taron. All whispered the story of the Kaiten Star.

          "Oh!" Naomi leaned out the window to see better, and Rihou hastily grabbed the back of her shorts to keep her from falling. "There are two people leading the wagon! Maybe they can tell us if they've seen Father!"

          "Considering they've got a dead person in that wagon, I sure hope not!" He hurried to the door and went down the stairs two at a time. Somehow, he knew what he would see. It happened infrequently that he would feel premonitions or have a sense of dread. He took it with the same cheer he faced life.

          But even he, who rolled with the punches, was brought up short in surprise when he realized just who pulled the wagon. Black hair, dark green eyes, a green scarf, and a Pure Relic. There was no mistaking the sight of Tyrian Donaldson, the Kaiten Star. The wagon stopped and Tyrian lifted a brow at him. Without hesitation, Rihou said, "Either your sense of direction is worse than mine, or you're exceptionally bored."

          Tyrian didn't immediately respond. Shock had taken his voice. Looking into this young man's eyes was like looking into a mirror. He could see the same iron will, same fierce glitter. "Who are you?" he asked softly.

          Rihou saluted lightly. "Rihou Royaltine. It's a mouthful, so just Rihou works. Ooph!" He eyed Naomi as she smacked him on the back. "This is my older sister, Naomi." He ducked another swipe. He knew she hated being called older when it was really not that big a gap.

          In a way, Tyrian found himself unsurprised by anything happening. His heart felt heavy as he swung down off his horse's back. "I'm Tyrian Donaldson," he said softly. "The monk is my wife, Cassie. Rihou . . . Naomi . . . I'm so sorry." His eyes closed. "In the final battle we fought against the Empire, your father threw himself over me to save my life."

          Naomi's mouth opened and then closed. Tears welled in her eyes as she looked at the wagon. "H-he . . ." Her lips trembled. She opened her mouth to say more, choked on the words, and ran away on a sob.

          Rihou's hands curled into fists at his side and then uncurled. "It . . . I can't say I'm surprised." His voice was quiet. "I mean, he was a general. He fought battles. You can't assume someone who does that is going to be safe." His chin lifted. "I don't blame you, Tyrian. I can't. It's just how Dad was. He didn't do things unless he wanted to. So if he wanted to protect you, that's what he did." He suddenly smiled. "Thank you for telling us. If anyone else had, I'd have wanted to kick your ass for not caring. But you do, so it's okay." He blew out a hard breath. "Shit. Naomi and I are only fifteen. We don't have any other family to stay with."

          "Both fifteen?" Cassie asked. "Twins?"

          "Nope." He shot her a cheeky grin. It was clear that he strove to act normal. Even while smiling, something lingered in his eyes that gave away his grief. It hurt her more than she had expected. "Dad called me a surprise. Mom called me a bonus birthday gift. I was born two months before Naomi turned a year old, so for two months, we're the same age."

          "Must be fun."

          "It can be." He lowered his gaze. "Mom is buried in the graveyard outside town. Dad would want to be with her. We need to talk to the mayor."

          It didn't take long for word to spread. It struck the entire town with grief. Divan Royaltine had been well loved by everyone. He had always had a smile, always had a joke. You could count on him to have your back in a bar fight or to lend you a few gold if you were short for taxes.

          A lot of families stepped up and offered to take Rihou and Naomi in, but it was the Luminarie family that received custody. Their son, Nick, was Rihou's best friend. They had grown up in each other's households, and the transition to living with them would be easiest for the new orphans. The siblings had already been staying with the Luminarie family while their father fought at war.

          Brother and sister, as it had always been, reacted in completely opposite reactions to the news. Naomi was inconsolable, nearly unable to stop crying. She stayed in her room in bed with her face buried in her pillows. Her friends tried to help, but there was no end to her grief. It almost seemed as if she cried for herself and her brother both for Rihou had never cried in his life.

          This was no exception. He went up into the lookout tower and stayed there. From ground level, he could be seen sitting on one of the window ledges. Vella, like ninety percent of Foresalia, was covered in trees, but there were none around the tower to block the view up or down. Many wanted to go talk to him, yet no one knew what to say. Rihou's eternal cheer had been dented, and it broke their hearts.

          Rihou was watching the sun roll across the sky when he heard steps on the stairs. He knew it was Tyrian even without looking. He could just feel it inside, like a little recognition of the power the other male possessed. "You know what Dad once said about your father?" Rihou asked.

          Tyrian sat down on another ledge. "What's that?"

          "'Sometimes you meet someone and feel that déjà vu meaning you've found a kindred spirit.'" He looked at Tyrian. "I think I understand what he meant. I guess I should be sort of awestruck at meeting some legendary hero, or at the least, I should be angry and raging that it was your country's war that killed Dad. But . . . I'm neither." He closed his eyes and leaned his head back. "Sort of don't know what the hell I'm feeling. I want to cry. It hurts so badly. But I just can't."

          "My father died in the war too." Tyrian closed his eyes. "To be specific, I had to kill him in a duel to save his life. He had been cursed. I couldn't cry either. My cousin, Marian, cried for me. When I heard Naomi, I had a feeling that was what happened. Sometimes those closest to us need us to be strong so that they can be weak. In return, they help us endure."

          "I think I'd rather bawl my eyes out."

          The Kaiten smiled rather wryly. "You and me both, friend." He got to his feet and walked over to the ledge Rihou was on. He sat down beside him and said, "There's no hostility between our lands anymore. So I think it would be acceptable for us to be friends, don't you? Because I didn't feel like I was meeting a stranger either. It actually felt like finding a long lost brother."

          Rihou knew, logically, that there were at least three years between their ages, but there was something ageless about Tyrian. And as Rihou had always felt exceptionally old inside for most of his life, it was a comforting feeling to meet someone who was the same way. "I always wanted an older brother," he admitted. "I love Naomi to death, but it's not the same."

          Tyrian offered his relic hand and smiled when Rihou clasped it. He could feel the little jolt all the way into his soul that meant he touched someone with a very great magical capacity. It wasn't a surprise. "I'll come through once and a while," he said. "Cassie and I are going to do a lot of traveling, so it might be a few years."

          "You've got eternity," Rihou said dryly. "Years are like days to you. Kindly come by before I'm too old to hold my own against you." He hopped to his feet with a precision grace born of a body in full control. "You use a staff, but I train with Nick all the time, so it won't bother me."

          "Oh, you're a combatant?" To be a combatant was to be trained to fight everything from wars to the monsters that roamed the world. The youngest a combatant could be was seven, and you had to be at least thirteen to engage in large-scale, military, combat. "What do you use?"

          "Tonfa." Rihou had left his weapon by the door and picked them up to show Tyrian. "You probably haven't heard of them. They're pretty exclusive to Foresalia, and even here, people don't use them much. I like them."

          The tonfa were wooden sticks with handles for gripping. When Rihou held them as if for battle, the face of the sticks went along the outsides of his arms.  He demonstrated a few moves, and Tyrian could see why they were rare. It took a lot of strength and coordination to swivel the 'blades' around to precisely the right angle for whatever was being attacked. He grinned briefly as Rihou twirled one so rapidly that it became a blur. "Now you're showing off."

          "Thanks for noticing." Rihou locked the two sticks together and equipped them on his back. Like most anyone else on Oriku, he took unthinking advantage of the magic in the land to do casual things. The tonfa were held on his back by the same invisible threads of magic that could also form invisible backpacks for carrying anything up to the size of a tent. A lot of combatants carried their weapons there since it took but a thought to get something out, but both Tyrian and Rihou knew that that single thought could be the difference between life and death.

          As evening fell, Rihou escorted Tyrian and Cassie to the end of town to see them off. He liked the monk as much as he liked Tyrian. She was calm and serene, a perfect match for Tyrian's dark intensity. He was also quite serious a lot, but Rihou had discovered he had an easily provoked sense of humor. "So you'll come back relatively soon?" he asked.

          "I promised, didn't I?" Tyrian swung up onto the back of his horse. He hesitated and then said softly, "Rihou, never hesitate to trust your instincts. Follow your heart and soul. They will lead you more surely than anything else you ever encounter. The stars watch over us both."

          "Sure." Rihou tucked his hands in his pockets and watched as Tyrian and Cassie rode away down the darkening forest road. He couldn't quite shake the feeling that Tyrian had been telling him something he really needed to understand. If he couldn't figure it out on his own, he would have to ask for clarification the next time they met.

          Shrugging it off, he headed toward his home to finish packing his things. And he was entirely unaware of the skies far ahead where a single star was slowly, dimly, beginning to flicker as if it prepared to shine.

©S. J. Garrett. All rights reserved. Do not reprint/publish without permission.

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