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Plum Blossom (Blue/Green)

[Prince of Tennis] Et Cetera: Ripples - 04. Ryoma

Posted on 2013.08.26 at 11:59
Current Mood: tiredtired
Tags: , , , , ,
A Prince of Tennis fanfiction. Fantasy AU, drama/romance. Rated R (M) overall. Multiple pairings. 50,000+ words total. Originally written 11/20/2004 - 7/18/2006, with ongoing revisions.

This part belongs to one of the backstory sub-arc, Ripples, and takes place 10 years before the events in the main story. Main character alert! Also, please note: minor character death in this part.

Et Cetera: Ripples by Shiraume

04. Ryoma

Echizen Ryoma never knew his father.

He knew his last name was his father's surname. But he had never met his father's side of the family. He didn't know what happened to his father, either. His mother never talked about it, and he never asked.

He didn't need to ask to know he wasn't supposed to exist.

He looked no different from a Human child. Presumably a Cetera child too, though he'd never seen one. Nonetheless he learned the words "half-breed" and "Cetera" as soon as he could understand language. It was hard not to, when every adult whispered them whenever things shattered, caught fire, or moved on their own around him. Strange things happened when he was angry or upset, which wasn't very often, but he couldn't help those. So it became the same no matter where they went. Sooner or later too many people in the village would talk, and his mother would gather him close, hugged him tightly and told him it was all right. The next day, they would pack up and leave for another town.

After a while, he was nothing like a Human child at all. There was nothing wrong with him physically, of course, save that he did not grow. His mother never told him his exact age. But he could remember at least ten summers when he still looked like a toddler, when every stranger they met on the road cooed over him and pinched his cheek. Whenever he scowled and told them to go away, the strangers were amused and surprised by how well he walked and talked. Even when he could recall twenty-one different summers, he barely reached the height of an eight-year-old child.

He hated it. It was a constant reminder he didn't belong, that he should never have existed in the first place. His mother's face was still beautiful but careworn, lined with worries and years of hardship. He might look a child, but his mind was no longer that of child, and he knew very well his mother would not have to wander from town to town working every odd job if not for him. A Human child would have grown quickly, and would have been able to help her by now. He wasn't and couldn't, even if his efforts often charmed his mother's employers into being more generous.

When he could remember twenty-five different summers, people already looked at them strangely, because his mother looked older than her actual age, and he still looked like a child. He abhorred it when someone asked if he was her grandson, and a quite few people's clothes caught fire after they asked. The fire was (mostly) harmless, but his mother drew him aside and gave him a stern look, telling him he must never use his powers to vent his anger. But she knew he couldn't really control his powers; he never learned how. His mother kept trying to find him a teacher, but without success. She was always careful not to approach the Cetera Mages, going so far as to avoid large cities altogether so they would never run into them. Human Mages were much harder to come by, and the rare few his mother was willing to trust always refused to take him as a student.

He remembered thirty one summers when they traveled down the River Eredia to the City of Pyris. Pyris was an independent city-state, his mother explained. A well-situated trading port, with a diverse population known to be tolerant about different folks. It would be easier to blend in, his mother said, and then more to herself, maybe they would find someone there willing to help him.

But when the two of them reached the outskirts of Pyris, a war broke out and they found themselves trapped between two advancing armies. The contenders were two larger neighboring kingdoms who had shared River Eredia as their border for generations. Ketys and Brinwold, unlike the tiny city-state of Pyris, maintained a good relationship with the Cetera and their High Council. Each claimed prior injury from the other, and after a half-hearted inquest, the Cetera decided not to intervene.

Day after day, refugees from either side of the border fled to the neutral Pyris and the handful of surrounding villages under its domain. His mother considered taking refuge within the fortified walls of Pyris itself, but decided against it when they learned Pyris had contract with a Cetera Mage. A kindly man by all accounts, but his mother firmly shook her head, and that was that. Only a week later, the point was rendered moot when two delegations, each bearing a royal standard, marched into the city. The next day, Pyris declared it would accept no more refugees, while simultaneously refusing to expel those already within its walls.

The villages just outside the walls of Pyris trembled, knowing it was but a matter of time now before the precarious neutrality of Pyris and its territory would be challenged.

He did not know if it was Ketys or Brinwold that made the first move. But scarcely a day later, contending armies rushed into the village where he and his mother were staying, one side attempting to establish a line of defense, the other side trying to break past it. Huddled with his mother inside an old abandoned barn, he watched with rising fury as the soldiers turned their blades and spears on villagers just as easily as on each other. He was angry, so very angry, not at the soldiers but at himself, for being unable to do anything, for being such a helpless child. He could make fire out of thin air, make it burn for days without wood or oil. In fact, he thought, he could make a fire large enough to swallow a whole village. But he couldn't stop the flames of war spreading to this small village.

And he couldn't stop the burning beams from falling. Or his mother, who dove to push him out of the way. He couldn't stop the bleeding as his mother breathed her last in his arms. He couldn't hear the last words his mother whispered to him, or the deafening noise as the rest of the ceiling finally gave out. He didn't notice that somehow the falling debris did not touch them, leaving them in a small circle of clearing in their midst. Sitting with his mother's cooling body cradled in his arms, he saw and heard nothing. He felt a strange pull from within, but ignored it, and eventually, the feeling went away and all was dark and silent once more.

In the first light of the next day, he was forced to accept what happened. His mother was dead, and he was alone. He would have to find a way to survive on his own, because it was what his mother would have wanted. She struggled to keep him alive all these years, and he did not dare let her efforts go to waste. So he buried his mother in a shallow grave, since he was too small to dig deeper, and covered it with largest stones he could carry. And he sat there, turning at every noise, half-expecting his mother to appear.

A sudden scream startled him, and instantly the charred remains of the barn burst into flames. For once, he thought he might be able to make the flames understand what he wanted. So he called the fire to him and felt it respond. Felt it tingling underneath his skin. And everything was bright and beautiful and terrible, like breathing pure light, and it scared him and thrilled him and awed him. For the single instant, there was no time or space, just him and the fire under his skin, and it was ecstasy.

When he opened his eyes, he found a young man watching him, with eyes as blue as the sky above. Neither of them said anything, but he thought he knew who this was, and who he was for the first time. The two of them were the same, he thought, as he saw himself reflected in those depthless eyes. The young man tilted his head and smiled. It was a nice smile, but there was something artificial about the expression that made him frown. At that, the smile melted away, and the young man walked forward until they were an arm's length away. Slowly, a hand extended towards him.

He met those blue, blue eyes, and thought he understood the meaning of this hand, and what it meant to take it.

He took one more look at his mother's grave, and firmly grasped the hand with his own.

Crossposted at http://shiraume-fic.dreamwidth.org/27398.html.

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