In her ears that was all she could hear.
It was so quiet and yet when that sound came, it was so loud.
Her face felt wet and cold.
Was this the end? It felt like it. Unable to move as she laid there listening to the sound of her own heart beating loudly in her head. She could not feel her limbs and the last thing she remembered was a bright light and the picturesque scenery of the snow cascading to the ground. She had been happy and yet so quickly it disappeared.
“Hold on Tationy.” A voice broke through. Concern, fear, she could not recognize the emotions, but her name sounded as though it had been ripped from his throat.
“Mikio, I’m dying.” She whispered.
She felt his warm touch upon her cheek and her heart felt as though it had been jaggedly carved down the very center. “Hold on, I am going to save you.”
His words brought her comfort as though her heart had sprouted wings capable of supporting her in those final moments. “It is too late.” She choked.
“Just hold on a bit longer.” His voice raised.
“Ahh, Mikio you are so demanding.” She offered a brief smile. “This is always how it was meant to be.”
“Don’t say that.” He begged, wiping a tear from her cheek.
This time it hurt. It was getting more difficult with each passing moment to struggle for life. Her eyes became glassy as she frowned, “I see….”
“You see what?” He asked her.
“The seals of truth have begun to unlock. I see everything.” Her voice could hardly be heard as she made a sound as though she was choking on the saliva accumulating in her throat. Her chest was rising and falling, quickly. Her time was close to an end even with his skills in healing he would not be able to save her. All he could do was hold her hand and let her know that he was there for her. “Are they alright?” She questioned in a hoarse whisper.
“They are fine.”
“Are they winning?”
“Iashi and Kuro are doing well, keeping Atsuki and Hero at bay.”
“Tell them I am sorry. I….”
“You saved their lives by jumping in the way of Atsuki’s attack, you do not need to explain to them. They understand.”
Her silence caused him concern. Reaching out to touch her face, she smiled offering him at that moment nothing more than her final words. “I love you all.”
“Ugh, who writes this garbage.” He groaned with frustration as he closed his laptop and looked out the window. “Unmotivated, uninspired, and my editor is bitching about me being on a deadline. As if I can just come up with something off the top of my head and have it be great. No I figured why not do something historical. A story everyone knows and yet put a spin on it. Utter drivel.” He vented to himself.
“Have you given up already?” A voice questioned breaking him of the unwelcome thoughts that were plaguing him.
“The story, it has taken on a life of its own and is so far gone from what I intended it to be.”
“Everything in life that means something becomes a force of its own. You put your heart and soul into writing The Exiled Prince. You wove a story within a story, within another story. Sure you did not get to touch on all of the characters like you wanted and there were things you were forced to skip over because of your editor, but anyone can see how much of yourself you put into it. Have you completed it?”
“I would not say it is completed, but it is done.” He responded glibly.
Tationy smiled, “You have such a sour expression right now that contradicts your tone. Perhaps it is time that we live a little. You have been putting off giving me an answer. Maybe it is time.”
His attention was drawn toward her, “I don’t know. You know I love you, I just don’t know why I am having such a hard time saying yes to you.”
“You’re afraid.” She responded simply, but did not give him a moment to protest, “How about something easier. Your cousins have been trying to get us to come over for the holiday. Do you want a change of scenery?”
Zen adored her. She always knew what to say to put his mind at ease and bring him comfort. “Is Hiko going to be there?”
“Probably. Are the two of you going to fight?”
He chuckled under his breath, “Probably.”
“Well who would want to miss that?” She questioned rhetorically.
He chuckled, “I knew you could never miss out on seeing two Kari men going at it in a joust of words.”
She had smiled, then got uncharacteristically serious. “It will be alright. The Exiled Prince will do well.”
“Not if my editor keeps telling me to change things.” He responded with a sigh. He was tired and the pressure was getting to him.
“You know who my favorite character is?” She questioned.
“Well I know you did not get to touch on it like you wanted to, but he probably has the most depth of any of the characters. He struggles with whom he is, who he has to be, and what is expected of him. I liked how he told Iashi he did not want to return to the village and Iashi convinced him they needed to. I think it says a lot about their friendship and more importantly about the struggles he was enduring. He went from a point where he was a young man that defied his father to becoming his father. Going against his very core to live up to this unreal expectation of what people needed him to be, even if that meant giving up himself in the process. It is a shame that you did not get to touch on his and Tationy’s relationship a bit more.” She laughed nervously, “It still weirds me out that you used my name. It is good though, you based all of the characters on people you know, which I think brings them to life. It is no wonder the story became a force of its own.”
“Thank you.” He responded, offering a calm smile. “I don’t know what I would do without you?” He pulled her to him, closing his eyes as he expelled the air from his lungs. He was clutching her close to him and she noticed the moment that all of the tension left his body. Zen always carried the weight of everything on his shoulders, even the smallest most simplest of things could become heavy for him.
They had met ages ago. Tationy had always joked that they had met in another lifetime because their connection from the moment they met seemed so powerful. At twenty-two the young college student crossed paths with a sixteen year old girl in Thacian while he attended Sofore University working on a degree in writing. She was at a small coffee shop, sitting alone and there was something vibrant about her and yet sad. At that point The Exiled Prince was not even a footnote on the story of his life. His first book, The Witches of Wallasea had yet to even be published and he was seriously considering dropping out of school due to pressure from his father, Semei to help run The Kari Foundation.
She seemed so lonely. “Thacian High School?” He spoke and she glanced up from the book she had her nose stuck in.
“I went there as well. What year are you in?”
“Freshmen.” She responded.
“So you just went into high school, are you liking it?”
He frowned, he was right she was lonely. There was something weighing her down. “I’m Zen.”
“That is an old name.”
“My grandmother liked to call me Botahmo.”
“Cursed one.” He responded, “Not many people these days speak the ancient language of the Shima. Your grandmother must be Yamada.”
“Miso.” She responded.
He choked. Everyone knew who Miso Yamada was because she was descended from the royal house of Atherol who ruled over Thacian during the time of The Exiled Prince. Bothamo was a slanderous term in those days meaning cursed one and was often interchangeable with the word Tationy which meant exiled. He found himself wondering what Tationy had done to her grandmother to carry such a horrible name. “You….” He stumbled over his words.
When he could not find the words he wanted to say he watched her as she stood up, tucking her book into her backpack. “It was nice meeting you.”
She had managed to make it out of the building and down the street before he finally caught up to her. “Wait.” He called out. When he reached her he exhaled and spoke rapidly, “Sorry. I just, did not know what to say. Everyone knows who Miso Yamada is. If I had a career, it would be suicide to cross her and her family.”
“You don’t have to worry about it, she does not consider me her family.”
Zen frowned, “Do you want to talk about it?
He felt a pull to keep her close. In an attempt to seem casual, he quickly looked around until he found the closest vending machine, “Want one?” He asked as he dropped in some coin. He made note that she had moved to stand next to him, which made him smiling thinking that perhaps he could reach her. He did not like how sad and lonely she seemed.
“No thank you.”
“I guess it is safe to assume, you don’t really want to go home.” He responded after he had drunk down half the soda.
“They hate me.” She responded.
“I am sure they don’t…”
“My grandmother cut my mother off when she found out she was pregnant, by a Bothamo. My father was just a poor guy from the wrong side of Aslann, who fell in love with the wrong girl. He got her knocked up and disowned. My grandmother wishes I didn’t exist and my parents, they couldn’t care less if I did.”
“You say all of that and yet not a single tear falls.” He responded as he led her toward a small patch of grass nearby so they could sit and talk.
“Not really a point in crying anymore. Spent too many years sinking.”
“You don’t have any friends do you?”
“I am the granddaughter of Miso Yamada, what do you think? Most everyone knows enough to avoid me and those that don’t spend their days calling me names. As if things were not bad enough, my father is talking about moving to Aslann for a fresh start. If he would stop gambling we would not need to move again. I am sorry, I am burdening you.”
“It is alright, it actually makes my family stuff seem normal.” He could see it on her face, she really thought she was the only one that experienced the ups and downs associated with loved ones. He could only imagine what kind of isolated life she had led to come to such an assumption.
“You have…family stuff?” She questioned.
He chuckled, “Yeah, I have family stuff. My father is Semei he sits on the board of The Kari Foundation along with his brothers. It is a tradition that all the men of the Kari take upon a role within the company. I am the first that has decided to do something else. My father is disappointed in me. I don’t want to get pulled into that world, but like all Kari there comes a point when you have to be Kari. Nothing else matters, except the traditions and the old ways, and keeping the Kari strong. I just want to write. I might not make a career of it or even make any money, but I want to follow my passion and have people hear my voice. I don’t see it as a bad thing, but to him and my uncles it is like I have sinned against the ways of the Kari. My cousins keep telling me to stop being unrealistic. That you cannot change your blood.”
Her words caught him completely off guard, “You will write a great book someday.”
His lips pursed together as he stared at her face. She was not just saying it to be nice or because she thought it needed to be said. She meant it. Tationy was the real deal, someone who was genuine and honest, not to mention completely direct. He could tell there were things she kept locked away, not because she was purposely trying to keep secrets, but simply because she did not wish to discuss them. That was the type of girl she was. He imagined you could ask her just about anything and she would answer. It was not that she wanted to suck people into her business. This girl had become so accustomed to being alone that social contact was both a gift and a burden. “Thank you.” He finally responded.
“You are welcome. I probably should get home. My parents will expect me to work in the restaurant and if I am late…”
“Why don’t you come over to my house?” He questioned not allowing her to finish her words of departure.
“Then what?” She questioned.
He blinked, “We could hang out.”
“Alright.” She responded and he smiled, certain he looked goofy.
“Zen did you hear me?” She questioned.
He blushed, “Sorry I was lost in thought.”
“I could tell. What were you thinking about?”
“The day we met.” He responded, then quickly changed the topic. “So when are we heading to see my cousins.”
He scrunched his nose as he stumbled over his words, “Why so soon?”
“Because, the last time we waited a week making preparations and you backed out of it. The time before that you did the same thing. You have not really spent time with your family in ages.”
“I see them.”
“Only when you have to.” She pointed out.
“I don’t think that you are in any position to talk about family. When was the last time you saw your mother?” He questioned lightly.
“My mother is in Spain with her latest ‘daddy warbucks’ and I visit my father’s grave.”
There was a somberness, it was brief, but any time her father was mentioned that hint of emotion would appear. During her senior year at Aslann, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. They gave him six months, he only lived two. After that Tationy’s mother began to gallivant around openly with any rich man that would have her. Her latest conquest was Emitoya Sosa, father to one of the youngest lobbyist on capitol hill, Abe Sosa. The rich were different people that is what Tationy always said about it. “I am sorry, I should not have…”
“Zen, go pack. You are not getting out of it.” She voiced with a smile. He reluctantly nodded his head, picking up his laptop on the way out of the room.
To Be Continued