Gauntlet Entry Day 1 Welcome to the Jungle
|Kairi sat in a wooden high-backed chair before her fellow council members. They were the Council of Five; a group of mages who each focused their power in one of the five natural elements; earth, fire, water, air, and spirit. Her shape-changing lover, Kyo, stood to her right resting his hands on her shoulders. They had done their best to hide their relationship and Kairi's pregnancy, but it was only a matter of time before her belly became too swollen to hide under a silk kimono. At the last Council meeting she attended as a member one of the others demanded that one of their clerics delve her. She had no choice but to allow it. The cleric revealed that not only was she pregnant, but that she was carrying the child of a shape-changer. The Council demanded that she bring herself and the father before them for judgment, and any resulting punishment. The other four stared daggers into Kyo. He and his kind were not welcome in "normal" human society, and now he had violated one of their most prized and beloved members. Kairi focused her powers in fire, and it would be a long while before any mage could match her skill. The lead council member, whose focus was earth, stood to address them.
"Kairi, we have spent the past few days discussing your situation," he stated. "You and your... lover... have violated the laws of both our peoples. I assume you sir have already suffered at the hands of your people?"
"Yes," Kyo answered trying not to flinch. His people had put him through trial by combat. His own son had been the one to fight him, and the younger man had nearly broken his elder's leg. If it had not been for the protest of the community at large Ido might have killed his father. "I have been banished, under penalty of death if I dare return."
"Savages," one of the other members hissed.
"You will hold your tongue, Akito," the lead council member chided.
"My apologies, Hiru," Akito bowed her head, but not before she shot a glare at Kyo. She and Kairi had been close friends and now because of him Kairi was dishonored beyond repair.
"Well," Hiru continued. "We will not harm either of you. Nor will we allow harm to come to the unborn child. Kairi, I'm afraid you are no longer permitted to hold your seat on the council. You will be allowed to remain in the palace of your family, if they will allow it. You are never to set foot in this hall again. Nor are you permitted to teach mages any longer. You will be the example for those who consider allowing their passions to outweigh their sensibilities."
"May I at least teach my child?" Kari inquired. "As I assume she will not be permitted to attend any of the schools due to her... uniqueness." They would call it a deformity but she would never utter those words.
"You may do as you wish with it," Hiru sighed.
"Her," Kairi corrected. The other council members eyed her curiously. "My family's cleric has informed me my child is a girl."
The council members nodded in unison. It pained them all to do what they were doing, but the law was the law, and Kairi had willfully broken it. When Hiru dismissed the council Kyo assisted Kairi to her feet. This was hard for him due to his injured leg. The cleric had done his best to heal the damage but some of it would only be healed with time. They ambled out into the bright sun light proceeded by heavily armored guards carrying lances and halberds. None of the guards spoke a word to Kairi. This was unusual for her, but not unexpected. Though she knew each one by name, and knew his family she was an outcast, and they were not permitted to give her the time of day if she asked for it. One of the guards was kind enough to assist her into the saddle of her white gelding. He lingered staring up into her eyes.
"I'm sorry Kairi," he murmured softly. "I wish this had gone differently."
"It went the way I knew it would, Haru," She glanced at Kyo, who winced as he used his injured leg to hold the saddle so that he could mount his own horse. "Between the two of us, I think I am the more fortunate one."
"I don't have anything against him," Haru stated. "But there is a reason why the council outlawed breeding with his kind. What they did to him just for loving you is proof enough that they are more savage, and less human."
"And what of the full blooded human who rapes a woman in an ally?" Kairi challenged. "Or the one who slits his brother's throat for their father's fortune?"
"I understand your point Kairi," Haru assured her. "I don't disagree with it, but you and I can't change things by just doing as we please."
"Perhaps things will be different when our children come of age," Kairi sighed. "Perhaps your son Hitaru will marry my daughter."
"It would be an honor for me Kairi," Haru stepped aside so that Kyo could rein his horse in beside hers. He watched as the two horses passed through the gate that led out onto the main road. He smiled when Kairi regarded him with one last goodbye smile over her shoulder, and offered her a final solute.
They did not make it too far down the road before their path was blocked by a small group of dire panthers. Larger than normal panthers; one dire panther was the size of an adolescent horse. The horses shrieked and reared trying to frighten the beasts with their hooves. Kyo steadied his own horse and gripped the reins of Kairi's to keep it from dumping her to the ground. One of the dire panthers separated from the group. His body contorted as he stood on his hind legs, and he stood before them in his glory. His eyes were a brilliant green like Kyo's and his hair fell in tangles to his shoulders as Kyo's had the first time Kairi met him. The man before them remained in his hybrid form, which included a layer of course dark hair over his body, and rounded ears that stuck out of his main of dark hair. He grinned maliciously running his tongue over sharp gleaming fangs.
"Ido," Kyo addressed the young man. "What is the meaning of this? You know the council doesn't like our people this close."
"My people," Ido corrected. "I challenged the elder for leadership and won. Are you proud father?"
"I'm always proud of your accomplishments," Kyo leaned forward in a bow to honor the new leader of his group. Banished or no he would still honor the customs he was raised with. "I am a bit concerned how your new regime will be led."
"I will lead by example," Ido stated. "My first lesson is that weakness will not be tolerated. I will demonstrate that by bringing your body back to our lands, and reclaim our family's honor."
"No!" Kairi exclaimed. "You can't, he's your father, and the father of my child!"
"Stay out of this!" Ido snapped. "It's your fault this is happening. "
"You know that's not true," Kyo moved so that his horse was positioned across the path between Ido and Kairi. "Return to your lands Ido, I'm sure Yurai is waiting to offer you a mate."
"Mother is gone," Ido snarled. "She couldn't handle the dishonor of not being able to keep you, and she left. She is probably half way to the shadow lands by now."
Kyo winced at that. The shadow lands were a tainted waist land where demons and monsters roamed free. The only ones who willingly went there were the ones who thought they had nothing to lose. His heart swelled with pity and guilt. His eyes filled with tears but he blinked them away. There would be time for that later. His focus had to be ending this confrontation peacefully for all of their sakes.
"I'm sorry," Kyo lowered his eyes.
"You will be," Ido snarled. "After I take everything you hold dear!"
He shifted back into his panther form and leapt at them. Kyo's horse reared back in fear leaving Kairi exposed to Ido's attack. Before the monstrous animal found its target an iron lance impaled its shoulder knocking it to the ground. Ido lost his ability to maintain his animal form He lay between the other dire panthers and the horses with the iron shaft sticking out of his shoulder. The thundering of hooves made them all look to see guards approaching from the Council Hall. Haru reined in beside Kairi, and the other guards blocked the road behind them wielding various projectile weapons.
"How did you...?" Kairi began.
"We were ordered by Lord Hiro to make sure that you made it to your family safely," Haru explained. He glared down at the man on the ground. "Is he dead?"
"No," Kyo answered. He eyed the other panthers, and snarled something only they could understand. Two of them shifted into their hybrid forms, and lifted Ido by his shoulders and feet. They laid him across the back of the largest panther being careful not to send the lance any further into his shoulder. One of them snapped the handle of the lance off and tossed it on the ground. They regarded their former tribe member with sorrowful eyes and then shifted back into their animal forms. The group of dire panthers disappeared into the forest along the side of the road.
"Should we pursue?" One of the other guards asked.
"No," Haru answered. "Go back to the council hall. I'll see them the rest of the way."
"Alone?" The guard inquired eying Kyo suspiciously. "Is that wise?"
"Are you questioning your captain?" Haru turned hard eyes on his officer.
"No sir," the man held up his hands in defense. "Alright men, you heard the captain, back to the Hall."
Haru was as good as his word. He led them down the quickest route to Kairi's home. Her heart tightened in anxiety as they approached the palace. They were greeted by smiling grooms who assisted them all from their saddles, and took their horses. The captain of the guard and Haru grasped each other's forearms in greeting. Kaito was much older than Haru, but he deferred to the younger man's status as a captain of the Council's guard.
"My lady," Kaito embraced Kairi as best he could given her condition. He had been in her father's guard since she was a girl, and she looked to him as a second father. "Your parents are waiting to welcome you and your..." He paused not sure how to address the shape-shifter.
"His name is Kyo," Kairi stated patiently, "he is the father of my child, and my future husband."
"Yes... of course my lady," Kaito bowed slightly to acknowledge Kyo. He led the three arrivals to the main hall where a man and woman occupied wooden thrones on a low dais. "My Lord and Lady, I present your daughter, Captain Haru, and Kyo of the Dire Panthers."
Kairi's mother leapt to her feet, hurried down the steps of the dais and embraced her daughter. She had been holding her breath since they left that morning to meet with the Council. She released Kairi, and pulled Kyo in for an embrace as well. She harbored no personal dislike toward the man, and she intended to have her grandchild see that ass soon as possible. Kairi's father stood, and approached them with less enthusiasm. He embraced his daughter and acknowledged Kyo with a curt nod. There was no love lost between him and Kyo. The two men appeared to be close in age, but Kyo was significantly older than Kairi's father. He would be seeing his hundredth year by the time their child would be ten. Granted the age difference between he and his wife was significant, it was always different when it was your little girl having her life turned upside down by someone who was unworthy of her.
"I've been removed from the council and banned from the council hall," Kairi informed them. She did her best not to meet her father's eyes. She knew this was also his shame to bare. "They let me keep the child, and I am permitted to raise her as I see fit, and to teach her magic."
"And him?" Her father asked indicating Kyo.
"May I speak for myself?" Kyo inquired. He made a vain attempt at meekness before the lord of the house but it was difficult when he had been lord of his own home once. Kairi's father turned his hard eyes on him. He figured that was the most permission he would get. "The council feels that I have suffered enough. I lost in a trial by combat with my own son, and have been banished from my own lands under the threat of death if I should return. I love Kairi, and the child that grows within her. If you will permit me, I will marry her, and be father to her child."
Kairi's father drew the katana from the sheath strapped to his back. He advanced on Kyo commanding him to kneel. Kairi cried out in protest and surged forward to protect him. Haru stepped in front of her and restrained her. She beat feebly against his breast plate before her was able to pull her against him to keep her from seeing what he figured was going to be Kyo's execution.
Kyo felt his long hair that Kairi had spent hours combing the previous evening gathered in a fist at the top of his head. He inhaled, and closed his eyes. He heard the blade cut through the air, and felt it tear through the fibers of his inky tresses. He opened his eyes and looked up to see the long strands bound in Kairi's father's fist. The fingers opened slowly allowing the strands to fall slowly to the floor.
"In this family a man's hair does not extend further than his shoulders," her father stated. "If you don't follow through on the promises you've made today, your head will join that hair, understood?"
"Yes," Kyo answered. He rose slowly to his feet and looked his future father-in-law in the eyes. "You are a fair and honorable man Lord Kiru."
"Your betrothed is upset," Kiru stated sheathing the katana. "You should console her hysterics."
Kyo moved to Kairi who was still being held by Haru. He released the weeping woman to the arms of her betrothed, and stood aside as Kyo escorted Kairi out of the main hall. Kiru reclaimed his throne on the dais, and was joined by his wife. Haru bowed to each of them before turning to go.
"Captain Haru," Kiru called.
"Yes Lord Kiru," Haru turned to face the man.
"If you ever get tired of your place at the Council Hall I'm sure we can find you a position here that would suit you."
"Thank you Lord Kiru," Haru bowed again. "Please, send word when the baby is born, I'm sure the council would at least like to see that Kairi is well."
"I'm sure they will," Kiru nodded his understanding.
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