Chapter 1 – "Want to See the World Alone Again"

A castle lay in the middle of nowhere, in the dark of night, in the midst of a dense
forest. A lonely road travelled from its gates to the main roads but otherwise it was
isolated. Its stables were well stocked, but at the dark of night only a few sentries strolled
around the perimeter. Most of the household was asleep, except a few lonely servants
going about their daily duties and one other.
Clothed in dark leathers her slight figured climbed hand over hand down a
makeshift rope of bed sheets. She was fairly steady in her progression, if a little
uncertain. Her foot found its mark at last though, and she slipped in through the unlocked
window of a first story room. Creeping quietly she slipped out of the storage room into
the hallway and tiptoed her way ahead, keeping her back to the cool wall. Eventually she
reached her goal: a small door exiting out to the back of the manor, the servant's entrance.
Listening carefully for the sound of guards she eased the door open, slipped
outside, and eased the door closed again. Keeping close to any cover she could find, she
made her way toward the stables. One of the guards was patrolling around the area and
she had to waste precious time in the darkness of the bushes beside the stable, waiting for
him to pass.
Finally he moved on in his route and she dashed around the corner as fast as her
slight form would take her. The entrance to the stable was open but security was high
around the horses, fortunately she was prepared. The stable hand slept peacefully in a
bundle of hay and blankets at one end of the stall while the woman in leathers slipped a
bridal from its resting place on the wall and eased it over the head of a chestnut mare,
sliding the bit between her teeth. Some of the horses stirred, one knocked on the door of
its stall with a noise that seemed deafening to the girl's ears but failed to wake the stable
hand.
Crouching down before the mare's stall she eased the bolt on the door gently out
of its position and swung the freshly oiled door open. The mare tossed her head gently
and took a few steps foreword out of the stall. The girl caught her reigns and patted her
gently on the shoulder. This was the tricky part, for she was rather short and the horse,
while not a monster itself, was decently tall. Backing up slightly she took a deep breath
and took a running leap at the mare. The horse sidestepped slightly as the girl in black
landed on her back, but refrained from bolting. She used her momentum to swing herself
mostly atop the horse, gripping the mare's mane firmly in one hand. She took a deep
breath and then swung her body the rest of the way, seating herself comfortably on the
mare's bare back.
Listening carefully for the clinking armour of the guards, she eased the horse out
of the stable with a gentle hand. They then doubled around behind the building and took
off down a rarely used, but familiar path.
She rode long into the night, knowing that her absence would be noticed quickly
and that pursuit would be assembled swiftly. She was certain she heard branches
breaking behind her several times but the sound of voices never followed, nor did the
thundering of hooves. In fact she was finally starting to relax when her mare stumbled
and the rider noticed she was suddenly favouring one hoof. It only took a minute to find
the problem; a rock large enough to be a pain to the horse but small enough to be wedged
in far. If she forced the mare to continue she'd be lame in short order and the girl
couldn't do that to another living creature. No matter how much her fate was at stake.
Still, she wouldn't let this get her caught. Mounting the mare again she took her off
down a lesser used path a bit, as far as she dared, before grabbing an overhanging branch
and pulling herself up into a tree.
"Go home Star." She whispered softly before slowly making her way through the
branches. The mare whuffled up at her in confusion for a long moment and seemed torn
between trying to follow and heading to safety. When the girl vanished from site the
mare made her decision and began to slowly wander home.

Dawn was breaking. The Royal Carriage made its way down old roads travelled
for centuries and yet always seemed to be bumpy. Its passenger didn't mind though, he
was hoping the cart would throw a wheel so that he could ride horseback instead of
hiding in these walls. There hadn't been war for decades, no one was going to try and
kill him now. Yet still Prince Endymion had to hide behind protective walls because he
was the sole heir to the Royal Throne of Earth. He might not have had to if his generals,
both guards and friends, had been with him, but they hadn't been able to come along on
this trip. The privacy had been nice, but with less freedom it wasn't really worth it.
He was contemplating taking another nap when the sound of dogs barking caught
his ear. They were far away but getting closer. He might have suspected hunters, but no
one lived in these parts. With a shouted order the cart came to a halt and he stepped out,
his armed escort on the alert. The dogs didn't seem far away, but they had stopped
getting closer. For a moment he considered simply passing by, until a shrill tone hit his
ear. It was faint but he just caught it and there was no mistaking the scream of a girl in
terror.
The forest was old with the trees far enough apart and the underbrush small
enough that travel was easy. Endymion mounted his horse in one swift movement, his
long white cape billowing behind him, and set off in a flash. Guards were following him
of course but he paid them no mind as he moved with his gelding, ducking branches and
following the sound of dogs barking until the scene opened up in front of him.
A girl of maybe 15 was holding onto a tree branch for dear life as just below her
feet a pack of hunting dogs circled and barked up at her. They didn't seem to be acting
viciously but the girl was clearly completely panic-stricken. Her black riding leathers
were caked in dirt and her matching hair was full of leaves. At the site of Endymion and
his group the girl seemed only to panic further. It was confusing to say the least, but that
didn't mean that he would do any differently than if he had received a warm welcome. It
only took a few moments to drive the dogs far enough away, and Endymion stood
beneath the poor girl, her feet about level with his head.
"Its all right, just let go and I'll catch you." He spoke gently but the words didn't
seem to calm the girl. Instead she seemed to still be trying to climb back into the tree. "I
won't hurt you." He repeated softly, trying to be reassuring.
"You'll just take me back! I won't go back!" The girl's voice was young and
high but still had an odd softness to it even as upset as she was. There seemed more
despair than defiance in her tone though and that simply confused Endymion even further.
"I don't know what you're talking about, but if you just let go we'll bring you to
the palace with us. After you're safe and cleaned up you can tell me your situation."
The girl stopped struggling as he mentioned the palace and looked down at him, really
looked. Oddly though he didn't get a look of recognition, like he was used to. Instead
she seemed to be thinking very carefully. Whether it was the offer, the lack of strength in
her grip or the sound of approaching hooves, the girl nodded and let herself fall into his
arms. She was so small and light, fitting into his embrace snugly and easily. For a long
moment he looked down at her in his arms, her pleading eyes gazing up at his. The
sound of approaching hooves was getting louder though and almost reluctantly he let her
down to stand on her own two feet.
"Are you hurt?"
The girl shook her head. Even her hands had been protected from the rough bark
by leather gloves. For all that she had seemed helpless she was obviously well prepared
for whatever it was she was doing. She looked up at him for a long moment, turned to
look in the direction that the pounding hooves were coming from and then looked up at
him again.
"If you really want to help me, please, just lend me a horse. I can't stay, he'll take
me back." Her tone was desperate but at the same time she sounded so very sure of
herself.
"If you're in danger I can protect you." Endymion insisted firmly. He didn't
want to let such a small girl run off into the woods on her own. Hunting dogs would be
the least of her worries. Instead of accepting his help though, the girl scowled, at him,
the crown prince, and started looking around for an escape route.
"Its only my happiness that's in danger… you can't help me!" She shot back at
him firmly before dashing off in the direction of the road. Endymion simply stared at her
retreating back, slack jawed and gaping in a very rare display of pure confusion and
awkwardness. Nobody spoke to him like that! Sure the generals did but there wasn't
another single soul on the planet brave enough to talk to him like that. Or so he had
thought at least.
Whatever he might have done or said didn't matter though, as four men on
horseback thundered by him and circled the girl who had now scrambled up another tree.
They seemed oblivious to Endymion's group, their attention centred completely on the
girl.
"You might as well come down now Usagi and save us all a lot of trouble." One
of the men called up to her.
"I think I'd rather stay up here!" She called back down as she proceeded to climb
higher up into the tree, though still clearly visible.
"You've got one last chance to make this easy on yourself Lady." The ringleader
warned again, though with a touch of nervousness in his voice.
"Go ahead and try! We all know that if I get even the slightest injury Demando
will have you in the jails for a month at least! Thrown off his lands and labelled traitor
more likely." She called back with continued spunk for all that though she seemed fairly
nervous still. Both sides seemed to be bluffing but for what reasons Endymion decided
didn't mater.
"What is going on here?" He demanded, his hand casually resting near the
pommel of his sword and his head held high. The four riders suddenly looked at him, as
if noticing him for the first time and immediately leapt off of their horses, falling to one
knee.
"Your majesty forgive me but please do not concern yourself with this. Lady
Usagi is simply expressing her distaste for her arranged marriage. We are only trying to
return her home." The leader's speech was surprising. Endymion had expected a
continuation of the gruff local speech pattern, not words close to court speech. He had to
be a man of substantial station and in that case this girl, Usagi, must be marrying
someone important. He understood now what she had meant. Still, he was crown prince;
he could bring her to the palace so that she could address her concerns formally. The
panic in her voice, it had seemed more than marriage. After all, these things happened all
the time. He couldn't let things rest as they were.
"A girl being hunted by dogs is my concern." He replied firmly, allowing no
retort. "I have offered the Lady a chance to come to the palace and address her concerns
to the Queen. You may leave at once and tell your lord that he may come and address the
situation at the palace."
The leader looked hesitant and quite worried for a long moment but he had no
choice. Royal decree was royal decree. With a nod and a signal his men mounted up and
headed back where they had come from, leaving Usagi high up in her tree.
"You can come down now. …Again."
Usagi seemed to consider this for a long moment, watching to make sure that her
pursuers really were leaving. After several long moments, however, she slipped down
the branches and let her feet find solid ground again. She looked up at Endymion in
confusion for a long moment before slowly, awkwardly, going to one knee.