In a time long ago, there was a country in the middle of the Asian continents: Yulan. The first ruler of Yulan was Tasuki Ki. He ruled wisely and made the country flourish, but when he passed on to the next world, his three remaining sons fought for the throne. The third brother, Yuki, managed to make alliances that even his brothers didn’t see coming and took the throne. His brothers were banished far away from the country. Yuki ruled the country wisely and the leaders of his alliances helped expand his power and yet he still needed more power in order to make his country memorable, so he made the imperial exams as his father did before. With so many officials, will he make the country he had wished for; and what of his brothers? Will they come back for revenge?
Yosei, one of the leaders in disguise, walked through the market place of Go Province. He usually didn’t go out, but this time it was necessary because of a little bet with the two other leaders: Suha and Xian. The bet was that they would each sponsor one examinee for the next imperial exam and if their examinee got the top rank, then the losers will have to pay the winner five-hundred gold pieces each. Yosei hated to make bets, but he wanted to find a talented youth to serve under the emperor, so he agreed. Through his searching he ended up in Go Province. Go Province was a poor district, but it was the only place he hadn’t looked. It was also small, so it made it easier for him to search quickly because the exams were approaching at an alarming rate. He needed to sponsor someone fast because they would still need to take the qualification exams first before taking the imperial exam.
Yosei was growing frustrated to the point of wanting to pull out his own beard. A ten-year-old boy, suddenly, brushed aside him roughly nearly making him lose his balance. The boy didn’t even mutter an apology as he ran down the market place.
“Rude brat,” mumbled Yosei as he placed his hand to his side. Yosei’s face grew pale when he realized that his pouch on his left belt was gone. It didn’t take a detective to realize that his pouch was stolen by the rude young boy. Without further ado, Yosei dashed down the road screaming for the young boy to come back.
In another part of Go Province market place, people young and old were crowding around a single stand. Within the Market Stand sat a twelve-year-old boy painting a portrait. The boy had long black silk hair in a ponytail that danced in the small wind and glittered with the rays of the sun. The clothes he wore were a crimson red shirt with a design of a black dragon on it gripping a blue jewel and pure black plants that rose just above his ankle. His slippers looked brand new, but they had been worn many times in his life. His eyes were a brilliant aquamarine; his lips a light pink; his nose petite, but still fit his face perfectly; his skin was scar less and smooth. Anyone who has seen his body would have died of envy. This beautiful youth’s name was Megumi Yoh, the oldest son in the Yoh family.
Megumi painted the portrait of a peasant girl no older than fifteen with his hand made paint brush. The girl being painted sat across of him with eager eyes. Megumi was beautiful, but also very talented. His stand was filled with all of his talents: multicolored fabrics, kimonos of different designs, statues of animals, books made from hand and filled with his knowledge, ink stones that even rich people buy, stuffed animals, and extravagant paintings. Megumi did one final flick with his wrist and then nodded in approval.
“It is ready,” stated Megumi with a smile on his face. His voice was mesmerizing that it seemed like he had the voice of an angel.
The young girl peeked at the picture and clasped her hands in delight.
Megumi handed the painting to the girl gently and warned her to be careful with it because the painting was still wet. The girl nodded and then picked up a red covered book from the stand.
“I would like this too.”
“The book is just telling the legend of how the country of Yulan came to be. Don’t they have that one in the library?”
“They do, but the version you created is a lot easier to understand and lot more interesting.”
Megumi chuckled, thanking the girl. The girl paid Megumi twenty pieces of silver and then ran off in total bliss. The second the girl was gone the onlookers crowded around Megumi asking to buy different pieces of his goods. Megumi handed the goods they wanted one by one and got countless silver pieces in return.
Megumi looked behind the crowding customers and saw his ten-year-old little brother, Satoshi, running toward his stand with desperate eyes. Megumi pushed aside a customer gently and stepped out of his stand. Satoshi hid behind Megumi gripping the hem of his shirt.
“Is something wrong, Satoshi?” asked Megumi as he looked at his trembling younger brother. Megumi heard an unfamiliar voice screaming in rage. He looked forward and saw Yosei glaring at him. Yosei reached out toward Satoshi screaming, “I got you now!” Megumi grabbed Yosei’s wrist before he could grab Satoshi and flung him into the air easily. Yosei soared above Megumi’s head and then crashed into the ground sending dust flying. Yosei felt the pain radiate all over his body.
“What do you want from my brother?” demanded Megumi in a harsh voice, still clinging to Yosei’s wrist tightly. Yosei glanced up at Megumi and claimed that the boy behind him stole his money. Megumi felt Yosei’s wrist for any change in his pulse to see if he was lying, but there was no change and that meant that he was telling the truth.
“I understand,” said Megumi with a sigh. He released Yosei’s wrist and helped him to his feet. While Yosei dusted himself off, Megumi glared sharply at Satoshi making Satoshi cringe and back away slightly. Megumi gripped the top of Satoshi’s head and spoke with a wicked smile.
“Satoshi, how many times have I told you not to steal? Are you trying to disgrace the only remaining members of the Yoh family?”
“But we-we needed money,” stuttered Satoshi. Megumi pressed harder on Satoshi’s head making Satoshi cringe.
“That’s why Mikan and I work, so return his money now,” commanded Megumi. Satoshi nodded and pulled out the stolen pouch from his pocket. He handed it back to Yosei. Yosei took it and tied it back to the left side of his belt.
“I can report this you know,” informed Yosei. Megumi forced Satoshi to bow to Yosei by pressing down his head, while he bowed as well.
“Please forgive this stupid boy for his act against you and as an apology you can take one item from my stand free of charge.”
Yosei approached Megumi’s stand pass the other customers and looked at his goods. Yosei’s eyes widen at the variety of goods within the stand. Yosei looked at Megumi, who now had Satoshi in a choke hold as he dug his index finger knuckle in the side of his head.
“Where did you get these goods?”
“I made them,” said Megumi simply as he pulled his knuckle away from Satoshi’s head.
“Even the books?”
Megumi nodded. Yosei picked up a red covered book and flipped through the pages. The pages were neatly bounded to the spine and the words were straight without any ink blotches. He shut the book with his hand and said, “I’ll take this book then.” Yosei bowed to Megumi in thanks and then walked off.
Satoshi managed to slip away from Megumi’s grip and said, “Guess I better get going, so you can work.” Satoshi was only able to take one step before Megumi grabbed the back of his shirt. Megumi pulled roughly forcing Satoshi to him.
“And what makes you think that I will allow you to leave without punishment?”
The next thing Satoshi knew, he was standing next to Megumi’s stand with a heavy monkey statue in each hand and a sign around his neck that read: “I am a monkey, please do not feed me.” Megumi served the customers with a smile as the customers laughed at Satoshi’s form. Satoshi glared at Megumi muttering that Megumi was a demon.
When night had fallen, Megumi and Satoshi walked down the dirt road away from the market. Satoshi rubbed his sore arms and asked, “Why must I be punished for trying to help the family?”
“Whether you are helping or not, stealing is still wrong.”
“But Mikan-Nee-San and you are always exhausted from work. I just want to help you guys,” stated Satoshi close to tears. Megumi smiled at his younger brother and placed his hand gently on Satoshi’s head. He ruffled his hair and said, “If you really want to help then watch over mom at home. She needs company.” Satoshi nodded placing his hand on top of Megumi’s.
They turned a corner into the red light district. Drunken men wandered the streets, beautiful women lured idiotic men to their brothel, and greedy men gambled to the side. Satoshi gripped Megumi’s hand tightly. Megumi did the same continuing his pace.
They reached the “Red Lotus,” the top brothel in the red light district of Go Province. Megumi and Satoshi walked in, where a clerk was calculating the profits. Megumi knocked on the desk getting the clerk’s attention.
“What do you want?” asked the clerk rudely. Megumi smirked and said, “I came to pick up Mikan, my sister.”
“She’s with a customer right now.”
Megumi narrowed his eyes. He looked down at Satoshi and ordered him to stay by the desk. Satoshi nodded and watched his older brother dash past the crimson red drapes of the establishment. The clerk tried to chase after Megumi, but Satoshi tripped him refusing him to pursue Megumi.
Megumi dashed down the halls of the brothel toward Mikan’s assigned room. Megumi forced the door open and saw Mikan, his older twin sister, trying to get out of the grip of Keiki Nue, the son of a mafia leader in the Go Province. Megumi pulled Mikan away from Keiki’s grip roughly and pulled her to his chest. Megumi glared daggers at Keiki. Keiki glared back and screamed, “Why do you always interfere?” Megumi hugged Mikan as Mikan wept into his chest.
“Mikan obviously doesn’t like you, so stop requesting her, slime ball.”
Keiki growled and walked past Megumi. He told Megumi that he would regret this as he left the room. Megumi petted Mikan’s head telling her to be calm. Mikan wiped her tears away and thanked Megumi.
When they exited the room, Mikan asked Megumi how he knew that she was in trouble.
“Well you always make sure not to have a customer around this time because this is when Satoshi and I pick you up and I could also feel that you were in distress. I guess that’s because we are twins.”
Mikan blushed, hugging Megumi’s arm. Megumi’s warmth made Mikan feel like she was in heaven. When pass the drapes, Satoshi embraced Mikan around her waist asking if she was all right. Mikan assured him that she was all right.
“My, my, did Megumi become Mikan’s knight in shining armor again?”
Hime Hana emerged from behind them with a smile. Hime was the top courtesan in Red Lotus. Her long black hair was pulled in a bun and held up by a pink rose pin. She wore a deep red kimono with golden streaks; her eyes were emerald green, and her lips deep red. She was the Goddess of the establishment and every man wanted to be her husband, but she refused all advances.
Megumi looked back at Hime and stated, “I wouldn’t need to save her, if you would just stop Keiki from requesting her like I asked.” Hime giggled.
“I may be the top courtesan, but I do have my limits. I can’t interfere when it is between a paying customer and another courtesan.”
Megumi showed a look of disapproval. Hime touched Megumi’s chin and traced her index finger against his soft lips.
“What do I need to do in order to share a night with you?” asked Hime in a seductive voice. Megumi pulled Hime’s hand away from him.
“My money is for my family, Hime,” stated Megumi and turned away from Hime leading Satoshi and Mikan out. Before walking through the door, Megumi looked back at Hime.
“With your beauty you can have any man in Yulan, so please give up your advances on me.”
Megumi shut the door behind him. Hime gave out a disappointed sigh at her failure to luring Megumi into her bed.
As Megumi, Mikan, and Satoshi walked down the path, Satoshi couldn’t stop staring at Megumi. Megumi sighed and asked, “What’s wrong, Satoshi?”
“Why do you always refuse Hime when she is so infatuated with you?”
“Well for one thing, she is eight years older than me.”
“Shouldn’t age not matter when it comes to love?”
Megumi smirked at Satoshi and asked, in a teasing tone, “Do you love Hime?” Satoshi blushed and shook his head. Satoshi crossed his arms with a proud smirk.
“She’s pretty, but I prefer a girl who is pretty and nice like Mikan-Nee-San,” stated Satoshi. Mikan giggled at Satoshi’s honesty.
“Then you’re out of luck because there is no one as kind and beautiful as Mikan,” stated Megumi. Mikan blushed at the statement and smiled.
Megumi then looked at Mikan and asked, “Just wondering, but did Keiki try to force you to accept his marriage proposal again?”
Mikan nodded and added, “I refuse so many times, but he refuses to give up.” Mikan showed a single chain of silver coins and added, “I was only able to make this much because he threatened my other customers.” Megumi suddenly held Mikan by her shoulders forcing her to look at him.
“Quit working at the Red Lotus. I’ll take care of the money, so please quit for your own safety,” begged Megumi. Mikan smiled and shook her head. She held Megumi’s hand gently.
“With these hands you always make your wonderful goods at night, so you don’t get enough sleep. Let me continue to work to lessen your burden, my dear Megumi.”
Megumi sighed and nodded. Satoshi cleared his throat loudly making Megumi and Mikan look down at him.
“Hate to ruin the moment, but mom is waiting for us to return,” reminded Satoshi. Megumi and Mikan nodded and walked down the path.
In no time at all, they reached their home, a rundown cabin that seemed ready to break down at any moment. Megumi opened the door with a creak and announced their arrival to the only person in the house, their sickly mother. Their mother peeked from her room with bags under her eyes and her hair shriveled.
“Welcome home, my children,” she greeted with a broken voice. She coughed violently. Satoshi ran to her side and rubbed her back to calm her coughs. Megumi looked at Mikan and told her to start the fire for supper. Mikan nodded and ran off removing her purple iris hair pin from her hair.
While Mikan was in the kitchen, Megumi kneeled down in front of their mother and presented five chains of silver coins from his bag. He placed them on the ground like an offering and said, “This should be enough to pay for the medical expenses and for food.” Megumi’s mother touched the silver coins with a smile.
“Mikan and you always work so hard.”
Megumi’s mother coughed again. Satoshi rubbed her back telling her not to talk anymore. Megumi placed a hand to his mother’s shoulder and smiled.
“Mikan and I will continue to work until you are better,” reassured Megumi. Megumi’s mother smiled back and touched Megumi’s soft cheek.
“My life is slowly disappearing, but I want to see the day Mikan, Satoshi, and you get married, so I will continue to hang on.”
Megumi placed a hand on his mother’s hand with a nod.
Mikan peeked from the kitchen and stated, “We need more rice.” Megumi nodded back at her getting to his feet.
“I’ll get it,” offered Megumi. Satoshi stood up too asking to come along. Megumi smiled down at Satoshi and ruffled his hair.
“I’ll go alone and besides, I need a man in the house to protect the girls, understand?”
Satoshi nodded with a light blush against his cheek. Megumi grabbed one chain from the ground and walked out the door wishing his family goodbye.
Megumi returned to the market place and was relieved to see the rice stand still open. He paid the full price of the white rice and took the bag from the vender. The minute he turned around he met face to face with Yosei, who had a serious look upon his face.
Yosei nodded and showed the red covered book to Megumi. He flipped it open showing the neat writing.
“Did you truly write this book?”
“Where did you learn such knowledge and where did you learn to write this neat?”
“I worked in a library before and read the books. I also learned penmanship by looking at the words of the books.”
“So you taught yourself? There was no teacher?”
Megumi nodded. Yosei smirked and shut the book with one hand.
“What is your name young man and age?”
“Megumi Yoh, age twelve.”
“When do you turn thirteen?”
“Very soon. It should be on the day of the imperial exam if I am right.”
Yosei held a hand to his chest proudly.
“Let me formally introduce myself, I am Yosei Ai, leader of Ai Region, one of Yulan’s alliances.”
“Ai Region?” asked Megumi in disbelief. Yosei nodded.
“I have come to Go Province trying to find someone to sponsor for the next Imperial examinations. I have decided to sponsor you Megumi Yoh.”
Megumi’s eyes widen completely speechless. Yosei held the book firmly in his hands and added, “You have a potential to become a great official to serve the emperor, so do you accept?” Megumi thought deeply and suddenly remembered his family. Megumi closed his eyes and shook his head.
“I can’t accept.”
“Why not?” asked Yosei in disbelief.
“In order for me to take the imperial exam, I have to take the qualification exam and that will force me to be away from my family. My family needs me to support them, so I cannot accept your offer to sponsor me.”
Yosei tried to convince him, but Megumi continued to refuse. Megumi suddenly felt something grab at his heart and gripped his chest. Megumi’s heart raced as his eyes widen.
What is this feeling?
Megumi smelled smoke in the distance and began to run feeling a foreboding of terrible things to come. Yosei ran after him. Megumi stopped in his tracks as he stared at a burning house, which he once called home. The villagers of Go Province tried to put out the flames, throwing water on it repeatedly, but the flames just seemed to increase. Megumi dropped the rice and prepared to run inside, but Yosei grabbed him from behind refusing to let him run in.
“Let me go!” screamed Megumi as he struggled in Yosei’s grip. Yosei turned Megumi’s head to the right forcefully. Megumi stopped his struggles when he saw two bodies covered by blankets made from hay. Yosei loosened his grip allowing Megumi to approach the bodies. Megumi kneeled in front of the bodies, his hand shaking. He removed the blankets from the head and saw the burned faces of Mikan and his mother. He saw the traces of a knife wound on the side of Mikan’s head and the trace of strangle marks on his mother’s neck. Megumi clenched his hand and looked at a villager who was crying over the bodies.
“We don’t know. When we were passing by, we saw the house on fire and tried to rescue them, but they were already dead.”
“What about Satoshi? Where is my little brother?” asked Megumi with desperation in his voice.
“He wasn’t there.”
A woman covered in ash kneeled next to the bodies and said, “I heard screaming and saw a group of men run out of the house before it was completely engulfed by flames. They had an unconscious young boy in their grasp.”
Megumi clenched his fist as tears escaped his eyes. He remembered Mikan’s smile as she held his hand and his mother as she caressed his cheek. He screamed out his sadness as he cried over the bodies of his dead sister and mother begging them to come back.
Yosei placed a hand on Megumi’s shoulder and asked, “Do you want revenge?” Megumi glanced back at Yosei with blood shot eyes.
“The men who did this would most likely be in our documents. If you become an official, you can have unlimited access to the archives and find your family’s murderers and your brother’s kidnapper. So allow me to sponsor you in order for you to become an official and avenge your family.”
Megumi gritted his teeth, hot tears running down his face.
“I’ll accept, but you have to promise to help me when it is time.”
Yosei nodded. Megumi looked down at his two dead family members and made a promise to avenge their deaths and to find Satoshi.