CHAPTER ONE

Van Fanel strode down the shadowed corridors of his palace in Fanelia, encountering no one. He walked though his private apartments, toward the recreated gardens that had been so beloved by his dead mother.

Besides, it was already two hours past moonrise. Everyone knew not to disturb him.

Van silently let himself out through a side door, not even wanting to encounter the largely ceremonial guards that dotted the castle and its grounds. He was in no mood for any sort of conversation.

His mind was already focused on the Mystic Moon, on Hitomi.

It had been five years since he had returned her to her home, her promise never to forget him ringing in his ears. As much as he loved her, he could not have kept her on Gaia then. They had both been children and Hitomi had clearly not been ready to leave her home and family. And Van, who had lost his family so long ago, had understood.

As much has he thought he loved her, he acknowledged silently. He had been a child then, too, and there was much about loving that he knew nothing about back then. He was a man now and he had learned a great deal in these years, while he waited.

Yes, he was waiting. Everyone knew it, although no one mentioned it. Everyone was nervous about it, too. Van Fanel had to marry and sire an heir, but he had shown no interest in the ladies paraded before him by the hopeful and ambitious dams. He was gentle and he was polite and he was always quite serious, but he remained quite distant.

Van was waiting. He had never doubted that Hitomi would return.

For five years, he had been repeating the ritual he planned to perform tonight. He would walk the garden paths until he came to the place, his special place. He could not have said what it was about that spot, except that it was surrounded by thick, high hedges and flowering trees so that it gave him both privacy and an unimpeded view of the night sky. It was more than that, though. Somehow, Van could always feel her there, as soon as he entered that little clearing. He didn't even have to work at it.

He did not reach out to her as often these days as he used to when she had first left him. The young king had first to supervise the rebuilding of Fanalia after the Zeibach War, and ensure that all his subjects were cared for. That had been a joyful chore for him but it had been exhausting, as well, particularly because he'd had no one he could turn to who could share his burden. He had reached out to Hitomi as often as his terrible fatigue allowed.

He had thought he would be able to "see" her more often after that but, somehow, as the press of day-to-day responsibilities claimed his time and attention, he instead reached out to her less and less. Even so, he had watched her as she had grown into womanhood, had suffered through her education in the mysteries of the flesh, had been forced to remain mute and helpless as she had grown increasingly lonely and despondent. And wondered why she still did not come back.

His throat closed and his eyes stung when he thought about that again. His heart yearned for her, even as his body ached for her. Why hadn't she come back?

But no, Van decided, he would not think of that now. He sat on the stone bench in the center of a slight rise, surrounded by the night-darkened foliage and bathed in moonlight. Clearing his mind, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Slowly, the pendant around his neck began to glow.

There was no way he could have been prepared for the violent cascade of emotions that overwhelmed him as soon as he felt himself to be in contact with Hitomi. Burning, searing pain gouged a primal fear into his gut. This was more than the usual sadness he had been feeling from her for a long time. No, this was naked, raw terror, a wound so intense that it had to be physical.

And yet, this time he could not "see" her! What the hell could be happening?

Even more alarming, as suddenly as he had reached her, the sense of her presence in his mind began to fade. As hard as he tried to hold onto her, she was slipping away from him.

Then he heard it. A wail full of terrible longing and despair. "Van!"

Van was on his feet, unaware of the tears streaming down his face. "Hitomi!"

CHAPTER ONE

Van Fanel strode down the shadowed corridors of his palace in Fanelia, encountering no one. He walked though his private apartments, toward the recreated gardens that had been so beloved by his dead mother.

Besides, it was already two hours past moonrise. Everyone knew not to disturb him.

Van silently let himself out through a side door, not even wanting to encounter the largely ceremonial guards that dotted the castle and its grounds. He was in no mood for any sort of conversation.

His mind was already focused on the Mystic Moon, on Hitomi.

It had been five years since he had returned her to her home, her promise never to forget him ringing in his ears. As much as he loved her, he could not have kept her on Gaia then. They had both been children and Hitomi had clearly not been ready to leave her home and family. And Van, who had lost his family so long ago, had understood.

As much has he thought he loved her, he acknowledged silently. He had been a child then, too, and there was much about loving that he knew nothing about back then. He was a man now and he had learned a great deal in these years, while he waited.

Yes, he was waiting. Everyone knew it, although no one mentioned it. Everyone was nervous about it, too. Van Fanel had to marry and sire an heir, but he had shown no interest in the ladies paraded before him by the hopeful and ambitious dams. He was gentle and he was polite and he was always quite serious, but he remained quite distant.

Van was waiting. He had never doubted that Hitomi would return.

For five years, he had been repeating the ritual he planned to perform tonight. He would walk the garden paths until he came to the place, his special place. He could not have said what it was about that spot, except that it was surrounded by thick, high hedges and flowering trees so that it gave him both privacy and an unimpeded view of the night sky. It was more than that, though. Somehow, Van could always feel her there, as soon as he entered that little clearing. He didn't even have to work at it.

He did not reach out to her as often these days as he used to when she had first left him. The young king had first to supervise the rebuilding of Fanalia after the Zeibach War, and ensure that all his subjects were cared for. That had been a joyful chore for him but it had been exhausting, as well, particularly because he'd had no one he could turn to who could share his burden. He had reached out to Hitomi as often as his terrible fatigue allowed.

He had thought he would be able to "see" her more often after that but, somehow, as the press of day-to-day responsibilities claimed his time and attention, he instead reached out to her less and less. Even so, he had watched her as she had grown into womanhood, had suffered through her education in the mysteries of the flesh, had been forced to remain mute and helpless as she had grown increasingly lonely and despondent. And wondered why she still did not come back.

His throat closed and his eyes stung when he thought about that again. His heart yearned for her, even as his body ached for her. Why hadn't she come back?

But no, Van decided, he would not think of that now. He sat on the stone bench in the center of a slight rise, surrounded by the night-darkened foliage and bathed in moonlight. Clearing his mind, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Slowly, the pendant around his neck began to glow.

There was no way he could have been prepared for the violent cascade of emotions that overwhelmed him as soon as he felt himself to be in contact with Hitomi. Burning, searing pain gouged a primal fear into his gut. This was more than the usual sadness he had been feeling from her for a long time. No, this was naked, raw terror, a wound so intense that it had to be physical.

And yet, this time he could not "see" her! What the hell could be happening?

Even more alarming, as suddenly as he had reached her, the sense of her presence in his mind began to fade. As hard as he tried to hold onto her, she was slipping away from him.

Then he heard it. A wail full of terrible longing and despair. "Van!"

Van was on his feet, unaware of the tears streaming down his face. "Hitomi!"