by Serena W. Sorrell
In a faraway land, in a faraway place, a castle was built twixt night and tween day. The sun and the moon never moved in the sky, and so the kingdom between had both, every day. Inside this day-night castle lived Princess Kisui. She had lovely white hair and round golden eyes; she had creamy pink skin and dewy pink lips; and best, most of all, a kind heart. From the day-night castle the Princess was free to go out the left, but never the right; for the lands to the left were covered in light. But the right were filled with dark–and danger.
The lands to the left, for half of their star, was home to the lightlings, the most radiant by far. Light shone from their eyes, from their toes, from their mouths, and from their nose. Indeed, you could never quite look one straight on, for their light was so blinding, but the lightlings loved peace and nature and good.
However, their neighbors in the right lands, the darklings, loved nothing at all. On half of their world, the darklings did lurk. Nefarious and like night, no light in them blinked. They flew on black wings, and slashed with black claws. They blinked dark, black eyes, and wove dark, black lies. Worse still, darklings ate lightlings, or so it was told. And, though just an in-betweener, Princess Kisui never wished to discover if they’d eat her at all.
The in-betweeners lived balanced betwixt the sun and the moon. The cities of regular folk, neither lightling, nor darkling, were very quite dull. Twelve hours a night they would sleep in their homes at the edge of the night lands, and, when upon waking, twelve hours they worked in their shops on the edge of the day lands. And, so it was, and had been, since before time began.
Until, one day, Princess Kisui had had quite enough at last. She was eighteen now, and very grown up. With the stars to the right, and sun to the left Princess Kisui made up her mind to go outside. She snuck from her room. She snuck down her tower. She snuck across half of the throne room’s all. And, there she was blocked by a metal-made wall.
“Princess Kisui,” intoned the best knight, “you’re away from your tower, away from your room.” He straightened a bit, “And far, far too close to the right of the room.”
“Yes, of course,” Princess Kisui demurred. “You’re correct, I know. I wanted just a peek.”
“Yes, just a glimpse.”
The best knight stood, shaking his head, from the most absurd thing he ever had heard.
“My dear Princess Kisui,” he cried aloud once, “a peek, or a glimpse, or even a blink cannot come to be. Come, I will guide you back to your left room’s safety.”
And so, quite defeated, Princess Kisui trudged behind the best knight. She trudged across half the throne room. She trudged up the stairs of her tower. She trudged inside her left room. Safely returned, the knight dropped to a kneel.
“Dearest Princess Kisui, you’re everything to me. I must keep you from harm, and keep you from dark. Your father, the King, has entrusted me thus.”
A faint blush on her cheeks, the king’s best knight rose. She hadn’t expected words from his heart. The door closed as he left, and clicked with a lock. Kisui was trapped, alone in her room, and alone in the light.
This would not do. It would not stand. She would see the right side’s dark night. Princess Kisui wanted the stars, and the moon. She wanted the dark, and unknown. She wanted these things from the bottom of her heart. Denied instead, she dropped to her bed. Tears rained from her golden eyes like stars fell from the sky. A little light shivered, it shuddered, inside. Its blinking and winking unseen in the bright, but the little light heard her wish for the dark. The lock to her room opened with a spark. The door opened a crack. And then, wider yet.
Princess Kisui stood tall. She lifted her chin and courage swelled in her heart. She walked out the room once again. She stepped down the stairs of the tower, and crossed even the hall. No one noticed her walking, not even at all. She reached the edge of the left throne room, her father sat center. Beside gallant stood, the king’s best knight. Princess Kisui pressed forward, not breaking pace, not stopping to see if they followed her trace. She left out the throne room’s right door, and crossed the castle’s right hall. And, at the base of the right tower, she reached the furthermost wall. The door there was painted pitch black and marked her triumph at last.
She pushed open the right door, and crossed its threshold. The door snapped shut behind her. It gave her a jump. Her heart beat faster and she started to feel scared, until she looked up and beheld the right world. It was dark. It was night. The moon was a sliver, and around it a million stars shone. Princess Kisui was on the right side at last. She marveled at the wonder, for her eyes had only seen light. But, while she was marveling she didn’t take notice. Shadows were creeping ever, and ever closer. They moved darker than night. They slithered and crept. They flew on dark wings, and landed on sharp claws. The darklings all came to find the source of some glow.
It was not like a lightling, being duller than sun, but brighter than moon. It was almost as if, yes, a twinkling star had lit the right woods. Princess Kisui’s white hair, her skin, and her eyes, all of her glowed with a light most tantalizing. The darklings wriggled closer. They all tried to guess what being this thing was, but none of them knew. Princess Kisui still marveled as they conspired. To the dark tower they’d take her, before their great king. Then they’d divide her to discover her flavor.
They came with wings beating. They flew with claws gnashing. The first one reached one to snatch her pale wrist. Poof! The darkling crumbled to ash at her touch. The rest of the darklings stopped, and they thought. Princess Kisui was obliging, and very apologetic. At last, someone fetched a strong net, and they netted the glowing princess. Princess Kisui did not fight, she didn’t struggle a bit. For being sensibly minded she knew they would drop her, and with no wings of her own she was certain to splat. The darklings flew on, and told her their plans. Sinister plans for her hair, and gruesome plans for her eyes; terrible plans for her blood, and dark plans besides. Still, Princess Kisui did not cry. She stayed very still.
Kisui did not think to cry even as the dark tower rose from the horizon. She didn’t scream out, or wince when she was dropped to the floor. She only blinked up at the stars, for looming above her was darkling King Karreau. His hair was raven black, and his skin like dark ink. He had wings like a bat’s, and even its fangs. When Princess Kisui looked into mercury eyes she knew she’d never seen anything, anyone handsomer.
He stared for a while, head cocked to the side. The glowing girl stood. Their net dropped to the floor. The darklings stepped back, King Karreau turned and saw fear. His stone heart didn’t move, but his mind was intrigued by this small, glowing girl.
“What is this thing that you’ve brought? I cannot tell, but it glows like starlight, not so very bright. Still all the same, it’s a quite ghastly sight.”
“King Karreau,” addressed one, “none of us know. We found it and wondered. Be wary though, lest it turn you to dust. As it has already the first darkling it touched.”
To this news the King turned, his emotions still flat. He looked at the Princess, and remarked, “How interesting.”
Here, in the dark tower, stood a creature unknown. A sweet smelling fruit ready to devour. Yet, no darkling moved, not even the King. All their dark eyes watched the thing, not a lightling, and not betweener. They waited and watched for some sort of meaning. Princess Kisui stood straight, and made her fists tight. She found her voice and spoke unwavering.
“King Karreau and darklings, I am Princess Kisui, from the lands of day-night. I’m sorry for your friend, I didn’t mean harm. I only wished to see the right side of the world. I don’t know why I glow, only I never have before. But, if I am granted permission, I would like to stay here. The sky is so calm, and the stars so very many.”
King Karreau pondered this thing called Princess Kisui. An easy request, granted simply, could be, but behind him the darklings recoiled and leered. The fear of her touch at war with the allure of her smell. It was heady and good, and almost too much.
“Very well.” King Karreau assented at last, “You may stay in my lands, a personal guest. Here is my crest, and while you do wear it no darkling may harm you, or they answer to me.”
The darklings all knew he meant the threat. The warning was clear in his eyes of metal and strength. To touch the King’s guest would mean certain death. King Karreau removed the dark diadem he wore and dropped it ’round Princess Kisui’s slim neck. She curtsied and smiled, glad to be welcome. He bowed and turned to guide her, only interested mildly. Every step through the dark tower held splendor for her. She who’d been trapped in left and in light. She followed the King, as his wings dragged behind him. He spoke not a word until they arrived at a door.
“You may stay here so long as you choose. You’re free to discover whatever there is. That diadem will protect you from our unending hunger. Wear it always if you wish to stay breathing.”
She curtsied again. She felt a bit shy. Still, she smiled and spoke, with all of her might, “I thank you, King Karreau, for your absolute kindness.”
“Kindness?” His head cocked once more to the side, “You misunderstand, Princess Kisui. You are a curiosity, never seen before in our land. A monster in ways we can’t fathom, can’t touch.”
In demonstration, he took up her hand. His skin fizzled and foamed in the blink of an eye. Princess Kisui jerked away fast as she could. She hadn’t intended to touch any darkling, now knowing her touch could kill. And, it was King Karreau she never wanted to harm most of all.
King Karreau examined the burn, and said as he turned, “How interesting.”
He left Princess Kisui alone in the dark at the door of her chamber. She opened the door and collapsed on the bed. Overcome by such guilt and such grief. Her touch was poison to the darkling King Karreau. His eyes of dark silver and his heart of cold stone stayed in her mind. For only one reason the Princess’s heart leapt. Tears dropped from her golden eyes like stars falling through night.
“I wish my touch didn’t burn him.” She cried through thick tears, “King Karreau alone, I wish I could touch.”
Her skin shivered with light, it shuddered, but again, its blinking and winking went unseen in the dark. Kisui saw naught, her eyes closed tight and wishing. She could think only of the King, his wings, his eyes, and stone heart. And, she hoped, deep inside, they might never part. The little light heard her wish in the dark.
Nightly, King Karreau did visit. On many occasion just to remark on her odd disposition. She smiled too much, without malice or spite. She smiled when she answered his knock. She smiled at the night, at the stars, at the moon. King Karreau did not smile, and he felt not at all. Compared to Princess Kisui, who loved the everything the right world had to behold, yes compared to him who had none, this girl loved too much.
At the end of each outing she would smile and say ‘Good night’, he only answered, “How interesting.”
Around the dark tower happened to grow a garden of flowers which bloomed only in darkness. Princess Kisui followed King Karreau to the trellises there. Inky in shadow bloomed the twinkle flower. Its petals were indigo, almost dark as midnight, but on every one twinkled the sky. Dots of light blinked, some soft and some bright, on every night sky petal. Princess Kisui gasped loud at the wondrous bloom. She remarked how lovely it grew. The King who had learned to wear gloves each night, plucked one from its brethren and tucked it behind Princess Kisui’s glowing hair. She smiled at him, something he couldn’t name in her eyes, and his heart gave a thump. But only once. The King’s heart did not thump, it barely ba-dumped. When it did it was scheduled punctual, every half century.
“What is, King Karreau?”
He could not say why, but he decided to hide the thump of his stone heart.
“You may call me Karreau,” was all he would say.
The Princess smiled with joy, “Then call me Kisui.”
Many nights passed. Though the night never moved, Karreau felt time flowing. Millennia had passed since he felt hours moving. And little by little, Karreau’s interest with Kisui became something else, fascination he called it. She occupied his thoughts, but never his cold heart. He called her by name, and she called him his. Her smiles became less revolting, he guessed. This monster was powerful. And he’d invited it in to wander his castle. He still hadn’t grasped it was wandering closer.
In front of his court King Karreau never faltered, or hinted. Indeed, all his ministers thought he’d soon eat her. And, if eating was not then the plan surely he meant to use her to make some new darkling, the light to withstand. Endless recipes they whispered in his pointed ears. Her hair would bring gold. Her teeth could cure hunger. Her eyes, if plucked out, could someone’s life fortune tell. Her blood, an elixir to life everlasting. And her soul was the secret to power beyond reason.
Karreau replied each time, “How interesting.”
It came as a shock, a somewhat terrible surprise when King Karreau announced a nightball to be held. Common it was, of course, in the Day Court, indeed dancing was daily; but in the Court of the Night, maybe only once in five decades. But even more surprising, more shocking and scandalous, King Karreau chose to escort the monster from afar who had invaded the dark tower. King Karreau had crafted a dress for the Princess, bedecked in resplendence. A dress woven of twinkle flower petals. Indigo petals shimmered with minute stars. Stars sparkled on her waist. Stars shimmered down her gown. A hundred million stars clothed her from ankle to breast. And, around her slim neck hung the King’s diadem.
Karreau’s heart thumped once. His gloved hand took hers and his heart thumped once again. Karreau danced with Kisui under the dark. During each dance, as she looked into his eyes she wished for a way to soften his stone heart. The music was shrill, haunting, uneven, but to Kisui every second was beautiful. She smiled at Karreau, his mouth twitched in response. He almost smiled and it tangled more than Kisui’s heart. She fell against his broad chest. His hands steadied her back. Then the doors flew open and the best knight entered. Sword in his hand and might in his eyes, the Princess Kisui in King Karreau’s wicked clutches. The knight valiantly charged, blade aimed high for Karreau’s demise. Kisui moved fast. She raced between darkling King and best knight, arms parted wide to halt death.
“Stop!” She cried. “I am no prisoner, no captive. I am simply a guest.”
“Is this true?” The best knight had traveled long, traveled hard, fought dozens of darklings all to reach a princess who’d been in no danger?
“It is not.” King Karreau intoned dark, “We mean to eat her, piece by piece, to take her apart.”
The best knight gasped and spat out a curse, but Kisui just smiled. She was not easily fooled. She turned to Karreau and took his face in her hands. He did not burn, did not sizzle, did not even smoke. Kisui kissed him without a word, but all of her feeling. Karreau stood there, dumbfounded. The darklings all tensed, the monster had attacked. The best knight’s heart did plummet, the Princess’s heart had been won.
“I love you, Karreau.” She smiled and blushed, “Do you love me?”
Karreau liked the feel of her lips on his, but feelings of love? He replied, “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“My heart is stone. It does not even beat. While I don’t know what’s inside, I know the dark is not safe. So, go back to the left, return to the light. Live where you’re normal, and none see your glow.”
Kisui fell quiet. She dimmed. Karreau had broken her heart without even trying. The best knight led her away. away from the night, the stars, and the darkling King. The Princess said not a word, her silence sad and so deep. She weaved through the forest. She returned to the day-night castle of the lands in-between. Quiet, she stumbled across the throne room, in front of her father. She stumbled up the stairs of her tower, and through her old door, on the left side of the world. The best knight could bear no more.
“Princess, I love you. I have known you and watched over you. And, though I did not know you glow, and I no darkling king, I can make you happy, if you let me. You will forget the dark. Oh, Kisui, choose me. It’s all my heart wants.”
Princess Kisui smiled weak and kissed the knight’s cheek. His speech was impassioned, but her heart was another’s. Her heart had been left in the dark, and there it would stay. The only memento was the black diadem. The knight knew at once he would not be the one. He turned and exited, not pushing the matter. Princess Kisui, made one last wish, one final time. She wished, though she knew it was an impossible wish. She still wished it. To see Karreau. Tears bled from her golden eyes like stars shooting across the sky. A weak light shivered, it shuddered, though she’d gone hollow inside. Its blinking and winking went unseen in the left world, always so bright. But, the fading light heard her wish for her heart.
Days turned to weeks, and weeks stretched to months. Kisui languished, looking ever left. The sun and the trees, the land of lightlings, thrived and it shone. The bright left made her head ache. Under such brilliant light Kisui was fair, but she did not glow, nothing flickered within. The King, her father, worried with fret. His daughter’s starlight had faded with the loss of her heart. He told Princess Kisui she was neither lightling, or darkling, or even in-betweener. She was the child of a wishing star the King had once loved when she fell from the sky. But, her mother had gone back to the night. The King of the day-night lands feared his daughter would, too. But more than that, he feared her fading. He should have told her the truth, should have shown Princess Kisui her light.
A knock at the door. The King stood and faced his best knight. The knight stepped aside and King Karreau entered. He was faded, somewhat gray, no longer dark and foreboding. Princess Kisui’s last two wishes protected him from touch and from light, but only she could bring back his dark. For all the while he believed he’d done right, he ached to again see her sweet, darling smile.
“I love you.”
“How do you know?”
He lifted her chin. His heart thumped thrice in his chest made of ice. He kissed her lips, and with a wicked smile he confessed, “I could only ever love the most terrible monster.”
And so, they left the day-night lands. They returned the tower of dark, under the sky full of stars. Glow returned to Kisui and darkness flowed back into Karreau. The darklings feared their fearsome rulers as the strongest of darklings. Queen Kisui had conquered their King’s stone heart, and only King Karreau could endure the Queen’s glow.
The star-daughter did never another wish make. She had all she needed, all her heart’s desires. She wanted no more. She had the night and the moon, the stars and the dark. She could visit her father, and she had Karreau’s love. She had discovered at last, sometimes it’s fine to be someone you never expected to be. It is fine, indeed, to be someone entirely new. Sometime the world must be dark to see your soft light. And no one, no king or best knight, not day and not night, can tell you at all where you need to belong. In light or in dark, it’s yours to decide.