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Title: A Sort-Of Fairy Tale, Chapter 1
Chapter: Chapter 1 of ? - this chapter is cut in two because of LJ's post limits, there's a link to the second part at the bottom of the first.
Author: Boots
Rating: This chapter PG, eventual series rating NC-17
Genre: Fairy tale AU, romance, drama
Warning: For this chapter, just language
Pairing: Final pairings of the series confidential for now. Currently, it involves Yo-ka (DIAURA) with a harem that includes Subaru (Royz), MiA (Mejibray), Yuuki (Lycaon/Initial’L), Ruiza (D), Hiyori (Kiryu) and Hiro (Fest Vainqueur). Although he's not in the pairing list (yet), the Toya in this fic is from Gotcharocka.
Disclaimer: DIAURA belongs to Ains, Royz and Kiryu belong to B.P. Records, Mejibray belongs to White Side Group, D and Gotcharocka belong to God Child Records, Fest Vainqueur belongs to PLUG RECORDS west, and I’m not yet sure who Initial’L’s new company is. I own the story only.
Overall Story Summary: Once upon a time, there was a prince named Yo-ka whose father forced him to go through a Culling – a process by which a group of young men are gathered from each district of his kingdom and he eliminates them one by one until he finds his true love. There was another prince named Toya, who came along to offer his brother moral support, but planned to stay away from the fray. And there was a candidate named Subaru, who arrived from one of the country’s poorest districts with little more than a head full of dreams. All three were about to get more than they bargained for . . .
Chapter Summary: Subaru is chosen for The Culling, and suddenly finds himself in the middle of a world of luxury – and facing a lot of prejudice. Can he make it to the second round – especially after being caught sneaking into a forbidden area of the palace?
Comments: The ultimate inspiration of this story was the concept behind ABC’s TV show The Bachelor, which I find repugnant – forcing a young man to eliminate women one by one, stomping on hearts and ripping apart friendships, until he arrives at his alleged true love. I began wondering, what if this ritual was applied to a Cinderella-like search for a royal consort . . . (During the planning stages of this fic, I became aware that there is a young adult series with a very similar concept to this fic called The Selection by Kiera Cass. While that series was not an influence on this fic – I have not read the books, just reviews of them – I figured I should note that here.)

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom called Veekay that seemed to exist in its own little world.

Granted, Veekay had neighboring kingdoms – it wasn't as if it was totally isolated – but its residents were always caught up in their own traditions and their own lifestyles. It was a hodgepodge of cultures – European, Japanese, even a little North American. There were big celebrations for both Christmas and O-bon. You'd see people in kimono on the streets next to people in blue jeans.

The people had trains to take them from one part of their nation to the next, and entertainment via the radio and motion pictures, and wall-mounted telephones to communicate with each other. If they lived in one of the Upper Districts, they could take the more expensive ferryboats that went from port to port – about half the country was surrounded by water.

And, yes, the country was divided into districts, representing a range of social classes. The Upper Districts, including Lycaon and Versailles, housed the government officials, the trade barons, the universities and their professors. The Middle Districts, such as Mejibray and Kiryu, were the homes of the office workers and managers. There were a couple of trade districts that were filled with craftspeople.

Then, there were the Lower Districts. These were populated by factory workers, construction workers, and others that would be called the “blue-collar” classes in other nations. One such Lower District was Royz, a rough and tumble seaport, home to fishermen and the sailors who manned the merchant ships.

Above all these districts was the Royal Family. Because, of course, every true kingdom has a sovereign monarch, and this one had a rather stern and traditional king. He and his queen had three children. The eldest, a girl named Reiko, had long since married and moved away from home – in her first year of college, she eloped with the prince of a neighboring kingdom. They now lived there with their two children, with the promise that they would be co-sovereigns as soon as her in-laws retired.

And then, there were the two sons, Yo-ka and Toya. They were both of marrying age – they both liked men, but in this kingdom, that was no big deal. All romantic, sexual and gender identities were welcomed, any two non-related people could get married. The family had already agreed that Reiko's younger child would become the heir to the Veekay throne, so producing offspring wasn’t a problem.

The problem was that neither showed any inclination to get married.

The king was growing impatient. He was tired of the gossip of his sons carousing, having casual affairs, going from boyfriend to boyfriend. It was conduct unbecoming royalty – especially in the case of Yo-ka, who was his heir, for goodness sake.

So the king decided it was time to do something about it. It was time to carry out one of the nation's traditions.

And it is here that our story begins . . .

* * *

In the district of Royz lived a young man named Subaru. He was just another face in the crowd – though many remarked that the face in question, surrounded by long, blond hair, was quite cute. Like anyone else in the town, he worked at a nautical-related job – he was a clerk in a tugboat office, and occasionally piloted the tugs himself. He had a nautical-related hobby – he and his friends would go surfing on their off-hours.

But there were times – many of them, in fact – that he dreamed of life outside their seafaring village.

“Don't you ever wonder what it would be like?” he asked his friends as they waxed their surfboards. “Living somewhere else, I mean? Traveling around the country?”

His friends exchanged looks. “Subaru,” Kuina said, “in case you haven't noticed, we're from Royz. We're from one of the lowest districts in the country.”

“So?” Subaru said. “That doesn't mean we can't go elsewhere, does it? Wouldn't you like to know how the other half lives?”

“I've wondered about it,” Kodai said. “But Kuina's right, Subaru. People like us can't afford to travel around. Besides – what's wrong with where we are? We don't really want for anything, do we? We're not rich, but we have food on the table.”

“Hey, I'd like to see what it's like in other places,” Tomoya said.

“See?” said Subaru. “It's not just me.”

“But I'm also realistic enough to know I'm probably not going to unless I build my own boat,” said Tomoya. “Actually, that may not be a bad idea.”

“You, build your own boat?” said Kuina. “I'd like to see you try it.”

“How hard can it be?” said Tomoya. “It just has to float, right?”

Subaru went back to his waxing. He probably wouldn't see the world outside their village, that was true – but that didn't stop him from dreaming about it.

* * *

And then, one day, when he was at work, an old man arrived with news that meant a dramatic turn in his life.

He was behind the clerk's desk, and Kuina – who also worked for the tug company – was sweeping the office floor. “It's dead in here today,” Kuina said. “Wonder if everyone would notice if I went home?”

“That's usually when a ton of business arrives,” Subaru said. “Just when you're ready to sneak out. Don't tempt fate.”

“Well, what if I climbed out a back window? Then fate wouldn't know I was leaving, and . . .”

The door jingled. There stood one of the old fishermen in the traditional yellow rain slicker, his beard still carrying a mist of sea foam.

“So much for not tempting fate,” Subaru murmured to Kuina. To the old man, he said, “May I help you?”

“Not so much what you can do for me,” the old guy said. “Just wanted to know if you heard the news from the capital.”

“We don't pay attention to the capital,” Kuina said. “Because the capital doesn't give a crap about us. The royal family likes to pretend the Lower Districts don't exist.”

“You're gonna wanna pay attention to this, boy!” the old man said. “Seems the Palace is holding a Culling, and the Crown Prince is looking for a male mate.”

Subaru and Kuina exchanged puzzled glances. “What's a Culling?” Subaru said.

“What's a Culling?” the old man repeated. “Don't tell me you've never heard of . . . well, you're young'uns, aren'cha, you wouldn't have been around when the King married the Queen. They never did hold a Culling for the princess, she took off with some guy on her own.”

“Well, I know the Princess married Prince Jaejoong and lives in Kaypop,” Subaru said. “But that still doesn't tell us what a Culling is.”

“'Kay, it goes like this,” the old man said. “They pick one person of the prince or princess's preferred gender from each district. They line 'em up, the palace people interview them and look 'em over and decide which one has the best chance of being picked. And then those picked people go live in the palace and get to know the prince or princess, and they travel around and live in the other royal palaces throughout the country. The royal person eliminates people they think they don’t have a chance with as they go along. And finally, they're down to two, and the prince or princess picks one of 'em as a mate.”

“Wait a minute,” Subaru said. “Travel? If you participate in this thing, you get to travel?”

“Well, the people from the richer districts do, I reckon,” the old man said. “They always pick one of the rich ones in the end, y'know what I mean? People from Royz are always booted in the first round of the Culling. One and done. But hey, you get picked for this, you get to spend a coupl'a days in the capital ‘fore they kick you out, right?”

Subaru's eyes were practically alight. “Where do I sign up?” he said.

“Whoa, whoa, Subaru, calm down,” Kuina said. “Do you even know what you're getting into?”

“I'm getting into being able to see the capital if I'm chosen!” Subaru said. “Kuina, it's what I've always wanted! It's a chance to get away from here for a little while and see something else!”

“But . . . would you really want to be in some kind of contest to marry the prince? That seems kinda . . . old-fashioned?”

“Told ya he wouldn't have to worry about gettin’ to the end,” the old man said. “Never knew of anyone from Royz making the second round. But if he wants to go to the capital, let him sign up.”

“There's no guarantee I'll even be picked,” Subaru said. “But I at least want to try. No harm in trying, right?”

“I'm not going to be able to talk you out of this, am I?” Kuina said.

“What do you think?” said Subaru.

Kuina threw up his hands. “Fine. Sign up for it. If you get picked, I'll cover for you here while you’re gone.”

“Thank you!” Subaru said. He was practically doing a jig behind his desk. If he got chosen . . . if he was going to be a part of this thing . . . he'd see somewhere else in the kingdom, at long last. He'd fulfill his ultimate dream.

And if he wasn't picked? At least he tried. His life wouldn't be one big what-if – and that had to count for something.

* * *

At the palace, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Yo-ka of Valluna sat in his office, fuming.

His desk was covered with reports from the selection squad that was currently going from district to district, picking what they thought were the most beautiful, eligible and full-of-personality men from each district. They'd be here in a couple of days.

He didn't want to see any of them. He just wanted to send the whole lot of them home as soon as they arrived.

He'd had it out with his father over the idea of the Culling several times. The last one had been over dinner the night before.

“Is it still too late to call it off?” Yo-ka had said. “I really don't think that I want to . . .”

“You are NOT calling it off,” his father said. “It's settled.”

“It's not settled until the men start arriving,” said Yo-ka.

“It has been announced and the selection squads are making the rounds,” his father said. “And even if they weren't, you WILL be going through with this, Yo-ka.”

“I don't know why I need to!” Yo-ka said.

“Because NEITHER of you have done anything about finding a mate!” his father snapped.

Yo-ka glanced over at his brother. Toya just rolled his eyes. He'd been through this drill before – a lot.

“I date,” Yo-ka said. “We both date.”

“Carousing in bars and having flings with young actors isn't dating!” the king snapped. “It's acting like a public embarrassment. It is WAY beyond time for both of you to be married. Why, when I was your age, I'd been married five years and had my first child already!”

“Fine, I'll calm down the going to bars, even though I didn't think that was excessive anyway,” Yo-ka said. “But I still disagree with this Culling crap!”

“Do NOT use language like that in my presence!” his father said. “You need to use restraint!”

“He was using restraint,” Toya said. “He didn't tell you what he REALLY thinks of it.”

“And YOU need to watch your attitude, young man,” the king said. “You are BOTH lucky that I'm letting you indulge your tastes and seek male suitors! There was a time where EVERY prince had to take a female spouse no matter what his preferences were! You're both lucky I don't make arranged marriages for you – there's plenty of princesses in other kingdoms looking for husbands!”

“Dear, really, your father means the best,” their mother said. “He just wants you to be happy. I met your father in a Culling, remember. We've had a good marriage.”

“Mother, I'm not taking anything away from your marriage,” Yo-ka said. “I just hate the idea of the whole Culling process. It's demeaning. Bringing in a heard of potential spouses, like cattle, and then tossing them away like garbage? We should have progressed past that by now.”

“It's tradition,” the father said. “This nation is held together by it. And we are NOT going to break with it, you understand me? You go through with this Culling, or you will lose the throne.” He turned to Toya. “And YOU will choose a spouse in a Culling as well, or you'll lose your place as second to the throne!”

“What if I don't find someone in this Culling?” Yo-ka said. “What if none of them appeal to me?”

“Then we start all over again,” his father said. “My grandfather went through THREE complete Cullings until he found my grandmother.”

“There is someone out there for you,” said his mother. “For both of you. And this makes it easier to find that person, that's all. Please, Yo-ka – trust in your father, and trust in this process.”

So here Yo-ka was, beaten down by the will of his parents, facing the goddamn human cattle call. He just wanted it to be over. He just wanted to pick someone so his parents would be off his back for six months.

He knew very well that the person picked at the end of the Culling didn't automatically marry the prince – that person then became known as the Pledged. That meant he would date the Pledged exclusively for six months, at the end of which, he would decide whether to proceed to an engagement – or cut the person loose and, like his father said, start all over again.

The office door opened. Yo-ka looked up to see his brother leaning against the doorway.

“Planning on staying here all night?” Toya said.

“Well, I sure as hell can't go out 'carousing' anymore, can I?” Yo-ka said. “I'm just sorry they're going to have to put you through this as well.”

“Hey, it may not be so bad.” Toya approached the desk. “You may actually meet someone you like.”

“Yes, and then have to break the hearts of a bunch of other guys,” Yo-ka said. “What sadist designed this thing, anyway?”

“Does it matter?” Toya began rummaging through the papers, looking to see if his brother was hiding any mints or candies under them. “Oh, by the way, daddy dearest is insisting I accompany you on this thing – so I can observe the Culling process firsthand and 'learn respect for it.'”

“Lovely,” Yo-ka said. “Well, I'll be glad for the company, at least.”

“You're going to be surrounded by hot guys.” Toya found a roll of mints and began peeling the paper away from the end. “I'd say that's plenty of company.”

“I'm only allowed to interact with them during 'events,' though,” Yo-ka said. “Cocktail parties, individual dates, group dates and dinner. And that's another thing. How the hell am I going to get anything more than a first impression from any of this? How am I going to get to know anyone well enough to take it to an engagement?”

“That's why the Pledge period, remember?” said Toya. “Look, I think the whole thing sucks, too. Especially that daddy dearest is not giving us an alternative. But at least you don't have to marry the guy straight out at the end of it.”

“They used to,” Yo-ka said. “Make the prince marry his chosen at the end of the Culling, I mean. And that's why most of the Higher Districts are populated by the descendants of royal bastards.” He’d heard the whispers about the family’s secret history many times. Within a year of marrying the alleged love of his life, the king would be getting it on with the maids. The babies would be given a duke or earl title and sent to live with nobles as their “nephew.”

Yo-ka leaned over, putting his head on his folded arms. “Toya, sometimes I think I'd be happier if I were a commoner, you know?”

“You might be,” Toya said. “But your clothes wouldn't be as nice. And you'd have lesser quality mints. These are really good.”

Yo-ka raised his head a bit. “Who said you could take my mints?”

“If they're on the desk? They're fair game among family.” He put his hand on Yo-ka's shoulder. “Yo-ka, it'll be okay. We'll make the most of this crap. If anything else, when we're traveling around, we won't have to listen to our father bellow constantly for awhile, right?”

He had a point there. But Yo-ka still just wanted this whole thing to be over. He inwardly swore than when he became King, he would never make his successor go through a Culling. Ever.

* * *

Subaru stood on the deck of the boat, watching the land mass that was the capital get closer and closer, feeling the spray on his face.

It was really happening. In a few moments, he was going to the palace. He was going to see things he never even thought he'd see in his wildest dreams.

Getting chosen for the Culling had been surprisingly easy. For one thing, not that many guys went out for it – apparently, the old man had talked to a lot of people about Royz' record of being “one and done” in these things. For another, his “audition” had been simple – they interviewed him, took a couple of photos, and two days later came to his house with the news that he was going to the capital.

So here he was, along with his suitcase and surfboard, on a merchant vessel that was going to the capital anyway, so they gave him a lift. (He wasn't going to take a board at first, but his friends insisted. “You have to tell us how the waves are at the capital!” Tomoya said.)

The first mate, a grizzled-looking old seafarer with rumpled hair and equally rumpled clothes, approached Subaru. “They know we're coming?” he said.

“The captain said he'd radio the palace when we make our final approach,” Subaru said. “They'll send someone to the docks to meet me.”

“You're gonna be livin' the high life, that's for sure,” the mate said. “Fancy food, fancy clothes, fancy everything.”

“I do wonder if they're going to give me new clothes.” Subaru looked down at what he was wearing – a dark dress suit, borrowed from his father. For Royz, it was fancy. For the rest of the country? Not so much.

“Reckon they gotta, if you're gonna meet the prince,” said the mate. “You're gonna have a story to tell when you get back home.” He walked toward the ship's bridge. “Looks like we're gonna dock. You may wanna get inside and get your stuff.”

Subaru held his breath as the ship pulled in, and was tied to the dock, and finally, finally, FINALLY the gangplank was pulled into place. This is it, he thought. This is it, I'm getting off at the capital, I'm going to the palace, and I'm never going to be a boy who's gone nowhere and seen nothing again.

He picked up his suitcase in one hand, tucked his surfboard under his arm, and nearly bounded down the plank. “Thanks for the ride! It was lovely!” he called over his shoulder to the crew. He reached the bottom, and looked around . . .

There were two men in severe, military-like uniforms. They were looking around as well. One of them nudged the other and pointed to the ship Subaru came from, and their noses wrinkled as if they were smelling particularly overripe garbage.

The men approached him, slowly. “Are you Subaru of Royz?” one of them said.

“I'm . . .” Subaru started to give his full name, but he was stopped by the guard holding up his hand.

“During the Culling, all candidates are known only by their first name and the name of their district,” he said. “For the duration of your time with us, you are Subaru of Royz. Now, come with us, we will bring you to the palace. You're one of the last to arrive. You will put your things away and proceed directly to orientation.”

“Orientation?” said Subaru.

“The briefing on the Culling procedure,” said the other guard. “We certainly aren't going to toss you straight into it without knowing what to expect. Now, come this way.”

Subaru followed the two men, his head whipping this way and that, trying to take everything in as he was led to a long, black automobile. Look, there were buildings three times as tall as anything in his hometown! Lit-up signs with advertisements! People walking by in beautiful, well-tailored clothes! Even the small, fluffy white dog being walked on a leash looked more elegant than anything back home!

They got to the car, and one guard took his suitcase. “I'm not sure how we're going to transport this . . .”

“Surboard,” said Subaru. “It's called a surfboard. We use them where I'm from to ride on waves.”

“We can strap it to the top of the car,” the second guard said. “Fortunately, we still have straps.”

“Oh, did someone else bring a surfboard?” Subaru said.

“Hardly,” said the guard. “No, a few of the candidates brought unusually large amounts of luggage. More than we could fit in the trunk.”

“Wow,” Subaru said. He couldn't imagine owning that many clothes – let alone bringing them along with him!

“Some people are quite confident about the amount of time they will be in the Culling,” the first guard said.

When the surfboard was secure, and Subaru seated in the back, they took off – and Subaru leaned over, face nearly pressed against the window. Everything looked beautiful and elegant to him – the people, the clothing, the stores, the cars . . .

Before long, the car turned onto a winding road, and started up the side of a steep path. Subaru held his breath – this was it! Sure enough, after a couple of turns, the palace itself came in view, turrets gleaming in the sunlight, pennants flapping in the air. His eyes got bigger and bigger the closer to it they got.

Finally, they reached a guardhouse, where the guard checked the credentials of the car before opening the huge, iron gates before them. They drove past, and right into an underground garage, where the car was parked next to a group of similar-looking ones.

Another guard approached the vehicle. “This boy is Subaru of Royz?” he said.

“Yes, sir!” Subaru replied, bowing as best he could while still seated in the car.

“Come with me,” the newcomer said. “There's just enough time to put your things in your room before the orientation.”

“Oh, am I late?” Subaru said as the door to the car was opened. He hopped out. “I'm sorry, I came on a merchant boat, and we just pulled in, and . . .”

“It's all right,” the guard said – but he muttered under his breath to the other two, “I would expect nothing different from people from THERE.”

Subaru was taken aback. He'd heard plenty about how people looked down their noses at those from the Lower Districts, but he wasn't expecting to hear it so soon. He suddenly felt his I'm-in-the-city high coming down very quickly.

I just hope I don't hear much more of that kind of thing, he thought, as he was whisked away, one guard carrying his suitcase, another struggling with his surfboard.

* * *

The orientation was held in one of the grand ballrooms. Subaru entered the room trying not to gawk – but it was hard. There were white marble columns holding up the ceiling, paintings of ancient mythological figures frolicking in meadows all over the walls, a grander-than-grand piano in one corner. Rows of folding chairs were set up in front of a lectern, and young men were milling everywhere.

For the first time, Subaru got a look at his competition. They were gorgeous. He'd never seen so many beautiful, well-dressed, well-groomed men in his life. Suddenly, his black dress suit looked plainer than ever.

He was still wandering around, trying not to stare at anything or anyone, when he was approached by a tall, blond boy – reasonably well-dressed in a black shirt and pants with a matching, sparkly bolero, but not as over-the-top glamorous as some of the others.

“Hi,” the boy said. “I'm MiA. I'm from Mejibray.”

Subaru recognized the name of one of the Middle Districts. “I'm Subaru,” he said. “I'm from, um . . .” He looked around, then mumbled, “Royz.”

“Did you say Royz?” MiA said. Subaru just nodded. “Well, that's okay! I'll bet you've never been in a place like this before!”

“You could say that,” Subaru said. “This is the most beautiful place I've ever seen!”

“Same here,” said MiA. “I've traveled a little, mostly for my work, but I've never been in a palace.”

“What's your work?” Subaru said.

“Photography,” MiA said. “I take pictures for one of the newspapers in Mejibray. But I'm also looking to be a musician. I practice guitar all the time – I brought it with me, in fact.”

“A musician?” said Subaru. “That sounds great! I'm, well . . . I work with boats.”

“You build them?” MiA said.

“More like I'm a clerk for a tugboat company,” said Subaru. “I wanted to work on one of the merchant ships, so I could travel a little, but a friend of the family owned the tug company and he really needed the help, so . . .” He shrugged.

“Maybe you could . . .” MiA said, but before he could finish, a portly older man approached the lectern and tapped the microphone, causing a squeal of feedback that made everyone in the room hold his ears and grimace.

“Excuse me, gentlemen, will you please take your seats?” the man said.

“Come on, let's sit over here,” MiA said, leading Subaru to a pair of aisle seats.

“I would like to welcome you all to the palace,” the man said. “My name is Ohara Hideki, Fifth Earl of Pierrot, and I am one of the royal advisors. I am the coordinator for this Culling, held on behalf of His Royal Highness Crown Prince Yo-ka of Valluna. Now, I know the first question all of you have is when you are going to meet the prince. There will be a reception tonight, at which time you will each be allowed to greet His Highness. Over the next several days, you will be all scheduled for one-on-one interviews with the Prince, after which he will make his first cut and send five of you home.”

“That means fifteen of us move on to the next palace,” MiA whispered.

“The procedure for eliminations will be this,” said the Earl. “You will all be given badges to wear – rosettes in the royal colors with your names on them. On the eve of eliminations, your badges will be handed in to staff. The next morning, they will be returned to you. If your badge has a new ribbon on it – and there will be a different colored ribbon for each elimination – then the prince has requested that you stay. If you have no new ribbon, you have been eliminated, and arrangements will be made for your transport home.”

Subaru thought about what the old man had said about “one and done.” Was that going to happen to him? Would he be send home in the first elimination?

“Those of you who make the first cut will then move on with the royal entourage to one of the family's other palaces,” said the Earl. “There, the prince will schedule dates with some of you. If you are not chosen for a one-on-one date, you will go on a group date with him later in the week. At the end of the second week, he will eliminate five more people.

“The remaining ten will move to a third palace for another week of dates, at the end of which two people will be sent home. There will be double eliminations for the next two weeks, at two more palaces. Then, there will be two weeks when a single person is sent home, until the prince is down to the final pair. And those two will come back here, where the prince will choose the one he will be pledged to in a grand ceremony in front of the king and queen.”

Instantly, Subaru felt sorry for whoever the runner-up would be. To come that far, to develop feelings for the prince, only to get his heart broken in front of the whole royal family? It seemed flat-out brutal.

“Now, mind you, there are no prizes given except to the first and second runners-up,” the Earl said. “The third place finisher gets . . .” He named a pretty stunning monetary sum. “And the runner-up will get . . .” He named an absolutely jaw-dropping amount. “The prince may also choose to bestow titles of nobility on runners-up as he sees fit.”

“Seems that losing isn't so bad, in this case,” whispered one of the guys in front of Subaru.

“And one more thing,” said the Earl. “Keep in mind that there will be NO physical hanky-panky between any of you and the Prince. He is forbidden to do that with anyone but his Pledged, and that is AFTER he is officially pledged to him.”

“Like that's going to stop him,” the guy in front of Subaru murmured.

“When not engaged in activities with the prince, there are certain areas you will have access to for your entertainment, including the royal library, the beaches and the tennis courts,” the Earl continued. “You have a handbook in your rooms that outlines that. But you are NOT to go in any undesignated areas without a member of the Royal Family present. Disobedience is cause for removal from the competition. Remember, breakfast is promptly at eight each morning, lunch is at noon and dinner at seven. Now, I'm willing to take questions . . .”

Subaru just mulled all this over. It probably wouldn't apply to him – he knew he'd most likely be “one and done” like anyone else from Royz – but he still found the whole thing fascinating.

He found himself wanting to be a fly on the wall to see this thing through to the end.

* * *

Subaru didn't have much time to breathe once the orientation was over.

He said goodbye to his new friend, MiA, at the entrance to the wing where the candidates were housed. He went back to his suite of rooms – which was roughly the size of his family's entire house – with the intention of unpacking, only to hear a knock on the door as soon as it was closed behind him.

There stood a liveried butler, holding a black garment bag. “Your outfit for tonight's festivities, sir,” he said.

“Outfit?” Subaru gingerly took the bag. “I didn't order an outfit.”

“Did they not take your measurements when you were chosen as a candidate, sir?”

“Well, yes . . .”

“That's what it was for. The palace provides appropriate attire for your first meeting with the prince and your subsequent interview with him. At least we do so for those who we feel would not have brought said attire from home.”

“Really?” Subaru said. Part of him was thrilled. Part of him was insulted – this seemed to be yet another sign that people from the Lower Districts were considered “not good enough” here.

“Yes, sir,” the butler said. “And if you require assistance from our staff, please dial a 5 from the phone next to your bed.”

“We have room service?” Subaru said. “Wow!”

“You do, indeed, sir.” The butler bowed and took his leave.

Subaru opened the garment bag – and saw a gorgeous grey silk suit, with a matching tie and a white shirt. It was unlike anything he'd ever owed – unlike anything anyone he'd ever met in person had ever owned.

“Well, damn,” he whispered, breathlessly, holding it out at arms' length. He had to get changed, as soon as . . .

And then, there was another knock on the door. He opened it, and there was a woman in a bright pink smock, wearing equally bright pink lipstick, matched by the bright pink highlights in her hair.

“Stylist!” she said. “I have come to get you ready for the party.”

Subaru looked baffled. “You're here . . . for . . .”

“Your hair and makeup, sir,” she said. “We have stylists assisting all the gentlemen who are going to the party.”

Now Subaru nearly fell on the floor. He'd never worn makeup before. Makeup on men was a luxury for the rich. “I can't believe this!” he said.

“Why not?” said the stylist, coming into his quarters. “It's standard for an occasion like this. Now, I need a chair with a light, and I need to see the outfit you're wearing . . .”

By the time party time rolled around, Subaru was in front of his mirror, looking at someone he barely recognized as himself. His hair was neatly styled around his face and sprayed. His eyes had some sparkly, silver-grey powder and liner on them, his lips were lined and colored a sort of dusty rose.

“I hope someone takes pictures,” he said to his reflection. “They won't believe it at home.”

He opened the door and stepped into the hall, pocketing his key. MiA was slightly ahead of him. He hastened to catch up to the other man – who was wearing a stunning outfit that consisted of a black jacket that was long in the back and short in the front, to show off the black silk shorts he wore. Long black gloves covered his hands, and on his head was a sparkly tiara.

“Hi!” Subaru said. “You look great! Did they give you that outfit?”

“No,” said MiA. “A friend made it for me. His name's Koichi – he wants to be a fashion designer. As soon as I was chosen, he started working on this.”

“He's talented!” Subaru said. “I'd like to have a friend like that!”

“He's a sweet guy,” MiA said, softly. “I've known him for quite awhile. He's always encouraged my guitar-playing, too.”

“I do need to hear you play,” Subaru said. “I can't imagine how hard it must be to learn!”

“It takes work,” MiA said. “But my teachers say I'm a natural.”

At the end of the candidates' quarters, they were greeted by bowing staff members, who escorted them to the ballroom – a different one than they had been in earlier. “How many ballrooms does this place have?” Subaru whispered.

“I don't know if we'll ever find out,” MiA replied.

They walked in, and found themselves surrounded by their fellow candidates – 20 in all – as well as some dignitaries. The former were easily identified by the rosettes they wore, which had been left in their rooms.

A young man with shoulder-length blond-frosted brown hair, wearing a ruffled black ball gown, came up to them, a big smile on his face. “Hi,” he said. “I'm Ruiza. I'm from Denis-Auvergne-Puy-de-Dome, but everyone just calls it D.”

“Is that how you're referring to yourself?” Subaru said. “Ruiza of D?”

“Well, of course,” said Ruiza. “I don't feel like saying the whole place name over and over again, it's a mouthful! So where are you guys from?”

“Mejibray,” MiA said. “And this is my first time in the capital.”

“What about you, Subaru?” Ruiza said.

“It's my first time in the capital, too,” Subaru said, quickly.

“No, no, I mean, where are you from?” Ruiza said.

Subaru bit his lip and looked down. He remembered all too well the catty remarks of the staff.

“It doesn't matter to me,” Ruiza said. “I sure as hell don't judge people by where they're from.”

“Royz,” Subaru said. “I'm from Royz.”

“Well, cool! You live right on top of the ocean, then,” Ruiza said. “We don't have enough beaches in D.”

Another young man wearing a pink dress, with flowers in his styled blond hair, approached them. “The high and mighty have arrived,” he told Ruiza. “All the Upper District candidates are over there.” He turned to the other two. “Oh, I'm Hiyori of Kiryu, by the way.”

“That's MiA of Mejibray, and that's Subaru of Royz,” Ruiza said. “So what do the rich bastards look like?”

“Disgustingly gorgeous, of course,” Hiyori said. “We've got our work cut out for us.”

Subaru looked over to the other side of the room. There was one young man in a velvet suit that looked like something from another century, talking to an equally beautiful young man with shoulder-length, curly violet hair, wearing a floor-length black dress with a plunging neckline that showed a generous amount of flesh, but still managed to look elegant.

“Is that who you're talking about?” he said.

“Teru of Versailles and Yuuki of Lycaon,” Ruiza said. “They're from two of the wealthiest families in the country.”

“The betting pools are pretty much saying the final choice is between the two of them,” said Hiyori.

“There are people BETTING on this?” MiA said, eyes popping. “Really?”

“Oh, yes,” Hiyori said. “We don't have casinos in Kiryu, of course – we're very much into preserving traditional culture, and casinos don't fit in with that. But I have some friends from Codomo Dragon, where they definitely have casinos, and that's what they're saying.”

“Who's the representative from Codomo Dragon, anyway?” said MiA. “Is it someone you know?”

“I haven't seen him yet,” Hiyori said. “But I don't think it's anyone I know.”

A waiter came around with a tray of champagne flutes. Subaru hesitated. “Go ahead, you can take one,” MiA said. “It's what they're for.”

“I'm just not used to this kind of thing,” Subaru said, blushing, taking a flute quickly.

“It's okay,” Ruiza said, picking up a flute himself. “Enjoy it while we're here!” He held the glass toward the others. “To living it up while we can!”

“Hear, hear!” Hiyori said, as they clinked their glasses.

Subaru took a sip, and his tastebuds nearly exploded in ecstasy. It was so beyond anything he'd ever tasted, a medley of flavors and aromas that seemed to permeate his soul. “It's wonderful,” he said.

“You can have more!” Hiyori said. “Not like any of us are driving or working tonight!”

Subaru just couldn't believe it – this day had gotten flat-out surreal. The beautiful surroundings, the beautiful people, the terrific champagne . . .

What else is going to happen tonight? he thought. What's going to happen when we meet the Prince?

To Part 2


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 27th, 2016 10:52 pm (UTC)
OMG where to begin?!?! Two long, rambly, fangirl-y comments coming your way. (At least I'm warning you!) Using the bands' names as the names of the Districts was a brilliant choice, particularly since so many of the boys are coy about their full names.

I love each and every one of the candidates we've met thus far. (I'm guessing since the representative from Codomo Dragon isn't listen as part of the harem, he's not going to make the cut, but I hope we get to meet him at least.) If nothing else, I think Subaru is going to make some very good friends during this process.

And I ADORE that you picked one of the gayest guys in all of KPop to be married to the princess! For once in his fanfic life, Jaejoongie gets to see what it's like to be straight. ^_^ (Even if it is off camera.)

Oct. 28th, 2016 04:35 pm (UTC)
The district names just seemed like a natural, though I kind of struggled with how there could be a district called just D! (Having it be short for a ridiculously long name worked). And it was definitely an alternative to giving all those guys last names. Trying to research rumored real names for all of them would have slowed the writing process down considerably - plus, I avoid rumored real names whenever possible. (Especially since they're just, y'know, rumors).
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


Kai Fadeless - by ldybastet

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