At the first light of dawn, she had stepped into the city but hadn't expect such commotion at her return. She pushed the curtains of the carriage aside, wondering what people were doing about early in the morning. They didn't seem busy opening up the market place like the usual business days. She glanced back at her grandfather, who was looking out the other window too, and then went back to staring outside.

She poked her head through the carriage window and looked farther down the street, since they were nearing Hakuramo Mansion. The people were flowing in that direction at some event happening there. Some were passing by the carriage in a hurry to see the excitement, but Sayoko grabbed a man by his shirt and demanded, "What's going on?! Why is everyone heading to the Hakuramo's home?!"

The man found her blunt manners annoying and didn't answer her. He tried to struggle away, but she had a good grip on him. He couldn't get away so easily so he decided to answer her, "I don't really know either, but I heard everyone in the household's dead!"

"WHAT?!!" she screamed, and the man pulled away and ran off. She retreated into the carriage and stared straight ahead, not able to accept such rumors.

"Sayoko," her grandfather called, "Pull yourself together. They can't die so easily." He shook her lightly, and she slowly came out of her shock, staring at her hands. She clenched them tightly into fists and frowned.

"I'm okay," she reassured them. "But we shouldn't show yourselves at the doorstep like this, if the rumors are somewhat true." She pulled the front curtains aside and told the driver to pull off to the side. He did so, and she jumped to the ground. "I'm gonna go check it out first," she told her grandfather.

"All right, but you have to be careful. I'll see you at the inn."

She nodded and took off down the street, dreading of the worse to happen, but just within a week, things were turned upside-down in Reishoru and her own household dead. As she drew closer to her home, she could see a large crowd in front of the manor, but she couldn't risk being spotted by anyone who recognized her, which was half the city, so she undid her braid and covered the lower face of her face with the sleeves of her clothing. She pushed her way to the front, just enough so she could see what was going on.

Rising Paradise

created & written by K-chan

Chapter Six: The Trouble with Girls

Sitting by the window with his head leaning against his knee, he watched the sun rise brilliantly into the clear skies, but he couldn't bring himself to greet the new day with a loud good morning, at least not after what happened just a few hours ago. Her teary, blue eyes bore deeply into his soul, so much pain and sorrow, very different from what he was used to see of her, but now all that would change.

He closed his eyes and clenched his fists tightly, trying to shake the warm feeling he had when he held her in his arms. He never held anyone like that before, but it felt good despite the situation they were in. What could they do now? What could he do for her? What of the trip? Should he leave her here and move on without her? It seemed better to leave her alone, but wouldn't that put her in more danger if she was alone?

Masaru looked up when the front door opened and the owner of the house entered. He straightened up, watching the old man heave his body onto the chair. "What's wrong?" he asked, "Did something happen?"

"Yeah," he sighed, "We found friend's body not too far away from the Hiwaras' home. Such a bloody mess. I thought the fire was an accident, but after that body... it's murder, absolutely murder."


The curtains threw aside, and the woman of the house appeared, which silenced the two men. "How's Tsuki-chan," her husband inquired, pouring himself a cup of tea.

"The dear's finally asleep," she sighed. "Poor child... She has such a hard life, always an orphan."

"'Always an orphan'?" Masaru repeated. "You mean, those weren't her real parents that died?"

The couple shook their heads, and the woman explained, "The Hiwaras were childless, but one day they were traveling when they came upon a little girl no older than five. She was unconscious and injured at the time, but they were able to save her, caring for her like their very own child. They searched for the girl's parents, even though it pained them to part with her, but in the end, there were no news of her kin and they kept her as their own."

"And now this tragedy," the old man said quietly. He looked at Masaru, who seemed to be in deep thought, and told him, "I don't know what's going on, but just promise me you'll take her away from here."

He shook his head, "That's not for me to decide. She came back to see her parents, but after this..."

"It doesn't matter!" he shouted angrily, but his wife calmed him down a bit. "Tsuki-chan is such a good, obedient girl. Everyone loves her, and to see her in such a state is so heartbreaking. We never cared who she was, and no one ever questioned it, but now that I think about it, she could be someone really important. It's too dangerous for her to stay here."

Masaru stood up, glaring down at the man, "It's not that, is it?"

"What?! What are you talking about?! Isn't her safety important?!"

"Yeah, to me, she's important... but to you, you don't care. If she remains in this village, all of your lives are put in danger. That's what you really think." He turned away, not caring for the appalled man's expression, and headed for the doorway. "And don't f**kin' say I'm wrong," he seethed and left the house.

Sayoko leaned against the wall of the alley, staring at nothing in particular. Only the familiar faces of the corpses lined up beneath the white sheets flashed in her mind. Everyone died so helplessly, even the ladies of the kitchen who scolded her for stealing the food. They were annoying, but they didn't deserve to be killed like that. No one deserved to be killed.

Her back slid down the wall until she was sitting on the ground. She suddenly felt something wet on the back of her hands, and she realized they were her own tears. "What's happening?" her voice cracked, "Why is this happening? Hakuramo-san, Sunori-san, Tsuki-chan, Masa-chan... where are you guys?" Without them, it felt like the world just died and left her all alone, and she hated that. If she had to live without her family and friends, she would rather die, but the truth was... They didn't die. They weren't one of those corpses, so they were all right somewhere.

She let herself cry a little more for those that did die, and when she was through, she wiped her tears away and stood up with great determination. "I have to find them," she said, walking out of the alley, "but where do I start? They could've gone anywhere... No, they couldn't leave the city though. Ginkaji has posted high security at the gates, there's no way... But I have to tell grandfather first."

With that decision, she started running for the inn, but not watching for others, she blindly bumped into another person just leaving an alley way. Both persons fell to the ground, and Sayoko, being herself, complained about the other's clumsiness, "Geeze, what an idiot!" She rubbed her sore bottom and then looked at the person who caused her pain, "You better apologize, old man." Then something caught her eyes, and her hands quickly snatched the hair ornament before the man could get to it.

"Hey! That's mine!" Hiroshi cried out, trying to reach for the item, but the girl turned away, letting him crash to the dirt again.

She stood up over him with eyes twinkling mischievously, "No, it's not." She waved the ornament in his face, "What's an old man like you doing with a woman's hair clip, huh?"

"Uuh, well it's my wife's then," he said nervously.

"Could be, but I recognize this even if it became scrap metal. Now tell me where the owner of this hair clip is?!" she demanded, because the hair ornament belonged to Lady Hakuramo, who received it as a birthday gift from her son. "Where are they?! What did you do to them??!!" she cried, shaking Hiroshi back and forth by his shirt collar, which was giving him convulsions, "TELL MEEEEEEEEEE!!"

"Ple-ease st-stop i-it!" he said, "A-and I-I'll te-tell yo-you!"

Realizing her pointless torture, she stopped and dragged him into the alley, away from the strange stares. "Well?!"

Hirosh recomposed himself and gathered his wits to get out of this predicament. "And why should I tell you? You could be a spy for the that Ginka-guy."

"Ginkaji, idiot."


She whacked his head, "JUST LOOK AT ME!! Why would he hire a girl like me, HUH?!"

"Uuh, you've got a point there. You don't look too strong, nor bright." And that remark got him another whack. "Okay okay, I'll tell you... Just give me back the hair thingie."

"No! Tell me first, what are you doing with Lady Hakuramo's hair clip?"

"How do you know it belongs to her? Who are you?"

"Fine!" she groaned, "I should at least tell you who I am. My name's Sayoko, and I work in the Hakuramo home."

"That's not right! Everyone in the household were killed!"

"Nope. Not me and my grandfather. We took a trip back to our village a week ago, and we just got back today and heard all this stuff. And now your turn."

From the look in her eyes, Hiroshi had a feeling the girl was genuine about the information, and besides, he usually had good intuition about these things. "Makura Hiroshi at your service," he bowed, "Lord Hakuramo is injured, and since we didn't have any money for the medicine, Lady Hakuramo asked me to go and get it by pawning her valuables."

"How bad is he?!" she asked worriedly, "And where are they?!"

"They're safe. Don't worry, but we have to get the medicine soon."

"Okay, I'll go with you! I want to see them too!" He nodded, and she gave the hair ornament back to him. The two then hurried off to accomplish their errand.

With her knees pulled up against her chest, she sat quietly on the hill, watching the birds in the skies. She tried to go to sleep, but every time she closed her eyes, she saw her parents calling her from the flames. She hugged her legs, shutting her eyes tightly, and the tears rolled down her cheeks. It was painful that she couldn't save them, and even more painful to hear that she was the cause of their death... and to finally find out that they weren't even her real parents.

"So this is where you are," came the last voice Metsuki would expect to hear, "I was lookin' all over the place for you." He remained where he was behind her, watching her fragile form that wanted to curl up and cry, but she didn't acknowledge him. "Well, if you're not gonna get any sleep, then let's get ready to leave this place." He turned away, getting ready to leave, because he didn't expect her to answer him. He just came to tell her they were leaving together, since he knew she would be unhappier staying in the village.

Her voice stopped him, "Masaru." It was the first time she called him without sounding so irritated, and how strange that his heart felt like it skipped a beat. "Do you think... my existence is a curse?" she asked so softly, like she was afraid her voice would destroy the very world that existed between them if it was any louder.

He closed his eyes and relaxed, not facing towards her direction. The silence remained over them, and now he knew that she had heard everything that was said in the house, but what should he say? He was not the comforting type of guy nor a philosophical one that dealt with such questions.

"So what if you are," he said, shocking her. She wasn't expecting such an answer, and it made her eyes start to water again. She just wanted to hear something comforting, but he continued, "Are you just gonna sit here and mope about it? Things happen whether you like it or not, but it's up to you on how you deal with it. Sure, you can cry about it, but don't cry forever. It's just a waste of time. What's the point in wallowing in self-pity? And you think they want you to be like this?

"What about Sunori? Sayoko, and the others? Do you think they want to see you like this?" He lowered his head as he spoke, "Now stop being selfish. It's not like you. It's not like you to cry... and I... I hate it when you cry."

"Masaru," she whispered, turning around to him, but he was already walking off.

"I'll be waiting." All she could do was watch him leave, but because of him, she felt strangely at peace. She gazed at the sky a little more, but this time, there was a little smile on her face.

Her eye was twitching and mouth agaped as Sayoko stood in front of a brothel house. She couldn't believe this was where Hiroshi had taken the Hakuramos. She was about to blow up over the perverted old man, but he was already heading towards the back of the brothel, so she hurried after him. "Hiroshi-san!" she called angrily, "I thought you were a better person than this, saving them and all?! But why in the world a place like this?!! Are you out of your mind?!"

He stopped at the backdoor and looked at her, "But isn't this is the safest place in the world if a smart girl like YOU couldn't think of it?"

"Hmm, now that you put it THAT way," she smiled, marching into the building with a sweatdropping Hiroshi behind her. Just as they entered the place, the girls flocked to Hiroshi like thieves to gold. Sayoko frowned as she watched him goofing off with them.

"HIROSHI-SAMA!! We missed you so!"

"You finally came back!! Thank goodness!!"

"Teach us another game!!"

"Play with us!! Pleeeaase!!"

And all Hiroshi could do was laugh like an idiot. Sayoko shook her head and shoved her way through. She yanked on Hiroshi's ear, "Get away from him, you crazy women! We're busy!! I'll let the old pervert play with you when he's done with his job! Now come along, stupid Hiroshi." She dragged him towards the staircase by his ears while the girls looked on in annoyance.

"Ouwe ouwe, Sayo-chan, please let go... It really hurts... I'll be a good boy."

She finally let go in a huff, "You better. Geeze, I can't believe the Hakuramos are depending their lives on you."

"Ha ha, but you shouldn't judge people by their appearances."

"That's definitely true," she grumbled, "Didn't expected you to be a pervert."

"Haa... could you lay off the pervert stuff." They stopped in front of a door on the top floor and knocked. The door creaked opened slightly, and they could see Lady Hakuramo, who then let them into the room. The woman was surprised to see Sayoko but welcomed a familiar face all the same. Hiroshi went to check on Lord Hakuramo, "He seems to be doing fine. I'll go prepare the medicine." He closed the door, leaving them to their reunion.

"Hakuramo-san, what's going on? Where's Sunori-san and the others?"

"It's a long story, dear. Where's your grandfather?"

"He's at the inn. I went out to find out what happened. Weren't Lord Hakuramo and Ginkaji friends? I don't get it." And so Lady Hakuramo told her what happened since the girl left the city and what she understood of their situation. When Hiroshi returned with the bowl of medicinal drink, Lady Hakuramo was getting to the point where the old man appeared, saving them from their killers.

"Oh, this old man is that good?" Sayoko said suspiciously, "Hard to believe."

"Let me do that, Hiroshi-san," the woman said, taking the bowl to her husband. While the two helped the wounded man on the bed, Sayoko was at the table, evaluating everything she was just told. Even though everyone was all right, she still felt lonely, left out from this adventure, not to mention she was no longer with Masaru.

"Hakuramo-san!" she called, standing up, and looked very determined with her clenched fist, "I'm going to Konshigo too!" Lady Hakuramo and Hiroshi just stared at her like she had just announced that she was the new ruler of Morin.

Everyone in the village escorted their Metsuki and her friend to the gates, bidding her a farewell and luck on her journey, but deep down inside, they knew this moment was it. This was the last good-bye because there was no reason for her to return to the village anymore. Masaru was on his horse already, waiting for her to finally say those two words. She seemed to hesitate as she stood there, looking at the many familiar faces. "Metsuki," he called, and with that, she climbed onto her horse, "Don't look back."

"Good-bye," she said and rode off before Masaru did. She hated 'good-byes', especially permanent ones, 'Father... mother...'

And since they left the village, Masaru rode side by side with her, but neither had said anything. He wondered what she felt ever since he had spoke to her on the hill. Did his words really get through to her? From her posture, she seemed like a lifeless doll as before. He sighed, thinking why should she feel better from his stupid words. Who was he to change anyone's heart?

"Masaru," she called.

He looked at her, "What?"

"Thank you."

He turned his face away, even though she didn't look at him, but her words made him strangely happy. "There's nothing to thank me for," he said, hiding his blush.

"Well, I feel like it, okay," she said, somewhat frustrated in her tone, and he smiled because he knew she would be back to her old self in no time. "I was very surprised to hear those words from you. I didn't think you could be so thoughtful."

He fumed at her, "You thank me, and now you insult me?!"

She glared at him, "You don't always have to twist my words into something terrible!! I was just surprised, that's all!! Never mind!! I take everything back, you're just a jerk!!" She ushered the horse ahead of Masaru, who was still yelling at her for no reason at all.

"Come back here!! Don't walk away when I'm talkin' to ya!!"

"I'm NOT walking away, idiot!! I'm RIDING away!!"

"Why that little..." he grumbled, "And to think I was liking her just a bit, JUST A BIT!!" He hurried after her, but as soon as he caught up, the ground before them exploded, throwing the pair off the horses. "WHAT THE--?!!" THe horses ran away in fright, but Masaru turned his attention to Metsuki instead, "Are you okay?" She nodded, getting up with his help. They stood there, wondering what was going on.

"I didn't expect you on this road so soon," came a laughing voice that seemed to surround them, so Masaru couldn't pinpoint the origin.


"Hiwara Metsuki... the girl with the magical seal..."

Surprised, Masaru looked at her, now understanding their problem just a bit. Whoever it was was going after Metsuki and for whatever reason, but what was with that 'magical seal' crap? It didn't really matter because he wasn't going to let anything happen to her when he was there. He stood in front of her protectively as she unknowingly held onto his arm.

"I figured if I waited patiently here," the voice began to localized in a spot behind them. When they turned around, they were greeted by a grinning Torasaki, "I would find you. Did you like my little gift?"


"You must've stopped by the village, right?"

At those words, her eyes started to uncontrollably water because the man standing before them was the one who killed her parents. "You... YOU KILLED THEM!!" she cried, wanting to lash out at him, but a calm Masaru held her back. "Masaru!! Let me go!! Let me kill him!!"

"Such a fiesty one," Torasaki mused. "Unlike them, I'll let you live if you answer my question to my satisfaction."

Masaru tightened his jaw in silence, which was unlike him, but in a situation like this, there needed to be someone in control. And it seemed his opponent at the moment had more patience and control, so he had the upper hand. He had to keep in mind that he had Metsuki to protect and any false move could put her in danger. He just held her sobbing self against him as he waited for whatever question the stranger wanted to ask.

"I want to know... who created the seal on her," he said, pointing to Metsuki.

"What the hell are ya talkin' about!! What f**kin' seal?!! Who are you?!!"

Torasaki no longer smiled, "That is not a good answer." He held out his hand, and it began to glow with immense energy. He then crushed the gathered energy with his hand and created a sword of light. With a battle cry, he charged at the pair with quickness for either to react, splitting them up from one another. Metsuki fell to one side unharm while Masaru stumbled backwards with a lengthy cut to his right shoulder.

"Masaru!" she cried about to run to his side, but Torasaki stopped her with the sword in her way.

"Stay back, idiot!"

"You're the idiot! I didn't ask you to protect me!"

"Heh, you two have a very interesting relationship," he smirked in Masaru's direction, "I underestimated you. Any slower, and you would have lost an arm." He made the light disappear and turned to Metsuki. "Since you don't like to answer my question, I'll just have to take you with me."

"Don't you lay your f**kin' hand on her!" Masaru growled and attacked him with a punch, which Torasaki easily caught. He followed that up with several kicks that didn't seem to affect him and even his left face to the man's face didn't cause a flinch of pain. And like a sack of rice, Torasaki effortlessly threw Masaru aside, letting him hit the trunk of a tree. Even in pain, he got back up and attacked him again, only to be sent to the ground once more.

Metsuki grabbed Torasaki's arm, begging, "Please stop! Don't kill him!"

"I did plan to kill him," he began, "but after that display, I think I'll let him live. He's a funny guy."

Wiping the blood from his mouth, Masaru snarled, "And you're an asshole."

"Masaru! Stop it, or you'll kill yourself!" Metsuki advised.

"Yes, Masaru-kun, listen to your girlfriend."

"She's NOT my girlfriend!"

"That's right! I'm NOT his girlfriend!"

Torasaki just laughed at them, "You're too funny!" The two of them glared at him because they didn't think it was funny, and just who was this guy? One moment he was seriously attacking them, and the next he was laughing like a little child. When he finally calmed down, he squatted in between the two with a smile, "Here's what I'll do with you two. You're the most interesting people I've met in a while, so... I'll let you go this time. But don't think you'll be lucky the next time we meet." Then he patted Masaru's wounded shoulder and squeezed it, causing some pain for the red-head, "And the next time we meet, Masaru-kun, it will be a real fight, so improve until then." With that, he stood up and left, disappearing down the road.

"Who the hell was that guy?!" Masaru yelled.

"Funny, I hate him more than I do you," Metsuki remarked.

He glared at her and said sarcastically, "Thanks, I feel SO happy now." He flinched at the pain again, but Metsuki walked over to him and tore a large piece of fabric from her clothing and used it to bandaged his injury. She looked back at the road they came from and thought about going back to the village since they haven't traveled that far and tend to Masaru's injury, but Masaru spoke up before she could say anything, "Let's go. We're heading to Konshigo." He stood up and was ready to walk there, without the horses, because he didn't want her to go back to her village. That was her past, and she left them all behind. If she went back now just for his sake, he would be the one to contradict things.

Metsuki hurried up to him and supported him, "At least let me help you. You look like a crippled monkey from behind." He glared at her and silently accepted the support. She was beginning to understand him a little bit now, but he was definitely a stupid and stubborn man.

Miyura screamed in horror as a soldier picked up an expensive teapot and threw it on the ground, smashing it to pieces. Her father kept her behind him for protection while he tried to calm them down, which only fueled their impatience. The captain punched her father to the ground and signaled the rest of his men to turn the shoppe upside-down. "Father!!" she cried, cradling his unconscious form in her arms, and begged the soldiers, "Please stop it!! We don't know anyting! The Hakuramos only buy tea from us!!"

They continued to rampage the shopped with onlookers helplessly standing outside because they feared the armed soldiers. Things in Reishoru seemed to have plunged into chaos after the disappearance of the Hakuramos. "Someone, please help us!" she pleaded to the bystanders. They truly wanted to help, but what could they do against those soldiers? The captain slapped her to silence and then ordered some men to search inside.

"STOP IT!" a voice shouted. The soldiers halted, wondering who dared to order them around like that. The crowd parted because they were curious as to who the idiot was, and there stood in the cleared path was Koware. "What kind of soldiers are you?! You're supposed to protect these innocent citizens, not terrorize them!!"

The captain stepped out to him, sneering, "You keep out of this before I have you arrested for interfering in our jobs. Ginkaji-san has given us orders to question those who have connections with the Hakuramos. The old man at this shoppe is suspicious!"

"But that doesn't give you any right to harm them!"

"And what are you? Some kinda hero? You wanna save them?" He stepped back, gesturing to his men to attack. The four soldiers drew their swords and attacked. Koware ducked the blades, sweep kicking the first two, and then grabbed the other two's arms and pulled them pass him. He leapt into the air, turning around, and kicked them across the face. A fallen soldier charged at him again, but Koware was able to avoid his every swing, and by this time, the crowd had scatter away from the danger.

While Koware was busy with the remaining men, the captain quietly drew his sword and timed his move perfectly for an opening. He finally found one when Koware's back was to him and thrusted the sword towards him, only to completely miss him because Koware had sensed his movement. Koware spun around to him with sword in hand, and with one upward swing, he wounded the captain's arm. He followed that up with a punch to his face. "And that was for the old man," he said.

The defeated men were apparently no match for the stranger, so they quickly retreated. After that great display, the people gathered around him and applauded him for such bravery. He chuckled in embarrassment at the praises, but deep down, he knew they would've done something to if they had the strength he possessed.

"Ko-Koware-kun?" came a sobbing voice.

He turned around towards the tea shoppe and was appalled at who he saw. The young woman was in tears, embracing her unconscious father like a frightened child. "Miyu-chan!" he called and rushed to her side. He held her by the shoulders, gazing into her lovely eyes. He lifted a hand to her face and brushed away the tears, and inside, he could feel himself wanting to cry too. "Miyu-chan..."

"You're finally here... You're really here... Koware-kun..." She closed her eyes, placing her hand over his, and reveled in his warming presence.

With her back to the single lit candle on the table, she stood quietly by the window, hesitating to make any movements, but she ended up creaking one of the closed shutters just a bit and peeked through to the outside. It was already late into the night, but she could make out many figures moving about the road, and from the way they would go together in about four member or so, she knew they weren't any regular men. She frowned, not liking it one bit. Ever since she arrived in Konshigo with Sunori, things seemed fine, and finding a ship to Midori was no difficult task... until a few days ago when soldiers began to move into the area and securing the grounds as if an assassin was on the loose.

When she heard a soft knock on the door, Nishide closed the window and hurried to it. She opened it just a bit to see someone standing outside the room. She let him in and quickly closed it after him. The stranger pulled his hood cloak away to reveal himself as Sunori in a ragged disguise while Nishide poured a cup of warm tea for him. He accepted it but placed it on the table, and that slightly troubled her. "Is everything all right, Sunori-kun?" she asked.

He looked at her, and she could see the worriness in her eyes, but he nodded in reassurance. "Everything is set," he began, "Our supplies are ready on board, but... today is the last day..."

It was the last day for everyone to rendevouz at Ersodi Inn, but the other half of their group have not shown up yet, and it bothered Sunori deeply. For some reason, Nishide wasn't worried about it, but she knew Sunori was the very loyal type and would give up his life for his friends. He was such an admirable, young man yet it was a mystery on how he and Masaru become good friends, not that Masaru was any less of honorable man. They just didn't seem the type to know each from their appearances and status. She would some day have to find out more about these young men, but for now, she had to say something reassuring, "Hey, I'm sure Masa-chan isn't that irresponsible. They'll make it." Nishide giggled, "I bet Masa-chan's wants to make some sort of grand entrance."

Sunori smiled at the comment, "Either way, they better make it by morning. The ship is ready to leave then."

"I'm surprised those soldiers are letting the ships leave so easily."

"Just the one we're boarding. I manage to speak with the captain and found out that the ship was sponsor by the Royal Court. They're carrying valuable items into Midori by sea--less risk of bandits and monsters."

"But aren't the Black Dragons as dangerous?"

"If we avoid them, I'm sure we'll be fine," he said and then became completely silent, gesturing Nishide to do the same. He listenly carefully to the noise outside the room and quickly blew out the candle. "Get some sleep," he whispered and turned away, preparing to leave again, "I'll get more information." He was at the door, peeking to the outside for it to be clear, before departing from the room, and Nishide grinned. She had other things to do besides sleeping--at least not with this much excitement in the night.

And a few minutes later, Nishide also left the room.

Bounding from roof to roof beneath the moonlight, Nishide kept herself in the shadows of the buildings to avoid the patrolling soldiers on the ground. She waited quietly in the darkness, listening in on the conversations. A little earlier, she had noted Sunori's direction towards the harbor, so she decided to stay back and finish her little business.

After acquiring useless information from the men, she left them, heading towards the northern section of town, where the governor's manor resided. At that hour of night, she was certain everyone was in bed asleep, so she wouldn't have trouble sneaking around the place. She made her way across the roofs into the inner area of the manor, and when the ground was clear, she jumped down stealthly like sly feline. Although she wasn't familiar with the layout, she knew that most houses of high officials were built in a similiar fashion, which meant the governor's study would be...

Nishide eventually found the place after going through the garden patio, and to her surprise, there was still light flickering inside the room. She stopped by the window and lifted one of the shutters aside to peek inside. A beared man sat at the desk, apparently writing something. She thought for a bit and then smiled, sneaking off to the side.

The governor paused and reread something he wrote. Satisfied with it, he folded up the paper and stuffed it into an envelope. He didn't get too far when the shutters flew open and the sudden wind blew the candle light out. It urked the man as he sat in darkness. "Who's there?" he whispered with the fear trembling in his tone as he inched his hands to relight the candle. He could feel someone watching his every movement.

Finally, when the room was filled with light again, he froze in his spot. He was so still that he could've been mistaken as a statue, and one would be so when a sharp blade was held to one's neck. "Ple-please don't ki-kill me," he begged, "You can have all my money!"

"I'm not here for your money," came Nishide's voice.

"Don't kill me. My life is useless."

She chuckled at the statement. "Well, just the opposite," she began, "I have a job for you. It's nothing difficult nor terrible, and you will be handsomely rewarded too." Still behind him and with the dagger to his neck, she took out a sealed envelope from her pocket and laid it on the table, where he could easily see it. "I want YOU to deliver this letter to Arisutara, to the hands of Murakami Yuushi."

"Murakami-sama?!" he said, surprised.

"That's right, and within seven days... or else." She re-emphasized those words with the blade against the skin of his neck, and he cried out for mercy, feeling the weapon cut lightly into his skin. As soon as he felt the slight pain, it was soon gone along with the knife and the woman, whose face he never saw. He felt the neck wound with one hand while the other picked up the envelope that was to be deliver, and he stared at it, wondering what had just happened.

"Dammit!" he cursed, "Can't you go any faster?!!" He kicked the horse's side to get to go faster, but to him, it wasn't fast enough. After losing the horses from the green-haired stranger (Torasaki) incident, he and Metsuki had to walk for hours to a rest stop, and even after that, the walking put them behind almost half a day until they came to a village. They were able to use a horse on collateral, trading Metsuki's mother's pendant keepsake--the only thing they had that had any valuables since their belongings were on the horses.

Masaru gritted his teeth in anger at having watched her handed the pendant over to the man in exchange for their ride. He wasn't angry at her as much as he was at himself, for not being able to do a damn thing about it. He was a man yet a female had to take care of it, and he hated that. It just reminded him of the home he left behind.

"Masaru! Slow down!" came Metsuki's voice behind him. She had her arms wrapped securely around his waist, that made him blush every time he thought about it. "I'm getting sick back here!" she said, not feeling too well from all the galloping. It was just too fast for her body to take.

"We can't slow down now!" he shouted, "We gotta make it!" Four days was the limit, and their time was running short. If they miss the departure, then they would just get on the next ship, but he knew Sunori wouldn't leave them behind. And that was what worried him. If his friend went to all that trouble just to wait for them, then it was possible he could get captured by the soldiers before they even get there. After the attack (from Torasaki), it was clear that the enemies knew their whereabouts and possibly plans, but it still was uncertain whether that stranger worked for Ginkaji or not.

They continued into the night with Masaru ushering the horse along and Metsuki holding onto the young man while trying to hold in her uneasiness, but thank goodness they made it two hours later. The horse trotted up to the gates, where a soldier was posted. He stopped them, "Sorry, I can't let you in without identification and reason." That was Metsuki's cue to jump off the horse and throw up, whether she wanted to or not. Masaru smirked, silently thanking the gods for the nice distraction and nasty hurl.

The soldier looked uncomfortable, watching the girl just let it out. "Hey, is she all right?" he asked Masaru.

"She's really sick," he said, "I have to get her to the doctor soon." He walked over to her and stroked her back, looking back at a nervous soldier, "Could be contagious, ya know."

"What?!" the soldier panicked, "Hurry then! Get her to the doctor!" He waved his arms furiously, telling them to hurry into the city, and with that, Masaru supported Metsuki in, suppressing his laughter until they were far away from the gates.

"Haha, what an idiot!" he laughed while Metsuki leaned against the wall, resting for a bit. It felt so good to be on the ground again instead of bobbing up and down on a horse driven by Masaru. She would never, ever again ride with him even if her life depended on it.

Masaru finally calmed down and began to actually think, "Okay, let's find Sunori." Before they took off again, he suddenly pushed her back into the dark alley, hushing her, as some more soldiers walked by without seeing them.

"Are they looking for us?" she asked.

"Who knows, but they're probably on to us." He peeked into the streets again, and it was clear. He took her hand and carefully made his way across the road, remaining near the buildings. Since neither knew where Ersodi Inn was located, they spent some time exploring Konshigo, and during this time, Metsuki finally noticed that they were holding hands and blushed. Then, she fumed in embarrassment, even though no one was there, and took her hand abruptly away from his. He stopped and looked at her, somewhat irritated from the sudden action, not that he realized he had held her hand, "What?"

"I can take care of myself," she said even angrier since it was apparent that he didn't realize that he was holding her hand. She walked ahead, leaving him to glare at her back, but then he grinned and hurried after her.

After a few minutes, he suddenly blurted out, "Hold on!" She stopped and turned to him. "I think I heard something," he said as he looked around.

"What is it?" she whispered nervously, clutching onto his arm. Her eyes were roaming all over the place, wondering if it was a person or an animal or hopefully not a monster, and all Masaru could do was try to stop himself from shaking with laughter. He was just playing around with her, and it served her right for being mean to him in the first place when he was there to protect her.

They pressed themselves against the wall as they let the group of soldiers go by and waited for a bit until they were out of sight. They then leave, walking in the opposite direction, and ran into a single soldier that had trailed far behind his comrades. "Oh s**t," Masaru grumbled and attacked the man before he could react. He grabbed the man's arm and punched his face, knocking him out.

Metsuki flinched, "That has to really hurt." Masaru dragged the unconscious body to the side and left it there, and the two hurried off to the inn.

The sky was beginning to glow brighter as the three-story inn stood before them, but they didn't know which room Sunori or Nishide was in, so Masaru would have to resort to embarrassing himself. He turned to Metsuki, "I want you to stay here. Cover your ears and close your eyes. Hum some tune to yourself too."

"Why?" she eyed him suspciously.

"BECAUSE," he said firmly, "we have no time for games."

"Sounds like you're playing around to me," she pouted and did as she was told, covering her ears and closing her eyes. Funny, how she looked so cute when she pouted. Masaru scolded himself the thought, but it was true, and she was even cuter when she sleeps.

He then leapt onto the roof of a nearby building and later onto the tall inn. When he was up there, he crouched down low, cupping his hands around his mouth, and began to do a series of creative dog barks. It was something that Sunori would recognize and was the best way of letting his friend know of his presence.

He did that for a few minutes because it could get suspicious if done any longer, and he could only hope that Sunori heard it and wait. He returned to Metsuki's side, even though she probably heard his embarrassed self barking like a dog. "Don't start with me," he growled after seeing a big grin on her face.

It wasn't too long when they finally spotted Sunori and Nishide coming from the back of the inn with the latter running faster and leaping at Masaru with open arms. The blonde tackled the young man to the ground while Metsuki angrily found something to look at it, like the brick wall that would look very nice with a Masaru impression on it.

"It's good to see you two again," Sunori sighed, very relieved that his friends were all right. "Are your parents all right?" he asked Metsuki, who suddenly froze at the mentioning of her parents.

Masaru heard the question and quickly pushed Nishide out of his face. "Hey, we better hurry! There're too many soldiers around here," he said and pulled on Metsuki's arm, "Don't stand there like an idiot." Metsuki snapped out of it and jerked her arm away from him. He smiled inwardly at that. It was beginning to amuse him at how anything he says could always get her to be the normal Metsuki he could deal with.

Nishide giggled, "Looks like you two had a wonderful time together."

"We'll talk later then," Sunori finalized, "Let's head to the harbor. The ship leaves an hour after sunrise." Everyone nodded and set off in the direction of the sea.

A few soldiers were posted in the area of the loading ships, and as the morning sun slowly rose overhead, the last of ship's cargo was pushed onboard. Because of the rather high security, Sunori and Masaru had no choice but leave the girls behind the crates on the deck for safety while they execute their plans.

Metsuki watched the guards intently, wondering how they would get through those men without getting caught, and then she noticed Nishide sitting back against the crates, not worrying about their situation. She wanted to say something, but somehow it was difficult speaking to Nishide as if a wall was set between them. It was different talking to her compared to Sayoko, who was a chatter box to begin with, and she couldn't understand why. She looked away quietly and waited.

From the corner of her eye, Nishide saw the frustrated look on the girl's face that made her curious. She wanted to know what happen on the trip, especially between her and Masaru. Although the two still argue with one another, there was some understanding and perhaps playfulness in their manner. They were becoming closer in her eyes. "I'm not giving up, you know," she announced.

Metsuki looked at her, "What do you mean?"

"Masa-chan. I'm not giving him to you so easily."

That made her angry. She didn't like people making assumptions, especially when it concerned the red-head. "Don't worry, you can have him!" she said in a huff and turned away with her face burning madly, but Nishide just smiled.

Masaru suddenly sneezed like someone was talking about him, but he brushed the thought from his mind. He opened the shed door and looked outside for anyone nearby. "It's clear," he said and glanced back at Sunori tying up the unconscious, half-naked men on the floor. The friends had abducted the two soldiers to obtain the uniform in order to bypass the guards by the ship. They walked out confidently, completly like the real soldiers and even armed too if they had any trouble.

Sunori took the lead, walking right up to the guard in charge. "I have orders from the commander," he started, "for all soldiers to join in the search for the assassin."

"Assassin?!" they gasped, and the leader said, "We didn't hear anything about it."

"You are now," Masaru piped in.

"There was an attempted murder last night on the governor," Sunori continued, "so it's very crucial to find the assassin."

"All right, but what about our post here. The commander ordered us to guard the ship leaving."

"Then we'll take care of this place until you come back." The soldier still looked doubtful, but Sunori emphasized, "It's the commander's orders." After that without any hesitation, the soldiers in the harbor regrouped and marched orderly from their post in search of a said assassin. Masaru watched them, smirking at their stupidity, but that smirk didn't stay long when the soldiers didn't get halfway that another group came.

"Oh s**t," Masaru mumble, "Those are the real thing."

"Get the girls!" Sunori said as he ran onboard the ship to the captain's cabin. Busting the door down, he found an old man looking at some notes, "Captain, set sail immediately!!"

Meanwhile, the soldiers had caught on, running towards the three suspects, and eventually surrounded them. "HOLD IT!" Masaru yelled, raising his hands at them that he meant it. "Now, didn't we tell you to go find that assassin?!! It's an order from the commander!"

"Oh really?" said a dignified-looking man, who stepped out from the parting soldiers, "And why didn't I, the head commander of Konshigo, knew about it?"

"Uuh, well... 'cause it was a secret! Do you know who we are?!" he held his superior tone at them, "We are guards from the Imperial Palace on a secret assignment Lord Murakami."

"This is interesting, but if it's an order from Lord Murakami, then why this facade?"

"It's a secret, moron! This is Her Highness in disguise as a commoner," he said, gesturing towards Metsuki, who blinked in surprised, "And that's her maid attendant." He pointed over to Nishide, who fumed at the insulting position. The soldiers looked at one another and then back to Metsuki, who stared back cluelessly.

"Commander?" they questioned their superior, seeking some sort of truth to this. He had never met the princess before, so how could he tell if they were speaking the truth or not. If they weren't, then he could arrest them on the spot, but if they were, then he would've offended the Royal Family if he arrested and that would seriously result in his death.

The commander was about to say something when Masaru cut in, hitting his chest, "You're questioning Her Highness?!! Which means you don't believe Murakami-san, nor His Majesty! Those assassins are after the princess! Can you guarantee her saftey?! You're all standing here when the killer's out there!! And now that the princess's identity is out in the open, she'll be an easy target! All thanks to you!! If something happens to the princess, even your family's life won't be guaranteed!!"

The commander and men faltered under Masaru's speedy accusation, kneeling shamefully on the ground, "Your Highness, please forgive us! We didn't know."

Masaru smiled in victory while Nishide stared at them with an unbelieve expression and with the final assessment that all men were this guillable. Metsuki was momentarily stunned but eventually found her voice, "It's... all right. Please." That was when Sunori appeared, surprised at the standstill of both sides.

"Everything's fine here," Masaru said to Sunori, who nodded and left to inform the captain of certain departure. He turned back to the soldiers, "Well, it looks like the princess forgives you, but I haven't yet! This'll be reported to His Majesty."

"Please, sir!" they pleaded.

"Very well, but in return, you must capture the assassins. I know they're still in Konshigo," he commanded. They saluted him, acknowledging his order, and then he turned to the girls, "Nishide, take Her Highness onboard and make sure she's safe." To play along, Nishide helped a still dumbfounded Metsuki onto the ship. Masaru wasn't an idiot after her, she thought.

"Please take care on your trip," the commander wished Masaru and the others.

Masaru latter nodded and boarded just in time for the ship's crew to prepare the ship for sail. Thankfully without any setbacks, the ship was unanchored and heading out to sea... but not peacefully. A loud ruckus in the distance of the harbor alerted the soldier to action. Two horses rushed into the area with their familiar riders.

Having barely left the deck, Metsuki recognized them, "Sayoko?! And that man!"

"What the hell is she doin' here?!!" Masaru yelled.

"Aaah!! Masa-chan!! Tsuki-chan!! WAIT FOR ME!" the girl cried, charging right through the army of men. The horse eventually had to stop at the edge, separating her from the ship of her friends. "DON'T LEAVE ME BEHIND!!!" she sobbed.

Hiroshi was knocked off his horse but wasn't about to give in to being caught. None of these average soldiers could lay a hand on him, and with a whirl of his cape, he knocked the surrounding men at least twenty meters away. He ran to Sayoko to see if she was all right, but seeing her in tears made him panick. "Stop crying, I'll get to the ship," he begged.

"But it's already left, idiot!" she shouted, "You want us to swim out there?!"

"No way! Count me out!" He grabbed her arm, "But you're going. I'll see you guys in Midori." And with that, he flung her powerfully through the air right towards the ship, while Metsuki and Nishide watch in amazement as Sayoko made it, landing onto of Masaru as her cushion. "Have a fun trip!!" Hiroshi waved, cheerfully. He then turned back to the men, who were getting back up, "It's been years since I've had this much fun! You'll play some more, right?"

TO BE CONTINUED... Chapter Seven: Race to the Capitol

Dead bodies are found, and the course has changed.

The crew has other plans for the ship as it sail farther out to sea, where only blue waters are within one's vision.

Out there, the answer lies.

Friendships deepen, thoughts shared. Wandering eyes, mixed emotions in the air...

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Ha ha... umm, yeah... finally updated this... ha... I have to thank Hwanling-san and MidnightRose-san for sending me their encouragement and support! If it weren't for you, I doubt it if I'd ever get THIS chapter out. Hehee. And also thanks to everyone who reads this story (which is far from over).

Some after thoughts, I guess. The chapter turned out a little different from what I had originally planned, but it worked out. This chapter - more or less - showed character to Sayoko, who was originally a VERY minor character but she'll have a bigger role as a main cast member.

Sayoko: Yahoo! You betcha!!

Oh quiet, you!

Sayoko: No way! How can I stay quiet when I totally ruled this chapter! But I could've done without that Hiroshi geezer.
SD-Hiroshi: [weeping in the background] Sayo-chan's a big meanie!
SD-Sayoko: [whacks his head] Aawe shut up! Grow up, ol' man!!

Crisis, what a headache... Remind me to NEVER put those two together again. Anyway, I really enjoyed writing Masaru's and Metsuki's parts. *giggle* They're so funnie!!! Which reminds me of Torasaki-sama!!

Masaru: I hate that guy.
Metsuki: That's my line, baka.
Masaru: You're the baka!

Err... right... *sweatdrop* I made Tora-sama out to be a psycho, ne? Haha, he's kinda supposed to be like that.

SD-Masaru & SD-Metsuki: [both glaring at laughing SD-K-chan] ...

What?? Blame it more on Mii-chan and her obsession with dark, evil-smirking, psychotic bishounen--it just rubbed off on me!!

SD-Masaru & SD-Metsuki: [still glaring intensely at SD-K-chan and growling] ...


Masaru: That's right, and we'll keep it that way.
Metsuki: [looks at him] We both agree for once. [quickly adds] But this will be the only time.
SD-Masaru: [glares at Metsuki] WHY DO YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO OPEN YOUR BIG MOUTH?!!!
SD-Metsuki: MY big mouth??!! YOU should talk!!
Metsuki: BAKA!!
Masaru: BUSU!!

[sighs, looking bored at the two arguing] Crisis, I really have to do something about those two... *smirk* Like draw them kissie-kissie! *LOL*

SD-Masaru & SD-Metsuki: [yelling at SD-K-chan now] THAT'S NOT FUNNY!!

*smile* But I did draw something: I spent over TWO hours on it!! That's the longest ever on any drawing I do!!