Toshi walked into the Emperor's chambers to see him working over a huge stack of papers at his desk. Being an emperor is not really much fun, he thought. Emperor Ryuu looked up from his paperwork then and noticed Toshi standing in front of him.
"Why have you come alone Toshi? Where is Takehiko?"
"Takehiko sends his apologies for not coming, you majesty. He has an unexpected guest."
"Unexpected guest? In all the years that I have known him, no guest has ever kept him from coming to the palace. In fact, I would go so far as to say that he is not that well acquainted with anyone outside of the palace!"
"Is that really true, your majesty?" Toshi asked, a sly grin playing on his lips.
The Emperor frowned in confusion until, after a moment, his eyes widened as realization seemed to dawn on him. "Unless…!" He looked at Toshi for confirmation who said calmly, "You guessed right, your highness."
The Emperor smiled mischievously as a plan formed in his head. "I had wanted to visit the city today Toshi. In disguise. Since Takehiko is not here, we shall just have to go on our own… and pay Takehiko a visit on the way."
"As you wish, sire"
Toshi did not know what to expect by this turn of events. He was not sure it was a good idea however; he knew from past experience that it would certainly be entertaining if not anything else. With this thought in mind, he went about preparing for their little expedition into town.
It had been more than two hours since Keiko and Takehiko had started debating ideas on how to procure information, but not one so far had seemed plausible. Being in a post so close to the emperor, he was not in a position to unravel anything as everybody in the royal court was careful not to slip up around him. Although he did not say as much to Keiko, he made it known to her that it was difficult for him to investigate. Keiko too, had a lot of limitations and given the circumstances, very little chance of finding anything by herself. They both sighed involuntarily at the same time.
"There has to be some way to trace Yuuta! Every second we waste might put him in more danger!" She said, miserably.
"I know Keiko. But we need to think patiently; acting rashly might only put him in more danger."
"I understand. Still, patience is something I have almost run out of after three whole months."
Just then, the gong on the front door sounded, interrupting them. Takehiko went to answer the door himself and that was one more oddity she noticed – there was not a single servant in the huge mansion. Takehiko lived alone. Now that I think about it, I am yet to learn what Takehiko has been doing these past many years. I have not yet heard his side of the story...
She was snapped out of her reverie as footsteps indicated his return, along with his guests. The door slid open and she stood up at the sight of the two men at Takehiko's side.
"What a pleasant surprise this is! And so we meet again, my lady." Though he bowed graciously, the mockery in the Emperor's voice did not escape her.
"Sir," she acknowledged, bowing curtly just to observe decorum, before turning to the other man Takehiko had brought and bowing deeply. "I am very glad to see you again, Toshi-san. I apologize once again for my unseemly behavior this morning."
"Not at all; do not worry yourself Lady Keiko. I trust the purpose of your sudden visit has been resolved?"
He did not note the melancholic tone in her voice as he was distracted by the inconspicuous daggers the emperor was shooting in his direction. Takehiko chuckled to himself upon seeing the scene in front of him.
"It was good of you to come, sire. I had intended to pay you a visit this evening myself to discuss a matter of urgency." Takehiko said, deciding it was time to intervene.
"Is everything alright? Tell me what the matter is Takehiko."
"Yes sire, it is nothing you need concern yourself with. However, I must request you to grant me two days leave to take care of a few personal affairs that need to be attended to immediately."
The emperor looked at him as if deciding whether to question him further or not. Recognizing the stubborn look in his aide's eyes, he relented.
"Very well. However, I expect you to return not a day later. Is that understood?"
The emperor then turned back to Keiko with a teasing smile. "Whatever shall you do while Takehiko is away, my lady? You would be welcome to stay in my home for any amount of time."
She glared at him. Insolent man! Inviting a young woman he barely knows, to stay at his home! "Thank you for your kind offer sir, but I must decline. I shall be returning home shortly."
"A young lady such as yourself cannot travel that distance alone! I must insist that you dispel such ideas from your head immediately."
"Once again, thank you sir, for your concern, but it is unnecessary. I am a grown woman and I am more than capable of taking care of myself."
"The offer to work for me still stands. You are welcome to accept it any time Keiko…-san." The sarcastic tone behind the honorific did not escape her and it blew her fuse.
"I do not know what black magic you have used on Takehiko to have him wrapped around your finger like that but I will never, ever work for an insolent man like you! Therefore, with all due respect, sir,I advise you to throw such notions out of your head."
"Do not be so sure Keiko-san; I always get what I want. I am very good at persuading people" he said, with a self-assured smirk.
Takehiko and Toshi tried very hard to maintain their poker faces upon seeing this exchange. It looked like the Emperor's last remark had struck a wrong nerve; Keiko's anger seemed to be coming off in waves at that point.
She took a deep breath before replying in a dangerously low voice, "'Forcing'"
"The word you are looking for is 'forcing'." Her voice increased in octaves as she went on, "Who do you think you are? Just because you are a rich, arrogant, self-obsessed man, does not mean that you can go around forcing people to do your bidding! What are you, the Emperor?!"
The two spectators could no longer control their mirth upon hearing that ironic question. They tried to cover up their laughter in coughs but it became harder as she continued,
"To be honest, I do not think even the Emperor has that right! He may be the ruler but he does not control a person's decisions; a person's wishes; a person's heart!"
She paused and took a deep breath before continuing in a more leveled voice, "Therefore, I would advise you to think twice before renewing your offer of work to me because I am only inclined to reject it again and again. And now, you know my reasons for doing so. Good day to you, sir." She bowed curtly and turned to Toshi (who had regained his calm expression by now) and bowed deeply. "Good day to you, Toshi-san" she said, in a friendlier voice before turning around and stepping out into the garden.
They watched her till she walked out of earshot before any of them spoke.
"I am deeply sorry about that your highness. I assure you, she would not have spoken so rashly had she known who you were." Takehiko said, apologetically.
"No, it is fine Takehiko. I am glad I am in disguise; otherwise, I would not have heard half of what she had in her mind. She has given me much food for thought." The Emperor replied, smiling at her distant figure with a thoughtful look upon his face.
Takehiko stared at him as he took in what the Emperor said. Yes! Why did I not think of this before?! You may not like the Emperor much Keiko, but it is him you have to be grateful to for this ingenious idea. With this, we will learn of Yuuta's whereabouts soon enough!
"What is the matter Takehiko? You look lost."
"I-er… I was just thinking that she will realize who you are soon enough, your majesty."
"That is true, sire. Lady Keiko is a clever woman. It will not take her long to uncover what is right in front of her eyes." Toshi added.
"That may be so, however, I wish to keep this secret for as long as possible and I need your help in order to do so." He looked at them pointedly and they knew that arguing with him on the matter would be a lost cause.
"Yes your majesty." "You can count on us"
A/N: Hello! I'm getting faster with updates no? :D (touch wood! :P) Anyway, I am sorry if the chapters seem short but I can't help it! I feel like I need to stop a particular chapter in a particular place and so I do! Initially, I had thought to club this chapter and the previous one but when I wrote it, it felt better this way! But I'll try to make them longer... no promises though! :D As always, review and make my day for me! :') 3