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Silver and Gold

Chapter Text

A violent dance of steel against steel. They ignored the chaos around them, refusing to retreat.  While most warriors would throw heated curses, gathering their anger as a fuel to crush their enemy, all that Tendo Maya could do was smile. Her opponent, Captain Saijo Claudine, most wanted pirate of the Kingdom, did not look amused at all, simply glaring at her with contempt.

The reports about Saijo Claudine couldn't capture the impact of her presence. Ruby eyes that commanded strength, eyes that spoke an unyielding determination. Golden hair untamed, waving with the blowing wind. Even though her robes looked plain, her shoulder protected by a simple piece of armor that looked sturdy enough to resist bullets, not even the deadly foes she had met on past battles could cast such unique radiance.

A fire had started at the bow of the ship. It was about to engulf everything around them. A dissonant symphony of explosions, heat, smoke, screams of people dying and others struggling to survive. If only the ship would have been strong enough to resist a bit longer...

Unfortunately, all that Maya could do now was wait for a chance to meet her once again.

 

Three months ago.

January 17.  20Th Year of the Seisho Era.

The tea tasted anything but good. And he had brought a strawberry cake instead of Baumkuchen. Maya wasn’t especially picky but was complicated to follow a simple request? Tea and Baumkuchen from her favorite bakery but the new guard on her squadron, although competent and committed with weapons, was terrible at remembering that kind of instructions.

The day had started in a disappointing way. It was about to become more unpleasant when another guard brought a letter from her mother. Sending letters when they could send a telegram was quite unpractical, but Maya never complained at them.

As she predicted, the usual greetings from her mother, the concern about her well-being, the pride they felt for her important position on the Royal Guard and then, the thing Maya dreaded the most.

“...Your father has spoken with Lord Ryuuzaki. His son, Aoi, is eager to meet you at the upcoming festival. He’s a very handsome and respected man. He’s a lieutenant at the 102nd Regiment. We hope that your duties would allow you to visit us this summer…”

The yearly reminder that she had only two years left before her military service would have to enter on a hiatus. As a member of the Tendo Clan, it was her duty to keep the line, which involved, find a worthy husband and procreate enough children. Because the task of raising a family was too demanding, especially for a woman, that would mean the end of their career. Her mother had done it, now working as an advisor.

It seemed her destiny was already traced, she only had to follow the path. After all, she was the heir of the "Noble and Brave House of Tendo".

 

Maya folded the letter and carefully put it on the envelope, throwing it in the fireplace of her office room. As the letter burns, she takes the black jacket that hangs on her chair. Maya stands in front of the large mirror, the only luxury she could have in her office, filled with books, reports and a telcom (a communications terminal that was always turned on and whose beeping sound was monotonous and annoying).

She remembers how her mother had cried when she came back home as a Royal Guard, how her father looked at her as if she was his most valuable treasure, how they had praised her for the first time in years. Unlike the regular army members whose uniform was red, the guards had the same black uniform, adorned with gold,  the leaders having distinctive golden marks embroided on their sleeves.

Maya had been promoted recently as a Major. The former Major had been killed (she knew because Nana told her) and so far not even the Lord Commander had disclosed that information or why the Queen wanted to see them today.

 

The security protocols had tightened since their last meeting. Some officers were visibly offended at the treatment given but the guards would be more than happy to treat them just like every other visitor to the throne room. Even the Queen’s sons were searched with weapons detectors and guardian dogs that would sniff for any possible threats.

Maya smiled at the dogs, petting them as they wave their tails, despite the guards’ attempts to prevent them from any friendly approach. Daiba Nana and Hoshimi Junna, former classmates at the academy, were there. Nana was also petting the dogs, Junna glaring at them for their lack of proper manners.

 

They approached the large gates, walking behind the Lord Commander, a tall man with a deep voice and emerald eyes, his pale skin tarnished with brown birth spots. The soldiers had nicknamed him as “The giraffe”.

After crossing the doors, they entered into the Throne Room. A chamber, illuminated by the sun that enters from the large windows. There were water channels with lotus flowers floating, flanking the hallway. Next, to each pillar, there were a special group of royal guards, the Black Chorus, whose only task was to protect the Queen, their faces are hidden behind a black mask. Even if they belonged to the same division, the Black Chorus would never speak or take orders from anyone else except the Queen herself. Most guards disliked them but Maya could feel only but pity for them.

 

At the end of the hallway, there were stairs that ended up in a throne made of silver and gold. Maya keeps her stare down but she can sense the piercing gaze of the ruler of the Kingdom. The woman who had executed the former warlords and the Emperor, twenty years ago, ending the war and bringing a new era for the new Kingdom of Japan.

They kneeled, waiting for the orders. The Lord Commander stepped forward, next to the right hand of the Queen, a tall, long-haired woman who often dictates the commands of the Queen.

The Lord Commander was the only who never kneeled to the Queen. Not even the right hand or The Grand Admiral. For some reason, it was allowed and yet the Lord Commander never boasted about his status or privilege, always concerned and focused on his work.

 

The right hand of the Queen thanked them for their loyalty and their hard work. She started to deliver the orders to them, assigning missions that had to deal with the rebels and possible conspirators.

However, no missions had been given to Daiba Nana, Hoshimi Junna, nor Tendo Maya. Maya wonders if her mission would simply involve the usual, stay at the palace as a protection, as a mere watchdog.

 

After that, the Lord Commander dismissed them, ordering Daiba, Hoshimi and Tendo to stay.

“Stand up, guards.” The Lord Commander ordered and the three of them obeyed, staring at the commander.

The right hand turned back and calmly started to climb the stairs and kneels next to the throne.

“There’s a threat, coming from the north.” The Lord Commander started to explain. “Two days ago, a group of pirates, captured and sank “The Nautilus”.” 

The Nautilus was the flagship of the Royal Navy. The most advanced and powerful ship said to be invincible.

“The Grand Admiral has been executed.” The Lord Commander continued. “His head has been hanged at the entrance of the Castle Hanabara at the city of Akisaki.”

 

An openly act of defiance, a declaration of war.

 

“What happened to the crew?! And the rest of the ships?!” Junna asked. The Nautilus couldn't possibly sail alone, unprotected.

“The rest of the ships sunk as well, most of the officers killed. No prisoners, those who could escape were badly injured. The details will be given to you later. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir!” They replied in unison.

“The Navy will deal with them but you are here for a more important objective.”

Maya guessed the Commander wanted them to infiltrate on the pirate ship and kill the leader. The commander’s mouth curved just a bit. 

“I want you to locate and stop their Captain, Saijo Claudine. Is that understood?”

 

They replied in unison, once again and the commander nods. “Major Tendo, you are in charge. Feel free to take anything or anyone else with you if you want.”

The Commander turns to look at the Queen. “Your Highness, anything else you wish to add?”

 

Maya keeps her stare down, just like Nana and Junna.

“Kill or Capture that pirate. Either way is acceptable.” The Queen said with a calm voice. “However, I would like to meet that child if possible… Such defiance must be properly rewarded, don’t you think, Lord Commander?”

“Of course. I understand” He replied.

Maya imagined how they would torture and exhibit the corpse of that pirate as a warning. She had ordered them to do the same after the Battle of Hanasaki with those who were captured.

 

She gave her a fancy medal, praising her loyalty and dedication, her bravery when other faltered, but at what cost?

 

January 18.  Royal Navy’s military base. Tokyo.

 

Maya was simply eager to get out of the Castle. She had been feeling stuck, restless with rumors about imminent war and dreading another summer at home. Nana and Junna helped her with the preparations, together analyzing the reports and finally meeting Yukishiro Akira, from the Navy, at the Port.

Captain Yukishiro Akira was a young and respected Captain from the south. From her voice and her stance, she could tell, that woman was quite strong, always on guard and probably with zero tolerance for jokes.

With her ship, The Arcadia, Yukishiro had captured and killed an important number of pirates at the South. Yukishiro was openly against having army officers in her ship but Maya with a smile, politely reassured her she wouldn’t interfere with her work. Yukishiro’s reluctance was probably because she wanted to capture that pirate by herself, maybe was the wounded pride of the Navy officers, eager to have their revenge for the death of their Admiral and their comrades.

 

Yukishiro disclosed the details of the incident. The pirates had stolen lots of weapons and supplies. The whole operation had been executed with precision, taking advantage of explosions inside the ship, disrupting the communications and the engines. A tactical masterpiece, she had commented and Yukishiro glared at her with rage when Maya praised the enemy.

 

January 21. Port of Akisaki

 

Four hundred casualties, including the Grand Admiral during a battle that lasted one hour. That poor bastard had been executed by the Pirate Captain, whom according to the reports of the few survivors,  had personally decapitated him with her sword.

 

"The pirates took orders from a young, blonde woman on her twenties..." Daiba Nana reads the reports.

 

They were in a meeting with another twenty officers at the Navy’s headquarters at the City of Akisaki.

 

"...wielding a longsword and a golden pistol. Her eyes were red as blood!  She was the devil!  The devil himself who took shape of a gorgeous woman! Oh Dear God, have mercy on us!" Nana recited the report as if it were the lines of a stage play, the rest of the officers laughing at Nana’s delivery of these words.

“Give me that!” Junna took the paper away from her hands, annoyed with her attitude and skimmed through the paper. “Did they really write this?! What kind of joke is this?!” Junna complained.

“Yukishiro is not the type to tolerate jokes, so it must be the exact words of the witness” Maya commented.

“She was throwing curses in a language ... I think it was French..." Junna continued.

 

Nana laughed  "This poor guy was terrified and... I dare to say he was turned on by that pirate!"

More laughs and jokes with innuendos. Maya simply drinks her tea while Junna frowns at her before resuming the reading.

 

"...the pirate Captain stared at me and I thought I was going to die but then she smiled and told me that she wanted me to deliver a message: Tell your Queen and her lackeys that Captain Saijo Claudine and her pirates will crush her Navy." After that, I was thrown out of the ship by one of her subordinates..."

 

Maya remained silent, her stare fixated on the sea. That woman, Saijo Claudine, inspired admiration and fear with her actions. She could say she was imprudent or powerful enough to send a direct challenge to the Queen and her navy. Maybe a bit of both. For the first time in a long time, Maya felt something that she had thought she had forgotten, the excitement of an upcoming battle.

 

But before any assault, they would need to carefully study the target. Although known by actions, there weren’t any clear pictures, only descriptions of Saijo Claudine.

 

Maya and her subordinates started to gather information as well. The rumors about Saijo Claudine varied on the details of her accomplishments.

According to some people, she had killed one hundred sailors during a raid, only with her sword (the weapon even had a name, Etiencelle du Fierte, which was quite a lovely name, Maya had to admit.)

Saijo and her crew also had found some rare and legendary treasures who belonged to the old Emperor (probably true because having an entire fleet of apparently a hundred ships would demand lots of money and resources).

 

February 20th. At the sea.

 

The Navy had managed to capture one ship, named Kazamori and its crew. They weren’t the usual sailors, or criminals,  they weren’t like the rebels from the south, simply wanted to keep their territory.

They wear a simple uniform, boots, black pants with a simple white shirt, except for the Captain who had a simple dark blue jacket with silver buttons. Yukishiro interrogated the man for a while. There was no need for any violent methods as the man accepted his destiny and tells them that Captain Saijo is expecting this, much to Yukishiro’s indignation.

 

The captain of the Kazamori had a detailed log of their travels asking them to read it. But the records in the telcom couldn’t be extracted. Junna told them these were encrypted and they were working with the headquarters to decipher the messages.

 

Still, that pirate tells them that her ship, The Amethyst, could easily beat any of the Navy's fleet. According to him, the Amethyst’s cannons tore the Nautilus in two with one shot easily. Destroying the flagship had been only the beginning.

 

Saijo Claudine was preparing an assault against the Capital City in order to teach the Queen a lesson.

“You can kill me but you can’t stop us. We are united by blood! Our souls won’t rest until we are free! Tell that to your Queen! We are going to destroy her castle!” That man was probably insane.

 

Maya didn’t care about the Castle or the Queen. Too often she had resented her decisions but an attack against the capital would affect the lives of hundreds of innocent people. The last thing this kingdom needed was another tragedy.

They began to travel to the towns where the pirates frequently were seen. 

 

The people who lived there adored her.  A guy from a bar told her that she would divide her earnings generously with her subordinates and not everyone was allowed to be part of her crew. The details of the initiation were probably exaggerated but she was sure it would require to have some decent skills. They would alert the pirates if they see any soldiers or ships through the public channels. It was thanks to them they had food and were protected against thieves.

Many kids had openly spoken of how awesome and kind she was, not even caring that they were talking with army officers. A teenager said she had given her a book called The Starlight Gatherer and told Maya how the local school was built thanks to her help.

 

"I can't believe these people actually support her". Junna said concerned.

"They have helped these towns to improve their lives, you would be thankful as well..." Nana replied.

“These are pirates, Nana-chan! They have killed a lot of our comrades!"

 

Maya stays silent, leading the way as Junna and Nana argue about it. Junna's indignation was justified but these people, forgotten by the government had been rescued by those pirates.

Junna, just like Nana and Maya were from wealthy families. They hadn't faced hardships like these people. Maya can’t help but feel but a strange sympathy for their leader. Saijo Claudine could be seen as a savior or a threat depending on the person.

 

But those were the facts that others had said.  Maya wanted to know about her, in order to understand her enemy better.

 

The stories about her background seemed to contradict in one way or another. Someone had said she was the daughter of an exiled noble that went to France and married a duchess. Others had said that her father was just a pirate that escaped and by chance ended up in France so Saijo Claudine wanted to make her father proud by becoming a feared pirate. It was suspicious that no records on the Imperial archives matched with her name, nor the rest of people who had similar surnames matched the descriptions about her.

 

Maya had kept a small journal detailing her findings, in case she would forget something. She liked to read it often, especially during tedious afternoons when they were at one of the Navy's ships. Nana had joked that she had enough info to write a biography of Saijo Claudine but Maya merely smiled at the comment. It would be inappropriate to say it loud but she was fascinated with the idea of someone of her age, a woman able to command a large fleet. The Navy wasn’t particularly fond of letting a woman on high ranks (Yukishiro was one the few exceptions). With her lead, they had destroyed the most powerful ship of the army.

She had earned her title, chosen her path in her life, not handed to her by some birthright.

 

After being around a few weeks visiting those villages, and knowing that those pirates wouldn't appear, Maya and her crew boarded one of the Navy's ships. After chasing her without having seen the infamous pirate was starting to annoy her. Some people had guessed that she was dead or sick. But Maya refused to believe such rumors. She knew she was waiting, patiently reorganizing her fleet in order to launch another attack.

 

March 22th.

It was nearly dawn when she heard the alerts. The Arcadia had found The Amethyst and was now about to engage them. It began with twenty minutes of an intense exchange of fire. Just like she had expected, the enemy intended to assault the ship, with a hundred boats coming, most of them avoiding the gunshots using some kind of shields and soon they latched to the ship.

 

The pirates crawled and began their assault, the sailors quickly started to retaliate. Maya instructed her subordinates to attack as she unleashed her sword, ready to defend the ship. A group of these pirates soon were dead and she passed through the chaotic battlefield as if she was being guided by her instinct.

 

Then she stops on her way, finally finding the one she was looking for.

 

A long sword, wielded with raw strength pierced the body of an unfortunate sailor and quickly it was drawn back. She now realized that what she had read in that report wasn’t an exaggeration. She stared in awe at how she instilled fear against her enemies, before engaging in an attack. How easily she could predict the attacks of her enemies even if she was outnumbered.

 

However, that moment of contemplation was soon broken because her eyes, blazing with fire were now glaring at her.

 

"Tendo Maya!”

 

She shouted her name pointing her sword at her direction. Maya could only wonder for a brief moment why she knew her name. But that question did not last for more than a few seconds. This was an invitation to a duel and she tightened the grip on her own blade. She knew her name and that had made her heart beat with an illogical joy.

 

Their blades met, each stroke countered by the other, each movement could be foreseen, a dangerous dance.  Everything else didn't matter, the whole ship could be collapsing and they would just keep on this until one of them would fall.

 

But then something hits on Saijo Claudine's shoulder, a piece of debris that made her fall, losing the grip on her sword. One of the sailors was about to take advantage of her fall and tried to attack her. Angered at this intrusion, Maya stops him, standing in his way.

 

"Don't interfere!"  She takes Claudine's sword, marveled at the design of the weapon. Etiencelle du Fierte was a long sword, slightly heavy, with a black onyx stone encrusted on the blade.

 

Half of the ship was on fire, there were pirates telling her that they should retreat. Saijo Claudine stared in disbelief at that Royal Guard, Tendo Maya who was holding her sword, looking at it as if nothing was happening around them.

“What the fuck you think you’re doing?!” Saijo yelled at her.

"It’s a nice sword." Maya looked back at her, even though Claudine was trying to pierce her with her stare. So intimidating and yet absolutely beautiful.

“Oh, I apologize. Here…”

 

Tendo Maya hands her weapon and Saijo Claudine grabs it quickly, her hands brushing Maya's for a moment, their eyes locked. Maya was quite sure she could keep on fighting but the ship was now trembling.

 

"You should leave, Captain Saijo. I hope to have the chance to continue our duel soon. ” Maya was practically beaming.

 

Claudine gritted her teeth. "What an annoying woman! Next time I'll take away that stupid smile from your face!"

 

She ran away, covered by her pirates as they retreated. She just hoped that nothing would harm her on her way back to her ship.

 

Maya felt something on her right hand, and she noticed a cut in her uniform. Blood had slowly fallen through her arm, her hand and her weapon were now tainted with her own blood.  Saijo Claudine had managed to break her nearly perfect guard. She hadn't even felt a thing.

 

Instead of feeling any sort of rage or frustration, Maya smiled, looking at the direction of the pirate ship that was now fading away on the horizon as her subordinates approached her.

“Prends soins de-vous, Saijo Claudine...”

 

The aftermath had been stressful. Maya had to deal with complaints from Hoshimi and Daiba. Yukishiro had dared to question her leadership and actions. None of these words or the damage that they had caused hadn't made her regret about her decision of letting her escape.

 

That encounter had been only the begin of a series of inconclusive duels, each of them always interrupted by someone or something else. They had exchanged some bruises and superficial cuts, none of them deep enough to cause significant harm.

 

Maya always waited for Saijo Claudine when she seemed about to lose her balance or when she was tired, pointing each of her flaws. Despite her apparent annoyance at her, Saijo Claudine had never resorted to pull out her golden gun and shoot her. Always fighting with her sword, her eyes sharp as her sword, swearing she would defeat her. But how long they would be able to keep this?

 

Maya and the rest of the army officers managed to ambush them at the entrance of a tavern on a night with a full moon. It was during their duel that Maya noticed something that alarmed her. Claudine was slow in her responses today, exhausted but still engaging her. She had started to chase her through the neighborhood until they resumed their combat on a deserted street, dimly illuminated.

It took only a small mistake on Claudine's part that Maya used to push her against a wall.

 

"Your attacks are slower than usual!" Maya commented as they struggled with their swords.

"Shut up!" Claudine yelled at her, frustrated.

Maya takes a few steps back, releasing her and Claudine seems barely able to stand on her feet.

"What happened?" Maya questioned.

"What...?!" Claudine was now struggling to breathe.

 

Maya then realized a small stain of blood that was becoming wider on Claudine's left shoulder. She stepped closer and Claudine was about to push her away when their eyes met.

"Who did this?" Maya wasn't going to give up.

"I..." Claudine muttered, visibly confused, then her usual demeanor appeared again. "That's not of your business!"

"It is now "  Maya stated trying to suppress her growing anger.

 

Claudine just laughs. "Ha! Worried that you won't get another shiny medal from your Queen? How disappointing it would be for a thoroughbred Tendo to not accomplish such an easy mission like this?!"

 

Claudine was testing her patience, trying to mock her, to wound her ego. She had insulted her before but her words had never mentioned her family or how she was just another Tendo thoroughbred. She knows this is not a strategy, Saijo Claudine is just frustrated and tired, yet she...

 

Was all that she cared for? A medal? The praise of her superiors? To please her family? Her parents who only showed appreciation for her when she achieved something worthy of a Tendo?  Her life belonged to others, her destiny already sealed. Even if she achieves the highest honors, there's no path to choose, only to follow, only to serve.

Claudine now winces and Maya is no longer interested in fighting her, not when she's in this state. Not when she feels her guts being stabbed. Maya wished she could be angry at her.

 

"You need to tend your wounds". Maya knows that these wounds are dangerous.

"Why are you like this?!" Claudine demanded. "Is this a game to you or what?!"

Maya stays silent, staring at Claudine, a mess of emotions that she can't properly accept. But still, she knows it's better to warn her.

 

"They have captured some of your best sailors. You should hide for a while..."

She heard the sounds and voices of people coming. She had to do something but Claudine falls now on her knees, getting support on her sword.

"Dammit..." She complained.

 

Maya can't let them capture her, she only can imagine what kind of torture they would put her through before executing her. She kneels next to her and helps her to stand up. Claudine holds on her, divided between indignation and surprise.

"Be quiet and let me help you”. Maya whispered before Claudine could even complain. They start to walk, hiding into the shadows. Claudine had told her their boat wasn't far from there and Maya felt her grip on her getting weaker. She feared Claudine might pass out at any second, taking a pause to carry her on her back, even making sure Claudine's sword was properly secured. Claudine whispered some curses in French that Maya understood, making her smile.

 

Finally, they reached the beach. Two women were waiting for Claudine with a boat. They raised their guns at their sight.

“Don’t shoot! Your Captain has been wounded!” Maya shouted.

Maya recognized them, Hanayagi Kaoruko and Isurugi Futaba, former classmates at the Imperial Academy.

"What the hell?!... Tendo Maya!?" Isurugi Futaba couldn't believe what she was seeing.

"What did you do to Kuro-han?!" Hanayagi shouts. Claudine was now about to pass out and all that Maya wanted was to take her to a doctor.

"There's no time for talk!” Maya urged them. “We have to...!"

 

Maya was silenced by the sound of people yelling, not far from them. Hanayagi and Isurugi helped Maya to put Claudine on the boat. Someone ordered to shoot, followed by several gunshots as they pull the boat further in the water, quickly climbing on it.

"You two, row!" Maya commanded and pulled out her own gun. A brief moment of hesitation, praying that Daiba or Hoshimi weren't among the attackers. And taking aim, Maya responded to the fire.

 

Chapter Text

She stared in awe at the shiny treasure they had just stolen. There were all sorts of jewelry, rings, bracelets, all of these were going to be sent to the queen to join her already vast collection. They also had gotten boxes with guns, swords, ammunition and supplies. All of these in her fortress, ready to be divided and spent accordingly.

Captain Saijo Claudine, the leader of the biggest pirate fleet was proud of her victory. She had expected to find some problems but the plan worked perfectly. Two infiltrators that sabotaged the ship, her main crew who had stolen the valuable cargo with the rest of her best ships attacking the ship without mercy. Like a thunder, striking the ground, quick and powerful.

But the most important thing was that she had finally gotten her revenge against that bastard that ruined her father's life. The grand admiral and his crew whom stolen her father's research, tortured him, and brought suffering to her family.

Bon voyage, asshole. She said after killing him and ordering her pirates to throw his corpse to the sea. A bullet in the middle of his skull because he wasn't worthy of her blade. Usually, Saijo Claudine would face the Captain, most of the times letting the poor victim to choose to sink with the ship or have the traditional duel if the opponent dared to face her. These things had earned her a reputation of being deadly, something that she was quite proud of.

A couple of operations against the Navy caused quite an impression on some young rebels like Hanayagi Kaoruko and Isurugi Futaba. Both had appeared like a couple of stray cats at her ship, the first one claiming that she needed their help. At first, Claudine had refused, not trusting them but these two proved their loyalty and their talent. Kaoruko had a secret but reliable most of the time, information and contacts. Futaba was good on sneaking in highly secured places. The reasons behind Kaoruko and Futaba's interest in joining her crew, however were a secret even for her. Not that she actually had insisted on asking them, Claudine neither had shared her reasons behind her fiery campaign against the Navy to anyone.

She always said she wanted to be rich, powerful and have fun inspiring terror inside the hearts of her opponents. To her pirates, she was the greedy and daring Captain Saijo whom wanted to steal the most valuable and rare treasures and challenge these arrogant bastards from the navy. To the people from the northern villages, she was the rebel that dared to steal from the rich to help the poor.

As always, she made sure to keep a large share of the money to repair her ships and continue to improve the safety of her fortress, a castle located at the mountains in one of the northern islands, abandoned for centuries. It took a long time and money to repair it and turn it into a place to live. She was planning to get more cannons and do some of the suggestions that Amemiya and her crew of builders told her. And indulge on buying a fancy dress, although she rarely used one even at her fortress.

After the obligatory celebrations and overcoming the usual hangover, she called Kaoruko and Futaba for a meeting in order to discuss their next movements. It had been months of careful preparation but this victory was just the prelude of a war.

"The Queen is in her summer residence located at the mountains. The Lord Commander and the newly appointed Grand Admiral are preparing an operation to track and kill you. They have created a group of specialists of both the navy and the army, an special ops team! Isn't this fun, Captain?"
Kaoruko had that smugly smirk all over her face as she informs the news to her leader. Next to her was Futaba and she seemed troubled by something.
"We have caused quite an impression haven't we?" She unfolds her fan to wave it. "Ready to know who are these people?!"
Claudine rolled her eyes. "I guess I should be thrilled..."
Futaba can only sigh at Claudine's arrogance and Kaoruko giggled.
"Yukishiro Akira is leading the navy officers with The Arcadia and another five Class VI ships."
Claudine nods. She had expected that woman to be appointed. So far she had been the only Captain that had actually made her retreat.
"And the army officers are under the command of Major Tendo Maya."
"This is bad." Futaba says."Not only Yukishiro, which is bad enough and now this..."
"Care to elaborate?" Claudine asked.
"She was our classmate at the Academy." Futaba answered. "The youngest of the Tendo Clan and she's called a genius "
Claudine had vaguely heard about them, apparently one of the oldest in the kingdom.
"Really...?"
"She was the top of our promotion. After she graduated she was assigned to the special forces." Kaoruko commented. "...The last time I saw her was at the Hanasaki operation... "
Kaoruko's voice faded and she turned strangely serious. Futaba quickly took note of it.
"Then the Queen transferred her to the Royal Guards. I guess she's that scared..." Futaba says. "I would put my best soldiers to watch my back too"
"Only because she's a bitch that has ruined lots of lives" Claudine drinks a bit of her glass. Things were about to complicate but she would face it. "So, what about the rest?"
Kaoruko gave her a list of names but in her opinion, the other ones that she had to be careful were Daiba Nana and Hoshimi Junna.
"Number two and three of our promotion. " Futaba continued. "Daiba is nice but she's tough, I think Tendo was the number one just because she was more aggressive and ambitious than her".
That Tendo Maya must be a formidable opponent if Futaba speaks of her in such way.
"Tendo can be... ruthless. I heard she impaled an group of people during one of her missions."

Claudine raised her eyebrows. She didn't particularly enjoy any sort of torture but she had resorted to such tactics a few times, dealing with nasty pirates or thieves. Those who mess with Saijo's crew or her allies would face her fury.
"Sounds like my type of enemy" She smiled, displaying her usual arrogance.
"This is serious business, Kuro. These Tendo are well known for that. They are one of these clans that are willing to do anything for the Queen. Just because tradition and all that shit."
Futaba insisted but Kaoruko didn't seem to be concerned like her.
Claudine finished her drink, actually eager to face one of the Queen's loyal dogs and show that woman how lethal she was.
"I can't wait to meet her. " Claudine had declared with confidence, taking a look at the reports that Kaoruko had uploaded in her terminal. After inserting a few commands and scanning through the names, the information appeared:

Tendo Maya. 21 years. Rank: Major.

She had read everything. Tendo had the same age as hers, she was skilled with the rapier. With an astonishing (she had to admit) record of kills an outstanding service during the Battle of Hanasaki. Rewarded with several medals for her service and now a member of the Royal Guard.

A picture on sepia colors was attached to the report. She had expected some sort of intimidating gaze, but Tendo Maya looked calm, almost smiling in her profile picture wearing the uniform of the royal guard. A young, good-looking soldier coming from a noble family.

Unfortunately, these reports didn't provide something that she could use. She wanted to know more about her (because she knew Yukishiro enough to know that she was a demon) and she had not choice but to question Futaba and Kaoruko to know more about her.

The Tendo Clan was one of the oldest clans in the kingdom and while there were some members living in the south, those who lived in the capital had adopted the motto of "noble and brave". Most of them had been Royal Guards.

"She's from a rich family so she has nice manners." Futaba commented. "At the academy, she was always willing to help anyone but still..."
"She was obsessed with training" Kaoruko said and Futaba nods.
"It's true... When most of the students were having fun, she was always training with her sword or studying. I guess all that about being a genius is the result of her hard work" Futaba shrugs.
"You seem to admire her" Claudine pointed and Futaba blinked with surprise and laughed at her words.
"Well... I admit I wanted to be strong and confident just like her. She helped me during a particularly rigorous training. She pointed my flaws and told me how to improve all while giving an epic speech that was cheesy but it helped me a lot."
"hah, silly." Kaoruko mocked her but Futaba seemed fond of these memories.
"And Tendo did help kaoruko so many times, but she never will admit it."
Kaoruko glared at Futaba. "What are you talking about? I don't remember anything of that." Her usual denial.
"Tendo saved you when you were about to fail that mission at second year, remember? And..."
"All right! Fine!" Kaoruko had her arms crossed. "Tendo-han was... a good classmate. When she wasn't training. Because she would kill you even if it was a stupid practice!"
Futaba laughed and Kaoruko was annoyed. "Tendo-han is a bit mad if you ask me..."

Then they started to talk about the Hanasaki Operation, a battle that ended the conflict between the Eastern clans, a year ago.

"The army had lost one of his leaders, a Colonel whom was killed during a raid. " Futaba begin." Tendo took the lead after some conflicts among the officers. Somehow, she managed to take control of a bunch of regiments. You could say it was luck and perhaps the heavens favored her but she proved that she was able to lead during critical situations. "
"She killed so many only with her sword, even Daiba wasn't that effective like her." Kaoruko commented, again her face turning into a tense one.
Futaba and Kaoruko exchanged meaningful stares and Claudine could only guess that they had been there.

Kaoruko had told her that those army officers would be at the village of Yamano, one of the places she used to visit when she was traveling between places.
"That officers are making questions here and there". Futaba reported through the terminal.
"Have they threatened the locals?" Claudine was worried they might harm innocent people that she had helped in the past.
"No. Actually Tendo and her people have been respectful, they told me. Unlike the rough navy officers whom basically have threatened a few people and interrogated the local officers. But don't worry they don't know anything that might compromise us."
Even if Kaoruko was confident in her assumptions Claudine was restless. And the only way to calm her anxiety would be attacking that bloody ship, The Arcadia. One of their spies had provided the location.

Saijo Claudine prepared her people and her ships to attack. She wanted to see if Tendo Maya, the famous genius was that skilled. If all these medals, these titles, all the admiration that people like Futaba seemed to have towards her was justified.

In the middle of the battle Tendo found her. Dark brown hair, framing her face, violet eyes that shined at her. Not the bloodthirsty expression that she had imagined so many times, instead her face was adorned with an smile that radiated so much joy, unfitting for the situation.

And she would erase it.

"Tendo Maya!"

She pointed her sword towards her. Tendo quickly accepted her invitation by unleashing her blade, on guard.

Their blades collided, both of them putting all their strength on each attack. As the exchange continued, she predicted her attacks as much Tendo dealt with her intents of striking her. Both of them immersed in a trance, a fiery dialogue between two warriors. For the first time in her life, Saijo Claudine didn't care about her personal war against the navy. Not even the thrill of taking these treasures, the radiance of gold and diamonds or the satisfaction of taking revenge, couldn't compare to this moment.

She wasn't the arrogant, daring Captain, the terror of the seas, the rebel that had defied the Queen...

But then she falls.

She cursed her luck and reached for her gun only stopping when she sees Tendo yelling at one of her own comrades, furious about his intrusion. Tendo had quickly taken her own weapon handing it towards her in a odd and polite? gesture.

She wasn't looking at her like most people used to, with hatred or fear, but as if she was a just an opponent, a rival that she respected and wanted to honor. It was too much, she had no idea of how she should react at that.

Claudine took back her sword, annoyed at her, because Tendo was giving her an honest smile, even going so far to compliment the design of her sword. Claudine tried to threaten her the best she could but these violet eyes showed nothing but fascination that made her feel confused and angry.

Since that day, Tendo Maya hadn't done a real effort in killing or capture her. It was obvious and she wonders if someone else from the army or the navy officers had noticed it.

Tendo used every opportunity of telling her all the flaws in her raids, how open was her guard and how she should attack her. Even if they had managed to actually hurt each other with just a few scratches, Tendo seemed to have nothing but an interest on prolonging their duels. Claudine had kicked her couple of times and Tendo simply laughed asking her for more, which made her blood boil with anger at the way she had said it.

That Tendo Maya was getting on her nerves but Captain Saijo wasn't the type to refuse a challenge. Even if Claudine could pull out her gun and shoot at Tendo to finally wipe out that radiant smile from her pretty face, every time she thought about it, a terrible guilt overwhelmed her.

They way she had stared at her haunted her every time she closed her eyes and tried to sleep. It was embarrassing enough to accept that Tendo was truly a skilled opponent, a good-looking woman with alluring eyes and a seductive voice.

She swore that next time she would defeat her and take her as a prisoner. Ashamed with some impure thoughts that sneaked into her mind, Claudine wanted to yell at Tendo Maya for being annoying and beautiful and polite towards her, for staring at her as if she was her partner in a training session. No, she wanted to stab her for making her feel things she definitely should not have for an enemy. The deadly, unstoppable Captain Saijo would defeat her next time. She was determined to do it. Or that's what she wanted to think.

However, a betrayal from an important faction of her pirates compromised her plans. Claudine took a few shots and cuts right before killing her opponents. The medic at her ship told her she should rest, but she wasn't going to stop. She would find these traitors and hang them. She sent Kaoruko and Futaba to sabotage the navy's ships then they would meet her at a rendezvous point. Her crew of navigators had begged her to stay but she ordered them to be quiet and follow her orders.

She ended up ambushed, surrounded by a group of navy's officers and her nemesis, Tendo Maya. Claudine had no choice but to escape and Tendo found her, resuming their duel only to stop when she noticed her bleeding wounds. That idiot had said her wounds mattered to her, again showing so much concern towards her.

Was this a refined tactic to confuse her? Or maybe she had another reason?

The last thing that she remembered was the sound of gunshots, the sea and its waves, exhaustion about to defeat her and a voice calling her name...

That infuriating woman had saved her life, even shooting at her own people, protecting the one she was supposed to kill. She cursed and wanted again to yell at that woman. She could imagine the satisfaction on Tendo Maya's face, that smile full of arrogance, knowing she owned her life.

"You should have listened to me! But no, you never do it! The unstoppable Captain Saijo Claudine obeys no one!" Tsuyuzaki Mahiru complained. She had cried and yelled at her.
Next to her were Kagura Hikari, and Aijo Karen. Kaoruko and Futaba were also there.

Hikari, Karen and Mahiru were in charge of the navigation and the defense system of The Amethyst. Despite their different personalities they worked extremely well. Claudine suspected that there was something suspicious going on between them. Not that it matters to her, after all.

Claudine knew she deserved all her complaints, after all she was always taking care of her and everyone in the ship.
"You need to rest and eat properly! And no wine for you! Even if I have to tie you to your bed!" Mahiru was in her overprotective mode and while Claudine would reprimand such behavior, coming from Mahiru was like being scolded by an older sister.
"I knew you had a wild side, Mahiru-chan. " Claudine says with mischief all over her face. Kaoruko was ready to join the teasing. "Mahiru-han! What a surprise, I thought you only had such things reserved for..."
Mahiru gasped with indignation, her cheeks getting red. Strangely, she noticed Hikari was equally blushed and lowered her face. Karen simply giggled.
"Stop that!" Mahiru protested.
"Enough, both of you." Claudine ordered. Her body is sore and she craved for a glass full of wine. Too bad her crew wouldn't let her have some of it.

"You really need to take care of yourself, Kuro-chan." Karen said concerned and while Claudine frowned she was glad to have people like Karen, loyal to her.
"Fortunately, Tendo-san saved you!"
At this point, probably everyone knew that Tendo Maya had helped her to escape. She still couldn't believe that her rival had basically betrayed her own people just to save her life. It made no sense at all.

This wasn't part of the plan. None of this. Everything was a mess and she now had to deal with traitors, some of her allies captured and a prisoner that had saved her.

"Do you want to know about your brave knight?" Kaoruko teased and Claudine shot a death glare that had no effect on Kaoruko.
"Don't worry, we didn't give her the special treatment. We assumed you wanted to thank her. Or ask for a ransom. Since she's a Tendo she is rich..."
Claudine might be a pirate but kidnapping enemies wasn't her style.
"We asked her about the people they captured and she said that the Navy had them. Yukishiro is going to send them to the city of Akisaki. And probably..."
"We can't let them!" Claudine declared. These people had worked hard for her. She had to help them.
"But Kuro-chan, you are still on recovery!" Karen protested.
"We can't let those bastards to take our people and stay here! "
"Do you have a plan? Jump into another crazy assault?" Kaoruko asked, visibly concerned.
"And what else?"
"We could use our famous guest." Kaoruko says and Claudine could imagine that she wanted to make a deal, but Claudine didn't like the idea.
"Assuming that no one knows she actually shot her comrades."

Kaoruko smile vanished. "Good point. But our little star says they have reported Tendo as M.I.A."
The little star was a code name given to their spy at the special ops team. To think there could be a traitor among the top soldiers was a shocking surprise.
Claudine often wondered why Kaoruko and Futaba were working with her. Kaoruko had so much contacts in all places it was a surprise she hadn't left to pursuit a more secure and profitable job. Or maybe she just wanted to create chaos and watch the world burn around her.
Claudine frowns craving for a bottle of wine, now with a growing headache. And it only got worst after sending and receiving a message on the Navy radio frequencies. Through one of the broadcasting channels she received a message from the Navy.


"We don't have any interest in that traitor Tendo.
If your surrender, Captain Saijo, we will release all the prisoners. You have my word.
We will wait at the Akisaki port, tomorrow at noon.
Captain Akira Yukishiro."

Claudine cursed loudly in french then wincing at the effort. That woman knew about what Tendo had done.

That idiot had ruined her career, no, her own life by saving her! She was going to yell at that infuriating woman and then maybe stab her as soon as she would dare to face her. 

 

Chapter Text

The azure sky and the infinite sea was all that she could see from the small window, the sound of sea waves crashing against The Amethyst. It would have been relaxing if it wasn't because of her current situation.
Her current prison was far better than those she had seen at the castle. It had a comfortable, clean bunk bed and next to it was a small table that only had a jar filled with clean water. At least they had been thankful to her, providing such luxuries (the meal was quite good, she had to admit) for the prisoner that had rescued their leader.

She wonders if Saijo Claudine is better now. It had been distressing to see her at such weakened state, the whole escape had felt like an eternity until they arrived to the ship. A group of pirates took Saijo Claudine to treat her injuries and she had to stay behind, swords and guns pointing at her. She slowly raised her arms to surrender. She barely registered the shouts of the people around her, now she was aware of the curses that some of these pirates had thrown at her. Isurugi ordered them to shut up, exhausted and stressed.

Without saying a word, Hanayagi took her sword and her few belongings. Isurugi stopped one of the crew members that wanted to handcuff her. Probably she had hurt or killed a few of their comrades. It made her think about Daiba and Hoshimi, praying they weren't among the probable casualties.

May the heavens have mercy on me...

Saijo Claudine had put herself in a grave danger by fighting in such state. Although she admired her bravery, in the end, it made her commit lots of mistakes. But how could she dare to criticize her decisions? After all she had helped her enemy to escape, betraying everything she thought it was important to her. Her responsibility as a royal guard, her comrades, her family's reputation, her whole life. She had forsaken everything in a raw moment of overwhelming fear that she couldn't ignore, urging her to take a desperate action.

Maya always had relied on her logic, devoting herself to training in order to control her fears, to use these emotions instead of the opposite, almost like a monk. She had thought she was able to detach herself from her own feelings, wearing a mask of pride and arrogance only to hide carefully her fear of the future, a path already chosen and sealed for her at her birth.

Maybe Saijo Claudine would be so kind and kill her first, not letting her be judged in a martial court. Too many would enjoy such a humiliating show. High treason. Conspiracy to kill the Queen, murder, robbery... all these charges would be on her trial only after a session of torture, demanding information about the pirates. A swift cut on her neck...

A tragic, sad finale for the genius that had been born to serve.

Maya had stayed in that room for a day, dwelling on somber meditations. Isurugi and Hanayagi had visited her, the former asking information about their captured comrades, the second to mock her (it was Hanayagi Kaoruko after all) and inform her that Claudine was recovering and would probably call for her. It was a relief to know that at least Saijo Claudine was fine and recovering.

When Isurugi asked her why she had done it, Maya remains silent, remembering a comment from her father that had stuck in her mind, something about some man that could become delusional once they fall for a woman, as some sort of curse that would blind one's judgment. She didn't like it back then because such thing clearly shows a proper lack of maturity and self-control. But now...

It seemed as if heavens were now punishing her for her arrogance. To think how confident, how eager she was to have a duel against that Pirate Captain only to throw everything away and protect her.

It was all that mattered at that moment. The brilliance that had enchanted her, the brilliance she wanted to protect.

Her lack of response made Hanayagi to suspect something and she had that smile filled with malice.
"My, my what an unexpected thing! I guess that you fell under our Captain's charm?"
She laughed and Isurugi was simply astonished.

Maya didn't make an effort to rebuke that argument, her silence only was a confirmation. To her surprise she didn't harbor any sort of regret or shame about that.

"You aren't the first one who finds her bad temper attractive. I have seen so many... I guess it's because she's part-french and all that..."
This was nothing but a clever joke to Hanayagi and a great source of concern for Isurugi. It made her wonder if Saijo would despise her even more.
Isurugi then frowns. "She probably will kill you if you try to flirt with her but after what you did... "
Kaoruko nods, having fun. "She's single, Tendo-han. As far as I know she had a lover or two but she only has time for stealing and her obsession with destroying ships..."
"Kaoruko..."
"What?... I want to provide help to Tendo-han, you know, for the good old times...?" She shrugs.

Maya didn't have much time to reflect on that conversation, because a while later, another group of pirates came to fetch her. A group composed of young man and woman wielding guns and swords, some of them visibly afraid of her. Maya tried to fix her already wrinkled and dirtied clothes, to look the best she could to face Saijo Claudine, also to distract herself and stay calm.

The pirates escorted her at the entrance of the room and they left. Maya took a moment to get herself ready and noticed the door was slightly open. She pushed it cautiously, the door's creaking, announcing her presence.
"Come in and close the door, Tendo!" Saijo Claudine ordered in a annoyed tone.
Maya did it as she requested, taking a few steps ahead, still from a prudent distance.
Claudine looked tired. Instead of her usual clothes, she was wearing a pink night gown, with a long, blue coat on top of it that looked it would keep her warm in this cold weather. And replacing her usual bravado and fiery demeanor, she was simply reading a small book that looked familiar.

Maya's eyes widened at the sight of her journal, that had detailed records of her current mission, filled with notes in Japanese, English and French. Although she had intended to use it in order to have notes that she could use to redact her reports, it wasn't meant to be seen by anyone, at this point it had become too personal. She felt an uncomfortable void in her stomach, feeling so stupid for being worried about something so irrelevant like a journal.

In an attempt to distract herself from her increasing anxiety she took note of the rest of the room. There were papers scattered all over her desk, her pouch, her gun and her sword. Kaoruko had given all of these to Saijo Claudine while probably laughing about it.

The room had a communications terminal with a display screen that was showing the details of a map. It looked slightly different from those that she had seen in The Arcadia, probably stolen and modified. The room's walls had elegant decorations, with a lot of swords on display. There was also a hand-drawn map of the kingdom, detailing routes with ribbons pinned on it.

Claudine still was reading her journal for a while before she closed it and left it on the table, leaning on her chair.
"Tendo Maya. The prodigy from the Royal Guard... Looks like luck is not on your side this time." Although her words might be an attempt to taunt her, it lacked the usual intonation filled with disdain that she expected to hear.
Maya smiled. "So it seems... But I'm glad that my efforts have been not in vain."

Claudine raised her eyebrows. "You helped the most wanted pirate in this kingdom. I don't think your Queen will be pleased, Major Tendo"
Maya nods calmly. "Probably."
Her response made Claudine stand up and approach her, ruby eyes flashing with anger.
"Is that all that you have to say?!"
"What am I supposed to say?" Maya replied pretending not to be aware.
That only made Claudine to yell at her.
"You shot your own people! Aren't you worried about it!? Have you forgotten what is the punishment for traitors?! What about your family?! You are a fucking ROYAL GUARD, Tendo! You were supposed to fight ME!"

Claudine was breathing heavily, all that effort was affecting her and Maya feared the worst when she saw her wincing at her ribs.
"Of course I am aware." Maya's voice was low, almost like a whisper and wishing Claudine would just stop and go back to bed.
"And why are you?! Ugh... So fucking calm about it?! " Claudine complained.
"I am not..."
Claudine frantically pointed to the wall with the swords.
"Take a weapon!" She urged her. "Do it!"
Maya wasn't moving. Claudine had to stop before any of these wounds might reopen and put her in a critical condition.
"I refuse."

Claudine grabbed her by her jacket's collar, pulling her closer, glaring at her. Maya remains paralyzed, afraid of even breathing.
"Pour quoi?" She whispered.
Her face was so close that she only could stare at those beautiful ruby eyes ignited with a fire that made her heart beat like a furious drum. She could vaguely register her own body trembling at her proximity. Maybe it was true, she had fallen under some sort of spell but she wanted nothing more than to be consumed by it.
"Y-You... Y-You need to recover..." But somehow Tendo Maya could manage to articulate that phrase.
"So what? I will kill you if you refuse to fight!"
"T-Then strike me with all your strength, Saijo Claudine."
For a second she had expected more shouts and even a punch from her but fortunately, Claudine released her, with a scowl.
"Méchante va!" she complained but soon as she tried to take a step away from her, she winced, losing her balance. Maya caught her just in time, embracing her.
"You won't get better like that." Maya whispered.
She should release her, have proper manners but she can't let her go, hands shaking, her stomach twisting in a knot. Claudine's hands are tightly holding her shoulders, her lips brushing her ear. She could feel the weight of her body pressed against her own.
"I won't lose to you, Tendo Maya" Each word pronounced just with the minimum effort that nearly set her on fire, her mind stuck on inappropriate thoughts about the things she would do to Saijo Claudine. Or let her do to her.
Unfortunately, Claudine walks away and sits down, leaving Maya confused, frustrated and eager and yet it scared her.

All that effort made Claudine wince again. Maya could only imagine that she felt ashamed of her weakness and that had been just her competitive behavior, trying to mess with her.
"We can end our duel, anytime or anywhere you want. But only if you tend your wounds and have a proper recovery. " Maya replied, feeling tired.
"Are you so obsessed with fighting that you are willing to save an enemy? Is that?" She glared at her.
Maya felt a sharp pain in her chest. It shouldn't even concern so much what she thought of her but it did.
"You could have captured me and... It doesn't make sense!" Claudine continued. "You are a soldier, a genius... from a respected family..."
Saijo Claudine couldn't even hold her stare or pronounce any more words.

"All these medals, the praise of so many people, my parents... all these things can be taken and stolen, people come and go but this... The struggle of a noble fight. Only in these moments we can be free..."
Maya wasn't used to explain her feelings. She had found it was better to write about them. Although she might be a good leader and give encouragement to her comrades, talking about herself was an embarrassing and stressful experience.
She hoped she would get it and Claudine remained silent for a moment.
"When I was a child... My father said the same thing once..."
Maya wanted to ask her about her father, but she patiently waited for her to continue.
"However, my mother would say that a duel is just about Kill or get killed, that's it."
Maya smiled. "And what do you think, Captain Saijo?"
Claudine finally regained her usual confident expression.
"Ha! I am good at it! Good enough to defeat even a genius from the Army! And I have fun stealing and sinking ships. Nothing like a good treasure to chase and capture."
Maya nods glad to see that her spark was still there and not fading due to the circumstances.
"And you managed to command an entire fleet. You must be proud of yourself, Captain Saijo."
Claudine frowned again at her compliments.
"It seems that you are just a fool who happens to be decent enough to hold a rapier."
"Perhaps.... Just a fool that has been blinded by the radiance of the brightest star in the sky?"
Maya finished her declaration feeling victorious at the lovely sight of Claudine blushing against her efforts to look disgusted, again muttering some death threats in French.
Maya then took a look at the map and the reports. "So it will be a swift or a painful slowly death, Captain?"
"The second option would be a bit ironic. Coming from someone who apparently impaled a bunch of people."
"Ah... that story."
Apparently someone had disclosed a nasty detail about one of her missions. Maya wasn't particularly proud of it.
"Isn't true then?" Claudine asked.
"It was."
Claudine stared at her with a bit of disbelief and Maya's smile turned into a somber expression.
"People exaggerate things. It was an order from the Queen herself and it was just a man. Not that it makes me less of a murder."
"You were following orders." Claudine was being somehow kind and Maya was glad for those words even if she didn't deserve it.
"That's what I thought. That's what I wanted to believe."
She had fought so hard, focused only on succeed that in the end it had left her wondering if there was any real merit on being good at the art of war.

"That if I accomplished these missions, I would get the approval of my parents. My father who wants me to be like the son that he always wished to have. My mother who wants me to be like her and get married and have another thoroughbred..."

A moment of silence that felt like an eternity. Maya felt the weight of these emotions that she hadn't dared to face before and the decisions that had changed her life. She feels ashamed for her sudden burst of emotion, for her confusion, her apparent regrets. Not fitting for a Tendo. But she could still carry that name after what happened?
"I apologize. This must be uncomfortable to you, hearing me ramble about such personal matters." She lowers her stare, ashamed.

Claudine didn't make a comment about it, it only made Maya more anxious about everything.

"You... " Claudine's soft voice broke the silence. "You saved me and... That makes me indebted to you. Even if you are an annoying fool." She exhaled and continued trying not to look affected. "I can provide you with a boat and enough money to help you escape. The Yamabuki village is the nearest one. Go there and talk with the librarian. She will provide you of a transportation to get you out of the country. Better leave now while you can."
"But what are you going to do?" Maya asked.
"They have captured my people. I can't let them to be execute them just like that. I will lead the attack."
Maya couldn't believe that she actually wanted to jump into another fight.
"And you say I'm a fool. You can't fight Yukishiro and her crew! Even if your ship seems to be faster than The Arcadia they have more firepower! The only way is to infiltrate in the ships and believe me, they are expecting you!"
Saijo Claudine seemed willing to test the limits of her patience.
"Mind your own problems, Tendo"
"I will go."
She was a traitor now. Not a soldier, not even a rebel. She could go anywhere, be anything. Get into a suicide mission, and have a battle against Yukishiro and her crew. Even her own former subordinates. It was that or letting Saijo Claudine to walk into a certain death. And she wouldn't forgive herself if that happens.
"You....What?!"
"You stay in this ship. I shall take your place and help your crew."
"Are you insane?! If you get captured...!" The worry in Claudine's face somehow made the risk worth it.
"Ah, how sweet of you to care."
Claudine shouted some words in French about how insufferable she was.
"Do you really want to die, Tendo?"
"Ah, but my dear Captain, death is the only certain thing. Besides if they kill me you will get rid of me. If we succeed you will get back your allies. Either way you win."
Claudine was fuming and that only made her look adorable. However, the lack of complaints meant that she had given up.
"All right. Just..."
"I will lend my sword to you and rescue your people. I give you my word. Even if it's coming from a traitor"
"Ha! I don't mind. I'm a criminal, remember?" Claudine's smirk was a good thing to see.

Maybe she didn’t think of her as just a rival. As much as the idea fascinated her, Maya stayed focused on the current events. This mission was quite dangerous and she had to think of a way to release these prisoners without causing a disaster.

Claudine called for her subordinates, Isurugi and Hanayagi through the communication's terminal. A short moment later they arrived, informing that everything was ready. Both of them were shocked about Tendo joining them. Hanayagi pointed that it could cause more confusion among the enemy's troops.
"You better not betray us, Tendo!" Isurugi warned her. "If this is some sort of strategy I will cut you in pieces and won't hesitate!"
"Ah... Don't be like that, Futaba-han. Tendo-han has a very important reason to stay loyal." Hanayagi's eyebrows wriggled and Claudine already had enough.
"Silence." She commanded. "Tendo, you will follow Kaoruko's orders. Kaoruko, make sure to fill her in with the necessary details. Futaba, please equip Tendo with better weapons. These toys from the army won't help her."
"Understood." Both of them replied.
"Now, get out of here." Claudine took the journal as Maya turned her back to follow Isurugi and Hanayagi. Maybe she would ask her to give back her journal later. If she comes back alive.
"Tendo."
She called for her when she was about to close the door.
"Yes?"
"Make sure to come back. There's a lot of things you got wrong in this... journal of yours..." Claudine said not looking at her and flipping a page. Maya's initial surprise turned into a satisfied smile. She had to come back alive.
"Understood. À plus tard, Capitaine."

 

Chapter Text

 

Two hours, twenty-seven minutes and thirty seconds since they had communication with Futaba and Kaoruko's group.

 

Their last message had been received before going into the facility located near the docks, where most of her people were imprisoned. Little star, their spy, had said that about seventy people were there and they were planning to execute them on the main square, as a warning for the rest of pirates.

 

The plan was to create a diversion and plant some explosives (the fireworks, as Futaba liked to call it) and let the chaos provide an escape for them. The risk of everyone getting killed was too high but nothing else could be done.

 

Two hours, fifty minutes and two seconds since the last contact with Tendo Maya and the other group.

 

Tendo had suggested that Futaba and Kaoruko should rescue the prisoners while she and another group of her people would sabotage The Arcadia in order to rescue the Captains of two of her ships, Ikaruga and Ginkei.

 

"Isurugi-san and Hanayagi-san work better as a team. Let one of your people command this part of the operation, in case your pirates refuse to take the lead from a former army officer" She had said through the radio, as they prepared to leave and she was at the bridge.

 

The details of their plan were changing faster than she could foresee but the ability to adapt to any situation was essential for survival. She had to admit that Tendo had the skill and the guts to take on this task, in the end she did as she had suggested.

 

Tendo could be a great addition to her crew and Claudine found herself flustered at that idea. It was silly, she thought. Tendo Maya would never take orders from her, wouldn't she? They were rivals, who happened to share mutual respect as fighters, merely inspiring each other to be the best at the battlefield. And Tendo helped her because she valued strength and skill above anything else...even her own status, her duty or her own life. And maybe she was truly a genius and sometimes genius tend to act strange...

 

Claudine forced herself to stop analyzing Tendo Maya once again.

 

The sabotage of The Arcadia was another important info that Little star had provided. That ship had a critical weakness reported by one of their technicians. A flaw in the engines that could lock the entire ship's systems, therefore making it unable to move. It could even make the generators overheat and cause a potential explosion.

 

But as much as she wanted that bloody ship destroyed, her priority was to get her people out of there. Not only their lives were at risk, she guessed that some of the officers could have been tortured to get info about her fortress' location. Her castle wasn't yet ready for an assault in the case they would dare to navigate through the deadly and cold northern sea.

 

"I will bring them back. Don't worry, Mon Capitaine." Tendo had said through the comm, her voice conveying not only confidence but also determination. She found herself unable to counter to these words, not when it made her feel worried about her but also, glad that she was at her side. There was a mixture of emotions that she wasn't supposed to have.

"J-Just hurry and get back with my people, Tendo!" She hated how she could make her stutter, thankfully their conversation had been through a private channel.

 

Claudine holds tightly her pocket watch, silently holding on the need for doing something other than wait. She can't even pace around, and risk her recovery process. All that she can do is stay still on her chair and watch over her crew of navigators at the bridge. The ship's course set towards the port, where The Arcadia and the navy's ships were waiting.

 

Claudine had called part of her remaining fleet as well. Throwing everything at one attack would be foolish. Instead she sent a message to some of her most trusted captains and keep the others ready for a second wave if things get too complicated.

 

"Captain!" Mahiru's voice brought her back to reality.  "Incoming message from... The Rinmeikan?!"

Claudine couldn’t hide her surprise, The Rinmeikan was a pirate ship commanded by Tomoe Tamao, known for being extraordinary faster than most Class IV ships. Tomoe had kept a neutral position towards her the few times they had crossed paths and she still had no idea if she could think of her as a potential ally or enemy.

 

"This is Captain Tomoe from Rinmeikan. We would like to offer our help in your rescue operation."

Claudine was now on alert, It was suspicious that she had such knowledge of her operation. She told Mahiru to take the call.

"This is Captain Saijo." Claudine replied after taking the mic attached to her chair.  "What a pleasant coincidence, Captain Tamao..."

"We don't intend to take advantage of this situation, Captain Saijo. We have received information that we can't ignore." Tomoe replied, sensing her distrust.

"From whom?"

"I would like to discuss this properly but I'm afraid we have no time. Please, accept out help."

Despite her distrust, in this situation, if there were more ships on her side, the better. Maybe the discreet Captain had an interest on crushing the Navy?

 

Claudine looked at her watch again. The radio silence from her subordinates was almost driving her insane.

"All right. Join the..."

 

"Captain!" Mahiru called her again. "Incoming message from Futaba!"

"...I repeat...The fireworks have exploded!" Futaba said, her voice barely audible between the gunshots and the explosions. She heard Kaoruko yelling profanities and she felt relieved at least for the moment.

"Captain, an encrypted message through our emergency channel...." Mahiru informed. "They are using our codes! But how?!"

"Our codes?" Karen asked, looking at her.

"Our codes were updated today but..." Hikari mumbled.

"I don't know. These are our codes however the sender is unknown! And it's sending requests like mad!"

 

Claudine exhaled. The situation was getting unpredictable by the second. But she remembers to stay calm. "Just take the call, Mahiru..."

 

"Hello!! someone there!? Helloooou!!" A cheerful voice boomed through the speakers.

 "This is Captain Ootsuki Aruru from The Frontier! Someone there?!"

Claudine was already getting a headache at that voice, it was just like Karen's, super cheerful, full of energy and loud. Too loud.

"Who's that girl? I never have heard of that ship!!! And how the hell do they know our codes?!" Claudine shouted and Mahiru shrugs.

"I have no idea, Captain..."

 

All the tension and the sudden arrivals made her nervous and angry.

"This is Captain Saijo!" She punctuated each word with suppressed fury.

"Ooooh!! Captain Saijo Claudine!!! wow!! Hey guys It's her! I told you! She's alive!" That girl was at awe then laughed. She heard another female voice telling her to act properly as a Captain and the girl apologized.

"Sorry to intrude with your channels! Our ship is close to your position. We are here to help!"

"Help?!"

"Don't worry Captain Saijo. We can have a chat after all of this is over. If we survive!" That girl laughed again and Claudine frowns.

"All right. welcome to the... party, Captain Ootsuki"

"yay! Let's blow them away!" Ootsuki replied, too cheerful for the situation, Claudine thought.

 

Claudine stared at her watch again. The other team hadn't reported their status.

"I can sense some anxiety on your voice, Captain Saijo. No need to worry, I have plenty of experience on missions like this". She could even imagine Tendo Maya's smug face as she had said these words hours ago. So confident that made her want to scream at her.

 

Tendo Maya had taken too long. What if she was fighting against Yukishiro and her officials? Or maybe the Army officers were fighting her, eager to capture or kill her for her treason?

 

Another message from Futaba and Kaoruko. They had succeeded on rescuing the prisoners. They were out of the reach of the navy, their boats covered by the unexpected help of the Frontier and its crew. Hikari informed her that the Frontier must have some kind of system that could hide it from the radars and mess with the communications. Something that she had never heard of, not even in her father's notes.

 

"Captain, we have a chance to strike at the enemy." Hikari reported. "The other ships are ready to engage at your command."

"All cannons loaded and ready." Karen informed.

 

It was truly the perfect moment to attack but her subordinates and Tendo Maya were still there. She can't risk them. This mission was about to get them back alive. Claudine was sweating and she tried her best to stay calm.

 

"Come on. Say something, any of you. Come on..." Claudine muttered in a praying hoping that God would be benevolent with them.

 

"Tell the other ships to attack and not shoot at The Arcadia, our people is still there!" Claudine ordered and Mahiru relayed the orders to the rest of the fleet, including the Rinmeikan.

 

The battle between the Navy and the Pirate ships began, the sounds of the explosions and cannons breaking the calm of the sea as both sides exchanged heavy fire.

"Captain! The Arcadia is setting its course to our position!" Hikari informed.

Claudine knows she has to do something quick before the enemy might strike a critical hit on her ship. But what if they had failed, what if...

 

No, she had to keep her faith on them, her faith on...

 

"Aren't you a fucking genius? Come on, Tendo Maya!" Claudine yelled and Karen was about to ask her why she was shouting at someone that wasn't there when Mahiru announced another message.

 

"This is Crow! We got them! They are injured but they can walk! The fireworks have exploded!" Reported one of her pirates.

Claudine exhaled, thanking God.

Hikari was staring at the screens. "We got visual confirmation. There's smoke coming from the Arcadia. It's decreasing its speed."

 

Claudine beamed at these news, the engines of the Arcadia were damaged as planned. The only thing left for them was to escape.

"Swan, Confirm your status." Claudine asked directly to Tendo.

"I'm busy, Captain, there's someth...." And then an alarming radio silence filled with static. Claudine stood up, staring at the screens with panic.

"Tendo! Tendo!" She called to her.

Mahiru was fumbling with the control panel. "The communication is broken. I can't reach them!"

Claudine panicked. She feels as if a sword had stabbed in her chest.

"No... she can't be..."

 

Mahiru tried to fix the communications the best she could but no response came from them.

"Are you sure... that... they aren't…?" Karen was scared.

"Captain! Awaiting your orders!" Hikari urged her.

 

Claudine's mind was paralyzed until another message arrived.

"This is Crow! We are...!" And again another interference.

"Takashi, What the fuck happened?" Claudine yelled again at the microphone.

"Captain, we are trying to escape but...! Tendo-san is...!"

 

Claudine clenched her teeth. She wanted to get out of her ship and jump into the Arcadia so she could help them.

"Full speed against them! Get the units ready to engage in combat! " Claudine commanded.

 

Claudine returned to her chair to take her sword. The pain in her side made her wince. Even if her body was on pain, she had to take charge of the attack personally.

"Captain, you have to stay here!" Mahiru objected.

"Tell me about Futaba and Kaoruko's status!" Claudine yelled.

"They are at the rendezvous point. They are safe!" Mahiru replied.

"Good. Just Keep the course! Get close enough to the enemy so we can help them to escape! Inform the other Captains!"

Ignoring the objections from Mahiru and Karen, Claudine took her sword and went out of the bridge.

 

She was aware her current attire (her night gown covered by her long, dark coat) wasn't ideal for engaging in a battle, nor her wounds made her suitable to get on a duel but Saijo Claudine wasn't going to sit and wait for the battle to be over.

 

She breathed heavily as soon as she was on the deck. Claudine noticed the sun, high on the azure sky, not a single cloud on it. The blowing wind, the smell of the sea mixed with gunpowder and the sounds of cannons was all that she needed to dispel any second thoughts or doubts.

At her sight, her pirates were attentive to her orders.

"Listen! The Arcadia cannot move! Some of our comrades are still there! We have the chance to show these bastards to not mess with us!

The crew roared with anticipation raising their weapons as she walks among them.       

"The sea belongs to us! Follow my lead!" Claudine aimed her sword to The Arcadia and the pirates quickly got ready to attack. The enemies, armed with rifles and short range cannons started to fire back when the ships got closer.

 

Claudine felt a twinge of pain in her shoulders, but she ignored the pain as one of her subordinates pointed at the enemy ship.

"Captain! I saw them! At the bow!" he gave her the binoculars.

Claudine saw a group of people trying to defend themselves from the rest of the soldiers, there must be around a hundred officers on that ship. They were gathered around a man kneeling on the floor and a woman trying to help him. She recognized them, the captains of the Ikaruga and Ginkei.

 

Then she spotted a dark brown hair and purple bow moving. Tendo Maya was doing her best to fight against one of Yukishiro's subordinates. Then another army officer helped Maya, a tall blonde woman, probably Daiba Nana.

Claudine threw the binocular to the pirate next to her and took the small communicator in her pocket.

"Yes, Captain!" Mahiru quickly replied to her call.

"Listen! We need to get close enough to help them to escape. As soon as they are on board we need to leave. Can you do that, Hikari?"

"I think we should take the chance to blow them away..." Hikari commented and sighed. "I'm ready."

"Roger, Kuro-chan!" Karen replied.

 

Claudine winced and had to support herself on her sword as she commanded her units. It took about fifteen minutes but Hikari did it. The ships were next to one another, close enough, that the enemy started to jump to The Amethyst.

 

The most dangerous moment of the operation was to engage in a combat with the possibility that the enemy ship would fix their current lock in their systems and start to fire at them with their powerful, long range cannons. They needed to turn around quick and leave.

 

Claudine took down a few ones and one of them almost ambushed her. She could have been stabbed if it wasn't for a certain person arriving just in time.

"Saijo! I told you to stay at the bridge!" Maya shouted pulling back her sword from the now deceased attacker, visibly upset at her.

"Tendo!" Claudine exclaimed her name, relieved to see her, then replacing her smile for an annoyed frown. "And you need to remember that I don't take orders from anyone!"

Maya was about to reply but instead, she took notice of the incoming attackers. They both turned around, their back pressed against one another.

"Are you ready, Tendo?!" Claudine adopted her usual stance, adrenaline suppressing the pain.

"Ready when you are, Captain!" Maya replied.

 

Both of them started to defend themselves from the enemy, in a deadly harmony, their swords slicing and taking down those who dared to attack them. At one point, Claudine had to lean on Maya to hold against a tall soldier, the last one. The unfortunate guy fell on the floor, an arrow stuck on his head.

"An arrow?! But who?" Claudine was a bit surprised that someone from the army still used such weapon.

"That's Hoshimi-san!" Maya replied.

"Your comrade?!"

"They... helped me." Maya said staring at her over her shoulder.

However, their conversation ended when the ship trembled. It was getting away, engines at full speed.

 

Claudine took the communicator, asking the bridge for status.

"Captain! They are safe!" Mahiru reported.

"Let's get out of here!" Karen yelled.

Claudine was about to say something, however she felt as if her world was spinning, her mind dizzy and pain making her kneel on the floor. She winced again, her hand touching her wounds only to confirm her assumptions, she was bleeding.

Her grip on her sword was becoming weaker and Claudine suddenly was on Tendo Maya's arms.

"Saijo! Saijo!" Maya called her, her voice filled with desperation. "Hold on, Saijo!"

"....Tendo... Ma..ya..." she mumbled, her head resting on Maya's shoulder.

 

Maya's voice is fading away and she feels so exhausted. She barely noticed that she was being carried to the nursery, people around her are shouting, everything is a mess of sounds and lights and soon she falls unconscious as the battle continued.

 

Chapter Text

It was the dawn of a new day after a long, weary night. Maya had awoken early as she normally does, barely having a few hours of unpleasant sleep. She went outside in order to catch some fresh air and try to meditate for a while. After five exhausting days they had arrived at the fortress located at one of the Northern Islands. It that had been abandoned for thousands of years until the Pirates had transformed the location into their base.

 

The view from that terrace was truly wonderful with a nice sight of the coast and the port. A dozens of ships were stationed and a few more could be spotted at the distance. The Amethyst now was stationed at the docks, going through exhaustive reparations. Much like its Captain, both of them recovering from that battle.

 

Maya hadn't been able to see her. All that she knew was that Claudine was recovering, her wounds fortunately weren't severe but she needed to sleep and eat properly. And not be stressed about anything, the medic had suggested.  Maya was sure her presence would make her feel uneasy so she had stayed away. She could even imagine her saying that she wasn't going to lose to her and challenge her to a duel. A wonderful thing to see but Claudine needed to have a break from any sort of fight.

 

As much as she wanted to see her, Maya thought it would be more productive to offer her help to the rest of the crew. Fortunately, her aid wasn't rejected, on the contrary, most of the crew seemed now to respect and treat her almost as one of them. With the main ship at the docks, and many people injured there was so much work to do. She found herself quite busy between meetings and tasks that had to be completed. And dealing with any sorts of problems, even those that had to do with anxious people. She had to stop a couple of guys that were about to fight each other, talk with a group of wounded ones and even give some encouragement to a young and worried girl who was crying, worried about Captain Saijo.

 

While she had said that she was fine and all that she needed was some rest, Maya couldn't help to feel worried about her. She even envied that girl, she could display her emotions freely without restraint. All that she could do was to wait, remain stoic as the memory of Saijo Claudine, unconscious and bleeding in her arms pierced her heart like a sharp knife.

 

Maya had carried Claudine to the sick bay as the ship turned around in an insane maneuver, the troops exchanging fire. Even if The Arcadia had been immobilized, they managed to activate one of their heavy cannons and started to blast at them, damaging considerably the ship. Fortunately, the engines reached their maximum speed, the armor sturdy enough to resist the fire. 

 

The Amethyst had taken five days to reach the fortress, because the ship wasn't able to reach its normal speed. The battle had stressed the engines, nearly breaking the main one and the auxiliary engine couldn't handle the demand. The Captains of The Rinmeikan and The Frontier not only covered them, they had extended their help in case The Amethyst would start to break apart insisting to provide support with the reparations. What caught Maya's attention was that Futaba and Kaoruko seemed to know them quite well.

 

A week had passed after the incident.

 

"They see her as a possible comrade..." Daiba Nana had commented after they witnessed a conversation between the captains Otsuki and Tamao with Futaba, Kaoruko and some of the crew at the beach.

"Comrade?" Hoshimi asked.

"Aruru-chan is a big fan of Saijo. While Tamao-chan probably has no choice but to help Kaoruko. After all their families are quite close and they are supporting the Order."

 

Little Star. The codename that Daiba Nana had used during years in order to help the rebel faction. The always sociable, skilled and cheerful officer turned out to be a spy. During her mission Daiba arrived just in time to help them, facing Yukishiro Akira with remarkable strength. It was quite a surprise, Daiba Nana came also from a clan of nobles and she seemed content with her rank. Well, to be honest Maya had never seen her truly upset.

 

All that Maya knew was that they were members of the Order of the Rising Star, according to Daiba. A rebel group that had been working for years in secret to plot against the Queen.

"And who decides that?" Maya asked.

"You are worried about Saijo Claudine, Maya-chan..." Nana says in her usual cheerful voice but Maya wasn't in the mood for such things.

Nana then became serious. "I assume you have questions."

"Who's your leader?"

Daiba nodded. "We have no leader. We are a group and all that we seek is change. No more Kings and Queens. Equality and freedom to choose our destiny."

Maya frowns. "Sounds like a noble ideal. However, why do you think that Saijo would like to join your group?"

Daiba adopted a thoughtful expression.

"Well, to be honest... I am a bit cautious of her. She's a pirate and she has robbed so much stuff and killed so many...well I don't like her methods, but...! She is truly a capable leader. She has such a radiance that could enchant even the most committed soldiers..." Daiba's attempt to joke had no effect on Maya.

"Saijo Claudine doesn't like to take orders from anyone. And I don't think she would like to join your group. I believe in your words and intentions Daiba-san, but I can't believe that there's such thing as a group without a leader. In the end there's always someone who takes the lead." Maya insisted. "And if your plot succeeds that person would become the next ruler. I would like to know who's that person."

"In any case we would celebrate elections, we have everything planned, you know." Nana seemed cheerfully confident but Maya is still skeptical.

"A Revolution... a Republic with new laws, made by the people for the people." Hoshimi commented with illusion.

"Yes! Equality for everyone!" Nana extended her hands. "Freedom to choose our path! To choose what we want to do, to be or..." Nana looked at Junna with affection "...even the right to choose the person that we want to be with!"

 

Maya knew her friends had a close relationship but she never thought they could be more than just friends. The way they had stared at each other made her to look away, feeling as if she was intruding on something private. She was about to leave them alone when Daiba called for her.

"You could join us, too. In the end our goals are the same, Maya-chan."

"I disagree."

"Really? Then why did you helped Saijo Claudine to escape? And even risked your life to rescue her comrades?"

Maya glared at her. But Daiba Nana kept talking.

"You realized that there far more important things than carry a medal with pride! You found something more valuable to you than being the genius Tendo Maya, the pride of the Royal Guard!"

"Nana..." Junna sounds impressed at the way that she had spoken.

"You spent all these months chasing her and I thought that it was because you were obsessed with polishing your skills. Always focused, always distant... but every time after you fought her there was something on your eyes, a stare that you didn't had, not even after winning the Battle of Hanasaki!"

Nana then laughed feeling nervous. "I guess I have spoken too much..."

 

But Maya's stare had wandered towards the sea, but she wasn't looking at anything, her vision out of focus.

"No... actually, you are correct." She muttered not ashamed, but shocked that someone had noticed it.

"Think about it, Tendo-san." It was Hoshimi, this time. "Maybe this is our only chance... to grasp another future, even if there's is an undeniable risk of losing everything. And I understand your distrust of these people. But take a moment to reflect on what Nana has said, please."

Maya bowed to them. "I will. Thank you, Hoshimi-san, Daiba-san. If you excuse me…"

 

Maya had left them behind, wind blowing against her as she comes back to the fortress, trying not to think about anything, not even the possibility that a war would begin. But what would Saijo Claudine do?

 

Especially at the possibility that her ship wouldn't be able to sail again.

"Kuro-chan would rather die than abandon her ship. That would be so..." Futaba was at loss after hearing the reports of the crew at the meeting room.

"...stupid, I know." Kaoruko shurgs. "Sometimes I think some Captains are too obsessive when it comes to their ships, as if it were more important than themselves."

"I remember one captain that killed himself right after losing his ship..." Futaba recalled.

 

Maya had remained silent during all the meeting, trying to understand the importance of The Amethyst to Claudine.  Maybe that's why she had risked her life. For her pride and her honor, she would rather die than stay on a chair and watch her people die and her beloved ship to get destroyed.

 

"We can't let her to do anything that might risk her life " Maya finally says. "The best is to keep her informed only with the necessary until she's better. Especially with these people here..."

Maya calmly spoke, trying to not sound affected. "They appeared just in time. Which was too convenient..."

The Frontier had apparently sneaked into their encrypted channels. They could mess with their communications which probably was the reason why they lost contact with The Amethyst during their mission. Maya didn't think it was intentional but such intrusion had complicated their escape. And The Rinmeikan's Captain was an important former army officer, according to Daiba Nana.

"Tendo-han is right." Kaoruko nods. "Better keep our fiery Captain safe..."

"I believe you happen to know why they are here..." Maya's comment wasn't well received by Kaoruko.

"And I believe you have no right to ask me such matters!" She replied, annoyed at her words.

Futaba feared they might get into a heated argument. "You two need to stop!"

"Look, I am tired of people doubting my actions!" Kaoruko replied, arms crossed. "And yes, we are members of the Order of the Rising Star! Daiba probably told you, did she? Well... I'm not a saint, but I am loyal to Kuro-han!"

Maya lowered her head, ashamed.

"Calm down, you two. " Futaba smiled. "We are comrades. Friends. Even if we might clash and have differences... even you, Tendo.  We are thankful for your help. Even if it was just because you have a crush on Kuro-ko!" Futaba laughed and Maya stood up, bowing to both of them.

"I apologize, Hanayagi-san! I am just..." Maya said, her words fading out and Kaoruko merely exhaled, visibly exhausted.

"We haven't slept well these days...we have so much to worry about..." She sighed again. "You really care that much for Kuro-han, don't you?" She asked, not a trace of her usual mockery tone and Maya is unable to properly answer her.

"Ah... And I thought you wouldn’t dare to break any rules and always be a pretty perfect soldier but then... people can change..." Kaoruko then recovered her usual smug smile. "...you are definitely screwed up, Tendo-han!"

 

It wasn't the word Maya would use. But then, she thought she probably was doomed. A punishment for her arrogance, her pride. How defiantly she had acted all this time, how sure she thought she was of her place in life, of her destiny...

 

However, as much she yearned to reach her, she realized that she probably had no place here and she would have to leave soon. But first she wants to make sure that Saijo Claudine was safe. But she couldn't ignore these fears, that dreading thought that she might die during one of these battles. Maya felt responsible for the delay in her mission, if only she would have rescued those people in a more effective way maybe she wouldn't have gone out and...

 

"Good Morning, Maya-chan!"

Maya looked up and found Daiba Nana with a warm cup in her hands. The sun had already risen about two hours ago judging by the sun's position.

"Daiba-san...Good Morning..."

Nana smiled. "You look tired. But I have good news! Captain Saijo is fine. Futaba told me she would get out of her room today and have a special meeting with everyone."

Maya stood up quickly. "What...?!"

Daiba smiled. "She's fine. I guess that the special soup worked after all!" Daiba laughed and Maya nods, still too exhausted and overwhelmed by everything. She feels her eyes hurt, suppressing the need to cry, her hands curled tightly into fists.

"Hey, hey. It'll be fine. Come on, sit down again, take this. It's tea."

Maya had sat down again. She took that cup of tea, gathering its scent and trying to calm down. She should feel relieved but after nearly a week of sleepless nights and worried about everything she felt that it finally had taken its toll on her.

"I don't know why..."

"It's fine." Nana says sitting next to her and watching the sea covered with the morning lights. 

"It's not fine... I... don't know what to do..." She hated the sound of her voice.

"You did what you wanted to, instead of doing what they wanted you to do." Daiba declared. "Do you have any regrets, Maya-chan?"

"No....But, my family..."

"Of course. I am as well. The messages that we sent haven't been replied."

"I am not supposed to cry." Maya says wiping her tears away and trying to keep her voice in a normal tone.

"People cry when they feel too much. It's fine." Nana said as if she was trying to explain things to a four-year old kid.

"I am concerned about her. She might..." Maya confessed, her cup of tea shaking in her hands. Nana simply nods.

They stayed silent for a long time. The pirates were changing their shifts, there were noises, people walking and chatting, carrying things around. Maya focused on the monotone but relaxing sound of the waves rolling.

"Then you know what to do, Maya-chan. " Daiba finally spoke. "You have the skill but is your will strong enough? Are your feelings strong like a rock against the sea or...are these mere castles in the sand?"

 

The tea reminded her of peaceful times, its smell evoked the need for a silent contemplation of the present. But as she drinks it, and reflects on these important words, she knows she can't leave this place, that her sword, her whole life must serve another master. Her own will not bounded to any empty oaths. A simply yet powerful determination to protect the treasure she had found.

 

Nana stood up telling her that she should eat properly and be ready when Saijo would call for them.

"Daiba-san. I thank you for your guidance." Maya stood up and bowed to her. Daiba Nana had a confused smile and finally she laughs.

"I am glad for you, Maya-chan."

 

It was Kaoruko that found her next.

"This is a disaster! Daiba's banana hair is on point but you... my lord, you look terrible, Tendo-han! Our Captain told me to look for you, but you don't want her to find you in such state, do you?"

"Eh...no..." Maya was blushing by now and both girls smiled at each other.

 

After a warm bath, she wore the new clothes that Kaoruko had provided her, a simple, recently ironed white shirt under a crimson vest with golden buttons, combined with black pants and boots. And to give her an elegant touch, a black tie and gloves. Maya wondered who was the owner of these robes, because it didn't seem to be Kaoruko or Futaba's.

"Like these ones?" asked Kaoruko after she came out of the room.

"Uh... yes... Although the vest is a bit loose on the chest"

"Yes. Certainly, Kuro-han as a nice frontal defense" She gestured to her own boobs.

"I beg your pardon?!" Maya exclaimed, ears and cheeks redder than the vest she was wearing.

 

Futaba and Kaouruko were laughing and Nana was also giggling. Even Junna had joined the group and couldn't help but to laugh.

"Hanayagi-san! Isurugi-san!" Junna was pretending not to enjoy the situation. "Have some respect towards your superior!"

Maya smiled. Somehow it was like being on the school again. She just hoped Saijo wouldn't be mad at her for wearing her clothes.

 

Maya followed Kaoruko towards Claudine's room and after knocking the door a couple of times, she left her alone in front of the door. Maya felt awkward with the situation and heard Claudine's voice telling her that she allowed to come in.

Even if she was sitting on her bed, wearing night clothes, her face a bit pale, hair slightly messy, eyes tired, to Tendo Maya there wasn't anyone that could look more beautiful than Saijo Claudine. She cleared her throat because she found herself staring at her way too much. Claudine was frowning at her sight but she made no comment about her robes.

"G-Good Morning! How... how do you feel, Captain Saijo?" Maya finally asked and Claudine stared at her a long moment before speaking.

"I think I just spent another of my lives! Still got some five left." She sighed. "And now I have to deal with a mess! It's fucking great!"

"At least you are calm about it." Maya commented.

"I don't have a choice, Tendo.". Claudine motioned the chair in front of her.

"Have a seat.... I won't stab you!" Claudine told her, noticing her slight hesitation. "I can't even kill a fly at the moment..."

Maya accepted her invitation, cautious of not upsetting her.

"I'm not dying, Tendo Maya, so stop looking at me like that!" Claudine complained.

"Ah... I apologize. I'm just..." Maybe It wouldn't hurt her if she was honest. "I was concerned. And mad... "

Claudine sighed. "Yeah, some of my crew have already lectured me... Mahiru especially..."

 

Maya was already bowing slightly at her, apologizing.

"I should have been more efficient doing my mission. For that I..."

"I'm not your boss, Tendo." Claudine interrupted her. "I... I should thank you and your friends for helping us."

Maya was deeply touched by her words. While Saijo Claudine could be sometimes arrogant and boast, because such attitude was desired and expected from her as a leader, she could be humble and recognize her flaws. For a second Maya wanted to take her hand and reassure her that things would get better but she knew such actions wouldn't be appropriate.

 

"I told Futaba to help you and your friends to take whatever you need in case you are leaving..." Claudine said.

Maya lowered her stare. She didn't want to leave but asking Saijo Claudine to give her a place in her crew would be too straightforward, she thought.

"I guess Daiba-san and Hoshimi-san will leave soon. But I am not a member of whatever they are involved with." She clarified. "I wonder if you are part of that rebel group?" Maya looked back at her.

"No. Even if I honestly would like to steal that bloody Imperial Crown. " Claudine replied.

"I had suspected that Kaoruko and Futaba were hiding something from the beginning but in the end... well, they are my friends. But don't tell Kaoruko that I said that." Claudine whispered that last part.

Maya smiled. "Understood."

Claudine nods. "The Order of the Rising Star.... what a fancy name. And these Captains from those ships, The Rinmeikan and The Frontier are their comrades. Interesting..."

"They have advanced ships. The Rinmeikan's leader was a notable army officer. And the other Captain has a ship that cannot be detected. Their Navigators can mess with radio frequencies rather easily."

"What do you think, Tendo?"

"I... I think they want you to attack or at least make a blockade at the Capital. Given the position and the importance of the Castle if it's destroyed it would start riots at the city. With your recent popularity, people would think you are some sort of... leader. You could fit with their ideal role of the rebel with a cause, despite your fondness for stealing expensive items..."

"Hm... Good point."

"But is that what you want?" Maya asked her. "I thought you wanted to steal and inspire terror on the fragile hearts of your enemies?  Oh, and have fun?" Maya completed and she found herself fascinated at Claudine's soft giggle.

Claudine stared at her hands.

 

"The Amethyst was designed by my father. He is an engineer and he worked for the Navy, years ago. He thought that our kingdom needed better vessels for trading routes. But then... the Grand Admiral, a Captain back then, stole his research.... And he almost killed us. "

Maya now understood Claudine's affection for her ship.

"But... why?"

Claudine smiled. "Money, of course."

"I see..."

Claudine's eyes were lost in memories. "Dad had good friends and they helped us to escape. We went to the North and that worked out for a while. Dad recovered from his wounds. He was helping the locals with their ships while Mom was a teacher. Life was simple there, but we were scared, always that dreading something bad might happen."

 

Claudine's face was now reflecting pain and suffering.

"There were a group of pirates that were threatening our village. Not just stealing our food and money, they had killed some people, kidnapped others, women and children... they did horrible things and there wasn't any officer around. The army was busy dealing with rebels and the Navy with pirates attacking more important cities. A lost village didn't matter to them. And then one night they came back and..."

 

"I stabbed one in his eye. A sharp kitchen, small but deadly... I thought I couldn't but I did it! I had to protect mom and dad. Someone had to stop them. I took his weapon and started to shoot at the others. They left but I knew they would come back. But I was ready and I wasn't alone. We captured them and hanged them at the beach as a warning..."

 

Claudine exhaled. "C'était il y a longtemps ... et toujours ça...." Claudine blinked, getting out of her sudden trance. "Sorry... I got carried away."

"Quoi que ce soit, tu peux m'en parler." Maya answered, telling her she could talk to her about anything and Claudine has to look away embarrassed. She took note of speaking more in French just to see her lovely face blushing because of her.

"Why you must be so...?!" She sighed again. "Anyway! I have personal reasons to dislike the Navy! and their Queen!"

Maya was familiar with the Queen ruthless' decisions, often advised by some of her relatives. Leaving the northern villages without protection in order to focus on suffocate the constants attempts to dethrone her was known but no one seemed to care.

"What happened to your parents?"

"I got enough money to buy them a house in France. They are safe, at least."

"And they..."

"They don't know. But mom probably suspects something. She always tells me to visit them for Christmas which is something I must do after this is over. "

"And it's true then... Do you really intend to assault the castle?"

"Well, there must be lots of valuable things there, right? I could even buy a castle in France..."

 

Again, Maya found herself frustrated at her attempts to risk her life into another insane operation.

"The castle is heavily guarded, with all sorts of traps inside. Not to mention the Navy, the Army and the Royal Guard to protect them. And the Queen is not even there. Besides, your ship is...

"About to collapse..."

"I wouldn't say it in that way but..."

"I know, it’s a terrible idea..."

"I am afraid that you are fond of terrible ideas, Saijo Claudine."

"But think about those oppressed by the tyranny of that woman! Look at all the good things that could result from a revolution!" She was being sarcastic judging by her voice.

"Really? You are a formidable warrior and a charismatic leader but you aren't familiar with politics. You have no idea of who's behind that Order. Even if I would trust Daiba-san and Hoshimi-san with my life and even those Captains might have good intentions we can't tell how many more are involved."

Claudine had now a smile that meant nothing good or innocent.

"You are assuming that I'm going to work for them."

"So..."

"I am a pirate, Tendo Maya. And you should know that one of the things that a pirate loves is to gamble... life is a big game and I plan to win."

 

Maya was astonished at her response but then she laughed and nodded. She was glad that her radiance, that spark was still there.

"For that reason... I have an offering to you. You don't have to answer now, just think about it." Claudine says and Maya stays silent, eager for her to continue.

"While I don't intend to give up on our challenge I can recognize talent when I see it. And you have no job at the moment, so...um... would you be interested in joining my crew as...?

"Yes! " Maya's rushed, a wide smile on her face. She quickly realized her precipitation and stopped. "I mean...I would be honored!"

 

Her words made Saijo Claudine froze and then glare at her in anger but her red cheeks were betraying her.

"You are an annoying woman!"

"I'm sorry, Captain Saijo. I'll behave." Maya tried to act innocently as she could and Claudine had a suspicious stare on her face, pointing at her.

"I am still not losing to you! When this is over I shall defeat you. Is that clear, Tendo Maya?!"

"Crystal Clear, Captain!"

"Good. Because I need you to do something as your first task."

Maya wanted to say that she would do anything for her but maybe she could tease her later.

"Méchante va! Don't smile like that!" Claudine yelled, throwing the pillow at Maya's face.

 

Chapter Text

Being stuck in a room had given her enough time to think about so many things. These days and nights had fuel her need to take revenge on these bastards that had betrayed her and her comrades. Also to reflect on her mistakes. Claudine had thought for a moment that they could be unstoppable, that her ships were strong enough to take on the Navy only because she had managed to ambush their flagship. Now it turns out that she was just in the middle of an upcoming war and her trusted first mates were members of a secret group, called the Order of the Rising Star and they were plotting against the monarchy.

“We are sorry about that.  We wanted to tell you before all of this happened but…” Futaba seemed troubled.

“The truth is that we were testing you.” Kaoruko smiled. “I thought you would fail but you managed to exceed my expectations.”

 

Claudine wanted to be angry at them (but especially at Kaoruko! The audacity to question her skills!) but she remembered that when she was at her lowest, with only a few crew members, struggling to get money to build her beloved ship, they had helped her. Now everything made sense. The information, the contacts, these upgrades and the crew of builders.

“So, Amemiya and her people are part of it as well?”

“Yes.”

“What about Hikari, Mahiru and Karen?” She wondered if all her crew was truly at the Order’s hands.

“No. They happened to be good students and loyal to each other.” Futaba commented. “It’s true that Karen and Hikari killed an entire regiment to protect Mahiru, that’s why we suggested you to keep them. Because they were good inside and outside of the bridge.”

Claudine had now a headache. A glass full of wine would perhaps ease the stress.

“So... half of my crew are rebels. Makes me wonder if any of you would stab me on my back if I do something that might compromise the Order’s objectives!” She was almost yelling.

Betrayals were common against pirates. Greed, envy and fear of getting executed were the causes of such things, but dealing with members of a secret group?

 

“You can only place your trust in a few ones. The others are ready to slice your throat and take your stuff, if given the chance.” Kaoruko had told her once, long time ago and she was starting to have second thoughts about everything.

 

“We know that your father was almost killed by the Grand Admiral, after designing the prototype of The Amethyst. You have personal reasons, despite your apparent desire for money and power.” Kaoruko declared, quite serious. “I think you don’t have any choice but to place your trust in us.”

“Oh, that’s reassuring, Kaoruko!” Claudine faked a smile and the other one shrugged.

“We know that because some members of the Order helped your family.” Futaba said. “It’s all in the archives.”

“What the fuck?! Are you telling me that they know…!?” Claudine glared at her.

Futaba exhaled. “The Order has been waiting for years, way before we were even born. We are just carrying the legacy that our families gave us.”

“But …?!”

“This is the chance we have been waiting for!” Kaoruko declared.  “I want to conquer the capital city and we know that you want it too.” Kaoruko’s smirk was annoying as ever.

 

Claudine exhaled, finally accepting the facts. She was aware that her life was in constant danger and one of these days she might get killed.  There were people spreading all sort of rumors about her, more than ever because she was the most wanted pirate. That's why she had a strict policy when it comes to accept people in her crew.

"You should invite Tendo-han to join us" Kaoruko had declared with that little smile that was up to no good.

She barely can admit to herself that she had been considering that, even before their success at helping the hostages. While she had a capable team, she knew that some of them wouldn’t last more raids, due to their wounds and a couple with missing limbs. And Tendo Maya at the battlefield was truly a genius. With her speed she could easily defeat three at the same time, all while looking fierce and dazzling. It was unfair, it was infuriating. That idiot had even dared to question her acts, to show so much concern to her. If Tendo Maya knows that Claudine had spent so much time thinking about her, her ego would soar to the highest with a smile of pure satisfaction on her pretty face.

"Come on, Kuro-ko, we got a great chance by having a former Royal Guard in our side!"

Claudine glared at Futaba after coming back to reality. "Explain."

Of course, Claudine was aware of what she had meant. It was a perfect chance to exploit Maya's knowledge about the castle, the Royal Guards and the Queen.

"She lived at the castle for a long time. I bet she knows where the crown is." Futaba commented.

Claudine didn't like that idea. It was insulting to Tendo Maya after what she had done.

"And why don't you ask Daiba Nana about it? Isn't she the top spy, Little Star?"

Kaoruko giggled. "Afraid of being rejected, Captain Kuro? Or maybe afraid she would accept your offer?"

"Kaoruko..." Futaba tried to stop her taunts, in vain. “The truth is that Nana couldn’t get anything from Tendo.”

"But Kuro-han, are you that scared that your rival might know your weakness and then defeat you?" Kaoruko insisted, pointing at her.

"Don't be silly! " Claudine complained "She knows each of my flaws at the battlefield because she has spent the last months telling me each of them during our duels! She could have killed me easily!"

Kaoruko stopped, merely raising her eyebrows and Claudine realized what she had said, swearing to herself.

"Oh my… What do we have here? Already recognizing your limits, captain?" Kaoruko asked and Claudine finally gave up.

"It's true. She... she could have defeated me…"

Her fiery rival, her supposedly deadly enemy had rejected these duties to the kingdom, to her Queen and even to her family’s legacy. Claudine was confused, about how she should ask such thing to her.

“I think that Tendo has a different opinion. She respects you.” Futaba said.

Kaoruko faked surprise. “Respect?! And that’s how it’s called these days?”  

“Kaoruko…” Futaba muttered her name with exasperation.

“Oh come on! Tendo-han probably would kill the Queen if Kuro-han promise her that she will bang her!”

Claudine almost had a stroke at the thought of Tendo Maya, naked on her bed.

“Kaoruko, please stop…” Futaba exhaled as the other woman cackled with malice. Claudine would get her revenge on her later.

Before she might get another headache, she asked them about why the Order wanted that crown and her imminent reunion with some of the Order’s members.

 

Hours after their meeting concluded, Maya arrived at her room. Claudine cursed ten times in her mind. Tendo Maya looked even better with these clothes (perhaps it was because she hated the army’s uniform). She recognized that vest because it was one of her favorites (Kaoruko and Futaba were behind this, she was sure), and these pants certainly were tight enough to emphasize her legs. Claudine cursed to herself because she was staring at her rival in such obscene way. She noticed her eyes bloated, perhaps she hadn’t been sleeping well?

Claudine did her best to stay aware of herself and act like she always does. A strange guilt came over her when Maya apologized, saying she had taken too long to complete her mission. Was she forgetting she wasn’t alone?

 

She thanked Maya and offered her help to get out of the kingdom, talking for a while about the current situation. Claudine had now dropped her guard and ended up talking things that not even her trusted crew members knew. Somehow, it felt right. She would ask her where did she learn French because it sounds excellent coming from her lips. Claudine wanted to yell with frustration thinking again about that indecent idea Kaoruko had insinuated.

 

While it was a good idea to offer her a position in her crew she had a policy of not getting involved with her comrades more than it was needed and she wasn’t going to break it. Especially not even try to flirt with her rival. When she offered Maya a position in her crew, she couldn’t help but to feel her heart pounding against her chest at Maya's excitement. A double-edged strategy and she cursed to herself. Why Tendo Maya had to look at her like that?!

 

Claudine put her to work on various errands and tasks to complete. Maya didn't complain, every single task as tedious it might be, she did it with diligence and enthusiasm that was nearly unbearable. Was she like this when she was a Royal Guard? Claudine wondered, disgusted at the idea of her smiling like that at the Queen.

 

Even if Maya was doing her best to annoy her with her charm, Claudine always had an excuse to keep her close. Of course, in order to study her enemy, she insisted to herself. They spent hours in her study room, looking at detailed maps of the Capital city and its Imperial Castle. At first she had told her it was because she wanted to steal its treasures but Maya deserved to know there was another important reason.

 

"The Order wants the Imperial Crown." Claudine had commented. She had been in a meeting with Tomoe, Otsuki, Daiba, Hoshimi and both Futaba and Kaoruko about the plans that the Order had. And the part that Claudine and her pirates would play on it.

Maya nods, expecting it. "Of course."

"They think that you know something about its location. But why it would be inside that castle? Perhaps the Queen hid it in another place?"

Maya was drawing something. "She can't touch it."

"What?"

"The Queen believes that the Crown is cursed and it will kill anyone who dares to touch it."

That sounded ridiculous to Claudine.

"I didn't know that. So it’s true. You know its location!"

Maya paused her drawing. Suddenly she had a distant stare, a bit of sadness that Claudine noticed.

"It's a secret for most people. Not even all The Royal Guards know about it. But there's something about it... something unusual…”

Maya hesitated for a moment but she continued. " We were stuck at that place, dealing with the Queen’s whims, the gossips among the Court members… it was unbearable. It was curiosity and a bit of arrogance, perhaps. Yes, we entered the chamber at the top of the main tower. While the crown is indeed a masterpiece, carefully crafted...staying there… It wasn't a pleasant experience. I could feel a strong presence looking at us. We got out quickly. But I guess Daiba-san suspected of us anyway….”

A long pause.

“Do you really want that crown? Maya asked, suddenly worried.

Claudine reclined on her chair, definitely she didn’t like such expression on Tendo Maya’s face.

“I need to get all the treasures that might be there. That crown must be important if the Order wants it so badly. And if I’m going to participate in the assault I want to know everything that I can get. I am greedy, you know.” Claudine took a sip of her tea.

“Did they said something about it?” Maya asked and Claudine sighs.

“These idiots believe it has some sort of special power. Remember the legend of the true heir?” Claudine rolls her eyes, skeptical.

Maya nods. “They said that during darkest times, the true heir of this kingdom would appear and save us from destruction.”

“A nice story to tell the kids, don’t you think?” Claudine frowned. “But there’s nothing like that. The world doesn’t work like that.”

 

Maya stared at her, before looking back at the map.

“To have a new King or Queen wouldn't fit for their plans…  If that's what you want... I guess we have no choice but to take it.”

“We can ignore it if you don’t want to go there. We are pirates, not members of the army. I know you are... used to follow orders without even question but...”

Maya still had that mindset that most soldiers had.

“You are too kind, Captain Saijo. No doubt why your crew is so loyal.” Maya smiled, again with that adorable blush on her cheeks and Claudine glared at her, but the truth is that she was flustered.

“I'm serious, Tendo!”

Maya sighs. “I am not comfortable with the idea. Let them have it.”

“So you believe all these stories of curses and saviors?” Claudine was a bit surprised about this side of Tendo Maya. “You were scared, weren't you?”

“I...” Maya exhales. “Yes...”

Claudine giggled and Maya had no intention to deny it, merely shrugging at her.

“Unbelievable… What about your partner?”

Maya lowered her stare. “Calm, as always.”

The way she had said it made Claudine stop smiling. There was something in her voice that she didn't like. But Claudine, afraid of overstepping into something private didn't ask.

 

They continued discussing the layout of the Castle, Maya telling her of certain passages that she had found. Most people at the Royal Guard had no idea that these existed. Claudine smiled at Maya's terrible drawing. A six-year-old kid would have drawn what it looked like a room better than her. Not a surprise, after looking at some attempts of drawing that she had found in Maya's journal. Some weapons and ships that had caught her attention, but some birds. She apparently had a soft spot for these animals taking note their appearance and color. Of course, Claudine had read the entirety of her journal, giving it back after crossing things that were false (a tattoo of a dragon wasn't a bad idea) and even doodling some jokes about Tendo to annoy her.

 

Maya had been keeping her company during the last days. There was so many things she wanted to know about her rival and this was a good chance to know her better. Maya had gotten a message from her parents. They were now at the south and things at the capital were tense, they had told her. Maya joked that at least they still recognized her as their daughter after her defection but she sensed that she was hiding her concern about it.

To get both of them distracted, she asked her if she knew how to play chess. They played for hours, (they had ended up winning the same number of games) until Claudine was about to fall asleep on her chair, annoyed because she was close to beat her again.

 

Tendo Maya also had a remarkable appetite. Daiba had prepared baumkuchen and Maya was so happy eating the cakes (Claudine was afraid she might die on an overdose of sugar) and it was quite endearing. That wasn't supposed to be the word she would use. She remembered that she merely was studying her to find her weakness in order to defeat her in an honorable duel.

 

Stuck in her fortress, away from the sea had made her miss her travels, the thrill of a good fight. She planned to catch these bastards that had betrayed them. She was going to take Maya with her and see who could be the most effective on the battlefield. However, before engaging in any sort of raids, Saijo Claudine had to deal with her duties as a leader.

 

After almost three weeks, Claudine called the captains of her subordinate ships for a meeting at her fortress. Organizing the whole meeting only had been stressful because she wanted to give a good impression. She wanted to act and look like she still could be the leader of the pirates, even if it would take three months to fix her ship and install the upgrades that Otsuki and Tomoe had provided. This meeting was needed to know if she would have to end up resorting to sabotage tactics and some other ideas that Maya had told her in case the meeting would end up in a failure.

 

The meeting was about to begin in a few hours. After taking a warm bath, Claudine found Maya at her room, her closet opened, and looking through her collection of jackets. Her initial irritation was replaced with arrogance.

“Are you now my maid, Tendo?” Claudine said and Maya was now deciding between a black one and a red one.

“You need to choose a good attire if you want to impress them, Saijo Claudine” Maya replied, focused on these clothes. “But if you insist, I can use a maid dress and take your orders, anytime...”

Claudine frowned. She should have known better. Maya would of course find a way to be suggestive without hesitation. Claudine locked the door carefully, it wouldn’t be good if anyone stepped in and found them alone. She let Maya have a long speech about how the red was such a powerful color but the black would convey authority and wisdom.

“Just pick one, Tendo”. Claudine walked towards Maya whom noticing her proximity, turned around and averted looking at her.

 

It only had taken her to loosen just a bit her bathrobe  to cause such effect on Maya. How delightful was to know that her rival had a weakness she might use.

“I-I shall leave you alone if..!” Tendo Maya had stuttered. Perfect.

“Help me to get dressed, si’l vous plaît…” She commands her in a sweet tone that finds no objection.

Maya nods, trying to keep her eyes away from her. Tendo might be deadly on the battlefield but at this situation, she was defenseless and she loved it. However, as Maya walks around her, Claudine was becoming more aware of her proximity and her own lack of clothes. It was cold and wouldn’t be so nice to have her closer?

“Focus, Saijo Claudine!” She thought, pretending that this situation had no effect on her.

She took off her bathrobe and threw it on the near chair. It was still cold even with the heating turned on. Finally, after putting on her underwear and the pants she felt her presence behind her.

“So, it's true...” Maya spoke, almost in a whisper and interrupting these thoughts.

“What?”

“The tattoo.”

Someone had spread a rumor about her getting a dragon tattooed on her back. Instead, she had a compass on her right arm, pointing at the north, shaped like a star.

“Disappointed?” She replied putting her blouse.

“I think it's beautiful” Maya sounded almost out of breath. Claudine wished she would just go away. She was supposed to tempt her but in the end her strategy against Tendo Maya had backfired, once again.

She holds her breathing for a second before thanking her.

“Remember that you are in control, Saijo Claudine! Just stay calm!” she breathed, now taking a small gun from one of her drawers.

 “And I thought I was paranoid” Maya commented as Claudine keeps the gun in the pocket of her coat.

“We are dealing with potential backstabbers.” She replied.

“Does that include your crew?” Maya was aware that maybe half of her people were members of the Order of the Rising Star. Claudine looked at her over her shoulder and turns to face her.

“It's all about taking risks, Tendo.”

“Is that why you allowed me to be here?” She questioned her, their gazes fixated on each other’s eyes.

Claudine smiled. “Maybe.”

Keep your friends close and your rivals closer. Especially if said rival clearly had showed more than respect towards her. For a brief moment she pondered that idea as she turns back and lets Maya to put her the coat she had chosen.

 

Claudine looked at the mirror. She was wearing a black long coat, with silver and gold embroidery, her hands with a couple of diamond rings, her hair carefully brushed. Her weapons, her beloved sword and her gun at her sides. For a moment she wondered what sort of person she would have become if things would have been different. Maybe she would have ended up in the Navy, just like she had dreamed as a kid or maybe at the army, perhaps meeting Tendo Maya in a different situation…

“What's wrong?” Maya asked, fearing she didn't like it.

Claudine looked back at her. “You can’t go using that.”

Maya blinked, confused. “But...”

“Come here, Tendo.”

Maya faked shyness.  “Please, be gentle with me, Captain”  

“Idiot!”  She did her best to show irritation as they go towards the closet. “What about this one?”

 

Claudine was fixing the tie she had chosen for Maya. She ended up choosing a dark blue coat with a few silver lines. In return she had done the same to her, even brushing her hair and letting it down with her usual ribbon. For moment she wished she wouldn’t participate in such tedious meeting.

 

“Something is on your mind.” Maya said, reading her like an open book and while it made her feel extremely uncomfortable at the beginning, this time she only sighs.

“It’s just... I have spent most of the recent years fighting for so long that….” She began.  “At first it was to protect my family and I ended running up this…business.  And this time I almost…”

“It can be exhausting” Maya replied.

Claudine tried to smile. “I am acting like a fool.”

Maya stared at her. “Stand here.”

Claudine did as she requested, standing in front of the mirror, once again.

“Are you giving up?” Maya asked, serious as usual.

“Of course Not!”

“But what if your comrades refuse to join your attack against the castle?”

Claudine smiled and shows a middle finger at the mirror. “I can take on the castle by myself if I have to!”

Maya laughed. Nothing like a good challenge to inspire her competitive personality.

“Your mother wouldn't approve such manners, Saijo.”

“Shut up” Claudine was smiling, despite these words.

“See? That's better. Even if the world is about to collapse you will stand strong! Striking like a roaring thunder, devastating like a storm! The most wanted pirate, the one who inspires terror among the sailors, Saijo Claudine!”

Claudine couldn’t help but to laugh. “That’s a cool introduction.”

It was excessively dramatic, a bit ridiculous and all but it made her feel better.

“Enough talk, Tendo Maya! Let’s go!”

Maya rushed towards the door and opened it for her. “Very well. Time to shine, Saijo Claudine…”

 

Chapter Text

She knows she has to look away. She is completely aware that she can’t stare. But she can't resist the temptation of admiring the masterpiece that was in front of her.

Was Saijo Claudine trying to drive her insane? Maybe her captain wanted to test her but hell, she's close, and yet she can’t reach her. Fragile and yet strong, her skin marked by memories of past battles. Her own hands are tightly curled into fists. Maya was silently praying for mercy on her soul, her breathing erratic at the thought of wishing she could trace these scars with her own fingers, an intricate map that she yearns to explore.

Breathe, remember your training and focus, Tendo Maya.

Another stolen glance at Claudine and she notices a compass tattooed on her arm, as if she was searching for guidance in this chaotic life.

Saijo Claudine had lots of enemies, and she already knows a few names to keep an eye on. Daiba, Isurugi and Hanayagi have told her, even the rest of the crew had commented something about a few captains that could be potential traitors but in the end all of them might be plotting against her.

Maya wished she couldn’t be so affected by these ardent feelings, but all that she can think of is that she would kill anyone who would even dare to hurt her. She can’t let Saijo Claudine to lose her spark. How she wished she could tell her that she would follow her to the end of the world, even if it could be her demise, even if she would keep consider her only as a rival to surpass. But then, why is Saijo Claudine willing to let her be that close to her? She doesn't want to have any sort of expectations and focus on the current events.

Claudine is greeting some of her fellow captains. Maya stays behind, carefully taking note of each of these men and women and there’s one particular man that disgusts her at the way he stares and tries to flirt at Claudine. She had expected this but still made her want to stand between them and protect her.

"He’s an ally, Tendo." Futaba comments next to her.

"Let her be, Futaba-han. Yamazaki-han is quite disgusting..." Kaoruko said.

Fortunately, he was interrupted by another captain (quite young to be one, that must be a teenager), a girl with flamboyant robes, wearing dozens of golden necklaces.

"And that’s Akari-han. Poor girl…” Kaoruko lamented. "To have such a hopeless crush on our Captain!"

Hanayagi laughed and Maya wonders if she might be in the same position. Although they had spent these weeks most of their time with each other, she wonders if Claudine had offered a job in her crew only because she would be useful.

 

Her thoughts were interrupted when everyone turned their attention to the new visitors that had arrived. The leader, a woman presumably on her forties, was wearing an elegant azure kimono, her hair tied in a ponytail and she looked more like a noble rather than a pirate, except for the gun attached to her side.

Claudine stepped forward and made a significant bow.

"Yakumo-sensei!" Claudine stood straight again. "Welcome! Thank you for honoring us with your presence!"

Claudine had told Maya about her. Yakumo had been one of the most wanted pirates for years. Unlike Claudine and some Captains like her, she had a preference for staying on the sidelines, letting others to destroy each other and take advantage of the chaos. And since Claudine had been on her crew for a while, she knew her quite well, enough to keep her as an ally even if she never asked her to join her raids.

"I wouldn't miss to have a party hosted by one of my very talented disciples!" That woman laughed and Maya definitely didn't like her. "When I see this I can't help but to feel proud of you, Kuro-chan!"

Claudine bows again, thanking her and Maya took notice of those who were behind Yakumo-sensei. A tall, short-haired girl, with a piece of armor protecting her shoulder, carrying a long sword. Next to her was another one, smaller, holding a maze, almost same robes. Maybe Claudine had taken the idea of wearing some kind of western armor from them. Then she recognized the last one, and she can’t hide her surprise.

That woman turned her eyes at Maya. Piercing eyes, on an apparently calm, unreadable face. Hair tied up to a side, gracefully done. Not a single trace of recognition in her eyes and Maya frowned. Yanagi Koharu hadn't changed at all, apparently. However, despite the surprise, she had more important things to focus on.

Most of the hall had been filled with chairs, benches and tables forming a circle, Claudine and her first mates, Isurugi and Hanayagi took a seat at the biggest table. Most of the Amethyst crew was there next to her. The Captains of each ship or their representatives, took seats around them. Tomoe Tamao, with two of her officers had arrived. Otsuki Aruru with Daiba Nana and Hoshimi Junna sat down together. Yakumo had taken a seat on one of the tables at the left side. Maya can feel she's being watched but she smiles, taking note of Claudine's fierce expression as she stands up, ready for a different kind of battle.

Claudine starts to speak and Maya's attention was now solely on her words. Her speech had been brief, thanking her everyone for their bravery and determination at facing their enemies, praising their job at rescuing their comrades. She also had thanked the captains of the Rinmeikan and The Frontier for their help during the battle and then she mentioned how the defection of a group of former army officers saved them at a desperate moment. Claudine named them, bowing in respect, a pause before resuming her speech.

"However, it would be irresponsible to deny that we are at a critical point." Claudine declares.

Many exchanged concerned stares and tense whispers filled the room.

Claudine continued. "I am completely aware that my actions may have caused our situation. That's why I'm willing to step away as the leader of our guild."

There were objections, discussions among some of the leaders. Claudine stood still, ready to endure a possible defeat but she merely was there, waiting for them. Futaba raised her arms, telling them to calm down. Kaoruko was waving her fan, almost uninterested.

"The correct procedure is that if any of you is willing to run for the position, please take a step ahead!"

To her surprise, one of the Captains stood up, a tall, bald man who bowed at her before speaking.

"It's true that I disagree with some of your decisions but I am willing to follow you and this guild until the end. I believe that there's no need to choose another leader as you have proved your strength and bravery. Most Captains would have let these prisoners to be executed!"

The man looked at Yakumo-sensei and it was quite obvious that he was talking about her, perhaps she had let some of their crew behind or maybe had ignored a call for support. The discussions had faded, now they were expecting some kind of verbal duel between these two.

"I definitely agree; no one could be more suited for the leadership than our admired Captain Saijo. I wholeheartedly support these words, Captain Harada!" Yakumo-sensei said with apparent admiration. Claudine bows again and Maya thinks that woman would have been a great actress.

"I agree with Captain Harada as well!" said the Captain Yamazaki. "Maybe we could skip this and just discuss your ideas about attacking the Imperial Castle to... quoting you... give them a much needed lesson? Even with your ship nearly destroyed?" He asked faking concern.

Claudine nods "It will take months to fix my ship, it's true. "

"So, with your current situation and the loss of many ships during the last battle, still want to engage into an assault, into a war?!" He questioned her.

Maya disliked that man but he had valid points. Claudine, however had expected this.

"Isn't that what we do? Every day we fight against the navy, against another pirates. I could go on about how they have threatened your relatives and friends...."

 

A heavy silence fell upon the room. This guild's meeting wasn't that different from the one she had to witness at the Castle, in which the council would argue but at the end the Queen had the last word.

"We have been struggling against them every single day! " Claudine raised her voice. " Yes, I want to teach them a lesson! Think about what they have taken away from us!" She hits the table. "The seas won't be completely ours as long as the Queen has the power!"

The captains exchanged whispers and stares, once again.

"We have a great opportunity if we ally with the rebel faction. In the end we have the same goals. We want freedom and justice! No more corrupted leaders who think that they can dispose of our lives!"

Claudine was now doing what the Order had asked her. Will the pirates join her operation? or they will stay conveniently on a neutral position?

"You are asking us to fight with them?!" Another old man stood up, his face scarred terribly, it was a miracle he still had his eyes. "You speak of freedom and justice but you have made alliances with members of the richest and powerful clans of our country!"

He pointed at Maya with intense hatred.

"Her father gave me this as a present!" He pointed at his face. "He and the Royal Guard slaughtered my brothers twenty years ago!  I can't accept orders from someone who keeps a Tendo as their bitch!"

Maya remained serious and calm, feeling the stares of everyone on her. Claudine hits the table once again, and stronger than before.

"Tendo Maya belongs to my crew now! I won't tolerate any disrespect towards my people, is that clear, Captain Abarai?!"

The man was furious and Maya noticed he was slowly reaching towards his gun and by reflex she had already unleashed the lock on her gun, holding it.

"Our laws are clear, Abarai-san!" Yakumo-sensei intervened. "We don't offend or threaten our comrades! And she's just his daughter, for God's sake! It's unfair to make the children pay for the sins of their fathers!"

Some agreed on these words on that and others were just ready to raise their guns because Abarai seemed to be about to attack, however he calmed himself down just enough to not shoot.

 

"And why should I join this fight, anyway? I am a pirate, after all! Why should I care about what happens to this bloody kingdom?!"

"The foundations of our guild were based on the need that we had for the safety of our people!" The Captain of the Ikaruga, stood up. "I believe some of you are more concerned about acquiring money rather than our people and the kingdom we live in!"

That captain realized he was just alone.

"Well then, fuck all of you!" The man spits at the floor and storms out of the hall, his subordinates following him. A couple of Captains did the same and Maya stares at Claudine, whom was just glaring at them with a smile, but her eyes were filled with pure, raw anger, before falling in her seat. She locked her gun. That had been so close.

The remaining twenty-four captains voted on favor to attack the capital. The attack would only be against the Castle and the military buildings around it. The profits would be divided accordingly to the usual rules.

Isurugi asked them again if any of them wanted to elect a new leader. To her surprise no one spoke. After agreeing on working towards their goal of attacking the capital and helping the rebels on their campaign, they renewed their oaths, signing a paper with the points they had agreed on.

Finally, the tension lifted as the drinks and the food arrived. A group of musicians started to perform some folk songs, some of the pirates dancing and singing (terribly). The hall was filled with some kind of odd smell that probably was opium or some drug. But most of them were eating and drinking as if they were going to die the next day. Hanayagi and Isurugi were on their little world, just like Daiba and Hoshimi and even Aijou was dancing with Kagura.  Even Tsuyuzaki was now having a happy conversation with that tall girl from Yakumo's crew.

Claudine was still on a bad temper, she could tell by her lack of comments, drinking slowly. She was now having a conversation with Yakumo-sensei and some captains and Maya felt out of place, just like when she had to attend the tedious balls at the Castle.  Well, that had been part of her job and perhaps for Claudine was the same, too many idiots and too many unpleasant people in one place. Maya wasn't a heavy drinker either and found the whole situation too uncomfortable, going out of the hall.

Maya was still concerned about these people who had left, their ships not far away from the port. It would be unwise to attack the fortress with all the ships stationed around the island. Still she went out and contacted the people at the observation tower. Everything was under control and she thought she was worrying too much.

 

It was a cold night and she missed the warmth inside the hall but she couldn't stand that noise.

"What an interesting meeting, don't you think, Tendo-san?"

Maya recognized that voice and prepared herself.

"I never thought I would meet you here... Captain Yanagi Koharu." she replied, putting the comm into her pocket and turning around.

Yanagi Koharu.  Member of the Special Forces, the Royal Guard and her rival back then. Finally, the slightest smile appeared on her face.

"I'm no longer a Captain, just a first mate. But I can say I'm surprised as well."

Behind them was the noise of the party, breaking the silence. A few people passing by and the torches illuminating the place.

"I thought it was a rumor. You always seemed to be proud of being a Guard. Proud of being a thoroughbred Tendo, whom saved the country from a prolonged civil war."

Maya frowned at that memory. The Hanasaki Operation had been perhaps the highpoint of her military career, which gave her something to flaunt in front of her rivals, including her.

"Only because the Colonel was killed."

Yanagi-san nods.

"Still... it makes me wonder what happened to the terrifying Tendo Maya? Tarnishing the honor of the Tendo clan, throwing away your life only to follow a criminal..."

Although these words seemed filled with scorn, Maya was sure that Yanagi was just wondering what had happened to her.

"I might ask the same, don't you think? Why is the talented Yanagi Koharu doing in a place filled with criminal and traitors? Have you forgotten your oath to the Queen, just like me?"

Yanagi Koharu got a somber stare.

"We never took that oath seriously.  We both know that.”

It was true, she loathed being at the castle, she actually despised the Queen and her family. But she had never done anything other than follow orders and being a good and obedient daughter. The army was hard, but it was better than stay at home waiting to be married to someone that she barely knows and being locked into a beautiful cage. 

 

She had never talked openly about it, but Yanagi-san had shown the same lack of enthusiasm at being a guard, and for a while she thought she had found a friend, perhaps something more. But some things aren't meant to be.

"But It’s quite useless to talk about our past, don’t you think?" Yanagi-san proposed.

Maya's stare hardened. "I want to know what are you doing here. Are you a spy or did you...?"

"I found my true calling, despite of what you or anyone might think. " Her words had come with an unexpected amount of emotion that surprised her.

"Are you a member of the rebel faction?"

"No. And I don't think sensei wants to join them. Just like your Captain, she wants to keep them as allies but... what concerns me is that they want the crown. The Order of the Rising Star."

Koharu knows more than she shows, she's sure. She had been the one who suggested her to sneak into the chamber and they did, working as a team they managed to break in and no one noticed it.

"It's just a fancy crown, isn't it?" Maya commented recalling that odd feeling when they were at the chamber.

"It would be an expensive present for your beautiful Captain... Is it's true that you defected because you fell for her?"

She had quickly deflected her attempts on discussing the crown and its importance.

Maya smiled. "Can you blame me?

Yanagi shooks her head. "I would have defected too."

They laughed, which was quite rare and Maya realized that perhaps they both had changed in similar ways. Koharu noticed something and she looks back at the entrance.

"I think your Captain is looking for you." Koharu said, sensing perhaps the death glares from Claudine whom was standing there, arms crossed.

"We'll talk later, Tendo-san." Yanagi Koharu walked away and Maya wonders what has happened judging by the angry expression on Claudine's face as she walks towards her.

 

"I lose sight of you for just five minutes and you are already busy with someone?!" Claudine spats at her. Maya wanted to laugh but she only adopted an innocent face. "I'm sorry, Am I sensing some jealousy, Saijo Claudine?"

Maybe Claudine was just mad that she left without telling her. Either way it was quite satisfying.

"Look, I'm not in the mood for your jokes, Tendo Maya!" Claudine was now poking her with insistence.

"Are you concerned about these captains? There's nothing that you have to worry about..."

"I know that!" Claudine shrieked.

"Then...?" Maya asked and Claudine seemed to struggle with something.  Maya wished she could read minds during these moments.

"Do you know her?!" Claudine seemed even more intimidating.

"Who are you t...?"

"You know who I'm talking about! Yanagi Koharu!"

Maya blinked in confusion. Does she know her?  "Well, yes... she was a member of the Royal Guard..."

"I knew it." Claudine muttered.

“Do you know her?" Maya was confused and intrigued.

Claudine didn't answer that question but instead she asked something unexpected.

"Do you want to dance?"

 

Maya had planned to invite her but Saijo Claudine had managed to take the lead, dancing to a nicely executed waltz, instead of that folk music they liked. Everyone stared at them, fascinated at their coordination and soon both of them had forgotten they were in the middle of the great hall. Trapped in an illusion that seemed to be almost eternal, Maya couldn't think of anything else, staring at Claudine's eyes, focused and determined with that shine that had enchanted her.

Sadly, the song ends, some people staring at them in awe for a moment.

"Your dancing skills are nice, Tendo Maya. I thought I would have to teach you!" Claudine's praise was not only rewarding but it gave her the motivation to take the lead.

"Let me show you more of my skills, Saijo Claudine." She offers her hand and Claudine, who was now in a good mood, accepted her offer.

It was a challenge and she wanted to impress her. They did another well performed waltz but these songs weren't fit for a pirate party and once again, the usual selection of music starts to play, to Claudine’s disapproval.

"This will have to do." She starts to drink wine and Maya felt thirsty suddenly, focusing on her lips. "Come on, Tendo." She extends the half-filled glass to her. "Drink."

"But..."

"You won't enjoy that music unless you drink something, trust me." Claudine insisted. Still unsure, she drank it. After a few shared drinks, she was starting to think she was right.

The next song has a faster tempo and Maya, taking a great risk, slides her hand around Claudine's waist. She didn't complain, letting her taking the lead, her body firmly pressed against her. She could feel her heart pounding against her chest, these eyes on her, alluring and keeping her in a haze she wanted to stay forever.

Unfortunately, the party had ended a while ago. Most of the people had left, some of them too drunk, being carried out. Claudine and Maya were drinking what remained in the last bottle of wine, sitting together on a bench, close to the fireplace.

"...well. That was fun." Claudine says after finishing her glass.

Claudine looked content, even peaceful. How she wished she could prolong this, that sunrise wouldn't come and break this moment. Maya almost jumped on her seat when she felt Claudine's fingertips reaching to her temple, carefully putting a strand of hair behind her ear. She was afraid of even breathing. Claudine smiled and leaned in just enough to whisper at her ear.

"I like your hair... soft..."

Maya had closed her eyes, already submitted at her touch.

"Aren't you afraid that letting me live would be your biggest mistake? That perhaps I keep you here only because you are useful and I know that you...?"     

She omitted the last words but Maya knows what she means. Not that she wants to hide her feeling from her or even deny it. Claudine seemed worried now.

"Maybe I want you to use me. " Maya replied, trying to reassure her. "Aren't you afraid that I could be a spy?"

"Non. Je crois en toi" Claudine declared, her eyes with a spark of trust that made her look away. She wasn't expecting this from her. It made her feel hopeful and she doesn't know what to do. It's painful not to know what would happen the next battle, what if something, someone hurts her and everything is over for her.

 

"You are not supposed to say that to your rival" She tried to joke but she felt her eyes burning. She can't let herself cry in front of her, what would she think if she does something so embarrassing like that? She can't let her see how worried she is. Tendo Maya has to be strong, always.          

Claudine's arms are now around Maya's waist, nuzzling against her neck. Maya's arm pulls her closer, if possible. And while she had enjoyed their banters, the adrenaline of their heated duels, the warmth, the safety of her presence was so much better. She won't let anyone to take her treasure from her.

"If I ask you to let me win...would you...Maya?" Claudine asked, her voice barely audible.

Whispering her name had made Maya tremble and her grip had tightened for a moment.

"Anything for you... Ma Claudine."

Maya felt herself melting after she had pronounced her name. However, the response from her beloved wasn't tender this time and Claudine stood up in a rush.

"What?!" She masked her embarrassment with anger. "Would you let me defeat you?! Really?!"

Maya was confused, first Claudine acts like she might have some feelings for her, asking her to dance, not losing sight of her for the rest of the night, even hugging her. Now she's all rage and complaints. She guessed she had to just care for her and don't try to understand her too much.

"I can't believe this! And don't laugh, Tendo Maya! You can't be serious about letting me win!"

She could go on and declare some sweet poems to be even more annoying.

"But ma chérie. You have captured my heart, How I cannot try to satisfy all your wishes and needs?"

Claudine's was speechless, fuming with apparent rage and Maya definitely was having the time of her life.

 

"Go, Tendo-sama! Don't give up!"

One of the guys of her crew yelled at them and the rest of the few people with them laughed and clapped, yelling words of encouragement for Maya. She hadn't realized there were still people inside the hall. Claudine yelled at them to shut up, ordering them to leave the hall before she might kill them. They vanished and they were alone.

Claudine was breathing heavily.

"Are you mad at me?" Maya was almost afraid of asking.

"No!" Claudine barked. "...No, I’m not mad at you..." Claudine then replied with a lower, calmer voice.

"I see...."

Claudine emptied what was left of the bottle.

"I can't fucking believe it...!” Claudine repeated. "Do you realize what are you doing?!" She stared at her. "I'm a terrible person to get involved with! We are rivals, have you forgotten?! And I'm your captain! Your boss!  It's against the rules!"

Maya smiled. "For being a group of pirates you sure do have lots of rules..."

Claudine wasn't in the mood for sarcasm. "People are already saying we are... Oh God..."

"That I'm your bitch?" Maya recalled the offense from that Captain.

"It's not funny, Tendo! He disrespected you!"

Maya felt touched by her words.

"If you were so concerned about our reputation, then why did you ask me to dance?"

She can't dodge this question.

 "We are not having this conversation, Tendo Maya" Claudine warned her.

But Maya won't let her go that easily. "You were clearly upset when you saw me talking with Yanagi Koharu."

Claudine frowns and took out her watch from her pocket to check the hour before putting it inside again. "You better go to sleep... it's already five..."

Maya stood up.

"I have to let you know that among my worst traits, aside from arrogance and gluttony is that I'm very jealous. And I won't obey any orders from you if you don't tell me why."

"How dare you?! I could kill you for your impertinence!" Claudine yelled.

Maya smiled. "It would be the sweetest of deaths, to be stabbed by you but first indulge my whims, si’l vous plaît…?"

"Fine!" Claudine gave up quickly, taking a pause. "Want to know?! Yes, I was kind of...annoyed... Happy?!"

Maya's smile was wide. Was she admitting she might have some feelings for her? Maybe she had the slightest of chances.

"So you..."

Claudine quickly puts her fingers on her mouth, shutting her up.

"I'm serious about this, Tendo Maya. This can't be good for either of us." She says before taking a step away. "A Captain can't get involved with their subordinates like this. You know that!"

"And I thought you liked to take risks..." Maya replied, disappointed and Claudine was about to say something but then the alarms started to blast through the entire fortress.

Their discussion would have to wait.

"That kind of alarm... a storm?!" Claudine looked back and they rushed to the entrance of the hall. The winds were blowing fiercely, clouds revolving around a point on the horizon, the sound of thunders reverberating on the air.

An storm was coming.

 

Chapter Text

The bitter taste of the coffee lingers in her mouth, as she tries to have a moment of peace, contemplating the dark clouds and the rain that is pouring against the window. Storms regularly happen and during winter fog surrounds everything on sight.

 

With The Amethyst on a repairing process and the meeting that had ended a day ago, Claudine feels restless. Everyone knows better than try to speak to her with such mood, except for Futaba, dutifully reporting the status or Kaoruko, who enjoyed to increase her annoyance.

 

"It's not like that this is the first time we deal with a typhoon. Last time you stayed in your room polishing your sword and drinking…” Kaoruko reminded her. Claudine sometimes wanted to throw her out of the window.

“This could affect Amemiya's work. And you know that without our flagship, we are quite defenseless!”

Claudine stood up and stared at the raging storm outside, hands on her hips, trying to handle her frustration.

"Your crew has everything covered.” Kaoruko tries to reassure her. “The defense systems are ready, everyone is ready. We got enough supplies and oil to power this fortress. The communications are still good despite this storm. I think it's a perfect time to spend on some… enjoyable activities. I bet Tendo-han would be willing to calm down these nerves of yours…”

 

Claudine couldn’t believe what she was suggesting. She didn’t want to think about Tendo Maya lying naked on her bed. Especially not think of how she wanted to tie up her hands with that ridiculously cute bow of hers and…

“Only you would think of that during a fucking storm!” Claudine retorted, trying to focus on the weather outside.

“What happened to you, Kuro-han? You used to say these kind of jokes...” Kaoruko complained and Claudine merely sighs.

“I'm not in the mood.” She replied, tired and craving for something stronger than coffee.

“Something happened with Tendo-han?” Kaoruko inquires.

 

Claudine feels something in her stomach twisting and turning, recalling that night. Maya had avoided her and she hadn't tried to interact with her in any way. It was the better for both of them. Still, she wished she were here, even if it was only to discuss battle strategies.

 

Claudine had planned to flaunt her dancing skills and her taste in classical music. She had hired these musicians for that reason. Claudine merely wanted to have some fun.  Teasing her when she was dressing in front of her had indeed made her feel powerful, knowing that Maya was struggling to not look as if she was burning with desire felt good, she can't deny it. But in the end she knows she can't indulge on something like having an affair with a subordinate.

 

“Crow-han told me you two had a disagreement and Hideto-han told me that you seemed very comfortable with Tendo-han until something happened.”

Kaoruko won't give up that easily.

“These idiots and their gossip.” She felt again the tension building inside her head.

“Look, Kaoruko. I don’t want to discuss this.”

“Let me guess.... Tendo-han was drunk and confessed her ardent feelings towards you.”

 

Maya liked to tease her every time she could but the way she had said her name and these words, she had been sincere. In response, she had blurted that she believed in her. All while thinking about how safe she felt with her presence, even thinking the idea of taking her to her room.

 

“But I thought you would enjoy her attention...” Kaoruko's words brings her back to reality. “It seems to me that you are afraid.”

"What the fuck do you mean?!" Claudine turned to face her.

Kaoruko laughs. "As I suspected." She declares with that annoying confidence. "But what harm would bring you to have some fun with Tendo-han? Isn't she good-looking, with nice manners, elegant and interesting enough to spend hours talking with in your mother tongue... and on top of that an excellent fighter, the kind of woman you like, and it's so hard to find, according to you?"

"Good Captains don't fuck their subordinates!" She yelled at Kaoruko but she was truly exasperated at herself.

 

Yakumo-sensei had taught her about leadership and warfare. How to choose her crew, how they should operate, to share the earnings with the crew to keep people content.  And she had emphasized one thing: Not to care for her crew more than it was necessary.

"Give them money and weapons but if you get involved with any of them it will make you vulnerable in one way or another."

 

Kaoruko laughed. "Ah, but of course, the wise teachings of that old hag that still influences you.” Kaoruko didn’t like Yakumo-sensei since she tried to recruit Futaba during a particular rough time between Kaoruko and Futaba.

 

Claudine took another sip of her coffee, already cold. It tasted awful now. Before having enough money to have a ship and a crew, she had been working for Yakumo.  While strict, Yakumo liked to give some special presents only to the members of the highest ranks among her crew or those who have done something remarkable. During a raid, she killed a regiment of navy officers with a broken sword, earning the respect of that crew and its Captain.

 

Kaoruko laughed.  "Perhaps you just prefer to make Tendo-han suffer? I have seen her staring at the sea with that pathetic gaze… Poor woman, to be so hopelessly in love…"

 

Claudine has her arms crossed now. Maya should know better than have a crush on a terrible person like her. That would teach her a valuable lesson. The words that Yakumo-sensei had said during the meeting, last night echoed now in her mind.

"You can't trust in people more than necessary. After all, we are pirates. We are hungry and desperate for money and power. Believe me, I have seen people betray just for petty reasons, even those who seemed to be the most loyal ones. Be careful..."

Poisonous words, she knows. If she had to follow her advice she didn't had to trust even in these apparent words of concern. She could be easily killed in many ways by so many people. But trust in people was also part of the game.

 

That night she couldn’t sleep properly, often waking up to see the clock, hear the radio or check the messages, the status of the weather as the rain intensified for hours until diminishing just for a while. Today, the winds are blowing harder and people is restless, hoping the weather gets better. The forecast announces that the typhoon could hit the island. Everyone works hard to secure windows, doors and especially the towers.

 

Claudine takes a thick coat and gets out of her room, people busy preparing for the worst. Maya wasn't nowhere to be seen and she starts to ask some of them about her. Finally, she finds her, last one of a group that was coming back to the fortress as the rain pours heavily. The crew at the sight of their Captain reported that everything was prepared and she thanked them for a good job, leaving her alone.

 

It annoys her that Maya was taking her time to walk to the entrance. She was holding something but she can't discern what it could be because she was hiding it under her coat. What could be so important that she was walking like a turtle? She might be blown away by the wind. She has to restrain herself to not yell at her stupidity.

 

However, she didn't do any of that when she finally reached her, the look on Maya's eyes was enough. The spark in her eyes was gone, replaced by a hollow stare. It struck here with a terrible guilt. She wanted to speak to her but suddenly her throat was restrained. Maya stares now at what she has under her coat and slowly pulls out her hand.

 

A small crow with a broken wing. The poor thing seemed to have been hit by something. Claudine approached her and tells her that Mahiru could mend the bird's wing. Mahiru had been raised in a farm and she had experience dealing with animals.

 

Maya stood silent, her clothes still dripping water and that terrible look in her eyes that she didn’t like as Mahiru tells them that the little crow has a good chance to heal it’s broken wing.

Karen and Mahiru helps them to secure the bird in a box and takes them to Claudine’s room, instructing them how to take care of it.

 

“Mahiru said the bird will heal.” Claudine said frustrated at Maya staring the wounded animal.

"Now go and take a bath! You are going to catch a cold!"

"But…”

"Don't make me say it again! It's already prepared!" Claudine pointed at her bathroom. Maya gazes at her for a moment and obeys, going to the bathroom, closing the door. Claudine crossed her arms, and looked over the creature. Maya had a soft spot for birds after all.

 

Feeling exhausted, Claudine sat down at the chair next to her desk to check on some messages. The lights flickered for a moment and Claudine feared that the power might be gone due to the storm.

 

An old, worn out copy of The Starlight Gatherer lays on her desk. She tries to read it but her thoughts wander once again to Maya and what she might be feeling.  And she was taking too long at the bathroom. The lights kept flickering until everything was dark. Claudine cursed and picked up her comm. The main tower reported that due to the weather, the electricity's lines were affected and they had to shut down some parts of the fortress in order to ensure that the observation towers and the control room were operating. She had no choice but to use the old fireplace to keep her room warm.

 

The fireplace illuminated dimly the room but it was better than nothing. Carefully, she made sure the box wasn't far from the source of heat. The little bird was still and saw the bathroom's door opening.

Maya was coming out of the room, fully dressed with a plain shirt, pants and boots from her wardrobe. They stared at each other for a moment and Maya seems nervous.

"I'm going to take him somewhere else.... I don't want it to bother you"

"I don't mind if the bird stays here." Claudine replied.

"Um...well I should....” Maya whispered, hesitating.

"You could stay here as well...”

Claudine knows she can't do this but she doesn't want to let her go. Not like this.

 

Maya smiled rather cynically. "I thought you had to keep a certain decorum. Perhaps are you feeling lonely, Captain?"

Claudine was about to retort but again, she felt physically unable to speak.

A sharp pain in her gut, fury and sadness colliding. She wished they would have swords on their hands and fight instead of speaking. It was easier, simpler than acknowledge that painful truth. That constant fear she might end up alone and betrayed.

"Ha! I just thought that maybe you would cheer up a bit, since you look quite depressing!"

Claudine retorted, her wounded ego blinding her.

“You’re right.” Maya struggled to keep her voice calm, eyes already showing hurt. “I don't need to pretend that I’m fine, that your rejection doesn’t matter…” Her voice low, struggling.

Claudine wished she would hate her instead of acting like this.

 

"Why did you say these words to me?! Why?!"

Maya was almost shouting and it was perhaps the first time she had seen such desperation in her voice. Not even in battle, no. There, she was determined and focused. Now, Tendo Maya was trembling, fists curled, violet eyes already sparking with tears. This time she had went too far, she thinks. Guilt and shame for ridicule what it was important to her. But it would serve her right. It would keep Maya away from her.  Tendo Maya would become once again the rival she should be. The old Tendo Maya that would have laughed at her words, throwing another clever response.

But now Maya was here, frustrated and heartbroken, vulnerable…  all because she cared for her despite her terrible personality.

“This is why… I can't…. We can't… Look at you! You are….” Claudine says and Maya gazed at her as if she would try to pierce her soul with her gaze.

“Acting like a fool?” Maya laughed rather bitterly. Maya took a long moment, a pause to compose herself. “I am! I’m an idiot who tries to reach a distant star! The most valuable treasure, trapped in a maze!”

 

She was being melodramatic, Claudine thought but she made not attempts of commenting on that. Once again, she was being honest. Maybe she only wanted to see one side of Tendo Maya, the genius, the rival, the warrior. Maya was only human, vulnerable as well. She would get worried over one wounded bird and say terrible cheesy phrases, annoy her but always honest.

 

"I'm exhausted and hungry!” Maya confessed. “But…don't worry, Saijo Claudine! I have made an oath that I won't break even if you try to drive me insane!"

Maya was about to open the door and Claudine reached to hold her arm. It was only a simple touch, quickly retreating but enough to stop Maya.

“I... I’m sorry.  That was…rude.”

More than rude, she thinks. Still, at that weak attempt of apologizing, Maya turns to face her.

“Why are you restraining yourself? You know I will obey if you order me to stay. Like a well-trained bitch!”

“Don’t call yourself that!”                           

“Why not?!” Maya asked, her voice holding back her anger.

No words came from her lips and to hide her panic, Claudine masked it with her usual attitude.

“How dare you to be so?!….so?!”

This time Maya doesn’t wait and simply walks to the table where Claudine's comm is.

"Wait, what the fuck are you doing?!"

Too late, Maya had already turned on the device. The person on the other side quickly replied.

"Captain?! Is something wrong?!" One of the operators replied to Claudine's frustration, whom retreated, swearing in french.

"No, this is Tendo Maya." She declared. "The Captain is tired and would like to have dinner in her room. A meal for two people, please?"

"Oh... I... uh understood, Tendo-san. I shall communicate the message to the kitchen."

"And please send some cake, thank you very much." Maya added before turning it off.

Claudine already regretted her words.

"You are stepping way over the line."

"We can duel right now, outside. It would be an epic scene, don't you think? Besides I don't want to disturb little Marcel's recovery."

"Marcel? wait... did you named the bird?!"

Maya got closer to the box, kneeling to speak to the bird as if the creature could understand her. It was equally silly and endearing.

 

Still fuming, Claudine sat on the chair and took the book again pretending not no care about Maya’s presence. Maya went to her closet looking around until she retrieved a couple of thick blankets and pillows and laid them on the floor, at certain distance from the fireplace. Maya was humming what could be a lullaby, not trying to speak to her. Claudine sent a death glare towards her and went back to her book.

 

A while later, someone knocked the door. Maya stood up and opened it. Claudine pretends to read the book. Maya thanked them for bringing a tray with the dinner before leaving.

Claudine raised her gaze to notice that Maya had left the tray on the blankets, still humming that song as she arranges the improvised dinner table. A kotatsu would have come in handy.

"Dinner is ready, Captain." Maya cheerfully announced.

Claudine left the book on the table and sits down on the blankets. The usual dinner from the resident cook but It also had a portion of cake for each of them. Maya was now in a better mood, apparently.

"Maya..."

"What's wrong?” Not exactly her usual kind of response.

"Are you pretending not to be mad at me?" Claudine asked.

"I am still upset. " She admitted. "But I don't want to leave you here alone"

Claudine again didn't retort these words. The sound of thunders were reverberating now in the air. Maya stared at her food, eyes tired.

"I won’t give up that easily." She declared. "Bon appetite"

Maya started to eat but Claudine wasn't touching her plate and Maya looked back at her.

"I'm sorry…. Claudine apologized. “I can't..."

"Return my feelings?"

"It's not that!”

"Then why are you apologizing for?"

Claudine shuts her mouth in panic and she tries, in vain to look away from Maya's eyes.

"Why do you like me that much anyway?! I know I am good at fighting and all but why do you…?! I have zero patience! I yell at you, complain a lot and tell you that I’m going to defeat you!”

Maya blinks then she smiles.

 “Well…. I have written a list. Maybe I should read it to you…”

Claudine groaned, embarrassed but flattered as well. Maya now looks content now.

“Let me start with that explosive mood of yours…” Maya began. ‘Explosive’ was such an exaggeration, Claudine thinks but she doesn’t say a thing.

“I absolutely love how your beautiful eyes are fired with anger. It makes me feel warm, you know… that particular kind of warm…”

Claudine blushed. The audacity of that vexing woman to declare she was turned on by her.

“Your food is getting cold, Claudine” Maya commented as she eats her food.

Claudine wanted to smash the cake in her stupid, pretty face.

 

They had eaten and stayed for a while in front of the fireplace. Later, the same person fetched the empty dishes and the tray.  The tension between them had eased, talking about how the crew during these storms use to gather at the main hall and tell scary stories of ghosts and sea monsters. Then the issue of the The Amethyst and the attack against the capital surfaced again.

“Yakumo-sensei definitely wants the crown... and when that woman wants something…”

“You were in her crew, so you must know a few things about her.” Maya said.

“Yakumo-sensei likes to keep a prudential distance from her subordinates. It's her actions what tells you what kind of woman she is.”

“Then you learnt that rule of yours from her?”

Claudine rolled her eyes.

“She's from the Navy, probably she learned that from there”

Maya laughs. “You would be surprised of how many affairs happen between leaders and subordinates”

“And what about you? A former Major who had plenty of chances!” Claudine commented suspicious.

Maya laughed. “Indeed. There were opportunities, but my preferences can be completely fulfilled only by a certain person. You should feel honored, Saijo Claudine.”

Claudine wasn't mad at her comments, this time. However, there was something that bothered her.

“What about that woman? Yanagi Koharu”

Maya wasn't expecting that question. And judging by her face, Claudine knows they had been more than just friends. And that upsets her.

“You don’t have to answer.” Claudine lied.

“But you want to know.” Maya replied. “In fact, Yanagi-san’s presence at the meeting is interesting…”

Maya was now thinking aloud and Claudine didn't understand what she had meant.

“Do you remember when I told you about the Imperial Crown and how I had managed to enter into the chamber where it's secured?”

“Yes.”

“Well....the person who was with me was Yanagi-san.”

Claudine was surprised about that.

“Perhaps she had been spying on the Imperial Army or maybe something happened to her…who knows…” Maya commented.

“But you two…”

Claudine pressed that question and Maya nods.

“We were close, yes.  Truth is, I have been rather unfortunate when it comes to relationships.”

Maya stares at the fireplace.  "We were similar in many ways. From important families, top graduates from our respective academies and a common passion for our careers. But she never dropped her guard... And I thought that I should focus on more important things rather than on someone. I gave up too soon, perhaps..."

Maya looked back at Claudine whom was still upset.

“Were you jealous, Ma Claudine? There’s no need, you know…” Maya laughed.

“Shut up.” Claudine considered to kick her out of her room.

“I presume that Daiba san told you something.”

“I already knew she was a guard. I met her while we were preparing for the assault against the Nautilus. Yakumo-sensei sent her to help me and...”

Maya's eyes flashed with uncertainty.

“I have to admit she's skilled.  And pretty. But too serious… at least she loosened up after a few drinks and of course, my irresistible charm…”

Claudine was enjoying the indignation, the jealousy on Maya's face whom glared at the fireplace.

“This…!... What a cruel mockery of destiny! We...we...”

“With the same person! Claudine was cackling now.

Maya was still muttering words of frustration and declaring it was the past and nothing could be changed.

After a while, Claudine yawns, already tired and sleepy. Maya notices that and stands up.

“I think it’s time for us to have some rest.”

 

She went right to her closet and started to look through her drawers. Claudine sits on the bed and Maya carefully lays a couple of pajamas on the bed. Her gaze drifts towards Maya's hands, slowly pulling away her belt and taking away her boots and pants. Too tempting...

 

Maya makes a brief comment of how she's feeling cold but all that Claudine does is to focus on how her shirt is now falling from her shoulders, how she could warm her on this stormy, cold night. She knows this is a payback for her teasing and she knows exactly what to do. She starts doing the same, their clothes mixed in one pile.

 

They ended up sharing the same bed. Maya is now sleeping soundly next to her and Claudine curls close, her fingertips brushing Maya’s soft hair.The next day, when Claudine wakes up, the first thing she realizes is that she’s alone at her bed and for a brief moment she felt a pang of sadness. Now in a bad mood, she sits on her bed and finds Maya standing by the window, looking outside, now dressed with her clothes instead of her pajamas.

She had stayed, after all.

Maya turns to see her as if she could sense her stare. A radiant smile on her face, once again.

Bonjour, Ma Claudine! It seems that today will be a splendid day.”

 

The storm was over, the typhoon changed its direction during the night and now only a few gray clouds were in the sky. There were some minimal damages at the docks. It seems that for now, the island and its inhabitants were safe.  Days later, the little bird, Marcel, was able to fly once again, much to Maya’s content.

 

Maya had suggested her to train together. As usual, she didn’t let pass a chance to test Claudine’s limited patience. Despite that, these sessions were the only thing that kept them in a good mood as the tension raised with the rumors of a possible attack from the Navy.

 

Everyone was preparing for it, constant drills and meetings among the crew about the strategies. An info brought by Daiba Nana tells them that a certain kind of supply, needed for the shields of The Amethyst could be found on Aomori. The main issue was that the only specialist able to build it, was being kept on prison by the Army. And the only certain information was that he had a scar on his face.

 

“I know, I know! But not even I could get a picture. Someone has deleted all his personal info. The only one who know him is Aruru-han, apparently.”  Karouko frowns as they look over the Imperial Army’s Base, an old castle, surrounded with mountains.

“This is interesting. Adds more difficult to the challenge” Maya beamed and Claudine glared at her.

“I am a bit concerned but we’ll do it, Kuro. We’ll secure that person and bring him safely to our ship!” Futaba was determined to make that happen.

 

But even good plans can be ruined by unforeseen events. First, the guy was actually a woman named Shizuha and she didn’t have a scar, in fact she could have passed as a noble. Good-mannered with peaceful, sweet voice and good looks. She was a member of the rebel faction, responsible for the technology that the Frontier had and was quite strong, punching a bunch of guys and looking calm after that.

 

Even with the help from The Frontier’s Crew, at a certain point of the escape, Maya gets behind when she tried to hold back those who were chasing them. Claudine orders Futaba and Kaoruko to escape with the specialist before running back to help Maya.

 

They caused chaos on the military base, multiple explosions that destroyed half of the building and stealing one tank. Maya was driving it, while Claudine yelling and cursing every five seconds, shooting the enemies on sight. They reached the city, leaving mayhem and destruction behind.  The tank had been shoot too many times and it was about to explode. They managed to get out on time, running and hiding on a temple for a while, leaving as the sun was about to rise.  

 

They were now at the beach, far from the rendezvous point but too exhausted by now. The radio wasn’t working for some reason.  The sun was rising now, the sky filled with a mixture of colors, the waves rolling and crashing against the shore. It was a beautiful sight, despite their current situation.

After sitting down for a while in silence, contemplating the beauty of the sunrise, Claudine was the first one to speak.

“That was wild.” Claudine smiled. She thought that maybe she could steal one of these tanks just to have some fun.

Maya, however stands up.

“I could have been faster and more effective at dealing with them. If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t even have survived.”

Maya is ashamed at her performance, always the perfectionist.  Claudine stands up and attempts to cheer her.

“You stood behind to protect us. And you managed to drive that thing without killing us.”

“But…”

“That’s what partners are for.”

Maya’s face lightened up for a moment, although there was a trace of sadness in her eyes.

“So, Aren’t I your rival anymore?”

 Claudine raised a hand and slowly reaches to Maya’s shoulder. “Of course we are.  But we can be…partners, too.”

 

Her fingertips are now barely touching Maya’s cheek, that has a couple of scratches. A faint blush, a mouth slightly open, eyes in a haze.  Maya’s hair is a mess, and she puts away some bangs behind her ear. Maya gazes at her with awe and then she closes it as if she couldn’t bear her stare.

“I…” She mutters. Maya struggles to speak.

“We make a good team.” She admitted, finding that such thing wasn’t bad, in fact it was quite the opposite.

That smile on Maya’s lips made her feel happy despite this outcome, despite the uncertainty and the dangers that lies ahead.

 “Yes.” Maya takes her hand and places a tender kiss on it. Maya pulls her closer, making Claudine blush when Maya’s arm holds her waist pulling her into a hug.

Maya points now at the rising sun. “Together we can reach new heights! We shall bring terror on the fragile hearts of those who dare to defy us!”  Tendo Maya declared with that determination that she liked to see.

This time, Claudine laughs, with satisfaction and a bit of relief. Maybe this thing between them wasn’t appropriate but since when she was known for follow rules?

“Nice speech, Tendo Maya. Now, let’s try to reach the others… I’m starving.”

 

They hear the sounds of engines coming towards them, a military truck was approaching them at a violent speed, abruptly stopping a few meters ahead. Maya and Claudine quickly pulled out their swords, preparing for another battle.

The doors of the truck opened, two people coming from it. Claudine cursed at the sight of them.

 

Captain Yukishiro Akira, got out of the vehicle, followed by one of her subordinates, Meifan. Two more went out of the truck. Yachiyo, that pink-haired woman who had almost shot her during a battle and that tiny brat whose name Claudine failed to remember… Michiru?

Maya took a step ahead, protecting Claudine. Akira raised her hands.

“Captain Saijo Claudine, Tendo Maya! We are not here to fight!”  She said, glaring at them. “I came here to offer you a deal!”

“A deal?!” Claudine replied skeptical. “Since when the mighty Yukishiro Akira deals with criminals!?” Claudine yelled ready to use the last bullet on her gun to blow Akira’s head.

Akira lowered her hands. “Since one of your allies has taken someone important to us.”

“What?!”

“Tendo-san!” That young girl exclaimed, about to cry. “The Rinmeikan’s Captain has kidnapped Shiori! Please help her!”

Claudine remembered that blonde officer that is often seen with Yukishiro.

“So what?! Why would I help you?!" 

Akira nods. “Because I know the names of the people that sabotaged your recent operation. That’s why you came here, isn’t it?  And they are planning to steal your ship as soon as it’s ready.”

Claudine and Akira stared at each other.

“If you help me and I will give the names of all the traitors that are in your fleet. ” Akira declared.

Maya stares at them, still ready for a fight.

A critical moment, a complicated decision but she can recognize the fear on Yukishiro Akira’s eyes. Claudine lowered her gun. It was all about taking risks and follow her instincts.

“All right. Let’s make a deal.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Claudine had no choice but to accept the deal that Yukishiro had offered. They had been outnumbered and were short on ammo after their escape from the military base. Still, the fact that Claudine arranged a meeting with Captain Tomoe while Maya would go back to the fortress,  had put Maya in a bitter mood.

"I don't think this is a good idea." Maya complained although her voice was only audible enough for Claudine. Claudine smiled, wondering if Maya would complain the Lord Commander’s decisions when she was a Guard.

They were on The Black Dragon's deck, not far from Aomori's port . The Radiant Aurora was sailing next to them. It was a new, faster ship with enough cannons to provide enough defense. The pirates weren't fond of having navy officers on board, especially high-ranked officers like Yukishiro but Claudine thought she could earn something out of this complication.

Yukishiro had told her she had traitors at her island, ready to steal her main ship, The Amethyst. She had been left out of the operation but she knows that the Grand Admiral had already paid them and had promised not only money but also military positions if they helped the navy. They were planning to steal it as soon as they finish it and the ship was nearly ready.

"I am fond of bad ideas, you know..." Claudine replied, apparently not concerned about the risks.

Maya frowns. "What if Yukishiro is plotting something? I still can't believe...!"

"She's not." Claudine replied, once again with confidence.

"Based on what? It's fine to rely on your intuition but..."

"Even someone like Yukishiro has a weakness if you have to put a name on it."

Maya stared now at Yukishiro, who seemed restless, pacing around the ship, muttering things.

"That officer must be someone really important for her and her crew." Claudine commented. "And quite important if Tomoe almost refused to talk to me about her..."

Claudine had literally begged Tomoe to listen to her. Her request had been simple, a proof that the officer Shiori Yumeoji was alive and well. She sent a picture of the officer, now wearing the uniform of the Rinmeikan crew. Claudine sent a message to Tomoe from Yukishiro, pleading that she would even surrender to Tomoe in exchange for Shiori.

Maya looked back at her. "What I should do then?"

Claudine had sent a message, encrypted to her navigators, telling them to stay alert. Mahiru, Karen and Hikari were the ones she trusted the most. She was also quite sure that Amemiya and her crew of builders were not trying to betray her, they had plenty of reasons support her operation against the Queen, since their families had been victims of her ruthless decisions.

"Are you concerned that this might be a trap?" Claudine asks almost playfully, leaning closer to Maya to fix the black tie around her shirt's collar. "Well...if anything happens will you avenge me, Tendo Maya?"

"Don't you dare to say that!" Maya glared at her.

"But the possibility is high, Maya. Anyone could betray me, I could be shot or stabbed. Even you could be..."

"No." Maya interrupts her, her violet eyes staring at her with unyielding determination. "…Especially now that I found you!"

Claudine couldn’t make a joke of these heartfelt words and simply places a hand on her shoulder.

"You better not fail me, Tendo Maya." Her words might sound harsh but her smile was warm.

"And you better be safe until we see each other, Saijo Claudine."  Maya replied with the same smile.


 

The sounds of screams and gunshots awoke Maya. She struggles to shake away her dizziness. Around her, she recognized Mahiru and two girls who were helping her to get cover on the shipyard's building. The last thing she remembered before falling unconscious was that Crow yelled the others to shoot at them and something explodes right at her side.

These bloody traitors! Maya thought,  her mind now filled with rage.

Yukishiro was right, half of Claudine's crew were plotting against her. They probably were waiting for a chance to take her ship and her money. They probably thought she had millions in her vault but most of them ignored that she had spent almost all her fortune on the ship and buying houses in Japan and France.

Maya had returned to the island aboard The Radiant Aurora and found the place with the usual activities, nothing suspicious. Until someone reported that the shipyard's building, located at the eastern side of the island had no electricity.

That’s when the chaos started.  Right when she was about to ask Crow to check on the situation, that bastard ordered the others to point their guns at Maya, Mahiru and the builders. She thanked God for letting her cheat death once again.

Maya stood up against the pleas of the others that she should wait but she dismissed them and quickly assessed the situation. They had taken control of the main tower and they were now attacking the shipyard, where Amemiya and her crew of builders were struggling to keep the attackers away using their guns and rifles. Then, someone upstairs yelled they were trying to contact Maya.

The Shipyard's communications room had a telcom connected to the main tower.

“I know you are there, Tendo. I know that Saijo has told you about the vault. There's no need to more people dying today.” Crow’s voice could be heard from the telcom.

That bastard had spied on them, maybe when they had walked around the island after Claudine had recovered. Claudine had explained that she kept her money at a place located at the western side of the island, inside a cave with a unique security system. Maya had wondered what she had meant, however with so many things going on, Claudine hadn't been able to.

“If you don't surrender I will kill more people. I wonder if there will be any crew left when Saijo comes back.” He mocked her. All that Maya wanted to strangle that bastard.

"All right!"  She can't let them cause more deaths and destruction. "I will surrender but release them!" She growls.

"I don't think you are in the position to demand anything. Especially when poor little Asami's life depends on you! Five minutes, Tendo." The communication stopped.

Maya could imagine the terror on that young girl's face. She was shaking with fury. But she can't her emotions to cloud her judgment. Claudine had told her a couple of secrets about the island.

Maya gets down where the rest of them were trying to get ready for another wave of gunshots.

"Listen! I have no real authority to give you orders. But your priority is to keep the ship safe. If the worst happens, destroy it. It can't be stolen."

Amemiya nods. "We are ready. But we can last only for another assault, Tendo. And while we are ready to die, We don’t want to die before we can defeat the Navy."

Maya nods. "Is there a chance to send a distress signal?"

"We already sent a message to The Black Dragon through an emergency channel." Masai replied. "That's where Captain Saijo should be."

"Good. We don't want to attract any unwanted attention. Maya turns to Mahiru. "Listen carefully. There’s a passage towards the fortress at the storage room that connects to Saijo's library. At the fourth pillar, there's a switch at the floor, almost hidden.”

Amemiya and Masai looked at each other surprised.

"So that's how Saijo appeared out of nowhere....clever…" Amemiya commented.

"The tunnels are connected to each tower. Try to reach Aijo and Kagura. We can pray that also Daiba and Hoshimi aren't captured yet.” Maya continued.

Mahiru nods and like the rest of the pirates there, she was afraid that Tendo Maya would sacrifice her life for everyone, and for the ship they were trying to protect. Mahiru starts to run towards the stairs leading to the basement, where the storage room was, alongside two girls.

Maya ditches her sword and her gun and goes out of the building, raising her hands and walking ahead. She can't let them take The Amethyst. Claudine would be furious if that happens. All her efforts would be destroyed and she would be easy prey for the rest of the pirates. She can’t break her promise to her, her oath to herself.

As the sun is fading into the horizon, Maya walked with determination, almost illogically arrogant and powerful in each step. Maya thought that perhaps it was time to receive a payback for her betrayal. Perhaps she would die not on the battlefield, but executed like so many times she had done it in the name of the Queen.

But she had to trust Mahiru, who should be reaching the fortress, in Aijo and Kagura’s strength. In Daiba and Hoshimi’s bravery and solidarity. In Amemiya’s crew that was ready to do anything to protect their ship.

She thought of Claudine, always ready, always willing to do the impossible. And she wasn't going to let anything or anyone to harm her.

“I’m here and I’m going  to overcome this!” She thought with defiance.

 


 

Miles away, Claudine had finished her part of the deal. The Rinmeikan arrived at the coordinates given by Captain Tomoe, allowing her, Yukishiro and her friends to aboard. Claudine wasn't expecting that the officer Shiori was the sister of one of the pirates and especially Yukishiro and her friends defecting the Navy.

It had been quite awkward to witness a former enemy, thanking her for helping them. And it was equally awkward when Tomoe thanked her. She had done it because she basically had no choice, either way.

While Claudine had accepted these words, she thought that Maya would make a few clever comments, annoying her at the end.

She can't shake off the feeling that something is not right.  The radio silence coming from her fortress had lasted for hours and she wonders if another storm has affected the communication systems. The Black Dragon's Captain, Kurosaki, had said it would take a couple of hours to reach her island and she can't stay calm. Claudine almost jumped when Futaba announced that there was a message.

"An emergency message from The Amethyst ."

" Quoi?! But...!"

She rushed back to the bridge, where the Captain Kurosaki, an old man, was giving orders to put the Ship's engines into maximum speed.

"The fortress has been compromised. We are defending the ship. Send help." One of the navigators repeated to her. "It has been sending the same message for the last ten minutes."

Claudine felt as if something had hit her on the chest. They hadn't waited for the ship to be finished. Perhaps they saw an opportunity when she was gone and she only had taken a couple of ships with her.

"Maya..."

Claudine feels her guts sinking into her stomach. "Captain! How long until we can reach the island?" Claudine asks.

"One hour, Captain Saijo. We can only pray that the winds and the current might help us." The man, despite his years and experience, looks worried.

"All right, we are counting on you. It's dangerous to broadcast for help. Other pirates might try to take advantage of the chaos. We need to secure the island." She tells him.

"Understood."

Claudine had to trust that her loyal comrades would be alive. She can't let the fear to cloud her thoughts. Tendo Maya was there and she had to trust in her strength and intelligence.

 


 

They were pointing their guns at her, almost afraid she would attack them. Maya thought it was quite funny this excessive display of power since she was unarmed and alone. Crow and another pirate called Ishida were leading the way. Both of them were among the crew's top pirates and Maya can only wonder why they had done this.

"Nothing personal, is this?" Maya asked him and one of them tried to shut her up but Crow yelled at that person.

"We can't stand against the Queen and you know it." He glared at her. "Yes, we sunk The Nautilus but I have seen the new ships that the Queen is fabricating. Ships that can sail underwater, new flying machines and all kinds of weapons!"

Maya smiled. Perhaps he has seen through the reports sent by Claudine about how the Queen was investing in all sorts of military investigations. "And this is why you did this?"

"Once you are a pirate you can't quit! Only by death!" Ishida yelled, furious. "But how could you possibly understand?!"

Crow walks towards her. "We were like you. Eager to prove ourselves, former soldiers treated like disposable tools. Until I found Saijo and I thought... I..." He suddenly was lost for words. "I get it. I get why she let you stay... None of us could be what you are..."

There were rage and bitter jealousy in his eyes. Maya remembered why Claudine kept her distance, not only because involving with a subordinate would be complicated but also it would provoke discontent among the others.

"You will ensure our exit from this place. And don't try anything stupid!" He warned her.

Maya remains silent when one of them is checking her for weapons. After they made sure she had no hidden weapons, they started to walk. Maya was leading the way, with Crow and five more people closely following her.  

Maya wonders if Claudine would be coming and if she does, she would be walking right to a trap.

However, her priority was to get out of this complication. She was confident she could kill all of them but unarmed would be extremely dangerous. Perhaps inside the cave, she would be able to find a weakness and turn the situation on her favor.

They left the fortress, walking for almost an hour among the forest located at the western side of the island. They reached an entrance at the mountains foot. One of them had turned on a lantern and Maya followed him.

She could hear how the pirates, except Ishida and Crow were discussing their plans of how they would spend the money. Maya trips on the floor on purpose. One of them yelled at her apparent clumsiness. Maya had taken a rock and quickly hides it in her pocket, standing up quickly.

"Hurry up, Tendo!" Crow yelled.

Maya keeps walking and they reached the end of the path, ending in a large chamber. Although Claudine had told her about this place, she had never seen it. The vault was a thick door made of steel, no visible locks but only three levers with a small keyboard that resembled of a piano. Above the keyboard and the levers, there was an inscription in French.

"Only those who can play the song to the stars can open the secrets of this vault. Fail to do so and the rage of heavens will fall upon you."

Maya smiled. It was a clever design and also poetic in its own way. Claudine had commented her with humor that someone would try to force their way through the vault, it would activate the explosives stored around the chamber. Maybe the chamber could be opened through a song played   

"Now, the combination! Crow urged her.

"It's not that easy with guns pointing at you!" Maya complained

"You better hurry!"

Maya glared at him but she knows he's just bluffing now.

"Fine! Just... let me remember. It's a complicated sequence!..." Maya wonders if she fails the combination, would It explode instantly? Maybe that would give her the chance to escape but the risk was too high.

"What was that?!" one of them asks. They heard footsteps coming and Maya took her chance.

She throws the rock at one of them, moving swiftly to hide behind one of the pirates to grab him and takes his gun, starting to shoot at them, using his body as a shield. Crow falls back but he never was able to fire, a bullet was shot right through his head, by Ishida himself.

The pirate points his gun at her and she knows she probably has not a  single bullet left.

"You better stop. I don't want you to die before I might get my reward..." he warned her.

"Reward?" She asks him and simply nods.

Maya hears several footsteps, wondering if the people coming was an enemy, maybe another enemy pirate or the navy was coming.

"Well done, I was almost worried that we had to intervene."

Maya recognizes that voice and in any other occasion she would be happy to hear it. However, now she wasn't sure of how to feel at the sight of her father surrounded by four soldiers.

Masaki Tendo, former Captain of the Royal Guards stands there, with his old uniform, holding a lantern and exhaling with relief.

"Father..." Maya whispers.

He takes a look at her. He seemed older than the last time she saw him almost a year ago. His brown hair was fading into white. His eyes, dark unlike Maya's, showed signs of weariness.

"My child. It's time to return home. Your mother is waiting for you." he smiles.

"I made my part of the deal!" Ishida said, interrupting the moment between the father and his daughter.

"But of course, sir." Masaki Tendo looks at him with a smile. "Let me compensate you for your efforts."

The four men surrounding Tendo shoots at Ishida who couldn't defend himself from the bullets fired from their rifles. Maya stared at his corpse with horror, his face had been reduced to a mess of flesh and blood.

"I'm sorry, my dear child...." Maya's father approached her, placing a hand on her shoulder.  

"Let's go home, shall we?"

 


 

The Black Dragon had spotted an unknown ship's signal coming from the western side of the island but as soon as they tried to contact it, it identified itself as a merchant ship. It was highly suspicious and Captain Kurosaki warned Claudine that it could be a navy ship.

Claudine was most certain that it was a trap. Yukishiro had told her about an operation to capture her ship and probably kill her. Even so, she had to try to put order in her own fortress and protect her fleet and her friends. She thought of Maya and silently prays to God to protect her. Not that she was that religious or anything.

They hurried to aboard the boats, which were equipped with new and powerful motors. She got confirmation that another five ships were coming to help her. Around twenty boats were around them, ready to engage in battle, setting foot on the decks around the shipyard.

Claudine, followed by Futaba and Kaoruko and the rest of the crew managed to get rid of the attackers, some of them trying to run away before falling victim of the bullets from their rifles.

Amemiya told them that Mahiru had managed to get into the secret tunnels and she had sneaked a few people outside. Maya had surrendered to protect them. Claudine wanted to skin alive these traitors.

"I want Crow and Ishida alive, Go!" Claudine ordered them. One group would go through the tunnels and the others were going to to advance. Claudine and the others had reached the fortress when an explosion coming from the main tower stopped them for a moment.

"That was from the communication tower! Futaba yelled.

"Come on!" Claudine urged them to advance. When they entered they found Daiba Nana and Hoshimi Junna coming from the fire, helping those who had been captured. They told her that Hikari and Karen were at the tower, helping the last ones trapped by the fire. But they didn't know what had happened to Maya.

"Let me talk to her!" Claudine notices that Asami is trying to reach her but she's being held by another pirate. She makes a signal to him to let her pass.

"Captain! They took Tendo-san to open a vault!" Asami frantically says. "Ishida, Crow and others!"

Claudine immediately left, running with all her strength possible, her legs burning and her lungs were felt heavier than ever before in her life. After running for a long while, she approached the entrance of the cave. She spotted something purple.

It was Maya's purple bow, now a simple ribbon.

Claudine holds the ribbon with her shaking hands. Thousands of thoughts happened in her mind, terrible possibilities that frightened her.

“Maya…” She mutters.

She blamed herself. Maya had wanted to stay with her and she had sent her directly into a trap set only for herself.

She heard people coming, Futaba and Kaoruko, exhausted by the effort, looking around. Futaba, with others went inside to check the cave. Kaoruko had stayed with her but she had no idea of what to say to Claudine.

Claudine didn't bother to enter. She instinctively knows that Maya isn't there.

A moment later they returned.

"Tendo isn't there! The others are dead. Qrow included!" Futaba reported. "And there's a corpse...it looks like it could be Ishida but...these wounds. It seem like a entire regiment shoot down that bastard!"

"But then where's Tendo-han?" Kaoruko whispered.

Claudine holds the ribbon in her hands and remembers what Captain Kurosaki had told her about that suspicious ship at the western side. Claudine stands up and now runs frantically towards the sea.

There was a single ship, sailing away in direction towards the south. Claudine clutched the ribbon in her hands.


 

Maya's father wasn't the most tender man but now, Masaki Tendo had hugged her daughter with happiness once they had boarded the ship, The Soaring Hawk , property of the Tendo clan. It was used to transport her parents every time they had to visit their relatives at the south.

They were now in a comfortable cabin. "This is your room, for now my beloved daughter. You must be exhausted and hungry. I have brought some of your favorite baumkuchen!"  He smiled at her but Maya couldn't reciprocate the gesture.

She could only think of the island, of her friends and Claudine. Could she be able to return only to find that the place had been severely destroyed? To find out that most of her crew had betrayed her? She had to be safe. Futaba and Kaoruko were with her. She wasn't alone.

"Maya...what's wrong?" Her father inquired. All that she wanted to hate him for take her away.

"Why?" She asked him. "I told you how I had defected! I sent you a message!"

Masaki stared at her for a long moment with a frown in his face.

"I know exactly what you did. You betrayed your oath to our Queen and the responsibilities towards your clan. As a soldier I can't forgive you. But as a father I can't let my only child to stray from the right path!"

Maya scowls. "The right path! There's nothing right about what we have done, no matter how good it might sound. The noble and brave Tendos who have followed the Queen's whims. Do you know how many I have killed? How many I have slaughtered just because they were possible conspirators?! I impaled an entire clan and the youngest was a teenager!"

Masaki nods. "We have committed atrocities, it's true. And now you seem to do the same for a inmoral pirate!"

Maya was shaking, doing her best to suppress her fury. "Don't...!"

"Saijo Claudine. The only child from a former officer who tried to sell information to the rebels. His daughter became a criminal that now dares to threaten our kingdom alongside her allies! Someone who disrupts the order and peace that our ancestors have been defending with their lives! Is this what you want to be, a criminal?!"

Maya remains silent. Her father couldn't possible understand why Claudine had ended up being a pirate, nor the struggle the others had to endure.

Her father steps forward. "I understand your confusion, Maya. Perhaps you found yourself sympathizing with your rival, with her bravery and all her alluring ideas about freedom. And most certainly with her beauty!"

Maya's eyes are cold and detached but her father knows that she's just defending herself.

"You don't have to pretend. I'm quite aware of your... past relationship with another woman. Who also ended up being a spy. Yanagi Koharu, now under the command of the former Admiral Yakumo. Yakumo, now another dishonorable pirate!"

Maya clenched her fists. All her life had been like this, under the intense scrutiny of her parents. Even away and working in the military, Maya felt as if she couldn't escape from being a Tendo.

Masaki stepped back towards the table.

"Your mother cried when we found it out. I reassured her that it was just a phase and you would mature and end up doing what's natural and correct for you and for the clan but this..."

Maya was shaking with rage and indignation, and in the end with absolute sadness. How little her father understood her and how trapped she was just because she was Tendo Maya.

"Think about your mother, Maya. Do you want the Tendo house ruined?! You are the most capable to become...!

"I am a woman! I can't be the leader!" Maya had never raised her voice to her father before. Now there's tears in her eyes but her voice still firm.

"When l was twelve you told my grandfather with great pain that my mother couldn't have more children!"

Maya's father couldn't hide his surprise.

"Both of you tried, you told him! You were worried that I was your only child! And my grandfather not only dared to blame my mother, He even told you to have a child with someone else! That a woman couldn't be strong enough to be the heir of the Tendo!"

Each word had been pronounced with fury and pain. The pain of  not being good enough.

"Maya..." Her father whispered,witnessing how Maya shed tears.

"I swore that I would be better than you, than him! than anyone!" She growls.

"And you did. You made us proud! My father was wrong about everything he said that night!  You have shined more than anyone before! What you did at Hanasaki was extraordinary, Maya! And you are throwing everything away! " He replied frustrated. "Have you ever thought what would happen to us if you keep on doing this?! We have one last chance from our merciful queen!"

He steps forward. "You will return to Tokyo with  that criminal's head, my dear child. For your redemption, Maya"

Once again, the chains had been imposed over her. Maya felt like a bird, caged by her own family.

If she refused, her family would suffer the consequences. How naïve of her, thinking she could escape, that she would be able to stay next to Claudine, it was all that she could think...

Her Claudine, she can't let them hurt her. No one, not ever those who shared her own blood. But she also had failed her, she had promised her to take care of her island, of her ship and her crew.

It was time to endure the hardest decision in her life.

 


 

At was late at night at the island. The fire at the main tower had been extinguished. The damages caused to the building and the communication system were significative. Half of the crew had been was killed, several had been wounded. Claudine had now only a quarter of the crew in her island and only a dozen ships.

With their communications system damaged, Claudine had no choice but to use the telcom installed at The Amethyst. Amemiya and the builders were doing the last fixes to the generator and the defense systems.

She had no choice but to ask for a favor. Her message had been sent a couple of hours ago and she had gathered her main crew in a meeting. Kaoruko informed them that after investigating, they found that the ship that had been spotted at the western side of the island was now on route to Aomori.

"It has been identified as The Soaring Hawk and...it belongs to the Tendo clan." Kaoruko declares.

Claudine frowns. "I'm sure Maya was there. She... she left this ribbon behind..." Claudine's voice was filled with concern.  

"Yukishiro told us that someone at the navy had received permission from the Grand Admiral to resort to negotiations with certain pirates. Yukishiro she was kept in the dark about it until recently."

"They must have been paying Crow to spy on us." Futaba said.

"And perhaps Tendo's family, being so important, managed to take opportunity of the occasion" Kaoruko concluded.

Claudine holds Maya's ribbon on her hand. At least there's a possibility that Maya is safe.

Mahiru entered the room. "Captain.. A message from Captain Yakumo..."

"My dear Kuro-chan. I'm truly heartbroken and upset with the betrayal of some of your crew. I am more than willing to offer my best pirates to help you retrieve your subordinate. “

"Did you just asked Yakumo to help you?!" Futaba was surprised. They know that this would have a price. But Claudine was determined.

"The fortress has been nearly destroyed. Fix it will take months. Prepare the ship to sail as soon as it's ready." Claudine commanded. "We will start the first part of the Operation étoile."

"But Kuro-han! What about!?" Kaoruko asks.

"Kaoruko, use all the money left in the vault as you may consider. Futaba, make sure to get everyone ready. I have to deal with this by myself."

"We will help you." Nana smiled and Junna nods. "Maya-chan had to leave against her will, I'm sure."

Claudine stares at the purple ribbon in her hand and puts it in the inner pocket of her jacket, close to her heart and stands up. If she wanted to lead the final attack against the castle she needed to make sure that Maya was safe. Even if she decides to go back with her family... Even if their blades would have to collide once again...

"I have to talk with that annoying woman first..."












Chapter Text

Thousands of diamonds were spread all over the sea, shining under a glowing moon. The hypnotic sound of rolling waves, crashing against the shore. Even though it was a cold night, Claudine had decided to invite Maya to take a walk after dinner.

However, during the conversation, Maya got distracted on what Claudine had been explaining her about Paris and how beautiful it was at night.

 “Are you listening to me, Tendo Maya?” Claudine asks slightly irritated.

“I’m sorry, I was just…thinking..." Maya replied.

“Really? About what, exactly?"

Maya smiled, rather shy, unable to tell her that she really wanted to kiss her in such beautiful setting, or in this very moment if she had to be truly honest.

"I was just thinking…um…"

Maya was quite afraid to upset Claudine. She respected her and knows she can’t overstep her boundaries and ruin the trust she had placed in her, this sort of friendly rivalry, if she had to define it.

“Ugh…can you be even more infuriating?!”

Claudine in the end, had knocked Maya gently on her forehead, with a smile on her lips.

 

That memory seemed to happen long time ago…

 

Maya looks up, as she stands in front of her old mirror, inside her room. That doppelganger who is wearing that Royal Guard uniform stares back at her with weary eyes after sleepless nights.

 

She hears noises, footsteps passing by the hallway. Taking a look outside of her window, she spots the guards, trained and paid by her father, walking around in constant alert.  Tonight was a full moon and it gave her a better look of the surroundings. Maya wonders if she's really at home and not inside a prison.

 

Tears had been shed the first night she came back, anxious and tired after the battle, desperate to get out of this place, to know what might have happened. Maya is now determined to stay calm and face her disgrace with was left of her pride.

 

Her greatest regret was that she had to leave the island on its most terrible time.  She had failed Claudine, forced to leave when she needed her the most.

 

Would Claudine be mad at her? Disappointed? In her imagination, the fierce stare of Claudine, instead of being threatening was a source of comfort. She would rather be hated than be forgotten, than being left behind. Maya had prayed, hoping that her friends and those who were still loyal to Claudine would be able to succeed, that Claudine would have arrived in time to help them. She had dropped her ribbon in hopes that someone would have find it and tell Claudine she was gone, that perhaps she was still alive. That perhaps she could look for her and steal her away from here.

 

Maya discards that thought. She tells herself, she’s not some kind of helpless damsel, waiting to be saved. She could fight her way through the guards her father had positioned around the mansion, even if she had to tear down this house. However, it was easier said than done. She was the thoroughbred who has been born to serve, to keep the legacy of so many generations before her. She also had failed her parents.

 

Maya feels a sharp pain in her chest. She regrets these thoughts. This is her home, after all these are her parents, she loves them and they are doing what they think is right, risking their lives to secure a better future for the clan.

 

Maya now glances at the sword that lays on the table, a katana that had been passed to each leader of the Tendo clan. She takes the blade and unsheathes it to contemplate her own eyes reflected on it with regret and sorrow. For years she thought she lacked everything needed to hold this sword and now being able to be recognized as the successor still did not brought any satisfaction nor any sense of victory. Maybe if her grandfather was alive she would have been able to look at him with a smile filled with arrogance.

 

There's someone calling for her. Maya quickly sheathes the sword and opens the door.

 

"Mother..." She mutters, stepping back.

 

If Maya had her father's hair and undeniable resemblance to him, she had inherited her eyes from her mother and according to her father, her determination when it comes to achieve goals. Her mother, Sayuri Tendo had married Masaki Tendo during the war, a former lieutenant whom had fought during the last war against the Emperor. They were truly loyal to the Queen whom they considered, she had been blessed by the gods to rule this country.

 

Her mother had cried when she arrived home. Maya felt guilty for causing such worry to her mother. The last time she saw her crying like that was when she was ten years old and she got lost into the forest for a day.

 

Her mother enters the room, and Maya takes another step backwards, expecting another reprimand for her recent actions.

“I’m so relieved that our Queen decided that you would keep the same rank.” Her mother stared at her uniform. “I remember when you got promoted... how proud you were…”

 

Maya witness that nostalgic look in her mother’s eyes with sadness.

“I…I have been trying to understand why…” Her mother’s eyes are almost pleading. “Why did you decided to leave your comrades, the rank you fought so hard for…?!  Why!? Why did you have to get involved with that woman, with that criminal?!" 

 

Maya was expecting this, the accusation, these questions, these offensive comments. But even if she explained her reasons, they would never understand her.

 

“I know that this is not the first time you are involved with another woman!  I thought you just…ended up fascinated with these girls because they were like you and I know you don’t get close to other people so easily!

 

“Mother…Please don’t...” Maya whispers.

 

"You can't let these desires to cloud your judgment! Especially for someone you just met! What kind of life...?! What kind of future would you achieve if you keep on with this madness?!" Her mother shrieked.

 

Maya was struggling her urge to reply, to shout back at her mother but she remains calm and silent.

 

“You told me you would help our Queen to get rid of people like her, criminals and rebels that dares to ruin our peace, Maya! Have you forgotten all the things I told you?!”

 

“I told you exactly what you needed to hear.” Maya finally replied and her mother stares at her in disbelief. “All I did was for my pride.... Because I knew it was the only way that I would be seen...that I would be respected” Maya confessed.

Maya felt relief by speaking the truth. Her mother stepped back as if she couldn’t recognize her own daughter.

“…The thrill of these duels…and then I wasn’t alone...” Maya remembers how content she felt after her first duel with Claudine.

 

Her mother was about to retort when a servant interrupted them, telling them that the guests were waiting for them. Reluctantly, Maya's mother turned around for Maya to follow her, finally being able to leave her room, after being carefully watched by the servants. No one had dared to disobey her father's instructions of not providing any way of communicating with anyone outside the house.

Maya noticed that many people were coming and going from the main hall, in which her father used to host dinners regularly with his colleagues from the army or business partners. When Maya enters the hall, she couldn't hide her indignation. Her grip on her sword tightened with rage almost forgetting to barely kneel like her mother did.

 

"Please, raise."

Maya stood up and took another look at the scene before her. Her father was sitting down at the table with the Lord Commander and a group of generals (most of them had never stepped foot on the battlefield), and the most powerful person in the entire Kingdom of Japan, The Queen.

 

Queen Souda , the one she was supposed to follow and defend. The one who probably was setting all of this for her trial and punishment. The Queen Souda barely show signs of aging, looking the same as she appears in her oldest pictures. She was dressed in a red and white kimono, golden flowers embroidered on her sleeves and her dark hair loosened, with that crown on her head. Maya felt a jolt of distress at the sight of the Imperial Crown. It wasn’t the first time, though.

 

"Good to see you alive and well, Major Tendo." The Queen says with a smile. Perhaps the rumors the crown weren't true, Maya thought as she forced herself to adopt a calm face, avoiding to stare at her directly.

 "I hope these… pirates weren't rough with you" The Queen says, with evident disgust.

"Thanks for your concern, your highness. But I must say that these pirates weren't anything but kind towards me."  Maya replied. “They aren’t savages nor uncultured pigs.”

 

Maya's mother whispered her name with disdain and her father attempted to apologize in her behalf but the Queen raises a hand stopping him. The Lord Commander merely continued drinking his tea.

"You ended up fighting alongside Saijo Claudine, didn't you? " asks the Queen.

Maya’s parents were visibly nervous.

“Yes.” Maya admitted.

The officers started to whisper things among them, except the Lord Commander and the Queen.

“Tell me more about her…” The Queen asks. “Many have said she’s brutal.”

“She can be if the occasion demands it." Maya smiled.

“But even with that, apparently half of her fleet has betrayed her. Do you think she could still represent a threat to me?"

Maya clenched her fists, and struggling to look calm. The Queen was testing her.

“I wouldn’t underestimate her..." Maya replied.

 

Souda smiled. “You respect her.... no. It is more than that. The anger on your eyes, the fervor when you think of her..."

Maya felt the piercing stares of everyone on her.

“I can't deny it. Her strength and bravery, her determination to accomplish her goals that surpasses many people that I have met. Even high ranked officers that bailed out when the army needed them the most!"

 

One of these generals stood up. “How dare you?!”

“Actually what Major Tendo says is true.” Another general said. “When we asked for support some people thought we were done for and showed up when it was too late!”

 

It had worked, Maya thought, trying to distract them with these comments.

"Maya! Why are you doing?!" Her father tried to stop her.

The Queen laughs and the Lord Commander made the slightest of smiles, clearly amused.

“You certainly have changed, Major Tendo. I wonder if that was the result of being with these rebels.” The Lord Commander asks.

“Please, your highness, honorable Generals… my daughter….” Maya's father tried to apologize, once again.

 

"Let her speak..." The Queen said. "Many have expressed their supposed loyalty but in dire times, many have acted like cowards. Deep inside they want to slice my throat! A bit of honesty is always appreciated. But say, Tendo Maya... Have you considered that the lives of your dear parents are in my hands? Did you think of that when you killed your own comrades in order to protect a criminal?"

 

The tension in that room increased, now it was unbearable to Maya. She thought of unleashing her sword in a swift attack. She can feel the presence of those who belong to the Black Chorus, ready to attack her and her parents. Maya feels suffocated, unable to answer.

 

The Queen smiles with delight.

"There are people that has that power, to enchant others... And some of them come from the most unlikely of places... I must admit that not only you but also Saijo Claudine have surpassed my expectations. Even for someone who has received Yakumo's teachings!"

 

Maya wonders why Souda speaks of Yakumo like that. If anything, she must loathe her for her treason, for leaving right after they had won the war.

 

"Uniting the pirates has been something quite remarkable, if you consider how difficult is to keep people in control… But still, everything is happening according to your calculations..." The Queen glances at the Lord Commander. "I think this duel will be interesting enough to witness, don't you think?"

 

Maya now stares at the Lord Commander whose usually inexpressive face is lively and there's an eerie spark in his emerald eyes. "A duel of fates... I understand..."

 


 

 

Seven Hours ago.

 

Everything has a price and Saijo Claudine knows it too well. The most important things cannot be bought or sold. That's why she had done everything to keep her parents away from Japan and protecting them the best she could. But then she had ended up trapped in a maze of her own creation, willing to take revenge for a future that was taking away from her and her family.

 

Now she fears that Maya's family might end up dead just because Maya had dared to show compassion towards her even if she was her enemy. How she wanted to yell at her for being so reckless and then...

 

"Do you think she's going to help us? I have heard that Yakumo isn't exactly the type to help others... so easily..." Daiba Nana asks as they are in a car around the streets of Tokyo.

"I told her I would give her a good compensation for her aid." Claudine lied. The truth is that she had no idea what to do. But if her intuition was right, Yanagi Koharu would perhaps intervene and ask her sensei to help her. After all she and Maya had been together and perhaps...

 

Claudine was frowning so hard that Nana and Junna were starting to worry even more. Before any of them could ask her, the car stopped in front of The Brilliant Apple. It was a bar of dubious reputation located at the slums of Tokyo. Somehow it managed to stay on business for generations, despite the wars and the economic crisis. Officers, criminals and well-known rebels were often seen there, as if the place was a zone of tolerance.

 

When Claudine enters the place, followed by Daiba Nana and Hoshimi Junna, many faces stared at them cautiously. Even with that loud music and the chatter coming from some customers as they gambled in a few tables away, they managed to get attention from almost everyone. One of the bartenders recognizes them and asks them to go upstairs, the security guard letting them pass.

 

They went upstairs, to a terrace that provided a good view of the city and the nearby coast. A group of people with the uniform of the Seiran crew were there. One of them was playing the piano with great skill, the notes flowing in harmony. Claudine tells Nana and Junna to wait for her and she continues to walk.

 

Yanagi Koharu remains alone at one table, apart for the group, staring at the city. She notices Claudine's presence and stands up. Koharu greeted her with a simple bow that Claudine replied the same way.

"Have a seat, Captain." Koharu points the chair in front of her and Claudine took a seat.

"Yakumo-sensei has informed me of what happened. At least we know that Tendo-san is safe at her family’s mansion"

Claudine simply nods.

"There was a ship that sailed away from my island during the attacks. It belongs to the Tendo family. How complicated would be to get in their mansion?"

"The place is heavily secured."

 

Claudine leans on her chair, a headache was quickly building up.

"There's something else." Koharu continued. "Maya's parents have invited The Queen to their house. One of the servants told us that they are about to announce the engagement of their daughter with one of the Queen's nephews.

"Quoi!?  Claudine roared and stood up, hitting the table. Her eyes were lightened with anger. "Engagement?! but...but... why...?!"

 

Everyone had turned their heads to them, even the one who was playing the piano had stopped. Koharu suppressed a smile and the rest of the crew looked away and the musician resumed his play.

"If you ask me, this is clearly a trap." Koharu mentioned.

Claudine sat down, still fuming. The headache was there, like daggers stabbing her head. Koharu finally gave her a sympathetic smile.

"Do you need a drink?"

"No!"

"I see...” Koharu shrugs. “But then…will you kidnap Tendo-san?"

Claudine threw a death glare towards Koharu. "Wouldn't you do the same?!"

"Only if Yakumo-sensei orders me so."

The song finally ends and the others were cheering, asking the performer to play another one.

 

"There's a chance that Maya might end up doing what her father wants." Koharu smile fades. Claudine wonders if she has any regrets.

"Maya is the only successor. Not only to carry on with the legacy of generations of guards but also to take control of the business that her father is investing in. Her father has the business of importing and producing weapons for the army. So, imagine how convenient would be to have the approval of the Queen and a loyal daughter married with one of her relatives."

 

Claudine would never understand how someone could use their children to arrange marriages, as if they were things that could be easily sold or traded only to achieve more power or money.

 

"What did Tendo-san tell you about her father and mother?" Koharu asks and Claudine recalled a late night conversation with Maya about their families. Maya had described her family as highly strict and absolutely devoted to the royal family. It certainly bothered Maya, although she never said it clearly.

 

"They both fought at the war, from the beginning they were supporting the Queen against the Emperor. All because they believed she had been blessed by the gods. They witnessed her power at battle or something like that."

"Probably they saw her wielding the crown..." Koharu mumbled but Claudine was still too annoyed to think of anything else than the fact that they would sell her own daughter to a man.

 

"This is it!" Claudine yelled once again and despite feeling her head stabbed. "I will enter into that house and take her with me, even if I have to tie her up!" Claudine swears and this time Koharu can't help but to muffle her laugh with her hand.

"What's so funny?"

"I thought I would be jealous of you but actually it's quite the opposite." Koharu replied. "You really love her that much, don't you? "

Claudine blushed. "I...I... I have a debt towards her, she saved my life!"

Koharu now looks worried, almost sad.

"Is that so? I honestly thought you were together and not some sort of temporary affair..."

Claudine frowns. Probably Koharu was remembering that day in which both of them ended up sleeping together in a cheap hotel.

"Look... I was..."

"You weren't drunk. And perhaps I was, but we were lonely..."

"And horny..." Claudine whispered, not proud of that but Koharu simply smiled.

"You left first without a goodbye. But that was fine, since we barely knew each other. What I mean is... we could die the next day and not be able to express what we truly feel or to let ourselves experience something that power or money can't buy for us."

Claudine stared at her.

"Then do you still...?"

Claudine hated herself for such an impertinent question but she had to ask it. It was apparent that they were alike in certain aspects and it only made her curious (and jealous), since saw them speaking during the party.

 

"I have a debt that I wish to pay as well." Koharu replied with the same type of infuriating, conceited smile that reminds her of Maya.

“Fine…” Claudine frowns.

"It lasted only for a while and we were different back then." Koharu explained. "Maya would have never left the Guard at that time, she was determined to excel in her tasks and I... I had made an oath to my clan and my sensei..."

 

Claudine stays silent as Koharu continued.

"I had a mission and I wouldn't have entered into that place without Maya’s help. She took the challenge gladly. But the truth is... that I used her."

"To enter into that chamber, and see if that crown was there." Claudine continued.

"She told you."

Claudine crosses her arms. "And then you left with the info to give it to Yakumo-sensei. I get it."

Claudine couldn't blame her for her choices.

 

"Back then I could sense the pressure that she tried so hard to conceal, the expectations placed on her. “  Koharu speaks after a moment of silence. “That's why... I ask you to take care of Maya. And prepare yourself for the worst outcome."

 

Claudine knows that Koharu is trying to tell her something.

"There's something else, isn't it?"

"Yes. But I'm not the right person to speak of that."

 

Koharu says these words and she stands up. Claudine does the same, turning around to see the Seiran crew in a formation, as they greet their leader, Captain Yakumo.

 

Claudine wasn't expecting this. Yakumo must have a powerful reason to be here instead of waiting in her ship. Maybe it's because the Queen is not far from here or maybe there's something else.

 

After a brief salutation to her crew, Yakumo walks towards Claudine, both of them exchanging greetings.

"Have you give her the info, Koharu?" Yakumo asks and Koharu nods. "We have a tricky situation in our hands! But nothing we can't handle!"

Yakumo was in her usual good humor.

"The Queen is there. The black chorus are waiting for us." Koharu comments.

Maya had told Claudine about the special guards that only took orders from the Queen, a special division without ranks, outside of the structure of the Imperial Army.

"Have you ever seen them, Kuro-chan?"

"No" Claudine admitted.

"Well...they are demons. So this will be quite a show!"

 

Yakumo laughs and Claudine wished she could find humor to laugh but all that she could think of was how to protect Maya and her parents from them and the Queen.

"You sure look gloomy, Kuro-chan. Lift your spirit! We can't enter into battle with such mindset! Tendo Maya will need all your brilliance!"

She hated to admit it, but Yakumo was right. She can't let fear to hold her back.

 

After their meeting, Claudine, Nana and Junna followed Yakumo and Koharu to another vehicle, as they were about to go to the Tendo Mansion, located at the other side of the city.

In the afternoon, they met another group that belonged to Yakumo's crew. When they reached the top of the hill, Claudine couldn't help but to be impressed at the view. The mansion was more like a fortress, protected by several towers and encircled by three walls and a river that flows next to it. The building must have three floors and they could see the military vehicles entering the place.

 

Junna handed her the spyglass. "Look at the top of the house. Looks like what the Rinmeikan has in their ships. These antennas can intercept communications"

"Maybe we can create some sort of diversion." Nana says. "A couple of attacks on distant places... to confuse them..."

"It's a nice idea" Yakumo approached them. "But we have a full moon tonight and more chances to be spotted."

"Yes. But we have an excellent archer, right here" Nana pats Junna's shoulder.

As the others discuss the details on the strategy, Koharu walks towards Claudine.

"Something's on your mind" Koharu whispers.

Claudine looks at the mansion through the spyglass. "I should just walk to the main gate and tell the guards to let me in."

"How polite of you."

"This is Maya's home, after all. The noble and brave house of Tendo…"

"A princess who has been sealed into a tower... and a brave warrior who wants to save her. This could be a nice theme for a song…"

Claudine lowers the spyglass and laughs. "Except that I'm a criminal and I'm thinking we should just put a bunch of explosives and let chaos dictate our path!"

"I had a feeling you would suggest such bold move." Koharu shrugs.

"Yanagi-san... If anything happens..." Claudine's voice lowers with uncertainty.

"You better not enter into battlefield with such thoughts." Koharu echoed what Yakumo had told her.  "Maya wouldn't like to see you having second doubts. Even if you have to fight her."

 “We shall attack in a few hours, so we better get ready” Yakumo announced, interrupting them and they started to divide into teams that would pull hit and run attacks to confuse the guards. Claudine gazed at the moon, fearing that possibility might become true.

 


 

 

 

“A duel of fates… Yes, I understand.”

The Lord Commander wasn’t smiling but his eyes had a spark of anticipation that Maya had never witnessed on him. It was unsettling.

 

Maya’s parents thanked the Queen and she simply stays silent, as dinner was being served. Maya’s usually rich appetite was absent and she left her food almost untouched as they hear her father having one of his usual speeches to impress the guests.

Maya knows that The Lord Commander and the Queen are watching over her and that makes her uncomfortable. She has an urge to leave the room but instead she notices that the Queen is apologizing and leaving the table. Maya watches her passing by and one of the Queen's servants, her right hand asks her to follow her.

Maya is partially glad to leave that hall but she also dreads to speak with the Queen. Holding tightly that sword, she follows the servant to the gardens. The Queen is standing next to the pond, immersed in her own thoughts, the moonlight casting a spectral glow upon her. It was a strange sight to witness a woman whom usually radiates strength and confidence, staring at that pond as if she was looking for something, almost in distress.

 

"How does it feel to handle that sword, Tendo Maya?" The Queen asks. "Is it heavy?"

Maya looks at the katana that she's holding but she hesitates to answer.

"We do all sort of things for those we love." The Queen continues. "But sometimes these feelings can become our chains..." The Queen stares at her." Your father is proposing me to marry you to one of my nephews, did you know that?"

Maya was holding her sword tighter that she should.

 

"You are torn between your desires and your duty. That's not a good thing to have before a duel. " The Queen declares. "I have been in a similar situation...My family made me marry a man when I was sixteen. "

Maya was surprised to hear such things from The Queen. Most of her life had been surrounded into a mystery, from her origins and how a woman of a humble clan became a leader that won the war against the Emperor. The Queen had a couple of sons, windowed since long time ago, two brothers and five nephews but it was clear that she didn't trust any of them.

 

"They imposed their chains over me and I had to take my destiny, my life into my own hands. Do you understand?" The Queen said these words with an intensity that was strange.

 

"Your highness...  Why are you telling me this?" Maya dared to inquire.

"Because that's what the Giraffe wants."  The Queen Souda calmly replied.

"The Lord Commander...? But why...?" Maya was confused. She thought that the Queen perhaps sympathized with her situation but instead she gets this answer.

 

The Queen smiled. "This world is forged with sacrifices, blood, tears and lies." The Queen gazed to the moon. ".... this is only a stage to entertain the gods... Peace and war, love and hate... He wants to witness all of these…. And he wants to see what would you do, Tendo Maya..."

 

The next thing that Maya notices is the distant sound of explosions, gunshots and screams coming from inside the house. She hurried to gets inside and ran through the hallways as the servants hides and some guards starts to run in various directions.  When Maya reaches the hall's entrance, she witnesses how a Black chorus hits the floor loudly, blood pouring from their body.

 

A troop of Black Chorus are forced to step back, surrounding a figure whose golden hair shines upon the lights of the hall, wielding a sword that she knows quite well.

"Claudine..." It's all that Maya can whisper as the Black Chorus, in a unison, attack Saijo Claudine. 

 

Maya was about to unleash her sword when another figure joins the battle, slashing the enemies with precision and Maya recognizes Yanagi Koharu helping Claudine to defeat the enemies. Feelings of jealousy and sadness came over her but her thoughts were interrupted by a hand on her shoulder. Her father and her mother are next to her.

"Now it's the time, Maya! Prove your loyalty to your clan and your Queen. It's not too late to amend your mistakes." Her father declares and her mother stares at her, eyes pleading and clutching to her husband’s arm.

 

Maya stays silent and stares at the opposite side of the room. The generals are in one corner, only one of them was injured. The Lord Commander stays still, next to them, watching the whole battle with a slight smile. After an intense battle, the last one of the chorus fall on the ground, defeated and only Claudine and Koharu are standing, breathing heavily but intact.

"Ha! These chorus are just useless puppets!" Claudine boasted, pointing her sword to the Lord Commander.

 

The Lord Commander claps, to her surprise. "You are right, Saijo Claudine...these soldiers have lost their will, bounded to some else’s brilliance... They can't match someone like you or Yanagi Koharu-san. I must admit it has been an excellent display of skills...  However, Saijo Claudine-san, there's someone who could be a more suitable opponent for you..." He says looking at Maya.

 

Claudine and Koharu turned back to find Maya at the entrance of the hall, next to her parents. Claudine stepped forward, visibly disappointed to see Maya in her old uniform and a cold, detached stare on these violet eyes. Not even the first time when they battled against each other she had looked like that. Claudine felt betrayed and abandoned. But then all that had happened between them was just a dream? In the end Maya had chosen her family…she can’t blame her but still…

 

"A battle between two rivals whom have shared the battlefield, destined to meet and then to part, as their love has been damned from the beginning! Their blades will collide with regret and sadness!" The Lord Commander, the Giraffe, declared with a thunderous voice.

"That’s the kind of battle I want to witness..." His voice is now controlled and there's an smile on his face. "Do you understand? Saijo Claudine...Tendo Maya... Let the duel begin!"

 

Chapter Text

After an intense sparring session, Claudine was exhausted and thirsty. It was infuriating how Tendo Maya looked like she was more energized, humming as she sheathes her weapon and Claudine is almost on her knees.

“You are leaving your guard too open...” Maya smiled. “How many times do you think I had the chance to stab you?”

“Shut up...” Claudine muttered but Maya giggled at her frustration.

 

Life wasn’t fair, Claudine was painfully aware of that but this was truly exasperating. How could Tendo Maya look so radiant after a sparring session? How could she be so patient to her? And why she had saved her in first place?! Was she so discontented with her life to throw it away in an absurd defection? She could have escaped from all of this, instead she had gotten in more troubles. The more she thinks about it, the more she wants to yell at her. 

 

“Frustration can motivate you but it can be a double-edged sword…. “Maya’s voice was also annoying. It could have the strength to command and also be extremely sweet and calming.

“I could shoot you down and end this once and for all!” Claudine shouts and Maya had that charming smile.

“But that wouldn’t be entertaining don’t you…?” Maya attempts to approach her but instead, Claudine tackles her down.

Maya is against the ground, when she opens her eyes, there’s a sharp knife under her throat. Perhaps that would teach her not to boast to her.

 

“And you shouldn’t drop your guard, Tendo Maya!” Claudine says with sarcasm above her. How wonderful Tendo Maya looks, these beautiful eyes widened with surprise.

 “You’re right. But perhaps…” Maya’s voice now was low and inviting, her eyes alluring as she talks. “Perhaps… I want you to take my treasure, Saijo Claudine.”

Claudine felt a hand on her back, slowly moving down that made her stand up in a rush, blushing and walking away from Maya. Claudine was embarrassed and annoyed at how easily Maya could make her heart beat faster than a heated battle.

When she looked again at Maya, whom was still on the floor, smiling with mischief, she swears she would defeat her one day and yet….

 

This wasn’t what she wanted.

 

Saijo Claudine refused to accept this absurd duel. She had come here to take Maya away from this place. After all she belongs to her crew, to her ship, under her command. She wanted to tie up that stupid, vexing woman and take her back. They were set to attack the castle in a few days and she was wasting time here.

 

Claudine's grip on her sword tightened. Yanagi-san had warned her, and she was aware of the risks from the beginning when she asked Maya to join her crew. Maya herself had suggested that she might be a spy.  But then, Maya's father wouldn’t need to encourage her daughter to amend her mistakes. Tendo Maya couldn’t be that deceitful to set up a charade like this, could she be? Was all of this just a scheme from that strange man, The Lord Commander or it was the Queen, that terrible woman that had ruined her family’s lives?

 

And perhaps Maya had no choice but to do what they asked?  Tendo Maya was truly a terrible woman for saving her, for protecting her, for lending her sword to her and finally making her come to a trap.

Immersed in her turmoil, Claudine didn’t notice the strange blue fire starting to emerge from the corpses of the Black Chorus units. The rest of the generals had fled, worried that it might start a fire. Maya's parents had almost done the same, urging her daughter to escape but the flames vanished in a moment, leaving no trace on the floor.

Maya didn’t say a thing nor she wasn’t startled at this strange occurrence. She had heard stories about the Black Chorus and even some high-ranked officers said that they weren’t even human. However, she wonders why the Lord Commander or the Queen hadn’t sent for more units.

 

".... this is only a stage to entertain the gods...”

Maya realizes that the Queen is not just being enigmatic. However, Maya had no choice but to keep this charade and provide Claudine for a chance to escape.  As much as she had wished to see her once again, she can’t protect her now.

 

The Giraffe was focused on the scene unfolding in that hall, the prelude of a tragedy. Confusion, followed by grief on Saijo Claudine's eyes. He had seen that kind of stare so many times on so many people and it was especially interesting when someone who claims to be powerful would show so much vulnerability. How would she react? So far, Saijo Claudine had done more than he had expected of her. Would she give up to rage, heartbroken after risking her life to enter this place, only to find out that this was a trap?

 

The Giraffe now examined Tendo Maya. The traitor whom had returned home. Tendo had chosen a cold, uncaring mask, in order to fulfill her duty as a Royal Guard and the heir of the Tendo Family. Maybe Tendo Maya couldn't bear the guilt if her parents suffered the consequences. But then the way in which she had spoken of Saijo just a while ago, filled with passionate admiration...

 

The Giraffe smiled. These two where strong candidates to become the successor. If Saijo wins it could make her more determined, more reckless... If Tendo wins she would harbor hate and resentment against those around her. The possibilities were endless. Either way, Queen Souda was running out of time, she wasn’t the strong woman that she used to be…

 

Claudine can't see nothing beyond the piercing, beautiful violet eyes of Tendo Maya. She thinks it must be the last thing that some of her enemies had the opportunity to see, before being stabbed to death. To her surprise, she notices that Maya is not holding a rapier but instead a katana.

"It's time to finish what we started, don't you think, Saijo Claudine?"  Maya’s voice was cold.

Claudine would have replied with one of her usual insults but she remains still, her thoughts contradicting one another, as if she was in the middle of a hurricane, hesitation paralyzing her.

"After all, isn't this what you wanted since we met? To study me, to know my weakness and then defeat me?" Maya questioned her.

 

It had been true, Claudine admits to herself, but the thought of actually taking Maya's life was awful, after all that had experienced together. From their rivalry to these moments of peace as they contemplate the endless sea. From their banters to that moments in which she thought she had found something that she had been longing for…

 

Claudine stays frozen in place, struck by a realization that she had denied to herself.

 

Maya can see the doubts on Claudine's eyes, after delivering such harsh words to her. She has to steel herself to not yield to her need to tell her to run away and forget her. That would only ruin everything. This mask of pride feels as it was suffocating her but it is the only alternative that she has now.

 

However, Maya has not chance to dwell on any more thoughts when she has to unleash her katana in a swift movement to deflect a stab from Claudine, her tough attack almost making her lose her own balance.

"You are.... the most terrible woman that I have ever met in my life, Tendo Maya!" Claudine's voice trembled with rage and her eyes burning with fury.

Their swords clashed, starting once again in a violent dance and Maya was forced to leave the hall while Claudine yells her name, chasing her down the hall. After passing by several rooms, Maya enters into another large hall, decorated with expensive paintings and sculptures of mythical creatures.

 

Maya tries to push away the sorrow that was about to make her break her act. Claudine now truly believed that she had betrayed her and wanted to murder her. Claudine soon finds her, attacking her without any hesitation.  Maya was doing her best to keep the tempestuous pace as Claudine attacks her with all her strength, fueled by her anger and frustration. Claudine retreated, trying to conceal her own traitorous tears and she steps back.

"...Oh! but what’s this?!" Claudine gasps with sarcasm, trying to detach herself from the burning in her eyes. She won’t let herself to show any tears to anyone. "Mama and Papa will be mad for the mess you have done, Tendo Maya!"

Claudine grabs a sculpture of a dragon, throwing it to Maya, whom had avoided it and then Claudine proceeds to throw more ornaments to her in an outburst of fury.

"Stop that!" Maya shouts.

"Suddenly concerned about your home, Tendo Maya?!" Claudine laughs with sarcasm. “Then come here and make me stop!”

Maya has no choice but to attack her. Her deliberately weak attempts were easily countered. Claudine lowers her guard completely and Maya has to stop herself from hurting her. Still, her blade had touched her, a cut on her arm, drops of blood falling on the floor. Maya steps back, eyes widened in horror, scared that she could have delivered a fatal wound to her.

 

Claudine now can see through Maya. This wasn't the Tendo Maya that had fought against her, nor the Tendo Maya that apparently had fooled her. She had hesitated at a clear opportunity of delivering a fatal blow to her. Once again, this terrible woman was making her feel confused and yet hopeful.

"What are you doing?!" Claudine demanded and their eyes met.

"I..." Maya suddenly was a loss for words.  Her mask had fallen and all that remains was a woman who was scared, and Claudine couldn't bear to see her like that.

".... Maya." Claudine whispers, her eyes pleading for an honest answer.

Maya can't keep her facade any longer. "You…You need to leave!" Maya breathes. "I can't….!"

In her panic Maya fears that someone might be hearing them. She had to get her out of the mansion, into the forest and come back and make sure that her family was safe.

"You have to get out of here! Even if you defeat me...! There will be more coming and not even you could...." Maya warned her.

But Claudine's eyes had become filled with fury once again as Maya continued with her pleas.

"Forget all of this and get back to your ship! You said you were going to...!"

Maya suddenly is slammed against the wall, Claudine's body is pressed against her own as she grabs her by her collar.

"Shut up!" Claudine shrieked.

"But..."

"Idiot!" Claudine shouts, but finally understanding why she had acted like that in front of these people. "You have to protect your family! Forget about me!"

"No, Claudine...I beg you...!"

They heard screams, gunshots and metal clashing not far from them and Claudine released her grip on her.

"Since that night... I have been living on borrowed time... so If I have to die tonight at least I will be able to choose my disgrace!"

"No!" Maya yells trying to reach for Claudine but she rushes to get of the room.

 

Maya chases her through the hallway until a loud explosion shakes the walls around her. Maya stumbles and holds on to the wall. The smell of gunpowder and smoke begins to reach her and when she looks up there’s no sight of Claudine, fire and debris blocking her path. Maya fears the worst and she turns back to look for another exit when a black chorus is waiting for her.

 

The dark figure doesn’t hesitate to attack her and Maya quickly predicts their attack neutralizing them with a swift stab on their neck, dark blood flows from their wounds, but that doesn’t stop them and with an awful growl tries to harm her. Maya evades them and starts to run in the opposite direction to the fire. More Black Chorus appear, trying to take her down but she barely could escape from them. Soon, she finds an exit that leads to the gardens, and Maya falls as something explodes behind.

Still disoriented after that chaotic exit, Maya tries to assess the situation. She realizes that the mansion is being attacked. There were Imperial Soldiers running in various directions to help the guards that her father had hired. One officer was yelling that rebels had invaded the mansion, requesting for support through his radio.

 

More gunshots and screams, bodies scattered on the ground. She recognized that some servants and a terrible sinking feeling pierced her stomach, fearing for her parents. 

 

Maya started to run, panic and confusion about to blind her, guided by her dying hopes and chased by her fears. At the other side of the gardens, at the entrance, she found her. Alone and surrounded by almost a thousand of Black Chorus, some of them already without arms or already decapitated, still with the will to attack Claudine.

 

“Such a bright star… about to be engulfed by darkness...”. Maya turns around to see The Lord Commander and the Queen, walking towards her. That man seemed disturbingly pleased with this situation.

“You refused to carry on with your duty and these are the consequences...” The   Queen gestured to her home, partially engulfed by flames. “I can only pray that your parents might have escaped from the fire! But I wonder if the rebels won’t kill them if they find them...”

Maya threw a death glare towards the Queen. “You knew… You let them!”

“I warned you...” The Queen Souda replied without any contempt.

“What are going to do now, Tendo Maya? Now that you are about to lose those that you care for...” The Lord Commander asks.

 

Maya swears she will kill both of them later, and she runs towards the crowd of Black Chorus that are attacking Claudine. Throwing stabs and slashing her way through, she tackles one of them that was about to hurt Claudine.

“What are you doing here!?” Claudine shouts and she cuts another chorus’s arm.

“I believe it’s obvious!” Maya replied behind her. “And I told you to leave!”

“Idiot! I came here for you!” Claudine yells, breathing heavily. “It wasn’t supposed to end like this...!”

Maya stabs another Black Chorus, already decapitated and kicks them away.

 

The Giraffe stares at the scene. He had envisioned a tragic duel of fates, one of them taking the other’s life as a sacrifice. Instead, this was going to become the tragedy of two fallen warriors, that had failed in their respective paths, desperately trying to delay their deaths. With the mansion burning behind them, the screams, the gunshots, and the swords colliding, composed a perfect stage for their finale. He gazes at the Queen whom is channeling her power to the Black Chorus, making them nearly unstoppable and wonders how longer can she endure the power of the Crown.

 

Queen Souda had little interest in the battle in front of her. It had been years of constant conflict, conspiracies and attempts to kill her. No one whom she could truly trust, always anticipating the worse. That’s why she had managed to stay as the Queen against all odds, not letting herself to attach to nothing and no one. But staring at them, willing to die for one another, brought memories of these years...

 

 

The sound of a thunder reverberated on the air and the wind started to agitate violently. The Queen heard a voice shouting incantations that made her lost her focus. The Giraffe had fallen on his knees clutching his chest as if something was piercing him on the inside, his face distorted with pain. Not far from them she witnesses how Koharu is saying these incantations with a defiant stare at the Lord Commander. In a second, Souda recognized that uniform and then she turns around to meet the one whom had betrayed her.

 

 

Maya and Claudine are protecting each other with all their might but even with all their efforts combined, their enemies outnumbered them.

“Maya! Get out of here! I’ll cover you!” Claudine shouts, fearing for Maya’s life.

“No!” She protested, breathing heavily. “I have failed you! And everyone around me!”

 

 

A strong wind starts to blow around the place and the Black Chorus lowers their weapons, starting to fall on the ground, dissolving into blue flames. Before they could breathe in relief a storm starts to rage around them and they hear the screams coming from the Lord Commander.

 

 

“It can’t be…!” Claudine says and Maya turns to look at the same direction.

The Giraffe on his knees, yelling with pain. The Queen is falling on the ground defeated by none other than Captain Yakumo. Yakumo reaches to take the Imperial Crown from the ground.

 

“Become stronger… and take what is worthy. I always remember your teachings, sempai. And that’s why…” Yakumo looks to her subordinate. “Koharu! We got not time to lose!”

 

Koharu finishes her chants and the Giraffe also falls, unconscious. Yakumo glances at Maya and Claudine and waves a goodbye with a satisfied smile on her lips.

 

Putain de merde!” Claudine yells as Yakumo and Koharu start to escape and the storm rages. “She used me! I’m going to…!”

Claudine’s burst of anger is interrupted as she notices that Maya staring at her home. The flames were starting to fade with the rain. Maya remains silent and visibly worried. Claudine was about to offer some hopeful words when voices started to yell at them. About a dozen Imperial Guards, armed with rifles quickly surrounded them.

 

“Drop your weapons, now!” Maya recognized the officer that was leading them, one of her former subordinates.

The man repeated the order but before Claudine or Maya might do anything a thunderous voice interrupted them.

 

“The Queen is alive! Help her!” The Lord Commander yells, trying to stand on his feet. “Move, useless idiots!”

 

The captain and a couple of officers ran to aid the Queen, the others still pointing their rifles to Claudine and Maya. The Giraffe's eyes were filled with fury, ordering his subordinates to hurry in helping the Queen. The Giraffe now glared at Maya and Claudine, the guards ready to shoot at his command while the rain falls heavily upon them.

 

By instinct, Maya stands in front of Claudine as the Lord Commander starts to walk towards them.

“That was a nice act, Tendo Maya.” The Giraffe declared.  “As a Commander I am disappointed by helping this criminal once again even if was quite entertaining. However, …this…!” The Giraffe looks as if he was struggling with himself. “I guess… that not even you, Saijo Claudine were aware of Yakumo-san’s awful deceit… I understand. You were only focused on get back your partner. Yes, I understand…”

The Giraffe suddenly is quiet after his previous displays of temper.

“Is he always like this?” Claudine asks to Maya whom merely nods, still wondering how the mind of that weird man might work.

“Both of you have committed crimes, so as the Lord Commander I have no choice…” The Giraffe sentenced. “Guards!”

 

Maya and Claudine were forced to drop their weapons and they were escorted by Royal Guards to the Imperial Castle. During the trip to the castle, Maya almost choked the Captain, whom was throwing some inappropriate stares and comments towards Claudine. Maya ends up with her nose bleeding, after a vicious punch of one of the guards. Of course, Claudine managed to kick some of them as well, both of them ending into a filthy, barely illuminated cell. The rest of the prisoners in the nearby cells looked like skeletons, being starved and locked there.

 

Claudine cursed loudly as the guards leave, another prisoner telling her to shut up. After a brief verbal quarrel with that man, Claudine lowered her head and clutched the bars with all her strength. She looked around to check on Maya, whom was sitting down, holding on to her wounded nose. Claudine rushed to kneel to her and tell her to not lower her head. She takes off her jacket and tears part of the sleeve of her shirt, in order to clean the blood from her face.

“I’m going to murder that bastard. I swear!” Claudine cried. “I…!”

Claudine couldn’t bear to face Maya after all that had happened. She tried to put distance between them but Maya’s hands caught her by her wrists.

“You should have killed me when you got the chance!” Claudine shrieked, exhausted and crushed by this defeat, unable to hold back her tears.  “You didn’t have to…! Now look at what happened! Your home, your family…now this!”

Maya was still holding her. “Regarde moi! S’il vous plaît…” Claudine finally calmed herself down and slowly she faced her, once again, her face partially illuminated.

 

Maya released her grip on her, and while tired and beaten, she didn’t have any resentment in that stare, only grief and sadness.

“Thank you for coming to help me. I apologize for causing you so much trouble, Saijo Claudine.” “From the first moment since we met I have irritated you and….!”

Non! Ne dis pas ça…!” Claudine hated that she was crying, she hated that Tendo Maya now was beaten and after all that happened Maya refused to harbor any sort of hatred towards her. Claudine rushed to hug Maya, almost tackling her to the ground and Maya returned the gesture.

Ma Claudine…” Maya whispered and Claudine lets her go.

“It’s not your fault…I trusted that bitch!” She insisted on taking the blame. “I should have known better! …and maybe she …!”

Claudine thought about Maya’s parents and remembered that Nana and Junna had come to aid her. They had separated in groups, and she had lost sight of them.

“Nana and Junna were with me and maybe they are…” Claudine feared for all of them and Maya can’t bear to see her like that.

Another prisoner told them to shut up, and Maya replied with offensive words that had the power to surprise Claudine and get her out of her misery, if only for a moment.

“I didn’t know you could talk like that…” She tried to make a small joke.

“A pirate taught me.” Maya replied, trying her best to smile.

 

After that, they remained silent for a long while.

“So what’s next?” Claudine asks, feeling her stomach pierced by knives, thinking of what these guards might do to them. Maya looks at Claudine’s hands.

“Depending on the prisoner and their crimes, they start letting them starve until they are physically and mentally weak. If they have time, of course. Otherwise, they usually start with breaking their hands and legs…” Maya’s nose has stopped bleeding and she feels her throat constricted.

The Guards were trained to do anything to protect the Queen and that included to hurt others in various sorts of ways. While she always had refused to carry on with unnecessary violence she knows that there are many more than willing to do anything. Noticing Maya’s distress, Claudine takes her hands.

“There must be a way…we have to stay calm, that’s what you told me once.”

“So have you accepted my teachings, after all?” Maya smiled.

Claudine frowns and then she gives up. “Yes… I…” Claudine breathes. “…I want to continue learning with you…”

Claudine was glad that the dim lights of the hallway couldn’t illuminate properly her flustered face and Maya lifts her hand and places a kiss on it.

Tu es belle, Saijo Claudine.” Maya declares with such sweetness that made Claudine panic.

Q-Quoi!?” Claudine stutters. “But…but…of course I am...!”

 

Once again, they were interrupted by the same guy telling them to shut up. Instead of getting a response from Claudine or Maya, they started to hear footsteps coming from the hallway. Claudine immediately stood up, ready to fight and Maya did the same, fearing that they were going to be tortured by any of these guards. A guard appeared in front of their cell, raising his lantern to illuminate better the place, another one was threatening the inmates that were yelling at them. They heard the Captain whom had arrested them, complaining to someone else.

“I saw them trying to kill the Queen!”

“I suggest you to calm yourself down. These are orders from the Lord Commander.” Maya and Claudine recognized that voice.

 “Banana?!” Claudine exclaimed and Maya simply couldn’t believe it. Daiba Nana, one of her few friends at the army, the one whom had declared her wish to build a new country without Kings and Queens. The spy, named “Little star” that had helped the rebels was a “double agent”?

 

Both of them arrived to their cells and Nana, now with a Royal Guard jacket and armed with her swords on her belt, stands in front of their cell, looking serious, far from the usual friendly behavior. Nana took a brief look at them before addressing the Captain.

“What did you do to Tendo?” Nana asks, her voice harsh.

“She…she tried to kill me!” The man complained, looking quite scared and Nana glares at him with disdain. Daiba Nana made no further questions and addressed the guard whom had the keys.

“Release them.” Nana then looked at Maya and Claudine. “The Lord Commander wants to speak with them.”

 

Chapter Text

With handcuffs on their wrists and surrounded by a troop of Royal Guards, Maya and Claudine started to walk away from the dungeons to the upper parts of the Castle. On their way, the soldiers and servants witnessed how Saijo Claudine, the most wanted pirate and the former Royal Guard Tendo Maya had finally been captured. Most of them gossiped that they were going to be interrogated and humiliated publicly, as the Queen was facing rumors of an attack by rebel forces. No one of the Guards escorting them dared to make a comment or even look at them as Nana walks behind the group, attentive to all of them.

 

Claudine kept a cautious watch on Maya, walking next to her. Maya had her face battered, slouching as she walks, the result of a long night and possibly the anxiety on the previous days. Maya realized Claudine’s watch on her, and with weary eyes she still managed to show her a slight smile, which made Claudine feel even more mortified.

 

Maya glanced over her shoulder briefly, to find Nana looking at her pocket watch with evident concern. While Nana had always been friendly and supportive since their academy days, she wasn’t sure of her true allegiances now. Fighting her would be difficult due to her own fatigue and Nana’s remarkable fighting skills. Maya concludes that she only could wait for a chance to take Claudine out of this place with her knowledge of this castle’s layout.

 

They had arrived at the East Garden, the entry point to the Royal family’s chambers. However, the Queen had sent away her family, perhaps foreseeing an attack. Even if the castle had been rebuilt and fortified with the latest technology, Maya knows no security measure can be enough, especially if there are numerous escape routes that can be also weak points in the castle’s defenses.

 

“Thank you for your services, Captain. You and your team are dismissed.” Nana ordered and that man was about to reply when she raised her hand, with exasperation.

“I still need you to finish your report. I expect to read it today, at noon…”

Nana’s stare made the man flinch and he quickly made a salutation, leaving with his subordinates in a hurry and leaving them with Nana and three more guards.

 

Claudine glared at Nana with distrust, wondering if this was the real Daiba Nana and the cheerful, kind woman that she had met was just a cover for her true mission. Like Yakumo and Yanagi Koharu, whom had taken advantage that she wanted to rescue Maya, using her as a decoy to steal the Imperial Crown.

 

“Congratulations for your promotion, Daiba-san.” Maya replied with a smile, but her eyes glaring with a silent accusation. One of the soldiers was about to reprimand her when Nana stopped him, with that patient smile of hers.

"Thank you, Maya-chan.” She replied. “Now that we are here, I must thank you for your defection. Unfortunately, your family doesn't share this feeling. At least, they are safe in this castle.”

”You better be telling us the truth!” Claudine warned her and Nana simply nods.

Maya believed her, she wanted to hold on to that belief her family was safe. Nana didn’t had to lie to her, they had them defeated and unarmed. Maya felt some relief, despite the throbbing pain in her face.

“Before anything else, you two need medical attention, especially you, Maya-chan. I bet Kuro-chan wouldn’t like you to get your face ruined, would she? Now please follow me...”

 

Maya and Claudine exchanged stares before stepping forward. The Royal Guards at the entrance did not made a salutation, nor interrupted their passage through the gate. Maya quickly realized that they were going to the infirmary that was used exclusively for the Queen and Maya wonders how Nana had been authorized to come here.

 

Nana instructed the three guards to remain at the entrance and prevent anyone to get in. The infirmary was a large room, with a persistent strong odor of antiseptic and illuminated by large windows. It was equipped with several beds, separated by curtains and medical equipment that Claudine had never seen before. There was a doctor and a nurse waiting for them.

 

"Please, take care of them" Nana requested the medics, after taking the handcuffs away from them. The doctor checked them. Claudine had minor injuries, a few scratches and some bruises compared to Maya's injured nose but he assured her that the medicine would diminish the inflammation quickly and the nurse approaches Maya with a strange device that resembled of a camera.

 

“As you can see The Queen not only spends money on weapons." Nana commented after the doctor showed an image that made Maya wince. It wasn't a photo of herself but one showing a skull and he had to explain that it was a radiography and showed no signs of trauma.

"Recently she has been interested in medicine and things like this.”

“How considerate of her!” Claudine scowls. “And you as well!”

“No need to send death glares, Kuro-chan. I’m on your side.” Nana reassured her.

“Sorry if I’m a bit skeptical and I don’t thank you enough for getting us out of that filthy jail.” Claudine frowns.

“I understand” Nana smiled.

 

"I thought this part of the castle was restricted only to members of the Royal Family" Maya asks as the nurse is tidying the place and the doctor is leaving after they thanked them.

 

Nana was expecting such question. "It is. But I was instructed to keep both of you safe. By the Lord Commander himself. He also has ordered your parents to stay here. He said it's to protect them since their house is now partially damaged but..."

"Sounds to me that they had no choice." Claudine wonders where they might be. “I presume they aren’t at the dungeons?”

Nana nods. "They are resting on one of the rooms that the Queen has for guests. Maya-chan, your mother was really worried and I had to calm her down by promising her that I would help you."

 

Maya feels guilty by worrying her mother but she can't go back and be the same person, the obedient daughter that would be silent and watch how her father would control her life.

"There are witness, Maya. Many people, from servants to soldiers... they saw you helping Claudine when the Black Chorus surrounded her”

"Too bad my acting wasn't good enough..." Maya joked.

“This is serious, Maya!” Claudine stood up, pacing around the room and muttering complaints in French.

“There are people asking for an exemplary punishment for you, Maya-chan. And even saying that your family should be revoked all privileges and their properties confiscated.”

“What?!” Claudine shouts and walks back at Maya, standing next to her as if she was ready to fight against anyone.

“There are some Inquisitors that would be happy to end the Tendo clan.” Maya frowns thinking of the many enemies that her father and her clan had earned.

“That’s why I asked Junna-chan to check on them.”

"Forgive my distrust, Daiba-san but after all that happened I would like to know who do you work for?” Maya asks. “You were supposed to work for that Order, you are Little Star, but if the Lord Commander trusts you, it would be only because you are a double agent”

Maya’s piercing stare only made Nana to sigh. 

“Your doubts are valid. Maya-chan. These three that were guarding the door are members as well. The doctor that treated both of you. We are many, inside and outside of this very castle. The situation is complex and even if most are like Kaoruko-chan and Futaba-chan whose families have been mistreated, not everyone wants another civil war. That’s why some of us stand between them, trying to keep a delicate balance and hiding behind a name.”

“I…I had no idea, Daiba-san” Maya felt guilty for doubting her.

Nana smiled slightly. “When you defected, it caused an impact among the guards. Some of them wanted to kill you as payback. Others thought you were some sort of noble warrior whom had found a higher purpose than follow the orders of the Queen. Even among the Guards there are suspects of conspiracy and the Inquisitors have become ruthless. That’s why I was shocked like many members of the guard. I couldn't believe that you...well…”

“Not exactly the type that would defect, for sure.” Maya smirked and Nana nods.

“I had been tasked to keep an eye on you. I think the Lord Commander was testing my loyalty..."

“That bastard!” Claudine rages. “He was simply watching us fight as if it was a tournament! As if all of this was funny to him!”

Maya lowered her gaze. “For him it was. All of this is.”

“He’s a strange man, no doubt.” Nana agreed. “And he has far more power than it seems. “

“I dare to say more than the Queen herself…” Maya murmured, recalling what the Queen had tried to tell her.

Nana continued talking.

“The Queen's right hand, Lady Karasuma, had me on her list and the Lord Commander ordered me to serve as a spy”

"He knows that you and Maya were friends. And the same time you got a chance to divert from their suspicions." Claudine raised her eyebrows. "Risky, indeed. And what about your girlfriend?"

Nana blushed "M-my...!?"

"Oh come on!" Claudine rolls her eyes. "You always have that murderous smile when Karen calls her with that funny nickname."

"Me?! But...! " Nana denied feebly and Claudine shakes her head. “Really?”

"Junna-chan is innocent. She just...! She found out my secret and I had to tell her. She refused to let me go alone!" Nana explains. "I know both of you have reasons to not trust me completely but…!”

“It’s fine, Daiba-san. We are indebted to you.” Maya smiled.

Claudine nods. “Oui! But what about the Queen?” Claudine asks.

“The doctors say she is physically fine but she entered into a slumber as if she was unusually tired.”

Claudine pondered the situation and what had happened at the Tendo’s Mansion.

“Yakumo could have killed her.” Claudine said. “Any other would have seized the opportunity. I think Yakumo didn’t want to kill her former master.” Claudine says pondering the facts she knows. “In fact Yakumo rarely has spoken of the Queen with hatred, despite their past. Perhaps this was a challenge of some sort?”

“It might be. But what concerns me is that when she took the crown. The Black Chorus vanished after that.” Maya commented.

“I had never seen so many before and they looked strange…” Nana said. “They always have been weird, but these ones… they looked as if they weren’t humans.”

“They were demons! Yakumo herself said so before we entered the mansion!” Claudine winced wondering if she should carry a cross with her.

Nana checked her pocket watch. “I must take you to a safer place and please do not try to do anything yet! I will try to think of something!”

“Maya's family is still in danger.” Claudine said. “But I guess that with your help we have a chance.”

“Daiba-san... Thanks for helping us.” Maya stands up and bows.

Claudine did the same. “Merci beaucoup!”

Nana smiled a bit embarrassed. “No need to be so formal! I may have been keeping secrets but what I have told you about my goals is true. But if we want to do it, we must face these hardships and be ready to fight even alone, even if those who we love decides to reject us.”

Maya wonders if these words were a premonition and she feels a hand on her shoulder, Claudine’s eyes trying to convey support and Maya touched Claudine’s hand, accepting her gesture.

 

Nana places the handcuffs again on their wrists, without locking them completely. Claudine noticed that the sun was about to rise, she could see the sky, becoming brighter and the sea through the large windows. She thought of her crew and wonders if they are safe and are aware of their situation.

 

“No way...!” Nana murmured. “They are here!”

There were a group of soldiers at the end of the hallway and Maya noticed with great distress that they were being led by the Head Inquisitor from the Imperial Army, a tall man whose face looks as if he was smelling a disgusting odor no matter he might be. That man was her uncle, Colonel Hideki Tendo.

“Good evening Major Daiba.” He stared at Maya briefly and smiled. She knows he's glad with this situation, a wonderful chance to witness her fail and rub it on his brother’s face.

“Excellent work. Make sure that the pirate doesn’t escape. I shall deal with Tendo.”

“But the Lord Commander...!”

“I am aware of his orders! This is the normal procedure!" He barked. "We need to interrogate her, don’t make me repeat myself, Major Daiba!”

Nana bowed deeply. “I apologize for my attitude, sir.”

"Now hurry!" he demanded.

"I will be fine." Maya says to Claudine. She can only watch how Maya steps forward and follows the soldiers, their backs blocking her view of Maya, disappearing at the nearest corner. Nana has to grab her forearm to make her walk to the opposite side.

“Come on! We got to hurry!” Nana urged her.

“Who are these people?!”

“Maya’s uncle. The head of the Inquisitors. Their job is to deal with internal affairs."

“Maya’s family…” Claudine murmured.

 “They are probably trying to fix their damaged reputation. But...”

Claudine’s hands are now tightened into fists. She can only hope that they are not going to hurt Maya.

 

Nana lead them to a room located at the end of an empty hallway, after walking for a while. Nana knocked the door twice and it opened.

“You are late!” Junna reprimanded Nana while she grabs Claudine to make her enter the room. Nana told the guards to leave, thanking them for their help and closed the door in a hurry.

 

The room was rather small and it had only a single bed, a small table with a jar and a tiny basket, slightly dusty.

“Where’s Tendo-san?” Junna asked and Nana shakes her head.

“The High Inquisitor?!” Junna gasps. “I knew it! Nana…what if?!”

“I can handle it. It’s you that I’m worried about. But now…”

“Wait!" Claudine intervened with evident concern. "Where are they taking her?”

Nana and Junna stared at Claudine with dread.

“Maya’s uncle is the High Inquisitor so...!” Junna said. “Perhaps they are going to fix everything! Maybe force her to declare she wasn’t really a traitor and she was a spy! But that man…"

“That man would sell his own mother if that means to gain something!" Nana rebuked. "He has sent plenty of his enemies to jail! And it's well known that he and Maya's father have not exactly a nice relationship!"

 

Claudine falls on that bed, her hands on her face, a hammering pulse inside her skull, the combined weight of all that had happened and the fear of the worst. Not even the influence that the Tendo Clan could save Maya if she insisted on protect her. She felt absolutely powerless. If something happened to her...

“That’s why the Lord Commander told me to take care of Saijo-san.” Nana tells Junna. “I’m starting to think that he has planned many things on advance but…"

Junna fixes her glasses. "I don’t think that he could foresee what that woman and her subordinate did to him and the Queen!”

 

Claudine was barely paying attention to their words. She did not care what Yakumo had done or were planning to do. She just wanted to get out of this room and find Maya.

“Saijo-san…” Junna called her. “I know you are worried but it's better if you have some rest.”

“You are going to need all your strength and Maya will need you.” Nana advised. Claudine has no choice, as much she wanted to steal one of the swords that Daiba had, she would be easily stopped by the guards.

Nana assured her that her allies were doing rounds and making sure no one would find her, so they could check on Maya. After these words, Nana and Junna left, telling her to lock the door. Claudine makes sure the door is locked and returns to the bed and she closes her eyes but not letting herself lay on it. The headache was worse than a hangover and while she craves for a few hours of sleep, she can’t drop her guard. After a while she stands up and opens the door just enough to peek on the empty hallway. She’s tempted to wander around but suddenly she hears footsteps and abandons the idea.

 

Once again, she sits on the bed, struggling with her exhaustion. She remembered that she still had Maya’s ribbon inside her jacket. Claudine takes the ribbon and holds it in her hands, clutching it and slowly, her eyelids feels heavy, darkness surrounding her.

 

Claudine drifted into sleep but it did not last for long. A loud persistent knocking on the door, startled her, almost falling on the floor.

"Open the door!" It was Junna's voice, urging her.

Claudine stumbled trying to stand up and reached the door. She tucked the ribbon in her pocket, opening the door with difficult. Claudine stepped back and she saw Junna. However, she saw more people behind her, a tall woman with pitch black long hair. Claudine immediately knew who she was. The Queen's right hand, Lady Karasuma.

"It's a disgrace, Hoshimi-san!" That women glared at Claudine.

Junna tries to keep a stoic attitude and Claudine smiles and steps forward. There were a few but heavily armed royal guards.

"You are fortunate that our Queen wants to speak with you!"

Claudine smirked. "Is she able to speak? I mean, she fainted right after the former Grand Admiral Yakumo appeared." Claudine commented, aware of that woman’s hatred for Yakumo.

"You better stay silent if you don't want me to crush that face of yours. Now, move!"

 

-----

The High Inquisitor slammed his fist against the table with frustration but Maya remains silent, unaffected by the numerous threats and intrusive questions. She had spent the last two hours standing inside the Inquisitor's Chamber, located at the western side of the Castle. The inquisitor’s office has its windows sealed, only illuminated by gas lamps. There were three seats and a table for the judges, the officer taking records of the improvised trial. Maya's uncle was sitting on the center, the other Inquisitor at his right started to ask questions and the other one, whom was supposed to defend the suspect, merely commented that it was a shame that such a skilled officer was now involved in this accusations.

 

Her father was among the few soldiers that were allowed to stay as witness. While relieved to see him unharmed in any way, his eyes glared with resentment and hatred. Maya wonders if her mother would be all right.

Maya knows that even if there were evidences that would defend the suspect, the last word was up to the High Inquisitor. The other two were mere figures trying to give the idea of fairness and justice but in the end the Queen had the last word depending on the importance of the case.

 

The High Inquisitor was visible enraged by how Maya refused to deny her actions with her stoic silence.

"Do you realize that you could be executed right now?!"

Maya's silence made the High Inquisitor's rage to increase. He was fuming and hits the table once again.

"This session is dismissed! Guards!" The man yells as he stands up and leaves.

 

Maya feels as if she would collapse at any moment. Her father had left the room and she felt abandoned. But she was expecting this.  Maya realized that she had let her fears to cloud her judgement. There wasn't an easy alternative. If she yields to what others wanted she would end up resenting them. Even if there's this overwhelming uncertainty, Maya was determined to keep going and trust that perhaps the Gods’ will or mere luck would be on her side.

 

The guards took Maya outside the chamber. One of them simply told her to hold on. Perhaps he was a friend of Nana, and Maya is tempted to ask him but she lowers her head wondering if Claudine was safe, wondering if they would throw her into the dungeons once again.

 

They went not far from the Chamber, to another office. She could her people having a heated argument inside.

"I can't save your daughter if she keeps on with this! And her actions will cost you, brother! Make her change her mind or else I..."

"Are you threatening me?! Are you forgetting who helped you to earn your position?!"

One of the guards knocked the door, both voices ceased their argument and the door opened. The guard motioned her to enter, closing the door behind her. Inside, her father and her uncle were glaring at her, her mother standing from a chair and rushing to her.

"Maya!" Her mother cried and her heart broke at witnessing her mother's tears.

"Do you think you are so clever, trying to fool us?!" Her father yells at her. "You let that woman live! Now the Inquisitors have enough evidence that proves you helped the pirates to steal the Imperial Crown and attempted kill the Queen!"

Her father was trying to not burst with anger and Maya's mother clutches her as if she was prepared to protect her from her husband.

"Is this what you wanted?! To ruin our lives?! Answer me!"

Maya stays silent and her father’s fists are clenched. Maya pushes her mother away ready to face her father.

"Please, both of you, stop!" Maya's mother begged.

“I have done everything to protect you! But you keep on with that whim of yours! "

“I told you that I had defected.” Maya declared.

"Shut up! The inquisitors are going to execute you for treason, you and that filthy woman! And we are going to be left in shame!”

“Concerned about your business?! How many did you betray? How many deals have you done? Since you couldn't ascend in ranks, all you can do is use others to get what you want!”

Maya’s father was shaking with fury and he could no longer repress it, raising his hand to give a harsh slap on Maya’s face that almost makes her lose her stability. Maya’s mom cried, holding him back before he might hurt her again.

 

Maya composed herself, the pain reverberating in her entire being. She was furious and for the first time in her life she wanted to hurt her own father so badly it made her stomach sick. However, she managed to control her own anger and merely glared at him.

“How dare you to disrespect me?!” Her father roared.

“Then disown me! Erase my existence of your family before they execute me!” Maya replied and her father, couldn’t answer to these words. “As long as the family remains with their useless pride intact!” Maya defied him.

"You insolent...!"

 

Their discussion couldn’t continue as the doors were slammed abruptly, the Lord Commander himself entered the room, clearly upset. The High Inquisitor panicked and started to babble feeble excuses, kneeling on the floor.

“Silence!” The Lord Commander’s voice made that man flinch. “I sent you very specific orders to not prosecute the prisoners yet and you started a show trying to save the reputation of your pathetic clan!”

“Sir I…” Maya’s father was about to speak and he raised a hand, silencing him.

“From now on you are dismissed of your duties as Inquisitor, Colonel Tendo!” The Lord Commander sentenced and that man was almost weeping on the floor.

"There's no time to waste on trivial family quarrels!” The Lord Commander faced Maya. “Tendo Maya-san, Follow me.”

 

Maya was about to follow the Lord Commander, stopping when Maya's mother ran to her.

“Maya... I don't get why are you doing this but please..." She clutched Maya’s hands.

Maya looks at her father one last time. But he had turned his back to not see her and stared at her weeping mother with a smile filled with sadness.

"Thank you mother. I'm deeply sorry for disappointing you."

"No...don’t...No matter what, be safe! Please, be safe!” Her mother begs her.

Maya lets her go and stepped away. With a heavy heart, she made a bow to her and turning her back she followed the Lord Commander, trying to fight back her bitter tears.

-----

One of the maids opened the curtain just enough to allow the room to be illuminated gently by the morning daylight. The room was big as the main hall of her fortress but it lacked the opulence that she would expect of the ruler of the kingdom. A simple furniture, that had a set of swords on it. Many gas lamps, turned off and several vases with flowers. There was a bed that would probably be four times her own, partially covered by a veil. A figure is sitting down on the bed, facing the window. Claudine checks the swords on the table once again. But even without these she could use her bare hands. A simple strike on a weakened woman. She thinks of her family and the past filled with tears and desperation. Her father getting weaker day by day, her mother's tears as she tries to keep herself together and enduring hardships.

“My Queen! I brought the pirate.” Lady Karasuma announced.

Claudine scowls. “I have a name!”

 

The Queen stood up and walked away from the bed. The maids were ready to help her stand but she raised a hand and they stopped. Claudine scowls at the sight of that woman. Even if she looks weak and tired, she still has that pose of confidence and silent authority that she despises. Her azure kimono was embroidered with gray and white waves that resembled her of a tempestuous sea.  Her eyes were upon her with the same look she would give to an disgusting thing.

“Leave us alone. That includes you, Karasuma-san” The Queen ordered.

“But, my Queen!” Lady Karasuma begged and it took a simple glare of the Queen for her to bow and leave, after the maids and closing the door behind her.

 

"Captain Saijo Claudine..." Queen Souda declared taking a few steps ahead. "You must be disappointed that Yakumo-san failed in killing me..."

"Actually I'm glad so I can have the chance for myself!" Claudine smiled and Souda nods.

"I was expecting such response.  Even Yakumo's presence.”

"Except she took your crown!" Claudine replied.

"And she left you dealing with the consequences... you and your vassal. Or maybe I should say your partner? Aren't pirates all about equality? A utopia without a country but their ship? A chosen captain by their crew? ...too bad there's so much greed among humans.” The Queen seemed to be struggling with herself more than arguing with Claudine. “Yakumo-san used you as a bait... She can be like that, unfortunately. I still feel responsible for her, after all.”

“Didn’t she betray you first and stole the Seiran?!”

Souda's face turns somber and somehow Claudine can see a trace of sadness in her eyes.

“We fought together. We slaughtered the arrogant samurais of the old Emperor.” Souda declared. “What more proof of loyalty than kill her former clan, the same ones whom disowned her only because she dared to stand for herself? And still…”

Claudine wasn't expecting to hear that about Yakumo nor witnessing how the woman she had despised for so long, was lamenting about her lost subordinate.

"Tendo Maya reminded me of her. Now I have enough evidence to execute her...that would be a shame...”

“What do you want?! Why did you bring me here, anyway?!” Claudine was starting to lose her patience. “Is it info? I have no idea of Yakumo's location! I didn’t know she was after your fucking crown!”

 

Souda remains silent for a moment, her expression becoming neutral. “The Imperial Crown was forged centuries ago.” She started to explain as a teacher would do. “However, most emperors couldn't bear its power. One of them started to build this castle and the chamber to keep it safe from others. Because the one who could handle its power, could control the Black Chorus, the fallen servants that desperately crave for the brilliance of a powerful soul.”

 

Claudine was perplexed but it made sense the way they stopped as soon as Yakumo had taken the crown.

“However the crown is heavy, beyond what you can imagine. That's why, Saijo Claudine I have an offer for you… Bring her back to me, before she can use the crown, before that power can consume her...” Souda’s piercing eyes almost frightened Claudine.

“But why me?” She asks. “Don't you have an army ready to fight at your command?!”

 

Claudine wonders if Souda wants to punish Yakumo for her betrayal. So far, Yakumo had succeeded in avoid being captured mostly because she had been using others to avoid any attention. But she can't understand why Souda is offering such deal to her.

 

 “I know I’m surrounded with traitors. I am no longer able to fight like I used to be. There are already generals making deals and alliances with the rebels. But you are outside of all of this. Even though you want to destroy me, there's someone that you care for, enough to abandon the safety of your cherished battleship.”

Claudine closed her hands tightly, once again someone was taking advantage of her.

“How unfortunate that some members of the Tendo Clan have been collecting enemies, blinded by their greed and arrogance.” Souda lamented.

“If I bring Yakumo you will keep Maya's family safe.” Claudine hated that woman even more now.

“That’s correct. Her name cleared of all charges as well.”

 

Souda turned away to face the sky through the windows.

“The heart is a fickle thing. We think we are unstoppable, making plans and trying to be cunning then we start to feel. Anger, hatred, the need for justice... The desire for power and then.... you are willing to throw away your life for another weak and imperfect human being. All logic beaten by a simple thing...”

 

Claudine sees the swords on the table. But she can't let Maya suffer because of her need for revenge. After all, she can’t change the past.

“Fine! I’ll do it!” Claudine accepted and Queen Souda nods before giving her a warning:

“If something happens to Yakumo-san, I will make sure to deliver their heads to your dear Tendo Maya. Is that clear?”

Claudine has no choice but to surrender. “Understood.”

----

 

Despite her evident exhaustion, Maya continued walking with the Lord Commander, now free of her handcuffs. They reached the entrance of the castle, in which there were several military trucks, surrounded by soldiers. The Lord Commander had just informed her The Queen had made a deal with Claudine that would provide a chance to amend her mistakes. Maya wasn’t in the mood to ask him and she decided to simply wait next to him.

 

“You must be extremely tired Tendo-san” He observed.

Maya frowns. “Barely, Sir”

“I see. I have instructed the others to take you and Captain Saijo to the docks in which your allies are waiting.”

“You are aware of everything and yet you are letting us be. The rebels and now this…” Maya questioned and he smiled just a bit.

“I am more concerned about the stealing of the crown by Yakumo-san. Souda-san predicted that Yakumo would appear sooner or later. She used herself as a bait.”

“But still she managed to steal the crown.”

‘The Giraffe’ simply nods. “Indeed Tendo-san. What Yakumo-san did not only affect Souda, also this mortal vessel of mine. I had forgotten how frustrating can be feeling pain and letting someone else to fix it.”

Maya thought this man could not be any stranger. “With due respect, Sir... Why the Queen hasn’t sent her troops to track Yakumo?”

The lord commander smile fades. “You sensed it, Am I correct? the darkness that said crown possess?”

Maya nods. She recalls a terrible feeling in her guts that night when she entered the chamber with Yanagi Koharu.

“The imperial crown has centuries of former rules obsessed with power and the fear lo lose it. Some have used it for good deeds, as well. But it carries a curse. The longer you use it, your life is consumed, like a candle against a fiery storm. Most rulers have chosen to lock it in that chamber. Some others...”

“That’s why they said the Queen was afraid to touch it. And that’s why Yakumo stole it!” Maya thought of Yanagi Koharu and the reason she had been at the castle as spy.

“That's why I need you to bring it. Alongside with Yakumo-san. She might have been once an adequate candidate to uphold its power but now I’m afraid I can’t let her have it.”

“I thought the crown would be inherited by the Queen’s family”

“Souda-san wouldn’t let her sons to even see it. Those boys are nothing but useless and weak. But someone like you or Saijo Claudine could.”

Maya remains silent and the Lord Commander’s smile widens. A dangerous proposal and she felt she was being tempted like an innocent child who might want a shiny toy.

“Think about it, Tendo Maya. Enough power to do what you want. To protect those you care for! To let your dear Captain to achieve her goals, to stand at the highest by her side.”

Maya knows that he’s placing doubts on her.

“But Sir, Aren't you on Queen Souda's side? You are the most trusted leader she can rely on.”

He laughed. “This world is merely a stage. I have chosen to witness and guide those who are willing to take that leap of faith. Souda-san earned the crown many years ago. She proved her strength and resolve, however right when she had grasped her victory, her loyal Admiral left and she couldn’t move forward. She can only fight to preserve what’s left her power but her radiance is fading. A natural thing but with it, the imminent fall of this kingdom.”

The Lord commander’s eyes are distant as if he was recalling bitter memories.

“I warned her, but she vehemently ordered to let her go. All these years she has refused to use her power to capture her. Perhaps someone like me is unable to understand the magnitude of human emotions and how they can change. And yet I must continue observing and analyzing…”

 

Maya was about to ask him what he meant when she heard people coming. Nana and Junna with Claudine, behind them, carrying her sword on her belt.  Maya rushed to meet her and both stayed silent for a moment before Maya bows to her.

They were being watched by the guards, The Lord Commander, Nana and Junna, but Maya didn’t care about the others, nor Claudine minds to be watched.

“Mon Captaine. À tes ordres…” Maya smiled, feeling fortunate to see her again, after all that had happened.

Claudine smiled and ruffled Maya’s hair a bit. She had made a deal with her enemy but somehow all of that wasn’t important right now, not even the dangers that lied ahead if it was to protect her. The Queen’s words came back to her mind and what she had dread before, now she was willing to accept it and treasure it.

Revenons à notre navire . It’s been a long night, Maya…”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It was necessary to find some relief in dark times, or at least a nap before deal with anything.

Finally, exhaustion had taken over Claudine, her head resting on Maya's shoulder. Maya wanted to stay like this, to get away from everything. She wished she could be truly selfish, that her resentment would win over this guilt and sadness. Not even in her happiest moment in a long time, she can escape from the blood that runs in her veins, not even after being repudiated by her own father. Perhaps chasing something so ephemeral like happiness and serenity was out of her reach, her destiny seemed to be in the path of constant struggle. Claudine was now mumbling something in her sleep, tugging her jacket as if she could sense her distress.

Claudine's crew wouldn't be pleased to know that they made a deal with Queen Souda. It was a rule not to make agreements with their enemies without the approval of the crew. That scenario made Maya fear for her. The odds were decidedly against them, all that she can do is hold her now and wait.

“Bring me the Imperial Crown and Yakumo-san. We will make sure that no one will harm them”
The Lord Commander’s words echoed in her mind. She didn't trust him but she thought that he wasn't a man of breaking his promises. Mentally and physically exhausted, Maya slowly closed her eyes. Until she woke up, startled by voices and a door closing.

"...ride is over!" The driver had repeated annoyed. Maya simply frowns, shaking Claudine gently to wake her up. It took them a moment to get out of the car.

They were back in a small dock at the outskirts of the city. It smelled of fish and burning wood. The passersby looked at them with distrust, some were quick to hide what probably was an illegal cargo. Nana told them the Lord Commander had given orders to provide transportation to The Amethyst that was anchored far from there. The pirate ship had already put the Navy on alert. From the docks they could see what looked like two heavy class ships on the horizon and three frigates on the frontline. Maya noticed how Claudine was looking there with a deep frown, concealing her frustration.

"Let's get going." Claudine simply replied, following Nana while Maya walks beside her.

The ship that was waiting for them was a small, slightly old patrolling ship. The sight of its imperial flag disgusted Claudine but she did her best to keep silent. However, her presence made a couple of the officers nervous, a few others had prepared their weapons to open fire. Nana was quick to tell them they were simply carrying the Queen's orders and after showing them a letter that had been branded with the Imperial seal, they boarded it.

It would take a few hours to reach The Amethyst. First they had to navigate through these ships deployed ahead. A flock of seagulls hovered near them and Maya contemplated the birds with slight curiosity, a fleeting distraction in that moment.

They decided to stay at the bow of the ship. Nana was trying to catch up some rest, arms crossed and sitting next to a pile of bags, and unusual cargo. They were most likely smuggling something in order to get more than the minimum wage the officers would earn.

Claudine, not far from them was looking around, was on guard. Maya refuses to fall asleep but being sitting next to what it felt like a bag of leaves and the sound of the waves was quite close to a relaxing place to doze off.

"It will take a couple of hours. You better have some rest" Claudine approached her. Nana was snoring rather loudly, exhausted.

"Don't worry about these idiots. None of them could harm us even if they tried." She tried to reassure Maya.

"I'm not worried about them" Maya finally stood up and walked away from that comfortable spot, holding on the rails of the ship.

Claudine stood still for a moment and followed Maya. She pondered that Maya was troubled by all that happened. While it was fair to give her some space to reflect, Claudine felt that she should ask her instead of letting her bottle up all her feelings. She stood next to Maya, whom was merely staring at the waves.

“You can tell me.” Claudine offered, a part of her concerned of being too straightforward.

Maya blinked and raised her gaze to meet hers. Maya was about to reply with her usual fortitude, but these empty words that she intended to say faded before she could even pronounce them. Claudine knew she had to press on.

"What happened at the castle when your uncle, the Inquisitor showed up?"

Maya avoids her stare. She wasn't used to speak her thoughts. “I simply have lost the right to call myself Tendo Maya.”

Claudine stays silent as the sound of the waves crashed against the creaking wood.

“...it feels strange but… somehow I…” The always eloquent Tendo Maya had troubles to phrase her thoughts, her mixture of emotions. “It had to happen. That or...” Maya’s voice falters. “…or making more mistakes. But I’m fine. I’m…”

Claudine grabs her arm and without any resistance, she pulls her close into a gentle hug. Maya felt her entire being shaking, tears starting to cloud her own vision. This was all unknown to her, this affection, the genuine care, despite her efforts on trying to conceal it beneath a mask of calmness. Maya swallowed and breathes, holding on Claudine’s arms, taking a moment to speak once again.

"They interrogated me. No violence.” Maya clarified, her voice hoarse. “They wanted to know if you did something to me. I remained silent." She explains proud of her resolve. "But I could have told them of how my fragile heart was stolen by Saijo Claudine…"

"Silly..." Claudine simply replied to indulge on Maya's attempt to lighten the mood, still holding her for a moment
before letting her go and they could see each other's faces. Maya did her best to stay collected, despite the tears in her face and that broke Claudine's heart.

"My parents... they weren't precisely happy to see me. I can't blame them... their only child turned out to be a tragic disappointment." Maya, once again tried to laugh it off but Claudine wipes the tears in her cheeks and Maya now can't look at her without feeling ashamed of herself.

"I apologize..." Maya hates herself for all this sudden burst of emotion, all these fears cluttering her mind and making her look weak in front of the person she didn’t want to fail.

"Why are you apologizing for?” Claudine replied, her voice soft. “For crying?... For... having regrets or doubts?”

Maya shakes her head, fearing that she might misunderstand her words. “I’m concerned for your safety too! Your crew will be furious to know you are going to capture Yakumo for the Queen and… !"

"Non, non!” Claudine places her hands on her shoulders, trying to ease her worries. “Je vais les convaincre!” Claudine stares at her with determination. “We need to focus on getting back on our feet and try to find Yakumo. I will make sure your parents will owe their lives to this criminal!”

Maya managed to smile back at Claudine. “I'm sorry for all the troubles. I am most thankful to you, for getting me out of that place, for stopping me from doing something that I would regret..."

Claudine nods, trying to not think of what might happen next. “Now, be good and try to have some rest, allons-y...

Maya did as she requested. Claudine sat next to her, making sure she could have some rest before reaching their ship. Nana had instructed the Captain to send a message through one of the channels used by the pirate crew at the sight of The Amethyst. After receiving a positive confirmation, the patrolling ship started to approach the ship. Maya and Claudine were now awake and alert.

The patrol ship stopped right next to the Amethyst. They lowered a rope ladder to let them climb aboard. As Claudine climbs to her ship, she wonders if she can truly relax, after all this ship had been a sort of tribute to her father that ironically she had to keep it secret from him. But now all that she can find are the harsh stares and concerned whispers of some of her fellow mates.

Mahiru and Karen are among the few ones to greet her with a relieved smile. Hikari looked like she had just woken up. However, there’s no time for any more salutations when Kaoruko comes through the group of pirates.

“Welcome back to the Amethyst, Captain!” Kaoruko’s voice was saccharine as she waves her fan, stepping forward, the rest of the crew making way for her and Futaba, behind her, of course trying to not look nervous with this situation. “Good to see you back in one piece and with your beloved one! I bet the fight was pretty intense, judging by how you...um...look!”

Claudine ignored the taunt and braces for the consequences of her actions. The deck becomes silent, only the waves crashing against the steel. Even the ship is lethargic, waiting for a response.

“my my...Too bad that you got captured by the Queen!” Kaoruko’s voice has a tone of accusation. “Is this why Hoshimi-han couldn’t return, Banana-han?” Claudine and Kaoruko are exchanging piercing stares. Maya fears that this might be the prelude of some kind of mutiny and this crew would elect a new captain. Claudine would rather kill anyone than give up her the control of this ship. She had no weapons, maybe if she can steal one of Daiba’s swords she perhaps could use it.

“She had to stay behind, to cover us.” Daiba was quick to reply. “We were ambushed by the Army’s officers and with help from some of our allies we could escape!”

“It seems that despite the circumstances your luck is still good as ever, Captain.” Kaoruko commented and Claudine simply smirks with sarcasm at the comment. “But I don’t think your luck would be enough to deal with three Mark-IV ships, brand-new from England, don’t you think? Not even with all your… bravery!”

Claudine had that murderous gaze and Kaoruko seemed not to be affected the slightest. “So, what would be our next movement, after our beloved Captain is back?”

Kaoruko was gripping her fan with such a strong force that it was about to break. “Unfortunately we stand no chance in this moment against the Navy… and our allies, have retreated already! Perhaps a swift escape because that’s all we have left!

Futaba tried to calm her down in vain but Kaoruko had already broken the fan. “You better have a nice plan because we have abandoned EVERYTHING for a chance like this and now EVERYONE is leaving us ALONE!” Kaoruko tosses the fan at the ground. “The Radiant Aurora, Onikage, The Red Storm! All of these ungrateful bastards have ran away when they knew you were captured!”

Claudine felt the weight of each of their stares, filled with the promises and expectations of revenge and glory. She had thrown it all away just for a chance to see Maya again. She had put her own desires before her responsibilities and resolutions.

“I am willing to give up my position!” Claudine replied, raising her voice and some of them looked at each other, murmuring, shocked and confused. “I was aware of the risk by leaving! But after what happened… I couldn’t stay there and simply wait!” Claudine glared at Kaoruko. “I want to win as much as you do… but no victory will be worth if I lose what’s important...!”

Claudine was shaking with a mixture of frustration and embarrassment . The crew would not only elect a new leader; she would be mocked for her honest declaration but she didn’t care now. She was glad that Maya was behind her because she wasn’t ready to see her face to face. Not yet...

“I know I’m being selfish! but… she… she’s….!” Claudine blurted out and stopped, afraid of ruining everything. She was navigating now with the only compass she had left but this was scary. What in the world Tendo Maya had done to her?, she questioned her sanity.

To her surprise, Kaoruko bursted into laughs as if someone had told her the most hilarious joke. The deck was silent except for the laughs of Hanayagi Kaoruko.

“Look at our Captain! She has fallen in loooove!!!” She pointed at Claudine and then started to sing a love song filled with mockery. Claudine would have stabbed her, if it wasn't for Futaba rushing to hold Kaoruko, whom was laughing like mad.

Mahiru clapped and Karen started to yell that she had earned a bet. Some crew members were arguing if Claudine and Maya were officially lovers or not and how valid was Karen's declaration of winning said bet.

Claudine couldn't believe what she had to witness. “QUOI?! Putain de Merde!! C'est des conneries!” Claudine roared now waving her sword. “Je vais les jeter à la mer!!!

“I knew you liked Tendo-san a lot since you danced together!” Karen happily commented ignoring Claudine's menacing words. “It was quite obvious, Karen” Hikari shrugs.

Kaoruko was in a better mood now, apparently. “Well, well... no one said it would be a piece of cake." Kaoruko said, between fading laughs." Still, we need to retreat to a safe place and evaluate our options. Maybe our comrades at Kyoto might welcome us...” Kaoruko was about to continue when someone interrupted her.

“Why are you coming from a Navy recon ship?” Amemiya stepped forward, voicing her doubts.

She had been in charge of the crew of ship builders, now forced to join the crew due to the lack of sailors. “Our allies have abandoned us and they…” She pointed at Kaoruko and Futaba “…won’t explain us why there are three ships standing by. We are an easy target. Not to mention that she is wearing the Royal Guard uniform that belongs to the Captain of the Royal Guard. ” Amemiya stared now at Daiba Nana.

“One of the Navigators said something about a terrible message! I heard her!” Another one,
Masai said next to Amemiya. “About Yakumo and a betrayal!”

Karen hides behind Mahiru and apologizes repeatedly. Kaoruko was about to kick Karen out of the ship for talking about critical information outside of the bridge, especially when she had warned them to be discreet.

“How dare you to doubt our Captain?!”
Asami was quick to defend Claudine, and soon the deck was divided between two groups of people shouting at each other. Everyone had grabbed their swords, guns and all kinds of melee weapons, ready to attack. Maya was about to steal Nana’s sword when a powerful scream silenced them.

“¡ENOUGH!” Claudine roared with her sword on her hand, ready to strike it on anyone reckless enough to provoke her. She walks towards Amemiya and Masai.

“Wanna know the truth so badly?” Claudine snarled. It was quite a rare sight to witness the ever serious and calm Amemiya, with a pale face, visibly intimidated by Claudine.

“Fine! Let’s find out what that message is about!” No one dared to say anything else and Futaba hurried to speak.

“Yakumo Kyouko has left a message to the guild.” Futaba began. "Saijo Claudine, you have been... accused of betraying her...”

Maya was about to intervene but Nana holds her arm, preventing her from moving any further and gave her a cautious look. Maya had to admit that even if she had fought alongside them, she had never being called to perform the pirate oath and she desisted.

Futaba then started to recite a message.

“To my fellow Captains, I have been victim of an outrageous act of cowardice from Captain Saijo Claudine. After requesting my help, which I didn’t hesitate to provide, she lured me and my comrades into a trap to capture me, in exchange for the entire control of Hokkaido and its nearby islands. Captain Saijo is making deals with the Queen herself. Trusted witness have seen her going out of the Imperial Castle, after a meeting with Queen Souda. With a heavy heart I send this message as a warning for my fellow pirates….”

The complaints and the threats begin once again.

“Explain that!"

"Die rather than the help the queen!, that’s what you said many times!”

"She had no choice, if you die how can you win this war!"

The pirates were arguing once again, many of them seemed to be disappointed and others were in disbelief. At this point the opinions were divided and Claudine felt like a cornered lioness, ready to slash and bite anyone who might come near her. Kaourko raised her gun and emptied the weapon's chamber, bullets falling on the deck.

"This is indeed a trick of that odious woman!" Kaoruko intervened.

"She did it to protect my family!" Everyone turned to see Maya, whom was now on her knees and bowing down, unable to hold herself back any longer. "The Queen is keeping my family as hostage! " Maya declared with everyone's eyes on her.

"During the riot, I was forced to leave the island. I had to choose between the safety of my family and my desire to stay here! However, Captain Saijo was kind enough to look for me. She spared my life! Even after I had raised my sword against her!"

Maya couldn't look up. Would Claudine being upset at this display of weakness? Perhaps she would, but she had no choice. Without a weapon and knowing that she would need their help to rescue her family, she had to do this.

"I know I’m not one of you and I wouldn’t dare to ask for help but please, do not doubt your leader!"

"That’s enough! Claudine sheathed her sword and reached to Maya, helping her to stand on her feet. "You don’t have to kneel to no one!" She told her with visibly indignation and Maya avoided her eyes with shame.

Claudine then addressed the crew. “Yakumo Kyouko has only told half-truths in hopes to bring confusion among us!” Claudine was almost yelling.

“Yes, It's true that I requested help from Yakumo, when Tendo Maya disappeared. Yakumo not only helped me to know about her location, she also offered to join us in the search since she knew our current state. I thought that perhaps, this was our last chance to do anything before the guild might be over and escape before the Navy could use this to finish us. But Yakumo used me to steal the Imperial Crown and escaped! They throw us in the Castle’s dungeons and we were about to face execution when the Queen proposed me to capture Yakumo in exchange for Tendo Maya’s parents!” Claudine explained, Maya still not looking at her.

The crew remained silent witnessing this declaration. Amemiya and those on her side seemed to be pondering these words. Karen and Mahiru were almost crying, visibly moved by the story. Hikari was smiling with sympathy towards Claudine. Kaoruko has that smugly smirk on her face while Futaba was looking around to gather the reactions from the others.

"Are you saying that captain Yakumo, the most respected member of this guild has done such thing?" Said another pirate, a young man that had lost his arm.

"She already did it to her former master, the Queen herself! Claudine said. "The Queen that saved her life and granted her power!. She is more than willing to betray any of us if that benefits her!"

Another pause, a stressful silence of conflicting opinions that Kaoruko was eager to break. "Comrades, we can’t let this situation to cloud our judgement! Sometimes you have to do tough things to survive!” Kaoruko reasoned, trying to not take any sides and keep the peace within the crew.

“And to help your friends as well!” Futaba intervened. “Tendo-han have been fighting alongside us! She risked her life at the island when we were betrayed! I would dare to say that she is one of us. It’s our duty to help her in what we can!”

No one complained any further after these words. Even though many were upset about the recent events, during the mutiny at the island, Tendo Maya had faced those who had betrayed the crew with great bravery that couldn't be forgotten.

“Of course, we can discuss all of this later! But first let’s move to a safer place, shall we?!” Kaoruko insisted.

Claudine and Maya exchanged stares only for a moment in which Maya tried to not look abashed. Claudine remains serious, leaving her behind, giving orders to the crew and going to the Bridge with Karen and Mahiru.

As the deck is cleared with everyone taking their positions, Nana and Maya are prompted by Kaourko to follow her to the bridge. Nana patted her on her shoulder, saying that despite her warning she had done something right. But Maya didn't feel relieved after that, still thanking Nana for her support.

The Ship’s engines roared as the prelude of a much needed retreat. Another message came through, from none other than the Navy's newly appointed Grand Admiral with a cryptic: “Leave and don’t return without her”.

Claudine knew the Queen was behind that message. She decided to conceal her frustration by asking the crew to send messages to the nearest ports that might welcome them. Mahiru suggested them that they could go to Kyoto since the city had been taken by rebels.

“What happened while I was gone?” Claudine asks to Kaoruko whom attempted to smile but it came out as an smirk. Nana and Maya had followed her.

“The rebels took Kyoto. After capturing the Castle, the Governor negotiated with the rebels and the city was liberated. The Rinmeikan and other pirates defeated the Navy's ships. They are now are standing by in Kyoto’s port. A remarkable prowess from them… ”

“The Rinmeikan crew and Captain Tomoe has secured the port.” Futaba smiled “Kaoruko is burning with envy…”

“Silence! We were supposed to crush the ships at the capital and wait for the others to join us!” Kaoruko protested, arms crossed. “But now we are supposed to chase Yakumo?! hmph!”

Futaba nods. "You need a better argument to convince them, Kuro-chan”

“Exactly! And while I understand why you left to help Tendo-han, the others have been waiting for a chance like this in years! Two nobles that have simply fallen in disgrace won’t be enough to persuade them!”

Claudine remained thoughtful, staring at the horizon through the windows above the control panels. She instructed Mahiru to request for help to the Rinmeikan crew through the channels used by the Order. A while later the request was accepted, then setting course to Kyoto. Claudine, tired of everything, rose from her seat and told the others that they would discuss this tomorrow.

Maya had been silent and absent minded all this time. Perhaps these words from Kaoruko, although without ill will, made her worry once again. But she had to stay calm and find a solution.

The sound of a distant explosion interrupted them, shaking the boat just enough to alert everyone. "What the hell was that?!" Claudine yelled. Her patience was at a dangerous limit.

It took a moment for Mahiru to hear a message from another part of the ship.

"Intruders on deck!" Mahiru almost shrieked and wait for another moment. "They are coming from the sea?!"

"But How?! There's no sight of any ship near us!" Hikari was staring at the radar.

Claudine felt her stomach twisting with a eerie fear. Maybe someone else had the same technology that the Rinmeikan had. It would be naive to think that they had it exclusively, maybe they had stolen from the Navy or any foreign vessels.

“Bridge, start a red code! Get ready to support if needed!" Claudine ordered.

They rushed out of the room through the hallways to find a group of pirates defending the deck against a dozen of heavily armored Black Chorus. Claudine cursed. “What the hell? Black Chorus? But how is this possible?!" "Unless she has finally used the crown..." Maya spoke with disbelief. “We have to defend the deck! Come on!" Claudine was quick to face the intruders.

"Hey! Tendo!" Futaba throws her a gun. "Come on!"

"Thanks!" Maya joined Claudine while Futaba and Kaoruko were doing their best to defend the ship. Nana was helping them to resist the attacks. Maya and Claudine managed to defeat some of them, disappearing in blue flames.

"Aim for the head!" Claudine yelled.
"That’s easy to say, thank you very much!" Kaoruko complained. "I would if they weren’t wearing these heavy helmets!"

They continued to quarrel but the black chorus kept coming. They were surrounded when the attackers disappeared in a massive sea of blue flames.

"That was…close." Kaoruko fell on her knees and Futaba kneeled next to her.

"Are you getting rusty?" Futaba teased her.

"Be quiet, Futaba-han" Kaoruko smiled, holding back her annoyance.

Claudine looked around. A few people had been hurt, the attackers did some minor damage to her already patched deck.

"It was her…" Maya approached Claudine". "Yakumo. She is using the crown. Maybe this was a warning, or a way to test her control of that crown. The lord commander said it takes a lot of energy to handle it, the reason why Queen Souda had stopped using it" Maya commented.

Claudine stared at the crew rushing to help the wounded. "And yet, she did. Brilliance… huh?" She recalled what the queen told her. "We need to convince everyone that she’s a threat… otherwise we all gonna end up chopped in pieces by these monsters before we can even get close to The Seiran.

The aftermath of the incident was handled as usual. The wounded ones were few, although injuries weren't critical, still they would need to arrive to a safe port as soon as possible. Any other discussions would have to wait until arriving to Kyoto and that would take a more hours of cautious navigation.

After a silent dinner with Maya, Claudine was glad to find a couple of bottles of wine left under her bed. Even with her exhaustion and her stomach full, she couldn't stay just still on her bed. Maya had been silent during their meal together and afterwards she had gone to the deck. She interpreted it as her need for reflection and privacy.

She had just started drinking her first glass of wine when someone knocked the door and Claudine frowns. After reaching for her gun ( you could never be too cautious in a pirate ship), she opened the door slowly.

Maya was standing rather awkwardly as she opens completely the door. "My apologies for disturb you, You must be tired and..."

Claudine grabs her by her arm and pulled her inside, closing the door and locking it. The room was barely illuminated with a small lamp that hangs from the wall. The Captain's cabin was slightly bigger than the others. While most cabins were shared by two people, this one had only a single bed, with a table with a couple of drawers.

“I can't sleep.” Claudine interrupted her as she places her gun on the table, with a bottle of wine and a half-empty glass. Maya hesitated for a moment before continue talking, as if she was doubting her place here.

“...I hope that you are not mad for what happened at the deck. This must be uncomfortable for you."

Maya was definitely concerned. And most likely, she wanted to know what were to each other, Claudine thinks. She had told her, more than once they were partners but after everything they had been through, she couldn't say that they were exactly best friends. Kaoruko had laughed at her in front of the entire crew, declaring that she had fallen for Tendo Maya. If Kaoruko wasn't commodore, she would have thrown her into the sea.

“It's not a big deal.” Claudine merely replied. But this wasn't the way she wanted to convey her feelings, it should have been something more private rather than witness the entire crew look at her. Well, at least she didn't shed any tears.

Claudine was ready to bear the jokes, the deadly threats from the Queen herself, Yakumo trying to kill her, even the conceited smirk on Tendo Maya's face, but witnessing her with such hesitation was unsettling.

"I asked Isurugi-san for a weapon, however she told me that it wouldn’t be necessary and I should speak with you about that” Maya continued, still with that cautious look. “I simply want to be ready for whatever might come... since your crew it's not entirely agreeing with you..."

Claudine remembered something very important and turned away to look for a bag, made of rough fabric that was at the other side of the room and handed it to Maya, whom had now a puzzled look.

"Open it" Claudine tells her and Maya untied the bag to reveal its contents.

Maya remained speechless for a moment, holding a weapon, a rapier carefully crafted. Its golden hilt resembling a bird with a diamond at the end, shining against the dim light of the lamp. Claudine was content with her reaction and took the glass of wine.

“You like it.” Claudine stated with delight and Maya couldn’t help but to nod and finally smiling. “It suits you. A beautiful and sharp weapon worthy of it's owner...”

Still with the scarce illumination Maya couldn't hide that blush on her cheeks after hearing these words, this was a victory for Saijo Claudine. That wine tasted better than ever. Maya realized that Claudine had accepted her as one of them long ago. It was the details, that bird shaped hilt or the diamond that moved her, for it couldn't be a mere coincidence in its design.

“I intended to give you as soon as I would be back". Claudine smiled raising her glass for a toast and savoring the wine as it take its effect, calming her just enough. "You would have pledged an oath of loyalty with everyone as a witness. We would have a toast and cheer for you and for our crew. I would have endured all the jokes and for you being conceited afterwards..."

Maya stored the weapon in that bag, keeping it next to the table. Claudine handed her the wine that had left in the glass. Maya accepted her offering, finishing and leaving it on the table.

"I was naive to think that any of this wouldn't have consequences..." Claudine frowned, letting herself fall on her bed. " I let myself to be used by Yakumo, believing that your family was going to force you to marry someone!”

Despite knowing that it bothered Claudine, a part of Maya was happy with these words. “If that happens…"

“You would become a widow!” Claudine shot a glare at her.

“So, you like me that much to commit murder?” Maya's conceited smile returned and Claudine was torn between annoyance and relief.

“Ah… you make it sound so dramatic, I mean… it would be just another dead body on my record!”

Maya laughed softly and Claudine smirks hoping this could lift Maya's mood.

“I know all of this is taking its toll on you, that you are worried for your parents and my safety but… promise that you wont kneel to no one."

Maya's smile fades, and remained thoughtful for a second. "Are you disappointed that I ask for mercy?"

"No. I just... You weren’t supposed to do that!" Claudine replied afraid that she might misunderstand her.

"Yes. I let my fear to win over me, too..." Maya admitted. "Even with our skills we can't overcome this by ourselves. Most important...What’s the use to keep my pride if I lose what’s important to me?" Maya replied, echoing Claudine’s words when she was questioned by Kaoruko and the crew.

That charming, radiant smile of hers was too much for Claudine to bear. Claudine did not respond with words, but she merely offers her hand towards Maya. She takes her hand, without thinking and Claudine pulled her closer in a swift movement.

After landing on that unexpectedly soft bed, Maya finds herself trapped under Claudine's tight embrace, filled with affection and yet with distress. Maya remained paralyzed with surprise and shyness, questioning herself if even breathing was appropriate. Until she exhaled and allows herself to raise her arms and surrounds Claudine's waist. Like a small ship at the mercy of a tempestuous sea, she lets herself go, to let her warmth to overcome her senses. Claudine's hair shined with a faint glow under that light. She could feel Claudine's quickened breathing and Maya wanted to tease her.

“...uh...it seems you definitely might like it rough, ma Claudine..” She felt Claudine tense under her arms.

"Silence!" She protested, her voice muffled, quite flustered.

Claudine relaxes her hold on her finding herself wanting to simply stay like this for a while and ease completely their troubled thoughts. But Maya was clearly provoking her, with a finger, doing circles on her back, infuriating but adorable, she had to admit it.

"...at that moment at the deck, before Hanayagi-san interrupted you..." Maya had whispered against her ear, her heart beating faster, her hands now still."...what were you going to say?"

Claudine knew that sooner than later she had to be honest with Maya. The uncertainty and the perils that might lie ahead made her realize that perhaps she wouldn't have any other moment like this one. Each moment could be their last.

She pulled herself back, just enough to stare at her. Maya's eyes were filled with undeniable longing, in silent agony.

"Am I...?" Maya seemed to be about to apologize, almost void of any sound, vulnerable.

" .... ne t'inquiète pas, ma Maya..." Claudine whispered enraptured by that gaze.

"Claudine... I..."

"Laisse moi prendre soin de toi, Ma Maya..." Claudine whispered, each word said with adoration and leaning close, she placed a soft kiss on her lips.

The faint scent of gunpowder and salt, the taste of wine on each other's lips, their fiery hearts beating as one. That innocent kiss becomes hungry, their bodies entangled, hands gripping on clothes with strength and a burning desire to strip these robes away. They breathed once again, smiles on each other's lips and a undeniable need for more. One kiss led to another and after a while they ended up laughing together.

"...does that answer your question?" Claudine said smugly, Maya laughed softly.

"Ah... But I think you could explain in with more detail, ma cherie" Maya wanted something more than her delicious kisses but Claudine closed Maya's lips with her fingers.

"We are on duty, remember? "

Maya, always a dutiful soldier didn't protest but her face was sort of a child who had been denied their favorite dessert. Claudine curls next to her and closes her eyes, relaxed. Even though she had closed her eyes and remained still, Maya was unable to sleep, her heart overflowing with joy after these kisses, her body charged with energy, now thinking of how she should name that sword.

“Odette, the Maverick...” Maya whispered.

“Pardon?” Claudine muttered. She hadn't been able to fall asleep either, after all.

“Odette, the Maverick. That’s the name I have chosen.” Maya declares with pride of receiving a gift from her beloved.

“..the Swan Lake's main character?" Claudine inquired.

“Yes! I knew you would understand, Ma Claudine"

Claudine snuggled closer to Maya with satisfaction. Her mother had told her once that any pain or suffering was worth if that meant the happiness of those we love. All the tribulations and dangers, they would overcome them, together.

Chapter Text

Marseille, France.

Three years ago.

It was an habit of her father to stand in mute contemplation of the sunset, perhaps to meditate, perhaps to relax after a long day, sometimes smoking with his kiseru, sometimes sharing this moment with her. He would tell stories of Claudine’s grandfather, a Captain that had died in the fight against the Emperor, or his own travels across Japan and France, where revolution had blossomed into a new Republic, or any funny or sweet memory of her mother when she was young.

Now, he could only rely on his thinned arms, covered with scars that might give you the false impression of terrible weakness, be he’s strong enough to roll his wheelchair’s big wheels towards the balcony that gave a beautiful view of the sea.

Claudine knows that despite the appearances, her father was a strong willed-man, even now that he was bound to a chair. His fiery, crimson eyes carried the weight of years and their tribulations.

Claudine had entered the room, her father remains staring at the sea, as the daylight fades. She placed a tray of tea and three cups, almost making no sound. Among the disarray of books, there was her father’s diary. Claudine felt a bit guilty to sneak upon his privacy but curiosity won once again.

She can’t quite understand his notes, a mixture of japanese, french, perhaps occitan and italian. She noticed a picture in sepia colors of a group of people, wearing the same plain dark kimono, except for a tall man that perhaps had medals or something embroidered in his kimono.

Her father, sensing her presence, started to talk about the nice weather and how he would like to go tomorrow to another meeting with his new acquaintances, retired Captains and sailors. Claudine is glad that he’s adjusting to their new neighborhood, fortunately he speaks enough french to understand and have a conversation with most people, perhaps learning occitan could entertain him for a while.

Her mother soon arrives and the conversation now is about how another man had arrived with proposals to Claudine, much to Claudine’s disdain. While her mother laments her choice (that man was from a wealthy family), her father nods in support. Claudine would never dare to tell them that she doesn’t like the company of men more than a casual friendship. She couldn’t like these men even if she tried (Claudine never tried).

Not long after their arrival to this city, Claudine had started to flirt with a pretty girl that works at the near bakery. However despite said girl’s beauty (and skills at kissing), she can’t tell her of her past, nor she’s inclined to share any thoughts than it would be necessary. It was just a fleeting affair, that would end as soon as that girl marries her fiancee next year, or sooner if her plans of leaving France worked as she intended.

“It was Papa who told me that I should marry someone that I love, Maman” Claudine argues in french as her father smiles.

“Indeed. Even if we are poor and starving. You are mon tresor, I don’t wish your radiance would fade at someone unworthy of you…” Her father replied in a mixture of japanese and french.

Her mother stays silent and nods, looking at him with adoration. Claudine rejoiced witnessing their exchange of smiles as they hold hands. These moments had been rare, months ago and perhaps now they could have some peace after everything that had happened.

“If…” Her father began “…you meet someone that you love, as I love your mother. I would like to meet that person, If possible…”

“Just do not receive him with a sword on your hand, Kenjiro!” Claudine’s mother joked.

As they laughed, Claudine couldn’t help but to dread of such moment. Her mother wanted her to marry some respectable gentleman, her father would be happy if he becomes a grandfather.

Once, when she was a child, she spent all her free time studying and training. She had dreamt of becoming someone like her father, smart and well mannered, a respectable officer at Japan, or like her mother, a dedicated wife and mother.

But she cant be like them. Especially not after escaping from Japan, after all that had happened. She can’t be a respectable lady, not after the things she has stolen and the people she has killed. These corpses rotting on the sand, she can’t erase that memory, after she took a knife and killed the first one, when she dared to stand on her own.

She learned to steal, to lie and use others as she made her way through these turbulent months at Hokkaido. Her father told her he was proud of her, of her strength and courage, her mother always worried, saying that she was simply doing what a man would do, to protect their family but praying that she would get married to a good gentleman that could protect her instead.

The memories of father beaten, his eyes closed with pain as they took her mother and her out of Tokyo fueled her anger, and the threat of a arranged marriage kept her focused. In Marseille, she found that people was not that different from Japan and here, after helping a resented wife and some prostitutes, she earned enough to make her way back to Japan. In her defense, she would argue those man deserved it.

Soon, she departed, after more lies, to her parents that she was on a trip to study. In Kyoto, Yakumo Kyouko found her. A teacher that she distrusted, a crew that seemed extremely devoted to their Captain forced her to find her own path. Kaoruko and Futaba appeared in her way and while supportive and being the friends she never had, she couldn’t tell them of her truth.

Saijo Claudine, whom boasted about power and freedom as the Captain of The Amethyst and uniter of the Guild of Pirates had been just a tool of others. They knew, they used her for their motives, they read her intentions, she thought. Kaoruko and Futaba knew about her past. And Yakumo knew that she wanted to keep Maya by her side.

At that time it stuck her, as thunder strikes into the earth, reverberating into her heart. It scared her and she can’t find logic, and she knew this was going to make her look weak in front of others. Anyone would dare to say she had strayed from her path and her oath.

But the hell on their expectations, Claudine thought. And what if she has fallen for her? What if her family would condemn her for many sins including this one? What if those around her couldn’t be trusted, each of them with their own agendas? What if they think she has become weak? What if all that she fought for was just an excuse to leave her home?

It was exhausting. Oh, how she craved the sweetness and the calmness of the wine.

Perhaps she was bound to struggled even more, and maybe die sooner than later. She thought of God and asked for a little bit of mercy upon the woman that now lays peacefully close to her, the one whom had thrown her life just to protect her.

All of a sudden, Maya makes almost a quiet snore. Claudine smiled and wanted to close her eyes, drift away in peaceful sleep with her instead of attend her duties and deal with the rest of the world. Claudine reached to place a quick kiss on Maya’s lips. Maya winced and she did it once again, this time lingering on her lips more than just a few second and Maya finally woke up.

“How many kisses do you need to wake up, Tendo Maya?” Claudine whispered. “It’s late…”

Maya struggled, and opened her eyes after a long moment.

“…Claudine…”

Maya’s voice was hoarse and Claudine finds her so adorable, all that she wanted was to sail away from all this madness. But her Maya has problems of her own, a family that waits for her to being saved.

“Move your ass!” Claudine playfully yells, pushing Maya out of the bed. Maya almost falls before she could regain her balance and stand up.

Claudine grinned and she was about to tease her just a little bit when the raging sound of an alarm reverberated in the room. They finished to get dressed, and taking their weapons, got out of the cabin.

When they arrived to the bridge, They found Mahiru having a discussion with the three young operators that ended when they saw Claudine and Maya at the bridge. Skipping salutations, Mahiru informed her that around five ships were on their course towards Kyoto after sinking a recon ship.

“There’s a message from them, demanding to surrender in name of Captain Yakumo, leader of the Guild of Pirates!” Mahiru declared.

Claudine laughs as she takes seat, pretending not to be angered at this clear betrayal. That’s why no one had showed up after they called for support a few hours ago.

“It seems these bastards has decided to takes sides…” Claudine tried to appear calm but she was trembling with anger.

Mahiru told them The Frontier had sent them a message requesting for support. Mahiru told her that even if apparently most of the ships were smaller to deal with, of them was the Tengus’s Revenge, a fast and well equipped ship of fourth class, commanded by Captain Abarai. That man had insulted Maya at the Guild’s meeting not long ago.

Claudine hurried Mahiru to wake Hikari and Karen, whom would need more than a ringing bell to wake up. Mahiru had no choice but to run back to their cabins to drag them out of their beds. The rest of the operators prepared everything for their arrival.

Claudine contacted the technicians right at the Machine room. Amemiya and Masai, those who knew about the ship’s capabilities, were honest to say that the ship, although fixed, it had sailed without finishing the repairs, which could be equally dangerous as being broken. However, given the situation, a clash wouldn’t be avoidable.

Claudine ordered those who were in decent health to get ready on deck. Others would stay with the artillery and instructed Mahiru, Karen and Hikari to get ready to deploy the new main cannon.

“I know you have a tendency for questionable ideas, but I believe you have a plan?” Maya was probably concerned about the deck guarded by rookies and a ship half-patched and especially with Claudine yelling orders with evident fury.

“I trust your skills will helps us, should we defend ourselves!” Claudine reclined in her chair after yelling orders through the communicator.

Maya nods, remembering that at the battlefield was all about risks and uncertainty.

“I am ready. Anything else?”

“Send Captain Abarai my regards… painfully if possible!” Claudine ordered.

“Understood!” Maya replied and she was about to run outside the room when Claudine called for her.

“Maya!…Do not get hurt…” Claudine requested, gaze distant and Maya nods, departing from tht place.

Not long after Maya left, Mahiru appeared, yelling at karen and Hikari to get on their positions. The Operators stood up and left the room as Mahiru sits in her chair and Karen and Hikari does the same, still sleepy.

“Prepare the main cannon!” Claudine yelled and Karen quickly became fully awake as she moved the controls and the ship’s engines roared. “Blast them away at will! Mahiru! Alert The Frontier to keep their distance!”

Karen and Hikari smiled at each other as Karen prepares the discharge and Hikari calibrated the ship’s position. Mahiru sent a message to their allies.

“I’m going to show all of you to not mess with me… sooner or later…” Claudine mutters thinking of those who had dared to betray her.


The enemy ships were in a open formation now towards them. It was clear that they wanted to take advantage of their speed and perhaps of their numbers. With The Frontier coming from the west and The Amethsyt from the north, the enemies were clearly provoking them. The Frontier was flanked by one small ship and it wasn’t that strong according to what she knew. The jamming device that allowed them to make the enemy’s radars go blind would give them some advantage but perhaps it wouldn’t be enough in a close battle.

“Get ready for the discharge!” Futaba yelled. “And don’t forget to check your wings for the launch!”

“We are going to fly, Futaba-chan!” Nana joked. “But it seems Kaoruko-chan is not fond of the idea?”

“This is madness! Why use this stuff!?” Kaoruko whines as Futaba fixes the belts and the equipment.

“Don’t forget to push the rope as soon as you are in the air!” Futaba explained. “Or I’ll become a widow!”

“SILENCE! I’ll show you!” Kaoruko was fuming.

Around fifty people, including Kaoruko, Nana and Maya were holding on to the walls of the main tower equipped with a new device that may allow them to glide for a moment and land on the enemy ship. Amemiya and Masai had been working on this for years.

The new cannon adapted to the front of the ship was about to fire. Maya heard the rumble of metal clashing with the waves roaring with anger, the floor trembled, the ship shaking.

A blinding light with an explosion that resonated, made Maya fear that the canon had malfunctioned and the ship had caught fire but then the cheers of joy from the crew told her otherwise.

“Direct hit! Direct hit! One down! Two with direct hit!” Futaba yelled through her communicator.

Maya saw three ships on fire and the main one intact. One had been wiped out almost completely, the debris of the explosion hitting the other two ships.

The Frontier started to fire its own artillery as they got within range. All they could do was wait as the sounds of cannons reverberate in the air, the smell of gunpowder and the salt was mixed on her nose.

The enemy’s main ship advanced against them with all their speed and they knew The Frontier would have to stop with their attack at some point to not get caught on friendly fire.

“Get ready to launch!” Futaba yells as the pirates pull the new catapults, that stink of oil and seemed extremely dangerous, a mistake in their calculation could send anyone to deep waters or into a collision. However, displaying some kind of reticence towards these things could be interpreted as cowardice.

Maya was the first one to climb to one of these things. Kaoruko was bickering with Futaba to get on one of these catapults with her as Futaba yells that it´s only designed for one people. Other pirates were boasting of how far they could get and as Maya saw the enemy’s ship getting closer, she could see the enemy crew about to fire incendiary grenades (devices that were simply bottles filled with oil) and they had to be quick to get them.

“Come on! They are about to strike!” Maya yelled. Futaba and Kaoruko stopped. Maya told the crew member to fire and with a explosion she flew for the first time in her life.

Maya couldn’t even have the chance to enjoy it, as arrows and bullets are being shot and she landed on the enemy’s ship and she has to pull the rope, adrenaline over her body. Wings extended and with great effort she flew into the enemy ship’s deck.

It was like being thrown into the fire, the madness of gunshots and blades that wanted to take them down. Quickly detaching the wings while running, Maya made her way through the ship, slashing and using enemies as her shield.

Nana, Futaba, Kaoruko and many others had landed, and while Kaoruko and Futaba were taking care of the deck, Nana joined Maya and they entered the ship.

“Just like in old times, eh Maya-chan?!” Nana yelled as they made their way towards the bridge. “Yes! Try to keep my pace, Daiba-san!” Maya boasted playfully and soon they were close the bridge.

The navigators had got ready for their arrival, firing indiscriminately, forcing them to stay on the floor. Nana retrieved a bottle and threw it inside that room. The fire ceased, and they heard people yelling, one of them as been hit with a poison a chance for them to fire and took down the rest.

She saw the captain, yelling at the radio and a young woman taking a sword to fight them. She adopted a fighting stance.

“THEY ARE INSIDE OF OUR SHIP! WE CAN’T HOLD ON ANYMORE! SEND THE CHORUS!! NOW!!”

The Captain kept yelling insults as the woman stood between them. Nana had used all her ammunition and Maya had lost count, tucking the gun in her holster.

The Captain turned to face them but he seemed far from arrogant, fear clearly traced on his scarred face. That woman rushed to attack Maya. Maya took the attack and pushed back, swords clashing and for one moment she had to step back and wait. That woman charged and it took just a second for Maya to kneel and pierce the throat of her enemy, instantly killing her and pulled back her sword away from the now deceased enemy.

Nana had stopped the Captain from trying to use his gun.

“FUCK YOU, BITCH!” That man yelled and Nana had no restraints in punching him in his stomach with the hilt of one her swords. The man fell on the floor and Nana took a look at the radio while Maya pointed at the Captain with her weapon.

“Who sent you?” Maya asked.

“Fuck you, Tendo scum! And that bitch! It doesn’t matter if you kill me! Yakumo will deal with all of you! I shall see you in hell!”

The man tried to attack one last time but Maya simply pierced him on his throat, as she smiled at that disfigured man’s face.

"Well then, Captain Saijo sends her regards… bon voyage…

" Maya pulled away her blade and that man fell, coughing miserably as the life escapes from his body.

“What a terrible mess… I can’t let Claudine to see me like this…” Maya complained.

“The last transmission came probably from the Seiran” Nana informed her. “But the location… it doesn’t make sense from the records…”

“Why?” Maya asks as she tries to clean her hands with her pants.

“Their coordinates comes from somewhere close to Kyoto, not the sea….”

They were interrupted when Futaba and Kaoruko came from the hallway. The fight died down as the last ones surrendered or were murdered with the arrival of the Frontier’s crew, well armed and numerous.

At the end, the remaining ships had been set on fire, and the Tengu’s Revenge’s" deck was a gruesome scene of carnage, with blood, limbs and corpses scattered around. Maya was glad to find some clean water to clean her dirtied hands.

Claudine arrived and congratulated everyone, when she met Maya she ruffled her hair and praised her quick execution of her job. Maya smiled, and it made her proud of herself.

Captain Otsuki and Claudine met at the captured ship, dividing the goods and interrogating the prisoners. Some of them were too drugged or drunk to tell anything coherent, only one told them that the Captain Abarai had made a deal with Yakumo and that she would bring reinforcements. Maya remembered what that man yelled at the bridge. The reinforcements never arrived and they could only make vague assumptions of what could have happened.

Nana had retrieved records and returned to The Amethyst. Maya returned a couple of hours later, busy with the aftermath of the battle, handling the captured and helping to take valuable cargo to their ship. Claudine let The Frontier crew to take care of what was left of the ship and its prisoners. The ship although battered perhaps could be repaired and used to fight.

Maya left the others with their celebration of a good battle in a long time and headed back to the bridge. She was at the hallway that leads to the bridge when she heard voices in a heated argument.

“…If they choose another captain is fine! I don’t care! If I have to find Yakumo by myself I’ll do it!” Claudine yelled.

“Be a fool and you won’t achieve anything!” Kaoruko warned her, voice high. “If we go to that meeting to have to be clever! They know about the crown!”

“The crown! They can keep the damned crown! I just need to capture Yakumo!”

“Do you really trust in the Queen!? Come on, Kuro-han! Pray that she hasn’t tortured them yet! They already executed Tendo-han’s uncle, did you know that?! Maybe Tendo-han’s parents are dead now!”

Maya felt her stomach constrict, a wave of fear made her tremble. Her uncle, devoted servant, ambitious, proud of his clan…dead and her father, her mother… could be dead as well.

Kaoruko was right, The Queen or the Lord Commander might be just using them.

A moment of heavy silence passed between Claudine and Kaoruko.

“How do you know that?” Claudine asked, her tone lower, cautious.

“The news came through while we had our little battle!” Kaoruko explained. “He was executed with some members of the royal guard, apparently a group tried to kill the Queen! Now,Banana-han has been trying to contact Hoshimi-han to confirm her status!… she’s…”

Maya hold on her weight against the wall, feeling sick and scared. These things were common, people who had failed or upset the Queen or the Lord Commander were executed as traitors, just like those who dared to attempt to do any sort of revolt.

Kaoruko and Claudine continued talking but Maya wasn’t listening, only thinking of all these disturbing possibilities that could put in danger her parent’s lives. She didn’t want to think about that but…

Suddenly, she sees Kaoruko coming out from the room, upset and passed by Maya without even looking at her. Maya looks at her go then entered the room.

Claudine was on her chair, not really paying attention to anything, gaze lost into the floor. Nana was next to the operator, as the young boy tried to contact someone and the two others tried to keep their gazes on their own instruments. Claudine noticed her arrival and stood up.

“Maya! I told you to go to the kitchen and eat!” Claudine approached her.

“Not hungry…” She mumbled. “You… you know… don’t you?! Did you heard us?” Claudine asked, reading the concern in her face.

Maya nods and Claudine puts her hands on her shoulders.

“Maya…I… I know I can’t trust the Queen but…” Claudine struggled with her words. “The crown is our last chance… The Queen is now surrounded by traitors and she can’t trust them, that’s why she’s…”

A loud knock and they turned to see Nana crushing her fist against the controls. The operator was visibly scared of her.

“I’m so sorry… D-D-Daiba-san…” The young boy mumbled an apology and Nana turned around.

“Thank you for your help.” Nana walked away, facing Maya and Claudine. Nana was doing her best to stay calm, but frustration and anger was all over her face and it was a rare and disturbing sight.

“I will go to the city and try to contact Junna-chan at the Radio Station.” Nana announced. “I’ll tell Nishino-san to take me to the city when they come back…”

“If you need Mahiru to help you…”

“Thanks but I’ll be fine on my own. If you excuse me…” Nana left the room in a hurry.

“Nana is really having a hard time.” Claudine commented.

“Who are those she mentioned?” Maya said.

Claudine exhaled. “Well, we are going to have guests in a moment. Two members of the order will be in here soon, one of them, General Kobayashi, from the United Army and the other one is Lady Nishino, keeper of the Order. They are eager to welcome us and show us their benevolence in the form of supplies. Hopefully they will bring some decent imported wine or else I’ll have to do with some good old sake…”

“…benevolence that has a price.” Maya replied, frustrated.

“Exactement…” Claudine sentenced in french. “And as much as I dislike the idea whe have no choice but to play along…” Claudine started to walk away. “Come on… let’s get ready to meet them…”

Maya followed her, trying to push back these terrible thoughts about her family and praying that no harm would fall upon them.


Chapter Text

The sun was about to set when The Amethyst dropped its anchor at a safe distance from the port. The Frontier and the remaining ships were stationed at a safe distance from them, making a defensive formation in case anyone else would try to attack. A cargo ship had approached, a couple of hours ago, carrying supplies that would last for a couple of days, providing a temporary relief for the crew.

Maya found Claudine in her office, sleeves up, checking reports, visibly concerned about the ship’s current state and everything that had been spent on the previous battle.

The new cannon had been proven to be effective, but it would require to do adjustments that she wasn’t sure that her crew could do by themselves. There were things that needed to be checked and fixed, especially the engines. Half of the original crew had been killed during the insurrection, now more people were injured or lacked the experience of those who had revolted against her.

“They only had sake, captain…” Maya said, placing a bottle of sake next to her.

Claudine frowns, looking at the reports. “I can’t complain since it’s a gift… look at this…”

“Last night ten ships were attacked, three sunken. Rinmeikan was among those ships…” Claudine quoted the message in her hands and handed the report to Maya. “How can I convince everyone that we have a chance against those demons?!”

Maya reads the rest of the report as Claudine opens the bottle and drinks from it.

….The only difference was the intensity of their attacks and the hours. These ship’s established connection to each other at different times through the radio channels."

“Could it be there are spies among them?” Maya inquired.

Claudine shrugs. “It’s a possibility. Yakumo seems to have spies everywhere… even in the Imperial Castle…”

Maya frowns and Claudine offered her to drink from her bottle.

“…besides, we have only a partial idea of what that crown might do.” Claudine said and Maya takes a sip. It was quite strong to her taste.

“According to Kaoruko, that Lady Nishino knows everything about the crown… and she’s a big fan of us, quoting her…”

“What else she said about them?” Maya inquired.

“Kaoruko was being annoying and she said it would ruin the surprise. Or maybe she can’t break some sort of oath to these people, anyway…” She checked her pocket watch. “.. shall we go?”

Claudine took her jacket and Maya followed her to the deck. The crew was busy as Kaoruko looked over to those who were bringing the last boxes on board. Kaoruko seemed unusually downcast, sitting on a pile of boxes. Futaba was busy, helping the others to finish their tasks. While Claudine approached Kaoruko, Maya spotted Nana, apart from them.

Nana stood still, with a view lost on the sea. Maya can only imagine how worried she must be for Hoshimi-san and approached her, trying to offer some support in this difficult time. Maya had to call her twice, before she could notice her presence.

“Maya-chan!?” Nana replied disoriented for a moment, turning to her. “…Sorry! Is something wrong?”

Maya had no idea of what to say. “I am sure Hoshimi-san is fine. I don’t think they… they would do anything to her…”

Maya felt these words might not be a source of comfort and Nana merely smiled, rather sadly.

He has us in his hands… Its always have been like this. He has been watching us…”

Maya is certain that she’s talking about the Lord Commander Kobayashi Ichiro, or The giraffe as many would nickname him, in an attempt to ease the threatening aura that man emitted.

She can imagine him, sitting on his desk, a cup of tea and sweets before him, as he orders others to execute his uncle, like he had ordered her many times allegedly in the name of The Queen.

Maya remains silent, once again her guts felt as if she was stabbed from the inside. Maya’s doubt crept on the back of her mind: What if her decisions would led to her parents’ death?

“We have a chance if we can get help from them, I’m sure…” She declares, more to herself than Nana.

“Lady Nishino will help. She’s the Keeper of the Order. She has the records of what they know. And while she has an important position, she’s young. She is fascinated with you and Kuro-chan. That might work on your favor, Maya-chan…” Nana said. “Look, they are about to arrive…”

A recon boat was coming towards the ship, at a considerable speed, leaving a trail of steam behind it. When it stopped, Maya spotted five people on board, one in charge of steering the boat, two guards and those who seemed to be the guests, a young lady and a man, round like a big potato.

“Try to use your charisma, it might come in handy” Nana suggested.

Maya thanked her for the advice, returning to stay beside Claudine, whom was standing in front of the hydraulic lift.

“How’s Banana?” Claudine asks when she noticed Maya’s presence beside her.

“Trying to cope…” Maya replied.

There was a long pause between them as the crew got the lift ready.

“Well…time to act like a respectable Captain…” Claudine commented and Maya remains silent. She could feel her gaze upon her but Maya’s stare remains at the lift.

One of the crew members pulled a lever and the lift started to move down. After waiting for the indication, they pulled again the lever, the lift starting to raise slowly.

The guards were the first to climb down to the deck, armed with rifles and swords on their belts. Then, the guests did the same. The first one was the man, whom seemed to be on his twenties, round and big like a bear, whom helped the girl to climb down. The sepia-colored uniform that the rebels used had marks that indicated his high rank within the Rebel Army. The girl, a teenager, with light-green, short hair was dressed with a long, black skirt with frills and ribbons and a white shirt.

There was something about them, something oddly familiar but she can’t think of any possible reason of such feeling.

“Lady Nishino, General…Good afternoon.” Kaoruko greeted them, unusually serious, Futaba did the same. “Good afternoon, Hanayagi-san, Isurugi-san. Good to see you again.” The girl bows and then Nana went to greet her with more enthusiasm than Kaoruko. Maya guessed they knew each other from long ago. Then, the girl’s gaze went to Maya and Claudine, eyes filled with admiration, while the man with his round, silly dark eyes, stared at them in distrust.

“Allow me to introduce our guests…” Kaoruko began. “Lady Nishino Elle and General Kobayashi Andrew from the United Army, members of the Order of the Rising Star.”

Both made a small bow that Claudine and Maya reciprocated.

“Captain Saijo Claudine, and her guard, Tendo Maya.” Kaoruko introduced them.

Claudine smiled. “Welcome to the Amethyst, Mademoiselle

Elle’s green eyes sparked with fascination. Maya wonders if she looked like this young lady when she met Claudine for the first time. Of course not, she tells herself. She wouldn’t look like this, enraptured and captivated as if she was standing in front of a goddess. Maya glanced at Claudine whom seemed amused by this child.

“Merci Beaucoup!”I am truly honored to meet both of you!" Elle replied in a rough french, her face illuminated with enthusiasm.

“Likewise!… your french is quite good, young lady…”

M-Merci…” She blushed. Elle notes Maya’s eyes on her and bows, longer than she should.

“I have been wanting to meet you once again, Tendo-san. Thank you for helping us!” She says in a rushed pace.

Maya is confused. “Young lady… have we met before?”

“After the Battle of Hanasaki, doryu…” General Kobayashi replied, his voice squeaky, almost like a child. “You were kind to letting us go when you and your group of murderers entered the town, doryu…”

Maya now remembers. After defeating the rebels, they found a group of villagers kept as hostages, or so she had thought. Since she had taken the role of the deceased Colonel, no one dared to question her decision. She remembers helping a young girl, giving her and her family, food and medicines. In gratitude, the girl had given her a neatly folded paper crane. It was one of the rare moments when she had gained some enjoyment from her former job.

“Andrew…not now, please!” Elle scolds him. “Tendo-san was simply on the wrong side!. Good thing that she met Captain Saijo and made her change her mind!”

“Yeah, what a sweet love story, doryu…” Andrew said with evident sarcasm.

Claudine dedicated Andrew a murderous glare.

“Captain Saijo. Would you mind if I speak with your crew?” Elle asked and Claudine had no choice but to forget her annoyance.

“oh, no…sil vous plait, maidmoiselle…” Claudine bows enough to show agreement.

Claudine ordered the rest of the crew for a gathering on the deck. Some member of the crew showed surprise, a few commenting among themselves. Amemiya, with Masai stepped forward, eager to see Elle.

“Attention! We have guests, show some respect!” Claudine yells and the voices died down.

“Thank you very much, Captain Saijo.” Elle then stared at them. “Good afternoon. I am Nishino Elle. May the stars guide us in our way!”

“May the stars guide us in our way!” They repeated.

Some of them bows with utmost respect, others were praying. However, not everyone had that reaction, Hikari, Karen, Mahiru and Asami were one of the few ones who were puzzled by their crewmates’s attitude. From what Nana told Maya, the order was not a cult but this was a bit concerning. Futaba, Kaoruko and Nana were silent, a hand on their chest and closed eyes, a sign of silent respect. Claudine frowned at them. Not that Claudine was a devoted catholic (like she told Maya Claudine’s mother was) but perhaps she was more concerned at all this display of fervent loyalty towards that Order.

Elle smiled. “General Kobayashi Andrew from the United Army has joined me to express our gratitude and admiration for this brave crew. We can’t thank you enough for protecting this port.”

Elle and Andrew bows to them. “We come also to extend our support to your brave Captain that left the Republic of France to fight for this land!”

Maya and Claudine looked at each other briefly as Elle continued her speech.

“The last days have been rough for everyone. But now, more than ever, we need to stay united, against those who want to take advantage of our efforts for their personal gain. General…please explain the situation.”

Andrew cleared his throat and tried to sound dignified but his voice was almost squeaky that made many hide their laughs.

“Last night there were attacks of soldiers known as the Black Chorus. They appeared from nowhere in many places, threatening many ships. They attacked the Rinmeikan while it was on repairs. Those who were inside were killed when the ship exploded, doryu…”. Andrew declared, following for a moment of silence.

Futaba and Kaoruko seemed especially angry after they mentioned the Rinmeikan.

“Fortunately part of the Rinmeikan crew weren’t on board.” Elle continued. “This is connected with the stealing of the Imperial Crown by Yakumo Kyoko.”

Whispers among the crew, those who had doubted Claudine seemed to regret their distrust of her.

“Many have said the powers of the Crown are mere stories, but we know the truth. That’s why I am begging you, to all of you, to continue with your efforts, Please!”

Elle and Andrew bowed to them.

“Thank you for your kind words Lady Nishino!” Claudine joined them, breaking the awkward silence. “It’s also my duty to inform that a message from Seiran is being broadcasted through many channels demanding us to surrender!”

“You heard Lady Nishino! The former admiral turned out to be just like her master after all!” Claudine raised her voice. “She betrayed her master, now she sinks ships that belongs to our comrades!”

Many screamed with indignation and even throwing curses and variety of insults towards Yakumo. Claudine realized that this was her chance to win her crew’s favor.

“Despite my failures, I have not forgotten our oath! We swore to protect each other!…” She paused. “I say, let’s give her a lesson! Let’s take that crown for ourselves! Let’s end the era of arrogant kings and queens! Together!”

The crew raised their hands and yelled. Maya wished she could find some enjoyment in all of this. Only the sight of her beloved Claudine standing with a renowned spirit of defiance as they cheer for her, forgetting what happened barely pushed away these feelings. She can see the desire for victory and revenge on their faces and yet she felt detached from there.

The meeting ended when Claudine asked them to continue with their duties, as tomorrow they would be receiving more help to repair the ship. Elle invited Claudine and Maya to join them before they could have a meeting with the rest of the order. Futaba and Kaoruko said they would take care of the ship and would be joining them later. Nana asked to go with them.


After a short trip to the docks by boat, a car was waiting for them. As they went through the streets, Maya noticed a few trucks from the Army, people walking, running errands and selling food, but it was far from the cramped streets she had walked by a couple of years ago. They reached the infamous red district, to the The Red Lotus, officially a restaurant, actually a casino that she had visited a couple of times during a mission to Kyoto. The usual guards were at its entrance but there wasn’t anyone trying to get in.

The car passed by and turned at the corner, stopping right at the backside of the building. Maya and Claudine stared at each other, expecting a place with a better reputation than this one. As Andrew helped Elle to get out of the truck, Maya and Claudine departed with Nana, whom remained inside the truck, and after they got out it left, disappearing in the nearest corner.

At the backstreet of the The Red Lotus it was slightly cramped with soldiers and a few staff members, chatting and smoking. At the sight of Andrew and Elle, they gave the usual salutations, making way for them. The captain of the guards, greeted them and let them pass through the iron door that lead to the building.

Inside, they passed by the kitchen, the staff greeted them. After reaching a door marked as the storage room, they entered into a room with a panel in which Elle pressed a combination, making the elevator going a long way down.

“Hidden in plain sight…” Maya comments, marveled at this.

“That’s right. Like a lotus, you could say… that blooms in a swamp.” Elle adds, but Andrew seemed uncomfortable. “It’s all right, Andrew. Once all this is over, we’ll change the location of the library…”

The elevator stopped and the doors opened. There were two guards, watching over another door made of steel, playing cards. They immediately jumped at the sight of them, giving the salutations.

After crossing the entrance, there was a an auditorium, with thousand seats around it. A few man and woman in black kimonos walked around, some of them carrying reports, others talking at each other. At the ceiling, there was a illustration of a moon, nine stars made of several colors, while dozens of gas lamps hang from the ceiling. Everything supported under big pillars that must have taken a decade to build.

“Do you like it?” Elle said as they follow her around the stage.

“The pillars… the ventilation and power system. I wouldn’t had imagine such place existed in Kyoto.” Claudine said recalling some of the diagrams she had seen in her father’s notes.

Elle smiled. “Yes, this was originally a hideout, an small cavern near the river… Inside of it, the order built a place to learn, away from the intruding eyes of the former emperor’s inquisitors, whom grew fond of that sinful place above us… a light in the middle of the darkness…”

“Build a new country and take the power that could make it possible….This is all about the crown, Isn’t it?” Claudine said.

Elle smiled. “Yes… but still… Would you like to hear an story?”

They continued walking towards a door located at the other side of that room.

After crossing a short hallway, illuminated by a small gas lamp, they ended up in another room. It was quite big, bookshelves with dozens of books that covered the walls. On the top, there was a chandelier that seemed to be made of copper, illuminating the room. On one corner, there was a table, stuffed with papers, pencils, and a few books piled up, next to a beeping communicator. In the middle of the room there was a round table surrounded by nine chairs.

The room had a nice view of a river, with the forest and the mountains at the distance. On one wall, there were a small space, claimed by several pictures framed with metal. Claudine stepped closer to that place, noticed a picture she had seen before. Several people in a dark kimono, with medals on their clothes.

“You will find your grandfather in that picture… he’s the third one, from right to left…” Elle notices her stare.

Claudine had never met that man but his face made her remember of her father. This was the reason why her father might have been involved, but he left, perhaps wishing to save his family, Claudine thought. That’s why he never had told her, in order to protect her.

She can’t bear the thought of being weak and not worthy to be confided such things. She doesn’t ask anything, as a staff member enters the room, bringing tea and sweets, and left after Elle thanked them.

Claudine refuses to dwell on these feelings and takes a seat, next to Maya whom is staring at the Baumkuchen. Claudine feels Maya’s hand on her own, under the table and turns to see her, their hands held together in silent support for a moment.

Andrew takes a green-colored book from one of the shelves. It seemed to be worn out and pages were yellow and fragile and gave it to Elle.

“…The girl who had fallen from grace, a victim of an emperor’s greed, and the one who couldn’t save her… They had named themselves, descendants of gods. We, the ones who were chosen to watch over the Imperial Crown, were left to grieve and wonder if it was a gift of gods, or a punishment from them… It was forbidden to tell, but for us to remember…”

“… we prayed for a change, to erase the selfish, arrogant emperors. Our only choice was to wait…. We thought that said power on right hands and a kind heart would change things…”

“…However who could be so kind, so strong to resist temptation? Who could survive all these conflicts between clans? The inherent conflict that every single human has in their hearts?”

“Many died in battles and those who succeeded… many were killed by its own relatives or their subjects, intoxicated with greed. And then, if they were strong enough, the crown would demand their brilliance… because it would never be satisfied…”

Elle raised her eyes to Claudine and Maya whom were paying attention to her story and closed her book.

“Brilliance?” Maya mutters.

“It’s the spark of life, the flame that burns in every heart….” Elle quoted the book.

“That’s what the Lord Commander said to me once…” Maya recalled her conversation with him. At first she had thought that it was some kind of physical and mental strength, now perhaps it meant something else.

“What else that bastard told you?!” Andrew glared at Maya.

“…He’s not the type to disclose information so easily… not even when drinking…” Maya replied.

“He was a friend of my father…” Elle commented. “He was a former member, he gave the crown to Souda Sawa…”

That revelation was more than Maya could have imagined. Just like everyone, Maya knew that the Commander had been fighting against the emperor but to be actually involved in a scheme to make someone else a ruler was odd. Most people would have seized that power for themselves.

“But, Nishino-san… the crown has been for years at the Imperial Castle, even when the former emperor lived.” Maya remembered.

“Most people have seen replicas, doryu…” Andrew explained. “The old emperor feared the crown and put it inside that chamber and made them built traps to protect it. One of the members of the Order replaced the real with a fake one, doryu…

“And then when she entered into the Castle she used those Black Chorus… an easy victory, indeed…” Claudine crossed her arms.

Elle is enjoying the cake. “You should try the Baumkuchen…”

Claudine and Maya accepts the offer. It was sweet and soft, but Maya nor Claudine were particularly hungry.

“The real one…have you seen it, Tendo Maya?” Elle asked.

“Yes… once…” Maya muttered thinking of the voices and the strange sensation she had felt back at the castle. Back when she had entered the Chamber alongside Koharu.

“How was it like?”

“I…” Maya paused and Elle stared at her, as if she was searching in her eyes for something.

“I felt as if we…I was being watched but… we were alone there…” Maya replied leaving the barely touched dessert on the table.

“Who was the other one?” Andrew spoke. Maya hesitated and Elle noticed.

“Please, Tendo-san… it’s important to know these details so we can understand…”

Maya glances at Claudine and she nods.

“A former member…Yanagi Koharu…” Maya replied and took a sip of her tea.

Elle and Andrew exchanged stares. “Yakumo’s second in command… interesting…”

“Actually… twice….” Claudine commented. “…back at the Tendo Mansion…”

“Yes… tells us more about it!” Elle’s eyes sparked. “Tendo-san had no choice but to return home and you went there, desperate to see her!”

Claudine suddenly was at a loss for words. “I… it wasn’t….”

“Please, Captain Saijo! Don’t hesitate!” Elle glared at Andrew as a warning to not interfere. “…you must have been so worried for Tendo-san… after that horrible revolt inside your fortress, you decided to go on a search for her! That was so sweet!” Elle said smiling.

Claudine felt her face heating, she can’t stare at anyone, and especially not to Maya, whose hand was on her own, under that table. Claudine muttered a vague complaint in french, still holding Maya’s hand.

“I presume you have read the reports…” Claudine continued.

“Of course, Captain Saijo. You ended up requesting help of Yakumo Kyouko, but…. why her, of all people?”

“I guess I was…. desperate…” Claudine admitted.

“And then you went there, with their help you entered the mansion, while the Queen was there… too convenient…” Elle was murmuring.

“Truth is…we would have been killed by the Queen and those demons if it wasn’t for…Yanagi Koharu, she stopped him… with…” Claudine and Maya stared at each other.

“She was praying, doing some sort of spell….” Maya continued. “It stopped the commander….”

“Did Yakumo tried to kill Souda?” Elle asked.

“No… she… she just fell… she could have killed her… but instead…” Claudine found that strange.

“She just stole the crown! And let her live?!” Elle was almost furious. “That’s absurd! But why? She should have known…!”

“Known what?” Maya inquired.

Elle fell silent. Andrew seemed conflicted, struggling with his own thoughts.

“With due respect, Nishino-san….” Maya’s voice was calm but decisive. “Whatever was that… trick or sorcery that Yanagi Koharu did…”

“You are planning to give the crown to him!” Andrew interrupted her.

Claudine frowns. “Do you think that we have a choice! It’s her family that’s taken hostage!”

“So what?! Elle-chan’s father was executed because of them! Many have lost everything because of that damned crown, doryu!” Andrew spatted and Claudine stood up, making him flinch and touch his own holster.

“Be careful, mole-faced! I don’t care if you are a fucking general, but if you piss me off, I will stop being civilized!” Claudine warned him. Maya was about to grab her to prevent Andrew to be murdered.

Elle merely smiled, entertained. “Enough, Andrew… we are on the same side… Please, Captain Saijo, forgive Andrew. He has been protecting me for a long time… I am sure you understand, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t be here, risking everything for Tendo-san’s family…”

Claudine’s bad mood eased at these words, and sat down. Andrew still held a hand on his holster.

“I am sorry.” Andrew apologized. “But we can’t let that to happen… if he wins, the bloodshed will continue for more generations, doryu…

“Precisely. They have to know… The rules…” Elle finished her piece of baumkuchen and drank a bit of her cup of tea.

“…The crown can not be given, only taken. The crown obeys its master only after defeating the former owner. But in exchange, it demands brilliance to stay on control.” Elle said.

“And by defeating…” Maya murmurs. “Kill or be killed. And the brilliance is…?”

“Through battles. The remnants of their enemies are there…. thousands of fallen warriors, they said, can be summoned by the ruler…”

Elle was lost in thought.

“Yakumo’s fleet will be here in less than three days, if they know how to stop him, then why are they trying to capture Kyoto?” Elle said. “They could attack the Tokyo instead…”

“it’s a declaration, indeed…”

They looked at Claudine.

“It’s about power… if she let her live, it was to Souda could witness how Yakumo conquers Kyoto, submits the rebels to her will…perhaps… prove she has surpassed her…”

Elle smiled. “Excellent analysis, Captain. And it could fit Yakumo’s character. From the beginning, being Souda’s second in command, must have been inspired some envy, don’t you think?”

“Maybe, though I don’t know her enough to be sure of anything…She was only my boss for a while…”

Elle nods, silent for a long moment before speaking again.

“We want you to destroy the crown…”

“Destroy it?!” Claudine said. “But…!”

“The others want it to build a new government, keep it as the ultimate weapon… but the right thing it would be to destroy it once and for all…”

“Elle please don’t!”

“I am aware of the risks, Andrew. I am merely a young girl, whom was fortunate to receive the best education. I can’t fight like them, but if they are willing to give up on power for someone else… I can take that leap of faith.” Elle said.

“The others… like Hanayagi-san, Isurugi-san… they want revenge. Daiba-san, a noble soul that wants justice….but… this has to end… all of this…”

Elle left the tea, empty on the tray.

“What if i am lying to you?” Claudine asks. “Why would you place your trust on us, on me?! You said all these things, but the truth is, I am a thief, a murderer and I won’t hesitate to lie, kill or cheat if i can!”

Elle smiled. “For a thief and a murderer you have been quite gentle with your former enemy…”

Claudine blushed and Maya giggled. “Quoi?!”

“Hanayagi-san sent me reports, very detailed….” Elle’s stare was dreamy as she stands up and picks a folder and looks through the papers. “How you declared that you would kill that… let me quote you…”…that pompous annoying woman…" and then she sent me another one… Would you like me to read those?"

“Please, Nishino-san” Maya was amused.

“…Captain Saijo has adopted Tendo-san as one of us. She’s really infatuated with her, despite her words. They spent a lot of time together, she lets her stay in her library and they would drink and chat until late hours…”

“This one is my favorite!…. Saijo defended Tendo-san’s honor when one captain insulted her during a meeting. After that, they danced almost all night and some crewmates told me that they were especially cozy to one another at….”

“Fine!” Claudine’s cheeks are red as she tries to look angry. “… It’s true, I… I care about Tendo Maya!”

“Ah… ma Claudine…” Maya whispered.

Claudine clenched her teeth but she was silent.

“What I see is.. that you two have a motivation, a reason different from the others that I have considered for this task…”

“I can understand your logic, Nishino-san…” Maya said, now completely serious. “…but as soon as we get the crown and Yakumo, we have to make a exchange for my family. The Queen and the commander will be ready for a possible ambush…”

Before Elle or Andrew could answer, a common ring from the nearby communicator interrupts them. Andrew picked the communicator, and after saying a few words, he hanged.

“Captain Tomoe is here.” Andrew announced.

Elle nods. " I think we can discuss a possible strategy for what I said. But right now we have to deal with the upcoming attack. Your ship lacks staff and the Rinmeikan’s crew could be what we need."

Claudine frowns. “Not a bad idea… only if the crew allows it”

Elle smiled. “You can still arrange this for a election, or what your crew does in these cases…”

Claudine remains silent. Maya wonders what kind of upbringing this child had. It seemed that she had dealt with people older and powerful than her and this man was willing to obey her despite his age and rank.

A moment later, Tomoe Tamao entered the room, followed by Yumeoji Fumi. Both of them greeted them with a simple bow. Fumi seemed fine, but Tamao’s left arm was covered in bandages, eyes exhausted, hair barely tied in a ponytail, her robes dirtied as the distinct smell of gunpowder and sake filled the room.

“Please have a seat. We received news that Akikaze-san woke up. How is she?” Elle asked.

“The medic said it can take a week for her to recover.” Tamao replied, voice lacking intonation. “The last one that was in critical condition just died a few hours ago….”

A moment of silence passed by.

“I am truly sorry for your loss, Captain Tomoe. Unfortunate, we don’t have time to mourn, as the Guild is coming to attack the city…” Elle explained.

Tomoe gazed at Claudine and Maya.

“I was explaining them, just before you and Yumeoji arrived of how an alliance could be what we need to deal with this danger.”

Tamao nods. “Very well. I want to formally request permission to capture and execute Yakumo Kyoko and her crew.”

Before Claudine might utter a single word Elle raised a hand.

“We need Captain Yakumo alive.” Elle declared.

Tamao’s eyes flashed with anger. “I have the right to avenge my comrades…”

“You will have to do with the second in command…and the others…”

“Yanagi Koharu…” Fumi murmured.

Maya felt Claudine’s stare on her but she doesn’t return the gesture.

“So its true then?” Tamao gazed at Claudine without hiding her disdain. “The queen let her go to capture that woman for her?”

Claudine didn’t looked away, holding her stare in defiance.

“Please, Tamao!” Fumi tried to stop her. “I am sure Captain Saijo had no choice… and we are indebted to her. Despite what happened with the Guild we made an oath.”

“Of course, promises…” Tamao looked once again at Elle. “What’s the plan?”

“You have people and Captain Saijo has the ship. But we need that woman alive.” Elle said.

“And the crown?” Tamao smiled. “…I know the deal includes the crown, or Queenie is only interested in hanging her former subject from the highest tower of the Imperial Castle?”

“We will take care of that later…” Claudine pressed. “What about the booty?”

“I don’t care about that but my crew do and I’m sure yours too… I suggest an equal share among the members.” Tamao proposed.

“So… we have a deal?” Elle smiled.

The deal was sealed and they left the library a while later. At the auditorium they took seats far away from Tamao and Fumi.

“I don’t like this alliance…” Maya mutters.

“Well, I can’t blame Tamao acting like that…. No ship, comrades dead, and one of her lovers in the hospital. I would be out for blood…”

“That’s…” Maya frowns.

“Are you worried because they brought up your former girlfriend?” Claudine smirked.

“Claudine, I told you that she was not like that…” Maya exhaled. This was not the time to bicker about such details, Maya thought. Maya had told Claudine, that it had been just an affair and nothing too serious.

“If that happens…” Claudine’s smirk was gone. “You might have to kill her before Tomoe and her people might do it.”

“Or you?”

Claudine’s mischievous smile returned. “Did I sound like a jealous woman? I have no need for such things… that’s your past, though let me remind you that if you cheat on me, I’ll kill you…”

“That’s a relief…” Maya smiled with a bit of sarcasm.

“Maya, I have not ill will towards Yanagi Koharu… and not just because she’s cute…” Maya winced and Claudine’s smile was once again replaced by a concerned stare.“…But I know she will fight to death to protect her sensei and we both know how tough she can be… and she’s not alone.”

“You mean…”

“Those you saw at the party… they can be equally dangerous as her…” Claudine looked at the people coming to the room. “…and of course the fact we lack ships to fight them.”

The members of the Order were on their seats, chatting quietly, except for Frontier’s captain with her loud enthusiasm talking with her navigator, Misora Kano. Aruru soon noticed them, waving and greeting rather loudly which turned peoples attention to Claudine and Maya.

“Captain Kuro! Tendo-san! Hi!” The young woman waved with her characteristic cheerful mood. Claudine waved back at than Aruru, of course with less enthusiasm.

Elle and Andrew, were going towards the stage. Maya made a quick count of the assistants. Fifty people where gathered. Maya and Claudine took seats at a certain distance from the others.

The room became silent as Elle and Andrew takes their place at the center of the stage, and everyone stood up (even Claudine and Maya, if only to show some manners). After doing the same greeting that she did at the ship, Elle began to speak.

“Good evening, comrades and guests…The Keeper of the Order of the Rising Star, Nishino Elle, is humbled and fortunate to begin with this meeting, Thank you all for attending this invitation.”

Claudine had to admit that Elle had the attitude of a young princess.

“First, I would like to congratulate all the members of the United Army whom lead our brave troops in the liberation of Kyoto. In the name of the order, we want to express our deep admiration and encouragement, as we yet have a long way ahead in the liberation of this land…”

Elle bows once again . “I would like to celebrate properly this victory, however with the capture of the Imperial Crown by Yakumo Kyoko, I would dare to say that a unexpected and urgent problem has appeared…”

Many murmured and Elle nods.

"Captain Ishida have reported the location of the flagship of Yakumo Kyoko, Seiran at the south, and with her a vanguard of thirty ships, from the self proclaimed Guild of Pirates. We already have made preparations to fortify our ships and the port, and with the help of Captain Saijo and her ship, The Amethyst, we have a chance to stop them.

Suddenly a member of the army stood up. Andrew frowns in disgust. Claudine only guessed that these ranks have no importance in this place, otherwise Andrew would have ordered him to shut his mouth.

“My apologies, Lady Nishino, comrades and guests!… But I must express my deep concern about the sinking of the Rinmeikan, one of our best units! The attack was made by the Black Chorus! How are we supposed to fight these creatures from hell as they can appear from nowhere!?”

A heated discussion exploded. One of them said they should defend Kyoto, others yelled that they should negotiate and even one of them was saying they could convince Yakumo to join them. The Rinmeikan crew clearly were up to revenge but Tamao and Fumi were silent.

“Silence…I said… SILENCE!” Elle yelled and everyone ceased their verbal quarrels. “The appearance of the black chorus clearly indicates that Yakumo sees us as enemies!”

“What if we can propose a truce with Yakumo. We are against the queen!” Argued another one.

“Idiot!…” Claudine stood up, yelling at him. “She sunk the Rinmeikan to prove herself! All these people are dead because she’s sending a message to the Queen! And if she has to burn the city to intimidate what is left of the Navy and the Army she will do it!”

They went silent. Elle contemplated Claudine with admiration.

“I couldn’t say it better, Captain Saijo.” Elle complimented her.

“The power of kings is in her hands! The last thing we want is to repeat the same mistakes, if the crown accepts her as its owner… the history will repeat itself!” Elle sentenced.

“Is it true that the Queen released you to capture Yakumo?! Otherwise she would execute your… guard’s family?!” Said that captain whom initially had spoken.

Claudine did not missed the attempted sarcasm and smirked, only to conceal her annoyance.

“Yes. What of it?!” Claudine became serious.

“You are disrespecting those who sacrificed for us and even those who were on your crew!” Another one pointed at her.

“Our crew is in support of that deal!”

They turned their heads to see Kaoruko at the entrance, walking towards them with Futaba. “Tendo Maya is one of us and we would do the same for any of our comrades!”

“Good evening to everyone! We are sorry for being late!” Futaba bows and Kaoruko smirked.

At these words, no one would dare to object any further. Elle then continued to discuss some issues about the city’s security and how to secure provisions for the rebel army and the civilians.

Claudine checked her watch once or twice after that, wishing this would end quickly. About one hour and half later, the meeting finally ends, the members leaving one by one.

“How sweet of you to defend your captain…” Tamao commented as she and Fumi walked towards them. Fumi shrugs, visible exasperated.

Kaoruko dedicated her a venomous smile. “Simply doing what any loyal member of a crew would do…”

“So you dare to speak of loyalties, after leaving Rinmeikan…” Tamao would have said more, if Fumi wouldn’t have interrupted her.

“I thought you were happy with me leaving, or maybe do you miss me now?” Kaoruko replied. “Stop that, Kaoruko! Now is not the time!” Futaba scolded her.

Claudine, at a certain distance watched the exchange wishing she could go for a drink or two.

“They are already bickering…” Claudine rolled her eyes and she walks away with Maya.

“Captain Saijo! How about going for drinks!?” Aruru said, impervious to the tense mood.

“We have to come back to the ship, have you forgotten?” Misora complained.

“I would like to but now it’s not the time…” Claudine smiled.

In another time she would have just laughed at the danger, accepting Aruru’s offer to drink before a good fight. She glanced at Maya, whom was at her side and then, turned back to Kaoruko and Tamao fighting.

In the end, Aruru and Misora left. They departed from Elle and Andrew, with the promise that they would talk more tomorrow. Tamao, Fumi, Kaoruko and Futaba joined Maya and Claudine on their way back to the Amethyst.

It was dark now and the city’s streets were illuminated with gas lamps, as the truck passes by on the almost empty streets, only soldiers patrolling. Only Futaba and Fumi were talking about the amount of people ready to fight, how tomorrow they would gather everyone into The Amethyst.

Maya seemed deeply lost in thought, looking at the streets while Claudine looks at her, pondering everything that had happened and hoping to catch some rest before tomorrow.

After a while, they went back to the docks, the same boat took them back to the ship. After going up with the lift, the crew members saluted her with an unusual enthusiasm.

“Captain! There are good news! We should get drunk to celebrate!” said one young guy, but his partner scolded him.

“Idiot! We don’t know if it’s real or not!”

Claudine was about to ask them what they were talking about when Mahiru hurried towards their direction.

“Captain!…. Kuro-chan!” Mahiru said as she was trying to catch her breathing.

“Mahiru! What’s happening?” Claudine frowns.

“We… we got some news through the radio station!…” Mahiru said. “… Captain… we don’t know but…they said… the Queen, she’s…she’s dead!”