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Fall Of The World

Chapter Text

Today was a special day. Today she was going out of the castle for the first time. Up until this point, Tamao had never left the castle ground. But today she was. Because her parents were taking her somewhere. That somewhere was a slave trade. Tamao was nervous. She knew about slave trades. She knew they were bad things. But, it was a tradition in her family for the heir to the throne to choose a slave to be their knight. As Tamao was the only child her parents had and were going to have, the tradition fell onto her.

Was Tamao excited at all? A little bit. She was only eight years old. She did not understand exactly the full reality of the situation. She knew a few things about it, but not as much as her parents did. Then again, her parents always turned a blind eye to these things because they got money from it. And money ruled even the kings and queens of lands.

"Alright, dear. Go take a look around and find someone you want to be your knight ." Tamao's mother said.

"Okay!" Tamao nodded and excitedly looked around.

Her face fell as she looked upon all of the slaves. They were all beaten and bruised. Some were missing eyes or limbs. Everyone looked miserable. Tamao suddenly did not want to be here. But, she knew she had to pick someone before they could leave.

So, she went looking around. The older slaves spat at her, calling her names. Tamao hated it here. She wanted to go soon. But, she had to pick still. She did not know who to pick. Did anyone here catch her eye? There was no one as far as Tamao could see. Until, she walked a bit farther up.

Off to the side, there was a girl. She had purple hair. She was shaking and curled up into a tight ball. She looked to be around Tamao's age. Tamao felt sorry for the girl. She wanted to help her. So, she went over to the stall.

"Hello, dear. You're Tamao, aren't you?" The man handling the stall asked her with a smile.

Tamao nodded, "Yep! That's me! Who is this?"

"She's from a different country. Have your parents told you about those?" The man said.

Tamao nodded again, "Yeah. One of our maids is from a place called China."

"Oh? That is where this girl is from too. She does not speak Japanese. She only speaks Chinese."

"Hmm... Our maid could teach her Japanese then." Tamao said.

The man raised an eyebrow at her, "You want this girl to be your knight?"

Tamao nodded, "Yes. I think I do."

"Alright. Let me untie her and give you her rope." The man said and then he did just that.

The girl looked fearful as she was untied from the table. Tears were already falling down her face as she looked at Tamao. Tamao was about to say something, but then remembered that she does not understand Japanese. It would be pointless to tell her it was okay. She would not understand it at all.

"Here you go." The man handed Tamao the girl's rope, "You can take her to your parents."

"Thank you!" Tamao bowed in respect.

She held out a hand to the girl. The girl took it. Tamao pulled her to her feet. Once she was sure the girl could walk, she lightly pulled her rope. The girl put her head down and moved closer to Tamao. Tamao led her back to her parents. She got looks from everyone again. Even the other stall owners were giving her disapproving looks.

Tamao kept her head high and walk onward, the girl in tow. She still had her head down. She was also clenching her fists together. Tamao wished she could do something to reassure her that everything would be okay. Once they returned to the castle she could get the maid to translate for her at least. That would be a start.

"Mom! Dad! I picked someone!" Tamao found her parents.

"Oh. Look at the poor thing. What is her name?" Tamao's dad asked.

Tamao shrugged, "I don't know. The man didn't tell me and she doesn't speak Japanese. She only speaks Chinese. I can't ask her."

Both of her parents' eyes widened, "Chinese?"

Tamao nodded, "Yep. But it's okay. Sakura can teach her Japanese and help us communicate with her."

Tamao's mom smiled, "I see. You can change her name if you would like. We did that with Sakura, after all. This girl's name might be hard to pronounce."

Tamao shook her head, "I want to use her name."

"It's your choice, dear. Shall we head home?" Her mom said.

"Yes!" Tamao nodded.

They walked back to their carriage and started the ride home. The girl was still keeping her head down. Tamao reached over and untied the rope from her hands. She wouldn't be able to run even if she tried. The knights would stop her before she even opened the door to the carriage.

The girl looked up at Tamao. Tamao smiled at her. She hugged her as well, trying things that were affectionate to show that she would be safe now. The girl did not return the hug. She was sitting as stiff as could be. Tamao pulled back and frowned. The girl looked down again.

"It will take time for her to trust you." Her father said.

Tamao nodded. She knew that was true. She had hoped that maybe she could get her to feel a little better now, though. But, it did not seem to have worked. Or, had it? Tamao froze momentarily as the girl moved up against her and rested her body on her side. Tamao looked over at her. The girl had her eyes closed. She looked calmer to Tamao. Maybe it had worked?

Tamao smiled and wrapped an arm around the girl. The girl curled up closer, now hugging Tamao. Tamao ran a hand over her back a few times. The girl relaxed and appeared to have drifted off to sleep before long.

"Perhaps you have earned her trust already." Tamao's mother commented.

"Indeed. She seems to trust you." Her father nodded.

...

It was a long ride back to the castle, but they were finally home. Tamao woke up the girl. The girl looked at her. Tamao pointed out the small window of the carriage to the castle. The girl's eyes widened in awe. The door opened. A knight held out his hand for Tamao. Tamao took it and let him help her out of the carriage. She looked back at the girl.

The knight held out a hand to her as well. The girl took it and stepped out of the carriage as well. She clung back to Tamao's side as she looked around. Her eyes were wide. Tamao smiled at her and guided her inside. Her parents were already inside. They had summoned Sakura already too.

"Sakura, this is Tamao's new knight. She only speaks Chinese, however. You will be teaching her Japanese for us." Tamao's mother said.

Sakura bowed, "Of course, your majesty."

Sakura smiled at the girl and spoke to her. The girl's eyes lit up and she replied. They conversed for a while. Tamao was surprised by how much the girl was talking. Only a short while ago she had been terrified of everyone.

"Her name is Mei Fan. I have explained everything to her about her situation." Sakura said.

"Mei Fan." Tamao repeated, albeit very sloppily.

Mei Fan looked over at her and smiled. She repeated her name. Tamao tried again to pronounce it correctly. This time, she succeeded. Mei Fan smiled more as she nodded. Tamao returned the smile. She had done it. She had pronounced her name right.

"It's getting late. You should head to bed, Tamao." Tamao's mother stated.

"Where will Mei Fan sleep?" Tamao questioned.

"I guess she can stay in your room. That will be her main place once she is trained properly anyway." Her mother replied.

"Okay! Let's go, Mei Fan." Tamao held out a hand to her.

Sakura translated what was going on for her. Mei Fan took Tamao's hand and allowed her to lead her away. They walked down the halls. There were a few knights patrolling around. Tamao greeted them respectfully and continued on her way. They soon arrived at her room.

Tamao opened up her closet and pulled out her nightgown. She looked at Mei Fan. She would need new clothes. The clothing she had on was old and dirty. Tamao looked through her closet and found another nightgown of hers. This was her old one. She handed it to Mei Fan. Mei Fan stared at it for a while, before she set it on the bed and started undressing. Tamao did the same.

She had no issue changing her clothes. However, she felt a tug on her sleeve and turned to look. Mei Fan was struggling a little bit. The gown was too big on her. It had been that way on Tamao as well, hence why she no longer wore it. Tamao chuckled and helped her roll up the sleeves. Once that was done, Tamao sat on her bed. She patted the spot next to her.

Mei Fan looked at her for a while, before she joined Tamao on the bed. Tamao smiled at her and laid down. Mei Fan copied her. Tamao pulled the blankets over top of the two of them. Mei Fan curled up against Tamao. Tamao wrapped her into a hug. Mei Fan hugged her back, moving even closer. She yawned and closed her eyes. Tamao reached and started brushing Mei Fan's hair.

It was a mess. She would need a good bath tomorrow to get all cleaned up again. Tamao was excited to see how Mei Fan would look once she recovered from how she had been treated by that man. As it stood now, she was very thin. When she moved certain ways, you could see her ribs. She was also extremely pale. Her hair looked thin and was coming out in Tamao's hand as she brushed it. To put it simply, Mei Fan looked very sickly.

Tamao made a mental note that she would make sure the doctors would take a look at Mei Fan to make sure she wasn't sick as well. Tamao understood that someone who looked the way Mei Fan did was easy to get sick. And they also could die easier form their sicknesses. Tamao felt fear as that thought came into her head. She couldn't let that happen. She would make sure Mei Fan was taken care of and stayed healthy from now on. She was not going to let her die if she could help it.

Tamao yawned and closed her eyes. It seemed like Mei Fan was already asleep. She should join her. They would have a long day tomorrow. Mei Fan would be the center of attention as they tried to get her better. If she was to be a knight for Tamao, she would need to get strong.

...

"Good morning, Princess. Time to get up."

Tamao woke up to Sakura's voice. She was normally sent to fetch Tamao in the morning. Tamao yawned and sat up. She looked down at Mei Fan. She was still asleep. Now that there was light, Tamao could see just how rough she truly looked.

"It is time for your bath, Princess." Sakura said.

"Is Mei Fan joining me?" Tamao asked, "She needs one too."

Sakura smiled at her, "Of course. Would you like to wake her up or shall I, Princess?"

"I can do it." Tamao replied.

She gently tapped Mei Fan on the shoulder. She was afraid to be rough at all with her. Tamao was scared even the slightest rough touch could harm Mei Fan again.

Mei Fan stirred from the touch. She stretched and then sat up. She looked around, her eyes locking with Tamao's. Tamao smiled at her. Mei Fan returned the smile.

Sakura spoke to her in Chinese again and then spoke to Tamao, "Shall we go, Princess?"

"Yes. We can go." Tamao nodded and got off of the bed.

Mei Fan followed her. Sakura lead the two of them to the bath. She had already prepared it before they arrived. She helped the two girls undress and enter into the bath. Mei Fan refused to go in. Tamao looked at Sakura for an explanation.

Sakura questioned Mei Fan about it. They spoke for a while. Tamao hated that she couldn't understand them at all. Maybe she could get Sakura to teach her Chinese? No. Her parents would not approve. She just had to wait until Mei Fan learned Japanese.

"I won't say too much, but she has told me that very bad things have happened to her during things like this." Sakura told Tamao.

"Did someone try to drown her?" Tamao asked, giving Mei Fan a worried look.

Sakura nodded, "Yes. She was never wanted by anyone who owned her. They all tried to kill her at some point in her life."

"That won't happen here. I won't let it." Tamao stated firmly.

"I'm sure you won't, Princess." Sakura smiled at her.

Sakura spoke to Mei Fan again. After a little more conversing, Mei Fan got in the bath with Tamao. Tamao gave her a reassuring look. Everything would be alright. She would never let any harm come to Mei Fan when she was defenseless like this. She would protect her.

"The best thing to do for her is for me to leave you two alone. She trusts you more than me since you are only a year older than her." Sakura said, "I will be just outside. Call for me if you need me."

"Okay." Tamao nodded.

Sakura stepped out of the room. Mei Fan stared at the door for a while. Tamao moved closer to her and grabbed her hands. Mei Fan looked at her. Tamao smiled.

"Let's get cleaned up." Tamao said, holding out the soap to Mei Fan.

Mei Fan looked at it in confusion. Tamao frowned. Did she not know what it was? Had she never been anything but a slave? Had she always been treated very cruelly? Tamao had a lot of questions she wanted answers to.

Tamao took the soap back and demonstrated. Once Mei Fan saw what she was doing, she nodded. Tamao handed it back to her. Mei Fan did not take it. She gave Tamao a sort of pleading look. Tamao did not get it at first, but soon understood. She wanted her to use it on her.

Tamao nodded and slowly started washing off Mei Fan. She had to be careful. There were a lot of cuts and bruises she had to avoid. She did not want to hurt Mei Fan if she could help it. Unfortunately, that was inevitable at the moment. Everything needed to be cleaned. She tried to be gentle on the worst areas, but Mei Fan still winced in pain a lot.

Soon enough, it was over with. Next was hair. Tamao pointed to her own hair and washed it. Mei Fan watched her. She seemed fine, until Tamao went under the water to wash out the suds in her hair. As she looked at Mei Fan, she saw the poor girl was frozen in place. She looked terrified. Tamao understood why.

She pondered what she could do then. If Mei Fan couldn't go under the water, how did they wash her hair? Tamao cupped her hands together and picked up some water. She released it. That might work. It would be a slow process, but it would work for now.

Tamao did it to herself to show Mei Fan the plan. Mei Fan nodded along. It seemed she was fine doing it that way. That was good then. Tamao was proud of herself for finding a way to do it despite the obstacles in their path.

She took it slow as she washed Mei Fan's hair. It was very thing and frail. More clumps fell out as Tamao scrubbed her scalp. That wasn't very good. Hopefully her hair would get healthier and look nicer. It might take a while, though. Tamao was not sure how long it would be before Mei Fan started improving. She hoped it would not be too long of a wait.

Tamao stood up and exited the bath. She held out a hand to Mei Fan. Mei Fan took it and let Tamao help her out of the bath too. They dried off and put on the clothes Sakura had left for them. Tamao was in a simple dress today. Mei Fan was in a loose shirt and pants.

"We're done, Sakura." Tamao called.

Sakura entered the room, "Alright. Breakfast is ready, Princess."

"What is it today?" Tamao asked.

"Your favorite breakfast."

Tamao smiled, "Is Mei Fan eating with us?"

Sakura shook her head, "You know the rules, Princess. Only royalty at that table. She will be eating with me."

"Is she getting the same food?"

"No."

Tamao frowned, "I want her to eat with me. She won't trust anyone else enough yet."

"How thoughtful of you, Princess. However, your parents have already decided on this." Sakura replied, "I will take good care of her."

Tamao nodded, still looking upset, "Okay..."

"Let us go. We don't want to keep your parents waiting." Sakura took the two girls by their hands and lead them to the dinning room.

Tamao joined her parents at the table while Sakura took Mei Fan to the servants' eating area. Tamao stared at the hallway for a while. She did not like being separated from Mei Fan. She felt like she had to keep her close and protect her.

"Tamao, I understand you have gotten very close with your knight, but she has to abide by our rules." Tamao's mother stated.

Tamao frowned, "But it's only her first day here. She's scared."

"I'm sure Sakura will help her." Her father replied.

"But she wants to be with me!" Tamao defended, "And I want to stay with her."

"Tamao." Her mother said sternly, "This is not up for debate. The girl stays where she belongs."

Tamao sighed, "Yes, mother."

She swore to herself that she would make sure Mei Fan got to stay by her side when she was older. When she got her own part of the castle to rule. That would not happen until she was a teenager, though. She still had a while to wait for that to happen. But, Tamao would wait and do everything she wanted to that her parents did not approve of. They would not be able to stop her once she had her own area.

She prayed it would come fast.

...

After breakfast, Tamao went searching for Mei Fan. She needed to take her to the doctor in the castle. She was worried something might be wrong with her physically too. Since she had suffered through so much.

Tamao found her in the servant's quarters. She was sitting against a wall and watching everyone that was going by. Tamao looked around for Sakura, but did not see her. Perhaps she had to run an errand? She did not want to wait until Sakura returned to take Mei Fan to the doctor, but was unsure if she would manage herself. She could not communicate with Mei Fan. It would be difficult to tell her anything that might be wrong with her.

Tamao walked over to Mei Fan. Mei Fan looked up at her. She looked scared. Tamao assumed she did not like the amount of people around. Especially since she did not know any of them.

Tamao held out her hand to Mei Fan. Mei Fan took it and allowed her to pull her to her feet. Tamao lead her out of the room to somewhere empty. Mei Fan looked relieved when they left the room. Tamao guessed that meant she had been right about why Mei Fan looked scared.

Now was the hard part. Did she try and take Mei Fan to the doctor? Did she wait for Sakura to get back? What did they do then if they were to wait for her? It was hard when they could not communicate properly with each other.

Tamao decided she would try her best and take Mei Fan now. Hopefully it would be a quick check and there would be nothing wrong. At least, nothing wrong that required immediate attention. That would be bad.

Tamao lead Mei Fan down the castle halls. They did not run into too many knights. It was empty right now. Which was good for them. They did not need a lot of people seeing them on the move. Tamao wasn't naive. She knew her parents disliked Mei Fan. They may use anything they can to have her removed as Tamao's knight and killed.

Tamao tried not to think about it right now. She would have to do something about it later. For now, her main focus had to be on helping Mei Fan recover. Once she was better, Tamao could devote more time into her parents and their opinions. But that would be much later on.

They arrived at the room where the doctor should be. She was in there. She greeted Tamao warmly.

"What brings you here today, Princess?"

"Akari, um... this is Mei Fan. She's gonna be my knight. I... I wanted you to check her to make sure she's okay." Tamao replied, "That there's nothing serious we have to worry about."

Akari patted Tamao on the head, "Of course, Princess. I'll take a look."

"Um... she doesn't understand Japanese..." Tamao mumbled.

"Oh. That's alright, Princess. I'll manage." Akari smiled at her.

Akari turned to Mei Fan. Mei Fan was hiding behind Tamao. Akari smiled at her and held out a hand to Mei Fan. Mei Fan looked at Tamao. Tamao nodded to her. Mei Fan eventually took Akari's hand. Akari let her to the bed in the room. She had Mei Fan sit down on it.

Mei Fan looked around nervously. As her eyes met Tamao's, Tamao gave her a reassuring smile. She walked over to the bed and held Mei Fan's hands in her own. She would do her best to provide her as much comfort as she could. Tamao knew that this could be a scary thing, especially when they could not tell her what was happening.

Akari looked her over, "I am going to need her to undress. At least her shirt for now"

Tamao did not know how to achieve that. Would Mei Fan trust her if she started to take off her clothes? Or would that be too much? Tamao was not sure. She decided she would try it and if Mei Fan started panicking a lot she would stop and try something else.

"I'll try." Tamao said.

She gave Mei Fan another reassuring smile and then slowly started lifting her shirt up. Mei Fan looked at her with wide eyes. Tamao kept eye contact as she continued. Mei Fan did not protest and allowed her to take it off. Tamao hugged her immediately after. She still did not know much about Mei Fan's past, but she could assume it had been bad. This could make her scared again if she thinks they are going to hurt her too. They had to tread very carefully here.

Tamao let go of her, but then went and held her hands again. Akari slowly approached and carefully started to examine Mei Fan. Mei Fan was stiff. She was breathing heavily and looking at Tamao with a begging look. She wanted out of this situation. But, Tamao really needed to know how she was doing physically. They had to just bear with this together.

Tamao reached up and cupped one of Mei Fan's cheeks with her hand. She leaned forward and kissed her on the head. Whenever she was scared, her mother would do that to her. Maybe it would help Mei Fan if she did the same? Tamao watched her reaction to the unexpected kiss. Mei Fan seemed to understand she had to sit through this, but she was not happy about it.

"I don't see anything that needs special care. As long as she gets proper meals and rest, she will recover just fine." Akari said, "There are some bruises and cuts on her, but I can't do much about them. They're mostly scars now."

"Are we done then?" Tamao asked.

Akari nodded, "Yes, she is done, Princess."

Tamao handed Mei Fan her shirt back. Mei Fan quickly put it back on. Tamao held out her hand. Mei Fan took it and stood up.

"So, she should rest a lot?" Tamao asked Akari.

Akari nodded, "Yes. Rest will do her very well, Princess."

"Then I'll take her to my room so she can lay down." Tamao said, "Thank you, Akari."

"No need to thank me. I'm just doing my job, Princess." Akari replied.

Tamao smiled at her and then lead Mei Fan out of the room. She took her back to her bedroom. Mei Fan let out a sigh. Tamao guessed she was getting stressed out from everything going on today. They could relax for a bit now. Tamao had nothing to do until later on. And it was just one lesson. She had most of the day to do as she pleased. And that was going to be used to spend it with Mei Fan and get her used to the castle.

Tamao laid down on her bed and motioned for Mei Fan to join her. Mei Fan nodded and climbed in the bed. Tamao pulled her into a hug. Mei Fan relaxed in her embrace. Tamao smiled and kissed her on the head. Mei Fan looked at her in curiosity. She looked away for a second, before moving and kissing Tamao on the cheek too. Perhaps she was trying to thank her?

Tamao smiled at her warmly. Mei Fan smiled back, before curling up against her. Tamao ran a hand over her back. It did not take long before Mei Fan's breathing evened out as she fell asleep. Tamao pulled her a little bit closer and closed her eyes. Everything was working out. She was doing well to help Mei Fan. She felt proud of herself. This was the most independent she had been so far.

Though, she could not wait until Mei Fan could talk to her. And that they could be in their own little section of the kingdom. Tamao wanted nothing more than to grow up and move out from her parents' harsh rule already. She really hated how they were treating Mei Fan.

Chapter Text

"Princess, your parents request your presence."

"Very well. Let's go."

Years had flown by quite quickly for Tamao. She knew what this meeting was going to be about. It was time for her to try and rule some of the kingdom herself. She could not be more excited. She would finally have the freedom to do what she wanted in her section. She definitely could not wait to go.

"Mei Fan, you know what today is, right?" Tamao questioned as they walked toward the main hall.

Mei Fan paused to think, "Hmm... it's your fourteenth birthday today."

"Yep. And do you know what that means?" Tamao persisted.

"Um... no." Mei Fan shook her head.

"It's time. I get my own kingdom section to rule!" Tamao smiled happily.

"Oh. That's great. You've been looking forward to this for a while now, haven't you?" Mei Fan returned the smile.

Tamao nodded, "Yep. I finally don't have to listen to all of my parents' rules. I get to enact my own."

"What are you planning to enact?" Mei Fan questioned curiously.

"Well, first one being that I'm changing dynamics of the house. Everyone is getting treated equally under my rule. No more of this separation stuff and lesser care like my parents have." Tamao frowned, "How many have died here because of their lack of care...?"

"A lot. Remember that one sparring match where I accidentally hit someone too low? Broke his leg?" Mei Fan said, "They never treated him for it and he died a few days later. I heard them tell him that he wasn't worth their time if he got defeated by..."

"By?" Tamao was confused by the pause.

"I don't want to say what they called me..." Mei Fan mumbled.

Tamao frowned, "Oh... I'm sorry. I don't understand why they hate you so much."

"Because I'm not native." Mei Fan sighed.

"But we have a few castle staff who aren't!" Tamao defended, "Sakura, Haru, Ryotaro. While they were given Japanese names, none of them are native. Sakura is Chinese as you know, Haru is from a place called Spain, and Ryotaro is from a land called England."

"How are they treated?" Mei Fan questioned.

Tamao thought about it, "Well. Only the highest ranking maids ever get to interact with me, so Sakura is obviously favored. Haru is one of the best tactical plan generals we have. Ryotaro is a knight. He is in the best quarters, so he is favored too. I don't see what makes you so different."

"I think I know." Mei Fan said, "My name. You didn't change it to a Japanese one like they all have. I think that's the main reason they dislike me. Because I kept a part of my culture instead of assimilating into theirs."

"Oh..." Tamao sighed, "That makes sense. I don't think they've ever once referred to you by name. It's always been my knight or... that knight."

"I've heard them refer to me by... that bad name I won't say..." Mei Fan mumbled.

"Well, after today we'll be gone and they won't have to deal with you any longer. And you won't have to deal with them." Tamao stated.

"Yeah... I'm glad we can leave this place. Though, where exactly will you be going?" Mei Fan asked.

"There's a smaller castle in the west end of the city. That's where all heirs get trained to rule their kingdom." Tamao replied, "There is already staff there keeping it clean and up to date. I will take control of them. As for knights, I get to pick three to join me besides you. I haven't decided who I want yet. I only get to choose low ranking knights as well."

"Aren't they worried about your safety?" Mei Fan questioned.

"They trust the personal knight has enough training to start with." Tamao said, "It's never caused issues before, so don't worry too much."

"Alright. I won't, Princess."

"Oh, another thing, Mei Fan. Once we leave here, please refer to me by my name. You don't need to be formal. You are a close friend." Tamao said.

"A-are you sure?" Mei Fan's eyes widened, "That's... that's not normal."

"And? Am I normal?" Tamao asked.

"True... you are very nice compared to your parents." Mei Fan agreed, "We have arrived. Ready?"

Tamao nodded, "I'm ready. Let's go and get this done with."

Tamao and Mei Fan entered the room. Her parents were sat at their thrones. Tamao stood before them, Mei Fan standing slightly back from her. She bowed to the two of them as she was expected to.

"Tamao, as you know, at your fourteenth birthday you are to go and learn how to rule your own section of the kingdom." Tamao's mother spoke first, "Are you prepared?"

"Yes, I am ready." Tamao nodded.

"Then you will have today to select your three knights. Tomorrow you will go to your castle." Her mother continued.

"I understand." Tamao replied.

"For transport, you can either go the back way or you may walk there through the town. It is your choice. However, if you choose the town, only your personal knight may accompany you that way." Tamao's father said, sending a glare Mei Fan's way, "I would recommend the backway."

Tamao caught his glare, "I'll consider it."

She was going to walk now just because of him. To prove that Mei Fan was just as capable as every other knight here. In fact, she had proven countless times in practice fights that she was stronger than even some of the highest ranking knights her parents had employed. But they did not care. And as such, Tamao would not care about their opinions when she saw for herself how good Mei Fan was.

"That is all. You are dismissed."

Tamao nodded and walked away, Mei Fan following behind her. Once they were out of the room and out of sight, Tamao stopped. She was clenching his fists together and her breathing was heavy. She suddenly struck out and punched the wall.

"Princess?!" Mei Fan yelped.

"Who are they to decide what's best for me?" Tamao growled.

"A-ah... well, please don't hurt yourself in the process. Perhaps a sparing match would be better to get your anger out." Mei Fan suggested in a calm and gentle voice.

"Yeah. Let's fight." Tamao agreed.

"Do you need me to accompany you to get dressed for it?" Mei Fan asked.

"I don't need you to, but you're coming with me." Tamao replied.

"Okay." Mei Fan nodded.

The two of them made their way back to Tamao's room. Tomorrow it would no longer be that. They would be gone. It was a strange thing to realize.

"You aren't planning to change?" Tamao asked as she pulled out her more worn out clothes to wear.

"This outfit is fine. It's going to be retired soon anyway. It's slowly falling apart on me." Mei Fan replied.

"Okay." Tamao nodded.

She changed into the clothes. She tied her hair up into ponytail. She glanced over at Mei Fan. It was a surprise how different she looked now from when they had first met. She was glad that things had gone well in her recovery.

"Ready?" Mei Fan asked.

"Yep." Tamao nodded, "Let's go."

Mei Fan led Tamao down to the practice arena. There were currently no knights there. That was good. Less onlookers to judge them. Tamao's parents hated that she had learned to fight. It wasn't befitting of a princess in their opinion. Tamao begged to differ. Since she could fight, she could stand up for herself and not rely solely on her knights to keep her safe.

"Alright. Same rules as always, I assume?" Mei Fan asked as she grabbed two practice swords, handing one to Tamao.

"Yep. First one touched loses. No above the chest and no below the waist." Tamao agreed.

"On three?"

"You can count today."

"Alright." Mei Fan nodded.

They got into their positions. Once Tamao nodded to Mei Fan, she began the countdown. One she hit three, they charged at each other, their swords meeting in the center. They continued to go back and forth. Sometimes Mei Fan was pushing Tamao back, and then sometimes it flipped and Tamao was doing that instead.

Tamao ran forward and aimed her sword to swipe down on Mei Fan's arm. However, Mei Fan blocked her blow and threw her back a few steps. Tamao skidded to a halt and immediately charged again. Mei Fan was letting her do more blows than usual and was focusing on blocking. Let her get her anger out as much as she needed.

Tamao swung again, Mei Fan moved to dodge left, but miscalculated where Tamao was aiming. The sword hit her on her side and she fell down. Tamao was at her side in an instant.

"Are you okay? I didn't hit too hard, did I?" Tamao lifted up Mei Fan's shirt to look if there was going to be a bruise left by that hit.

"All fine, Tamao. It wasn't any harder than normal sparing matches." Mei Fan reassured her.

Tamao had to do a double take that Mei Fan had actually used her name. When she determined she had heard her right, she smiled. She really hated Mei Fan calling her princess. They were very close. There was no reason for her to be formal like that.

"Alright. If it starts hurting at all please let me know." Tamao said.

"I will." Mei Fan promised.

Tamao held out a hand to her to help her back to her feet. Mei Fan accepted the help.

"I guess I should get my knights chosen..." Tamao sighed, "I don't really like my options, honestly."

"If they cause problems I'm sure you could send them back." Mei Fan offered, "Or if push comes to shove, get rid of them."

"I don't think my parents would appreciate if I killed my knights." Tamao stated.

"Well, sometimes you have to." Mei Fan replied.

"Well, hopefully it won't come to that." Tamao said, "I don't want to kill anyone if I don't have to."

"I know, but it most likely will happen at some point. It's kind of inevitable with being royalty." Mei Fan said.

"Let's get a quick bath and change. Then we can see about the best choices for knights."

"Of course."

...

It was a hard time for Tamao. Trying to choose new knights to serve her was a very difficult process. She knew very well that most knights shared her parents' views on Mei Fan. Trying to find some that weren't corrupted by her parents was proving to be impossible.

She did not want Mei Fan to have to deal with knights who would no doubt hurl abuse at her when she was not around. Tamao was stuck. She was out of options. None had passed her very simple test.

"Mei Fan, inform my parents I will only be taking you."

"Huh? Uh... are you... sure? I mean... you should want more knights than just me there." Mei Fan was not sure how to take the information.

"None of them will work. They'll be an issue because they hate you. It won't work out." Tamao stated firmly.

"If you don't choose, won't your parents choose for you? I doubt they'll let it just be me." Mei Fan said.

Tamao sighed, "You have a point there. Guess I'll try and choose the ones who weren't as bad to you."

"It makes me very happy to know you care so much about me, Tamao. But, you still have a kingdom to run. You can't always please me. Even I know that." Mei Fan said.

Tamao frowned, "I guess that's true. I will have to make tough decisions at some point, won't I?"

Mei Fan nodded, "Yes, there will most definitely come a time like that."

"Well, let's get picking. We don't have much time left."

Tamao and Mei Fan went over all the candidates they had looked at today. They discussed their qualities and weaknesses. They talked about their behavior. They talk about the way they acted to Mei Fan during the test. Eventually, they settled on three. They were still problematic, but it could maybe be worked out.

"Now that that's done, I guess the only other thing to do is just wait for tomorrow to come." Tamao said.

"Yes, it is getting late. Dinner should be done soon." Mei Fan replied.

"Let's get going. I don't want to make my parents mad the last day I'm here if I can help it." Tamao said.

Mei Fan nodded, "Of course. Shall I lead the way?"

"Go ahead."

Mei Fan held out a hand to Tamao. Tamao accepted it. Mei Fan smiled at her and started leading her away toward the dining room. Tamao had a tight grip on Mei Fan's hand.

"Are you alright?" Mei Fan questioned.

"They're going to ask me about my choices. They won't be happy with me for my decisions." Tamao replied.

"I assume that means you wish to walk there with me?"

Tamao nodded, "Yes. Just because of what my father said I'm now going to do that."

"I could stay if you would like." Mei Fan offered, "If you want some support."

"No. They'll just hurl things at you. Let me handle this alone." Tamao stated.

"As you wish."

They arrived at the dining room. Mei Fan bowed to them all and then left the room. Tamao took her seat at the table. She knew the questioning would be coming soon enough.

"I assume you have gotten everything prepared for tomorrow?" Her mother asked.

"Almost. I just have to finish packing my stuff." Tamao replied.

"And what way are you going to your castle?" Her father questioned.

"Mei Fan and I will be walking there. I want to see what the area looks like for myself." Tamao stated, ready for the comments they would no doubt make about it.

Her father gave her a disapproving look, "You expect that thing to defend you properly?"

"Yes, because I know what she can do. She is an amazing knight, whether you want to admit it or not." Tamao stated, "I have made up by mind."

"Tamao, dear, answer me honestly. Do you love her?" Her mother asked.

"Love her?" Tamao repeated.

"Yes, you seem very close to her. Closer than you should be. You better not in a relationship with that girl."

Tamao was taken back by that comment. Her parents thought she loved Mei Fan? That was new. Where did that come from anyway? As far as Tamao knew, their actions together should not have given them any inclination of that.

"I don't see her that way." Tamao said, "I don't know why you think I do. She is just merely a friend."

"It better be that way." Her mother stated with a glare.

"It is mom, I promise."

"Then no more talking about this. Let us eat."

Tamao fell silent as she slowly picked away at her food. She did not feel hungry anymore. Not after that argument. Why did her parents have to have so many problems with Mei Fan? So what if she kept her name? So what if she was not what they expected? Tamao chose her and not once has she regretted her decision. Mei Fan was the best knight and friend she could have ever asked for. She would hear nothing else.

...

"Tamao, get up. We have to head out."

The next morning came fast. Tamao yawned and sat up on her bed. Mei Fan was already up and dressed in her actual knight outfit. Normally she wore casual clothes and just carried a knife on her. But since they were going out into the town, she had to be more armed in case anyone tried something with Tamao.

"Alright. Have the others left already?" Tamao asked as she started changing into an older dress.

Mei Fan nodded, "Yes, they set out a few minutes ago."

"Let's get moving then."

Mei Fan led the way out of the castle. Neither of Tamao's parents came to see her off. Tamao expected that. They did not like her choices. Why would they come to say goodbye when she was going against their wishes.

"Mei Fan, have my parents said much to you as of recent?" Tamao questioned as she thought back to their discussion at dinner last night.

"Just their normal hatred stuff." Mei Fan replied, "Why do you ask?"

"Last night while eating, my mother... she accused us of being in love. I just thought maybe she had spoken to you about it at some point too." Tamao replied.

"She... said what?"

"That it seems like we love each other."

"That... that's so uncalled for." Mei Fan stated.

Tamao nodded, "I know. I don't see why she assumed that. We may be close, but I think it's easy to see it's just because we are friends."

"Yeah. And if they truly suspected it, would they not have taken more measures to prevent it? Like banning me from staying alone with you?"

"Hmm... you're right. Maybe she just said that to mess with me."

"Do you think... she wanted to make you believe I love you? And that it would make you want to stop being around me?" Mei Fan questioned.

"Maybe." Tamao shrugged, "I never can tell what their intentions are anymore."

"Hypothetically speaking, how would you react if it was true?" Mei Fan asked.

"Hmm..." Tamao thought about it, "Well, I would hope that it wouldn't change anything even if I didn't feel the same way."

"Is it even allowed? A knight to date a member of the royal family?" Mei Fan asked next. She already knew that the same sex could not date in this kingdom.

"It depends. If the knight is from noble blood, then possibly it will be allowed." Tamao replied, "Otherwise it would take a lot of convincing to allow it."

"On this subject... how do you stand on same sex relationships?"

"Once I take over the throne they will be allowed."

"Really? You will be one of the only kingdoms to allow it then."

"Maybe I want to marry a girl?" Tamao said quite casually.

"O-oh... You... swing that way?"

"Did you really think otherwise? My parents have already tried hooking me up with suitors and you have to have seen how I acted to them."

"I just assumed you didn't like your parents playing matchmaker."

"Well, that too. What about you?"

"Me?"

"Yeah. Do you like girls?"

Mei Fan's face went bright red, "U-uh... well..."

"So you do too." Tamao hummed.

"Y-yes..."

"There's nothing to be afraid of. Your secret is safe with me."

"We shouldn't be discussing these personal matters in public, Tamao."

"Fair enough. Let us walk in silence for a bit. I want to take in the town."

Mei Fan took a deep breath. Her face was still bright red. She had to calm down before they moved on too much. They could not have someone seeing this situation and making assumptions. Especially if that would get back to Tamao's parents.

"Mei Fan? How prepared do you feel to take on all these new responsibilities?" Tamao asked.

Mei Fan shrugged, "I don't really know. I'm intimidated, I guess. This will be a big change."

"I'm sure you'll be fine. We've been living in peace for a while."

"Who are your enemies?" Mei Fan questioned, "I've never had to handle it, so I honestly don't know."

"Well, the main issue is the Frosted Lands Kingdom. They hate us and we hate them. So, be prepared that any day they may once again attack us. If that happens, even you would have to fight. My parents call all knights no matter who technically has their control."

"The Frosted Lands Kingdom? I've never heard of them before."

"We don't allow discussion of them. It can harbor the thoughts of betrayal according to my parents, but I don't see it." Tamao said.

"How so?"

"They are notorious for how horribly they treat their knights and staff. I don't know why anyone would willingly help them."

"Oh. I see."

"Now, shush. We can't be seen discussing stuff like that here." Tamao said.

Mei Fan nodded, "Alright."

They both fell silent and walked into the town. The people that were out drew their gazes to the two girls. Some started whispering among themselves. Tamao did not care about what they had to say, but she still was curious about it. But, it would not be wise to challenge anyone to speak up right now.

As they continued onward, more people were watching them. Mei Fan was playing with the tip of her sheath. Tamao assumed she was nervous about how many people were watching them now. She had a lot of people to keep an eye on to make sure they could not hurt Tamao.

Tamao wished she had thought to arm herself too. Just to be safe. That way Mei Fan would not have to worry about her as much as she was. But, it was too late for that now. They would have to deal with it. Hopefully no one would be bold enough to attack them in broad daylight. Then again, angry people did everything.

"That's the princess? Seems weak. I doubt she'll rule us well."

"That knight of hers looks weird, mom."

"She's not from our land. I don't see why the king and queen would allow an outsider to protect their daughter."

Tamao did her best to ignore the comments and kept walking. Mei Fan seemed to be getting more antsy with each passing moment. Hearing people talk about her in a bad light was probably not the best. Unfortunately, Tamao did not think she could do much about it. Telling them to shut up about Mei Fan probably was not a very wise move to make right now.

"Princess..." Mei Fan gave her a pleading look.

Tamao nodded to her. She turned down a street. The other side of the street stopped at the forest. Tamao hitched up her dress and stepped into the woods. Mei Fan followed behind her.

"I wasn't expecting you to take the scenic route." Mei Fan commented, "I just thought we could walk faster and get away from them."

"But this is more exciting. Come on, let me show you something."

Mei Fan gave her a questioning look. Tamao held out her hand. Mei Fan took it with some trepidation. Tamao lead her farther into the forest.

It was not a very long walk. Soon, they stood before a lake. Tamao walked closer and knelt down by the bank. Mei Fan joined her.

"I didn't know this existed. It's very pretty here." Mei Fan commented, "There's so many flowers here."

"Wait until everything is in full bloom. It's an amazing sight." Tamao replied.

"You come here often then?"

"Yeah, I used to. I haven't since you officially took on your duties. I knew my parents wouldn't like if I went this far out with you alone."

"Of course... I'm glad to be rid of them."

"Yeah. We can't stay here too long, unfortunately. Otherwise they'll come looking for us for being too late."

"Then shall we start heading along again?"

"Sure. I'll be leading the way. Be careful not to trip on anything. I've come here enough in dresses that I know how to avoid tripping over fallen logs and the likes."

They started walking along the forest floor. Mei Fan kept looking around. She was not gripping her sword anymore. She was not nervous now. That was better. Though, they still have to keep an ear out just in case. Not only are people potential dangers, so are animals. The wildlife here might get aggressive if they got too close to their homes.

The walk was quite and calm. It was a lot better than the town. No one was here to talk about that. Here it was just the two of them. And it was a very nice place to walk through. Though, it was a pretty short walk. They soon got back to the town. Here, there were not many people. No one really paid attention to them now.

"Princess, do you think the people here will like you?" Mei Fan questioned.

Tamao shrugged, "I don't know. They probably won't like me right away, but maybe after I prove myself they will."

"Do they not trust you to be able to handle it?"

"I'm the first female heir in centuries. They don't exactly like that."

"Is there a reason your parents didn't try for another child?"

"Not that I know of. They just decided I was enough."

"Well, not like I'm complaining."

"Yeah... do you... do you think you would still be alive today if... I hadn't picked you?" Tamao asked quietly. She knew this could be a very sensitive topic for Mei Fan to talk about.

"No. I actually told myself that I'd kill myself once I was bought again. I had so many ways planned to do it for whatever I ended up in." Mei Fan replied, "I didn't think anyone would ever be nice to me."

"When I picked you, what were you thinking?" Tamao had never delved into this subject before, mainly because she had been afraid to upset Mei Fan by asking.

"I didn't know what to think, honestly. I was just scared because I had been bought." Mei Fan replied, "But, you were already so caring that I didn't feel as afraid before long."

"Yeah... I do wonder how anyone would react to a kid buying them."

"Why did you choose me? I want an actual answer."

Tamao had always danced around this question whenever Mei Fan brought it up. She didn't want to tell her the full story.

"I felt sorry for you. You looked so pitiful and... it reminded me of... of something." Tamao said quietly, her eyes downcast, "I've seen the people who come beg my parents for help. Seen how they look. I remember one girl like you... she came and asked for help because her family was dead. My parents laughed in her face. Told her she wasn't worth it. I remember passing the morgue and... seeing her body a few days later."

"You... chose me because you didn't want to see the same outcome?"

Tamao nodded, "Yes. I knew I would never be able to live with myself if I didn't help you. And like I've said before, I don't regret choosing you. I never have."

"You hate your parents, right?"

"Yes. I wish they'd die already."

"Oh... that much?"

"Yep. You haven't seen what I have."

"I hope I never do, Tamao."

"Yeah... I hope so too."

"We've arrived." Mei Fan stated.

They had made it to the castle. The other knights were waiting outside for them. They opened the door and let them in. Tamao took in her surroundings. She had never been here before. She had only seen a few paintings of this place.

"Let's explore, Mei Fan." Tamao said.

"Sure." Mei Fan nodded.

They took a look around the place. Whenever thry ran into staff, Tamao would greet them and introduce herself and Mei Fan. Tamao noticed how most of them gave Mei Fan side looks. Even here it seemed that Mei Fan was not very liked. Tamao did not stick around the staff for very long.

"This is our room."

They entered into a bedroom. It was spacious and had all of Tamao's belongings in it already. Tamao looked around. It was a nice room. There was actually a second bed in the room, no doubt for Mei Fan. In her old room, her parents had just set up a bed on the floor that wasn't very comfortable. Tamao tended to let Mei Fan stay on her bed instead of the floor.

"So, what do you think, Tamao? Is this what you were expecting?" Mei Fan asked.

Tamao shrugged, "I don't know. It's fine for me."

"Anything you want to do?"

"Just relax for a bit."

"Very well."

...

Tamao was getting used to her castle. She enjoyed her rule. She quickly made friends with the staff. They liked her way better than her parents. She actually treated them like human beings. She let them have better food, better rooms, better everything. That also meant the staff took a liking to Mei Fan. They welcomed her after a few days, praising her for managing to make Tamao so nice. That confused Mei Fan a lot.

"Tamao? Why do the others seem to think I made you nice?" Mei Fan could not contain her curiosity any longer and asked.

"My parents' behavior reflected on me. I did at one point act like them. But, that changed once I saw the suffering they made everyone go through." Tamao explained, "I suppose I've done well to hide my change."

"I see."

"Mei Fan? Have you heard of blessings?" Tamao asked out of the blue.

"Blessings? Like, the religious ones or the... other ones."

"The other ones."

"I've heard a little bit. I don't know much."

"I'm blessed."

"What?" Mei Fan stared at her with wide eyes.

"Yeah, it activated yesterday." Tamao said, "I can sense alignments. Current and final."

"Hm?"

"Like, I can tell that right now, you're a good person and that when you die, you will also be a good person."

"Oh." Mei Fan replied, "That's... interesting."

"I can tell you have one too. It makes you shine when I'm looking at your alignment."

"I... I'm blessed? But, I thought it only happened here. Not in my country."

"You can gain a blessing later on. It isn't always something you're born with."

"Can I... use it?"

Tamao shrugged, "It normally won't start working until after you turn fourteen."

"Oh..." Mei Fan frowned.

"It won't be too long of a wait. Don't worry." Tamao smiled at her.

"I hope not. I'm really curious to know what I have now."

"Yeah, I am too."

They stood in silence for a while. Being blessed was a dangerous game. Most rulers wanted the blessed ones to use for selfish gains. They both would be hunted down by enemies stronger than them if it came out.

"Princess, there have been reports of some people sneaking around at night. We need a night patrol." A knight came up to them.

Tamao nodded to him, "Very well. You four will rotate. Mei Fan, you go first."

Mei Fan bowed to her, "Of course, Tamao."

Tamao released the knight and then turned to Mei Fan, "Be careful, okay?"

"I will, Tamao." Mei Fan promised, "I won't let anyone get to you and I won't get myself killed either."

"Then tonight we shall see what comes of your investigation."

Chapter Text

When it turned to night, Mei Fan got prepared to go out on patrol. She was a little nervous. This was her first time doing anything like this. She had always only been allowed to aid Tamao and never aid the king and queen. That meant never being sent on patrols.

This was especially nerve-wracking because it was just her going out. There was no one else with her to help. She had to make all the calls herself and hope she chose the right ones. Messing up was not something she wanted to do. Not when everyone disliked her for being foreign. The townsfolk would never let her forget a mistake.

Mei Fan left once Tamao was asleep. She quietly exited the castle through the back way and started listening for any noises that were not nature. She was not hearing much for a while as she took a walk around.

That was, until she got to the forest. She heard a muffled scream and the unmistakable sound of someone being hit. Mei Fan quickly made her way to the source of the noise. She did not have a far walk. By a small lake not far from the bigger one they had seen before, there were three people. One was tied up and now appeared to be unconscious. It was a girl with long brown hair. She was covered in blood and bruises.

"Toss her in and let's go. There's more important matters to attend to."

The girl was thrown into the lake. The two people that did it left quickly. Mei Fan rushed forward and dove into the lake. She hoped they did not hear her.

She dove under and grabbed the girl. She drug her back up to the surface and swam back to shore. Mei Fan drug her out of the water and listened for her breathing. She did not hear it, did not see her chest rise and fall. That was bad.

Mei Fan lifted her up and tried whacking her back to get the water out. It seemed to have worked as the girl took a gasp of air finally. Mei Fan turned her back around to look at her. She was still out cold, but her chest was finally rising again. That was good.

She did not know what to do next. She needed to get this girl some help. But, how? Maybe the doctor at the castle could take a look at her? That was all Mei Fan had to work with right now.

She eyed up the restraints on the girl. They were rope. Her sword could cut them easily. That was what she did. Now that the girl was free from the ropes, Mei Fan picked her up and started walking back to the castle.

She shivered as she finally registered how cold she was. The water had soaked her and her clothes. She hoped she would not get sick from it. That was the last thing they needed right now.

As Mei Fan arrived at the castle, she went right to the chamber where the sick were housed. She went to set the girl down on one of the beds, but thought better of it. She was soaked. She would just make the bed wet too. She needed to get dry first.

Mei Fan found a towel in a storage bin and stripped the girl. She dried her off and then laid her on the bed, covering her in a blanket. Mei Fan left to get changed herself.

As she entered the bedroom, she found that Tamao was awake now. And was looking at her in concern.

"Are you alright? Are you hurt?" Tamao started looking her over.

"I'm fine, Tamao." Mei Fan reassured her, "Just uh... took a swim?"

"Why?" Tamao questioned, "No, let's get you warmed up first. Come on."

Mei Fan allowed Tamao to lead her to the closet and grabbed new clothes. She then drug Mei Fan to the bathroom and dried her off with a towel.

"Explain now." Tamao said once Mei Fan was dried and clothed again.

"I uh... saw some people throw someone into the lake so I saved them." Mei Fan explained.

"Who?"

"She's in the infirmary now."

"Show me her."

Mei Fan nodded and lead Tamao to the infirmary. She nodded to the only person in the room. She was expecting Tamao to be proud, but instead she got a glare.

"Um... did I do something wrong?" Mei Fan asked nervously.

"She is a wanted criminal. I wouldn't doubt that you stumbled upon her execution." Tamao stated in a low voice.

"W-what? B-but..." Mei Fan did not know how to process that information. She had saved a criminal?

"Akikaze. I believe her name is Rui. Do you know the name?"

"Yes... that's a family of assassins."

"Exactly."

"I... I'm sorry... I didn't know..." Mei Fan was holding back tears.

Tamao sighed, "I can't blame you. Doing it in the middle of the night is... not the wisest decision."

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know. She... is good... and will be so at the end... But, she's a criminal. One who has murdered innocent people..." Tamao seemed conflicted.

"Her current alignment is good?" Mei Fan questioned.

Tamao nodded, "Yes. I don't understand."

"Could it be she never wanted to be this way? That she disowned her family's ideals in secret?"

"Possibly."

"What shall I do with her right now?"

"Let her rest. When she wakes, we will talk."

"Okay... um, are you mad at me?"

"A bit. But, seeing how things played out for you, I can't find much fault in your actions."

"Thank you, Tamao."

...

Mei Fan went to check on Rui in the morning. She was awake and sitting up. It seemed someone had given her new clothes as she was wearing some now. Mei Fan approached her. Rui looked at her with a mix of fear and confusion.

"Hey, um... long story short, I saw you last night and thought you were being murdered so I saved you... I... didn't realize who you were..." Mei Fan mumbled, "The princess is still debating on how to proceed with you."

"It was murder." Rui stated, her voice cracking, "My date wasn't for another week... they... they just... they just wanted me to die..."

"What? It... it wasn't your execution?"

Rui nodded, "Yes, it wasn't. You can check the files."

"I'll inform Tamao then."

"No need. I know. I already contacted the jail. They told me they were panicking because she escaped them." Tamao entered the room.

"You're fast." Mei Fan commented, "So, what does that mean for her?"

"She will be kept in our dungeon for now. I have authority over her life. I have yet to decide what to do."

"Should I take her there now?" Mei Fan asked.

"Yes." Tamao nodded.

Mei Fan walked over to Rui and held out her hands. Rui took them and let Mei Fan pull her to her feet. Mei Fan guided her out of the room and to the dungeon. Rui did not resist her and followed along.

"That's the princess?" Rui asked.

"Yes. She may not seem like much, but she is fierce." Mei Fan replied.

"She chose to spare me. Even if for just a few days..."

"Perhaps she sees something in you that may be useful to her?" Mei Fan suggested. She could not say the whole truth about knowing Rui was blessed.

"Useful... to murder someone..." Rui mumbled.

"Well... the princess isn't one for violence. I don't know about that."

"She isn't?"

Mei Fan shook her head, "No. She isn't."

"That's unusual."

"Trust me, nothing about her is usual."

They arrived at the cell. Mei Fan put her in. She did not chain her, though. She doubted she had to. Rui seemed cooperative.

"If you behave, I will keep the chains off." Mei Fan stated.

"You're giving me a lot of trust." Rui commented.

"If you try anything you will be killed immediately. Tying you up won't change much, honestly."

"I see..."

"I'll be leaving you here." Mei Fan stated.

Rui sighed and sat down. Mei Fan locked the door and headed back to Tamao. Tamao was just at the top of the stairs to the dungeon.

"Do you have any plans for her?" Mei Fan questioned now that they were alone.

"I want to keep her alive for now. To see if I can figure out what her blessing is." Tamao replied.

"Is she old enough to tell?"

"Uh... no..." Tamao frowned, "She is the same age as you..."

"No one will like you keeping her alive that long." Mei Fan stated, glancing back down the stairs.

"I know... but if she is a good person, maybe I should give her a second chance..."

"Who has she killed?"

"Hmm... five people were filed under her being their killer. There may be more, but that's what I know. As far as who they were... just regular people who must've pissed off her family."

"I see. Well, she hasn't killed too many. Perhaps it can be somewhat overlooked."

"I guess we will have to wait and see."

...

Two days had passed. Tamao was no closer to deciding on Rui's fate. She was being urged to kill her by those who knew. But, she did not want to. Not yet. Not when Rui was blessed. That could be useful to have. But, would Rui join her? Tamao had no clue.

"Going to bed, Tamao?"

"Yes, what about you, Mei Fan?"

"I'm done all my duties. I'll join you."

Tamao nodded, "Alright. It's been a long day. I'm ready for bed."

"Yeah, it has been. Though, I've heard some rumors there's unrest with your rule already. Are you concerned?" Mei Fan questioned.

Tamao shrugged and started heading to her room, "Hmm... I don't know. There's only rumors. They may be fake. Trying to get my attention and make me slip up."

"But what if they are true? Shouldn't we be taking precautions?" Mei Fan asked worriedly.

"Once we can confirm if these rumors have backing, then I will take more precautions."

She had no idea how badly she was going to bite those words. Both of them had settled into bed now. Tamao was about to drift off when she heard a loud bang. The door to her room was broken down and two people entered the room. Mei Fan was on her feet immediately, grabbing her sword and aiming it at the intruders. Tamao backed away and pressed herself into the wall her bed was against. Her eyes widened as she realized who the two people were. They were two of the knights she had selected.

"You... what are you doing!?" Mei Fan demanded, "You are sworn to protect her!"

One of the knights scoffed at her, "Protect her? Why would we? She's pathetic. So, we're going to kill her like the people want. Get out of our way!"

"Never! You'll have to kill me first!" Mei Fan lunged forward, her sword clashing with the knight's.

The second knight joined in. With the two of them, Mei Fan was overwhelmed. She was struggling to block both of their attacks. This was loooking bad. She swung at them, but was blocked. They retaliated. She was stabbed through the shoulder and screamed. She dropped her sword and clutched her shoulder with her other hand. She stumbled backwards. This was really bad.

"Mei Fan!" Tamao called in worry.

"You're just as pathetic as she is, huh?" One of the knights shoved her into the wall.

Mei Fan fell to the ground and did not move. It appeared she was unconscious now. That meant Tamao had no more defense between her and the knights. She was on her own. And she was unarmed. Mei Fan's weapon was too far away. She would never be able to reach it in time. This was bad for them both. Was this where they died? Betrayed by her own knights?

"Allow me." The second knight stabbed Tamao without warning.

Tamao screamed in pain. The sword was removed quickly, letting blood gush out of her wound. Tamao fell forward, barely conscious. She closed her eyes and gulped. This was it. She was going to die. This was her end.

"Get away from her!"

Tamao heard someone yell, and then everything went black.

...

Tamao woke up a few hours later. She was surprised to not feel any pain. Did that mean she was dead? Was it over?

Tamao opened her eyes. She was in her bed. She was not dead then. How? She felt her stomach. Her nightgown as torn, but there was no wound any longer. That made no sense. Where did it go? Did she imagine all of that? Had it been just a very bad dream?

"You're up. Good. How do you feel?"

Tamao froze as Rui came into view. She was worriedly looking Tamao over.

"W-what?" Tamao stammered.

"Hmm? Oh, right. I guess I should explain myself." Rui said, "I... overheard them talking about killing you. When I found out they were doing it tonight, I broke out of my cell and came to help. You... you've been so kind to me despite my past... I had to repay you. Um... I uh, I'm blessed. I can heal. So, uh... your wounds are gone. And your knight is fine too. I healed her as well."

"You can heal...?"

"Yeah, bit uh, ironic since I'm from a family of assassins..." Rui mumbled.

Tamao sat up, "Thank you, Rui. We'd be dead if it hadn't been for you."

Rui blushed slightly, "I-it's nothing. I'm just repaying you for not executing me yet."

"Well, if you want... you could be my knight? Then you never have to worry about your charges. I'll have them dropped and you can live under my rule."

Rui stared at her with wide eyes, "You're serious? You're asking me to be your knight?"

Tamao nodded, "Yes. I think you could do well as a knight."

"But... won't it spark outrage? Letting a murderer be your knight?"

"It can't be worse than what I've experienced with Mei Fan. Since she is foreign and I let her keep her name, she is hated by most of the citizens."

"Jeez... stuck up bunch... what's so bad about her?"

"I don't know. She is... from a slave trade."

"Oh. That's who you chose? Well, then I definitely can't say why she would be hated so much. Not like she has a past that means much to the everyday citizen."

"Yeah..." Tamao nodded, looking over at where Mei Fan lie. She was on her own bed.

Rui took a deep breath, "If you're really offering it, I'd like to be your knight."

Tamao smiled at her, "Then you are. I don't think we need a formal ceremony, do we?"

Rui shook her head, "I'd prefer we didn't."

"I agree."

They sat in silence for a while. Tamao was still trying to come to terms with everything that had just happened to her. She had nearly been killed. And by her own knights, nonetheless. That was a terrifying thought. She could not even trust her own workers anymore. Who knew who else might be planning to kill her.

Tamao also blamed herself. She had her blessing. She should have been able to see their change. So why did she not notice it until it was too late? She had to work on that. It could save her from this ever happening again.

"Are you alright? You seem lost in thought." Rui asked.

"I'm just... struggling to comprehend what happened. My own knights tried to kill me... and I had no idea until it was too late..." Tamao sighed.

"You wouldn't have known. If I hadn't overheard their conversation, I never would have guessed it either." Rui stated.

"I... I'm blessed to. I can see alignment. I should have seen they were bad!" Tamao yelled in frustration.

Rui winced at her raised voice, "Oh... you too are blessed? Is that part of why you haven't killed me?"

"Yes. I can tell if someone is blessed. When I check their alignment, they glow."

"So, you wanted to keep me alive to see what my blessing is?"

"Yes."

Rui looked like she was about to say something, but she was cut off by a groan. It seemed that Mei Fan was waking up. They both focused their attention onto her. Tamao got up and knelt down beside Mei Fan's bed.

Mei Fan opened her eyes slightly, "Nn... Tamao?"

"Hey, how do you feel?" Tamao greeted her with a gentle smile.

"Am I dead? Are we dead?"

"Nope. We're alive. It's all thanks to Rui."

"What?" Mei Fan sat up.

"She killed them and healed us. She's now my knight as well." Tamao explained.

"That's a lot to wake up too." Mei Fan said, "So, the three knights are dead?"

"Yes. The third one is in the dungeon. I had to kill him to get here to save you." Rui said.

"Thank you so much, Rui." Tamao said, "You really aren't a bad person."

Rui blushed and looked down, "Well.. yeah. I never wanted this life. I was forced to kill. I never wanted to take any of those peoples' lives..."

"I understand the feeling. My parents are the same." Tamao replied.

"You both should rest. I can clean up the bodies for you." Rui said, "We can discuss what we need to in the morning."

"Very well. Mei Fan, would you like to join me on my bed?"

"Please."

"I'll let you two rest." Rui bowed.

"You can take Mei Fan's bed when you finish up." Tamao stated.

"Thank you, Princess."

"Please, Tamao is fine."

"O-okay, T-Tamao."

Rui bowed and left the room. She had to get supplies to clean up all the blood and to transport the bodies easier. Tamao climbed back into her bed, Mei Fan following behind her. They sat in silence for a while.

"She saved us..." Mei Fan whispered, "How?"

"Her blessing is that she can heal." Tamao explained, "As for how she can use it aready is something I haven't asked yet."

"You made her a knight?"

"Yes. You were worried about being my only knight when I suggested it before. And it would be that way now if I didn't anoint her one."

"Right... how do you think your parents will react?" Mei Fan questioned.

Tamao sighed, "I don't know... this hasn't ever happened before..."

"You're the first female to rule in decades. There has been much unrest at the thought." Rui returned to the room with a bucket of water and some rags.

"I don't see why. I have proven myself many times over." Tamao stated.

"Traditions die hard." Rui replied, "I know that too well myself."

"Hm?" Tamao looked at her expectantly.

"My mother died not long after I was born. Therefore, I was the only heir to our family. Everyone was trying to say that now it was fine for the second wife to have their kid be the heir instead so that a girl wouldn't take over either." Rui said, "Not that it matters since I'm the only one alive."

"Wait. The rest of your family is dead?" Mei Fan seemed very confused.

Rui sighed and nodded, "Yes. Everyone was caught and executed at some point. I was the last one to be taken captive."

"How did you get caught?" Tamao asked, "I'm sure my parents spun the story to make them sound like heroes."

"I turned myself in... I was dying. I had no food, no water, hadn't slept in days. I just wanted it to be over, but they kept me alive for much longer than I thought they would."

"Are you glad?"

Rui looked down at the ground, "I can't say. Give me some time to... adjust here and I'll see if it is better than dying."

"I'm sure it will be. You will be treated like family here, Rui." Tamao stated.

"Family..."

"Yeah. Tamao has been nothing but nice to me. I'm sure she'll treat you the same way she does me." Mei Fan said.

"I've never had anyone be so... nice to me... why?"

"Why would I not treat you well?"

"I'm a criminal? I'm blessed?" Rui said.

"You said you were forced to do it. And I'm blessed too. Why would I put you through suffering?" Tamao replied.

"Even if you are blessed, that doesn't meam you can't be cruel to me."

"I won't be, Rui. And if I ever am, you have every right to punch me for it." Tamao said.

Rui stared at her with wide eyes. That was the last thing she ever expected to be told.

"Um... anyway, how come you can use your blessing despite not being of age?" Mei Fan butted into the conversation.

"My family found a way." Rui replied.

"Is it a bad way?" Tamao asked.

Rui shook her head, "No. It's very simple and painless. Just frowned upon."

"Can you do it? I want to know my blessing now. I don't want to wait a year or longer for it." Mei Fan requested with a pleading look.

"You are blessed? Right, you can sense that, Tamao. Um... if it's fine with you, I guess I can do it." Rui replied.

Tamao nodded, "Go ahead, Rui."

Rui nodded and placed her hands on Mei Fan. She whispered something and then pulled away.

"Can you feel it?" Rui asked.

Mei Fan smiled and nodded, "Yeah. Speed. I can go faster than normal people."

"That's cool." Tamao said, "Anyway, we shouldn't keep you from cleaning up, Rui. We'll rest and let you do what you must."

"Right... thank you a lot, Rui."

"It's nothing... It's the least I can do to repay you both." Rui mumbled.

She returned to cleaning up the bodies. Tamao and Mei Fan laid down on the bed. Tamao watched Rui work for a while, before closing her eyes and letting sleep overcome her again. At least she had two loyal knights by her side.

Hopefully it would stay that way.

Chapter Text

As Tamao expected, her parents were not pleased with her decision to appoint Rui as her knight. However, they had no say in it. Tamao made it very clear she was not listening to anything they had to say about what she was doing. It was her life and she would do what she thought was best. If that killed her, then that was on her. But, Rui was proving to be a very good knight for her.

So good that after only a month, she had to fight. The Frosted Lands Kingdom had finally decided to attack. Mei Fan and Rui had to go fight. That left Tamao all alone. Her parents insisted she come home for the time being and be protected by the few knights left at their palace. Tamao refused. She could defend herself. She had grown even stronger since that attempted assassination on her life.

Rui was a good swordswoman. She helped train Mei Fan and Tamao in some lesser known ways. Both were very grateful to learn tricks on how to best an opponent. Rui was more than happy to share her knowledge with them. She still had the mindset that she must repay them for saving her life.

Tamao was worried sick about the two of them currently. She knew how horrible war could be. How quickly things could go south. Tamao had no idea how she would live with herself if she lost the two of them. Or even if she lost one of them. They both meant the world to her. Losing either of them would destroy her.

"Princess... the knights are back from the battle. Yours is in the infirmary." One of the maids found her.

"Thank you." Tamao quickly made her way there. The way the maid spoke sent chills down her spin. It sounded like only one returned. Tamao hoped she had just misspoke.

But, as Tamao entered the room, she found the maid was right. Only Rui was there. She looked rough. There were bruises and blood littering her body. As the nurse cleaned her up, Tamao saw the wounds.

"Rui..." Tamao knelt beside her, taking one hand in hers.

"She collapsed moments after coming here." The nurse said, "She will be fine. As for your other knight... she had not mentioned her before she passed out."

Tamao was terrified of what that meant. Mei Fan might be dead. She lost one. She failed them. She could not keep them safe. She felt horrible. If only she had been able to do something. If only she could have protested her parents making them fight. Then she would have them both with her still.

"Nngh..."

Rui seemed to be waking up. Tamao held her hand tightly. Rui slowly opened her eyes. She winced in pain. Tamao waited for her to adjust to her new surroundings.

"Rui..." She whispered.

"Tamao?" Rui turned to look at her, "I... I'm sorry..."

"Where is... Mei Fan?" Tamao dreaded the answer Rui would give her.

"Captured. The queen was there. She... saw Mei Fan use her blessing and... ordered them to take her alive." Rui whispered.

"She's alive..." Tamao breathed out a sigh of relief, "Thank god... we have a chance to get her back, at least."

"I... doubt it. We lost, Tamao. We lost bad. Only five of us returned."

Tamao stared at her in shock. That many died? This was really bad. If the queen struck again, they were defenseless. And that meant they had no resources to even consider a rescue mission. Mei Fan was stuck there for the forseeable future. That made Tamao's stomach churn with dread.

"We will get her back. No matter how long it takes, I won't give up until she's here again." Tamao stated with determination.

"What if she dies? I heard that the queen overworks those who are blessed to the point they may give out from the strain and die." The nurse questioned.

"Then we avenge her death. I'll make them pay for what they put her through either way." Tamao said.

"Does she have other blessed ones? I didn't see any in the battle." Rui asked.

"She is very secretive about her blessed knights. It will only be revealed if you fight them." The nurse replied.

"How are you fairing, Rui?" Tamao asked, "You worried me a lot..."

"I'm alright. Sucks that I can't heal myself with my blessing, though..." Rui sighed.

"Yeah. But, you'll be okay."

"I hope so..."

Tamao rested her head on the bed. Rui carefully pulled her hand out of Tamao's grasp and started running it through her hair. She would occasionally pause as the nurse tended to her wounds.

"You alright, Tamao?"

"I failed... I promised Mei Fan I'd... keep her safe.. that she would never have to relive what she went through before..."

"Oh..." Rui understood what she meant. The queen would no doubt treat Mei Fan cruelly. Possibly trigger the memories of her past.

"I'll leave you two alone now. I've done all I can." The nurse bowed and left the room.

The two girls sat in silence for a while. Rui tried her best to offer some comfort to Tamao. It was hard to do. She knew there was nothing she could say to her to ease her suffering.

"Rui... I..." Tamao paused for a moment, "I... love her..."

"Huh?" Rui was shocked by that statement.

"I told you before about how my parents accused us of being in love. Hell, they still have in more recent times. I... I realized they were right. I do see her that way. And now she's gone..."

"We'll get her back, Tamao." Rui stated, "No matter how long it takes, we won't give up."

"Thank you, Rui..."

...

It had been a week or so since Mei Fan had been captured. Tamao was still worried sick about her. She had started taking walks around the town to clear her head. Today was another one of those days for her.

She had no aim in her walking. She was just mindlessly wandering around. That was how it always was. Normally Rui came with her, but Tamao had snuck out to be alone this time. She wanted some peace and quiet.

That was distrupted as she neared the forest. She heard crying and screams. She had to investigate now. There was no way she could just leave after hearing that.

"Let her go!"

"Onee-chan!"

Tamao heard another scream. It sounded like someone had been hit with something. Something sharp. Tamao crept closer until she saw the scene. Her eyes widened.

The queen had sent more knights here. And they were kidnapping someone. The girl looked quite young. Maybe around 12?

There was another girl on the ground. She was unconscious and bleeding heavily from a stab wound on her side. The two girls looked very similar, so Tamao assumed they were siblings. And also the one had called her such.

"Onee-chan!" The younger girl cried as the knights started dragging her away.

"We have no use for your sister. She isn't blessed like you are."

Tamao used her blessing to look. That girl was indeed blessed. Tamao looked at the other one. She too was blessed. How did they know the one who would not have her powers activated yet had a blessing but not the other one?

Tamao waited until the knights vanished from sight. She walked over and examined the girl. She was still alive. She had to act fast then.

Tamao picked her up and quickly returned to the castle. She placed the girl in the infirmary and summoned Rui. Rui arrived quickly, worried sick about where Tamao had vanished to earlier.

"Tamao-" Rui froze in her step as she saw the girl.

"Please... can you heal her?" Tamao requested in a frantic voice.

Rui nodded, "Yeah."

She walked over to the girl and placed a hand on her. Rui took a deep breath and closed her eyes. After a few seconds, the girl's wounds started closing up. Tamao watched in awe. Rui's blessing really was amazing.

"There. She is healed now." Rui stated, "Now, Tamao, where did you go?"

Tamao looked away, "For a walk..."

"On your own? I told you you can't do that. You need someone with you. What if something bad happens to you while you're out there!? We'll never know."

"Sorry..." Tamao mumbled.

Rui took a deep breath, "I know it's been hard losing Mei Fan, but you need to keep yourself safe too."

"I know..."

"Anyway, what's the story for this girl?" Rui asked, changing topics.

"The queen sent knights to kidnap her sister because she is blessed. How they found out that she is blessed but not her too, I don't know." Tamao said.

"So, she is blessed? And her sister is too?"

"That's what I saw when I looked."

"How old do you think she is? What about her sister?"

"She seems similar to me or you. Her sister looks a few years younger than her." Tamao replied.

"Any idea who she is?"

Tamao shook her head, "No clue."

"I guess we'll just have to wait until she wakes up."

"Yeah..."

...

Tamao returned to the infirmary an hour later. The girl was awake now, sitting up on the bed. She stared at Tamao with wide eyes.

"Why am I here? How did I get here?" She asked in confusion.

"I saw what happened. I saved you. My knight can heal so she did so to you." Tamao replied.

"Why... why did you save me?"

"What's your name?"

"Fumi. Yumeoji Fumi."

"Yumeoji... that's a new name."

"My sister and I just came here a few weeks ago. Our parents... are dead."

"And your sister has been taken captive." Tamao sighed, "I'm so sorry..."

"I wish I was the blessed one instead... so she would be safe still..."

"You are blessed, Fumi. I can see it." Tamao replied.

Fumi stared at her with eyes full of shock, "What?"

"I too am blessed. I can sense alignments. And if you are blessed, I can see that too when checking."

"Then... why have I not gotten my powers? Why did Shiori?"

"You don't normally get them until after you turn fourteen."

"Huh? But... but Shiori... she's only... 12..."

"Did someone activate it early?"

"Not that we know."

Tamao was confused as well now. It should not be possible for Shiori to have her powers already. Maybe someone did activate them already and neither realized it? From what Rui did to Mei Fan, Tamao could see it not looking that way without prior knowledge.

"What is her blessing?" Tamao questioned.

"She can kill people. It's... really scary..." Fumi whispered.

Tamao had no idea how to process what she had just heard, "Your sister can do what?"

"Kill."

"I... didn't realize blessings could be... like that..."

"Ah, there you are, Tamao. Oh, you're awake." Rui entered the room.

"You need me?" Tamao questioned.

Rui shook her head, "No. I just wondered where you got to."

"Oh. Well, Fumi, this is Rui. She's the knight I told you about." Tamao introduced the two of them.

Fumi bowed to Rui, "Thank you..."

"It... it was nothing..." Rui stammered.

"Rui? You seem knowledgeable on blessings. What are the extremes of them?" Tamao questioned.

"Hmm? Well, there's been reports of some blessed that have been able to use mind control... um, I've heard of someone who could bring people back from the dead... freeze time... stuff like that." Rui replied.

"What about killing someone?"

"Killing... someone with your blessing? Well, it's never been documented before but I'm sure it's not impossible to occur."

"Her sister has that as her blessing."

"What?" Rui looked between the two of them for a long time, "She can kill..."

"Yeah... is my blessing likely to be the same?" Fumi asked.

"No. Blessings can not repeat in living people. Once someone dies, then their blessing can happen again. You will have something different." Rui replied.

"Is there a way to tell before it activates?"

"No. But, I could activate it for you if Tamao agrees."

Tamao nodded. She was fine with that happening. She too was curious to see what Fumi was blessed with.

"Alright. Just relax. It'll be painless and very quick." Rui placed a hand on Fumi's shoulder.

After a few minutes, she pulled away and looked at Fumi expectantly. Fumi seemed to be trying to puzzle together what she was feeling.

"I... think I can revive people..." Fumi eventually stated.

"So the sisters can kill and revive people. Interesting." Tamao commented.

"Well, what do you plan to do with Fumi?" Rui asked.

"Fumi, would you like to become my knight? I promise I will help you get your sister back. They have a knight of mine too so I am already planning an attack." Tamao said.

"If I become your knight... you'll aid me in rescuing Shiori?" Fumi repeated.

Tamao nodded, "Yes."

"I... I will. I owe you my life..."

"Seems to be a theme with you, Tamao." Rui commented hesitantly.

"A theme? Oh... yeah, all my knights I've rescued from a horrible life. That is interesting." Tamao agreed.

"You have?" Fumi questioned.

Tamao nodded to her, "Yes. Rui was to be executed for her crimes, but after Mei Fan saved her, I gave her a second chance. Mei Fan... the knight who has been taken... I got her from the slave trade."

"You are kinder than spoken about." Fumi said.

"I know. My parents don't like that."

"Why? Is it not better to be liked?"

"To them, no."

"Monarchs always have confused me."

"Yeah..."

"Fumi? Do you have any fighting experience?" Rui asked.

"A bit. I've had to fight before. I don't know how good my techniques are, though." Fumi replied.

"If you feel up to it, would you like to have a sparing match so we can see your skills?" Rui requested.

Fumi nodded, "Sounds like a plan."

She stood up and tested her strength. After determining she was fine, she nodded to them. Rui lead the way out to the arena. She went to grab the practice swords.

"Rui is very good at teaching people how to fight." Tamao said.

"I look forward to learning from her then." Fumi responded.

Rui soon returned to them with two wooden swords. She handed one to Fumi. Fumi took it and waited for the next instructions.

"Take your position on the field." Rui said.

Fumi nodded to her and did so. She placed herself at one end of the sparing field and waited. Rui got herself into position as well.

"Rules are no above the chest and no below the waist. Whoever falls down first loses." Rui stated, "Do you understand?"

Fumi nodded, "Yes, I get it."

"Want to count down for us, Tamao?" Rui asked.

"Sure. On three?" Tamao agreed.

"On three."

Tamao waited a second and then started counting. When she hit three, the two girls charged at each other. Fumi was doing quite well to block Rui's attacks. Tamao was very impressed by her display of skill so far.

Fumi charged at Rui, aiming low on her stomach. Rui dodged to the side and swiped at her in reply. Fumi narrowly dodged the sword. She was panting heavily already. Rui was nowhere near as out of breath as she was. She ran at Fumi again. Fumi raised her sword and blocked the blow. Rui pushed forward and Fumi lost her footing. She yelped as she slipped and fell onto the ground.

"You alright?" Rui asked as she held out a hand to Fumi.

Fumi nodded, "I'm fine. That was a lot tougher of a fight than I'm used to."

"You did pretty well with blocking and dodging me. If you build up more stamina you'll be a very formidable opponent before long." Rui commented.

"How long will it take?"

"Hmm... I can't say. After a few training sessions I'll have a better grasp on you and how easily you can improve."

"Alright..."

"You are very worried about Shiori, aren't you?" Tamao said, "I understand. I wish we could go and rescue everyone already, but until we have a better group and more training, it is impossible."

"How long do you think that will take to make happen?" Fumi questioned.

Tamao shrugged, "I can't say. Hopefully not more than a year."

"Will... will she be alright? The queen wouldn't kill her... right?"

"Unfortunately, she may. The queen has killed her own knights before. Who is to say that doesn't extend to the blessed too." Rui replied with a sorrowful look.

"I... I'm scared..."

"I know..." Tamao walked over and hugged her, "It'll be alright, Fumi. We'll get her back. In fact, we'll rescue any blessed knights she has. I won't let her abuse them if I can help it."

"So, this rescue is no longer just about Mei Fan and Shiori?" Rui questioned.

Tamao nodded, "This is now a mission to take all the queen's blessed away from her. She doesn't deserve them."

"And what makes you think they'll trust you?" Fumi asked.

"I won't make them work for me. I will save them and then let them decide their lives once they are in well enough condition to leave." Tamao explained, "If they wish to remain, they can. If they want to live normal lives in the kingdom, they can. If they want to leave this kingdom, they can. I won't stop them unless I absolutely have to for anyone's safety."

Fumi nodded to her, "I trust you. I trust that you can succeed in this."

"I will do my best, Fumi. I hate seeing people suffer from the cruelty of others."

"So... what's our next plan, Tamao?" Rui asked.

Tamao pondered her answer for a bit, "Hmm... train and see if we can find anyone else who will join us. Blessed or not. It doesn't matter to me."

"Very well, Tamao." Rui nodded, "We shall keep an eye out then."

Chapter Text

As Mei Fan regained consciousness, she was aware of a few things. She was chained up. Her hands were bound behind her back and her legs were cuffed together as well. She also was blindfolded. She could not see anything. And her head hurt like hell.

The last thing Mei Fan was able to recall was fighting. She concluded that someone must have knocked her out from behind. Now, why? Why was she still alive? Was Rui here? Where exactly was she even? She knew she was in the Frosted Lands kingdom, but that was it. Was she in the dungeon of the castle? Was she in a different place?

"This is her?"

"Yeah."

"What are we supposed to do?"

"Welcome her."

Mei Fan froze as she heard two voices nearing her. She guessed they were talking about her. What exactly did they want? What did their words mean? Welcome her? Welcome her to what?

"Hello! I see you're awake. I'm going to remove the blindfold. Please don't panic." A voice said.

Moments later, Mei Fan felt a pair of hands work away at her blindfold. Soon enough, it was off. Mei Fan blinked as she adjusted to the room. It was very dark so it wasn't too hard to get used to. She took in the two people in front of her. They looked to be around her age.

They were wearing a uniform Mei Fan had never seen before. But, it had all the colors and symbols of the Frosted Lands kingdom. Mei Fan knew that meant they were some rank in the queen's army. She just had no idea what that rank might be. She would probably learn that answer soon enough. They were here to talk to her, after all.

"I'm sure you're very confused. Allow me to explain." One of them said, "My name is Michiru. That's Akira. We work for the queen. We're blessed. And she knows you are too. That's why she took you. You're going to work for her now."

"Never! I'll never betray my kingdom!" Mei Fan growled.

"It's either this or death." Akira spoke up, "Would you rather die?"

"I... I can't betray her... I won't betray Tamao." Mei Fan whispered.

Michiru got level with her, "You want to die? No chance of ever seeing her again?"

Mei Fan understood her message easily. Choose to live and she may have the chance to return to Tamao's side. That meant... those two weren't as loyal as she had assumed. Or... was it a trap?

"Why do you say that to me?" Mei Fan questioned. Why was Michiru telling her she could do that?

"We'll see who you would rather live under. Perhaps in the end you'll decide this place is better." Michiru replied, "And want revenge for how you were treated before."

So, she had assumed wrong. They both were loyal. But... they thought their life was easier here? Mei Fan was confused. They already looked bad. It wasn't hard to notice they weren't as properly fed. Their wounds weren't treated as well.

"As if this place is better than my kingdom." Mei Fan replied.

"We'll see. So, you'll join us?"

"Yes."

Akira came over with a pair of keys and unlocked her restraints. Mei Fan rubbed her wrists. That was painful. At least she was free from that. Though, now she was concerned. What did they think happened at her kingdom as opposed to theirs? Maybe they assumed the king and queen were her rulers and not Tamao? That was all Mei Fan could assume.

"You say life here should be better, but I don't know that I believe you. Mainly because I'm sure once the queen learns I'm an outsider and not native to this land, I won't be treated fairly like you guys are." Mei Fan said, standing up, "My king and queen treated me like trash. But, their daughter was nice. I work for her, not her parents."

"You are... foreign?" Michiru repeated.

Mei Fan nodded, "Yes, from a place called China."

"Interesting. We should tell the queen about it, but if what you say is true... maybe we should leave that out for now." Michiru replied.

"I would really appreciate that."

"Then for now this will remain a secret. Anyway, let's go. We'll give you a quick tour."

Mei Fan hesitantly followed the two of them out of the cell. They lead her up a flight of stairs and into the main castle. Mei Fan looked around the place. It was pretty similar to what she was used to with Tamao. However, she felt a cold chill run down her as they continued on their tour. Mei Fan did not understand exactly why she felt so off right now, but she did.

"So... um, what's it like working for her?" Mei Fan asked.

"She doesn't like when someone messes up." Michiru replied, "Don't screw up if you can help it unless you want to get beat unconscious."

Mei Fan gulped. The way Michiru said that so calmly was worrying. Were these two just so used to the abuse they did not see just how messed up it all was? Would they even believe her if she told them how Tamao treated her?

Mei Fan gathered enough to know that the queen was lying to them about how she was apparently treated. They seemed to be under the assumption that her kingdom was far worse than theirs. She had no idea how to approach anything with them now.

"You two are blessed with what?" Mei Fan asked next, "I'm speed if you weren't told."

"I can freeze time." Akira said, "Only to those who aren't blessed, though."

"And I can create illusions." Michiru added.

"What kind?" Mei Fan questioned.

"They can take the form of people."

"That's interesting."

"Well, we have reached our room. You will get your bed soon." Michiru said.

Mei Fan froze in shock at what she saw. This was just a cell with no door. The "beds" were just one blanket and pillow on the floor. The blankets looked very old and worn. They didn't seem like they would provide much protection.. And these two were just okay with that?

"Is there an issue?" Akira seemed to have noticed her freeze.

"It... isn't what I expected." Mei Fan did not know how else to put it.

"It's better than what you had, right?" Michiru questioned as she sat on one of the beds, "You didn't get anything."

"Uh... I slept in the room with the princess. I'm her bodyguard basically. I stayed in her bed." Mei Fan replied.

"But if you weren't her bodyguard, you would have less than this." Michiru sounded confident.

Mei Fan did not want to say otherwise now, but she could not lie to them, "Uh, no. At least not with the princess. Everyone had a bed like hers. No one was left out."

"Huh?"

"Michiru, she warned us she would be this way. It's all lies to get us to betray her." Akira said.

Mei Fan was deeply concerned. The queen was feeding them so many lies. No wonder she still had an army. They truly believed living with her was better. Was there any hope to change their minds?

"But, look at me. Do I look mistreated?" Mei Fan replied.

"You said you're her bodyguard. Of course you have to be in top shape to defend her." Michiru brushed it off.

"So... I guess I'm not changing your minds very easily..." Mei Fan sighed, "I truly have not been mistreated by the Princess. Her parents... yes, they hate me. But her, no. She cares a lot about me."

"We'll see. How you react to a punishment will show everything."

Mei Fan froze, "N-no... I..."

"See? You're terrified now because of what you've been out through." Michiru smirked, thinking she had caught Mei Fan in a lie.

"I was a slave before Tamao took me under her care. Of course I'll act that way! I've been abused all my life! But, when I met her... everything changed. I've never had her hurt me once." Mei Fan got aggressive now, the memories of her past coming back to her.

"A slave?" Michiru repeated, "That's... not what I was expecting."

"That's how I ended up here. They stole me from my parents because of a dirty debt they tricked them into." Mei Fan grumbled.

"I still don't believe you're treated well at that kingdom." Akira stated, "But, we shall look past it for now. The queen did want to meet with you."

"Fine..." Mei Fan sighed.

...

A few days had gone by. Mei Fan was hating life here even more. She was also getting more concerned as well. The things she was witnessing were horrible. She was constantly living in terror of being subject to those things herself. It reminded her so much of her old life.

Michiru and Akira were kind to her, at least. They seemed to understand her fear and did their best to keep her from having to see it. They also stayed with her all the time so they could inform her before she made a mistake that could be punishable. Mei Fan was grateful for their help. If only they believed her in how she was treated by Tamao. Hopefully that would come with time.

"Hey, they got that blessed girl they were talking about." Akira came into the 'bedroom' one day with that news.

"Oh. Where is she?" Michiru asked.

"The normal place. She's terrified." Akira replied.

"What is she blessed with? Do you know?" Mei Fan questioned.

Akira shook her head, "No. No one but her knows right now."

"Who should go talk to her?" Michiru asked, "If she's terrified we have to be very gentle with our approach."

"Let me." Mei Fan said, "I think I can get her to trust me."

"Do you know they way down?" Akira asked.

Mei Fan nodded, "Yeah. I can find my way."

"Good luck." Michiru said.

Mei Fan nodded to them and then started on her way down. She hoped no one else was in the area being punished. Thankfully, no one was. She had an easy walk to the girl.

As Akira had described, the girl was shaking in fear. The moment Mei Fan entered the cell, she froze. Tears were streaming down her face as she tried to make herself as small as possible. Mei Fan felt a ping in her heart at the sight. It reminded her of herself and the other kids she met while being a slave.

"Hey... it's alright. I won't hurt you." Mei Fan whispered, "My name is Mei Fan. Can I know yours?"

The girl shook her head. She squeezed her eyes shut.

"It'll be alright. I know it's scary. Believe me, I'm scared too. But, I'm here. I'll protect you." Mei Fan continued, taking a few steps forward.

"S-stay away!" The girl squeaked out, failing to sound fierce at all.

"I'm like you. They took me too." Mei Fan said, "I'm on your side."

The girl looked at her. She still was afraid, but appeared to be starting to trust her a bit more. Mei Fan gave her a warm smile. She was trying to recall what Tamao had done to her when they first met. Maybe it would have the same effect on this girl?

"They... took you too?" The girl repeated quietly.

Mei Fan nodded, "Yes. I'm from the Fallen Flowers kingdom. During a war they took me captive because I'm blessed."

"What... what's going to happen to me?"

"You're going to work for the queen or die." Mei Fan replied, "I chose to live so I can hopefully one day return to my kingdom."

"Onee-chan... they killed onee-chan..."

Mei Fan embraced her, "I'm so sorry..."

"Why... why did they kill her?" The girl was sobbing now.

"I can't say. But, from what I've seen from this place, I think it's safe to say they don't often let people live if they get in the way." Mei Fan replied, "I'm so sorry... I can't imagine how much you're hurting right now."

"Onee-chan..."

"Shh... let it out..." Mei Fan soothed.

She took the key from her pocket and untied the girl. The girl wrapped her arms around Mei Fan and cried. Mei Fan did her best to comfort her. Unfortunately, there was only so much she could offer her.

Mei Fan had no idea how long they stayed like that for. But, it was long enough that someone came looking for them.

"Hmm? What's the hold up?"

"A-ah, Michiru. Um... she's just... struggling." Mei Fan stammered out.

"You've been gone for two hours." Michiru stated.

Mei Fan sighed and looked down at the girl, "They killed her sister in front of her... it's really hard for her right now."

Said girl, who Mei Fan had learned was named Shiori, had fallen asleep in her embrace. She was probably all tired out from the crying. Mei Fan hadn't wanted to wake her.

"Oh..." Michiru frowned, "That's not a very nice welcome to our land. Having some knights you'll be working with do that to a family member... I can see how hard it will be."

"Was it really necessary to kill her?" Mei Fan sighed.

Michiru shrugged, "Probably not, but you know how it goes."

"Yeah... I know..."

"Bring her to the room. Let's get out of here. These cells are constantly being filled with traitors." Michiru said.

Mei Fan nodded and stood up. She carefully adjusted Shiori in her grip and then followed behind Michiru. It was a silent walk back to the room.

"Did you learn much about her?" Michiru questioned as they walked.

Mei Fan shook her head, "No. All I know is her name is Shiori."

"She must really be suffering..." Michiru whispered, "But, if she wants to stay alive, she better put on a good act soon. The queen has no use for those who can't adapt quickly."

"Even after a traumatic event like that?"

"Yes. Nothing should keep you from your duties in her eyes. That's the one thing I don't agree with. But, opposing her will get you killed, so just suck it up and move on."

"You confuse me. You seem very loyal to her, but at the same time you don't."

"I'm only loyal until someone can prove to be better than her." Michiru said, "So, if what you say about the princess is true, just show me solid proof and I'll consider aiding you. As for Akira... she's a different story."

"How so?"

"She has her eyes set on gaining rule of the land here. Now, under the queen, that is. She's been raised to believe all of this is how it has to be. I have not. But... my parents did tell me that it would be almost impossible to find royalty that was kind to you. Especially as an outsider."

"I think I'm proof enough of that much. I've been told by many that most kingdoms will flat out kill you if you are from a foreign land. They will imprison you if you belong to the same land, I believe."

"True." Michiru could not argue with that much, "The fact you are still alive is a miracle considering what the queen tells us about that place."

"It's all lies. Well... maybe not. The king and queen, yes. What she says is pretty true about them. However, the princess is very different. She is extremely kind." Mei Fan replied, "But, she has to hide it from the public so they don't see her as weak. There was already one attempt on her life before."

"How many knights does she have defending her?"

"There were... four of us to start. The three others betrayed her and were responsible for the attempt. Now there will only be one knight since I'm gone... I'm really worried about her..." Mei Fan frowned.

"The math doesn't add up there."

"I may have accidently saved a criminal from being killed and... Tamao took mercy on her. She became her knight after she saved us from dying. If it hadn't been for her, that assassination would have succeeded."

Michiru shrugged at that, "The princess sounds a bit too trusting."

"She isn't. She does a lot of research into someone before ever letting them near her alone." Mei Fan defended.

She wished she could say the truth. That Tamao could tell alignments. But, she could not trust Michiru with that information. Not unless she was fully on her side in all of this. Then maybe she could tell her about that.

The conversation stopped as they entered the room. There was already a bed, if you could call it that, there for Shiori. Mei Fan carefully sat down, keeping Shiori still held firmly in her grip. She wanted her to feel safe when she woke up. She seemed to trust her quite a lot already.

"Any idea what her blessing might be yet?" Michiru questioned.

Mei Fan shrugged, "I don't know. She hasn't said much and hasn't tried using her powers as far as I can tell."

"She seems a bit frail. I'm surprised the queen wanted her." Akira commented, "She might collapse from training and just die. She doesn't look like she can handle much."

"A bit bluntly put, but you may be right." Michiru agreed.

"Is there anything we can do about that?" Mei Fan asked, holding Shiori a little closer now.

"Well, training only really happens that intensely when we have a big mission. She wants to collect more blessed before she sends us on one, so we should be fine for now. We'll just help her gain strength until then so hopefully when that day comes, she is able to handle it." Michiru responded after a bit of thought.

"What is her plan?" Mei Fan questioned, "What does she want from all of this?"

"World domination." Akira said, "She wants to be the only ruler of this entire country."

"That's a lot..." Mei Fan gulped.

"Indeed. So, it'll be a lot of work for us. Blessed ones are the key to winning, after all." Michiru added.

Mei Fan did not like the sound of any of that. Take over the world? For this queen? She would sooner die than do that. Hopefully they could manage to kill her. Hopefully she could return back to Tamao's side and help her again.

Shiori finally stirred. She looked around, freezing up as her eyes fell on the other two girls in the room. She shifted closer to Mei Fan. Mei Fan rubbed her back reassuringly.

"Hey, Shiori. These are the other blessed ones who you'll be working with. That's Akira and that's Michiru." Mei Fan spoke softly to her.

"Hello, Shiori." Michiru smiled at her, "You've been through a lot. I hope we can make things a bit better for you."

"Hi." Akira simply said.

"H-hi..." Shiori mumbled.

"So, what's your power?" Michiru asked.

"U-um... I can... breathe underwater." Shiori said.

"Intersting. That's a new one."

"Akira, Michiru, the queen requests your presense." A knight came to the room.

"Okay. We'll be back." The two girls left the room.

"You alright, Shiori?" Mei Fan asked as she looked her over.

Shiori met her gaze, "Um... can you keep a secret?"

"Sure. What is it?"

"I... can kill... that's my power. Onee-chan told me to never let anyone know unless I could trust them." Shiori whispered.

Mei Fan stared at her for a while, "Oh. Well, your secret is safe with me, Shiori."

"Thank you, Mei Fan-onee-chan."

"Onee-chan..." Mei Fan repeated.

Shiori nodded, "You remind me of onee-chan... can I call you that?"

Mei Fan smiled at her, "Of course, Shiori."

Shiori hugged her tightly. Mei Fan returned the hug. She vowed she would do everything in her power to keep Shiori safe. She had been given that much trust. She had to do her part.

Chapter Text

A year had passed in the blink of an eye. Not much had changed. Tamao was still concerned for Mei Fan. She was no closer to rescuing her than before. All she had were Fumi and Rui to help. There was no way they could ever save anyone with just the three of them.

Fumi had done well with her training. Rui was a good teacher in Tamao's eyes. She was very capable. And thanks to her, Fumi now was equally matched with any of the other knights in the kingdom. No one could push her around. Not that many would try. Tamao was very clear that punishment awaited anyone who harmed her knights.

"Fumi, will you come out to town with me?" Tamao requested, "I just feel like getting some air."

"Sure. Are we going now?" Fumi replied.

"If you're ready."

"Yeah. We can go."

The two of them took a slow walk out of the castle and to the town. It was a peaceful day. The sun was shining in the sky, no clouds to be seen. A light breeze kept it cool enough that no one was too hot.

There were a lot of townsfolk out, going about their daily lives. Most bowed to Tamao when she walked by them. A few sent her glares. Fumi would return the glares and make a motion toward her weapon, as if daring them to try something.

"Do you hear that? It sounds like yelling." Fumi said.

"Hmm? Oh, I hear it now. Let's see what that's all about." Tamao replied.

They made their way toward the source of the yelling. They found a crowd of people gathered outside of a shop. Tamao pulled Fumi toward a gap in the crowd so they could both get a closer look at the scene.

Tamao did not like what she was seeing one bit. The apparent shop owner was beating someone up. A child. Someone who didn't seem too much younger than her or Fumi. Tamao clenched her fists. How dare he do that to a child? What had she done to him?

"Excuse me. What's going on?" Tamao stepped in, unable to watch the scene any longer.

Fumi quickly stood by her side, a hand on her weapon. She was ready to attack at a moment's notice.

"This little bitch tried to steal from me." The man replied, giving the girl another hard kick.

"Fumi." Tamao nodded to her.

Fumi understood the message and in one swipe took off the man's head. The crowd was in shock at what they were witnessing. Fumi kept her eyes focused on them in case someone tried to be bold.

Tamao knelt down and examined the girl. She appeared to be unconscious now. She was covered in bruises and blood. She was caked in dirt as well. And on a closer look, Tamao could see she was very thin.

Tamao carefully picked up the girl and then turned to Fumi, "Let's go."

Fumi nodded. They made their way back to the castle. No one followed them, thankfully. The crowd seemed to be in too much shock to react much to anything else.

"Tamao, why did you do that?" Fumi questioned.

"She is blessed."

"Oh. I see." Fumi nodded, "How does she look?"

"Very bad. I feel she may have been living on the streets for a while now." Tamao replied, "If you could fetch Rui when we return and start a bath for this girl, I'd appreciate it."

"Of course. Do we have clothes that will fit her?"

"Hmm... she's so thin everything will be big, but I think some of mine might work. We did just clean out old ones. Try and find some of those that are in good enough condition for now. We'll get her better clothes once she recovers."

"Understood."

It was not long before they arrived back at the castle. Fumi went to do as she was told. Tamao took a slow walk to the bath. She arrived seconds before Rui came in.

"This is the girl? Poor thing..." Rui frowned, "I remember her. Her parents got killed by a cult and she's been alone ever since."

"Oh, you know her?" Tamao asked in surprise.

Rui nodded, "A bit. I snuck food out for her a lot. Her name is Yuyuko."

"I see... let's get her all cleaned up and then get these wounds treated." Tamao said.

Rui nodded and started getting the bath ready. Tamao slowly undressed Yuyuko from her clothes. She frowned as she saw even more bruises. These were older ones too. Not new ones from today. She has been suffering for quite some time now.

Once Rui finished preparing the bath, Tamao gently placed Yuyuko into the water. Tamao was staring at her with a worried look.

"It'll be okay, Tamao. I'll heal her wounds and then we just have to get her eating normally." Rui said, "She'll be better in no time."

Tamao wordlessly hugged Rui. Rui was not sure how to react at first. Eventually she hugged Tamao back.

"What's wrong?" Rui asked.

"I... see her..."

"Oh..." Rui understood, "I know it's still hard. But, we have confirmation that Mei Fan is alive. We'll get her back, Tamao. I know we will."

Tamao let go of Rui and backed away, "Sorry... I can't keep letting this affect me so much..."

"Tamao, don't say that. It's not like Fumi is any better off than you. She's still very worried about Shiori too."

"I guess I'll... let you handle this. Since you know her she might trust you more when she wakes up." Tamao stood up.

"Are you sure?" Rui questioned.

Tamao nodded, "Yes, I'm sure. I have other things I should do. I trust you'll take care of her."

Rui nodded, "I'll do my best, Tamao."

Rui let out a sigh as Tamao left the room. She knew it was still hard for her. Knowing Mei Fan was forced to work for their enemy was really breaking her apart. At least they knew that she was still alive. They had more hope.

However, to this point, they had no confirmation on Shiori. The queen did not seem to be sending her on missions. That either meant she was doing inside tasks or was dead. Hopefully the former. Fumi was extremely worried about her.

Rui took a deep breath and focused on the task at hand. She needed to help Yuyuko. First step was cleaning her up so she could actually see all the wounds she would have to heal later.

Rui carefully started cleaning off all the dirt on Yuyuko's body. She had to go very slow to make sure she did not upset any wounds too much. The last thing she needed to do right now was rub open a wound.

The water turned dark from all the dirt and blood being washed into it. But, Yuyuko was clean now. Rui lifted her out of the bath and set her down on a flat area to dry her off. Once that was done, Rui healed her. All of the wound closed up. Good.

"You done? I brought some clothes for her." Fumi entered the room with some clothes in her arms.

"Yep. Thank you." Rui accepted the clothes and dressed Yuyuko in them.

"She looks way better now." Fumi commented, "We just need her to gain some weight and everything should be good with her."

Rui nodded along, "Yeah. So, why is she here?"

"She was being beaten from trying to steal from a shop. And apparently she is blessed." Fumi replied.

"I see why Tamao wanted her now."

"Yeah. I set up a spare bed for her in my room. Let's leave her there till she wakes."

"Okay."

...

As it turned to night, Tamao went to check on Yuyuko. As she entered the room, she found her awake and talking to Fumi. Fumi greeted Tamao as she entered.

"Hello, Yuyuko. How are you feeling?" Tamao asked softly as she approached them.

"Okay..." Yuyuko mumbled, "You're the princess."

Tamao nodded, "Yes, that would be me."

"Why did you save me?"

"Because you don't deserve that treatment."

Yuyuko looked down, "You want me because I'm blessed... just like all the other kingdoms..."

"No. If you wish to leave, I am not stopping you." Tamao replied, "You're free to go or you can remain here. It is all your choice."

Yuyuko stared at her for a while, before looking at Fumi, "So... you could leave and... she wouldn't stop you?"

Fumi nodded, "Yes. She doesn't believe in forcing people to work. After all, would you really do that good of a job for someone you disliked?"

"I guess... but um... what do you want from me? If... you could choose?" Yuyuko questioned.

"I'd like for you to join us." Tamao replied, "We are planning an attack on the Frosted Lands kingdom to take their blessed and free them from that horrible control. You would be useful, but I won't ever make someone fight for me."

"Why are you helping her?" Yuyuko turned to Fumi.

"They stole my sister. Tamao promised to help me get her back." Fumi responded.

"I... I need to think about it..." Yuyuko mumbled.

"Of course. Take your time." Tamao said, "Have you gotten to see Rui yet?"

Yuyuko's eyes widened, "Rui? Rui is here?"

Tamao nodded, "Yes. She's one of my knights too."

"Can I see her?"

"Of course. Let me go find her then." Tamao smiled at her before leaving the room.

Tamao found her in the practice yard attacking a dummy. As Rui noticed her, she paused what she was doing.

"Hey, Rui. What are you up to this late at night?" Tamao asked.

"Just... getting some energy out." Rui replied, "Do you need me?"

"Yuyuko would like to see you. She's awake now." Tamao said, "Perhaps we should bring her some food while we're at it too."

"I'll go get changed then. Um, want me to grab the food?"

"No. I can do that. Meet outside Fumi's room."

"Okay."

Tamao and Rui went their separate ways for the time being. Tamao went to the kitchen and asked for a quick bowl of soup to be made for Yuyuko. Once that was done, she made her way to Fumi's room again. Rui was waiting for her.

"You can go first." Rui said.

Tamao nodded and entered the room again, "I'm back with Rui and some food for you."

"Rui!" Yuyuko brightened up at the sight of her, "I thought you were dead..."

Rui smiled at her and pulled her into a hug, "Almost. Thanks to one of Tamao's knight, I still live."

"I've missed you..." Yuyuko said, "Um... you have food?"

Rui backed away and allowed Tamao to hand her the food. Yuyuko accepted it happily and tasted it.

"Thank you." Yuyuko said before she continued eating.

"When was the last time you had a proper meal?" Rui asked.

"I... don't know..." Yuyuko mumbled.

"Well, as long as you're here, you'll get proper meals." Rui reassured her, "Are you staying?"

Yuyuko shrugged, "I haven't decided yet."

"Take your time. There's no rush."

"Yuyuko? Can I ask what your blessing is?" Tamao questioned.

Yuyuko looked at her for a while. She seemed to be debating if she should tell her or not.

"I... can basically transfer my strength to others." Yuyuko said.

"Interesting. How does that work?" Tamao asked.

"Um... it's kinda hard to describe but... basically I can transfer my current energy to someone else. But, then I don't have that energy anymore myself so I get extremely tired and can't do much then." Yuyuko said.

"Seems like it can be useful but also not depending on the situation." Tamao said, "How long does it last for?"

Yuyuko shrugged, "I don't know. I think it's indefinite until I take it back."

"I see. Well, I guess it's only fair that now we tell you our blessings." Tamao stated, "I'll go first. I can see alignments."

"You... you're blessed? You all are?" Yuyuko looked at the three of them with wide eyes.

Rui nodded, "Yes. I can heal people."

"I can bring people back from the dead." Fumi added in.

"I never thought I would meet another blessed... like this."

"I can imagine. It's practically unheard of for any blessed to meet unless being forced into service by someone." Tamao said.

"So, why aren't you that way? What do you have to gain by letting blessed go?" Yuyuko questioned.

"I'm just not like other people. I can't imagine torturing someone to keep them in check."

"But, you're letting yourself open to being killed by those blessed then."

"Most of the extremes don't actually work on other blessed people." Tamao replied, "For example, the info we have about one that could put people to sleep specifically states when used on other blessed it had no effect. It is hard to harm others with your powers."

"Oh... so the bad powers don't really have much use for fighting other blessed... that's intersting..."

"Yeah. It certainly is." Tamao agreed, "Well, I guess we should let you rest. You'll need it to get your strength back."

"Okay..." Yuyuko replied.

Tamao left the room. Moments later, Rui followed. They silently walked to their room. Since Mei Fan had been taken, Rui had taken her place in Tamao's room. She knew Tamao did not want to be alone. The emptiness would just remind her more of what she lost.

"Do you think she'll stay?" Tamao asked as they entered the room.

Rui shrugged, "I don't know. She seems to be heavily considering it, though."

"I worry what will happen if she chooses to leave." Tamao said.

"Yeah... I am too. She has no one. So, hopefully that'll convince her to stay with us. Even if she doesn't become a knight." Rui replied.

"What do you think would be a good role for her if she said no to being a knight?" Tamao asked.

Rui shrugged, "I'm not sure. I don't know that much about her."

"I guess we'll just have to wait and see." Tamao sighed, "Let's head to bed. We have a long few days in front of us."

Rui nodded, "Yeah."

They went to their beds and laid down. Tamao stared up at the ceiling for a while. She was not ready to sleep quite yet.

"Do you think Shiori is alive?"

"Huh? What brings that on, Tamao?"

"I don't know..." Tamao rolled onto her side, "I just have been thinking about Mei Fan a lot and... it brought back the fact we don't know how Shiori is doing."

"I'm sure she's alive. The queen hasn't sent them on anything much as far as we know. Maybe she's still testing Shiori's capabilities?" Rui offered.

"I hope so. I... wonder what Fumi would do if she found out... Shiori was dead..." Tamao mumbled.

"Probably the same way you would react if that happened to Mei Fan."

Tamao fell silent. What exactly would she do...? She knew she would want to avenge her. That was no surprise. But, would she do anything else?

"If she died, I'd probably get myself killed... I feel like I'd go to avenge her immediately with no planning." Tamao eventually said.

"I can't blame you. She means a lot to you, so losing her would really hurt." Rui said, "I don't know that I'd be too much different. She's really helped me a lot."

"I hope we can reunite soon..."

"Yeah..."

...

When morning came, Tamao went to see how Yuyuko was doing now. Rui was right behind her the entire time. She seemed to be anxious to know Yuyuko's final decision. Not that Tamao was any different.

"Good morning." Tamao said as she entered the room.

"Morning, Tamao." Fumi greeted her, "Oh, morning to you too, Rui."

"Morning." Rui immediately made her way to Yuyuko's bed and sat beside her.

Yuyuko was still trying to wake up. She yawned and rubbed her eyes, leaning up against Rui. Rui brushed her hair into a more appropriate style.

"So, how are you feeling today, Yuyuko?" Tamao asked as she walked over.

"Alright. It's weird not feeling all my wounds anymore." Yuyuko replied.

"Have you thought over your decision yet?"

"Yeah... I think I have." Yuyuko nodded.

"And what would that be?" Tamao asked.

"I... I'll try my best to help you. If you hadn't saved me I'd be dead... I guess I owe you something for that." Yuyuko said.

Rui hugged her, "I'm glad to have you back and safe."

Yuyuko returned the hug, "Yeah... I missed you a lot..."

"I hate to interrupt, but I think we should get ready and have something to eat. You need to start gaining your strength back if you want to be able to do anything." Fumi stated.

Yuyuko nodded. The two girls separated and stood up. Yuyuko wobbled on her feet. Rui wrapped an arm around her to steady her a bit. Yuyuko gratefully accepted the help. She was not steady at all right now. Any help was greatly appreciated.

"What will breakfast be?" Yuyuko asked Rui in particular.

Rui shrugged, "It changes a lot. Maybe some eggs today. The chickens are doing well currently so there's an abundance of eggs."

"Okay."

The four of them went to see what was being made. Rui guided Yuyuko to the table they would be sitting at. Tamao had a special table designated for her and her knights.

Fumi and Tamao brought out the food. It was in fact eggs. Yuyuko eyed it up, before taking a nervous bite.

"Do you like it?" Rui asked.

Yuyuko nodded, "Yeah. I haven't had any fresh meals in a long time. Probably since you... stopped showing up..."

"When the raids started on my family, I became homeless too. Except, I was on the run." Rui said, "I wish I could've met up with you."

"It's okay. I'm just glad to know that you're alive and well." Yuyuko smiled at her.

Rui returned the smile, "And same to you. You never left my mind."

"You two seem very close." Fumi commented, "Care to tell how exactly you met?"

"Uh, sure." Yuyuko nodded, "Basically, I was begging for food and ran into her. She snuck food out to me and that just became a regular occurrence for us."

"You're definitely not what my parents made you out to be, Rui." Tamao said, "They told everyone you were just as heartless as the rest of your family. But, I never fully believed them."

"You didn't?" Rui questioned.

Tamao nodded, "I was rebelling against them already. I didn't see why you couldn't perhaps have been in my shoes too. And it seems I was right all this time. We're pretty similar in that regard."

"Oh..."

"Well, how many more blessed do you wish to try to get before we attack?" Fumi cut into the conversation.

Tamao pondered her answer. Would Yuyuko be enough? Could they start really preparing for the attack? Or, was it still too risky to do?

"One more and I think we may be able to stand a chance. From what our intelligence has gathered, there appear to be two nobles working for the queen who are blessed. If Shiori still lives, that would mean there are four." Tamao responded, "However, other sources are saying the queen has her eyes on someone who is blessed and may take them too. I want us to at least be even in numbers if that is the case."

Fumi nodded, "That sounds like a solid plan."

"Now... just to find another blessed who would work for me..."

Chapter Text

Today was not a day Tamao ever wanted to come. But, here she was, going back to the slave trade. Her parents wanted her to meet with the main sellers and start forming connections. She did not want to do that.

Tamao had brought Rui with her for protection. Mainly to make her parents mad. They still despised Tamao's choices in knights.

"Alright. We arrived." Tamao's mother said, "We shall introduce you to all of our most notable sellers here. You should start building a good reputation with them now. You never know when you might need a worker on a very short notice."

Tamao nodded, "Okay."

They went around to many different stalls. Tamao hated this. She could not look at any of the slaves. It reminded her heavily of Mei Fan. She wanted out of here. But, she could not leave until her parents decided it was time to go.

Rui was doing her best to offer Tamao support. She knew it was tough. Unfortunately, with Tamao's parents being right next to them, there were only a few gestures she could make. She did not know what they may perceive from her actions if she tried to comfort Tamao.

"That is all of them. Feel free to look around if you want. Perhaps you'd like to buy another slave?" Tamao's father said.

"I'll take a look around." Tamao stated, "How long do we have?"

"We have a meeting still. It will be a while. Take your time." Her mother replied.

Tamao nodded, "Okay."

Her and Rui walked off. Tamao lead Rui to a desolate area. The moment they were out of sight of everyone, she broke down crying. Rui pulled her into a tight hug.

"Let it out..." Rui whispered, "I know it's really tough being here..."

"Rui..."

"Shh... don't talk... just let it out..."

They stayed like that for a long time. It hurt Rui to have to witness Tamao be this way. Hopefully soon they could find the last blessed and start an attack. But, they still have had no luck finding anyone else. It was tough.

"Rui... what do we do...?"

"We can just stay here until it's time to leave." Rui replied.

Tamao looked up at her, "Well... I do want to look around... maybe... someone here is blessed..."

"Alright. Just, please don't push yourself too hard. I know it's tough to see all of this happen."

Tamao nodded. She took a few minutes to collect herself. This was very tough. She really did not want to be here, but she was curious to see if there could possibly be someone here who was blessed.

"Let's go." Tamao said.

They slowly walked around the place, looking over all the slaves. Rui had a tight grip on Tamao's hand. She too was not very happy to be here and see all of this.

"This is horrible..." Rui whispered.

"Yeah..." Tamao agreed, "Look over there..."

Rui looked at where Tamao nodded to. There was a slave there. They looked dead. Rui gasped and covered her mouth with her free hand.

"Tamao..." Rui gulped, "I really hate it here..."

"I do too."

They continued walking for a while. Eventually, Tamao paused. She was looking at another slave.

"She is blessed." Tamao stated.

Rui looked over at the girl. She was being beaten by her owner. Tamao walked over to them.

"Hello."

"Hello there. What can I do for you?" The man said.

"Who is this one?" Tamao asked, "She seems quite older than normal for this area."

"Yeah. I can't sell her." The man grumbled, giving the girl another hard kick, "I'm ready to just kill her and sell new ones."

The girl cried out in pain and curled up into a tight ball. She was shaking heavily. Blood was dripping out of her mouth. There were countless bruises littered all over her body. Tamao could not help but see Mei Fan in her.

"I'll take her from you." Tamao stated.

"You will? Have her for free. I just want her gone." The man gave her the rope belonging to the girl.

"Thank you. What is her name?"

"Wouldn't tell me. I don't know."

"Oh. Well, I'll see myself then."

Tamao handed the rope to Rui and then knelt down by the girl. The girl met her gaze. She was terrified. That was understandable since she was probably used to horrible people buying her.

"Will you stand up?" Tamao asked gently.

The girl tried, but failed to stand. She started crying. Tamao assumed she thought a punishment was coming for her since she failed the command. It was a very common scenario for slaves to face. They were not treated with any respect.

"Rui, carry her, please." Tamao said.

"Of course, Princess." Rui nodded and easily picked up the frail girl.

They walked away. The girl was curiously looking at Rui. She probably did not know how to perceive the kindness she was being shown. She reached a hand up and touched Rui's face. Rui looked down at her and gave her a warm smile.

"We should be out of earshot now." Tamao said, "So, hello there. I'm Tamao. The princess here. And this is Rui, one of my knights. You're safe with us. I won't let anyone hurt you."

The girl looked over at her, "Princess..."

"Yep." Tamao smiled at her.

"Why...?"

"Because you don't deserve to die."

The girl looked away. It seemed obvious she had never been given compassion before. She very much reminded Tamao of Mei Fan in so many ways. That made her heart ache a lot.

"What's your name?" Rui asked.

"Ichie..."

"Ichie. Well, it's nice to meet you." Rui smiled at her.

"Nice to... meet you too." Ichie replied.

She seemed to be fading in and out of consciousness. Her wounds did look severe enough to cause that. Tamao carefully took Ichie from Rui.

"You can rest, Ichie. You're safe now." Tamao whispered.

Ichie soon relaxed and fell asleep. Tamao smiled as she shifted her into a better position.

"Rui, can you heal her?" Tamao asked, "Or is it too risky to do that here?"

"Too risky." Rui replied.

"Then once we get back you can do it."

"Okay."

They returned back to the carriage. Her parents were there too.

"So, you found a new slave?" Her mother looked over Ichie.

"Yes." Tamao nodded.

"Very well. We can leave now."

It was a quiet ride back to the castle. They were dropped off. Rui took Ichie to Tamao's room per her request. Tamao went to go find Fumi and Yuyuko and inform them of Ichie.

"You're back, Tamao." Fumi was outside.

"Yep. We brought back someone. She's blessed. Please be gentle with her." Tamao said.

Fumi nodded, "Of course. What's her name?"

"Ichie."

"Where is she now?"

"In my room. Rui is healing her wounds right now."

"Ah, I see."

"Any idea where Yuyuko is at?" Tamao questioned.

"I think she might be asleep still." Fumi replied.

"Come with me?"

"Sure."

The two of them took a slow walk to Fumi's room. Yuyuko was indeed asleep on her bed. Tamao shook her awake.

"Hmm? Tamao?" Yuyuko yawned and sat up, "What is it?"

"We have a new member. Her name is Ichie. She's blessed too. Be nice to her. She's been through a lot as a slave." Tamao said.

"Oh. Okay. What is her blessing?"

"I have not found out yet. She was beaten to near unconsciousness and blacked out soon after we got her. I haven't had the chance to ask much to her."

"I see. How was she when you got her?" Yuyuko asked.

Tamso frowned, "Not good at all. The man who owned her said he was going to kill her if she didn't sell today. He was beating her up a lot when we saw them."

Yuyuko sighed, "I hate the slave trade..."

"Yeah... it was... tough being there." Tamao said, "She... reminds me of Mei Fan."

"Hmm? Oh, right. Mei Fan was a slave too." Yuyuko gave her a sympathetic look, "Will it be hard to face her for a while?"

Tamao sighed and shrugged, "I don't know. I hope not. If we want her to learn to trust us... I have to be very careful with how I act. All of us do."

"Yeah..." Fumi said, "Someone that damaged will need nothing but kindness. I've witnessed abuse before and... I can understand. If we behave poorly around her, it may cause her to relapse and... we will never recover her from that."

"Then... wouldn't that be a worry with Mei Fan?" Yuyuko asked hesitantly.

Tamao looked at the ground, "I would... hope she would recover with us. Since... we have always treated her well."

"Sorry... I know it's a sensitive topic for you." Yuyuko apologized.

"It's alright. I... do need to face the reality of the situation. There is a chance she will be too far gone to ever function properly around us. I wish we knew more of how that queen operated." Tamao replied.

Fumi placed a hand on her shoulder, "Tamao, I wasn't sure about informing you. Well, Rui was the one who found it, but... Mei Fan... managed to leave a message for you. We found it on the border hidden away."

Tamao stared at her, "She... left something? Is it... bad?"

Fumi frowned, "A bit. She detailed the horrors of the queen. And a bit of info about the other blessed."

"Let's meet with Rui and Ichie and you will tell me everything. We shall discuss it together then." Tamao stated.

Fumi and Yuyuko nodded. They headed to Tamao's room. As they neared, they heard Rui softly whispering. Tamao entered first. She was silent, not wanting to accidently ruin whatever was going on.

It was easy to see what was happening the moment she entered. Ichie had woken up. She was clinging to Rui and crying. Rui was trying to comfort her. It seemed to be working as Ichie slowly went lax.

Rui looked up at Tamao. She did not speak for a while, simply glancing between her and Ichie.

"She woke up from a nightmare." Rui finally said, "I did my best to reassure her she was safe. I hope it worked."

"We will just have to see." Tamao replied, taking a seat on the bed with Rui, "I've brought Fumi and Yuyuko. We are discussing this message Mei Fan left."

"I... told her. I think she deserves to know." Fumi said as Rui gave her a questioning glance.

"Very well. Who do you wish to tell you?" Rui asked Tamao.

"Whoever." Tamao shrugged. She did not care who told her. She just wanted the information.

"Then, I will." Rui declared, "So... while I was patrolling I found a note. It's in Mei Fan's handwriting. I know it's her."

"I trust you on that part."

"Okay. So, it said that the queen treats them horribly. They are constantly worried of being beat for any mistake. But, she also said everyone else there is so conditioned to it, they no longer really react." Rui continued, "As for the blessed details... there are three others. Shiori is one of them on the list. The other two are nobles. Ootori Michiru and Yukishiro Akira. She did not give blessings, unfortunately. She wrote that it was too risky to do. I don't blame her."

"So... no news of the other one the queen was after?" Tamao questioned.

Rui shook her head, "None at all."

"Was that all?"

"There was one more thing." Fumi spoke, "She promised that she would be loyal to you till the end. And that, if the time came where she may have to harm you... she would kill herself first."

Tamao was silent for a long period of time. That was a lot to take in. At least Mei Fan was still alive. And Shiori was too. That was at least a start.

"I guess she didn't leave a way we may be able to contact her, did she?" Tamao knew that was probably hopeless.

"Unfortunately no. She did not." Fumi replied.

"Well... it's at least something. Now, just to handle Ichie and for Yuyuko to finish recovering. Then we can start."

"Understood."

...

The next morning, Tamao was woken early by someone climbing into her bed. She responded by simply hugging them and holding them close. She assumed it was probably Rui. She had nightmares sometimes of the battle. It still scarred her.

However, when Tamao opened her eyes, she noticed pink hair in front of her face instead of brown. That was definitely not Rui then. It was Ichie.

As it stood, Ichie was sharing Rui's bed for the time being. Why did she not just go to Rui for comfort? Maybe Rui had gotten up already? Sometimes her and Fumi did like to do early sparing matches. That might be the reason for Ichie climbing into bed with her.

"Hey..." Tamao gently brushed the hair out of Ichie's face so she could see her, "How are you?"

Ichie stared at her for a while before she responded, "I... I don't wanna sleep alone..."

Tamao gave her a reassuring smile, "You don't have to."

Ichie curled up against her and settled back down. Tamao rubbed her back for a moment. Once she felt Ichie fall asleep, she closed her eyes as well. She could not get up until Ichie did. She was not about to leave her.

"Tamao?"

Tamao opened her eyes and sat up, "Yes?"

Yuyuko was at the door, "Um... there's a bit of an incident you uh... need to deal with."

"What is it?" Tamao questioned.

"Fumi... may have gotten on the bad side of a townsfolk. They want to talk to you." Yuyuko replied.

Tamao sighed, "Alright. Where are they?"

"At the main entrance. Shall I come with you?"

Tamao shook her head, "No. Stay with Ichie. She does not want to be alone. Lay down with her in my place."

"Okay. Good luck."

Tamao got out of the bed, Yuyuko quickly filling her spot. Tamao changed into her day clothes and then left the room and made her way to the commotion. Rui and Fumi were there. There was a man there as well. He was glaring at Fumi.

"Hello. What seems to be the problem here?" Tamao stepped in, putting space between Fumi and the man.

"This knight of yours attacked me!"

"Fumi, explain?" Tamao looked at her.

"He got angry at me for getting too close to his property. I meerly lashed out in self-defense." Fumi replied.

"Lying bitch. You came on my property and attacked me without warning!"

Fumi did not reply, knowing better than to. Tamao was in charge now. Unless she ordered her to speak, she was to remain silent.

"I will handle her accordingly, sir. She won't give you trouble ever again, I promise." Tamao said.

"She better not." The man stormed off.

Tamao let out a sigh of relief, "Alright... Fumi, is what you said the truth?"

"Yes. I would never assault a civilian without a reason." Fumi stated.

"Are there any other witnesses?"

"Rui..." Fumi mumbled.

"And can you confirm, Rui?" Tamao looked at her.

"I... I'm sorry, Fumi. I can't lie. He... yelled at her and she snapped and beat him." Rui whispered.

Tamao sighed in frustration, "Fumi! What the hell were you thinking?! You can't just attack someone because they called you something!"

Fumi froze in place. That was the first time Tamao had ever snapped at someone. She was angry.

"Expect a harsh punishment. Your behavior reflects on me. On everyone else! I will not tolerate this!"

Tamao had a reputation to keep. A reputation that she was kind. That she would be nice to everyone. Having a knight of hers attack someone so unprovoked would damage that trust she was building. She was rightfully pissed.

However, the reaction she got made her instantly regret everything she had just done. Fumi had backed up a few steps before she fell to the ground and started crying. Rui had already rushed to her side and was trying to get her to talk.

"Fumi?" Tamao hesitantly approached.

"I'm sorry... I'm sorry... please... please don't hurt me..."

"Fumi... I would never hurt you..." Tamao frowned and knelt down beside her, "I promise. I'm sorry that I yelled. I won't do it ever again."

Seeing Fumi suddenly begging like that hurt her. What had she been through? She really did not know much of Fumi's past.

"Fumi..." Rui had her in a tight hug, "What's wrong? Why are you reacting like this?"

"Don't... hurt me..."

"I won't, Fumi. Look, I haven't done anything yet. And I won't. Actually, I won't be punishing you for this, okay? You have nothing to worry about." Tamao did everything she could to reassure Fumi otherwise.

Fumi eventually calmed herself. She looked at Tamao through teary eyes.

"I... I'm sorry..." Fumi whispered, "I..."

"It's alright. I'm sorry that I triggered something. Would you be willing to tell me what it was? So I can avoid doing it again." Tamao was very calm as she spoke to Fumi.

"My... parents... they yelled at me a lot... and then they would beat me... I guess I never got over it..." Fumi sighed, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have gotten this way."

"No, I should be the one apologizing. I shouldn't have ever raised my voice at you. I won't do it again, I promise. And if I do, you have full permission to hit me as hard as you want."

Fumi stared at her for a while in disbelief. That was a very major thing for Tamao to be saying. But, Tamao truly meant it. She was working with people who all had emotional scars just as much as physical scars. She could not act like that no matter how normal any of them appeared. Especially if she planned to give a safe haven to those the Frosted Lands Kingdom held captive.

"Tamao..." Was the only thing Fumi could say.

"You've taught me a lesson, Fumi." Tamao said, "So, don't worry. And the punishment is in fact off. Please don't repeat that."

"I won't." Fumi promised.

"Good. We should get ready for today. I'll go and see how Ichie is faring." Tamao said.

Tamao left the two girls and made her way back to her room. Ichie was awake now. Yuyuko and her were talking. They paused as Tamao entered the room.

"Jeez, I did not know you could yell like that." Yuyuko said, "Fumi really messed up, huh?"

"We have resolved the issue. Don't worry about it." Tamao replied, "Ichie, how are you?"

"Okay... um, my wounds... they're gone...?"

"Rui healed them. She is blessed." Tamao explained.

"Blessed? So... they really exist..."

"Yes. All of us are blessed, actually. And you are too."

Ichie stared at her for a long time, "I'm... blessed?"

"Yes. I don't know if you have activated them yet though. I would assume not if you did not know you were blessed."

"How do I activate it?" Ichie asked.

"You just have to wait it out. Well, normally, at least. I can have Rui activate it now if you want." Tamao offered.

Ichie nodded, "Yes. I wanna know."

"Then let me get her." Tamao stepped out of the room.

It was not hard to find Rui. She was in Fumi and Yuyuko's room. Tamao brought her back and let her activate the blessing in Ichie.

"Hmm... I... I think I can... teleport." Ichie said as Rui pulled away.

"Alright. I suppose the next thing to do is fill you in on everything here."

And so, Tamao began the long explanation of what had all occurred and her current mission. Ichie listened intently.

"So, would you assist us?" Tamao concluded, "If not, that is fine. You are still a member of this castle now either way."

Ichie mulled over her decision for a while. Everyone waited patiently for her to decide. Everyone was still anxious, though.

"I... I'll do it." Ichie decided, "I'll do what I can to help. I want to make this world a better place and this seems like the way to start it."

Tamao smiled at her, "Welcome aboard, Ichie."

Chapter Text

"The Queen ordered us to go after the blessed one she sensed. Well, specifically me and Mei Fan shall be going."

Mei Fan hated everything about life under this queen. And now she was responsible for bringing another into this horrible life. But, she had no choice. She could not just say no to an order. Trying to switch probably wouldn't work either. Honestly, if she could, she would send Shiori in her place and tell her to kill the girl.

And then she remembered. Bad blessings don't work on other blessed. So, looks like she was stuck then. Sending Shiori would do nothing. They would have to kill her themselves and Mei Fan doubted anyone could succeed with Akira beside them.

"Do they know? Who even are they?" Mei Fan questioned.

"Tsuruhime family. The youngest daughter. Yachiyo, I believe." Akira replied, "I don't know if they somehow found out. They shouldn't know."

"What are our plans?" Mei Fan asked next, "Are we allowed to engage and kill or not?"

"Do whatever necessary to take Yachiyo."

"Okay. When are we going then?"

Mei Fan had learned fast how to play along. No one knew anything was up except Shiori. Well, she could not exactly put it past Michiru to maybe know some stuff too.

"Now. We shall arrive at nightfall and strike in the cover of darkness." Akira said.

Mei Fan nodded, "Gotcha."

They got ready and then set out. Michiru wished them luck and told them to try to be gentle with Yachiyo. Injuries were not wanted on her. Shiori secretly wished Mei Fan her best in foiling the plot.

Mei Fan was afraid to tell her she had no idea what to do. Shiori trusted her to help Yachiyo escape, but that was not something she was confident she could do. Not with Akira here. Akira was a very real and very lethal threat to anyone who opposed her.

Mei Fan eyed the sword she carried. She had watched it slice someone's head clean off before. That was not something to mess around with. And Mei Fan knew she could not win against Akira in her state. She would easily be overpowered.

"How should we take down our target?" Mei Fan asked as they walked.

"Conscious or unconscious. Don't kill her. That's all that matters." Akira replied, "Also, if you engage with her under no circumstances are you to tell her she is blessed. She does not know. Don't let it out."

"Okay. Um... what exactly is our plan?"

"We knock and ask for Yachiyo nicely. They resist, we fight. Well, I fight. You will be in the back in case she tries to escape."

"Okay. Got it." Mei Fan stated.

They closed in on the house. Night was over them. Akira nodded to her. Mei Fan nodded back and crept around to the back of the house. She heard Akira knock on the door.

"Yukishiro Akira, representing from the Queen. She requests Yachiyo. Hand her over now or you will face heavy consequences."

"You will not take our other daughter. Get lost!"

Mei Fan winced at the sound of flesh being cut open. She saw someone jump out a window near her. Mei Fan engaged and ran at them. The figure did not seem to have noticed her.

Mei Fan closed the distance and grabbed them. The figure let out a yelp and quickly started struggling.

"Let me go! You won't take me! I won't become a worker for that queen!"

Mei Fan confirmed now that she indeed had Yachiyo. She kept a firm grip on her and placed a hand over her mouth to muffle cries.

"Resistance is futile." Mei Fan stated, "The queen has ordered us to do whatever it takes to bring you back to her."

"So she can kill me too?"

"I cannot disclose the motives. Now, come peacefully or I'll have to knock you out." Mei Fan stated.

She yelped as she was slammed against the house. Yachiyo was able to push her back. This was bad. Yachiyo growled and slammed her into the house again. Mei Fan's head spun from the impact.

She slumped over as Yachiyo did it a third time. She was dazed and barely conscious. Yachiyo tossed her to the ground and stood over her.

"Maybe if I kill you the queen will think twice before messing with me." Yachiyo grumbled.

"W-wait..." Mei Fan struggled to stand again, "That isn't... isn't needed."

"You'll just keep coming for me until you get me. I have no choice." Yachiyo held a knife out at her.

"Please, don't kill me. Listen, I'm not doing this willingly. I was taken too. Please..."

"As if. You just want me to lower my guard. Die you scum!"

Mei Fan whispered a pleading statement in Chinese and braced herself for the knife, only to find it never hit. She opened her eyes to see Yachiyo had paused. She was staring at her now with wide eyes.

"You... aren't from here..." Yachiyo whispered, "You weren't lying."

Mei Fan sat up, "I'm not lying. I'm from China actually. But, I live in the Fallen Flowers kingdom. I don't want to be here. But, either I complied or she killed me."

"Why does she want us?"

"What is taking so long?" Akira found them.

"Run. I'll distract her." Mei Fan whispered so only Yachiyo could hear.

Yachiyo took off. Akira tried to give chase. Mei Fan tripped her, but quickly shoved a log in the way so it seemed that had done it instead.

"She got away." Akira growled.

"She was tougher than I thought." Mei Fan said, "Can you check to see if I'm bleeding on the back of my head? If I let go of the ground I'll fall again."

Akira got back up and walked over to Mei Fan. She carefully ran a hand over the back of her head. Mei Fan winced.

"No blood." Akira stated, "What did she do to you?"

"Backed me into the wall and slammed me into it."

"She's sly. Let's give chase."

"I... feel like I'm gonna either throw up or pass out... don't think I can... help you..." Mei Fan said.

Akira sighed and picked her up, "Then we'll make camp. We can't return without Yachiyo. Dead or alive."

"Dead?"

"Chasing her may end up in her dying accidentally." Akira explained.

"Oh..." Mei Fan rested against Akira, "I think I'm gonna.... black out... my head hurts like hell..."

"I'll be here. I'll keep watch."

"Thanks..."

...

When morning came, Mei Fan woke up. She felt much better now. She opened her eyes to find she was sleeping next to Akira. She sat up and looked around.

"Morning..." It seemed Akira was awake as well.

"Morning." Mei Fan replied.

"Do you feel better?" Akira asked as she sat up.

Mei Fan nodded, "Yeah. I feel a lot better."

"Good. We better get going. We can't let her get too far away." Akira stood up.

She offered a hand to Mei Fan. Mei Fan accepted it and allowed Akira to pull her up. They started walking around, looking for any signs of where Yachiyo had gone. Mei Fan wished she could find a way to get her free from this hunt, but it did not seem likely.

"I heard your conversation yesterday with the parents. They sounded like the queen had taken another kid of theirs before." Mei Fan said.

Akira nodded, "Yes. Chitose. She was... taken in and executed. Since Yachiyo doesn't know why we want her, she may believe the same thing is going to happen to her."

"Why can't we tell her?" Mei Fan asked.

"Because her powers haven't activated yet."

"Oh."

"There's a trail here."

They found evidence of footprints. The two of them went in that direction. And that was where they found Yachiyo. She had made a base for the night too. Unfortunately she was still asleep.

"Tie her up." Akira handed Mei Fan some rope.

Mei Fan nodded. She quietly crept forward and tied Yachiyo up. She picked her up and returned to Akira's side.

"Let's go. She won't pose a threat like this." Akira stated.

Mei Fan nodded and followed her as they went back to the castle. She felt horrible that she could not save Yachiyo from this. Now another person had to suffer.

'Tamao... please... please hurry and save me...' Mei Fan pleaded silently.

...

Yachiyo stirred a while later. As she registered her current position, she realized she had been caught. She opened her eyes, only to find she was blindfolded. She could tell she was chained against a wall.

"I think she's waking up, onee-chan."

"Yeah. Remove the blindfold, Shiori."

"Okay."

Yachiyo winced as the blindfold was taken off. The cell was dark, at least. She did not have to adjust too much. But, she was captive.

"You..." Yachiyo looked at Mei Fan, "Why am I here?"

"I could only delay the inevitable. We were sent to collect you no matter what." Mei Fan replied.

"What do you want with me? First my sister... then my family... now me? Why do you have to kill me?!" Yachiyo yelled.

"We aren't." Mei Fan stated, "You're here for a different reason."

"And what the hell would that be?" Yachiyo growled.

"You are blessed."

Yachiyo stared at her in shock, "I'm... what?"

"You're blessed. We will activate your powers once you comply."

"No... no... I can't be... I can't be blessed..."

"Why not? It isn't a bad thing." Shiori said.

"It is in this context." Mei Fan said, "Blessed always live in fear that someone will take them to use them against others."

"Oh... where I'm from blessed are never really talked about much. I don't know anything about them."

"You're both blessed?" Yachiyo questioned, "Then that girl with you is too, isn't she?"

"Yes. There's another one too. You'll meet her soon enough." Mei Fan replied, "So, will you join or die?"

"Give me a reason to live." Yachiyo said bitterly.

"Revenge." Mei Fan said, "That's why I'm alive. And why Shiori is too."

"And the other two?"

"They believe in the queen and her ways."

"What is this revenge you want?" Yachiyo asked. She was curious to know their motives to see if it resonated with her at all.

"I want to go back to my kingdom. This queen hurt my friends by taking me. She is going to pay." Mei Fan stated.

"They... they killed my sister..." Shiori whispered. That was enough for Yachiyo to understand.

"I'm so sorry to hear that..." Yachiyo frowned, "They killed mine too. I understand how you feel."

"Shiori, I don't think she is dead." Mei Fan said, "I know we have no physical proof, but something just tells me she is alive."

"No one would help her." Yachiyo stated, "No kingdom has people like that."

"Maybe not the townsfolk... but I have belief that Tamao may have saved her." Mei Fan replied, "Even if she was not the one to find her. As long as she was alive when discovered, she would have been saved by her."

Yachiyo scoffed, "If she believed she is dead that means those wounds are too severe to heal."

"Maybe normally yes, but one of her knights is blessed with healing." Mei Fan said, "I believe they saved her. Until I see her body for myself, I will believe that. You should too, Shiori. I know Tamao would do everything to save her. She is not cruel."

"You have a lot of faith in that princess." Yachiyo commented.

"Yes. If she had not saved me, I would be dead. I owe her everything."

"Well... guess I'll live. Try to get revenge too."

"Alright. I'll unchain you." Mei Fan moved dover and unlocked the chains.

Yachiyo yelped as she fell forward, finding she did not have the strength to support herself. Shiori caught her so she did not hit the ground.

"Let's go to our room."

Shiori carried Yachiyo as they walked. Yachiyo looked around at the place.

"What are your blessings?" She eventually asked.

"Speed."

"Um... breathing underwater."

"Can we trust that you're on our side and not the queen's?" Mei Fan asked.

Yachiyo gave her a confused look for a while, "What? Of course I'm not on her side."

Why was she being asked that? Did they really think she would have any respect toward that queen after all the hardships she had put her family through?

"Well, Shiori actually can kill people. Don't let the other two know or anyone else. We can't trust them." Mei Fan stated.

"Kill..." Yachiyo stared at Shiori with wide eyes, "That's scary..."

"Akira, the one who was with me, can alter time. The other one, Michiru, can create illusions. We don't know what yours is as it hasn't been activated it. The queen will order that to happen soon." Mei Fan continued.

"I see..." Yachiyo sighed, "My... sister was blessed..."

"Then... why did they kill her?"

"I don't know."

"It'll be alright. We'll help you get revenge."

"Thank you."

They arrived at the room. Akira and Michiru were already there. They were waiting for them.

"I was given permission to activate it." Michiru stated.

"Ready?"

Yachiyo took a deep breath and nodded. Michiru approached her and started the activation process. Soon enough, it was done.

"Well?" Everyone was looking at Yachiyo expectantly.

Yachiyo took a minute to collect herself. Her blessing... was it safe to tell the truth? She had no idea what else to say for it.

"Mind control."

That was a scary thought. Her blessing was that. She could... control people. Make them do whatever she wanted. She never had wanted something like this. But, the queen would definitely use that to her advantage.

"Ooh. That's a rare one."

"I... don't like it..." Yachiyo whispered.

"You'll get used to it."

That was not the problem, but she should probably keep her mouth shut. Telling them the truth may end in her death. Defying the queen was not something that was ever tolerated here. If she wanted to live, she had to play her cards very carefully.

She wished she knew how to.

...

"Training will begin for an attack on the Fallen Flowers kingdom today. We are going to strike and take out the princess. She holds blessed power within her knights. Take her down and take those blessed and we will be unstoppable."

The day Mei Fan dreaded finally came. They were preparing to attack her kingdom. She was absolutely terrified. Her loyalty may very well be questioned now. She had a tough act to keep up.

"First thing first, we must discuss things." Michiru stated, "As you three are new to kingdom attacks, let me make one thing very clear. You give the enemy any sympathy, you die. You leak info, you die. You aid them, you die. Anything other than loyalty to us results in death."

Mei Fan gulped. If she got caught... it was over. Her only chance would be to join them during the battle and return to Tamao's side. But, something told her that would not be easy at all. Since she came from that kingdom, she would probably have someone keeping a very close eye on her during the fight. It would be futile.

"Oh, one more thing. You noticed Akira is missing, correct?"

Everyone nodded. They had all wondered why she was not at this practice.

"Well..." Michiru lowered her voice, "The queen decided the... slip up yesterday... deserves a punishment."

"What happened to her?"

"Nothing much... just... the alchemists here have been developing ways to make people loyal and... found a way to basically control someone. Kind of like Yachiyo's blessing, except they're using a collar of sorts. She is... testing it on Akira. So, if you mess up, she won't be lenient. I will, if it was a small mistake or error, but she physically can not. Be careful."

"Why are you telling us this?" Shiori asked.

Michiru sighed, "I... think it's time I admit this queen isn't someone I should follow. I'll do what I can to defy her without getting punished. Until someone may save us."

"Tamao would." Mei Fan stated, "If we meet her knights, they would help us."

"No. That would be too risky. And I still don't believe she is that good."

"Well, she is better than this, isn't she? We have not heard of anyone being executed by her."

"It may be in secret."

Mei Fan sighed, "You'll see. I'll prove it to you."

"Good luck with that. Anyway, let's get practicing."

The four of them started practicing their fighting. Since they were going up against other blessed, their powers were useless for the most part. That was the only bad thing about fighting blessed ones. You could not harm them with your powers.

Mei Fan was still deeply worried about all of this. Especially now with that news. What if... that happened to her? Or any of them? Would it make them talk? Give up vital info they had been keeping from her? If she got ahold of this information they had, they were all doomed.

And another question now was, was there anything they could do to break that control? The queen probably made it very hard to do. They may not be able to free Akira from it and that was also terrifying.

"Michiru, do you know if anyone could break that collar?" Mei Fan asked as they spared.

"You touch it, it shocks you bad. Only she can unlock it." Michiru replied, "We're unable to do anything about it."

"I see... it must worry you a lot to see her like that."

"Yeah... she isn't Akira anymore. I don't like it. I want her back, but... I don't know when or if that'll ever happen."

"I'm sure we can find a way, Michiru." Mei Fan reassured her, "Everything breaks eventually. We will free her from it."

"You aren't loyal to us, are you? This fight... you'll side with them over us."

"Yes. I won't deny it. I'm loyal to Tamao through and through."

"They may not see you that way anymore. Just be warned. They can't know if you betrayed them."

Mei Fan frowned, "You think they'd believe that could happen?"

"Yes. If anyone is tortured enough, they'll break. They may fear that happened to you and that there is no way to save you now."

"I... never thought of that..." Mei Fan sighed, "I'll have to keep that in mind when I approach them."

"And if Akira is around... you will be killed before you can run. Be warned. Returning to their side won't be easy."

"I know. But, I'll do whatever it takes to return to Tamao's side again. Even if it kills me, I won't stop until the end."

"Your loyalty is admirable. I won't rat you out. Just know I can't go easy on you if you do betray us, though."

"I know. Um... how long will it be till we start attacking?"

"Probably not for a year. She wants us to be very heavily trained for this."

"Okay."

Chapter Text

It had taken almost a year before Tamao learned the queen was planning an attack. She had little time to get everyone ready for the inevitable fight. It was going to require long hours of training. At least everyone was in good condition to do that now.

"Good job, Ichie!"

The five of them were practicing now. They were sparring with each other. Ichie and Yuyuko were fighting currently. Everyone was cheering them on when they did well. They were trying to keep the mood light. It was hard to when they knew what was coming.

"Hah... I win..."

Ichie had won the fight. She held out a hand to Yuyuko and pulled her back to her feet. They walked back over to the others and sat down to catch their breath. Rui handed them some water and a towel.

"Fumi, I want to fight you." Tamao stated.

"Alright." Fumi nodded.

They took their positions and got ready. Rui counted down for them. Soon enough, they charged at each other, trying to get the upper hand. Fumi was a strong fighter. She had improved drastically since they had first met.

Tamao dodged to the side as Fumi charged at her. She swung her sword and managed to hit Fumi on the shoulder. Fumi stumbled slightly, but did not fall down. She immediately returned the attack. Tamao blocked her blows.

They seemed to be evenly matched. Tamao managed to push Fumi back a bit. She struck again, only to be pushed back by Fumi meeting her head on. Fumi struck now. She hit Tamao on the side and then went for another swing.

Tamao reeled back from the blow. Fumi did not take that factor into account and struck her too high. She had no time to stop herself. Tamao gasped as the practice sword hit her on the neck. She dropped her weapon and fell to the ground.

"Are you okay?" Fumi immediately knelt beside her and worriedly examined where she had hit her, "I'm so sorry."

Tamao winced as Fumi felt the area. It hurt a lot and was making her head spin. Rui crouched down beside them. She looked at the spot too. A bruise was already forming there.

She placed her hand on it. Tamao tried to pull away. It hurt when she touched it.

"I'm gonna heal it. Just bear with it for a few seconds." Rui stopped her from doing so.

Tamao gulped and closed her eyes. Soon enough, the pain faded away and she opened them again.

"That better?" Rui asked.

Tamao nodded, "Yeah... thanks..."

"It's nothing."

"Tamao..." Fumi frowned.

"It's okay, Fumi. It happens." Tamao smiled at her, "Rui and I have done that plenty of times to each other."

"Okay..."

"Help me up?" Tamao asked.

Fumi nodded and stood up, before holding her hands out to Tamao. Tamao took them and Fumi pulled her back to her feet. Fumi still looked nervous. Perhaps she thought Tamao would yell at her?

Tamao had promised never to do that again and she was keeping it. Since that day, she had not raised her voice with anyone. There had been times she had wanted to, but refrained and kept a very calm demeanor.

"I'm not mad, Fumi." Tamao said, "Accidents happen. And besides, I'm fine."

Fumi nodded along. She still did not seem to fully believe those words. Hopefully soon she would.

"I think that's enough for now." Tamao stated.

...

It had been a few days. Tamao was growing more worried as the days went by. They had no idea when the attack would happen. They had to be on their feet at all times. It was stressful.

"Tamao? Can we talk?" Rui approached her in the evening. They were in their room.

"Sure." Tamao agreed.

Rui took a deep breath, "Well... I've been thinking and... what if... Mei Fan isn't on our side? What if... they broke her that much she..."

Tamao had no response right away. She had been trying so hard not to think about anything bad happening with Mei Fan, but... she did need to face reality. There was that possibility, as much as she wished there was not.

"I... I don't know..." Tamao whispered, "I... could never bring myself to hurt her..."

"What about Shiori? What if that happened to her? Do you... think it'll destroy Fumi?"

"It may..."

"I'm worried... this could... tear us apart..."

"I know..."

As much as they wanted to believe everything would work out, they had to account for things going wrong. There was a chance they would lose Mei Fan from their side. That Shiori would turn on Fumi. That there was no hope in getting those other blessed on their side.

"I wish we could learn more about them... to know what's going on." Tamao mumbled.

"Yeah. Unfortunately all we know is what Mei Fan told us in that letter. No one can get that inside knowledge." Rui nodded.

"Did we find who the last blessed is?"

"We have belief it may be a Tsuruhime. Their house was destroyed and their daughter is missing. The parents are dead."

"Who is the daughter?"

"Yachiyo."

"Hmm... I know little of that family."

"She's a friend of mine, actually."

"Huh?" That was the first time Tamao had ever heard of that.

"Our families worked together. They had enemies, we wanted money. It worked well." Rui explained.

"Oh. So, what is she like?" Tamao asked.

"She's a good kid. Not one you can push around. If she is there... I hope seeing me may make her join us." Rui said.

"You think she'd trust you that much?" Tamao asked.

Rui looked away as a blush covered her face, "We may have uh... done some... intimate things together before..."

"Oh. Are you dating or... we're you?"

"Not technically, but we acted it. And then... all this shit happened to me and we couldn't see each other anymore."

"I see. I'm sure she'll want to be with you again. And I hope that she'll trust you if you tell her about life here." Tamao said.

"I hope so." Rui agreed.

Tamao looked up at the ceiling, "Do you think any of those three have connections to anyone that the queen has?"

"Hmm... it doesn't seem like it." Rui replied after some thought, "Honestly, none of us know those two families at all."

"I know about them because they are close to the queen. I've never met any of them myself, though." Tamao said.

"Okay. You ready for bed?"

"I guess."

"Want me to stay with you?"

"If you wouldn't mind..."

"Not at all."

The two of them shared Tamao's bed for the night. This was not an uncommon event. It happened more often than they would probably like to admit.

...

More training happened. It was all they ever seemed to do anymore. There was not much time for anything else. Not when there was such a heavy threat over them.

However, there was some free time each day. And that was when things changed a bit. Fumi had gone on a short walk. She returned with a note. It seemed to be from Mei Fan again. However... there was something interesting about it.

"There's a lot scribbled out." Fumi stated, "On the back there's a note saying Michiru made her cross it out. I'm confused... why would she even allow the letter in the first place?"

"What info is left on it?" Tamao asked.

"The fact that they're close to attacking. Apparently the queen wants to send a note telling us to meet them in the forest for a fight. Ichie tried making out some of the scribbled out stuff, but not much luck. However, we know the last blessed. Her name is Yachiyo."

"So... it is her." Rui whispered.

"It seems so. Did Ichie manage to make anything out?" Tamao asked.

"Very little. We know the blotted out stuff is everyone's blessings. We could make out that Michiru's seems to be illusions. Other than that, we have no idea." Fumi replied.

"So... Michiru let her tell us the queen's plans but... kept their blessing a secret..." Tamao said, lost in thought, "I don't get it, but... maybe she isn't as loyal as assumed?"

"Maybe?"

"It didn't give a date for the attack, did it?" Rui questioned.

Fumi shook her head, "No. Just said soon."

"I hope it's not too soon."

...

"Hey, that note is gone. Someone took it."

"I hope it was them."

"I'm impressed you managed to do that."

"Why did you... let me?"

Mei Fan still had no clue as to why Michiru had let her send that note. Sure, she had made her hide info, but she still let her send it. She did not understand.

"It won't make a difference if they know the plan. But, I can't allow you to tell them our blessings." Michiru replied.

Mei Fan sighed, "You're confusing."

"Hmm?"

"You... are nice to me. Letting me disobey the queen without punishment but... you won't let me completely step out of line."

"For our safety." Michiru said, "If... the queen found out... we're all dead. I know what we can get away with and what we can't. As for the blessings... I just... am afraid the queen would find out they knew after the fight and we'd be in deep trouble."

"She scares you." Mei Fan commented.

Michiru nodded, "She does. Always has. I've been good at hiding it, but I'm just as scared as the rest of you."

"Then why do you not want to join us? You're fine with me returning to Tamao, but why not yourself?" Mei Fan questioned.

Michiru frowned, "Because of Akira. I won't leave her."

"Oh..." Mei Fan sighed, "Maybe they can find a way to help her."

"I doubt it..."

"You never know."

"Mei Fan... I guess I should tell you this now... um, she wants you to tell us what you know about the knights that we'll be fighting."

"Great..." Mei Fan sighed.

"Let's get it over with."

They went to the other three. Michiru explained what was going on. Everyone waited for Mei Fan to start. She nervously looked around, her gaze lingering on Akira. With her like... that she may not be able to give minimal information unchallenged.

"Well... I don't know much. Rui is the only one that was there with me. The rest came after I was taken here." Mei Fan stated, "I don't even know much about her."

"What do you know?" Michiru prompted.

"She... can heal. And used to be an assassin. She'll be a tough opponent." Mei Fan said, "I don't know what else I can tell you about her that'll be useful."

"Rui..."

"Hmm? You know her?"

Yachiyo nervously nodded, "Our... families were close partners."

"Oh. Anyway, Shiori. Your sister is with them. Tell us about her." Akira cut in.

Shiori gulped, "I... don't know what her blessing is... she didn't have it activated when we were still together."

"Great... we know nothing..." Michiru sighed.

"Who even are the other two?" Yachiyo asked, "Never heard of them before."

"No idea." Michiru shrugged, "We just know their names."

"The queen wanted us to decide who would fight who." Akira stated, "Reports say the princess may fight as well. We shall include her."

It was hard for everyone to adjust to this change in her. She was now a completely different person to them all. No one liked it.

"I'll take Rui." Michiru declared first, "I think I can handle her."

"Yachiyo, you will be taking the princess. Your powers should work on her." Akira stated.

Mei Fan hoped she did not give away anything by her reaction. That very much was not true, but she definitely could not tell them that.

"I'll take Yuyuko." Mei Fan said.

"I want Fumi." Akira said, "Shiori, you get Ichie."

Shiori gulped. She knew why she was not allowed to fight Fumi. And why Mei Fan was not allowed to fight Tamao or Rui. Because of their bonds, they could not be trusted.

Mei Fan hoped everything would work out. Unfortunately, she had no clue if it would.

...

After the meeting, Yachiyo approached her and asked to talk. They went somewhere private. That ended up being a side hallway rarely used.

"Um... is she a tough fighter?" Yachiyo questioned.

Mei Fan nodded, "Yeah. She is."

"I... don't want to fight..."

"She would take you in."

"Huh?"

"She'd let you join her side. I promise." Mei Fan repeated.

"No. I... I can't..."

"Why not? You seem to know Rui. Wouldn't you want to be at her side instead of here?"

"I... don't know..." Yachiyo mumbled, "They might not spare us..."

"They will. I know they will. Tamao doesn't want bloodshed. She wants peace." Mei Fan defended.

"But she'll just take us and use us herself!"

"No, she won't. She told me before that it's a choice. If I ever wanted to leave, she would have let me. Even after knowing I'm blessed. She won't force you into work, I promise."

Yachiyo fell silent for a while. She seemed to be debating her options.

"How can I know she'll trust me? If I ask to join her... won't she just see it as a threat? That I might be spying on her?" Yachiyo whispered.

Mei Fan looked around. After confirming they were alone, she leaned in close to Yachiyo.

"She's blessed. Can sense alignments. She'll know you're being honest, I promise, Yachiyo."

Yachiyo stared at her with wide eyes, "She..."

Mei Fan nodded, "Yes. She's blessed."

"It's unheard of for royalty to be blessed..." Yachiyo whispered.

"Yeah... but, she is."

Yachiyo looked around, "You were with Rui for a while. How was she? We... lost contact a while ago."

"Well..." Mei Fan nervously rubbed her hand together, "I saved her from being drowned... execution type deal..."

"Rui..." Yachiyo looked at Mei Fan with a sad gaze, "They caught her..."

"They did. But, I ruined it." Mei Fan replied.

"Why did the princess let her be a knight?"

"It's a long story... basically she saved us from an attempted assassination and Tamao offered her that position."

Yachiyo frowned, "Do you think she'd want anything to do with me?"

"Why wouldn't she?"

"What if we've grown too distant...?"

"Is there something you aren't telling me?" Mei Fan questioned.

Yachiyo went silent for a while. Mei Fan took that to be a yes. Now, would Yachiyo actually tell her? Did she trust her enough with whatever it was?

"We... we're involved with each other romantically. I don't know that I'd say we we're dating, but... we did a lot of... intimate things." Yachiyo eventually said, "I'm afraid she lost those feelings and... won't care for me now."

Mei Fan pulled Yachiyo into a hug, "That's not true. She's told me often of a lover. I know now that she was talking about you. She wanted to see you again. I doubt that's changed."

"She... spoke of me?" Yachiyo looked up at her with wide eyes.

Mei Fan nodded, "Yep. Told me about her family and then mentioned you. She really seemed to miss you."

"Have you ever... been in love?"

Mei Fan did not respond. She looked away. Talking about love was something she always avoided. And there was a very good reason why.

"My love... isn't allowed... even more than yours isn't." Mei Fan mumbled, "I... don't want to talk about it... because I know it'll never happen..."

Yachiyo pouted at her, "Come on, you can tell me. Maybe we can find a way for it to work?"

Mei Fan shook her head. She could not tell her. It was not something she felt comfortable sharing due to its nature.

"Please?" Yachiyo persisted.

This went on for a while. Mei Fan kept denying Yachiyo. She did not know if she should tell her something so personal. Yachiyo kept insisting it was fine and she wanted to help. Mei Fan did not know how she could help at all.

Eventually, Mei Fan caved in, "It... it's Tamao..."

"Eh? You... you like the princess?" Yachiyo stared at her with wide eyes, "I... was not expecting that..."

"Do you see why now? It's hopeless. I can never be with her even if I do go back..." Mei Fan sighed, "She doesn't like me back..."

"How do you know that?" Yachiyo challenged her, "Maybe she does."

"She said herself that she doesn't. I... asked it hypothetically after she told me her parents accused us of being in love. She said she didn't feel that way."

"Maybe that changed. You never know unless you ask." Yachiyo replied, "I think you should at least tell her."

"I don't know..."

"Think about it. We should probably get back to the others before they get suspicious."

"Yeah. Let's go."

...

A week had passed with no news. The anxiety just kept growing in all of them. Tamao had no way to reassure them of anything. They all were completely blind in this. No one knew what the queen was planning. When would she finally give the letter to start the fight?

They got their answer only a day later. Yuyuko had been out lounging in the forest as she did, and a bottle was thrown at her. She brought it back and they all read it together. It was the note. The queen told them to meet in three days time for the fight. If they failed to show up, they would storm the castle instead and hurt anyone who got in their way.

"Tamao, what is the plan?" Fumi was the first to ask. She was met by silence.

She never did get an answer. None of them did. Because Tamao did not have one to give. There was no plan. They were going and going to have to figure everything out on their own.

Tamao wished she had an answer to Fumi's question. Unfortunately, too much was unknown for her to make a plan for them. Hopefully they would still trust her in this. Otherwise she would be doomed.

Chapter Text

The day had come. The day they had all been dreading. It was time. Time to face them and fight.

No one was ready. Tamao was terrified. This could all go horribly wrong and no one would ever trust her again. Not only that... she could lose Mei Fan forever. Lose anyone forever. She didn't want that at all. She didn't want anyone to die. Not from either side of this battle.

She knew Fumi suffered the same issue. There was a chance Shiori would die. Or not join them. It would hurt her just as much. She had been hoping for their reunion and assuming that Shiori would come running back to her. If that didn't happen, Fumi would be destroyed.

Rui didn't want to see Mei Fan betray them. She didn't want to have to fight her. They were such good friends. If she stopped being that way... Rui didn't know how she would handle it. Double it with the fact that Yachiyo may no longer be friendly to her. This would be a very tough fight if she ended up with either of them.

They were at the woods, waiting for the other side to arrive. Tamao stood tall in front. If they saw her be weak, it would make them lose their resolve. She had to act strong no matter what. Even if she wanted to be scared. She was. This was such a high stakes battle for them all.

"I see you came."

The five blessed from the Frosted Lands Kingdom arrived. Tamao took a deep breath, sparing a glance at Mei Fan. Rui did the same, but her gaze drifted over to Yachiyo as well. Fumi stared at Shiori in worry. Shiori was the only one who didn't return the gaze.

"We have. We are prepared to fight you. You will not take our kingdom." Tamao stated, a look of determination in her eyes.

"Very well. Attack!"

The battle began. Everyone was quickly split up with someone to fight. Just as planned by the opposing team. They had all managed to fight who they had selected. That was good for them. They were managing to keep to their plan. The other side probably wasn't.

Yachiyo was up against Tamao. She was fighting her as hard as she could. Even after everything Mei Fan had told her, she still doubted Tamao would take her in. Who would take in an enemy so easily? She couldn't let her guard down just in case Tamao would just end her instead.

Tamao was just as tough as Mei Fan had warned. Yachiyo was struggling to get any blows in. Tamao was easily blocking most of her swings. Unfortunately, she was not. The swings Tamao took at her weren't deadly by any means, but still had enough to slow her down considerably.

Being malnourished and overworked was definitely taking its toll on her. Probably on everyone. Yachiyo was unable to keep up. Tamao stabbed her in the shoulder. Yachiyo cried out. As the sword was removed, she fell to the ground. She clutched her shoulder and curled up to make herself less open.

"P-please... please don't kill me..." Yachiyo pleaded as Tamao stood over her. She didn't want to have to beg for her life, but living was something she hadn't quite resolved to give up yet.

"I won't. I want you to join me." Tamao knelt beside her.

"Join you?" Yachiyo stared at her with wide eyes.

Tamao nodded, "You'll be safe with me. Will you accept?"

Yachiyo had not thought Mei Fan had been telling the truth at all. But, Tamao was in fact giving her a chance. She didn't know how to react to it.

"I... I will..."

"Then let's get you patched up." Tamao carefully slid her hands under Yachiyo and lifted her up.

Yachiyo nodded and rested her head against Tamao's shoulder. She was alright. She wasn't being killed. And she got to get away from the Queen. Everything was going well for once. It had been so long since she'd felt okay.

Tamao brought Yachiyo back to the small camp they had set up. She set her down and started gathering supplies to bandage her wound up. Yachiyo leaned against a tree.

"I'm feeling a bit... dizzy..." Yachiyo mumbled as she closed her eyes and took some deep breaths.

"Probably from the blood loss." Tamao replied, "Just relax. I'll stop it in a second."

Yachiyo nodded and focused on her breathing. Tamao carefully wrapped up her shoulder. Yachiyo winced in pain. Tamao whispered a few apologies as she did it. She wished Rui were here already so it would be easier to heal Yachiyo. But, who knew when that fight may end? She didn't even know who everyone else was fighting. She lost track of where everyone ended up.

"So... Mei Fan wasn't lying... when she said you... were nice..." Yachiyo mumbled.

"No. She wasn't. I'm not like any other rulers you've heard of. And I don't ever want to be." Tamao replied, "So, that means she is still loyal to me."

"Yeah... she is. Always talking about returning to you... Trying to talk us into joining you too..."

"Rest for now."

"Thank you... princess..." Yachiyo fell silent as she passed out.

Tamao frowned and looked her over. She looked very bad. It would take a lot to help her recover again. Not like she wasn't used to that, though. Pretty much everyone she took in thus far had been exactly the same way. Though... Yachiyo may be more traumatized than they all were.

No one knew the true extent of the abuse the queen put them through. Rumors were still just rumors. The treatment could be far worse for all anyone knew. And taking a good look at Yachiyo, Tamao was convinced the rumors were nothing compared to the truth. The truth seemed to be way worse.

Of course that was normal. That queen wouldn't want anyone to know the true extent of her abuse. Not when that could mean other kingdoms would attack and try to gain support by saying they'd treat everyone better than her.

...

Shiori was fighting Ichie to the best of her abilities. Ichie was toying with her. Not harming her, but tiring her out. Ichie was doing that because she couldn't bring herself to harm Shiori. She would only do it if absolutely necessary.

"Why... why don't you hit me?" Shiori asked, gasping for breath. She was exhausted already. Barely able to stay standing. Everything hurt.

She had fallen to her knees. She couldn't move. Her body was at its limit. Her vision was fading and her head hurt. This was bad. She was beat. She was at Ichie's mercy now. She wouldn't be able to resist anything Ichie tried.

"I'm not going to hurt you. Fumi would kill me if I did." Ichie replied, "So, why don't you just come with me? Come back to Fumi?"

Shiori didn't reply. She pushed herself up straight and took off running. Ichie debated if she should follow her or not, but decided against it. She would be entering their land before long and that probably wasn't a wise idea.

So, Ichie returned to the camp. She sat down beside Tamao with a sigh. That had not gone well at all. She was mad at herself for not being able to succeed. Tamao had. Why couldn't she?

"Shiori ran away. Didn't want to come with me..." Ichie mumbled.

"I see... Hopefully she'll come around." Tamao replied, "I got Yachiyo to join us."

"She looks rough."

"I... did stab her..."

"Even besides that, she looks awful."

"Yeah... I hope there isn't anything too wrong with her." 

Ichie gently traced a finger around a bruise on Yachiyo's cheek, "Though... why did you stab her? I thought the plan was to not harm anyone."

Tamao sighed, "Well... we fought so... I didn't have much choice. I had to get her to stop somehow."

"Right..."

"I hope everyone else is doing okay."

...

Mei Fan was "fighting" Yuyuko. She brought her away from any watching eyes and then just stopped.

"I suppose you know about me?" Mei Fan asked.

"You're Mei Fan, I take it?" Yuyuko replied. She still kept her guard up just to be safe.

Mei Fan nodded, "Yes. So, this battle is pointless. I'm on your side."

"Then are you coming to the camp with me?"

"Not yet. There's one more thing I need to do first."

"Oh... maybe I should help someone out too..."

"Fumi probably needs you." Mei Fan prompted. She knew fighting Akira would be a challenge for anyone. Especially given her... situation.

"Okay. Um... where are you going?" Yuyuko questioned.

"To Rui."

"Oh..." Yuyuko nodded, "Good luck."

"Same to you. Akira is... tough."

They went separate ways. Mei Fan tracked down where Michiru and Rui were fighting. Michiru was winning. Rui was down. It didn't take much for Mei Fan to realize why. Michiru's illusions were easy to confused people. Rui couldn't keep track of her and Michiru had gotten hits in.

Mei Fan took a deep breath. This would seal her fate. Hopefully all the things Michiru told her were true. Otherwise this would end horribly for both of them.

As Michiru swung her sword down on Rui, Mei Fan jumped in and deflected the blade. She put herself between them.

"I won't let you kill her." Mei Fan aimed her sword at Michiru, "Back off."

"Mei Fan..." Rui whispered.

"So, this is how you're playing." Michiru huffed in annoyance, "You know what... fine. Go. I don't care."

"Really? You're just... letting us go?" Mei Fan stared at her in surprise.

Michiru sighed and nodded, "Go. Before I decide otherwise. I said I'd spare you, but I didn't say the same for your friends."

"Thank you, Michiru... but, why not join us? You want to leave, right?" Mei Fan said.

Michiru shook her head, "I told you before, Mei Fan. I'm not leaving without Akira."

"Then I'll make sure we find a way to help her. So both of you can join us." Mei Fan promised, "Guess we better go. The backup won't be too far away now."

"Indeed. Go. Once they come, I can't show you mercy." Michiru stated.

Mei Fan picked up Rui and took off. She found the camp on her own, thankfully. Rui was unconscious now. She hadn't stayed conscious long after they left Michiru.

"Mei Fan!" Tamao's eyes lit up the moment she stepped into view.

"Hey... I'm back..." Mei Fan smiled, "Where should I put her?"

"You can put her here."

Mei Fan set Rui down on a blanket Ichie laid out. Tamao looked Rui over for a moment before she threw her arms around Mei Fan and hugged her tightly. Mei Fan returned the hug.

"I've missed you so much... I'm so glad you're okay..." Tamao whispered.

"Same to you. I'm glad you were alright without me."

"Where's Yuyuko and Fumi? They still fighting?" Ichie asked.

"Yeah. I sent Yuyuko to help Fumi." Mei Fan nodded.

"Hopefully they get back soon."

"Yeah..."

...

Michiru went to find Akira. She was battling Fumi and Yuyuko still. Shiori was there too, watching worriedly from the sidelines. It seemed as if she couldn't choose who she would try to help. Or perhaps Akira told her to stay out of it?

Michiru walked over to Shiori. Shiori glanced her way.

"I don't like this..." Shiori mumbled, "I don't want to see onee-chan get killed..."

Michiru sighed. This probably wouldn't look very good but...

She ran into the battle. She met Yuyuko and shoved her backwards. Once they were out of sight, she told her to run. Yuyuko stared at her with wide eyes for a second, before quickly booking it away.

Michiru returned and got in-between Akira and Fumi. She nodded to Fumi very slightly. Fumi saw it. Fumi took the chance and ran as well. Michiru stopped Akira from giving chase.

"Let them go. We can get them another time. This wasn't even supposed to be the final fight anyway." Michiru stated.

"Where are Yachiyo and Mei Fan?" Akira questioned.

Michiru shrugged, "I dunno. Well, I feel like Mei Fan probably returned to the princess. As for Yachiyo, I can't say. She might have been taken hostage."

"Let's report this to the queen then."

...

Yuyuko and Fumi arrived at the camp. They were both out of breath. They hadn't stopped running until they had reached here.

"You guys okay?" Ichie asked.

"Yeah..."

"So, what happened?"

"One of them... helped us run away." Fumi said, "I don't understand why..."

"Michiru doesn't actually like working for the queen. But, she knows what will get her punished. This was something she could play off." Mei Fan explained, "That's why she helped you."

"Well, now that we're all back, let's get home." Tamao said.

And so, they began the walk back to the castle. Mei Fan took Rui, Fumi ended up being asked to carry Yachiyo. They left the two girls in the infirmary. Everyone else gathered in a private room to discuss the battle.

"So, we have one new member." Tamao started, "Yachiyo will join us."

"Why didn't Shiori...?" Fumi asked, obvious hurt in her voice. Why didn't Shiori want to come back with her?

Ichie frowned and shrugged, "I don't know. I asked her to join us, but she just ran off."

"I wonder why..."

Unfortunately, that answer would be hard to come by. Until they got Shiori on their side, they would not know why she refused today. Hopefully she would join them. That was another worry now. Maybe she would rather be with that queen?

"Anyway, Mei Fan, now that you're here. Anything you can tell us?" Tamao asked.

Mei Fan nodded, "I can tell you anything you need now. I guess first would be the next plan. This wasn't meant to kill anyone, honestly. Just to learn how you all fight. The next time will be that. It hadn't been decided yet, though."

"Blessings? Please." Tamao requested.

"Right. Akira is freezing time, but it doesn't work on blessed. Michiru is illusions. Yachiyo has mind control, which again, doesn't work on any of us. Shiori..."

"We know hers. Fumi told us."

"Oh."

"Well, now we just wait for Rui and Yachiyo to wake up. I suppose Yachiyo will be unable to help much for a while."

"Probably. I'm not much better, honestly." Mei Fan sighed, "It was very rough being there."

"I bet." Tamao placed a hand on one of hers, "I'm glad to have you back safe and sound."

"Thank you... I'm happy to know you never gave up on me." Mei Fan smiled at her.

"I could never abandon you. We've been through so much together."

...

"Shiori, why do you remain?"

"H-huh?"

Once alone, Michiru decided she had some questions for Shiori. Shiori was very confused.

"They must have offered you a place with them and Fumi. Why are you not with them?" Michiru repeated.

Shiori looked down at the ground, "I'm scared... I can't face onee-chan yet... not like this..."

Michiru sighed and sat beside her, "Why not?"

"I'm the reason she almost died..."

"She still cares about you, Shiori. I think she'd be more than relieved to have you by her side again." Michiru said, "I doubt she'd be mad at you."

"I don't know..."

"Well, we have time until the next attack. Especially since we lost two." Michiru sighed, "You think they have Yachiyo hostage or she joined them? I can't decide which is more likely."

"Joined them. Onee- Mei Fan always was telling her that Tamao would take her in." Shiori replied.

"I see."

"You won't tell the queen about Mei Fan, right?"

Michiru shook her head, "I won't. Honestly, I want them to succeed in this fight. And... Mei Fan promised she would try to find a way to... help Akira too."

"I'm sure they'll figure something out."

"I hope so... I can't leave without her. As much as I want to. I swore I'd be at her side no matter what. I can't break that promise even if... this is the reason."

...

It was time for bed. Rui and Yachiyo had yet to awaken. They still had to wait for them. For now, everyone else was going to bed.

"It's weird being back in this room." Mei Fan commented.

"I bet. Where did you sleep?" Tamao asked as she sat on her bed.

"Basically a jail cell. The door was always open, but... all we got were a blanket and pillow. Nothing else." Mei Fan frowned, "I often gave my blanket to Shiori and froze for the night. It wasn't enough to cover two people."

"Well, that's definitely bad..." Tamao sighed, "At least you're back. And we have one more."

"Yeah. I put a lot of faith in that you'd take her. I promised her you would."

"She didn't act that way. She was attacking me full force." Tamao said.

"Well..." Mei Fan sighed, "She may not have believed me."

"That makes more sense." Tamak nodded, "Anyway, join me?"

Mei Fan smiled and climbed into the bed. Tamao laid down and held out her arms. Mei Fan hugged her tightly. She had missed this a lot. Both of them had.

Tamao stared at her for a while. She was debating telling her something. Was now the best time to do it?

"Mei Fan?"

"Yeah?"

"I love you."

"What? Love... me...?" Mei Fan looked at her in shock, "You... you..."

"Yeah. I realized that I do love you." Tamao smiled at her, "I didn't want to keep it from you any longer."

"Tamao... I... I love you too." Mei Fan said, "I... never thought you'd... feel the same..."

"You've liked me for a while. Since that day when I mentioned the accusation... I've known."

"So... I wasn't as subtle as I thought..."

"No. But, at least that way I got to know I'd be fine telling you this."

"Why did you wait so long...?"

Tamao sighed and refused to make eye contact, "I... didn't feel this way back then..."

"When did you... start?"

"After you were captured... Not having you here... made me realize just how much I need you."

Mei Fan hugged Tamao tightly. Tamao returned the hug. They laid there in silence for a while. Neither knew what else to say. There was so much to say, but no words to say it with.

Tamao pressed a kiss to Mei Fan's head, "Goodnight, Mei Fan."

Mei Fan looked at her, "Goodnight."

She kissed Tamao on the cheek and then returned to burying herself against Tamao. She had missed these moments so much. It was good to be back. But, she was worried about the other three. Hopefully they wouldn't be punished for the fact that her and Yachiyo were gone.

She also hated that she was no longer there for Shiori. And neither was Yachiyo. They were the only two that knew the truth about her blessing. She was on her own now. Maybe Michiru would be fine to tell now, but Mei Fan wasn't entirely sure about that.

For as much as Michiru was lenient, there was a limit. And that might be it. She may not keep it a secret like they had been. Hopefully she would at least care for Shiori the way they had been. It had mainly been her and Yachiyo keeping Shiori safe and cared for. Even at the cost of their own health.

"Tamao? Do you have any ideas on what to do about the others? How do you plan to get them to join?" Mei Fan asked. She was hesitant to tell Tamao everything right now. That could wait until morning.

"I don't know yet." Tamao replied, "Getting them alone again will be tough for sure."

"Yeah... it will be."

"We can discuss that in the morning. Rest, Mei Fan. You need it." Tamao ran a hand through Mei Fan's hair a few times.

Mei Fan nodded and curled up closer, "Alright... Goodnight, Tamao..."

"Goodnight, Mei Fan. Sweet dreams."

It wasn't long before Mei Fan drifted off to sleep. Tamao smiled and gently kissed her on the head again. It was good to have her back safe and sound. And now she could finally rest easier with her here. Not as many sleepless nights.

Chapter Text

When morning came, it was not peaceful. Not in a panicked sense, but in an overwhelming sense. There was a lot of work to be done today. They had began the task of helping the blessed get away. Now the next step was to be welcoming of Yachiyo and help her recover from the abuse she had been put through. And also do the same with Mei Fan.

Rui was awake according to Ichie. Tamao went to see her the moment she could. Mei Fan followed her. She was anxious to get to see and talk to Rui again. It had been such a long time and they had been very close friends.

"Rui." Tamao greeted her as she entered the room, "How are you feeling?"

"Alright. That girl was... tough." Rui sighed.

"I imagine so. Well, as you can see, we have two of them." Tamao continued, walking over to the bed where Yachiyo had been put, "Shiori refused to come with Ichie when they fought."

"She did?" Rui frowned, "Why would she?"

"No one knows. It was strange that she would refuse to come." Tamao replied.

"Yeah, even I don't. She knew I was coming back, so why she wouldn't do it too is beyond me. Out of all of us I feel she was the one who wanted to get away the most." Mei Fan added.

Rui looked over at Yachiyo, "Do you need me to heal her at all?"

"If you could. To get her to stop and listen I did have to resort to harming her." Tamao said.

Rui nodded. She carefully stood up and walked over to the bed. She looked over Yachiyo for a moment, before going and healing the wounds she could.

"She looks rough." Rui commented, "As do you, Mei Fan."

Mei Fan nodded, "Yeah... it wasn't fun being there."

Tamao grabbed hold of one of her hands, "If you ever need to talk about anything, we're here."

"I know. I do want to tell you about it once Yachiyo wakes up." Mei Fan replied.

"Very well. She should wake soon, I hope."

"Hopefully..." Mei Fan agreed, "I'm still exhausted from everything and I barely fought. She'll be worse than I am."

"Yeah. She'll need the rest."

"Where will we put her once she wakes?" Rui questioned.

Tamao pondered that answer. Where should Yachiyo go? Well... she probably should remain in here until she's stronger. But, after that... if she remains, where would she stay? Would she want an empty room? Or should someone stay with her?

Rui liked her so... putting them together might be wise. And then if Rui moved out, her and Mei Fan would be alone too. That would work.

"I suppose we can set up another room and you two could share it. I don't think she'd fit well in any other room and I doubt she'd want to be alone either." Tamao eventually decided on her answer.

"With me?" Rui repeated, "You... will let us?"

Tamao just smiled at her. Rui understood the implications then. If they liked each other, and Tamao liked Mei Fan, being alone would be nice for both parties. Rui had assumed they wouldn't be allowed to stay together for that very reason, but apparently she had been wrong about what Tamao would allow from her knights.

"Thank you."

"Nn..."

It seemed they wouldn't have to wait much longer to talk to Yachiyo. She was waking up already. Rui was right at her side, waiting. She seemed anxious. Mei Fan pulled Tamao aside and whispered something to her. The two of them stepped out of the room.

Rui looked at the door for a moment. They were giving her some time alone with Yachiyo.

"Rui...?"

Rui quickly turned back to Yachiyo, "Yachiyo! You're awake!"

"Where... am I?"

"At the castle. Tamao's castle." Rui said, "You're safe."

Yachiyo slowly sat up. She felt her shoulder. She looked confused for a minute.

"You... healed me?" Yachiyo asked.

Rui nodded, "Of course."

"Thank you."

"I don't want to see anyone suffer if I can help it."

"It's been a while since I've seen you..." Yachiyo said, "You've changed."

"Yeah. You have too."

"What became of our fight?" Yachiyo questioned, "Who won?"

"Um... I don't know. I was out too."

"Oh."

"When Tamao comes in she can tell you."

"Okay." Yachiyo held out her arms, "Can I have a hug? I've missed you a lot."

Rui nodded and hugged her, "I've missed you a lot too. I'm glad you're still alive."

"I am too. I thought that was why you stopped visiting... because they killed you." Yachiyo mumbled, "When Mei Fan told me you were alive... I was so relieved..."

Rui tightened her hug on Yachiyo, "Yeah... it's even thanks to her I didn't get killed by them."

"She told me. She's a nice girl, isn't she?"

"Yep. She's really nice to everyone. Until they do something bad."

They fell silent for a while, just relishing in each others' company. It had been so long since they had gotten to see each other. Gotten to touch. Neither wanted it to end.

But, Tamao and Mei Fan returned. They did need to talk to Yachiyo as well. Rui reluctantly let go of Yachiyo and moved back. They could have their time later for sure. Tamao would make sure of that.

"Hello, Yachiyo. Good to see you're awake." Tamao smiled at her, "How are you feeling?"

"Okay."

"May I ask you some questions about the queen?" Tamao asked.

Yachiyo looked down, "Do I have to...?"

"No. I won't force you to."

"It's too hard to talk about..."

"I understand. If you ever do want to talk, I'm always open. I guess I'll just ask you instead, Mei Fan." Tamao turned to her.

"In here?" Mei Fan questioned, glancing at Yachiyo in worry.

"It depends on Yachiyo. Can you handle someone else talking about it in front of you or would you like us to do that elsewhere?" Tamao asked her, making sure to keep her voice calm and even.

"I... guess I can..." Yachiyo mumbled.

"You sure?" Mei Fan asked, "We can do it somewhere else, Yachiyo. You don't have to relive it again."

"It's fine."

"Alright. If you say so." Mei Fan said, glancing at Tamao now.

"I guess the first thing I want to know would be about how you were treated. Any details you can give." Tamao stated, "Relating them to how you were treated here would be helpful too, if you could."

Mei Fan took a deep breath. That was a long answer. And a very complicated one too. There was so much she could say about what the queen had subjected them to during their time with her. But, she wanted to downplay it a bit since Yachiyo was in the room. Just to be safe. But, Tamao needed to know as much as she could...

"Well, I told you of our sleeping arrangements already. I guess next can be food." Mei Fan said.

"Oh, speaking of that, you both should probably eat." Rui interrupted her.

"Right." Tamao nodded, "You two should definitely eat something. We can continue this later on. It's not that important right now."

"Why don't you stay here and we'll get food?" Rui suggested.

Mei Fan hesitantly nodded and sat on the other bed. Rui and Tamao left the room to go and grab some food for them to eat.

"Food..." Yachiyo mumbled, "What... kind of food?"

"Good food. Nothing like what we were given." Mei Fan replied, "You'll like it a lot, I promise."

Yachiyo stared down at the bed, "This princess is... definitely strange."

"Yep." Mei Fan smiled, "That's what I like about her. What everyone here likes. She's really nice to everyone."

"Has she... has she always been this way?" Yachiyo questioned curiously.

"Hmm..." Mei Fan thought that question over, "For as long as I've known her, yes. But, she did tell me for a little bit she was like her parents. Then she saw how badly the townsfolk were suffering and it changed her to be who she is today."

"I've never really had anyone be nice to me... even other townsfolk..." Yachiyo mumbled, "Rui was my only friend until I met you and Shiori."

Mei Fan frowned, "Why didn't anyone like you?"

"I've just... never been a normal child."

"It's okay. You have a lot of friends now." Mei Fan smiled at her, "You're family here."

"Family..." Yachiyo repeated.

Rui and Tamao returned with food for the two girls. Tamao handed the tray to Yachiyo. Yachiyo froze up.

"Um...?" Tamao wasn't sure what to say about that, "Is... something wrong?"

Mei Fan glanced over, "Yachiyo. It's okay. You can eat."

Yachiyo shook her head and refused the tray. Tamao frowned and set it aside for the moment.

"What's wrong?" Tamao asked.

Mei Fan sighed, "Let's just say... you had to work for your food. You never got it for free. You had to earn it."

"Oh." Tamao gave Yachiyo a reassuring smile, "You don't have to do anything, Yachiyo. You can eat it already."

Yachiyo eyed her with distrust. After how long she had to endure the queen's way she couldn't just believe Tamao. As much as she wanted to.

"Along with that... sometimes she'd be cruel and seem like she would give it and then at the last minute take it away and laugh." Mei Fan added, "It was hell getting anything from her. She seemed to enjoy watching us suffer."

Tamao frowned, "I see... Yachiyo, I promise it's okay. You can eat. I would never deny that to anyone."

She held out the tray again. Yachiyo hesitantly took it. She still couldn't bring herself to touch it yet. Her mind was screaming that the moment she tried to eat, Tamao would take it away from her.

"We'll let you both eat in peace." Tamao said, "Let's check on everyone else, Rui."

Rui nodded and followed Tamao out of the room. She understood what Tamao was doing well. She wanted to leave to give Yachiyo space. Hopefully her presence being gone would let her eat now.

"I... can't believe it's affecting me this much..." Yachiyo sighed, "She hasn't shown any signs of... anything and yet... I can't bring myself to trust her..."

"It's okay. She understands. I was like that too when we first met." Mei Fan replied, "She'll help you recover."

"If I'm this bad... I can't imagine how it'll be for the others..."

Mei Fan frowned. That was true. Shiori might not be that bad either, but... Akira and Michiru had been treated that way for so long it would take a lot to get them to trust someone to be nicer.

"It'll work out. I know it will." Mei Fan tried to remain positive, "So, will you eat?"

Yachiyo stared down at the food, "I'll try to."

"Take your time. I'm sure they'll be a while."

Yachiyo looked like there was something else she wanted to say. Mei Fan waited, unsure if asking her would be a good idea. Yachiyo would tell her on her own time. She had to just be patient.

"Mei Fan? Um... what exactly does she... does she want from me?" Yachiyo asked quietly, "Am I going to have to repay her somehow or..."

"Not at all. Once you're in good shape, you can do as you please. You can either remain in the castle or leave and go where you please. She won't make you stay here." Mei Fan replied.

"Even though I'm blessed she... won't force me to work for her?" Yachiyo repeated in confusion.

Mei Fan nodded, "Yep. She doesn't believe in making anyone work for her against her will. If you don't want to stay, you don't have to."

Yachiyo thought that over a lot. She didn't have to remain here if she didn't want to. She was free to go. But... where would she even go? Her family was dead. She was in a foreign kingdom. She had no friends here except for Mei Fan and Rui. There really wasn't a life for her if she left the castle, was there?

"How do townsfolk here treat outsiders?" Yachiyo asked.

Mei Fan frowned. She didn't say anything, but the answer was clear enough. They didn't like outsiders here at all. The only reason none of them had any problems was because they worked for Tamao. No one would try the princess from the look of it.

"How does the princess handle those people?" Yachiyo asked next.

"Violently."

Yachiyo blinked at her in surprise. That was not the answer she had been expecting. For how nice Tamao seemed, she was able to be mean like that too?

"Surprised?" Mei Fan questioned, "I was too when I first had her tell me to kill someone. But, she knows what she's doing."

"She's asked you to kill for her?"

"Yeah. Not much, but there were a few instances where she did make me."

"Is it just us?"

"Hmm?"

"Did anyone else come here too?" Yachiyo asked.

Mei Fan frowned and shook her head, "No. Shiori ran off when offered and... you know Michiru won't leave Akira behind."

"Should we tell them?"

"Yeah. I promised I'd try and find a way to help. I hope one of them here might know what to do."

"I just... hope she won't hurt them..." Yachiyo whispered.

Mei Fan sighed. That was a thing to very much worry about. Those three may end up punished for them leaving. Hopefully they wouldn't die from it.

"Eat, please." Mei Fan said, "You're worse off than I am."

Yachiyo glanced down at the food. She hesitantly tried a piece. After a moment, she relaxed and continued.

...

Tamao and Rui went to go check on the others. The three of them had been in the other room for the night. While Ichie's bed was technically in Tamao's room, she tended to stay with Yuyuko instead.

"Hey, how are you all feeling?" Tamao asked as she entered the room.

"Alright." Ichie replied, "Yuyuko is still asleep. I tried waking her but she immediately fell asleep again once I stopped."

"That's just how she is..." Tamao smiled softly, "And you, Fumi?"

"Physically I'm fine."

"And mentally?"

"What did we do wrong...? Why didn't Shiori come with us...?" Fumi seemed to be on the verge of tears as she spoke.

Rui embraced her without a word, Tamao soon joining her. It was still tough for Fumi to come to terms with the fact Shiori didn't come with them.

"I'm sorry, Fumi." Ichie mumbled, "I should've tried harder to get her to come..."

"Don't say that, Ichie. It's not your fault." Rui stated, "From what you said, it seems the only thing left to do was force her to come with you. I don't think that would've helped us any more. We do need them to all come to us willingly."

"Maybe it was something I said..."

"Ichie~ It's not your fault. Stop worrying about it." Yuyuko spoke up, "You did your best. We'll have another chance to save her. You can redeem yourself then."

"I'll try..."

Fumi pulled away from the hug. Tamao and Rui let go. They sat on the bed with her and waited. Who would speak first?

"How are Mei Fan and Yachiyo fairing?" Yuyuko was the first to ask that.

"Alright. Rui healed Yachiyo so that's good now. They just both need to build up strength again... and..." Tamao trailed off.

"Yachiyo has a lot of trauma to work through." Rui finished for her, "As does Mei Fan, most likely. So, we ask everyone is very cautious of what they say and do around them both. Even if Mei Fan seems fine, I don't doubt certain things may trigger her to have flashbacks."

"Yeah... what we know for now is that the queen starved them. And made them earn food. So, whoever gives Yachiyo food needs to be careful. We left them alone to eat in the hopes it will make her at ease." Tamao said.

"How dare she." Fumi growled, "How dare she do that to anyone? Denying someone food because they didn't do enough to earn it... that's cruel beyond belief."

"Indeed." Tamao nodded, placing a hand on Fumi's shoulder, "As well as that, Mei Fan said they were put in a jail cell pretty much, though they could leave as they pleased. They were barely given anything to stave off the cold of the night. I don't know if that will cause issues here, but just keep that in mind incase something ever happens."

"Where is Yachiyo going to sleep?" Ichie asked.

"We're going to set up the third room. Rui and her will take it." Tamao replied.

"And Mei Fan is staying with you now?" Fumi guessed.

Tamao nodded, "Yes. She will stay with me. I think she needs it anyway. To be with someone who's always shown her kindness. Which is why Yachiyo will be with Rui. Since they were close friends."

"But... why not put Yachiyo and Mei Fan together?" Yuyuko asked curiously.

"Because they need more than each other to heal now. And... I don't think Yachiyo will want to stay near me quite yet. And Mei Fan would want me more than Rui. This is what we have to work with."

"Oh. Right. Yachiyo won't trust you that much yet."

"How does she seem with you?" Fumi questioned, "Does she seem to trust you at all or not?"

"She trusts me a bit. I don't know how much that is, though." Tamao replied.

"Well, we should head back to them and continue asking them stuff." Rui cut in.

Tamao nodded, "Right. Fumi, would you like to come? Maybe they can answer some stuff about Shiori for you?"

Fumi nodded, "Yes. I'd like to know what I can about her."

They left Yuyuko and Ichie in the room and slowly made their way back to the infirmary. Rui went in first to check if they were done eating. After confirming that, she nodded to Tamao.

Tamao and Fumi entered the room together. Yachiyo and Mei Fan both looked her over for a while.

"I take it you're Shiori's sister?" Mei Fan asked.

Fumi nodded, "Yes."

"Why are you here?"

"Would you mind answering some questions about Shiori for her?" Tamao asked.

Yachiyo and Mei Fan looked at each other for a while. They both were hesitant to say much about Shiori. Especially Mei Fan since she saw how heartbroken Fumi was to learn Shiori refused to come with them. Learning the stuff she has been going through may not help her at all. It may put her in danger. Mei Fan wasn't able to cross off the idea that Fumi may try and go get Shiori herself after learning what all was going down.

"I... don't know that you want to know." Mei Fan said.

"What do you mean? I need to know!" Fumi got defensive at that statement.

"It's not going to help you, Fumi. It'll make things worse right now. I don't think we should tell you."

Fumi started walking toward her, but Rui held out a hand and kept her back. Fumi seemed to be getting aggressive now. That wasn't good.

"Tell me." Fumi growled.

"Fumi, please calm down." Tamao said as calmly as she could, "Step outside for a bit. We'll sort things out, okay?"

Tamao nodded to Rui. Rui nodded back and lead Fumi out of the room. They all could hear her trying to keep Fumi calm and from rushing back in.

Tamao faced Mei Fan, "I understand why you don't want to tell her, but please, just do it. I'll handle the consequences of whatever happens next."

"Are you sure?" Mei Fan questioned.

Tamao nodded, "Yes. I'm sure. She needs this, as bad as it may be for her, she needs to know how Shiori has been doing. And... maybe it'll explain why she didn't come with us."

"If you say so..." Mei Fan was still hesitant to agree. She didn't think this was a good idea at all. But, if Tamao said to do it... who was she to argue?

Tamao brought Fumi and Rui back to the room. Rui kept a close eye of Fumi, worried she might try and attack Mei Fan again. It was shocking to see how Fumi was acting right now. Then again, she was suffering a lot because she knew nothing of Shiori right now.

"Shiori has been alright. We've kept a close eye on her since she arrived." Mei Fan started off with the easy stuff, "She is arguably the most cared for among us as we would often give her our stuff instead."

"But now you two are gone." Fumi stated.

"Yeah..." Mei Fan sighed, "Um... well, I think Michiru will take care of her too."

"You sound uncertain."

"Well... I don't know how much we can trust her yet. She seems willing to work with us but..." Mei Fan trailed off.

"She won't join us easily, will she?" Tamao questioned.

Mei Fan looked over at Yachiyo. Did they go ahead and tell everyone now? Should they only tell Tamao? How exactly should they approach all of this stuff?

"She won't leave as long as Akira won't." Yachiyo stated.

"So... how do we get them to join us? And how do we get Shiori too?" Tamao asked.

"Well... the thing is um... the queen has been researching ways to control people and... she's testing it on Akira. So... that's the issue. Unless we can somehow break the control..." Yachiyo trailed off.

"Oh... that's... not good." Tamao said.

That would pose a lot of problems for them all. How exactly were they supposed to handle that? She would have to think of something soon.

"Do you know how we may get Shiori to join us?" Rui questioned.

"That I don't know. I thought for sure she'd come with you guys..." Mei Fan said, "I don't know what's making her hesitate."

"I guess we'll just have to figure everything out as we go. For now, you two just need to rest and regain your strength. I assume we will have some time before they try anything again." Tamao said.

"Alright."

This was tough. Even if she had managed to get Mei Fan back and get Yachiyo... she still had a lot of work left to do. Get Shiori to join them, find a way to stop the control the queen is using on Akira, and then convince her and Michiru to join them as well. It wasn't a long list, but each task could take ages to do depending on what the queen decided to do next. It was all just a waiting game now.

...

"So... you lost two. And managed to capture none of them."

As expected, the queen was not pleased with the three remaining girls.

"Explain yourselves." She demanded.

"Mei Fan conspired with them and rejoined them." Michiru stated, "As for Yachiyo... I can't say if she was taking prisoner or joined them as well."

"And what of you three? Why did you not bring your targets back?!" The queen glared at them all.

"I... She was going to take me if I hadn't run... She overpowered me." Shiori said.

"Michiru?"

"Mei Fan saved her friend. They both overwhelmed me and ran." Michiru stated. She hoped the queen couldn't tell that her and Shiori were lying.

"And Akira? I was sure you'd succeed."

Michiru gulped. Akira could seal their fates. Hopefully she didn't understand what Michiru had been doing when she jumped in. But... Michiru was starting to doubt that now. It was way too suspicious for anyone to ignore.

"Michiru seems to be on their side."

Michiru froze up, "E-eh? What are you talking about? What did I do?"

"Indeed... what did she do, Akira?" The queen was very interested now.

"Let them escape. She joined my fight against two of them. She got in the way and let them run." Akira stated.

"Well, Michiru? What do you have to say for yourself?" The queen was staring her down with a sadistic smile.

Michiru didn't know what to say. She had never planned on getting caught. She had nothing prepared to defend herself. This was really bad. She was done for.

"Nothing? Very well. Lock her up." The queen ordered.

Two knights standing guard grabbed her. Michiru didn't resist as she was drug away and to the jail. Fighting it would only hurt her more. She had to play along for now, as much as she didn't want to.

Michiru was locked in the farthest cell. The darkest cell. All alone. That was what happened to traitors like her. They didn't get treated good at all. Even worse than the other prisoners.

Michiru didn't want to admit it, but she was terrified. Terrified that this would be her end. That she was going to be killed for this.

Was this really how she wanted to die? She didn't regret what she did. At least two of them were safe now. If only Shiori had gone with them. If at least those three could have gotten away she would be fine with this. But... knowing Shiori wasn't safe from the Queen yet made her unwilling to die.

But... what could she do? She was done for. No one could save her now.

Chapter Text

It was a restless night for Michiru. The cell was too quiet for her liking. Or too loud. The other prisoners were often loud as they suffered. Then it would fall deathly quiet as a knight came and dealt with them.

Michiru didn't sleep at all that night. When morning came, she was exhausted. She was also scared. Today might be her end. The queen might kill her already.

Michiru was ready to accept her fate. She had come to that conclusion while waiting. She would die with... one regret. That she couldn't save Shiori too.

As she heard footsteps approaching her cell, she prepared herself for the worst. Instead, she was greeted by a knight dragging Shiori into the cell. Shiori was fighting them, crying her eyes out at the same time.

The knight chained her up next to Michiru and then left without a word. No explanation for why they had just done that.

"Shiori?" Michiru nudged her, "What's going on?"

"M-Michiru... they... they said the queen is gonna... gonna use me as... bait to get onee-chan..." Shiori was still balling her eyes out as she answered the question.

Michiru frowned. She glanced around. Once she was certain no one was watching, she slid out of the chains and pulled Shiori into a tight hug.

"Shh... it's alright." Michiru whispered, "It'll be okay, Shiori. I promise."

"How will it be okay?"

"Tonight, you'll see. Just trust me." Michiru replied.

Shiori looked up at her, "Promise?"

Michiru smiled at her, "I promise, Shiori."

"How did you... get out of your chains?" Shiori questioned.

Michiru gave her a lopsided grin, "I've learned a few secrets about the jail cells."

"And that'll help me, right?"

"Yep. Just you wait." Michiru nodded.

She froze at the sound of footsteps and quickly got back into the chains. Two knights came to their cell. They had food. Bread. Stale bread, to be exact. They tossed it in and left without a word. Michiru wouldn't be surprised if the queen ordered them not to speak to her.

Shiori reached and grabbed the bread. She stared at it for a long time.

"Stale bread..." Shiori mumbled.

"Yeah. Honestly I'm a little surprised that they're feeding us at all." Michiru said.

"I don't know that I want to eat this."

"You should. You'll need all the strength you can get." Michiru stated, "If you want to escape, you'll need a lot of energy to run."

Shiori nodded, "Okay..."

She didn't seem happy with the idea of eating the bread, but she slowly picked away at it. She would trust Michiru on this. Michiru wasn't cruel. And... now knowing that she was helping the other side, Shiori felt more at ease.

"You are on our side." Shiori said, "You want the princess to win."

Michiru glanced at the floor, "Yeah... I do. She seems nice."

"Is that why you asked me why I didn't join them?" Shiori questioned.

Michiru nodded. That was something she had wanted to happen. She had considered telling Shiori to go before they left to return to the castle, but didn't. She regretted it now.

"Michiru? You aren't coming with me tonight, are you?"

It looks like Shiori was catching on to what she was doing. Michiru did wish to go too. To run away from the Queen. But... she still couldn't leave Akira. Even if it killed her, she would remain here unless they left together.

"I can't go without Akira. I can't bear to leave her here alone. Even if she isn't... her." Michiru mumbled.

"I understand."

...

As night fell, Michiru slowly got out of the chains again. She undid Shiori's and then led her to a small crevice in the wall. After making sure no one was around, she took some bricks away and shoved Shiori through. Shiori glanced back at Michiru.

"Tell them what she's planning. Go." Michiru whispered.

"I... I'll make sure we save you too." Shiori said.

Michiru frowned and shook her head, "Forget about me. It's too late. I doubt I'll be alive much longer. Especially after you vanish."

"But..."

"Go. I'm fine with dying, Shiori. I've done what I needed to do." Michiru smiled at her, "I'm ready for it. I won't be scared anymore."

"Michiru..."

"Go now. They'll be here soon to check on us."

Shiori nodded and ran off into the darkness of the night. Michiru returned to her place and put her chains on again. Now it was the waiting game. Hopefully Shiori would make it.

"Live on for the both of us... will you, Shiori?"

...

Shiori was running as fast as she could. She needed to get away from the castle as fast as possible. That was where the most chances of being caught were. She needed to be far away before she even considered slowing down, let alone stopping.

Tears stung her eyes as she realized that was probably the last time she would ever see Michiru again. Part of her yelled at her to go back, to force her to come along. But, Shiori had to respect her wishes. If Michiru wasn't leaving Akira, there was nothing she could do.

Shiori finally slowed to a stop as she reached a farm. She should be far enough now. Time to start walking instead. There may still be knights around. She had to be careful of the noise she made. She couldn't be spotted.

Shiori quietly crept through the woods as she made her way to the border. She was tired. All that running was too much for her. Her body wasn't able to handle that much in its current state.

"So... this is why you sleep all day? 'Cause you take walks late at night?"

"I'm patrolling."

"Sure."

Shiori heard voices. She recognized one as being Ichie's. That was good. She was almost safe again.

Shiori stumbled through the undergrowth and eventually found them. She entered their line of sight. Both girls paused.

"Shiori?" Ichie asked, "You... why are you...?"

Shiori stumbled forward, her body giving out on her. Ichie yelped and quickly caught her. Shiori lost consciousness before much longer. Her body had been pushed far beyond its limit tonight.

"What do we do?" Yuyuko asked.

"Uh... let's get her to Rui!" Ichie quickly decided, "She'll know if Shiori is injured!"

Yuyuko nodded. Ichie pulled Shiori into a firm hold and they both took off running back to the castle. Yuyuko split off to go wake the others while Ichie went to the infirmary. Rui and Yachiyo were still staying there for the time being. Mei Fan almost ended up there too, but she insisted on staying with Tamao instead.

"Ichie?" Rui was still awake when she arrived.

"Can you see if she's hurt? She collapsed." Ichie asked frantically, holding out Shiori to the younger girl.

Rui took Shiori and attempted to heal her, "No recent wounds. Looks like it was just exhaustion."

Ichie breathed out a sigh of relief, "Thank god... I was worried she had been attacked."

Rui examined Shiori, "Why is she here?"

"I don't know. She didn't say anything before she collapsed." Ichie shrugged, "Guess she ran away?"

"I just hope no one was following her."

"What is going on?" Tamao entered the room.

"We have Shiori." Ichie offered as her explanation, "Not sure why but..."

Tamao stared at Shiori for a while, "She... came here..."

"Looks like she was heading to. Me and Yuyuko were taking a walk when she came out of the woods and then collapsed."

Tamao walked over to the bed and brushed some hair from Shiori's face. She frowned as she noticed the countless bruises on her body. She looked rough too.

"Let's take her to Fumi. Let her stay there. At least when she wakes up it'll be to someone very familiar." Tamao said.

She took Shiori from Rui. Ichie followed her and they headed to the room. Yuyuko had woken Fumi up and explained what had happened. She jumped off the bed and immediately ran to them as they entered.

"Is she okay?" Fumi asked as she snatched Shiori out of Tamao's arms and cradled her close.

"Rui said she's just exhausted. There were no recent wounds on her." Ichie said.

Fumi sat down on her bed, keeping Shiori tightly held in her arms. She looked relieved to finally have her back.

"Take good care of her, Fumi. I entrust most of her healing to you." Tamao said.

"I will..." Fumi replied, pressing a kiss to Shiori's head.

Tamao nodded to Ichie and then left the room. Ichie watched Fumi for a moment, before climbing into bed with Yuyuko.

Looks like tomorrow just got way more interesting. They got Shiori a lot sooner than expected. As for why... that would remain to be seen. Shiori would explain everything in the morning, Tamao hoped.

She returned to her room. Mei Fan was sitting up the bed, waiting for her. With all of the commotion, she couldn't go to sleep again until she learned what was going on.

"Shiori came here." Tamao said as she sat down on the bed as well, "Don't know why yet. She's out cold."

"Shiori..." Mei Fan sighed in relief, "Thank god she's okay."

"Yeah. You cared for her a lot, right?"

"Yeah. To the point she started calling me 'onee-chan' instead." Mei Fan nodded.

"Oh. That's interesting." Tamao responded, "Well... we better get to bed. It'll be a long day tomorrow again."

"Yeah. It will be now that Shiori is here." Mei Fan agreed.

They both laid back down on the bed. Tamao pulled Mei Fan into a hug, pressing a kiss to her head. Mei Fan smiled and returned the hug.

"Love you, Mei Fan. Goodnight." Tamao whispered.

"Love you too... night, Tamao." Mei Fan replied.

It didn't take long for the two of them to drift off to sleep again. Being near each other made relaxing so much easier now.

...

Shiori woke up to peace. She felt warm. She was being held.

"Nn... onee-chan..." Shiori mumbled, moving closer.

"Good morning, Shiori."

She jumped at the voice, "O-onee-chan!"

"Hmm?" Fumi seemed confused.

Shiori blushed slightly in embarrassment, "Um... I may have started calling... Mei Fan that..."

"Oh. I see." Fumi smiled and kissed her on the head, "I'm glad you had someone to care for you in my stead."

"I've missed you, onee-chan." Shiori hugged her tightly.

"I've missed you too." Fumi replied, "Though, what changed your mind?"

Shiori frowned. Right... She had to tell them everything. Tell them what she had just been through. Tell them about...

Shiori started crying, burying herself into Fumi's embrace.

"Shiori?!" Fumi was startled by the sudden crying.

"S-sorry..." Shiori tried to calm herself, "It's... it's just... Michiru... she... she might be dead..."

"What? Why?" Fumi held her close as she continued crying, unable to stop herself.

"She... she was found out... for being on your side..."

"Oh... Shiori..."

"She told me to run... I should've made her come with me... I shouldn't have left her..." All the regrets she felt yesterday were coming back to her again.

"Shh... shh... maybe she's still alive? Have hope, Shiori." Fumi tried to soothe her.

"She's accepted her fate... she said she did what she needed to."

"Is everything okay in here?" Tamao and Mei Fan entered the room.

"Not really..." Fumi replied.

"What is it?" Mei Fan approached them and placed a hand on Shiori's shoulder.

"She said Michiru may have been executed for her betrayal. Apparently she got found out." Fumi said, knowing Shiori wouldn't want to repeat it all again.

Mei Fan's eyes went wide, "Michiru..."

"She can't be dead." Tamao stated, "The queen surely would have announced her execution. To show what happens to traitors no matter how close they are to her side."

"You have a point." Mei Fan agreed, "I don't think there was a single execution not broadcasted. She loves letting everyone know what she will do if they betray her."

"Michiru... might be alive?" Shiori asked.

"Yes. I think she is." Tamao nodded.

"Then we need to save her!" Shiori faced them now, "She's been imprisoned! Even if they won't kill her yet... she'll die before long from not being cared for."

"Shiori, I understand you want to help Michiru, but we can't do it. It's too risky to go into the heart of that kingdom. I'm sorry." Tamao gave her a remorseful look. She really would like to help, but that was suicide.

"But... but..."

"You said she's willing to accept death, didn't you? I know you don't want her to die, but it might be time to let go and just let it happen." Fumi said, brushing Shiori's hair, "We can't save her, Shiori. I'm sorry."

"If it wasn't for her you'd be dead!" Shiori yelled, "She saved you! And this is how you'll repay her?!"

"Shiori-"

"If you won't do anything, I will. I'll save her myself." Shiori growled.

"Hey, calm down." Fumi said, "Look, I know it's hard. But, you'll just get yourself killed if you try to save her."

"I'm not just letting her die!" Shiori shouted.

She was glaring at Fumi now. How dare she not try to help. How dare they all not try to help Michiru. If it wasn't for her, things wouldn't have gone this smoothly for any of them. They owe her so much.

"Shiori," Tamao got her attention, "I understand that it's hard to know you may lose a friend. If there was anything we could do, I'd do it. Unfortunately we can't go into their land. It's far too risky."

Shiori simply glared at her. Tamao sighed. This conversation was going nowhere. Shiori wasn't budging in her resolve. They really needed her to.

"Look. I'll see what I can do. Only when her execution is announced." Tamao stated, "Until then, we have no plans to rescue her."

Shiori frowned. That wasn't what she wanted. But... it would have to do for now. At least they were considering helping Michiru. Shiori just hoped they wouldn't be too late by the time her execution was announced.

"I'm not sending people in blindly, Shiori. I'm not risking anyone's life more than I have to."

"But what if you're too late...?"

Tamao sighed, "I'm sorry, but I'm not risking everything for one person."

"I hate you."

"Shiori." Fumi gave her a warning glare. This was not a fight she wanted to pick.

"You refuse to do anything for her. If it wasn't for her none of us would probably be here. Why are you willing to let her die?" Shiori demanded.

"I would like for her to not die." Tamao replied, "But I can't see her being worth risking so much. Not when we barely know anything about her current status."

"Then leave me alone." Shiori growled.

Tamao sighed and left the room. Getting Shiori to listen was not going well. She really wanted to save Michiru. She just didn't understand that Tamao couldn't blindly rush into things like that. She had a duty to fulfill as a princess. She had to choose all her moves very carefully.

Tamao went to go and see how Rui and Yachiyo were doing. Ichie and Yuyuko were there. They were all talking as Tamao walked in.

"Is everything okay?" Ichie asked, "You look down."

"Shiori isn't doing so well..." Tamao frowned, "Mentally. Apparently Michiru has been found out to be on our side and is imprisoned. She wants to save her, which I don't blame her for, but she won't listen when I tell her it's not possible right now."

"Michiru..." Yachiyo whispered, "They... found out she wasn't fully loyal..."

"It seems so." Tamao nodded, "However, they haven't announced a date for her execution yet. I don't want to act until then. And Shiori thinks that it'll be too late by then to save her."

"Normally it would be." Yachiyo stated, "But not for someone that close to the queen. They'd want her date to be known by everyone before she died."

"That's what I was thinking. Shiori is too caught up in her emotions to really think properly right now." Tamao said.

"So... why did she come here?" Rui questioned.

"That... I still don't know. There was no way to ask her after she got upset." Tamao sighed.

"I see... I suppose it must have something to do with Michiru, though."

"You don't think... she was also imprisoned and..." Yachiyo trailed off.

"That is a possibility." Tamao said, "She very well may have been found out as well. I'm guessing Michiru must've gotten her out somehow but... wouldn't run as well."

"She really won't leave without Akira..." Yachiyo whispered, "Even in the face of death."

"They must have a very close relationship if that is the case." Ichie commented, "I... don't know if I could do it. I think I'd run as well."

"Her circumstances are different, Ichie." Yuyuko replied, "Remember, Akira isn't in control of herself. That changes everything."

Ichie frowned, "Oh... that's right..."

"So, what exactly are we going to do about Shiori?" Rui asked.

Tamao sighed. She offered no answer right away. She didn't know. Working with Shiori was proving to be a very difficult task. It was obvious Shiori didn't trust her much. Tamao couldn't exactly blame her. She had probably been mistreated by royalty all her life. It was very common for regular people to be fearful of royalty. Especially since she is blessed.

"I think I'll stay out of it for now. Hopefully Fumi and Mei Fan were able to talk to her properly." Tamao eventually said, "Yachiyo, I'd appreciate if you'd talk to her as well when you get the chance. If the people she trusts tell her these things, maybe it'll go better."

"I'll do my best, princess." Yachiyo promised.

"Tamao is fine. Please don't call me princess." Tamao stated, "I don't like it..."

"Oh... okay. Sorry."

"It's alright. I know it's unusual to not call royalty by their title."

"Can I ask why?" Yachiyo asked, "Why don't you like people referring to you that way?"

"Because," Tamao said, "I feel as though it puts too much distance between us. I don't want a relationship like that with my knights. I want to be closer to them."

"You really are strange..." Yachiyo commented.

"That I am." Tamao couldn't disagree.

"Tamao?"

Tamao turned to look at the person who called her name. Mei Fan had entered the room. That probably wasn't a good sign. She was here to talk about Shiori, wasn't she?

"Yes, Mei Fan?" Tamao said.

"Um... can you just... come with me?" Mei Fan nervously requested.

"Sure." Tamao nodded and followed after her.

They walked in silence for a while. Tamao wasn't sure what to make of this. Why did Mei Fan want her? It had to do with Shiori, right? But, what had happened after she left the room? Did Shiori do something bad?

"Mei Fan, what's going on?" Tamao couldn't wait any longer to ask.

Mei Fan frowned, but didn't reply. She lead Tamao back to the room. The first thing she noticed was that it was empty. The second was that it was a mess.

"Mei Fan. What happened?" Tamao repeated.

"Shiori got violent and ran off. Fumi chased after her." Mei Fan said, "She isn't taking this well at all."

Tamao stood in silence for a while. That was a lot to take in. Shiori really wasn't going to listen to them at all.

"Should someone go after them?" Mei Fan asked.

"This is Fumi's job now."

"Oh... I see..."

Tamao had to hope Fumi would get Shiori to return. She couldn't risk sending anyone after them. She had no idea where they may be now. Fumi was the only one who could keep track of Shiori now. It was all on her to get Shiori back in one piece.

Hopefully she could.

Chapter Text

"Shiori!"

Shiori refused to stop not matter how much Fumi called for her. Fumi was struggling to catch up with her. This wasn't good. It wouldn't be too long until they reached the end of their territory.

"Shiori, please stop! Let's talk this out!" Fumi pleaded.

Shiori kept running. Fumi lost sight of her as she entered the forest. She sighed and sunk to her knees. She had failed. Shiori was gone. She would never see her again. There was no way she would survive...

"Onee-chan! Come here!"

Fumi jumped up. She quickly ran to Shiori's voice. She skidded to a halt and froze in place as she saw why Shiori had suddenly called for her to come.

"Uh... hey."

Michiru and Akira were here. Michiru was nervously smiling at them. Behind her, Akira was on the ground, seemingly unconscious.

"What's going on?" Fumi demanded.

"We were sent after Shiori." Michiru explained, "She was willing to give me one more chance."

"And why is she..."

"Oh. Well, since Akira is kinda being controlled and all... I had no choice. Otherwise she wouldn't have stopped." Michiru said.

"And what do you want from us?" Fumi questioned warily.

"Will you help us too?"

Fumi sighed, "I guess we have to. It's what Tamao wants."

"Thank you."

"Can you walk? You don't seem very steady." Fumi was eyeing Michiru up a lot. It was easy to notice how unsteady she seemed on her feet.

"I don't... I don't know..." Michiru mumbled.

"I'll carry you!" Shiori offered.

She didn't wait for any confirmation and simply walked over and picked her up. Michiru didn't protest it and just relaxed into the embrace. She felt relieved. They were free. They were finally free.

"Guess I'm taking her then." Fumi grumbled and she picked up Akira, "Let's go back."

Shiori nodded. The two of them walked back slowly. The extra weight was holding them down. Michiru hid herself into Shiori's hair as they entered the town. They tried their best to stay on the backroads to the castle, but that was still hard to do. People saw them. There was nothing they could do about it.

"You're back!" Mei Fan was the first to see them as they entered the castle, "And... you have them."

"Mei Fan...?" Michiru glanced her way.

"Hey, Michiru. So... you both got out." Mei Fan smiled at her.

"Yeah... but..." Michiru looked at Akira, "The collar..."

"Right... We still have that to deal with." Mei Fan frowned.

"Go tell Tamao." Fumi stated, "We'll be in the infirmary."

"Okay." Mei Fan nodded and quickly went to do that.

They brought the two girls to the infirmary and set them down. Yachiyo and Rui were still there. Yachiyo stared at them with wide eyes.

"Good to see you're alright, Yachiyo." Michiru faced her with a smile.

"Michiru..."

"Somehow I'm still alive."

"I'm glad."

Seconds later, Tamao and Mei Fan entered the room. Tamao walked over to Michiru first.

"Hello." Tamao greeted her.

Michiru regarded her warily. She didn't trust Tamao completely. Especially not in her state. She was defenseless against her. She couldn't put it past anyone to try and take advantage of that.

"Rui, can you heal anything on her?" Tamao asked.

Michiru watched as Rui came over to her. She gulped as Rui placed a hand on her. Her wounds started closing up. Michiru watched in a mix of fear and fascination. She had never seen such a thing before.

"There we go." Rui stated.

"Do you feel better now, Michiru?" Tamao asked, giving her a soft smile.

Michiru nodded. She still didn't speak to Tamao. Tamao wasn't going to push her. She had to gain her trust naturally.

"So, what all is going on with Akira?" Tamao asked next, walking over to take a look at her.

"The collar on her. It's what's keeping her under control. Unfortunately, if you touch it, you'll get shocked so bad it'll kill you." Yachiyo explained, "Well, that's what we were told by the queen."

"How do we get it off...?" Tamao mumbled. This was a tough situation. What was she supposed to do?

"We've tried to find a way, but nothing had worked." Mei Fan stated, "We don't know how the queen can remove it."

Everyone was lost in thought, trying to figure out a way to do so. No one was coming with anything very quickly. They really needed to, though. Before Akira woke up.

"Well, I have an idea." Fumi stated.

"What is it?" Tamao asked.

"Rui, do you think you can heal someone during them getting hurt?" Fumi questioned her.

"I... should be able to." Rui nodded.

"Then perhaps if she does that while the other person works away at unlocking the collar, we might get it off and not have anyone die as a result." Fumi concluded.

"Are you willing to try that, Rui?" Tamao asked.

Rui nodded, "I'll do it. If it's our best chance, I'll take the risk."

"Since I came up with the plan, I'll go ahead and be the one to enact it." Fumi offered. She knew probably no one would volunteer to be the one to try and take off the collar.

"Be careful, both of you." Tamao said as she stepped back.

Rui and Fumi nodded to her. They took their positions around Akira. Fumi took a deep breath. This was going to be tough. She had to hold on and keep going no matter what. This was pretty much their only hope to break this collar.

"Ready when you are, Fumi." Rui stated as she placed both of her hand on Fumi's shoulders.

"I'll begin then." Fumi replied.

She took another deep breath and began working on the collar. The moment she touched it, it stung bad. She nearly pulled away. She steadied herself and tried her best to ignore the feeling. It would be alright. Rui wouldn't let her die. She would be okay. She could do this.

Fumi tried to keep her breathing calm as she started fiddling around the clasp on the collar. It was very difficult to get off. It didn't help with having a bad electric shock coursing through her hands at all times. It made her a bit unsteady.

"Is it coming off?" Rui asked through a strained voice.

"Yeah. I'm getting it." Fumi confirmed.

"Please hurry... I can't hold this much longer... It's really draining me..." Rui whispered.

"I'll try." Fumi gulped. That was bad. She was running out of time.

She tried to keep calm and work away at the collar more. This time, she got the clasp to unhook. Good. Just one other clasp and she had it off. Fumi quickly started on that one, knowing she was running out of time very quickly. Rui's grip on her shoulders was starting to lessen. That wasn't a good sign.

"Got it." Fumi pulled away as the collar fell off and onto the floor.

"We did it..." Rui said.

"Yeah. Here, sit down." Fumi guided her to the bed she had been staying on and had her sit again.

Fumi sat beside her and looked at Tamao. Tamao was looking at the collar on the floor. Fumi paused as Rui leaned against her. Fumi wrapped an arm around her to support her.

"You can rest. You did good, Rui. Thank you for trusting me." Fumi said quietly to her.

Rui made a small noise to acknowledge she heard her. It wasn't long before she passed out. Fumi pulled her close and kept a firm grip on her.

"So, did the queen ever mention what would happen if the collar came off?" Tamao asked.

"No. She was certain no one would ever succeed." Mei Fan replied, "We only know what it does and what happens if you try to take it off. Nothing about if you succeed."

"What do you think might happen?" Fumi asked.

"I have a feeling she'll be very confused when she wakes up." Yachiyo offered.

"Yeah. She probably will be." Mei Fan agreed.

"We'll just have to hope she'll listen and not try anything violent." Tamao said, "Let's just go about our normal day for now. It's past time for breakfast already."

"Where are Yuyuko and Ichie at?" Mei Fan asked, "They didn't come to see what all the noise was about surprisingly."

"Yuyuko can sleep through almost anything." Fumi stated, "Wouldn't be surprised if she snuck off to nap somewhere again. Ichie might be with her."

"Well, would you help me find them, Fumi?" Tamao requested.

Fumi nodded. She carefully laid Rui down on the bed and then stood up. She joined Tamao and the two of them left the room to search for Yuyuko and Ichie.

"So... what exactly happened?" Mei Fan asked Michiru, "We heard you were accused of being a traitor. Why are you here with Akira?"

"When Shiori vanished, the queen gave me another chance. Said if I brought her back that she'd forgive me." Michiru replied quietly.

"Oh. Well, good thing she let you come with Akira."

"Yeah..."

"You alright?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just... I never thought I'd get away."

...

"So, there you two are. Sleeping at a time like this..."

Tamao and Fumi located Yuyuko and Ichie quite easily. They were out in the sparing yard. Instead of fighting each other, they were lazing around on the ground.

"What? Is something going on?" Ichie asked.

"Yeah." Fumi didn't give her any more than that.

"What happened?" Yuyuko questioned.

"Michiru and Akira have arrived." Tamao said, "We found a way to remove the collar from Akira as well. Now it is just a matter of waiting. We were looking for you two to help prepare food for everyone. They need to eat."

"Of course!" Ichie jumped to her feet.

Yuyuko slowly got up as well, "Alright. Whatever you say, Tamao. You know what's best."

Now with enough people, they went to the kitchen and got food for everyone. They brought it back to the room and handed out the plates. Tamao watched Michiru to see if she would react the same as Yachiyo had the first time she had been offered food.

Michiru stared at it for a long time. She didn't move to eat it. Tamao took a look back over at Yachiyo. She was slowly picking at the food. It seemed she had eased up a bit.

"Michiru." Tamao said, "You can eat. I know you were never allowed to so easily, but that's not how it works here."

"What is this...?" Michiru asked quietly.

"Chicken."

Michiru hesitantly went and took a bite. She glanced at Tamao warily. Tamao debated if she should step out again like before. That had ended up working for Yachiyo. But, she also wanted to stay in the room in case Akira woke up. She definitely needed to be here for that.

"Tamao?" Fumi said.

"Yes?" Tamao looked at her.

"So... what is going to be the room arrangements for everyone?"

"Hmm..." Tamao thought it over, "Well, do you all plan to stay with me or are you going to leave?"

"I'm not leaving you, onee-chan..." Shiori said, hugging Fumi tightly.

"I... have nowhere else to go." Yachiyo mumbled, "Might as well stay somewhere I'm welcome."

Tamao looked at Michiru, "If you don't know yet, that's fine. Take your time."

Michiru looked over at Akira, "Whatever she decides. I'm not leaving her."

"Very well." Tamao nodded, "Then... for now, I believe we will need to set up two new rooms. Mei Fan and I will be in mine. Fumi, you will stay in your room with Shiori. Yuyuko and Ichie, you two will move to a new room. And Rui and Yachiyo will be in a new room too."

"That should work." Fumi nodded to her, "So... until we do that though..."

"Shiori can fit on the bed with you. Everyone else has to stay here still anyway." Tamao replied.

"Right."

...

"Tamao. She's awake."

"How is she?"

"Uh... very very confused."

"Let's go."

Tamao had been just about to get ready for a walk outside before the sun set. Instead, Fumi had approached her with the news that Akira was awake. She had that to deal with now instead.

The two of them made their way to the infirmary. Tamao took a deep breath before she entered. This was probably going to be a very long talk.

"Tamao, you're here." Rui greeted her. She was sitting on the edge of Yachiyo's bed.

Mei Fan and Shiori were also in the room. They had wanted to be there when Akira woke up as well.

"Yes." Tamao turned to face Akira. "Hello there. I'm Tamao. You are Akira, correct?"

Akira regarded her warily as she nodded, "Yes."

"So, ask away with any questions you have for me." Tamao gave her a smile to try to come off as as friendly as possible.

"I... don't know where to begin."

"Take your time. We have all day."

"Look, I don't know what happened. I don't know why I'm here. Or how I got here."

"What do you remember?" Tamao questioned, "Let's start there."

"The last thing I remember doing was talking to our queen. She had wanted to discuss things. After that, I don't know. It's just blank." Akira explained.

"Does that mean... the entire time the collar was on, she has no recollection of?" Yachiyo questioned.

"Looks like it." Rui replied.

Akira looked at them very confused, "What are you talking about?"

"You... don't know?" Yachiyo asked.

"No. What are you going on about?"

"Oh boy... this is gonna be a long night..."

"So, basically what happened was..."

Mei Fan decided to be the one to explain everything to her. It was a long story as she had to tell her everything leading up to her waking up here. Akira listened closely. She still seemed very confused by everything even as Mei Fan explained.

"That's a lot to take in..." Akira sighed as she finished.

"I bet."

"Well, you're free now." Tamao stated, "You now have the choice to either stay here with us or you may leave and go where you please."

"Is everyone else staying?" Akira questioned.

"You and Michiru are the last two to decide." Tamao replied.

Akira looked over at Michiru, "What do you think of this?"

Michiru shrugged, "I don't know. I'm not sure what to do."

"If someone was to leave instead, what would they be able to do in this kingdom?" Akira asked.

Tamao shrugged, "I don't know. Most townsfolk hate outsiders so... chances are you'd have to find another kingdom instead."

"Then, I say we just stay too." Akira said to Michiru.

Michiru nodded, "Okay. Sounds good to me."

"Then I guess we have three rooms to set up." Tamao commented.

"Tamao?" Rui said.

"Yes, Rui?"

"Could I leave here? I'm not injured anymore." She asked.

"If you want. I won't keep you here."

"Thank you."

"Does that mean I can leave too?" Yachiyo questioned, "I'm good now, right?"

"I guess you can leave too." Tamao confirmed, "Though, you don't have a room yet."

"You don't mind if we just stay in my bed, right?"

"No. Not at all."

"So... what now?"

"Fumi, can you bring some food for Akira?" Tamao requested.

Fumi nodded to her, "Of course."

She left the room to go and do that. Tamao looked between Akira and Michiru for a moment, before leaving the room as well.

"Um... I'll leave you all to talk." Rui said and went after Tamao.

Now it was just the five of them. Mei Fan went and took the spot Rui had been sitting on. Shiori hesitantly went and sat on the empty bed between them.

"So, Akira..." Michiru said, "Is there anything else you want us to tell you about?"

"I think Mei Fan covered it all."

"Then, can I ask a question?" Mei Fan asked.

"I guess."

"If this hadn't happened, would you have been on our side?"

"What do you mean?"

"Like... how Michiru helped us out a bit. Even if it was in secret, she still was betraying that queen." Mei Fan said.

"If Michiru was doing it, I probably would have as well. I trust her. If she was willing to do that, I'd do it too."

"I'm surprised that you even did help us." Yachiyo commented.

"Well... the queen started becoming so... aggressive compared to before. It scared me. Seeing her change for the worst like that and knowing what she already does to people... I was terrified for my life." Michiru mumbled.

"She'll come back for us." Shiori said, "Won't she? I doubt she will just back off."

"Yeah... knowing her she's probably already figured out that we aren't coming back either." Michiru nodded.

"She might have been able to tell that we took off the collar." Mei Fan said, "As for if she can tell that no one died in the process... I don't know."

"What do you mean... died? How could they die from taking it off?" Akira questioned.

"So, you see... the collar shocked anyone who tried to touch it. And really shocked them." Michiru explained, "Rui can heal. So, she continuously healed Fumi until she got it off."

"I... think I understand."

"Hey, what will your families think about this?" Mei Fan asked, "Will they care?"

"No. Mine won't. The moment you betray their ideals, you're dead to them." Michiru said.

"I don't know. They had high hopes for me so... I can't say if they won't try something themselves to get me back." Akira replied.

"At least your families are alive..." Yachiyo mumbled.

"Yachiyo, I'm sorry." Mei Fan frowned and hugged her.

"I wouldn't have killed them if I had the choice." Akira said, "But... she made it clear they weren't meant to live through that encounter."

"I know the feeling, Yachiyo." Shiori said, "My family is pretty much dead too."

"Mei Fan?"

"That I don't know. If my memory is correct, they didn't get killed after handing me over. Then again... it could have happened after I was away from them." Mei Fan said.

"Do you want them to be alive? To meet them again?" Michiru asked.

Mei Fan shook her head, "No. The few things I do recall about them are not good things. And honestly, I don't want to see them after what they put me through. They let me get taken because they were stupid enough to go and take a loan when they knew they'd never be able to pay it back."

"So... they didn't try to stop it?" Yachiyo asked.

"No. Not that I remember."

"Jeez..."

"Alright. Let's try and be positive." Michiru stated, "We aren't out of the clear yet. Not until the queen is dead."

"As if that'll happen." Akira scoffed.

"True..."

"Well, at least we'll be safe for a bit."

"Yeah. Tamao will help us if she does try anything."

Chapter Text

It didn't take long at all for Tamao's parents to learn of what she had done. And as always, they didn't approve of her choices. However, this time it was a bit different. They knew that the five girls were blessed. They wanted them for themselves now.

Tamao was angry, to say the least. The fact that all they wanted from her now was the knights she had worked so hard to save. And knights that would definitely not want to work for them. Not when they wouldn't treat them with much  more respect than the old queen of theirs.

Besides that, everything else was going quite well. Everyone was recovering well from the abuse they had all sustained from the Queen. They were all opening up to Tamao a lot more than she had honestly expected them to.

"Tamao?"

"Hmm?"

It was just another day. Tamao was out in the small garden by the castle. Ichie approached her.

"Um... your parents sent a message about wanting to talk to you." Ichie mumbled, "About... giving up... the blessed ones to them."

Tamao sighed, "Of course... they really think I'll listen after all this time?"

"So... what do you plan to do then?" Ichie questioned.

"I'll explain it to everyone. Let's gather them all and do that now. I don't trust my parents not to try and take matters into their own hands soon."

"Okay!"

The two of them headed back inside the castle. Ichie went to go and gather everyone. Tamao had planned to help, but Ichie insisted she could do it all herself. So, Tamao simply waited in the throne room for them all to arrive. This would definitely be a very interesting meeting. Hopefully what she was going to say to them wouldn't make them too concerned with her motives.

It didn't take too long for Ichie to get everyone. Soon enough, they all were gathered and waiting for Tamao to speak.

Tamao took a deep breath, "So... as you all know... my parents want you five since they know you're blessed."

"You aren't giving them away, are you?" Rui questioned, "You hate your parents."

Tamao nodded to her, "Correct, I do. Which is why I would never give them anyone of use from my castle."

"So, what are you going to do?"

"That... please just hear me out first." Tamao said, "I... want them dead. That is an order. Kill them both."

It was deadly silent in the room for a long time. Tamao was staring at the floor, waiting to see who would speak to her first. Would anyone listen to her order? It was very extreme. She knew that.

"Tamao." Mei Fan was the first to speak up, "You... wish for us to... kill your parents? Over this? I just... feel that seems too drastic. Is there more to it than we are aware of?"

"Mei Fan." Tamao replied, "I thought you of all people would understand. You had to deal with them almost as much as I did and yet... you don't agree with me?"

"I..." Mei Fan fell silent after that. She had no reply.

"Do any of you understand? Are any of you willing to do this for me?" Tamao looked at everyone now.

"Tamao, I think this is the one order I'll have to disobey." Rui said, "It's too much."

"Then their blood will be on your hands." Tamao stated. She got up and left the room without another word.

"What? Tamao?!" Rui chased after her.

"What did she... mean?" Shiori asked nervously, "Why would... that be a thing...?"

"Don't tell me..." Mei Fan trailed off. She left the room too, going after Tamao as well.

"Anyone else know what's going on?" Fumi questioned.

No one else had an answer. It seemed only Mei Fan had any idea as to what Tamao meant by that. That wasn't comforting. Why was Tamao saying that they would get hurt if they didn't kill her parents? Just what had happened between them?

...

"Tamao?" Rui caught up to her not too far away from the room.

"What?"

"What is going on? What are you talking about? Why would they die from this?" Rui asked.

"It's because your parents won't treat them well, isn't it?" Mei Fan came up to them.

Tamao nodded, "Yes. I know they'll kill them before long. They did have a blessed before. Didn't live for long with the strain they were putting them through."

"Oh... I see..." Rui frowned, "Why didn't you just say that?"

"I didn't want to scare anyone."

"Is murder really the right way to go about this?" Mei Fan questioned, "Is there truly nothing else we can do?"

Tamao faced her and shook her head, "No. Even if I refuse to hand them over, my parents will take matters into their own hands. This is the only way any of us will stay safe. I... don't doubt it would take much to learn that the rest of us are blessed as well."

"I understand." Mei Fan replied, "I'll see if I can get them in on it. They don't know what to think about that order."

"I know. Rui? Are you on my side in this too?"

Rui nodded, "Yeah. When you put it that way, I definitely understand your motives now."

"Thank you. I know I'm asking a lot from you all right now." Tamao smiled at the two of them.

"You should tell them." Mei Fan said, "About why you want them dead."

Tamao frowned, "I don't know about that... I don't want to make them unnecessarily worried."

"If you don't tell them, they'll just find out some other way. If you want to build their trust, I think you need to be honest with them about what's going on."

"I know... But at the same time I'm worried this'll hurt them more." Tamao said, "What if they won't trust me because of my parents?"

"You've proven over and over how different you are. They know you aren't like your parents. It'll be just fine." Mei Fan said.

Tamao didn't reply. She took a deep breath and held out her hands. Rui and Mei Fan took one and they walked back to the room. Everyone was still there and very confused by everything.

"Tamao, you have a lot of explaining to do right now." Fumi confronted her, "What the hell are you going on about?"

"Do you trust me?" Tamao questioned.

Fumi paused for a moment, "Yes. I trust you. But, this isn't like you. I don't know if I can trust this side of you."

"Having blind faith in someone isn't a good thing." Ichie added.

"That is true." Tamao agreed, "But... I can't give much information. Not when I can't trust everyone in this castle. I just need you all to trust me on this. Everything will be explained later."

Everyone glanced at each other. No one knew what to do. They were being asked to murder people without any reason why. Murder two very important people. This could end in disaster.

"Tamao, unless you give some reason, I'm refusing this order." Fumi stated, "I am not risking that much without knowing why."

"As I said before, their blood will be on your hands. That is all I will say." Tamao replied, "Three days. That's how long you have to fulfill my order."

Without another word, Tamao left the room. Rui and Mei Fan looked at each other.

"So much for that conversation earlier..." Rui sighed.

"Yeah..." Mei Fan frowned, "Well, here. If she won't tell you guys, we will."

That got everyone's attention very fast. They could get the information they needed.

"So, Tamao said her parents will most likely overwork any blessed they get to the point of death. It's happened before, apparently." Rui said.

"She knows they won't take no for an answer and will come for anyone they know is blessed." Mei Fan continued, "So, to keep everyone safe, we have to eliminate the threat."

No one spoke for a long time after that. Everyone was in disbelief. To think that was the reason. Tamao wasn't doing it selfishly as most had assumed. She was doing it for all of them. To keep them safe from harm.

"Why couldn't she just tell us that? There's no one else around." Yachiyo questioned, "We're pretty much the only staff here."

"I guess she's just very wary." Ichie replied, "This is a very very big deal."

"Well, next time she could have just asked me to freeze time or something." Akira stated, "We won't be effected but everyone else here would be."

"Oh, right." Michiru nodded, "I forgot we could do that."

"Well, I'm going to find Tamao." Mei Fan stated, "I guess we should um... start planning the attack."

"Yeah. Let's get started on that."

While the others started discussing what they could do to fulfill Tamao's request, Mei Fan went searching for said girl. It wasn't a very hard search. Tamao was outside in the garden. That was somewhere she went very often. Especially when she was stressed over something.

"Tamao." Mei Fan approached her.

"What?"

"We told them everything. You can't keep this a secret from them." Mei Fan stated, taking Tamao's hands in her own, "I understand your hesitance, but we're pretty much alone."

"How did they take it?" Tamao asked.

"They're in the process of figuring out how to approach this order." Mei Fan said.

"I'm sorry about acting this way all of a sudden." Tamao gazed up at the sky, "I'm just really scared right now."

Mei Fan placed a hand on her shoulder, "That's understandable, Tamao. No one should expect you to be calm about killing your parents."

"Thank you..." Tamao looked at Mei Fan now, "I'm glad to have such great support here. Especially for something like this. This could end in someone dying if things don't work out for us."

"Yeah... that's a really scary thought."

"I guess I should be leading this..." Tamao sighed, "I'm scared to, though. I feel like I'll make things worse than if I let you all work out a plan yourselves."

"How about instead we all throw out ideas and work together? You don't have to take the lead. No one does." Mei Fan suggested.

Tamao debated that for a while. That was a good idea. That way she didn't have the pressure of deciding on everything by herself. Everyone else could then voice their opinions on the plan too. That would hopefully make them feel less nervous about everything too.

"We can try that." Tamao said.

"Shall we go back?" Mei Fan held out a hand expectantly.

"Sorry. I want some time alone right now." Tamao didn't accept her hand.

"I see. Alright. Well, I'll leave you be then." Mei Fan frowned slightly, but quickly changed it to a smile, "I'll come check on you in an hour if you aren't inside."

Tamao didn't respond. She was absentmindedly running a finger over the petals of some flowers. Mei Fan watched her for a while. She walked over and pressed a kiss to her cheek. Tamao looked her way.

"Love you, Tamao." Mei Fan whispered, "You know I'm here if you ever need to vent."

Tamao smiled and kissed her in return, "I know, Mei Fan. I couldn't have asked for a better girlfriend."

"I wish we could spend more time together." Mei Fan said, reaching over and brushing some hair away from Tamao's face, "We still have so much time to get back."

"After this is done we should have all the time in the world." Tamao replied with a smile, though it quickly faded into a frown, "Well... I hope so..."

"I don't think so."

Both of them jumped at the sudden voice. They turned around to see Yachiyo and Rui.

"What do you mean?" Tamao asked.

"When you take the throne, I'm sure other kingdoms may try to overthrow you and take this land." Yachiyo explained, "Honestly... I wouldn't doubt our old queen might try that."

Tamao sighed, "Right... forgot about that."

"Don't you think that because the other kingdoms will know that we're blessed, they wouldn't try it as easily?" Mei Fan questioned.

"There are other kingdoms with blessed." Rui said, "They might try."

"I'm sure we'd outnumber them." Mei Fan stated firmly, "We have way more blessed than any kingdom does."

"Barely." Yachiyo scoffed, "Seems like you forgot about the Star-Crossed Kingdom. They have nine blessed. One less than us. I wouldn't put it past them to try. That queen also wants to control a lot of land."

"That kingdom..." Tamao frowned.

"What about it?" Rui asked.

"I... don't want to discuss it." Tamao turned away, "I'm sorry. It's not a very pretty memory."

"Are you talking about... the order?" Yachiyo questioned.

Tamao nodded, "Yes. I witnessed some of it firsthand. I don't wish to talk about it."

"That's fair." Yachiyo nodded, "Just the stories I've heard make me nauseous thinking about. I can't imagine the feeling you get from actually seeing it."

"The order?" Mei Fan repeated, "So... I'm guessing that kingdom is pretty corrupt."

"You could say that." Rui replied, "Let's just say, when the old queen was murdered and this one took her place... things went to hell."

"Eh? The old queen? Murdered?" Mei Fan was staring at Rui with very wide eyes, "I'm am so lost..."

"This current queen murdered the old one and took over." Yachiyo explained, "As for why, we don't know much."

"There's been rumors that the old queen was blessed and actually knew how to give blessings to other people." Rui continued, "That makes people believe the new queen made her hand over her blessing and then killed her."

"You can... do what with blessings?" Mei Fan was very confused by all this new information.

"Apparently." Tamao faced them all again, "There's no evidence besides the rumors. Though, I don't doubt it might be possible."

"Well, what do we do now?"

"It's time for patrols." Tamao stated, "Go do that. After we can start discussing ideas on how to... do what I asked."

"Okay. Mei Fan, it's me and you, right?" Rui said.

Mei Fan nodded, "Yep. We're on today."

"Let's go then."

Mei Fan and Rui left to go and patrol around. Mei Fan was constantly glancing over at Rui.

"Rui?"

"Yeah?"

"That order they mentioned... will you tell me about it?"

Rui sighed, "I guess. If you really want to know."

"Please."

"Alright. Basically that queen ordered either anyone blessed worked for her or died. Anyone suspected of being blessed was confronted and ordered to work for her. You refuse, they kill you on the spot. Most people weren't even blessed that she was accusing of being so."

"Yikes..." Mei Fan gulped, "And... Tamao witnessed it?"

"Looks like it. People fled all the time. If another kingdom found them, they'd hold them for the queen to deal with. No one wanted to piss her off. They would kill the runaways on the spot too. I guess some fled here and Tamao witnessed them getting caught."

"That's horrible..."

"Yeah... it really is." Rui agreed, "That's why we really have to be cautious about that kingdom."

"I see why. What about the Frosted Lands Kingdom? Do you think they'll try anything after we finish this task?"

"Hmm..." Rui pondered the question for a while, "Maybe. Anything can happen."

"I'm really scared..."

...

A week had passed by very slowly. They had come up with the plan. Today it was being enacted. No one was ready. They were all terrified of this going wrong.

The final plan was that Tamao would act like she was handing over the blessed, but then they would kill her parents instead. And any knights who tried to oppose her.

The others would be hiding and wait until they needed to come in and fight. They most likely would be needed at some point.

"You all ready?" Tamao questioned.

"I think we're all ready as we can be."

They were outside the throne room. Tamao was very nervous. She took a deep breath and entered the room. Her parents were waiting there expectantly for her.

"I see you've come." Tamao's mother stated. She had her arms crossed.

"Yes. I've come." Tamao replied.

"Bring them in."

Tamao nodded and everyone entered the room. Her parents stared them all down. It made everyone very nervous.

"Alright. Hand them over to us. You don't need blessed." Tamao's father ordered.

"I'm not handing them over." Tamao met his gaze with a firm glare, "They are mine and always will be. They pledged loyalty to me, not you."

"Tamao, we are in charge here. Give us the blessed knights." Her father scowled at her defiance.

"No. You aren't getting them." Tamao took a deep breath, "Now!"

It happened so quickly. Tamao wasn't even sure who dealt the killing blows to her parents. But, now they were dead. Their lifeless bodies laid just on the floor of their seats, blood pooling around them.

Tamao looked at the knights that her parents had kept in the room during the exchange. They were all glancing at each other, unsure what they should do now.

"I am the queen of this kingdom now." Tamao spoke to them, "Either you take me as your new leader or you die. Fleeing is an option as well."

Some knights left quickly. A few aimed their swords at her. One of the five girls killed them before they could do anything. Only a handful of knights remained.

Tamao ordered them to get rid of her parents' bodies and then left the throne room. The six of them met up with the other four.

"How did it go?" Rui was the first to ask.

"Better than expected." Tamao replied, "They're dead. We had to kill a few knights."

"So... you're the queen now."

"I am." Tamao took a few deep breaths, "This is a big jump in responsibility."

"Yeah... but you have all of us." Mei Fan stated, "I think it'll work out just fine for us all."

"I hope so." Tamao mumbled, "I just hope we don't have too many issues from other kingdoms."

"It should take a few days for this news to reach them. We have a bit of time to plan what to do if anyone tries to attack us."

"Alright. Well... let's get settled into this castle. I'll show you all around and figure out what rooms everyone will take."

Chapter Text

Tamao had known things wouldn't go smoothly for her even after killing her parents. She just didn't expect them to go to hell this fast. Not even two days had passed. She was barely getting adjusted to being the queen.

She was stressed. Stressed beyond belief. Tamao didn't even know she could get this overwhelmed. It was a miracle she was keeping it all together. She really was ready to break down and cry. It was all so much to handle.

"Tamao." Rui had been the one to approach her, "Yuyuko and Shiori just got back from their patrol. The Frosted Lands is coming to attack. We have only days to prepare for them."

"Already?" Tamao frowned, "We've barely had time to do anything..."

"Probably exactly why they're attacking now." Rui commented, "Before we can grow stronger and more capable of defeating them."

"Where are they? I'd like to talk to them myself." Tamao questioned.

"Um... let's see..." Rui had to think about it, "Yuyuko is probably napping already. I'm not sure where Shiori might have gone off to. Maybe she's with Fumi? And Fumi was... sparing with Ichie I believe."

"Keeping track of everyone is very difficult." Tamao commented.

"Yeah."

Tamao smiled at Rui, "Well, shall we go see if we can find Shiori? Yuyuko hates when we disturb her naps."

"Sure." Rui nodded.

She held out a hand to Tamao. Tamao accepted it and they started walking. As Rui had predicted, they found Shiori out in the sparing yard with a few others. Fumi was there, as was Ichie. Mei Fan and Yachiyo were also there.

"Hey, Tamao." Fumi was the first to notice her, "I assume you're here to talk about the... issue."

Tamao nodded to her, "Yes. We need to prepare as fast as possible for this."

Shiori walked over to her, "I'm scared..."

"It'll be alright. Tell me what you know. I'm sure we'll be able to find a good way to fight them off." Tamao gave her a reassuring smile.

"I don't want to kill someone..."

"Shiori." Fumi frowned, "I know you don't want to, but... it's part of our life now. We can't really avoid it..."

"That's not true." Tamao hushed Fumi, "We can work that out. I won't make you kill someone."

"Really?" Shiori looked at her with wide eyes.

Tamao nodded, "Of course. I'm sure we can make that work."

Tamao wasn't very sure about that. Especially considering what Shiori's blessing was. It would be very useful for her to kill. But, Tamao still had to gain her trust. While they may have joined her, she knew they all were not exactly that trusting yet.

"Okay..."

"So, what did you learn?"

"Um... the queen seems to be planning to launch a full attack on us. They're using all their resources available to take us down." Shiori said.

"We'll meet them with more strength. There is only so much one can do against those who are blessed." Tamao said.

"I mean... the queen learned a way to prevent blessings from effecting her." Yachiyo commented.

"What?" Tamao looked at her in alarm, "What do you mean?"

Yachiyo shrugged, "I don't understand it much, but basically she had something made or did something that prevents blessings from working on her. So, like um... if I tried to use my power on her, it wouldn't work. It would be like she was blessed as well, even though she isn't."

"That's not good news..." Tamao sighed, "That can complicate this all really bad."

"We'll just have to rely on our strength instead." Fumi stated, "Focus on that more than our blessings."

"I guess we will have to." Tamao agreed, "We'll have to start preparing now. We don't have much time to spare."

"What should we do?" Mei Fan asked.

Tamao didn't respond for a while. She didn't know what to say to them. What did they do? There was so little time but so much they should try to do. What was more important?

"Rui, strength training. Can you find any quick lessons to teach?" Tamao asked.

"Hmm... I can see what I can come up with." Rui replied, "Strength training is hard to do that way."

"I know, but we don't have the time to do a full session."

"I'll see what I can do as fast as possible."

"Thank you." Tamao said, "I'll go and explain everything to the others. If you can start training now, that would be great."

Rui nodded, "I'll do my best, Tamao."

"Thank you." Tamao smiled.

She left them to start practice for the battle. Now it was time to find everyone else. Yuyuko was in her room, most likely. Tamao started there. At least one person was easy to find.

"Yuyuko." Tamao entered the room.

"Nn... Tamao?" Yuyuko grumbled as she rolled over to face her, "What is it?"

"Get up. No time for rest. We have to prepare." Tamao stated.

"What are we doing?" Yuyuko questioned.

"Training for now. Go change and get to the sparring yard."

"Where are you going?"

"To tell everyone else who isn't aware yet."

"You don't want someone tagging along?"

"I'll be fine."

"Okay. I'll get ready then."

Tamao nodded to her and then left the room. Where should she look next? Where might the others be at? Maybe someone was in the library? It didn't hurt to check.

As she walked, she had to stop for a minute. How was she out of breath? Tamao leaned against the wall as she tried to get some air back into her lungs. Why was she suddenly like this?

Tamao took a few more deep breaths and continued on. She didn't have time for this. They had to prepare for war. This would have to wait until later.

She soon made it to the library. There were people in it. Ichie and Michiru were there. They seemed to be discussing a book together.

Tamao walked in. The two of them heard her footsteps and turned to face her.

"Tamao?" Ichie looked her over in worry, "Are you okay? You don't look very good."

"I'm fine." Tamao walked over to them.

Well, she tried to. She didn't get far. Her legs gave out on her. Ichie cried out her name in panic and quickly rushed to catch her. She made it just in time.

"Tamao!" Ichie instinctively pulled her close, "What's wrong?"

"I..." Tamao had no idea. She didn't know what to say.

"You need to rest." Michiru came over to them, "You'll be no use if you're like this."

"We don't have-" Tamao broke off as she started coughing.

"Take her to bed, Ichie." Michiru stated, "Don't listen to her otherwise."

Ichie nodded, "Yeah. Come on, Tamao. You need to rest."

"Michiru." Tamao looked at her, "They're coming. We don't have much time."

"Exactly why you need to rest." Michiru replied, "We can handle preparing everything ourselves. You need to take a break. You've been overworking yourself since we got here."

Tamao frowned and buried herself into Ichie's neck. She was so stupid. Letting herself get this bad. Right when the enemy was almost upon them too... She was a horrible ruler.

"Let's go, Tamao." Ichie stood up with Tamao in her arms, "I'll stay with you."

Tamao didn't argue. She doubted Ichie would listen if she told her not to stay. Maybe some company wouldn't be that bad? She'd prefer it be Mei Fan or even Rui but, Ichie would work too.

"Where is everyone else?" Michiru questioned.

"Sparing yard..." Tamao coughed again, "Except Akira. I didn't see her to tell her yet."

"I'll find her and we'll head there too." Michiru said, "Take good care of her, Ichie. We need her in good shape for this battle."

Ichie nodded to her and smiled, "I'll do my best, Michiru. I promise."

With that, they went their separate ways. Ichie brought Tamao back to her room and made her rest. She sat on the edge of the bed and watched.

"You can lay down too." Tamao said, making room for her.

Ichie accepted the offer and crawled into the bed with Tamao, "So... how much time do you think we have?"

Tamao shrugged, "I can't say. Not long, though. They'll want to strike before we can get settled in."

"You should try and sleep for a while. You need it." Ichie stated.

Tamao frowned, "I'm not very good at this... am I? I can't even keep myself healthy and I'm supposed to be doing all of this stuff..."

"Tamao," Ichie frowned at her and pinched her cheek, "Stop talking down about yourself. You're doing very good for what you've been put through."

"It doesn't feel like it..."

"I promise you're doing well. I'm sure someone would have complained to you if they felt otherwise."

Tamao didn't reply. She looked down at the bed. She didn't believe Ichie very much. She was such a bad ruler compared to all the other kingdoms around.

"Tamao..."

"Why does all of this have to happen to me? Why couldn't I just be a normal kid...?"

"I think we all wish that." Ichie replied, "But, then we would've never met each other. I wouldn't want that. I'm glad to have met you and everyone else here."

"Do you really think I'm doing a good job?" Tamao questioned.

Ichie nodded, "Yep. You're way better than the kingdom I was from."

"Where are you from?"

"Um... I'd rather not talk about it..."

"Oh. My bad..."

"It's okay." Ichie smiled reassuringly at her.

They fell silent for a while. Tamao closed her eyes and tried to relax. Her mind was still running wild with all these thoughts about what to do. It was hard to push them away for a while. There was nothing she could do to ease those thoughts. Nothing she could say to make them stop.

Though, there was one thought she could get rid of. Tamao opened her eyes again.

"Ichie?"

"Yeah?"

"You've gotten closer to Michiru, have you not?"

"Eh?"

"You're always hanging around her anymore. Why is that?" Tamao asked.

Ichie nervously fiddled with her hands. She refused to make eye contact with Tamao. Tamao wasn't sure what to make of that. Why was she so nervous to answer that question?

"Um..." Ichie mumbled, "We um... like each other."

"Oh. That wasn't what I was expecting but, I'm happy for you." Tamao smiled at her, "Though, I thought you and Yuyuko might've been a couple."

"Well... about that... we are."

"Eh? Then, what's with Michiru?"

"She's also in our relationship. I... know that probably sounds so bizarre... dating two people at once..." Ichie mumbled.

Tamao shook her head, "Nah. If nobles can take as many wives as they want, why should this be any less acceptable?"

"Really? It's weird... being able to... be open about it..."

"Yeah. It is especially frowned upon since your all girls."

"Anyway... you really should rest, Tamao."

"I'll try, Ichie. I'll try my best to rest."

...

After locating Akira, Michiru went with her to the sparing yard. Everyone else, save for Tamao and Ichie, were there. Everyone was mostly hanging out and waiting. Rui was with Fumi and Mei Fan having a very deep conversation from the look of it.

"You two have arrived." Yachiyo noticed them first.

"Yes. We'll be the last." Michiru replied.

"Eh? What about Ichie and Tamao?" Yuyuko questioned.

"About that..." Michiru sighed, "Tamao is in no condition to train. She's overworking herself too much. Ichie's making sure she rests."

"Is Tamao okay?" Yuyuko asked, "She isn't hurt, right?"

"No. Thankfully. She almost collapsed but Ichie caught her."

"Eh... she..."

"Is everything okay?" Rui came over to them.

"No. Tamao's overworking herself." Yuyuko stated.

Rui sighed, "I knew she was doing more than she should but... what happened?"

"She collapsed."

"That's not good..." Rui frowned, "Is she alright?"

"Yeah. She didn't pass out or anything. Just went down." Michiru said, "Ichie's making her rest in bed right now."

"Good. She needs to rest."

"I wish we could do more to help her." Yachiyo commented, "But, none of us really know how to run a kingdom. And it's not like she can teach anyone with everything going on."

"Yeah..."

"Well, shall we try and train a bit?"

"It's the only thing we can do."

...

Tamao had been confined to bedrest for the foreseeable future. No one was willing to trust her right now. She had to make sure she stayed in good shape. She was the one who was in charge, after all. If they didn't have her, it would make everything a lot more complicated to handle. And make them seem even weaker to enemies. If their queen was out of commission for too long, they'd be done for.

Tamao didn't like the fact she wasn't allowed to help them with anything. She was responsible for them all. She should be guiding them for this attack. And here she was instead, confined to her bed.

And of course... she didn't get better fast enough before the attack. That was bad. She needed to be out there. But, she had been told to stay here. Rui and Mei Fan had both practically begged her to stay. She shouldn't go against them but... she had to help. It wasn't right for her not to.

Tamao took a deep breath and stood up. She was better now. She wasn't as bad. Still not as good as she should be, though. It would have to work. She couldn't sit back while everyone else was out risking their lives for her and her rule.

Tamao made her way out of her room. She grabbed a sword as she left the castle. If she wasn't mistaken, the battle would be at the border. She would have to run. Otherwise she may be too late.

She probably shouldn't be running that far. It hurt her lungs a lot and now her legs were hurting too. She had to press on. She had to help them.

She arrived before long. The war was not looking pretty. There was blood everywhere. Bodies littered the ground. Some were her knights, some were the enemy's. At least she didn't see any of them on the ground. They all seemed to be fighting still.

Tamao scanned the area to see who to help. They seemed to be losing. She needed to jump in. Just for who...?

She spotted Shiori and Fumi first. They were fighting together. Shiori was holding back. Tamao could tell that much. Fumi was doing the most fighting for them.

Next she found Yuyuko, Ichie, and Rui fighting. They seemed to be holding their ground well. She doubted they needed any help. Nearby Mei Fan and Yachiyo were fighting too. They seemed to be doing well too.

Tamao was starting to think Fumi and Shiori needed her help the most. As she saw Michiru and Akira fighting just fine as well, she made up her mind. Shiori and Fumi needed the most help.

Tamao jumped in and fended off a knight trying to sneak up on Shiori. Shiori's eyes widened as she saw her. Her expression was one of concern. She knew Tamao shouldn't be here.

She glanced back at Fumi. Fumi hadn't noticed Tamao arrive. Shiori didn't say anything and simply jumped in to fight beside Tamao. Tamao was grateful for that. She just wanted to help. And Fumi would definitely not appreciate that.

Unfortunately, once they had dealt with all the knights, Fumi noticed her. She glared at Tamao and stormed up to her.

"What the hell are you doing here?!" Fumi demanded in a low voice, "You are supposed to be in the castle."

"I can't just sit back while you guys are fighting." Tamao stated, "I'm fine. I can help."

"No. Shiori, go back with her." Fumi ordered.

"Okay." Shiori nodded.

"I'm not going back." Tamao stated firmly, "I'm in charge here. You don't get to give me orders."

Fumi growled and grabbed Tamao by her arm firmly, "You are in no condition to fight. I'll take you back myself then."

Tamao was unable to break free from her grip. No matter what she did, Fumi wouldn't let go of her.

"Fumi, let me go." Tamao ordered.

"No. You are not fighting." Fumi refused her order, "Let's go."

Tamao continued to resist Fumi. Shiori watched them in worry. She was glancing at them and then at the others who were still fighting. This wasn't a good situation to be in. It wouldn't take much for someone to come over here and take them by surprise. They needed to deal with this as soon as possible. If only Tamao would just listen to them.

"Tamao, please." Fumi had resorted to begging her at this point.

"No."

Shiori stepped in and grabbed onto Fumi's arm, "Onee-chan... let her go."

Fumi stared at her with wide eyes, "What?!"

"Please."

Fumi sighed and released her grip on Tamao. Tamao rubbed her arm. It was red now. Fumi had had a really tight grip on her.

"Tamao, please sit out." Shiori said, "If you won't leave... at least don't fight."

"No. I'm fighting." Tamao refused.

"You are not. You can't fight." Fumi reached for Tamao's sword.

Tamao backed away so she couldn't reach it, "I'm in charge. You can't tell me what to do."

"Like hell you are!" Fumi lunged forward and pinned Tamao up against a tree, "You aren't the boss, Tamao. Not here."

"Let me go." Tamao ordered.

"Give me your sword." Fumi demanded.

Tamao kept a tight grip on her sword and refused to hand it over to Fumi. Shiori watched the two of them fight worriedly. This wasn't good. They shouldn't be fighting each other in the middle of a war.

Shiori walked up to them and yanked the sword out of Tamao's hand. They were too preoccupied in their argument to see her until it was too late.

"You shouldn't fight, Tamao." Shiori said in a calm voice, "Please? We don't want you to get hurt."

"Give it back. Give it-" Tamao started couching again. She was overdoing it.

Tamao gasped for breath as the coughing fit stopped. She grabbed onto Fumi to steady herself. This was bad. She had to get over this.

"Tamao..." Fumi sighed and pulled her into a firm hug, "Please just go back. You aren't able to fight like this."

"Can I... just... sit somewhere...?" Tamao was having a hard time talking now.

Fumi shook her head, "No. Not in your condition. It's too risky."

"Shiori..." Tamao stood upright and looked at the younger girl, "Will you accompany me back?"

Shiori nodded, "Yes."

The two sisters were grateful that Tamao was listening to them now. If only it hadn't had to get to this point for that to occur. Not to the point where she could barely do anything. That just brought them all more risks.

"Carry her, Shiori. She won't make it that far on foot." Fumi ordered, "Be careful."

"I will, onee-chan." Shiori promised.

She walked over to Tamao and carefully picked her up. Tamao didn't try to fight her at all and just let it happen. She sighed as she looked back at Fumi.

"I'm sorry, Fumi..." Tamao mumbled, "I didn't mean to cause any problems... I just wanted to help..."

"I know, Tamao." Fumi gave her a reassuring smile, "Now go."

Shiori took her back to the castle. Fumi looked around at the others. They were all looking exhausted. That wasn't good. What did they do? Unfortunately their blessings weren't working on the knights as far as they could tell. That wasn't good. They had barely any advantages. It was looking really bad for them.

"Fumi!"

Fumi reached too late to the warning and something hard hit her from behind. It felt like a person threw themselves at her, but she couldn't be entirely sure. All she knew was she was now on the ground and something was being pressed against her neck.

"If you want us to spare her, drop your weapons and surrender."

"As if we ever will." Rui spat at them, "You'll kill us all anyway."

"Smart, aren't we? Impressive for a girl."

Fumi didn't know what to do. She was far too weak to fight against them in her position. They'd easily kill her before she got far. She really was stuck. This was all Tamao's fault...

No. She couldn't think like that. Tamao just wanted to help. It wasn't on her that this happened.

But... what did they do? Someone had to think of something and quick. She needed help. They may kill her before long if they didn't hurry.

"Release her." Rui held her sword at the attacker.

"Good luck. Your bad blessings can't hurt us and you're too weak to win against us now."

"Only our bad blessings you say..." Rui whispered.

Suddenly the weight on her vanished. Fumi scrambled to her feet and looked around. The knight who she assumed was on her moments ago was now writhing on the ground. Moments later, he fell still.

"What happened to him?!" Ichie questioned.

"I healed him." Rui stated, "Too much."

"What?" Everyone stared at her in shock.

"I didn't know if it would work but, seems like it did. Technically I can heal as much or as little as I please. And I decide what healed means to a wound. I simply decided to heal his heart to the point it was producing too much blood at once and killed him." Rui explained.

"Was that the last one?" Yachiyo asked, "No one else is fighting us."

"The queen isn't dead yet. She was here." Akira replied, "She must be hiding with some of her knights somewhere."

"We better find her then."

"Where's Shiori?" Mei Fan asked.

Fumi sighed, "Long story. I'll explain later. She's just at the castle now."

...

"Shiori...?"

"Yeah, Tamao?"

"Are you guys mad at me?"

"No. I understand that you want to help. I was like that when I was a kid. I was so sickly all the time but insisted on helping my family in the garden. Onee-chan constantly was dragging me back to bed."

"I'm struggling to stay awake..." Tamao mumbled, trying to hold back a yawn, "I really used all my energy already..."

"We're almost back. You can sleep now if you want. I don't mind."

Tamao nodded and settled into Shiori's hold. It didn't take much for her to fall asleep. Shiori smiled as she entered the castle. She brought Tamao to her room and placed her on her bed. She sat next to her and kept watch.

...

"Rui? You good?"

"Hah... I... think doing that used too much energy..."

"Then you need to stay back."

Rui was struggling to keep up. She seemed out of it. She really used a lot to heal that guy to death. Then again, she had never tried healing someone without touching them. It took more to do it this way.

"But..." Rui didn't want to sit back.

"You won't last long in a fight." Yachiyo stated, "Stay back."

"Wait. I can give her my energy." Yuyuko stated, "I'll stay back instead. She's a better fighter than I am."

"Alright. We can do that I guess." No one opposed that option.

Yuyuko nodded and sent all her strength that she could to Rui. Rui perked up as her energy renewed. Yuyuko swayed a bit before catching herself.

"I gave you more than I normally give..."

"Ichie, take her back to the castle. There won't be that many knights left to fight." Fumi ordered.

"Okay!" Ichie didn't argue and scooped Yuyuko up into her arms.

The rest of them continued on to find the queen. If they wanted this war to end, they had to kill her. That was proving to be difficult. They couldn't find her yet.

"So... how do we kill her?" Michiru asked, "She's immune to blessings..."

"All of them or just bad ones?" Mei Fan questioned.

"Hmm... I'd assume just the bad ones." Michiru replied.

"Rui, please don't do that again. Just in case we need you to heal anyone afterwards."

"Okay."

"So... what are our options?"

Everyone tried to think if their blessings might be useful still. Rui was banned from using hers for that. Mei Fan couldn't do too much with speed. The queen knew all the illusions Michiru could make by heart already. Akira couldn't freeze time for her. Yachiyo couldn't use hers. Fumi... didn't know.

"Do you think mine can work?" Fumi questioned, "If I can bring people back from the dead... do you think I can use it to... revive her even if she's alive?"

"I mean... worth a shot."

"I see them!"

They finally found the hideout. There were four knights and the queen.

"Kill the knights, Fumi will try to use her blessing on the queen. It fails, we all strike and kill her." Rui took charge.

"Let's go!"

They charged the camp. It didn't take too long for them to kill the knights. Everyone was facing the queen.

"You think you can kill me? Those blessings won't help you." The queen smirked, "And I know very well how to fight."

"Fumi! Now!"

Fumi focused all her energy on trying to "revive" the queen. The queen screeched. Fumi looked up. She let out a scream and fell back. The queen was... she didn't even know how to explain it. Her flesh was tightening on her body so much it was tearing apart. Squeezing her to death. It was a very gruesome death. Fumi covered her mouth with her hands. The sight was too much and she ended up blacking out.

She wasn't the only one. Mei Fan couldn't handle the sight either and fainted almost the moment it started. Everyone else was deeply unnerved by what they had seen.

"Let's... let's get out of here." Rui said as she picked up Fumi.

Yachiyo tried to carry Mei Fan, but was struggling to keep her balance. Akira ended up taking her from Yachiyo.

...

"Tamao, wake up. They're back."

Tamao stirred to... Ichie? She opened her eyes to find Ichie in front of her.

"Ichie? Where's Shiori?" Tamao asked.

"With Fumi. It's... a very messy story." Ichie replied, "But, good news is we won."

"We did..." Tamao smiled, "Is everyone okay?"

"Yeah. We just... have learned new things about blessings..." Ichie mumbled, "Even good blessings can cause harm."

"What do you mean?" Tamao sat up.

"Well..." Ichie nervously played with her hair, "Rui healed someone to death."

"What?"

"She overhealed them and made their heart work too much and it gave out." Ichie explained, "And then Fumi..."

"What did her blessing do?"

"It... shrunk the flesh against the body and... squeezed them to death."

"Are both of them okay?" Tamao questioned in worry.

"Yeah. Yuyuko had to give Rui some energy to keep fighting but that was it. Um... Fumi kinda fainted from the sight of what she did. As did Mei Fan, actually."

"Oh..."

"They'll be fine, though."

"I hope so. Well, let's get everything in order for an announcement."

"What are we doing to that kingdom?"

"Free real-estate. Whichever kingdom wants it can have it." Tamao replied.

Ichie nodded along, "Okay. Need any help getting up?"

"Please." Tamao held out her hands, "Safe than sorry."

"Of course. We definitely want to be cautious with anyone sick." Ichie helped her to her feet, "Let's go find everyone."

"Thank you, Ichie."

Chapter Text

For a while, things actually seemed like they were going alright. No one else was trying anything against them. Tamao finally had some time to breathe. Time to actually focus on getting the kingdom in working order again. It was nice to finally be at peace.

Unfortunately, that peace was disturbed about two weeks later. Though, not in a very normal way.

Ichie had approached her one late evening, probably too late for any of them to still be awake, "Tamao, we have two people asking for refuge in our kingdom."

"What? From where?" Tamao had no been expecting that to ever be a problem she dealt with. Especially not this soon. Who would come seek refuge in a kingdom that was starting all over?

"I'm not sure. They're hurt, Tamao. They were attacked." Ichie replied, "I didn't want to press them in that condition."

"Take me to them." Tamao ordered.

Ichie nodded and guided Tamao to the infirmary. Michiru and Yachiyo were in there, appearing to be the ones watching the unexpected visitors.

Tamao took in the two people. Both appeared to be around her age. They both looked beat up, one more than the other. Tamao took a good look at their clothing styles. If they were nobles or something she would be able to tell from where by what they wore.

"You two are from the Star-Crossed Kingdom." Tamao stated, "Why are you here? We have a law against any of you coming here."

Tamao was staring them down firmly. She didn't like them at all. That kingdom was nothing but trouble. Who knew if these two were even telling the truth? They may be spies and not refugees. She had to tread very carefully here.

"Tamao, please." Ichie said, "They're injured. At least heal them or patch them up first."

Tamao growled into Ichie's ear, "Fine. Get Rui and two more. I don't trust them at all."

Ichie stared at her with wide eyes for a moment, before nodding and exiting the room. Tamao walked closer to the two refugees.

"What are your names?" She demanded.

"My name is Maya." One of them spoke up, the less injured one, "This is Claudine."

"You work for the queen." Tamao growled.

"Not anymore." Maya replied, "We're on the run."

"Why?" Tamao eyed her warily. She didn't fully trust anything she was saying.

"I... lied about being blessed and... got found out..." The other one, Claudine, spoke, "She... ordered everyone to kill me."

"For lying about a blessing?" Michiru questioned, "That seems... extreme."

"As if that queen isn't extreme." Tamao grumbled, "Why do you think we don't let those citizens here?"

"Oh. Right..."

"Then why is she here with you?" Tamao nodded to Maya.

"If it hadn't been for her I probably wouldn't be alive." Claudine replied, "And a few other friends helped as well."

"Why come here?" Tamao asked, "If they had recognized where you were from you would've been killed on sight."

"Because you have no ties to the queen." Maya said, "The only other option is best friends with her. It would be unwise to go there. And, as you can see, we wouldn't make it much farther."

"Why are you injured?" Tamao questioned.

"Bandits. They jumped us." Maya explained.

"We're here." Ichie returned with Rui as well as Mei Fan and Fumi.

"Alright." Tamao nodded to them and then returned her gaze to the refugees, "I assume you are aware we are blessed. Rui can heal you, if you will accept it."

"We know." Maya said, "That's... how she got found out..."

"Hmm?" Tamao questioned.

"Oh." Yachiyo spoke up, "She lied and said she had a blessing that one of us has and that's how they found out."

Claudine nodded. She was looking down at the bed.

"Would you like Rui to heal you?" Tamao asked.

"Will it hurt?"

"Not at all. Just a weird feeling." Rui said reassuringly.

"Go ahead."

Rui looked at Tamao. Tamao nodded to her. Rui walked over to Claudine first. She was the more injured one. She was higher priority.

Claudine watched her warily as she approached. Rui tried to seem as unthreatening as she possibly could. She wasn't quite sure if Claudine was perceiving her as threatening to be begin with, but didn't want to take that risk.

Rui carefully placed a hand on Claudine. While yes, she could heal without doing it, it was a lot less draining if she was touching them. Claudine watched her as she started. The process took a while as there was a lot for Rui to heal.

"There. Does that feel better?" Rui asked as she pulled back.

Claudine moved some of her limbs to test them, "Yeah. Nothing hurts anymore."

Rui nodded and went over to Maya. Maya was a lot more confident when facing her. Probably because she had gotten to see what it looks like first.

"Ready?" Rui asked.

Maya nodded, "Yes. Go ahead."

Rui healed her as well. She stepped back and stood back beside Tamao. Tamao looked the two girls over again.

"So, what exactly do you want from me?" Tamao questioned.

"Just some refuge. We'll gladly leave and go farther on if you want. Just give us a few days to rest." Maya answered.

"Wait." Claudine cut her off from continuing on, "That's not what we agreed on."

"Claudine, " Maya faced her, "We are not welcome here. We shouldn't try that."

"Let her ask." Tamao stated.

Maya gave Claudine a glance, but didn't say anything else.

"Will you help us?" Claudine asked, "To... stop the queen?"

"In what way?" Fumi demanded, "We have barely come off from our own war."

"If you can help... our friends escape too, she'll be powerless." Claudine continued, "We wouldn't ask you to fight on our behalf like that. We simply want help with a... rescue mission, I suppose."

"There is no way we would help you-"

"Fumi, leave."

"Tamao?"

"Leave. If all you'll do is argue, I don't want you here."

Fumi frowned and stepped out of the room. Rui glanced at Tamao and exited the room as well. Tamao took a deep breath.

"Apologies, she's just very defensive." Tamao said, "It's just very stressful trying to get settled and handle everything."

"It's alright. It's understandable."

"Going back to the topic at hand, you are asking us to help your friends escape that queen?" Tamao questioned.

"Yes..." Claudine nodded, "Please. They're in danger... because of me..."

"Rest for now. I will consider my options." Tamao said, "Yachiyo, Ichie, get them some food, please."

"Okay."

Tamao left the room as well. Mei Fan followed her.

"Are you mad at Fumi?" She asked once they were alone.

Tamao shook her head, "No."

"Really?"

"She gets very protective sometimes."

"Yeah..."

...

The next morning, Tamao came to her decision. She entered the infirmary alone. No one else was there but the two refugees. They were both up already. They turned to look at her as she entered.

"Good morning. Did you sleep well?" Tamao asked them with a smile.

"I guess."

"It was fine."

"I have a few questions to ask before I officially decide on my answer." Tamao said.

"What are they?"

"How many are there?"

"Eight more."

"Eight? That's one more than I thought." Tamao was surprised by that answer.

"The queen has never let anyone know of this new one. Because she was kidnapped and brought to our kingdom." Maya replied.

"Oh." Tamao sighed, "Someone like that is in control... willing to kidnap innocent people just because they're blessed."

"Yeah. It sucks." Claudine said, "Apparently she has a sister who barely escaped being kidnapped too."

Tamao's eyes widened, "Oh? She has a sister? Do we know where she may be?"

"No idea. They were on the run when they got attacked. Had no idea where their end goal was at the time." Claudine frowned, "We've searched everywhere for her sister in secret but still haven't found her."

"I see. I hope she lives."

"Yeah..."

"This doesn't impact anything but I do want to know if you have any inside info on what happened to the old queen." Tamao asked, "I know you weren't alive yet but have you been told anything? That you believe?"

"Probably the same as what you know. She was murdered by the new queen." Maya replied.

"And what of the rumor of the blessing stuff."

"That..." Maya thought about it, "The queen isn't blessed so that aspect isn't right. I can't say if the old queen could do that, though."

"Thank you." Tamao nodded to the two of them, "My decision... will be that we'll help you as best we can."

"Thank you, princess... um, queen?"

"Tamao." Tamao corrected, "You don't have to be formal with me in private."

"Really? That's... unusual."

"I've always been told I'm anything by normal." Tamao replied.

"So, how do you plan to do this?" Claudine asked.

Tamao shrugged, "I don't know yet. I would like to investigate a few things first."

"We'll be of as much help as possible."

"We'll need you for a lot. You have information we don't."

"Do you think it'll be easy to do this?"

"No. We aren't friends with that kingdom. Getting inside there at all is very challenging to do even for formal things." Tamao replied with a sigh, "This'll be complicated."

"They'll be hunting us down." Maya said, "They won't just let us escape."

"We won't let them find you." Tamao said.

That would be very hard to do. The moment the search started in this kingdom, hiding anyone would be extremely difficult. That queen would want to search everywhere she could for them. She didn't trust anyone. Wouldn't let them conduct their own searches. She had to be present or one of her representatives had to do it in her place.

"If it's going to cause you too many problems, we will just leave."

"It's fine. I want to help you." Tamao reassured them, "I don't like kingdoms like that. Blessed deserve to be free to do what they want."

"You're only the second person to ever say that in a position of power." Claudine commented, "No one's ever really gone against the norm before."

"Who was the other one?" Tamao asked. She had never heard of any other royalty having her views.

"The old queen. She was like you. At least, that's what everyone is told about her." Claudine explained, "I don't doubt it. She never made any laws against blessed like this one has."

"Perhaps being blessed contributes to that feeling?" Maya questioned, "She was blessed and so is Tamao. No other royalty has ever been known to be blessed before."

"Hmm... maybe." Tamao couldn't disagree with that.

It did seem very likely. She lived in fear like they all did. Even if she was royalty, it didn't mean someone wouldn't try to imprison her and use her for her blessing all the same. It could be why she didn't want to be like the others. Because she could end up in the same situation so easily.

"It should almost be time for breakfast. I'll have someone bring it to you once it's done." Tamao said, "I do have things I need to get done, unfortunately. I'll have to go."

"We'll see you later, I guess."

Tamao nodded and left the room. She went to the kitchen to see how breakfast was coming along. As she walked there, she ran into Fumi and Shiori.

"Good morning." Tamao greeted them.

"Good morning, Tamao." Fumi nodded to her.

"Are you two busy?"

"No. What do you need?"

"Would you bring the two visitors some breakfast when it's done?" Tamao requested, "And, Fumi, maybe apologize for your behavior."

"No. I'm not doing this." Fumi stated. She left in quite a hurry.

Tamao watched her. Fumi's behavior to the two girls was strange. She couldn't figure out why Fumi was being that way.

"I'm sorry about Onee-chan." Shiori mumbled, "It's a long story."

"Is it that she knows them?" Tamao questioned.

"We're from that kingdom."

Tamao was taken back by that. Shiori and Fumi were from the Star-Crossed Kingdom? She would have never guessed that. They really didn't fit the normal type she saw from that kingdom.

"That doesn't exactly answer my question, Shiori." Tamao said, "Do you know them?"

"No. But, we've seen what they've done to... others. Onee-chan doesn't like them."

"You've witnessed them punish people and as such, don't exactly trust them being here." Tamao said, "I understand where she's coming from, but there's no need for that behavior. They genuinely seem to be on our side."

"Could you give Onee-chan some time?" Shiori requested, "It's harder if you try to force her to get along with them."

Tamao nodded, "Very well. Shall we go grab someone else to help then?"

"Sure." Shiori agreed.

The two of them walked toward the kitchen, keeping an eye out for anyone else. They came across Yuyuko lazing about on a windowsill.

"Good morning, Yuyuko." Tamao smiled at her, "Enjoying the sun?"

Yuyuko stretched and rolled over to face Tamao, "Yep. Let me guess, you're going to disturb me to do something?"

"Unless you know where someone else is, yes." Tamao replied, "It's a quick task. You and Shiori are just taking breakfast to our guests."

Yuyuko sat up and yawned, "Fine. I can manage that."

"Thank you. You'll have the rest of the day to relax anyway."

"No meeting to discuss what we're doing?"

"Not yet. I have some things to think over first still." Tamao replied.

"Alright."

Tamao let the two of them go do as she requested. She headed out of the castle and to the garden. It was the spot she went whenever she needed to think.

Surprisingly, she found it wasn't empty. She rarely saw anyone else in the garden.

"Rui. Good morning."

"Ah, Tamao. Good morning to you too. Do you need something or just coming out for a bit?" Rui smiled at her.

"Enjoying the weather." Tamao returned the smile and sat down on a bench, "What about you?"

"Just wanted some fresh air." Rui sat next to her, "Have you visited the two girls today yet?"

"Yes. Where I was just before." Tamao nodded, "They're doing well. I agreed to do what I can to help."

"We all knew you would." Rui commented, "They don't deserve that treatment."

"Yeah... I hate how... accepted it is to just treat blessed like they're less than human." Tamao frowned.

Rui placed a hand on her shoulder, "We'll change that, Tamao. We'll expose it for how cruel it truly is."

"They're eight of them we have to try to get out." Tamao stated, "Apparently this queen isn't against kidnapping innocent people for her gain."

"Another one... I feel like this is a common theme."

"I really does seem so." Tamao agreed, "Her story is quite similar to Fumi and Shiori's. She got taken but her sister managed to get away. They haven't been able to locate her sister, unfortunately. We don't know if she is still alive."

"I hope so."

"Yeah..."

"Is there something else?"

"Shiori told me her and Fumi are from that kingdom."

Rui looked at her with wide eyes, "Really? I definitely didn't think they'd be from there of all places."

"Either did I. But... Fumi has a lot of distrust going on with those two. Getting them to work together may be very difficult." Tamao sighed. She really had a lot on her plate again.

"I see..." Rui sighed as well, "Hopefully soon she'll come around."

"Yeah. All we can do is hope she'll figure it out."

"So..." Rui looked at a bird that landed nearby, "Any idea how we'll save them?"

"No. I have no idea." Tamao admitted, "Getting into that kingdom is tough legally. Imagine the difficulty for doing it illegally."

"I'm sure we'll figure out a way in. When are you planning to discuss it with everyone?"

"Tomorrow. Give everyone a day to get ready."

"Very well. Shall we head in? It should be time for breakfast." Rui stood up and held out a hand to Tamao.

"Sure." Tamao accepted her hand and the two of them made their way inside.

As they walked, they heard some voices. It seemed like there was an argument going on.

"Where is that coming from?" Tamao whispered as she started heading toward the noise.

"Sounds like maybe the library?" Rui offered.

She was correct. There was in fact an argument going on in the library.

"They have done nothing to us. Be nice to them!"

"They're not on our side. They're spies. They'll get us killed."

Tamao sighed, "And there she goes again..."

"I didn't realize she was that bad..." Rui mumbled.

Tamao stepped into the room, "Fumi, for the last time, they are not the enemy. Treat them with respect."

Fumi glared at her, "No. You're blind to them, Tamao. They're going to harm us. They're lying."

"And where is your proof? I'll gladly believe you if you can give me physical proof." Tamao replied calmly.

She took in who else was in the room. Mei Fan was the one who had been arguing with Fumi. It seemed Akira and Ichie also happened to be here.

"I..." Fumi frowned, "I don't have any. But, I know it's true."

"Fumi, I understand that you don't exactly trust them due to their affiliations, but they have been nothing but cooperative with us. They have not tried anything malicious. Will you not at least try to give them a chance?" Tamao reasoned, "And besides, I can see their alignments, remember? They're both good. They're not going to betray us, Fumi."

Fumi was left trying and failing to respond. Tamao had a lot of good points. Especially now that she brought her blessing into it. That didn't lie. That meant they weren't bad like she though, didn't it?

"And what Claudine says is true. She isn't blessed. She wasn't lying about that." Tamao continued, "So, will you give them a chance, Fumi?"

Fumi lowered her head, "Yes... I'll give them a chance..."

"Thank you." Tamao walked over to her, "I appreciate the concern, but I promise you I would never take such a big risk like that."

"So... we're helping them, aren't we?" Fumi questioned.

Tamao nodded, "Yes. We're going to do whatever we can to help them."

"I... I'm sorry about being like this..."

"It's alright. If I wasn't blessed, I'd have probably agreed with you. It does seem very suspicious but it really seems to be the truth."

Fumi nodded. Tamao smiled at her. Fumi met her gaze for a moment, before quickly looking away from her.

"Well, now that that's settled, time to eat."

Chapter Text

Figuring out what to do was very difficult. Tamao had known that would be the case, but that didn't stop her from wishing it wasn't. That kingdom made things so impossible for anyone they weren't allies with. This was going to be a very long adventure.

It was made even more impossible very quickly. It didn't take long before the queen started sending out search parties into other kingdoms for the two runaways. Hiding them from the queen would get more and more difficult as time went on.

Tamao hadn't gotten far in any plans. It was a struggle when there was so much going on. Because she was in charge, she had to deal with the queen from the Star-Crossed Kingdom. She had to assure her she was searching for the runaways and make it believable. That was becoming harder and harder as the days went on.

"If we're causing too many problems, we'll leave."

She feared that would happen. They both felt bad about what was happening. Neither wanted to cause problems for her. If there was too much going on because of them, they were prepared to leave.

"You can't leave. You're in more danger that way." Tamao refused to accept that from them.

"We put you in danger every second we remain." Maya fought back.

"It's a risk I'm willing to take." Tamao replied, "I don't want to see either of you dead."

Maya was about to argue more, but she stopped as Rui entered the room.

"Tamao." Rui approached them, "The queen is... requesting you again."

"What for?" Tamao questioned.

Rui shrugged, "I asked but she wouldn't tell me a thing."

"Very well..." Tamao took a deep breath, "Hide them again. She may wish to walk around the castle once more."

Rui nodded, "Will do. Be careful. She seems pretty angry that she hasn't found them yet."

"I will be, Rui." Tamao promised, "Go."

They all went their separate ways. Tamao went to the throne room, knowing that was where the queen was waiting for her at. Fumi and Mei Fan were waiting for her outside the room. Tamao nodded to the both of them and then they went inside.

"Hello." Tamao greeted the queen with a fake smile, "Have you had any luck finding signs of them?"

The queen frowned at her, "No. And I don't believe you are helping me in my search."

"I'm sorry if it seems I am not doing too much." Tamao apologized, "I'm still attempting to figure all the things out with running my kingdom. I've not had as much time to devote to the search as I normally would."

"There were a few witnesses who claimed to have seen my runaways being taken by your knights." The queen stated, staring Tamao down, "What do you have to say about that?"

"My knights have not brought me anyone as of recent. If the witnesses did see my knights with them, I was never informed they met the runaways. And that also means I am not aware of what they have done to them either." Tamao replied, "When did they see this?"

"Night."

"Night... do you think they may have mistaken whoever they saw as my knights? I do send them on patrols sometimes but they must always immediately report to me once they return. There should be no time for them to hide anyone from me."

"It may be so or the knights got rid of them without letting you know." The queen said, "I recommend interrogating your knights."

"I will look into it." Tamao promised, "But, if that is the case, what do you plan to do? They are dead, most likely."

"I want their bodies. That is all."

"Very well. I'll see what info I can gather of my knights."

"You do that. And do it well."

Tamao held her breath and the queen left the castle with her knights. Once they were gone, she turned to Fumi and Mei Fan.

"So..." Fumi said, "What now?"

"I guess we play along. Tell her no one confessed and hope she doesn't wish to try herself." Tamao replied.

"I'm scared for your safety, Tamao." Mei Fan said, "If she doesn't get something soon, I'm scared she'll take out her anger on you. Or... do worse. I don't know if you're convincing her completely."

Tamao walked up to her and held her hands, "Whatever happens will be worth it. Even if I get hurt. I don't want them to die. They don't deserve it."

"But I don't want you to die either." Mei Fan replied.

Tamao pressed a kiss onto the back of Mei Fan's hands, "As the queen, my life is always at risk. There will be someone always ready to assassinate me at a moments notice."

"And as your girlfriend it's my job to stop them." Mei Fan brought Tamao closer and pulled her into a kiss.

"And as her girlfriend your life is in more danger than hers. They'll go for you first." Fumi butted into their conversation.

Mei Fan stared at Fumi for a long time. She had never thought that before. Trying to process this information that she knew was true was difficult. Her life was going to be sought after by those wishing to harm Tamao.

"Mei Fan." Tamao drew her attention back, "We'll be alright. I know it."

"How can you be so sure when that queen is here?"

"I just know we'll make it through. We've survived this long we can keep going on."

"I appreciate the optimism but... I can't say I believe you."

"We'll survive." Tamao repeated, "I know it."

"I wish I could be as positive as you..."

...

Tamao hated this even more now. The queen knew exactly what she was doing. Trying to make her admit she was hiding something. Tamao knew it wasn't going to be long before she was found out to some degree. There were only so many lies she could tell the queen to keep her at bay.

"Tamao, I have a proposal." Yachiyo offered her an idea one day.

"Hmm? What might that be?"

"Do you think we could somehow get a look-a-like body for them? Would that get the queen to leave?" Yachiyo offered as her suggestion.

"A double..." Tamao thought it over.

"Yachiyo, I don't think that'll fool the queen. She must be used to all the tricks runaways would use."

"Eh? You don't think it'll work, Akira?"

"No. If we were to pull it off we would need them to look very similar and have the same blood type." Akira stated, "I'm sure she can check things to make sure it truly is them. So, that might not even be enough to trick her."

"What if we just mutilate the bodies to the point they're barely recognizable?" Tamao asked.

"Then how do we know its them to begin with?"

"The blood type?"

"She didn't tell us the blood type."

"Hmm... we could just ask her if it may be possible the bodies are the runaways and she could investigate." Tamao replied, "Or... throw some knights under the bus and say they confessed to where they hid the bodies."

"It's very risky, Tamao." Akira commented, "I may not know much, but I've heard she's very hard to fool. You're going to have to make sure everything is perfect to even stand a chance at making her believe it."

"Find two bodies that look similar to them. We shall simply say we found them and see what she does so we may prepare for the real thing." Tamao ordered, "If we can see her process we will know what to do when we try for real."

Akira and Yachiyo exchanged glances, "Where exactly do we find the bodies at?"

"The morgue. See what they have."

"Alright. We'll give it a shot, Tamao."

...

Tamao knew this plan could end in disaster. If it did, hopefully only she would face the consequences. She didn't want anyone else here to get hurt because of this. That was her duty as their queen. She would put her life on the line for them. Even though... they're supposed to be doing that for her. In this situation it was flipped. She had to make sure none of them got caught up in this because of her.

"Tamao."

"Rui. What is it?"

"It's... not good."

"What happened?" Tamao was concerned.

"The queen... she's... interrogating citizens."

"Why is that so concerning?"

"If they fucking saw us get the bodies they'll tell and we're screwed, Tamao!" Rui raised her voice in frustration, "Do you not understand the issue?!"

"Rui, calm yourself." Tamao stated.

"I can't. You're gonna get killed, Tamao... She's gonna kill you... We all can see it. If she learns of this you'll be killed..." Rui started crying.

Tamao frowned and hugged her, "Hey, it's alright. I know it's scary to think that I might die. But, I'm willing to accept that. As long as I can help keep them alive... I'll do whatever for all of you."

"We're supposed to die for you." Rui shoved her against the wall, "Stop talking this nonsense! We need you alive the most!"

"Rui, release me." Tamao lightly pushed her back.

"No. Not until you'll listen to us." Rui refused.

"We can talk civily after you calm down." Tamao stated, "Now, please, Rui, let go of me."

"No. We are talking now. You are not dying for us." Rui growled, getting into her face, "I am not going to lose you. So, this is what's going to happen. If she finds out you lied and comes for you, we are handing them over. I do not care, Tamao. They will be given back and one of us will take the blame for hiding them. You. You shut your mouth and act oblivious. Do you understand?"

Tamao was speechless. No one had ever acted like this to her. It caught her off guard. Was everyone really against her on this?

"But... I don't want them to die." Tamao protested.

"It doesn't matter! They don't matter as much as you. They're outsiders. We have no reason to keep them alive if it means you die." Rui yelled.

"Rui... let go of me." Tamao pushed her back again, this time with a lot of force, "I'm sorry but... I'm not willing to talk to you if you're going to be this aggressive to me."

"It's the only way you'll listen to us anymore." Rui grabbed her arm to make sure she couldn't leave, "I don't know what happened to you, but you need to snap out of this. Why the hell would you die for two people we barely know?"

"Ten."

"What?"

"Ten people we don't know. The other eight in the queen's hold will perish too. We're not just protecting these two." Tamao stated.

Rui sighed and let go of her, "Tamao, I'm sorry. If you aren't going to listen, then you leave me no choice."

"What? Rui?" Tamao was very confused.

Rui wrapped an arm around Tamao's shoulders and forced her to walk. Tamao kept glancing at Rui, unsure what she was doing. She didn't resist at all. She didn't know if there was any point. It was obvious this wasn't just Rui thinking this way.

They ended up outside of Tamao's room. Tamao glanced back at Rui again. What was she doing?

"We're locking you in your room. You aren't allowed out unless the queen needs you. You no longer get to order us around for this. We'll decide how to do this." Rui stated.

"Rui, wait."

Rui pushed her inside and shut the door. Tamao tried to open it before she could lock it, but Rui was stronger and held the door closed. Tamao frowned as she heard the door lock.

"I'm sorry, Tamao. It's for your own good. We aren't losing you." Rui said.

"Rui... please? Can't we compromise?"

"No. Not right now."

"When... will you be back?"

"Someone will check on you every hour or so."

"I don't want to be alone. Please?" Tamao tried everything to get Rui to open the door again.

"No. Sorry."

Tamao heard her walk away. She sighed and sat on her bed. She was stuck. She couldn't believe this. Were they all against her? Did they not trust her on this? Was she that bad of a queen?

"I'm such a horrible leader..."

...

"Hey, I did it. She's been locked in her room."

"Alright. Now what? What do we even do to get this queen to leave?"

"No idea... especially now that she might learn this new information."

This entire thing had been planned by Fumi, Rui, and Mei Fan. While everyone was worried about the way Tamao was acting, these three were arguably the most worried. Hearing Tamao be so calm about the fact this may end in her death was scaring all of them a lot.

No one wanted Tamao to die. Without her they would be lost. Tamao was the only royalty left for this kingdom. Without her, they'd be overtaken by another kingdom, or even multiple. And then they would be used for their blessings and abused. They couldn't let that happen.

"I guess at this point we play the waiting game." Mei Fan sighed, "See what the queen can learn and work from there."

"And if she comes back and starts saying she knows we're hiding things?" Fumi questioned.

"We hand them over and... someone takes the blame."

They all knew that would end in death for whoever said they were at fault. Someone was going to die if they couldn't convince the queen otherwise. If they couldn't find a way to lie about what became of the runaways... they were all doomed.

"Who... would do it?"

No one had an answer. No one wanted to die. Unfortunately if it got to that point, they would have no choice. Someone would die and there would be nothing they could do. Who would be willing to do that, though? Everyone wanted to live. It was human nature.

"I'll do it." Mei Fan stated.

"No." Fumi immediately shot her down, "You need to stay alive. Tamao can't lose you the most out of all of us."

"I'll die for her if that's what it takes." Mei Fan fought back.

"Hey, no fighting." Rui interrupted them, "I'll take the blame if it comes down to it."

"Are you sure?"

Rui nodded, "I should've been executed a long time ago. I've made peace with death a long time ago too. I'm ready to die if I have to."

"Alright... I hope it doesn't come to that..."

"As do I."

...

Tamao did not like being locked in her room. She wanted to be out there helping. Unfortunately she couldn't convince anyone to let her out. Shiori had stopped by to check on her. Tamao tried to convince her it was okay to let her out, but Shiori refused to listen.

Yuyuko came by later. Tamao tried again to plead her case, but was shut down. No one was taking orders from her.

She broke down, sobbing, asking Yuyuko where she went wrong. What did she mess up with? Why couldn't she just do something right for once?

Yuyuko tried to comfort her, but there was only so much she could say. She didn't know what went wrong. Why things had to be so difficult on them all. Why Tamao's way of doing things wasn't working. She had no answers.

Yuyuko remained in the room with Tamao for a while, talking to her, keeping her company. Tamao was mostly silent, occasionally asking some questions. Yuyuko tried to make small talk, but soon fell silent as Tamao refused to engage. This was awful.

"Tamao."

"...What?"

"Do you want to die?"

"Huh?"

"Is that why you're acting so recklessly about your own safety? Because you don't want to be alive?"

Yuyuko didn't know where the thought came from, but she asked it. Could that be why Tamao was doing this? She was too overwhelmed and wished it would all end?

"No. I don't actively want to die... but... I mean, I wouldn't care if I did." Tamao mumbled.

"We need to help you. You need to split up your work. It's taking a huge toll on you, Tamao." Yuyuko stated, "So, I think some rest and a break will do you wonders right now. Please just relax for a few days. You'll think more clearly then. And then we can talk and let you in the discussion again."

"Will anyone be staying the night with me?" Tamao asked.

Yuyuko shook her head, "We can't lock it with us in here too. I'm sorry."

"Will you... at least tell Mei Fan I'd like to see her before she goes to bed?"

"Of course, Tamao." Yuyuko smiled, "I'll let her know."

"Thank you, Yuyuko."

"Am I allowed to go or would you like to talk more?" Yuyuko asked. Now that Tamao was responding she wanted to make sure she didn't end the conversation too soon.

"Do we know if she found any info?" Tamao questioned.

Yuyuko shook her head, "Not really. It seems like we should be in the clear, but I can't say for certain."

"If... we do get caught, what is the plan you came up with?"

Yuyuko took a deep breath, "We hand them over and Rui says she hid them. It'll... most likely end in her death... and those two as well..."

"I hope she didn't find anything out..." Tamao whispered.

"We hope so too." Yuyuko placed a hand on her shoulder, "I'll go get Mei Fan. Goodnight, Tamao."

"Night..."

Yuyuko got up and left the room. Once she was gone, Tamao went to the window. They made one fatal error. She could get out of here. It just takes effort. And she had finally gotten it ready.

Tamao took a glance back at the door. Maybe she shouldn't have asked for Mei Fan...

Too late now. She was going out. She wasn't staying cramped up here any longer. Tamao jumped out the window and started walking away. She'd just take a short stroll and then return back. Nothing bad would happen in that short amount of time.

Or... so she thought.

Chapter Text

Tamao quietly walked into the forest. All she wanted was some time alone to think. She doubted they would allow her to go to the garden. This was the only other option for peace and quiet. She really did just need to be alone for a while. To really think things over. To figure out what she was doing wrong.

Tamao walked on, listening to the sounds of nature. It was a pretty quiet night. Perfect for what she wanted to do. Now to just find a nice spot to sit for a little while. She couldn't remain here too long. They would soon find she was missing and be worried. She wanted to avoid making them worry about her more than they already were.

She felt very bad about how much she had already made them worry over her. That wasn't a good thing. No knights should ever be this worried over their ruler. And yet Tamao just kept dragging herself into problems one after another. Would she ever get any form of reprieve from it? That would take a lot of effort to achieve, unfortunately.

As she continued on, she started hearing voices. Tamao paused and tried to listen in. They were too far away to make out the words. She would have to get closer. And so she did. She was too curious not to, even though she probably shouldn't be approaching unknown voices in the dark woods. That was just asking for trouble.

And now she wished she hadn't gotten closer and had listened to her instincts telling her to leave it be. It was some of the queen's knights. They were talking about... her. Bad things about her. They wanted her dead. Rui hadn't been lying. The queen truly wanted her to die. She was scared now. Hearing talk about her being killed changed everything. She didn't want to die anymore. Not for anyone's sake.

Tamao backed away. Unfortunately, she didn't account for there possibly being more knights around. She backed right into one.

"Well, looks like we got a little eavesdropper, don't we?"

Tamao gulped as she was shoved into the sight of the other knights. They all stared her down. Tamao struggled against her captors grip, but to no avail. She was stuck. This was really bad. What did she do? Was there anything she could do?

"What should we do with her?"

"Orders are to take her to the queen. She'll decide what to do next."

Tamao was terrified. This was bad. This was really bad. She was going to die. No one would find her in time. She was such an idiot. She should've listened. She should've stayed in her room. It was all her fault. She was to blame for her own death.

Tamao was roughly tossed over to another knight who tied her hands behind her back. Tamao fought against him as best she could, but he was stronger. Soon enough, she was bound and unable to move. She was blindfolded as well.

Tamao started crying and she was picked up. This was it. She would be taken to the queen and then they would kill her. She was going to die. She didn't want to die. But, no one would save her. No one knew where she was. There was no way they'd ever find her in time. This was it.

"So, little queen..." One knight got close and growled in her ears, "We know you're hiding the runaways. And we'll get you to admit it."

Tamao stayed silent. She couldn't give up their location. It wouldn't save her. She knew that. If it would... maybe she'd tell the truth. But, she was going to die either way. At least give them a chance to live on. She wouldn't be cruel to make others die just because she made a mistake.

"Won't talk? You will soon enough."

Tamao cried out as he roughly yanked on her hair. She sobbed and tried to move away from him. She hated this. She didn't like the pain. Why did they have to torture her too? All she wanted was for it to be over fast.

"Hey, general. I saw movement."

"Not one of us?"

"Why'd they be hiding from us?"

"Search the area. Find who it is."

"Yes, sir!"

Did someone find her? Was she going to be saved? Tamao could only hope. Maybe Mei Fan had found her? She obviously would have immediately started searching for her the moment she saw she was gone. Just maybe Mei Fan had made it in time.

"They're attacking!"

"Retaliate!"

Tamao was roughly shoved to the ground. She gasped in pain. Her head had struck a rock. She was bleeding. That wasn't good.

Tamao was losing consciousness fast. The sounds of the fighting were starting to blur together. She couldn't distinguish what was what anymore.

But, she did know when it stopped. And she did know someone was touching her. The rope that had bound her hands together was cut off. Tamao blacked out before the blindfold was removed and she could see who had saved her.

It was strange that they hadn't spoken to her. Any of her knights would have been calling her name, trying to get a response. This person wasn't. But... they had saved her? Hadn't they? Or... was she still in danger...?

...

Tamao woke to pain. Her head was pounding. She groaned and placed a hand on her head. She jumped as her hand came into contact with something wet. There was a wet rag on her head. Tamao opened her eyes and took in her surroundings. She wasn't anywhere familiar.

It was an old house. It was in decent shape, though. Not too bad for how run down it did look. The sun was just starting to rise. But... why was she here? Who had brought her here? Where were they now?"

Tamao slowly sat up, wincing in pain as she did. She placed the rag beside her and felt her head. The wound on her head was bandaged. That was a good sign. At least whoever it was cared somewhat that she lived.

Tamao looked around more. She was in a bedroom. At least, she assumed. She listened to see if she could hear the person anywhere. She didn't. Had they gone out?

Tamao didn't trust herself to stand up. She remained on the bed and waited. Whoever it was would come back soon. She doubted they'd leave her like this. Well, she hoped so, at least.

It took a while, but eventually she heard a door open in the house. Tamao waited as footsteps approached her room. The door opened and someone stepped in. Tamao had no idea who it was. She had never seen them before. They appeared to be much older than her.

"I see you've woken up." The mysterious person said, "How do you feel, dear?"

Tamao regarded them warily, "Alright. Who are you? What do you want with me?"

"I'll answer any questions you have soon. I promise. Let me first take a look at your head."

Tamao nodded. Fighting would probably do no good. She couldn't resist much. She was far too weak for that. When even was the last time she was strong enough to fend for herself? When was the last time she hadn't overworked herself to exhaustion?

The person came over and carefully examined her head. Tamao played with the hem of her dress as she waited. They were being very gentle. That was a good sign. That meant they probably had no intentions to hurt her. Well, Tamao hoped so. This person did seem quite friendly to her. Hopefully that wasn't just a guise for something darker.

"Can I know at least what kingdom I'm in?" Tamao asked.

"The outskirts of the Star-Crossed Kingdom."

"And... what became of the knights?"

"They are all dead."

"Is my head okay?"

"It seems so. It wasn't that bad of a wound, surprisingly. For how much blood you lost, the actual opening was very small."

The person sat down on the edge of the bed. Tamao studied them. She definitely didn't know who they were. Then again, she didn't know many people outside of her kingdom and royalty. And it was only royalty her parents deemed important for her to know. Only the closest kingdoms were ever included in those. She knew nothing of any royalty from farther away.

"Who are you?" Tamao asked again.

"Do you want the short answer or the long answer?"

"The long one."

"The old queen of this kingdom."

Tamao stared at her for a long time. She... was the old queen? The queen that was supposed to be dead? That didn't make any sense. How could she still be alive? How did no one find her? Or... did she kill anyone who might tell about her location? Tamao felt dread rising in her at that thought.

"I see you're confused. To make it simple, I was nearly killed, but a friend of mine was blessed with healing and saved me. I've been hiding out here, trying to find a way to take back the throne."

"What's your name?" Tamao asked.

The old queen looked at her in confusion, "You... don't know me?"

"No. I was never told anything about you except that you were murdered. It was pretty much forbidden to discuss you. I'll assume my parents despised you."

"You may call me Sawa. Since you are royalty yourself any other titles are not necessary between us."

"You... had a friend who was able to heal. Are... they dead?" Tamao knew that might be a sensitive topic but she wanted to know everything she could.

Sawa nodded with a sad gaze, "Unfortunately... though, how come you assumed that much?"

"Because Rui can heal and... blessings can't repeat." Tamao said quietly, "I'm sorry if... I'm asking personal things..."

"It's alright, dear. She sacrificed herself for someone else to live. She accepted death, so I try not to be too sad about it."

"Are you blessed?" Tamao asked, "The rumors said you were but that... you could give blessings away?"

"I... was blessed." Sawa replied, "I can give away my blessing. And I did."

"To who? I know its not to the queen like the rumors said. I can sense alignments and it also tells me if they're blessed and she was not."

"You're blessed? I didn't think I'd ever see the day another royal member was blessed."

"You won't tell me who you gave it to?" Tamao didn't like her dodging the question.

"I will not give you a name. All I'll say is I gave it to a friend who had their blessing stolen."

"Stolen? I'm so confused... I'm learning so much new stuff about blessings..." Tamao sighed.

She didn't like the fact that suddenly all this stuff was coming out. Why had no one ever written it down before? She hated not knowing about her blessing and what all it was capable of. What any of their blessings were truly capable of.

"Research on blessings is difficult to do. It's not that surprising that you're learning new things." Sawa said.

"How do you get a blessing stolen from you?" Tamao questioned.

"There was a queen who could take blessings away. I don't know much, but she died from it in the end."

"Died?"

"Having more than one blessing isn't normal. I don't think a human body can handle it."

"Oh..."

"So, what is the reason she is in your kingdom?"

Tamao was confused as to how she didn't know for a little, before she realized the queen probably wouldn't let anyone know the true reason she was there. There would be unrest knowing that she was in another kingdom trying to kill her own knights.

"Two of the blessed that worked for her ran away. She seems to know we're giving them refuge." Tamao explained, "Well... one of them isn't blessed and that's kinda why they ran away."

"I see. You're protecting them from her?"

"Trying to. I... don't want them to die. They don't deserve it."

"I may be able to help you... if you'll help me."

"Help you...?"

"Take back what is mine."

"How? How am I supposed to do that? I'm just a kid... I don't even know how to run my kingdom..." Tamao started crying. The thought of any more responsibility on her was too overwhelming.

Sawa's eyes widened and she pulled Tamao into a hug, "Hey... it's alright. I'm not asking you to do anything like that. I just need help tracking down someone."

"You... want me to find someone who can help you?" Tamao questioned as she tried to wipe away her tears.

"Correct. I'll handle anything that involves royalty. And, if you need, I can maybe give you a hand with your situation."

"O-okay..." Tamao agreed.

"Thank you. I'd go find her myself but... I can't risk anyone seeing me."

"Where do I look? What do I say? Who am I looking for?" Tamao questioned.

"There's a group of misfits that banded together. They're in the west lands. The unmarked ones. She is there. I can't give you much about her, but just show her this." Sawa handed her a small charm, "She'll know what it means."

"Why can't I know who she is? If I'm going to find her, wouldn't that make it easier?" Tamao asked.

"If by chance you get caught by anyone, I don't want there to be a way they learn about her whereabouts."

"I... I'll do my best. Um... what about... my friends? They'll be really worried about me vanishing..." Tamao frowned. She hated this. Why had she thought going out alone would be a good idea? Look where it got her.

"They'll survive. You'll be back soon enough." Sawa replied, "I can't see a way of getting any sort of message to them with that queen around."

"Am I able to go now or do you not think I'm ready yet?"

Tamao wanted to get this over with as soon as possible. She wanted to go back to everyone and let them know she was just fine. The sooner she got this job done, the sooner she could get back to them and deal with that queen.

"Try to stand and see how you feel."

Tamao nodded and carefully stood up. She felt alright. She didn't feel dizzy and she felt steady on her feet. Looks like her injury wasn't too bad at all. That was good.

"I think I'm good." Tamao stated.

Sawa nodded, "Then you wish to go?"

"I guess. You keep dodging my questions so no point in talking more."

"I'll answer everything honestly once you return."

"You promise you will?" Tamao didn't know how much she believed her.

Sawa nodded, "I promise, dear. I'll tell you everything once this situation is more under control."

"I'm holding you to it then." Tamao stated, "I'll be back... whenever."

"Stay safe. I wish I could give you a weapon but I don't have any."

Tamao doubted that but didn't say anything. She left the house and took in her surroundings. Once she determined which way she had to go, she set off. This would be a very long journey. Mainly because that group didn't stay in one place for too long. They were constantly on the move due to... well, being an illegal group.

It was worse with the fact she had no idea who or what she was looking for. Who was this friend Sawa spoke of? What was their relationship? Was this friend royalty as well? Or were they possibly a servant at one time?

But... if she was blessed and a different queen stole her blessing... she wasn't from this kingdom. Tamao was very confused about the whole ordeal. She didn't know what to think anymore. All she knew was she needed to get this done as fast as possible. The longer she was away, the worse it would be for the others.

...

"Guys... I... I still can't find her... I've searched everywhere..."

When Mei Fan had gone to see Tamao, she had found her room empty. She had immediately raised the alarm and gone out to search for her. Her searches had gotten her nowhere.

She had returned to the castle dejected. She felt sick. Tamao was missing. She had failed her.

"You found no signs of where she could have gone?" Fumi questioned, "No trampled undergrowth? No pieces of her dress torn off on branches?"

Mei Fan frowned and shook her head, "No. I couldn't find any indication of where she went. And I have no clue where she would have gone either."

"I hope that she's alright..." Fumi said.

"Yeah..." Mei Fan's voice cracked as she spoke.

Fumi wordlessly pulled her into a hug. Mei Fan held her tightly as she started crying.

"Tamao..."

"Shh... we'll find her, Mei Fan. She'll be alright." Fumi tried to soothe her.

It was tough on them all. Tamao was somewhere without any of them. Without any protection. They were all terrified for her safety. Especially when the queen wanted her dead.

Yuyuko walked over to them, "Rui just got back."

"Any luck?" Fumi asked.

"She'll tell you what she saw."

That was a concerning statement. Fumi and Mei Fan glanced at each other in worry. What had Rui found? How bad was it?

The three of them went to Rui. She was sitting in the library with Ichie and Yachiyo. Ichie had a hand placed on her shoulder and Yachiyo was hugging her.

"Rui." Fumi approached her, "I'm guessing it's not looking good, is it?"

Rui shook her head, "No... not at all..."

"What did you see?" Mei Fan asked as she walked over and grabbed one of Rui's hands.

"Dead knights everywhere... the queen's knights..." Rui whispered, "But... there was a pool of blood that shouldn't be there without a body and... some of her hair was there."

"No..."

"She may still be alive." Fumi stated, "Obviously someone killed those knights. Maybe they saved Tamao?"

"Even if they did... they'll probably try to use her for their own gain."

Fumi couldn't think of a reply. That was true. Royalty sold for a lot on the black market. Whoever did that may not want to help Tamao.

"Guys... the queen is here with news." Michiru came into the room, "She had her own story on what happened to Tamao."

"What does she say?" Mei Fan asked.

"They found Tamao and were taking her back to the castle when a hooded figure attacked and killed them all. Apparently this attacker took Tamao with them." Michiru said, "She was adamant that Tamao had been killed by them before they took her away."

"How does she know this if all the knights are dead? Did one live?" Rui asked, "I... didn't see any blood trails of someone running away."

Michiru shrugged, "I don't know. All I know is we better watch her closely now that Tamao isn't here."

"I hope what she says isn't true... that Tamao has been kidnapped..." Mei Fan whispered.

"Unfortunately it seems likely." Fumi said, "All the evidence leads to someone having taken her captive."

"What do we do?"

"I don't know. We can't track her. At least, I don't think."

"We have to find her." Mei Fan stated firmly.

"We will find her." Fumi promised, "But, we can't split up our forces right now. Not with the queen here. She'll be more enticed to search for them in our castle now that Tamao isn't here to say no. We need to focus all our efforts on keeping them from being found. Tamao would kill us if we didn't exhaust every option to keep them safe."

"It's strange hearing that from you." Yachiyo commented, "You've been so against us keeping them here."

Fumi sighed, "I still am but... I can't disrespect Tamao's want. Especially now."

"Let's tell them what's happening and make a new plan."

"Good idea."

Chapter Text

Tamao hated this. She shouldn't have agreed. This was horrible. Her legs ached, she was covered in mud, her sense of direction had long since been lost. She didn't even know if she was going in the right direction anymore.

How was she supposed to find this group and the right person without getting killed? They'd kill an outsider on sight. At least, if they recognized her. They don't like royalty. She'd be dead in seconds if they saw who she was.

But... she had to keep going. It was too late to turn back now. Not after how far she had come. She gripped the charm tightly in her fist. It gave her a bit more courage. Knowing this should at least help her a little.

Tamao paused as she came to a path. She glanced around. This path was very heavily used. She was getting close to something living. As for if it was what she wanted to see... she didn't know. Was she far enough that this could be the group she was looking for?

What was their name again? Tamao knew she should know that information but it was escaping her at the moment. Was that information even that important? She didn't know anymore.

"Stop!"

Tamao froze in place as three people came out of the woods and faced her. Each one had a knife. Tamao gulped. This was bad.

"U-um.. h-hi? Where... where am I? I'm... lost." Tamao asked quietly.

"The Fated Lands. No outsiders are allowed here." The one that seemed like the leader of the group said.

"O-oh... um... I'm actually looking for someone here. I was told they'd... recognize this charm." Tamao held up the charm.

The three people eyed up the charm. Tamao didn't see any of them look as though they recognized the charm. That was bad. If they didn't believe her she was as good as dead.

"You're just a spy, aren't you? Did that horrible guy send you here?" Another of them got closer, holding out their knife.

Tamao gulped and back up, "No. I'm serious. I was sent to find someone here."

"Suzu, grab her." The leader spoke again.

Tamao tried to run, but before she could the other one stabbed her. She gasped and fell to the ground. The stab wasn't bad, thankfully. It only lightly cut her arm. But it hurt a lot.

"Hisame! I didn't say to hurt her!" The leader was mad about that.

"If I didn't she was gonna run, Koharu."

"Suzu is fast. She would have caught her."

"It's only a scratch. She'll live."

Tamao was roughly dragged to her feet by who she assumed was Suzu. She was gasping for breath. She didn't feel good now. Her vision was fading slightly. This was bad. She was panicking a lot.

"She's weak, Hisame. You didn't need to use force." Koharu growled as she walked over to them, "Now, who the hell are you and why are you here?"

"I... I-"

"Hey! What are you three doing?!"

"A-ah... shit... she found us..."

"We are so going to get punished for this..."

Tamao was confused. The three girls backed down as another person came out into view. Tamao eyed them up. She didn't recognize them either. She didn't know why she thought she might.

"You three are not supposed to be patroling." They stated with their arms crossed, "Who do you have here?"

"Probably a spy." Koharu grumbled.

"Talk, kid. Where are you from? Why are you here?"

"I... I'm looking for someone."

"Who?"

"I don't know... I was just told they'd recognize this charm." Tamao held out the charm again.

"It's probably a symbol for a traitor in our midst..." Suzu commented under her breath.

Tamao watched as this apparent senior member of the group studied her charm. Their eyes widened.

"Release her. She is not a threat."

"What?" All three of them were very confused.

"Release her and go to your tents. Don't come out until I say you can."

"Fine..." The three of them sulked off into the woods.

Once they were gone, they spoke again, "So, what does she want with me?"

"I don't know. She wouldn't tell me anything. I don't even know your name..." Tamao sighed, "She was so secretive..."

"Not even my name...? Jeez."

"Who are you? I... I'm Tamao."

"Kyoko. You're... the queen of the Fallen Flowers kingdom."

Tamao nodded, "I am."

"Come with me. You seem like you've traveled a long way."

"Okay..." Tamao wasn't in any position to refuse the kind offer.

They walked in silence. Tamao tried to take in her surroundings a bit in case she had to run. Hopefully she would be safe. But, she was going into a group full of assassins and the likes. A group who normally was the cause of death for many members of royal families.

"Um... miss? What is your relationship to... uh, I don't know how I should refer to her... she said I could just call her Sawa but that feels so informal..." Tamao sighed.

"We're friends." Was all Kyoko would give.

"Will anyone try to hurt me in this group?" Tamao was very worried about that.

"No. They won't as long as I'm with you."

"And if you're not?"

"That won't be a concern."

Tamao didn't dare say anything else. She needed to make sure she stayed on the good side of everyone here. If she didn't, they would most definitely kill her. She needed to stay alive.

"Miss? Who were those three girls who surrounded me?" Tamao wanted to know that much about them too. In case she ran into them again.

"Some of the younger members of the group. Mainly my responsibility. They're not related to me at all, though."

"Were they not supposed to be out here?"

"No. We don't let anyone leave camp without permission from a select few people. They didn't get permission and so I was sent to go locate them and punish them."

"Oh..."

"They're your age, I believe. I'm sure you'll get along once they warm up to you. You have to understand that most of us have been mistreated by royalty at some point in our lives." Kyoko stated, "And, we're here. Stay silent. Don't speak unless I tell you to just to be safe."

Tamao nodded. They entered the camp. All eyes turned to them that were out. Tamao found herself stepping behind Kyoko. She didn't like this but she needed to talk to her. And she did need to rest soon. She was exhausted from her journey here.

"Who the hell is that?"

"A messenger."

"Your responsibility. No one else is dealing with her."

"I know. Come with me, kid."

Tamao kept close to Kyoko as they walked through the camp. She eyed everyone up nervously. She really didn't like this.

They entered a tent. Tamao gulped as she saw the three girls from earlier in it.

"Last I checked you three don't live here." Kyoko stated as she motioned for Tamao to take a seat.

"Why'd you bring her here?" Koharu grumbled.

"She's a guest. Be nice." Kyoko whacked her across the head lightly, but hard enough to make her wince, "Now answer my question."

"You're gonna yell at us at some point so we thought we'd just wait and get it over with..." Suzu mumbled.

"That'll be for later." Kyoko sighed, "I guess you can stay as long as you'll behave and be nice to our guest."

"Why is she even here? What's she want?" Suzu asked.

"She has a message for me. From a friend."

"Oh... she wasn't lying..." Hisame frowned, "Sorry..."

"Apologize to her. Not me."

The three girls glanced at Tamao. They all mumbled out a form of apology to her. Tamao nervously glanced around. She still wasn't too sure about all of this.

"So, Tamao, what brought you to her?" Kyoko questioned.

"She saved me. The... it's a very long story." Tamao sighed.

"I'd like to know."

Tamao recounted everything. From meeting Maya and Claudine, to the queen searching for them, up to now. Everything she could say that may be relevant to her. She ended up not mentioning much about Sawa. The way Kyoko looked at her as she started on that topic told her not to give too much information. She could only assume that it was because she didn't want these three to know anything about that yet.

Kyoko listened closely. She seemed to be thinking over everything Tamao was saying. Possibly trying to piece together why Sawa suddenly wanted her to return.

"Can I ask you some questions now?" Tamao requested, "I'd like to know more about you."

"Later. You should rest." Kyoko seemed to also be avoiding talking about the past, much to Tamao's dismay, "If you three can handle it, get her something to eat and possibly some clean clothes."

"Yes, ma'am..."

Tamao stared at the ground as they left. She hated this too. Being completely at everyone else's mercy. She hated when people had to do things for her. She wasn't a very normal queen at all.

"You can ask me now. I just didn't want them here."

"O-oh. Okay." Tamao looked up at her, "Um... I guess I want to know what exactly happened to you? She... wouldn't say any names when talking about anyone so I have no idea who she was talking about."

Tamao suddenly realized she could use her blessing to check things. How had she forgotten that? She quickly used it to see. She was shocked to find that Kyoko was in fact glowing. She... was blessed? So that meant this was the friend that Sawa probably gave her blessing to.

"Where do I even start..." Kyoko sighed, "Alright. So, basically I'm from a different kingdom. It doesn't exist anymore and I doubt you've ever heard of it. The queen and king knew how to take away blessings. They... found out I was blessed and took mine. They normally killed them afterwards, but I managed to flee."

"What was your blessing?" Tamao asked curiously.

"Why does it matter?"

"I just want to know."

"It'll sound stupid but... it was like I could kind of see the future of people? But, only major events and I couldn't tell when it would happen."

"I've never heard of that blessing before."

"There's probably a lot of bizarre blessings out there." Kyoko commented.

"Like mine. I can sense alignments."

"You..." Kyoko stared at her with wide eyes, "You're telling me you have a blessing?"

Tamao nodded, "Yes. I'm blessed and... actually part of my blessing is telling if others are blessed too. I can see you are so... when she mentioned giving away her blessing, she was talking about you, wasn't she?"

Kyoko looked at the ground and nodded, "Yes... she... did that."

"Will you continue the story?"

"I fled. And ended up in the Star-Crossed Kingdom. Sawa found me and begged her parents to let me stay in the castle. I became her knight. And then... the revolt happened..."

"I don't know much about the revolt."

"I see. That queen came in with supporters and tried to kill Sawa. I... really thought she had died but... I don't suppose she told you about our friend, did she?"

"Not her name. Just that she died that day and was blessed with healing." Tamao replied.

Kyoko took a deep breath, "Her name was Ichika. She was a maid. She saved Sawa and they fled. I... was unable to leave with them. I was held by the supporters and unable to get away. She... returned for me and... it should've been me... I should've died that day... not her..."

"I'm sure there's a good reason she wanted you to live on." Tamao wasn't sure if she should try to offer any condolences or support.

"It's been how long and nothing has changed? What does Sawa even think we can accomplish?"

"Well... you have my knights and... the queen's blessed on your side. I think we may stand a chance at revolting against her this time." Tamao stated.

"So that's her plan..."

"I guess." Tamao shrugged. She really didn't know if that was the plan. It seemed plausible, though.

"The queen wants you dead?" Kyoko questioned.

Tamao nodded, "Yes. She knows I'm hiding them from her and I guess will take drastic measures to get them back."

"I'm guessing you wish to return soon."

"Yes." Tamao replied.

"I'll see what I can do. You do look like you could use some rest first." Kyoko said.

Tamao wanted to protest, but then she remembered how everyone had been treating her back at the castle. She probably should rest. She needed to conserve her energy for when she returned and had to fight the queen. The last thing she needed was to get herself killed. She knew now she didn't want to die for certain.

"What is your blessing now?" Tamao asked, "And... why did she give it to you?"

"Poison. As for why... I still don't really know. I guess she was just afraid the queen might find a way to sense blessings and locate her."

"Why didn't she run away?"

"You have as much as a chance of guessing that answer as I do, kid. I don't know why she refuses to give up."

Tamao wanted to ask more questions, but the three girls came back with food and a new outfit for her. Tamao cautiously accepted the food and slowly picked away at it. While she ate, the others all started talking.

"Are you going to have to leave?"

"Hmm?"

"Is this message making you go somewhere?"

"Yes. It is. Though... perhaps I can allow you to accompany me."

"Really?"

"We'll see."

Tamao didn't like the sound of that. She didn't know how much she wanted to work with these three. They still seemed very distrusting of her. That probably wouldn't change very fast.

"If you want to come, though, you have to be nice to Tamao."

"Be nice to her?" Koharu sent a glare her way, "We don't know who she is. Why should we trust her?"

"She's not much different than you guys." Kyoko replied, "She may be royalty but-"

"She's what?!" The three of them did not like that statement at all.

Tamao shrunk back. She didn't like this at all. This wasn't going well.

"If you would let me finish," Kyoko glared at the three girls again, "She is blessed. She isn't like the royalty you're used to. Give her a chance."

"You're... blessed?" Suzu was the first to speak after getting all of that information.

Tamao nodded, "I am. I can see alignments. And, tell if others are blessed. You all are blessed as well."

"Yes. We are." Suzu confirmed, "I guess maybe you aren't that bad..."

"My kingdom is different. I don't make blessed work for me. They are free to do as they please. And I treat everyone in my castle with the same respect as if they were of royal blood." Tamao said.

"I'm surprised you have that many blessed willing to work for you if you aren't forcing them to." Hisame said.

"They have nowhere else to go." Tamao replied, "Nowhere else... safe. My castle is probably the safest place they have. I don't blame them for not wanting to leave me. Of course, they chose to be knights. I would've happily just let them live in the castle with no obligations to me."

"Why does royalty hate blessed so much? Why do they treat us like we're less than human?" Suzu asked quietly, gazing down at the ground.

"Jealousy." Tamao stated, "They're jealous they don't have those powers for themselves."

"I hate that the answer is that simple." Kyoko said, "It really is just them being jealous of not having a blessing."

"There's a good reason they don't have one." Koharu grumbled.

"What are your blessings?" Tamao asked. She wanted to know if she may be working with them soon.

"I can kinda control the weather, but only in a small area and it doesn't last long." Koharu said.

"Uh... I can put things to sleep. Anything living, actually. Not just people." Suzu said.

"I can manipulate the wind." Hisame ended.

"Can I ask where you are all from? How did you end up here?" Tamao wanted to know as much information as she could about these people.

Would they trust her enough to tell her their pasts? Tamao couldn't help but wonder what they had been through as well. Was there a single blessed to never be traumatized by royalty? She was doubting that ever happened before or ever would for a long time.

"I'm from here." Suzu was the first to answer her, "My parents ran away from the kingdom they resided in and ended up here before I was ever born."

"Why did they run away?" Tamao asked.

Suzu looked down and shrugged, "They... never got to tell me. I was only three when... they were killed by the search parties looking for them..."

Tamao's eyes widened, "I'm so sorry."

Hisame placed a hand on Suzu's shoulder, "Thankfully the kingdom is long gone. Revenge was had."

"I never understand why kingdoms are so quick to murder anyone who flees." Tamao said, "I would only do that for criminals that can't be allowed in public again."

"Her parents never really spoke of why they ran away, but we know enough to say it had to do with debt. Nothing bad. Probably just couldn't pay on time and pissed someone off." Kyoko added in, "They didn't deserve death for something like that."

"Yeah... I'm really sorry. I'm sure they were wonderful people." Tamao said.

"Yeah..." Suzu mumbled.

"My story is similar." Hisame said, "Except I fled from my family. Suzu actually was the one to find me. I had... an attempt on my life by some family members and was... barely alive when she found me."

Tamao was speechless. How could people be so cruel? Especially to a child.

"How old were you?" Tamao couldn't help but ask.

"Eleven."

"Do you know why? Why they tried that?"

Hisame sighed, "The kingdom I was from had imposed a rule about family life. I don't exactly remember the details but somehow I didn't fit the criteria and they decided to try and kill me to fix it."

"What?" Tamao still had no words.

"Hisame, you've been told before the rule was about how much knowledge a girl was allowed to learn. If you surpassed that you'd be imprisoned." Kyoko sighed, "I know it's hard to relive those days but stop acting like you don't know."

Hisame frowned, "But I don't know. You told me that. It's not in my memories."

"You're complicated."

"Koharu, you gonna tell her too?" Hisame dodged any further argument.

Koharu didn't respond for a while. Tamao guessed she was not used to talking about it. Or did she just not trust her?

"My kingdom was attacked. My entire family but me and my little sister were killed. My sister and I fled." Koharu mumbled, "We... got jumped by knights from a kingdom I didn't recognize and... they took her. I... I ran away and ended up blacking out from blood loss. They found me and have been helping me try to find my sister."

"What's her name?" Tamao asked.

"Sakura."

Tamao's eyes widened, "Sakura... I know where she is."

"You... you do?" Koharu's demeanor to her changed instantly. She was suddenly very interested in Tamao now.

Tamao nodded, "Yes. The knights belonged to the Star-Crossed Kingdom. She is being held there and being forced to work for the queen."

"She's alive..."

"Might not be for much longer." Tamao frowned, "She's involved in this mess I told you about. They both seemed very certain their accomplices would be executed as well once they were found."

"Then... then I have to... to save her!"

"Koharu..." Hisame shook her head, "We can't do anything. That kingdom is one we definitely don't wanna mess with right now."

"Actually, that's why Tamao is here." Kyoko interrupted them, "You all know about what apparently became of the old queen? Well, she didn't die. And it seems she's ready to strike. You three are welcome to join."

"What? She... isn't dead?"

"No."

"You know her?"

"It's a long story. Basically I was a knight of hers for a while until all that happened. She was the one to make me run away. If I had the choice I would've remained with her."

"What does she have to do with any of this going on?"

"She saved me. She's the one who I have to thank for not ending up assassinated." Tamao stated, "I guess she thinks I might have a chance to put an end to this rule."

"So... are we going back to her?" Hisame asked.

Tamao shrugged, "I don't know. She just told me to deliver the message. I need to get back to my kingdom. I'm terrified of what that queen may do now that I'm away."

"I think I have a plan." Kyoko said, "You four go to the kingdom and do what needs to be done. I'll visit Sawa alone. We'll come to you once it's time. Just stay at the castle until then."

"You want us to help her?" Suzu questioned.

Kyoko nodded, "Yes. If what she's told us is the truth, she definitely may need more help. Especially if the queen thinks she's gone."

"Okay." Suzu was the first to agree.

Slowly Hisame and Koharu agreed to the plan as well. Koharu seemed hesitant.

"Koharu." Tamao addressed her, "If you want to save your sister, this is the way to do it. Take down the queen and she's free and will be safe with you again."

"Can't we just sneak into the kingdom and rescue the other blessed first?" Koharu challenged her.

"No." Tamao was firm on her answer, "I don't know the situation there but I'm guessing they're all being heavily guarded right now. That's way too risky to try."

Koharu frowned, "Fine... you have a point..."

"The faster we handle the queen, the faster you can reunite."

"We'll set out tomorrow. You need rest. I can see you've been overworking yourself." Kyoko stated.

"I've barely had time to rest. With the queen breathing down my back I couldn't ever lower my guard." Tamao said, before frowning, "That's how this all started... I was stubborn about resting and snuck out... and then all this went down."

"Which one of you will allow her in your tent tonight?"

"She can stay with me!" Suzu offered.

"You promise you won't talk her ears off?" Hisame gave her a doubtful look.

Suzu stuck her tongue out at her in reply, "I won't!"

Hisame rolled her eyes, "You've been warned, Tamao."

"I'll keep that in mind." Tamao smiled at her.

This was a bit better. They had warmed up to her and she to them. She had doubted this was possible but she had been proven wrong. They really weren't much different than each other.

"Let's go!" Suzu stood up and held out a hand to Tamao.

Tamao accepted her hand and let Suzu pull her to her feet. Suzu smiled and offered her arm for support. Tamao didn't want to accept the help, but did in the end. She probably did need it after how she had been neglecting her body again.

"Goodnight."

Suzu lead her to a tent nearby. They entered it and Suzu got to work making enough space for the two of them to lay down on the blankets. While she did that, Tamao changed into the clothes they had given to her.

Tamao was not used to something like this camp. She realized how sheltered she was from the poor.

"I've never seen anyone live in tents like this." Tamao voiced the same thought out loud, "I've only seen knights use them for a bit during battles."

"Since we move a lot we kinda need easy to carry things." Suzu replied, "But also things we can stay in comfortably."

"My parents never really let me interact with the poor side of the kingdom. I don't know much about how you live."

"You don't? But... isn't your kingdom the one with the legal slave trade?" Suzu was confused, "How can't you know the living conditions?"

"That's a very different thing." Tamao explained.

"Oh..." Suzu frowned, "Um... did you choose a slave?"

Tamao nodded, "I did."

"I can't understand how they think it's okay..."

"I don't understand it either. I never agreed with it but I had to choose one. I don't regret it. Mei Fan is the best knight... girlfriend... I could ever ask for."

"Girlfriend...?" Suzu's eyes widened, "You..."

Tamao nodded, "Yeah. And I'm not the only one in my kingdom either."

"I've never met royalty who's been okay with that."

"I'm just full of surprises, aren't I?"

"You are. I never thought I'd be able to... talk to someone of royal blood and... be able to share experiences." Suzu started playing with her hair, "People like us are taught to never trust royalty. Told they'll never be our friend no matter how nice they act and yet... here you are..."

"It baffles me how rulers expect their people to respect them when they themselves won't respect their people." Tamao said, "I never respected any authority figure who disrespected me."

"I'm sure everyone was super nice to you... cause you're important."

"Not really. A lot of people hated that the heir was a girl. I really only had a few people who truly liked me."

"Are they still working for you?" Suzu asked.

Tamao shook her head and looked down, "They're dead..."

"Oh... did... did something happen to them?"

Tamao nodded, "My parents killed them..."

Suzu frowned and hugged her, "Your parents sound awful."

"They were... that's why I killed them."

"You know... my parents weren't very good either." Suzu whispered, "I may have only been three when they died but I remember some thing about them. They hurt me sometimes."

"Are you glad they're dead or not?"

"I don't know..." Suzu sighed, "I don't know what they would've continued to do if they lived. Maybe it's better for me that they died."

"I guess we should sleep." Tamao said.

"Yeah..." Suzu hesitantly pulled away.

"You alright?" Tamao asked.

Suzu nervously played with her hair again, "Well... it's later than normal and... they put out the fire before everyone goes to sleep..."

"Are you afraid of the dark?"

"A little bit."

"What do you normally do?"

"Cry myself to sleep?" Suzu chuckled half-heartedly.

"You have me here. You aren't alone so, maybe it'll be alright." Tamao said.

"Okay..."

They laid down. Suzu was frowning as she tried to sleep. Tamao wasn't sure what to say.

"Without the fire you hear the woods. Some of the noises scare me... especially cause the fire won't keep them away now." Suzu whispered.

"I'll protect you. If anything does try I'll fight it off."

"You know how to fight?" Suzu sounded doubtful of her abilities.

"Yep. Mei Fan and I fought together a lot. And then Rui taught me even more. I can hold my own in a battle." Tamao confirmed.

"You really are strange."

"Try and sleep before the fire goes out."

"I will..."

"Wake me if you need something. I don't mind helping you."

Chapter Text

Morning came far too soon for Tamao's liking. As the noise of people coming out of their tents rose, it woke her up. She groaned and was about to reach for a pillow to shove over her face, before remembering where she was. She opened her eyes.

Suzu was still here. She was curled up right beside her, sound asleep. Tamao was jealous. Then again, she was used to the noise. She could easily sleep through it.

Tamao tapped her on the shoulder. Suzu stirred after a few taps. She opened her eyes and looked up at Tamao.

"Good morning!" Suzu smiled, "Did you sleep well?"

"Yeah but... I'm still exhausted." Tamao sighed.

"Hmm... well, maybe you can sleep on the walk? I could carry you or something so you can rest." Suzu offered.

"We'll see."

They got up and went out. Suzu led her to where Koharu and Hisame were at. They had some food. Bread. Suzu told Tamao to stay there and left. Tamao assumed she was going to get food for the two of them.

"Good morning." Tamao greeted the two girls.

"Was Suzu behaved?" Hisame questioned.

Tamao nodded, "She was."

"That's a first."

"Where's Kyoko at?" Tamao questioned.

"Getting permission to leave with us." Koharu replied.

"Okay."

Suzu soon returned with some bread for the two of them. Tamao thanked her and ate it. She knew better than to comment on what she normally had to eat. Though...

"Tamao? What kind of stuff do you eat at the castle?" Suzu asked exactly what she was avoiding.

"Well, it depends." Tamao answered, "Whatever we have in abundance. Sometimes it's eggs, sometimes might be meat, different types of food from wheat and the likes. Whatever the cook of the day wants to make."

"That sounds really good... all we get is bread and then whatever animals live around here..." Suzu pouted.

"You'll get to experience it yourself soon enough."

"Eh? Really? You'll include us?"

"What else am I going to do with you?" Tamao was confused by that.

"Make us stay on our own." Koharu answered, "We did work in a kingdom before and that was how they treated us."

"Oh. Well, you're all part of the family when you're there. I'll treat you the same as everyone else in the castle." Tamao reassured them all.

She had a big job here. Not only did she have to get her kingdom back under control, but she had the duty of showing these three that not all royalty was bad. She didn't have to but she wanted them to know that there were good people out there. Good people in high positions of power.

"You haven't corrected us with your name." Hisame commented, "Is there a reason?"

"I don't like being called queen. I didn't like being called princess either. I don't like the title because it makes me seem... superior and out of reach. I want to be seen as a friend to the staff." Tamao explained her reasoning. She knew it was crazy to not care about her title.

"I see you all are up and ready." Kyoko finally joined them, "They agreed. If you're ready, we can go now."

"How long will we walk together for?" Suzu asked.

"Until we get close to the borders of the kingdoms. Then we'll split up."

"Okay."

They got ready and then set out on their journey. Tamao was still exhausted and not ready for this. They all could tell. She was falling behind them. Struggling to keep up. Struggling to dodge tree roots and the likes.

"Hey, Tamao, hop on my back. I'll carry you for a bit." Suzu offered.

Tamao wanted to refuse out of pride, but she lowered her head and gave in. She was just slowing them all down. She didn't want them to think of her as a burden but... she also didn't want them to think of her as someone too stubborn to accept help when she desperately needed it. Tamao climbed onto her back and Suzu started carrying her. Tamao rested against her and closed her eyes. Suzu had offered to let her sleep so maybe she should do that.

It was difficult to sleep when moving, but she was that tired it didn't matter. She was out like a light in minutes. She really was a mess.

...

"Tamao~ Time to wake up~"

Tamao stirred to someone poking her cheek. She yawned and opened her eyes slightly. She was still on Suzu's back. Suzu was trying to wake her.

"Where are we...?" Tamao asked as she tried to wake up.

"Where we part ways for a bit." Kyoko stated, "I can't say how long it'll be before we join you. Best of luck to you four."

"See you later!"

"Stay safe. Try not to die on me, please."

They went their separate ways. Tamao knew the area again. That meant they were close. Soon she would have to face everything. That wasn't good. She was nowhere near ready for that yet. She had no plan on what to do. What even was the state of the kingdom?

"Tamao." Koharu addressed her, "What do we do?"

"I don't know. I need to see the situation first." Tamao replied.

"Very well. Just give the word when you know. We're temporarily your knights, in a sense. Treat us the same for now." Koharu said.

"What weapons do you have?" Tamao asked.

"Just our knives and powers. That's it." Hisame replied, "I'm going to assume our powers are useless here."

"Probably." Tamao shrugged, "The Frosted Lands queen somehow made herself immune to blessing so I can't say this queen hasn't found a way to do that either."

"Seriously? Great... even the regular knights will be immune..." Hisame groaned.

"Well, to bad blessings." Tamao added, "Not to good blessings."

"I'm not following." Hisame gave her a confused look.

Tamao lowered her gaze, "Even good blessing can bring harm if used in the wrong way."

"What?" All three of the girls were very concerned by that information.

"Rui can heal and... healed someone too much and they died. Fumi... revived an already living person and that killed them. Good blessings aren't always good it seems." Tamao explained.

"So, you think any of our blessing could be like that?" Suzu questioned.

"I don't see how weather or wind can be seen as bad. But, it'll effect us all unless you can be very good at narrowing the area it hits. You're out of luck with yours, Suzu." Tamao said.

"Aw..." Suzu frowned.

"I don't think I can manage to control the wind that well." Hisame said, "I can kinda just summon it. I can't tell it what to do after that most of the time. Which... kinda sucks at times."

"Yeah, I've gotten thrown into things before cause of her." Suzu said, "Koharu somehow hasn't."

"I can manipulate her wind." Koharu stated.

"What?" Tamao looked at her, "How?"

Koharu shrugged, "I guess it's close enough to a weather condition that I'm able to change it as well."

"So, blessings can work together too. Interesting." Tamao spoke to herself.

"Yeah. Blessings are so weird." Suzu nodded.

They all fell silent as they neared the castle. Tamao slid off of Suzu's back and took the lead. She was slowly approaching, keeping an ear out for any noises. It felt too silent.

"Anyone see anything?" Tamao asked.

"I sense fire nearby." Koharu stated, "Over that way. I don't see smoke, though."

"Hmm..." Tamao tried to see if she could tell anything was up, "No idea what it could be."

"Should we check it out?" Hisame questioned nervously.

"Probably." Tamao nodded.

They made their way toward where Koharu was sensing this fire. As they got closer, they saw the smoke. It was in the castle. That was bad. That was really bad. The queen must have attacked.

"Tamao?" Hisame looked to her.

"We need to get in and help. She must be attacking."

They entered the castle from an open window and started searching. For a while, they didn't see anyone. Just heard the crackling of fire. Koharu and Hisame lead the way searching for signs of people. Tamao was behind them with Suzu tailing. They still had to make sure she was safe.

"I hear fighting!" Koharu announced.

"That's the garden." Tamao stated.

"Suzu, you and Tamao stay inside and hidden. We'll go and help fight. I think telling who the enemy is should be easy enough." Koharu stated.

"Gotcha!" Suzu agreed.

Her and Tamao stayed behind as they two of them ran off ahead to see what was going on in the garden. Suzu stuck close to Tamao and glanced around.

"Where should we go?" Suzu questioned.

"I know it's risky and understand if you'll deny me this, but I want to go to where the two refugees are. They may still be hidden enough we'll be safe there. But, it could also be the opposite and that location is compromised." Tamao said.

"Let's try it." Suzu agreed to it, "But... any weapons you can take?"

Tamao nodded. She lead Suzu to a small room and pulled out two swords. She gave one to Suzu and then took the other one for herself. Once that was done, she lead the way to the hidden room. The hopefully hidden room. Tamao was very worried that was no longer the case as that they had been found out. There also was the possibility they came out on their own to help fight. Tamao wasn't sure which one was worst.

Suzu seemed anxious as they wandered down the halls. Tamao was feeling dread build up in her stomach as well. It was far too empty here. Something was very wrong. Shouldn't there be people here? All the fighting couldn't possibly be contained in one area. That just didn't seem possible considering why they were attacking. They would have been split up. They had to have been.

"Tamao...? I... I don't like this feeling. Maybe we should turn back?" Suzu whispered, reached out and grabbing Tamao by her arm in worry.

Tamao was about to reply when they both saw people approaching. Suzu got in front of her and was ready to fight. Tamao gulped as she decided to check what alignment these people were.

Much to her surprise, it showed her they were good. And blessed. Were these... the knights from the queen? It felt unlikely to be any of her knights.

"They're good. Give them a chance before you attack." Tamao whispered into Suzu's ear.

Suzu nodded to show she heard her and understood. She lightened up her stance a bit, but still kept a wary eye on the approaching people. As they became clearer, both of them could see one of them was injured. They were leaning heavily on the other and walking with a bad limp.

They stopped. Tamao guessed they had finally seen them. She walked closer, Suzu quickly following her steps. Tamao took in the two. They were the queen's knights.

"Hello." Tamao kept her voice calm and sweet, "You are?"

"Please don't hurt us. We aren't here to... to hurt you." The injured one spoke, "We're just trying to find our... our friends..."

Tamao came over to them, "You need medical attention."

"That can wait."

"Your friends are safe. I promise. What good will meeting them be if you're dying?"

"Fine..."

"Suzu, stay with them. I'll go get medical supplies." Tamao said, "I promise I'll be safe. There's a room just down there you can stay in."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes." Tamao nodded, "In case someone comes for them, they need your help. And I'm the only one here who knows where the infirmary is."

"Okay..." Suzu said.

Tamao nodded and then left quickly. She wanted to be fast for many reasons. Who knew how long that girl had? And she really shouldn't be alone in her condition for long. She could handle one or two knights but not more.

Tamao made her way to the infirmary as fast as she could go. She was keeping an eye out for everyone else. She still didn't see anyone. That was starting to worry her a lot. Just where were they all? Where could they possibly all be fighting at for her to have seen no one? Were they alright? Was anyone badly hurt?

There was a lot to worry about. She had to focus on her task at hand. Tamao reached the infirmary and entered it. She finally found someone.

"Fumi...?"

"Tamao! You... you're alright! Oh, thank god... we were so worried!"

Fumi and Ichie were in the infirmary. Fumi was... bad. Ichie seemed to be watching over her. Tamao wanted to ask a lot of questions, but she had to help that other girl first.

"I'll be back. I... need to help someone first." Tamao grabbed a small bag and left again.

She heard Ichie call for her, but ignored her. She would explain everything later. Once she was done with this issue at hand. Who knew how long this girl had left now?

Tamao quickly made it to the room. Suzu looked relieved to see her. Tamao dropped the bag on the bed and then started looking over the knight for her wounds. She had fallen unconscious while she had been gone.

"What's the worst one?" Tamao asked the other knight that was with her.

This girl pointed to the stomach on the other one. Tamao pulled off all the armor and clothing to reveal a nasty gash in her side.

"Suzu, next door has a river through it. Get water." Tamao ordered.

"Okay!" Suzu jumped up and ran off to do that.

Tamao carefully started trying to stop the bleeding. She looked up at the girl before her.

"Can you not talk?" She asked curiously.

The girl shook her head and lowered the cloth hiding her neck. There was a scar there. It looked old, but the damage was done. She couldn't talk.

"I'm sorry." Tamao frowned.

Suzu returned with the bucket. Tamao had managed to cover the wound and keep the blood in. Now that the major wound was dealt with enough, she started cleaning up the girl and then bandaging any other wounds she had. It was a tedious process, but she managed to do it.

"Alright..." Tamao panted, "She should be okay for now. I'm sure Rui can heal her once we... find her."

"Now what?" Suzu asked.

"It's too risky to move her. I ask you stay and watch over her. I need to find my knights and access the situation." Tamao stated.

"Alright. Please be careful."

"I will, Suzu." Tamao promised her.

Tamao cleaned off herself from the blood and then went back to the infirmary to get answers from Ichie.

"What's going on, Ichie?" Tamao questioned before she could get a single word out.

"The queen attacked." Ichie said, "Fumi... was trying to reason with her and then... this happened. Now we're at war with her."

"I see." Tamao nodded along, "Where is everyone else? Do you know?"

Ichie shook her head, "No."

"Alright..."

"What happened to you?" Ichie asked her.

"I'll explain when everyone is back together."

"Fair... what are you going to do now?"

"Do you know if Claudine and Maya are still hidden or have they come to fight?" Tamao asked. That decided her next move.

"We warned them if the queen attacked they were not to help. Hopefully they listened." Ichie said.

"Then I'm going to see." Tamao stated.

"But-"

"This is my job, Ichie."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Oh, and if you see any girls that look like assassins, they're on our side."

"Okay." Ichie seemed confused by that statement.

"It's a long story for later."

Tamao left again and went to the hidden room. She opened it. Thankfully the two of them had remained inside.

"Tamao. You're alive." Maya greeted her first, "Is the battle over?"

"No idea." Tamao replied, "Come on. I need you to see something."

Maya and Claudine nodded and followed her back to the others. Their eyes widened as they gazed upon their two friends.

"Nana." Claudine approached her first, "Did you come here on your own?"

Nana shook her head.

"Was this a chance to prove yourselves loyal?" Maya guessed as she sat on the bed next to the other girl.

Nana nodded.

"Junna got hurt quite bad, huh?" Maya cautiously examined Junna, "By our knights or hers?"

Nana pointed to the four of them. Tamao knew what that meant. They had been betrayed by their own knights. Why? How?

"Was this really a chance to prove your loyalty or... was this just an excuse to murder you?" Suzu questioned.

No one had an answer to her question. But, looking at everyone's faces, Tamao understood that the answer was most likely not good. The queen probably didn't ever want them back. She was just trying to get rid of them in ways that wouldn't draw suspicion to her.

"You all may stay here. Suzu, let's go see if we can find the fighting." Tamao stated.

Suzu nodded. They left the room and started their search again. Where could everyone be? Was the fighting over? They both hoped so. Tamao didn't wish to see anymore bloodshed right now. She had seen more than enough. Unfortunately that was part of being the ruler of a kingdom. You would witness many wars in the land. It was inevitable.

The search lead them to the entrance of the castle. There were dead knights everywhere. It was sickening to look at. Tamao took a deep breath and walked through them to the doors. Outside, the battle continued on. It seemed that was where everyone was at.

"What do we do?" Suzu asked her.

"We fight." Tamao replied.

Suzu ran into the battle and joined Koharu and Hisame. Tamao glanced around. She took in everyone as she searched for Mei Fan or Rui. Eventually she found them. They were protecting Shiori. She had been stabbed and taken down.

Tamao ran over and sliced one of the knights' heads off. The others got unnerved by her sudden appearance. Tamao glared menacingly at them and aimed out her sword. The knights took a few steps back, before they ran off.

"Tamao... you're alive..." Mei Fan pulled her into a hug.

Tamao pushed her off, "We're in the middle of a battle."

"Right..."

"Rui, take Shiori in." Tamao ordered.

Rui hesitated, "But-"

"There's three more fighting for us. We can stand to lose you both for a bit." Tamao said, "Go. And if you can, the bedroom by the hidden chamber... there's someone you should heal as soon as possible."

"O-okay." Rui nodded.

She picked up Shiori carefully and took off into the castle. Tamao nodded to Mei Fan. Mei Fan nodded back. They stood side-by-side and faced the knights coming at them. Tamao noticed every knight seemed shocked to see her. Had they all been told she was dead?

They slowly beat back the knights until none remained. Either they were killed or they fled. Tamao hated how they all were covered in blood. It felt disgusting to be covered with and it smelled horrible.

"Tamao, you're... you're okay!" Yuyuko was the first to speak.

Tamao nodded, "Yes, I'm fine."

"What happened to you?" Michiru questioned.

"Who the hell are these three?" Akira said before Tamao could reply at all.

Tamao walked over and stood in front of the three assassins, "Friends. They're here to help. Treat them with respect."

"You have a lot to explain."

"I know. Let's go in first."

After everyone had been patched up and cleaned up they expected Tamao to talk. However, she instead wanted to see how Junna was now that Rui had healed her. Tamao asked for Rui and Koharu to come with her. Koharu seemed confused by the request.

"You return." Junna was awake when they arrived.

"Yes." Tamao nodded, "Are you feeling alright?"

"Yeah... thank you."

"I don't suppose Rui can heal... her throat." Maya nodded to Nana.

"I can try." Rui replied, "If you want me to."

Nana nodded. Rui approached her and carefully examined her neck.

"What caused it, if I may ask?"

"The queen slit her throat open when she spoke without permission." Claudine answered.

No one replied. It was a disturbing thing to hear. For a very simple mistake, that was a big punishment. Tamao was starting to hate that queen more and more. She had hurt so many people. People that she was now becoming friends with.

"We'll make sure she pays for everything she has done." Tamao stated, "I promise."

Rui was cautiously attempting to heal Nana. With how healed the wound was, she wasn't sure how easy it would be. It could take a lot of her energy to do this. Not that she would complain. She was glad to be able to help people like this.

"Did it work?" Rui pulled back, "Can you talk now?"

Nana hesitated actually trying to speak. Tamao wouldn't blame her for that. Who knew how long it had been since she had that ability? It was a lot to ask of her so suddenly. She had probably gotten pretty used to not being able to speak.

"I..." Nana's eyes widened, "I can..."

"Awesome!"

"Great!"

Everyone was smiling. She was able to talk again. That was a big relief.

"So... now the hard part. We need answers to a lot of things." Tamao said.

"We'll do our best to answer." Junna replied.

Tamao debated where she should start. There was so much to ask. So many things she needed to know. Where was she supposed to begin in all of this? What was the most important thing?

"What are the conditions for the rest of you?" Tamao started there.

"Bad..." Junna mumbled, "She's very distrusting of us now and... isn't giving us any attention or care."

"Is anyone injured?"

"As of now, no."

"Alright... One of your friends is named Sakura, right?" Tamao asked.

Koharu's eyes lit up as she finally understood the reason for Tamao wanting her here. She was getting information on her sister.

"Yes. Why?"

"This is her sister." Tamao nodded to Koharu.

"You're..." Everyone was looking at Koharu with wide eyes now.

Koharu nodded, "We got separated during the attack. I've been searching all over for her. She... how is she?"

They all looked at each other, trying to determine who should tell Koharu everything. Tamao could see that the reaction was making Koharu uneasy. It was making her uneasy too. What were they going to say to them? Had something bad occurred with Sakura?

"She's alright." Maya eventually spoke, "It's just been very hard for her not knowing what became of you."

"How do we save her? Save... whoever else is left?" Koharu questioned.

"No idea..."

"We can discuss our options with everyone." Tamao stated, "We'll find a way."

"So... they won't attack us for being here, right?" Junna questioned.

Tamao shook her head, "No. They know why you're here."

"Alright."

They all returned and met up with everyone else. Rui had since gone and healed Fumi. Fumi had yet to wake up. Rui opted to stay with her and monitor her until then just to be safe. Shiori ended up staying as well.

Everyone else went and gathered in the library. Tamao eyed everyone up. She knew they were all waiting for an explanation as to what became of her. How much did she tell them? Was there any information she should keep secret? Where did she even begin? With an apology?

"Tamao. Were you expecting people?" Rui came into the room.

Tamao nodded, "Yes. Bring them here."

She assumed who it was. Who else would it be, honestly? Especially if Rui didn't recognize them.

It wasn't long before Kyoko and Sawa both entered the room. Everyone regarded them warily. No one knew what to make of it.

"Tamao leaves for a few days and brings back five new people..." Mei Fan sighed.

"Alright, shall we begin?" Tamao opted to ignore her comment, "It's going to be a long story."

"Who are all these people? Introduce them first." Akira cut her off.

"Can't I just do that through my story?" Tamao asked.

Akira sent her a glare, "You bring strangers into our land while we're under attack and expect us to not question it? I don't trust them. I don't trust you. You've been nothing but foolish since the start."

"Akira." Michiru sent her a hard jab in the side.

"She's the reason any of this is happening."

"And we're on her side. We're going to support her decisions."

"At this rate she's going to get us all killed!"

"We'll be right back." Michiru sent most of them an apologetic look and started tugging Akira to the door.

"Let go of me, Michiru."

"Nope. Not until you'll behave. We don't need more drama right now."

"Get off." Akira knocked Michiru away and walked back up to Tamao, "You won't listen to us. You refuse to stop overworking yourself. How can we trust you anymore? If you had listened we never would've gotten into this mess!"

"I know I've been a bit... stubborn..." Tamao mumbled.

"A bit." Akira growled, "You almost got yourself killed."

"Back off." Mei Fan stepped in to try and keep her away. She was fearful it would soon result in violence.

"No." Akira ignored her.

"Akira, I think she's learned her lesson already. Leave it." Mei Fan wasn't giving up that easily.

Akira glared at her. Mei Fan met her gaze. She wouldn't waver here. She had to keep Tamao safe. Violence seemed inevitable at this point.

"Make me." Akira challenged, "Can't you see we're heading for disaster if this keeps up?"

Mei Fan braced herself as Akira swung out at her. Only, it never hit. Mei Fan cautiously opened her eyes to find Akira was now on the floor. She was struggling to get up. It seemed like something was holding her down. Michiru had run to her side, Yachiyo following her.

"Hisame." Tamao spoke, "Let her go."

"If you say so..."

"You did that?" Ichie questioned.

Hisame nodded nervously, "Yeah... I can kinda control wind. That's actually the best I've done at keeping it in one area."

Akira slowly pushed herself back into a sitting position, "They're blessed."

"Correct. They're blessed as well. They want to help us." Tamao stated.

"I still don't trust them at all."

"Give them a chance." Michiru jabbed her in the side again, "They did help us, after all."

"Introduce them." Akira demanded once again.

Tamao sighed, "Fine. Would you all like to introduce yourselves?"

"Hi! I'm Suzu! I um... um..." Suzu said, "I'm blessed! I can um, put things to sleep! And uh... I'm an orphan?"

Her introduction was met with many stares of confusion. No one knew what to think of Suzu, it seemed. She was far too happy for them right now.

"My name is Hisame. I can control the wind, as you saw." Hisame said.

"I'm Koharu. I can summon weather conditions. My sister is being forced to work for that queen. I'm getting her back." Koharu stated.

"Who's your sister?" Ichie asked.

"Sakura."

"I'm sure we'll get her back soon." Ichie smiled at her.

"And what of these two? They don't fit in here." Akira glared at the two adults.

"Just because we're older?" Kyoko rolled her eyes, "You don't have much respect for us."

"Who are you?"

"My name is Kyoko. That is all you need to know."

"You're not blessed?" Yachiyo asked.

Kyoko stared down at the ground, "I do not wish to speak about it."

"Sorry..."

"Saved the shocking one for last." Tamao commented.

"What?" Everyone looked between her and Sawa.

Sawa chuckled and nodded to everyone, "Hello there. You may call me Sawa. I am the old queen of the Star-Crossed Kingdom. I'm not dead."

"Eh?!" Everyone was in shock.

"Our plans have changed a bit." Tamao stated, "We are not just rescuing the blessed from the queen. We are getting rid of her and putting who should be on the throne back."

No one argued with the change. As Tamao looked to see everyone's reactions, she saw most were in agreement with her plan. They wanted to do it. Especially the four from said kingdom. They all were staring at Sawa still.

"You weren't killed." Maya approached her, "So then where have you been all this time?"

"On the outskirts waiting for the opportunity to arise to take back the throne." Sawa replied.

"You have four knights here then. I'll follow you over that queen." Maya said.

"Is it true that you can give away blessings?" Junna asked her next.

Sawa nodded, "Correct. Only my blessing, though."

"Did you?"

It wasn't hard to notice that this conversation was making Kyoko uncomfortable. Tamao didn't understand why she was hesitant to tell anyone about this. What was there to hide? Was it just not fun to talk about her past? It did seem pretty bad. They were pretty much all strangers here. Why would she want them all to know so much about her personal life?

"I did." Sawa said, "I will not say who I gave it to. If they ever wish for you to know, then so be it."

"How do we get back the throne?" Claudine asked.

"That I do not know." Sawa replied, "I don't know what we have to deal with."

"A lot." Junna stated, "She's on such high alert. Getting near enough to just spy will be difficult."

"I see." Sawa nodded, "Then we have much to discuss."

"How much time do you think we have?" Koharu interrupted their conversation, "With this failed attempt they may start plans sooner."

"No idea..."

No one could say how much this might have just affected everything. They had to hurry. The queen very well may try to kill them sooner. She may not wait to get Claudine and Maya anymore.

"Who would she kill first? Tamao asked, "If you know."

"Whoever she thinks is the current leader of our group." Maya replied, "They'll go first and then the others will follow."

"Once Fumi awakens we shall start the plan. It shouldn't be too much longer." Tamao said.

"We don't have time to wait!" Koharu yelled.

Tamao gave her a sympathetic look, "I understand how desperate you are to rescue Sakura, but Fumi is important for this. She's very good at drafting plans. We need her."

"We can work without her." Koharu continued to fight her on it, "We need to hurry."

"Koharu..." Suzu grabbed onto her arm.

"If she doesn't wake up by the end of this hour, we shall start without her. Alright?" Tamao tried to compromise.

"You better." Koharu sent her a glare.

"We shall meet here in an hour then. Feel free to do whatever." Tamao dismissed the meeting.

Mei Fan worriedly pulled her into a hug the moment she could. Tamao hugged her back, relishing in her warmth.

"Tamao..." Mei Fan whispered, "I really thought we had lost you..."

"I'm sorry for causing so much trouble." Tamao apologized, "I'll behave from now on. I hate worrying you all."

"You better. I can't lose you." Mei Fan's hug became more aggressive, fueled on by her emotions.

Tamao smiled and tightened her grip as well, "I know. I don't want to lose you either."

"Tamao!"

Tamao yelped as Ichie suddenly invited herself into the hug. Mei Fan managed to keep them from getting knocked over. She stared Ichie down for a while, before rolling her eyes.

"Ichie. Can I help you?" Tamao looked over at her.

Ichie smiled at her, "I just wanted to hug you. Make sure you're really here."

Tamao chuckled, "I promise I'm not a ghost."

She let go of Mei Fan and invited Ichie to hug her properly. Ichie smiled and did just that. Yuyuko soon joined them as well.

"You really scared us, Tamao." Yuyuko stated as she buried her face into Tamao's back.

"I know. I'm really sorry." Tamao said, "I won't run off again."

"So, what do we do about our guests?" Mei Fan asked.

"Just be welcoming. They've been through a lot with royalty. Make sure they know they're welcome here and are family."

"Of course."

"Shall we go check on Fumi?"

"Yep!"

They walked to the infirmary. Everyone else had already gone off to do their own thing. There was one extra person in the infirmary now. Yachiyo had apparently decided to come here too.

"How is she, Rui?" Tamao asked as she walked over to look at Fumi herself.

"Alright. Just waiting for her to wake up." Rui replied.

"She'll wake up soon... right?" Shiori questioned. She was hugging Rui and had her face buried into her side.

Rui smiled and patted her on the head, "Yes, Shiori. She'll wake up any minute now."

"Good..."

"Is Akira alright, Yachiyo?" Tamao asked, "I don't know how strong Hisame's wind can be."

"She's physically fine. Her pride is a bit hurt though." Yachiyo chuckled.

"As long as she's not hurt then that's good."

"So, gonna spill the tea on Kyoko for us? She's being very secretive." Yachiyo asked.

"I'm not telling you her past without permission." Tamao replied.

"Will you at least tell us if she's blessed?" Yachiyo pleaded.

"Once again-"

"Tamao!"

Hisame burst into the room. She looked panicked.

"Hisame, is-"

"Koharu went off on her own! She..." Hisame burst into tears and sunk to her knees.

Tamao knelt down beside her and pulled her into a tight hug, "It's okay. We'll find her and get her back before she does anything stupid."

"Suzu went after her... but..."

"Shh. It's gonna be alright." Tamao looked up at Mei Fan, "Get some people to go after them. Now."

Mei Fan nodded and left the room quickly. Yachiyo cautiously moved to sit beside them as well.

"She's really worried about her sister." Yachiyo commented.

"Yeah..." Tamao sighed, "She's an idiot for running off. If she was that desperate I could've possibly tried to find a way sooner."

"What if we can't find her? What if she makes it and dies?" Hisame was still sobbing into Tamao's embrace.

"That won't happen. We'll keep her safe. I know they'll find her in time."

Chapter Text

They didn't have time to wait. If they didn't move soon all hope would be lost. She was an idiot for even trying to hold off on making a plan. They didn't have the luxury to wait. Not when so much was unknown now.

Koharu was done waiting. Had been for a long time. Now that she knew where Sakura was, nothing was stopping her from getting her back. Tamao's orders be damned. She didn't care to listen to her anymore. Not when she wouldn't listen to her. She refused to hear her out and that was her problem. If she would've tried to listen she wouldn't have to deal with this but no, Tamao thought she knew best. She didn't. She knew nothing about Koharu and Koharu didn't care to listen because of that.

Koharu was running as fast as she could. She was going a little too fast. She got her foot caught on a fallen tree branch and stumbled to the ground. She growled in frustration and pushed herself back to her feet. She winced as she felt her head start pounding. So that was how it was going to be?

"Suzu. Come out." Koharu knew it was her doing that.

While her powers couldn't work on her, if she tried to apply it, it ended with the person getting a headache. So, did that mean her powers did work or not? That was a mystery to this day. No one knew what to make of it. Why did it effect blessed at all? She really had more important things to be worrying about right now anyway.

Suzu stepped out of the woods and faced her, "You're coming back, Koharu. We aren't doing this."

"No. I'm rescuing her now." Koharu replied firmly. No one was talking her out of this. She had made up her mind. She needed to save Sakura now. Before it was too late.

"No." Suzu shook her head, "I'm not letting you."

"Remove your powers from me." Koharu growled as she stood her ground.

"Not until you come back with me." Suzu replied.

Koharu huffed in frustration. Her plan was going astray because of Suzu. She shouldn't have ran away in front of them. She should have snuck out instead. Then she wouldn't have had to deal with this right now. She should've planned this better.

"Koharu, please." Suzu walked over to her and held her hands, "I can't let you go. You'll die. I can't lose you, Koharu."

"Then why can't you understand that's how I feel about Sakura." Koharu's eyes were filling with tears. She was frustrated. She just wanted to do something right for once. To help someone. To save her sister.

Suzu frowned and pulled her into a hug, "I know... I understand, Koharu... I do... but I can't let you risk your life like this. The moment we get near the castle I'm sure we'll be killed."

"Suzu, please. I can't sit back and wait. I need to get her back now. I promised her I'd protect her. I already failed enough. I need to save her now."

Suzu sighed, "Alright... let's go. I'm coming with you."

Koharu quickly wiped away the tears in her eyes, "You don't have to..."

"As if I'm letting my girlfriend run into danger alone. You go down, I go down too. I'm not living without you." Suzu stated.

Koharu cracked a small smile, "Alright. Let's go then."

Suzu held Koharu's hand and they walked onward. Koharu was favoring her left foot from the fall. Suzu offered her as much support as she could. That meant Koharu basically using her as a crutch. Not that she minded. Though, the injury was worrying for what they were about to do. Hopefully it would lessen soon.

"How do you think Hisame is holding up?" Koharu asked.

"She's probably really worried. Honestly she might be coming after us with some of Tamao's knights." Suzu replied.

"That one girl... Hisame kept staring at her. Did she mention anything to you about her?"

"Hmm... oh! Yeah. They're old friends. Back before the borders closed completely."

"I see. That one girl seems familiar to me. I wonder where I know her from..."

"Who knows. When we return we can ask." Suzu smiled at her.

"Yeah." Koharu smiled back.

...

Reaching the border was easy. Getting across the border was not. Koharu and Suzu warily studied the fence that kept them out. How did they get in without getting caught. At least Koharu wasn't limping anymore. That made things a bit easier.

"There's a door and a guard there." Koharu nodded to said location, "Can you put him to sleep and steal his keys?"

"Let me try." Suzu focused hard on the task.

It worked. The knights slumped down against the fence and didn't move. They snuck over and removed the key from his pocket. Suzu unlocked the gate and they went inside. She returned the key to make it seem as though he just fell asleep himself.

They quickly moved on and into the shadows to hide. Everything became ten times more dangerous now. They were on enemy territory with no inside help. It was just them. No one knew where they were. There would be no rescue if they got captured. Not for a long time. And that was on the off chance they wouldn't just be killed straight out for entering this land.

"There's the castle. Where should we try to get in at?" Suzu asked.

"I don't know. Let's try and observe it." Koharu replied.

They snuck through the town. There were many knights out patrolling. It was terrifying. One wrong move and they would be dead. Both girls were on very high alert.

"There it is." Koharu breathed a small sigh of relief, "Now to get in and find her."

That was the hardest part of this all. How did they enter the castle undetected? And how did they even find everyone? Where would they be at?

"What do we do?" Suzu asked, "I can't see a way in that isn't guarded."

"Putting them to sleep would probably blow our cover too fast. We'll need to just sneak past them." Koharu replied, "Is there possibly an open window we can get in?"

"I don't see any..." Suzu frowned, "But I'm feeling weird about this. Something feels off."

"Like what?"

"I don't know... that's the bad part. I can't figure out why I feel this way."

"Let's go in. I see a window there." Koharu nodded to it.

Suzu gulped and nodded. They crept over and jumped in. They were in an empty room. It seemed to be a small office of sorts. Suzu quickly pulled Koharu into hiding. They needed a plan before they went any farther.

"Now what?" Suzu asked.

"We sneak around and find them." Koharu replied.

"That's suicide. We'll be spotted immediately." Suzu shot down that idea.

They froze as the door opened. They pressed themselves as far into the hiding spot as they could and held their breaths. Who was it? Why were they entering the room?

The door closed and the person walked farther into the room. Suzu held Koharu into a very tight hug as they watched this person. It was too dark to see who they were.

"I know you're hiding in here. You can come out." The person said.

Neither of them moved. They didn't know who this person was. Maybe they were just bluffing?

"Sakura heard you climb into here. Come out, Koharu. Don't you want to see her?"

Koharu quickly came out of the hiding spot and faced the person, "You can take me to her?"

The mysterious person nodded, "Yes. I'm assuming you came to rescue her. We'll all help you guys escape. She doesn't deserve to end up dead for this."

"Who are you?"

"My name is Futaba. I'm one of the blessed here."

"Suzu, are you coming?" Koharu looked back at her.

Suzu came out as well, "I guess I am."

"Be very quiet and follow me." Futaba lead them out of the room.

They walked down a series of halls until they came to a room hidden far away. Futaba opened the door and let them go in first. She closed the door after stepping inside herself.

"O-Onee-chan! It's really you!" Koharu was immediately tackled into a hug.

"Sakura... you're alive..." Koharu held her close, "I was so worried..."

"Alright. We need to work fast." Futaba stated, "We don't have much time to get you out safely."

"Let's go, onee-chan." Sakura helped her back to her feet.

Koharu looked over at Suzu. Suzu nodded to her. Koharu looked around at everyone else in the room. They all looked hurt and weak. But, they were all looking relieved right now. They all wanted Sakura safe it seemed.

"Is it possible for you all to escape too?" Koharu asked, "We can give you refuge and protection if you can."

Suzu looked surprised by her statement. She had assumed Koharu would only care to get Sakura. That she would leave the rest here. Did she have a change of heart after seeing their current conditions?

"Where would you take us?" Another girl asked.

"To the Fallen Flowers kingdom." Suzu replied, "They have the others. They're working hard to get you all too. Uh... this rescue wasn't planned..."

"You hear that, Hikari! We can leave!"

"Karen... it's too risky... especially since not all of us are... here."

"But..."

"It is." Futaba agreed, "If we all vanish things won't go well."

"But... but..." Karen frowned.

"They'll come save us soon."

"Are you sure?" Suzu asked.

Futaba nodded, "Yes. You three go. We'll be fine here."

"How do we leave then?" Koharu asked.

"Sakura knows the way, right?"

"Yep! I know the way out!" Sakura nodded.

"Good luck."

"We'll save you all too."

Sakura lead Koharu and Suzu out of the castle. They had very close encounters with knights, but managed to avoid getting spotted at all. Soon enough they were out of the castle again.

"Let's go." Koharu took the lead.

They went back to the entrance they had used. The guard was still there, but now with more. Three more.

"What do we do?" Sakura asked.

"Suzu." Koharu looked at her.

Suzu nodded and tried to put them to sleep. It wasn't working. She gulped as she noticed a bracelet on each of their wrists. The engravings were a well known ward against evil powers. The only reason no one really had them was because they cost a lot of money. Of course the knights would have them though.

They must have realized what had happened with the first guard and put them on for safety. That made everything here very complicated. How did they get out now of their powers were useless against the guards?

"I can't... they have protection..." Suzu whispered.

"We'll have to find another way out." Koharu stated.

"Unless... can you make it rain?" Suzu asked.

Koharu gave her a questioning look, but did so. The guards were surprised as it started raining on them. They started shouting at each other. They were probably aware it was because of a blessing that it was raining.

"Stay here." Suzu whispered.

She ran at them and hit one of them hard. She grabbed the key from him. The others charged at her. The rain suddenly became a lot heavier and the knights slipped. Suzu quickly unlocked the gate and motioned for them to follow.

Koharu and Sakura ran through. The knights gave chase once they got on their feet again. Thankfully, they managed to shake them off before long. They stopped at a fallen tree and sat down.

"We're out..." Suzu sighed in relief.

"Yeah." Koharu smiled, "We made it."

"Onee-chan..." Sakura hugged her tightly again.

Koharu held her close, "I'm glad to have you back by my side. I thought I'd lost you forever."

They stayed there for a while, trying to catch their breaths. Sakura remained glued to Koharu's side. Koharu wasn't letting go of her either. Suzu watched them with a smile. It was good to see them reunited and happy again.

"You're a friend of onee-chan?" Sakura looked over at Suzu finally.

Suzu nodded, "Yes. I helped her after the attack."

"Where are we going now?"

"Back to the Fallen Flowers kingdom. We're not supposed to be doing this..." Koharu mumbled.

"Eh?"

"She kinda ran off on her own to save you and I followed her." Suzu explained, "You're gonna be in big trouble, Koharu."

"I know, but it was worth it. Sakura is safe with me." Koharu stated.

"Are we ready to go?"

"Yeah. Let's get going."

The three of them began the journey back to the castle. It had been a long ordeal. Night was already falling as they neared the castle again. Koharu started slowing down as they approached. She stared at the ground.

"Koharu?" Suzu grabbed her hand.

"What do you think will be my punishment for this?" Koharu asked quietly.

"I don't know. Maybe there won't be one?" Suzu offered.

"Maybe Tamao won't but... you know Kyoko will be pissed."

"Come on. One way to find out."

They entered the castle. Koharu lead Sakura to the infirmary. She needed to be looked at. Suzu followed them for a while, before she excused herself to go and find Hisame.

No one was in the infirmary as they entered. Koharu motioned for Sakura to sit on a bed.

"Is there anything I need to try and patch up?" Koharu asked as she ran a hand through Sakura's hair.

"One thing, I guess." Sakura replied.

She pulled down her shirt to reveal a nasty burn on her collarbone. Koharu's eyes widened at the sight.

"What happened?" She asked as she worriedly looked it over.

"They tortured us all for info on Maya and Claudine."

"Oh..."

Footsteps approached the room.

"You return."

Koharu didn't dare look, "Tamao."

"I take it this is Sakura?" Tamao walked over to them, Rui right behind her.

Koharu nodded, "Yes. It is."

"Hello. I'm Tamao. I'm the Queen. And this is Rui. She's one of my knights." Tamao smiled at Sakura.

"Rui." Koharu looked over at her, "Can you heal this burn?"

"Let me see." Rui came over and examined the mark, "Oh dear... that must've hurt a lot..."

"They kept putting the iron on me every minute I refused to talk to them..." Sakura mumbled.

"You poor thing. Just relax. I'll make it go away." Rui gently placed a hand near the wound and healed it.

Sakura felt her now healed flesh in awe. She stared at Rui for a long time before mumbling out a thanks. Rui simply smiled at her.

"Are you mad?" Koharu asked.

Tamao faced her, "A little bit, but I understand. I'm just grateful you came back alive."

Koharu looked down. Sakura got up and hugged her. Koharu smiled and pulled her close. It had been so long since she had gotten to hold her like this. And for once it wasn't because they were in danger. They were safe here. At least, for now.

"Where are we housing all of them at?" Rui questioned.

Tamao thought about it. They didn't have many extra rooms and none were ready to be lived in. They would probably have to share a bit more than they'd like.

"We can set up two rooms quickly."

"Very well. Shall I go start?"

"Go ahead."

Rui nodded and left the room. Tamao glanced between the two sisters again before she left them alone as well.

"What are we going to do now?" Sakura asked.

"I guess we should go find my friends." Koharu replied.

"Okay. I'm looking forward to meeting the people who helped you out." Sakura smiled.

They left the infirmary and started searching for Suzu and Hisame. Koharu was nervous about this. Hisame would be mad at her. She didn't like when Hisame got mad. Especially not when she was at fault. Hisame had a way of making people feel bad when they upset her and Koharu was not immune to it either.

Koharu walked into the library as she heard voices in there. She froze in her step. She had found Suzu and Hisame, but also the last person she wanted to see right now - Kyoko. The three of them were in the room talking. All eyes turned to her as she entered the room. Koharu could barely breathe. This wasn't what she wanted to happen yet. She wasn't ready to face them together.

"Koharu!" Hisame ran at her and hugged her, "You idiot! Why would you run off like that?!"

"I'm sorry." Koharu said quietly.

"You're really lucky you're still alive right now." Hisame glared at her.

"I succeeded." Koharu stated, "I wasn't going to die."

"That was just luck." Hisame huffed and back away.

Koharu walked into the room farther. Sakura followed behind her. She was glancing at everyone nervously. Suzu came over and pulled her away and started showing her around the library. It was meerly to distract her from the scolding that was about to happen. She didn't need to witness Koharu getting chewed out for her behavior.

Koharu kept her head down and her gaze on the floor. She knew what was coming next. Time for a scolding. There was no way out of this. Hopefully it would go by fast and her punishment wouldn't be too bad.

"Koharu, look at me."

She took a deep breath and looked up at Kyoko. She was met by a stern gaze. Koharu prepared herself for a scolding. This wouldn't be the first time but this would be the worst. She had never done something this severe before. None of them had. She was worried about just how mad she had made Kyoko.

"You were very foolish to do what you did." Kyoko stated, "I expected better of you, Koharu. This behavior is not acceptable."

"I survived, didn't I?" Koharu grumbled.

"Did I say you could speak yet?"

Koharu frowned and shook her head. It was going to be one of those scoldings. She didn't get to even try and defend her actions today. That was just great...

"Not only did you risk your life, you drug Suzu into it as well.  You put her life in danger because of your stupid decisions. You knew if she followed after you she wouldn't go back alone. And then you could've possibly caused the death of everyone we are trying to save. Do you understand how stupid you were? How many people could have died because of you?"

"I-"

"I'm not done." Kyoko silenced her with a glare, "You may have succeeded and gotten your sister back with no injuries, but you're very lucky. This could have ended way worse. You do not do anything like that again, understood?"

"Yes, ma'am..." Koharu mumbled. She didn't often get too upset from scoldings, but this one was doing just that. Tears were pricking at the corners of her vision.

She tried her best to hold them back. She didn't want to be seen as weak here. Not in front of Sakura. She could take the scolding. It didn't matter now, right? She was alive. Why was she being yelled at so much? Why did it hurt so much to be yelled at...? It never hurt like this.

Kyoko sighed and walked up to her, "Koharu, please. The last thing I want is to lose you. I'd never forgive myself if I let any of you three die."

Koharu stared at her for a while, unable to process what she had just heard. Hearing that was a first. Kyoko never showed to care that much about any of them. Sure, she was always there for them but it was her job, wasn't it? She had been told to take care of them. She didn't have a choice in the matter.

Kyoko raised an eyebrow at her from the reaction she was getting, "You really think I'd not care if you died?"

"I never expected to hear you say it out loud." Koharu said.

"I suppose I don't show you much affection. I'll try to change that. You three do mean a lot to me. I've been looking after you all for so long now."

"So, is Koharu not in trouble?" Suzu returned to them all. She had a pleading look on her face. After seeing the signs of Koharu getting upset, she really wanted there to not be a punishment.

Kyoko looked at her and then back at Koharu, "I'll let it slide this time. You've been through enough today."

"Really? Awesome! I told you there was nothing to worry about, Koharu!" Suzu happily ran over and gave Koharu a big hug.

"Barely." Koharu chuckled slightly.

"I do have to ask though, is there something you two would like to tell us?" Kyoko questioned them with a knowing gaze.

Suzu and Koharu both looked at each other and gulped. Looks like they hadn't been as good at keeping their relationship a secret as they had thought.

"Uh... Koharu and I are dating?" Suzu smiled nervously.

"For how long?"

"Um... probably about a year."

"And you never felt comfortable telling anyone? I'd have expected you to tell Hisame at some point."

"Wait... yeah! Why didn't you?!" Hisame was offended as she realized they had left her out of that information.

"Sorry. We were just really scared." Suzu said, "You... aren't mad, right?"

Kyoko chuckled, "As if I would be."

"Really?"

"Suzu," Koharu flicked her on the head, "If she hadn't liked it we would've been confronted and outed to the entire camp ages ago."

"Oh... right." Suzu smiled, "Thank you!"

"Well, anyway, you've had quite the adventure today. Did they ever figure out the room situation?"

"Yeah! Let's see if they're done!"

They had finished the rooms. Koharu, Suzu, Hisame, and Sakura were put in one together. There was a slight issue. Sakura wanted to stay with Koharu, but so did Suzu. They were at odds with each other.

"Suzu, stay with me tonight. Let the sisters be together." Hisame interrupted their argument.

"Okay." Suzu agreed to it.

They settled into their beds and fell silent for a while.

"So, you two are dating." Hisame commented.

"Yep." Suzu nodded, "We realized a while ago that we really like each other."

"I'm happy for you guys."

"Thank you."

"Do you guys think something is going on between Kyoko and Sawa?" Koharu asked.

"Huh? What do you mean?" Suzu questioned in reply.

"I feel like there's a lot more to their relationship than she told us." Koharu explained, "For the little bit we saw them together they seemed awfully close."

"What? You think they're in love or something?" Hisame chuckled.

"Yes. I do."

"What?"

"You can't tell me you haven't seen how they are."

"Not really."

"Fine... we'll spy on them tomorrow."

"Spy? That's new for you, Koharu."

"I'm curious."

"I... I can hear them. I could listen in for you?" Sakura said.

"Hmm?" Koharu replied.

"My power... my blessing it's... better hearing. So, I can hear things a lot farther away. Like now, I can hear Tamao talking to... I think her name is Yachiyo. And I can hear the knights leaving on patrol." Sakura explained.

"I'd rather find out myself."

"Oh... okay. Well, goodnight, onee-chan."

"Goodnight, Sakura. Sweet dreams."

Chapter Text

The next morning was rough. Koharu did not want to get up. At some point she had heard Hisame and Sakura leave the room. Probably to go get breakfast. Suzu had yet to leave. Koharu could hear her humming softly from the other bed.

Koharu finally decided to open her eyes. She groaned as the light blinded her. She shoved her face back under the blankets. It was too bright in the room for her liking.

"Good morning, Koharu~" Suzu climbed into the bed and hugged her from behind, "How are you feeling today?"

"My ankle is killing me again..." Koharu grumbled, "I guess I strained it more than I thought..."

"How bad is it?" Suzu started running a hand through her hair.

"Any movement hurts."

"Can I take a look?"

"Sure... just don't be too rough."

"Of course."

Suzu carefully uncovered her leg and examined Koharu's ankle. She cautiously pressed down on a few places, immediately pulling away as Koharu grunted in pain.

"It's swollen. And there's a bad cut here actually. I think it may be infected." Suzu concluded.

"Fuck..." Koharu yelled in frustration. Her voice was muffled enough from the blanket that it came out quite soft.

"Shall I get Rui?" Suzu asked.

"Please..."

Before Suzu could get up, there was a knock on the door. The door opened. Koharu peaked out of the blankets to see that it was Hisame.

"Are you guys coming out to breakfast anytime soon?" Hisame asked.

"Slight problem. Uh, Koharu got hurt running yesterday and it's uh... infected. I was about to get Rui to help." Suzu smiled nervously.

"Oh." Hisame came over and sat on the bed too, "What happened?"

"I got my foot snagged on a fallen tree and went down. Guess I cut it open and never realized." Koharu grumbled, "It hurts so bad... but it didn't hurt at all yesterday except I had to limp for a bit..."

"Maybe the adrenaline kept you from feeling it?" Hisame offered, "Anyway, hate to be the bearer of bad news but Rui is out on patrol. She won't be back for at least an hour."

"Just my fucking luck..."

"Koharu..." Suzu nuzzled against her back in comfort.

"I can go see about asking someone else to look at it." Hisame said, "So that maybe the pain will go away until Rui comes back."

"Please."

"I'll be back." Hisame got up and left the room to go search for someone to help.

Suzu stayed behind her and pressed a few gentle kisses to her face, "You're strong, Koharu. I'm impressed you haven't started crying yet."

"I won't cry."

"You should if it's that bad. Don't hold it in. It'll make everything hurt worse. You don't need to hide your feelings from me, you know that."

Koharu shook her head and buried her face into the bed. Suzu sighed softly as she simply held her from behind. Koharu held a hand up. Suzu grabbed it and gave her a gentle squeeze. Koharu pulled her hand close in a hug.

The door opened, "So, you got hurt."

Koharu gulped at the voice. That wasn't Hisame. Looks like she had already been found out. She had been hoping for Kyoko to not find out about her injury. Less things for her to try and scold her for today. But... she should have known better. Not much could get past her when it came to the three of them.

"What about it?" Suzu challenged.

"I'm not here to instigate. I just wanted to see how bad it is."

"Why does it matter?" Koharu asked, "Once Rui comes back it'll be like it never existed."

"Why should she heal you? You brought this upon yourself."

Koharu took a deep breath and then decided better of it. Was she going to be punished this way? Not being allowed to be healed immediately? Having to go through a natural healing process?

"That's not fair!" Suzu protested, "You can't make her suffer like that!"

"She is already expending herself beyond what she should be. You don't deserve her attention when you did that to yourself. The knights fighting need her more than you." Kyoko stated firmly.

"Aren't we knights too?" Koharu mumbled, "I'm needed to fight."

"I doubt that. We can make due without you."

"Ah... you... found out." Hisame finally came back.

Kyoko looked her way, "Yes. Did you really think I'd not be able to figure it out?"

Hisame looked down and then walked over to Koharu, "Someone will be in shortly to look at it. They did give me some painkillers if you want them in the meantime."

Koharu shook her head. Would she get yelled at for accepting them? Why did she want her to suffer more?

"Koharu, you really should take them." Suzu prodded her.

"I'll leave you three be. I don't want to get in the way of whatever they'll have to do. I will be checking in later, though." Kyoko said before she left the room.

With her gone, Koharu eased up a bit. She glanced at Hisame and Suzu.

"Why doesn't she want me to get better faster?"

"This is no different than the time I broke my arm being an idiot and she refused to take me anywhere for better care." Suzu said with a sigh, "It's tough love, I guess."

"She doesn't want Rui to heal me..."

"What?!" Hisame gasped, "How could she say that?"

"Hisame, just... leave it." Suzu frowned, "Let's not argue about her methods and just focus on the situation now."

"Alright..." Hisame agreed, "So, Koharu, will you take these or not?"

Koharu nodded and held out her hand. Hisame placed the pills in her palm. Koharu sat up with a bit of a struggle and took the pills. She gagged at the taste. They were not fun to take.

"Hello." Tamao entered the room with Ichie behind her.

"Hi..." Koharu looked away.

"Do you mind if we get started?"

Koharu shook her head. Tamao set down a small box with tools in it. Ichie seemed to be here to assist her. Koharu had not expected Tamao to be the one to help out with this.

Suzu held her in a loose hug. Hisame stood by her side and watched. Koharu was afraid to look at what they were doing. She eventually did glance down. She winced at the sight of just how back her ankle was. How had she cut it that deep and never noticed?

Tamao looked up at her, "Did you take the painkillers?"

Koharu nodded.

"Good. I have a feeling this will hurt a bit."

"C-can't we just... wait?" Koharu didn't like the sound of that at all.

"You want to wait probably three hours for Rui? That patrol had gotten drug into other duties in town. She won't be back for ages and I currently can't go get her either." Tamao said.

"I... fine..." Koharu took a deep breath.

"It'll be okay." Ichie smiled reassuringly at her, "Uh... I may have upped the dosage of the pills higher than I probably should be giving you. So, hopefully you'll either just be completely numb or you pass out from the upped dosage."

"Ichie." Tamao sent her a warning glare.

"What? The poor girl is in so much pain right now, Tamao. She needs the higher dose." Ichie huffed.

Koharu did notice herself feeling a bit weird. She know understood why. It was the side effect of the pills.

She watched as Tamao started feeling up her wound. The pain was there, but it was strange. She didn't really feel like it was her pain, even though she knew it was. Her body wasn't registering it that much now.

"You feeling okay, Koharu? That didn't hurt you too much, right?" Suzu asked in worry.

"I can... manage." Koharu grunted as a small bit of the pain finally did register with her fully.

Tamao nodded and started cleaning up the cut. Koharu hated the feeling. It was like she was experiencing this out of body. It was trippy as hell. Her head hurt now...

Tamao began opening the wound again to try and drain some of the infection out. She worriedly kept glancing up at Koharu as she did. Koharu was struggling to stay present now. Her eyes felt heavy. The painkillers must be really taking affect now.

"You holding in there?" Suzu asked her as she pressed a kiss to her cheek.

Koharu didn't respond. Her body felt far too heavy. Would words even come out right if she tried to speak?

"Ichie, that was too much for her." Tamao growled slightly.

"It's honestly for the best she passes out. This is gonna get nasty as we stitch it up." Ichie defended.

"We could've just given her sleeping pills instead, Ichie."

"But they don't mix with the painkillers. It was one or the other. I'd rather do it this way."

"You are so..."

The voices faded away as Koharu slowly lost consciousness. She felt Suzu hold her a little closer, and then she was in peaceful darkness. No more pain for now.

...

Koharu stirred later in the day. She opened her eyes and looked around. She was still in the bed. She tried to move, but found her leg was... tied down? Koharu looked. It was. Guess they didn't want to risk her undoing the stitches in her sleep.

Koharu glanced around the room. It seemed like it was just her still, unfortunately. When would she get company. She didn't want to be alone. Thankfully she didn't have to be. The door opened and...

"You're awake, I see."

It was Kyoko. That was not who Koharu wanted to see right now but... she didn't have a choice.

"Barely..." Koharu sighed. It was true. The pills were still affecting her a bit. She might pass out again.

"How do you feel?"

"Numb."

"Uh... is that good?"

"Ichie basically made me overdose on painkillers..."

"Oh. I see." Kyoko came over and knelt down beside the bed, "Do you need anything while I'm here?"

"Water."

"They left you a glass here it seems. And some... pills. I'd not recommend taking them yet. Can you sit up?"

"My leg is tied down. I'm stuck..." Koharu frowned.

"Then let me..." Kyoko gently pushed her up into a sitting position, careful not to disturb her leg at all.

"I... need to lean on something." Koharu felt dizzy sitting up straight.

Kyoko sighed and sat on the bed, "Rest on me then."

Koharu hesitated, before her body practically forced her to lean back against her. Kyoko handed her the water, before decided better of it and keeping a grip on it as well. Koharu shakily brought it to her her lips and drank. Her throat was very dry. She downed the entire glass easily.

Kyoko set it back down, "Do you need anything else?"

"I'm good..."

"Shall I let you rest then? You don't seem fully with me here as it is."

"Can you stay?"

"I guess if you want me to." Kyoko seemed surprised, "Though I thought you'd be mad at me for what I said earlier."

"I am..."

"I'm sorry about that. It was wrong of me to try and deny you that. Unfortunately... you will have to heal naturally."

"Did something happen?" Koharu didn't like the sound of that.

Kyoko nodded, "She's overexerted herself too much. She collapsed earlier from it so she can't use her blessing for a few days."

"Oh..." Koharu frowned, "Is it really that bad out there?"

"I guess so. I haven't seen it first hand yet."

"Can I... sleep like this?"

"I mean... sure? But I'm not sure that's very comfortable."

"It's fine..." Koharu was too tired to care.

"Very well. Sleep well, Koharu."

Koharu relaxed and closed her eyes. She sighed softly as Kyoko pulled the blanket over her.

"Kyoko."

"Were you looking for me?"

"Yes. First however, how is she?"

Sawa had come into the room. Koharu was curious about their conversation and tried her hardest to stay awake.

"Alright just a bit drugged up."

"That's good. From what I heard it was a nasty cut."

"It looked it."

"Anyway, is she asleep or?"

"Yeah, she's out cold."

"Then I guess we can talk."

"About?"

"You have questions for me, don't you? I'll answer them now. I'm ready to talk."

"Okay. Um... I guess I wanna know why you made me leave? Why couldn't we stay together?"

"Because... I couldn't let you risk your life with me."

"That's not fair. I was in it as much as you were. They nearly killed me."

"I know but... that's why I wanted you to leave. So they couldn't get you again."

"How could they? If they never found you I'd have been fine staying too."

"My parents put wards on all the knights to track them. You were no exception. They would have found you."

"What? But... then how..."

"By giving you my blessing it removed the ward. Blessed are immune to wards and trackers like that. But even so, it was risky for you to remain."

"I could've stayed..."

"Kyoko, please."

Koharu didn't get to hear the rest as her body finally gave out and she passed out again. That was unfortunate. She had really wanted to know more. Would Kyoko tell them if asked? Probably not but... maybe if she admitted to hearing it she'd have no choice but to tell her?

...

Tamao was stressed. There was so much to deal with still. And now with Rui out of commission things became a bit harder. They didn't have their healer. If someone got gravely hurt... it was over.

"Tamao, are you okay? You've been... destroying that leaf for a while now."

Tamao came out of her head to realize she had been shredding a leaf in her hands. When had that gotten there?

"Mei Fan." Tamao addressed her, "I'm just trying to get my thoughts in order."

"Want to talk them out?" Mei Fan joined her on the bench in the garden.

"I don't know where to start." Tamao sighed.

Mei Fan frowned and offered her shoulder. Tamao leaned against her.

"How is Rui?" Tamao asked.

"She still hasn't woken up yet but she's gained color in her face at least." Mei Fan replied, "She should wake up soon I would hope."

"This is all my fault... she did it because of me... I should have checked up on her more..." Tamao whispered.

She was very regretful about having Rui come down from overexertion. She should've been able to see it was happening and stopped it. It shouldn't have gotten to this point.

"It's not your fault, Tamao." Mei Fan pulled her into a hug, "You have a lot to take control of right now. Rui should have known better than to push herself that much."

"But-"

"No buts."

Tamao sighed. Of course no one would let her blame herself for this. But she still felt responsible for it. If she had just tried to pay closer attention maybe this could have all been avoided?

"How is the fight going?" Tamao changed topics.

"Not too good." Mei Fan frowned, "It's a bad one on both sides."

"Has there been any news on the other blessed?"

"Not really. Though, Junna informed us that two of them are being kept in a very secure jail. Getting them free will be a challenge." Mei Fan said.

Tamao hated all of this. Nothing was easy in this. And every time she thought they were finally getting ahead, something else came up and pushed them back again. Now they had to plan an even more daring rescue than expected.

"I know you're worried about how we'll get them." Mei Fan said, "However, Junna said that they can manage that part. We just need to help them get across the border. They can get out of the castle just fine."

Tamao was surprised, "Really? They can get out?"

Mei Fan shrugged, "That's what she said. I'll trust her word on it."

Tamao nodded, "Very well. So, how is Sakura doing?"

"She's getting used to this place. Just really worried about Koharu right now."

"How is she doing? Did she wake up yet?"

Mei Fan shrugged, "Haven't heard anything new from any of them yet."

"I hope she's okay. That wasn't a pretty wound." Tamao sighed, "I really don't know how she failed to notice it until now. Or how any of us failed to."

"I think we were all more worried about the fact that she was back safely."

"Is there anything else we need to discuss?" Tamao asked as she reached over and held one of Mei Fan's hands.

Mei Fan had to think for a while. Tamao waited, wondering if there was any other question she should ask. There was too much going on to keep track of it all properly.

"Tamao. Mei Fan. Hi!" They were interrupted as Ichie entered the garden with a smile.

"Hello, Ichie. Do you need something?" Tamao asked.

"Yep. She's awake!"

"Ichie, we have two girls who can fall under that. Which one are you talking about?" Tamao chuckled.

"Oh. Rui is up. Actually I think Koharu woke up too but she fell back to sleep. Guess the painkillers haven't left her system yet." Ichie replied.

"How is Rui doing?" Mei Fan asked.

"She seems alright. Just a bit tired still." Ichie answered.

"Shall we go see her?" Mei Fan looked at Tamao. There was worry in her eyes. She also was scared from this...

Tamao felt bad. She forgot about how the others may feel again. She had been putting so much blame on herself and yet... she forgot that she wasn't the only one who may feel responsible for this. Mei Fan probably did blame herself a bit too...

"Yes. Let's go pay her a visit." Tamao nodded, "Make sure she's not too upset at herself."

Mei Fan nodded back to her. She stood up and held out a hand to Tamao. Tamao accepted it and let her pull her to her feet. They both looked at Ichie. Ichie smiled and started leading the way to the infirmary.

Tamao tried to prepare herself for the confrontation. She had to be careful of what she said to Rui. The last thing she needed was to accidentally start a fight. And she also needed to make sure Rui didn't feel too bad about what happened.

"Well, I'll let you two talk to her." Ichie left them at the door, "I gotta help Fumi with some repairs. See ya later!"

"Repairs?" Tamao questioned. She was not aware of anything needing repairs.

"Yeah... uh, let's just say it was on us." Ichie nervously smiled.

"What?" Tamao was concerned.

Mei Fan sighed, "We had a slight issue and there is now a hole in a wall."

Tamao gave them both a worried glance, but decided it was better to not pry more. She just sighed. This was chaos. At least they were fixing it themselves and not having to involve her for it. That was one less thing for her to worry about.

"Very well. Let's go in, Mei Fan." Tamao walked into the infirmary.

Rui looked at her for a moment, before looking away. She was frowning.

"How are you feeling?" Tamao asked as she sat down on the bed, "You gave us quite a scare."

"Sorry..."

"It's alright. I'm just glad you're alright and didn't get too hurt from it." Tamao smiled at her.

"I'm banned from my powers, aren't I?"

Tamao nodded, "Yes. Just for a little. I don't want to risk you harming yourself more."

Rui let out a long sigh, "I'm an idiot..."

"You're not!" Mei Fan protested, "You just want to help us too much. You need to look after yourself as well, Rui."

"I am." Rui grumbled, "If I wasn't this never would have happened."

"Stop. Stop blaming yourself!"

"It's all my fault. How am I not going to blame myself?"

Tamao didn't like how this was turning out. They didn't need a fight right now. They had to settle this calmly. How on earth did she do that?

"Hey, none of this." Tamao cut in, "Stop arguing with each other. It'll get us nowhere."

"Not until she stops blaming herself." Mei Fan huffed.

"Mei Fan, she is at fault. There will be blame. You can't ignore that." Tamao said, "As much as we don't need anyone blaming themselves, its impossible to do that with this."

Mei Fan frowned, "Fine..."

"But, Rui, Don't be too hard on yourself for what happened." Tamao gave her a pleading look.

Rui looked away, "Sorry..."

"I know you just want to help. But, it's alright if you have to say no sometimes." Tamao said.

"I'll try..."

"Thank you."

"How... how is the fight going?" Rui asked.

Tamao glanced at Mei Fan. Mei Fan frowned and shook her head. That was all the answer she needed.

"Not well."

"I hope we can find a way to end this soon..."

"We should be able to. Once we can get the rest of the blessed out of her grip, we can win this." Tamao stated, "I think I know what to do for it as well. We'll be back to normal in no time."

"And then what do we do with everyone?" Mei Fan asked.

That was a good question. Tamao didn't exactly have an answer to it.

"I think the blessed will return to the castle and work under Sawa. However our assassin friends... I'm not too sure what they'll do after this is over." Tamao answered honestly.

"If they want to stay, would you let them?"

"Of course. I'd never toss anyone out unless I had no choice. They've been helpful. It's only fair that I repay them however I can."

"Yeah... I hate that we have to keep asking other people for help though..." Rui sighed, "It makes me feel bad. That we aren't good enough to help you."

"You're more than good enough. And, the majority of the reason they're here is because this is a safe place for them. Here they don't have to worry about being mistreated or used because of their blessings. Them helping is just a bonus."

"I still don't understand how all of this came about..."

"It is a bit confusing." Tamao wouldn't say she knew the full story either.

She didn't want to pry too much about the past, so she was stuck with only the knowledge of what she had been told before.

"It's good, though." Mei Fan commented, "With her as the queen, we'll have an ally. Someone who has the same beliefs as us and who can help us."

"That's true." Tamao agreed, "We will have someone to help us figure everything out."

"What if she doesn't want to help us?" Rui asked.

"She will. She promised she would in exchange for us helping her take back the throne."

"She could go back on it..."

"She doesn't seem like the type who would."

"I hope you're right."

...

"So... what do we do? How do we get a message to them so they can escape and meet us at the border?"

"Hmm..."

The four runaways were struggling to come up with a plan. They had the most knowledge of the castle, so it was only right that they should come up with the plan, right? Tamao had said she would make one but they felt like they should be in charge of it.

They had come here and demanded so much of Tamao. It was only right they tried to take some of the burden off of her hands. Hopefully she would let them. Seeing how impulsive she could be was a bit worrying at times. What if she enacted her plan without consulting them first? Should they enact their plan without telling her? There was a lot to think about.

"We made need to have someone sneak in and get to them." Maya stated, "Without Sakura there they won't be able to know where we are unless we meet them."

"So one of us has to do it then." Claudine said.

"The only other options are Koharu or Suzu but neither if them are in shape to do that. We will have to." Junna replied, "And I'd rather not send Sakura back."

"Agreed. We should try and keep her involvement in this as small as possible." Maya nodded.

"Which one of us should go?" Nana asked, "You two are in better shape than we are."

"Claudine, since you are-"

"It won't matter." Claudine cut her off, "Suzu said they had protection. Blessings won't save us now."

"Bad blessing." Maya corrected.

"Nana is out from that. Honestly we've never tested if your weapons are weak when used on blessed. I don't know what better vision will do to help us much." Claudine huffed.

"I can see danger before it comes." Junna defended.

"Except any danger right in front of you." Claudine stated, "How many times have you almost been killed because you weren't paying attention to what was right in front of you?"

"Please don't fight." Nana said, "There's enough arguments as is. Don't contribute to it."

"Fine..."

"Hey, uh... are we only sending one in? Couldn't we do two?" Maya questioned.

"Maybe... but who are you thinking?" Junna asked.

"They can't stop teleporting in the castle and we know the sensors are broken. If Ichie can control her location well we might be able to simply have someone escort her there and quick deliver the message and be back." Maya offered.

"Hmm..."

She brought up a good idea. That was only if Ichie could teleport that well. If not they would have to think of another plan. Was there anyone else who could help them? Trying to find people who could still use their blessings and be helpful was hard. Especially since everyone was very busy.

"If it turns out she can't, what do we do then?" Nana was the one to pose the question.

"Is there anyone else who might be helpful?"

"Let's see..."

They all thought over everyone else's blessings. There was not much else to work with. If Ichie couldn't do what they needed, they were out of luck. They would just have to handle it one their own.

Chapter Text

The next day, it was time to act. Claudine and Maya approached Tamao early on. Tamao knew what was coming. She knew they would soon want to do something. She too wanted to act as soon as possible herself.

"Tamao, we have a plan on how to proceed." Maya stated, "Can we discuss?"

Tamao nodded, "Yes, we may."

They sat down in the library to have privacy as they talked. Tamao waited as they decided who was going to say what. She was a bit nervous about getting a plan together. If it failed would it all be blamed on her?

"So... the thing is, we don't really need a rescue mission, as I'm sure you've been told." Claudine said, "They all can get out. Even the ones who are currently imprisoned. We just need to get the message to them that it is time to go. They can get to the border. We just need to meet them there."

"What ways can you get this message to them then?" Tamao asked.

"That's the thing... we don't know what to do." Claudine sighed, "Since Sakura escaped, we can only guess the security is even worse. Sneaking in will be very tough, especially if no one can use their blessing on the knights."

Tamao nodded along. That was a very big problem. She was a bit annoyed that they had to deal with it. If Koharu had just listened...

"So, what can you do then?" Tamao prompted the discussion on.

"Ichie can teleport, no? How good is she at getting specific locations?" Maya asked.

"She's gotten better but she needs to have been in that place for it to have a good chance of working." Tamao replied.

"Can she by chance teleport someone else?"

"I don't know. We never attempted that. You would have to ask her."

"Can we then?"

Tamao nodded. She told them to wait and went to grab Ichie. Where would she find her, though? Ichie was very unpredictable in where her location would be in the castle every hour. And that was hoping she didn't randomly tag along on a patrol she wasn't meant to be on.

"Good morning, Tamao."

As she wandered the castle, Tamao ran into Michiru.

"Good morning. What are you up to?" Tamao greeted her.

"Trying to find Akira. She snuck off on me." Michiru frowned, "What about you?"

"Looking for Ichie."

"Good luck. No idea where she is."

Tamao nodded. She continued her search. Maybe she was still in her room? It was a bit early still. It didn't seem like everyone was up yet as it was.

That was where Tamao decided to head. She came to the room and knocked. She didn't hear anything, so she entered. No luck. No one was in the room. So... where else could she be? The one time she really needs her and she can't find her anywhere.

"Maybe the garden..." Tamao whispered to herself.

She headed there next. Thankfully, that was where Ichie was. She was with Shiori. They were looking at flowers.

"Ichie." Tamao walked over to them, "I need you to come with me."

"Aw..." Ichie frowned, "Am I in trouble again?"

"Should you be?" Tamao eyed her warily.

"N-no!"

"I'll delve into that another time. We need you for something. Come." Tamao's voice left no room for an argument.

Ichie nodded. She said goodbye to Shiori and followed after Tamao. She was obviously nervous to be summoned.

"So... what's up?" Ichie asked.

"I'll explain when we get there." Tamao replied.

Ichie frowned. She didn't like the secretness of this at all. Why couldn't Tamao just tell her now? Why did she have to wait? Was Tamao telling the truth that she wasn't in trouble? It sure felt like she was.

"Tamao... I don't like when you're so secretive..." Ichie mumbled.

Tamao sighed and reached a hand over to grab one of hers, "I don't like it either, but I'm a bit worried that someone could be listening in that we don't want to hear these things."

"I understand... I hate this... I just want everything to be normal..."

"I do too. I feel like I'm failing you all... I've never given you the peace you deserve."

"It's not your fault, Tamao." Ichie squeezed her hand, "It's the stupidly cruel world around us."

Tamao nodded, "I wish we could change it, but I don't see us getting far. People don't like to change their ways very easily."

"Especially without good reason." Ichie added on, "They don't like us blessed so proving we can coexist without having to be held hostage by royalty is pretty tough."

"Yeah..."

"Say, do you know if a blessed has ever like, killed the royalty they had to serve? Just out of the blue, though. Not because they were under attack."

Tamao pondered her question as they walked. It was pretty likely that had happened at some point. But, did she know any incidents off the top of her head?

"I can't say that I can remember any personally but I can say without a doubt it's probably occured. Think about it, they're being mistreated. All it takes is one bold blessed and an opportunity and they'll take it to be free again." Tamao replied.

"Blessings aren't a genetic type ordeal, are they? Like, you're more likely to get a blessing if someone in your family had one?"

"Not that I'm aware of."

"I see..."

They arrived back at the library. Maya and Claudine faced them. Ichie understood now part of why she was here.

"So, uh, whatcha need me for?" Ichie asked.

"We were hoping you could aid in getting the message to the ones still in the castle that they should escape." Claudine said, "With the ability to teleport, you could really aid us in getting in unnoticed."

"What exactly would I need to do?" Ichie questioned, glancing at Tamao.

"We'd like to see if you can possibly teleport another person other than yourself before deciding." Maya stated.

"I... I can... try." Ichie gulped. Experimenting with her blessing made her heart pound in fear every time. What if something went horribly wrong and it killed her? She couldn't say with certainty that that wasn't a possibility.

"It'll be alright." Tamao placed a hand on her shoulder, "You can do it. I believe in you."

Ichie nodded and took a few deep breaths. Maya and Claudine talked her through a bit about what they were hoping to achieve if this was possible. Ichie was growing more nervous. This entire mission seemed dependant on her right now. If she messed up she would set everything back.

"Let's start simple. Just try and teleport someone across the room. I'm sure none of us care who you pick." Claudine was taking most of the lead in instructing Ichie.

Ichie nodded to her and then looked at Tamao, "Would you... let me do you?"

Tamao offered her a soft smile, "Of course. I don't mind."

It was no surprise to her that Ichie would want to do her first. She had a closer bond to her than with Claudine or Maya. Trust was probably a big factor right now. Tamao didn't want to push her too far when she was already this nervous. She needed to be able to trust herself. That meant using someone she cared about as the first person.

Ichie gulped and closed her eyes. After a few minutes of deep breaths, she opened them again and walked over to her. She nervously placed a hand on Tamao's shoulder.

"You got this, Ichie." Tamao said encouragingly.

Ichie nodded. She took another deep breath and tried. Nothing happened. Her face fell. She took a shaky breath and tried again. Nothing. She couldn't do it. Tears stung her eyes at the realization.

"Hey, no crying." Tamao frowned and pulled her into a hug, "You tried. That's all that matters."

"If I may," Claudine came over, "Could we instead try teleporting both of you together? Maybe that could work?"

"Do you want to try that?" Tamao asked Ichie as she brushed away the tears.

Ichie nodded. She wanted to try. She felt like she had to try and be useful here. They were putting so much trust in her. She couldn't let them down again.

After a few minutes so Ichie could calm herself, they tried again. Ichie took a lot longer to prepare herself. No one was going to rush her. Maya seemed impatient, but even so, her eyes showed she was willing to wait for Ichie's sake.

"Ready?" Ichie asked quietly.

Tamao nodded, "Ready whenever you are."

Ichie took one last deep breath and tried to teleport the both of them across the room. Unfortunately, only she made it over. Tamao remained where she stood. Ichie frowned as her lip trembled. She was a failure. She couldn't do this for them.

"I'm sorry..." Ichie burst into tears and ran away.

"Ichie!" Tamao went after her.

Claudine and Maya stared at each other with sorrowful gazes.

"That isn't what I expected to happen." Maya said, "Did we put too much pressure on her to succeed?"

"I don't think so. I think it's more so she felt obligated to succeed on her own."

"I hope we don't lose her help at all. We still have the chance that maybe she can teleport in herself."

"Let's let Tamao handle this for now. Give her a bit to calm down." Claudine said.

Maya nodded, "Let's see what Nana and Junna have gotten up to and inform them of the current state of the plan."

...

"Ichie?"

Ichie had run back to her room and threw herself onto her bed without a care. She didn't realize someone else was in the room.

"Leave me alone..."

Fumi was there. Ichie didn't want to deal with her right now at all. She just wanted to be alone. She felt awful. She had failed so much. She was useless, wasn't she? Couldn't even teleport anyone but herself...

"Ichie..." Tamao entered the room, sounding out of breath.

Ichie didn't get a chance to yell at her before suddenly she was embraced and pulled into a hug she had no way of escaping from. Ichie glanced at Tamao.

"Hey... it's alright..." Tamao whispered as she brushed away the tears again, "You did your best."

"Can I ask what happened?" Fumi sat down on the bed with them.

Tamao sighed, "We were testing out limits of her blessing. She couldn't do anything we were testing."

"I'm a failure..." Ichie whispered.

Tamao frowned and pulled her into a very tight hug. She could only guess this reaction may have to do with her past. Had she been yelled at for not being good enough before?

"You're not a failure." Tamao replied softly, "We weren't exactly expecting it to happen. It's fine that you couldn't do it, Ichie."

"But-"

"No buts."

"Why exactly were you testing her?" Fumi questioned as she sat on the bed as well.

"To see what options we have for delivering the message to those still held by the queen." Tamao replied.

"So, what options are left?"

"If possible, we were hoping Ichie could at least get herself in and out to deliver the message. Worst case, two people just have to go and sneak in like Koharu and Suzu had."

"So... I still can be useful?" Ichie asked.

Tamao smiled reassuringly at her, "Of course you can be. That was our first plan to begin with before they brought up the question of if you could maybe teleport more than just yourself."

"Sorry I'm such a crybaby..." Ichie mumbled.

Tamao patted her on the head, "It's fine. I'm sure you have good reason for why you reacted this way."

Ichie nodded, but didn't offer any more of an explanation. Tamao wasn't about to push her for one. The last thing they needed was to take Ichie completely out of their plan. Bringing up her past now could cause that to happen. She couldn't risk it.

"I'm guessing your past wasn't the best." Fumi said, "I'm sorry to hear that. You really deserved better."

"All of you deserved better." Tamao added on.

"Thank you, Fumi..."

"Are you willing to try and go in by yourself?" Fumi asked.

Ichie nodded, "I'll do it if I helps us win. I want to be useful and if this is how I can do it I want to try."

"I'm sure they'd protect you if something went wrong as long as you're near them." Tamao stated, "I think they'd know that you're on their side."

"I hope so."

...

"Maya, Claudine. Any luck?"

"Unsure, currently. She couldn't do anything we hoped and then ran off crying over the fact. If Tamao can't remedy this we may lose Ichie entirely in our plan."

Maya and Claudine has tracked down Junna and Nana in their room. They had been talking quietly before they entered. The conversation shifted to the matter at hand very quickly once they came in.

"You weren't too harsh on her, were you?" Nana asked.

Maya shook her head, "No. We didn't push her, we gave her space, we let her do everything at her own pace."

"Hmm..."

"Maybe she had trauma of being punished for not meeting expectations?" Junna suggested, "I mean, look at how many kids we've seen have that issue while working for the queen."

"That seems very likely now that you mention it." Maya nodded along.

"I do hope Tamao can help her out. We really need her right now."

They really did need Ichie. She was the safest option they had. Breaking into the kingdom by force would draw a lot of attention to them and cause everyone greater harm. If she could still help, that risk of being spotted dropped dramatically. They desperately needed Ichie.

Thankfully, it was not long after they finished talking about everything that Tamao returned and informed them of the outcome. They all felt relief knowing Ichie was still able to assist them in this. That made their plan a little bit better. Now they had to do the hardest part, figuring out what to do once they got the message and escaped the castle.

...

"Mei Fan? Are you busy?"

"Huh? Oh, hey, Rui. I'm just finishing up some cleaning. What do you need?"

"I want to talk to you."

"About what?"

"Tamao."

Mei Fan frowned at that. This wasn't going to be a good conversation then, was it?

"Alright."

Rui lead her to a desolate area and they sat on the floor. Mei Fan waited anxiously for Rui to speak. What was going on now that was worrying? Did Tamao get up to more trouble that she wasn't aware of?

"Tamao doesn't seem to be thinking of herself with all this planning for the attack. I'm worried that she'll get caught up in it and hurt but I'm also scared to bring it up to her since she doesn't like being told to sit back." Rui explained, "What do you think?"

Mei Fan sighed, "I worry the same thing. I prodded her about it a bit, but she never had any plans to hide out or how to flee before something could happen."

"I don't want to force her into hiding against her will. The last time didn't go well so..."

"Yeah..."

Neither had any idea what to do. Tamao shouldn't involve herself in this war physically. She needed to be behind the lines. But she probably wouldn't accept that. She would want to fight by everyone's side. They didn't want that for her though. That put her in too much danger.

"Perhaps there may be better options for talking her out of fighting than us?" Mei Fan stated.

"You implying we should be asking her?"

"I mean, she's royalty too. Maybe if she tells Tamao to stay back for once she'd listen?"

"I guess it doesn't hurt to at least ask her. Or at the minimum ask for advice on what to do on our own."

Mei Fan lowered her voice, "Though I still don't know how much I trust her."

"She hasn't done any wrong yet. I'm willing to give her a chance." Rui replied.

"It's just weird how this all came to be."

Rui nodded, "I agree with you on that, but none of them have done anything bad. The worst they've done is the unplanned rescue mission."

"Right... I'm just so used to never being able to trust outsiders with Tamao that it's hard to actually do it for once." Mei Fan sighed.

"I get what you mean. Especially considering what's happening currently it is hard to trust people we don't know already."

...

"Um... Yachiyo?"

"Hmm? What's up, Shiori?"

"I was walking outside to get some air and I found something I'd like you to come look at with me, please?"

"Sure. Lead the way."

Shiori nodded. She led Yachiyo back to where she had just been. After Ichie had gotten pulled away by Tamao, she had gone out on a walk to pass the time.

"Here. Look at the ground and the branches." Shiori stopped at where she had been.

It was quite a distance from the castle. But it was still close enough to be worrisome. Yachiyo went and took a close look at everything.

"Seems like something stumbled through here." Yachiyo stated, "Pretty recent. The blood here is still wet."

"Should we follow the trail?" Shiori asked.

Yachiyo stood up and nodded, "We need to."

"Will you take the lead?"

"Alright. Stay close." Yachiyo nodded.

They slowly followed the broken trail of leaves and branches, as well as the blood on the ground. After a while of walking, they heard noises of pain coming from somewhere nearby.

"I... I'm scared." Shiori whispered.

"It's okay." Yachiyo reassured her, "Who's there!?"

The noises stopped for a moment and they could hear a feeble cry for help. Yachiyo went after where she heard she voice. Shiori stayed a few paces behind.

"Oh god... you're really beaten up." Yachiyo stopped in her tracks as she reached a thick brush.

Shiori walked over to see as well. There was someone there. They were bleeding heavily from a wound on their side and head.

Yachiyo knelt beside them, "What happened?"

"The... queen..." The stranger gasped, "She... she tried to... kill me..."

"Shiori, get Rui. She won't be able to walk back and carrying her might make things worse." Yachiyo ordered.

Shiori nodded, "O-okay! Um, can I have your name first?"

"Futaba..."

Shiori nodded to her again and then ran off to the castle. She went as fast as she could. By the time she made it, she could barely breathe.

"Shiori? Are you okay?" Michiru spotted her first.

"Where's Rui? I need her now." Shiori asked.

"I'll go grab her. Take a breather." Michiru stated.

Shiori nodded and leaned against a wall. She was gasping for breath. Now she had to get back there too. This was hard. But she needed to. If she didn't that girl would die. She couldn't live with herself if she let that happen.

"Shiori? What's wrong?" Rui came to her in a hurry.

"Just, follow me, please." Shiori said.

Rui nodded. Shiori led her back to the girl as fast as she could. She couldn't go quite a fast as before. Hopefully they weren't too late.

"I got her..." Shiori announced out of breath.

"Good, Rui, please. She needs you." Yachiyo quickly motioned to Futaba. She had since passed out.

Rui gasped and quickly rushed to her side, "Oh she's bad..."

"Yeah. Queen attempted to murder her." Yachiyo grumbled, "Guess this is a knight."

Rui sighed as she began healing her, "I hope we kill her soon. This needs to end."

"Indeed." Yachiyo agreed.

Soon enough, Futaba had been healed. Rui let out a sigh. That had been hard.

"We should take her back now." Rui stated.

"I'll carry her." Yachiyo offered.

Neither Shiori nor Rui had any complaints. The three of them took a slower walk back to the castle. They made sure to stay off of visible paths, lest the queen see they had a knight of hers.

Tamao and Mei Fan were waiting for them at the entrance. Mei Fan came up to Shiori and started worrying over her. Shiori was still very tired from that run. She hated that her body still was not at it's full potential yet. The abuse from the Frosted Lands had really done a number on her still.

"Who is this?" Tamao asked.

"Guessing another knight. Said her name is Futaba." Yachiyo replied, "Queen attempted to kill her."

Tamao frowned, "Let her rest with her friends then."

Yachiyo nodded and took her there. She knocked on the door. Junna opened it. Her eyes widened.

"Futaba? Why... why is she...?"

"She was nearly killed by the queen." Yachito explained as she set her on a bed, "Don't know much else. She blacked out on me before long after we found her. That's all she said right now."

Junna frowned as she sat down on the edge of the bed, "So... she's starting to eliminate them..."

"It seems so. I'm sure this'll make Tamao enact the plan soon. We won't let them kill anyone."

"I'm really worried now..." Junna whispered, "What if it's already too late? What if it wasn't just her who was attacked?"

"She never mentioned anyone else, so I hope that means no one else was targeted yet." Yachiyo replied, "Have faith."

The door opened in a hurry, "I heard-"

Claudine had entered the room. Her eyes were wide with both worry and relief as she laid eyes on Futaba. She quickly came over and sat next to her. She gently ran a hand across her cheek.

"How bad was she attacked?" Claudine questioned.

"Pretty bad. She had her right side practically ripped open and her head had been bashed in with something heavy a few times. Rui managed to heal the worst of it."

"Did she say what did that?"

Yachiyo shook her head, "No. Just that the queen tried to kill her. But, do understand she was barely conscious when we found her. She didn't have much strength to talk."

Claudine nodded in understanding, "I'm just glad she didn't die..."

"You two are close, I take it?"

Claudine nodded, "Yeah. She was the first person I ever really told that I wasn't blessed and she helped me not be found out for so long."

"She'll be glad to see you, I'm sure." Yachiyo smiled, "I'll leave you be. Try to not disturb her too much. She needs the rest."

Yachiyo left the room and went to go see where Tamao had gone. She wanted to ask about the plan now that this had occured. Tamao was in the throne room, Mei Fan and Fumi beside her. They were talking quietly.

"Hey." Yachiyo announced herself as she came closer.

Tamao nodded to her in greeting, "How is she?"

"Still out cold but she seems to be recovering now that Rui healed her." Yachiyo replied, "So... speaking of that, what do we do now? The queen is going to continue killing them if we don't act soon."

Tamao sighed, "I know. I need her to wake up first. To ask what truly is all going down."

"Do you have any ideas planned already for when she does wake up?"

"We were trying to figure some out."

"Alright. I'll keep an eye out and let you know when she wakes up."

"Thank you."

...

"Koharu~"

"What?"

"I got some news for you."

"About what?"

Koharu was still confined to her bed. Her wound was healing well. Rui had helped a bit, but she still would need time to completely recover. Whenever something happened, someone would have to come and tell her. Suzu was the one to do it this time.

"They got another knight. Apparently she was nearly killed by the queen." Suzu informed her.

"I assume that means we will be attacking soon?" Koharu questioned.

Suzu shrugged, "I don't know yet. Tamao hasn't made a final call."

"Have you seen who it was? Did we meet them?" Koharu changed the topic. She was curious to know if they had met this knight already or not.

Suzu shrugged again, "No idea. Haven't gotten to see her yet. She was in pretty bad shape so it's no surprise she's being kept away to recover for now."

"Yeah... knowing what this queen wants to do to Tamao... I can't imagine what she may be willing to do to her own knights."

"Speaking of recovering, how is your leg?" Suzu asked as she sat down on the bed.

"Better. Earlier Hisame made me try walking short distances. I managed but barely." Koharu frowned as she finished. She hated that she still wasn't at her best yet.

"At least you're able to kinda move around." Suzu tried to lighten up the mood. She knew Koharu was very bitter about everything.

"It's not enough."

"You can't rush it, Koharu. Do you wanna make things worse?"

Koharu shook her head.

"Then unfortunately you just gotta bear with it for a while longer."

"But if we're close to attacking-"

"If you sit it out, you sit it out. I'm not letting you get hurt worse." Suzu cut her off with a firm voice.

Koharu stared down at the bed. She was frustrated. Why wasn't anything going her way? The only thing that had was getting Sakura back. Everything else was just going wrong constantly. She hated this life sometimes.

"Koharu, please?" Suzu pouted at her, "I don't want to lose you."

"I need to help. I'd feel awful just sitting back while you all go out and risk your lives." Koharu protested.

"And we'd feel horrible if we let you go and then you got yourself killed."

"Hisame."

Hisame was standing at the door frame. She stared down Koharu for a while, before walking in and joining them on the bed.

"Everyone is against me helping..." Koharu sighed.

"Because you can't help us without putting yourself in way too much danger." Hisame stated.

"That's not true!" Koharu protested.

"Koharu, seriously. You'll just make everyone worried if you join the fight." Suzu said.

Koharu frowned and stared down at the bed, "Is there nothing I can do?"

"Probably not. You're not in good enough shape to fight right now." Suzu replied, placing a hand on her own, "Look, Sakura is going to be staying here too. She already said she can't bear to fight right now. This new girl may not be able to fight either. Maybe your job can be helping them feel safe here?"

"Sakura isn't willing to fight?" Koharu questioned. This was the first she heard of that.

Suzu shook her head, "No. When she was asked if she wanted to join the war effort she said no."

"I wonder if part of it is because you're unable to fight." Hisame commented.

"What? You think she's refusing to go fight because of me?" Koharu questioned.

Hisame nodded, "Yeah. She is really worried about you after all. She may not want to leave you alone for that long."

"There is also the chance that some knights might come and try to attack here when it's not very guarded." Suzu added on, "We do need some people to stay and keep an eye on things here."

"We'll really have to split our forces thin..." Hisame sighed, "We don't have that many of us to go up against this entire army. Sure, there's the regular knights but I feel like we need us blessed to win."

"But didn't the queen have ruins for her knights so that our blessings can't hurt them?" Koharu questioned.

Suzu nodded, "Yeah, she did. But that only stops bad blessings, remember? Tamao said before that even good blessings can cause harm so... we are still vital. Some of us more than others."

"I need to help." Koharu reiterated.

"You can help us by staying here and not putting yourself in danger." Suzu stated.

Koharu frowned. She still wasn't getting anywhere with this argument. They were adamant that she not fight. It didn't sit right with her still. She needed to be out there helping. She couldn't just sit back as everyone else went off.

"Koharu, please." Hisame said, "You really aren't in any condition to go out and fight. You can barely walk. What good will you be?"

Koharu didn't have a rebuttal. It was true. What use was she if she couldn't even walk on her own? She couldn't survive without help in a battle. She really was stuck.

She hated this so much. Everyone could tell. She wasn't exactly quiet about her displeasure with the situation. Unfortunately it technically was all on her that she was in the spot to begin with. She had no one to blame but herself.

...

"Akira."

"Hmm? Oh, Michiru. What do you want?"

"To talk about what all is going on."

Michiru found Akira out the back of the castle. She had been searching for ages. Akira seemed to always vanish when she needed her the most. She would need to scold her for that another time.

"Why? We know all that we can about the situation. Until Tamao decides to attack we can't do much else." Akira stated.

"Well, since you didn't hear, the queen tried to murder another knight. She is here now. The attack will be soon." Michiru huffed.

"She's gotten that fed up with waiting?"

"It seems so. Tamao seems to be preparing everything to begin the plan. It won't be very long until we have to fight."

"How do you feel about all of this, Michiru?" Akira questioned, staring off into the distance.

Michiru was taken back by the sudden question and didn't know how to respond right away. How did she feel about all of this? She hadn't really let herself feel anything. She had tried to keep those feelings at bay and focus on the present instead. Why was Akira asking her this now anyway?

"I don't really know. It's so much to take in at once I can't figure out even how I should feel." Michiru eventually decided that would be her answer. It was rare of her to not have a good answer to something.

"Do you trust Tamao?"

Michiru eyed Akira up, "I trust she'll figure out the right way to do this."

"She's been handling this all horribly. I don't get why we should have her in charge of this."

"She really isn't though." Michiru defended, "She's letting the knights from the kingdom lead this battle. She is simply telling them what she can help them with."

"And do you trust these knights? It seems too planned for them to keep showing up like this. And the fact that they can apparently escape the castle no issue even with them being held in prison. It is not normal and I don't see why you trust them." Akira continued her argument.

Michiru sighed and traced her foot in the dirt below, "Akira, please. They've done nothing wrong. They've cooperated with everything and helped us as mch as they could already. Why can't you give them a chance?"

"None of this feels right." Akira stated, "If we get betrayed, don't say I didn't warn you."

Michiru sighed again. Akira was being very stubborn about all of this. She had been since the start. This wasn't good. But, no matter what she said, Akira wouldn't believe her. At this point the only thing that could convince her was the war. If she saw them on their side, maybe finally she would trust them.

"You never were this bad, Akira. Why don't you trust them?"

Akira didn't reply. She glanced at Michiru and then walked inside. Michiru didn't bother following her. She wouldn't talk right now.

But, that did mean there was a deeper reason for her distrust of these knights. Time to do some digging and figure out what exactly it was. She needed to solve this issue if she could. Akira needed to be friendly with these knights for the battle.

That would be a long process, wouldn't it? She wouldn't talk easily. And she knew how to hide things well.

...

"Tamao."

"Yes, Fumi?"

"There's... a problem."

"What?"

"The... the queen's castle is... on fire."

Chapter Text

Hearing that the castle was on fire was the last thing Tamao had expected. What on earth had happened? It couldn't be any of the people here. None of them could have anything to do with this, could they? Last Tamao had checked everyone was very much accounted for. That meant this fire was an inside job.

"Gather the strongest of you and go to the border. I have a feeling they may have made their escape now." Tamao ordered Fumi.

Fumi's eyes widened, "You don't think..."

Tamao said nothing, but the look in her eyes showed it all. She couldn't put it aside that there may be more attempts on those knights and their lives. This may be their only chance to escape before being slaughtered like sheep. They needed to help them.

"Take as many of those girls as you can. They should be there to help their friends if that is what is happening." Tamao added on.

Fumi nodded and quickly went off to do as she was ordered. Tamao debated what her own actions should be. She knew that she must remain at the castle during this event. She couldn't be one of the people to go out to investigate, as much as she really wanted to be.

She aimlessly started walking down the halls, trying to decide what she needed to do. Until Fumi gathered everyone, she had nothing else to really accomplish.

"Tamao."

Tamao paused. She turned around to find Shiori.

"Yes, Shiori?" Tamao asked.

"Is... is it true? That... there's a fire?"

"That's what I've been told."

"I'm scared..."

Tamao frowned and walked over to her, "It'll be alright. The situation is already being handled."

"But... what if... what if it isn't what we think?" Shiori questioned, "What if it's a setup by the queen herself?"

"I don't know that she'd destroy her castle just to murder a few knights." Tamao replied.

"Can we trust the information that there truly is a fire though?" Shiori asked.

Tamao paused at that question. She didn't exactly know who had first delivered the news of the fire to them all. Could it have been a set up by the queen to get them to lower their defenses so she could attack again?

"I can't exactly say if you're right or wrong, but I believe the main thought process is the correct one. If we are wrong... I'll bite those words myself."

"Maybe you shouldn't be out here? Just to be safe?"

"I'll hide once the mission sets out, alright?"

"Okay..."

Tamao continued on, now having an idea on what to do. She was followed by Shiori the entire time. Tamao paid her no mind. She was simply trying to keep her safe. This was a very dangerous time for her. With how little they knew of what was going on, this could end horribly for her if she didn't watch her steps.

"Where are we going, Tamao?" Shiori asked.

"To meet up with everyone."

"Where?"

"You'll see." Tamao wanted to tell her but held off. She felt uneasy saying the location out loud for some reason.

She... was starting to get this sense someone was watching them. Should she say something to Shiori or not? It was probably best to first try and find more people in case there was someone they needed to fight off.

Thankfully, it did not take much more to find someone. Yachiyo was just up ahead, looking out a window. She turned her head at the sound of their footsteps.

"Good afternoon, Tamao. I'm guessing you've heard the apparent news." Yachiyo greeted them.

"Yes. Fumi is gathering everyone of use for the investigation as we speak." Tamao nodded, before leaning closer, "I feel as though we are being watched. Keep an eye out and don't say anything more."

Yachiyo nodded, "Are we off to meet with them then?"

"That is the plan." Tamao replied.

She took note as Yachiyo carefully did a look around them. It was very subtle and had Tamao not known what she was doing, she probably wouldn't have guessed the true motive.

"Why were you looking out the window? Did you see anything?" Shiori asked.

"Just a little entertaining fight between some little forest creatures. That's all." Yachiyo smiled at Shiori.

Shiori glanced out the window. With her distracted Yachiyo quickly moved closer to Tamao.

"I can't see anyone but with my blessing I did briefly connect to someone. We should keep moving." Yachiyo whispered.

"No time to delay, Shiori. We need to get going." Tamao nodded and quickly called Shiori back to attention, "We can't keep them waiting on us."

"Sorry! Let's go."

The three of them walked onward. Yachiyo pushed Shiori to the front and followed up the back. Shiori seemed oblivious to why she was doing so. Tamao wanted it to stay that way. Shiori still was not the best at handling the horrors that came with this war.

Tamao really didn't like this at all. The feeling was getting worse now that she had official confirmation there was someone unknown around. It wasn't someone blessed if Yachiyo was able to connect her blessing. That meant it wasn't a runaway knight as she had wished. This was an enemy.

They continued onward. They were getting closer to the place they needed to be. Tamao knew the most likely place the party was preparing to depart at. She just hoped they'd get there fast enough.

Footsteps sounded from behind them. Tamao turned around to find the stranger. They were heavily masked up and clothed in all black. They also were running at the three of them at full speed, a knife in their hand. They had the intent to kill, no doubt.

Yachiyo quickly ran to meet them, yanking out her sword from its sheath as quickly as she could. Their weapons clashed. Shiori stood beside Tamao, shaking in fear. Tamao watched in worry as the fight began. Both were vicious. This wasn't going to be a pretty end. There was no way Yachiyo would not get injured to some degree in this fight. Tamao just hoped it wouldn't be too bad.

The attacker managed to hit Yachiyo after a few minutes of a standstill between them. The knife they held dug deep into her arm. Yachiyo let out a very loud scream as she was engulfed in immense pain. The attacker wasn't satisfied just disabling her, and stabbed her once more, this time narrowly missing her eye. It landed just beside, also almost taking off her ear.

"Shiori." Tamao said firmly, "Use your blessing and kill them. Now."

"I-I-"

"Do it!"

Shiori closed her eyes, tears falling down them. The attacker suddenly started grabbing at their throat. They were suffocating. It didn't take long for them to fall down. They twitched a few times and then fell still.

Tamao quickly ran over to Yachiyo. She hoped the others heard the commotion and were coming to investigate. She didn't want to move Yachiyo if possible. The wounds were bad.

"Yachiyo..." Tamao whispered as she worriedly tried to wrap the wound on her arm with what had once been her dress.

"Am I... gonna die?"

Hearing those words sent a lot of emotions funneling through Tamao. She didn't know what to say at first.

"Of course not. Rui will heal you. Rest. It'll be alright." Tamao went the route of soothing her.

Shiori came over and sat beside them. Her eyes were full of fear. She quickly offered up a small cloth in her pocket to Tamao. Tamao used it to apply pressure to the wound on her head.

"You're lying..." Yachiyo whispered, "It'll be too late..."

"It won't be. I won't let you die."

Yachiyo's eyes closed. She was still breathing, but it was faint. She was losing a lot of blood. This wasn't good at all.

"S-should I find Rui?" Shiori asked.

"Unless she shows up now, it's a lost cause."

Shiori's eyes went wide at that statement. They started filling with tears.

"Tamao!"

To Tamao's relief, Rui and Mei Fan had found them. Just in time.

"Rui. You need to heal her now." Tamao didn't give either a chance to even start opening their mouths to speak.

Rui froze for a brief moment as she laid eyes on Yachiyo. She quickly rushed to them all and immediately started trying to heal her. They waited anxiously to see if she had been fast enough.

"Tamao..." Shiori choked out, moving closer to her side.

Tamao held her into a tight hug. This was by far the worst injury any had sustained so far. Would Rui be able to heal her?

"I... can't do any... more..." Rui was barely keeping herself conscious, having drained at much of her blessing powers as she could into Yachiyo.

Mei Fan moved to support her in case she did pass out. Tamao hesitantly undid the bandaging on her arm. She let out a sigh of relief. The wound was closed. And she was still breathing.

"You did it, Rui. You saved her." Tamao said softly, giving her a gentle squeeze on her hand.

"I... did..." Rui smiled. She rested all of her weight onto Mei Fan, "Can I... rest...?"

"Of course. You need it." Mei Fan had no complaints.

Tamao carefully picked up Yachiyo, "I'm going to clean off the blood. Can you handle getting a quick group to sweap the grounds for any other intruders?"

"Yeah. Just let me dump Rui with someone and I'll do that." Mei Fan nodded.

"W-what do I do?" Shiori asked.

"Stay with me. In case we run into any other trouble." Tamao replied.

"I don't wanna kill again..."

"Wait. You killed them?" Mei Fan asked in shock.

"Who else could've?" Tamao said, "They obviously didn't die of a stab wound."

"You... made her use her blessing."

"I had no choice, Mei Fan. All three of us would be dead if I hadn't." Tamao got defensive. She knew that Shiori never wanted to use that blessing but they had no other choice.

"I... sorry. I'll go."

Tamao sighed as she began walking to the bath. Shiori followed behind, her head low.

"Shiori." Tamao glanced at her.

"Yeah?" Shiori didn't meet her gaze.

"I'm sorry. I know you don't like what blessing you were given. I didn't want to do that either, but if they took down Yachiyo, I don't think either of us stood a chance." Tamao said.

"I know... I don't blame you. I just... feel weird knowing I'm responsible for someone's life ending." Shiori replied.

"It doesn't get easier. I know that feeling very well."

They arrived. Tamao set Shiori to work preparing the bath. Meanwhile, Tamao undressed Yachiyo. She decided to just toss the clothes. They were too destroyed to salvage.

"It's ready, Tamao."

"Thank you. Could you quickly run and grab her some fresh clothes? And I suppose some for me as well. This dress isn't really covering much now."

"Okay!"

Tamao set Yachiyo into the water and gently started scrubbing away the blood. Yachiyo slowly started to stir as she continued.

"Tamao...?" Yachiyo mumbled as she opened her eyes slightly.

"I'm here. You're okay, Yachiyo. I told you Rui would heal you. I'm just cleaning off the blood." Tamao greeted her in a soft voice.

"Thanks..."

"You'd do the same for me."

"Most rulers wouldn't do this for a knight. You'd have left me to die."

"Well, good thing I never plan to be like those people."

"I hope you stay this way... I know power sometimes corrupts people."

"With how many of you guys I have here watching me, I don't think I'd get the chance to be corrupted before I got shut down and given a harsh reality check." Tamao chuckled.

"Yeah... we're good at that, aren't we?" Yachiyo managed a small laugh as well.

"Anyway, how are you feeling?" Tamao asked.

"Alright... just... you know the feeling after Rui heals you."

"Yeah. That I do."

"How is Rui?"

"Out cold, unfortunately."

"And Shiori?"

Tamao didn't have an answer right away. She didn't exactly know how to explain Shiori. Her behavior was not exactly what Tamao had originally predicted happening if she ever did kill someone.

"Numb, I guess." Tamao eventually said, "Figuring out how to handle the feeling of guilt."

"It's never easy... I still get nightmares of my first murder..."

"I hate that I had to make her kill..."

"You had no choice."

"I know. I just... still wish there had been another way around it."

"It's my fault." Yachiyo stated, "Had I not been afraid to use my own blessing we could've avoided a fight all together."

"It's not your fault." Tamao understood where she was coming from, but didn't want her to bear the blame either, "This wouldn't have happened to begin with if that person hadn't attempted to attack us."

"Such a childish way to view it..."

"Except I know the world will never be that way."

"I'm very surprised you got this far without having to make someone use their blessing against their will." Yachiyo commented, "Considering we've been at war since we came here..."

"I am too, if I'm honest. More so that I never needed to make you spy for us. We managed to get enough info the old fashioned way." Tamao nodded along.

"You did, just not with my blessing." Yachiyo cracked a smile.

"You volunteered to do it, Yachiyo."

"I know, I know."

Tamao smiled back at her, "I'm glad to see you're doing well if you can banter like this."

"I'm just a little light-headed and disoriented still. Not too bad, thankfully. But I guess that means I'm not going to be on this mission."

"I didn't know you were planning to try and join them."

"Doesn't matter to me. If they needed me I'd have gone too."

"I don't honestly know if any of your group would be selected."

"Hmm? Did something happen?"

Tamao sighed, "You could say that. Michiru informed me that Akira isn't very... approachable with this stuff right now. She voiced a concern that Akira may harm one of them if they briefly do something wrong."

"Really? I mean, I know she's definitely not been fond of these new people but... to say she's afraid someone may get hurt is... new." Yachiyo frowned.

"She won't talk about why she dislikes them. I can only imagine she had a bad encounter in her past."

"Stubborn idiot."

"I'm back."

Their conversation got cut short as Shiori returned with the clothes. She let out a sigh of relief as she saw that Yachiyo was awake.

"Hello, Shiori." Yachiyo greeted her, "You doing alright?"

"I should be asking you that." Shiori mumbled.

"I'm doing just fine. Now will you answer me?"

Shiori didn't seem to want to talk about it. She didn't reply to Yachiyo. She simply dropped off the clothes and then started to leave the room. Even as Yachiyo called out to her once more, she didn't stop.

"Guess it's really affecting her." Tamao sighed.

"She just needs some time to process everything. It'll work itself out in the end." Yachiyo replied.

"But we don't have that luxury right now. We're on the brink of a war, Yachiyo. There's no time to sulk around."

"Tamao, deep breaths. I know. But, she's just a kid. Even more than any of us are. We really gotta look out for her right now. Even if that means letting her do this even in the midst of a war."

Tamao frowned. She understood what Yachiyo was saying. It did make sense. Shiori obviously wasn't able to handle the horrors of war as well as most of them were. It was surprising to hear considering her past but they couldn't change it.

It was just very stressful to deal with right now. Keeping someone from having to deal with this bloody war was not easy. She hated that Shiori was doing this. But she couldn't make her fight. For many reasons. The main one was probably her fear of what Fumi would do to her if she did try and force Shiori to war.

"You alright, Tamao?" Yachiyo's voice brought her back from her thoughts.

"I'm fine. Just... thinking everything over again. It's so much to deal with at once."

"It is." Yachiyo agreed, "Soon this will end. I know it."

...

Mei Fan was searching for another person. At this point she didn't care who it was. She just needed someone to take Rui and watch over her while she fulfilled the orders Tamao gave. Unfortunately she was struggling to find anyone. Mei Fan knew there was an investigation party being put together no doubt, but there should still be others around too. That group couldn't be too big.

The first person she found was not someone she wanted to give Rui to. Despite what she had just been saying, Akira was not included on that list. Not when everyone was aware of her displeasure with the knights from the Star-Crossed Kingdom.

"What happened to her." Akira spotted her before she could leave the area.

"It's a long story." Mei Fan said, "Um... could you help me? An intruder got in and... nearly killed someone. We need to sweap the grounds to make sure there are no more. So, either you can get a group together or watch Rui until she wakes up."

"I'll watch her. You know more about this situation. You should be in charge of the search."

"Thank you." Mei Fan handed Rui over.

As much as she really didn't want to have Akira being the one watching her, she had no choice. She needed to get this search started fast.

"No one is dead, right?" Akira questioned.

Mei Fan shook her head, "Just the intruder. Rui managed to-"

She stopped. She had been trying not to tell all the details. That kept her here longer the more she had to explain.

"Managed to what?"

Mei Fan sighed, "Yachiyo nearly died. She barely managed to save her. I'll answer anything else later. I need to do this."

"Very well."

With that, Mei Fan went off to find whoever she could to search. Hopefully it was just one person. Hopefully this wasn't a mass attack. They would be doomed if it was.

...

Fumi had gathered the group she felt was best for this. Well, as good as she could. She didn't know what had become of the others at this point. She just knew some people she wanted were not around to be selected. This team would just have to work instead.

"Alright. As you all are aware, there are reports of a fire at the castle. We can't say for sure if this info is factual, but we need to investigate it regardless." Fumi addressed the group.

She had gathered up the four from the kingdom that were in shape to fight. Futaba was still too weak to help. She needed more time to recover. Besides those ones, Fumi also grabbed Ichie and Michiru. She hadn't wanted Michiru but Rui had not been found in time so she had to improvise.

"Any last questions?" Fumi asked.

No one spoke. Looks like they were good to go then. Fumi lead the way. She hated bringing so many people with her when their own castle could be under attack before long. Unfortunately even with the Star-Crossed Kingdom knights here, they needed more. Those four still were not at their best yet.

The journey was very quiet. Everyone was on high alert. No one knew what exactly they were getting themselves into. This could end in disaster for them. No one knew yet.

"Fumi. What is the plan if this isn't true?" Ichie questioned worriedly.

"I... don't know. We go back and hope they haven't been attacked." Fumi had barely any answer to it. She very much hoped they were correct with this.

The dread of having gotten tricked into a trap rose. Everyone was on edge. It was hard to not consider the fact that they were doing something they shouldn't be.

"Guys! There's smoke! It's true!" Claudine called as she pointed to the sky.

There was a very heavy cloud of smoke rising in the distance. Right where the castle was. They hadn't been lied to. There was a fire. That meant they needed to get moving faster.

"Let's go!" Fumi sped up, almost running now. Everyone followed behind. It was time to do this.

The border was in sight. There was no one around at the moment. Was that a good thing or a bad thing?

"We need to get that door open." Junna stated, "And then we need to go to the castle and see what's happening."

"Allow me." Maya smirked.

She walked to the door and easily destroyed the lock with a sword she made. Her blessing was quite handy in situations like this.

"Should we split up?" Nana asked, "Some stay here and some go in?"

"I don't like the idea of splitting up but... it might be for the best we have people keeping an eye out here too." Fumi replied.

"Who will stay?"

"Who wants to?"

After a short discussion it was decided that Ichie, Junna, Fumi, and Nana would remain here. Claudine, Maya, and Michiru would go in. They tried to separate it by most useful blessings. Claudine was going as she was a strong fighter, blessing or not.

"Be careful, you three. Don't come back dead."

"We won't."

The three girls snuck into the land and made a beeline for the castle. Who knew how much time they had to get there to help? What if the escape wasn't going as well as expected?

"Alright. Do you see anyone?" Maya asked as they hid nearby the entrance of the castle.

"Not really. Just a few knights panicking." Claudine replied.

"Maybe it's in the back?" Michiru suggested, "I don't think the entrance is a good place to escape through."

"Fair. Let's go."

They snuck around to the back of the castle. That was where the madness was. The smoke was thick here. There was a battle.

"It's all of them. Everyone is out. We need to kill those knights and run." Claudine said.

"How? The smoke is so bad here." Michiru questioned, "I can barely breathe already."

"Can you use the illusions to distract them so we can make easy work of these knights?" Maya asked.

"Let me try." Michiru nodded. She summoned some illusions and watched.

The knights didn't react much. There was panic at first, but it receded and no one cared. Looks like they could tell they were just illusions and couldn't actually harm them.

"They... are aware." Michiru frowned.

"Guess were doing this the old fashioned way." Maya stated as she handed both of them swords, "This will be tough."

"Let's go!"

They charged into the fray. It was hard to keep track of what was happening. The smoke was not making it easy on them. Maya and Claudine were quick at making work of most knights. Michiru went to a different area to aid someone she saw. She didn't know anyone here. It was a bit awkward.

Whoever it was was struggling. Michiru jumped in and deflected the sword of the knight. She placed herself between them.

"Who let a kid fight?"

"I'm not a kid!" Michiru growled.

"Doesn't matter. You're dead all the same."

Michiru quickly dodged as the knight swung the sword at her. She retaliated. It was blocked. The person she was trying to help grabbed their own weapon and stood by her side. They charged in sync. This time, they landed blows. The knight staggered back.

They were quickly killed by the person. Michiru looked them over.

"You're here from the Fallen Flowers Kingdom, aren't you?" They asked her.

"Yes. My name is Michiru. You are?"

"Kaoruko."

"How do we... get out of here?" Michiru asked.

She was starting to feel lightheaded from breathing in all this smoke. Kaoruko seemed fine still. Michiru was concerned by that. Why was she reacting worse?

"Follow me." Kaoruko started heading through the smoke.

Michiru followed. They didn't get far before finding more knights. They clashed once more. Kaoruko was holding her own well once again. Michiru was now the one struggling.

"Ah!" She yelled as the sword cut her shoulder.

She fell backwards. The knight towered over her. This was bad. What did she do.

"Weak." Was all the knight said before swinging at her again.

The blow was blocked. Kaoruko came to her aid. She quickly killed the knight.

"You alright?" She asked.

"My shoulder is cut... and I... can't breathe." Michiru started coughing bad.

"Right... you wouldn't have ever gone through any training to resist smoke like we have."

"What...?"

Kaoruko held out a hand, "Come on. We're almost out."

Michiru took it. Kaoruko kept her close as they walked. Michiru was definitely struggling. She was also confused what Kaoruko meant by training. They were able to withstand this from training?

They soon broke out of the smoke. The others were all waiting for them. Michiru started coughing a lot the moment fresh air hit her lungs again.

"She okay?" Claudine came over to look at her.

"Why'd you bring someone that can't take smoke?" Kaoruko grumbled, "She could've passed out and been killed if no one else was around her, idiot!"

"We didn't think we'd be fighting in smoke." Maya defended.

"The moment you saw you had to she should've sat out! Or not put her into the thickest part of the smoke!"

"Guys, we need to get moving. Save that for later." Someone else butted in.

"No-"

"Hikari has a point. We risk getting caught up in more fighting the longer we stay in one place." Maya cut her off.

Kaoruko growled, but didn't say any more. They quickly made a run toward the gate. A few knights spotted them here and there, but they were all easily dealt with. It did not take long to reach the gate.

"The rest are just hiding out around here. We'll soon be free." Claudine stated.

It only took a few minutes of walking into the forest before they found the others. Fumi was the first to approach them.

"Are you all okay? No severe injuries?" She questioned.

"We're all fine, Fumi. We should get moving. You never know who might have seen us." Claudine said.

Fumi nodded, "Very well. Then let us go back."

It was a slow and tense walk back to the castle. Everyone was still nervous about there possibly being an attack launched on them. Hopefully they were not correct with that assumption.

"Are you alright?"

"Yeah... just... a bit out of breath."

"Do you want me to carry you?"

"I... I guess..."

Fumi listened in to the quiet conversation with interest. She briefly glanced back to confirm who she thought were the ones talking. Michiru and Ichie. Fumi could tell that there was something off with Michiru, but hadn't wanted to bring it up yet. Seems Ichie had other ideas.

Fumi looked at Claudine. She was walking beside her. Claudine caught her gaze and seemed to understand what she was asking. She leaned in close.

"Got a bit too much smoke in her lungs. She just needs a bit to recover." Claudine explained to her.

Fum nodded. She opted to wait till they got back to the castle before asking any more questions. They were almost there as it was. Fumi had forced them into a slightly faster pace now. She wanted to get back soon.

Thankfully the castle seemed to be fine still. There had been no attack while they were gone. That was a big relief.

"Alright, most of you off to the infirmary. I'm going to report to Tamao." Fumi stated.

Everyone split up and went off in their own direction. Fumi tried to determine where her best bet of finding Tamao would be. In the midst of a war it was hard to tell. Was she hiding away like she should be or was she being an idiot and walking out and about in the castle?

"Ah, Fumi! You return!"

Yuyuko was the first person she ran into. Fumi greeted her.

"Do you know where Tamao is by chance? I do need to report the situation to her after all." Fumi asked.

"Uh..." Yuyuko mumbled, "Not sure. She might be in her room?"

"I'll go look around then."

"Did we succeed?"

"Yep. Everyone is safe here now. Don't worry."

"That's good." Yuyuko smiled.

Fumi left her and continued her search. She might as well look for Tamao in her room. Maybe Yuyuko was right. That would make things way easier for her. She hated these scavenger hunts she had to go on to find Tamao.

Fumi knocked on the door. There was no response. She entered the room just to be sure. No one. Tamao wasn't here. Though, her bed looked newly disturbed. She must've just left a little while ago. She couldn't have gotten far then.

So, she began wandering around searching once more. Opening every room she could think of. She wasn't having much luck until she reached her own room. She could hear crying inside.

Fumi opened the door. She found Tamao. It was her and Shiori in the room. Shiori was crying. Tamao seemed as though she had been trying to comfort her.

"Fumi." Tamao looked up at her, "You're back."

Fumi nodded, "Yes. We succeeded. They are all resting now."

"That's great. They're finally free."

"Is everything okay here?" Fumi questioned as she sat on her bed.

"I... I killed someone, onee-chan..." Shiori started crying heavily once more.

Fumi's eyes widened as she pulled her into a hug. Shiori clung to her as she sobbed.

"What happened?" Fumi asked.

"There was an... attack. Someone tried to kill me. Yachiyo wasn't able to fend them off. I... told her to kill them with her blessing. Otherwise we'd all would have died there." Tamao explained quietly, "Rui managed to save Yachiyo. Everyone is still alive."

Fumi pulled Shiori even closer, "Shiori... I'm so sorry you had to do that. But you did a good thing."

"I don't like being responsible for someone's death... even if they tried to kill me." Shiori whispered.

"I know... I know..."

They sat in silence for a while. No one knew what else to say. This wasn't an easy thing to offer comfort to.

The silence was broken by the sound of someone running. The door opened to reveal Yachiyo.

"Tamao! They... the queen is attacking..." She gasped for breath.

"Fuck..." Fumi whispered, "This is bad timing..."

"Gather everyone. This ends today." Tamao stated, "I'll stay here with Shiori. You two go."

Fumi and Yachiyo nodded. They quickly left the room.

"What do we do?" Yachiyo asked, "How do we find everyone?"

"Can you fight? I heard you got hurt earlier." Fumi questioned.

Yachiyo nodded, "I'm fine."

"Then go fight with whoever is there already. I'll find anyone not fighting and send them off. I know where most are."

"Okay."

Fumi went off to the infirmary. They would need to hide those who couldn't fight and then hurry to the battle. Hopefully everyone was still there and hasn't left yet. She didn't have much time to go search for them right now.

She arrived at the infirmary. Mostly everyone was still there. That was good. It seemed the only two missing were Ichie and Michiru.

"Is there a problem?" Junna questioned as she entered.

Fumi nodded, "We're under attack."

"Oh no..."

"Let's go."

"Are any of you too injured to fight?" Fumi asked before anyone tried to run off and fight.

"We're well enough. This is our battle anyway. We have to fight it."

"Very well. They are near the front. I don't know how well we are holding the line right now."

Everyone went off to go join in the fight. Fumi wanted to join them too, but she had to make sure everyone was aware of the battle first. That meant locating Ichie and Michiru still. Fumi went to Michiru's room first. It was the most logical place for them to be at.

She had guessed correct. She entered to find the two of them and Akira in the room.

"Fumi?" Ichie said, "Uh... is there a problem?"

"We're being attacked."

"E-eh?!" Ichie gulped.

"We need to go and fight. Come on." Fumi didn't want to waste any more time.

"B-but, Michiru..."

Fumi spared a glance at the girl in question. She was currently asleep. It took a bit to notice, but there was an obvious sign of her still struggling to breathe properly. She wouldn't be of use in this fight. But they couldn't have her be this vulnerable either.

Fumi shook her awake, much to the protests of the two other girls in the room. Michiru stirred. She looked up at Fumi in confusion.

"We're under attack. If you can't fight, you at least need to go somewhere safer to hide." Fumi stated.

"Where?" Michiru questioned.

"My room. Tamao and Shiori are staying there. It should be safe enough. Both can fight if need be."

"Let's go. I'll catch up to the fight later." Ichie offered to take Michiru there.

"Alright. Be careful."

"I'll try my best."

Fumi and Akira headed to locate the fight. Akira didn't seem very pleased. Was she still going on about how she didn't trust any of these knights? Hopefully this didn't cause any problems during the fight. Maybe she should try and keep Akira from fighting near any of those knights just to be safe?

She didn't have much more time to think. They had reached the front lines of the war. It was too chaotic to identify all that were fighting right now. Fumi simply threw herself into the fray and hoped for the best. Akira fought beside her, probably just as disoriented as she was right now. There was no way they were pairing up at will until the number of the enemies decreased.

...

"Guys... it's happening..."

"Now? But we just-"

"Go and fight."

"Koharu?"

"You're wasting time talking here. They need you. Go. I'll be alright here by myself. I promise."

Suzu and Hisame hesitated leaving still. Neither exactly wanted to just abandon Koharu alone during a full scale war. She could defend herself somewhat, but it wouldn't be that hard for the enemy to use her injury and take her down with ease.

"Go. I'm sure Sakura will come here soon. You said she'd rather not fight." Koharu kept urging them onward.

She knew that neither wanted to go while she was alone, but they needed to. This was the biggest part of this war. They needed as many people as possible fighting on the front lines. There was no time to waste. They needed to act as fast as possible.

"What if she is fighting though? I can't just leave you alone when we have no way to know if Sakura will come." Hisame still refused.

"I'm not helpless! I can take care of myself! They need you to fight!" Koharu shot back. She was getting fed up by them not going.

Suzu and Hisame exchanged glances with each other. Koharu couldn't exactly tell what they were silently communicating to each other. She just hoped they were going to leave her and join the fight.

"Fine. Just know I won't forgive you if you end up dead because of this." Suzu stated with a glare.

"I won't die." Koharu replied. She could handle herself. She knew it.

After another long moment, Suzu and Hisame finally left the room to go fight. Koharu grabbed the sword that she had been given and held it tightly. This was terrifying. She was weakened because of her injury. If she wasn't careful, she could very well be killed if anyone made it this far inside. Hopefully no one would make it in.

Sure, maybe it would be better to try and find anyone else that wasn't able to fight and stay with them but she had absolutely no idea where to look or who to look for. She couldn't even say definitively if Tamao was staying out of the fight. You could never tell with her after all...

...

The fighting was intense, to say the least. It was hard to keep the enemy from pushing them back. They needed desperately to hold the line and keep them from entering the castle. If they got in their hope of victory was even thinner than it already was.

There were already bodies littering the ground. Many knights were falling. This war would end in mass casualties on both sides. It was a sickening thought. Many knights would never see their families again. Never get to see the peace that would soon come.

Mei Fan shook those thoughts from her head. Now was not the time to be thinking. She needed to focus on the battle. She had slain many knights already and yet more and more kept coming. How did the queen gather so many to fight? What had she promised them in return for helping her win?

It didn't matter anymore. All she knew was she had to keep pressing onward. Any small hesitation could end in someone's downfall. They were severely outnumbered here. This was not looking good for them at all.

There was a slight pause in the attacks. Mei Fan took it as a chance to finally breathe. She glanced around. Everyone else was also caught up in their own battles. Most were fighting in pairs.

She herself had been fighting with Rui not too long ago. She had been checking on her when the attack had started so it was no surprised they'd had fought together. Unfortunately Mei Fan had lost her after a while. Rui had gone off to try and aid the wounded where she could. That left her all alone to fight.

Mei Fan gulped as she noticed some knights break through. They were heading into the castle! She quickly ran to go give chase, but was slammed to the ground. Two knights towered over her. This was bad... this was really bad...

She used her blessing to her advantage and got to her feet before they could react. Thank God her speed wasn't just for running. Mei Fan launched herself at the knights. She had to take them down fast and get inside the castle before those others got into trouble.

...

Yuyuko and Yachiyo had teamed up to fight as the battle began. They had arrived on the scene at the same time. The fight was hard. There were so many things to keep an eye out for. So many places where they could make a fatal mistake if they weren't careful.

Yachiyo was struggling. Even if she had been healed, her body hadn't quite got the full memo yet. She was noticeably slower, which meant most of the knights were coming at her. Yuyuko had to do a lot of defending her.

"You okay? If you can't fight please go back inside." Yuyuko stated as they got a very small reprieve.

"I'm fine..." Yachiyo grunted, "I'm not going down that easily."

"Can I give you some of my energy? You need it." Yuyuko asked.

"But you need it too-" Yachiyo began to protest.

"I'll be fine if I lose a little bit. I promise."

"You won't take no for an answer anyway, will you?"

"Probably not."

"Fine. You better not be lying to me. I can't save both our asses in this state if you can't fight then."

"Trust me. I know my capabilities."

Yachiyo nodded. Yuyuko quickly transfered over a bit of her energy to Yachiyo. Yachiyo let out a small sigh as her strength came back. That was a bit better.

"If worst comes to worst, take it back and save yourself." Yachiyo stated firmly, "Don't care about me at that point."

"I... if you say so..." Yuyuko agreed, albeit hesitantly.

Once more they began to fight. The line was thinning a bit. Hopefully just a little bit more and they might be in the lead then. They really needed to get an advantage over these knights fast. Everyone was already starting to wear themselves out from all the fighting. They wouldn't be able to last much longer without some sort of advancement on their part.

...

Ichie and Michiru were just reaching the room. They knocked and quickly entered. Tamao gave them a confused look.

"Michiru can't fight. Keep an eye on her, please. I'm going out to join them." Ichie stated before promptly leaving the room.

"What happened to you?" Tamao questioned Michiru.

"I... got too much smoke in my lungs during the rescue..." Michiru mumbled, "I can't breathe very well still."

"Come sit. We should be safe here."

Michiru nodded and took a seat. The displeasure with her situation was very apparent on her face. She would much rather be out there fighting alongside everyone else than holed up here feeling like a coward.

"Are the others all alright?" Tamao questioned.

Michiru nodded, "Yeah... said something about having training to resist smoke like that..."

"Training? Or torture?"

"Huh?"

"Could it not just be a case of the queen torturing them by putting them into that situation for the fun of it?"

"I guess it could be."

They fell into silence for a while. No one was quite sure what to say. There was no way to ease up the tenseness of this situation at all. Their lives were at risk as long as the war went on.

"Why aren't you fighting, Tamao? I'm surprised you sat back." Michiru asked.

"I'd rather not cause any problems for them if I can. I know if I tried to fight with everyone, it'd just distract them all. They'd be more focused on keeping an eye on me than fighting their own battles. I can't allow that." Tamao replied.

They fell silent as they heard the faint sound of footsteps coming this way. Tamao went on the defensive side and quickly grabbed her sword. She held it close as the footsteps grew louder. Shiori hesitantly took her sword out as well and waited. She was shaking in fear. She didn't want to fight. Michiru moved back to stay as far away as she could. She didn't want to get in their way if they were about to fight.

From the sound of it, whoever it was was checking every room they came across. That made Tamao believe even more now that this was an enemy. Someone breached the line and got inside. And they were now looking for someone to kill.

Tamao stood up and prepared herself. Shiori hesitantly copied her movements. She gulped as the noise was growing even closer. It wouldn't be long before they reached this room.

Part of Tamao simply wanted to tell Shiori to kill them with her blessing if possible, but she held her tongue. She really shouldn't make her kill two people with her blessing in one day. That might be a bit too much for her to handle. And it was unclear if these knights would even be affected by their blessings. The queen obviously knew how to block blessings.

The door finally opened. It was an enemy, as Tamao had feared. She didn't give them too much of a chance to react and charged. This was up to her now. She had to bring them down. That was not going to be an easy feat to accomplish.

The knight fought back. Tamao was struggling a bit to keep her ground. They were strong. She really had her work cut out for her. But if she didn't do this, they would kill them all. She couldn't lose!

The fighting was hard. Tamao swung hard, only to be knocked back. The knight hit her on the side. Thankfully the sword didn't cut too deep. Tamao growled and launched herself at them again. She was blocked and sent flying backwards with a hard push. She fell to the ground, her sword falling from her grasp.

"I have to say... I'm impressed the queen was able to hold her own for this long." The knight chuckled, "Too bad you couldn't win."

"Get away from her!" Shiori finally unfroze herself from her spot and threw herself into the battle. She couldn't let them kill Tamao. Not without trying to save her first.

"Tsk. Pathetic." The knight spat at her, "Stay out of my way, kid."

Shiori growled, "You have to get through me first. I'm not letting you kill her."

They fought. Tamao was trying to get up and help, but the wound on her side burned too much. It had been made worse when she landed on it. The cut was bleeding worse now. She couldn't move without causing a lot of pain to herself. She was unable to help. And if Shiori failed... unable to defend herself anymore.

Shiori was not making any progress. All her attacks were being blocked. She was getting nowhere. Her only hope was to tire out the knight enough that she could in fact kill them. Unfortunately that didn't seem likely. They didn't seem to be getting tired at all. She was already out of breath. This wasn't going well.

And then suddenly, there was a sword in her chest. Shiori had no time to even cry out. She could hear Tamao screaming her name, but it felt so far away even if she knew said girl was right next to her. Shiori looked at the knight as she fell to the ground. They were laughing.

Hatred filled her. How can someone laugh at causing the death of another? How can anyone be so cruel.

The laughing soon stopped and was replaced with a desperate attempt to breathe. Shiori smirked. Even if she was going to die, she'd a least take them with her. They deserved it.

She closed her eyes and let herself drift into the darkness. Death would soon come for her. As scary as it was, she was wiling to accept her fate. At least she had done something good. She saved Tamao. She did it.

...

"You can't go and fight. If they see you they may recognize you. Do you realize how bad that can be?"

"I can't just sit back when they're fighting without me. I know I shouldn't do it. But, I'll never forgive myself if I sit here and one of them ends up dead."

"Kyoko, please."

"I'm going. You stay here. Maybe these knights won't know me. She may think I too am dead after all."

"Please be careful. And, don't put it past them to expose you to the others."

"It's not like they don't know I worked for you."

"Even so, there may be more than just them fighting near you. And they may be able to give more details about you that you don't want them to know. I'm guessing you haven't told them the actual kingdom you are from, have you? Would they not take that badly if they learned you had lied?"

"I... I never told them because of the reputation that kingdom had. And it's gone now anyway. They may not know about it. I'll be fine."

"Anything can happen. Just be on guard."

"I will be. I promise, Sawa."

Kyoko set off to go join the war. Despite the fact she may be recognized, she needed to fight. She had to make sure Suzu and Hisame didn't get hurt bad during this.

She found them quite easily. They were fighting together along with Sakura. That meant... Koharu was alone. Kyoko took a deep breath. Hopefully they hadn't left her all alone and she was overthinking it.

She pulled out a sword stabbed into a dead body and made her way over to them. Suzu and Hisame lit up at her appearance. She nodded to them and joined in. Now with another to fight, they were managing to push back the knights and gain ground.

"So... you do live."

Kyoko paused. Someone noticed her. She looked over at them. She vaguely recalled knowing them from before she left.

"I'm surprised anyone that served before she took over was spared. How much of a coward are you to join the enemy?" Kyoko responded.

"I'm not a coward. I'm smart. And now look at the power I have." They laughed, "And if anyone is a coward it would be you. Running  away from two kingdoms? How pathetic. And the fact you only got away because that bitch saved you... you couldn't even escape properly."

"Two kingdoms?"

Just as she had been warned, her past was coming out. Kyoko growled. She would deal with that later. Right now she had to deal with this knight.

Without another word, she ran at them and attacked. They were caught off guard by her suddenly doing so. It was quite easy to take them down.

She glanced back at the three girls. It seemed as though she was going to have a lot of explaining to do.

"If we live through this war, I'll answer any questions you have. But now is not the time. We need to fight." Kyoko stated.

They nodded. At least she had some time to figure this out, even if not a lot.

"By the way... please tell me you didn't leave Koharu all by herself."

The look on their faces told her all she needed to know. She let out a groan. This was a disaster.

"She told us to go." Suzu argued.

"You shouldn't have left her alone! She's injured!"

"S-sorry..."

"Go to her. I don't care what she says. Someone needs to stay in case they get inside."

...

"Fumi!"

Fumi had not been expecting a distraction during the fight. Thankfully, there were not many knights around. She was able to answer to her name. Akira could handle things for a bit.

"Michiru?" Fumi was confused as to why she was here. She needed to be hiding.

"Please... you have to come with me." Michiru pleaded.

"We're in the middle of-"

"Shiori is dead."

Time seemed to freeze as she heard those words. Her world felt like it was falling apart. Shiori... was gone. She couldn't be. She wasn't supposed to die. Not yet.

"Go. I can handle myself here." Akira urged her onward.

Fumi nodded and numbly followed after Michiru. She was lost. How did she go on now?

They entered the room. Fumi fell to her knees beside Shiori. She couldn't believe it. How? How had this happened?

Tamao... It's her fault. Fumi became enraged. Tamao was to blame. She messed up and it got Shiori killed. Fumi turned to face her and start yelling, but froze.

"Tamao?"

Tamao was barely conscious herself. Her wound had been bandaged as good as could be without any medical supplies but blood was already seeping out of it.

"Is she gonna die too?" Michiru asked quietly, "I tried to stop the blood but..."

Fumi went over to her to look. She was very pale. This wasn't good. They couldn't let her die. If she died... they lost. Even if they beat the queen, they lost their own.

"I... I don't know." Fumi said, "If she doesn't get help..."

"We'll never find Rui in time." Michiru whispered.

Fumi stared at Tamao for a while. Could she... heal her? Her blessing was to bring someone back from the dead but... could she alter how much she revived someone? Only one way to find out. It didn't hurt to try.

Fumi touched her and tried to revive her but not entirely. She was scared this may do something horrible but... it was the best they had to work with.

She heard Michiru gasp, "It's healing..."

Fumi pulled away a few seconds later and looked. Her wound was mostly gone. Just a small scar now. She had... done it. She saved her.

Fumi glanced over at Shiori. She had to revive her. She couldn't not do that. Shiori didn't deserve to die yet. She deserved to live.

Fumi walked over to her again. She pressed a kiss to her head.

"Are you... bringing her back?" Michiru questioned.

"I'm going to try to." Fumi replied, "I hope I have enough strength left after doing that to Tamao."

She went and did it then. She had to hope this worked. Reviving someone took a lot of energy. It was risky to do this when she want as full strength but she couldn't wait any longer. She needed her back. She couldn't live without her. There was no way she could.

Fumi didn't entirely know how her blessing worked. This was her first time ever using it properly. Would it instantly wake her up or not? She would at least start breathing again if it worked, right? Fumi really wished Rui was here right now. She probably knew way more about her blessing. She could probably answer all her questions with ease.

"Fumi?" Michiru came over and placed a hand on her shoulder, "Stop. You don't look very good."

She did feel quite light-headed now. Fumi pulled away. What good with it be if she overexerted herself here? She looked Shiori over, hoping for a sign of life in her. Her wound had closed up. But her chest had yet to rise. Had she failed? Was Shiori too far gone to bring back already?

Tears were forming in her eyes as she desperately pleaded for Shiori to breathe. It was all she wanted right now. To just see that she was alive again.

"Shiori..." Fumi choked out as there was still no movement. Michiru's grip tightened on her shoulder.

And then it happened. Her chest finally started to rise and fall again. She was alive. She had done it... Shiori was alive...

Moments after that realization, Fumi blacked out. She had drained almost all of her powers to revive her. It was no surprise she was out cold. She had only been holding on to her consciousness to see if she had succeeded.

...

"Do you guys see the queen anywhere? We need to kill her still."

"She must be hiding out somewhere. She knows better than to fight."

"Then let's find her. The numbers are thinned enough we should be able to reach her and not worry the others can't handle the fight on their own."

The Star-Crossed Kingdom knights were all plotting how to finally end the reign of this corrupt queen. Now that the enemy had been taken down a lot, they could hopefully pull off their plot. The hardest part would simply be to locate her. She would most likely be very well hidden. She knew they would be coming for her if the knights didn't end them.

"Anyone have an idea on her location?" Maya questioned.

"The enemy came all from that direction, did they not?" Junna said, "I think that is our best bet to start with. She must be in that area."

Everyone nodded. They set off. It was a hard walk. There were many bodies all around they had to keep dodging. And there were still some knights left that were trying to attack them as they went.

However, they soon broke through to the forest. Now to try and locate the queen and end this all. If she was dead, hopefully the knights that were left would leave. They no longer would have a ruler to follow.

"See anything?" Kaoruko asked, "It's so quiet."

"Do you think following this trodden path will take us near her?" Karen questioned.

"It should at least take us to their launch sight. From there we may find another newly made path that she took." Claudine replied.

It was their best bet at this point. They followed the trampled undergrowth the knights had left when they came to attack. It should give them a little lead as to where the queen may have headed off to once they left.

They soon came to an old camp. This must have been where they had settled. Everyone started searching around for a sign of where the queen may have gone. They also couldn't put it past her to have set out decoy paths to throw them off. They had to be very certain of their left move before acting.

"Any luck?"

"There's some torn fabric here. Do you think it belongs to her?" Nana held up a small cloth, "It feels very fine."

"It might be. We should investigate that way."

Once again, they were off. No one knew the land here. That made things slightly more complicated. They could be missing hiding spots for all they knew. Perhaps they should've brought one of the other knights along to guide them? It was too late now though. They just had to keep moving.

They came to a river. Where did they go now. Had the queen jumped across? Had she gone off down it or up it? There were too many options.

"The bank is muddy. I don't see any indents on the other side. She couldn't have gone that way." Junna observed.

"Are there any more footprints around?" Mahiru asked.

A quick search revealed that no, they were no marks of any footfall. That was bad. They had reached a dead end. Now they had to backtrack and hope for the best.

"This is a disaster... we'll never find her at this rate." Karen sighed.

"Don't give up." Hikari said, "There are only so many places she could be. We will find her eventually."

The mood was still very low. It was not fun having to double back. Where had they gone wrong? Had that fabric been a decoy? Was she not anywhere in that direction? It seemed the most plausible. She had duped them.

"Okay... there must be another sign somewhere in this camp."

They returned to the camp and began looking once more. Hopefully there was another indication of which way she truly went. They couldn't spend hours searching for her. She would flee before long if they couldn't find her. They were working with a very limited time frame.

"Over there. There are broken branches. It may be that way." Maya pointed to a different route.

"Anyone see anything else?" Futaba asked.

Everyone shook their heads. That seemed to be the only other trail around. Hopefully it was this one or else all hope was lost. They would never find her at this rate.

"Let's hope this is the right way." Claudine said.

Once more, the began walking. Everyone was starting to tire out. All of this searching was getting to them. It also didn't help that the sun was slowly setting. They couldn't keep searching in the dark. They had to hurry and find her now.

This path led them to a cave. They listened closely. Inside there was the sound of fire. They may have finally found her.

"Junna, can you see inside?" Karen asked, "Is it her?"

Junna came closer and used her blessing to look closer into the place. She couldn't make out anything. Her power was being blocked.

"Considering my power is blocked, I'm saying yes. It's her." Junna replied.

"So... no blessings will work, good or bad." Nana commented.

"Good thing our weapons aren't Maya's then."

"How do we kill her?"

"Just go in and slice her head off. I doubt she can fight us much."

"Who will do it?"

"Claudine, Maya, you two were the first that she hurt. I think it's only right for you two to be the ones who end her." Kaoruko said.

The two girls nodded. They gripped their swords tightly and entered the cave. Everyone waited anxiously for them to return. Sounds were muffled in the cave. They weren't able to make out much of what was happening in there.

After a grueling few minutes, they emerged with the queen's dead body in tow. Thet had done it. She was dead. They were finally free of her rule. And now the rightful ruler could come back to the throne again.

"Let's get back." Maya stated, "Before they worry too much about us vanishing."

...

Koharu hated this. She had hid herself behind the bed and was listening to the war. She had heard someone opening doors. She assumed the worst. And she had been right.

The door to her room opened. No one called her name. That let her know it wasn't a friend. Koharu held her breath and prayed they wouldn't search the room. That they would just leave and assume it was empty.

She should've known better. They came in. And found her. Koharu barely blocked their sword as they swung down on her. This was bad. She would never be able to get up in time. She had to fight on the floor. And that was not an easy task.

The knight seemed to have realized her disadvantage. They hit her with a flurry of attacks. Koharu was barely managing to block them all.

She yelped in panic as they broke through her sword. It broke in half. She was defenseless now. Half a sword couldn't block anything.

The knight smirked. They hit her in the shoulder. Koharu gasped. She weakly tried to stab them with her sword, but it was kicked away with ease. She was screwed.

"Please... just make it quick..." Koharu surrendered to her fate.

She should've never told them to leave her alone. Now she was paying for her stupid mistake with her life.

The knight lowered their gazes and stabbed her through the heart. At least they honored her last request. She knew her chances of being saved were slim. Rui wouldn't find her here before she died. And no one had found her before this happened. Stalling would've done her nothing. Not that she had any chance at stalling without a weapon.

She slumped back against the bed. The world faded before her very fast. The knight left her alone. Didn't even stay to see her die. Or did they think she was already gone? In moments she would be anyway. Why did it matter?

...

"Nngh..."

"Tamao. You're finally awake."

Tamao opened her eyes. Michiru was in front of her face.

"I'm alive..." Tamao whispered.

"Fumi healed you."

"Huh?" Tamao slowly sat up.

"She was able to half revive you so your wounds healed but you didn't overheal and die." Michiru explained, "She also revived Shiori but is now out cold from how much of her blessing she used."

"She's alive... Thank god..." Tamao sighed in relief.

"Yeah. I was worried she wouldn't be able to."

"Her love for Shiori probably helped make it possible." Tamao said, "Made it so she could use more power than she should've been able to."

"Maybe."

"How is the war? Do you know?"

"Not entirely but I think they've gotten the upper hand now. We should win."

"Good."

...

"We have killed her!"

They returned with the body. The knights that were still there hesitated in their attacks. They were killed. There was no reason to show mercy to these traitors. They deserved to die along with their horrible queen.

"Good job." Ichie was the first to come over to them, "We can finally have peace."

"I hope so."

"So... now what?"

"We gather up the dead and get rid of them. I'm guessing a mass grave is in order."

"I'm going to do a scan of the castle. Make sure no one got inside." Yachiyo stated.

"I'll join you." Akira offered.

The two of them went off into the castle. Mei Fan had been about to tell them of what she saw, but didn't get a chance to.

"I need to find Rui." Mei Fan stated, "I'll be back."

She was slightly worried that Rui had yet to return. Hopefully she hadn't overexerted herself and collapsed somewhere. She headed off in the direction Rui had went in. Hopefully she would meet her coming back.

Mei Fan didn't like this. It was taking far too long to find Rui. She was getting farther and farther from the castle. Dead knights were still everywhere. That made her a little at ease to know the fighting had gone this far and Rui hadn't just been kidnapped or something.

Mei Fan continued. She was growing worried though. The fighting had seemed to have reached part of the town. Citizens could've gotten involved. That was bad.

She neared the town. And that was when she found Rui.

"R-Rui... Rui!"

She was dead. There was no doubt about it. She was laying on the ground, many many wounds puncturing her body. Her eyes were open and lifeless. There was no movement from her at all. She was gone.

Mei Fan fell to her knees and pulled her close, sobbing her eyes out. How had this happened? How could she have let this happen? She should've denied Rui. She shouldn't have let her go out on her own. It was all her fault.

She took in the surroundings. Rui probably just jumped in to fight. Right?

Then she saw. Behind Rui was another body. A child. At a first glance, Mei Fan thought they were dead, but then she saw they were crying.

"Hey..." Mei Fan came over to them, "It's okay. You're safe now. The bad guys are gone."

"They killed her..." The child whispered, "Because she wouldn't let them kill me..."

"It's our job to protect you. She died doing what was right. Come. Let's go to your parents. They must be worried sick about you."

...

"N-no... no. No. No! KOHARU!"

Suzu had been the one to go back for her. She had an uneasy feeling the entire time of getting to the room. But nothing could have prepared her for what she came across.

She was broken. Koharu was dead. She... she was gone. It was all her fault. She shouldn't have let her stay alone. She got her killed.

"Koharu... I'm sorry... I'm so sorry..." Suzu cried.

She didn't know what to do. All she could manage was to just cry and hug her. Her world was ending.

She and Hisame were dead. They had really fucked up. They had cost Koharu her life by giving in to her even when they knew it was a bad idea. Kyoko would never forgive them. Sakura would never forgive them either. She would always blame them for letting her sister die. And so soon after they finally met each other again.

"Suzu, the war is-"

Suzu froze. Hisame had come. And now she saw.

"No... please... please no..." Hisame had no words. She silently sunk down next to Suzu.

"How do we tell everyone?" Suzu asked quietly. She sounded lost.

"I don't know..." Hisame replied, "I don't know what to do..."