Bunkai 23: Nue Clan Heir

In the palace of Yulan, in a High Official’s office, Len organized foreign budget parchments in the shelves as Megumi wrote budget proposals for the other Provinces of Yulan. Len was humming a tune as he organized getting Megumi’s attention.

“Where did you hear that tune?” asked Megumi. Len glanced back at Megumi smiling.

“My mother used to hum this tune to me when I was young,” stated Len and then added, “It helps me relax.” Megumi nodded his way smiling behind her mask.

Len was about to look away, until he noticed, through the opened window behind Megumi’s desk, an unknown man climbing over the wall of the palace. The man had long black hair with bangs, but those bangs were pushed away from the man’s brown eyes with a headband with a crest that he wasn’t familiar with. The man wore green mystical patterned long sleeved shirt and black pants that had a sword hanging from the waist with the same crest that was on the headband.

Len turned pale getting Megumi’s attention.

“Are you OK, Len?” asked Megumi. Len just gulped and pointed behind Megumi. Megumi raised an eyebrow under her mask, before glancing back. Megumi felt her eyes widen at the sight of the man that she was all too familiar with: Keiki Nue.

Megumi lowered her feathered pen groaning. She got up from her chair and glanced back at Len.

“Stay here, Len,” ordered Megumi. Len nodded completely bewildered.

Megumi suddenly leapt out the open window and raced toward the bottom of the wall of the palace, just beneath Keiki’s descending form. Megumi crossed her arms looking up at Keiki.

“Do I really need to have his majesty build wooden spikes along the palace wall?” demanded Megumi. Keiki flinched and glanced downward only to see Megumi looking at him through her mask. Keiki looked shocked at first, but then his shock was replaced by a serious look.

“Even if you place wooden spikes, I’ll find a way in, you know I will,” retaliated Keiki. Megumi scoffed and added, “You are such a nuisance.” Keiki growled, but suddenly lost his grip sending him falling to the ground. Before he could make contact though, Megumi caught him bridal style. Keiki turned red in the cheeks with anger in his face and jumped out of Megumi’s grasp.

“You didn’t need to catch me!” yelled Keiki. Megumi scoffed looking away from Keiki.

“You’re right about that. I would rather see you crash into the ground covered in blood.”

“THAT’S HORRIBLE!” screamed Keiki with clenched fists. Megumi then glared at Keiki making him flinch.

“Why are you even here? Ever since I became an Official, you would break into the palace to find me and then I would be forced to escort you out. It’s been two years now, shouldn’t you just leave me alone!”

“I won’t stop coming not until I keep my promise as a man,” stated Keiki. Megumi groaned placing a hand against her mask.

“We discussed this already. I need you to stay in Go Province to see if you can find anything on Mikan’s death,” stated Megumi trying to calm her nerves.

“I know that, but I still haven’t found anything.”

“Then go back or does Mikan mean so little to you,” stated Megumi. Keiki clenched his fists and said, “She means a lot to me, but…”

“Megumi, do you know that man?” asked Len making Keiki and Megumi look his way. Megumi nodded and said, “He’s a slime ball from Go Province.”

“Stop calling me a slime ball!” yelled Keiki. Keiki cleared his throat looking toward Len making Len flinch.

“I haven’t seen you before,” stated Keiki. Megumi looked at Keiki and said, “He’s a trainee for this year, Len Nina.” Keiki stared at Len making Len feel nervous and then back at Megumi.

“Why is he in your office?” asked Keiki.

“He’s helping me with my work as my page,” answered Megumi. Keiki looked back at Len crossing his arms.

“I see, I see. You never ask for anyone to help you in your work and yet you ask this trainee to help you. You must really like him,” stated Keiki. Megumi nodded making Keiki flinch. Keiki glared at Megumi and yelled, “Why do you like him?”

“Why do you sound so angry?” asked Megumi in confusion. Keiki groaned turning away from Megumi. He glared in Len’s direction making Len flinch.

“Look here Len, if you stay with Megumi, you will leave just like the others since Megumi is a demon!” announced Keiki earning him a punch in the stomach from Megumi. Keiki leaned over clenching his pain pulsing stomach.

“Don’t scare Len and please go back!” demanded Megumi. Keiki shook his head and said, “I refuse.” Megumi then stomped on his back forcing him flat on the ground. Keiki groaned in pain as Megumi stepped on him.

“I think it would be better for me to flatten you before sending you off,” stated Megumi in a dark tone. Megumi stopped in her actions when she suddenly heard Len chuckling. She looked at Len and asked, “Is something funny?”

Len smiled and said, “Sorry, it’s just that even he thinks you are demon when it is obvious that you are nothing like a demon since you are so kind.” Megumi found herself smiling under her mask. Keiki groaned managing to look toward Len from the ground.

“How does beating me make him kind?” demanded Keiki. Megumi removed her foot from Keiki’s back making Keiki look at her in confusion.

“Lucky for you Keiki, Len has put me in a better mood,” stated Megumi. Keiki groaned, but he felt somewhat grateful that he wasn’t beaten too much.

Megumi walked back toward her office with Keiki following behind. Megumi sighed and glanced at Keiki.

“I still want you to go back though,” stated Megumi. Keiki crossed his arms with a scoff.

“I’m not going back,” stated Keiki. Megumi sighed turning away from Keiki.

“Fine, but don’t interrupt my work and since you came unannounced…again I will not give you the good Sake his majesty gave me.”

“Ah come on,” complained Keiki, but Megumi would hear nothing of it as she jumped back into her office through her window. Keiki followed landing next to Len. He glanced at Len with a scowl.

“I’m guessing you’re going to see me a lot, so might as well know my name. My name is Keiki Nue.”

Len repeated Keiki’s name nervously. Keiki nodded, but then Keiki noticed that Len’s reaction was weak.

“Doesn’t my name sound familiar to you?” asked Keiki. Len shook his head.

“Keiki Nue, heir to the Nue Mafia Clan,” Keiki said slowly trying to make his name sound familiar to Len. Len shook his head and stated, “I’m not familiar with Mafia clans.”

“Are you serious?” exclaimed Keiki. Len nodded and added, “I’m from Eva Province, so I never had contact with Mafia.” Keiki frowned crossing his arms. He glared at Megumi and asked, “Is this guy even smart?” Megumi nodded as she began to write budget proposals again.

“He’s smart unlike you,” stated Megumi bluntly. Keiki groaned shaking in anger.

Len turned away from Keiki looking at Megumi.

“Should I get tea for you and your…um…guest?” offered Len. Megumi nodded glad that Len didn’t call Keiki her friend. Len immediately left the room leaving Keiki and Megumi alone.

Keiki glanced at Megumi leaning against a bookshelf.

“I see that the emperor still makes you wear a mask,” stated Keiki. Megumi nodded not looking away from the proposals. Keiki looked toward the ground with crossed arms.

“No matter how many times I see you with a mask, I still can’t get used to it,” stated Keiki. Megumi placed a proposal down looking toward Keiki.

“I have to wear a mask or I will never have access to the archives I need to see to find mother’s and Mikan’s murderers as well as Satoshi’s kidnappers.”

Keiki frowned.

“That’s another reason why I came here. Why haven’t you found anything in these last two years since you became an Official?” demanded Keiki.

“I’ve been looking when I have the chance, but the emperor has been giving me work non-stop and I can’t stay in the High official archives long since there are forbidden documents in there. I want to have my revenge, but it’s taking time.”

“Did you manage to find anything?” asked Keiki. Megumi shook her head and added, “I plan to look again in three days.”

“Why not now?”

“There’s too much work to do and if I don’t finish it in time, I could lose my ranking and the emperor will forbid me from entering the archives again. Do you want that?” snapped Megumi. Keiki shook his head.

“I know you’re working hard and so am I, but there are times when I have to be by your side,” stated Keiki.

“Why?” demanded Megumi. Keiki remained silent refusing to make eye contact. Megumi could tell that Keiki wouldn’t answer, so she went back to working with the proposals, not noticing the redness in Keiki’s cheeks.

Meanwhile, Len was in the trainees’ kitchen making herbal blossom tea. He crushed the tea leaves slowly making sure that each leaf was made into a fine powder. As he did this, Iori entered the kitchen with a bag of parchments over his shoulder. Iori noticed Len right away and smiled.

“Hey Len,” greeted Iori. Len flinched, glancing back. Len smiled back greeting Iori back. Iori saw the crushed tea leaves and asked, “Are you making tea for yourself?” Len shook his head.

“The tea is for Megumi and his guest,” stated Len. Iori looked nervous when Megumi’s name was mentioned, but then his look changed to confusion.

“Guest, who’s visiting him?” asked Iori.

“He said his name was Keiki Nue,” answered Len. Iori turned pale.

“Keiki Nue as in the heir to Nue Mafia Clan?” exclaimed Iori. Len nodded crushing more leaves. Iori bit his lips nervously.

“I heard that Keiki Nue breaks into the palace since two years ago, but I thought it was a joke,” stated Iori nervously. Len sighed.

“Well he did break in and Megumi beat him up for it…and he is pretty scary, but Megumi seems close to him so he should be fine,” stated Len pouring the crushed tea leaves into a pot of hot water. Iori looked at Len with a troubled look.

“Len, I know that you look up to Lord Megumi since he is always asking for your assistance every day, but don’t trust everything he does and…”

“And what?” urged Len as he turned the pot to mix the tea.

“You really shouldn’t be so close to him,” finished Iori. Len placed the pot down looking at Iori.

“You say this more than once, but don’t tell me why, so tell me why now?” urged Len. Iori sighed crossing his arms.

“Lord Megumi is favored by the emperor and I heard that when a person gets too close to Lord Megumi, the emperor finds a way to banish him and in the worse-case have them executed.”

Len frowned and said, “That can’t be true.” Iori grabbed Len’s shoulders and stated, “I’m just looking out for you.” Len pushed Iori’s hand away and then placed the pot of tea on a tray with two cups. He walked passed Iori and whispered, “Don’t believe in all rumors.”

When Len was out of the kitchen, Iori clenched his fist with gritted teeth.

In the meantime, Megumi had finished writing all the budget proposals and heaved out a sigh.

“Finished?” asked Keiki. Megumi nodded and then pulled out parchments from a basket next to her desk.

“Now to look over foreign trading,” stated Megumi making Keiki groan.

“How much work do you have?” demanded Keiki.

“I told you before that I have lots of work,” stated Megumi bluntly as she opened a parchment. Keiki seemed ready to start an argument, but stopped when he heard the door open.

From the opened door, emerged Len with a tray of tea.

“I brought tea,” announced Len. Megumi nodded placing the parchment in her hand down.

“Thank you Len,” stated Megumi as she began to make room on her desk. Len placed the tray of tea on the desk and then looked at Keiki with a smile.

“Please enjoy Lord Keiki,” offered Len. Keiki scoffed.

“You calling me Lord sounds disgusting, so just call me Keiki,” stated Keiki. Len nodded pouring Keiki a cup of tea. Len poured a cup for Megumi too before placing the pot of tea down. Megumi picked up her cup and was ready to lift her mask, but stopped glancing at Len, who stood on the side.

“You didn’t bring a cup for yourself?” asked Megumi. Len shook his head and stated, “I shouldn’t drink tea when I still have work to do.” Megumi sighed placing her cup back down on the table.

“Even you need to break for some tea, so please have a sip from my cup,” offered Megumi. Len gasped turning red in the cheeks.

“I…I really am f…f…fine,” stuttered Len inching back.

Keiki suddenly glared at Len making Len flinch.

“Megumi offered his cup to you so drink it now or I will shove my foot up your…”

Megumi suddenly stomped on Keiki’s foot from under the table making him fall silent and shake in pain.

Len already had an idea of what Keiki was about to say, so he immediately took Megumi’s cup and drank from it.

“Taste good?” asked Megumi. Len nodded placing the cup down. To his surprise, Megumi took the cup and drank from it lifting her mask slightly. Len turned red catching a glimpse of Megumi’s lips, but also because he came to the realization that they were drinking from the same cup. Len cleared his throat averting his gaze from Megumi.

“I’ll remember to bring an extra cup next time,” stated Len. Megumi nodded lowering her mask.

Keiki finally recovered and noticed that Megumi did drink from the same cup. Keiki clenched his fist and suddenly grabbed Megumi’s cup making her look at him.

“What are you doing?” asked Megumi. Keiki refused to answer as he jugged down the rest of the tea in Megumi’s cup. He wiped his lips pouting.

“It tastes awful,” muttered Keiki making Megumi bewildered.

They suddenly heard a knock on the door followed by a voice saying, “Lord Megumi, it’s Koku Mi, can I come in?”

“Enter, Koku,” Megumi announced. The door opened revealing Koku. Koku walked in and bowed his head to Megumi.

“Captain Mori needs your help in training the soldiers in training,” reported Koku. Megumi nodded and stated, “Tell Captain Mori I’ll be there soon.” Koku nodded, running out of the room.

Megumi stood up from her chair looking at Len.

“I have to help Mori, so please continue to work with Keiki’s help,” instructed Megumi. Len nodded, but then flinched when he realized who was supposed to help him. Keiki glared at Megumi and yelled, “Why should I help this guy?” Megumi glanced at Keiki.

“You are staying at my residence tonight, so you might as well work here to earn your keep or do you want me to force you back to Go Province early?”

Keiki groaned crossing his arms. Megumi looked back at Len and stated, “Keiki knows what to do, so get along.” Len nodded with uneasiness in his face.

Megumi left the room leaving Keiki and Len alone together. Keiki glared at Len making Len flinch.

“What are Megumi’s duties today?” demanded Keiki. Len gulped and answered, “The budget proposals, foreign trading, and balancing budgets.” Keiki groaned walking to the desk. He sat in front of it and began to look over the foreign trading parchments. He glared at Len and yelled, “Do your duty already!” Len nodded rushing back to the shelves. At that moment, Len felt like he had been left with a demon.

Megumi walked down the hall toward the soldiers’ quarters, where her clothes for soldier training were stored. When she reached the quarters she opened the door only to see Hatsuharu Saito napping in the corner. He hadn’t changed that much in Megumi’s viewpoint.

Megumi closed the door behind her and then went to Hatsuharu’s side. She nudged his side saying, “Hatsuharu time to get up.” Hatsuharu groaned in his sleep, but when Megumi nudged him again, he snapped awake and tried to Karate chop the right side of her neck. Megumi immediately caught his wrist stopping his sudden attack. Hatsuharu blinked a few times staring at Megumi and then smiled.

“Good Morning Megumi,” greeted Hatsuharu happily. Megumi sighed and said, “It’s already passed noon.”

“So it is,” stated Hatsuharu. Megumi released his wrist as Hatsuharu began to stand up with Megumi. Hatsuharu dusted off his clothes before saying, “Are you helping with training today?” Megumi nodded. Hatsuharu suddenly tried to grab Megumi’s mask, but she blocked with both hands and then leaped back into a fighting stance. Hatsuharu chuckled rubbing the back of his head sheepishly.

“Sorry about that, but it is so tempting to remove that mask,” stated Hatsuharu. Megumi groaned lowering her stance.

“You know very well that if anyone, including you, sees my face then I will be charged with treason and banished,” stated Megumi. Hatsuharu frowned with crossed arms.

“I really hate that decree of the emperor. I mean you didn’t even do anything wrong,” stated Hatsuharu. Hatsuharu’s frown seemed to deepen as he added, “When Gen mentioned the mask to the emperor, he got sent away to Ryu Province and hasn’t contacted me since.”

“I’m sorry that happened,” stated Megumi as she adjusted her mask. Hatsuharu flashed a smile at her and said, “It wasn’t your fault.” Megumi sighed and then said, “I really need to change, so if you can rest in another place.” Hatsuharu nodded and jumped to the edge of the opened window of the soldier’s quarters. He glanced back at Megumi and said, “We should get together for some drinks some time.”

“I can’t drink Hatsu…”

“It’s a promise,” stated Hatsuharu quickly and then was gone in a flash. Megumi shook her head wondering when it would sink in to Hatsuharu that she couldn’t handle alcohol.

With Hatsuharu gone, she immediately began to change. She removed her Official’s robe and replaced it with loose gray clothing. She tied back her long hair and readjusted the strap of her mask to make it easier to accommodate her ponytail. Slipping on gray shoes and tying them up to her ankle, she then grabbed a red oak staff leaning with the soldier weapons. She swung it once before tying it to her back with a strap.

Completely changed, she left the soldiers’ quarters and walked down the path toward the training area of the soldiers. On the way to her destination she saw the gate that led to the North Gardens, where only the concubines were permitted. She would have walked passed it, but stopped in her tracks when she saw Ayumi Mutou looking at her through the gate.

Megumi bowed her head to Ayumi saying, “Hello Lady Ayumi.” Ayumi blushed and nodded, but then Megumi noticed the worry in Ayumi’s face.

“Is something wrong?” asked Megumi approaching Ayumi. Ayumi suddenly began to tear up making Megumi’s concern grow.

“Lady Ayumi?”

Ayumi held the bars of the gate and stated, “I can’t find Snowflake anywhere.”

“You mean your cat?” asked Megumi. Ayumi nodded and stated, “I think he may have wandered out of the garden and he might not come back.” Tears were beginning to fall from her eyes like a waterfall. Megumi reached through the bars of the gate and patted her head making Ayumi look at her.

“Snowflake will come back, but if he doesn’t, I’ll make sure to find him for you.”

“Promise?” asked Ayumi as tears glistened from her eyes. Megumi nodded. Ayumi smiled and held Megumi’s extended hand. She placed Megumi’s hand on her cheek and whispered, “You’re the kindest person, Megumi.” Megumi smiled through her mask and then withdrew her hand.

“Be well, Lady Ayumi,” stated Megumi and then continued to her destination.

Ayumi stared at Megumi’s retreating back with reddened cheeks and then whispered, “I wish he didn’t have to wear a mask.”

Megumi soon reached the training grounds and saw the soldiers in training running through an obstacle course. The obstacle course consisted of monkey bars, climbing a tall wood wall, crawling under a net, and the final part was pushing through hanging bags. Megumi spotted Mori Suoh watching the trainees from afar and made her way to him. She stood next to Mori getting his attention.

“So what did you need me for, Captain Mori?” asked Megumi with crossed arms. Mori looked back at the trainees with seriousness in his eyes.

“Some of the trainees aren’t ready for the obstacle course, so I need you to train them in fighting, while I supervise the ones in the obstacle course.”

“Why aren’t they ready?” asked Megumi. Mori frowned.

“Their ego is too large and won’t listen to me, so I believe that you will be more convincing,” stated Mori. Megumi scoffed.

“Trainees like them appear once in a while,” stated Megumi. Mori nodded and added, “Hard to believe that one of them is a Sanbing.” Megumi nodded. She patted Mori’s shoulder and said, “Just tell me where they are and I’ll handle it.” Mori nodded.

“They are in the North Arena, so please hurry,” instructed Mori. Megumi nodded and was about to walk off, but stopped in her tracks and looked back at Mori.

“Are you still mad at me?” asked Megumi. Mori glanced at Megumi and then looked away.

“It’s been two years, but I still can’t speak to you normally without remembering that Lady Ayumi kissed you,” stated Mori. Megumi sighed and looked away from Mori.

“I hope we can talk like when I was a trainee again,” stated Megumi and then ran off.

Mori placed a hand to his forehead with a troubled look. It was true that he was still angered at Megumi, but he did want to be in better terms with Megumi because he did respect her as a fellow colleague. He suddenly remembered Megumi’s and Ayumi’s kiss and felt something grab at his heart.

I want to forget.

Megumi reached the North Arena and saw three trainees: Taiyo Hatsune, Tsai-Shen Wan, and Mingan Nashoba. Taiyo, rank six, was a seventeen-year-old boy wearing a red headband to hold back his medium length black hair. He was practicing his kicks against the air before him. Tsai-Shen, rank seven, was the same age as Taiyo and had his long black hair tied up in a ponytail. He seemed to be content with just watching Taiyo. Mingan, rank three and the Sanbing, was nineteen and had light brown hair that seemed to resemble the color of a young oak tree. He practiced his punches against a straw dummy with seriousness in his eyes. All three of them wore the same white clothing of a trainee.

Megumi approached them with silent steps, but Tsai-Shen was able to spot her from his sitting spot. Tsai-Shen turned slightly pale making Taiyo look at him.

“Something wrong, Tsai-Shen?” asked Taiyo stopping in his movements. Tsai-Shen gulped and muttered, “Maybe we should have agreed to do the obstacle course.” Taiyo grew confused, until Tsai-Shen pointed toward Megumi. Taiyo spotted Megumi and gasped stumbling back.

Mingan immediately noticed their strange behavior and looked in the direction they were looking. He saw Megumi getting closer and gulped with sweat against the side of his brow.

“I’m starting to see why Captain Mori agreed so readily when we refused to do the Obstacle course.”

Megumi finally reached them with her hands on her hips.

“I see that you three are as disagreeable with Captain Mori as ever,” stated Megumi. Taiyo, Tsai-Shen, and Mingan immediately stood before Megumi and bowed their heads.

“Nice to see you again, Captain Megumi,” they said in unison. Megumi nodded her head at them and then said, “I know you three are the best when it comes to soldier training, but you have to do all of it, even if it is too easy.”

Mingan was the first to lift his head and said, “But the obstacle course doesn’t help me at all. I do better when I am in combat.” Taiyo and Tsai-Shen nodded in agreement. Megumi sighed and removed her staff from her back.

“Then let’s make a deal: if you three can beat me working together then you won’t ever have to do the obstacle course again, but if I win, you will do the obstacle course with the others when it comes up in your duty scrolls. Fair enough?”

The trainees looked at each other and then smirked. They all nodded as they went into a fighting stance.

“Bring it on,” they chorused, forgetting their previous nervousness. Without warning, Taiyo, Mingan, and Tsai-Shen charged at Megumi. Megumi dodged them by leaping into the air and used her staff to poke the back of Taiyo. Taiyo groaned and tried to punch Megumi, but Mingan blocked his path and ended up punching Mingan’s back. Mingan gasped in pain and glared back at Taiyo.

“Watch it!” he yelled. Taiyo cursed under his breath and tried to punch Megumi again, but Megumi ducked making his punch connect to Tsai-Shen. Tsai-Shen gasped holding his punched shoulder.

“Sorry,” said Taiyo immediately. Taiyo was so focused on Tsai-Shen that he didn’t even notice Megumi go behind him. Megumi whacked his back with her staff sending him colliding into Tsai-Shen sending them both to the ground.

Mingan tried to attack Megumi from behind, but she ducked out of the way and then used her staff to trip him sending him onto the two other trainees.

Megumi pointed her staff at them and said, “I win.” All three trainees got up groaning. Taiyo glared at Mingan and yelled, “I would have punched Captain Megumi if you didn’t go into my path!” Mingan glared back and said, “Captain Megumi was closer to me, so I could have hit him first, if you didn’t punch my back, Jerk.”

Tsai-Shen stood between the two and said, “We shouldn’t fight right now, since Captain Megumi did win.” Taiyo and Mingan groaned and turned away from each other with a pout.

Megumi placed her staff back on her back looking at the three trainees.

“Do you know why you three lost?” asked Megumi.

“Because you have more fighting experience?” they answered. Megumi shook her head.

“I do have more fighting experience when compared to you three, but that’s not all. I told you three to work together to beat me, but you were all over the place. You didn’t plan your attacks and just threw random punches. You had no team work.”

“What difference would that make?” asked Tsai-Shen.

“Well if you guys worked together then you would have at least gotten one punch in,” stated Megumi and added, “The obstacle course was designed to teach you guys to work together as well as improve your strength.” All three trainees were silent.

“Well I expect you three to do the obstacle course the next time it comes up,” stated Megumi making Mingan, Tsai-Shen, and Taiyo pout.

Megumi was ready to complete their training for the day, but flinched when she heard a familiar voice calling her name. She looked back and saw Keiki approaching her with Len trailing behind him. Megumi groaned placing a hand against her mask as Keiki finally reached her.

“Didn’t I tell you to work in my office with Len?” asked Megumi. Keiki scoffed crossing his arms.

“I finished most of the work, but then I got hungry and wanted to eat the duck hot pot you made before,” stated Keiki. Megumi groaned and asked, “You couldn’t wait until I returned or when I was returning to my residence.” Keiki shook his head and pulled Len by the arm to him.

“I also want this guy to taste it since he mentioned that he never ate it,” stated Keiki. Len looked at Megumi with an apologetic look. Megumi sighed and said, “Fine, just let me dismiss these guys.” Keiki nodded.

Megumi turned back to Mingan, Tsai-Shen, and Taiyo and noticed their confused looks as they looked at Keiki.

“Something wrong?” asked Megumi. Tsai-Shen pointed at Keiki and asked, “Why is the heir to the Nue mafia Clan here?” Keiki smirked and said, “I can go where I want.”

Keiki suddenly took notice of Taiyo and asked, “Hey, aren’t you from the Hatsune mafia clan?” Taiyo flinched and looked away from Keiki saying, “I don’t know what you mean.” Taiyo’s face was filled with nervousness. Keiki stared at the three and then back at Megumi.

“They were the ones you were training right?” asked Keiki. Megumi nodded. Keiki stared at them longer making them grow nervous and said, “They should eat with us.” Mingan’s, Taiyo’s, and Tsai-Shen’s eyes widened.

“What?” they exclaimed. Megumi looked at Keiki and asked, “Why do you want to eat with them?” Keiki chuckled and said, “The more people that come, the bigger the pot.” Megumi glared at Keiki and said, “You really are a slime ball.”

“Hey!” yelled Keiki and then paused. He cleared his throat and added, “You show kindness to people for no reason, so why not now.” Megumi sighed and looked at Mingan, Taiyo, and Tsai-Shen.

“Would you like to join us?” offered Megumi. They thought a while and then nodded.

Keiki chuckled and began to lead them to the kitchen dragging Len behind him.

As they walked, Taiyo looked at the back of Keiki nervously.

“How does he know his way around the palace so easily?” asked Taiyo. Megumi adjusted her mask and answered, “He’s been sneaking into the palace for two years.”

“Why?” asked Tsai-Shen, joining in. Megumi pointed at herself and said, “To see me.” With that, Megumi walked ahead of them to Keiki’s side.

Tsai-Shen looked at Taiyo and asked, “Is your cousin’s fiancé into guys?” Taiyo gulped and whispered, “Well I heard that Keiki was in love with a woman named Mikan, but I never heard that he was close to Captain Megumi.”

“What are you two talking about?” asked Mingan.

“Nothing,” they said in unison. Mingan shook his head and then turned his focus to Len, who was struggling to keep up Keiki, who was still holding his arm.

“I still can’t believe that rank twenty is so close to Captain Megumi and to that Mafia guy,” stated Mingan. Taiyo and Tsai-Shen looked toward Len and nodded in agreement with dissatisfaction in their faces.

“He better not get a swell head,” they muttered.

Len could feel their stares on his back and gulped nervously. He was constantly teased by the trainees and the three trainees trailing behind were no different.

Megumi noticed Len’s nervousness. She patted Keiki’s shoulder making Keiki look at her.

“I think you should release Len, he seems a bit sick,” stated Megumi. Keiki nodded pulling his hand away from Len. Len rubbed his arm as he continued to walk. Megumi went to Len’s side and whispered, “Don’t let them intimidate you.” Len realized that Megumi knew what he was feeling and smiled at her in thanks.

Keiki was suddenly between them and smiled at Len saying, “Don’t get too close to Megumi, OK?” Keiki was smiling, but Len could clearly see the malice emitting from it making him feel that his life was in danger once again.

They soon reached the trainees kitchen, which was completely empty. Megumi rolled up her sleeves and said, “I need you guys to get me some vegetables for the hot pot, while I get the spices and duck.” They nodded and began to search the kitchen for the required ingredients.

Megumi grabbed the needed spices from the top cabinet. She placed the spices down and was ready to get the duck meat from the ice cabinet built in the floor, but stopped in her actions when she heard Taiyo scream followed by Tsai-Shen saying, “Please get away from Taiyo.” Megumi glanced over her shoulder and saw Taiyo on top of the table with Tsai-Shen on the floor trying to shoo away an orange cat that had a piece of pickled yam in its mouth. Keiki, Len, and Mingan were staring at the scene in confusion.

Megumi stood up and began to approach the cat. She then knelt down and said, “Come here Snowflake.” The cat, Snowflake, seemed to perk up at the sight of Megumi and leapt up with the pickled yam still in its mouth. Megumi held the small cat in her arms and looked at Taiyo and Tsai-Shen.

“The cat isn’t going to attack you,” stated Megumi. Taiyo shook his head shaking.

“All cats are evil!” exclaimed Taiyo. Tsai-Shen stood before Taiyo and stated, “Don’t let that cat get close to him.” Megumi stared at the two and realized something.

“Is Taiyo afraid of cats?” asked Megumi. Taiyo and Tsai-Shen nodded.

Keiki suddenly burst out laughing making everyone look at him. Keiki held his sides as he laughed and then said, “You are definitely from the Hatsune Mafia Clan.” Taiyo flinched and asked, “Why do you say that?”

Keiki seized his laughing with a smirk.

“I know that in the Hatsune Mafia Clan there is a boy named Taiyo, who has an extreme fear of cats ever since his cousin made him play with three vicious cats. Am I right, Taiyo?”

Taiyo was beginning to sweat as he stared at Keiki. To his surprise, Megumi stood between him and Keiki and said, facing Keiki, “Even if Taiyo is part of a mafia clan, he decided to join the soldier ranks, so please don’t reveal his mafia status without his permission, Slime Ball.”

“STOP CALLING ME THAT!”

Keiki was glaring at Megumi fuming with anger completely forgetting Taiyo. Taiyo stared at the back of Megumi in awe. Tsai-Shen looked at Taiyo and asked, “Are you OK?” Taiyo nodded and whispered, “Captain Megumi is really nice.”

“Did you already forget that he had a giant horse torture you last time?” asked Tsai-Shen. Taiyo paused in his actions and then lowered his head remembering the scaring event.

Snowflake suddenly meowed dropping the pickled yam in his mouth and getting Megumi’s attention. Megumi then looked at Len and asked, “Are you afraid of cats?” Len shook his head. Megumi handed Snowflake to him and said, “Can you please watch over Snowflake until I am done with cooking our meal?” Len nodded taking the small cat in his arms.

The moment Snowflake was within Len’s grasp, Snowflake began to purr and knead the front of his shirt.

“He seems to like you,” stated Megumi. Len smiled and began to pet Snowflake’s small head. Megumi patted Len’s head once, before going back to the small ice cabinet for the duck meat.

Len leaned against the wall petting Snowflake with a smile, but his smile faded when he heard Mingan whisper, in his ear, “You sure have it easy rank twenty.” Len glanced at Mingan with sweat beginning to appear on his face. Mingan glanced back at Len and stated, “So what did you do to get Captain Megumi’s favor.” Len gulped looking away from Mingan.

“Well Megumi just liked that I asked questions and he tells me that I am doing a good job in organizing,” stated Len nervously. Mingan eyes widened and asked, “What happened to Captain Megumi’s honorific?” Len gulped and stated, “I got permission to call him Megumi.”

“Are you a teacher’s pet now?” asked Mingan. Len shook his head and stated, “I just have respect for Megumi.” Mingan shrugged looking away from Len.

“I don’t know what Captain Megumi sees in you, but don’t get a swelled head,” stated Mingan. Len nodded. Mingan walked away from Len and began to continue to help with gathering ingredients.

Len sighed in relief and realized that Mingan didn’t belittle him as much this time. Len also took notice that as Tsai-Shen and Taiyo worked, they weren’t even giving him cold stares, which he was already used to from them. Len looked at Megumi, who was beginning to slice the duck meat, and found himself smiling as he held Snowflake.

I’m glad Megumi is around.

After an hour of cooking, Megumi had finished making the duck hot pot. Megumi looked at the others and stated, “I expect you guys not to leave any left overs.” They all nodded taking a small bowl and filling it with a serving of the hot pot. Len, Taiyo, Mingan, and Tsai-Shen took one bite of the food and felt like their taste buds were dancing.

“It’s delicious,” complimented Len, while Mingan, Taiyo, and Tsai-Shen shoveled down their food with bliss in their eyes. Megumi nodded in approval and noticed that Keiki was already on his third bowl.

“I see that you enjoy it,” stated Megumi. Keiki nodded grabbing another bowl of the hot pot. Megumi grabbed herself a serving and was about to lift her mask slightly, but stopped when she noticed everyone looking at her.

“What is it?” asked Megumi. They all flinched and looked away. Megumi sighed and finally lifted her mask revealing her lips. She placed a piece of the cooked meat in her mouth and then lowered her mask. She savored the taste and noticed that everyone was staring at her again with red cheeks.

“What now?” asked Megumi. Mingan cleared his throat and stated, “It was the first time I saw a piece of your face.” Tsai-Shen and Taiyo nodded in agreement still red.

“I see, but please don’t stare,” stated Megumi. They nodded saying their apology.

Len saw Megumi’s lips many times since working under her in his training, but every time he saw it, it sent his heart beating.

Keiki, on the other hand, was always relieved to see Megumi’s lips since it was proof that it was her under that mask.

The hot pot was completely finished after a while, so Megumi began to clean up. She looked at Mingan, Tsai-Shen, and Taiyo and said, “You three can return to your rooms for the day.” They nodded saying their thanks and began to leave, until they heard Keiki ask, “What’s your name guys?” They glanced back at Keiki with wide eyes.

“You ask that now?” they exclaimed. Keiki nodded. They sighed and introduced themselves one by one. When it came to Taiyo’s turn, Keiki smirked and said, “So that is your name.” Taiyo nodded nervously. Keiki chuckled and said, “I won’t ask why you decided to join the palace as a soldier, but please don’t let anyone in your clan know that I’m here, OK?” Taiyo nodded filled with confusion.

The three trainees finally left leaving Keiki, Megumi, and Len alone in the kitchen. Len looked at Megumi and asked, “Do you want me to return to your office to work?” Megumi shook her head and said, “You worked hard already, so we will continue to work tomorrow.” Len nodded and was about to walk off, but stopped and looked back at Megumi.

“Can I work with you again tomorrow?” asked Len. Megumi nodded making Len smile brightly before running out of the kitchen.

Keiki crossed his arms as he looked at Megumi.

“That Len guy seems to really like you,” stated Keiki. Megumi chuckled with a shrug and stated, “I like him too.” Keiki flinched and before he could say anything, he heard Megumi add, “He’s a dedicated worker.” Keiki pressed his lips together looking away from Megumi.

“Let’s finish cleaning the kitchen and head back to the office to complete your remaining work,” stated Keiki. Megumi nodded until she saw Snowflake sleeping in the corner of the kitchen where Len left him. Megumi sighed and looked at Keiki.

“Can you finish cleaning the kitchen, while I deliver dear Snowflake back to his owner?” asked Megumi. Keiki groaned and said, “Fine, but meet me back in your office.” Megumi nodded scooping up Snowflake into her arms.

Megumi left the kitchen with Keiki staring at her back. Keiki remembered Megumi without the mask and turned red in the cheeks.

“I really hate that emperor,” muttered Keiki.

Megumi walked down the hallway with Snowflake sleeping in her arms. Megumi petted Snowflake’s small head as she walked, but stopped in her tracks when she saw Mori walking up ahead most likely heading to the soldier quarters to change. Megumi called his name getting his attention.

Megumi walked up to Mori and asked, “Are you busy, Captain Mori?” Mori shook his head and stated, “I was going to change my clothes. What do you need?” Megumi held Snowflake to him and asked, “Can you deliver Snowflake back to Lady Ayumi?” Mori’s eyes widened staring at the cat.

“This cat belongs to Lady Ayumi?” asked Mori. Megumi nodded.

“I promised to deliver Snowflake to her if I found him, but I need to return to my office to finish my work, so please deliver him in my place.”

Mori stared at the cat and then smiled taking Snowflake into his arms.

“I’ll be happy to and thank you,” stated Mori. Megumi nodded and changed directions to her office.

When Megumi was gone, Mori looked at Snowflake’s sleeping form and smiled.

“Megumi is kind, but…”

Mori remembered the kiss between Megumi and Ayumi and felt something grab at his heart. His facial features became saddened as he held Snowflake.

“It still hurts.”

Megumi returned to the soldier’s quarters to change her clothes and after she was done began to head back to her office, where she hoped Keiki was still waiting. As she got closer to her office, she began to hear Keiki screaming out a slur of curse words. She picked up her pace and turned a corner leading to her office only to see Keiki yelling at Boshi. Keiki was soaking wet, while Boshi was gripping his sides laughing non-stop. Megumi sighed as she approached them.

“I see that the victim today is Keiki,” stated Megumi. Boshi glanced at Megumi with tears at the corners of his eyes.

“You should have told me that Keiki came over,” stated Boshi. Megumi crossed her arms and said, “You know that Keiki comes unannounced.” Boshi nodded and looked at Keiki, who was glaring at him.

Boshi held a thumbs-up at Keiki smiling and stated, “Pranking you is the best joy I’ve felt today.” Keiki growled and tried to hit Boshi, but Boshi dodged and went behind Megumi. Keiki stopped in his movements staring at Megumi, who stood her ground with Boshi behind her. Keiki groaned lowering his fist.

“Hiding behind Megumi is a cheap trick,” muttered Keiki. Boshi chuckled and glanced at Megumi.

“I’m guessing Keiki is going to be staying at your place for the time being, right?” asked Boshi. Megumi nodded.

“How long this time?”

Before Megumi could answer, Keiki said, “I plan to stay at least two months.” Megumi glared at Keiki and demanded, “You plan to stay until the training period is done?” Keiki nodded.

“You can’t stay that long!”

“I can too and even if you beat me ten times more I will still stay for two months.”

“You know Ryuunosuke would come eventually right?”

“I know that, but I still plan to stay and keep my promise as a man.”

“You’re no man.”

“I dare you to say that again!”

“You’re…no…man.”

Megumi and Keiki were soon in a glaring battle. Boshi laughed patting Megumi’s back.

“Just let him stay for the two months. If he’s too much trouble after a month then I’ll let him stay at my place, sound fair?” offered Boshi. Megumi groaned and said, “Fine, but he better return after the two months.” Boshi and Keiki nodded.

Boshi then asked, “So can we have a welcoming party for Keiki at your place?” Megumi groaned knowing full well that Boshi just wanted to visit her place.

“Fine.”

Boshi cheered and ran off saying, “See you when night falls.” Megumi and Keiki watched Boshi run off and then looked at each other.

“Boshi really hasn’t changed huh?” asked Keiki.

“I don’t think he ever will,” stated Megumi.

Keiki and Megumi entered her office together and began to work on the remaining work diligently.

While Keiki and Megumi were working, Mori was headed toward the Harem with Snowflake still asleep in his arms. He stopped at the steps of the Harem and glanced up wondering if a servant would pass by to grant him permission to enter the Harem or better yet if Ayumi came into his sight. A servant, who he recognized as Hotoru Suwa, Ayame’s personal handmaiden, walked out of the Harem carrying an empty basket under her arm.

“Hotoru?” called Mori, getting Hotoru’s attention, and then asked, “Can you please grant me permission to enter the Harem?” Hotoru raised an eyebrow asking, “Whatever for?”

“I need to deliver Lady Ayumi’s pet to her,” stated Mori. Hotoru finally took notice of the sleeping cat and then looked Mori in the eye.

“That is very kind of you Captain, but I can’t grant you permission just because of that,” stated Hotoru.

Mori frowned and, taking in a deep breath, held Snowflake toward Hotoru making her flinch.

“Then please deliver this cat to Lady Ayumi in my place,” insisted Mori. Hotoru was still for a moment as she stared at the cat and then took Snowflake into her arms.

“I will inform her that you delivered her cat Captain,” stated Hotoru. Mori nodded and turned to leave. He took three steps forward, before he heard Hotoru say, “I know you have feelings for Lady Ayumi, but please let those feelings go for the good of your heart.” Mori smiled and glanced back at Hotoru.

“I can’t do that,” answered Mori and then continued on his way.

Hotoru sighed and was about to walk off to look for Ayumi, but stopped in her tracks when she heard the Harem door open. She glanced at the door only to see Ayame wandering out with a confused look. Hotoru gasped running to Ayame’s side.

“Please get back inside Lady Ayame.”

Ayame shook her head and said, “I have to find my child.” Hotoru looked saddened as she placed the cat and basket down on the ground. She held Ayame’s cold hand and said, “Your child is gone Lady Ayame, so please return inside before you fall ill.”

Tears began to pour from Ayame’s eyes as she fell to her knees crying, “You’re lying!” Hotoru tried to calm Ayame’s cries with tears falling from her eyes as well. Ever since Ayame lost her child, she would begin to wander believing that her unborn child was wandering around out of her reach.

As Ayame cried, Ayumi approached them from the other side of the Harem and then picked up Snowflake into her arms. She glanced at Ayame’s crying face and held Snowflake tightly making Snowflake whimper.

“Will I become like that when his majesty calls me to his chambers?” she asked herself with her form shaking.

Hours had passed and Keiki and Megumi had finished the work for the day. Megumi loosened her mask to wipe her sweat and then glanced at Keiki, who was leaning against the wall with crossed arms.

“Are we done now?” asked Keiki. Megumi nodded and began to lead the way out. She reached the door and was about to open it, but stopped and groaned. She withdrew her hand and then crossed her arms.

“If you still want to go to my place then remove that bucket from the door, Boshi,” warned Megumi. Megumi and Keiki heard Boshi curse behind the door along with the sound of a bucket being removed from the edge of the door.

Megumi then opened the door and saw Boshi holding the bucket with a pout.

“How did you know I was there?” asked Boshi.

“I could hear you breathing and I knew that when night fell, you would have prepared a bucket by now.”

Boshi pouted muttering that Megumi was no fun. Keiki chuckled and said, “Too bad for you, Boshi.” Boshi suddenly smirked and threw the water onto Keiki soaking Keiki once again. Keiki stared at Boshi in silence. Boshi burst out laughing and said, “Soaking you really is the best.” Keiki glared at Boshi and tried to punch him, but Boshi dodged and hid behind Megumi laughing.

Keiki pointed at Boshi yelling, “Why me and not Megumi?”

“Megumi would have dodged and it would have hit you anyway like always,” stated Boshi. Keiki groaned and was ready to go for the attack, but stopped when he looked at Megumi. Keiki groaned again and looked away.

“I really hate you Boshi,” stated Keiki. Boshi chuckled in response.

Boshi then looked at Megumi and stated, “I hope you don’t mind, but I also invited two other people.” Megumi’s eyes widened, behind the mask.

“Who did you invite?” asked Megumi.

Megumi heard footsteps approaching and looked up only to see two familiar faces: Naohito Shi and Chiriko Shi. Megumi bowed her head to them in greeting.

Naohito and Chiriko bowed back with smiles on their faces.

“Have you been well, Megumi?” asked Chiriko. Megumi nodded and was about to say something, when she suddenly heard Naohito exclaim, “Why is Keiki here again?” Megumi saw how pale Naohito looked and the seriousness in Chiriko’s face as they looked at Keiki.

Keiki groaned looking at them and said, “I can come as much as I want.” Megumi elbowed Keiki’s side making him gasp in pain and said, “Show respect to my seniors.” Keiki groaned rubbing his side.

Boshi chuckled and said, “I had a feeling Lord Naohito and Lord Chiriko would be surprised to see Keiki.” Chiriko glared at Boshi and said, “So you did know about Keiki?” Boshi nodded. Naohito frowned and said, “You should have told us.”

“It was more entertaining for you to find out like this,” stated Boshi and then added, “At least you guys get to hang out with Megumi tonight.” Chiriko and Naohito frowned knowing full well that they couldn’t talk back.

Megumi cleared her throat getting everyone’s attention.

“If you still want to go to my residence then please follow me,” instructed Megumi. They nodded and began to follow Megumi.

As they walked, Naohito glanced at Keiki with a pout and then looked at Chiriko.

“I really thought it would be great to go to Megumi’s place after so long, but Keiki will get all his attention,” whispered Naohito. Chiriko nodded with a frown.

“I wanted to spend my time with Megumi too,” stated Chiriko.

They were just about to reach the gates of the palace when someone suddenly landed in front of Megumi and swung his leg at her. Megumi ducked out of the way and then leapt up kicking the newcomer in the face. That person fell back and then began to laugh holding his kicked cheek.

Megumi groaned and said, “What do you want now, Hatsuharu?” The newcomer was indeed Hatsuharu, who was smiling at Megumi. Keiki looked at Hatsuharu from over Megumi’s shoulder and asked, “Isn’t he that soldier that tries to stick to you?” Megumi nodded. Keiki frowned as he looked at Hatsuharu. Hatsuharu noticed this and chuckled.

“Are you a friend of Megumi’s?” asked Hatsuharu. Keiki flinched and was about to say something, but fell silent and just looked away frowning. Hatsuharu chuckled again and then looked at Megumi.

“I heard that you were going to invite some people over to your residence for a gathering of some sort,” stated Hatsuharu.

“How do you know that?” asked Megumi. Hatsuharu pointed toward Boshi making Boshi flinch and admitted, “I heard him talking about it with the two Officials when I was resting near the Industrial Relations Department.”

“You weren’t supposed to rest there, Hatsuharu,” pointed out Megumi. Hatsuharu chuckled in response and added, “I know, but I got to hear something interesting and now I want to join in on the fun.” Megumi would have refused, but Hatsuharu looked at her with such big puppy eyes that seemed to be saying, “Please say yes” repeatedly. Megumi sighed in defeat and said, “All right, but please leave before it gets too late.” Hatsuharu cheered, jumping from the ground and wrapping his arms around her shoulders saying his thanks repeatedly like an excited child on his birthday.

Keiki immediately ripped Hatsuharu from Megumi with anger in his eyes and yelled, “Don’t cling to him like that!” Hatsuharu pouted in response saying, “I already don’t like you.”

“Likewise,” stated Keiki.

Chiriko shook his head and said, “This is starting to be quite a gathering indeed.” Naohito nodded in agreement, while Boshi chuckled finding the situation quite amusing.

Megumi began to walk through the gates of the palace with her companions, but felt a chill run down her spine. She glanced back, expecting to see the emperor, but he was nowhere in sight. Megumi shook her head wondering if the feeling she felt was wrong this time.

Unknown to Megumi, Yuki had hidden behind a pillar and was watching her retreating back. He noticed the others with her and felt his heart begin to clench. He wanted to run to her side and kill those men near her, but he knew it was unwise because he knew that Chiriko and Naohito were hardworking Officials and were even Diyuans in their year; Boshi was also a hard worker and Shigure even mentioned to Yuki that he was planning to increase Boshi’s pay; and Hatsuharu was one of the best soldiers in his army. Yuki knew that harming these individuals would hurt his country.

Yuki then took notice of Keiki, who was complaining about something to Megumi that he couldn’t make out. He remembered that Keiki would always break into the palace just to see Megumi and that very thought irritated Yuki. Yuki wanted to know why Keiki, a mafia heir, was so intent on being by Megumi’s side. It was true that Keiki left after a specific time, but he felt the urge to slice off Keiki’s head every time he came into Megumi’s view. Keiki seemed to get closer to Megumi as he walked making Yuki begin to shake and claw at the pillar he was behind.

“Don’t touch him…don’t touch him…he belongs to me.”

Yuki, at that moment, looked ready to kill anyone close to him.

After what seemed like hours of walking, Megumi and her companions reached her residence. Her residence had a solid red wood roof and walls made of pure white stone. The paintings against the wall were of dragons and trees of green and blue. The gates that led to the inside of the residence were smooth and solid and it seemed that if one opened it, it would lead to the heavens instead.

Hatsuharu whistled in amusement and said, “I finally get to see your place and it is pretty good.” Chiriko, Boshi, and Naohito nodded in agreement, even though they have seen her place before in the previous year. Keiki looked at Megumi and asked, “Do you have servants in your house now?” Megumi shook her head.

“I want to save the money I made and why would I need servants if I can do the chores myself?” pointed out Megumi. Keiki sighed knowing that Megumi, if she wanted, would choose to do some things herself.

Megumi opened the gates and walked in walking pass the gardens and into the main house of her residence. She pointed down the hall and said, “Make yourselves comfortable in the dining room, while I make us some dinner.” They all nodded and walked down the hall.

Megumi headed to the kitchen and as she did, she tied up her long hair and adjusted her mask. She finally reached her kitchen and began to gather ingredients to make vegetable dumplings and chicken fried rice. Megumi was about to grab the basket of rice from under her counter, but suddenly sensed someone behind her. She kicked back connecting with someone’s stomach and got a yelp of pain from that person. Megumi turned around and saw Keiki hunched over clenching his stomach in pain. Megumi crossed her arms as she looked at Keiki.

“Didn’t I say to make yourselves comfortable in the dining room?” asked Megumi. Keiki groaned still holding his stomach.

“I thought you might need some help in the kitchen,” stated Keiki. Megumi rolled her eyes turning away from Keiki.

“I know where everything is in my own kitchen, so I don’t need your help,” stated Megumi. Keiki groaned and then took notice of the Sake sitting on the counter.

“Can I at least bring the Sake into the dining room for the others?” asked Keiki. Megumi nodded and then added, “The others can drink it, except for you.” Keiki groaned snatching the Sake from the counter.

“Fine,” mumbled Keiki, before marching out of the kitchen. He was already out of the kitchen, but glanced back at Megumi and asked, “Are you still mad at me right now for asking to stay longer?” Megumi sighed glancing in Keiki’s direction.

“I am mad, but as long as you return by the promised date as always then I won’t be as hard on you.”

Keiki nodded and ran down the hallway with the bottle of Sake in his hand.

Megumi went back to scooping up the rice wondering what else to add for the gathering.

Keiki soon returned to the dining room with the bottle of Sake. Boshi cheered when he saw the Sake in Keiki’s hand and approached him.

“I see that you have the drink of the Gods in your hand,” cheered Boshi and then took the Sake into his grasp. Boshi patted Keiki’s head and asked, “So Megumi didn’t want help?” Keiki shook his head with a pout.

Boshi chuckled and began to lead Keiki to the dining table where the others were saying, “Let’s drink to cheer you up.” Keiki shook his head and said, “Megumi told me not to drink the Sake.”

“Is he your father now?” asked Boshi. Keiki shook his head.

“Then drink to your heart’s content. Besides, this gathering is for you,” stated Boshi. Keiki thought awhile and then nodded. Boshi cheered placing the bottle of Sake on the table.

Naohito stared at the bottle of Sake and said, “I hope the Sake isn’t too strong.” Chiriko smiled and said, “I’m sure it’s OK, Naohito, but just in case just have one glass.” Naohito nodded in agreement.

Hatsuharu looked at Naohito and asked, “Are you weak against alcohol?” Naohito nodded and added, “I can drink weak Sake just fine, but if it is too strong I get too drunk and black out eventually.” Hatsuharu laughed pouring himself a glass of Sake.

“It must be the same with Megumi.”

“Megumi?” asked Naohito. Hatsuharu nodded and stated, “I tried to offer him some Sake as a birthday gift before, but his answer was that he couldn’t drink alcohol. He must be weak against it like you.” Naohito nodded.

Chiriko, Hatsuharu, and Naohito suddenly noticed that Keiki and Boshi seemed to turn red at the mention of Megumi refusing alcohol.

“Are you two OK?” asked Chiriko. Boshi laughed uneasily and said, “I was just remembering how weak Megumi was against alcohol.” Keiki nodded in agreement and added, “It was traumatizing.”

Hatsuharu’s smile suddenly grew wide and exclaimed, “Now I am really curious to see Megumi’s reaction to alcohol.” Boshi and Keiki flinched and then glared at Hatsuharu.

“Don’t you dare give him alcohol!” they yelled in unison. Hatsuharu laughed in response, while Chiriko and Naohito grew confused.

“Why are you two yelling?”

They all flinched at the familiar sound of Megumi’s voice. They looked in her direction and saw that she had a table cart with a large plate of fried rice and dumplings. There was also a large bowl filled with freshly made rice cakes. The smell of the dishes was enough to make them drool.

Megumi pushed the cart to the table and placed the food on the table. From under the cart she pulled out a bottle of peach juice and placed it on the table.

“I believe you know where the dishes are considering that you all have glasses,” stated Megumi. Boshi nodded and added, “Keiki’s been here enough to know.” Keiki nodded and sipped from his cup of Sake.

Megumi glared at Keiki and then sighed saying, “I had a feeling you would drink the Sake even if I told you not to, but today’s gathering is for you, so I’ll allow it.” Keiki nodded half relieved that Megumi didn’t beat him.

They all grabbed a plate and then started to pick their servings from the laid out food. Megumi did the same and was about to lift her mask to eat, but stopped when she noticed the others staring at her. Megumi sighed and said, “I guess eating with this mask is unnerving for you guys, so please excuse me, while I change.” They nodded and watched Megumi leave the room.

When she was gone, Hatsuharu looked at the others excitedly and asked, “Is he going to remove his mask?”

“Not really,” answered Keiki making Hatsuharu confused.

When Megumi returned her lips could be seen, but now the top half of her face was covered by a butterfly design mask covering her eyes. Hatsuharu groaned and said, “You changed masks.” Megumi nodded taking her seat in front of her food. She ate her food and smiled.

“The food turned out good,” stated Megumi. The others nodded in agreement. Megumi poured herself a glass of peach juice and then drank from it. Hatsuharu watched her drink and then asked, “Why can’t you drink alcohol?” Keiki and Boshi flinched turning red in the cheeks.

Megumi placed her cup down and said, “My master forbid me to drink alcohol since I can’t handle it. My family also forbids me and my previous roommates also forbid me to drink alcohol.”

“I wonder why,” stated Hatsuharu. Boshi and Keiki tried to tell Hatsuharu to stop asking with different signals, but Hatsuharu didn’t seem to get the message.

“Well I always blacked out after I drank alcohol, but I did find it strange by others’ reactions when I woke up,” stated Megumi.

“I really want to see why,” stated Hatsuharu. Megumi shook her head taking her glass again.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” stated Megumi and then took a sip from her cup. Megumi paused and looked at Hatsuharu with wide eyes.

“Hatsuharu, did you…?”

Megumi suddenly passed out making Chiriko and Naohito gasp in surprise, Keiki and Boshi to turn pale, and Hatsuharu to laugh.

“Megumi is weak against alcohol,” stated Hatsuharu. Keiki gripped the front of Hatsuharu’s shirt and yelled, “Did you seriously sneak alcohol into Megumi’s glass?” Hatsuharu nodded and stated, “I added it, while he was talking.” Boshi jumped from his seat completely pale.

“You have no idea what you have done,” stated Boshi slowly backing up.

Megumi suddenly stood up with her mask still on her face. Hatsuharu looked at Megumi and said, “He seems to be fine.” Keiki released Hatsuharu turning pale as he looked at Megumi.

Megumi looked at them with glazed eyes as she stood up.

“Are you all right, Megumi?” asked Hatsuharu approaching Megumi. Keiki gasped.

“Don’t get close to…!”

The next thing all of them knew, Megumi had pulled Hatsuharu into a deep kiss. Hatsuharu’s eyes widen falling completely still. He could taste the peach in Megumi’s lips from the peach juice as she kissed him. Chiriko and Naohito turned pale as they watched Megumi kiss Hatsuharu, while Keiki and Boshi tried to find a place to hide. Megumi removed her lips from Hatsuharu as he remained frozen like a statue.

“Megumi?” Naohito managed to say through his shock. Megumi looked his way and jumped to him making him flinch. She pressed her lips against his making Naohito gasp through the kiss. He tried to pull away, but Megumi deepened the kiss. Naohito felt himself go limp as his heart began to race.

Chiriko snapped out of his shock and tried to separate Megumi from Naohito, but to his surprise, Megumi released Naohito and immediately pressed her lips against his. Chiriko was unprepared and ended up falling to the ground backwards. Megumi followed pressing her lips hungrily against his lips. Chiriko seemed ready to pull Megumi closer as he felt his face heat up and his heart race, but clenched his fist to the floor to prevent himself from doing so.

Megumi removed her lips from Chiriko with a smile and suddenly heard Boshi trying to run out of the room. She left Chiriko on the floor and leapt at Boshi. Boshi screamed trying to dodge Megumi, but to no avail. Megumi slammed her lips against Boshi’s. Boshi screamed through the kiss and turned red remembering the last time he felt Megumi’s soft lips. Boshi shut his eyes waiting for the kiss to end, but half of him wanted it to continue.

Megumi was suddenly ripped from Boshi and held tightly from behind by Keiki. Keiki tried to hold Megumi back and said, “Snap out of it, Megumi.” Megumi turned her head to Keiki and kissed his cheek making him gasp in surprise and loosen his hold on Megumi. Megumi turned around and pressed her lips against Keiki’s softly. Keiki felt the softness of her lips and his heart begin to race, but he then shut his eyes and pulled Megumi away.

“Megumi, please…”

Megumi kissed Keiki again and then suddenly passed out in his arms. Keiki was bright red as he held Megumi. Keiki looked around and noticed that the others were still basically in shock. Keiki placed Megumi on the floor with red cheeks.

Keiki looked at Hatsuharu and asked, “Do you understand now why Boshi and I wanted to prevent Megumi from drinking alcohol?” Hatsuharu snapped out of his shock and nodded with bright red cheeks.

“That was the first time I’ve been kissed by a man, but it felt pretty good,” stated Hatsuharu sheepishly. Naohito and Chiriko both nodded in agreement with bright red cheeks. Boshi groaned placing a hand to his face.

“I think I would be less embarrassed if Megumi wasn’t such a good kisser,” stated Boshi. The others nodded in agreement, but they didn’t want to admit that half of them wanted the kiss to happen again.

They suddenly heard Megumi yawn and looked at her. Megumi sat up in a daze and looked at the others.

“So Hatsuharu did sneak in alcohol in my drink?” asked Megumi. They nodded and began to look away from her with red cheeks.

“Are you guys OK?” asked Megumi. Chiriko was the one to nod and said, “You are definitely forbidden to drink alcohol, especially around the emperor.” Megumi stared at them and asked, “Did I do something?”

“Just don’t drink it!” exclaimed Keiki. Megumi rolled her eyes and walked back to the table.

“Well I’m going to finish my meal, if you guys don’t mind.”

They all nodded and glanced back at Megumi, who continued to eat her food. They were definitely amazed that Megumi had no memory of her kiss attack on them.

Naohito pulled at Chiriko’s sleeve making him look at him and asked, “I’m not like Megumi when I get drunk right?” Chiriko shook his head and said, “You don’t become a kissing monster.” Naohito sighed in relief. Naohito then touched his lips and blushed.

“Megumi’s kiss really did feel good,” whispered Naohito. Chiriko heard and clenched his fist. He didn’t want to admit it, but half of him wished that he could kiss Megumi again.

Hatsuharu sat next to Megumi sheepishly making Megumi look at him.

“Is something wrong?” asked Megumi. Hatsuharu blushed and said, “I’m sorry for sneaking alcohol into your cup and I promise never to do it again…ever.” Megumi smiled.

“I forgive you and it wasn’t a lot, so I woke up right away. No problems,” stated Megumi. Hatsuharu nodded glad that Megumi didn’t remember what she did.

They all ate in silence, until Megumi finished her meal, and stood up from her chair. She picked up her plate and said, “I’ll be back for your plates.” She headed to the exit of her dining room, but suddenly heard footsteps behind her. She glanced back and saw Chiriko walking to her.

“I said I’ll be back,” stated Megumi. Chiriko rubbed the back of his head and said, “I know that, but I need to speak with you privately.” Megumi could see the earnest in his face and nodded.

Chiriko and Megumi left the dining room leaving the others to eat their meal.

As they headed toward Megumi’s kitchen, Chiriko would glance at Megumi. Megumi noticed this and looked at Chiriko.

“There’s no one around right now, so you can talk with me,” stated Megumi. Chiriko nodded rubbing the back of his head nervously.

“Next month, I am to be married.”

“Really, to who?” asked Megumi in surprise.

“Her name is Nene Miyashita, Lord Miboshi’s only daughter.”

“Lord Miboshi, the one in charge of Rei Province. I remember that he sent proposals to me to marry his daughter when I was still training,” said Megumi and then added, with a smile, “You must feel honored to be able to marry the daughter of such a high Official.”

Chiriko looked away with saddened eyes.

“I just thought it was time for me to get married,” stated Chiriko.

“Well this is great news. Lady Nene should feel blessed to be marrying a kind person like you,” stated Megumi. Chiriko looked back at Megumi and whispered, “Are you really happy for me?” Megumi nodded and added, “You have my blessing.”

Chiriko forced himself to smile and looked away from Megumi.

“I hope you can come to the wedding.”

Megumi nodded with a smile. Just the sight of Megumi’s smile made Chiriko want to pull her into a hug and not let go. Chiriko clenched his fist and said, “I need to go.”

“Right now?” asked Megumi. Chiriko nodded and turned back. He wished Megumi goodbye and ran back toward the dining room.

Megumi began to wonder what was wrong with Chiriko, but decided that it was best not to pry too much.

As Chiriko ran down the hall, he felt tears escape from his eyes. He wiped his tears away. He remembered Megumi’s smile when she heard about him getting married and felt like someone was clenching his heart. Chiriko shook his head refusing to believe what he was feeling.

When he returned to the dining room, he grabbed Naohito’s hand making Naohito confused and said, “Let’s go.” Naohito nodded trying to prevent himself from tripping as he was practically dragged out.

As Naohito and Chiriko left Megumi’s residence, Naohito looked at his brother and asked, “What’s wrong big brother?” Chiriko didn’t answer as he walked, but Naohito could see the tears falling from Chiriko’s eyes.

Hatsuharu, Keiki, and Boshi were the only ones left in the dining room. Boshi cleared his throat and then smiled at the others asking, “Do you guys want to play a game?”

“What game?” asked Hatsuharu excitedly. Boshi whipped out a deck of cards from his sleeve and announced, “Have you guys ever played Old Maid?” Keiki and Hatsuharu smirked ready to take the challenge.

When Megumi returned to the dining room, she was surprised to see Boshi, Hatsuharu, and Keiki playing Old Maid on her table.

“What are you doing?” asked Megumi as she approached them. Boshi smiled at Megumi and stated, “Old Maid to entertain Keiki.” Boshi chuckled and added, “He sucks at this game so far.”

Keiki suddenly growled glaring at Boshi.

“My luck will improve eventually,” stated Keiki in an angered tone making Hatsuharu and Boshi laugh. Megumi rolled her eyes and gathered their dishes.

“Finish your game and then leave. It’s already getting so late,” stated Megumi. Hatsuharu and Boshi nodded, while Keiki was trying to figure out what card to draw from Boshi’s hand.

Megumi turned to leave, but stopped in her tracks when she heard the window to the dining room swing open. She glanced back at her window with the others looking the same way and saw a red haired man around his twenties. His eyes seemed to be filled with rage as he entered through the window.

Megumi went into a fighting stance and was about to speak, but Keiki suddenly stood up dropping his cards with shock in his face.

“Sendo?” muttered Keiki. Hatsuharu and Boshi looked at Keiki and asked, “You know him?” Keiki nodded.

The man, Sendo, approached Keiki quickly trying to grab him, but Keiki ducked out of the way and immediately hid behind Megumi. Sendo groaned glaring at Keiki.

“Seriously Keiki, would you stop running away already,” stated Sendo. Keiki shook his head.

“I refuse to return,” talked back Keiki making Sendo groan.

Megumi glanced at Keiki and asked, “He works under you correct?” Keiki nodded.

“Can you explain why he is here now?” asked Megumi. Keiki looked nervous as he began to speak.

“It might have something to do with me running away a day before my marriage,” stated Keiki.

“You did what?” exclaimed Megumi making Keiki flinch. Hatsuharu and Boshi continued to watch and then asked, “So you are a runaway groom?” Keiki nodded.

Sendo was suddenly in front of Megumi and tried to grab Keiki, but Megumi grabbed Keiki and dodged to the side. Sendo glared at Megumi and yelled, “Why are you preventing me from getting Keiki?”

Megumi glared at Sendo and said, “Because I want Keiki to explain himself right now, before I beat him.” Megumi’s glare was enough to send chills down Sendo’s spine and make him fall still. Hatsuharu clapped in amusement, while Boshi laughed uneasily, quite familiar with Megumi’s murderous glare.

Megumi glared back at Keiki making Keiki flinch in place.

“Explain yourself now,” demanded Megumi. Keiki nodded.

“I was supposed to get married this year to the female heir of the Hatsune Clan if I wasn’t able to find a suitable bride, but I made a promise to you, so I refused to get married and ran away to here.”

Megumi narrowed her eyes under her mask and asked, “Were you not planning to return?”

“I did plan to return, but not to get married. I wanted to find more information on Mikan’s death before I move to the Capital.”

“You were going to move here?” asked Megumi. Keiki nodded and added, “I wanted to move here, so I could take the Imperial Exams next year.” Megumi felt her eyes widen.

Keiki bowed before Megumi and said, “I can’t explain it right now, but I need to become an Official in order to help you out, so please allow me to do this.” Megumi stared down at Keiki and noticed his whole form shaking.

Megumi suddenly looked back at Sendo and said, “You wanted to bring Keiki back for his wedding and to prevent him from studying for the Imperial Exams correct?” Sendo nodded.

“You should know that Keiki needs to take over the Nue Mafia Clan, so he can’t become an Official,” stated Sendo. Megumi stared back at Keiki and then back at Sendo.

“That is true, but he is still young, so please let him take the Qualification and Imperial Exams next year.”

Keiki’s and Sendo’s eyes widened looking at Megumi.

“Really?” asked Keiki. Megumi nodded and added, “But promise me that after two years of being an Official, you will return to the Nue Mafia Clan to be the leader.” Keiki smiled and nodded filled with determination.

Megumi looked at Sendo and said, “Return to the Nue Mafia Clan and tell them the agreement.”

“But…”

“That is an order or do I have to tell this to Ryuunosuke,” stated Megumi firmly. Sendo gulped knowing full well what Ryuunosuke was capable of. Sendo bowed his head and said, “I’ll tell them, but Lord Bosatsu will not be happy with this.”

“Just tell him that I will make sure that Keiki keeps his promise,” stated Megumi. Sendo nodded and ran out the door.

Keiki sighed in relief thanking Megumi. Megumi nodded in response and added, “Just keep your promise this time and I still expect you to go back in two months before moving to the Capital.” Keiki nodded.

Megumi and Keiki suddenly heard clapping and looked at Boshi and Hatsuharu. Hatsuharu clapped saying, “That was more entertaining than a play.” Boshi nodded in agreement.

Keiki stared at them and stated, “I’m more surprised that you two were still there.” Boshi and Hatsuharu chuckled.

Boshi approached Keiki and said, “I’m surprised you want to be an Official.” Keiki groaned looking away from Boshi.

“It’ll make it easier to be near Megumi,” stated Keiki. Boshi chuckled and said, “Sounds like you’re stalking him.” Keiki turned red and exclaimed, “I am not!” Boshi and Hatsuharu laughed, while Megumi rolled her eyes.

“It really is getting late, so please leave, Boshi, Hatsuharu,” stated Megumi. Boshi shrugged and said, “I have to go to the Industrial Department tomorrow anyway.” Boshi began to leave, but then noticed that Hatsuharu was still sitting down.

“Shouldn’t you be coming with me?” asked Boshi. Hatsuharu shook his head and said, “I’ll leave after you are gone.” Boshi shrugged and left the dining room saying goodbye to Keiki and Megumi.

Hatsuharu stood up from his seat and approached Megumi and Keiki.

“I don’t think Boshi noticed it, but you mentioned about a promise and I believe it has something to do with someone named Mikan, right?”

Megumi clenched her fist and nodded knowing that it was almost impossible to dodge the subject. Hatsuharu smiled and asked, “If you can give me the details, then maybe I can help out.” Megumi shook her head.

“I don’t want to involve you Hatsuharu,” stated Megumi. Hatsuharu nodded in understanding and then asked, “Can you at least tell me who this Mikan person is?” Megumi nodded.

“She’s my dead older twin sister,” answered Megumi. Hatsuharu looked surprised, but then smiled and added, “I’m guessing she’s really important to you two.” Megumi and Keiki nodded. Hatsuharu stretched up and began to leave the dining room.

“Hope to see you two tomorrow,” stated Hatsuharu and then he was gone.

Megumi sighed and looked at Keiki.

“Can you help me clean the dishes?” asked Megumi. Keiki nodded taking some dirty dishes from the table and floor.

They returned to the kitchen to clean the dishes. Keiki looked at Megumi as he cleaned the dishes and asked, “Are you still mad?” Megumi sighed.

“I am mad that you didn’t tell me about wanting to be an Official and I really want to beat you up for that, but hearing how much you wanted to become an Official and the determination in your voice to find more information on Mikan’s death touched my heart, so I will forgive you.”

Keiki was silent and then smiled with a blush against his cheek.

“Thank you,” muttered Keiki. Megumi nodded.

When they were done cleaning the dishes, Megumi began to lead Keiki to his room. She opened one door in the hallway revealing a room with a single bed and a desk. There was also a chair placed in front of the desk as well as a candle for light.

“You can use this room for now and if you want more furniture in it then please let me know,” stated Megumi. Keiki nodded saying his thanks.

Before Megumi closed the door, Keiki looked at her and asked, “Do you sleep with your mask on?” Megumi shook her head and added, “I lock my door and windows, so no one can see, but I wear it on certain nights just to be safe.” Keiki nodded and watched the door close removing Megumi from his sight.

Keiki sat on the bed and pulled a small portrait of Mikan from his pouch. He ran his finger across Mikan’s face and focused on Mikan’s brown eyes. He remembered the blue eyes of the girl he first saw, who he thought was Mikan before, and held his head.

“How can I even tell Megumi that I love someone else now?” Keiki asked himself. Keiki realized two years ago that the girl he fell in love with wasn’t Mikan, but he had no idea who that girl was. That girl ran through his mind so much that at some points he forgot about Mikan altogether. He did love Mikan before, but realizing that she wasn’t the girl he first fell in love with made his love for her dwindle. He now kept Mikan’s picture as a reminder of why he was helping Megumi.

Keiki placed the small portrait back in his bag and leaned back. Another truth he didn’t want to tell Megumi was that he ran away from his marriage because he still hoped to find the true girl that stole his heart. Keiki clenched the covers of his bed looking out the only window of his room.

“Will Megumi forgive me if I told him the truth?”

Meanwhile, Megumi returned to her room after washing up and began to remove her mask. The string of the mask untied allowing her to remove the mask. Megumi hanged the mask next to the many masks that hung on her wall. She splashed her face with cool water from a bowl and wiped it dry with a white cloth. She then climbed onto her bed after making sure that the door and windows were locked. Megumi went under her covers and was about to blow out her candle light, but stopped and grabbed a brown cloth. She wrapped the cloth around her eyes and then blew out the candle.

Megumi laid on her bed and immediately fell asleep from the exhaustion. As she slept, the lock of her window clicked open. Her window swung open silently revealing her personal assassin, Ju-Long Kong. He slipped into the room and snuck to Megumi’s side. He frowned when he noticed the cloth covering her eyes.

“He really does make sure that no one sees his face, especially when he is sleeping,” whispered Ju-Long. Ju-Long kneeled next to Megumi staring at her covered face. He could hear her silently breathing as she slept and smiled. He noticed the whistle he gave her hanging on a hook next to her masks and chuckled.

“You still have my whistle, but you haven’t blown it once since becoming an Official,” whispered Ju-Long. Ju-Long touched her cheek and asked, “Can you call me once, Megumi?” Ju-Long withdrew his hand and then placed an Alstroemeria flower on Megumi’s nightstand.

“I’ll come back again, even if you don’t need me,” whispered Ju-Long and then leapt out the window making sure to lock it.

When Ju-Long was gone, Megumi’s hand touched the Alstroemeria and whispered, “I know your loyalty, Ju-Long.”

Megumi slept peacefully that night and Keiki slept with turmoil running through his mind.

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