As the sun rose on Yulan, Len began to awaken from his slumber. He stretched up and looked around his room. His room, as always, was empty since he was the only one of his roommates to pass the Imperial Exams. Some say that having the dorm room to yourself is a blessing, but Len found it lonely. It reminded him too much of his previous home in Eva Province. Len shook the dark thoughts away and slipped out of his bed.
Len washed up and changed before heading out of his room. When he got out of his room, he saw Iori standing in front of his door with crossed arms.
“Good morning Iori,” greeted Len. Iori smiled at Len wishing him a good morning and the asked, “Can I ask you something before we go to the throne room for our duties?” Len nodded.
“If by chance that you are not working with Lord Megumi, can you eat lunch with me?” asked Iori. Len thought awhile and nodded saying, “Well Megumi seems to be getting a lot of help from Keiki, so he might not need my help.” Iori had an uneasy look as he looked at Len.
“I’m amazed that you are also close to that mafia guy too,” stated Iori. Len chuckled and said, “I just got used to him and it is pretty funny when he tries to get into a fight with Megumi.” Iori clenched his fist and said, “I still think you should stay away from Lord Megumi.” Len frowned and looked away from Iori.
“Megumi is a nice guy, so please stop telling me to stay away from him,” stated Len and walked down the hallway away from Iori. Iori bit his lip wondering why Len didn’t want to listen to him when it pertained to Megumi.
Len, along with the other trainees, stood in the throne room awaiting their duties from Suha. Suha cleared his throat with the duty scrolls next to him.
“Some of you will be getting your duties today, but others will be getting today off.”
The trainees’ eyes widened wondering what the reason was.
“The reason for this is because some of you have worked beyond your expected work, so this is an award for them. The ones who skipped out at work too much will get double their duty.”
Some of the trainees gulped realizing that the day off wasn’t for them.
Suha unraveled a single parchment and said, “If your name is called, you have permission to leave the palace to enjoy your day off.” Suha cleared his throat again before reading the names out loud.
Iori smiled already knowing that he would get the day off.
“Taiyo Hatsune, Tsai-Shen Wan.”
Taiyo cheered, while Tsai-Shen nodded with a smile.
An eighteen-year-old with silver like hair just nodded with an almost vacant look.
Mingan sighed in relief for he thought that he might have skipped out in training too much and wouldn’t get the day off.
“And Len Nina.”
Len was silent for a while and then cheered loudly making everyone in the room flinch. Len realized his outburst and looked down with a blush of embarrassment against his cheeks.
Suha closed the parchment and said, “The rest of you will remain here and do your duties.” Suha heard the remaining trainees groan and glared at them making them silent.
Suha looked at Len, Taiyo, Tsai-Shen, Mingan, Iori, and Enki and said, “You may leave now.” They nodded and rushed out of the throne room.
As Len walked out, Iori went to his side and asked, “So how about we go to the market together?” Len nodded, but he suddenly felt someone brush against his shoulder roughly nearly making him fall over. He looked to his side and saw Enki walking by with almost no expression on his face.
Iori frowned as he helped Len keep his balance and said, “The Ziyuong sure is rude.” Len didn’t answer and just stared at Enki’s back wondering why Enki didn’t talk.
Len’s train of thought was interrupted when he saw Megumi appear from around a corner wearing a gray mask and commoner overalls and Keiki by her side. Len seemed to spring to life as he began to approach Megumi saying her name with Iori trailing behind him with an uneasy look.
Megumi saw Len and greeted him. Keiki on the other hand frowned at the sight of Len’s smiling face.
“Shouldn’t you be working?” stated Keiki. Len shook his head and said, “I have today off.”
“Congratulations,” stated Megumi, smiling behind her mask. Len nodded. Len felt Iori’s hand on his shoulder and glanced back at him.
“We really should get going. I’m sure Lord Megumi has lots of work to do,” stated Iori. Len nodded with disappointment in his face. Megumi chuckled making Iori and Len look at her.
“I was actually about to go out to the market,” stated Megumi. Len perked up and asked, “Really?” Megumi nodded.
“Even I need some time for a breather and the Archives I need to get into are closed today anyway,” stated Megumi. Keiki nodded with a frown on his face muttering, “Stupid Archives.”
“Can I come with you?” asked Len making Iori’s eyes widen. Megumi noticed Iori’s shocked expression and shook her head.
“I believe you may have made plans already with your friend here, so please keep your promise to him, Len,” stated Megumi. Len looked at Iori and then back at Megumi nodding with a saddened expression.
Megumi patted Len’s head making him look at her and said, “If we run into each other then I’ll be glad to join you and your friend.” Len smiled brightly and nodded.
Iori and Keiki both frowned. Iori immediately grabbed Len, while Keiki grabbed Megumi, and exclaimed, “Let’s go before the day ends!” Len and Megumi nodded both wondering if something was wrong with their companions.
They left the palace at the same time and took their separate ways in the market.
Keiki looked at Megumi and asked, “So what do you need in the market?”
“Well I was planning on buying ingredients for the vegetable dumplings for the banquet tomorrow and then a hairpin for Hime.”
Keiki smirked and said, “So the emperor is making you make dumplings for the banquet again?” Megumi nodded and added, “Apparently I’m the only one who makes it the way he likes it.” Keiki shrugged and then asked, “So why the hairpin for Hime?”
“Well it took me a long time to respond to her last letter and she can’t visit since she has so many customers, so this hairpin is just to let her know that I am still thinking about her,” stated Megumi. Keiki frowned with crossed arms.
“I’m amazed Hime is still in love with you after all these years,” stated Keiki and then added, “She even still wants to marry you.” Megumi shook her head.
“Hime is like an older sister to me. I hope she realizes that and finds a man that can make her happy.”
“You really are a lady killer,” muttered Keiki making Megumi elbow his side.
As Keiki and Megumi walked, they didn’t even notice that the Matsuba Mafia Clan Heir, Keida Matsuba, was staring at them with wide eyes. His focus was mostly on Keiki as he clenched his fist with anger in his eyes.
“Why is he here smiling, while Jia is being ridiculed in Go Province?” muttered Keida. Keida heard the news that Keiki ran away from the wedding and as a result, Jia Hatsune was ridiculed by the Nue Clan and her own clan for being unwanted. Keida gripped the staff on his side trying to fight the urge to rush at Keiki and beat him to a pulp.
Keida then looked at Megumi and the mask on her face. His anger seemed to tone down as he loosened his hold on his staff. He knew about Megumi’s mask since she became an Official, but it was still shocking to see it. He could no longer see the determination in her eyes clearly, but he could still feel her fighting spirit. It came to a point, where he knew it was unwise to fight Megumi unprepared. He still wanted to fight her to recover his pride as a man, but he just didn’t have the will to do it that day. Keida turned to leave clenching his fist. Half of him wanted to kill Keiki, but the other half was telling him not to anger Megumi.
When Keida turned a corner, Keiki looked back in confusion.
“Is something wrong?” asked Megumi. Keiki held his chin in thought and said, “It felt like someone was ready to fight.” Megumi rolled her eyes.
“Well we are in Matsuba Mafia Clan Territory, so I wouldn’t be surprised, but just ignore it for now,” stated Megumi. Keiki nodded and followed after Megumi.
Meanwhile, Len and Iori walked around the market looking at different clothes’ stands. Len spotted a red shirt and picked it up smiling.
“This shirt is the same color as Megumi’s mask,” cheered Len. Iori crossed his arms and asked, “Isn’t his mask gray?”
“Well today it is, but when I first started working with him, he was wearing a red mask,” stated Len. Len asked the owner of the stand for the price of the shirt, but when the owner stated that the price was twenty-five silver pieces, he began to bargain for a lower price. As Len did this, Iori watched him with an unsatisfied look.
Iori hated that Len favored Megumi so much and his hate for Megumi seemed to overpower his fear of her. Iori snapped out of his thoughts when he felt someone collide into his back nearly making him fall over. Iori was already in a sour mood, so he turned to the person that ran into him and yelled, “Watch where you’re going!”
Iori regretted his words, when he saw that the person that ran into him was the Matsuba Mafia Clan Heir, Keida Matsuba. He expected Keida to throw a punch at him, but he was surprised to hear Keida say, “Sorry” and begin to walk away.
Iori was shocked to say the least and it might have been that shock that made him say, “That’s it?” Keida suddenly stopped in his tracks and looked back at Iori.
“What do you mean by that?” asked Keida with a serious look. Iori gulped and said, “Well you are part of the mafia and I thought you might try to throw at least a punch at me for yelling at you.” Keida scoffed crossing his arms at Iori.
“In a normal day I would, but I don’t feel like it today since seeing that bastard of the Nue Clan and that masked jerk.”
Iori’s eyes widened as Len looked at Iori and asked, “What’s going on?” Iori hushed Len and asked, looking at Keida, “Do you mean Lord Megumi when you said masked jerk?” Keida nodded and scoffed.
“Calling him LORD Megumi sounds stupid,” stated Keida. Iori smirked and said, “Well I have to call him that.”
“Why not just call him Megumi?” asked Len looking at Iori. Iori frowned and said, “I refuse to call him without a title.”
Keida noticed the spite in Iori’s face when he mentioned Megumi and found himself smiling. Keida went to Iori’s side making Len flinch and asked, “Do you want to talk?” Iori was about to refuse, until he heard Len ask, “Can we go to the Dango Restaurant?” Keida nodded.
Iori groaned and said, “Let’s go.” Keida began to lead them down the pathway toward the Dango Restaurant area as he introduced himself.
In another part of the market place, Mingan was looking through a number of headbands in a single stand. He found each of the designs of the headbands extraordinary, but when he laid his eyes on a stitched headband made of foreign patterned wool, he frowned and turned away from the stand. Anything he saw that was made by foreigners made him feel sick to the stomach.
Mingan walked forward only to run into the chest of a man. He apologized, but when he saw that he had run into a foreigner he felt disgusted. The foreigner, who looked around his twenties, had a deep red eye patch on his right eye with a visible scar that reached the tip of his nose. His remaining eye was green like spring trees in Yulan and medium length black hair that revealed his oval shaped ears. His clothes were indeed foreign with the nature like design and he wore a beaded bag at his waist. What made it even clearer that he was a foreigner were the lighter tone of his skin and the shape of his eyes.
This unknown foreigner seemed to notice Mingan’s discomfort and asked, “Are you OK?” in Yulan’s language. Mingan nodded trying to move away from the foreigner.
The foreigner suddenly grabbed his wrist making him flinch. He could feel the goose bumps appearing all over his skin.
“What do you want?” asked Mingan trying his best to loosen his hand from the foreigner’s grip. The foreigner looked at Mingan pointing at the metal band he had around his wrist.
“Do you know where I can buy this type of band?” asked the foreigner. Mingan nodded and said, “I got it from a stand in this market.”
“Can you show me?” asked the foreigner. Mingan wanted to refuse, but the foreigner was very insistent that he felt that he should do what the foreigner said. The foreigner thanked him and began to follow him. Mingan, as he walked, was already regretting buying the band that made him get stuck with a foreigner.
Mingan led the foreigner to the stand where he got the band and was about to rush off, but the foreigner immediately asked, “How can I repay you?” Mingan groaned turning back to the foreigner.
“There really is no need,” stated Mingan.
Mingan sighed in defeat and said, “Fine.” The foreigner nodded with a smile and then bought the same band that Mingan had around his wrist. He placed the metal band in his bag and then said, “I’ll get you something to eat as my thanks and then I can continue my errand.” Mingan nodded wishing that he could just leave already.
As they walked side by side, Mingan looked at the foreigner and asked, “So what is the metal band for?”
“Well I feel like I should buy as much body protection as I can ever since I was attacked by an assassin,” answered the foreigner.
“You were attacked by an assassin?” asked Mingan in interest. The foreigner nodded placing the tip of his right fingers on his eye patch.
“That’s how I lost my eye,” stated the foreigner. The foreigner looked at the different stands and began to mutter the prices of the goods. Mingan noticed this and immediately thought the foreigner was crazy.
The foreigner suddenly looked back at Mingan making Mingan flinch and asked, “So what is your name?”
“Mingan, are you a foreigner too?”
Mingan cringed and shook his head.
“I am not a foreigner!” yelled Mingan. The foreigner apologized and said, “I only asked since your name sounded from the West Country.”
“The foreign country has nothing to do with me,” stated Mingan angrily. The foreigner chuckled and said, “I guess you’re right considering how far it is from Yulan.” Mingan groaned and then looked at the foreigner.
“Oh yes, my name is Varad Malik. As you can already guess, I am a foreigner; a foreigner from Abdulee to be exact.”
“Sounds far,” stated Mingan. The foreigner, revealed to be Varad, nodded in agreement.
Mingan still wanted to get away from this foreigner that offered to buy him food, but for some reason, he wanted to know more about Varad.
“So what brings you all the way to Yulan?” asked Mingan.
“Well I come to Yulan to buy Yulan goods like the fabric and fruits. I go to all the provinces to buy what I need for my merchant business and then move on to a different country.”
“So you’ve been to all the countries?” asked Mingan. Varad chuckled and said, “There’s still many places I haven’t been to yet.”
They passed a corner that led to the Red Light District and to Mingan’s surprise, saw Varad looking at it.
“Is there something you need there?” asked Mingan. Varad turned away from the corner scratching the back of his head.
“I just remembered a woman I met around there about two years ago,” stated Varad.
Varad nodded with a smile.
“She ran out of the Red Light District and begged me to pretend to be her fiancé to get a man that was harassing her to leave her alone. I agreed and got pretty close to her.”
“You liked her?”
“I have to admit that I did fancy her, but at that time I was already in love with another girl named Mikan.”
“Is this Mikan person your wife?”
Varad looked saddened and said, “She died a long time ago.” Mingan gulped and felt obliged to apologize.
Varad shook his head saying, “Nothing to be sorry for. Anyway, that woman saved my life when I was attacked by that assassin and convinced me to show my true feelings for Mikan, even though I later discovered that she was dead.”
“Who was this woman?” asked Mingan. Varad showed a warm smile and said, “Aiko Cho.”
In another part of the market place, Taiyo was leaning against the wall munching on a Gala Apple, while Tsai-Shen sat cross-legged next to him chewing on a raw lemon. Taiyo looked at Tsai-Shen and stated, “How can you eat a lemon raw like that?” Tsai-Shen licked his lips and chuckled.
“I like my stuff sour unlike you who has a sweet tooth,” stated Tsai-Shen. Taiyo nudged Tsai-Shen’s side saying, “My taste buds are normal unlike yours.” Tsai-Shen chuckled in reply.
Tsai-Shen suddenly looked up at the blue cloud covered sky and stated, “It’s been almost five years since I joined you, huh?” Taiyo nodded glancing at Tsai-Shen.
“I still think you were crazy for abandoning your family to join me in the mafia,” admitted Taiyo. Tsai-Shen chuckled and said, “Well I wanted to be close to my best friend.”
Taiyo shrugged and was about to bite out of his apple, but stopped abruptly nearly choking on the apple pieces already in his mouth. In his line of sight was Keida walking with Iori and Len. Taiyo recognized Keida as a mafia heir and the one who proposed to his cousin, Jia Hatsune, but was rejected when she revealed that she was already promised to the heir of the Nue Mafia Clan. It was after that, that Keida started to stick to Jia and follow her to the point of stalking her. He seemed to have calm down around two years ago, but Taiyo was still uncomfortable around Keida to the point of feeling sick.
Taiyo tossed his apple looking at Tsai-Shen.
“Let’s go somewhere else,” whispered Taiyo. Tsai-Shen noticed Keida and nodded standing up. They were about to head down an opened path of the market place, but Tsai-Shen slid to a stop grabbing Taiyo’s arm. He pulled Taiyo behind a different wall making Taiyo gasp.
Tsai-Shen hushed Taiyo looking at the corner of his eyes with seriousness in his face. Taiyo peeked around the corner trying to figure out what Tsai-Shen was looking at. Tsai-Shen pointed at a woman wearing a green dress and a similar colored cloth covering the bottom of her face.
“Who is that?” whispered Taiyo. Tsai-Shen narrowed his eyes clenching his fist.
“Her name is Saori Chang. She was the assassin sent after me when I left my family. You met her before, but her disguise is pretty good,” whispered Tsai-Shen. Taiyo turned pale and whispered, “I thought we lost her in Ryu Province.”
“I thought so too, but I guess even she can find me in the Capital,” whispered Tsai-Shen. Taiyo remembered that the girl, Saori Chang, attacked Tsai-Shen and him back in Ryu Province five years ago, but were only able to escape when someone named Ryuunosuke saved them and told them to go to another province for safety. They were protected in the mafia and made sure that Tsai-Shen’s past was not known to anyone. It was a surprise to Taiyo that after so long that they would be able to see Saori, who wanted Tsai-Shen dead.
Taiyo tugged on Tsai-Shen’s sleeve and whispered, “Let’s head back to the palace.” Tsai-Shen nodded and began to follow Taiyo.
As they walked away, Saori looked in their direction and smirked under the cloth on her face.
“I see you traitor,” she whispered. She began to pursue them quietly, but suddenly bumped into a person nearly losing her footing. She maintained her balance and glared at the person she bumped into saying, “Don’t get in my way.”
The person she bumped into was Enki, who looked at her with a vacant look. Saori was angered that Enki didn’t speak a word of apology, but she wanted to pursue her target fast, so she pushed Enki aside and walked forward.
Enki watched Saori walk in a fast pace ahead and suddenly began to follow her with a vacant look.
In a jewelry accessory stand, Megumi looked at the different hair pin designs with Keiki standing next to her holding a basket of vegetables, spices, and other ingredients. Keiki frowned as Megumi scanned through the hair pins.
“Can’t you just pick one already?” asked Keiki beginning to tap his foot impatiently. Megumi groaned glancing back at Keiki.
“You really don’t need to be here.”
“I have to…”
“Keep close to me because of your promise as a man, I heard it before.”
Keiki groaned with a reddened face. Keiki looked at Megumi and asked, “I’ve been meaning to ask, but on the night you heard I wanted to be an Official, why were you so sure that I would become one?”
“What makes you say that?” asked Megumi not removing her eyes from the hair pins.
“Well you told Sendo that after I become an Official for two years that I would become the Nue Clan Leader. It was like you already expect that I will pass the Imperial exams to be an Official.”
Megumi glanced back at Keiki and said, “Because I do expect you to pass. You help me with my work and have intelligence when you really need it. I can say that next year you will definitely be part of the top twenty.” Keiki turned red in the cheeks mumbling his thanks. He suddenly realized something else and asked, “Why two years then?”
“Because I believe that is the limit Ryuunosuke is willing to give for your absence in the mafia,” answered Megumi. Keiki turned pale as Megumi finally picked up a golden hair pin with the design of cherry blossoms. Keiki had forgotten Ryuunosuke and now knew that when Ryuunosuke hears of what Keiki had planned, he would be facing punishment in the coming future.
Megumi paid for the hair pin and then placed it into her bag. She glanced at Keiki and said, “Let’s go eat at the Dango Restaurant before heading back.” Keiki nodded following Megumi.
Keiki, suddenly, brushed his arm against someone and looked at that person only to realize that it was Taiyo. Keiki smirked at Taiyo greeting him. Taiyo flinched at the sight of Keiki and greeted him with an uneasy look. Keiki also took notice of Tsai-Shen and greeted him as well. Tsai-Shen nodded in response with seriousness in his eyes.
“So where are you guys headed?” asked Keiki.
“Back to the palace,” replied Taiyo.
“Have you eaten?” asked Keiki.
“An apple,” stated Taiyo. Keiki suddenly grabbed Taiyo’s hand and looked at Megumi, who stopped in her tracks to look at Keiki.
“Let’s invite these two to eat with us,” stated Keiki. Megumi sighed and said, “I don’t really mind, but…”
Megumi noticed the uneasy looks on Tsai-Shen’s and Taiyo’s faces and added, “Do they really want to come?” Keiki looked at Taiyo and Tsai-Shen and asked, “You guys want to come right?” Taiyo wanted to reject, but the expectation in Keiki’s eyes made it hard for him to refuse. Taiyo gulped and lowered his head saying, “We’ll be glad to come.” Keiki nodded and began to drag Taiyo along.
Tsai-Shen sighed and followed, but would glance back to make sure that Saori wasn’t in pursuit.
Megumi led the way to the restaurant, but she could sense a familiar killing presence trailing behind her.
Behind a market stand, Saori watched Megumi and the others walk down the market path clenching her fist.
“Of all the places to run into him, it just had to be where my target was going,” muttered Saori. Saori never forgot how Megumi prevented her from killing her targets and how the scar still remained on her mark. Saori touched her assassin’s mark under her mask with anger in her eyes.
“I won’t let Megumi stop me this time,” whispered Saori. Saori immediately began to climb the wall of a building to get to the roof, unaware that Enki was watching her every move with a vacant look.
In the Dango restaurant, Keida, Iori, and Len sat at a table eating Teriyaki flavored Dango sticks and sweet rice cakes with peach juice and Sake. Keida drank from his Sake cup and looked at Iori.
“So how is the food?” asked Keida. Iori munched on the Dango and replied, “It’s good.” Keida nodded with a smile as Len drank from his juice cup. Keida looked at Len handing him a bag of silver coins and asked, “Can you get some stir fried rice, please?” Len nodded taking the bag of coins and headed to the counter.
Iori was going to follow Len, but stopped when Keida asked, “Do you hate Megumi Yoh by chance?” Iori looked at Keida and asked, “What makes you say that?”
“Well I noticed it when you mentioned you would never call him without an honorific. Why do you hate him?”
Iori frowned sitting back down.
“He’s hogging Len’s attention.”
“Len, you mean the guy I just sent to get us more food?”
Iori nodded and stated, “Len used to come to me when something was bothering him, but ever since he started working with Lord Megumi, he practically ignores me. He even wanted to shop with Lord Megumi, even though he already agreed to come with me today.”
Keida chuckled making Iori look at him.
“Sounds like you’re jealous,” stated Keida. Iori’s eyes widened and asked, “What do you mean by that?”
“You seem to be close to this Len boy and want his attention, which makes you angry since he is so close to Megumi. That’s what I call jealousy.”
Iori narrowed his eyes and stated, “I think you are just being nosy.” Keida chuckled shrugging his shoulders. Iori took a sip from his Sake cup and asked, “Did you just want to ask me why I hated Lord Megumi?”
“I did, but I also hoped you would listen to my reason for disliking Megumi since no one in my clan seems to understand my hatred,” stated Keida.
“So you want to vent?” asked Iori with an uneasy look. Keida nodded. Iori sighed telling Keida that is was OK.
Keida’s expression of happiness turned into a frown as he gripped his Sake cup.
“That stupid Megumi is always in the way since I met him two years ago. He humiliated me in front of my clan when I tried to teach a stupid Official a lesson; he stole the heart of the love of my life; and now he is even preventing me from beating up that stupid Nue Clan Heir. I hate him so much, but I can’t beat him no matter how many times I managed to challenge him.”
Iori listened to Keida’s rant with a nervous look, realizing that Keida was releasing two years’ worth of frustration. Keida soon stopped and sighed taking a sip from his cup. Iori gulped and asked, “Feel better?”
“Kind of,” stated Keida with reddened cheeks. Iori laughed uneasily and then realized something.
“You met Lord Megumi two years ago?” asked Iori. Keida nodded taking another sip from his cup.
“So you know what his face looks like?” asked Iori. Keida nodded again.
“Is he a monster under that mask like the rumors say?” asked Iori. Keida scoffed and said, “Those rumors are stupid. Megumi’s face isn’t like a monster’s…unless he gets angry at you.” Iori clenched his fist remembering Len’s words that he shouldn’t believe all rumors.
“Do you have a picture of his face?”
“Of course not. Even though Megumi wears a mask now, I can still recognize him,” stated Keida. Iori, at that point, wondered what Megumi really looked like.
While Keida and Iori sat at their table, Len waited in line to buy the stir fried rice Keida asked for. The line seemed to be moving as slow as a snail making him groan. Len was so restless that he didn’t even notice a familiar presence approaching him.
“Len, is that you?”
Len flinched and turned around only to see Megumi looking at him with the gray mask upon her face. Len smiled greeting Megumi with a bow. Megumi nodded at Len and asked, “Are you here to eat too?” Len nodded and stated, “I was buying some stir fried rice for Iori and Keida.”
“Keida?” asked Megumi. Len nodded. Len suddenly noticed Keiki with Tsai-Shen and Taiyo next to him and flinched. He bowed to them quickly in greeting with nervousness in his face. Keiki chuckled at the sight of Len.
“Came here to eat too, huh?” asked Keiki. Len nodded eyeing Tsai-Shen and Taiyo nervously.
Megumi cleared her throat getting Len’s attention.
“When you said ‘Keida,’ did you mean Keida Matsuba?”
Len nodded and asked, “Do you know him?” Megumi nodded and added, “Let’s just say we are not in good terms.” Len looked confused, but snapped out of his confusion when he heard Taiyo yell, “Move forward already!” Len finally noticed the line moving forward and moved forward himself.
Megumi handed Keiki a bag of silver coins and said, “Buy the food, while I look for a table.” Keiki nodded and watched Megumi leave the line. Keiki glanced back at Tsai-Shen and Taiyo and asked, “So what do you guys want?”
“Anything is fine,” stated Taiyo. Keiki nodded thinking of the many dishes they can buy with the coins Megumi handed him.
As Tsai-Shen stood in line, he glanced back toward the exit of the restaurant hoping that Saori wouldn’t enter. If she did attack Taiyo and him, while still in the restaurant then he would have no choice, but to reveal his secret to Taiyo. Tsai-Shen clenched his hand not wanting to reveal his secret and jeopardize his friendship with Taiyo.
Megumi, in the meantime, wandered the Dango Restaurant trying to look for a free table. She noticed Keida sitting in a table with Iori across from him and changed her direction opposite from them not wanting to deal with Keida. Megumi finally found an empty table and was about to sit on it, but suddenly saw someone pull an empty chair from it. She glanced at the person only to realize that it was Mingan with a bottle of Sake in his hand. Mingan gasped at the sight of Megumi releasing the chair.
“Nice to see you too, Mingan,” stated Megumi. Mingan gulped wondering why Megumi was in the Dango Restaurant. Varad, who was behind Mingan, peeked over Mingan’s shoulder and asked, “Is something wrong?”
Megumi’s eyes widened at the sight of Varad.
“Varad?” asked Megumi. Varad looked at Megumi with a bewildered look.
“Do I know you?” asked Varad. Megumi groaned and pointed to herself.
“It’s me, Megumi Yoh,” stated Megumi. Varad was silent and suddenly exclaimed, “What?” getting most of the people in the restaurant to look at him with wide eyes.
“You don’t have to yell,” stated Megumi. Varad nodded and asked, “Why are you wearing a mask?”
“The emperor ordered me to.”
“You didn’t scar your face?” asked Varad. Megumi shook her head. Megumi then pointed at Varad’s eye patch and stated, “I see that you wear an eye patch now.” Varad nodded.
Mingan looked at Megumi and then back at Varad and asked, “You know Captain Megumi?” Varad nodded and said, “I met him back in Go Province when I first fell in love with Mikan.” Varad gulped feeling the nervousness eat at him.
Varad looked back at Megumi and asked, “So you finally became an Official?” Megumi nodded. Varad stared at Megumi’s mask and asked, “Why did the emperor make you wear a mask?”
“I rather not answer that,” stated Megumi. Varad nodded knowing that Megumi didn’t want to talk about it.
Varad looked around the restaurant and then back at Megumi asking, “There aren’t any other open tables, so can Mingan and I eat here for now?”
“As long as there is still room for my companions,” stated Megumi. Varad nodded taking a seat at the table. Mingan did the same, trying to keep his distance from Megumi.
Megumi noticed that Keiki had the food and waved him down. Keiki noticed Megumi and began to approach her. He seemed content with the food he bought, but his contented face turned sour when he saw that Megumi was sitting with two other men. He recognized Mingan and didn’t mind him, but he had no idea who the foreigner was sitting across from Megumi. What seemed to make Keiki angry was that this foreigner was smiling at Megumi as she waved to Keiki.
Keiki handed the tray of food to Taiyo without warning nearly making Taiyo drop the food and rushed to the table. Keiki reached the table towering over Varad.
“Who are you?” asked Keiki as if he were ready to challenge Varad. Varad smiled at Keiki and stood up extending his hand to Keiki.
“My name is Varad Malik, nice to meet you,” greeted Varad. Keiki remained silent as he looked up at Varad wondering how Varad became so tall. Keiki felt like his neck might snap just by trying to look him in the eyes. Keiki scooted back glaring at Varad.
“I don’t care about your name!” exclaimed Keiki.
“But you asked who I was,” pointed out Varad. Keiki groaned and said, “Shut up.” Megumi suddenly elbowed Keiki’s stomach making him keel over in pain.
“Be respectful Keiki,” scolded Megumi. Keiki glared at Megumi and muttered, “I don’t want to hear that from you.”
Tsai-Shen and Taiyo went to the table with the food in hand looking down at Keiki. They then looked at Megumi and asked, “What happened?”
“Keiki was being a Slime Ball as usual,” stated Megumi.
“STOP CALLING ME THAT!” roared Keiki. Varad looked at Megumi and asked, “He’s a friend of yours?” Megumi scoffed.
“He is no friend of mine,” stated Megumi.
“Likewise,” stated Keiki as he stood up glaring at Megumi.
Mingan looked confused and asked, “But I thought you two were close, especially since you allowed Keiki to stay at your residence.”
“We are not close!” exclaimed Keiki and Megumi in unison making Mingan flinch in his seat. At that point, Mingan just wanted to return to the palace to escape from Varad and Megumi.
Megumi suddenly sensed someone approaching her from behind and turned around noticing Keida. Megumi groaned as she looked at Keida.
“Do you need something?” asked Megumi. Keida glared at Megumi and asked, “Why are you here of all places?”
“To eat,” answered Megumi bluntly. Keida groaned feeling irritated by Megumi’s answer. Megumi sighed turning away from Keida.
“I was hoping I could avoid talking with you,” stated Megumi. Keida seemed ready to yell at her, but stopped when he heard someone say, “I remember you.” Keida looked at the source of the voice, Varad, who was smiling at him.
“Do I know you?” asked Keida. Varad nodded and said, “You saved me two years ago in the market place from that assassin.” Keida shrugged and stated, “Don’t remember that.” Varad seemed saddened as he looked at Keida. Keida ignored Varad and glared back at Megumi.
“How about we fight here and now?” challenged Keida. Megumi shook her head.
“We are in a restaurant and I came here to eat,” stated Megumi. Keida groaned and seemed ready to kick the food off the table, but Megumi caught Keida’s foot and said, “Don’t you dare.” Keida clenched his teeth pulling his foot from Megumi.
“Just fight me now!” yelled Keida. Megumi shook her head. Keida’s outburst made people in the restaurant look his way with nervous looks.
Keida, suddenly, felt a hand on his shoulder, and saw that it was Iori.
“You shouldn’t challenge Lord Megumi in a restaurant,” pointed out Iori. Keida groaned brushing Iori’s hand away. Keida seemed ready to say something, but Len suddenly approached him and said, “I got the stir fried rice.” All eyes fell on Len realizing that he didn’t sense the serious atmosphere around him.
Megumi chuckled making all the people at her table look at her. Megumi looked at Len and said, “You came at the right time. How about you share that rice with my companions?” Len smiled and nodded.
Iori frowned and said, “That rice was for us.” Megumi looked at Iori and said, “I am inviting you and Keida as well, so cheer up.” Iori groaned. Keida looked at Megumi and demanded, “Why should I eat with you?”
“I’ll accept your challenge after the meal,” stated Megumi.
“Done,” agreed Keida taking a seat at the table. All of them took their seats wondering how they all ended up eating with Megumi.
They all began to eat their servings with no sign of a conversation beginning.
Tsai-Shen suddenly flinched before he could put a piece of Dango in his mouth. Tsai-Shen’s face looked troubled as he lowered his food and stood up.
“Going somewhere?” asked Megumi. Tsai-Shen nodded and said, “I need to get something outside.” With that said, Tsai-Shen left quickly.
Megumi lowered her food as well, standing up from her chair.
“Where are you going?” asked Keiki. Megumi looked at Keiki and said, “I just need to check something.” Megumi left immediately before Keiki had the chance to follow her.
Keiki heard Keida chuckle and say, “Looks like you were dumped.” Keiki glared at Keida making Keida glare back. Len was in between them and felt nervous sweat run down the side of his face as he ate. Len felt that he should move, but was too scared to do so.
Varad suddenly stood up as well taking his bag with him.
“Are you going somewhere too?” asked Mingan. Varad nodded and bowed his head to Mingan.
“Thank you for your assistance and when Megumi returns, can you tell him that I am still working hard?” asked Varad. Mingan nodded even though he didn’t want to speak with Megumi again.
When Varad was gone, Mingan sighed in relief. He was glad that the foreigner was gone, but was also surprised that Varad told interesting stories like the woman from the red light district. Mingan rubbed his chin wondering if the woman was in the red light district now.
On the other hand, Iori stared at Len, who was shaking like a scared kitten. Iori frowned wondering why Len didn’t just move. He noticed Len’s mouth move and felt his stomach turn. Iori was able to read lips since he was young and so he knew what Len was trying to say: “Megumi.” Iori wondered why Len couldn’t call his name for help making his dislike for Megumi grow.
The final inhabitant of the table, Taiyo, stared at the exit of the restaurant wondering where Tsai-Shen went. Since five years ago, Tsai-Shen had never been apart from him. Taiyo felt his hand shaking and held it still. He didn’t really want to admit it, but he felt like his other half was gone when Tsai-Shen wasn’t near.
In the meantime, Tsai-Shen walked to the back of the restaurant, where there was an empty alley. Tsai-Shen took in a deep breath and said, “You can come out now Saori.”
Saori leapt from the top of a building and landed to the ground behind Tsai-Shen.
“So you knew I was following?” asked Saori.
“I could sense your presence as I ate,” stated Tsai-Shen. Saori chuckled and removed the cloth covering her face revealing her scarred assassin’s symbol on her cheek.
“I never expected to see you here in the Capital,” stated Saori.
“So you weren’t in the Capital because of me?” asked Tsai-Shen. Saori shook her head.
“I actually came here to buy new weapons, but my luck seems to have improved to find you after five years,” stated Saori. Tsai-Shen narrowed his eyes glancing back at Saori.
“I worked hard to hide my whereabouts from you…from all assassins after my head,” stated Tsai-Shen. Saori chuckled.
“You can’t hide forever. You should know that since you are an assassin as well,” stated Saori. Tsai-Shen clenched his fist with anger in his eyes. It was true that he was an assassin, but he abandoned the assassins to be with Taiyo in the mafia. He broke the assassin code when he joined the mafia, so all assassins were after his life for his betrayal.
Saori suddenly threw two daggers at him, but Tsai-Shen pulled a needle from his long black hair and used it to deflect the daggers forcing them to fall to the ground before him. Saori chuckled with a smirk on her face.
“You were one of the greatest assassins to be born, but you abandoned it all.”
“I abandoned it for my friend,” stated Tsai-Shen. Saori chuckled going into a fighting stance and pulling a long sword hidden from her back.
“Today you finally die,” stated Saori, before dashing at him. Tsai-Shen dodged Saori and pulled out more needles hidden in his hair and sleeves. He threw them at Saori, but Saori dodged and deflected some of the needles with her sword. She leapt up into the air and spun two times before swinging her foot at his throat. Tsai-Shen immediately clenched three needles in between his left fingers and held it at his throat making Saori impale her leg in the needles. Saori clenched her teeth in pain, but managed to rip her leg away sending droplets of blood soaring in the air. She did a backflip and landed back on her feet as blood began to ooze from her leg with three needles sticking from it.
“You’re like a cactus,” stated Saori with a smirk. Saori gripped the needles and yanked them out sending more blood flying. Saori dropped the needles looking at Tsai-Shen.
“Should I be worried about them being poisoned?” asked Saori sarcastically. Tsai-Shen shook his head and stated, “I removed the poison long ago.” Saori chuckled pointing her sword at Tsai-Shen.
“You’ve gotten soft, Tsai-Shen,” stated Saori. Tsai-Shen drew more needles hidden in his sleeves and stated, “And you’ve gotten weak.” Tsai-Shen threw the needles at her, but to his surprise, Saori rolled out of the way and threw five daggers at him. Tsai-Shen dodged four of them, but one managed to impale his right shoulder. Tsai-Shen gritted his teeth trying not to scream out in pain. Tsai-Shen saw that Saori was approaching and tried to draw more needles, but to his surprise, his arm refused to move. He was forced to roll out of the way from Saori, but Saori immediately changed her direction and threw another dagger at him. The dagger impaled his left leg making him finally gasp in pain.
Saori chuckled as she approached Tsai-Shen.
“I believe I have gotten stronger,” taunted Saori. As Saori lifted her blade above Tsai-Shen, Tsai-Shen shut his eyes waiting for his life to end. He knew the day of him dying would come, but he only wished that he could see Taiyo again. Tsai-Shen suddenly heard Saori gasp in pain and flung his eyes open only to see Enki standing before him and glaring down at Saori, who seemed to have been shoved to the ground.
“Enki?” muttered Tsai-Shen. Enki remained silent as he glared at Saori. Tsai-Shen felt chills run down the spine of his back for he felt a murderous aura emit from Enki’s very form as he glared at Saori. It was, in truth, the first time he felt anything around Enki, who always had an almost empty presence.
Saori glared back at Enki and yelled, “What’s the big idea?” Enki remained silent his focus fully on her. Saori was bewildered by the silent man that emerged out of nowhere, but then noticed that he was not looking at her, but at her symbol on her cheek. Before Saori had the chance to say anything, Enki lunged at her wrapping both his hands around her neck. Saori gasped as Enki increased his hold. Saori tried to get free, but Enki was surprisingly strong. She could feel his hold on her neck increase and felt that he was about to snap her neck.
Tsai-Shen watched as Saori struggled, but he couldn’t even move to help her. Tsai-Shen knew that Enki was aiming to kill her, but he didn’t know why.
Saori seemed to be close to death, but Enki was suddenly hit on the head by a flying wooden shoe forcing him to release Saori and fall to his side. Saori coughed violently as she held her bruised neck.
Saori looked at the source of where the shoe came from and cringed when she saw Megumi standing at one of the exits of the alleyway.
“Why?” Saori managed to squeeze out from her throat.
Megumi paid Saori no mind as she approached Enki and Tsai-Shen making the two of them look at her.
“I don’t know what happened here, but don’t get involved with assassins,” stated Megumi. Tsai-Shen and Enki remained silent as they looked at Megumi. Megumi then looked at Saori making her flinch.
“Do not touch these boys, Saori,” ordered Megumi. Saori narrowed her eyes.
“I refuse,” stated Saori with a broken voice. Megumi kneeled in front of Saori and asked, “Do you want me to do an Obedience Vow on you?” Saori flinched knowing that Megumi knew many secrets of the assassins and the Obedience Vow was one of them.
“I won’t let you,” stated Saori.
“You should know very well, Saori, that I am fast enough to grab you, especially in your current state right now, and mark you. If you don’t want to be under my command for life then I suggest you obey me now.”
Saori gritted her teeth and nodded.
“I won’t touch them ever as long as you live,” muttered Saori and then touched her scared mark and added, “I promise by this mark.” Megumi nodded amazing Tsai-Shen, who knew that Saori had a stubborn character. Megumi, to Saori’s surprise, wrapped a cloth around her bruised neck and said, “Leave here and get that neck of yours treated.” Saori groaned and jumped away from Megumi.
“I don’t need your kindness,” muttered Saori and then immediately climbed to a roof of the building and leapt away.
Megumi then looked back at Enki and Tsai-Shen.
“Now I want an explanation why Saori wanted to kill Tsai-Shen and why Enki was choking her,” stated Megumi and then pointed at Tsai-Shen adding, “Starting with you.” Tsai-Shen frowned as he spoke.
“I lied in my registration when I said I was Taiyo’s cousin. I am really from the line of Assassins. I broke the code when I joined the mafia, so for five years I have been running for my life. I managed to hide for those five years, but Saori found me and tried to kill me for my betrayal.”
“Why did you leave the assassins?” asked Megumi.
“I was tired of killing targets and Taiyo was the only one who treated me like a human, so I joined the mafia to be with him.”
Megumi suddenly patted Tsai-Shen’s head making him look at her and said, “I understand. I will keep this from the palace, so you can continue to train as a soldier.”
“You’re not going to punish me?” asked Tsai-Shen in surprise. Megumi shook her head.
“You have your reasons and you will make a great soldier,” stated Megumi. Tsai-Shen felt warm as Megumi patted his head, but then suddenly felt a jolt of pain. Megumi saw the daggers in Tsai-Shen and frowned under her mask.
Megumi tore the sleeves of her shirt and then looked at Enki.
“I need you to hold Tsai-Shen still,” ordered Megumi. Enki nodded with no sign of malice in his face. Enki grabbed Tsai-Shen tightly making Tsai-Shen cringe. Megumi, without warning, yanked the daggers from his body making him scream out in pain. Megumi immediately wrapped his wounds with her torn sleeves tightly making sure to prevent any blood from flowing out.
When Megumi was done, Tsai-Shen was still cringing in pain.
“Sorry, but I needed to make it tight to stop the blood flow,” explained Megumi. Tsai-Shen nodded cringing.
Megumi then looked at Enki, who looked vacant, and decided that she would interrogate him later since Tsai-Shen was really in bad shape. Megumi made Enki release Tsai-Shen. Megumi then lifted Tsai-Shen onto her back making Tsai-Shen gasp and then cringe in pain.
“What are you…?”
“I need to take you back to the palace for treatment, so hold on tight,” ordered Megumi. Tsai-Shen nodded wrapping his good arm around her shoulder and leaning against her back.
Megumi looked back at Enki and said, “I need you to tell Keiki that I returned to the palace with Tsai-Shen for treatment and tell anyone else remaining where I am as well. They will be in the Dango restaurant.” Enki nodded and began to head toward the restaurant.
Tsai-Shen watched Enki leave and looked at Megumi with sweat beginning to appear on his face.
“How is Enki going to tell them when he can’t talk?” asked Tsai-Shen.
“He’ll find a way,” stated Megumi, but Tsai-Shen seemed unsure.
Megumi readjusted Tsai-Shen on her back and began to walk down the path. As they walked, Tsai-Shen felt the warmness of her back and the softness of her hair. Her hair smelled like flowers to Tsai-Shen’s senses. Tsai-Shen felt like he was ready to sleep, but then realized something.
“How did you know Saori?” asked Tsai-Shen.
“I met her a long time ago before I became an Official. She doesn’t like me very much since I scarred her mark and prevented her from killing a few targets.”
“You scarred her mark?” asked Tsai-Shen. Megumi nodded and said, “I did it in order to prevent her from killing a friend of mine.” Megumi chuckled and added, “Saori also told me that I fought like an assassin once.”
“I actually thought that too when I first met you during my training as a soldier, but you can’t be an assassin,” stated Tsai-Shen.
“Why do you say that?”
Tsai-Shen smiled placing his head against her back.
“Because true assassins wouldn’t protect a life.”
Megumi smiled under her mask as she felt Tsai-Shen slowly breathing against the back of her neck.
At the gates of the Capital, Saori was walking out. She stopped in her tracks when she heard a familiar voice call her name. She looked back and saw Bao Chong, who had come with her to the Capital, running to her with a cape on his shoulder. He stopped in front of her and asked, “Why are you all the way over here?”
“I was leaving,” stated Saori in a broken voice. Bao noticed that Saori’s voice had changed and then noticed the cloth around her throat. He turned pale and asked, “Did someone do an Obedience Vow on you?” Saori shook her head placing a hand on the cloth on her neck.
“A man I don’t know strangled me,” stated Saori.
“Did you kill him?” asked Bao. Saori shook her head.
“Megumi Yoh stopped me before I could act, but he also saved my life,” stated Saori. Bao turned pale and asked, “You saw Megumi Yoh?” Saori nodded.
“I’m grateful he came this time since he prevented that man from killing me, but I wish I was able to kill my target before he came,” stated Saori. Bao wanted to ask who Saori was trying to kill, but the look of pain in her face made him think otherwise. Saori turned away from the Capital and said, “We’ll buy more weapons in Ryu Province.” Bao nodded following after her.
As they walked, Saori touched the cloth on her neck with an uneasy look. She didn’t want to say it, but when she felt Megumi’s touch as she wrapped the cloth around her neck, she felt her heart skip a beat.
Megumi soon returned to the palace and brought Tsai-Shen into the palace clinic. Megumi saw Kiku Jima at his herb table making a medicine and called out to him to get his attention. Kiku greeted her, but was shocked to see Tsai-Shen passed out on her back with bandages covered in blood on his body. Kiku stood up and instructed Megumi to place Tsai-Shen on the medical table.
Megumi did as told and looked at Kiku.
“Is it all right, if I make a medicine for him?” asked Megumi. Kiku nodded as he pulled cleaned bandages from his shelf. Kiku tended to Tsai-Shen, while Megumi began to make the medicine she learned from Dr. Jogoun a long time ago that was able to heal almost any wound.
As she made the medicine, Kiku unwrapped the bandaging Megumi did on Tsai-Shen and then looked at Megumi.
“Do I want to know how this happened?” asked Kiku.
“Not really, but I can tell you that Tsai-Shen ran into a person he didn’t want to meet,” stated Megumi as she poured the medicine she made into a clear cup. Kiku shook his head looking back at Tsai-Shen’s wounds.
“I’ll sew his wounds shut before I allow him to drink your medicine,” stated Tsai-Shen. Megumi nodded placing the medicine cup next to Kiku.
Kiku glanced at Megumi as he pulled a sewing kit from a drawer and said, “I wish you would tell me how you make that incredible medicine.” Megumi chuckled and said, “Well Dr. Jogoun made me promise when I was young that I shouldn’t reveal this particular recipe since it was so special.” Kiku chuckled.
“I wish I met this incredible teacher of yours,” stated Kiku as he began to sew Tsai-Shen’s wounds. Megumi glanced at Tsai-Shen and then at Kiku.
“You treated Tsai-Shen before when he last hurt himself in my soldier training, so can you tell me if he had any unusual markings on his body?”
Kiku thought awhile and said, “I’m not sure, but he did mention that there was an embarrassing birth mark on his bottom, so I left that part of his body alone.” Megumi chuckled making Kiku embarrassed. Megumi shook her head and said, “I just thought of something funny. Pay it no mind, Dr. Kiku.” Kiku nodded, even though he was bewildered by Megumi’s reaction.
When Kiku was finished sewing up Tsai-Shen’s wounds and bandaging it, he took the medicine cup and held it to Tsai-Shen’s lips. The liquid didn’t flow into his mouth and ran down the side of his lips. Kiku frowned.
“He needs to drink this to get better,” mumbled Kiku.
Megumi suddenly took the medicine cup from Kiku making him look at her. Megumi lifted her mask up revealing her lips and sipped the medicine. Kiku realized what Megumi was about to do and turned away saying, “I hope that boy doesn’t wake up right away.”
Megumi kneeled next to Tsai-Shen and connected her lips to his allowing the medicine to flow into his mouth.
As Tsai-Shen slept he felt warmness surround his body. It felt comfortable, but then he realized the feather like feel on his lips and fluttered his eyes open. He saw the edge of a gray mask making him bewildered. He then realized that his lips were connected to something making his eyes widen. When his lips were set free, the mask moved away from his line of sight and saw Megumi’s lips and her mask covering the top half of her face.
Megumi lowered her mask and readjusted it to her face. She looked at Tsai-Shen and said, “I gave you medicine, so you should feel better soon.” Megumi then left the room saying her farewell leaving Tsai-Shen staring at her back with wide eyes.
Kiku went to Tsai-Shen’s side and said, “I was hoping you wouldn’t wake up, while he was giving you medicine.” Tsai-Shen came to the realization that his lips had touched Megumi’s and turned completely red that it seemed that he had been sunburned. Tsai-Shen passed out from the shock making Kiku run to his aid.
Megumi had no idea that she had put Tsai-Shen in shock as she walked down the hall. She suddenly heard Keiki calling her name and looked forward. Keiki practically charged at her with the groceries in his grasp. He glared at her and yelled, “Why the heck did you come back to the palace without me?”
“I told Enki to tell you that I returned to get Tsai-Shen treated.”
“That guy can’t even talk, so why tell him to report to me? I only understood that he wanted me to go back to the palace and that he was talking about you when he gestured to his face like he was wearing a mask.”
Megumi chuckled making Keiki even angrier.
“Sorry, but I guess he really wants to be silent,” stated Megumi making Keiki confused. Megumi suddenly took the groceries from Keiki and said, “Let’s head to my residence to start on the dumplings.” Keiki nodded and followed Megumi.
As they walked, Taiyo entered from another hallway and immediately headed to the clinic. He entered the clinic and saw Tsai-Shen passed out on the medical bed with Kiku placing an ice pack on his forehead.
“Did Tsai-Shen fall ill?” asked Taiyo in a panic. Kiku shook his head and said, “He just lost a lot of blood, but he should be fine after Megumi gave him medicine. Taiyo sighed in relief, but then grew confused.
“Captain Megumi gave Tsai-Shen medicine?” asked Taiyo. Kiku nodded.
“Why didn’t you give it to him?”
“Well I tried to, but Tsai-Shen was unconscious already and wouldn’t drink it, so Megumi did it for me.”
Taiyo looked at Tsai-Shen and noticed that his face was red and muttered something that was hard to hear.
“Is Tsai-Shen really OK?” asked Taiyo. Kiku sighed and admitted, “Well he received quite a shock when Megumi gave the medicine to him.”
“Did it taste horrible?” asked Taiyo. Kiku shook his head and glanced at Tsai-Shen with uneasy eyes.
“He was more shocked on the method Megumi used to give the medicine to him,” stated Kiki.
Kiku seemed to grow uneasy as he answered, “Megumi pressed his lips against Tsai-Shen’s to get the medicine into his mouth.” Taiyo processed this information into his mind and then turned red exclaiming, “Captain Megumi kissed Tsai-Shen?”
Kiku nodded and added, “It’s not all bad. Megumi did this to other men when they refused or couldn’t drink the medicine when they were ill and afterwards, they haven’t gotten sick again.”
“I wouldn’t want to fall ill if a man kissed me too,” stated Taiyo with disgust in his face. Kiku chuckled and then patted Taiyo’s shoulder.
“Anyway, Tsai-Shen is fine, so don’t worry,” stated Kiku and then left the room to get more ingredients for his medicines.
Taiyo sat next to Tsai-Shen staring at his sleeping form. Taiyo noticed Tsai-Shen’s wrapped wounds and clenched his fist.
“You really did fight Saori alone,” muttered Taiyo. Taiyo heard Tsai-Shen groan and leaned toward him saying Tsai-Shen’s name.
“Don’t go Captain,” muttered Tsai-Shen. Taiyo’s eyes widened wondering why Tsai-Shen was dreaming about Megumi.
Megumi and Keiki walked down the hallway with the groceries in hand, until Megumi noticed Enki walking to the direction of the dorms. Megumi handed the groceries back to Keiki making Keiki stumble. Keiki managed to regain his balance and glared at Megumi.
“What the heck Megumi?” exclaimed Keiki. Megumi walked passed Keiki and looked back at him saying, “Wait for me in front of the palace. I just need to check something.” Keiki didn’t have time to object as Megumi turned a corner and was out of his sight.
Keiki mumbled curses under his breath and suddenly took notice of Len and Iori. Keiki approached them saying Len’s name. Len and Iori looked at Keiki. Len looked surprised, while Iori showed a look of displeasure. Keiki seemed to ignore Iori as he looked at Len.
“Can you help me carry these to the front of the palace?” asked Keiki. Len seemed uneasy, but seemed to perk up when Keiki added, “I’m supposed to meet Megumi there.” Len immediately grabbed most of the groceries and urged Keiki to follow him. Keiki nodded wondering why Len seemed so eager when he was just asking for some help.
Len glanced back at Iori, who seemed to be in shock, and said, “I’ll see you back at the dorms.” Before Iori could say anything, Len was soon out of sight with Keiki. Iori clenched his fist with gritted teeth.
“Why do you favor anything related to Lord Megumi? Why?” muttered Iori. Iori remembered Keida mentioning that he was jealous of Megumi again before he left the restaurant and felt his heart clench. There was anger in his eyes, but also traces of tears.
Megumi followed the path to the dorms and soon saw Enki about to enter his dorm room: White Rose. Megumi waved to him calling his name. Enki glanced back at her with a vacant look. Megumi crossed her arms at him and said, “Did you think I would forget to ask you what happened today with that assassin?” Enki remained silent his gaze at Megumi.
“Now tell me, why you were choking her?” asked Megumi. Enki raised his hand, about to communicate through sign language, but stopped when Megumi added, “With your voice.” Enki grew bewildered as he looked at Megumi.
Megumi tapped her throat and said, “I can tell that you are not mute because when you breathe, I can sometimes hear traces of your voice. A truly mute person as far as I know has no trace of a voice. Do you deny it?”
Enki clenched his fist and shook his head.
“Then will you speak to me?” asked Megumi. Enki shook his head again. Megumi chuckled and said, “Fine, but can you move your lips, so I know what you are saying?” Enki nodded.
“Now tell me why you were choking that assassin,” interrogated Megumi. Enki moved his lips as if he was speaking refusing to look away from Megumi. Megumi, even though she couldn’t hear his voice, understood what he was saying just by reading his lips.
“I was trying to kill her because she had an assassins’ mark. When I see that mark I lose control and try to kill that person with that mark. I would do the same to Tsai-Shen if I saw his mark too.”
“Is there a reason to kill a person with a mark?”
“I can’t answer that right now, but if you didn’t stop me, I would have succeeded in killing her.”
“Well you are training to be an Official and I don’t want blood on your hands, so promise me that if you see an assassins’ mark, you will control your urge and if you find it unbearable, please call for me…with your voice, understand?”
Enki clenched his fist and nodded, even though he still looked unsure. Megumi patted Enki’s head and said, “Get some rest, Enki.” Enki nodded and watched as Megumi left.
Enki entered his room and leaned against the door. He placed a hand on his throat with wide eyes. He never expected that anyone would learn that he had a voice, but Megumi found out right away. Enki closed his eyes realizing that he had to be careful around Megumi.
Enki suddenly remembered Saori’s mark and tensed up. He didn’t tell Megumi, but Saori seemed familiar to him.
Megumi walked through the palace hall on her way to the exit of the palace, but suddenly felt a familiar presence approaching that sent chills down her spine. Megumi turned around, but someone grabbed her wrist making her groan.
“You’re getting faster, your majesty,” stated Megumi.
Yuki smiled at Megumi holding her wrist. Without releasing her wrist he approached her and pulled her into a hug.
“I will only improve my speed for you, Megumi,” stated Yuki. Megumi shoved Yuki away and stood her ground.
“What do you want, your majesty?” demanded Megumi.
“I only want to see you,” stated Yuki. He was about to pull Megumi into a hug, but Megumi backed away. Yuki frowned, his hand extended to her.
“Don’t avoid me,” stated Yuki. Megumi glared at Yuki through her mask.
“I already made this clear many times, but I don’t want to have any relationship with you, especially not as your consort,” stated Megumi. Yuki clenched his fist his form shaking.
“You should know as well that I can’t give up on you. As long as I live, I will always love you,” stated Yuki.
“Please give that heart to someone else!” yelled Megumi. She tried to run pass Yuki, but Yuki suddenly grabbed her wrist and before she knew it, Yuki ripped her mask off and slammed his lips against hers. Megumi pushed Yuki away, but Yuki pulled her into another passionate kiss. Megumi clenched her fist waiting for the kiss to end. Yuki soon separated from her lips and smiled with reddened cheeks.
“My heart only belongs to you,” whispered Yuki. Yuki saw the anger in her eyes and then kissed her neck making her flinch.
“I love you.”
Yuki separated from Megumi and began to walk away. He looked back at Megumi and stated, “I look forward to the banquet tomorrow.”
When Yuki was out of sight, Megumi picked up her mask and refastened it onto her face. Megumi began to walk down the hall, but stopped in her tracks and slammed her fist against the wall.
“Why can’t he leave me alone?” muttered Megumi, feeling rage build up inside her.
In the front of the palace, Keiki leaned against the wall with the groceries by his feet. Len was by his side crouched down on the floor. Len looked at Keiki and asked, “When is Megumi coming?”
“But I have to return to the dorm soon.”
“JUST FREAKING WAIT!”
Len flinched and nodded, his form beginning to shake. Len suddenly caught sight of Megumi approaching making him sigh in relief. Len waved to Megumi getting her attention.
Keiki saw Megumi as well and muttered, “About time.”
Megumi reached them and said, looking at Keiki, “Thanks for waiting.” Keiki nodded. Megumi looked at Len and asked, “Were you waiting too?” Len nodded and scratched the back of his head sheepishly.
“I wanted to see you off before returning to my dorm for the night,” stated Len sheepishly. Megumi smiled under her mask and then said, “Thank you and if you like you can come to my residence for the night.”
“What?” exclaimed Len and Keiki in surprise. Megumi chuckled placing a hand under her chin.
“I need help to make the dumplings for the banquet tomorrow and if Lord Suha gets angry then please tell him that I was the one to grant you permission to stay the night.”
Len thought awhile and then nodded.
They were soon on their way back to Megumi’s residence. As they walked Keiki went to Megumi’s side and whispered, “You really do favor Len, huh?” Megumi nodded and added, “He reminds me of Reiji when he was still in the Capital.”
Keiki frowned and muttered, “Now that I think about it, Len does remind me of Reiji too.” Megumi chuckled and stated, “I wish I could visit Reiji in Jogo Province.” Keiki’s frown seemed to deepen as he heard Megumi speak of Reiji. He knew that Megumi and Reiji were close back in their training days, but even now she spoke as if Reiji was the most important person in the world. It made his blood boil just thinking about it.
While they were heading to Megumi’s residence, Mingan, on the other hand, was finally heading back to the palace after exploring the market numerous times. Mingan gave out a yawn as he walked and then rubbed his eyes.
“I hope Lord Suha doesn’t catch me returning late,” muttered Mingan. Mingan suddenly noticed Varad and hid behind a closed stand. Mingan wanted to avoid contact with Varad at all cost, but then grew curious when he saw Varad enter the Red Light District. Mingan looked both ways and then followed after Varad silently.
Mingan peeked from behind a wall and saw that the Red Light District was filled with men heading to a brothel or going into a corner to gamble their silver. The sight of a Red Light District made him sick. He then noticed Varad looking around and watched him closely.
Varad looked around at each Brothel and then he saw a woman in a deep red kimono urging him closer. He went to the woman and asked, politely, “Do you know where I can find a woman named Aiko Cho?” The woman shook her head and said, “I thought you came to me to buy me. Not to ask about another woman.” The woman was obviously displeased and urged Varad away from the door.
Varad sighed and was about to head to another brothel, when another woman suddenly approached him and asked, “So you know Aiko Cho?” Varad turned around and saw a woman maybe close to her twenties wearing a golden like Kimono with white lotus hair pins in her hair. She was quite beautiful in Varad’s eyes, but he shook the thought away and asked, “Do you know her too?” The woman nodded.
“I met her around two years ago at my establishment: Butterfly Blossom.”
“Is she there now?” asked Varad. The woman shook her head.
“I haven’t seen her since she ran away from my customer.”
Varad looked disappointed as he gave out a sigh and then asked, “Do you have any idea where she might have gone?” The woman shook her head.
“I only met her that one day two years ago, but I can tell you that she is not a courtesan from the Capital.”
“How do you know?” asked Varad.
“I have lived here in the red light district since I was a baby and know all who work here, so I am quite sure, dear sir.”
Varad smiled and said, “Thank you for your assistance, Lady…”
“My name is Sakura Miu of Butterfly Blossom.”
“Well then, my name is Varad Malik and thank you, Lady Sakura.”
Sakura bowed her head and then watched Varad walk away.
Varad walked out of the red light district not noticing Mingan hiding in a corner. Mingan watched Varad walk off and whispered, “So he was looking for that girl Aiko Cho.” Mingan placed a hand to his chin wondering who Aiko Cho was before walking out of the red light district.
As he walked out, Sakura headed back to her establishment where the woman, Varad first spoke with, was standing. The woman scoffed and said, “He’s the third guy asking about this Aiko Cho. Who is she anyway?” Sakura smiled and said, “I don’t really know, but I hope to see her again.”
Just as Sakura was thinking this, Varad was headed out of the Capital. He glanced back remembering the last time he saw Aiko Cho. Varad chuckled and looked up at the star filled sky.
“You’re a lot harder to find Aiko.”
In the market place still, Keida was mumbling that Megumi ran off from their challenge again and then came to another realization: momentarily he forgot about Keiki running off from Jia’s wedding. Keida placed a hand to his forehead also realizing that when Megumi was around he also forgot most of his worries. Keida groaned and muttered, “I really hate that guy.”
Meanwhile, Megumi, Len, and Keiki had finally finished making the last dumpling after returning from the palace. Keiki slumped into a chair and muttered, “Why do you have to cook for so many Officials?”
“It was his majesty’s order,” stated Megumi. Keiki groaned standing up and saying, “I’m headed to bed now.” Megumi nodded as Keiki left the kitchen.
Megumi covered the dumplings and then looked at Len, who seemed ready to pass out. Megumi placed a hand on his shoulder making Len look at her and said, “Let’s get you to bed.” Len nodded and began to follow Megumi.
Megumi led Len all the way to an empty room of her residence and ushered him inside. Before closing the door, Megumi stated, “If you feel up to it, you can bathe first. The bathroom is down this hall and five doors from your room.” Len nodded before Megumi closed his door. Len sat on the bed and fell back with a sigh.
“I haven’t slept in a different room since starting my training.”
Len suddenly realized that he was going to sleep in the residence where Megumi lived and felt his heart race in excitement. Len placed a hand to his heart and smiled also realizing that this was the first time he had felt like this toward anyone. Len chuckled rolling on the bed.
“I want to work with Megumi when I become an Official,” whispered Len.
As Len thought this, Megumi slipped into the baths with her swimsuit on. She soaked her hair rubbing lotus incense shampoo through her long silky hair. She suddenly heard the door open and was about to turn around, but stopped when she realized her mask wasn’t on.
“Who is it?” asked Megumi trying to conceal her face in the mist.
“It’s me,” said the familiar voice of Keiki. Megumi groaned crouching down in the water.
“You could have knocked,” stated Megumi.
“Well you should have locked the door,” stated Keiki as he approached her. Keiki suddenly noticed that the rim of her mask wasn’t showing and turned around with reddened cheeks.
“I thought you always wore your mask,” stated Keiki.
“I need to have it off when I am bathing…alone,” stated Megumi. Keiki sighed rolling his eyes. He crouched behind her with his clothes still on.
“So what’s bothering you?” asked Keiki.
“Why do you ask?”
“Well you didn’t lock the door and you only do that when your mind is distracted and I also noticed that you were kind of out of it when making the dumplings.”
Megumi chuckled and asked, “Is that why you came to see me in the bath, when you yourself are obviously tired and even claimed to be heading to bed?” Keiki nodded.
“I was planning on going to bed, but I couldn’t stop worrying about you,” stated Keiki. Megumi chuckled.
“Worrying huh? You say strange things,” stated Megumi. Keiki frowned and was about to turn around, but stopped and looked away from Megumi.
“So are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?” asked Keiki. Megumi’s eyes grew serious hugging her legs to her chest in the water.
“His majesty, before I met up with you at the palace tried to force his feelings on me again,” stated Megumi. Keiki flinched anger appearing in his eyes.
“Seriously, you think he would give up after so long,” muttered Keiki. Megumi nodded placing the tip of her fingers on her lips.
“It sickens me when he forces his kisses on me.”
Keiki seemed to snap as he immediately turned around staring at Megumi’s back.
“Don’t let the emperor do this to you! Fight back, punch him, kick him, do anything, just don’t let him touch you!” yelled Keiki. Megumi sighed and said, “I can’t beat him up as much as I want to since he threatened that he would lower my position and that would prevent my access to the Archives I need to get into.”
Keiki gritted his teeth. He suddenly pulled a dry towel from the side of the bathroom and wrapped it around Megumi’s eyes. Holding the back of the towel, he made Megumi face him. With the towel on, he was only able to see the bottom half of her face.
“I hate the emperor for what he did to you. I can’t even look at you without your mask, but please know that even though I deny it in front of other people, you…are…my…my…”
Keiki turned red before he could finish his sentence and rushed out of the bathroom taking the towel he wrapped around Megumi’s eyes with him. He slammed the door behind him as Megumi stared at the closed door with a bewildered look.
“That was strange,” muttered Megumi. Megumi chuckled placing her fingers on her eyelids.
“I don’t know what you were trying to say Keiki, but thank you for trying to cheer me up.”
Keiki ran into his room and slammed the door behind him. He crouched down in front of the door holding the wet towel to his forehead as his cheeks felt like they were burning.
What was I trying to say?
Keiki looked at the towel smelling the lotus incense from it. He remembered the smell of Megumi’s hair and kissed it softly. His eyes widened as his face began to heat up again and then threw the towel across his room screaming, “What the Hell am I doing?” Keiki went to his bed with a groan.
“I really shouldn’t tell Megumi how I really feel,” muttered Keiki. He suddenly remembered the young girl with the blue eyes he fell in love with and closed his eyes.
I really need to find her soon, so I won’t be so confused.
Secrets revealed and feelings awakening or growing stronger revolved around Megumi and the night would eventually lead to a new day.