Megumi had left Go Province three weeks after receiving the Qualification token. He traveled by foot to save on what little money he had left. He was determined to reach the Palace at the center of Yulan to become an official.
The wind whistled through the trees of the woods as Megumi traveled with only one sack over his shoulder. The ground was uneven, so his feet hurt like he was walking on fire. Megumi collapsed on a rotten log to rest his feet.
“This is taking long,” muttered Megumi with sweat against his brow. He removed his sack from his back and pulled out a biscuit. He was also limited on food, so a single biscuit was all he could eat for his breakfast. Megumi bit out of the biscuit savoring the taste.
Megumi suddenly heard the trees rustle above him and looked up. To his surprise, a figure clothed in dark green was crouching down on a branch above his head looking ahead. The figure didn’t seem to notice him, so he remained silent keeping his eye on the mysterious figure. The figure leapt off the branch like a trampoline landing on a branch repeatedly. Megumi would have left the matter of the mysterious figure alone, until he noticed a rolled up scroll fall from the figure and land in a bush. Megumi, being kind, got up from his seat and plucked the scroll from the bush. Megumi ran in the direction he saw the figure leap to.
A thicker bush blocked his path, so he pulled out a dagger Hime gave him and slashed through it, determined to get through. The minute he got through, the figure had landed in front of him. With closer inspection, Megumi realized that the figure was a girl. The girl had her back to Megumi, so she didn’t see him. The girl pulled out a long sword from her back and went into a fighting stance. Megumi looked beyond the girl to see who she was ready to attack.
In front of the girl was an approaching palanquin. The palanquin had royal purple drapes mixed with gold linen and seemed to sparkle in the sun. Around the palanquin were four men holding it and four men on horses. By the way they were dressed Megumi deduced that they were soldiers. The girl ran at the palanquin. She slashed at the men holding the palanquin causing them to scream in pain. The men on the horses pulled out their swords as they charged at the girl. The girl held them off with her single sword.
Megumi watched the scene of the fighting with amazement. Megumi also noticed a circle mark with a mix of unknown writing within it tattooed on the girl’s cheek as the girl fought. Megumi remembered that only assassins would have that mark on their body.
It was then that he noticed a girl around fifteen or sixteen in an orange colored kimono crawling out of the palanquin with a girl her age trailing behind her. They both got up and ran from the scene in Megumi’s direction. The dark green clothed girl saw the two running girls with a glare. She leapt away from the soldiers and ran toward the two girls with her sword in hand. The girl swung her blade at the two girls with the intention to kill.
Megumi decided to take action at that very moment. Megumi dashed from the thickness of the bushes and slid to a stop in front of the girl with the sword. He twisted his wrist holding the dagger in a horizontal way and blocked the girl’s sword, before she could reach the two girls. The girl’s eyes widen as she looked at Megumi.
“Who are you?” demanded the girl in surprise. Megumi kicked her back causing her to grunt. Megumi’s hair danced in the wind as he glared at the girl.
“Just a boy passing by,” said Megumi. The girl growled and charged at Megumi with her sword extended. Megumi dodged to the side and then slammed his elbow on the flat of the sword. The force of the blow forced the girl to release her sword. Megumi took this chance to swing his foot into the girl’s stomach and then swing another kick into her cheek sending her flying to the ground. The girl trembled in pain covering her stomach. The girl looked at Megumi as Megumi kept his stance.
“Leave,” ordered Megumi. The girl growled as she shot up holding her stomach. She leapt into the trees before the soldiers could reach her. She looked back at Megumi from a top a tree and yelled, “You better remember this boy because I, Saori Chang, will be back!” The girl, Saori disappeared like the wind within the trees.
Megumi sighed as he placed his dagger back to his side. He looked back at the two girls, who were trembling in fear. Megumi held his hand to them and asked, “Are you OK?” The two girls nodded. Megumi tried to hold the hand of the girl in the orange kimono, but the other girl slapped his hand away saying, “No other man can touch Princess Ayame Roku.”
“Ayame Roku, is that her name?” asked Megumi, rubbing his slapped hand. The girl in the kimono nodded and said, “That is my name.” Ayame held her hand to the other girl and introduced her as Hotoru Suwa, her handmaiden. Hotoru nodded with crossed arms. Megumi nodded at them as the soldiers went to their side asking if they were OK. One of the soldiers looked at Megumi and thanked him for saving the princess. Megumi nodded again saying, “I only did what I thought was right.”
Megumi looked toward Ayame and asked, “Why was that other girl trying to assassinate Ayame?” The soldier looked at Ayame and stated that he didn’t know. Megumi suddenly remembered the scroll Saori dropped and pulled it out. He unrolled it and read it silently to himself. It was a bounty poster.
5,000 gold pieces for anyone who could kill any of the concubines for the emperor of Yulan.
Megumi frowned and asked, “Is Ayame a concubine for the emperor?” The soldier gasped asking how Megumi knew that. Megumi dangled the bounty poster in front of him. The soldier read it and frowned.
“So this is the reason, but the princess hasn’t even met the emperor yet.”
Megumi crossed his arms with the poster still in hand as he spoke.
“Even though she hasn’t met the emperor, she is still his concubine and by the looks of the design of her clothes she is from one of the alliances, Lian Region, a daughter of a leader perhaps. If she is killed before she reached the emperor, Yulan would lose an ally.”
The soldier gritted his teeth wondering if more people would come to try and take Ayame’s life. The soldier’s thought was interrupted by the rumbling of Megumi’s stomach. Megumi placed a hand on his stomach with a blush against his cheek.
“I’m sorry to ask, but do you have any food?” asked Megumi, embarrassed. The soldier burst out laughing and nodded.
“Any man willing to protect the princess is welcome to our food.”
The soldiers led Ayame and Hotoru back to the palanquin with Megumi by their side. The soldier Megumi spoke with pointed inside the palanquin and said, “As long as you don’t touch the princess, you can eat in here.” Megumi nodded climbing into the palanquin. Ayame and Hotoru followed behind. Megumi looked back at the soldier asking for his name.
Megumi thanked him again and introduced himself as well. Hatori closed the palanquin and began to lead the way again.
In the palanquin, Megumi munched on an apple making sure not to spread the juice. Ayame and Hotoru stared at Megumi as he ate.
“So where are you headed?” asked Hotoru. Megumi swallowed the food in his mouth and stated, “To the palace of Yulan to take my exam.”
“Exam?” exclaimed Hotoru. Megumi nodded.
“How old are you?”
“Twelve, but I will turn thirteen when the day of the exam hits.”
Hotoru rubbed her chin claiming that Megumi was younger than them by three years. Megumi began to munch on a piece of bread. Ayame stared at Megumi and asked, “Are you trying to become an official?” Megumi nodded.
“I need to become an official to reach my goal.”
“What is your goal?”
Megumi smirked claiming that he couldn’t tell her. Megumi wiped his mouth saying that he should leave. Megumi opened the curtain of the palanquin. His eyes widen and then rolled back into the palanquin. He grabbed a metal plate and held it next to Ayame’s head to her confusion. An arrow flew past the curtain and collided into the plate. Ayame screamed as Hotoru hugged her close. Megumi grabbed the arrow and leapt out of the palanquin as Hatori demanded what happened. Megumi ignored him as he pulled a bow from one the soldiers. Megumi jumped on top of the palanquin. He placed the arrow upon the bow and extended the string with one eye closed. He released the arrow sending it flying into the thickness of the trees in the distance. A scream was heard throughout the area. Where the arrow collided jumped out a man in green clothing with an arrow sticking out of his arm. The man leapt away into the distance.
Hatori and the soldiers looked up at Megumi in amazement. Megumi tossed the bow back to the soldier he snatched it from.
“You can thank me later,” stated Megumi. The roof of the palanquin suddenly broke under his feet sending him falling into it. Hotoru and Ayame screamed making Hatori throw open the curtain of the palanquin.
Hatori’s eyes widen. Within the palanquin, Megumi was on top of Ayame just inches away from her face. Ayame could feel the breath of Megumi against her skin and the beating of her heart. Hotoru yanked Megumi off of Ayame screaming for Megumi not to touch Ayame. Megumi apologized for the damage as Ayame sat up, her face completely red. Hatori frowned as he grabbed Megumi’s arm.
“You do plan on paying for this right?”
Megumi sighed and pulled out his dagger from his side.
“It shouldn’t be hard to fix,” said Megumi as he began to gather the broken pieces of the palanquin roof. Megumi looked at Ayame and said, “You can still continue to travel as I fix this.” Ayame nodded still red.
The palanquin continued to move as Megumi used the handle of the dagger to fix the roof. Ayame looked up at Megumi and said, “We can stop to make it easier for you to fix.” Megumi shook his head.
“I don’t want time to be wasted,” stated Megumi.
Ayame and Hotoru watched him work. Hotoru leaned toward Ayame and whispered, “He’s young, but is pretty good looking when he’s working so seriously. Maybe you should have decided to become his instead of the emperor’s.” Ayame remembered the feel of Megumi’s breath and blushed. She clenched the sleeve of Hotoru’s dress and muttered, “Is it really possible to fall in love in such a short time?” Hotoru gasped.
“I was just kidding before. You have to be with the emperor for the good of the alliance with Yulan,” whispered Hotoru. Ayame nodded feeling a heavy weight on her shoulders.
Megumi suddenly sat down in front of them with a sigh. Hotoru looked at Megumi and asked, “Are you taking a break?” Megumi shook his head and pointed to the roof, indicating that it was complete. Hotoru and Ayame stared at the repaired roof in amazement.
“That was fast,” exclaimed Hotoru. Megumi smirked and said, “I had to repair the roof of my home many times before with limited supplies.” Hotoru stood up touching the roof.
“What did you use?”
“The remnants of the roof and a bit of the cloth of the palanquin to cover the spaces. You can have it repaired professionally later when you reach the palace.”
Megumi placed his dagger back to his side as he grabbed a bottle full of water. He drank from it with Ayame staring at him. Ayame clenched her fist wondering if she had truly fallen in love with Megumi in such a short time. Megumi sighed and opened the curtain of the palanquin.
“I better leave now,” stated Megumi as he prepared to jump out. Ayame gasped and grabbed his wrist pulling him back into the palanquin. Megumi gasped as he fell backwards into the palanquin. Hotoru gasped when she saw Ayame holding Megumi.
“Princess, you’re not supposed to…”
“Please stay,” begged Ayame as she looked at Megumi. Megumi looked at Ayame and stated, “I really shouldn’t over stay my welcome.” Ayame shook her head.
“But I feel safe with you, so please stay until we reach the palace.”
Megumi sighed and said, “I’ll only stay until we reach the safety of the border. I can’t have people think that I am being favored before the exam.” Ayame nodded releasing Megumi’s hand. Megumi sat up and leaned against the wall of the palanquin with crossed arms.
Hatori heard Ayame and Megumi’s conversation through the walls of the palanquin and frowned.
It was still a long way off, so when night fell, they stopped at a travelers’ inn. The inn keeper was happy to accept them. As they walked in, Megumi separated from the group. Hatori looked back at Megumi and asked, “Where do you think you are going?” Megumi stopped in his tracks and looked back at Hatori.
“I don’t have enough money for this place, so I’m sleeping outside,” stated Megumi. The night was cold and it was clear that Megumi had very little layers of clothing. Hatori sighed and grabbed Megumi by his arm.
“Are you trying to fall sick? I’ll pay for your share, so sleep inside,” ordered Hatori. Megumi sighed in defeat as he followed Hatori inside. Hatori paid for Megumi’s share of the room and led him up the stairs. He tossed Megumi into an empty room and closed the door behind them. Megumi looked around the room and noticed that there was only one bed.
“Are we sharing a bed?” asked Megumi. Hatori shook his head and stated, “I’m sleeping on the floor, so you take the bed.” Megumi sat on the bed and gasped when he felt himself sink into it. He leapt off the bed panting. He looked at Hatori and asked, “Can I sleep on the floor?”
Hatori chuckled and asked, “What’s wrong, never slept in a bed before?”
“Never in a bed this soft,” retaliated Megumi. Hatori shook his head and patted Megumi on top of his head.
“Then I’ll accept the offer.”
Megumi nodded watching Hatori sitting on the bed. Hatori stared at Megumi and then asked, “Who taught you how to use a bow?” Megumi sat on the floor Indian style and said, “An old man who visited Go Province once taught me.”
“What was his name?”
“He never told me his real name. He just told me to call him Master Chuckles.”
Hatori stifled a laugh and asked, “So he’s a master archer?”
“Well he was a retired soldier apparently, so maybe he was a master archer and a pretty good fighter too.”
“He taught you fighting too?”
Megumi nodded and added, “I asked him to teach me how to fight to prevent boys from picking on Mikan and Satoshi.”
“Mikan and Satoshi: are they your friends?”
“My older sister and little brother, but that’s all I can tell you,” said Megumi. Hatori saw the sadness in Megumi’s face and decided to change the subject.
“So you’re taking the Imperial Exam to become an official?”
Hatori smirked and asked, “How about trying to become a soldier? You are pretty strong for your age.” Megumi shook his head.
“I need to become an official,” stated Megumi filled with determination. Hatori sighed and ruffled Megumi’s hair.
“You’re a good kid, but…”
Hatori leaned toward Megumi’s face and added, “…don’t get too close to the princess. She’s already promised to the emperor and you are just a child.” Megumi smirked pulling his hand away.
“I don’t have that type of interest for her. I would just want to be a friend.”
Hatori sighed wondering if Megumi’s words were true. Hatori and Megumi suddenly heard a crash and Hotoru’s scream. Hatori and Megumi darted out of the room. Hatori kicked open the door of the room of the princess and saw Hotoru on the ground with blood flowing from her arm. Hatori ran to her and was relieved when he felt her breathing.
Megumi looked around the room and saw the shattered window. He clenched his fist and looked back at Hatori.
“Take care of Hotoru. I’ll find Ayame,” stated Megumi and then leapt out the open window. Hatori gasped and ran to the window. He saw Megumi slam into the ground with his feet and then run into the woods as if nothing was wrong. Hatori covered his mouth wondering just who Megumi was.
Megumi raced through the woods shoving the branches out of the way. He noticed the disturbed branches above him and followed them in hope of finding Ayame. He heard Ayame calling for help and followed her voice. He burst from a thick bush only to see Saori over Ayame ready to stab her. Megumi slammed his foot into Saori’s face causing her to fly off Ayame. Megumi stood in front of Ayame refusing to let Saori to get any closer. Saori clenched her teeth as she gripped the handle of her blade.
“You again?” screamed Saori. Megumi drew his dagger from his side and whispered for Ayame to remain still. Ayame nodded.
Saori ran at Megumi determined to kill him. Megumi dodged the blade and swung his arm to the back his dagger in hand. Saori barely dodged as the dagger scratched her arm. She hissed as the blood spilled from her wound. Saori kicked Megumi in the arm causing Megumi to drop his dagger. Saori took this chance to swing her blade down at him. Megumi rolled out of the way and claimed back his dagger. Megumi swung his kick under Saori’s legs knocking her off her feet. She slammed into the ground with a grunt. Megumi kicked Saori’s blade away and then kneeled above her with his dagger raised above her. Saori struggled under Megumi, but Megumi was stronger. Saori clenched her fist in defeat.
“Just kill me now!” she screamed. Megumi brought his dagger down next to Saori’s cheek. Megumi only left a scratch on her cheek with the mark as he leaned toward her face.
“I had your life in my hands, but gave it back. As your repayment, leave Ayame alone.”
Megumi withdrew his dagger demanding for Saori to leave. Saori got up dumbstruck. She picked up her blade and asked, “What makes you think that I would give up?” Megumi smirked at her and said, “Because assassins like you always have to repay a debt of life.” Megumi pointed at his cheek and added, “I also cut your mark so you have to obey my request.” Saori smirked and said, “I’ll accept that.”
Saori leapt into a tree looking back down at Megumi.
“It’s a disappointment that you are not an assassin, but we will meet again in the future, boy,” stated Saori.
“Call me Megumi Yoh, if you do see me.”
Saori scoffed and disappeared into the trees.
Megumi sighed and looked down at Ayame. Megumi held his hand to her and asked if she was OK. Ayame responded with a hug around Megumi’s neck. Megumi stumbled trying to keep his balance from the sudden hug. Ayame was crying as she buried her head in Megumi’s shoulder. Megumi sighed and hugged her back telling her that it was all right.
Ayame cried herself to sleep, so Megumi was forced to carry her back on his back. Ayame was surprisingly light. Megumi returned to the Inn only to see Hatori running out with his sword in hand.
“Hatori,” called Megumi. Hatori saw Megumi with Ayame and sighed in relief.
“You found her.”
Megumi nodded and asked him to take Ayame back to her room. Hatori nodded and tried to remove Ayame from Megumi’s back, but Ayame, still asleep, held Megumi tighter.
“No,” whispered Ayame. Hatori sighed and said, “Looks like she’s glued to you.”
“Are you serious?” asked Megumi as he tried to take Ayame off to no avail. Hatori scratched the back of his head.
“Well her room’s window is broken and Hotoru is sleeping in a different room, so I guess she can stay in our room.”
Megumi frowned and asked if he now had to use the bed. Hatori nodded and urged Megumi back into the Inn. They returned to their room with Ayame still attached to Megumi. Megumi lay on the bed and felt like he was sinking. He could feel Ayame’s breath against the back of his neck and sighed.
“Does she really have to sleep like this?” asked Megumi. Hatori nodded. Megumi frowned as he slowly drifted off to sleep.
Hatori tried to remove Ayame from Megumi again, but Ayame frowned in her sleep and cuddled closer to Megumi.
“Princess,” said Hatori in exasperation.
Ayame smiled in her sleep and whispered Megumi’s name. Hatori frowned. He knew Ayame for a long time and knew that she would only whisper the name of someone she liked. Hatori shook his head and lay on the floor.
The very next day, Ayame awoke to the sound of birds. She felt silk against her cheek making her smile. Her eyes cleared up and gasped when she saw that it was Megumi’s hair. Ayame shot up staring down at Megumi’s sleeping form. Ayame was forbidden to touch any other man except for the emperor and Hatori was allowed to sometimes, but she just didn’t understand why she was in the same bed as Megumi and hugging him.
Ayame remembered the events from the night before and blushed deeply. She was the one who touched Megumi first. Ayame stared down at Megumi and began to hear his light breathing. Ayame leaned closer observing his features. A boy of twelve and he was already handsome and manly. In Ayame’s eyes, he seemed to sparkle. With mesmerized eyes, she leaned toward Megumi’s light red lips.
Ayame snapped back to her senses and looked up at Hatori, who was within the room.
Hatori looked down at Megumi and then back at Ayame.
“Wait in the palanquin with the others,” ordered Hatori. Ayame nodded with a blush against her cheek. She ran out of the room wondering what she was about to do to Megumi.
When Ayame was gone, Hatori looked down at Megumi and shook Megumi awake. It didn’t take long for Megumi to open his eyes.
“Are you ready to go?” asked Hatori. Megumi sighed and sat up.
“I’ll leave when you guys are gone,” stated Megumi.
Megumi looked at Hatori seriously and said, “You told me not to get close to Ayame right, well this is a good time to separate. She is no longer in danger, so it is fine.” Hatori crossed his arms at Megumi.
“Are you sure about this?”
Megumi nodded. Hatori smirked and turned to leave the room. Before he left, he told Megumi that he will have a horse waiting for him outside. Megumi nodded and watched Hatori leave the room.
What Hatori didn’t know was that Megumi was awake when Ayame leaned in to his lips. Megumi hugged himself wishing an apology to Ayame.
After a long while, Megumi left the Inn and saw the horse that was promised to him. Megumi climbed onto its back and noticed a bag of water and food. Megumi smirked whispering a thank you to Hatori. Megumi rode down the path toward the palace of Yulan.