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“There’s no one here, Captain”
Yossi wasn’t totally expecting to find Kaoru there. In the few days that she shared with the girl, the singer had begun to understand her a little. If the younger was worried about her, she probably would be looking anywhere but the place where they arrived. Yossi couldn’t blame her, she was just trying to help, but as soon as she found the girl, they should talk about her craze to disappear.
“We should leave before someone notices us”
Makoto’s voice took Yoshizawa’s attention just a moment before she fixed her eyes in the traveler. She had put it on her wrist before leaving the previous world and didn’t have time to return it to its owner. Right now it would be really easy to just press the button and jump to another place and another until finish the damn program. Then Konkon could send her back home… Of course, not before asking what happened to the young student and making her feel really guilty for leaving the other behind.
“Aah…” Yossi let her body rest against a wall before rolling down and sitting on the floor.
The Lieutenant heard her superior sigh and kneeled beside her.
“Really, Captain, we must leave” Makoto thought for a moment and then spoke again “You can tell me how’s the person you’re looking for and, after finding some place safe enough for you, I can came back and keep looking. But please, we have to go”
The younger didn’t expected to convince her so easily, but seeing the Captain standing up she wasn’t going to complain, so Ogawa just followed her when she began to walk.
They couldn’t advance too much, though, because five soldiers were blocking the way.
“Yoshizawa Hitomi, you’re under arrest”
While her way back to the castle to see Rika, Kaoru kept dreaming about how that person would be. Seeing her mother in those other worlds, younger and with so many different ways of life, made her wonder how she could still be the same cute, kind and smart woman that she loved so much. The girl sometimes had heard her aunt telling that Ishikawa Rika was like a princess when she was younger; well-mannered, talkative, with a charming aura that could make to fall in love the most insensitive of the hearts… Now she was going to meet a real one.
“We have to be cautious” said Takahashi, grabbing Kaoru’s arm to make the other girl follow her steps walking along a dark corridor “Nobody else but me and a few friends know this path, but once we get into the palace we’ll be exposed to be caught”
“Do you have any plan?”
“There’s someone who could help us” Ai-chan stopped for a second and felt the wall looking for something “I just hope that she still believes in me”
Suddenly, the rock moved aside and, soon after that, they were in a small room, lightened slightly by the soft sun of the twilight coming through the window.
“What’s this place?” asked Kaoru.
“And, why a secret corridor under the palace leads to your room?”
“It was there before I arrived” answered Takahashi while opening the wardrobe and taking some clean clothes “Gaki-san and I discovered it long time ago, just some weeks after we moved here. I never thought that I’d had to used it for something like this”
“Gaki-san is the friend who had to help us?”
“Why are you so sure that she won’t give us away?”
“Because we trust each other. I know that she’d never betray me”
“Ok then, were do we find her?”
Ai-chan just sat on the bed, resting her back against the wall and stretching the legs, letting her feet hanging from the edge.
“We’ll just wait here”
“Shit” exclaimed Ogawa.
The situation was really difficult. Not that any of the soldiers could win her Captain alone, but they were five, and she was pretty sure that soon there’d be more of them.
“Please, leave your swords on the ground and come with us without resistance”
“I’d like to…” began to say Yossi taking the sword out of its sheath slowly. Makoto thought that it was the end. Yoshizawa was going to give up and they would spend the rest of their life inside a dark cell “…but I’m in a hurry”
Hitomi aimed the sharp edge against the soldiers with strength hoping that some of the abilities to fight that she acquired at the previous world would be still inside her. She had done pretty well against the monsters; probably those men wouldn’t be worst.
But her hand wasn’t so sure.
And, at the same time that her knees began to fail, the, until now, gentle breeze rocking the top of the trees, became a strong wind that made the branches shake. And then, she felt it caressing her skin and wasn’t afraid anymore.
Her whole body recovered its strength.
Her hand was firm.
And she knew it.
There was, again, something different inside her.
Makoto’s voice alerted her just in time to stop a sword inches away from her. The five soldiers at once charged against both girls. Ogawa stopped the first one without problem, moving away from her opponent’s edge in a blink of the eye and hitting him on his stomach with the hilt of her sword.
Yoshizawa would have been impressed if she, actually, would have been able to see her partner fighting. But she was too busy at the moment with her own fight. A thrust passed grazing her cheek but she hardly paid attention and, before the soldier could react, Yossi went ahead and took him by his wrist, managing to disarm him and knocking him down to the floor, where she dealt the soldier one last blow to make sure that he wasn’t going to get up before she could take care of the next, who didn’t arrive alone. Mako-chan could manage to get rid of just one soldier so, the other two remaining went directly against the singer, that received them with both hands armed, one with her sword and the other with the first defeated one’s. Yossi herself was surprised by the agility of her movements, by her capacity to deduce her opponent’s movements and beat them.
Just as expected, the noise from the fight soon attracted the attention of another patrol that didn’t take long to arrive at the place and, seeing what was happening, charged against the fugitive.
It was just an instant, but the Lieutenant would remember for the rest of her life that second, when she saw Yoshizawa turning to receive her attackers, with a movement so subtle that only the air that the edge of her sword cut noticed it, and then those four soldiers flying twenty meters away without her captain touching them.
When Makoto reacted, she took an astonished Hitomi, that was still wondering what had happened, by her arm and ran until they could find a safe place where hide themselves for a while.
Sitting in a bed, with her arms crossed and shaking the feet nerviosly, was still waiting an anxious Takahashi. Kaoru, even if she wasn’t enjoying the same confort, had prefered to wait hidden inside the tunnel in case that something went wrong.
Ai-chan was going to get up and get out herself to go find her friend when she heard some steps coming from the corridor and a key entering inside the door’s lock.
“You’re sure you don’t wanna come with us tomorrow?”
“Pretty sure, Nakato”
Hearing that name, suddenly Takahashi felt sick. Nakato Toshiro was an arrogant captain from the infantry of the kingdom that was after Risa for a long time already. One of the Lieutenants from the Princess’s Guard could be a great prey to boast about in front of the other officers, and her friend was too innocent to notice the game. Because of that, more than once, Ai herself had had to stop the soldier’s advances.
“Think again, Niigaki” insisted the man “After today’s news, tomorrow could be our last free day in a long long time”
“I know” answered the girl while turning the key and opening slightly the door “But tomorrow I have an important appointment. So, if you excuse me, I wanna go to bed” Risa entered her room and the soldier, that didn’t even flinch, tried to follow her. But the girl, that had seen the movement coming, pushed him and, with a murderer look, made the man move away “Alone, if you don’t mind”
After closing completely the door, Risa let out a deep sight. But the calmness didn’t last long, because turning on the lights of the room she found a totally unexpected visitor.
“I’m so proud of you” said a smiling Takahashi from the bed.
“I would have slammed the door against his pretty face, you know?” continued Takahashi without paying attention to her surprised friend “I like your stile, is more… sublte”
“Ai-chan?” repeated Niigaki still unable to believe her eyes.
“That’s my name”
The older stood up finally from the bed and went to hug her friend.
“But you were at…”
“We escaped” and before the younger could say anything, she continued “…but I don’t have time to explain everything now. We need your help”
“Risa, I need to know if you still believe in me”
Gaki-san doubted for a moment, but the look in Ai-chan’s eyes made her understand that her friend needed desperately someone who she could trust.
“I believe in you, Ai-chan” she returned the hug with a smile “Just tell me what’s happening”
“Kaoru” called Takahashi turning to the entrance of the tunnel “You can get out now”
Ayumi closed the door of her room after her and let out a sigh. Her free day lost because of nothing. After all, what could she expect from that kind of person? That people aren’t known for being able to keep promises.
“You look beautiful in that kimono”
The voice surprised Shibata, who turned suddenly towards the window.
“But you would look even better without it” continued the stranger seated at the edge of the window.
The expression on Shibata’s face change from astonishment to an intense blush, that covered not just her face but her whole body. The lips of the newcomer drew a satisfied grin.
“What are you doing here?” asked Ayumi when she finally recovered from the initial shock.
“We had a date, remember?”
“Yeah, five hours ago. Something that reminds me that, right now, I’m very angry at you”
The other jumped inside the room and walked towards Shiba-chan who, instinctively, avoided the touch.
“Come on… It wasn’t even my fault. I was there early this morning…”
“You know? You don’t need to give me any excuses. I was almost sure that you weren’t going to appear”
“But you waited there, didn’t you?”
Again that damn blush covering all her face didn’t let her to lie. She had waited, almost two hours to be exact, until she lost all hope. But the other didn’t need to know the details. She turned her back to the intruder, unable to look at those mischievous eyes questioning her.
“I was dying to see you…” words were followed by two arms surrounding her waist from behind “…but those stupid guards appeared and I couldn’t escape in time”
“You had another fight with the people of the palace?!” Shibata turned to give a disappointing look to the other, who was still holding her.
“I was caught. That implies that I didn’t fight back”
“Goto…, you are…”
“The one you love the most?” finished the younger with a playful smile.
“But you love me”
“I don’t know why I should…” answered Shiba-chan with a pretended death glare.
“But you do”
The older pouted still not looking at the girl holding her waist. She knew that Maki loved to play with her like that and hated to admit that, somehow, she even liked it.
“Yes, I do”
“You do what?”
“I do love you. Happy now?”
Ayumi’s face was all the red that a face can possibly be and was going to bury it on Maki’s chest to avoid that she could see her blush, when the younger took her chin and, lifting it slightly, made their lips meet for the first time after long time.
“I missed you”
This time any trace of her playful smile had disappeared from her expression and had been replaced by a tender look that melted Ayumi’s remaining defenses. She surrounded the younger’s neck, attracting the other girl towards her for another kiss…
…that never arrived.
“Hey!” Shibata had suddenly remembered something and pulled the taller away “How do you escaped?!”
“You’ve been sitting there for hours”
Abe Natsumi was at the frame of the Consellour’s office’s frame as if she was waiting for the other to give her permission to enter. But Nakazawa just stared at the dark grooves of the wood on her desk.
“Do yo know what’s going to happen, right?” she simply stated.
“And you know, too, that there’s no way to stop it…”
The younger just nodded. She knew pretty well that their resources weren’t enough to defense the kingdom against an attack. But then, Yuko raised her head and looked straight at Natsumi with something in her eyes that the younger knew perfectly. She wasn’t going to give up even if it was going to be a lost battle from the start.
“Abe-san, about that.., you could be wrong”
“What?!” Now Yuko could read her thoughts?
This time, the Great Consellour stood up from her desk and walk towards the door.
“Do you have something in mind?” asked a curious Natsumi.
“Just follow me”
And so she did.
Both women remained silent, walking through the corridors and halls of the palace. Well, it was more like Yuko not saying a word and Nacchi afraid of asking. There was something in the mind of the older, no doubt about that, but it was really something that could help them when the war began?
Yuko seemed sure about it.
“What are we doing here?” Abe finally realized where the Counsellor had taken her.
They were in front of a closed door. A door that hadn’t been opened since the King was found dead.
Yuko took the knob and turned it slowly.
“I’m going to show you one of the best kept secrets of this kingdom”
“They’re coming” announced Kaoru, who had her ear stuck on the door.
“I told you that we should have waited ‘till night!” shouted Takahashi almost hysterically seeing that their escape wasn’t going to be more than a try.
“What a brave soldier you are...”
The lieutenant glared at Maki who had just made fun of her and was now walking towards the door. She put Kaoru aside and held the knob. It was locked but probably wouldn’t be a problem and they could even use it to get some advantage.
“Move backwards” ordered the bandit.
The other two girls, seeing what Goto had made to the doors of their cells before, weren’t going to question any other request from the older so, they stepped back and waited.
Maki waited too, leant against the door with her right hand holding the knob strongly, hearing every step that the guards were doing towards them.
“I’m telling you” she heard one of them saying while the key began to unlock the door “It’s impossi...”
Before he could end the sentence, the apparently harmless door hit him on the face, directly to his nose, and made him fall dragging the other man along with, too. The youngers couldn’t deny that Maki was smart. She had waited behind the door, knowing that the men would be unprepared and, the first moment that the door was unlocked, she pulled with all her strength and then push it against the soldiers with a sharp blow. Now they were on the floor, one half unconscious with his face covered with blood and the other trying to get up.
Kaoru and Ai-chan ran towards the door where Maki had kneeled already to disarm the broken-nose guard.
“Raise the alarm!” shouted the other guy still on the floor.
The bandit stood up without paying attention to the other man and threw the soldier’s sword to Ai-chan, who was quick on the uptake but didn’t know what to do with it.
“Why me?!” she asked to Maki.
“You’re a soldier, right?”
“And you a bandit” complained the younger “Do your job!”
Suddenly, she found another sword aiming directly towards her chest but, luckily, she was fast enough to stop it in time. The guard had already stood up and wasn’t going to let them go so easily.
“I promised that I wouldn’t hurt anyone, ok?” said Goto answering the Lieutenant question. She had leant against the door and was watching the fight with her arms crossed “Do you really think that I let those inepts capture me if it wasn’t that way?”
“But you knocked that guard!” replied Ai-chan that had began to sweat trying to repel her opponent’s attacks.
“Technicaly, the door did it”
Takahashi was so puzzled with that answer that she lost all her concentration for a moment, something that the guard seized to disarm her and throw the sword where she couldn’t reach it at the same time that three more guards came into the room.
If Maki was decided to not move a finger to do something, they were helpless.
But shomehow, when Takahashi was seeing herself again inside the cell, and this time with reason, a silhouette stood in the way between her and the guards waving the sword that she had lost seconds ago.
“Time to practice, little girl!”
“...early...” grumbled Kaoru under the sheets.
“Come on, sleeping beauty”
The sheets suddenly flew away from the bed, leaving a young woman wearing just a tank top and pants exposed to the look of her teacher.
“Goto-san!” exclaimed the younger trying to reach the sheets.
“Ayumi hasn’t woke up yet so, we have plenty of time to practice before breakfast” Maki throw a pair of jogging pants and left the room to let her pupil some privacy to change.
Kaoru was seventeen and she was living with Shibata since her mom died one and a half year ago because of an accident at the laboratory where she was working. Since then, she had never got time to be alone. Her mom’s family seemed to be disappeared before she was born and, since she never met her father, Ayumi, Ishikawa’s best friend from childhood and Kaoru’s godmother, took charge of her. After all, she had seen her grow up.
Then, there was Goto Maki. That woman always seemed to her a bit... odd. She visited her mom often, sometimes once a week, but hardly talked to Kaoru, as if she was trying to avoid the younger. Sometimes, she was convinced that Maki hated her or something. But then, there were those times when she caught the woman staring at her with a sad expression in her eyes. She was really an enigma.
After her mom’s dead, everything changed and that almost stranger had got the habit to appear in her home early every morning to do what she called ‘training for the future’. Kaoru didn’t understand the sudden interest in her safety, but Ayumi told her that it was her mom’s request and then she couldn’t deny -not to mention that she liked to see her aunt happy and, for some reason, the Goto Maki mere presence in the room made Ayumi’s eyes shine- So, two reasons to do it. Some exercise couldn’t be so bad.
Well, wouldn’t be bad if Maki didn’t wake her up at 6 in the morning every day...
“You’re slow” said the older throwing a new weapon to the garden’s floor.
Kaoru stared at her a moment and then at the object on the ground.
“Yes” answered Maki.
“Why I need to know how to use that? I like a gun better”
“You know enough about guns. From now on, it’s sword time”
The pupil, resigned to do what her fussy teacher wanted, took the weapon from the ground and glared at the older. Then, something strange happened. Maki smiled, something very unusual in her, and said something that Kaoru wouldn’t understand until some time later.
“If you’re a bit like her, you’ll like it”
Good bless morning practice...
Kaoru looked with the corner of her eye at Maki, who was still leaning against the wall, but this time with a hint of surprise in her eyes. Then she concentrated her senses on the guards. Two against five, or one, if we take into account that Ai-chan was disarmed.
“Lesson two” she whispered.
The five guards charged against them at once.
If you’re in disadvantage, take the weakest link and use it against the others.
“What if there’s no weak link?!”
They were all like giants compared with Kaoru, and she was just a little girl with a sharp toy. At least, her weight gave her advantage.
One first sword passed almost grazing her ear, but Kaoru could avoid it in time and counterattack with a quick movement that, for a moment, destabilized one of her opponents, who lose sight of his objective.
The girl ducked quickly and, turning on her feet, she achieved to make him fall. And the wardrobe that was the guard took two of her friends with him to the ground. Just two more to take care of.
This time, and being a surprise for the two younger girls, Goto Maki moved from her spot at the wall. It wasn’t too much. She just approached the fallen soldiers and took one of the swords. Then she turned to Takahashi and threw the weapon to her for the second time in that day.
“Help her a bit, pet”
There was a girl in front of Ishikawa’s door.
She had knocked, twice, but, seeing that no one had intention to open and hearing some noises coming from inside, she doubted that the Princess would had actually heard her.
“Rika?” she asked opening the door slowly and sticking out her head a bit, wich almost caused her to lose it when a silver plate flew just a few inches away.
It was the girl’s shout of panic what made the Princess turn to look at the door.
“Shiba-chan? I’m... I’m sorry... I didn’t mean to...”
“Don’t worry” replied her friend with a smile “As long as I can keep my head with me, it’ll be ok”
Shibata, then, took a look at the room around her. It was all messed up. The bedsheets and pillows all over the floor, some food, wich Ayumi deduced that was minutes ago at the flying plate, spread on the table and part of the ground, a chair with just three legs crashed against a closet and the missing leg inlaid in a near paint hanging in the wall...
“You’re going to tell me what happened here?”
“I was pissed of”
“Well... That’s pretty obvious. But, why?”
Rika sighed and sat on the bed.
“Can we talk about that later?
Silence flooded the room. Shibata looked at the mess again and then at the Princess, who was now lying with her back against the mattress and her eyes closed. She must be really exhausted after almost destroying the place.
“By the way...” said Ishikawa again with her eyes still closed “Hadn’t you got plans today? What are you doing here?”
“Change of mind?” answered the older laying next to her friend and sighing as deeply as Rika did it before.
“But you were really excited about today. Something happened?”
“Let’s just say that I’m a fool who trust people too much”
“Well then, welcome to the club”
“Time to split up, ladies”
The two youngers stared at the bandit while trying to recover some air after the running. Someway, they managed to escape from the building and arrive to a little forest inside the walls of the palace where the trees keep them hidden from the patrols.
“Thank you” said Kaoru. She knew that nothing that she could say would make Maki change her mind and help them. It was a waste of time to try it.
“Why? It was you who took us out of there. You fought against the guards and pretty well, may I add. Thanks to you, I’ll be able to appear in front of her without breaking my promise”
“You still broke that guard’s nose” grumbled Ai-chan.
“I told you, pet. The door hit him, not me”
“Yeah... Of course...” said the resigned lieutenant.
With a satisfied smile, Goto Maki turned her back to the girls and got ready to continue on her way but before making any step forward, she stayed quiet, as if she was thinking about something important, sighed and then kneeled to remove something from her ankle.
“This will help you if you have to scape to the mountains” she said walking again towards Kaoru and wrapping around the younger’s wrist a little yarn bracelet. When she finished, the bandit stared at Kaoru for a moment.
“What?” asked the traveller a bit uncomfortable.
“It’s just... There’s something familiar in your eyes...”
Maki raised her right hand and tapped the younger’s shoulder.
“Some other time” and said that, the bandit turned her back again and began to run “Tell Yocchan that I said hi!”
Soon, Goto’s silhouette disappeared from their sight.
“Find Yocchan” answered a resolute Kaoru.
“You’re calling her like that, too?”
“You’ve got a problem with that?”
“It’s still weird... Anyway, where are you planning to find Captain?”
“I... don’t know?”
“What a great plan”
“Any better idea?”
Takahashi thought for a moment. If Captain Yoshizawa was, as the stranger said, inside the palace walls, and she wasn’t in the jail with them, there was still a remote possibility that she wasn’t captured and was safe somewhere. There were only two women who would risk everything to protect Yoshizawa Hitomi, just one of them with power enough to keep her hidden from the others at the very center of the palace.
At least they’ll have something to start, even if it was like going into the wolf’s mouth.
“Well go to see Princess Ishikawa”
To be continued...