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They did not have much time to enjoy being back together, they had things that they needed to accomplish so the first moment they could they set out of the Lands of the Dragon Lords. By spring they would arrive on the outskirts of the city and almost instantly had been greeted by the Saitama. Chochi was the most vocal about not liking the fact that the Saitama were aware of their arrival, despite some protest from him and others they traveled deep into the heart of the Dragon Lords kingdom to a grand palace that the Saitama referred to as the Retreat of the Empress. Nothing was offered in the way of conversation. They did not explain why or how they knew they were coming, simply remained silent after the initial greeting.

1

The Saitama had given them anything they asked for, even when Abe told them he was in need of a good whore to relax him, they sent him one without hesitation. Though he found that his mind wandered to memories even after she lavished her lips over his cock. If she was the best whore they had, her skills needed work because his mind had drifted to long since forgotten memories.

“Prince Tatsuya you have been silent since we left the palace.”

“I have nothing to say.”

“Do you not wish to discuss what transpired at that meeting with your father and the Waichia.”

“If I wished to discuss it I would.”

Abe frowned, “Your tone gives away far to much of how you are feeling. A warrior never displays such emotions, young prince.”

“Why is it you always turn everything into a lesson?”

Abe did not answer his prince right away because an Ishi was approaching them. The Ishi never stopped walking, never bowed, never acknowledged the prince. Abe frowned inwardly, only the Ishi could be so disrespectful and get away with it. He recognized him instantly as the one called Mikio who stood as one of the elite guards for the Emperor. Otoha probably knew him better after all they had once served together, but everyone in Aslann new that man’s reputation.

As Mikio passed by the young prince spoke, “What a powerful Ishi. Even his movements are precise and formidable. I imagine he has no need for a weapon. I bet he could beat you in a fight Abe.”

Abe frowned, “I doubt that highly.”

“Your tone gives away far to much of how you are feeling.” The prince said and Abe could tell the young prince was smirking. “I would wager that he could best both you and Chochi, so why is he serving my father and not the future ruler of this land I wonder.”

“That talk is rather inappropriate young prince.” Abe spoke.

“Well, I suppose it matters not. All of my guardians are equally formidable, though perhaps not as powerful as that Ishi. Well, Taku might be.”

Abe scoffed, “That slave is nothing.”

“I disagree. I think Taku is on equal footing with that Ishi.” Otoha gave no outward sign of what he thought of the conversation and it was evident by the unsettling silence that overtook them that Abe disagreed.

11

They had returned to the estate where Sadoo took over watching the young prince. Abe headed toward his quarters, which he shared with Chochi. Along the way, he passed the youngest of the guardians Sohma and right behind him was Taku. He placed his hand upon Taku’s shoulder, halting his movements, mid-stride. “There will come a time slave, when our prince tires of you. When that happens, I am going to make you call me master.”

Taku jerked his shoulder away as he continued walking and Abe turned to look at Chochi who was rubbing his neck. “Antagonizing the son of Kiyoshi Kensuku, for what purpose Abe?”

“Our prince thinks that slave is stronger than the two of us.”

“Oh?” Chochi smirked, “What an interesting little troublesome prince we have. Seems Prince Tatsuya has found your weakness.”

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Abe entered his quarters laying down on his side of the room. Their personalities just in decorating told much about how different they were. Abe’s side of the room said he was a soldier. His old uniform jackets for the Ruthlbahdo, a variety of swords decorated his side. Chochi’s was filled with art, books, and flowers which were about what Abe would expect from a member of the Waichia.

He had not commented right away to Chochi’s words, finally he spoke as Chochi plopped himself down on the floor. “Prince Tatsuya is not happy with this situation regarding the Waichia.”

“I am not surprised. Do you believe this is why the young prince is prodding you?”

“No.”

“Oh, a surprising answer. Why?”

“The young prince is arrogant, speaks freely with little regard for what is appropriate, but I have not once seen our young prince do anything that would insight us guardians against one another.”

“Yet you were pushed into reacting. It is rare, but such behavior is within you and has always been. Perhaps you are already aware that Taku has the potential to be stronger than you.”

“He is a slave and should have remained one.”

“Your fathers had history. Kiyoshi Kensuku’s betrayal at the Battle of Progmato has left wounds between the Sosa and the Kensuku, ones not easily mended especially considering you are the last of your clan and even as slaves the Kensuku flourish.”

“I don’t trust him.”

“You don’t trust anyone.”

“Neither do you.”

225

Chochi had grown silent a moment, “The moment I trust someone is about the time I lose sight of everything. I will not fall to such weakness. Love and friendship are dangers to men like us. We allow people to get close in any capacity and we are no longer capable of doing our duty. You and I are the same and yet different. We are not friends, we are like minded warriors performing our duty by serving the Emperor and the young prince. Don’t let Prince Tatsuya insight you to react.”

Abe laid upon his back staring up at the ceiling. “I think our young prince has a thing for powerful men.”

“Oh?” Chochi smirked, “What a funny child our prince is, but you must have a reason you feel this way?”

“We both know Prince Tatsuya has strong feelings for Atsuki. We also know that he may not look like much, but he is one of the most powerful chalta’s in Aslann.”

“There is someone else?”

“Mikio Ishi passed us on our way here and Prince Tatsuya made a comment, regarding him. Basically, wondering why he was serving the Emperor and not our young prince.”

“Prince Tatsuya is rather bold. The Ishi are a powerful clan and it impresses me that our young prince’s eyes see such power, but such a statement if heard by the wrong person could cause great trouble for our prince. You are worried about Prince Tatsuya’s feelings for Atsuki and this comment regarding the Ishi, why?”

“I do not know.” Abe said as he closed his eyes.

“I have never seen you so troubled before.”

Abe exhaled, “I just get the impression that Prince Tatsuya is keeping something. I know I should not ask…”

“You wish for me to read the mind of our young prince?”

“Can you?”

“I can, but perhaps you are reading into this. Prince Tatsuya purposely tried to insight you. Give it a few days, see how you feel about it. If you are still concerned I will speak with Prince Tatsuya and if necessary take appropriate action.”

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Abe’s mind snapped back to reality, he could not focus on her attentions, so he pushed her off of him that was when he caught the movement of a figure near the doorway. “Did you enjoy watching?” Abe asked when he realized who it was. When they had first arrived to the Retreat of the Empress, the former servant of the young prince made her presence known, much to the dismay of her brother Otoha and Chochi who quickly attempted to kill her. The Saitama would not allow it, nor did they explain her presence.

She gave a meek smile, such a simple response and yet somehow Abe knew exactly what her mouth could not say. “Well if you think you can do better, by all means.” Abe told her. There was no hesitation as she walked into the room, closing the door behind her, as each piece of her clothing dropped to the floor.

As she moved to the bed, Abe smiled wickedly, “You understand I plan on breaking you.” He told her and she simply nodded her head. There was a part of him that was surprised and yet a deeper part that told him that she had shared his bed before. The woman that the Saitama had sent him, was ignored completely, as she sat in the corner of the room watching in shock as Abe both tortured and pleasured Moochie.

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Tationy heard the door open, and feet walking the length of the room toward the balcony where she stood. She glanced briefly over her shoulder, it was Bóre. He looked different, not dressed in the clothing that all his people seemed to wear, his face was also not adorned in the heavily red and white paint they covered it in. She told herself to look away quickly or she would perhaps get caught staring much too long.

“Are you comfortable?”

“Yes thank you for your hospitality.”

“Is there anything I can do to please you?”

She could not help herself and turned her head sharply as she choked on the words, “No, thank you.”

He watched as she took a breath in and looked out once again over the area. He could not decide what sort of reaction it was that she displayed. “Do you not find this man attractive?” He questioned.

She kept her eyes fixed off into the distance as she tried to control her breathing, “No it is not that.”

“Please tell me, Princess. How might I please you then?”

“You do not have to do anything.” She voiced.

Bóre bowed his head as he spoke, “I do not understand.”

Tationy turned to face him. When the Saitama had met them at the entrance to the Lands of the Dragon Lords, Bóre spoke in such a formal monotone voice. He used words like I and me, though when she had first encountered him with the others he had never spoken in such a fashion. “What is it you do not understand?” She finally questioned.

“If you find this vessel attractive, why is it you will not allow pleasure to come to you by it?”

She chocked again as she stumbled over the words, “I have never before.”

“Never….” He stared at her face trying to understand her words. “You are untouched by a man’s hands?” He questioned. Tationy only gave a simple nod of her head as Bóre grew silent. “What is that like?” He finally asked her.

His question surprised her, “What do you mean, certainly you were at one point.”

A shadow cast over his features, “We Saitama have always been servants to the Shima. I cannot remember a time when I was untouched.”

Tationy had no words to say to him. She was not even certain what one says to another at such a moment. “I am sorry, why don’t your people fight?”

“We have known nothing but servitude.”

“Like the Kensuku?” She questioned.

“The Kensuku were once free, we have never been.”

“I do not understand what type of people would keep others as slaves. If you could be free, would you?”

“I do not think that we Saitama have it in us to be truly free. We will most likely lose our way and fall to darkness without someone to lead us.”

“Can’t you lead your people?”

“No, we are meant to serve.”

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Tationy moved from the balcony to sit on a nearby sofa. “That saddens me.” She whispered as she exhaled and closed her eyes. “Do you not desire to be free?” She questioned.

He was silent and she wondered for a moment if she had offended him until she felt his arms move around her. His fingers laced across her chest and she brought hers up to grab his as she tilted her head back. “I desire you. Please, Princess, let me pleasure you.”

Tationy was not certain where her willpower went as she went to respond and found herself brushing her lips against his. Her entire body felt on fire as he claimed her mouth. When he finally broke the kiss, she stumbled over her words nervously, “I don’t want you to be a slave.”

“Princess?” He questioned.

“Let me free you.”

“I am not yours to free, I belong to the Shima.”

“If I deal with the Shima?” She questioned.

He pulled away, “You wish to take on an empire for a slave?”

“You are Bóre Saitama, stop calling yourself a slave.”

Her words struck him like a dagger. He could tell she was heartbroken, by the way her lips pouted and her eyes gazed to the corner of the room. “What would you have me do, Princess?”

“I feel like there is no one I can trust.” She said softly. “Even those that say they will protect me, I doubt their words. I think I have done terrible things for the right reasons. It nags at me. It makes my head hurt and my heart ache. If you need someone to serve, so be it. Serve me, by protecting me until all of this is over and things in Aslann are set right. Once that happens, you and your people are free to chose your own path, whether it be to stay and serve Aslann as free men and women or to leave Aslann and the Lands of the Dragon Lords behind to start anew.”

“Such an offer, Princess. To betray the Shima and to go against the Emperor of Aslann is a death sentence.”

“I know, it is a heavy burden.”

He watched her reaction, “You have already resigned yourself to your fate. Princess you plan on dieing with your people if this goes terribly wrong.” He stated.

“There are so many people doing things to change Aslann, how can I not do my part. If the outcome turns out wrong, then who am I to stand by and watch. What kind of ruler would just watch as her people are killed. I never wanted this life. I never wanted to be here. That though is the one thing I am certain about. Everything else in my head is a mess. I feel like a big contradiction most of the time, but I cannot ask people or have people doing things in my name that I myself would not be willing to do.”

“The Shima were right, you are an honorable prince.”

“The Shima?” She questioned, “What are you talking about.”

“We have met before, when you were a small child of six years of age along with two of your guardians, the Hamara and the Kensuku.”

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He moved around and bowed before her. Her arms instantly crossed over her chest as her jaw set tightly, she was not certain she was going to like this conversation. “We Saitama, were sent to speak with you on behalf of the Dragon Lords of the Shima.”

“Why?”

“They wanted you to betray the Empire of Aslann, to cause unrest so that they might destroy its people and seize its lands. A prophet amongst the Saitama called Agara, seen your journey. Seen the betrayal of your Emperor and your guardians. Seen what strife they brought upon you. Agara was given no choice in telling this to the Shima, who wished to use it to their advantage. So we were sent along with the representatives of the Shima. While they kept the Emperor and your guardians occupied, we the Saitama spoke with you.”

“So this was all some sort of rouse to get me here?”

“Only partly, we Saitama had to be certain.”

“Certain about what?”

“Prince Tatsuya was a spoiled child, willing to do whatever was necessary to get what the prince wanted. Agara foresaw a future where we Saitama would be free by the returning Princess of Aslann. That something one of your guardians had done, would alter you drastically that you would no longer be that prince, but a true princess and rightful ruler of Aslann. We Saitama were not certain if the callous prince of old still existed. If you were freed of your own prison to be whom you were meant to be.”

“So all of this, this evening was a lie?”

“No. Agara told me much about the Princess of Aslann. She told me stories of your life, all of it that she foresaw. As I spoke to Prince Tatsuya, I tried to picture the you that is here before me. Even when Prince Tatsuya called us dogs, I held hope that Agara’s words would come true and a Princess who understood pain, who could sympathize, who could look past her own wants and needs and understand the emotions running through the person before her would someday grace me with her presence.”

When she did not say anything to his words, he began to speak about Agara’s vision and spoke in-depth about the meetings with both the Dragon Lords of the Shima and Prince Tatsuya. He even told her how the young Prince had sent his Kensuku and Hamara guardians to kill him and his people. Bóre even told her that he knew they were coming and he had honestly expected to die.

“Why did they protect you?”

He lifted his head that which he had kept bowed during the course of the conversation. His eyes focused in on her face, “I fear that if I tell you, you will become angry with me.”

“Angry why?”

“You might believe I have come here with ulterior motives.”

“Did you?” She asked him.

“I will not lie.” He spoke, “I desire you. You do not treat me as a slave. When you look at me, you look into my eyes. When we met outside the Lands of the Dragon Lords, you even smiled. It was real. I have never experienced that before. However, Agara told me in private after she had informed the Dragon Lords of the Shima that this Princess that would return would give herself to me. She would belong only to me and see only me. We would have a child together.” She said nothing as she looked away from him. His head bowed, “I shall leave you.” He said as he stood, bowing to her before turning.

“That is not necessary.” Bóre turned himself about to face her. “I want you to tell me everything. Start from the beginning and leave nothing out.”

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The Saitama female had a smile upon her lips as she brought her hand up to her face. The young boy, of no more than seventeen sat on the floor at her side watching them. “Forgive us, we must seem terribly rude. The Shima have always killed any Saitama who are not of pureblood, so it is rare to have two within our company. We must seem awfully rude staring at you.”

Oji considered his words before speaking, “We understand that this must be an unusual experience for you it is for us as well.”

“You are the Elder of the Waichia and you are of the Takahashi correct?”

Hero said nothing allowing Oji to respond, “That is correct.”

“Your mothers were taken during the war?” Oji hid his reaction well, though the woman realized that she had perhaps offended. “Forgive us, it was a callous assumption. It is rare for Saitama outside the Lands of the Dragon Lords to have both their parents. We should not have made any assumptions.”

“No it is alright. My mother was taken during the war and became a servant to the main branch of the Waichia. My father loved her though and she him, she did not remain a servant.”

“She was a free Saitama?”

“Free within the grounds of the Waichia estate, outside those walls my father could not protect her.”

“We understand. The Emperor of Aslann and his blood have had a great hatred toward the Saitama and the Shima for centuries,” Her eyes glanced toward Hero, “And you?”

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“My father was Saitama.” He said, though continued to look out the window. “My mother does not discuss it.”

“Forgive us, we did not mean to bring up haunting memories. The war did terrible things to both sides. Muramasa….” She said as she put her hand on the young boys shoulder, “Has taken care of me since the war. His parents were lost during it and he found me hiding within the stables just before the Prince and the Army seized the palace nearby. I was fortunate this child saved me, for if the soldiers had found me I cannot say what would have become of me.” She glanced toward Hero again, “Is that perhaps how you lost your eye?”

“My eye is not lost, only damaged.” He responded. His tone was distant, never giving more detail than was needed though he did his best not to be rude.

“Forgive us, we seem to be making many assumptions this day. Might we inquire as to how it was damaged?”

“Training.” He remarked simply, as he turned on his heels and departed the room.

“We hope we have not offended him.”

“Hero does not like to talk about himself.” Oji remarked simply.

“He guards his feelings well, all of you do. You are worried about your Princess?”

Oji glanced toward the woman, giving her a hard stare.

“Do you know something?” He asked.

She smiled, “We are told that the Waichia have very powerful minds, would you like to read mine and find out?”

“If your offering so freely, then I should be cautious. Such a thing is never given without dangers lurking.”

She smiled, “You are like him, who was once my brother.” She said as she gestured for Muramasa to leave the two of them alone.

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Tatsuya ran his fingers through his hair as he enjoyed the feel of the hot water around him. He was frustrated with himself for being taken so easily and then shamed as they cut his luscious locks from his head. They had laughed, and with each slice from the sword a little bit more fell to the ground. Had it not been for Hero he probably would have been both shamed and killed. He was so disgusted with himself.

A great deal of pride was held within the length of their hair alone. Too many it seemed trivial, but to the Kari it was an important part of whom they were. All those years ago when Hiko had cut his hair he had disgraced himself and the clan. Now here he was the Elder of the Kari who had his cut from his head when they had gone to kill him, he had barely said a word to anyone since that day.

He felt the water move as someone entered the tub, he figured it was one of the women that the Saitama had been offering to them for company, until he turned his head and caught sight of Hero.

Hero’s hand pressed to the top of Tatsuya’s head ruffling his hair briefly, as he slid himself into the tub. Tatsuya’s body went ridged, uncertain what to say or do. He had always loved Hero ever since they were kids. He was always Hiko’s friend though so the two often had little time to spend in each others company.

He held his breath uncertain what to say until Hero’s body settled into the tub leaning forward and wrapping his arms around Tatsuya. “I like your hair this way.”

“Hero what if someone…”

“So, what if they do?”

Tatsuya leaned back against Hero’s body closing his eyes. It was not as if he had not longed for this moment, a hundred times over. He had always been in love with him. His cousin Hiko even knew it, though never spoke on the matter. “Why?”

Hero knew what he was asking, he wanted to know why now. Why this moment. “Because I can’t stand to see that defeated look on your face. It is bad enough that Hiko is going to suffer in silence until the day he dies instead of going after what he wants. I can’t stand seeing you Kari men give up. I can’t do anything for Hiko. He won’t go to her no matter how much he wants too, but you I can do something about.”

“Is that what this is, pity?”

“Tatsuya don’t turn an intimate moment into an argument, you are always doing this.”

“What do you mean I am always doing this, when have we ever had any intimate moments.” He asked as he turned his head to look at Hero, but the only response was Hero’s mouth on his.

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When it all started he had told himself he was just going to listen for a few minutes to make certain she was alright, but hours later he was still leaning against the wall outside of the bedchamber Tationy was talking with Bóre Saitama in.

He heard an exhale of breath, it seemed lately that his thoughts had been getting more and more distracted so much so that people where sneaking up on him right and left. There he was, the Ishi known as Mikio leaning himself against the wall. He glanced at him out of the corner of his eye and realized instantly that he also refused to wear the clothing offered by the Saitama.

Mikio said nothing to Hiko as the two stood quietly outside Tationy’s bedchamber. An hour had passed before Mikio finally spoke, “You going to just stand outside her room?”

“You got something to say?”

“Who knows.” Mikio responded.

“Why are you here?”

Hiko figured Mikio would respond with ‘who knows’ again that often seemed to be his answer for most any question. “I don’t trust the Saitama.”

Giving Mikio a sideways glance be pursed his lips together, “I don’t either. This is nagging at my gut. I don’t think we should be here.”

“I don’t either.” Mikio responded then paused taking several long drags from his smoke before exhaling it all in one smoke ring. “I don’t trust the Waichia either.”

“I don’t believe Oji’s agenda…”

“Not that Waichia.”

Hiko frowned, he thought he was the only one. He told himself repeatedly it was because of old history between the two, but the more time they had spent together during their travels the more he disliked the man. Tatsuya told him not to read into it, but here he was standing with Mikio Ishi who was voicing his concern over the man. “I don’t either.” He finally responded. The silence lingered for a moment or two before Hiko continued, “You’re thinking about killing him.”

“He is already dead, he just does not realize it yet.” Hiko was reminded instantly at how cold and vicious the Ishi could be. Mikio was the strongest of them. Where Shu was the greatest swordsmen Aslann had ever seen, Mikio was the strongest of the Ishi and some even wagered that he was probably the strongest fighter in Aslann. “I am not going to pretend to understand the depths of your feelings.” Mikio spoke, “However, if you continue to stand out here you are going to lose whatever opportunity that remains for the two of you. That Saitama is sniffing around her, if he has not made his intentions known with her by now he will soon. I suggest you do not wait long or you will regret it.”

As Mikio pushed away from the wall, Hiko questioned, “Who are you to give me advice?”

“Who knows.” Mikio responded. Hiko sighed inwardly, the Ishi was as old as dirt. Everyone knew that he was from a different time. It was not a simple matter of being from a different generation, Mikio was born from the Gods, Rin and Tearra. He had lived longer and seen things far beyond the normal years of any man.

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His intention was not to enter the room, but the moment the Saitama departed that was exactly what he did. He felt relief seeing her fully clothed, he was not sure what he expected to find, but there was a part of him that honestly expected to find her naked in the bed. She had looked up at him and he knew at that moment it was to late for him to back himself out of the room, so he took a seat next to her on the sofa. He felt rigid as he focused his eyes onto the bed, which was untouched by any signs of activity.

“Hiko.” She practically whispered his name as his eyes turned to focus in on her face. “Are you alright?”

“Woman.” He said, never calling her Tationy. He was afraid too. Afraid that she would be able to hear all the emotions that he tried his best to hide if he spoke her name, “You should not be alone with a man in your room, it isn’t proper.”

He was so serious and when she laughed he scowled at her. “You are here with me.” She said and he realized instantly how ridiculous what he just said was considering the situation.

“I am old enough to be your father.” He remarked.

“You look nothing like my father.” She retorted.

He opened his mouth to speak and somehow his smoke defied the laws of gravity and remained within his mouth even after he opened and closed it several times before finally responding, “What did you and the Saitama talk about.”

Her sigh did nothing for his mood. “He told me something. Well he told me lots of things, none of which I really wanted to hear. Lets not talk about it.”

She waved it off which only made him more curious about what it was they had spoken into the wee hours about. “Did he try anything?”

“We mostly just talked.”

Mostly, what did she mean by mostly? He felt the pit of his stomach knot as the thoughts of what mostly meant. “Did you and he?” He asked as his eyes fixed on whatever he could find that was not her. He could not look at her and he cursed himself for walking into the room.

“He kissed me, but that was it. Before he left, I told him that such a thing should not be done so lightly. He understood and promised not to do it again, unless I wanted him too.”

“Do you want him to?”

“He is attractive.” She voiced and Hiko felt his stomach lurch. What was she doing to him? “I want to be in love though, being attracted to someone means nothing if that is all there is. You have to love a person for who they are because beauty fades and then there is nothing left if you do not have a deeper connection. I want to get to know someone and have them get to know me. You can stop worrying dad.” She told him with a playful smile.

Was that how she seen him? He stared at her trying to decide if that was what he was to her. He should be grateful, he did not want to feel those feelings again. She had hurt him. “Were you and the Waichia together back then?” He did not know why he was asking.

“Chochi.” She said his name so intimately and he hated it. “He says no. I believe him. He says he did love me, but he swears that Abe and I were together, but…”

He had never considered that she and Abe were together as he turned his eyes to fix on her. “But what?”

“I don’t think Abe and I were together. Abe and I have not gotten a chance to talk about it, but I just have this feeling it’s all wrong, everything that Atsuki said. I do not understand why he would misdirect us, but I think everything he told us regarding Abe and I was ….”

“Do you think he is the guardian that betrayed you?”

“Sometimes I wonder and I think that he was and other times I think that I am reading it all wrong. Makes my head hurt a lot.”

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She stood and moved toward the balcony and he followed her. He could tell she wanted to say something or even ask something, but she was holding back. When he turned his head to tell her to just spit it out she was staring at him. She nervously adjusted her body, by trying to put her hand on her hip to seem more casual. She was shifting under the weight of his stare, before finally nervously fidgeting with her hands and even her hair. “Is Tatsuya alright?”

“He is fine, Hero is taking care of him.” She giggled, she had been doing that a lot since they had arrived at the small farmhouse in Garvator when Hero was around. “Are you interested in Hero or something?” He asked, not hiding the unhappy tone that permeated his voice.

“Ohh nothing like that exactly.” She said.

“What is it then?”

“There is this singer in my time that is really famous. He is called Saitama. I really like him. He is so amazing. Hero, just sort of looks just like him. I guess I get a little giddy around him huh?”

He blinked at her, “All of those giggles is because you are fixated on some singer in your time?”

“Well he is not just any singer, he is the biggest musician in the world. Everyone knows who he is. He is completely talented, writes his own music, and he is gorgeous. All the girls love him.” He made a mental note not to let Hero play any music around her. “Are you jealous?” She asked and he choked on his smoke as he gave her a hard stare. She laughed softly, “You should see the look on your face.”

He looked away from her, rubbing his face for a moment. “What happened with you and Chee?” This time it was her turn to choke. Her silence and the way her cheeks turned pink caused that knot to reform in his stomach, “The blood eyes?” He questioned and she simply nodded her head. “Is that why you are avoiding him or is it something else?”

“I can’t trust myself around him.” Hiko did not like her answer. “He cannot seem to stop himself from using the eyes of the Hamara and I can’t seem to resist them. I’m afraid that I might get lost in them and not be able to find my way back. Have you ever felt like that, Hiko?”

“Once.”

“When?” She questioned.

“Back then, with you.” He turned to leave and she grabbed onto his arm to stop him. “Don’t, make me stay.” He told her as she released his arm.

“Please don’t leave me.” She said as his hand reached the door.

“I shouldn’t be here.”

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“Please Hiko, don’t pull away from me. I don’t remember any of it. Those that know anything about it won’t even speak to me on it. All I am told is that Astuki had Abe end it.” He turned about leaning himself against the door as she talked, “They do say that I was in love with you, but….”

“You remembered Ritsu when you saw him, why is it when you look at me you don’t remember anything?” He could not hide the hurt in his voice even though he did his best and he kept his eyes fixed on the curtains surrounding the bed rather than on her. He was afraid he would lose what little control he had. He had a lot of time to think about her, the past, and all of the emotions surrounding it all during their time apart.

“I remember very little. I am not sure why I remembered what happened with Ritsu, it seems like such an insignificant thing and yet, somehow it seems important at the same time. What happened when I died with Nao, that feels the same way. I cannot really explain why some things come back and others do not. Zen…”

“Zen Kari?” He questioned.

“Uhh yeah, that was where I was after the attack. I thought for certain Chee would have mentioned.”

“No he neglected to mention it.”

“Ohh well, Zen said something about the esoteric users felt that the very fabric of my existence had been tampered with. I don’t really understand what that means, but maybe it is why some things are retained in my memories and others are not.” His silence was not at all comforting as she paused, fidgeting slightly, “You and Zen have bad history huh?”

“I failed to save his son, early on in my career as a Captain. Tsuna was killed during the war, he holds me responsible. He also took up issue when I cut my hair. He has not liked me since the day I was born.”

“Why?”

“My mother was from the Anami clan. She and her parents escaped to Aslann where they took refuge after the Second Great War. During the war her clan was responsible for sending a good portion of the soldiers of Aslann to an early grave. When my father married her, many of the clans of Aslann stopped associating with us. One by one our clan died off and without marriages with other clans, no new children were born after Tsuna.”

“I am sorry about the dress.” She said as she bowed her head. “It got ruined when they came for us.”

“It was just a dress.”

“No it was not, it belonged to your mother. It should have been treasured. I should have taken care of it better.” He had lifted his head as she spoke and met her gaze. His breath was caught in his throat for a moment. She was different and yet somehow the same as she had always been. This was the prince of Aslann he knew, not the selfish one that people always talked about. Why was it that he knew such a different side to her than any other? He wanted to ask her so many questions, but even if he did she could not give him a single answer.

“I should go.” He said and he watched her features contort into a frown.

“I don’t want you too.”

“If I stay I will probably do or say something I can’t take back.”

“Hiko.” She called out his name as he turned on his heels and reached for the door again.

He paused only a moment. He was not much for words. He hated talking about himself, sharing his feelings, and he would never consider himself good at articulating anything well. He killed people, he was a killer that was who he was. He did his talking with his sword. Regardless of his lack of delicacy in matters he spoke, “Consider what you truly want. I get the impression this time is not like yours at all. You can’t just give yourself to one man and move onto the next one if it does not work for you. Whomever you decide to be with, will kill anyone who even looks at you wrong. Knowing that the two of you mostly talked, lights a fire in me that burns out of control. I want his head on a stick, a lesser man would have killed him already. Woman, don’t get the wrong idea. I am only telling you this because someone needs to say it. Decide what it is you want and make sure he knows it so the rest of us can move on.” He did not even give her a moment to respond.

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She sighed, closing her eyes as she tried to collect herself before opening her eyes and moving toward the bed. When she felt his arms around her for a brief moment she thought it was Hiko, until Chochi spoke and her body stiffened. “First the Saitama and now the Kari, who are you going to allow into your bedchamber next Tationy?”

His fingers wrapped around her neck, though he did not put any pressure upon it as she turned her head ever so slightly. He looked different with his hair long. His eyes seemed colder and harder than they had ever been before. She wanted to cry, she was not certain why. She controlled the unwanted emotions. “Nothing happened.” She was not certain why she was defending herself to him, but what Hiko said made sense, this was how it was. She had to put her foot down and let them all know where they stood with her.

She never wanted them all and honestly she was not certain how this situation developed. She was just an average girl, there was not one special thing about her. She was not good-looking, she was not smart, she was not even funny. Her father called her good-for-nothing, he was probably right. The only talent she had was with piano and even that was probably mediocre at best.

“Is this who you are?” He questioned. She did not really understand his question, so she did not respond and his fingers tightened slightly around her neck. “I would expect bad behavior from Abe, but from you….I suppose this is who you have always been. Prince Tatsuya, takes and takes and the hell with anyone else.”

“Is this the real you Chochi?”

“Ohh.” He smiled as he laughed under his breath, “You think you’re big enough to challenge me little girl?”

“What has gotten into you?”

“The more we were apart, the more I learned things about our precious prince. Did you tell Hiko you spread your legs for a slave?”

“A slave, don’t talk like that. The Saitama and I were…”

“I am not talking about that slave, you and Taku. You must have had so much fun screwing him and laughing behind my back. He never mentioned it. He never once told me that the two of you pledged yourselves to one another the night before the war.” He squeezed her neck a bit tighter, “I did not want to believe it, but Sohma told me all about it.”

“Sohma, when did you talk to Sohma?”

“Right before we left Aslann. He had a lot to tell me about you and Taku. I thought he was lying at first until we arrived here and there was your servant. Deny it all Tationy. Tell me you did not set out to betray your kingdom and your people for some slave.”

“He is your friend.”

“He was no friend of mine. He got close to me to keep me occupied so I would not cause you issues. Don’t worry about your precious Taku, I sent Otoha to deal with him.”

“Are you insane?” She said as she struggled to get away from him.

“The only reason I don’t kill you along with Taku is because your body is needed.”

“I’ll scream.”

“If you were going to scream you would have done so already. Admit it Tationy, you want this as much as I do.”

“Is this the way of the Waichia to take what they want?” He tossed her to the bed and she scrambled to get away. She was not certain why she did not scream. There was a part of her that did not believe this was Chochi for one moment. Chochi would not behave like this. “We were married once, we were happy right?”

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He laughed and she stared at him trying to understand his laughter as he leaned himself against the door. “You could explain that is what you told me.” He said. “Little hard to explain when your husband comes home to find another man’s dick within you. I probably could have forgiven you, had it not been someone that looked just like him. I told myself to let this all go, but I don’t know who you are. I don’t think I ever did.” He paused as he stared at her, “I beat him until he could barely walk his naked ass from our house, but you…you kept saying that you could explain. Here is your chance, explain. Oh wait that is right, you conveniently have no memory.”

“You think it is easy for me? All of you keep talking about stuff I don’t remember that I am just suppose to accept as fact.” Their voices were raising.

“You want fact.” He said as he moved toward her grabbing her by the hair and pulling her toward him. “I killed you. Sadoo helped me cover it up. We blamed it all on Abe. How is that for truth? You never cared about me.” He said and Tationy felt her insides knot and that feeling that she wanted to cry overwhelm her again.

“That’s not true.” She said.

“Ohh, then do what you are suppose too. You were promised to the Waichia, here I am.” He let her go and stood near the door staring at her. “We both know you won’t. Prince Tatsuya does not like to be told what to do and our great Prince feels more entitled than Abe to whatever the prince wants. You don’t want me because you know you can have me, all you have to do is say the words.”

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“This is not you, Chochi. You are, not thinking straight.” She said repeatedly as he took a predatory step toward her, but stopped when he felt someone standing behind him with their sword drawn.

“Take a walk Chochi or I will sever your head from your body.”

“Abe to the rescue.” Chochi remarked and then hmf’d one of his under his breath laughs, “I should not be too surprised. When our damsel in distress needs someone to protect her you are always there.”

“Chochi, you don’t lose your cool. This is not you.”

“How would you know? You and I were never friends. What you knew about me, I let you know.”

“I am warning you.” Abe told Chochi.

“You have not been able to touch me in years, don’t let talk about being the greatest swordsmen of Aslann go to your head, Abe.”

“Tationy.” Abe said, “Leave the room.”

“Abe…” She whispered his name as she stood up and glanced between the two of them before running out of the room.

“What is going on with you?” Abe said as he sheathed his sword and took a step back from Chochi.

Chochi turned around and faced him cold hatred radiating off of him. “Did you know?”

“Did I know what?”

“About her and Taku.” Abe said not a single word as he stared at Chochi. “I am so stupid. Was I the only one that had no clue? How long have you remembered? Answer me Abe, how long have you known?”

Abe leaned against the door. “About a year now.”

“How?”

“She told me that day that Atsuki told me to go to her and say what I needed to say. She told me then. She was injured from that wound to the back, but was not feeling well for another reason. She was pregnant, about four months along by that point. She knew she made a mistake with Taku, but it was too late for her to fix it. So she asked me to pretend like she and I were together. That Taku would not be able to forgive her.”

Chochi stared at him dumbfounded, “I don’t understand, you both were together numerous times throughout history.”

“It was easier to protect her that way. It had nothing to do with love. Well that is not true exactly. I would not say there was no love involved, just a different form. Did you really kill her, is that the reason I went to jail and all the guardians thought I was some psychopath?”

Chochi hung his head low, “I wanted to come back through time and kill Hiko Kari. It was his fault that she has never been able to look at anyone else.”

“Did you ever think that the reason she can’t look at you is because you have a darkness lingering within you? Fuck, Chochi you killed her. What type of man kills the woman he loves? I can understand killing the guy who fucked her, but Jesus Christ you beat her, raped her, and killed her, then you got Sadoo involved. What the fuck were you thinking?”

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Outside the room, people began to gather. The moment the arguing began to fill the house, one by one they made their way up the stairs. Tationy sat outside the room on the floor, lost in her own thoughts until her arm was bumped. She turned her head and staring back at her was Hiko. He was smiling, he never smiled from what she had seen. The moment for her was much needed though it quickly passed as the arguing got worse.

Chochi slammed his fist against the door, not far from Abe’s head. “Feel better?” Abe questioned. “What exactly did you think you were going to accomplish by barging in here and berating her. You know she does not remember, what did you really expect Chochi?”

“I just came to talk to her, but the Saitama left her room and outside of it was standing Hiko. She has barely said anything to me since we arrived in Garvator. I…” He turned his back leaning himself against the door and sliding down it. “I thought she would be happy to see us; happy to see me. I probably sound like a child.”

“She has been on her own for a while now. She was forced to rely on others because her guardians have their heads up their asses.” Abe remarked. “You’re a mess. I don’t think it is without reason. Remember back then, back when I told you about the prince making that comment about Mikio Ishi and Taku being stronger than us?”

Chochi turned and looked at Abe quickly, “How much of your memory has come back?”

“Not sure, probably about half I think. Anyway, that does not matter now. Remember I told you that I thought the prince was trying to play us guardians against each other? You told me to give it a few days…did you ever read the mind of the prince?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Did anything happen?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary. She and I talked for a bit while we were at the park. I did not receive anything that warranted your suspicions. No one approached us in the park, we left and crossed paths with Ritsu Waichia, spoke briefly.” Chochi grew silent a moment, “Well that was sort of odd now that I think about it.” Chochi closed his eyes a moment as he tried to access the memory. “I can’t access it.” He said.

Abe eyed him, “That is pretty bold to tamper with the mind of not only a guardian, but a Waichia at that especially in front of the prince. You were the second in command of the guardians, which meant you had the ear of all of us including the leader. You were in a pretty powerful position and you were of the Waichia which meant you had the abilities to sway those around you.”

“What are you saying?”

“I am saying, what if the Waichia manipulated you to control us.”

Chochi bowed his head, “That would make me unreliable as a guardian.”

“Which would explain your erratic behavior. Let’s face it Chochi, you are acting like me. There is something not right with this world, when I am the reasonable one.”

Chochi shook his head as he smiled briefly then the realization of what he had done hit him, “Tationy. What did I do?” His question was rhetorical as he banged his head against the door.

“For a stupid girl, she is pretty perceptive. She knows that was not you.”

“I can’t be trusted around her. I need to leave.”

“You’re right, we do. We need to stop Otoha from killing Taku. I mean fuck if he deserves it, then by all means I will kill him myself, but him screwing her and not mentioning it is not enough reason, besides that little prick Sohma is all Hamara. Those scumbags are about as trustworthy as the Ishi.”

“How long were you listening?”

“Long enough.” Abe remarked. “You think it is alright to leave her with Kari and the others?”

“I don’t like the idea, but I am a danger until I know what was done to my memory.” Abe gave him a single nod of acknowledgement. They could tell the others that they were leaving, but they knew well enough that the others had gathered the moment the arguing began. There was no need for them to explain. Chochi desperately wanted to speak with Tationy, apologize even for what he had said and done. That was an ugly side to him that he never wanted to display and he could not be certain it would not come out again.

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They had escaped through the back entrance of the Retreat of the Empress. Chochi stopped moving the moment Abe’s body came to a halt. “What is wrong?” He questioned as he noticed Abe turn around and he followed suit, there she was standing there. When Chochi went after her Abe stopped him.

“What do you think you are doing, Sweela?”

She made a gestured with her hands before placing them on her hips and staring at the two of them. “You think we are going to take you with us? You betrayed Aslann.” Chochi voiced.

“She never betrayed the prince though.” Abe stated and Chochi crossed his arms turning his gaze on Abe. “If they betray their masters they kill themselves that is how it works right?” Chochi gave a brief nod of his head, “Her master was not Aslann, it was the prince. Which means, she did exactly what the prince told her to do.”

Chochi frowned, between what Sohma told him, what he learned on his own, and now what Abe was saying he worried what this meant. Was the Prince truly conspiring behind closed doors? “Why?” He asked more to himself.

Abe responded though, “You’re the Waichia, we got a long trip back to Aslann that is plenty of time to find out. She likes it rough, so don’t hold back.”

“I don’t even want to know how you know that.” Chochi remarked. Moochie locked eyes on Abe, before gesturing with her hands. Chochi laughed. “She says you’re a pig. Seems all of the Sweela have plenty to say about you.”

“I am a pig? She was the one on all fours acting like one no more than a few hours ago.”

Chochi scrunched up his nose, “I did not need to know that.” He really did not like the idea of taking her with them, but she was honestly the best source of knowledge regarding the prince. “Keep up or you will be left behind.” Chochi responded and Moochie simply gave a nod of her head as they departed the Retreat of the Empress.

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As the Elder Waichia sat with the others within the Retreat of the Empress, he allowed himself to get lost in thought, back to when he first met the Prince of Aslann. The new Elder of the Waichia was exhausted. He had spent the better part of the day in meetings discussing matters that were considered important to the Waichia, by the time he had a moment to himself, he quickly retreated to his room. He closed his eyes leaning against the door and sighing deeply. “It can’t be all that bad.” A voice broke the relative silence and caused him to jump. He glanced about, seeing the silhouette of a person through the curtains surrounding his bedchamber.

He instinctively went for his swords, realizing unfortunately that he had left them locked into their shelving on the wall at the top of the bed. He stepped forward cautiously, pulling back the curtain enough to see. His mouth agape as he caught sight of the Prince of Aslann sitting on the edge of his bed. “Prince Tatsuya.” He said as he instantly bowed.

“Oh I was told the Elder of the Waichia was both young and beautiful, seems the word of mouth these days is far more reliable.” The Prince said glancing toward the Elder, who lifted himself from his bow and glanced at the Prince. He stepped forward, allowing the curtain to close behind him, his hand went behind his back. He did his best to keep the most proper of self-presentation in front of the young lord.

“I am both honored and confused by your visit, Prince Tatsuya. Generally such meetings take place…” He blushed.

The young prince chuckled softly, “Are you afraid of me, Elder Waichia?”

“I would be a fool not to be, Prince Tatsuya.”

“What a wise answer. Are you uncomfortable with my presence in your bedchamber?”

“I am.” He said and then tried to take it back.

The prince laughed softly, “I promise to keep my clothes on, if that will ease your troubled mind.”

“No my lord, I mean yes my lord, I mean…You are the Lord of Aslann, if it pleases you, make me uncomfortable…”

Prince Tatsuya laughed again, “You are a funny Waichia.”

“Forgive me, Prince Tatsuya. I was not expecting to meet you so soon. I have not had time to prepare for this meeting. I fear I might be making a fool of myself and the Waichia.”

Prince Tatsuya watched the Waichia for a moment. The hard look the prince gave the Waichia caused him to frown inwardly, certain that he perhaps spoke out of turn or had offended the young prince. “Has your clan told you everything?” Somehow Oji was certain that what the young prince was speaking of was the union with the Waichia. He simply gave a nervous nod of his head. “Then you are aware that I have disagreed with this from the beginning?”

“Yes Prince Tatsuya.”

“If you help me I shall honor that agreement, but if you go against me I will make certain that the Waichia fall.”

“Help you with what?”

“Long ago the Saitama came to visit me and informed me a most unbelievable tale. To sum it up, I am to be killed by my own people, my father to be exact and betrayed by my very own guardians. I received some information recently that Saitama are being placed in positions of power; you, Toshiro Waichia who now leads the secondary branch of the Waichia. The Takahashi are pushing to have Hero Takahashi take the Elder position. Toshiko Kensuku is being groomed to replace Tien Kensuku, so on and so forth. This is all part of a conspiracy that started long before I was even born, by the Waichia.”

Oji made a face, “Such a thing…”

“You feel you have earned this position on your own accord? You whose mother was a slave and whose father kept her as such never allowing her to walk outside these grounds. No matter what his reasons, no matter his words, he kept her in her place a place you have known well yourself. Then one day, you are looked at for a position such as Elder. You are never on your own, I am told that always at your side is Takuya of the Waichia, this is not coincidence. This is to ensure that you do as they wish of you and to ensure that they can control you. Check your memories, I am sure you will find that they have in fact been tampered with.”

Oji wanted to object, but it was easier to protest something as not being true with proof so he did as he was told and checked his memories. He frowned deeply. “You are not the only one. Ritsu Waichia thinks me so blind, when I was little he had the nerve to mess with my guardians memory right before me. I need you to find out how deep this goes within the Waichia. There will come a point when I will be killed, rest assure you will see me again though perhaps not in this form.”

“Is that all you need of me?”

“No. When I return, I will not have my memory. My guardian Atsuki, will perform a technique on it after I am injured and lock it away. I need you to protect something for me.”

“What is it Prince Tatsuya?”

“I will be brought to you at some point, make certain Takuya of the Waichia does not get what is in my head no matter what. Protect it and when this is all over I shall honor that agreement. There will be a union between the Tylo and the Waichia.”

The prince hopped down from where she had been sitting. “Prince Tatsuya.” Oji said, halting the prince’s departure, “Have the cursed eyes developed?”

“They have. I see things far more clearly than I have ever before. I know who to trust and who not too, but Atsuki will lock it all inside my head and after this I, will not be able to retrieve it.”

“Why not tell me it all?”

“The future is ever changing. One decision changes the outcome and potentially changes the list of betrayers. I wish it was so simple, but by the time we meet again nothing will be certain.”

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“Is she alright?” Chee asked as Hero rejoined the group. He had been upstairs with Tatsuya, helping with Tationy.

He leaned against the wall, glancing out the window a moment before looking back to the group. “Tatsuya is managing her.”

Chee smirked, “My, my I imagine she is in a right state.”

“She is oddly composed, it troubles Tatsuya.”

“Considering what just happened, he is probably right to be concerned. We all heard it, do you think what was said is true? You think Ritsu Waichia really tampered with his memory?”

Oji pushed the thoughts from the past away. “Ritsu could not do it alone.” Oji remarked.

“So who would help him do such a thing to a guardian of the prince?” Chee questioned more to himself than to anyone else.

“It would have had to have been someone that could get close to him.” Hero remarked. “We all have our own feelings on the man, but let’s give credit where it is due. Not just anyone could manipulate him, he is too loyal.”

“He has a brother.” Mikio remarked. “Maito.”

“Ohh that is his brother? Wasn’t there some big fuss within the Waichia because he started dressing like a woman or something? Guy got himself kicked out of his own clan.”

Oji frowned, “There were circumstances beyond that, but Maito did disgrace himself and the name of the Waichia by lowering himself in such a fashion. He is not powerful enough though to accomplish an alteration of the memories of someone Aoba’s strength. He would need help.”

“Togore.” Mikio said.

Hiko turned his attention toward Mikio, “The Ishi are a lot of things, but stupid is not one of them. Tampering with a guardian of any member of the royal family is a death sentence, what would he gain by such a treasonous act?”

“The Ishi have long been unsettled by this union between the Waichia and the Prince. They felt it would cause issues on a larger scale and many Ishi including Togore and Kuro voiced their concerns directly to the Emperor and Elder Waichia’s predecessor, Yuudai.”

“Well that explains that.” Chee said with a shrug, “Makes a lot of sense. The Hamara have also not been happy with the union.”

Hero gave a brief nod of his head, “The Takahashi as well.”

“You would have to ask Suya.” Hiko remarked gauging the looks of question he was getting from the group.

“Well the Kari aside. We know that the Kensuku are pushing forward a plan to out the current Emperor and severe relationships between him and the Waichia. We are all well-aware that the Takahashi, Hamara, and Ishi are involved. So the biggest question is, how do the Saitama play a part in all of this?” Chee said.

“Speaking of the Saitama, has anyone seen them since that argument started?” Hero questioned.

“I don’t like this.” Hiko remarked when they all spoke up remarking that they had not seen them in some time.

“The female Saitama called Agara, offered to allow me to read her mind.” Oji mentioned, “I have a feeling she was trying to accomplish something.”

“Hiko and I are both in agreement about not trusting them.” Mikio remarked.

“What if their agenda is the same as all the clans in Aslann?” Chee questioned. The group gave him curious looks so he continued, “The Saitama are a clan of slaves that has served the Dragon Lords since their very creation right? According to Jin, when he would teach us elders when we were children the Saitama are the most powerful clan both in skill and size and are only rivaled by the Kensuku. Remember what the Waichia said that the prince entered into a union with a slave. Tationy does not remember that union, so perhaps the Saitama are trying to build on it.”

“I cannot believe I am saying this, but Chee is probably right.” Hero voiced. “They play on her sympathies regarding slaves. Enter into an agreement with her of some form to serve her, which allows them to remain close and work to secure that position and the power. Once they have it, it is anyone’s guess what they will do with it, but the Saitama have always been a war race.”

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The group grew quiet as Tatsuya entered the room. His expression was solemn and it was obvious to all of them he was lost in thought. “Yo, Suya.” Hiko voiced and Tatsuya glanced at him only briefly.

Hero gauged the expression on Tatsuya’s face, “Tatsuya, is she alright?”

“This can’t go on like this.” Tatsuya remarked. The men in the room grew silent, “Oji you and Takuya have been my closest friends, please let this go.”

“Suya…What is wrong?” Hiko questioned.

“Oji has the power to stop his clan. If that union is dissolved all of this nonsense ends.”

“It is not that simple.” Oji remarked.

“Is this union so important to you Waichia that you are willing to destroy her and the Great Nation of Aslann?” Tatsuya’s voice raised, it was not something the Kari did. They hid well all emotional responses. Such things were not allowed to be shown, it was not their way. “We can end this right here. Here, at this table, are the Elders of the Hamara, Kari, and Waichia. Also, the Ishi that everyone knows is Jin’s replacement and the Takahashi that has been asked numerous times to lead his clan. Lets resolve this. The Prince of Aslann…no the Princess of Aslann did not enter into that agreement, her father did. The Emperor has betrayed his kingdom and his people long before she was even born. Certainly we reasonable men can come to an agreement that will appease the Takahashi, Kensuku, Waichia, Kari, Hamara, and all the other clans of Aslann so that she might not suffer any longer.”

Oji bowed his head, as much as he wanted to agree it was not such a simple thing. “Then what Tatsuya. We come to some agreement the honorable men in this room, only to have one clan not agree to it. Then, we are back where we were.”

“Why is this so important to you?’

“None of the clans here have ever been allowed to have a union with the royal family. Don’t you think it is time?” Oji questioned.

“It should be her choice.”

“She decided.” Oji snapped as he stood and turned his back to the group.

“What are you talking about?” Mikio questioned.

“She came to see me.”

“Oji…” Hero voiced sternly.

Eyes shifted between the two of them, “We should just tell them Hero.”

“We are not suppose too. If the Prince of Aslann wanted them to know she would have gone to them and not us.”

“Yo Hero…” Hiko said sharply, “My patience is thin, if you got something to say, then say it.”

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Oji retook his seat as Hero looked at Tatsuya. Tatsuya was not happy with him, he could tell by the expression on his face and the way his eyes averted. He sighed inwardly, “Yanagi came to see me, before the military along with the Prince traveled to the lands of the Dragon Lords.”

“Yanagi, about what?” Chee questioned.

“The Saitama had paid a visit to the prince, when she was about six years of age. Told some wild tale about betrayal involving the Emperor, The Waichia, and even some of the Guardians of the young Prince. Made an offer to Prince Tatsuya that when the Prince traveled to the Lands of the Dragon Lords that it meant the prince agreed to their offer.”

“What was the offer?”

“Don’t know, Yanagi did not tell me. He told me that the reason he was there had nothing to do with all of that. That he was only telling me because it was important for me to understand why what he was going to ask me was necessary.”

“What did he want you to do?”

“To refuse the leadership of my clan. My name along with numerous others who had Saitama blood were being put into positions of power, courtesy of the Waichia. We were to be scapegoats if anything went wrong with the Waichia’s plan to have an heir produced and then assassinate the prince. It was too late for them to stop Oji and several others from accepting the positions of Elder, had they been a few hours later I would be in the same situation Oji is.”

“So it was an assassination list?” Mikio questioned.

“Yes. The Prince went to see Oji, though did not explain in detail about the list. It was too dangerous for him to know, given that he was closest to the manipulators. Yanagi asked me to keep an eye on Oji, said that his survival out of all of the half Saitama put into power was most important because he was the only one that could control the Waichia once their plan was finished.”

“What plan? Tatsuya questioned.

“I do not know the details. Yanagi said that he and the Prince worked out a plan to deal with the situation, but it would take time. He said that he did not expect me to believe him that I would come to believe it to be true because of you and Hiko. Your odd behavior when she returned.”

“The Waichia told the Prince during their argument that he talked to Sohma. That’s Yanagi.” Chee remarked, “So was that part of the plan? Are the Prince and Yanagi messing with the Waichia Guardian, and if so why?”

“The Prince was well-aware that Ritsu had messed with the memory of her Waichia guardian.” Oji spoke up. “She told me as much when she visited me.”

Chee screamed in frustration. “Just when I think I got something figured out, something else happens and I lose my place.”

“Maybe that is the point.” Mikio commented.

“Yanagi is playing both sides. Keeping his loyalty to the prince and betraying her at the same time.” Hiko said with a noticeable frown.

“So who do we trust?” Chee questioned.

“Well I think we can all agree that the Saitama have an agenda that needs to be stopped. The fact that they are suddenly absent causes me great concern. I think we should probably leave, before they return.” Oji remarked.

“Unfortunately, they will most likely not allow us to just leave.” Chee voiced.

“Ahh, they will definitely pursue us.” Hiko stated.

“I will stay.” Mikio spoke up.

“My, My can’t let you have all the fun.” Chee voiced acknowledging that he would as well stay.

Oji gave a brief nod of his head. “Hiko should probably take the prince and leave. Tatsuya and Hero should probably follow, masking their path.”

Hiko eyed Oji, but before he had a chance to disagree with the plan, Hero had said it was a good idea. “Find someplace to hide. Don’t do anything to stand out. Whatever the two of you have to do to blend, do it. The rest of us will do our best to mask your retreat and keep the Saitama occupied. As soon as we can, we will rejoin you.”

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Oji had watched as the others one by one depart the estate. He told Mikio and Chee that he would meet up with them, saying that he was going to search the estate before he left for any information that might be useful. He sat alone in the main room of the estate until she stood before him.

“Is it done?” She asked him.

“It is.”

“Your brother disagrees with this decision.”

“Bóre would never be able to make her fall in love with him. Her feelings for Hiko and his for her are too strong.”

“This seems to be a true statement, however Bóre has Kari blood just as you have Waichia. Certainly he is right to feel that he should have been allowed to attempt…”

“Agara.” Oji said, “It is done.”

“You are right. We Saitama know better than to try to go against the wishes of the Dragon Lords. We are concerned though.”

“Bóre may have Kari blood running through his veins, but he is a far cry from the King of the Gods. Hiko out of all the Kari embodies the great God King, we knew this from the time he was a child. If we are to resurrect Tearra, Kazuma, Hisoka, Rin, and Ryozo we must first set strife upon them.”

“You truly believe they will follow the same path?”

“They already do. Mikio desires Tationy. The more his insanity wanes the more those feelings will surface. Chee wants love in all of its forms and he ignores her entirely because he cannot control himself around her. Chochi wants to devour the lands like the great God of War and his anger blazes stronger and hotter when it comes to Tationy. Hiko like the Great God King, sees no one else. He knows deep within him that she will always belong to him, he is confident enough to believe that she will forever be his.”

“I believe Hero will be an issue.”

“Hero’s impure blood will not cause us troubles.”

“We were surprised to discover that his father was Saitama and not his mother. We were also surprised that you manipulated him into going to the bedchamber of that Kari Elder. You have done much manipulating this day.”

“Do you fear me?”

“We Saitama would be fools not to fear such power. We wonder what is truth and what is an illusion.”

“What is truth?” Oji repeated and then smiled, “Truth is, never as easy to see as people would like it to be. Is the Prince manipulating those around her, are her guardians plotting and planning, is the Emperor really such a vicious beast, perhaps it is all truth or perhaps it is a truth fabricated by a powerful individual to accomplish a goal for equally powerful individuals. Only time will tell what truth remains.”

Agara gave a bow of her head, “Will you be leaving for Aslann then?”

“I will, there are matters that need attending.”

“We Saitama wish you well on your journey then, Lord Shima. Please give our regards to the other Dragon Lords.” She remarked with a bow.

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The majestic imperial city sprawled out for miles in many directions. Looking out over the cliff it was easy to get lost in thought. It was a remarkable city, Aslann. Once part of the lands of the Dragon Lords, before that part of the Kingdom of Heaven. It was so easy to lose track of whom you were and what you were doing as you glanced upon it.

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Oji tilted his head slightly when he heard horses moving along the road behind him. Not many people traveled the upper cliffs of Aslann. They were dangerous and only the most seasoned of riders took those roads. He knew well who was bold enough to travel those paths. “How was your journey?” One of the riders asked as the two of them halted their horses near where Oji was gazing at Aslann.

“It went as expected.” Oji remarked. “How have things been here?”

“Relatively quiet.” Guiren remarked. “Senri and the Hamara, Yanagi are working hard to break the Nakamaru without any success.”

“I am always amazed at how resilient the Nakamaru are.” Oji responded.

“It is even more impressive knowing that Togore and Maito are trying to assist in the matter, unsuccessfully. You have been gone a long time Oji, yet it is as if you just left. They are no closer to getting what they want.” Guiren said as an amused smile graced his lips.

“A little manipulation and Aslann breaks so easily.”

“Toshiko, you seem happy.” Oji remarked.

“This is the closest we have come to reclaiming Aslann and resurrecting the Gods, it brings me a small amount of amusement watching them all chase their tails like the dogs they are. We may actually see our goals come to fruition with these eyes.”

“Would be nice. I am getting rather tired of dieing only to have to start this all over again.” Guiren remarked.

“The Gods blessed us with eternal life, unfortunately not our bodies. If the Ishi understood a fraction of knowledge they possess they would have taken control of Aslann long ago.” Toshiko spoke.

“Speaking of the Ishi, there are matters we should discuss.” Oji responded.

“Of course.” Toshiko remarked as the three quickly departed to a more secure location.

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“It disgust me.” Toshiko spoke harshly. “They have lost all respect for the land, for the shrines and temples to the gods, for the entire kingdom of Aslann.” He bowed his head as he exhaled. “The chimes no longer sing. Tearra’s love no longer reaches this place.”

“Speaking of Tearra, what is she like?” Guiren questioned as he moved toward the shrine bowing before it before cleaning up the dried flowers that were littered around the statue of Tearra and her child, Mikio.

Oji considered the question as he stepped forward, bowing before taking a seat near the edge. “She is nothing special.”

Guiren lifted his head to glance at Oji frowning, “I would have expected her to be at least unique or amazing. I only got a glimpse of her a few times, she seemed fairly normal. I was hoping that she was only unremarkable in looks and all of her qualities were in whom she is as a person.”

“No she is pretty unremarkable all around. She certainly does not have the personality of Prince Tatsuya.”

Toshiko chuckled as he bowed slightly, “Well Prince Tatsuya managed to make one of the Great Dragon Lords tremble just by her proximity.”

Oji blushed noticeably which caused Guiren and Toshiko to both smile. “It is true. This body may be young, but my soul is as old as the Earth and somehow she managed to make me feel something I had not in centuries. However, this girl Tationy is a far-cry from Prince Tatsuya.”

“That is disappointing.” Guiren responded as he took a seat next to Oji. “Taku speaks of his love for her often, though like the others he is just placing his feelings for Prince Tatsuya onto her. He really seems to know nothing about her.”

“None of them seem too. They all see her as simply Prince Tatsuya. It causes its own issues as you can well imagine. They all want her to simply accept being Prince Tatsuya.”

“How much of her memory has returned.” Toshiko questioned.

“Only a handful of things, nothing of any consequence.”

“Oh so the Nakamaru’s work is still holding strong even under all of the torture he is being put through. That is pretty impressive.” Guiren voiced.

“It cannot last.” Toshiko stated. “Eventually he will either break or they will. Either way the end result is that her memory will return.”

“That will not be an issue.” Oji voiced. “I took care of her memory. The only way it will be freed is if I cease to exist entirely.”

“You’re pretty cruel Oji, locking a girl’s memory away.” Guiren said.

“It was necessary.”

“Did the Saitama do as they were asked?” Toshiko questioned as he moved toward his comrades and took a seat.

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There was no wind. The chimes remained still and even though there was a soft mist that lingered around the shrine the day was clear. It was a somber atmosphere. “They did, though Bóre feels we are making a mistake pushing Hiko Kari and Tationy together. He feels he is better suited.”

“His weak Kari blood has been deluded through the years. Several generations back, his blood would have been the right choice, but he is more Saitama now than Kari.” Guiren remarked.

“Yes, though he does not see it that way. He feels he could make her fall in love with him.”

Toshiko released an exasperated sigh, “Your brother is becoming troublesome, Oji. Your mother should have killed him the day he was born.”

“He is powerful within the Saitama, as their leader killing him now would have disastrous consequences.” Oji explained.

“You are right, we were fools and waited far too long. Now he simply cannot be touched by our hands.” Toshiko responded.

“For the time being, the situation with him is under control, though Agara is just as dangerous as he is. Muramasa will keep me appraised of the situation, should anything transpire.”

“You are certain Muramasa will do as is required?” Guiren questioned.

“I am. I left a little present in his head when I left. Though, I should mention that Agara tried to engage me in reading her mind.”

“Oh, what is that minx up too?” Guiren smiled as he considered possible answers to his own question.

“I hope you were not foolish enough to play her game Oji.” Toshiko said sternly.

“Of course not, though I admit I was tempted. The mind of the Saitama witch must be filled with remarkable things, but her blood combination of Saitama and Nakamaru makes such a thing far to dangerous even for me.”

“So is the Waichia heading back here?”

“He is, though he is not alone. The Sosa is with him and the servant of the prince, Moochie. They are heading this way to try and stop the Sweela guardian from killing the Kensuku guardian.”

“This is perfect.” Guiren responded. “We have an opportunity to take the servant and find out exactly what information she has regarding Prince Tatsuya’s plan. We have pieced together what we could from available information, but to actually be able to dissect the mind of someone close to it, could be invaluable.”

“Certainly such information will be valuable, Guiren. However, it will not be easy to take her. She managed to escape from Aslann and evade her clan long enough to reach Torgahdah.” Toshiko stated.

“Perhaps it is time we let the Sweela lose. They are tired of playing dead after all.”

“It is too soon. They are still blood bound to the emperor, until he is dead they need to stay where they are. We have them convinced that the Emperor has betrayed not just the kingdom, but the rest of the Tylo Clan so they are currently struggling with whom their allegiance is too; the clan or the emperor. While that struggle persist, we have control. We lose that if we let them loose too soon.”

“So how do we want to handle the return of the Waichia and the others?”

“They plan on going after Ritsu.” Oji stated.

“Dangerous business tampering with the mind of a Waichia, Oji.” Guiren said with a chuckle.

“It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. His anger rivals that of the great God of War. Almost everything set him off when it came to Tationy. Once he was angry enough, it was just a simple matter of offering support and then giving him a push. His anger became so great he even confronted her. I was a little worried for a moment, I thought for certain he was actually going to take her. Would have ruined everything, but he has a great deal of control over himself.”

“So will we be allowing them to take Ritsu?”

Toshiko shrugged his shoulders, “Ritsu is of no use to us any longer. He served his purpose, just like his father and uncle. We never had any intention in allowing this union between the Waichia and the Prince to happen, it was simply used to disrupt the flow of Aslann by causing conflict between the clans. Oji, make certain that Ritsu’s mind directs the Waichia and his comrades to Togore Ishi and Maito Waichia as conspirators. This pair together is dangerous and should be able to keep them occupied for a long time.”

Oji simply gave a nod of his head. “Takuya worries me.” Oji finally spoke, “Before I left he was growing suspicious of things that were transpiring around the Waichia.”

“Are you certain you are not reading into it, after all he was meant to be the Elder of the Waichia before it was given to you.”

“I would like to think that was all it is, Toshiko, but Takuya is a genius. He, Mikio Ishi, and Tien Kensuku have all the abilities to uncover everything we have weaved perfectly. We have to be careful when it comes to tampering with the Waichia.”

“Noted.” Toshiko responded with a brief nod. “We will be cautious and do what we can to protect Ritsu if it is within our power, though our best bet is probably to use the lesser branch. It would not be unlike them to try to go against the ways of the Waichia. If Ritsu dies we can divert Takuya’s attention to the lesser house as the prime suspects.”

“I can make that happen.” Guiren voiced. “We do have an issue though.”

“What is that?” Oji questioned as he stood and stretched his limbs.

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Guiren glanced up at Oji, before turning his attention to the blue sky. Toshiko smirked, “Guiren has been unable to locate Zen Kari and Oro Ishi. Despite having contacts all over Aslann, they managed to evade his ‘eyes’.” Guiren frowned, “To make matters worse he has also been unable to locate the Takahashi guardian.”

“I have not been unable to, it is simply taking longer than expected.”

“That is unlike you Guiren.” Oji voiced.

“Yeah well, I am pretty busy as it is keeping Taku occupied.”

Oji lips curled into a smile as he chuckled softly as he spoke, “Did the Hamara and Kensuku guardians managed to kill Jin?”

“Like a snake he slithered away. He left them a gift in the form of Nene Ishi.” Guiren explained.

“She was most likely placed to keep an eye on them.”

“Seems logical.” Guiren remarked.

“They underestimate the Ishi, though Jin would not leave Aslann. Such is not his way. He is closer to them, then they realize.” Toshiko spoke.

“Seems unlike him to take such a route, especially after the death of his lover. How is Chee dealing with the loss of the Hamara matriarch?” Guiren rotated his neck and laid back on the landing to the shrine closing his eyes. He could not help, but think back to when he was little, back before he was Guiren of the Takahashi and his mother used to bring him to the Shrine of Tearra.

“Oddly subdue.” Oji spoke. “He is guarding his feelings and keeping his distance from Tationy. He does not wish to blame her, but at the same time he is unable to keep himself from doing just that.”

Guiren stifled a yawn as he spoke, “Tien is pretty good at what he does, it should not be long before they find Jin. When they do, his death should send a shock-wave through the Ishi. They will be fighting over the position of Elder right and left. Don’t suppose Mikio will be making his way back here any time soon?”

“He and Chee are distracting the Saitama. I told them I would meet up with them, but things have already been put into motion for them to hear of my death.” Oji expressed.

“Taking yourself out of our game so soon?” Toshiko said as he stood brushing his clothing off.

“Just giving myself more room to maneuver.” Oji said with a smile. “Takuya will likely seize control of the Waichia. Once he does he will set the Waichia lose in order to find Tationy. It will make the game more fun don’t you think?”

Toshiko laughed heartily, “You are still not certain if it is Aoba or Takuya of the Waichia who truly embodies the God of War Ryozo.”

“There is still a possibility that it is Takuya. He represses much of his emotions, but he loves war as much as the next Waichia. While Aoba is fairly powerful, Takuya’s strength far exceeds his. Thus far, those that have embodied the Gods have been the most powerful of their clans. Tationy of course being the exception, though we cannot say how she will progress as she ages. That could change.”

Toshiko and Guiren silently considered Oji’s words. “It will indeed be fun.” Toshiko finally spoke. “Takuya will stop at nothing to obtain her. We will certainly see the extent of his resolve, if he pursues her for the Waichia. Who knew when we set this into motion that such an unremarkable little girl would be the center of the potential destruction of an entire nation. Tien is concerned about her potential.”

Oji turned his attention toward Toshiko, “Tien is rather laid-back, I was unaware he ever got concerned over anything.”

Toshiko chuckled under his breath, “It is rare, but the elder of the Kensuku does on occasion show that side of himself.” He grew serious as he continued, “He has been troublesome. He has tried to steer both Taku and the Waichia guardian toward a path of clarity. People listen to him. The wise old fool still has a lot of sway when he speaks, we need to remember this. Even though he is choosing to work with the Hamara guardian, we need to make certain he never meets with the Emperor. We want Miroku to remain unreliable and disrespected. If Tien manages to bring him clarity, it will cause us some unwelcome difficulties.”

“Speaking of difficulties.” Oji spoke, “Agara seems concerned over Hero.”

“Hero?” Guiren said as he sat himself up. “Why?”

“She did not go into detail, but it seems to have to do with his parentage.”

“His parentage is rare, but not uncommon. There must be more to her concerns, perhaps she had a vision.” Guiren responded.

“Perhaps.”

“You are not convinced?” Toshiko questioned as he took a step off the landing.

“We have found through the years that when Agara is concerned so should we be, have we not?” Oji questioned.

“You are right, Oji.” Guiren remarked as he moved to stand. “Do we know where he is?”

“No, he and Tatsuya of the Kari are making certain that the Saitama cannot follow Hiko and Tationy.”

“Well then, for the time being it is of no concern. There is nothing he can do, if he is far away from Aslann.” Toshiko said giving a flippant wave of his hand to dismiss the conversation of Hero Takahashi. He looked over his shoulder at the statue of Tearra and the baby Mikio before walking down the steps, “Let’s make Aslann bow to the Dragon Lords of the Shima once again.”

Guiren smiled, “Won’t they be surprised to discover that the Great Dragon Lords have been hiding within their kingdom for centuries?”

“Far to long they have cast us aside as old relics, it is time we repair the damage those dogs have done to this world.” Oji added.

Toshiko looked toward the bright blue sky as his feet hit the last step, “The stain that is Aslann will be cleansed by the resurrection of the Great Gods and hell will come to those that do not bow before them.”

Oji smiled, “It is time for us to set Aslann ablaze.”

“Once were finished, there will be no survivors.” Guiren added.

“As it should be. If they fall, they were not worthy of this world, now let’s free the gods from their mortal prisons.” Toshiko said as he and the other Dragon Lords departed the shrine devoted to Tearra.

To Be Continued