Long ago, in the majestic woods of the Takarada Kingdom, a simple-faced princess candidate stood with her boots in the mud. Kyoko the Plain, single child of the admirable and most ancient House Mogami - a lineage of cooks from Kyoto, had been feeling slightly sick ever since she woke up that morning. It was the afternoon of the spring equinox, and she, along with seven girls, was standing on the edge of the palace gardens.
"Pay attention, brave girls, to the words I say; simple rules should be followed to guide your way," warned Erika the Gifted, who was in charge of the initiation.
"Oh no, please tell me you're not going to rhyme the instructions too," groaned Kanae the Cold Beauty, causing the other girls to giggle.
"Shh now, Lady Kanae, the princess is an expert! I'm sure rhymes were an important part of her past winning strategy," interjected Kimiko the Honeyed Voice, in her grating, nasal tone.
"Or it could be a cheap deception, so we don't take her place next year," suggested Chiori the Cunning, with a sly smile.
"You'll be oblivious without compliance, so I require your silence!" growled Erika.
All the girls stopped immediately. They each hoped to pass the initiation and become the next princess, but they would have to survive the deadly fairy kingdom first. Kyoko, in particular, needed all the help she could get.
"Now, that's proper. In this kingdom only the purest and bravest of heart, tame fairy grandmothers - a fine and dangerous art. In the next three months a wish you should demand, to be the princess and ruler in one of our... land."
"She's missing an S!" whispered Chiori.
"Ahem," Erika cleared her throat, "If, by the summer solstice you fail to enchant the enchanted, you must set them free, that's all the time you've been granted. They will grow bored of pampering and sugar, and will simply kill you."
A shiver went through all of them at the failed rhyme.
"As in all good quests, this one has three tests." She pointed her finger upwards. "First you have to find a fairy ring, wait for the sundown start and step in; it's a portal to their kingdom that only opens in the spring."
That much Kyoko knew. Since she was a child, she saw strange auras coming from the circles of mushrooms. Like any good, sensible person, she made sure to stay away from wild magic.
Erika lifted another perfectly polished finger. "Second, follow after the giggles and trails of fun, you'll find fairies at the end, make sure to pick one. Once your trap of fruits and glitter is in a jar, lay it down nearby because they won't travel far.
The third and final finger joined the others.
"With or without a captured fae you must come back; the third step is to return by sundown, so don't slack! A warning before you go, just one thing makes them mad; do not dare be rude, or they will curse you bad. You, as in, all your ten pretty faces; they don't look at particulars, just races."
"I have a question." Momose The Skilled politely raised her hand. "Why is there a commoner between us? She's not even a low-born noble."
"Shh child, she was personally appointed by the king. Now off you go! PEASANTS OR PRINCESSES!"
"PEASANTS OR PRINCESSES!" screamed Kimiko, Mimori, and Rumiko enthusiastically.
"Peasants or Princesses..." came a weak chorus from Chiori, Kanae, and Momose.
"... peasants," mumbled Kyoko.
Surely, you already guessed that Kyoko was an intruder. For starters, she was so plain that she could never pass for royal by mistake. Someone as polished as Kimiko would be a better princess any day, with her perfect hair, exquisite dresses, and impeccable lineage. Granted that her flawless aura was destroyed as soon as she spoke with that nasally voice, but it was all still very regal.
Kyoko, on the other hand, had a plain, childish face, straight, dark hair, and defined muscles from working hard everyday. At least her eyes were princess like, golden, sparkly, and expressive, but it was as good as nothing since no one cared about her face in the kitchen.
You would never pick her to be the hero of this story, and no matter how much she fantasized about it in private, she'd never be chosen as a princess candidate. In fact, Shotaro made sure to scream this point for the whole kitchen to hear, right as King Lory passed by. His Majesty was highly impressed by her spirit - or perhaps more accurately her punching skills - and ordered her to attend this afternoon meeting with the other potential princesses. "Our kingdom's exceeds in beauty and cunning, but we're lacking in spirit!" were his words.
"Ok girls, now that Rhyme Princess is gone," Kimiko started with her nasaled tone, "I say that if this commoner is so special, she must be able to find her way alone. We nobles should team up."
Kyoko's inner demons perked up at the jab. The king was adamant in his instructions to address others as she would her own kitchen staff. There was no reason to keep a low profile.
"Marvelous plan, Lady Kimiko," she intruded. "I really should rest my unworthy peasant legs, while you brave ladies explore the wild, dangerous woods."
"What do you mean?" inquired Mimori The Bountiful.
"I know where a fairy ring is, my lady. That is, I know where one spawned this morning."
"What a filthy, lying commoner!" Mimori dismissed with a laugh. "How could you possibly?"
Kyoko smoothed her hands over her apron and bowed the prettiest courtesy she was able. "Your faithful servant happened to be gathering mushrooms for breakfast this morning. I can bring you to the place if you wish."
"What a daring little thing you are. Deceptive too, if my instincts are not mistaken." She chirruped a fake laugh, once again. By this point, Kyoko thought, surely her throat must be hurting. "Come, girls, it will be quicker if we bring along the hunting dogs."
Kyoko straightened when she was sure their hideous chatter was far away and was surprised to still see Chiori, Kanae, and Momose waiting in front of her.
"Pardon me, but I didn't catch your name," said Momose.
"Kyoko The Plain, my lady."
Momose held a concentrated expression for a while.
"Very well, Kyoko The Plain! We shall follow your lead, please guide us that remain," she announced.
"C' mon, couldn't you have rhymed with brain?" Chiori smiled devilishly. "Those three sure don't have any."
That brought out a laugh from Kanae, and after some quick introductions and obligatory pleasantries, Kyoko started to feel a tiny bit better. These ladies were not so bad, not at all.
It was an easy walk upriver through the woods. The smell of blooming flowers smoothed the way, and Lady Chiori made sure to keep them all entertained with sordid rumors from previous initiations. The group reached the fairy ring in half an hour, and decided to use the rest of the afternoon to enjoy a picnic with the excess food, since they had much too much just for bait. When the sun descended, the potential princess candidates were all ready and well rested.
Kyoko could feel when the mushroom circle trembled, and the aura changed around it, emanating a sweet taste that sprinkled onto her nose. The princess candidates stepped in one by one, jars in hand.
The change was immediate.
As Kyoko lowered her foot, the sky rotated in the background of a pantomime, and the air glowed with a pink and blue shimmer, like a world inside a soap bubble.
Childlike giggling caught her attention, and after a quick search, they identified a fairy party near the river bank. There were more of them in that crevice than she imagined could exist in the entire world. A massive swarm of tiny creatures flew around, creating streams of shifting color in the air. Their music was so contagious that it reverberated throughout her body, making her heart beat in unison.
In the corner of her eye, Kyoko saw the others scattered around.
Lady Kanae chose to pursue a blue-winged stream, Lady Chiori was enchanted by some purple fairies, and oddly enough, Lady Momose was surrounded by a crowd of the creatures as soon as she opened her jar.
Kyoko panicked a little. She had no idea what was a good or a bad option; they all looked alike! She decided to pursue one that was far away from the group on top of a rock, an easier target. She set the jar behind it.
It looked at her through its sparkly fringe of golden hair.
"Really?" It said. "You want to lure me?"
"Aaaaahn," was all that she mustered. She had heard a lot of advice, but no one prepared her with 'the best arguments to win against a fairy'.
"Fine, fine I'll play along." It rolled its tiny eyes at her. "Glass jar and food and a wannabe princess, oh my..."
It nonchalantly walked into the jar, kicked a piece of cake loose and started munching on it. She closed the lid with trembling fingers. She did it. She actually did it!
As Kyoko began her retreat to the portal, the little fairy opened its mouth and let a sparkly stream of goo run down over the cake.
"Blerg, this is sweeeeeeet." It spat. "I only like salty treats!"
"S-Sorry little enchanted," she tried to be polite. "I just ate the last of my bread and cheese."
It put both hands on its hips.
"Argh. I tried, I really did, but I can't do it."
The next words were loud and cast otherworldly inside her head.
"SUBJECTS, THIS PLAIN GIRL GOT ME TRAPPED IN A JAR OF SWEETS. GET ME OUT THIS INSTANT!"
Apparently, the message played in the fairies' heads too, since all giggling died instantly and they were suddenly airborne.
"RUN!" Kyoko screamed at the top of her lungs, running erratically to avoid the jets of magic hurtling towards her.
"Trip and fall, stupid noble!" She heard its tiny voice filled with anger.
Very briefly, her legs went slack, but she recovered quickly and kept her pace. Luckily, the portal was nearby. Kyoko managed to jump inside right after Lady Momose, the last one. They ran until the sky was dark and breathlessly reached the castle grounds.
"What did you do?" asked a panting Chiori. "I've never heard of the fairies being mad like this before!"
"I don't know!" she sat in the grass. "I followed what Lady Erika said, but apparently it dislikes sweets."
"And how do you know that?" asked Kanae, clutching her side.
"It won't shut up about it!" Kyoko ran a hand through her uneven hair.
"What?" Chiori questioned. "Can you understand what it says?"
"Can't you?" Kyoko lifted the jar, presenting the tiny creature to them. He was busy alternating between sticking out his tongue and taunting her with low words that only stable boys were supposed to know.
Momose, Chiori, and Kanae stared at it, wide-eyed.
"Why did you grab a male fairy?"
"What?" Kyoko squinted. "How would I know it's male?"
"Just look at its masculine face!" Momose raged. "Didn't you check before luring it in?"
"I wanted to be quick!" Kyoko stammered. "His voice was so high pitched and I thought…"
Suddenly, the jar slid through her numb fingers.
"Behold," Kimiko's smile was venomous, like an evil child for whom Christmas came early, "the peasant has a fairy-grandfather!"
As mentioned in my short story collection, this is a story based on a prompt to merge another tale I love with Skip Beat. I went with a How to Train your Dragon book adaptation.