Disclaimer: Own these? Not I, say wise woman, say wise man, I own not.

Nabiki was born a Princess, and raised to believe that she deserved everything the world had to offer. She was also of a practical and conniving nature. So when the dragon Kestrel stole her away from her parents, she decided to turn it to her advantage.

Truth be told, if she hadn't been wandering around at night following the bogus treasure map her idiot father had given her, she would never have been kidnapped.

Regardless, after a few days with Kestrel it became quite obvious that he had more need of a maid than a snack, so she was to be kept alive in that capacity. Her pragmatic nature asserted itself, and she began wandering the village below Kestrel's mountain. Every time she saw something someone didn't want her to see, she would blackmail them into doing her chores for her—and it quickly became more than that. Kestrel loved his cruel little maid, and they began to work together terrorizing the countryside. He would back up her blackmail with threats of fire. Soon, they had almost more gold than their cavern could contain, and began looking for a new lair.

She was seven.

Her father came to rescue her when she was twelve, but she would have none of it. By the time she was seventeen, she was the richest human being on the continent. Technically it was all Kestrel's gold, but she had more use for it than him and thought of it as hers.

That much money is a powerful motivator. Treasure hunters began to come. At first, only the incompetents, but then. . . then the real professionals arrived, and it was only a matter of time before someone killed her dragon. So, one autumn evening, Kestrel met his end, and Nabiki met the beginning of a long, tortured journey.

She dared not tell the men who she really was, for fear of being held for ransom, with little bits of her being shipped off to her father. So she kept silent, and they assumed she was just another village chit, risen to prominence with theft and blackmail. When men like that have a simple village chit in their grasp, a girl with no family, no power, no weapons, they do certain horrible things to her.

And so they did.

She was left, ruined and without a hope of reception at her father's court, to find a place to live in winter. She wandered, starving, until she fell at the kitchen door of a small, humble castle. They took her in, gave her work, gave her food and shelter and cuffs on the ear when she was insolent.

Nabiki, of course, had never hated anyone so much in her entire life as she hated the Princess that lived in that castle. The girl was too pretty, too kind, too GOOD in all senses of the word—and too lucky. She was also arranged to be married. The day came when her mother was to ship her off to meet her husband, and Nabiki arranged to be her escort.

The foolish queen was sending her only child across the country with just one maid. Of course, as Nabiki discovered, that was not all she girl carried with her. Her mother gave her a handkerchief, with three drops of her own blood soaked into it. The Princess was told to always keep it with her, as it gave her a sort of magical protection. Then they were off—Nabiki on an old nag, and the Princess on a talking horse called Falada.

After they had traveled a while, the Princess asked Nabiki to get down and fetch her a drink from the stream. Nabiki, cross and thirsty herself in the midday sun, refused. A bit puzzled, the Princess dismounted herself and bent down to drink out of the stream.

"Oh, dear," the pretty girl muttered. Nabiki rolled her eyes. But she distinctly heard another voice say, "If your mother only knew, her heart would surely break in two." And as it was not her, and it was not Falada, it could be nothing but the three drops of blood on the handkerchief.

A little further down the road, the same thing happened. But this time, when the Princess bent over to drink, the handkerchief slipped out of her bodice and was carried down the stream. Nabiki noted this, and decided to use it to her advantage. She dismounted, strode over to the Princess, and grabbed a good fistful of that long, golden hair.

"You listen now, and you listen good," she hissed, dragging the Princess to her knees. "I am going to marry your Prince, and you are going to be the maid. Do you understand?"

The poor girl could only whimper.

"Do you understand?" she asked again, taking a knife out of the top of her boot. "If you're too blonde for this kind of thing, I'll just cut your throat and be done with it. Swear to me that you will never breathe a word to another soul about your true name! About who you really are!" Nabiki shook the Princess, and she cried out. "About who I really am! SWEAR!"

"I swear!" the girl choked out, tears streaming down her face.

"Swear on your soul!"

"I swear. . . on my soul."

"Good," Nabiki muttered, releasing her. "Then get out of those fine clothes, because I mean to wear them."

When they arrived at the palace, Nabiki had Falada killed and the Princess sent out to watch geese with a lusty young man named Curdken. She thought her troubles were over. If the Prince was not the brightest crayon in the box, that was just as well. He was rich, and he was handsome, and his stupidity just made her life all the easier.

But the Princess was not quite as stupid as she looked. She bought Falada's head from the butcher, and hung it over the entrance to the castle. Every day, as she was herding the geese, she would talk with the horse-head. And every afternoon, as she was watching the geese, she would avoid Curdken's advances with all the grace of an old pro. It didn't take the King long to realize that he had an unusual goose girl, and he called the Princess into his presence.

He asked her to tell him her story.

She refused.

So he made her climb into an oven.

And when she was very frightened, and hot, and she didn't think anyone could hear her. . . she began, sobbingly, to tell her story. Of course, as soon as the King realized Nabiki was not the true Princess, he felt relieved. Nabiki scared him witless, and he couldn't imagine having her for a daughter-in-law.

So, that night at supper, he asked Nabiki what should be done to a traitor who has deceived everyone. And Nabiki, suspecting no foul play, said that such a person should be stripped naked, put into a barrel that has had nails hammered through he wood until the inside is covered in spikes, and dragged in that barrel behind two horses until dead.

She had a vindictive streak. It did not hold her in good stead.

(Meanwhile, the Wandering Pig)

A long time ago, in the time of Ryouga's father, a wind wizard's son came to the Hibiki kingdom with his bride. He understood the speech of birds, and knew all kinds of medicines. His wife, a pretty woman named Kasumi, was so kind and industrious that everyone loved her. They were very happy, and their happiness made the castle a brighter place.

It was the wind wizard's son, a man called Tofu, who found Ryouga. Without meaning to, the young King had wandered straight home. Tofu found him walking circles around an azalea bush in the castle garden. When he was brought back to himself through the agency of hot water, and given some clothes, he told his story to the wind wizard's son and her wife.

"But what happened to the Princess? Is she all right? Ryouga-kun, how could you let this happen?" Kasumi asked, tears welling in her eyes. Tofu put a hand on her shoulder, before turning stern eyes back to Ryouga.

"I trust you intend to find her?" he asked. Ryouga nodded, staring at Kasumi—who was rapidly disentigrating into a sobbing mess.

"Is she. . . is she going to be all right?" he asked, a bit nervously. He'd never seen Kasumi cry before, and he hated being the one that brought it on. Tofu turned a bit pink around the edges, and he coughed as if clearing his throat.

"Yes, of course. She. . . she was just looking forward to your nuptials," Tofu said. He quickly changed the subject. "Well, with your sense of direction, you'll need a whole hunting party to help you track them down."

Of course, Kasumi would not be all right. She was looking forward to seeing her sister again—but if she wanted to stay with her husband, a lowly man of medicine, she could never let anyone know just whose sister she was.

"I'll begin forming the hunting party right away," Ryouga promised, his face grim. "She chose me, and there's no way in hell I'm going to give her up."

(Back to Nabiki's Horrifying Demise)

"Please, please stop," she sobbed, as her beautiful clothes were torn from her, piece by piece. At last, she stood in only her shift, surrounded by men of the village. On of them, leering without teeth, made a lunge for her chest. She screamed and slapped at him, but it was no use.

The barrel was ready, the horses were impatient to begin. And no one was there to care what happened to the condemned before her sentence was carried out.

Meaty hands gripped her waist, pulled her shift apart until she was standing there in shreds. . .but she wasn't standing long. Someone pulled her back, pulled her under, she was covered in grabbing hands and surrounded by the stench of unwashed, uncaring humanity. A man with a scar running from his chin to his eyebrow kissed her, and her mouth was full of the taste of kippered herring. Someone had her arse in a firm grip, and she screamed against the teeth of the scarred man, but it was no good.

"I call first," someone said, and there was a sound of flesh smacking flesh as someone punched him. They were fighting over her, fighting over who went when and how long they'd keep her alive to do it. . . Nabiki had never felt, in her entire life, more disgusted.

But the scarred man was pushed off her, a boot colliding solidly with his head so that he crumpled beside her. Nabiki looked up at the man who had won the scuffle, but it was not one of the townsmen who were assigned to making sure she died a traitor's death. It was someone else, a man with long brown hair and a giant. . . a giant spatula tied to his back.

"Get up, we have to get moving," the stranger said, and Nabiki obeyed. She found herself swung up behind him on a brown horse with a fine leather saddle—not, really, that she was inclined to like leather rubbing against her bare butt and thighs, but the miser in her was pleased with it. They rode into the forest, deep into the dappled shadows of the woods. When they had ridden long enough that Nabiki was sure her thighs were bleeding from the friction, the stranger stopped.

"Imagine, raping a woman right under the castle walls! Where in the hell were the guards?" the stranger cursed, helping Nabiki down. She blushed, trying to cover her nakedness, but it was no use. There was too much of her for her hands to cover everything—but the stranger seemed to neither notice or care, and began unbuttoning his shirt.

"You can wear this, I guess, until we get somewhere that sells clothes. It won't help with the saddle, but at least you won't be completely exposed," the stranger offered. Nabiki nodded, frowning at what the stranger's unbuttoned shirt revealed.

Chest bindings. The stranger had bound his. . . no, her chest in order to look like a man!

Feeling at once both relieved and puzzled, Nabiki accepted the shirt the stranger was holding out to her.

"Thank you for saving me. I hate to be rude, but what is your name?"

"Ukyou, sugar. Just plain old Ukyou."