As Akane prepared for bed, she began to reminisce about the events earlier on. Although the trip was entirely ruined by the presence of Lady Cologne and her daughters, she was thankful that Lord Ryouga and Lord Shinnosuke were there to salvage the situation.
Especially Lord Shinnosuke.
Despite his title, she found him to be a warm and modest person like Lord Ryouga. His companionship proved to be a great relief to her during their visit to Lady Cologne's residence as it serves to keep her entertained. More importantly, his presence kept Ranma away from her. She caught the pigtailed lord throwing sidelong glances at Lord Shinnosuke and her throughout the evening but made no attempt to join the conversation.
As Akane put away her necklace in the jewelry box, her eyes caught sight of a small wooden horn well hidden in the midst of her valuables. Slowly, she took it out from her box and examined it, her fingers slowly tracing the outline of the horn. Remembering her family discussing about the Ryuwaganza incident during dinner, Akane could not help but shivered slightly in fear as the horrifying memories of that incident flooded her mind. Had it not been the boy who fought off the animals and offered his horn to aid her, she would have been reunited with her mother by now. For an instance, she wondered what had happened to the boy who saved her. He should have been a young man by now and of similar age as Lord Ryouga or Lord Shinnosuke. She recalled him being injured in an attempt to defend her from one of the animal's claws as they tried to escape from the forest. The wounds were quite severe and Akane had no doubt that they would leave horrible scars on the boy for life. She knew that she would have to make a trip back to Ryuwaganza one day to search for her savior and return him the horn. Perhaps she could ask Lord Shinnosuke to assist her with her search since he was familiar with Ryuwaganza. For now, it horn now served as her good luck charm and she carried it along with her on her trips in hope that it would keep her safe from harm's way.
Sighing softly, Akane was about to put away the horn when a hand reached out and snatched it away from her. Shocked, she tried to scream but the intruder grabbed her from behind and covered her mouth with a gloved hand.
"Hush my lady. I am sure you do not want your entire family member to barge into your chambers right now. I swear, on my family's honor, that I meant no harm. If you promise not to scream or try to tackle me, I will release you."
Akane's eyes widen in recognition of the intruder's voice and her body began to shake in anger. She could not believe her intruder could be so bold as to sneak into her chambers in the middle of the night. Ignoring his request, Akane tried to struggle out of her intruder's arms but to no avail. Instead, she could feel his arms tighten around her in response to her attempt to break free, bringing their bodies way too close for comfort. For a long while, they stayed in this position, testing each other's endurance. Finally, Akane nodded slightly, resisting the urge to bite the hand that is covering her mouth. In an instant, the intruder released his grip and stepped back away from her. Assured that Akane abide to his request, he began to examine the horn.
"Such a simple wooden horn. I must admit the craftsmanship is pretty good by the looks of it but I doubt that the sound it produces would not be pleasing to the audience's ears given that it is owned by you. Am I to presume that this is the only musical instrument that you have played in your entire life?"
Akane glared at the intruder and tried to grab the horn back but he leapt gracefully out of her reach. After a few moments of trying to determine his purpose of visit and behaviour, she sat on her bed tiredly and ignored him. Her body became rigid when she heard her bed creak at the additional weight as the intruder sat on the other end of her bed, leaving a respectable distance between them. Unperturbed by her lack of response, he continued his examination on the horn
"Hmmm…It suits you pretty well since you are full of hot air and definitely not well versed in music like most ladies I know. More importantly, with such clumsy fingers and inhuman strength, even the finest pianoforte would sound equally bad as the cheaper ones", he chuckled.
"What are you doing here in the middle of the night, Lord Ranma? Lady Cologne and her daughters would not be pleased to know that their favourite lord takes pleasure in visiting a lady's chamber in an unearthly hour. Go and visit their chambers instead. I am sure they would give you a grand welcome and, perhaps, fulfill your amorous desires." Akane whispered viciously, resisting the urge to throw Ranma out of the window. She could not bear the shame if her family barged in and discovered the pigtailed lord sitting comfortably on her bed.
"Do you think that I want to visit the chamber of an unrefined lady like you in the first place? Don't you dare question my integrity of my sudden visit. I told you earlier that I meant you no harm and I intend to keep to my promise so please be assured that my intentions are pure." His blue eyes bore into hers.
Not wanting to meet his intense gaze, she turned her attention to nails and studied them intensively. Despite his words, Akane could not help but feel vulnerable in front of Lord Ranma as she was only dressed in her white nightgown while he was still dressed in his dinner suit. She could feel that the young lord was studying her and she attempted to fight off the insecurity in her.
"I merely want answers."
"I apologize my lord for you have come to the wrong place to seek the answers you want. We both know that, in addition to my lack of knowledge in music, I do not have the benefit of receiving of education that compliments your upbringing. Perhaps Lady Shampoo and Lady Kodachi would have the answers to your questions on certain topics that are unfamiliar to me. Suffice to say, I do not have the answers you want. Please go back to where you came from and let me rest."
His eyes narrowed at her reply.
How dare she brush him off with sarcasm after all the trouble I took to make it here. Doesn't she understand how important her answers are to me since I risk my life and reputation as a well bred gentleman to enter her chambers for nonsensical reasons?
Thanks to the training he received when he was a child, Ranma was able to escape from Lady Cologne's residence silently. However, his journey to Kuno's residence proved to be tedious as he could only silently go by foot with a small lamp to guide him through the huge forest that separate Kuno's residence from Lady Cologne's. Riding the horse was out of question as the noise would wake the guard dogs out and alert nearby residents. A rational part of him could understand the resistance Akane put up and her sarcastic nature when he entered her chambers but he could not leave without getting what he wants. Besides, he could not remember his room having such a flowery aroma as hers during his stay at Kuno's. It was as if her scent enveloped the entire room. He could spend the hours here in her room without moving a muscle and taking in her scent. Perhaps he should commissioned the servants to replace every single item in this room once Akane left so that Kuno would not have the luxury of owning this 'Akane-scented' room. Taking a deep breath, he whispered softly
"Hear me out, Miss Akane. I do not wish to alarm you with my presence. Your opinion matters to me much hence I risked my reputation and well being to venture into your chambers uninvited. Once I hear your replies, I will leave."
When she offered him no reply, he decided to ask her the question that has been plaguing him since her visit to Lady Cologne's residence.
"What did Lord Shinnosuke speak to you about during the entire dinner?"
Akane whirled around and stared at him in disbelief. She could not believe that he would come in the middle of the night in her chamber to ask questions regarding her conversation with Lord Shinnosuke.
"I don't see how my conversation with Lord Shinnosuke concerns you, Lord Ranma. "
Ranma closed his eyes and took a deep breath to calm himself down. How could he tell Akane that she took in Lord Shinnosuke's words with such deep interest that he could not help but felt his chest tighten every time she smiled or laughed during the entire conversation. He could recall a time when he had such a conversation with her. At best, they would treat each other in a civil and polite manner. Most of the time, they would treat the other party coldly or ignore each other presence. There was definitely no room for them to discuss light hearted topics such as music and books.
"It does since you keep glancing in my direction once in a while so I presume that it is related to me."
"Please be assured that this is not the case. Lord Shinnosuke and I were just conversing about the nature and music. I must admit it has been a long while since I enjoyed such conversations and Lord Shinnosuke had provided many interesting insights and stories due to his love for nature. If you are curious in knowing the exact contents of our discussion, perhaps Lord Ryouga would be able to tell you since he was also an active participant in our conversation. Moreover, he…"
"Do you enjoy being with him?" Ranma interrupted.
"I beg your pardon?"
"A simple minded fool could also see that Lord Shinnosuke takes an interest in you. He gave his undivided attention to you throughout the evening and was a true gentleman to you. It was also clear to me that you are at ease in his presence. So tell me, will you return his affections?"
Akane sighed. She did not know what to make out of his questions and she could not understand why Ranma would take such an interest in her life despite his cold civility towards her. She closed her eyes and tried to picture her life with Lord Shinnosuke.
"Perhaps he was taught to be polite to ladies by his grandfather. He is definitely a well mannered gentleman and I truly enjoyed his company this evening. However my time with him is brief. Maybe if we spend more time with each other in the next few days, then perhaps I could…"
Before she could finish her thoughts, Ranma stood up and walk towards the window. He didn't think he had the courage to hear the rest of her sentence. His acquaintance with her was longer than that of Lord Shinnosuke yet Akane was willing to consider Lord Shinnosuke as a future companion instead of him. The thought of it made him nauseous.
"Yes, I am sure that, given time, he would prove to be a very dependable person and an eligible bachelor among your peers. Besides I admire Shinnosuke for his patience and willingness to converse with you since there Lady Shampoo and Lady Kodachi could make a better conversation with him since they are nature lovers too." Ranma stated coldly before disappearing through the window, leaving an angry but bewildered Akane behind.
Author's note: Another chapter uploaded at last. I decided to write this after watching the Ryuwaganza OVA episode, one of my favourite RA episodes in the whole series. Coincidently, the episode where Elizabeth visited Charlotte's house was definitely one of my favourite part in the whole PP story. Apologies for any grammatical errors as this was written a few hours ago due to the sudden inspiration obtained from the episode. Please enjoy and review.