me: HAVE YOU HUGGED YOUR TAI TODAY!!! (*grins*) I have!! (*hugs brown eyed cutie*)

Anyhoo!! I know I know I know!!! I'm such a jerk!!! I should be roasted over an open fire and have a stake stabbed through my heart for making you guys wait so long…. But let's face it… I AM Evil itself. MUWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Davis: She IS!!!! (*cowers*)

Me: OKAY!!! So I want to thank all of my lovely reviewers!!! (to anyone that I didn't reply to, I'm sorry!!! You all get a loofa!!!)

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I seriously lurf you all, you are the greatest people EVER!!!!! And yes, you are lurfed!!! It's better than loved and more convenient than ducks (*glomps everyone*) heehee!!

Quote of the Month: "Sometimes, in order to make something great, you have to get rid of your favorite part." -- My amazing ex-english teacher Ms. Cook

I wish to dedicate this chapter to two people:

Syd! Who is my source of insanity and my best friend on XD, YOU ROCK GIRLIE!!!

And to my grandma who passed away last month but who continues to be my muse even though she's not physically here. Love you!!

Okeydokie!! I shall no longer continue my blabbing of uselessness!!! ENJOY!!!!

TTTTTTTTTTTTT

Last time: Good evening everyone, this is the fabulous Henry that you have the pleasure of listening to! I bet you all feel grand. Well Taichi was miserable being cooped up in the Coventry, and really who could blame him? A free spirit like his can't be caged, so Daisuke shrugged off his guard duty and allowed Taichi to leave to get a day of freedom. Meanwhile I had the pleasure of meeting the beautiful Sora Takenouchi and she joined myself, Hikari, Daisuke, and Catherine for breakfast where Catherine presented her with a new wardrobe. Around the same time Jeri stopped by our hideout to reveal some unsettling news to Koushiro; Ken planned to kill his father, and when Takato escorted her home they were ambushed by the Black Squadron and Jeri was taken to the castle by Myotis!!! Well, one thing led to another and Taichi learned of everything that was happening in Ichijouji and returned to confront Mimi and Yamato, unfortunately though Sora was in their presence. Taichi wasn't aware that Sora was staying with us and the two of them reacted badly, in other words Sora slapped our beloved leader for some reason. Wow, just when you think things would've settled down some with Taichi better, you're once again proven wrong.

TTTTTTTTTTTTT

The Kamiyas were cursed with the unfathomable need to make everyone happy.

"What's up Matt?"

The blonde looked up from the marble table top he had been cleaning and shrugged his shoulders in a dismissive manner. "Nothing."

Taichi smiled slightly and cocked his head to the side, watching the blonde with sudden interest, an action that did not go unnoticed by the elder of the two.

"What?"

The brunette followed Yamato's earlier example and shrugged, "Something's bothering you and I was just trying to figure out what it was."

Yamato snorted and turned away from his friend, "I don't need your help Tai."

Taichi's eyes narrowed just the slightest degree, "No. You're not accepting help because you have this idea in your head that you have to do everything on your own. Idiot."

Yamato was taken completely off guard by his younger friend's next actions. One minute the taller of the two was swerving to continue their game of insults, the next Yamato found himself pinned against one of the large tables by both Taichi's arms and his piercing amber eyes. "What the hell Taichi!"

"Would you shut up and listen for a second Matt?"

Yamato ceased his fruitless struggles upon hearing the distressed tone used by his friend. "Fine. Why have you resorted to violence in order to get me to reveal my business to you?"

Taichi glared at him, "Yamato you can be such an --" Taichi growled in the back of his throat and jumped away from his rival, turning to leave. "You're not alone anymore okay! I refuse to watch you suffer internally when you have people that care about you enough to help you." Taichi began walking towards the door but Yamato's next statement stopped his progress to the slaves quarters.

"Why are you so obsessed with helping me? There's nothing you can do anyway."

Taichi paused and spun around, his eyes much softer than before, "Why?"

Yamato shook his head sadly, "I told you, it's nothing."

"We're not starting this again Matt." The brunette grinned as he jumped onto the nearest chair, "Let me guess…you're hopelessly in love with a certain brown eyed beauty currently residing with us?"

Yamato's mouth fell open, "H-How did you --"

"Yamato, you're about a subtle as a stampede of drunken horses."

Yamato rolled his eyes, "So do you think Mimi --"

"Mimi? I thought we were talking about me!" Taichi batted his eyelashes playfully.

"You're such an idiot."

Taichi's grin could easily be described as giddy as he wrapped an arm around his friend's shoulders, "Don't worry Yamato, she loooves you almost as much as I do."

Even if it was at the expense of their own happiness.

"Wow Hikari! That necklace is so pretty!"

Hikari smiled as she held it by its chain and admired the intricate designs on the circular locket. She glanced around cautiously before turning back to her small audience, "My brother said he stole it from the Queen! He said it looked a lot like something our mother owned and wanted to give it to me. It's my favorite thing in the whole world!"

"Wow Kari, it's so pretty!" Takeru grinned from his position at her side.

A timid little girl looked longingly at the necklace in Hikari's hands. "Can I.... hold it? Please Hikari! Please, please, please!!"

Hikari's smile became strained as she considered the request, "Umm... okay..."

The little girl took it in trembling hands, eyes as wide as saucers. "Wow..... it's beautiful."

Hikari saw the longing in the slave girl's eyes. The young girl had never owned anything precious before and her entire family had been killed in the Ichijouji raid several years ago. Hikari was fortunate enough to have her brother and Takeru, and all of her other friends...... one trinket -- no matter how valuable -- couldn't replace that love, but maybe it could be a start for someone like her.....

"You can have it." Hikari whispered, her heart heavy.

And although they often wished people would go out of their way to help them as well

Taichi glared through the bars of his cell, "What would you know."

The old man smiled kindly, "I know that self-mutilation isn't going to make things any better."

Taichi gripped the smooth broken piece of tile in his hand as though it were his life-line, "I-It's..." he averted his eyes from the kind stranger, "my blood..... it's the only thing that reminds me that I'm human in this place...."

The elderly man held his hand out through the bars of the cell, "You happen to be the most humane person I've ever met. You and your friends are the only people in this place that have any compassion in this beastly place, and it is compassion and love that set apart humans from animals. You have nothing to prove to yourself or anyone else."

Taichi's stared at this strange man, then back to the broken piece of tile. His grip on the tile loosened.

"Tai... you and your friends have been through more than I myself have been through, and you're all still so young!" The old man shook his head solemnly. This boy, he recalled, had been one of the few positive things about this horrible castle. Such light! Such happiness! Such warmth radiating from his eyes! And now the prince had once again extinguished any hope the slaves had. He lifted his head to meet the cold eyes of the Blood Prince's favorite toy. "You've been tainted by the darkness of this world."

"No kidding," Taichi snapped, eyes straying back to the bleeding cuts on his arm. He chuckled, his laugh sounding hollow and dark... the laugh of the prince. "People come to my cell more often than you'd think. Come here to beg me not to kill their relations, to mock me about how they can't believe that I'm the one so many fear!" His grip on the tile tightened again. "But the ones like you are the worst! The people like you that tell me they're on my side, that they want to make things better for my sister or my friends, but who turn around and kick you while you're down!" He had risen to his feet, eyes dark and furious. "What the hell makes you think you're so different from all of the other bastards in this place? Why, out of all the people in this fucking hell hole, should I trust you!?!"

The old stranger stared deep into the eyes of the abused youth, seeing a small spark behind the coldness. He was honestly still hoping that someone would come and help him. His hope was still there after all of the evil he had been subjected to. The wizened man smiled ever so slightly, the wrinkles on his face becoming even deeper, "Because I want to help you, and because I will succeed."

More often than not, they were disappointed.

"Hikari calm down."

"NO!! How could all of you just stand there!!"

The large population of child slaves didn't respond. Some had their heads downcast out of shame, others stared at her, unsure how to answer her question.

"We... didn't want to get in trouble.." a small slave finally answered, eyes averted.

Hikari's eyes went livid. "You.... you.... COWARDS!! ALL OF YOU!!" Hikari was shaking with rage, a sight not many had beheld that honestly frightened them more than the whip.

"They're both more than willing to always save your sorry asses from the coil of the whip or a harsh beating, but now that they're the ones in trouble you won't lift a finger to return the favor!?! HOW COULD YOU!!! The King promised that if they stepped out of line one more time they would be sentenced to death!! And for once they weren't the culprits behind this thievery!" She slid to her knees, sobbing quietly to herself before lifting her head and allowing one more lungful of rage escape her mouth, one that shook the slaves to their core. "YOU KILLED THEM!!"

And this time, it seemed, was no different.

Except that it hurt more, so.... so much more.

His head had snapped to the side, cheek stinging and instinctively his hand flew towards it as it rapidly changed colors. He felt his eye begin to water from the force the Takenouchi princess had placed behind that slap.... but it didn't account for the single tear that streaked down the other side of his face.

No. The culprit behind his actual tears wasn't the young woman standing in front of him, eyes blazing. Instead the blame settled upon two people that had yet to lay a finger against him, but managed to inflict the greatest damage.

He had never experienced such a blind-sided betrayal before, and the wounds cut him deeply. He could slowly feel all of the lies they told him gather together like chains and attach themselves to the muscle of his heart. The lies then began to squeeze, eroding through the cardiac tissue and allowing pain, depression, and sadness to spill from it in replace of blood. This new form of blood quickly filled his veins and made him want to drop to his knees, reopening scars that took so long to mend.

He briefly wondered what he must've done to make his friends do this to him. What monstrous action had he committed to drive his friends to such lengths to keep things hidden from him?

You haven't done anything!! It's them! It's always been them!!

Them?

People damnit!! Claiming to be your friends; your family. Then stripping from you any hope and happiness you had!!

That's not true! Look at --

Yutaka? Ken?

The optimistic side of Taichi was quickly silenced by the overwhelming evidence against him.

You always expect the best! Always believe in the goodness within! Well look how it's paid off! Now the two people…the two people you trusted beyond all reason have gone and done this to you!

There has to be a reas--

What reason could there be!?!

I don't know damnit!!

Well then…….That just settles everything doesn't it.

Taichi lowered his eyes to the floor, thankful that they were still shielded from view by his chestnut locks.

We do everything for these bastards and this is what we receive in return.

The stinging behind his eyelids was quickly smothered by another emotion.

We risk our lives for them on a daily basis, and look! Look what they're doing to you in return! When's the last time you were this….this….

"Heartbroken." Taichi whispered to himself.

Isn't it about time they felt some of this heartbreak? Some of this pain that you've been feeling from being left completely out of the loop during a time of great need. Shall we let them feast upon what it felt like to let your wounds fester while they ran amuck and changed everything you worked so hard to establish? A little revenge doesn't seem too unreasonable after all of the hell you've been put through.

Taichi felt the corners of his mouth rise into a dark, mock-amused smile. It was the same type of grin that the Gothic jesters from the Twilight Carnivals wore; filled with twisted amusement that no one else could quite understand, and behind the sarcasm a hint of insanity was often found.

He chuckled, the bitter sound echoing through the silence of the room the way thunder pierces a quiet meadow.

With every trace of sadness hidden -- not gone -- he turned his attention back to the Takenouchi heiress. The dark smile still in place he finally addressed her, "I'm relieved to see that you're alright Sora.…" his eyes flickered to his fellow thieves over her shoulder before returning just as quickly, "those flyers I noticed in town today had me worried that someone had made off with you during all of the commotion." He smirked as he turned his head completely, looking directly past the Takenouchi girl and towards the two people that let loose this bestial side of him. "You can imagine my genuine surprise when I discovered that, out of the hundreds of people in this cursed city that attended the ball, I was the one convicted for 'kidnapping' you." He calmly reached into his cloak and twirled the MISSING poster between his fingers. His eyes darkened as he allowed the parchment to unravel itself and allow all in the room to become face to face with the flat, two-dimensional face of the Takenouchi princess.

Sora's eyes didn't even glance towards the poster. Her fury was too consuming, too enthralling -- devouring any other emotion or sense that penetrated her minds defenses -- to notice anything other than the vermin standing before her. But what continued to fuel her increasing desire to lash out at him was the blatant fact that his attention was obviously diverted at others.

He chuckled as he continued his pythonic speech, "Of course, I didn't believe it for a second. I insisted to every logical part of my brain that 'My friends would never keep something of this magnitude behind my back', and, despite the doubt in the back of my mind, I convinced myself to give the lot of you the benefit of the doubt. And just look at where my loyalty has gotten me." His voice still held that jester-like amusement, but his eyes betrayed his calm exterior; they were blazing with hell's fire as he precariously stepped around the auburn beauty and advanced towards his comrades.

Sora, rage already boiling within her blood and completely unaccustomed to being treated as anything other than an elite member of the most imperial social societies, grasped his uninjured forearm and spun the Prince of Thieves around to face her again.

The intensity of his eyes was easily matched by the fires in Sora's and she quickly dropped her voice to a low hissing whisper before speaking to him, "You unimaginable bastard. You're the Prince of Thieves!?!"

Taichi's smirk slipped from his face and his eyes softened to a certain degree. She wasn't responsible for her existence here being so esoteric, and she most certainly didn't deserve to receive any spite or anger coming from him… or at least he didn't think she did. He really didn't know what to do in this situation except say the only thing he could say, "Yes, I'm the Prince of Thieves."

Sora's fists clenched at her sides, "You lied to me."

Taichi averted his eyes for a moment before swerving them back to hers. She sounded….. crestfallen. Her voice had cracked in that last statement and Taichi suddenly felt extremely guilty, although the reason for it eluded him. "Not entirely…," was his intelligent reply.

It didn't take a genius to see the signs of someone losing their temper, but Sora's were particularly obvious; she bit her lip to the point that it drew blood (probably to keep her tears under control), her eyes, behind a glassy slide, were ferocious, and her fists were clenched tight enough to cause them to turn white and visibly shake with suppressed rage. With these signs it was no surprise that Taichi was able to catch her hand before it could make contact with his face again.

Sora's eyes widened for the briefest of moments as she tried to wrest her hand away to no avail. Infuriated, Sora drew back her other hand but Taichi managed to dodge the blow and stop any further violent advances by grasping her wrist with the same hand that held her other one. He couldn't risk injuring his broken arm any further after all.

"Let go of me."

"Will you hit me again if I do?"

Sora didn't answer and that was reason enough for Taichi to keep a gentle but firm grip on her hands, an almost mocking smile on his face.

Sora, not enjoying this predicament half as much as he was, tried to lurch her hands free again, but only succeeded in pulling him closer. Their close proximity only seemed to enrage Sora further, "Let me go or I swear I'll make this the worst day of your miserable existence."

Taichi smirked darkly again, "What if I told you it already was. I doubt there's much else you could do to make it worse." He chuckled at the truthfulness of this statement before turning to the audience at the door, "Daisuke, escort our…." he paused for the appropriate term, but somehow figured that "captive" or "enemy" wouldn't help the situation any further. "Please escort our guest to the room she's been staying in."

"Oh no you are not getting rid of me that easily," she spat. Using every once of strength she could muster she yanked her hands free, "You selfish, lying, egotistic, inconsiderate --"

Taichi rolled his eyes. "We'll talk about whatever this is later, before you run out of synonyms."

"'Whatever this is'. Are you referring to how you lied to me and screwed with my emotions to accomplish your own selfish goals?!?"

Taichi's expression turned to one of absolute exasperation and the fatigue he was feeling showed for the briefest of moments before he responded to the Takenouchi, "Sora I can not deal with this right now. In case you haven't noticed, I've got enough issues to deal with right now, one of them falling under the category of a possible treason. So could we --"

"You know what Taichi forget about it, I'm sure you won't lose any sleep over it." Sora gave him on last withering glare before storming into the rain, head held high.

Daisuke watched as the rain pelted her with buckets upon buckets of water -- soaking her in seconds -- and hesitantly turned back to his leader, "Umm... should I go after her?"

Taichi took a deep shuddering breath and glared at him from the corner of his eye silently willing Daisuke to get out while he still had a chance.

Taking the hint, the mahogany haired thief scurried after her without a second glance into the kitchens where he knew there now existed a strong possibility of spilled blood. That one glance shared by him and Taichi told Daisuke all he needed to know; Taichi's temper was going to erupt into a column of swirling fiery fury that would possibly worry the gods themselves and he wanted to put as much distance between his idol's anger and himself as possible. Taichi had given him that chance and he was going to take full advantage of it. "Sora!! Hey Sora wait up!! Sora!! Ugh… she just had to go in the freaking rain….Sora wait! You might drown in weather like this!!"

Koushiro, who had been standing beside the door as Daisuke came sprinting out resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Drown? Honestly Daisuke.

Iori followed his idol's lead and also shook his head out of pity for Daisuke's remaining brain cells. Hiding his small smile he cautiously returned his gaze to the water speckled window they had been staring into for the last several minutes. He was confused to be quite honest, and for young Iori this emotion was one that was totally alien to him. He had absolutely no idea what was going on with Taichi, Sora, Mimi, and Yamato.

When their small group -- Koji, Kouichi, Koushiro, and himself -- learned the spectacular news that Taichi was safe and back amongst them, Koushiro practically ran to check on their young leader. Running and Koushiro were two things that rarely were used in the same sentence together…. much like Catherine and ugly or Daisuke and brilliant. Not impossible, mind you, just rare, like this occasion. But when they ran up to the door, soaked and miserable, they were quickly captivated by the almost Shakespearean scene evolving before them; secret relationships, dastardly betrayals, and an epic fight scene beginning to unfold between Taichi and Yamato.

How could they not stop and become a silent audience to this remarkable tale.

However, while he and the twins were clueless to the reasons behind the happenings Koushiro repeatedly whispered to himself "Damnit, I told them. I freaking told them this wouldn't work."

Finally Iori gathered enough courage to confront his seething mentor and find out exactly what he had told whom.

"Koushiro?" He lightly tapped the redhead's arm and received almost immediate attention.

"Yes Iori?"

"What's going on? Why is Taichi so angry with Yamato and Mimi?"

Koushiro narrowed his eyes, "Yamato and Mimi devised a plan…. And against my wishes they went through with it, hurting more people than helping them."

Koushiro felt like doing nothing more than marching into the kitchens and proclaiming "I TOLD YOU SO!!" to all of the ignorants who refused to listen to him. Of course that would be completely immature and childish -- two words that appeared in a sentence with his name less often than "run", -- and wouldn't help the situation any, especially since it appeared that it was currently building into what was sure to become a fierce battle. But hey, it would make me feel better Koushiro realized bitterly.

For some strange reason that was far beyond his realm of comprehension, despite him being the proclaimed "genius" of the group his word was always disregarded when it came to personal affairs. He wouldn't boast that he was the most social of all the thieves, but he was capable of giving good advice when asked for it, and who knows! If Mimi and Yamato had taken his opinion into their plans perhaps all of these unpleasantries would be a thing of imagination.

"What plan?" Iori asked innocently.

Of course, though, they didn't, and now this whole situation had to be dealt with before Koushiro could break his own bad news to their appointed leader. Lord knew something had to be done about Ken's plan before things got out of hand and Taichi was one Koushiro knew could set things in motion.

The red-haired genius sighed before directing his attention to the younger thieves accompanying him with a tight, grim smile, "I'm afraid that Yamato and Mimi might be accused of treason."

Iori's eyes widened, knowing exactly what punishment was severe enough for such crimes. "W-Why? I don't understand Koushiro, what… what have they done?"

"Quite a number of things actually…. All for the sake of Taichi's well-being, or so they said. But in my opinion, keeping Sora and the city's state a secret from Taichi has only made things worse."

Koji silently stepped beside Irori, an inquiring look in his dark, calculating eyes. "What made them think this would lead to success?"

Koushiro shook his head and placed his palms on the stone window sill, a frustrated scowl on his face, "They didn't want to overwhelm him. Completely understandable given his injured state, but a suggestion of mine that they ignored was to tell him at least what was happening on the surface of Ichijouji's problems. That would have sufficed his curiosity enough and not place him into a state of stress….. but Yamato didn't want to run the risk. He was afraid that even that much would give Taichi that ridiculous sublime valiancy that propels him to fix everything. We took a vote on it, and myself, Takeru, and Henry were obviously overruled."

"What about Hikari?" Kouichi demanded.

Koushiro smiled slightly, "You don't miss a thing do you Kouichi." He sighed dramatically and leaned against the door with his arms crossed, "Mimi suggested to keep her out of it. She stated that Hikari would be biased due to Taichi being her brother and would be blinded by her unconditional love for him instead of focusing on the right thing to do in this situation."

"That's ridiculous!" Koji spat.

"So who else was with you when you decided this?" Iori questioned.

"Jyou was the only other person. He agreed with all of the points I brought up but eventually the doctor side of him gave in. His first priority is to make sure we're all in as healthy a state as we can be, and he shared some of the same fears Yamato had. They won, and now Taichi's found out."

The three younger thieves didn't know how to respond to such overwhelming information. To learn that disagreements could snowball into something so colossal was astounding, and for it to happen between the closest members of their organization…..

"So what do we do?" Kouichi asked softly.

"We wait." Koushiro stated matter-of-factly. "We wait until Taichi has taken the message and shoved it into their brains; that he is not to be double crossed even at his most vulnerable state."

Koji rolled his eyes, "Could we at least wait somewhere a little drier?"

TTTTTTTTTTTT

At Ichijouji castle, despite the gloomy atmosphere and depressing view of the city below, the most fantastic prospect of the night sky could be seen through the dark windows, and the Takenouchis, their hearts lined with grief, would often find comfort knowing their daughter was staring up at the same sky…. somewhere.

Lady Takenouchi had taken special care to avoid anything that might remotely remind her of her daughter's absence, even if it put her at an inconvenience; she took the long routes on any of her walks to avoid watching the knights train, she took her meals in her lovely suite to avoid any glimpses of the horses being led back to their stables, and, the most painful of all, avoiding her husband as much as possible. He and Sora looked so much alike… same beautiful crimson eyes and auburn locks… it was so hard to look at him without her thoughts straying to her baby in the hands of a monster!

Which was why she had been spending so much of her time up in her room…. away from the other nobles, away from the King and prince, and…. away from her loving husband. Instead, she chose her company to be the beautiful, twinkling stars that gave her just the slightest trace of comfort. Oh how beautiful it must be to soar through the sparkling heavens and get away from the many terrible realities here on the ground.

But on that dark evening, there were no stars to gaze at.

It was as though the sky could hear her anguished thoughts and morphed to match the sadness she did nothing to hide. Now her attention was solely focused on the rain falling from the black clouds, clouds that, like her heart, were roaring with fury yet crying out in agony. She could feel every ounce of pain those clouds must feel for them to be crying so much, and she could relate.

Nothing was worse than a woman scorned…. but nothing was more heart breaking than a mother lost.

"Toshiko….?"

Toshiko Takenouchi stiffened at the sound of her husband's voice. The voice she once found comfort and warmth from now sounded hollow to her ears.

"Toshiko… my darling… you act as though the world is dying." Haruhiko smiled ever so slightly at his feeble attempts to lighten the dead weight hanging in the air.

"Mine already has."

Haruhiko's small smile vanished off of his wrinkled face at the soft voice. What happened to the lovely, powerful voice of his wife he so cherished? What happened to the optimistic woman he married? What happened to his love? "Toshiko… please…. We're doing all we can to --"

"THEN WHY HAVEN'T YOU FOUND HER!?!" Toshiko spun around to glare at her husband. "Why, with all the men and soldiers you have at your disposal, haven't you brought my baby girl back to me?! WHY!?!"

Haruhiko blinked numerous times before being able to gain control over his voice box again, "Toshiko you're being unreasonab--"

"Don't you DARE accuse me of being unreasonable!" Toshiko stepped up to her husband and jabbed a finger at his chest, "She is your daughter Haruhiko. The priority of returning her here should be above everything else, including the Prince's obsession to capture that blasted Prince of Thieves."

"Now Toshiko you listen to me," Haruhiko gently took her hands and kissed them, "The sooner we catch him the sooner we'll be able to find Sora."

"So you and the Ichijoujis believe that after you catch him he'll talk." Toshiko rolled her eyes, "He took her for a reason Haruhiko, I doubt he'd give up her location even if his life depended on it." She gently took her hands away and walked back over to the window, watching the rain splash against the glass on the window.

"Come now my dear…. that's no way to look at a situation like this. You have to maintain hope." He took her small shoulders in his large hands and turned her to face him, her tear-filled emerald eyes locking with his crimson orbs. "She's so much like you. She has such spirit, such love, such strength." He paused to smile at how much he admired his daughter, "I'm sure, wherever she is, she's giving her captors hell just as I know you would." Toshiko averted her eyes as a small smile graced her lips at the truth of what he had said. "She's strong and she'll make it through this. But in the meantime we must savor all the hope we have, keep it bright within us… just like those stars you love to look at."

Toshiko turned back to the window and whispered softly, "The stars are gone Haruhiko. The sky is black tonight."

Haruhiko's eyebrows drew together at that depressing statement, "Toshiko something troubles you…. something more than just Sora's capture."

Toshiko gazed at the mosque patterns on the spotless floor, "I just have this terrible assumption that I'm never going to see her again…."

Haruhiko chuckled, "My dear you know that can't be true."

"No Haru, this… feeling has been plaguing me for days. I can't shake it. I'm never going to see her again I just know it."

"Preposterous! Toshiko you've been brooding up here in our room since Sora disappeared. I'm sure every worst case scenario has passed through your mind during these last few days and I'm willing to bet never seeing her again is very close to the top of your list of the worst things that could happen. You're just expecting the worst so you won't be disappointed if she comes back in less than perfect condition."

Toshiko turned to once again face her husband, "Perhaps…."

Haruhiko smiled, "My love, perhaps if you join the world again…. maybe this feeling will go away."

Toshiko nodded slowly in response.

"Excellent! I will tell the King to order for another plate at the table for tomorrow evening." Haruhiko smiled as he placed a kiss on his wife's cheek. "I'm sure they'll be thrilled."

Toshiko forced a small smile to her husband as he strolled out of their room, but the moment the door closed her façade slipped.

The feeling would not go away….she knew it wouldn't.

She was never going to see her little girl again, and the worst part of it was… she hadn't the foggiest idea as to why.

TTTTTTTTTTT

Throughout life we are introduced to three different types of people; those above us, those equal to us, and those below us.

It is most certainly not uncommon for those poor unfortunate souls at the bottom rungs of the social ladder to try and imagine themselves in the shoes of those in the life of luxury….. wishing to have what they don't. But not many appreciate what they have because they refuse to acknowledge the suffering souls beneath them. It doesn't matter how poor or how miserable a person might be, there's always someone below them… a little bit poorer and a little bit more miserable.

Mimi Tachikawa would know from experience.

Being both privileged and cursed, she was, at one point or another, condemned to life in all three classes. Ranging from a first class beauty back in her home town to a lowly, insignificant slave girl in Ichijouji castle left Mimi with an everlasting wisdom of how the world works. Gifted with this unique perspective, she knew just how far and how hard she could fall from her comfortable position, but she could also see just how close to the top she was.

But her knowledge didn't end with just the realization of how different each social life was, but extended to what it was like being both a hero and a villain to the Ichijouji people. She had experienced the joy and warmth her heart felt when she presented a kind, deserving family with a small bit of wealth that would allow them to just get by for the next month. There was almost nothing that could compare with the glow in her heart when the civilians thanked her repeatedly, holding their children close to them with an unexplainable essence of gratitude and happiness.

She had also felt the savage fury that enclosed her heart in a vice-like grip when she stole from the selfish nobles of this terrible place. The rage that compelled her to harm these people the same way they were harming those below them with senseless taxing and prosecutions was always rewarded when she watched the fear in their eyes at sword-point. She loved watching them beg for mercy -- willing to sell their own family members if it kept them alive and out of the poor house. How it pleased her to watch them squirm!

Yet, even with all her expertise on different perspectives, she had never before been in a situation like this…. the villain amongst her own kind.

Even worse, amongst her own family.

Her best friend -- the brother she never had or wanted for that matter -- was staring at her as though she had just sprouted horns and began breathing fire. He was furious, that much was painstakingly clear, but he had a deadness in his eyes that portrayed just how deeply they wounded him, even if he was too stubborn to outwardly express it.

His eyes showed all -- a trait that was both useful and terrifying at the same time -- and right now his emotions were spread before her on a silver platter. There was anger… so much anger, there was heartbreak too, branching out from feelings of betrayal, but worst of all Mimi was terrified to see an emotion definitely resembling hatred.

All wrapped together in that one sinister glare.

Mimi, like all unfortunates who find themselves in this position, found herself falling victim to an unusual paradox; her mind screaming at her to run away and hide but her body acting on its own, refusing to move and staying strictly grounded to the beliefs that placed her there. The beliefs that she knew would cause disagreements that would escalade to the moment where she would cross swords with her oldest and best friend.

Don't think like that Mimi she told herself sternly. I'm sure this can all be sorted without the use of weapons… But even as the thought crossed her mind she was having doubts. She would have no problem settling this without violence, but Yamato…. Yamato would be a problem. He would stubbornly say what they did was the right choice, even if Taichi proved to him, without a shadow of a doubt, that they were wrong. Which, given the way things had been working out for them already, was not only possible, but probable.

Mimi realized that, unintentionally, she and Yamato had hurt Taichi in possibly the worst way they could have -- attacking his trust in them -- but she preferred to look at the grander scheme of things! He was healing faster…or at least he was before he found out.

It was no secret to any of the thieves that Taichi had a very difficult time trusting people, and his prior ordeals absolutely justified this issue. Mimi knew when she voted alongside Yamato that she was risking the great bond they formed over the many years of their friendship. So why did she do it? Because a friendship with him would mean nothing if he was dead.

According to Jyou and his many tests and "medical nonsense" -- a term used by many of the thieves to describe his drastic change in vocabulary when he forgot he wasn't speaking with professional doctors like himself -- if one thing, one tiny, irrelevant, trivial thing had changed during the course of time that spanned between the chandelier falling on Taichi to when he was taken into the Coventry he could very well be six feet under the ground at that very moment. When Mimi had questioned him on this he responded that if a shard of glass had hit him half an inch away from where it hit his lung could have been punctured, or if they chose a different route to get there that was only five minutes longer it was possible that he could have easily bled to death.

Simple, irrelevant, and trivial decisions of fate were what kept their beloved friend and leader with the living.

In other words, Taichi was very lucky to be alive right now, and there was no way in hell Mimi was going to let his condition decline… even if it meant keeping some secrets from him. She would NOT be witness to his weak, vulnerable state again, and she was terrified that he would wind up back in the infirmary if anything happening in the city leaked into the Coventry where Taichi could hear it. She and the rest of the thieves would be thrown into pandemonium once again if Taichi learned what was really going on outside of those beautiful walls.

To hear of all those innocent souls dying based on witch-hunt accusations would cause any ordinary human being to want to do something… and Taichi just happened to be extraordinary. He'd work from dawn into the witching hour trying to set things right again, to help those he could, to redirect the blame from the civilians and back to where it deserved to be directed. He was just that type of person -- an idiot with a heart too big for his own damn good. He'd immediately put all disregard for his own health aside and race into the city to do whatever he could to bring those poor people some comfort.

….And he would've died.

And Ichijouji would follow just as rapidly.

Taichi was such an idiot sometimes. He really had no idea just how much was riding on him. He was Ichijouji's light, their hope, the epitome of the way things could be with a little effort and courage. He was the only one brave enough to stand up for the people without a voice, the only one with enough courage to go up against the most powerful empire on earth with just a ragtag group of warriors. For the civilians to see what this seemingly ordinary teenager could do slowly fed them the strength they needed to go up against the Ichijoujis themselves. He was the heart of the rebellion, the soul of the people, and the spirit of the city longing to be free of corruption and death.

If they lost him, they lost the war.

She needed to get that through his thick skull. He needed to understand the vitality of his position, and she was the only one that could pound it through all that thick hair into his brain.

"Taichi....." Mimi took a step toward her friend but Yamato gripped her hand and pulled her behind him, much to her dismay. "Yamato what are you doing?"

"Not now Mimi." Yamato stated softly, eyes never straying from the brunette's.

Yamato wasn't a fool.

He had seen this rare side of his best friend before, that animalistic gleam in his usually warm eyes. It had never actually been directed at him -- much to his relief --, but he had seen the after-affects of its release and knew that Taichi was a force to be reckoned with when he was this furious.

Normally this level of anger was saved solely for Ken; an anger so violent and dangerous that it often left even Yamato scared out of his mind, but then Taichi would revert back to himself and lock the demon back within the darkness. The very mention of this ferocious hurricane-like force was enough to put Yamato on edge, and there was no way in hell he'd risk Mimi to its awesome, but terrible power.

The protective, soccer-mom like action Yamato took to prevent Mimi from coming anywhere near him caused Taichi's dark smile to return. He chuckled as he crossed his arms over his chest and addressed them, "What's the matter Matty?" He casually cocked his head to the side, "Not scared of me are you?"

Yamato, to Taichi's delight, rested his hand on his hilt in response.

Taichi's jester grin broadened. "You flatter me Ishida. Here I was beginning to wonder if you thought I was too weak to put up a fight. After all, there had to be some logical explanation for you sneaking around behind my back and lying to more than half of the people here." He smirked as he slowly advanced towards his rival. "Or maybe that wasn't it. Perhaps the idea that I was too incapable to make proper decisions crossed your mind?" Taichi laughed as he circled his blonde rival, completely relaxed and pulsing with dark amusement and fury, Yamato on the other hand had his sword tightly clenched, eyes never leaving Taichi for even an instance.

"No? Well I'll tell you what I think happened Yamato." Amber eyes darkened, "something got in your head and told you that this was your big break! The perfect opportunity to take charge and do things your way without having to worry about my consent."

"What are you talking about?"

Taichi pressed on as though Yamato hadn't spoken, "That, for once, you could call the shots and be the big hero."

"Taichi that's ridic --"

"IS IT!?!" Taichi's amusement vanished with those two small words. "Then why would you do this!? Why would you want to do this to me?!" Taichi stopped in front of his rival, his only functional fist clenching and unclenching as his mind debated the topic of hitting him.

"Taichi you don't know what you're talking about." Yamato hissed.

Taichi scowled, "Enlighten me."

Yamato's icy eyes grew darker, as though a veil was cast over them, "You're such an idiot."

Taichi chuckled, "That's your brilliant response? You could've been more original you know, it's not like I haven't heard that one before."

"I wasn't finished Taichi," Yamato hissed, bringing his face inches from the brunette's. "You're an idiot because you think you're this almighty invincible hero who can survive anything and everything. Well guess what Your Highness," Taichi's eyes darkened to a point that they were almost black as Yamato quoted Ken, "you're just as human as the rest of us here."

"Figures you'd bring up one of my faults just to cover up your own." Taichi cocked his head to the side ever so slightly as a satirical smile appeared on his face, "Keep running Yamato, don't worry about your failures catching up with you because when they do you'll have something else to mask over them just like you always do."

"Running and hiding? My, my, my isn't this the most perfect example of the pot calling the kettle blac--" the words on Yamato's tongue froze when he felt a sharp pain on the back of his head. "Ow!"

"Shut up Yamato." Hikari hissed.

Yamato mumbled something under his breath about how he pitied his brother since his girlfriend was tougher than he was.

Hikari on the other hand stood glaring at the pair with enough revulsion to almost make them regret what they were saying to one another. "What is the matter with the two of you?! You two are supposed to be best friends and here you are fighting like a pair of five-year olds." She placed her hands on her hips and Yamato had the vivid impression of his mother standing before him. "And I also demand an explanation for what happened between you and Sora, Taichi. Whatever happened made it seem like --"

"I had no idea she was here?"

"Yes! Exact--… What?" Hikari's arms fell limply to her side as she stared at Taichi in disbelief. Her eyes darted between her brother and Yamato for a few minutes before her hand flew to her mouth, eyes widening at the sudden revelation that hit her. "You're joking."

Taichi laughed bitterly, "Yes because this is definitely a laughing matter."

Hikari swerved to look at Taichi completely, "What's going on?"

Amber eyes became even more menacing as they narrowed further, "Mimi and Yamato have been lying to us; they failed to inform you that they were performing many actions without my knowledge, and this situation leads me to question their loyalty."

Hikari went slack-jawed as she stared at Yamato, then back to Taichi, "You.... didn't know?"

Taichi glanced at her and in that instant Hikari saw the many emotions he was desperately trying to submerse within himself. It was a tactic she always advised against, keeping things locked up had a tendency to build and grow until they were unleashed tenfold, but she understood in this instance that it was best not to let Yamato and Mimi know just how much they were affecting him. "No," was his quiet reply.

Hikari, always the one with the most calming temperament, found, shockingly, that her hands were shaking as she unsheathed her blades, "I'm as much a victim in this as you," she replied to Taichi's questioning look, "I won't stand by and let this dishonor… this...this crime against our family go unpunished."

"Crime?!? We were trying to help you!" Mimi shrieked as she stepped beside Yamato, her daggers resting in her hands.

"And you did such a wonderful job," Taichi replied scornfully, his hand resting on the hilt of his blade.

"We didn't want you to try and fix the happenings in the city. You were practically on your death bed after the raid at Ichijouji castle!" Yamato stated furiously.

Mimi nodded, "And Jyou said --"

"I don't care what Jyou said!" Taichi exclaimed as though he had been dying to say that for days. "You two don't get it! What good has come out of keeping things from me!?"

"……"

Mimi's eyes were steely as she spoke for her boyfriend, "You're alive."

The silence left over from this statement was deafening, but it was soon broken by that hollow, dark laughter of Taichi's. "If you can call this living." He shook his head at their ignorance, "Here's an idea, how about Kari and I lock the two of you in separate rooms and see how long you last. You won't know anything happening outside, you're not allowed to leave, and your forced to live with the knowledge that your friends are the ones keeping you there. Does that sound like an enviable experience?"

"But at least you were getting better!"

"How the hell would you know?!?"

"Maybe because you're standing!"

"You should be grateful Tai!"

Taichi's eyes swerved to Yamato. Another stunned silence filled the air but the tension surrounding the area grew thicker and more apprehensive. "Grateful?" Taichi smirked, "Ah yes, grateful. Here, allow me to rephrase my previous statement. Thank you both so very much for STABBING ME IN THE BACK!"

It was with those words that all hell broke loose in the kitchens.

Mimi and Hikari leapt at each other like feral cats, blades extended like claws as the two females tried every maneuver to bring the other down. They weren't necessarily trying to hurt their opponent -- they were friends after all -- but each was siding on opposite sides of the line this time and there was no backing down until either someone lost or surrendered.

Taichi and Yamato on the other hand were willing to go to almost any length to knock some sense into the other, even if it meant blood had to be drawn.

Yamato figured he had a small advantage due to Taichi's incapacitated arm and he planned to use Taichi's disadvantage as much as he could.

He shot his sword forward, but Taichi easily countered it, allowing the metal to clash and hiss against each other. It didn't take much brainpower to know what kind of strategy the blonde would be using, obviously he would be attacking his left side since it appeared to be weaker.... but appearances were often deceiving as Taichi was about to prove.

Yamato charged at his rival, allowing their swords to connect before he pivoted behind the brunette. He maneuvered his sword so that it was horizontal to Taichi's neck, but Taichi ducked out of the headlock before the metal could connect, dropping to all fours. Taichi grinned as he aimed a kick at Yamato's knees, causing the blonde to stumble backwards and allowing Taichi the opportunity to jump to his feet, ramming the hilt of his blade into Yamato's chest.

Yamato caught himself before his back connected with the floor, then, using the momentum from his fall, swung his legs at Taichi's ankles, but the agile brunette jumped over them. Yamato was back on his feet in seconds and charged his friend again, this time with a bit more caution in his step.

When their swords crossed again he kneed Taichi in the stomach and grasped him by his injured arm when the brunette doubled over. Taichi hissed and glared fiercely at his rival for using such an unorthodox method to gain the upper hand in a battle. He pushed himself away from the blonde, deciding to discreetly arm his injured side on the likelihood that Yamato would try a similar approach. He quickly moved his left wrist to grasp the knife he hid within his sling and clutched it in his left hand.

"Tiring Taichi?"

Taichi smirked as he skillfully spun his sword in his hand, "Wishful thinking Yamato," he chuckled as Yamato began advancing on him again.

Yamato stopped his approach at the last possible moment and pivoted to the side of his friend. Taichi noted the change and quickly spun to meet the oncoming blade aimed for the side of his head. Their blades clashed against each other with deadly precision, each connection, block, and swipe looking almost rehearsed to the large crowd of onlookers.

The skill between the two strongest thieves commanded silence from the rest of their gang, the only sounds in the normally busy kitchens were the constant hissings of metal scraping metal.

Taichi smirked as an idea came to mind. He watched as Yamato drew his arm back to clash his sword against his and during that brief moment Taichi ducked. The sword soared over his head harmlessly and Taichi spun around to spring to his feet behind the blonde.

Yamato, caught off guard spun to face him…. only to be met with a sword at his neck. Yamato swore softly at the triumphant gleam in his rival's eyes, but found himself smirking as well.

Taichi looked confused for a moment before realizing what Yamato was so happy about; Taichi's left side was completely unprotected.

Yamato twirled the hilt of his sword in his hand and knocked Taichi's sword away from him. Taichi tried to jump back, but Yamato caught his injured wrist and twisted it so Taichi's back was facing him.

"God damnit Ishida!!" he hissed as he choked back a yelp of pain.

Yamato smirked, "Looks like I won this round."

"You cocky son of a -- aahh!" Taichi's fury peaked when he felt his arm muscles scream in protest. He quickly grasped the hilt of the small knife he had been holding and plunged it into Yamato's hand.

Yamato withdrew his hand with a shout of startled pain. "What the hell!?!" He stared at the top of his hand in shock, watching as blood pooled around the metal sticking into his flesh.

Taichi smirked as he used Yamato's distraction against him. Taichi quickly snatched his blade from the ground and swung it against Yamato's with such force that it was knocked from his hand, flying across the room before skidding to a halt at the far end of the room. Yamato stared at him, his mind refusing to register that he was unarmed, and Taichi used this stilled mobilization to knock him onto his back, where he pointed his sword at his neck.

Taichi won. There was no doubt about it.

The Prince of Thieves continued glaring at his blonde rival until that horrible clawing sensation filled his chest again.

"Grateful." He scoffed, his anger beginning to evaporate as the clawing became more intense.

Yamato's glare softened as well when he noticed how Taichi's confidence had escaped him. "Tai..."

Taichi raised a hand and turned his gaze away from his best friend, allowing his eyes to turn toward the tile surrounding his feet, "....I still can't believe you thought I would hurt her...."

Yamato felt a wave of guilt crash against him at his previous behavior when Taichi had first made his presence known in the kitchens. "Taichi I didn't --"

Taichi threw his sword against the ground inches from Yamato's head. "SHUT UP Matt!!" His anger was back. "Why do you think things between us have gotten so bad?!? You don't listen!" Taichi backed away from him, glaring. "Only three people could see that I was miserable and you want to know why? Because they listened!…. Which is more than I can say about you or Mimi." His last statement left a coldness in the room that no one could explain. It felt as though a ghost had passed through everyone in the kitchens, leaving them soulless and freezing.

"The two of you have henceforth been suspended from your higher statuses." Taichi announced. He glanced at Koushiro, Jyou, Takeru, and Hikari, "I don't suppose there will be any objections?"

The eldest thieves said nothing as judgment was passed on their friends. It was actually a pretty lenient punishment for crimes of this magnitude, but Hikari got the feeling that Taichi wasn't through with those two yet…. it was only a matter of discovering the perfect punishment.

Taichi returned his attention to Yamato and Mimi, looking every bit like an arbiter announcing a death sentence. "I want the two of you to go directly to my room. Don't talk to anyone, don't stop, and don't make any detours. If you two aren't there when I'm through here," he knelt down to grasp his sword and spun it skillfully, lowering his voice to a growl, "then you better hope to the gods that I don't find you."

Yamato, still sprawled on the floor, slowly rose to his feet. For a moment he didn't move, he simply stared at his long-time rival and best friend. It was as though a silent conversation was said between the duo, a conversation that only they could understand due to the bond between them; the bond of brothers.

No one knew what was being said, hell, even Yamato and Taichi probably didn't, but in that moment of tense silence Yamato understood one thing….. their friendship would survive, but the trust within that friendship was fatally wounded. A long, tiring road lay ahead of him to regain that trust, but he would be willing to walk it. Their bond was worth it.

Yamato was the first to break the connection as he turned to Mimi, who nodded and walked beside her boyfriend. "Taichi?" Tears slid down her cheeks when Taichi refused to meet her gaze. "Taichi… I'm so so sorry that we hurt you. I still believe we did what was right, and I won't take it back, but I want you to know that we did what we thought was necessary because we lo--"

"Your apology is accepted." Taichi stated, eyes still not meeting hers.

Mimi turned to Yamato at the curt interruption, an almost pleading look in her eyes. Yamato gave her a soft smile and gently took her arm, "Come on Meems."

Mimi cast one last hopeful look towards Taichi, praying against everything that he would turn to them. That he would tell them this was all a huge misunderstanding and they could all be one big happy family again.

He didn't.

And as the duo got closer to the exit their footsteps sounded more and more like death tolls. The people standing in the doorways to watch the confrontation stepped away from them, refusing to meet their eyes as though the couple carried some sort of unwanted disease.

Yamato and Mimi paused in the corridor and both turned back to meet all of the faces staring back at them, but the one person whose eyes they didn't see were the ones that they wanted to see the most. With small smiles aimed towards the other thieves they silently shut the doors to the kitchens.

With the mutinous couple vacant from the room the tension only grew thicker, each thief wondering if they should break the silence or remain the silent onlookers they had been for the last half hour….. had it really only been that long? It felt more like years had gone by.

No one had any idea of how to approach this situation since, normally, the Thieves were a tightly knit family that barely had any arguments. Teasing, yes. Disagreements, yes. But never anything of this magnitude that had to be solved with swords rather than words. The stillness was unbearable as everyone waited on baited breath for someone to break the suffocating silence. Finally, after what felt like years rather than minutes, Koushiro walked across the threshold until he was standing beside his friend. Koushiro smiled warmly and placed a firm hand on Taichi's shoulder, squeezing it affectionately. Taichi, however, didn't turn to look at him, keeping his gaze directed at the floor. Koushiro's smile slowly slipped and he sighed, allowing his hand to drop back to his side. "I'm so sorry Taichi..."

Taichi didn't allow his gaze to stray, "You know.... I always expect this sort of treatment from people on the outside...... civilians, soldiers, nobles…..people trying to take what they can from me without any worry about the consequences….but I never, not in my wildest dreams, expected Yamato and Mimi to try to take away the few things I still cherish… my leadership and my freedom.

Koushiro nodded solemnly, "I blame myself for all of this. I could've stopped it; I had the opportunity, I have the authority, I could've found enough people to disagree with this idea. I completely understand if you want to suspend my authority as well…."

Taichi lifted his head and stared at the red head. "You're kidding right?" Koushiro didn't respond and Taichi's mouth curved into a smile. "Izzy…. You really think this is all your fault?" Koushiro lifted his head suddenly as a familiar -- and missed -- sound filled the quiet atmosphere. Taichi was laughing at him. Laughing! Real, sincere laughter! God, how long had it been since the thieves had heard that sound?

Taichi grinned at his friend, "Izzy.... this is not your fault. If anything I should be thanking you for sticking up for my well being..... it's more than Mimi and Yamato did for me."

"Tai." Hikari slowly approached her older brother and took his hand in hers. "I don't agree with what Mimi and Yamato did, but.... they wanted you to get better. They went about it the wrong way..... but in their hearts…. it was the right thing to do at the time."

"The right thing to do? I'll keep that in mind when I send them to Algeria." Taichi smirked.

Hikari glared at her brother, "Tai, please be reasonable, they were just trying to help."

Taichi rolled his eyes, "Yes, and a lot of good it did."

Koushiro quickly stepped in between the siblings and addressed Taichi once again, "Whether it did any good or not is debatable, but it doesn't alter the fact that there are matters here that need to be attended to, including what punishment you are going to sentence to the group of thieves that committed treason, myself included, and --"

"Koushiro the only two that will be punished are the two leading this betrayal. I can more or less figure out the reasons behind everyone's decision, and Mimi and Yamato's are the only ones I can't understand and they will be dealt with accordingly."

"Do I dare ask what you are considering an appropriate punishment?" Hikari asked, her large eyes pleading with Taichi to not make it too severe.

"Well I did just mention Algeria, Hikari." Hikari glared at him in response. "Alright, alright I'm just kidding…. sort of. Anyway I'm just striping them of their higher statuses, for now. But I assure you whatever I come up with won't be too terrible."

Hikari visibly relaxed and gave him a small smile. "Good."

"I'll tell you what's good my liege," Henry suavely wrapped an arm around Hikari's shoulders, "seeing you completely... errr.... virtually unharmed!"

Taichi smiled, "It's good to see you Henry."

Henry easily sidestepped the other two thieves and clasped Taichi's uninjured hand, "Good to see you too my friend," he lowered his voice before adding the next part, "otherwise I'm afraid your sister would've castrated me for allowing you to leave earlier."

Taichi chuckled, "Believe it or not Henry, you're not the first person who's told me that. But I'm wounded that my sister's fury was the only thing that made you hope for me to come back! Did no one just miss me?"

"I wouldn't flatter yourself your highness." The thieves surrounding Taichi quickly parted to see who dared insult their leader, "I'm sure they would've found another foolish street rat to take your place without too much difficulty. The lot of you are idiots after all." Yutaka smirked as he joined the small crowd.

Taichi narrowed his eyes at the dastardly figure of the Ichijouji soldier. "Funny Yutaka, the same strand of words can be used to describe your kind as well." He smirked as he turned to the spymaster who was standing next to him. "Those damn Ichijouji soldiers need to be exterminated, wouldn't you agree Henry."

"Absolutely your Highness." Henry smirked, drawing his blade and pointing it at the soldier's neck.

"Now, what, may I ask, has brought you to our humble abode you double-crossing snake?" Taichi growled.

Yutaka glared at the glistening sword hovering just above his Adam's apple, then calmly placed his palm on its glistening face, lowering it until it was parallel to Henry's thigh. "Hmph. I come bearing important information --"

"If it's veritable." Koushiro added calmly.

Yutaka glanced at him, "Lovely to see you too Koushiro, did you ever visit that doctor I told you about to get your ego deflated?"

"Well after watching how the results had no affect on you, I figured I'd find a better doctor before taking that step." Koushiro replied coolly.

Yutaka chuckled before turning back to Taichi who did nothing to hide the appraising look he sent Koushiro's way, "As I was saying, I've learned some promising information that you might be interested in hearing."

"By all means, please continue." Taichi replied.

Yutaka grinned as he lifted himself onto one of the large tables they were located next to, making sure to show the other thieves just how much he respected them by proclaiming his self-importance. "The Prince is planning to host a public bonfire of all those accused of being in liege with you, my prince, for the enjoyment of the nobles and the people. As I was telling Henry, it's sure to be one hell of a bonfire." He smirked at the enraged flare that flashed through Taichi's intense eyes. "The Prince believes that you and the other thieves won't be able to resist the hero role you've placed yourself in and will come to rescue their poor innocent," he clasped his hands together and allowed his lip to tremble, "souls from the those big, bad flames." He smirked as he watched this piece of information be digested by the thieves before him. Each had their own reactions, as he expected, but he had to admit that the combined warning signals pooling off the thieves was a particularly lovely experience to feel. Oh how he enjoyed pressing peoples' buttons.

He leaned forward, resting his hands on his knees as he stared down the leader of this hopeless cause before addressing him once again. "And he'll be waiting with his many armies to finally have you in his clutches." He emphasized the point by grabbing the front of Taichi's shirt and dragging him forward slightly. Licking his lips as though he tasted something deliciously sweet he chuckled before whispering softly, "and of course I'll be there to watch."

Taichi's mouth twisted into a snarl and, in one swift motion, grasped Yutaka's wrists and threw him to the floor. "You sick son of a bitch!" He roughly kicked the spy in the ribs before all of the other thieves gathered around him, eager to partake in treating the pratty Ichijouji soldier like a piñata. "Get him out of my sight." Taichi hissed.

"With pleasure." Henry grinned sadistically. Taichi watched as all but Koushiro, Hikari, Takeru, and Jyou raced out of the kitchens, dragging Yutaka with them while he protested and shouted the entire way.

Taichi irritably brushed off his shirt where Yutaka's hands had been, as though the very thought of a single skin cell belonging to that backstabber remaining anywhere near him disgusted him immensely.

"I don't understand why you won't just get rid of that… that… creature, Taichi." Hikari stated furiously.

"Kari you know why I can't… not yet anyway." Taichi sighed and crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against the table, "We need him, no matter how much I hate the cocky little..." he made a strangling motion with his hands.

Jyou adjusted his glasses, "Let's hope we won't need him much longer then."

Koushiro nodded before taking a deep, calming breath, preparing himself to break his own bit of bad news to their obviously exhausted friend. "Taichi." He bit his lip, fearing his voice might tremble. "... I'm afraid I have one more piece of information you won't like...." Koushiro stated hesitantly.

Taichi laughed as he turned his attention to the flustered red-head, "Geez, I'm gone for one day and the entire world collapses." He smiled slightly at his own joke before nodding for Koushiro to continue.

Koushiro fumbled with his hands as he tried to find the best place to start, "Jeri came to see us today...."

"Oh? How is she?" Taichi asked, smile slipping from his face as the direction of the conversation went down a road Taichi already wasn't liking.

"Umm... not good actually..... You see, she overheard Ken say something...." Koushiro said very softly. By now Taichi had gone as stiff as a board. Koushiro was having difficulty talking. That was a sure sign he was about to announce something along the lines of "Your little sister has just been diagnosed with the Plague" or "Guess whose at the door!! Myotis and his Black Squadron! Ooh! Lookie! I think they brought the right size for your noose this time!"

"Oh man I don't like where this is going...." Taichi muttered to himself.

"Jeri… well…. heard Ken mention the idea…."

"Come one Izzy, it can't be that bad." Hikari strained a smile to give Koushiro that last ounce of confidence needed to continue.

Koushiro closed his eyes, "Ken mentioned the idea of … of killing his father."

Koushiro opened his eyes just in time to watch the color completely drain from Taichi's face, "Tai are you okay?" Taichi didn't respond as a wave of icy terror crashed against him, causing him to lose his grip on the table. His knees suddenly felt shaky and his breath hitched in his throat, causing him to stumble and drop to all fours. Jyou, with the reaction skills of a situation-trained doctor raced towards his friend and grabbed his shoulders and lifted him into a sitting position. "Tai! Taichi are you okay?!" Hikari screamed as she shoved passed Jyou to place her hands on his cheeks.

"I'm fine damnit!" Taichi growled.

"Obviously not!" Jyou reprimanded, kneeling in front of his friend. Jyou studied the way Taichi's chest heaved for breath, how his shoulders shook with effort, how his hands gripped the tile below him. "Taichi you need to go to the infirmary now."

Taichi glared at him, "No."

Jyou narrowed his eyes, "I'll drag you there if I have to."

"No, not yet." His voice was finalizing. The news Koushiro had delivered had obviously shaken Taichi to a degree that caused him to place his personal health at the bottom of his priority list. "Conference. My room. Now."

TTTTTTTTTTTTTT

Ken sighed dramatically as his eyes scanned over the table of important nobles.

A perfect afternoon completely ruined. Well….. perfect was an overstatement; all the prince had been doing for the last two weeks was practicing with his blade while trying to ignore the searing pain coming from his unhealed wounds as he pushed his limitations. Not his favorite way to spend a day, but it was the most productive in the long-run; the sooner he was back to his full strength the sooner he could continue his search for Taichi.

Instead, however, he was here.

He instantly damned all the architects who built this room of absolute vexation.

The secret audience chamber was, without a doubt, the most poorly constructed room in the entire castle; it's location, for starters, was dreadful. It had at one point been an armory where the weapons of injured soldiers would rest until the men would either pass on or recover. Due to its obvious unimportance the room was located one floor above the dungeons, which meant Ken had to tread down several flights of stairs and walk through a maze of hallways before encountering the room his father insisted on using for the most private of meetings.

The second, and most aggravating quality in Ken's opinion, was the size of the room; it was small, too small. Ken prided himself on being taller than the average male his age; it gave him the advantage of having an extra ounce of menace to his already menacing presence, but in this case it infuriated him. The room was barely tall enough for the average male, since it's purpose wasn't built to sustain meetings of this sort, and many of the occupants would bump or scratch their heads against the ceilings or the splintering wooden support beams. But the fun didn't end there! The room didn't just lack on the height level, but also surface area. A small round table could barely fit in its cramped walls, and having eight or so grown gentlemen as well as his father and himself left the overall space severely diminished.

At the present moment he and his father were shoulder-to-shoulder in their termite infested wooden chairs that were set apart from the cluster around the table. The nobles were all but sitting in each other's laps as they sweated like dirty pigs in the rapidly warming room. And yet, despite this less than appealing visual image they managed to retain the proper behavior of all nobles in the presence of his high-and-mighty father.

All were hanging on his father's every word and staring at him with an almost god-like appreciation.

Maggots.

Ken sighed inwardly and rested his chin on his palm. Why must a brilliant young man like himself be subjected to these incapable flesh eaters? There was no loyalty in these idiots, all Ken could see was the dollar signs in their eyes. They simply pretended to love their King because he filled their coffers.

Ken chanced a glance at his blubbering oaf of a relation: Tired eyes highlighted by heavy purple bags (Lovely), wheezing breath rattling in his lungs (annoying as hell), and a voice that carried through the tiny room, but lacked that vociferous quality that once demanded attention and always received it.

Basically his father was a freaking carriage wreck waiting to happen, but the poor bloke was still as oblivious as ever. He still believed himself to be unstoppable, that these nobles still worshiped the ground he walked on, that he could still take on any man in battle even if he were twice as young as the beloved King.

Poor misguided fool.

Ken almost felt bad about what he planned to do. Placing himself against his father was equivalent to Ken going up against a mentally disabled toddler; the Ichijouji prince could see no obstacles standing in his way from ripping the King's candy away from him, pushing him onto his back, and kicking him senseless like a broken doll. It was too easy! His father's health was already compromised and an untimely death was to be expected, Ken already had a number of powerful followers at his disposal, and the capture of the Prince of Thieves with him in command was eminent.

Everything was going perfectly and Ken had to cover his broad grin with his hand to shield his obvious excitement with the way things were turning out.

Let's see I'll plan my coronation for next weekend and that should give that idiot priest a chance to get all of his holy crap prepared. My wedding to that ungrateful runaway wench can be held a few days afterward and Taichi's execution will follow shortly. Or he thought gleefully maybe on the same day as my wedding…

"(cough) Have we (cough cough) reached an (cough) agreement?" The King wheezed.

Ken was thrusted out of his pleasant musings when one of the nobles scraped the legs of his chair across the stone floor with the irritating fingernails-on-a-chalkboard kind of screech.

"Y-Yes my liege." A noble -- Eiichi Hama -- stumbled from his chair, trying to squeeze around the other members of the King's private council. Ken watched this small man stumble about and grinned at the poor man's misfortune. Eiichi was a small man, probably only a few years older than himself, and he found himself in this powerful position after his father -- Koyoto Hama -- was brutally assassinated on the grounds that he was conspiring against the Ichijoujis. No proof was found but the man was dead and life goes on, and now stands this interesting piece of work; skinny as hell and all arms and legs, making his journey to the front of the room very awkward and -- in Ken's opinion -- quite amusing. He had dirty blonde hair that was cropped evenly on his head and a beard and mustache that matched his full head of hair.

My gods they'll let anyone in a secret council these days. the prince chuckled to himself quietly.

Once free from his cramped confinement Hama mopped his sweaty forehead with a handkerchief and removed a scroll from under his arm. His breath regained, the noble unrolled the parchment which revealed the Ichijouji crest to the two royals (and a ring of dark areas on the paper that made Ken's stomach quench with disgust), and calmly cleared his throat. "It has been decreed by his Royal Highness Osamu Ichijouji -- King of Ichijouji, Conqueror of the free world, and Ruler of all creatures from the mountains of Infinity to the ocean of Spire -- that a new food tax be issued on the residents of Ichijouji." Eiichi Hama glanced over the paper to meet the eyes of the King, and, in that brief moment Ken saw something truly interesting…. spite? Disgust? The prince found a dark smile curve the corners of his lips as he made a quick mental note to speak with this noble after the meeting...

Hama cleared his throat again before returning his eyes to the decree and continuing, "The King proclaims that one half of all food purchased in Ichijouji markets will be surrendered to Ichijouji soldiers. Extra consumption to superior armies, such as the Black Squadron, will allow better performance and faster results." With his job completed Hama carefully made his way back to his seat and squished himself between the two large nobles on either side of him.

"Let's hope so, our main priority should be trying to capture that damn Prince of Thieves." Ken added maliciously.

The King shot his son a sharp look and lowered his voice drastically, "Ken, chasing after your little runaway isn't the sole purpose of our army's existence. There are other matters that need to be attended to."

Ken gritted his teeth, "Taichi's existence is the sole reason for the many problems we're experiencing now, father."

The King's mouth formed into an amused grin, "A thought which has already occurred to me and a matter I've already taken into my own hands."

Yes because you've done such an amazing job with that already. Ken thought scornfully as his father returned his attention to the council.

"Gentlemen," all movement ceased, "my son has just brought up an interesting point to the well-being of our kingdom." The King rose shakily out of his makeshift throne, grasping the armrests until his knuckles turned white in order to summon enough strength to perform the simple action. "Let us think for a moment about all of the misfortunes plaguing our beautiful city; lack of money," the King lifted a finger as he counted off the list of dreadful occurrences, "lack of food, and lack of respect from our citizens which results in a lack of trust and loyalty from the disgusting rodents. Are we all in agreement?" Nods followed his proclamation. "I have spent quite a number of sleepless nights trying to uncover the source of these issues and my son is correct about one thing…." the King paused a moment as another coughing fit erupted from his weakening lungs, "the (cough cough) Prince of Thieves (cough) is the (cough cough) cause of (cough) all of this!!" The King stepped back and grasped one of the armrests as he hacked his lungs out, Ken having to bite the inside of his cheek to keep his glee hidden. After all, if any of the nobles saw his overwhelming joy over the obvious worsening of his father's condition there might be reason to suspect him if anything…. unfortunate were to happen.

Once the King's coughing was under control he plopped into his throne, chest heaving and breaths rasping in his throat. "He…. must be stopped…. otherwise our delicate…. civilization… will be demolished. Which is why…. I have brought…. two specialists…. to deal with him."

Ken felt his heart plummet into his stomach. Specialists? What the-- Specialists?!?

The King quickly regained his breath and addressed the council, "The Prince of Thieves has been a thorn in our country's side for the last four years, and the reason his reign of terror has lasted so long is due to his incorrigible habit of avoiding justice. He's like a puff of smoke; able to disappear just as you have him in your grasp, and disappear completely. No signs of his whereabouts, no clues as to whom the rest of his gang members are, and no way of tracking him. A puff of smoke that's gone just like that," he snapped his fingers to emphasize his point. "This unique ability to make our soldiers look like amateurs is one of the main reasons he has become so dangerous. He avoids arrest without an ounce of difficulty and lives to commit another felony the next day! And all the while he gathers more followers!"

Ken narrowed his eyes Idiot. Taichi's most dangerous quality is not in his evasion of our moronic guards, but in his manipulative capabilities. Ken clenched his fists as his father continued to ramble. That bastard could convince a man whose shirt had been stolen that he stole the shirt off of his own back even while Taichi's wearing it. Thanks to this… talent, if you will, he continues to gain more and more allies to fight against us, and soon we'll be outnumbered… and outmatched.

"Now, as our armies continue to search for him our economy has been depleting rapidly. None of the nearby farms and villages wish to trade with us on the off chance that the Prince of Thieves might intercept them and rob them blind. The Prince of Thieves is a major cause in all of our problems, but until he is caught we must focus on rebuilding the economy so we are not driven into the ground. All of our attention has been on searching for this nuisance, and although we are justified in doing so we must place this difficult task into more capable hands. Hands that were built for this area of expertise and who excel in it, so that we might concentrate on refining our grand society back to what it was before that accursed Prince showed up on our doorstep."

Murmurs of agreement followed this statement, "Who exactly are you proposing to take on a great task such as this, Your Highness?"

The King smiled darkly, "Gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to…." the small wooden door banged against the rock walls unceremoniously, causing the weak hinges to break and send the door crashing into the hard flooring. As dust from the centuries soared into the air and the nobles groped for their handkerchiefs to shield their mouths and noses from the tainted air, Ken stared into the mess and could vaguely make out two silhouettes standing in the doorway.

One was obviously female based on the hourglass figure that was notable even through the dust and the other was taller, with a slender but muscular build whom Ken automatically assumed was a male.

"Good evening your Majesty."

Ken narrowed his eyes at the velvety voice that resounded over the unnecessary coughing the nobles were still dramatizing. Without having to look at the voice's owner Ken already suspected his plans were in danger; the voice was one that belonged to a seductress, a manipulative bitch that was willing to do nearly anything to get whatever she wanted. But that wasn't all, in that one sentence she revealed how cunning she was -- choosing her words carefully. Ooh, these two were going to be a problem unless he took care of them. Soon.

"The Devil Hunters." The King was smirking as he finished his introduction. "Professional bounty hunters that I have hired for the specific task of hunting down and capturing the Prince of Thieves and any of his followers."

"And capture them we will." The female of the Devil Hunters stepped into the crowded room and leapt onto the round table the nobles were still seated at.

Ken was positive he wasn't the only one in the room whose eyes had been drawn to her the moment she made her features noticeable. She was quite stunning in a gothic vampiric way; her skin was pale -- white would be a better description -- to the point that she looked either like a walking corpse or someone who had just fallen into a giant bowl of powder and refused to wash it off. She had long dark brown hair that cascaded to the middle of her back and a few strands were decorated with red and black beads. She wore a blood red strapless shirt and a black skirt that was long along her left leg but cropped short on her right, giving a perfect view of her knee-high black heeled boots. Among other things Ken noted smirking. Her weapons weren't visible but Ken was sure she was equipped with numerous devices of death and destruction based on her sadistic smile and dark, calculating eyes.

Slower, but with just as much grace, the male of the Devil Hunters made his presence known as he joined his partner on the table. He had the same chalk-like skin but atop his head was a mop of black shaggy hair that appeared never to have been combed. He wore a long black trench coat dotted with many different hidden pockets over his black shirt and slacks. A sword hung at his hip and a bow was slung at his back equipped with a quiver of arrows. His face immediately struck Ken however; his face was impassive as he glanced around the room -- no doubt looking for anything to occupy his time whilst his partner did all of the talking -- but his eyes. God damnit they were the exact shade as….

"Taichi's." Ken hissed.

The girl's eyes snapped to him. She studied him for a moment before she broke into a grin, bright red lips contrasting sharply against her white skin and teeth. She said nothing as she turned back to the King, leaving Ken in painful suspense about what had caused her sudden loss of composure. "My brother and I are honored to meet the infamous Ichijouji King and are eager to help you, My Lord."

The King clapped his hands together, "Excellent! Excellent! Gentlemen these…. people are Lillian and Damian Devian, the most notorious bounty hunters outside of our borders."

"You flatter us your Highness." Lillian bowed her head ever so slightly, "We were so pleased to learn you specifically requested us to assist you with your," she smirked again, "pest problem."

The King beamed, "Yes, the mission has officially been passed to you. I expect nothing but the best results." His eyes darkened slightly, "otherwise I'm sure you realize the punishment that awaits you."

Lillian smirked, "Trust me my Lord, failure isn't even an option." She leapt off of the table and stood before the two royals, "you'll have your thief with a leash around his pretty little neck. Soon….." She chanced a sidelong glance at Ken and her smirk broadened, "Very soon."

TTTTTTTTTTT

Ignorance is bliss, or at least that was the case with Mai on that stormy night.

Mai was in a bitter mood that evening due to all of the freaking nuns forcing her to clean all of the dishes from that evening's supper.

'How much can a bunch of old ladies eat' was the thought that came to her when the Head Mother asked her to do this tedious task, so of course she agreed, believing that she'd be done with her chores in minutes time and then she could go bother her favorite thieves..

Ohhh how little she knew….

No wonder some of the Sisters were snickering, Mai scowled as she rubbed her raisin-like fingers, noting how the deep wrinkles created by the basins of water were equivalent to deep trenches.

"Greeeat another thing for Henry to mock me about." Mai violently stuffed her hands in the pockets of her white gown and continued trekking to her room on the far end of the prohibited side of the Coventry. Thanks to that whole "women who have pledged themselves to God may not be seen by other men" rule Mai was forced to eat away from her comrades and sleep on the opposite side of the Coventry in order to keep up appearances. During the day she was free to flock amongst her equals, but at night she was prohibited from going anywhere near the Thieve boys.

Stupid rules… what kind of girl do they think I am?!? Mai's lip protruded ever so slightly as the full impact of this insult hit full force. And Taichi just had to agree to all of those conditions. I'm going to go crazy for crying out loud!!

"Damn that bush-headed, sword-playing little swine!! While he's off partying in the city I'm stuck HERE."

If someone were to pick a few words to describe the beautiful, indigo-haired resident of the Coventry usually "short-tempered" would not be amongst the collection. In a nutshell Mai was sarcastic but an overall pleasure to be around. Definitely a glass half full kind of person. Of all the thieves residing in their temporary home Henry was amongst the very few who could get her blood boiling, so if any of them were to see her at that moment, screaming at the empty corridor, a double-take would probably be called for.

Mai continued scowling as she stormed through the empty hallway, "Idiot." In truth Mai was worried about her friend, although she'd never admit it aloud. Sure he could take care of himself better than, hell, just about everyone thanks to all of his experience fending off the vermin of the world… but that didn't reassure her. Mai learned a long time ago that her instincts were usually right and had, on more than one occasion, saved her life. And on this bleak autumn night her disaster senses were tingling to a degree that made her want to go check up on all of her friends and make sure they weren't dangling from the rafters or some other catastrophe.

Oh how the urge plagued her! But that annoying little voice in the back of her mind -- the one that sounded suspiciously like Koushiro -- was scolding her fiercely.

"Mai do you realize how many strings we had to pull to allow you to stay here? The Sisters were not happy about it and are only complying to our request as a favor to Taichi and Yamato. Do you honestly want to throw their generosity back at their faces and wind up living on the streets again while your name is still on Ichijouji's most wanted?"

Mai sighed, "No. Well… not really anyway." She owed far too much to those two already and refused to become another burden to their burdensome lives.

It was total coincidence that Mai had her run-in with the thieves in the first place, and, on many a night, she wondered in great depth what her life would've been like without their gentle guidance and loving support. Probably halfway across the world on some sort of criminal ship. she thought briefly.

Mai's first meeting with Taichi and Yamato occurred three days after her fifteenth birthday a little less than a year ago. She had been running from… something, although exactly what eluded her… Anyway she was fortunate enough to rush head-first into the mob of happy market-goers on that particularly crowded Saturday morning. With such a spectacular cover she was completely shielded from any enemies after her head, and apparently she wasn't the only one that thought so. Without watching where she was going she bumped into none other than the Prince of Thieves and his right hand man, although she was oblivious to who she was standing before at that time. She apologized and went about her way without another thought about the handsome strangers.

However, they were thinking about her.

Despite how transient their encounter was it lead to something more profound than any of them could have imagined. After they were formally introduced Mai realized just how much fate played into everything around her -- whether it's a smile shared between two people across a crowded room or a feeling experienced by two total strangers that gives off the feeling of mutual distaste towards the other, fate somehow puts them into the hand dealt to you. It is almost a guarantee that it will not be the last you've seen of them, even if its for only another split second. And Taichi and Yamato were living proof of that in Mai's eyes.

Mai blinked her eyes slowly as she finally came upon the short hallway where her room was located. Hm, maybe she wouldn't lose too much sleep after all. She approached the door to her room and rested her hand on the handle when a strange sound caught her attention. Well, strange wasn't exactly the right word… more like…. unaccustomed to here in the Coventry.

It was the sound of metal scraping metal.

Mai's hand retreated from the knob and cautiously she turned around. This wasn't right, the Thieves had a room reserved for training on the other side of the Coventry with the rest of their rooms, and there was no way on hell or earth one of the sisters would wield a sword… well… at least she didn't think --

"Hey Sora, I'm not supposed to be over here…."

"You're welcome to leave whenever it suites you Daisuke."

Mai visibly relaxed as she entered the door from which the voices were coming from. "What the hell are you two doing here?"

Daisuke literally jumped out of his seat and stumbled to grasp the back of the chair to right himself before he crashed to the floor. "M-Mai!! Hi!! Umm… fancy meeting you here…?"

Mai glanced over at Daisuke and sighed dramatically, "Get acting lessons Dais, you're not fooling anyone." Daisuke lowered his gaze into his lap, a light blush of embarrassment coating his cheeks. Mai blinked a few times in surprise, this was a very un-Daisukeish reaction to an innocent, teasing comment. It was then that Mai decided to take in the entire situation, and something was definitely…. off about her immature friend. She quietly approached him and knelt beside his chair, taking one of his hands into hers, "What's wrong love?"

Daisuke didn't answer, but even if he wanted to he would've been cut off by the reply coming from the irate Takenouchi princess standing a few steps away, sword in hand, slicing and stabbing at the sword placed beneath the arm of another chair -- a makeshift practice dummy. "He's upset because his precious friend Taichi," as she said his name she struck the chair with more ferocity than necessary, "returned under unexpected conditions and is now fighting with Mimi and Yamato."

Mai's eyes widened as she turned back to Daisuke, "Tai's back!? When?!"

"Not too long ago…" Daisuke mumbled quietly, eyes still averted towards his lap.

All of Mai's earlier troubles seemed to vanish as she jumped to her feet, dragging Daisuke with her, "That's great! God! When I get my hands on that hedgehog I swear I'm going to beat the living --" she trailed off suddenly when she noticed Daisuke had yet to cut in and add to their gruesome plot to kill their beloved friend. It was a game they played; whenever Taichi did something remarkably stupid -- even for him -- Daisuke and Mai would worry and fret until he returned home and then they would discuss how exactly they planned to get back at him… in great, gory detail. But here was her partner in crime not being…. crime-filled! "Dais?" She placed her hands on his shoulders and stared up at his face, "Dais? Are you okay? What's happened?"

Daisuke took a shuddering breath that racked his skinny frame, "It's all Takeru's fault!"

Mai blinked in surprise, "Takeru? Daisuke you know better than I that he's just kidding when he messes with you. It can't be that ba-- wait! Did he -- No!! He didn't find out about your secret longing to hold a certain lavend--"

Sora was fortunate enough to turn at that precise moment and witness one of those unforgettable moments; Daisuke slamming his hands over Mai's mouth with such force she flew backwards and landed on the floor with a loud "thud", but that's not all! One of her heels flew from her foot and knocked Daisuke squarely on his flushed face. The duo stared at one another for a moment as the shock settled in, then they promptly started giggling.

"I swear I don't know how you manage a sword with that type of hand-eye coordination." Mai grinned as she heaved herself onto her feet.

"Me!? You're the one who fell on her back!"

"After you pushed me you idiot!"

Sora watched with fascination as they continued to insult each other, but whilst venomous words left their tongues smiles remained frozen to their faces and spurts of laughter still kept them clinging to each other so they wouldn't collapse from the exhaustion their lungs and throats were feeling.

The young Takenouchi princess had never…. experienced anything like that. A friendship that was so odd that she could say the most hurtful words to the other but both would still be laughing… smiling. It was so… honest. Nothing was held back from the other even if it was hurtful or insulting; their mistakes, their triumphs, their laughs at their stupidity was all laid out for each of them to see and comment on.

Mimi was the closest she'd ever come to possessing that kind of friendship… but it was all a sick, ugly lie. Mimi had been hiding everything from her, so it made her wonder if anything she was led to believe was true either. Sure she forgave the beautiful young woman, but the wounds were still there… still trying to heal. And just as she felt she could take a look at her heart and only see the small scars of these wounds, they were reopened by a new face.

The Prince of Thieves's face.

She was such an idiot. Of all those masks floating around that day she thought she had found someone genuine, someone whose mask was only a costume prop and not a part of their identity like most of the nobles there that evening. Leave it to her, however, to find the one person whose entire identity was a mask. Ironic isn't it? She looked for something real and only succeeded in finding the most fake person there.

She wished more than anything that she could go back in time and stop herself from ever meeting him, to stop herself from ever feeling this.. this… she didn't even know what she was feeling anymore! In one evening her entire world was flipped around and it all started with him. He's the one that filled her mind with thoughts about taking actions to help people instead of just being an idealist, and she had when Mimi and Yamato were in danger. She was such a fool! Why did she listen to him!? Why did she allow herself to feel things towards him that she hadn't felt in a long time; respect, gratitude, and.. there was always that one emotion she could never place a name to, but it was there. Bright and shining like a glowing star.

Why did she allow herself to trust someone she barely knew!?! But she knew the answer to this one already, whether she wanted to admit it or not...because she thought she did know him. She felt such happiness, such warmth while she was with him, and then what did he do? Turn it into anger and fire. She hated him so much for taking those things from her. She hated him so much for everything he did to her. But most importantly she hated Taichi for making her feel the way she did and then ripping it away like a band-aid; fast, but with a stinging after affect.

Sora's thoughts were interrupted when she felt a small hand gently caress the area beneath her eye. She blinked in surprise and her eyes were immediately drawn to the culprit; two large brown eyes stared back at her.

"Sora… are you okay?"

"I-I'm fine," she lied through her teeth. Running her hands over her cheeks to remove the tears she didn't even know were there, she quickly focused a small, forced smile at her new friend. "See? Never better."

Daisuke didn't look convinced, "Are you sure?"

Sora nodded with an over exaggerated happiness, "Very."

Mai, however, wasn't fooled. "Hey Dais, can you go check on Taichi for me?"

Daisuke seemed surprised about the sudden request, "Why?"

"You just told me that something was happening with Taichi you idiot! Now go find out what!"

"Why don't you go? You've got two perfect legs!"

Mai fluttered her eyelashes playfully, "Why Daisuke I didn't think you'd noticed."

Daisuke groaned and slapped his hand over his eyes, hiding a portion of his blushing cheeks, "You know what I meant."

"That you've been staring at my legs, Daisuke you little perv! God, just wait until I tell Hen--"

"Your boyfriend." Daisuke smirked. He chuckled madly as Mai clenched her fists by her sides. "No, no wait I apologize I forgot, you don't have boyfriends. So, by the way, how has your little boy toy been?" As soon as the words left his mouth he knew he was in for it, so, without giving Mai the chance to hit him… or worse, he ran out of the room as though his shoes caught fire.

"That's right Daisuke, you better run you idiot!!" Mai called after him as she stopped her pursuit in the doorway, "I WILL have my revenge!!" She huffed as she slammed the doors shut, "Good riddance to the little punk." Mai's exterior slowly relaxed again and she walked back over to where Sora had continued mutilating her makeshift practice dummy. "So my dear, what's on your mind?"

"Nothing."

Mai smiled slightly as she leaned against the chair Sora continued thrashing, "Now, if Dais was the one who had said that I would have believed him, but you? Something's happened in the last few hours that is greatly troubling you, and don't," she raised a finger as Sora opened her mouth to respond, "try to deny it. This chair speaks for itself," she gently patted the back of the chair and smirked as it broke away from the seat and crashed to the ground. "Awww, such a waste, I believe this was French? Italian maybe? Lovely craftsmanship…or at least it was before your temper got a hold of it." She smiled as she looked into Sora's burning eyes.

"It's nothing important," Sora snapped as she sheathed her blade.

"Oh? Then why's it got you so upset if it's not important?" Mai retaliated, silently thanking the gods that the temperamental auburn-haired princess had already put her sword away.

Sora glared at the persistent thief-in-disguise, "It's none of your business."

Mai placed a hand over her heart and grimaced, "Ouch, that blow went right to the heart." She smiled slightly as she positioned herself directly in front of her new source of amusement, "Alrighty, well let's see…. Obviously your anger is targeted at a specific person, a person, whom I'm guessing, is very close to Mimi since you're not with her right now sobbing out your sorrows. Whatever this person did affected you greatly in some way which is why you came all the way over here so you can think. Am I getting warm?"

Sora glared at her and abruptly turned away from the inquirer.

Mai smirked, "I should do this professionally. Oooh, so this is someone who is close to Mimi, has a knack for putting thoughts into peoples' heads, AND is, at this very moment, in the kitchens causing some sort of scene with the rest of the thieves! I believe he goes by the name of Tai--"

"Don't you dare," Sora whirled around to face the surprised young woman, "speak that name around me." Mai blinked a few times as she watched the Takenouchi princess's fury build and build behind her crimson eyes. "As far as I'm concerned that satanic monster that I had the displeasure of meeting is dead."

Mai didn't know how to respond to this, and she realized calling her a psychotic alien with some form of anti-social disease probably wasn't the best way to approach this…. She didn't know Sora very well, but maybe she could try comparing her to another thief and treat the situation the way she would in that circumstance.

Mai bit her lip as she gathered all her means of dealing with this problem; yelling, hitting things, going off somewhere to get her thoughts straight before directly dealing with the issue….. Oh. My. God.

"You're just like him!!" Mai cried before she could stop herself.

Sora's eyes darkened.

Wrong thing to say.

"You're comparing me to that heartless excuse for a human being!"

"Heartless?"

Sora unsheathed her sword and went back to stabbing what remained of the poor defenseless chair. Every now and then her thrusts would be a bit more violent and a bit more deadly. Mai was surprised that piece of furniture was still standing.

Okay, how would she handle this if Sora were Taichi….

….

……

Well this wasn't going to work! Why would Taichi be mad at himself!? Mai wanted to hit something.

Well ..teasing obviously hadn't worked… Maybe, and this was a long shot, she should try compassion. That's probably what Mimi would be doing, so she might as well give it a shot.

"Sora?"

"What?" the young woman snapped.

"I'm sorry, I… I don't do this often. You know… this whole…" she struggled with the word, "nice thing." Mai, exasperated, plopped on the floor slightly away from the agitated young woman. "I guess that's what happens when you grow up alone… you don't learn how to treat people the way some deserve to be treated." Mai allowed her eyes to dart quickly over to Sora, who, she realized gleefully, was no longer violently destroying the chair. She made an effort to hide her triumphant grin as a statement similar to what a sap! entered her mind for the briefest of seconds. "Yep, I was orphaned as a baby and left the orphanage the moment I could walk. Went to a workhouse, then a shop, then the army… until they figured out I was a girl, and then I lived out the remainder of my petty childhood under a bridge with a stray cat I found." She sighed, "My joining the army, as a girl and all, placed me on Ichijouji's Most Wanted list for a long time, of course that was a little bit before Ta-- the thieves became huge criminals, so I was hunted down mercilessly for a long time." Mai was pleased to note that she had Sora's undivided attention now; she was completely turned around and staring at her with a curious expression, no longer furious. "Then I met Taichi and Yamato, and since then I've been annoyed and irritated to a point where I'm ready to strangle someone!" She laughed, "But that's what families do, right?"

Sora mouth twitched as she fought back a smile of her own, "I suppose…."

Mai jumped to her feet and slung an arm around Sora's shoulders, "Come on love, what has our loveable leader done to you that would put you in such emotional distress?"

Sora glared at Mai's arm as if willing it to come off by the sheer force of her heated stare. Unfortunately for her, though, Mai wasn't one to be intimidated and Sora found the little voice in the back of her mind betraying her stubbornness.

This girl barely knows you! What kind of help could she possibly be?

Maybe the kind you need. Don't you just want someone to listen to you? Someone who might not be able to help, but who can at least rid you of these terrible, plaguing emotions that drove you to slap him in the first place?

Sora glanced once again at Mai's face where she found an exceptional amount of amusement -- which she wasn't surprised about at all, she could only imagine what her face must have looked like while she had her internal argument -- but also genuine concern for both her and Taichi. Maybe venting a little wouldn't cause too much grief for either of them….

"I met him at the ball--"

"How romantic!" Mai quickly shut her mouth at the look she received from the young Takenouchi heiress, "Sorry, please continue."

TTTTTTTTTTTTTT

He felt so numb.

Those blank blue eyes. That mattered white blonde hair.

Already he felt his hands begin to shake, his eyes beginning to well with tears.

The blood… Oh God there was so much…

He dropped to his knees and relinquished his weapon, choosing instead to hug his torso as though he were afraid he was going to fall apart.

"I'm sorry… I'm so, so, so, so sorry."

The boy laying next to him said nothing but continued to stare at the ceiling without any recognition or interest in his eyes. His sword was still clasped loosely in his hand, smeared with it's unique mixture of his own blood and the blood of the one who had the unfortunate experience of slaying him.

The monster who killed him. The beast that ended his life.

Not two hours ago were they chatting and laughing like old friends, each going into detail about their troubles and how they ended up where they were. He had a little brother and sister back home waiting for him. Waiting for him to come home with the money he earned and buy their freedom.

Only he would never come home. He would join the other hundreds of bodies outside waiting to be burned...

"Oh God…" the monster clutched his heart, feeling the life within his own body compared to the death in front of him. Claws began raking throughout his core, causing his whole body to shake as tears slipped down his face. "I didn't want to… Oh God, I…" he gripped his hair and sobbed in agony, "Why didn't you kill me when you had the chance! Why didn't you stop me!"

"Because, Taichi, you are unstoppable." Ken smiled satanically as he stood beside his slave, running his hand through his hair the way someone would with a pet. "Why do you weep for this one when you have killed so many others?"

Taichi didn't turn to meet Ken, "He didn't deserve to die."

Ken chuckled as he knelt beside the younger boy, gently pulling his chin toward him to meet his eyes, "But did he have the right to live?" Taichi's eyes narrowed but he remained silent. "People like yourself, Taichi, are insults to the human race. You say you don't deserve to die, but why should you live other than to serve your betters? And if your betters order you to die…"

"Is that my purpose in life as well Ken," Taichi snapped, "Live my life worshiping the ground you walk on until you order me to die!"

Ken's gaze hardened as he took the collar around Taichi's neck and hauled him to his feet. Once they were out of sight of the rows and rows of chairs occupied by other nobles Ken grasped Taichi's shoulders and slammed him against the black stone wall, "You are never to address me in such a manner ever again, especially not in public." Ken's grip on Taichi's shoulders tightened, "You're lucky my father wasn't witness to that little outburst of yours, otherwise I'm sure you'd be on your back in agony at this very moment. He despises it when slaves mouth off to their superiors."

"You will never be my superior Ken." Taichi hissed.

Ken's smirk returned as he tore the sleeve off of Taichi's shirt, ripping most of the collar off as well, "This scar of yours begs to differ," Taichi narrowed his eyes as Ken traced the letters he carved into his flesh, "slave."

Pieces.

That's all that remained of him for the longest time. A pile of broken glass that had, at one point, portrayed a beautiful glass image…. but the color had long since faded, leaving only coldness and emptiness.

Those around him tried in vain to patch the pieces together, return their loving friend back to the way he was, but everyone who dared to touch the shattered mess would cut themselves on the sharp edges and drop the piece they were holding… only succeeding in adding to the blood-stained pieces.

After their escape, though, the different colors started to return. They remained faded and cold to the touch… but it was a start.

Every now and then in his search to repair his damaged soul he'd discover a jagged section of a long lost smile, or a small shard of the determination and fire his eyes once held. ….But it took a very long time for him to recover completely, despite the fake shell he built up to please those around him.

Eventually he was able to rebuild everything that made him who he was; reach into the scrap pile that represented his old life and pluck a glass-like piece from the rubble and glue it back into it's frame.

He would never be the same, but that in itself was bit of a relief; he was too naive, too trusting, too open to hurt… and he suffered for it.

Even now it appeared that these were still his greatest faults. His sensational belief that there was more good in the world than evil… you'd think he would've learned by now.

His trust, the one thing he refused to give out lightly (thanks to past circumstances), had once again been violated. He couldn't express in words just how much that violation killed him, possibly the only thing that hurt more was that the violation was committed by his best friends on the belief that he wouldn't let Sora stay.

He didn't believe a word of any of the excuses they presented to him about why they kept Sora's presence a secret. He could, if he squinted his eyes and turned his head upside down, almost understand where they were coming from when they decided to keep what was happening outside of their home from him, he would, after all, go off to try and right the wrongs. He let this excuse slide because he was certain it was true and it made some logic if, as he mentioned earlier, he stared at it long enough through squinted eyes. But it didn't make sense to him that they would use the same excuse to hide Sora from him.

For all they knew he was simply going to meet Mimi's best friend, who she was dying for him to meet a few weeks ago, and that she needed a place to stay after the raid incident. How could they possibly believe that was going to be stressful? The logic eluded him, but what could have caused him stress was if he got angry over her presence. They were terrified that he was going to lash out at her because of her background or her forced marriage to his most hated enemy!

The world thought he was a monster.

He knew what they said about him. But to discover that his friends thought the same thing…..

It was enough to make him want to gather up a small share of their fortune and leave the Coventry again… but never to return this time.

Yet there it was! That annoying voice in the back of his head chiding him for being so selfish. He couldn't leave! Not with so many people counting on him! So, muttering curses under his breath he would once again settle his mind and convince himself that he couldn't go anywhere yet. There was no way he could ever betray the trusts of the younger thieves who looked up to him and loved him. Taichi Kamiya had been called many things in his short seventeen years of life, but a hypocrite had never made the list and it wasn't about to.

Which was why he was here. Sitting in his room while Koushiro re-bandaged his arm, trying not to look at the two people he considered to be his best friends not twenty four hours ago, but whom he now felt wary of. He wasn't quite sure he was ready to face them yet…. He was still feeling the sting of betrayal and didn't want to meet the gazes of those that hurt him so deeply. Every so often, when he was sure they weren't looking, he would glance up to see their serene faces and his anger would boil again.

How could they be so calm?!? Why wasn't some form of emotion affecting them?! Did they not realize how deeply they wounded him today? Was there no guilt pulsing through their veins? No regret? No anger that he disagreed with them and stripped them of their titles? No… anything?! He wanted to hit something.

While he was sitting across from them, his emotions in a turmoil and his mind slowly slipping into a panic, they appeared as carefree and relaxed as children. Granted, they didn't yet know about Ken's newest plot and that was definitely putting a toll on his sanity, but he would've thought there would've been… something. After they ripped out a chunk of his heart you'd think something would've been visible on their faces!

Taichi felt his fists clench.

Please someone get me something that can cause severe bodily harm…

.something preferable sharp and heavy… like a mace!… or a rock! Yea! A big rock that I can just throw at them! …Or beat against their heads!

Taichi felt the corners of his mouth twitch upward.

"Can someone please tell us what the emergency is?"

The smile slipped as Taichi glanced in the direction of the two chairs, his irritation spiking.

"Koushiro, will you tell the furniture that I'm not certain I can trust them which is why I refuse to acknowledge them."

"The furniture Taichi?"

"Yeees."

Koushiro grinned, "Which pieces?"

Taichi gave him a look, "Now whose being immature?"

Koushiro rolled his eyes, "I'm very sorry lovely lounge chairs, but Taichi doesn't trust you anymore. We'll have to send you to the scrap piles outside of town."

Taichi's mouth twitched into a small smile, "I refuse to have dastardly pieces of furniture amongst my peaceful home. We'll have to burn them Izzy, or risk exposure."

Yamato and Mimi glared at him after this comment was stated, and Taichi felt a twinge of satisfaction swell within his bosom. There was no way in hell he was capable of tormenting Mimi and Yamato enough to force them to feel the hurt that was burning within his chest, but a little revenge never killed anyone. And after the blows he was dealt by the young couple sitting before him he believed he was more than justified in irritating them at least a bit.

They needed to know what Ken was planning. They deserved to know, but there was always that little voice in the back of his mind muttering about how he should keep them in the dark the same way they kept him. It wasn't fair, a point which he knew through personal experience, but it would give him a small bud of happiness before blooming into guilt.

He slowly lifted his gaze to meet their eyes and saw what he expected to see on each of their faces; Mimi looked absolutely depressed, she hated it when anyone fought and she was personally kicking herself for being one of the causes of it all. She was sticking by her decision, but that didn't mean she didn't regretted the fight that spiraled out of control earlier. She was probably wishing she did more to prevent it.

Yamato was glaring at him with absolute defiance, as, Taichi realized, he would be if their roles were reversed. Yamato was about as stubborn as a thick block of ice, and just as cold towards anyone who tried to break down the defensive barrier. Yamato wasn't going to give in and apologize, there was a better chance of hell freezing over, but eventually the thoughts swarming around in his head would travel into his arms and legs and another fight would break out between them. It was their version of apologizing, and Taichi wouldn't have it any other way. Nothing screamed "I'm right" quite as loud as having your opponent at sword-tip.

"Taichi if this is as important as you're making it out to be couldn't you at least try to act your age," Yamato asked with all of the coolness of a snow storm.

Taichi felt a bolt of adrenaline shoot through his body and for a moment he contemplated tackling the blonde, but Koushiro must've noted his obvious rigid-ness because he grasped the brunette's shoulder firmly with as much inconspicuousness as possible. "I could," Taichi voice suddenly lacked all of the playful mischief it contained just moments ago, "if you could try to act like a friend?"

Ouch. Okay that was a bit below the belt, even Taichi realized it, but his eyes didn't lose their steely quality as the two rivals stared each other down.

The brunette realized that, normally, that would've been Yamato's cue to leave the room and march back into his quarters where he would sulk the rest of the night away, as was his habit, but tonight he was far too curious to know what could've upset Taichi enough to leave him in the mess that he was when he came in. The Prince of Thieves, who just minutes before had been flushed with fury and glowing with rage, had entered his room paler than a ghost and shaking so bad that he was gripping onto his shoulders like lifelines. He looked as though he were about to be violently ill and all life in his eyes appeared to be extinguished.

For the longest time he didn't speak as he sat against his headboard with his chin resting on his knees, but Yamato recognized the almost trance-like state the brunette was in; something had triggered a particularly foul memory locked up in the back of his mind. Yamato was dying to know what could've caused such a severe reaction in such a short amount of time, and his pride wasn't worth missing out on their new crisis.

Yamato calmly nodded his head as though accepting Taichi's prior statement, silently agreeing to continue this agrument at a later date, and the brunette, taking his cue, calmly lifted his gaze to meet the dark, calculating eyes of Koushiro and nodded slowly for him to repeat Jeri's information to the two other thieves.

Koushiro glanced at Taichi, nervousness overtaking him in an instance. Saying the information the first time was bad enough, but repeating it? He caught Taichi's eye again but the brunette's decision didn't waver, and, mentally groaning, he took center stage and made the announcement, deciding that saying it quickly would be the easiest thing to do, like ripping off a bandage. "Jeri overheard Ken talk about killing the King."

Koushiro and Jyou watched Yamato and Mimi's reactions with great concern, each remembering Taichi's reaction earlier and not wanting an encore performance. Yamato's reaction was very similar to Taichi's, although, thankfully, not quite as severe; his already pale face gained an almost chalk-like appearance as what little pigmentation he had fled the scene. His eyes widened to the size of saucers and his grip on the arms of the chair tightened tenfold. In any other situation a joke about how "Mr. Cool" was losing his composure would've passed someone's lips, but the situation was far too dire for even a breath of humor to pass amongst the thieves.

Mimi's reaction, like most of her mannerisms, was the polar opposite of Yamato's. She leapt from her seat and glared dangerously at Taichi, "Taichi Kamiya this is a sick way of making us regret what we did!"

"You think we're making this up!?"

"You always did have a thing for revenge."

Taichi snorted, "Yea, when I was twelve."

Mimi looked prepared to retort, but Yamato calmly took her hand in his from his standing position beside her, "It's not a joke Mimi." Yamato, unlike Mimi, had not been looking at Koushiro when the announcement was made but was staring directly at his best friend while the brunette stared back. If this was some cruel, sick joke he would be able to tell, as he was able to on many occasions, by directly staring into his friend's eyes. Taichi could never pull a prank on him without either laughing or smirking. Since neither action befell him at that moment Yamato immediately felt his stomach churn.

Within their short shared look they also came to an agreement, an understanding if you will about how important it was for their team to stay united during this imperative time. Their petty differences could wait… Now the three of them needed each other more than ever.

Mimi turned to Yamato and felt fear flutter within her breast, "I-It has to be Yamato. Can you imagine…. Can you even consider what…. I mean without the King…"

Hikari slowly pulled the young woman into a hug as sobs overtook her. "Our cause will be lost," she finished quietly.

"…."

"…."

The silence amongst the group was deafening. A pin could've dropped on the opposite side of the Coventry and the group of seven would likely have heard it. No one could speak as visions of horror and carnage filled their troubled minds. Finally the visions were too much for some and someone had to break the impenetrable silence with the big sledgehammer question wandering through everyone's mind.

"What are we going to do?"

All heads turned towards Takeru, who, normally during their meetings, was very quiet and attentive, but here he was, taking the initiative to facing the nightmare none were eager to consider happening.

Another long moment of silence as all heads turned towards Taichi and Yamato, desperate for one of them to take the first step required to conquering this monstrous challenge.

After a few moments of hesitation Taichi opened his mouth to make a suggestion.

"Nothing."

All heads swerved away from their leader and landed on the far corner of the room. The response was made by Henry, who, up until that moment, no one had noticed was present. He slowly stepped out of the darkened corner and repeated his proclamation, "We do nothing." His dark eyes caught everyone's in the room for the briefest of moments and found that no one was showing any outward motion to agreeing with him, yet.

Mimi, whose sobs had stopped at the suggestion, turned to face him, panic in her eyes, "Nothing! We can't just sit back and do nothing! Henry do you understand what could happen if --"

"I'm very much aware Mimi, thank you." His acid reply was enough to quiet even Mimi's hysterical blubbering and she quietly returned to her seat.

"Elaborate Henry, I'm sure we're all curious of what you're suggesting."

"With pleasure Koushiro." Henry calmly entered into the ring of thieves, situating himself strategically beside Koushiro and Taichi -- the two he felt would see the most reason in his explanation. He slowly folded his hands below his chin and gazed intently at the white washed sheets of Taichi's bed before beginning, "My job in our organization, as you are all aware, is….to put it blatantly, to listen to people. It's… a personal hobby of mine as well, "he smiled briefly. "I love to listen to the people of Ichijouji to better understand what our actions look like to the "average" person. This skill of mine allows me to, in respect, speak for the people, and although I'm sure you all get a taste of what they say when you leave the safety of your hideouts," he turned his gaze to Taichi briefly, "I'm not sure if any of you fully understand how teetering your popularity is at the moment."

He rose to his feet and walked over to the corner of the room, his actions obscured by his back, "There are two sides to every story; ours and theirs. What our actions mean to us and what they are perceived as by the people. But when you're trying to get the people on your side you need to make sure your actions are perceived correctly." He twirled around to reveal that he was holding a chess board in his hands. "You've got the bad guys," he motioned to the black chess pieces, "and you've got us," he repeated his previous action with the white pieces. He plopped back down next to Taichi and Koushiro and moved the chess board on the bed so everyone could see it. "Alrighty! Well the way the people see it, we're vastly outnumbered and outmatched by the ever-superior Ichijouji army, but it's the overwhelming odds against us that grant us our respect. We are doing something to try and change the world even though there's a good chance that we will fail. But here we are, this rag-tag group of runaways and street rats, and we're aggravating the Ichijoujis to a point that they're resorting to drastic measures to do something to stop us. We're getting to them. This tiny rebellion against a huge destructive force like the Ichijouji army, and we're slowly gaining ground." He beamed at his companions, "That's pretty unbelievable, and the people have hope because of it."

He sighed, "But we made an error." He calmly picked up the white queen and placed her over with the black pieces. "There was another beacon of hope within the city; the marriage of Sora Takenouchi to Ken Ichijouji. Ms. Takenouchi's reputation reached the peoples' poor, decrepit ears and they realized that maybe she could influence the tyrannical methods of the Ichijouji politicians. With the Thieves working against the army and Sora working against the government the people believed that they finally had a chance! And they did…until we stepped in and took Sora from the castle."

Realization dawned on Mimi's face and she quickly assumed the expression of a fish; jaw opening and closing as she tried to formulate words. "B-But we took her to save her! T-They can't think that we--"

"Damnit Mimi!" Taichi glared at the brunette, "Why didn't you leave her with her family?!"

Mimi jumped to her feet, "You know very well why I couldn't just leave her there! She's my best friend!"

"Well your best friend could've helped us if she stayed in the castle where she belonged! What good will she be now that she's here?"

"She can fight Taichi, she can help us!"

"I know she can fight Mimi! You don't think I saw her!" He sighed exasperatedly and ran a hand through his hair, " Even though my memories are scrambled from that night I still get flashes now and then and I remember seeing her for a second, and although her skill needs some improvement she would be a great asset to our rebellion. But she would be of even greater help if she wasn't here." He calmly took the white queen from the black pieces and replaced it with the rest of her color. He sighed before turning back to Henry, "So you're suggesting we do nothing because if we go against Ken all of the support that we've gained over the years will be shot."

Henry nodded grimly. "Unfortunately you are correct my liege."

Taichi rubbed his temples slowly, "Izzy I need to know everything Jeri told you. I need to know if he mentioned anything about time or location, maybe there's a chance we can stall the inevitable for a little while longer." He paused for a moment, "On second thought, it might just be easier if I spoke to her personally… where is she?"

"Takato took her home."

Taichi's head snapped up as though he had been shot, "What?!"

Koushiro's eyebrows furrowed together at Taichi's reaction, "Jeri had been stopped by a soldier earlier that day when she forgot her purse at a cart. Takato was worried that if she disappeared for even a day they might become suspicious of her so he took her home. Why would --"

"How long ago did he take her home!?" Yamato demanded, rushing to join their conversation.

"A-About two hours ago… he should be back by now, now that I think about it…"

Parallel looks of horror crossed Taichi and Yamato's faces, but other than a spared moment to glance at one another no time was wasted.

"Shit!" Taichi leapt off of his bed and hit the ground running, Yamato directly on his heels thanks to his longer gait.

Their steps echoed through the corridors like a stampede. The many occupants of the Coventry faintly wondered if it was the sound of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse storming through their house of worship, for no mortal man could move so fast unless there was hot coal poured on their heels.

Yamato felt like tearing his hair out, which, this being Yamato, was indeed a sign of extreme stress as he chanced a look at his friend. "I'm sure the King isn't waited by one servant alone, he used to have many at his disposal at all times of the day," Yamato murmured angrily. "If any of the other servants in the room thought it was odd that she found Ken's proposal terrifying --"

Taichi's determined eyes narrowed even further, "They'd tell someone."

Yamato returned his focus back to corridor stretching ahead of them, "Like another slave."

They skidded to a halt as Yamato ripped the door open and Taichi leapt over the stairs, landing in a slightly crouched position as he waited the few seconds it took for Yamato to land next to him. "Or a soldier," the brunette hissed.

Their feet practically flew off of the pavement as they hastened towards the houses across the street. "And said soldier might question her to confirm his suspicions," Yamato stated through gritted teeth as he vaulted towards the wall and scaled the broken bricks like a cat.

"And then, when his suspicions were found accurate," Taichi grasped Yamato's hand and the blonde pulled him onto the roof with enough momentum to allow the Prince of Thieves to waste no time in pulling himself up and continue racing across the rooftops, "he'd tell Ken."

The two young men bolted through the city but slowed considerably when clusters of soldiers started making themselves apparent. Taichi came to a halt and lowered himself to his knees as they closed in on Jeri's street. Yamato kneeled next to them and their eyes scanned the streets for any signs of trouble… but there was only silence.

Dead silence.

The type of silence that only enclosed an area before and after a great crime had been committed, and the duo were terrified it might've been the latter.

"Yamato… the lights are off in her house…"

TTTTTTTTTTTTT

me: OH MY FROG!!!! IT'S DONE!!!! You guys have NO idea how much of a relief it is to be done with this chapter XD. I'm so excited that I finally got to post it and I really hope you all LOVED it as much as I enjoyed writing it!!! Seriously!! The angstyness was like SO FUN!!! Since it's totally opposite of who I am, I got at play pretend XD!!!

Davis: You ARE mentally five!!!

Me: (*looks at him like he's an idiot*) Well YEA!!!! (*rolls eyes*) Anyhoo!! Please review!!! It's my favorite thing in the world to read your reviews!!! Seriously!! MORE THAN CAKE!!! Haha!

LOVE YOU ALL!!!!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

~*CS*~