A Prince for Mikan

by: Esa MaRie

.:. .:. .:. .:. .:.

Chapter 26 - Intrusion

Compared to the jam-packed stadium where the aerial race began, the Northern Tower where most of the Hirazakian nobility had chosen to watch the race was more suited to comfort. At the same time, it became sort of gathering among the nobles and the elites; and they all dressed to impress as the king and most of the top-ranked personalities of the kingdom were present. Ladies sashayed in gem-encrusted satins, silks and velvets; their hair swept into elegant hairstyles adorned with precious stones and glittering jewels graced their necks, wrists, and fingers while the gentlemen had chosen to wear formal with neatly pressed trousers and coats. After all, such occasion brought opportunities to mingle with all the people in the kingdom that mattered, whether it be pertaining to business, or to attract a prospective suitor, or simply to gossip and outdo each other in wealth and fashion.

While the guests chattered merrily and enjoying the food and cocktails while waiting for the race to start, the king sat on the elevated platform along with his ministers giving him the best view of the expanse of his kingdom as well as the location where the race would pass. However, despite the excitement and anticipation brought about by the race, all of them could feel the tension in the air. The king had a dark scowl on his face and that certainly has nothing to do on whether the Hirazaki Kingdom will win the race or not. The source of his dark mood was seated a step lower from his throne - where the prince and his 'fiancee' were settled.

Mikan could feel gazes coming her way - some of curiosity, others of envy and contempt, but mostly of speculation as to her relationship with the prince. But she couldn't really blame them with the way Shun held her hand while they were seated. She had tried to remove his hand but he refused to let go. It had left her no other choice but to play along with him. However, it didn't mean that she was in complete agreement with his plans. Even though Shun had explained that pretending to be his fiancee was for her own protection, she couldn't really understand the need for it. She was a nobody. She had nothing to her name, nor did she had anything of value that would warrant protection from a prince. All she wanted to do now was to be left alone and grieve her losses.


All might have been for show, but that didn't change the fact that through the few months they had been together, she had learned to care for him. So much that she felt her heart constrict with pain every time she remembered his name.

She considered Shun as a friend but right now, she couldn't help but be frustrated and angry at him for keeping Natsume's and Anna's deaths from her. She had been hopeful when she saw the Hyuuga prince looking at her way, thinking that her Natsume had doubled for the prince again. But it seemed that everything was just her imagination or maybe it was just wishful thinking on her part that it was him.


She didn't want to believe it but she also knew that with his line of work, he was bound to meet with danger. And the sudden ambush on their apartment was proof of that. She closed her eyes as despair filled her. They hadn't been together for long, but they had gone through a lot and she couldn't believe that their adventure would just end like this. She took a deep breath to calm her nerves and to stop herself from crying. Shun had brought her here to cheer her up and to enjoy the race. She couldn't let his guests see her sorrow while she was posing as his fiancée.

But it seemed that the gods decided her pain was not enough. With the sound of explosion from the fireworks, the race began to start. Turning her attention back into the monitor which showed the progress of the game, her eyes widened in surprise when she noticed that the focus of the camera was on a Hyuugan aero and on the side, it showed the details of the pilots... one of them was her bestfriend, Hotaru Imai.

Shun immediately noticed the tension on Mikan when her grip tightened and her whole body stiffened as she anxiously watched the progress of the event. "Mikan, are you okay?" he asked worriedly but Mikan couldn't seem to hear him as her whole attention was focused on the monitor. "Does it still hurt?" he asked gently, referring to the rough treatment she had received from the guard the previous night. The sight of the bruise on her cheek infuriated him. It was easily taken care of using the healing alice but that didn't stop him from having the soldier thrown into prison and subject to several lashes as punishment. It was a light punishment in his opinion as laying a hand on a royalty can even mean death. But his father had intervened.

"I will not lose one of my men over a peasant!"

It was obvious that the king was against his 'relationship' with Mikan and he knew that his father would try to do something to prevent their marriage. But nothing would stop him from marrying Mikan, not even his father. In terms of strength of alice, he was stronger than his father and there would be no one else more fit to be the next king but him. His father cannot disown him or deny him the throne because he would risk handing the deteriorating kingdom into the hands of an even weaker king. King Takashi may not be a good father, but he possessed the pride and loyalty of generations of Hirazakian rulers. He will do anything and everything to revive the former glory of the Hirazaki Kingdom.

But it seems he was worried for the wrong reasons when Mikan turned to him, her voice slightly trembling.


"Yes, love?"

She didn't seem to notice the endearment he used as she watched Hotaru's aero dodged to escape several missiles launched her way. It seemed that all the other aeros have decided to gang upon her.

"I-if o-one of the planes get hit, will the pilots die?"

A understanding look crossed Shun's face before he answered.

"We can't discount the possibility but so far in the history of Alicea, no death has ever occurred in the games," he assured her. He finally realized what had been causing her anxiety. Mikan was a former citizen of the Hyuuga Empire so it was not unlikely that some loyalty with the rival empire would remain in her. Or it was also possible that she was acquainted with one of the pilots. "Unfortunately, injuries are highly possible in this type of events," he continued regretfully.

Mikan had to close her eyes as another explosion happened. She felt her heart constrict in anxiety thinking of the worst case scenario that could happen to her bestfriend. Invention was Hotaru's passion and she was absolutely great at it. Even back when they were still young, if she thought of something, she wouldn't stop until she had created it. Even if she was surprised to know that her bestfriend was an alice, somehow she knew that she should have expected it. After all, Hotaru's talent for invention couldn't have been natural unless it was an alice. Invention was Hotaru's forte and she would have expected her to be somehow involved in the building of the aero. But not piloting it! After a few more minutes of heart stopping suspense, she felt she had enough. Quietly, she stood up with the intent of going back to her room but Shun immediately caught her wrist.

"What's wrong?" he asked worriedly. "Where are you going?"

Shaking her head, she gave him a tight smile. "I'm sorry Shun-kun, but I don't feel well. I'd like to go back to my room."

"Then, I'll escort you back," Shun said, preparing to stand up.

"No, you don't have to," Mikan began to argue. She just wanted to be alone and Shun's persistence was not helping. "I know you want to watch the race..."

"I'll escort her back, your Highness."

Both turned to see a beautiful lady with pink hair, smiling innocently at them. It was only then they had realized that they had somehow garnered quite an audience. Everyone's attention were on them that Mikan's cheeks burned with embarrassment. Although the nobles did try to be discreet and continued to watch the race, it was obvious that they were trying to eavesdrop on their conversation and to fish out something interesting to gossip upon.

"If she wants to leave, then let her be."

Shun looked up to see his father looking at them with annoyance. The king was already displeased at the idea of Mikan being here and with her making a scene, it was adding up to his negative impression of her. The king then turned his attention to the pink haired lady and commanded. "Koizumi-san, lead that woman back to her room."

"Father...!" Shun started to protest at the disrespect his father was showing to his beloved but Mikan placed her hand on his arm to stop him.

"It's okay Shun-kun," she smiled at him assuringly. "Just stay here. I'll be okay." Although Shun looked unconvinced, he nodded his head and Mikan turned as Luna led her out of the tower, ignoring all the stares that followed her back.

.:. .:. .:. .:. .:.

The walk along the dark halls was quiet and Mikan was a bit disturbed, remembering clearly that this was not the same way they had gone through when Shun led her towards the tower. She didn't seem to understand the sense of fear she started to feel towards the pink-haired girl. The girl was really pretty and had this sweet and innocent look on her that it seemed impossible for her to hurt anyone. But seeing the sudden disappearance of the guards who were following them just a while ago was quite suspicious in itself.

She knew that she could be quite naive at times but the current flow of events the past days had made her quite paranoid that she began to doubt a lot of things especially when it involved the Hirazaki Kingdom. Her mind was still full of thoughts when she heard a giggle from the girl in front of her.

The pink-haired girl, whom the king called Koizumi, turned to face her with an amused smile on her lips.

"Are you scared of me, Lady Sakura?" she asked innocently.

"I.. um... n-not r-really," Mikan stammered in surprise, not really knowing how to answer her.

Koizumi smiled again. "But you're uncomfortable with me," she pointed out and took a step closer. "Maybe if we got to know each other, you'll be more at ease with me." The girl reached out her hand to her and gave her another of her sweet smiles. "My name is Koizumi Luna."

Drawn by Luna's friendliness, Mikan calmed a bit and accepted her hand. "I'm Sakura M-" she stopped when she realized she almost gave out her real name again. She gave out a nervous giggle to cover her mistake and introduced herself again. "My name is Takanari Sakura but you may call me Sakura."

"Sakura-chan..." Luna whispered her name softly, like she was testing how to say her name properly. A wide smile formed on her lips, as her grip on Mikan's hand tightened and her voice suspiciously hoarsen. "I'm so happy to have finally met you."

Everything happened so fast that before Mikan knew it, she was pulled into Luna's arms. Luna held her by the waist while her other hand grasped her hair forcefully, parting it to reveal her smooth and slender neck.

Mikan began to feel heavy and dizziness was filling her as she felt as if something was being sucked out of her. Her body felt helpless like she was falling into a dark, bottomless pit.


No matter how much she wanted to scream, her voice won't come out. She had lost control of her body and it felt like being trapped into a doll with no capability to move. Everything was being pulled away, her consciousness, her feelings, her memories...


One by one, images of her memories began fading away.

Sumire throwing her dirty laundry at her.

Karen smirking as spilled her drink for her to clean.

Hotaru pulling out her baka gun to fire at her.

Natsume calling her an idiot as he held out his hand to her on the Sakura tree.

Anna teasing her as she handed her a bunch of freshly baked cupcakes.

Her dad's goofy smile as he swung her around.

Natsume's warmth as he held her in an embrace…


.:. .:. .:. .:. .:.

Soul-sucking alice.

An alice that allowed the user to suck out a person's soul and obtain complete control of that person's body. Strength, power, feelings... all would be rendered useless as the user would be able to hold them all like strings on a puppet. Such an alice had considerable uses and was highly prized by the Hirazaki king. After all, it was such a waste to kill all those rebels with useful alices when they could still be used for something - either as experimental guinea pigs or as dolls who would fight and die for the kingdom without complaint.

It was no wonder that Luna Koizumi had been one of the most promising students of the Hirazaki branch of Gakuen Alice. Earning the highest seat in the student council of the Hirazaki branch of the Gakuen Alice had not been a challenge. After all, even without the support of the principal, she could get anyone to do her wishes.

Even Prince Shuntaro Hirazaki himself.

But of course, Luna would not dare use her alice on the Hirazaki prince. That would be too reckless. Besides, she had confidence in her own appeal and she knew that in terms of beauty, there would only be a few others that could compete with her. Even so, she could get rid of them if she wanted to.

It was not that she was in love with the prince or anything, but the title of Princess and future Queen of the Hirazaki Kingdom was quite irresistible. For someone like her who was shunned during her childhood because of her alice, the need to be able to control people into submission was strong.

A product of her mother's infidelity, she was hated from birth. Her father despised her since she reminded him of his wife's betrayal, her mother cursed her birth because it revealed her secret affair and almost destroyed her marriage, her older siblings hated her because she caused the rift in the family. All she wanted was love and attention but she was ignored by her parents and bullied by her siblings and their friends. She was like a pest in their perfect family and she could not find her place inside their circle of friends.

So she forced herself in.

She didn't know exactly when her alice activated, but it seemed that her strong desire for affection had triggered the awakening of her alice. Maybe because she was just a child that she didn't realize the oddity of the sudden fulfillment of her wishes.

Nothing mattered except the feeling of happiness with the fact that her parents now tucked her into bed like she always wanted to, her siblings now play with her with any game she wanted. It never occurred to her that something was wrong; it was just that her family had managed to finally accept her. She didn't even know how she managed to suck out their souls, maybe it was done unconsciously or bit by bit every time she made contact with them. She wouldn't have realized it by herself, but as a year passed, close friends of her family began to have suspicions.

Soul-sucking alice was a rare alice, but not entirely unknown so alice authorities were able to confirm her alice based on the symptoms and were able to force her to release her family from her control. Her family was beyond furious, a year of their lives was wasted at her mercy, and she was completely shunned by their entire village. Everyone was afraid to get near her, of being placed under her control. They called her names, treated her like she was some kind of monster. The early years of her childhood had been depressing, but after the discovery of her alice, it had become a nightmare. A year ago, she might have tolerated it and continued to wait for acceptance. But within the one year wherein she was able to experience the feeling of being in control, she could no longer go back to the weak child she once was. Letting her go through the experience again, no... even worse from the treatment she had previously received had sparked a sense of rebellion inside her, until it became a thirst for vengeance and power.

The rules of the Hirazaki branch of Gakuen Alice had dictated that those children who had met the standards required by the school would be enrolled at the age of six, whether they like it or not. But Luna was enrolled at the age of five after she had sucked the souls of several people in their village. The villagers had been forced to seek help and demanded that the school take away the troublesome child.

Luna never wanted to leave, but Principal Kounji who came personally to fetch her, managed to convince her to come with him. He opened his arms to the child, unafraid that his soul might get sucked out. He taught her how to control her alice. He gave her the attention she always wanted, the feeling that she was important. He was the reason for her existence. And she would do anything for him, for his goals, no matter how evil they would be.

A puny little girl like Takanari Sakura wouldn't be much of a problem regardless of what Principal Kounji had warned her. The girl was a hindrance to her plans to be the next Queen of the Hirazakis but her beloved principal seemed to see her as an important asset in his future plans. So killing her was not an option but she could further prove the girl's real worth by presenting her to Kounji as an addition to her collection of human puppets. And the little drama the girl and the prince made at the tower presented an opportunity she couldn't resist. Kounji may not totally agree with her plans given the warning look he gave her, but at this point, there was nothing much he can do but let her proceed.

The guards who accompanied them were already her puppets, so at her silent command, they had dispersed leaving the vulnerable girl at her hands. But the girl wasn't much of an idiot as she originally thought. It seemed like she managed to sense the danger she was in. Seeing the girl look behind as if wondering where the guards went, Luna let out a giggle and prepared her most innocent smile to start her attack.

"Are you scared of me, Lady Sakura?"

As expected, the girl got embarrassed at probably thinking doubtful thoughts about her. Taking a graceful step to her prey, she lured her into the pretense of friendliness, waiting for the opportunity to strike.

Contact was all she needed in order to activate her alice, putting her victim into a brief paralysis for a second just enough for her to attach her mouth on a person's skin; although sucking through the neck was the fastest way in order to prevent her victim from fighting off the power of the alice. And just like any other of her victims, Takanari Sakura had fallen into her trap.

Luna could feel her resistance, but it was of no use. Once she caught her victim by the neck, it was near to impossible for anyone to break free; the soul was being pulled out of the body leaving a black mark on the skin which contains a portion of her alice that controls the body in place of the soul. All was going smoothly according to her plans, so she was surprised when a sudden blast of blue light emerged from the girl and the force threw her against wall.

The pain from the impact made her lose her consciousness momentarily, but a warm body encased her; that familiar warmth made her regain her senses.

"You have always been the stubborn one, my dear."

"K-kounji-sama..." she managed to say in a faint voice.

Principal Kounji gently lowered her to her feet, holding her by her waist as she tried to recover her wits and her strength. "Your plan was good and I actually thought it might work out." He sighed as he turned to look at unconscious brunette on the floor. "But considering her alice, I knew somehow that this would happen."

Reality hadn't sunked in yet into Luna as she couldn't seem to believe that she lost to that stupid girl. "What happened? How could she...?"

"Nullification, dear Luna," he answered, not waiting for her to finish her question. "That girl has the Nullification alice."

.:. .:. .:. .:. .:.

Mikan groaned as she slowly started to awaken. Her head hurt a bit that she had to roll to her side and push herself up from the bed. Bed? She quickly scrambled up into a sitting position trying to figure out her situation. "W-what happened...?" As far as she could remember, she was on her way to her room when… 'What exactly happened? Was I attacked? Where is this place?'

"So, you finally woke up."

Her eyes widened when she noticed the pink-haired lady, whom she last remembered as Luna Koizumi, the same one who had attacked her. She backed away but knew she was trapped when she felt her back reached the headboard. She saw Luna's red lips curved into a mocking smile, obviously enjoying her fear and discomfort.

A shadow behind Luna moved and Mikan could feel her heart stop in fear seeing that the said shadow was that of a man.

"You don't have to be afraid of us, Lady Sakura."

The man stepped into the light.

He seemed familiar but she couldn't quite recall when or how she had met him. "What do you want from me?" Mikan asked warily.

"Actually, we're here to help you," the man answered with a reassuring smile. "I apologize for the late introduction. My name is Kounji and I'm the principal of the Hirazakian branch of Gakuen Alice."

The tension Mikan felt eased a bit upon hearing that the man's title and had finally remembered meeting him in the ball. She still had her doubts but somehow the assurance that this person was in charge of a school managed to calm her. Although what he just said didn't seem to make sense. "Help me?" Mikan asked in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"We know that Prince Shun had somewhat forced you to be his fiancee," Kounji said directly. "And we also know that you are already married but your husband had unfortunately been murdered."

Mikan stilled at his words. "H-how…?"

"It is not actually that difficult to obtain such information," Kounji answered easily. "After all, many of the people here in the palace including the soldiers had at one point been my students."

"No, you're wrong," Mikan tried to defend Shun. "Shun-kun is not forcing me, he's just…"

"He's just trying to help," Kounji finished staring straight at her. "Is that right?"

"Yes," Mikan whispered.

"But he has not made any progress, isn't it? There's been no update as to who had attacked your home. And if I were you, I wouldn't expect much from him."

"Y-you… you know something?" Mikan immediately looked up, her eyes wide as she digested his words. She pulled herself up from the bed and walked closer towards the man. Her voice quivered as she asked him. "Please tell me! Do you know who killed Natsu?"

The man gave her a solemn look before letting out a heavy breath. "No but I have my suspicions."

"Who? And why did they kill him? Please tell me," she begged desperately. "Shun-kun said he's already trying to find the perpetrators but until now… until now, there's just nothing!"

"Heh, you surely trust the prince, don't you?" Luna mocked as she pushed herself from the wall she was leaning at. She had removed every bit of pretense of the sweet and harmless girl she usually portrayed, and as of the moment she was seemingly bored at the dramatics of the idiotic girl. "Haven't you even thought that he could be lying to you?" she sneered at Mikan.

"Luna!" Kounji tried to warn her off but it was too late to stop her as she already held Mikan's attention.

"W-what do you mean?" Mikan asked shakily.

"The prince is in love with you and wanted you for himself," she shrugged off like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "He is the only one with enough motives to have your husband killed."

"That's impossible!" Mikan shouted at her in anger. "Shun-kun is my friend! He will never do that to me. And what you're saying is ridiculous. We only knew each other for a few days. How can you even say he's in love with me?!"

She wasn't that naïve not to notice that this woman, Luna, seemed to hold her in contempt for something that she had entirely no idea off. Her accusations against Shun were so unjust that it was borderline ridiculous. He might have his own eccentricities but he is a dear friend to Mikan and she owes him so much. She had told herself not to believe whatever they will tell her but the principal's next words had trampled upon her beliefs.

"I agree. He's not in love with you," Kounji said with a sigh. "Rather, he believes himself to be in love with the image of you."


The girl was looking at them like they were out of their minds. But that didn't deter Kounji as he knew he still holds the trump cards. "You should have seen the portrait of the queens of the Hirazaki Kingdom on your way to the tower. Haven't you noticed that there was one that looks exactly like you?"

It was impossible for Mikan to forget that painting as she too, was awestruck by the similarities she had with the former queen. Minus the crown, the regal bearing, expensive gown, jewelries, that aura of hatred and the reality that the woman on the painting was already dead centuries ago, it wouldn't be too hard to mistake that the model on the painting was Mikan herself. But - "What has that to do with anything?" she couldn't help but ask.

"Everything," Kounji replied in a grim voice. "You look so much like Queen Yuka Hirazaki and for the past hundreds of years, several Hirazaki kings had fallen into the curse of falling in love with the woman on that painting. Unfortunately, Prince Shun had fallen victim into the same curse."

Mikan's eyes widened in disbelief as she listened to Kounji's story.

"Even before you appeared in his life, he was already obsessed with the image of Yuka. He had drawn several portraits and paintings with Yuka's image in them. Can you imagine what he would feel when he finally finds someone, a living woman, with the same image with the portrait he was obsessed with? And only to find out she was already taken?"


"It always angers the king to see him obsessed with Queen Yuka that the prince would keep all his paintings to himself." Kounji sighed heavily and continued. "I have nothing against Prince Shun but he is the prince of this kingdom and my future sovereign. You have to understand that my interest is on the kingdom's welfare. I don't care if he gets angry with me but if it means that what I do will save him from this curse, then I'll accept whatever punishment he will bestow on me."

Seeing Mikan shaking her head in disbelief and still refusing to accept his words, Kounji reached out his hand to her. "If you don't believe me, then come with us. We will lead you towards his studio and you can judge for yourself if what we have told you made sense or not."

.:. .:. .:. .:. .:.

As soon as she reached her room, Mikan threw herself towards the bed and buried her face on the pillow. She didn't know what to do. She had never been this confused in her whole life. Ever since Natsume had made his appearance, her life had been thrown into such disarray that she could no longer comprehend what was normal and what was not. The principal and Luna had shown her Shun's studio and in there, she was dumbstruck as she saw images of herself, or rather images of Queen Yuka in different portraits and paintings. Although, unlike in the portrait of the queen in the hallway, the Yuka she had seen in his portraits was livelier; the smile reflected on her face revealed contentment and happiness that in a way, the similarity was closer to herself rather than Yuka. There was no question as who had painted them as Shun's name in fluid stroke was imprinted at the bottom, and some of the paintings were dated as far as ten years ago.

Her hand trembled as she touched one of the paintings, of Yuka sitting on one of the branches of the Sakura tree, her hair flowing against the wind as she reached for one of its blooms. This one painting looked so much like herself that she could have sworn that she was the model. She stepped back, her whole form now trembling. 'Could everything he said be true? Could Shun have really ordered to kill Natsume?'

"Lady Sakura…?"

"P-please, take me back to my room," Mikan's voice quivered as she said her request.

"Please do not misunderstand that we are against your marriage to our prince just because you are a commoner."

"Why?" Mikan whispered brokenly. "Why would you even want to help me?"

Kounji was silent for a moment then answered in a solemn voice. "Maybe because you reminded me of someone close to me who had been in a similar situation and hers had ended in tragedy."

That kind of reason was somehow cliché and though there was something about the Hirazakian principal that made Mikan uneasy, she could feel some truth in what he said. He offered to help her escape, and the pain from the confusion and betrayal she felt had made her accept the offer.

She closed her eyes to stop her tears and forced herself to sleep. She should be happy that she would finally be able to leave this prison in a couple of days. Her thoughts and emotions were clouded with distrust, frustrations and anxiety that she failed to notice Kounji's half-smirk when she accepted his offer.

.:. .:. .:. .:. .:.

Upon hearing that Mikan had returned to her room, Shun immediately felt relieved. He had rushed back into his chambers after the race only to find her room empty. He almost panicked, believing that she had tried to escape again if not for one of the soldiers who had escorted her back that Mikan decided to take a walk with Luna into the palace gardens.

He softly tapped the door and called out. "Mikan?"

When no one answered, he pushed it open and saw Mikan lying on the bed, still wearing the gown she wore from this afternoon's event. He walked closer and noticed that she was hugging the pillow, her face partially hidden but he could see the side of her face a bit wet, obviously from tears.

Sighing heavily, he pulled a chair and settled on it.

"What am I supposed to do with you?" he whispered bitterly. "Why can't you be happy when you're with me?"

.:. .:. .:. .:. .:.

After the excitement caused by the recent victory of the Hirazakis in the Aerial race, they were brought back to the reality on the damage caused by the explosion of the Hyuugan aero that had crashed inside the palace walls. The crash happened in the garden which was full of exotic plants and near the miniature forest. The steward in charge of the gardens had to shake his head in frustration at the considerable damage done to his beautiful greenhouse. It was lucky that the Hirazakis won, else the tragedy done to the garden would have caused a fuss among the ministers.

The race had ended late and the day was already coming down to a close, so the workers only managed to remove the debris of HY-3. They left out the cleaning and the repairs for the next day. The night was at its midst and the workers had already left leaving the area surrounding the crash site embraced by silence and darkness. Not a single creature took notice of the small rock-like thing that popped out from the ground, rotated its head slowly for the lens to survey the surrounding area, before it disappeared back into the ground.

About a couple of feet underground, a cylindrical object started to come to life and began to drill its way towards the darkest part of the palatial woods. When it finally found an appropriate place, it drilled out of the ground and the pod parted into two. Each half opened to reveal two unconscious men lying inside.

As soon as the hardened glass slid open, a syringe needle emerged from each guy's side and injected some medicine on their neck. It didn't take long before each opened their eyes, only to be awakened into the darkness of the night.

"Shit! What the hell happened?" Tsubasa groaned as he pulled the oxygen mask from his face. "I feel like I've received some beating all over."

He pushed himself to sit up, but his body was aching like hell. "Hey Tono, are you okay there?" he whispered to his companion on the other side who was also regaining his consciousness.

"Shut up Andou."

The other man had also woken up and it seemed he wasn't the only one feeling the worse right now. There was some faint light coming from the pod so he could see his partner holding his head like he was having a migraine. "Is this pod some kind of torture equipment or what?" he groaned loudly.

"Glad you like it, your highness."

The voice came directly from a device attached to his ear, but nothing had shocked Tsubasa more than the impact of the words that was said.

"Your highness? What do you..." Tsubasa stopped as he finally gotten a clear view of the man who was supposed to be his partner in this mission. "Your highness! What are you doing here?"

"I said shut up!" Natsume hissed irritably, trying to clear out his head from the dizzying aftershock of the crash. "Do you want us to get caught?" He then touched the transmitter on his ear. "You really know your stuff, don't you Imai? If I didn't know, you had deliberately made this pod uncomfortable to let me suffer some pain."

"Don't flatter yourself prince. If you wanted comfort, you could have used a king-sized bed to sleep in. However, that wouldn't fit in the aero, would it? Be thankful I managed to minimize the size of the pods and still fit two idiots." Her sarcastic tone made Tsubasa laugh that Natsume turned a dangerous glare at him. "Now, stop complaining and take those tablets I've placed inside the compartment near the oxygen machine. They will help your current discomfort."

He didn't have any problem locating the said compartment as the words 'IN HERE, IDIOTS' were boldly written that it you would have to be blind not to see it. Natsume and Tsubasa took the tablets but they had to rest and let the medicine take effect for at least an hour. The medicine would help stop the aftereffects of the crash which includes the dizziness and body pain. However, Hotaru warned them that the relief is only temporarily and they have to continue taking the tablets every couple of hours, else they would feel the full blown effects of the crash landing. And worse, the more tablets they take, its potency would start to lessen. In short, they had to finish their mission fast.

.:. .:. .:. .:. .:.

Glancing at his watch, Natsume noted it had been a few minutes past one hour since they had woken up and had taken the tablets. So far, the medicine Imai had left them were quite effective as he could feel himself gaining his strength back. He let his gaze roam his surroundings, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. In less than two hours, it would be midnight. They had to use their time wisely in surveying the area as well as locating the room that the Boxer Raider said the prince's fiancée can be found.

The prince's fiancée...

Natsume gritted his teeth in frustration. How did Polka end up to be that bastard's fiancée when she was supposed to be married to him? He didn't how it happened or why that idiot Polkadots even agreed to it but just the thought of that bastard's hands on Mikan made him want to burn something. Well, Shun Hirazaki can continue his wedding plans but he will have to marry himself or find another bride because come morning, Polka will be back to where she belonged. With him.

A clack sounded and he turned to see Andou wiping the sweat from his face as he glanced again at the manual he was holding.

"You're still not done?" he asked impatiently.

"We could have finished this faster if you're helping me, your highness," Tsubasa muttered as he tightened the lock. It would really have been better if it was Tono who came with him. At least, Tono could really be a big help in finishing this task.

"Like hell," Natsume snapped in disgust, silently cursing Hotaru Imai for her crazy invention. She could have given them something that was more presentable than a fucking...

"It's done!" Tsubasa hollered as he presented his masterpiece to the scowling prince. "Behold the amazing Imai Invention # 617702!"

"Shut up Andou!" Natsume growled.

Tsubasa couldn't help but grin at the prince's furious face. "Come on, your highness. It may look like that but you have to give Imai-chan some credit. To think that she could create a pod that can be reassembled to become our escape vehicle."

"Tsk," Natsume grunted as he walked towards him and snatched the map from his hands. Looking at the map, he had to admit that it was impressive for Imai to create a map from the limited data they could obtain with regards to the Hirazaki palace. It seemed that she was able to obtain some images of the palace while test piloting the aero prior to the race.

They were still quite far from their target area so they need to move fast. "How about that thing?" he asked Tsubasa, referring to their escape vehicle.

A wide grin crossed Tsubasa's face as he waved a small container in his hands like a child that was handed a toy. "It can be remotely controlled. Amazing, isn't it?" He pressed a button on the control and air blew around their transport and it began to rise from the ground. Tsubasa whistled in appreciation. The black color blended well into the darkness and the absence of sound even when flying would surely be a great advantage for them to go undetected. "We can ride this until we reach the end of the gardens. From there, we need to go on foot."

Natsume nodded in agreement and reached for the black cat mask at his side. His hand touched against the holster at his side which contained a special gun that Imai had given him and remembered her warning.

"That gun has enough power to destroy only the current level of the barrier. If they strengthen the barrier, I can no longer guarantee that the gun will work. So you have to be careful not to be discovered," she told him. "If it doesn't work, use plan B."

He already knew that as much as possible, they should avoid being detected, else they would not only risk themselves being captured, they would put the whole Hyuuga Kingdom at risk for violation of the treaty. He walked towards their transport and grabbed the reins to lift himself up. While the seat was comfortable enough, he couldn't help but curse at Imai. He knew that she chose this type of design intentionally to make fun of him.


"Your highness?"

"Remove that stupid beak."

.: to be continued :.

A late Christmas gift for everyone!

I was supposed to update this fic together with Love's Consequence last September; unfortunately, it was hard getting out of the slump no matter how much I wanted to finish it. I think many are going to complain that after more than two years, all you get is an angsty Mikan and a bitchy Luna. lol. But there is a little bit of Natsume so I hope you'll all forgive me. This is actually just half of what I had originally planned for Chapter 26 but it was getting too long already so I just decided to post it rather than letting you all wait until I get around to finish the latter half which I will just post as a separate chapter. Possibly by April, I will become very busy again so I hope to finish the other half prior to that. Please bear with me. I do want to finish all my fics but I find it hard to focus on writing nowadays and the words won't flow into my mind as fluidly as it did years ago. So I'm sorry for all the delays. I'll try not to give up on writing and hopefully, even if it's slow, I would be able to finish all my stories.

Thank you all for reading and for all your reviews and PMs. They always serve as reminder and motivation to try to continue writing. :D