The cherry blossoms were already in full bloom by the time the first day of spring arrived. The town of Alvarna was buzzing with excitement; talk of this year's flower viewing festival could be heard everywhere.

"The flower viewing festival will begin in two weeks, on the thirteenth," Mayor Byron announced, fixing his glasses. "I hope you'll all participate, and have a good time."

The town clapped, then talked amongst themselves excitedly. Everyone felt that this year would be one to remember.


Though the cherry blossoms were everywhere, and quite difficult to miss, Sanako didn't take any notice of them. Her eyes were fixed on the ground, but she wasn't sure where she was going. This is how she ended up in the town of Alvarna on the third day of spring. She had left her abusive home in order to start a new life.

Maybe I can live here, Sanako thought, as she finally noticed her surroundings.

A small wind blew the cherry blossom trees; the pink petals were scattered everywhere. The sun was shining brightly and Sanako smiled a little at the warmth of the light on her face. She walked on a little more, and came to large fountain. The water sparkled in the sun. She walked over and sat on the side of it, and looked up at the clear, sunny sky.

Suddenly a girl wearing a dark yellow jacket with a hood and a dress walked by. Her eyes were hidden by her long, light blonde hair. Sanako stood up and looked at the girl. She wasn't sure what to say if she wanted to say anything at all. The girl noticed Sanako, then turned around and ran back in the direction she came from. Sanako stood there, stunned, and then saw the girl had dropped something. She walked over and, picking it up, realized it was a stuffed animal.

Sanako, not knowing what else to do, walked toward where the girl had run. She saw her run into the closest building, which was a small hospital. Sanako debated going in, considering her awkward position, but ultimately decided to go, knowing she had to return the animal to the girl. She opened the door and, when she walked in, she saw a lady with pink hair questioning the girl she had seen before.

"Why aren't you answering me, Dorothy? Did you get the herbs or not?" the lady asked.

The girl Sanako now knew as Dorothy made no reply. A boy with long purple-ish hair walked down the stairs, and didn't yet notice the quiet Sanako by the door.

"What's wrong, Natalie?" he asked.

"I'm not sure. Dorothy won't talk to me."

The boy quietly contemplated this, then looked over and saw Sanako by the door.

"Oh, hello. Can I help you?"

Sanako nods and handed him the stuffed animal. "Umm…she left it by the fountain," Sanako said, quietly.

"Fern…!" Dorothy quietly exclaimed, running over and snatching the animal from the boy.

Natalie shook her head and smiled. "That was all…thank you very much, Miss…"

"Sanako."

"Ah, what a pretty name. It fits the girl, though, huh, Ray?"

The boy looked over from making sure Dorothy was okay, obviously having not heard their conversation from the confused look on his face, and said, "Yep."

"I don't know what Dorothy would have done without Fern. We must repay you somehow…"

"Oh, no. No need. I just wanted to make sure she got it back," Sanako said, her voice getting a little louder from being comfortable with her surroundings.

"Nonsense!" Natalie yelled. "Oh, I know! You must stay for dinner! The town decided to have an unofficial dinner tonight, and it would be an honor to have you there."

"Oh, I couldn't…"

Natalie was about to protest again, but Ray interrupted her. "Maybe she has to get home to her family?"

Sanako's face flashed the pain she felt at the word 'family', but it was so quick Natalie didn't even notice it. "Oh, it's nothing like that…"

Ray had noticed the flash of pain on Sanako's face.

"Well, I guess if that's not it, you've got no choice," he said, shrugging with a smile.

Sanako racked her brain for a better argument, when both Natalie and Ray exchanged a look in which they knew they had the victory. Sanako mentally kicked herself for not coming up with a good case; she had always been good at debating and, in any other situation, would have easily taken home the victory.

Sanako sighed and conjured up the best smile she could manage. "Okay, I suppose I will."

"Good. I knew you'd come around," Natalie said, smiling. ""Where are you from, anyway?"

"A…different town. I'm looking for a new house, and this is the first town I've been to."

"Oh, Mana's got an extra little farm house her family's not using. Maybe you can ask her about it," Natalie suggested, turning to Ray. "Sanako over to see Mana, please, Ray."

Ray noded. "Will you be okay here?"

Natalie smiled. "Why are you talking to your elder like that? Of course I'll be okay!"

Ray blushed a bit and rubbed the back of his head. "Oh, sorry Natalie…"

"Okay, well go on!" Natalie said, shooing them out.

"Thank you," Sanako said before walking out, Ray following her.

Natalie smiled at them as they close the door, and went back to her errands.

As Sanako and Ray walked next door, Ray attempted to make small talk. "So…umm…lovely…weather? The flowers are all blooming very, um, fast…"

Sanako, refusing to make eye contact with his bright blue eyes, nodded in agreement and laughed a little.

"What's so funny?" Ray looked at her in confusion.

"Nothing…it's nothing…" She said, laughing a little bit more.

"Obviously it's something…"

"No…it's just…your topic choice…"

"You mean the weather?"

"Yeah," Sanako said, smiling at the ground.

Ray smiled a confused smile at her. "So…you're laughing at me commenting on the weather?" he asked to clarify.

"Mmhmm…" Sanako said, trying to hide her smile.

Ray shook his head, still smiling, as they walked into the town's market. A girl with long dark hair – almost a dark purple – and a long pink dress was inside, staring at the clock.

"Hello Mana," Ray greeted her.

The girl looked up, apparently startled by their sudden entrance, and smiled Ray.

"Oh, hello Ray. Oh? Who's your friend?" Mana asked politely, smiling at Sanako.

Sanako looked away from her smiling face while Ray introduced her. "This is Sanako. She's hoping to make a home here in Alvarna."

"Oh, is that right? It's a lovely town here. I'm sure you'll love it, too."

Sanako just smiled at her, not sure what to say.

"That being said, we were wondering if you had any plans of using your farm house up the path…"

"Oh! I don't think so. I'd ask my father, but he's off doing something. Continuing his birthday fun from yesterday is my guess…"

"Do you know where we could find him?" Ray asked.

Mana shook her head. "He said he was going to a nearby town to get a few things, but he's been gone a long time…"

"Maybe we should go look for him," Ray suggested.

Mana hesitated. Looking at the clock again, she nodded her face full of worry.

The three lock up the store and head north, up to the Falling Star Path. There, they were met with three choices: left, straight or right.

"Um, which way should we go?" Sanako asked, reading one of the signs.

'Trieste Forest Entrance,' the sign read.

"We've got to start somewhere," Ray commented, leading the way to the right.

The entrance was filled with all different types of flowers and plants. In front of the pathway there was another sign. This one read, 'Trieste Forest The temperature climate is perfect for spring vegetables.'

Sanako smiled to herself at the thought of having apples; they were her favourite spring time food.

Ray and Sanako started down the path, but Mana didn't move, and looked around nervously.

Sanako noticed she wasn't following and whispered to Ray, "I think Mana's scared…"

Ray looked back and saw Mana standing still.

"Mana, it's okay…nothing is going to happen to you," Ray said soothingly.

Mana still didn't move.

Sanako sighed and took out her Claymore sword, showing it to Mana.

"Monsters won't be a problem," Sanako said.

Mana looked at the sword, and then relaxed a little.

The three stopped toward the middle of the first area of the forest and looked around. Suddenly Mana screamed.

Ray and Sanako looked back to see a walking apple approaching.

Sanako walked in front of Mana, pointing her sword at the monster.

The apple stopped and stared at the sword, then curled up and began to roll toward the three.

Sanako sighed, drew back her sword, then, when the apple reached her, hit the apple with enough force to knock it over. It disappeared, and Sanako turned to Ray and Mana, her face completely calm and collected. Ray and Mana's faces, however, showed shock; Sanako's calm expression only added to their surprise.

"Th-thank you, Sanako," Mana finally managed to say, breaking the silence.

Her face was still mimicking the shock she felt inside, Sanako noticed, but Ray's expression was something different.

What that was, Sanako didn't know.

Sanako looked over and saw an apple tree up the path.

"Oh! Are those apples?" Sanako asked.

"Huh? Oh, yes, it appears they are," Ray said, his unreadable expression still on his face.

Sanako decided to figure out the expression later, but took the smile he had as an okay for getting an apple.

They walked toward the tree, on the way meeting a couple archers and orcs; they ended up like the walking apple by Sanako's sword.

When they got to the apple tree, Ray reached up and grabbed an apple. He handed it to Sanako, saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."

Sanako took the apple and smiled at him. "So, if we got in a fight, I could eat an apple and I won't see you that day?" she asked, taking a bite of the apple.

He looked at her, his unreadable expression still there but a bit softer; it was covered by a look of amused surprise.

"Nah, I'm not a doctor yet, so you'd still be stuck talking to me. Not that I can imagine getting in a fight with you," Ray replied.

Sanako took another bite of her apple so she could think of a comeback, but since she was distracted by Ray's smile, she was drawing a blank.

But, Sanako just didn't realize that Ray was smiling because he was distracted by the sparkle of excitement in Sanako's eyes.

He wasn't sure what brought it on – going on this adventure against monsters, maybe? – and he wondered if she noticed it, too.

Mana stood by, watching the two of them, and smiled. She was determined to make Sanako stay in Alvarna as long as she could; she would make sure her father, Douglas, would agree to let Sanako live in their farm house.

"Well, it doesn't look like he's here," Sanako said, taking another look around.

"Yes, I think you're right…let's try another place," Ray said.

The group made their way back to the road that led to two other roads when they saw a big man with blonde hair and a blonde moustache.

"Daddy!" Mana exclaimed, running over to him.

She stopped right in front of him and glared up at him.

"You had me worried sick! Where have you been? I've been waiting for you and I even went looking for you!"

"M-mana, calm down. I was just out getting a few things, like I told you," he said, showing her the bag in his hand.

He looked over and noticed Sanako and Ray.

"Hello Ray…oh, a new face? And who might you be, little missy?" Douglas asked Sanako.

Sanako, intimidated by how big Douglas was, looked at the ground and said quietly, "Sanako."

"Well, hello Sanako! Nice to meet you! Are you visiting Alvarna?"

"Actually, dad, I wanted to talk to you about that…do you think she could live in the farm? We haven't used it in forever," Mana said.

Douglas paused and stroked his moustache.

"You like farming, kid?" he asked.

"Um, I've never tried it before…but I bet I can do it."

Douglas laughed and patted Sanako on the back, perhaps harder than he meant to. Sanako withstood the blow, and tried to smile at him through the pain in her back.

"That's the spirit!" Douglas said, his voice loud and booming. "Then you're more than welcome to stay in the farm house. I can't wait to see what kind of foods you'll grow."

Sanako suddenly realized what had happened: she had a place to live. And it was around kind people who cared for each other. She was determined to work hard to make everyone here happy so they would be okay with her staying there; she didn't know yet, but the town was willing to accept her no matter who she was.

Sanako's face must have showed her determined feelings, because Ray's unreadable expression came back when he looked at her.

And after a moment of trying to figure it out while Mana and Douglas talked, Sanako realized what it was.

He was impressed by her.