It was a long way down from Soda Fountain.
Not that Musashi had considered such a thing while fighting Dark Lumina in its third and final form. The ensuing explosion from its defeat, however, started to make him think that maybe he should've planned an escape route in advance.
One shockwave wasn't enough to send him over the edge; he'd stood his ground all through the battle thus far, and couldn't afford to think of anything else. With Dark Lumina finally spent, Musashi braced himself for his enemy's last moments, and they came.
He did not expect the explosion to take out the entire platform.
Musashi found himself coming to in freefall, thanks to the sound of another person's screams.
Princess! He looked desperately about, wind roaring in his ears. Where's it coming from... there!
Princess Fillet was falling a short distance above him, her dress flapping in the wind. She clutched onto it as more of a last-ditch security device than as a means to preserve her modesty.
"Princess!" The wind fairly ripped Musashi's voice away from him as soon as any words left his mouth, stinging his eyes so the descending princess and the ground quickly approaching began to form into a shaky blur. He reached out both hands toward her, fighting against the force of the fall. "Grab on!"
"Musashi!" Eyes streaming from fear and descent, Fillet let go of her skirts and stretched her body almost horizontal, straining her arms. At first it seemed as if they'd never reach, then a few missed grabs finally rewarded her with a fingertip's brush against one of Musashi's hand guards.
One more try, and her palm crossed his. He immediately grasped it.
"What are we going to do?" the princess yelled against the wind. "There's no way we can survive a fall from this height!"
"Yeah there is." His reply came out preoccupied; he was reaching his left hand slightly behind him. "Just hold on a sec..."
Fillet started to form the words to her next question, but they never came, as she saw Lumina glowing brightly through its sheath, Musashi's other hand clamped firmly around its handle.
The princess's stomach jumped into her throat briefly as the wind suddenly changed directions, and the two of them abruptly stopped falling. Or rather, Musashi started to hover in place with the use of the Sky Scroll, while Fillet dangled precariously from his tightly clasped right hand. She gasped sharply at the feeling, flailing up with her other hand to better secure her hold.
Looking down, she saw pine-forested mountains spread out below them, their rounded peaks not quite high enough to break free of the tree line and touch the starry sky. She thought she could see the hazy, night-shrouded outline of Allucaneet Castle far off on the horizon, but whatever that shape actually was, they were definitely far from it.
Fillet noticed the scenery moving, and realized they were slowly starting to descend. She looked up at the young boy hanging onto her.
"We're fine," Musashi told her in a brusque tone, keeping his gaze locked ahead. "If we can go down like this, landing'll be a piece of cake."
Fillet felt herself smile with relief. "Thank goodness..."
Her throbbing heart began to calm back to its regular pace as the pair steadily drifted toward the ground. She kept her eyes wistfully on the vague outline of the castle in the moonless night, looking for even the smallest point of light, or any other signs of life. How had the others fared while she was gone?
A high-altitude wind suddenly blew into them, and Fillet bowed her head against it; the gale nearly took the loosening ribbon from her hair. Once it had passed, she looked up again, trying to locate the castle. It was higher than she remembered it, and had veered off considerably to her left.
Musashi's right hand squeezed even tighter around hers. She bit her lip, wanting to tell him that it hurt, until she shifted her other hand for a better grip and found his rather sweaty.
"Musashi...?" They were starting to fall a little faster. She could clearly make out the pointed treetops below their feet. "Musashi, can you hear me?"
An irritated huff, then, "Fine! We're fine..."
Fillet heard a rushing in the air ahead of them, and saw the treetops bend and sway in an advancing wave toward them. Her heart started beating wildly again.
The wind that hit them this time sent them sprawling sideways, shortly falling into the tallest trees. Branches rapidly broke and scraped past them, Fillet holding onto Musashi's hand in a death grip. A particularly sturdy limb caught Musashi in his middle and bounced him, forcing their hands apart.
Fillet let out a scream of dismay, right before her world suddenly fell into darkness.
Musashi opened his eyes. Even while lying on his back, with everything staying still around him, he still felt like he was falling. An owl hooting from just above confirmed that gravity had done its job, much as his equilibrium disagreed. He sat up, and gained the immediate effect of everything spinning around him, prompting him to lean against the owl's tree to make it stop.
Once he felt like his feet weren't about to slide out from under him, he slowly stood, peering at his current surroundings. It was considerably darker down on earth than it had been up in the air–for one thing, there was no moon out that night, and for another, the trees blocked what little light the stars gave off.
"Princess..." He swallowed; his throat felt dry after that fall from thousands of feet up in the air, and hardly any sound came out. He tried again. "Princess! You there?"
The owl hooted again, quieting smaller animal noises in the forest. It didn't help Musashi's foreboding any.
"Princess!" He started walking after the echo his voice made off seemingly every tree, pulling out Fusion to light his way with its synthetic glow. His body felt like lead; he'd never forced a scroll's duration past its normal limits on his own before. "Where are you‽"
He stumbled over a rock buried like a half-step in the ground and caught himself with his hands; the path he was taking was gradually sloping uphill. We must've landed on the mountainside. Looking ahead, there was little to make out a few feet past Fusion's blade. Whatever its meager light didn't touch was sunken in inky blackness.
"Princess!" Calling out for her hurt his stomach more than his voice; he didn't remember getting the wind knocked out of him by that tree branch, but he knew a spreading torso bruise when he felt it. The numerous cuts and scrapes he's gotten from his violent entry into the forest were all stinging at once. But he knew he could walk it off.
It was the princess who had shared that same fall he was worried about.
He swallowed again, wishing there was some water nearby. Where could she be? Couldn't've landed far from here... Ignoring his pains, he struck out faster into the darkness, almost running right into a thorny bush. He whipped Fusion to one side in preparation to cut it out of his way, when the yellow light streak the movement made shined on something thin and red.
Musashi lowered his katana and plucked the long bedraggled object out of the thorns with his left hand. The bits that weren't tattered ran over his fingers like satin. Bits of flax-colored hair gleamed faintly in the sword's reflected light.
His insides shrank against his spine.
"THERE you are!"
Fusion's light jumped around wildly as Musashi nearly fell over himself, biting down a scream with a curse. He turned to look in every direction, straining to see in the shrouded night; all he picked up was the sound of a subtle rustle in the trees.
"I'm up here!" came the voice again. "Hurry up and get me down!"
Musashi finally managed to get a bearing on something in that forest, as his mind connected the rustling above with the Princess's disembodied voice making strident demands at him. Storing the ribbon in one side of his shirt and jogging shortly to the source of the noise, a particularly weathered and dried-up old fir, he paused to grasp Fusion's handle in his teeth, so he wouldn't lose his light, and started climbing.
Though his aches made the going slower than he would've liked, he still ascended easily enough, finding ample holds for his hands and feet. Fusion's light shining in his face illuminated only to the next branch stub, but he knew he was quickly getting higher as the tree creaked under his weight.
Then something else creaked above him, just out of sight.
"I'm here, Musashi!"
He was just about to pull himself up to the next handhold when that made him stop and look to his right. Stretched out on a long branch directly beside him was Princess Fillet, her face and bare arms tracked with dirt and traces of dried blood. She had her arms and legs wrapped around the limb like a lifeline, and looked like she'd been crying.
"Hold on!" Musashi said through the black-wrapped handle in his mouth. He shifted over and reached his right foot over to the branch, but it groaned ominously under the smallest amount of additional weight.
"Please hurry." Fillet's plea came out a little shakier toward the end.
Pausing a few seconds to loosen one hand from the tree and place Fusion back in its sheath, Musashi took a steadying breath of dry, pine-scented air, and lowered himself onto the branch. It crackled like brittle paint, and he was only on his tiptoes where the limb met the tree, his arms still wrapped around the trunk. Lifting one hand away from the bark, bits of it sliding off from the movement, he reached out for the princess while bending his knees to get himself closer to her level.
There was a sickeningly sharp CRACK and Musashi froze. Fillet yelped and dug into the branch with her nails as it started leaning dangerously away from the tree. "Musashi, help me!"
Throwing caution to the wind, Musashi slid further out onto the branch, reaching where he thought the princess was. His fingers made solid contact with her skin, and he almost laughed aloud with relief.
Then the limb snapped off.
There wasn't enough time to activate any scrolls, or do much of anything else, as they immediately started falling. Instead, Musashi opted to tighten his grip around Fillet's arm with his right hand, and grabbed frantically at the tree with his left. The world clawed past them for a full two seconds before he caught onto something, the tree still swaying as bits of twigs and bark showered them in their wake.
Dangling from his hand with the ground just a few feet shy of her scuffed shoes, the princess let out a shuddering breath.
"I am SO sick of falling..."
A long piece of bark was caught in Musashi's hair, stopped just before it would have fallen into his eye. He dislodged it with a quick shake of his head and replied, "Yeah, me too."
They hung there for another moment before Fillet said, "Um, I think I can get down from here okay." Musashi carefully loosened his grip until he felt her hand slip past his, and Fillet landed softly on the ground. He returned his hand to the shingled bark to reposition himself a bit before jumping off as well.
"You all right?" he asked, taking out Fusion to provide them both with some light. He could see her more clearly on solid ground; she almost looked like a different person without a ribbon tied back in her hair.
The princess brushed ineffectually at her dress, which had most of its ribbons and other small effects torn off, and countless tears at its hem. "I'll be all right, just as soon as I can get home..."
Musashi nodded. "Right. But where should we go to get back to the castle? I think we landed awfully far from there."
"I wish I knew." Fillet looked away from him to search the darkness with her eyes, worrying at her bottom lip with her teeth. "I've never really been outside the castle that much before all this started..."
Musashi watched her for a moment after she trailed off, then remembered. "Oh! Princess, I found this." As she turned to him, he reached into his shirt and pulled out the ribbon he'd found tangled in the thorny bush. She took it from him and ran it over her fingers a bit, feeling rather than seeing its intermittent fraying, and laughed a little.
The boy quirked an eyebrow in bemusement. "What's so funny?"
The princess shook her head. "Oh, nothing... only I sort of doubt we'll find the rest of my ribbons this way. Mom will have a fit."
"I'm sure she'll understand, after what you went through."
Fillet's eyes widened and she held the ribbon close to her chest. "No, there's no way she can know about this!" She looked down at the ribbon wrapped around her fingers. "If word of my kidnapping got out to Mom and Dad when they came back, if they haven't already returned..." She shook her head, and her voice got quieter. "Besides anything the Thirstquencher Empire had to do with, I sort of liked being outside the castle for once."
Musashi gave Fillet's words a little thought and grinned. "It's not all that bad, huh?" When neither of them said anything for a moment, he continued, "Anyways, let's find someplace to rest for the night. We can find our way to the castle tomorrow." With that, he began walking up the trail.
"But we're in the middle of nowhere!" Fillet protested after him. "There's nothing but forest for miles around."
"And that's a problem?" he asked, pausing briefly to smirk at her over his shoulder. "C'mon. I know what to do."
Musashi's plan consisted of finding a clearing large enough (and uninhabited enough) to make a campfire in. After a cursory gathering of dry wood using Fusion, and a quick application of the Fire Scroll, he had a merry blaze going.
The princess noticed how Musashi didn't hesitate to sit down with a flop and a sigh as soon as the fire was made. It's finally over, she thought, and finally felt the relief of the situation start to sink in. It won't be long until I return home, and he'll be...
"Somethin' wrong, Princess?"
Unexpectedly taken away from her thoughts, Fillet looked straight at Musashi from across the fire and blinked. It was then that she noticed something that made her giggle before she could stifle the sound with one hand.
The boy's eyebrows drew a little closer together. "What?"
Smiling uncontrollably, Fillet pointed a little above Musashi's line of sight with her other hand. "Your hair..."
"My hair? What about my–" He reached up to pat his head with both hands, and the dry leaves stuck there immediately crackled at the touch.
That was all the princess could take. She burst out laughing.
"You were like that," the Princess managed between gasps, "the whole time!"
With a small indignant sound, Musashi hastily raked his hands through his hair, loosening a few purple strands from his goggles and topknot in the process. "There. Better?"
Fillet looked at the boy, and valiantly kept a straight face for three full seconds before doubling over in gales of laughter again. "You look... SO ridiculous...!"
"This is how ya treat the guy who just saved your life‽"
The princess clutched at her sides. "And your face is all red!"
"It is not!" he argued, turning away from her anyway.
Fillet's laughter eventually died down, leaving only the crackling of the fire. She watched the embers rising up, only to vanish into the darkness as soon as each tiny spark attempted to light it beyond the tips of the flames.
She sat up and hugged her knees to her chest, viewing the fire through heavy-lidded eyes. "Thank you, though. For saving me."
Musashi looked up from where he was staring at his feet and turned halfway to face her. "Huh? Oh." He broke off into a huge, arm-stretching yawn. "Sure." He shifted around a bit and laid back with his arms crossed loosely behind his head. "G'night, princess..."
The princess picked at a torn bit of her dress, then smoothed it back down again, and leaned over to curl up on the ground. She recalled the bed in her cell at Soda Fountain hadn't actually been half bad, but she told herself that she'd be back in her real bed, in her real kingdom, soon enough.
"Good night, Musashi."
The next day, they woke up earlier than either would've liked, as the fire had gone out shortly before the morning fog rolled in. The fact that neither had any food or water on them was made apparent immediately after, so they kept an eye out for both while they made their way in a hopefully castle-wise direction.
Before too long, the morning sun came up and burned away the fog, revealing a far less gloomy forest than the one they'd crashed into the past night. Birdsong accompanied their search, and was eventually joined by the sound of running water.
When a wide yet shallow stream came into view, Musashi practically whooped for joy and went to drink his fill, but the princess briefly excused herself before heading further upstream in somewhat of a hurry.
"Don't go too far!" he called after her quickly retreating back. He watched her disappear around the other side of a large tree, concerned, then sat back on his heels. "Huh."
Several minutes later, the princess returned from a brisk wash in the stream, looking and feeling considerably better. Her dress wasn't any better off than before, but she figured it would hold together the rest of the way back.
She stopped a short way from where Musashi was, and tilted her head a little to one side. "What're you doing?"
"Catchin' breakfast," he replied without looking up from where he was, standing shin-and-hands-deep in the water, staring down in concentration.
Fillet placed her hands on her hips and blew a puff of air up at her bangs; she wasn't used to having her hair down. "But you're just standing there!"
"Just hold on, you'll see..." He became perfectly still for a second, then jerked his hands together and lifted them out of the water in one sudden movement, a silvery-gleaming fish wriggling in his grasp. "Ha! Got one!" He tossed it on the gravely bank, near where he'd left his swords. "Watch that for me, wouldja?" He repositioned himself in preparation for another catch.
"Um..." Fillet looked from Musashi to the fish flopping wetly on the bank. All the fine, specially-prepared meals she had eaten at the palace were always quite dead before she ever laid eyes on them.
The fish wordlessly gasped and turned itself over, closer to the stream, so the princess swallowed back her unease and made her way over to it. Selecting a few large stones, she placed them around the fish, keeping it in one place without having to touch it, and sat back to watch as Musashi flipped another fish out of the water and into the sunlight.
"It's looking at me," Princess Fillet murmured, still staring at her first cooked fish, while Musashi tore into his second.
"Don't be stupid," Musashi spoke around his mouthful. "It's dead. You saw me cookin' 'em."
Indeed she had; after catching six fish in relatively quick succession, Musashi wasted no time in activating the Fire Scroll again, this time to heat the rocks where he'd thrown the fish to bake them in mere minutes. With only large leaves to cool them on, he'd started on his first fish so fast he almost burnt his tongue, but he was so hungry he didn't care.
Deciding that she could be picky when she got home, the princess sighed and took a small bite. To her surprise, aside from a lack of seasonings and garnishes, the fish didn't taste all that different from what the cooks prepared.
Their late breakfast was soon over, and they were once again on their way, following the stream. Before they left, Fillet tried to convince Musashi to wash more than just his hands and face, but he staunchly refused for reasons she couldn't drag out of him.
"Oh, come on now," she told him after the third refusal, increasing her pace to keep up with him as they traveled up the mountain path. "It's not like I'm going to watch."
"That's not the problem," he shot back, walking a few feet ahead of her.
"Then what?" Fillet asked, frustrated. "You're just being stubborn!"
"Stubborn's fine with me." He jumped over a moss-covered log as big as himself that was lying across the path, only one unruly spike of his topknot visible from where the princess stood on the other side.
"Well, when we get back, they're gonna make you take one–" She stopped while trying to get over the log, hampered by her long dress. "–Whether you like it or not!" Finally latching a foot on top of the softening wood, she hoisted herself up, until she was on her hands and knees, looking over Musashi's head.
What she saw further up the path made her grip the log so hard, the rotten wood snapped off in her hands.
Musashi turned at the sudden noise, and looked up to see Princess Fillet's stricken expression, staring off into space.
Fillet slowly lifted a hand, shakily pointing. Musashi swiftly turned to look in the same direction, not finding anything–except the suspiciously cape-like object that disappeared behind a tree off to the left of the path.
The cords keeping his hand guards in place strained against his fingers as he clenched them incredibly tight. "He's here. He's dead."
Musashi took off from the path at a run, snapping the princess out of her shock. "Where do you think you're going?" She hastily slid the rest of the way off the log, almost stumbling on the ground when she landed, and hurried after him. "Wait!"
The fencer unsheathed Fusion without a thought as he rushed through the weeds occupying every available space between the trees, heading for the place where he'd seen that cape. Once there, he stopped, whipping his left hand back to Lumina's handle and starting to pull that out as well.
"Musashi!" The princess caught up to him, panting. "You can't just leave me like that!"
Musashi ignored her scolding, looking all around the immediate area from where he was, muscles tensed for a fight. Fillet pressed a tiny bit closer to Musashi's back, mindful of the luminescent broadsword he had halfway out of its sheath.
"Where'd that moron run off to?" he muttered, low and dangerous. "He was right here!"
Fillet noticed something odd under Musashi's right foot. "What's that?"
"Huh?" Resheathing Lumina, he looked down where the princess pointed, and leaned to pick up a voluminous square of dark fabric. "It's a..." He pulled it toward himself, and it snagged on a short branch. The cape was stained with mud and soot; it was evident that it had been there long before either he or Fillet had seen it.
Musashi let it drop from his fingers and turned around. "Let's get moving. He still might be out here somewhere."
He returned to the path without another word, gaze fixed straight ahead of him. The hand that wasn't holding Fusion clenched and unclenched constantly.
Fillet almost scrambled to stay with him, but gave the boy a slight berth. Though she knew the icy look she saw in his eyes as he'd passed wasn't meant for her, it unsettled her all the same.
Sunset rays filtered through the trees as Fillet rested at the base of a rather large one. Sighing, she looked up again and called for what felt like the hundredth time, "Are you at the top yet?"
"Not yet!" Musashi rolled his eyes and continued climbing, muttering to himself. "Jeez! She could try to wait a little. Not even sure if we're getting anywhere out here..."
He didn't like stopping, but the princess had been lagging behind, much as she tried to hide it, so he'd decided to go up and have a look around to get their bearings. That way she could take a much-needed break, and he could find out if they were getting anywhere near Allucaneet Castle-or, he dreaded, nowhere near it.
He squinted as the sunlight became harsher when he emerged from the forest canopy. Blinking as his eyes adjusted, he was high enough above the ground to see countless trees spread out around him, rising and dipping over the mountains in a sea of dark green.
Using the sun as a guide, he peered north. Not all that far off, and not entirely obscured in the distance, there appeared to be a smaller, not quite as green mountain. It gave off a distinct structural impression.
Musashi hoisted himself up a little higher and shadowed his eyes with one hand, squinting. Is that a flag...?
He looked down towards the source of the princess's voice. The flag was too far away for him to make out any kind of symbol on it, but he figured there was as good a chance as any that Allucaneet Kingdom was just ahead.
"I'm comin' down!" he called, and started his descent.
As he got closer, he realized the princess had been unusually quiet. He sped up his return, dropping a few feet to a low-hanging bough that swayed and peppered the forest floor with pine needles under his weight, then jumped down the rest of the way to the ground.
Fillet was still by the tree, only she was hiding on the other side of it, clinging to it, until Musashi approached her.
Her expression was making him more tense than the cause he was suspecting. "Princess...?"
"There's somebody else here." A lone bird called out in the evening, punctuating the haunted look in Fillet's eyes. "I think it's him."
Musashi looked towards the setting sun; it was beginning to touch the horizon. Getting her back comes first. He took out Fusion with his right hand, and offered the princess his left. "Think I saw the castle not too far off. Let's hurry."
Fillet grabbed his hand, and her rescuer immediately took her in a north-easterly direction at a rapid pace. She almost tripped, and had to run to keep from being yanked along in Musashi's haste.
"A-are you sure?" she asked him.
"Positive!" It better be. If it isn't...
The path became steeper as the two rushed up it, heading for what they hoped was the end of their journey–or, at the very least, a place they could rest where they wouldn't be found. Night was coming, and if the man the princess had seen was out there, Musashi didn't want to risk getting caught out in the open.
Fillet's breath started coming in ragged gasps, and Musashi slowed down to give her a break. Only a faint red-orange glow remained in the west, and the birds had left the wind to sing alone in the trees. The path seemed to even out just ahead, leading Musashi to believe they were almost at the top of the mountain.
"Just a little further," he urged her, going forward again.
The princess couldn't manage a sigh of relief just yet, but she nodded anyway and concentrated on picking her aching feet off the ground. Her progress came to a sudden stop as her free arm was grabbed by a much larger, much thicker hand.
Musashi felt the resistance when Fillet didn't move, but it was her sharp gasp that made him turn around.
A musclebound masked man, sans cape, had the princess firmly grasped in one hand, and a pistol cocked in the other.
"Rootrick!" In his current position, Musashi couldn't risk pointing Fusion at the man, but he dared not release the princess's hand. "Let go of her, or else!"
A chuckle came from behind the mask covering Rootrick's face. "Or else what?" He twisted his grip on Fillet's arm, and she bit her lip to keep from crying out, reducing it to a whimper.
"Why are you doing this?" she yelled at Rootrick's face, stamping her foot. "You don't even need me anymore! Your stupid plan failed, and so did your empire! So GET OVER IT, ALREADY!"
"Well, I can't just let y'all go after whatcha did to my dear ol' Papa." Rootrick pointed the gun at Musashi, the barrel not three feet from where the boy stood. "Now if'n y'all don't mind, I got things to do."
Fillet's eyes widened. "Musashi, run!"
Musashi looked past the gun and straight on at Rootrick's face. "Let her go."
"Not a chance." Rootrick tightened his trigger finger. "So long, Musashi!"
He fired the gun. The last thing Fillet saw before she closed her eyes to shut out the scene was crimson flying through the air.
Fillet fell halfway as the weight suddenly increased towards her left side, pulling her arm down with it. She sobbed, not wanting to open her eyes to see what had happened to Musashi.
When the gun went off, Musashi dropped to the ground and let go of his Fusion katana at the same time. He immediately reached his right hand under his outstretched left arm across himself to Lumina's handle, tore it from its sheath, and slashed upward in a brilliant red ribbon.
The princess realized that the hold on her right arm had gone slack, while her left hand was still locked in a small yet vice-like grip. She opened her eyes, facing Rootrick, to see that Lumina's blade had carved a straight line up his chest and through his face, cutting the metal apparatus covering it cleanly in two.
The gun slipped through Rootrick's limp fingers and landed heavily in the dirt, as his other hand fell away from Fillet's arm with the rest of him in a heap. Musashi lowered his glowing broadsword, blood running down its edge, and sat up.
"You all right?" he asked Fillet, his voice a little subdued.
Fillet just stared at him; even though the fencer came out of the confrontation unscathed, tears still stung at her eyes. "I saw... I thought he..."
Something on the ground caught Musashi's attention, and he let go of the princess's hand to pick up a translucent red shard. He turned it over between his thumb and forefinger, puzzled. "What the..."
Confused at it herself, Fillet looked Musashi over. The gun had been aimed right at Musashi, nearly point-blank. There's no way he could've dodged it in time. How did he... Her searching gaze stopped on the Legendary Goggles strapped atop the boy's head. One of the lenses was half-gone.
Musashi tucked the shard away in his shirt and stood, wiping Lumina on a patch of grass before he placed it back in its sheath, and picked up Fusion. He looked up at the princess, asking, "Think you can keep goin'?"
Not wanting to stay there any longer than she needed to, Fillet curtly nodded. "Yeah, let's get outta here."
They stopped to rest not long after crossing over the top of the mountain, and lighting another fire was as far as they got before collapsing in a deep sleep in front of it. The sun was already high above the trees by the time they awoke, and they pushed onward.
The forest on the other side of the mountain remained largely unchanged, until they encountered a large patch of impassable brambles stretching across a wide path.
Musashi stopped, and after several moments, Fillet got impatient.
"Why're you just standing there? Can't you burn these or something so we can get by already?"
"I know this place!" Musashi turned swiftly to face the princess, beaming. "We're in Somnolent Forest! We made it back!"
Fillet's eyes nearly bugged out of her head. "What–really‽"
Musashi headed for the trees at one side of the brambles and waved for her to follow. "C'mon, I know a shortcut."
The village was in an uproar shortly thereafter, over both the return of their hero, and their princess, as well. It was thanks to the mayor (and a too-enthusiastic Hotelo) that Musashi managed to get the princess through the crowd and back to the castle at all.
Steward Ribson was overjoyed to see both of them back in one piece, and informed them that they had returned just in time–the king and queen of Allucaneet were due back from their vacation the very next day.
"And on that note, Sir Musashi..." Butler Livers leaned down to scrutinize the boy through his monocle, "you must be made presentable."
Musashi shifted his feet and tried not to back up too noticeably. "'Presentable'?"
"Indeed." The butler snapped his fingers, and several maids-in-waiting gathered from seemingly nowhere. "I shall leave them to you," he told them, and walked primly away to attend to other duties.
Ribson caught a glimpse of the bewildered look on Musashi's face before the swarm of maids bustled him and the princess off to separate bathing areas, and could not stop an amused chuckle. "Oh, dear..."
Stories were told for decades onward about the racket a certain legendary hero made during bath time that night.
The queen of Allucaneet warmly regarded the strangely-dressed, wild-haired boy standing next to her daughter from behind her fan.
"And... who is that young man over there?" she inquired.
"Oh, him?" Fillet smiled, as Musashi stepped forward and nodded to the queen in greeting. "He saved my life!"