A/N: I recommend re-reading the last chapter before you read this one, because it's been so long you've probably forgotten just what's going on.
In Which Feelings Change Yet Again
Of course, it wasn't Utau's fault that she was standing in the throne room of the queen of the faeries wearing a bikini. And it wasn't as if anyone could have helped the fact that Yaya had a duct-taped floaty toy around her waist, and blow-up bands on her upper arms. Nor was it Kukai's fault that he was wearing only a pair of swim trunks. And it was certain that none of them were to blame for their dripping hair.
Silence filled the throne room.
The queen averted her eyes.
"What sort of horrid fashion statement are these humans trying to make?"
"We were swimming!" Yaya explained, as if that justified everything.
"Why would you choose to go swimming right before an audience with the queen?"
"We didn't choose to come here!" Kukai interjected.
"Of course you did," said Titania.
"We're looking for our friends," Utau said.
"My, my, what a surprise," the queen replied dully. "They wouldn't happen to both have long hair? One tall and the other short?"
"That's them!" Yaya exclaimed. "Rima-tan and Nagi!"
"I sent them on a nearly impossible quest."
There was another silence. None of the three kids knew how to respond. They weren't sure if she was joking, or exaggerating, or telling the truth. And if she was, then what?
"What sort of quest?" Kukai asked.
"They must retrieve a cure from the Agara Tree and bring it to me. I've just sent my messenger, Puck, out after the same cure. If he brings it back before them, then they fail."
"How long do they have?"
"Just a matter of days, I assume. Puck is very efficient. He left this morning. I suppose that if your friends want to complete the quest, they'll have to have already gathered the cure by now. Humans like them take such a dreadfully long time to travel."
". . ."
". . ."
"So . . . now what?" Amu asked, twiddling her thumbs. She'd changed into her regular clothes, and she and Ikuto now sat on a couch in the lobby of the hotel, waiting for something to happen.
"I don't know. What do you want to do?"
"That depends on how much time we have to kill."
"Well I don't know how long they're going to take to get back here. They could be back in a few minutes or in a few days. So we could go somewhere, and if they're here when we get back, then great, and if they're not, then oh well."
"Where would we go?"
"Where do you want to go?" Ikuto responded.
"I don't know! You've been here before, haven't you? You should know," said Amu.
"Hmm . . . How about the London Eye?"
"It's the largest Ferris-wheel in the world."
"I thought you didn't like rides," Amu pointed out.
"When did I ever say that?"
"Nevermind. I'm hungry. How about dinner?"
"Fine with me."
They walked down the street and found a restaurant that seated them at a wooden table. A waiter asked them what they would like to drink.
"I'd like a Shirly Temple, please," Amu said.
"We don't serve that here," said the waiter, sternly.
"Oh." Amu looked at the menu in her hands.
"Then get her a sprite and some grenadine and a glass to put it in," Ikuto said to waiter, equally as sternly. He nodded and walked away.
"You didn't have to bother. I could have had something else," Amu mumbled.
"It's not like it's that hard to make," said Ikuto, leaning back in his seat. "If that's what you want, then that's what you'll get. Besides, it's my sister's money we're spending." He grinned, and she grinned back at him.
"She won't notice the difference," he put his hand up to silence her.
The waiter brought their drinks, a sprite for Amu with a shot-glass full of grenadine. She poured the entire thing into her glass, and later wished she hadn't.
When I woke, there was something above me. A roof. It certainly hadn't been there last night.
Morning sunlight was coming into the little room through two windows on either wall and one on the door. I tried to sit up. That was when I realized my hands and feet were bound. Using my back strength, I pulled myself upright and looked around the small room. It seemed to be a full house fit into one tiny space, only lacking a bathroom. There was a little wood stove, and a bunch of cabinets along the walls. At the end was a built-in bunk bed, curtains for each.
Rima lay on the floor next to me, also tied. She was still asleep.
"Rima!" I hissed, nudging her with my foot. She didn't stir. "Rima-chan!" There was no answer, so I scooted forward to check that she was okay. "Rima!" I insisted, louder.
"Shut up, Purplehead."
Rima turned over, groaning.
"Ouch," she muttered, and opened her eyes. And blinked. And blinked again. And shut them. Tightly. "Where are we, Nagihiko?"
"Where are we?" she demanded, eyes still clenched shut.
"I don't know, Rima-chan. I think the gypsies kidnapped us."
"Okay. That's all right. I'll just wake up now."
"You're not dreaming, Rima."
"That's what you think, stupid cross-dresser."
"Okay then, wake up."
She opened her eyes.
"Nagihiko, why are you staring at me?"
"You were. It's creepy to stare at people when they're sleeping."
"I wasn't staring at you."
"Yes, you were. Maybe that's why I was talking to you in my dream."
"Did you dream that the gypsies kidnapped us?"
"That's really creepy! You were reading my mind, too, you weirdo!"
"No. The gypsies really did kidnap us."
"Don't be stupid."
"Look around," I said. She did.
"I can't lie, Rima. The gypsies kidnapped us."
She was speechless. I couldn't blame her. I wouldn't know what to say in her situation, either. It took her a few moments, but she finally managed, "What are they going to do with us?"
"I don't know. Maybe they'll sell us as slaves. Or they'll train us to eat fire and swallow swords and make us join their traveling show. Or maybe—"
"Stop. I get the point. Now what?"
"What do you think, Rima? We'll just politely ask them to let us go, and if we're really, super nice about it, and tell them we forgive them for kidnapping us, then they'll oblige."
"Okay, okay! What's your plan, then, genius?"
I thought about it. Obviously, the first thing was to get untied. But if the gypsies came back and saw us trying to get loose, then we'd be in trouble.
I leaned against the wall and pushed myself just a little bit upwards, trying to slide my bound hands beneath me. I was able to get them to my knees pretty easily, but my legs were long enough that it took a good amount of effort to finally get my hands in front of me.
"Turn around," I told Rima, and worked at untying her hands. "When I'm done, I'll need you to untie my hands, and then we can untie our feet, and we'll figure the rest out from there."
It all went smoothly until we were working on the ropes around our ankles. That was when the wagon lurched, and suddenly, we were moving.
"Nagihiko!" Rima wailed.
"I can't do anything about it! Just finish as fast as you can and we'll find a way out of here."
We threw the ropes aside and I helped her up, placing our hands against the walls as the floor rattled beneath us. I staggered to the door and fumbled to get it open. It finally swung outward, and my stomach lurched as I watched the ground rushing past.
"We're going to have to jump," I told Rima. "When you hit the ground, start rolling. It will do less damage that way."
"You want me to jump?" she gaped at me.
"Yes. I'm done arguing with you. As soon as I hit the ground, you jump out. Okay?"
She shook her head, but I knew she would do it. I'd ordered her. Not that I'd meant to, it was just the way the words came out. I counted to three in my head, swinging forward with each count, and flung myself off the wagon. Thankfully, the vardo wasn't going nearly as fast as I'd though, and when I hit the ground and started rolling, it did little more to me than force out an "oof!" Rima was right behind me. We came to a stop, and I grabbed her hand and pulled her up, dragging her with me as I dashed toward a cluster of trees. Hopefully, our captors hadn't noticed.
It took us quite a while to find the place where we'd made camp last night. The horses were still there with all our stuff, and so was Horacio, munching on some moss and looking surprised to see us.
"Where did you guys go?" he asked.
"We didn't go anywhere. We were kidnapped! By gypsies!" Rima exclaimed. "Where were you? Frolicking through a field of daisies?"
"I was-" Horacio began.
"Please don't answer that," I cut in, quickly. "Thank you for keeping the horses safe, but we need to be on our way, now." I gave Rima a boost onto her horse and glanced over my shoulder at Horacio as we trotted away. His horsey mouth was hanging open. It was hilarious to see such an elegant creature looking so offended. He could easily have caught up to us if he'd wanted.
"According to the map, we're supposed to have just passed through a town," I said, trying to hold the partially-folded map steady as we rode.
Nagihiko frowned. "I can guarantee you that we haven't been anywhere near civilization today."
"Please don't tell me we're lost," I groaned.
"You're probably just reading the map wrong," he pointed out, urging his horse closer until I could hand him the map. His brow furrowed as he studied it. Then he lit up. "Ah! See here, Rima. We're on this path, and we're heading toward the mountains. In fact, we should be reaching the foothills this evening. We can camp there before we go up."
He was right, and we made it there earlier than he'd expected. The trees grew thinner, and the number of conifers increased the further we went. Nagihiko built a fire while I removed the horses' tack and spread out some food for our dinner.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something move, and turned only to find it had vanished. There was another movement directly in front of me, and then another, and I watched as little white dots floated to earth. Holding out my hand to catch one, I couldn't help but smile slightly.
"Nagihiko, it's snowing!" I exclaimed.
I let out a giggle, which turned into a little laugh, even though nothing was at all funny. Suddenly, I had the strangest urge to dance, and I spun around a few times, my hair swishing and twirling behind me, catching the snowflakes as they grew bigger and fluffier.
A few moments later I stopped abruptly as something clamped around my wrist.
"Nagihiko?" I questioned, looking into his abnormally stern face. "Isn't the snow pretty?"
"It's not a matter of pretty, Rima. Don't you realize what this means?"
"It's going to get colder?"
"Exactly. Right now, snow is our enemy. If we have to trudge through a bunch of snow to get over that mountain, it will slow us down a lot. More than that, we're likely to freeze to death."
I jerked my hand away and went to sit by the now-steady fire. The snow was falling all over me and getting in my hair, and I knew it would be a matted mess soon enough. Had I not been mad at Nagihiko, I would have asked him to braid it for me. Instead, I did it myself, my fingers growing cold and numb as I worked. I was surprised at how offended I'd been. It's not like he hadn't said mean things before. And I found myself thinking that maybe I actually did like him, after all.
That night, we slept side-by-side in hopes of staying somewhat warmer. I could feel his presence next to me, a distinct Nagihiko-like aura emanating from him. And when I glanced briefly at his face, the air seemed to grow a little bit warmer. It was pleasant. Nonetheless, I wasn't speaking to him.
The snow had stopped falling, and none of it stuck on the ground, so we weren't soaked. I stared at the night sky in silence, not sure if Nagihiko had already fallen asleep, and watched something large flutter past. It was definitely not a bird.
A/N: So now you know I didn't abandon this. Anyway, if you'd like to read stuff from me more often, check out my blog. I will have a link on my profile, but you can also type it in by deleting the spaces: the ninja gang dot word press dot com.
I hope to finish this story in maybe three or four more chapters.