A/N: Sorry it took a little bit of time for this to get out, but I hope you like it all the same. Please leave a review.
No fluff in this chapter, but there will be soon enough.
I do not own Mai Otome.
Chapter 3: Supplies
Midori awoke early in the morning filling an abundance of satchels with equipment and food. She was setting off for the hideout soon and would need all of the equipment possible. "Arika are you ready to go?" She asked as she fastened them to the side of Gakutenou along with a few casks of clear spring water, along with various medical supplies.
"As ready as I'll ever be." The small girl nodded, looking at her master to confirm all was well. "Mashiro is there anything else you need me to do here, or can we get started?" At her side sat even more supplies and two more barrels filled with fruit and its juice. There were simply too many things for Midori or Arika to carry and yet all of these things would be needed.
"No, you can go, but it shouldn't take us very long on this end. The President of Aries has offered to help carry supplies as well." Mashiro answered back as she continued to full more and more bags of supplies. "Leader, is there anything else you need from us?"
"No." The answer was matter of fact as she adjusted her gloved and whipped the sweat from her brow. "This food will help last us until the seasons change and we can go out hunting again. I feel as if I should be doing more for you, the amount of food is something I can't repay by my hands alone."
"You're doing enough as it is Leader. Helping with the Otome program is hard work, not to mention you've left a lot of people behind. This is the least we can do in exchange." Arika praised as Mashiro agreed fully. "I'm ready now all we need to do is wait for Haruka to arrive."
"We're clear already! Let's get moving." The blond spoke up as she stomped along the road. "But don't you try anything funny. If I find Yukino hurt I'll pummel you myself!" The self assured vigor was almost too much. "So all we need to do is drag this stuff over to the Aswad base…right?"
Yukino trailed behind silently trying not to stir up the blond as she and Mashiro shared a few final words before the latter finally turned to head back to the castle. Meanwhile, Haruka was being covered in various supplies to be sure they could carry everything. Her robe was strong, but, not strong enough and it caused her to either fly sideways or fall back to the ground altogether. They simply didn't have the manpower needed to transport everything.
"We could just leave some behind and come back later." Yukino suggested softly. "We aren't really on a time schedule so it should be alright." Her look to Arika confirmed this as the smallest Otome nodded with affirmation feeling it to be a good idea.
"Unfortunately my people need this food. We live in the desert and it's getting more and more dangerous as time goes on. The seasons change and so does our diet. We can't hunt when nothing can be killed. Until the rainy season hits again we are going to be short supplied as it is." Midori explained as an overly annoyed Natsuki came up the pathway.
"What in the hell do you think you're doing!" She hollered as she took in the sights of various cafeteria food from the school as it sat in bags and barrels. "We need that! You think you can just come in here and take our foo-"
"That'll be enough Natsuki." Shizuru soothed calmly before releasing the annoyed woman's mouth from her hand. "I must apologize for the negligence in the information." She explained with a slight grin on her face. "Natsuki was unaware that our food storage units were to be fully refilled by Queen Mashiro and came out here before I could warn her."
"Warn me! You didn't even tell me!" She ranted on again blushing at the fact that she just embarrassed herself, causing those around her to either smirk in amusement or sigh in aggravation. This only enraged her more. "You could have told me before I came out here looking like a complete idiot!"
"Yellin' like that won't help." Shizuru scolded lightly before taking in the sight. "However, now that we stand here finding ourselves with nothing to do why not lend a hand with the supplies." Her innocent crimson eyes were only innocent outwardly. Inwardly she loved to resort to this sort of trickery. "It would help you make up for your momentary outburst. That is, unless you want your students to learn such crass behaviors."
"I-I'll do it…" She said looking at Arika and then at the bags around her waist. "Give me some of those." She said grasping a few that were still on the ground and yanking the other's away from Haruka. "You can carry those things." She ordered Haruka, pointing at the large drums of fruit.
"Why do I have to do it?" The question was honest but before Natsuki could take it as a verbal offense Yukino stepped in.
"Please just do it Haruka." Her voice was soft and pleading. Begging to keep the fighting down to a minimum if it was at all possible by this point. "The sooner we get this done the better."
"Agreed." Midori sighed as she pulled a few of the final bags to rest at the base of Gakutenou's neck. "We need to get going."
"Wait." Shizuru spoke out at this time. "Arika if all you were asked to do was deliver supplies then why not let me do that." Her smile was that of honesty, and quite frankly, most around them had figured that the tawny haired woman would ask such a request. "Besides, you are the Queen's Otome now. Your place should be at her side at all times."
Arika looked to Midori who only shrugged. "If these two goons want to help out as well, I'm not opposed. All I want to do it get out of here quickly; I don't want to be out in the desert during nightfall. It would be too easy to get lost. I'm not an Otome so I don't know your laws." She said before finishing rigging up the last of the gear as Arika passed the things she was carrying to Shizuru.
Arika was about to head back when a gloved had caught her midway. "Just make sure you do what you want to do. A Queen is only a Queen because you choose her to be so, and, she doesn't own you as a person. Remember that." Midori received a nod in agreement and watched as Arika walked away, heading back to the castle.
After Yukino was safely perched on top of Gakutenou they finally took off. Natsuki and Haruka fought about one random thing or another the entire way. Shizuru was happily flying ahead of the two hotheaded Otome and found Yukino to be enthralled about being so high up. This of course, led her to be panicked, clinging onto any possible surface for dear life, although in reality, she wasn't in any real danger.
Midori was far more self assured, sitting at the head of the gigantic beastlike creature. Her feet dangled out in midair as she relaxed during the ride. "Are you going to ogle me, or do you actually have a reason to address me?"
"I'm sorry. I thought you were asleep, and if that had been so than I would have let you be." Shizuru turned her attention back to Natsuki, being sure to note that both she and Haruka were alive and well, the lung power of arguing to account for reassurance. "In saying that, I think even you may have found it impossible to sleep with that ruckus."
"Please, if you think that's loud you really have no idea what you're in for do you?" Rummaging around in her pocket she pulled out a torch to drop in the sand. It was to alert the others of their arrival, telling them not to send fighters. After she lit it she tossed it down into one of the open holes along the mountain tops. "We will need to stay the night here before going back, or at least I will. I'd advise that if you don't want to get lost, you and the others fly ahead into that open crag and drop the gear you're carrying, then return back to Garderobe. Once the sun sets you're a goner out here during this season."
"I do think we will be stayin'." Shizuru nodded. "Otherwise Yukino wouldn't have come along. This is a personal request from her that she came, as a result this was the little plan we built. Please don't think us rude; however, Aswad is that of a curiosity among Otome. Natsuki would never ask outwardly to visit you here so I tricked her into it."
"Well whatever." Midori sighed outwardly. Inwardly she could have cared less. A few Otome would be easy pickings among such a large number of Aswad. Midori had very little reason to worry. "However, I'll give to you the same warning I gave Mashiro. In the Aswad domain you do as you are told. By law we should kill you on sight, however, it is by the grace of your leader we have an easier time out here."
"I will be sure to keep that in mind." The area they had entered into was quite barren. Sand was kicking up around the ground and the mountains were speckled with caves. A few they had flown past higher up the ridge had once held families by the looks of them. Shambled remains of furniture or cloth wafted from their spots. Dust was only part of the issue as ash from fires settled into rocks and crevices, burnt wood and debris proved a battle had taken place; grave sites marked with tombs gave way to how fierce it must have been.
Shizuru said nothing, noticing even Natsuki and Haruka were quietly flying now, respecting those of resting souls. Finally they came upon cleaner sand and a big alcove. Children were outside running in circles chasing one another in dirty clothing, laughing as they fell in the dry sand. Adults kept a watchful eye on the smaller ones while the older children climbed rocks, one child falling and scraping his knee in the process.
This was the home of the warrior people. Known for their barbaric ways of combat and their horrible attitudes, this was the home of the Aswad. Among the dunes the children could see Midori and ran to greet her, many of the adults doing the same. When Gakutenou finally touched ground even the smallest of children ran to climb the gigantic beast. Shouts of welcome home, hugs and praise were given, as well as many thanks for her arrival. Midori knew each person seemingly by name; her actions treated them as family, rather than merely a random faction she was in charge of.
"Our comrade, Queen Mashiro, has offered us food for the trying times ahead. We must ration it well, it would be unwise of us to waste a gift of food we desperately need. Since we are still able to hunt for a few more days we need to do all we can to build up our stocks. Those of able bodies, please aid in the search for food." She stated addressing the more powerful and healthy members of Aswad.
"Those unable to hunt, please go fetch water for tonight. We will need enough to feed those who have offered their aid. Although I know this is not our normality, I ask you spare the lives of these people in front of you. They are friends of Arika and have helped to deliver the bounty before us." More rounds of "Yes Leader" rang out and those old enough to go out into the desert to dig for water left in large groups, being sure to take pathways that were made to navigate.
She started handing out the bags she had used to carry food supplies to even the youngest children around her when one of the boys approached her. "Leader, I know this may not be the best time, but a letter arrived the other day for you." As he said this he passed her the sealed envelope, in turn she gave him three of the bags she held, instructing him to do as the others were, taking the food into storage.
The envelope was slightly yellow from being in the sand, the gritty feeling in her fingers proved to be from more allies. Without a word she pocketed it for later use, in the meantime she gave orders to the Otome standing behind her. "Haruka, you look strong enough, go help dig for water. Natsuki and Yukino, I need you two to follow the example of the children you see before you. Take the food into storage, and don't go wandering around. Shizuru I need you to come with me for a moment."
With the orders doled out Midori started walking not giving the others time to deny the request. Shizuru followed wordlessly behind, walking through a few small doorways and into a room where rocks and various levels of minerals made up the dwelling. "I know you said you wanted to stay the night, and I don't mind. However, I have a better use for you than to dig for water or hunt for food. I was going to ask Arika to do this for me, but, since she's not here and I don't think the other chuckle heads could do it, it seems I'm stuck with you."
"What is that exactly?" Shizuru asked worried. Her tone was that of concern, her face contorted in confusion.
"Ever since the recent Otome incidents, as I'm sure you know, many people have been left homeless without many places to turn too. That of Windbloom weren't the only ones to be lost during the attacks. Casualty counts were through the roof by the record of each city, although, I'm sure your aware of that." Midori explained looking out a one of the holes that had been carved into a door. "However, what if I told you that there weren't as many lost as you might have thought."
"I would have to say that it is a blessing." Shizuru looked outside as well; a grave sat at the top of the large mountain, one that looked as if an amateur had made it. The headstone was blank and untouched. Midori seemed to catch on, nodding the affirmative, and Shizuru went outside paying respects. "Was this person important to you?"
"Not to me personally." Midori answered quietly. "However, a child of Windbloom lays there, she was a child lost when Mashiro failed to lead her people correctly. They had come here for aid and when I was going to deny it Mashiro formally requested that we, of the Aswad help. Who would I be to deny the request? Ever since then, you could say that Mashiro and I have had a sort of unspoken unity. A partnership if you could call it that. Anyway, it was perhaps this child that gave Mashiro the strength she has now to be a proper leader."
As she explained she pulled out the envelope that had been addressed to Midori. "This letter was the one addressed for me to read, however, that is a false pretense. While we are speaking now, more and more people that had been split up are finding and rebuilding their families. We have been helping to guide them out of this wasteland and back into the homes they once knew. From there, it's up to the political leaders to decide how to handle them. This letter is for Mashiro, its details are for her eyes alone and I want you to take it back to her when you leave."
"I will be sure to do that. Are you sure this was all you needed?" Shizuru addressed, in true Otome form.
"As of this moment, yes…just keep quiet about this." Midori warned. "I know it seems wrong to keep this from the others, however, I have every reason to believe that this is in the best interest of everyone involved. I will need more time so you all will need to return to Windbloom on your own. That is the only reason I'm asking you to take the letter."
"Understood." Shizuru curtly nodded before leaving the woman in search of Natsuki and the others. She was unsure of the facts surrounding the letter however it was clear something was going on. She wouldn't be able to do anything without the right information, so instead she would play the waiting game. Sighing, she slowly moseyed along the way she came.
"Oi! Where's Yukino!" The shout from one rather annoyed Otome as she tromped inside the cavern echoed with a vengeance few could match. "I've been sitting here for over an hour! Where is she?"
Shizuru wasn't even aware she had been wandering around aimlessly for that long. "I'm not sure. Last I knew she was with Natsuki, so I'm sure she is safe." Her eyes scanned the large room, looking for a familiar face and finding none. "Are you sure she isn't someplace else? This place is extremely large in spite of being a cave."
"Do you think they got trapped in the food area?" Haruka was thinking aloud trying to find her lost companion. "She can't be hurt or she would have called the GEM, so where is she?"
I don't know, but I just came from the left side of the room, since I can't say I saw then back that way, let's take the other corridor." Shizuru offered calmly, and Haruka seemed to agree. They passed a few small rooms that were empty or inhabited sleeping people, the rooms were very plain. Little was offered to make the space comfortable at all. "It's a wonder anyone could sleep here." The calm voice whispered.
Down further from the small rooms were a few larger ones, the lighting grew dimmer and it was clear the oil lamps had been spent earlier that day. They could hear echo's reverberate along the walls along with Midori's recognizable voice. She was laughing along with some rather young members of Aswad. The sight that greeted them a few moments later was almost too cute for its own good.
Sleeping on one of the rocks was Natsuki, her face covered in black ash that the children had been drawing with. Yukino rested on the other end, safe from the playful tykes. Midori was just as dirty and it didn't help that she too was painting the faces of those around her. One of the eldest girls in the group sat off to the side. She looked indignantly onward at the playful attics. "Leader, I don't mean to be rude, but they won't learn anything if you go soft on them."
"Relax." She smiled before looking at the two in the doorway. "You guys too. You all need to stop being so huffy."
"Well this sure is a far cry from before." Haruka deadpanned, almost lost for words. "What happened to the lean mean Midori of Aswad? Ya' know the one who could apparently kill us?"
"It's called parenting. Try it sometime." Midori shot back sarcastically. "They're little kids for god's sake. You can't force them to have the same rules as adults. Someone has to look out for them, and that is a job for all of the adults." As she said this the smallest of the children went walking off on his own, or at least attempted too as he fell on his butt crying in frustration.
Midori wordlessly lifted him back onto his feet, not reprimanding him as she would an older child. Instead she allowed him to grasp onto her fingers as he tried to maintain balance. She took a step, prompting him to follow, all the while looking curiously at her, when he let go, she didn't stop him. He wobbled for a moment before falling again, and again getting frustrated, and again she picked him up, repeating the same as before.
As the scene before them continued, the eldest child spoke up again to those sitting around the room. "Mom and dad are out right now; our brother is off at Windbloom getting treatment for his illness. Until they come back Leader is in charge." Then she chortled slightly in annoyance. "As far as that junk you spouted, that's just lies. Leader is a big softy who tries to look mean."
"Now where exactly have I seen that type of person before?" Shizuru asked scheming manner.
Yukino caught on quickly enough. "It does sound like a few Otome I happen to know." She giggled lightly. "Off the record, I think someone should clean that off of Natsuki, if she wakes up looking like that she's going to be livid."
"That's what I'm counting on." The smirk Shizuru had on her face wasn't one to be questioned. In fact, the look only meant one thing. She was up to something that would result in one, very red, very annoyed, Natsuki.
"Oh goody! Where's the popcom and camcorner this outta be good." Haruka smiled excitedly.
"Popcorn, Haruka." She sighed pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "You mean popcorn and camcorder…"
"Yeah!" The blond chuckled. "Those! Where are they?"
The eldest child rolled her eyes at the display. "This is going to be a long night…"
Sorry, no fluff, but I promise it will come soon. Please leave a review letting me know what you think so far.