As Ritsuko s eyes slowly began to open she found herself slightly disorientated. The sunlight was peaking through some of the wooden beams above her. She realized that she hadn t been sleeping on Mike like always but was on a feathery or goose down mattress. Then came the biggest shock of all. She was naked in the bed. She searched around for her clothes and didn t find them. She started to panic.

Miss Airi! Celcia! Junpei! , she screamed out in fear.

With a burst through the door came not one of her companions but Nick s mother.

Its all right child. I m here.

What happened? ,Ritsuko asked still shaken up.

You fell asleep around the fire last night. We tried to wake you up but you were in a very sound sleep and wouldn t stir. Finally Nick carried you up here to our guest room where you ve been sleeping since.

Did Nick take off my clothes too?

The question had more than passing curiosity for Ritsuko. There was a something to be alarmed about as well. If he had indeed taken such a liberty with her what would have prevented him from taking advantage of her body in other ways? She didn t want to believe it was possible but the fact was that she was still had woken up in a bed with all of her clothes removed from her body and currently missing.

Nick s mother looked at her with a understanding that only a mother could appreciate.

No. Nick didn t undress you. That was me. I also noticed that your clothes looked like they could use a good washing so since today was wash day anyway I had one of the girls put it in with the rest of the laundry. It should be ready pretty soon.

Moving to a closet she pulled out a bathrobe and laid it out before Ritsuko asking her to get dressed and come downstairs for breakfast. The young girl was glad that the mother soon departed to let her change. Even though she was sure she had seen her own daughters in various stages of undress growing up Ritsuko was glad she was being given the respect of privacy. She quickly changed then followed the stairs down to where the kitchen was.

On the kitchen table was her school uniform. Cleaned, ironed, folded and possessing a fragrant smell when she held the shirt under her nose. She made a mental note to thank whoever did such a wonderful job. It looked better than she ever remembered it looking. She was also thankful that she had decided to leave her pistol back at the camp inside Mike. That could have proven to be embarrassing trying to explain.

So what do you like your eggs? Sunny side up? Over easy? Poached? Would you like some sausage or bacon? I did have pancakes made but those didn t last 10 minutes. , informed the mother.

Over easy please and sausage would be wonderful.

As the mother started preparing breakfast for Ritsuko she chatted away.

I want to thank you for asking Nick out to the festival this Friday. It really meant a lot to him. I was wondering though. Do you by chance have a festival dress? , inquired the mother.

Actually I don t. I guess I ll just be wearing my usual outfit. ,Ritsuko answer back.

No. That would be unacceptable. You deserve to have a festival dress of your own. ,the mother suggested.

Hidden on top of one of the chair seats the mother pulled out a long dress with orange, yellow, and red veils flowing throughout the outfit. It looked a little old but the visual display was stunning still.

The mother continued talking.

You see these festival dresses are for more than making the girl look pretty which it should. You see the history of our festival goes back a long time ago. You see there was this young women named Jenny who had fallen in love with a very handsome and rich young man. Needless to say the young man wouldn t give her the time of day. Her reaction to the young man was not unusual. All the women of the village felt the same way. However the young man loved to go from relationship to relationship and wouldn t settle down. Finally one day his father finally became exasperated with his son ordered him to make a choice and to marry since he was of age. He wouldn t choose a bride so the father had his son run a race. The first women to catch the man would be his wife the logic being she had to be strong enough to handle him. So the race was set up. Jenny however didn t like her chances of victory that day. She wasn t the swiftest runner, she wasn t what would be considered strong enough to take him down. So she decided on a different tact. She had a special dress made for her that she wore the day of the run. The races started and the women were in hard pursuit of the man. Jenny however had a feeling where the man was heading and knew a few short cuts. She got there fast enough to beat him there and when he saw her the dress made her so appealing that he slowed down enough allowing her to catch him by putting her shawl around his arm signaling that he had been caught by her. Soon they were married and both lived happily with many offspring. Since their deaths this community has held the festival in their honor. We continue the tradition of the women catching the man and putting her shawl around him. Of course these days when a boy is caught while the women wrestles him to the ground and tries to put the shawl on the boy typical tries to grab the women s butt, legs, or anyplace else he can get his hands to reach. For some of the boys they claim that that s the best part of the festival.

Ritsuko couldn t help but giggle at the last statement and the images of Nick doing such things with her. Then the mother continued.

This dress is very important to me Ritsuko. This was the same dress I wore when I caught my husband many years ago. I spent the night making alterations to it so it ll fit you. I got the measurements from your clothes. I had to bring in the hips in a little and chest out a bit and hike up the hem of the dress. Try it on see how I did while I finish making breakfast?

Going into a nearby room Ritsuko took off the bathrobe and tried on the dress. Seeing a full length mirror in the corner she looked at her reflection. Overall it was an amazing fit considering she hadn t been there to model it. Apparently the mother thought Ritsuko was bustier than she really was which the young teen took as a compliment. At the hips the fitting was perfect and the hem of the dress allowed her a couple of inches of leg to appear which would make it easier to run in the outfit. Overall a remarkable effort. She spun in front of the mirror until she had completed a full revolution. Then marveled how the dress flowed with her. Running her hands down the length of the dress she noticed a funny feeling in her heart. Something that this dress was doing to her. At first it was such a strange sensation she couldn t even find the word for it. Out of the blue a thought crossed her mind. It was the word she was looking for to describe how the dress made her feel. Running her hands from her chest to her hips what she realized what she was feeling was the word sexy. It made her feel beautiful in a way she had never experienced before. It made her very emotional and tears started to well up until enough collected to start running down her cheeks.

The door to the room opened up and Nick s mothers came in to announce that her breakfast was ready. However Ritsuko didn t respond. Looking in the mirror she could see the tears coming down and wondered if anything was wrong. Just as the mother got next to the girl to compliment her on how pretty she looked the teenager impulsively threw her arms around the mother holding her tight as she whispered a gratitude of thanks into her ear. The mother understood and responded with a sincere return of the embrace.

An hour later Nick was driving the horse drawn wagon with Ritsuko in it back to the camp. On her lap she held the folded dress Nick s mother had given to her. Holding it as if the item was the most important thing in the world to her. In many way it was. The dress was the first physical evidence she had of being accepted in this strange world where elves and humans lived.

I can t wait until tomorrow to see you in that dress. Just remember when you throw your shawl around me don t go high. Last year a guy s neck got hung up on the shawl of a women. Oh he s all right now but there were some anxious moments. Luckily Doc Moody was there to help. ,Nick stated

So how will I be able to recognize you in the crowd? ,asked Ritsuko.

Oh don t worry. I ll make it so you can t miss me. Though I do have one concern. You ve never seen me with my hat off before and because of that you might mistake someone else for me. For the race everybody is allowed to go without their hats and shawls. That way I suppose elves won t be trying to chase after humans and humans won t want to be chasing after elves.

Putting his hands up to the brim of his hat Ritsuko noticed his hands were shaking strongly as if some magical force wouldn t allow him to remove it.

Are you all right? , she asked.

Yeah, just a little nervous. You see in our culture you only removed your hats when you are with your most intimate partner. While I want to see you in that light I don t want to jump the gun and assume our relationship is more than what it really is.

Has anybody ever seen you without your hat on?

Just my mother and only when I m in need of a haircut.

Sighing Rits-chan understood what he was saying. She had forgotten the extremely conservative nature of the people within this community. It also made her realize how foolish her earlier mental accusations of him removing her clothes had been. If it was this difficult to simply remove his hat then to have removed her clothes would have given the poor guy a heart attack.

Nick, where I m from our traditions are different from yours. Oh we do have people who wear hats and shawls but not 24/7. Where I m from I d rarely have a shawl on my head and you would have seen it uncovered.

In some way s that is a scary thought. Yet at the same time rather pleasant that we didn t have to hide so much of ourselves from each other.

Then since it is more natural for me to have my head uncovered let me go first. ,she offered.

Untying the knot under her chin she removed shawl confidently. With the shawl on she had stopped putting her hair in its pigtail and now that it was unrestrained by the shawl the wind from the tree s allowed her tresses to flow freely. It felt so good to Ritsuko that she closed her eyes to enjoy the sensation of the breeze flowing through her brown locks. Then she began to feel a different sensation. One that caused her to open her eye s again. It was Nick s hand against her left ear moving backwards to her hair.

When she opened her eyes Nick quickly removed his hand . Grabbing his hand she smiled as she assisted in placing it back on the side of her head and worked his fingers to allow them to run through her hair. Allowing him to feel its texture to continue to break down the shy parts of his personality concerning women. These were small steps for her but big ones for him. If he d be willing to trust her in the small areas maybe he d be willing to trust her in others as well.

After several minutes of enjoyment Nick finally stopped running his fingers through her hair Then he began to work at the removal of his hat. With a deep exhale of breath he pulled it off to reveal that he had short bright red hair, though in the front they were long enough to produce bangs.

Now it was Ritsuko s turn to run her fingers through his locks. His reaction was instant. He was definatly enjoying her handling of his hair. He smiled, closing his eyes to make the sensations he was feeling that much stronger. The newness of this sensation was intense and to the surprise of Ritsuko he brought his hands to each side of her face to help draw her closer to him where he passionately kissed her. The move surprised her that it took so little encouragement from her for Nick to start behaving more boldly. She began to realize that she might have to proceed a little more cautiously than originally thought with him.

Back at the camp Ritsuko waited until Nick was long gone before she shared the information she learned from Nick with the fellow castaways. Their biggest hurdle had finally been cleared. When the race started everybody would know who the humans were and more importantly who the elves were.

So what will be the plan of attack? ,asked Ritsuko.

The three adults looked at each other as if wondering who will speak first. Finally it was Airi who approached the teen.

The only plan of attack for you is simple. You are to have fun with Nick. Enjoy the night to the fullest with him. The rest of us will take care of the elf stripping.

The actress stopped for a moment as if she wanted to say more but wasn t certain how it would be responded to. However she summoned up her courage and finished.

That is because once this night is over with we ll have to leave.

The final sentence came as a shock to Ritsuko. It impacted her like a blow to the stomach.

Seeing the girls reaction Airi continued.

Rits-chan. You knew that once our mission was complete we would have to leave right?

The teenager didn t respond. Maybe in her head somewhere knew it but her heart overrode the logic of the situation.

You didn t think about that did you. ,asserted Junpei.

Scoffing at the remark he made the muscleman continued.

How dim witted could you be? I know love is blind but in your case it must make you incredibly dense and dumb too.

The insult was more than Ritsuko could take.

Oh yeah Junpei? The only thing I ve ever seen you love is bowl of rice curry. You keep claiming to love Miss Airi but I think the only thing you d love about her is the chance to have sex with her!

While understanding her anger Miss Airi couldn t let the comment go unchallenged.

Now Rits-chan. Don t you think that comment was uncalled for?

However Ritsuko was already too angry to listen to reason.

Miss Airi. Do you even know what love is? Or do just use your acting abilities to give a believable performance of what a person in love would respond.

The tensions between the members then went through the roof when Junpei stated.

He nailed you didn t he. You and Nick went at it like rabbits after we left. I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!

Before either Airi or Chelsea could respond or react Ritsuko drew her hand back and slapped Junpei with all her might. However judging from his lack of reaction and the fact that her hand hurt greatly it appeared the slap hurt her more than it did him. Quickly turning around she stormed off leaving them not bothering to even acknowledge Miss Airi s attempt to call her back. She didn t stop walking until she got to her tank Mike. Leaning against the front of the tank with her other companion Piichi with several rolls of toilet paper it had produced since the last time she had visited him. The little white teddy bear looking animal was empathic enough to know that Ritsuko was emotionally distraught and it opened its arms offering itself to be hugged. It was an offer the girl couldn t resist. She wrapped the figure in her arms holding it tightly as she cried, not over the sting in her hand but the hurtful words of Junpei. She would have held onto Piichi for a lot longer had a voice not interrupted them.

Kid, can we talk?

There was no need to look and see who said it. There was only one person who ever called her kid . It was Mistress Celcia but as usual when she used the term with her it was only when the two of them were alone. The term was never used even in private as despicable and malicious. Like now it was being used to relax a tense situation. To ease the hostility that had been provoked.

Kid, there is something important I d like to say. If you hear me out there will be no yelling or accusing. I will simply say my piece and then I promise never bring it up again.

Ritsuko continued holding Piichi unsure what to do.

Will you listen to me kid?

Ritsuko wanted automatically to refuse. However in their time together she had always found Mistress Celcia s word to be honorable. She never made a promise that she wasn t prepared to keep. This fact made her trust the Elder of Common Elves implicitly even more than anyone. With a nod of her head Ritsuko agreed to listen but didn t say anything.

Clearing her throat Mistress Celcia started.

We ve been doing a lot of discussing about you Rits-chan. More than you could possibly know. We do understand how you feel about Nick. Believe me its easy to see. First of all he s a nice guy. I can tell he s really sweet around you and he s not faking it. I can also see the feeling is very much mutual. Believe me I ve been very happy for you. If I could work magic to make it possible I d want you to stay with him for as long as you are here in our world.

Pausing for a moment, Mistress Celcia tried very hard to make sure the next words she said came out exactly the way she wanted.

The fact is that we need you to pull this mission off. You are more important to this team than I think you realize. When the shark pirates attacked that village who used their knowledge of tank weaponry to turn the tide of battle? It was you. Who decimated the army of Ripa when you mined the bridge out from underneath them. That allowed Junpei to fight her one on one which got us our first fragment. Then there is the time you figured out how to get that mini-elf out of the rock when she got her drunk by Junpei s pouring the alcohol over the top of her head.

Mistress Celcia continued to recount all the way s the teen had helped the party in their time together. Some which she recognized. Others she hadn t thought much of but obviously held in much higher regard in the eye s of the Elder of Common Elves, even mentioning her recent assistance in saving the elf from the infamous friskers . It made her feel special to know just how much her talents were appreciated.

However there is one more situation that you may not be aware of. Remember even if we could get all the spell fragments by ourselves there is no way you could stay here. Remember the trial? We ve already established that your presence here is causing both worlds to become unstable. There is no way you can stay here forever. There would also be no way for Nick to come and stay with you in your world for the same reason. If it s this hard on you to leave now how much harder will it be to leave if and when we do get all the spell fragments and come back for you?

The speech was suspended temporarily, letting all that had been said sink in. It would be another minute before Mistress Celcia would speak again.

I ve said my bit, I spoke my mind. I ll now honor my promise and not talk about it anymore.

Starting to head back to the others Mistress Celcia heard the soft voice of Ritsuko.

Can you tell Airi for me that I m sorry for what I said about her .

Sure Kid. What about Junpei? Want me to apologize to him too?

The teen thought about the question for fleeting moment before replying.

Tell him he can drop dead.

It would be another hour before the youngster returned to her cohorts. Behaving like there had been nothing out of the ordinary Airi treated the girl as she always had. Junpei looked like there was a lot he wanted to say to her but kept his mouth shut. No doubt he was under the thespians influence of Airi who let him know what would happen to him, or more importantly what wouldn t happen between them if he didn t restrain and refrain from responding.

The day and a half between her return and the festival went very quickly. A skull session between Airi, Junpei, and Celcia took place to determine the best place if possible to catch elves early in the race. Of course once their presence was detected then the elves could very well scatter away. When Ritsuko tried to join in on the meeting they reminded her that her only task that night was to enjoy her time with Nick. On the day of the festival Ritsuko got to a nearby stream early to get cleaned up. Assisting her was Airi much as she imagined her own mother would have gotten her ready for a date back home.

After looking at the vision Ritsuko was providing Airi decided to do something very special for the girl. Producing a vial Airi told her it was a very special perfume that she would only use for special occasions. Some of it was sprayed just below Ritsuko s ears. A third spray in the cleavage showing from the dress. Now all that there was left to do is to wait for Nick and his family to pick them up. Looking down at her festival dress she became aware of Miss Airi not having one for herself to which the actress replied with total certainty.

True, but then again my mission at the festival is different than yours.

When Nick and his family finally arrived at the camp to pick up Ritsuko was ready for the evening. The cart was filled with not only Nick s family, but some male companions were sitting next to Robin, Lark, and Raven who all looked radiant in their festival dresses. She could only assume that these boy s were the girl s date for the night. The cart had been done up to resemble an old fashioned hay ride that she was familiar with back home on earth. Not only had hay been scattered on the floor of the wagon but bound bands of hay surrounded the ends so everyone in the wagon would have something to lean up against. His mother sat up front driving the cart. Once in the cart Ritsuko make a straight line to sit next to her guy who instantly threw a blanket over the majority of her body. The other girls offered blankets to Airi, Junpei, and Celcia as well.

Looks like it ll get much colder before we get to town this evening. These will help you warm. , explained the mother.

As the group continued to drive their way to the fair Ritsuko and her guy continued snuggling in the wagon totally oblivious to any comments from the group that surrounded them. Ritsuko was going to enjoy this evening just as she had been instructed to do by the others. Little did she know it would turn out to be one of the longest and hardest nights of her life.