Alice: Hey everyone! Thanks for all the adds, reviews, and the gentle nudges to update! We just hit one of my landmark goals! 100 favs! The only bad news is that Ultrra is sick with the flu and has been the biggest baby about it.

Ultrra: I'mb not sik. I feel just fineb. (sniffles) -_-

Alice: Riiiiiiight. He's just fineb. X) You know, anytime someone adds/reviews/follows/favorites the story, this is what I do: I'm like 'hey yeah!' And then I'm like 'hmm, who is this person?' And check out their profile! ^_^

Ultrra: That sounds creepy XD (laughs then ends in coughs)

Alice: And you sound like you're dying.

Ultrra: I'mb fineb.

Alice: Just admit you're sick!

Ultrra: I'mb not. I just have a cough.

Alice: And a fever

Ultrra: And a small sneeze.

Alice: -_- I'm going to cut this short since someone is in denial. Has anyone played super smash brothers? Yes?

Ultrra: And if you haveb, Alice and I will take friends codes. XD Well, we will when the 2014 one comes out.

Alice: In SSBB if you've played the space emissary game, there's an enemy called a Towtow. It's the ram that sleeps but if you wake it up it goes on the rampage. XDD I'm borrowing THAT sheep, ram enemy for this chapter. XD

Ultrra: I thought it was a goat...

Alice: It's a ram...Oh! And the only warning for this chapter is language, though it's not worse than usual.

Ultrra: (blows nose loudly)

Alice: XD LOL! You sound like a snowstorm! Anyways, enjoy the chapter! ^_^

Ultrra: (chugs down cough syrup like a shot)

Alice: XS Gross...

Beta by: BI0

Daisy is the tomboyish, clumsy yet fiery princess of Sarasaland and King Bowser is absolutely smitten. As a result chaos, turmoil and humor ensues. Why? Because things are never easy for the desert blossom.

oOoOoOo Tomboy and The Beast oOoOoOo

I hadn't received more than three hours of sleep when a maid summoned me early the next morning. I arrived at a courtroom where Father and the Grand Sarasalandian council waited.

The courtroom was unwelcoming and cold; the room was dark, save for a few lamps and glutted with a crushing somber ambience. Father had the suitors and I relay our narratives at CLUB VICE as a royal scribe carefully recorded each word.

One by one we took turns, sitting before the panel of esteemed Desert elders, and under the room's solitary light, the elders' faces were solemn and their eyes were blackened out in shadows. Each royal filled in the blanks with their own perspectives, noticing and omitting varying events.

The accounts remained indisputably true at certain junctures: We had traveled to CLUB VICE where Taurus bought us all a round of drinks, then he led us to the VIP lounge where Bowser and Wolfe had inexplicably disappeared from the main party.

Afterwards Wolfe had burst into the VIP in a fit of rage, dragging a half-conscious Koopa king. I left the room with Taurus only to return five minutes later with a torn dress and shortly afterwards Grammy entered the VIP lounge and we all left.

Though the Elder council suspected foul play, Wolfe's narrative was the only account to support the claim. The Elders were wise, knowing an accusation without any concrete proof was not only political suicide but was breeding grounds for war.

The Elders shrewdly chose not to disturb Bowser, permitting him a well-deserved rest. And although Bowser wasn't present, notes from our family's physicians supported the theory of underhanded Aqualandian activity.

Large traces of rohypnol were found in his bloodstream, enough in fact to have knocked out several adult men. The Elder council wouldn't even dream of disturbing Grammy, especially since the family physician had ordered for her to remain undisturbed.

Was it odd that I felt as if I was on trial? When I sat before the Elder council and Father, they remained stone-faced, unsympathetic and the dim, cold courtroom seemed more suiting for a criminal instead of a tired, sleep-deprived princess.

I felt enormously uncomfortable with informing them of Grammy's unspeakable past. It didn't seem as if it was even my proper place to do so, and I decided to omit that from my narrative. What really took half an hour tops felt like days had passed and by the time all accounts were given, the suitors looked exhausted.

Father thanked each of us for our cooperation and advised us to rest. Breakfast would be served today at ten am so we could all nab a few hours of sleep. The Sarasalandian council and Father would remain in deliberation, piecing together and using our narratives to create one, unbiased story to figure out what their next move would be.

I didn't think twice; with the thick fog of exhaustion clouding my head and emotions, I barely managed to bid my suitors a goodnight before returning to my room.

When I reached the doors to my bedchamber, there were two handwritten notes taped to my door. The first note had a white lotus blossom taped to it and immediately I knew who had written the note.


I know this is hard, but your valor and poise is admirable. Keep your head up and never give up. It may seem unlikely but this all will pass. If you need someone to speak with, or just want someone who will listen, I'm here. On a lighter note, I hope you enjoy the blossom. They grow in abundance at home during the summer rain season. Whenever I feel homesick, I carry one or two of them with me. I hope this one can make you feel better.


I smiled, twirling the elegant flower within my digits. Its perfumed, sweet petals smelt heavenly. I picked up the second note and laughed. Though this memo wasn't written in the same, elegant handwriting as the first. If anything, it was messy and the letters were lopsided and scrawled in a hurry.


I saw that sneaky Shinobi leave a note by your door and thought I would check it out. Y'know, just to make sure he didn't attach a bomb or write a dirty note or something...Also, I would be DAMNED if he left you a note and I didn't! You looked so tired and worried and I hope this could make you feel a little better. Here's hoping I'll get to see that cute smile soon! (:D)


I released a tired laugh, neatly folding the notes up and setting them on my nightstand. The moment I touched my bed, I drifted off into a deep, dreamless sleep. I think we were all tired and hoping to put this long, ugly day to rest.

Someone once told me that there was no rest for the wicked, and with the sudden media explosion, I think there was a lot of truth to the old saying. Even before dawn of the next day, the tabloids and media were abuzz in a wild, speculative flare.

The crazed speculation that flooded through the media were not only inane, but completely untrue: Wolfe and Taurus were involved in an underground fight club, Taurus and I had got into a fight because I was pregnant with his child, and my favorite one yet, Taurus and I were secret lovers. There wasn't a single television program, news report, or headline that wasn't talking about CLUB VICE.

The disaster at CLUB VICE had already spread like wild fire and it was the juicy topic for today—and probably until something more scandalous came along. It would probably be well-talked about even a month or two from now. CLUB VICE's president had issued several statements in the face of the bloodthirsty press, reassuring that they'd do their best to investigate the matter.

The high Protectorate Salini issued a statement to the public, promising that the incident at CLUB VICE was nothing more than a misunderstanding that was quickly and efficiently being sorted out. No rash judgments or actions should be taken and Emperor Sakuro would hold a press conference announcing Sarasaland's intentions once the appropriate choice of action was decided.

The sun had barely risen and already Father had received millions of intrusive calls from loquacious reporters. A dangerously enormous congregation of meddlesome, bloodthirsty paparazzi clogged our front gates, cameras glittering from snapped photos as they aggressively demanded an interview with Father, me, the suitors or anyone involved in the CLUB VICE fiasco.

Some of them even tried to climb the gate—that is until they met Toadux who was waiting on the other side, smiling darkly and flashing an all too obvious taser that reeked of pain and several amps of electricity.

Some of the more bold—stupid—paparazzi had tried to worm their way through security and tried to skulk around the palace grounds to dig around for anything they could find. The most disturbing behavior I heard involved a few of the paparazzi rifling through our trash.

Who the hell does that!?

Father was holed up all morning—finally taking the important calls—from the worried Moonstonian representatives, answering messenger hawks that flew in from the Hidden Lotus Village, and sighing through a frantic, teary phone call from uncle.

"Ahhhhhhh! Sakuroooooooooo! My Stars Sakky!" it was obvious King Apricotto was sobbing, wailing, "What happened!? I heard Daisy was killed! Or pregnant! Or both?! You're supposed to protect her! My Stars, this totally credible website said Daisy was a princess by day and a stripper at night?! It's the same website that said Mario was really the legendary bigfoot! Where did we go wroooooong!?"

Then there was sounds of a struggle—as if someone was forcibly prying the overemotional King away from the phone line—and a calmer, more professional Toadsworth took over.

"AHEM! Apologies on behalf of our King, but I cannot help but mirror his worry. I've heard nothing but idle rumor—poor speculation if you can even call it that—and the media seems to enjoy feasting upon travesties. Both your Niece and I are starving for the truth of the matter."

I heard when Lady Kitsune called, she had been so loud, so furious that her roars and swears could be heard through Father's sealed office doors. She had threatened to violently choke out the Aqualandian monarchy for harming Wolfe and was also creative enough to attach a threat about shoving her foot into unpropitious places.

"Emperor is it true!? Some punkass tried to jump my Wolfe!? Well ain't that something!? I swear to the Stars I'm gonna find 'em. And when I do...I'm gonna find those watery bastards and shove my foot up their—No I will NOT calm down!"

Father had managed to soothe and calm her into not making any rash actions and promised her that Wolfe was perfectly safe within the Sarasalandian borders. And understandably, the Darklands had been pissed.

I had learned quickly that the Darklandian legislation worked like so: at the pinnacle was the king, the most powerful entity and just below Bowser in the chain of command were the councilors. As the Darklands contained five separate burrows, there were five different councils. The Coallands, Firelands, Steellands, Smokelands and Ashlands burrows respectively had their own council who answered to Bowser.

Well, four of the five Darklandian councils were concerned about their king's welfare, simply wanting him withdrawn from Sarasaland as soon as possible. They held the Aqualands solely accountable, but this was not the case for my favorite burrow, the Firelands of course.

The Firelands let it be known loud and clear that they were outraged, holding Sarasaland equally responsible for a threat on their king's life as they did the Aqualands. I had the sinking feeling that the Firelands were simply looking to drive a nail into the coffin and if I had to take a guess, they were trying to find any reason to break the Sarasalandian-Darklandian alliance.

Even in the face of the Firelands' threatening posturing, Father had adroitly assured all foreign diplomats with an enviable, infectious poise that their heirs were perfectly safe within the Sarasalandian borders.

He was terribly apologetic for any inconveniences the whole event had created and gently reiterated avoiding any rash judgments. Father would hold a live press conference as soon as Sarasaland came to a finalized conclusion.

While Father wrestled against the press, media and fellow royals, that very same morning I had received several phone calls from Peach. Moved by familial concern, she checked in to see how I was fairing.

"My Stars Daisy, what happened? Are you okay!? I was so worried about you, I heard there was a fight...and Bowser was hurt badly. Father, Mario and I are going to come for a visit soon, you hear? We should arrive first thing tomorrow morning. And we're going to have a nice relaxing girls' day out together, alright?"

The next phone call was from Mario; I'm positive Peach made him call to make sure both Luigi and I were okay, "Daisy, it's-a me. Peach called and let-a you know we're going to stop by for a visit soon-a, right? Brava! Those paparazzi are landsharks eh? I remember when they-a made a rumor about me and Peach eloping! The king-a didn't talk to me for a week-a after that! Mama Mia...I'll see you tomorrow-a. Ciao."

I was surprised, yet touched when so many Darklandians called my cell and left messages. Wendy called, with Junior and the other Koopalings in the background spewing funny phrases.

"Dai, it's like Wendy. Are you okay? We've heard all about the thing at CLUB VICE!"

"Hiya Mama Daisy! Can you hear me? Hiya!"

"Like, that's Brat Junior. He's been like bugging me to call you. Please Mushroomskype me or like something. We're all really worried."

"Mama, Miss Kammy told me King Dad wasn't feeling well. When I don't feel well I always eat soup. Make sure he gets some soup, 'kay?"

"Yo, yo, yo Mamacita! It's Lemmy!"

"And it's-a me Mario! Heh, I'm just kidding, it's-a Larry!"

"Yo, we heard about what happened yesterday. We were just curious but, do we gotta go to the Aqualands and...beat some ass!?"

"And they won't like us when we're beating their ass."

"We'll be two steppin' on their asses."

"How many more times can we say ass in a sentence!?"

"Like, will you losers shut up!?"

"HUH!? Did you hear that Lemmy!?"

"I certainly couldn't Larry! Not over Wendy's loud makeup!"

"...Stars. I'm about to like, hang-up now. I hope to hear from ya soon Dai. And I mean it. My like, Mushroomskype screen name is LaFashionistafabulosa. Talk to you later."

Koopie, Parry and Auntie Lina called and left reassuring messages on my voicemail as well. I knew things were bad when Parry offered a free trip to his salon and Koopie promised a cake 'on the house.'

I listened to my last message and at first I wasn't sure who it was from; the message held no words, but was someone playing my favorite lullaby on the piano. The song was executed, played with a beautiful precision that, if possible made me adore my favorite song even more.

Then I smiled, realizing it was the blue-maned, stoic conductor. After he played the five-minute ballad, I barely heard his soft, deep murmur.

"...Feel better, Princess Daisy."

"Silver, how have you enjoyed your trip, beloved?"

The elegant, fair face of Queen Titania peered back at Silver from the video phone screen. As snowflakes fluttered lazily behind the windows of her cozy office, Titania tilted her head in such a way that her pale hair appeared to have melted into the fresh backdrop of white snow.

Silver answered back in the soft lifts of his native language, "It has been wonderful, Mother. Princess Daisy is just as kind and as wonderful as we have believed her to be."

"And her father? Is he as brilliant as I have heard?"

"Quite possibly even more so. Emperor Sakuro is judicious and very courteous. He is both stern and gentle within the same token."

"That's wonderful," Titania's eyes crinkled at the corners, "And I'm glad to see you're okay. Silver...?"

He peered up, smiling softly, "Yes?"

Titania wordlessly opened her mouth, rethinking her next words, "Silver...the council and I have been in long deliberation over this...And we think it's best..."


Her expression became somber, "If you left Sarasaland. A servant will arrive tomorrow near dawn."

Silver froze, almost not trusting what he had heard, "What!?"

"Don't fight your mother on this," The Moonstonian queen never raised her voice, even when angry; but she certainly had a tone that spoke of her authority, "Tensions are high and it's unsafe to be there any longer. We do not distrust Sarasaland but this is for the best."

Flummoxed, Silver remained silent, feeling as if someone had thrown wool over his eyes. How could he leave here? As a prince who rarely left his castle grounds and had very little contact with the world outside of his palace walls, this whole experience had felt like a wondrous leap of freedom.

He had made friends—and the wealthy, uncaring political acquaintances didn't count—true friends with Wolfe and Luigi whom he planned to still keep contact with outside of Princess Daisy's courtship.

Then there was the wonderful, funny, outgoing princess who he could see himself courting. Someone who, the thought of being bonded to in an arranged marriage didn't sound all that bad.

Women of the Moonstonian court were polite and docile, delicate much like snowflakes; pretty and fragile. Whereas Princess Sarasaland, a girl of the desert was strong, fiery and outspoken in a manner that was alien to a Moonstonian woman. Silver blinked, realizing his mother was still carrying on a list as to why he had to leave.


"What if the Aqualands attacks again?" she frowned.


"This is a final decision and I will not hear otherwise," Titania deadpanned, blue eyes two shades darker and her mouth drawn into an unyielding, tight line.

Silver remained silent, staring back at her with a face void of emotion. If she and the council had come to the decision already, then it might as well have been written in stone. Silver closed his eyes and took a deep breath; he was upset, but rarely did giving into his anger ever yield desirable results.

Titania's expression lightened marginally, "Just...Just let things cool off, okay? This is not the end of your courtship. Things just need to settle there first, alright?"

Silver barely whispered back, "Okay. If...that's what you wish..."

Queen Titania eyed him silently, taking in her son's closed expression, "I love you little Snowflake and though I want your happiness, your safety comes first. I will see you soon."

"Alright. See you soon Mother."

"Enjoy your last day there," she smiled, "Bye, beloved."

"Bye Mother..."

Silver quietly released the receiver. He took a deep breath before wistfully peering out the window.

Wolfe thoughtlessly wrapped his knuckles against the desk beside the phone, frowning. He scratched impatiently at an uncomfortable bandage that disappeared beneath his shirt.

He sighed impatiently as Puppo paced in front of him. The Chow pup barked, grabbing Wolfe's attention, "Huh? Oh yeah, I dialed the correct number."

Puppo barked again, causing Wolfe to roll his eyes, "Yes Puppo, the phone is ringing. I'm not an idiot you know."

Then Puppo barked something else, "Hey! You talkin' smack Pups!? You better be able to back that up! I'm gonna—" Wolfe paused, realizing his mom had picked up, "Hey, Ma?"

"—we can mess around for a little while," a sensuous, low feminine voice purred with silk, "Sage is giving ya dirty looks? Well then I'll tell Sage to chase some damn squirrel—and he'll actually do it—and we can be alone. Didya bring those chocolates I wanted? Mmm, yeahaha melt it down baby and we can get a little crazy—"

"Oh Stars Ma!" Wolfe nearly shrieked, his voice reaching a new octave he didn't think possible, "I can hear you!"

The voice on the other side of the phone paused until an excited, genuine, "Hey Wolfie! How are ya kiddo!?"

"Well, I was good until I heard that," Wolfe muttered under his breath, "I feel like I gotta dunk my brain in bleach to forget that."

"What was that boy?"

"I said I'm swell Ma!" Wolfe boomed with fake mirth.

"Good. So I finished talking to King Pretty-hair and it looks like shit went down yesterday."

"Yeah," Wolfe frowned, studying his bandaged left hand. Thank the Stars he was ambidextrous, but he was a lefty and beneath the thick cotton bandages, his left knuckles were busted and discolored with bruises.

As a Canine warrior he had been taught the proper way to punch without abusing his knuckles but yesterday he had been so pissed that all training had flew out the door.

"Sakuro filled me in; you told him what happened and I've watched the channel five news; boring-ass show if you ask me. And why do Highlanders wear stupid looking suits!? Tch. Well, I want to hear the story from you."

Wolfe laughed, knowing good and well that the Northern Canine territories had no electricity. In fact only the Western territories of Land's End had electricity, which was a thirty minute trek from their home.

Even then the facilities available were very humble; there was an outdated 1940's black and white television and an antique phone few barely knew how to use—you spun the phone's numbers or something weird—and the Canines didn't even bother with the intricacies of the internet.

Wolfe rehashed his side of the story, not realizing how tired he was of having to do so. His mother remained silent through it all, though every now and then he'd hear Sage growl something to her.

"Hmm..." Kitsune sucked her teeth, "I always knew there was something off with those Fish bastards. Well kid, I've got news for ya and you probably ain't gonna like it. Not one bit."

"What is it, Mom? Don't tell me I can't be friends with Daisy anymore."

"Not that bad. The United Canine Nation voted unanimously to get you back here. You're going to be leaving first thing tomorrow morning, and Sarasaland will hold no ill will."

Wolfe felt a chill slip down his spine. He gripped the desk's edge tightly with his good hand, trying to reign in his mounting anger. Confused at his ward's anger, Puppo gently tilted his head to the left as Wolfe growled, "Why? Why are we going to punish Sarasaland for something the Aqualands did?"

"I don't make the rules Kid, I just enforce and obey. The safest bet is to get you out of there and I'm sure the other princes will be doing the same thing. First thing tomorrow morning Sage is going to pick you up."

"If you're worried about me being safe Ma, you should know I kicked all those Aqualandians' asses—"

"I know you can handle yourself," Kitsune interrupted tersely, "I did teach you to fight after all. You whipped much ass already but there's politics at play here. You're coming home and we'll see what happens between Sarasaland and the Aqualands."

"Alright," Wolfe acquiesced quietly.

"Hey, don't you give me that puppy pout crap. I know the exact face you're making right now."

Wolfe laughed, "Well what? I'm just not happy about it Mom."

"Well neither am I. Let's just hope things work out well for Sarasaland, Girly was one of the few Highlanders who didn't rub me the wrong way. Anyways, Sage will pick up you around six am tomorrow morning. Be ready."

Wolfe nodded solemnly, "Yeah..."

"...So is it true?"

"Huh?" Wolfe peered up, "What do you mean?"

"I heard you kicked in a steel door like a Star damn badass," He could hear the grin in Kitsune's voice, "is this true!?"

Wolfe burst out laughing.

"That's my boy!"

Around ten am I joined my suitors in the dinning commons and ate breakfast with a looming cloud of misery. Even Wolfe, who usually was nothing but sunshine and smiles picked at his food with dulled apathy.

He had removed the bandages from his head though a large cotton cloth bandage remained taped against the side of his cheek, covering his blue tribal tattoo. Every morning Wolfe and Puppo fought over the contents of his plate in a humorous bout of tug-o-war but neither party made a single peep today.

Silver barely touched his tea as Ryu ate silently and Zero read the newspaper with a furrowed brow. I ate more for necessity than true hunger, tastelessly shoveling down one of my breakfast favorites the cooks had prepared to make me feel better.

Luigi peered around the somber table, face scrunched up pensively as he tapped his finger against the table. He suddenly smiled as an idea popped to mind. Lulu brandished his fork, looking around at us all, "You know, this-a food is good! Does anyone-a like the Moonstonian waffles?"

A couple of suitors peered up at him as Luigi shook a plate of waffles enticingly, "Whoooooo wants some-a waffles? Weegee has some wafffffles~! Does anyyyyone like-a waffles? Hmm?"

The banquet hall remained completely silent; Zero promptly ignored him and went back to reading the paper, Wolfe half-shrugged apathetically as Ryu shook his head.

"...Yeah...I like-a the Moonstonian waffles too..." Luigi murmured despondently. I patted Lulu's shoulder reassuringly and he gave a forced smile before returning his attention back to his delicious breakfast.

Then everything was quiet again, save the quiet clinks of cutlery against porcelain plates. Ryu quietly sipped tea, Silver chewed his breakfast, eyes solemn as Zero continued glaring at the newspaper.

I continued to push my food around the plate, trying to congeal the eggs and hash browns into the shape of a continent. I was surprised when Wolfe uttered a soft, low, "Sorry."

All heads turned in his direction and I asked inquisitively, "What are you apologizing for?"

His large, mahogany fists clenched against the marble table top, "...You don't think I haven't seen the frenzy on the news?" Wolfe spoke in a solemn, soft whisper, "The whole thing's on every news station and every headline out there is about my fight with Taurus..."

Zero peered at him skeptically, "Are you taking fault for any of this? I knew you were simple, but not to this extent."

"Wolfe..." Ryu's voice was soft.

"Come on, you don't need to make me feel better," Wolfe glared at his untouched breakfast, "Every headline out there..."

"It's not your f-fault," Silver replied, "I-I don't know why you're apologizing..."

"Although," Zero mused quietly, "No one knows how King Pisces' statue was wrecked oddly enough. I still wonder myself with what happened there..."

Puppo's ears piped up and twitched. Wolfe must have noticed something off as he peered at the tiny Chow sitting on his shoulder, "...What? You look kinda nervous, Pups."

Ryu laughed softly, cerulean eyes warm, "The speculations revolving around the broken statue are hilarious. Some think the ghost of the old Aqualandian queen obliterated it. Makes sense considering how the king was unfaithful to her."

"Alright Princess," Luigi gave a playful stern glance my way, "Did you-a break that statue?"

"What? No!" I shook my head, "That was not me. This is one thing I did not do."

Zero actually laughed, "I've seen Daisy play baseball, and my Stars she's the only one with a swing savage enough to break that thing. Once she threw a football at a maid so hard and knocked her out. The poor woman woke up and though she was a damn tweety bird."

"What?" Silver covered his mouth, trying not to laugh.

"It was awful but damn was it funny," Zero smirked, "She was chirping and flapping her arms like wings and everything."

I blushed so hard I could feel heat slipping all the way down my neck as Wolfe, Silver, Luigi and Ryu laughed with a little of their usual mirth. Wolfe's buoyant mood took a sudden sour turn as his features dimmed, "Yeah, well...No matter what you guys say, I feel like I made a bunch of extra work for the Emperor. Everyone knows Sarasaland needs help to fill their wells and the last thing you want is a fight with the Aqualands."

Zero raised both brows, smirking, "Why Wolfe. We're so introspective today..."

"And an odd day at that," Ryu grinned, "We all know you're not the right person to be issuing apologies."

I peered at Wolfe and smiled with true warmth, "Don't worry about it, I'm actually kinda worried about your Kingdoms. I wonder if they'll still want to associate with Sarasaland..."

In one single, synchronized movement the suitors froze, gazing at me with collective looks of astonishment. Silver held the steaming cup of tea in hand as he peered at me pensively, "My m-mother and the Moonstonian council w-wish to view your father's press conference before judgments are made. Even now they are sympathetic towards the Sarasalandian p-plight."

"As are the elders of the Hidden Lotus," Ryu chimed in.

"But you're still leaving first thing tomorrow morning, right?" Zero asked listlessly.

"Yeah..." Silver whispered.

"Me too," Wolfe frowned.

Zero shrugged, "Don't look so upset about it. Strategically it's the best move to take. It helps your kingdoms to remain neutral and proactively protect its heirs."

"King Bowser will probably leave as soon as he's better too," Ryu muttered thoughtfully, "It seems I have to get going as well. The Hidden Lotus wishes to remain neutral and it seems withdrawal is the immediate action to take."

I peered at my plate sightlessly; so everyone was leaving? I guess it made sense; who would want to become caught up between the strife of two feuding kingdoms? It was also the safest action to take as well.

Luigi must have sensed my indecision as he reached out and held my hand under the table. I looked up and met his shy, soft smile. His face flushed red, "Princess, I'm-a going to stay here with you..." We're family.

I smiled, gripping his hand tighter, "Thanks Lulu."

"Ma just about blew up when she heard what happened," Wolfe groaned, rubbing a hand against his forehead wearily, "She's ready to nuke the Aqualands...Huh, looks like your Dad has a lot of responsibility to take care of, eh?"

I nodded in agreement, Wolfe was right; that was a lot of pressure on Father's shoulders. Undecided, impartial kingdoms would look to him, critical of every word and action he made as they made decisions that could either save or break their alliances with Sarasaland or the Aqualands.

The doors to the banquet hall rolled open as Father appeared, stepping through the glowing streams of sun rays as if materializing from their lustrous light, "Good morning gentlemen, Chisana, I hope breakfast has been to your liking."

Father strolled in, immaculate white monarch robes trailing behind him in the likeness of mist trailing the sun, and after a night of less than several hours of sleep, he managed to look perfectly kempt; I'm sure a great deal of coffee consumption helped him stave off fatigue.

Wolfe took one look at Father and rose to his feet so fast he nearly knocked his chair over. The Canine heir barreled across the room until he was in front of Father. Father blinked, astonished when Wolfe gripped his shoulders so tightly that his knuckles began to bleed white.

Maids gasped and a few of the servants lingered unsurely; there was an unspoken rule that the emperor of Sarasaland—or any monarch for that matter—was not to be touched. Zero rose out of his seat, eyes sharp and looking more than ready to chew Wolfe out.

"Emperor Sakuro! I'm so sorry for everything that happened!" Wolfe spoke so fast and with so much anxiety that Zero froze, "I didn't think everything would blow up like this! I-I thought I did the right thing and only wanted to help King Bowser and your daughter! Oh man, I've really screwed this up—"

Father pressed a reassuring hand onto Wolfe's shoulder. Wolfe shut up mid-thought, and finally peered up at Father, golden eyes shining and wide with conflicting emotions, "Lord Wolfesbane, I find an apology from you completely unnecessary. If there is to be an admission of guilt then I'm afraid it's coming from the wrong party."

Wolfe's brows shot up, eyes growing round, "But—!"

Father smiled softly, raising a hand to silence him, "We shall not speak another word of this. I believe your actions were completely justified and that your bravery played a pivotal role in saving King Bowser's life. Don't you all agree?"

Father gave a pointed look around the table as the other suitors quickly picked up the invitation and smiled, or nodded their agreement.

"You did a great thing Wolfe," I smiled, "Don't let any of this media stupidity change that."

"Um...I s-second what the princess said," Silver peered up at Wolfe with a small smile, "I-I felt brave enough to help King Bowser yesterday b-because I was inspired by you."

Zero sighed with false exasperation, "For the umpteenth time. It's not your fault."

Father's words had a medicating effect and seemed to relax Wolfe. Wolfe's customary sunny, large smile spread across his face; even his shoulders seemed less stiff than before.

The Canine heir beamed, "Aww thanks guys! Y'know, you're really good with words, sir. You should be a motivational speaker or something..."

"Or he should be a king, or maybe an emperor," Zero spoke blankly, "Where being a good orator would be paramount."

Father gently guided Wolfe back to the table and motioned for him to take his seat. Father even had the mind to gently shoo off the servants who had been carefully watching, "I've had years of practice. However we have more important things to discuss. Such as how no one in this room shall sulk any further. Today I want you all to relax. As I assume today is your last day here, and if that's the case, you all will enjoy your final day in the palace."

"Yeah!" Wolfe pumped a fist into the air, "We're gonna have fun! So...what are we doin' today?"

A servant stepped into the room with an uncomfortable look on his face. Father motioned him to speak, "Servante, it seems you have an announcement to make...?"

"Sire," the old servant cleared this throat agitatedly, "Master Kooples wishes to join the others for breakfast, if that is alright with you...?"

"Of course," Father nodded.

"Milord, Master Kooples would also like to announce," the stiff servant looked terribly uncomfortable, "Ahem...that he successfully went...potty."

Kooples corroborated the announcement with a cheerful chirrup. Luigi and I bust up laughing at Servante's awkward announcement.

"Well alright Little Man!" Wolfe cheered, as Puppo barked happily.

"The little one must be hungry," Father spoke gently, "Please bring the Koopaling to the table if you will. Also, he may require a highchair, bring one will you?"

"At once, Sire."

Kooples sucked on his thumb, bubby bright eyes eagerly taking in everything as Servante walked him over to the table. The tiny Koopaling took in all the strange new faces of the grown-ups watching him. A booster seat was pulled up to the table and with Wolfe's help, the little tyke was gently hoisted into his chair.

Kooples happily babbled, slapping his tiny palms against the chair as he awaited his meal. He happened to peer in my direction as I met his curious stare with a smile and a wave.

The maids brought in brightly-colored baby utensils along with a tiny bowl of porridge that had chunks of bananas cut into a funny smiling face. Wolfe and Luigi were busy babytalking Kooples, trying to feed the Koopaling.

"He's quite well-behaved," Father muttered softly.

"Have you eaten breakfast yet, Father?" I asked him.

"No not yet, I'm having a late breakfast delivered to my room after this," Father hummed.

Luigi peered at dad, "So what's on-a the itinerary, Emperor?"

"Originally Lord Salini was to take Princess Sarasaland on a romantic outing," Father replied, "Of course this was all planned to happen before the incident in the Aqualands."

"That's r-right," Silver thoughtfully munched on a bagel, "Lord Zero is the last s-suitor a-and we are to tour his kingdom."

"That's odd, considering Princess Daisy and Lord Zero live in the same Kingdom, let alone work in the same palace," Ryu mused. He joined Wolfe, shaking a baby rattle in front of Kooples, who babbled loudly at the new sound.

Zero shook his head, "Following me around all day would be boring. Besides, Princess Sarasaland knows where I work, has been to my family villa...I couldn't ask for her to accompany me anywhere, not with everything that's going on. The Palace is the safest place for her."

I peered at Zero quizzically; was he showing concern for me? I stared at him sharply for a few seconds before turning back to my own plate.

There was another happy baby squeak and I looked up, realizing Kooples had his chubby arms out, reaching in my direction. Father passed an amused glance my way, "And I see you're a baby charmer Chisana."

"He wants you!" Wolfe laughed softly, "Here, let me get the lil' guy down. Easy does it Kooples."

The second Wolfe pulled him out of the highchair, Kooples tottered over towards me, peering up with large, bright eyes. Kooples studied me quietly, thumb popped in his mouth. He hovered nearby before deciding he trusted me and with no invitation or decorum, began to try to scale his way up my lap.

He grabbed onto my legs and dress, trying to climb with as much elegance as a drunken rhino. Ryu, Silver and Luigi laughed as Wolfe leaned over to Luigi and whispered jokingly "Lucky lil' jerk, I've been tryin' to end up in her lap for a while now!"

I laughed, carefully scooping up Kooples and gently depositing him into my lap. I began to bounce my knee as he continued to suck his thumb, peering around the large banquet hall, eyes aglow with infantile wonder.

"I see you're g-good with children," Silver's eyes were bright, and a soft smile upon his lips.

"Me?" I laughed, handing Kooples a grape he had been reaching for, "I'm not sure about that. Though I guess I am used to Koopalings."

That was the truth; after being around Bowser's children for so long, was it odd I felt closer, more endeared to Koopalings than to human children?

I had spent many afternoons playing with Junior, and was rewarded the tender privileges of reading him bedtime stories, playing games I hadn't since girlhood and even pulling out a wiggly baby incisor.

With the older Koopalings I enjoyed lending an open ear to their problems, helping them face crushes and keep secrets they didn't want their dear ole dad to know about.

"It's not surprising," Ryu spoke, "King Bowser introduced her to his Koopalings and she seems very close to his children."

Silver nodded his agreement; note to self, the suitors have noticed and hallmarked my relationship with the Koopalings. I wonder if they were fascinated with my possible maternal instincts or if they were worried about me being too close to another man—Koopa's—children?

"How about we follow around Princess Daisy for the day?" Zero suggested smoothly, "It would still qualify as a 'tour' of Sarasaland and the Princess and I usually cross paths multiple times during the day. So in a really obscure way it could be identical as following me around."

I ignored Kooples' Koopaling babbles as he tried to reach for my aquamarine jeweled brooch, "Follow me for the day? Like...see what I do in a normal day?"

"Technically today is supposed to be our last tour in Sarasaland," Ryu smirked, "I would like to see what Princess Daisy does for a day. What do you think hime?"

"Uh...W-Well, if you want to. I have no problem with it," I peered at my lap, trying to ignore the power of his stare.

Kooples was still busy trying to reach for my brooch but then he grew impatient and began patting my torso like bongo drums, squabbling to get my attention. I immediately handed him a toy rattle to shake the hell out of. And he did so with exuberant glee.

"I vote to follow Daisy for the day!" Wolfe cheered, "It'll be awesome! You got to see what a day in our lives was like, so let's see what life in the palace is like for you!"

Zero checked the watch on his wrist, "It's already eleven, and it looks like we won't even have a full day of activities. Just a few."

I peered at Father for permission, "What do you think, Father?"

"I see no reason why it wouldn't be acceptable," Father mused, "I'll have the servants inform Lady Angora. She'll be thrilled to have five more students accompany her."

"That won't be necessary. I'm already here, Your Eminence," Lady Angora swept into the room quietly, pearl-white dress billowing around her ankles.

She fell into a graceful curtsy before turning to face me. Something amused danced within her feline, sharp eyes, "So I have heard we're going to have extra company today, Princess Sarasaland."

I nodded, "That's true."

Angora peered at my suitors, quirking an elegant eyebrow as her raspberry-red lips curled into a sly grin, "The poor things. They have no idea how badly we shall tire them out. If you thought being a prince was exhausting, then how can you even fathom what being a princess entails?"

Contrary to all the excuses the doctors had made for him, Bowser remembered last night's events, everything with a wicked amount of clarity. Though the human faces in his memory were blurred and vague, features distorted demonically, he could remember—still feel—the unholy pain the faceless demons had afflicted as they pried his scales apart, pulling him apart the way they would pull apart a crustacean dinner.

They had drugged him so much that they hadn't even allowed him to scream as pain flourished and his body felt as if it was scalding with fire. The Aqualandian demons warned him to stay away from Flower in between bouts of hellish laughter as they carved through his scales with thick, glinting blades.

Worse yet, Bowser could recall the worry glittering in Flower's eyes; she had seen him when he was weak, she had seen that he wasn't the indestructible king she thought he was. All of her suitors had too, especially that pretty boy Shinobi. If humans could do that to him, then how could he protect her?

The thought of Flower imagining him as pathetic had the Koopa King shooting up in bed, fury blazing through his body and flooding his veins with fire.

His fists shook with ill-contained fury as a mixture of fatigue and ire made his head spin and vision blur; he abhorred being weak, and if there was anything worse than being bested by a foe, it was being bested by a cowardly foe.

Those pathetic Aqualandian humans had to drug him; where was the honor, the bravery in that? At least when he was defeated by the plumber blowhard, it was a fair square off.

Though the Darklandian King hated Mario with all his heart and he would never admit it, but along with that same abhorrence, he also held a great respect. But never could he respect the Aqualandians.

They weren't going to beat him. This was not going to beat him. This was not going to make him lose face in front of Flower, in front of the suitors, and especially not in front of Emperor Sakuro, who hadn't liked him the day he waltzed into Flower's life.

He was going to show them all that he was powerful, that he was the daunting, inhumane king they thought him as. These wounds were nothing; his own tyrannical, bloodthirsty father had beat him far worse than this. There were innumerable times after his father's 'training' that he couldn't even walk the next day.

A noxious blend of dark determination and ire fueled the wounded king into slowly crawling towards the edge of the bed; he was going to stand, doctor orders be damned.

Bowser counted to three in his head before gripping one of the bedposts for balance and slowly attempted to rise from bed. He gingerly lay his first foot on the floor and immediately knew things were going south. He growled in a mixture of irritation and self-deprecation as his healing muscles violently screamed their protest.

The King grimaced, pushing through the pain and set his second foot on the floor, legs strained and pain lancing through him like a bolt of lightning. Bowser gnashed his fangs together, eyes nearly squinted shut in anguish as his head swam and the world swayed precariously; this. Will NOT. Beat ME.

With a final push and one last searing, vicious riptide of pain that jolted from his feet and raced through his spine, Bowser was finally on his feet and standing upright.

Beads of sweat dotted the side of his face and yet he felt victorious. Bowser released a shaky, weak laugh, "And those bozos in white coats said I wouldn't be able to stand for a week. Huh. What do they know?"

The sound of a ringtone chimed through the air and Bowser realized it was the room's video phone. He recognized the phone number and with a painful stretch, he dragged himself over to the computer screen, more than thrilled to sit down and rest his aching muscles. He pressed 'accept call' on the screen and moments later the faces of his two advisors appeared.

Despite the throbbing pain, Bowser smirked, "Hey there old timers, what's up?"

"My Stars, we heard about CLUB VICE and called you immediately!" Kamek looked worried, "And...uh why is it so dark in your room?"

"I slept in late," and just to add a touch of credibility to his story, Bowser even threw in an over-the-top yawn, "Do you crones know what time it is?"

"Eleven fifteen on the dot, Sire," Kammy replied, "Your split lip looks bad..."

Bowser laughed, playing it off, "Makes me look dashing, don't you think? You guys think Flower could kiss me there?"

"Sire, what happened?" Kammy's voice was distorted and extra nasally over the video phone, "We heard of the occurrence at CLUB VICE and we're quite concerned, as you can imagine."

"She's right, we spoke to Emperor Sakuro and he assures us that Sarasaland is doing everything in her power to resolve the matter. It's best to speak with you personally," Kamek replied.

"We'd like to hear the story from you," Kammy was studying Bowser like a specimen under a microscope, "Well...?"

For one of the few times in his life, Bowser didn't like the idea of someone seeing him. Kamek and Kammy would notice his injuries and ultimately he would have to admit to being jumped. Not as if they didn't know that already.

He purposely sat in the dark, unlit room just for that reason. Bowser shifted his weight gingerly, as if to seem casual and relaxed instead of cautious, "I honestly can't remember much. I think I was drunk off my ass the other night."

He was positive Kammy was squinting at him from beneath her spectacles, trying to appraise the truth in his statement. And his lie was so bad, that even Kamek peered at him skeptically as Kammy fired back, "...Human liquor left you inebriated Sire...?"

Kamek laughed disbelievingly, "Bowser! What do you take us for? Fools!? You can down gallons of Koopa liquor and you won't feel a thing! Heh, Kammy, remember that time when he gorged himself on two kegs at the same time—?"

While Kamek's funny anecdote faded into the background, Bowser was busy thinking of ways to avoid telling his advisors the truth. It would be difficult because though Kamek and Kammy were as different as night and day, each brandishing different strengths and weakness, they both complimented each other perfectly.

One advisor's weakness seemed to be the other's boasting strength. Kamek was personable and jolly; he could make anyone, even the most embittered political rivals like and even trust his grandfatherly warmth.

He was a people's person and undoubtedly well-received by many. Kammy on the other hand seemed like the recondite moon to his bursting sun. Bowser had jokingly referred to her as a bitter, serious shrew, but it was said more in esteem than reprimand.

Kamek may have won his respect through being well-liked but every shred of authority Kammy had was earned and she didn't enjoy 'playing nice.'

Pleasantries were a waste of time and she was calculative, critical and completely methodical. Kamek 'felt' people out, but emotions didn't do a damn thing for Kamelia Koopa.

"...and then he woke up sleeping next to an emu!" Kamek quailed with laughter, "An emu! Do you remember that night, Bowser!? Oh Stars the poor thing was so scared and had excreted waste everywhere..."

"So," Kammy didn't quite purr her words, but she definitely had an unusual honeyed quality in her voice, "is that the story you're going to go with, Sire? That you were 'drunk' and can recall absolutely nothing?"

So while Kamek believed that his ward was indeed drunk last night, because Kamek believed Bowser had no reason to lie to him of all people, Kammy was suspicious because mathematically, shit was not adding up. And it was her job to tie up loose ends.

"Yeah," Bowser didn't sound as convinced as before.

Kammy gave him a pointed look, one that revealed her mounting impatience, "Drunk? You? Come now Sire, you've horrendously gorged yourself upon gallons of Shellvodka and weren't even close to being tipsy."

"Hag, I remember bits and pieces of the night," Bowser omitted, "I remember kicking back a drink, hitting on Flower and then being dragged out on someone's back. Probably Dogboy since he seems like the only non-sissy in the group."

Kammy pressed her lips together tightly.

"Lord. Bowser," Kammy began in a low, somber tone, "You are insulting our intelligence, Kamek and I are very well aware that you have been assaulted. We simply wanted to hear from you what had happened. We can help you and you need to understand the gravity of the situation. The entire Darklandian council is trying to decide if they should destroy the Sarasaland-Darklandian treaty. We NEED the truth sire."

Bowser gnashed his teeth in frustration, growling deep in his throat as pride ate him up like acid. Kamek became sober as Kammy continued to stare at him blankly, something like disappointment resonating all too clearly on her features.

"Aw shit," he growled roughly, "Look...I give. What I say isn't to be repeated to anyone else."

Kamek blinked, "Of course, Bowser. Now spill."

Bowser rubbed at his scalp, eyes squinted in irritation, "Shut up and let me talk. I...kinda remember...stuff."

"Stuff? What stuff?" Kammy piped up, as Kamek fell silent.

"I remember everything," Bowser growled, his temper beginning to simmer, "And what I tell you, you can't say to anyone else."

"That's the second time you said that, but yes, sure," Kamek nodded.

And after swallowing gallons of ego, Bowser spilled, telling them everything; he remembered drinking something that made his limbs turn to rubber, and being dragged outside.

He remembered the threatening humans, how they warned him to stay away from Flower and he could recall every excruciating second when they jumped him. He could still feel the blades cutting through his scales and he could still heard their vicious laughter, drunk and merry from his pain.

Kammy and Kamek were stunned into silence as Bowser trembled, a blistering wave of fury and fatigue causing him to feel nauseous. Kammy seemed to come to her senses first, "It's worse than we thought..."

"Stars..." Kamek whispered, "You look worse than that one time when you were fourteen and tried to shave!"

Bowser glared at him, "I was fourteen! Cut me some damn slack, Old man Mcgee! And besides...Koopas don't grow facial hair..."

"I know!" Kamek squeaked, "And that's what made it so bad!"

Bowser actually snorted, trying to keep a laugh at bay.

"Kamek! Focus!" Kammy snapped, "Our King has just been assaulted on foreign soil and yet you can only focus on a silly coming of age anecdote! My Stars, the Darklandian council has been absolutely livid! The council will demand reparation and will happily try to disembowel the Sarasalandian-Darklandian treaty! This could be grounds for war on either Sarasaland or the Aqualandians."

Bowser snapped to attention as a cold chill slithered down his spine, "What...?"

Kammy appeared worried as she nervously adjusted her opaque spectacles, "Sire...This entire spectacle isn't going to simply blow over. The entire Darklandian council is going to meet over this. Representatives of all the five burrows—Smoke, Ash, Fire, Steel and Coal—are inquiring about your safety and vehemently demanding you flee the Sarasalandian borders."

Bowser snorted with little decorum; the last thing the Elders of the Firelands gave a flying fat fig—he was trying to watch his swearing for Junior's sake—about was his safety.

If he suddenly combusted into flames out of the blue, they'd probably throw parades and have feasts to celebrate his untimely, fiery demise. And then rage a gory battle as they fought one another to usurp his throne.

Kamek finally spoke, "Uh...Bowser, the haggardly old shrew has a good point. What are we supposed to say to the councilors? They're all going to wish to speak to you. And they all want you to leave the borders now."

Bowser closed his eyes, thinking deeply as he crossed his arms, "...Here's the plan. Everyone's seen how jacked up I am. Let's use that to our advantage. Report back to the council and let them all think I'm not stable enough to be transported back yet, make up some goombashit about me hurting and stuff."

Kamek nodded, "Alright. We can do that."

"The councilors of all five burrows are trying to coordinate a date for a meeting. When should we tell them to schedule it for?" Kammy asked.

"I'm not sure Hag, but they can't hold it without me there, and even then I've got to 'recover'. Tell them to give me a week. A week minimum to recover..."

Kammy nodded, "...Very well then."

The king's eyes narrowed as he ran all the scenarios of what could go wrong in his head. He had to think of something quick; the Firelands would be jubilantly trying to dismember the treaty and even the other councilors, those without an ulterior agenda—would demand for him to break off the Sarasaland-Darklandian treaty.

And without the treaty, he couldn't see Flower. In fact destroying their treaty would brew bad blood between their two kingdoms and though it would remain unsaid, they might as well consider themselves as enemies. And even if Flower remained his friend, Sarasaland would demand for her to cut all contact with him.

"Also your children are worried," Kamek replied, "What shall we tell them?"

Bowser sighed; he didn't want his Koopalings to worry, but if he told them all that he was perfectly fine and out of peril, chances were one of them could blab—Junior, Wendy or one of his Koopalings who couldn't keep their pieholes shut—and then word would get out to the wrong Koopa. For the plan to work, everyone had to think he wasn't doing well.

Agitated at the thought of lying to his Koopalings, Bowser growled irritably as he ran a hand through his mane. Stars, he would have to let his Koopalings think him terribly hurt. They'd be scared and anxious, thinking him fatally wounded while all along he'd be peachy keen. It's official, I'm the biggest slimeball in the world.

"They can't...I can' my kids...But I have to..." Bowser frowned, fumbling with his words and thoughts.

Kamek and Kammy understood their king's plight, "Don't worry sire, we will find a way to let your children know that you are fine."

"Recover and get better, Bowser," Kamek spoke in a soft, fatherly tone, "We'll do everything on our end to keep the heat off of you."

"For now," Bowser acquiesced quietly.

"Yes, for now," Kammy agreed.

And with that, all three of the Darklandian governing officials fell silent. Bowser crossed his arms, glaring off into space; wondering what kind of political moves he'd have to make to keep the Darklands from not only shredding their alliance with Sarasaland, but also not going after them as well.

Whatever the Aqualands had coming, he'd make sure they paid for their actions. He only hoped Flower wouldn't be dragged into the mud for something that wasn't her fault.

A servant rapped on the door in an overly cheery cadence before the Emperor gave his consent. The door flew open as Alabaster appeared, bowing before returning with a cart filled of fragrant brunch food, "Goooood crazy mid-morning, Emperor Sakuro! Brunch has landed!"

The Toadstool strolled in with a jaunty bounce to his step, humming a tune, "Oh and look what we have here Sire, some nice, piping hot tea, along with Mrs. freshly baked bread and Miss beget," Alabaster playfully shook the tea kettle, pouring the aromatic beverage into its proper saucer, "And look who else has come to see you! It's Miss. Jelly Roll!"

"Many thanks Alabaster," the Emperor spoke quietly, taking a small bite of beget and savored the core of the gooey, warm vanilla filling.

Then a glass pitcher animated by Alabaster's fingers merrily jiggled and bounced its way across the table, "Hello there Mister Emperor Sire!" Alabaster deepened his voice to create a silly, new friendly voice, "I'm Mister Orange Juice. Would you like a cup of my wonderful juice? I'm delicious, healthy and freshly squeezed!"

"Of course," The emperor gestured to the table, "Please join me and Miss Jelly roll if you will."

The orange pitcher jiggled happily at the invitation, "Of course Sire!"

And with that a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice was poured and set beside the Emperor's cutlery. Once the silverware was given one last final polish, Sakuro motioned for Alabaster to help himself to brunch.

With an all too obvious gasp of delight and starry eyes, Alabaster hurriedly filled his plate, piling on cream begets until they grew into an unstable leaning tower. He filled a cup to the brim and began to eat.

Sakuro watched with cool amusement as Alabaster savagely wolfed down begets and drained half a glass of OJ within several seconds. The emperor finally showed the first signs of interest in his meal, raising the glass of orange to his lips, "Alabaster?"

"Whuf?" Alabaster was too busy stuffing his face and trying to jam food down his throat.

Too busy in fact to notice the way his king was watching him critically, "I have a favor to ask of you."


The Emperor took a small sip, still watching Alabaster stuff himself silly, "I would like you to deliver brunch to one of our prestigious guests. He's a powerful monarch and it is best that Sarasaland show our reputable hospitality."

Alabaster finally swallowed, greedily eyeing more pastries, "Which floor is he on, Sire? My Stars did Mrs. Pan cook the hecker doodles out of this food or what?! Or what obviously! Haha, kidding! Mmhmm! I just don't know how you don't get fat off of this food!"

"Fencing, archery, and judo," the emperor answered offhandedly, "By the way our guest is residing on the fifth floor."

Alabaster finally stopped shoveling food into his face and choked down his meal in one large, unflattering swallow. He peered into space with a pensive mien before something mentally clicked into place, "Uh...Sir...King Bowser resides on that floor. I repeat. King. Bowser."

The Emperor's unusually sly, growing smirk made Alabaster explode, "Oh, ohohohoho noooo! Nope! Uh uh! I ain't doing it! You've got the wrooong Toad Sire! I want to live a long life!"

"Don't you think the theatrics are a little overdone?"

"Theatrics!?" The Toad gasped, "Sire, you haven't seen anything yet! I'm going to act crazy if it gets me out of doing this! I've done tons of odd—and, to be honest— weird jobs around the palace. You remember that time I gave the King of Cheeseland a belly rub? And don't forget when I had to serve the Piranha King. He drooled over everything! But this? Serving King Bowser brunch!? I draw the line here!"

Alabaster even pretended to hold a large invisible pencil and drew an invisible line, "See that!? Did you catch that motion I just did!? That was me drawing the friggin' line, Sire!"

The Emperor chuckled, watching the babbling servant with a secretive grin that only served to egg Alabaster on, "Oh and don't even give me that look! 'Cause no matter what you say or do, I will never—I repeat—will never be two inches near King, big, fat, bad-tempered Bowser and that's final!"

Unsurprisingly, Alabaster found himself standing outside of King Bowser's guestroom not more than ten minutes later.

"Oh big...fat...doodle bugs!" Alabaster swore violently under his breath, then he raised a fist towards the heavens and shook it in a show of rage, "I want a raise after this!"

Alabaster nearly chewed his tongue off in fear as he heard the Koopa king's deep, resonant voice through the door, speaking to something or someone. Alabaster clenched his eyes tight, biting on his finger nails as his imagination not only ran away from him, but fled to an entirely different planet.

Why do I have to feed this guy?! He's mean and big and fat and flipped off cameras on live television! Who does that kind of stuff!? Someone who's gonna END ME, that's who! Aww, Stars why!? I want to liiiiiiiive! And have children! And marry Princess Peach! But how can I when I'm DEAD!?

...Besides, I don't think she's into dead guys. I mean if she is then, hey, better for me, but that's still kinda weird.

Alabaster let out a tiny whimper that was loud enough to rouse the demon King's attention, "Hold on, I think I heard something."

Oh doodly doodle bugs!

Alabaster nearly wet himself and began to assume the fetal position as the gigantic, booming footsteps drew nearer with an ominous assurance. The door creaked open with overdue strain and suddenly the looming, hulking form of King Bowser was revealed.

Long, dark shadows crisscrossed against his frame, blacking out his eyes and making him appear as sinister as an undertaker. Alabaster started humming koopakumbaya in a frantic, shaking hum; he was dead. Royally, DEAD.

"I h-hope I don't wet myself," Alabaster squeaked, "I-It's bad enough that I'm a-about to croak. But p-please Stars, it's just that much more worse to shame myself when I croak!"

Bowser peered at the whimpering mass near his feet with a skeptical glare, barely arching a brow; was this a normal thing for Toad's to do everytime they saw him?

Curl into tiny balls and shake like malnourished Chihuahuas? The King snorted, turning his head away from him in a manner close to disgust, "What in the world are you doing?"

"G-G-G-G-Good morning King Bowser! O-Oh Handsome King. W-W-Who is the most masculine K-Koopa to have ever walked the globe," Alabaster laughed, completely scared out of his mind.

"That's all common knowledge," Bowser grunted, "Why are you bothering me?"

"I-I-I-I've brought you brunch—B-B-But I don't mean me—I am not your brunch!" Alabaster instantly squeaked, shaking his head frantically, "Besides...I'd probably taste bad...l-like Cataquack...puke...y-yeah. I'd taste that badly!"

Bowser stared at the trembling Toad for a moment before rolling his eyes with agitation. Why were these pansy Toads so afraid of him?

In his history of terrorizing and pillaging, the only time he may have accidentally injured a Toadstool was when he slipped, fell backwards and sat ass-first onto a Toad. Even then that only happened because the idiotic Shroomhead hadn't been smart enough to flee.

"Whatever, Shrimp. Serve brunch then," and with that, Bowser turned and stomped into his guestroom suite, leaving the door ajar, "Crones give me a second, some puny weirdo is getting food. I was kinda hoping it was a bikini or something."

After gathering his wits, Alabaster rose from the floor and shakily pushed the food cart into the room. The cart was filled with several trays of food and three gallons of orange juice.

And for a moment Alabaster's fear was forgotten as he eyed the towering stack of food, "Are you really going to eat all of that? That just seems...unhealthy. And gluttonous. It's like you're trying to get fat."

"What's unhealthy is how you run your mouth so damn much," Bowser snorted.

"You know...I know this good psychiatrist you can talk to about your obvious eating problem," Alabaster tried to sound helpful, "And it's completely confidential. They won't put your business in the streets and they won't make you feel bad at all."

Undeterred, Bowser continued to shovel food into his face viciously and then opened the gallon of orange juice like a soda can, chugging it all down in one go. Alabaster looked dually disgusted and impressed, "...Would you like a hose for that? That way you can chug it down frat-boy style—"

With one well-placed, irritated growl and a ferocious set of bared fangs, Alabaster shrieked, rocketing out of there and screaming the entire way he rushed down the hall. Once the little ass sniff was gone, Bowser released an amused, wicked grin before shoving his food away completely, having no true appetite in light of all the recent events.

Beside his brunch lay a translucent bottle of Starman tonic with an attached handwritten note. Bowser picked up the tiny note, scanning it quickly: Drink one tablespoon for instant eight hour relief, warning tonic goes down strong. Drink slowly.

The king popped the tab, ignoring the prescription and sucked down half the bottle in one loud squelch. Bowser winced; the Starman tonic was strong like liquor, burning all the way down, and even making his eyes water. He impatiently swiped an arm across his eyes and blinked, realizing a new servant was bowed before him.

"Yeah?" he barely grunted the syllable.

"King Bowser, Her Eminence would like to see you."

A burst of excitement and even fear colored his voice, "...As in Princess Daisy?"

The servant shook her head negative, "Not quite. It is Queen Meringue who would like to see you, Sir."

I stood outside the only set of pearl-white marble double doors in our palace. Only the beloved empress was doted upon with elegant furnishings and a hallway filled with dewy, freshly picked violets. I inhaled the heady aroma of sweet petals before gently knocking on Grammy's chamber doors, "Grammy, may I come in?"

I halted, slightly surprised to hear a second voice on the other side of the door. I could hear soft laughter and a deep voice...Was that Bowser? Just as I leaned my ear against the furnished oak door, it rolled open and I toppled over.

That was until my cheek squished against a cool, smooth surface. It was Bowser's plastron. A deep, rumbling chuckle reverberated through the golden plastron as I peered up idiotically, meeting the laughing red eyes of the Darklandian king.

Argh, crappity crap! Why do I always look so stupid in front of him!?

"Falling head over heels after a sinfully handsome king, huh?" Bowser's smile grew sharper and more wicked at my flourishing embarrassment.

Damn! Damn! Damn!

"Apparently my coordination buckles around you," I sighed.

"Knees buckling, you mean?" Bowser purred silkily.

I stepped away from him with as much dignity as I could muster—which wasn't much by the way—as Bowser peered at me, an amused, lopsided grin curled on his face, "So princess. Now that you've tried to throw yourself at me, why not come in, instead of eavesdropping? We've been expecting you. And I can finally get you alone."

"Does your ego ever shrink!?" I rolled my eyes, "I guess I should have just come—"

My breath hitched, eyes widening as I studied him closer. Bowser mistook my astonishment for something else as he grinned wildly. He even leaned forward, speaking in a velvety purr, "What is it Purga? Am I making you nervous, Cutie pie?"

"Your..." I grimaced.

For a long moment I stared, drinking in every wound, all the angry red wounds etched into his scales and the ugly discolored bruises splattered over his limbs and even his face.

His flirtatious grin disintegrated as he quickly realized I was ardently examining his wounds. Something vulnerable flashed across his face and before I could reply, Bowser glared, growling and turning away hastily.

I froze, blinking unsurely at the sharp spines of his shell. Did I just do something to upset him? I scrambled mentally, trying to think of anything consoling to say, but everything that came to mind ended up sounding insensitive in my mental filter.

"Bowser...You don't have to turn away, you don't look bad at all."

He barely turned his head to glare at me from the corner of his eye, "Your look says otherwise."

"It's not that bad..."

"Kooples is here," I couldn't decide if Bowser blatantly cut me off or if he was just stating a fact. And almost as if to support his statement, I heard a happy squeak from Kooples.

"Ah, is that the sound my granddaughter?" Grammy sounded excited, "Viente Pichi! Come in!"

Bowser stepped aside to allow entry. Grammy lay comfortably within her four poster bed, propped up with silky pillows. No matter how many times I stepped into her room, I was always awed by the beauty of her bedspread; it was a shimmering sea of luxurious amethyst silk.

As Kooples played on the floor, stacking up toy blocks, Grammy's expression was bored, mauve lips pulled in a pout. It was odd to see Grammy, who was always lightly made up with lipstick or blush plain-faced for a change. If anything, she looked better without any embellishment; younger, brighter-eyed and fresh-faced.

The second Grammy saw the two of us enter together, her eyes brightened like stars. She sat up, happily waving us in, "Come in! Come on in Pichi! The maids brought extra tea and cookies! Come sit next to your Granna."

She patted a spot beside her leg excitedly as Kooples chirruped a happy greeting. I rubbed the top of his head affectionately before carefully slipping into the cool amethyst silk.

I gently reached for Grammy's hand; her thin fingers were warm and her grip strong; a great contrast from last night when she had felt so cold and brittle. But today she appeared much better; cheeks flushed with natural color and health.

"Grammy..." I whispered thickly, "You're okay...You look so much better..."

"Sorry I worried you, baby," she whispered, "I know it's been so rough with everything going on...But I'm okay, see? I'm good as new."

She smiled brightly and before I could think, I reacted, clutching her into a fierce hug. Grammy held me, rubbing my back soothingly and promising that she was okay.

I pulled away, rubbing stubborn stray tears of relief and joy from my eyes. Grammy peered over at Bowser, who had hung back to give us a personal moment.

He lingered in the corner of the room, arms crossed and expression closed. Grammy waved him over exuberantly and for a split second I saw a glimmer of joy flicker across his face.

Bowser stomped over until he was nearly on top of my position. Kooples chirruped a greeting to the king before returning to his toy blocks.

"Granna, how do you feel?" I whispered, gently kneading my thumb across her wrist.

"I'm much better Pichi, you look so nervous," she laughed, pulling me closer, "Why the long face? A pretty girl like you shouldn't look so troubled!"

"Grammy, I was worried about you. You seemed so weak and your skin felt like ice...I thought..." I choked up on my last words, willing myself not to burst into an overemotional sob, "Oh Stars, I am not a crybaby!"

But Grammy shushed me, pulling my head against her chest and wrapping her arms around my shoulders, "Oh now Pichi," she cooed softly, "I'm not going anywhere. I just got really into smashing that seloh's statue."

Bowser and I peered up at her in one synchronized, liquid move. Disbelief glowed on the Koopa king's face, "What?"

I pulled away, peering up at her amused expression, "You smashed King Pisces' statue!? Grammy, no one knows that! Not Sarasaland, or the Aqualandians! Not even Dad!"

"...You smashed someone's statue Grammy!?" Bowser boomed with laughter, guffawing as hard as he could before his injuries began to hurt, "Just when I thought I had you figured out, you do something even more amazing. Ah Stars, I better stop before I pop a lung..."

My heart dropped as I came to a realization; she broke the statue because of what King Pisces did to her...And once the Aqualands learns that she was responsible...that's going to be one more strike they're going to hold against us.

Which was completely unfair considering they've started all of this strife. Taurus deserved the knuckle sandwich I gave him and King Pisces certainly deserved a desecrated statue. I hope Grammy smashed the hell out of his statue.

"Grammy..." I spoke softly, eyes hard, "I know why you broke King Pisces' statue. Taurus...told me the entire story..."

Grammy's expression grew tense before she finally emitted a sigh, one deep enough to make her shoulders sag. She carefully rested a contemplative fist under her chin, eyes suddenly dim. The sudden shift in mood made Bowser fall silent as Grammy spoke, "Well, I suppose I ought to come clean, don't you think?"

"Grammy," Bowser raised his hands in a placating gesture, "you don't have to tell us anything you don't want to."

"No, no, I think it's time now," she spoke softly, peering at the ceiling, "Though I honestly hoped Pichi you would never find out about this element of my past. I've wanted none of my kin to know, honestly."

Bowser's brows met together in a firm knot, "...You want me to go? I can take Kooples too. 'Cause this probably isn't...this sounds personal..."

"You might as well stay, young shell. It's not going to be much of a secret for much longer, I'm afraid," Grammy peered at me, her expression blank, "What did that seloh tell you, Pichi?"

I tried to swallow the lump in my throat but it only made my voice thick and groggy, "That you had...slept with his grandfather against your will. Since Sarasaland had been in a serious was really bad, and now that I think about it, even the councilors remember it."

Grammy nodded, eyes glazed over with recollection, "Yes...Everything prince seloh said was true. I had very little option; we had suffered a terrible famine and as Sarasaland's empress, I had to do as I must to save my people. I did the only thing I could. My Stars, it was completely deplorable."

"Grammy," I whispered, "Why didn't you tell me? Or anyone about this?"

Bowser's expression grew severe, jowls smoking as he clenched his rattling fists, "Flower, cover Kooples' ears."

I wasn't sure what he was thinking, but I quickly reached down, picked up the Koopaling and covered his ears. Kooples started to laugh; he must have thought we were playing a game.

"Son of a bitch," Bowser whispered fiercely, eyes thin as a blade, "So it's really true..."

"I'm afraid so," Grammy murmured, eyes distant, "It was a shame, a burden I bore for my kingdom, and ever since, the Grand council has held me in high esteem. I never had to fight with them to pass legislation and bills that normally they wouldn't care for."

As Bowser massaged his temples, eyes closed and brows furrowed with agitation, I chewed everything over. The council knew of this. They knew what had happened to Grammy and yet, they had wanted me to marry prince Taurus!? Where was the sense in all of this!?

"Does Dad know about this?" I asked, "About what happened with you...?"

Grammy's closed expression answered my query better than any words could have, "Only the council. Sakuro would have never set you up with the Aqualandian seloh if he knew..."

I smiled; I knew it, Father would never have even considered Taurus if he knew the history with the Aqualands. Bowser laughed bitterly, slapping a palm to his temple in sheer disbelief.

When he spoke, there was no real humor, "You've got to be kidding me. And yet here your Desert councilmen are trying so desperately to set your princess up with this bastard's grandson! This sh—uh stuff kills me."

Grammy peered down at her hands, eyes cloudy, "I didn't want the same thing to happen to you Pichi. I've always wished for you to follow your heart. Maybe I couldn't have the freedom I wanted when I was your age, but I'm determined to see you have it. You will marry the man you wish to, and you won't have to be a sacrifice as I was."

"Grammy..." I muttered softly.

Grammy shook her head, eyes closed as if envisioning something, "Learn from your grandmother, Dear. If there's one thing I'd take back, an event I could make vanish in my life, it would be that night with King Pisces. There are certain things, elements of yourself that are not worth selling, even to save your kingdom. Don't make my same mistake and marry for your kingdom, do it for you. That's a level of heartbreak I couldn't deal with."

I remained quiet and melancholic, pensively chewing over Grammy's counsel. Now that I knew what I did, everything made so much sense; especially her unexplained hostility toward Taurus...I wonder why Grammy didn't tell me earlier, did she think I would judge her?

Did she think knowledge of her past would make me recoil and loathe her? If anything this only proved how lionhearted and brave Grammy was. I was startled when Bowser's deep baritone flooded the room, "Queen Meringue, do you remember the promise you had me make? The one on the plane?"

Grammy remained silent, keenly studying his profile before speaking, "Yes...Of course I do son."

"Then I want to continue keeping that promise," he spoke so gravelly I barely understood. He turned to face me, "I promised your grandmother that I'd protect you and..."

"King Bowser..." Grammy whispered with no small trill of awe.

I didn't understand everything that was going on, but I understood the gravity of his words; he seemed serious, "What do you mean, Bowser?"

Bowser clenched his fists tight enough to pop his knuckles, "Just...Just let me finish my thoughts, okay? Grammy, I'm absolutely pi—livid—you had to go through that. And I can't even imagine what it's like to be forced to...ugh, I'm getting nauseous just thinking about it...but maybe I understand 'cause I too was forced to marry some spoiled, selfish Koopette."

I opened my mouth to speak, but Grammy shushed me, placing her hand upon mine. She shot a smile my way, one that warmed her eyes like a summer sky and made them crease.

Bowser's voice crept into a whisper, "Flower...I-I want to protect you i-if you'll let me. You know in the same kind of way that red plumber protects Peach? Yeah. Only I'd be twice the man as he is. So what do you...think?"

Grammy's grin was so large and Bowser's expression was so sincere, I was speechless. Besides Father's obligatory paternal protection, never had anyone pledge this, their devotion or the security he was promising.

I knew I must have been flame red as Bowser's intense, serious mien dissolved. His mischievous, lopsided smirk I was growing to appreciate resurfaced.

I smiled, moving errant strands of hair from my eyes, "Alright then Bowser, I accept. And thank you. I don't say this often, but choosing you for my best friend was one of the best decisions I've ever made."

Bowser's expression grew soft, and I grabbed his hand, "Thank you Bowser. This means a lot to me."

"You're very welcome, milady" and with that, Bowser lifted my hand and with nothing but a sly grin, pressed a kiss against my knuckles. I flushed a deep red as Grammy laughed happily, startling Kooples.

"Ooh! Que un biento golgo, saa?" Grammy asked teasingly, partially laughing. I was grateful she was diplomatic enough to have used Sarasalandian for what she said.

"Saa," I agreed, light-headed and trying to sort out the unusual buttery, honey-sweet sensation warming my chest.

"Are you two lovely ladies talking about a certain hunky king?" Bowser grinned, "I do recognize the word for 'Koopa' after all."

Grammy frowned at me playfully, "Oh no Pichi, he's on to us."

I laughed, before sending Bowser a sharp smile, "So, what were you and Grammy talking about before I came in here?"

"About—" Bowser halted when Grammy lightly slapped her palm against his plastron to keep him quiet, "—nothing obviously Flower. Quit bugging."

I laughed, "As my big bad protector, I thought you'd be on my side here!"

Bowser smiled almost unnoticeably, causing the laceration on his lip to stretch. His tail wagged, thumping against the floor.

He rubbed the back of his head and I was surprised when he turned to face me bashfully, "Protector huh? Kinda like the ring to that."

Grammy shot a sly grin at Bowser, "Me too."

I smiled at him, "Thanks Bowser. I don't want to make light of what you're doing. So thanks."

I took his hand within mine, carefully wrapping my hand around a few of his sharp claws. I peered up at him, smiling the warmest I have in a long while.

Bowser seemed stunned, blinking back at me wordlessly. I realized his face was slowly beginning to turn red. He instantly turned his face away, "'s n-no p-problem Flower."

Grammy's sudden bought of giggles made me shoot an inquisitive glance her way. Whatever she was laughing about only made Bowser's face glow a darker shade of red.

Grammy sent one last amused grin Bowser's way before decidedly clearing her throat, "Ah yes. So moving on...?"

Something suddenly came to mind, "Oh! I'm going to spend the rest of the afternoon with my suitors," I turned to smile up at the king, "Today's their last day here and we're going to have one last mini hurrah. And I know you're not stro—uh, you need to rest for the entire day. Doctor's orders right?"

Bowser snorted as I continued, " you think by sunset you'd be up to...go on a stroll around the palace?"

It was obvious how Bowser suddenly straightened up and how his eyes lit up, "I'd be 'up' to do anything with you. Consider me there."

"The maids stopped by and said there's been a lot of lurking paparazzi showing up all over the palace, in the rose gardens, swarming the front gate. Yi puedestir, can you believe them!?" Grammy murmured, "You're going to have to choose an unknown location."

I tried to think of a remote location that the snooping paparazzi wouldn't have any interest in. We had horse stables but many of our thoroughbreds were of a powerful, champion lineage that could garner attention, the white sand gardens—yeah that's out, our most high profile guests; kings, sultans, princes, are entertained there—my mother's personal rose garden could be a good choice since it remained anonymous and lastly there was the relatively unknown pasture.

The pasture it was.

"I know where we can go," I laughed, "But you're going to think it's strange."

"Now I'm curious," Bowser smirked, "Where are we going for our friendly, isolated stroll?"

I smiled, "Our very own pasture. We have a large flock of Towtows there."

"Towtows? Like the sheep-ram hybrids?" Bowser blinked, "What in the world is a palace doing holding those things for?"

"Ever since the palace was built in the mid sixteenth century, Towtows have always grazed in the pastures. It eventually continued to be a timeless tradition to keep a flock," I laughed, "And people swear they have therapeutic merit; many of the servants tend to them on their breaks, even the highly esteemed Grand Elder councilmen come and feed them after long meetings. Towtow wool can be made into one of the softest fabrics and the milk is a delicacy used in many of our desserts. We'll go there and no one will be none the wiser. Now come on, let's get you back to bed."

He grinned wickedly, "Join me—?"

"Alone." I tried not to grin as I helped Bowser limp down the hall. Kooples toddled beside him, holding onto his leg for balance.

"Fine," Bowser pretended to throw his head back haughtily, "Kooples and I are just awesome by ourselves, aren't we Kooples?"

A happy, exuberant squeak came from the tottering Koopaling.

"That's right Koopaling, we're gonna kick back and have us a manly nap. No girls allowed. Especially the cute ones with red hair."

I laughed, "Well while you two are doing some hardcore malebonding, I've got to entertain the suitors."

"By doing what?" Bowser tried to keep a straight face but no matter how macho he pretended to be, I knew he was in pain.

"After I drop you off, we're going to class!"

"Well can't say I'm jealous. Have fun in class," Bowser snorted, "Education sucked big dangly balls when I was in school and I bet it still does now."

"I'm just glad for a change I'm not being tutored alone," I laughed, "I can totally goof off now. Maybe even catch a nap here and there."

"And with Dogboy there," Bowser half laughed, "you're guaranteed not to have the lowest score!"

"Here's not going to be that bad..."

Wolfe frowned, "...Was I supposed to have understood any of this?"

I laughed softly.

The headmistress continued the lecture in a dab droll that only encouraged her students to sneak in a snooze, "It was in the year 1652 when Nimbusland had been discovered and founded by the first King, Fluffington Cloudimus. As one of the few voyagers brave enough to walk on the clouds and see he could stand on the clouds—"

I was in the process of typing in a few more notes when Wolfe leaned in towards Zero and loudly whispered, "Did she say 1672? Or 1789?"

Zero peered at him and barely smirked, "Neither."

"Okay," Wolfe bobbed his head, scribbling in something completely wrong, "1350 it is!"

"Stars almighty," Zero laughed quietly, "how did you even come up with that!? Nimbusland wasn't even founded yet."

As a true glimpse into the life and times of Princess Sarasaland, my day always began with tutoring in foreign relations, and foreign histories. My tutoring sessions were always held in the lecture hall where Father usually gave his speeches to the public.

We were given an hour lecture on foreign affairs—combining the customs, history and cultures of the Dry Dry desert people, Nimbusland, Yo'ster Isle and the Bean Bean Kingdom—then we were to be given a written exam to test a summation of our previous and learned knowledge.

Lady Angora sat in the corner of the room, sitting with her spine perfectly straight and her face blank. Luigi, Silver and Ryu appeared to be diligent students, carefully typing their notes into their laptops as Wolfe claimed to be 'old school' preferring to shorthand his notes into a notebook. It seemed meticulous, but really Wolfe only wanted a notebook so he could doodle silly pictures during the lecture. And that's exactly what he did.

Zero remained bored, constantly checking his watch for when the lecture would end. Finally the headmistress finished her lecture with a cheery snap that even made Lady Angora jump, "And now that we've finished this rousing lecture! It is time for the written exam! I will now hand out the pencils and tests, please try to finish as promptly as possible."

As I circled and bubbled in my answers, I peered across the room at my suitors; Wolfe looked the most conflicted, scratching his head with his pencil eraser as Silver nervously chewed on the edge of his writing utensil. Both Ryu and Zero seemed composed, jotting in their answers with no stress.

The headmistress paced before the blackboard, impatiently tapping her pointer against her hand in a steady intonation. She peered at the clock and once the hand struck twelve thirty precisely, she spoke, peering at us all from beneath her spectacles, "Please submit your answers."

She collected all our papers, and while humming a merrily upbeat tune, dipped her quill into red ink, slashing across the papers with a malevolent gusto; why did educators always seem to enjoy tearing the hell out of their students' papers!? We did our best not to flinch with each cutting, violent slash she made.

With one last slash across an exam, she stood up, smiling happily, "I have finally tallied up the results of today's test," she spoke crisply, fixing her spectacles, "And now I shall announce the results. Ahem. Lord Wolfesbane. You are accredited a 100."

Wolfe burst with victorious laughter, pumping a fist happily into the air as Puppo howled happily, "HELL YEAH! Woo! Killed it! And here I thought it was kind of tou—"

"...out of 500," The headmistress peered at him with a sly smirk.

Zero and Luigi laughed as Ryu grinned at Wolfe's slack-jawed, wide-eyed stupor. I chuckled; well, I don't think even I did that badly.

"...Damn it," Wolfe whimpered, pride—and his confidence—shattered.

"Lord Salini," the headmistress appeared pleased, "You have received a perfect 500. Congratulations! However, seeing as you drabble in foreign affairs, it is not surprising you have a stellar mastery of the material."

Zero nodded, none too excited in receiving a perfect score because it had been expected; Zero Salini may have been lacking in polite etiquette but there was no questioning his knowledge of foreign affairs.

He had toiled stubbornly during his undergraduate, making sure he mastered the perplexing intricacies of legislation, learned multiple languages and customs to improve foreign diplomacy, and took hours of high social decorum until it was an art.

The headmistress moved on to the next paper, "Lord Ryu, was accredited a decent score of 400. And oh my! Prince Silver is rewarded an astounding 490! I suppose being a prince and being exposed to worldly knowledge would benefit you!"

"Not bad Silv!" Wolfe reached over and amicably clapped Silver's back with a resounding thud. Silver yelped, nearly toppling out of his seat from the strength of Wolfe's friendly gesture, "All brains and no brawn eh?"

Silver arched a brow at the good-natured slight as Ryu chuckled softly, "Knowing Wolfe's good temperament, I'm sure he meant that in a genial way, Silver."

"Master Luigi, you performed quite well!" The headmistress smiled warmly, "You received a score of 430! Is this your first time learning of foreign affairs?"

"Yeah, it-a was fun," he smiled.

"Perhaps plumbing isn't your only calling in life. And last but not least, Princess Daisy received a 380," she gave me a slightly stern look, "I will expect an improved score, your mark barely makes the seventieth percentile. You will study harder. Class dismissed."

Lady Angora stayed behind, speaking with the headmistress as we ambled down the hall. Next in my schedule was physical education and today was going to be tennis. The suitors trailed behind as I lead the way to our personal gym.

Wolfe snorted as Puppo hopped onto his shoulder, "Well that was boring. I was trying to sleep the whole time but she kept yammering on about something called 'foreign policy'."

"You were supposed to be learning," Ryu spoke with a touch of humor, "How are you supposed to make a great Canine leader one day if you can't learn history Wolfe?"

"How is learning about the past important now?" Wolfe frowned, scratching Puppo behind his ears.

"Through looking at others' pasts, you can learn from their previous mistakes," Ryu hummed, "Or at least try to."

"But does history have to be so boring?" Wolfe whined, "It's just about a bunch of dead people. Who are...dead."

As I laughed, Zero shook his head with exasperation clearly written on his face. Silver laughed, "Well, t-things would be less lively without you Wolfe!"

"Hell yeah!" Wolfe laughed, slapping one arm around Silver and the other around me. He pulled us in until our faces were nearly touching, "Soooo, what's next on the itinerary D? More useless history?"

I smirked, "Physical education actually."

"'Physical education? What's that?" Wolfe boomed with laughter, "Ya mean like sex ed?! Birds and the bees business? Didn't you learn that a while ago?"

Zero turned to Ryu, "I don't understand how he got that from physical education."

"I don't understand how he doesn't view history as important," Ryu grinned.

I laughed, "No Wolfe! Physical education as in sports you big dork!"


Both Wolfe and I jumped as Lady Angora stood behind us; she was so quiet! She may very well have materialized from the shadows. She glared at Wolfe, eyes cut so thin they didn't look open, "A word, with her ladyship, if you will."

Something tells me she wasn't all too thrilled to be hearing Wolfe and I joking around about sex ed—or possibly sex—in general. In the conservative, traditional land of Sarasaland, society would be appalled to even hear their princess utter the word sex. Hell, I wasn't even supposed to show my knees in public.

Wolfe laughed, before casting a sly look behind himself, "Hey Zero, she's calling you."

Luigi and Silver laughed as Zero smirked, "I'm glad you're good-natured Wolfe, because there's nothing worse than an ill-tempered idiot."

If Angora heard Zero's insult, she deftly ignored it, "This is our servant Alabaster," she motioned towards the young servant who bowed, "he will lead you gentlemen to the locker rooms to be suited up. Today's sport is tennis I believe."

"Come and step this way gentlemen," Alabaster bowed, stepping aside as he motioned them towards a nearby door, "We will get you suited up in no time flat."

The second they all walked past, Alabaster snorted and muttered under his breath, "Really? These are the losers trying to marry our princess...Heh, Sarasaland really has fallen on some hard times..."

Wolfe peered back at him, "Didya say something lil' dude?"

"I said have fun!" Alabaster cheered falsely, waving as Wolfe waved back.

The moment the suitors disappeared, Alabaster rolled his eyes and then uttered something his under his breath, "Loserfaces..."

I had barely stepped into the locker room when Lady Angora rounded upon me. She didn't express her disapproval orally but it was all but blazing in her eyes, "Turn around, please."

"Of course," I rolled my eyes, before giving her my back.

She hastily shooed away the approaching maids who had been lingering nearby, opting to do the chore herself. Lady Angora immediately began to unlace my dress, pulling and plucking with temperamental yanks. The room was silent for an uncomfortable stretch and I'm sure Lady Angora was gathering the words to lecture me.

"Princess Sarasaland," Lady Angora didn't sound anywhere near happy, in fact it even sounded as if she was speaking through her teeth, "What was that crude talk I heard!? In what universe do you live in to think it is anywhere near acceptable for the crown princess to speak so filthily!? Have any of those young men said anything else so unspeakably vulgar to you!?"

I peered at her skeptically, half way laughing, "No, Lady Angora, besides Wolf—Wolfesbane wasn't saying anything bad...he was asking if our next class was sex ed—"

"Sex!?" she squealed, unusually flustered. She took a deep, calming breath before her voice returned to its normal, refined lilt, "Princess Sarasaland. Ladies do not speak of...of intercourse, let alone intercourse with men in general. If your father knew of this atrocity...! However as he is severely burden with meetings and the like, I will overlook this obscene subject just this once. There, your dress has been undone. Disrobe please."

I pulled the dress overhead as Lady Angora riffled through my sports outfits, maroon lips pursed in a displeased pout as her eyes darted over the clothing like a metronome, "Yes. This will do just fine."

She placed a white top and a matching short, feminine skirt in my hands. I arched a brow, peering at the terribly feminine ensemble, hoping this was some kind of a bad prank but Angora's unmoved stare said otherwise, "Does something displease her ladyship?"

"Uh...what is this?" I held the skirt away from me as if it could suddenly combust into flames at a moment's notice. What a froo-froo, sissy outfit. I might as well wear a sign saying 'Yay! I suck!' with this!

"Obviously it's a skirt and top."

No duh. "I'm going to get shorts right? Because one, this is a short skirt, two, any type of wind will blow it up and three, I'm not trying to give out any free shows."

"Today isn't supposed to be windy," Angora huffed, "Here, then wear these bloomers. They will match your skirt."

I ignored the outfit for a second and turned to look back at her. Lady Angora was busy searching through the locker's closet, "Lady Angora...?"


"What..." I looked down at the outfit in hand "do you think about our treaty with the Aqualands?"

She gauged my expression, studying my body language in reflective silence. For a fraction of a second, her expression hardened, "I am ashamed."

"For what—?"

"That we ever considered trying to marry you to irredeemable filth," when I peered at her, her wintry expression lightened fractionally. Angora even smiled for half a second, "Now enough of that. The Grand Council and the emperor shall handle everything. Your duties involve entertaining the suitors as mine require looking after your well-being. And on that note, I'd like you to go out there and beat those whelps in tennis."

I smiled, "Okay, thanks Lady Angora. For, you know...uh...stuff."

"Yes," again her red lips quirked into a smirk, "For 'stuff.'"

I finished lacing up my athletic shoes, gave her one last meaningful smile before heading towards the tennis courts but Lady Angora intercepted me immediately. Her expression was oddly blank, "Princess Sarasaland."

"...Uh yes?"

Face still emotionless, Lady Angora wordlessly spun me around and before I could protest, she pulled my skirt out of the back of my bloomers. In my haste to get dressed, I had managed to embarrassingly tuck my skirt into my underwear like a loser crackpot.

As Angora continued to stare at me blankly, my face seared three different shades of red as I realized I could have left the locker room like that.

She sighed deeply, "...What am I going to do with you...?"

"Uh...Not let me dress myself anymore?" Now that I thought about it, her question was probably rhetorical.

She came very close to smiling, "Exactly. Now go."

When I left the locker room, I could swear I heard the stolid, staid Angora LeCatte laughing her ass off.

"Don't be afraid to get in there!" Plum cheered, pigtails bobbing with the nod of her head, "Topslice that ball!"

Luigi smashed the ball across court and I reeled the tennis racket back, grinning wickedly as I savored the half second the ball lingered in the air. With a furious roar, I pounded all my frustration into the ball.

Luigi made a diving save, but it wasn't soon enough as I received another point. As I wiped sweat from my forehead I was rewarded with soft applause as the suitors cheered.

Lady Angora frowned dismally, eying my dirt-caked skin and wild hair with apparent disdain. Plum popped the whistle into her mouth and blew, "Nice try Luigi! Change partners!"

Per Lady Angora's orders, since I had to change into this frilly, cute ensemble to impress my suitors, the princes were ordered to dress as 'proper gentlemen.'

And apparently to dress as a gentleman during tennis involved wearing lame khaki shorts and boring pastel collared shirts. I had all but fell out laughing the moment I saw Wolfe.

He looked ridiculous; terribly stuffy, a servant had tried to tame his long jet mane with loads of gel and I'm sure the discomfort of his look was due in large part to wearing a shirt that was a couple of sizes too small for his tall, robust form.

Something about the classy, posh look suited Silver and Zero, both who were bred into the trenches of urbane society. Lulu looked cute in his matching green shirt and plaid shorts and was odd seeing him in non Shinobi clothes, though he made the khakis and shirt seem casual and not awkward like Wolfe.

Though I suppose Mister Clan hottie would look nice in anything; he had the long lean torso and lithe muscles that were a designer's dream. Yeah, I'm sure he could look good in anything.

Or nothing, said the little devil on my shoulder.


I nearly stumbled over my feet; where did that thought come from!? Now was not the time to think of a well-toned, undressed Shinobi heir—Stars I'm doing it again—I would focus on tennis. Tennis.

Luigi, Silver and Zero had already known how to play but Wolfe quickly blazed through the basics. Ryu for the life of him couldn't even return a single shot!

Either he hit the ball straight into the net or his lobs flew out of bounds. Wolfe didn't care about the direction he hit the ball—as long as it landed on the opponent's court—his goal was just to pound the hell out of the ball and hope you can't return his rocket-fueled shots.

Plum tweeted the whistle again and this time Silver and I played an easy, uncompetitive round—well okay I did, after I scored enough points to be winning—simply enjoying the other's ability to return the ball to the correct court.

There was no true challenge against the Shinobi leader; Ryu spent half of the session laughing at his own mistakes as he hit ball after ball into his own net.

With the next switch Wolfe popped into the opposing court, grinning wildly as he motioned me to 'bring it.' The flames of our competitive nature blazed riotously as we lunged, scraped knees and bruised knuckles, refusing to give up points to the other. Wolfe's golden eyes glowed wildly, teeth bared in a wicked smile as he slammed another powerful shot across court.

I made a mental catalogue of the powerful tennis roster at the Mario Tennis tourneys; Wario, DK, Bowser, Petey Piranha by ascending order of strength. Hands down Wolfe would have been the fastest of them all, though I'm positive he wasn't as strong as DK.

We had one last aggressive rally before a sharp whistle pierced the air and Plum's sleek pigtails bounced as she appeared, "Alright! That's it for the day! Wow, what a great round of tennis you two! Excellent overhand by the way, Princess. Glad to see you've mastered it! You're going to be a monster in the next Mario Tennis Tournament!"

"Thanks Plum!" I beamed.

"Thank you Ms. Plum for accommodating our new set of guests. Sarasaland appreciates your excellence, but I'm afraid the time as slipped away. It's become one thirty and we must see to our constricting itinerary," Lady Angora rose to her feet with a soundless grace, her pearl dress sweeping around her ankles, "Gentlemen, Princess Sarasaland, please adjourn to your showers and we shall commerce in thirty at the great golden hall."

I smiled, curtsying demurely to both Lady Angora and Plum before turning to the lady's locker rooms. I realized someone was trailing me and burst into laughter when I saw it was Wolfe. He grinned largely, sharp incisors displayed in a mischievous beam, "Hey, hey there D!"

"Hi Wolfe!"

"Ready for some extreme shower power?" He laughed warmly, "You know, you gave me a workout in that court. For a second I thought you were trying to kick my butt."

"I did kick your butt," I smirked.

"You tried," he grinned right back.

"Just so you know, the guy's locker room is the other way," I hiked my thumb over my shoulder and grinned.

"AAAAnd?" he smirked wickedly, "I'm going where the cute girl goes and those other unhandsome saps just have to deal with it."

"Father will have you strung up by a tree if he sees you," I laughed, leaning in to whisper to him. No, I was dead serious, Father would have that arranged.

Wolfe, playing along, bent in to 'whisper' back, "Heh, I'm so sneaky and smooth no one will know I'm here. Watch!"

"Wolfe?" I heard Ryu's voice from across the courtyard and guffawed, "You are a little lost?"

I laughed harder; Wolfe couldn't be incognito if his life depended on it. The suitors had clearly noticed his disappearance and were all pointedly peering in our direction. Ryu looked amused, a single brow arched as Silver and Luigi beamed. Zero shook his head.

Before turning away, I noticed something, oh shall we say, interesting. Plum, who usually left right after tennis practice was still lingering around. While Luigi was peering in our direction and chatting with Silver, Plum was discreetly studying him.

Her mahogany eyes were carefully tracing his form, as a subtle smile played on her pink lips and the moment Luigi turned her way, she quickly went back to packing her things. But the moment Lulu looked away, Plum smiled, peering at him one last time through her eyelashes.

I quirked an eyebrow. Oh what is this here? I know that look. Something tells me Plum has a thing for somebody...And that somebody wears lots of green...

Mrs. Brooms, an older maid who had worked in the palace since Grammy's reign, stood outside of the ladies' locker room.

She was dutifully hanging laundry and waved kindly as I walked past. She paused the moment she scoped out Wolfe trying to accompany me into the girl's locker room.

Mrs. Brooms was well into her sixties and was still very set in the older traditional ways; women were docile, demure ladies and men were valiant gentlemen.

And even with Wolfe's obvious posturing and joking, for someone like Mrs. Brooms, a suitor should not try and follow the unwed princess into a locker room. Mrs. Brooms gasped with lurid outrage before stomping over, face flushed red with sheer indignation.

Heh. Oh boy. This oughta be good.

Wolfe blinked as the short, rotund Mrs. Brooms was suddenly in his face—or trying to be since she was so tiny—spewing an angry torrent of reprimands in rapid Sarasalandian, wagging her finger in his face before gripping the back of his shirt and dragging him the opposite direction.

Wolfe half-laughed, "Oh come on, lady! There's no need to be upset! I wasn't really going in there!"

And in fluent Sarasalandian Mrs. Brooms was heatedly spouting, "Why I'd never! What is it with you kids today!? Always trying to get cheap thrills! The shame of your young...lusty generation! In my day a boy needed a chaperon before he could even SPEAK to a young lady! Oh the shame of it all!"

As Mrs. Brooms dragged a laughing, good-natured Wolfe away, Silver turned to face the other suitors, "W-Well, so far hasn't been too hard, huh?"

"Yeah, whatever-a they have us do next-a can't be that bad," Luigi agreed amicably.

"It can't be worse than this," Zero grimaced, motioning to his matching orange plaid shorts and shirt, "This can make anyone look like a jackass. I look like a giant orange traffic cone."

Ryu laughed softly, "As long as we have or pride intact by day's end, we can't complain right?"


With a flick of delicate, long aristocratic fingers and the lifting of a thin baton, Madame Baila gracefully raised her wand, "Necks up! Spines straight! Stomachs tucked and legs on the bar! Let me see some beautiful swan necks and pointed ballerina toes! Ballerinos for my gentlemen!"

"'Pride intact' my ass," Wolfe spewed with a fair amount of venom.

This time I had to bite my lip to hold back my mounting laughter. Where were the cameras when needed?! In our castle's personal studio where Father practiced judo, and some of the castle staff took ridiculous dance lessons—apparently there's a dance called the bunny hop and yes, it's as dumb as it sounds—I practiced dance.

Yes, it was hard to believe with my lack of coordination but I practiced dance. Dance was supposed to imbue a young lady with grace and poise, limbs slender and sure.

Dance only made everyone realize how graceless I was.

Lady Angora believed a princess should move as fluid as water and elegantly as if her limbs were made of silk; and there wasn't any force on our planet that she believed to move more liquidly than a dancer. And therefore, I practiced dance.

I was outfitted in a snug black leotard with cream-white tights. I had been mortified the moment the suitors stepped in and I was wearing form-hugging clothing but that moment died in a blazing glory of awesome when they stepped into the studio dressed in ridiculous tights.

I had bust up laughing, to the point of tears until Madame Baila entered and began our torture—dance lesson. Well, at least today I wasn't alone for her to solely dissect and disembowel. And even better yet, I was not the worst dancer, I'd even wager I was the best.

We were lined up at the studio's bars, standing in front of a long wall of mirrors that reflected our images in endless surfaces. We were stretching our quads, practicing elegant posture and learning how to control our breathing.

Silver seemed to move with a smooth poise, maybe a gift from his training as a graceful Moonstonian prince. Wolfe took in a deep breath, shaking with strain as a bead of sweat rolled down his cheek; the entire time he looked uncomfortable as his legs shook from fatigue.

Ryu fluidly shifted into the perfect, straight-spine posture, arm elevated above his head perfectly. Somehow he managed to make all the motions look lethal and powerful.

Lady Angora was present, with Puppo sitting beside her. And though she was above laughing at everyone's misfortune, she watched the suitors with obvious mirth, eyes twinkling with unhidden amusement.

"I'd like my life to end now please." One of the suitors murmured; I'd bet coins it was Wolfe.

"SILENCE!" Madame Bailia snapped waspishly, spinning around so suddenly that everyone jumped, "The only sound I wish to hear are the sound of breaking hearts!"

I stifled a giggle but immediately masked my expression when Madame Baila slowly crept past. Her critical, narrowed eyes swept over my frame with laser like intensity.

With her dark hair, deathly pale skin and really long, pointy nose, I used to mistake her for a witch as a kid. Madame Baila eyed me one last time and released a wordless huff; for a change she seemed satisfied before continuing her death march.

"...Satanic force," Wolfe muttered under his breath.

Quiet snickers rose into the air and from the corner of my vision Ryu grinned but within a hot second Madame Baila spun around. Everyone fell dead silent as she critically eyed the boys for any flaws in their posture.

She was like a hawk, seeking and circling for any signs of fatigue and weakness. She turned around and walked past me yet again, "Not bad. Not good. Which is good for you. Keep that spine straight, milady."

She walked past Silver, squinted, and then made a few minor adjustments to his posture, "Good! Keep that stomach tucked in. I won't have any vagabonds in my studio."

"Whew, feel the burn!" Wolfe laughed nervously.

Madame Baila slithered towards Ryu and after staring at him with enough intensity to melt steel, she cracked a really creepy, thin smile, "Ah, finally something worth my time. Take a look students, this is what you should look like! See his perfect posture? It is effortless. It is almost lethal. Compared to him you all look like sordid, graceless wrecks! You Mister Shinobi are not a graceless wreck."

"Teacher's pet," Wolfe muttered under his breath.

Ryu turned to look at Wolfe and grinned before shaking his index finger in a playful, admonishing gesture. Wolfe tried to punch him, but Ryu ducked and that lead to a playful, brotherly exchange of punches and kicks but when Madame Baila suddenly spun back around, they were both back in proper stretching position as if nothing had ever happened.

"Master Luigi!" Madame Baila immediately rounded on Luigi, hands on her hips and eyes cut into thin slits, "Terrible posture! Suck in your stomach sire! It is bulging beyond your waistline!"

Luigi looked extremely vulnerable, eyes large and glittering, "B-But I am-a 'sucking it in'!"

She slapped the baton against her palm impatiently, "Try harder! My goodness you look a gluttonous potbellied...plumber or some sort!"

"But I am a plumber-a!" Luigi wailed.

Muffled laughter sprinkled the air but ceased immediately the moment Madame Baila violently slapped her baton against the wall. She instantly turned her glare upon Wolfe, "And as for you Lord Wolfesbane...I've never seen such appalling posture! Straighten up!"

"Elegant neck..." Wolfe muttered to himself in reminder, "Elegant swan neck..."

"And you have the neck of a drunken piranha!"

She walked to the front of the studio—using her baton to painfully poke and prod a few of the suitors into better alignment—and with three snaps, we ended the stretching and stood at attention. The madam paced in front of us agitatedly, "For the most part your postures were..."

Wolfe smiled hopefully.

"Awful! Especially you!" she turned a sharp glare on Wolfe.

Wolfe pouted.

"But there might be hope for you hopeless hens," she paced around us in a slow, predatory circle, "I will give you one last chance to redeem yourselves. Ballerina and ballerinos, we will walk."

"Walk?" Zero arched a brow, "What do you mean, Madame Baila?"

"I mean we will walk!" She preened, throwing her arms out dramatically, "Let your elegance shine! Heads up, necks tall, spines straight! Show those swan necks! Princess, show them the meaning of elegance—Stars help us all."

With a snap of her fingers, nearby maids brought three books and placed them at my feet. This was the classic good posture training; walking with proper pose and balancing the books on one's head. Madame Baila fluttered across the room and motioned for me to begin.

I stacked the three heavy books on my head and sighed. I can walk. Walking is easy. Walking is something I do every day. Walking isn't that bad—

"Head up! Shoulders high!" Madame Baila barked ruthlessly.

There was nothing graceful about my walk as I wobbled and stumbled along, yet I managed to walk across the studio floor and back without dropping the books on my head.

Madame Baila looked none too impressed with my ungainly, elephantine movements as amusement shone in varying degrees amongst my suitors.

"As elegant as a drunken, one-eyed, piranha!" Madame Baila snapped, and from my peripherals I caught Wolfe laughing; I'm going to take my drunken, one-eyed piranha walk and kick his ass, "however the books didn't fall this time," she huffed, clearly unimpressed, "at least it's improvement."

Wolfe snickered, "That was your improved walk?! It looked like a Cataquak on drugs!"

I heard muffled laughter and with inflamed cheeks, I spun around and brandished my fist, "I'll show you a Star drunk Cataquak you—!"

"A-hem." Madame Baila arched an eyebrow, "Ladylike pose please."

I spoke in a fake, honeyed voice, "Oh Wolfe! Your humor slays me!"

Translation: I will put you in a headlock once she's gone.

Madame Baila nodded before turning to Silver, "Now then, some me your most graceful walk and do not drop a single book or you will do pirouettes!"

"N-Not pirouettes!" Silver muttered under his breath, "W-Well here goes."

Silver stacked the books atop his head and began to amble, slowly making his way down the hall. He looked nervous as hell, with a bead of sweat rolling down the side of his face but he was doing well!

Madame Baila gruffly nodded her approval; hmm, Silver was already better than I was, and I've been doing this for years.

"Lord Salini! Next!"

Zero shrugged, stacking a set of books on his head before strolling down the hall, completely nonchalant. As he practiced walking with elegant posture, Wolfe began to mutter under his breath, "Drop, drop, drop!"

Like Silver he didn't drop a single book but Zero never seemed worried at all. Was the trick to mastering book balancing not caring at all?

"Wonderful Lord Salini! The pose of a councilman!"

Zero smirked as she turned to Wolfe, "And now, your turn! Up!"

"Alright!" Wolfe boomed, "Stand back and watch my gliiiiide."

Zero leaned towards Luigi, "Twenty coins says he'll drop all three books before his third step."

Luigi laughed, "Thirty coins that he'll-a drop all his books and fall on his-a rear."

Wolfe thrust his shoulders and chest out proudly as he stacked the books on his head. His turn—to put it as nicely as I could—was a catastrophe, each step he took was a loud, thundering stomp and with his third step, the books on his head tilted precariously.

Wolfe yelped as the books began to unbalance, wobbling and he instantly lost all practiced decorum as they fell to the floor in loud thuds. He even dove on his stomach to catch the last book. Zero and Luigi discreetly exchanged coins from their bet as Madame Baila walked over, glaring down at Wolfe.

He peered up and grinned, "I didn't drop all the books!"

"They need to stay on your head!" Madame Bailar hissed, "That was wretched. You walk as if you kill things for a living! What? Do you drag a club around with you as well!?"

Wolfe blinked, before beaming happily, "Hey! How did you even know that!?"

Madame Baila rolled her eyes before looking at Ryu, "You. Up. Walk well and restore my faith."

Ryu's walk was smooth, confident and his steps were so quiet we could barely hear them at all. I guess a good Shinobi would possess the ability to remain quiet.

The lines of his body were in perfect alignment and balancing the books seemed effortless. Madame cooed happily as he walked fluidly, the delicate balance of strength and grace coexisting in his steps. The books on his head didn't even tilt or move.

When Ryu finished his walk, he removed one of the books from his head and placed it on top of mine. When I laughed, Ryu shot a playful grin my way.

Madam Baila floated over, "That is what your walk should look like! Powerful, quiet, yet coordinated and easy. He moved as sinuously as a feline! As liquidly as an assassin."

"Well I guess this makes up for you sucking something awful in tennis," Wolfe laughed.

"Wolfe what are you talking about," Zero interjected, "It takes a great deal of talent to hit the ball into the net as accurately as Ryu does."

Wolfe and Silver laughed heartily and I was surprised when just the slightest flush of color rose to Ryu's face. His fist twitched and before he could rely, Lady Angora stepped towards us, "I hope this lesson wasn't too tiring."

"Lady, it was awful," Wolfe bemoaned.

"Well, this is the final lesson for today," Lady Angora smirked, "I can imagine you're all very eager to relax. I was just informed dinner was completed. Let's pay a visit to the locker rooms one last time and then you shall retired to the dining hall."

"Hey Weegee."

"Yes-a Wolfe?"

"Straighten your shoulders a little, you're slouching."

I halted, turning to look at the suitors. I laughed quietly when Wolfe adjusted Luigi's posture, making him stand perfectly straight; what is this? Are they really using what they learned in ballet today!? I thought Wolfe was being facetious, but his focused, grave expression said otherwise.

Oh my Stars, they are NOT really doing this.

"Mama mia, I can't have-a that," Luigi sounded exasperated, "I don't want to walk like a drunk piranha."

Silver blinked, "Y-You what? I never noticed h-how bad my posture was until this c-class."

Ryu, perfectly serious—maybe even a little too serious—advised, "If you picture having a swan neck, it really helps."

And with that said, the last of my control disappeared as I dissolved into peals of laughter. Then suitors peered at me curiously before shrugging, "...What's her deal?"

Across thousands of miles of terrain, where the golden sand finally transformed into fertile, green land was where the Aqualands border began. The day was overcast, clouds heavy and pregnant with rain and yet hordes of citizens gathered. Taurus' administration had strategically chosen the popular Undine plaza to give his speech.

It was a place where citizens of middle class could come and shake his hand, see him in person, and be fooled into thinking he was different from all the other richies. That unlike the others, he was a richie that was grounded and down to earth. A real man of the people.

And the second a white limousine arrived, emblazoned with the royal family's seal, the crowd went into a frenzy. Out stepped the handsome prince and the beautiful queen, velvet capes long enough that they brushed the floor.

Prince Aqualand shook hands with the commoners and engaged each man by looking him the eye, picked up a few babies and coquettishly flirted with the younger women nearby.

After receiving a riveting applause, the prince graciously helped his mother up the stairs before trekking his way up to the elevated podium. He gave one last round of waves and flashed several dazzling smiles before beginning.

"My fellow Aqualandians" he spoke in a warm, velvety voice, wearing a more traditional Aqualandian armor encased with shimmering blue scales and a cape patterned like the Aqualandian familial animal, the killer whale, "I believe that honesty is the best policy. And we're proud of the sense of integrity we've established with our citizenry. As an open door monarchy, we will inform you of everything that occurs. Tensions are high, and our ally Sarasaland, feels disenfranchised."

A low buzz of disapproval rose in the air.

"Alas, it is the Aqualandian way to always seek compromise. We have extended our hand out to them, a prospect for peace. Within three day's time, I shall meet with their emperor and demand for a peaceful solution. The eyes of the world are upon us and we will not falter. We've poured too much sweat, blood and tears into this treaty. We've poured too much heart, soul and bone..."

For the duration of the speech, the Aqualandian parliament stood behind their crown prince, sagely nodding their heads in cue of his riveting words and clapping with superficial contentment at his highlights. And to Taurus' right stood the willowy queen Aqualand.

Adorned in an expensive dress that shone like a coterie of pearls, Gemini was a true vision of beauty. Her silver eyes were star stuck, aglow with dreamy clouds of pride; when she saw her son speak, perhaps in his stead she imagined his fair, kind father orating, a man who was just as charismatic and eloquent as her child.

"So sons and daughters of the sea," Taurus' voice percolated over the enraptured crowd with a matured, smooth quality that had been masterfully honed, "we will give the Desert people a chance for peace. We shall open our arms and meet them in the middle and by the time negotiations are over, we will see what their true character is. Shall they allow petulant pride to besmirch our pact, or will they rise up and become the people we know they are capable. We shall see. Thank you for your time and consideration. May the seas of Aqualandia always be calm and the waters blue."

Taurus stepped away from the microphone only to be rewarded with a hearty applause from the large roiling crowd. The first person he sought out was the most important, as he gave the crowd one last wave before encircling his arm within his mother's.

Gemini turned her son's head and planted a generous, affectionate kiss on his cheek, making the crowd coo and cameras glitter in a wild burst of flashes.

Taurus laughed deeply, uttering words to his mother that were lost beneath the excited crowd's clamor. With one last hug, Taurus approached the members of Aqualandian parliament, shaking hands with each man.

Most congratulated him on a masterful speech, and those who were image conscious grappled him in a hug as fondly as they would their grandson. Taurus politely inquired about their families and laughed at a few witty jokes before he shuttled his mother back into her limo.

She peered up at him as he bent down to smile at her, "I'll see you in time for supper?"

"You will, Mother."


His expression lightened, "I promise."

"Good, you need to eat," she gently reached towards his face to cup his cheek, "You're starting to get so thin. I worry about you."

Taurus' expression cooled, as he gently took his mother's hand within his, "I'm fine. I'll be back in time for dinner, alright? You know my word is as good as pearls."

"Alright. Love you."

Once he was sure his mother was comfortable, he offered one last amiable wave as the queen's limo headed for palace Aqualandian. Once the sleek limo disappeared from sight, Taurus headed to his own chauffeur.

"Good speech there, Kid."

Taurus spun around, true surprise and mirth crossing his staid features, "Uncle!? Holy—! When did you get back!?"

A loud, rousing laughter boomed from the general, "Just got back with the troops. Now pull it in boy."

When his uncle made a grab for him, Taurus smirked, quickly sidestepping the hug. His uncle broke into a rare burst of laughter as he roughly pulled his nephew into a jarring embrace, one hard enough to cause a few of the vertebrae to pop in the prince's spine. He fondly ruffled Taurus' hair until it was a bedraggled blond nest.

Leo was Taurus' father's elder brother who had made a name for himself as a decorated war general. He was a severe man who rarely smiled and showed his devotion towards his family through actions more than flowery words.

After the sudden death of his younger brother, Leo was the rightful heir to the throne, but the pretentious attitudes and spurious words of the political arena rubbed him the wrong way.

Leo was a simple, straight forward man who though blunt, was honest. He ran the Aqualands until his nephew—the second in line for the throne—came of age and all but happily ceded the throne.

It had been a move he had never second guessed; Taurus masterfully understood and breathed the right etiquette and knew which grandiloquent words to employ.

"Is your mom gone?"

Taurus smirked, "Yes, Uncle. Go ahead."

"Good," Leo grunted, "I don't want her nagging me to death. Remember. What Gem doesn't know won't hurt her."

The general fished out a metal case from his overcoat and popped it open, pulling out a cylindrical cigar. Taurus smirked, watching the unorthodox way his Uncle simply chopped the cap with a pocket knife, before whipping out a lighter.

Uncle Leo took a deep inhale, closing his eyes and luxuriating in the flavor before exhaling, "Stars that's good. I just got back into the borders and heard some shit about those Desert people. What is that about?"

"It's nothing Uncle," Taurus smiled, "though I was hoping you'd know when the Sarasalandian emperor will arrive?"

His Uncle's silver eyes narrowed broodingly, "Border patrol says he'll be here in three days, early noon."

"Good," Taurus barely smiled, "the sooner he comes the sooner things can finally began."

The Prince was already halfway into his limousine before his uncle stopped him, "Taurus, I caught your speech on the radio. Stars almighty you sound just like...Well I know I don't tell you this nearly enough but I'm really proud, Kid."

Taurus slowed down to peer at Leo, mouth lax from surprise. His uncle had never been the optimistic fool his father was. Uncle Leo was brusque, told you exactly what he thought and was callous from battle.

Taurus knew him as a man of few words who rarely smiled and the fact Leo was doing so now spoke volumes, "I'm glad you're doing all in your power to promote peace. Contradiction is one helluva thing isn't it? A general wanting peace? But real war is about defending your family, protecting your country and not simply destroying someone else's land. Look Kid, your father would have been proud. Gem looked like she wanted to cry up there. We're all proud of you, Son."

Something flickered across Taurus' face, something the retired veteran mistook as sentimentality, when in truth in had been raw fury. Taurus' gray eyes were stony and dark until he forced a smile, "Then in that case, if I remind you of father then I am definitely doing the right thing. Will I see you at dinner? Mother would be thrilled."

His uncle didn't smile, but his expression softened, "You will. Have the servants break out the Goomba scotch. I could use a little of that in my life."

"Will do." With one last firm clasp of his uncle's arm, Taurus nodded before liquidly slipping into the fresh leather upholstery of his limousine.

As the limo drove away, engine purring in a soft, dull hum, the tinted windows shielded Taurus from the outside world as the prince seethed. Prince Aqualandian's mounting fury shot an explosive fire through his veins as his hands clenched the upholstery so tight his knuckles bled white with strain.

I remind him of Father? No, Uncle doesn't mean that at all. I am nothing like that pathetic fuckwit. He wasn't fit to rule, but I am. And anyone who questions my rule shall pay dearly. An example is to be made of those Desert peasants. Beginning and ending with that pompous emperor and his little ill-mannered Desert bitch.

Taurus ground his jaw irritably; that comparison to his father just about ruined his high and it wouldn't do to sulk at dinner. He needed something to work his frustrations out on. An idea came to mind, an idea that had ample hips and long legs to die for. Taurus pressed a single button on his cell phone and waited. It was answered in one click.

"Come stai, Bella," his purr took on a low, masculine growl, "Guess who's back in town? . Oh? You like it when I speak Aqualandian? Sei la ragazza più carina che nonsco. How about you meet me in my quarters in twenty? Perfect. I'll even get that champagne you like. The one that makes you do the craziest things. Haha stunning. See you soon, ciao bella. "

With a careless flick, Taurus hung up, just the faintest smirk playing upon his lips. He peered at the cloudy sky anticipating the moment he'd get to meet with Emperor Sakuro. And he wouldn't just knock him down a few pegs, he'd make that prick emperor and his bratty daughter regret ever crossing him.

"I can't wait to take a hot-a bath," Luigi moaned, "My muscles I didn't know-a I had are aching-a!"

It was late afternoon and it was nearly time for me to retrieve Bowser for our promised stroll. He had missed the entire day's fun, and something about finally seeing him made my pulse race. I guess I didn't realize I would miss him so much; I wonder what I'll do when he returns to the Darklands, what about when the other suitors return home tomorrow?

"Whew!" Wolfe wiped his forehead, "Being you is tiring, Daisy."

I barked out a laugh, smiling wickedly, "Why, you boys sound a little tired. Aww what's wrong, can't handle being a princess for a day?"

Ryu laughed, "It's just as I thought, I may have been a Shinobi my whole life, but ballet is the real deadly art. And your instructor is one of the deadliest, most battle-hardened assassins I've met."

"See! And you boys thought it was easy," I smirked locking both Ryu and Silver into one-armed hugs. I turned to Luigi and playfully poked him in the stomach. Lulu must have been ticklish as he emitted a wave of laughter.

"I never t-thought it'd be easy..." Silver admitted quietly, "B-But I agree with Ryu. Your dance instructor is uh...w-well, kind of...evil."

"Hell, I won't lie! I thought your life would be suuuuper easy!" Wolfe laughed, "Aren't most princess' fed a steady diet of manicures and shopping spree galore?! Actually all this hard work you do makes me like you more."

The usual fierce, vibrant gleam in Wolfe's golden eyes warmed as his wild smile mellowed. The rich color of his eyes made me think of a honeycomb; whenever Wolfe softened up, there was something terribly disarming and charismatic about him. As a Canine it was bred in his bones to be brave, feral and wild, but when it came to me, he was sweet and showed his own brand of rough chivalry.

"Wolfe," Zero appeared and against the golden burn of late afternoon, his form was entirely a dark silhouette, "Would you mind joining me? It'd only be a moment."

Wolfe remained at ease, though something behind his eyes sharpened, "Yeah sure man, what is it?"

Zero made a motion for Wolfe to follow and with nothing else said, he turned and walked down the hall, long dark coat trailing behind his steps like a shadow; whatever Zero had to say, he didn't want me, or anyone else present. Wolfe stared after him before facing me with a smile, "Be right back Sugarplum."

I beamed as Silver half-laughed, "Sugarplum!?"

"Yup, that's my nickname for my princess," Wolfe nuzzled his nose against mine before pulling away and jogging after Zero, "So don't steal it! Besides Ry calls her 'Dogo' or something."

Ryu arched a brow subtly, "...You mean Deiji?"

"Yeah that. Later!" And with an enthusiastic wave, Wolfe turned to follow Zero.

Wolfe walked down the silent hallway with only the sound of his clomping boots echoing through the deserted halls. Zero's recognizable scent was a fusion of leather, papers and books and the longer Wolfe traveled the hall way, the stronger the councilor's scent grew.

It wasn't much longer when Wolfe found Zero peering over the Sarasalandian skyline, arms crossed and expression blank as he stared over the glowing horizon of the nearby capital city. The golden blaze of the sun set the entire sky afire in a scintillating topaz brilliance that made the skyscrapers and buildings seem as if they were made of solid gold.

Wolfe placed a hand on his hip and tapped his foot in a show of impatience, "Alright Zero. What is it you wanted to see me for? If you've invited me out here just to insult me again, I'm going to punch you in the face."

Zero poured himself a glass of tea-colored liquor into an expensive crystal glass, "Would you like a glass? Aged Luma bourbon goes down smooth."

"Nah, pass," Wolfe scrunched up his face, "Besides you might have poisoned it or something."

"Come now Wolfe, where's the fun in that? I've expressly planned to kill you with my bare hands," though straight-faced, there was an amused twinkle in Zero's eyes that refuted any validity in his statement.

"...Yeah see, that's creepy when you do that. You need to work on your people skills...I almost couldn't tell you were joking."

"Jokes side, there's something I've been curious about," Zero finally gave his full attention to Wolfe, coffee eyes bright under the strong dessert sun, "Yesterday night, you saved King Bowser. Why?"

"Why?" Wolfe frowned in confusion, "Why what?"

"Why did you help him?" Zero replied simply.

"Wouldn't any reasonable person have helped him?" Wolfe asked, "Or did what they could have to help?"

"Maybe," Zero shifted his drink," but not to the lengths you went through."

"Would you have helped him?" Wolfe asked softly, "Be me for a sec, if some group of jackasses knocked you out—or tried to—and then you see them beating the crap out of Bowser, you wouldn't have tried to help him?"

Zero mediated on his words long enough for a stale gap of silence to pass, "I certainly wouldn't have ran in there and risked my neck for him. Or if I did get involved, it would have been to pay them back and not to help King Bowser."

Wolfe shrugged, not knowing what to say.

"So, it really didn't cross your mind that you were helping a rival?" Zero asked, no inflection in his voice, and yet he was studying Wolfe carefully, "Someone you know who is very close to Princess Sarasaland? It might have actually behooved you to have let him die."

Wolfe froze, shock and even horror contorting his features before they settled into an incredulous glare, "What!? How could you even say that!? Are you agreeing with what Taurus did!?"

"No. Not one bit. Taurus has made a political move so irrefutably stupid that he's not only managed to piss off Sarasaland, but also the Darklands, the Mushroom Kingdom, Moonstone, and of course as you know, Land's End."

"Did you just say 'political move'!? As in you only care about political crap?" Wolfe frowned, "What about Taurus being a deplorable son of a bitch and trying to have Bowser killed for no reason? And not to mention his guards, people, whatever they were attacked me too."

"I won't pretend that it wasn't a low down thing to do," Zero shrugged, "But we both know King Bowser is neither a victim nor is he completely innocent. If anything that may have been some sort of karma for all of the wicked deeds he has done. And truthfully I think you were nothing more than collateral damage; Taurus wasn't after you, but it was certainly a bonus that he got a free shot in on you."

Wolfe glared, staring at Zero with the hopes of understanding him. Was it even worth trying to figure the laconic Desert councilor out?

Maybe his mom had been right when she had characterized her son as blindly optimistic; an intrinsic part of Wolfe believed that everyone had some shred of good in them and that no one was irredeemable.

Except Taurus.

And he had originally believed the same thing about Bowser. When Wolfe first saw the Koopa King in person, the proud warrior in his blood pined for the chance to test his strength against the biggest, baddest dude out there. Also, a major chunk of him wanted to soundly kick the king's ass for giving poor Princess Peach such a hard time.

He really didn't like guys who were mean to girls. But over these past few days, Wolfe had not only come to change his mind, but he genuinely liked Bowser.

There were far too many likeable similarities the king shared with the members of the Canine clan, and Bowser wasn't really as mean as he pretended to be.

As he had misjudged Bowser, had he mistakenly misjudging Zero too? But it was so difficult to understand Zero because everything he said was so confusing and when Zero did finally make sense, his words were so blunt and jarring that it usually pissed off anyone with a reasonable moral compass.

Deciding that he was indeed wasting his time having an internal debate, Wolfe turned away, glaring at the setting sky, "You know why I helped him?" the Canine heir spoke softly, "Because I can relate to him."

Amused, Zero arched an eyebrow, "How so? By having scales? Breathing fire? Being the king of the most powerful nation?"

"Not all that unimportant stuff," Wolfe's expression lost the hard edge, "Lots of people look down on Koopas for being different. I can relate 'cause Canines get that a lot too. There's tons of idiots who say we're inferior, and savages and stupid stuff like that. And I don't know if Bowser was singled out for being or Koopa, or because Taurus just didn't like him...or..."

"Or because he was trying to get back at the Princess?" Zero added.

"Or maybe for all three reasons, but either way...I don't think I could have lived with myself if I didn't help him," Wolfe muttered quietly.

Zero studied his profile as he silently sipped at the iced beverage, "I hate to admit it, but think I've underestimated you. Originally I thought you were terrifically simple but you're a good guy. You're even noble enough to help someone who's a strong love rival, risking personal injury as well."

Wolfe visibly relaxed, even flashing a true smile as he faced Zero. His eyes were nearly the same color as the topaz sky and just as bright. And since the ambience was friendly, Zero fired off a last question, "You think he would have done the same for you? King Bowser?"

Wolfe gazed past Zero's shoulder pensively, "You know what? I know he would have. Though knowing him, Bowser probably would have never let me hear the end of it."

Zero nodded his head before kicking back a longer draw of Luma burbon, relishing the smooth taste and the slight burn in the back of his throat.

"So..." Wolfe grinned slyly, "did you see the way that tennis trainer girl was eyeing Weegee?"

"You'd have to be blind not to have seen it. Except Luigi because he was too busy drooling over the princess."

"She's pretty cute," Wolfe spoke offhandedly, "Weegee should totally go for her, seeing as Princess Daisy is totally in love with me."

"The tennis girl is alright. She's a little too thin, not enough curves to be a knockout. And please stop with all the lies, Wolfe. The princess would have to be brain-dead to be remotely attracted to you. She can be airheaded, but she certainly doesn't suffer from brain damage."

"I'm confused, but are we getting along here?" Wolfe tried not to sound like he was going to laugh.

Zero snorted, dusting off his dark trench coat, "Stars no. I still think you're a moron. Just a noble one."

Wolfe smirked, figuring that was going to be the best and only compliment he would receive from the jerkass; maybe he had misjudged Zero after all.

Then what Zero said next made Wolfe totally reconsider, "But it's always the noble idiots who die first, because they're too noble and too stupid for their own good."

Wolfe peered at him and frowned.

Zero smirked, before smoothly offering again, "Luma bourbon?"

"Yeah, fine. Pour me a glass. I can't stand to be around you sober."

Zero laughed with actual humor, quickly pouring a glass and handing it to the Canine heir. Wolfe took a sip then scrunched his face, recoiling as he nearly spat the drink back up, "Ugh! This tastes like water! How are you supposed to get drunk offa this!? You highlanders need to work on this! This is insulting!"

"I forget, you Canines make alcohol that's the most concentrated thing I've ever tasted. One sip probably burns your brain cells to hell—actually that would explain exactly why you are they way you are."

Wolfe smirked, "You're just mad I can drink you under a table."

They both turned to look at the sunset and Wolfe laughed, "You sure we're not friends now? We just had a manly heart to heart and everything."

Zero didn't bother to look in his direction, "Wolfe?"


"Would you kindly shut the hell up? Thanks."

The afternoon was slowly melding into the sensual rich reds and oranges that bespoke of sunset's rubicund accession. Father was still busy meeting with the Grand Elder Council as the last vestiges of supper silverware were collected and cleared away.

I stepped out of my bedchambers dressed in the plainest of robes and a headscarf to cover my hair; even at sundown it was a blistering 110 degrees and I had no plans of roasting.

I thought about visiting Grammy once more, but her maid had kindly shooed me away, reassuring that the empress was finally receiving a well-deserved rest. I began to head towards the guestroom suites and wrapped on the door.

The door slowly creaked open and Bowser appeared, smirking, "Ready to go—hey! Who is this? Where's my Flower?"

Bowser laughed, trying to lift the plain headscarf from my hair as I lightly swatted his intrusive hand away, "Don't you know it's 110 degrees outside!? I don't know about you but I don't want to be roasted to a crisp. You know, it might just be me but you're looking better and better each time I see you. Those starman potions must be working."

He smirked, "It won't be long 'til I'm back to being a sex symbol again."

I rolled my eyes, "You sure you don't want anything to cover your head? It's gonna be hot. Also the Towtows drool and slobber all over my clothes, so I'm not wearing anything fancy."

"I bet they do drool all over you," Bowser chuckled as half of his mouth lifted into a grin, "You make one hell of a cute shepherd girl. I dig the look."

My cheeks seared as I spun away to avoid his sly smile, "W-We should get going. We're gonna take it easy considering your injuries..."

"Very well," his voice was imbued with a satiny purr, "Lead the way then shepherd girl."

I blinked, realizing Bowser was slowly leaning in closer. When he was nothing but inches away, a loud, pitchy squeak made him freeze. Kooples tottered over, appearing beside the king's leg. The Koopaling chirruped and cooed something to Bowser before peering at me with big, curious baby eyes.

Bowser answered back in a low rumbling purr before gently nudging him forward. Kooples sucked his thumb, checking back with Bowser one last time before ambling over and tugging at my robes.

"Well hello there Kooples. Did you enjoy your nap?" I cooed, quickly picking the Koopaling up. Kooples chirruped and yipped happily. He eventually settled, deciding to comfortably rest his head against my sternum. He seemed to relax even further as I swayed from side to side like a lazy pendulum.

Bowser smirked coolly, "It seems like you're really good with...Koopalings."

I laughed, "I dunno what to tell you Bowser, but Koopalings seem to like me more. Our babies seem so fragile and you have to cradle them a certain way or they fuss. Koopalings seem more...resilient."

"—ou like some of your own?"

I could barely hear what he had said since he had spoken so softly, "Huh? What did you say?"

He must have laughed at an inside joke, "Nothing Flower. Ready to go?"

"Yeah sure, just let me find a maid to watch over Kooples."

I deposited Kooples with an older maid who all but glowed with maternal instincts. She had been elated to watch the adorable Koopaling and told us to take as long as we wished.

It was a lengthy procession but I eventually brought Bowser to the relatively undisclosed castle pasture. Grammy was definitely right, no one would think to check for us here.

The pasture was quiet, save for the occasional bleat or baa and the rustling amongst the tall grass. Here the Towtows grazed; they were cute ram-like creatures who were curious and relatively friendly so long as they weren't abruptly awoken and if they were, they went into a terrifying murderous rampage.

The second I walked into the heard, I was greeted with a barrage of happy bleats, inquisitive baas, wandering tongues and wet noses checking my palm for any hidden treats. I reached for my leather satchel and dug out a handful of dried apple bits. The Towtows knew what that meant and they gathered around, gently nibbling from my palms.

"Hello ladies," I chirped, allowing the ewes to affectionately nudge, nibble and nip my fingers, "How are we and the little ones today? Oh don't fight! No fighting, there's plenty for all!"

More and more Towtows were herding around, nosing around for a treat and my palms definitely weren't big enough for all of them to eat from. I grinned as an idea came to mind. I took Bowser's hand and unfurled it. He shot an inquisitive glance my way as I smiled.

He watched as I dumped a small pile of dried fruit into his hand and lowered it for the Towtows to consume. At first they seemed wary, unsure of eating from the palms of a stranger but a baby Towtow who lacked the reservation of the others dove in, gobbling and slobbering all over Bowser's hand.

The king made a face and once the other Towtows saw that they were safe, they crowded around, munching happily from Bowser's outstretched palms.

"There, that isn't too bad, eh Bowser?" I smirked.

"Besides the drool, no. It kind of tickles," he spoke softly.

"I didn't know you were ticklish," I grinned.

He looked up with a grin, "You know where I'm the most ticklish at?"


"My neck," his grin grew slyer, "Plant a couple of kisses there and I melt like butter. Come on over and melt me—Stars these damn things are drooling everywhere."

The baby Towtows hopped around, clamoring and prancing about in wiggly, inept excitement. They were always happy to see guests, especially someone new they hadn't seen before. Their stubby tails wagged as they bleated loudly, sniffing and nosing around near Bowser. A few of the Towtow babies padded closer and I quickly reached into my satchel and fed them treats, "And I see the little ones are good."

Standing a ways off and being standoffish as usual was the alpha of the Towtows, a prideful male I had named Noozles. What!? Yeah, I know it's a silly name but I had been three when I gave him that name!

Noozles was the biggest of the Towtows, towering an impressive eight-ish feet in height with an ego and a temper that could rival both the circumference and intensity of the sun.

Noozles stood in the open pasture, burly form proud and tall as his impressive, spiraling pearly horns glimmered under the desert sunlight. With his head held to the sky, Noozles peered down his nose at everything and everyone with a bored, pretentious gaze.

I had shepherded Noozles and his flock since childhood and that was the only way to gain the alpha's trust. Noozles pretended to ignore me, all the while watching from the corner of his vision. He was just too proud to completely turn his head and look my way.

Towtow alphas were very territorial and reacted violently when they felt their flock or terrain threatened, but I had been around the flock long enough to become familiar. I approached Noozles, reaching into my satchel to offer him a handful of treats, "Hey there Big guy. Want some treats? C'mon, I know you do."

Noozles had too much pride to hungrily wolf down treats from my palm in an undignified manner. He pretended to hover impassively nearby and just when I turned to leave, he bent his large head down and devoured the treat with relish. I laughed, giving his shaggy wool one good pat, "Noozles, must we always put on a stern front. We both know you love treats just like everyone else."

He snorted before turning away and resuming his post as guardian of his flock. When I walked back to Bowser, Noozles glared in his direction.

Noozles halted, posture becoming rigid. He carefully watched Bowser from the corner of his eye, raising his nose to discreetly scent the wind.

The babes wobbled on unsteady hind legs near their mothers who were mindlessly munching on dinner. I smiled, strolling through the pasture at a pace slow enough to accommodate Bowser's careful limp. As prideful as ever, Bowser kept a straight face, pretending that he wasn't in pain. But his obvious limp said otherwise.

"So what do you think of our pastures?" I held out my arms, gesturing towards the wide span of fertile meadow. The Towtows ate, slept, snored and played amongst the thick golden meadow.

Bowser peered around, brows furrowed with thought, "It's alright. I didn't think Sarasaland would have their princess working as a humble shepherd though. Still don't get the thought behind that one."

"Father always hated the idea of raising a spoiled heir. So, to make sure I grew up well-rounded, he had me try my hand at everything in the palace: the chefs taught me the basics of cooking, I helped the stable hands clean the steed stables, I learned how to garden with the groundskeepers, play sports, you name it!"

"Ah, I see," Bowser arched a brow, smirking with amusement, "So you could run the entire palace if need be."

"Hmm, you know, I didn't even think of it that way," I smiled up at him, "Did your Father have you do anything like that?"

"No. It was beneath me," Before I could correct him, Bowser continued, "Morton thought chores were for commoners. He only had me doing things that were regal; learning war strategy, combat, anything that could make me ruthless. Things a warrior king would need to know."

I tried to be discreet when I peered over at him. I gratuitously studied the impressive, sculpted muscles in his arms and the spiked bands only seemed to draw attention to the corded glory of his biceps. Was his entire form that muscular?

Then a flicker of him on the cruiser came to mind; Stars yes he was. Even as a child I had always had a thing for muscles; I even remember being no older than seven when I boldly declared to Lady Angora how I wanted to marry a big, strong pirate because pirates were big and had tons of muscles.

Lady Angora of course had been horrified.

Grammy on the other hand had laughed her ass off.

"...Oh," I whispered, not knowing what to add, "Warrior king huh? That would certainly explain all those pretty muscles. You look like a statue sculptors made in ancient times..."

We both froze, startled by the words that had accidentally popped out of my mouth. I hastily cursed, slapping a hand to my treacherous mouth; sheyt! Was my brain and mouth linked together in some kind of messed up telepathy!?

Bowser slowly turned to face me with an incomprehensible expression that set my temperature ablaze. I could feel the blood rushing to my face as I stammered, "Uh...w-what I meant by that"

He still seemed astonished, and I was surprised when just the faintest pink glow lit his cheeks. He peered at me almost diffidently, "Flower? Are you...saying you l-like how I—?"

Bowser blinked when he felt a tiny nudge against his leg. He peered down at a newborn male Towtow named Fiddlesticks, who's tiny, spiraling horns hadn't grown in yet. The Towtow bleated before moving back, pawing the earth with a tiny hoof to prepare for a second charge. I laughed; was Fiddle challenging Bowser in a show of dominance!? Was he fighting to protect me?

I burst into laughter, "Bowser! I think Fiddlesticks is trying to tell you to get off his turf!"

Bowser smirked, eyes narrowed to slits, "The lil punk thinks he can kick my ass, huh? I know a challenge when I see one. What are we about to throw down for? Are we fighting over a shepherd girl? Well then game on."

The king grinned wickedly, dropping into a three-point stance and nearly mirroring the way Fiddlesticks lowered his head. As Fiddlesticks blinked, peering in Bowser's direction warily, the Koopa king chuckled before releasing one low, reverberating growl that frightened the poor thing.

Fiddlesticks blinked large dark eyes, before bleating in fear. He fell over carelessly, bleating and calling out as he hurriedly scampered behind my leg.

I laughed, patting Fiddlestick's head and digging into my satchel for a treat, "Shame on you Bowser! How dare you mess with Fiddlesticks like that! He's only trying to protect me from you!"

Bowser's loud chortle filled the air. He grinned largely, rising to his full height, "Little bugger punk got what he deserved if he's trying to keep me from you. No force on earth can keep me from yo—"

And before Bowser could finish, there was a loud, shrill gnarr and something plowed into him, knocking him off his feet and onto his ass. Noozles had plowed into him like a freight train.

I cursed viciously; rushing over to the felled king, "Bowser! O-Oh my Stars! Are you okay!?"

Something flickered in the corner of my vision. Noozles was half-way across the pasture, prancing away with a loping, prideful scamper in his gait. Noozles peered at Bowser from the corner of his eyes with a conceited, smug stare that screamed; yeah, I did just put you flat on your ass.

I covered my mouth, trying to stifle my laughter. Bowser shot up, shaking his head clear and glared, catching the tail end of Noozle's triumphant trot.

The King's visage twisted in fury as he growled wildly, snorting smoke and tendrils of fire from his nostrils, "That horny little bastard!"

Bowser rose to his feet unsteadily, growling and beginning to stomp towards Noozles with clear, foreboding intent. I quickly rushed in front of him, placing my palms onto his shell to prevent his march, "Bowser! Whoa! Calm down! He didn't mean anything by it!"

"'Didn't mean anything' my ass," Bowser growled, fists raised and eyes blazing, "He knew exactly what the hell he was doing! Starting shit all willy nilly! This...ram...goat...whatever he is, if it wants to lock horns with the king then he'd gonna get the king!" He growled.

Then I thought of something, "Bowser...?"

"Oh no, no no, don't try to talk me out of this Flower. He knows exactly what he did. Look, he's still prancing around."


"What?" he growled thickly, still fuming.

Then I thought of something, half laughing as I said it,"...Did you just call Noozles a horny bastard!?"

"..." His fury dissipated as he blinked, peering down at me wordlessly.


In one similar breath, we both burst into laughter. Bowser continued laughing before he suddenly quit, turning once again to chase down Noozles. I was still laughing as I raced after him, grabbing his arm to halt him, "Come on, just chill. Please?"

Then I thought of something, and with a sly smirk, "Por favorre mi golgo?"

Bowser couldn't hide his grin if he tried, "Had to bust out the friggin' big guns on me huh? I give. I give hundreds of times over with you and that voice."

I grinned cheekily, "Maybe I just know what works on you."

The king chuckled, " where were we? Right. Walking. Wanna take a little walk? I still don't trust that Noodles guy."


"Yeah, him."

We began to stroll around the pasture, petting and feeding the Towtows who had been friendly enough to encroach us. Even Bowser began to feed the occasional baby, watching as they chewed apple bits from his large palms.

"You know," I spoke softly, "In Sarasalandian culture, couples take strolls together."

"Huh? What do you mean?"

I looked away, "I mean that, when two people are romantically involved, they take strolls together and it's known that they're dating."

"Really?" Bowser smirked slyly, "So if someone saw us right now...?"

I laughed, "Yes, they'd think we were seeing each other. You can usually judge their relationship by their closeness. Married couples walk close enough that they're usually touching in some way or another."

"That's interesting," the king smirked.

After that shared information, it wasn't lost on me when Bowser began to discreetly shift closer. He was so close I could feel the warmth of form. I finally broke into laughter as the king shot an amused grin my way, "What?"

"Do you think you're slick!? Like I wouldn't notice that?" I laughed, lightly shoving his arm, "You totally moved closer."

"Does it bother you?" he asked, smiling with less intensity.

I didn't even think twice, "No, it doesn't."

Bowser's expression softened genially and he must have been content since he didn't feel the need to speak another word. Sunset blazed across the desert sky in flaming braids of topaz and ruby. The blistering heat had long dissolved and the desert was starting to slither into unbearable glacial cold; even during summer, Sarasaland's desert was treacherous and terribly capricious, scalding hot during the day and deathly cold at night.

Behind us lay the Towtows' pasture. I sat on the wooden fence, peering up at the sky as Bowser stood by my side, arms crossed and expression thoughtful.

I was more than aware of how every now and then his arm would brush against mine, and yet he never shied away; Bowser seemed perfectly comfortable. The air adopted an unsavory chill and I tried not to make it too obvious when I leaned against him; he was always warm.

As he studied the sky with his standard fierce glower, I wondered what he thought about. Is he meditating on something profound, like life's trials or are his thoughts shallow like a stream, contemplating when he'd eat his next meal or the next movie he'd see.

"You worried Purga?" The soft, deep voice of my best friend was shrouded in velvet.

"A little," I whispered. The cool wind shoved wild, unruly curls into my face. With an impatient sweep of my hand, I pushed the whipping red tendrils from my eyes and retied the headdress over my head, "I wish this whole thing would just blow over. You know, in the beginning I wished something would come along and interrupt my courtship so I wouldn't have to get married. Wish granted, in a twisted, bitter kind of way."

I sighed deeply, peering up at the blood-red sky. Another annoying gust of wind sprayed curly fringe into my eyes. I blew a raspberry, impatiently shoving my hair back from my face.

While I was fighting a losing battle against the fierce wind, Bowser was carefully studying my profile. I ignored it, until I noticed he was continuing to stare. A large flush crept up my face as he proactively studied my features with calm, thoughtful eyes. What gives!? Just how long has he been looking at me like that for!?

Fed up with being embarrassed, I snapped around, "W-What?" I breathed unsteadily, "You've been looking at me for a whole minute now!"

I expected Bowser to become defensive, or at least deny the action, but he didn't. His vigilant expression never wavered, "Does that make you nervous?" He asked quietly in a low, quiet voice.


Whoa! Whoa! I was so startled I turned and looked at him. The usual sly blaze of mischief his eyes held had softened. His expression was both soft yet serious. I froze, lips parted as I drank in the new, ruminative aura.

Bowser was carefully watching, observing me with an unusual intelligence and care I didn't think him capable of having. He was no longer irrational or hot tempered but composed, and I found that I had to take him seriously.

"Me nervous? Around you?" I tried to ignore the way my voice cracked.

But instead of rolling his eyes as he normally would when I lied terribly, Bowser continued to meticulously study my face, trying to decipher what I was really thinking, what I was truly trying to hide. In two seconds flat my face burned so red, "Bowser! W-What the hell!?"

"What?" he barely smirked, "I thought I didn't make you nervous...?"

"Wha—? Y-You don't it's just..." I floundered terribly.

"You sure?" he spoke in a smooth, cool drawl, amusement coloring his voice, "Your heart rate accelerated, eyes dilated, all signs that you're indeed nervous."

His last word died away softly into a sparse whisper, and I was suddenly aware of how close Bowser was drawing to me and how intensely he continued to watch me; it only seemed to make my heart race crazier.

"Uh...You're just..." I choked up, mind reeling in dizzying circles, "What are you d-doing?"

He carefully moved a lock of hair from my face. As he did so, he smoothed a claw across my cheekbone, "You had hair in your eyes, it wasn't uncomfortable was it?"

I stared; what does fixing my hair have to do with him touching my face!? Bowser smirked knowingly, red eyes alive like fire; what was going on here!? Bowser suddenly didn't seem like the lovable moron I could trick and laugh at.

There was something intelligent about this new Bowser and I suddenly didn't see him as my ill-tempered, seemingly dull-witted friend. Was I finally dealing with the ruling entity of the Darklandians? The king who spearheaded the most successful kingdom.

I swallowed nervously; who was this Koopa? The one with the silky, deep voice and the hypnotic, intelligent eyes. This Bowser seemed as different as day is to night. Like the hot, wild sun that rules the day so was Bowser hot-tempered and blazing with vitality.

He was hilarious, crass and raw as hell, whereas this new Koopa was cool and tranquil as the nightshade. This Koopa didn't have an overinflated ego and thought before he spoke. I couldn't read him but he sure could read me.

And it freaked me out.

I was going to refer to him as Pensive Bowser. And Pensive Bowser was effortlessly cutting through my calm and surety. One moment Bowser's expression was meditative and the next it liquidly shifted into amusement. He suddenly grinned, peering down at me, "Yes?"

"Huh? I didn't...say anything..."

"You were staring for a while, so I figure you must want to know something. That or you just realized how majestic I look during sunset."

I laughed; was Pensive Bowser gone? Was I in the clear now? The relaxed, carefree air made me think so. Thank the Stars..."I was wondering what you were thinking about before..."

Before you went Pensive Bowser on me.

"Things," he shrugged noncommittally, "Like how the Koopalings are doing and I hope the twins haven't drawn mustaches and monocles on all the ancestor portraits again. I'm also wondering how many more days I have before I've got to leave Sarasaland. A shitstorm is waiting back at home."

"I guess I should have known," I replied softly, "I knew you'd leave eventually but..."

"Flower, let it be known I don't want to go," Bowser sighed deep enough to exhale smoke, "But any monarchy that's anywhere near intelligent is going to order their king to leave your borders. Not only is the safest action, but it's also the most neutral."

"Yeah, I know," I whispered.

Bowser grinned, "Okay. Your turn. What's going on in that head of yours?"

"Didn't realize this was a game," I mused quietly, "Fine. What do you think? Do you think this will all smooth over?"

Bowser peered at the sunset, eyes nearly the same color as the sky. The rich garnet red sky reflected so deeply within his eyes, I could barely make the distinction between the glowing sky and his irises, "It can go lots of ways, Flower, nothing's black and white in the political world. In the best case scenario everything can be smoothed out, a new treaty made or..."

"Or?" I nearly choked on the word.

He tried to sound nonchalant, "Or they break off the treaty for good and Sarasalandian finds a new water source."

I shook my head," How are we going to acquire that much water in so little time? The Grand council already said they've started taping into the reserve wells. Rain season this year was nonexistent and going to another kingdom leaves us wide open for price inflation. So how are we going to stock up without completely emptying the treasuries?"

Bowser chuckled sonorously, "Flower, when I said you'd protect you, I didn't just mean from physical harm. I meant from anything; that extends to your kingdom, protecting your people's well-being, etcetera."

Hope fluttered in my chest. I turned to face him, surprise and awe glowing on my features, "Bowser...Are you—? Wait, no. I can't let you do all that. Your offer is kind. Too kind. And I really appreciate it but I can't—"

He waved me off, "I'm not going to hear otherwise and I'm definitely not going to take a no for an answer," Bowser grinned wildly, "You're just going to accept I'm helping you and that's that."

Bowser...I, how am I supposed to repay your kindness?" I whispered, "I'm really touched you're...I-I..."

"You seem stunned," he purred, "maybe even awed...?"

"'Cause I am! Thank you Bowser...and really I mean that," I could feel a treacherous scald of blush building on my face.

"Just keep it in the back of your mind, the King of the studs always has a plan B. Let's say I know a few people and I might have a few contacts that can get Sarasaland water. How much water do you need anyways? You ought to shoot some figures my way so Big Daddy can make it happen."

I did the math in my head; the five main districts each had five, ten-gallon wells. So one district alone needed fifty gallons of water, so all five would need a whopping two hundred and fifty gallons.

"Two fifty."

"Done," Bowser smirked, snapping his claws. He peered back at me through a conceited half-lidded stare, "And free of charge."

"That's not going to happen. What about the Firelands? They're not going to give us all that water!"

"I'll think of something," Bowser growled, "It's going to be a struggle, but Sarasaland will get their water. Firelands be damned."

"Also we're a decent Kingdom ran by decent people and we'll pay—"

Bowser pressed the tip of his index claw against my lip. I halted, lips parted to speak before shutting altogether. "We are allies after all, huh? So why not let me help. Really help. This is one of the few times Sarasaland really needs our assistance."

"...Alright," I whispered. Bowser grinned largely when my lips moved against his finger; purring even, "Thank you Bowser."

I was surprised when I received a melting gaze and a sonorous purr, "You're welcome Purga."

He half grinned, eyes glinting wickedly. He pressed his index claw to his mouth then pressed the same finger against my lips. I was confused, before realizing he had indirectly kissed me. He laughed deeply when I glowed three different shades of red. Flustered, I grumbled under my breath, glaring at the Towtows.

I peered at him with wonder and there must have been something about my expression as he suddenly turned to face me completely, glowing eyes sharp and endless.

"What is it?" He whispered.

"I'm awed by how...great of a friend you are. Really," I shook my head, smiling at him, "I mean it. And yet you want nothing in return."

I blushed warmly; Bowser may have been egoistic and arrogant at times, but there were moments like this that made my heart pound. This facet of his personality was wonderful, he was so generous, so chivalrous… even his eyes reflected the warmth I felt. It was touching.

"Friend and protector," he whispered deeper, "And maybe I was a little dishonest. There might be something I want..."

He softly tugged the headscarf from my head, gently untangling it from my hair as the cool night air raised a shiver. He touched my face and I leaned in towards his warm palm.

"Alright my little shepherd girl, you're getting cold and I'm gonna walk you back in. The Towtow bastards are eavesdropping. Especially Mister Horny back there."

I turned around and sure enough Noozles was eying Bowser from the corner of his vision, sniffing the wind. I broke into squabbles of laughter, "You lay off Noozles, he's just trying to protect me."

"He can get in line. I'm your one and only..." he suddenly grinned, "protector that is."

Bowser started to hobble towards the palace grounds trying to walk upright and as stalwartly as any soldier. I shook my head; what did he get out of pretending to be macho? I could see the bruises and those that were hidden were tightly secured with fresh bandages.

I rushed to his side, "Slow down. Let's not rush back."

"You don't have to slow down for—"

"Because I want to spend as much time with you as I can," I smiled.

Bowser halted, carefully studying my expression before grinning largely and his tail wagged so wildly I burst out laughing, "As you wish shepherd girl."

We walked—Bowser finally didn't have to hobble too badly at our new, relaxed pace—so close to one another that our arms brushed with every other movement. And though I didn't say anything, I could hear Bowser's soft, content purr and I'm glad I wasn't the only one happy.

It was four am and quite frankly the councilmen were exhausted. They were well-dressed in their official robes and polished silver headdresses but the blood-shot eyes were evidence of their lack of rest.

The Emperor sat stationed above all others, poised behind an imposing wall of furnished marble. A nameless maid finished delivering each councilor a cup of steaming tea and with a customary bow, she left the room as silent as a shadow.

The emperor began, his resonant voice smooth like butter, even at an unholy hour, "Good morning gentlemen. We are still gathered here because we have entered a state of crisis. As you all are aware of, Prince Aqualand has terminated our alliance and subsequently terminated our supply of water. It will be months, weeks before Sarasaland finds herself in a drought."

"Is there any way to redeem the alliance?" One councilor spoke up, "You shall meet with him in three days' time and we've toiled hard for many years, decades even to secure a neutral alliance with the Aqualands."

Sakuro gave a stern disapproving glance, "Then unfortunately it was a vain toil. Our allegiance is no longer neutral. They have disrespected our princess and terminated our alliance. They are lucky if we do not go to war over such a debauchery."

"Zero told me of what had happened last night," Salini spoke in a reflective voice, "He tried to take advantage of our princess. It is because of him that the Darkalands are holding us accountable. If there is any backlash for this, then it should be from us. Taurus is arrogant, thinking this will stand."

"Right," another councilor nodded his head, "but since they hold all the cards, we are at their mercy."

Another councilor spoke, "I vote we end all contact with these vile creatures. They should be thanking their lucky Stars we haven't gone after their prince for his crimes committed against our princess."

Salini frowned, "No. We must set aside ego and do what is best for the people. We must do whatever it takes to keep this alliance so that our wells never run dry and our people will never thirst."

"Lord Salini, this man has assaulted the princess. There is no reasoning with him!"

"And there will be no reasoning with dehydrated citizens who will hold riots when they revolt!"

The verbal pingpong match began to pick up pace as the Emperor coolly reclined, listening to the debate amongst the councilors. It didn't seem as if they were going to end anytime soon.

Sakuro closed his eyes, discreetly massaging his temples; they had been discussing this same issue all day and it didn't seem as if they could resolve anything.

The media was boring down on them; digging anywhere they could to find gems of information. The stalkerrazzai had been questioning local radio stations, interviewing part-time maids and servants who had finished their shifts for the day at the palace. This whole catastrophe was one gigantic nightmare.

"That's preposterous Salini. These people want us to apologize when our princess was assaulted!? Us!?" A nameless councilor laughed disbelievingly, "What madness."

"But you can't deny that Lord Salini has a point," the verbal spar continued as another councilor interjected, "Our people need water and already we've begun to use the reserve wells. The people will riot if we lose much more."

"Stars this is complicated."

"So what should we do?"

All eyes turned to look at the emperor. Sakuro sighed, wearily rubbing at the bridge of his nose, "It is unwise to engage those who have counted themselves as enemies. However, we cannot simply ignore the painful truth: they have a good we need. We are in a state of lack and we must proceed with caution. Prince Taurus has shown himself as impetuous and immature, we must factor such things into account."

"Well said Emperor," Salini narrowed his eyes, "But what course of action shall be taken? Time is dwindling and so is our water."

"I vote—"

The door to the courtroom was thrown open. In rushed Alabaster in a flurry of desert robes, waving his arms around in panic, "EMPEROR! EMPEROR! The sky is falling!"

He ran around the front of the podium, waving his arms and running in circles as he squawked. Half of the councilors stared at him incredulously as the others glared at his lack of decorum.

"You. Servant boy. This is not a bazaar," Salini snapped at the young servant, "This is a royal courthouse, you will use the proper decorum or shall you find yourself held in contempt."

"EMP—!" Alabaster fell flat on his face.

The guards began to ominously encroach Alabaster, ready to detain him. Sakuro raised a hand and immediately the guards halted, "Lord Salini it must be important if Alabaster has stormed into here. He knows how important our court proceedings are."

"Yes!" Alabaster exclaimed, "It's very important!"

The Emperor's glacial stare warmed a fraction, "Please calm yourself, you're making everyone nervous. And once you're ready, please deliver your message Alabaster."

"Emperor!" Alabaster hopped up and down, hoping to get his liege's attention, "I have an urgent notice from Prince Jackas—erm—Prince Taurus of the Aqualands! As you know, he requests a meeting with you in three days' time. Three. But there's more!"

"He's making another demand upon us?" Salini scoffed skeptically, "The arrogance of this child knows no bounds."

"Emperor," Alabaster's eyes shone with worry, as he rushed the Emperor's podium, "He demands a meeting with you and only you or he's going to declare war against Sarasaland!"

The one word that no one wanted to hear had been finally uttered. The entire day it had been carefully skirted around and stepped over but now that war had been unleashed, the cool temperament and faked calm was terrifically destroyed.

A contagious wave of fear pulsed through the council as they muttered amongst one another with rising trepidation until the hushed whispering rose in decibel. The courtroom was nearly deafening and the moment Sakuro raised his hand, all sound hushed.

Sakuro peered at Alabaster, his expression closed, "Is this message accurate?"

"Yes sir," Alabaster peered up at him, eyes shining with emotion, "What will we do?"

Again, all heads looked to the emperor. Sakuro remained silent, impassive before he spoke, "Our choice is simple. Within three days' time, I shall meet with the prince."

Alice: Thanks for reading! How about you leave a review! :)