Standard Disclaimer

Family issues and a lot of work have kept me busy instead of writing, but nothing can be done about either of those. Unless one of you readers is a millionare that wouldn't mind gifting me some funds…didn't think so. Jezabel is still a lil crazy but handling the move well. Pool is amazing…and Witch and the Hundred Knight is almost done!

X-X

Wandering Pilot

Chapter – 23

Normally when Shinji and Leina had time to themselves Shinji was beside himself with contentment. Today however that little streak had been broken. Leina had nothing to do with it though, it was everybody else! Oh the date, if it could even be called that now was debatable, started off wonderful. He made her breakfast in bed and rubbed her feet as she ate it. It was a small reward for a hard fought battle…and after her feet her rubbed her legs, her stomach…and well Leina wanted a thorough rubbing. Making love to her still was magical.

When they had finished their third romp, Shinji forced the issue of leaving the inn. Leina admitted she'd have enjoyed just staying in and relaxing. In hindsight Shinji should have took her up on that. But he wanted to treat her to lunch at the café and check in on Nyx, so they left out into the city. Claudette was there as they left, now that left Shinji a little unsettled. Had she been listening to them in their throws of newlywed bliss? God that would have been mollifying if it was true. The moment they got outside though, things went downhill fast. People were waiting and cheering, everywhere they went they were followed!

The town center was full of people selling effigies of Leina, Risty, and of course the queen. Men approached Leina with flowers and gifts, women came asking questions about how she kept her hair so well…and if the armor chaffed her breasts. Questions rained down like leaves in fall, compliments drowned out Shinji's attempts at talking to her. And the looks he got from all those would be brown nosers was livid and hate filled. Was it because he was an 'olive' or that he was closer to the potential queen than they were?

Whatever reason they had for hating Shinji, they made it well known! And it got worse when the stalkers from the church burst in to insure Shinji wasn't 'corrupting' them. Thinking of the church lead Shinji's mind back to Melpha, and that dampened his spirits even more. He had to talk to the woman today, they had to address the elephant in the room less Melona come back impersonating him to do her harm again. Leina had kissed him so hard though when he confessed to defeating the bitch. He had to tell Leina about the event, Melpha's oral violation left out of course.

Leina proved she wasn't going to take shit from anybody though as they approached Nyx's current workplace. A man had 'accidentally' knocked Shinji away from Leina with excessive force. He had a replica of Leina's blade, bought from Ymir he admitted, and wanted her to sign it. Oh and he wanted to treat her to a nice meal and some wine. Proving her alpha-woman mentality, Leina cut the shoddy blade in half, helped Shinji up and chased off the man. Nobody was going to get between her and her husband, nobody.

The café was even worse, once people saw Leina enter, every table was soon filled with people trying to score points with the fighter. Two more fights and Leina would be queen, and nobles were lining up to get brownie points. That meant Shinji had to help cook meals instead of just Leina and his. But it was a small price to pay for Leina's reward for her hard work. "I just hope this isn't the start of something bad. Yes she'll be queen, but I just hope she isn't always so…" Shinji just shrugged as he finished the dishes.

"Well the current queen doesn't seem to have that many people around her. Maybe it will die down?" Nyx offered meekly. Her hair tied up in a nice ponytail, she stood close to her cooking partner with a content smile. Handing over a bottle of wine, she brushed her hands over his as she did. Looking down at her fingers, she played with them a little, "So if she does become queen…what will that make you? W-will you still work here?"

Blinking a few times, Shinji's hands stopped as they finished the presentation of the food. "I…I haven't thought about that. I don't think I'll be appointed to anything, but I don't know if they'll let me work here. Maybe I'll just work at their kitchen instead," he hadn't even considered what he'd do! If Leina became queen, what did that mean for him? Waving at the new staff that were hired since the café became so popular, Shinji handed over his apron. The small efforts he made to keep things cleaner were catching on fast. Noticing the look of fear and abandonment, so similar to how he felt when he first thought of quitting Nerv and didn't see Misato, "Think you'd want a job there too? Be better pay I bet."

"Y-you'd really hire me to work in the castle!" Nyx's eyes brightened and her smile just exploded. Leaping on the boy, wrapping her arms around him and nuzzling affectionately, she swayed about giggling. "Oh that would just be lovely I wouldn't have to put up with all of her rules there I bet!" Nyx let go of her coworker as the manager waved a big wooden spoon at her. "B-best get back to work. Have fun with Leina, Shinji…and thanks again for coming today," she bashfully waved and went back to work.

Some people were just to easy to make happy, not that Shinji found a problem with that. Gathering up the plates, Shinji fought though the throng of people to Leina's table…and sulked a little. That bottle of wine he had, Leina had three bottles already at her table no doubt given to her by would be suitors. "Your meal is ready madam," Shinji set the plates down with a flourish. His wife…Leina was his wife…he still felt so giddy about that. Just like he did when he thought of Alleyne being his wife. Taking the seat she fought to keep open for him, "S-sorry for the delay."

"If all these people weren't following us around it wouldn't have taken so long I bet," Leina tickled Shinji under his chin. Her hand went a little sluggishly and clumsily, testament to the empty wine bottles. But her smile was genuine now as she dug into the food. "Not the best time out we had, going to have to put an end to all these fakers tailing me around. I will not be bought like some common street walker!" she spilled the bottle Shinji had provided.

Acting fast, Shinji fixed the spilling booze but at least half the bottle was lost. "You feeling alright Leina-chan?" Shinji asked cautiously. Eating slowly, Shinji knew she drank when she could, but she never was this bad so fast. Maybe somebody put something into her wine when she wasn't looking. Damn bastards trying to manipulate her or drug her just to gain favor! Reaching out with his hand, he took hold of hers and let a trickle of his powers ebb into her just in case. "What would you like to do after this…assuming we can do anything with this crowd following you," he could see them all watching them and judging him.

"I'd not be against going back to the inn and continuing were we left off. But I should…I should talk with Claudette about my fight with Risty," Leina seemed to sober up after Shinji's little touch. If she noticed it though she didn't show, just continued to hold his hand as they ate. Eating in comfort, they just chatted about the city and how it would be good when the tournament was over. Queen or not, Leina was ready to make a trip to survey the rest of the kingdom, after the honeymoon in Tokyo-3 of course. "Shinji…what would you think of…of Claudette as queen?" she whispered as pulled Shinji close.

Walking out of the café, the people giving them a few moments of peace before they assaulted Leina again, Shinji felt his own buzz working. He favored himself a single glass of wine himself over the meal, and he was a lightweight. "C-Claudette-san as queen? Well she's…she's smart and knows about that type of thing I bet. B-but she lost already didn't she?" he leaned closer to her. Even with the sun beating down on them, making them a hot sweaty mess, Leina smelled wonderful.

"Just thinking out loud is all, Shinji, I don't think I want to be queen. I want to…to just wander the world with you," Leina tugged Shinji closer to her. Putting him in front of him, Leina draped her arms over him and scowled at the would be men that followed them. Propping her chin up on his head, Leina wiggled Shinji with her arms, "Guess it wouldn't just be us. Alleyne would never let that happen. But she's…she'd be a good traveling companion too. Maybe even Risty and Tomoe can come with us on occasion."

Letting the intoxicating aroma and heat permeate him, Shinji hated the sight of the inn coming into view. It meant the date would be over, Leina would talk to his 'official' wife about her next fight, and he'd have to go back to the church. The church and its beautiful yet naive caretaker… "That would be great…better than this place. It's a nice city, but I miss the nights on the grass under the stars with you," maybe the could go back to Alleyne's forest for awhile. All of them together, exploring the world together. Would they ever be allowed that blessing? What with Melona and that Swamp Witch, Shinji somehow doubted it.

Twirling her man around in her arms, Leina planted a firm kiss on him, showing the levels of improvement she had made since they first started their courtship. Setting Shinji back down on the ground, she had lifted him into the air midway through the embrace, "I was hoping you'd say that. I thought it would be different here, it is lovely but…" She took a backward step from him regretfully. "I better get going in or we'll…not that I don't want to…but…I've come to far to make a mistake now," her face was adorned with a lovely blush.

"Yeah…we'll have time for this, for us, a-after," Shinji fought so hard to not follow after her. Even though they made love that morning, he still felt that need to go with her. Call it newlywed bliss, longing, or anything you'd like but both lovers were just burning. A wave and a forced spin, Shinji was walking back to the church. Maybe Leina would run after him, she was more prone to selfishness than he was, but he heard the door shut and a few men and women groan. Leina was dedicated to her craft. A small fear of some of those leeches attacking him for being close to Leina kept Shinji from going back.

Standing himself outside the church far sooner than he wanted to, Shinji summoned up his courage to face Melpha and entered. Seeing the woman at the pulpit reading, Shinji found his courage failed him. Hiding behind a pillar, he snuck to the stairs and headed up to Alleyne and Nowa's room. Maybe he could talk to them about this, about the recovered Pope or…damn he cursed his fear. "Alleyne-san are you…" Shinji's question went unasked. The room was still empty, they hadn't come back yet? "Shizuka did say Risty had questions for them," maybe they were catching up or something.

He needed to talk to Risty a bit too, maybe tomorrow. "But if they're not here…maybe Shizuka went to talk to Tomoe after all?" Shinji shut the door and started back down. Nothing left to do, no place to hide, best to bight the bullet and talk to Melpha. But he didn't want to! What could he say to her, how could he apologize for…for what he caused? He hadn't done it himself, he knew that, but misunderstandings and hiding his feelings lead Melpha to an extreme decision. "Maybe it would be best if I wait till…" later, never, somebody else to force…

"Sir Shinji," Melpha gasped as she approached on the stairs. Quickly looking down, apparently she hadn't expected him to be there, as she just froze up. "I-uh…I was going to clean your friends' room…I can do it…later…I should-should um…" she turned to fast and started to topple forward. Her bosom added just that extra momentum to force her off balance, letting out a yelp as she fell down, she never hit the first step though. Shinji grabbed her arm and the banister keeping the woman from a possible life ending fall.

For a moment he just held her and strained against the force of gravity. Then summing up more power he over exerted her arms and pulled the woman from her near horizontal position into his arms. "Melpha-sama are you alright, you're not hurt are you?" he gasped as his own heart spiked. How easy somebody could get hurt or die, somebody important. She hadn't let go of him yet, actually hugging him harder, "M-Melpha-sama?"

"I'm…not hurt S-Shinji. I'm…I know you don't want to see me right now. You were gone by the time I woke up…I'll try not to bother y-you," Melpha stammered. In one agonizing push she tried to flee back down the stairs only to have Shinji's hand not release her. Tugging on it, but not looking back, "I-I should leave you to whatever you need to. And I'll have a n-new bed brought upstairs for you…so could you please let-let go of me?"

Was it wrong of him, it felt wrong, but Shinji couldn't help himself. With a mighty tug, he again found Melpha's body against his, only this time he couldn't see her. Eyes closed, Shinji stunned the woman with a fierce kiss, his tongue darted into her mouth is practiced ease. He loved Leina and Alleyne with all his heart, he cared deeply for all the women he had met and shared time with…well not all but many. Was it wrong to do this to Melpha? She wasn't a body, though she did have a vivacious, she was a kind hearted and adorable woman. His hands slipped down to the small of her back and held her closer, the stun was wearing off as she clumsily started to reciprocate.

Melpha, the angels she prayed to bless her heart, just wasn't to good at the whole art of kissing. Her tongue went into Shinji's mouth and sat their like a beached whale, but the panting she was emitting was quite impressive. As Shinji's hand actually cupped her bum and gave it a squeeze, she squeaked and pulled away. "S-Shinji, w-we shouldn't do this…" she looked down at her bust, it was impossibly spread across Shinji's chest. His face went ashen, fear and shame spread across it, but them Melpha whimpered, "Here…somebody might see us and think you're…that you used your powers on me. L-can we go to my-our room?"

For that one heart stopping moment, Shinji felt as if he was the most horrid person. Melpha gets abused by Melona and then the next day he forces himself on her? He'd never have been able to live with the shame. The fact that they both confessed their feelings for one another the previous day wasn't lost on him, but a lot can happen in a day. Falling in step along with Melpha, it wouldn't do good for the nuns and priests to see them to close, Shinji was confused. Were they going to…or was it just to talk? "M-Melpha-sama, I'm sorry if I overstepped my bounds. It's just I couldn't stand to see you so down on yourself," Shinji's own voice was so low he hardly heard it.

Her fingers brushed against Shinji's, as if she considered holding his hand but thought better. They were still in public and people were moving about. Clasping her hands in mock prayer before her bellybutton, "I was so afraid you'd not want to see me after what I did. I'm not…not as pure as I used to be. With what that abhorrent woman said, how she said it would make you love me…but you're not that shallow. Just a physical act…you are not so petty." Melpha waved at a few inquisition solders that headed out into the streets.

My those swords looked sharp, and they way they looked at him, Shinji bet many of them would love to use them on him. If they suspected he was going to hurt Melpha in anyway they'd have him in pieces before anybody could intervene. All those in the church saw Melpha as the saint she was, and yet Shinji saw her on her knees sucking off Melona in hopes to entice him. HIM of all people, he had done nothing to garner such tenderness from this blessed woman, but he wasn't going to let it go to waste or not meet her half way. Shutting the door to Melpha's room, Shinji didn't know what he was expecting to happen, but he locked the door regardless.

"My feelings for you have not changed, Sir Shinji. If anything they have grown after…but after what I've done…does that change h-how you feel?" Melpha's fingers tumbled over one another as she sat on that large bed.

Shouldn't his heart have stopped beating so fast, yet it wasn't. Sitting down next to her, Shinji noticed she shifted closer to him as he did. Taking her hand in his, both to stop her fumbling and to calm himself, "You deserve better than me, Melpha-sama. You deserve a man or woman…hell even an angel all for yourself that you shouldn't have to share. You know I'm with Alleyne and Leina…others." Shinji couldn't tell anybody about Shizuka yet, or all those others his heart beat for, the reasons he fought so hard for.

"I don't want anybody else!" Melpha sudden shouted out, turned to face him. Her hands went to his shoulders and held him so tenderly. Sniffing hard, her eyes went a little red, "Somebody that understands my problems, who sees me as a woman and not…not just some nun or source of power. It doesn't matter to me that I cannot have you all to myself, the angels teach that sharing love is what matters…and would you…could you…if only once…" she leaned in closer and closer with each word.

Maybe it was a mistake or maybe it wasn't, but Shinji wanted Melpha happy. The only church woman that didn't see him as a demon, who did so much for him and his friends. Leaning in to kiss her again, Shinji found he actually couldn't get close enough! Looking down he saw her bust was large enough to keep them from reaching one another with how they were sitting. Such impossibly large breasts, in Tokyo-3 he would have assumed they were the result of cosmetic surgery, here it was just all real. Laughing a little, "I don't know why you are so selfless, Melpha-sama…but that's part of why I love you."

Opening her eyes as Shinji laughed, Melpha actually looked down to see the cause. "Y-you love me? Even with these…disgusting…" she hefted her bust up. "All my life…since they started growing they've caused me nothing but trouble. Boys would laugh at me, girls teased me…but my grandmother said it was a gift from the angels. Wouldn't you rather…they smaller?" she asked hushed.

Sliding off the bed, Shinji still chuckled softly. "The men in this world truly are foolish. Melpha-sa…Melpha-chan those are…well they're beautiful just like you are," yes they where huge but it wasn't grotesque. Hell Cattleya was larger than Melpha was even! Feeling his member painfully push against his pants, Shinji owed up to needing to wait. Helping Melpha out of her habit, she shuddered and meekly looked away. The laungerie she wore under was covered in gold and power augmenting charms. Swallowing hard, his tongue was thick with anticipation, "H-how does this come off?" It was a full bodied piece.

"Y-you can just t-tear it. Its already torn from…from my moving. I've m-more," if she could get any more embarrassed she'd have been fully red. When Shinji did as she suggested, she yelped and hugged her arms around her bust making them look even larger. "S-Shinji?" she asked in confusion as Shinji leaned in towards her flower, "W-what are you…ooh!" His tongue entered her already moistened flower and her whole body shuddered.

Cherishing her, make her forget the pain of the other day, the shame…Shinji lavished his attention on her and drank up the sweet nectar she gushed. Using one of his fingers to further stimulate her, he toyed with her petals and dabbed her bud with his tongue. Melpha was already panting hard and letting out such sounds, he paused a moment to look up at her. The last of the days sun poured in through the window and surrounded her, truly a heavenly body. Her hands clutched at his head, Melpha bit down on her lips to keep her moans internal. "M-may…Melpha-chan…could I…" Shinji stopped his asking.

It wouldn't matter what he asked, Melpha would let him do anything he wanted to her. But that wasn't what mattered to him, Shinji simple gave her flower another lick and she went over the edge. Climaxing from just foreplay, Melpha was sensitive from a life of longing and loneliness. Pushing Melpha to the bed, Shinji tore open the top of her garment letting her bust free. "Truly magnificent Melpha-chan," Shinji admitted. Then he beset both fully hard and puffy nipples with either his fingers or tongue. Suckling like a baby, Melpha finally lost the ability to maintain her composer and openly moaned. Thankfully her room was far enough away from the training chambers nobody should hear.

"S-Sh-Shinji I feel so…I…I feel so strange! Its magnificent…my whole body…my-my breasts haven't felt this…" Melpha gushed out as another climax sent her body ridged. A deep guttural groan left her as Shinji clamped down on her left nipple with his teeth. Pulling away with just the right force, he let it go and it snapped back. Despite their size they were firm and supple, not flab. "S-should I…" she looked at his crotch, she had trained for it.

Shaking his head, Shinji undid the tie on his pants and they fell to the ground. His member sprang up finally free from the confines. "Today is for you Melpha-chan, just you," Shinji crawled back and lined himself up. His longing was so painful, but Shinji couldn't help himself, "Are you sure you want this Melpha-chan. W-we can stop now if you want." Oh he'd be in such agony if she did, but Shinji couldn't help being himself. If she regretted it, if she resented him for this, well Alleyne, Nowa, and he would be looking for new lodging as he'd never be able to look at Melpha again.

"P-please," was all Melpha could say her own needs shutting down her higher mental functions. And one moment they were apart, the next they were one, and Melpha again climaxed a little from just the insertion. When Shinji stopped after he entered her, "M-my barrier was broken…so they could collect the Water of Life," she confessed.

It didn't matter to Shinji that he hadn't pierced her maidenhead, he had just had that moment of fear. Fear that Melpha had been further abused at some time in the past, some brute taking this sacred woman for granted. "You've suffered a lot in life…" Shinji slowly started to gyrate. Damn she was a vice, strangling him for everything it could. She was so drenched though, her eyes rolled up as she grabbed at the bedding, her body convulsion with each pass. This woman deserved so much joy in life, Shinji was happy he could do something for her. When he climaxed for the first time, pure holy milk as usual, Melpha screamed so loud it hurt his ears. Damn she was sensitive.

For the next two hours Shinji pampered and loved Melpha as much as he could. It wouldn't be just once, they both confessed their affection over and over as they continued to make love. It would be strange, but what wasn't strange about the situation already for Shinji? Well into the night, Shinji pulled out his flaccid member, Melpha literally passing out from the pleasure, Shinji kissed her cheek and rolled over to join her in sleep. That's when he heard the clapping.

"Puppy you really can give it to a woman. Such a cute face and yet so capable. I've counted about twenty climaxes for that prude. Made me want to join you. But I'm on the clock," Echidna walked over to the bed. Grabbing Shinji's member, she gave it a few quick pumps and covered her hand with Holy Milk. "It's a sin to waste something so precious," she licked the powerful salve right out of her palm. Sitting on the bed, she ruffed Shinji's head as he squirmed and tried to cover himself.

"Echidna-san…what are you? Did anybody else see you come here?" Shinji was mollified! Echidna had been watching them? It was all missionary, Shinji toying and playing with Melpha to maximize her enjoyment. But he had never been watched before! And by Echidna of all people, he didn't know what to make…her teasing was bad enough before! "W-what did you need from me?" he felt his abused member twitch as she sucked her fingers clean of Holy Milk.

Putting her finger under his chin, Echidna forced the lad to look at him, oh how those eyes danced with delight…it would be teasing for years most likely. "Oh I came here to tell you about what I saw. Oh and to offer you a deal. Your elf wife and her ward, and those royal pains in the ass are imprisoned. Don't know who through them in the jail, but right now they are segregated from the men. I can get them out…but it'll cost you Puppy," she leaned in dangerously close.

"W-what would…anything I'll do anything for you to help!" already Shinji was thinking he'd have to advance his plans. Talking to Risty no longer about her request, but ask about Alleyne and the others! She worked for the queen, maybe she could explain things! Things had shifted from cozy and a wonderful afterglow to cold mind shattering horror so fast! "Echidna-san, what would you ask to help them?" anything was worth saving them.

Smiling she pulled back and stood up. "You would do anything wouldn't you? You know what, skip it. I said I'd keep an eye on them and I failed, what almost happened to Leina…only you and I can touch that one. Just after this is all over…think you can do that for Irma? She…she had the same thing that you and I suffered happen. She needs to know some men are more than brutes. I won't force it though, just give it a thought?' And like that Echidna walked out leaving Shinji confused and worried. He'd worry about Irma and Echidna later, first was sleep and then talk to Risty!

X-X

"Nowa, when we get out of here, how about we return to the forest?" Alleyne said calmly from the dirty bench. Sitting in a dingy cell, mold and mildew covered the stone walls and floor making it slimy and horrid smelling. Maybe the smell came from the bucket they had for a toilet, or possibly from the cells further down with the males. Alleyne was wanting to get her husband, her apprentice, and the few likable women they met and head back to the safety and civility of the woods. At least there the racism was open and politics simple. The wooden bench that served as seat and bet strained under her weight, "Would you object to that?"

Standing under the small window, its half foot opening was laden with iron bars, Nowa's frown was slight. "Yeah, I miss my hut and our training. This place smells bad, and what those people said to me is confusing," Nowa sat next to Alleyne with a pain filled grimace. The wounds she received from Melona had gone untended and the girl did much to mask her injury and disquiet, but Alleyne knew the signs all to well. Unarmed yet allowed to keep their personal clothing, Nowa's was dirty and blood splattered, "H-how are you two doing?"

"Lay down Nowa, it will help your back to keep it flat," Alleyne got off the bench and forced the girl to lay. Even if the bench was splintered and covered with mosses, it was better than the floor and its glossy sheen of filth. Approaching the barred gates, Alleyne could see her fellow companions across the small way. Menace had her arms drawn out to extremes with shackles on her wrists and ankles. The mermaid princess sat dejected on the ground in bewildered fear and shock. Both had silver bangles around their necks that had odd runes engraved in them, likely repressing each's magic powers. Grabbing an iron bar, "How are you two doing over there? Has anybody spoken to you yet?"

Feebly and weakly, one of Menace's bandages twitched and tried to strike at the wall again only to crumple futile without impact. "This accursed necklace is keeping me from using my full powers. And she can't free my hands to break us out. These curs will fill the full wrath of Amara when I am free! Then I'm taking my servant and going back to the desert, you are more than welcome to come with us, Tiina," Menace did not have her casual flippancy, just regal and justified anger.

"How long do you think they'll keep us here? It's been half a day already," Tiina got off the bench. Her legs didn't carry her with the grace they oft did, unused and without her magic the girl was for the first time fully dependent on her terrestrial legs. Tugging on the silver necklace she grimaced, "This is no way to treat a princess let along a queen like my royal sister. You…Alleyne, why would these people do this to us? All we did was destroy that vile slime, and yet we are imprisoned! And…what those guards said. Will they really put us in with those…" Tiina's face paled more, with the moisture that always clung to her made the woman positively ill-looking.

Judging the time since the battle to be almost a full day, the sun starting to rise again, Alleyne hoped Shinji noticed them missing soon. It was a decision she stuck with, keeping him in the dark of her hunting of Melona, but maybe a note wouldn't have been bad. He'd have never wanted them to risk life and limb to get revenge on that bitch, but it was a gift to him. For the man that asked for nothing yet continued to give to her, Alleyne wanted…no needed to do something for him. And yet she was going to have to ask Shinji to tend to Nowa before any hope of giving to him. Nowa was in pain, more than a muscle cramp, her vertebrae was cracked and the girl was abhorrently pale. For the love and joy Shinji gave, Alleyne would someday find a manner to repay him.

"I doubt they will put us in with them. This reeks of political or maybe selfish aims. They have nothing to hold us with, but the queen doesn't take her own laws into importance," Alleyne pulled hard on the bars. Nothing changed, her fingers strained and ached yet the bars remained unmoved. Giving Nowa a quick look, the girl was sleeping listlessly, Alleyne's ears perked at a squealing door opening. "I'm sure we'll have some answers soon," she flinched her head towards the sounds of approaching feet.

Followed by two of her uniquely garbed members of the Fang, Risty peeked into both cells with a callous grin, her lips dabbed in a dark lipstick. "I apologize for the necessity of the cells. You were found with the Pope and the church would have us question you regarding him. Care to enlighten me upon how you found the leader of the second largest standing military?" Risty turned to Alleyne's pen and her lips curled up showing the whites of her teeth.

"You know what brought us there. You even saw the protean horror and caved its head in," Alleyne should have suspected Risty was to blame for this. The woman was different than before, the warrior woman that fought with her at the gates and celebrated with her in the merchants house was not here. Pacing in the small claustrophobic nightmare her cell was, Alleyne couldn't help but notice the two aids were laughing soundlessly. Grabbing onto the bars again, putting her face between them, "Why do you keep us captive, Risty, the real reason?"

The clanking of chains, grunting and yowling like a cat, Menace bucked and struggled against her bindings. "You came in and stole my prey! I was supposed to be the one that made Melona pay for what she did to my servant. Yet you came in after the fight was over, with your little girls to surround you…and keep us in here? Tell me why I should let you live after I get out of here, and I will," something about being confined caused a change in Menace. The flighty and flirty girl was replaced with one sweating and unbalanced, fear maybe…ancient memory perhaps, regardless Menace was a wild animal.

"Calm yourself my sister, calm hearts and minds," Tiina let her hand trail down Menace's back. The touch or maybe the whimsical tones worked in soothing the savage beast. A trail of water enveloped Menace wherever Tiina touched. Still holding, relaxing the enraged queen, "But she has a point miss. We did not know that your pope was present. I wanted to help her get vengeance against that vile woman for what she did to Sir Shinji and no doubt countless others. If you let us go, we will overlook this violation against us. But if you don't, my father will hear of this, and he will not react kindly."

With a flinch towards Tiina and Menace's cell, Risty took Alleyne's and slammed her mace against the bars sending Alleyne falling back. "You are to remain here while the Queen's Blade is underway. The queen does not want any unexpected and unwanted support for Leina. That one continues to win battle after battle, her victory over Tomoe was unexpected. Play nice and we will keep you segregated from the others. Don't…and you shall have the honor of being the plaything to curs in the other cells," Risty threatened.

"Let Nowa go then, she cannot hinder your master. She is in great pain, her back hurt terribly from our fight with the slime. My husband can ease that pain, ease her suffering. You would not deny her that would you?" Alleyne pleaded. It was also a small concealed test, referring to Shinji as her husband, gauging maybe just maybe Risty wasn't being so earnest with her reasons. Shinji had told her about the evening he spent with the noble bandit, Alleyne didn't mind it and found it enduring that it bothered Shinji so much. He wasn't unfaithful, it was silly to think him capable of that. Getting back to the bars, Alleyne honed her senses on Risty, "He could tend to her, ease her pain. He could keep him company while Leina fights, and until we can leave here. Nowa, my husband, and I…will leave this city."

"Mistress maybe we should just move them into the solitary cells now, or arrange a…" the woman was silenced when Risty raised a hand. That single motion put the ever vigilant woman into her place and at Risty's side, mute and strong jawed.

With her free hand, Risty grabbed one of the cells bars and playfully worked it up and down. "Tricky little elf, smart little elf. An elf that has what I was promised by my queen for services rendered. You would like to just vanish, take what is mine and vanish into that damn forest of yours? After the next battle, when I destroy Leina, I will tend to him. Ease his pain of loss. His elfin bride abandoning him, and his human lover accidentally slain. He will trust me, why wouldn't he, didn't he say his affection for all of us was high? You shall just be a memory…as for Nowa…I will have some water of life brought for her. It would be a shame for her to be in pain when she becomes a woman. Or will you play nice? All of you?" Risty smirked at the confined party.

"Y-you will let us go if we promise not to associate with Sir Shinji?" Tiina asked approaching the bar cautiously. With the moisture dripping off over her in sheets, she swallowed hard and clasped her hands together in worry. Looking over Risty's shoulders right into Alleyne's eyes, the girl had a terrible poker face, "You would really do that?"

Laughing jovially, Risty just threw her head back, and the hood that covered it fell back. The echoes of that maniacal laughter was thick and painful. "You would be escorted, in shackles, to the nearest ocean princess and let loose. I am not a fool. Though you nobles likely think all peasants are feeble minded sacks of disease and hormones. Well, I'll let you think about the offer. I have a meeting with my little friend tomorrow. He has asked to see me…I wonder what about?" Risty touched her finger to her lip and winked. Oh she had plans, and that look, so haughty and needy left little to question. She left as did her aids, the men and women in the adjoining rooms were silent as the leader of the Fang passed, even they wouldn't tempt fate.

"She will not let us out of here. We have to find a way to get those necklaces off of you and plan an escape," Alleyne muttered after Risty had gone. It was quiet evident that the new pawn of the queen had little care about letting them go. It was all a nice little package for the woman, all her perceived rivals and foes in one place. Kneeling by Nowa, Alleyne put a hand to her girl's forehead, it was warm far more so than was normal. A fever or infection from some of her injuries mayhap. Even Alleyne's wounds went untended, yet she was hardly as injured as Nowa was. What befell Risty, the woman would have never acted this way before! Listening to the growing banter in the nearby cells, "Is there anything you can do about them?"

Grabbing the iron shackles that confined her, Menace just rolled her eyes in annoyance. "I can barely move, let alone break this gaudy thing. But that woman will get what is coming to her, the curse she is under is eating more and more of her," at that Menace smiled. Shaking her metal chest guard off, Menace's pink nips stood proud and mighty before the others. "Fan me with that please, it's to humid in here," catcalls from people that could see into Menace's cell were mighty.

Wait, an idea! "Toss that to me, Tiina, it might be a way out of here!" Alleyne had to hope. Maybe it could be sharpened or used as a wedge to break a bar or something! Risty's plan had a lot of merit, Shinji trusted the woman, why wouldn't he? Risty fought alongside of all of them in the past, broke bread, and was one of Leina's most cherished acquaintances. Holding her hand out through the bar, Alleyne watched as Tiina looked to Menace for an 'ok' before handing it over. Yanking the gold covered semi-circle through the bars, Alleyne started to examine it, "Menace you had this all along and…" It could work, if given time!

"I'll tend to you, keep you cool. They have lowered my powers not cancelled them," Tiina went back to the complaining queen. Dribbling water down from her fingertips, a crude shower, Menace tittered and writhed in it. Oh how those calls escalated, Menace didn't care as she was pampered as she wanted. "I think I can make it warm for you if you ever want. And when we leave here, I believe I shall take you up on your offer to leave this city, if it was offered to all of us," Tiina told Alleyne with growing desperation.

Straining her fingers against one of the metal scale, Alleyne pried one off at the cost of one of her fingernails. "Gods that hurt, but this is sharp enough," Alleyne tossed the chest guard back. It was uneven and small, but with a little time it could be made into a weapon. "Wait, did you say you can make that fluid hot? How hot? Hot enough to cause that metal to widen?" Alleyne knew enough of metallurgy to see hope in this! Metal grew when heated, maybe enough for Menace to free a hand? It would scald and burn, but freedom was of more import than trivial and passing agitation.

"Now that would be an interesting trick to see," a voice called out from the window peering out into the castle courtyard. A shadow, nothing more, cast its female shape into the room. Soft and hushed, "I stop watching you for a few moments and you get imprisoned? I'll never get to…"

Rushing to the window, after stowing the scale into the folds of her tunic, Alleyne couldn't identify the voice. But it wasn't threatening them or calling out for the guards to take what Alleyne had just gotten. The dull pain in her finger was forgotten at that moment, "Who are you, will you help us get out of here?" It was a familiar voice, but too hard to place. Stupid window was easily ten feet off the ground, Alleyne couldn't see anything either. Whispering harshly, "Nowa is hurt, possibly sick, can you get…can you get to Shinji? See if he can get that salve for her?"

"I'll see what I can do. It isn't easy to move around the castle you see. As for…I'm sure I can wiggle some out of him. Be safe, play along with that red headed slut, and maybe we can get out of this without much problem," the voice called out and the shadow vanished.

Weak from lack of food and painful wounds, lack of good sleep, and just finished with this city, Alleyne had a moment of hope. It could have been Echidna acting on some rare impulse to help, that strange protégé of the wild elf, or any number of others. Alleyne wouldn't put all her hopes on that voice though. Tearing off some of her tunic she tossed it over to Tiina to wet. Applying the makeshift washcloth to Nowa's head, Alleyne started to sharpen the scale as Tiina fanned Menace. They chatted as best they could to pass the time. Alleyne learned much of the undersea kingdom as she imparted tales from the forest. From time to time Menace would recall ancient tall tales of Amara in its prime. All through it, Alleyne grew to like that royal pair, and plan her escape.

X-X

Panting and gripping Thunderclap with both hands, Claudette was impressed mightily with Leina's performance. "You will need to go faster when you face the bandit. Her strength is greater than most, she almost doesn't need that mace of hers to be a threat," Claudette warned as she lashed out. Drawing her blade behind her, she reaffirmed her grip and swung a mighty overhead strike down towards her sister.

"I forgot you fought her before, she said Echidna poisoned her and you nearly struck her down," Leina gasped out. A moment later Leina's knee was grinding into the dirt as Claudette's blow slammed into her. Sparks flew out, the clang of metal on metal echoed in the early morning air. Kicking out with her non-pinned leg, Leina nicked Claudette's shin and sent the taller woman stumbling. Springing from her kneeling position, Leina slashed expertly, "You nearly attacked Shinji as well!"

Just barely drawing Thunderclap up to deflect Leina's blade, Claudette sent her sister off balance enough to recover. For a moment she thought of summoning her lighting, but the glow of Leina's blade put that idea away. Ymir's enhancements did much to regulate the flow of energy, as such, Claudette just stuck her blade into the ground. The battle was over, less they go into levels of fighting that might have actually hurt one another. "You've improved since our last fight," still couldn't call Leina her name. Old habits die hard.

"And you still are as strong as an ox and as fast as a viper," Leina actually laughed. Falling backward onto her rump, the red cloth she used to hide her dignity fluttered and gracefully splayed out on the ground. Patting the patch of dirt next to her, coaxing Claudette to sit, Leina reclined in the makeshift battleground. It was the lawn behind the inn, cordoned off from the rest of the city and allowed a little privacy. Yet they both heard cheering from city folk watching from buildings around them. Under her breath, "Cursed people. They only watch because they think I might win. Can never get a moments peace with Shinji with them following us."

Not taking Leina's offer of sitting, it wasn't proper, Claudette did stand stoically over the relaxing woman. Offering Leina that strange sleeve of water that came from her husband's original armor, "Drink, being dehydrated could spell your defeat if the battle comes soon." Always business, never familiar, it just made things easier for Claudette. One couldn't live their whole life in the shadows of their superior siblings and then be expected to treat them like equals. Yet both Leina and she were no longer under the yolk of their father.

"Thanks, this thing saved my life just about as much as he has," Leina took the sleeve and drank heavily from it. Falling back, laying in the grassy loam, Leina cooed out happily. "I do love a good match in the morning. Love something else good in the morning too…but think that might not be best. Risty, she won't be an easy match. If I'm distracted," Leina re-synched the old plugsuit arm before handing it to Claudette again. "So, have you two…" she shrugged suggestively.

Leina had changed, Claudette again was marveling at the show of maturity her sister was showing. When Leina first tried to run away from her responsibilities, Claudette feared the girl would never grow up. Well Leina had, but in a manner Claudette hadn't anticipated, some surprises were good after all. She debated taking a drink herself, then set the water down, it was for Leina not her. "If you are referring to what I heard from your room two mornings ago…we have not. It is not unexpected, he wishes to have married you not I. It is possible it might take time before we finalize our paring," she didn't mind, she would serve her new husband however he wished.

"He's shy, his world is a lot different than ours. I think I might have preferred it his way here, but I've come to accept such won't be," Leina watched the clouds pass with a soft smile. Playing with the braid at her side, she giggled as she tickled her nose with it. Running her fingers along the braid she sighed, "But that bashfulness is part of his charm as well. Just push and he'll fold under you. He's to accommodating to deny you. And, again, if you say that I WANT you two…" Leina just put her hands behind her head and her eyes started to shut.

Watching as her sister lay defenseless on the ground, nary a worry or fear on her immaculate face, Claudette envied her. Ripping her blade out of the ground again, Claudette headed for the door leading back inside the inn, "He truly is a confusing man. Had he been a soldier of the army I'd have likely…Never mind. Rest well, be prepared, and don't let your guard down when you do fight that bandit. Remember what she was doing when she met you, robbing us." Claudette continued to watch Leina lay for a few moments. The slow rise and fall of that armored breastplate signified the woman had fallen asleep.

"Keep watch over her, do not a single hair of her head be harmed. And when she goes out into the city, you are to keep those annoyances away from her and my husband," Claudette said once she was inside. Color her impressed when the platoon of women that came to her with the missive that put her into Shinji's care retained loyalty. With most of her forces now gone, her expulsion from the Vance forces stripped her, at the time she thought, all her subordinates. Yet Elina's old bodyguards retained their allegiance.

Kneeling on one knee, Aloria's colors had changed though. No longer in the Vance colors alone, Aloria and her troupe now had augments of purple matching Shinji's staff. That color was now also Claudette's in a showing of her marriage. "I will have my two most trusted watch over Lady Vance as she sleeps, ma'am. Is there anything I can do for you though?" Aloria glanced up with a slim smile. No longer under the yolk of the Duke, the women that served Claudette did so now out of want not obligation so the atmosphere wasn't so stifling.

"You may stand first, Aloria, we are equals now not master and servant. We both serve Lady Vance unofficially," Claudette came off gruff. Moving through the inn, the commoners quickly moved out of the gargantuan woman's path. Scurrying like bugs she thought, fearful she'd strike them down, yet some had that condescending look of them. Those sniveling men and women who had knowledge smirked and judged her. A woman cast out from her family, devoid of power, and now the wife of a lowly 'olive'. Claudette cared little for their ilk. Finding her room not as she left it, Claudette picked up a trio of plush dolls on her bed, "Where have these come from?"

Leaning forward, her longer hair spilling over her shoulders, Aloria fluffed the dolls Claudette held. "I do believe your husband got them for you. The one of Lady Leina was quite costly as she is still in the running," Aloria fluttered her eyes enviously at Claudette. Moving to the window, she propped her thigh up on it and gazed out over the city. Oh how the jealousy came out in an oddly friendly way, "Giving you gifts such as these, he is an odd man. Do you even like cute things like these?"

"What he gives as gifts is his own business. It is a wife's duty to accept them in the manner they were given," Claudette squeezed the dolls tightly. How did he…did he know of her appreciation of cute things? And even to go so far as to get her a new Elina doll? Claudette did know of Shinji's less than glowing feelings for Elina, he had told of the story at the merchant's home. Then she noticed something else, a quick look about her room. Clean and orderly, not something Claudette put much care into. He'd have seen her collection! Not many, but Claudette did have a few cute things she kept. He saw them and…Claudette sat on her bed as her legs went weak. Seeing Aloria looking at her, "You speak highly of him, something you wish to confess?"

Shaking her head, Aloria's smile did the speaking for her. "Well he is coming up castle road right now. That purple staff of his is a sore giveaway of his identity to those that know him. And we, the others and I, wonder how he is? After he saved us, none of us have ever felt such longing for a man before. He's your husband…he's been with others…how-how is it? I've only had the unfortunate pleasure of being on hand when one of the old captains had the need," she drew her leg up to her chest and squeezed it. Some secret memory spilled in her mind, a dark and foreboding thing best left to the dark of the minds eye.

Why was she of all people being asked this!? Claudette didn't know the touch of a man any more than that of a woman! Until her abandonment by her father, her life was that of a warrior not a woman! Yet now she was supposed to be a dainty and womanly creature? Impossible! She needed more time, needed to study, needed…needed something! Turning sharply on her comrade, "That is not something that should be discussed so openly. My husband is…shy," Claudette stole Leina's word. Getting off the bed, her legs still tingling, "But if you wished to impose your gratitude for his saving your lives, you might try doing so directly." Claudette had seen both men and women soldiers taking subordinates to their tents in the past. But somehow she doubted that odd man, her husband, would be so flippant.

Hopping off the ledge, a slight mistiness in her eyes, Aloria nodded with some inner conviction. "Yes he is, isn't he. Quite a nice change for a man. Not the first to be that way, just something about his nature…if you are not opposed to us, to my trying to speak to him?" Aloria asked with hope. Ever since Claudette's expulsion the pair had started supporting one another more and more. "Though if he is to be the queen's hidden man, a mere slip of a bodyguard might not be something he's interested in. What do you think?" she plucked the effigy of Claudette out of the prone woman's arms.

"He is timid and easily lead by sentiment and caring. People such as he get used and tossed aside once they don't have a use anymore," Claudette spoke from personal experience. Had not just happened to her, wasn't that what Shinji said his own father did to him? Yes, Shinji could relate to Claudette's position. Setting the dolls down carefully, Claudette put a comforting hand on Aloria's shoulder, "We shall not let him suffer alone if Leina's new position as queen sets him adrift."

Pushing the plush image of Claudette back into the real deals arms, Aloria nodded fiercely. "We owe him a life debt, and we owe you the same. Elina left us to die, yet you gave us purpose after he brought us back. Pay back what you get. Some people get used to much," Aloria said it in a way and looked just the right strange way to show it wasn't Shinji she was talking about. Opening the door to the hallway, "Speak to your husband, our silly foreigner, we'll watch Lady Vance for you. Maybe it is time for you to be selfish, you've suffered enough Claudette." The door shut before Claudette could respond.

"That woman speaks to openly about things she knows little of," Claudette bristled. Asking her questions yet knowing the answer, Claudette would have to watch Aloria closer. Gathering her new positions, she moved them to the dresser, just in case, before sitting back down on her creaking bed. But Claudette wished for allies, and that troupe of women made fine subordinates. Trying her best to ignore the sounds of approaching feet, the door to Leina's room opened and closed just as quickly. Those soft footfalls, such a lightweight he was, the door opened to her room, and she was amazed at how her own mind locked up.

Standing in the doorframe, unwilling to enter without admission, "Am I bothering you Claudette-san?" He held his staff awkwardly, something was troubling him, yet he'd not say it or even enter without her permission. She bade him enter with a simple hand gesture, unable to find words with what Aloria and Leina said dancing in her head. He shuffled in and shut the door. "D-did you like the gifts? I saw your collection when I cleaned your…well when I did your laundry," Shinji blushed wonderfully. Claudette's small collection of cute things had been in her underwear drawer.

"They were unnecessary but appreciated all the same. And you cannot bother me, as it is my duty to aid you in all things," Claudette saw his face scrunch up in disdain. He didn't want her to talk down of herself, to treat herself as lesser from her new position. What world did he really come from? Maybe Claudette would have liked to see it after all. Watching the man shuffle about the small room, the sounds of early afternoon wafted through the window, "What vexes you so? You reek of troubles and worries."

Propping his staff against the wall, Shinji scratched the back of his head sheepishly. "Guess I've not gotten any better at hiding that, have I? Well," he sat down next to Claudette, since no other chairs existed. He gave a good foot between them, not one to overstep his bounds, Shinji just sat there and looked at his hands. "I heard Alleyne and Nowa are being held at the castle. I tried talking to Risty-san, see what is happening, but…she's so busy I have to wait for her to have an opening. Haven't seen Tomoe-san either. I'm getting so worried about them, I mean Risty-san wouldn't let something bad happen would she?" Shinji shifted his head enough to catch sight of Claudette's exposed leg. Something else was bothering him to, he was even more adverse to seeing skin than normal.

"You are wise to doubt, husband," it was too hard to call him by name right now. Putting a hand on his shoulder, she forced him to twist and see her. That look on his face, shame and worry, knowing him it was likely another woman issue. Well she'd not draw it out of him, not her place to care. But oddly a small fire stoked in her. She WAS his wife, she did NEED to fulfill her oath, and she COULD press, right? Wasn't that what Leina said she could do?. Fear was not something she wanted to encounter, or allow to take roost in her and all she had to do was extend her hand to remove it. Keeping her hands on his shoulder, "I have some loyal in the city, I'll have them look into this. Now…we have to attend to ourselves correct?" She sniffed and could smell…was that incense she smelled?

Trembling a little as Claudette continued to slowly advance on him. "You'd do that for me, Claudette-san? I did get some of Risty-san's friends to set up an audience with her for me. But you'd…and well…are you sure we need to? You don't have to do that on my account," Shinji found himself pressed against the bed with Claudette hovering over him.

So soft. So delicate, just like Elina is, all she had to do was take it. Leina gave her blessing, and Shinji always wanted to help her. This would ease her fears, cement her place at her new husbands side, give her the stability she needed. Yet, here he was, gazing up at her confused yet softly. Touching his cheek, holding it as she took off her headdress, her hair spilling over him. She made up her mind. She'd not let this honor debt escape her, her last order, the only thing her father deemed her still worth doing. "I wish for this, Leina has said she will let us. Now, let us not worry of others, just us for now. For what you've done for me already," let him make what he would of that, he had done both tangible and intangible things, "let me repay you."

At first he resisted, claiming she didn't have to do something she didn't want. Claudette pressed, as Leina instructed her to do. For a moment Claudette doubted it would bear fruit, that if she had to press any harder it would go beyond simple coaxing and into something she'd be reluctant. But slowly, so slowly he wilted. And when he did perform his husbandly duties, Claudette found herself ill prepared for the sensations. When she woke after, the next morning…gods had it been all day?! Could her need have been so dire and unknown as to keep them segregated from others ALL DAY? She held that tiny body against her, enveloping him from behind…oh yes she would keep her husband safe, come all costs. The power she felt radiating through her, she felt on top of the world.

X-X

Examining the amber enchased miko, Risty could see a rich beauty in that regal yet defiant pose. Standing before her queen her friend, Risty couldn't help but notice the new addition to Aldra's trophy collection. It was wrong to not give Aldra her full attention, but Risty's mind was bisected by her thoughts. Leina, that odd woman so full of life and vibrancy, she was going to fight Leina again and soon! Oh and she had a little guest waiting for her in her room, just as Aldra promised.

Caressing the hard yet smooth texture of Tomoe's prison, Risty had to admit she enjoyed the feeling. "My queen, I thought you were going to offer her leadership over Hinomoto, what happened to cause this?" Risty was never fully privy to Aldra's intentions. It wasn't her place to question the aims and goals of her queen, Risty just needed to satisfy her duty in rooting out corruption and malcontents. Gazing out at the others in the room, Risty felt another ripple of a headache when she saw Lana again. Forgetting…she was forgetting something! Every time she looked at that boy something poked at the back of her mind.

"She declined my offer, preferring to remain loyal to the empress of that land. We may have to march on that land. I will not be denied my needs," the petite woman joined Risty. Kneeling down, she spied a glimpse though the tears in Tomoe's tattered clothing. A single half grunted laugh, "Traditional in all things it seems, I should have guessed as such. But to think she would lose to Leina Vance. Interesting, the one I least suspected will be against you. Yet I have my full faith in you." That gloved hand set itself against the small of Risty's back.

Oddly enough, that simple touch eased Risty's headache from a throb to a dull annoyance. Following behind Aldra as she headed to her throne, Risty clicked her tongue though. "You'd wage open war against Hinomoto? What about that country bothers you so much, if I may ask. First you struck out against this one's shrine, then you offer her service, and now open war?" Risty would beat Leina so she'd not need to address that. Rolling on the balls of her feet, she oh so wanted a nice fight. The battle with Claudette hadn't been nearly as well performed as she wanted. And that image of Leina…it eased some part of her.

Sitting down, setting her blade across her lap, Aldra leaned on one upended palm. Sounded almost bored Aldra shrugged, "I guess you have the right to know, being my left hand after all. I believe my sister is in that region. Being the only country nearby outside of my control, it makes sense that is the only reason why I haven't found her." Those slender child's fingers grasped the hilt of the might blade and hefted it into the air and pointed it casually at Risty.

"A-a sister? Wouldn't it be easy to find a child so young yet so powerful?" Risty gasped. Who had known the queen had a sister!? It wasn't like the queen was plain looking or anything either, a woman of Aldra's age yet childlike body should have been easy to find. Wincing as her head started to throb again, stupid headaches were coming more frequently. Maybe she'd have Shinji heal her of them, he could do it so effortlessly. Despite herself her powerful brain spoke without hindrance, "How could you have been separated from her? H-how long ago was that?"

The queen's eyes darted to both sides of Risty, seeing unknown spies watching, she grimaced and slammed the flat of her blade down. "Yes I've a sister, one that doesn't share my…gift for aging. She has other gifts, well she did before she vanished in those woods," Aldra tugged on her eye patch listlessly as her tone went soft and airy. Then a smile, genuine and true, "Why I hate the church. We were cursed at birth for being cross breeds, much like your man, we are seen as having demonic blood. It didn't matter as we had each other…that changed that one day she vanished from me. That's before I became queen, and set about finding her."

"I'm sorry for overstepping my bounds, my queen. Without knowing I cannot serve you to the best of my abilities," Risty bowed her head solemnly. Children…children alone and needing protection…children. What was she forgetting! The more she tried to think of it, the more the fog of confusion swelled and the headache rose! Shinji, she needed to see a friendly face, one she could trust. "Did you require anything further of me at the moment?" oh she hoped Aldra didn't.

With a small dismissing hand gesture, that wholesome smile shifted to something darker, "I do not. And do not worry. I trust you will carry out my orders. You can summon the watchers whenever you wish to end the life of that Vance woman. Until then enjoy my present to you."

"Thank you," Risty slammed her closed fist to her chest. The sensation quickly spread through her and sent ripples of joy down her spine and legs. Her subordinates had told her Shinji had been admitted to her room as she was summoned to the queen's room. She'd talk to Shinji, get his approval, and then defeat Leina. Aldra just had an odd way of talking, didn't truly mean for her to kill Leina. Claudette had been the threat, Leina was to free spirited to take the mantle of noble. Gliding through the halls, the members of the Fang she saw gave her wide smiles, she threw open the doors to her private room, "Took your time getting here. Though I'm partially to blame for that."

Sitting in one of the plush chairs in the otherwise featureless room, Shinji jerked out of some stupor. "Oh! Risty-san, sorry for being…I'm not quite myself today. H-how are you? I've so much I want to talk to you about," Shinji stammered and tumbled over his own words. Moving to get out of his seat, he relented back when Risty held a hand out to him, it was still sitting time. Laying his staff on the ground, he'd had it on his lap, his uneasiness didn't cease, "Did I take you from something?"

"Why so nervous, Shinji, you've never been so skittish around me. Not since we had our evening," Risty sat across from Shinji. Damn she wasn't well versed in this little social events. Give her a mace and a shield and she'd show people grace of form. Put her in a sitting room with a man and she felt her chest warm and her head go blank. Yet she could see something was off about Shinji, it was almost like he appeared back on that hill outside the city. "Did something…did you find the other half of Melona?" oh that got her rage up.

On hearing the slime's name, Shinji actually lost some of his disquiet and held himself a little higher. "Actually I did run into her. I-I used a Holy Pose to hurt her and drive her out of the church. Haven't seen her since that day. It-it was the day that Alleyne and Nowa…how are they Risty-san?" Shinji's pride drown quickly. Between the two of them was a small table, a pot of tea sat steaming and two cups, compliments of one of Risty's agents.

A hurt beast would likely go into hiding, Risty would get her women to track down that prey and end it. Laughing jovially, yet her own nerves were still growing frayed, "Glad to hear she's getting what is coming to her. But if you've taken care of that slime, why are you so…not thinking I'm going to jump you are you? My offer to you still stands, but I can't force it." She'd destroy anybody that tried to, the soft center of her little group of…a pulse of pure pain rocked her body. Clutching her head she pitched forward and to her knees, Shinji was at her side instantly.

"Risty-san, w-what is wrong, can I help?" Shinji helped guide her back to her chair. Soft touches, simple yet welcome touches Risty so longed for. Kneeling before her, looking her right in the eye, more sorrow and confusion existed there than Risty wished to see. Taking Risty's hand in his, Shinji's hands started to glow and he closed his eyes. Humming as his warm healing started to cause each to tingle in places best spoken of only in private, "This doing any good?"

Good, it was bliss on tap. Risty never had much in life that was good, bandits didn't garner soft beds and kindness. "Marvelous," she fussed as that tingle started to become a dull throb. The rich merchants and the indulgent nobles knew of these things, not people like her, or this man at her side. Suffering and abuse, being used simply for wanting to help others, that was the law of the land. Those who didn't cut first were cut. Her mind fogging over, the pain replaced with longing, she reached out and put a hand at the base of Shinji's neck, "You are a gift, a true marvel. I won't…we can't…" No pain just confusion, what was this wall in her mind!

"Risty-san, a-about our friends?" Shinji stammered and tried to jerk away. Something about that hand, the words Risty said, put Shinji into a fright. When her hands clamped down, he became to become a bit frantic, "I heard they were jailed, that you know of it. That is a lie right? We're all friends right, you wouldn't let them be kept in jail."

Wanting that softness again, Risty was shocked out of her reprieve at Shinji's fear. Was he afraid of her? Why would he ever be, he loved her right? Blinking the few tear of joy the absence of pain brought her, "It is only temporary. Just questioning what they know of the pope's capture. I had them moved to private rooms, much like rooms in an inn. Nothing to worry about, you trust me right?" Yet she didn't see him relax, something was wrong. At times it took a strong hand to get an answer. Putting her other hand on the other side of Shinji's neck, he was trapped, "Tell me, what has you so squirrelly? This isn't like you."

"It's…it's just a misunderstanding is all, p-please let me go?" Shinji pleaded as he grabbed Risty's hand futilely. He didn't try to pry them off, he just gripped them for support. "I had an accident with Claudette-san. You know of…well things with her are complicated. Yesterday, I was worried about Alleyne, Menace, and the others. But also, Claudette-san has become a ghost of herself since that fight you had with her. I tried talking to her, being there for her, but I didn't…I wasn't expecting her to…" Shinji stammered a little and just sunk his head. "It was a little frightening, her intensity," he closed his eyes and eased into Risty's hand.

They'd take him from her, Risty realized. Claudette knew a weapon when she saw one, and if used that way Shinji was a mighty sword. Wants for romance were replaced with the need for answers and violence. Kissing his forehead, Risty found it funny how much she enjoyed that. In her bandit camp, nobody kissed, it was just off with the cloths, on with the act, and off they went. It was just that, an act. But with him it had been something else, something those doe eyed farm girls dreamed of and the few books she had read detailed. And Claudette Vance was trying to spoil that. Letting Shinji go, Risty stood up, "I'll see if I can't get you some food and have a meeting planned for you and those others." A lie, but it would ease him. It was as Aldra said, this man was to be hidden away less factions try and steal and use him against them.

"Thanks, Risty-san, I left the church and inn without eating. The people at the church…heard…well they heard, and they've all but chased me out. I had to jump out a window, and the inn with Claudette is strange. After this is all over…I think I'll be happy to wander again. Things were simpler then, maybe we can check out that orphanage you help with," Shinji smiled and sniffed back hard. Oh how his eyes danced, big wide orbs of water shining back at her, yet more light was there now than before.

It was as if she took a fist to the chest without any physical pain, Risty just nodded as she walked out of the room. "Get him one of my specials, make it a triple. I want him asleep. I'm off to end the tournament," Risty informed the guard she had placed. Orphanage, her orphanage? That should mean something, it was supposed to! But she couldn't remember, so many things she realized were blank or muddled. For a moment she contemplated going back to Shinji and asking him to try healing him again. Her mind cleared up when he did, maybe if he focused on it he could clear all of…

The guardian was standing before her, Leina was waiting. Those twin tailed fore braids with the metal hoops, that image was in her head so pronounced it drove her on. This would help! Leina, what was Leina to her, she couldn't remember. Important, but friend or enemy? Who was her real friends and foes? Stumbling through the teleportation void into the arena, Risty was more lost than found. Shinji and Leina, they held the answer she needed, yet the queen demanded obedience! Wait…she was the noble bandit, not some pawn! NO! She was the leader of the Fang! Bandit! Fang! Bandit! Fang!

"WRAAaa!" she let out a mighty war call as the frustration overtook her and she rushed forward. Battle would ease her mind, and when she won, she'd get her answers from Leina, Shinji, or Aldra! Without pomp or witty retort, Risty drove across the arena at the smiling Leina and slammed her mace down with all her might. Leina back stepped away from the blow yet took some shrapnel to the face from the splintered ground. Lips curled back in a grimace of anger and frustration, "This ends today!" For good or ill she'd end the confusion!

Rationally confused by the massively aggressive Risty, Leina stayed on the defensive. "Risty, why are you so angry, calm down. What's going on with you, working for the queen? Imprisoning Alleyne?" Leina strafed around the bandit. Knees locked in defensive position, shield at the ready, Leina took a few probing strikes.

Feeling the leather strap strain against her arm, Risty gripped the handle of her buckler tight. This was the very image of what she'd always dreamed of as a child, and that clashed with the poisoned words Aldra laced her brain with. Rushing forward, her full might behind her shield, she rammed into Leina like a battering ram. "The queen speaks the truth! Those spoiled and worthless people need to be pruned!" Risty slammed again and again with her shield. With a back hand swipe with her shield arm, Risty clipped the top of Leina's shield, over took it, and bounced off the top of Leina's head.

"The queen? What does this have to do with us? Risty, I'm…" Leina tried talking but her unbalance tripped her over. Rolling out of the way of Risty's mighty boot and subsequent mace slam, Leina was struggling. Oft the offensive fighter, Leina was not doing well under the onslaught of Risty's brute strength and speed. Using her sword to get off the ground, "D-did Shinji talk to you? He's been wanting to. Thinking…after this…we go with you…help your orphans after we get back from his world." Leina panted heavily and favored her left leg.

Another head spike, black lighting down her brain and into the core of her being. This wasn't a foe, this was a headstrong yet impressive warrior friend! No! She was a privileged waif, given all Risty was denied all her life! Leina only took from others, just like all the others…gritting her teeth, Risty wanted the pain to go! It hurt to think, it hurt to live, it just hurt! Tossing her shield aside, she gripped the mace with both hands and charged ready to strike. "Don't try and confuse me, don't talk, just fight!" she spat out.

"But if we keep going, you'll get hurt," Leina pulled out a small coin and held it out. A light in her eyes, same as Shinji's, shimmered out as that tiny coin shined in her hand. Calling out to Risty, "I wanted to give this back to you! It was a lucky coin. It brought me to so many adventures, met so many people, and gave me confidence. I owe you so much Risty, I respect you so much. Wiping off the sweat and dirt that covered her face, "Let us not fight in anger, but as friends."

Risty's body was wracked with convulsions at the comment. That coin, she gave it to Leina outside the Vance estate! Friend. She met with Alleyne and that impossibly happy Nowa outside the city, more friends. Shinji was with them, friend…lover. The fog started to clear up, but then the image of Aldra's anger face popped up. Gripping her mace hard she tried to shut it out the confusion, she charged Leina, the final blow to determine the winner.

She swung with all her might, good or bad, friend or foe, it didn't matter at that moment, just the strike. And she felt no connection with her hand, just a piercing sensation in her side…Leina's blade. Blood poured out of her, yet with that pain and life essence came clarity. Friend…her friend. Risty fell to the ground, looking at the coin and the running Leina. Not life threatening, but damn painful… "L-Leina…I'm sorry, I…" Risty tried saying but then felt the cold chill wrap around her again.

"You failed me pawn, but I never had much faith in a rogue dog killer. Yet maybe if I just use you directly," that odd twin voice rocked in her mind, and Risty felt her mind and body separate. She was now just a spectator.

X-X

Huffing and in pain, Leina didn't know what she was seeing but was sure she didn't like it. One moment Risty is hurt but acting herself again, the next a black miasma is surrounding her and flowing into her mouth and nose. It didn't take a mystic to know something was happening that was NOT in Risty's best interest or Leina's. Added to Leina's concern was that wound, while not very deep, was seeping out. "Risty, Risty what is happening to you now?" Leina hated this confusing stuff.

"I am getting my second wind is all, Vance, you better be ready," Risty's voice was devoid of all emotion. The passionate and vibrant personality was gone, a peculiar double voice haunted Risty's droning one. Moving in odd angles, at first haltingly and resistant, Risty tossed her mace away and flexed her fingers into tight fists. Rubbing the edge of her right hand into the wound, covering it in blood, she licked it off, "Delicious."

Fast, she had to end this fast or whatever was controlling her idol might do irreparable damage. Shifting the way she held her sword, no good adding more cuts, Leina steeled her will. "I don't know who you are, but you are NOT Risty," Leina put the coin back into the pouch Shinji sewed for her. He could fix Risty's wound, but…he was already at the castle. Wait, that was even better! He'd be watching of course, so he'd be there for her instantly right? Diving in, a lesson she learned from Tomoe, Leina swung her foot out at the back of Risty's knee.

"So that is how this one operates," Risty's voice lost more of its original quality as the other voice took over. Eyes glowing, Risty leapt over Leina's leg and landed on the Wandering Warrior with an extended elbow. Taking Leina to the ground, Risty grabbed Leina's sword arm and drew it behind her back painfully. "Such power, such strength, so much more than that tiny body. I might keep this one after all, Aldra is losing her focus," Risty whispered into Leina's ear.

Eyes popping open in pain and shock, Leina gasped out in a short burst of excruciating agony. The queen, but not! Whatever had taken over Risty was claiming to have done so to the queen as well! Having been possessed before, thank you Menace, Leina didn't even question the possibility. She did know how to help solve it though. Fight both emotionally and physically. But Risty was so strong! Claudette's warnings were all true, Risty didn't need a weapon to be dangerous even when wounded! Closing her eyes, forcing the sensation of pain to leave her mind, Leina fought back with all her might.

"I'll save you this time, Risty, then you can tell me about what happened," Leina grunted into the dirty tiles of the arena. Shoving with all her might against the ground, nothing happened at first as Risty literally sat on Leina's back, but then surge of power went through her and Risty toppled. Sweet release came to her as Risty's hold lessoned and Leina pulled her sore arm back. Sword nowhere nearby, Leina got up and hid behind her shield, "I'm going to have to hurt you, but Shinji will be able to help you get over it." Oh how she was going to enjoy a nice pampering after this. The fight hadn't been her longest, but by far one of the most painful.

Laughing hard, Risty rolled along the ground and vaulted back to her feet. "The little man this one coveted so much? I think not, Vance. Going to have that one dealt with. I can't allow Holy Milk around. Was going to use this one to get him close and end him. Now the church wants to burn him as a heratic…I think it's time we made peace with those angel worshippers," Risty head faked and rushed in. As Leina fell for the trick, Risty slammed her mighty fist into the woman's exposed side twice.

The straps on her back were straining and Leina heard one snap, damn Risty punched hard. Dropping her shield, this was a fist fight now and not a normal battle, "You'll not hurt him, I won't allow it!" Leina tried thinking of Alleyne's staff and mimicked the actions with her arm. Using her left hand to off balance Risty, Leina elbowed the larger woman right below the ribcage. He couldn't be hurt! Shinji…she couldn't lose him now that they were married! He had ran off early that morning, something odd happened between Claudette and him. Leina didn't have to guess with how content Claudette was during their time bathing, but they didn't talk about it. His plans to talk to Risty had been known, but this was something else!

"Who are you to tell me what to do?" Risty rubbed at her tummy and smeared more blood around. Pale and gaunt, the longer the battle went the worse Risty appeared, not that the spirit controlling the body appeared to care. Flicking some of the fluid into Leina's eyes, Risty charged and took the newlywed to the ground, fingers clenching around Leina's throat almost crushingly so. Laughing, mouth open wide and disturbingly, "So this is it? This is the one that would have challenged me for this kingdom? A sap in love and unable to save even herself. But your little male will join you soon, very soon."

Vision going dark, head foggy, Leina clawed at Risty's fingers hoping to get even a mote of air into her lungs. Oh how they burned and panic laced her, bucking her whole body against Risty's trying to get any reprieve but none came. Her bladder let loose, fear started to overtake her. Not like this, she couldn't die like this! He was watching her, cheering her own, Tomoe was watching, even her sisters were watching! Not like this…she was supposed to win, abdicate to Claudette…live a long happy life with her husband, have his child, not…not this.

"Not you again! You will not best me slime!" Risty yelled out suddenly and her grip went slack. In one fluid move, Leina tore her neck free and slammed her gauntlet hand against Risty's face. Rolled over onto her back, Risty was babbling about something, some other attack that nobody could see. Her fancy dress became the handles Leina grabbed and used as leverage to slam her head into Risty again and again. Then her eyes rolled back, mouth hung open, and that black vapor flowed out in a glut of toxic expulsion. Clumsily almost drunkenly, "Wha-Leina-w-what happened? S-submit."

That one word, that one last word was all it took for the view globes to focus on Leina and the city went up in a cheer so loud Leina could hear it in the arena. Helping Risty off the ground, after gathering their gear, Leina was struggling to keep the weight from forcing her down. "Risty, what happened? You, or whatever was controlling you, what was that? What did you do to Shinji?" Leina dragged/limped her way towards a guardian portal. Hoping the teleportation would take her to Risty's previous location and not her inn, Leina was disappointed when the vertigo left. Back at the inn, Claudette taking Risty from her hands.

"I hope you have some of Puppy's little drink, Leina, we're not going to have any time to sit on your laurels," Echidna warned. Helping Claudette to put Risty on a bed, she pointed at the blue mop of hair that was in the corner and to Risty's wound. "Tend to that, Irma, we have business and time is sadly not with us. I so hate missing out on foreplay," even in crisis she could joke.

Handing Leina some water, Claudette had a wet towel and was already cleaning her younger sister off. Quick and brutishly, "Echidna has bad news. Something has changed in the church. Either the recovered pope or if that elf can be believed, they plan to execute Shinji as a heretic. If they catch him, they will burn him, and if that doesn't work behead." Claudette, after cleaning Leina, lead the woman to a chair to sit down, "And we have no clue when the queen will force your next fight. Likely sooner than later while you are still exhausted."

Sitting heavily in the chair, it squealed out in protest under the combined weight of person and armor, Leina drank heavily. Another fight so soon after this one? No time alone with Shinji, no reward, nothing but the final and the fear of what was happening at the castle. "We have to…get moving. Risty, you said you were going to hand him over or kill him yourself while you were…" Leina tried to stand but just couldn't. Already she could feel the battle fatigue coming over her.

"I got this from the nun that caused this mess," Echidna passed a small vial over to Leina with a smile. Putting some herbs on Risty's wound, Echidna helped herself to a feeling between those bronze legs as she did. "You'd be amazed at the way Puppy got her voice to rise, sadly the idiots there heard her. They think he corrupted her, and they will not take her word to the contrary. So…we go get him, you beat the queen, and we find where that damned angel went and get out of here for awhile. And you WILL pay me back for that Water of Life, just like he is going to pay me back for this little rescue," but that joking sensual quality of Echidna's tone was gone. Was she actually worried?

So Shinji had been with Melpha, about time that nun acted Leina mentally chuckled. At the moment, Leina wouldn't wonder how Melpha did it. Popping the top of the glass tube, Leina drank half of the water and felt her body rejuvenate, different than Holy Milk, less permanent and more like a jolt of coffee in the morning. Strength returning, "Wait, you don't know where Nanael is? Shinji said she was pushing him towards that nun every moment she could. I would have thought she'd have been watching taking notes!" A good man was hard to find, and Leina believed Shinji to be a very good man. One she wanted safe and in her arms right now.

"Thanks," Risty offered weakly as Leina handed the vial over with the other half, "And keep your hands to yourself elf. I'm nobodies toy." Risty shrugged off Echidna's wandering hands, and drank the water down.

Finishing applying the poultice, Irma got a grunt out of the woman as she applied excessive force, "Not according to what she said. You'd have let that man play you like some instrument if wanted. To fall so far for a mere ma…" Irma swallowed hard as Echidna laced her with a playful yet terrifying expression. "Sorry, I misspoke. I do not know the man as well as you do," Irma quickly apologized.

Getting up and gathering Thunderclap, Claudette moved to the door and nearly broke it open. "I will get Elina and make our way towards the arena. When the thief gets better I recommend she follow as we leave Echidna and her pawn to head to the castle. If we can split the queen's attention we will have a chance. Keep your eyes open for that angel though, she will be needed," Claudette strode out and into the night.

"I'm ready for a vacation, a good meal, and a stiff drink in any order," Leina just continued to recline in her chair. But it was nearly over, one more fight and it was over. She'd be queen, she would show herself as the best! Hell she had beaten Risty, the woman that gave her the confidence and desire to strike out on her own. Taking the coin out of that pocket, lovingly crafted by her husband now hunted by the queen and church, and tossed it to Risty. "For you. I owe you so much for my being here. For everything I've seen, experienced, and know now," Leina cherished it all and Risty helped start the path she walked.

Not catching the coin, it bounced off her exposed chest…Echidna insisted on inspecting and Risty had no fight left at the moment, Risty laughed. "You did it yourself, I just gave you a push. But no resting yet, we've a queen to dethrone, and a prince to save. And I don't know about you…but I want another merchant's house party. And I want to sleep for a year. I've…I've a lot to answer for. I remember, remember what I did when she had control over me. Not even control…more goading…gods I feel so stupid…HEY!"

Fondling Risty, Echidna didn't care about the woman's words. "Well Irma we should leave these two to continue their bonding. But know I'll take from both of you, each of you owe me. And this is just the down payment," Risty let out a squeal/moan at whatever Echidna did. Leina didn't know, wasn't able to see, her gaze was up on the ceiling.

"Just wait for us Shinji, we'll save you," Leina clutched her blade, that silly man of hers always needed saving. She'd do it though, she'd go through hell and back for him. Then it would be time to relax for awhile.

X-X

Notes

Ok…I know some of you 'well maybe just one of you' are excited about this story. But PLEASE stop demanding I write it. Life is a complex thing, and I've had a lot of bad stuff happen that's been breaking my head a bit. And have my hobby thrown into my face with demands and constant pleading is NOT HELPING! Sorry…just I do this out of appreciation and fun not for gain so when I can't write because real life happens, having that rubbed in my face doesn't help me much.

Anyway, moving on towards the end of Season-2 of this lil ditty. Things are ramping up in all sorts of ways. Hope you're still enjoying it and believing it possible.

Later

Mercaba